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ETHNONYMS: 'kKxou and related words; Mizo (same as Lushai), Zo, Zomi. Also regional and dialect group names: Chinbok, Chinbon, Dai, Kuku, Lai (same as Haka), Laizo (same as Falam), Mara (same as Lakher), Ngala (same as Matu), n'Men, etc.


Identification. The Chin live in the mountains of the Myanmar (Burma)-India border and in neighboring areas of Myanmar and India. "Chin" is an English version of the Burmese name for these people (cognate with a southern Chin word, 'kKxang, "a people") who call themselves Zo (or related words), meaning "marginal people." "Chin" applies strictly to the inhabitants of Myanmar's Chin State. On the Indian side of the border the major related people are the Mizo, or Lushai, of Mizoram State. The Kuki and Hmar are their relatives in Manipur State. The Plains Chin, or Asho, live in Myanmar proper just east of Chin State.

Location. The Chin live between 92° and 95° E, and 20° and 26° N. For the most part this is high mountain country (the highest peak is 3,000 meters) with almost no land level enough for plow cultivation; villages are found at elevations between about 1,000 and 2,000 meters. This region is not drained by any major or navigable rivers. It has a monsoon climate, with a marked wet and dry season. Annual rainfall is locally as much as 230 centimeters or more a year. In the hot season (March to June) the temperature can reach about 32° C, while in the cold season (November-February), after the monsoon rains, early-morning temperatures at the higher elevations can sink to a few degrees of frost.

Demography. There have been no useful censuses of the Burma Chin in a couple of decades, but reasonable projections from the figures of the 1950s indicate a population there of perhaps 200,000, while the population of India's Mizoram State is roughly half a million. Outside these two major areas the Chin-related population amounts to no more than a few tens of thousands. The population is unevenly distributed, but a crude estimate of average population density is at most SO persons per square kilometer. There are few towns of any size. The largest is Aizawl, capital of Mizoram State, with a population exceeding 100,000. Owing to the absence of flat lands and ready communications with major plains areas in India and Myanmar (Burma), the number of non-Chin peoples living in the region is negligible.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Chin languages belong to the Kuki-Chin Subgroup of the Kuki-Naga Group of the Tibeto-Burman Family. They are all tonal, monosyllabic languages, and until the late nineteenth century, when Christian missionaries developed Roman alphabets for at least the major Chin languages (including Mizo), none of them was written. There are excellent grammars and dictionaries of such major languages as Mizo, Lai (Haka) Chin, Laizo (Falam) Chin, Tedim (Northern) Chin, and n'Men (Southern) Chin.

History and Cultural Relations

Our earliest notice of Chin is in stone inscriptions in Burma of the twelfth century, which refer to Chin living in or adjacent to the middle Chindwin River of northwestern Burma. In the next century the Chindwin Plain and the tributary Kabaw-Kale Valley were conquered and settled by the Shan (a Tai-speaking people of the region), and from then on more and more of the Chin were pushed up into the mountains (no doubt displacing their close relatives already living there). By the seventeenth century these pressures increased owing to the Burmese wars with the Kale Shan and with Manipur. This brought about major population movements within the mountain region, and the present distribution of peoples in the mountains goes back mainly to the eighteenth century. The Kuki are remnants of people who were pushed out from the main Chin areas of occupation by the ancestors of the Mizo, and who then took refuge under the protection of the maharajas of Manipur. The Chin and Mizo peoples were independent of any major state until the imperial era when, in the late nineteenth century, they were brought under British rule: the Mizo in the Lushai Hills Frontier District of India, the Chin in the Chin Hills of Burma. With the achievement of independence for India and Burma in the late 1940s, these districts became respectively the Union Territory of Mizoram (Mizoram State within the Indian Union since the late 1980s) and the Chin Special Division, now Chin State, of the Union of Burma, now Myanmar. However, in spite of their traditional freedom from any semblance of outside rule or administration before the colonial period, these peoples were dependent upon the plains civilizations of India and Burma. They got all the iron for their tools and weapons from the plains, which they reforged locally, and they looked to the plains as the source for luxury goods (preeminently brass-ware, some elaborate woven goods, and gold and silver) and for their ideals about more luxurious social and cultural life. Their name, Zo, reflects this sense of their relative deprivation, and their origin tales also expand on this theme, purporting to explain why the Burman or Assamese "elder brother" of their original ancestor came to have all those amenities and the Chin so few. The Chin peoples got what they needed from the plains partly through trading the produce of their forests and partly by raiding border settlements in the plains. It was this habit of raiding plains settlements (for goods, slaves, and human headsespecially Lushai raids on the tea plantations of Cachar and Assam) that caused the British, in the late nineteenth century, to occupy the Chin and Lushai territories.


With the exception of a few administrative townssuch as Aizawl, the Mizoram capital; Haka, capital of Chin State; Falam, Tedim, Matupi, and Mindat in Chin State; and the various district administrative towns in Mizoram Statethe Chin peoples live in agricultural villages ranging in size from a few dozen to several hundred houses. There are more towns and fewer very small villages in Mizoram now because from 1964 until well into the 1980s Mizoram was insurgent Territory in which the Indian government instituted massive resettlement and village consolidation. Now, as traditionally, the average household has about five persons in it. Villages tend to be situated well up on the hillsides, though some are placed nearer the small streams lower down. Village location has always been a compromise between the need for defensibility and the need for access to water. Houses and villages are oriented according to the possibilities provided by the convoluted slopes. Houses are built on pilings, though in some places one end or the uphill side rests directly on the ground. Traditional houses are built of hand-hewn planks for the most part, though the poorer ones have at least their walls and floors made of split bamboo. The roof is generally thatched with grass, but in parts of northern Chin State there are some slate roofs. Nowadays corrugated iron or aluminum sheeting is used when possible. The traditional floor plan is of one main interior roomor at most twowith its central hearth, a front veranda open in front but covered by a roof gable, and frequently a shallow rear compartment for washing and various sorts of storage, which may have also a latrine hole in its floor. The major limitation on the size of a village is the accessibility of agricultural land. These people are exclusively shifting cultivators: they clear and cultivate a hill slope for one to five years or so, then leave that slope to fallow and clear another forested slope in their territory. The longer a hillside is farmed, the longer it must lie fallow until fit for use again (twenty and more years in some cases), and it is not thought manageable to have to walk more than 12 kilometers or so to one's fields, so that a village's territory extends not much above 10 kilometers from the settlement periphery. An average household can and must cultivate a field of 2 hectares or so. Traditionally, when the population of a village outgrew its effective ability to get access to farm tracts it would move as a whole, or some smaller groups would break off and move away from the parent settlement. Villages might also move because of vulnerability to raids from powerful neighbors, Because of such inauspicious events as epidemics, or simply because a better site was found elsewhere. Since the imperial period villages have been forced to remain stationary, and the increasing pressure of population on the land has resulted in deforestation, erosion, and depleted fertility, as fields have had to be used more years in a row and the fallow periods have been reduced substantially. Fertility also depends upon the ash resulting from the felling and burning of forest on a new hill slope. Thus, the lengthening of the periods of use and the shortening of the fallow periods have combined to lessen the ability of forest to regenerate. Overuse and reduced forest recovery also have led to heavy growth of tough grasses replacing forest growth during fallow periods, and this too has set a severe limit on the system of shifting cultivation as the population has grown.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The Chin are nonpioneer shifting cultivators. Where soil and climate permit, they grow dry hill rice as their chief staple, and elsewhere, chiefly at the higher elevations in Chin State, the grain staple is one or another kind of millet, maize, or even grain sorghum, though the latter grain is mainly used only for the brewing of the coarser variety of country beer (zu ). Cultivation is entirely by hand, and the tools involved are mainly the all-purpose bush knife, the axe, the hoe (an essentially adze-hafted implement about 45 centimeters long), and, in places where rice is grown, a small harvesting knife. Grown amidst the staple are a variety of vegetable crops, mainly melons, pumpkins, and, most important, various kinds of peas and beans, on whose nitrogen-fixing properties the longer-term shifting-cultivation cycles of central Chin State depend crucially. Cotton is also widely grown, though nowadays less so because commercial cloth has rapidly displaced the traditional blankets and clothes locally woven on the back-strap tension loom. The traditional native dyes were wild vegetable dyes such as indigo. In the southern areas a kind of flax was also grown for weaving cloth (chiefly for women's skirts). Various vegetable condiments are also commonly grown, such as chili peppers, ginger, turmeric (also used to make dye) and rozelle (Hibiscus sabdariffa ) ; the Mizo in particular grow and eat a great deal of mustard greens, and nowadays all sorts of European vegetables are grown, especially cabbages and potatoes. Fruits, such as shaddocks, citrons, and guavas, and such sweet crops as sugarcane were traditionally unimportant. Today there is some commercial growing of apples, oranges, tea, and coffee; other commercial crops are also grown experimentally, but the chief hindrance to such developments is the fact that the plains markets in which they might be sold are still difficult of access. Tobacco has long been grown in all villages: it was traditionally smoked green (cured by being buried in hot sand), in clay pipes (later in hand-made cigarettes) by men, and in small bamboo water pipes with clay bowls by women. The nicotine-charged water produced by the latter is decanted into small gourd containers or other vessels kept about the person and is widely used as a stimulant, being held in the mouth and then spat out.

