Ethno-Tourism, Tribes and Tradition
The culture of the Northeast has been formed over the years as the various tribes who reside there have mingled. As a result, North-eastern culture is rich in traditions, myths & history. There are numerous folktales which are passed down over the years by the people. Legends, rituals, beliefs form the basis of their culture even today. The North-eastern region of our country is no less a haven for ethno-tourists!
Manipur, the ‘Jewelled Land’, is one such melting hotpot of cultures, tribes & traditions. Broadly, 2 main groups of people reside here: the Meiteis & the Bishnupriyas. It is believed that the Bishnupriyas are descended from the Aryan invaders who passed through these hills during the pre-Christian era. This belief may be scrutinised though, as the ‘Aryan Invasion’ theory is being debunked with each passing day. The Meiteis are believed to be the Kuki-Chin branch of the Mongolians. It is also believed that they are the descendants of Arjuna from the Mahabharata. The valleys are occupied majorly by the Meiteis, Bishnupriyas, Pangal & Bhamons whereas the hilly areas are occupied by the Nagas, Kuki& other smaller tribes. The Manipuris may be broadly classified into 3 major communities – the Meiteis, the Kuki-Chins & the Nagas.
According to legend, there was a time when all the tribes of Manipur lived in the hills as the valleys were filled to the brim with water. With time, the water in the valley drained away and so the valley opened its doors to human habitation. The young were unused to the harsh conditions of the hills & so moved to the valleys while the old, for whom the cold was a fact of life, stayed on. The natives who settled in the valley formed the Meitei kingdom while those who lived in the hills became a part of the hill tribes. Today, they are referred to as the Ching-Tam & the Ching Tam/Mi-Tam (People of the Hills & the people of the plains).
The Meitei is the major ethnic group living in Manipur. They were the ones who settled in the plains. They are also spread out in Assam, Tripura & Meghalaya while some of them even reside in Bangladesh & Myanmar. Seven major clans, Salai taret, make up the Meitei. Their language, Meiteilon, is slowly taking its place back in the position where Bengali now stands.
Apart from the Meiteis, there are several other tribes in Manipur
Residing mostly in the Chandel district, the members of these tribes are mostly Christians who speak a form of Tibeto-Burman. These tribes mostly practise slash & burn agriculture.
Related to the Kuki tribe & originally from Mongolia, this tribe undertakes farming, weaving & carpentry as their main occupation.
Another relative of the Kuki tribe, the people belong to this tribe speak the Kukish language.
One of the major tribes of Manipur, this tribe is mostly found in the Senapati & Churachandrapur districts. Rich in culture & traditions, they undertake farming as their main occupation & large number of them follow Christianity.
A small community, its name is derived from Mei meaning fire & Ring meaning produce. As the name may imply, the practise farming & irrigation. They are also adept at making bamboos.
A clan of the Kuki tribe inhabiting the Chandel district, this tribe makes bamboo baskets & also sells firewood.
Also residing in the Chandel district & speaking a language similar to the Anals, this tribe is mainly dependent on agriculture & has also expertise in trading.
Named after the seed of a plant, this tribe resembles the Naga tribe in some ways but also do have their own customs & traditions. Besides being involved in farming, they also grow & trade fruits, are experts in weaving, carpentry & craftsmanship & also practise shifting cultivation.
Belonging to the old Kuki clans, about 1000 members remain today, depending mainly on agriculture.
A major Kuki tribe found in Churachandrapur, Senapati, Ukhrul, South-Western hills& Sadar districts, most of the members follow Christianity.
This is a Naga tribe belonging to the Sino-Tibetan family.
Belonging to the Chin-Kuki-Mizo group, this tribe is dependent on the forest. The tribe also comprises of blacksmiths & carpenters & the people also practise basketry & poultry farming.
The social fabric of Manipur is weaved mainly by religion. As a result, most of their festivals are dictated by superstitions & supernatural power. Even so, the people of Manipur live in complete harmony, being peace-loving & harbouring a love for the arts!
Traditionally, the Manipuris live in a joint family & follow the patriarchal pattern. The traditional house of the Bishnupriyas are called ‘Inchau’ & is contructed mainly on plain lands. Though change is slowly but surely creeping into the houses in the form of modern constructions, there are still those who lovingly cling on to traditions.
A visit to Manipur cannot be complete without experiencing its culture, meeting its tribes & seeing its traditions come alive!!