A case study of the Chin-Kuki-Mizo (CHIKIM)

Published on May 14, 2009

By Priyadarshni M Gangte

The genographic history and transborder tribes – A case study of the Chin-Kuki-Mizo (CHIKIM)

Introduction:

“… Nor for the past alone for meanings to the future …”
Walt Whitman

If recent history were to repeat itself, the largest effort yet to study human genetic material may be defined as the relation of the vampire. An international team of scientists announced in April 2005, a plan to collect blood samples and extract DNA from some 100,000 people around the world including 10,000 from India. The study they claim will help the people worldwide understand their own origin better.

The new demographic trend is leading us to understand and detect the patterns of ancient human migration and the origin of population groups around the world. It has been acknowledged that the scientists will use DNA to pick together in fine detail the migratory routes that humans had taken many thousands of years ago as they trudged out of their indigenous settlements, especially from Africa where modern human originated and began to populate the world. India, some researchers believe was among their earliest pots of call.

Some years ago, the Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP) aimed at studying DNA from indigenous tribes and other communities around the world had been initiated but it had failed to take off because scientists say “imaginary figure” generated a groundswell of opinion against it.

“Every drop of human blood contains a history book written in the languages of our genes.”

This paper is an attempt to deal with the historicity of relationships among the neighbouring peoples of Chin Hills of Myanmar and that of Manipur (India) to show as to how far the various tribes and communities living therein are related. To establish the relationships of these people is extremely difficult. One cannot either out-rightly reject their ethnic relationship or accept it wholeheartedly of being related. It is mainly due to the absence of authenticated written documents available on the side of Manipur.

On the side of Myanmar the people try to establish history of their relationship through historical linguistic syntax, archeological findings, oral tradition, etc. It is now accepted that the Chin, Kuki and now Mizo – belong to the group of people identified as Tibeto-Burmans. Hence, for the purpose of this paper and for convenience of understanding, the acronym, CHIKIM, of Chin-Kuki-Mizo, shall be used henceforth to mean the people of the said group of ethnic tribals.

China origin:

The CHIKIM, as we know, asserts that they were originally from a cave called ‘Chirmlung’, Kukis call it ‘Khul’ or ‘Khur’, Mizos ‘Chhinlung’ or ‘Shinlung’. The place is given different locations by different clans.

By analysing their language and comparing with other languages, anthropologists concluded that their language is related to the Tibeto-Chinese languages and hence their cultural, affiliation with them. The Tibeto-Chinese group of people are sub-divided into several groups, e.g. Tibetan are situated on high mountain (Himalayas). Those who move downwards into the Chinese territory have Tibeto Chinese affinities and those who migrated towards Burma were aligned with the Tibeto Burman stocks.

The intermediary factors were the linguistic affinities and the territory. But to be taken of Tibeto-Chinese in Tibeto Burman groups would be a misnomer. It seldom happens. A critical study is required.

General misunderstanding and some distortion has been created on account of Grierson’s writings which have today become misleading. The Tibetans do not have much Chinese influence as has been claimed in the past rather it is just the other way. “Recent mitochondrial DNA testing has revealed these facts and the CHIKIMs are placed together with Burmans; Meiteis, Nagas, Kachins, Lolos, Tibetans” etc., as the Tibeto-Burmans. They at one time or the other, must have shared common cultural or political affiliations or both.

This leads one to believe that CHIKIM people originated in China and that they might in some way be related to bones found in the caves of Chou K’outen, south of Peking, the bones of ‘Peking Man’. Peking Man is earliest known man in China and surrounding areas, and anthropologists believe that Peking Man possessed certain characteristics peculiar to the Mongoloid species.

Traces of human existence are attributed to as long ago as a million years, and Peking Man was believed to have flourished in 5,00,000 B.C. In the others region of China stone implements and a few bones of hunting people were found which suggested a time frame of about 50,000 B.C., said Vumson in his work on Zo History (P27) and further contended that by about 4,000 B.C., a Mongolian people with a neolithic culture appeared but their tools included finely polished rectangular axes with keen cutting edges.

