Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Glimpses of Zou Ethno-History

Glimpses of Zou Ethno-History

David Vumlallian Zou, MA; M.Phil (Hist.)*

In order to understand the transformation of the Zou culture and society, it is necessary to examine the internal dynamics of the pre-colonial predicament of the Zous and their struggle to develop a viable self-determination in the face of formidable neighbours like the Burmese and the Kamhau-Suktes. Such an account is, inevitably, a narrative of ‘event history’, which Braudel calls occurrences of he ‘short time span’
[i]through tangible records. This is a brief historical account of Zou ethno-history reconstructed from extant documentary evidence which is also supplemented by oral sources where appropriate to fill in the gaps in written records. On the whole, there is proper coverage in this treatise of the 19th century which has been a dark corner of historical knowledge for the Zous. But an important chapter of Zou history and the collective memory of Zou Gaal could not be satisfactorily dealt with due to scarcity of sources at present; but this problem perhaps can be overcome later when thorough archival sources are conducted at India Office Records (London) and other State Archives in India. Political history happened to be accorded a privileged place in the 19th account of power contest only because other kinds of data are not available for that period.
Narratives of the later 20th century are thickly punctuated with accounts of socio-economic evolutions and the Zou encounter with fractured modernity and Christianity on their own cultural terms without the aid of foreign missionaries. The mass conversion of the Zous to Christianity in the mid-1950s cannot be naively explained as the “civilised” Western religion enlightening the “uncultured” Zou Lawkis (pagans). The conversion is a rational cultural strategy to survive, adapt and re-define Zou self-consciousness and tribe-identity in the sea of social change which surrounded them on all sides. The pioneer converts to Christianity had both an evangelical zeal and ecumenical vision to redeem the whole Zou population from ancient Lawki-religion into a single and new Zou Christianity uncorrupted by the tainted doctrinal divisions of Western Christendom.

Early Reference: ‘Jo’ in Sangermano’s Latin Manuscript

Perhaps one of the earliest recorded reference to Zo or Zou as a people is found in the travel account of an Italian missionary called Father Vencentius Sangermano[ii] who resided at Ava and Rangoon from 1783 to 1806. In his widely circulated memoir, Sangermano recorded his observation of the Zou people at the beginning of the nineteenth century A.D., writing:
“To the east of the Chin mountains, between 20˚ 30' and 21˚30' north latitude, is a petty nation called Jo [Yaw]. They are supposed to have been Chien … These Jò generally pass for necromancers and sorcerers, and are for this reason feared by the Burmese, who dare not ill-treat them for fear of their revenging themselves by some enchantment”[iii].
Sangermano also mentioned the prevailing tendency to assimilate the Zous into the fold of Burmese culture and language. Since it was recognisable to the Italian observer that the Zous ‘are supposed to have been Chien [Chin]’, the context suggests that Sangermano was referring to the same group of people later known as Chin-Kuki-Lushais, of whom the Zou tribe is a historical component today. Of late, many scholars collectively refer to the Chin-Kuki-Lushai group simply as ‘Zo’[iv] people; this generic term is justified largely on historical, anthropological and linguistic affinities of the ethnic group.

The name ‘Zou’: Same Signifier, Different Significance
At times it is rather confusing to note how the terms ‘Zou’ and ‘Zo’ have been employed in academic as well as popular usage. While colonial records referred to the Zou tribe variously as ‘Yo’ or ‘Yaw’, the Zou community living in Manipur called themselves ‘Jou’. The first Christian church established by the Zou tribe in Manipur was called Jou Christian Association (JCA) on 20 February 1954[v]. But the Government of India officially recognised the name of this tribe as ‘Zou’ in 1956. Sometimes, the term Zomi is also used interchangeably with the word Zou as the apex political organisation of the Zou is called United Zomi Organisation (UZO). To add to this confusion of terms, the Zous in Myanmar called themselves ‘Zo’[vi], which is actually a generic term used to replace the hyphenated term, Chin-Kuki-Lushai in current academic and political discourse. The term ‘Zomi’ is a collective name by which the Tedim Chins of Myanmar, the Paite and Vaiphei of Manipur generally identified themselves. Noting at the very outset the variations in spelling and usage of the terms Zo, Zou, and Zomi to mean the same people - the Zou tribe - in certain geographical contexts on the one hand, and also as a generic term to refer to the larger Chin-Kuki-Lushai ethnic group on the other hand, will save us unnecessary confusion later. This conflicting usage of the same term (signifier) for different meanings (significance) has been highlighted by a Zo scholar, Sing Khaw Khai:
“While all clans and families belonging to the tribe who call their chief Topa designated themselves with ‘Yo’ or ‘Zo’, they in turn apply their common name to a particular clan. The Yos [Zous] are most unique in the sense of the name they bear and the culture they practice in reflection of the ancient Zo tradition … No proper study has yet been made as to why the generic Yo as spelt in former literature was applied to them”’[vii].
The use of the term Zou can be traced back by comparative linguistic and cultural studies to some Chinese roots or other related Southeast Asian cultural complex. Preliminary enquiry suggests that there is a tribe bearing the name ‘Yao’ in the Lingnan region (Kwangtung – Kwangsi) of China, which is described as ‘a center of dispersal for the Yao of Yunnan and northern Southeast Asia’[viii]. Lebar, et al. informed us that Kwangsi contained more Yao than any other Chinese province. Yao settlements are mainly concentrated in a series of mountains backwater area and they are ethnic islands surrounded by Chinese culture. Their linguistic position is uncertain, but they are frequently classified as Sino-Tibetan by linguists[ix]. The description of the Yaos of the Lingnam region and Yunnan province in China interestingly tallies with the cultural characteristics of the Zous in Manipur and Myanmar at many points. There is also another tribe bearing the name ‘Zou’ in Alishan, located in the northeastern part of Chiayi, southern Taiwan[x]. The Zou tribe of Taiwan have preserved their traditional culture and kept their mystical and ancient rituals intact until this day, including the Mayashibi, which takes place every mid-February.
But it is beyond the scope of this present study to go into detailed comparative cultural studies though it may be interesting. Suffice to note here that the term ‘Zou’ is officially accepted to refer to the Zou tribe in Manipur since 1956, and this tribe itself is a constituent of the larger Zo ethnic group collectively used for referring the Zomi, the Kuki, Chin, and Mizo.

Contest for Power: Zous and Kamhaus in the 19th Centurty
For the most part of the nineteenth century, we have scanty record of the Zou history. However, it is well-established fact that the Zous were engaged in a stiff struggle for power against the Kamhau-Sukte in which they emerged with a subdued status. Tedim Thu Kizakna Lai (hereafter Thu Kizakna)[xi] throws some light on the contest for control of Northern Chin Hills - especially Tedim – between the Zou chiefs and the Kamhau clan. Though Thu Kizakna is of little help for chronological dating, it is highly informative as a record of events in general for the most part of the nineteenth century A.D.
Khan Thuam was described as launching a series of attacks on Zou villages with the support of his sons, Kamhau and Pum Kam. The raided Zou villages listed in Thu Kizakna includes Vanglai, Tungkua, Thangkhal, Tawtak, and Khodai[xii]. Soon after this raid, Kamhau established Tedim village with eight households under his chiefship. The offended Zou chiefs were then smarting under the earlier Khan Thuam raid; so they descended upon the new settlement of Kamhau at Tedim, forcing them to retreat to Lamzang village temporarily. Kamhau resettled at Tedim with another 35 households this time. On hearing this news, the Zous chiefs raided Tedim again, and burnt it down. Kamhau escaped for his life, hiding himself in the forest. The Zous were supported by the Thados and the Burmese nationals residing at Bunglung.
Kamhau was determined to stay at Tedim, defending it with trenches dug around the village. Then, he approached his father Khan Thuam, the chief of Mualbeem, and rallied friends around him to take revenge of his humiliation twice in the hands of the Zous[xiii]. With enough support, Kamhau systematically attacked Zou settlements one after another, and managed to capture the wife of the chief in Kahgen, a Zou village. In a bid to save her life, the lady of Kahgen became a willing diplomat representing Kamhau to persuade Zou villages to submit themselves voluntarily under Kamhau and pay tributes as peaceful subjects. The diplomatic mission achieved the desired effect. Though Kamhau threathened the reluctant Zou villages ( Mongken, Tualmei, Bungzang, and Gamngai), he never executed it in practice.
Kamhau has been credited with the invention of a complex system of taxation imposed on his own clan as well as the newly subordinated Zou villages[xiv]. He cleverly devised a system of extracting all the surplus products as revenue which he administered from his village in Tedim. With diplomacy, selective use of force, and assured revenue collection, Kamhau succeeded in getting the better of his most formidable rivals – the Zous – in a bid for regional power in Tedim during the nineteenth century AD. By the time Alexander Mackenzie wrote his well-known historical account of Northeast India in 1884, the Kamhau-Suktes were fairly established in their control of the hill tracts between Manipur and Myanmar. Thus Mackenzie referred to them
in his writings:
The country inhabited by the Kamhow or Sootie (sometimes called Sooktie and Soktie) tribe lies to the south of Manipur and east of the Toorool or Manipur river … The Manipuris consider the tribe to be a much more formidable one than the Lushai. They are a constant source of trouble to them, and have at times rendered the southern portion of Manipur uninhabitable. They are constantly raiding … The Lushais hold the Sooties in great dread, and are falling back before them[xv].
[Source: NAI, Foreign Dept. Sept 1893, Nos. 80 –88]
The Zous: Colonial Record and Rule
When the British colonizers suddenly intervened on the historical scene, the process for the formation of paramount chiefs had been set in motion in the Chin Hills and the Lushai Hills. The Zous predominantly led by the Manlun chiefs were also strong contenders for regional power contemporaneous with the Kamhau-Sukte, Sailos, Guites and Thados. It is only by situating the Zou tribe within this lager regional context that we can have a proper perspective of their ethno-history. The traditional territorial base of the Zou chiefs was in the Northern Chin Hills till large parts of this tract was ceded to the jurisdiction of Manipur by the Boundary Commission of 1894.

