Tuesday, October 18, 2011

History of Mizo

Lecturer, Hrangbana College,
Aizawl, Mizoram

Hill people living in the north west of Burma and north east of India were used to be known as Kuki to the Bengalis. The earliest use of this name in English i found in 1782. Bengalis found them culturally rather backward, hence the name Kuki which literally means “wild hill people”. The Burmese called them “Chin” and we do not yet know why they called them so.
Perhaps because they were always found carrying on their backs, bamboo baskets called ‘chin’ by the Burmese. But this particular Burmese word also means friendship and by a stretch of imagination one could say that once the Burmese and the Chin had lived very closely together. Since there were relations not pertaining strictly to friendliness, I think the explanation “Man with the basket” is most reasonable.
            People now living in Mizoram dislike being called Kukis. In fact, there are no more Kukis in the true sense of the word. However Thadou and Khuangsai of Manipur are still called Kukis. People who now occupy the chin State of Burma like the native of Tiddim, Haka, Matupi etc. Call themselves as Zo or Zomi. Several of its variants like ‘Yo’ in Minby area, ‘Sho’ in Pegu, ‘Cho’ in Mindat, either ‘Cho’ or Kywa’ in some parts of Arakan of Burma are also used. In the Paletwa area of the South chin State of Burma, the neighbours call them ‘ Tainkus’, Matus called them ‘Tlengkaw’ and Maras call them ‘Tlaikao’
When the British came to Mizoram in 1871 they found that most of the chiefs belonged to the Sailo sub-clan, which is under the Lushai clan, thus the territories under them came to be known as the ‘Lushai Hills’. The meaning of Lushai is also a puzzle. Some suggests that it is a variant of Kuki, which we do not consider as acceptable. ‘Lu’ means head and ‘sa’ or ‘sat’ means to cut off and the combination denotes those who collect human heads. We do not agree with this either. With ‘Lu’ meaning head and ‘sei’ meaning elongated, the name implies a description of people whose head looks elongated because of the hair knot. This too, though a learned explanation carries no weight. There is another definition. While living in the Kabaw Valley of Burma , each group of people was mentioned by a number and ‘Lu se’ simply means People Ten. Unfortunately, we could not trace the other nine groups.
            In the absence of any acceptable explanation we can assume that as the people were usually called after the name of their noted popular chiefs, these prople must have been headed once by a man called Luseia. The name of Luseia is used by the Burmese as well as the British but the people themselves want to be known as Mizo.
The name Mizo ia also difficult to explain. With reference to the alpine climate, the people living on the hills could be named Zomi or Mizo- “people of the cold region’ by their brethrens in the hot valleys. Here ‘Zo’ means cold region and ‘Mi’ means men.But it seemed that no one was left behind when they evaded the Shan onslaught into the Kabaw Valley by going up the chin Hills. The most suitable explanation seems to be that they are called after the town they built in about 1750 in India, near the Burma border. The name of the town was ZOPUI and the leader was Lallula(?1730-1807).While living at that town they were often successful in their raids against the enemies and they took pride in calling themselves as the braves of Zopui. Here, ‘pui’ means big and Zopui is ‘the big town of Zo’. Hence , the term ‘Mizo’ and this name could have appeared only after the town of Zopui was built, i.e. in the middle of the 18th century. This is supported by the fact that the name Zo is mentioned in the ballad of Lallula’s time which is as follows:

Bearing long sword, men of Zo town,
Succeeded to cut Mangngul’s town like chickens,
On the bank of Run river,
Don’t think little of zo Town men,
They could procure Thlanrawn heads a many,
To hang from the branches of Phanpui,
As the enemy advanced,
To north and south the people scattered except us,
The Zo town braves,
To check the coming enemies in waves.
When Missionaries from England arrived in 1894 to Mizoram, they were honoured by being addressed as “Zo sap” or the white man who came to live among the Zo people. In the first census ever collected among the people of Mizoram in 1901, there was none who called himself as Mizo. But in the 1961 census there were over 200,000 Mizo. The following table clearly shows that the name Mizo is fairly recent.
Name of Clan           1901                           1961
Hmar                         10,411                        3118
Lushai                       36,332
Mizo                                                               213,061
Paihte                        2,870
Pawih                        15,038                        4,587
Ralte                          13,827
Total                          78,474                        220,766
The total population in 1961 was three times bigger than that of 1901 and it goes without saying that about 28,000 of Hmar, 109,000 of Lushai, 9000 of paihte, 40,000 of Pawi and 41,000 of Ralte declared themselves Mizo. From as early as 1908, we find that 87 percent of the population were talking Lushai dialect. In the course of half a century, the Lushai who wanted themselves to be called Mizo had grossly outnumbered the others, that only four percent remained non-Mizo. The Lushai Hills by an Act of Parliament on 1 August 1954 became the ‘Mizo District’ and on 21 January 1972 MIZORAM (Mizo land). The word ‘Zo’ is now often used as a part of an individual’s name and also the Lushai dialect came to be known as Mizo language.

Source:            1) Studies on the Minorities Nationalities of North East Seminar Papers, 1992 Organised by Directorate of Higher & Technical Education, govt of Mizoram.

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