GOVERNMENT OF INDIA.
Published by Authority
VALLEY OF MUNNIPORE
THE HILL TRIBES;
MUNNIPORE AND OTHER LANGUAGES.
By Major W. McCulloch
Political Agent at Munnipore.
BENGAL PRINTING COMPANY LIMITED.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
Account of the Valley of Munnipore ......1
......of the Hill Tribes .......41
Comparative Vocabulary of the Munnipore and other Languages, Appendix......I [Omitted].
Genealogical Table of descent of some Kookie Chiefs, Appendix....II [Omitted].
ACCOUNT OF THE VALLEY OF MUNNIPORE.
BETWEEN the British Provinces of Assam and Cachar, and the
North-Western portion of the territory of Burma, lies an immense extent of
mountainous country, inhabited by numerous mountain tribes: in this great
mountain tract one or two valleys occur. The largest—that of Munnipore—is, from
its connection with the British Government, and from the tribes around it all
admitting its supremacy, the most important. Of this valley and mountain
territory, I purpose to give some account.
Lying between latitude 23° 50' and 25° 30' North, and longitude 93° 10' and 93° 30' East, the country in question is bounded on the north and West by the British Provinces of Assam and Cachar, and on the East by the Kubbo valley now subject to Burma. To the North-East and south, the boundary is not well defined, and would much depend upon the extent to which the Munnipore Government might spread its influence amongst the bill tribes in those directions, but in the North-East it may be denoted by a line drawn north from the North-Western corner of the Kubbo valley, until it strikes the Assam boundary, and in the south by one drawn West from the source of the Numsailung River, the fixed South-East boundary, till its junction with the Tooyai River.
Of the space comprised in these bounds, the valley of Munnipore occupies nearly the centre. It is called by the Munniporees, "Meithei-Ieipāk." The Burmese call it Kathé, the Bengalees Moglai, and Assamese Meklé. The area of the whole territory is about 7,000 square miles, and that of the central valley about 650.
The principal rivers flowing through the valley, are the Kongba, Keril, and
Thobal, which all take their rise in the hills to the North and North-East. In
the rains their volume of water is considerable, but in the dry weather, they
contain scarcely sufficient to float the small canoes in use in the country. The
Keril and Thobal Rivers fall into the Kongba, which forms the drain for all the
waters flowing into the valley, carrying them off by Shoogoonoo through the
Southern hills into the Ningthee.
Much of the valley is at all seasons covered with water. It seems to me indeed at one time to have formed a large lake, and the piece of water in the South called the Logtak, appears to be an unfilled but rapidly filling remnant of it.
The climate of the Munnipore valley is good, but the temperature is higher than from the elevation, 2,500 feet, would have been expected. This excess in temperature may probably be owing to the reflection of heat from the sides of the lofty mountains surrounding. The months of November, December, January, and February may be reckoned on as dry months. In November, dense fogs settle over the valley during the night, not clearing until the middle of next day. In December, January, and beginning of February, hoar frosts are prevalent. Whilst these prevail, the atmosphere is delightfully clear, but vegetation, excepting on the skirts of the hills, is burnt up. Young plants, if not protected, die. The leaves of the plantain wither and become brown as if scorched by fire. The remaining eight months are more or less rainy. But though the number of rainy days is greater, the quantity of rain that falls is less than in the plains of Bengal. At all seasons, when it does not rain, or is not very cloudy, dew falls heavily, and before the sun has set, the grass is usually saturated. January is the coldest, and May and June are the hottest months in the year. In May, the hill streams begin to rise, and they usually remain full until October. During this time, communication with Bengal or Burma is difficult, tedious, and often very dangerous.
The wind blows chiefly from the South-West, and whilst it does so, the country retains its usual healthiness. An Easterly wind, continued for any time, brings with it sickness. Storms are very rare, and those terrific peals of thunder, and brilliant flashes of lightning for which mountain countries are celebrated seldom occur. Sheet lightning is [p.3] most frequent, and luminates the horizon in the cloudless evenings of the mildest weather. In these fine nights, more especially in September and October, igneous meteors, such as falling stars, are very observable. And at times a sudden splendour, as if rising from the earth, accompanied by a loud report, occurs. This Munniporee superstition has rendered into a warning of their Raja's death. Earthquakes are not frequent, but their shocks are sometimes severe, causing a feeling as of giddiness, and a slight nausea. On the occurrence of an earthquake, an universal shout of "ngä chăk," "ngä chäk," "fish and rice," "fish and rice," is raised, from a notion that it has an effect on their food, and as a prayer apparently that the supply of fish and rice be not diminished.
Disease increases as Munnipore becomes more connected with the West. Until lately, venereal disease was nearly unknown, or if it occurred, was mild and easy of cure. It is now virulent. Smallpox during the last two years has been constantly present. Formerly, its visits never exceeded two or three months, and the disease was mild. The general mild character still remains. Fever is a general disease, worse in some localities than others. Cholera, not long ago unknown, has, in occasional visits, committed great ravages. Generally, however, the country is extremely healthy, and many of the inhabitants attain an advanced age.
If forest trees ever covered the valley of Munnipore as they now do those of the Jeeree and of Kubbo they have now, except in one spot, entirely disappeared. Where not cultivated it is covered with dense grass and reed jungle. The soil, a rich alluvial of great depth, and the climate, are such that almost every crop might be cultivated successfully, but for reasons which will be hereafter shown, the cultivation is very limited. The chief crop is a species of rice which ripens in six months. It is long grained, and of very superior quality, and is reaped in the end of November and beginning of December. The inferior sorts of rice which ripen in three or four months are cultivated, but to a very small extent pulses of different kinds, pepper, onions, &c., are raised, but in no great quantities. Tobacco and sugarcane grow luxuriantly. Produce of the kitchen garden of Europe was introduced by British Officers, but soon deteriorated, and is now nearly extinct. Potatoes are generally very inferior, and though cultivated, are eaten by very few. The fruits of the country, with the exception of the pine-apple [p.4] some mangoes, and perhaps the guava, are of the most inferior description. They are all sour. The Natives, however, prefer them to the sweet varieties, and eat them with great relish with salt and red pepper.
The origin of the Munniporees is obscure, and the written records having mostly been composed since they became Hindoos, are not worthy of much credit. From the most credible traditions, the valley appears originally to have been occupied by several tribes, the principal of which were named Koomul, Looang, Moirang and Meithei, all of whom came from different directions. For a time, the Koomul appears to have been the most powerful, and after its declension, the Moirang tribe. But by degrees the Meithei subdued the whole, and the name Meithei has become applicable to all. Since their conversion to Hindooism the Meitheis have claimed for themselves a Hindoo descent. This claim, in his report on the Eastern Frontier, Captain Pemberton rejects, and says, "we may safely conclude them to be descendants from a Tartar Colony from China." For this conclusion, I can see no reason, and think there is far more ground to conclude them to be descendants of the surrounding hill tribes. The languages spoken by these tribes are in their pristine state; I conceive, then, that in their spoken language, an indication of the descent of the Munniporees might be found. Tradition brings the Moirang tribe from the South, the direction of the Kookies, the Koomul from the East, the direction of the Murrings, and the Meithei and Looang from the North-West, the direction of the Koupooees. The languages of the Murrings, Koekies and Koupooees, are all very similar, and as the Koomul, &c., the off shoots of these tribes were, as before said, at different periods the dominant tribes in the valley, it might be expected that the present language of the people, united under the name of Meithei, would have a very apparent likeness to these languages, and such is the case. All these tribes also have traditions amongst themselves, that the Munniporees are offshoots from them. These traditions then, and the composite nature of the language, appear to me to afford more reason for supposing the Munniporees to be descended from the surrounding hill tribes than from a Tartar colony from China. Besides this, the stories of their ancestors, which at times the Munniporees relate amongst themselves, show, that up to a very recent period, they retained all the customs of hill people of the present day. Their superstition too has preserved relics, which alone would have led [p.5] to the suspicion of an originally close connection between them and Nagas. The ceremony denominated "Phumban kaba" or "ascending the throne" is performed in Naga dress, both by the Rajah and Ranee, and the "Yim chau" or "great house," the original residence of the Meithei Chief is, though he does not now reside in it, still kept up, and is made in the Naga fashion.
The records of Munnipore contain a long list of Chiefs, unaccompanied, however, by any notice of their actions, further than the occasional killing of distinguished members of adverse tribes, through whose fall the Meithei influence was increased. But by a Shan account of the Shan Kingdom of Pong, considered authentic, and quoted by Captain Pemberton, it appears that Samlong, a brother of the Pong King, in returning to his own country from Tipperah in 777 A.D., descended into the Munnipore valley at Moirang, the chief village of the tribe of that name. Moirang appears to have been then independent, but certainly not prosperous, for so trifling was the tribute Samlong obtained, that he ordered it to be offered to the deities of the place, and to the present day Moirang makes a yearly offering as then directed. From Moirang, Samlong proceeded to Meithei. He found the Meitheis in the same miserable condition as the people of Moirang, and excused their paying tribute, demanding from them only that they should dress more decently than they did, and eat pawn instead of masticating bits of dried fish, a habit which appears to have been universal amongst them.
At the period before mentioned, the Shan Kingdom of Pong was one of considerable importance. Its capital was Mogaung, and it embraced in its limits the whole country between Ava and Assam, Kubbo and Yunan. It exacted obedience from Assam, Cachar and Tipperah, and the Shan Chiefs in the Kubbo valley were its tributaries.
After Samlong's visit for nearly seven hundred years, the annals of Munnipore record nothing worthy of notice. During this period the Meithei supremacy had been established, and the Meithei Chief, was in 1471, a person of importance, sufficient to permit a Pong King to demand his daughter in marriage. The demand was acceded to. Previous to this, the Pong King had promised one of his own daughters to the Chief of Khumbat. She was on her way to Khumbat, when she changed her mind, and with her father's consent, married another. Considering himself [p.6] disgraced, the Khumbat Chief vowed revenge, and found in 1475 an opportunity of gratifying it by carrying off the Munniporee bride of the Pong King, whilst she was being escorted to Mogaung by the Pong Ambassadors. This act brought upon him the united forces of Pong and Munnipore, by whom he was immediately attacked, his fortress reduced, and himself obliged to fly. The territory he had governed was transferred to Munnipore. After the reduction of Khumbat, Keengkomba, the Pong King, accompanied Keeyamba the Meithei Chief, to Munnipore, and as his ancestor Samlong, had caused alterations in the manner of dressing, he caused a change in the style of building houses. The Munniporee Chief's Naga house appears to have been then abandoned as a residence, and his present one, the "Sungkaie poon see ba," or "long-lived house" to have been made. This Pong King presented to the Raja a golden paundān, a silver-mounted dăo, and a "doolai" or litter. These, and a sacred spear, descended for a time from Raja to Raja, and were the insignia of royalty, but since the expulsion of the Raja Marjeet Sing by the Burmese, they have never all of them been in the possession of any Raja.
During the two and quarter centuries succeeding this period, the Pong Kingdom was almost entirely absorbed in that of Ava, whilst in Munnipore nothing worthy of notice occurred. In fact, until about 1714, the annals of his country possess but little interest even to a Munniporee. In that year, Pamheiba, who appears to have been a Naga boy, brought up and adopted by the Raja Churai Romba, shot his adopted father, it is said accidentally, whilst hunting, and succeeded him. He resisted successfully, and made captive several parties sent from the West to exact from him tribute. He several times invaded the Burmese dominions, and even reached the Capital. But he made no permanent conquest, and his last expedition, in the year 1719, resulted in a retreat, his safety in which was only secured by his giving up his daughter to the Burmese King. Pamheiba, or Gureeb Nawaz, had three sons, named Sham Shaee, Oogut Shaee and Burut Shaee. The eldest Sham Shaee, accompanied his father in his last unsuccessful expedition. in their absence, Oogut Shaee usurped the guddee, and prohibited their return to Munnipore. Gureeb Nawaz in consequence returned to Burma, and sought the aid of the Burmese King against his rebel son. None was afforded, and shortly afterwards in again attempting to reach [p.7] Munnipore he and Sham Shaee were murdered by order of this unnatural son and brother. Ambition and lust, it appears, urged Oogut-Sbaee to this crime, the object of his desire being one of his father's wives. The position acquired with so much guilt, Oogut Shaee was not long permitted to retain. He was expelled, and succeeded by his brother Burut Shaee, who two years after died. On the death of Burrut Shaee, the succession devolved on Gouroo Sham, the eldest son of the murdered Sham Shaee. This Gouroo Sham was a cripple, and it is related that, considering himself from his infirmity unfit to be sole ruler, he associated with himself his brother Jace Sing, or Chingtung Komba, and that they ruled alternately. This arrangement lasted until Gouroo Sham's death, about 1764, when the sole authority fell to Chingtung Komba, who held it up to 1798.
After the death of Gureeb Nawaz, the Burmese turned their arms against Munnipore. Unable to cope with them, the Munniporees sought for a protector, and during the alternate rule of Gouroo Sham and Jaee Sing, they applied to the British Government for aid, offering to pay what appears to me almost a fabulous annual tribute. It was determined to assist them, and an Officer with a Detachment reached Casspoor, the then Capital of Cachar, with the purpose of advancing to their aid, but was recalled. Jaee Sing's long reign was a series of flights from Burmese invaders, who committed the most frightful cruelties on the inhabitants. In their different invasions, they set up different Rajas, who all succumbed to Jaee Sing on the retirement of the predatory baud that had raised and supported them.
A short time before the reign of Gureeb Nawaz, Hindooism began to be introduced, but it made very little progress, and the frequent inroads of the Burmese after that Raja's death could not have tended to its improvement. The mass of the people in fact had no care for it, but Jaee Sing in 1798 having abdicated in favour of his eldest son, set out to Nuddea on a pilgrimage, and there died in the following year.
Jaee Sing, better known as Chingtung Komba, left many sons, and the history of Munnipore for twenty-three years after his death is a mere account of their struggles for the guddee, the details of which possess no interest. No trait of heroism occurs to relieve the dark scene of murder and treachery. Rabin Chunder, the eldest son, was murdered and succeeded by his brother Modoo Chunder, who again was murdered and succeeded [p.8] by another brother, Chourjeet Sing. And Chourjeet had no sooner succeeded, than his brother Marjeet Sing conspired against him. Having failed, Marjeet fled to Burma, where he obtained the aid of an army; returned with it in 1812, and expelled Ohourjeet Sing. Up to 1819, Marjeet kept his engagements with the Burmese, and was unmolested by them, but in that year having refused to pay fealty to the Burmese monarch, he was attacked by a Burmese army, and was the first to leave the country in ignominious flight. In this invasion the Burmese nearly depopulated the country; Marjeet fled to Cachar where his brother Chourjeet had taken refuge from him. Gumbheer Sing, and another younger brother, was also there. Certain pergunnahs, were by the Cachar Raja, assigned to the three brothers for their support, but not satisfied with these, they usurped the greater portion of the dominions of their benefactor. They carried on at the same time their own quarrels with one another, and thus rendered Cachar nearly as miserable as they had Munnipore. This state of things continued up to 1823, when the first war between the British and Burmese commenced. The Burmese troops advanced into Assam and Cachar, causing much alarm in our then frontier district of Sylhet. Chourjeet Sing, Marjeet Sing, and Gumbheer Sing appear then to have forgotten their animosities, and to have begged the protection of the British Government. Negotiations were in consequence opened with Gumbheer Sing in 1823 and a party of 500 Munniporees under his command taken into the pay of the British Government. With this party he co-operated with the British Troops in expelling the Burmese from Cachar, and proceeding on, obliged them to evacuate Munnipore. This force subsequently increased to 2,000 men, and denominated the Munnipore Levy, was placed under the Command of Captain Grant, who with it effected the expulsion of the Burmese from the Kubbo Valley as far South as Kalle. making the Ningthee River the Eastern boundary of the Munnipore territory. With a view, however, of pleasing the Burmese, this boundary was afterwards at the desire of the British Government given up, and the Eastern base of the Yomadoung hills adopted in its stead. Than the base of the hills the river was a far better boundary, and the adoption of the former has brought upon the British Government an expense of Rupees 500 a month as compensation to Munnipore for alienated territory, and made it necessary, from the predatory habits of the tribes inhabiting the Yoma- [p.9] doung hills constantly endangering it, to secure the peace of the frontier by retaining at Munnipore a Political Agent. Gumbheer Sing having, through the assistance afforded by the British Government, obtained possession of Munnipore, was by the treaty of Yandabo declared independent. Up to his death in 1834, he was employed in coercing the hill tribes and in bringing down from them the fugitives who had taken refuge amongst them from Burmese oppression.
