The Inpui (Kabui)Naga

Inpui Naga Warriors@Cheeful Bariampaan
The Inpui Naga is one of the recognized tribes n Manipur (Gazette of India, 2012). The origin of Inpui Naga is like any other tribal history is also replete with legendary tales. And in the absence of written records and lack of scientific data, most of the researchers have depended largely on oral history and site visitation. Inpui also has a similar tale of migration with some variation among the Tenyidie people. The journey from Ramting Kabin to Bakhiangmon (Makhel) where they dispersed until they reached the present Kabuikhullen is the most accepted historical construct though the exact time of dispersal cannot be ascertained till date. The journey of Inpuis from Makhel is often contested by some non Inpui writers and scholars. 

Majority of the Inpuis are found in Noney district of Manipur particularly in Haochong Sub-Division which consists of cluster of villages namely Haochong (Pantong), Pungmon (Chingchen), Ijeirong (Tuilimon), Puichi (Oktan), Kabuikhullen (Lwanzaang) I & II, Tamsamwan, Nungtek I & II, Karwangmwan I&II, Bakuwa, Khumji area and in Tamenglong district headquarter.

Inpuis are also found scattered in other districts of Manipur like Senapati- Waphong (Inthan), Makuilongdi and Senapati headquarter. In Imphal, Inpuis are concentrated in four main villages namely Yurembam I & II, Tamphagei, Changangei & Pantilong with sections of the community living in Majorkhul, Ragailong, Sagolband, etc.

Even though the population of the Inpuis is small as compared to other tribal communities in the region, they are believed to among the oldest settlers in Manipur.  Migration to other places continued even after their final settlement in Haochong area as one homogeneous tribe. The existence of Nambashis in Ukhrul which is closely related to Inpui is one example of a community scattered in different parts of Manipur. According to oral history relayed to by Inpui elders and reciprocated by the elders of Nambashi Khunou, Nambashis were once Inpuis who went and settled in Ukhrul District. Today, their culture and tradition are assimilated into the majority Tangkhuls.

But linguistically, Nambashi’s dialect and Inpui are still intelligible to both the speakers. Nambashis and Inpui still maintain a cordial fraternal relationship. Both shared the same story that they were once one tribe, speaking one language. The community is no more confined to Manipur alone. Inpui also lived in neighboring state Nagaland, especially in Dimapur, Kohima, and Jalukie areas. But has to forfeit their identity for survival in some cases. The census of India (Nagaland) does not figure Inpui tribe so far since it is clubbed together as Kabui or Zeliang as the case may be. Inpui has been living in Nagaland for decades now. Some Inpuis are also settled in Jiri areas taking the identity of the local communities but this is yet to be authenticated.

The term Inpui (In-House, Pui-Big literally means people of the big house) seems to be new to common people as both Inpui and Rongmei until recently was clubbed together as Kabui. The term Kabui is a misnomer of Inpui. Kabuikhullen is considered to be one of the oldest Inpui villages. The population of the Inpuis is believed to be around 10.000 but the actual headcount has not been conducted.  According to INBCA .i.e. the membership of the Baptist is considered to be around 4913 (Kapangai 2014:84) which do not include a sizeable number of Inpuis who are practiced other denominations and a sizeable number of Inpuis practicing indigenous religion and culture mostly based in Imphal valley, Yurembam, Sagolband, Changangei, Tamphagei, etc.

Nambashi Baptist Church members attending Inpui Centenary at Bakuwa (2014)
Geographical Location
The land of the Inpuis is located in the western part of Manipur. i.e. between Cachar hills and the valley of Manipur in the whole breadth, a direct distance of about 40 miles and from 250 North latitudes and extended over nearly an equal distance to the South (Kapangai 2014:1). It is about 40 km from Imphal. The nearest connectivity with the capital of Manipur is through Kangchup Tamenglong road which once connects Manipur with the rest of India. It is through this connection the Haochong was got the sobriquet the Western Gate of Manipur. The geographical location where Inpuis lived may have been of great strategic importance in the past. It borders with Khundong, Nurarthel to the North, Bhalok, Nagaching to the west,  Maranjing (Inpui origin), Komren to the east, Longmai, Khumji to the south. But it is the easternmost tip of Tamenglong district (now in Noney) bordering Senapati district.

