Cultural Links Between Northeast India and East/Southeast Asia

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by Rajen Singh Laishram
I have no travel experience beyond parts of Oriental Asia. Yet encounters from such sojourn are reminder of the visible contrast of conviviality among the officials and people in Asia and glacial attitude of my fellow Indians.

One does not face the harrowing tales of harassment, physical attacks, and continual attitudinal discrimination while living and travelling in India for being a Chinki. Chinkiness rather paves way for a normal bonding, unusual in many parts of India. Not surprising, though, as various communities are interspersed along the political boundaries with history of shared migration.

It is probably also the cosmological union and Karma that is reorienting our curiosity, memories, quest for restoring normal pattern of relationships with East and South East Asia.

Exploiting the apparent similarities in language, culture among the communities in North East India and East and South East Asia may augment the Indian state`™s foray in East Asia with its stress on Look East policy and public diplomacy.

Involving communities from North East India can be a fillip in erasing the perception of neglect, provide some scope for participation in the developmental process, bridge the cultural and racial hiatus with the Indian state, hence worth deliberation as a policy option.

Many communities in India traces their origin south of the Yarlung Zangbo, source of the Brahmaputra River, including the Tai-Ahoms or Ahoms, an offspring of the Tai people who are called Shan in Myanmar, Thai in Thailand, Lao in Laos, Dai and Zhuang in China and Tay-Thai in Vietnam.

The oral history of Chin-Kuki-Mizo communities places their origin to Sinlung/Chinlung or closed cave, probably the Great Wall in China. The exodus of Chin-Kuki-Mizo people from China was necessitated by the forcible conscription of people for the construction of the Great Wall by Emperor Shi Huang Di around 200BC. The personal names of many Chin-Kuki-Mizo groups have many similarities with the Chinese hint to a connection.

Cathay is the old name of China then, the term Kathe which is used by Burmese to describe the Meitei is a pointer of the possible migration rather an original or early settler of China proper. Similarities in the nouns between Chinese languages and speeches used among communities in Northeast India and Southeast Asia are also a point worth investigation.

Many of us are not aware that the Meitei, who is assumed to be a part of the Black Tai, out of the three kindred of Tai: White Tai, Black Tai and Red Tai, are addressed as Tai mi meaning Tai people by many hill tribes in Manipur. Even the Manipuri vernacular meaning of the universe as Taibangpan, meaning the world in which the Tai reign, is suggestive of the old connection with the Tai community in Yunnan.

The similarities in the name of places may be no coincidence. A predominantly Loi village Tairenpokpi, which is situated at the foothills of Imphal West may be one of the early settlement of the Tai people who probably migrated from Yunnan, as the name suggest.

In Yunnan there is a place called Damenlong, pronounced as Tamenlong. Whether Tamenglong in Manipur and Damenlong has any mythological and historical connection even in the oral history and tradition must inspire our Anthropologist, Linguists and Historians alike.

I am also reminded of Professor Horam, who mentioned in passing over our habitual rounds of Scotch and Royal Sekmai that Tangkhul Naga legend has that Yunnan is the place of origin of the Tangkhul. Many Naga friends from Nagaland, when inquired about the origin of the Naga shares that some of the Naga may have migrated from South East Asia, as there are oral history and discovery of fossils and shells peculiar to ocean.

While staying in the Montien Riverside Hotel in Bangkok, the food and beverages manager of the hotel, who happens to be from Chiangmai, took special care of me once he learnt that I am from Manipur and volunteered assistance. The manager was aware of the Trans-Asian Highway and talked about possibility of having renewed contacts through this.

Exploring the similarities in the cultural and settlement patterns of the Chiangmai in northern Thailand and Sekmai in Manipur could be the beginning of Manipur`™s nongpok thong hangba. In an international conference at Gwalior, Amara Prasithrathsint, emeritus professor of Linguistics in Chulalongkorn University, narrated Manipur is known as Manipura in the Thai chronicles.

If the Khasi, one of the few matrilineal communities in India, have migrated from Yunnan before being pushed out of the Red River delta of Vietnam, then what should interest us is the possible connection between the Khasi and the Mosuo community of Lugu Lake in Yunnan.

