Mizoram,1872: The True Poiboi

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This article is an extract from


THE LUSHAI EXPEDITION
1871-1872

BY
R.G. WOODTHORPE.
LIEUT. ROYAL ENGINEERS.

LONDON:
HURST AND BLACKETT, PUBLISHERS,
13, GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET.

1873.


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Contents

The True Poiboi

The villagers had requested the General, as all their women' and children were there, not to occupy the village. Since the fire at Chelam, he had determined not to halt in a village, and so he readily acceded to their request, only requiring them to bring out some material for huts, which they did.

As it was about six o'clock by this time, the troops were not able to hut themselves. Water- proof sheets and tarpaulins were hastily rigged up. We had a large tarpaulin for our instruments, and this with a waterproof sheet formed a very fair shelter, underneath which we squeezed in between theodolite, plane-table, &c., the inequali- ties and slope of the ground being rectified in some degree by bags of rice, atta, &c., (our coolies’ rations) which, however, made a lumpy place of rest.

The day’s march had been a trying one. Though only nine miles in actual distance, it had occupied nine hours in time, owing to the steep ascents and descents, and the narrowness of the path, along which the force slowly wound its way in single file, with frequent checks and halts. We saw a very handsome sago-palm during the journey, the first we had seen in these hills.

The next morning we started again at nine O’clock. The villagers at first objected to our passing through the village itself, but a compro- mise was effected by sending the coolies round.

Darpong told Mr. Edgar early in the morning that Poiboi, who had followed us from Chelam and halted during the night at the Dimlui, was then in the village. Mr. Edgar sent Hurri Thakoor, (his right-hand man and interpreter, familiarly known as Harry Tucker), with Engloom and another Lushai fugitive, to identify him.

He turned out to be the true Poiboi this time. He promised to be faithful to us for the future, but was very nervous during the interview, and, like some timid animal, darted off now and then towards the jungle, as if he feared being caught by some stratagem, notwithstanding the assurances of his muntri that there was no danger of this.

Poiboi’s Timidity

Afterwards, as Mr. Edgar was watching the coolies passing the village from the height above, Darpong told him that Poiboi was on an adjoin- ing hill and wanted to see him. Mr. Edgar re- plied that the chief must go to see the General, who had ridden on; but this he could not be pre- vailed on to do, and thus the last chance of an interview with the chief was lost.

Poiboi was a very young man, about twenty years of age, and had been so much impressed by the history of Lalchokla, that he could not bring himself to believe in our promises to re- spect his liberty, especially after implicating him- self in the affair of the 25th.

The village of Tulcheng was surrounded by a very strong stockade, which was defended against escalade by a thick hedge of brushwood running all along the top, in which were firmly secured bamboo stakes inclining outwards and down- wards. The entrances were defended by strong gates, which were made of thick planks, each cut out of one tree, with a large projecting piece left at the back, through which the securing bar was passed. Each plank was pivoted at the top and bottom in a strong framework of timber.

A short distance from the village the path went over a steep bit of rock, about twelve feet high, the descent being accomplished by a rickety bamboo ladder which delayed the troops consider- ably. The Goorkhas, in their thick boots, were very nervous in crossing such places, whereas without their boots they ran up and down them like cats. The coolies fortunately found another and easier route from the village.

We discovered another very handsome speci- men of the sago palm in the ravine beyond this rocky descent.

Crossing the ravine, the road ascended and ran along the edge of a very steep precipice, and continued along the range without any very great descent. There was great difficulty in finding water, mile after mile being traversed without meeting even a trickle. At last, towards evening, we came out on a large grassy level, with an elevation of about six thousand feet, overlooking the entrance to Lalboora's country.

Buljung

The scene was a very fine one. Heavy clouds hung over the pass, on each side of which Dilk- lang aud Murklang rose to a height of nearly seven thousand feet, dark and frowning, while between and beyond lay the valley of the Tui-tao; and far away the high mountains of the Soktes and Burmese rose against the sky, softly lighted up by a few level rays of the declining sun, which struggled through a distant break in the dark clouds.

