Manipur Hills and Valley: Ages of living together separately

Despite tall claim of the oneness of hills-valley, historical records are silent that hills and valley of Manipur are one, the idea of hills valley brotherhood is a recent origin. The hollow chant of Ching-tam amadani (oneness of hills and valley), Ching-tam machin manao (hills-valley brotherhood) should be stopped. No history can be based on the ‘invented truth’. Emotionally, the hills and valley had departed long time ago; today it is only the political boundary which forcefully binds them together.

Manipur which lies at the cross road between South East Asia and Central Asia provided a suitable habitat for many seeking for better places. Different racial and ethnic groups of people passed though this vast virgin tract of land in the distant past. This process of migration continued even in the 19th century with the coming of some ethnic tribal groups. Gradually, numerous cultural groups with distinct identity developed and began to occupy different areas, both in the valley and hills of today’s Manipur.

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As the society progressed, absorption and the assimilation of the weaker groups by the superior took place, and in the course of time numerous clans of varying size and strength developed in the valley. In 15th century, the different social groups who inhabit the valley were amalgamated into single group under the suzerainty of Ningthoujas after a long period of inter-clan conflicts among the clan principalities of Manipur valley. This process of Meitei state formation left out the inhabitants of today’s hills people of Manipur. Perhaps, this is the first point of departure of hills and valley which left an everlasting hills-valley divide in the state of Manipur.  While the valley dweller has formed strong Meitei community, the hills people couldn’t expand beyond their village republic because of unfavourable environmental circumstances. In the hills; each village republic occupies specific areas which never overlapped with the territory of the next village. Thus, Naga territory was well maintained till the migration of the Kuki during the historical period, who were mostly planted by the Colonial rulers and Meitei Maharajas at their strategic positions in the territories that traditionally belonged to the Nagas.

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Even after the consolidation of power by the Ningthaojas in the 15th century, the political as well as geographical boundary of Meitei kingdom ebbed and flowed, depending upon the personality of the existing rulers.  The royal chronicle, Cheitharol Kumbaba referred that the kingdom during the period 1467-1501 A.D (ruled by king Kyamba, he introduced the keeping of royal chronicle known as Cheitharol Kumbaba) extends beyond the valley. During the reign of king Khangemba (1597-1652), who was believed to be the most illustrious ruler of medieval Manipur, the boundary extended from the Barak to Chindwin from Maram hills and to Tipaimukh. During the rule of the weak and unpopular rulers, the boundary was confined to valley alone. In most cases, the control of the hills was always short lived and had to be frequently asserted by frequent military expeditions.

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Another historical landmark which created a cleavage between the hills and valley of Manipur was the conversion of the Meitei into Vaishnavite Hinduism in the 18th century. The Meitei society which was caste-less declared themselves as Kshatriya of the Hindu caste hierarchy with their conversion to Hinduism. Non Hindu hills people were looked down as a people outside the caste or considered untouchables. Social and cultural barriers created due to caste difference and invariably, food habits. The people from the hills were considered as impure or polluted people, while the valley people as pure or twice-born. With this conversion, deliberate Sankritization took placed among the valley people. The Meitei which was linguistically and ethnically a Tibeto Burman made an attempt to give a new identity, as a result, the royal family began to trace their genealogy to the Arjuna of the Mahabharata claiming Aryan origin. In 1724, the state adopted a Sanskrit name, Manipur (the Abode of Jewels). Since then, the Meitei kingdom is known as Manipur.

The hills came under the indirect control of British Political Agent only after 1891. Prior to 1891, the hills was never formed as part of the Manipur kingdom.  In 1907, government were handed over to Raja Churachand Singh, and he was made the President of Manipur State Durbar. However, it was reorganised in 1913, and the Raja ceased to be the President. The authority and jurisdiction of Raja and his court was confined to the valley only, the hills continued to be looked after by the Political Agent.

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On the eve of British leaving India, the hills people, both the Kukis and the Nagas took a common stand; they refused to be merged with the Manipur state. Kukis under their chiefs and Kuki National Assembly along with the Nagas expressed strong refusal to be part of Manipur. Among the Nagas, under the strong leadership of Athikho Daiho Mao under the banner of Naga National League representing the Nagas of Manipur strongly opposed the merger with the Manipur state. The symbolic expression of No house tax payment to the Manipur state was launched; subsequently, Athikho Daiho and N Modoli were arrested and imprisoned in Calcutta Dum Dum Central jail. Protest against the arrest of their leader was resorted with brute force by the Assam Rifles killing three persons and injuring many people.

The people of Manipur have been living together without sense of oneness for centuries, without appreciating, without consulting one another. Hills and valley do not share a common heroes, or role model. The historical heroes of one community, for example, is irrelevant for the other community; the prominent patriots of Manipur such as Senapati Tikendrajit, Thangal General etc. are not more than a historical figure for many hills people. They have no common cause; hills and valley have never fought together for any cause in the entire course of their history. Hence, ching-tam amadani or ching-tam machin manao is an imaginary relationship, which does not exist in reality!

Tuisem Ngakang is a researcher based in Delhi. The author may be reached at

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