Kuki-Chin-Mizo: The lost tribe of Israel
By George T. Haokip
The Kuki-Chin-Mizo or “Chhinlung Chhuak” are ethnologically descendent of one ancestor, knit together by common tradition, customs, culture, language and social life. They live in India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Their population break up is about 5,00,000 with an area of 9,500 square kilometres in Manipur, about 8,00,000 with an area of 22,000 square kilometres in Mizoram about 2,00,000 with an area of 1000 square kilometres in Cachar and North Cachar in Assam, about 2,00,000 with an area of 7,800 square kilometres in Chittagong Hill track of Bangladesh and 30,00,000 with an area of more than 10,000 square kilometres in Chin Hills, Matu area, Khumi area, Mira area and Arakan area in Myanmar (CIPC Diary by F. Lala p. 136).
Their total population therefore, is about 50,00,000 millions with an area of 1,24,500 square kilometres. Though they are the same group with same origin, same culture, speaking the same language and are knit together by same custom and tradition, they have unfortunately been called and known by different names in different countries.
The emergence of sovereign state of India , Myanmar (Burma) and Pakistan now called Bangladesh in 1940’s gave insult to these people. It may be noted that during the British rule in the 19th century, these groups were subjugated exercising the policy of divide and rule.
The progress of research work in recent times has given more validity to their claim for Jewish origin. There are several theories about the Kuki-Chin-Mizo origin. Theories like creation, Khul, Chhinlung however are a part and parcel of Israel /Jewish origin theory. Jewish theory as a matter of fact, has turned out to be most authentic and it bears empirical validity.
The tribes have so far claimed to belong to one of the lost tribes of IsraelMenashe, one of the two sons of Joseph, whose father was Jacob in the Bible. Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes have passed down through generation – the tradition that they were the descendents of the lost tribe of Menashe which is one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
The ten tribes of Israel, became “lost” around 720 BC when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and exiled the tribes that comprised it. The southern kingdom of Judah was spared the conquest, and the Jews of today primarily descended from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, which composed the southern kingdom. The Jews had split into two separate political entities after king Solomon’s death around 920 BC.
Menashe whose population was about 32200 at that time were taken as lave by the Assyrians and were brought to Assyria after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They migrated toward Afghanistan from Assyria. During the time of Alexander’s invasion, they moved along Kashmir area and Tibet plateau to escape to Mongolia and to Chhinlung in China. They at one time settled in Laos, Vietnam and Burma then migrated to Mizoram (The New Jerusalem by T Bhattacharya).
A century ago, when British missionaries entered the region they were astonished to find that the local tribesmen worship one god and were familiar with many of the stories of the Bible. Before long, the missionaries managed to convert most of their population.
Yet, many of them, Christians and other tribesmen alike, continued to preserve the belief that they are descended from ancient Israelites. A little over 25 years ago, a group of Bnei Mesashe decided to return to Judaism. They began building synagogues and mikvoat (ritual birth) and undertake to live in accordance with Jewish law.
Shortly thereafter, an Indian Jew living in Israel passed along a letter from Bnei Menashe to Rabbi Eliyahu of Jerusalem, who seeks and assists “Lost Jews” as founder and director of Amishav (literally “my people return”). Eliyahu has since been six times to India to investigate the Bhei Menashe. He is convinced of the authenticity of their tradition (Pessah 5762, March 27,2002 p.4).
The Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes have ancient songs and chants (Thiemthu) with words from the Bible. For centuries, they have been singing their folk songs like “Litenten Zion” which means “Lets go to Zion,” “Tuipi Sankan la” which means “Dried up of Red Sea” etc. even though they have no idea of what Zion or Red Sea was. They have many folk songs that mention names having connection to the Bible story. Tupi san kan la during their migration by Dr. Khuplam Milui Lenthang who is the founder of Nation Research Laboratory on Israel Identity and author of The Revelation of Ancient Time is given below in English translation.
During the celebration of the great festival, the great red water dried up. We were led by clouds by day, column of fire by night; behind my enemies pursued day and night, swallowed up by the great sea like a plague; the birds moving onward! Out of the rock, upon the holy mountain, that came out flowing water, We fetches, Selah!
