On May 12th 2018, we headed out on a journey of about 6 hours to Liyai Khullen, Manipur to attend the 100th year celebration of ‘Naga labour corps to France’. Liyai Khullen, literally translated to “People of the Sea”, based upon the measure of depletion of forest cover and last remaining wild animals, the village could be about 500 years since the time it was inhabited. It may be mentioned that Liyai Khullen village is the biggest village of Poumai community which sent the highest number of persons (32) to France as Naga labour corps in 1918 from where 30 persons returned back home. They were all accorded heores’ welcome and handed high status in the community.
We were welcomed by the residents of the village all singing and lined up along the path leading to the venue where the celebrations were to be held. But it was no ordinary walk, the men had all gathered to accompany us; some with celebratory gunfire. The village had invited Manipur’s PHED Minister L Dikho as chief guest and President Naga Hoho P Chuba Ozukum as guest of honour.
On arrival at the venue, the chief guest and guest of honour along with some leaders of the village were led to inaugurate the programme with planting of trees and then the unveiling of the monolith where all the names of the 32 labour corps were engraved in the stone.
The ceremony commenced with a welcome song presented by the Christ the King Church. The opening prayer was then recited by the Pastor of the Baptist Church. This was then followed by the welcome address delivered by the chairman of Liyai khullen, Th. Thaiso Titus.
The Chief guest then released a book titled “Chi Khahlibvii” which literally translates to “a casket of treasured word”. The Maveinarimai added melody to the event by presenting a folk song and also by the Baptist Church of Liyai Khullen which thus enhanced the musical-cultural ambience.
The guest of honour,President, Naga Hoho, Chuba Ozukum addressed the gathering with a speech reminding about the great sacrifice of the people by sending labour corps to France, a place that was unheard of and miles away from home. He emphasized on how sending the Naga Labour Corps to France during 1917 was a blessing in disguise as on their way back from France, the Nagas learnt of their ways and realized the need to live in harmony among one’s own community. The Nagas came together to form the historic Naga club and submitted the first memorandum to Simon commission in 1929 to the British government for Naga sovereignty and independence. He stated how Nagas have a lot of enemies and adversaries and how it is crucial to live as one. Nagaland and Manipur have suffered a lot but have come this far showing a ray of hope. The division among family, friends, communities and also among the leaders are all human creation, it can all be solved if worked on together. He stressed on the importance of getting out of the box and trying to live in unity despite ideological and political differences. He ended the speech by appealing the gathering to have the willingness to do something good for the people. That we, as individuals have an important role to play. That we need to come together and form an organization.
The chief guest of the celebration, minister PHED, printing & stationary , Manipur L. Dikho in his address mentioned that village-wise the Liyai Khullen village sent the maximum number of persons from the district. Commending the organizing committee and the village for putting together the grand programme in honour of those brave 32 labour corps, he advised the villagers to celebrate it with vision and purpose with the objective to produce many leaders from the village to lead the society. He asked the village to work on enhancing the economic status of the village and strive for a better standard of living. Encouraging the parents to invest in their children’s education and to motivate them to prepare for the civil services exams with a vision to bring all round development in the village. He advised on changing the traditional mindset of inviting MLA or minister as guests only during special events, and urged them to rather invite the guests for necessary developmental activities. He suggested the village youth organization to take up initiative of planting trees on the roadsides from Chelou village till Liyai Khullen for beautification and attraction of tourist. He said the 2-lane road project from Tadubi – Ukhrul with the total cost of Rs. 1500 crores would be commenced shortly and requested the landowners to cooperate with the government. He gave assurance that all the village roads under his constituency would be blacktopped in his tenure and sought the public cooperation to fulfil the aim.
In the end, the secretary of Liyai Khullen offered the vote of thanks to all including the invited guests and participants for gracing the occasion by their solemn presence. Which was then followed by the benediction by the catechist, Liyai Khullen Christ the King Church.
The guests were then led to the area where the banquet had been laid out. Along the way, we were approached by a man who was kind enough to explain to us the stories about the village. About the various ponds that were found there, tiger pond, elephant pond, rock pond etc to name a few, telling us stories about the origin of the names and also about the animals that constantly visited the ponds. The peepal tree that stands tall marks the origin of the village, which is also believed to be the spirit of the village.
The food that had been prepared was indeed worth the long walk uphill, various delicacies from pork to chicken to beef to even snails had been laid out. Which was paired with Liyai Khullen speciality rice beer, rated as one of the best in the region. It goes without saying that their hospitality was beyond expectation.