Mizoram: From ancient times to 1946

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Photo: Misual
Old Mizoram. Photo: Henry Vangchhia
Mary Winchester ‘Zoluti,’‘from The Graphic’, 20th July 1872. ‘Áfter her release from Looshai’ The child had been kidnapped. Rescued by wai soldiers from the India plains? Photo: MizoStory

Contents

Sources

Mizoram Government

[1] MizoStory; [2] MizoStory

HISTORICAL BACKDROP

The origin of the Mizos, like those of many other tribes in the North Eastern India is shrouded in mystery. The generally accepted as part of a great Mongoloid wave of migration from China and later moved out to India to their present habitat.

It is possible that the Mizos came from Shinlung or Chhinlungsan located on the banks of the river Yalung in China. They first settled in the Shan State and moved on to Kabaw Valley to Khampat and then to the Chin Hills in the middle of the 16th century.

The earliest Mizos who migrated to India were known as Kukis, the second batch of immigrants were called New Kukis. The Lushais were the last of the Mizo tribes migrate to India. The Mizo history in the 18th and 19th Century is marked by many instances of tribal raids and retaliatory expeditions of security.

FACTS AND LEGEND

But folklore has an interests tale of offer. The Mizos, so goes the legend, emerged from under a large covering rock known as Chhinlung. Two people of the Ralte clan, known for their loquaciousness, started talking noisily while coming out of the region. They made a great noise which leg God, called Pathian by the Mizos, to throw up his hands in disgust and say enough is enough. He felt, too many people had already been allowed to step out and so closed the door with the rock.

History often varies from legends. But the story of the Mizos getting out into open from the nether world through a rock opening is now part of the Mizo fable. Chhinlung however, is taken by some as the Chinese city of Sinlung or Chinlingsang situated close on the sino-Burmese border. The Mizos have songs and stories about the glory of the ancient Chhinlung civilization handed down from one generation to another powerful people.

It is hard to tell how far the story is true. It is nevertheless possible that the Mizos came from Sinlung or Chinlungsan located on the banks of the river Yalung in China. According to K.S.Latourette, there were political upheavals in China in 210 B.C. when the dynastic rule was abolished and the whole empire was brought under one administrative system.

Rebellions broke out and chaos reigned throughout the Chinese State. That the Mizos left China as part of one of those waves of migration. Whatever the case may have been, it seems probable that the Mizos mover from China to Burma and then to India under forces of circumstances. They first settled in the Shan State after having overcome the resistance put up by the indigenous people. Then they changed settlements several times, moving from the Shan State to Kabaw Valley to Khampat to Chin Hills in Burma. They finally began to move across the river Tiau to India in the Middle of the 16th Century.

The Shans had already been firmly settled in their State when Mizos came there from Chhinlung around 5th Century. The Shans did not welcome the new arrivals, but failed to throw the Mizos out. The Mizos had lived happily in the Shan state for about 300 years before they moved on the Kabaw Valley around the 8th Century.

It was in the Kabaw Valley that Mizos got the opportunity to have an unhindered interaction with the local Burmese. The two cultures met and the two tribes influenced each other in the spheres of clothing, customs, music and sports. According to some, the Mizos learnt the art of cultivation from the Burmese at Kabaw. Many of their agricultural implements bore the prefix Kawl which was the name given by the Mizos to the Burmese.

Khampat (now in Myanmar) is known to have been the next Mizo settlement. The area claimed by the Mizos as their earliest town, was encircled by an earthen rampart and divided into several parts. The residence of the ruler stood at the central block call Nan Yar (Palace Site). The construction of the town indicates the Mizos had already acquired considerable architecture skills. They are said to have planted a banyan tree at Nan Yar before they left Khampat as a sign that town was made by them.

The Mizos, in the early 14th century, came to settle at Chin Hills on the Indo-Burmese border. They built villages and called them by their clan names such as Seipui, Saihmun and Bochung. The hill and difficult terrain of Chin Hills stood in the way of the building of another central township like Khampat. The villages were scattered so unsystematically that it was not always possible for the various Mizo clans to keep in touch with one another.


