Plant Names of Manipur: Etymology, Eponomy, Legends and Systematics- A Review
The book “Plant Names of Manipur: Etymology, Eponomy, Legends and Systematics” by Sanjoy Singh Ningombam, Anupam Das Talukdar, Kumar Singh Potsangbam and Manabendra Dutta Choudhury published by Swastik Publications, New Delhi in 2017 is a welcome addition on the works on the flora of Manipur, which is still very limited. As the title suggest, it deals with the origin of names, how the names were given, legends and stories associated with the names and the principle of classification of plants. The book is divided into 11 Chapters in 2 Sections.
The first Section consist of nine chapters and the Chapter “Why names matter?” deals with the need for assigning correct scientific name to our indigenous and traditionally used plants. References have been made of old treatises like Maibalon, Thebalon and Hidaklon puyas. Emphasis is also given to the importance of local names in different dialects of Manipur as traditional knowledge is linked with the local names. The chapter also introduces the land, its people and language. The quotation from Confucius under the heading, “If names are not correct, language will not be in accordance with the truth of things” is very apt. It was emphasised that if correct scientific names are not assigned to a plant, the whole traditional knowledge will be lost and thus the importance of linking the scientific names with the traditional names. The tendency of a single local name for a number of species and the failure to distinguish between them may lead to disastrous results have been highlighted. Deadly nightshade (Solanum americanum) is common and is not poisonous but Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) is highly toxic was one such example given. This work is an effort to link the two parallel names; one under the Botanical code and another under the vernacular naming system. Name are best memorised when their meaning is understood but with limited knowledge of Latin, which is generally used in the scientific nomenclature it has become more difficult and the book is an attempt to familiarise the meaning of the Latin terminology.
The second chapter “Need for a Stable Plant Names: Nature and Magnitude of the Problem” discusses the complexity of plant names. It discusses the history of naming and also includes the contribution of various scientists or naturalists like Morrison and Linnaeus. The implication of Darwin’s Origin of Species was also incorporated.
The third chapter “Stable Plant Names in the making: Tracing the Timeline” deals with the need and the progress made in making a stable plant name. The six principal international codes of nomenclature, while highlighting the latest principle is briefly mentioned. For plants the Linnaeus system with modifications is still followed. However, from morphological characters, cellular and molecular studies have been incorporated in assigning scientific names. Thus appraisal and reappraisal of names occur periodically. The changes in the name create confusion among amateurs like us. Yongchak was earlier known as Parkia biglandulosa now it is known as Parkia timoriana. Leihao was in the genus Michelia but now in Magnolia, so on and so forth.
The fourth Chapter “Code of Botanical Nomenclature: Continuity and Flexibility” describe in simple language the code or system used for plant names through the erstwhile International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) to the present International Code of Nomenclature of Algae, Fungi and Plants (ICN). The coding system arises out of the need for a simple but precise system of nomenclature. The ICN is briefly described including the difficulties in making clear cut boundaries between groups and ranking within the group. The Family names, Generic names, Species names, Author name are described in short. The need for incorporating names of natural hybrids which is not easy is added, with a reference to the difficulty faced with orchids. Synonomy and Illegitimacy of names are also briefly described.
The fifth Chapter “Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants: Commercial Plants beyond Botanical Code” describes the Cultivated Plant Code, which was first published in 1952 and its importance. Due to large scale plant selection by humans there arise the needs to have standard names for human altered and specially selected plants which are not in Latin. Plant like rose has thousand of cultivars, so is most of the crops including fruit plants. The system adopted is described in brief with separate note paragraphs for Cultivar, Group, Graft Chimaeras, Cultigen hybrids and Grex.
The Sixth Chapter “Fluidity in Taxonomy: Changing Paradigm and Unending Synthesis” gives the rationale for the changing nomenclature of plants and the main factors which are in conflict with a stable nomenclature. The complexity over Species concepts, Morphological Species concepts, Inbreeding Species concepts, Ecological species concepts, Cladistic Species concepts and others were discussed in brief. The process of searching for reliable taxonomic evidences was highlighted in fair detail with local examples. The changing trends in Plant Classification is a must go through portion for any botany student. As also the discussion on Changing Scientific names are illuminating.
The Seventh Chapter “Folk Plant Systematics: Universality among different cultures” gives the folk biological classification. It contains ethnobotanical classification first enunciated by Berlin, Breedlove and Raven in 1968 and the nine principles involved are briefly mentioned. Examples from Manipur were incorporated to make it more meaningful. The correspondence between scientific and vernacular names and the structure of vernacular names was given with examples from Meiteilon.
“Phytotoponyms in Manipur: Relections on historical landscape ecology” the eight chapter explains how names are given. Examples from Manipur are cited. There is however a small mistake in that in Table 3 at Page 101, Heikhagok Makhong is listed under Imphal West thought it is in Imphal East.