Livestock such as pigs and fowl (less commonly goats, cows, and the occasional water buffalo and horses) may be penned within or beneath the house; most notable is the gayal (Bos frontalis ), a semidomesticated bovid forest browser bred for meat and for ritual sacrifice, which constitutes a major form of traditional wealth. Dogs are common village scavengers along with pigs, and some dogs are used in hunting. Little game remains today, but formerly all sorts of game were hunted including black and brown bears, all kinds of deer (preeminently barking deer, also known as muntjac), mountain goats, gaur (Bos gaurus ), various jungle cats large and small, and even, from time to time, elephants and rhinoceroses, though these have long since gone from the hills. The Bengal tiger was rarely hunted because, as in many Southeast Asian societies, its spirit was (and still is) thought related to the human soul (the "wer-tiger" idea) and therefore had to be treated in much the same way as a severed human headthat is, it required expensive and ritually dangerous ceremonies.

Industrial Arts. The traditional manufactures, other than the reforged iron tools and weapons made with the open-hearth double-bamboo pistols bellows, were mainly things like bamboo and cane mats and baskets of all sorts and redfired utility pottery; and the ubiquitous weaving of blankets, loincloths, and women's skirts and blouses. Some of the weaving employed silk-thread embroidery and single-damask weave, and the most elaborate forms were traditionally called vaai (civilized), suggesting that anything that fine must have come originally from the plains. These things could have been made by anyone, but certain persons had more than ordinary skill and only some villages were endowed with potting clays, so such persons and villages became part-time specialists in this work and traded their wares (bartering for grain or other kinds of goods) in surrounding villages. There were smiths who made the traditional silver-amalgam (later aluminum) jewelrysuch as the bracelets, belts, earrings, rings, and necklaces hung with imported beads and silver rupee coinsas well as brass hairpins and other items, but those artisans were even fewer in number than the ones mentioned above. Indeed, the trade in the latter items was akin to the long-distance trade in heirloom goods, such as the great gongs from Myanmar (Burma), brass vessels from India, and other sorts of items that signified at least a nominal claim upon the goods of the vaai plains country.

Trade. All of these more expensive items constituted the basis of the prestige economy of these hills and passed not only by sale but by circulation of myriad ceremonial payments and fines (especially marriage-prices, blood-money payments, and compensation payments for defamation of status). Prestige goods and gayalsespecially important for their use in sacrifices associated with the "merit feasts" by which social rank was attained or validatedwere the traditional wealth of these people. Furthermore, the display or announcement of the entire array of what one currently owned or had owned in lifesymbolically indicated on carved memorial posts erected for prestigious deadwas the definitive sign of one's social and ceremonial rank. More specifically, the possession of a supposedly unique object from the outside world, likely to possess a unique "personal" name of its own, was especially important. The idea behind the prestige economy is that prosperity in this world depends upon the sacrificial exchange of goods with inhabitants of the Land of the Dead, and only if one had conducted feasts of merit would one and one's descendants have wealth and well-being. Thus, too, the continuity of lineage between the dead and the living was Important; it was especially important for anyone to be memorialized after his or her death. Memorial service was done not only by the display of wealth and by its figuration on memorial posts and stones but also in the composition of songs (va hia ) commemorating a man's greatness on the occasion of one of his feasts. So greatly were wealth and possessions tied up with a person's social position that among the most heinous traditional offences in this society were theft, bastardy, and the supposed possession of "evil eye" (hnam, the unconscious and heritable ability to cause harm by looking enviously upon another's prosperity, or even someone's consumption of a good meal). All these situations meant that property had failed to pass by means of expected formal exchanges: it had passed instead by arbitrary expropriation, or through a child born out of wedlock without benefit of marriage-price, or by misfortune caused by murderous envy of possessions to which one had no legitimate claim.

Division of Labor. The few classes of part-time craft specialist are mentioned above. Women do more of the domestic tasks and all the traditional weaving. They are also almost exclusively the spirit mediums because male spirit familiars choose them. Men alone cut down the forests and work as smiths. There appear to be no female hunters or warriors Except in legends, probably because no woman can hold in her own name a feast of celebration for the killing of a major animal, or a feast of celebration of a human trophy head or that of a tiger. (In all of these cases the point is to tame the angry spirit of the deceased animal or person and send it to serve one and one's forebears in the Land of the Dead.) A woman can, however, hold a domestic feast of merit in the name of her deceased husband, in which domestic animals are similarly sacrificed on behalf of the Land of the Dead. Nevertheless, only men can be village priests, who are mostly appointed by chiefs and headmen because they have memorized the required chants and formulas and know the ritual sequences. Priests serve as masters of ceremony at the feasts of merit and celebration and at the various kinds of rite of placationboth cyclical and sporadicaddressed to the various spirit owners of the face of the land, great and small. Almost all other tasks and activities can be undertaken by either sex; there have even been historical instances of important female chiefs, who attained office through being widowed. There are few if any exploitable natural resources in these hills and virtually no modern industry, at least nothing made for export. Aside from the salaries of teachers and government servants of all sorts and the incomes of merchants and shopkeepers, the main source of money is the wages of Chin who work on the outsidepreeminently in Myanmar, in the armed forces.

Land Tenure. This aspect of Chin culture is highly variable. A village has complete ownership of its tract, and even the right to hunt in it must be requested from the village; however, it is possible to rent lands in another village's tract on an individual or a communal basis. Village tract Boundaries are precisely indicated by landmarks. Frequently a given hillside tract, or even the whole village tract, will be owned by a chief or other hereditary aristocrat. The right of a chief to the dues and services of his villagers in fact derives from his ownership of the land, while the ultimate ownership by a Village of its land as a whole derives from the heritable pact made by the ancestral founders of the village with the spirit owners of the land. The paramount right is ownership, since it is to some extent at least conveyable in marriage-prices or by sale, and yet it is far from an absolute paramount right. For instance, it is arguable whether conveyance of ownership through marriage payments or sale can ever be outright alienations rather than mere long-term mortgagings. At least in the Haka (Lai) area of central Chin State, individual Households and persons can have heritable, even conveyable rights (within village limits, perhaps) over individual cultivation plots in one or more cultivation tracts, for which the owner owes payments to the chiefly paramount owner that are in the nature of both tax and rent. Yet should these payments not be made, the field owner technically cannot be evictedthough he may be exiled, physically assaulted, or even killed, because the failure of payment is a rejection of constituted authority. Fruit trees, honeybee hives, and other exploitable items on the land may also be individually owned and conveyed. House sites are owned subject to the right of residence in the village at the pleasure of constituted village authority. Nowadays much of the land has passed into true private ownership, especially where modern commercial crops or a patch of irrigated rice are grown, more so perhaps on the Indian side of the border than in Myanmar. But in both countries there are legal restrictions on the right of nonnative inhabitants to own land in the Chin-Lushai country.


