Tribal groups in modern Mizoram.
The present State of Mizoram was officially constituted into Union Territory in 1972 and attained full state-hood on 20th February 1986.
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) (3) 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 (4), and Assam (5) in India, and also into Myanmar (6) 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. (7)
The Hmar (8) 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.
In the south-east the Lai (Pawih) (9) community are centred on Lawngtlai and the Mara on Siaha.
[The Chakmas are the largest minority in Mizoram (see Note 3 on Page 1).]
The division of the Church
between North and South Lushai.
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. Thus, when Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ came to Aizawl in 1897, the North and South Lushai Hills were regarded by the Government as virtually one unit. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ made several visits to the South, to scores of villages.
During the five years from 1897 to 1902 there were successful conversions in both the North and the South, but the Lunglei area in the South seemed the most promising.
One factor was Dharphawka’s dream which was still fresh in the memory of villagers. The appearance of white missionaries seemed a divine fulfilment of this vision.
The other factor was the selfless and sincere labours of Babu Sahon Roy, the Khasi Christian and Government contractor who came to work on the government paths in the Lunglei area in the autumn of 1899. Roy made Pukpui [just north of Serkawn] his headquarters for some time and preached there, and in the surrounding villages, especially those near the path. The small group of earnest enquirers looked to Sahon Roy with deep and affectionate respect.
Some Christians persecuted in the South.
Before setting off for South Lushai in February 1901 Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ writes about the difficulties that lay ahead in the South.
‘Rats have caused more havoc to the crops than usual [Mautam/Thingtam see Page 21]. This in addition to the depradation of the birds, jungle beasts and lesser animals. So too, we feel that the bad customs of the people destroy godly influences among them. As the Gospel spreads and tries to undermine those old habits hostility emerges. In South Lushai some complain that they are being persecuted and are asking when are we going there to stay with them. We’re glad to see that Khuma has gone to spend some time with the friends at Pukpui... they appreciate his visit enormously. Phaisama says that those in the South are on the whole much readier to listen to the Gospel than people in the North. But in all areas we have seen some villages more responsive than others.” (Translation)
In a letter from Pukpui in April 1901 Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ mentions again the matter of persecution. Christians in the Pukpui area were having their rice fields taken from them, were compelled to drink ‘zu’, and made to work on Sundays. When a Government servant stayed at a village he could demand to be supplied with hens. Christians were compelled by the village chief to give more than their fair share.
Thankunga, son-in-law of Darphawka, a Christian and close friend of Sahon Roy, was put in Lunglei prison for a time. Mizo Christians in Aizawl were angered by this and went all the way to Lunglei to plead for him. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ was moved to do something he rarely did, and that was to ask the Government for his release.
Thangkunga, Tlawmi (daughter of Darphawlka), Lengkaia and Parima were baptised in 1902, the first baptisms in the South. As tension grew in Pukpui village between the Chief and the Christians he cruelly threw them out of the village. However, the Government granted the Christians permission to establish a separate village at Sethlun, which they did. At first it was a small hamlet of 15 houses, but with their new found freedom they erected a small bamboo chapel, perhaps the first in Mizoram. Thankunga acted as their leader. In time this village moved to Theiriat and by 1915 Thankunga became a pastor.
Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ visits the South for three months.
The problem of how to care for this distant southern area weighed heavily on the missionaries hearts and the most obvious solution was for Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ to be stationed there. In October 1901 he set off for a three month stay and visited about forty villages, chiefly south of Lunglei. He stayed longest in Pukpui where he spent Christmas. Christians from a considerable area came to him and together they celebrated probably the first Christmas festival. Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ taught them two hymns which he had only recently translated into Mizo:
‘When He cometh,
When He cometh, To make up his jewels.’
‘All hail the power of Jesu’s name,
Let angels prostrate fall.’
These appear in the Mizo Hymn Book published by the Allahabad Press in 1903. They had a profound influence in Pukpui village, so much so that parents in their enthusiasm gave their children Christian names. Mizos have always invented names for their children suited to the occasion, an event, or circumstances at the time of their birth. From the hymn book they took the words ‘Star-Arsisteii’ (like the stars of the morning) and ‘Crown-Khumtira’ (crown him Lord of all). Perhaps Rowland’s Christmas visit was the first occasion when Mizo parents gave names with strictly Christian meanings to their children. Certainly it was an early example of what has become their universal practice.
(1). 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.
(2). 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’ (illustrated), 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.
(3). See Mara People on Wikipedia.
(4). For example the Darlong community centred on Kailashahar, North Tripura.
(5). For example the Biate People in Saiphung and Haflong, Cachar Hills, Assam.
(6). For example the Chin People in Myanmar.
(7). Clarification kindly provided by Vantawl Lalengmawia of Saiha District.
(8). See: Hmar People on Wikipedia.
(9). See: Lai People on Wikipedia.