Zomi Life and Culture




The Generic Name “Zomi”
Zo tribes
Migration Waves
Life before British Annexation
Emergence of Kam Hau Kingdom
Institution of Slave
Abolition of Slave and Tax
British Annexation
The First Exposure to the World


Traditional Religion

The Concept of Supreme Being

The Concept of Dawi

Ritual Institutions

Pusha Ritual

Tonh Ritual

Childbirth Ritual

Funeral Ritual

The Concept of Misi Khua

Social Structure







Kinship System

Consanguineal Relationship

Affinial Relationship

Fictive Relationship

Phyle Relationship

Economic System


Division of Labor

Domestic Animals




Political Structure


Village Headman

Family Administration



Time and Space

Natural Relativism

Cultural Relativism

Moral Relativism




When I was in Switzerland, my professor took a picture of us three students with a world map pointing to our respective place where we came from. Representing three nationalities one came from Africa, one from Europe and I from Asia. Looking at the photo, I am reminded of three broad nationalities in the world basically black, yellow and white. I came to the conclusion that I, representing Asia, belong to the yellow race of the tri-color nationalities. Anthropologists put a great deal of investigations on the origin, social, culture and religious activities of different races in different countries. It is possible to say that human beings have come from the same origin with same basic cultures. The developed and under developed countries have the same cultural heritage: housing, food, and behavior. The difference is in time when they depart from the primitive way of life. Some left it many years ago, some recently and some in the process of leaving it.

The Zomis too share many of cultural heritages with other nations especially with Asian nations. They share the same heritage in appearance, color, food, clothing and behavior with other Asian races like Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Koreans, Japanese and Thais. Language develops and changes according to environment and language barrier becomes the main obstacle among these yellow color races. In spite of this, the common heritage present in the culture will be discovered as we go on dealing with the life, religion and culture of the Zomi in this paper. I have divided this paper into three Sections: Section One is about the origin of the Zomi, Section Two on Social Cultural Structure, Section Three on World View. I have divided each Section into sub-sections and headings.



I will discuss about the etymology of the Zomi under sub-sections such as the generic name Zomi, Zo tribes, Migration waves, Life before British Annexation, Emergence of Kam Hau Kingdom, Institution of slavery, Abolition of Slave and Tax, British Annexation and The first Exposure to the World.

The Generic Name “Zomi”

The hill and terrain area between India and Burma has been a land of various hill tribes. Even though they speak different dialects and identified themselves as different tribes, the historical evidence reveal that they belong to the same racial group called “Mongoloid” race from central Asia.  The Zo people traced back their origin from “Jo” or “Chou” dynasty BC 1027-256 and Chin dynasty 221-207 in China (Gin Za Tuang 1973:2). Dr. Hau Za Cin a Zomi scientist currently working in Taipei reported his recent visit to National Palace Museum at Taipei. During Chou Dynasty, he reports, a dead person was buried with a necklace ball which was continued by Chin and Han dynasty (Hau Za Cin email 02/05/07). Following the Chou Dynasty a Chin dynasty existed in China (221-207 BC) and the name Chin must have come from this dynasty. The common theory that the term “Chin” as a derivation of Burmese word (carrying basket) appears to be later discovery. Chin in Chinese means “man.” In Burma the creation of Chin Special Division in 1948 and later Chin State in 1974; Chin became an official name. However, the people themselves do not call as Chin because it carries a derogated meaning of being “uncivil and unlettered” given by the Burmese. They called themselves as Zo or Zomi. J. George Scott, former British official in Burma says, “The names Kuki and Chin are not national, and have been given to them by their neighbors. Kuki is an Assamese or Bengali name given by them to all the hill tribes in their neighborhood. Chin is the Burmese name given to all the people in the country between Burma and Assam. Its origin has not been determined. The Chins call themselves Zho, or Shu, Jo, or Lai” (Scott 1921:106). The late Rev. S.T. Hau Go contented that “We ourselves never use or accept it (Chin) as our racial name. We belong to the race, generally known as Tibeto-Burman” (Hau Go 1998:559). As a result the Chin Hills Baptist Association in 1948 was later changed to “the Zomi Baptist Convention” which is the only common platform for the Zomi people in Chin State. The Zomis also live both in Manipur and Mizoram in India. The Zomis are called Mizo in Mizoram and Kuki-Chin in Manipur. Speaking about the term “Mizo” Vanlalchhuanawma says “The strongest challenge to the name has come from a proposal of the term “Zomi” by which a section of the Mizos in Myanmar has been known and which has more or less the same meaning (i.e.highlander or people of the hill)” (Vanlalchhuanawma 2006: 14).  Vumson label the Zomis in Myanmar  as Eastern Zo and Mizos in Mizoram as Western Zo which is idealistic approach (Vumson 1986: 21-25). Lian Sakhong who did an extensive research on Chin named the present Chin state as East Chinram and Mizoram as West Chinram (Lian Sakhong 2000:22-51)). This is also an idealist approach as there is no Chinram. However their approach reveals the fact that the Zomis or Chins have no common identity as they were divided by the British government at the time of India/Burma independence. The people are still struggling with this issue even today.  Lian Sakhong identified the present northern Chins as Zomis, southern Chins as Chins and grouped the Kukis among the Zomi group. However Zomi includes all the Hill People between India and Burma including Chin State of Burma, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur of India, and Chittagong Hill tracts in Bangladesh. Vumson (1986) and M. Kipgen (1996) were right when they use “Zo” in reference to the hill people of these hill tracts who are known by various names. “There is no doubt that the Kukis, Chins and Lushais are of the same race” (Lt. Col. J. Shakespear 1912: 8). The term Chin is a given named by Burmese and British officials whereas Zomi is the local name for the people of the hill tract. The meaning of Zomi is highlander being Zo–highland, Mi–people or person. Zomi means Hill people or Hillmen (Gougin 1984:12). The language is called Zopau; the literature is called Zolai; the local chicken is Zo ak; the local pig is called Zo vok and so on. Therefore the name Zomi is a local name for the people of hill area between India and Burma.

Today there emerged four streams identifying themselves according to dialect wise. The central and southern Chins like Falam, Haka, Matupi and Mindat people claimed to have been the real Chins and wanted to retain the name for them even though some of them prefer to be identified by the local name Laimi or Khumi. The northern Chin people who were known as Kam Hau people preferred to be known by “Zomi” since 1970s. They began to reject the name Chin as it was a given name by the Burmese and the British writers. The people of Lushai Hills now Mizoram are known as Mizo rejecting the identity to be Chin. In Manipur the Kukis retain the name Kuki and unwilling to accept Chin or Zomi even though their racial and dialectical identity reveals to be of Zomi group.  Undoubtedly undercurrent competition is going on among these four streams for supremacy over language and literature. The Kukis, Zomis and Chins do not enjoy political compact area where they can exercise their potentiality as a distinct tribe. The Mizos have most favorable potential as they have their political state of their own. Survival of the fittest will rule among these four streams as they began to forget their racial affinity as one family. My focus will be on the Zomi of these four streams.

Zo tribes

Zomi group belongs to the Tibeto-Burman ethnic group. It is estimated that there may be as many as thirty million speakers of languages in Burma, Tibet, China, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. In addition to Burmese other Tibeto-Burman languages are Jingphaw, Chin, Naga, Kachin and Shan languages. The total number of speakers in the Chin Hills Special Division came to almost 350,000 that is about 3% of the country’s  population in 1931 (Frank N.Trager 1956:546-547).  The current population is estimated to be 47,769 as of January 2007 in an area of 14,000 square miles (Chin directory 2007:5). On the Indian and Pakistan (now Bangladesh) sides there were at least 850,000 Chins and Nagas in 1931 (Census of India, 1931, Vol.III Pat I :182-193).  Vumson believes that the total number of population reach about two million Zo people both in India and Myanmar: 180,000 in Mizoram, 50,000 in Tripura, 400,000 in Chin State, 300,000 in the plains of Burma and 50,000 in the Naga districts (Vumson 1986:2). The actual number of population can not be ascertain due to its diverse and complexity of settlement.

The genealogy of Zo tribe as shown by Vumson numbers 25 clans and sub-clans (Vumson 1986:7). Gin Za Tuang has at least 16 sub-clans mainly of Naulak clans (Gin Za Tuang 1973: Intro.). Lian Sakhong’s family tree appears to be the most acceptable one tracing from Mongolian, Mon-Khmer and Tibeto-Burman group (Lian Sakhong 2000: 83). According to the constitution amendment seminar held on June, 1961 in Tongyee, Shan State, the recognized tribes in Burma include eight major nationalities such as Chin, Kachin, Shan, Karen, Kaya, Mon, Rakhaing and Bama. In Burma the Chin includes six major tribal groups such as Asho, Cho, Khumi, Laimi, Naga and Zomi. In the present Chin State there are only four major tribes such as Cho, Khumi, Laimi and Zomi while Asho and Naga were outside the State.  Laimi and Zomi are called the northern Chin State and Cho and Khumi are called southern Chin State. Each major tribe consists of clans and sub-clans (Cho Youth Association, Canada, dt.29.03.2006).  The complexity of clan and sub-clans indicates the complexity of dialects among the same tribe. These Zo tribes and sub-tribes speak about forty-four distinct Chin and Chin related dialects (F.K.Lehman 1963:6).

Migration Waves

Vum Kho Hau, the Zomi representative to the Panglong Agreement (1947) said that the Mongoloid race in Burma derived from three main branches, the Tibeto-Burman, the Mon-Khmer and the Tai-Chinese. The Tibeto-Burman group includes three main subgroups such as Burmese and proto-Burmese, the Chin-Kachin and the Lolo.  According to a historian Wilhelm Klein, the Mons were who first landed in Burma around 3rd century A.D. then followed by the Pyus in 8th century and then the Chin-Kachin groups in 9th century (Wilhelm Klein 1983:41).  Vumson mentioned that “When the Burmese descended to the plains of central Burma, during the ninth century, the Chin people settled already in the Chindwin valley” (Vumson 1986:35). Chindwin river originating in Manipur, India run down through the Chin state from the west to the east joining the Irrawady river making the Burma great plain. The name Chindwin (Chin river) itself is an indication of the settlement of the Chins in the valley (Sing Kho Khai 1984:36).  Professor G.H. Luce is in the opinion that the Chin (Zomi) migrated from western China to east Tibet into south via Hukong valley (Luce 1959: 75-109).  They moved southward and followed the Irrawady valley where they settled in Chindwin valley until they scattered to various directions. Zomis called Chindwin “Zo Gun” meaning Zo River. Lalthangliana, the Mizo historian believes AD 1250-1400 to be the period of settlement in Chindwin valley (Lalthangliana 1993:77).  The Zomis lived in Kale valley and Kabaw valley in Upper Burma peacefully for at least a hundred years. Khampat in Kabaw valley is the most important place where the Chin group settled in peace and prosperity. Khampat era was believed to be the most glorious period in the history of the Chins (Lalthangliana 1993: 87-89). This group at Kabaw valley claimed to be of “Chinlung” or “Khul” meaning a cave somewhere in China. The Mizo historian Liangkhaia mentioned that about AD 900 the Mizos came out of “Chhinlung” cave. The oral tradition says that there was a Chinese king called Chhinlung in and around 750 AD. who was not in good term with his parents and migrated to “Awksatlang” taking a good number of subjects. Awksatlang is to the south of the present Kalemyo. His kingdom lasted only one generation and at his death all the inhabitants of Awksatlang moved to different directions calling themselves as originating from “Chhinlung” (Liangkhaia 2002:13). However the most probable theory may be that Chhinlung represents a hole as a passage at the Great Wall of China (ca. 1200AD) through  which the oppressed section of the society including the Mizos (Chins) left the country in secret (Vanlalchhuanawma 2006:16).

The Zomis in Kale valley lived in peace side by side with the Shans until a new prince came from “below” who forced them to hard labor in the construction of the city fortress, Kalemyo (Lian Sakhong 2000:78). The new prince was the son of King of Ava “who was most oppressive and forced the people to construct a palatial four walled fort with a moat running all around it like the one at Ava” (Vum Kho Hau 1990:16). The hardship of the labor was so great that the “fingers of workers, which were accidentally cut off, filled a big basket” (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:39). Unable to bear the forced labor the people began to move to the hills and made their settlement at Ciimnuai in Tedim township and Locom in Falam township. From Locom the people scattered to Falam, Haka, and the present southern Chin.  From Ciimnuai the people scattered to Tedim, Tonzang and as far as Manipur south.  The migration from Kale valley according to Vum Kho Hau took place in three waves which appeared to be the most probable.

One group went there by the foothill Burmese village, Yazagyo, and the clans now Zangpitam above Thuklai village, Sihzang valley. Later they continued their move to Ciimnuai near Saizang village, Sukte area.  Their descendants spread along various routes from Ciimnuai and are believed to be the ancestors of the present tribes of Sihzang, Sukte, Kam Hau, Zote, and Thado. The remainders moved from the Myitha river valley into the Central Chin country and were the ancestors of the Zanniats, Zahaus, Tashons of Falam and various tribes of Haka (Vum Kho Hau 1990:2).

H.N.C.Stevenson had a map of migration of Siyin, Sokte (Sukte) and related tribes from Chimnwe (Ciimnuai), of Ngawn and Kawlni from Kawlni, of Zanniat from Lotsawm, of Shimhrin (Fanai, Zahau and Laizo from Sunkhla and of Lai tribes (Haka, Khualshim and Lakher) from Khawrua (Stevenson 1970: map 2).  From Ciimnuai they scattered to Saizang, Geeltui, Dimpi, Dimlo and later Tedim.  At least nine tribes originated from Ciimnuai such as Sihzang, Thado, Zote, Teizang, Saizang, Dim, Guite, Phaileng and Hualngo. The people from Locom moved to Ramthlo. The founder of the Ramthlo village was the first who collected tax in Chin Hills. The Haka tribes are descendants of Ramthlo (C. Thang Za Tuan 1985:3).  The probable period of settlement in Chin Hills would be 900 -1200 AD  and appeared to be of uninhabited and fair land at that time.

The hypothesis for the migration had been that the progenitors left the central Asia in seeking better settlement as agriculturists. However, the migration history revealed that they migrated as a result of suppression from the rulers. It was probable that the weaker section of the society left the area to escape the hardship in construction of the Great Wall of China. They were forced to move southward following the Irrawady valley and then the Chindwin valley. They moved again from the Chindwin valley as a result of the Shan rulers forcing them to construct the great fortress of Kalemyo city. The hill area of Indo-Burma became a saved haven for the nomadic tribe of the Zomi/Chin at that time.

Life before British annexation

As they lived in hill region where there was no practically communication there was no contact among them for centuries.  They began to regard as enemies and fought one another for supremacy (Khup Za Go 1996:29). Stevenson records that in AD 1800 the Ngawns and Khuanglis destroyed Mualbeem and conquered Zahau and Lushai capturing the Lushai Chief Vuta. Wars between Tashon and Siyins resulted in the destruction of Sizang village Lophei. Khan Thuam was re-instated as chief of Mualbem by Zahau at the same time.  In 1856 Zahau and Kam Hau raided into Manipur Hills and annexed the northern territory (Stevenson 1970:12-14). The period from AD 1400-1885 could be termed the year of tribal war by which they were known as “head hunters.” C.Thang Za Tuan the retired Director of Education in Myanmar recorded one of the most popular war songs of the Zomis.

a) Hing ee, hi na pet ing ee, pasal that a kei ka hi, hi na pet ing ee.

b) Hinge e, hi na pet ing ee, nupi that a kei ka hi, hi na pet ing ee.

(Thang Za Tuan 1985:4).


a) Indeed, I am indeed, who killed a man, indeed, I am indeed.

b) Indeed, I am indeed, who killed a woman, indeed, I am indeed.

At Teizang village Kawi Hang from a Zah Lang clan became famous for his prowess and collected tax first among the northern Chins. His valor was preserved by a song he composed.

a) Hong en un, hong en un, Gelkawn nuai hong en un.

b) Gelkawn nuai hong en un, lal lu sia vau paak bang.

Translation (mine):

a) Come on, come on, and look at Gelkawn valley.

b) Look at the Gelkawn valley, full of enemies’ head as flowers. (Thang Za Tuan 1985:37). He was said to have collected dry heads of enemies he killed at the narrow valley Gelkawn near the village.  During this period frequent tribal war took place among the Kam Haus, the Zahaus, the Meiteis of Manipur and the Sailos of Lushai Hills (now Mizoram). Unable to resist the Sukte raid, the Lushais made a treaty with the Suktes by killing and anointing with the blood of a dog at Champhai in 1849. The treaty runs like this, “Until and unless the Chindwin river turned upside down and the feather of wild pigeon grew an arm’s length, there would be no war between the two parties” (Sukte Chronicle Vol.VI :34).  Around 1871 just before British conquest, Vanhnuailiana of Champhai carried out a raid on the Suktes (Kam Haus) in which they lost the war. It was carried out against the treaty signed by the two parties. The Sailos broke the treaty without prior notice. The Sukte chief simply murmured that now the Chindwin river had turned upside down, and the feather of wild pigeon grew an arm’s length (Liangkhaia 2002:113).  The highest competition was to get as many heads as possible and to take as many as slaves possible. Women and children who were captured alive were taken as slaves. Might was power.

The term “head hunting” seams to be a misleading connotation as if the nomadic tribes were crazy for heads. The motive behind it needs to be discussed here. The reason for killing one another were of religious and social motives. A man who killed many enemies became lord in life after death. The enemies became his slaves in the other world. So, they took home the head to prove that they actually killed an enemy. On the social reason, they received social status by killing an enemy and received certain traditional clothe and received a bigger cup of zu (drink) in public celebrations. A woman would refuse to marry if a man had not killed man (F.S. Downs 1983:179). The Mizo writer V. Hawla says, “We the Mizos from our ancestors have been warriors. We waged wars against the people around us and against ourselves. Consequently we have always been alert to the coming of enemies… We’re not satisfied with just killing, but would cut their heads, take them home, and celebrate them with those at home as we do the heads of animals” (V. Hawla  1983:xi). Heads of human being and heads of animals like tiger and elephant had to be given public celebration in honor of the person who killed.

