Meitei people

The Meitei (Meitei: ꯃꯩꯇꯩ) (also Meetei (Meitei: ꯃꯤꯇꯩ) ,Cassay-Shan (Meitei: ꯀꯦꯁꯤ-ꯁꯥꯟ) , Meithei (Meitei: ꯃꯩꯊꯩ) , Manipuri (Meitei: ꯃꯅꯤꯄꯨꯔꯤ)) 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.

The Meitei people are made up of seven major clans, known as Salai Taret. Their written history has been documented to 1445 BC.


Origin of the Meitei

The origin of the Meitei people is a mystery. There are different theories on this from various disciplines. Regardless of various theories and opinions, it is very much certain that the Meitei as we see today as a population group is a heterogeneous group of different characters. It is an outcome of a mixture of different population groups in different periods of history from different directions. Before the beginning period of 19st century AD, there were different clans; seven major clans and a few sub-clans had integrated to form the Meitei nation. Thus, the name Meitei became the common nomenclature for all of them.

It is possible that valley dweller Meiteis are descended from surrounding hill inhabitants. It is believed that the central valley of Manipur was underwater in the very early period. Human habitation on the valley could have begun in the valley after the settlement of the surrounding hills, only after dry land emerged in the Central Valley.


The Meitei people speak Meiteilon (Meiteilon), a Tibeto-Burman language . It is also known as Manipuri. Meiteilon is one of the officially recognized languages of India which was included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India in 1992. It is the mother tongue, i.e., the first language of the Meitei (Meetei) ethnic group. However apart from Hindu Meiteis and the Meiteis following the traditional religion of Sanamahi, Meitei Pangals, i.e., Manipuri Muslims also return Meiteilon as their mother tongue.

Historically, Meitei is written in their indigenous Meitei Mayek script until it was lost and replaced by Bengali Script in the early 18th century, however the revival of the Meitei script started in the 20th century.

Kinship System

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’


Meetei have their own calendar called Maliyafam Palcha Kumsing (since 1398 BC). The Maliyafam Palcha Kumsing calendar has 12 months, like the Gregorian Calendar.

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The Ancient Meitei people are the group of seven communities who first settled the fertile plain and valley regions of the Imphal River and the tributaries of the Manipur River. The earliest written record of their existence dates back to 1445 BC in the ancient antique kingdom of Kangleipak. They settled in their own independent principalities, which a review still in existence in the present day Manipur, India. Some records of the period survive in the Meitei inscriptions.

Written Scriptures

Some of the most accountable historical works of the Court scholars of ancient times are:

  • Cheitharol Kumbaba: It is the Royal Chronicle of the Meitei Kings starting from 33 AD till present.
  • Wakoklon Heelel Thilen Salai Amailon Pukok Puya: One of the oldest found Meitei manuscript. It was written in 1400 BC and when lost for a long time, it was rediscovered in 1971.
  • Puya (Meitei texts): The Meitei manuscripts which are rediscovered from various hidings are now preserved. They are called Puya meaning "advices and orders from the elders".


    Festivals, sports, music, art, warfare, religion, etc. are the main features in the Ancient Meitei Kingdom of Kangleipak.


    Among the various types of festivals, religious themes are the most significant, with Rasalila, Janmastami, Holi, Lai Haraoba, Cheiraoba, Yaosang, Eid (Meitei-Muslim) etc. which were celebrated since time immemorial.


    Ancient sports are still in existence while some got extinct, a few got spread throughout the world.

    Some sports are worth mentioned as follows

  • Sagol Kangjei: It is the earliest form of modern-day Polo which traces its origin to Manipur. According to Guinness World Records (1992), " Polo can be traced to origins in Manipur state, India, C. 3100 BC when it was played as 'Sagol Kangjei' ".
  • Mukna Kang-jei: It is a form of Meitei Wrestling. It is considered to be the most masculine form of sports.
  • Khong kangjei: It is a form of Meitei Hockey.

    Pre-colonial period

    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 independence

    The Meitei ethnic group, represents about 53% of the population of India's Manipur state.


    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.

    They are also known for their contribution to art, literature and cinema. M.K. Binodini Devi, Khwairakpam Chaoba Singh, Ratan Thiyam, Aribam Syam Sharma, Rajkumar Shitaljit Singh, Elangbam Nilakanta Singh, Heisnam Kanhailal and Sabitri Heisnam are some of the prominent personalities in the field .

    The Meitei people are very fond of horse riding.


    The Manipuri martial art 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.


    According to 2011 census, 14% of Meiteis traditionally believe in Sanamahi religion named after god Sanamahi, while 7% are Muslim. The majority (52%) of Meiteis on the Manipur Valley follow Hinduism, but also follow traditional Sanamahi religious traditions alongside Hindu practices. For example, they worship Sanamahi in the south-west corners of their homes.


    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 Southeast/East/Central Asian, Siberian, Polynesian and Micronesian 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 northern 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.


    The Meitei are mainly agriculturists in which rice is a staple crop. However, they also grow mangoes, lemons, pineapples, oranges, guavas, and other fruits. Fishing is also common among the Meitei that can either be a profession or a hobby. Women tend to dominate the local markets as sellers of food items, textiles, and traditional clothing.


    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 Sanaba 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.[3] 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.[1] 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.[6] 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.[1] 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.

    Heeyang Tanaba (Hi Yangba Tanaba) is a traditional boat rowing race[1] 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.