By – Lisa Vanlalsiami Shakum
The Chin, Kuki and Mizo/Hmar residing in the North Eastern parts of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar affine a close culture in terms of their tradition, customs , language and religion. The socio-cultural affinity which exists among them could be witnessed through poems and folk tales handed down from generations to generations. The origin of these groups of tribes still remain a mystery. Certain theories have been rendered such as the Chhinlung/Khul (Cave Theory) the Chimmai (Chin Hills Origin Theory) and Manmasi (the Lost Tribe Theory). With the lack of historical evidence in the form of written records, monuments, numismatics and archaeological findings, these hypothetical theories, mainly based of oral traditions handed down over the generations, are considered highly subjective.
The most widely accepted theory among these is the Manmasi, the lost tribe theory. According to this theory, In 772 BC, Neo-Assyrian Empire conquered the Northern kingdom of Israel and the Israelites were deported and resettled. The Bible states that “the king of Assyria did carry away Israel unto Assyria and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes: because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded and would not hear them, nor do them.” (2 Kings 18:11–12) .These resettled tribes became to be known as the Ten lost Tribes of Israel.
The Chin, Kuki and Mizo/Hmar claim to be the descendants of one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. They called themselves the children of Manmasi. Manmasi is considered to be Manasseh ,one of the two sons of Joseph, the son of Jacob of the Bible . Manmasi has played a significant role in the lives of these tribes. They utter the name ‘Manmasi ‘ in prayers in times of natural calamities or before performing sacrificial rituals. In the sanctification ritual of a jhum site the following incantation is uttered-
‘Pawt un, pawt, ka chem takkhum sungah um zousia pawtun,
Manmasi naute kigawljawnna ding a hi
Asia abal a umleh maw puangka.’
‘Be gone, be gone, whoever is within my turf,
This is the place for the children of Manmasi to prosper
I shall not be held responsible for any untoward consequences.’
In the event of great natural calamities like severe storms and earthquakes appeal is made to the unseen superior force thus-
‘Za ngai roh, za ngai roh, Manmasi thlahai kan dam e/kan um e’
‘Mercy, mercy, Manmasi’s children are here and fine”
Many such instances of references to Manmasi can be found in the oral tradition of the Chin-Kuki- Mizo/Hmar people. Oral tradition of the Chin Kuki Mizo/Hmar points to Manmasi/Manaseh and this has led to the conclusion that this unique people group has an Israelite origin. One of the many evidences is the Hmar “Sikpui Hla” which depicts about the exodus of the Israelites from the bondage of the Egyptians.
“Sikpui inthang kan ur laia,
Changtuipui aw sen mah rili kangintan.
While we are preparing for the Sikpui festival,
The big red sea becomes divided.
Ke ralawna ka leido aw,
Suna sum ang, zanah mei lawn invak e.
As we are marching forward fighting our foes,
We are being led by a cloud during the day and by fire during the night.
An tur an sa tlua ruol aw,
In phawsiel le in ralfeite zuong thaw ro.
Our enemies, Ye folks, are thick with fury,
Come out with your shields and spears.
Sun razula ka leido aw,
Ke ralawna mei sum invak e.
Fighting our foes all day,
We march along as cloud-fire goes afore.
Sun razuala ka leido aw,
Laimi sa ang changtuipuiin lem zova e.
The enemies we fight all day,
The big sea swallowed them like a beast.
A va ruol aw la ta che,
Suonglung chunga tui zuong put kha la ta che.
Collect the quails,
And fetch the water that springs out of the rock.”
After the Assyrian captivity in 722 BC, the children of Manmasi lived with the other lost tribes of Israel in Persia following their exile there in 457 BC during the reign of Darius and Ahashveresh. Historians opined that later in the year 331 BC, when Alexander the Great conquered Persia, Afghanistan and India, the Israelites were exiled to Afghanistan and some other countries and their migration continued eastwards through the Hindukush until they reach the Tibetan region and the Chinese border. From there they proceeded into China, following the Wei River where they built a settlement at Kaifeng in 231 B.C. The Chin dynasty under Shi Huang Ti was brutal. It can be assumed that the forefathers of the children of Manmasi had already settled in China during that period. The people had gone through immense suffering in China during these times. They were treated as slaves and those who refused to be assimilated were forced to move out. Throughout this course, it is believed that the children of Manmasi came in waves of migration to the region which is now western Myanmar (Burma), northeastern India and the Chittagong hill tracks of Bangladesh and settled there to date.