Historical artefacts and evidence

Pukzing Cave

The largest cave in Mizoram, it is situated at Pukzing village near Marpara in the district of Aizawl district (Mamit). Legend has it that cave was carved out of the hills with the help of only a hair pin by a very strong man called Mualzavata

Milu Puk

In the Mizo language, puk means a cave. Situated near Mamte village over 100 kms, from Lunglei town, the Milu Puk, which is a large cave, was found many years ago to contain heaps of human skeleton.

Lamsial Puk

Sitiuated near Farkawn village in Aizawl (Champhai) district, the cave as a silent testimony to a battle between two neighboring villages in which many lost their lives. The bodies of the fighters from village Lamsial are said to have been kept in the cave.

Kungawrhi Puk

Another cave in Aizawl district, it is situated on a hill between Farkawn and Vaphai Villages. According to the folktales, a beautiful young girl by the name of Kungawrhi was abducted and kept confined in the forlorn cave by some evil spirits when she was on her way to her husband's village. Kungawrhi, however, was later rescued by her husband from the prison of the spirits.

Sibuta Lung

Erected around AD 1700 by a tribal chief, this memorial stone is named after him. The memorial offer a story of jilted love and lust for revenge. Having been rejected by a girl he fell headlong in love with, Sibuta went mad for revenge and decided to raise a memorial to himself in a manner which displayed an insane mind. A huge rock awash with the blood of three people sacrificed by Sibuta was carried over a distance of 10 km from the Tlawng river. Darlalpuii, a beautiful young girl, was crushed alive in a pit dug to erect the mausoleum. The memorial was raised over Darlai who lost her life under weight of the stone.

Phulpui Grave

A tale of love and tragedy also hangs by this grave located at Phulpui village in Aizawl District. Tualvungi, a raging beauty in her time, was married to Zawlpala, the Phulpui chief. She was later forced by circumstances to marry Phuntia, chief of another village. But Tualvungi could not forget her first love. She came to Phulpui years after Zawlpala's death, hah a pit dug by the side of his grave and persuaded an old woman to kill and bury there.

Chhingpuii Memorial

Raised to the memory of a young woman called Chhingpuii who was exceedingly beautiful, it is situated between Baktawng and Chhingchhip villages on the Aizawl - Lunglei Road. Chhingpuii, born to an aristocratic family, selected Kaptluanga as her husband from among her many suitors. But her happiness was short-lived, as a war broke out afterwards. Chhingpuii was abducted and killed. A grief-stricken Kaptluanga took his own life. The stone memorial reminds one of the legendary love story of Chhingpuii and Kaptluanga.

Mangkhai Lung

A large memorial stone, it was erected around AD 1700 at Champhai to the memory of a well-known Ralte chief, Mangkhaia.

Budha's Image

An engraved image of Lord Buddha, with those of dancing girls on either side, was found at a site near Mualcheng Village about 50 km from Lunglei town. The site also has another stone slab on which some human footmarks and a few implements like spearhead and Dao are engraved. The area is close to the Chittagong Hill Tracts which was under which the Buddhist influence a few centuries ago. It is assumed that some visiting Buddhists from the Hill Tracts were responsible for the Buddha engraving.

Suangpuilawn Inscriptions

A stone slab lie by a stream at Suangpuilawn village in Aizawl district with strange words inscribed on it. The inscription remain to be deciphered till date. However, it is believed that the inscription were done by some people who inhabited the area in ancient times.

The evolution of Mizo culture

The ancestral home

[3] MizoStory; [4] MizoStory

Contemporary historians point to the Khampat area of the Kabaw Valley, Myanmar, as the earliest known home of the Mizos, from where they were driven out by the powerful Shans in the early 13th century. They then settled in the Chin Hills between Tiddim and Falan and came to regard this area as their ancestral home.

They first settled in the Mizo Hills around the area of Biate. In Mizo the area is called ‘Beyond the Tuichang River’.The Mizo’s moved westward through the Mizo Hills (3) until they reached the borders of Tripura where they were halted by the might of the Maharajah of Tripura.

Their system of agriculture was, in Mizo called ‘jhum’, or ‘slash and burn’. Every year a fresh hillside would be chosen for cultivation which would mean the village would have to be moved every 10 to 15 yearsThe two largest buildings in the village were the chief’s house and the young men’s hut, or ‘zawlbûk’. Both were near the centre. All the buildings were abandoned when the village moved.

