Rethinking Our Identity: A closer look at Chin, Laimi and Zomi strictly based on recorded documents.
“ The generic name of the whole nation (Kuki/Chin) is Zo (Dzo)”………..Col. TH Lewin, Lushai Expedition 1871-72“
“ I do not know the origin of the name Chin is Burmese. I fancy, anyhow, the Chins do not have the word and call themselves ‘ Zo“…………..Capt. F M Rundall.1891.
“ Outsiders called them Chin, in fact they are Zomi” ……………. U Ba Than: Kyaung thung Myanmar Yazawon (School Text book of Burmese History”)
“ In the context of such Feasts of Merit as Khuang Cawi or Lawng Tuk, there is a special prayer-ritual held by older men repeating,” we acquire the riches or good of ‘Vai’ country and of this ‘our Zo Ram (Zo country)“. “….now in this ceremonial context, call their country ‘Zo country, they are obliged to think of themselves as, after all, Zo. ……………..
“FK Lehman, Chin National Magazine p 95.
“ The tribes never called themselves by such names as Kuki or Chin or Lushai which are ‘not national’, The people do not accept the name given by the Burmese and ourselves; they do not call themselves Chins, and they flout the name. They call themselves Zo (Zhou)…………..Sir James George Scott. ( 1911/1932)
“ Those of the Kuki tribes of people which we designated as ‘Chins’ do not recognise that name….they call themselves Yo(Zo), and Yo/Zo is the general name by which the Chins call their race.”………….B S Carey and H N Tuck (1932)
“ In our younger days we were told that we were born at Zotlang. And Zo is our true original name. The word LAI is not our national name. Laimi was first used by denizens of Haka. LAI means our village people, our own local people, as distinct from outsiders ’. ……………….Rev Sang Ling of Haka (1952)
“I agreed, I believe Zo is our national name and I myself am the pastor of Zokhua…………………. Rev Sang Fen of Zokhua (1952)
It is a general consensus that we have not had the right national name though we are officially designated Chin. As all that is official does not always reflect the truth, our identity, Chin, is an ‘official’ misnomer. We never called ourselves Chin and our forefathers did not accept it. In fact, they objected it. It has masked our true identity for over 120 years since The Chin Hills Regulations in 1896 which, as we will see below, was a bungled nomenclature and officially admitted a mistake years later. (p3).
We seem to have not been nationally and politically happy being identified CHIN, which was made official without our consent or knowledge. Consequently, concerns about having our true ethnic national name have been raised but it has only been a subject of dispute for decades without an agreeable solution in sight. There had never been fact-finding efforts attempted on this matter and the cause was never thought important to identify and addressed.
Now, looking carefully and closely, the principal obstacle that stands in our way is the general ignorance of the public as to what CHIN, LAIMI and ZOMI are all about which had never been taken seriously, in fact unwittingly ignored. Save for only an erudite few, the public has been kept in the dark about the background histories of these names and the few never cared to share leaving them without knowing anything which one is the right choice.
Actually history clearly and plainly tells us what our identity is. People need to cogitate on the pros and cons to be historically informed and make a logical decision. It is therefore, crucial that the public is well informed and assisted to see the issue against a background of sound historical knowledge in order to make the right decision. That is the main purpose of this paper.
My intention is to help those who do not know who we are but blindly flaunt the name called us by outsiders without a scintilla of anything national, as well as those who cling to our original name but do not know why. Only with the knowledge of our history we will be able to realise we belong to a common lineage and then come together with a stronger bond of belonging one to another.
It is, therefore, intended to give the bulk of our population the knowledge of what our national standing in retrospect in order to come to the truth that we are ONE that is a sine qua non for cohesively establishing our right identity. Our past is the foundation to building our future on.
We are just embarking on the education phase and I strongly suggest that we focus on the simple truth of the historical originality, the applied nationality and logic in making the decision based on recorded history or oral traditions from reliable sources keeping a sense of perspective without bias or prejudices.
Consideration will be CHIN, LAIMI or ZOMI. I would sincerely like to invite you to go through this paper, keeping a cool head and working your way through with historical and logical principle in mind in order to come to an informed decision on which is the true and original name we all belong to. It is simple and I assure you can’t miss to pick up the right thing if you are really after it.
At the same time please be advised that this is not an attempt to change our official ‘misnomer’ identity right at once but to coherently reveal the naked truth about who we are. It is essential that everyone, especially the educated, should not fail to comprehend.
Care has been taken in preparing this article not to project any personal conjectures without logical principles but emphasis is placed on numerous absolute records by pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial scholars and administrators as we have no records of our own in writing. We cannot thank enough those who put the records for us.
1.CHIN: The origins of Chin fell into three categories: an alien name, a pure myth and an assumptions built on historical accounts.
(a) An alien name The word Chin is an outright alien name, exonym, synonymous with Kuki and Lushai used by outsiders only to identify us. Please see more below, As far as history is concerned none of us who were and are designated Chins ever called or call ourselves Chin. Even today,120 years after Chin was arbitrarily imposed on us, people in villages, our core community, do not know what Chin is. It is just what the Burmese call us. Is it right to be identified as what we don’t even know?
(b) A pure myth : From the Ralte clan of the Mizo tribe, a legend was translated by J Shakespear in 1912: 93-94. “ After a great darkness fell upon the world, people emerged from the bowels of the earth, at a rock called Chinlung.” ( In Search of Chin Identity p5.) This Chinlung legend is not known on Burma side where Khuul in Tedim and Lailun in Falam are the only popularly known caves traditionally believed people were issued from.
