Saturday, November 22, 2008

Locked Doors - Dawngi Chawngthu

The indignity
of being stranded
outside a locked door
locked from inside
is something one could miss

when the door
that locks you out
is the door
that belongs to you

it leaves you helpless
slightly clueless
and angry
wondering what
you should do next

knock on it?
no way,
one shouldn't have to knock
on one's own door
locked from the inside.

then what?
kick on it?
bring it down?
ring the bell?
oh, why bother.

locked doors
are maddening
slightly insulting

but hey
it's a different
when you're on the inside
safe and sound

for snuggles and cuddles
and whispered sweet nothings.
locked doors feel so cozy
on the inside.

Picture credit: Jackie Weisburg on

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chhura's Babysitting - Dr. R. Thangvunga

Once upon a time, there was a simple but honest man Chhura. He was gifted with this rare quality of comic commonsense which places him on a level not below the best of Shakespeare’s fools. He is a veritable treasury of tribal comic tales for the Mizo people.. This is one of those escapades that will not only make your tongue roll in your cheeks, but might render you look foolish for grimacing without pain if you do not, by his method, de-brain yourself.

One day, Chhura was obliged to take turns with his wife baby-sitting while she went to work in the jhum. Till noon, things went smoothly. Then the urchin started whimpering. Like every daddy, Chhura tried several diversions but to no avail. The sobbing became a cry, and no amount of coo-cooing helped to pacify him. Suddenly his stomach rumbled which made him realize that the baby might be hungry. He had seen old crones mashing cooked rice in their mouths and feeding their babies. In no time he had a frothing paste in his mouth which he ladled with his finger to the baby’s crying mouth. But the baby refused to swallow the food, as it most likely smelt different after being mixed with the tobacco in daddy’s mouth, and cried with a new key that spelled frustration. As he lifted the baby’s head for another mouthful, he felt the soft frontal lobe with a shock. “This be it that makes you cry. What a nasty boil it is! Let me pry it open.” He took a sharp knife and cut through the skin of the forehead till the milky gel oozed to the last drop. “All this pus should have made you cry so,” he murmured. The cry stopped immediately. Thinking the baby was asleep, he laid it down on the bed, and waited eagerly for the mother to come home to brag about his strange but heroic adventure.

This explains why his descendants, the public leaders, ever since take care of their subjects by the cry-management method of brain-lullaby.

Dr. R. Thangvunga is a reader in the Mizo department, Mizoram University. He particularly enjoys tongue-in-cheek retellings of the Chhurbura stories.

Chhura or Chhurbura is a legendary figure in Mizo folklore, famous for his absurd antics and escapades.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Amid these hills where once we lived I retrace my steps...

By P. Rohmingthanga


So the native had returned to relive the dreams of his boyhood, and to savour the happiness associated with his first visit. But as you would have seen, this was not to be. No doubt there was satisfaction in being able to come back after 25 years, to physically touch the places which could not be reached the first time, to actually drive on the roads one had initiated, and see that at least a few of one's suggestions had been implemented. At the same time, I was sorely disappointed.

By this time you will have appreciated that the romance and mystery of all these places are closely interwoven with the encircling environment, in particular the trees and foliage surrounding them, the thicker, the richer, the bigger; the better. The variety and richness of the fauna, in turn, depend on the size and quality of the flora. Unfortunately, the loss of forest cover has been accelerated ever since the abolition of the Chiefs who were fiercely protective of their forest lands. Since then I saw, as some of you have also seen, the extensive damage to forests caused by jhumming, fire, badly planned and even worse executed developmental programmes, reckless exploitation, indifference, selfishness and greed. Even as far back as the early 70s, as one flew by helicopter throughout the length and breadth of Mizoram, it was rare to find a good forest stretch except in the far-flung areas. I had thought that my sensitivity on this score was, to some extent, blunted to such destruction. I, therefore, accepted as inevitable the fact that, between Seling and Champhai, there is no more forest, no more blooming Vaubes, nor a single orchid to be seen.

