Zomi is the name of a major tribe found in various parts of South and South East Asia. The term Zomi meaning, 'Zo People' is derived from the generic name 'Zo', the progenitor of the Zomi. They are found in northwestern Myanmar, northeastern India and Bangladesh. Anthropologists classify them as Tibeto-Burman speaking member of the Mongoloid race. In the past they were little known by this racial nomenclature. They were known by the non-tribal plain peoples of Myanmar, Bangladesh and India as Chin, Kuki, or Lushai. Subsequently the British employed these terms to christen those 'wild hill tribes' living in the "un-admiial. They are Zomi not because they live in the highlands or hills, but are Zomi and call themselves Zomi because they are the descendants of their great great ancestor, 'Zo'".
The Zo people have common primordial name (i.e. Zo) common history, cultural affinities, belief system, economic life and cherished the dream of restoring their glorious past. They remain independent, self-sufficient and were never subjugated until the advent of the British imperialist. They governed themselves according to their traditional polity and legal system ensuring justice for all. The consequences of British imperialism proved disastrous and painful for the Zomi as they were subjected to subjugation, segmentation, division and confusion. As a result their primordial identity was almost completely forgotten and neglected.
The Zo people and their land was dismembered, bifurcated and appended to three sovereign countries – India, Burma and Bangladesh – by British imperialists to fit their own administrative conveniences without Zo people’s knowledge and consent. The state boundaries within the nation-state further scattered Zo people and they became ethnic minorities wherever they are. They are deprived of their socio-economic, political and cultural rights and were subjugated as aliens in their ancestral homeland.
Nevertheless, it was the British themselves who later realized the undeniable common anthropological, historical, cultural and ethnic traits, existing among the Zo people whom they called Kuki, Chin or Lushai. Thus, the Britishers convened the famous Chin-Lushai Conference at Fort Williams in 1982 and decided to amalgamate the Chin-Lushai country (Zoland) . The process of bringing Zo people under a single administrative unit is not realised completely till today. Initially, the Zo people were politically ignorant to take full advantages of such bold steps initiated by the British, however today, they are aware of their true national identity and steadfastly pursue the vision to restore their glorious past.
S. T. Hau Go, a former Lecturer of Mandalay University and an authority on the Zomi wrote:
Our present geographical distribution extends from the Naga Hills and the Hukawng Valley in the north to Bassein and the Irrawaddy Delta in the south, from the Irrawaddy and Sittang Valleys in the east to the Arakan coast, Bangladesh, Assam and Manipur in the West. In short, we occupy the mountainous region between India and Bangladesh in the west and the Chindwin-Irrawaddy valleys in the east, and the plains and valleys adjacent to these hilly regions.
One Zomi folksong tellingly delineates the area of Zogam as follows:
This old folk song clearly tells us the area of the Zomi ancestral homeland, for Penlehpi is a Burmese word for the Bay of Bengal and Kangtui is identified with Tuikang (Chindwin River).
This Zoland is geographically contiguous, compact and has been the land where the Zomi permanently settled for centuries. Here they lived in complete independence before the advent of the British. They lived without any outside interference and domination, and no part of her territory had been subjugated. Within their territory, they were knitted together by common traditions, customs, cultures; mode of living; language and social life. They governed themselves in accordance with their customary laws. It was a sovereign land where the people enjoyed perfect harmony on their own.
F.K. Lehman, Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Illinois (USA), who had done extensive study on the Chin of Burma, said:
No single Chin word has explicit reference to all the peoples we customarily call Chin, but all - or nearly all of the peoples have a special word for themselves and those of their congeners with whom they are in regular contact. This word is almost always a variant form of a single root, which appears as Zo, Yo, Ysou, Shou and the like.
Relating to this generic name, Fan-Cho a diplomat of the Tang dynasty of China, mentioned in 862 AD a Kingdom in the Chindwin Valley whose Princes and Chiefs were called Shou (Zo). In 1783, Father Vincentius Sangermano in his book, 'A Description of the Burmese Empire' described them as, "a petty nation called JO (JAW)". Sir Henry Yule, as early as 1508 mentioned about the YO country the location of which was "west of the mouth of the Kyen-dwen (Chindwin) the interior of Doab, between the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin, from Mout-Shabo upwards and the whole of the hill country east and north-east of the capital, towards the Ruby-mines, the upper course of Hyitnge, and the Chinese frontier". Rev. Howard Malcolm also testified thus, "The YAW (ZO) is on the lower waters of the Khyendiwen (Chindwin) not far from Ava. The district is sometimes called YO or JO".
Another early use of the name ZO with reference to the Zomi (Kuki-Chin-Lushai), the first on the Lushai Hills side which till then was a terra incognito, was by Col. T.H. Lewin, the first white man to know the inhabitants of Lushai Hills (Mizoram). He wrote that he came to know, during the Lushai Expedition of 1871-72 that, the generic name of the whole nation is Dzo. Dr. Francis Buchanan also wrote of Zomi and Zomi language , while Captain Pemberton mentioned Zo or Jo in his Reports on the Eastern Frontiers of British India, 1835. The fact that the Zomi were known as ZOU or YO or YAW, before their society evolved into clan based organisation and lineage segmentation, was pointed out by Dr. G.A. Grierson in his survey, thus,
The name (Kuki and Chin) is not used by the tribes themselves, who use titles such as ZOU or YO or CHO.
Rev Sukte T. Hau Go, a former lecturer of Mandalay University (Burma) also shared the same view,
Zomi is the correct original historical name of our people, from the Naga hill to the Bay of Bengal. To the north of Tedim, the Thadous and other tribes call themselves Yo; in Falam, Laizo. The Tedim people call themselves Zo; the Lushais, Mizo; in Haka, Zotung, Zophei, Zokhua. In Gangaw area Zo is pronounced as YAW, in Mindat Jo or CHO; and in Paletwa Khomi. In Prome, Thayetmyo, Sandoway and Bassein areas they call themselves A-Sho. So, in spite of slight variations Zomi is our original historical national name.
