The Tangkhul Naga Tribe lives mostly in the Indo- Myanmar- Border area occupying the Ukhrul District of Manipur. According to Meitei dialect, “Tangkhul” can also be interpreted as ‘costly village’. Anthropologists too understood the name and meaning of the ‘Tangkhul’ and their origins in different ways. Different scholars called them as Luhuppa, Luppa, Tagkhul, Thangkhum, Tangkhul etc. as their alternative names. Tangkhuls are no doubt a highly cultured people. They belong to the great Mongolian race which has now spread all over the World. They speak the Sino-Tibeto-Burman language groups. Tangkhuls are fair in complexion and colourful in terms of their traditional wears. Historically, these colourful peoples were a self-sufficient people and lived themselves independently. Tangkhuls can be classified into a number of clans. The following can be mentioned as some of its big clans; Zimik, Luikham, Keishing, Horam, Shaiza, Jajo, Kashung etc.
Tangkhuls are the village loving people. Right from the beginning, every Tangkhul village had been a well organized and independent political unit. Within its territory, every village enjoyed both internal as well as external independent of its own. The villages were guided by their customary and traditional laws. Most of the Tangkhul village sites were located near the spring or stream to ensure them dependable supply of drinking water. Another most important factor responsible for determining the location of a village was the security. They fulfilled all those criteria of a full-fledged state by possessing population, definite territory of their own and sovereignty of both internal as well as external. They were a self-sufficient and politically well organized democratic state. Most of the Tangkhul villages are thickly populated.
In which, villages were generally ruled by the King/Headman (Awunga) with the support of the village council. As such their administration was indigenous and independent. Every Tangkhul villages had a strong defense system of their own in order to protect themselves from any external forces. Most of the Tangkhul villages were very strong and big in the past.
Christianity is the only religion of the Tangkhul Naga today. Tangkhul people are the first community in Manipur to become Christian. Christianity was first brought to the Tangkhul people by Rev. William Pettigrew of Scotland in 1895.
Festivals had been the main interpreter of village or the social life, belief, culture and custom of the Tangkhul people. Festival as a part of their culture and custom played a significant role in Tangkhul Society. There were several types of festivals at the village. The ancestors were agriculturists, in the year cycle festivals were associated with the year-round seasonal agricultural activities. All those festivals were associated with sacred religious rituals. They followed some strict codes of conduct for all those festivals. Some of the big festivals of the Tangkhuls which are still celebrating are; (1) Luira Phanit (seed sowing) (2) Yarra (Youth festival) (3) Mangkhap Phanit etc.
Tangkhuls are music loving people and their songs and their songs were mostly soft and melodious. Apart from varied seasonal, cultural ideas and philosophies, music was a medium wherein historical events were taught. Their religious and romantic nature also expressed in their songs and music. There were varieties of songs, some were mood special, and some were festival and seasonal specials. These folksongs and folklores can be taught and sang by anybody. It can be played with musical instruments such as; 1. Tingteila (violin), 2. Tala (Trumpet), 3. Phung (Drum), 4. Mazo (Woman’s mouth-piece), 5. Sipa (Flute), 6. Paren (Bamboopipe) etc. There are some special occasional dances which are still practicing, like the Laa khanganui – virgin dance during Luira festival (Lui-ngai-ni), Rai Pheichak – War Dance etc.
The culture of Tangkhul is interrelated to their traditional beliefs, practice and custom which includes the ancient tools and materials like swords, knife, spears, shields, bows, axes, spades and arrows. Culturally, the Tangkhuls share close affinities with Meeteis community in many ways. There is no class among them and everyone is equal in the society and in their patriarchal social system. The art of the Tangkhul are very creative and attractive. There are some customary wears exclusively meant for male and female. For example, among the traditional clothes and wears, The Haora Shawl is especially for Men whereas, the Changkhom shawl is exclusively for Women. Apart from these, the following are also their traditional tools and ornaments which distinctly meant for men and women separately:
- Varao Kazei (Spears)
- Malah (Arrow)
- Khairei (Swords)
- Kuisikhai (Knife)
- Ngalasop (basket)
- Mayo pasi (Head gear)
Common items: Haar kazao (Bangal), Changvei (Shields), Ngaha (axes), Tin (spades), Khaiva, Khainao, Changkui, Raikhai, Kianti, Changphar, Kasai, Kazao, Charei, Kongsang, Cha etc. are some of their common tools and ornaments for both men and women.