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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Social Structure

The Social life of the Zomis is an open society. Everyday is an open house. You can visit any house by knocking at the door. Visiting hour is usually morning and evening. Day is working hour and one is supposed to be at field during the day. If one is found at home during day time one is regarded as “lazy” with the exception of illness. The frequency of visit indicates the relationship between the two.
Relationship is built by visiting one another. “You are honored by a visit at any time. You are expected to drop whatever you are doing and welcome your guests… someone will be (a woman) at home to receive and entertain visitors and to prepare the tea to refresh them” (Carol Delaney 2004:105). Visitors are entertained in the living area by the fireside and offer a cigarette and a cup of black tea.  Offering cigarette and tea is a sign of hospitality and decency.
Family is made up of father, mother and children. They formed a patrilineal extended family (Stevenson 1970:21). The first son will live in the family as inheritor and other sons will be separated after marriage called “inntuan” (setting up of a new family). When a married son has one or two children and expresses ability to support his own family then only they will be separated from the parents. Daughters will be with the parents until marriage. In case of unmarried lady they live their whole life with the parents.
Dating is a common phenomenon among young people. Boys go out to visit girls at their homes. The common meeting place was a front platform called “innka.” About an hour after dinner in the evening a boy goes out to meet the girl and invite his friends and go in a group. Usually boys do not go directly to the girl’s house but meet in a house of familiar family. They keep talking for sometime and at about 9 PM they leave the family as if leaving for home. Actually he proceeds to the girl’s house where he spends as long as possible. Sometimes meeting lasts till the first cockcrow. At the cockcrow he leaves  for home ready to sleep for the next day work. On a clear full Moon night boys want to take advantage of it. Mostly they converse in terms of song called “Zawl La” (love song). Zomis have different kinds of songs, songs of love, of departure, of meeting, for a hero, for feasts and festivals, for joy and grieve. Love can best be expressed in song. One of such songs from a girl can be cited here:
c)     Nih geel ho lung kituak a tong dam kisang,
Sian in awi hen aw, kum sawt gua bang hing leeng e,
d)     Hem lam sin thu hi lo a, tak a sin thu,
Tongdam san sa sul ka hei lo ding hi e. (T. Khai 1969: 46)
Translation (mine):
a)     We two have converse as one in heart,
Let God grand us our wish and long life.
b)     It’s no kidding, but out of sincerity,
No turning back from what have been promised.
Marriage was decided by parents and without parent’s approval no marriage is likely to take place.  Usually Parents propose a girl for their son.
Traditional marriage was by arrangement from parents. Parents of the boy took initiative by sending a delegation of three or four members to the parents of the girl by offering a pot of “zu” called “Zu thawl.” “The girl is judged by the character of her work in the fields and house. If she is a good tiller of the soil she is a good match, whatever looks and antecedence she may be” (Carey and Tuck 1976:189).  They did not give direct answer and allowed some days to consider. After discussion in the family and with relatives they give the answer to the request. If the parents refuse to the proposal, they repaid the “Zuthawl” to the boy’s parents. If they agree they set the date and time for marriage usually not far from the negotiation period. On marriage day, the boy’s party will go to the girl’s parents with a pot of “zu” again and they take the girl with them. The girl, even if willing, pretends to be unwilling and refuses to go with them. The girl is pulled by the hand and pushed from the back as if she is forced to be taken. The boy’s parents give a feast to which both relatives of the boy and girl sides are invited. The family priest kills a cock given by the girl’s parents, “examines the liver, and announces that the spirit approve or not approve of the marriage.” Usually the result of the omen is positive (Carey and Tuck 1976:189). Another practice is that the husband side killed a cock and the wife side a hen. The priest stepping his feet on the feather, hold the two wings by the left hand and twisted the neck by the right hand on the ground. If the cock dies twisting its legs the omen reveals very good mate; if the legs put straight it is good; if the legs stand up, it means separation of the couple is prophesied (Laitanga 1982:122).