Regarding the truth of Zomi as the racial designation of the so-called Kuki-Chin people, U Thein Re Myint, a well known Burmese Writer, who knew Chin history, perhaps better than the Chin themselves remarks:
Even though these tribes of people, who are called Chin, do not necessarily protest their name, their original name is, in fact, Zomi.
Two British administrators, Bertram S. Carey and H.N. Tuck who place Zo people under modern system of administration record as thus:
Those of the Kuki tribes which we designate as "Chins" do not recognise that name……they call themselves YO (ZO)…and YO (ZO) is the general name by which the Chins call their race.
Another European writer, Sir J. George Scott also claimed that, the Zomi never called themselves by such names as Kuki or Chin or Lushai. He wrote:
The names like Kuki and Chin are not national, and have been given to them by their neighbours. Like others, the people do not accept the name given by the Burmese and ourselves; they do not call themselves Chins, and they equally flout the name of Kuki which their Assamese neighbours use. They call themselves Zhou or Shu and in other parts Yo or Lai.
It is, therefore, no wonder that Zomi use the term Zo, Zou, Zhou, Chou, Shou, Yo, Jo, Yaw, Shu, etc. in their speech and poetic language as Zo-Vontawi, Zo-lei, Zogam or Zoram, Zo-tui, Zo-fa, etc.; in naming geographical names such as Zotlang, Zopui, Zobawks; and in some of the clan names like Zophei, Zotung, Zokhua, Laizo, Bawmzo, Zote, etc. All these have a common derivation from the generic name, "ZO". It is also because of this fact that scholars like Dr. Vum Kho Hau, Prof. Laldena, Dr. Vum Son, Dr. Tualchin Neihsial, Dr. H. Kamkhenthang, Dr. Mangkhosat Kipgen, Cap. Sing Khaw Khai, Dr. J. M. Paupu, Pu K. Zawla, Pu R. Vanlawma, B. Langthanliana, Dr. V. Lunghnema, Dr. Hawlngam Haokip, Pu L. S. Gangte, Pu T. Gougin, Pu Thang Khan Gin Ngaihte, Rev. S. Prim Vaiphei, Rev. Khup Za Go, Pu L. Keivom, Rev. S. T. Hau Go, Dr. Khen Za Sian, Prof. Thang Za Tuan, Rev. Sing Ling etc. concluded that ZO is the ancestor of the Zo people (Zomi). However, there are several contestations that the 'Zo' people be recognised as 'Mizo' in Mizoram state of India, 'Zomi'/'Chins' in Chin Hills province of Myanmar and 'Kuki' in Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Sagiang Division of Myanmar.
There are two views about the origin of the word, ‘ZO’. The first and most acceptable view is that Zo is a person whose descendants are called Zo-fate or Zo-suante. Some scholars like Pu Thawng Khaw Hau and Pu Captain K. A. Khup Za Thang presented the genealogical table of various Zomi clans in which they strongly claim that they are the descendants of Zo. Zo Khang Simna Laibu and Zo Suan Khang Simna Laibu (Genealogy of the Zo Race of Burma) cover extensively the genealogy of Zo people in Chin State as well as those living in Mizoram and Manipur. Dr. Vum Kho Hau and Dr. Vum Son trace all the Zomi lineal to Zo. Pu Dr. V. Lunghnema wrote the Genealogy of the Hmar tribes, a branch of the Zo family, and he identified Zo as the ancestor of the Hmar clan . This interpretation of the term ‘ZO’ is substantiated by the fact that Zomi have a tradition of naming their clans after the head of each clan, thereby, Hualngo, Zahao, Guite, Singsit, Sailo, etc. clans carry each of their fore-father’s name. Likewise, it is logically true with Zo, Dzo or a very similar sounding one for the name of Zo as the founder of Zo people or Zomi. So, the word Zo is a generic name and Zomi is derived from the name of the ancestor with reference to his descendants.
The second view suggests that the term Zo might have been derived from the Zo King of the Zhou Dynasty (B.C. 1027-225) of China. The main argument in this regard is that in ancient times the names of the ruling dynasty became the identity for the subjects.
Whatever differences of opinion there may be, regarding the origin of Zomi, there is ample historical evidence to support that they are Zomi from time immemorial, and lived together under the umbrella of one cultural unity of ancient Zo.
On the meaning of the term Zo, there are intellectuals who translate Zo as Highlanders. This translation of Zo as highland or cold region and subsequently Mizo or Zomi as highlanders or people of the hills is too simplistic and misleading, because the people called themselves Zomi when they lived in the plains of the Chindwin Valley and else where. The word ‘ZO’ or ‘Zo LO’ might mean highland or highland farms but not highlanders nor highland farmers. Pu R. Vanlawma, a veteran politician and a prolific writer of Mizoram has correctly advocated that,
It was not the people who derived their name ZO from the high altitude of their abode, but on the contrary it was the high lands and especially the farm lands there, called ‘Zo Lo’ which derived their name from the Zo people who cultivated the farms.
The generic name ‘ZO’ has no relation with the geographical-climatic term ‘Zo’ . As a matter of fact, Zo is a generic name whose word is of local origin and needs no further explanation, whereas ‘mi’ means man or people and there is no ambiguity about it. In this way of historical process, Zo people identified themselves with Zo and emerged as a race to be called ZOMI among mankind.
The Zomi are, therefore, those ethnic or linguistic, or cultural groupings of people who had commonly inherited the history, tradition and culture of Zo as their legacies, irrespective of the names given to them by outsiders.