Relations with other communities
Relations with the neighboring tribes particularly with the Zeliangrong (ZLR) was close and cordial as they consider themselves to be cognate tribes. The Inpui identity crisis seems to originate from the moment Kabui was used to denote two tribes (Inpui & Kabui) under one name where Kabui began to referred to be to Rongmei and not Inpui. The Inpui (Kabui) identity crisis worsens after the formation of ZeliangrongCouncil on 15 February 1947. The majoritarian construction of history has undermined the identity of Inpui as a tribe by subsuming Inpui under ZLR without given any space for representation as ZLR is an acronym for Zeme, Liangmei, and Rongmei and ZLR claimed Inpui to be one of them. 

Reasons for the non-inclusion of Inpui in the Zeliangrong Union can be: 1) Rongmei believed Inpui to be their sub-tribe. 2) Inpui speaks a different language which is unintelligible to the ZLR. The debate on this is still going on without much headway even though Inpuis has dissociated itself from Zeliangrong Union. Recently, a Joint Tribe Council was formed by the four tubes. It may be mentioned here that the Inpuis were among the founding members of the Zeliangrong Union. Inpuis also have close relations with other neighboring tribes such as Chiru, Komren, and Phayeng (Meitei).

The first recorded contact with the other communities can be found in the Royal Chronicles of Manipur starting from Meitei King (King Pakhangba 33 A.D) followed by the Britishers and Japanese. The 2nd World War which is locally known as Japan Raan (Japan War) has also impacted the lives of Inpuis. Bombardment of the ground at Ijeirong village, 3 km from Haochong was an important moment in history. The Japanese army was stationed at different Inpui villages, particularly at Haochong for months altogether. 

With Kangchup road as an important lifeline of the erstwhile British government and Manipur, connecting Imphal in the (east) with Jiri/Silchar in the West, the road was used for connecting with mainland India. In one of such journey of the British officer, a child died on the journey and was buried at Haochong at a place near Rakwan Sang in Pungkalok known as ‘sahib sa thaan’ (Grave of the officer’s child) This is also evident in the writings of C. Ross Smith (1960) and Ursala Bower who mentioned Haochong in their writings. 

The construction of Kangchup Tamenglong (KT) road was the only means of communication with the outside world other than village roads which connect villages in the area. KT road is the shortest route to Tamenglong from Imphal but it remains neglected due to political lackadaisical attitude. Presently, it is being constructed with funds from Asian Development Bank (ADB) as part of India’s Act East Policy (AEP). The other lifeline is the national highway 53 which runs through the heart of Noney town.

The Inpui language is grouped under Tibeto Burman (Grierson). There is a tonal variation in almost every Inpui villages. It is not surprising to find children of Haochong finding it hard to communicate with the children from Kabuikhullen. The tone and dialect seem to also be influenced by the location and environment. e.g., Inpuis living in Imphal valley speak Inpui dialect with a mixture of Meiteilon and Inpui. The speaker of the Inpui dialect seems to be decreasing due to contact with other languages like English, Meiteilon, Rongmei, etc influencing the way the people communicate. In Nagaland, Nagamese is the chief influencer as there is no other linkage language except Nagamese creole which is a mixture of Hindi, Assamese, and Bengali. In order to curtailed the rapid loss of cultural identity, organizations spearheaded by civil bodies like Inpui Naga Union, All Inpui Students’ Union, Inpui Students’ Union, Delhi, Kabui (Inpui) Students’ Union, Nagaland, & Haochong Student Organization are trying to revive and reclaim it. 

Status of Women
The Inpui tribe like any other Naga tribe is patriarchal and patrilineal. Both male and female traced their lineage from the father side and this has led to the discrimination of womenfolk in almost every sphere of life. The notion of man being superior to women led to a deeply ingrained mindset where women's role in society is relegated to child-rearing and other domestic works. Women have no right to inherit property e.g. land, house, and fields but in some rare cases, the daughter of a rich man inherits land and other moveable property. But it is to be noted that women are the main workforce in slash and burn/jhum and terrace cultivation. 