The purpose of marriage is twofold. One is for the purpose of reproduction and the second is to continue genealogical tree. Genealogy is counted from sons and therefore to have a son is very important in marriage.  To have no son is regarded as breaking the genealogy called “innmong” which means no continuation of family tree.
Bride price has to be realized after having children when the marriage proved to be confirmed. Bride price has been understood by foreign writers as if selling daughters to the boys. “Parents practically sell their daughters to be wives and they demanded a certain price for them; love is not taken into consideration at all” (Carey and Tuck 1976:189). This does not mean that women are bought and sold as property or that they rank low in status and power within the society (Paul G. Hiebert 1983:203).  Bride price is a payment as a seal of relationship between the two parties.  Also it is a sign that marriage is confirmed and sealed for a life time. A day is set and the girl’s parents give a feast this time. A cow, pig, or mithun is used for the feast which is called “Man genna.” Half of the meat is given to the boy’s party and the other half is portioned each to their relatives called “Sahawm” meaning distribution of meat. A few portions including the intestines are prepared for the feast. The neck of the animal killed is given to the mother’s brother called “Pu sa” and half of a front leg goes to the married daughter as “Tanu sa,” the portion of the back meat goes to the brothers of boy’s side called “Sanggam sa” meaning meat for brothers or uncles. Each part of the animal is portioned and distributed to relatives according to the manner of kinship. Meat distribution established the relationship of kinship.
If the parents of the girl is of high status they can demand a pig from boys side called “Inntual meikhut” (court yard smoke) which actually means to provide a feast for the parents on the day when bride price was paid. This is not regarded as a bride price but consumed by the participants. There are two categories of bride price “Manpi’ (Actual price) and “Man neen” (Minor price).  “Manpi” is one or more mithuns.  According to the Customary Law of Kam Hau the pride price is one Mithun (Rs.40) or a mithun with a calf (Rs.60) (Nok Swan Lian 1984:51).  Bride price varies from one clan to another, from village to village. “The value of a girl depends on the amount which can be wrung out of the suitor’s family, and a slave to do the work of the girl is generally required; mithun, beads, gongs, guns, slaves, and grain all figure in the price demanded for a bride” (Carey and Tuck 1896:189). In the past slaves were provided to help her work in the house of her husband. Preferably bride price is paid in installments in a span of many years (Lehman 1963:124-125). In addition to the price additional price called “Man neen” is to be down paid (Nok Swan Lian 1984:52-53) which can be realized even before the actual bride price was paid. In case a married girl happens to die of some reason, the husband side can not give a funeral unless the “Man neen” is paid which means the girl still belongs to her father. Therefore “Man neen” is paid as soon as possible.  “Man neen” includes “Nu man” (mother’s price), “Pu man” (mother’s brother’s price), “Min man (name giver’s price) and “Thalloh” (family speaker’s price).  “Nu man” is demanded by the mother of a girl as a compensation for bearing and raising her daughter up. “Pu man” is demanded by her mother’s brother being the giver of the girl, “Min man” is demanded by the one who gives her name and “Thalloh” is demanded by the one who speaks on behalf of the family. Generally these “man neen” is Rs.2 each or its equivalent. The girl’s parents have a responsibility to give a feast to her married daughter called “Tanu sagawh” one or two times. The last feast is called “Sialkhup sa” which means all the responsibility to their daughter has been completed. In this case the meat is portioned to relatives according to kinship (Lehman 1963:117). She brings no dowry as such but the parents provide their daughter with a basket, an axe, a hoe, a dao, a blanket, a box and a “pot of zu.”  These items are regarded and provided as basic requirements for daily work in addition to her clothing. The people who escorted her to her husband’s house drink the “pot of zu” or tea on arrival and the host would match with the same pot of zu (Gin Za Go 1995:8-9).
