Dr Budha Kamei
The Zeliangrongs are one of the natives of Northeast India. Myths, legends and traditions narrate the origin and migration of the Zeliangrong people. However, the actual original homeland and the migration routes of the Naga tribes including the Zeliangrong into the present habitat have not been fully studied. Folklore, mythology and ethnology have been examined to arrive at a tentative conclusion, but an in-depth archaeological study has not been applied to this problem. By and large, archaeological research is based on the material remains of past human society. The materials or the archaeological records are carefully examined and studied to obtain a possible scenario of the past ways of life of human beings. If the archaeological record is inadequate for the reconstruction of past human society, other sources such as ecological, geographical, and ethnological sources become very helpful for archaeological interpretation. We agree with the following conclusion of the philologists in connection with the racial and linguistic history of the Zeliangrong. George Abraham Grierson has established that the Zeliangrong speaks a language related to the Bodo of Assam and it has been grouped under a Sub-family of the Naga-Bodo within the Tibeto-Burman languages. Another well known Indian philologist, Suniti Kumar Chatterjee has grouped the Zeliangrong into the Indo-Mongoloid, a term coined by him to mean the Tibeto-Burman group of races and languages. Several linguistic and anthropological studies have confirmed the above opinion. B. S Guha has classified the Indian population into six groups. The Mongoloid, which is one of the groups, is divided into sub-groups such as (a) The long headed Paleo-Mongoloid and (b) the broad headed Mongoloid and (c) Tibeto-Burman. The Nagas including the Zeliangrong are included in the Tibeto-Burman group. Ethnically, the Zeliangrongs belong to Mongoloid, a group of the southern mongoloids who migrated southwards across the Himalayas in the pre-historic period to Northeast India and Southeast Asia. Most of the Naga traditions point to Makhel in North Manipur as their homeland. Makhel was a point of migration during their migration from South West China to Burma (Myanmar) and island southeast Asia, and then North ward movement back to Manipur, then to north Manipur before branching out to their respective tribal habitats.
According to K.C. Tensuba, “After the last glacial period, modern man appeared in the region Ordos, a desert situated at Latitude 390 N and Longitude 1090 E on the north of the modern great wall of China surrounded by Hwang Ho river on the west, north and east. They came out of the cave to live over the surface…..Sui-Tung-Kou and Sjara-Ossa-Gol were the names of the two caves in the south of the said desert from where man came out. These two caves were near the said desert Ordos in China. A good number of articles made of stone were discovered from the caves and around.” It is generally believed that the South Western region of ancient China including Yunan was inhabited by the non-Han Chinese ethnic groups. On the basis of traditions and linguistic history, it had been identified that the land between the upper reaches of Yangtse kiang and Hwang Ho Rivers, Southwest China as the original homeland of the speakers of the Sino-Tibetan language. The Tibeto-Burman and the Siamese-Chinese groups belong to this linguistic family. B.M. Das also opines that the original homeland of the speakers of the Tibeto-Burman languages was “the upper courses of the Yangtse Kiang and the Hoang-ho rivers in southwest China. From there they migrated towards south.” According to B. K. Barua, the speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages whose original home was in Western China near Yangtse Kiang and Hoang-ho rivers and colonised in some parts of Manipur. Here, it can be safely concluded that the Nagas might be among those people who were living in the caves of Sui-Tung-Kou and Sjara-Ossa-Gol in the south of the Ordos desert of China. As the Nagas, the Meiteis, Kachins and Kuki-Chins-Mizo belong to the Tibeto-Burman group; they must have lived in the South West region of China, where the two caves cited above are located and migrated to north east India via Burma, and South East Asia, in batches covering different periods. In supporting the above view, Ch. Budhi Singh writes, the original homeland of the Nagas may be traced “as far north west China as the central Asia.” According to W. I. Singh, “the Kabuis (Rongmeis) are a cognate tribe of Kachin, Karen etc. whose ancestral home was the ancient Teru state of southern China.” It is the strong opinion of George Van Driem (well known linguist), the proto homeland of Tibeto-Burman language family is in Szechwan Yunnan of China, which is the geographical centre of Tibeto-Burman language. The first migration/split within the language family out of this homeland was the migration of the Western Tibeto-Burman to North east India. R. B. Pemberton (1835) wrote, “The Muneepoorees (Meiteis) of the present day are the descendants from a Tartar colony of China.”