Soon after we found water, a very scanty sup- ply, and far from our camping ground, near a small deserted village, called Buljung, situated on a spur of the Dilklang, formally inhabited by Lenkom's people. Here we encamped after an- other nine miles of tedious march.

The small supply of water was our great grief, but we hoped to get down to the river, in the valley, the next day, and so made the best of it. A pint of water was the allowance for four for washing in next morning, a solemn compact being made that no soap was to be used till each had dipped his face.

A military authority, I forget who, writing on campaigning, says, “Officers will be astonished to find what a very small amount of washing is necessary to their happiness," or words to that effect, and we had often occasion to acknowledge the truth of the remark. " The means to do ill deeds make ill deeds done," and though washing hands is not exactly an ill deed, yet the feet of having soap and water at hand, I have no doubt, is often the cause of an unnecessary washing of these members.

The evening of our arrival at Buljung, we were joined by two little children, a boy and girl, of the Sadoe tribe, with a very romantic history. They had lived with their father and three other children in a village about ten miles off. The Sadoes, in this village, had been detained there against their will by the Lushais, and they took advantage of the presence of the Contingent, at Chibu, to effect their escape.

On the night of the villagers' exodus, the father took his three young children on his back and in his arms, the two elder ones following. In the darkness and confusion, the poor little things missed their father and lost themselves in the jungle, in which they wandered for several days, living on roots and berries.

The Tui-Tao

At length they reached a village, where they heard of the approach of our column, and that their maternal uncle was with it. When they heard that the force was at Tulcheng, they started for Buljung, and awaited our arrival there. They remained with us, and accompanied us on the return to Cachar.

The next day, February 14th, a slight shower fell about six a.m., but soon cleared off again, and we marched at the usual hour, descending the west face of Dilklang, to the east of which rises the Tui-tao, probably a tributary of the Koladyne, if not the Koladyne itself. We de- scended some seventeen hundred feet into the flat alluvial valley of the Tui-tao, which joins the Teo about six or seven miles south of Bul- jung. The valley is very level, as its name im- plies, Tui “water," Tao “sitting." We found that we had crossed the water parting at Dil- lang, and that thenceforth the streams flowed in a southerly direction.

Our path lay along the banks of the river for about three miles, crossing it repeatedly, and passing through tall reeds and wormwood. Our march was a short one, about five miles altoge- ther, and very easy.

Wo arrived at our halting place, where a small stream joined the Tao, about one p.m., and forthwith set about to build little huts. Plenty of trees, with large leaves, and grass growing in this spot, who had no difficulty in speedily construct- ing our shelter; and then proceeded in a body to enjoy the luxury of a bathe in a wide pool, among large stones, where the river widened alightly* We took down a change of raiment, and having bathed ourselves, we proceeded to wash our discarded suits, each officer becom- ing his own dhobi with much satisfaction to himself — having so much water to play with being really a treat.

This camp became “No. 17 Station," and a halt was made on the 15th to give the coolies a rest, which they much needed, as many had only returned to Chelara with supplies the day before we started, and the two long marches to Tulcheng and Buljung and want of water had knocked them up.

Firing Heard At A Distance

In the morning some Lushais scouts, who had been sent on the day before to reconnoitre, re- turned with the tidings that heavy firing had been heard in the direction of Chumfai. They supposed it was caused by an attack on the village of Chonchim, in which Vonolel’s widow lived, by some Soktes under Kamhow of Mol- bhem.

Some other Lushai were at once sent off to find out the real facts. During the day a great many of Lenkom's people, and some Pois subject to that chief, came in bringing presents.

It was fortunate that we did halt here this day, as heavy clouds had been gathering all the morn- ing, and about eleven a.m. a regular downfall commenced, which lasted till five p.m., detaining us inside our huts, endeavouring to keep our- selves and property dry — a difficult matter, as the rain found out some weak place in the roof or waterproof sheets every five minutes. We solaced ourselves with cold pork and pickles, and wrote home letters under difficulties.

