The ethnicity of Kaipeng community in Tripura

Ishan Biswas

Among the 19 clans in Halam community the Kaipeng is one indigenous group that exists in Tripura since the monarchy system of Tripura kingdom. As per the report total 50 Kaipeng villages are here in Tripura. Among them 35 villages are under Ampi nagar RD block, Gumati Tripura and 4 in Teliamura, 1 in Damcherra, Panisagar and rest 10 villages are in Jampuijala in Sepahijala district.
The Kaipeng tribe is a sub-group of Halam community of Tripura State in North-east of India.
They are the indigenous inhabitant of Tripura state. The meaning of “KAI is to lead and PENG means another way/path/road'.
Thus the full meaning of the name Kaipeng which means "leading someone to another
The Kaipeng clan is basically belonged to the Mongoloid groups and speaks the Tibeto - Burmese language.
It is presumed that they migrated from somewhere near the Burma- frontier in the east. They also have
their own dialect. They are found settled in Tuidu and Ampi area, under Amarpur sub-division, Sirduk
Karkari TTAADC area, under Teliamura Sub-Division and Jampuijala Sub-Divisions in Tripura.
Recently, they are also being settled at Badur Khua and few families settled in Seisimdung Khua under
Panisagar Sub-Division of North Tripura District. However, they are also found in different part of
district in Mizoram. But, mainly they are large population at Kanhmun khua under Mamit district,
Origin: The Kaipengs like many other tribes of the Kuki Chin origin believe that man originated from a certain
cave called “Lungsin-Kharzawl” in Kaipeng. Some pronounce it as ‘Sinlung’ or ‘Chhinlung’ or
‘Khurpuitabum’ which literally interpreted means closed stone of Tibet-China. The Kaipeng tribe
believes that their fore-father’s came first out of this cave by chanting powerful words (Chongsam) to
the close stone to be opened. And many other similar tribes come out one after the others. When the sub-tribes came out of the cave, they talked so much and made such a loud noise that the guardians-god
(Gate-keeper) of the cave fearing that the human population had grown too large and then closed the
cave with a stone preventing any further exit of human beings from the cave. There after the tribes
moved towards south-west along the present border of Burma and India through Himalayan Hill Tracks.
The old Kaipeng identified themselves as RIAM (Miriam/Manmasu) which literally means people
(“Men or human being"), They have also used a traditional cultural dress called a “RIAM KANCHILI”
till today as a proof. Riam Kanchali is an original of Kaipeng traditional dress. It is greater reliability
on geographical and historical grounds, because the hill still stands as a living witness as CHAMPHAI
town in the present Mizoram. Besides, the historians are of one opinion that the Kaipengs made a long
halt at that hill in course of their migration.
The Food Habits: The foot habit of this tribe is akin to that of other sub-tribes of the Halam, Tripuri,
Mizo, Kuki and the like. Rice is their staple food. Some formalities are observed while drinking or smoking is done in formal gathering or in groups. Persons having higher social status in respect of seniority in kinship, senior in age and otherwise get to have smoke or drink first. In a village gathering, for instance,
the order of the offer respectively follows from the Ochai (village priest) to the Khaw Lal (village
headman: Choudhuri), village headman to his assistant (Khandol) and the elders. The guests and other
respected persons are cordially entertained with smokes and drinks. The food gathering activity of the
Kaipengs consists of the collection of vegetables, fishing and hunting. It is supplemented by food
production, and domestication of animals and birds. As the forests are receding, dependence on food
gathering is decreasing. The forests of Tripura offer ample scope for food-gathering activity.
The Economic life: The life of the Kaipengs is amidst of the hills and jungles where natural products
are abundantly available. Their economic life is consists of gathering of wild vegetables, fishing,
hunting, basketry, weaving and primitive agriculture called Lo (shifting cultivation) which is also
known as Jhum by the common people of the state. In this field, variety of crop seeds are sown by
putting into shallow holes and dug by gangs of men and women with stroke of choppers held in the
right hand. Thus paddy, cotton, melon, sesame, aurum, jute, brinjal, chilli, ginger, turmeric, maize,
cucumber, gourd, pumpkin etc. all these are sown into the same field.  The economic activities of the
Kaipeng relates mainly to weaving and basketry.    