Preference was given on exogamy even though endogamy was not prohibited. Marriage between different clans was encouraged for security and extension of family relationship (Lehman 1963:117). Levirate and Sororate marriage were also found even though levirate marriage was more common than the sororate marriage in the Zomi society. Levirate marriage was practiced “to ensure that the property and children remain within the central fold and the responsibility of the husband’s clan, as well as to protect the widow and her children” (Juanita War 1996: 9). Marriage as in the Bible serves for establishing kinship, relationship and peace in the society.
One significant practice in marriage is that the wife has to address her husband as “U” which means elder or older. It is used among brothers and sisters. Younger brothers and sisters address their older brothers and sisters as “U.” In case of marriage it carries not just older or elder referring to age, but respect and submission to the husband. The wife has never ever addressed her husband by name but as “U.” Addressing by name is a sign of indignation or insult and will result divorce right away. It is a distinctive custom among the Zomis unlike the Mizos and others. In marriage, it is mandatory for a wife to address her husband as “U” giving respect and submission. To address children by full name even by parents is conceived as one kind of rebuke. Parents usually address children by “minno” (small name). Therefore it would have been meaningful if Jesus is addressed as “U” instead of “To” which means chief. “To” gives the image of relationship between slave and its master.
Woman had been regarded as a property of man and some people take divorce very light. “Gawlsia leh numei kikhek thei” was the old proverb which means broken fencing and woman are liable to change. If a husband is tired of his wife he tells her to go and she returns to her father’s house. In such a case the husband cannot recover the bride price he paid. In case a wife leaves her husband on her own will, then her bride price is returned by her father. “If however, the man has ill-treated his wife, she may leave him and he cannot claim the price he paid for her” (Carey and Tuck 1976:210). In case a husband dies without any issue, the wife returns to her father’s house. In case a wife dies without any issue or an issue, before paying bride price, before funeral takes place the bride price must be settled; otherwise, the wife’s father has the right to claim the body of his daughter being unpaid for. “The issue of the marriage belongs to the father in case of separation or divorce and the mother has no claim to her children” (Carey and Tuck 1976:210).  Divorce is permissible in case of barrenness as woman is supposed to be progenitor of children. No one could tell who is barren but the blame goes to the wife as no scientific investigation ever carried out in such a case. Though divorce becomes a possibility, the Zomis by nature are faithful and divorce is rare as a whole. In many occasions divorce happened due to external forces.
In the first place, members of the husband’s family created difficulty due to unhealthy relationship with the wife which results in divorce of no fault of the two. In the second place, relatives, neighbors and members of village instigated the members of the husband or of the wife, resulting divorce in the end. As an extended family, this kind of situation can take place which is no fault of their own and could be settled by cordial negotiations (Nok Swan Lian 1984:62-63). Especially women are loyal to their husbands for two reasons. One, it is difficult to maintain life without a husband as husband is the main bread earner. It is almost impossible to sustain life without a husband especially after having children. Second, living in parent’s house as an extended family is not always feasible for woman who once had been married. It is not an easy way of life to live with cousins, in-laws and parents for a married woman. The bride price paid becomes a binding factor as a testimony between the husband and wife. Marriage is not just a relationship of husband and wife but also a relationship established between two clans. Separation means not only breaking the relationship of the couple but also breaking of the relationship between the two clans. “Marriage is therefore considered to be unbreakable and inseparable except by an event of death (Ngul Khan Pau 1995:30). So, decision for divorce is taken very seriously and carried out only in agreement with relatives. Zomis adapted a couple of hornbill as their logo as a sign of inseparable couple. In an event of death a hornbill would lay down its life along with its partner so also a Zomi dare to lay down life for the sake of partner or fellow Zomi.
Hornbill Couple
C. Laitanga who did research on the Paite (Zomi) in Mizoram says that the Zomis do not have many feasts and many even do not remember them (Laitanga 1982:141). The following feasts stand out as effectively observed like “Khuado Pawi,” “Sialsawm Pawi,” and “Lawm Pawi”.
