Responsive Ad Slot

Hmar Literature: Its Growth and Development

Hmar Literature: Its Growth and Development

Monday, February 21, 2011

/ Published by VIRTHLI
By Prof.  Lal Dena, VIRTHLI Columnist

For the sake of convenience, the Hmar literature can be broadly divided into two: Oral and written literature. Oral literatures are by nature pre-Christian in origin and content. Written literatures are the product of Christianity and modern education. The first half of this paper deals with Hmar oral literatures in pre-christian era and the second half with the growth of written literature after the introduction of Christianity and modern education among the Hmars since 1910.

1. Hmar Oral Literatures: Hmars traced their earliest settlement at Sinlung in China. They are known to have descended from the Tibeto-Burman group of family. Though devoid of letters to express their feelings and impressions of life, they had a poetic bent of mind and employed verses to narrate their likes and dislikes, their joys and sorrows, their memorable adventures and experiences in course of their wanderings from China to their present habitats in different parts of North East India. These verses were treasured in the store-rooms of their memory and were orally transmitted from generation to generation. In this connection, L. Ruoivel Pangamte, in his ‘The Hmar Literature: A Critical Review’, observes thus: “The fact that the Hmars had a poetic bent of mind is clearly signified by the store-rooms of their memory. They employed verses to narrate their experiences, to express their feelings, to communicate their thoughts and to describe what they had seen and done in life. They also prayed and worshipped their god or gods in the language of poetry. It was this same language which was applied to tell what they valued and held high esteem in their social, economic, cultural and political life. As verses played the most important vehicle to convey the mind of the Hmars, it became the most important and only source from which the social, cultural, religious and economic history of the Hmars could be reconstructed.” For instance, the first known settlement of Hmars is proven by the four line narrative verse which is used to describe the manner and circumstances under which the Hmars left Sinlung. The lines go as below:
Khaw Singlungah,
Kawt Siel ang ka zawng suok a;
Mi le nel lo tama e,
Hriemmi hrai a.

Fled I out of Sinlung,
Like a mithun from his shed;
Met I innumerable people,
The children of men.

On another occasion, there is another reference to the settlement at Sinlung which the Hmars longed to call back and this is again expressed in poetic lines as follows:
Kan siengna Sinlung ram hmingthang,
Ka nu ram ngai, ka pa ram ngai;
Chawngzil ang ko kir thei chang sien,
Ka nu ram ngai, ka pa ram ngai.

Famous Sinlung, my ancestral home,
The land of my ancestors loved;
How I wish to call her back,
The land of my ancestors loved.

Poetry has been the foundation of the Hmar oral literatures. Any important happenings, epoch-making events, natural calamities like famine and war in their life were recorded with beautiful and meaningful verses which are easy to remember and easily passed down orally from generation to generation. Let us briefly refer to some popular folk songs sung at different occasions of Hmar’s life in pre-Christian era.

2:1. Sikpui Lam (Sikpui Dance): From time immemorial, the Hmars used to celebrate a festival called Sikpui Ruoi (Winter Festival). Even after their settlement at their present habitats in Manipur and Mizoram, the Hmars continued to celebrate this festival. The monumental stones used for this celebration can still be seen at some villages at Zote (in Mizoram) and Senvon (in Manipur). Let us quote the Sikpui song which is perhaps the oldest Hmar folk song:
Sikpui inthang kan ur laia,
Chang tuipui aw, senma hrili kang intang.

Kera lâwn a, ka leido aw
Sunah sum ang, zânah mei lâwn invâk e.

Ân tûr a sa, thlu a ruol aw,
In phawsiel le in râl feite zuong thaw ro.

Sûnra zûla, ka leido aw,
Ke ra lâwn a, meisûm ang lâwn invâk e

Sun ra zula, ka leido aw,
Laimi sa ang chang tuipuiin lem zova

A varuol aw la ta che,
Suonglung chunga tuizuong put kha la ta che.

