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News & Views


A section of the Zomi who have migrated into Burma from the Tibeto Plateau almost in a straight line down south, are to be found from the Somra Hill Tracts down to Cape Negrais. The Zomi, then living mostly in north western Burma, are known to have social intercourse with the Burmese at the time of the Kingdom of Pagan (1044-1287). There were Zomi levies in the armies of King Bayinnaung of Toungoo 1551-81 and of King Alaungpaya of Ava 1752-60. Local tradition has it that the ancestors of some of the people forming the principal tribes ascended the Zolands from the Kale-kabaw and Myitta River Valleys. There is a great deal of social intercourse between the Zomi and the Burmese. Many Zomi living in the Pakokku, Thanyetmyo, Prome and Henzada districts have become Burmanised, being mostly Buddhists. Even in respect of the Zomi in the Chin Hills district those who have inhabit the southern portion and those areas adjacent to the Kale-Kabaw Valley are in close touch with the Burmese.

1 Report of Frontier Areas Committee of Enquiry, 1947, Rangoon, Part I p.10 

Of the Yo or Yau country, lying along the river of that name, between the barren Tangyi hills that line the Irawdi, opposite Pagan and the base of the Aracan Yoma-doung, nothing more is known. I am sorry to say, than was recorded long ago by Dr. Buchanan. The people are believed to be of the same race with the Burmese, but, from their secluded position, speak the language in a peculiar dialect. There are paths from the Yau country into the Kaldan valley in Aracan, which King Tharawadi made some talk of rendering passable for troops, when he was breathing war in 1839. They must traverse the country of some of the wildest tribes of the Yuma, and nothing of them is known. The Yaus are great traders, and are the chief peddlers and carriers of northern Burma.

2 Henry Yule, A narrative of the Mission to the Court of Ava, 1955, OUP, 1968, p.279 

The ‘Dzo’ tribes inhabit the hilly country to the east of the Chittagong district in lower Bengal; their habitat may be roughly stated as compared within the parallels of Latitude 24 .45° N and 25.20 ° N., and between the Meridians of Longitude 92.30 °and 93.45 °

Under the term ‘Dzo’ are included all the hill tribes of this region, who wear their hair in a knot resting on the nap of the neck. The tribes further south and east, of whom little is yet known, are distinguished under the generic title of ‘Poi’; these wear the hair knotted upon the temple.

The ‘Dzo’ state that the Poi language is entirely distinct from theirs, and that they have no common medium of intercommunication. I am myself disposed to think that the two languages must have some affinity, but I have as yet no certain information on this point.

The term Kuki is a generic name applied by the inhabitants of the plains, Bengallees and others, to all hill-dwellers who cultivated by Jum. The word Kuki is a foreign to the different dialects of the hill tribes, the nearest approach to it being the ‘Dzo’ term for the Tipra tribe, which is called by them Tui-Kuk.

3 Capt. Thomas Herbert Lewis, B.S.C, 
DeputyCmmissioner, Chittagong Hills, in his INTRODUCTION 
To Progressive Colloquial Exercises in the Lushai Dialect 
Of the ‘Dzo’ or KUKI LANGUAGE, with vocabularies 
And Popular Tales (Annoted), Calcutta, 1874

I do not know the origin of the name Chin it is Burmese. I fancy; anyhow the Chins do not have the word and call themselves ‘Zo’, ‘Zote’ being the plural.

Captain F. M. Rundall, 
Manual of the Siyin Dialect spoken in 
The Northern Chin Hills, 1891, p.20

The Chins (who call themselves Zho, Shu, or Lai) show the most clearly marked footprints of the immigrant Burmese. Probably they may be taken to be a presentment of the pagan Burman before he acquired Buddhism. There are strong resemblances in their manners and customs, which are most clearly seen in Customary Law of the Chins, translated by Maung Tet Pyo, a magistrate in the Thayetmyo district. It is also undisputed that the Thet, or Sak, of Thare Kettara, who moved from there to found Pagan and start the Burmese race as we know it, were a Chin clan.

