Tradition and Culture

The Official Website of Ukhrul District, Manipur.

 

The district of Ukhrul is a land of beautiful mountains interspersed by numerous Tribal habitats echoing with rhythms of tribal culture and rich wild life. The un-spoilt nature has enchanting calls to those who prefer to spend sometime in tranquility away from the din and bustle of mechanical life, its flora and fauna have their own appeal to the visitors. Nicer and more educative will be the tribal flock and visitor could meet on route during their sojourn.

Ukhrul district is the home of the Tangkhuls. They are a highly cultured people. The name Tangkhul was given to them by their neighbours, the Meiteis. The northern Tangkhuls were also called the Luhupas. The name Naga was given to them by the Burmese ( Myanmar ), which, in Myanmar means people with pierced earlobes. Piercing of the earlobes is wide-spread practice among the Naga people including the Tangkhuls. The Tangkhuls belong to the great Mongolian race which is spread all over the World. Linguistically, they belong to a large language family called Sino-Tibetan, within that family to the sub-family Tibeto-Burman. In general this points towards an origin in the north, that is south-west China and Tibet . The earliest home of the Tangkhuls was the upper reaches of Huang heo and Yangtze Rivers which lies in the Zinjiang province of China. Like the other desert areas of the world, the people including the Tangkhuls, due to hardship of life, dispersed from this place to different directions. One group moved towards east and southeast to be become known as Chinese, another group moved southward to become the tribes of Tibeto-Burman which includes the Tangkhuls and other Naga sub tribes. That was between c, 10,000 B.C. to 8000 B.C. This movement has continued into recent historic times. S.K. Chatterjee noted that from 2000 B.C. onwards, Sino-Tibetan speakers from China pushed south and west and entered India . According to W.I. Singh, in his “The History of Manipur”, the Tangkhuls settled in Samshok (Thuangdut) area in Myanmar . They belong to Yakkha tribe in China . The Tangkhuls were first noticed in Manipur by Poireiton, one of the earliest kings of a principality in Manipur valley.

Native people of Ukhrul in their traditional dress.

The Tangkhuls as also other Naga tribes came to Manipur, Nagaland, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh through Myanmar . Some of them also settled down in Myanmar and did not venture further. However, their movement over Myanmar and into India was spread over a period of time. They entered the present habitat in waves following one another and in some cases in close succession. The Tangkhuls came together with the Maos, Poumeis, Marams and Thangals because all of them have references to their dispersal from Makhel a Mao village in Senapati district. They had also erected megaliths at Makhel in memory of their having dispersed from there to various directions.

The Tangkhuls point out to the association of their forefathers with the seashore. Most of the ornaments of the Tangkhuls such as kongsang, huishon, etc. were made of sea shells, cowrie and conch shells a prominent feature of the people who live on the shore.

By 2nd century A.D. the Tangkhuls were living in Samshok (Thuangdut) in Myanmar . Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer and geographer of Alexandria in his Geography of Further India c. 140 A.D. referred to the Tangkhul Nagas (Nangalogue) at Triglypton (Thuangdut). The Tangkhuls began disperse from Samshok after the invasion of Ko-lo-feng and his successor I-mau-shun the king of Nan-chao in the closing part of the 8th century A.D. and beginning of the 9th century A.D. They were further driven towards the north west of Myanmar by the Shan people.

Thus, the Tangkhuls as also other Naga tribes have travelled from China to Myanmar and from there finally they came into their present land traversing through innumerable snow covered landscapes, mountains and wild forests confronting wild beasts and wild tribes. The exodus of the Tangkhuls from China to Myanmar and finally to India is indeed a story of heroism of human courage and endurance.

In course of time every Tangkhul village became a small republic like the Greek city states. Every village had an unwritten constitution made up of age-old conventions and traditions. The Tangkhul villages were self sufficient except for salt, and self governing units ruled by hereditary or elected chief assisted by a Council of Elders. The chief was a judge, administrated and commander rolled into one. However, absence of a national government was disastrous for them in the mediaeval period as the small village states were unable to withstand the onslaught of the organised army or the Meitei king.

