Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Traditional Songs, Music and Instruments - Malsawmdawngliana and R. Lalsangpuii


In the fields of musicology and cultural historiography, it is a widely acknowledged fact that each distinct culture possesses its unique musical expressions, often manifesting through traditional folk songs. These folk songs and musical traditions serve as profound reflections of the cultural ethos and worldview inherent to a particular society, underpinned by an interplay between cultural elements and the complex negotiation of identity within a given cultural milieu.

An attempt to trace the early origins of Mizo music has yielded evidence suggesting the emergence of certain musical forms during the settlement of Thantlang in Burma, estimated to have taken place between the 13th and 14th centuries AD. According to B. Lalthangliana’s records, this period witnessed the development of folk songs that encompassed various themes, including Dar hla (songs featuring gongs), Bawh hla (war chants), Hla do (chants associated with hunting), and Nauawih hla (cradle songs). It is worth noting that these early musical expressions primarily reflect individual experiences, lacking the philosophical depth or rational attitudes towards life often found in later forms of Mizo music (Lalthangliana 1993,76).

The Mizos eventually established themselves in what is now Mizoram during the late 17
th century. The pre-colonial period, spanning the 18th and 19th centuries AD, marked a significant era in the history of Mizo folk literature and music (Thanmawia, 2024). Prior to the British annexation of the region, the Mizo community had inhabited the present-day Mizoram for two centuries, and during this time, their folk songs evolved in terms of quantity, form, and content. These songs exhibited a higher degree of linguistic refinement and musical sophistication. Furthermore, many songs from this period bore the names of their composers, underscoring the development of individual authorship in Mizo music.

8.1 Traditional Songs:

The Mizos have traditionally classified their folk songs using an indigenous system that encompasses approximately one hundred distinct song types (Lalruanga, 1984). However, according to RL Thanmawia these songs can be broadly categorised into ten primary classifications:

8.1.1 Bawh Hla:

This category includes chants or cries uttered by warriors upon their return from successful raids. The purpose of chanting Bawh Hla was to assert their dominance over the enemy and inform their community of the successful raid. Only the warrior responsible for killing the enemy had the privilege of chanting Bawh Hla.

8.1.2 Hlado:

Chants or cries raised by hunters to celebrate successful hunting expeditions. Hlado chants could occur on the spot, on the journey home, before entering the village, or during celebratory gatherings. Anyone who witnessed a successful hunt could participate in chanting Hlado.

8.1.3 Thiam hla & Dawi hla (Invocation & Incantation):

These verse forms were reserved for use by priests and witches during ceremonial rituals.

8.1.4 Dar Hla:

These songs were instrumental in nature, and intended for musical instruments rather than human voices. Dar hla, meaning ‘song for the gong,’ represents the most prominent category within this classification, featuring songs associated with various instruments, with the gong being the most popular. These songs typically consisted of three musical notes.

8.1.5 Puipun Hla:

These songs were inspired by merry and festive occasions and were particularly popular among the Mizo people. They were often sung in conjunction with dancing during festive events.

8.1.6 Lengzem Zai:

Love songs, named after the theme of love. These songs lacked a distinctive form but were categorised based on their thematic content.

8.1.7 Songs named after Tribes:

Some song forms were named after specific tribes, such as Sailo zai and Saivate zai.

8.1.8 Songs named after Villages:

A subset of songs bore the names of villages, like Lumtui zai and Dar lung zai.

8.1.9 Songs named after modulation of the voice:

These songs were named based on the modulation of voice or sound, exemplified by names like Kawrnu zai, Zai nem, Vai zawi zai, and Puma zai. For instance, Kawrnu zai was named after the gentle and low voice of a cicada known as Kawrnu.

 8.1.10 Songs named after individuals:

A significant portion of Mizo folk songs bore the names of individuals, often referencing both the original composer and the melodic tunes. Some songs were named after beautiful women or tribal heroes. The first six categories primarily featured individual expressions, while the remaining four were meant for group singing. Although some songs could be sung individually, the essence of Mizo folk music typically lay in collective performances accompanied by music.

