Generic Name / Imposed Names : Chin

As already mentioned, in Burma the Zomi are known as Chin. It has since become a matter of great controversy how this terminology originated. In this respect many scholars advanced different theories. B. S. Carey and H. N. Tuck asserted it to be a Burmese corruption of the Chins word “Jin” or “Jen” which means man. Prof. F. K. Lehman was of the view that the term might be from the Burmese word ‘Khyan” which means ‘basket’, saying,

“The term ‘Chin’ is imprecise. It is a Burmese word (khyan), not a Chin Word. It is homologous with the contemporary Burmese word meaning basket”.

Implied thus is that the basket carrying inhabitants of the Chin Hills bordering the plain Burmans are Chin. 

But according to Prof. G. H. Luce, an eminent scholar of the early Burmese history, the term “Chin” (khyan in old Burmese) was derived from the Burmese word meaning “ally” or “comrade” in describing the peaceful relationship which existed between the Chins and the Pagan Burman in their historical past. His interpretation was based on the thirteenth century Pagan inscription. However, the same inscription also revealed the controversial slave trade along the Chindwin River. However, in the year 1950 the Burmese Encyclopaedia defined Chin as “ally”.

This official publication was challenged by Pu Tanuang, an M.P. from Mindat (Chin State) in the Burmese Parliament. He criticized the Government for politicizing the name. The Revered S. T. Hau Go, a former lecturer of Mandalay University writes,

“Whatever it meant or means, however it originated and why, the obvious fact is that the appellation “Chin” is altogether foreign to us. We respond to it out of necessity. But we never appropriate it and never accept it and never use it to refer to ourselves. It is not only foreign but derogatory, for it has become more or less synonymous with being uncivilized, uncultured, backward, even foolish and silly. And when we consider such name calling applied to our people as “Chinbok” (stinking Chin) we cannot but interpret it as a direct and flagrant insult and the fact that we have some rotten friends”.

Whatever the case may be, from the above evidence it can be concluded that the word was coined by the Burmese and it was adopted by the British officials. Investigation and research, however, proves that such a word as “Chin” does not exist in the vocabulary of the Zomi. The people themselves do not use in their folksongs, poetry or language. Even today the name remains strange to the illiterate people of the countryside in the very region called Chin Hills in Burma.



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