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Dr. Anjana Sankhil Lamkang
Ph.D, Social Anthropology
University of Delhi
Lamkang is one of the oldest nineteen Naga tribes living in Manipur. They are mainly
concentrated in 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 the government of India since 1951. They speak Lamkang dialect which belongs to
Tibeto-Burman group 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 easily recognised from other Naga tribes or for that matter any other tribes in Manipur by
looking externally at their traditional cultural attires. Lamkang tribes have been living in their
present homeland since the turn of the first century A.D when Poireiton migrated to Manipur as
was recorded in Poireiton Khunthokpa (1967). They were also briefly mentioned in the Manipuri
kings chronicles "Cheitharon Kumbaba" as "hiroi Lamkang". Though they were mentioned just
briefly in both the instances yet this account clearly points to the fact that they were one of the
oldest tribes of Manipur.
Origin: As is in the case with 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
somewhere in the east. A huge tiger was waiting at the entrance of the cave to devour them. It
was Benglam who by adopting ingenuity tricked the tiger with his bow and arrow; thereby
enabling smooth passage of his people. Even today, there is a proverb in Lamkang called
'Benglampa jalthurthu' loosely translated as “Benglam’s style of pulling out arrow” and a
folksong which literally supports this origin theory.
The origin and migration of the Lamkangs according to oral tradition is that, after coming out
from the cave, they first settled in Khurpii village. From there, they further spread to Kokpii,
Pheidul, Damdul and Arhong villages. Though the exact date and route of migration could not be
ascertained yet legend has it that they migrated from somewhere in the east (Sankhil Shelmi,
2010). In the past, Lamkangs were quite populous, prosperous and flourishing well in their
The origin of the name “Lamkang” has been much debated by academicians and elders within
the tribe themselves. Many were of the view that “Lamkang” is not their original name as it was
given by an outsider. William Dilbung in his Master’s degree dissertation submitted to the
University of Manipur theorized that the name was given by a Meitei king's subject. According
to this hypothesis, once upon a time, a Meitei subject was passing through a Lamkang country
and met a Lamkang man who was clearing road with his dao. The Meitei man said something to
the Lamkang man and the latter responded back by saying he was clearing the road (lam) with
his dao (kang) and so eventually came to be known as “Lamkang” (Dilbung William, 2007). This
theory is however contested by new researchers like Shelmi Sankhil (2010) on the basis that
Lamkangs of yore days did not know Meiteilon/Manipuri and as such, it was not possible for the
Lamkang man in question (the one clearing road) to respond back in Manipuri. The other
hypothesis with reference to the origin of the name “Lamkang” is that the name was adopted as
they had lived in a dry land on top of the hills as Lam in Lamkang refers to ‘land’ and kang as
‘dry’. This later hypothesis seems more plausible given the fact that only a few Lamkangs started
speaking Meiteilon only in the 20th century and not before that. In addition, Lamkangs in the
past had lived in the hilly terrains as recorded in the oral accounts of the tribes. Whatever the
hypothesis to the origin of “Lamkang” may be, it is clear that Lamkangs prefer to call themselves
as Ksen. Neighbouring tribes like the Anals also address them as “Asin”, local version of Ksen.
However, to the majority outsiders, they are officially recognised as Lamkang.
In the past, Lamkangs mostly settled in the hilly terrains spread across Chandel district and only
few villages were found in the foothills notwithstanding the fact that their village territory spread
far and wide to the foothills of their settlement. However post Naga-Kuki ethnic clash of 1992,
there has been a paradigm shift in their settlement as many Lamkang villages have shifted down
to the foothills of their territory i.e. in and around district headquarter, Chandel. Few families
from villages living geographically close to the Kukis and bordering Myanmar fled towards
Myanmar and are now found living in assimilation with the Burmese. In recent times, there are
about fifty or more families living in Nagaland as well. At present, there are 40 Lamkang villages
(approx.) in Manipur. The lone Lamkang village Betuk Sekreng situated near the borderline of
Myanmar have now relocated close to the district headquarter after the village was torched down
by Kuki militants in the aftermath of 1992 Naga-Kuki clash. This Naga-Kuki clash is embedded
in local people’s memory as the “4th Khongsai Raal”.
As far as oral history is concerned, Lamkangs were peace loving, friendly and hospitable tribe.
