What differentiates a tribe from a clan? What exactly is a tribe and what exactly is a clan? Especially when you go to area like North East India contigious to Bangladesh and Myanmar, this gets even more prominent – what is actually called a tribe is nothing more than a clan. Let me take the example of three such “tribes” – Thado, Lushei and Fanai. All three are formed after 1600 and all three are a splice off of a different tribe. All of them started with a village from where they expanded – other words, the founder established himself in a village and expanded from there, with his successors continuing his conquests till they became a spent force and are absorbed/assimilated.

Lushei was formed a certain Thang-ura, who lived in late 1700s, Fanai, by Fanai who lived in early 1800s and Thados, by the brothers Thado and Dongel who lived, probably in 1600s. In all the cases, their links to other clans are known. Thang-ura is born of a Paihte and a Myanmarese, Thado and his brother were great military generals, Fanai’s great grandson Roreiluova is a slave or a dependant of a Zhao chief who formed his own clan. Now, there is another aspect amongst these clans or tribes – assimilation. Amongst these, Thado were the first who entered Mizoram area and assimilated all the existing tribes into themselves – the ease with which the assimilation also points out to the fact that they come from the same religious, cultural and racial stock. Even the name is not common – in Myanmar, they are called Chin, in Mizoram, Lushai or Mizo and elsewhere, Kuki.

The connection between the Lusheis and their eastern neighbours is apparent both in their language and in their customs, but the eastern tribes, known to us generally as Chins, are of finer physique and, owing to their having permanent villages, the differences between clans have become more marked than among the semi-nomadic Lushais and Kukis. The feuds between different clans, which are always found where permanent villages exist, tend to widen the breach between communities and to accentuate every accidental variation of custom, so that the common origin is soon lost sight of. Nevertheless there is no doubt that the Kukis, Chins, and Lushais are all of the same race. – The Lushei Kuki Clans, by John Shakespear

Even the languages. Have a look at the branches of the Kuki language family tree.

Attempting to compare these languages clearly makes one wonder if they are languages or just dialects. Instances –

“Fa” in Lushai, “cha” in Manipuri and Thado, meaning “child.”

“Fāk” in Langrong, “chāk” in Manipuri, “cha” in Aimol, Anal, Kolhen, Lamgang, “shāk” in Chiru, meaning “to eat.”

“Feh” in Lushai, “to go to the jhums,” “feh” in Rhangkhol, “to go”; “che” in Thado, Aimol, and Anal, and “chatpa” in Manipuri have the same meaning.

A quick look at the map shows that the whole shaded area is a part of the same racial stock – the Kukis or the Chin inhabiting the hill tract between Myanmar and India.

Under this context(under the assumption that all these are just different clans inside a tribe called Chin or Kuki with local variations generated based on geography and societal interactions), it makes something interesting to look at something called Mizo. Naturally, it’s either a clan or a super clan but not a tribe – a subset of the Chin/Kuki whole. But, Mizo is slightly different in conception. It is also based on a common identity, but Mizo doesn’t exist. It’s a group of allied tribes of Chin stock who are united by, of all things a god called Jesus Christ!!

The origin of Mizos can be traced to a certain clan called Lushei, which in a wave of expansion either ejected or assimilated everyone in the whole territory currently known as Mizoram in India with a slight spillover in all directions. Though the word Mizo existed before, in today’s connotation, Mizo is just used to denote a Christianized superset and traces it’s origins to Mizo Union which was a child product of Young Lushai Association.

In fact, the whole of North East India and bordering areas in Myanmar – especially the hill tracts are a hotchpotch of tribes and clans moving in all directions. As a general rule, you would see tribes migrating from Yunnan towards South West – with the Thais and Ahoms being the most prominent one.

Folklore tells that Mizos came from Shinlung or Chhinlungsan located on the banks of the river Yalung in China. They first settled in the Shan State and moved on to Kabaw Valley to Khampat and then to the Chin Hills in the middle of the 16th century. But, this can be the story of the Chin super-clan than that of the Mizos themselves.

Coming to the Mizos, Thang-ura is considered to be the founder of Lushei. While the Lushei claim he sprung from the union of a Burmese with a Paihte woman, Paihte claim he was the son of Boklua, an illegitimate son of the Paihte Chief Ngehguka. Though the stories vary, the implication is that Lushei is a splice off from the Paihte through an illegitimate union as claimed by both the Lushei and the Paihte. According to Thados, some hunters tracking a serow noticed the footmarks of a child and they found the serow, they saw it suckling the child – Thang-ura or Thangul. He is dated to early 18th Century or late 17th Century and his first village is said to have been Tlangkua, north of Falam and South of the territory controlled by the Sukte, Paihte, and Thado clans. From him arose six Lushei clans – (1) Rokum, (2) Zadeng, (3) Thangluah, (4) Pallian, (5) Rivung, and (6) Sailo. Naturally, an upstart like Thang-ura will have opposition and was severely resisted by the tribes of East and North. He had no option but to move west in search of lands for jhum cultivation.