On the death of Gumbheer Sing, Nur Sing, who had been Senaputtee, found himself to be the most powerful man in Munnipore. He might easily have put aside the infant son of Gumbheer Sing, and have assumed the guddee himself, but with a moderation not shown by any of his predecessors, he raised the infant to the guddee, declaring himself regent during the minority. Nur Sing conducted the duties voluntarily imposed on himself with ability and firmness, and preserved the guddee for the infant Raja, against the attempts of various Princes to wrest it from him. But the more the regent evinced his fitness to rule, the more was he hated by the young Raja's mother, who looked on him as an obstacle to her ambition which ought to be removed. Accordingly, in concert with her paramour, she planned a conspiracy to murder the regent, which in January 1844, she attempted to carry into effect. The regent was set upon at the evening worship, and narrowly escaped with his life, after having been severely wounded. Some of the conspirators were apprehended, and the Ranee, fearing the consequences of the miscarriage of her plot, fled from the country, taking her young son, the Raja, with her. This flight was considered an abdication, and the guddee was taken possession of by Nur Sing, who governed the country until his death in 1850. In 1835, at the commencement of the regency of Nur Sing, the British Government resolved to discontinue altogether connexion with the troops of Munnipore, and to leave it optional to the authorities to maintain the levy or not. By a mistaken policy, as will be shown hereafter, the troops were not only retained but increased. Nur Sing was succeeded by his brother Debiridro Sing, a man with a prepossessing exterior but no intellect. Whilst, Debindro Sing was making preparations for the "Phumben Kăbä" or "ascending the throne," Gumbheer Sing's son, Chunder Kirtee Sing, who had now attained man's estate, and who by no fault of his own had lost the guddee, was busy in conjunction with some of [p.10] Nur Sing's sons concerting an attack upon him. Having finished their arrangements, they left Cachar with a few followers, and had Debindro Sing had any energy they might have been annihilated in the mountains or prevented from entering the valley of Munnipore. But by some fatality he would not understand his danger, and offering only slight opposition to their crossing the hills, allowed them to establish themselves at Lumlangtong, a former residence of the Raja Gumbheer Sing. Here they were joined by most of the adherents of the two Rajas, Gumbheer Sing and Nur Sing, and speedily effected Debindro Sing's expulsion. From his brother's death up to his flight, Debindro Sing's tenure of the Rajaship was only three months. He fled to Cachar, and had not recovered from the fatigue of his flight, when he was joined by his nephews, Nur Sing's sons, who had accompanied Chunder Kirtee Sing and been so instrumental in expelling him. These young men dissatisfied with Chunder Kirtee Sing, had, with the purpose of overthrowing him, suddenly attacked him. They were unsuccessful, and hence their flight. Persuaded by them, Debindro Sing set out from Cachar on an attempt to reach Munnipore, but was driven back before he got half way across the hills. Again he took refuge in Cachar, but to prevent a repetition of such attempt, he was removed to a distance from the Munnipore frontier. Subsequent to this, two more attacks by Princes from Cachar were made upon Chunder Kirtee Sing. These frequent attempts of Princes from Cachar to upset the Government of Munnipore were peculiarly distressing to the country, and most prejudicial to British influence. The Princes in Cachar were frequently warned that if found preparing for such attempts, they would be removed to a distance from the frontier. Warnings were ineffectual to deter them, and the example set by the Princes in Cachar was, it was reported about, to be followed by those in Burma. The accession of a Prince from Burma would at once destroy British influence. Such a contingency it was necessary to prevent. With this view, and for the benefit of the country of Munnipore, Chunder Kirtee Sing was declared under the special protection of the British Government, and that Government undertook to oppose and punish any one attempting to upset him. As warnings had been disregarded by the Princes in Cachar so was this declaration, and the threat contained in it had to be put in force against a party of Princes who were pursued by British Troops from Cachar into [p.11] Munnipore. Since this occurrence no other attempts have been made, and Chunder Kirtee Sing being only twenty-seven years of age, there is every prospect of his long holding the guddee. His eldest son has been made Joobraj.
The foregoing sketch of the history of Munnipore might have been lengthened by details of warfare carried on by certain Munnipoorees against their conquerors, but as this warfare was not organized, but consisted of acts of vengeance of isolated bodies or individuals, whilst the country was without a recognized head, and from which nothing resulted, I have not thought them worth recording. Nor have I thought it worth while to mention, after the expulsion of Marjeet Sing, and, whilst the Burmese were still in possession of the country, the simultaneous assumption of Rajaship by several minor Princes, and the consequent quarrels and fights between their respective followers; for although the details would illustrate the anarchy prevailing in the country, the acts of the Princes did not affect except to strengthen the supremacy of the Burmese.
In their various invasions of the country, the Burmese carried into captivity the larger portion of the inhabitants. Of those not made captives some escaped to the British provinces, some managed to subsist themselves amongst the hill people, and some amongst the marshes in the Southern part of the valley. From the latter, and from a few who returned from the British provinces and from the hills, has sprung the present population, which may be estimated at 50,000.
This population is composed of different classes. The principal is the Meithei, next the Phoongnai, after whom the Teng kul, the Ayokpa the Kei, the Loee and Mussulman. The Meithei population is divided into four parts called "Punnahs," which are designated in the order of their seniority "Kaphum," "Lai phurn," "Ahulloop" and "Niharoop." The Punnahs perform "laloop" or service for ten days in rotation, thus bringing every male in the country above sixteen years of age on duty, ten days in forty. This service is a due to the State, none are remunerated for it. The head of each family or tribe furnishes the proper person for the different services required of that tribe. The immediate family of the "Peepa" or head of the tribe, is not called upon to perform any heavy duty. Its post is near the Raja, acting as "Ningthau selba" or personal attendants. The family next in seniority has a heavy duty to [p.12] perform in the "Lai kai." The third has the "Lal ruee" and the fourth the "Sungsa roi." The laloop of the second and fourth families works generally in unison. Their chief duty is to make houses and bridges for which they cut and bring the materials. The Lalmee was in former days the soldier of Munnipore, but since the raising of the troops before mentioned in the time of the Raja Gumbeer Sing, the Lalmee's duties have become civil. Of the families after the fourth, the places are not fixed, some are "Khoot naiba" or artificers, as goldsmiths, blacksmiths, carpenters, workers in brass and bell metal, &c. &c., who all have their laloop in which they perform any work in their respective lines they may be called upon to do; some again attend to the Raja's elephants, some to his ponies, &c. The Brahmins even have their laloop, during which they cook for the Raja and their idol Govindjee. In fact, excepting the lowest description of service, there is scarcely any which is not performed by some part of the Meithei population. The heads of the Punnahs and all the Officers required in connection with them, are appointed by the Raja from amongst his favourites, and generally without reference to their origin. The appointment to office exempts the holder's immediate family from the performance of any heavy duty, and if above a certain rank, entitles his heirs to the distinction of bearing silver spears and being horsemen in attendance on the Raja, distinctions, however, not now-a-days, much coveted. A fixed allowance is not attached to any office. Some Officers are entitled to "Loee-il," that is, to a follower or followers, who perform any work they may be set to. The Loee-ils dislike this, and usually compound with those they should attend for a sum of money, which having paid, they remain at their homes. Individuals belonging to any laloop who are anxious to remain at home, can do so by paying their chief Officers. Sick people even have to pay if they miss their laloop. These monies are the perquisites of the Officers, and form the chief emoluments of office. A few high Officers have Naga villages given to them. Until lately, the privilege of "Yim tinaba" was given to Officers of high rank, that is, the family or tribe from which he sprang or any other made over to him by the Raja had to serve him—thus if he was building a house all the tribe assisted, and if his wife went abroad, the wives of the tribe attended her. This was a most distasteful custom, and was done away with by Debindro Sing.
The Phoongnai, is divided into Hitakphalba and Potsungba. The Hitakphalba is
called so from his having to attend to the Raja's hooka. The Potsungba spreads
the cloth for sitting on. The duties engrafted on these are too many to
Of the Tengkul, the chief duty is gardening. They sometimes also hew stones and make vessels of that material. Both the Phoongnai and Tengkul were originally slaves of the Raja.
On a change taking place in the rulers of the country, it was formerly the custom to seize the slaves of those who had held office and to divide them amongst the adherents of the new ruler. This practice, when the changes of rulers became so very frequent, as it latterly did, was found to entail upon individuals more hardship than the worth of the slave. Slaves therefore when seized were not distributed amongst adherents, but made to work for the Raja under the name of Ayokpa. Their principal work is gardening. They used to be recruited by children of free men by slaves, but this is now discontinued.
The particular duty of the Kei (originally slaves of the Raja) was to provide and pound the rice for the Raja's household. Formerly they were sufficient for this purpose, but they are not so now, and in consequence, what is called a Kei-roi-thau has been fixed upon the residents, with certain exceptions of all places but the Capital. This Kei-roi-thau "or work of Keis" is not confined only to the supply of rice, but may be said to embrace any work or the supply of any article the Raja chooses, and is from this arbitrariness most oppressive.
The Loee population consists of people who pay tribute, and is considered so inferior that the name Meithei is not given to it. Indeed, so much have the Loees been looked down upon, and kept apart, that many of the Loee villages have preserved languages of their own the Loee population is exceedingly useful. Amongst them are the silk manufacturers, the smelters of iron, the distillers of spirits, the makers of earthen vessels for containing water or for cooking in, the cutters of posts and beams and canoes, manufacturers of salt, fishers, cutters of grass for the Raja's ponies, the payers of tribute in "Sęl," the coin of the country, &c. Of the Loees in the valley, the "Sol Loee" is considered the lowest. As a punishment a Munniporee is sometimes degraded to a Loee. After a short time it is usually remitted; but if not, no punishment could be more severe, for it affects not only the [p.14] individual himself, but his family and descendants, who all become Loees. The village of Shoogoonoo is peopled by the descendants of Munniporees made Loees by way of punishment. The villages of the Loees have their Khoollakpa or village chief, their Hunjabas, and Heedungs, who are all appointed by the Raja. The village of Kukching, the seat of the iron manufacturer is under a hereditary chief called Boodheeraj, at the same time that it retains its Khoollakpa. And the Meeyang or people from the West, the grass-cutters, are under one who is styled Kalaraj. The Meeyangs are descendants of people from the Western Plains who were captured in arms against Munnipore and of some who immigrated of their own accord. At one time they are said to have been very numerous, and their former chief place of residence Meeyang-yim-phan, which is well situated on an elevation raised by manual labour, could not have been thus raised unless they had been numerous. They amongst themselves always speak their own language which is a dialect of Hindee, but they all understand and most of them can speak Munniporee.
The Munniporee Mussulman population arose from Munniporee men having taken as wives Mussulman women before the doing so was much cared about, or before the regular introduction of Hindooism. On the introduction of that religion, they, with their descendants, were obliged to become Mussulmans. This original population was increased by Mussulmans from the West, who came and settled in Munnipore. The Mussulman population appears before the devastation of the country by the Burmese to have attained a very considerable amount, but as was the case with all the other sections of the Munnipore community, the greater portion of it was carried into captivity by these ruthless invaders, and the present Mussulmans are the descendants of the few that then escaped being captured. The Mussulmans are divided into four principal divisions, sepoys, gardeners, turners, and potters. They are under a Kazee, and have a number of other Officers quite disproportioned to their numerical amount. The Kazee is not appointed on account of his knowledge of the laws which ought to govern Mussulmans, but on account of the service he may have done the Raja as a partizan or a menial servant. This arrangement, the whole Mussulman population being very ignorant of the creed they profess, is not attended with the inconvenience which it would be amongst [p.15] a better informed people. The Munniporee Mussulmans are very industrious, indeed, I think them the most industrious portion of the population of Munnipore. They hold the same character in Cachar, where a good many are now settled. They, the Phoongnai, Tengkul, &c., serve laloop with the Punnabs.
Before concluding this sketch of the people composing the population it may be as well here to notice the sepoys of Munnipore, for although properly belonging to the Punnahs, they have become under, in my opinion, a very mistaken policy, distinct from them in everything except the universal institution of laloop. When first raised, they were entirely supported by the British Government. Whilst thus supported, their children, when fit for the different duties required of them by their Punnahs, were available for them. And on a casualty occurring, the desire to receive pay lessened the difficulty of filling it up. But when the support of the British Government was withdrawn, and a piece of land was given to each man in lieu of pay, the recruiting of the force was no longer an easy matter. Individuals were forced to become sepoys, and sepoys' sons had to be prohibited from performing other duties in order that they might succeed their fathers. But these sons again begat sons who were again kept from other duties, on the pretext, that they also were to succeed their fathers, and when it was attempted to cause the supernumeraries to take the proper duties of their Punnahs, so much dissatisfaction was created amongst the force, that the authorities were glad to leave them to themselves. In this manner has arisen a population, which being called sepoy, is exempt from almost every duty performed by the rest of the people, and from every tax which increases every year, and which as it increases must weaken the Government of Munnipore. The sepoys are settled at convenient distances in villages around the capital. Should their presence be urgently required, a signal of three guns collects the whole in the course of a day. Each man is entitled to one "purree" and one "sungum" of land, which in English measure amounts to about three acres. This he cultivates and subsists himself on. Duty, as with the Punnahs, is for ten days in forty. But should it be necessary to detain the men beyond this period, they are entitled to rations of rice and salt. The men first raised, having been trained by British Officers, and having seen some service in the field, formed a body of troops which might have opposed successfully an equal [p.16] number of Burmese. But of these men only a few ineffectives remain, and the present force, though composed of young men, is not to be compared with the first. Had the Munnipore Government followed after the British superintendence, and support of its troops was withdrawn, the system of training the men, and giving them some ball practice, the deterioration of the force would not have been so great. But not having even attempted this, and having looked only to its numerical increase, it has, whilst increasing in numbers, decreased in efficiency. None of the men, I may say, know how to handle their muskets, and most of them have never fired a shot out of them. Against disciplined troops, such a force would be perfectly useless, and I fear it could not oppose successfully a force of Burmese of numbers much inferior to it. Inefficient, however, as it is, the musket makes it an object of terror to the surrounding hill tribes.
The Munnipore State was re-established by the British Government professedly in order that between their frontier and that of Burma, they might have a neutral and independent territory. In case of war it is clearly impossible that a State so small could preserve neutrality. By our having enabled it to become independent, it would naturally be expected at any time to lean to the British side, and a British resident having been placed in the country, it appears to me that he should have encouraged the partiality to the British, and in case of a necessity for the State's taking the British side arising, that he should have endeavoured that it should do so in an efficient state. It is, therefore, I think to be regretted that, when the British superintendence was withdrawn from the troops, they were maintained at a strength they had attained under extraneous support, and I consider it would have been much more for the interest of the State itself, and for that of the British Government, had the troops been reduced to a thousand men, instead of having been retained at the strength they had attained, and afterwards encouraged to increase to the amount they have. To keep up a thousand men in a tolerably efficient state would tax to the utmost the means of this country. It cannot maintain the present amount (including Officers) 3,600 in an efficient state, and as I have before said it is not attempted. The services of the troops of Munnipore, therefore, on an emergency would be of no use. The inefficiency of the force has not escaped the attention of the British Government schemes for its im- [p.17] provement have been entertained, but as the pressure of circumstances causing their entertainment have ceased, so the schemes have been discarded.
A short time before the accession of Gureeb Nawez, some few Munniporees began to profess Hindooism, and since then their Rajas having successively adopted that faith, the profession of it has extended to nearly all. But although they thus profess Hindooism, they have not given up their ancient worship, and above three hundred deities are still propitiated by appropriate sacrifices of things abhorrent to real Hindoos. Their maibees, that is priestesses, for before the introduction of Hindooism there were no priests, are still in great request, more especially in cases of sickness or adversity, and what they give out as the oracle of the particular deity addressed is reverently listened to and acted on. The Raja's peculiar god is a species of snake called Pa-kung-ba, from which the Royal family claims descent. When it appears, it is coaxed on to a cushion by the priestess in attendance, who then performs certain ceremonies to please it. This snake appears, they say, sometimes of great size, and when he does so it is indicative of his being displeased with something. But as long as he remains of diminutive form, it is a sign he is in good humour. Particular families too have particular gods, and these at stated periods they worship, or literally "make happy." This worship consists in a number of married women and unmarried girls led by priestesses, accompanied by a party of men and boys all in dresses of a former time, dancing and singing, and performing various evolutions in the holy presence. The women carry in their hands fruits, &c., part of which is presented to the deity, and part scrambled for by the girls. In some instances, the god is represented by an image, but often there is no such representation, and a place is merely prepared in which he is supposed to be during the worship. The presence of the god, however, in either way, impresses the worshippers with no awe; on the contrary, it appears to be a cause of fun and jollity. A people who act thus cannot be very strict Hindoos. In fact, their observances are only for appearance sake, not the promptings of the heart. Children up to ten or twelve years of age eat every sort of food without regard to the Hindoo notions of purity or impurity. And it is a common practice for old people to abandon altogether Hindoo observances. The [p.18] descendants of those who first came into the country by wives of the Kei caste given them by the Raja, and their sons again having taken in marriage Munniporee wives, and many families of Brahmins having continued to do so till now, have become in reality Munniporees. And although they are treated with much outward show of respect, still inwardly they are not felt to be of the superior caste claimed by them, and at times have been taunted with being the sons of Keis. Thus Hindooism with Munniporees is but a fashion. The very early marriages of Hindostan are not approved of, and I may say never take place. Polygamy is common. Suttee is unknown; widows are not treated as in Hindostan: they may marry again, eat such food, and dress in such style, as they please. Apostates cannot at once return to their old standing, but Nagas or Loees may at once profess Hindooism, and receive the thread of the Khetree. The Raja, Brahmins, and male members of the Royal family, give the thread indiscriminately, but to receive it from the Raja and become his disciple, seems to be the preferred method.
A religion professed, not from conviction, but because it is a fashion and a form of Government, such that it is quite against the interest of the people to exhibit their real state, have made the Munniporees habitual deceivers. Truth abstractedly they admire, but falsehood is not detested; and when it suits their views or supposed interests, is never hesitated at. Habitual deceivers themselves, they always suspect deceit in others. Altogether, their morality is low, but still crime is not excessive.
