Origin, migration and settlement of Zeliangrongs – Part 2

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Dr Budha Kamei
From previous issue
According to D. R. Sardesai, after establishing full political control across the Yangtse, the Han dynasty pushed out the other ethnic groups of peoples from the area. In fact, some migrations had been happening for nearly two millennia before the political consolidation in the third century B. C. It was during the late period that ancestors of the people of Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia and Thailand did migrate under the Chinese political and military pressure along the source of rivers to the fertile plains and islands of Southeast Asia. The fertility of the land of Manipur, which was one of the ancient trade routes between India and South East Asia even China, attracted different groups of Tibeto-Burman to Manipur from pre-historic times. “At one time South-East Asia was treated as a vacant land for the more densely populated Mongolians of China. Pressure of population created demand for newer cultivable land and hordes of people left their ancestral land in search of new land.” Suniti Kumar Chatterjee states that the Mongoloid groups of people from Western China had been pushing south and west from their original home from pre-historic times but certain large scale movements had begun in early part of the first millennium B. C. Julian Jacob observes, “The general expansion of the Mongoloid peoples throughout South East Asia including North East India, may have begun as much as 10 or 12000 years ago, possibly from a region of North China.” The Nagas, the Meiteis and Kuki-Chins-Mizo along with other groups of Tibeto-Burman family from their original home land South West China or North West China migrated to North East India through various routes in batches and at different periods. Therefore, the ancestors of the Nagas including the Zeliangrong people must have taken many centuries in moving down from the mountainous South west China to the equally rugged Myanmar through its river valleys to the vast islands of South-East Asia and then moving into their present habitat (Manipur).

When the Zeliangrong people came to the present habitat (Manipur), it was not inhabited by any people. The Austric, Negrito and Mon-Khmer people, who might have occupied this land or wandered through, did so, long before they came to this area. There is no vestigial trait of any people or of the Nagas including Zeliangrongs to suggest that there was any encounter of the Nagas with other people. But, it has been suggested by competent archaeologists that Manipur, being located in geographically and cultural corridor between south and south East Asia, holds premises for national and as well as global archaeological interests. The first concrete evidence of Haobinhian culture is found at Tharon cave in Tamenglong District in 1979. The edge ground pebble tools of the cave are similar with the finds from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines. In these countries these tools were used at about 7000-8000 B.C. Before the arrival of the present Tibeto-Burman inhabitants of this area, the Proto-Austroloid must have been in occupation of this cave. The proposed date is around 5000-4000 B. C.

The Zeliangrong people most probably entered “the western hills of Manipur in the second half of 13th century A. D. from southern side possibly by a more south-westerly route through which the Cambodian tribes like Mon, Khmer, Funan and Siami arrived on this land by about the 10th or 11th century A. D.” W. I. Singh writes that the Zeliangrongs from their ancestral home, China arrived at some part of northern and eastern Burma in the latter half of 8th century A. D. It is probable that the Zeliangrongs sojourned in eastern Burma before entering to northeast India. There is no historical record on the movement of the Zeliangrongs, but it may be assumed that the Zeliangrongs moved towards the west to Manipur from their sojourn. They possibly moved under the increasing Tai power in Thailand in the 12th century C. E. The earlier contacts suggest that they may have elements of Tai, and other Cambodian tribes.

The Zeliangrong people believe that their present habitat is their homeland since ancient times and they are the indigenous people of the land. But, their origin is surrounded in mystery and myth. According to legend, the Zeliangrongs originated from a cave called Taobhei. This mythical cave is believed to be located at Ramting Kabin, a place which is about 10 kilometers away from Oklong Liangmei village in Senapati District of Manipur. Their faith in cave origin is also contained in a ritual recitation known as Mhunsoi, (a ceremony to ward off the evils) which says, “Once upon a time, human being lived in a cave, the entrance of which was blocked by a huge stone slab. A mithun removed the stone slab with its horns and then, their ancestors came out of the cave.” The Zeliangrong tribes, namely Zemei, Liangmei, and Rongmei have a common belief of cave origin. Every tribes or community living in different countries used to claim at least certain place or cave as the origin of human race to its own belief or legend. According to another legend, men after creation, as desired by Tingkao Ragawng, the Supreme God were sheltered in a cave. In other words, the supreme God made a safe shelter for human beings and protected them from the wild beasts and other natural forces by keeping them inside the cave. The first man and woman who came out of the said cave were recognized as Pokrei or Dirannang and Dichalu.
The belief in cave origin is testified by a ceremony called Nam-Gutmei, village entry performed by them at the time of founding a new village. According to it, the leader (Nampou) of first settlers would enter into the new village site with a black mithun or bull. This is done with a conviction that the mithun or bull would negotiate with the spirits of the land for settlement as if their ancestors were helped by it while emerging out of the cave.
The concept of cave dwelling should not and cannot be treated literally, because it was usually used in all part of the world as the hiding place and a safe place for mankind before they could master the art of making a house for themselves. The earliest evidence of cave dwelling comes from a cave near Peking, China more than 300,000 year ago. In Europe, it was widely used between 70,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The boy and girl felt no shame with each of their nudity and lived innocently as brother and sister. It is said that one day an idea came to Pokrei (which is believed to be God’s creation) that both of them should get married and have children, for which he asked the girl, Dichalu to address him as Apou instead of Achai (brother) as soon as she met him while coming round a raised earthen mound called Pungbut from the opposite direction so that she might become his wife. After going seven times round the Pungbut, Dichalu by the eighth round called him Apou as soon as she met him. From that time, the boy no longer treated her as his sister and presumed the girl belonged to a different clan. Since then, the marriage between boys and girls of same clans are prohibited among the Kabui people. Thus, they were united and became first husband and wife on earth. As time passed, the couple was blessed with four sons, namely Nguiba, Sagee, Aneiu-wa and Chatiu and settled at Makhel, Senapati District. So, Makhel is considered as the original home of the Kabuis. The other Naga tribes like Mao, Poumei, Angami, Lotha, Maram, Tangkhul, Sema, Chakeshang etc. refer to Makhel as their original homeland and from this place they dispersed themselves to different directions. They erected megaliths at Makhel in memory of their having dispersed from there to various directions such as to the frontier of western Manipur, Eastern Naga Hills and Barak valley. (To be contd)

Source: The Sangai Express

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