Ngahui Village massacre in 1918: Less than a dozen survived

The Ngahui village massacre is very much part of the 1917-1919 rebellion written in the memories of the Ngahui villagers and should be given due recognition by the aggressor, and find a significant place in the annals of Manipur. That acknowledgement, without evading factual historical narrative, while not twisting or intentional omission of the massacre account [as denied by Kuki historians] will set the tone right to mutual respect as communities today.

In the mid year of 1918, during the Kuki punitive measure [the Anglo-Kuki War of 1917-1919, as the Kuki historian call it], blood soaked history was being written at Ngahui village (Awangkasom), in the northern part of Ukhrul district. Naga and Kuki scholars, and researchers differ on the appropriateness of naming the Kuki punitive measure, but the collective historical consensus [It is also worth noting that the British, the Meiteis and the Nagas said it was a rebellion. It is only the Kuki scholars that insist it was Anglo-Kuki War. On pure consensus term, it is 3 to 1] agree it was Kuki Uprising. However, the British termed the uprising, a rebellion. One thing is clear, it was not a conquest nor it was a crusade. And since, in today’s world, identity politics thrives, especially in a tribal historical framework, history for the Ngahui villagers, who in the early 20th century, unaware of the muzzle-loaded gun (musket), unaware of gun-powder weaponry, fell on the village front yard. This blood soaked history of Ngahui village, as well as the many other Naga villages in Manipur hills that came under the ravage of the Kuki musket from late 19th century onwards, cannot be re-written by mere change of recent historical narratives.

There are numerous recorded history of this particular Kuki aggression towards the Nagas from different sources of those times. Kuki Inpi Manipur, insist there was no aggression towards the Nagas during the Kuki uprising. Kuki National Assembly (KNA) letter to CM N Biren saying the Anglo-Kuki War, surrounding the tussle with the state government over the monolith inscription, as KNA suggest, illustrates the war was between the English and the Kukis. KNA President, Mangboi Haokip in the letter wrote “the Anglo-Kuki War occurred after the 28 years of the downfall of the kingdom of Manipur in the Anglo-Manipur War of Khongjom War 1891”.

According to historians, the massacre was not the first of such targeted ruthless attacks under Kuki rebellion — There were many Kuki groups attacking hill areas. Advocate Sira Kharay, in an article written in 2018, narrated the extend of the Kuki rebellion, saying “unprovoked Kuki aggression is not new to the Nagas. James Johnstone reminisces that the Kukis “were a ceaseless trouble” to the “Nagas” and according to B.C. Chakravorti, during the “Kuki rebellion of 1917-1919, the Kabui Nagas suffered very badly at the hands of the Kukis. In the month of February, 1880, the Kukis attacked another “Tankhool” (Tangkhul) Naga village, namely “Chingsow” (Chingsui) village, and mercilessly massacred 45 persons. The attack was in defiance of British order and policy as it “appeared that a demand has been made by Tonghooj the Chussad Chief, that the Chingsow Nagas should submit to him and pay tribute, but they, of course, refused (emphasis added)” (Johnston J., My Experiences in Manipur and the Naga Hills, p. 185)”.

Sira Kharay wrote, “as per the accounts of Sir Robert Reids, the Kuki mercenaries massacred about 176 persons of Goitang village and total of about 76 houses were completely razed to ashes. More than 250 Kharam villagers were butchered and their houses burnt. About 70 of Makoi villagers were massacred, properties plundered and houses burnt. About 10 of Dailong villagers were butchered, over 70 houses torched and properties plundered. Whole of Mongjarong Khunou village was razed to the ground and about 39 were massacred (Facts about the Naga-Kuki Conflict, p. 5-6). According to B.C. Allen, the Kuki mercenaries made another ferocious attack on “Swemi” (Chingjaroi) Naga village in about the month of December, 1892 and as per the village account, more than 600 villagers were ruthlessly massacred. And the list goes on”.

One of the chilling accounts of Ngahui massacre while speaking to a village elder said that the massacre took place on the last week of May 1918. The attack was carried out at dawn. Most of the village elders who knew much about the massacre directly, including the author’s grandmother, are no longer alive. Since there was no written record in the village, all accounts were passed down verbally by the elders. At the day of the massacre, the author’s grandmother was in Kalhang village (about 5 kilometers towards Ukhrul headquarters from Ngahui) baby sitting.