They were never known to have any major warfare with their neighbouring Naga tribes in the
past; although inter village clash was often recounted. Their major warfare ever recounted in the
past was only with the Khongsai or the present day Kuki. According to Lamkang oral version,
the Khongsai or present day Kuki were nomads who migrated very late into their territory. This
oral account of Lamkang is supported by colonial writings and 'Cheitharon Kumbaba' in which it
was mentioned that Kukis migrated into Manipur in the 18th and 19th century. In those days,
Lamkangs had a very big territory in their country with sparse population. Being hospitable and
simplistic by nature with no concept of cost and profit, they gave shelter to the Khongsai chiefs
and allowed them to settle in their territory (country). Here, one must keep in mind that Chandel
is geographically very close to Burma from where present day Kukis mostly migrated from.
However, no sooner had the Kukis made their settlement in Lamkang territory, trouble started
brewing between them. The conflict reached its zenith point when Khongsai attacked Heika
village, the biggest Lamkang village then (numbering about 500 households) in the 1840s 1.
According to this account, the Lamkang ‘feast of merit’ locally known as Totlangkakam
celebration was going on in Heika village and many other Lamkangs from other villages had also
come to participate in the festival as was customary. In festive mood, they were drunk with rice
beer and merry making and were totally not prepared for any kind of warfare. However, the
Khongsai or Kukis residing in the neigbourhood had a pre-meditated plan to attack them during
this ‘feast of merit’ and inflict maximum casualty. Men and women, not sparing even children
were slaughtered like animals and almost everyone from the village were killed in the attack.
Those Lamkangs from other villages who had come to partake in the ‘feast of merit’ were also
slaughtered along with the local villagers. From gay and merry making with joyous festive mood
in one instant, the village of Heika was covered with pools of blood in the next instant. It was the
darkest day in the history of the Lamkangs. Many elders still recounted this story and lamented
that Lamkang population would have been far greater in number if it wasn't for the mass
massacred that took place at Heika village. In the oral history of Lamkangs, this incident is
remembered as the infamous 'Khongsai Raal' translated as 'Khongsai war'. In fact, the names of
two heroes, Sankhil Thamsen and Sankhil Thamnok (two brothers) who resisted and fought back
the army of Khongsai all by themselves could still be recalled. There are songs composed in their
names in Lamkang for their heroic deed at Heika. When taking their names, the face of any
Lamkang would glow with pride.
Social Life: Lamkangs are highly sociable and closely knit community. The bond of social
cohesion and collectiveness is very strong among them. Any social festival in one village was/is
shared and celebrated with other Lamkang villages. In olden times, they would help one another
freely in house construction, jhum cultivation, and all other kinds of manual works. If any
misfortune was to befall on one family, the whole village would come together and stand by the
family giving moral and physical support. In Durkheim’s term, social cohesion and
collectiveness seen in Lamkang society may be called ‘mechanical solidarity’.
Kinship: Kinship ties are very strong in Lamkang. Lamkang society though patrilineal,
maintains strong 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 or naming ceremony,
the neck of mithun or pig slaughtered for that occasion is traditionally reserved for maternal
uncle and his presence and blessing is a must for the good fortune of his nieces and nephews. On
occasions when malevolent forces are believed to possess his sisters' children, maternal uncle
would be summoned to perform certain rites to ward off evil. Even during funeral service of his
niece/nephew, the maternal uncle would perform the ritual of protecting the soul of the departed
nieces and nephews by hitting the main door with firewoods/poles. He would called out against
the evil spirit to leave the soul of his niece/nephew or face dire consequences. This ritual is
The exact date could not be ascertained as there is no written account of it however the
incident is not lost in the memory of the Lamkangs.
commonly known as pthla kaptang in Lamkang. It is believed in Lamkang that a person with
strong maternal uncle ties is feared and shunned by evil spirit.
The ancient Lamkang tribe was divided into two moity viz Langkhin and Khurthuw. They were
an exogamous group and marriage within one's moity was strictly prohibited. According to
legends, it was believed that clans from Khurthuw came into being from the bowel/hole of the
earth. So, insects or animals that came out from the bowel of the earth were considered a taboo
for consumption for members belonging to Khurthuw clan. Likewise, clans from Langkhin were
believed to be the children/descendants of sun. According to this legend, the sun laid its egg on
top of a bamboo tree leaf and the egg in due time was hatched and gave birth to the descendants
of Langkhin. Hence, clans from Langkhins in olden times avoided exposure to the sun for long.