In order to understand the territorial distribution and relative political standing of the Zous at the end of the nineteenth century A.D., it is necessary to look into the practices of Boundary Survey and administrative arrangement under British colonial rule. On 28 September 1892, the Political Officer of Chin Hills submitted ‘a scheme in detail for the future administration of the Chin Hills’[xvi] and entered the number of tribes inhabiting the Northern Chin Hills as five in number, namely, Nwite (Guite), Yoe (Zou), Thado, Kamhow (Kamhau), and Siyin (Sihzang). The first four mentioned are the northern most and the last the southern most. The Zou tribe was placed under the jurisdiction of the Tiddim post; but the new scheme of boundary demarcation proposed to ‘award’ majority of the Zou population to Manipur.
The new scheme of the Political Officer was designed to suit the best interest of the colonial governance, and its abstract formulations were blind to the marginalizing consequences that artificial divisions can create for people of common ethnic stocks like the Zous. The report stated: ‘The Manipur border will presumably be fixed at a distance of 80 miles north of Tiddim in the latitude of the Howbi Peak’[xvii].
Official statistics for the year 1893 showed that the Zou tribe consisted of nineteen villages and 630 households, inhabiting a tract lying between 60 and 90 miles north and north-west of Fort White[xviii]. This was the list of the nineteen Zou villages: Tuitum, Nabu, Kwunki, Tuidam, Chenglam, Mulam, Vanglai, Loibual, Savum, Yimwell, Buksau, Tunzang, Tunka, Tunvum, Hawbon, chilpi, Beltung, and Narlzan[xix]. Some of the spellings of village names are admittedly a problem partly due to the inability to understand the local accent by the colonial recorders. Entry for the same year provides figures of villages and households for all the tribes of Northern chin Hills:

Name of tribe
No. of villages
No. of households
Tax assessment (Rs)

Table showing statistical information of Northern Chin Hills in 1892-94
[Source: NAI, Foreign Dept. Sept 1893, Nos. 80 –88]
The above tables indicates that the Zou tribe enjoyed a relatively strong position in terms of numerical size and other resources vis-à-vis other kin Chin-Kuki tribes at the end of the nineteenth century. The tribe had the second largest number of villages, next only to the Thado tribe. Likewise, it had the second biggest number of households, next to Sukte-Ngungal. In terms of the assessment of the tax-paying capacity, the Zou ranked second again, preceded by Sukte-Ngungal.
Of the nineteen Zou villages surveyed by the political officer of the Chin Hills, sixteen were ceded to Manipur in 1894, and only three were retained under the control of Chin Hills administration which partially explains the demographic marginalization of the Zous on both sides of the Manipur and Burma frontier. ‘And although many of these villages were awarded to Manipur’ wrote Carey and Tuck, ‘by the Chin-Manipur Boundary Commission in 1894, it appeared advisable not to lose the information gained’[xx].
The discourse of awarding Zou villages to Manipur like a trophy is understandable only in the context of nineteenth century imperialism. Here an academician may be cautioned against the fallacy of being trapped into the politically charged discourse of the day that tends to view the Chin-Kukis (the Zous being no exception) from the prism of migration in or out of Manipur or Burma, depending on the political position one may take. The hill tracts occupied and contended by the Zous and the Kamhau-Suktes was historically a neural zone, what might approximately be called ‘no man’s land’. According to the boundary laid down by Captain Pemberton, contained in the Treaty of 1834, the people of this neutral zone were described as partly in ‘Manipur and in part in Burma or independent territory’[xxi]. In the context of the Somra Tract, Sir Robert Reid once referred to this spatial zone as ‘[t]he only doubtful point … a small area, hatched on the map, and in subsequent proceedings known as the “cross hatched area”, as regards which there was no doubt as to whether it should go to Assam or to Manipur State’[xxii]. In fact Assam was reported earlier to have claimed some Zou-inhabited areas in 1893[xxiii]. On the whole, the colonial authorities are anxious to ‘award’ both the Zou and Sukte tribes to responsible and pliable centres of administrative control. In November 1872, Colonel Mowbray Thomson, the officiating Political Agent, come to a decision that this ‘cross-hatched area’ should go to Burma, and that ‘Manipur has no right to make war in that direction, but that if threatened or injured by the Sooties [Kamhau-Sukte], they should refer their grievances to the Burmese Government through the Government of India’[xxiv]. But Alexander Mackenzie totally disagreed with Colonel Thomson’s report and recommendation, stating:
“So far as our records show, the Burmese Government do not appear to ever have exercised any control over the Sooties to the south of the Manipur boundary line. The whole tribe seems to be practically independent, and not to have been affected at all by the Treaty of 1834. Though a line was drawn westward from the source of the Numsaulung to the Kathe Khyoung, there is no mention in the treaty of the territory south of this line having been made over to Burma”[xxv].
The truth is Captain Pemberton had not, however, visited this part of the country, for in the same letter he said ‘he had not been able to go so far south’[xxvi]. In 1856, Colonel McCulloch said that the south-eastern portion of Manipur had never been ‘explored, and that the Manipur authorities had never tried to bring the tribes inhabiting it into subjection’[xxvii]. Manipur, in fact, made a number of abortive attempts to subjugate the whole cross-hatched area and its inhabitants, chiefly the Kamhau-Suktes, the Thados and the Zous – collectively and incorrectly called Khongjai by the Meiteis. In the Administrative Report for 1873 – 74, Dr. Brown mentioned that, in the event of any real or imagined raid by the Kamhau-Suktes, ‘the Burmese invariably make the matter one of complaint against the Manipur State, assuming that State to be responsible for their good behaviour’. But knowing the case better than the Burmese, Dr. Brown made his own middle-path prescription that ‘for all practical purposes this tribe should be considered as independent, and liable to punishment from either power it raids upon’[xxviii]. Writing later in 886, E.W. Dun saw little prospect of subjugating the Kamhau-Suktes with the imposition of colonial ‘law and order’. Dun helplessly looked the independence displayed the inhabitants of this cross-hatched border, where the influence of neither Burma nor Manipur can be felt, stating:
All attempts to subdue them [Kamhaus] whether made by Manipur or Burma, have hitherto been unsuccessful … Unless Manipur and Burma will combine to subdue them, which, in the present state of their relations, seems highly improbable, there appears very little chance of their altering their ways, but rather they will continue, as now, every year to grow more fearless and more aggressive’[xxix].
So what often is called migrations would appear to be shifting of village sites by these groups in an attempt to cope with ecological constraints like scarcity of suitable jhum land, water supply, etc. Unfortunately such movements have been politically interpreted in some quarters to label the Chin-Kukis as immigrants or intruders into some sacrosanct areas. It would be more helpful and historically sound to see the inclusion or exclusion of the Zou population into either Manipur or Burma within the context of colonial Boundary Survey practices and its arbitrary lines of demarcations and practices of ‘awarding’ land and even people to its colonial collaborators. Not only the Zous and Kamhau-Suktes, but other tribes like the Nagas, Chins, Lushais, and Kukis were also equally victims in varying degrees to such colonial policies and practices. Narrow and myopic interpretation of the past has done a lot of irreparable harm in Northeast India, and more democratic values of peaceful co-existence have often been thrown to the winds in this region.
[Source: NAI, Foreign Dept. Sept 1893, Nos. 80 –88]
In the second volume of Carey and Tuck, the Gazetteer provides us detailed information regarding the geographical location, names of chiefs, number of households, and road communication of Zou settlements[xxx]. The sixteen Zou villages made subordinate to Manipur were Beltung, Chenglam, Chilpi, Kunkai, Lenkot, Loibual, Mualam, Nabu, Savum, Tunvum, Tunkwa, Tonzan, tuidam, Tuitum, and Vanglai. Of these, the chief of Tunvum, Shwenkatung (Suankhotung) was said to be the most important among the Zou chiefs. Tunvum had 130 households in 1892, and was situated about four miles above the Tuila river. The village was reported to be ‘plentiful with rice and cattle’[xxxi].