A myth as it was, the location of ‘Chinlung’ was only imagined by some authors to be in Tibet ( cf Gin Za Tuang 1973:7), somewhere in China (cf. Zawla 1976,:2) or in Chindwin Valley ( Gangte1993:14 ) In Search of Chin Identity p 5,9.
(c) Historical asumptions: (i) Prof. Gordon Luce wrote” The Burmese kings would leave the hill tribes in sole possession of their lands, apparently serving as a buffer between them and their enemies, Manipur and Tripura. The kings, therefore, originally referred to the tribes as ‘comrades’ or ‘allies’ , (tha nge chin=friends)”, (F K Lehman, Chin National Journal. p93). hence the word Chin (khyan) appeared on two stone inscriptions at Pagan (1084-1113). Luce 1959. This source is challenged by some historians.
(ii) Carey and Tuck assumed that the term Chin is the Burmese corruption of the Chinese “jin” or “jen” meaning ‘man or people’. Carey and Tuck 1976 3. Given this, too, is only outsiders’ assumption, it is also an exonym, neither national. These assumptions can very well be categorised as alien.
The drawback: ‘Chin’ has often been disparagingly referred to ‘basket’ for its phonetic similarity in Burmese, time and time again even to this day. It was ridiculous that just recently, in November 2015, the remarkable appointment of Pu Henry Van Thio to Vice Presidency of the new democratic NLD Government, despite our great appreciation and welcome, was depicted as a ‘basket’ and posted on Facebook.
Distorted representation – a conjecture at its best : While, since as far back as our written history witnessed we call ourselves Zo, as detailed below, ( and its cognates, Cho, Khumi, Mizo, Asho), Lai and Batu, a rather absurd theory was introduced lately by Dr LH Sakhong, a noted proponent of Chin, who wrote in his book, : “ Evidently, the word ‘Chin’ had been used from the very beginning “not only by the Chin themselves…. In search of Chin Identity p3.(ISoCI) Far from using ‘Chin’ ‘from the very beginning’ our forefathers never recognised it; in fact they rejected it – a very different state of the universe! Flatly contradicting all other records, it amounts to serious distortion of fact with an attempt to purposely alter the fabric of history just for the advantage of his agenda.
He also cited another alien origin of Chin, saying : “The Kachin, call the Chin ‘Khyan’ or ‘Chiang’ which dramatically have changed to Chin”. ibid p3. Here again, actually Kachin call us ‘Khang’ , meaning ‘markings; but not Khiang, Khyan or Chiang. Chin might probably have evolved from Chiang / Khyan but not, in the least likely, from ‘Khang’ which bears no phonetic similarity to Chin.
We never call ourselves Khiang (Chin) : ‘Chin’ is a ‘foreign’, alien name used by our neighbours only but none of us traditionally used the word ‘Chin’ ‘from the very beginning’ nor at any one time in our entire history. Some take the word ‘Khyan’ inscribed on the stones at Pagan erected by King Kyanzittha ( 1084-1113) as a bonus to their claim that ‘ we are Chin’. In fact the inscriptions stand for nothing beyond ‘evidence’ confirming that the Burmese already used ‘Khlang’ / ‘Kyan’ in Pagan era. They did nothing to indicate whatsoever that we called ourselves (and are) Chin.
Sakhong’s invention that ‘Chin had been used from the beginning by the Chins themselves’ contradicts all other statements recorded by the following scholars who with one accord affirmed, “The tribes do not call themselves Chin. They are Zo(Zho, Dzo,Jo,Yo)”.
We never called ourselves Chin, we are Zo as witnessed by : ( some of the following scholars and their statements will be repeated under different headings as they contain useful references pertaining to the respective topics discussed )
Sir J George Scott : “The tribes never called themselves by such names as Kuki or Chin or Lushai which are ‘not national’, The people do not accept the name, they do not call themselves Chins, and they equally flout the name of Kuki(Chin). They call themselves Zhou (Zo).” (Burma. A handbook of Practical Information 1911p104 and Burma and Beyond 1932, p.187)
Dr G A Grierson : “The name ‘ Chin’ is not used by the tribes themselves, who used titles such as Jo or Yo./ Zo” ( Linguistic Survey of India),1904 Vol Lll Part 3,p2).
Bertram S. Carey and H.N. Tuck : recorded as thus: “Those tribes which we designate as “Chins” do not recognise that name; they call themselves Zo(Yo)
Soppit, Asst, Commissioner of Burma, recorded ”The designation of Kuki(Chin) is never used by the tribes themselves though many of them answer to it when addressed ………….. Lushai-Kuki study by Soppit 1893.
U Thein Pe Myint : “ Even though the people who are called Chins do not necessarily protest, their true name, in fact, is Zomi/Mizo”. (Withita Taing Tamaing Asa 1967 p172
U Ba Than : “Outsiders called them Chin, in fact they are ZOMI” Kyaung thung Myanmar Yazawon (School Text book of Burmese History”)
In the above random 7-1 “verdict”, the invented theory – “Chin had been used from the very beginning by Chin themselves”’ only proves conjecture at its best.
CHIN, a MISTAKE : Realising the designation of the tribes (us) Chin was an error, the government later conceded : “ Had the word Kuki / Chin been changed to Zo at that time, the right word for calling the various tribes and clans of the Zo race inhabiting the areas joining Burma, East Pakistan ( Bangladesh) and Assam, would have been answered a long time ago. THE CHIN HILLS GAZETTEER p 297.