In the course of time, the two moity further split into four exogamous phratry viz SuwngnemSankhil, DilbungKhular, Edar and Khowl. The first phratry had Suwngnem and Sankhil as its
major clan with several lineages, the second as Dilbung and Khular; Edar has three clansTholung, Jangvei and Shilshi while Khowl 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
born male child. When a male child is born, the christening of the child would be in
correspondence with the term each clan/lineage had adopted. The male child will have a prefix of
his mother's clan added to his name. The prefix adopted by each of the clan is given as follows:
This tradition has been in practiced since ancient times till date although the origin of it is still
obscure. The advantage of this system is that it helps in tracing the root of one’s maternal line.
Besides, a man though unknown in any Lamkang village could expect the unusual hospitality
and could even partake in the kin-reunion feast held by his mother's clan in that village as that
person is well received and treated as one's kin or Mardu by his mother's clan.
Another interesting tradition of Lamkang is that of naming a child. Though, the child may
acquire their official name during naming ceremony yet a readymade common pet name awaits
every child depending on their sex. For example, a first born son will be called Momo, second as
Koko, third as Bebe, fourth as Angang and the fifth son as Thamtham. Likewise, in the case of a
girl child, the same order is followed as Tete, Toto, Shangshang, Peipei and Thamtham. If a
couple has more than five sons and daughters, the process is repeated from the first by adding a
suffix 'Nok' after the first word such as Monok, Konok, Benok, etc. in case of boys; and Tenok,
Tonok, Shangnok, etc. in case of girls.
Therefore, every single person in Lamkang retained this traditional pet name. These general pet
names are used as “terms of address” and “terms of reference” within the family, village or
within the tribe. To make distinction between older and younger ones in “terms of address”, the
prefix 'a' is added before the first word of the pet name that is senior to the ego while someone
younger could be addressed directly without any prefix for both the gender. For instance, Amo,
Ako, Abe, Aang, Atham for male and Ate, Ato, Ashang, Apei, Atham for female. Similarly, for
“terms of reference”, the prefix 'k' is added before the first word for someone senior to the ego
for both the gender (eg: Kmo, Kko, Kte, Kto, etc) while the prefix 'k' and suffix 'pu' is added
before and after the first word of the pet name for someone junior to the ego (Kmopu, Kkopu,
Kbepu, etc) in case of male. Likewise, the prefix 'k' and suffix 'nu' is added to the first word of
the pet name for someone junior to the ego (eg: Ktenu, Ktonu, etc) in case of female.
It may be interesting to note that in Lamkang society, taking someone's official/formal name
directly is considered rude and impolite. So the use of such pet name as terms of reference and
address helps in maintaining respect, social solidarity and order in the society. This is the general
order in giving the traditional pet name however certain clans and lineages may skip or
interchange the order depending on the beliefs & practices of their clan or lineage. Another
advantage of keeping such pet names are that any Lamkang is able to identify who is older or
younger in the family.
Family: Family is a unit of production and consumption. Being a patrilineal society the eldest
son after marriage moves out of his parental home to establish a family of his own. The same
pattern is followed by the remaining sons (if any). Lamkang family is by nature nuclear. The
youngest son inherits the parental home as well as the bulk of other immoveable property
otherwise property is divided equally among the sons. It therefore is the prerogative of the
youngest son to take physical care and well-being of his aged parents. However, any of the older
sons could also take and care for their parents to live with them after mutual understanding and
agreement between the brothers.
Marriage: The practice of marriage in Lamkang is rather an interesting institution having both
religious and social significance. For a Lamkang, marriage is a must as they believed the
fulfilment of life is attained through marriage, procreation and orientation. The wealth of
Lamkang in olden days was determined not only in terms of moveable and immoveable
properties one acquires but also in the number of children one procreates. The more children one
has, the better was his social standing and position.
