Remembering Anglo-Kuki War 1917-19. Hundredth Year of War Against Imperialism

344

“If I dare to forget You!”
KUKI RESEARCH FORUM
Call for papers
Remembering Anglo-Kuki War 1917-19
Hundredth Year of War Against Imperialism
A Commemoration Volume

Concept note
When the Great War was fought in the European theatre, its tremor was felt furiously at the other end of the globe. An earth-shaking event broke out in the sleepy highland massif of Northeast India in 1917 during the high noon of the Second World War. It was the most memorable moment in the history of the Kukis that shattered the eastern highland of the British Empire or at the heart of its ‘Crescent Empire’. The flames of freedom against imperialism have shaken the whole ranges from Naga Hills in the North to Chin Hills in the South and from North Cachar Hills in the West to Somra Tract and Chindwin valley in the East. It turned the Kuki country upside down, the sleepy hill villages into fortresses, the enraged peaceful population into freedom fighters, the land of freedom into battle fields, and the land of honey and milk into scarcity and poverty. The fighting went on for more than two years (March 1917 to May 1919) and the wanton destruction caused to lives, properties, finance, and culture was so great that the Kukis could not rise up again. More than eighty six Kuki villages had been raged to the ground, fifteen villages have been deserted forever, 112 villages have been mercilessly punished and forced to surrender. About 1600 muskets have been confiscated, several hundreds of leather cannon (pumpi), and several thousand pounds of gunpowder were destroyed. Hundreds of songkhai and songpel (stone-trap fixed on the tree or on the cliff above the enemy’s paths) and other weapons of destruction have also been destroyed. More than six thousand combatants, about eight thousands transport coolies and non-combatants, two provincial governments (Assam and Burma) and one princely state (Manipur), all under the supreme direction of the Government of India (GOI), took active part in suppressing the Rising. It cost the GOI rupees twenty-eight lakh (Rs. 28,000/-) in total. After the Rising was brutally suppressed, the Kukis were compelled to pay as war reparation (officially termed as compensation for the loss of properties destroyed by Kukis to villages friendly to the British) of rupees One Lakh Seventy Five Thousand (Rs. 1,75,000/-). This amount was recovered from the Kukis in installments within five years, partly in cash (Rs. 25-30 thousands) and the rest in the form of penal communal labour for widening of village paths, cutting government roads, construction of government offices, porterage, and so on.
With the mounting brutalities of the British forces against the civilians, some Kuki leaders eventually surrendered to defuse the inhuman atrocities of the armed forces, to save lives and properties. They were imprisoned in different jails in India and Burma. But that was not the end of the War. Many Kukis refused to surrender and continue to fight until they were overpowered and captured by the British forces. They fought to the last and many of them sacrificed their lives. The War was brutally suppressed by the mighty forces. The Kukis did not stop fighting the British; the low-profile everyday forms of resistance went on until they took up arms again in the 1940s when the Japanese and Indian National Army (INA) came for help. When the leaders (mostly the chiefs) were no doubt great and influential, they were not the only Kukis who fought the British. Thousands of Kuki fighters took up arms against the British forces and fought on different fronts. Many of them sacrificed their lives in defence of their freedom against British imperialism; some of them died in prisons. They are the martyrs. Besides, thousands of them (including aged, women and children) also took part in the War by pounding gunpowder day in and day out, pounding rice, gathering wild roots, preparing food and supplying to the fighters who were mostly hiding in the jungles. The women folks who look after the children and aged people when their men were fighting the British forces had equally contributed to the War. The thempus (priests and physicians) who performed prayers for the fighters, treated the sick and injured persons, and so on had equally fulfilled their share of the War. Young boys and girls who gathered information from different places, from the enemy’s camps, and who had borned the torch of thingkho-le-malcha across the hills cannot be forgotten. All of them must have their appropriate place in history book.
