origins

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The Origin of the Meiteis of Manipur

First published 2008

Second Edition 2009

In the first edition of the book, Dr Mohendra finally sources the lost origins of the Meiteis and explains the evolution of the Meiteis from the pristine language spoken by the Poireiton, the original inhabitants of Manipur.

In this second edition, he has written supporting genetic evidence in corroboration of his earlier theory that the Meiteis originated from Africa; Meitei National Character; and Whether Manipur could ever become independent.

Review

Meiteis Originate from Africa : Meiteilon is not Tibeto-Burman Language”
This is what constitute the essence of a book entitled ‘The Origin of the Meitei – Manipur only: The Manipuri Language – not Tibeto-Burman’, written by Dr. I Mohendro Singh, B.Sc., M.B.B.S., M.D., M.R.C.P. (Lond), FICA, FRSH (originally from Uripok, Imphal, now living in London) and published by K.D. Publication Pvt. Ltd. Kongba Bazar, Imphal, 2007 A.D. As a matter of fact, it cannot be called a book: at best, it is a pamphlet or a booklet consisting of a mere 47 pages and that, too, in bold type-setting.

Since the writer has demolished one by one all the prevailing theories regarding the origin of the Meitei, it would be worthwide to dwell on his thesis. What we know upto this day is: broadly there are three schools of thought regarding the origin of the Meitei. These are viz, (i) the theory of the Indo-Aryan origin of the Meitei, (ii) the views as expressed by the British writers in the 19th and early 20th Century that the Meiteis belong to Mongoloid race and they originated from a Tartar race living in Shan State of Southern China and (iii) the new theory propounded by modern writers based on fresh findings and archeological evidences.
The 4th and the newest and hitherto unknown theory is that the Meiteis originate from Africa and that Meiteilon is not a Tibeto-Burman language, propounded by an NRM (non-resident Manipuri) scholar living in the U.K. viz., Dr. Irengbam Mohendra Singh.

Dr. Irengbam is not a stranger to the Manipuri literary circle. His earlier two books viz, ‘My search for God’ and ‘Quest Beyond Religion’ had already been reviewed by myself in the columns of this esteemed paper. In it, he stated that there is not God, because there is not enough evidence, quoting Betrand Rusell, among others. Whether you swallow whatever he had written in the book or not, those two books were quite readable, being the result of extensive research work. But the same cannot be said about his latest book on the origin of the Meiteis. I only intend to share the informations contained in the book with the discerning readers.
To begin with the writer, in the introduction of his book stated (Quote) ‘The modern humans appreared in Africa by 195,000 years ago. From there they spread across the African continent, to the Middle East, Asia, Australia and Europe. It is believed that modern humans left Africa 70,000 to 50,000 years ago, based on evidence from archaeological finding, genetics and physical anthroplogy. That is 30,000 years before the biblical Adam. The Meiteis came from there’. Again, “The Meiteis came from Africa. They came in one of the waves of prehistoric migrations, two or more million years ago (Unquote).
This African origin theory of the Meiteis brings to my mind another bizarre theory of a friend of mine (a scholar, no doubt, in his own right) being widely circulated in Manipur and have attained almost the status of a folk-tale. Some people believed it, while many ridiculed it. Readers may allow me a little diversion and re-tell here the story. It is something like this: All English words have their origin in Manipuri language. As for example, London is a derivative from the Manipuri word Lamdanba (meaning, a bivouae), England comes Englam (meaning cold country), Africa comes

from the Manipuri root Fri-Fri and so on and so forth. The most interesting and inspiring part of this theory is the legend woven around these words. He goes back to time and space when the universe was created by the Supreme Lord, according to Meitei cosmogony. Lord Sanamahi riding on his mound, went circling the Earth and saw a place full of leaping-flames or (Mei Fri Fri in Manipuri) and he named it Africa. Continuing his sojourn, the Lord came to a very cold place (Engba Lam) and it was named England. London is the place where the supreme deity rested for a while (Lamdanba). What a gem of a theory from the fertile brain of a scholar!
Manipur has thrown up an assorted number of scholars from time to time. While I am all-out in support of intellectual and academic freedom of expression, I wish it should, in tune with the Shakespearean dictum of justice tempered with mercy’ be tempered with certain amount of rationality.

The twin purpose of writing this book is, in the words of the writer, is “to established the origin of the Meiteis as the progenitors of Manipur by scalling the Meitei history as its tectonic plates moved over the centuries. Another modest ambition is to challenges the downbeat spirit of the ethno linguistic mix up of the Meiteilon with Tibeto-Burman linguistic family with a grapple of verifiable evidence”.
The point of debate is basically to rebut the notional ‘history’ of the Meiteis as having migrated from somewhere in the orient, just because we have Mongolian features. This, to the writer, is as ridiculous as the claim of some of the tribal people of Manipur and Mizoram as one of the ten ‘lost tribes of Jews from Israel’ since one of the Chief Rabbi from Israel had accepted the theory in 2005. According to this writer ‘Nobody knows where the Meitei came from’.

British writers (Pemberton et. Al) asserted that the Meiteis probably migrated from somewhere in the Sino-Tibetan region in the 13th and 14th Country.
This was because more than a century ago, Dr. Grierson (Report of the Linguistic Survey of India, 1903 A.D.) lumped the Meiteilon as belonging to the Tibeto-Burman (TB) Groups. As the TB are Mongoloids, the British writers empirically inferred that the Mongoloid tribes in the North-East India (including the Meiteis) must have come from a common source somewhere near to or in China. According to the writer, this is a non-tribal person’s thinking and an example of garbled logic. The raisond’etre of his book is to disprove the hypothesis of the migration theory of the Meitei. The Meiteis are the descendants of Poireiton and the Lois, who are different group of Poireiton, are historically the original Meitei inhabitants or autochthones. There is definitely no historical record of them coming from anywhere’. The Lois people are the indigenous Meitei and Meiteilon is their distinctive language.

Regarding Meiteilon the author disagrees that it belonged to the group. “Meiteilon has evolved, as all languages change with-time, over the centuries from a language spoken by the Poireiton to the one which is now spoken with some similarities with the TB group, due to a process of assimilation and accomodation of other languages from waves of foreign invasions and captives of war, who have been brought to Kangleipak (Meitei Leibak)”. And he cited the example of the English language. According to this author, Meiteilon is not related to any of thse so-called Tibeto-Burman languages. It has only “language affinity” i.e. similar in structure that may suggest a common origin.
To sum up the dissertation of the writer: Meiteis never migrated from the South-East.
They are the descendants of Poireiton and ‘they were just there’. The Lois are the indigenous inhabitants of Manipur and their spoken language is Meiteilon. In the course of his lengthy arguments in support of his theory, he quoted many non-descript scholars of Manipur history and culture whom we have not heard. I take up a sample: ‘Sobhana L Chelliah (University of North Texas), a great scholar in Meiteilon writes: “In Meitei, a Tibeto-Burman language of NE India, the noun pi ‘grand mother’ has undergone ………. etc. etc.” Sadly this ‘great scholar’ apparently does not know that ‘pi’ is not equivalent to grandmother in Meiteilon.

Be that as it may, inspite of other faults of the book, including gross spelling mistakes, Dr. I.M. Singh deserves our appreciation for the simple reason that he still loves and thinks of Manipur, although separeted by 7 seas and 3 decades from Manipur. Whether you accept his African origin theory of the Meiteis or not, any literary ventures should be welcome.