By: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
UNWARRANTED MEDDLING WITH THE NAME OF A LANGUAGE?
Years ago, Mr. S.L. Lunneh was the chief of Motbung Village, located on the National Highway 39 in Manipur (about 26 kms. from Imphal towards Kohima). He was also the editor of an irregular weekly newspaper Simlemal in the language under question. He was a widely respected leader among all the hill tribes of Manipur for many years. Towards the time under consideration here, he was old and confined himself mainly to Thadou politics. However his influence with the national and local leaders was still very good. He wrote a memorandum assailing the position taken by the Bible Society of India, Bangalore that published HOLY BIBLE IN KUKI. The main translator for this version is Mr. T. Lunkim. Mr. Lunneh took the position:
- Kuki is a foreign word, applied to several Kuki-Chin tribes. Kuki is not a tribe and it has no dialect of its own, rather it is a national name like the Naga and Mizo.
- Thado is a recognized tribe whereas Kuki is not.
- The publications in the past, including those of the Bible Society, called the language in question either as Thadou or as Thadou Kuki.
- Mr. T. Lunkim is a non-Thadou. Hence he wants to change the name of the language from Thadou to Kuki.
- “In our places, Thadou dialect is used by some Kukis who are not Thadous, but why should it forfeit its identity just because it is spoken by some non-Thadous?”
- “The ill-guided policy of Mr. T. Lunkim has now compelled the Thadou Pao Literature committee, India to seek the end of justice at the judicial court.”
- There is every chance for physical clashes among the communities involved. However, in spite of his position against the use of the term Kuki as the name of the language in which the Bible has been translated, it may be noted Mr. Lunneh himself was once the supporter of the use of the term Kuki for political reasons given below.
THE CONTENTION IN FAVOR OF KUKI
Mr. T. Lunkim is a pastor and has been engaged in the translation of the Bible for several years, almost since the beginning of sixties. He belongs to a small community called Lunkim. This community is not part of the Thadou clans proper. However, people of this community speak the same language as the Thadous. Mr. Lunkim’s contention always has been that, since several non-Thadou communities speak the same language, the language should have a common name and not any name of a particular tribe, the use of which would make one conclude that the language belongs to Thadous only. Though his contention seems to be fair on prime facie grounds, it will, indeed, be difficult to support his arguments unconditionally for reasons given below.
The Bible society of India has been engaged in the translation of the Holy Bible in the language under question for several years in the past. The first translation brought out by them was the translation of the New Testament in Thadou Kuki and the second major translation was the Book of Genesis in Thadou Kuki. The Bible Society committed itself through these two publications for calling the language in question as Thadou Kuki, if not Thadou only. The contention of Mr. Lunneh was that if the Bible Society published the Holy Bible with the title Holy Bible in Kuki, it would mean that the Secretary of the Bible Society had allowed himself, “to be convinced by a single person with total disregard to the popular voice of the people concerned,” and that he “may be held responsible for any possible communal bloodshed among them.” This contention was a possibility at that time, any neutral observer would agree. However, this, indeed, was one more problem added to the list of pressing problems, to be tackled by law and order authorities, and possibly not by the students of linguistics. But, the most interesting question was this-Was it right on the part of the Bible Society to change the accepted names of languages arbitrarily in total disregard of existing conventions sanctioned and legalized by government orders?
THE POSITION IN EARLY LITERATURE
The positions found in past literature may be summarized as follows.
The earliest work written specifically about the language in question is by Lieut. R. Stewart in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1857). Stewart entitled his paper as “A slight notice of the Grammar of Thadou or New Kookie language,” and commented that “the appellation of Kookie is unknown among themselves, and they have no title embracing their whole race, but they call one another by the names of their different clans. They all speak the same language, with very slight modification in the dialects and it is called among them Thadou Pao, form the name of one of their principal clans.”
Linguistic Survey of India calls the language in question as Thado only and comments that “the denomination Kuki-Chin is a purely conventional one, there being no proper name comprising all these tribes.” “The words Kuki and Chin are synonymous and are both used for many of the hill tribes in question. Kuki is an Assamese or Bengali term, applied to various hill tribes, such as the Lushais, Rangkhols, Thados, etc. It seems to have been known at a comparatively early period. In the Raj Mala, Siva is stated to have fallen in love with a Kuki woman and the Kukis are mentioned in connection with the Tipperah Raja �, who flourished about 1512 A.D. The Kuki is, more especially, used to denote the various tribes which have successively been driven from the Lushai and Chin Hills into the surrounding country to the north and west. The tribes which first emigrated from Lushai land into Cachar, the Rangkhols and Betes with their offshoots, are generally distinguished as Old Kuki; while it has become customary to use the term New Kuki to denote the Thados, Jangshems and their offshoots.”
