TODAY -

Evolution of kinship and clan system among Manipuri Muslim
Corvee Labour (Lallup) to Functional Divisions of Labour (Loyamba Shinlen) Perspectives
- Part 1 -

By: Imam Khan Makhjummayum *



In the age of silk route trade and ancient globalization, other than the main Silk Route across Central Asia connecting Roman and Arab lands and China, there was also another lesser known silk route passing through Manipur along which Brahmanism, Buddhism, Nestorian, Christianity and Islam traversed to reach East Asia and Southeast Asia.

There were both land silk route and sea silk route. From the sea silk routes, Arabs were sea-farers and explorers who converted an ancient Kerala king named Perumal to Islam, coastal people of Bengal delta, and some Nagara Brahmans of Sylhet embraced Islam in post-Harsha period in c. 655 AD who learnt the art of paper-making and silk-craft (sericulture) from the Chinese who participated in the trans-Asiatic trade, and Manipur valley was an entrepot and meeting place of Indo-Aryans and Mongoloid races.

Manipur traced their first king to Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (33-154 AD) to whose period is attributed the intermingling of at least nine racial (ethnic) ethnic groups known as Salai, and by the period of king Naophang Ahal period (594-624 AD) there existed on record two known racial groups (Salai) of Pasha and Pathan who were variously described as Turushka, Mlechhas, Aribahs in Vaishnavite literature or known as Passi, Ta-shih and Ta-t'sin in Tang period Chinese accounts, or known as Pangals, Khalazi, Aribam, Pasha, Turushka, Pasa, Pathan in Manipuri Meitei accounts (Puyas). There was Aribam clan in Naophang Ahal period (624 d.) period and Aribam, Makak, Khullakpam, Merai clans in Naophang Ahal period (624-714 AD).

Almost all Pangal (Manipuri Muslim) clans- numbering upto 62 so far, are patrilineal (Piba lineage) in nomenclature except in the case of two clans. There were matrilineal clans- Chesam and Phisam, and patrilineal clans as Aribam, Khullakpam, Makakmayum, Solaimayum which were apparent in king Irengba period of 10th century. An Arab account Hudud al-Alam (982 AD) described 'Manipur' as 'Manak' and Al-Beruni (1030 AD) called 'Manipur' or its neighbour as 'Udayagiri' in his Kitabul Hind.

The term 'Bangal' is derived from 'Bang'. 'Pangal' is derived from 'Pang' tribe who embraced Islam like the Nagara Brahmans did in Sylhet in early 7th century AD. This was possible because there was early form of globalization of trade involving Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Indics, Bengals, Chinese peoples well in the 7th century.

G. Kabui et al noted: "Muslim traders and explorers established an early global economy across the world resulting in globalization of crops, trade, knowledge and technology. During the Mongol Empire there was greater integration along the Silk Road. Such integration continued through the expansion of European trade in the 16th and 17th centuries when the Portuguese and the Spanish empires expanded to the then recently discovered America. Globalization had tremendous impact on indigenous cultures around the world". From the matrilineal side, Manipuri Muslims are indigenous people speaking Manipuri, wearing Manipuri clothes and taking local food habits conforming to Islamic tenets.

The Panchayat report of 1932 tried to group the then 51 clans under four major groups (Salai or heritage) as- Shaikh, Syed, Pathan and Mughal which was plausible and incorrect. However, it was compelled due to the British historiography that grouped the Muslims as- Pathan, Shaikh, Syed, Bengal, Mughals etc in frontier Bengal and Brahmaputra-Barak region.

The British however identified the Muslim population of Manipur as belonging to Sunni group of Hannafi school of thought after perusing the Shariat system as provided in the Personal Law Board of the Pangals (Muslims) and some Muslim chiefs were made members of the Manipur Durbar of the king under British suzerainty (1891-1949).

