ARTICLE (ENGLISH)

 

 
..

 

..
 

..

 

WHO ARE THE ZOMI?

(Derived from www.zogam.org)

 

 

The Generic Name

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

 

In this regards, F.K. Lehman, Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Illinois (USA), who had done extensive study on the Chin of Burma, said:

 

“No single Chin word has explicit reference to all the peoples we customarily call Chin, but all - or nearly all of the peoples have a special word for themselves and those of their congeners with whom they are in regular contact. This word is almost always a variant form of a single root, which appears as Zo, Yo, Ysou, Shou and the like.”

 

Relating to this generic name, Fan-Cho a diplomat of the Tang dynasty of China, mentioned in 862 AD a Kingdom in the Chindwin Valley ‘whose Princes and Chiefs were called Shou (Zo)’ . In 1783, Father Vincentius Sangermano in his book, ‘A Description of the Burmese Empire’ described them as, “a petty  nation called JO (JAW)” Sir Henry Yule, as early as 1508 mentioned about the YO country the location of which was “west of the mouth of the Kyen-dwen (Chindwin) the interior of Doab, between the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin, from Mout-Shabo upwards and the whole of the hill country east and north-east of the capital, towards the Ruby-mines, the upper course of Hyitnge, and the Chinese frontier” . Rev. Howard Malcolm also testified thus, “The YAW (ZO) is on the lower waters of the Khyendiwen (Chindwin) not far from Ava. The district is sometimes called YO or JO”.

 

Another early use of the name ZO with reference to the Zomi (Kuki-Chin-Lushai), the first on the Lushai Hills side which till then was a terra incognito, was by Col. T.H. Lewin, the first white man to know the inhabitants of Lushai Hills (Mizoram). He wrote that he came to know, during the Lushai Expedition of 1871-72 that, ‘the generic name of the whole nation is Dzo’ Dr. Francis Buchanan also wrote of Zomi and Zomi language, while Captain Pemberton mentioned Zo or Jo in his ‘Reports on the Eastern Frontiers of British India, 1835’. The fact that the Zomi were known as ZOU or YO or YAW, before their society evolved into clan based organisation and lineage segmentation, was pointed out by Dr. G.A. Grierson in his survey, thus,

 

‘The name (Kuki and Chin) is not used by the tribes themselves, who use titles such as ZOU or YO or CHO’.

 

Rev Sukte T. Hau Go, a former lecturer of Mandalay University (Burma) also shared the same view, “Zomi is the correct original historical nameof our people, from the Naga hill to the Bay of Bengal. To the north of Tedim, the Thadous and other tribes call themselves Yo; in Falam, Laizo. The Tedim people call themselves Zo; the Lushais, Mizo; in Haka, Zotung, Zophei, Zokhua. In Gangaw area Zo is pronounced as YAW, in Mindat Jo or CHO; and in Paletwa Khomi. In Prome, Thayetmyo, Sandoway and Bassein areas they call themselves A-Sho. So, inspite of slight variations Zomi is our original historical national name .”

 

Regarding the truth of Zomi as the racial designation of the so-called Kuki-Chin people, U Thein Re Myint, a well known Burmese Writer, who knew Chin history, perhaps better than the Chin themselves remarks:

 

‘Even though these tribes of people, who are called Chin, do not necessarily protest their name, their original name is, in fact, Zomi.’

 

Two British administrators, Bertram S. Carey and H.N. Tuck who place Zo people under modern system of administration record as thus:

 

‘Those of the Kuki tribes which we designate 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’

 

Another European writer, Sir J. George Scott also claimed that, the Zomi never called themselves by such names as Kuki or Chin or Lushai. He wrote:

 

‘The names like Kuki and Chin are not national, and have been given to them by their neighbours. Like others, the people do not accept the name given by the Burmese and ourselves; they do not call themselves Chins, and they equally flout the name of Kuki which their Assamese neighbours use. They call themselves Zhou or Shu and in other parts Yo or Lai.’