The attitude towards women is entangled in the rigid customs but in recent times, the attitude towards women has changed. Though, education preferences are often given to a male child. Now, both illiterate and literate parents are conscious of such inequalities and equal opportunities are given to both male and female children in terms of providing education. Today, parents have started to encourage women to study and excel and not to confine themselves to household chores. But there remains certain cultural binding that is embedded in patriarchy and confining women to rigid social-cultural norms.

 Image credit: Isaac Inkah

Socialization and Social Continuity
Inpuis are warm-hearted with high hospitality and are open to interacting with different cultures. This can be exemplified from songs, and dress which has the influence of other tribes and vice versa (theirs on others). The most common form of socialization was morungs (katang-in and rangaak-in) and community gatherings like festivals where singing and dancing were common with games and sports, weddings, and other community-related works and activities e.g., village cleaning, community fishing’s, community work in the field and farms. Morung system has ceased to exist after the coming of the modern lifestyle and change in the social structure. 

The need for such has been replaced by the schools, youth club, and particularly by the church. Social interaction and socialization continue at different levels and stages.  For children and adolescents school, Sunday school, birthdays, and other community festivities act as a place for socialization. And for elders community festivals like Karingei, gatherings like weddings and religious festivals like Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year open up a new platform for socialization. In a technologically advanced world, the arrival of social media can be felt particularly among the young generations. Social media network like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Skype continues to be a rage.

Community feast @ Isaac Inkah
The advent of Christianity in the first half of the 20th century change both the sociocultural and physical landscape of the Inpuis.  It has deeply affected and also shaped the Inpui Naga society- culturally and politically. Christianity is one factor that had led to the shunning of old traditional ways of life and embracing the modern world. This has perhaps given a new outlook and has shaped the Inpuis society. The majority of the Inpui Christians profess Protestantism particularly Baptist which is due to the work of American Baptist Mid Mission led by William Pettigrew. Though few practice Roman Catholic, Seven Day, and other denominations. 

There is still a sizeable number of families particularly in Imphal valley who practice traditional belief systems (animism). They continue to practices the cultural norms which are believed to be invalid in Christian contexts and celebrate traditional customary festivals with certain changes to suit the modern contexts leading to the inclusion of new elements and exclusion of old practices. Festivals or community celebration is incomplete without song and dances and homemade brewery popularly known as “Zu” which is still prepared and consumed. Today, there are 19 fully-fledged churches and 4 Fellowships both in Manipur and Nagaland and has celebrated hundred years of Christianity in Inpui land. The increase in the number of Churches and its membership is an encouragement to the church builder.

 Haochong Young boys in traditional attires@Isaac Inkah

The Changing Landscape
Agriculture remains the main occupation of the Inpuis. The geographical (topographical) landscape is not favorable for large-scale farming. Slash and burn or jhum cultivation continues to be the mainstay agricultural practice. The wet paddy field mode of cultivation is also practiced in the nearby river basins. Farmers are sometimes adventurous but to a large extent precarious of introducing new techniques as it involves risks. But the success of another can be an easy route for another to emulate the same. Until recently agro-business and other activities have started. 

The constructing of a jeepable road to the field or farm through governmental schemes and projects has contributed to this new enthusiasm but the opening up of new road and making in route to every nook and corner of the land can have a devastating effect as the soil is vulnerable to landslide, mudslide, and other man-made disasters. The agro-business can be an easy source of livelihood now but can have a long-term effect on the environment and so has to be practiced with certain precautions. Sustainable use of natural resources has to be inculcated. As the land resource is limited, the cut off for new road will limit the area of cultivable land, which in the long run will affect the economic life of the people. 