Manlun Chiefs : Their Detractors and Defenders
Moreover, we may add a note about the Manlun clan of the Zou tribe. Though the responsibility of chiefship was held by other Zou clans as well, the Manlun family was often mentioned as influential chiefs in colonial records. The influence of the Manlun chiefs extended beyond the Zou villages was evident in the fact that they had jurisdiction over the Sagyilaing village of 90 households which was inhabited by the Siyin (Sihzang) tribe[xxxii].
Likewise, the Manlun family retained the chiefship of a fairly big Zou village called Khuangnung[xxxiii], inhabited by several clans including Taitom, Hangluah, Thangsing, Samte, Taithul, Tungnung, Phiamphu and Lianzaw. Khuangnung was located near Khodai, another important Zou village which survives even today. Khodai was under the chiefship of Manlun’s younger brother. The big village of Khuangnung prospered under the Manlun chiefs at least till the mid-19th century A.D. But conditions were then extremely difficult to sustain big settlements for any substantial period of time due to economic and ecological constraints circumscribing population growth. No wonder a disastrous famine traditionally known as Singpi Tam[xxxiv] befall the expansive Khuangnung village about the 1850s. The famine heralded the last days of Khuangnung, which never seemed to recover from this heavy blow of nature. When B.S.Carey extensively toured the Chin Hills and compiled an exhaustive list of villages in the whole region during 1892 – 4, the existence of Khuangnung seemed to have been already forgotten and was never mentioned, remembered only in the fond memories of its earlier inhabitants – chiefly the Zous and some clans who now prefer to call themselves Simte[xxxv] in modern Manipur. Carey and Tuck also remarked that the Zous ‘who belong to the Man Lun family consider that they have a right to be proud of their birth’[xxxvi].
The influence of Manlun chiefs in Southern Manipur appeared to have been formidable not only in Zou areas, but also in neighbouring Paite areas. During the First World War (1914 –18), a Zou village called Mal Tonzang under Manlun chiefship was powerful enough to arrest and punish anyone whom they perceive as their detractors. So they set out to` capture the the Guite chief of Sialbu, Mr. Ropiang and his son Goupau with no open opposition. The arrest of Ropiang and his son was reportedly due to theft of highly-valued gongs which belonged to Tonzang located on the bank of the Tuivai river; but another version imputed the motive of human sacrifice behind the arrest[xxxvii]. The Guite captives were taken through Suangdoh, a Paite village, where fortunately Roupiang made his escape with the complicity of the chief’s clever wife. The Guite chiefs in all Paite areas were shaken, and sought state intervention from the British authorities at Imphal. The Paites celebrated the narrow escape of their chief and his son, Ropiang and Goupau. Here is a song of deliverance from the dreaded Zous and their Manlun chiefs composed in Paite dialect on this occasion:
Manlun, Mantuang, Zou hon lai ah,
Ropiang mah piang kha na,
Goupau mah pau kha na
Free rendering
Amidst the Manlun, Mantuang clans and Zou folks
Ropiang has come alive and
Goupau has overcome.
From a historical point of view, such small stories of local feuds are not devoid of interest since they reveal something about the fragile power relation exiting between specific chiefs and the tribal communities they represent under changing historical circumstances. In 1924, E.O.Fowler, the Commissioner of the North West Border Division of Burma, mentioned in his farewell note about the Manlun chief as among his ‘greatest friends’:
I shall never forget the many happy year I spent in the Chin Hills. Of all my friends in these Hills, you, Manlon (Mang Lun) … and a few others were my greatest friends and of the lot I knew you are one of the few remain[xxxix].
Needless to say that Manlun chiefs were traditionally most involved with the political life of the Zou people though they were dependent on the consent and good will of other clans for this privilege with its accompanying responsibilities. Since power was always negotiated and diffused at every level in traditional Zou society involving both vertical and horizontal dimensions, it would be grievously wrong to represent the Manlun chiefs as if they enjoyed absolute authority and power.
The authority and legitimacy of Manlun chiefship was conditioned by the consent and support of powerful clans and war-lords within the Zou tribe. There were also alternative centres of authority exercised horizontally through mediums other than the institution of chiefship. The ambivalent position occupied by privileged tribal war-lords was such an instance of negotiated power which was both threatening as well as reassuring for the primacy of Manlun chiefship.
This is best illustrated in the career of a Zou war-lord called Pu Nohneng (1780 -1885) of the Phiamphu clan[xl]. He was a warrior who had a brilliant track record of success in leading the Zou tribe in tribal feuds over relatively vast geographical expanse covering the Chin Hills and present Manipur. The list of villages subdued by Nohneng includes Salap, Zuatuan, Lousau, Khiang, Dawlthuang, Chongkhojou, Lungthul, Pangsang, Buaitang, Thanlon, and Allusingtam (Tonglon). Oral accounts of Nohneng’s military feats of surprise attacks suggest that this man knew the art of putting guerrilla tactics to effective use. Living in an age when the influence of British colonialism was felt mainly in the plains of Assam, the war-lord had a free hand to indulge in offensive attacks and military adventurism to wet his ambition to the full. Had he lived another decade longer, Nohneng would certainly be a misfit under the new dispensation of the ‘rule of law’ supposedly ushered in by British imperialism which began to tighten its grip on Manipur affairs after the Palace Revolt of 24 March 1891. In his generation, Nohneng managed to win the admiration of both friends and foes, and his admirers include the celebrated Poi warriors of present Southern Mizoram, and the Raja of Manipur Chandrakirti himself. Apparently impressed by the fighting skills and swordsmanship of Nohneng, the Raja Chandrakirti (1831-1886)[xli] once succeeded in having him as an honoured guest, upon which the war-lord was requested to lay down his arms, to which Nohneng was understood to have replied: ‘Has the lion ever peeled off its claws? Has the wild boar ever cuts off its sharp teeth?’[xlii] So Nohneng jumped over the palace walls, and pushed his way through with dignity.
Though a man of sword essentially, Nohneng was not insensitive to the finer beauties of poetry and life itself. He was traditionally credited with the composition of a few songs, including the following:
Hang leh hang lou chiam ing e
Sawlkha na liim jui ing e
Suunni nuai ah Simlu beng bang khai ing.

Khokim pal bang hing nang e
Chin toh hanlung chiam ing
Pal bang nang e
Hanlung chiam te sin lai giel bang khi aw
Free rendering:
I have encountered the coward as well as the bold
I venture under the moon-lit night and
I bring in broad daylight basket-full of enemy’s heads

When warring villages rounded me up like walls,
My spirit was renewed by my kinsmen standing by my side
The hearts of my enemies then melted away like hailstones after the rain.
Now the significant point is that Nohneng had little or no ambition to establish his clan as a prominent lineage of chiefship within the Zou tribe. Through out the greater part of his long and active career, Nohneng Phiamphu did covet neither the prestige nor the responsibility of chiefship. It was certainly the consent and defence of many such collaborators like Nohneng which ultimately lent legitimacy to Manlun chiefship which gradually developed as a vertical institution of political power. Only towards the end of his active life did he settle down permanently in a tiny village called Allusingtam, established by himself. Here he passed away peacefully in 1885.

Legacy of Anti-colonial Resistance: Zou Gal (1917-19)
The Zou tribe joined the so-called ‘Kuki Rising’[xliv] in Manipur against the British from 1917 to 1919. Hiangtam and Gotengkot Forts were two main centres of resistance among the Zous. Pu Doungul Taithul was the chief of Gotengkot, which was a fairly big and fortified Zou village[xlv]. Captain Steadman was the man responsible for suppressing Gotengkot with considerable casualties on both sides.
The Zou tribe was a non-Thado tribe to have participated in this abortive, yet bold attempt to oust the white imperialist from Manipur, even as a local folk song composed on the occasion of the revolt runs in the Zou dialect as follows;
Tuizum Mangkang kiil bang hing khang
Zota kual zil bang liing e
Pianna ka gamlei hi e! phal sing e!
Ka naamtem hiam a, i Zogamlei laal kanaw
Sansii’n zeel e!
Ngalliam vontawi ka laulou lai e

Free translation:
The seafaring White Imperialist coils like the ‘kill’ plant,
Tremors of earthquake do quiver the Zo world,
’Tis the land of my birth: I shall not part with it!
Stain’d with blood is my Sword
That has routed the adversaries of Zoland,
shall yet fight with the wild Boar, injured.
This folk song of the Zou, reflecting the collective mind of the natives, indicated that the anti-imperial fervour was very high in 1918; and interestingly the Britishers were compared by the native mind with the wild Boar, or with a native wild creeper-plant called ‘kill’.

