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Waikhong Thumkhong – Livelihood for Forest Dwellers

Last Updated on February 17, 2023 by SPN Editor

Waikhong Thumkhong is 49 km south of Imphal along Mayai Lambi Road and 13 km from Wabagai in the Indo Burma Sugnu Road. It is a foothill village, with the Phandu hill ranges in the east and the Pumlen pat on the western side. The Waikhong Pine Reserve Forest, covering an area of 5.10 sq km is endangering the existence of traditional forest dwellers who are inhabiting it for hundreds of thousands of years, much before the creation of the state of Manipur.

In Waikhong village, there are 25 sacred Meitei Laifamlen. Prominent Laifamlen of Waikhong are Ima Thumkhong Lairembi Laifamlen, Ibudhou Apokpa Laifamlen, Ibudhou Pakhangba Laifamlen, Ibudhou Sandhong Laifamlen, Ima Thoibi Leima Leifamlen, Ima Ichum Lairembi Laifamlen, Pere Leima Leifamlen, Meinamba Leifamlen, Ibudhou Phandu Laifamlen etc.

The salt-making village of Manipur is one of the oldest villages, having more than 2000 years of human settlements. During 1324-1335 AD, Meitei King Kongyamba accepted the four Loi villages of Manipur which includes Waikhong.

In the Meitei puya “Leirol”, Waikhong is a hill village situated in the Loijing Ching (present-day Aihang Kuki village) that was first settled by the Waikhong people. As per the mythology of Nongpok Ningthou Panthoibi Khunkairol, Nongpok Ningthou and Panthoibi seek refuge in Waikhong after they reached Chairel village. Here they have stayed to escape from Khaba who was searching for them.

Later, after a few hundred centuries, the Khaba clans came to Waikhong and settled here after they were defeated by Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (33 AD). This is clearly mentioned in the Ningthouja Khunthok Khundarol. Nongda Lairen Pakhangba’s son Khuyoi Tompok (154 AD) started digging salt wells at the foothills of the erstwhile kingdom of Manipur. The Waikhong Thumkhong is one of them.

The Khuman king Aton Thingkol Hanba (1130-1150 AD) raided the villages inhabited by Mayang Kalisha who have migrated from the Silchar and settled around the Jiri town of Manipur. In some manuscripts, the reign of Aton Thingkol Hanba was mentioned as 930 AD which needs to verify. As per Khumanlon, during 930 AD, the Khuman kingdom was ruled by Siyarong. King Aton Thingkol brought some Mayang Kalisha as war captives and was given land to settle in the area presently known as Mayang Imphal. Further, they were shifted to settle at Leimanai in Yawakhong (Waikhong).

After staying in Leimanai (Laimanai) for a few years, these salt manufacturers migrated to Chairen, Wangoo, and Nungoo. Some returned back to settle in Ningthoumanai Leikai of Waikhong and Laimanai of Langmeidong. King Paikhomba (1666-1697 AD) started a few salt wells to be used exclusively for the royal families. The Waikhong Thumkhong was considered to be one of the prime locations where salts were manufactured mainly for the royal family.

Several salt wells were dug in Waikhong till the time of Maharaj Budhachandra (1941-1955 AD). There were around 15 Thumkhong in Waikhong. Today, only a few salt wells are used by local people for the manufacture of salt. Some prominent Thumkhong are Tampak Thumkhong, Khonglen, Khongnamba, Yambikhong, Khongjao, Manung Thumkhong, Lokchao Thumkhong, Leihoupokpi Thumkhong, Chitek Thumkhong and Mungna khong etc.

Present generations will not see Leihoupokpi Thumkhong, Lokchao Thumkhong, Chitek Thumkhong and Manung Thumkhong. Leihoupokpi Thumkhong lies in the present Lamkang village of Keithelmanbi. The Lokchao Thumkhong and the Chitek Thumkhong are under the control of Kuki village of Aihang and the Manung Thumkhong lies in the Chothe village of Purum Khullen.

chitek thumkhong
Chitek Thumkhong

The Kala Lampak which lies adjacent to Chitek Thumkhong was inhabited by a Waikhong villager named Sanasam Kala, whose forefather, Sanasam Sampurna came to Waikhong in 1541 AD. Kala collected salt water from Chitek Thumkhong and manufactured Thum. The Yumfam (homestead land) of Sanasam Kala is now known as Kala Lampak which now lies in the territory of Aihang Kuki village.

At present, 20 households are continuing the tradition of salt making. Even though the market for traditional Meitei salt declines, households from Pere Leikai, Uyung Khunou, Tangsam Leikai, Chingdong Leikai, and Pomthapokpi are producing Meitei Thum. They are collecting salt waters from the Tampak Thumkhong which now housed a Laisang of Ima Thumkhong Lairembi. Some different varieties of Thum manufactured by Waikhong areThumjao which is the biggest plate-shaped salt cake used for offering in Sagei Lai khurumba (ancestral worship) and at the time of marriage ceremony. The Thum Talak is smaller than the Thumjao and primarily used for daily consumption.

Traditional Thum making in Waikhong (Photo credit – Thounaojam Sundar)

Thum Samer, having a small ring of depression at the central surface and edges are used as an offering item in traditional religious rituals like Ipan Thaba, Lanna Thouram, etc by the indigenous people of Manipur. Maternity women used Thum Koiga which is plain salt cake without any depression or inner ring and used for consumption. The fine Thum Koiga is also used in preparing dishes or curries for the mother delivering the child. Lastly, the Thum Macha which is the smallest form of salt cake with a diameter of about 15-18 cm is used on auspicious occasions, feasts, and festivals like Shajibu Cheiraoba, Lamtai Thangja, etc.

