WHO ARE THE KUKIS?

WHO ARE THE KUKIS?

 

By Mark Haokip


Kukis are a people, a well-established nation, and rules by well set of traditional customary laws in an oral and written tradition since long before the British government had destroyed our sovereignty and the lively structures of our land. The Political theory of nation-state was dominantly played as the mother backbone of Kuki laws began from a village administrative channel. The sovereign, we called it Haosa is the Chief ruler of the Kuki village. He was elected from the eldest of the clan's or the family through genealogical lineage. And he has the power to nominate his cabinet or through election procedures served to it by the people just similar to a democratic form of government. However, the ruler, Haosa (Chief) candidature or term of functioning his power is customarily framed for his lifetime and he holds the portfolio until his death. After his death, his eldest son will rule in his instead. The very system still practices and existed till date.

We fought a long and fierce great war in defiance of our sovereign country since the 1760s till 1919. The great war we fought in the period of 1917-1919 was the final result and the end of our self-protection from the British intrusion. It was termed as 'Kuki War of Independence 1917-1919' by TS Gangte (1980). The Kukis offensive against the British which is recorded as Anglo-Kuki War 1917-1919 by Palit 1984, Kuki Rising by Shakespeare (1929) and Chhettri (2003) recorded the event as Kuki Rebellion 1917-1919. Kukis had started the offensive against the British government in defiance of our sovereign country since the 1760s when the British government initiated expansion of her rules in the hill country but failed to do so due to the defensive strike against them by the Kukis was greater than what the British had thought of.

In History of India (1930, pp 6-7, fifth revised edition), the author Majumdar and Bhattasali stated that Kukis existed in prehistory India and refer to the Kukis as the earliest people known to have lived in pre-historic India, preceding the “Dravidians” who now live in South, arrived in the Indian sub-continent around 1500 BC. In today, the geographical settlement of the Kuki people, as miraculously discovered is vastly spread across from Siberia and closely parading down to the south-west and southern parts of Asia continent. However, we claim none of them politically inserted to the fold of Kukis.

The Pooyas, the original script of the Meitei people of Manipur, which refer to ‘two Kuki Chiefs named Kuki Ahongba and Kuki Achouba were allies to Nongba Lairen Pakhangba, the first historically recorded king of the Meithis [Meiteis], in the latter’s mobilization for the throne in 33 AD.’ The statement of Prof. JN Phukan supports this record:

‘If we were to accept Ptolemy’s ‘Tiladae’ as the ‘Kuki’ people, as identified by Gerini, the settlement of the Kuki in North-east India would go back to a very long time in the past. As Prof. Gangumei Kamei thinks, ‘some Kuki Tribes migrated to Manipur hills in the pre-historic times along with or after the Meitei advent in the Manipur valley (History of Manipur, p24).’ This hypothesis will take us to the theory that the Kukis, for the matter, at least some of their tribes, had been living in North-east India since the pre-historic time, and therefore, their early home must be sought in the hills of Manipur and the nearby areas rather than in central China or Yang-tze valley.

In the second century (AD 90-168), Claudius Ptolemy, the geographer, identified the Kukis with Tiladai who are associated with Tilabharas and places them ‘to the north of Maiandros, that is about the Garo Hills and the Silhet’. Stevenson’s reference to Kuki in relation to Ptolemy’s geography also bears critical significance to its period existence. In the Rajmala or Annals of Tripura, Shiva is quoted to have fallen in love with a Kuki woman around AD 1512.

In researches on Ptolemy’s Geography of Eastern Asia (further India and Indo-Malay archipelago), published in the conjunction with the Royal Geographical Society, London, Gerini (1909, pp.744) wrote, ‘Kuki is one of the terms by which the Chin-Lushai tribes are collectively designated…’ Other nomenclatures of later origin, such as Chin and Mizo have emerged to identify the same people. It will be a matter of interest to the ethnologists that these identities are geographically determined. Chin is prevalent in Burma; because “Chin” is a divisive name, invented and given to the Kukis in Eastern Kuki Country, later became known as Upper and Western Burma, as specifically written down by Bertram S. Carey and H.N. Tuck in their book, “The Chin Hills” Vol. I, page 3. “Those of the Kuki tribes which we designate as ‘Chin’ do not recognize that name, which is said to be a Burmese corruption of the Chinese ‘Jin’ or ‘Yen’, meaning ‘man’.”