Zo is the Name derived from "Pu Zo" or "Grand Father Zo". The Legends said that "Pu Zo" was the Father of all Zomi Tribes and from him came out Zo, Sim, Mal, Thei zang, Shi zang, Thado, Paite, Vaiphei, in the which Zo is the first born among others and even in other Tribes who are called Chins in Burma and Mizo India. Even some of the Naga Tribes in India have Resemblance in Language with Zo and even in Cultural Origins.
It is unfortunate and quite confusing for insiders as well as outsiders that the Zomi, who belong to the same racial stock, shared history, culture and traditions are recognised by different names : while the Burmese called them ‘Chin’ or ‘Khyan’, the Bengalis and others in India called them ‘Kuki’, with a variety of spellings. The British added a third name, Lushai, in the early 1870s to compound the confusion. However, key British Military Officers and Civil Administrators soon realized that the people whom they called by various names were the same people and that they should be dealt with as a single group. Thus, they began to refer to them by various hyphenated names, e.g. Chin-Lushai (A.S. Reid), Lusei-Kuki (J. Shakespear), Kuki-Chin (G.A. Grierson), and even a triple hyphenated form was used, e.g. Kuki-Lushai-Chin (S. Fuchs).
What did they call themselves before terms like Kuki, Chin or Lushai were imposed upon them have been much discussed. For better understanding of our racial and national nomenclature, the origin and meaning of the imposed names may be discussed. Please click below links for further study:
As already mentioned, in Burma the Zomi are known as Chin. It has since become a matter of great controversy how this terminology originated. In this respect many scholars advanced different theories. B. S. Carey and H. N. Tuck asserted it to be a Burmese corruption of the Chins word “Jin” or “Jen” which means man. Prof. F. K. Lehman was of the view that the term might be from the Burmese word ‘Khyan” which means ‘basket’, saying,
The term ‘Chin’ is imprecise. It is a Burmese word (khyan), not a Chin Word. It is homologous with the contemporary Burmese word meaning basket.
Implied thus is that the basket carrying inhabitants of the Chin Hills bordering the plain Burmans are Chin.
But according to Prof. G. H. Luce, an eminent scholar of the early Burmese history, the term “Chin” (khyan in old Burmese) was derived from the Burmese word meaning “ally” or “comrade” in describing the peaceful relationship which existed between the Chins and the Pagan Burman in their historical past. His interpretation was based on the thirteenth century Pagan inscription. However, the same inscription also revealed the controversial slave trade along the Chindwin River. However, in the year 1950 the Burmese Encyclopaedia defined Chin as “ally”.
This official publication was challenged by Pu Tanuang, an M.P. from Mindat (Chin State) in the Burmese Parliament. He criticized the Government for politicizing the name. The Revered S. T. Hau Go, a former lecturer of Mandalay University writes,
Whatever it meant or means, however it originated and why, the obvious fact is that the appellation “Chin” is altogether foreign to us. We respond to it out of necessity. But we never appropriate it and never accept it and never use it to refer to ourselves. It is not only foreign but derogatory, for it has become more or less synonymous with being uncivilized, uncultured, backward, even foolish and silly. And when we consider such name calling applied to our people as “Chinbok” (stinking Chin) we cannot but interpret it as a direct and flagrant insult and the fact that we have some rotten friends.
Whatever the case may be, from the above evidence it can be concluded that the word was coined by the Burmese and it was adopted by the British officials. Investigation and research, however, proves that such a word as “Chin” does not exist in the vocabulary of the Zomi. The people themselves do not use in their folksongs, poetry or language. Even today the name remains strange to the illiterate people of the countryside in the very region called Chin Hills in Burma.
Probably the first recorded used of the name “Kuki” appeared in the History of Tripura as early as 1512 AD. During the reign of Tripura Raja Dhanya Manikya (around 1490 AD), it was pointed out that, wild race called Kukees live Thannangchi Forest of Tripura. Yet the origin of the word itself is most obscure. The colonial historians divided the Zomi under two names, i.e. the “Kuki” and the “Lushai”. This was clearly demonstrated in the writing of Rawlins. In his paper published in the Asiatic Research Vol. II, p.12 he called the people “Cucis” or “Mountaineers from Tipra” by adopting the name used by the Bengali and Assamese when referring to the Zomi of Chittagong Hill Trace and Tripura Hills. Colonel John Shakespear clubbed them together and called them “the Lushai-Kuki Clans”. He even included most of the hill tribes of the Lushai Hills, parts of Manipur, North Cachar Hills, and Tripura, who have the same cultural affinity, customs and mode of living. In this he was supported by the British statesmen, ethnographers and linguists. On the other hand, he was also fully aware that the words “Kuki” and “Lushai” were not accepted by the people to whom the name applied. In fact, there never was such a word as “Kuki” in the vocabulary of any of the Zomi dialects. It is neither a clan name nor family name. The Lushai too were averse to the name Kuki. In the meantime William Shaw wrote a book on the Thadou Kuki and he tried to put all the people of the group under the racial nomenclature of Thadou Kukis. All the other tribes, except the Thadou speaking and those willing to call themselves Kuki, do not accept it at all. It has instead now become a bone of contention among the two- the Thadou and the Kuki, which is exemplified by the existence of Association/ Organisations like KSO, TSA, TKSU, TTC, etc. It is known that they even submitted a memorandum to the Government of Manipur to ban the book.
The anti-Kuki stand of the various Tribes of Manipur was further strengthened by the resolution of a meeting held on 26 June 1942 in which they expressed their desire not to identify themselves as Kuki.