The women in Munnipore are not confined as in Hindostan. They manage all the domestic concerns; nay more than that, they are more supporters of their families than their husbands are, and in many cases they support them entirely. The sepoys having lands given them which they cultivate, or if unable to do so, which they rent to others for a certain allowance of rice or money which would buy as much, their families may be said to be supplied with rice by the men, but for everything else almost, they are dependent on the women. Besides the sepoys, others of course cultivate land, but the fear of the "Kei-roi- thau" before spoken of, and other annoyances, deter a very large number from doing so. Rather than endure these they reside in the capital, eschewing cultivation, and in such cases they and their families are supported by the exertions of their wives. There is a market daily [p.19] attended only by women. Every woman carries a basket containing something not immediately required for the consumption of her household; this she barters for something immediately wanted, or she sells it and purchases what she wants with the proceeds. After market she returns and prepares the dinner for the family. This done she will prepare her cotton for spinning the thread, with which she will afterwards make cloth for her husband, herself and family. Though thus useful and laborious, women are but indifferently treated. Considering this, the many temptations they are exposed to, and the unbounded opportunities they have for any bad end, I must say they appear to me to be more virtuous than under the circumstances would have been expected. These remarks I am sorry to say do not apply to the females of the ruling family, or to their descendants in the first generation at least. They are notorious for laxity, to check which I have never heard of an attempt. Although to become man and wife, it is not necessary that the marriage ceremony should be performed. still it is usually performed, but as often after, as before co-habitation. A man can put away his wife without any fault on her part, and if a person of influence he may do so without its being noticed. The rule, however, is, that if a man puts away his wife without any fault on her part, she takes possession of all his property except a drinking vessel and the cloth round his loins. A man and wife may separate by mutual consent, and a wife may quit her husband on giving the value of a slave. Women are really the slaves of their husbands; they are sold in satisfaction of their debts, and I have heard of men pawning their wives for money to purchase some office or even a pony. There is a separate Court for the judgment of matters between man and wife. It is called the Paja, and consists of a President "Paja Hulba" and twelve members, with various Officers attached. The members were formerly hereditary, but in these days hereditary "Fumtaus" do not suit the money-loving views of the authorities, and they are made arbitrarily for a consideration, and as arbitrarily dismissed when another candidate offers a larger sum. The presidency of the court appears to be the right of the family called Paja Hulbum, which is descended from the Royal family; that family however now only holds it when it suits the Raja's convenience. This court is most corrupt, but that a court seated by corruption should not be so, cannot be expected.
In Munnipore there is no law. The will of the reigning Prince is paramount to
everything. Treason is the highest degree of crime. Murder is next, and is
reckoned a capital offence, though not always, if money be judiciously applied,
treated as such. If committed by a Brahmin or by a woman, neither would be
punished capitally. The utmost punishment of the Brahmin would be his expulsion
from the country; of the woman, her exposure with shaved head in the Bazaar. The
Chirap, the only court, besides the Paja, judges every matter brought before it,
not in the jurisdiction of the latter. Formerly, it had 60 or 80 hereditary
members, but as with the Paja, the members do not now inherit their seats, but
obtain them by means of money. As might be expected, they are corrupt in the
extreme, and implicitly subservient to the Raja, unless in most glaring cases,
justice without a bribe is not looked for; and even in glaring cases it would be
considered dangerous not to bribe some of the leading members. But glaring or
not glaring, bribed or not bribed, were it intimated to them that the Raja's
views inclined in a certain direction, in compliance with such views would the
case be decided. And if it were even thought that the Raja interested himself in
any case, though he had expressed no opinion on it, it would remain undecided,
from a fear of offending him by giving a decision which might be against his
wishes. There is no law as to the descent of property. It is willed, away
according to the pleasure of the testator, but is generally given to those
individuals of the family who are most in need of it without reference to
The dwelling houses of the Munniporees are all of the same form, but those of the rich are larger, and constructed of better materials than those of the poor, that is, the posts and beams of the houses of the former are of wood, whilst those of the latter are of bamboo. The walls of both are of reeds plastered with a mixture of earth and cow dung, and the roofs of all are thatched with grass. All the dwelling houses face to the eastward, in which direction they have a large open verandah. In this verandah the family sits during the day, and in it all the work of the household is carried on, except cooking, which is performed inside; in the South side of the verandah is the seat of honour. Here a mat or cloth is laid for the head of the family, upon which no one intrudes. Inside, the house is without partitions. The bed of the head of the family, is placed in what is called the Luplengka, close to the [p.21] wall on the south side about the middle. It is usually screened by mats. The daughters usually sleep on the north side. There are no windows in the houses, the only light admitted being by two doors, one opening into the open verandah, the other to the north, near the north-western corner of the house. The fire-place is on the floor towards the north-west corner. There is no chimney. The fuel used is generally dried reed jungle. This answers every purpose in the warm weather, but is a sorry substitute for wood in the colder months. Connected with the making of their houses are many superstitious practices. First, the house must be commenced on a lucky day, and that day having been fixed by the astrologer; on it, (it makes no difference whether the other materials are ready or not) the first post is erected. The post is bound towards the top with a band of cloth over which is tied a wreath of leaves and flowers. Milk, juice of the sugarcane and ghee are poured upon the lower extremity, and into the hole in the ground in which it is to be fixed are put a little gold and silver. The number of bamboos forming the body of the frame for the thatch must not be equal on the North and South sides. If they were so, misfortune, they consider, would overtake the family. The other superstitions of the same kind are too numerous to mention. And it is not merely in reference to their houses that they are superstitious; they are so in every matter. Superstition constantly sends them to consult their maibees and pundits, who earn an easy livelihood by prescribing remedies to allay their fears. I may here shortly notice the Maibees. They are said to owe their institution to a princess who flourished hundreds of years ago, but whether they have preserved all their original characteristics I cannot certainly affirm. At present, any woman who pretends to have had a "call" from the deity or demon, may become a priestess. That she has had such call is evinced by incoherent language and tremblings, as if possessed by the demon. After passing her noviciate she becomes one of the body, and practices with the rest on the credulity of the people. They put some rice, or some of the coin of the country into a basket, and turning it about with incantations they pretend to divine from it. I have listened to their divinations, and wondered that any one would consult them twice. They dress in white. Some of them are in good circumstances, having land and slaves attached to the peculiar deity to which they officiate. they also have laloop.
In their intercourse amongst themselves, the Munniporees are ceremonious. They
address one another by the name of the office they may hold, or may have held,
or as younger or elder brothers. To call a man "Angäng," literally child, is
most respectful, and when called by a superior to answer "Aigya" is the most
respectful response. The Raja and members of the Royal family call all male Munniporees "eepoo," grandfather; and females, "eebel," grandmother. The male
members of the Royal family are all called "sunna," or golden; the females, "seesa."
Their actions are described in a different style of language from that of the
rest of the people; thus, they do not walk but move; they do not sleep but
recline. A common Munniporee, if riding, would be spoken of as "sagontongle," a
Prince as "Sagonnetle." The eating of the Commoner would be designated "chäk
chăbă," of the Prince, "look hābă" and so on. Individuals are spoken of and
known by their surnames; the laiming, or if I may use the expression, the
Christian name, being seldom known to or used by any but the nearest relatives.
All but the Royal family have surnames. The Christian name is written last. The
introduction of surnames took place in the reign of Chalamba, about two hundred
years ago, and of the laiming since the profession of Hindooism. The surnames
are evidently derived from some peculiarity in the individuals who first bore
them. The oldest family of Brahmins in the country is called Hungoibum. Hungoi
means a frog, and that such a name should be given to a person who bathed so
much more frequently than Munniporees had hitherto been accustomed to see, seems
very natural. The same is the case with almost every family; all the surnames
indicating either the profession, or some peculiarity of its original holder.
The men dress in the same way as they do in Hindostan; but as a people, the Munniporees far surpass the people to the West in the cleanliness of their garments. The dress of the women is quite different from that worn by the women to the West. It consists of a striped cotton or silk cloth passed round the body under the armpits and over the breast, a jacket, and a sheet. Unless permitted by the Raja, various articles of dress and ornament cannot be worn, and permission to wear any of these articles is much coveted. Persons of a high rank are permitted to have carried before them a red woollen cloth; of a less rank, a green woollen cloth; and of a less still, a cloth of [p.23] cotton manufacture. These they use as rugs to sit upon, and it is only for such use they are prized; as articles of dress they may be used by any who can afford to buy them. Amongst the men the forepart of the head is shaved. In the remaining part the hair is preserved in its natural state. It is combed backwards, and is sometimes coiled up in the folds of their head dresses, but generally tied up in a knot behind. Married women, and some who are not married, comb their hair back and tie it up behind. Young women do not tie it up behind. In front they comb it straight, cutting it in a circle from ear to ear across the forehead and a little above the eyebrows. Over the ears it is allowed to grow so as to cover them. Here it is again cut the breadth of the ear, and thence in the hinder part is allowed to grow naturally. Perfectly straight hair is considered beautiful; curly locks are laughed at. The water in which rice has been steeped before cooking is used as a wash for the hair. It gives a glossy appearance, but a most disagreeable smell to the hair.
The Dussera, or as it is called in Munnipore "Kwaktalba," is the principal festival introduced with Hindooism. At it the tributaries lay presents before the Raja and renew their engagements of submission. Honorary dresses, plumes of feathers, and other baubles which are highly prized, are distributed to persons who, during the past year, may have distinguished themselves, or to others who at some former period had done so, but whose merit had passed unrewarded.
The principal Munniporee festivals are the Heeyang, Lumchail, and the Hauchong. The Heeyang continues for three days. The first day is devoted to a boat race between the Kaphum and Laiphum Punnahs, followed by a match at hocky on horse-back, wrestling, putting, and jumping. The second day is devoted to the same description of matches between the Ahulloop and Niharcoop. And the third to a repetition between the Hitäkphalba and Polsungba. In these matches great emulation is exhibited between the Punnahs. The boat race is not a fair race, but a struggle between the rowers on either side, in which those who can deal the hardest blows are usually the victors. The boats are about 90 feet long, cut out of one tree, and broad enough for two men to stand abreast, using their oars or paddles. The other games are all fair enough and have their admirers, but the game of Munnipore is hockey on horseback, a thoroughly manly [p.24] and most exciting exercise. The Lumchail is merely a foot race. It is between the Punnahs, and excites much rivalry. The best runner is exempted from all duty for life. At the Hauchong the different tribes of hill people subject to Munnipore compete with one another in feats of agility and strength. The sports of the day conclude with a feast, at which they are regaled with the flesh of cows, buffaloes, dogs, cats, &c., which have died in the valley. The flesh is dried and preserved on purpose for this feast, and being supplied with plenty of spirits, the participators in the Hauchong, are usually before the evening, "o’er a’ the ills of life victorious."
Doubtless the encouragement given to the games before mentioned has had a great effect in producing the general good muscular development of the Munniporees, who, though short in stature, are usually well made, strong and active. In youth they are usually good looking, but their good looks, more especially the women, they very soon lose. From the heavy labour the women are subject to such a result might have been expected; but as the men do almost nothing, their early coarseness must have some other cause. A Munniporee with a beard is never met with, and a good moustache is so rare that people are at times indicated by this feature. The upper lip is usually bare, but the hair of the head is plentiful and coarse, and baldness appears very rare.
Having in the foregoing narrative made frequent mention of slaves, that slavery exists will have been inferred. But if the word "slaves" has conveyed to the mind the idea of people in the condition of the slaves of America, it is a wrong one. Many become slaves voluntarily; some of them with the view of discharging a money debt which they cannot otherwise do, and some from sheer laziness. They live in the same house as their master, eat with him, and are altogether like members of the family. To abuse and ill-use slaves is the exception.
These remarks refer more especially to Munniporees in a stats of slavery. The hill people occasionally sell themselves; but more frequently they are sold by their relatives. There are two descriptions of slaves; one, the absolute property of the buyer, called "meenaichanaba," the other, "asălbă" or a slave for such time as the money paid to him or advanced on him may not be paid back. The latter is like giving work in lieu of the interest of the money paid, and [p.25] should the person who becomes "asalbā" get sick, he is obliged to give a substitute, or make good in coin the labour lost in the interval of sickness. Of course to the asalbä no considerable sum would be advanced unless he promised to work for at least one cultivating season. The hill people who are slaves are not perhaps so well treated as the Munniporees in a state of slavery, but there are many checks upon ill-use. If not satisfied with their condition they run to some other house where slaves are better treated. The master makes a point, if possible, of paying their price, usually, however, not in full, for the circumstance of a slave running to another's protection is considered a sign of his having been ill-treated, and as justifying an abatement. Slaves too, often abscond to the hills, where they conceal themselves in the hill villages; but as they are apt there to be apprehended, they usually prefer passing into the British territory where they are at once free. Thus, those who have slaves are under the necessity of treating them well, and slavery is much modified.
Whether civilization in its advance proportionately increases the happiness of individuals may be questioned. It certainly tends to their isolation. A person in London might die all alone of sickness without its being known to, or even much cared for, by his next door neighbour. This could not well happen in Munnipore. Each district divides itself into neighbourhoods, who again divide into "singloops" or "wood clubs." The elders of the neighbourhood settle all minor disputes occurring in it, and in case of the illness of a member they tell off individuals to attend on the sick person, whilst should he die, the wood club to which he belongs brings the wood for his funeral pyre. The sympathy of his neighbours and their attentions must have a soothing and beneficial effect upon the sick person, and the depression of spirits which, more especially in epidemics, weighs down a people, must be considerably alleviated.
Beyond the virtues of some few plants, the Munniporees have little idea of medicine. A few daring practitioners administer remedies internally; but the general practice is to apply them externally. Their chief reliance, however, in the treatment of diseases, is on manipulation of the belly. In cases of flatulence I can testify to the virtue of this manipulation, and it appears of use in the fevers of the country. It is usual in sickness to present offerings in propitiation of the deities, whether of the [p.26] water or of the dry land, who are supposed to have caused the patient's illness. These offerings are placed in the water for the deities of that element, and for those of the land in the path last passed over by the patient. Much confidence is placed in the beneficial effect of these offerings, and I have no doubt that this confidence tends to the patient's recovery.
The indoor amusements of the Munniporees are various. The amusement in its season most enjoyed is "Kangsänaba," a game as peculiar to Munnipore as that of hockey on horseback. It is played only in the spring, the players being generally young women and girls, with usually a sprinkling of men on each side. The game seems to cause great excitement, and there is great emulation between the sides. The Kang is the seed of a creeper; it is nearly circular, about an inch and a half in diameter and about three quarters of an inch thick. This is placed on the ground upright, at one time with its broadside towards the party by whom it is to be struck, at another edgewise. When the Kang is placed with its broadside to the party, it is to be pitched at with an ivory disk, when it is placed edgewise, it is to be struck by the disk propelled on its flat side along the surface of the ground by the force of the middle finger of the right-hand acting off the forefinger of the left. A good player can propel the disk in this way with great force and precision. The side having most hits wins. The whole is closed by a feast at the expense of the losers. Conundrums are a fertile source of amusement. They appear usually farfetched, and sometimes not over-delicate. The tale of Khamba and Thoibee, sung by their eesiesukpa or bards, never fails, with a popular singer, to rivet attention. The scene of this tale and the place where it was originally sung is Moirang. The hero and heroine are persons said to have flourished hundreds of years ago. Thoibee is the daughter of the Moirang chief's brother. She loves Khamba, a lad poor in worldly riches, but rich in personal beauty, of good descent, great modesty, courage, strength and agility. Thoibee herself is a young lady of unsurpassed beauty, and Khamba having seen her by chance whilst boating on the Logtak, loves her at first sight. But the course of true love never yet ran smooth, and it was no exception with these lovers. A person named Kong Yangba saw Thoibee's love for Khamba, and wishing to gain her for himself, he used all the means that a powerful connection gave him to crush Khamba. The various [p.27] perils through which Khamba has to pass, and the constancy of Thoibee, form the subject of the song. After having won his foot race speared his tiger, caught a wild bull, and been tied to the foot of an elephant, Khamba gains Thoibee, who also passed through various troubles. The end is tragical. Khamba doubts his wife, and wishing to try her fidelity, she, not knowing who he was, spears him. Having discovered what she had done, she spears herself. Some of the characters introduced in the story are very good. The constant repetition of this tale only seems to increase the desire to hear it. Thoibee is regarded as a goddess, and that Khamba was a man of giant proportion, is held to be incontestable. This idea of the great size of Khamba is not, however, derived merely from his celebrity in song; that their ancestors were giants is believed by all. Some of the language used in their songs is quite different from that commonly spoken. The same is the case in their writings; but the meaning of the songs is known to most, whereas the writings are intelligible only to the initiated. Amongst the hill tribes there is the same difference between the common language and that in their songs. The singers of the adventures of Khamba and Thoibee accompany their song with the notes of the "pęna," the solitary musical instrument of Munnipore, a sort of fiddle, with one string of horse hair, the body of which is formed of the shell of a cocoanut. On the bow of the fiddle is a row of little bells which jingle in harmony with the air.
A branch of a tree crooked in this form the end of which is faced with iron, forms the Munniporee plough. To this a buffaloe is attached between a couple of shafts thus . With this instrument the ground when dry is little more than scratched. The plough is held in one hand, and the buffaloe, by means of a string passed through his nose, and a vocabulary he seems to understand, is guided by the other. Instead of the buffaloe, two bullocks are sometimes attached to the plough, one on each side of a centre pole. The operation of scratching up the soil and preparing the field for the reception of the rice seed commences in February; and in May, they sow what is called "poong hool" or dry seed cast in dry ground. In June the rains having set in, the field is brought by successive ploughings and harrowings into a state of liquid mud, and in this the pang phel is cast. The seed for the pang phel is first quickened by being moistened with water and kept in a [p.28] covered basket until it shoots. As this seed floats on the surface of the mud, it has to be carefully watched until it takes root, and three or four leaves have sprung up, in order to protect it from wild ducks and other birds. After this comes the "hugba" or transplanting. The seed for the plants which are destined to be transplanted are usually sown very close in plots carefully prepared for the purpose. When the transplanting season arrives, the plants are pulled in handfuls out of the ground, the roots are by washing divested of all earth attaching to them, and having been taken to the field, they are one by one separately inserted in the mud. For a time after transplanting they look as if they were all withered up, but they soon spring up and afford an excellent crop. If the ground has been carefully deprived of weeds before sowing the crop, weeding afterwards is not required. The only cultivation of any importance is that of rice. Not a particle of manure is ever placed on the ground, and yet year after year good crops are raised on the same spot. The yield has of course lessened from what it was, but its being still so very considerable as it is, evinces a very rich soil. The mainstay however of Munnipore is the crop raised at Thobal and its vicinity. There the river once at least in the year innundates the rice-fields, giving them amazing fertility. About Thobal they weed with a harrow, which drawn by a buffaloe over the rice-field, uproots indiscriminately the weeds and the rice. The former die, but the rice plant takes root again and is not injured. When the rice begins to ripen, it has to be watched against the depredations of immense flights of birds. Deer and other wild animals also do a great deal of mischief, and against them precautions have to be taken. The rice having ripened is cut with a knife slightly curved at the top, and having a rough edge like a saw. As it is cut it is laid in handfuls on the ground, and when dry tied up in sheaves. These sheaves are carried to the part of the field most convenient for the purpose, and the rice beat from them on a large reed mat. After having been winnowed by means of fans, the rice is ready for the granary and removed to it. This sun-dried rice keeps very well in husk, but when cleared of the husk it can be kept for a very short time only. The straw is left lying in a pile around the place where the rice was beat out. Except as fuel no use is made of it.