After discussing the fact that several sub-tribes trace their origin back to Thadou, the progenitor of the tribe Thadou and his brothers, which had resulted in several sub-clans, the Linguistic Survey of India concludes that “it is, however, of little use to make all these divisions and subdivisions. All these tribes with the exception Ralte speak the same language, and the dialectal differences are only slight. The language itself is, according to Messrs. Stewart and Dament called Thado-pao, Thado language.”
Another major work is by T.C. Hodson (1905). Hodson calls this language in question only as Thado. Yet another work by a missionary Rev. Pettigrew (1926) calls this language only as Thadou.
WORKS OF NATIVE SCHOLARS
Two important works by native scholars of this period, namely, Longkhobel Kilong (1922) and Thomsong Ngulhao (1927) call this language as Thadou Kuki. The printing history of this latter work (Lekhabul, Thadou Kuki First Primer by Ngulhao (1927)) shows that this book has seen so far twenty-one editions (at the time of writing this article originally in 1970), with the average of four to six thousand copies every year in the sixties.
It is necessary to note the addition of a word Kuki to the language called so far only as Thadou or Thado. This addition was perhaps found necessary by these native scholars to indicate clearly that the language in question was a non-Naga language. Thadous, like their brethren tribes Lushais, Paites, Hmars, etc., were always careful to identify themselves as distinct from the Naga tribes.
REASONS FOR THE INSISTENCE ON THE RETENTION OF THE IDENTITY
The reasons for the retention of this separate identity were manifold of which only a few may be mentioned here. Sociologically and anthropologically these non-Naga tribes believe that their customs and social organizations are akin to each other among themselves and that these are different from the ones found among the Nagas. Geographically, the non-Naga tribes occupy contiguous areas and have closer contacts with the Chins of Burma’s Chin Hills. Linguistically, languages of the non-Naga tribes are mutually intelligible to a great extent, whereas Naga languages are totally unintelligible to these communities. Politically, the non-Naga tribes had an upper hand in Manipur before independence and had enjoyed official patronage more than the Naga tribes did. In addition to these, many non-Naga villages have mixed population of non-Naga tribes. There have been, for many years in the past, some sort of rivalry between the groups as to the lands they occupied.
THE POSITION OF CENSUS RECORDS
The position of 1961 Census: The 1961 census of India report calls the language under question as Thado and groups 19 mother tongue returns under this. Of the 19 mother tongues thus grouped under Thado, some are clans of Thadou proper, and some, such as Lhouvum and Mate, are non-Thadou communities.
There is still another language name stated as Kuki-Unspecified in the Language Tables of 1961 census. This Kuki-Unspecified has a bulk of speakers whose language affinity is not made clear in the 1961 census. The post-census investigations by me for both the Language Division of the Census of India Organization and the Central Institute of Indian Languages revealed that Kuki as a mother tongue was returned by those who do not generally want to be identified under either Thadou or under any particular tribal name. However, most of these people speak the same language as the Thadous.
The language in question is spoken by several communities of which the most predominant community is Thadou. The following are considered to be the Thadou clans proper: 1) Thalhun, 2) Sitlhou, 3) Haokip, 4) Kipgen, 5) Lhouvum and 6) Doungel. All these clans (except to some extent the Doungel) trace their origin to Thadou, a hero known for his valor. In addition to these clans of Thadou proper, there are a number of smaller communities which also speak the same language, and these communities are as follows: 1) Hangshing, 2) Chongloi, 3) Phoh-hil, 4) Sah-um, 5) Lhang-um, 6) Changsam, 7) Lenthang, 8) Thanggeo, 9) Insum, 10) Jongbe, 11) Mate, 12) Lupho, 13) Lupheng, 14) Misao, 15) Lunkim, 16) Lhungdim and 17) Baite, etc. The above smaller communities do not trace their origin to Thadou, and hence form a non-Thadou group, which speaks the same language as Thadous.
It is difficult to say with certainty which of these two groups is larger in terms of numerical strength, because no such information is available through Census 1961. However, it is certain that there is no single community among the non-Thadous possessing the numerical strength equivalent to that of Thadous proper. Filed investigations indicated further that even the numerical strength of the non-Thadous taken together as a single group will not be equivalent to that of Thadous proper. In addition to this it should be noted that most of the non-Thadou people live in villages where the predominant majority may belong to Thadou clans proper.