The Mizo way of life fostered honesty, courage, self-discipline, and mutual help. A readiness to organise and be organised. It is summed up by the untranslatable Mizo word ‘Tlâwmngaihna’. This virtue was, and still is, highly prized. One cannot be regarded as ‘Tlâwmngaihna’ unless one is courteous, considerate, unselfish, courageous, industrious and ready to help others. Even at considerable inconvenience to one’s self. A ‘Tlâwmngaihna’ man or woman will always try to ensure they are not reliant on others and, as a consequence, are highly respected.

Mizos used to be wife-hunters rather than headhunters

Mizos raided the Plains. They were on wife-hunting, rather than headhunting expeditions.wars among Mizos were of comparatively recent origin. They used to be a very peaceable people.


Tribal groups in modern Mizoram

[5] MizoStory; [6] MizoStory

Within Mizoram are various tribes.

The Mizos (formerly the Lushais) are easily the largest group but they have absorbed, culturally and linguistically, other tribes including the Kuki, Hmar, Paihte, Lai (Pawih), Ralte and the Mara (Lakhers) etc. All these tribes still have their own unique languages which are slightly different from the dominant Mizo (Duhlian) language.

Mizos are part of the Chin-Kuki-Mizo group which spreads over from Mizoram into Manipur, Tripura (e.g. the Darlong community centred on Kailashahar, North Tripura), and Assam (eg the Biate People in Saiphung and Haflong, Cachar Hills, Assam.) in India, and also into Myanmar (eg the Chin People) and Bangladesh.

All the Mizo sub-tribes mentioned above speak Mizo, including those living in Bangladesh and Myanmar. The only exception are the Myanmar Mara. They do not understand Mizo.

The Hmar were the second Mizo clan to have entered Mizoram and they also spread to the Churachandpur District of Manipur, the Cachar area of Assam, and in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya. The Hmar in Mizoram are divided into two groups. Those who are completely Mizoised and those who are only partially assimilated.

Abor is an old name for the Adi tribe (or Bangni-Bokar tribe) who live in 50 hill villages in the Himalayan hills of Nyingchi Prefecture of Assam, around the area of the Indian border with Southern Tibet. ‘Adi’ in Assamese means mountain top. There are 15 subtribes within the group.

In the south-east the Lai (Pawih) community are centred on Lawngtlai and the Mara on Siaha.

[The overall name for the Mizos of Mizoram, the Hmar of Manipur, Assam, and Meghalaya, and the Chin of Myanmar, is the Zomi people. This comes from ‘Zo’ meaning ‘highland’, and ‘mi’ meaning ‘people’. Bengalis call them Kukis. Burmese call them Chin, and Indians call them Lushai. Mizos call themselves collectively Zomi. The two terms Mizo and Zomi mean simply ‘Zo People’, ‘Highlanders’ or ‘People of the Highlands’.

The Chakmas are the largest minority in Mizoram

The Cheraw

The Cheraw is known to many as the Bamboo Dance as long bamboo staves are used. Traditionally it was performed to wish a safe passage and victorious entry into the abode of the dead ‘Pialral’ for the soul of a mother who had died in childbirth. Dancers need great skill and alertness.

Chei dress

Mizo women typically use a hand loom to make clothing. They are fond of the traditional colourful hand woven wrap around skirt called ‘Puan Chei’, and matching top called ‘Kawr Chei’. ‘Puan’ refers to wrap around skirts in various traditional styles and are worn by Mizo women to Church, or other important functions.

The ‘bawite’ or serf system

According to age old custom a man, or a woman, or a family, if they were destitute, could claim refuge under the chief and become part of his household. They would then be his ‘bawite’, meaning they would be his serf or slave, in perpetuity, unless they were freed on payment of a fixed price. The bad side of the system was that many could never be freed and were sometimes badly treated, with little chance of redress.