Generally, marriage takes place between four exogamous phratry and sexual relation within the
same phratry is regarded as incestuous. As a result, breach of the rule is strictly punishable under
their customary law. Before the advent of Christianity in the community, the violators if any were
cast out from the clan and village. They were ex-communicated. It was believed that tiger
normally preyed upon such violators and as such, great fear was placed upon clan/phratry
endogamy. Monogamy is the general rule of marriage. Traditionally, tribe endogamy was and is
still the preferred norm of marriage but there is no customary law to check tribe exogamy; and in
recent times, tribe exogamy is on the rise. This could be due to globalization impacting the tribe.
The most preferential form of selecting one's prospective partner is to choose from one's
maternal clan. For a boy, such marriage is called mnujuurklo while for a girl it is called
mpukhukran. It was very much in practice in olden days and violators of this in case of men were
even penalised with fine. This practiced is still preferred and continued today to an extent but it
is not strictly maintained and followed anymore like in olden times.
Three types of marriages are generally observed among the Lamkang Naga tribe1. Marriage by service: Here, the boy serves his father-in-law for three years. Every year, a
customary feast kphal is given by the groom's side; and at the end of the three years
service, a grand final customary feast kphal is given at the bride's village with the
invitation of clansmen, relatives and guests from other villages as well. A pig/mithun, a
jar of rice beer along with traditional shawls and kilts to be gifted to the bride’s kins are
mandatory as it is considered bride price. The entire expenses of kphal are bored by the
groom's family and clansmen. All manual labour in kphal starting from hall construction,
preparation of meat, fetching water, etc. are taken up by the groom's side/villagers. This
kind of marriage is rarely seen after the advent of Christianity and though the practice of
kpha' feast is still relevant today, it does not strictly adhere to the practice of olden days
as rice beer for example is strictly banned. Priest who performed kphal rituals in olden
days is now replaced by a Licentiate Pastor or by a Reverend/Parish Priest who shares
biblical command on marriage and pray for the couple.
2. Marriage by mutual consent: It may be noted here that in Lamkang society, both the girls
and boys are given liberty to choose their own life partners. In this type of marriage, if
both the boy and girl after having known each other for quite some time decides to get
married; the boy's parents will visit the girl's house with a jar of rice beer and chicken to
seek the girl's hand in marriage. This process is called chlazu ksuwn and is usually done
secretly between the two families only. The rice beer and chicken are offered to the boy's
parents and if the gift is not accepted, it is understood that the proposal was not accepted.
Otherwise, date and time of the second meeting would be decided if the gifts are
3. Marriage by elopement or kchen: Such marriage takes place when there is strong
opposition from both the parents of the two lovers. Here, the lovers elope to some other
place and return to the boy's residence after a lapse of few days. Then, the parents of the
boy along with some relatives will go to the girl's residence taking with them chicken and
a jar of rice beer and break the news about the elopement and ask for the girl's hand in
marriage. If both the party agrees, then, the couple can start their new life. This is still
very much practice even today.
4. Marriage by capture is another form of marriage which is no longer relevant today. In
olden days, if a man likes a woman, he along with some of his friends would wait upon
and capture the girl forcibly and live with her. This type of marriage is no longer in
In all the types of marriage, kphal or customary feast which is a must constitute an important part
of the marriage festival and is given with much pomp and grandeur. However, after the advent of
Christianity, Christian wedding has replaced all other types of marriage except elopement which
is still very much prevalent today. Rice beer is also no longer used as alcohol is prohibited
among Christians. So, tea is being used as its substitute for such purposes.
In Christian wedding, the use of rice beer is no longer relevant and kphal feast need not be given
as mass feast is already given on the day of marriage itself. Only, in the case of elopement is
kphal feast mandatory. Kphal signifies payment of bride price and a Lamkang woman who
marries without being given kphal feast is considered a woman without value. The number of
mithun or pig slaughtered for kphal feast is said to signify the value of the bride.
In all the types of marriages, proposal always starts from the boy’s side. It may be mentioned that
many of the traditional practices in marriages are still retained today as far as it is within the
Christian ethics. Only those practices that go against Christian morals such as drinking wine,
worship of other gods (in the form of rituals), etc. have only been given up.
