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became converted to Hindooism, by Brahmins from Bengal. All
difficulties were smoothed over, and converts were made by tens of
thousands. It is to be regretted that it was so, as these "converts" quickly
deteriorated. The easy conquest of Hindooised Assam by the Burmese,
when Buddhist Assam had successfully resisted a powerful army sent by
Arungzebe from India and composed largely of recruits from Central
Asia, seems proof of it, if all other evidence were wanting.

The process of conversion in Manipur began a generation later than
in Assam, and proceeded on somewhat different lines, but it was not less
effective and was still going on at a late date. It had not the same
deteriorating effect, for the Rajahs assumed to themselves a position greater
than that of High Pontiff, and could at any time by their simple fiat have
changed the religion of the country and degraded all the Brahmins, in
fact all admissions to the Hindoo pale from the outer world of unorthodoxy
were made by the Rajah himself Sometimes the inhabitants of a village
were elevated en masse from the level of outcasts, to that of Hindoos of
pure caste, but more often single individuals were "converted." A man
belonging to a hill-tribe, for instance, could, if the Rajah chose, at any
time receive the sacred thread of the twice-born castes, and on payment
of a small sum of money be admitted as a Hindoo and was thenceforth
called a Khetree.' This privilege was not accorded to Mussulmans. I once
asked a Manipuri why they received hill-men and not Mussulmans, both
being Mlechas,^ according to Hindoo theory. He said it was because the
hill people had sinned in ignorance, whereas Mussulmans knew the evil
of their ways.

Of course, every one who knows anything of Hindooism is aware
that theoretically a man must be bom a Hindoo, and that proselytism is
not admitted. Practically, however, this rule is ignored on the eastern
frontier, and all along it from Sudya down to Chittagong, where
conversions are daily taking place. I remember villages in Assam where
caste was unknown thirty-five years ago, but where now the people live

Manipur and the Naga Hills 89

in the odour of sanctity as highly orthodox and bigoted Hindoos. Strange
to say, the pure Hindoos of the North- West Provinces acknowledge the
pretensions of these spurious converts sufficiently so as to allow of their
drinking water brought by them. It is probably easier to take the people
at their own valuation than to carry water one's self from a distance when
tired. By the religious law of the Hindoos, it is forbidden to eat or drink
anything touched by one of another tribe.

Our first relations with Manipur date from 1762, when Governor
Verelst of the Bengal Presidency — with that splendid self-reliance and
large-mindedness characteristic of the makers of the British Indian Empire,
men who acted instead of talking, and were always ready to extend our
responsibilities when advisable — entered into a treaty 'with the Rajah of
Manipur. As this treaty came to nothing, practically our connection with
the little state really dates from 1 823 . It had been invaded by the Burmese
in 1819, and its people driven out or carried off into slavery in Burmah.
The royal family were ftigitives.

At that time Sylhet was our frontier station, and our relations with
the Burmese, who were at the highest pitch of their power, were daily
becoming more strained. On our side of the frontier we were ably
represented by Mr. David Scott, agent to the Governor-General, and
preparations were being made for the inevitable struggle. One day a yoimg
Manipuri prince waited on Mr. Scott and asked leave to raise a Manipuri
force to fight on our side. He was short and slight, and of indomitable
courage and energy, and the agent to the Governor-General recognising
his ability, allowed him to raise 500 men. These were soon increased to
2000, cavalry, infantry and artillery. Two English officers. Captain F.
Grant and Lieutenant R.B. Pemberton, were attached to the force,
thenceforth called the Manipur Levy, to drill and discipline it.

In 1 825 a general advance was made all along our line, Cachar was
invaded and subdued, and we essayed to pursue the enemy into Manipur
and thence into Burmah, but our transport arrangements failed. Hitherto
we had been accustomed to wars in the arid plains of India, and our miUtaiy
authorities did not realise the necessities of an expedition into the eastern
jungles. Hence, camels and bullocks were sent to dislocate their limbs in
the tenacious mud and swamps of Cachar, and when the advance into
Manipur was desired, our regular troops were powerless. At this crisis
the Manipur Levy showed its immense value. The men could move Ughtly
equipped without the paraphernalia of a regular army, and advance they
did, and with such effect that in a short time not only was Manipur cleared.