The Society, Culture & Religious belief: The Kaipengs also have their own society, which is known
as 'Kaipeng Society, The Tribe controls all over the community with some systematic procedure of its
own since long past. A number of rites and rituals, conventional traditions, religious taboos etc. are
surviving till today in their culture. By nature, they are not atheists. The Kaipeng village pattern is same
as that of other tribes of Halam Community in Tripura. Most of the villages are built nearby jungles
and interior areas. In such villages, some significant social activities are being performed. Each of the
village is under the jurisdiction of the village headman called Khaw Lal (Choudhury). He is the high
power holder in the village level in their society. In case of failure to control over the offender, he
may refer to the higher authority, i.e., Kaipeng Rai (Chief of the community) for further trial.  
The conduct of the members of the Kaipeng Tribe is regulated through three-fold structure, such as (1)
the family authority structure, (2) the village authority structure and (3) the community council.
The Family Authority Structure: In Kaipeng Tribe, the conduct of the members in the family is
regulated and the socio-economic and politico-religious activities of the family are determined by the
head of the family. Nowadays, the oldest male member heads the family and his wife acts as assistant.
After the death or otherwise, invalidation of the former, the next oldest male succeeds him. The new
head could be the eldest son or eldest son-in-law (in case the family has no son or eldest son has been
staying with his father-in-law's family). In case the family has no adult male member, the wife of the
head takes up this responsibility. The head represents his/her family at the village and community
affairs such as selection of village chief (Choudhuri) and the other members of the council, and to
attend village meetings called by the village council. 
The Village Authority Structure: In respect of administrative point of view, the Kaipengs have a
unique establishment of their own. Choudhuri (village headman) is the powerful local authority in
every Kaipeng village. A lot of disputes, quarrels, controversies and minor clashes etc, which take
place in a village, are usually justified in the court of the Choudhuri. Hence, the Choudhuri is the
competent authority to dispose of the cases lodged in his court. There are two Khandols (peon-cum-
messengers). In every Kaipeng village, assists the Choudhuri two Khandols are as follows. 
The Khandol Ulian (Senior  Khandol) : The Khandol Ulian (Senior Khandol) is appointed by
the people of the village at the discretion of the Choudhuri concerned. His duty is to perform as a
senior messenger-cum-police. He informs about any meeting that to be held in the residence of
village Choudhuri. By virtue of his social position, he arrests the accused and produces the
offenders in front of Choudhuri for justice. One Khandol  (Junior Khandol) is attached to him for
collection of contributions from each household for community festivals, and the like.
The Khandol (Junior Khandol) : He is also appointed by the Choudhuri concerned at the
discretion of the people of the village. He is the assistance of Khandol ulian. His main duty is to
act as and assistance of Senior Khandol while bringing the convicts to the court of the village
Chowdhuri. He is bound to abide by and work under the direction of Senior Khandol as well as
the Choudhuri. On production of the accused in the court of the village Choudhuri, the Choudhuri
will try the offender in the court in presence of Nutwr and Patwr (generous elder persons of the
village who can give good suggestions for the case) as he deems fit to be attended. The case is
generally disposed of by the verbal verdict given by Choudhuri. Hence, Choudhuri is the
competent judge in the village court. In case, the Choudhuri could not dispose of a critical case
lodged in his court, the case is automatically referred to the higher authority (i.e. in the court of
the RAI council); the RAI council will settle the case along with his associates and jurisprudents.
To mention here that the exact amount of fine or particular type of punishment against any offence
is normally determined by the village headman (Choudhuri) and his associates. The Choudhuri
and his associates have a negotiation for finalizing the fine or punishment against the accused
with Nutwr patwr (aged and knowledgeable persons) of the village.
The Traditional Kaipeng Dresses and Ornaments: In respect of dress and ornaments, the Kaipengs
also have their own. In far-flung areas, the infants are generally found to be almost naked while in proper
sides are well dressed. The forefathers of the Kaipengs used to put on loin cloth (Therthap) in the past
though it is not found nowadays. At present, an adult man's dress consists of two pieces of clothes:  a
napkin made of raw cotton and a Kanchili (shirt). The womenfolk use two pieces of clothes too, namely
a Rasa (an upper garment of Kaipeng women) which is a well designed long narrow piece of cloth. It is
horizontally tied below the arm simply covering the breasts, and a Puannzel (a lower garment of Kaipeng
women), is a large piece of cloth tied to the waist and goes a little below the knees. Earlier, both the
male and female were fond of ornaments and used to keep long hair. Ornaments are used for neck,
Rathei (necklace); ear-lopes, Kuarkhai (ear ring); nose, Nakuphul (nose-flower); hair, Samkil (hair
stead) and hands, Bala (rings used in wrists); fingers Kutsabi (finger ring) etc. of all the ornaments,
those for neck and ear- lobes are deserves special mention in women. The necks are profusely
decorated with large number of Rathei (neck lace) and Sumrui (a neck-lace of coins) reaching to the
belly and covering the chest. From the early childhood, the ear lobes of the girls are pierced with
needle (Thirsim) and a little cork made of broomstick is inserted in it. After sometimes, it is replaced
by the bigger one, which tends to tear the lobe and enables to wear Kuarkhai therein.