The Mosuo is one of surviving matrilineal community in China and has been attracting internal and foreign tourists. The Mosuo community practices a system of marriage called zouhun or walking marriage, where one can choose a female partner for a day, months, and year or for a life time.

Although Hinduism became a state religion of Manipur in the early part of the 18th Century, influence of Hinduism was traceable in 1474 with the worship of Pha (God) ? stone image of Lord Vishnu ridding over the Garuda, when Pong (Shan) king Sabwa Khekhomba gifted to Meitei King Thangwai Ningthouba also known as Kyamba.

This idol which is still worshipped in a temple at Bishnupur bears resemblance to Chandis temple of Java as in the Chandi Punta Deva of 7th century such as the corbelled arch in Borobudur and ventilation holes in Chandi Pawon. This should be reason enough for us to ponder over the early connection.

Balinese dance and Manipuri dance form may have visibly similar gestures. But we are reminded by a lady Professor from Chulalongkorn University, who led a troupe at the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy that some of the Thai dance forms have more similarities with Manipuri Dance. The Balinese dance gestures are played above the shoulder with direct eye gestures and contacts, whereas Manipuri and Thai dance form are gestures from below the shoulder with no direct eye-contact.
I am not a temple-hopping Hindu, but the bliss of visiting a Hindu temple was experienced in Besakih temple?derived from Sanskrit word wasuki which means saviour?in Bali, Indonesia. There are no touts and beggars imposing their service and wares in this temple, largest in Bali.

Manipur history has valorized King Khagemba`™s defeat of Chinese giant Khagi king of China. Inquiries into this matter with some Chinese scholars suggest that there was no such record. There are suggestions that King Khagemba might have defeated one of the chiefs of the Yi tribe and the word Khagi probably means Kha Yi meaning South Yi. Nonetheless this testifies the fluctuating links either through conquest or expeditions on either side.

The ubiquitous yellow color among the Tais in Yunnan reminds me of the yellow khudei Meitei grooms traditionally wears day after the wedding and yellow muga silk suit that adorns the bride on the mapam chakouba the possibility of Tai lineage.
The copper plate used in the Umanglais bust and in idols at Kondong Lairembi and Eengourok are reminder of the Buddhist influence from South East Asia. A Mahidol University faculty is tracing the possible routes of this past.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thailand great ,beautiful with flora and fauna which is an paradise for(Goria) white man .But never impressed me, though I was born and brought up in India, this is my perspective in which I view.
    Around 80000/ women and children been trafficked to Thailand in Sex industry. Mostly coming from Burma, China Yunnan province and Laos. Since 1990 almost 200000/ foreign children, Majority boys from upper Burma and Laos were thought to be working in Thailand, But fact is that these and some innocent young boys are transformed to so called ‘Billy boy or Lady boy ‘and make them to spread thought out the World like countries –Singapore U.S.A Demark and other parts across the Globe. According (Mahidol University institute of population and social n Research)
    Pattaya which has been a multibillion Dollar, where sex industry and human trafficking is the Make chunk of financial income
    In Thailand human trafficking is 500 billon dollar annual businesses, where it is (50-60) %of the Government Annual budget
    But my question is that when Countries like Burma, China or Lao are involved. Can anyone guess????? Who are the victims? Why these victims have been brought to such Worst condition.
    Of course! My answer is that. They are my young brother and sisters (Tai Shan—Tai from china) and poor Tai from Lao and our PI-nong
    Though there present state of them would be very worst! But still they have not lost their rich valves’ of tradition and culture which is in their Blood, as its been imbibed in them, Also their known for their hospitality which is famous World-wide
    Thailand which is still under Monarch rule Then why the Tai Kingdom is not taking any stringent action against them who are exploiting this young children or to speak against Hans who are destroying Tai culture and Man’s (Burmese) who combindly exploiting or killing and rapping these poor innocent people(Tai- Shan)china) and poor Tai from Lao and our PI-nong
    Though there present state of them would be very worst! But still they have not lost their rich valves’ of tradition and culture which is in their Blood, as its been imbibed in them, Also their known for their hospitality which is famous World-wide
    Thailand which is still under Monarch rule Then why the Tai Kingdom is not taking any stringent action against them who are exploiting this young children or to speak against Hans who are destroying Tai culture and Man’s (Burmese) who combindly exploiting or killing and rapping these poor innocent people(Tai- Shan)

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