Introduction / History Although most of the world's Manipuri live in northeastern India, a large group also reside in neighboring Bangladesh. Also known as the Meithei, the Manipuri are of Mongolian descent and speak a language called Meithei.
After being defeated by the Burmese in a series of battles in the eighteenth century, many Manipuri fled their homeland in the northeastern Indian kingdom of Manipur. A significant number settled in East Bengal, which was then ruled by the British. In 1947, East Bengal gained its independence. Although most Manipuri were Hindu, the majority of the East Bengal citizens were Muslim; thus, the region became the east wing of the Islamic nation of Pakistan.
In 1971, East Pakistan seceded from the nation of Pakistan and was renamed Bangladesh. Today, most Manipuri remain linguistically, culturally, and religiously isolated from the rest of Bangladesh as they cling to their Hindu lifestyle.
What are their lives like? Most Manipuri live in the district of Sylhet in northeastern Bangladesh. This district borders the Indian state of Meghalaya. Sylhet is famous for its scenic tea plantations and lush green tropical forests. In sharp contrast to the flat plains of most of Bangladesh, Sylhet is characterized by forested, rolling hills.
Most Manipuri are farmers. Their primary crop is rice, but they grow a variety of other crops, including sugarcane, tobacco, oranges, and pineapples. The Manipuri eat fish, but in accordance with Hindu custom, they abstain from eating any meat. They are very conscientious of personal hygiene; consequently, they build their villages near rivers so that they may frequently wash their clothing and bathe.
In rural areas, to protect their homes from flooding, the Manipuri build their houses on wooden bamboo poles. The houses have reed walls plastered with mud, and the roofs are made of thatch or tin. The villagers are divided into several clans (extended family units). People are not permitted to marry within their own clan, but must find a spouse from another clan. The Manipuri have only one social class, which corresponds to the Indian caste of "untouchables." These people have no prestige and are dominated by higher classes.
For recreation, the Manipuri enjoy polo, boat racing, drama, and dancing. They are famous throughout the world for their beautiful expressive dances. The dances are actually dramas interpreted by a narrator who chants dialogue and gives descriptions of the action. Themes are generally taken from the life of the god Krishna.
What are their beliefs? The Manipuri were converted to Hinduism in the sixteenth century, but elements of their pre-Hindu religion still remain today. In addition to worshiping the officially recognized Hindu gods, Manipuri continue to worship many gods of nature, especially one who supposedly came to earth in the form of a snake. Folk beliefs continue to be highly influential in Manipuri society. For example, the people often make difficult decisions by observing the positions of roosters' feet. They even have an old proverb that says, "All wisdom derives from a rooster's foot." Dance is closely tied to Manipuri religion. In the people's eyes, dance is a means of pleasing the gods and is the essence of the universe.
What are their needs? Bangladesh is a nation with many pressing needs. Over half of the adult population is illiterate, health care is inadequate, and frequent natural disasters wreak havoc on the country. Even more astounding than these extreme physical needs are the numerous spiritual needs. The Manipuri adhere to a combination of Hinduism, animism (the belief that non-human objects have spirits), and folk beliefs. The people desperately need to hear about the love and power of Jesus. Although they are somewhat dissatisfied with Hinduism, the Manipuri have been resistant when presented with the Gospel. The Bible is available in their language, as well as Christian radio broadcasts and the Jesus film.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord of the harvest to send Christian laborers to live and work among the Manipuri.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies currently focusing on the Manipuri.
* Pray for open doors for the Jesus film to be shown to the Manipuri.
* Pray that God will give the Manipuri believers boldness to share the love of Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a vigorous Manipuri church for the glory of His name!