Ukhrul District is the home of the Tangkhul tribes, who 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 and similar tribes 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.
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 10,000 B.C. to 8,000 B.C. This movement has continued into recent historic times. S.K. Chatterjee noted that from 2000 B.C. onwards, Sino-Tibetan spreads 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.
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, administrator and commander rolled into one. However, absence of a national government was disastrous for them in the medieval 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).