In this way, the area also had been named as Chin Hills in order to isolate the Eastern Kukis and their land from the Kuki Nation by direct implication of the British divide and rule policy. A common feature among each of the groups represented by the nomenclature is that they comprise of the same mix of clans and sub-clans. This important characteristic that represents a genealogical link amongst the people was identified by Sir Robert Reid, Governor of Assam from 1937 to 1942. Sir Robert Reid remarks in “The Lushai Hill” (1942, 1978, p. 4), ‘the people form mingling of clans, speaking so far as I know, dialects of the same language, who are known to us by various names- Kookies, Lushais, Pois, Shendus, Chin, etc.’

Kuki Rising Against British Imperialism (1777-1944)

Throughout history, the Kuki chiefs have been tenacious about preserving their ancestral land. They rose against the British imperialists from the time the latter set foot in Kuki Country. Kuki resistance against British incursion, which began in the eighteen-century, spans nearly two hundred years. It is not worth that in all that time the chiefs never relinquished their territory to the British. Till today, for example, within India, Burma, and Bangladesh Kuki Territory, though divided, remains in the name of the chiefs, not the governments.

The earliest Kuki offensive against the British colonialists dates back to 1777, at the time Lord Warren Hastings was Governor General of India. As Mackenzie (1884 (2005, p271)) notes, this first incident on record was impelled by the colonialists’ annexation of Hill Tipperah (Tripura) in 1761, whereupon Kukis went on the offensive against the invaders.

In reference to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the ‘Great Kuki Invasion of the 1860s’, which Elly (1893) (1978, p8)) describes, was a culmination of previous ‘raids’ beginning from 1845 to 1851. In Sir Robert Reid's (Ibid p5) words, ‘the Great Kooki Rising of 1849 and 1850...certainly was the great series of raids in 1860-61.’ In Mackenzie’s (Ibid p.342) account, ‘Early in 1860, reports were received, a Chittagong, of the assembling of a body of 400 or 500 Kookies at the head of the River Fenny...the Kookies, after sweeping down the course of the Fenny, burst into the plains of Tipperah at Chagulneyah, burnt or plundered 15 villages, butchered 185 British subjects, and carried off about 100 captives.’ In retaliation, Lalminthanga (1997, p21) observes that in January 1861 a military force was sent to punish the offending Chief Rothangpuia at his village near Demagiri [Tlabung] in southwest Mizoram.

‘Lushai Chrysalis’ by Major A.G.McCall reads at para 2 on page 64 as under:

“Mr Davis’ apprehensions as regards that great and strong-minded ruler, Kairuma Sailo, proved only too true in 1895 when he declined to meet a demand for porterage or to pay a fine in default. Forces from Burma and Aijal(Aizawl) synchronized their movements in rather a spectacular way by descending upon Kairuma’s country on the very same day. As the original fine had been enhanced and since remained unpaid, Kairuma’s village was burned and many Mithun, i.e., hill cattle, were seized. Kairuma Sailo wisely capitulated, guns were surrendered, and all fines paid. This marked the last gesture of resistance to British rule.”

The British military expeditions of the Kuki country in 1889-90 was not a mere punitive measure as stated by foreign writers but decisive expeditions which led to an occupation of the whole Kuki country by the British from 1890 till 1947. Chin Hills, till 1948 when Burma achieved her independence, [(2010), Hawla Sailo, “Golden History of Lushai Hills”, p87)].
Two World Wars

To preserve their territorial integrity, Kuki chiefs continued to fight against the British and their allies through the second half of the twentieth century. WWI marked a culmination of Kuki risings that commenced in the 1700s. A historic offensive against the British was launched on 7 March 1917. This event, which lasted three consecutive years, is recorded as ‘Kuki Rising, 1917-1919’ in the archives of Oriental and India Office Collection in London, Gangte (1980, p12, 18), who terms the event ‘Anglo-Kuki War, 1917-1919’, observes that the Chassad and Ukha Haokips rose to fight for the protection of their land from being annexed by the alien power.’ Col. Shakespeare (1929, 1977), Gen. Palit (1984) and Guardian of the North East (2003, pp19-20) refer to the same event as ‘Kuki Rebellion, 1917-1919’. A notable feature of this particular Kuki Rising is a relatively minor ethnic group withstood the British imperialist power continuously for three years. Sir Robert Reid (Ibid p79) remarked that it was the most serious event in the history of Manipur. A glimpse of the event’s magnitude is also apparent in an extract from the Proceedings of the Chief Commissioner of Assam in the Political Department (27 September 1920):

“The ‘Kuki Rising, 1917-1919’, which is the most formidable with which Assam has been faced for at least a generation...the rebel villages held nearly 40, 000 men, women and children interspersed...over some 6, 000 square miles of rugged hills surrounding the Manipur valley and extending to the Somra Tract and the Thaungdut State in Burma.”