Mangkhosat Kipgen has rightly noted that the Zo people traditionally have ‘a bamboo-based economy’[xlvii] since the land is abundant with them. Bamboos of various types met many of the essential needs of the people. At every stage of its growth from shoot to maturity, it met different local needs. The new shoots provided food; young bamboos provided materials for preparing baskets, fencing, household implements and other works of handicraft; and mature bamboo was utilised for building and construction purposes. So bamboo played an important role in the subsistence economy of traditional Zo society.
Notwithstanding its economic utility, bamboo was also a bane of traditional political economy, inviting dreaded cycles of bamboo-related famines periodically. The flowering of certain species of bamboo had often resulted in famines. The two species of Mautak and Rawthing were notorious for flowering at approximately at fifty years interval. Since they did not flower at the same time it means that there was famine every 18 to 30 years. The reason for famine was the rapid multiplication of the rodent population, especially rats, which fed on the bamboo seeds. The rodents would devour standing crops and hence were the immediate cause of famines called Mautam and Singtam. The first documented Mautam occurred in 1862, and Thingtam in 1880 in the context of Mizoram, right across the Manipur border. These famines made their way into the Baptist
Mission Field Reports of 1912 and 1930. The first report states:
“The famine referred to several times in this report has been the outstanding event of 1912. It will go down to posterity as the first famine experienced by the Lushais under British Rule. Whatever feelings of resentment may have lingered in the hearts of some of these hill people against those who have occupied their country … this famine must surely have dispelled it, for there are hundreds who would have starved to death this year but for the kindly help rendered by Government in bringing up many thousands of maunds of rice to supply their need … To the east of us, in the Chin Hills, the Burma Government organized a great battle and destroyed scores of thousands [rats]. But man was powerless against such visitation, and nothing that was done seemed to make the slightest impression on the great army of invaders which overran the land, and, in spite of everything, from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, right across the Lushai hills, and away into the chin hills in Burma, the crops were destroyed wholesale”[xlviii].
During the post-Independence period, the Zous found themselves getting more and more tied up with the larger process of modernisation in Manipur. Since World War II, Zenhang’s new village at Hiangtam Lamka – literally meaning ‘cross-road of Hiangtam’ – in Southern Manipur was been rapidly expanding as an urban centre. Hiangtam was one of the important forts of the Zous during their resistance against the British Government from 1017 – 19. So Hiangtam Lamka gradually swallowed up even the village of Suangpi located on its western direction. It was later officially renamed Churachandpur (after the name of a Meitei prince, Churachand) and it became the second biggest town in the state, next only to the capital city of Imphal. There are a number of Zou villages in and around the town of Churachandpur. At present, Zomi Colony, Zovneg, New Zoveng, Hiangzou, Kamdo Veng (Tuibuong), and Simveng are the major Zou villages or settlements within Churachandpur. The Zou urban population shows an increasing trend; and by 1981, it stood at 20.7% of its total population[xlix]. Figures for Paite tribe, the single largest constituent of the town, stood at 33.7% for the same period. The educated section of the population often managed to find alternative avenues of occupation in the service sector under the state or central government, odd jobs in Christian mission work, NGO, private schools, etc. With rising educated unemployment problem, absorption in state Government has already reached a saturation point. However, the bulk of Zou population lives in rural areas practising either jhum (shifting cultivation) or paddy cultivation, or both in many cases.
The Kuki-Zomi (1997 – 98) ethnic clash in Churachandpur gave a severe blow to the economic development of the whole of Manipur’s southern district. The Zous were also hard hit by this event. Some of the direct economic consequences of the ethnic clash are migration of rural population into urban areas (especially to Churachandpur itself), collapse of Government-sponsored development activities, informalisation of the economy, and new forms of tax imposition by militant organisation, and atmosphere of insecurity that kills the spirit of economic enterprise for fear of extortion, etc.
Since the informal sector of the local political economy often goes completely unnoticed, I would like to focuss attention on a few cases of informal economic institutions evolved within the framework of the church. This study will take up the informal institutions of antangham (Handful of Rice Collection) and Khutsiam Silbawl (Arts and Handicrafts) in the context of the Zou society.
Antangham: This is a self-help initiative by which a handful of rice would be set aside by each housewife before she starts cooking for the family. The savings of rice would be collected every week from each family by young ladies to be pooled together and sold at the Sunday morning worship. This collection of rice would be purchased in cash or on credit by a church member identified on the list prepared usually on a rotation basis by the rice collectors. The economically weaker families are often given certain extra benefits. The revenue generated from the antangham is managed by the local Women’s Wing, which, in turn submits a substantial amount of the money to the women’s Headquarters at Zomi Colony, Churachandpur. The Manipur Women Christian Association (MWCA) of the Presbyterians, and the Zomi Women Christian association (ZWCA) of the Lutherans are the two most important Christian women organisations among the Zous. MWCA was established in 1960 at Mata Lambulane with Ms Nuamzavung of Tuaitengphai as foundersecretary; ZWCA was also historically part of MWCA till 1976 when the former became practically an independent body.
The money annually collected and pooled together at the Headquarters (that is Zomi Colony for both MWCA and ZWCA) would often amount to substantial figures. According to the amount of money collected, plans for spending were discussed and made. Some of the money go back to the villages in the form of assistance for Church building construction and other aids, but maximum share would be spent in procuring durable assets and capital asset like land at the headquarters. Moreover, there are paid women workers on full-time basis to be supported financially. Below is a record of telling some of the ways in which anntangham money has been spent and utilized by ZWCA for a period covering over twenty years –1976 to 1997[l]:
1. Human Resource-related Expenses
1976: Employed a full-time women evangelist, Numei Sawltah.
1988: Employed a woman full-time worker as ‘Woman Promoter’, and purchased a Printing Press.
1995: Sponsored two ZWCA ladies to participate at NEICORD workshop held at Shillong in Meghalaya.
2. Durable Assets
1983: Made an Wooden Almirah for official use.
1992: Purchased a Type writer (Remington Company) at the cost of Rs. 10,492/-
3. Construction &Land Purchase
1984: Contributed Rs. 12, 500/- for purchasing land at Zomi Colony to build Church Headquarters.
1987: Contributed Rs. 10,000/- for building construction of Office Headquarters.
1991: Constructed a staff-quarter with the Headquarters premises at the cost of Rs. 30,736/- ; also acquired another building for staff quarters at the cost of Rs. 30,000/-
1993: Contributed Rs. 30,000/- towards the construction of a Chapel at the Headquarters.
1996: Contributed Rs. 66,505/- towards construction of the first floor of Headquarters Office ; also purchased a Steel Almirah worth Rs. 3,600/-
4. Spendings outside Headquarters

1990: Contributed Rs. 630/- for the construction of a chapel at Suangphu village.
1997: Contributed Rs. 8,000/- towards the purchase of a Generator meant for the Youth Department; and contributed Rs. 1,700/- for the construction of Pastor quarters at Tuining village.
1993: Rs. 1000/- towards construction of chapel in Moreh town.
5. Publications and Literature
1992: Purchased books on Tonic Solfa worth Rs. 1,000/-
1992: Published a book in Zou language, Gospel Galhangt (Gospel Heroes), authored by Pastor Dongzathong.

Likewise, the Zou women within the Presbyterian denomination were organised under the banner of MWCA, and this wing too has similarly contributed to economic activities related to building construction and land purchase. At Zomi Colony, this organisation has purchased land and constructed staff quarters, and the MWCA House itself, which became the centre of other wings of the church where now a fine Zou Presbyterian Secretariat stands. A Zou women leader of ZWCA called Ruth Dimkhochin comments on the practice of antangham in a very casual way: ‘Though most Zou women are housewives with no cash income, we can contribute to the family earning in subtle frugal ways. We save money spent on food by running a kitchen garden; and we save the fees meant for private tuitions of children by teaching our kids at home. Though not an income-earner like man, the Zou woman seems to be very creative in managing financial matters … The practice of antangham, started by a Khasi woman, has been transformed by us into an instrument for generating impressive income for the benefit of the whole church’[li]. Antangham was originally said to be practised by the Garo[lii] Christians and then diffused to the Khasi hills. This was introduced by the Welsh missionary D.E.Jones in Mizoram from where it was imported into Manipur. Due to the cultural and linguistic affinities of the Mizos and the Zo/Zomi tribes of Manipur, it is not unusual to find such instances of cultural traffic between these two geographically contiguous regions. In case of Mizoram, it was reported that the ‘Bible numei’ (Bible women) were instrumental in popularizing the antangham practice in its initial days; and they collected money was used to support eight Mizo girls undergoing nursing training at the Civil Hospital[liii].