The rent paid to the State upon the "purree," which is equivalent to about three of our acres, is nominally fixed at two baskets of rice in the [p.29] husk, but generally before the year is over, thirteen are exacted. Were this all, it would be borne without a murmur, but as during the time of cultivation, the cultivators must reside near their fields, and thus become liable to the "Kei-roi-thau" before noticed, people at the Capital, who otherwise would cultivate, shun doing so, and the supply of food is consequently much less than it would otherwise be. In a country like Munnipore so entirely isolated, and depending on itself, anything which tends to lessen the supply of food may, it is almost unnecessary for me to observe, produce disastrous results.
The domestic animals of the Valley of Munnipore are the buffaloe, cow, horse, dog and cat. Ducks, geese and pigeons are pretty generally bred. Fowls only by the Mussulman, Loee, and Naga portion of the population.
The southern part of the valley affords plentiful pasturage for buffaloes which attain a great size. They are much prized for agricultural purposes, and are used besides for dragging timber, bamboos, fire-wood, grain, &c., the two latter being placed on rude truck-like vehicles without wheels. The cow is a much superior animal to that of the adjacent Provinces of Bengal. It affords, however, but little milk, and except to milk, no use is made of it. Bullocks on good pasture, attain a great size. The Mussulmans use them for ploughing, preferring them to the buffaloe, as being more handy, more especially in their gardens, which are often of great extent, and in the cultivation of which they are most assiduous. The genuine Munnipore horse has nearly disappeared. It was much the same as that of Burma, small, but spirited and strong. The average height about twelve hands. The present breed is generally bad. Munniporees are all fond of their ponies, and children commence riding very soon, for the game of hockey on horseback, whilst it is most attractive in itself, being to the adept a sure road to Royal favour, requires early training. The population generally is thus accustomed to horses, and a stranger is struck by the general absence of fear or awkwardness in their management of them. Attempts have been made to improve the breed of horses by crossing them with undersized mares from the Hon'ble Company's stud. But the produce turned out bad, and the climate proved so ill-suited to large horses, that all the mares died in a few years.
The principal wild animals found in the valley at all seasons, are the tiger, wild-hog, hog-deer, and a large species of deer peculiar to the country, [p.30] which frequents the swamps in the South. The tiger and wild-hog are at times very destructive to human life. I myself know one instance in which a tiger got into a house, killed seven individuals, and was not captured until he had eaten one of them. So destructive have tigers always been, that the whole country is from olden times divided into "kei roops" or "tiger parties," which when a tiger commits mischief in their particular district mark it down, and surround it. This done they cut down the jungle in a circle all round the tiger's lair, protecting themselves during the operation by a fence of nets, behind which again, when the jungle has been cleared, they erect a stockade of reeds and bamboos, when this is finished, they report the fact to the capital, and either the Raja himself, or some one deputed by him, goes and shoots the beast. In former days, before firearms were in general use, it was customary to enter the stockade and spear the tiger on foot. This method of dispatching him often cost lives, and they relate how at no further distance back than the reign of Chourjeet Sing, one tiger defied the whole chivalry of Munnipore for several days, and did not yield up his life until he had sacrificed an almost incredible number of souls.
Once a year it is usual to fire the jungle. Then the wild animals make a rush to save themselves. Some escape before the fiery circle has enclosed them. Others surrounded, perish in unavailing attempts to escape, or getting bewildered and maddened by the flames, they rush over the now bare plain. in this state of madness, a hog has often entered a village, run a muck against all he met, and killed and injured many before he himself was placed hors de combat.
The best time for shooting is when after the firing of the jungle, the young shoots begin again to sprout. Then early in the morning and towards the evening, the deer may be seen nipping the young shoots, and if the deer be in plenty, a tiger will most probably be awaiting them at no great distance.
The common wild duck is found in the valley throughout the year. Partridges, quail and snipe are abundant; and immense flights of wild geese, and teal of many varieties, diversify for a time annually the Sportsman's amusements.
The Logtak the great resort of these aquatic birds is covered with floating islands. Under these, amongst the roots of the vegetation of which they are formed, fish, in the cold weather, collect in great [p.31] numbers, and are caught in the following manner. An island having been cut into a manageable size is pushed to a part of the lake where the water is not very deep, and where the bottom has been paved with stones. There it is fixed by means of long bamboo stakes; and when the fish have collected in sufficient quantity, a long strip sufficient to surround it, is cut from some other of these floating masses of vegetation. With this the asylum of the fish is surrounded, and a row of stones being placed on the edge nearest the island, that edge sinks down to the prepared bottom, whilst the rest remains upright in the water, and thus forms a wall all round. The fish are now driven out of their sanctuary; if small, they are taken in nets, if large, they are speared by torch light. The Logtak is also rich in aquatic plants, two of which bear edible fruit. Of the Logtak, Captain Pemberton in his Report on the Eastern Frontier observes, that "the bed has begun very perceptibly to fill up from the deposits of silt from the surrounding heights which are continually carried into it, and that if this process continues, of which there can be little doubt, a few years will suffice to obliterate the lake altogether, and deprive the Munniporees of their only available supply of the larger descriptions of fish, of which it furnishes no less than twenty-six varieties, eighteen common to the rivers of Bengal, and eight not found in any of them." Since 1835, the period when Captain Pemberton thus expressed himself, the lake has very visibly filled up, and its waters in the rains spread further over the contiguous low lands. There runs in the lake a range of low hills, the portions of which not covered with water, form islands. On the highest and largest named Tangā stands the principal village of the fishermen of the lake. The people of Tangā are Loees, and pay revenue in fish and money. On another of these islands, a few oranges are produced, which Captain Pemberton characterizes as "some of the finest oranges of the country." But in fact no oranges fit to be eaten are to be found in any other part of the valley.
The marshes of the South in the vicinity of the Logtak afford a retreat to serpents of a formidable size, and the whole valley of Munnipore is much infested by the serpent tribe. Some of them are exceedingly active and bold as the Tānglei. He is fond of ascending bamboos, along the branches of which he moves with great velocity, and if enraged, throws himself from an extraordinary height upon the object of his anger. His bite is said to be mortal. This, added to his great activity and fierceness, makes [p.32] the Tānglei an object of much terror. I have seen a pair of them in possession of a bamboo clump in the rear of a house, keep the whole family in a state of great alarm for days. Unable to move about their house, but with the greatest precaution, they applied to me for relief, which I afforded by shooting the pair. The Tānglei is quite as active in the water as he is on dry land. Whilst pursuing in a canoe over innundated ground, a large deer I happened to pass, one of these snakes which had apparently been caught in the flood and become tired of his bath. When first noticed he must have been at least thirty yards off; but raising his head, he made for the canoe with such velocity that though it was paddled by four strong men, he overtook us and would inevitably have been aboard, if I had not prevented him by a shot. The Munniporees give frightful accounts of the effects of some snake bites. The drowsy death, the starting of the blood from every pore, the insatiable and burning thirst, the melting down of the solid mass of the whole form into one heap of putrefaction, these are horrors with which they may be said to be acquainted. They speak too of a "snake god," which when met, utters a loud sound and spits its venom to a great distance. A Kookie left me apparently in perfect health. In passing through a rice field, he saw a black snake as large as his thigh, which uttered a sound, he said like an ox bellowing, and raised its head above the tall rice, threatening him and his companions. They fled in fear. On reaching his home, the Kookie became ill, his belly swelled, and he has not recovered his health. This is attributed to the snake met in the rice field or to the "snake god."
The insect tribe is numerous and varied. The flea and the bug are pests in most houses, and though Munniporees are personally very cleanly the louse is a companion of all. A caterpillar covered with a coat of brown hair is very numerous; should it touch one's skin, the spot touched becomes inflamed and itchy. It creeps up the walls of houses, trees, &c., changes its skin, and leaves it sticking there. If incautiously disturbed, the minute hairs are carried about in the air, and produce great irritation and itchiness on whom soever they may alight. Musquitoes are exceedingly numerous. To sleep without musquitoe curtains is rare even for the poorest.
The bee, not of the large wax-producing species, but of a smaller kind called "hei-ying-koee" or "fly-bee," is found in the valley of Munnipore. [p.33] The honey is excellent. Another species, very large, forms its nest in the ground, and is dangerous to the unwary traveller. Instances have occurred of individuals having fallen into these nests, and having been stung to death. The Munniporees when they come upon a bee of this species catch him, and having attached a thread to his body let him loose. By means of the thread his flight is observed, and he can be followed to his nest. The spot is marked, and fire having been procured, the bees, otherwise so formidable, are easily destroyed. The spoil, consisting of comb filled with the young, is considered a bonne bouche. I may add another large bee which forms its nest dependent from the branch of a tree, or under the shelter of a wall, the nest being of a most beautiful substance resembling marbled paper. The white ant is very plentiful and proportionately destructive. In its winged state it is eaten by the Munniporees. A species of grasshopper also forms an article of food. I am not aware of there being any new species of insect in Munnipore. The most important of the tribe—the silkworm—appears to have been imported. The original rearers of the silkworm came from Kubbo, from whence they appear to have brought the worm. Those that rear the worm also prepare the silk. The silk produced is very good, but the articles manufactured have not attained any great degree of excellence. The mulberry, on the leaves of which the worm is fed, grows luxuriantly in plantations close to the villages of the manufacturers.
In a country in which each family produces nearly all which it consumes, any advancement in the arts can scarcely be expected. But if without other impediments, improvement could take place, it would be repressed under a Government such as that of Munnipore. Under the operation of the laloop, a good artificer works along with a bad one, and receives no more thanks for his work than if it was as bad as that of his less skilful associate. He becomes disgusted, and his only aim is to amass quickly, by his superior intelligence, enough to purchase his release from work. This done, he thinks no more of his trade. Thus all are ever at the rudiments, and no progress is made. What cloths are made are distinguished for strength more than fineness, and the inventive faculties having no play, there is very little variety in pattern. Some little embroidering is practised, in which the same pau- [p.34] city of invention is more apparent. Their eating and drinking vessels, principally of bell metal, are substantial, but in shape vary little from those of the West. They have some dyes, and have some taste in the arrangement of colours, but of drawing or painting they have no idea.
Except the roads made by the Raja Chourjeet Sing, but which have been allowed to go to ruin, no public work for the benefit of the people seems to have ever been constructed. Until the present reign, a bridge of any material, but wood or bamboo, was unseen. When the bridge of bricks made by the present Raja (for he has only ventured on one) was finished, people passed over and under it with great apprehension of its falling, and it was a considerable time before they mustered up courage sufficient to ride across it on horseback.
The valley of Munnipore may have formed at some former period a large lake which has been gradually filled up by deposits from the surrounding heights. On what substratum these deposits rest, has not, on account of their immense depth, been ascertained, but it has been conjectured by Captain Pemberton, to be limestone rock, limestone having been found all round the valley. Gold in former times is said to have been found in the deposits brought down by the Khongba Rivers, but in these days, though sought for, it has never been found. In page 37 of his Report, Captain Pemberton says:—"Iron, the only metal yet ascertained to exist in Munnipore, is found in the form of titaniferous oxydulated ore, and is obtained principally from the beds of small streams south of Thobal, and the hills near Langatel; its presence in the latter is ascertained by the withered appearance of the grass growing above it, and in the former it is generally sought for after the rainy season, when the soil has been washed away: an iron headed spear is thrust into the ground, and the smaller particles adhering to it lead to the discovery of the bed in which they had been deposited; this employment of the spear furnishes an accidental but very striking illustration of the magnetic property being acquired by iron, which is preserved in the same position for any length of time; the spear of the Munniporee and Naga is almost invariably thrust vertically into the ground, when not in use, and the fact of its being so employed to ascertain the presence of the one, is a very strong proof of the high degree of magnetism [p.35] or polarity it must have attained. The loss produced by smelting the ore amounts to nearly 50 per cent, and the Munniporees are perfectly sensible of the difficulty of fusion increasing with the greater purity of "the metal." Confirming my previous remarks on the effect of such a Government as that of Munnipore on the arts, Captain Pemberton states, that—"The principal articles manufactured are such as would be thought of in the earliest stages of civilization—axes, hoes, and ploughshares for felling timber, and preparing the ground for agricultural purposes; spear and arrow heads for self-defence or aggression and the destruction of game; and blades from one to two feet in length, which firmly fixed in a wooden or metal handle, under the name of dâo, forms the inseparable companion of the Munniporee, Burma, Than and Singpho. With it he clears a passage for himself through the dense jungle that obstructs his path, notches the steep and slippery face of the hill he wishes to climb, and frequently owes the preservation of his life to the skill with which he wields it in the field."
The valley is rich in salt springs, "of which the principal are found" says Captain Pemberton, "on its eastern side, not far from the foot of the hills. The best are those of Waikhong, Ningyel, Seng-mai, and Chundrokhong, where salt is manufactured in quantities not only sufficient for the consumption of the inhabitants of the valley, but to be made an article of traffic with the surrounding tribes, who barter for it their ginger, cloths and cotton." From the articles of barter I purposely omit the tobacco, given by Captain Pemberton, for there is no tobacco amongst the hill tribes such as a Munniporee would use.
"The salt obtained from the springs of Waikhong is far superior to that of the other localities named, and the supply for the use of the royal family is always obtained from thence."
"The spots containing these springs are said to be discovered by a very subtle vapour, which is always found hovering over them at an early hour of the morning; as soon as the fact is clearly ascertained a shaft is sunk down to the spring, and cylinders formed of the hollowed trunks of large trees let perpendicularly into the opening, are preserved in an erect position by ramming earth between them and the sides of the well; the diameter of the cylinders is seldom more than six feet, and the depth varies from forty to sixty feet." All the [p.36] salt wells are the property of the Government. The inhabitants of the villages in their vicinity are chiefly Loees, and they are obliged to manufacture for the Raja monthly a certain quantity of salt regulated by the abundance of the spring. For their labour the best workmen receive two baskets, and inferior ones one basket of salt, which is deducted from the total amount they are required to manufacture for the Raja. The Loees, not usually being able of themselves to make the whole quantity of salt required of them, are assisted by Munniporees in needy circumstances, who work with them and receive in remuneration a quantity of salt proportionate to the work they have performed. Munniporees usually confine themselves to the drawing and carrying the brine from the wells to the place where it is evaporated; but some of them become adepts in forming the round flat cakes in which the salt is prepared, thereby gaining the highest rate of remuneration which such labour commands. The Munniporee's skill, which being profitable, ought to be to him a source of pleasure, becomes instead a source of anxiety; he fears he may be forced by his Government to remain in his for-a-time-adopted trade, and as soon as he sees his skill has attracted the attention of the Munniporee Superintendents, he deserts the salt manufacture at once.
The money revenue is exceedingly small, the principal item being the compensation, Rupees 6,370 per annum, paid by the British Government for having obliged the Munniporee Government to give up to the Burmese the territory between the Ningthee River and the base of the Yoma Hills. The remainder consists of tribute in "sale" from the "sale" Loees, of rent of fisheries, transit duties, and export and import duties. The total money revenue may be estimated at from twelve to fifteen thousand Rupees. Whilst the intercourse with Burma and the British Provinces was infrequent, the Raja being supplied by his people with every thing that a Munniporee could want, the being without a money revenue was not a cause of much anxiety, but with the increase of commerce and intercourse, wants have increased, and the want of a money revenue which before was uncared for has now become a matter of solicitude. To increase the money revenue a change must be effected in the institutions of the country, and as intercourse—social and commercial—increases, and the knowledge thereby gained spreads, the system of Go- [p.37] vernment must gradually assimilate itself to that of countries more advanced in civilization.
The principal import into Munnipore is sooparee or betel-nut, of which the Munniporees consume a great quantity. It is paid for chiefly in Rupees. Coarse cloths are exported, but their manufacture decreases with the gradual increase in the demand for cloths of English manufacture. A very profitable trade in buffaloes might be established, but the Munnipore Government by interfering, has driven traders in buffaloes to Kubbo, from which they have, during the last seven or eight years, drawn a very considerable supply. Even with the great disadvantage of an expensive land carriage, the valley of Munnipore is very favourably situated for commercial purposes, but the system of Government is opposed to the development of commerce; and the insecurity of traders in the Burmese territory is so great, that I fear commerce must for long be confined to the present restricted scale. Private enterprise will effect much, but the obstacles opposed by half-civilized governments are not easily overcome. To assist traders and encourage trade has been my constant endeavour, and though my success has not been as much as I could have wished, still an improvement has taken place. A considerable traffic in slaves to Burma I have entirely suppressed, and in its place has arisen a small but more healthy trade.