 

It is, therefore, no wonder that Zomi use the term Zo, Zou, Zhou, Chou, Shou, Yo, Jo, Yaw, Shu, etc in their speech and poetic language as Zo-Vontawi, Zo-lei, Zogam or Zoram, Zo-tui, Zo-fa, etc; in naming geographical names such as Zotlang, Zopui, Zobawks; and in some of the clan names like Zophei, Zotung, Zokhua, Laizo, Bawmzo, Zote, etc. All these have a common derivation from the generic name, “ZO”. It is also because of this fact that scholars like Dr. Vum Kho Hau, Prof. Laldena, Dr. Vum Son, Dr. Tualchin Neihsial, Dr. H. Kamkhenthang, Dr. Mangkhosat Kipgen, Cap. Sing Khaw Khai, Dr. J. M. Paupu, Pu K. Zawla, Pu R. Vanlawma, B. Lalthangliana, Dr. V. Lunghnema, Dr. Hawlngam Haokip, Pu L. S. Gangte, Pu T. Gougin, Pu Thang Khan Gin Ngaihte, Rev. S. Prim Vaiphei, Rev. Khup Za Go, Pu L. Keivom, Rev. S. T. Hau Go, Dr. Khen Za Sian, Prof. Thang Za Tuan, Rev. Sing Ling etc. concluded that ZO is the ancestor of the Zo people (Zomi).

 

The Origin Of The Name

There are two views about the origin of the word, ‘ZO’. The first and most acceptable view is that Zo is a person whose descendants are called Zo-fate or Zo-suante. Some scholars like Pu Thawng Khaw Hau and Pu Captain K. A. Khup Za Thang presented the genealogical table of various Zomi clans in which they strongly claim that they are the descendants of Zo. Zo Khang Simna Laibu and Zo Suan Khang Simna Laibu (Genealogy of the Zo Race of Burma) cover extensively the genealogy of Zo people in Chin State as well as those living in Mizoram and Manipur. Dr. Vum Kho Hau and Dr. Vum Son trace all the Zomi lineal to Zo. Dr. V. Lunghnema wrote the Genealogy of the Hmar tribes, a branch of the Zo family, and he identified Zo as the ancestor of the Hmar clan . This interpretation of the term ‘ZO’ is substantiated by the fact that Zomi have a tradition of naming their clans after the head of each clan, thereby, Hualngo, Zahao, Guite, Singsit, Sailo, etc clans carry each of their fore-father’s name. Likewise, it is logically true with Zo, Dzo or a very similar sounding one for the name of Zo as the founder of Zo people or Zomi. So, the word Zo is a generic name and Zomi is derived from the name of the ancestor with reference to his descendants.

 

The second view suggests that the term Zo might have been derived from the Zo King of the Zhou Dynasty (B.C. 1027-225) of China. The main argument in this regard is that in ancient times the names of the ruling dynasty became the identity for the subjects .

 

Whatever differences of opinion there may be, regarding the origin of Zomi, there is ample historical evidence to support that they are Zomi from time immemorial, and lived together under the umbrella of one cultural unity of ancient Zo.

 

Meaning Of The Name

On the meaning of the term Zo, there are intellectuals who translate Zo as Highlanders. This translation of Zo as highland or cold region and subsequently Mizo or Zomi as highlanders or people of the hills is too simplistic and misleading, because the people called themselves Zomi when they lived in the plains of the Chindwin Valley and else where. The word ‘ZO’ or ‘Zo LO’ might mean highland or highland farms but not highlanders nor highland farmers. Pu R. Vanlawma, a veteran politician and a prolific writer of Mizoram has correctly advocated that,

 

‘‘It was not the people who derived their name ZO from the high altitude of their abode, but on the contrary it was the high lands and especially the farm lands there, called ‘Zo Lo’ which derived their name from the Zo people who cultivated the farms’

 

The generic name ‘ZO’ has no relation with the geographical-climatic term ‘Zo’ . As a matter of fact, Zo is a generic name whose word is of local origin and needs no further explanation, whereas ‘mi’ means man or people and there is no ambiguity about it. In this way of historical process, Zo people identified themselves with Zo and emerged as a race to be called ZOMI among mankind.