Emergence of Kam Hau Kingdom

In those days each clan had their own village ruler who was the mightiest in power. The ruler was called chief. There were  Suante chief, Thomte chief, Tombing chief, Gualnam chief, Guite chief, and Sukte chief. These chiefs had slaves and had the power to collect tax (Sukte Chronicle 2004. Vol.  IV:17). Chiefs as most vulnerable of all had most slaves in their families. These chiefs were called “Mang” (Ruler) and White rulers were called “Mangkang” as they had white skin.

Khan Thuam, son of Mang Kim and Kap Ciin became chief in 1800 at Mualbeem at the death of is father Mang Kim the chief. Khan Thuam sent his son Kam Hau to Tedim to rule in 1806. Khan Thuam became powerful taking one village after another under his control during 1810-1840. He brought under his control the village chiefs including Guite, Vaiphei, Thado, and extended his kingdom to the borders of Falam and Manipur (Meitei) regions. Soon he collected eight types of taxes. These taxes were “taangseu” (unit of millet each year from each household), “sial siah” (one mithun from each village every three years),  “inn saliang”(one leg of domestic animal),  “gam saliang” (one leg of wild animal),  “daak sap”(a piece of meat from animal killed for funeral),  “sial liang man” (one Rupee from every mithun sold),  “tuk-tha leh khal-tha” (one day service each summer and winter season), and confiscation of property when migrated to other region (J.H. Cope 1937: 4). As he became ruler of all village chiefs he was known as “Ukpi” (Great Chief).  Village chiefs served as his subordinates called “Hausa.”

His kingdom had a special feature from other neighboring chiefs in Mizoram and Manipur. The Manipur Rajah had ruled in Manipur territory and the Sailo chiefs in Mizoram. Each village had a Sailo chief in Mizoram with the exception of some Ralte and Zahau chiefs. Zadenga, Paliana, Thangluaha, Rivunga and Rokhuma came to be collectively known as Sailo chiefs (Vanlalchhuanawma 2006:34).  Khan Thuam on the other hand subjected other village chiefs and became the sole chief in northern Chin region between Falam and Manipur.  However he maintained these village heads as his subordinates with certain powers in their respective areas. He recorded his rule in a poem

a) Setaang kaihna sak ciang Teimei, ka hialna Lamtui hi e,

b) Sakciang Teimei khang ciang Lamtui a lai-ah kam kei hing e. (Pum Khan Pau    2004:51)

Translation (mine):

a)     I collected tax from Falam in the south to Manipur in the north,

b)     Between Falam and Manipur, I acted like a Lion in the centre.

On his death in 1840 his chieftainship fell on his son Kam Hau. Kam Hau had seven sons Za Tual, Thuam Lian, Lian Thang, Thang Khaw Pau, Hau Pum, Khua Cin Zam and Sawm Hau who died in infancy. Kam Hau was already famous for his warrior and wisdom at Tedim. He had administrative power in addition to his raid tactics. He adopted certain laws and rules to govern his kingdom with his seven councilors Pau Vum, Khoi Lam, Mang Gin, Kim Thuam, Pau Am, Cin Kam, and Tel Khaat.  Khoilam acted as administrative head and Mang Gin as military chief. With the help of these able men he carried out his rule efficiently. He was so powerful that people from other villages flocked to Tedim to become his subjects. Tedim soon became a town of 300 households (Thang Za Tuan: 1985: 47). By the time the British annexed the Chin Hills there were 135 villages under Kam Hau’s rule. Kam Hau gathered all the wealth of his subjects. He was said to have bought the famous set of gong belonging to Ton Kai called “Ton Kai’ Daakbu” with 100 mithuns. He also acquired the famous traditional “necklace” of Mang Son by establishing marriage with his daughter and Mang Son’s son. On acquiring the necklace, the marriage was broken (Thang Za Tuan: 1985:47). He was said to have dozens of elephant tusks. Because of his wealth the Manipur Rajah unsuccessfully waged a war on Kam Hau in 1857. “They were coming to take all the Kam Hau elephant tusks, and they also planned to carry away the women of Tedim” (Vumson 1986:90-94).  The Manipur side lost two-thirds of 3000 soldiers and 130 guns (J.H. Cope 1938: 2). His subjects enjoyed peace and security under his rule except sporadic inter-tribal raids.

He adopted certain laws known as the Customary Law of Kam Hau which was printed in a book form by his grandson Pum Za Mang at Tonzang in 1925 (Sukte Chronicle 2003, Vol.1: 9). Nok Swan Lian, a social leader in Manipur reprinted this booklet with some corrections and changes in 1984 for Manipur Zomis (Nok Swan Lian 1984:1).  The Law deals with acquisition of land, judicial law, domestic as well as wild animals, trees and bamboos, hunting, murder, fire, thief, witchcraft, marriage, rape, inheritance and so on.  Some of the customary laws have been in force among the Zomis even today.

On his death in 1868 his youngest son Khaw Cin Zam succeeded him at Tedim. During the reign of Khaw Cin Zam the British forces began to raid the Chin Hills from 1883. Khaw Cin Zam died without a son and his chieftainship fell on a young boy Hau Cin Khup, son of his brother Hau Pum of Tonzang. Hau Cin Khup a youthful and energetic was taken to Yangon for training in administration including horse riding.   He proved to be capable of ruling and became trustworthy in the sight of the British officials.  He was handsome, strong, and intelligent.  He returned to Tonzang in 1893 fully equipped with police and guards. He was issued a certificate of chieftainship from the Governor of Burma. “The position of the chief in regard to the people is very similar to that of Feudal Baron. The chief is “Lord of the Soil” and his freemen hold it as his tenants and pay him tithes and he accepts tribute” (B.S. Carey and H.N. Tuck 1976: 201). When the “Chin Hills Regulation Act 1896” was enacted, “Hau Cin Khup was the lord of the earth and water” was inscribed in it (Sukte Chronicle 2003, Vol.VI:19).

During this transition period many village chiefs stop giving the usual taxes. The chiefs Sing Kam of Tuithang, Pau Khen of Muizawl, Suang Khaw Kam of Laitui, Thawng Lian of Mualnuam and Khua Kim of Tuitawh refused to pay tax saying that they had paid to the Falam Chief Con Bik. As he was empowered to rule over the land of his grandfather Kam Hau he chained some of them and some were deported to other areas in Falam until they agreed to give tax (Thang Za Tuan 1985: 59-62). In addition to the regular tax levied by Kam Hau, Hau Cin Khup levied extra tax like feather of an Eagle, feather of Hornbill, a beehive, half of elephant tusk, half of wild mithun’s horn, and six rupees from lesser chiefs annually. Hau Cin Khup became more powerful and wealthy than his predecessors. He was awarded the following awards by the British government: a rifle (1889), a double gun (1899), a Sword (1901), a golden necklace (1917), an elephant rifle (1918), a pistol (1919), K.S.M and I.D.S.M Medals (1919) (Thang Za Tuan 1985:63).

According to the Zo culture he offered a celebration of highest honor called “Tonh feast” by killing 50 mithuns at one time. On his death his son Pum Za Mang provided him a grand funeral ceremony by killing 100 mithuns, all guns from his 126 subjects fired, visitors from all his kingdom paid homage for three days and three nights at Tonzang on Sept.10, 1934 (Thang Za Tuan 1985:64).

Pum Za Mang took over chieftainship from Hau Cin Khup in 1924. As education had been introduced he had fourth grade education and well verse in Burmese. He administered his kingdom well as his father Hau Cin Khup, enjoyed the same tax and benefits as his father. When Zoland came under British control, the Zomi chieftainship was recognized and the British did not interfere with the chief’s powers and functions.  Village organization and local authorities were left as they were. He was awarded A.T.A. in 1936 and also K.S.M. Medal before World War II. His rule was disturbed by World War II followed by India and Burma independence in 1947. Kam Hau regime as it was known came to an end in 1948 by awarding a compensation of Rs.70,000 to Pum Za Mang (Thang Za Tuan 1985:68).

One might ponder that the Sukte chiefs made themselves wealthy and powerful by means of exploitation of their subjects. A number of times the lesser chiefs and subjects opposed to the payment of heavy taxes with no avail. Taxation was levied to show their allegiance to the chief and protection from enemies (J.H.Cope 1937: 4). They were protected from raids of Meiteis and Sailos in neighboring areas. A leg of animal was taxed on ground that the animal fed on the grass of Kam Hau’s land. A unit of grain as taxed because they cultivated the land of the chief.

A Sukte clan of Kam Hau and his descendants made indispensable impact on the Zomis during the long reign of almost one and half a century (1806-1948).  During the reign of Pum Za Mang, the first New Testament in Chin Hills was printed in 1932 called New Testament in Kam Hau dialect. The people of northern Chins were known as Kam Hau people and the dialect as Kam Hau dialect. The Meiteis called the tribal people “Hau” or “Hao” meaning people of Kam Hau.

Kam Hau as illiterate as he was adopted the customary law by oral order. He was the first who practiced customary law and regulations in regard to civil, judicial, social and marriage practices. The practice of inheritance to a son eventually became hereditary in the family of Kam Hau. Individual families too practice the same inheritance system even today in Zomi society.  His administrative system was not an authoritarian but built on democratic system. He gathered member of councilors of able men with particular responsibilities in administration, military, religion, social etc. to execute his powers. He served as a model in administration for the Zomis.

Another important factor is that the period from 1800-1895 AD was the most glorious era for the Zomis in history. The Zomis lived in freedom in their own territory without foreign interference. The chiefs beginning from Khan Thuam, Kam Hau and Khua Cin, ruled without political interference from neither the Burmese nor the British government in Assam.  The chiefs enjoyed individual political freedom in the land of their own.

Institution of slave

It is uncertain to give the exact date when slavery was instituted. It was certain that there were three cases that led the Zomi people into slavery.

The main target of tribal raid was not primarily to simply kill human being whether woman or children, but to kill a man. In a raid they wanted to kill as many as men they could. After killing the men, they captured women and children alive taking with them as booty including their belongings. The first medical missionary Dr. E. H. East recorded such statements of Zokhua man when they surrounded a Burmese village early in the morning while the Burmese were still sleeping began raiding the village, killing all men. They captured women and children, made prisoners of war and brought them home with cattle and grain. The women and children became their slaves and made a great feast (East 1983: 131-132).

On the other hand a person charged with capital sin or in fear of enemy could take refuge for protection at the house of the chief by embracing the central post of the building called “Sutpi.” By doing this he became a slave of the chief who gave him protection from attack. Hau Cin Khup had a big house called “Innpi” (mother house) at Tonzang which anthropologists called “Longhouse” (Daniel Shaw (1996:16).

In case of poverty, a person could borrow food grain from the chief to be repaid in due course. Failing which would result becoming slave of the chief.  Rev. J. H. Cope mentioned such a practice in relation to Hau Cin Khup. “In time of famine the poor man is compelled to borrow from the chief who charges no interest but after a certain date if the food is not refunded the poor unfortunate man becomes his shilla (slave) (J.H.Cope ltr.10/07/12). The Kachins had the same story “who had sold themselves into the servitude to a chief or wealthy individual” in poverty stricken case (Herman G. Tegenfeldt 1974:37). In such a case they became slaves by their own will or choice.

However, provisions were made for redemption from slavery.  The relatives or family members of the slaves could redeem them by paying certain amount in cash or in kind. “In early days there was no money. All payments were made in material wealth” (Cope ltr.10/07/12). In case of a slave for life time the owner took responsibility for the welfare of the slave and treated him as his family member, provided him with a wife and have children.

Abolition of slave and tax

As noted above, the negative aspect of Kam Hau kingdom were slavery and heavy taxes levied upon the subjects. The conquest of the British in 1894 set a new horizon for the Zomis. The British brought tribal war to an end.  Slavery and tax took a longer time for complete abolition. Pau Khen, son of Am Thang in Tedim took initiative to approach the British officials for abolition of native slaves as all Burmese slaves were set free. The government fixed Rs.35/- per slave for redemption as currency was available by that time (Thang Za Tuan 1985:76). Finally, British government published an order of prohibition of slavery in 1925 in the whole of Burma that brought the slavery to an end (Sukte Chronicle 2003 vol. 6:16). The triennial tax came to an end by the introduction of “Standardized dues” by the Government in 1937 and “taangseu” tax was reduced to half. One taangseu was equivalent to two Tins of grain and it was reduced to one tin of grain by the same order (J.H. Cope 1937: 2). Complete abolition of tax came into effect only when the country was granted independence in 1948. At the abolition of chieftainship the tax also came to an end. The Zomis were relieved of social burdens like slavery and taxation as a result of Burma independence.

British Annexation

Unlike other national annexation, the motive for annexing the hill region for the British was not for power or extension of kingdom. The main target was to subdue them from disturbing the neighboring areas for killing and kidnapping, bringing insecurity as they were looked at as “notorious” (Lalsawma 1994:19). In India, the East India Company had taken control of the north east area including the Chittagong Hill Tracts in 1760 (now in Bangladesh). Their interest was in trade and established trade relationship with Assam in 1792. Since 1813, the East India Company looked for any possible means to enlarge its enterprise in the area. In the mean time the first Anglo-Burmese war broke out in 1824 and a peace treaty between Burmese and British was signed known as “Treaty of Yandabo” in 1826. Lower Assam and Lower Burma were annexed in 1838 and 1852 respectively. Upper Burma came under British domination in 1886 and Lushai Hills was annexed in 1890 (Vanlalchhuanawma 2006: 73-74).

On arrival at Kalemyo as Deputy Commissioner, Capt. Raikes immediately called chiefs of Siyin, Kam Hau, Hakha and Tlaisun for a meeting at Kalemyo. They were told not to make any more raids on the people of Kale and take any captives as slaves. The Hakha chief refused to comply with his order and did not attend the meeting. Capt. Raikes sent six delegations to call the Hakha chief. But the Haka chief killed two of them; arrested three alive and one escaped. This enraged Capt. Raikes. The next year Capt. Raikes, General Sir George White and General Faunce made a raid on the Chins with the help of the 42nd Gurkha Light Infantry, Assam troops and Punjabi military Police. They built a strong stockade at Thangmual between Kale and Thuklai which was named “Fort White” after General White (Gin Za Tuang 1973: 23). On hearing the march, the Siyin, Kam Hau and Tlaisun chiefs gathered a big force consisting of 1200 Siyins, 400 Kam Haus and 30 Suktes to resist the advancing force. The encounter took place at Phatzang for some hours. The British force were beaten and retreated to the plains. Between 1888 and 1889 the British lost 36 lives and 44 were wounded. B.S. Carey the political officer stated the nature of Chins in the war as

Catlike people in their movements soon learnt that their power to annoy us lay in their skill in creeping inside the fort between sentries, and night after night the cattle pens inside and the piglets … were found to have been vanished and stolen. On one occasion a whole herd of seventy heads was carried off… Another time a “drabi” was shot and decapitated in the middle of the fort, the Chin escaping through the sentries” (Carey and Tuck 1976:32).

The Chins were enraged for demand of coolies from villages and building of roads for British use, heavy fines for opposition, demand to release slaves and collection of guns.

The Zomi chiefs blackmailed the British by sending a word for surrender, to present an elephant tusk, a rhinoceros’s horn and 150 guns to the Fort White camp. The target was to kill the commissioner B.S.Carey. Fortunately Carey being out of station the township officer was sent to meet the Zo chiefs (Ngulh Khaw Suan, 1998:207). The British sent the Township Officer (Myo-ook) Tun Win with two interpreters accompanied by 30 riflemen as body guards to Pumva to received the Zomi leaders and presents. On Oct.9, 1892 while approaching Pumva the appointed place for negotiation the Zomi people laid an ambush killing all including Tun Win the Myo-ook but five escaped. It was recorded as the “Myo-ook Suam” (plot of the Township Officer).  In retaliation the British government sent Brigadier General Palmer with a force of 2,500 riflemen. Villages were burned, livestock were taken and fields destroyed (Vumson 1986:132). The Siyins and the Suktes surrendered to the British force. Acknowledging the tactics of Zomi people in jungle, General Palmer adopted two measures in order to subdue the Zomis.

1)     Attack them during summer so that they could not cultivate farming that would result in famine.

2)  Set fire on their villages. (Gin Za Tuang 1973: 27).

They started setting fire on villages one after another. In 1893 Kam Lian and Thuamngo, of Thuklai, Dolian and Kam Cin of Buanman, Kham Hau of Heilei, Lal Nang of Muizawl laid down their arms and surrendered to the British force.   In 1894 Khup Pau, Khai Kam, Vum Lian and Suangson gave themselves up who were the last group who surrendered to the British force. In October of that year 49 Chin chiefs were taken to Yangon (Gin Za Tuang 1973: 27).

The British government collected all guns from Chin Hills numbering 7,000 (Gin Za Tuang 1973: 28) and “released 5,000 recently captured Shan and Burman slaves from the Sizang, Kam Hau, Tlaisun, Zokhua and Haka areas (Lian Sakhong 2000:189). These flintlock guns were known as “Zo thau” (Local gun) and were believed to have been captured from Manipur Raja and Shans of Kale valley. There were single and double barrels.  Zomis were vying to own the so called “Olan Gun” meaning gun made in Holland. By this time Zomi/Chins already knew how to handle guns in addition to their traditional arms like Shield,  Bow, Spear, and Sword.

The Chin Hills Regulation was adopted in 1896 drafted by B.S. Carey and approved by the British government. By this regulation the whole Chin Hills was under political officers designated as Superintendent, Deputy Commissioner, District Magistrate and Collector (Chin Hills Regulation Act 1896). The seat of Superintendent was at Haka and Falam, Tedim, Tonzang and Matupi were the seat of Deputy Commissioners.  Carey himself was promoted to be the first Superintendent of the whole Chin Hills. The Chin Hills Regulation of 1896 became the basic constitution of colonial British regime in the Chin Hills (Lian Sakhong 2000: 185). The British annexation had its positive and negative effects on the Zomi population.