Captain Pemberton, in his Report on the Eastern Frontier, mentions a treaty by Gourosham, promising as one of the articles of tribute to the British Government, Munniporee gold Rupees to the amount of 500 per annum. In this item there must be some as great a mistake, as in the other items of the tribute there is evident exaggeration. Gold, I have before stated, is said to have been found in small quantities in the deposits brought down by the waters of the Khongba, but of gold Rupees or gold coin of any sort I have never heard mention. The only coin known in Munnipore as having been coined and current in the country is of the description at present current, and is of bell metal. The Chief who first coined this money was Kha-kem-ba. The coin issued by him was much larger than it is at present, being of the size and shape here shown—
In the reign of Paikhomha, the second chief after Kha-kem-ba, the coin issued was of the oblong form shown:—
In the fourth reign after this, or that of Chiughing-khomba, the oblong coin was
divided into four round parts, and that coinage, with the issues of successive
Rajahs, forms the present circulating medium. That Ching-tung-khomba and
Gourosham ruled conjointly I have before stated; it is extraordinary therefore
if a gold coin did then exist in Munnipore, that there should be no where any
trace of it, whilst there is ample record of the baser ones. The Company's Rupee
circulates being received at the "sale" value it may bear in the market. The
"sale" in circulation being but of small amount, any large quantity of Rupees
suddenly brought into the market reduces the value of the Rupee in "sale," and
an article whose value in "sale" remains steady, requires in Rupees an extra
amount for its purchase. With an increased amount of "sale" in circulation, the
alterations in the value of the Rupee would not be so great, and having
increased the amount it would be required to be kept up; but where coinage only
takes place by fits and starts, regularity in the value of the Rupee cannot be
With the country briefly described in the foregoing pages, the British Government was brought into unwilling contact by the first Burmese war. At the conclusion of the war, though by the treaty of Yandabo, Munnipore was declared independent, yet being too weak by itself to remain so, and its position being, in a military point of view, of too much importance to permit the chance of the Burmese obtaining the command of it, the British Government has been compelled to guard against such chance, and to retain in the country a Political Agent; all border disputes (and they have been numerous) having been settled by this Officer, the Burmese have been prevented from coming into collision with the Munniporees, and thus the latter have enjoyed an immunity from Burmese aggression for a period unprecedented in their annals, of more than quarter of a century.
During this interval of peace, Munnipore has increased in population and wealth;
it possesses an immensely fertile soil, and is blessed with a good climate; but
these advantages are, as I have shown, almost over-balanced by the system of
Government, and by the religion professed by its rulers, and followed by the
Whilst the advantage of immunity from foreign aggression has been fully appreciated, the benefits derived from internal peace have not been so fully acknowledged. There being no upper class, or families possessing a preponderating influence, all Munniporees are upon a par, and every one thinks himself as fit as another for any office however high. The advantages accruing from the possession of office, I have before shown; and as office alone confers rank, its attainment is the chief ambition of the people. If not to be gained by fair means, the aspirant shrinks not from contemplating revolution for its attainment. In every male member of the Royal family, no matter how distant he may be from the reigning branch of it, they see a means of one day perhaps accomplishing their ends. Hence, numerous as they are, the great respect with which they treat their princes, and the frequent revolutions from which the country has suffered so much. With the view of putting a stop to these calamities, the resolution I have before mentioned to support the present Raja, was come to by the British Government. If the Raja enjoys a long reign, the advantage of a long period of internal peace may be noticed by the people, and the desire to secure this advantage may after his death deter them from hastily entering on projects of revolution, but without a change in the institutions of the country, revolutions—unless restrained by the British Government—will I fear be always imminent.
Had the connexion of the British Government with Munnipore been as willing as it was unwilling, and had it effected nothing more for the country than to give it immunity from the enormous cruelties of the Burmese, that alone would have been much, but by it the country has increased in numbers and in wealth, the oppression of its rulers, as a consequence of the support afforded them, has been checked, and the people obliged to think of other means than revolution for bettering themselves. Prominent amongst these means is commerce. "In the reign of Chourjeet Sing," observes Captain Pemberton, "some traffic was carried on by the inhabitants of the Munnipore valley [p.40] with those residing on the banks of the Ningthee River, and in the Doab of the latter and Irawattee. The intercourse between Munnipore and the more flourishing countries to the westward, was at that time confined to the occasional transit of a few passengers proceeding on pilgrimages to Western India and Nuddea, and they were subjected to such extortions by the Kupooee tribe of Nagas occupying the hills of the intervening tract, and incurred such serious risk of life from the lawless habits and fierce passions of these irresponsible savages, that the journey from Munnipore into Cachar, which is now accomplished with perfect security, was an undertaking of the most serious nature, which all were anxious if possible to avoid. Since the restoration of the Munnipore dynasty, and the subjugation of the Kupooees by the late Raja Gumbheer Sing, these obstacles have been permanently removed; parties of from two to four Bengalees (probably the most constitutionally timid race on the face of the earth) now cross from Cachar into Munnipore throughout the year with the most perfect security; and some few Shans from the banks of the Ningthee, have succeeded within the last two years in disposing of small investments which they conveyed through Munnipore to Sylhet." The construction by the British Government of a magnificent road through the mountains from Cachar to the valley has added to the advantages obtained from the subjugation of the Kupooees by the Raja Gumbheer Sing, and the facility of transit afforded by it has considerably increased the commerce with the West. In the commercial movement, the Shans, on the immediate frontier, have participated, and buffaloes alone to the value of from Rupees 30,000 to 50,000 have been for some years past annually exported by them, but beyond the immediate frontier, traders from the West feel too insecure to advance. Looking, however, at the obstacles that have been placed in the way of commerce by the most civilized people, it may be a subject for congratulation that the progress it has made amongst these semi-savages has been so great.
The present Raja was to have been educated under the auspices of the British Government; indeed, he had commenced taking lessons when his mother carried him out of the country and prevented the project being consummated. Great, however, as the influence of the reigning Prince, in a country in which his will is the law, is, I doubt whether it is a matter for regret that the education proposed was not [p.41] given. Superficial acquirements might have imparted a gloss, but with the stronghold of error, Hindooism untouched, little could have been effected for the benefit of the country. When that stronghold has been attacked, I shall agree with Captain Pemberton in these the concluding words of his Report. In Assam, Munnipore, and Arracan, a propitious commencement has been already made; and standing on the neutral ground which separates Hindooism on the one hand, from Boodhism on the other, the disseminators of sound knowledge, aided by all the influence and talent of the local authorities, are kindling an intellectual flame, which spreading East and West, will illumine the gloom of superstition and ignorance in which their benighted inhabitants now rest, and qualify them for higher destinies than they have ever yet fulfilled. If such be the result of the extension of British influence over the numerous tribes and nations which dwell on our Eastern Frontier, the recollection of the horrors of the Burmese war will fade before the glorious prospect of redeeming many millions of men from such mental debasement, and elevating them to that higher station in the intellectual and moral world, upon which the favoured inhabitants of Europe now stand. We rescued them from a yoke, which has bowed to the dust, the energies of every people, over whom it has been cast; and we may fearlessly refer those who doubt the ameliorating influence of our rule to Arracan, to Cachar, to Munnipore and Assam, and abide the result of a comparison between their past and present condition, between the sufferings they formerly endured and the peace they now enjoy.
OF THE HILL TRIBES.
HAVING given some account of the people of the valley of
Munnipore, I shall now proceed to a description of the inhabitants of the hills
around it. These in the West are known under the general appellations of Naga
and Kookie. In Munnipore they are all embraced in the term Hau, Koupooee,
Quoireng, Khongjai, Kamsol, Anal-Namfau, Aimole, Kôm, Koireng, Cheeroo, Chôte,
Pooroom, Muntuck, Kărum, Muiring, Tangkool, Loohoopa, Mow, Murăm, Miyang-khang,
Gnamei, are the names in use amongst Munniporees to distinguish the principal
tribes, and though each of these tribes has a distinctive name of its own, often
quite different from the Munniporee one, still as with the lat-
[p.42] ter all are familiar, and as it is the name a stranger would be most likely to
hear used, I shall in the subsequent pages speak of them by these names. All of
these tribes were much more numerous than they are at present, and not further
back than thirty years ago, some of them, who are now represented by but one or
two small villages in positions far removed from their former ones, occupied
large tracts; but though reduced in numbers they retain all their particular
customs, speak their separate languages, and are objects of much interest. Than
the contrast between the comparatively tall and prominently featured people of
the western plains, and the diminutive in stature low-nosed inhabitants of these
hills a greater could scarcely be conceived, and it is rendered more striking by
the suddenness—one step from the plain—with which it is presented to view, but
great as the contrast in their personal appearance is, it is equalled, as will
be seen by that between the manners, customs, and ideas of the two peoples.
In the Koupooee, is comprised two tribes, the Songboo and Pooeeron. Through the hills, occupied by the Songboos, runs the Munnipore road, passing through one village and close to several others. And as the traveller from the West would first come upon this people, an account of the tribes may be properly commenced with one of them.
The Koupooees occupy the hills between Cachar and the valley of Munnipore in their whole breadth, a direct distance of about forty miles; and from 25° north latitude, they formerly extended over nearly an equal distance to the south. The whole of this tract was formerly thickly studded with villages, some of them of considerable size, but in consequence of the attacks of enemies, and the oppression of Munnipore since their subjugation, many villages of the present time are entirely deserted, and the majority of the remainder are much reduced in size. Songboo tradition gives, as the place of their origin, the mountain towards the south of the valley named Thungching. They state themselves to be, at present, located on the sites of villages at one time occupied by the southern tribes who are, they say, the elder branch of the family of which they themselves are the middle, and the Munniporees, the younger branch. They and all the other races of hill people congregate in communities, composed usually of families connected with one another by blood-ties. The superior elevations being the most healthy, their villages are usually to be found in them. Each house is [p.43] constructed with reference to its own convenience, the regularity of the village is not cared for, but no house is so far removed from the rest, as to preclude its being included in the stockade or rampart of stones which usually surrounds them as a defence either from their enemies or wild beasts. Before the subjugation of the Songboos to Munnipore, almost every village was at war with its neighbour. On their subjugation this warfare was put a stop to, but the remembrance of their feuds remains, and they would break out afresh tomorrow were the restraining hand of Munnipore withdrawn. Even now, the inhabitants of one village will not drink of the running stream even which supplies the wants of another village with which they were formerly at feud. Perhaps in either village, no one has personal knowledge of the cause of feud, but it is preserved by tradition and descends from generation to generation a heritage of hate. Amongst the Koupooees Munnipore has been able to exert so much influence as to prevent feuds being openly carried on, but a state of active feud appears to be the one natural to all the tribes from Cape Negrais as far north as we have any knowledge of.
To their villages which are permanent, the Koupooees are much attached. The village and its immediate precincts form their graveyard, and when for a time, from whatever cause, they have been obliged to desert their village, I have heard them more often express their wish to return to it as being the grave of their ancestors, than to it as being their own birth place. Their attachment then to their village is created quite as much by its holding the tombs of their ancestors as by its being the place of their birth. Some villages draw their supplies of water from great distances, whilst others are more fortunate in having a perennial spring or stream in their immediate vicinity. The proximity of water one would consider would be much prized, more especially by the women upon whom all domestic labour falls, and who have to fetch it, but even in villages where the water is most distant I have never heard a wish expressed that it was nearer. To all the villages the accents are laborious, and to some of them from the great steepness excessively so, but throughout the hills occupied by the Songboos, I am not aware of there being any roads made by them to facilitate general travelling, or for the convenience of communication between villages. Their roads are mere paths overgrown [p.44] with jungle, except in the neighbourhood of their villages, where it is cut down, and these paths being selected not for the ease of travelling by them, but for their directness are generally over the steepest parts. A hill man does not appreciate an easy ascent if it be circuitous. This is clearly shown in the Munnipore road, constructed by Colonel Guthrie, then a Captain of Engineers, many parts of which are quite untravelled by the hill people, who prefer the steep ascent of the rough face of the hill to the gradual but circuitous one of the road, and this even with loads on their backs. Even the inhabitant of the plains is tempted to leave the circuitous parts of the road and to take the shortcuts, yet I have heard persons condemn the line selected by Captain Guthrie saying, he should have avoided its ascents and descents by carrying his road along the banks of the Barak, Peerung and Laimatak Rivers which consecutively join one another. Had this been done the ascents and descents of the present line would, they said, have been avoided, and a road better fitted for traffic have been made. I question, however, whether these advocates of the line by the banks of the rivers, would themselves travel along it twice in preference to the present line, and I am certain that no other traveller, except by compulsion, would follow such a route. The direct distance across the mountains from the Jeeree River to the valley of Munnipore is about forty miles, by the road it is eighty, and by the line proposed it would be certainly five or six times eighty. On the Burmese Frontier in this direction Captain Guthrie was called the "path finder" and his lining this road was the cause of admiration, not only to the Burmese but to the whole of the inhabitants of these mountains. His name is remembered with affection by the hill men amongst whom, to forward the work on which he was employed, he expended of his private funds more than rupees seven thousand.
But to return to the Koupooees, the mountain-land around the village, within certain fixed bounds, is usually the property of the village. This they cultivate with rice in elevations suited to it, and with other crops in situations unfitted for that species of grain. The spot cultivated this year, is not again cultivated for the next ten years; it having been found that that space of time is required for the formation of a cultivable soil by the decay of the vegetable matter that again springs upon it, The chief crop is rice, but the produce is very un- [p.45] certain, both from the vicissitudes of weather, and the differing richness of the soil, which they must of necessity cultivate in their ten years' rotation. As, for instance, is the case with Nongba, when by rotation their cultivation falls upon the south side of the village, they reap but little, and support themselves principally that year, on wild yams. This root, a beneficent Providence has so diffused throughout these mountains, that no native of them able to dig them up, can starve. The hill-man more especially lives by the sweat of his brow. The spot for cultivation being determined on, he must clear it of a jungle of ten years' growth; if the spot happens to be near to the village, he can return in the evening after a full day's work, but if at a great distance, as it often is, he must either give up work early to enable him to get back to his village by nightfall or working late remain there. Working, exposed to the full influence of the rays of the sun, thirst is soon induced which often, from there being no water near, must be endured. A bamboo jungle of the species called "Maubee" is to cut, compared with a dense tree jungle, easy, but still it is no light labour. After having been cut down, the jungle is allowed to dry, so that it may be fired in season, for if fired out of season, as sometimes through accidental conflagrations happens, the crop to be raised will most probably be deteriorated, or the land even be rendered unfit for it. Great damage has occurred to the hill-people from the carelessness of travellers on the Munnipore Road in lighting fires, and leaving them burning, in the neighbourhood of dry jungle. These fires communicating with the jungle have sometimes been the cause of the premature burning of the newly felled jungle not of one, but of many villages. A premature fire caused by a hill-man is visited upon him with severe punishment, and before a village sets fire to the jungle cut down on the spot about to be cultivated, it gives some days notice to the neighbouring villages of the day on which it means to do so. At the season of firing the jungle cut for cultivation, as all the low uncut jungle is comparatively dry, on setting fire to the former, the latter also ignites and the whole mountain becomes a sheet of fire. This to a person safe from it forms a most magnificent spectacle, but one of fear and the greatest danger to those exposed to it. If the felled jungle has been thoroughly dried, the whole is, with the exception of the larger trees, reduced to ashes. The soil for an inch or two is thoroughly burnt, and having [p.46] been scratched up with their little hoes, is mixed with the ashes, and becomes ready for the reception of seed, which is sown broad cast. They measure their cultivation by the number of baskets required for seed. Across the field in parallel lines, at no great distance apart, they lay the unconsumed trunks of the trees; these serve as dams to the water which comes down the face of the hill when it rains, and preventives to the soil being carried away with it. In bamboo jungle, the bamboo stumps serve the same purpose. The field has to be constantly watched against the depredations of birds and wild beasts, and weeds being very rapid in growth, to be frequently weeded. The rice raised by the Koupooees generally is of inferior quality. But the villages around the beautiful little valley of Kowpoom, and near the vale of the Laimatak River, having plain surfaces of fertile soil to cultivate, raise crops of rice of the same superior description as that of the valley of Munnipore. Although these villages possess buffaloes they do not use them to plough with, but only to harrow after they have dug up the soil with their hoes. The crop having been cut is beat out on the field, and the grain carried to and deposited in the granary close by the village. In the carrying the whole village joins receiving as recompense a certain proportion of the loads carried and their drink. In the best seasons it is only by the most unremitting attention that the Koupooee reaps his crop, and anything at the cultivating season occurring to interrupt his labours may be attended with the serious result of a lessened supply of food. After all their labours when the grain is ripe and ready to be cut, they lose it sometimes by a high wind sweeping the field. This wind they assert does not merely shake the grain out of the ear but carries it away bodily. In such cases the grain they say has been taken up by the divinity. In the same manner I have heard Munniporees when the crops are ripe, and it thunders accompanied by wind say, that the divinity is "carrying up" the crop, and that the grain is carried away bodily, they also positively assert. A slip of the face of a hill sometimes ruins all, and another calamity consists in the visits of immense quantities of rats. These in their progress destroy everything before them, they nip down the standing corn, ascend the granaries, fill the houses, and leave nothing behind them fit for human subsistence. Neither fire nor water stops the progress of the innumerable host. After a time, these rats, they say, become [p.47] birds to eat of which produces a pestilence. That this transformation takes place they hold to be proved by the birds having tails like rats! The visitations of rats are fortunately infrequent; during the last thirty years none have occurred, but the signs of their advent are, they say, apparent, and that it will take place next year (1859) is generally expected.
The houses of the Koupooees are well adapted to the climate. In the more flourishing villages they are large and substantially built. They are gable ended, have the ridge pole not in a horizontal position, but sloping from the front to the rear where it is in comparison with the front very low, and the thatched roof on either side reaches the ground. The posts and beams are often of great size, and of such excellent quality, that for thirty or forty years, the only repairs required are to the thatch, and their thatching is so good that the roof scarcely needs repair for ten or twelve years. Excellent thatching grass is found usually in the vicinity of the villages; having cut it, they divest it carefully of every weed and inferior blade, after which they tie it up in little bundles with strips of a bamboo which is long between its joints, pliable and tough, so tightly that a blade cannot be extracted from the bundle. The method of tying is very simple, and consists in passing the ligature first through the middle of the grass at the head of the bundle, and then one turn round it, bringing the end up and passing it in between the surrounding turn and the grass; by a slight twist a loop is formed at the end into which a short stick is thrust, with which as a lever the bundle itself being the fulcrum it is tied. These little bundles are tied, each separately, to the bamboos of the roof running parallel to the ridge pole, and thus is formed a thatch impervious to wet and which resists effectually for years the winds of these high altitudes.