90 Manipur and the Nagc Hills

but the enemy driven out of the Kubo valley. Later on, Ghumbeer Singh
was recognised as Rajah of Manipur, and the Kubo valley was included
within his territories.

Manipur at this time contained only 2000 inhabitants, the miserable
renmants of a thriving population of at least 400,000, possibly 600,000,
that existed before the invasion. Ghumbeer Singh's task was to encourage
exiles to return, and to attempt to rebuild the prosperity of his little
kingdom. He was a wise and strong though severe ruler, and though he
owed his 'throne greatly to his own efforts, he to the last retained the
deepest feelings of loyalty and gratitude to the British Government,
promptly obeying all its orders and doing his utmost to impress the same
feeling on all his officers.

As is always the case, though we had carried all before us in the
war, we began to display great weakness afterwards. We had an agent,
Colonel Bumey, at Ava, and the Burmese who were not disposed to be at
all friendly, constantly tried to impress on him the fact that all difficulties
and disputes would be at an end if we ceded the Kubo valley to them, that
territory belonging to our ally Ghumbeer Singh of Manipur. Of course
the proposal ought to have been rejected with scorn, and a severe snub
given to the Burmese officials. The advisers of the Govenmient of India,
however, being generally officers brought up in the Secretariat, and with
little practical knowledge of Asiatics, the manly course was not followed.
It was not realised that a display of self-confidence and strength is the
best diplomacy with people like the Burmese, and with a view to wimiing
their good-will we basely consented to deprive our gallant and loyal ally
of part of his territories. An attempt was made to negotiate with him, but
Major Grant said, "It is no use bargaining with Ghumbeer Singh," and
refiised to take any part in it. He was asked what compensation should be
given, and he said 6000 sicca rupees per armiun.

When Ghumbeer Singh heard the final decision he quietly accepted
it, saying, "You gave it me and you can take it away. I accept your decree."
The proposed transfer was very distastefiil to many of the inhabitants,
including the Sumjok (Thoungdoot) Tsawbwa,^ but they were not
consulted. The Kubo valley was handed over to the Burmese on the 9th
of January, 1834, and on that day Ghumbeer Singh died in Manipur of
cholera. Perhaps he was happy in the hour of his death, as he felt the
treatment of our Government most severely.

Manipur and the Naga Hills 9 1


1 . Probably a corruption of Khatyra.

2. Unclean.

3. Mentioned frequently later on. In August, 1891, he was a fugitive from the British
Government, hiding himself on the Chinese frontier — ED.


Ghumbeer Singh and our treatment of him — Nur Singh and
attempt on his life — McCulloch — His wisdom and
generosity— My establishment— Settlement of frontier dispute.

Ghumbeer Singh did much for Manipur during his comparatively short
reign. He made all the roads in his territory safe, and subdued the different
hill-tribes who had asserted their independence during the troubles with
Burmah. Imphal, the old capital, had not been re-occupied, though the
sacred spot where the temple of Govindjee stood was cared for; but a
new palace had been built at Langthabal at a distance of three and a half
miles from Imphal where several fine masonry buildings were erected,
and a canal dug for the annual boat races. Langthabal' was deserted in
1844 and the old site re-occupied, and in my time, the buildings at
Langthabal were picturesque ruins, having been greatly injured by time
and the earthquakes of 1869 and 1880. Ghumbeer Singh left an infant
son, Chandra Kirtee Singh who was two years of age at his father's death
and a distant cousin, Nur Singh, was appointed Regent. Contrary to all
precedent, the Regent was loyal to his charge and governed well and ably
for the infant prince, in spite of constant attempts to overthrow his
government. In 1844, the Queen-Mother wishing to govern herself,
attempted to procure Nur Singh's murder as he was at prayers in the
temple. She failed and fled with her son the young Rajah Chandra Kirtee
Singh to British territory. The Regent then proclaimed himself Rajah with
the consent of all the people. The Manipur Levy had been maintained up
till 1835 when the Government of India withdrew their connection from
it, and ceased to pay the men. Major Grant left Manipur, and Captain
Gordon, who had been adjutant since 1827, was made Political Agent of
Manipur. Captain Pemberton had long since been on special survey duty.

