This feature was first published in Amrapali Magazine in January 2015.
The Tarao Naga tribe is one of many Naga tribes in Manipur. Manipur and Nagaland are the two neighboring states situated in the northeast of India and have strong connections to the episodes of Mahabharata too! Bhabhruvahana, Arjuna’s most valiant son who defeated his father in a war during the course of Ashwamedh is begotten through the princess of Manipur, named Chitrangada during the period of Arjuna’s exile at Manipur. Bhabhruvahana was adopted as a son by his maternal grandfather and later became the successor of his grandfather’s kingdom. Now, here stands an exciting loop carrying ahead the significance. Uloopi is Arjuna’s Naga princess and she had a major role as a stepmother to Bhabhruvahana and also in saving Arjuna’s life in some instances. Iravan was the son of Arjuna and Uloopi.
There are many characters that revolve in different episodes of the Mahabharata from northeast India. I’ll surely bring a write up on it in the near time. I’ve brought this collective report based on the reports of e-pao.net, matterindia.com, Hueiyen Lanpao Editorial and Wikipedia upon the to be extinct Tarao tribe of Manipur. Manipur is incomplete without the Taraos like many of its other communities like the Meities, Tangkhuls and the Hmars. The Tarao tribe speaks Taraotrong and Meiteilon as well. But, the Taraos are now on the verge of extinction.
The Manipur State Government in 2003 have recognized the Tarao tribe for its characteristic cultural heritage on the basis of its traditional attire and its performing arts. But, the UNESCO found in its report of 2009 that, the Tarao language as extinct. In addition to this, the report listed the languages Aimol, Andro/Phayeng, Chairel/Chakpa under ‘List of endangered languages’ have become extinct. It is sad to note that, such loss of culture is loss to the community and their composite existence.
History says that the Tarao tribe was brought by Maharaja Ching – Thang – Khomba (1748–1799) who was a Manipuri monarch of the 18th century CE, to look after his orange tress at Komlathabi. The Maharaja had an orchard nearby Pallel. This tribe was engaged in the plantation of fruits like banana, papaya, pineapple, etc. and were confined within just four villages having a population of above few thousand.
L Morre, the President of Tarao Culture Literature Society of Manipur showed his concern on UNESCO’s report at the Imphal Movie Club to media personals on November 28, 2014 as published in Matterindia.com on November 29, 2014. This press conference was organized by Tarao Tribe Union, Tarao Culture Literature Society along with Tribal and Endangered Languages Promotion Board. Earlier, there were fifty families at Sanakeithel in Ukhrul district. Amongst them, forty families were moved to Chandel during the time of MK Priyobarta. Now, only 10 families remain in Ukhrul. L Morre also added that Dr. RK Nimai representing the state government, have made efforts to collect the scattered Tarao tribe from areas like Tarao Laimanai, Leishokching, Khuringmul and Heikakpokpi areas.
Moreover, the Government has not declared them as Minority Community and has not been available for this endangered community and plus this ethnic tribe does not have any representative in the Autonomous District Councils or larger state organisations as per reported by Hueiyen Lanpao Editorial, on December 20, 2014. But, some Tarao representatives appealed to the government to make efforts for saving the Tarao language and culture from extinction.
On other hand, Dr. Chandramani, the Convenor of Tribal and Endangered Language Promotion Board said, “Though the extinction of Tarao language was declared in a report by the UNESCO in 2009, I have conducted research under the Ministry of Human Resource Development which had revealed that the language is still being spoken by a little less than a thousand people". From early times, the tribal folk used natural colorants that were extracted from the leaves and plants found in the locality to make vegetable dye. Black is the dominant colour in their textiles but red and yellow colours are not ignored.
According to the United Nation’s ‘Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities’ 1992, states shall be responsible for the protection of the existence of national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and also encourage and promote the identity of such groups/communities.
The UNESCO’s report should be taken seriously and immediate necessary steps should be taken by the state government as well as by NGOs/autonomous bodies to safeguard the Tarao tribe community from being extinct. The tribe possesses some rare art of weaving and cultural indulgence on their arts and heritage. Being with over a few thousand living Tarao, we still have some time to implement an adequate process for its healthy existence.