Origin of the Inpui Naga

The history of the origin of the Nagas is lost in antiquity and it is rather difficult to trace the origin of a tribe exactly to a certain date or time. It is the concern of scholars and researchers to reconstruct the rich history of the Nagas. However, several evidences left no doubt about the existence of the Inpui (Kabui) Naga tribe in Manipur since sometime in the BCs. Even though some are based on traditional folklore they are found to be fairly authentic evidenced by several written records. Therefore, the origin and existence of the Inpui (Kabui) tribe in Manipur and elsewhere can be explained without much difficulty. However, since the main purpose of organizing this seminar is to bring out the possibility of bringing together the seven kindred tribes under one organization for achieving noble ends I shall give emphasis on it as well by highlighting the practical problems that the Inpui tribe has faced under Zeliangrong, so that the nearest possible means and ways can be made out and remove such organizational inconsistencies that might stand on the way to bringing about a larger unity of the kindred tribes.

Terminology and Origin

The derivation of the term “INPUI” or “KABUI” can better be explained if referred to the tradition of origin and migration of man. The Inpui (Kabui) tribe legend mentions that man came out of a cave. In the course of migration, they settled, at one stage, at a place called Ba-angkungjwan by constructing an INPUI (big house). The population increased to 7,777 (Seven thousand seven hundred and seventy seven). When the father Hovah became very old he called his eldest son Kovah and said, “My son, I am very old now, after I die you must do justice to all your brothers, distribute the land, property and language equally”. So, after his father’s death Kovah did as advised. At last he found that nothing was left for him. So he said, “I shall inherit this INPUI, and by its virtue my tribe will be called INPUIRWAN”. Here, the term “INPUI” is significant. The first syllable ‘IN’ means House; second syllable ‘PUI’ means Large or Main and the third syllable ‘RWAN’ means People. Thus INPUIRWAN means people of the Large/Main House. After everything was done, they gathered and performed a Ho-Hoing ceremony shouting in unison ho…ho…ho…ho… after their father’s name HOVAH. After that they scattered to different directions for settlement. The eldest son Kovah along with his children left the site and established a village at a place called LWANJANG that later came to be officially recognized as KABUIKHULLEN. This can be said to be the origin of the Inpui and other tribes. Because, it is important to note that, while they were living together in the BIG HOUSE, they lived as “man” or “people” as a whole. Tribe began only after they dispersed from the Big House. As to when the event took place is another story requiring lots of research to tell and in my opinion it is not possible to trace it to an exact date or time.

Although Kabuikhullen is the oldest and the first Inpui Naga village, it is less known and recorded in history than Haochong (called Pantong locally) that has found its place in the pages of Manipur history. The reason is not far to seek. Kabuikhullen is situated on a remote hilltop between Irang and Iring rivers under Haochong Administrative Circle of Tamenglong district. Its remoteness and extremely difficult communication facility has kept it aloof from outside contact. Haochong village, being geographically and politically closer to the Meitei kingdom- Imphal, the state capital of Manipur, was very popular in other aspects too. Haochong village stands very significant and indispensable in the study of the Inpui Naga tribe. Because not only that many villages like Marangjing, Nungtek I & II, Pungmon etc. were separated from Haochong village hundreds of years ago, but also that the village had close and cordial relations with the Meitei Kings and Princes, and therefore it has found places in their chronicles.

The ancient existence of Haochong village in Manipur State is found recorded several times in Royal Chronicles like Chietharol Kumbaba and Ningthourol Kumbaba during the reign of Meidingu Naothingkhong (663 AD – 763 AD), Meidingu Irengba (906 AD – 996 AD) etc. Moreover, a legend of the village has it that the term “HAOCHONG” was given by the Meitei King Pangkanba or Meidingu Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (33 AD – 154 AD). Its antiqueness is evidenced by C. Ross Smith who said, in his ‘In Search of India’, “Not only does Haochong seem to exist in 7,000 BC, but with one major qualification it also does, the qualification being one of awareness, that most of today’s Naga tribes are at least aware of the existence of a world outside their own, one totally different, a terrifying world which, in the unadministered areas, is to be fought and excluded at all costs, whereas nine thousand years ago, of course, such an awareness neither did exist nor could exist”. Thus it leaves no doubt, although exact date of origin cannot be traced, that the tribe has been living in Manipur State since sometime in the BCs. The Inpui tribe is now concentrated in the following villages –