THE POSITION OF HAOKIPS
The position of Haokips: Haokip is a clan belonging to Thadous proper. Perhaps they are the most numerous people among all the clans of Thadou proper. They live mostly in the interior hills and are known for their rugged behavior, especially by those belonging to Sitlhou clan. Their dialect used to be a subject for comment as if their speech is “incorrect and corruptive.” Their “backwardness” in the past (usually measured in terms of number of conversions to Christianity!) was well known among the hill tribes in Manipur. This attitude on the part of others from among the Thadous proper, because of tribal history and beliefs, had become very unacceptable to many educated Haokips and it resulted in their demand for recognition as a separate tribe by the President of Indian Union. This educated section wanted to change the name of the language also from Thadou or Thadou Kuki to Kuki only. However, still a larger section of the Haokips are uncommitted and are proud of their association with the name Thadou.
Political leaders from among the Thadou-Kuki group were rumored to support the demand for the name of Kuki only for the entire group as well for the speech of this group, and to seek recognition for the clans as independent tribes. This was necessitated by the electoral politics.
A HISTORY OF THE TRENDS IN FAVOR OF THE TERM KUKI
As we have mentioned earlier, Kuki was once used as a generic term to denote all the non-Naga tribes of Manipur including Lushais and others of present Mizoram. In 1928, William Shaw, a civil servant of British origin, published his “Notes on Thadou Kuki” through the Journal of the Asiatic Society, Bengal and claimed in his work that the Thadous were a very important people among Kukis and that the non-Thadous (including not only the smaller communities which spoke the same language as Thadous but also different Kuki-Chin communities of Manipur such as Hmar, Paite, Vaiphei and Grangte) were “under the wings of Thados.” His remark was interpreted by the non-Thadous as implying that these communities were subjects of Thadous.
This had greatly angered the leaders of these communities, had resulted in bloody clashes among the communities in several places, and had set into motion the clamor for separate identities. Because of the twist given to the term Kuki by William Shaw, these communities refused to be called as Kuki and, in course of time, they attained individual recognition, through a President’s order which listed the names of tribes recognized for the purposes of educational concessions, etc. However, Thadous preferred to call all the non-Naga tribes as Kukis and formed a Kuki National Assembly [(KNA) in the lines of Naga National Assembly of Naga Hills] and made the creation of a separate Kuki land their platform. Though creation of a separate state of non-Naga people was acceptable to many non-Thadous, they resented the use of the term Kuki and, in course of time, KNA has become a mouthpiece of mainly the Thadous and non-Thadous, who spoke the same language. Now, every tribe has its own organization in the political, social and religious fields and does not want to be clubbed under any Kuki organization.
THE USE OF THE TERM KUKI
The current use of the term Kuki among all the non-Thadou tribes, in conjunction with the political development mentioned above, refers only to the Thadous and non-Thadous, who speak the same language. But, Thadous would use it only as a generic term to refer to all the Kuki-Chin tribes of India.
The move for changing the name of the language from Thadou to Kuki was initiated by Mr. T. Lunkim and several other non-Thadou and Haokip leaders sometime in the early sixties. I think that it was in 1960, the Kuki Baptist Convention (an association of Baptist Christians) wanted to propose this change through a resolution which was opposed stiffly by Thadou leaders, more particularly by Mr. V. Kipgen, a secretary of the Thadou Pao Literature Committee.
This move for the change was first of all prompted by political motives, especially by the developments in the adjourning Naga Hills. There was a powerful group of youngsters comprising of college and high school students who worked hard to unite all the Kuki-Chin tribes of Manipur by bringing in the general term Kuki to denote all of them. As a first step toward this unity, they proposed to change the term Thadou into Kuki. This powerful group published a fortnightly called Muoltinchaan and propagated this ideal. However, the other non-Thadou tribes such as Hmar, Paite, Vaiphei and Simte were not enthusiastic about this and, in addition to this, they had to face strongest opposition from the well established Thadous. Finally, after a few issues, the newspaper became defunct.
The second motive was to attain recognition also for the non-Thadous, who speak the language in question, under a common name. Many of these communities are smaller in terms of numerical strength and did not find a place in the list of Presidents’ Order recognizing tribes for the purposes of educational concessions, etc. The students belonging to these smaller non-Thadou communities had to declare their tribe as Thadou for receiving educational concessions, etc, because their tribes did not find a place in the recognized tribes list. This was disliked by many and has led to the move for the change of the language in question.
NO ONE TO ONE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A LANGUAGE AND A TRIBE
There is no one to one relation between a language and a tribe in the Manipur Hills. But hill leaders of every tribe always assumed, before and after attaining separate recognition in the President’s Order, that they did have a separate language of their own. This attitude resulted in the formation of Language Literature Committees for almost every tribe even if they speak the same language spoken by several other tribes. That is, the separate name of the community has come to be taken for granted as an indication for the existence and establishment of separate languages.
