The ancestors of Meetei race, the Lai people who choose the peak of Koubru Mountain and settled in caves were earlier food gatherers. They depend on wild grains, fruits and animals for their food. Later they began to cultivate food. Thus agriculture started in Manipur around 40000 years ago.
The Lailou (now Lairou) ching in present day Senapati district is a living proof that our forefathers have began farming when they were living in the Koubru peak. From Koubru, migration of human started in different directions, extending to the South East Asian regions, expanding upto Southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos etc. as per record.
Ibudhou Konjin Tukthaba Athouba Pakhangba came down to settle at Kangla in Imphal. After the valley water was drained at Chingnunghoot in Southern part of Meetei leibak, and was believed to rule in Kangla as first Monarch of Meetei leibak around 18, 000 years Before Christ. Recent Kangla excavation in 2009 revealed that the first inhabitants of Kangla were as old as 20,000 years before present time ( 2018 December), which is around 18,000 years B.C.
Lack of scientific excavation and study of Koubru peak failed to confirm the approximate age of human settlement at Koubru peak. However, excavations and findings of different caves and river banks in different parts of Meetei leibak.
The Tharon cave in Tamenglong, Kangkhui cave in Ukhrul, Nongpok Keithelmanbi, Songbu cave in Chandel, Napachik in Wangoo shows the migration of people over centuries southward – which were later than the excavation done in the northern side of Meetei leibak. This hypothesis shows, Koubru is the cradle for human origin. Our ancient puyas and oral history also points out that Koubru is the origin of human evolution.
Songbu cave man who lived in the Chandel district of Meetei leibak are regarded as one of the earliest man of Meetei leibak. This is close to the recent findings that early human originates in and around modern Myanmar. Who knows, the exact site for Human evolution will be accepted by the World as Koubru peak after proper excavations and scientific research in the coming days. Songbu cave man roamed the earth some 27,000 years ago.
The stone relics found here were hand axe, chopper, scrapper etc which were similar to those found at Niah cave in Malaysia. Stone relics found at Niah cave were as old as 40,000 years old.
This means Koubru cave man were older than the Songbu cave man and must be more than 40,000 years old. And farming was practiced in Meetei leibak at Koubru peak which must be beyond 40,000 years from present time. This suggest agriculture started in Manipur.
Plant domestication, most scientists think, made its debut some 10,000 years ago, with grain storage coming up about 11,000 years ago. An ancient site in Israel yielded a hearty collection of grains, which were dated to about 23,000 years ago, according to a 2004 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper.
But, recently, researchers have assumed that humans were foraging for fruits, nuts and roots long before 100,000 years ago, but cereal grains are quite a new addition to the early prehistoric gastronomic picture. “This broadens the timeline for the use of grass seeds by our species,” Julio Mercader, an assistant professor at University of Calgary’s Department of Archeology, said in Science journal.
We need to prove scientifically that agriculture started in Manipur
Combining the period of three Chaks, (Hei ee chak, Khunung chak and Langba chak) Meetei has 44,33,100 years of civilization. Approximate timeline in each Chak is Hei ee Chak spans for 18, 08,800 years, Khunung Chak spans for 10, 17, 700 years and Langba Chak spans for 16,06,600 years, as per Mallem Leisemlol Ariba.
Rice was domesticated in China around 6200 B.C. Pigs were domesticated in Mesopotamia around 11,000 B.C. From 9500 B.C. , Neolithic people (New stone age) started cultivating wheat, barley, peas etc in the region around Levant (in modern Syria). Ploughing with a yoke of horned cattle in Ancient Egypt was found in a painting from the burial chamber of Sennedjen around 1200 B.C.
As per the legends, a certain female pig wandered in the forests around Hundung and lost its way. The owner of the pig, the two brothers went in search of the pig and came down the valley from the mountain and found their pig giving piglets. They could not bring back the pig and her piglets.
Since they could not carry back their piglets to their place, the younger brother decided to stay back in the valley, looking after the pig and piglets. The two brothers were thus separated from there.