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is agnatic, with Eponymous clans and lineages that tend to segment frequently: in general one finds maximal lineages and major and minor segments, the minor segment often being coextensive with the household. Often only the minimal lineage segment is strictly exogamousand the rapidity of segmentation can often override even that proscription, so that marriage between even half-siblings is in parts of Chin State not necessarily penalizedthough at least the legal fiction that clans are themselves exogamous is commonly maintained. Postnuptial residence is usually virilocal, and it is viripatrilocal in the case of the son who will inherit his parent's house. Daughters always marry out of the household and noninheriting sons marry neolocally. Although polygyny is allowed, it is generally confined to aristocrats who can afford a plurality of wives or who need more than one wife to manage their households and farms or who need to make various politically motivated marriage alliances. More commonly, one wife is thought to be quite enough, and it is the rare strong character who will have several wives in a single establishmentfor the Chin believe that if the wives hate one another, their fights will make the husband's life miserable, and if they agree with one another, they'll combine against him. Besides, love matches occur frequently, and often they will override the common parental arrangements for marriages of state that engage couples from infancy. (For example, a girl may simply camp on the veranda of a young man who is too shy to ask for her hand.) Chin men often love their wives, and if a man refers to his wife as inn chung (the "inside of [the speaker's] house"), he is certainly fond of her and probably faithful to her. Also, marriage alliances are usually avoided because the ensuing obligations often cause men to be dominated by their wives or by the brothers of their wives.

Kinship Terminology. The terminology is bifurcate-merging, with an Omaha cousin terminology, consistent with asymmetric alliance marriage. The men of all generations in wife-taking lineages are classed with grandfathers, but in the wife-taking lineages only those agnatically descended from the original union linking the lineages are classed with grandchildren. Members of lineages other than one's own, who are not either wife givers or wife takers, are classed with one's own lineage agnates according to sex and generation. There are separate terms for younger siblings of the same sex as the speaker and for younger siblings of the opposite sex.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. With the exception mainly of the Mizo (Lushai), the Chin peoples practice asymmetrical alliance marriage. There is no obligation to marry into a lineage to which one is already allied; indeed, save in the demographically relict Kuki groups of Manipur, diversification of Marriage connections is a leading strategic principle. But it is proscribed under severe penaltiesoccasionally amounting to temporary exile from the communityto reverse the direction of marriage alliance (e.g., to marry a woman from a wife-taking lineage). With the Mizo the rapidity of segmentation means that affinal alliances lapse almost as soon as they are formed, and so there can be no question of their reversal. Also, inasmuch as wife givers are at least ritually dominant over wife takers, it is often necessary to cement and renew an alliance by further marriages, both because a particular wife-giving lineage may provide a useful umbrella of wealth and power and because this lineage may be unwilling to let a profitable alliance lapse (which it will after three or four generations) ; also, it may insist on imposing more wives with a view to taking in more marriage dues. Divorce, if the woman is said to be at fault, is cause for an attempt to recover all or much of the bride-price, either from her natal family or, if she has run off with another, from her seducer. Divorce of a woman for no good cause is difficult because it constitutes an implicit offense against the wife givers.

Inheritance. Houses, land, and other major property, as well as succession to office (priestly or chiefly), pass from Father to son. Sometimes they pass by primogeniture, sometimes by ultimogeniture, and sometimes by a combination of the two (e.g., house and household goods to the younger son, office and movable estate to the older). These matters vary even from lineage to lineage. Certain classes of property that a woman brings from her natal household to her marriage (chiefly valuable jewelry and the like) pass to one of her daughters upon either the marriage of the daughter or the death of the mother. Even noninheriting sons have some right to expect their father to settle on them a portion of his estate while he is still alive, when those sons are about to establish households of their own. It is commonly thought that a noninheriting son of a chief or other powerful man is likely to become socially disaffected, footloose, volatile, and unreliable, and this sort of person is called, in Lai Chin, mihrawkhrawlh, "one who is constantly looking for the main chance."

Socialization. Both parents take care of infants, as do elder siblings of either sex; it is not rare to see even a distinguished chief with a baby in a blanket on his back or a child crawling all over him, and a child carrying a baby carrying an even smaller infant is not an unknown sight. Mothers slap and scold children even to age of about 10 or 12, but the power of the father, at least over sons, is his power to withhold support and settlement. Young boys are encouraged to throw tantrums so that they may grow up a bit wild and willful. Children are weaned when the demands of the next infant are too great, or by 18 months of age. While there is a tendency for tensions between fathers and sons to arise as sons come of age and need financial independence, the emotional bonds between parents and children in general are often deep and lasting, and those between daughters and their mothers are especially poignant: if a woman becomes drunk she often weeps, and it is said then that she is "thinking of her mother."

Sociopolitical Organization

Northern and Central Chin and Mizo have hereditary headmanship or chieftainship and the associated distinction between commoner and chiefly clans and lineages. The Southern Chin (including those of Matupi) have neither Institution. In the former groups some villages have a single paramount headman or chief, while others are ruled by a council of aristocratice chiefs, each of whom may have his own network of followers either locally or in the form of subordinate chiefs and headmen of client villages. It is a mistake to suppose that villages ruled by these councils are "democratic." What distinguishes a mere headman from a chief is that only the latter can have other village heads under his jurisdiction, and not every chief is the head of a whole village. The dues owed headmen are mentioned above in connection with land tenure and derive as a right from the exclusive heritable connection between the village founder and his successors and the ultimate spirit owners of the village lands. These dues consist mainly of tax/rent for the right to cultivate land and a hindquarter of any large-sized wild or domestic animal killed in the territory. Furthermore, a headman, chief, or major landowning aristocrat can demand various sorts of services from his client households, such as farm work, house building, and assistance at feasts, rites, and ceremonies. Headmen or chiefs also could demand public work and sentry/warrior/messenger service from the young men. Acting in council with their peer household heads in the village, these leaders also constitute a formal court for adjudicating legal cases and levying fines. All these rights and offices have been abolished in recent decades. Formerly it was usual for the young people of the village, especially the young men, to be organized as a cadre for such service purposes, and in those circumstances they tended to reside, from before their teens until marriage or beyond, in a ceremonial bachelors' house (the Lai and Lushai word zawlbuk is its best-known name). This institution had disappeared before the middle of this century. When it still existed, either the young women visited the youths in the bachelors' house at night, or the young men roamed the village and spent the night courting at the houses of young women. Today, the power of a chief, in the strict sense, derives from either the threat or exercise of force or from the fact that satellite villages may have split off from the mother village where the chief resides. The chiefs ability to demand gifts and assistance in warfare from client villages is enforced by threat of reprisal and by the fact that the chief will Commonly make himself wife giver to his client headmen who are not of his own lineage. Through marriage gifts and payments he is also likely to acquire landholdings in the satellite Villages. Rank differences are complicated. On the one hand, there is the principle that rank is hereditary by clans, but, on the other hand, it is jurally recognized that wealth can effectually raise the rank of a lineage segment. With wealth, one can give the necessary series of feasts of merit and celebration, with the object of persuading other born aristocrats to attend and acknowledge one's claims; there are always aristocrats who have fallen upon hard times, who are willing to accept inflated amounts for the ceremonial attendance payments and inflated bride-prices for their daughters in marriage to a born commoner. Such complicated marriage maneuvers, made possible by wealth, are necessary in order to elevate one's rank, for only a man whose major wife is of aristocratic lineage can give the higher feasts. All of this forms the basis of a naturally inflationary cycle of the prestige Economy. These processes and rank ambiguities are supported by the tendency for lineages to segment rapidly, so that an upwardly mobile lineage segment can readily dissociate itself from its lineage fellows. Still, to be an aristocrat by clan Membership gives one a better claim to the rank and better ritual privileges, and it is not uncommon for members of commoner clans to insist that for them the very idea of clan membership is meaningless. Chin society also used to include slaves. Some slaves were war captives, while others chose slavery as a way out of debt or as protection from revenge feuds. Slavery was strictly hereditary only through females. A female slave was considered a member of her aristocratic owner's household, with the interesting consequence that her marriage-price was often greater than that of a commoner girl, though it was never equal to that of an aristocrat's daughter even by a Commoner minor wife. The Southern Chin had only small-scale feasts of merit, which secured only nonhereditary ritual Prestige to the giver's household.