2.LAIMI: Completely legendary, Laimi is “people issued from Lailun cave”. The origins of Laimi fell into three categories of which two were from Falam, the prime origins, and one from Haka. The Haka origin was indistinct but could reasonably be assumed to have been imported from Falam. In that case it, too, is essentially mythical in nature.
1.The Haka LAIMI : Denizens of Haka : Rev Sang Ling of Haka said: “LAI was first used by denizens of Hakha. It means our village people, our own local people, as distinct from outsiders.” Also, Rev Sang Fen affirmatively said “ I agree “. (Constitution Drafting Committee, Falam, Oct-Nov 1952) This is the origin where Laimi came about in Haka.
Rev Sang Ling and Rev Sang Fen were the most senior and most revered pastors and customarily they were the authority in Haka area in those days. They knew exactly what LAIMI originally meant and who were or were not included. They agreed that LAIMI was not collectively inclusive of all the races in Haka but circumscribed only a limited small community, i.e. denizens of Haka village. Pu Sang Fen knew he himself was essentially excluded from being a LAIMI as he was from Zokhua. On that basis the elite duo declared “LAI IS NOT OUR NATIONAL NAME” ibid.
ii. The Falam LAIMI : (a) Issued from Lailun cave – The prime origin of Laimi : A legend traditionally held by elders of Falam area was that a cave called Lailun near Falam, was the origin of mankind, hence the birth of Laimi in general.
However, in 1983, the late Pu No Zam, one time Parliamentary MP for Falam area, remarked: “ Laimi, in the contextual sense of the word, originating from Lailun cave, is ‘localised’, referring only to those inhabiting the proximity of the cave”. Falam Laimi, according to him is not inclusive of all in Falam in exactly the same way as Laimi is not in Haka.
The two senior pastors from Haka in 1953 and a wise man from Falam 30 years later consistently and unequivocally confirmed the parochial natures of what Laimi stood for in Falam and Haka. Laimi, therefore, is only local and partial but not inclusive and national.
(b) Issued from a rock at Rua Van : According to Dr E H East, “ in Rua Van village, I saw a big mountain from which they tell me issued the first man and woman……to me the story is very interesting, though faulty, of the first human couple…”Lai Mi”, they claim that around them centres the early history of mankind. I was led by the Chief and Village elders to a huge rock. They showed the very spot in this large rock from which the first man and the first woman in the world issued”. (Dr East, Burma Manuscripts, p 168-169)
NON-LAIMI : History proving the majority are not from Lailun cave, and not Laimi :
1. In 1967, Pu Pak Ling, of Suntla near Lailun cave, presented history to the High School Science Students Excursion Team from Falam. “ In the wake of the death of the Sawbwa at Kalemyo, a dispute arose among his five sons, resulting in a feuding power struggle in the palace – the three older brothers against the two younger brothers. The younger brothers gained the upper hand sending the three big brothers to flee to the hills. The oldest son was Tun Khaing (Thua Kai) whose descendants today are residents of Zammual, Congheeng, Suntla and Tlaisun villages. The middle was Phulone ( Phurlum) whose descendents are the Zanniat tribe and the youngest of the three, Hlun Soing ( Hlawn Ceu) begot the Mangkheng, Zahau and Haka tribes”.
This historical record establishes that the majority of Falam’s population and the Hakas are not LAIMI because they did not “come out of Lailun cave” but from Kalemyo.
2. In addition, Dr Bawi Hu, rtd. Township Education Officer, wrote that Pu Song Za led a group of people from Kalemyo to the hills via Locom and their descendants today are the people of Falam and Haka. This is further proof that generally Falam and Haka peoples are from Kalemyo and they are not Laimi issued from Lailun cave in perfect agreement with Pak Ling and No Zam.
This statement by Dr Bawi Hu takes to five the number of testimonies by honest and respectable key figures, such as Rev Sang Ling, Rev Sang Fen, Pu No Zam, Pu Pak Ling and himself to confirm logically that the vast majority of the Falam and Haka are not LAIMI.
Reiterating the inferences : CHIN and LAIMI : —
(a) Originally a myth by nature – ‘ Chin’, believed to emerge from the bowels of the earth, out of a rock called ‘Chinlung,’ is a pure fantasy built on paganism. Paganism is unacceptable to Christian faith and principles and therefore it can be inferred that Chin is not suitable for the national identity of a Christian nation.
(b) Besides, Chin is an alien name, used by our Burmese neighbours: Chin, inscribed on stones at Pagan is only proof that the Burmese called us by that name since Pagan era and nothing else.
(c) All colonial and post-colonial writers agreed with one accord, “the tribes never call themselves Chin but reject it”. They call themselves Zo /Yo /Jo ”. While evidences are flooding to proudly call ourselves the true historical identity Zo, for what gain should some seek to ingratiate themselves with our neighbours and choose to adopt what they call us instead?
(d) Moreover, Chin is a mistake, an error, a wrong name admitted by those who designated us the term themselves.
LAIMI (A) Laimi of Haka :
(a) According to Rev Sang Ling and Rev Sang Fen “LAIMI was first used by denizens of Haka only as distinct from outsiders”. Therefore, logically speaking, it can be inferred that LAIMI of Haka did not and does not represent Thantlang, Zotung, Zophei, Senthang, Mara and Lautu, let alone Tedim, Matupi, Mindat, Kanpelet, Paletwa and the majority of Falam. It’s in fact an exclusive term not shared.