The term Lushai, native ‘Lusei,’ is commonly used to refer to the Zomi of the Lushai Hills. It was Mr. Edger, the Deputy Commissioner of Cachar who first officially used the term “Lushai” instead of “Zomi” around the year 1897. It may be mentioned that the term may have been derived from the custom of certain tribes keeping their hair long and fastening it in a knot at the back of the head (Lu-head, shei-long i.e. keeping the head long or long head) .It could also have originated from the custom of head hunting (Lu=head, Shai=cut i.e. head cutting) . Such interpretations or fanciful explanations were not accepted by John Shakespear, the Superintendent of the Lushai Hills and an authority on the Lushai. He made it clear that “Lushai is our way of spelling the word, the proper way to spell the word, so as to represent the actual sound, as spoken by the people, is Lushei (Lusei). From this writer it is apparent that the word “Lushai” is derived from “Lusei”, the name of the most powerful dominating tribe of the Lushai Hills who rule under the title “Sailo”. However, the British later adopted “Lushai” as the official designation of all Zo people of the Lushai Hills. Then in the year 1946 the tribes of the Lushai Hills changed their nomenclature into Mizo. It was on 9 April 1946 that the Mizo Union was founded at the Muallungthu (Lushai Hills) Conference. The primary object of the Mizo Union was to bring the Zo people under one nomenclature and when the British left their country to set up an independent state of the Zomi living in the Indo-Burma borderland.
Synonymously and literally, Zomi and Mizo are the same, having the etymological root, ‘Zo’. The term Mizo covers all Zo peoples as does Zomi according to their respective users. It is only a matter of pre-fixation and suffixation of ‘MI’, meaning man or people to ‘ZO’. If ‘MI’ is prefixed to Zo, we get Mizo, whereas if it is suffixed, we get ZOMI. According to K. Zawla, Mizo is a poetical form of Zomi. For instance, the accepted poetical expression for a barking deer and a hornbill will be Khisa and Phualva respectively, whereas their accepted non-poetical expressions are Sakhi and Vaphual. However, Zomi is more logical and is the right sequence of syllables, in contrast to Mizo. Because even the people who are more or less familiar with the word Mizo normally accept Zo-fa as the correct grammatical combination of the word when they wish to mean sons of Zoland. They do not say Fa-Zo poetically or literally. If ZOFA is deemed to be correct, Zomi should be deemed to be correct. Moreover, the term Zomi is much older than Mizo. Pu K. Zawla believes that the Zo people had called themselves ‘Zomi’ around the 14th century AD whereas ‘Mizo’ became the official name of the people of Mizoram in 1954 only when the Lushai Hills was changed to ‘Mizo Hills’.
Once Zo is accepted as the generic name of the so-called Kuki-Chin-Lushai people, affixing ‘MI’ to ‘ZO’ either as a prefix or suffix should no longer be a problem. The affix ‘mi’ was considered necessary only due to the earlier misinterpretation of the term ‘Zo’ as hill or highland. As the general population became aware of their progenitor, Zo the people may still be called ZOMI (Zo + People) or Mizo (People + Zo) and their country Zogam/Zoram. Even Mizoram is endearingly referred to as Zoram as in the Mizoram state song….. “Kan Zoram……” (Our Zoland).
In short, imposed names like Kuki, Chin, or Lushai which may have had derogatory origins have no acceptability for common nomenclature among the affected people themselves because they are:
There is a clear consciousness among different sections of the people like students, cultural organisations, social units, church groups, political segments and various organisations about the absence of a popularly accepted nomenclature for the Chin-Kuki-Lushai people. One name after another was propounded but failed to get popular acceptance. This, in spite of the fact that they belong to the same ethnic group. So the terms, Kuki, Chin, or Lushai, or their combinations like Lusei-Kuki, Kuki-Chin, Kuki-Lusei-Chin or even acronyms like CHIKUMI( for Chin-Kuki-Mizo) or CHIKIM (for Chin-Kuki-Mizo) could not be firmly in the minds of the people, who intrinsically know that they are foreign terms having no meaning in any local dialects. Two wrongs or three wrongs can not make right. They cannot but help resist because they were imposed upon them by rulers and outsiders to be their identity, without their knowledge and readiness to accept them.
It is a fact of modern history that in the past Zo people identified themselves willy-nilly either as Chin or Kuki or Lushai in order to be accepted in Military services. Today things have changed. The search for an acceptable name that is not only popular, appropriate and meaningful but is the original name for a common identity of the Zo racial group ends with Zomi, after the progenitor, Zo.
The arguments for Zomi nomenclature have been dealt with extensively in the section on the generic name, and needs no further explanation. However, the manner in which Zomi gets maximum organisations pleading for its acceptance at various levels may be highlighted as under:
In Burma, a Committee was formed in 1953 to remove the existing confusion over names for a common racial nomenclature. After thorough research, the Committee realised that they were indeed descendants of Zo, and realised they had always called themselves - Zo, Yo, Yaw, Shou, Jo and the like from time immemorial. Thus, they unanimously recommended the term ‘Zomi’ for their racial nomenclature .This was subsequently adopted in a general meeting at Saikah village at Thantlang, Chin State (see documents). In 1983, after a gap of thirty years, the name Zomi was reviewed in a Convention held at Thantlang, where out of 434 delegates from different areas of the region, 424 voted in favour of the earlier 1953 recommendation . Today the term Zomi is widely used by various organisations like Zomi Baptist Conventions, Zomi Christian Literature Society, Zomi Baptist Press, Zomi Theological College, Rangoon University Zomi Students’ Association, Zomi Literature Upliftment Society, etc.
In 1988 the Burmese Government officially recognised the name Zomi as an ethnic group of the country, and formally accepted Zomi National Congress as a political party in Burma. In their proclamation, the Zomi National Congress wrote:
We proclaim that the racial name ‘Chin’ should be done away with and Zou (Zo) must be re-instated to its proper place and status of racial identity.
