A Short Historical Note On The Khamtis

A Short Historical Note 
On The Khamtis
A. Mackenzie: History, 1884.

     The Khamtis were originally immigrants from Bor-Khamti, the mountainous region which interposes from the eastern extremity of Assam and the valley of the Irrawaddy. They are of Shan descent and adhere to the Buddhist religion. When they first came to Assam they settled on the Tengapani, but in 1794, during the trouble reign of Gour Sing, probably in consequence of pressure from the then invading Singphos, they crossed the Brahmaputra, ousted the Khawa Gohain, or Assamse Governor, of Sadiya, the Khamti Chief usurping his titles and dignity, and reduced the Assamese ryots to a positing of subservience if not of actual slavery. The Gowhatty Government was compelled to acquiesce in the arrangement, and after the annexation. The British Government found the Sadiya tract entirely under Khamti management.

     Mr. Scott, the Covernor - General's Agent, recoginzed the Khamti Chief  'Chousalan Sadiya Khawa Gohain' as the local officer of the Assam Government, permitted him to collect the poll-tax of the Assamese of the district, and entered into arrangements under which the Khawa Gohain, instead of himself paying taxes, undertook to maintain a contingent of 200 men, to be armed by the British Government. In 1824 the Khamtis rendered such material aid in the campaign against the Singphos, that Mr. Scott was led to urge upon Government that in any arrangement made for handing over Upper Assam to a native prince, the country inhabited by the Khamtis should, with that of the Muttacks, but kept apart.

     The relations which subsisted between the Sadiya Khamtis and their brethern in Bor-Khamti led, however, at times to much uneasiness and doubts as to the loyalty of the former. In 1830, for instance, a body of Singphos and Bor-Khamtis invaded the tract south of the Brahmaputra, but were dispersed troops under Captain Neufville. The current  rumour in Assam these, though the local officers discredited the report. It certainly appeared to be the interest of the Chef to cultivate our friendship, but it is impossible to trust absolutely to a priori argument of that kind where semisavages are concerned.

     In May 1835, a fresh immigration of 230 Moonglary Khamtis took place. They came wishing to settle under the British Government, and asking for arms and exemption from taxes for ten years. They were refused fire-arms, but were told that they would be allowed to live free from all dues for three years. The Government seems at this period to have been much impressed with the advisability of inducing colonists to take up land at the head of the Assam Valley, provided that their doing so did not interfere with the area reserved for tea cultivation. What was wanted was a cheap and effective barrier against future invasion from Burma, the dread of which long continued to trouble the Government and explains much of the policy in regard to Upper Assam, Manipur, and the frontier generally.

     It was unfortunate that just about this time the arrogance of Chowrangfat Sadiya Gohain (the son of the man we had found in office, who died early in 1835) compelled the Government to remove the Khamtis from the position of preeminence which they had hitherto occupied, and which had doubtless acted as an attraction to their tribe in Bor-Khamti. A dispute had arisen between the Khawa Gohain and the Bor Senapati, or Chief of the Muttucks, in regard to a tract of land called Chukowa, on the south of the Brahmaputra. The British officer in charge of Sadiya, to prevent collision, attached the land, and ordered both parties to refer their claims for his consideration. The Khawa Gohain in defiance of this  order took forcible possession, and treated all remonstrances with open contempt. The Governor-General's Agent was compelled, in vindication of his authority, to order first the suspension, and thereafter the removal of the Khamti Chief from the post of Khawa Gohain, which had indeed come to be looked upon by his tribe less as a dignity conferred or ratified by our Government, than as an inherent attribute of their Chief as a tributary power. If any proper control was to be maintained over the Sadiya tribes, the authority of Government certainly needed at this time to be reasserted. The Khawa Gohain was therefore removed to a station down the river out of the reach of temptation to intrigue, and his post was abolished, the duties being made over to the British officer stationed at Sadiya in charge of the troops; who was to collect the capitation taxt from assamese either directly or by a punchayat. As regards internal management, the Singphos and Khamtis were left to their own Chiefs. No change was made in their relations to Government, and no taxation was in fact ever imposed on them. The British officer in charge was, as far as they were concerned, left to interpose or mediate only in serious cases or where members of different tribes were parties to the dispute.

     At first the minor Khampti Chiefs seemed satisfied with these arrangements. They did certainly good service immediately afterwards against the Singphos -so good indeed that the Government rather rashly rewarded them by permitting the ex-Khawa Gohain to return to Sadiya in a private capacity to live among them. They were not, however, really content.  They had lost their profitable position of control over the Assamese. Their slaves had been released. They knew that proposals for bringing them under regular assessment had been more than once mooted. Many incentives to revolt were secretly rankling in their minds. In 1837, the local officers were warned that the ex- Khawa Gohain was intriguing to form a combination of tribes to attack Sadiya, but no tangible proof was obtained and the warning was disregarded.

      At length in January 1839, the long meditated plot developed itself in action. On the evening of the 19th of January, Colonel White, the officer-in command at Sadiya, had held a durbar at which the Khamti Chiefs attended, to all appearences as friendly and loyal as they had hitherto outwardly shown themselves. That very night, a body of 500 Khamtis under their Sadiya Chiefs advanced upon the post from our different directions, surprised the sentries, and made for Colonel White's quarters and the sepoy lines, firing the station as they rushed through. The surprise was complete, and their enterprise was fatally successful. Colonel White was butchered, eighty others were killed or wounded, and all the lines but two were burnt to the ground.

     Had the Khamti Chief now shown resolution equal to their skill in combination, they might have done serious damage to our position on this frontier. As it was, their hearts failed them after the capture of Sadiya. They retreated with all their adherents without waiting for attack, and desertion their villages took refuge with their leaders, the Tao and Captain Gohains, among the Dibong Mishmis. A rising among the Khamtis south of the Brahmaputra was put down by the troops. The Singphos, Muttucks, and Abors at once offered their aid in punishing the insurgents. The Khamtis had no friend among those they had so long oppressed. Treachery too was soon at work in their ranks. One Chief, the Chouking Gohain, came in and surrendered, and then led a party of troops into the hills who drove the Tao and his followers from their Mishmi refuge. This defeat of the rebels set free a number of Mooluck Khamtis, 200 in all, who had been compelled by the Tao to follow him into the hills after he had murdered their Chief for refusing to join in the attack on Sadiya. Soon after, about 900 Khamtis laid down their arms and were removed from Sadiya to sites in Luckimpore lower down the river . In the cold weather of 1839-40 a second and a third expedition into the Mishmi hills again and again dispersed those who still remained in arms. But it was not till December 1843 that the remnant come in and submitted. These were settled above Sadiya to form a screen between the Assamese and the Mishmis.

     In 1884 the position of the Khamtis in Assam was this: once body had been settled at Choonporah above Sadiya under the Captain Gohain, cousin of the late Khawa Gohain. The few Moonglary Khamtis formerly on the Tengapani were located near Saikwa to the south of the Brahmaputra. Athird party under Chowtang Gohain were settled at Damadji, while a fourth was placed under Bhodia, son of the late Khawa Gohain, to the west of Luckimpore. By this dispersion they were effectually prevented from doing any further mischief. They ceased from that time to be of any political importance.

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