Captaiu Gordon died in December 1844. He was much liked and
long remembered by the people whom he had greatly benefited, among
other ways by introducing English vegetables, and fruits. He was
succeeded by Lieutenant (afterwards Colonel) McCulloch.

Rajah Nur Singh died in 1850, and was succeeded by his brother
Debindro, a weak man, quite unfit for the position. In 1 850, young Chandra
Kirtee Singh invaded the valley with a body of followers, Debindro fled,

94 Manipur and the Naga Hills

and he mounted the throne without opposition. Up to this time the
Government of India had always acknowledged the de facto Rajah of
Manipur, and revolutions with much accompanying bloodshed were
common. Now, however, McCulloch strongly urged the advisability of
supporting Chandra Kirtee Singh, and he received authority to "make a
public avowal of the determination of the British Government to uphold
the present Rajah and to resist and punish any parties attempting hereafter
to dispossess him." The Court of Directors of the East India Company,
in a despatch dated May 5th, 1 852, confirmed the order of the Government
of India and commented thus: "The position you have assumed of pledged
protector of the Rajah, imposes on you as a necessary consequence the
obligation of attempting to guide him, by your advice, but if needful of
protecting his subjects against oppression on his part; otherwise our
guarantee of his rule may be the cause of inflicting on them a continuance
of reckless tyranny."

These words of justice and wisdom were steadily ignored by
successive governments. On no occasion did the Government of India
ever seriously remonstrate with the Rajah, or make a sustained effort to
improve his system of administration. The East India Company's order
became a dead letter, but the resolution to uphold Chandra Kirtee Singh
bore good fruit, and during his long reign of thirty-five years no successful
attempt against his authority was ever made, and he on his part displayed
unswerving fidelity to the British Government.

I have already mentioned the great work that Colonel McCulloch
accomphshed with regard to the Kukis. This added to his long experience,
gave him great influence in the State, and when he retired from the service
in 1 86 1 , it was amidst the regrets of the whole people. Able, high-minded,
respected, and having arcompUshed a task few could even have attempted,
he left without honour or reward from his Government. How many men
of inferior capacity, and quite without his old-fashioned single-minded
devotion 'o duty, are nowadays covered with stars! When he left he
made every effort to hand over his vast power and influence intact to his
successor, and to smooth his way as much as possible. Had the
Government of India exercised the slightest tact and discretion in the
selection of its agent, he might have carried on the good work so ably
commenced, and brought Manipur by rapid strides into the path of
progress. As it was it would have been difficult to find an officer more
unfitted to succeed Colonel McCulloch than the one selected; he was
soon involved in difficulties, and after a troubled period was ordered by
Government to leave at three days' notice. For a time the agency remained
vacant, but the Rajah applied for another officer, and Colonel McCulloch

Manipur and the Naga Hills 95

was requested by the Government to quit his retirement, and again assume
charge. He did so, and was received with acclamations by Rajah and
people, the whole State turning out to meet him. His first effort was to
restore the confidence forfeited by the late political agent, and everything
went on as smoothly as ever; but, towards the end of 1867, he finally
retired, staying on a few days after his successor's arrival to post him up
in his work. This time it would have been thought that some judgment
would be shown in the selection of an officer for the post; but the next
political agent was eminently unfitted and for some years before his death
in 1876, was on very indifferent terms with the Durbar.

During the brief period that elapsed between the last event and my
taking change, two different officers held the post.

My Government establishment consisted of a head clerk, a most
excellent man. Baboo Rusni Lall Coondoo; a native doctor, Lachman
Parshad; native secretary and Manipuri interpreter; Burmese interpreter;
Naga interpreter; Kuki interpreter; and latterly six chuprassies, i.e.,
orderlies or lictors. As for private servants we had three Naga girls, a
Mugh cook and assistant, who could turn out a dinner equal to any of the
London clubs for one hundred people at a couple of days notice, and
under him I had four young Nagas learning their work, as I was determined
to do more for my successors than my predecessors had done for me,
viz., teach and train up a staff of servants so as to save the necessity of
importing the scum of Calcutta. I had an excellent bearer, Homa, as I
have already stated, and under him were two or three Nagas; washerman,
syces, gardeners, water-carriers, etc., made up the number. All my
interpreters, chuprassies, and servants, I clothed in scarlet livery which
made a great impression, and gradually the air of squalor which prevailed
when I arrived began to disappear. I had charge of a Government Treasury
from which I used to pay myself and the Government establishment. The
currency of the country was a small hell-metal coin called "Sel," of which
400 to 480 went to the rupee, also current, but copper pice were not used,
and all Manipuri accounts were kept in "Sel."