 

The Zomi are, therefore, those ethnic or linguistic, or cultural groupings of people who had commonly inherited the history, tradition and culture of Zo as their legacies, irrespective of the names given to them by outsiders.

 

Adoption of Zomi Nomenclature

There is a clear consciousness among different sections of the people like students, cultural organisations, social units, church groups, political segments and various organisations about the absence of a popularly accepted nomenclature for the Chin-Kuki-Lushai people. One name after another was propounded but failed to get popular acceptance. This, inspite of the fact that they belong to the same ethnic group. So the terms, Kuki, Chin, or Lushai, or their combinations like Lusei-Kuki, Kuki-Chin, Kuki-Lusei-Chin or even acronyms like CHIKUMI( for Chin-Kuki-Mizo) or CHIKIM (for Chin-Kuki-Mizo) could not be firmly in the minds of the people, who intrinsically know that they are foreign terms having no meaning in any local dialects. Two wrongs or three wrongs can not make right. They cannot but help resist because they were imposed upon them by rulers and outsiders to be their identity, without their knowledge and readiness to accept them.

 

It is a fact of modern history that in the past Zo people identified themselves willy-nilly either as Chin or Kuki or Lushai in order to be accepted in Military services. Today things have changed. The search for an acceptable name that is not only popular, appropriate and meaningful but is the original name for a common identity of the Zo racial group ends with Zomi, after the progenitor, Zo.

 

The arguments for Zomi nomenclature have been dealt with extensively in the section on the generic name, and needs no further explanation. However, the manner in which Zomi gets maximum organisations pleading for its acceptance at various levels may be highlighted as under:

 

In Burma, a Committee was formed in 1953 to remove the existing confusion over names for a common racial nomenclature. After thorough research, the Committee realised that they were indeed descendants of Zo, and realised they had always called themselves - Zo, Yo, Yaw, Shou, Jo and the like from time immemorial. Thus, they unanimously recommended the term ‘Zomi’ for their racial nomenclature .This was subsequently adopted in a general meeting at Saikah village at Thantlang, Chin State. In 1983, after a gap of thirty years, the name Zomi was reviewed in a Convention held at Thantlang, where out of 434 delegates from different areas of the region, 424 voted in favour of the earlier 1953 recommendation . Today the term Zomi is widely used by various organisations like Zomi Baptist Conventions, Zomi Christian Literature Society, Zomi Baptist Press, Zomi Theological College, Rangoon University Zomi Students’ Association, Zomi Literature Upliftment Society, etc.

 

In 1988 the Burmese Government officially recognised the name Zomi as an ethnic group of the country, and formally accepted Zomi National Congress as a political party in Burma. In their proclamation, the Zomi National Congress wrote:

 

“We proclaim that the racial name ‘Chin’ should be done away with and Zou (Zo) must be re-instated to its proper place and status of racial identity.”

 

On the Indian administered areas, the Zo people rejected the name Lushai and changed it to Mizo (People + Zo) in the 1940s on realising the fact that their progenitor was Zo. All sections of Zomi  were actively involved in Mizo Union movementat its initial stage. However, some sections gradually disassociated from the movement on the ground of linguistic imposition, and their suspicion was vindicated by the Peace Accord signed in 1988 which covered only Lushai speaking areas. Today Mizoram stands as one Zomi state within Zoland, the Zomi inhabited areas of the region.