Sir J. G. Scott, K.C.I.E., Burma, p.20 

To the east of the Chien Mountain, between 20.30 and 21.30 north latitude, is a pretty nation called Jo (Yaw). They are supposed to have been Chien, who in progress of time have become Burmese, speaking their language, although very corruptly, and adopting all their customs. These Jo generally pass for necromancers and sorcerers, and are for this reason feared by the Burmese, who dare no ill-treated them for fear of their revenging themselves by some enchantment.

Father Sangermano edited by John Jardine, 
The Burmese Empire, 1884, p.43


Synonims. Cuci Khyang, Khyeng, Kookie, Kuki
ORIDENTATION. Identification: Although Chin speakers as a whole have no single name for themselves, many groups use what appear to be variant forms of one word, zo (yo, sho), as in laizo, Mizo, Hyou, Asho. Zo, according to Lehman, has the meaning “uncivilized”, contrasting with vai, “civilized”, and by implicatian, Burmese. The English name is derived from Burmese Chin, writeen Khyang. This word, meaning “friend”, according to Luce, and probably referring to the Chins, is recorded either as Khyang or Khlang from the thirteenth century A.D. Khyang is still current in Arakan and Chittagong for some of the Chins there. The older English form Khyang is obviously related to Khyang and Chin. In English, the name Chin is customarily applied to these people when they are discussed within the context of Burma. The earliest British contact occurred, however, from the direction of India, and within this context they were called Kookie or Cuci, earlier forms of what is today written Kuki. From these two names has arisen the combination Kuki-Chin. Kuki remains the most common general term for these people in India and East Pakistan, and at this general level it is equivalent to Chin.

Frank M. Lebar, Gerald C. Hickey, John K. Musgrave,  
Ethnic Groups of Mainland South-East Asia,  
Human Relations Area Fil Press, New Haven,1964, p.49

The Chins use two words in referring to the Burmans: Vai(civilized) is used to describe Burman society as a whole and a more derogatory term, kawl, to describe the Burman individual.

There are forty four Chin-speaking peoples of western Burma and the Chin Special Division, each having less than 10 percent of the total number of Chins, estimated at 5,00,000 in 1970. The term Chin actually refers to a variety of groups whose languages are more closely related to each other than any other group. Chin speakers do not identify themselves as a single entity, although many groups, such as the Laizo, Mizo, Hyou, and Asho, use varying forms of the word Zo (such as yo and sho) as a term self-identification. Zo has the connotation of “uncivilized” in contrast to vai and, by implication, to Burman. The Chin-speaking population extends across the Burmese national border into north eastern India and Pakistan, where the language is usually called Kuki, or Kuki-Chin. North of the Chins are the Nagas, with whom they merge linguistically and culturally. There is reported to be little difference between the two groups, and it is difficult to determine where one begins and the other ends.

Area Handbook of Burma,1971, p.103-4 

The Chin people, numbering more than 1 million, live in the mountainous Chin Hills area of North-western Burma, and in Manipur, India. The name Chin, which generally refers to the 300,000 Chins of Burma, is believed to derive from the Burmese word for ‘friend’. Indian Chins, a group that includes the Manipuri and others, are called by the general term ‘Kuki’. The Chins speaking languages of Tibeto-Burman family, related, within the Kuki Chin language group, to numerous tongues of north-east India, notably Lushai.

Asho, or Southern, Chins, live in the plains of the Irrawaddy lowlands of Burma, considerably separated from the other Chin groups. Their name reflects a form of a root ‘zo’, which according to some means ‘hillsmen’, and is found in many Chin designations, i.e. Mizo and Laizo. the Asho language is closely related to the Saingbaung Chin tongue.