The major themes prevalent in Mizo folk songs include war, hunting, love, nature, and patriotism. Love songs occupied a central place in Mizo folk music, reflecting the natural affinity of the Mizo people with the elements of nature. These songs often employed symbolism through birds and animals as messengers of love. Likewise, hunting songs celebrated the role of successful hunters, referred to as “Pasaltha,” who were highly esteemed in Mizo society. These songs revealed the social and domestic implications of hunting.

War chants and songs were significant due to the frequent conflicts the Mizo people faced, either in battles with neighbouring tribes or inter-village warfare. A unique practice in Mizo warfare was the trampling of the enemy’s dead body, symbolizing the conqueror’s victory. The chanting of war-chants, such as “Bawh hla,” served to dispel fear related to the enemy’s soul, ensuring its safe and peaceful passage to the afterlife (Zawla 2011, 82).

Patriotism was evident in songs named after villages, where individuals expressed their deep affection for their native places and emphasized their might and other positive attributes. Such songs aimed to boost the morale of warriors and discourage potential raids by other villages.

An essential characteristic of Mizo folk songs was their self-sufficiency within each stanza or musical couplet. Each couplet or triplet conveyed its own message, reflecting a typical structure found in folk songs. Mizo traditional music was closely associated with dance and drama, serving as an integral part of their cultural expressions.

8.2 Traditional Music Instruments:

Throughout their history, the Mizo people have utilized a diverse array of musical instruments. These instruments, however, present challenges when attempting to trace their precise origins. It is suggested that during the late 10th to 13th centuries AD, while residing in the Kabaw Valley, the Mizo community developed a musical tradition that laid the foundation for their contemporary practices (Lalthangliana 1997, 71). These traditional Mizo musical instruments exhibit simplicity and rudimentary characteristics compared to other Indian musical instruments, representing a departure from modern musical equipment. RL Thanmawia categorized the musical instruments of the Mizos into three primary groups: Striking Instruments, Wind Instruments, and String Instruments.


8.2.1 Striking Instruments

These instruments are predominantly used during festivals and dances. Notable examples include various types of Khuang and Dar, along with instruments like Bengbung, Seki, and Talhkhuang.

- Khuang (Drum): Khuang instruments, crafted from hollow tree trunks covered with animal skin, hold a significant role in Mizo social and religious life. They are categorized by size and length, such as Khuangpui (Big drum), Khuanglai (Middle-sized drum), and Khuangte (Little drum).

- Dar (Gong): Brass gongs are another prominent category of Mizo musical instruments. They come in various sizes and sets, examples include Darkhuang, Darbu, and Darmang.

- Bengbung: This instrument, reminiscent of a xylophone, features flat wooden bars that produce musical notes. It is typically played by girls during leisure.

- Talhkhuang: Similar in construction to Bengbung but larger, this instrument comprises curved wooden pieces of varying depths, producing different notes when struck with a wooden hammer. Talhkhuang is used for specific occasions, such as during the erection of memorial stones.

- Seki: Seki involves beating the hollow horns of domesticated mithun cattle to provide timing cues during traditional group dances.

8.2.2 Wind Instruments

Mizo culture features six types of wind instruments which are - Rawchhem, Tumphit, Mautawtawrawt, Phenglawng, Buhchangkuang, and Hnahtum.

- Rawchhem: Resembling a bagpipe or sheng, Rawchhem features nine small bamboo pipes or reeds inserted into a dried gourd. Musicians control sound production through finger placement while blowing into the mouthpiece.

- Tumphit: Tumphit consists of three bamboo tubes of different sizes and lengths tied together. Musicians blow into the open ends to produce notes based on tube length.

- Mautawtawrawt: This bamboo trumpet comprises various bamboo tubes of different sizes joined together. Musicians blow into one end to produce distinct musical notes.

- Phenglawng: A bamboo flute, Phenglawng initially had three holes producing three distinct sounds, similar to flutes used in other Indian musical traditions.