Local Church Movement:: Mass Conversion, Ethnic Identity and Modernisation
In the past much attention has been given to the Christian missions in Northeast India from the perspective of the Western missions, or rather from the ‘sending’ approach rather than the ‘coming’ approach’, as F.S. Downs
[liv] has put it. These works were basically ‘institutional histories’ of foreign missions who sent missionaries to Northeast India, and the story of their failure or success in winning ‘souls’. But there was an increasing realization of the need to shift to a new perspective in understanding the missionary movement as a ‘social history’ of the local Christian communities in India. This development was best reflected in the new six-volume project of social history envisaged by the Church History Association of India (CHAI) in 1973. However, CHAI took a long time to bring out its volume on the Northeast India, which appeared only in 1992[lv]. The guideline of CHAI spelt out one of its main objectives in the following words deserves to be quoted at length:
“The history of Christianity in India has hitherto often been treated as an eastward extension of western ecclesiastical history. Stress has been laid upon either its internal history or upon its “foreign mission” dimension so that the Church is viewed as a relatively self-contained unit which acted upon and was acted upon by the society outside. It is now intended to write the history of Christianity in the context of Indian history”[lvi].
While Downs’ own CHAI volume leads the way, there are a number of interesting works written from a ‘socio-cultural perspective’[lvii]. Here special mention made be made of O.L. Snaitang’s Christianity and Social Change in northeast India (Vendrame Institute, Shillong,, 1992), Mangkhosat Kipgen, Christianity and Mizo Culture: The encounter between Christianity and Zo culture in Mizoram (Mizo Theological Conference, Aizawl, 199 ), Khup Za Go, A Critical Historical Study of Bible Translation among the Zo tribes of Northeast India (1996), Sangkima, etc.
However, even the ‘socio-cultural perspective’ itself has practically failed to appreciate substantial sections of local Christians in Northeast India who had little contact with foreign missions, but still experienced mass conversion into Christianity as a result of a powerful ‘local church movement’ initiated mainly by the tribal literati within their communities. This local church movements were often conditioned, but not created, by interaction and competition with neighbouring tribal communities who had converted to Christianity themselves. In this case, neither the ‘sending’ perspective of foreign missions, nor the ‘coming’ perspective of socio-cultural approach has enough room to accommodate independent local church movements; what is required is a kind of ‘going’ perspective in which a group set on an unknown journey to search and explore new religious experience of their own initiative with hints taken form neighbours. This is both a spiritual and social process informed to a large measure by a reformist spirit, without wholly losing traditional roots. It was partly due to their conservatism that such Christian communities, despite their desire and experience of mass conversion,, still felt reluctant to be identified with mainstream churches like the Roman Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterianism and Lutheranism. There are substantial cases of such missionary movement all over Northeast India outside the fold of foreign missions. In Manipur, such local church movements have been identified among the Zeliangrong Nagas, the Zous, and the Simte tribes. Ramkhum Pamei, in fact, has done a work on this line among the Zeliangrong Nagas[lviii]. But no study has been done in the case of the other two tribes. At present, we shall take up the specific expression of the local church movement among the Zou people in Manipur.
The mass conversion of the Zou to Christianity in the mid-1950s cannot simply to explained in terms of simple binary oppositions of “civilised” Christianity emerging victorious over “barbaric” Zou Lawiki-paganism, or Western religious light overcoming the darkness of the Lawki soul. In fact, the Zous did not came in contact with any Western Christian missions which operated at Aizawl and Kangpokpi centres. Surrounded by a sea of new Christian tribes like the Lushais, Paites, Thadous, Hmars, etc. on all sides, the Zou tribe looked like a fixed island of native culture amidst sweeping social changes. It was mainly as a response to the new challenges of the times that the Zou Christian pioneers strategically charted a new course of action to form the first Christian organisation in 1954. Equipped with nothing but an evangelical zeal and an ecumenical vision to unite all the Zous, the first Christians converts laboured ceaselessly to redeem and mould all their Lawki brethren into a united Zou church where the doctrinal divisions of Western Christian would be simply irrelevant. This was true at least till 1976 when a new generation of leadership consisting of the first Zou theological graduates lost the earlier ecumenical vision of undivided Zou Christianity while retaining only the evangelical zeal. By importing the ancient debate on Scriptural cannons into the Zou context, this became the setting was enacting the unfortunate drama of MGP-ZCC division later in 1976.
Thus, the first organised Christian community for the Zou tribe was the Jou Christian Association (JCA) which was established at Daizang village on 20 February 1954. There was initially some confusion as to the exact date of this historic conference due to marginal differences in the observance of the JCA day for Jubilee celebrations[lix]. The chronology of this basic event has been settled once for all with the discovery of the old JCA Minute Book which is now preserved in the custody of Evangelical Lutheran Christian Church Office, Zomi Colony, Churachandpur[lx]. It was Pu Kamzakhup who was instrumental in organising the JCA conference of 1954 at Daizang village where he was also the first Secretary of the nascent church. But the real pillars of the JCA in its initial days were the three educated figures of Pu Thonghang, Pu Semkhopau, and Pu Kaizakham. The three were still students at Imphal at that point of time, and they were entrusted with the task of drafting a ‘Constitution’ for JCA, which was finally adopted at the Daizang assembly[lxi].
However, there seemed to be a lot of spade work before the JCA assembly can be called on 20 February 1954. A preliminary meeting was held at Tuaitengphai village on the occasion of ‘Haitha’ (first fruit) festival in which the villages of Daizang, Bohlui and Khianglam were also scheduled to participate; but the last two did not turned up. Pu Kamzakhup was a resident of Daizang village since 1951, having migrated from a place called Mawngawn, and it was his presence in Daizang that made it a hub of Christian activities in the 1950s. Though a peasant by occupation, Kamzakhup appears to be a born reformer, and he was consumed with a zeal to initiate a local church movement among his tribesmen, the Zous. In 1951, when he moved into Daizang, there were reportedly only four Christian villages out of the total sixty-six Zou villages[lxii]. This was taken as a burden and as a challenge by this lay man. He would share his vision with his confident one called Thawngzakhup, with whom he managed to bring the village elders for a group discussion at Tuaitengphai in 1952; but nothing concrete came out of the meeting. Undaunted Pu Kamzakhup would continued his discussions on the need to start a local church movement with his friend Thawngzakhup even while working in the paddy field. The first important outcome of all these untiring discussion and persuasion was the partially successful joint meeting between Daizang and Tuaitengphai in 1953. This was the prelude to the historic JCA meeting at Daizang on 20 February 1954. It may also be noted that the social environment of his days in Mawngawn had contributed significantly in the making of this Zou social reformer.
Pu Kamzakhup had participated as a member of the Christian association of a neighbouring smaller tribe called the Simte. In fact, it was his initial vision to merge both the Simte and Zou tribes into a single Christian community, and possibly into a single constitutional tribe as early as 1950[lxiii]. Considering the fact that both the tribes share very close dialectal and cultural affinities, it was a viable and highly desirable option then as it is now. However, this unfortunately never happened due to the narrow tribalism of certain community leaders, and subsequently Simte and Zou got separate tribe recognition from the Government in 1956.

A Pioneer of Zou Literature: Thangkhanlal
Pu Thangkhanlal (1944 - 98) was an important pioneer of Zou literature. Besides composing songs in Zou vernacular, he wrote a a number of booklets in this language. His collection of songs includes Sannem La (Folk Songs) Isa Awle (Modern Songs), Zozampal (Popular Songs). Though a politician by profession, this man of letter has left an indelible mark on Zou literature during its early formative stages. Thangkhanlal graduated from D.M.College, Imphal, in 1968. His undergraduate days at Imphal appears to be the most creative and productive in terms of academic contribution. In fact, both his booklets, Naupangte Zou laiPatna – Zomi Primer (1967)[lxiv] and Learners’ English Grammar and Composition (1967) were produced during that early period of his career before he entered into active politics.
Perhaps Zou lai Patna is the most influential prose work of Thangkhanlal. This was designed to be a text book for learners of elementary Zou vernacular, and the 34-page primer ran into its eighth edition by 1989. Till recently this primer was not only popular, but the sole text book for teaching Zou language to beginners. Following the phonetic Hunterian system – which is a modified version of the Roman alphabets – Zou lai Patna introduced for the first time the use of twenty-five letters to reduce Zou language to writing:
Moreover, Zou lai Patna reflected certain consciousness of the need for uniformity of spelling in Zou vernacular. Like other members of the Chin-Kuki linguistic family[lxv], the Zou language has tonal shifts where the same word can have different meanings if pronounced in varying tones. There are at least three tones identifiable in this language – light, heavy and falling tones. Zou lai Patna made a preliminary attempt to accommodate these tonal variations adapting vowel sounds, giving the following illustrations[lxvi]:
Zou English
(a) Kol (high tone) Brown Indians
Kawl (low) Burmese
(b) Sie (high tone) Bad
Sea (low) Teacher
Sia (falling tone) Clean
(c) Siam (low) Amend, make
Siem (high) Skilful
Another book by the same author, Learners’ English Grammar and Composition (1967) was interestingly intended to teach the local students in Zou vernacular the principles of English grammar and composition. The book was published by one ‘U Tongzapau, chief of Behiang who helped me bring out the treatise (sic.)’. Of course there is nothing unusual with this publisher until we know the irony of the situation that this patron of English learning himself was semi-literate, or perhaps purely illiterate. Though completely ignorant of English himself, this publisher-chief clearly knew the advantages of learning the language of the ‘sahib’ for young Zou students. ‘Foreword’ of the book was written by one of the author’s own teachers in D.M. College, Prof. J. Roy, who said:
“English is not only a language of knowledge but also indispensable medium of instruction in schools … I have gone through the book Learners, English Grammar and Composition in Zou which is fast developing into a standard language. It is indeed a hard task to introduce English language to the non-English speaking children. Mr. Thangkhanlal took great pains in writing out this book with competence … [he] enjoyed my affection before, now by bringing this book out he has earned my admiration also”[lxvii].
Though Learners’ English (1967) retained most English terminologies faithfully in its desire to get students familiar with the foreign language, it also coined a few terms in Zou language in this strange process of translating English grammar into Zou dialect. For instance, the Zou equivalent of the term grammar itself is given as ‘kampau dih’ (literally, meaning ‘correct usage’); and ‘laizemte’[lxviii] in Zou dialect stands for letters or alphabets.
Thangkhanlal did not seemed to forget his first love for Zou language and literature during his active political career in later life. Being closely involved in developing this largely oral dialect into a language fit and suitable for literary purpose, he acquired not only a taste but a feel for the Zou language. A couple of years before he passed away, Thangkhanlal wrote an article entitled ‘Zou kam leh Zou la’ (Zou language and Songs), in which he expressed his admiration for the this language rather emotionally:
“Like a hidden mine of gold, Zou language and folk literature becomes rich and deep if explored. There are surprisingly numerous vocabularies in Zou language, many of which even English itself lacks … Though there are certain variants within Zou language, those do not constitute separate languages … When accurately spoken, Zou language is musical to listen, and it proves to be an adequate medium through which a wide range of ideas can be effectively communicated”[lxix].

