History, Historiography and Historian: The Mind of Gangmumei Kamei

By M C Arun

Read history; but you should know that historical events have been filtered through the writings of the historians. While reading please asks yourself: what do you get out of the reading. In case of the active-reader, the reader always evaluates the writing because his mind also has a mechanism of filtration, a number of prisms with which he judges the writers. Likewise, writing history also suffers the same problem of filtration. It is an art of representation of events and interpretations. These events are interpreted by the historians whose mind is not free from subjective bias. Their minds are also filled up with their ideology, value, stereotypes and prejudices. Same event may, therefore, have several layers of interpretation or several meanings in different historical writings. Events are independent of historical studies. There is an inevitable question about the possibility of objective account of event. Is there any law that governs the history and history writings? With thousand questions of history, Professor Gangmumei Kamei, otherwise known as Gangmumei Kabui in Manipur, starts his inquiry into historiography and history of Manipur to deliver four lectures as a part of his national fellowship at Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Simla. The outcome of his lectures is his recently published Lectures on History of Manipur (2012).

The concept of historiography changes from ancient times to positivist empiricist to postmodern. The term has broadly two connotations: first, the study of the practice of history itself; second, an entire body of literature of a particular point in time or a particular historical issue and point of view. Contemporary historiography mainly deals with social history, gender history, and the history of non-Western societies.

The renowned historian Professor Gangmumei Kamei explains various aspects of historiography in his first lecture. He treats the subject matter in a wide historical framework to trace the growth of the concept of historiography. His notion of historiography is in the tune of second connotation. Keeping the connotation in context, his classification of historiography of Manipur is discussed broadly at two levels: (a) Colonial and Post-colonial, (b) Manipuri and Tribal. As he is a historian by training and profession, he deals mainly with the temporal dimension in dealing with colonial and post-colonial historiography. He does not give much pinch to the nature of colonial historiography rather takes it as a storehouse of history. As the subject matter is very vast, he does not discuss the overlapping of the two types of historiography; the colonial historiography continues even after 1947. The detail is not discussed because of the short nature of the lecture.

His knowledge of colonial writings, documents, accounts of various political agents, gazetteers of Indo-Burma region leads him to the opening of many folds of past events, social processes and their academic meanings. He is equally exposed to the puyas and other historical documents, created and maintained by the maichous of Manipur State. While treating various events, he can blend the parallel historiographies. Above all, as he is active activist-scholar of regional history, he can handle well what he calls ‘tribal historiography’. Tribal historiography has theoretical problem as well as methodological challenges. Professor Gangmumei strongly opposes the anthropological notion of “society without history”; he particularly mentions Levi-Strauss. He also reacts to the tribal-civilization dichotomy. The anthropological notions (as well as distinction) of history and prehistory, complexity of civilization, social formations are no doubt becoming contested terms in postmodern discourses. However, these notions still help in analyzing social realities of several human groupings in different human conditions. Like many other students of historiography, Professor Gangmumei Kamei deals with, though briefly, social history of tribal peoples in Manipur using oral history as a source of history.

Keeping his mind always alert, his next three lectures are pointedly focused on three specific areas of Manipur history — Feudalism, colonial policy and practices, and ethno-nationalism. His treatments of these areas show his deep scholarship and wide range of his exposure to three different historiographies – Manipuri historiography, colonial historiography and tribal historiography. His ideas of Meitei kingdom, Meitei nationalism and intention of British colonial agents in separation of hill administration from the king of Manipur may provoke the minds of different readers differently, at least in Manipur. Reading these ‘lectures’ of history may raise many political and historical questions in the minds of readers. Whether Meitei-tribal relation in pre-colonial period was that of subjugation of tribal village or king-subject relation in a kingdom? Was loipot a tribute or tax? Can we apply the notion of tributary relation, often discussed in African studies to South East Asian context? Did South East Asia (including ancient Manipur) have different notion of state and its own system of king-subject relationship? And many more questions. The readers’ mind is also equally active as the authors and equally charged with subjectivity. This is the beauty of historiography of the second connotation.

One can see in these lectures, Professor Gangmumei Kamei is sincere to his study. He does not skip vital issues in order to avoid controversy. As a historian by profession, he knows the ups and downs of the course of history; he knows the deeper meanings of certain terms like Manipuri. He points out the two connotations of the word, Manipuri, used during the colonial period. In one sense, Manipuri covers all the ethnic groups living in Manipur. In another, it is only the Meitei; Manipuri is synonymously used with the Meitei. This problem of Manipuri identity is not yet to be solved; sometimes this problem is confused with the Hinduization and Hinduized name Manipur. Currently many writers use such words/phrases as “tribes of Manipur,” not “Manipuri tribes” as if Manipur is only a geographical entity, not a historically evolved state. Professor Kamei points out that Manipur was multiethnic “nation” from 15th century (with conquest of Kabaw valley) till the loss of Kabaw Valley in the 19th century. After the loss of Kabaw Valley, the nation reduced to agglomeration of only three, viz., the Meitei, the Naga and the Kuki, even the common identity of the three was lost. His locus standi in forwarding his findings out of his study of history is crystal clear. In his lectures, there are still more puzzles, riddles. It is to test reader’s ingenuity.


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