- Buhchangkuang: Another type of bamboo flute, constructed from reeds or paddy stalks, was primarily played by girls.

- Hnahtum: Mizo boys fashioned simple indigenous musical instruments from various tree leaves, creating unique sounds by blowing on folded leaves.

8.2.3 Stringed Instruments

The Mizo musical tradition includes three types of stringed instruments: |ing\ang, Lemlawi, and Tuiumdar.

- Tingtang: Resembling a fiddle or violin, tingtang features a single string and a bamboo shaft fixed in a hollow gourd. The string is made from Thangtung, the fiber of the Malay Sago palm, and the gourd is covered with a dry animal bladder.

- Lemlawi: Although belonging to the Jew’s harp family, Lemlawi differs in shape and size. It is constructed from small bamboo pieces and produces sound when manipulated in the mouth.

- Tuiumdar: Crafted from bamboo, Tuiumdar features three strings, each producing distinct notes. Musicians play it similarly to a guitar.

n summary, the traditional Mizo music and the associated array of musical instruments serve as invaluable repositories of cultural heritage and historical narratives within the Mizo community. Over the course of centuries, these musical expressions have undergone gradual transformations, encapsulating a range of thematic motifs encompassing love, warfare, nature, and patriotism. The multifaceted nature of Mizo music, spanning from vocal chants to intricate instrumental compositions, extends its influence beyond mere entertainment, permeating into the realms of rituals, communal celebrations, and assertions of cultural identity.

Despite the ostensibly uncomplicated and rudimentary designs characterizing traditional Mizo musical instruments, their cultural significance remains profound. These instruments, spanning striking percussion devices like drums and gongs, wind instruments exemplified by the Rawchhem, and stringed instruments typified by the tingtang, each occupy a distinctive niche in Mizo society and historical context. Even amidst the introduction of contemporary musical elements driven by modern influences, these traditional instruments continue to command a unique and cherished role within the hearts of the Mizo populace.

From a broader perspective, the enduring presence of Mizo music and its associated instruments attests to the indomitable spirit of a community deeply entrenched in its cultural lineage. This cultural dynamism manifests as a harmonious amalgamation of tradition and adaptation, reflecting the ever-evolving tapestry of their cultural identity. The enduring legacy of Mizo music and its instruments resonates as a living testament to the Mizo people’s commitment to preserving and celebrating their rich heritage, thus ensuring its perpetuation for generations to come.


Lalthangliana, B. History of Mizo in Burma. Aizawl: Zawlbuk Agencies. 1997.

B.Thangliana, Mizo Literature, 1993  P.76

Lalruanga. A Study on Mizo Folk Literature, Unpublished Thesis, Gauhati University. 1984.

Lianhmingthanga. Material Culture of the Mizo, 1998.

Thanmawia, RL. Heritage of Mizo Traditional Music. https://mizoram.nic.in/about/music1.htm accessed on 27th Jan 2024

Zawla, K. Mizo Pi Pute Leh An Thlahte Chanchin. first Published in 1964. Aizawl: Lalnipuii at Lengchhawn Press, 2011.


Dr. Malsawmdawngliana and his wife, Dr. R. Lalsangpuii collaborated on the excellent "Windows to the Past: Cultural Heritage of the Mizo" recently published by South-Eastern Book Agencies, from which this chapter is extracted. The book offers a comprehensive delineation of the Zo ethnic tribes' cultural heritage and traditions, including history, craft heritage and traditional practices. I have little doubt the book will prove to be be a useful and invaluable handbook for anyone interested in researching Mizo cultural history. 
I also express deep appreciation to the authors for allowing me to publish this extract here. 

Monday, November 6, 2023

The State Library – Rosalynd Lallawmsangi


Last night I looked up suicide hotlines
But I didn't call any
Instead I stared at the wall
While I scratched and choked myself in my delirium;
The very previous day I tried to drown.
And last night I fell asleep (in the nude)
Before I could take off my earphones.
I took them off at midnight.