While we are preparing for the Sikpui festival,
The big red sea becomes divided.
As we march forward fighting our foes.
We are being led by a cloud during day
And by a fire during night.
Our enemies, O ye folks, are thick with fury,
Come out with your shields and spears.
Fighting our foes all day, we march along
As cloud-fire goes afore.
The enemies we fight all day,
The big sea swallowed them like beasts.
Collect the quails, and fetch the water
That springs out of the rock.

This Sikpui song makes a vivid reference to some happenings on the unknown distant past which bears some similarity with the experiences of the Israelites at the time of their liberation from the Egyptian bondage under the leadership of Moses and the events that followed after they crossed the Red Sea. Many a time, this song has been quoted and sometimes misquoted to prove the so-called Jewish origin of the Kuki-Mizo. Leaving aside this hypothesis, it may be pointed out here that the Sikpui Hla touches upon a war (tribal war) in which Hmars were involved.

2:2. Hranglam Hla (Song of the Valient Feats): What the Hmars admired most in the past were successful accomplishments in tribal wars and huntings. The heads of wild animals and enemies they killed were big trophies. This Hranglam Hla contains 44 verses. Just to quote one verse:
Shan khaw thlangfa pu thling thleng e,
I do thlunglu ba ken sal;
Ka sawmfa thlaw, ka laimi tha,
Thal khatin lan ei de ning.

Ye children of Shan look loveable,
Proud are ye of the heads hanging with ropes;
But celebrate I must one season
My abundant harvest and heads of my enemies.

Other folk songs which were sung on specific important occasions are – Darlam Hla (Songs of Gong Dance), Loneina Hla (Songs of agricultural activities), Lohma Hla (Songs of Jhum-field work), Lenglai Hla (Songs of youths), Semruk Hla (A special song of youths), Sakhuo Hla (Religious songs), Hlado (Songs of victory), Inhnelna Hla (Songs of games), etc. Suffice it say that all these songs graphically depicted the different stages of life which the Hmars had passed through in their long sojourn from China to their present habitats. To quote Lalruoivel Pangamte again, “the songs tell many things with few words. The words used are simple but effective. The simile applied is also very appropriate and the reading of it instantly strikes our interest. As it is short and rhythmical, it enables one to memorize and chant with least efforts. In short, these folk songs reflect the Hmar’s attitude towards life, his aspirations, his happiness and sorrows, his religious beliefs and practices and, above all, the values that he cherished.

3. Growth of written Hmar Literature in post-Christian era: With the advent of Christianity coupled with the introduction of modern education, the Hmars also began to reduce their language to writing. The first publication in Hmar language was the Gospel according to St. John (Chanchintha Johan Bumal) and Independent Church Hymn book (Independent Hlabu) in 1921 and 1923 respectively. The next books were Buhmasa, Inchukphut Bu; Sierkawp Bu, Thuthlungthar (New Testament Bible) between 1927-1946. Hmasawnna (Hmar monthly news magazine),1941, Sikhawvar (Morning Star-news magazine) and Inchuklainun (News magazine for students) 1952.

3:1 Religion Songs (Sakhuo Hla): Even after the introduction of Christian faith among the Hmars, their inherent poetic bent of mind came to the surface again. Modern poets emerged among the Hmars after 1917 who played a remarkable role in the development of Hmar modern literature. The lead in this endeavour was taken by Thangngur who may be called the “Father of Hmar poetry”. Thangngur, in his life time, composed about 80 odd hymns of high literary quality. These hymns are a continuous source of spiritual inspirations to Hmars and other neighboring tribes. Thangngur died on 20 Dec.1943. In deep appreciation of Thangngur’s works, L.Keivom succinctly comments thus: “Thangngur never dies. He left behind an imperishable monument built not of bricks and stones but by the tip of his spiritually inspired and powerful pen. Every of his 80-odd hymns is a classic by itself.” Let us quote only some verses of his famous poems.
Thina khurpui, thina khur thim,
Hnein a tho nawk tah;
Thina leia an rienghai chun,
Hringna that par ang an lawm;
Mihrang tlanta zarin;
Hringna khawpui ram mawi an hluo tah ie

He conquered death’s deep and dark grave,
And rose again in triumph;
For the hero Saviour’s victory,
Death’s condemned miserable soul
Celebrated new life,
And gained the beautiful city of life.