Besides their grain, all other articles of food, and their more valuable property, are kept in their granaries at a short distance from the dwelling houses. These granaries have the floors raised 4 or 5 feet above the ground, they are thatched like the dwelling houses, and have their floors and walls of bamboo matting. Their positions are usually well sheltered, and their doors are secured only by wooden bolts fastened outside, but though thus easy to be opened, a theft from a granary is almost unheard of. In the grey of the morning, the females of the family are astir, and the village resounds with the blows of the long [p.48] pestle in the wooden mortar beating out the rice from the husk. This finished, breakfast is cooked both for the family and the pigs, for the latter, the husk mixed with other refuse serves the purpose. Breakfast over, which it usually is about sunrise, the women proceed for water which they fill into bamboo tubes and bring in on their backs in baskets. Then they go for fire-wood, and this brought, they set about the internal economy of the house; that is to see to their husbands drink being in proper quantity, and quality, to their spinning or to their weaving, or any of the other household occupations except sweeping the house clean, an act in which they have no pride. In fact, they rather seem to glory in a dirty house, and in having the front room half covered with rice husk, in which pigs are lying fast asleep, or grunting about, and fowls are busy seeking for food. The family, except the boys, from the time they begin to wear a cloth round their waist sleep in the rear room of the house, and in it they also cook their meals. In the front part any one who comes sits down. In it there is a fire-place and along the two sides are placed boards or bamboo platforms for sitting or lying upon. Some of these boards are as much as 24 feet long by 4 broad. They are made with their dâos and little axes, a whole tree being destroyed in getting one. If not employed in the labours of the field or the chase, the men do little more than loll about the house during the day, drinking their peculiar drink, a harmless one consisting of pounded rice mixed with boiling water brought into fermentation by the addition of germinated paddy. In the mornings and evenings they will generally be found sitting in groups in front of their houses on large flat stones which, cover the graves of deceased relatives. They then appear to be enjoying themselves greatly, they are exceedingly loquacious and speak always in a loud tone. Pipes containing green tobacco are then smoked, and at such a rate do they pull, they appear to be smoking for a wager. I believe the pleasure of smoking is nothing to them compared to that of holding in the mouth a sip of the water of the bowl of the pipe which has been well impregnated with the fumes of the smoke passing through it, and that it is only for the purpose of obtaining this that they so laboriously pull at their pipes morning and evening.
Every village has three hereditary Officers, namely Kool-lakpa, Loop-lakpa, and Lumpoo, any Officers besides these, are elected. If the hereditary chief or Kool-lakpa be a man of wealth, he will be also a [p.49] man of influence, but usually this is not the case, and who the head of the village is would be difficult for a stranger to perceive. Before their subjugation to Munnipore, the most successful warrior would have been the most influential man in the village; now wealth, and the faculty of speaking well, which doubtless in former days also had their influence, render their possessors leading men. With the internal government of the Koupooees or of any of the other hill tribes, the Munnipore Government does not interfere, they are left entirely to themselves and looking at them casually they appear individually to be under no control, but the appearance is false. The authority of a hereditary chief they have rejected, but each village has become a small republic, the safety of which, experience has taught the members, is only to be gained by strictly observing the rights of person and property, individuals infringing the laws or usages of the community are punished by fine, or even expelled. In a time of scarcity closely approaching to famine, I have seen the granaries of a lone widow sacredly preserved by a village, the inhabitants of which ate rice only when they received it from her. Theft, if the thief should happen to be a married man, is punished severely, but a young unmarried man might with impunity steal grain not yet housed, whilst theft from a granary would subject him to the severest punishment, young unmarried men are acknowledged to be usually wild, and it is thought they should without any great check be permitted to sow their wild oats. I have before observed that the young men and boys do not sleep in their own houses. According as the village is large or small, they assemble in one or several houses which to them for the time become their homes. These clubs are ruled over despotically by the seniors amongst them, who exact from their juniors with unsparing hand service of all kinds. The young women also have their places of resort, and between them and the young men intercourse is quite unrestricted without leading to immorality which is the exception. The Koupooees are subdivided into families, Koomul, Looang, Angom and Ningthauja. A member of any of these families may marry a member of any other, but intermarriage of members of the same family is strictly prohibited. Though not attended to with the same strictness, this prohibition, in regard to marriage, and this distinction of families under the same designations, exists amongst the Munniporees.
Although in the perfectly unrestricted intercourse of the sexes which I have
shown they enjoy, attachments between individuals must spring up, still their
alliances are formed usually with little reference to the liking of either of
the parties for the other. This results from the custom of buying their wives.
A man's son has reached an age when in his father's opinion, he ought to be
wived. The father sets out in search of a daughter-in-law, and having found one
to please himself he arranges for her marriage. The fixed price of a wife is
seven buffaloes, two dâos, two spears, two strings of beads made of conch-shell,
two ear-ornaments, two black cloths, two eating vessels, two hoes and what is
called meilôn. Less than this can be given, and is usually, except with the
rich, amongst whom the having paid a high price for a daughter-in-law is a
subject of boasting. The meilôn is given by the family of the bride, it may be
an article of much value or of little, but without it, it is not thought that
the bride has been fully given. It does not appear that the general disregard of
the affections produces unhappy results; infidelity is rare. But sons and
daughters do not at all times permit their relatives to select their wives and
husbands, and choosing for themselves run-away matches are occasionally made.
These matches create for a time much indignation, but not usually of an
unappeasable nature, and they are not considered to be such serious infractions
of the general rules as to require the flight of the parties out of the village;
they fly merely to the house of some friend, who affords them protection and
intercedes for them. The adulterer, if he did not fly the village, would be
killed; aware of the penalty attached to his offence he dare not stay, and is
glad to leave his house and property to be destroyed by the injured husband. The
family of the adulteress is obliged to refund the price in the first instance
paid to them by her husband, and also to pay her debts. Why these expenses are
not made to fall upon the adulterer, they cannot explain. But these are not the
only expenses the parties have to bear. During the continuance of the
discussions, the village council must be supplied with drink and something to
eat; them the offending parties furnish, and consider themselves lucky, if they
get off without being entirely cleared out. On the death of a man's wife the
extraordinary practice exists of taking from her husband "mundoo" or the "price
of her bones." If he le alive, this will be demanded by her father, in fault of
the father, [p.51] by her nearest of kin. "Mundoo" is also payable on the death of their children.
On each demand of "mundoo" the demander kills a pig, the mundoo or price is
fixed at one buffaloe. No mundoo is payable for persons killed by enemies or
wild beasts, or whose death has been caused by any swelling, or the cholera, or
smallpox. Should a woman die in childbirth, her child is not permitted to live,
but is buried with her. If the husband should die before the wife, the wife is
taken by her husband's brother. She cannot return to her parental home as long
there are any near male relatives of her husband remaining. Polygamy is
permitted but not largely practiced. Five days after the birth of a child, it is
named with various ceremonies; names are not given at random, but are compounds
of the father's and grandfather's names or those of other near relations. The
rejoicings on the birth of a child are greatest on that of a firstborn, and more
hearty where that is a boy than a girl. The Koupooees are fond of dancing, which
they accompany with songs and beat of drum. They have no other musical
instrument. The airs to which some of their songs are sung are not unpleasant,
and their dancing is of the most animated kind. Their songs seem to be reserved
for their festivals, and it is more usual to hear the "hau-hau" than any other
sound. In carrying loads they lighten them by expelling the "hau" from their
lungs in different notes and in good tune; the cutting of the jungle for their
cultivation proceeds rapidly to the same tune, and in fact no occupation
requiring much exertion appears to be so willingly engaged in as when the "hau-hau"
is fast and furious. A person may be complimented by hau-hauing, but, as a
consideration is always expected for the compliment it may be called a method of
begging. The Koupooee man ties a cloth round his waist, the end of which hangs
down in front to conceal his privities, otherwise he is quite naked. The women
on the other hand are well clothed after the fashion of Munniporee women but in
coarser materials, and in the method of dressing their hair they also resemble
Munniporee women. Of ornaments they are very fond, and they wear many until they
are married. These consist of glass beads and brass ornaments on the arms, gold
or silver ornaments I do not think exist amongst them. In their festivals, the
men wear their peculiar ornaments of which the most prized are necklaces of a
red pebble. A single stone of this sort is sometimes valued at five methins, but
such [p.52] stones are usually heirlooms and are sacredly preserved. The Koupooee men cut
their hair short, and the more erect it is the more it is prized. On occurrence
of a death, if the deceased be a man of a wealthy family, a buffaloe would be
killed, and all his relatives and friends feasted; the less well to do in the
world, content themselves by killing a goat or a pig. The body is seldom kept
more than a day. The grave is dug by those who are connected with the family by
marriage with its females. For this service they are entitled to receive the
best dâo and spear of the deceased. The grave is a vault dug in the hill, in
this they deposit the body and usually some arms and a hoe. The mouth of the
vault is then closed with large stones, and the passage to it filled with earth.
Throughout the year the Koupooees have various festivals which they are very particular in observing, and celebrate with all their might these are, first, the Enghan which happens in or about December. During the five days of its continuance, all the inhabitants of the village dressed in their best attire, keep up the dance and song interrupted only by short intervals of repose and breaks dedicated to feasting. Next, the Reengnai in or about January which lasts for three days. In one day during this festival, the men and women fetch separately the water for their own use. The men having killed pigs take a portion for themselves and give a portion to the women, and having cooked them separately, they eat them separately, the men in the house of the head of the family, the women each in her own house. An effigy of a man made of a plantain is hung on a tree, and at it they throw pointed bamboos or sticks. Should the javelin strike it in the head, the thrower, it is said, will kill an enemy, but if it lodges in the belly the thrower is to be blessed with plenty of food. This festival is said to be in honour of their ancestors, but the only visible sign of this is sprinkling their graves with their particular drink. On the termination of the Reengnai, they go through the ceremony of taking the omens in regard to their place of cultivation, but this seems to have descended to them merely as a ceremonial relic of former times, for the circle of cultivation is never broken, let the omens be what they may. I have omitted to state that after the Enghan, the fence or stockade around the village is put in order. It is then also customary to choose a man to go at midnight to the outer entrance of the village, to take the omens regarding their welfare in the ensuing year. If whilst at the entrance he hears anything like [p.53] the dragging of wood, tigers will do mischief, if like the falling of leaves, there will be much sickness. On these occasions young men have been known to cause as Burn's describes Rab to have done "behint the muckle thorn" the omen-taker no small fright; but such pranks are considered sure to bring punishment on their performers, and not long ago a young man after having played the tiger, having died on his way to the valley, his death was universally attributed to his having incurred the anger of the deity on the occasion. In February there is a festival of three days continuance in which the ears of the children born after the last festival of this nature, are pierced. This festival loses its interest, for those who have frequently participated in it, and is looked forward to chiefly by those to whom it is new. These festivals over; the cutting of the jungle for cultivation is commenced, which, when finished, is crowned with the festival of "Oodooee yung" or drinking the juice of ginger. At a festival which occurs about July they clear the paths about their villages and leading to their fields of jungle, a most useful and necessary operation at that season of the year. One night of the month of August and one of September they dedicate to feasting. Besides these regular festivals, they have other occasions of rejoicing as when a person who has reaped a good harvest determines to treat the village and all comers. This, if done at all, is done in no stinted manner, and under the influence of plentiful potations, the dance and song are joyous.
Whilst the Koupooee enjoys good health, he has little anxiety, but if struck by sickness for any length of time, unless he be a person of considerable means the chances are he is ruined. To medicine they do not look for a cure of disease, but to sacrifices offered as directed by their priests to certain deities. All their goods and chattels may be expended unavailingly, and when nothing more is left for the inexorable gods, I have seen their wives and children sold as slaves to provide the means of propitiating them. In sickness, therefore, the speedy recovery or the speedy death of the patient is desirable.
A whole village or individual members of it are often "Neina" or under prohibition. Sometimes this state of things lasts a day, some times several. The "Neina" may be against the entrance of strangers, or the exit of members, or of both, or allowing the entrance of strangers, disallow their going into houses, &c. Peculiar circumstances also induce prohibitions in food and drink, but to attempt describing them would [p.54] be to pretend to more knowledge of minutia than I possess; however, without this I hope the foregoing pages may have conveyed a tolerable general idea of the Koupooee customs. They believe there is a supreme God, the creator of all things, that death is not annihilation, but that there is a future state. Besides this Supreme Being they believe in the existence of many other deities. To these, for residence, they assign certain localities as the highest peaks or great crags impracticable to the climber. They propitiate these with offerings of goats, fowls, eggs, ginger, cotton, or even a twig, or a leaf plucked from any plant. Heaps of these votive leaves may be noticed by the traveller near the crests of the hills devoutly dropped there by the hill-man with a silent prayer for the protection of the divinity.
All the hill-people are dirty, but amongst them the Koupooee is comparatively clean, he frequently bathes, though he does not devote much time to the purification of his skin. He is omnivorous, and of course without prejudices of caste, but one species of food he never touches, milk to him is an abomination. In appearance, manners and customs there is no essential difference between the two divisions of the Koupooees, the Songboos and Pooeerons, but though so much alike in these respects, between their languages there in a great difference, so great indeed that when they wish to communicate with one another they have to resort to the language of Munnipore. The Pooeerons do not appear at any time to have been numerous, and they are at present confined to a few villages situated in the North Eastern corner of the space I have before indicated as the region of the Koupooee tribe.
Next to these is the Quoireing tribe, having a language distinct from those of the Songboos and Pooeerons, but a great similarity in all other respects. They inhabit all the hills north of the Koupooees, between the high range that skirts the valley of Munnipore and the Burak, as far as the Angamee tribe, from whose aggression they have suffered much. From these aggressions and their own feuds, they have much decreased in number, but are still a very considerable tribe, possessed of much energy which develops itself in trade with the Angamees and our Frontier Districts.
Amongst the Quoirengs and Pooeerons are remnants of excellent roads made by their ancestors, judiciously carried along the more level [p.55] parts, and going up the faces of hills by zigzags of very gradual slope. These roads the present inhabitants are too few to keep in order.
The Khongjais or Kookies until lately occupied the hills to the south of the Koupooees. Whilst in this position, little or nothing of them was known, but they caused fear from their numbers and the bloody attacks they sometimes made upon their neighbours. South of them lay the Poi, Soote, Tauté, Loosei, and other tribes, better armed than they were, and of the same genus as themselves, but at feud with them. By these they were driven from their native hills, the task being rendered easier by the internal animosities of the Khongjais themselves, and are now scattered around the valley of Munnipore, and thence through the hills to North and South Cachar.
The Khongjais bring their progenitors from the bowels of the earth, and they relate the manner of their reaching its surface thus. One day their king's brother was hunting hedgehogs, when his dog in pursuit of one entered a cavern, and he waiting its return remained at the mouth. After the lapse of sometime, the dog not having returned, its master determined to go in and see what had become of it. The dog he did not find, but observing its tracks and following them, he found himself suddenly on the surface of the earth. The scene presented to his view both pleased and astonished him, returning to his brother he related his adventure, and counselled him to ascend with his village to the new country. To this the king agreed, and having made their arrangements, they started on their journey, they had arrived near the surface, when they found in the way a large serpent which opposed their further progress, and saw that the orifice by which they were to emerge had over it a great stone kept open merely by the support a bird gave it with its legs. On seeing this the people of the village began to abuse the king's brother, accusing him of having deceived them, and of having brought them from their burrow to deliver them to the serpent. Stung with their reproaches the king's brother attacked and killed the snake, and he and the greater portion of the village emerged into the light. Meanwhile the king, having discovered that a wooden dish or bowl which had the magical property of always being full of meat, and some other articles of a similar magical description, were not amongst his effects, returned to fetch them. Before he got back, the bird having got tired of supporting the stone had let it fall, [p.56] and unable to raise it, he and his wife had to remain below. Attributing the closing of the orifice to the ambition of her brother-in-law to become king, Nemnik the king's wife cursed him, and those who had gone up with him, to suffer from diseases hitherto unknown to them. This curse, they say, is still upon them, and when disease presses them sorely they sacrifice to Nemnik a methin in mitigation of her wrath. Continuing the tale of the proceedings of their progenitors, they relate that the party who had reached the surface began to feel the cravings of mortals, and not knowing where to find water were becoming greatly distressed, when noticing a bird fluttering over a spot not far off, and going to see the reason for its doing so, they found a reservoir of that element by the side of which they cooked. Having eaten and refreshed themselves, they commenced clearing a spot for their houses. Whilst busy doing so, their new king accidentally killed a child which had been playing in the jungle unknown to him. A choking sensation seized him, and he became exceedingly ill. Pitying his master, his dog fawned upon him, and licked his hands. This instead of pleasing enraged him so, that he dealt the animal a cut with his dâo, and some of the blood spurting out on his throat, he was relieved of his pain and recovered. Since then, they day, pains of the throat have been cured by sacrificing dogs and applying of their blood to the part.
In explanation of their separation into tribes with different languages, they relate that the three grandsons of the above chief, white one day all playing together in their house, were told by their father to catch a rat, that they were busy about it, when being suddenly struck with a confusion of tongues, they were unable to effect their object. The eldest son spoke the Lamyang, the second the Thado, and the third, some say, the Waiphie and some the Munnipore language. Thus they broke into distinct tribes. Although occupants of the hills to the south of the valley of Munnipore, their traditions do not give the southern hills as the place of their origin, but rather lead them to the belief that it was in the north. I have before noticed the circumstance of the Koupooees believing themselves to be occupying the sites of villages which once belonged to the southern tribes, and as this belief tallies with the Khongjai idea, that they came from the north I might conjecture, the latter had formerly occupied the position now occupied by the Koupooees, but the Khongjais themselves do not [p.57] even hint this to be the case. They pay much attention to their genealogy, and profess to know the names of their chiefs in succession, from their leader out of the bowels of the earth up to the present time. About the names of those previous to Thado, there may be doubt, but from this great chief, from whom the whole race takes the appellation of Thado I do not think there is any. The period of chieftainship of each they cannot tell, indeed, neither they nor any of the hill tribes have any more certain way of counting years, than by enumerating the spots where they had annually cultivated, and, it is not to be expected, that in a long series of years, all these could be remembered. The Munniporee method even of noting years is but a little improvement on this; they annually select a person called Chahee Taba whose name designates the year of his selection. Persons can repeat the names of all the Chahee Tabas from their commencement, and are able, if told in what Chahee Taba's time an event occurred, to say at once how many years have elapsed since its occurrence. But all do not carry in their memories the list of Chahee Tabas, and whilst an individual may be able to say in what Chahee Taba's time an event occurred, he may be perfectly unable to state the number of years which may have passed since its occurrence.