On the Indian administered areas, the Zo people rejected the name Lushai and changed it to Mizo (People + Zo) in the 1940s on realising the fact that their progenitor was Zo. All sections of Zomi were actively involved in Mizo Union movement at its initial stage. However, some sections gradually disassociated from the movement on the ground of linguistic imposition, and their suspicion was vindicated by the Peace Accord signed in 1988 which covered only Lushai speaking areas. Today Mizoram stands as one Zomi state within Zoland, the Zomi inhabited areas of the region.
In Manipur, the question of Zomi nomenclature was not an issue until the recent factional clash between PRA/ZRA and KNF(P), which is also called Thadou-Paite conflict of 1997 in local parlace due to the innumerable loss of maximum life from the Thadou and Paite tribe. In 1971, a political organisation called Zomi National Congress (ZNC) was formed at Daizang, Manipur. It was at the initiative of the party that the First World Zomi Convention was held at Champhai, Mizoram from May 19–21, 1988. Thousands of delegates of all Zo clans from around the world attended the Convention and declared that. It issued a historic declaration on the question of ethnic identify as follows:
We, the people of Zo ethnic group, inhabitants of the highlands in the Chin Hills and Arakans of Burma, the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, the Mizoram state and adjoining hills areas of India are descendants of one ancestor. Our language, our culture and tradition, and no less our social and customary practices are clear evidences of the ethnological facts. Further, our historical records, and footprints both written and unwritten in the sands of time testify to the truth of our common ancestry.
The same year a significant proclamation released by the Zomi National Congress in Burma concluded on a strong note: "We proclaim that the racial name Chin should be done away with and Zo must be reinstated to its proper place and status of racial identity."
In early 1980s an awakening for common identity was aroused among Zomi intellectuals of Manipur. A wide ranging consultation was organised by Kuki-Chin Baptists Leaders during1981-83 .They published a book called, “In search of Identity” in which all the writers stressed on the homogeneous characteristics of the so-called Kuki-Chin-Lushai people, and recommended Zomi nomenclature. Dr H Kamkhenthang, the Editor of the booklet wrote thus:
To me Zomi is an indigenous term having its own meaning to the people. This term remained buried in the stratum of socio-cultural layers of the people that is taking its own germination though retarded by the imposition of foreign terms to which the people respond externally.
Today a large number of organisations have started in different parts of the world under the name Zomi viz. Zomi Christian Fellowship, Zomi Christian International, All Zomi Students’ Association, Zomi Welfare Society, Zomi Democratic Front, Zomi Christian Church, Zomi Inkuan, Zomi Nam Ni Magazine, Zomi Students’ Federation, Zomi Youth Association, Zomi Mothers’ Association, etc. Further more and more Zomi tribes realised the impropriety of calling themselves ‘Nation’ and while accepting Zomi as their national name effected a change in the naming of their tribe’s apex organisation, viz, Simte National Council was changed into Simte Tribe Council, Paite National Council to Paite Tribe Council, Gangte Tribes Union, and more and more of such progressive changes are on the offerings among the tribes.
Thus, Zomi as the racial common nomenclature of all Zo descendants is an undeniable historical and anthropological fact. There is not an iota of bigotry when Zomi champion that ‘Zomi’ is the genuine national name of those who have been called Kuki-Chin-Lushai people by imposition. The remedy to having confusing names lies in calling ourselves Zomi, as Pu Dr. Vum Kho Hau, had pointed out:
Had the word Kuki or Chin or Lushai been changed to ZOMI at that time, the right word for calling the various tribes and clans of the Zo race inhabiting the areas joining Burma, East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and Assam (India) would have been answered a long time ago.
The era of truth and nationalism begin to dawn upon the Zomi. The name, Zomi, which remained inactive in the social, cultural layers and folksongs of the past, is now surfacing in the social, cultural, religious and political folds.
Nationalism, by definition, ‘is a state or a condition of mind characteristic of certain peoples with a homogeneous culture, living together in a close association in a given territory, and sharing a belief in a distinctive existence and a common destiny'. It ‘implies the identification of the state or nation with the people or at least the desirability of determining the extent of the state according to the ethnographic principles’. This concept is particularly true for the Zomi who now live in three different countries. The ethnological unit and the relationship of the Zomi of India, Burma and Bangladesh have been conspicuously transmitted through their history, culture, social life, traditions, language, customs, folktales, poetry and songs.
Before elaborating on the ethnic homogeneity of Zomi, it will be interesting to present here some important studies on the Zomi conducted by British who unanimously concluded that the Zomi in India and Burma are ‘of one and the same stock’ (Carey and Tuck,1896,p2).
On the Indian side, Lt. Col. John Shakespear, the first Superintendent of the amalgamated Lushai Hills District, wrote his monograph, “The Lushei-Kuki Clans”, which covers all the Zomi clans living in Lushai Hills and Manipur Hills. The Monograph was written during a period of more than twenty years of service among the Zomi, and he was, perhaps, the best informed of the early administrators concerning Zomi ethnicity. Shakespear came to a definite conclusion on the homogeneity question and wrote,
There is no doubt that the Kukis, Chins, and Lushais are all of the same race.
In his monograph, Shakespear used ‘Clan’, not ‘tribe’, consistently for the different Zomi groups because of the high degree of identity which he found existing among the people in language, culture and history. Another monograph, “Notes on the Thadou Kukis”, written by William Shaw was published in 1919. On the question of ethnic homogeneity Shaw was equally emphatic:
The Koms, Aimols, Khothang, Thadous, Chins, Lushai, Pois, Soktes (Sukte), Paites, Gangtes, etc. are undoubtedly connected. The language alone has many similarities and the syntax is not dissimilar. Again these are their customs which have a common principle running through them all.