The positive effects are:

1)     When Zoland came under the British control, the Zomi chieftainship was recognized and the British did not interfere with the powers and functions. They were granted official permission to rule their own respective areas as before adopting hereditary chieftainship called “Tribal Feudal Administrative System” (Carey and Tuck 1976: 201).

2)      British annexation opened up the door for entry of Christian missionaries to   the Chin Hills. The first missionary couple the Rev. A.E. Carsons reached Haka in March, 1899.

3)     It was the beginning of Zomi history because following the annexation the western scholars began to write the history, life, customs and language of the Zomi people.

4)     Inter-tribal raid came to an end.

The negative effects are:

1)     The Zomis were divided between India, Burma and Bangladesh. The Chin Hills Regulation Act of 1896 promulgated to form Zomi region including Lushai Hills into one administrative unit (M. Kipgen 1996:142). Instead Zomis were divided into three administrative units: the Chin Hills District of Burma, the Lushai Hills District of Assam (India), and the Chittagong Hills Tract of Bengal (Bangladesh).  As a result the Superintendent B.S.Carey resigned himself from the office (Lian Sakhong 2000: 183-186).  This is something that the new Zomi generation found hard to appreciate the colonial regime even today.

2)     Under the Colonial rule the Zomi chiefs were unable to exercise power as before. Before British annexation the chiefs had virtual authority over their subjects. Their authority was reduced to the level of village headman (Lian Sakhong 2000: 188).

3)     The Zomis lost their right of ownership of land. The land belongs to the government and individuals had no right to acquire land without government permission.

The significance of the British conquest lies in the fact that Zomi people were united in resistance. In the past they carried out inter-tribal wars and raids among themselves. During the British annexation the Zomis stood as one body and fought against the British forces. The Myo-ook Suam was a corporate plot of the Siyins, the Kam Haus, and the Tlaisuns. It was the first time that the Zomis came into contact with other world especially the white people called “Mangkangte” (white rulers).

The First Exposure to the World

The British Foreign Labor department recorded that during WWI, over 300,000 foreign laborers were employed to support the men of the British Labor Corps. Some of these men were “black” soldiers from the Empire countries (Fiji, Seychelles, Mauritius, Bermuda, British West Indies and Cape Colored Labor Battalion) who were used as laborers rather than fighting soldiers. The majority of foreign laborers were civilians from Egypt (100,000), China (10,000), South Africa (20,000), and India (21,000) who were recruited in their own countries and transported to France for a fixed term ranging from 9-months to 3 years. 2,000 Chinese died while serving in Labor Corps in France (www.1914-1918.net/labour.htm).

The recruitment for labor corps was launched by the War Committee in London in 1916.  As the war progressed, the Great Britain required more manpower for their forces to assist at the docks unloading necessary supplies and war materials. The British Labor Corps was formed in April 1917 to meet the need for unskilled labor in large numbers for handling stores, constructing rear lines of defense, making and repairing roads etc.  The shipment by the French steamship “Athos” shank in the Mediterranean in February 1917 with the loss of 543 Chinese lives (Fawcett Brian :33-34).

Even though they were not regular military personnel they had to go through all formal physical and medical tests. They were given serial numbers, with their names written down in Romanized letters and Chinese characters. Difficulty arose when the men did not know their names or surnames. Problems arose also when trying to ascertain the recruit’s address as most of them illiterate. A bracelet, stamped with his number was securely fixed to his wrist.  As this was “considered degrading system” it was eventually discontinued.   Though recruited as civilians they were subject to martial law, including field punishment and court-martial, sometimes including death penalty. They were regarded as mercenaries (Brian : 35).

In addition to being clothe, fed and accommodated, the laborers also received a small daily payment, part of which was remitted to his nominated party at home. Invariably gambling was rife, on pay day, some debts could not be honored. Fightings were common even killing of companions. Pay to start on arrival in Franch Francs was:

Laborers -1.00, Skilled laborer -1.50,            Gangers (equi.corporal)-1.60, Skilled blacksmiths – 2.00, Skilled fitters- 2.50, Assistant Interpreters- 2.60, Interpreters -5.00, Compensation –death or total disablement -100Partial disablement not exceeding -50.Pay deductions was applied in case of sickness, misconduct or offences. (Brian : 36-39).

Before the British annexation, the Zomis were unknown to the world. The WW I in 1914-1918 brought the world view of the Zomis turned upside down. The recruitment of Labor Corps was on voluntary basis to the British government but it was compulsory recruitment by the order of the Chin Hills Superintendent to the chiefs to supply certain number of labor corps from their respective jurisdictions. They reluctantly joined the recruitment offering themselves to die in a foreign land and with no hope of returning alive.  Indian Labor Corps included the following tribes: Hindu Mohammedans from the United Province, Shyntengs and other tribes from the Khasi Hills, the Lushais, the Nagas, the Manipuris, the Santals from Bihar and Orissa, the Pathans from the North-West Frontier, the Burmans and Chins, the Bengalis and Kumaons.

Out of 3,000 from the Chin Hills, 1,000 came from the Zomis of northern Chin Hills leaving Tedim on May 27, 1917 to Gunkhawm and proceeded to Yangon by train (Vum Kho Hau 1990:152). Those Zomis from India went to Syhlet in Chittagong, to Akyab and then to Yangon meeting their friends from the Chin Hills in Yangon. Leaving in a Ship from Yangon to Kolkata, Mumbai, Eden, Suez Canal the groups reached Marseilles in France on Aug 15, 1917.  Their position was on the border of France and Belgium about 25 miles away from the war zone.  Their duty was to pick up the wounded, loading and unloading of military supplies etc.  They worked with whites, blacks, Indians and Nagas (Gin Za Tuang 1973:43). They were in 61 & 62 (Burma) India Company. Their place of duty is recorded in the Chinese Labor Corps as : moved from Marseilles to Meaulte Farm, then to Fricourt – Salvage, moved from 3rd Army to Abancourt,  then Rouen, and back to Marseilles until repatriation from Taranto (Brian : 39-40).

Due to cold weather and illness 21 of 1,000 Zomis died. Suan Thawng, Zuan Pum, Kai Gin, Ma Ha Peng, Gin Dam, Ngul Gin, Pau Pum, Son Neng, Thang Eng, Tut Lang, Tuang Pum, Vial Dam, Vum Dai, Gin Neng, Kam Nang, Go Kam, Sian Lut, Lang Za Khen, Kam Ngul, Tual Kim, Lun Kap were buried in a foreign land in the war cemetery in France.

Upon the invitation of King George V the following persons Mang Pum, Thawng Za Kai, Song Theu, Kam Za Mang, Vung Za Kham, Thuam Pau, Vial Zen, Hau Za Nang, Hang Khaw Cin and Cin Kam met the King led by Capt. E.O. Fowler on March 27, 1918 in Buckingham Palace, London (Gin Za Tuang 1973:43). They returned home after one and a half years in France due to the “native insurrection” at Haka in November of 1917 (Laura Hardin Carson 1925:226-231). It was known as “Piantit Pai” (A trip to France, Piantit – Burmese term for France). They expressed their excitement to return home in a song.

a)  Pian tui a gam lei aw e, sial zatam tuang a tunna,

b)  Sial zatam pian tui ngak hen aw, I sau lam zong ta ni e.

Translation (mine):

a)     Oh land of France, the land  where unending worries amounted,

b)  Let all worries remain with France as we found our way home again.

(Gin Za Tuang 1973:44)

They were impressed by the war, the planes, the ships and the guns. It was undoubtedly an immense exploration for the Zomi boys. They had endless tales of their experience and adventures. On their return they brought enough money to pay for the bride they want to marry. Their world view was completely changed and some even changed their belief to Christianity. It was the first exposure to the modern world for the Zomis after meeting with English King in London. One report after the war says, “Indian Labor Corps as a whole was somewhat disappointing. Certain companies such as Burman and Chins are good at Forestry work” (National Archives, Kew W0 10633 in the History of Chinese Labor Corps).  The King praised the Zomi labor corps for their commendable service and told them that their good service would be remembered (Pau Za Gin 1972: 4). There were negative and positive results of Labor Corps in France.

The Negative results are:

1)     As the recruitment was on voluntary basis in the sight of the British it was compulsory in the sight of the native people. The Haka people refused to send their men to France. In 1917 they raised an army of 5000 and siege the Haka camp. They cut off the road between Falam and Haka. The “relief column” of the British party was attacked by the Haka party on their way to Haka in which “there were thirty or forty casualties” and 18 villages were burnt. (Laura Carson 1927:230). This was called the “Anglo-Chin war” 1917-1919 which resulted in the withdrawal of the Labor Corps from France.

2)     In Indian Territory, the Kuki people in Manipur refused to send their men to France. As a result the British forces of 100 rifles were sent to subdue them. The Kukis defended themselves from the attacked. The combat took two years from later part of 1917 to 1919 in which 86 villages were burnt. It is known as Anglo-Kuki War 1917-11919 (Vumson 1986:135-137).

The Positive results are:

1)     Economically the people who went to France were better off than those who did not. They were not only exposed to the world but they earned money which was unknown in the past (Vumson 1986:134).

2)     It promotes Christian growth among the Zomis.  In 1918 there were 500 Christians in the whole of Chin State and by 1926 the Christian population reached 4,046 and most of the Christians come from the Tedim area in the north. “Around Haka the work has been difficult and most of the converts come from the Tedim and the north” where most of the “Labor Corps” converted to Christianity” (Lian Sakhong 2000:253).

3)     The British government had recruited the returnees from France into regular army to form the “First Chin Battalion” soon after the WWI. The officers of the First Chin Battalion like Major Son Kho Lian (1962) and Lt.Col. E.K. Kim Ngin (1988) became prominent and influential leaders in the Zomi Baptist Convention (Lian Sakhong 2000:252-254).

4)     Modern dress has been introduced among the Zomi people as the Labor Corps returnees adopted short pant for dressing for the first time. Following this experience Zomis adopted western dress as more and more young Zomis joint military service (Gin Khan Khual 1998:57).



It is not possible to define culture to the fullest extent as there are various definitions put forward by anthropologists and social anthropologists. Anthropologist Paul Hiebert defines culture “as the integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas, and products characteristics of a society” (Paul G. Hiebert 1983:25).  According to

Kroeber and Kluckholhn

Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action (Kroeber and Kluckhlohn 1952:357).

A definition which more accurately reflects that objective comes from Spradley “Culture is the acquired knowledge that people use to interpret experience and generate behavior” (Spradley 1980:6). Culture is a broad concept which includes ideas, behavior, values and concepts acquired and shared by a group of people. Therefore I will deal with the following five sub-themes as put forward by Dr. Dan Shaw: traditional religion, economic system, kinship system, social structure and political structure (Daniel Dan Shaw 1988:24).

Traditional Religion

As other tribal groups the traditional religion of the Zomis was Animism. According to Nida and Smalley Animism is “a belief in spirits, including the spirits of dead people as well as those that has no human origin” (Nida and Smalley 1959:5). Melfort E. Spiro called these spirits “Nats” and there were 37 nats among the Burmese (Spiro 1967:40). The term Nat is a Sanskrit term and inappropriate to apply in relation to animism as it suggests ancestral worship originating from Hinduism (G.K.Nang 1990:14).  Zomis were “often described as devil worshipers. This is too incorrect for they worshipped neither god nor devil” (Carey and Tuck 1976: 195). Rather they offered sacrifices for appeasement of evil spirits. Zomis believed in dichotomical dimension of spirits: one is a belief in the existence of a “Supreme Being” and the other is a belief in the existence of spirits called “Dawis” (demons).  Animism according to the Zomi refers to sacrifice of animals offered to the Dawis.

The Concept of Supreme Being

The primitive religious concept of Zomi included the belief in the existence of a Super Power effective beyond ordinary power of man outside the common process of nature. This power is denoted by the term “Shah” (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:145) or “Khua” in Mizo.  “The Supreme Being” is referred to as male and creator of all things including human beings, heaven, earth, moon and stars. He is all good, loving, merciful and kind. He does no harm on human being and requires no sacrifice to appease Him (G.K. Nang 1990: 12). All goodness like health, riches, children, and other human benefits are ascribed to Him (Vumson 1986:16).

The Concept of Dawi

Dawis are invisible spiritual beings living in homes, jungles, forests, rocks, trees, pools, and rivers. There are higher dawis and lesser dawis according to their activities and place of living. Douzathang Guite has suggested that the higher dawis live in air, cloud,  high rocks and the lesser dawis in caves, trees, forests, rivers, ponds, springs, etc. (Douzathang 2003:2)

The Zomi concept of dawi includes “dawimangpa” (devil chief) who has an authority over other dawis. Other dawis move and act according to his command and order. “Pheisam” is believed to bring wealth and prosperity to a particular family in whom he chooses. If a person or family gained rapid wealth in terms of animal or grain he was said to have been blessed by “Pheisam” (Pheisam siam). “Pheisam” means missing one leg to mean the demon is a kind of spirit that has only one leg. This “Pheisam” (small one, as tall as three inches) could be caught in forest and reared in a house bringing prosperity to the owner.  “Pheisam” is kind who does no harm on human being so no sacrifice was offered to it. It is believed that when the “Pheisam” left the house the prosperity decreased and impoverished immediately (Thang Za Tuan 1985:9). Another demon called “Sikha meivak” is also harmless demons that produced twinkling lights in the air in a group at night in village or in forest. They were source of frightening people but no harm was done to human being. No sacrifice was offered to these demons or spirits.

With the exception of these spirits, all other spirits are believed to have cause illness, sickness and misfortune in the family and on the community. In times of illness domestic animals like dog, pig, chicken, cow and even mithuns were offered until the sick person improved. Pau Cin Hau was said to have offered sacrifices to 68 dawis in order to receive healing from his 15 years of illness (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:162). The number of dawis and their habitation could not be accurately traced and the counting was based on the number of places where the dawis were believed to reside. Sumtawng dawi (courtyard spirit), inndom dawi, (backhouse spirit), kong dawi (front house spirit, huankhang dawi (garden spirit), inn nuai dawi (ground house spirit), gam dawi (forest spirit), tual dawi (village spirit), were the spirits to which the Zomis commonly offered sacrifices. “The spirits brought sickness, misery and failure of crops unless treated with due respect. Moving to a new village, a new house, cultivating a field required the blessing of the spirits. Sickness was the punishment by the spirits who were unhappy with a person or family. Offerings were performed by a priest” (Vumson 1986:16). Animals such as a piglet, a cock, a dog, or even mithun according to the seriousness of the illness were offered. Small portions of the meat, liver, head or leg, with two cups of “zu” (drink) were offered to the spirits (Vumson 1986:16). The remainder of the meat was consumed by the priest and the concerned family.  During sacrificial rituals neither a visitor nor a guest should be entertained in the house. A small branch of tree was kept at the gate of the house as a sign of “No visitor” called “Zehtang.”  A period of “Zehtang” depended upon the kind of sacrifice the family offered and the kind of illness. It ranged from one, two, three days and even a week or a month.

The world of Zomis was full of fears and cares. Any activity unacceptable or unpleasing would cause harm, sickness and misfortune. Every movement required careful and mindful of the place and time. The offering of animals to evil spirits was a real burden for the people and led to economically impoverished condition. Pau Cin Hau was said to have spent Rs.400 in making sacrifices of various kinds of animals to the demons for his healing (Khup Za Go 1988: 104). Rev. J.H. Cope cited a lady who wanted to become Christian was tired of sacrifices made to spirits. “She was tired of sacrificing to the spirits and wanted something better” (Cope’s ltr.01/24/19). Zomis accepted Christianity as something better than traditional religion. The word of Jesus Christ “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” is real good news to the Zomis (Matt.11:29-30).  Zomis began to realize that demons, spirits have no power over human beings but God has the power for living, healing and the well being of human life.

Ritual Institution

In sacrificial rituals, office of the “Siampi” (priest) was the most respected office in the society. There were three types of priesthood such as “Tual Siampi” (communal priest), “Tulpi” (clan priest) and “Siampi” (household priest).  The priests were exempted from paying tithes, taxes and social work in a village.

“Tual Siampi” was the one who offered sacrifices on behalf of the village community.  Usually the founder of village settlement served as the communal priest who ministered once a year during the month of March (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:169). The ceremony was called “Tual Biak” meaning community worship.  The whole village community took part in it and it was a sacrifice to the spirits of agriculture for prosperity of a particular year. Usually a pig was offered and the head was posted on a post in the middle of the village or the place where offering was conducted.

Each clan had a priest who is called “Tulpi.” When sickness came in a family the clan priest, the “Tulpi” was called who performed sacrifices on behalf of the family. The “Tulpi” was expected to visit all the clan families even if the clan was scattered and lived in different villages. “Tul” means simply a pointed rod or stick. “Tulpi” means a big pointed rod and probably means “big priest” the one who ritually killed the sacrificial animal by use of a pointed rod or stick (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:169).  No cross-clan “Tulpi” or common clan priest was existed among the Zomis.

“Siampi” means a priest who performed lesser rituals. In case of the same clan living and scattering in different villages, it was not always possible for the “Tulpi” to visit all the clan families for sacrifice. To assist the “Tulpi” a household priest performed minor cases and this lesser priest could be termed as household priest (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:171).  The hierarchy of Zomi priesthood intimately resembles that of the Leviticus priesthood (Deu.18:6).  Accustom to priestly office, the Zomis had no difficulty in accepting the concept of the office of Pastors in Christianity. The priest acted as a mediator between man and spirits as a Pastor acts as a mediator between man and God.

Pusha Ritual

“Pusha” was traditionally referred to as ancestor worship even though the type and manner of worship may vary from one tribe to another. “Pu” means grandfather or ancestor, “Sha” means spirit referring to worship of ancestors. C. Chawngkunga, the former Art & Culture Minister of Mizoram says that it is one kind of religious sacrifices offered annually to ancestors for blessings in agriculture (Chawngkunga 1997:85). However it may be inappropriate to call ancestor worship since Zomi concept of “Pusha” was one of the many sacrifices of animism. Sing Khaw Khai was in the opinion that “Pusha” was a household benefactor to which sacrifice was made annually in the hope of securing its pleasure and favor (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:187). “There is no Zomi traditional source which mentions the origin of either the belief of ancestral spirit as having a strong effectiveness or the rite of its offering. Therefore the origin of Zomi belief in the blessing and cursing by the parents (cf.Deut. 27:16) probably had a historical relation to this ancient tradition of the O.T” (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:188).