(b) On that ground, they ( SL & SF) jointly declared ” LAI IS NOT OUR NATIONAL NAME” They were the authority in Haka in those days. So we can hang on their every word.
(c) As it can be inferred that Haka Laimi came from Falam Laimi, it too, has its origin based on mythology and not real.
(B) Laimi of Falam :
(a) refers only to the people inhabiting the immediate vicinity of Lailun cave ( No Zam) excluding the majority of the populace in Falam area, needless to say the rest of us.
(b) In the above “NON-LAIMI”, ( p 4 ) Pu Pak Ling and Pu Bawi Hu, further confirmed that, the majority of the populace in Falam area, such as Zanniat, Suntla, Tlaisun, Congheng Zahau, Zammual, and the Mangkheng tribes and the Hakas are not Laimi as their forefathers ‘were not issued from Lailun cave’ but they came directly from Kalemyo.
(c) Now, it is clear that all in all LAIMI of Haka and that of Falam represent only a handful local tribes i.e. those of Haka village denizens and those around Lailun cave. This had been testified by Rev Sang Ling, Rev Sang Fen, Pu No Zam, Pu Pak Ling and Dr Bawi Hu. Laimi, therefore, does not identify us all as a people.
(d) Lailun, the principle cave from which the Laimi was believed to come out, was found only around 1200-1400 AD, after our forefathers had fled to escape the ruthless Sawbwa, in Kalemyo. It was, therefore, too recent in chronological order in history, missing out all of our previous rich history prior to that time. Also it lacks primordial originality, a quality essential for a real historical and national identity .
(e) Laimi does not stand on a single firm foundation but loosely on different imaginary footings, each contradicting one another like, “ first used by Haka denizens alone” – (SL & SF), then “out of Lailun cave “– (elders of Falam), and “out of rock of a mountain“ – (Headman and elders of Rua Van– Dr East.) The credibility of the etymology of Laimi itself is questionable to the core.
(f) Laimi, based on mythology, is not real. Dr East described it, “ faulty” and admitted “ I have some difficulty in accepting their story as accurate” ( Burma Manuscripts p169). The mythical origin based on paganism makes Laimi, like Chin, equally unacceptable for Christians.
In fact, the people of Tedim also have a similar legend. A cave called, ‘Khuul’ near Saizang was thought where people were issued, calling themselves “Khuul aa piang”, (Born of Khuul), about the same time as Laimi thought to be issued out of Lailun cave ( around 1200-1400 AD). However, only a myth, they do not believe it as their origin. They persistently cling to Zomi, as a symbolic continuity down through the ages over the past 20 centuries to this day.
We can now safely draw the historical and logical conclusion that, since Laimi includes only a minority in Falam (p 4) and a minority in Haka (..p 3), it does not, by any measure, represent our people as a whole. Also both Chin and Lai, originating from Chinlung and Lailun caves respectively are products of paganism in direct contrast to the affirmation that God created us. As for Chin, used by outsiders only it is not national. Besides, the designation of Chin is an officially admitted error. P3.
3. ZOMI : Zomi is often wrongly referred by some writers as a mere ‘local term’ for Chin, like Laimi. Sadly, they simply failed to refer to history for ignorance. There is no shortage of records explicitly showing, “Zo is the right word for calling the various tribes and clans of the Zo race inhabiting the areas joining Burma, East Pakistan ( Bangladesh) and Assam”,(Chin Hills Gazetteer p 297), and “ The generic name of the whole nation, Kuki-Chin is Zo.” (Lushai Expedition 1871-72), etc. Zo is not definitely a ‘local term’ but our generic name. The word Zo can be interchangeable with Jo, Yo, Dzo, Zhou, Asho, Cho, Khumi, etc, (by Wade-Giles System – K Robin, Chin History,Culture,and Identity p112) and appear in many books. Despite the variant forms of spelling historians agree that they are all cognates of Zo.
The absence of writing system makes the problem of dating Zo defy solution. In 1902 Pu Pau Cin Hau coined Zomi in logographic script called ”Paucinhau’Lai” , the “Paucinhau Script”, that he created. In WW1, 1917-18 Zomi was used written in the script by the 1000 France Labour Corps conscripted from Tedim subdivision in correspondence with their loved ones left at home in Burma.
Then it was in 1910 the term ‘Jo, Yo, Cho, Shu, Zhou,etc.’ to be written as Zo was officially used by JH Cope in Roman alphabet in Zo Readers, ‘Zolai Sim Bu’, one of his priceless works for the Zomi people, in which he quipped “Zopau abaih kei hi” meaning “ Zo dialect is no easy task !”.
Zomi Baptist Convention, ZBC : It is fitting to mention here that the so called Chin people united together again in harmony for the fourth time in their long history. First, during Zo(Zhou) Dynasty in China, second, during the Zo(Jo) kingdom in central Burma (700-1550), the third — when our National Day founding fathers, 5000 strong, exercising their rights for the first time ever, unanimously voted to adopt democratic rule in Chin Hills, on February 20,1948 at Falam, which gave birth to our Chin National Day two years later. This time, unity was forged under the wings rightly called ‘Zomi Baptist Convention’.