And, according to Eberhard, W., in his work on, a History of China, Los Angeles, 1971, there were eight principal historical cultures in China. The Ch’iang tribes, ancestors of the Tibeto-Burmans, were found in the Western China in the province of present day Szechuan and in the mountain regions of Kansu and Shensi. Wiens, JH, in his work on Han Chinese Expansion in South Asia, Hamden, 1984, said that their economy was based on sheep rearing and raising of Yaks, Ponies and some Pigs and that their cultivation was mainly on wheat and buckwheat which might have resulted from alien influence.

Hall, in his work on a History of South and East Asia, London, 1964, was convinced to say that during the Shang dynasty (1600-1028 B.C.), the Ch’iang tribes were neighbours of the Shang people with whom they were in constant state of war. They were then found to have settled in the Southwest region of Shansi and Shensi. During the Chou dynasty (722 – 481 B.C.), Ch’iang tribes were found in Northwest China, between the sources of the Yangtse and Wei, wrote, Hall.

The earliest Chinese records coming from the latter half of the second millennium B.C. called them the Ch’iang who were ultimately forced to take refuge in the Northeast Tibet due to Chinese hostility. This fact is important for cultural interaction and population influx. Subsequently, genetic mutation followed.

Tibet sojourn:

During the Han dynasty, the Ch’iang tribes appeared as the Tanguts – the Tibetan Tribal Federation. The Tanguts attempted to block Chinese access to Turkistan, which the Chinese had conquered in 73 A.D. Heavy fighting ensued and the Chinese got the upper hand, driving the Tanguts to the South. Whether this was the reason for the Tibeto-Burman’s migration to the south can only be guessed. Hall gives an earlier time, the first millennium B.C., for the Tibeto-Burmans southward migration. He writes “… they were pursued by the Chinese rulers to Tsin (Chin) through the mountains towards the south.”

The Ch’iang tribal structure was always weak, as leadership arose among them only in times of war. Their society had a military rather than a tribal structure, and the continuation of these states depended entirely upon the personal qualities of their leaders. They were fundamentally sheep breeders, not horse breeders, and therefore, showed an inclination to incorporate infantry into their armies”.

Separation from Tibet:

The absence of writing among most of the Tibeto-Chinese suggests that their separation must have begun at a very early date perhaps before the Chou dynasty, whose rulers were Tibetans. Except Tibetans, none of the Tibeto-Burman group had writings. The Chou dynasty came to an end around 200 B.C.

During the third century A.D., Buddhism was introduced into Tibet and China but none of the Tibeto-Burman group except the Tibetans were affected. They had been shifting their villages often in connection with their slash and burn method of cultivation. Civilization therefore did not penetrate them. This is an established fact. If we look into the Tibetan scripts, we will find traces of Indian influences of an early kind.

The establishment of the Tibeto-Burman influences and the people at large took centuries and the recent migration of these people to the KaleKabaw Valley has taken more than centuries and there is no sign that migration is still complete. The same pattern is very likely the case with the other Tibeto-Burman groups. The Kachin, for example, are still moving towards the south until very recently. As they slowly moved on through the hilly regions to settle at other locations and some further moved on. The result is their separation in terms of different social groups under such situations.

Those who separated last remain closely related, for example, the CHIKIM and the Meitei. There is very close affinity between the two.

Entry to Burma:

In migrating toward the present Burma, the CHIKIM people separated into two groups. One group moved southwards between the Chindwin and the Irrawaddy, and the other group moved south to the west of the Chindwin and reached CHIKIM country and the Arakan sometime before 1000 A.D. According to G.H. Luce, “the Nagas were in present Nagaland when the CHIKIM-Meitei group passed through on the move south.”

One demonstration of this was a village in Nagaland whose inhabitants never married with other tribes, but who retained the original CHIKIM language and culture. The villagers said they had lived in that village for several centuries. These villagers and some other CHIKIM-Meitei groups remained in Nagaland as others moved to the south, and these people such as the Tangkhul Nagas, are linguistically and culturally closer to the CHIKIM than to other Nagas.