“Pusha” sacrifice contained two rites: “Tonh” and “Innsungpi.” “Tonh” is a grand feast offered by a family which will be dealt later. “Innsungpi” is annual rite performed in the inner part of the house.  To understand better it will be helpful to discuss first about traditional house.

Zomi traditional house consisted of four parts: an elevated platform leading to the house called “Innka” and next is “Innliim” or verandah. The door at the entry is called “Kongpi.” Entering the door was a living place connected with fire place where visitors were entertained and also served for eating place. In the middle of the house stood the main post called “Sutpi” dividing the outer part and the inner part of the house. By the fire place was the bed of the owner in the inner side followed by store room called “Beemkawm.” This was the place where all the food grains were stored in a big basket called “Beem.” On the back wall near Beemkawm the skulls of animals offered for “Pusha” rite were fixed or tied. These skulls were regarded as sacred. For the annual “Pusha,” a blameless, male piglet was offered in the inner house at the foot of “Sutpi.” The “Tulpi” killed the animal, cut the flesh and boiled the meat in a place arranged for the purpose. Some parts of the lung, the kidney, the heart and the intestines were offered after cooking. The rest of the meat was consumed by the priest and members who participated in the rite. The parents of the family were anointed with the fat of the pig as a sign of purification. The family observed the rite by confining at home for a period of seven days. A wooden pole and a bamboo pole were erected at the gatepost indicating the on going “Pusha” sacrifice and no guest could be entertained during this period. The meal prepared for the occasion was of millet called “Sian-an” (holy meal) and the drink was a fermented millet called “Zu siang” (holy drink). The rite was supposed to be a holy rite and the meal, the drink and the people who participated were supposed to be clean or holy by purification rite. The skull of the animal offered was kept as sacred at the back wall of the house. Closed relatives like married daughters and their husbands called “Tanute” only could participate in the ritual ceremony. The meat sometimes was portioned to members of relatives such as son-in-laws and father-in-laws (Sing Khaw Khai 1984: 189-190).

“Pusha” ritual had a similarity to that of the Lord Supper initiated by Jesus Christ (Matt. 26:24-30; Lk.22:15-20). As the elements in the Lord Supper the bread and the wine are regarded as sacred after dedication prayer, the elements of the “Pusha” ritual were also supposed to be holy like the parents, the skull of the animal, the drink and the meal. The Lord’s Supper is observed in remembrance of sacrifice accomplished by Jesus Christ and the “Pusha” ritual was observed in remembrance of the ancestors for their blessings.

Tonh Ritual

The word “Tonh” came from the word “Tong” which means a person attained a highest social status by providing a grand feast called “Feast of Merit” (F.K. Lehman 1963:178). It was also known as “Zunung” or “Thunung” in some sections and “Khuangchawi” in Mizo. However it should be understood that it was not a feast of merit in isolation but it was a part of “Pusha” ritual rites.  Sing Khaw Khai termed it as “Tonh Sacrifice” instead of “Feast of Merit” (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:191).  Due to its grand performance due preparation was required to serve the people with meal and drink. It was a grand feast that only wealthy person who had many animals and a lot of food grains could perform it. Fermentation of “zu” drink should begin at least three months ahead of the feast. Animals killed for the feast included one or more mithuns and other domestic animals.  Mithun was regarded as the biggest domestic animal for sacrifice. The number of mithuns killed depended upon the wealth of the performer.  Kam Hau was said to have killed 50 mithuns while performing the “Tonh” feast (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:191). In case of male mithun a full-grown with clear horn called “Sial Kisiang” was selected for the purpose. Other closed relatives like father-in-laws, son-in-laws and relatives usually made a contribution of cows and pigs of their own ability in addition to “zu” drink.  The “Tonh” feast took seven days of which the first three days were the main ceremony.  During the sacrificial performance all villagers and invitees from other villages were fed with meal and drink.  In some areas it lasted nine days of merry making: eating, drinking, and dancing (Lian Sakhong 2000:149).

The first day was called “Innka dawh ni” or preparation day. On this day relatives or “tanute” added the supporting posts of the elevated front platform called “innka” where drinking and dancing would take place. To feed the workers cows and pigs were killed on this day. A sacrificial pillar made of the best kind of tree available in the area called “Song” (pillar) is carried home from a country side. A bamboo pole including a long branch with leaves also collected and erected along with the “Song” post in the centre of the court yard.

The second day is called “Pansik ni” meaning the actual ritual ceremony commenced. A couple of small pigs were killed at the foot of “Sutpi” in the centre of the house for offering to the ancestors.  The sacrificial animal mithun was killed in the court yard by the family priest after pronouncing his ritual prayers. It was killed with spear by piercing right at the heart of the animal. The parents of the house were consecrated by anointing with the blood of a sacrificial animal followed by a day of confinement in the house as a symbol of consecration (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:195). “Numerous sacrifices are also made to house spirits at special rites inside the house… the prayers at each of these sacrifices asked for prosperity and welfare: “Give us the goods of the ‘Zo’ country” was their prayer (Lehman 1963:179).

The third day was the most important day called “Zupi ni” or “Sapi ni”. “Zupi ni” means a day of great drinking and “Sapi ni” means a great day of eating meat. It was the most important day of the ceremony. Singing, drinking and dancing occupied the day.  On this day the sacrificial pillar and the bamboo pole, having been anointed with oil was put up at the center of the yard which was called “Tonh Mung” (Tonh Pillar). At the moment the “Tonh Mung” was being erected the priest would call the names of the couple to be ancestral parents by pronouncing ritual rites (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:196). The father-in-laws would lead the dancing, followed by relatives and then all other participants of the ceremony. One of the most popular “Tonh” songs is recorded by former Zomi Captain Zel Khai.

1)     Ka sumtualah sawmsial ngul lum ee,

Phung in bawm ee, miza in bawm ee,

2)     Phung in bawm ee, miza in bawm ee,

Khua suang paal ee, vaza in bawm ee. (Zel Khai 1954:146)

Translation (mine):

1)     A mithun is lying dead in my yard as a dead snake,

Gathered a multitude of people from far and near.

2)     Gathered a multitude of people from far and near,

A multitude of dancers surrounded the sacred post.

For most of the participants singing, drinking and dancing occupied the Tonh ceremony day and night.

The fourth day was called “Khek leh ni” in which the animals contributed by the son-in-laws (tanute) were killed as a continuation of the ceremony.  The actual feasting function began to conclude from this day and had no sacrificial importance. The fifth day was called “Sip ni” or day of rest in the same manner of the rite of solemn rest in O.T. (Lev.23:39).  It was the day when the parents of the house observed the consecration in a most strict manner. In other sense complete rest was observed by the performers on this day. Villagers stayed home cooking the portion of the meat they received from the ceremony. The sixth day was called “Sian hon ni” meaning the performers were free from the ritual consecration. It was believed that the consecrated couple was free from demonic influence from that day onwards. Close relatives like son-in-laws came to the house, prepared the heads of animals killed during the ceremony for meal. They joint the family in eating and drinking. The seventh day was the closing day when they prepared the tongue of the mithun and other animals killed for the feast. It was called “Salei huan ni” (day of cooking tongues). The son-in-laws cleaned the house, washed the utensils and the ceremony came to a close from this day (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:197).

The “Tonh” feast had religious as well social significance in the life of the Zomis.  When the performers die, the animals killed would go with them in the “misi khua” (place of the dead). By having many animals with them they attained high social status in the world after life. It was also believed that animals sacrificed during the “Tonh” feast were sent to “misi khua” as present to the people of “misi khua.” The people in “misi khua” were pleased to receive those presents and blessed the performers in return. The beginning of ancestor worship appeared to have originated from this concept of belief. The performers attained social status in lifetime as well as life after death because they fed such many people in aggrandizement out of their wealth and occupied prominent place in the society (Lehman 1963: 179).  On the other hand the “Song” (pillar) and bamboo pole erected together as one post represented the husband and wife of the performers. It was believed that the marriage became unbreakable or inseparable by the seal of consecration not only in life but also in life after death. “Tonh sacrifice served to uphold the concept of marriage as unbreakable and inseparable contract” (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:1989-199). The traditional religious rite of “Tonh” sacrifice served as a moral code in line with the Christian principle of marriage in the Bible (Gen.2:24, Matt.19:5-6).

Childbirth Ritual

Childbirth is the beginning of life and a blessing to the parents. Childless parents are regarded as a curse and having no male issue is a serious clan breaker as in the time of Old Testament. When a child is born a family priest is called who killed two chickens and offered his petitions to the spirits. It is called an introduction of a child to the guardianship of spirits (Stevenson 1970: 157). Boring ear takes place early as possible. “When a child is born its ears are bored with a porcupine quill or hair pin” (Carey and Tuck 1976:191). Boring ear has two significances: one is a mark to be of human being. If it is not done the spirits will mark it and die in infancy. Another reason is a sign of belongingness to a particular clan.  When the baby is about a month old the hair is shaved and kept for some years. After three days naming takes place with a special dinner provided by the name giver who is called “Mindap.”  In case of a male child the grandfather names the name taking his last name. In case of a female, the grandmother gives the name taking her last name. For example my father was Khup Khaw Nang, and my son is named Nang Suan Khai taking the last name of my father. My mother is Dim Niang and my first daughter is named Niang Sian Lun taking the last name of my mother (Carey and Tuck 1976:191). Each syllable signifies the life and achievements of the name giver (Khup Za Go 1985: 8). Naming a child after grandparents is a mandatory to maintain the family line through a male child. Other children can take the name of uncle, niece etc. Unlike other tribal groups (Mizo, Hmar, Haka) a Zomi cannot simply choose name according to one’s own will. Some families even kill a pig and make feast with relatives and friends called “Nau min phuahna” or feast of naming a child. Closed relatives such as brothers of the child’s father will give a meal prepared of meat or chicken to the child’s parents called “Antawi” meaning “bringing food.” They prepared food at home, rice, meat and soup as good as possible and bring to the child’s parents. The reason behind it is to feed the child’s mother with good food for early recovery from childbearing. When closed relatives have a newborn child the same “Antawi” is repaid in the same manner as it is received. This “antawi” is one of the opportunities and responsibilities of kinship.

Funeral Ritual

Funeral rite is a farewell accorded to the deceased. There are two categories of funeral rites: one is for the hero and the other for the normal person. At death, the body is washed, clothed with the best he had. The difference is in regard to the couch in which the person is carried.  The first is called “Laangpi” great stretcher with a seat made of bamboo where the corpse is placed in a sitting position (Carey and Tuck 1976:192). A crown made of bamboo decorated with a mixture of feathers of birds killed during his life time like Hornbill called “Ngakngiasawn” meaning a bunch of cock’s feather is placed on his head. The crown has very significant symbol. C. Laitanga lists the items that made up of the crown with their symbols.

Tukpaak  (front head flower)              – An enemy killed and “Tonh” feast.

Vaphual mei (Hornbill feather)           – A number of mithun killed.

Sawn (usual feather)                           –  Bear and Bore killed.

Sawn laikang ( white half feather)      – Tiger and Wolfs killed.

Sawnkai (full-grown feather)              – Elephant and Rhinoceros killed.

Akngiasan (Red Cock feather) – A number of deer killed.

Sakuhling (porcupine quill)                 – A number of porcupine killed.

If a deceased person did not kill the above mention animals, he is not qualified to be honored with crown (Laitanga 1982:191). This crown has similarity with the crown to be received in heaven as promised in the Bible (James 1:12).

A clothe meant only for a hero called “Puansan” will be spread around the body as if he is wearing himself. On the funeral day, the body is taken out from the inner house to the courtyard singing songs of warrior accompanied by dancing from the crowd. People feed on every pots of “Zu” placed in rows in the yard contributed by each family in the village and on meat from animals killed as “Kawsah.” While the corpse is taken out of the house, head of the family will pronounce all the achievements and performances done during lifetime called “Hanciam” and all the guns in the village fired one after another in honor of the deceased. Songs composed by the deceased will be sung and all the animals killed will be recounted in song. The body is taken to a cemetery placed in a box raised some 4 feet off the ground and supported by posts. To protect from sun and rain a “thatch roof is constructed and under the coffin a fire is lighted to dry the corpse. The fire is kept burning for a week and then the corpse is left in the coffin and exposed to the air” (Carey and Tuck 1976:192). The bones are collected after a year and placed with other bones of the family in one grave. Women from time to time visit the bones bringing some food to feed the dead which is called “Daihawh.” The visit of Mary and her sister to the tomb of Jesus has similarity in purpose. The visit is a sign of love and concern for the deceased as western people bring flowers at the tomb of loved ones.

The second category of funeral is called “Langneu” meaning small stretcher. A man who is not a hero cannot be given a big stretcher but small one. The corpse is placed in usual manner and no crown of “Ngakngiasawn’ is provided. It is a distinction of social status between a hero and a normal man. The difference between the two can be understood by the crown of a hero.

The Concept of “Misi Khua”

The term “Misi Khua” means a place where the souls of death reside. It is also called “village of death” (Wati Longchar 1991:95).  Lian Sakhong says “all the activities and performance of a person in life time is a preparation for life after death” (Lian Sakhong 2000:134).  When I was a small boy one baby of non-Christian died. On his funeral a cooked egg was place in his palm to take it with him. The baby being innocent would be led by the rolling of the egg to the place of the death. The myth called “Khup Cing leh Ngam Bawm” (The story of Khup Cing and Ngam Bawm) is about two young lovers. The girl died and the boy was led to the village of death by her mediator where they met again (Kamkhenthang et.al. 1984:34). Tradition maintains that the abode of dead is situated somewhere beyond Gun (Chindwin river) where a person lives having the same form of body as the living but of a different nature (G.K.Nang 1990:35). Death people were believed to have crossed Gun (river) dividing the world of the living and the death. The Chindwin river is used symbolizing the boundary dividing the two worlds. As river Jordan has been used symbolizing the boundary between the death and the living so also the Zomis use Chindwin river symbolizing the boundary between the living and the death in Christian songs (Tedim Hymn Book No.448).

A dead person required everything as needed in life time. Therefore at the time of burial all necessary weapons, implements, pottery, clothes etc were buried along with the dead body (Wati Longchar 1991:95). Implements like sword, spear, cigarette box with lighter, and the best clothes were buried with the death body. Gun and spear in his hand, “powder-flasked and haversack slung over the shoulder is placed as if about to start on a raid” (Carey and Tuck 1976:192).  Some of the customs like “Hunting,” “Kawsah,” “Sa-aih” and “Gal-aih” need discussion in this connection.

“Hunting.”  Hunting was not only a game for the Zomis but it had a religious significance in life after death. It was believed that on the way to the next world a person met “Sahnu” (gatekeeper) who asked if he had killed wild animal in life. If a person had not killed any wild animal he was forced to eat a red worm as punishment (Laitanga 1982:112).  If a person killed animals like Tiger, Bear, Bore, Deer, etc. the “Sahnu” would give him an easy passage and the animals killed will served him in life after death. Therefore they vied for killing wild animals in hunting. It was also “believed that the spirits of the animals killed during one’s lifetime accompanied the hunter into the next world” (Lian Sakhong 2000:138).

“Kawsah” came from two words “kua” (hole) and “sat” (prepare or making the way clear). It means when a person die, to prepare his way to the next world, a number of animals were killed to go with him. “Kawsah” literally referred to animals killed on funeral day. Animals like buffalo, mithun, cow, pig, dog were killed and feast was served for three, five or seven days as funeral ceremony. Funeral never took place on an even day but on odd day. Funeral itself will be discussed later. The deceased family killed as many as one could afford and relatives made contribution to it. The contribution received was repaid when the same dead occurred to the family. Mourners ate, drank, and sang songs of mourning. It was believed that animals killed on funeral would give him a safe passage from the “Sahnu.” As a symbol a small part of the heart, the lung, the liver of the animals was buried along with the corpse. And the animals killed on funeral would serve him in life after death. “The life of a man after death is viewed as the continued existence of man in the other world” (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:138).

“Sa-aih” leh “gal-aih” was a celebration of man or animal killed in honor of the hunter. Elephant, tiger and bison were regarded as ferocious animal that only a hero hunter could kill. In this case, the hunter must celebrate his hunting skill by killing mithun, cow or pig. For example, if a man kills a tiger, he will celebrate by killing a pig or a cow and provide a feast for the villagers. The villagers will join the celebration by bringing a pot of “zu.” The celebration usually lasts a day in drinking, singing and dancing. Failing which a tiger would take revenge on the hunter and kill him. In such a case a tiger was believed to take upper hand and would not serve him in life after death. “For many hunters the highest honor was to kill tiger and bison, which were rare, dangerous and difficult for ordinary hunters’ (Lian Sakhong 2000:139). It was also true in case of killing an enemy. A killer must give a celebration of his success which was called “gal-aih” (celebrating an enemy). If celebrated the spirit of the slain enemy “will go ahead of the slayer announcing the arrival of this great personage in “misi khua” (F.K. Lehman 1963:183).  The celebration was performed in the boastful and self-assertive manner. All male and female present “danced in the front yard. The men carry spears which they thrust up and down, but old men move about within the circle of dancers singing the boastful song of hunters and warriors” (Lehman 1963:184). In case of killing by an enemy, relatives must take revenge of the killing or becomes a slave of the enemy. Therefore revenge was a great challenge for the Zomi in order that one did not become a slave of an enemy. It is explain in a song.

a)     A si batphu ka zon ni’n e

Sa kamkei bang hang ing e.

b)     Zang lei a taa, sumlu mai pa,

Tang in siam bang met ing e.