In 1952 Rev ST Hau Go organised an overall Christian convention in the Chin Hills. The Constitution Drafting Committee met at Falam in January 1952. Zomi Baptist Convention was approved unanimously based on the foundation of historical facts. It was confirmed at the General Meeting on 5-7 March 1953 at Saikah, ”with the most remarkable spirit of Christian harmony” in Rev Hau Go’s exact words. (Zo People and Their Culture – Capt. Sing Khua Khai 1995, p 70)
Zo is our true original name: Let us first listen to what Rev Sang Ling and Rev Sang Fen of Haka had to say to us about Zo. “In our younger days we were told that we were born at Zo-tlang and Zo is our true original name” said Rev Sang Ling. Then he asked Rev Sang Fen what his opinion was.(Falam 1952 meeting.)
“I agreed”, replied Rev Sang Fen, adding “ I believe Zo is our national name and I myself am the pastor of Zokhua” ibid. Rarely did you hear our earlier leaders announce “ZO IS OUR TRUE ORIGINAL NAME”, but that’s just what the eminent duo from Haka proclaimed in January 1952 was.
This memorable proclamation was the cornerstone of Zomi Baptist Convention. Rev ST Hau Go, Rev Sang Ling, Rev Sang Fen, some two hundred from Falam, a small Tedim contingent and the 3,000 strong Haka Christians unanimously voted at Saikah in March 1953 and Zomi Baptist Convention(ZBC) was born. ZBC was dedicated by Rev E E Sowards ( Burma Baptist Chronicle p 395 ) and it bound us as a close-knit Christian community for more than half a century.
Interestingly enough, what Rev S Ling mentioned about Zo-tlang as our original birth place definitely takes us back to our Tibetan origin. Pu Khup Za Go of India, wrote: “Zotlang is the Haka legendary that corresponds to the Tibetan origin of Zo-thang (Jo-thang) in the Amdo region where the Zomis are said to have originated” “Sho-thang/Jo-thang(Zo-thang) was brought down through centuries and subjected to cultural and linguistic variation” (Zo Chronicles, Khup Za Go p.192) . It became Zo-tlang in the younger days of the two pastors. This explains the origin of Zo dated as early as the beginning of Anno Domini, perhaps even earlier in BC.
We are Zo people : Going through history one cannot miss the fact about the generic name for Kuki/Lushai/Chin is Zo and that we are Zo people (Zomi), as already established by the following scholars and administrators national and international.
Fan Cho, a Chinese diplomat of Tang Dynasty recorded Zo kingdom in 862 AD, more than 250 years earlier than ‘Chin’ was inscribed as ‘Khyan’ on stones at Pagan(1084-1113). His record says “ A petty kingdom in Chindwin Valley whose princes and chiefs were called Zo (Jo).
Sir J. George Scott reported to the Government of India, “ The Zomi (Yo/Jo) never called themselves by such names as Chin which they objected. (Burma: A Handbook of Practical Information 1911 p 104 / Burma and Beyond 1932 p 187),
G A Grierson conceded thus “The name Chin is not used by the tribes themselves who use titles such as Yo,Jo/Zo “. ( Linguistic Survey of India 1894-1928 Vol. Lll, Part 3, page 2 )
Col. TH Lewin wrote ” the generic name of the whole nation (Kuki-Chin) is Dzo (Zo)”. (Lushai Expedition 1871-72.)
Baiyue : The Zo (Zhou) came from Northern Tibeto –Burman stock,
Bertram S. Carey and H.N. Tuck, 1932 : “Those of the Kuki tribes which we designate as “Chins” do not recognise that name, they call themselves Zo (Yo)…and Zo is the general name by which the Chins call their race’ (1932).
U Thein Pe Myint 1967, a famous historian, wrote: “ Even though the people who are called Chins do not necessarily protest, their true name, in fact, is Zomi”. (Withita Taing Tamaing Asa.1967 p 172),
F K Lehman (1980) :– “ The term ‘Chin’ is a Burmese word, not a Chin word. All or nearly all of the peoples have a special word for themselves which appears as Zo,Yo, Seu, and the like. (1980)
Dr Forchhammer, Maung Thet Pyo, Athur Phayre : “Zo, (Jo, Yaw) people inhabiting areas between Assam and the Irrawaddi river”.
U Ba Than: “Outsiders called them Chin, in fact they are Zomi” ( Kyaung thung Myanmar Yazawon, ‘School Text book of Burmese History”)
Daw Khin Myo Chit, a Burmese scholar : “Yaw, Lushai, Thahdo, Naga, Kuki Chins- are in fact, ‘Zomi “.
And recently, the 2012 Election Commission, Nyipyitaw officially tendered confirmation of Zomi on May 31, 2012 to Pu Cin Sian Thang, President of Zomi Congress for Democracy Party, now elected to Parliament by popular vote on Nov 8, 2015.
Dr Daw Aung San Su Kyi : Addressing the Chin community on her visit to Melbourne, Australia as Opposition Leader in 2013, Dr Su Kyi said“ Zomi-s are the ones who stood by me in difficult times”. (Dandenong Basketball Stadium, Melbourne 1 Dec,2013) and others too numerous to mention.
The Meaning of Zo : Dalai Lama V described “ Zo” of Zo-thang, means ‘lord’ and ‘thang’ is ‘the perfect one’. One of the many meanings of ‘zo’ is ‘conquer’ or ‘defeat’. Given the Zo Dynasty in early Chinese history and the Zo kingdom in central Burma where Zo people were kings and chiefs, to call ‘Zo,’ ‘Lord the Conqueror’, would be fitting like a glove.