The elder returned back to Hundung and the younger stayed back. The place where they found their pig was known as Oknaopokpi (present day Yaingangpokpi) in Imphal East. This oral history shows early man in Meetei leibak have began to domesticate pig around 20,000 B.C.
One of the sons of Ibudhou Konjin Tukthaba Athouba Pakhangba and Ibendhou Huimu Leima, Luwang who was the first patriarch of the Luwang clan ruled in the Langol Kangla. It is believed that transplantation of paddy was started in the valley during his rule.
Even today, the area where he started transplantation of paddy is known as Luwang Ingkhol. This place was situated along the western bank of Luwang EE Turel, extending upto Khamaran village in and around Kameng in Imphal West. Transplantation of paddy is also found mentioned in the Lai Haraoba ceremony which indicates Meetei race has learnt paddy plantation much beyond Chinese. This is a valid proof that agriculture started in Manipur and started paddy cultivation as well.
When the valley water was drained southward through Chingnunghoot, there were many pat (lakes or water bodies in the valley). The indigenous rice culture, called Taothabi and Taothabi Angouba (floating rice) were found growing in those water bodies in the Valley.
This was when Ibudhou Konjin Tukthaba Athouba Pakhangba, the first Monarch of Meetei leibak came down to Kangla around 20,000 years ago. Before they came to settle in Imphal Kangla, they cultivated Chingphou in the hills. Meetei leibak has the maximum number of wild rice in the World. Some prominent indigenous wild rice found in Meetei leibak are Wainu Chara, Murshi, Wainu Chara Manbi, Jara etc.
The presence of these water floating rice tells us that Agriculture started in Manipur, even after the hill people came down to the valley some 20,000 years ago.
During the reign of King Kangba, one of the successors of Ibudhou Konjin Tukthaba Pakhangba, people used to eat Chaktum. The place where Chaktum was prepared was at Chaksoupung. When the society was well organized, settled and peaceful, Lai Haraoba was performed in Meetei leibak Civilization.
In some manuscripts, Lai Haraoba started in the Langba Chak. The inclusion of farming in Lai Haraoba indicates that farming was practiced much before Langba Chak. Because, one cannot glorify or depict those events of things which were not present before them, In short, Lai Haraoba is the teaching of human evolution, struggle, survival and continuity of life on earth.
The Louyan Eshei and Paam Yanba are integral part of Lai Haraoba. The Paam Yanba episode depicts the growing of cotton plant which was harvested, to produce cotton clothes to be offered to the Lord. In Lairoi, a ceremony called Loutaba was performed which depicts the preparation of farm land for growing different crops. All these ancient practices shows agriculture started in Manipur.
Later, another hymn called Loutarol was sung by the Shamans (Amaibi), followed by the Louyan Eshei. In this song, several vegetables and crops were mentioned which were to be grown for the mankind.
Vegetables like pan, sougri, lomba, fadigom, pakhon, sing were mentioned which showed Meetei leibak has many indigenous crops and vegetables.
Worshiping of Ima Phouoibi (Goddess of Rice) by the Meetei shows our forefathers have been blessed with abundant rice cultures and is still performing every year.
Domestication of cattle were very primitive and one of the oldest in the world. Ponies holds a very supreme rank in Meetei leibak. Before seven-year devastation around 1819, ponies were so numerous that every inhabitants of the Kingdom possessed two or three ponies, however humble his rank. Sagol Kangjei, the game of polo was the gift of Meetei leibak to the World. Ponies were used in transportation, warfare and in leisure time like sports.
The most valuable cattle of the Kingdom for farming purposes were buffaloes. It was estimated that there were three thousand buffaloes in the valley around 1826 (just after the Chahi taret Khuntakpa). We can imagine how much buffaloes might be in Meetei leibak before the seven years of turmoil and chaos in Meetei leibak where people have to fled for their lives, leaving behind everything.
As per the British record, one buffalo performs nearly double the quantity of work that two Bengali bullock are capable of performing in the farm.
