ETHNONYMS: Lushai, Zomi
Identification. "Mizo," meaning "people of the high land, " is a generic term for the related peoples who speak the Duhlian dialect and live mainly in Mizoram, Manipur, and Tripura states of India. In the earliest literature they were called "Kuki" by the neighboring Bengalis. The British called them "Lushai." Since 1950 the word "Mizo" has been accepted by the people as more comprehensive than "Lushai"; the name of their area of concentration has changed from Lushai Hills to Mizoram, meaning "country of the Mizo."
Location. Mizoram lies between 24° and 22° N and 93° and 92° E. It is bounded by three Indian states—Manipur, Assam, and Tripura—and by the countries of Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh. Mizoram consists of a mass of hill ranges averaging from about 1,000 to 1,800 meters running from north and south, with a small plateau at Champai; most are covered by thin jungles. Rivers are hardly navigable. The climate of Mizoram has two seasons—the hot, rainy period from April to September and the cold, dry period from October to March.
Demography. According to the 1981 census the population of Mizoram was 493,757; the Scheduled Tribes constituted 93.55 percent of this number, which included Mizo, Lakher, Pawi, Chakma, Riang, and others. The Mizo are Currently about 80 percent of the population of Mizoram, but they are also found in neighboring states, for in the 1971 Census they numbered 512,833 in all of the northeastern states.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Mizo language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman Family of the Sino-Tibetan Branch; its Kuki-Chin Subgroup is comprised of the Meitei, Lushai, Thadou, Halem, and Chin subgroups. The Mizo have no script of their own. The Mizo alphabet was printed by Christian missionaries in 1898 in Roman script on the basis of phonetics.
History and Cultural Relations
The Mizo believe that their ancestors once lived in China. Around a.d. 996 they migrated to the Chindwin belt of Mountains through the Hukung Valley of Myanmar and lived for centuries in the Kabaw Valley. To avoid an onslaught of Shan influence they then migrated in groups to the Chin Hills. In about 1765 they established a large village in Myanmar called Selsih (Zopuii) 35 kilometers to the west of the Tiau River. The first historical mention of the Mizo (Lushai) is in 1777. In that year the chief of Chittagong, which had been ceded to the British under Lord Clive by Mir Kasim in 1760, applied for a detachment of soldiers to protect the people against an incursion of the Kuki, as they were then called. By 1810 Chief Lallula Sailo and other related chiefs controlled the whole of the country from the Tiau River to Demagiri. The pressure on the eastern Mizo chiefs from the Chin Hills chiefs such as Suktes was severe, as the latter were moving down from the hills to the plains in the Cachar and Sylhet areas. British punitive expeditions to Mizoram began in 1844. In December 1896 a resolution was passed to amalgamate the north and south Lushai Hills administratively at the Chin-Lushai Conference held at Lunglei. British administration continued until India gained independence in 1947. The Mizo, to safeguard their own identity and culture, became politically active in 1966, which resulted in 1983 in their recognition that the constitution of India was a mechanism for achieving Socioeconomic development.
In the past when the villages were under the control of chiefs their number and names were constantly changing. People were continually searching for land for cultivation and water. The villages were also split up among the sons of chiefs. A traditional village located on the spur of the hills was shapeless and clustered. In 1966 villages were reorganized under a Project called "Operation Security," which involved 68 percent of the population. These new villages are of a linear cluster type: a main road bisects each village and all smaller streets radiate from a central plaza, with groups of houses arranged along the roadsides. Each village has at least one church, a school, a blacksmith's workshop, and shops. Villages range from 60 to 80 houses with a population of 400 to 700. Houses are constructed on raised bamboo or wooden poles. There are two major house types: those with two-sided roofs and those with four-sided roofs. A typical ordinary house is rectangular in shape with a thatched two-sided roof. Floor and side walls are made of split or plaited bamboo with one or two windows. Those who are well-off use wooden planks for the floor and corrugated iron for the roof. Generally an earthen hearth is constructed near the left side in the center of the roof. In the traditional houses the main bed occupied by the head of the house is at the rear side of the hearth. The large room is also partitioned to make cubicles for privacy. Storage of grain and food is in a corner of the room. Poultry and pigs are kept either in the front veranda or in a small enclosure behind the house.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Mizos are now heavily involved in the money economy. About 80 percent of the people of Mizoram derive their sustenance from swidden cultivation on hill slopes. Wet rice cultivation was introduced in patches by non-Mizos—just after the annexation of the area by the British—in Thenzawl, Champhai, and Vanlaiphai villages, where a Burmese type of plow was used. Agricultural implements consist of axes, and hoes, and knives. Paddy, maize, cabbages, melons, cotton, and ginger are raised. Recently terracing has been introduced in Mizoram. The main cash crop is ginger. During lean months, the Mizo shoot birds with catapults and air guns, occasionally fish by poisoning water in hollows between the hills, and hunt animals. Domestic animals include pigs, poultry, and dogs; some people keep cattle. In the past every village had a number of gayals, which were killed for special festivals and Ceremonies. Nowadays these animals are rarely kept.