Social Control. There are five main sources of control: ( 1 ) the ideology that sees all social relations as defined by ritualized exchanges of property, which binds people to one another in the expectation of making property claims on each other; (2) the threat of force (feuding and revenge are Common) and the associated need of mutual cooperation for defense; (3) the power of hereditary headmen to monopolize Ritual access to the spirit world, directly and through appointed or hereditary village priests, without which the spirits would make life intolerable; (4) fear that one's bad reputation and actions will preclude one's going to the Land of the Dead after death; and (5) the closely related ideology of mutual assistance within the community.

Conflict. Many of the causes of feuds have already been mentioned. The most common causes of warfare between villages, however, were the following three: disputes over women; disputes over land rights (not uncommonly having to do with access to the very few and essential salt wells in the whole region and to trade routes within and to outside Regions); and disputes over property, usually property claims stemming from marriage alliances and tributary relations. It was not unusual to take human heads in raids on other Villages, and this headhunting constituted something of an independent motivation for warfare, since one's prosperity depended upon one's ability to aggrandize one's own forebears in the Land of the Dead and for that purpose one needed to ensure them a regular supply of slaves. This object was achieved by taking heads and celebrating them, which tamed the resulting dangerous spirits and made it possible to send them as servants to the Land of the Dead. The Southern Chin never practiced headhunting.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Chin-Lushai traditional pantheon is complicated. There is generally a somewhat remote creator god, sometimes with a female counterpart. Some say his realm is coextensive with the Land of the Dead. He is revered as a remote father figure, but his power consists only of a vague ability to protect one against ultimate adversity. It is in the light of these characteristics that the traditional high god served as a sort of model to which the Christian God of the missionaries was rather readily assimilated. The Chin believe the universe to be populated as well by all sorts of spirits; some of them being great and deitylike; some of them residing in other "worlds," such as the afterworld; some of them having dominion over domains large or small, locally or elsewhere; and some of them appearing as wandering ghosts, demons, and less personifiable beings. Some of the most fearsome of the last group are the ghosts of those who die by accident or violence, for they are angry and vengeful (e.g., the ghosts of women who have died in childbirth and cannot be made to leave for the Land of the Dead). The cosmos is basically divided into two parts, the sky world (including the Land of the Dead) and the earth, but since the relations Between the two are an asymmetrical dependency, there are two routes between them: one upward and one through the "underworld"the latter ambivalently associated with death and also with prosperity, owing to the fact that crops grow out of the ground. Because of this ambiguity, Chin origin tales often say that the first people came at one and the same time out of some hole or cave and from the sky world.

Religious Practitioners. Mediums, generally women, who go into trances and find out which spirits are demanding what from whom, and for what offense, and who may also find out where the soul of an ill or deranged person has wandered, have been mentioned earlier. The village priests and reciters who serve at private feasts and communal sacrifices have also been mentioned. They tend to be chiefly appointees, though one kind has to be from a commoner lineage.

Ceremonies. Feasts and celebrations occur irregularly, whenever someone finds it possible or necessary to give one: for instance, when one has killed a major game animal or when one wishes to make a more elaborate house. Some Village rites take place once in every year or once every few years, depending upon the arrangement with the spirit in question. Other such rites are held when some plague or calamity seems to demand it and a medium or a diviner has identified what is to be done. There are all manner of private curing rituals, and these are held by whomever knows how, not by professionals; they tend to involve sacrifices to intruding spirits, soul recalling, and the leaving of miniature images of wealth outside the village for the spirits. There are few definite seasonal calendrical ceremonies, but village rites must be held before clearing, planting, and harvesting. All sorts of means (such as observing cracks in heated eggshells, the bile ducts in pig livers, or how a dying fowl crosses its legs) are used for divining the source of troubles and the auspiciousness of plans.

Arts. With minor exceptions, all Chin art is nonrepresentative, and many Chin used to find it hard even to recognize a drawn or painted human figure, though photographs were clear enough to them. Floral-geometric decoration is found in the weaving and in the memorial posts mentioned earlier. Some of the design figures conventionally stand for thingsfor example, for various kinds of possessions belonging to a person being commemoratedbut none is iconic.

Disease and Curing. The first recourse in the treatment of diseases and even of wounds is the use of mediums who arrange for the placation of the spirits responsible, who might otherwise prevent recovery. Alongside this there is a wide variety of quite idiosyncratic treatment, chiefly of an herbal nature, which is mainly passed on from mothers to daughters and daughters-in-law.

Death and Afterlife. The dead are buried, and in the Southern Chin hills there is secondary reburial of the bones in a small jar. In general the blanket-wrapped corpse is interred in a stone-lined chamber in one side of a vertical pit. Those who have died a violent death and who therefore are likely to have become dangerous ghosts are buried in a separate gravesite, remote from the village and surrounding trails. The range of memorial constructions is considerable, but among them should be mentionedin addition to the commemorative poststhe stone platforms in and around the village, on which people can rest and on which, some say, the spirit of the deceased may sometimes come and rest; and the clusters of miniature houses on tall stilts, in which periodic offerings of food and miniature furnishings are placed for the spirit of the deceased. An interesting feature of the stone platforms (in the case of deceased males), behind which the memorial posts are raised, is the line of small stones that may also be present, each representing either a human victim of the deceased or, equivalently, another man's wife seduced by the deceased. Modern memorial stones have written on them lists of the deceased's possessions in life, often in astonishing detail, down to the odd enameled tin cup or pair of woolen socks.

See also Mizo


Carey, B. S., and H. P. Tuck (1896). The Chin Hills. 2 vols. Rangoon: Government Press.

Lehman, F. K. (1963). The Structure of Chin Society. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Lehman, F. K. (1970). "On Chin and Kachin Marriage Cycles." Man, n.s. 5:118-125.

Lehman, F. K. (1989). "Internal Inflationary Pressures in the Prestige Economy of the Feast-of-Merit Complex." In Upland-Lowland Contrasts in Mainland Southeast Asia, edited by Susan B. Russell, 89-102. Northern Illinois University Center for Southeast Asia Studies Occasional Paper. DeKalb.

Parry, N. E. (1932). The Lakhers. London: Macmillan.

Shakespear, John (1912). The Lushei Kuki Clans. London: Macmillan.

Stevenson, H. N. C. (1943). The Economics of the Central Chin Tribes. Bombay: Times of India Press (for The Government of Burma in Exile).



views updated May 11 2018


ALTERNATE NAMES: Sho, Asho, Zo, Mizo, Lai, Yaw, Zomi
LOCATION: Myanmar (Burma); India; Bangladesh
POPULATION: About 2 million in Myanmar, over 1 million in India
RELIGION: Christianity


The Chins are a Tibeto-Burman people. Although they are collectively known as Chin by outsiders, they call themselves names such as Sho, Asho, Zo, Mizo, Lai, Yaw, Laizo, Zotung, Zophei, and Zomi. Whether their original name is Chin, Lai, Zo, or Sho is debatable, but it can be concluded that most of their clan names are similar sounding. Based on old Burmese inscriptions from the Pagan period, some contend that Chin is the original name. In history books written by British colonial officers, the people were referred to as Kuki, Lushai, and Chin because the British came in contact with Bengalis, Thado, and Burmese. The Bengalis called them Kuki, and the Thado, who the Bengalis gave the name Kuki, called the other clan living next to them Lusei, which was corrupted by the British to become Lushai. The British adopted the Burmese term "Chin" when they came to Burma (which was renamed Myanmar by its military government in 1989). The name Chin is commonly used in Myanmar and Zo or Mizo in India.

