|Regions with significant populations|
|Predominantly Christianity (Baptist); historically Animism with sizeable minorities following Animism, Judaism (Bnei Menashe) and Islam|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Chins · Halams · Mizos · Zomis · Others (Karbis, Nagas, Meiteis, Kachins)|
The Kuki people are an ethnic group in the Northeastern Indian states of Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, as well as neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Myanmar. The Kuki constitute one of several hill tribes within India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. In Northeast India, they are present in all states except Arunachal Pradesh.
Some fifty tribes of Kuki peoples in India are recognised as scheduled tribes, based on the dialect spoken by that particular Kuki community as well as their region of origin.
The Chin people of Myanmar and the Mizo people of Mizoram are kindred tribes of the Kukis. Collectively, they are termed the Zo people.
The term "Kuki" is an exonym: it was used by Bengalis to refer to the tribes inhabiting Lushai Hills, the easternmost branch of Himalayas running north–south between India and Burma. The term came into British usage in 1777, when the chief of Chittagong appealed to the British governor general Warren Hastings for help against Kuki raids from the hills.
The same collection of tribes were called "Chins" by the Burmese and "Lushais" by the British. The modern term that encompasses all the groups is "Zo" or "Zomi" (meaning "Zo people").
Over time, the British came to distinguish the tribes currently called "Kukis" from the remaining "Lushais". An Intelligence Branch report from 1907 listed Ralte, Paite, Thadou, Lakher, Hmar and Poi tribes among Kukis. It stated that each of these tribes had its own language, and these languages were unintelligible to the "Lushais".
The Manipuris used the term "Khongjai"[a] to refer to the tribes immediately to the south of the Imphal Valley. The other Kuki tribes in the interior of Manipur were still called "Kukis" (or sometimes "old Kukis").
Ethnologist C. A. Soppitt argued that the Kuki tribes must have settled in region west of Irrawaddy river from at least the 11th century, based on the fact that they had no traces of Buddhism, which was already prevalent in Burma by that time. He grouped the Kuki tribes into two broad classes: Hrangkhol along with the co-tribe Biate, and Changsan along with the co-tribe Thadou, each of them grouped with several subtribes. Soppitt suggested that, by the 16th century, the Hrangkhols and Biate inhabited the Lushai Hills district (present-day Mizoram State). They were pushed out by the Changsan, who moved in from the east along with Thadou, forcing them to move to the North Cachar Hills, Manipur and Tripura. The Changsan-Thadou combine was, in turn forced out by newer tribes in the 19th century, and followed the same routes as the earlier tribes. The two waves of the Kuki tribes received the labelling of "old Kukis" and "new Kukis" in the target regions of Cachar Hills, Manipur and Tripura. The latest arrivals in Lushai Hills received the label of "Lushais" in the British nomenclature.
Per the 1881 census, the Kukis and Nagas together numbered 20,000 in the North Cachar Hills (present-day Assam), 15,000 in the Naga Hills (present-day Nagaland), 30,000–40,000 in Manipur and 6,000 in Tipperah (Tripura). In addition, the plains of Cachar had 6,000 people. The Gazetteer of Manipur (1886), based on the same census, noted that there were approximately 8,000 "old Kukis" in Manipur, who traditionally lived in the state, and about 17,000 "new Kukis" who migrated from Lushai Hills on the south during the early 19th century. There were also considerable number of Kukis in Lushai Hills, which was not covered in the 1881 census.
On 31 January 1860, Kuki Riang led the Kukis of Hill Tippera in raiding the Chhagalnaiya plains (then under the administration of the Twipra Kingdom) which was inhabited by ethnic Bengalis and British officers. The Kukis looted the area of Bakhshganj and murdered Kamal Poddar of Basantpur. They then proceeded to molest Poddar's women until Guna Ghazi and Jakimal waged war against them in the village of Kulapara. Whilst the Kukis abducted 700 women, Munshi Abdul Ali informed the British authorities of the atrocities. 185 Britons were assassinated, 100 of them were kidnapped and the Kukis remained in the plains for one or two days. British troops and policemen were finally despatched from Noakhali, Tipperah (Comilla) and Chittagong to suppress them but the Kukis had already fled to the jungles of the princely state and they never returned to Chhagalnaiya ever again.
