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[Book Review] Hoineilhing Sitlhou, Deconstructing Colonial Ethnography: An Analysis of Missionary Writings on North East India, New Delhi: Ruby Press, 2017.

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This brief article critically reviews various recent essays and publications on the Kuki–Naga conflict of the 1990s. The conflict has resulted in uprooting hundreds of villages, with the loss of more than a thousand lives, destruction of valuable properties and internal displacement. While British colonial policies of governance in Northeast India and the rise of ethnic nationalism among Kukis and Nagas in the post-independence period have been identified as major root causes of the Kuki–Naga conflict, the literature remains inconclusive and this article argues that today competing claims and perceived threats regarding land and territory appear to be the major cause of continuing tensions.
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Kuki – A Generic Term The word “Kuki” is a generic classification of ethnic groups that spread throughout the Northeastern region of India, Northwest Burma and Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. B.C. Allen, et al., describe the home of the Kukis as “mountainous tracts lying between Burma, Manipur, Cachar, and Arakan” (Allen, et al., 1979: 618). In Northeast India the Kukis are present in all the states except Arunachal Pradesh. This dispersal across international borders is mainly attributed to the British colonial policy (Haokip, Thongkholal, 201'7. Like some other tribes, the term “Kuki” is given by outsiders. Adam Scott Reid said that “Kuki” is a Bengali word meaning “hill people” or “highlander” (Reid, 1893: 5). Kuki Tribes According to Lt. Colonel J. Shakespear the term “Kuki” has a definite meaning and includes Aimol, Chothe, Chiru, Koireng, Kom, Purum, Anal, Lamkang, Moyon, Monsang, Gangte, Vaiphei, Simte, Paite, Thadou, Hmar, Zou etc (Shakespear, 1912: 8). The Kukis are blessed with custom, culture and lingual affinity. G.A. Grierson stated that the tribes connoted by Kuki are Anals, Aimols, Chirus, Gangte, Hmars, Koms, Lushais, Paites, Purums, Raltes, Suktes, Thadou, etc., each able to understand another’s dialect (Grierson, 1967: 2-3). C.A. Soppitt also asserted that all the tribes grouped under “Kuki” “have so much in common, both in language, manners, customs, and system of internal government, as to render it absolutely necessary to take them together” (Soppitt, 1976: vi). While most colonial historians divided the Kukis into Old and New, Soppitt conjured that the official terms “old” and “new” Kuki should not be used and the term “Kuki” itself is too well established to be given up. Recognising the common ethnicity and identity of the Kukis, the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950 of the Government of India placed all the Kukis under “Any Kuki Tribes” in the states of Assam, Tripura, Mizoram, and Meghalaya. While in the state of Manipur they are recognised in their respective tribes.