First-hand accounts
Arun Gaur

Essays on the History of the Mizos
by Sangkima. Spectrum Publications, Guwahati and Delhi Pages 299. Rs 550.

If one who does not belong to the North-East comes to stay in Mizoram for a few months, he would encounter questions that are not easily answered. And when one is further caught up in the local socio-cultural milieu and sometimes even in the turmoil that would appear to be almost a part of some aboriginal savagery, one desperately looks for answers. One would certainly like to know why Mizoram had a long spell of night-curfews lasting for years together, why on Sundays the numerous churches dotting the Lushai landscape suddenly become all agog with spiritual activities pertaining to the religion that came to be known in the land only in 1894, why youth movements (like the YMA) are so strong in Mizoram that no one dares flout their diktat, and why the tribal folk, once called the head-hunters, are so gentle that they laugh like a child when you meet them for the first time, and why these very tribesmen once rose against their chiefs: "Lal lama ka tan leh chuan he mei ang hian ka thi ang." ("I will die like this fire, if at all I support the chief again")

Many questions like these beg for answers and they cannot be answered at once because the answers, even in their partial forms, have to go through a maze of obscure historic, cultural, geographic, and anthropological dialectics. To some extent, the book under review fulfils the crucial task of taking the reader through this maze. Though it cannot be said to provide straightforward answers that are needed to understand the psyche of this enigmatic region, the book is an important tool to enhance one’s understanding of the region as it covers a fairly wide area of knowledge pertaining to the practically unknown Lushai hills.

The chapters deal with different topics like the migration of Mizo tribes from Central China, etymology of the word Mizo, megalithic stones, Zawlbuk—the tribal bachelor’s house and its significance in disciplining youth, the story of Ropuiliani, the Chieftainess who struggled against the British, transcribing of the Mizo language into the Roman script by James Herbert Lorrain and Frederick William Savidge, the folkloristic roots of lamenting festival of Mim Kut, concept and practice of Bawi and its differences from the common forms of slavery, establishment of schools in 1893, women’s participation in Mizo politics, the social and political role of the Young Mizo Association, establishment of the Catholic Church in 1925 and the dramatic opposition it faced from the Protestant Church. Here and there are some very interesting revelations. For instance, the author presents us a Mizo variant of the Ramayana obtained indirectly from Buddhist resources and draws astute parallels between the Karen folklore and the Mizo tradition. Ever controversial topic of whether the Mizos form a part of the lost tribe from Israel is also examined.

Such books by the Mizo writers, whatever their deficiency, are more than welcome since they provide a first-hand information about a rain drenched and wind-swept terrain where it is still not easy to read and write. We must remember that Mizoram is a region that got its university only three years back and its remotely situated colleges have student strength as little as one hundred. And we must also remember that while giving weather report our national T.V. channel somehow gets stuck up at Shillong. We never hear of Aizawl—as if it were never a part of the nation.