Sangai is found only in Meetei leibak and it is related with our Meetei philosophy of life and nature. There is a folklore that a prince from the Luwang Clan called Pudangkoi, transformed himself into a deer (by the grace of divine will). This deer was later known as Sangai. Royal boats used by kings were decorated with the Sangai head and known as Hiyang Hiren.
Among the indigenous birds of Meetei leibak, we can mentioned about Uchek Langmeidong or the Hornbill. In another folk tales, there was a girl name Nongdangnu who lost her mother at a very young age. Her father married a second wife. However, her step mother was very cruel and she tortured Nongdangnu. Life was miserable for Nongdangnu when her father was away to earn livelihood.
At last, poor Nongdangnu requested a flock of Uchek Langmeidong who had fly across her home to drop some feathers so she can also join them. She fixed the feathers together and made two wings. When the father returned home, bringing gifts for Nongdangnu, he could not find her daughter. He saw the Hornbill in his courtyard and her lovely daughter was also among them. Nongdangnu narrated the atrocities of her step mother and flew away with the flock of Uchek Langmeidong.
Lamkhunu or Wood Pigion is another indigenous bird of Meetei leibak. Our forefathers believed that the departed soul of our ancestors returned on this earth to see us. It is a tradition that we offer food and water to Lamkhunu, believing they are our departed ancestors.
Meetei Ngamu or Orientalis is an indigenous fish of Meetei leibak. Meetei Ngamu Thaba or Ushin sinba is a tradition implying the bio diversity conservation of the Nature. During a Meetei marriage ceremony, two Meetei Ngamu are set to flee in the water bodies like pond or river. This is for the cordial and happy living in the future of the newly wedded bridegrooms. This event is called Meetam Nga Thaba.
Another traditional belief in Meetei culture is that, one Meetei Ngamu of greater energetic and healthy stage is set free in water to substitute for a person in bad health and illness. This is done so that the person may be free from all sorrow. The event is known as Ngamu Ushin Thaba.
Chahong Ngahong Nga Thaba is practiced in different villages substituting for masses. This is for the well being of the villagers. It is called Shingtek Shingthaba.
Meetei Ngamu is related with the evolution of human race as well. Ngamu Meetam Nga is considered to be the first prototype of human being. Lord Sanamahi made Ngamu which was given life by Salailel Sidaba and set free in water. Many human evolution theories were confused about the exact origin of life and human evolution for centuries.
Later, a Chinese scientist, Min Zhu and a Swedish scientist, Per E Ahlberg came up with new theory that human being is evolved from a fish in water, which supported our Meetei philosophy of human evolution.
Agriculture activity has been continuing in Meetei leibak after the British Empire occupied the Kingdom in 1891. However, agriculture development did not receive due attention of the British rule, but encouraged Marwaris and other outside traders to export rice. This led to Nupi lal in December, 1939, pressing the authority to close down rice mills and ban on export of rice from Meetei leibak.
The export of rice from Meetei leibak was banned from 13th August, 1939. It may be said that the year, 1939 marks the beginning of modern agriculture development in Meetei leibak. When the Second World War was over in 1945, the government created a separate Agricultural office in March 1946 to enhance food production. Shri Waikhom Chaoba Singh, B.A. , a member of erstwhile Manipur State Durbar held the charge of the newly organized department.
During the First Five Year Plan period (1951 – 1956), the Agriculture Department executed field works at the experimental cum demonstration farms and orchard at Mantripukhri, Ukhrul and Churachandpur on the popularization of use of manures, chemical fertilizers, improved seeds, improved implements, plant protection chemicals and improved methods of paddy cultivation (Japanese method) of paddy cultivation.
During 1975, first crop (rice) was taken up at Samurou and Wangoi for the first time in the State. Now agricultural activities have been practiced vigorously.
Since Manipur is a land locked area, the inhabitants depends on locally available foods. This the reason why agriculture started in Manipur a long time back. We have also unique rice varieties like the Chakhao Poreiton which are not available anywhere.
(C) Dr. Naorem Iboton Singh (Former DEAN, Central Agricultural University, Imphal)