Pielral nisa ka lungrilah a hung var tah.
Ka thla muongleia kal chawiin;
Ka ringumna lawmnan a hung par,
Pathununna ka tuor muolsuo zovin

Heavenly sunshine has dawned on my darkened life,
Walking now with peace in my soul;
My sorrows turn into joyfulness,
As I overcame my Father’s chastening trial.

Ka ta dinga ka hring laiin ka lawm ngai nawh,
Ka Lal Krista kona anga;
Isak maichama ka inhlan chun,
Malsawmna tuikhur lawmnan a hung luong.

Never have I been happy to live for my own,
The moment I answered Christ’s call;
And sacrificed on Isaac’s altar,
Streams of blessings and joy flowed mingled down,

L. Keivom again in his paper on ‘Pastor Thangngur. A poet with a thousand tongues’, pays his glowing tribute to Thangngur thus; “Thangngur ever lives. In death he continues to serve God through his powerful hymn as he did during his life time. His works have been translated into many languages; they transcend all geographical and communal barriers as the love of the Master he served faithfully till his death. On all important occasions -Christmas, Good Friday, congregational singing sessions, in the house of the berieved and also of celebrations- Thangngur ever presents. For he is a poet with a thousand tongues.” Other poets who also contributed to the development and enrichment of Hmar poetry are V.T. Kappu, Thangler, Lienrum, Ngama, Pautinkhup, Hrangkapchin, Hranglien, Lalneisawi, Ngulsang, Sawikhawlien, Thanher, Zosanglien, Hranglamthang, Thattinlien, Khuonga, woman poets like Runchawng, Rosiem and many others.

3:2 Patriotic Songs (Hnam Hla): With the dawn of political consciousness among the Hmars after the Second World War, some educated Hmar poets began to compose patriotic songs. Initially the Hmars identified themselves as Mizo and joined the Mizo integration movement during 1946 – 1949 for integration of Hmar inhabited areas in Tipaimukh with the proposed Mizo Hills District on the recommendation of Bardoloi Sub-Committee. The Hmars who supported this movement, joined in the composition of many patriotic songs both in Mizo and Hmar. But when the Mizo district was formed, not a single word was uttered for inclusion of Hmars. The Hmars felt betrayed and became disillusioned with the Mizo leadership in Mizoram. Since then the search for identity centered around the concept of ‘Hmarization’ and began to think only in terms of narrow Hmar community’s interests. The Hmars poets of this period could not cross the boundaries set in their hearts. T. Khuma, a noted poet, sang thus;
Sak le thlang, sim le hmar, ramtinah,
Phung le chang chi le hmang chu tam sienkhawm;
Eichh- em- A- ar HMAR hi a lo nih
Pi le pu chen khawma an lo sak sa.

In the north and the west, the south and north everywhere,
Kin and kindred, class and clan may abound;
It’s Eichh- em- A- ar HMAR and nothing else
Which even the forefathers did already sing about.

Of the many patriotic poets, mention may be made of the following persons- like T. Khuma, L. Keivom, Lalkhum, Dr. Thanglung, H.L. Sela, Rev. Hrilrokhum, etc. One of Lalkhum’s immortal verse may be quoted here.
Aw kan Hmar ram inthim tlang dum duoi,
I sunga Hmar kan leng;
I hming hung mawina dingin,
Nughak tlangval kan theitawp kan suo
I parmawi min suo rawh.

Oh, our Hmar land dark and verdant hills,
In thee, we the Hmars live,
For thy good name and glory,
We all tirelessly strive and struggle,
Reward us with the bloom.