Industrial Arts. Each village has at least one blacksmithy where hoes, axes, and knives are made. Most of the Households have a sewing machine. Each family has a number of loin looms (backstrap looms) used by women. They weave cotton yarn with attractive geometric designs. Men practice carpentry. All men weave baskets of various sizes, shapes, and designs. Lacquering and the cire perdue or "lost wax" process of casting bronze have died out. Earthen smoking pipes are still handmade by women.
Trade. Since the regrouping of villages, shops are found in all villages. In the larger villages small markets are held. Otherwise people visit the few towns of Aizawl, Lunglei, Thenzawl, and Champhai for buying and selling. Bengali- and Hindi-speaking traders also do business with the permission of the administrative authorities. Peddlers move about in Villages too.
Division of Labor. The traditional division of labor is relatively fluid. Tasks such as weaving, winnowing, pottery making, etc. are women's jobs. Basketry, blacksmithy, carpentry, etc. are men's work. Nowadays educated urban women work as traffic police in Aizawl.
Land Tenure. Before 1947, rights of the village Communities and chiefs over their territory were recognized (the Chin Hill Regulation 5, 1896). With abolition of the rights of the chiefs, the authority of the village council over the land was finally established. It distributes land to each family for swidden cultivation and for residence. In the towns, plots of land for permanent ownership are distributed in response to individual application.
Kin Groups and Descent. There are two overall principles that govern kinship practices as they relate to social organization: (1) all females moving out of one's own family through marriage are categorized together and their husbands also stand as a group in relation to Ego; (2) the females who come into the agnate group of Ego form a group, and therefore male relatives of the incoming female group are designated by the same term, without making any distinction of generation and seniority, and all their spouses also form a group. All kin help in the construction of a house, assist in marriage and death ceremonies, and get their share of a bride-price and the meat of animals killed during a marriage. Descent is patrilineal.
Kinship Terminology. Kinship terminology is of the Omaha type. Within the circle of closer kin the system works according to the bifurcate-merging principle. There are twenty-two kinship terms. The range of this terminology is limited to two generations above and two generations below.
Marriage. Traditionally polygamy was allowed, but monogamy has been strictly enforced by the various churches. Marriage is by courtship, an institutionalized practice, with the choices of boys and girls approved by the parents. Premarital sex is common though not appreciated. Tribal endogamy is only normative; deviations do occur. Cross-cousin marriage is allowed but with less favor toward marriage with a father's sister's daughter. Payment of bride-price at marriage is a complicated affair. In certain areas a traditional practice of sharing portions of killed animals at a feast among the agnatic as well as affinal kin is still rigidly followed. Following marriage the married elder son has his house built and lives separately. The process goes on until the youngest son marries, after which he continues to reside with his parents. Divorce is Common, easy, and favorable to the man, and it can be granted for almost any reason. In all divorces occurring before a woman bears a child, the bride-price is returned to the man. A divorced woman usually keeps an infant with her until there is a demand for the child from the man.
Domestic Unit. Mizos do not distinguish between household and family. The people who live together under one roof and eat from the same hearth belong to one family. The average size of a family is between six and seven people. The nuclear family is the common type. The vertico-horizontal type of family tends to split into two sections, the nuclear family and the stem family. The life of the vertico-horizontal type of family is the shortest. This Ego-centered cyclic change is a unique feature. Usually the family consists of a parent of the male head of the family, the male head, his spouse, and his children.
