The north-eastern states are possibly the linguistically richest part of the Indian sub-continent

Ever heard of a newspaper launched for a community of about one lakh It can happen in the north-east
Flix Saturday, September 26, 2015 - 20:42

In a development that escaped attention of the mainstream media, something historic occurred on  Friday. The first newspaper in the Liangmai language – which may at best have around 50,000 speakers – called The Makuilongdi Express was launched in Tamenglong district in Manipur.

Liangmai is the language of a Naga community of the same name, which is spread across three districts of the north-east – Manipur, Assam, Nagaland. However, their historical and cultural roots lie in Makuilongdi, a village today identified as Oklong village in Senapati district of Manipur.

One theory is that the Liangmai trace their ancestors to Makuilongdi (meaning big mountain) from where they and other communities migrated to various parts which are now located in three different states in the north-east.

According to Budha Kamei, the chief of Makuilongdi Nguiba did not have a son with his wife, and therefore married another woman. With the second wife, Nguiba had a son named Namgang. But later he had a son even with the first wife, whom they named Kading. Complicating matters further, he had a third son with the second wife, whom they named Rembang.

When the question of succession came up, an uncle of the three boys chose the youngest one, which laid down custom, but disrupted the unity of the people. disappointed with his father’s decision, Namgang left the village and his descendents became known as Zemei after the hill range where they settled (Ze or Nzei) initially and eventually made their way to the Cachar valley (present day Assam). Rembang first settled in Tamenglong district in Manipur, but made their way as far as Aizawl. They eventually became known as Rongmei (people of the fallow lands and of the south). Kading however, chose to stay back, and his descendents are called Liangmai, meaning northerners.

According to Kamei, these developments were likely to have occurred around the 13th century.

According to Akham Gonmei Neumei, on February 15, 1947, the names of these communities who trace their ancestors to Nguiba, were turned into a port-manteau – Zeliangrong (Zemei-Liangmei-Rongmei; mei means people).

The only figure for the Liangmai community’s population is on Wikipedia, which pegs the number at around 54,000. Elsewhere, it says that the community population could be around one lakh. However, there is no citation for either figure.

Even before the political borders drawn by the Indian state made it difficult for three communities to forge a common political objective, there have been attempts.

Researchers say the Zeliangrong sought freedom from the British in the first half of the 20th century under the leadership of a young woman named Gaidinliu.

Although they have taken various formations and have had ebbs and flows, the movement for a Zeliangrong political and cultural identity does not appear to have died down.

Just three days ago, Shillong played host to the Zeliangrong Economic Summit organized by the Zeliangrong Citizens’ Forum. Read the Shillong Declaration here.

In 2012, a film titled “Homecoming to Makuilongdi” based on the Zeliangrong Ancestral Land Expedition of 2012 had been released. The team comprising researchers and students was visiting various places and villages that were connected with the three communities’ history and culture.

In 2014, the ZCF embarked on the second leg of this expedition, as a sequel to the film.

Linguistics have argued that the survival of languages is influenced by its integration or lack of it with the economy. In a June 2014 interview with The News Minute, linguist and architect of the People’s Linguistic Survey of India Ganesh Devy had said that people would migrate to other langauges if they did not get livelihood options in their own languages. He also illustrated with examples how economic policies of the government had helped the survival of languages such as Bhili, Chang, Kheza and Khandeshi.

Read: Hindi prominence order: Why not an inclusive policy for our disappearing languages?

Although little information is available about the first newspaper in the Liangmai language, it seems an exciting prospect.

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