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The Meitei (also Meetei, Meithei, Manipuri) people are the majority ethnic group of Manipur, a northeastern state of India. Meitei is an endonym or autonym while Manipuri is an exonym. They primarily settle in the central plain region of Manipur. A significant population of the Meitei also are settled in domestic neighboring states such as Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura. They have also settled in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Meitei girls in traditional attire
|2 Million approx|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Manipur, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nagaland and Mizoram|
|Hinduism, Sanamahism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Nagas, Tangkhul, Kuki, Tai Ahom, Burmese, Shan, Angami Naga, Komhrem, Tripuri, Shan, Tai, Karen, Other Indigenous Assamese people, Pangal|
The general feature of a Meitei looks like a Mongoloid but ethnologist have observed that Meitei have great diversity and among them are found traces of Aryan race. This incident is traced back in medieval age when Aryans passed through Manipur to penetrate Burma.
The Meitei people speak Meitei (Meiteilon), a Tibeto-Burman language. It's also known as Manipuri. Meitei is one of the officially recognized languages of India which got included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India in 1992.
Historically, Meitei is written in their indigenous Meitei Mayek script until it was replaced forcefully by Bengali Script in the early 18th century, however the revival of the Meitei script started in 20th century and slowly it is taking back its place from the Bengali Script.
For the domestic group called Kinship, Meiteis reckon relationship both through affinal and consanguineal relationship. The Meitei word for kin is mari mata and the relationship mari-mata thoknaba literally means, to have relationship. Schematically, there are two types of kinship ( Mari-mata) 1. Luhonglaga thok naba mari (affinal relation) 2. Ee-gi mari leinaba (Consanguineal relation) Meitei kinship is classified at the kin system (Yek-salai), then at lineage (Sagei) and finally at the family level (imung manung). The bulk of Meitei population is divided into seven clans: Mangang, Luwang, Khuman, Angom, Moirang, Khaba-Nganba, and (Chenglei)Sarang-Leishangthem. Under which there are many sageis. However,Meitei Bamons do not fall under the rubic of Yek -Salai. The kinship terms in Meitei are unilineal, patrilineal and patrilocal. Meitei kinship terms are classificatory with an exception of some descriptive terms. There are only four descriptive kin terms in Meiteilon. They are: 1. ima ‘mother’ 2. ipa ‘father’ 3. iku/ikubok ‘father-in-law’, 4. inem/inembok ‘mother-in-law’
Before the arrival of European (mostly British) colonialism in South Asia, there had been many tribal wars in Nagaland and Manipur, persecution and raids from Burma by Burmese army on Meitei people and others in India's northeast region. The meitei kings succeeded in defending their territory ultimately.
Since Indian independenceEdit
Most of the rich culture of Manipur can be credited to the Meiteis. Since ancient times the valley region of Manipur was trading crossroads between India and Myanmar and gradually the valley portion of Manipur became the melting pot of Indo-Burman culture. The famous Manipuri dance form had its roots from the Lai Haraoba dance form.
The Manipuri Martial art form Thang-ta is a combative sport which had its origin from the meitei knights during the kings rule. It involves various fighting techniques with swords and spears.
Meiteis traditionally believe in the god Sanamahi. They worship him in the South-west corner of their home. Some Meiteis belong to Vaishnav sect of Hinduism. They worship Lord Krishna.
Rice, vegetables and fish are staple food of the Meiteis. Rice is accompanied by a one or several sides. The vegetables are either made as stews (Athongba) with less oil used in sauteing, or stir fried directly in oil and many spices to make an oily spicy side dish (Kanghou). Roasted dried fish or fried fresh fish is usually added in most of the stews and curry to impart special taste. The vegetables, herbs and fruits consumed in the region are more similar to those in East Asian cuisines such as Myanmar, Thailand, etc. E.g. treebean (youngchaak), galangal (loklei), culantro (awa phadigom), lime basil (mayangton), fishwort (toningkhok)...and many others, which are not cultivated in mainland India. One of the most important ingredients in Meitei cooking is Ngari (fermented fish). Roasted ngari is used in the singju (a kind of salad), morok metpa (chilli chutney), iromba (boiled and mashed veggies with chillies). A variety of fermented bamboo shoots (soibum) as well as fresh bamboo shoots, and fermented soya beans (hawaijaar) also form an important of Meitei cuisine. All meals are served with some fresh aromatic herbs on the side. A typical every day Meitei meal will have rice, vegetable or fish curry, a piquant side dish (either morok metpa or iromba accompanied with herbs), a champhut (a sweet vegetable, eg, carrot, pumpkin or cucumber slices just steamed or boiled with a little sugar), and a Kanghou.
