E-Pao! Manipur - Historical and cultural background of the Mizos - 2

Historical and cultural background of the Mizos
- Part 2 -

By: Priyadarshni M Gangte *

The languages of all the above clans are very similar. As per classification of Grierson, these languages are termed “KUKI-CHIN”, YET ADDED THAT “Meitei-Chin would be a better appellation, as the whole group can be sub-divided into two sub-groups, the Meitheis (Manipuris) and the various tribes which are known under the name of Kuki-Chin”.. are considered as belonging to the Burmese branch of the Tibeto-Burman family which he sub-divided as follows :

(i) Meithei or Manipuri.
(ii) Chin Languages :

  1. Northern Group: Thado, Sokte, Siyin, Ralte and Paite or Vuite;
  2. Central group : Tashon, Lai, Lakher, Lushai, Banjogi and Pankhu;
  3. Old Kuki group: Rhangkhol, Bete (Biate), Hallam, Langrong, Aimol, Anal, Chiru, Lamgang, Kolren(Kolhen), Kom, Purum, Mhar (Hmar or Khawtlang) and Cha;
  4. Southern group : Chinme, Welaung, Chinbok, Yindu, Chinbon, Khyang or Sho, Khami.

Under the situation thus obtained, it should be understood that the term KUKI would denote the clans mentioned above collectively. All the same, it must also be noted that while KUKI as a common nomenclature has rapidly declined, abandoned and disused by a good number of them, MIZO as a new phenomenon has become increasingly dynamic in popularity and accepted as a National identity in the backdrop of contemporary political situation as it exists today.

Therefore, while the nomenclature ‘Mizo’ would be mainly and prominently used in this research work as its sole terminology for the purpose, the appellation ‘Kuki’ would as well be used intermittently as per relevance of the context to mean equivalent expression of MIZO.


The hardship one may encounter in the study of history of the Mizos is absence of historical evidences. Whatever sources that could be counted as historical, belong to the post-colonial period left by the colonial rulers of the pre-independence days. Thus lack of conventional data is the greatest hindrance to tracing the early history of the Mizos in a precise manner. Secondly, heterogeneity of the Mizo society as is briefly narrated above is another limitation.

Therefore, usual division of historical periods into ancient, medieval and modern is not possible, overlapping in tracing history an inevitability under such a situation. Despite this, attempts are being made to construct history of the Mizos. In doing so, sources of history may, however, be classified Oral, Inscription, Literature and Archival for the purpose of our research work.

1. Oral Sources:

Romila Thapar contended that sources of history are necessarily divided into historical and traditional so as to make history well founded and authentic. But in the case of history of the Mizos this may not wholly be possible. Mainly the Mizos did not have their own scripts to reduce their languages in written form earlier than later part of the 19th century so as to use the conventionally recorded indigenous sources of their history.

The only feasible means, therefore, is the traditional non-conventional sources, such as, folklores, folksongs, beliefs, superstitions, ceremonies, hymns, rites, rituals, etc., which are, as Bhattacharjee contended, always important for the people as they reflect on the needs and aspirations of the common people at various points of time.

Under the situation, oral traditions are the only and indispensable sources for which our research work in this regard will be placed to the minimum possible limit

(a) Khul or Khur or Chhinlung or Sinlung Tradition: Traditionally, all Mizo tribes claimed that they came out of a very big cave called ‘Chhinlung’ by the Dulian (Mizo) speaking tribes. ‘Sinlung’ by the Hmars, ‘Khur’ by the old Kuki tribes, such as, Aimol, Anal, Chothe, Chiru, Maring, Lamgang, Kom, etc., and ‘Khul’ by the Vaiphei, Paite, Gangte, Simte, Zo, Thadou and cognate groups of New Kukis etc., with the exception of Changsan, Lhangum, Thangeo, Lunkim, etc., who claimed that they were of “Celestial Origin”.

By this, we know that the Mizo tribes in general are the people of “Cave Origin”. This tradition is supported by folksongs and legends that were handed down from generations together.

One such folksong as rendered in English version runs as follows (only one stanza):
My mother land, famous Khul,
Home of my own ancestors,
Could it be called back like Chongzil,
Home of my own ancestor.
(b) Khampat Tradition: Khampat is located at its traditional or original location close to the Manipur border, and was the oldest town ever built by the Mizos. The town was said to have been divided into more than ten sectors. The Central block was considered as the palace site where the King or the ruler was believed to have resided. The Mizos had to move from this place due to pressures of the enemies coupled with the on-going process of movement of population to the west.

As evidence of their having sojourned at the place with a firm belief that they would reoccupy this place one day, they planted a Banyan Tree at the palace site so that it would bear witness to the effect that when one of the branches thereof touched the ground it would be indicative of fulfilment of their cherished hope.