Translation (mine):

a)     The day I take revenge for a killing

I acted just like a young tiger.

b)   A bare headed living in a valley

I, a hero chopped him just like a tree. (Thang Siangh email 02/12/07)

A person could make celebration of huge amount of grains gathered in a particular year by which he attained the same equal status in lifetime and life after death. If a man could not kill a tiger or bison or big animal he could celebrate the animal killed by others. In such a case the performer attained the same social and religious status in life and life after death (Gin En Cin 1998:259). This poem confirms that belief.

a)     A kap a thang tazawm aw,

A ai a thang tazawm aw.

b)  A kap in zu leh sa lawh e,

A ai lawi bang thang nah e.

Translation (mine):

a)     Is a hunter more famous

Is a celebrant more famous?

b)     A hunter is awarded with meat and drink,

A celebrant becomes famous like a king buffalo.

The life of a Zomi was a life of competition for social and religious status not only in lifetime but also in life after death. Primitive belief influenced so much on the daily life of the people. Religious belief motivated them for luxurious celebrations, hunting for animals and human beings. These primitive games and luxurious killing of animals on funeral day were meant to promote status in this life as well as in the next world “Misi khua.” “Whether a man has been honest or dishonest in his world is of no consequence in the next existence; but if he has killed many people in this world, he has many slaves to serve him in his future existence; if he has killed many wild animals, then he will start well-supplied with food, for all that he kills on earth are his in the future existence” (Carey and Tuck 1976: 196). The Zomis had no difficulty in understanding the idea of life after death and the concept of heaven as presented by Jesus Christ (John 14:2-3). Therefore it is almost impossible to make clear distinction between religion, celebration and funeral ceremony as we proceed.

Social Structure

The Social life of the Zomis is an open society. Everyday is an open house. You can visit any house by knocking at the door. Visiting hour is usually morning and evening. Day is working hour and one is supposed to be at field during the day. If one is found at home during day time one is regarded as “lazy” with the exception of illness. The frequency of visit indicates the relationship between the two. Relationship is built by visiting one another. “You are honored by a visit at any time. You are expected to drop whatever you are doing and welcome your guests… someone will be (a woman) at home to receive and entertain visitors and to prepare the tea to refresh them” (Carol Delaney 2004:105). Visitors are entertained in the living area by the fireside and offer a cigarette and a cup of black tea.  Offering cigarette and tea is a sign of hospitality and decency.


Family is made up of father, mother and children. They formed a patrilineal extended family (Stevenson 1970:21). The first son will live in the family as inheritor and other sons will be separated after marriage called “inntuan” (setting up of a new family). When a married son has one or two children and expresses ability to support his own family then only they will be separated from the parents. Daughters will be with the parents until marriage. In case of unmarried lady they live their whole life with the parents.


Dating is a common phenomenon among young people. Boys go out to visit girls at their homes. The common meeting place was a front platform called “innka.” About an hour after dinner in the evening a boy goes out to meet the girl and invite his friends and go in a group. Usually boys do not go directly to the girl’s house but meet in a house of familiar family. They keep talking for sometime and at about 9 PM they leave the family as if leaving for home. Actually he proceeds to the girl’s house where he spends as long as possible. Sometimes meeting lasts till the first cockcrow. At the cockcrow he leaves  for home ready to sleep for the next day work. On a clear full Moon night boys want to take advantage of it. Mostly they converse in terms of song called “Zawl La” (love song). Zomis have different kinds of songs, songs of love, of departure, of meeting, for a hero, for feasts and festivals, for joy and grieve. Love can best be expressed in song. One of such songs from a girl can be cited here:

c)     Nih geel ho lung kituak a tong dam kisang,

Sian in awi hen aw, kum sawt gua bang hing leeng e,

d)     Hem lam sin thu hi lo a, tak a sin thu,

Tongdam san sa sul ka hei lo ding hi e. (T. Khai 1969: 46)

Translation (mine):

a)     We two have converse as one in heart,

Let God grand us our wish and long life.

b)     It’s no kidding, but out of sincerity,

No turning back from what have been promised.

Marriage was decided by parents and without parent’s approval no marriage is likely to take place.  Usually Parents propose a girl for their son.


Traditional marriage was by arrangement from parents. Parents of the boy took initiative by sending a delegation of three or four members to the parents of the girl by offering a pot of “zu” called “Zu thawl.” “The girl is judged by the character of her work in the fields and house. If she is a good tiller of the soil she is a good match, whatever looks and antecedence she may be” (Carey and Tuck 1976:189).  They did not give direct answer and allowed some days to consider. After discussion in the family and with relatives they give the answer to the request. If the parents refuse to the proposal, they repaid the “Zuthawl” to the boy’s parents. If they agree they set the date and time for marriage usually not far from the negotiation period. On marriage day, the boy’s party will go to the girl’s parents with a pot of “zu” again and they take the girl with them. The girl, even if willing, pretends to be unwilling and refuses to go with them. The girl is pulled by the hand and pushed from the back as if she is forced to be taken. The boy’s parents give a feast to which both relatives of the boy and girl sides are invited. The family priest kills a cock given by the girl’s parents, “examines the liver, and announces that the spirit approve or not approve of the marriage.” Usually the result of the omen is positive (Carey and Tuck 1976:189). Another practice is that the husband side killed a cock and the wife side a hen. The priest stepping his feet on the feather, hold the two wings by the left hand and twisted the neck by the right hand on the ground. If the cock dies twisting its legs the omen reveals very good mate; if the legs put straight it is good; if the legs stand up, it means separation of the couple is prophesied (Laitanga 1982:122).

The purpose of marriage is twofold. One is for the purpose of reproduction and the second is to continue genealogical tree. Genealogy is counted from sons and therefore to have a son is very important in marriage.  To have no son is regarded as breaking the genealogy called “innmong” which means no continuation of family tree.

Bride price has to be realized after having children when the marriage proved to be confirmed. Bride price has been understood by foreign writers as if selling daughters to the boys. “Parents practically sell their daughters to be wives and they demanded a certain price for them; love is not taken into consideration at all” (Carey and Tuck 1976:189). This does not mean that women are bought and sold as property or that they rank low in status and power within the society (Paul G. Hiebert 1983:203).  Bride price is a payment as a seal of relationship between the two parties.  Also it is a sign that marriage is confirmed and sealed for a life time. A day is set and the girl’s parents give a feast this time. A cow, pig, or mithun is used for the feast which is called “Man genna.” Half of the meat is given to the boy’s party and the other half is portioned each to their relatives called “Sahawm” meaning distribution of meat. A few portions including the intestines are prepared for the feast. The neck of the animal killed is given to the mother’s brother called “Pu sa” and half of a front leg goes to the married daughter as “Tanu sa,” the portion of the back meat goes to the brothers of boy’s side called “Sanggam sa” meaning meat for brothers or uncles. Each part of the animal is portioned and distributed to relatives according to the manner of kinship. Meat distribution established the relationship of kinship.

If the parents of the girl is of high status they can demand a pig from boys side called “Inntual meikhut” (court yard smoke) which actually means to provide a feast for the parents on the day when bride price was paid. This is not regarded as a bride price but consumed by the participants. There are two categories of bride price “Manpi’ (Actual price) and “Man neen” (Minor price).  “Manpi” is one or more mithuns.  According to the Customary Law of Kam Hau the pride price is one Mithun (Rs.40) or a mithun with a calf (Rs.60) (Nok Swan Lian 1984:51).  Bride price varies from one clan to another, from village to village. “The value of a girl depends on the amount which can be wrung out of the suitor’s family, and a slave to do the work of the girl is generally required; mithun, beads, gongs, guns, slaves, and grain all figure in the price demanded for a bride” (Carey and Tuck 1896:189). In the past slaves were provided to help her work in the house of her husband. Preferably bride price is paid in installments in a span of many years (Lehman 1963:124-125). In addition to the price additional price called “Man neen” is to be down paid (Nok Swan Lian 1984:52-53) which can be realized even before the actual bride price was paid. In case a married girl happens to die of some reason, the husband side can not give a funeral unless the “Man neen” is paid which means the girl still belongs to her father. Therefore “Man neen” is paid as soon as possible.  “Man neen” includes “Nu man” (mother’s price), “Pu man” (mother’s brother’s price), “Min man (name giver’s price) and “Thalloh” (family speaker’s price).  “Nu man” is demanded by the mother of a girl as a compensation for bearing and raising her daughter up. “Pu man” is demanded by her mother’s brother being the giver of the girl, “Min man” is demanded by the one who gives her name and “Thalloh” is demanded by the one who speaks on behalf of the family. Generally these “man neen” is Rs.2 each or its equivalent. The girl’s parents have a responsibility to give a feast to her married daughter called “Tanu sagawh” one or two times. The last feast is called “Sialkhup sa” which means all the responsibility to their daughter has been completed. In this case the meat is portioned to relatives according to kinship (Lehman 1963:117). She brings no dowry as such but the parents provide their daughter with a basket, an axe, a hoe, a dao, a blanket, a box and a “pot of zu.”  These items are regarded and provided as basic requirements for daily work in addition to her clothing. The people who escorted her to her husband’s house drink the “pot of zu” or tea on arrival and the host would match with the same pot of zu (Gin Za Go 1995:8-9).

Preference was given on exogamy even though endogamy was not prohibited. Marriage between different clans was encouraged for security and extension of family relationship (Lehman 1963:117). Levirate and Sororate marriage were also found even though levirate marriage was more common than the sororate marriage in the Zomi society. Levirate marriage was practiced “to ensure that the property and children remain within the central fold and the responsibility of the husband’s clan, as well as to protect the widow and her children” (Juanita War 1996: 9). Marriage as in the Bible serves for establishing kinship, relationship and peace in the society.

One significant practice in marriage is that the wife has to address her husband as “U” which means elder or older. It is used among brothers and sisters. Younger brothers and sisters address their older brothers and sisters as “U.” In case of marriage it carries not just older or elder referring to age, but respect and submission to the husband. The wife has never ever addressed her husband by name but as “U.” Addressing by name is a sign of indignation or insult and will result divorce right away. It is a distinctive custom among the Zomis unlike the Mizos and others. In marriage, it is mandatory for a wife to address her husband as “U” giving respect and submission. To address children by full name even by parents is conceived as one kind of rebuke. Parents usually address children by “minno” (small name). Therefore it would have been meaningful if Jesus is addressed as “U” instead of “To” which means chief. “To” gives the image of relationship between slave and its master.


Woman had been regarded as a property of man and some people take divorce very light. “Gawlsia leh numei kikhek thei” was the old proverb which means broken fencing and woman are liable to change. If a husband is tired of his wife he tells her to go and she returns to her father’s house. In such a case the husband cannot recover the bride price he paid. In case a wife leaves her husband on her own will, then her bride price is returned by her father. “If however, the man has ill-treated his wife, she may leave him and he cannot claim the price he paid for her” (Carey and Tuck 1976:210). In case a husband dies without any issue, the wife returns to her father’s house. In case a wife dies without any issue or an issue, before paying bride price, before funeral takes place the bride price must be settled; otherwise, the wife’s father has the right to claim the body of his daughter being unpaid for. “The issue of the marriage belongs to the father in case of separation or divorce and the mother has no claim to her children” (Carey and Tuck 1976:210).  Divorce is permissible in case of barrenness as woman is supposed to be progenitor of children. No one could tell who is barren but the blame goes to the wife as no scientific investigation ever carried out in such a case. Though divorce becomes a possibility, the Zomis by nature are faithful and divorce is rare as a whole. In many occasions divorce happened due to external forces.

In the first place, members of the husband’s family created difficulty due to unhealthy relationship with the wife which results in divorce of no fault of the two. In the second place, relatives, neighbors and members of village instigated the members of the husband or of the wife, resulting divorce in the end. As an extended family, this kind of situation can take place which is no fault of their own and could be settled by cordial negotiations (Nok Swan Lian 1984:62-63). Especially women are loyal to their husbands for two reasons. One, it is difficult to maintain life without a husband as husband is the main bread earner. It is almost impossible to sustain life without a husband especially after having children. Second, living in parent’s house as an extended family is not always feasible for woman who once had been married. It is not an easy way of life to live with cousins, in-laws and parents for a married woman. The bride price paid becomes a binding factor as a testimony between the husband and wife. Marriage is not just a relationship of husband and wife but also a relationship established between two clans. Separation means not only breaking the relationship of the couple but also breaking of the relationship between the two clans. “Marriage is therefore considered to be unbreakable and inseparable except by an event of death (Ngul Khan Pau 1995:30). So, decision for divorce is taken very seriously and carried out only in agreement with relatives. Zomis adapted a couple of hornbill as their logo as a sign of inseparable couple. In an event of death a hornbill would lay down its life along with its partner so also a Zomi dare to lay down life for the sake of partner or fellow Zomi.

Hornbill Couple


C. Laitanga who did research on the Paite (Zomi) in Mizoram says that the Zomis do not have many feasts and many even do not remember them (Laitanga 1982:141). The following feasts stand out as effectively observed like “Khuado Pawi,” “Sialsawm Pawi,” and “Lawm Pawi”.

“Khuado Pawi” is a harvest festival observed at the end of September when the two main crops millet and corn have been harvested. It is a celebration in a group of three or four families. Each family fermented “zu” drink in advance for the purpose. A pig is usually killed for the feast lasting two to three days. The family priest drives away the evil spirits and bad omens from the house by lighting pine wood in each house (Khaitawng 1969:20-21). The feast is also featured in celebrating a bee-hive and ritual expulsion of spirits. Bee-hive ritual is meant for fore-telling the future. A collected bee-hive is open and the priest studied the nature of the young bees. If the young bees are in good condition, it is interpreted as a sign of healthiness of the community (Do Sian Thang 1989:52). The term “Khua” laterally means village but in this case it is used in reference to unseen forces and “do” is hosting or ‘encounter.” It is a time of encountering with the evil spirits by driving away the evil spirits from the house. Another theory says that it is a time of feeding the evil spirits showing hospitality so that they are pleased and do no harm on members. The probability is that by pleasing the evil spirits they leave the house and security in the house is secured. During the festival participants prepared the best kind of food they can afford like millet, sticky rice and very good “zu.”  They sing, drink and dance in great aggrandizement. It is a time of celebration for the first fruits of their labor of the year. It is similar to the festival observed as Thanksgiving Day in the West.

“Sialsawm” is another festival observed in the month of March yearly before summer begins for cultivation.  It is a festival for asking the god of the harvest for prosperity. Usually pig is killed. Dog, chicken or even mithun also killed according to the size of the group. Each group of five or six families joined in one house usually of the same clan. They prepared “zu” well in advance again for the occasion.  It is observed for one day during which singing, dancing and drinking occupy the day. The family priest took an egg to the street, cooked in a fire and observed the manner of breaking the egg. From the manner of breaking the egg, the priest prophesied if the year would be prospering or not. At some occasions, men conducted a competition of wrestling too (Laitanga 1982:144).

“Lawm An Nek.”  In Zomi village there is one or more “Sawm” or single male dormitory where all the single men of a village sleep together. Usually a family of village head or any house of high standing made elevated wooden planks about four feet high above the ground in the verandah. The size of the dorm depends on the number of male persons who sleep together. This is called “Sawm” or sleeping together. The purpose of this institution was that in case of raid young male group will be ready to fight the enemy. Also it serves as training ground for male persons how to behave, lead a good manner, become a hero, hunter and obedient. The oldest of the group will serve as head of the dorm and his order is to be obeyed. The group arranges a piglet which is reared by the house owner.  In case a member of the group is behind in work, all the members will lend a helping hand and finish the work. When farming is completed they kill the pig and have a feast. This is a joyous time for male group. It is called “Lawm An Nek” or “friendship feasts.” The intestine of the pig was distributed to families who in return contributed a pot of “zu” for drink on the day of feast (Laitanga 1982:145-46).

In every function of social and cultural activities of the Zomi three things prominently play important role. One is the involvement of a priest whether festival, ritual or feast. A priest’s presence is felt as indispensable figure carrying out of his role for the community as well as for the individual. In the absence of a priest no function is complete in a real sense. Second, Zu is placed in the centre of social and religious activities either in marriage, feast, festival and funeral. “Zu is a very important article with these people. It is required for the due observance of every ceremony; a child’s birth is an occasion for entertaining its relations, no marriage can be celebrated without the consumption of zu, while after his death friends and relatives drown their sorrow in all the zu they can obtain” (Shakespear 1912:37). In case of marriage, without “zu” no negotiation can be carried out. Families offered “zu” as a sign of hospitality to visitors. More about “Zu” will be discussed later. Ritualism is another factor in social functions. Not only in religious matters but also in most cases of social functions some kind of ritualism will be conducted by the priest. This shows that Zomis are religious in nature. Social, cultural and religious functions are inseparable in Zomi life. Christmas and New Year celebrations replace cultural festivals in which each local church celebrates it as a community.


What is “Zu?”  Why is it so important in Zomi life?  “Zu” is a common and local name given to drink (beer) or any fermented liquor from grains. The beer is made of fermented rice, millet and maize mixed with yeast (N. Chatterji 1975: 3). There are four different types of “Zu” such as “Zupi,” “Zutaak,” “Zuhang” and “Zuha.”

“Zupi” is commonly made of husked rice, millet, and maize. For a big feast like “Tonh feast” many pots of Zu was required and fermentation has to be started well in advance. There are different sizes of “Zu pot” (earthen jar), big, medium and small. In public gatherings such as feasts and festivals big jar is used and small jar is used for domestic drinking. The jar is filled with the husked fermented rice strongly pressed down with a layer of banana leaves on top. A tube is inserted in the middle of the jar for the purposes of sucking the liquor after adding water into it. “Each person in turn sucks up his allowance, the appearance of the top of a peg … giving him a hint when to leave off” (Shakespear 1912:38).

“Zutaak” is regarded as a good drink.

After being well bruised, paddy is damped and packed away in several layers of leaves and kept for some months – the longer the better. When the zu has to be brewed the bundles are opened and the contents placed in a large earthen jar and well pressed down, with a layer of leaves on top and the jar filled up with water.  After a few minutes the liquor is drawn off by a syphon into a brass or wooden bowl, out of which it is handed round to the guests in horn or small bamboo” (Shakespear 1912:37-38).