In the Somra Tracts, the Pongniu, Sawlaw, Kayou and Heni clans, who speak the Kalaw dialect, are closely related to the Laizo of Falam. CHIKIM people, and also Meitei slowly moved through the Hukawng Valley. When they came to the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers, they settled there, the two big rivers giving them security and protection from enemies. One reason of their settlement could have also been influenced by their inability to cross the two big rivers. Legends tell us that CHIKIM people found out building rafts only after they saw a rabbit floating on logs. It is not true. It is natural observation of the people and rafts have been used since time immemorial.

On the Fringe of Manipur:

The ancient history of the Chindwin Valley is told in a chronicle found in Kale. The ‘Gazetteers’ speak of a ruined palace, and the chronicle of the town Yazagyo traces its history back to the time of Buddha, when Indian princes from Magadha ruled local Sak Kantu people. Even today the carved walls of the ancient town of Yazagyo can be appreciated at a place twenty miles north of Kalemyo, in the Kabaw Valley west of the Chindwin.

The chronicle says that about 639 A.D., the palace was destroyed by combined forces of the Meiteis and the CHIKIM. According to the Gazetteer, the Kale area was closely linked to ancient Magadha. Yazagyo is a corruption of Rajagriha, the residence of Buddha and the capital of Magadha. Webula, a mountain few miles west of Kalemyo, was named after Wepulla of the Pali history of modern Buipula. The linkages therefore reveal the Indian relationships among the people.

Of all Tibeto-Burman peoples, the Meitei of Manipur were the people linguistically closest to the CHIKIM and they settled together as one group in the Chindwin Valley.

Historical materials of the Meiteis have shown the presence of CHIKIM people in the Chindwin Valley after the beginning of the Christian era. Lehman in his book – The Structure of Chin Society: Urbana, 1963, puts the CHIKIM’s occupation of the area well into the middle of the first millennium A.D., in which period the Meiteis conquered the Andro-Sekmai group of people, who were inhabitants of present day Manipur.

CHIKIM-Meitei Relationship:

Hudson has maintained that the Meiteis were descendents of surrounding hill tribes. Their traditions have remained similar and even today they retain many customs of the hill people. He wrote, in 1900 that the organization, religion, habits and manners of the Meitei of two hundred years before were the same as the hill people (CHIKIM and Naga) of his own era. It is indeed an important observation and demands critical appreciation.

There are legends and traditions, which tell of early relationships between Meitei, Naga, and CHIKIM – the three ethnosis. A Tangkhul (Naga) tradition says that Naga, Meitei and CHIKIM descended from a common ancestor who had three sons. These were the progenitors of the tribes. This tradition puts the CHIKIM as the eldest and the Meitei the youngest.

Hudson wrote, “The Tangkul legend is to the effect that one day a sow, heavy with young, wandered from the village of Hundung and was tracked to the valley by the younger of the two brothers who had migrated from the village of Maikei Tungam, where their parents lived, and had founded the village of Hundung.”

Oknung, the pig’s stone, were the sow was eventually found, is situated on the banks of the Iril River. The sow littered there and the young man stayed to look after her; “and as he’ found the country to his liking, he decided to settle there. For a time he kept up friendly relations with his brother in the hills, who made a practice of sending him every year gifts of produce of the hills and in turn received presents of the manufacture of the plains. The younger brother became well-to-do and proud, and abandoned the custom of sending presents to his brother in the hills, who promptly came down and took what he had been in the habit of getting.”

Hudson has also revealed a Mao Naga legend, which connects the Naga, the Meitei, and the CHIKIM, “Once upon a time there was a jumping match between the three sons of the common ancestor. The Kuki leapt from one top of one range of hills to the crest of the next, while the Naga, nearly as good, cleared the intervening valley, but his foot slipped and touched the river. Hence the limit of his ablutions, while the stronger Kuki to this day avoids all use of water. The Manipuri tumbled headlong, which explains his fondness for bathing. Another variant says that the father of them was a Deity named Asu who had three sons, Mamo, Alapa, and Tuto. From Mamo are descended the Kukis and the Nagas, while the Gurkhalis are sprung from the loin of Alapa and the sons of Tuto are the Manipuris.” This and many similar legends of CHIKIM, Meitei, Naga, and Kachin tell stories of their early relations. Most of the legends attempt to explain how they separated or lost track of each other.

