‘Since time immemorial, we are Zeliangruang’

Rejoinder to the letters of Romeo Gangmei and Kuki Inpi President Nagaland

G.G. Kammei

Romeo Gangmei, Social Worker, Dimapur, in his letter on indigenous issue, published in the Morung Express, May 3 mentioned my daughter’s name mistakenly. Perhaps he did not come across my clarification letter which was published in Nagaland Post from 8 – 13 April 2005. I had clearly written how my daughter applied for NCS/NPS in 2003. Due to the mistake committed by the Commission, there was a paper war among our Zeliangruang brothers. After I made the clarification through the local papers, the chapter was closed and forgotten since then.

I have no resentment against my Zeliang sisters and brothers. It is their responsibility to assert their rights. I must say though that our family sentiments were hurt. One writer doubted that my daughter might have produced her indigenous certificate falsely designating herself as Zeliang Naga. Also, the leaders of three villages Students Union under Peren District used some bias languages in their complaint letter lodged with NPSC. Quarrel among sisters and brothers of the same parents due to some misunderstanding are natural sometimes. But on bridging the gap, all is usually forgotten, and life resumes harmoniously again.

Here I would like to request our Ruangmei (Rongmei) brethrens who have settled and are presently residing in Dimapur since 1930 not to mention my daughter’s name or to make reference to my daughter’s NPSC issue in future when they approach the government or write letters. Your case and my case are different. Those who settled at Dimapur before Nagaland’s statehood have got the right to claim for the indigenous facilities.

Mr Romeo Gangmei also wrongly mentioned Zeliang-Kuki to be the tribe’s name. Zeliang-Kuki is not a tribe’s name but the name of the area. Because of it, Mr Asat Doungel, President, Kuki Inpi, Nagaland reacted very strongly (Morung Express, May 3).

Mr Gangmei immediately begged apology from the Kukis (Morung Express, May 4). I could not understand how a responsible leader, the President of Kuki Inpi, the apex body of Kukis, Nagaland used such degrading and derogatory words against a community. Mr Ajianpu Kamei has rightly pointed out in his rejoinder letter (Morung Express, May 9) that “…Being such a responsible person, thoughts should be expressed after profound thinking, specially in the press.” Mr Asat Doungel’s bias language hurt not only the sentiment of the Ruangmei but also the other brothers – Liangmei, Inpuimei and Zemei because we are the descendants of one ancestral parents, living under one banner, the Zeliangruang Union or Baudi.

It is true that some of our Ruangmei brothers who have settled within the jurisdiction of Imphal town (now city) worked as sweepers and cleaners on two reasons. Firstly, there was no other tribal who settled at Imphal town those days. Only the Ruangmei, as a minority were there. The Meitei (Manipuri) was the major community. The major community and the British rather forced our people living within the town area to do the low graded job. Secondly, there was no land for cultivation. Our people, therefore, had to do this work for survival. The women folk sold meats, fowls, ducks and locally brewed wines called zouziu, paraengdui and Zoungao. 

There are many Ruangmei villages in Manipur valley. But those living outside the town, and beyond were not sweepers. In those days, there were variety of birds and seasoned migratory birds in the valley. Our people shot or trapped those birds, and sold it in the bazaar. The Meiteis did not eat any kind of meat nor did they even take eel fish those days. They called all the tribals, “Hao” and regarded them as “untouchables.” They did not allow the tribal even to touch the verandah of their houses. As such, there was no restriction on hunting and shooting of bird s then. So, our people enjoyed and lived without any problem. Besides fishing, hunting, and catching birds to sell in the bazaar, their main profession was farming. They had sufficient land for wet cultivation, locally called Duilao.

The British brought some of the Ruangmei from Imphal town to Kohima, Dimapur and even to Silchar as laborers. They forced them to work as sweepers. Who can protest against the British? Our people had no other option but to do the work unwillingly. But due to the effort of the Zeliangruang Students Union, Zeliangruang Union and the Church bodies, the low graded job was abandoned many years back.

For your information (if you do not know) 80% and above, we, the Ruangmei are living in the hills under Tamenglong (Nriangluang), Senapati (Tahamzam) and Churachandpur District in Manipur. We have sufficient and vast lands. We do not depend on other people. The villagers in the remote areas are surviving until today depending on wet and jhum cultivation, and forest products. They even do not know who and what a sweeper or a cleaner’s job is. Are they also sweepers and cleaners? I am also from the hill who had never done the job you categorized the Ruangmeis with. 

I will also tell you that Pouh Jadonang (to be pronounced Zaduannang) was born to Ruangmei parents from Puiluan village under Tamenglong District. He rose against the mighty British regime and demanded for Naga Independence in the mid 1920s. The British colonial ruler arrested and hanged him on 29th August 1931 at Imphal without any trial in connivance with the Meitei Maharaj.