Today I visited the state library–
The same one I've been trying to visit for over a year.
To my family, I was going to college as usual
And to my college friends, I was sick at home.

Nobody knew me in the library,
And I knew nobody.
I worked on my assignment (tomorrow is its deadline)
And put my phone on 'Do Not Disturb.’

My best friend texted me a few 3,500 kilometres away
And asked if I was doing okay;
It's funny how he always knows when I'm not.

I texted back.
We talked about life
(Ours and our other friends').
I read.
I wrote.

It was the most peace I'd had in a long while
Even though I got quite hungry by the end
Since I hadn't eaten for hours.

I know I shouldn't make it a habit –
It won't do me any good,
And I have responsibilities on my shoulders
And a 'life' I have to go back to.

But tonight I haven't looked up suicide hotlines
So I guess the library did me some good.

Rosalynd Lallawmsangi, 19,  is a promising young Mizo writer in English. She is presently an English Literature college student, and has already made a name for herself in collegiate literary circles, winning prizes both in poetry and short story writing competitions. We wish her a wonderful writing future.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Ka Miaw: Adaptation of a Khasi Folktale - Lalramengmawia Khenglawt


(Part I is an imaginative narrative of how humans and cats came to live together)

Have you ever wondered how we came to live with cats? The smallest ones at least? How did they become our pets? When hath their jungle abode they ceased?

I should wager, on whatever measly stores I have left – that cats came to live with us when we first discovered agriculture. Somewhere probably very long ago, people might have had no television and were bored; and having not yet invented a brick wall to stare at, would resort to the vast expanse around them. But with paint not yet concocted, they would watch others do things equivalent to the aforementioned drying.

One person might have chanced upon a grain seed sprouting. In between clubbing Gork down by the creek and hunting gazelles, he might have passed by this sproutling over and over, watching it grow till it ripened and even more grain-bunched about it. Having discovered fire already, he would have been able to cook this grain and while lying down after enjoying his rudimentary porridge, he might have pondered upon the pros and cons of the hunter-gatherer life. He might have thought that maybe, he had gotten a bit old, and perhaps it was time that humanity settled down. What is true of man is true of mankind. But how and where? Here was the where. He only needed to tame his surroundings. Finally, he might have thought to himself, “Hmm, I shall invent civilisation!”

And thus, the beast-slaying lance was bent and reshaped into a sickle; so that weeds may not hinder the year's yield. Man always changes things to suit him. He might have cut down some long trees and re-arranged them ever so carefully, so as to let neither prowling beast nor howling wind in. He would need a place to store his treasure of grain, of course. He would build it. And from somewhere deep deep in the jungle surrounding, he might have heard a faint meow. And closer it comes, all the while lowering in volume. Suddenly, a squeak! Man's storehouse brought along with it an infestation of vermin, which brought along with it a peculiar apex predator.

Mouth to ear, sound to mind. And then, eye to eye.

Cautious as its kind, the man takes to the cover of darkness. The cat sees all in the darkness. The cat is timid – as if acknowledging that it is intruding. The man has not been used to the idea of home as of yet. This was the first time he tried living the territorial life. That very night, having secured his food for the foreseeable future, and having a basic shelter to keep him from all that wants to harm him, and having a warm body to snuggle with, he might have thought that he had all that he needed in life. And he would be right.


(Part II is the actual adaption of the Khasi story)

Ka Miaw lived in the jungle with her brother, the tiger. Her brother was the king of the jungle. And unlike some other 'king of the jungle', he actually lives in the jungle. The tiger was boastful and vain. He was also mighty and skilled in battle. With agility unbecoming of his massive girth, he would dash through the thicket and bring a swift end to whatever poor thing that may catch his eye that day. A tiger in a jungle is indeed a marvellous sight! All striped up and camped atop a boulder or a tree, he would greedily gobble up all his gatherings; leaving nothing for his kith and kin.