All these poets thought mainly in terms of the protection of Hmar’s identity and even dreamt of integrating all the Hmars who scattered all over the North East India, saying:
Cachar, Haflong, Aizawl, Manipur
Inphumkhata ngirin,
Ei ram lungmawl indar hi,
Keikhawm tuma varna tha zawngin
Hmatieng ke pen ei tiu.

Cachar, Haflong, Aizawl, Manipur
Let us stand united;
Striving to seek good wisdom,
To bring together our scattered tribe ;
Onward marching we go.

3:3. Keilet Hla & Sai Hla (Romantic songs): Closely accompanying these patriotic songs and poems are the Keilet Hla and Sai Hla (Romantic songs). The difference between Keilet Hla and Sai Hla is that the former adopted the tune of religious songs and the latter had its own tune which was made in the context of Hmar’s cultural ethos and values. Most prominent composers of these romantic songs are L. Keivom, Darkamlo, Lalruotthang, Sawnglienthuom, etc. The Keilet and Sai Hlas, as usual, express the ardent, intense and burning feelings of young lovers and, as in English literature, they form the foundation of modern Hmar literature.

3:4 Prose, Essay, Short story, Novel, Drama, Grammer and Poem: Deeply influenced by English writers and poets, men of letters among the Hmars also began to write proses, essays, short stories, novels, dramas, grammer and poems on English model. S.N. Ngurte (Retired Director, Adult Education, Government of Manipur) alone wrote more than 12 novels in Hmar. L. Keivom, (Retired I.F.S) also wrote several novels, dozens of short stories and more than 100 essays. With the introduction of Hmar vernacular paper from class X to degree level, the Hmar writers also began to write dramas of high quality based on the changing values of Hmar’s society through the ages. Modern poems like those of English poems also increase by leaps and bounds.

3:5 Translated Literary Works: One important trend in the development of Hmar literature is the increase in translated works of high literary quality mainly from English or other languages into Hmar. Two Manipuri novels:- Dr. Kamal’s Madhavi and the Khamba – Thoibi’s immortal love story were translated into Hmar with the assistance from the Manipur State Kala Akedami, Imphal. The author of this paper has recently translated two Manipuri short stories, namely, Keisham Priyokumar’s- ‘Hanubi Amagi Ishei,’ and R.K. Mani’s – ‘Ajukki Singarei’ into Hmar. Likewise, some outstanding pieces of Hmar literary works or folk stories may also be translated into Manipuri and this will not only create better understanding but also bring about emotional integration among the people of the state.

From what has been indicated above, it may be concluded that though the Hmars have a rich oral literatures in the form of folklores and folk songs, lyrics and chants, written literary work worth the name had only started among them by the beginning of the 20th century. For letters to represent their spoken language was introduced only by then. While Christianity and modern education had brought about remarkable changes in their life, their outlooks, visions and thinking also tend to be saturated with Christian beliefs and philosophy. What is, therefore, urgently important is that a clear distinction between literary pursuit and religious faith needs to be made. The Hmar Literature society which produces text books and also coordinates the literary activities of Hmar writers should also be made independent of Church influences. Only then, secular literature of high quality can flourish.


1. Grierson, G.A, Linguistic Survy of India, Vol.III, Part 3, 1926.
2. Keivom, L., Hmar Hla Suina (History of Hmar Literary Poems). Churachandpur,1980.
3. Keivom, L., Pastor Thangngur: A Poet with a thousand tongues (Unpublished article).
4. Lalruoivel Pangamte, The Hmar Literature: A Critical Review (Unpublished article).
5. Lenruol Club, Lenruol Hlabu, Churachandpur.
6. L.Chongtho Hmar, Hmar Tobul Hlabu (Songs of Hmar Origin).
7. Liangkhaia, Mizo Chanchin (Mizo History), Aizawl, 1978.
8. Songate, Hranglien, Hmar Chanchin (Hmar History), Churachandpur, 3rd Edt.1995.
9. Vara, H.V., Hmar Hla Hlui (The Hmar Folk Songs, Lyrics, and Chants), Churachandpur, 1985.
Don't Miss
© all rights reserved
made with by Simon L Infimate