Guwahati: Yangkhullen, nestled amidst the verdant slopes of Zeme-Naga-dominated mountain ranges, exudes tranquillity in the far Northwestern corner of Manipur.
In the midst of calm surroundings and a revitalising atmosphere, villagers harbour a deep yearning for the government’s commitment to declare Yangkhullen as a heritage village, an assurance given by Chief Minister N Biren Singh when he visited the unique village on May 9 last year and also the fulfilment of several developmental promises he made to develop this ancient village under Willong sub-division in Senapati district.
Located about 135 kilometres from Imphal and 85 kilometres from Senapati district headquarters, the peaceful village with a little over 2,500 compact Zeme tribe population is far from the heat of the unceasing ethnic crisis gripping Manipur.
Zeme stands as one among the triad of Zeliangrong Naga tribes, alongside Rongmei and Liangmei. Yangkhullen stands as the least populous among Zeme villages within the state, as most reside in the Tamenglong district. As per the tribal elders, the collective population of Zemes in Manipur is estimated to be around 15,000.
“Though Rs three crore was allocated through the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) for preserving our heritage, regrettably, no tangible progress has materialised so far,” lamented the village authorities.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s visit to the village last year sparked hope as he acknowledged the village’s allure, vowing to push the Central government for the declaration of Yangkhullen as a heritage village. Chief Minister Singh assured comprehensive support and even promised aid from the archaeology department for preservation efforts.
The Chief Minister expressed dissatisfaction at the lack of substantial progress despite the substantial fund allocation. Consequently, he directed the Senapati Deputy Commissioner (DC) to compile a comprehensive report on the matter and cautioned of repercussions for any misuse of funds.
“We have pleaded for essential facilities such as a police outpost, roads, water supply projects, and the upgradation of our primary health centre to a community health centre,” recounted Hezeteing Zeme, the village chief highlighting the villagers’ demands presented in a memorandum to the Chief Minister.
Despite assurances from Chief Minister Singh, a year has passed without visible steps being taken to fulfill these pledges, leaving the villagers disheartened. “We eagerly awaited the translation of our Chief Minister’s announcement into action,” said Hezeteing on Tuesday (November 21) with a tinge of disappointment.
The village chief, responsible for settling internal disputes in accordance with tradition, lamented his financial constraints preventing the proper maintenance of his symbolic traditional house, a repository of Zeme culture, artefacts, and historical items.
“Due to the growing size of my family, we had to construct a new extension in the front without adhering to our traditional norms, owing to financial constraints,” he explained.
Being the ninth chief of Yangkhullen, Hezeteing highlighted the assortment of Zeme tribe artefacts—traditional pottery, furniture, garments, ornaments, weapons, and a peace treaty spear presented by the neighbouring Maram Naga village, all housed and preserved in his residence. Among these treasures lie a colossal rice beer brewing vessel carved from a single massive log, close to 500 Mithun horns, and several deer skulls.
Regarding the spear’s significance, Hezeteing recounted a history marred by frequent conflicts between the Zeme and Maram tribes. Faced with escalating violence, animosity and hostility, both sides resolved to cease hostilities. In 1976, the chiefs and authorities from both villages convened, solidifying an enduring peace pact symbolised by the mutual exchange of the spear—a poignant gesture marking the end of strife.
“The exchange of a spear symbolised a historic peace treaty between Zeme and Maram tribes, ending years of animosity,” recounted the chief, highlighting the village’s rich history and heritage.
“Despite attracting tourists, researchers and filmmakers, our village remains neglected,” Hezeteing remarked, pointing out the disparity between promises and visible development, citing the urgent need for action.
“It is quite disheartening to keep our village in shambles,” Hezeteing said while mentioning his inability to renovate his traditional house.
“Except for setting up five guest houses, a mobile tower and a Zeme museum, there has been no visible sign of development in our village and surrounding areas,” the chief said.
“We fervently implore the state government to implement essential measures, securing the ‘heritage village’ designation for Yangkhullen, as promised by Chief Minister Singh. Additionally, we urge the government to initiate various developmental programmes for our village,” Hezeteing appealed.