 

In Manipur, the question of Zomi nomenclature was not an issue until the recent Kuki-Zomi conflict of 1997. In 1971, a political organisation called Zomi National Congress (ZNC) was formed at Daizang, Manipur. It was at the initiative of the party that the First World Zomi Convention was held at Champhai, Mizoram from May 19 -21, 1988. Thousands of delegates from around the world attended the Convention and declared that ‘the people of Zo ethnic group are descendants of one ancestor, Zo’. In early 1980s an awakening for common identity was aroused among Zomi intellectuals of Manipur. A wide ranging consultation was organised by Kuki-Chin Baptists Leaders during1981-83 .They published a book called, “In search of Identity” in which all the writers stressed on the homogeneous characteristics of the so-called Kuki-Chin-Lushai people, and recommended Zomi nomenclature. Dr H Kamkhenthang, the Editor of the booklet wrote thus:

 

“To me Zomi is an indigenous term having its own meaning to the people. This term remained buried in the stratum of socio-cultural layers of the people that is taking its own germination though retarded by the imposition of foreign terms to which the people respond externally.”

 

The Zomi Tribes, who are recognized by the Indian government under the Scheduled Tribes in India, would like to have a common nomenclature by which they should be known. Zomi being their original name, seven tribes from Manipur State – Gangte, Hmar, Paite, Simte, Tedim-Chin, Vaiphei, Zou adopted the name Zomi on June 26, 1993 at Pearsonmun, Churachandpur. One of the important resolutions reads thus:

 

“Common Identity: In the continuation of Zomi movement, the members felt the necessity of having a common identity with which all tribes can identify themselves without any reservation or hesitation for unity, solidarity and safety. The leaders present, therefore, adopted the name ZOMI for common identity which will take immediate effect from today. ”

 

Today a large number of organisations have started in different parts of the world under the name Zomi viz. Zomi Christian Fellowship, Zomi Christian International, All Zomi Students’ Association, Zomi Welfare Society, Zomi Democratic Front, Zomi Christian Church, Zomi Inkuan, Zomi Nam Ni Magazine, Zomi Students’ Federation, Zomi Youth Association, Zomi Mothers’ Association, etc…Further more and more Zomi tribes realised the impropriety of calling themselves ‘Nation’ and while accepting Zomi as their national name effected a change in the naming of their tribe’s apex organisation, viz, Simte National Council was changed into Simte Tribe Council, Paite National Council to Paite Tribe Council, Gangte Tribes Union…..and more and more of such progressive changes are on the offerings among the tribes.

 

Thus, Zomi as the racial common nomenclature of all Zo descendants is an undeniable historical and anthropological fact. There is not an iota of bigotry when Zomi champion that ‘Zomi’ is the genuine national name of those who have been called Kuki-Chin-Lushai people by imposition. The remedy to having confusing names lies in calling ourselves Zomi, as Pu Dr. Vum Kho Hau, had pointed out:

 

“Had the word Kuki or Chin or Lushai been changed to ZOMI 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 (India) would have been answered a long time ago.”

 

The era of truth and nationalism begin to dawn upon the Zomi. The name, Zomi, which remained inactive in the social, cultural layers and folksongs of the past, is now surfacing in the social, cultural, religious and political folds.

 

Mizo and Zomi

Synonymously and literally, Zomi and Mizo are the same, having the etymological root, ‘Zo’. The term Mizo covers all Zo peoples as does Zomi according to their respective users. It is only a matter of pre-fixation and suffixation of ‘MI’, meaning man or people to ‘ZO’. If ‘MI’ is prefixed to Zo, we get Mizo, whereas if it is suffixed, we get ZOMI. According to K. Zawla, Mizo is a poetical form of Zomi. For instance, the accepted poetical expression for a barking deer and a hornbill will be Khisa and Phualva respectively, whereas their accepted non-poetical expressions are Sakhi and Vaphual. However, Zomi is more logical and is the right sequence of syllables, in contrast to Mizo. Because even the people who are more or less familiar with the word Mizo normally accept Zo-fa as the correct grammatical combination of the word when they wish to mean sons of Zoland. They do not say Fa-Zo poetically or literally. If ZOFA is deemed to be correct, Zomi should be deemed to be correct. Moreover, the term Zomi is much older than Mizo. Pu K. Zawla believes that the Zo people had called themselves ‘Zomi’ around the 14th century AD whereas ‘Mizo’ became the official name of the people of Mizoram in 1954 only when the Lushai Hills was changed to ‘Mizo Hills’.