Distribution of Zutaak is common on occasions such as festivals, “Tonh feast” and during “Sa-aih” or “Gal-aih.” When a hero returned from killing enemy women would go out to meet the hero in the street with “Zutaak” and the hero and his fellow hunters were offered “Zutaak” drink in horns. The hero will get in bigger horn than others that is the reward he received as a hero. “Zupi” and “Zutaak” are the most common drink in communal gatherings.

“Zuhang” is a spirit distilled from the already fermented grains. It is a very strong drink. Common people hardly drink it. It is also never served in the communal drink. Chiefs and elders drink it occasionally (N.Chatterji 1975:9). Three pots were put together one on top of the other. The largest one was at the bottom containing the fermented grains mixed with water to be distilled. On the top of this pot the middle one was placed. The middle one had a perforated bottom to admit the stream coming up from the pot below. Inside the middle pot they put a small pot for holding the drops of spirit condensed. Another pot containing cold water was placed sealing the mouth of the middle pot.  Each joint was sealed with wet ashes for which no vapor would come out of it. This complete set of pots used for distilling fermented grains was known as “Zuhang” meaning “hot drink” or strong drink (N. Chatterji 1975: 8). Today people drink this “Zuhang” that destroys body and spirit.

“Zuha” is fermented rice. Its liquor which was brewed in a smaller pot than ordinary beer pot was used on less important occasions (N. Chatterji 1975:7).  Cleaned rice was cooked and spread over a bamboo tray in order of cooling it down. After sprinkling it with leaven, they put it in an earthen pot meant for brewing and the pot was covered with a particular leaves (Nahkua teh).  The process of fermentation is called “Zubilh” and it takes about three days to three weeks. The longer period of fermentation produced the better “Zuha.” Millet and rice are used for “Zuha.”  It is used for feeding motherless child (N. Chatterji 1975:8). Fortunately “beer is rich in vitamin B and since even children drink it from their earliest years there is no great deficiency noticeable in this direction” (Stevenson 1970:11).

“Zu” is indispensable in social and religious activities followed by singing, dancing and drinking. One of the most common social songs can be quoted here.

a)     A nuam in bang a nuam hiam aw,

Pu pa len sial ki leh khuang nuam e,

b)     Pu pa len sial ki leh khuang nuam a,

Zin lai len kal tang bang dam nuam e.

Translation (mine):

a)     What is the happiest moment in life?

The happiest moment in life is singing with drum and horn as of old.

b)     The happiest moment in life is singing with drum and  horn as of old,

In the midst of darkness leading a healthy life is a happiest moment in life.

The use of “Zu” is twofold. “Zu” is used as drink in all occasions like feast, festivals and at home. When there is a visitor from a distant place or close relative from far place “zu” is offered showing hospitality. When the house owner returned from work tired in the evening or from hunting, the wife would prepare a small pot of “zu” for him.  It is common drink both at home and in public. “Zu” also played an important role in almost all sacrificial ceremonies. “The animals sacrificed were usually sprayed with ‘Zu’

Diagram IKhuang, Zam,  leh Sialki(Drum, Gong and Horn)Musical instruments

by the priest. The priest and the ones for whom the sacrifice was made drank ‘Zu’ on the occasion of every sacrifice” (K. Zawla 1976:78-80).

The effect of Zu drinking on society and individual is numerous and multi-faceted. Economically drinking “zu” reduced the wealth of the people as they were hard drinkers (Laitanga 1982:49). Even a poor family who had no food to eat would have “zu” to drink. Some people prefer on some occasions to ferment the only grain they had for “zu” instead of saving for food. Morally it was sinful as it resulted in fighting and quarrelling. I still remember my boyhood experience about fighting due to drunkenness. My neighbor, a retired Burmese army, used to get drunk whenever there was feast or festival. When he got drunk, he threatened his wife to kill due to suspicion for affairs with other man. He would withdrew his long sword and run after his wife to kill her. The wife would hide herself many times beneath our house. She would not come out until her husband was back to normal. The first medical missionary Dr. E. H. East’s remark at Thuklai is another example.  “It is here as everywhere that when men are drunk, the sense left them and only the wild beast remains. The Chins (Zomis) are the most drunken people that I have come in contact with. Every occasion whether it is a joy or sorrow, they must drink and when drunk must dance” (East 1983: 82). “The effect which the drink brewed from maize and millet seems to have on the eastern tribes (Zomis), among whom violent crimes, committed during drinking bouts, are very common” (Shakespear 1912:38). As the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, so also the love of drinking “Zu” is a root of all evil in case of the Zomis (I Tim.6:10).

It is a problem for the church since the introduction of Christianity to the present day.  The missionary Rev. J.H. Cope demanded complete abstention from drinking as a requirement for church membership. The Roman Catholics and the Wesleyan Methodist missions favored a moderate drink for members in the church (J.H.Cope 1932:1-2). Salvation Army, Baptists and Presbyterians opposed the idea of drinking and demanded teetotalism.

The Commissioner of Magwe (which included Chin Hills) at one time requested to reconsider his (Cope) stand on the matter, “In my opinion, formed after discussion with Col. Burne and such inquiries as I was able to make, large numbers of Chins are ready to embrace Christianity and are only deterred by their unwillingness to accept the conditions which you make, especially your requirement that they would give up alcoholic liquor” (Cope letter to Robbins 05/31/1929). In relation to this letter Rev. Cope wrote to the Mission Board expressing his idea.

I am enclosing a copy of the letter sent to Chaney by the Wesleyans. … The first reaction to such a letter is of course wild rage. I have not been so angry in a long time. I see red every time I think of it. To me it stinks to heaven ad is un-Christian from beginning to end and the pious thoughts are mere hypocrisy. … I know there will be a large number of Christians who will immediately drink if permission is given and some so heavily they will have to be expelled… The Lushai Christians are teetotalers…The thought of drinking Christians are almost intolerable. I know what drink is to a Chin. …There is a great deal more against drink in the N.T., than against slavery or even fornication. …They are simply putting a pistol to our heads and telling us to pay. … I wrote originally when I corresponded regarding the Commissioner’s letter that perhaps we are wrong in insisting to teetotalism… Were I starting I would be willing to give drink a fair show, no harm would be done and if it proved impossible as it has done in the Garo and Naga missions one could give it up. But the thought of the 2000 odd Christians who have gotten over the taste for liquor being exposed to its filth again makes me sick” (Cope’s letter 01/09/1932).

Rev.Cope’s view still holds as a basis for Christian conduct regarding “Zu” even today. Today tea replaces the place of “Zu” in case of marriage and festivals such as Khuado Pawi, Christmas, New Year and childbirth.

Kinship System

“Kinship is more than a network of biological relationships; it is also a network of social relationships. It establishes social ties, patterns of behavior, obligations and responsibilities and patterns of authority. In short, it is a road map or structure of interpersonal relationships (Grunlan and Mayers 1988:162). The Zomis pratice the following kinship systems : consanguine, affine, fictive and phyle ties.

Consanguineal Relationship

Relationship by blood or by birth is called “Beh” (consanguineal tie) and consanguineal relationship maintains genealogical tree. F.K. Lehman termed this as “patrilineal clan” (Lehman 1963: 88). A father is tied to his son and daughter, and the son and daughter by birth. The origin of “Beh” is taken from the first ancestor of a particular group. “Beh” relationship has been maintained through sons not through daughters. The lineage is counted from the first son who is also the inheritor of the property of the parents. Inheritance is not simply inheriting the property of parents but the responsibility to care, to support parents and maintain the family. He is also head of other sons in the kinship tie. In apportionment of meat they are termed as “sanggamte” meaning “brothers.”  Many sons in a family have many “sanggams” and highly respected.  Sanggam relationship cannot be broken as it is created by birth or blood (Grunlan and Mayers 1988:162).

Affinial Relationship

When a son is married to a girl the relationship with the parent-in-laws is called affinial tie, which means a relationship is established through marriage.  The relationship to his parent-in-laws has been termed as “Sung leh Pu” and to his parent-in-laws he and his family is “makte” or son-in-laws. They carry both opportunity and responsibility towards the parent-in-laws. Their responsibility is to lend service to the parents in times of joy and grieve known as “Tanute.” Its literal meaning is daughters. They are expected to do all household works in case of celebration or funeral. It is opportunity because they eat, drink and enjoy with the parents of the wife as daughters. They work most of the work to be done and also eat the best of meal available.  When distribution of meat takes place half of a front leg goes to the “Tanute” (daughters) even though there are various practices of apportion of meat according to clanship. Melford E. Spiro points out that the relationship of a daughter with the parents is stronger than the son with the parents. “Daughters often cook for them, care for them when they are ill, do their washing, and so on” (Spiro 1977:81).

Wife’s parents are called “Pute” in affinial tie. The “Pute” must be given respect, obedience and service in times of need. A saying “Pute leh lamphung kidem zo lo” is a famous proverb among the Zomis. The meaning of the saying is “one cannot compete father-in-laws as one cannot climb over the high fence.” As a sign of respect, a liver, heart and stomach of animal killed or hunt must be shared with the “Pute.”  In case of distribution of meat the neck or back thigh goes to the “Pute.” Having many daughters means many working force in times of joy and grieve and highly regarded. A daughter ceases to be part of a “Beh” or clan of her parents when she is married, but joins the “Beh” of her husband. Therefore affinial tie is achieved and breakable (Grunlan and Mayers 1988:164). A saying “Numei khua leh Sakhi khua” is reflective of the position of woman which means deer and woman has no permanent settlement.

Fictive Relationship

A fictive relationship through legal ceremonial tie into kinship is rare though not unknown. The Zomis establish relationship with an outside of one’s clan by admitting a person as speaker of the family called “Thusa.” A family can choose any person of high standing whom he feels trustworthy and able speaker in negotiations. “Thusa” will speak on behalf of the party he represents as best as possible. In case of marriage a “Thusa” of the boy side will start the negotiation process and then the “Thusa” of the girl’s side will respond. Final decision is taken in consultation with the parents of each party and the decision will be presented by the “Thusa.”  A good portion of meat goes to the “Thusa.” “Thusa” is selected from other clan and he acts and speaks as if he belongs to the same clan he represents. There is no ceremonial initiation or rite in such a case.

Phyle Relationship

Phyle relationship among the Zomis is highly regarded as belonging to one social group. The Zomis identify themselves as a social group by language called Tedim dialect. Tedim dialect was a self creation of Tedim town, the capital of the northern Chin Hills (Vum Lian Thang 1998:305-308). The British named it Kam Hau dialect from the name of the Chief of the tribe. Gin Za Tuang recorded at least 9 minor dialects spoken by sub-groups such as Sihzang, Thado, Zo, Teizang, Saizang, Dim, Guite, Phaileng and Hualngo (Gin Za Tuang 1973:8). These sub-groups though having minor differences in dialect, the Tedim language (trade language) serves as a common dialect among the Zomis that binds them together.

Do Sian Thang, Principal of Zomi Theological College has a kinship system as below.

A         = Household father.               B         = Household Mother

1          = Thalloh:       Arrow compensator, eldest brother of “A” (consanguine tie)

2          = Sung-pi:       Brother-in-law –eldest brother of “B” (affine tie)

3          = Tanu-u-zaw: Elder daughter- eldest sister of “A” (consanguine tie)

4          = Tanu-nau-zaw: Younger daughter–second eldest sister of “A” (consanguine tie)

5          = Zin-khak:      Door Shutter- second eldest brother (consanguine tie)

6          = Pu:                Father-in-law – Father of “B” (affine tie)

7          = Beh-sa-bawl: Meat preparer of the clan – anyone from A’s clan chosen by “A” (consanguine tie)

8          = Sung-sa-bawl: Meat preparer of in-laws – anyone from 2’s clan, chosen by 2 (affine tie)

9          = Beh-thu-sa:   controller from A’s clan, anyone from “A” (consanguine tie)

10        = Veng thusa:   Controller from A’s clan – anyone from “A” (consanguine tie)

11        = Nuphal:        Husband of sister-in-law – anyone form the husbands of “B”s                      sisters,   chosen by “A” (affine tie)

12        = Zawl :           Friend – anyone from any clan chosen by “A” (fictive tie)

(Do Sian Thang 1989: 54).

With the introduction of Christianity the closeness of kinship tie has been diminishing in the society.  Christians discontinued the celebration of “Tonh,” “kawsah,” “sa-aih and gal-aih,” as they have some connections with traditional religious rituals (Gin Za Go 1995: 10). This prohibition has resulted in discontinuation of meat distribution among the kinship. When there is no apportionment of meat, the tie between consanguineal and affinial relationship becomes loosely treated. Regard for one’s kinship seems to disappear slowly. The missionaries discarded social and cultural elements as opposed to Christian faith and there was no consideration of cultural and social values at the introduction of Christianity. Some of the cultural and social values have been buried along with unacceptable cultural elements in Christianity. For example, Christians maintain the system of “Zuthawl” and bride price which still hold important part of Christian marriage. It is a combination of traditional and Christian marriage system. Some people still practice the killing of animals when their parents die as a kind of “kawsah” even though they do not term it. This shows that there are some social values in traditional system which needs to be carefully looked into it.

Economic System

According to Grunlan and Mayers “Economic systems involve the ways people, time and materials are organized to produce, distribute and consume goods and services” (Grunlan and Mayers 1988:108). “Economic deals with material goods and human property and with the labor associated with producing, distributing and maintaining them” says Hiebert (Paul G. Hiebert 1983:298). H. N. C. Stevenson the only scholar who did a research on the economics of the Central Chins says “the theory of western economics is inapplicable to primitive communities” like the Zomis (Stevenson 1970:3). In view of the above definitions I will discuss the way the Zomis produce, distribute and consume food, goods and materials involving labor and service.


“Agriculture” popularly known as “Jhuming” is the chief occupation of the people. The staple crop is not rice but maize, millet, although a varying amount of rice is also grown. Other subsidiary field crops include bean, yam, peas, potatoes, gourds, cucumbers, sesame, onion, garlic, brinjal, and chilies (Lehman 1963:52).

Very limited implements were employed in cultivation such as the short axe, the short hoe and dao, of which the first two are never more than 4 inches broad at the edge. To make the things worse cultivation was unsafe as most of inter-tribal raids took place while working at field or on way to or from the field. “Nine out of every ten persons whose heads were formerly carried off lost their lives in or near their fields” (Carey and Tuck 1976: 211). As protector of the family the husband took the lead on the way to the field equipped with spear and arrow followed by the wife. On retuning the wife took the lead and the husband followed in behind. This song explains the fact.

a)     Lal in phawng lal in phawng e,

Zolei-ah lal in phawng e.

b)     Ngaih aw na tai masa aw,

Kei man nung ciang dal nang e.

Translation (mine):

a)     Enemies are coming, enemies are coming,

Enemies are coming in the field.

b)     My dear run home ahead of me,

I will be your fence in the back. (Thang Siangh, email 02/12/07).

Not only these, hunting and feasting consumed a lot of time and production of agriculture suffered a great deal (Laitanga 1982:46).

Shifting cultivation is a normal system each year. During winter cutting of forests and weeds are conducted, clearing by burning of the fields in March and sowing seeds is carried out in April and May. A small hut is put up for shelter from sun and rain in each field.

Whilst the crop is in the ground a couple of boys, usually slaves, live in this house to defend the crop from the wild animals and birds, bears, deer and monkeys are killed in numbers in the field. The boys keep off sparrows and parquets by hammering a hollow trough and by pulling strings connected with four corners of the field to which are attached bamboo rattles and which all lead to the platform of the house” (Carey and Tuck 1976:211).

Animals like bear, monkey and sparrows created real problem eating up or destroying the crop. “As soon as the seed is on the ground the fields must be guarded against animals and birds and as soon as the seed sprouts the weeds have to be kept down and prevented from choking the crop” (Carey and Tuck 1976:212-213).  During June to August people are busy attending on their fields. Harvest season comes in the month of September and October. In spite of insecurity and unscientific method of cultivation in the past, the people appeared to be self-sufficient in food as the land was productive. The Zomi “society is largely a self-sufficient village society” (Lehman 1963:168). The grain was stored in a big basket or granaries in the house. Every household aimed at harvesting a year’s living from cultivation. The surplus if any was used for drinking and bartering (Laitanga 1982:47).

There are two classes of cultivation: one is at higher altitude called “Zo lo” and lower altitude called “Sim lo.” Rice is sown in the lower altitude and maize and millet are grown in the higher altitude. However the name of Zomi and Zo lo should not be confused as if they have the same connotation (Lehman 1963:53). Each village had certain areas of land for cultivation which was portioned to each family called “Lo Hawm.” “The cultivation extended to the limit of the village boundaries, and if the territory of the soil permits it every inch from the mountain top to the valley bottom will in its due sequence come under the hoe” (Stevenson 1970:30). The village head and his councilors had their choice and then other members got their portion by lottery. Anticipation of good harvest began from the very beginning of “Lo hawm” each year. Success of cultivation depends very much on rain which is monsoon season. Failure of rain or draught brings famine. Animals like bear, deer, monkeys and birds also often brought famine on individual family which was very common. However, as Zomis eat maize, yam, potato and beans as staple food they face less famine unlike the people of the Lushai country who depended wholly on rice (Laitanga 1982:46).

“It is popularly supposed that the Zomi/Chin is a wretched, half-starved, overworked and generally unhappy individual” (Carey and Tuck 1976:213). The reverse is the case. Though poor and primitive they loved singing and dancing during festivals and feasts. Christianity is seen as economically viable for development that attracted the Zomis. Luxurious festivals and feasts were abandoned; they stopped drinking and killing animals on funerals. They develop better food when they become Christians. Economically Christians are better off that convinced the Zomis to become Christians.