Still, I was totally unprepared for the shocking discovery at 'Lianchhiari Lunglen Tlang', 'Tan’, the two sites of 'Fiara Tui' and 'Rul Chawm Puk', where some of our most precious non-tangible heritage sites have been vandalised and ravaged so wantonly by the complete destruction of their environment. It was as if our inner-most recesses had been forcibly prised open and exposed to the forces of destruction, and our very roots being severed. The beauty, the romance, and the mystery of these places, and yes, that indescribable 'presence' of the spirits associated with them have all been irredeemably diminished. How did we allow things to come to such a pass? Was there no one who cared? How many more of such cultural and heritage sites have met a similar fate? Have we been conducting ourselves so dismally in other fields as well? Where do we go from here? Would we be able to have a change of heart, undergo a process of transformation, and begin the task of restitution?

Various conflicting thoughts had then crossed my mind. And I hoped against hope that there would be a comeback, a restoration, that it would come to pass in the next century. Then the flora and the fauna would return. Fiara would come back to his spring, which would no longer be dry whatever the season. Lianchhiari would remain undisturbed in her dwelling place, shaded from sun and rain by the woodlands, and comforted by the chirping of birds and the buzzing of bees. Chawngtinleri and the 'lasis' would be back, riding their mounts. She would resume weaving at her loom from the rocky cliffs of Tan and Lurh, and the Vamurs would once again criss-cross the skies towards Ramzotlang, and thence onwards to Zopuitlang.

And as for me, I will then retrace my steps once more....


I am deeply grateful to P. Rohmingthanga for allowing me to reproduce his deeply-felt, beautifully-written travelogue on this blog. New readers may refer to Part I
and Part II in previous posts.

Picture credit: Hmuifang Tlang, photographed by Zara Ralte, 2008.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Motherhood - Dawngi Chawngthu

Lower your voice, Ma
You don't have to shout
So it is now their turn to criticise
Like all children
They find fault
Anyway when did I start raising my voice
I can't seem to remember....

One never learns
Or else how could one explain
Why a rational thinking being
Could repeat the process
Of giving birth
Again and again....

The best part was always the beginning
The pregnancy
The pleasure of anticipation
Even though short-lived
I still cherish the feeling
When I felt truly complete
And didn't really require anyone

Of course all this is forgotten
During the first year of childcare
Spent in a blur of headaches and backaches
Washing ang drying nappies
Snatching fistfuls of naps
Waking up to wails
Of a wet and hungry baby

And the next year
Just when I would begin to feel human again
The whole cycle would repeat itself
So much for glorious motherhood
Today, all I can remember of those times was
An undiluted feeling of envy
Of all mothers with grown up children

But when children are young
The exhaustion is only physical
There are certain pay-offs
Their dependence being your reason
Of being in this world
Looking at their innocent faces while they sleep
Gives you a fierce sense of ownership

And then they grew up
Demanding care and also justice
Through endless accidents
Illness and greivances
I had been their Ma
With power to withhold pocket money
Or give permission to go out

But maybe my time is up now
Their needs and my capacity
To fulfill them have been exhausted
Yes, perhaps in this process
I had started raising my voice
Does one begin to shout
When one starts to lose control?

Dawngi Chawngthu lives and works in Aizawl, Mizoram, and is a happily married mother with four lovely children.

Picture - Mother's Love VI, oil on canvas, by Tlangrokhuma

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chawngmawii and Hrangchhuana

Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful girl named Chawngmawii. She had a secret friend, a handsome young man named Hrangchhuana. He was from the neighbouring village which was at war with Chawngmawii's village. Both of them were very popular in their two villages because of their good looks. Although the two of them lived in different villages at war with one another, they met very often because they loved each other very much.

In those days, when villages were at war, it was very dangerous to move from one village to another. But as Hrangchhuana was very much in love with Chawngmawii, he often secretly went to her village to meet her.

Alas, the villagers came to know that someone, perhaps an enemy, was visiting their village at night. "He must be caught," they said. So they built a wall surrounding the village and spread ash at the foot of the wall so that they could trace that person's footprints. But Hrangchhuana was very clever, he walked backwards when entering the village and they could not catch him.