This march was a conquest – Rokum settled in Lushai Hills extending upto Tripura-Sylhet border, the Zadeng settled near the Darlung Peak and were divided into four villages with 1000 houses in 1830. The Pallians followed Zadeng with Sibuta being the most famous. Sibuta seems to have commanded 25000 houses – clearly, it’s possible that he was acknowledged as the supreme by other Thangur chiefs. They were powerful enough to extract submission from all contemporary Thangur Chiefs and under their chief Purbura, four or five generations after Sibuta, they had a large village of 3000 houses on the Dungtlang. Around 1830, they were attacked by a joint force of Zadeng, Sailo and Chakmas and were completely routed. This and subsequent attacks by the Sailos, they were reduced to petty chiefs who held two minor hamlets near Aizol. In fact, the Chakma-Kuki alliances are known as early as 1777.

Once the Pallian were tackled, Zadeng and Sailo turned against each other and after the death of their erstwhile ally, Mangpura, the Sailos under Vutaia, a relative of Mangpura attacked the Zadeng who had to flee their lands southwards. Their last village, near Chengpui was broken down in 1857 after the death of it’s chief. Victor’s version – The Zadeng chiefs are reputed to have been cruel and arbitrary rulers, whose defeat was not regretted even by their own followers. The Zadeng were never able to come back to power ever again after that.

The Sailo descended from Sailova, a great grandson of Thang-ura and came out as the ultimate rulers of Lushai Hills. They are known to the outer world as Howlongs, Lalul’s descendants, Vonolel, Savunga, and Sangvunga.

The Thangluah and Rivung moved South towards Chittagong Hill Tracts and a Rivung chief by name Vanhnuai-Thanga had a large village on the Longteroi hill. After his death in 1850, the village was destroyed by the Sailo Chief Vutaia. The remnants fled into Tripura and eked a living as subjects of the king of Tripura. The Thangulah, on the other hand, moved even South towards Demagri and Barkhul, and under Rothangpuia, were the first Lushei to come on terms with the British. His son Lalchheva fretting the British control moved his village out of British country only to be attacked by Hausata, a Chin Chief and his village was completely destroyed with many killed and captured. The chief escpaed with only the clothes on his body and the Thangulah created a few poverty stricken hamlets near Demagri.

Synopsising, one would note that these Thangur Chiefs moved west into the current Mizoram due to the pressure by the Chin chiefs. And with those exodus, those who were already living there were either absorbed or ejected out, with people fleeing into Manipur, Sylhet, Silchar and Tripura – the original reason for the Kuki raids and petitions beseeching help agains tthe Lushei. The earliest to appear in Silchar and other areas are Biate, Hrangchul and Khawtlang and claimed that the hills around Champhai was their place of origin – an area through which Zadeng and others passed and caused much strife. A part of this is because these clams are less cohesive and stood no match before the miltiant tribes of the Lushei. After the Sailos took charge, they attacked the powerful Thados forcing them to flee around 1848 – this became the second wave of Kukis, the new Kukis.

Once the whole territory was subjugated, internal fights began. A Sailo Civil War, which goes by the name The War of the North and the South started in 1856 and went on for three years. The North was led by Lallula’s family and the South by Cherra’s family. The bone of contention was the Piler Hill and the North won the war after it took the inaccessible village of Konglung and held the chief and his mother for ransom. Later, the Norther Chiefs themselves quarelled among themselves in what is called the War of the East and West. With the Sailo clans weakened with infighting and with neighbouring tribes, the Fanai emerged to take their place around 1889, but the British conquest of Lushai Hills stopped their forward march.

By this time, Lushei have become Lushai where other tribes are absorbed into Lushei. A part of affinity from tribes comes from assimilation of a part and the flight of the rest, as in the case of Chiru, Kom, Aimol and others, who fled into Manipur. One can argue, the Lushei also had the same problem in their march west – fear of forced assimilation by other tribes like the Guite Clan under Goukhothang who was powerful enough to ravage Manipur several times and took 957 Lushai captive in a single raid.