The folk-songs and chantings of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes have mostly, the words ‘Selah’, ‘Aborizah’ and ‘Elo’ at the end. The meaning of these words however, is not known today, except from the Bible. Selah is found in the book of Psalm which means to repeat again and again and ‘aborizah’ a Hebrew word used for praising the God.
The Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes are said to be having ‘Bulpijem’ own writing script consisting of 32 alphabets which have Jewish connection. The scroll however, got lost during the reign of Chinese king Shih Hungtai, allegedly dated back precisely to 214 BC. (Socio, Political, Eco-History of the Kukis of Manipur by S. Kipgen).
The tribes as a matter of fact, have more than sixty customs that resemble to the Jewish customs. In this regard Rabbi Avachail said, “There is simply too much similarity between their customs and ours for it to be coincidental.” We may also quote Rabbi Shlomo Riskin words, “I have now become convinced from listening to the stories that they recorded from their grand parents about the ancient customs.
The fact is that it is very difficult not to accept their tradition that they came from the tribe of Menashe ( Long lost Jews, Pessah p.2). The people of Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes strongly believed in their Jewish origin. It awoke them to their true identity of being the lost tribe of Israel. On July 7,1994, a referendum was called by Chhinlung Israel People Convention (CIPC), a non religious, non political organisation of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes established on July 7, 1994 with its headquarters at Aizawl and whose history proves that they are the lost tribe of Israel of the tribe of Menashe and Ephraim.
The CIPC identity referendum declaration of the Chhinlung Israel, the lost tribe of Israel, was submitted to the United Nations on October 28, 1994. It declared that, the people of Kuki-Chin-Mizo/Chhinlung Chhuak ethnic group, inhabitants of the Chin Hills, the Matu areas of Myamnar, the Chittagong Hill tracts and plains in Bangladesh, the Mizoram State and the adjacent areas in Manipur, Assam and Tripura are the descendents of one ancestor.
The declaration also says, “We pledge our faith and confidence in the committee and code of the United Nations in the proclamation of our basic human rights in conformity with the charter of the UN. The Kuki-Chin in Myanmar, Lushai in Bangladesh and Mizo in India and the direct descendant of the biblical tribes of the Northern kingdom of Israel of the tribe of Menashe and Ephraim sons of Joseph born in Egypt through his Egyptian wife Asthans – convince that the time has come to declare our true identify that we the Chhinlung Chhuak are the lost tribes of Israel to the world.”
Today, there are many Bnei Menashe who live in Mizoram and Manipur with a handful in Assam and Burma (Myanmar). Most of them have undergone conversion waiting to go to Israel – the land of their forefather. Even some devoted Christians, church leaders too have agreed to the Israel /Jewish origin.
Many people have dedicated their lives to the search for Israel lost tribes. Myer Samer, an Australian Anthropologist who wrote Judaism in Manipur and Mizoram, is one of the first to study the issue and did an empirical study by undertaking field work covering Chin Hills, Mizoram and Manipur.
During the last one decade a distinguished writer Hiller Halkin, a Jewish born in New York made an in-depth investigation into the claims of Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes as Israel /Jewish origin. In this connection, he has written ‘Beyond the Sabbath River – In search of the lost tribe of Israel’ in 2002. Halkin has spent many years searching the lost Menashe tribe in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, etc., but which he found it at last in the North East India.
Dr. Khuplam was one whom Halkin has gathered information related to Kuki traditional customs, folk songs and ancient chants. Recently, he was invited to Israel where he had meeting with Israel officials and intellectuals. The lost tribe fever has overwhelm particularly in Manipur and Mizoram in recent years. Claims and counter claims between pro-Jewish and Christian groups have eventually taken place.
The re-unification of the twelve lost tribes of Israel, which is linked to the coming of Messiah, could be fulfilled very soon as prophesized in Ezekieal 37:16 -17: “Now I am taking the sons of Israel from the nation to which they went, and I will gather them from around and bring them to their land and one king will rule over them, and no longer will they be two nations, and they will not separate to two kingdoms anymore.” Aborizah!
The author is a research scholar in Manipur University, India.