The Boundaries of Manipur – Naoroibam Indramani (Part 7)


Eastern boundary of Manipur:

Between the mountains which have been forming the eastern boundary of the Manipur valley, and the Ningthee river, there is a narrow strip of level country called the Kabaw valley, which, commencing from the foot of the hills in latitude 24° 30’ north, extends south to 22° 30’, where it terminates on the left bank of the Kathe Khyoung or Manipur river which falls into the Ningthee, and marks the southern limit of the Kale king’s territory.

The term Kabaw is employed by the people of Manipur to designate not only the country of Shans, but that extensive race itself, whose extreme western locality was marked by the Kabaw valley, which together with the tract on the opposite bank of the Ningthee river, extending to the Naojeeree hills, was called by them Meitei Kabaw, and by the Burmese, Kathe Shan; while that portion of Shan comprised between the eastern foot of the Naojeeree hills and the right bank of the Irrawaddy river, was Awa Kabaw, or Mrelap Shan, and the space from the latter river to the western foot of the frontier hills of Yunan was Kabaw or Shanwa, which preserved its independence to a much later period. The boundaries of these several subdivisions of the ancient Pong kingdom have fluctuated with the success or failure of the Burmese arms; but all concurring testimony proves, that whatever may have been the temporary successes of either party, the final dismemberment of the Pong territory was not effected earlier than in the reign of the celebrated Burmese king Alaungpaya; the Shans availing themselves of every opportunity to shake off the foreign yoke.

Between the Kabaw valley and the Ningthee river, there was an uninhabited range of hills called the Ungoching, and across which were several passes from Manipur to the latter river. The valley itself is divided into three principalities, those of Sumjok, called by the Burmese Thaungthut, Kumbat, and Kule. The first and last were governed by descendants of the original Shan chieftains, who were dependent upon Mongmaorong, but Kumbat appears never to have regained its former prosperity, after its destruction by the united forces of Pong and Manipur. From the termination of the war, the right of possession to the Sumjok and Kumbat division of this strip of country, included between the right bank of the Ningthee river and the eastern base of the hills was under the king of Manipur.

According to Sir Alexandar Mackenzie in his “North-east Frontier of Bengal”, the Kabaw Valley, which he defines as the principalities of Sumjok, Kumbat (Khambat), Kule (Kale) (i.e. Thaungthut State and the Tamu and Kale townships) was sometimes under Manipur and sometimes under Burma.

“It was in the possession of Burma on the outbreak of the first Burmese war, and had been so for twelve years before. For about the same period preceding these twelve years it had been in the possession of Manipur. In the Treaty of Yandaboo the upper and middle portions of the Kubo Valley were not ceded by the Burmese. On the other hand, though they were taken by our ally, the Chief of Manipur, during the war, they were not retroceded by the Treaty.

In fact no mention whatever is made of the Kubo Valley in the Treaty of Yandaboo. With regard to Manipur itself, it was simply stipulated that “should Gumbheer Sing desire to return to that country, he shall be recognized by the King of Ava as Rajah thereof.” Nothing was mentioned about the boundary between Manipur and Burma. The Government of India considered it but just and proper that all the places and territory in the ancient country of Manipur, which were in possession of Gumbheer Sing at the date of the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo, should belong to that Chief. The Sumjok and Kumbat Divisions of the Kubo Valley, as far east as the Ningthee or Kyendwen River, were accordingly given to Manipur, and the Ningthee River formed the boundary between the two countries.”

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The Burmese, however, disputed this decision from the signing of the treaty, and Captain Grant and Lieutenant Pemberton were deputed to settle the boundary. The Burmese Commissioners, who met them on the Chindwin, ingeniously alleged that the Chindwin and the Ningthee were distinct rivers, and a map was produced showing the former as flowing to the west of the Kabaw Valley. The deception was afterwards admitted, but prolonged negotiations did not induce the Burmese King to accept the boundary. In 1831 Major Burney, the resident at Ava, reported this fact, and questioned whether it was worthwhile to risk accelerating another war for the sake of an unhealthy and depopulated strip of territory with which our officers could not communicate without large parties of coolies to convey the necessaries of life. He also, as a matter of abstract right, favoured the Burmese claims, and on being called upon to justify this view did so in a lengthy report reviewing the history of the valley for the past eight hundred years. The result was that the Government of India ordered its cession to Burma.