Worth noting is the return, or the homecoming of the Tangkhul Labour Corps from WWl. As per records, they returned on July 23, 1918. According to World War I Tangkhul Naga Labour Corps Association (WWITNLCA), in April 1917, a group of 2000 recruits for the Labour Corps (22 Manipur, Indian Labour Corps) assembled in Imphal. After a short period of rigorous intensive physical training and on basic warfare knowledge set off to France. Out of 2000 labour corps, 1200 were from the Tangkhul Naga. Six Christian workers and students were among the contingent to act as interpreters.

Tangkhul Labour Corps Manipur

The attack of Ngahui village is found mentioned in the tour dairy of J C Higgins. As President of the Manipur State Durbar (PMSD) he was reported of the affairs of the happening in Manipur hills; some accounts were written by himself from his personal tours to places and villages. He was Vice-President and then President of PMSD from 1910 till 1917. He was then made the Political Agent of Manipur State from 1917 till 1918, and from 1924 till 1933. In between 1918 till 1924, W A Crosgrave, L O Clarke, C Gimson were the Political Agents, according to B. Kulachandra Sharma research.

Higgins in one of his tour dairy wrote, “On the 22nd May [1918] Chalaw, north-east of Manipur, was looted by about 100 Kukis, but no lives were lost. On the following day Kukis burnt the suspension bridge over the 2 Thobal [Thoubal] river on the Imphal-Ukhrul bridle-path, and on the 26th a party under the chiefs of Chassad and Aishan, raided Kasom, [Awangkasom village. The village name is officially called Ngahui today] a Tangkhul Naga village, and practically wiped out the population, only 4 survivors reaching Kalhang village.”

Historians say that Higgins being the chief British official at that time had to send annual reports to London. Hence his tour dairy comprised of many years when he was the PMSD during the British rule.

An interview with Awo (elder) Shanphung Kasomwoshi said, translation: “The Kukis started capturing the Ngahui villagers at the break of dawn in front of Luiyor and Ngaitheng’s front yard. They were captured and encircled by the Kukis. During that time one Lanotla Kasomwaoshi went out to fetch water near by the pond. While she was returning, one Kuki attacker tried to grab her by the hand but she threw away the sopkai (bamboo basket) and managed to escape and ran inside her house. She was chased into the house but the attacker gave up chasing seeing a buffalo tied to the barn just next to the kitchen”.

Awo Shanphung continued, “she escaped from the back yard of the house. After that, people started screaming as the Kukis started killing the villagers one after another. A villager who was ill and bed ridden, who was lucky enough not to be noticed by the Kuki mercenaries, after hearing the loud screeching noise, Awo Thingnam Zingkhai escaped to Kive (a place name) and survived the massacre. A brave woman Lashila Zingkhai who tried to face the aggressors walked up to them, but she also ran away jumping past a Longhei (fencing). It was customary for the Kukis to capture and take back a survivor from villages they blunder and attack as a proof of war victory to showcase to their village chief. That particular person after many years returned to the village. Ngahui villages will prove this to you”, said the elder.

The villagers of Ngahui have not forgotten till this day, the mass massacre, where as per Higgins tour diary suggests, only 4 survived.

This article is written not to incite hate or polarise tribal conflict between the two communities. It is written so that wronged history can be right — to restore historical order. Ngahui village is not asking for a reparation, an apology, but the Kuki apex organization should admit that during 1917-19 Kuki rebellion, the Anglo-Kuki War, or Kuki punitive measure, however one finds it convenient to name the critical historical account must be reminded that a generation of Ngahui villager were wiped out. Historical accounts such as this, soaked in blood, cannot and should not be allowed to be evaporated in thin air. The Ngahui village massacre is very much part of the 1917-1919 rebellion written in the memories of the Ngahui villagers and should be given due recognition by the aggressor’s community, and find a significant place in the annals of Manipur. That acknowledgement, without evading factual historical narrative, while not twisting or intentional omission of the massacre account [as denied by Kuki historians] will set the tone right to mutual respect as communities today.

Disclaimer: This article in whatsoever manner does not relate to the 1990’s communal conflict.

The author is from Ngahui village.

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