Commenting on the above statement, J.H. Hutton, one of the greatest authorities of his time on the Tribes of North East, gives unqualified support: “The affinity of the Thado with the other branches of the Kuki race mentioned by Mr. Shaw is unquestionable” Col. E. B. Elly on his “Military Report on the Chin-Lushai Country” also makes this comments:
All these were people of the same race, speaking dialects of the same language, wearing the same dress, and having the same customs, form of politics, and religious belief.
On the Burmese side, Betram S. Carey, the political officer of Chin Hills, and H. N. Tuck his Assistant, were engaged in preparing a substantial book, “The Chin Hills: A History of the People, our dealing with them, and their customs and manners, and a Gazetteer of their Country,” which was published in two volumes by the Government of Burma in 1896. At the initial stage of their study they have the feeling that ‘the Chins have nothing in common with the Lushais of Assam’. However, after a thorough investigation they modified their position and concluded that:
Without pretending to speak with authority on the subject, we think we may reasonably accept the theory that the Kukis of Manipur the Lushai of Bengal and Assam and the Chins originally lived in what we know as Tibet, and are of one and the same stock : their form of government, method of cultivation, manners, and customs, beliefs and traditions all point to one origin.
They also summarize the common traits of all the Zomi throughout the Chin-Lushai Hills.
Another monumental work which supports the homogeneity of the Zomi (Chin-Kuki-Lushai people) is the well known linguist, G. A. Grierson’s “Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. III, Part III, published in 1904". Through careful and elaborate comparisons of the various languages spoken in India and Burma he demonstrated clearly the dialects spoken by the Zomi are a distinct language group under the Assam-Burmese branch of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages.
Apart from the above scholars, every writer of note dealing with one or more sections of the Zomi has noted the homogeneity of the tribe. These include Stephen Fuchs, F. K. Lehman, B. C. Chakraborty, S. K. Chaube, B. B. Goswami, H. K. Barpujari, etc. among outsiders writing in English, and among Zomi writers Pastor Liangkhaia, R. Vanlawma, Lalthangliana, T. Gougin, Dr. Tualchin Neihsial, Mangkhosat Kipgen, Vum Kho Hau etc. all speaks of the cultural, historical and traditional homogeneity of Zomi Tribes.
The nationality of Zomi as a distinct racial stock can be elaborated on the following points:-
People are easily tied to each other by the factor of common race or kinship. The Zomi are distinctly different from the Aryans of India and Burmans of Burma. All the Zomi tribes and sub-tribes resemble each other very closely in appearance, and their characteristics, behaviour and colour identify them as being of the Mongolian race. A unique Mongolian characteristic which is found among the Zomi is the ‘blue Mongolian spot”, which can be seen on the back and buttock of every new-born child, male or female. Being the Mongoloid stock, their skin colour varies between dark yellow-brown, dark olive copper and yellow olive. The face is nearly as broad as it is long and is generally round or square, the cheek bone high, broad and prominent, eyes small and almond-shaped, the nose short and flat, thick hair and usually straight and jet black. ‘The Zomi are well-built with strong limbs and good figures; the average height of the man is about 5 feet and 6 inches . Other common characteristics of the Zomi, as observed by Carey and Tuck are worth mentioning:
………the main Kuki characteristics can be universally traced as – The slow speech, the serious manner, the respect for birth and the knowledge of pedigrees, the duty of revenge, the taste for and the treacherous method of warfare, the curse of drink, the virtue of hospitality, the clannish feeling, the vice of avarice, the filthy state of the body, mutual distrust, impatience under control, the want of power of combination and continued effort, arrogance in victory, speedy discouragement and panic in defeat are common traits throughout the hills.
These traits were quite applicable to the Zomi in the past during the period of British rule. There are some traits which still hold good today, e.g. clannish feeling, knowledge of pedigree, impatience under control, virtue of hospitality and mutual distrust. The other traits are on the wane as a result of the influence of Christianity and exposure to outside world.
Religion has played a very important part in uniting the Zomi. The Zomi were not proselytized into Buddhism of Burma or Islam of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) nor Hinduism of India. They maintained their traditional belief, viz. animism up till the coming of the British who, not only conquered but also introduced Christianity in Zo country. The efforts of the Christian Missionaries of various denominations were nowhere more successful than in Zo country, and it was estimated that by 1947, about 80% of Zomi were converted into Christianity.
Well known linguist, G. A. Grierson in his book, “Linguistics Survey of India, Vol. III, Part III” demonstrated clearly that Zomi language is a branch of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. The Zomi speaks numerous dialects, but linguistic affinities prevail among them, and verbal or non-verbal communication has never been too great a problem. Much less in the olden days Vum Kho Hau writes:
But in traditional songs and poetry, they still retain its original uniformity and the meaning is generally understood by the hearer regardless of whether he comes from Teddim, Tukhiang, Assam, Manipur.
Thus, not only do the old songs preserved among different clans but even the folk songs being composed at present, reveal the extent of the uniformity of language that existed in the not-so-distant past. The small dialectical differences that are there stem from the words that are borrowed from Burmese, Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Manipuri or Arakanese, so that they sound mutually unintelligible to an unaccustomed ear. They remain basically the same, nevertheless.
On the basis of slight differences, the Zomi language may be divided into two: R-Group and Non-R-Group. The non-R-Group (like the Thadou, Paite, Simte, Vaiphei, Zoute, etc.) has no R-sound and is devoid of some consonant clusters like Tl, Hm,….. in their dialects. The R-Group includes Lushai, Hmar, Lakher, Pawi and all the so-called Old Kukis like Kom, Anal, Chiru which have R-sound and are closer to the Lushai or Hmar dialects.
