Kuki people

Kuki people

Infobox Ethnic group
group = Kuki Alternative names:
Kuki, Kuki people,
region1 = flag|India flag|Burma flag|Bangladesh
pop1 =
ref1 =
languages = Kuki, Thadou, Hmar, Paite, Vaiphei, Simte, Zou, Gangte, Kom, Anal, Maring
religions = Christianity, Judaism
related = Other Chin-Mizo
footnotes =
The term Kuki people refers to Zo ethnic entity comprising of numerous clans. These clans share a common past, culture, customs and tradition. They speak in dialects that have a common root language belonging to the Tibeto-Burman group [ Grierson (1909), Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. 111, Tibeto-Burman Family. Pt.1, General Introduction, Specimens of the Tibetan Dialects, The Himalayan Dialects and The North Assam Group, Pt. II, with Grierson (1903), Specimens of the Bodo, Naga and Kachin Groups, Pt. III, Grierson (1904) Specimens of the Kuki, Chin and Burma Groups, Pt.111, Vol.111] . kuki have Mongoloid features and are generally short-stature withstraight black hair, Dark brown eyes and brown skin. The different kuki clans are recognised as schedule tribe of India [ [http://www.tribal.nic.in/alphabetical_list.html Alphabetical List of India's Scheduled Tribes] ] . They spread out in a contiguous region in Northeast India, Northwest Burma (Myanmar), and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. They are most prominent in Manipur, Nagaland, Assam and Mizoram. Kuki is composed of many different entities/Clans: Aimol, Anal, Baite, Changsan, Chiru, Chongloi, Chothe, Darlawng, Doungel, Guite, Halam, Haokip, Haolai, Hangsing, Hmar, Hrangkhawl, Kipgen, Koireng, Khelma / Sakachep, Kolhen, Kom, Lamkang, Lenthang, Lhouvum, Lhungdim, Lunkim, Lupho, Lupheng, Lhanghal/Hanghal, Thangeo, Lhangum, Maring, Mate, Misao, Monsang, Moyon, Paite, Purum, Simte, Singsit, Sitlhou, Tarao, Touthang, Vaiphei, Zou etc. Though the term Kuki can be thought of as been synonymous with Mizo and Chin tribes, predominantly all Zo groups other than those who are in Mizoram and Chin refer to themselves as Kukis.


Kuki country was subjugated by the British and divided between British India and British Burma administrations following the 'Kuki Uprising of 1917-19' [Burma and Assam Frontier, ‘Kuki rising, 1917-1919’, L/PS/10/724, Oriental and India Office Collections (OIOC), British Library, London] . Up until the fateful defeat in 1919, The Kukis were an Independent people ruled by their chieftains. During WWII, Seizing the opportunity to regain independence, Kuki fought with the Imperial Japanese Army and the Indian National Army led by Subhas Chandra Bose. The Succes of the Allied forces over the Axis group dashed the aspirationof the kuki people. Today the Kukis are disperse in Northeast India , Northwest Burma and the Chittagong Hill Tracks in Bangladesh. With regard to Kuki identity, Prof JN Phukan [Phukan, JN, The Late Home of Migration of the Mizos, International Seminar, Aizawl, Mizoram, studies on the Minority Nationalities of Northeast India – The Mizos, 1992, 10] writes, If we are to accept Ptolemy's "Tiladae" as the kuki people, as identified by Gerini, the settlement of the Kuki in the North-East India would go back to a very long time in the past. Prof Gangumei kabui [ History of Manipur, p24] states, 'Some kuki tribes migrated to Manipur Hills in the pre-historic times along with or after the meitei advent into the Manipur valley'. This hypothesis will take us to the theory that the Kukis, for that matter, The Mizos, at least some of their tribes, have been leaving in North-East India since prehistoric time.