In a letter from Government of the 16th March, 1833, to the Resident of Ava, declaring this resolution, he is desired on his return to Ava to announce to the king, “that the supreme Government still adheres to the opinion that the Ningthee formed the proper boundary between Ava and Muneepoor; but that in consideration for His Majesty’s feelings and wishes, and in the spirit of amity and good will subsisting between the two countries, the supreme Government consents to the restoration of the Kubo valley to Ava, and to the establishment of the boundary line at the foot of the Yoomadoung hills.”

The two officers Major Grant and Captain Pemberton, were again appointed boundary commissioners, and the boundary settled by them was eventually acquiesced in by the Burmese government. The Raja of Manipur was compensated for the loss of territory by an annual payment of Rs. 6,000, which was made to him.

The boundaries which were fixed in the agreement made on 9th January, 1834 at Sunmyachil Ghaut, Ningthee River was that –

“The eastern foot of the chain of mountains which rise immediately from the western side of the plain of the Kabaw valley. Within this line was included Moreh and all the country to the westward of it.

On the south, a line, extending from the eastern foot of the same hills at the point where the river, called by the Burmans, Nansaweng, and by the Manipuris, Numsaeelung, enters the plain up to the sources, and across the hill due west down to the Kathe Khyoung (Manipur river).

On the north, the line of boundary will begin at the foot of the same hills at the northern extremity of the Kabaw valley and pass due north up to the first range of hills, east of that upon which stand the villages of Choeetar, Noongbree, Noonghur, of the tribe called by the Manipuris Loohooppa, and by the Burmans Lagwensoung, now tributary to Manipur.”

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The right of Manipur to the territory in question having been thus formally acknowledged, a compensation was granted to the king of Manipur for the loss of it, which his son and successors continued to receive from the supreme Government; the Burma authority again prevailed in Kabaw valley, and Tamu either was or would shortly become the head-quarters of the principal Burmese authority on this frontier.

Relations with Manipur after this date are detailed at considerable length in Mackenzie. Dr. Dillon, Political Agent in Manipur, paid a friendly visit to Thaungthut in 1863, and Dr. Brown in 1868. The boundary, however, was difficult to identify, and numerous disputes occurred. In 1873 a proposal was made to survey it, but was opposed by the Burmese government, and was not pressed. In 1875 the Thaungthut Sawbwa complained that some Khongzai Chins had attacked one of his Naga villages and killed forty-five persons. The Political Agent after enquiry came to the conclusion that the story was false. In 1877 Kongal Thana, a Manipuri outpost, was attacked by Shans from Burmese territory, nine Manipuris killed, and the guard-house burnt. The Burmese Government promised full enquiry, but the promise was not acted on, and eventually money compensation was accepted.

There was no renewal during the year 1881-82 of the disturbances on the Burma frontier, which looked so threatening in the beginning of 1881 that a body of native troops was kept prepared to start from Silchar at a day’s notice in order to assist the king of Manipur against aggression. But these aggressions were so grave that the British Government determined on appointing a Commission to lay down a definite boundary to replace the imaginary line drawn northwards from the Kabaw Valley in 1834, and known as Pemberton’s line. Colonel Johnstone, the Political Agent, was selected as Boundary Commissioner, and Mr. R. Phayre, c.s., of the British Burma Commission, was associated with him as his Assistant, it being deemed advisable to have an officer acquainted with the Burmese language for the purpose of communicating with the officers of the Mandalay Government stationed on the frontier. Major Badgley of the Topographical Survey, was sent with the party to survey the country and to map the boundary selected, and two scientific gentlemen were also attached to the expedition, – Dr. Watt, who combined the duties of botanist and of medical officer to the party, and Mr. Oldham of the Geological Survey. The escort consisted of 200 men of the 12th Khelat-i-Ghilzai Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Angelo, and of 50 men of the Frontier Police. The king of Manipur deputed one of his Ministers, Balaram Major to go with the Commission, and insisted on providing at his own expense all the supplies needed for the expedition.