There were many moving stories and painful episodes during the War. Imagine how the Kukis had survived against the mighty British forces for so long. Two agriculture seasons have been expended, two winters and two rainy seasons have been toiled. Most of their villages, houses, and granaries had been consumed by the barbaric flames of British forces. Thousands of Kukis had to go hungry for several months, running from pillar to post, running for their heads from one jungle hideout to another. When there was no food to eat at the hideouts and the women, aged and children were starving for days, Pu Tintong and his party, for instance, set out to the loujao to gather bal (taro) and other available veggies and also spread out in the forest for gamha (wild yams). Thousands of Kukis survived with such foods for months together. Such painful situations generated hundreds of stories and thousands of experiences, which no colonial records would report. They remain in the memory of the people, the memory that is sure to be transmitted to their children over the generations. Such stories are yet to found any space in history book. Imagine the lives and toiling of thousands of women and children who were driven homeless, whose trials and tribulations in the dense forest, the experienced pain in watching their village raged to the ground, of the brutality they bore in the hands of the imperial forces, and so on. Imagine the many love stories that binds between parents and children, between husband and wife, between young boys and girls, and so on. Imagine how many poetic songs and other oral narratives would have been composed by the singing and poetic community in memory of their love ones, of the War, of their sufferings, and so on. Imagine how many proverbs and sayings would have been composed or evolved. These huge corpuses of oral narratives are still silent and invisible in the existing literature of the Anglo-Kuki War.
Other aspects of the War are the forms of warfare, the war tactics employed by the Kukis, the different kinds of weapons used by them, and how they were produced or procured. How could the Kukis fight the mighty British forces for over two years? What tactics have they employed to sustain the war for so long? What are the kinds of weapons they used other than muskets? No much mention is made in the existing literature. The famous pumpi, for instance, was unique to the Kukis. They were also experts in making poisonous bamboo spikes, for shou (panjies) and for arrows. How did they build their village stockade and other defence system? Think of the songkhai and songpel thang. How they make it? There are many more about such things. The history of this War again reminded us the importance of this other side of the War. Finally, think about how the Kukis might have got their muskets. Most of their firearms (about 1195) were already confiscated between 1907-17 but more than 1600 were again seized during and after the War. Where could they have procured from or were they capable of making them? We lack the story of their gun manufacture or the trade they carried on with it. What happened to their gunpowder? We know they can manufacture it but do we know how they manufacture? This must found its place in history.
Think also their economy during the War. To what extent the War affected their economy? They were not able to carry on their cultivation due to the War. But how could they survive for so long without cultivation? Were they extorting from other tribes as the colonial accounts would make us believe or were there any other sources of livelihood? It reminded us of the importance of their agro-political practices particularly their typical economics of root crops such as bal, ha, kolkai and so on. In other words, it reminded us of their food security system. How did they reserved or preserved their food items for any eventuality such as famine, warfare and other calamities. Exploring this hidden economic practice can help us explain how the Kukis could sustain their fight against, and withstand the mighty British forces for so long.
Have we forgotten the contribution of the forgone? Surely, not yet. But the basic question is: How we remember them? How we remember the War? Are we remembering them the way they worth it? This process of remembrance has its own history, its own rhythm during the past one hundred years. Immediately after the War and under the intimidating gaze of colonial power, the Kukis remember them in silent and in sorrow. Songs were composed and sung in their memory. Stories were told to the young ones as bedtime stories or at the soms to the boys. Their greatness was narrated at all public gathering, at the gossip platforms, at the fireplace, and so on. The more such stories were told the more their hatreds toward the colonial regime. The young ones vowed to take on their vengeance and in fact they did it during the Second World War (Japan Gal). With the end of British rule, those memories emerged in the open. A memorial site was granted by GOI where Kuki Inn stands today. But it is apparent that the great memory of the War had gradually faded away in the memory of the Kuki people. Till recent time, a part from the annual get-together of few ‘gentlemen’ at Kuki Inn, the general Kuki population seem unaware of such annual commemoration, not to mention of remembering the great struggle for freedom against the British imperialism carried out by their forbearers. A part from a very old building standing virtually empty all the time, its wall with some old and dusty painting of the War heroes, there were no memorials, no monuments and no commemoration for the great heroes and patriots of the War. Kukis seem to have more and more conscious about their history now, the memory of their struggle against the mighty British Empire have been slowly but surely reviving. In the past one decade, few memorials have come up in public places. But some of them are unfortunately projected as family memorial. Worst, some family had even sold out their great history to others. It is unfortunate that the present Kukis could not even think in one term to the great sacrifices their ancestors have given in unison against the imperial regime.
