The Kuki tribes in North East India comprise more than 20 sub-tribes. Until 1956, this tribe is recognised as Any Kuki Tribe by the Government of India. The nomenclature “Kuki” is somewhat murky to define, for the term “Kuki” is also sometimes used synonymously with Mizo, Zomi, Chin, Zo, Lushai and an all-inclusive CHIKUMI (short for Chin-Kuki-Mizo). Adoption of these various nomenclatures is subject to geographical inhibition and the nature of migration these ethnic groups took in historical times. The term “Chins” was commonly referred to by the Burmese to signify the nature of carrying bamboo baskets on the backs of these ethnic groups. Part of this very ethnic group migrated to the west coast of the Bay of Bengal and made contact with the Bengals, and this ethnic group were referred to by the Bengalis as Kukis. And at around 1700 AD, a wave of migration took place, which was headed by the Lusei (Lushai) tribe and entered the current State of Mizoram. After the migration of the Lushais to the current State of Mizoram, the assimilation of various ethnic groups took place, and the Lushai language became the lingua franca of the region and formed a new homogenous identity as the “Mizo”. From here, the homogenous identity “Mizo” was considered an inclusive term representing various communities covering all the ethnic lineages. The term “Mizo” is taken to be similar to the term “Zomi”, and as short- “Zo”. Considering all these different nomenclatures based on migration in various historical points and assimilation of different ethnic groups.
The new Kukis migrated in significant numbers from the Mizo and Chin Hills to Manipur—called the Great Kuki Exodus—in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was particularly because they were displaced by more powerful groups in Myanmar and sought shelter and land from the Manipur King. The Manipur King provided them with free land at the exposed frontier. The Great Kuki Exodus had a profound impact on the demographic makeup of the hills of Manipur and the surrounding regions. Scholars also largely agree that new Kukis (particularly the Thadous) migrated to Manipur from the Chin and Lushai Hills due to pressure from the southern tribes in those regions.
Notably, a significant number of New Kukis also migrated to Manipur after the Burmese invasions—the Seven Years of Devastation—in the 18th century (1758 and 1782 AD). After the Seven Years of Devastation, due to the pressure from the southern tribes in the Chin and Lushai hills, the new Kukis came to Manipur as the kingdom required additional people for its security. During the colonial period, the Kukis took the attention of the British after they perpetuated multiple attacks on British subjects. The British made policies to contain the attacks from Kukis by allotting them land in the east of North Cachar. The British made such provisions for multiple reasons, one was to reduce the frequent attacks on British subjects, and another was to make a barrier against the Naga raids in North Cachar. In order to create a protective buffer between the Meiteis residing in the Imphal Valley and the raiding Nagas, the Meitei kings established settlements for the Kukis in the surrounding hill areas of the Imphal Valley. The Political Agent McCulloch played a crucial role in facilitating the settlement of the Kukis in appropriate regions, specifically along the vulnerable frontier. As a result, thousands of Kukis were promptly settled across different parts of the State.