In the second century (AD 90-168), Claudius Ptolemy, the geographer, identified the kukis with Tiladai, who are associated with Tilabharas and place them "to the north of Maiandros, that is about the Garo Hills and Silhet" [Gereni, GR (1909, 53), Researches on Ptolemy’s Geography of Eastern Asia (further India and Indo-Malay archipelago), Published in conjunction with the Royal Geographical Society, London] . Stevenson's [Stevenson, EL (ed) (1932), Claudius Ptolemy: The Geography, (2nd Century), Translated and Edited by Edward Luther Stevenson, Dover edition first published in 1991 (p.xiii), an unabridged republication of the work originally published by The New York Public Library, N.Y., 1932, Dover Publications, Inc. New York] reference to kuki in relation to Ptolemy's [ The great geography] also bears critical significance to its existence in this period. The Rajmala or Annals of Tripura refers to Shiva falling in love with a kuki women around AD 1512 [Dalton, ET (1872, 110), Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, Government Printing Press, Calcutta] . The Encyclopaedia Britannica records, "Kukis, a name given to a group of tribes inhabiting both sides of the mountains dividing Assam and Bengal from Burma, South of the Namtaleik river " [ EB (1962), Vol 13, 511] . Concerning the origins of kuki, in 1893, EB Elly, a British official, wrote, the terminology 'kuki', maening 'hill people' originated in Sylhet, in former East Bengal [Elly, EB (1978, 1 (first published in 1893)), Military Report on the Chin-Lushai Country, Firma KLM (P) Ltd, Calcutta]

Historian such as Majumdar and Bhattasali [Majumdar, RC & Bhattasa1i, N (1930, 6-7, fifth revised edition), History of India, Shyam Chandra Dutta, Dacca] refer to the kukis as the earliest people known to have lived in prehistory India, preceding 'the "Dravidians" who now live in south India.' The Aryans , who drove the Dravidians towards the south, arrived in the Indian sub-continent around BC 1500 [Thapar, R (1966, 29), A History of India 1, Penguin, UK] . In the Pooyas, the traditional literature of the meitei people of Manipur, 'two kuki chiefs named kuki Ahongba and kuki Achouba were allies to Nongba Lairen Pakhangba, the first historically recorded king of the meithis [Meiteis] , in the latter's mobilisation for the throne in 33 AD' [NP Rakung, Reader, in The Telegraph, 17 January 1994, Letter to the Editor, Imphal, Manipur] . Cheitharol kumaba (Royal chronicles of the Meitei kings) record that in the year 186 Sakabda (AD 264) Meidungu Taothingmang, a kuki became king.

The Kukis in particular were widely known as "war-mongers." They have been in minor ethnic wars within the kuki clans and subclan, Hmars fought with Singson(Thadou) in 1960s [ [http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=manipur.Ethnic_Races_Manipur.Chieftainship_among_Meiteis_Mizos.Chieftainship_among_Meiteis_Mizos_10 manipur channel >> Ethnic Races Manipur >> Chieftainship among Meiteis Mizos >> Chieftainship among Meiteis Mizos 10 ~ Manipur - E-Pao! :: Complete e-platform for Manipuris ] ] , This was a result of social change among the Hmar people, whose Chiefs were Singson one of the Kuki clan and the paites in 1997 with KNF(p), which is lead by Kipgen; other related kuki subclan joined in the fray. The Kuki haved had an ethnic war with the Nagas in the early 1990s which predominantly was due to the ethnic cleansing propaganda of the NSCN (IM) militants. The Kuki share the same culture, traditions, and genealogical affinity with their brethren of the Chin state in Burma and the Lushei or Mizo of Mizoram.


The Kukis have a rich culture and numerous tradition that are unique, interesting, and impressive.

Daily life

Rice is their staple food. They domesticated a number of animals. Of these, Se'l(mithun) is the most prized possession, while a dog is considered a faithful animal.


Kuki festivals include:
* Lawm Se’l Neh (a celebration by young people of the community after the season’s work is over)
* Chang Kut ( a celebration by the whole community after rice harvest)
* Mim Kut (related to maize harvest and similar in content to Cha’ng Kut)
* Sa-Ai (a celebration of a successful big game hunt of big animals)
* Chang-Ai (a celebration of bounteous rice harvest)
* Hun (an occasion of worship in ancient times)
* Chawn le Han (hosting of this occasion involved feasting and holding of sporting events)
* Ka’ngka’p (a game in which disc-liked seed is rolled) besides many others.