1. Kabuikhullen (Lwanjaang) 2. New Kabuikhullen (Lwanjaang Namthan)

3. Haochong (Pantong) 4. Ijeirong (Tuilimowan)

5. Oktan (Puichi) 6. Pungmon (Pungmwan)

7. Nungtek I (Toutiak) 8. Nungtek II (Toutiak)

9. Bakua 10. Changangei

11. Yurembam 12. Tamphagei

13. Upper Makuilongdi 14. Waphong (Inthan)

15. Tamenglong H/Q

Nagaland State

1. Signal Basti, Dimapur 2. Jalukie Area

Besides, some of the tribe are also settled in other towns and cities particularly in Manipur and Nagaland States. The total population is roughly estimated at 10,000 to 12,000 according to the 2001 census.

According to the Inpui Naga Tradition, the cave from where man came out is called Ramting Kabin and vaguely said to be situated somewhere in the Makuilongdi/Makhel area in Senapati district in Manipur. After coming out of the cave, man settled for the first time at Kadingmwan. After many years of confinement the people went in search of a better place that they found at last but were prevented by a very big door called “KAPO INKHAAN”, meaning Burmese Door. After several attempts they could break the door with the help of a giant mithun, and settled at a place called Bashiangmwan. Here, what really is the ‘Kapo Inkhaan’ cannot be explained clearly; it could be a mountain range, a rock of nature or a band of army. However, the term ‘KAPO’ (meaning Burma) is significant. For it suggested that the people had passed through Burma in the course of their migration.

The Inpui Naga Society is divided into three exogamous clans namely Khumba, Bariam and Inka. The Inpui Naga tradition goes that when man came out of the cave, the Khumba clan first came out, then the Bariam clan and finally the Inka clan. Thus, it implies that these three clans were not created at any time of human settlement. Even today there is no history or trace of a clan taking the name of an ancestor or forefather. However, the three clans have two branches each which came into as a result of certain circumstances of social living. The branches of the clans are distinguished by taboo whose long story is not told here. The Khumba clan has Khumba Kasak (North) and Khumba Kathwei (South) to whom eating crow and tiger meat is a taboo respectively. The Bariam clan has Bariamtak (Real) and Bariampan (Far) which prohibit eating of ka-u (frog) and ba-rangou (a kind of bird) meat respectively. Bariampan is also known as Riamluei in some villages. Similarly the Inka clan has Inka Kasak (North) and Inka Kathwei (South). To them eating of barahui (a kind of bird) and baanjaan (a kind of bird) meat respectively is a taboo. Eating of such prohibited (taboo) meat is believed to cause unnatural tooth decay. Marriage between a boy and a girl of the same clan, even between the two branches of the same clan, is prohibited. But in recent times, this strictness of culture is gradually loosing ground and marriage within the same clan has come to be practiced in several cases.

While living at Bakhiangmwan or Bakhiang (believed to be Makhel), man discovered fire, water, and paddy, of their use and cultivation. After many years, they migrated for the third time to a place called Ba-angkungjwan. This is the place from where different tribes originated, as mentioned earlier. That man came out of a cave called Ramting Kabin, lived together up to 7,777 people and scattered to different directions that marked the beginning of tribes, as are found in the Inpui Naga tribe tradition, are very much similar to that of the Zeliangrong. But there is no distinct clarity as to into how many tribes the Big House was divided and scattered. According to one version it was four and another version seven. However, it is believed that, among the many Naga tribes, the Zeliangrong and kindred tribes of Inpui, Maram, Thangal and Kharam are the closest in all respects i.e., origin, tradition, culture, custom and blood relationship. Scattering in different places for long time and putting them under different administrative units by the introduction of modern government have distanced them from one another. In fact, a good number of the Inpui tribe had migrated to Ukhrul district, particularly the Nambashi village, now separated into four or five villages, that was originally separated from Haochong village. Some have even totally assimilated into the majority Meitei.