Folk Songs, Music and Dance:   Music plays a major role in Kaipeng societies and is intimately linked
with a person’s ancestry and country (the animals, plants and physical features of the landscape). It is
traditionally connected with important events such as the bringing of rain, healing, harvesting, etc.
Kaipeng music is learnt and carried on to later generations by performing it. It is not seen as fixed but
rather is something that is varied or built upon in successive performances. There is usually a large
number of participants and is performed communally. Narrative verse looms large in the traditional
music of Kaipeng cultures. This encompasses such forms which were meant originally for oral
performance, sometimes accompanied by instruments. Hymns and other forms of religious music are
often of traditional origin. Work songs frequently feature on call and response structures, and are
designed to enable the laborers who sing them to coordinate their efforts in accordance with the rhythms
of the songs. They are frequently, but not invariably, composed. Music has been an integral part of the
Kaipeng lifestyle. Some of the aboriginal instruments, developed in Tripura and with respect to Kaipeng
community are Singrasit (Musical instrument played by mouth), Dangdul (bamboo musical instrument),
Sranda (violen), Khuang (Drum), Chongpreng (Guitar), and Thethele (Flute). Be it the occasion of
marriage, religious ceremony or other festival, songs and music are sung and played to commemorate
each event among the community. Dance has also been a vital constituent of the Kaipeng way of life.
The different varieties and style of dance forms like Rai lam, Jaksung lam, Meladan lam etc are
exclusive to one or the other occasions. The Kaipeng songs and dances reflect their social lifestyle. Joy
and sorrow are given a musical colour through their songs sung in style befitting the occasions. 
The Traditional Kaipeng Games & Sports: The Kaipengs are very rich in traditional games and
sports. They enjoy a lot of games like Poi-radai (a seed shooting game), Rabuan (wrestling), Sarelranon
(bamboo pole wrestling), Tuaikumzuang (a game intimating in flight of an insect) and so many others.
The boys mainly play these games. And, the girls also play games like Mairahip radai (a game of hide
and seek), puanta (weaving of little piece of cloths) and so on. Earlier, the Kaipengs community
depended on shifting cultivation for livelihood and their main crop was rice. For husking rice the
Kaipengs used wooden mortal and pestle which were called ‘Sum’ and ‘Sarel’. During the break of
their tiresome rice husking which was done mainly by women the Kaipeng youngsters used this rice
pounding wooden pestle ‘Sarel’ to exhibit their manly prowess. 
Festivals: The Kaipeng celebrated various types of festivals. Some of them were observed in the form
of rituals and sacrifices. They played a significant role in Kaipeng society, as they were normally
associated with economic and religious activities, social lives and agricultural season. These festivals
and rituals revealed the Kaipeng view on diseases, life and death. While some festivals were meant for
joyous celebrations, the others were related to rituals event that resulted from the belief in the existence
of supernatural spirits. These practices or celebrating gradually ceased due to the mass conversion of
the tribes in Christianity in the twentieth century. However, ‘Sakungphai’ festival is still celebrated as
a post-harvest festival in a modified and modern form. Sakungphai festival is revived in Tripura but
without an originally. It, therefore, emerges as a challenges as to how to preserve and sustain the
traditional values.
NGO: The Young Kaipeng Association (YKA) is a platform for all the Kaipengs for interaction among
themselves for Unity in preservation and development of Socio - Cultural Activities from all states of
India (North Eastern states). The YKA is the largest and most comprehensive non-profit, secular and
non-governmental organization of the Kaipeng people. It was registered with the Tripura Government
under the Indian Society Registration Act, 1860 (Act XXI of 1860). The YKA has expressed over the miserable social status of the Kaipeng people in Tripura. In many villages in Kaipeng habitations there are no proper road connectivity, no electricity, drinking water crisis, no school, health centre deficiency, deprivation of BPL ration card amidst  poor families, many Kaipeng widows and aged people are deprived from govt. pension, dearth of 
shop stalls, do not have ration distribution centre in many villages. Their lives are really in a pathetic condition. The YKA, TKSCL & KSU the Kaipeng NGO organizations has raised allegation over the deprivation of govt. amenities and said that being constitutional fundamental democratic right the Kaipeng people are neglected from different kinds of govt. facilities in their backward localities.