The Chin people originated from somewhere in Western China (possibly where the Lolo people, a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group, still live today) or Tibet. They reached the Chindwin Valley, northeast Burma, in the first millennium AD. After living in the Chindwin Valley they gradually moved into the Kale-Kabaw, Yaw, and Myittha valleys. During the 12th and 13th centuries they came in contact with the Burmese (Burman) ethnic group, Burma's largest. Some, known today as the Asho, wandered to the south to live in the plains of Burma. The majority of them moved to the Indo-Burman ranges, where they have made their home for the last 500–600 years. Because fertile land was scarce in these Indo-Burman ranges, each clan either had to protect its own territories or find new ones, which created clan-oriented societies whose acquired territories were guarded by means of warfare. Through these skirmishes the people were pushed toward the north, south, and west, resulting in the formation of many different dialects and customs among the same people. The mountainous terrain further isolated different dialect groups. Each clan was ruled by its own chief. Some clans would attack others to widen their influence. Just before the British annexation, the Falam clan had control of almost the whole people. During the early 1800s, the British annexed the Chin country in the west at the Bengali/Chin border. They completed colonization of the Chin people in the 1890s. Even today, Chin society is often divided by clan-based regional rivalry.


The Chin people as a whole number over 3 million, with around 2 million in Myanmar (Burma). In India, at least 800,000 live in Mizoram state. The Chin population in Bangladesh is about 50,000.

The Chins live mostly in the Indo-Burman ranges stretching from the Letha range in the north to the Arakan mountains and neighboring plains. Some also live in the Pegu and Popa hills of Myanmar, in the midst of the Burmese people. The British colonial administration divided the people into many administrative districts. The borders drawn by the British that divide the Chin exist still today. There is great contrast in living standards between the impoverished Chin areas of Myanmar and Mizoram, a modern, Mizo-governed state of India. In Myanmar, the Chins reside mainly in the Chin state and surrounding areas, in the State of Arakan, in the Prome-Thayetmyo area, in the Yaw Valley, in the Kale-Kabaw-Myittha valleys, in the Tamu-Hkamti area, and in the Popa and Pegu hills; in India, they reside in the Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, and Assam states; and in Bangladesh, they reside in the Chittagong-Bandarban Hill tracts. Uneasy relations between the Kuki (Chin) people in Manipur, India and the non-Chin ethnic groups of that state have sometimes resulted in violent conflict.

Tens of thousands of Chins from Myanmar have fled the ruling military regime, taking refuge in neighboring Mizoram, where relations with the related Mizo people are often difficult, with the Mizos accusing the Chin refugees of being criminals. There are also thousands of Chin refugees in Indian cities such as New Delhi, in Malaysia, and other countries. Chin refugees have been settled in the United States in increasing numbers since 2006. Battle Creek, Michigan, is one place where many of those new immigrants have found a new life.


The Chin language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. Dozens of regional dialects exist among the Chin. The major dialects are the Duhlian, Lai, Paite, Khumi (Mru), Cho, and Asho.

The Chins have family or clan names. With their clan names, they can recognize each other as relatives and friends. Whole communities can have a single name, such as Sizang, for example. The Sizang have a population of about 5,000 people living in five neighboring villages; all of them have the same clan name of "Suantak." Because villages commonly carry the name of their founder, and all the village members stem from the same clan, they all have the same family name. Consequently, among their own people, the Chins usually do not use their family name, unless they come in contact with the outside world. Many of their names usually consist of two or three words. Every name has a meaning and describes the status of the person giving the name, as explained below.

The paternal grandfather has the prerogative of naming the male children. In the Tedim (Zomi) district, the grandson's name begins with the last name of the grandfather's first name (since names consist of more than one name). For example, if a grandfather's name was En Vum, the grandson would receive the name "Vum Son." The name "Son" means "to tell." In other words, the name given to the baby means he should tell of the deeds of his grandfather. While the naming practice is similar in other Chin, they do not necessarily begin their names with the names of relatives. Conversely, the paternal grandmother has the prerogative of naming her granddaughters. Next in line are the maternal grandfather and grandmother. After them, uncles or aunts may name the children. The people of northern Mizoram and Hualngo differentiate male and female by ending male names with the "a" sound and female names with the "e" sound. Chin people often have a Christian name from the Bible or an English nickname, as well as their traditional Chin name.


The Chins say that they had their own writing at one time, which was kept written on leather. A myth tells that a dog ate the leather, and the writing was lost. Although they had no trace of that writing, the Chins have a long oral history, tracing back their history through songs. Every successful man had his own song. When Chins gather in mourning or in celebration they sing the songs of their forefathers, in which are composed the deeds of the ancestors. These songs have kept their history alive. However, because most Chins have converted to Christianity and these songs may be perceived as unchristian, their people's oral history has been neglected.

The Chin heroes are those ancestors who were successful and whose lifetime deeds are recorded in the songs sung by their descendants. Many Chin clans have a myth that their originator came out of a hole in the earth, a cave named Sinlung.


The Chin people were once animists. They believed in evil spirits who lived in trees, caves, high mountains, water springs, and everywhere else—even in human bodies. They could be two-legged or one-legged beings, and were always ready to bite or punish human beings. They were the source of all human suffering. The people therefore gave offerings to the evil spirits when they fell ill or when their crops failed. At funerals they sacrificed chickens, dogs, pigs, cows, and mithuns, a huge domesticated gaur (wild ox) so that the deceased could arrive in heaven as a rich person. Many families would keep a mithun as a family pet, letting it graze in the forest by day and calling it by name to come home at night. The mithun is the rarest of the large animals domesticated by humans. While they ate most of the meat of the sacrificed animals, they laid the rest of the meat, such as the legs or parts of the animal not suitable for human consumption, on altars for the evil spirits.

The Chins also believed in a powerful god, called Pathian, who was good to them. They did not give offerings to Path-ian because he did not harm them. They also believed in going to another place after they died. They believed that they could take along their possessions. Thus, when someone died, the families had extravagant funerals at which they might slaughter a number of animals, especially the mithun. Long ago, when a powerful chief died, they went out to hunt for heads so that he could take slaves to his next life.

Christian missionaries arrived in the land of the Chins during Burma's British colonial period. The first were American Baptist missionaries who came to the Hakka area in 1899. They were followed by other missionaries, who did medical work among the Chins and preached to them. Eventually, the majority of Chin people (estimated 90%) joined Christian churches, including Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Anglican, and other denominations. The Chins are known for a diversity of Christian sects, with a number of different churches even in small villages. There are also "new religions," indigenous varieties of Christianity, and some Chins in Myanmar and Mizoram who became Jewish, following the Old Testament and considering themselves a Lost Tribe of Israel. Some of the Jewish Chin/Mizo population has emigrated to Israel in the 21st century.

Most of the Chins' animist beliefs gave way to Christianity, but some survive, such as the use of mithuns for feasting. Many of the churches discourage the use of traditional fermented beverages like Zu. The Chins in Myanmar have experienced pressure from the military regime to convert to Buddhism, the country's majority religion. Some Chin children have been taken to Buddhist boarding schools, and crosses erected by Chins on hilltops have been torn down and replaced by Buddhist pagodas by Burmese soldiers. It is very difficult for Chin congregations to get permission from the regime to repair or rebuild church buildings. Pastors and other church workers have been arrested and even killed by the Myanmar military, according to reports by the U.S. government and international human rights groups.