Our Origin: It was noted that “ those who used ‘mi’ or ‘mui’ for people or man/men are regarded as originating from Tibet”. (Linguistic Survey of India) Although the origin of our history has been lost and forgotten in the mists of time it has not been totally erased. As echoes survive in legends, in addition to substantial collection of historians and scholars’ findings which prove as documentary evidences it is possible to trace as far back to Sing/Shingmi as our Tibetan origin. The Singmi worshiped what they believed was ‘the Creator, a Heavenly God’, called ‘ZO’. [anonymous writer, in a book at the Myanmar Socialist Program Party Library, Ygn. – (KGP)]. There is parallelism of this with what Dalai Lama V interpreted the meaning of Zo being ’Lord”. Like Israel, it could have been that by the passing of time, the name of whom they worshiped, ZO, eventually evolved to be their race which further developed into a national name.
Language-affinities are also strong indications of linking various peoples into definite groups. It is therefore interesting to note that even to this day we still share many basic words in our languages with Sing/Shingmi, one of the earliest peoples of Tibet, like ‘ Pathian ’ for God, ‘ Khamtung ‘ for hilly region,( there is a region called Khamtung province) ‘To’ for some one in higher position, ‘pa’ ‘ for father or man, and ‘Topa’ for lord (masculine), ‘mi’ for people, ‘tung’ for on, ‘sing‘ for wood or jungle, to mention but a few. (Warren W Smith: The story of Tibetan Nationalism and Sino-Relation – Courtesy, Pu Kham Go Pau, USA) We also share a number of traditional customs, beliefs and superstitions as proof of our ancestral ties with Singmi attesting to our origin way back to Tibet.
Early settlements in Burma : Some scholars believe that as early as 6 AD the first wave of Yo/Jo/Zo migration might have arrived at the Chindwin valley and by 100 AD, and on for centuries, they settled around Pagan long before Anawrathasaw became crowned king in 1044.
Pagan : U Ba Than, a renowned historian, author of School Text Book of Burmese History, noted that the name of the kingdom capital, ‘Pagan’ was the corrupted Burmese word for “ Pu’ gam “, Zo people’s word, meaning “ grandfather’s country”. ( Kyaung thung Myanmar Yazawon School Text- book of Burmese History).
Dr Neihsial Tual Cin Ph D, India, in his book, mentioned that the ancient Burmese city, Pagan( Pu-gam) was the name given by the Zo forefathers. (Guite Kual a Lutna 1985)
Popa : So too, other historians claim that, Popa was the corrupted Burmese word for “ Pu pa “, a honorific Zo title, “ Master or Grand-father ”, given to the gigantic volcanic ‘plug’ sticking up to 737 meters above sea level, for its awesome magnificence. Not surprisingly our forefathers believed it to be the abode of a supreme spirit and honoured him with ‘Pu-Pa’ to propitiate him. Since none of these names, Pagan and Popa, translates into Burmese language, the veracity of the claims cannot be repudiated unless proved otherwise.
ZO PEOPLE (ZOMI) ONCE REIGNED OVER CENTRAL BURMA.
Zo Dynasty : 800 AD – 1550 AD, Zo Kingdom, Zo Country, Zo Nation.
Proudly, at the zenith of their success Zo people, for over eight centuries, had established,
1. Zo Kingdom : “ A petty kingdom in Chindwin Valley whose princes and chiefs were called Zo (Jo). ( Fan Cho, 862 AD, a Chinese diplomat of Tang Dynasty.)
2. Describing Zo kingdom, “….with ruby mine on the Southeast and China on the East”. (Julia Lowell : The Great Wall p6.) The Zo petty kingdom, was a sizable land comprising one of the richest natural resources on earth lying beneath their feet – ‘the ruby land’.
This account is strongly supported by the Legend of Dahpa (Dahpa Tangthu). Dahpa unknowingly brought home brick-sized stones for the fire place. His bride, detecting they were precious stones, said to him “These are the kind of stones that make my parents rich”. Indeed Dahpa and his wife became wealthy too. They threw a party for the whole village lasting for seven days.
Dahpa never had to work hard and therefore he was assumed to be skiving off and was mistakenly called ‘lazybones’. Yet he had everything he wanted by simply ‘beating his magic drum’, the legend goes. It is a popular practice among wealthy Zomi animists to celebrate ‘Ton’, a weeklong feast, in an ostentatious display of their social status and ensuring merits for life after death.
3. Zo Country: “ Yo (Zo) country and the location of which was west of the mouth of Chindwin, the interior of Doab, between the Irrawaddy and Chindwin…” Sir Henry Yule, 1508,
There are remains of Yo/Zo settlements at different places in Pinle Bu Subdivision still standing to this day as proof to this account. A megalith, 13 feet tall, used as an altar for sacrificial offerings, is still standing two miles from Sibani village near Monywa. The local people call it ‘Chin god’ (Falam Centenary Magazine page 232). Also a neighbourhood in Sagaing is called ‘Chin Suh Ywa’ , ‘Chin Village’. (Zomite’ Takkhahna’ -Tun Thawng) Old Zo settlements are sporadically found still standing today.
4. Zo Nation : , “To the east of Chien (Chin) mountains, between 20°30′ and 21°30′ north latitude, is a petty nation called Zo (Jo, Shu)” Rev. Fr Vincentius Sangermano, 1783, Description of The Burmese Empire, page 35.