Eugene A. Nida, Ph. D., Th.D., The Book of a Thousand Tongues,  
UBS, 1972, p.67

The term “Chin” is imprecise. It is a Burmese word (khyang), not a Chin word. It is homologous with the contemporary Burmese word meaning “basket”, but I am informed by Professor G. H. Luce of Rangoon that it is in fact an old Burmese word (khyan) meaning “ally or comrade” (Luce, 1959b). No single Chin word has explicit reference to all the peoples we customarily call Chin, but all-or nearly all- of the peoples have a special word for themselves and those of their congeners with whom they are in regular contact. This word is almost always a variant form of single root, which appears as zo, yo, kseu, seu, and the like. The word means, roughly, “unsophisticated”. A few groups in the Southern Chin Hills have adopted a variant of the term “Chin” for themselves.

Dr. F. K. Lehman, The Structure of Chin Society, 1980, 
2nd Edition, p.3

The Western mountain (of Burma) are occupied by the Chin tribes and the related Naga to the north. Both are animists and members of the Tibeto-Burman linguistic family and have sizable populations on the India side of the border. The Chin speak some forty-four related languages and call themselves Zo (as the related Mizo people are known in India). They practice swidden agricultural and, at least until the beginning of this century engaged in tribal warfare, including slave raids. The Chin State had a population of 281,000 in 1974, virtually all Chin. In 1931 the Chin, including those resident in the Arakan Hill Tracts and the Irrawaddy Division, totaled 344,000. The Chin today may be undercounted and may actually number between 500,000 and 700,000. The total Chin population in both India and Burma may reach 2 million. A significant portion is Christian….

Dr. David I. Steinberg, Burma, 1982, p.8 

Fan Ch’o continues:
They (Chin) call their princes and chiefs shou. [Is this the Chin word for themselves?] The Mi-no have long white faces, the Mi-ch’en short black ones. They are by nature polite and respectful. Whenever they address anyone, they come forward making a bow at each step. The kingdoms have no cities with inner or outer walls. In the middle of the hall of the Mi-no king’s palace, there are great pillars cut and curved in patterns, and adorned with gold and silver….. They are 60 day-stages south-west of Yung-ch’ang city of the Man. In the 9th year of ta-ho [AD 135] (the Man) destroyed their kingdoms and looted their gold and silver. They captured two or three thousand of their clansmen, and banished them to wash the gold of the Li Shui’ [Irrawaddy]

‘Chins’ : Xonsai [zeu], Tiddim [zeu], Lushai [zo,zou],Hwalno [zau], K’ualsi:m [zeu], Haka [zeu], Asho [aseu],Wemetu [chou]

Prof. G.H. Luce, Phases of Pre-Pagan Burma,1985,London,pp 78 & 86 

From time immemorial we call ourselves Zo (Jo, Yaw). This fact had been admirably recorded by Father V. Sangermano since the year 1783 when he made his headquarters at AVa then considered by the Burmese as the centre of the universe. A few early writers also recorded the fact that we are Zo (Jo, Yaw) people inhabiting areas between Assam and the Irrawadi river e.g. Dr. Forchhammer, and also in Maung Tet Pyo’s book “Customary Law of the Chin Tribe” and by Sir Arthu Phayre, etc.

Dr. Vum Ko Hau, Profileof Burma Frontier Man, 1963, p.238 

The designation Zomi referes to a group of Tibeto-Burman languages spoken by tribal peoples in parts of the hilly border country of India, Burma and East Pakistan. On the Indian side, the most important of this are Lushai and Thado; in in Burma, Tiddim, Falam and haka Chin. Manipur which is connected with them, but has significant difference as well, is sometimes included in the Zomi group.

The name Kuki-Chin is composite, and is a coining of linguists. Kuki is a Bengali term applied to tribes on the Indian side, and Chin (written in Burmese as Khyan) the name given to those in Burma. Neither name is indigenous, the nearest to a common name being Zo, referring to ‘hill’ (!!?) and used of the Lushai of themselves, or in wider contexts of all related tribes. This term appears in the name Mizo the new official designation of the Lushai (“hill-people’), as well as in Zou and Zotung, and in the similar form Sho or Asho, referring to the southern Chin.