 

Once Zo is accepted as the generic name of the so-called Kuki-Chin-Lushai people, affixing ‘MI’ to ‘ZO’ either as a prefix or suffix should no longer be a problem. The affix ‘mi’ was considered necessary only due to the earlier misinterpretation of the term ‘Zo’ as hill or highland. As the general population became aware of their progenitor, Zo the people may still be called ZOMI (Zo + People) or Mizo (People + Zo) and their country Zogam/Zoram. Even Mizoram is endearingly referred to as Zoram as in the Mizoram state song…..Kan Zoram……” (Our Zoland).

 

In short, imposed names like Kuki, Chin, or Lushai which may have had derogatory origins have no acceptability for common nomenclature among the affected people themselves because they are:

 

·     Alien and imposed and not born of the people;

 

·     If they have any intelligible meaning at all they incline to be on the abusive, unpalatable and derogatory side;

 

·     Only popularly used by outsiders and have not taking root in the social fabric of the tribes themselves, and

 

·     There has been a tendency to reserve these terms for a particular tribe or a dialectical group and not for all the tribes as their common name.

 

The Hornbill Emblem

The effigy of the hornbill is used by the Zomi as National emblem. The emblem was adopted in identification of Zomi cultural life with the noble image of the hornbill.

 

All sources of Zomi tradition commonly say that hornbills are noble birds. According to tradition they lead a married life just as men are doing. Like man, the bride is taken from the distant place and brought to the bridegroom. While laying egg the female bird is enclosed within a fence so that it cannot move and it is fed mouth by the male bird. If any sign of destruction is found with the fence the female bird is accused of being unfaithful and is pecked to death by the male bird. It is said that if one of the couple died the living one also killed itself. Hornbills are never known to destroy the crops in the field nor live on flesh; but they live only on fruit.

 

Therefore, they are viewed as sacred and noble – sacred in the sense that they live a simple life. They are noble because they live the beautiful life characterized by love and faithfulness. Thus hornbills are much respected and honoured by the Zos. According to tradition marriage is regarded as a kind of contract tied with love and loyalty. Thus a marriage is considered to be ‘unbreakable’ or ‘inseparable’ except by the event of death. A wife cannot be divorced so long as she remains faithful to her husband. The idea of a faithful life expressed in the married life of the hornbill is taken as a symbolic expression of the love for one’s wife who is likened and referred to as a hornbill. Zo people proudly put on hornbill feathers on important occasions in self-identification with the dignity and honour that the hornbill exemplifies. J. Suan Za Dong once described the cultural beauty of the hornbill in identification with Zomi and their nation as thus:

 

  Two hornbills stately and dignified,

  For loyalty and honour so proudly pose

  Symbolising ZOMI in culture rich and sound

  Splendours of our State; fresh like a rose

  Scenic beauties and flowers in our land abound.

 

Based on this traditional background, the physical image of the hornbill has been adopted to symbolize the dignity and honour that the Zo’s simple life expressed. The emblem has been chosen to signify the ‘inseparable tie’ existing among the Zomi in India, Burma and Bangladesh.

 

(Source: Sing Khaw Khai, “Zo People and their Culture,” 1995, p.194)

 

Zomi National Day: 20th February

The Zo people are proud of this day because it epitomizes their struggle for a place in the sun, a struggle that began almost a hundred years ago amongst the Zomi of Burma under the banner of the Chin Hills Union Organisation (CHUO).

 

On 20th February, 1928 the Chin Hills Union Organisation (CHUO) was formed in the Chin Hills of Burma. This was a milestone in the history of the people because for the first time a home-grown political organization was formed. It also laid down the foundation for the introduction of a national day.