'Corvee labour', functional division of labour, confederate:
"Corvee labour" refers to the "obligatory service by subjects due to the kingdom or military service for the king" especially in old period. The historic "Lallup" of erstwhile Manipur kingdom and "Paik" that of Assam would mean this "corvee labour". Most of the Pangal clans (yumnak or sagei) were named from the epistemology that developed out of functional division of labour in horizontal effect not vertical-hierarchical model.

There are four Panas as groups (whether 'social divisions' or 'revenue divisions' or 'military group" are not clearly explicable historically) in Manipur society that comprises of both Meitei (Vaishnavite Hindus) and Pangal (Muslims) as: Ahallup, Naharup, Khapham, Laipham. This is because Ahallup and Naharup developed in Muslim context historically, and the later two- Khapham and Laipham developed in Meitei context. They became mixed up or irrelevant in certain period or contexts; yet the names survived which needs an explanation accordingly. Ahallup of the Muslim was originally (functionally) equivalent to Laipham of the Meitei. Same is Naharup with Khabam in this model.

However, in certain period (s) of history it appears that these four- Ahallup, Naharup, Khapham and Laipham became four Panas for broadly four functional division of labour that seemed to cover both the valley communities. They were called lup (luf) and pana interchangeably meaning the same entity. 'Lup' today is a common Manipuri terminology (Meiteilon which is also adopted/spoken by the Pangal) term that means an 'organization' or a 'confederacy' or a 'joint action committee'. There are many Arabic and Persian words or loan words that have become Meiteilon.

Ahal'laf (Arabic) carries the meaning "Body of lawmakers" having the same meaning of 'Majalis". Though Ahallup was established by Naophang Ahal (d. 624 AD), some opine that it might have arisen in the time of king Naothingkong in his phambalkaba (coronation in 744 AD) and the Naharup was established in the wake of proclamation of king Loiyamba shinlen (functional distribution of labour) in the period 1121-41 AD. It is certain that Muhammad al-Hanifa died in Maungdaw (Upper Burma) after marrying the native queen Khaya Pari (who embraced Islam), in c.710 AD. They had two sons- Shaikh al-Hanifa (Sukhanfa) and Salim al-Hanifa (Samlong alias Samlongpha).

The legendary Pangalba who arrived in Manipur in king Naophangba period and further proceeded to settle in Taraf (Srihatta/Sylhet) is identified with Pang al-Hanifa.

While the Naophang Ahal period Muslim pir is identified with Amir Hamza who temporary abode (amirate/umarate) later came to be called U'mara (or Pangal Mar in later puya/annals of Meitei). While the king Irengba period pir identified with Makhdum Jahaniyan Jahanghast (World-roamer), who by tradition brought the Qadam Rasul (footprint of the Prophet) and the Jhanda (heraldic device mounted on a staff) who is related with Poa-Makka tradition of Hajo in Kamrup. Some believe, the Irengba period saint is Shaikh Jalaluddin Tabrizi d. 1244 or Shah Sultan Rumi who on the way converted the Koch king to Islam in 1054 AD.

The term "lup" is derived from "louf" which is an Arabic word meaning "confederate". The 'pana' of Manipur refers to 'revenue divisions of territorial lands' as was prevalent in Shan (Pong) region. "Lup was the former name of Pana". "Ahali" (or "iyal") means family; "Ahl" means "the people of…"; "ilaf" means "pact of security"; hilf means "limited alliance".

The "Ahl-e-louf" became "Ahallup' in nomenclature development that was of 7th or 8th century context. Now, 'Ahallup' is to be explained from current/existing vocabulary. Now, what do 'Aha'l and 'lup' mean? Somehow, if 'Ahallup' term existed, the term 'Naharup' has to arise for the sake of identification or formality. So, epistemologically speaking, 'Ahallup' is Islamic origin, and Naharup is local (indigenous) term. Now, "Ahal" means "old"; and that "Naha" means "new". Thus, the term 'Ahallup' is Arabic origin but 'Naharup' is not.

In other words, Ahallup also developed among Meitei community simultaneously in co-relational manner.

to be continued....


Imam Khan Makhjummayum wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on December 04th, 2009.


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