Grierson, G.A., in his work on ‘Linguistic Survey of India; Vol.III 3, 1904 told a Thado legend which tells of the Khungsai (Thado) and Meitei separation. “Our forefathers have told us that man formerly lived in the bowels of the earth. The Khuangzais and the Meiteis were then friends. One day they quarrelled about a cloth, and their mother took a dao and cut into pieces.

From then on the Meitei and the Thado went separate ways. The Meitei, who had gone to cut haimang trees, left fresh footprints, so that many people followed them and the Meitei became numerous. The Khuangsais went to cut plantain trees, from where they ascended to the earth. When people looked at the footprints of the Khuangsai, they looked rather old and therefore few people followed them; which explains why there are only a few Khuangsai.”

Kachin legend maintains that they were separated from the CHIKIM people, who had gone out in front, and they spent many days trying to trace the way the CHIKIM people had gone. As they could not find the trail, they called the CHIKIM people Khang, meaning footprints, because they were looking for footprints of the CHIKIM people. (As there are Khang tribes in the Hukawng valley, the identification of the CHIKIM as Khang could be of modern interpretation.)

Khami legend reveals that the separation was due to the women and children, who could not walk fast and remained behind, where they cultivated the land and followed the others later.

Sizang legend is similar to the Khuangsai legend, but it does not specify from whom the group was separated. They went in front of the others and to mark their trail cut down plantain trees. The plantain trees grew up immediately after being cut, so the people following them assumed they had lost the trail and went no further. There was another party, however, who marked their trail by cutting off tree barks. The people finding these still fresh cutting followed them. Thus, there were fewer CHIKIM people as they had lost their way and had got way laid.

There are also Meitei or Manipur legends that record the relationship between CHIKIM, Naga, and the Meiteis. Tombi Singh (1972) writes, “If we have an element of truth in our legends and historical records, one thing is established: that the ancient forefathers of the Manipuris had their origin in the hill areas of Manipur. This period of forefathers reigning in hilltops is too remote from our memory and understanding to grasp it in its fullest details. As time passed, a super human being performed almost a miraculous feat to drain the water collected in the valley, boring a hole through a hill rock with a spear like weapon. Even now the outlet is known as ‘Chingnunghut’. As the result of the drainage provided for the water of Manipur, the population of Manipur moved down to the valley. … special mentions are seven clans, who established stable kingdoms in the different areas of the state.”

Conclusion:

Little is known about Meitei history by the CHIKIMs especially by those in Myanmar. Yet, they say that in Myanmar, the Shan prince Samlong found the Meiteis to be very poor. After a thousand years, during the reign of King Pamheiba, Manipur became a strong nation. Conversion to Hinduism during the late eighteenth century and contact with Indians and Chinese widened the gap between the highlanders, CHIKIM and Naga, and plainsmen, the Meiteis. There had been little contact except for war, and so different cultures, customs, and modes of life were developed.

In concluding, it is interesting to note all the important relevance to our present society as to what an individual or group can work for ourselves. Indeed, we are opt to find out every aspects of our being today. Art and science go hand in hand as it is confirmed from many researches carried out in this regard. The Archaeological Survey of India plays an important role in establishing facts of our history. Likewise, others contributed a lot using different devices.

The concept of origin propounded by many authorities still exists. The general populace of India, as believed originated from Africa, is there along with the group which was suigeneris in the Narmada Valley. This group of people originated and influenced the demography in the region of Andhra, the coastal region as also the people living in the region of Burma by using the Mitochondrial DNA analysis.

In fact, the origin of migration was probably in Africa, the cradle of all humanity when the first modern human beings gradually began to move eastward spreading across Asia, about 40,000 years ago.

The writer is wife of late Thangkhomang Gangte (TS Gangte), a renowned Kuki historian, who did extensive research on Kuki history.