“Khuado Pawi” is a harvest festival observed at the end of September when the two main crops millet and corn have been harvested. It is a celebration in a group of three or four families. Each family fermented “zu” drink in advance for the purpose. A pig is usually killed for the feast lasting two to three days. The family priest drives away the evil spirits and bad omens from the house by lighting pine wood in each house (Khaitawng 1969:20-21). The feast is also featured in celebrating a bee-hive and ritual expulsion of spirits. Bee-hive ritual is meant for fore-telling the future. A collected bee-hive is open and the priest studied the nature of the young bees. If the young bees are in good condition, it is interpreted as a sign of healthiness of the community (Do Sian Thang 1989:52). The term “Khua” laterally means village but in this case it is used in reference to unseen forces and “do” is hosting or ‘encounter.” It is a time of encountering with the evil spirits by driving away the evil spirits from the house. Another theory says that it is a time of feeding the evil spirits showing hospitality so that they are pleased and do no harm on members. The probability is that by pleasing the evil spirits they leave the house and security in the house is secured. During the festival participants prepared the best kind of food they can afford like millet, sticky rice and very good “zu.”  They sing, drink and dance in great aggrandizement. It is a time of celebration for the first fruits of their labor of the year. It is similar to the festival observed as Thanksgiving Day in the West.
“Sialsawm” is another festival observed in the month of March yearly before summer begins for cultivation.  It is a festival for asking the god of the harvest for prosperity. Usually pig is killed. Dog, chicken or even mithun also killed according to the size of the group. Each group of five or six families joined in one house usually of the same clan. They prepared “zu” well in advance again for the occasion.  It is observed for one day during which singing, dancing and drinking occupy the day. The family priest took an egg to the street, cooked in a fire and observed the manner of breaking the egg. From the manner of breaking the egg, the priest prophesied if the year would be prospering or not. At some occasions, men conducted a competition of wrestling too (Laitanga 1982:144).
“Lawm An Nek.”  In Zomi village there is one or more “Sawm” or single male dormitory where all the single men of a village sleep together. Usually a family of village head or any house of high standing made elevated wooden planks about four feet high above the ground in the verandah. The size of the dorm depends on the number of male persons who sleep together. This is called “Sawm” or sleeping together. The purpose of this institution was that in case of raid young male group will be ready to fight the enemy. Also it serves as training ground for male persons how to behave, lead a good manner, become a hero, hunter and obedient. The oldest of the group will serve as head of the dorm and his order is to be obeyed. The group arranges a piglet which is reared by the house owner.  In case a member of the group is behind in work, all the members will lend a helping hand and finish the work. When farming is completed they kill the pig and have a feast. This is a joyous time for male group. It is called “Lawm An Nek” or “friendship feasts.” The intestine of the pig was distributed to families who in return contributed a pot of “zu” for drink on the day of feast (Laitanga 1982:145-46).
In every function of social and cultural activities of the Zomi three things prominently play important role. One is the involvement of a priest whether festival, ritual or feast. A priest’s presence is felt as indispensable figure carrying out of his role for the community as well as for the individual. In the absence of a priest no function is complete in a real sense. Second, Zu is placed in the centre of social and religious activities either in marriage, feast, festival and funeral. “Zu is a very important article with these people. It is required for the due observance of every ceremony; a child’s birth is an occasion for entertaining its relations, no marriage can be celebrated without the consumption of zu, while after his death friends and relatives drown their sorrow in all the zu they can obtain” (Shakespear 1912:37). In case of marriage, without “zu” no negotiation can be carried out. Families offered “zu” as a sign of hospitality to visitors. More about “Zu” will be discussed later. Ritualism is another factor in social functions. Not only in religious matters but also in most cases of social functions some kind of ritualism will be conducted by the priest. This shows that Zomis are religious in nature. Social, cultural and religious functions are inseparable in Zomi life. Christmas and New Year celebrations replace cultural festivals in which each local church celebrates it as a community.
What is “Zu?”  Why is it so important in Zomi life?  “Zu” is a common and local name given to drink (beer) or any fermented liquor from grains. The beer is made of fermented rice, millet and maize mixed with yeast (N. Chatterji 1975: 3). There are four different types of “Zu” such as “Zupi,” “Zutaak,” “Zuhang” and “Zuha.”