The British Raj: 1895-1947

See also Mizoram 1870-1926: Christianity and literacy

Thangliana Lung

Captian T.H.Lewin was one of the first Englishmen to come to Mizoram. The District Commissioner of the Chittagong Hills Tracts, who entered Mizoram by way of Demagiri (Tlabung) in 1865, became so popular with the local tribesmen that as a mark of respect, he was called Thangliana which meant 'greatly famous'. He lived with the Mizos for nine years and authored the first Lushai book. His memorial stone at Demagiri remains as evidence of the extent of his popularity with the Mizos.


Mizo Hills were formally declared as part of the British-India by a proclamation in 1895. North and south hills were united into Lushai Hills district in 1898 with Aizawl as its headquarters.

The process of the consolidated of the British administration in tribal dominated area in Assam stated in 1919 when Lushai Hills along with some other hill districts was declared a Backward Tract under government of India Act. The tribal districts of Assam including Lushai Hills were declared Excluded Area in 1935.

It was during the British regime that a political awakening among the Mizos in Lushai Hills started taking shape the first political party, the Mizo Common People's Union was formed on 9th April 1946. The Party was later renamed as Mizo Union.

The evolution of Aizawl

[7] MizoStory; [8] MizoStory

Before Mizoram was invaded, Aizawl (named after a small rare flower, the Ai flower) was a small, unimportant village. It became important when the village was chosen by the army as their headquarters. It was originally called Fort Aijal. From that time Aizawl grew and became the centre of government for the district of Assam, then called Lushai.

Various other races, apart from Mizos, came to live there, and each contributed to the growth of the town. Generally each race provided a different skill and occupied a different ‘vêng’, or area of the town. In the Khasi Vêng lived skilled carpenters, some of whom were already Christian. Ghurka soldiers lived in the Ghurka Vêng, with their neat and pretty houses. Bengalis filled Government administrative offices. Santalis were sweepers, carriers, or dirt removers. The Assamese were generally policemen, and in the Chaprassi Vêng were Government messengers. All of these races, from outside Mizoram, communicated with each other in some form of Urdu or Hindustani. No wonder Mizo villagers visiting Aizawl called the journey ‘vai-kal’, or ‘going to the place of foreigners’.

Villagers from many parts of the land came to Aizawl because it was virtually the only market town. A place where salt, clothes, soap, and other necessities could be found. Hindu festivals were held in Aizawl and Mizo sightseers came to watch the Puja ceremonies which were so different from their own.

An unpopular Government measure was to demand the labour of able-bodied Mizos, from time to time, to carry heavy loads for one or other of the officials.

1909-1912: the number of villages increases; their average size decreases

[9] MizoStory; [10] MizoStory

In the period 1909-1912 chiefs and people became more adjusted to British rule. The power of the chiefs was buttressed by government authority. The settled conditions allowed more villages to be established. They shrank in size from 2,000-3,000 homes to around 80. This meant that the sons of the ruling clan, the Sailo chiefs, could each form their own village. In the absence of enemies the intricate stockades protecting the village, and the huge ‘zawlbûks’ were no longer necessary.

Smaller villages meant that villager’s ‘jhum’ land was more accessible. Long and tedious journeys between villages were reduced and inter-village paths became easier to maintain.

Building regulations are laid down

[11] MizoStory; [12] MizoStory

Aizawl grew steadily and was divided into separate units or ‘Vengs’. A mile south of the Government offices the Mission Veng grew up. The land was leased to the Mission by the Government and soon forty workers houses were built on it. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ tried, with some success, to make it into a model village

Houses made entirely of bamboo, wood and sungrass were totally combustible, and the dry season, when villagers burnt their hillside jhums, was particularly dangerous. Most villages were built on hill tops and therefore water was very scarce. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ set special regulations. 1) All houses must be at least ten feet from each other. 2) Animals must be kept in a separate building (normally cows and pigs were kept under the house at night, and hens and doves were brought inside). 3) Roof beams must be at least six feet above the floor. 4) Each house must have a separate latrine. 5) Drinking water must be boiled. 6) The inhabitants must regularly go to a place of worship.

The division of the Lushai hills between North and South Lushai

[13] MizoStory; [14] MizoStory

Originally the north was called the North Lushai Hills and was administered as a division of Assam. It had a Political Officer in Aizawl answering to the Chief Commissioner for Assam in Shillong. It was the Political Officer in Aizawl who gave permission for the Arthington Mission to enter in 1893.

