According to traditional verses, a sizeable group of the Zomi from the Kale-Kabaw valley area of the Myitha River entered the north-western corner of Burma and made their settlements there. This area or region came to be called Zogam or Zo Country, but is now called Chin State. Another group went up from the Kalemyo area and settled at Thuamvum (also known as Kennedy Peak). From there again another small group went to Nawmkailou and established a village called Zangpitam where they joined the people of Chiimnuai. Pu Thangtuan wrote:
“Starting from Kawlpigam (Kale-Kabaw Valleys), it was along the Tuingou and across the Thangmual that they went and arrived at the khul (khul=cave or pit) and from there they founded Chiimnuai.”
Chiimnuai is a place situated between the modern Phaileng and Saizang villages, about 10 miles from Tedim. Subsequently, the descendents of the various northern Zomi clans spread along the different sides of Chiimnuai, and Sihzang. The Galte, Gangte, Paite, Sukte, Simte, Thadou, Vaiphei, Zoute, etc. are the branches of the Zomi people of this area.
Another later group of the Zomi who moved from the Myitha River went to the central Chin Hills and made a temporary settlement at Hmunli. From Hmunli they moved to Lailun near Sunthla Village located between Falam and Haka. According to the version of the Hualngou or Lushei and Ngawn people their forefathers originated from Seipui and Kawlni areas of the valley of the Manipur River which was running through the Falam and the Tedim townships.
As mentioned above, the settlement of the Zomi in the plain areas was severely disturbed by the invasion of the Tartars and the influx of the Shans. Thus, they fled into the hill areas and made their settlement either in caves or in cliffy areas. From this a new notion developed among the Zomi of the northern areas that they originated from Khul. For example, the people of Saizang strongly believed that the Zomi were descendants of a couple named Thungthu and Nemvung, whom they took to have been from Leinuai (underworld) and sprung out of the khul. On the basis of this belief the people of Saizang area even today perform a religious rite by sacrificing a he-goat every year at the Khul. The same practice is done at the Lailun cave also by the Zomi people of the Falam area.
For about four generations all the northern Zomi lived at Chiimnuai without any problems. In due course there was a tremendous increase in population. Then evolved clan divisions, the institution of tulip (priesthood) on clan or family lines and the naming of clans emerged gradually. It is said that the clan system which exists today in the Zomi society started during this time. After some decades, the people again started to settle in different areas under different names. The practice of assuming names after the topographical or place names and the names of their ancestors began and their speech, too, began to crystallize or change into various local dialects. It is mentioned that these people who settled at a place where “Gamsai” (a kind of wood/grass) was abundant, are called “Saizangs”; those who lived in a region of “Gang” (a kind of creeper) are called “Gangte” and those who lived in a place where “Teising” (a kind of hard wood) grew, are known as “Teizangs” while those who lived beyond the Manipur River are known as “Gaalte”. Similarly, those people who settled down at the Thangtang-hilly place are known as Zoute and those people who went southward are known as “Sukte”. Thus the Zo people expanded their settlements under different names or nomenclature. Later on they emerged as a distinctive ethnic group under able leaderships.
It is recorded that in the middle of the 14th century AD a group of Zomi people entered into Tripura, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Assam and Lushai Hills and made their settlements there. They were called “Kuki” by the plain people. The other groups of Zomi who had migrated first from Chin Hills into the Lushai Hills, Cachar, Tripura and Manipur were also called by different names, such as the Khelma, the Bete (Baite), the Rangkhols, the Langrong, the Aimual (Aimol), the Anal, the Chiru, the Lamkang, the Kolken, the Kom, the Chote (Purum) and the Hmar (Mar).
The Hmar tribes after crossing the Thantlang and Len range of the Chin Hills settled at Champhai and its surrounding areas. They were, however soon ousted by the Pawis. As a result, many clans of the Hmars, such as the Darlong, Dawn, Bawng, Mualthuam, Faihriam and Hrangkhawl moved westward and later along/across the Dawiartlang and Mawmrang ranges (in present Mizoram) and from there they entered into Tripura and North Cachar Hills.
The Anal migrated from the Chin Hills to Manipur via the Lushai Hills. According to John Shakespear, “the Chiru and Anal are mentioned in the Manipur Chronicle as early as the sixteenth century while the Aimol made their first appearance in 1723. The Chirus, another group of Zomi, who settled in the areas between Phaileng and Darlawn in the Lushai Hills, migrated towards the north and settled down at Tinsuang, Sanglel, Chorui Kholen and Dolang and lastly at Luanglevaisuah in the tri-junction area of Manipur-Mizoram-Assam state of India.