A group of tribes in Tripura and Sylhet, in the north-west of the region are commonly called Hallam, while their neighbours in Cachar and the Jaintia Hills, the Biete are known to the Khasi as Hadem, and the Sakachep of Sylhet are sometimes called Khelma. The Dimasa-Kachari, whose language belongs to another group, but live in contact with these tribes are known to the Bengali as Haidamba and hidimba. It seems then that Hallam is primarily a geographical term.

Other tribes have an element rang in their name, such as Ranglong, Hrangkhol, Gangte (or Rangte) and Rongtu. this element also appears in the names of Non-Kuki tribes, including Riang, Rengma, Nruanghmei etc., and is perhaps cognate with Malay orang-”man”.

Some tribesmen tie their hair in a bun at the back, others in a know over the forehead. The Lushai, who wear the back-bun call these other tribes pawi, and the Burmese similarly applied the term Baungshe (“worn in front”) to the Haka Chin. Other names have a geographical reference, so Hmar – “north”, Simte – “southern people”, the suffic-te in this and other names (such as Gangte, Paite, Biete etc) being a common noun plural affix hence ‘people’)

LOCATION :The region where Zomi languages are spoken streches from about 91.30 East to 95.0 East, and from 25.30 North to 18.0’ North. For the most pat it consists of ranges of hills running from north to south, and upto 9,000 feet high, though mostly much lower than this. The rivers run north and south between the ranges except for short stretches of their lower courses where they break through the gaps in the hills and flow eastward or westward. Apart from the Manipur valley, where irrigated rice cultivation is possible; most of the terrain is sub-tropical forest which is cleared by jhumming or the slash-and-burn system, for the planting of hill rice and other crops; while bamboo provides the material for housing, furnishing and the utensils in daily domestic use.

The Zomi region covers parts of different political areas as follows:
1. Assam : part of the North Cachar and Mikir Hills, part of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Cahcar, and the Lushai Hills or Mizo District.
2. Nagaland : part of the extreme south.
3. Manipur : state
4. Tripura : state
5. East Pakistan (Bangladesh) : Sylhet District and the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
6. Burma : The Chin Hills Special Division, where large Chin groups including Tiddim, Falam, and Haka are to found, and parts of the Magwe Division (Pakokku and Thayetmyo) and Arakan Division (Arakan Hill Tracts, Akyab, Kyaukpyu and Sandoway), where various southern Chin tribes are located.

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL SOURCE : In the early nineteenth century references occur in various reports relating to the eastern frontiers of India, and these often include brief notices of language. Later more systematic comparative lists were prepared, as well as monographs on individual tribes, and grammars and dictionaries of the more important languages. 

Since then, important studies have been made of a few languages, such as Lushai, but much still remains to be done. Efforts were made to promote a Linguistic Survey of Burma, and a preliminary report, which included statistics of Chin languages were issued at Rangoon in 1917, but subsequent events prevented this project ever materializing. However, in 1954, under the auspices of the Rangoon University, a survey party led by Prof. G. H. Luce visited the Chin Hills, of which a report was published in the Journal of the Burma Research Society Vol 42, Part I, 1959. On of the fruits of this expedition was Prof. E.J.A. Henderson’s Tiddim-Chin, which is the first extensive treatment of a Zomi language according to modern technical linguistic methods.

Detail bibliographies of Zomi language studies may be found in the introduction and under individual language headings in the Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. III, Part III (Calcutta, 1904). Later works may be sought in R. Shafer; Bibliography of Sino-Tribetan Languages, (Wiesbaden, 1957). Reference to these and other materials are included in this present report.

Dr. G.E. Marrison, Lingustic Advisor 
Bible Society of India and Ceylon, 1964 
A contribution to their classification, 1967



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