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A Brief Account of the Lamkang Naga Tribe

A Brief Account of the Lamkang Naga Tribe

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Published by anjanasankhil
A brief account of the Lamkang Naga tribe
A brief account of the Lamkang Naga tribe

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Published by: anjanasankhil on Oct 12, 2012
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A Brief Account of the Lamkang Naga Tribe: An Insider’s View
 Anjana Sankhil Lamkang 
Ph.D, Social AnthropologyUniversity of Delhi, Delhi-7Lamkang is one of the oldest nineteen Naga tribes living in Manipur. They are mainly concentratedin the southern part of Manipur in the district of Chandel. According to 2001 census, the population of Lamkang in Manipur was 4524. They are recognized as a scheduled tribe by thegovernment of India since 1956. They speak Lamkang dialect which belongs to the Tibeto-Burmangroup of language while communicating within the tribe; and other languages such as Manipuri, Nagamese, English and Hindi to interact with people outside their tribe. They can be easilyrecognised from other Naga tribes or for that matter any other tribes in Manipur by lookingexternally at their traditional attires. Lamkang tribes have been living in their present homelandsince the turn of the first century A.D when Poireiton migrated to Manipur as was recorded inPoireiton Khunthokpa (1967). They were also briefly mentioned in the Manipuri kings chronicles"Cheitharon Kumbaba" as "hiroi Lamkang".According to this account, they were an expert in boat/canoe making; and probably werecanoe/boat maker for the Meitei king. The prefix was supposedly given by the king himself inaknowledgement of their expertised in boat making (Sankhil Shethon, 1994). Though they weremention just briefly in both the instances yet this account clearly points to the fact that they wereone of the oldest tribes of Manipur.
As in the case of other Naga tribes, the origin and migration of Lamkang tribe into their  present homeland is not known. There is no written account about the origin of Lamkang tribe.However, according to the folklores and legends of the tribe, they emerged from a cave somewherein the east. A huge tiger was waiting at the entrance of the cave to devour them. It was Benglamwho by adopting ingenuity, tricked the tiger with his bow and arrow; thereby enabling smooth passage of his people. Even today, there is a cliché in Lamkang called 'Benglampa jalthurthu' and afolksong which literally supports this origin theory.The origin and migration of the lamkang according to oral tradition is that, after coming out fromthe cave, they first settled in
village. From there, they further spread to
 Kokpii, Pheidul 
village, etc. Though the exact date and route of migration could not beascertained yet legend has it that they migrated from somewhere in the east (Sankhil Shelmi,2010). In the past, they were quite populous and prosperous, flourishing well. Legend also has itthat Lamkang was not their original name. It was given by a Meitei king's subject who came acrossa Lamkang man clearing the road with his dao. When Lamkang man was enquired aboutsomething by this passer by, he without understanding replied in Lamkang dialect saying he wasclearing the road (
) with his dao (
). So, that was how he came to be referred as Lamkang
(Dilbung William, 2007). This theory is however contested by new researchers like Shelmi Sankhil(in his M.Phil dissertation) on the basis that Lamkangs of yore days had not known
/Manipuri and as such, it was not possible for the Lamkang man in question (the oneclearing road) to respond back in Manipuri.The other hypothesis on the origin of the name Lamkang was/is that the name was given to a manclearing the road (
) with a dao (
by the Manipuri man. This hypothesis seems to be more plausible given the fact that both the Manipuri and the Lamkang man were unintelligible with oneanother. The Lamkangs however, preferred to call themselves as ksen and this term is very popular within the tribes themselves. Some other neighbouring tribes like the Anals also used the term‘ksen/asin’ to refer to them. But to the majority outsiders, they are generally recognised and knownas Lamkang.In the past, they mostly settled in the hilly terrain spread across Chandel district and only fewvillages were found in the foothill regions. But there has been a paradigm shift in their settlement post Naga-Kuki clash (i.e 1992) and now, majority of the Lamkang villages are compactly settledin the foothills or for that matter in the district headquarter of Chandel. In recent times, there areabout fifty or more families living in Nagaland as well. At present, there are more than 39Lamkang villages (approx.) in Manipur. The lone Lamkang village in Myanmar have now shiftedto Chandel headquarter after the village was torched down by the Kuki militants in the 1992 Naga-Kuki clash known as the '4