The exasperation caused to the British by the Kukis during this period is evident in the comments of Sir HDU Kerry, General Officer Commanding Burma Division (Despatch On the Operation Against the Kuki Tribes of Assam and Burma, November 1917 to March 1919): “I, therefore, decided to put an end to the Kuki revolt by force of arms, break the Kuki spirit, disarm the Kukis, exact reparation and pave the way for an effective administration of their country.”

The following military awards were given to the British officers and soldiers after the war (Guardians of the North East, p20): 1 CIE, 1 OBE, 14 IDSMs, 1 King’s Police Medal, innumerable Mentions-in-Despatches and Jangi Inams. A Minute Paper of the Secret Political Department, Government of Burma, Rangoon (23 December 1919) states that ’23 principals involved, 13 in Manipur under Assam, 10 in the Somra Tract under Burma’ took part in the Kuki Rising. PS Haokip, in “Zale’n-gam: The Kuki Nation (1998, pp166-167) mentions that the twenty-three ‘principals’ were Kuki chiefs, who initially were imprisoned at Sadiya Jail and later transferred far away from their country to the Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The Kuki rising reached its closure in 1919. Inevitably, the prolonged war profoundly affected the day-to-day lives of the predominantly agrarian people. The seasonal cultivation of paddy and maize, a staple diet of the Kukis, was severely disrupted. The men could not hunt for wild animals, nor could the womenfolk collect food items, such as fruits and vegetables from the jungles. All of these normal activities became dangerous to pursue. As a result, there was a scarcity of provisions, which also made it difficult to maintain regular supplies to the warriors engaged in war. Support from the neighbouring communities in the hills, who normally paid tax and tributes to the Kuki chiefs, was no longer forthcoming-these neighbour took advantage of the existing situation and assisted the enemy instead.

Under these circumstances, the noble chiefs decided to cease fighting so that the hardship faced by the people may be somewhat mitigated. And so, they honourably gave in to the British authorities but not surrendered their land and the Kuki government, and fully served out the terms of imprisonment. In this manner, as Lt. Col. RS Chhetri (Guardians of the North East, p19) remarked, ‘an Assam Rifles Brigade under Col LW Shakespear, the newly appointed Deputy Inspector General, set out with a strength on 2, 600 men assisted by a contingent of Burma Military Police numbering 400’ to confront the Kukis, came to a conclusion. However, it is to be noted that the Kukis became an ally to the ‘German Government’ in the first World War.

‘The first World War started in Europe in 1914 – at the time, both India and Burma were under the occupation the British. Two senior Kuki leaders of Kukiland, namely, Pu Chengjapao Doungel, (Kuki King), Chief of Aisan and Pu Lhukhomang Haokip alias Pache, Chief of Chassad (who was also chief of Haokips) decided to look for allies. They established contact with the Bengali people, who were in touch with the Germans. Through the Bengalis, the Kuki leaders sent emissaries to the Germans. An agreement was reached between the Kukis and the Germans: the Germans would supply arms and ammunition to aid the Kukis in their war of independence. Photographs were exchanged during the secret meetings. Following the secret agreement with the Germans, Pu Chengjapao Doungel and Pu Pache met at Aisan, in the first week of March 1917. The two leaders decided to start formal preparation for the war, and a meeting was held, (PS Haokip, Zale’n-gam, the Kuki Nation, p146).’

The British Crown policy of expanding her Colonialism into Kukiland was politically and technically failed. Because it was planned outside the equilibrium of the existing Kuki Political philosophy. However, we were economically and socially deteriorated due to the defensive war we fought against them. Therefore, we had no time and space to rebuild our rights to self-determination in our land. During this economical collapsed, the WWII arose and it took us down again to the bottom. In the midst of this transition periods, the League of Nation, a world forum was formed in against the British colonialism policy. Later, it was changed into the United Nation Organisation (UNO).