Identity Crisis

A discussion on identity crisis is felt necessary because any attempt to bring about a kind of larger unity should not ignore the practical difficulties that might obstruct the process of unity. It is quite universal that from a single individual to the mightiest of Nations, everyone wants an identity. And this discussion is necessary more because this seminar has been organized to chalk out the possibilities of forming a common platform for the aforementioned seven kindred tribes. Here I should not forget to highlight the difficulties that the Inpui tribe has practically faced under Zeliangrong so that such problems will not occur again in future. The identity crisis of the Inpui tribe began with the clubbing together of Inpui and Rongmei under Kabui. As a result of this mixture and the domination of the Inpuis by the majority Rongmeis, the Inpui villages on the foothills west of the Imphal valley have totally adopted the Rongmei culture and dialect, except a handful of speakers. The present Tamphagei village at Imphal is a good example; almost all the villagers except few elderly people have discarded the Inpui dialect. A centurion woman of Haochong village who died about three years ago told me, “When I first went shopping to Imphal as a small girl, Inpui dialect was heard spoken in most of the houses of Majorkhul, Kakhulong, Muchi, Keishamthong etc., but gradually they have disappeared.” Obviously, many families of these villages have their family ancestors and relatives in the Inpui Naga villages in the hills from where they had migrated long ago. Thus, one can efficiently conclude that the discrepancy between the Kabui (Inpui) and the Rongmei began with the adoption of the Rongmei culture and custom by the Inpuis without changing their tribe name. In other words, those Inpuis who have already converted into Rongmei still identified themselves as Kabui, not as Rongmei or Sungbu as was known before. Then, if we are so intimately intermingled, why should we alienate and discriminate each other?

Then came the confusing nomenclature of ZELIANGRONG. The Inpui tribe protested against the non-inclusion of Inpui on the day of its formation itself at Keishamthong in 1947. But it was deliberately turned down. Thereafter, the Inpui tribe had form a separate organization under the name and style of the “INPUI GROUP” which later on grew into the Inpui (Kabui) Naga Union, Manipur and Nagaland. The persistent demand of the Inpui tribe to include Inpui or Kabui in the common nomenclature went unheeded till now. Had the Rongmeis not been identified as Kabui and still clung to it, the Inpuis would have dropped the matter long ago. Here, the Zeliangrong had committed a great mistake by trying to dominate and assimilate the Inpui tribe into Zeliangrong. Zeliangrong organizations had demanded both at the state and national levels to recognize Zeliangrong by deleting Kacha Naga and Kabui, to be replaced by Zeme, Liangmai and Rongmei. The Inpui tribe was ignored and excluded. Hence, the Inpui (Kabui) Naga Union had taken a strong exception during the mid 1990s and after. In 1995, the Union submitted an ultimatum to the Zeliangrong Naga Union demanding either to include Inpui in the nomenclature or set the Inpui tribe completely free. But since the matter was not entertained during the Annual Assembly of the Zeliangrong Union at New Jalukie (Nagaland) in December 1995, the Inpui tribe organizations have completely dissociated from Zeliangrong organizations including the Zeliangrong Baptist Churches Council. Making this point clear, during the GPRN Zeliangrong Region Conference at Intuma Village (Nagaland) on 6-8 May 1998, Mr. Bt. Sathoi, the then Executive Secretary of the Kabui (Inpui) Naga Baptist Association, Manipur, on behalf of the Inpui tribe had stated in his speech, “50th year is the year of liberty according to religious thoughts and practices. Therefore, we make known to general public that from today we are no more a part of Zeliangrong; we shall maintain our identity separately. And let there be no interruption between each other in advancement….Let us stop explaining that Zeliangrong is direction’s name. If it is direction’s name, then Zeliang in Nagaland also includes Rongmei. But there is another pressure that Rongmei is not included in Zeliang. We, the Inpui tribe appeal to Zeme and Liangmai brothers of Nagaland to accept them as a Zeliangrong group”. The Inpui tribe felt, ‘while Zeliangrong is based on Three Bother Theory, what and where is the necessity of the Inpuis joining it?’ There was no such problem during the pre-formative and formative days of the ‘Kabui Chingsang’, Chingsang Samiti and Kabui Samiti from 1927 till the formation of the Manipur Zeliangrong Union on December 14, 1947.