There are different musical instruments to enhance these festivities.
* Kho’ng-pi (big drum)
* Kho’ng-cha (small drum)
* Dah-pi (gong)
* Pe’ngkul (trumpet)
* Gosem (bagpipe)
* Theile (flute)
* Theiphi’t (whistle)
* Se’lki (horn)
* Lhe’mlhei ( a peculiar mouth instrument)

These instruments were useful not only for raising the festival spirit, but also for adding solemnity to certain serious occasions.


The folklore of the people abounds with the heroic adventures of Galngam le Hangsai, Chemtatpa, Lengbante, Jamdil, Sangah le Ahpi etc. The poignant romances of Khupting le Ngambom, Jonlhing le Nanglhun, Changkhatpu le Ahshijolneng, Khalvompu le Lenchonghoi; and folktales, such as Chipinthei le Mailangkoh, Lhangeineng and others, represent the rich variety of the Kuki culture.

Customs and traditions

The land of the Kukis is blessed with rich customs and traditions. Sawm, a community center for boys – was the center of learning in which Sawm-upa (an elder) did the teaching, while Sawm-nu took care of chores, such as combing of the boy’s hair, washing of the garments and making the beds, etc. The best students were recommended to the King’s or the Chief’s service, and eventually would become as Semang & Pachong (ministers) in the courts, or gal –lamkai (leaders/ warriors) in the army.

Lawm (a traditional form of youth club) was an institution in which, boys and girls engaged in social activities, for the benefit of the individual and the community. It was also another learning institution. Every Lawm has lawm-upa (a senior member), To’llai-pao (overseer or superintendent), and Lawm-tangvo (assistant superintendent). Besides being a source of traditional learning, Lawm was also useful for imparting technical and practical knowledge to its members, especially with regard to farming methods, hunting, fishing, and sporting activities such as- Kung – Kal (high jump, especially over a choice mithum), Ka’ng Ka’p, Ka’ngchoi Ka’p (top game), Suhtumkhaw (javelin throw using the heavy wooden implement for pounding-de-husking-paddy) and So’ngse (shot put). The Lawm was also a center where the young people learned discipline and social etiquette. After harvest season, ‘Lawm meet’ is celebrated with a Lawm-se’l (on the occasion, a mithun is slaughtered for the feast) and, as a commemoration, a pillar is erected. The event is accompanied by dance and drinking rice-beer, which sometimes continues for days and nights.

The Kuki male traditionally wore his hair in the form of a Tuhcha (long hair rolled up in a bunch at the nape). His clothing consisted of a Boitong-Sangkhol (a half-sleeve jacket) and a Pheichawm (short lungi). They are renowned hunters and reputable warriors. Their hunting kit consists of Se’llung-bawm (a leather waist-pouch for pellets), Se’lki meiloupai (an animal’s horn for storing gunpowder) and a knife. Watchful waiting on a machaan for the game also did a favorite past time hunting. Often, many kinds of traps and snares are also set. The fishing equipment consists of Len (fishing net), Bawm (basket trap), Ngakoi (fishing hooks). Ngoituh (a method of using dams and baskets in a flowing river), Ngalhei (draining out water) and Gusuh (a method of temporally stunning fish by using toxic herbs) were also common methods of catching fish in small streams. The Kuki men took great pride in big-game hunting and a killing of big animals was followed by somber celebration. The Kukis believed that the big game hunted in a man’s lifetime would accompany him in his after-life journey-the spirits of animals would clear the onward path for him. It was therefore believed that a man was not complete unless he was also successful in big game hunting; he would not be entitled to partake in Lalju, a special drink meant for those who have killed big game.

