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Chin-Kuki-Mizo (CKM) in North East India and Bangladesh

Chin-Kuki-Mizo (CKM) in North East India and Bangladesh

Monday, May 12, 2014

/ Published by VIRTHLI

By Prof. Lal Dena, VIRTHLI Columnist

One of the worst victims of British imperialism and perhaps the most misunderstood ethnic groups are the Chin-Kuki-Mizo (CKM) people who are found today in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. In India’s North East alone, the CKMs are scattered in all the seven states. Naturally they are known by different names to their neighbors. Those who lived in Myanmar are called Chin and Kuki. The same group of people who lived in different parts of North East India and Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh are known as Kuki while the Chin-Kuki-Lushai inhabitants of the Lushai Hills are collectively known as Lushais during the colonial period. Even the land where these people lived was called Lushai Hills. But now the term ‘Lushai’ was later replaced by the more inclusive term ‘Mizo’, ‘mi’ means ‘man’ and ‘zo’ ‘hill’ (Mizo=hill men) and Lushai Hills was also named Mizoram. Though separated by international and state boundaries and called by different nomenclatures, the CKM are one and the same people having common myth of descent, concept of common homeland, common historical memories, common language, common religious beliefs and cultural practices. There is a popular tradition regarding the original home of the CKM. One common belief was that they originally came out of a place or cave which was known as Sinlung to Hmar, Chinlung to Chins, Chhinlung to Mizo, Khul to Thadou, Paite, Vaiphei, Simte and Zo; Khurpui/Khurpi to Aimol, Kom, Koren, etc. This place is now located somewhere in and around the stone forest near Kunming in Yunan province, China. It is believed that with the decline of Nanchao rule in China, the first major dispersal from Yunnan province took place sometime in early 9th century A.D. and the second wave of their migration between 13th and 14th century A.D. (L.Keivom). Still moving further west and following the Chindwin river, they began to spread over the Arakan and Chin Hills as far as the Kabaw valley in Myanmar where they perhaps lived for several decades. The earliest migrants from Myanmar to different parts of North East India were called Old Kukis and the later migrants New Kukis. According to 1931 census and J.Shakespeare, Old Kuki includes Aimol, Anal, Biete, Chiru, Chothe, Kom, Koren, Hmar, Lamkang, Moyon (Purum), Ronte, Tarau. Tikhup, and Vaiphei. The New Kuki includes Gangte, Paite, Ralte, Simte, Sukte and Thadou. Opinions differ on who really was the first ancestor of the Chin-Kuki-Mizo. According to some scholars, Zo (Chhuahzova) or Zosanga was the first known ancestor of the CKM. 