“Zupi” is commonly made of husked rice, millet, and maize. For a big feast like “Tonh feast” many pots of Zu was required and fermentation has to be started well in advance. There are different sizes of “Zu pot” (earthen jar), big, medium and small. In public gatherings such as feasts and festivals big jar is used and small jar is used for domestic drinking. The jar is filled with the husked fermented rice strongly pressed down with a layer of banana leaves on top. A tube is inserted in the middle of the jar for the purposes of sucking the liquor after adding water into it. “Each person in turn sucks up his allowance, the appearance of the top of a peg … giving him a hint when to leave off” (Shakespear 1912:38).
“Zutaak” is regarded as a good drink.
After being well bruised, paddy is damped and packed away in several layers of leaves and kept for some months – the longer the better. When the zu has to be brewed the bundles are opened and the contents placed in a large earthen jar and well pressed down, with a layer of leaves on top and the jar filled up with water.  After a few minutes the liquor is drawn off by a syphon into a brass or wooden bowl, out of which it is handed round to the guests in horn or small bamboo” (Shakespear 1912:37-38).
Distribution of Zutaak is common on occasions such as festivals, “Tonh feast” and during “Sa-aih” or “Gal-aih.” When a hero returned from killing enemy women would go out to meet the hero in the street with “Zutaak” and the hero and his fellow hunters were offered “Zutaak” drink in horns. The hero will get in bigger horn than others that is the reward he received as a hero. “Zupi” and “Zutaak” are the most common drink in communal gatherings.
“Zuhang” is a spirit distilled from the already fermented grains. It is a very strong drink. Common people hardly drink it. It is also never served in the communal drink. Chiefs and elders drink it occasionally (N.Chatterji 1975:9). Three pots were put together one on top of the other. The largest one was at the bottom containing the fermented grains mixed with water to be distilled. On the top of this pot the middle one was placed. The middle one had a perforated bottom to admit the stream coming up from the pot below. Inside the middle pot they put a small pot for holding the drops of spirit condensed. Another pot containing cold water was placed sealing the mouth of the middle pot.  Each joint was sealed with wet ashes for which no vapor would come out of it. This complete set of pots used for distilling fermented grains was known as “Zuhang” meaning “hot drink” or strong drink (N. Chatterji 1975: 8). Today people drink this “Zuhang” that destroys body and spirit.
“Zuha” is fermented rice. Its liquor which was brewed in a smaller pot than ordinary beer pot was used on less important occasions (N. Chatterji 1975:7).  Cleaned rice was cooked and spread over a bamboo tray in order of cooling it down. After sprinkling it with leaven, they put it in an earthen pot meant for brewing and the pot was covered with a particular leaves (Nahkua teh).  The process of fermentation is called “Zubilh” and it takes about three days to three weeks. The longer period of fermentation produced the better “Zuha.” Millet and rice are used for “Zuha.”  It is used for feeding motherless child (N. Chatterji 1975:8). Fortunately “beer is rich in vitamin B and since even children drink it from their earliest years there is no great deficiency noticeable in this direction” (Stevenson 1970:11).
“Zu” is indispensable in social and religious activities followed by singing, dancing and drinking. One of the most common social songs can be quoted here.
a)     A nuam in bang a nuam hiam aw,
Pu pa len sial ki leh khuang nuam e,
b)     Pu pa len sial ki leh khuang nuam a,
Zin lai len kal tang bang dam nuam e.
Translation (mine):
a)     What is the happiest moment in life?
The happiest moment in life is singing with drum and horn as of old.
b)     The happiest moment in life is singing with drum and  horn as of old,
In the midst of darkness leading a healthy life is a happiest moment in life.