About the routes of migration of the Tibeto-Burman groups of people, B. M Das writes, the speakers of the Tibeto-Burman languages did migrate southward from their original habitat who became bifurcated somewhere in north-eastern Burma. One group migrated westward along the Sub-Himalayan ranges and another group did enter the Brahmaputra valley by the North eastern route, while one more group moved towards south to reach as far as south East Asia. These different populations later on came in North east India via different routes. The probable routes of migration are primarily: Assam-Burma route on the eastern side, of one which is through the Patkai range; northern passes of Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal and passes in the south and south-eastern regions. The legends of all the Naga tribes refer to their movement in Naga Hills and the adjoining territories. Taking into consideration, it may perhaps be said that they came to their habitats from north, north-east and south-east. And in the words of Sultan Ahmad Ansari, the Mongoloid people did arrive at Northeast India following two routes: one route passed through Yunnan province of China and the other through Tibet. Those who followed the route through Yunnan and eastern China proceeded southward to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma frontier tract. Those from Tibet side did pass through the Himalayas and settled in Arunachal Pradesh, Brahmaputra valley of Assam, Nagaland, North western Burma and almost half of Manipur. The rivers like the Irrawaddy, the Salween, the Chao Phraya, the Mekong and the Red (Hong) and must have served as major conduits of human migration in the past.
According to Randy J. LaPolla, there were “two major routes of migration for the ancient “Qiang” or Tibeto-Burman (TB) speakers: west into Tibet and then south, and South westerly down along the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau and across Burma into Northeast India and then up into Nepal.” The fact is that there has been wave after wave of migration.
It is a well known historical fact that Manipur is one of the routes between South Asia and South East Asia and Central Asia. Various ethnic groups belonging to southern Mongoloid group, the Tibeto-Burmans, and a sizable section of Tai (Shans) came to Manipur from pre-historic times down to the present day. The present ethnic groups of Manipur, viz., the Meiteis, the Nagas, and the Kuki-Chins are the descendants of those migrating people. The trade between Manipur and Yunan province of China was recorded in the chronicle of Manipur in circa 1630 (during the reign of king Khagemba); from the Chinese merchants who did visit the kingdom they learnt the art of manufacturing gun powder. The trade continued as late as 1813 C. E. The trade intercourse was maintained through land routes across mountain ranges between eastern India and upper Burma, two of which were through Manipur Hills. The route must have been by the Burma Road. “Ancient Manipur had communications with the other parts of the country through mountain passages. Mention may be made of the Heirok hill passages leading to Kabo, Ava, China and South-eastern Asiatic countries.” Thus, it is apparent that Manipur was in contact with India, Tai and Chinese traders indirectly with Roman traders in the early centuries of Christian era. In term of Chinese trade, civilisation was transported to Manipur—one character of which was the introduction of silk and silk worm rearing, brick making and gun powder making. It is relevant to the Indian trade with and colonization in south-east Asia and China. To quote R. C Majumdar, “The Indians also proceeded to the Far east (South-East Asia) by land routes through Bengal, Manipur and Assam. They reached Lower Burma through Arakan, and Upper Burma through ravine passes in the Patkoi range or Manipur Hills. As already noted Chinese walls passed through land routes from Yunan and Szechuan to northern India in the second century B. C. There are good grounds to hold that this route though difficult was frequently used in the olden time.” G. E Harvey also states, the trade routes with China: “Two routes were along the Irrawaddy and Salween rivers, the third down the Chindwin River and through Manipur, took the caravans a three months journey to Afghanistan where the silk of China were exchanged for the gold of Europe.” R. B. Pemberton gave a description of four routes, two from India to Manipur and two from Manipur to Burma. These must be the ancient trade route. According to Rama Chakravati, “Manipur was one of the land routes on the Eastern frontier of India through which Indian culture passed into upper Myanmar. Likewise Manipur was one of the gates through which Mongoloid tribes, their languages and beliefs poured into Eastern India.” Indeed, the above trade routes were also used for human migration in olden days. According to (late) Prof. Gangmumei Kamei, as the Meiteis, the Nagas, and Kuki-Chins-Mizo are Tibeto-Burman, they must have lived with other groups of the same family in South West China before 1000 BC and migrated to eastern Tibet, upper Burma, then moved into the Irrawaddy valley, Malaysia and Indonesia, and they returned northward and entered North east India through Manipur River, and some tract of Indo-Burma border to present their habitat. (To be contd)
Source: The Sangai Express