I have highlighted the practical problems of identity crisis on the part of the Inpui tribe with a good intention at heart so that it may be an eye opener for all of us and that the same mistake may not be repeated in future. Because I believe, and do not lose hope, that there can be a greater unity. If there are a handful of people who keep the same faith the Inpui tribe is with them. Yet things have to be done very thoughtfully. While the term Zeliangrong could not cover even only four, can there be any term that can cover all the seven tribes and hold them together? Whatever may be the case, the following suggestions may be noted:

1. A common platform may be formed with distinct tribal identity of the tribes constituting it so that they become highly decentralized federal units. Every constituent unit should be allowed to have independent, separate and distinct recognition and affiliation to bigger organizations like Naha Hoho, United Naga Council, Naga Students’ Federation, All Naga Students’ Association Manipur, Naga Women’s Union etc. The common platform so formed must not be claimed in anyway to be a tribe and an apex body but a symbolic commonwealth of the constituent kindred tribes occasionally holding meetings, conferences, conventions etc. for the sustenance of the age-old relationship; and vesting in it powers for development of the tribal units in all respects. In the past Zeliangrong Students Union, Manipur had obstructed the Inpui (Kabui) Naga Students’ Union’s affiliation and participation in All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur. For example, during the ANSAM Conference at Chandel in 1999, the Vice President of the Inpui (Kabui) Naga Students’ Union, Manipur was prevented by the ZSUM from contesting the elections to one of the ANSAM’s executive posts. When the other Naga organizations were approached for direct participation the way was not clear requiring clearance from Zeliangrong bodies. In 1993 I was prevented from publishing a booklet that defined and clarified the ambiguity of the term Kabui. Except the Kabui (Inpui) Naga Baptist Association (KBNA) that is directly affiliated to the Manipur Baptist Convention, all other Inpui Naga organizations have been suppressed. Therefore, such suppressive attitude of the majority should be stopped; and the constituent units under the new platform should enjoy liberty, equality and justice. For this purpose, the common nomenclature, which can be brought out by discussion, should not bear any name that is biased or that does not indicate equal representation of all the units.

2. If resolved to have a common platform, then a Constituent Assembly must be formed to make the constitution. The draft constitution so made must be publicly notified and discussed at different levels especially the constituent units and after making necessary modifications, if any, can be adopted by the Assembly.

3. The executive of the common platform must be represented by equal number of representatives of each of the constituent units, irrespective of the differences in the size of population.

4. The function of the platform or organization should include, among others, the protection of the minority and their development. The term Zeliangrong was once renamed as “HAMEI” after much research and deliberations but reverted soon after. As far as the Inpui tribe is concerned, any nomenclature that is not biased or ambiguous but equally represents all the constituting units is acceptable. In fact, the Inpui tribe had consented to “HAMEI” or “HAOMEI”. However, if a consensus cannot be arrived at, why should we deteriorate our relations by unsuccessfully attempting to rebuild the 7,777 people strong house that broke up due to necessity? After all we all belong to the same and the larger family of the Naga Nation. It is the law of nature that sons of the same parent broke into a number of families and then to tribes. We ought to accept the reality that it is futile to persuade the unwilling brothers to live together again under one roof.

By K. Alung Khumba, Lecturer in Political Science

Patkai Christian College, Chumukedima, Nagaland

(Now, Principal, Kendriya Vidyalaya, ONGC Colony, Sivasagar, Assam)

(A Paper (Revised) Presented at the Seminar on the theme “Origin of 7 Brothers Tribes of Inpui, Kharam, Liangmai, Maram, Rongmei, Thangal and Zeme” held at T. Khullen, Senapati District, Manipur, on 27 – 29 November 2001)

Alung Khumba,
Feb 18, 2012, 7:21 PM