In order to carry out the survey as rapidly as possible, two parties were sent out: one undertook the northern part, travelling eastward through Chattic Thanna, and the other the southern, beginning their work from Kangal Thanna. The latter party, with Colonel Johnstone himself, left Manipur on the 10th December; and the survey work was accomplished rapidly and effectually, meeting with no resistance, except that two parties sent to clear survey points in the Angoching range were turned back by armed followers of the Tsauba, or Chief of Sumjok. It was, however, found possible to dispense with these points.

Colonel Johnstone’s hopes that he would be met by Burmese officials to act in concert with the British Commissioners in laying down the fresh boundary were disappointed. The Pagan Woon Phoongyee of Tamu both wrote letters saying they had no authority to discuss the boundary question, and throughout the whole of the subsequent operations there was no representative of the Burmese Government.

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The Tsauba of Sumjok showed himself unfriendly on more occasions than one, and tried to stir the Chasad Kookies to attack the expedition but in vain: and no hostile action interrupted the work of the Commission.

Remonstrances were addressed to the Pagan Woon, to whom the Sumjok Tsauba was subordinate, complaining of the obstructive attitude of the latter official, and the Woon replied by urging Colonel Johnstone to come to Tamu to talk matters over, although he had previously intimated that he had received no authority from the Court of Mandalay to discuss the boundary question. Mr. Phayre was accordingly deputed by Colonel Johnstone to visit Sumjok and Tamu, and Major Badgley accompanied Mr. Phayre as far as Sumjok, to take what observations he could without exciting suspicion. Mr. Phayre was to go on from Sumjok to visit the Pagan Woon at Tamu, and to return to Manipur via Moreh Thanna and the Aimole Pass. Mr. Phayre’s visit quite fruitless: the Sumjok Tsauba refused to have anything to do with the settlement of the boundary, saying he was without authority from Mandalay. Mr. Phayre went on to Tamu, where he was received with great ceremony by the Phoongyee (Bishop), and by the Pagan Woon. The Woon, however, through showing a friendly disposition, declared himself powerless to act. During Mr. Phayre’s stay at Tamu he received news from Colonel Johnstone that the demarcation had been completed; on which, after impressing upon the Woon the advisability of the acceptance by himself and by the Sumjok Tsauba of the new boundary, he re-joined Colonel Johnstone, and the party after completing their work, left for Manipur, which they reached on January 10th. The result of the demarcation may be summed up as follows:

It was found that the imaginary boundary known as Pemberton’s line had been incorrectly drawn on the map, for it neither agreed with the actual condition of things, nor did it carry out the terms of the Treaty of 1834: for, instead of following the eastern slopes of the Yomadoung or Maring Hills, and curving round the head of the valley, it cut off from Burma and handed over to Manipur a large portion of the Kabaw Valley. The Commission, however, laid down a boundary which agrees as nearly as possible with the terms of the Treaty, while it gives a fair and clearly-marked frontier. The boundary thus fixed follows the base of the eastern slopes of the Maring range, crosses the River Namia a few hundred yards south of Kongal Thana, thence turns east to the Talain River, follows that river upward to its source, and then proceeds down the Napanga River to where it passes through a gorge in the Kasom range. From thence it runs northward along the crest of that range. The points where the boundary intersects the Namia River and touches the Talain River have been marked with pillars, and a road has been cut connecting these two points. Some of the Chasad villages situated on the frontier formerly debated have moved westwards and peaceably settled down as quiet subjects of Manipur, and thus removed the possibility of dispute as to whether they belong to Burma or Manipur territory.

To be continued.


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