The ancient Tangkhul history is hitherto an unrecorded past. History however became more enlightened by the beginning of the 13th century owing to the cultural, trade and sometimes turbulent relations which had grown up with the people of the valley. We find a reference to the Tangkhuls as early as the 13th century during the reign of Thawanthaba (1195-1231 AD) of Ningthouja Meitei dynasty. The chronicles refer to the frequent raids in many tribal villages. Thawanthaba raided Chingshong Tangkhul village which was defeated and burnt down.

There has always been some form of relationship between the Tangkhuls and the Meiteis in terms of political alliance and trade relation. Some items of Naga material - culture indicate a long history of contact between the plain and hills. The “Elephant Cloth” (Leirungphi), for instance, resplendent with complex animal designs, worn by the Nagas of Manipur, has its origin in the wish of the ruler of Manipur in the mid-seventeenth to present his Naga allies with a special cloth. The popular Tangkhul shawl “Changkhom” is also known as “Karaophi” in Manipur. The Tangkhul dance (pheichak) was known as “Chingkheirol” in Manipur, from the fact that it came from “Chingkhei” (North East of Imphal).

During the reign of the most powerful Meitei King Pamheiba a.k.a. Garib Nawaz (1709-1748) for the first time, the heartland area of the Tangkhul country was brought under the suzerainty of Manipur. In 1716, the king’s forces invaded the great Tangkhul village of Hundung and sixty eight prisoners were captured. In 1733, the king sent a military expedition to Ukhrul and conquered. The outcome of the expeditions incurred heavy casualty on the King’s forces; the royal chronicles record the death of seventy Meitei soldiers. The defeat of these two big villages situated in the heart of Tangkhul country was landmark in the establishement of the Meitei political hegemony over the Tangkhul hills which started feeling the brunt of the Meitei power. The Ningek inscription of king Garib Nawaz refers to the Khullakpa of Okhrul (Ukhrul). Ukhrul was the headquarters of the Tangkhul Long (Tangkhul Assembly), as well as the Tangkhul annual fair locally known as “Leh Khangapha” used to be held at Somsai in Ukhrul. Hence the fall of Ukhrul in 1733 in the hands of the Meitei Maharaja herald the fall of the Tangkhuls country.

The next significant relationship between the hills and the valley took place during the reign of Bhagyachandra (1759-1762 and 1763-1798). In 1779 king Bhagyachandra established a new capital at Langthabal about seven kilometers south east of Imphal. For the nest 17 years Langthabal remained as the capital. He employed many Tangkhul and Kabui Nagas in the digging of moats around the new capital of Langthabal. Of the Tangkhul chiefs, Khullakpa of Hundung and Ukhrul made friendship with the king. The Tangkhul Chiefs of Ukhrul, Hundung and Huining came to pay respect to the king. King Bhagyachandra allocated land to the Tangkhuls for settlement of a Tangkhul village in the valley at a place called Puru pat. .....

The relationship between the Tangkhuls and the Meiteis during the mediaeval period was not only of wars and conquests. They also carried on trade and commerce. The Tangkhuls supplied cotton to the valley. They also came and did sale and purchased in the Sanakeithel which was the principal market in Imphal. The Tangkhuls are used Manipuri coin of bell-metal locally called ‘sel’ as a medium of exchange which was first introduced during the reign of Khagemba (1597-1652). The boundary of Manipur and Burma ( Myanmar ) was laid down by an agreement signed between the British authorities (East India Company) and Burma on 9th January, 1834 on the river bank of Nighthee ( Chindwin). The Article No.4 (iii) of this agreement relates to the Tangkhul country. “Fourth (iii) - On the north, the line of boundary will begin at the foot of the same hills at the northern extremity of the Kabo Valley and pass due north upto the first range of hills, east of that upon which stand the villages of Chortor (Choithar), Noongbee (Nungbi), Nonghar (Nunghar), of the tribe called by the Munepooriis (Manipuris) Loohooppa (Tangkhul), and by the Burmahs Lagwensoung, now tributary of Manipoor.”

As a result of this boundary demarcation without the knowledge let alone consent of the Tangkhuls, many Tangkhul village situated in Somrah hills are include under Burma . Later, when India and Burma attained national independence, the Tangkhuls found themselves totally dismembered belonging to two different countries.
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