The term ‘Zomi’ meaning, ‘Zo People’ is derived from the generic name ‘Zo’, the progenitor of the Zomi. In the past they were little known by this racial nomenclature. They were known by the non-tribal plain peoples of Burma, Bangladesh and India as Chin, Kuki, or Lushai. Subsequently the British employed these terms to christen those ‘wild hill tribes’ living in the ‘un-administered area’, and was subsequently legalised to be the names for the newly adopted subjects by Queen Victoria of England. However, they called themselves Zomi since time immemorial. They are Zomi not because they live in the highlands or hills, but are Zomi and called themselves Zomi because they are the descendants of their great great ancestor, ‘Zo’.
In this regards, 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,
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, inspite 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:
Two British administrators, Bertram S. Carey and H.N. Tuck who place Zo people under modern system of administration record as thus:
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).