The Hmar oral tradition, according to Hranglien Songate, however maintains that Manmasi was the first known ancestor. C.Chawngkunga, ex-minister, Government of Mizoram, however contends that the first common ancestor was Zo; and in support of his view got published a very detail genealogy called “Genealogical Tree of Mizo’ covering all the major tribes under CKM both in India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The exact population of CKM now spreading over the North East India, Myanmar and Chittagong Hill Tracts (now Chittagong Division) of Bangladesh cannot be ascertained now due to various reasons including the remoteness of some parts of the region and the constant churning of ethnic conflict where every imaginable tribe or community has at one time or the other claimed and fought for a separate identity and in the process got swallowed up by the more aggressive and organized groups from outside their parent community. For example, a sizeable community from the CKM fold had already declared themselves Naga for political expediency and sheer survival. For some political brotherhood is thicker than blood. Linguistically too, the CKM people are one and the same people. When the Linguistic Survey of India was conducted by the British Raj between 1894 and 1928 under the direction of G. A. Grierson, the CKM group was classified under Tibeto-Burman Family: Kuki-Chin & Burma Groups’ under Volume III Part III. Therein, their total number was estimated at between 600,000-1,000,000 which included 240,637 Meiteis. As per B. Lalthangliana’s ‘Mizo Chanchin’, the Tibeto-Burman groups recorded in 1901 census were: Tibetan 235,229; Himalayan 190,585; North Assam 41,731; Bodo 594,411; Naga 247,780; Kachin 125,585; Kuki-Chin 624, 149; Burmese 7,498, 794. Following the Linguistic Survey of India.”(as cited by L.Keivom). Lian H.Sakhong in his book “In Search of Chin Identity” has made further divisions as given below:
 • The Northern group: Thadou, Kamhau, Sukte, Sizang, Ralte, Paite. 
• The Central group: Tashon (Thaisun), Lai (Pawi), Mara (Lakher), Lushai (Mizo), Bawmzo and Pangkhuo in Bangladesh. 
• The Old Kuki group: Hrangkhawl, Koren, Kom, Purum, Hmar. 
• The Southern group: Chin-me. Chin-bok, Chinpun, Khyang (Asho, Bangladesh), M’ru (Khumi),Shendus (Yundu)and Walaung.(Lian H Sakhong, 2003:17) 
They can also be broadly divided into two groups: those tribes having “R” in their alphabets and those other tribes who do not have “R” but use “G” instead. For example, tribes falling under “R” group are Aimol, Anal, Bawmzo, Biete, Chawrei, Chiru, Khumi, Khyang, Kom, Koren, Hmar, Hrangkhawl, Lai, Lusei, Mara, Ralte, etc. (e.g. Zoland=Zoram). Under the “G”group come Gangte, Paite, Simte, Thado, Vaiphei, Zo, etc. (e.g. Zoland= Zogam). Despite these minor differences, the CKM people are one and the same people ethnically, linguistically and culturally. So language is not a barrier among them. Even a few days’ stay among any community enables them to communicate to one another in their own dialects easily. Pick up few hundred vocabularies of the languages of these CKMs, you will find more than sixty per cent similar words and this speaks of their oneness. So Shakespeare, an authority on ‘Lushai-Kuki clans, also concludes thus, saying, ”There is no doubt that the Kukis, Lushais and Chins are all of the same race.” (Shakespeare,). Majority of them settled in Manipur, Mizoram, Assam and some section of them entered Tripura from Thanangchi forest during the reign of Raja Manikya in 1490 A.D. and still further down in Chittagong Hill Tracts and its surrounding areas in Bangladesh as mentioned before. According to Nathan Loncheu, a Bawm scholar, the migration of Kukis took place in three phases. He argues that the first phase was believed to have taken place around 80 A.D. In the second phase the Kuki group moved down to more fertile land and hills by practicing shifting cultivation and tending to animals due to Mautam or Thingtam famines which broke out around 14th century A.D. In the third phase, the other Kuki tribes along with Arakanese came to the Chittagong Hill Tracts around 17th century A.D. (Nathan Loncheu, 2013). 

The CKM tribes in Bangladesh, according to Loncheu, are Bawm, Chak, Chin, Khumi (Asho), Khyang (Sho), Lakher (Shendu), Lushai (Mizo), Mru, Pangkhua, Tangchangya, etc. Surprisingly enough, the language of Bawm and Hmar are very similar. Now these tribes are seeking closer integration with the mainstream CKMs in India. This is, in fact, the main message of Nathan Loncheu’s book “Bawmzo: A Study of the Chin-Kuki-Zo Tribes of Chittagong Hill Tracts”. On the other hand the allied tribes in Tripura who once belonged to the CKM are gradually drifting away to form themselves into more cohesive group or to identify themselves with more powerful ethnic group for political survival as it happened among the Old Kuki group in Manipur. Initially they were collectively grouped under the term ‘Halam’. But now they are now realigning themselves as Borok which includes Bongcher, Choroi, Darlong, Debbarma, Jamatia, Halam, Hmar, Hrangkhawl, Kaipeng, Koches, Koloi, Kuki, Lushai, Malsom, Mog, Murasing, Noatia, Ranglong, Reang, Rupini, Twipra, Uchui, etc. One significant development among this group of peoples is the gradual emergence of Kokborok as a common language. Recently pro-integrationist intellectuals among the CKM began to feel the need for having one common nomenclature which has become an endless debate till today. Vum Ko Hau, a Sizang (Siyin), former Burmese ambassador and the first ever ambassador from amongst the CKM, who opted for Zo, lamentably remarks thus, “Had the word Kuki been changed to Zo, at that time, the right word for calling the various tribes and clans of the Zo race inhabiting the areas joining Burma (Myanmar), East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and Assam would have been answered a long time ago.” (Vum Ko Hau, 1963:297). Dr (late) Vumson Suantak, also a Sizang (Siyin) by tribe from Tedim township in Chin state and a scientist by background, tried to convey in his book the oneness of CKM peoples and titled his book ‘Zo History’. L.Keivom, an IFS retired, in his paper ‘Towards Zo Unification’ has also used the term ‘Zo’ and traced the history of Zo people from pre-historic time to present times by emphasizing the need to promote “emotional integration by constantly reminding themselves (CKMs) of their common ethnic or ancestral roots, historic homeland, common myths and historical memories, culture, language, hopes and dreams. By further emphasizing the need to unite into a more cohesive force under a collective name, with a common dynamic language, he warns that if the CKMs do not heed the writings on the wall and continue to maintain fissiparous tendencies, they will not have a chance for survival as an ethnic nation. (L.Keivom). 