Like every good housekeeper, Ka Miaw would daily check the pantry for food stores. Deplored was she when she saw that all was empty! She felt it was upon her to keep up the good name of the family and so, thought to herself to go hunting. Nightly, she would venture, so as to hide the shame of her family's poverty from daylight's mockery.

Ka Miaw was formidable in her own right and within her own weight class. While her brother was loud of mouth, she always listened carefully. In the thicket, she would keep an ear out for crickets or whatever vermin she may make mincemeat of. Thus, flanked by the moonlight and only needing it, she kept up the dignity of the house.

Now it so happened once, that the tiger should catch a wandering illness. A great distress! The jungle folks came in regularly to pay a visit to their ailing chief. According to custom, it was the duty of the eldest daughter to start the hookah for the guests. But due to his haste and lack of civility, the unruly tiger roared at his sister to prepare a smoke immediately. Ashamed and abashed, Ka Miaw lied that there was no fire in the house. Incensed, the tiger ordered her to set out for the abode of humans to fetch fire.

If might makes right in the jungle, Ka Miaw could only hope that the settlement ahead would have different standards. The humans were very tall, so much so that she forgot the greatness of her lineage and crept like a thief in the night. There was so much movement about and mirth floating around that Ka Miaw felt alienated at first. But like all cats, she was taken in by curiousity. She had many lives to spare, after all.

The source of the great crescendo proved to be a bunch of children entrenched in their frolicking. They seemed to be playing. Something instinctive in Ka Miaw told her so. Play is so very vital for a thing to grow up and live as much as could be lived. It is a wonder that it is as of yet to be considered a thing to be pursued and had. When the children caught a glimpse of the bedazzled Ka Miaw, they took her before her instincts kicked in and told her to run for the hills! They stroked her fur gently and they said many things in tolerable tones that made her purr endlessly. What she would give to know what they were saying!

Then a booming roar from the jungle reminded her of her task. Her brother had always been harsh of hand and his uncomfortable disposition did not prevent him from seeking out his sister in anger. Taking a whiff from the king's hookah was considered to be a very high honour and all the guests were eagerly anticipating for the opportunity to indulge in such a luxury. After waiting patiently for a long time, they had become impatient and left. This set the tiger off on a mighty rage.

Ka Miaw quickly snatched a piece of ember and set out for home. Her brother met her on the way. When they finally came across one another, the tiger met her with one harsh slap after another. Thus was the first recorded case of domestic violence in animal history! Ka Miaw dropped the ember at her brother's feet, which distracted him for the tiny bit of moment that she needed to escape. She quickly made her way back to the human settlement where she found the children fractically looking for her. As she was showered with pettings, she resolved to being their pet in exchange for clearing their settlement of vermin. She happily accepted to do the thing she had always been doing; only now for people who loved her wholeheartedly.

Lalramengmawia Khenglawt who came up with this exquisitely written piece finished his MA in English Literature from Mizoram University and was leader of the Literature Club in his time there. He is an art journalist at Web Studio 8, a website he started up with a good friend. He also does translation works occasionally and worked as an editor at In Lehkha (a local publishing house) for a while. He presently teaches English Literature at Noah's Foundation School in Aizawl.

We may also safely assume he's quite a cat person.



Sunday, June 18, 2023

Dear Benny - Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte

Dear Benny,

In the two decades that I have looked for you
In the crevices of people’s conversations,
The waves of laughter washing over silken attires,
Between the delicate weaves of myth and history,
Even in the curious song-wail-chant of your nation,
You remained elusive.

So I contented myself in the remembering -
Two young girls clutching their bellies
Filled to bursting with laughter
At Laitumkhrah, at Nongthymai,
Where in the windowless, dark space of the tiny room you rented,
You introduced me to strange smells and tastes and people
of a place you called home.

I came to that place, you know,
It felt like revisiting an old, familiar place
In a world where we can no longer hide our smallest mis/deeds,
Nobody I asked knew you.
Like the clean, artistic strokes of your lettering
You left no smudges behind.