Division of Labor

Unwritten law sometimes becomes more effective than written law in a society. In the absence of written code the Zomi life consists of division of labor. Father is the main supporter of the family while wife is a care taker of children and household duties. Chopping trees for field, house construction, hunting, rearing and maintenance of domestic animals fall under man’s duty. “Men are usually skillful in handicrafts. Bamboo and cane works … earthen pot and wood works are the works of men” (Ngul Khan Pau 1995: 48). Washing, caring child, drawing water, cooking, feeding and cleaning falls under the duty of woman. “Women play a large part in building the economy of the family. They are engaged in planting, weeding the fields, harvesting crops, and household chores” (Prim Vaiphei 1981: 30). Attending and guarding domestic animals like mithun was the duty of children especially of boys until they can join in field work. Boys are sent to guard mithuns at day time called “Sial cing” or mithun boy. Boys learnt their jungle tactic while attending mithuns in a nearby village forest like in the days of David in the field. The only common labor was working in the field where parents, daughters and sons who attained the age of puberty join together. In many cases children go to the field very young learning cultivation system from their parents. Having more children meant more working force which lead to larger gathering of crop.  In short, man’s duty include all those of work regarded as heavy and works regarded as light fall under the duty of woman as female are regarded as weaker specie. This should not be confused with the Hindu class system as no class system exists in Zomi society.  Division of labor is still in practice among Christians even today. For example, carrying a baby by the father is seen as hen-packed husband.

Domestic Animals

Rearing domestic animals was one of the most important sources of economy even though no professional farming was noticed. Animals like fowl, dog, goat, pig, cow, mithun and buffalo are common domestic animals. A family would rear at least one or two of these animals even if one could not rear all of them (Laitanga 1982:44). The purpose of rearing animals was not for consumption as such but mainly for sacrificial purposes in times of illness and for killing in times of feast, festivals, and funerals. “Fowls and pigs are the victims for most of the personal and household sacrifices, while pigs and mithun figure generally as communal offerings” (Stevenson 1970:50). Wealth was measured on the number of mithuns one could rear. Mithun was used for Tonh feast, funeral feast, as bride price and so on. “The mithun plays an important part in sacrifices, feasts, and in the price paid for a wife” (Carey and Tuck 1976:180). Though animals were not meant for selling and making money as we understand now, they were economically useful for exchange with food grain and other animals according to the market system of the day.  Domestic animals like pig and mithun were kept beneath the house as house was built some 10-15 ft high above the ground on a sloping hill whereas fowl and dog were kept in the verandah.


Ownership of property can be classified into two categories such as “communal” and “private ownership.” Stevenson classified them into autocratic and democratic property (Stevenson 1970:78).  The land could be acquired by conquest. Therefore the “Chief is Lord of the Soil.” On this basis, the chief collected tax or tithe in the form of grain from his subjects (Stevenson 1970:81).  The land belongs to the chief.

Another principle was that public welfare took precedence over private rights. “This is the sanction for exercise by the headman of his right of redistribution of land, and it comes into operation when he is required to find land for newly married couples, for immigrants to his village, or for people who have shouldered a debt for the benefit of the community” (Stevenson 1970: 87). In a village, land was for cultivation and each household had the right to cultivate it. Land belonged to a community of a village and a portion of land cultivated for a period of time belonged to an individual who cultivated it. Ownership was temporary and lasted as long as one cultivated it. He had no right to sell or transfer to other person. The village authority under the headman had the authority how to manage the land. In some places a plot of land was exchanged with other property and belonged to individual family. At the time of British occupation private ownership of land for cultivation existed among the Zomi people called “Logam” (land of cultivation). Each family in a village had his “Logam” and cultivated it every year.  Yet, still he had to pay the tribute to the chief.  Therefore ownership of land was complex until government took over ownership of the land. This is immoveable property.

Moveable property included gong, pot, gun, necklace and animals. A big pot of silver called “Belsan” and big “gong” and cymbals were private property. Woman wore different kinds of necklaces as private property. Necklace became valued property since Chou Dynasty which every woman wore as many as one could afford (Hau Za Cin ltr.02/05/07). The most valuable necklaces included “Khipi” (long necklace), “Khinaal” (smooth necklace), “Khivom” (black necklace) and so on. “Every female child and woman throughout the hills wears her necklaces. These may be five or fifty in number, according to her ability to purchase them” (Carey and Tuck 1976:173). Necklace was not only an ornament for woman it was a valued property of a family and the more necklaces the wealthier you are. The most prized ornament of the Zomi was “the necklaces of cornelian” … always readily exchangeable for any other valuable such as cattle, guns, and slaves” (Carey and Tuck 1976:173). For the Mizos and Hakas earring was valued property whereas necklace was valued property for the Zomis. Slaves were counted as property of the owner, used for purchasing valuable objects and given to married daughters.  Stevenson listed the most valuable assets such as mithun, gong, and gun. In case of theft of these items resulted in confiscation of property and banishment with a fine up to two mithuns (Stevenson 1970:165). The seriousness of the punishment is indicative of the value of the assets.

As no buying and selling system existed, the chiefs and headmen exploited the people under their jurisdiction by taxing grains and food staff. Not only in food grains but also domestic and wild animals were taxed on the basis that they grazed on the grass belonging to the chief. There was plenty of room for nepotism and favoritism in granting a plot of land for cultivation. “It can be said with justification that the autocratic group tenure… gives too much freedom to the headman to abuse his powers by nepotism and favoritism in the granting of plots” (Stevenson 1970:99). As acquisition of land was by conquest there was no attempt to acquire land by individuals for private property. The most important assets were gun, gong, silver pot, necklace, slaves and mithun. These items are regarded as imperishable called “go” and highly prized and valued.


Inheritance systems differ from one clan to another. Some clans practice inheritance of eldest son and other clans the youngest. The most common practice is inheritance by the eldest son. All property including house, animals, utensils, grains, land if any, goes to the first born son as a successor of the father. In case of many sons in the family, distribution of property is carried out among the brothers; the first gets the largest and the youngest the least (Nok Swan Lian 1984:59). No sister is ever given a property as inheritor. The customary law of Kam Hau stated the duties and responsibilities of the inheritor which can be summarized as under:

a)     Pay the bride price of his brothers on marriage.

b)     Pay the debt of his brothers incurred before separation as a family.

c)     Administer as to when and how other brothers would acquire a house.

d)     Support the parents in old age and care those who are unmarried.

e)     Brothers can not claim if any, acquired or obtained a property or money as theirs before they are separated from parents because he is cared and brought up by parents (Nok Swan Lian 1984: 58-60).

In case a husband has many sons from one or more wives caused by death or divorce, the eldest son of the first wife (Zipi) becomes the inheritor and other sons has no right to claim.  In case a husband has no male issue and die, inheritance goes to his eldest brother (Stevenson 1970:171).

The significance of inheritance system remains in the fact that the heir continues the genealogical line. He inherits the lineage system from his father. Therefore chieftainship became a hereditary system among the Zomis.

Inheritance system is also meant for security. It is the responsibility of the heir to take care of parents in old age, provide house, food and give funeral at death. At old age parents have mental, psychological and emotional security when there is someone to care for them. “Son is important because it is through them that the family line is continued. Children will take care of you in old age” (Delaney 2004:106). In turn parents “served as admirable child-sitters, entertaining the children by telling stories and passing on the lore of the society” (Daniel Shaw 1996: 48). It is also the responsibility of the heir to take care of any brother or sister who by some reason faces inability to work and support himself or herself. Therefore inheritance carries both opportunity and responsibility in the society.


Dress is a matter of progress according to development. At the time of British occupation Zomis had been half naked. It is not possible to tell what kind of dress or body wear they had before they were exposed to the world. It is worth mentioning about hair dressing before going to clothing.

Carey and Tuck described the Zomis according to the style of hair divided into “two distinct fashions: the top-knot on the top of the head and the chignon on the nape of the neck.  The Siyins, Soktes, Thados, Yos, and Whenohs are the chignon-wearers, and the Tashons, Yahows, Hakas, and independent southerners are the top-knot men” (Carey and Tuck 1976:168). The later group (Zomis) practiced the hair style of top-knot right at the back called “Samtum” for men. Women have their hair coil style called “Samphek.”  “Women do their hair in two different ways,” unmarried adopting different style to the married women. The unmarried women have “three coils: one coil consisting of the back hair is plaited or rolled in a coil and falls down behind, tightly bound at the end with a cord or roll rag; the hair on either temple and on the corresponding half of the crown is rolled into two coils, which fall respectively in front of either ear, and ends are bound with a coil of rag to keep from becoming unrolled” (Carey and Tuck 1976:170). This is called “Sam thumphek” meaning coil haired in three rolls. Married women do their “hair in two plaits only, the hair being parted in the middle and that on the right side is plaited into a coil and falls over the right ear and similarly the other coil falls on the left side” (Carey and Tuck 1976: 170). This is called “Sam nihphek” meaning twisted hair in two rolls. Both men and women “used pig’s fat freely” for oiling hair (Carey and Tuck 1976:169). “In spite of the care and attention paid to the hair, it is never free from … lice and women picking lice out of each other’s hair and killing them… between the teeth was a loathsome practice” (Carey and Tuck 1976:169). In leisure time women picked lice from each other’s hair as enjoyment.

With regard to the proper dress discussion for men and women need separate dealing. Men had a mantle and a loincloth. A mantle is rolled round the waist or in a coil round the shoulder. It was used for the purposes of keeping the body warm not as required to cover the nakedness (Carey and Tuck 1976:170). The mantle is weaved by women with loin loom from local cotton. By this time they already knew the techniques of weaving called “loin loom” and made mantle and loincloth for themselves. They also adopted a cotton coat which fell nearly to the knee. It is shaped on the general lines of a frock coat; a sleeveless coat of the same pattern is also worn (Carey and Tuck 1976:171). This cotton coat is called “Angki” with sleeves covering almost the knee.

Children and maiden used a “cotton strip for a waistband, to which fastened innumerable strings a foot in length; the waistband is wrapped twice round the body and therefore there is a double row of strings, which screen the body and which, being knotted and sometimes beaded at the ends, swing and rattle at every movement of the limbs” (Carey and Tuck 1976:172). This is called “Mawngkhak” meaning hanging strings. Women weaved their skirts and petticoats for themselves from local cotton. The cotton cloth of women “commences at the point of hips and ends half way to the knee and serves its purpose of hiding actual nakedness” (Carey and Tuck 1976:172). This is called “Niiksiing” meaning “short skirt.”  It is a mixture of black, white, red, yellow and blue colors which look very colorful.  “Young and old go nude above the waist, both in and out of the house” (Carey and Tuck 1976:172).  The first missionaries Rev. A. Carson and Dr. E.H. East on their first visit to Saizang village described their experience with regard to dress in 1906. “The young women are scantily dressed here. Their skirts are twelve inches wide, made of braided grass fringes covering their loins. It is uncommon up here to see both men and women walking about and attending to their affairs wholly uncovered. It seems strange to us, but since it is their custom, it is natural to them; they are not ostracized from society or in the least worried about it” (E.H. East 1983: 78).  Shoes, Sandals, shocks were not in consideration to dress. They go bare foot to field or hunting in the forest. Girls have bangles, ankle bangle and necklace. The ankle bangle has a number of small silver bells attached to it which make sounds like ringing bells at every movement. This is called “Khebulh” meaning ankle bell. Women do not wear brass rings as that of Kukis and Nagas (Carey and Tuck 1976:172). Improvement in dress occurred only after British occupation especially after WWI. Former leader of Zomi Baptist Convention Rev. Gin Khan Khual says that since WWI Zomis began to use short pant and when more and more people joint the army improvement in dress developed among the Zomis (Gin Khan Khual 1998:57). Women learnt how to use long skirt after Burma independence in 1948. Today, traditional clothes include Puanlaisan (red shawl), Angki (long shirt), Tangciing (red shawl) for men; Zoniik (Zoskirt), Puanbansan (red sleeve), Puandum (black shawl), Khephiu (porcupine color) for women. These traditional dresses are used on special days like “Zomi National Day,” “Khuado Pawi” “Independence Day,” and other festivals. They are hardly used for daily dress in order to preserve its significance and importance. They are not used for dress in the church because traditional items are thought to be unsuitable for use in the church.

The popular belief still maintains that tradition and Christianity are different and oppose to one another.  If one comes to the church in traditional dress, he/she would be regarded as indecent and unmannered. Western culture including dress has been conceived as Christian culture and traditional practice including dress has been conceived as unchristian (Gin Khan Khual 1998:57).  Paul’s theological approach to other culture “To the Jews I became as a Jew that I might win the Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law” is not yet applicable to the Zomis till today (1Cor.9:20).

Diagram IV. Modernized Dress

Political Structure

Even before the occupation of British government the Zomis have specific political system which can be classified into three groups: chieftainship, headmanship and family administration. Stevenson classified into two groups autocratic and democratic. “The tribes themselves are primarily cultural and linguistic entities, having no other functions, and can be divided into Autocratic and Democratic groups” (Stevenson 1970:17). He divided only into two groups the chieftainship and headmanship, leaving out the local or family authority.


The statement made in connection with the position and power of the chief as “Lord of the Soil” has multiple meaning in the Zomi society in matters of authority. E.R. Leach writer of “Political System of Highland Burma” pointed out four areas of authority that a chief enjoyed in relation to the Kachins who are the same racial group. A chief has judicial, military, economic and religious authority (Leach 1954: 183-186). There was no classification of judicial, executive and the like among the Zomi chiefs. The judicial, executive, and civil laws in fact originated from the customary law of the tribal group (Nok Swan Lian 1984:75).

The role of the chief in matters of judicial includes settlement of cases dealing with debt. As mentioned before debt incurred by family members can lead to slavery. The inheritor is supposed to redeem his family members from debt. The role of a chief includes settlement of debt cases among family members. During Kam Hau’s reign he was helped by seven members of a council with different portfolios. The chief maintains his role in judicial matters only in his particular village where he resides. Other village under his jurisdiction was ruled by headmen approved by him. “The chief is a member of the council simply in his capacity as head of his own linage; he has no special judicial powers. … The chief’s role in the council is thus more frequently that of litigant than that of arbitrator” (Leach 1954:184).          

Military leadership can be described in the following. As noted before, tribal raids were common and defending the territory was important role of the chief. Imposition of taxes was carried out in exchange of protection from enemies called “protection fee” (Leach 1954: 186).  People gladly pay taxes for they were under protection of an able chief. It was regarded as prestige and pride to belong to a certain chief like Kam Hau.   In exercising authority the chief orders his able men to go and raid certain village or people who were regarded as enemy. In 1871 the Suktes (Kam Haus) raided Lalburha of Champhai in which three of the Lushais killed and one Sukte man wounded (Carey and Tuck 1976:18). The people obeyed the order of the chief and there was no resistance whatsoever.

A chief’s role in economic affairs is high as the “thigh-eating chief” of the domain. The chief’s house is the store house of the subjects by means of taxes (Leach 1954:187). In return he is expected to “give bigger and more frequent feasts than anyone” as a means of redistribution of economic goods. The Zomis have a saying “I want to give you my thigh flesh” when they want to return on something very special received. The chief is said to have eaten the thigh flesh of his people which means living on the labor of his people. Economic power is one of the important factors that contribute in carrying out of authority.

Another role of a chief is in religious matters. A chief is not a priest and his role is passive one. During the “Tual Biak” (Communal Ritual) the chief provides the animal for sacrifice on behalf of the community usually a pig for slaughter. Being the provider of the animal he is regarded as the sacrificer of the rite. A chief provides the materials for the feast and employs a priest (village priest) to recite the appropriate ritual chants. “In many ways the prestige of a great priest outshines that of a great chief” (Leach 1954:191). The activity of the priest was regarded as of the chief who initiates the function. Therefore, political authority has a connection with religious rites in which a chief involves.

Village Headman

Village was under the rule of a headman which Stevenson called democratic rule. The headman is subordinate to the chief empowered with executive and judicial powers including collection of taxes out of which he received 10% (Stevenson 1970:17).

The really significant political figures are the headmen. Not only they have the judicial powers to cover all offences short of murder, but their executive powers are strengthened by their position as organizers, with their councils, of almost all communal activities. They control the daily life of the people in a much more direct way than the chiefs, all of whom are incidentally, headman of their own village of residence (Stevenson 1970:18).

The political system is more democratic for the fact that no headman will “organize any important work or settle any case” without consulting the village council. Cases of murder, theft, marriage, divorce, inheritance, succession, village cultivation, gardening, control of domestic animals, fire and so on fall under the rule of a village headman. In a real sense the headman is more an organizer rather than a political ruler. The role of the headman includes seeing water supply of the village, land for cultivation, control of fire, and of animals etc. In many cases traditional judgment of the councilors has more lasting impact on the people. For example, If a man rape a woman (married or unmarried) he will be charged with one mithun, two pigs and one pot of “zu” (according to the customary law of Kam Hau). The mithun and one pig is meant for the victim’s family as compensation, one pig and the pot of “zu” is meant for consumption during the negotiation with the village councilors and those who are involved in it (Nok Swan Lian 1984:41).  Judicial and executive matters pertaining to the villagers are settled amicably by village council under the leadership of the headman.

As a peasant group, each year the village council will administer the distribution of land for cultivation. The land will be portioned to each family for a particular year by lottery (Stevenson 1970: 82). The village will put serious consideration about making a footpath to the field, burning of the field and control of fire. The council will decide date and time for construction of footpath to the field. By the time of burning the field, utmost caution is taken to control fire so that no other area catches fire from the field. Another role is to maintain inter-village road or communication every year. Each family is required to lend a hand for clearing or repairing the road at least two times a year during summer and winter so that communication is maintained throughout the year (Stevenson 1970:82). This is called “Tangna sem” or social work. There is no excuse except in case of illness. One person from each family must join the social work.

When a traveler gets sick or dies, the community lends hands to transport the person. As there was no motorable communication villagers will pass on from one village to another until it reaches the destination. It is the responsibility of the villager to transport within the territory and the neighboring village will receive from the boundary. The pulling of human power together for the well being of a village or villagers is the duty of the headman and his councilors where its democratic feature remains.  The role of a headman as organizer is more comprehensive, more exclusive than that of the chief in a real sense as it includes judicial, economic and ethical areas at the grassroots level.