Meitei women wear Phanek which is a kind of Sarong but has a unique style. They are either horizontal stripe pattern which is called Phanek mayeknaibi or single block colour. The ends are decorated with high embroidery. It is usually accompanied by a blouse and a matching enaphi which is like a Dupatta but usually transparent.
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They introduced polo to the west when the British came to Manipur valley during the kings rule. It is locally called Sagol Kangjei. It is believed that the game was played by the Gods of Meiteis as a practice of warfare. According to Chaitharol-Kumbaba, a Royal Chronicle of Manipur King Kangba who ruled Manipur much earlier than Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (33 AD) introduced Polo.
Kang is a game played under a shed of building on an earth ground (court) smoothly levelled to suit the course of the 'Kang' the target on the court. It is well marked for the respective positions of the players of both to hit the target on the court. It has rules and regulations formed by the associations to suit the occasions of the games either for competitive tournaments or friendly entertainment. The dignitaries of the Palace, even Queen and King also participated on social functions.
Mukna a unique form of wrestling popular amongst the Meiteis.
Mukna Kangjei also known as Khong Kangjei is a game which combines the arts of mukna (wrestling hockey) and Kangjei (Cane Stick) to play the ball made of seasoned bamboo roots. The origin of the game dates to Aniconic worship. People celebrate Lai Haraoba (festival to please traditional deities) and include this item to mark the end of the festival. It was believed that Khagemba Ningthou (King, 1597–1652) patronised this game.
Yubi lakpi is a traditional full contact game played by Meiteis using a coconut, which has some notable similarities to rugby. Yubi lakpi literally means "coconut snatching". The coconut is greased to make it slippery. There are rules of the game, as with all Manipur sports. It is played on the lush green turf. Each side has 7 players in a field with about 45x18 meters in area. The goal post is 4.5x3 meters box in the central portion of the goal line. The coconut serves the purpose of a ball and is offered to the king, the chief guest or the judges before the game begins. The aim is to run while carrying the greased coconut and physically cross over the goal line, while the other team tackles and blocks any such attempt as well as tries to grab the coconut and score on its own.
Oolaobi (Woo-Laobi) is an outdoor game mainly played by females. Meitei mythology believes that Umang Lai Heloi-Taret (seven deities–seven fairies) played this game on the Courtyard of the temple of Umang Lai Lairembi. The number of participants is not fixed but are divided into two groups (size as per agreement). Players are divided as into Raiders (Attackers) or Defenders (Avoiders).
The Raiders say "oo" without stopping as long as they can continue and try to touch the Avoiders. If a Raider touches an Avoider while saying "oo", the Avoider is out. This process goes on till all Avoiders are out or surrender. If a raider fails to say "oo" or is out of breath, the Raider is out. Points are counted on the elimination of Raiders/Defenders.
If Raiders are tired they declare for change and a time limit is decided on. The principles of Oolaobi are very similar to Kabaddi in India. The ground (court) is not marked; normally the open space in the premises of the house or temple is used for the game. Oolaobi, sometimes spelled Woolaobi, is very popular with girls and a source of talent in Kabaddi.
Hiyang tannaba (Hi Yangba Tanaba) is a traditional boat rowing race and festivity of the Panas. This is held during the month of November. This was introduced during the time of Ningthourel Khunjaoba, the second son of King Khagemba, who dug the Kangla Moat around the Palace to make it impregnable in the year of 1660 after he ascended the throne in 1652. In the traditional function two boats "Tanahi" (Race Boat) are detailed for leaders known as "Tengmai Lappa". In each boat forty Hiroys (Boatsman) operate the boat. The boat which reaches the finishing line is the winner and all boatsman raise their (Now) oars high in the air as a sign of reaching the finishing line first and thus the winner of the race is declared. The leader pays his respect to the deity and the King of Manipur.
Arambai Hunba People of Manipur are very fond of riding horses specially those who are in the village near the breeding areas. Since the ponies are easily available, the young boys get the chance of riding ponies without saddle on horse back. Sometimes they ride horse using a rope in place of regular bridle throwing branches of small trees in place of Arambai. This practice helped the Meitei Arambai force as a martial art which was very much required during the advance and withdrawal of forces. This art was very popular as an indigenous game of the Meitei youths.
Some outdoor games formerly played by children are nearly extinct. These include Khutlokpi, Phibul Thomba, Kanthali, and Chaphu Thugaibi.
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