The traditional Chin/Mizo holiday is the Harvest Festival during November/December at the end of the harvest season. The Harvest Festival is named according to the dialect of the people, such as Khuado, Khuangcawi, etc. The Harvest Festival begins with the slaughter of family-reared pigs, which must be large enough to produce some amount of pork fat. This time is the opportunity to eat plenty of food, when every household shares their cooking with relatives, friends, and the community. The women prepare plenty of Zu, a fermented rice, maize, and millet alcoholic beverage that is the Chin national drink. Everyone joins in the drinking, singing, and dancing in the evenings that could go on for the whole night and up to four days. There is also a corn harvest festival in Mizoram in August.

Christian holidays including Christmas and Easter are celebrated by the Chins with church services, singing, and feasts. Young people go from house to house with candles and torch lights, singing Christmas carols. The Chins in Myanmar also commemorate the arrival of the missionaries and founding of churches in their land. A Chin National Day is commemorated early in the year by exiles from Myanmar.


The birth of a child is traditionally celebrated with the drinking of Zu by the neighbors and relatives. Friends or relatives kill a chicken, cook it at home, and bring it to the family. The chicken soup is for the mother, so that she has plenty of milk to breast feed the baby. A few days, weeks, or even months go by before the Chins give a name to the newborn. The giving of a name is celebrated by inviting relatives. The person naming the child contributes Zu and the meat, usually a pig or a cow.

A child joins his or her parents in the fields as soon as he or she can walk the distance. Most teenage boys and girls do the same work as their parents. Boys have fewer duties than their sisters. As soon as a girl is able, at the age of six or so, she is expected to help her mother in preparing food or other chores. Because many villages are built on the tops of hills, one of the usual duties of the girls is to carry water from the springs or streams to the house. They are also expected to carry firewood and to pound rice and corn. Boys are expected to look after the livestock, to hunt, and to make traps to catch wild animals. In the villages, teenage boys used to sleep in a designated house; for example, the Mizo had the Zawlbuk (bachelor's house), where all young men of the village would sleep.

Life expectancy for the Chin in Myanmar is short, due to a high child mortality rate, and access to health care is very limited, so many people rely on traditional herbal medicine. The Mizos in India enjoy better access to hospitals, clinics, and health workers. Before the influx of Christianity, the dead were kept at home until the family could afford a proper burial. A proper burial included killing several animals and drinking a large number of Zu pots. Before the corpse was buried, the family would recreate the likeness of the person, wrapping his clothes around the skeleton. The people sang the songs of their ancestors, most importantly the song of the deceased. On wooden posts they would hang the skulls of the animals killed at the funeral. For an important person, relatives still erect a monument, usually a stone platform or tablet on the main road or trail. The monument carries inscriptions and animal figures that show how many animals the deceased hunted.


Before the British came the Chins normally did not shake hands, but today it is common practice. Their greetings are very personal, such as "Have you had your meal?," "Where are you going?," or "What are you doing?" If someone comes by to visit, they may say, "Are you coming to visit me?" Or if somebody is eating, the greeting will be, "Are you eating?" Then the person eating will say, "Please join me and have food." Should there be a guest when the family is eating (breakfast, lunch, or dinner), the guest is invited to join in the meal. The duration of the visit has no limits. It is very impolite to tell someone to go home. People visit each other early in the morning or any time of the day. If the host is busy the guest might help with the work while they chat.

In the traditional Chin society, when a young man was of age, which could be as young as 16, a marriage could be arranged. Because the Chins trace their ancestries over many generations, each person's lineage was known. A young man was expected to marry a girl from the mother's lineage. A man of good standing in the family, either the father, an uncle, or a close relative, was chosen as the ambassador to go to the house of the prospective girl to meet with her parents or guardians. The ambassador would take a chicken or a pot of Zu with him. In more recent times, he might take a small bag of sugar. The ambassador announces his mission in a cordial and very humble manner. For example, he may say, "The good-for-nothing boy of mine, Zam Tual, has come of age, and in life a man needs a woman to fulfill his life's obligations. I am here to ask your kindness in agreeing to match your daughter and my son." The parents of the girl, whether they mean it or not, will appear unwilling to give their daughter—not because they think the boy is not good enough for their daughter, but because their daughter is unfit for the boy. They may say, "The girl is lazy. She does not know how to work. She has a bad character, and you would not like her at all as your daughter-inlaw." Now the ambassador would insist, explaining to the girl how bad the boy is but how much the boy needs a wife. He also must explain that because of the family ties, there is the need for the union of the two families. The girl's parents then explain the impossibility of giving away such a useless girl in marriage. They then part cordially. The admirer and his family must wait about a month for the girl's reply. If the family does not return the presents, they have accepted the request. The ambassador once again goes to the girl's house to discuss the terms of the marriage, such as how many cows or mithuns are to be slaughtered at the wedding, what kind of bride-price the groom must pay, and the timing of the wedding. If the families had been at odds before, then a solution has to be found— usually an expensive bride-price or an elaborate wedding. The bride-price may depend also on the community's tradition, or on the physical appearance of the bride.

These days, young people are likely to meet at church activities and decide for themselves who they want to marry, but parental blessings are still important. In addition to a church marriage ceremony, weddings are celebrated by killing a cow or mithun at the bride's house. On that day, the main bride-price, given to the parents, is settled upon. There are also prices to be paid to the aunt, who took care of the bride when she was a baby, when the mother was working in the fields. After dinner is served, the bride is taken to the groom, where the friends will sing and play games the whole night. The actual wedding celebration is the next day when more cows or mit-huns are slaughtered and the whole village and neighboring villagers are invited.


The land where most Chin people live is very rugged. Fertile land is scarce, and therefore living conditions for most Chins are very basic, although there is a much higher standard of living for the Mizo/Chin people in India than for Chins in Myanmar. The capital of Mizoram state, Aizawl, has a population of 340,000. The city's houses are mostly wood and bamboo, built on a series of hills connected by roads, paths, and stairs. Roads and an airport connect Aizawl with the rest of India. In Myanmar raids by soldiers and forced labor contribute to living difficulties for the Chins and cause many to look for refuge and work in other countries.

Chins in rural areas build their own houses with lumber and bamboo they cut themselves. Every homeowner yearns for two things: a wooden platform in front of the house and a corrugated zinc roof. Most Chin houses are divided into two parts. One part, the larger part of the house, stores grain. The other part of the house is used for eating and sleeping around a big fireplace. The front of the house is usually only partially enclosed and stores firewood and utensils for corn and rice husking. Most of the household chores are done in this part of the house, including pounding the rice or corn. As decoration, skulls of wild animals may hang on the walls. Family photographs, calendars, and Christian posters decorate the rooms.

Most Chins have very few consumer goods, weaving their own clothing and making all their utensils themselves, mostly using bamboo. There is hardly any furniture in the houses, except for cane or bamboo stools or benches for sitting. The only luxury in the house is the fireplace, used for cooking and warmth. Family members and visitors sit around the fireplace every day when it is cold. People use their blankets to keep warm when they go out in the cold mountain mornings or evenings.

In the Chin Hills of Myanmar, transportation of goods is mostly on people's shoulders and backs. Few people own horses, and carts cannot be used in the hills since there are few roads. People carry grain from the field to the house. Firewood and drinking water are also carried the same way, but some villages may have bamboo flumes to guide water to their houses. In Myanmar only the towns and cities have electricity but even there the service is sporadic. In Mizoram roads good enough for four-wheel drive vehicles have been built to reach all but the most remote villages.

Most Chin households keep cats and dogs. The cat's purpose is to catch rats and mice, which eat the grain stored in the house, and the dogs are used for rat catching, guarding the village, and hunting.