Family Administration

Society begins in a family so also authority starts in a family. The average Zomi family consists of a father, his wife and children. The wife and adult children are consulted in matters of selling and buying of property. However the final word vested with the husband. “The duty of the father is to support his wife and family, to provide wives for his sons, arranges husbands for his daughters. The duty of the wife is to serve and obey her husband, to till his fields and breed his children, to supply him with nicotine water called “Tuibuuk” to feed and clothe her family and to guide them all in the way of good living” (Stevenson 1970:107).  On the table, the father will deliver his daily schedule where all the family members are supposed to present. The father instructs his family members for daily duties who and when to go to the field, what to take and to bring from the field etc. If there is a social work, the father will assign one of the family members to join the group and the rest will go to the field. The success of family work in the field depends upon the ability of the father’s administration at home. If one can not rule his family, he can not rule the church (1Tim.3:4-5).

Diagram VPyramidal Political Structure

The structure of power and authority has been well developed among the Zomi society indicating its homogeneity of the tribe. Even today people seek local system of settlement in case of dispute. For example some years ago, one boy was stabbed to death by his friend in Manipur. Instead of going to the Magistrate the father of the victim called a meeting of his closed relatives and negotiated with the relatives of the criminal according to local custom. The victim’s party forgives unconditionally. But the criminal party according to the local custom killed one pig for making feast, give a traditional shawl called “Si tuamna” (covering the dead body) and a pot of zu (tea instead of zu) as a sign of submission.  This kind of action is called “Lutna” which is an act of submissiveness. They settled the matter amicably and unconditionally according to local custom (Vumson 1986:244).

The social work system might have originated from the tribal raid in which all men in the family were required to go for raiding at the order of the chief. This system might have been applied to other duties pertaining to community and national interest. As might was power pulling human force together was the source of power at local as well as national level. The collective system produce obedience from the subjects and any sign of disobedience was regarded ostracism by the authority. Therefore loyalty to superiors is one of the characteristics of the Zomis. For example during WWI other tribes like Haka and Thado did not comply with the order to supply labor force but the Zomis complied with the authority and benefited in social and economic world view. On the other hand, collective mentality changed conversion pattern to Christianity. If the chief or headman was converted most of his subjects will follow sooner or later. If one family converts to Christianity two or three close families will join with them. Today the church represents the most collective force and play important role both in social and religious matters.

Another important feature of political system was a policy of alliance with other chiefs in confronting the enemy. During WWI Germany and its alliance fought against the British and its alliances. Way back in the 1800s Kam Hau in alliance with the Zahaus, the Tahsons, the Ramthos, and the Khuanglis fought against the Lushais and Manipuris that led his success in expanding his kingdom to Civu (Cikha) in the Manipur South (Sukte Chronicle 2004, Vol.IV: 12). Kam Hau was good in diplomacy making alliance with neighboring tribes like Zahaus and Tahsons.



What is world view?

Paul. G. Hiebert defines World View as

Behind the observable patterns of human cultures seem to lie certain assumptions about the way the world is put together. Some of these assumptions, called “existential postulates,” deal with the nature of reality, the organization of the universe, and the ends and purposes of human life. Others, values and norms, differentiate between good and evil, right and wrong. Some of these assumptions are made explicit in the beliefs and myths of the people (Hiebert 1983:356).

Michael Kearney defines “the worldview of the people is their way of looking at reality. It consists of basic assumptions and images that provide a more or less coherent, though not necessarily accurate, way of thinking about the world (Michael Kearney 1984:41).

Therefore World View is “the beliefs about the limits and working of the world shared by the members of a society and represented in their myths, lore, ceremonies, social conduct and general values” (oregonsate.edu/instruct/anth370/gloss.html).  In view of these definitions the Zomis have certain assumptions about reality, of the world, the cause and effect of human culture. I will deal with basic assumptions related to cosmos, time and space, nature, culture and moral relativism.


The traditional assumption of cosmos is composite of three realms: Vangtung (heaven), Leitung (Earth) and Leinuai (under world) (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:86).  The assumption is that the earth is flat like a frying pan and heaven is round as a cover meeting in four corners of the earth. Heaven is the abode of the Supreme Being or Supernatural Being; the Earth is the abode of human being and spirits or demons (Chin Khua Khai 1999: 57). “The under world is rather a mythological realm inhabited by some mythological human beings” (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:86). The under world has nothing to do with human being and it is not to be identified with “Misi Khua.” Heaven, earth and human beings have direct interaction for living and moving. The spirits are in control of space and earth. These has been described in a poetic form “Tung Sian Mang leh Nuai Ziinleeng” in a dichotomy sense. “Tung Sian Mang” means holy king in the highest and “Nuai Ziinleeng” means spirit of darkness in the world.  Heavenly things are holy and earthly things are unholy and immortal. The folk tale “Vantung nungak” (heavenly lady) is about an earthly king who promise to give half of his kingdom to any one who can bring the beautiful heavenly lady down to be his wife. At last the most able man of his kingdom was able to bring the heavenly lady and received half of his kingdom as a reward.  Space is controlled by the heavenly spirit who controls rain and wind. When the spirit is angry with human being there is cyclone or storm and brings harm to them. I remember my mother saying “be merciful, be merciful” when a strong storm hit our house to the extent that it might destroy the house. In response to the request, it is believed, the unseen forces are merciful and the storm calms down. The sun, the moon and the stars move in heaven from one end to the other over the static earth.  The earth is static whereas the sun, the moon and the stars move over the earth. “Lunar and solar eclipses are considered as the sun and the moon being eaten by some powerful being. In olden days when such event took place, they would beat a drum or anything that can make a sound begging, on behalf of the moon or the sun to release them” (Ngul Khan Pau 1995:16). The spirit can cause difficulty on the solar and lunar bodies in heaven as it does on human being.  The causality is not the Supreme Being but the spirits and the effect is harm or disease on human beings.  Therefore there is cause and effect in the Zomi assumption of cosmos.

Time and Space

In contrast to modern management of time, time is under the control of human beings. In other words time has no meaning in the life of Zomis. Time is not counted on the number of hours and minutes but according to lunar and solar movement. Time is counted by sun, moon, season, day and light which is agriculturist’s “view of time”  (Delaney 2004:83). Months are counted on lunar month and twelve lunar months makes one year. For example, pregnancy is ten lunar months and if it is counted by calendar month it is only nine months.  So the Zomis do not make mistake in the counting of months for childbirth. On the basis of lunar month New Year comes at the end of September and celebration of New Year took place in early part of October each year. One day is from the rising to the setting of the sun. A day starts with “khuavak” (dawn),  “annek hun” (meal time), “vaihamsang” (late time to field),  “sun kim” (mid day), “nitak an huan hun” (time for cooking dinner), “vai ciah hun” (arrival time from field), “nitak an nek hun” (dinner time),  “sanggam meelmak” (early dark), “vak hun” (outing time), “ciah hun” (time for home), “ak masa khuan” (first cock crow), “ak nihvei khuan” (second cock crow), “ak thumvei khuan” (third cock crow). Third cock crow is day break. They are very conscious of time and visitors do not in general stay back unto first cock crow. Cocks are time keepers in the life of the Zomis even to day. When Jesus said to Peter “Before the rooster crows you will deny me three times” indicates that the Jews and the Zomis have the same world view of time (Lk 22:61).

Time is seen to be cyclical repeating itself again and again (Chin Khua Khai 1999:60). A day is moving the same way and the year moves the same manner as before.  One year is divided into three seasons: “khuakhal hun” (summer), “guahtui luan hun” (rainy season), “phalbi hun” (winter). These three seasons are divided up into six sub-seasons: “lo vat hun” (chopping tree season), “lo hal hun” (burning field season), “khaici pawi hun” (sowing season), “lo khawh hun” (attending field season), “an lak hun” (harvesting season), “pawl taak hun” (after harvesting season). After harvesting season (October-November) is the best and joyous season in which most of festivals and celebrations took place. Rainy season is over; the sky is clear for the moon and the stars to shine overhead.

One day is divided into three scales, from sunrise to sunset. “Ni khat” is one day from sunrise to sunset. “Sun lang” is half day from morning meal to lunch time, and “Tuibuk muamtam khat” is a quarter of a day. “Tuibuk” is water filtered from ashes of cigarette prepared by women. It is female nicotine juice kept in the mouth until its toxin lasts. It lasts usually about half to one hour and it is used to say for a short time. Jesus statement to his disciples “Could you not watch with me one hour” in Gethsemane will make sense if it is translated as “could you not watch with me “tuibuk muamtam khat” (Matt. 26:40).

Space and distance is not measured by inches, feet and miles but as “suang lot khat” (stone’s throw), “lociing khat cia” (a size of one field), “sun lang pai” (half day walk), “ni khat pai” (one day walk) and so on. “Suang lot khat” is about half a furlong, “lo ciing khat cia” is about a furlong, and “sun lang pai” is about five miles long, “ni khat pai” is about ten miles. The distance between Jerusalem and Mt. Olives would be about a half day walk “sun lang pai.”

Life span is short in the mind of Zomis. Instead of speaking forty years they will say “khang khat” (one life span). They look the future for one or two generations called “tukhang takhang” which means the age of children and grand children (Chin Khua Khai 1999:60). Those who have grand children are regarded as long live. Zomi life is a linear leading from childbirth to death which is the end of time.  Therefore, seasons, dark and light, sun and moon have affected the life cycle of the Zomi in activities including ceremonial duties.

Natural relativism

Human life and nature interrelated to one another. Ngul Khan Pau calls “Harmony with Nature” (Ngul Khan Pau 1995: 15). Water, trees and forest, animals, rocks, mountains are believed to be under the control of some spirits. When they established a new village, the village priest will perform a ritual at the water source. He will say, “You the keeper of this spring, I pray you to grant a living water, to supply water for 30 families (if he wishes to be a village of 30 houses), let the land and water produce food and grains to surplus, let the people become wise and intelligent by drinking this water and let sons and daughters be multiplied. Let the spirit of evil leaves this place and becomes the place of celebrations and feastings” (Hau Thang n.d.  : 60). During this ritual complete silence is observed. By the blessing of the priest it is believed that the water source becomes productive and becomes fresh water for drinking.

When they want to build a new house, they will not select a site where there is a drop or a hole in the land. They look for good healthy trees for housing materials. They will not take a tree where eagles, owls, and snakes once had nest on it in the belief that the spirits of those creatures remain in the tree (Hau Thang : 61).  Trees called “singkol” and “sing lusum” are regarded to be spirit’s habitation and they dare not to cut or touch it. “Singkol” is a tree having a hole in the body or making a hole by the branches.  “Sing lusum” is a tree without branches looking like a man without head. Its literal meaning is a tree without head. It is a sacred tree by itself. It is also believed that wild animals have their overseers. A hunter who is good in hunting is considered as in favor of the overseer of the animal. This is revealed in dreams or by some other means. If a hunter sees a hair of a dear in his dream, he will go out for hunting and kill a deer.  In search of agricultural site the priest will offer sacrifice for approval, test dreams, test the location if there are bones, swamps (Cik), which were regarded a spirit’s habitat (Ngul Khan Pau 1995:16).  In my birth place, a certain forest area is regarded to be under the control of spirits. Whenever that area is cultivated some one will be hurt by natural accidents. During my father’s time one man was killed by the falling tree. After many years, one hunter fell from the rock and broke his leg while hunting. After a long gap one man fell from the tree while picking the fruit breaking his thigh at two points. Therefore proper appeasement of forest spirits takes precedence before cultivating certain areas of land. This kind of traditional concept cannot be done away by western scientific explanations even for Christians. It can be done away best if the Bible is reinterpreted in the sense that nature is created and controlled by God, and spirits have no control of nature.

Cultural Relativism

“Mi amah bekin lian lo” (a man does not become lord by himself) is a proverbial saying among the Zomis. It is opposite to a saying “pastor without peers.” Individualism is discouraged and collectivism is encouraged. Individual cannot live by himself in the absence of others. Carol Delaney is right saying “People do not work alone, there are always household members, friends or relatives to help” (Delaney 2004:105). Peasant life is working in the field at least husband and wife. Children will join as soon as they can. The more working force the more your chance for gathering more grains. They try to accomplish their own work but in case of illness and difficulties you may fall behind others. At such a time relatives and friends lend their helping hand. The motive behind is that you also will face difficulty when you will need help from relatives and friends. This is a principle of being togetherness. If you do not help others, you will not receive help from others. This is also applicable in matters of borrowing and lending materials. Borrowing of money, utensils, household materials are daily activity of Zomi life. There are times when things are given free as direct help. Among close relatives help in monetary or material thing is common even today. Inter-dependent social life is the model of Zomi culture which is reflected in a proverb “hawmsiam nungta, nebum si” (Ngul Khan Pau 1995:17). “Hawmsiam nungta” means one who shares with needy ones receives good life. “Nebum si” is to eat alone and die which means individualistic mindset results in short live.

To be healthy and to be self content is the most aspired of the Zomis. Chin Khua Khai calls it “Peacefulness.” It involves the security of life in all respects (Chin Khua Khai 1999: 56). To gain a peaceful life one needs three essential things: good health (cidamna), sufficiency in food (ankhing kham), and possess a house (inn leh lo nei). The Zomi greeting “Na dam hia?”  means “Are you well or how are you?” Health plays the most important factor in life as the English proverb says “If you loss money, you loss something, if you loss health you loss everything.” Those who gain weight are considered to be well fed. If one has food sufficient for a year is said to have good harvest. If one has sufficient food year after year is well fed. Such a person is considered to be content in economic life. After marriage the main focus is to have a house. To obtain a site for housing and to construct a house is a sign of reliable and responsible person.  Therefore health, food and house are composite values of the Zomi society.

Death is not only a family and individual concern but it is a concern of the whole village community. The community takes responsibility for funeral service, time and place of burial site. If it requires all night watch, young boys and girls will keep watching all night with the relatives and friends. They never leave the family of the deceased alone. Each family will give either food, clothe or money according to ability as a sign of sharing the grief. Rice and firewood will be collected from each family to support the deceased family to compensate their inability to work during the condolence period. This cultural value has an important place in the Zomi society.

Moral Relativism

World View of the Zomi is relatively dichotomy, good and bad, holy and unholy, high and low, light and dark, fire and water, seen and unseen etc. Holy, good and light belong to heavenly realm whereas bad, unholy and dark, belong to worldly realm. This is called dualistic view of cosmos. Darkness is identified with evil and light with divine. It is easily comprehensible when the Gospel is compared to light and sin to darkness.

A good moral conduct is considered to be a source of blessing and good life. Righteous living of parents will result in a good life of children and grand children. Murder (tual that) is considered the most serious breach of moral conduct (killing a person who is not an enemy). “Calamity will sooner or later fall” on the culprit (Chin Khua Khai 1999:59). Sexual immorality and having illegal child damages the character and personality of the person. It is punishable with heavy compensation to the victims according to the customary law.  In stead of stealing other’s possession, asking is encouraged in times of dire need. The saying “Guta delh lohin tai” clearly defines attitude towards other’s possession. It means a thief runs even if he is not run after him. Another saying “Kau nei kisungsia” means a culprit has a guilt feeling even if he is not discovered. The guiding principle of moral conduct includes oral and sayings of the people.

Moral conduct is also expressed in tales and myths. The legend about two brothers “Thangho leh Liando” who faced dire discrimination in food shared a seed of millet. Millet is very small but the two brothers shared equally. The legend is to teach the society not to discriminate people on grounds of birth or origin. The story also has moral teaching of sharing things equally among children even if it is small or little. It serves as moral code of conduct for the Zomis. Parents tell the story to their children to follow the same attitude towards their brothers and sisters. A “Dahpa” (a lazy person) story tells about easy accumulation of wealth which liquidated in no time (E.J.A. Henderson 1965:6-8). The story has a moral teaching not to go for illegal means of wealth which is still applicable today in the world of corruption.

The Zomis have a myth in which the ancestors built a high tower to reach the moon in heaven. When they reached a high altitude, the tower fell and the people who were involved in the construction work fell on different areas. As a result different dialects emerged among the Zo tribes (Scott 1921:105-106). The Zomi world view of language system is similar to the story of Babel in the OT (Gen.11:1-9).

In the Zomi world, cosmos, time, space and nature are co-related to culture. Spirit, myths, dreams and values play as the causes that affect the daily life of the people. The assumption about human life, of world and of moral character has been guided by unseen forces. The daily life of the people is guided and controlled by such forces to the extent of offering sacrifices called animism.


In light of the above discussions, it is possible to conclude the life and culture of the Zomis as below:

In the first place the belief in spirits as the causality was the cause for making sacrifice to evil spirits. In the absence of medical service, they offered animals as sacrifice for healing of sick persons. The appeasement of spirits was the central point on their religious order that bring peace and well being on the sacrificer. That means human life has a connection with spiritual world that controls their day today life.

Secondly, they are homogenous group doing things in group. It is called “group above self” (Ngul Khan Pau 1996: 22). Society is given prominence above personal matters. They live in a principle of an English proverb “Unity is Strength.” Administration under the chief or the village headman was the source of strength. They could accomplish many of events that could not have been accomplished if they were not under a chief or a headman. Today, Village council serves the place of a chief or a headman in matters of administration with powers and functions conferred by the order of the government.  Administration is weak as powers given by the government are limited.  Today the Church serves as strong administrative institution in religious and social matters.  Men, women, and youth departments deal with most of social needs.

Third, they live in a life of interdependence on one another. They share food, house, money and energy in times of need. Kinship tie is maintained by a principle of “Zu Kholh” or “Niang Kholh” (offering zu or tea) to the father-in-laws. Christians still continue the practice of “Zu Kholh” as a sign of respect and honor using tea. The father-in-law prays for son-in-laws for blessing and good health which is highly regarded. Clan tie is also strong. If you belong to the same clan (Beh) you are regarded and treated as one family even if you have no consanguine or affinial tie.

Therefore, the Zomi cultural heritage has similarity with those of cultural heritage of central Asia especially south East Asia. For example, the use of name like Kim, Dong, Do, Khan, Lian or Lien or Lee, Thang, Suan or Yeun, Go, Cin or Chin, Zho or Zo, etc. Terms like these are commonly used among the Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Japanese and Thais. It is the indication of the Zomi ethnic relationship with south East Asian people.


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Scripture Reference is taken from New King James Version.

Author: ZomiNews

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