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Myanmar Meiteis in search of roots

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KHELEN THOKCHOM   |   Imphal   |   Published 19.05.08, 12:00 AM

Imphal, May 19: Rajen Singh alias U. Swe, of Yangon knows he is a Meitei. But he cannot speak his language as he has become a Myanmarese Buddhist.

There are many Manipuri-Myanmarese like Rajen who are citizens of Myanmar. Successful in their professions, they are, however, cut off from their culture and identity much to the concern of the Meitei elders who are fighting a losing battle to preserve their roots in their foster land.

There is a flicker of hope though.

Beginning June 7, the Indo-Myanmarese Fraternal Alliance, an Imphal-based organisation, will embark on a 20-day trip to Myanmar to restore old ties between the Meiteis of Myanmar and Manipur.

The 20-member team will visit various settlements inhabited by people with Manipuri origin.

“We will help and also take part in Lai Haraoba (pleasing of the god) — a Meitei religious ceremony — in at least three areas of Myanmar. We will take along pena, a violin-like traditional instrument, artistes and maibis (priestess) who are an essential part of the festival,” the president of the organisation, R.K. Sivachandra Singh, said.

Nearly three centuries back, several Manipuris were taken as prisoners of war by the Burmese.

Emperor Alongpia used the best Meitei cavalries to attack Chinagmei in Thailand.

The cavalries were made to settle at Nadaswe in Saigang division. Those settled in Myanmar constructed temples of Meitei deities and still preserve the culture of Lai Haraoba in their own way.

“We will take part in Lai Haraoba at Nandaswe, Amrapura and Gaave. We will perform all the rituals, including Lai Ikouba (invoking the Lai from water). We aim at reviving the Meitei culture, which is losing relevance among the Myanmarese Meiteis,” Sivachandra Singh said.

He should know. He has been organising trips to Myanmar for many years to restore the old bond. Though the exact number of Meiteis in Myanmar is not known, those frequenting the neighbouring country put the figure not more than a few thousand.

The princely state of Manipur, that now shares over 300-km-long border with Myanmar, had trade and commerce with erstwhile Burma.

A Meitei king even married his daughter to a Burmese prince. The relationship soured after the Burmese invasion.

Another objective of the trip is to find out if any tribal community from Manipur migrated to the country.

“We have been told that tribals, believed to be of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo group, are inhabiting seven villages in Golden Triangle, notorious for heroin smuggling. During the trip we will go there and also visit the villages to unearth the truth,” Sivachandra Singh said.

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