Tonight, I have finally found you.
Your elusiveness was not by design – not yours;
I piece together your story:

“Nagaland was not for me,” you said,
All these years it had represented you to me.
You spoke of your greying hair,
The suffocating heat,
Your beautiful children,
Your sister’s appetite,
You told me to be greedy
To live a life you never would.
You briefly showed me your old fire and called him “caveman”
until we giggled like old times.
But he came home, and you abruptly left me
Holding on to a faded picture of two fresh-eyed girls
Laughter ready to bubble over at a moment’s notice,
Curious about the future.

I found you,
And I felt I lost you again.

Dr. Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte has made major changes in her life since the last time we posted her works here. She now lives in the US of A with her husband and two lovely daughters. She, however, remains devoted to literature and fortunately for Mizo writing in English, continues to write top-notch poetry and prose. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Names of Gods and other poems - rdp ralte


The Names Of Gods

on your walls are gods i do not worship
but when you pray
i see we pray for the same things

rain for our fields
sun for our flowers
deliverance from our sins

so does it matter
if you pray with your palms facing heaven
or if i pray with them joined tight close

when you shake my hand and i shake yours
do i ask for the name of your god
or you, mine

between my prayer and yours
must we argue
which one rises and which one falls

when we are only men
of equal faith and different beliefs
travelling myriad roads converging to one soil

and however different the names
of our creator is
you and i are one believer

and the form and shape and name
of religion is many, but faith is faith
and i hope your prayers are answered

                            ~ ~ ~

Six Letter Drink

i change my mind every two hours, three on a wednesday
my favourite colour goes from red to green like a road signal
and i prefer tea to coffee because the first time i was made
to spell the word coffee
it went something like K-O-F-I
it didn't sound funny to me that i spelled out something
the way it was pronounced
but i can still hear the giggling crowd
who were too kind to laugh out loud at the child who
couldn't understand things just by looking at the sound.

so at the height of three foot tall
i saw nothing was ever the way it seemed
and i learned without being taught
that i had to be careful and cautious with the C
and i knew without being told that if i didn't want
to feel so small
i could prefer tea to coffee because hopefully
i wouldn't mess up with a three letter drink.

or i could pretend to love chemistry just to prove
that i knew it doesn't spell with a K
or i could go back and realize sooner that everything
becomes something else when you look closer
and prepared myself to be mispronounced and misspelled
but nothing could change the fact that i had to go
by the book
or else i would no longer be the smartest kid in class
and people would wonder what went wrong.

follow your heart, they said, but don't go too far
not as far as to rewrite the rules of K and C
follow your dreams, they said, but keep track of the
economy and dream accordingly
they praised my paintings on the weekend but on
all the other days
they reminded me that by the height of five foot three
i should be a doctor with a C. Because that is what
success sounds like.

so at the height of four foot something
i traded colour pencils for a book of instructions and formulae
and i sold my dreams with all their wings
and bought a degree and starbucks coffee
but trust me, they smelt like the common sense i lost
and the freedom i had never known.

so at what height of something foot tall
will i grow out of a confusion so small
and understand the seven letters that make all
the difference between Coffee and Kofi
and it really was just a small dislocation of the jaws
so couldn't you have let me, just for once, bend that small law
and hear me spell the way i understand......for god's sake i
was three foot shy. that was my cup of kofi
and you ruined it for me.

now i am five foot nothing and you call me deformed
because i refuse to conform with your C.

                                   ~ ~ ~ 

my mother prays when she wants to curse
and my father jokes when he wants to fall apart
and their daughter writes a poem
every time she excruciatingly despises life

                         ~ ~ ~

in the culture of my father
praise is a flood
that drowns a man in his death bed
and flowers are language
most earnestly spoken at funerals

                             ~ ~ ~

rdp ralte (Rodingpuii) published her first collection of poetry called "Secondhand Scars" in 2019.  On the 11th June 2022, she released her second collection titled "Guest of Eden." The four poems here come from the new book. 

It is such a pleasure having an addition to the still very small body of work that is Mizo writing in English.

                                          Cover art: Lalnunsangi Khiangte (rivca)