After the Mizo National Front uprising in March 1966, the political motives brought in another proposal to change the names of tribes and their languages. It was proposed to suffix the term Mizo (mi = man, people; zou = hill) to all the names of tribes and their languages in order to identify these tribes with the Lushais and others of then Mizo Hills District. This was being propagated extensively by the Manipur Mizo Integration Council at Churachandpur. If this proposal were accepted by the people, then the Thadou tribe would have become Thadou Mizo, Paite would have become Paite Mizo, and so on. But this move also was opposed by many leaders of the non-Naga tribes, because they feared that their separate identity attained after a period of struggle will be lost and that the most populous Lushai section of the Mizo group would begin to dominate over other smaller communities. (See Dr. Satrupa’s article in this issue on the souring of relations between the Hmars and the Lushais, THE SOCIO-ECONOMICS OF LINGUISTIC IDENTITY – A CASE STUDY IN THE LUSHAI HILLS.) Of all the Kuki-Chin tribes in India, the Hmars were very supportive of the move for Mizoram, but then later on the relationship between the two groups somewhat deteriorated.) The move for suffixing the term Mizo to the names of the tribes and their languages was vociferously supported by the section of politicians who wanted the merger of the Manipur Hill areas occupied by Kuki-Chins with the Mizo Hills District of Assam to form a separate Mizo State within the Indian Union, if not outside it.
We find that the language in question is spoken by both the Thadous and several other non-Thadou communities and that among these two sections the Thadous are the most populous single community. We noted that the past literature on the language in question called it only as Thado or Thadou and that the native scholars called it Thadou Kuki to distinguish their language clearly from the Naga languages. We noted also that the move to change the name of the language in question came mainly from the section of non-Thadous and that this move was partly supported by sections of Haokips for sociological reasons. We saw that the move for changing the language name from Thadou or Thadou Kuki to Kuki only was originally motivated by political ambitions and later on was supported by the fact that non-Thadous were unable to get concessions from governmental agencies when they declared their real tribal name as the name of the tribe they were belonging to. We found that the latest trend was to suffix the term Mizo to the names of tribes and their languages and that this proposal was also motivated by political ambitions. We found further that several communities for the reasons mentioned in the discussion also opposed this proposal. We noted that there was serious objection to use the term Kuki to denote all the Kuki-Chin tribes and that these tribes preferred to be called by their own names rather than by a generic term like Kuki or Mizo.
We noted also that the Bible Society of India called this language in question in their earlier publications as Thadou Kuki only. Thus, the change in the nomenclature by the Bible Society of India (alleged in the memorandum) made was first of all in conflict with their earlier nomenclature, secondly with the nomenclature found in past literature, thirdly in conflict with the desires of the major community, and fourthly it was perhaps an innovation not sustainable either by the past literature on this language or by the nomenclature used in the President’s Order and in other governmental records of, say, Census of India and Manipur Administration. The change the Bible Society of India made in the nomenclature is somewhat questionable on the grounds listed above.
A decision with regard to the nomenclature to be adopted for calling this language in question should take note of the above points. Some sections of non-Thadous do not approve if Thadou only is used as the name of the language. The entire Thadou community would oppose the move if Kuki alone is used as the name of the language. A better solution would be to have both the words Thadou and Kuki somehow incorporated in the nomenclature. Ngulhao (1927) and other native scholars called the language Thadou Kuki and this nomenclature is quite acceptable to Thadous and some non-Thadou communities. However, the section headed by Mr. T. Lunkim is opposed to this nomenclature also. But, as mentioned earlier, it is difficult to name the language in question as Kuki only.
To solve this problem, let us first of all assume that our nomenclature is going to have both these words, but written in such a way that it would satisfy the majority of both the Thadou and non-Thadou factions. It seems to me that this alone is a sound step under present circumstances to avoid enmity between these sections. To achieve this end there are essentially four alternatives and these are as follows:
- Change the name to Kuki Thadou
- Change the name to Thadou or Kuki, represented in writing either in longhand this way or as Thadou/Kuki
- Change the name to Kuki or Thadou, represented in writing either in longhand this way or as Kuki/Thadou, and
- Change the representation Thadou Kuki to Thadou-Kuki.
The first change is supposed to demonstrate (or give) emphasis on Kuki by placing it as the first word in the nomenclature. The second change makes the names involved as alternative names for the same language with emphasis on Thadou as the first alternative. The first change also makes the names involved as alternative name for the same language, but with emphasis on Kuki as the first alternative. The last change makes the point that the language in question is Thadou of Kuki. There is a growing popularity of the usage of Thadou Kuki. Will this name be acceptable to all? Time will tell. Meanwhile, all the friends of Kuki-Chin languages wish them well in their pursuit of better life and better deal under the Constitution of India.