 

The first general meeting of the Chin Hills Union Organization was successfully held at Ware Village, Chin State on 29 September, 1932. The meeting resolved to work together for success in the fields of education, health, economy and social affairs. They also took the difficult and painful decision to drive out the imperialists as soon as possible. In fact, they extended their whole-hearted help in the 1936 Students’ Strike. Subsequently the political momentum picked up with the CHUO submitting nine petitions to the British Burma Government for the improvement of Chin Hills in various fields, including:

 

[A]    to grant equal rights in administration to Zomi similar to other foreign national;

 

[B]    to administer Chin Hills according to the rules and regulations adopted by the Zomi;

 

[C]     to permit freedom of religions;

 

[D]     to allow Zomi to have freedom of relationship with any nationality;

 

[E]      to grant independence to Zomi simultaneously with Myanmar.

 

There was heated debate between the CHUO leaders and the British on the above memorandum. The Zomi were very angry with the unfriendly attitudes of the British, thus demonstrations against the Government took place in various parts of Kanpetlet. The 36 members of circle Chairmen declared their resignations from the public service in defiance of the detention of Zomi political leaders. Demonstrations against the Government also took place in many parts of the area. They said that they would no longer pay tax and would not also serve as their coolies.

 

Furthermore, Aung San-Atlee Agreement was signed on 27 January 1947. In line with the agreement, the Constituent Assembly was to be elected to determine future administrative affairs of Myanmar. As such, Panglong Conference was held on 7 February 1947 and Panglong Agreement was signed on 12 February 1947.

 

Frontier Areas Committee of Enquiry was formed in March 1947 under the chairmanship of the Committee, the Zomi opted to elect their own respective constituent assembly.

 

At the request of the Zomi, Chin Hills Enquiry Commission was formed with three members on 5 February 1948. The Commission conducted enquiry from 12 to 23 February 1948 and they recommended the introduction of the rule of democratic system of administration in Chin Hills and to grant compensation to the chiefs and headmen.

 

A general meeting was held in Falam from 19 to 22 February to make a choice on the administrative system in Chin Hills and the election of Zomi representatives. The meeting was attended by over 5000 representatives of Zomi.

 

On 20 February 1948, the representative of Tedim, U Thawng Za Khup submitted a proposal in the general meeting. According to his proposal the Zomi had suffered untold misery under the hereditary feudal chiefs and headmen. They imposed heavy taxes on the common people. So, the majority of Zomi were in favour of the abolition of hereditary feudal system of administration and they would like to bring about modern democratic system of administration in the Chin Hill.

 

The popular vote was taken and 5000 representatives voted in favour of the proposal whereas 17 representatives voted against the proposal. Colonialism, the rule of hereditary feudal system by chiefs and headmen were then eliminated for the first time in Chin Hills at this mass meeting and introduced the democratic system which advocates the rule of the people by the people for the people. It is landmark in the history of Chin Hills because it was the first time that all the Zomi were able to hold the general meeting and achieves national unity among themselves. So, 20 February is a historic and meaningful day for the Zomi because all the Zomi were able to achieve national solidarity and unity on this very day.

 

On 9 October 1950, the Chin Affairs Council decided officially to honour 20 February as Zomi National Day. Since then, the Day was observed as one of the National Holiday in Burma. The Day had been celebrated by Zomi worldwide till today although the Burmese Government officially recorded as Chin National Day. It is, therefore, the fundamental duty of all Zomi to safeguard its National Day, to preserve and maintain its culture, language, religion, and literature if we would like to keep our Zomi identity among the family of nations.

.

..

 

..

 
 

 

 

 

SPONSORED BY:  WWW.ZOGAMONLINE.COM  &  WWW.ZOMISTORE.COM  &  WWW.ZOLAWKTA.INFO

 

.

Created (2006) & Maintained by J. Thang Lian Pau