Most Chin families are large, averaging about five children per family. Girls marry and go to live with their husbands. The families in rural areas work together on their farms and older and younger generations live in the same house. Chin customs differ on who inherits the parent's house. The child inheriting the parents' house is expected to care for the parents in their old age. When the oldest son inherits the parent's property, he remains in the house. His brothers must move out soon after they marry. When the youngest son inherits the house, the older brothers move out after they get married. This makes sure that there is constantly a daughter-in-law who cares for the parents.


Men's traditional daily wear was the loincloth and, when the days were cold, men used the same blanket they slept under at night and wrapped it around them for warmth. For the women, traditional dress was a woven short skirt and, to keep out the cold, they also wrapped their blankets around themselves. A jacket, longer skirt, and a headdress of porcupine quills are worn as dance costumes by Chin/Mizo women today. At present the Chin men wear trousers, jeans or shorts with t-shirts or other shirts, and jackets, while the women wear sarongs and blouses in Myanmar and skirts, dresses, or jeans in Mizoram, with sweaters or jackets for the cold. Even with those changes, traditional woven blankets are still used as cloaks and as ceremonial gifts, and traditional embroidery is used on sarongs, blouses, jackets, and even neckties. Chin men and women both carry woven and embroidered cloth shoulder bags. Weaving patterns, colors, and embroidery are very regionally distinctive, so one call tell where a person comes from by the clothes they wear. Christian symbols, such as crosses, are often included in the weaving or embroidery. Necklaces made out of Pumtek (petrified wood) or carnelian beads and silver bracelets are favorites among the women. Some older women still have traditional tattoo patterns on their faces.


Although the Chins work daily in the fields, they may not harvest enough food for the year. The Chin seldom eat meat. They usually eat two to three times a day. Their breakfast, lunch, and dinner may be very similar. Corn and millet are the staple foods for people living in higher elevations. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are commonly served for dinner. Dry corn grains are pounded to get rid of the skin, then cooked for four to six hours. Rice is the staple food for people who live in more fertile areas where rice can be grown in hillside fields. Meat usually is boiled for a long time. The Chin were only introduced to spices by the Burmese and Indians, so they are not prevalent.

Chin farming tools are basically a hoe, a long knife, and an ax. The use of spades, breaker bars, and shovels was introduced by the British and they become very popular. Cooking pots and dishes made in China, India, or other parts of Myanmar are traded to the Chins; however, locally made pottery is also important because it is used for boiling corn soup, the staple food of the Chin. Every 48 years, a common type of bamboo that grows thickly in Chin/Mizo regions flowers, produces fruit, and then dies off. A huge population explosion of rats accompanies the bamboo flowering, as the rats eat the bamboo fruit. When the bamboo fruit is gone the rats raid the people's grain storehouses and devour everything. This phenomenon, known as Mautam, caused severe famines in the region in 1911 and 1959. While Mizoram prepared for the 2008 bamboo flowering by building roads and helicopter landing pads for food relief shipments, reports of starvation in Chin areas of Myanmar began emerging in early 2008. With a worldwide rice shortage and severe increases in the price of rice in Myanmar following Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, this was considered a particularly dangerous situation for the Chins.


Prior to the British invasion in the later part of the 19th century, there were no schools for the Chin people. The only education they received was how to survive on rugged land. Although a writing system invented by Paucinhau (1859–1948) became popular in the Chin Hills in the 1930s, Christian missionaries taught the people to write their language with the Roman alphabet. The missionaries then translated the Bible into the Chin language with the Roman alphabet, so the Chin writing was lost. Today, the Chins are not allowed to teach their own language in the schools in Myanmar. Many young people cannot read or write in their language.

Although the British colonial administration offered very few schools, the missionaries started many schools. Today, Mizoram (in India) has a high literacy rate. However, the overall level of education in the Chin area of Myanmar is very low, due to lack of education by Myanmar's regime. Rules and regulations introduced by the military regime have prevented entry into the medical and engineering professions for Chin students. Because of the hardships faced by the people to simply survive, parents try to encourage children to go to school and learn so that they may gain employment, but it is hard for even the most educated Chins to find jobs in Myanmar.


Because of the conversion of the people to Christianity, much of the traditional culture has disappeared. Instead of traditional songs, people are versed in Christian songs. It was the duty of important chiefs and personalities to compose their own songs, which would be remembered and sung during social gatherings. Today, these traditions are sometimes regarded as unchristian because of the missionaries' message that old forms of traditions were evil influences. Most young people do not know how to sing traditional songs, although there has been a revival of traditional dances for men and women, especially in Mizoram. Flute and stringed instrument music accompanies the dancers. Contemporary Chin/Mizo culture combines Christian influences with some of the old traditions.

Myanmar's military regime is dominated by the Burmese (Burman) ethnic group and suppresses cultural expression by other ethnic groups, including the Chins, but there are some performances by Chin cultural groups on national holidays in Myanmar. In contrast, the Chin/Mizo culture is very much encouraged in India's Mizoram and Manipur states, with literary journals, dance, music, martial arts performances, and a revival of textile arts.


Most Chins are hillside farmers using swidden cultivation, in which fields are cleared with fire and planted on a rotating basis. The farmers move from one location to another every year, returning to the same field in four to nine years, depending on the size of the village land. The whole household pulls together to cultivate the fields they own. Work begins at first light and ends at sundown, usually six days of the week with Sunday as a day of rest and churchgoing. Clearing of the fields starts during winter, sometime in December, and has to be finished before the end of February. The wood and grass are left to be dried by the summer sun, being burned at the end of March or beginning of April. A good burn is the key to good grain production. Surrounding forest is relied on for hunting and foraging but has been increasingly logged for the timber trade by Myanmar's military.

During Britain's colonial rule over Burma, many Chins were soldiers in the British Chin Rifles. Even after Burma's independence, Chins joined the national army, but that trend decreased after 1988, when the military was widely perceived as repressive, especially in ethnic minority areas, like the Chin state. After 1988, Chin students formed an armed resistance group, the Chin National Front, which is one of the few rebel armies in Myanmar that has not made a cease-fire deal with the regime. The Chin National Front occasionally stages guerrilla raids on Myanmar military units stationed in Chin areas. Exiled Chin student leaders founded human rights and refugee advocacy organizations and often present the plight of the Chin people to international conferences and groups of indigenous peoples. In Mizoram, a group that had fought the Indian government negotiated a settlement, and the former rebel leaders are now prominent politicians in the state's government.

Chin and Mizo people who live in towns and cities engage in a variety of occupations and professions, operating small shops and businesses. Not only Chin farmers, but the most educated young people have fled Myanmar as refugees, creating a "brain drain" to other countries. Chins who find work in India, Malaysia, or elsewhere usually try to send money home to their families through underground currency transfer networks. Chins in exile have established news agencies and web-based magazines, including Khonumthung News Group and Chinland Guardian.


Traditional sports included wrestling, martial arts, and the high jump. The British introduced soccer to the Chins, and it is now the most popular sport by far. Other sports such as tennis, badminton, volleyball, and basketball are played in the towns, but are very rarely played in the rural areas because of a lack of flat ground and the cost of equipment.


Church activities, like singing groups, are a primary source of entertainment for many Chin/Mizo people. Those who can afford it watch movies on disc or satellite TV. Mizoram and Manipur have rock and pop music scenes with numerous bands recording and giving concerts, as do the Chin refugee communities overseas. Some Chin pop singers have become well-known in Myanmar.


The Chin/Mizo people are known for their traditional weaving and embroidery, including blankets, skirts, and bags. Their distinctive textiles have been exhibited in museums in the United States. They also make baskets and stools from bamboo and cane.


Severe narcotics problems affect young people on both sides of the Myanmar/India border. The northeast Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram have some of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in India, due to injection of narcotics. Drugs used intravenously include heroin refined from cheap opium produced in Burma, amphetamines, tranquilizers, and other pharmaceuticals. There are few options for drug rehabilitation or HIV/AIDS treatment, particularly in Myanmar.

