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Tuesday, March 8, 2016


It is not possible to define culture to the fullest extent as there arevarious definitions put forward by anthropologists and social anthropologists. Anthropologist Paul Hiebert defines culture “as the integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas, and products characteristics of a society” (Paul G. Hiebert 1983:25).  According to
Kroeber and Kluckholhn
Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action (Kroeber and Kluckhlohn 1952:357).
A definition which more accurately reflects that objective comes from Spradley “Culture is the acquired knowledge that people use to interpret experience and generate behavior” (Spradley 1980:6). Culture is a broad concept which includes ideas, behavior, values and concepts acquired and shared by a group of people. Therefore I will deal with the following five sub-themes as put forward by Dr. Dan Shaw: traditional religion, economic system, kinship system, social structure and political structure (Daniel Dan Shaw 1988:24).
Traditional Religion
As other tribal groups the traditional religion of the Zomis was Animism. According to Nida and Smalley Animism is “a belief in spirits, including the spirits of dead people as well as those that has no human origin” (Nida and Smalley 1959:5). Melfort E. Spiro called these spirits “Nats” and there were 37 nats among the Burmese (Spiro 1967:40). The term Nat is a Sanskrit term and inappropriate to apply in relation to animism as it suggests ancestral worship originating from Hinduism (G.K.Nang 1990:14).  Zomis were “often described as devil worshipers. This is too incorrect for they worshipped neither god nor devil” (Carey and Tuck 1976: 195). Rather they offered sacrifices for appeasement of evil spirits. Zomis believed in dichotomical dimension of spirits: one is a belief in the existence of a “Supreme Being” and the other is a belief in the existence of spirits called “Dawis” (demons).  Animism according to the Zomi refers to sacrifice of animals offered to the Dawis.
The Concept of Supreme Being
The primitive religious concept of Zomi included the belief in the existence of a Super Power effective beyond ordinary power of man outside the common process of nature. This power is denoted by the term “Shah” (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:145) or “Khua” in Mizo.  “The Supreme Being” is referred to as male and creator of all things including human beings, heaven, earth, moon and stars. He is all good, loving, merciful and kind. He does no harm on human being and requires no sacrifice to appease Him (G.K. Nang 1990: 12). All goodness like health, riches, children, and other human benefits are ascribed to Him (Vumson 1986:16).
The Concept of Dawi
Dawis are invisible spiritual beings living in homes, jungles, forests, rocks, trees, pools, and rivers. There are higher dawis and lesser dawis according to their activities and place of living. Douzathang Guite has suggested that the higher dawis live in air, cloud,  high rocks and the lesser dawis in caves, trees, forests, rivers, ponds, springs, etc. (Douzathang 2003:2)
The Zomi concept of dawi includes “dawimangpa” (devil chief) who has an authority over other dawis. Other dawis move and act according to his command and order. “Pheisam” is believed to bring wealth and prosperity to a particular family in whom he chooses. If a person or family gained rapid wealth in terms of animal or grain he was said to have been blessed by “Pheisam” (Pheisam siam). “Pheisam” means missing one leg to mean the demon is a kind of spirit that has only one leg. This “Pheisam” (small one, as tall as three inches) could be caught in forest and reared in a house bringing prosperity to the owner.  “Pheisam” is kind who does no harm on human being so no sacrifice was offered to it. It is believed that when the “Pheisam” left the house the prosperity decreased and impoverished immediately (Thang Za Tuan 1985:9). Another demon called “Sikha meivak” is also harmless demons that produced twinkling lights in the air in a group at night in village or in forest. They were source of frightening people but no harm was done to human being. No sacrifice was offered to these demons or spirits.
With the exception of these spirits, all other spirits are believed to have cause illness, sickness and misfortune in the family and on the community. In times of illness domestic animals like dog, pig, chicken, cow and even mithuns were offered until the sick person improved. Pau Cin Hau was said to have offered sacrifices to 68 dawis in order to receive healing from his 15 years of illness (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:162). The number of dawis and their habitation could not be accurately traced and the counting was based on the number of places where the dawis were believed to reside. Sumtawng dawi (courtyard spirit), inndom dawi, (backhouse spirit), kong dawi (front house spirit, huankhang dawi (garden spirit), inn nuai dawi (ground house spirit), gam dawi (forest spirit), tual dawi (village spirit), were the spirits to which the Zomis commonly offered sacrifices. “The spirits brought sickness, misery and failure of crops unless treated with due respect. Moving to a new village, a new house, cultivating a field required the blessing of the spirits. Sickness was the punishment by the spirits who were unhappy with a person or family. Offerings were performed by a priest” (Vumson 1986:16). Animals such as a piglet, a cock, a dog, or even mithun according to the seriousness of the illness were offered. Small portions of the meat, liver, head or leg, with two cups of “zu” (drink) were offered to the spirits (Vumson 1986:16). The remainder of the meat was consumed by the priest and the concerned family.  During sacrificial rituals neither a visitor nor a guest should be entertained in the house. A small branch of tree was kept at the gate of the house as a sign of “No visitor” called “Zehtang.”  A period of “Zehtang” depended upon the kind of sacrifice the family offered and the kind of illness. It ranged from one, two, three days and even a week or a month.
The world of Zomis was full of fears and cares. Any activity unacceptable or unpleasing would cause harm, sickness and misfortune. Every movement required careful and mindful of the place and time. The offering of animals to evil spirits was a real burden for the people and led to economically impoverished condition. Pau Cin Hau was said to have spent Rs.400 in making sacrifices of various kinds of animals to the demons for his healing (Khup Za Go 1988: 104). Rev. J.H. Cope cited a lady who wanted to become Christian was tired of sacrifices made to spirits. “She was tired of sacrificing to the spirits and wanted something better” (Cope’s ltr.01/24/19). Zomis accepted Christianity as something better than traditional religion. The word of Jesus Christ “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” is real good news to the Zomis (Matt.11:29-30).  Zomis began to realize that demons, spirits have no power over human beings but God has the power for living, healing and the well being of human life.

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