Thus, the United Nation had framed the Charter of Agreement to abolished the colonialism policy and set away clearly to claim the rights to self-determination for a people like Kukis under “Declaration of Independence to Colonial Countries, 14th December 1960, Resolution number 1514(XV). Under the United Nation, the fruits of freedom were earned by the vast majority population of the world. However, it was ill-starred that Kukiland is still put under the three countries, viz, India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh by the British in retribution for their shameful defeated fights avenged from the Kuki people. Hence, we are still keeping under the political siege in a form of Neo-colonialism policy dominantly played by these trilateral countries. We are politically suppressed till today and we are also politically harrassed more than two-hundred years. This means our fundamental rights are totally denied and trample.

Are we the people who do not have the rights to enjoy our freedom in this world? Is this not the aggression and destruction of our birthrights, if we deem fit to enjoy the universal declaration of human rights declared by the United Nation then should it be good for us to remain this way as the same? We don’t think your conscience could accept it anyway.

The historical significances of Kukiland and our generic identity ‘Kuki’ are also at stake today. Under these perilous Neo-colonialism policies overlaid on us by the three of them, and have always made attempts to derogate or abolish Kuki History and political identity from our very own soil. Is this not a treasons to the face of the world? The violation of our rights in this way is unacceptable in the eyes of the laws.

The government of India has extensively played bargaining policy since long time ago in a form of experimenting their political efforts to create a Pan-Naga Council under the settlement policy of NSCN IM’s Framework Agreement signed on August 3, 2015 to overtook Kukiland and posing threats to invalidating Kuki historical rights and references within the ambits of India-occupied Kukiland/ Northeast India. It is, in fact, to be a full-scale political disaster to abolish Kuki historical records and motherland in a purview of humanitarian grounds. Therefore, we determined and publicly affirmed in demanding the declaration of our Independence to enjoy our own laws, self-determination and independent autonomy as we had enjoyed in the pre-colonial period. So that a knowledgeable development of Christianity shall have room securely in the region.

Kuki ancestral sovereign land was historically and linguistically demarcated by Dr.George Abraham Gierson,ICS, Superintendent of Linguistic Survey of India since 1904 under the special authorization Queen Elizabeth-ll is specified as below:

KUKI COUNTRY

Kuki Country (Grierson, GA (1904) Linguistic Survey of India, Vol 111, Part 111). The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1962, vol xiii, 511) records, ‘Kuki, a name given to a group of tribes inhabiting both sides of the mountains dividing Assam and Bengal from Burma, south of the Namtaleik River.’ Grierson (1904) marks out:

The territory inhabited by the Kuki tribes extends from the Naga Hills in the north down into the Sandoway District of Burma in the south; from Myittha River in the east, almost to the Bay of Bengal in the west. It is almost entirely filled up by hills and mountain ridges, separated by deep valleys. A great chain of mountains suddenly rises from the plains of Eastern Bengal, about 220 miles north of Calcutta, and stretches eastward in a broadening mass of spurs and ridges, called successively the Garo, Khasia, and Naga Hills. The elevation of the highest point increases towards the east, from about 3,000 feet in the Garo Hills to 8,000 and 9,000 in the region of Manipur. This chain merges, in the east, into the spurs, which the Himalayas shoot out from the north of Assam towards the south. From here a great mass of mountain ridges starts southwards, enclosing the alluvial valley of Manipur, and thence spreads out westwards to the south of Sylhet. It then runs almost due north and south, with cross-ridges of smaller elevation, through the districts known as the Chin Hills, the Lushai Hills, Hill Tipperah, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Farther south the mountainous region continues, through the Arakan Hill Tracts, and the Arakan Yoma, until it finally sinks into the sea at Cape Negrais, the total length of the range being some seven hundred miles. The greatest elevation is found to the north of Manipur. Thence it gradually diminishes towards the south. Where the ridge enters the north of Arakan it again rises, with summit upwards of 8,000 feet high, and here a mass of spurs is thrown off in all directions. Towards the south the western off-shoots diminish in length, leaving a track of alluvial land between them and the sea, while in the north the eastern off-shoots of the Arakan Yoma run down to the banks of the Irrawaddy. This vast mountainous region, from the Jaintia and Naga Hills in the north, is the home of the Kuki tribes. We find them, besides, in the valley of Manipur, and, in small settlements, in the Cachar Plains and Sylhet.