The Culture of Scriptural Translation
Adrian Hastings has noted that Christianity is ‘a religion of translation’ and had ‘the use of the world’s vernaculars inscribed in its origins’[lxx]. Unlike the scriptural tradition of assimilation in Islam, Christian sacred texts remained equally sacred in translation, so that the culture of scriptural translation was taken for granted[lxxi]. Almost as an article of faith, Hastings perceived the translation of the bible or its equivalent as perhaps the single most significant turning point in the development of a collective sense of identity for an entire community[lxxii]. However, it is also true that unrestrained Bible translations in maximum number of dialect is not always a healthy policy in the long run though it might served short term evangelical purposes. The policy of unlimited Bible translation among closely related linguistic families can unfortunately have the effect of canonising their internal differences to arrest the process of ethnic fusion, and condemn the concerned linguistic communities to further marginalisation. In the context of the Zo society, Khup Za Go has shown that Bible translation is often a victim of dialectal chauvinism that prevented the evolution of a standard Zo language for the Chin-Kuki-Lushai ethnic groups[lxxiii].
The Zou language has a few variants within it, viz., – Haidawi, Thangkhal, Khuangnung, Khodai and Tungkua, which were originally names of Zou villages in the Chin Hills of Myanmar. While Haidawi is generally found to be most suitable candidate for high literary language, the Khuangnung and Thangkhal variants are popularly used for verbal communication. Khodai and Tungkua are still a living dialect though on the verge of extinction. While the Tungkua variant is spoken in only one village called Suangphu[lxxiv] in southern Manipur, Khodai is spoken in a few villages including Mal Tonzang, Zangnuam, L. Kanaan, Mongken and Buhsau. At present, the literary language of Haidawi has become almost completely identifiable with Khodai and Tungkua dialects. Unlike Khuangnung and Thangkhal variants which are spoken in and around urban centres, Khodai and Tungkua are confined within speakers of remote villages. While standardisation of all dialects into a common language may seem idealistic for now, well-thought out language policy can certainly facilitate the evolution of Haidawi as a literary language in course of time. The Thangkhal variant is found to be closer to standard Haidaw usage than Khuangnung variant itself. Moreover, there are jargons picked up by youngsters which often gradually gain wide currency. One such example has been provided by Thangkhanlal, when, in Tangpizawl village an elderly lady as late as 1965 turned out a phrase, ‘Ngai va doi sih’ (roughly meaning ‘no absolute requirement’). This was immediately picked up and modified by youngster as ‘Ngai va roi sih’ then got contracted into ‘Ngai roi sih’ until it stabilised as ‘Ngai sih’ in formal usage in modern Zou language[lxxv]. There is a process of give and take between the literary language and its popular variants. While the literary Haidawi is effective for expression of abstract and poetic ideas, the Khuangnung variant is more intelligible to the man in the street. But it has to be noted that the popular variants like Thangkhal and Khuangnung have influenced successive translations of the Zou bible and hymnals. Rightly did James Clifford remarked that ‘a “language” is the interplay and struggle of regional dialects, professional jargons, generic commonplaces, the speech of different age groups, individuals, and so forth’[lxxvi].
Since the Khuangnung variant is considered to be the literary language of the Simte tribe, there is always an overlapping linguistic zones between these historically connected tribes. As mentioned before, Khuangnung was the ancient name of a Zou village in Northern Chin Hills which was devastated by Singtam famine in the mid- nineteenth century. Since both the Zous and many clans of the Simte tribe of Manipur once lived together in Khuangnung village, it was understandable that there would be linguistic overlapping between the two tribes. At times, it is rather confusing to observe that the word Simte – which literally means south – was till recently used as a generic term to refer to the Tedim Chins living south of Manipur; some elderly people within the Chin-Kuki community still use the term in this old sense. While there is no tribe by the name of Simte in the Chin Hills, substantial population of the Zou speakers lives there. In the context of Manipur, the Khuangnung speaking Simtes have been recognised as a separate tribe by the Government since 1956. Though numerically very small, the Simte tribe is highly zealous of its separate identity today, and it had got the entire bible translated into this dialect in 1993 under the supervision of Bibles International[lxxvii].
Likewise, the New Testament was translated into Zou language as Thuhun Tha in 1967 under the supervision of the Bible Society of India by the trio Semkhopau Samte, T. Tungnung and P. Kaizakham. This translation was based on the King James Version, and was well-received by the Zou Christians. In 1981, a new version of the New Testament together with Psalms, translated by Lianchinkhup Taithul, was again published by the Bible Society of India. This was mainly based on the Good News Bible. Though the 1981 NT translation reflected a superior scholarship and accuracy of meaning, the common man generally preferred the earlier 1967 translated due to its literary quality and beauty, perhaps reflecting something of the original literariness of English KJV. Later the Zous wanted the Old Testament translated as well. So the Bible Society of India sent its representative Mr. M.P. John from Shillong to Churachandpur, Manipur, in 1976 to assess the feasibility of the project[lxxviii]. He came to a conclusion that the project was not viable on the ground of the small numerical strength of the Zou population in Manipur. In 1981, the zou population in Manipur was estimated to be 12,454 persons. But the actual Zou-speaking population is more than this figure if one takes into account the Zous across the Myanmar border[lxxix], where their population is estimated to be about 40,000. So the total population of Zou-speakers both in Manipur and Myanmar would add up to around 50,000 persons in 1981.
Disappointed at the decision of the BSI, the Zou Catholics in Manipur approached the Roman Catholic authorities regarding the matter, and were told that they would be given assistance to translate the whole Bible including the Apocrypha. A joint translation committee was instituted in 1976 (?) to this end. Meanwhile some Zou Presbyterian leaders, instigated by some members of their Synod, later opposed the idea of having the Bible translated with the Apocrypha, and put their members who were involved in the translation work under church discipline. After negotiations for a compromise had failed between the two groups within Zou Presbyterians, one group decided to carry on with the translation work in cooperation with the Catholics. So they left the Presbyterian church and formed the Zomi Christian Church (ZCC) with headquarters Zomi Colony, Churachandpur in Manipur. Ultimately the entire Bible along with the Apocrypha appeared in Zou language in 1983 with the assistance of the Roman Catholic authorities in Imphal. The Zou language became the first to have a translation of the whole ancient literature of Apocrypha among the Chin-Kuki-Lushai tribes. Pu Aloysis Nehkhojang Tungdim and Khamchinkhup (?) were instrumental in translating this huge volume of classic literature. The Apocrypha consists a rich collection of ancient Hebrew literature which were not accepted as canonised in the Protestant tradition, but the Roman Catholic church regarded it as ‘inspired’, that is, as part of the canonised Scriptures. Hardly did these hotly debated issues of publishing the Apocrypha cooled down when the Bible Society of India in 1992 belatedly agreed to published the entire Bible in Zou language with Lianchinkhup Taithul as its translator[lxxx]. Though the Zou community gained as many as two translated versions of the entire Bible along with the Apocrypha in the shorts term, it paid a heavy price in terms of ethnic integrity and unity which was seriously injured in the long term by denominational divide. As if to amend for past mistakes, the Zomi Christian Literature Committee is at present involved in bringing out another commom Bible translation in Zou language with English KJV as its base reference.

The Cock Crows: Dawn of Political Consciousness
Western Education as a tool for development, and the mass conversion of the Zou community through the initiatives of newly English-educated Zou youths in the mid-1950s made education even more accessible to the common people through the various educational activities of the church. Sunday School was and is one such intervention of the church in the sphere of education. One of the first task that the nascent Zou church – Jou Christian Organisation – undertook was to publish a primer called Jou Simpat Bu (1954). The short-lived Zou monthly newsletter Jou Gam Thusuo advertised this newly printed Zou primer in its first issue which came in March 1954:
“Jou Simpat Bu: I unaupa uh Nengkhogin in a nei sunsun seng a, a mite Pasian Laibu leh laisutte a lian a neu a sim thei chiat na ding uh chin Jou Simpat Bu a hing tat doh ta a, tung ah kipah a um hi. Khuchiang in leh eimi Joukual a Hattuamten Pasianni (Sunday) School ah toi chiat ding in phatuam ngai in lei vai…”[lxxxi]
This was intended to be an advertisement rather than a “book review” as it was released in the name of one called S.K.Samte, Secretary of the little-known Jou National Union. Since the inception of Zou Christianity, it was enmeshed with a new political consciousness of Zou identity as a tribe which transcends the earlier primacy of clan-based identity. So there was an ecumenical tradition inherent in the formation of JCA which is strange to the present imported Western divisions along denominational lines. This holistic vision of Zou Christianity was threatened for the first time in 1976 when the split of MGP-ZCC took place under unfortunate circumstances of doctrinal debate on the Scriptural cannons. Though both MGP and ZCC held the same doctrine on Biblical cannons, the scandal of schism still happened due to personal and disciplinary rigidities. By balancing historically sound interpretation of Judeo-Christian teachings along with the finest aspects of tribal traditional ethics, there are abundant religious-cultural resources to mould the Zous into an enlightened and dynamic community, ecumenical in vision and evangelical in spirit.
Below is a table showing the level of higher education among the Zous in 1981 in comparison with other Zo ethnic groups in Manipur.
Name of tribe
No. of graduates(liberal)
Degree in teaching
[Source: Computed from statistical data of Census of India , Series 13, Manipur, Part IX].
Population of the Zou tribe in Manipur in 1981 was estimated to be 12,576 persons, with only 20.7% of its population living in urban area; the figure for Paite for the same period was 33.7% of its population in urban area.
The Zous woke up to modern political consciousness in the mid-twentieth century reflected in the formation of United Zomi Organisation (UZO) by T. Gougin, who held a postgraduate degree in Economics from the Guwahati University. Though UZO may not be the first political association formed by the Zou, it is widely recognised as the most visible institution and formal articulation of Zou political consciousness. The preservation of the Zou identity is grounded on the inclusive principle of jus soli[lxxxii] to bring together closely related dialectal groups for ethnic integration. This stands sharply contrasted to another kind of identity formation informed by the exclusivist principle of jus sanguinis which always leads to intolerance of others, and even to ethnic cleansing. The Kuki-Naga ethnic conflict of 1992 – 95, for instance, was the unfortunate outcome of such exclusivist understanding of ethnic identity based on jus sanguinis[lxxxiii]. Though identity politics, when based on jus soli, has emancipatory effects for the communities concerned, it always has destructive consequences when grounded on jus sanguinis. The assertion of ethnic identity or ‘moral ethnicity’[lxxxiv] is something to be distinguished from the discredited ideology of tribalism, of which the tribes of Northeast India are at times accused of.