How much of the above stories had been written about? Some scholars have conducted research on the subject; some of them even have their doctoral degree. Few works in the forms of articles and books have also appeared in the publishing market. But so far the writings were based on the same colonial sources and along roughly similar line of thinking. It is obvious that writing the history of Anglo-Kuki War based on the enemy’s account would be biased and even misleading. Unless the counter-narratives from the Kukis are taken into consideration, we cannot expect the full picture of the War. In this context, the oral narratives of the Kukis become vital in the writing the history of this great War. Besides, the valorisation of leaders and those who have been arrested by the colonial power still dominated our understanding of the War. But let us remind ourselves that history’s wars were not won by kings and emperors; it was the anonymous thousands of generals, soldiers and the supporting civil population who had actually won the wars. Unless their contributions are also taken into account the history of any wars, either in their victory or in defeat, will remain incomplete. History of Anglo-Kuki War needs to be rewritten based on this line of thinking.
Appeal for contribution of papers
Given these focuses that need to be taken care of, and to commemorate the hundredth year of the Anglo-Kuki War 1917-19, the Kuki Research Forum plans to bring out some commemoration volumes in the coming three years (2017-19). The spirit which had driven this ambitious project is through the line: ‘If I dare to forget You!’. We have other associated projects too for the coming three years but the commemoration volumes are going to be our major inning.
We urged the general public to share whatever information, knowledge and memories they inherited from their parents, grandparents and others, either directly to the Forum at the given email below or to share and cooperate with the researchers who might have visited them for such information. Think that such memories they inherited are the community heritage worth recording for future generation and for the posterity of history. Young researchers are especially requested to take their available time off to gather such scattered information and contribute to the volumes. All papers submitted and selected will be published in their names. These volumes will remain the valuable treasure of the community in the days to come.
Contributions of paper from all who can share their valuable research on the subject are therefore called for. The first volume is proposed to be published in English by one international publisher so that the circulation goes global. The best 10 or more articles will be selected for it. All the other papers (either in English or vernacular) will be published in other volumes. Joint authorship is also accepted. As noted above, papers based on oral sources (of events, episodes, biographies, etc.) with proper methodology will be highly appreciated. We do not provide any methodology and style-sheet; it would be proper if we can stick to one of the popular formats, yet the American Psychological Association (APA) format will be appreciated.
To avoid repetition (as it used to be on the same event) and to make selection process easier, contributors are requested to pick (if not strictly) from one of the following sub-themes. They can also contribute on anything related to the War not mentioned in the list.
Sub-themes:
1. Causes of the War
2. The politics of the War
3. Stories of different events
4. Role of the chiefs in the war
5. Role of fighters
6. Role of women
7. Role of thempus
8. Role of young boys and girls
9. War tactics
10. Weapons used during the war
11. The science of village stockade, gunpowder manufacture, etc.
12. Intelligence/surveillance, information gathering and postal system
13. Economy and livelihoods during the war
14. Stories of martyrs
15. Songs and narratives
16. Individual memoirs and biographies
17. Love and mourning
18. Measures taken to suppress the War by the British
19. Consequences of the War
20. Memories of the War
21. The War in the context of the colonial world
All papers and other correspondence should be sent to: [email protected]

“Kasuhmil poupou leh!”

Submitted by General Secretary of Kuki Research Forum.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here