The Recipient of Tamra Patra (1972), Padma Bhusan (1982), Award of recognition presented by the Diocese of Kohima (1996) and Birsa Munda Award (1996), Freedom fighter Rani Gaidinliu is also a Ruangmei from Luangkao village under Tamenglong (Nriangluang) District. Though they are Ruangmei, they never say that they are Ruangmei but called themselves as a Zeliangruang. Are the two renowned leaders also sweepers and cleaners? We, the Zeliangruang people are looking forward to your reply through papers as brother Romeo did.

In your letter, you have mentioned Kabui and Kacha Naga as our tribe’s name. Please note how these two names were recorded in the Constitution of Scheduled Tribe 1950 list for Manipur without our people’s knowledge and consent. 

On Kacha Naga, there are two schools of thought. Firstly, when the British entered Assam, they met our people in Cachar District. They noticed that our people are distinctly different from the Kachari, culturally and traditionally. So they might have assumed that we are Kachari Naga, and hence recorded as Kacha Naga. If it is translated into Hindi, it becomes ‘unripe’ or ‘half Naga,’ which our people dislike. 

The other is that when the British arrived in Kohima, the officer pointed towards our land, Peren and Nriangluang, and asked his Angami interpreter which tribes inhabit there. The interpreter replied that he does not know but that a Naga tribe is living in the “ketsu” meaning, ‘forest.’ So, from Angami “ketsü,” the British recorded our tribe’s name as ‘Kacha’ as they did not know the spelling of the word “ketsü.” Basing on this British record, the Indian government recorded ‘Kacha Naga’ for Zeme and Liangmei in the ST list of Manipur. 

But the Kacha Naga covered the three brothers of Zeliangruang. J.H. Hutton in his book, “The Angami Nagas” in page 352 recorded Zemi for Zeme, Lyengmai for Liangmei and Maruong for Ruangmei. Hutton, in his map, showing the location of the Naga tribes also recorded Kabui under Kacha Naga. Hutton also said that “the dancing and singing of the Kacha Nagas and Kabuis are of a more advanced development than is found among the western Nagas.” 

This was how the name of Inpui (Npui) was recorded as Kabui by the Meitei Maharaja. The Inpuimei is the smallest tribe among the Zeliangruang ethnic group. They are found in Houchong region under Nriangluang (Tamenglong) District of Manipur. Some villages are also there in Manipur valley. It is said that one day, when a Inpuimei was digging a beaver hole, the Meitei Maharaja passed by the Inpui village and asked the Inpui Naga, “What is your tribe’s name?” As he could not understand his language, the Inpui Naga thought that the king was enquiring as to what he was doing. He answered, “Kabui, kabui chou ongnu we.” This means, “Beaver, I am digging to catch beaver.” In Inpui dialect, a beaver is called Kabui. So the Meitei Maharaj named the tribe’s name as Kabui.

The Inpuis have closer affinity with the Ruangmeis. Most of the Inpui speak Ruangmei. The common language between these two ethnic groups is Ruangmei because Ruangmei do not speak the Inpui dialect. The costumes and dresses are almost the same though we speak different dialects. The Inpuimei also use the names of Ruangmei clans such as Kamei (Kammei), Riammei (Nriammei), Gaengmei and Panmei. So, others thought that the Inpui and Ruangmei are one and the same tribe. Hence, the Indian government recorded ‘Kabui’ for Inpuimei and Ruangmei in the Constitution Scheduled Tribe 1950 list for Manipur.

Till now the village folks do not know what is Kacha Naga and Kabui Naga. The educated people who are seeking for government jobs and scholarships are willy-nilly using Kacha Naga and Kabui Naga as per rules. Since Kacha Naga and Kabui Naga was recorded by the government without the knowledge and consent of our people, Freedom Fighter Rani Gaidinliu, Zeliangruang Union (AMN) and All Zeliangruang Students Union have demanded and submitted many memorandums to the Central government through the State government to change the nomenclature back to the original names, Zeme, Liangmei, Nruangmei and Inpuimei. The Manipur government has recommended and written to the Central government to change the nomenclature. 

As far as I know, your people are also known under three names. The majority are using ‘Kuki’ as your tribe’s name but some use ‘Khongsai’ and ‘Thadou.’ In All India Radio Manipur, Thadou is still used as your tribe’s name, whereas in Nagaland, ‘Kuki’ is used. It is not my business to look into other tribes’ names, regarding which is right and which is wrong. So also, you have nothing to do in our tribe’s name. Since time immemorial, we are Zeliangruang, the descendants of one ancestral parent although there is some variation in languages because of the separation from each other in our search for more fertile and cultivable lands. 

I sincerely believe this write-up has cleared up your misunderstanding. I also believe that no further derogatory remarks will be made of any people or community in future in this age and time when people have realized the importance of all kinds of job, no matter how small or big, and respect everybody for their various contributions in the society.