Myanmar stationed increasing numbers of its troops in Chin areas during the 1990s and early 21st century. As in other regions of Myanmar, this military presence was characterized by human rights violations against the local civilians, including rape, torture, summary execution, imprisonment, forced labor, and forced relocation, a pattern that led to the outflow of refugees. Food shortages in 2008 may cause even more people to flee Myanmar's Chin areas


Traditional Chin/Mizo society was patriarchal, with the man regarded as the head of the household. Men rarely participated in the preparation of food and chores in the house; instead, they built and maintained the house itself and took care of the domestic animals. However, there was very little difference between what the women and men could do. The society as a whole was generally quite gender egalitarian.

In agriculture, the women are the main work force. Although the men work with the women and cut down the bigger trees, the women organize and lead the work. After working the entire day in the field and carrying firewood on their backs, the women are still expected to pound rice and corn when they come home. Cooking may be done by the children, supervised by the women. The men may walk around the village, visiting friends and relatives while the women cook, feed the children, and do household chores.

In the towns and cities of Chin/Mizo areas of Myanmar and India, women are often teachers, market vendors, shopkeepers, or owners of other small businesses. In recent years they are playing an increasing role in village administration and church activities, with female pastors leading some congregations. Chin women in exile from Myanmar have founded self-help economic groups and schools for refugee children. Cheery Zahau, an activist of the Chin Women's Organization in exile in India, presented documentation to the international community in 2008, which stated that Myanmar's soldiers were raping Chin girls and women as a strategy to terrorize the ethnic minority people. Chin women participate in an underground movement resisting military rule and smuggling human rights information to the outside world.

Traditional Chin/Mizo society and evangelical Christianity in the region are not particularly tolerant of homosexuality, as the emphasis is on male-female marriage, but gay and trans-gender individuals are not usually harassed. Mizoram has gay and lesbian networking and support groups.


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Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 2007 (30 June 2008).

Vumson. Zo History. Aizawl, Mizoram, India: Published by author, 1986.

—revised by E. Mirante


views updated May 23 2018

chin In modern humans the mandibular arch is formed by fusion at the centre of two separate bones, a process complete by two years of age. The thickening of this arch at the centre forms the prominent and distinctive chin. The well-defined chin and prominent nose of humans interrupt the generally vertical profile of adult human faces and are said to be distinguishing characteristics separating modern humans from prehuman ancestors and from other primates.

Sitting at the bottom of the face, and being the most visible element of the face during speech, the chin plays numerous important physical roles and has acquired several fascinating linguistic associations. The phrase ‘to hold up by the chin’, and the nursery story's line of escaping ‘by the hairs of my chinny-chin-chin’ both express the physical prominence of the chin; one conveys the role of the chin as a support that keeps one from sinking while the other marks the chin as a protrusion one must protect. The chin-strap of a hat or helmet secures that accessory to the head, while being ‘in it up to your chin’ and ‘chin deep’ — in water or in trouble — both reflect the role of the chin as the lowest point of the face, after which all is lost. To ‘keep your chin up’ or to ‘take it on the chin’ signify a measure of psychological or physical courage or fortitude indicated by keeping one's gaze straight ahead and not flinching. Finally, the less common usages of ‘chin-wagging’ or ‘chin-chin’ refer to chat or talk, and reflect the fact that the movement of the chin is both highly visible during and a key visual cue of speech.

The chin continues to develop through adolescence and early adulthood as other facial (especially nasal and dental) structures mature. As the size of the face relative to the cranium increases, the angle of the vertical slope from forehead to chin decreases and the chin becomes more protrusive in profile. These changes have been shown to be an important part of the facial cues commonly used to identify the age of individuals. Recent work in experimental psychology suggests that the characteristic differences between adult and infant human faces, and especially the softer, less angular features — including a less prominent chin — of infants play an important role in inhibiting aggression toward infants and stimulating caregiving. As psychologist Leslie Zebrowitz put it recently, ‘A baby's face is disarming’, an observation confirmed both by experiment and by the everyday experience of adults interacting with infants.

The chin plays a very important part in these experiences, and the presence of an adult chin in an adult face when placed on an infant's body is visually disorienting, as can be observed in portrayals of the Madonna from the late Middle Ages. Cimabue's Madonna Enthroned (c.1280–90), Duccio's Maestà (c.1311), and Giotto's Madonna (c.1310) all portray the Christ child with a baby's body and an adult's face, with adult facial/cranial proportions, eye size and spacing, and nose size and prominence, and also, notably, a very adult chin. Later works, including Parmigianino's Madonna With the Long Neck (c.1535) soften the child's face, showing more features of the ‘baby face’, including a less prominent chin, and provide a less jarring visual experience.

While a babyish chin and face often elicit caregiving from adults, a ‘weak’, or relatively undeveloped chin in adults, and especially in adult males, one less angular and elongated than average, often produces less positive reactions from other adults (‘Chinless Wonder’). While it is difficult to separate the impact of the several components of a baby face in such responses, some evidence points to a prominent role for the chin. When presented with two similar faces distinguished largely by chin profile and development, the face with a typical adult chin is more likely to be associated with intelligence, physical strength, dominance, and sexual attractiveness, while the face with the more baby-like chin is frequently associated with lower levels of those features and higher levels of warmth, honesty, and agreeability. A quick glance at the profile of the traditional ‘leading man’ in cinema confirms these reactions; Clark Gable, Kirk Douglas, and other prominent stars display very prominent chins. The undeveloped, receding chin is characteristically a feature of an agreeable if immature or foolish character. In keeping with the association with babyish faces, weak chins are less common in movie villains than in more ‘innocent’ characters. Such casting and the reactions to it echo the claims of nineteenth- and twentieth-century physiognomy, that intellectual, psychological, and moral fitness can be discerned from facial (and other physical) features. As cited by Zebrowitz, the twentieth-century physiognomist, LeBarr, stated that ‘a small deficient chin stands for weakness of will and physical endurance’, while the nineteenth-century Swiss physiognomist, J. C. Lavater, categorized chins in men in a similar vein: ‘The angular chin is seldom found but in well-disposed, firm men … flatness of chin speaks of the cold and dry; smallness, fear; and roundness, with a dimple, benevolence.’

As with most facial features, there are important gender-prototypical differences in the development of the chin. Typical adult females have smaller jaws, noses, and chins, and thus eyes and cheekbones that are more prominent and appear to be larger than in typical males. The less prominent chin in females does not appear to generate the negative reactions it does in men. To judge from the psychological evidence and from experience, conventional assumptions associate attractiveness in female faces with those features most similar to the baby face. Apparently, men but not women (at least in cultures much like our own) are expected to be able to ‘take it on the chin’, and are deemed more attractive if they can.

Jeffrey M. Barker

See also face; skull.


views updated May 18 2018

chin / chin/ • n. the protruding part of the face below the mouth, formed by the apex of the lower jaw.• v. [tr.] draw one's body up so as to bring one's chin level with or above (a horizontal bar) with one's feet off the ground, as an exercise.PHRASES: keep one's chin up inf. remain cheerful in difficult circumstances: keep your chin up, we're not lost yet.take it on the chin endure or accept misfortune courageously or stoically.DERIVATIVES: chinned adj. [in combination] square-chinned.


views updated May 14 2018

chin OE. ċin(n), corr. (with variation of gender and decl.) to OFris. kin, OS. kinni (Du. kin), OHG. kinni (G. kinn), ON, kinn chin, lower jaw, Goth. kinnus cheek; Gmc. *kinn- :- *kenw- :- IE. *genw-, whence Gr. génus, Skr. hánu-, L. gena cheek, OIr. gin, W. gen jaw, chin.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Chin variant spelling of Jin.


views updated May 18 2018

Ch'in Alternative transliteration for the Qin dynasty


views updated May 18 2018

Ch'in (musical instrument): see MUSIC.