Political Organisation: The political organisation of the Lamkang tribe is democratic in nature
and as such, chieftainship is not inherited. It is elected by the villagers on the basis of merit from
time to time. In olden days, village chief was called Khukrung but after Hills Area Act 1955 was
passed for Manipur village authorities, the term for chief came to be known as Khullakpa. He is
assisted by 5-10 other colleagues depending on the size of the village and they are collectively
known as village authority. There is no tax or tribute paid to the village head or chief neither in
olden times nor in present times. The main function of the village chief/authority is to maintain
law and order and look after the socio-political affairs of the village. All disputes are settled by
the respective village court first and if agreement is not reached, then it can be taken outside the
village court. The property and resources of the village are temporarily kept under the control of
the village authority.
There are two types of land ownership in every Lamkang village. The first one is
Common ownership of land which comprises of the reserve forest area surrounding the
village. This area is under the control of the village authority. Any activity within the
reserve forest is prohibited except with the permission of the village authority. This
reserve area is mainly kept for expansion of village household. For example, if a newly
married couple does not have land to establish a new home, he can petition the village
authority to allot him site for constructing a house. In such case, he is permitted by the
village authority to select any site within the reserve area and establish his home without
paying any money. The only criteria necessary in such situation is that he should be a
legitimate and active member of the village.
The second type of land ownership is individual. Here, the land which is beyond the
village reserve area is individually owned by families/clan members of the village. This
area is mainly used for the purpose of carrying out sustenance activities such as shifting
cultivation, collection of firewood, etc. However, this area though owned by individual is
under the overall control of the village authority. It is the prerogative of the village chief
and his associates to decide the site from this area for jhum cultivation.
Inheritance: Lamkang society is patriarchial, patrilineal and patrilocal. Descent is traced
through male line and being a patrilineal society, the sons inherit family property. The property
both moveable and non-moveable are equally proportioned among the sons though the youngest
son generally inherits the parental home. The sons after marriage moved out from the parental
home to establish a family of their own. So, it is the youngest son who takes physical care of his
parents. In that sense, Lamkang society can be called ultimogeniture.
There is another inheritance called 'clan inheritance'. When a clan or a lineage has no more
descendants, the next immediate clan claims and inherits the property. However, it is noteworthy
to mention here that a daughter could be given a share of the parent's property if the latter wishes
to do so.
Economy: Lamkangs have self-sufficient economy. Agriculture was and is the largest and
primary mode of production from olden days till today. Both shifting and wetland cultivation is
practiced by the people. In olden times, Lamkangs practiced only shifting cultivation as they
settle mostly on the hill tops. However, with the paradigm shift in settlement in the foothills of
their territory (plain region) beginning from the late 1940s and 1950s, wetland cultivation has
also been taken up since then. In fact, in recent times, wetland cultivation seems to be gaining
more popularity. Besides agriculture, educated Lamkangs have also taken up white collar job and
today, many educated Lamkangs are seen working in both government and private sectors in
different parts of India other than Manipur.
Religion: In the past, Lamkangs were animistic. They believed in the existence of soul and spirit
in almost every being. They also had the concept of a Supreme Being called Kuruwng in local
dialect who is considered benevolent and creator of the universe. The life of Lamkangs before
the advent of Christianity was filled with rituals without which, nothing could be undertaken.
However, with the advent of Christianity in Lamkang in the early 1920s, these beliefs and
practices started slowly vanishing. Today, cent percent of Lamkangs follow Christianity.
Lamkangs follow two denomination of Christianity viz Baptist and Roman Catholic. It may be
note worthy to mention here that unlike the common misconception about Christian conversion
in India, Christianity in Lamkang was not a result of materialistic lured. In fact, it was the
opposite as pioneers of Lamkang Christians (as recorded in the Lamkang Christian souvenirs)
had to endure persecutions and hardships from their parents, kins and villagers. Some were even
ostracized from their village but despite that, they stood firm in their personal conviction and
took upon themselves to secretly share and propagate the gospel about Christ and the Kingdom
of God to other fellow members. In due course of time, many Lamkangs started getting
converted steadily as they were strongly attracted to the concept of a benevolent Supreme God
who would secure them eternal life. The attraction to the Christian ideology could be mainly
attributed to the fact that Lamkangs already had the concept of a benevolent Supreme Being who
created the universe. As such, it wasn't hard for them to identify this Supreme Being with the
Almighty God of the Bible who is the creator of the universe and all that is in them.
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