Professor Gordon Luce analysed 700 words of Zomi Language common to at least three Zo dialects. From these 700 words 230 words are common in all dialects of Zomi. Pu Lalthangliana also estimated that the Zomi dialects share about 60% of the words in common. About 40% are peculiar to the locality in which they are spoken. An illustration of these linguistic affinities are provided by Lamka Town in Manipur, where people belonging to various zomi groups live together and are able to communicate with ease, each using their own dialect.
William Shaw also wrote:
The Koms, Aimols, Khothlangs, Thadous, Lushei, Chirus, Pois, Suktes, Paites, Gangtes, etc are undoubtedly all connected. The language also has many similarities and the syntax is not dissimilar.
Zo language is known as "Zo Ham" meaning Zo Language. There is no Zo Pau which is combined from of two languages Zo and Sim. Some of the Zomi Nationalist have had adopted it out of their Nationalism.
The Zomi have undoubtedly passed through the same historical experiences, not-with-standing slight differences in its presentation, dates and figures due to the absence of written records for a greater period of their history.
In the pre-colonial period, the Zomi were independent. They were never subjugated by the Ahom of Assam; by the Kingdoms of Tripura and Bengal; nor by the Meithei or Burman (Ava). It was only the might of a modern state (British) that subjugated them completely for the first time. The British, however, soon realized their mistakes in fragmenting unified Zo country and tried to amalgamate the Zomi in Burma, Bangladesh and India into a single administrative unit in the 1890s. However, around that time there was no political consciousness/awareness among the Zomi who could envisage the fruits of such unification. Only on the eve of Indian independence did a few Zomi leaders become aware of the implications of being scattered under three different political units. Since then the Zomi has been fighting for integration in various forms and intensity. Their just demand for uniting all the members of the Zomi nationality under the same government of their own choice and creation has not been fulfilled till today!
The fact that the Zomi live in a geographically contiguous area in the Indo-Burma-Bangladesh borderlands needs no further elaboration. This is their ancestor homeland where no other nationality lived except the Zomi.
The existence of common cultural traits among the Zomi is another indication of their being a nation. A few examples may be cited , click the below links to read more:
Possession of clan songs by the clans forming the tribes is a unique feature of the Zomi. Members of the same clan in each tribe possess clan songs which were revered and sang at the time of mourning dead only.
The majority of the tribes follow agamous marriage in which a man can marry any woman within and outside his clan. All the major tribes like Gangte, Hmar, Lakher, Lushai, Paite, Tedim-Chin, Thadou, Vaiphei, etc. follow agamy. The only exception to this rule are the so-called Old-Kukis (Anal, Kom, Mongsangs, etc.) where there are definite wife-takers and wife-giver.
There are many folktales common and current among the Zomi. They have such tales as “Khupching (Khupting) and Ngambawm”, “Thanghou and Liandou”, “Ngalngam (Ralngam)”, “Temtatpu (Tingtinpa- the Dao sharpener)”, “A Wild Cat and a Domestic Hen,” etc. These stories are found among the Zomi in Manipur, Assam, Burma etc. in a more or less similar forms. ‘Possession of the same folktales means nothing but the people are of the same folk having similar social ritual norms and similar philosophy of life'.
The Zomi in general, with some exceptions, do not cut their hair. They keep their hair long and have two coiffure: (I) The top knot on the top of the head, as in the case of Fanai, Marings, Pois (Haka), and Tashons (II) The chingnon on the nape of the neck as in the case of Anal, Gangte, Hmar, Lushai, Paite, Simte, Siyins, Suktes, Thado, Vaipheis, Zoute, etc.
The different Zomi tribes hold the common belief that they originally emerged out of a cave or hole. This mythological cave is known by various names like Khuul, Khur, Khurpui, Khurtu-bijur, Sinlung, Chinlung, etc. by various tribes like Thadou (Shaw 1929:24-26), Lushai (Shakespear: 1912), Lakher (Parry 1976:4), Tedim/Paite-Chin (Kamkhenthang 1967:1-2) and Moyon-Monsang, etc.
In naming a child, the Zomi have a strong emphasis on taking the names of their ancestors. In a society that is patrilineal and patrilocal the eldest son of the eldest male member is compulsorily named after the last syllable of the paternal grandfather. This rule serves as a yardstick for tracing the family lineage in successive generations. Today, the Falam, Hmars, Lushai and a few other Zomi Tribes no longer practice this customs.
From the above common cultural traits everything suggest that the Zomi are one nation, inhabiting contiguous area, sharing common customs, languages, culture, folktales and history. It may be concluded with a common folk song sang by the Zomi ever since they live as one nation around Chiimnuai area in the early 18th century:
Note: The KHUUL 'cave' mentioned here might be the SAIZANG CAVE in Burma. The Zo tribe of Burma and India do not claim to have emerge from KHUUL as given in this song.
Unlike those areas of India’s north-east where indigenous peoples are in a dominant position, the hill tribes of two princely states (Manipur and Tripura) occupy an anomalous status within the Indian constitutional arrangement. Political and demographic factors like the Partition and immigration from a densely populated neighbour (Bangladesh) reduced the indigenous “Borok” people in Tripura to a minority status. Similar demographic pressures in the valley of Manipur vitiate the normally good relationship between the locally dominant community and the indigenous hill tribes of Manipur today.
After British control of Assam in 1826 and of Upper Burma in 1886, vast areas of hill tracts between India and Burma still remained beyond imperial surveys and colonial conquest. Of indigenous populations sandwiched between imperial Calcutta and Rangoon, the so-called Chin-Kuki-Lushai tribes were one of the last resistant forces to succumb to British rule. Due to linguistic affinities and geographical contiguity, their land was often described simply as “Chin-Lushai country” (Elly 1893) and the people were variously called “Chin-Kuki” (Grierson 1904) or “Lushei Kuki clans” (Shakespear 1912). Till the Lushai Expedition of 1871, the inhabitants of Lushai Hills were rather loosely termed “Kukis” or “Kookies” in colonial records. To create the deepest impressions of British power on the local societies, major military expeditions to the contiguous hill tracts between the Chin Hills, Lushai Hills and the southern hills of Manipur were always coordinated. These military strikes culminated in the Chin-Lushai Expedition of 1889-1890 that permanently brought the Lushai Hills under colonial rule.