After all these centuries the children of Manmasi are in the process of nation-building. Geographical and political boundaries where they have found themselves had earned them different nomenclatures. The children of Manmasi are Chin in Myanmar and Kuki in India. Dr. Ts Gangte mentions as, propounded by Lieut. Col. Reid, that the Chins called themselves as ‘Lai’ considering their distinctive characteristics in dress and dialects, and that there can be a little doubt that the Chin, Kuki and Mizo and the various tribes are practically of one and the same race and were included under the term ‘Kuki’ since the days of Warren Hastings. The genesis of the word Kuki is however unknown. It is widely believed that the term was coined by the British and its first reference was made in the year 1777 A.D when Warren Hasting was the Governor General of Bengal.
On 9th April 1946 under the Mizo Union in, what is now the state of Mizoram, a conference was held for the adoption of a nomenclature. This was initiated by those who wanted to replace the nomenclature Kuki by Mizo. The Kuki nomenclature was disowned on the ground that it was of British origin. On 22nd April 1947 under the title “The Case of Mizos’ a memorandum was submitted to the Constituent Assembly of India. Major tribes in the Lushai Hills like the Hmars were in favour of the nomenclature and the nomenclature held ground and it eventually led to the hope for a “Greater Mizoram” the land area of which would stretch beyond the Lushai Hills.
The contemporary Mizoram which was known to British as Lushai Hills had undergone changes since the late 19th century. The word Mizo had been proposed on the ground that Lushai Hills could only give recognition to a particular tribe named Lushai among all the other tribes of the same ethnic group. A proposal was made to the Parliament with an aim at showing equal justice and paying due recognition to all tribes. The parliament changed the nomenclature from Lushai Hills to Mizo hills along with the change in the racial identity from Lushai to Mizo which came into effect on 1st sept 1954. Thus, Mizo had successfully encompassed and integrated the Lushai and the many other tribes in the Mizo Hills. Since then the land had been known as the Mizo Hills District until it achieved its separation from the state of Assam in 1972 and gained the status of the Union Territory of Mizoram. Later, in 20 February 1987 , Mizoram became a state. The children of Manmasi are now politically settled in a distinctive state for a people group in Mizoram state like other people group do in the rest of India.
In Manipur, the children of Manmasi are awakening to their political needs. A political initiative has been taken by armed groups who have eventually signed a suspension of operation with the government under the Kuki nomenclature banner and are in a process of holding a tripartite talk with the State and Central Government. The children of Manmasi in Manipur hope for a political solution soon. The nomenclature Kuki and Zomi is being used in an attempt to integrate the children of Manmasi in Manipur and social initiatives have also been undertaken to this end. Emotional integration at the grassroots level is yet to be achieved though. This seems to be mainly because of the fact that though we accept our affinity we are yet to awaken to the realisation of who we are. Identifying ourselves only by the name of the tribe we belong to is not accelerating the process of the realisation that in Manmasi, we are one.
Perhaps, from the Assyrian deportation and resettlement and the following long and far migration to our present modern settlement, we have lost track of our true identity during the course of time.
Certain attempts have been made for a common nomenclature but none has been fully wholly successful. It is to be believed that it is high time to sort out our little differences, set aside the differences in our political views too and trace back our roots to Manmasi and realise that we are his children. “Manmasi” shows us the close connection we have in culture, religion, language and tradition. The millennials are urged to start thinking “Manmasi” as an emotional unifying and integrating factor for a better tomorrow for the consolidation of the Manmasi nation where the Chin, Kuki and Mizo/Hmar prevail as one.
• Lal Dena: Kuki, Chin , Mizo – Hmar Israelite Origin Myth or Reality
• Nehginpao Kipgen: A Nation under Different Nomenclatures
• Rev.Benjamin Shakum: The Children of Manmasi (Manasseh): A Biblical perspective
• Dr. H. Thangtungnung: Origin and Migration of the Zo People
• Aheibam Koireng Singh: The Kuki Identity Then and Now
• Lethkhosei Haokip: Chronology of Kuki People from B.C 700-1919 A.D
• Dr.T.S. Gangte : Understanding Kuki
• Chitta Ranjan Nag: The Mizo Society in Transition.
*The author is Amity University (History Hons) gold medalist.