The most promising scheme which has pulled the Inpuis out of hardship is the MNRGS (NREGA) which was started in 2005 by the UPA government and further continued by the NDA. This has increased the wage value of the people. The availability of monetary help has further led the people to venture beyond agriculture activities. The changing development in the area needs to be constantly monitored by civil society and alert NGOs as development does not necessarily guarantee benefits. The coming of the rail project in Karwangmwan (Nungtek) with another substation in Pungmon (Haochong station) will act as important stations for the conduct of trade and commerce can bring about demographic dividend apart from economic benefits. 

And the construction of ADB sponsored highway which passes through Waphong (Inthan), Ijeirong (Tuilimon), Puichi (Oktan) and Bakuwa will bring about both challenges and opportunities; opportunities such as employment, easy access to market and transportation of goods and challenges such as landslide and mudslide which will affect the land, noise pollution, and air pollution will also increase and it will also bring migrants from different areas and not forgetting conflict that can arise while competing for land and its resources between villages and intra-village. 

Much care needs to be taken in order to protect and conserve the rich biodiversity in the area and should not be allowed to destroy in the name of development. The need to preserve land resources, forests, trees, and other natural resources is paramount in today’s fast-changing world. Short term monetary benefits should not blind the long-term effect which in retrospect can destruct not only our culture but the fabric of our society itself.

The desecration of social meaning, fluidity, and continual mobility of ideas and culture is a challenge for any tribal society. Over the last decades, there has been a resurgence of activity within the community to reaffirm the identity. Identity and culture remain central to the present generation but this enthusiasm is yet to be converted into positive movement whether be in art dance, language, dress, oral tradition, history, etc instead it seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Kinship and clan system space is occupied as an extension of group membership; social identity was not necessarily based on territory. The Conservative force that seeks the preservation of existing social order is weak. Religion has been in many ways instrumental in spreading ideas that undermine established ways of thinking and social system, leaving little room for the culture to grow. 

The intervention of government in cultural affairs is limited due to a weak civil society. The government can support civil society but it is not wholly responsible for the preservation and promotion of tribal culture. The society holds key to it. The emergence of new norms define by western culture and values have threatened the very existence of tribal culture. Social insecurity is also on the rise due to the conflict between the new and the old generation, as the generation gap widens there is little or no acceptance and recognition for the emerging values. But this once fiercely guarded tradition is slowly losing ground. 

Cultural revivalist movement is not visible except for some social gatherings which only act as a platform to showcase culture and tradition and not live it out in everyday conduct. The pressure on local culture and tradition has not been responded to effectively by any social organization. With little awakening from within the society, the government or other civil society organizations have not responded as well. The lack of quality education and unemployment has also hampered this growth. There is an urgent need for family planning and this requires the intervention of NGOs in the health sector with an effective counseling mechanism. 

The area so far has a stable population but this socio-economic dynamic is changing very fast and will become a real challenge without proper planning. The rapid population growth has to be corroborated with employment opportunities, improved health, and education. The change in customary practices caused pressure on land available for subsistence farming. The increase in cash crop cultivation adds to this pressure. There is so far no known threat caused by climate change affecting soil or rainfall pattern. In order to fully exploit the resources sustainably, regulation is a must as this small hilly terrain is vulnerable to human interference and natural calamities. 

As seen above, there is an improvement in transport and communication but the road connecting Noney to Haochong Sub Divison is still in a very pathetic condition with no blacktopping and the road cannot be considered as an all weathered road. Likewise, mobile phone and internet connectivity have improved but need further expansion and upgrading. The challenges that are before us need wider awareness and only collective responsibility will usher in the desired change. 

1.      The Gazette of India. New Delhi, January 09, 2012.
2.      Grierson Linguistic Survey of India
3.      K.Kapangai, Introduction to the history of Christianity among the Inpui Nagas, 2014.
4.      K. Alung Khumba. The Kabui (Inpui) Naga: An Identity Crisis: Unpublished (Manuscript).

This article should not be cited without a written permission from the editor.
An updated version of the article will be published soon. 


  1. Heidan nu kasa nu choungla va tamm ga upload tu ka thang nu ding bathai ye.

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  3. Thanks for the comment Judgement Riamroi. Laan nu ammebe rin hungo. Kangam nu bing hiak ka ong me. Swankarwe

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