The South Lushai Hills, centred on Lunglei, were administered from Bengal, through Chittagong and Rangamati, where there were government stations under the Bengal jurisdiction. In 1893 that changed and the South Lushai Hills became part of Assam and put under one Superintendent in Aizawl. An Assistant Superintendent was then stationed in Lunglei.

The distance between Aizawl and Lunglei is 104 miles and eventually a bridlepath was cut through the rough intervening country between the two capitals which linked Lunglei to the rest of Assam.

Communications between North and South

[15] MizoStory; [16] MizoStory

For many years those who went to Calcutta from the B.M.S. Centre at Lunglei travelled west along the Karnaphuli River to Chittagong, a comparatively easy journey, and there was no inducement to go via Aizawl. Similarly the Aizawl people found their best way to Shillong and Calcutta was north via Silchar, never via Lunglei. This was the case until 1950.

The Mautam disaster

[17] MizoStory; [18] MizoStory

Mautams and Thingtams since 1739

Mizoram, and the Indian and Myanmar states surrounding it, suffer a predictable natural disaster every 48 years called ‘Mautam’, and a less serious disaster some 30 years later called ‘Thingtam’,

Mizoram suffers periodic famines, some light and some severe. The flowering of the common bamboo or ‘proper bamboo’, as Mizos call it, causes the greatest famine. This particular species of bamboo only flowers every 48 years.

The bamboo flowers, produces its fruit, and withers away. The fruit or seed seem to contain some vitamin which makes the rats which feed on them unusually big and fertile. When the seeds are all consumed the rat population reaches pestilential proportions. They devour everything edible in sight and loose all fear of man. The standing crops are devoured just before harvest. The slender bamboo walls of the traditional Mizo house offers no protection from their voracious appetite. They boldly invade houses, run across the rafters, steal and defile the rice in the rice bin in the corner of the house, and even sink their teeth into the flesh of the unwary as they sleep in bed. The rats also carry infection.

The first Thingtam famine is known to have occurred in 1739 and was followed by a Mautam famine in 1769.

Mautam in 1862

Thingtam in 1881

Mautam in 1911

Thingtam in 1929

Mautam in 1959

Thingtam in 1959

Mautam in 2007

Thingtam in 2025

[Mautam] occurred during 1911, 1961 [and in 2007].

The Mautam of 1911/12

In the years 1911/12 the villagers planted their rice and saw the bamboo blossoming. Most had never seen bamboo flowers before but they sighed and noted the omen. “We are planting what we shall never eat”, they told each other. So it proved

While the famine raged many people moved away from their native villages, going as far as to settle over the border in Tripura, Manipur, or Western Burma, thus causing further changes to the social pattern. Considerable numbers died of malnutrition and starvation. It is said that the children were always the last to suffer, and that pagan parents as well as Christian often collapsed in their efforts to find food for their little ones.

Gifts of money came from the Welsh churches in Britain to be distributed by Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Fraser. Silchar and Karimganj were able to give considerable support to the Mizos.

The Government of India set up two relief centres for the distribution of rice.Already weakened by famine they could only cope with light loads. They also found, to their dismay, they also had to pay for the rice. This involved them in heavy debts which took years to repay. Some felt this to be hard and unjust and vowed they would rather starve than incur such debts again.

Christians share food

During every famine certain villages, by circumstances, manage to escape the plague of rats better than others, and consequently had more food in reserve. A loop in a nearby river sometimes accounted for this. The lucky villages used to erect stockades to keep out their famine-stricken neighbours as though they were enemies. Some of the hungry in desperation would storm the ramparts and were usually killed in the attempt.

Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ in South Mizoram asserts that a notable difference between this and previous famines lay in the willingness of Christians to share whatever food they had with their less prosperous brethren, both Christian and non-Christian.

the non-Christians admitted that this was due to the influence of the Gospel. It made a great impression on them.

As a consequence of the famine cholera proved a scourge, and terrified the villagers.

See also

Mizoram: From ancient times to 1946 Mizoram 1870-1926: Christianity and literacy Mizoram: A brief chronology (1946-1997) Mizo religion, culture, beliefs, songs, oral literature

Mizoram: cinema

Miss Mizoram

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