Chapter 9 on “Botanical Surveys in Manipur: Stories of incomplete Missions” describes the efforts made for plant expeditions in Manipur. It was mentioned that in the Manipuri administrative system there is a position called Leiroi hanjaba, who is in charge of floristic resources. Botanical survey in Manipur is at best sporadic. Captain Pemberton and Major Grant, both Political Agents in Manipur, mentioned some plants in their reports. Joseph Dalton Hooker did systematic studies on the plants of Manipur though despite his desire to visit Manipur could not make it. A facsimile of his letter to Charles Darwin mentioning his intent to visit Manipur was reproduced at Page 109. George Watt is an important pioneer, while Alfred Karl Meebold, Frank Kingdon Ward, Edward Balfour and Norman Lufus Bor made significant contribution. The authors referred to at page 110 that Chingsow or Chingsau as recorded in a few books by British authors is perhaps a corruption of Chingjao; which is not correct as there is a village called Chingsau now known as Chingsui. The chapter discusses the contributions made by Indian scientists like U. Kanjilal, usil Kumar Mukherjee, D.D.Deb, S.k.Jain, U. Shukla, A.K.Baishya and Rajiv Gogoi. Oja S.C. Sinha’s contribution was also acknowledged. The linking of local names with scientific names causing misidentification were discussed with examples like Khongnang Taru originally assigned as Ficus benjamina but now classified as F. geniculata, etc. Manipuris will be happy to note that Nungsham is no longer Lemanea australis but L. manipurensis. The limitation of morpho-taxonomy was briefly discussed with examples of a few works undertaken to bar code the DNA of a few selected plants. Dzuko Lily was given a name of Lilium chitrangadae, but this name is not found in Plant Index and there are reports that the lily from Dzuko and Khamasom are ecotypes of Shiroy Lily and not separate species. This claim needs DNA confirmation to put to rest the controversy. It was indicated that new discoveries must be validly published to authenticate the same. The problem of author citation for Meitei names was discussed mentioning the need to systematise for easy comprehension.
Section II has only two chapters but it forms the bulk of the book. Chapter 10 “Linking Vernacular to Scientific Names: Methodology and Challenges” a short chapter of two and half pages deals with the difficulty of linking local names with the scientific names but this is necessary as traditional knowledge is linked to the local names and not to the scientific names. If the traditional knowledge is to be continued, there is a need to link the two names and understand the vernacular of the plants.
Chapter 11”Story behind Names: How the plants got their names” covers 243 pages and list the plants alphabetically according to the scientific names. Under each plant name, how the scientific names were given and also the Meitei names were discussed in a few. The names of the plants among the different ethnic groups of Manipur and even of the surrounding regions were given. About 1230 different plants have been described in this chapter starting from Abelmoschus esculentus (Bhelendri) to Zizyphus jujube (Boroi).
The Index gives plants names under scientific names, common names, Meitei names , Liangmei names, Paite names, Rongmei names, Tangkhul amd Thadou names, so that if one knows the name in any of the dialect, it becomes very easy to assign the scientific name.
There are some issues about the assignment of some scientific names like Zyziphus jujube for Boroi which is the name for jujube or Vilaiti Boroi while the local tart boroi is Zyziphus mauritiana (Indian jujube). The names of bamboos are a difficult area as identification is difficult as bamboos flower irregularly and the study of the bracts is the method used which is not very reliable. In The publication of Forest Department’s “Distribution of Bamboo Species in Manipur” the scientific name of Khokwa is given as Bambusa mizorameana (B. multiplex in the book), Saneibi as bambusa nutans (B. bambos and B.tulda in the book while tulda is given as Utang in the Forest publication). Dendrocalamus giganteus is the name assigned to Maribob but it was given Dendrocalamus latiflorus in the Forest publication. The Meitei name for Echinochloa stagnina is given as ‘hup’ while it is “waa manbi” ans ‘hup’ is also correctly assigned the name Leersia hexandra. Kathai which many Meiteis are now no longer familiar finds a place as Hodgsonia macrocarpa. This pumpkin-like plant bear similar fruit with four of five big seeds in each fruit; the roasted seed makes it one of the best tasting nut. But now it is so rare!
The major shortcoming of the book is the lack of photographs. If a photo of each plant is given, it would make the book more user-friendly to the layman though it will increase the volume drastically resulting in sharp price increase from the current Rs. 1495/-. The scientific name of Dill (Pakhon) which is Anethum graveolens L. is missing at page 146. Some well known plants like Urirei (Stixis suaveolens Roxb.), Ching Kaboklei (Catunaregam spinosa Thunb.), etc are not covered. Such shortcomings will no doubt be corrected in the next edition. I would beseech the authors to go through Chapter 11 repeatedly to ensure that any mistakes or mis-assignment of scientific names are identified for future correction. The missing of a few plants does not in any way reduces the value of the book, which deserve a place in every library of the state and any plant lovers of Manipur must own a copy and it will be a handy tool for not only identification of plants, but to know briefly how the names came into being, especially the scientific names.
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