At this time the Naga Hills were still under a political officer whose
actual jurisdiction was limited to the villages which had paid tribute to
me, as already described. He was supposed to exercise a certain influence
over many of the large villages, but the influence was lessened by the
feeling entertained by the Nagas that our stay in the hills was uncertain,
and that for all practical purposes the Manipuris were the power most to
be reckoned with, and from our point of view it was very desirable that,
our headquarter station should be removed to Kohima. A dispute with

96 Manipur and the Naga Hills

Mozuma, due chiefly to our vacillating conduct, was now going on, but
its chiefs would not accept our terms, and an expedition to coerce them
was in preparation in which I was to take part. Mr. Camegy was political
officer, a man of ability and determination, and very pleasant to deal
with. During the dispute with Mozuma, the other villages held aloof;
thinking Mozuma was able to hold its own, and waiting to see which side
gained the day.

Burmah was still imder its native rulers. There were constant frontier
disputes going on between it and Manipur, but that state of things was

To the south of Manipur, the Chin and Lushai tribes were quiet.

There was a long standing boundary dispute between Manipur and
the Naga Hills. The boundary had been most arbitrarily settled by us
when the survey was carried out, so far as a certain point, beyond that it
was vague. Manipiu" claimed territory which we certainly did not possess,
and which she had visited from time to time, but did not actually hold in
subjection. Other portions, as I afterwards proved, were occupied by her,
though the fact had not been ascertained. Over and over again efforts had
been made to bring the Durbar to terms, but without success. I determined
to grapple with the question at once. I took a map and drew a line including
all that I thought Manipur entitled to, in the neighbourhood of the Naga
Hills, and advised the Maharajah to accept the arrangement on the
understanding that when I visited the coimtry claimed further eastward, I
would recommend the Government of India to allow him to retain all that
he actually held in his possession. This was agreed to by him and confirmed
by Government, and I believe that substantial justice was done to both

I should like to have seen Manipur get more, as a set-off against
our unjust treatment in former years, but as we were sure eventually, to
occupy all the Naga Hills, it was necessary to make such an adjustment as
would not injure British interests in the future.


1. Here a British native regiment was stationed, after Sir J. Johnstone's retirement, but
some time before the troubles of 1891. — ED.


My early days in Manipur—The capital— The inhabitants-
Good qualities ofManipuris — Origin of valley ofManipur —
Expedition to the Naga Hills— Lovely scenery— Attack on
Kongal Tannah by Burmese— Return from Naga Hills — Visit
Kongal Tannah.

The first few weeks in Manipur were taken up in making acquaintance
with the place and people, and doing all that was possible to disarm the
fears of the Durbar. Never was there one so suspicious. At first all my
movements were watched, and wherever I went spies, open or secret,
followed; however, I encouraged it to the utmost, and told the officials to
inquire into everything I did, and they very soon saw that there was no
necessity for special espionage, though all my acts were still noted and
reported. Several little difficulties cropped up regarding British subjects,
and required some care in dealing with them. In one case, a man had
taken upon himself to intrigue with some of the Nagas imder Manipur,
and urged them to declare themselves British subjects, and in another, a
man had robbed the Maharajah. In both instances the Durbar had acted
foolishly and precipitately, though under much provocation. However, I
tumed both men out of the coxmtry, with orders never to return.

The question of British subjects and their rights was one that gave
me much trouble for years. Judging by a decision of the High Court of
Calcutta that all the descendants of European British subjects were
European British subjects, I insisted on all descendants of British subjects
being considered as such, and subject to my jurisdiction. After a long
struggle I carried my point, and it very greatly strengthened my position.