When Maharaj Budhachandra visited Waikhong village, he dug Tampak Thumkhong which is still used by the villagers. The name Uyung Khunou Leikai got its name from the Uyung Tree which was fell down to be used in Thumkhong. Today, the villagers are protecting the Leiripokpi Uyok covering an area of 25 acres to remember the event of Maharaj Budhachandra’s visit to Waikhong. The king also dedicated three hillocks, namely Awun ching, Yaimabi, and Atonbi to the Waikhong villagers in the name of his daughters.

The Phandu peak is the highest point of hills found in Waikhong. Ibudhou Pakhangba resides in a cave at this peak. Budhachandra ordered the villagers to erect a stone at Leihoupokpi ching which lies on the western side of Phandu caves. The king then demarcated the traditional boundaries of Waikhong from this stone. Waikhong villagers were given the rights and ownership of Leihoupokpi ching,Thamnapokpi, Hayenpokpi, Chandol ching, Keijanfam, Ahumpokpi hill ranges which include (Awun ching, Yaimabi, Atonbi, Waklenpokpi, Uchanpokpi, Hijanfam) and Loijing ching which lies to the western side of the stone erected during his visits. Crossing the Indo Burma Sugnu Road, the villagers were given the forest ownership rights at Maning ching which includes the Thenga ching, Abungongai ching, Awa Loknung ching till it reaches the Pumlen pat.

Ancestors of Waikhong practice the traditional Laisha Tanba (hunting animals for the Deity) in the Mamang ching and Maning ching forests. The Lailam Thokpa ceremony is also performed in Thenga ching, a small hillock that is sacred Laifamlen of the village. During the Lai Haraoba festival of Ibudhou Apokpa, villagers used to search for Thangtup fruits, Kongyam flowers, Chumnang flowers, and Kombirei flowers to be offered to the Deity from the Mamang ching (Chandol ching, Leiripokpi ching, Uchanpokpi ching, etc).

uchan karong 1
Uchan Karong found in Waikhong Forest (photo credit – Naorem Mohen)

The forest dwellers of Waikhong collect 14 different varieties of Mushrooms and fungi which are available in the forests. Mushrooms like Yensha nambi, Khomdrokpi, Moyon pal, Uchan karong, Langyen, Leibak Marum, Uchina, and Thangjiyen are gathered from the forest to be sold in local markets. Besides, edible wild herbs and vegetables like Loklei, Pulei, Namra, Yaipal, Kanghu, Feija, Heiba , Heina, Heirangmei, Sanshenhei, Nurahei, Monsanghei, Singkap, Thangtup,Ngang, Nung Yensin,Yenbum, U hawai maton, Tharak, Sabong khunou, Yenakhat, Singmanbi, Kwamanbi, Mukthrubi are also collected from the Waikhong forest.

Medicinal plants like Urik shibi, Ngamu yai, Nungairei, Hanurei, Lam heibi, Lam thabi, Nongmakha Asinba, Nongmakha Angangba, Pakhangba Lei,Pakhang Leiton,Ashi Heirit, Uyum, U Khajing, Lai Utong, Tarong Tal are also found in the forest. Waikhong people are depending on these medicinal plants for their health and well beings.

Shafu, Shaji, Hangkok, Kheiroi, Lamok, Lamhui, Yong, Moirang Sathibi, Tokpa, Shadung Namthibi, and Shabou are some of the wild animals in the forest of Waikhong. Besides, birds like Lamyen, Waba, Kongoi, Urenbi, Soibon, Khulang mekuibi, Kokil, Maku, Thigri, Chukok Waikok, Khunu khrang, Umaibi, and Sekpri are found in the forest of Waikhong.

As per the British record in the Gazetteer of Manipur by E W Dun (1886) altogether 50 houses existed in Waikhong, having 250 people whose primary occupation was salt making. During Khongjai Lan (1917-1919 AD) the Dak Bungalow at Waikhong was burnt by the Aihang Kuki, killing 4 civilians from the neighboring Thongjao village. In 1922, the Manipur State Durbar too constructed a primary school in Waikhong, which still existed.

Since the Government of Manipur de-reserved Ningthoukhong Kha, Moreh, Churachandpur, Kwakta, and Khoupum Valley on 24th December 1984. Waikhong, one of the oldest Salt making villages of Manipur must be de-reserved from the forest areas, to keep the traditional rights of the forest dwellers.

The people of Waikhong may be regarded as the offsprings of the forest who depends on them for their livelihood and economic activities. Indigenous people of Waikhong depends on forests for centuries, for their livelihood, hunting, fishing, and other forest products. They are also depending on gathering wild forest products, which they consume themselves or sell to neighboring markets.

The villagers are depending on the forest for their timber, fuelwood, wild foods, medicinal plants, and grazing grounds for animals. The primary income source of the people is derived from the sale of agriculture or cattle which are dependent on forests. Besides, some of them are also earning income from forest-based labors like working in the traditional Salt manufacturing unit, providing firewoods, and as loggers in Uyok or Ukon (Domestic or Village managed forests).

The foothills of this Village do not have vast plain areas suitable for cattle grazing, therefore, the forest is the grazing grounds for cattle. In the vicinity of Thumkhong, a host of fauna and flora are found available which includes medicinal plants, edible wild herbs, and wild animals. Villagers used these plants in curing diseases and other health-related problems. Let the villagers continue to preserve and manage Waikhong Thumkhong with their traditional indigenous knowledge, which was passed on to them by their forefathers.

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