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Sounding the Bugle

By Karunamay Sinha


When the Britsh officials, diehard in their attempt to go on with their recruitment drive to raise the Labour Corp, started wooing the lesser known pliable chiefs, the strong-willed chiefs realized the need for quick action. They lost no time and began performing their traditional war-declaration rituals. The Kuki chieftainship had Inpi at the national level where all the chiefs met and discussed matters whenever there was a crisis of national magnitude. By the beginning of the year 1917, Kuki chiefs held a series of conclaves at Chassad, Jampi, Longya, and Khongjang. Chiefs from all parts of Zalengam (Kuki fatherland) took part in the conclave. After a series of discussion, the chiefs announced their steely resolve to rise against the British to protect their Zalengam. They began expressing solidarity by performing Sajam-Lhah, killed mithuns and ate the hearts and the livers of the animal - a symbolism for their commitments coming from the depths of their hearts. Pieces of meat were sent to distant villages to be delivered to the chiefs who could not make it to the Inpi. Then came Thingkho Le Malchapom - the ritual for spreading the message of the imminent war. A fiery hot chilli tied on to a piece of smouldering firewood began touring the Kuki villages. On March 17, 1917, Lhukhomang, the Chief of Chassad and Khotinthang, the Jampi Chief performed Sajam-Lhah. They were quickly followed by Ngullien, Chief of Khuongjang. He was followed by the Piba (clan head) of Singson who later withdrew his clan's support under British pressure.


Following formations of Kuki warriors, they began working themselves up against the British: Eastern Hills or the Chassad areas were under the command of Lhukhomang (alias Pache), Chief of Chassad. This chief was assisted by chiefs of Bongbal Khulen and Sita. The Chief also sent bullets to the Chiefs of Jampi, Ukha, Songphu, Henglep and Loibol - a token of his wish that they join the fight against the common enemy. He also held strategic discussions with the Chiefs of Lonpi and Jampi. Chengjapao, Chief of Aishan in the North-Eastern Hills or Aishan areas performed traditional war rites, sent token pieces of meat to the neighbouring chiefs, but was unfortunately apprehended by the colonial forces and was released on the condition that he would persuade the chiefs of Jampi and Chassad not to fight against the British. In the Southern Hills i.e. Lonpi areas, Ngulkhup, Chief of Lonpi had the Chiefs of Longya and Maultam as ready allies. This Chief had the first opportunity to taste colonial blood.


In the first clash with the Kukis here, the British had to turn tail and run helter-skelter leaving behind three bodies of their jawans. It is said, the medical facilities at Imphal were hardly adequate for the soldiers injured in the clash. South-Western Hills or the Henglep areas were under the command of Pakang, Chief of Henglep. The chiefs of Ukha, Nabil, Songphu, Manhlun and Manchong had joined forces with him. He invited about twenty chiefs for an important discussion at Loikhai. Then, after discussion, some warriors who went to the woods to capture a mithun to be slaughtered at the war-rite had an unexpected encounter with British soldiers there. Western hills i.e. Jampi areas were under Khotinthang, a mere youth of a Jampi chief. But he had allies in the chiefs of Laijang, Chongjang, Langkhong and Loibol. War-beads were sent to Pache the Chassad Chief. Besides war-beeds, Pache sent bullets in return to signify his deeper willingness to fight the British.


Courtesy: The Sentinel (August 23, 2009) Melange

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