The Kuki women traditionally wore their hair in two plaits braided around the head. They wore a Nih-San (a red slip) underneath a Po’nve (a wrap-around), which was worn from above the chest. The ornaments included Bilba (earrings), Hah le Chao (bracelets and bangles), Khi (necklace), and occasionally Bilkam (a type of ring-shaped earring worn to stretch the earlobes). Cha’ngsuh (grain-pounding), Cha’ngse’p (winnowing), Ponkhon (cloth-weaving) and looking after domestic animals were some of the daily chores of the women folk. The woven designs of the Kuki women are unique and appreciated the world over. Cha’ng-ai, the place of honor for a good harvest was given to the lady of the house. This formed the highest honor accorded to the Kuki woman. The men folk occupied themselves with cane and bamboo crafts and house building. They were blacksmiths and also engaged in carpentry and other such like jobs. The manufacture of guns and gunpowder were a very specialized profession among the men. Twi-cha’ngsu (water mill)’ and Chotle’p (a sea-saw mechanism), are some of the ingenious methods used for pounding rice with minimum use of human energy. Sawh and Ke’ngke (noise creating instruments) functioned as the scarecrow and were placed in the cultivated fields. Twisawh was another inventive contraption, which used running water from a stream making continual sounds to scare away birds and pests from standing crops.

Laws and government


With regard to governance, Semang (cabinet) is the annual assembly of a Kuki village community held at the Chief’s residence represents the Inpi (Assembly). In such an assembly, the Chief and his Semang and Pachong (cabinet members and auxiliary of Inpi) and all the household heads of the village congregate to discuss and resolve matters relating to the village and the community [ [http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=manipur.Ethnic_Races_Manipur.Chieftainship_among_Meiteis_Mizos.Chieftainship_among_Meiteis_Mizos_11 manipur channel >> Ethnic Races Manipur >> Chieftainship among Meiteis Mizos >> Chieftainship among Meiteis Mizos 11 ~ Manipur - E-Pao! :: Complete e-platform for Manipuris ] ]

Legal system

The legal system – arrangement of a girl’s marriage, bride-price, and the Chief’s administrative system, relief for widows and orphans – are elaborately and systematically defined in the Kukis’ way-of-life. Traditionally, polygamy is not permissible. Capital punishment was never in practice. The maximum penalty was ‘bultuh’ (stockade in which the guilty was kept outside the village and provided food until death). This reflects the high ethics of the Kuki people.

Judicial process

The Kukis also practiced Twilut, a judicial process of judgment by going under water. Twilut is a phenomenon in which the litigants are subjected to go under water to determine the culprit. It is an ultimate and decisive recourse for cases where the normal processes of trial by court does not reach a conclusive end. In the event of resorting to twilut, certain customs are strictly adhered to. The chief and elders of the community call upon the thempu (magic-medicine man/priest) to conduct the proceedings. For instance, in a boundary dispute, the two litigants are brought into the presence of the public. The ‘thempu’ then recites rituals, which includes the invocation of ‘Pathen’ (God), followed by the litigants being submerged in the water. The culprit becomes immediately apparent because she/he cannot remain underwater at all. Of the two litigants, the defaulter would be in absolute agony, experiencing extreme sensations of being inflamed from within, and therefore emerge to the surface. In contrast, the innocent person able to remain under water, quite normally.



It is known that the Kukis were in possession of some documents, inscribed on leather, known as "Savun Lekhajo’l" (scroll).Fact|date=August 2008 These scrolls were lost in the passage of time and along with this, the Kukis also lost their script. Therefore, there is no known Kuki script. Today, the Roman script forms the basis for Kuki literature.


The academic and Kuki National Organisation spokesman Seilen Haokip has written a number of articles and books about the Kuki and tribal relations in northeastern India. [http://in.news.yahoo.com/061009/211/68chl.html]


Although the existence of formal learning institutions is not available, the Kukis were not unfamiliar with astronomy and astrology. They were able to study the stars and the phases of the moon and could forecast for themselves certain aspects of nature, particularly rainfall, drought and the seasonsFact|date=August 2007.


*http://www.ksdf.orgZale'n-gam: The Kuki Nation

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