Concluding Remarks
This concise ethno-history of the Zou attempted to provide an account of how the evolution of this community reflects elements of continuity and change. While preserving the historical name of the whole Chin-Kuki-Lushai (Zo) nomenclature various recorded as Yo, Yaw, or Jo, the Zou community had always adapted with new challenges from outside. Like other Zo kin groups, the Zou community had resisted assimilation by the Burmese culture in the Chin Hills, but later decided of their own to appropriate and adopt the new Western religion – Christianity in the mid-1950s by abandoning their traditional religious practice best known as Lawki religion. This is a painful but wise strategy of adaptation which opened up the new Judeo-Christian world-view which was translated into local categories by utilising Zou traditional linguistic and cultural resources.
The separation of evangelical mission and the ecumenical vision has always resulted in unfortunate lines of divisive action among the Zou Christians as it happened in 1976 and 2003. Western Christianity and its civilisation has no uniform characteristics, so the Zous need to be critical in appropriating the “doctrines” of Western Christianity into the Zou cultural context. Needless to say that the Zous requires to be firmly rooted in the finest elements of their traditional culture while re-discovering the ecumenical vision of JCA pioneers without losing their evangelical zeal to re-create the life of people in divine image. But unbridled evangelicalism’s desire to change and transform individual lives soon becomes short-sighted without the over-all ecumenical vision of Christian unity and social stability. To divorce evangelical mission from ecumenical mandate both in theory and practice is always lamentable in its final outcome. Evangelicalism is driven by “change” – the zeal to change individual lives; and ecumenism is inspired by “continuity” – the continuing unity of Christianity collectively amidst changes over time. Both in the religious and secular spheres, the balance between these two supplementary forces of society need to be carefully maintained. Critical history-writing is concerned with change as much as continuity over time in the collective memory.

* David Vumlallian Zou completed both MA and M.Phil from the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, New Delhi. At present, he pursues his PhD at Queen’s University Belfast, United Kingdom.

