Dec. 18, 2015 – Review of historical writings on Kukis By:...

Dec. 18, 2015 – Review of historical writings on Kukis By: Dr. Sheikhohao Kipgen


The northeastern region of India comprising eight Indian states namely Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura shares common border with five neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Nepal. It is connected to the rest of India by a narrow land corridor, 20 km in its narrowest width. The region is said to be one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse in the world with overlapping ethnicities, cultures and colonial history. It is also one of the most trouble torn and militarized zones in India with a long history of ethnic politics, insurgencies and secessionist movement affecting almost all the states of the region. The ethnic minority Kukis had been enduring and experiencing various socio-economic and political problems since time immemorial. Scholarly research on the Kukis of Manipur and other areas across national and international boundaries had also been scanty until recent times. Much of the research on Kukis had been undertaken by foreign administrators and missionaries. Lately, the volume of academic research on the tribals by the indigenous people is on the rise in this region. This had opened a new vista of knowledge to the students of social science who are intellectually handicapped due to the long period of academic inactivity and lassitude. The trend is expected to transcend the whole idea of the concept of history writings at least among the scholars of the region. On many occasions the British writers could not understand the cultural dynamics of the tribal people or for that matter the Kukis. They were in one sense misfit in writing the ethno-history of the tribes in this region. At the same time it cannot be denied that their books provided additional perception which we may not come across from our insider’s view. In this regard, the British accounts are both respected and questioned. Many of their writings are in favour of the state administration reflecting colonial bias and not for the larger interest of the society or the common masses. It is the duty of the historians to compare, contrast and analyse those of the literature left by them. This reminds me of what Dr T. Lunkim once said, ‘it is a high time for the young researchers to do away with the unquestioning acceptance of British ethnographical writings’. As it is true the situation calls for changing the approach and the methodology in our writing and presentation of our history. Scholars and intellectuals need to go beyond colonial sources.

It is to note here, that almost all the earliest historical and anthropological works on the tribals of Northeast written in English were exclusively accredited to western writers. These writers were experts in their fields of work such as Ethnography, History, Anthropology, Linguistic, Sociology and Geography. Works on the ethnic Kukis were such as – C.A. Soppit’s A short Account of the Kuki-Lushai Tribes on the North-East Frontier (1893), the Deputy commissioner of the Hill Tracts – T.H. Lewin: The Hill Tracts of Chittagong and the Dwellers Therein (1869), and by the same author – Wild races of South-Eastern India (1870), provide substantial information about the Chin-Kuki-Mizos. Another form of writing comes from the military officers some of whom had given detailed accounts of their military operations. It serves as an important source of information. These books were of immense value to researchers and scholars. This includes L.W. Shakespear’s History of the Assam Rifles (1929), A.S. Reid’s Chin-Lushai Land: Including a Description of various Expeditions into the Chin-Lushai Hills and the Final Annexation of the country, with Maps and Illustrations (1893). Besides, there were also British administrators whose written works has provided us unprecedented historical and anthropological insights about the people viz. Bertram S. Carey and H.N. Tuck’s The Chin Hills: A History of the people, British dealings with them, their Customs and Manners, and Gazetteer of their Country, Vol. I 1896, (reprinted 1976), and John Shakespear’s The Lushei Kuki Clans, Part I and Part II 1912. These books were of immense value to researchers and scholars, for which the Tribal Research Institute of Mizoram reprinted a number of these books to make it available to them. Sir James Johnstone’s Manipur and the Naga Hills provided us the authentic facts of historical events connected with Manipur and Naga Hills with substantial information about their relationship with the Kukis as well.