Amongst the Khongjais themselves the cream of the Thados, the Thados par excellence are the male descendants of Thado in direct lineal descent. To these much respect is paid by the younger branches, who in token thereof present to the chief of their particular branches one tusk of each elephant they may capture, these chiefs again making a present to their superior the head of all. The present chief of all the Thados is a young man named Kooding Mang. His genealogy and that of some other chiefs I shall afterwards give. The Changsels and Thlungums do not belong to the Thado race, but are, the Thados say, of some ancient races which were in existence before they arrived on the earth's surface. The Thiungums are distinct from the Changsels and the Thados themselves are divided into the greater clans of Thado, Shingsoi, Chongloi, Hangseen, Keepgen, Hankeep, from whom again have sprung many other clans inferior in rank but numerous as themselves, such as Chongfoot, Telnok, Holtung, Mangvoong, Voongtung, &c.
In their own hills, the different tribes appear to have kept quite separate. Some of their villages seem to have been of considerable [p.58] size, but most of them to have contained only a few houses. Originally they were not migratory, but have assumed this character latterly. Since their expulsion from their own hills, the different tribes have become mixed up together in villages situated in positions selected with reference to convenience of cultivation; but with little regard to healthiness. A village having around it plenty of land suited for cultivation, and a popular chief is sure soon by accessions from less favoured ones to become large, but that its inhabitants will remain in it is uncertain, for the ties by which they were held together in their native hills, have been so rudely broken, that they have scarcely existence, and any whim may lead them to another village. Their villages are very different from those of the Koupooees and Quoirengs, they have not the permanent look, nor are the houses so large or so substantially built. The Khongjais prefer woody spots for their village sites, and their style of house is adapted to such a situation, but, decidedly unadapted to more exposed positions. Their houses are usually small, all of them are gable ended, and have raised floors, which, and the walls are made of bamboo matting. Their Raja's house is generally larger than that of any of the others, and has, if possible in front of it, a space of level ground. It is surrounded by a stockade, and every other house in the village has a fence of some kind round it. The houses appear to be placed higgledy-piggledy, but in this apparent confusion there is really some order.
The tribes I have hitherto noticed have exhibited chiefs hereditary, but without any power. Amongst the Khongais this is not the case; their hereditary chiefs or hausas having a very considerable degree of power and receiving a revenue in kind, and in service from their subjects. The revenue exacted is not the same in all the divisions of the Thado race, but the yearly payment of a basket of rice by the head of each house is common to all, besides this, one of each litter of pigs, or brood of fowls, is in many villages taken by the Raja. Some have taxes on marriages, and on the sale of property as methins, and all on the produce of the chace. If the latter be an elephant, its right tusk, or if smaller game a hind quarter goes to the Raja. The yearly service obligatory on the village is preparing a portion of ground for the Raja's cultivation, sowing, weeding, and reaping it. They also make his house and do many little jobs for him besides.
Supposing the Raja had a son, five days after his birth, there would be a feast
when they would shave his head, name him, bore his ears, and his mother after
proper ceremonies would tie some of the feathers of a red fowl which had been
sacrificed to the gods as a charm about his neck. All his relations come to the
feast bringing with them what each is able of flesh and wine. When the boy has
grown up, he associates with the young men of the village, and joins in all
their sports and pastimes. Yearly they brew wine called, "Lomyoo," and on its
ripening, they invite the young women of the village to a "blow out." If able,
his father and mother now seek a wife for him, and she must be the daughter of a
Raja. To her father they proceed, and presenting wine, they beg his daughter for
their son. If he agrees the wine is drunk, what is to be given for the girl is
asked, and a bargain concluded. The articles composing the girls price are taken
together with wine to her house, and her relations having killed a methin or a
pig, they all eat of it together. The party who brought the girl's price,
contend with the young men of the village at their games, and if in this
contention bones are broken, no notice of it is taken. The games over, the girl
must go to her husband's house; with this view she is dressed in all her finery,
a gong is placed on her head as an umbrella, the hind leg of a methin and half
of a pig are given to her, and having taken a sip of the well fumigated water of
the pipe bowl, she parts amidst tears with her family. On reaching her husband's
house, a feast is given to all who went for her. The eldest son on his marriage
remains with his father, a younger son has a part of his father's subjects made
over to him, and sets up for himself. In the manner of obtaining a wife there is
no difference between the Raja's son and his lowest subject, except that the
latter has not to pay the same high price for his partner.
The Koupooees make no distinction between a boy and a girl, in the period for ceremonies they perform after its birth, but the Khongjais do; a girl is not allowed to rest for five days but in three after its birth, is named, and has the other ceremonies performed. Does the earlier naming and piercing of the ears of a girl indicate less value being attached to girls than to boys? The salique law rigorously prevails amongst the Rhonjais, but the influence of woman is great amongst them. The wives of some of the Rajas manage all the affairs of their [p.60] villages apparently much to the satisfaction of their people, and widows during their sons minority, often, without dispute, assume the management of affairs.
In his notes on North Cachar, Lieutenant Stewart has, I think, made a mistake in attaching "objection" or "ridicule" to the marriage of a Thado or Shingsol with a Changsel or Thiungum. The mother of Keoding Kai the head of all the Shingsols was a Changsel, and so is his wife. The mother of Kooding mang the head of all the Khongjais is also a Changsel. I could instance many others, but that the heads of tribes would ally themselves with objects of ridicule is unlikely. Indeed, I believe the only reason why more alliances with the Changsels do not take place, is the high price they demand for their daughters. But though I dissent from Lieutenant Stewart in this, I beg here to express my unfeigned admiration generally of that Officer's description of the Kookies. I quote from it:—"The Kookies," he says, "are a short sturdy race of men with a goodly development of muscle. Their legs are, generally speaking, short in comparison to the length of their bodies, and their arms long. Their complexion differs little from that of the Bengalee and comprises various shades, but the features are most markedly dissimilar; the face is nearly as broad as long, and is generally round or square, the cheekbones high, broad, and prominent, eyes small and almond shaped and the nose short and flat with wide nostrils. The women appear more squat than the men even, but are strong and lusty, and quite as industrious and indefatigable as the Naga women, working hard all day either at home or in the fields, and accustomed to carry heavy loads. The men like the Nagas are inclined to be lazy, though not to such an extent as that tribe. They love to sit on high platforms raised for the purpose in their villages and pass the day in conversation and smoking. Men, women, and children all smoke to the greatest excess. A Kookie is hardly ever seen without a pipe in his mouth, and one of his few means of calculating time and distance is by the number of pipes he smokes. The men smoke a pipe, the bowl of which is either made of brass, rudely ornamented, or of the end of a small bamboo tube, a reed (it is like a reed but is a bamboo) being let in near the knot as a mouthpiece. The women have a bowl with water in it attached to their pipes, and the smoke in passing through [p.61] impregnates the water with its fumes. This fumigated water is filled into little bamboo tubes, and other reservoirs in which it is carried about by the men, who occasionally sip of it retaining it in the mouth for some time before spitting it out again, and on meeting a friend, hand it to him as a mark of courtesy. They also chew tobacco in great quantities. They are filthy in person to an inconceivable degree. A cloth round the waist in the fashion of the Koupooees is worn by individuals, but generally this is dispensed with, and the only covering of the body is a coarse sheet in the disposing of which for the concealment of the person they are adepts. They all wear headdresses or turbans of cotton cloth or silk, in the folding of which they are very expert. The women wrap a scanty strip of cloth round their persons sufficient to prevent them from being called naked, over their shoulders they throw a sheet or if young wrap it round their bodies under the armpits. They have no headdress but a luxuriant crop of not coarse hair which is parted in the middle and plaited at the sides, the plaits being passed round the back of the head and tied in front over the forehead.
In the internal management of their affairs the Kookies do not differ much from the Koupooees; perhaps, the former are less severe in the punishments they inflict for infringements of morality than the latter, an effect I believe of the power of their Rajas, but in other matters being in a similar state of civilization they are much alike. Their Rajas have certainly a good deal of power which is at times misused, but generally they are under the necessity of exercising it so as not to offend their villagers or offending them, run the chance of being deserted by them. A long period of insecurity has resulted in the habit of concealing their valuables in caves or holes dug in the earth, but their grain, &c. they store in their villages. Kookie rice is of a different and superior species to that of the other "Jboom" cultivating tribes, they say it was given to them by Chingtung Koniba, Raja of Munnipore, who came amongst them during the wanderings enforced on him by the Burmese. If so, their rice is very probably that of the Munnipore valley, modified by the alteration of soil and climate. Yams and other edible roots, Indian corn, several kinds of grain adapted to high altitudes, and pulses of different sorts they cultivate in large quantities. The Thiungurns and Changsels are [p.62] greater rice eaters than the Thados, who again excel in that respect the Hankeep clans. They speak with much relish of a peculiar bean called "Ga," which, after having been steeped for some days in a running stream, to take away its deleterious properties, is boiled in water, the liquid forming an exciting drink without causing intoxication. Sickness is treated in the Koupooee fashion, and as amongst them, results sometimes in the slavery of the patient, the "Mundoo" is found under the denomination of "Lougmul" and this payment for the dead is rigorously exacted.
The Khorijai's in temperament differs from the Koupooee, this is shown at their rejoicings in their dancing and their music. The dancing of the Koupooees is of that lively nature which is laborious to its practiser, whilst that of the Khongjai is more sober, they both enjoy their own peculiar style of amusement, but perhaps a spectator would prefer the Koupooee dance to that of the Khongjai. If in this he gave the Koupooee the palm, it must again be yielded to the Khongjai for his minstrelsy. Their "Hlapee," or old songs are in a dialect differing from their present spoken one, and the same is the case with the Koupooees.
"The Kookies," says Lt. Stewart, "are great hunters and are passionately fond of the sport, looking upon it, next to war, as the noblest exercise for man. They kill tigers, deer and small game, by means of poisoned arrows. The bow is a small one made of bamboo, and very slightly bent, the string being manufactured of bark. The arrow, the head of which has a barbed iron point, is about eighteen inches long, being drawn to the chest and not the ear, and therefore delivered with no great force the destructive effect lying chiefly in the poison. With such an instrument, the great art in hunting lies in stealthily approaching the animal near enough to deliver the arrow with effect, and following it up after being wounded to the spot where it is found lying dead. In this the Kookies excel, being able to prowl about the jungle as noiselessly as tiger cats, and being equal to North American Indians in distinguishing tracks." The elephant falls to the poisoned spear dropped on him from a tree in his path, and I have known them attack him, as Dr. Livingstone describes, his party to have done with common hand-spears, but their original methods of capturing this much coveted animal are being deserted for the more sure and destructive means of firearms. The [p.63] capture of an elephant, tiger, bear, wild hog, or any savage wild beast, is followed by a feast in propitiation of its manes, and the capturer obtains a name.
Their customs, on occurrence of a death, are much the same as amongst the Koupooees, but they are less careful about the preparation of the last receptacle of the dead, in their own hills, what Lt. Stewart states was usual, namely "that the bodies of wealthy men, or of Rajahs, are dried over a slow fire until the flesh gets smoked and hardened to the bone, they are then dressed and laid out, and kept in this way for a month or two before being finally deposited in the earth. During the whole of this time, the hospitality in the house of mourning is unbounded; methins, cows, buffaloes, horses, pigs, goats, and dogs, being slain in numbers to feast the guests, portions of the flesh being likewise sent to distant villages where any friends of the family may reside." The heads of all the animals slain, together with those of enemies are placed under the body, during the interval that elapses before it is buried, in the belief, that in another world, all those thus treated become the property of the deceased, hence the profusion of animals killed, and hence those sanguinary expeditions from which formerly so many suffered.
In their own hills, the Khongjais describe themselves to have been most healthy, and unacquainted with several diseases from which since their arrival in these parts they have suffered fearfully. The smallpox has done fearful havoc amongst them, and should that disease or the cholera appear in a village, it is scattered more effectually than it would be by an attack of its southern enemies. The person attacked by smallpox is not approached by any. He is put away by people who have had the disease into the jungle by himself some food and water are placed beside him, and he is left to Providence.
Their attention to genealogy, the distinction of clans, and the respect paid to their seniors, I have noticed. Out of this may have sprung the only exclusiveness shown by the Khonjai, namely, in the point of who would be entitled to use his comb and whose comb he might use. This, though amongst them a very important matter, I cannot find to have any religious importance attached to it, but there is an indication of the superior rank in respect of descent or by connection, or of the estimation in which an individual is held or holds himself to [p.64] be found in the persons to whom he would refuse his comb, or amongst whom his comb is common.
The tribe named Kamsol is really Khongjai, they being descendants of the Mangvoong clan. They have been long in subjection to Munnipore, and want the independent look and bearing of the congenerous tribes, who have more recently come under dominion, but in their language, habits and customs there is no difference.
The whole of the people in a large tract in the South-East have received the name of Anal-Namfau from the two largest villages amongst them. These people say, they came from a position south of their present one, and they celebrate in their songs the beauties of the land of their origin. In personal appearance they are much like Khongjais, with whom though they are at deadly feud, they appear to have affinity. The Anals, in more immediate connection with Munnipore, have been corrupted so far as to have given up many of their former customs. They have now no longer amongst them hereditary chiefs, but the villages in the interior retain their old habits and hereditary heads. Their houses are made like those of the Khongjais, and in their social usages there is but little difference. From its birth every male child is called "mota," and every female one "keenoo," their ears are pierced at the annual festival for this purpose, and a distinguishing name is added to the mota or keenoo, but for this there does not appear to be any fixed time, or particularity as to the name to be given. Their marriages are effected much in the same way as those of the Khongjais. After the first application for their daughter, if the parents consent and drink of the wine brought, the young man goes to the girl's father's house as accepted husband. After this the young man, four different times, feasts the brides family, at the fourth feast they settle what is to be given finally for the girl the rich giving according to their means, and the poorer according to their, not less however than a pig and piece of iron one cubit long. The want of eyebrows and eyelashes is amongst this people admired, and the young men to render themselves attractive carefully extract them.
Aimole, Kom, Koireng, Chote, Pooroom, Muntuk, Karum are all evidently only varieties of the Kookie stock. The Kom at one time was a powerful tribe, and their chief village not very long ago contained so many as six hundred houses. They bordered on the Khongjais, and [p.65] though the two tribes were connected by intermarriage, their feuds were frequent and bloody. Several Khongjai villages paid them tribute. Amongst the Koms, the villages which have more largely intermarried with the Khongjais, have adopted in all particulars Khongjai usages even to the prejudices of the comb, whilst those that have kept more to themselves retain their own. The heads of the pure Kom villages appear elective, and to have no great power or perquisites. Their customs too, are much the same as those of the Koupooees. Of the Aimole, Koireng, Chote, Pooroorn, Muntuk, and Karum tribes, there are now but small remnants. In personal appearance they are all much alike, and in their customs, there is no striking difference. The Chroo again, though he speaks a language in affinity with these tribes, and lives in houses made after their fashion, as he dresses his hair like and approaches in habits to a part of the Songboos, appears to form the connecting link with them and the southern tribes.
In the same way, on the eastern side, the Murring seems to connect the tribes of the south with the Tangkool which fuses into the Loohoopa. The Murring was not long ago a numerous tribe. It is now represented by nine small villages. Amongst all the tribes we have yet noticed, the Munniporees are spoken of as a younger branch of themselves, but the Murrings say the place of the origin of a portion of their tribe is the part of the Munnipore capital at present called "Haubum Maruk," and that another portion took their origin at Leisang Kong, a village in the valley some seven or eight miles south of the capital. The Murrings tie their hair up in front like a horn, and I may observe that the state headdress of the Munniporees is adorned with a protuberance of the same sort, they have their hereditary Koolpoo and Koollakpa. Of the two, the Koolpoo is the greater, these Officers have no revenue from the village, but at feasts, they have a portion of the flesh and the first of the wine. Amongst them, the distinctions of families—the Koomul Looang, &c. are strictly observed, and the prohibitions against marriage of members of the same family rigidly enforced. The regulated payment for a wife is three gongs or two methins, in fault of which, the first child born becomes a slave. Run-away matches are made, but the regulated payment is not on that account relaxed. Adultery, theft, &c. are punished as amongst the Koupooees. Every male-child is "Moba" and every female one "Tębee"; to distinguish them, when they grow up, any [p.66] other name is added. For piercing the ears of their children they have no stated time, but do it as it suits their convenience. To erect a pile of stones is considered a meritorious act. The individual who does this must be rich, for on such occasions six methins are expended, but, from the hope that their names will live as long as the mounds erected by them, the methins are not grudged. A Murring must not think of white washing the front wall of his house (which is of boards) unless he can give a feast for which six methins are killed. And the young men of the village, who assemble together like the Koupocees, cannot have a rejoicing of their clubs, under an expenditure of four methins. These are the only festivals they have, and unless the village be very rich they can occur but seldom, their customs at a death and the manner of burial are like those of the Koupooees. The advantages of facility of communication they appear to have felt. Good roads, now mostly all covered with jungle, connected their villages and led to the plain.
The tribe next to the Marring, the Tangkool, though still a numerous one, was formerly much more numerous and flourishing than it is at present. This tribe occupies houses such as those of the Murring, which resemble in appearance those of Munniporees. Many of them also dress their hair as the Murrings do, but the majority crop it. Amongst the Tangkools, the offices of Koollakpa and Koolpoo are hereditary. The Koollakpa is entitled to the heads of all game caught. At feasts and elsewhere he and the Koolpoo occupy the seats of honour, but, otherwise their offices are unprofitable. They have festivals similar to those of the Koupooees in all respects. They bury their dead in the same fashion, but the strict prohibitions against intermarriage have no existence amongst them. On the marriage of his son, the father becomes a person of secondary importance in the house, and is obliged to remove to the front part of it. In dress, the men and women resemble the Koupooees. The men, however, though like their neighbours having the pendent cloth in front, would consider themselves naked unless tightly through an ivory ring was drawn the foreskin. On occasions of rejoicing and in war, the Tangkools wear a headdress of wicker work having in front a brass disc or cymbal, and dangling on each side the hair of enemies killed.