Groups referred to as "new Kukis" by the British administrators migrated to the Manipur area during the first half of the 19th century. W. McCullough in his account published in 1859 as well as R. B. Pemberton in his Report on Eastern Frontier published in 1835 also suggest large migration of Kukis in Manipur at the start of 19th century.[page needed][page needed]
The Administration Report for 1877–88 reported around 2000 Sukte tribesmen were settled near Moirang, South west of Manipur Valley by the then Maharajah of Manipur and political agent, Colonel Johnstone.[better source needed]
Long ignored by Europe, an important landmark in the history of the Kuki people was the arrival of missionaries and the spread of Christianity among them. Missionary activity had considerable social, cultural and political ramifications while the acceptance of Christianity marked a departure from the tradition religion of the Kuki peoples as well as both the Kuki peoples' ancestral customs and traditions. The spread of English education introduced the Kuki people to the "modern era". William Pettigrew, the first foreign missionary, came to Manipur on 6 February 1894 and was sponsored by the American Baptist Mission Union. He, together with Dr. Crozier, worked together in the North and the Northeast of Manipur. In the south, Watkins Robert of the Welsh Presbytery mission organised the Indo-Burma Thadou-Kuki Pioneer Mission in 1913. To have a broader scope, the mission's name was changed to North East India General Mission (NEIGM).
The first resistance to British hegemony by the Kuki people was the Kuki Rebellion of 1917–19, also known as the Anglo-Kuki War, after which their territory was subjugated by the British. Up until their defeat in 1919, the Kukis had been an independent people ruled by their chieftains. The Dobashi, Lengjang Kuki was credited as responsible for preventing the Kukis of the Naga Hills from joining the Kuki Rebellion of Manipur.
During World War II, seeing an opportunity to regain independence, the Kuki fought with the Imperial Japanese Army and the Indian National Army led by Subhas Chandra Bose but the success of the Allied forces over the Axis group dashed their hopes.
The land of the Kukis has a number of customs and traditions.
Sawm, a community centre for boys – was the centre of learning in which the 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. The best students were recommended to the King's or the Chief's service, and eventually would achieve the office of Semang and Pachong (ministers) in their courts, or gal –lamkai (leaders, warriors) in the army.
Lawm (a traditional type 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 a Lawm-upa (a senior member), a To’llai-pao (an overseer or superintendent) and a Lawm-tangvo (assistant superintendent). Besides being a source of traditional learning, the institution of the Lawm also facilitated the transmission of both technical as well as practical knowledge to its members, especially with regard to particular methods of farming, hunting, fishing and sporting activities such as Kung–Kal (high jump, especially over a choice mithun), Ka’ng Ka’p, Ka’ngchoi Ka’p (top game), Suhtumkhawh (javelin throw using the heavy wooden implement for pounding-de-husking-paddy) and So’ngse (shot put).
The Lawm was also a centre where young Kuki people learned discipline and social etiquette. After harvest season, the Lawm meet is celebrated with a Lawm-se’l 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.
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.
Prior to conversion in the early 20th century to Christianity by Welsh Baptist missionaries, the Chin, Kuki, and Mizo peoples were animists; among their practices were ritual headhunting. Christian missionaries entered Manipur in the late 19th century but did not yet make inroads into the tribal areas. The victory of the British in Anglo-Kuki War of 1917–1919 opened up their mind of the Kukis to the Christian God of the British, who was thought of as the victor. This led them to rapidly convert to Christianity. Conversion to Christianity has transformed their ideas, mentality and social practices at the cost of their traditions and customs. The majority of Kukis are now Christians, with most belonging to Protestant denominations, especially Baptist.[better source needed]
Since the late 20th century, some of these peoples have begun following Messianic Judaism. The Bnei Menashe (Hebrew: בני מנשה, "Sons of Menasseh") are a small group within the of India's North-Eastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram; since the late 20th century, they claim descent from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel and have adopted the practice of Judaism. The Bnei Menashe are made up of Mizo, Kuki and Chin peoples, who all speak Tibeto-Burman languages, and whose ancestors migrated into northeast India from Burma mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries. They are called Chin in Burma. In the late 20th century, an Israeli rabbi investigating their claims named them Bnei Menashe, based on their account of descent from Menasseh. Of the 3.7 million people living in these two northeast states only about 9,000 belong to the Bnei Menashe, several thousands have emigrated to Israel. Some have supported other movements to separate from India.
Due to the close proximity to Muslim-majority Bengal, a Kuki Muslim community has also developed. They are said to be descendants of Kuki men who had married Bengali Muslim women, a relationship requiring the husband to be a Muslim. They are mostly centred around the village of North Chandrapur in the Tripuri city of Udaipur. Notable Kuki Muslims include Khirod Ali Sardar of Chandrapur and Ali Mia of Sonamura. The community has been subject to scorn by other Kukis.