Khongsai Raal' in the local people memory. However, few individualfamilies are still found living in segregation in Myanmar.As far as oral history is concerned, the Lamkang people were peace loving, friendly and hospitabletribe. They were never known to have any major warfare with their neighbouring Naga tribes in the past; although inter village clash was recounted often. Their major warfare ever recounted in the past was only with the
or the present day Kuki. According to Lamkang oral version, the
or present day Kuki were nomads who migrated very late into their territory. This oralaccount of Lamkang is supported by 'Cheitharon Kumbaba' in which it was mentioned that Kukismigrated into Manipur in the 18th and 19th century. In those days, Lamkangs had a very bigterritory in their country with sparse population and being hospitable and generous, they gaveshelter to the Khongsai immigrants and let them reside in tlaheir country. However, no sooner hadthe Kukis made their settlement, trouble started brewing between them. The conflict reached itszenith point when Khongsai attack Heika village, the biggest Lamkang village then (numbering500-600 houses) in the 1850s. According to this account, the Lamkang ‘feast of merit’ locallyknown as 'Totlangkakam' celebration was going on in Heika village and many other Lamkangsfrom different other villages had also come for the festival as was customary. They were all drunk with rice beer and merry making, totally not prepared for any kind of warfare. However, the
or Kukis residing in the neigbourhood, knowing full well that the ‘feast of merit’ wasgoing on, attacked and slaughtered them almost wiping out the whole villagers in the process.Those Lamkangs from other villages who had come to partake in the festival were also killed alongwith the local villagers. Many elders still recount this story and relate how Lamkang population
would have been far more in numbers if it wasn't for the massacred that took place in Heikavillage. In the oral history of Lamkang, this incident is generally remembered as the infamous'Khongsai Raal' or when translated 'Khongsai war'. In fact, the names of two heroes, SankhilThamsen and Sankhil Thamnok (two brothers) who resist and fought back the Khongsai all bythemselves, could still be recalled. When taking their names, the face of any Lamkang would glowwith pride.
Social Life:
Lamkangs are highly social minded people. The bond of social cohesion andcollectiveness is very strong among them. Any social festival in one village was shared andcelebrated with other Lamkang villages. In olden times, they would help one another freely inhouse construction, jhum cultivation, and all other kinds of manual work. If any misfortuned wasto befall on one family, the whole village would come together and helped that family.
Kinship ties are very strong in Lamkang. Lamkang society though patrilineal, maintainsstrong affinal ties with the matrilineal side as well. Maternal uncle shares a special kind of relationship with his sisters' children and has an important social role in the latters' life. For example, in any kind of social function be it marriage, customary feast, naming ceremony, etc, theneck of mithun or pig killed on that occasion is traditionally reserved for maternal uncle and his presence and blessing is a must for the good fortune of the nieces and nephews. Even, on occasionswhen malevolent forces seem to possess his sisters' children, the maternal uncle would besummoned to perform certain rites to ward off evil. It is believed in Lamkang that a person withstrong maternal uncle background is shunned by evil spirit.The ancient Lamkang tribe was divided into two moity viz
. They were anexogamous group and marriage within one's moity was strictly prohibited. According to legends, itwas belief that clans from
came into being from the bowel/hole of the earth. So, insectsor animals that came out from the bowel of the earth were considered a taboo for the clans of 
. Likewise, clans from
were believed to be the children of sun hatched from itsegg that was laid on top of a bamboo tree. Hence, clans from
were generally known toavoid exposure to the sun for long. In the course of time, the two moity split into four exogamous phratry viz
Suwngnem-Sankhil, DilbungKhular, Edar 
. The first phratry had Suwngnemand Sankhil as its clan, the second as Dilbung and Khular;
has three clans-Tholung, Jangveiand Shilshi while
has Leivon, Kangten and Surte as its composite clan.The one peculiar aspect of Lamkang culture and tradition is that of christening pattern in new bornmale child. When a male child is born, the christening of the child would be in correspondencewith the term each clan/lineage had adopted. The male child will have a prefix of his mother's clanadded to his name. The prefix adopted by each of the clan is given as follows:
Suwngnem/Sankhil -Reng/Kam/Tling

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