The next day was a very fine one — indeed the Expedition was very fortunate as regards the weather throughout; not getting rain more than four of five times, and then only on the halt. The first night at Daidoo was the only occasion on which we were seriously inconvenienced by it.

Immediately on leaving camp we began to ascend the Murklang, and after a steep climb of three thousand feet, reached a small village of Paites or Soktas, who had' been settled there by Vonolel. This village was situated close to the edge of a very precipitous cliff, and was strongly stockaded; the approaches from the south being also stockaded.

The construction of the gate to the principal stockade was ingenious, though I am told it is common in all the hill districts of the Eastern frontier. It consisted of several thick uprights, which swung freely from a horizontal bar passing through their upper ends. These could be easily pushed aside to admit of anyone passing in or out, at the same time they were quickly secured on the inside by fixing a horizontal bar across them, about a foot from the ground.

A Centenarian

We were met by the whole population, men, women, and children; among them were some very old men, including their head-man Engow. One white-haired old man, who said he was a hundred years old, and looked it, fell at the General's feet, and then rising, blessed him. They complained of the oppression of the Lushais, and said that ten armed men had been sent from their village to aid the Lushais in the attack of the 25th. They had been induced to do this, as they had heard fearful tales of the cruelties to which we should subject them if we got as far as their village; but when they heard bow different was our real treatment of those by whom we were unopposed, they refused to join in defending the stockade at Tulcheng when called upon by Lal- boora and the other chiefs, saying, “Why, for your Bakes, should we oppose people who will harm neither us nor our property if we do not oppose them?"

This was also the answer given by the inhabi- tants of several other subject villages, and it is probable that this defection influenced in some measure Lalboora's decision not to fight.

We learned also from these villagers that the Sokte’s had attacked Chonohim, but had been beaten off" with the loss of four of their number; one Lushai had been killed, and four wounded.

From the village the pathway ran along the east face of Murklang, a rocky precipice, clothed here and there with trees and grass, having a sheer descent of some thousand feet. Beneath nestled a small village, and beyond lay the broad and smiling valley, through which far below, like a silver thread, the Teo wound its way. High hills of dark green, on the slopes of which the jooms shone like gold in the bright sunshine, rose in the background.

The beauty of the scene was heightened by the rhododendrons which clothed the hill-side on either side of the road, and were then in all their glory of brilliant blossoms, and helmets and turbans became gaily decorated. Even the guns were not forgotten ; their prosaic steel forms being also adorned with the bright flowers, with almost loving care, by their Sikh gunners.

Valley of Chumfia

Shortly after we passed through a magnificent pine forest ; a gentle breeze sighing through the tall pines wafted their sweet perfume across our onward path. We passed two deserted villages without meeting with any water, and finally descended into the Chumfai valley, where we en- camped very late in the evening, having covered nearly thirteen miles in the day's march. Mes- sengers were at once sent on to Chonchim, re- quiring the people to submit.

The valley of Chumfai is about five miles long, with an average breadth of a mile, and an eleva- tion of four thousand nine hundred feet ; the hills all round rising to a height of above one thousand or twelve hundred feet. The ground is swampy in many places, and low hills, covered with small leafless trees, are dotted over its surface.

This valley seems to have once been a lake, which has gradually silted up in the manner de- scribed by Captain Pemberton, with reference to the Loytak Lake in 1835.

" The bed has begun very perceptibly to fill up from deposits of silt, from the surrounding heights, which are continually carried into it, and if this process continues, a few »years will suffice to obliterate the lake altogether."

" There runs in the lake a range of low hills, the portions of which, not covered with water, form islands.

The low hills in the Chumfai valley, which now look isolated, are probably peaks of a similar low range which ran through the lake, the alluvial deposit having taken the place of the water in covering up the lower portions of this range. The soil of this plain seems to be fertile, but is at present uncultivated.

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