5. Zo District: “The Jo/Zo is on the lower water of the Kyendwin (Chindwin) not far from Ava; the district is sometimes called Yo or Jo (Zo).” Rev. Howard Malcolm
These are historical evidences that the Zo (Jo/Yo/Shu) people, once had ‘dominion’ over the area what is now Popa, Pagan – Nyaung Oo, Mandalay, Sagaing, etc. in central Burma for over eight centuries.
Two Zo (Jo/Yo) kingdoms: There were actually two Zo kingdoms, the lower kingdom at the heart of Burma and the other further up and to the west.
The Lower Zo/Jo Kingdom (800 to 1550 AD) The aforementioned Zo petty kingdom, Zo petty nation, Zo country and Zo district were all about the Lower Zo Kingdom extending from Popa and Pagan, south east to the ruby mines and as far to the east as the Chinese border. It was far more extensive than today’s Chin State. It came to an end when it was conquered by Hanthawaddy Pegu, Ayudiya and Taungoo after the death of King Bayintnaung in 1550. (Thai history and documentary movie,‘The Kingdom Of War”).
The Upper Zo/Yaw Kingdom : Records on the Upper Zo Kingdom were sketchy as travel to the area was difficult in those days. They came to Kabaw Valley around 800 AD, setting up their capital at Khampat, which literally means ’ beginning uphill’. They settled there until 1400 AD.
Intolerant to occasional raids from the Manipuris, they “jumped out of the frying-pan into the fire”. Fleeing south to Kalemyo they ended up in forced labour building a fortress around a 234 acres of land on which the residential palace of the brutal Sawbwa, Kyitaungnyo, was built. Then they fled to the hills. Around Bunglung,Yesayo, artefacts and old settlement can still be seen to this day.
Up to that time, through Zo Kingdoms, and of course hundreds of years earlier, Tedim, Falam, Haka, Matupi, Mindat, Kanpetlet, Paletwa, etc. were virtually non-existent. We were all but Zo/Jo/Yo/Shu/Chou, inextricably one.
End of Zo Dynasty : After being defeated by the second joint-attack of Ayudiya, Hantawaddy Pegu and Taungoo, Zomis were scattered elsewhere. Those fleeing to the hills were separated by mountains and valleys, they began to adopt various names. Thanks to the people of Tedim for their steadfast loyalty in preserving ‘Zo’ in its pristine condition. Also thanks to the Zo miphun spreading over Haka, Thantlang, Matupi, Kanpelet and Paletwa for their persistent preservation of Zo. If it isn’t for them, our true national name would have been lost completely beyond all hope of retrieval today and we would never know the title, ‘Zomi the Conqueror’ was ours, but it would only be buried in history books forever never to be claimed.
Though some seemingly not knowing, there are widespread Zo elements being preserved elsewhere as our family heirlooms. LaiZo in Falam, Zokhua, Zotung, Zophei in Haka, Thantlang and Matupi areas and Cho(Zo) (Lehman), as they call themselves in Mindat and Kanpelet, Khumi (Zomi) in Paletwa, Ashu (Zo) (Robin), in the plains and Zaw (Zo) in Gangaw area are proofs that Zo is still pretty much preserved to this day. These names, standing the tests of centuries are enduring testaments : “We are all Zomi.”
Haka Zo : Evidences confirming Zo being traditionally used to identify themselves in Haka, Thantlang, Matupi, areas are strong and many. F K Lehman, Professor of Anthropology and linguistics, University of Illinois (USA) who did extensive studies on these people, their history and cultures, wrote “ Actually, H N C Stevenson and other Englishmen seem to have been confused by the fact that their informants, attempting to explain the word, no doubt, did say to them that they called themselves ‘Zo’ and their land ‘ Zo Ram’. ( Chin National Journal p 94.) According to Lehman, “ the informants’ did call themselves ‘Zo’ but fell on deaf ears”.
“ …in the context of such Feasts of Merit, Khuang Cawi or Lawng Tuk, a special prayer-ritual held by older men inside the feast Giver’s house, round the fire place, repeating “ We acquire the riches, or good of the Vai country and of this our ‘Zo’ country.” They called their land ‘Zo country’.
He went on to say “ It is interesting in particular that in this ceremonial context they call their country ‘Zo Ram’, they are obliged to think of themselves as, after all, Zo“ .ibid. According to Prof. Lehman, since they called their country, ‘Zo Ram’, logically, they are ‘Zo’.
He added: “ In the Zophei speaking country about two days march south of Haka town there is a high mountain ridge known as Zo-Vai-lam-tlaang which you cross on the road connecting the Zo and the Vai(Burma) lands. ”. (The Structure of Chin Society p 30 ). They didn’t name it ‘Chin-Vai-l-tlang.
Zo Miphun : Pu Ngai Thang and Pu Tha Vung, both respected historians of Haka, published the 2009 Zo Miphun Calender on which they deliberately illustrated Zotung, Zophei, Mara, Lautu, and Senthang of the Zo people who are spreading over Haka, Thantlang, Matupi, Mindat and Paletwa subdivisions. A leading exponent of Zo, Ngai Thang is well versed in Zo history of Haka area with unfaltering commitment to unearth and reclaim all there is in history about Zo tribes (Zo miphun) which was left more and more covert on purpose by some learned individuals before him. A man with plenty of guts to call a spade a spade, Pu Ngai Thang, also an outspoken and a tireless investigator whose work is no mean historical feat, is the hope of restoring Zo history of the area.
