Accounts of Kabow valley – Naoroibam Indramani

Contd. From 25 November 2018: On 10th July, 1829, the Chief Secretary to Government addressed a letter to the Burmese Ministers, in which he referred to the communications made to the local Burmese authorities by the British Commissioners, and observed that when the Burmese Commissioners should meet the British officers, they would be satisfied that the country to the northward of the boundary line had been clearly and uninterruptedly in the possession of Gambhir Singh since the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace, and that nothing would remain but to visit the spot together and fix the posts on each side of the boundary, so that in future no doubt or dispute might arise.

On the 17th November, 1829, Captain Grant and Lieutenant Pemberton reported that the Burmese Commissioners had announced their intention to meet them in January following. They called the attention of Government to the fact of the Burmese Government having found it necessary to change the nature of its objections to Raja Gambhir Singh’s claim, they no longer denied the fact of the re-conquest of Kabow valley, but said that the retention of those territories recovered by the British armies formed no part of the Treaty of Yamdaboo. They added :-

“feeling the justice of our claims, we have not hesitated to follow the line of defence the Burmese have chosen, and the fact of three of the Thannadars being at this moment here, who in the reign of Chourajit Singh held that situation in Kabow, must, we think, silence any further objection on the subject of possession anterior to the war”.

With the same despatch the British Commissioners forwarded a letter from the Ministers at Ava to the British Government, by the Chief Secretary’s letter of 10th July 1829, maintaining the right of the Bmmese Government to the Kabow valley as a dependency of the Burmese crown.

In January, 1830, Major Burney was appointed Resident at Ava in conformity with the 7th Article of the Treaty of Yandaboo, stipulating for the permanent residence of a British officer at the Court of Ava. In paragraph 7 of his instructions he was informed of the determination of Government to fix the boundary line between Manipur and Ava as laid down by Captain Grant and Lieutenant Pemberton. He was told to repeat to the Burmese Ministers the motives which obliged Government to assume a boundary line, and to satisfy them that it was not our imotion to go beyond such line, though the arguments contained in their last letter would justify our considering several places to the southward of it as belonging to the ancient territory of Manipur. He was also to encourage the Burmese to depute Commissioners to meet our officers of the frontier, and thus ascertain for themselves the incorrectness of their map which contained a river that had no existence in reality. He was also furnished with a letter to the Burmese Ministers from the Chief Secretary to Goverment, in which it was distinctly stated :-

“What places and territory in the ancient country of Manipur were in possession of Gumbheer Singh at the date of the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo, the Governor General of British India considers it but just and proper that all these should still belong to that Chief. When the British officers in Manipur prove to the Burmese officers on the frontier by living witness and by undoubted testimony that so late as the years 1809-10 or 11 the towns of Khambat, Woktong, Tummoo, Mungsa and Sumjok, comprising the whole extent of the Kubbo Valley from Khambat, north, were held by Manipuri Thannandars on the part of the Manipuri Raja Cheroojeet Sing, the Governor-General of British India trusts that the King of Ava will perceive the propriety and advantage of putting an end to all further discussions on this subject”.

The Commissioners of both Governments met on the frontier in January, 1830 as arranged. The Burmese acknowledged the incorrectness of their map, and the boundary was fixed, though the Burmese Commissioners would not consent to the renunciation of the territory. The Resident at Ava then suggested that Captain Pemberton might be authorized to join him at Ava, so that he might hear what the Ministers had to say against Gambhir Singh’s claim, though he said he was convinced that no friendly means or argument would ever be successful in persuading the king to acknowledge Gambhir Singh’s right to the valley of Kabow.

Captain Pemberton proceeded to Ava, but, as was anticipated, no arguments or explanations which Major Burney could urge, even with the aid of Captain Pemberton, effected any change in the sentiments of the Ministers, and the question still remained for the final decision of the Governor General. Captain Pemberton’s presence, however, enabled Major Burney to convince the Burmese Ministers of the inaccuracy or untruth of several assertions which they had before advanced. They had denied that the Kabow valley had ever been taken by the Manipur troops during the war, which they then admitted.

They had declared positively that at no former period had the Manipur princes ever exercised authority in it, but they then admitted that it had at various periods been in possession of Manipur. They acknowledged the incorrectness of their map showing the Kyendwen and the Ningthee as distinct rivers, and admitted them to be the same. They had asserted that Sir A. Campbell at the Treaty of Yandaboo had recognized and acknowledged their right of Kabow, but were unable to prove it, and met Captain Pemberton’s proof that he did not do so by a silent acquiescence. They, however, produced extracts from their national records (which were believed to be genuine) showing that at different times they overran and conquered certain portions of territory on the eastern and western banks of the Ningthee.