It is a fact, believe it or not, that Khampat is, as of now, being inhabited by the Mizos and that by the time a section of Mizos returned to Myanmar and settled in the areas in the beginning of 20th century A.D., the branches of the Banyan Tree thus planted had already touched the ground.

Now many a people assume that this was a manifestation of fulfilment of the prophecy forecasted by their forefathers as the folktale related above was handed down from generation to generation.

II. Inscriptions:

For a historic period where written documents are not available, epigraphic evidence to make history authentic is indispensable. But no such dependable inscription has been discovered for a genuine early history of the Mizos either in Manipur, or Myanmar or Mizoram, except the one recently discovered at Suangpuilawn, about 150 kilometres North-East of Aizawl, where an inscription on a stone tablet could not be properly deciphered as yet.

The same is now installed at State Museum, Aizawl. According to some, the inscription was either in the old Meitei script or the old Bengali script. When it is properly deciphered it is expected that history of the Mizos might be different from what is now being current.

In addition, there is one copper plate inscription wherein the name of Mizosthanan (land of Kukis) was written. Suhas Chatterjee contended that Dharmadhar (Swadharmapa, or Chengpha) was the Raja or Kailagadh, who invited a Kanauj Brahmin, Nidhipati, to his principality and granted him real estate as Brahmottar land.

The land given to him was inscribed in the copper plate, at the second verse of the Sanskrit couplet as follows –
Sri Nidhipati Vipraya Vastsya Gotraya Dhar- mine, Prahayang Longai Kukisthanan Pratichyan Gopala nade.

According to Chatterjee, the English rendering of the verse runs as follows:
To Sri Nidhipati, the Vatsya Gotra Brahmin, the land bound in the east the Longai and Kukiland and in the west the Gopola river.
The land grant to Nidhipati was dated as 1195 .

III. Literature :

The Mizos have no literature of their own. Tradition has it that once the Mizos were given a book (script), but due to carelessness, a dog carried it away. That was how they lost the script. The scripts written in Roman Characters now being used were introduced only in the late 19th century with the advent of Christianity coupled with introduction of western education among the Mizos.

Therefore, availability of literary evidence as source of Mizo history, the Rajamala or the Chronicle of Tripura Rajas may be cited as one of the main sources.

According to Rajamala, there arose a quarrel during the reign of Dhanya Manikya (A.D. 1490 – 1515) between him and the Kukis over possession of white elephant16. Therein it was also narrated as to how the Raj Kumar, the 57th in succession fell in love with a Kuki woman which incurred the fury of the wife of Siva who kicked the Kuki woman violently that broke her neck.

The Rajamala further recorded that there was an alliance between the Kuki Sepoys and the Raja of Udaipur against Jajarpha, the 74th Raja of Tripura who invaded Rangamati (Udaipur).

Secondly, the Hindu literatures, such as, the epics, the Puranas, etc., have so much potential historical evidences that should invariably contribute in the reconstruction of early history of the Mizos, because Chaterjee contended that in them we find references to the Chins as Mizos, Chins and even Lushais. Analytical study of these literatures would immensely help us in understanding more of the Mizos and their history.

IV. Archival sources or Contemporary Records:

The annexation of erstwhile Lushai Hills District of Assam by the British in 1890 and conclusion of the Anglo-Kuki War, 1917-1919 in Manipur and Chin Hills, Myanmar, marked the beginning of modern period of the history of the Mizos, which covers, as is the case with all parts of India, till it attained independence from the yoke of British imperialist regime in August, 1947.

During the process of consolidation and analytical investigation into the indigenous form of government, history and culture, the British did commendable service to the Mizos when they brought out a huge mass of historical materials of immense value for which one cannot but thank the British imperialism. These materials are now available in the National Archives, New Delhi (though partially closed), State Archives, West Bengal, Kolkata, Record Office, Dispur, Assam and Record Office, Aizawl (known as State Archives), etc.

Early phase of Mizo History:

Now, in view of preceding paragraphs it is clear that the Mizos are known under different names, such as, ‘Chin’ in Chin Hills, Myanmar, ‘Kuki’ and thereafter ‘Lushai’ in erstwhile Lushai Hills which was ultimately replaced by ‘Mizo’ though the people of the same groups who bear different names as per geographical areas occupied mentioned above, the nomenclature KUKI is still prevalent in Manipur, Nagaland, North Cachar Hills of Assam, Tripura and Arakan and Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.

Most scholars think that Mizos made their first appearance in China. Burkitt20 thought that the later Stone Age people made their movements from China to Central Asia and thence to Europe.

Therefore, while searching for the original habitat, our attention is focused on China, particularly the southern part, because our tradition points to it. The Mizo tradition has it that ‘Chhinlung’ or ‘Sinlung’, or ‘Khur’ or ‘Khul’ is their original habitat believed located somewhere in Szechuan Province in southern China.

Related Articles:

to be continued ..

* Priyadarshni M Gangte wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on November 5 , 2007 .

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