The Gaalte was the first group of the northern Zomi who migrated from Chiimnuai and made their settlement at Tonglui, Suangphai, Heiki and Kawlni, bordering Ngawn area of present Falam District.
The Vaiphei began their migration from Chiimnuai to Khovaiphei in the Sihzang area and settled down there for quite some time. The tribe name “Vaiphei”, originated from there. (Kho=village, Vai=breadth; phei=plains).
The first wave of the Zomi who settled in Sadar Hills area of Manipur came to be known as the Kukis by anthropologists, whereas the second group of the Vaiphei moved during the Chin Hills Expedition (1892-93). During the years 1772-74 the Thadous, along with other tribes, like the Gangte, the Vaiphei, the Simte, the Zoute, etc. migrated into the Lushai Hills.
In 1848-49, the Lusheis (Lusheis/Luseis) drove out the Thadous from the Lushai Hills and they entered into Cachar. From there, the Thadous entered into Manipur in three groups. The first group consisting of Sithlous, Singsons, Changsans, Lhamgums, etc. moved towards the North Cachar Hills. The second group consisting of other Sitlous and their adherents moved along the hills between the Barak River and the valley of Manipur. The third group which was composed of the Haokip clans moved up the eastern hills. The Chahsat (Taksat) chief with his followers moved up along the hills on the east of the valley of Manipur. The majority of the Doungel clan migrated from the south-western hills to the eastern hills and settled in a country claimed by the Manipur and Thangdut states.
The Luseis were the last major emigrants from the Chin Hills into the Lushai Hills. They built the town of Selesih and Zoupui after crossing the Tiau River. The Zopui town was built under the leadership of Lallula in about 1765 AD. The Lushei clans under various chiefs of the Thangur family came into prominence in the eighteenth century. John Shakespear said that from the Thangura sprang Rokhum, Zadeng, Thangluah, Palian, Rivung and Sailo .
About 1870 the great exodus of the Guite from around Tedim occurred. They adopted two routes, one was northward with settlement at and around Mualpi under Goukhothang and the other party migrated into the Lushai Hills and settled down among the Luseis under Chief Poiboi. In the Annual Administration Report of Manipur Agency, 1877-78, it is stated that about 2000 persons belonging to the Sukte clan migrated during the year into Manipur territory where they settled down on lands assigned to them by the Maharajah, in the neighbourhood of Moirang, to the south-west of the Valley. These people were chiefly the Paites as they are known today. Carey and Tuck says, “They migrated, by stages, northwards and we can now trace their course by the deserted ruins of large villages and heaps of stones and stone slabs which they set up as monuments in years gone by”.
There are other groups who came to Manipur from the Tedim area via the Lushai hills. From Chin Hills they entered the then Lushai Hills and finally came over to Manipur. The Luseis called them “Dapzar”/”Dapzal”. The term “Dapzal” was derived from their practice of covering the roofs of houses with split bamboos. (Dap=split bamboo; zar/zal=spread/flatten). A dialect known as Dapzal was born there whose accent is nearer to the Lushei language because of their long contact and association with them.
Another group of Paite entered Manipur in the year 1870 under the leadership of Hen-Gou of the Naulak clan. They came from Chin Hills through Mizoram. They left Dimpi Village and went to Lushai Hills and settled in Ngurtlang. At Ngurtlang they lived in a big cave called Bukpi (now Bukpui).
The Teizang group of Paites entered the Lushai Hills late in 1830 during British rule. They made their first settlement at Vapar. They were followed by some other groups or clans who founded villages at Ngur, Kelkang, Leisenzou, Sesih, Mualkawk, Lailiphai and Ngaizawl.
The Zomi movements and present settlement today, however, should not be misconstrued as an intrusion or being immigrants to a particular country because they settle in an ‘uninhabited’, ‘un-administered area’ which remains terra incognito for decades even after the arrival of the British in their country. Their independent settlement towards south of the famous Loktak Lake (Manipur) can be corroborated by the peace agreement made between the Maharaja of Manipur and Sumkam, s/o Raja Goukhothang in March 1873. Based on this agreement, the Zomi folksong tellingly delineates their country as
“Tuan a pupa leh Khang vaimangte,
Tongchiam kangtui minthang aw,
Pu leh Pi leh kangtui minthang,
A tua Zota kual hi e.”
Our fore-fathers had a promise with the Meiteis of Loktak;
From the famous Loktak to Chindwin,
It is the land of the Zomi).