From the Tangkool we pass into the Loohoopa, the fiercest and one of the most numerous of the tribes around Munnipore. As with [p.67] all the other tribes they have suffered from the dominance of Munnipore, and their villages nearest the valley, from being more exposed to Munniporee interference, have all been deserted, but the villages in the interior are still large, and in consequence of the bold, courageous character of the people not lightly interfered with. The state of active feud which seems to be the one natural to these hill tribes, is amongst the Loohoopas perfectly developed, and free of foreign interference they devote the whole of their energies to the prosecution of their quarrels when the quarrel is of the bitterest nature, they kill one another wherever and however they can, and in such case the killing of a woman or child is more esteemed than the killing of a man. But where the passions are not so much roused, the belligerents, by mutual agreement, confine themselves to certain fixed bounds, within which if able, they may kill one another. In these their less fierce quarrels, their women and children pass and re-pass to the scene of conflict uninjured. The Loohoopa has an unusually long spear which he uses in a manner he alone can. With this and his shield he is ready for any encounter, and with these weapons he has subjected all the Tangkools though they, in addition to the spear, are armed with the bow and poisoned arrow. Not only is he feared by his congeners, but the people on the Burmese side of the hills as far as the Ningthee tremble at his name, and with reason, for they have suffered much at his hands, and a Burmese detachment of 700 men sent to punish him was cut up to a man. The Loohoopa is of superior stature to the tribes around him. He wears his hair in a peculiar style, shaving it off on either side and leaving a ridge on the top like that of a helmet. His headdress in war is like that of the Tangkools, and when it is donned he looks most ferocious. As ornaments of one of these headdresses I have seen dangling from its sides the tresses of seven slaughtered women.
Amongst them one village holds several others in subjection, exacting from them tribute of cloth, &c., and so well supplied have some of them been that they boast their women never make cloth. In addition to this, should their services be required by the dominant village, they supply contingents for any fight. They have their hereditary village chief, he has no great influence, but receives a leg of every animal killed for a feast, with the first of the wine; and one day in the season, if he asks it the village assists him in his cultivation. In their customs, re- [p.68] joicings and festivals, they are similar to the Koupooees, but whilst like them and all the other tribes they pay for their wives, they choose them for themselves, refusing in such matters to be guided by others. When the eldest son has brought home his wife, it is the signal for his father and mother, and the other members of the family, to quit for a new home, where they live until the marriage of the second son, when they again have to move. Their houses they construct entirely of fir, walling them and roofing them with boards of that wood. Amongst all the tribes it is customary to hang up in their houses, as ornaments, the heads of all animals, even of the fish, they may have killed; this the Loohoopas also do, but a house is, in their opinion, bare which has not hanging in it a festoon of human heads.
The system of cultivation amongst them is superior to that of the other tribes, being on terraces which are watered by streams issuing from the side of the hill above them. To manure these terraces all the dung of the village is carefully collected in a reservoir, through which the water being permitted to flow, the dung is distributed in the process of irrigation over all the land. The crops are abundant, but each man does not raise enough for himself, and those who are badly off work for their more fortunate neighbours. Yearly parties of their poor come down to the Munnipore valley to dig ditches and tanks. These works they prefer doing on contract, and the energy with which they execute them is extraordinary. In the heat of the day they work stark naked, considering themselves with the ring on (they wear it as the Tankools do) in nothing more than undress. However ill off they may be, none of them become slaves. To such a degree is the idea of slavery hateful to them, that on occasion of inability to release his children, who had been captured in resistance to the state, and sold as slaves, their father coming down from the hills, slew them both, and carried away with him their heads. Since then it has not been attempted to make any Loohoopas slaves. The Loohoopas in the far north being more warlike are much feared by those south of them. The women of the former are tattooed, and are much sought for by the southern men, because, however fierce may be their feuds, a tattooed woman always goes unscathed, fear of the dire vengeance which would be exacted by her northern relations were she injured, giving her this immunity.
West of the Loohoopas are the Mow and Muram tribes. They state themselves to be
of one common stock, but they are at deadly feud though closely allied by
intermarriage. They have two festivals in the year like the two principal ones
of the Koupooees. Ears pierced in cold weather as it suits convenience. The
houses of the Mow tribe are gable ended and the walls are high; those of the
Murams are the counterparts of the Koupooees. In both tribes the young men never
sleep at home, but at their clubs where they keep their arms always in a state
of readiness. Amongst the Murams, the married men even sleep at the resorts of
the bachelors, a custom resulting from their sense of insecurity from attack.
The distinctions of families and the strict rules we have seen amongst other
tribes against the marriages of members of the same family are observed amongst
both the Mows and Murams. For a wife it is usual to give something, but the
great expenditure of men, especially amongst the Murams, has made women exceed
greatly the men, and a wife can easily be obtained for a khes or coarse cloth.
Adultery is punished, as it is amongst the Koupooees. Theft is of ordinary
occurrence, and is not, amongst these tribes or the Loohoopas, even considered
disgraceful. If the things stolen are found, they are taken back, if not, it
might be dangerous to accuse a man of theft. The whole of the Mow tribe is under
one chief. The tribe is comprised in twelve villages, none of which consists of
less than one hundred houses, and one of which numbers four hundred. From each
house the chief receives one basket of rice. The Murams are confind to one large
village of perhaps 900 houses; there was formerly another village, but it has
been destroyed. In the single village of the Murams, there are two chiefs. For
this singularity they account thus:—A former chief had two sons, of whom the
younger, who was the greater warrior, desired to usurp the place of his elder
brother. He urged his father to give him the chief-ship. The old chief afraid of
his youngest son, and unable to give up the birth-right of the eldest,
determined on a stratagem. He told his eldest son to go and secretly to bring
home the head of an enemy. This having been done, the old chief summoned his
sons, and giving each a packet of provisions, desired them to proceed in such
directions as they chose in search of enemies, for he who brought in first the
head of an enemy should be King. [p.70] The brothers took their leave, the youngest proceeding where he thought he would
soonest procure a head, the eldest bending his steps to where he had concealed
the one already taken. This he brought out of its concealment, and proceeded
with it in triumph through the village. Nor was the youngest long in returning
with a head, but having been preceded by his brother, the chief-ship was
declared to be the right of the eldest. This however did not satisfy the
younger son, he persisted in being called chief, and the matter was compromised
by both being allowed to remain one as the great, the other as the little chief,
neither of them has any fixed revenue. But the village, when it is necessary
makes the great chief's house, and they give him the hind leg of all game caught;
the little chief has no right to anything, the houses in his vicinity, however,
do at times give him a leg of game. Formerly no one was allowed to plant his
rice until the great chief allowed it or had finished his planting. This mark of
superiority is not at present allowed by the little chief who plants without
reference to his superior. There are many prohibitions in regard to the food,
animal and vegetable, the chief should eat, and the Murams say the chief's post
must be a very uncomfortable one. In sickness they make small offerings to the
deities, or give a feast to the poor of the village, but their priests or
priestesses are not respected sufficiently to make them, as amongst the
Koupooees, reduce themselves to destitution by their offerings. Slavery is
unknown amongst them. They cultivate in the same manner as the Loohoopas, on
The next tribe, Meeyangkhang, is composed of nine villages situated to the south of the Murams. It partakes more of the character of Koupooees than of its northern neighbours. The Meeyangkhang village is celebrated for its fine terraces for cultivation. This tribe does not keep slaves, but I believe, some of its members buy them with the view of gaining a profit from their sale. Each village has its chief, a chief in nothing but name. Amongst the nine villages composing this tribe is that of Tuoggal which claims to be the birth place of the establisher of the present Munnipore dynasty. This tribe, the Murams and Mows, do not go bare behind, but wear a black cloth round them like a tight dhotee. This cloth is ornamented with rows of cowrie shells.
North of the Mow tribe, and often at feud with it, lies the Gnamei, or as it is known in Assam and Cachar, the Angamee tribe. These [p.71] people are known by their blood-thirsty attacks on their weaker neighbours, attacks which attracted the attention of the British Government, and led to ineffectual endeavours for their prevention. "The Angamees," says Lieutenant Stewart, "have no recognized head or chief although they elect a spokesman who, to all intents and purposes, is powerless and irresponsible; hence the great difficulty we have had in dealing with this tribe, the arrangements made with the spokesman being set at nought by the villagers." The Gnameis are a numerous, but fortunately for their weak neighbours, a tribe disunited by feuds. The more powerful villages hold the others in subjection and exact tribute from them.
"The Angamees have not only displayed great enterprise in war, but they are also remarkable among the tribes for their love of commerce. Many of them find their way down to the marts in Cachar and Assam, some proceed as far as Gowhatti, Sylhet and Dacca, and some have even gone as far as Calcutta in pursuit of trade. They bring down from their hills ivory, wax and cloths manufactured from the nettle fibre, and take up in exchange salt, brass-wire, shells, gunpowder, &c. &c. They fully appreciate the superiority of firearms over other weapons, and have succeeded in providing themselves with a considerable number of muskets which they use with effect."
The Gnamei in customs and manners resemble the Koupooee, and in dress the Mow tribe, but he ties up his hair behind with a quantity of thread which they do not.
The domestic animals of the hill-people are buffaloes, cows, methins or gayals, goats, pigs, cats, dogs and the common fowl. Of the buffaloe, there is a sprinkling through all the tribes, but it is in no great quantity amongst any. The cow is in great number amongst the Gnamei, part of the Quoireng and Meeyangkhang, the Mow, Muram and Loohoopa tribes, but nowhere else. The methin or gayal is not found where the cow is, but amongst all the other tribes, especially the Murrings and Khongjais. The goat is common to all; of it there are various breeds, both short-haired and long. The pig also is common to all and of various kinds. Of cats, many are not seen in the hill-villages, and what are seen, are skeletons. Dogs are plentiful, and of various kinds, the dog of the Loohoopas being the best, or, indeed, I may say a very fine animal. Amongst the Khongjais, many [p.72] dogs are expended in sacrifices; all the tribes eat them, and the manner of putting them to death is beating with bludgeons. "But" applying to them the remarks of Goldsmith on another people "among this barbarous and brutal people scarce anything that has life comes amiss, and they may well take up with a dog, since they consider toads, lizards, and even the flesh of the tiger itself as a dainty."
Of wild animals, almost every kind is to be found in the hills, and their chace is a chief occupation of the hill-men. The elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, bear, wild hog, the elk and various other deer, the wild buffaloe, wild cow, and the wild goat are all met with in the dense forests that clothe the mountains. But, those are not the only denizens of the mountain-forests, they literally swarm with animal-life, and whilst by nature these animals prey on one another, the hill-man preys on them all. There is nothing almost he does not eat, and the methods he uses for the capture of his prey, whether bird, beast, insect, or reptile, are evidences of his possessing great ingenuity. Fish abound in every stream, and at the proper season are caught in great numbers.
Our knowledge of the geology of the country occupied by these tribes, has not, since Captain Pemberton wrote his Report on the Eastern Frontier, been in the least improved. The universal prevalence of dense and impervious forests, extending from the summits of the mountains to their bases, he observes, has restricted observations to those portions that have been laid bare by the action of the torrents, and to some few of the most conspicuous peaks and ridges. In that portion of the tract which extends between Munnipore and Cachar, a light and friable sandstone of brown colour and a red ferruginous clay, are found to prevail on the lower heights. On reaching the more lofty elevations, these are succeeded by slate of so soft and friable a nature, as in many instances to be little more than an indurated clay; it is distinctly stratified in very thin layers which generally dip slightly to the southward. Petrifactions of the different species of woods growing on the borders of the nullahs are very numerous. Among the central ranges, he states, west of Munnipore, limestone has been found cropping out from the banks of the streams; and it has since then been found in the north, south, and east. The rocks found on the hills between the Munnipore and Kubbo valleys are, on the Munnipore side, composed of different varieties of sandstone and slate, [p.73] more or less compact in its structure. On the Kubbo side hornblende and iron-stone are found with agalmatolite and fullers earth which are dug from the ground not far from Morch. North of Munnipore the rocks become more solid and compact; and the great central ridge about where the Gnamei tribe dwells is composed of hard grey granular slate at the ridge, having about the base boulders of granite.
If, as seen, we are but imperfectly acquainted with the external geological features of this tract, we cannot pretend to any knowledge of its internal mineral resources. Fat gases issue from parts of the range near Kubbo, and that these have been seen on fire, I have been informed, but whither these gases issue from coal, or have some other cause, has not been ascertained. Gold is said to have been found in the valley of Munnipore, washed down, it was supposed, from the mountains, and two lumps of that metal are said to have been procured from amongst the Loohoopas, but the northern tribes deny the fact, and there is doubt whether cupidity has not magnified some substance of small value into a precious one. Iron is the metal most prized amongst the tribes, but of its existence as an ore, none of them are aware, and they derive their supplies of it from Munnipore, Kubbo, and Cachar. Gold has no value amongst them, and not long ago the Guameis even, who are distinguished for their trading energy did not know the value of silver. Amongst the northern tribes, brass and bell-metal are prized of brass they wear collars, and have discs of bell-metal on their headdresses, but where they came from originally they know not. And among the remaining tribes gongs and other articles of bell-metal are found, but whence they have come they are equally ignorant.
Neither have the products of the vegetable kingdom received any thing more than cursory attention. That they are varied is evident to the most casual observation, but the different species composing the whole have never been fixed or even attempted to be examined. The existence of the tea-plant was long ago known, but its being in the abundance that it is was only lately ascertained. The prospect of profit gave keenness to the search for the tea-plant, and doubtless the same cause will yet bring to light valuable products hitherto unknown. The presence of gum and resin bearing trees, the former in abundance, is noticeable by all, and the Khongjais or Kookies have brought us to the knowledge of trees producing varnish similar to that of Japan, and which [p.74] can be planted as the plantations in that country are said to be. The same people uses medicinally the bark of a tree, which from its taste they name "bitter tree" and all of them cure their spear wounds and bruises, by applications of the leaves of plants having healing properties. A blue dye is extracted from, I believe, wild indigo, a red one from a creeper, and from the root of a plant which seems well diffused through the hills. Another creeper affords them the means of catching fish by its poisonous or stupefying effects upon them when steeped in any stream they may have dammed up. Immense tracts are covered with bamboos of that sort which particularly suits the hill-man's cultivation; and this very useful plant is found of every variety. Of the cane, too, there are many varieties, and some are of prodigious length. Without the cane, the passage of the hill streams during the rains would scarcely be effectible. Timber trees are plentiful, but those only near the Cachar Frontier have any commercial value, there jarool, nagesur, cham, ana, toon are found. Besides these, in the mountains are found oak, fir, ash, walnut, teak and khā of which the last affords a black varnish different from the one before-mentioned. I could mention by their Munniporee names many other kinds of trees, but the doing so would convey no information of the species to which they belong, suffice it therefore to say, that there are many others which are much used in house-building, and are very durable.
If, as with the metals, the hill-man was dependent for his salt on the supplies of that necessary which he might procure from abroad, he would constantly suffer from its want, but, by a pretty general distribution of salt-springs throughout the hills, a beneficent Providence testifies his goodness to their inhabitants. Besides his salt, condiments, other than pepper and ginger, which he raises plentifully, are not required by the hill-man. In average seasons, he can raise for himself a sufficiency of rice, his herds, and the chace supply him with animal food, and all that he wants more is clothing to defend him from the vicissitudes of the seasons. The quantity of clothing required is not much, but little as it is, it has necessitated the cultivation of cotton and the manufacture from it of cloth. In making cloth, the Chot, Pooroom, Aimole, Murring, and some of the Tangkool tribes surpass all the rest. All of them make earthen vessels for cooking in, and their baskets and other articles, made either of strips of bamboo or [p.75] cane, are made ingeniously, and are admirably adapted to the purposes for which they are made.
Such are the tribes around Munnipore, and such the country inhabited by them. The latter is very fruitful and capable of improvement, but in the words of Captain Pemberton, "the state of society of the former is wholly incompatible with any mental improvement, or any advance in the arts. They pursue the same unvarying course of employment, felling timber, and tilling the ground assiduously during the season of cultivation, and after their crops are reaped, either resign themselves to the unrestrained indulgence of feasting and dancing, or to planning expeditions against the villages of some less powerful tribe." Amongst them all there is a more or less faint idea of a future life, and of rewards and punishments for virtue or misconduct, but the greatest misconduct is, the forgiveness of an injury, the first virtue, revenge, and the killing of a fellow creature is thought of with as little compunction as would be the killing of a fowl.
Before the connection of the British Government with that of Munnipore took place, the latter, not to speak of exerting influence over the tribes, was unable to protect the inhabitants of the valley from their aggressions, or to resist their exactions of blackmail, and even after the conclusion of peace with Burma, and the fixation of a boundary for Munnipore, the majority of the tribes were independent, and known to us little more than by name. With the assistance of the arms and ammunition given to Munnipore by the British Government, some of the tribes have been thoroughly, the northern ones partially, reduced, and the attacks of the latter on the bordering Burmese have led to apprehensions of the interruption of the general peace of the Frontier. But the presence in Munnipore of a representative of the British Government, has preserved the peace, and by degrees, through his influence, the tribes have been brought to forego aggressions on Kubbo. The peace of the Frontier, the object of greatest political importance, has been gained, but the philanthropist would desire more, and a strong and honest Government would endeavour to repress the feuds and ameliorate the condition of the tribes. Their feuds, however, are, with the weak government of Munnipore, a source of strength, and afford a means of extortion which suits their dishonesty. Of their improvement, therefore, I see no prospect, unless by a moral regeneration, and that I fear is not to be effected.