The identity of Zo ethnic group is now more or less ensured in the formation of the state of Mizoram in 1986. Dr (late) Vumson, who did not speak Duhlian (Mizo) goes to the extent of saying that if at all there should be a common language for the Zo people, the Lusei (Mizo) dialect is the ultimate choice.” (Vumson Suantak,1987:20-21). But L.Keivom is very pessimistic. To quote him, “The core state (Mizoram) has begun to slowly abandon its role model as a forerunner of Zo integration and has become less and less accommodating. Increasing intolerance shown to non-Mizo speaking Zo community within and outside Mizoram by the Mizo speaking community has caused ripple effects on the progress of Zo unification and put the process of integration in a reverse gear.”(L.Keivom, Ibid). In one of his interviews, B.Lalthangliana was said to have been told by a Mara (Lakher in South Mizoram) that “Many Maras still do not like to be called Mizo.” (Ibid). The Thadou-Kuki speaking and the Paites may also subscribe to the same view. Could then the CKM integration be achieved under the term ‘Zo’ or ‘Zomi’ which appears to be the most neutral term? Today, the issue of Zo integration has been taken up by the Zo Re-unification Organization (ZORO) formed at Champhai, Mizoram in 1988 encompassing the three countries, namely, Bangladesh, India and Myanmar to the Indigenous Peoples’ platform of UNDP in Geneva and New York several times. This is an on-going peaceful movement and it has at least succeeded in bringing emotional integration among the Chin-Kuki-Mizo peoples irrespective of the countries they belong to. However, the two terms Chin-Kuki, though an imposition by outsiders and at time sound derogatory, and Mizo or Zo which is a self-given name have to stay for some time to come. After all, what is in a name? By whatever name you call a rose, it remains a rose. So are the Chin-Kuki-Mizo. 

1. Koireng Singh &Priyadarshini M.Gangte: Understanding Kuki Since Primodial Times, Maxford Books, Delhi-2010. 
2. B.Lalthangliana; Mizo Chanchin, India, Burma and Bangladesh, Aizawl, 2001 
3. C.Chawngkunga; Genealogical Tree of Mizo, Aizawl,1996. 
4. J.Shakespeare; The Lushai-Kuki Clans, Tribal Research Institute, Aizawl (Reprint), 2008. 
5. Joseph Suantak; Khulmi,etc.,Beyond Identity & Political Crisis, Akansha Publishing House, Delhi, 2012. 6. do do - Chin+Kuki+Zo:Genesis and Exodus, Akansha Publishing House, Delhi, 2012. 
7. Lian H.Sakhong; In Search of Chin Identity, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Thailand, 2003. 
8. L. Keivom; ‘Towards Zo Unification’ (unpublished paper) 
9. -do- ‘Mizo as link language’ a paper presented The National Seminar on ‘Mizo Language: Contemporary challenges and prospects at MZU, Aizawl.2013. 
10. Nathan Loncheu; Bawmzo: Astudy of the Chin-Kuki-Zo Tribes of Chittagong, Akansha Publishing House, Delhi, 2013. 
11. Ngamkhohao Haokip &Michael Lunminthang;Kuki Society, Past, Present & Future, Maxford Books, Delhi,2011. 
12. N. Sanajaoba Singh; Manipur: A British Anthology, Vol.II, Akansha Publishing House, Delhi, 2003. 13.Priyadarshini M.Gangte (Edt) Why must we be called Mizo? Spectrum Publication, Guwahati, 2006.
14.Thomas H.Lewin; A Fly On The Wheel, Tribal Research Institute, Aizawl (Reprint), 2005. 
15.Vum Ko Hau Profile of a Burma Frontier Man, Bandung-Indonesia,1963. 16.Vumson, Suantak; Zo History, Aizawl, 1986.
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