The use of “Zu” is twofold. “Zu” is used as drink in all occasions like feast, festivals and at home. When there is a visitor from a distant place or close relative from far place “zu” is offered showing hospitality. When the house owner returned from work tired in the evening or from hunting, the wife would prepare a small pot of “zu” for him.  It is common drink both at home and in public. “Zu” also played an important role in almost all sacrificial ceremonies. “The animals sacrificed were usually sprayed with ‘Zu’
Diagram I
Khuang, Zam,  leh Sialki
(Drum, Gong and Horn)
Musical instruments
by the priest. The priest and the ones for whom the sacrifice was made drank ‘Zu’ on the occasion of every sacrifice” (K. Zawla 1976:78-80).
The effect of Zu drinking on society and individual is numerous and multi-faceted. Economically drinking “zu” reduced the wealth of the people as they were hard drinkers (Laitanga 1982:49). Even a poor family who had no food to eat would have “zu” to drink. Some people prefer on some occasions to ferment the only grain they had for “zu” instead of saving for food. Morally it was sinful as it resulted in fighting and quarrelling. I still remember my boyhood experience about fighting due to drunkenness. My neighbor, a retired Burmese army, used to get drunk whenever there was feast or festival. When he got drunk, he threatened his wife to kill due to suspicion for affairs with other man. He would withdrew his long sword and run after his wife to kill her. The wife would hide herself many times beneath our house. She would not come out until her husband was back to normal. The first medical missionary Dr. E. H. East’s remark at Thuklai is another example.  “It is here as everywhere that when men are drunk, the sense left them and only the wild beast remains. The Chins (Zomis) are the most drunken people that I have come in contact with. Every occasion whether it is a joy or sorrow, they must drink and when drunk must dance” (East 1983: 82). “The effect which the drink brewed from maize and millet seems to have on the eastern tribes (Zomis), among whom violent crimes, committed during drinking bouts, are very common” (Shakespear 1912:38). As the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, so also the love of drinking “Zu” is a root of all evil in case of the Zomis (I Tim.6:10).
It is a problem for the church since the introduction of Christianity to the present day.  The missionary Rev. J.H. Cope demanded complete abstention from drinking as a requirement for church membership. The Roman Catholics and the Wesleyan Methodist missions favored a moderate drink for members in the church (J.H.Cope 1932:1-2). Salvation Army, Baptists and Presbyterians opposed the idea of drinking and demanded teetotalism.
The Commissioner of Magwe (which included Chin Hills) at one time requested to reconsider his (Cope) stand on the matter, “In my opinion, formed after discussion with Col. Burne and such inquiries as I was able to make, large numbers of Chins are ready to embrace Christianity and are only deterred by their unwillingness to accept the conditions which you make, especially your requirement that they would give up alcoholic liquor” (Cope letter to Robbins 05/31/1929). In relation to this letter Rev. Cope wrote to the Mission Board expressing his idea.
I am enclosing a copy of the letter sent to Chaney by the Wesleyans. … The first reaction to such a letter is of course wild rage. I have not been so angry in a long time. I see red every time I think of it. To me it stinks to heaven ad is un-Christian from beginning to end and the pious thoughts are mere hypocrisy. … I know there will be a large number of Christians who will immediately drink if permission is given and some so heavily they will have to be expelled… The Lushai Christians are teetotalers…The thought of drinking Christians are almost intolerable. I know what drink is to a Chin. …There is a great deal more against drink in the N.T., than against slavery or even fornication. …They are simply putting a pistol to our heads and telling us to pay. … I wrote originally when I corresponded regarding the Commissioner’s letter that perhaps we are wrong in insisting to teetotalism… Were I starting I would be willing to give drink a fair show, no harm would be done and if it proved impossible as it has done in the Garo and Naga missions one could give it up. But the thought of the 2000 odd Christians who have gotten over the taste for liquor being exposed to its filth again makes me sick” (Cope’s letter 01/09/1932).
Rev.Cope’s view still holds as a basis for Christian conduct regarding “Zu” even today. Today tea replaces the place of “Zu” in case of marriage and festivals such as Khuado Pawi, Christmas, New Year and childbirth.

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