A few more words about the capital and the Manipuris may not be
amiss. Imphal, as has been said,' covered a space of fifteen square miles.
On the north side it touches on some low hills, called Ching-mai-roong,
and running westward is bounded by a shallow lake, which is partly
enclosed by a continuation of the hills, here called Langol, on which
grows a celebrated cane used for polo sticks. Then, running south, it is
intersected by several roads, notably the road to Silchar, which enters the
capital at a place called Kooak-Kaithel, (i.e., crow bazaar). Here it is
bounded by rice cultivation. Going farther south, and sweeping round in

98 Manipur and the Naga Hills

an easterly direction, it is bounded by the Plain of Jang-thabal, at one
extremity of which lies the old capital; here two rivers intersect it. And|
going farther east, it is bounded by the lower slopes of a hill rising 2500
feet above the valley. Then turning to the northward and crossing two
rivers, we come again to the place from which we started. The want of
the town was a good water-supply; there were one or two fair-sized tanks;
or ponds, as they would be called in England, and the afore-mentioned
rivers, of which the water is not improved by receiving the ashes of the
dead burned on their banks. Beyond this, all the water obtainable was
derived from small ponds, one or more of which was to be found in every
garden enclosure. The ground on which the capital stands must at one
time have been very low, probably a marsh, and it has been artificially
raised from time to time by digging these tanks; every raised road, too,
meant a deep stagnant ditch on either side. The people are not sanitary in
their habits, and when heavy rain falls the gardens are flooded, and a fair '
share of the accumulated filth is washed into the drinking-tanks, the result
being frequent epidemics of cholera.

The Manipuris themselves are a fine stalwart race descended from
an Indo-Chinese stock, with some admixture of Aryan blood, derived
from the successive waves of Aryan invaders that have passed through
the valley in prehistoric days. It may be this, or from an admixture of
Chinese blood, but certainly the Manipuris have stable and industrious
qualities which the Burmese and Shans do not possess. Since then the
race has been constantly fed by additions from the various hill-tribes
surroimding the valley. The result is a fairly homogeneous people of great
activity and energy, with much of the Japanese aptitude for acquiring
new arts. The men seem capable of learning anything, and the women are
famous as weavers, and in many cases have completely killed out the
manufacture of cloths formerly peculiar to certain of the hill-tribes, over
whom the Manipuris have obtained mastery by superior intellect. They
are always cheerfiil, even on a long and trying march, and are good-
humoured under any difficulties and never apparently conscious of fatigue.
They are very abstemious, and live chiefly on rice and fish, which is
often rotten front preference. Though rigid Hindoos outwardly, they have
a curious custom by which a man of low caste, marrying a high-caste
woman, can be adopted into her tribe, the exact reverse of what prevails
in India, where a woman of high caste marrying a low-caste man is
hopelessly degraded and her children outcasts.

It is impossible for those who have marched much in the hills with
Manipuris to avoid liking them. Their caste prejudices, though rigid, give
no trouble to others. Hungry or not, they are always ready to march, and

Manipur and the Naga Hills 99

'march all day and all night, if necessary. Still, the Indo-Chinese races
exceed even the ordinary Asiatic in reserve and sphinx-like characteristics,
and the Manipuris are an inscrutable set. I had many intimate friends
among them, yet, on the whole, prefer the pure Hindoo.

What is now the valley of Manipur was evidently once a series of
valleys and ranges of hills, between the higher ranges which now border
it and converge to the south. The rivers now flowing through the valley
then flowed through it like the Barak, Eerung, and, others, at a much
lower level. One of the great earthquakes, to which these regions are so
subject closed the outlet and raised a permanent barrier; thus a lake was
formed and in the course of ages the alluviimi brought down by the streams
filled it up to its present level leaving the Logtak Lake in its lowest part,
a lake which has constantly lessened and is still lessening in size. The
crests of the sunken ranges are still to be seen ruiming down the valley,
and mostly parallel to the bordering ranges, such are Langol, Langthabal,
Phoiching, Lokching, and others. Sometimes a river, as at a place called
"Eeroce Semba," runs at the base of a hill, and cuts away the alluvium,
showing the solid rock. This alluvium forms one of the deepest and richest
soils in the world.

I have referred to the proposed expedition to the Naga Hills, to aid
the troops there in the operations against the powerfuL village of Mozuma.

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Online LibraryJames JohnstoneManipur and the Naga hills → online text (page 7 of 19)