The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

typescript - memoir of time in the Naga Hills as a Deputy Commissioner, 1919-1920

caption: Kuki rebellion in Manipur State
medium: articles
ethnicgroup: Kuki
person: Cantlie/ Keith
date: 1919-1920
form: private collection
refnum: loaned by Dr Audrey Cantlie
text: My arrival was just after the end of the Kuki rebellion in Manipur State. The Kukis in the Naga Hills did not rebel. Labour Corps had gone to France from the Naga Hills, the Garo Hills, the Khasi Hills and Lushai Hills. But the Kukis had never left their hills to carry as porters as the Nagas had done in the Abor expedition. The Political Agent resided at Imphal among Manipuris who had been Hinduised, and not among the Kukis in the hills. Colonel Cole, the Political Agent who had experience and influence had gone to France with the Lushai Labour Corps. Government wanted more men for France and asked the Political Agent to raise a corps. He sent out notices for a grand Durbar at Imphal. Two Kuki chiefs refused to come and wrote that if they were compelled to come they would not let any British officer or his emissaries into their territory. This was an act of rebellion and the Political Agent and a British officer went out to visit the Ngulkup of Mombi, the more influential. They took 100 rifles with them as escort. There was resistance and some skirmishing so they destroyed the village and were going to the village of the second chief when orders came from Shillong to return to Imphal to avoid further embroilment with the Kukis. Colonel Shakespear who took part in the subsequent operations as D.I.G.Police and wrote a book in 1929 "The History of the Assam Rifles" says this order was a mistake, the village of the other chief should have been destroyed. All was quiet for a time. Then the two chiefs began to raid the Hindu villages on the Manipur plain and loot them. A suspicion arose that revolutionaries from Bengal had visited the hills to persuade the Kukis that the British were losing the war and wanted the Kukis to go to France and endanger their lives and so be sacrificed. Mrs. Cole, wife of lt.Col. Cole, then in France, went out alone to meet Ngulkup but was not successful in her brave attempt to avert warfare. A raid on a police station followed and one elsewhere. Two columns each with 80 men under a British officer and one with the Political Agent accompanying were sent out. One had to return after some men were killed as the Kukis were in such numbers with so many ancient guns and the other had to return after casualties in the jungle. The number of Kuki guns surprised the British officials. Shakespear puts them at a thousand. The rebellion spread over the 7000 square miles of hill country in Manipur, the mountains being covered with forests and then among the Kuki villages in the Chin Hills in Burma. The Assam Rifles had been denuded of men by sending over two thousand to reinforce Gurkha Regiments in France and were now composed of elderly men or young recruits untrained in jungle warfare. Kuki villages are not substantially built generally and are small. So when a column approached a rebellious village the people rapidly deserted it taking their rice and utensils and hiding them in the nearby jungle. The village might be burned but the column might be attacked by snipers from the thick jungle on the way back. The campaign was possible owing to the hundreds of Naga porters who carried supplies. There were about half a dozen British officers, some of them joining temporarily for the Great War period. At last in 1919 the Kukis had had enough and surrendered giving up their guns. The facts were not known to me as I never discussed them with any officers leaving the area via Kohima and the Government issued no information. Shakespear says that they were conscious of mishandling the affair but gives no details save that severe action was not taken at the very beginning. He has the advantage of hindsight.