Another monumental work by G.A Grierson’s in his Linguistic Survey of India, III, 3 (1904) has given some anthropological analysis of the people at the time when Kukis were brought under the British colonial administration. William Shaw’s Notes on the Thadou Kukis: With an introduction by J. H. Hutton (1929) has become the most controversial book among the Kukis. In this book the various sub-clans and tribes of Kukis like Changsan, Lhangum, Lenthang, Lunkim, Kom, Gangte, Waiphei(Vaiphei), Kholhang, Chiru and those of inferior lineage, who were not genealogically the descendants of Thadou (a personal name of an ancestor) were wrongly clubbed together or included under the wings of Thadou. This being the reason, clans like Lunkim, Changsan and others who are said to senior than Thadou in terms of genealogy or lineal descent could not accept it. Nevertheless, the book has made a very great contribution to our understanding of the historical and anthropological studies. It also provides valuable insights of the traditional Thadou-Kuki culture and society. It may be noted that earlier there was no work exclusively on the Thadous history and culture. Another writing concerning the Government’s dealing of the Kukis with the subsequent establishment of colonial administration is found in the book of Alexander Mackenzie’s The North-East Frontier of India (1884), in which reports of several British administrators and military officials about the Kukis, such as, Major McCulloch, Capt. Butler (1873), Col. Lister, J. Ware Edgar (1871), etc. were incorporated in the books. Sir Robert Reid’s History of the Frontier Areas Bordering on Assam from 1883-1941 (1983) and D.K Palit’s The Sentinel of the North–East, The Assam Rifles (1984), has provided substantial facts about the Kukis of ‘Unadministered’ Tracts and the Anglo-Kuki war of 1917-19. Mention may also be made of some group of Indian and local writers and their published works like, T.C. Das’s The Purum – An Old Kuki Tribe of Manipur (1945), and Tarun Goswami’s Kuki Life and Lore (1985),  A.K. Ray’s Authority and Legitimacy – A study on the Thadou-Kukis of Manipur (1990), Lal Dena’s Christian Mission and Colonialism (1988), H. Kamkhenthang’s The PaiteA transborder tribe of India and Burma (1988),  and works of Dr. T.S. Gangte’s The Kukis of ManipurA Historical Analysis (1993) has provided us with historical and anthropological insights of the people concerned. Besides, one of the most recent scholarly works on Kukis –‘Political and Economic History of the Kukis of Manipur’ by Dr S. Kipgen recast the existing theory whereby it shows on how the political and economic factors interwoven with their lives have guided the course of their long chequered history.

With the advent of Christianity and the spread of education today a number of books have been written by the people themselves both in vernaculars and in English in commensurate with the slow but increasing number of scholars. Their study makes important contribution to the understanding of different aspects of socio-cultural life afresh. These books contain deeper anthropological insights and the socio-cultural changes as a result of the impact of western culture through the activities of governmental administrative machineries and the Christian missions. Besides, it helps us to understand better about the history and culture of the tribal people right from their migration in the form of oral tradition, myths, legends, folklore and some artifacts. The study made by the local scholars contains more of authentic facts which have not been hitherto unexplored. They sometimes understand their own history and culture better and deeper than outsiders. Nevertheless, there are many elements of subjectivity as their writings are most often bias to the extent of the absence of historical validity. Thus, most of the writings on Kukis are mere descriptive chronological accounts where historical analysis and explanation of historical process is not well presented. For instance, local Christian writers have not addressed Christian historiography except few non-Christian writers. Thus, one need to have a strong theoretical and conceptual foundation of history. We all have wisdom and our wisdom should be clear. As a matter of fact we have a partial understanding of things and we the scholars of the region should not hold too tight, because it will keep changing.

The historiography of the tribal people in general and the Kukis in particular is in its infancy stage. In this connection, the British writers consisting of administrators, linguist, anthropologist, military, officers, etc.  deserves praise for making a substantial contribution in bringing to light the history of the tribal people than the Indian writers. It is time for the tribal intelligentsia to develop our own way of historical writings and be a critique to what has also been written by the westerners. We should also make a comparative study of what is written today and what was written in the past. Our life at present and in the past provides us many materials which should be translated into words.




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