Inheritance. Mizos practice male ultimogeniture: the youngest son remains with his parents till death to become the heir. All movable and immovable property belongs to a male, except certain personal articles of females that remain women's property. Through matrifiliation a woman's property is passed to her daughter.
Socialization. Children grow up with their parents and Paternal grandparents. No serious distinction is made between boys and girls during early childhood. Female infanticide ended more than sixty years ago. Mizos put much emphasis on teaching the child to develop a sense of group cooperation and Christian values.
Social Organization. Mizo society is hierarchically organized on the basis of age, sex, standard of living, and knowledge. Those who work in high offices in urban and rural areas rank above those who work in the swidden. Those who are associated with the leading local church are held in high esteem.
Political Organization. Mizoram is a state in the Republic of India. Mizoram has three districts: Chhimtuipui, Lunglei, and Aizawl. In the latter two, Mizo sociopolitical activities dominate. Each village has a council headed by a president.
He, his secretary, and members of his council are elected through adult franchise on the basis of political party. This democratic system replaces the traditional system based on privilege and nonprivilege. The village council manages the affairs of the village: matters concerning agricultural activities, allocation of agricultural plots, collection of taxes, distribution of water, control of the market, community activities, and welfare of the people. The religious activities are attended to by the different church denominations with the help of their members. The village crier and blacksmith are nominated by the village council. The state government manages such matters as communication, education, social welfare, law and order, hospitals, transport, food supply, industry, the judiciary, forests, etc.
Social Control. Mizo customary law is enforced through a village council that has judicial powers. The local church authority is another body that regulates the behavior of the People. In this matter clergy play an important role in religious and village issues. If an individual family is not happy with conditions in the village, it may leave the village for another, with the permission of the president of the village council.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Mizos are ardent followers of Christianity. The great majority are Protestants. They generally donate a portion of the first product of the swidden to their churches during Sunday morning services in the harvest season. The Mizo churches get substantial gifts from followers for the support of their activities. Church denominations include the Welsh Presbyterian, United Pentecostal, Salvation Army, Seventh-Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, London Baptist, Sabbath Church, and cults or sects formed by the late preacher Khuangtua Vanawi, by Mizo Jews, and by other groups. Mizoram was 83.81 percent Christian in 1981.
Religious Practitioners. Each church denomination has its own clergy, trained in Mizoram or in neighboring states. Pastors are transferable from one area to the other. They preach, sing, bless people, and participate in life-cycle rituals. A few are now missionaries in Washington, D.C. In the Village there are exorcists who treat the sick by invoking the blessings of the Holy Ghost and by warding off incursions of Satan. In this matter a belief in spirit possession is predominant.
Ceremonies. Mizos celebrate all Christian festivals, especially Christmas, New Year's Day, and Easter. Discarded traditional festivals (kut ) are being revived not so much for their cultural content but as traditional identity markers. Carol singing and visiting houses in large groups are very common at Christmas and around New Year's Day.
Arts. Mizos weave designs in cloth, in baskets, and on the handles of their weapons and instruments. Geometric designs and motifs of flowers and plants are popular. Traditional lacquer work in red and black has gradually died out. Mizos are great lovers of Western music. In towns they organize Western music contests. The guitar is the most popular musical instrument. A traditional bamboo dance is very popular, as are church hymns. A big Mizo drum provides the Musical accompaniment.
Medicine. Modern medicine as well as the use of native medicinal plants for sores and wounds are both common.
Death and Afterlife. Mizos bury their dead. The pastor performs the last rites according to the custom of the particular church denomination. They put memorial stones on the burial ground, engraving there the deeds of the deceased.
See also Lakher
Goswami, B. B. (1979). Mizo Unrest: A Study of Politicisation of Culture. Jaipur: Aalekh Publishers.
Goswami, B. B. (1987). "The Mizos in the Context of State Formation." In Tribal Polities and State Systems in Pre-Colonial Eastern and North Eastern India, edited by Surajit Sinha 307-327. Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi; Centre for Studies in Social Sciences.
McCall, Anthony Gilchrist (1949). Lushai Chrysalis. London: Luzac.
Shakespear, John (1912). The Lushei Kuki Clans. London: Macmillan.
B. B. GOSWAMI