Cession of the Kabow Valley to Burma:

In a letter dated 15th December 1830, the Resident at Ava reported that he had hinted that the British Government might be disposed to give up a portion of the remaining instalment of tribute for the sake of fixing the Ningthee as the boundary. The Ministers were inclined to listen to the proposal as advantageous to Ava, but they did not dare even to mention it to the King, who felt the loss of a single foot of land as a diminution of his own consequence and power.

In May 1831 Major Burney expressed his opinion that no plan existed for appeasing, in an amicable manner, the King’s mind on the subject of Kabow, and that there would be little advantage derived from the permanent residence of a British officer at Ava till question was properly settled. In April of the following year Major Burney informed Government that as they wished to establish the Ningthee as the eastern boundary of Manipur, to accomplish which object was one of the principal points of his instructions when deputed to Burma, he had used his best endeavours to discover how this could be accomplished, and to reconcile the Burmese Government to this boundary. He had, however, failed entirely. He said that his own opinion had always been in favour of the abstract right of the Burmese, and that views of expediency only, founded on an apprehension that Burma might advance other claims, as well as the circumstance that the British officers in Manipur considered the Nignthee as the most eligible boundary, made him question the policy of such right. He questioned whether :-

“keeping Gumbheer Sing in possession of an unhealthy and depopulated strip of territory which is divided from Manipur by a range of hills, and with which our officers even cannot communicate without being always attended by large parties of coolies to convey every necessary of life for their subsistence, it worth the risk of thoroughly disgusting the Court of Ava and accelerating another war”.

In reply to this letter Major Burney was called upon to State distinctly the grounds on which he thought that the Government of Burma possessed a right to those portions of the Kabow valley from which the Burmese had been expelled during the war, and in which the British Government had declared that the authority of king Gambhir Singh must be upheld. To this Major Burney submitted a lengthy reply, in which he detailed the grounds on which he formed his opinion, showing the various times which, according to the Burmese history and other proofs, Kabow valley had belonged to Burma during the previous 800 years.

The matter was then fully considered by the Government of India. The minutes which were written by the Govenor General to Sir C. Metcalfe and other Members of Council will be found in the printed extracts from correspondence regarding the cession of the Kabow valley. The undeniable facts of the case were that Manipur conquered the disputed territory during the war, that for about 12 years previous the territory was in possession of Burma, that for about the same period preceding those 12 years it was in the possession of Manipur, and that at more remote periods, extending far back into past times, it was sometimes under the one and sometimes under the other of those powers.

The question was whether, at the close of the Burmese war, the territory was to be considered as forming undoubtedly a part of Manipur, or as a part of the dominions of Burma in consequence of its having been so at the commencement of the war. The Governor General remarked on the case that though no satisfactory opinion could be formed upon the question, he thought, upon the whole, the Government was warranted in its first decision that the Ningthee should be the boundary between Burma and Manipur. He said :-

`But although the consideration, already stated namely, the misinterpretation that the conceit of the Burmese may put upon the concession to their own prejudice, and the more reasonable ground of dissatisfation that will be given to Gumbheer Singh, might forbid any change, yet, with reference to the anxious desire for Kubbo expressed by the Government of Ava, to the humiliation of their pride and to their reduced if not extinguished. power, I think it will be both generous and expedient to grant them this gratification. It is true that we give up the best boundary line and the admission of the Burmese into the valley may tend to much more collision with the Manipuris, but with our superior power, a better or worse military boundary is of no consequence whatever, and these boundary disputes if arising can lead to no war”.

The following were the final orders of Government on the subject contained in a letter to the Resident at Burma, dated 16th March, 1833.

“On your return to Ava you will announce to the .King that the Supreme Government still adheres to the opinion that the Ningthee formed the proper boundary between Ava and Manipur, but that, in consideration for His Majesty’s feelings and wishes, and in the spirit of amity and good-will subsisting betwen the two countries, the supreme Government consents to the restoration of the Kubbo Valley to Ava and to the establishment of the boundary line at the foot of the Yoma Doung Hills.

You will further apprize His Majesty that the exact line must be established by Commissioners on the part to the British Governemnt, who will proceed to the frontier in November next, when the Kubbo Valley will be given up to such Commissioner as His Majesty may appoint”.

The Burmese Government were also informed by the Government of India, and they were requested to depute, in November 1833, two officers of rank to meet two British officers, who would deliver over to the Burmese The towns of Khambat, Tamu, .Thangthwot etc., “and fix and point out the line of hills which may be selected as the future boundary between Ava and Manipur.” It was said that the eastern foot of the hills known in Manipur as the Marling hills and supposed to be the same as that called by the Burmese Yoma Doung, would form a good line of demarcation between the possessions of the two States.

to be contd.

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