Zomi gathering momentum: Now, we have read Zo is the generic name for all the tribes known as Kuki/Lishai/Chin. Being Zo alone gives us every reason to be proud of the dignity in our history as a status symbol that no other names can offer.
In 1972 under the leadership of Pu H Gou Gin, a national leader in Lamka, Churachandpur, Manipur State, India, Zomi was confirmed as their true national identity.
The First World Zomi Convention popularly known as Champhai Convention, attended by 40 delegates from Myanmar, India and Bangladesh, held on May 19-20, 1988 having adopted Zo as the common nomenclature for the scattered ethnic groups declared Charter of Agreement, Chin History, Culture and Identity: p 111.
In 2009 Pu Ngai Thang and Pu Tha Vung’s Zo Miphun (Tribes) Calendar is a breakthrough in the history of Zomi of Haka and other southern subdivisions which had long been kept dormant.
ln October 2013, at the 3rd World Zomi Convention held in Lamka, the Mizos, Zomis and Kukis all unanimously made a declaration that the true identity of the former Kuki, Lushai, Chin, was “Zomi/Mizo”. Zomi and Mizo are the same; the former is literary and the latter is its poetic form.
The Paite in Manipur and Mizoram who currently adopt Chin are now contemplating joining the mainstream Zomi especially among the intellectuals, and still counting.
JEALOUS FOR OUR IDENTITY – ZOMI : Up to the time our forefathers came to the hills, history tells us, we were all Zo people. Down through the centuries many still secure Zo in perfect condition while others from the dim and distant past maintain with linguistic variations as Cho, Ashu, Khumi and Zaw as cognates of Zo. Chin History, Culture & Identity p112
Zo is what we identified ourselves since our origin in Tibet. In Myanmar (Burma) we were internationally recognized as Zo by Fan Cho, a Chinese diplomat and scholar, as early as 862 AD. A whole host of international and national scholars in the colonial and postcolonial days rallied behind Fan Cho defending we were Zo. They all confirmed Zo as the generic name for Kuki, Lushai and Chin establishing that Zo is pivotal and central to our national identity. No other name but Zo alone qualifies us to be the legal children of a regal and distinguished lineage excelling all other contending identities imaginable as a unifying force.
Thus the fact that we are Zo (Jo/Yo)’, despite Chin was arbitrarily imposed upon us on August 13,1896 by the British colonial government as our national identity, had for ages been presented in our national archive as a fait accompli for 2000 years. Besides, the British had officially admitted the designation of Chin was an error only lamenting, “ Had the word, Chin been changed to Zo….”
BE ALL EARS ! : Chin is an alien name devoid of national essence. Then the British who designated Chin on us found out it didn’t identify us but it’s an error. Moreover, Chin is only a myth founded on paganism. Accepting Chin as our national name means accepting we emerged from the bowels of the earth at Chinlung cave. The same is true with Laimi issued from Lailun cave. Nothing makes God more jealous and angry than His creation of mankind through Adam and Eve in His own image being scoffed at. “The Lord your God is a jealous God and His anger will burn against you and will destroy you from the face of the earth”. Deu.6:15. He revenges Nah 1:2. How terrifying it is to deny we are God’s creation by the simple act of calling ourselves Chin, indicating we were born out of a cave, thereby provoking His wrath!
How long have we been disparaging God’s noblest creation of mankind by calling ourselves Chin, a way of consenting that we emerged from the bowels of the earth at Chinlung cave? Isn’t it a blatant blasphemy? How much longer shall we go on with the ‘sacrilege’ before God’s temper begins to fray?
In light of the mounting historical evidences aforementioned, with a sense of national awareness and logic, there is hope the day we shed off the ‘mistakenly designated, God’s-anger-provoking name,‘CHIN’, and don in splendour the rightful regalia of our true identity ’‘ZOMI”, will see the light of day some day. It is until that day that there would be no reconciliation with our Creator. Reconciliation is not possible as long as we deny we are God’s creation by bearing the trade mark that signifies we were issued from the bowels of the earth. Moreover, given those who gave us the appellation had admitted themselves (it was) an error, our identity – Chin clearly is a complete misnomer. With the wisdom of hindsight we now see where it all went wrong and after all these years, armed with the knowledge of our history, it’s time to rethink our identity for lasting unity.
ZO IS NOT A MYTH NOR IS IT ALIEN IN ORIGIN AND NATURE. ZO DOES NOT REFER TO THOSE OF A CIRCUMSCRIBED LOCALITY ONLY BUT INCLUDES US ALL TOGETHER. OUR FOREFATHERS HAD ONCE REIGNED OVER THE HEART OF BURMA FOR CENTURIES AS ZO PEOPLE(MI). WE ALL RETAIN ‘ZO’ ELSE WHERE EVEN TO THS DAY AS OUR FAMILY HEIRLOOMS THROUGH THE AGES. THERE IS NO OTHER NAME UNDER THE SUN WE CAN COME TOGETHER PROUDLY BUT AS ZO PEOPLE AS OUR ORIGINAL, HISTORICAL AND NATIONAL NAME THAT ALONE QUALIFIES US LEGAL HEIRS TO THE LARGE FORTUNE OF A RICH PAST.
Dr.J.Suan Za Dong
Dr. J Dong can be reached at email@example.com