Notes and References:
[i] Brauel, F. History and Sociology. In On History. Chicago: university of Chicago Press, 1980, p.27
[ii] Padre Vincentius Sangermano was ‘one of the earliest of that type of Christian missionaries who, in order to influence people, set themselves to study their language, literature and institutions. He became fluent in both spoken and written Burmese. But Sangermano rendered his accounts in Latin, which was translated and published into English by Dr. W. Tandy in 1833, with the support of the Roman Sub-committee of the Oriental Translation Fund. See Sangermano, Father, A Description of the Burmese Empire: Compiled chiefly from Burmese Documents, Tr. William Tandy (Susil Gupta, London, 966; first published, 1833) p. 43.
[iii] ibid.
[iv] See Go, Khup Za, A critical Historical Study of Bible Translations among the Zo people in Northeast India (Chin Baptist Literature Board, Churachandpur, Manipur, 1996) ; Kipgen, Mangkhosat, Christianity and Mizo Culture: The encounter between Christianity and Zo culture in Mizoram (Mizo Theological conference, Aizawl, 1997) ; Khai, Sing Khaw, Zo People and their Culture; A historical, cultural study and critical analysis of Zo and its ethnic tribes (Published by Khampu Hatzaw, Churachandpur, Manipur, 1995), and Vumson, Zo History: With an introduction of Zou culture, economy, religion and their status as an ethnic minority in India, Burma and Bangladesh. (Aizawl, n.d.)/ .
[v] JCA Minite Book: Proceedings and Resolutions of the Jou Christian Association at Daizang villae, 20 February 1954; preserved in ELCC Office Collections, Zomi Colony, Churachandpur,
[vi] The Zou community living in Myanmar formed a Christian association of their qwn called Zo Baptist Association (ZBC) as distinct from Zomi Baptist Convention (ZBC) mainly constituted by the Tedim Chins.
[vii] Khai, Sing Khaw, Zo people and their Culture: A historical, cultural study and critical analysis of Zo and its ethnic tribes (Churachandpur, 1995), p.22.
[viii] Lebar, Frank M; Hickey, Gerald C; and Musgrave, John K, Ethnic Groups of mainland Southeast Asia (Human Relations Area Files Press, New Haven, USA, 1964), p. 82.
[ix] Ibid.
[x] ANSAA to give Alishan new development momentum, 27 march 2003, by David Hsu, The China Post. [on-line] The Zou people also celebrate the annual millet harvest ceremony around July, an event which brings their people, spread out in other areas, back home to the distinctive thatched grass roofs, which act as a barrier against the sometimes harsh weather of the mountain and are a special attraction in themselves, as are the special pavilions in the area. The men of the Zou tribe traditionally used special shelters call "Kuba" to gather in, relax and hold discussions.
[xi] Tedim Thu Kizakna Lai (hereafter Thu Kizakna), July 1937, p.4. This was a church journal edited by the Baptist missionary J.H. Cope in Tedim since 1919. photo copies of the journal were procured by Lam Khan Piang ( a research scholar) from Gin Za Tuang Private Collections, Lawibual Veeng, Tedim, Myanmar, during his field trip in 2003. I received copies of the same from the latter.
[xii] Thu Kizakna, October 1937, p.3.
[xiii] ibid.
[xiv] ibid.
[xv] Mackenzie, Alexander, The Northeast Frontier of India (Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 2003; first published 1884) p.163.
[xvi] National Archives of India, New Delhi (hereafter NAI), Foreign Department, Extl. A, October 1893, Nos. 33 – 34, dated Camp Falam, 28 September 1892.
[xvii] Ibid.
[xviii] NAI, Foreign Department, Extl. A, September 1893, Nos. 80 – 88.
[xix] Ibid.
[xx] Carey, Bertram S. and Tuck, H.N., The Chin Hills: A History of the people, our dealings with them, their customs and manners, and a Gazetteer of their country (Delhi, Cultural Publishing House, 1983; first published, 1896) p.140.
[xxi] Mackenzie, Northeast Frontier p.172.
[xxii] Reid, Sir Robert, History of the Frontier areas bordering on Assam from 1883 – 1941 (Spectrum Publications, Guwahati and Delhi, 1997; first pub. 1942), pp. 93-94.
[xxiii] NAI, Foreign Dept., Extl. ‘A’ 1893, Nos. 80 – 88. The relevant report stated that the Yoe [Zou] tribe inhabited ‘a tract lying between 60 and 90 miles north and north-west of Fort White’. It added that ‘[n]o tribute could be demanded during the year as the administration of the tract by Burma is disputed by Assam and the Boundary Commission which should have met during the open season to deliminate the boundary between Chinland and Manipur was postponed owing to the expedition in the Siyin-Sokte tract’. (p. xxxi).
[xxiv] Mackenzie, Northeast Frontier , p.172.
[xxv] Mackenzie, Northeast Frontier , p.173.
[xxvi] Mackenzie, Northeast Frontier , pp.174-75.
[xxvii] Mackenzie, Northeast Frontier , p.175.
[xxviii] Mackenzie, Northeast Frontier , p.174.
[xxix] Dun, Captain E.W., Gazetteer of Manipur (Manas Publications, Delhi, 1992; first pub. 1886), p. 34.
[xxx] Carey and Tuck, Vol. II, pp. cxx – cxxvi.
[xxxi] Carey and Tuck, Vol II, pp.cxxiii.
[xxxii] NAI, Foreign Department, September 1983, No. 80 - 88, p.xxix.
[xxxiii] Kaizakham, P., Phiamphu Khang Thu Suut Na (Genealogy of the Phiamphu Clan), Churachandpur, Manipur, 2000, pp.25 – 29.
[xxxiv] Ibid.
[xxxv] It may be noted that tribes like Simte and Paite found in Manipur are of recent formation through the process of state recognition by the Constitution Amendment Act (SC/ST List Modification Order , 1956). In comparison with Zou, Thado, Guite, Kamhau, Sukte or Siyin of the older or historical tribes dating back to the periods of settlements in Chin Hills, the new order of tribes like Simte and Paite are instances of new official ‘tribe-identity formation’. This explains the immense zeal of the latter in asserting their community identity often effusively. But tribe consciousness is relatively weak among the historical tribes – Zou, Thado, Guite, Sukte and Siyin. In fact, older categories like Guite, Sukte and Siyin have already become obsolete as tribe-identity with the emergence of Paite tribe. Likewise, the historical Thado identity is overshadowed by a generic Kuki identity, and the Zou tribe is engulfed in another generic nomenclature Zomi till recently. Of late, it appears even the older tribes are no longer immune to acute tribe-consciousness reflected by the new tribes.
[xxxvi] Carey and Tuck, Vol. I, p.140.
[xxxvii] Guite, Douzathang, Zogam Thuchin Mualsang (Guwahati, 2003), pp. 218 –219.
[xxxviii] Ibid., p.221.
[xxxix] E.O.Fowler, letter to Howchinkhup, General Department, No. 3432/7M-11, office of the Commissioner, North West Border Division, 25 march 1924, in Acts and Achievements of Hau Chin Khup, KMS, Chief of the Kamhau clan, Chin Hills, Tiddim (Ratnadipan Pitika Press, Mandalay, 1927) p. 17.
[xl] Kapchinlam, P., Tanglai Zomi Pasal Hatte, Part I (Ancient Heros of Zomi), Churachandpur, 1994, pp.21-26.
[xli] Raja Chandrakirti Singh was formally installed as king in 1834/1844 and 1850/1886, born 1831, married (amongst others), Rani Chongtham Chanu Kooseswari Devi . He died 1886.
[xlii] Kapchinlam, Tanglai Zomi ,p.24.
[xliii] Ibid.
[xliv] S. Haokip argues that what has been called ‘Kuki uprising’ may better be termed ‘Kuki rising’ since the latter is a ‘political terminology symbolizing the national status of the Kuki’. See, British Library , London, Political Department, No. 8856 P, 27 September 1920, Burma and Assam Frontier L/PS/10/724.
[xlv] Haokip, P.S., Zale’n-Gam: The Kuki Nation (KNO Publication, 1998) p.100.
[xlvi] Unpublished compilation of Zou folk songs by the Zomi Saangnaupang Pawlpi, Delhi Branch (Undated mimeograph).
[xlvii] Kipgen, 1996, p.76.
[xlviii] Annual Reports of the Baptist Missionary Society in South Lushai Hills, Assam, 1912. The BMS reports from 1901 –1038 have been collected by the Mizoram Gospel Centenary Committee, Baptist Church of Mizoram, 1993, Serkawn.
[xlix] Computed on the basis of figures for rural and urban demography for all Scheduled Tribes in Churachandpur district provided in Census of India 1981.
[l] 40th Anniversary of Zomi Women Christian Association Souvenir,2000; pp. 8 - 9.
[li] Dimkhochin, Ruth, ‘Sum leh Paai a Numeite Mawpuohna’ in Lentang Women Christian Association (MWCA) 25th Souvenir 1976 – 2000; pp.16 – 17.
[lii] .Meirion Lloyd, History of the Church in Mizoram: Harvest in the Hills, Aizawl, Synod Publication, 1991, p.146.
[liii] Lloyd, pp. 186, 342
[liv] Downs, Frederick S., Essays on Christianity in Northeast India (Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi, 1994), pp. 17 – 18.
[lv] This volume is well-written and reflects the initial objectives of CHAI even better than the many of the earlier volumes which appeared to be higher in its Editorial Board’s priority. See Frederick S. Downs, history of Christianity in India: Northeast India in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume V, part 5, Bangalore, 1992.
[lvi] Quoted in Downs, 1994, p.17.
[lvii] Downs, 1994, p.18.
[lviii] Pamei, Ramkhum, The Zeliangrong Nagas: A study of tribal Christianity, New Delhi, Uppal Publication House, 1996.
[lix] In a paper entitled “The Idea of Church Archives and Literature Ministry” – submitted to JCA Golden Jubilee souvenir magazine – I have referred to the needless storm of confusion that raged around the historic date of Jou Christian Association (JCA)’s first formal meeting at Daizang village. There is, however, no controversy about the locale of the conference; but the date and the year? Those were the problems. Revd Kamkhosoi (who dealt with this knotty problem earlier) had written in a conclusive air for his M.Th thesis that there are three traditions regarding the formation of JCA;as –
(a)22 January 1952, based on oral testimony of T. Dongzagin, one of the JCA founding members, (b) 10 February 1953, based on the ZCA Silver Jubilee souvenir of 1978, and (c) 20 February 1954, based on Tapidaw ZCC souvenir of 1994. Revd Kamkhosoi, it would appears, was earlier deprived of the light that the JCA Minute has to show for a crucial chronological signpost of his research. My historical sense was really pricked by what I considered to be the lack of our archival documentation when I first investigated this question. But thank God, things were not as hopeless as we initially assume it to be! It is a pleasant surprise that a new source of information and archival documentation has come to my notice since then. The original hand-written minute book is fortunately neither destroyed nor lost to us. It still fortunately survives, and is available for reference. This 50-year old rare document is preserved in the custody of ELCC Office, Zomi Colony, Churachandpur. I have seen it myself a scanned copy of it, and it settles all my earlier questions. The open page of the JCA Minute runs as follows:
“MEMBAR 1954. Date 20.2.54 ni a Daijang a J.C.A. kikhop na a thu kipua sah te a nuai ah te ahi. Mipi lemsah dung zui n member mi giat (8) a kitel a, member ten jong J.C.A. kivai puahna thu dung jui a um ding in suai a pe chiat uhi.
1. Khupmeng Tuaitengphai Chairman
2. Kamjakhup Daijang Secretary
3. Thongjakhup Tuaitengphai Treasurer
4. Dongjagin Tuaitengphai member … …”
I think the document speaks for itself. The name of Revd Kamkhosoi’s informant – Dongzagin – reappears in the JCA Minutes signed on 20 February 1954. Poor fellow, the memory of this informant has cruelly failed him to the extent of pushing back the date to 22 January 1952. Anyway human memory is a treacherous and paltry thing; we cannot really rely on it. However, what is written remains forever; it is the most faithful mirror of our past. While we are at liberty to celebrate JCA jubilee at any date of our choice, we are now left with no doubt about the actual historical date of JCA’s formation. Note well, the JCA Minute Book records it as 20 February 1954 A.D.
[lx] Proceedings and Resolutions of the Jou Christian Association : Minute Book, Special Collections of Evangelical Lutheran Christian Church Office, Zomi Colony, Churachandpur, Manipur, India. (Hereafter JCA Minutes).
[lxi] JCA Minute Book.
[lxii] JCA Minute Book.
[lxiii] JCA Minute Book.
[lxiv] Thangkhanlal, Naupangte Zou lai Patna – Zomi Primer (Churachandpur, 1967).
[lxv] Grierson, G.A. (ed.) Linguistic Survey of India: Tibeto-Burman Family, Part III (Low Price Publication, Delhi, 1990; first pub. 1904), p.5.
[lxvi] Zou lai Patna, p. (iv).
[lxvii] Thangkhanlal, Learners’ English Grammar and Composition (Published by M. Tongzapau, Imphal, 1967).
[lxviii] Ibid., p. 1.
[lxix] Thangkhanlal, ‘Zou kam leh Zou La’ in Zomi Sangnaupang Pawlpi (ZSP) Annual Magazine, 1995 – 96, pp.56 – 58.
[lxx] Hastings, 1997, p. 194.
[lxxi] Hastings, 1997, p. 195.
[lxxii] See Sanneh, Lamin, Translating the Message: The Misionary impact on Culture i(Orbis, New York, 19900.
[lxxiii] Go, 1996, Bible Translation,p. viii.
[lxxiv] Besides Suangphu, there are villages like Khuaivum and Vanglai (Tuntum) where Tungkua is still spoken across the Indo-Myanmar border. I visited the village of Suangphu a couple of times in 1988 and 1991 as an interpreter for a researcher associated with a Roman Catholic seminary. This field-researcher was trained as a priest, and he was from South India. Due to his different physical traits, the villagers were at first suspicious of my friend whom they took to be ‘galkaapte’ (an army personnel) since Indian military men of the Border Security Force was encamped near the village at that point of time.
[lxxv] Thangkhanlal, ‘Zou kam leh Zou La’, p. 58.
[lxxvi] Clifford, James, ‘On Ethnographic Authority’ in Representations No. 2 (Spring 1983), pp. 136 – 137.
[lxxvii] Go, 1996, p. 85.
[lxxviii] Samte, David K., ‘Jou Christian Association (JCA)’ in Tapidaw 40th Souvenir 1954 – 1994, ZCC, Zomi Colony, Churachandpur, p. 44.
[lxxix] Though no official figures are available, it is possible to arrive at a rough estimate of the Zou population in Myanmar who organised themselves as Zo Baptist Association (ZBA) as different from the Zomi Baptist Convention (ZBC) which is dominated by the Tedim Chins whose population is about 100,000 in 1983 according to the Report of United Bible Societies (1994). It is obvious that there will be an overlapping in statistical figures since most of the Zous in the Chin Hills are equally fluent in Tedim language; however this does not apply in case of Manipur Zou-speakers.
[lxxx] Sowing Circle, Bible Society of India, Vol. 8, No. 2, p.37.
[lxxxi] Jougamthusuo March 1954 Ist Issue (Monthly) Babulane, Imphal, Editor S. Semkhopao. Preserved at ELCC Hqrs. Office’s archival dossiers, Zomi Colony, Lamka.
[lxxxii] See Hastings, Adrian, The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism (Cambridge University Press, 1997), p.34.
[lxxxiii] Ibid.
[lxxxiv] See Lonsdale, John, ‘Moral Ethnicity and Political Tribalsim’ pp. 103 – 30 of Preben Kaarshohn and Jan Hultin (eds.) Inventions and Boundaries: historical and Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Ethnicity and Religion (Roskilde university Press, Denmark, 1994)