After years of continuous raids against the British interests in the area, the British launched an expedition against the Lushai in 1871-72 for the first time. The British advanced deep into the hills but didn’t achieve much except the surrender of hostages and a truce stopping raids. The Lushai was encouraged to do trade and visit the British bazaars. The truce broke in a decade and the British had to send another expedition by 1888. Even this expedition didn’t achieve much and a followup expedition was sent the next year. This campaign was a success with the British taking Aizol and fortifying Lunglei and Aizol as their garrison towns. The area was pacified only by 1895 after which the territory was declared a part of British India in 1895 and in 1898, the Chakma ruled South Lushai Hills was merged with Mizo Hills area to create the Lushai Hills Districy in 1898. The British conquest of Lushai Hills ended their military lifestyle and their religion – and pushed those people whom the British called “irreclaimable savages” and “dangerous neighbours” into a civilized and sedentary lifestyle.

The first missionary visit happened in 1892, which is still celebrated as Missionary Day on 15 March and conversions started by 1894 with Arthington Aborigines Mission doing the first conversion activity. This gave way to Presbyterian Church taking charge of Conversion activity by 1897. By 1931, almost half of Mizoram was converted to Christianity. On independence, Mizoram declared it will join Burma to be with it’s Christian Chin brethren but was overruled. In 1952, Lushai Hills Autonomous Disctrict Council was established for greater autonomy and traditional chieftainship was abolished. The Mizos wanted more – inclusion of all Kuki dominated lands in Manipur and Tripura. After the Mautam Famine of 1959 and perceived government indifference to it, Mizos extended their demands for an independent Greater Mizoram. Pakistan’s involvement including indoctrination and arms training blew it into a full fledged armed insurrection in 1966 which led to aerial bombing of Aizol in 1967. A part of the resistance was the due to the influx of Buddhist Chakma from East Pakistan into India as a part of population transfers.

The disappearance of East Pakistan forced the Mizo secessionists under Lal Denga to scatter over Bangladesh and Myanmar which hampered their operations. In 1972, India made Mizoram a Union Territory and in 1986, a full state. This led to end of hostilities and Lal Denga was appointed the Chief Minister.

The creation of Mizoram as a separate state created a different trouble – especially for those who didn’t convert to Christianity and identify themselves as Mizo. By mid 1990s, ethnic clashes between Mizos and Brus started and this resulted in the demand to remove the Reang/Bru people from the state’s electoral rolls by the vigilante groups- the Young Mizo Association (YMA) and Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP). In 1995, the state government declared Bru as ‘not indigenous’ to Mizoram – an ironic thing going by the fact Mizos themselves ented Mizoram around 1800.

Reangs are said to have come first from Shan State of upper Burma in different waves to the Chittagang Hill Tracts starting from the 14th Century and then to Southern part of Tripura. Similarly another group entered Tripura via Assam and Mizoram during 18th Century. The Reang folklore of the two brothers Bruha and Braiha speaks of the west-ward migration of the Reang. The party led by Braiha in the course of the migration went ahead, and the party led by Bruha failed to catch up with the elder brother. As a result, the party led by Bruha stayed back in the Zo hills and came to be known as Bru. In contrast, the party led by Braiha went ahead into the Chittagong Hill Tracts and from there on to the present day Tripura. It became the original settlers of that region.

The Mizo hatred towards the Bru can be guaged from the fact that the Mizos deride the Reang as Tuikuk(water insect).Tthey are branded as Problem Tribes by Zo hnahthlak – Tuikuk Pathian siam theilo’ ‘kha siam kan tum’ (‘we are trying to make humans out of those people who failed God’) The Bru, specifically are treated as primitive and non-human and the name Tuikuk perfectly fits that description. The solution is simple – make them human by teaching them about the true god.

The continuous attacks on Bru led to a flight of Bru which still continues and an estimate of more than 35000 Bru are located in Tripura’s seven refugee camps. And whenever there were talks of repatriation, the response was the same – attacks on Bru villages and flight of more people.

As Dr Anup Shekhar Chakraborthy puts it in the article The Reang Story of Geopolitical Meandering,

The issue of Reang/Bru ‘coming Home’ has startled the Zo hnahthlak in Mizoram. Public debates and the sermons from the Pulpit across the state have questioned the issue of the Reang/Bru’s right to return (Pem Lut (Move-in)). Communitarian actions and political interventions are interpreted through the ecclesiastical lens. The civil societies and vigilante groups in Mizoram suspect the Reang/Bru ‘coming Home’, the return of the ousted problem people is seen as a move to destabilise the Ideal Zo Christian State.

The Reang/Bru from the late 1990s have been mooting their religio-cultural differences from predominantly Christian Zo hnahthlak. Their experience of being ousted overnight into the borders of Tripura substantiates their collective fears and insecurities of living among the Zo hnahthlak.

Now, contrast this with the Mizo love for Chin during the current Myanmarese protests – the underlying theme for the concept of Mizo – a Christian Chin/Kuki who is ready to identify himself as a Mizo.

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