Following on the heels of the Chin-Lushai Expedition, the Chin-Lushai Conference took place at Fort William (Calcutta) on 29 January 1892. Significantly it was a military officer, R G Woodthorpe, who apparently initiated the idea of the conference almost four months earlier in his “Note on our Dealing with Savage Tribes and the Necessity for having them under One Rule”. From a logistic and military point of view, the administrative division of the “Chin Lushai country” impeded the operational manoeuvrability of the British frontier forces “working under different orders”. That explains why Woodthorpe lamented, “The Chin Lushai files abound in instances of difficulties having been caused by the three governments of Bengal, Assam and Burma having jurisdiction in these hills”. In the face of stiff opposition from civilian interests, some military officers at the conference advocated the administrative unification of the Chin Lushai hill tracts. A recent research in the Indian Historical Review describes this colonial tussle as “administrative rivalries on a frontier” (Pau 2007: 187). Since the unified administration was proposed to be “subordinate” to Assam, the chief commissioner of Burma and other non-Assam cadres in this turf war expectedly opposed the move. The Chin Lushai Conference eventually reached a compromise. While it was “very desirable” to unify “the whole tract of country known as the Chin-Lushai Hills”, it was implied that this new step would be delayed. On a positive note, it was unanimously “agreed” – not merely desirable – that north Lushai in Assam and south Lushai in Bengal would be unified “under Assam at once”.
The delimitation of colonial boundaries at the Calcutta conference had indirect but long-term political imprint on later indigenous struggles and political possibilities. The administrative unification of north and south Lushai due to strategic concerns of military officers ironically rendered indigenous Mizo “peoples” locally dominant within a well-demarcated territorial unit in British Assam. Though unintended by the then colonial authorities, the concerns of the 1892 Conference retrospectively acquired new resonance with Zo indigenous leadership who met almost a century later at their first mammoth “world conference” in 1988 – this time at Champhai town, on the border of Mizoram and Myanmar. Usable pasts (including unhappy colonial pasts) can be rescued from oblivion to inform present social possibilities and future political imaginations.
Though the second half of the resolutions of the conference was immediately implemented, the first half was destined to be aborted by new administrative developments in the shape of the Government of India Act 1935. Under this important act, the administration of British Burma was once and for all severed from that of British India. By demarcating an international boundary between India and Burma, colonial cartography mapped by the 1935 Act inadvertently partitioned an open Asian borderland – “Chin Lushai country” – inhabited by various Zo indigenous tribes referred to derogatorily as “savages newly brought under British control” in the minutes of the Chin Lushai Conference. A shared ancestral territory (to borrow Sunil Khilnani’s phrase) got “severed by the hasty scrawl of an imperial pen between India and Burma” (2004: 31).
An important feature of the 1935 Act relates to the introduction of certain safeguards in the form of Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas. This ensured full autonomy in the internal administration of certain indigenous tribal polities by insulating them from the control of ministerial India. But there was an anomaly in colonial northeast India: the hill areas of two princely states (Manipur and Tripura) did not figure in the colonial map of internally autonomous Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas (in quaint colonial parlance) in the 1935 Act. Since the Constituent Assembly’s “debt to the 1935 Act in particular is very great” (Austin 2008: 328), indigenous hill peoples of Manipur and Tripura predictably did not figure in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in independent India.
The Sixth Schedule was created by the Bardoloi Sub-Committee in which three men – Bardoloi, Nichols-Roy and B N Rau – played crucial roles. Formed on 27 February 1947, the Bardoloi Sub-Committee of the Constituent Assembly of India tried to work out within a period of five months a compromise formula between the bureaucratic dreams of a British Crown protectorate on the one hand, and the Indian nationalist haste to abolish the special safeguards enjoyed by the hill tribes under the raj, on the other. Anyway, it later transpired that the Bardoloi Sub-Committee made a curious omission of two hill areas of the north-east. This rendered the indigenous tribes of the Tripura predictably vulnerable to a serious demographic crisis in the wake of the Partition, and the hill areas of modern Manipur soon turned into hotbeds of political unrest that has spilled over into the Indo-Naga problem. S K Chaube of CSSS (Kolkota) attempts to explain why the hill tribes of Manipur and Tripura have remained outside the purview of the Bardoloi Sub-Committee – and hence, the Sixth Schedule:
The problem of the princely states, because of its all-India dimension, missed the special attention needed in the north-eastern region. Tripura and Manipur were partly ‘tribal states’ … No special arrangement was made for the hill areas of Tripura and Manipur. Perhaps the Constituent Assembly felt that, as the integrated Indian states would be constituted as part B and part C states under the rigorous control of the Centre, no special scheme for their minorities would be necessary (Chaube 1999: 97).
It was only as an afterthought that the hill areas of Tripura received in 1985 protection of indigenous rights under the Sixth Schedule. But unfortunately by then, the demographic deluge had happened. A similar demand for Sixth Schedule by the indigenous hill tribes of Manipur was snubbed by locally dominant interests. Indigenous tribal elites in the hills of Manipur were sensitive to their relatively vulnerable status vis-à-vis the special status of other hill tribes of the north-east. They also readily perceive real or imagined threats – especially linguistic chauvinism – of the dominant Hindu Meitei community that tends to forget the cultural diversity of Manipur. Further, the “postcolonial miseries” of the Zo people and the articulation of their contested indigenous identities were inflected by colonial contingencies and expedients played out in the ironies of historical trajectories.