As time went by, Hrangchhuana became more and more careless. One day, he was finally caught. The village chief was very angry and said, "Tie him up and let him lie on the road." He then ordered all the girls to come out and walk over him. This was done to humilate him and to find out the girl who had betrayed her village by loving an enemy. The girls walked over him, some even jeered and made fun of him and then it was Chawngmawii's turn. Instead of making fun of him, she covered Hrangchhuana's face with her shawl and held him tenderly, crying, "My dearest, what have they done to you?"

Thus Chawngmawii gave herself away. The people of the village became very angry with her and as punishment, they tied her up and let her watch her lover Hrangchhuana being tortured and put to death. He was beheaded and his head was displayed on top of a tree near the village gate. People threw mud on his face and made fun of him. Poor Chawngmawii watched with sadness. At last she could no longer bear to watch the muddied face of her beloved so she climbed up the tree to clean Hrangchuana's face.

Before his death, Hrangchhuana had told Chawngmawii, "If I am ever captured and put to death, please take my head to my parents." So Chawngmawii began to look for a chance to steal Hrangchhuana's head. One evening, she finally got the chance she had been waiting for. She climbed the tree and removed Hrangchhuana's head and fearlessly set out for his village .

When she reached Hrangchhuana's house, she told his parents how their beloved son was killed. It broke their hearts to see their son's lifeless face. They were very grateful to Chawngmawii for risking her own life to come to their village and bring home their son's head.

When the people of Chawngmawii's village came to know that she had taken Hrangchhuana's head to his parents, they were very angry and brutally killed her.

It is said that the souls of Hrangchhuana and Chawngmawii changed into stars believed to be Jupiter and Venus. These two stars come together every now and then in their journey through space, and at such times, folklore has it that the souls of Hrangchhuana and Chawngmawii unite.

Taken from Selected Mizo Folk Tales, 2008, published and edited by the English Language Teaching Institute (ELTI), SCERT Mizoram.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Poems - Zosangliana

Amongst the Velvet

These slow decaying evening days
have made me familiar with narrow streets
and tiled pavements that pass.
I walk under half moons and shy stars
until I'm at the broken down theatre in the old neighbourhood
where outside the street boys on their street bikes are accelerating
faster away into the night.
Combusting fuel and reflected white noise are followed by silence
followed by my friend who from a thousand miles away calls on the phone.
But I can only answer with wooden words
because my thoughts can't quite mesh together
when summer exhales in this little town in the hills
because I'm the room that hasn't been opened in a long, long time,
because I'm still waiting for my ride
repentant yet still hesitant.
Because I don't want to move from order to chaos
like the street boys in fourth gear breathing in equal parts
of numbness and speed.

For New Beginnings

All is well

I wanted to tell him, but I couldn't
To pry fingers into scars
into trances of cleansed inboxes,
passions and anger and ambivalence
for each other
To break his spell, where all is well
is whispered into ears
and poured in sleep
Don't make a fool of a Paris
of yourself
to think you and yours
can be removed to
a city of good and gold
and roam the cornfields of imagined heavens
in sleep together
Remember who you are
without her,
and what all that you can be
without her.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Windows - Andrew Ruolngul


Open the windows
And let me see,
What the world wishes
For me to see.

Smiles, yes, smiles.
I see children
Coming back from school
Swinging their bags
Back and forth,
And also on the swings
Their faces alit with glee.

I see two lovers
Sitting next to each other
With that look
Of utter solace and
Not a care in the world

So now close the windows,
For I have seen enough


Open the windows
And let me see,
What the world wishes
For me to see.

Clouds, a dark haze
That blind my eyes.
I see a black raven
Perch itself on the sill.
It stares at me
As if trying to read me,
Like I would a book.
It stood motionless.
As if struck by fear.

I see a man.
Sulking in his solitude.
Embracing a single black rose.
An emotionless face.
A tear rolls down his cheek.
I sit still
As the dark figure passes.
And disappears into the mist

For maybe I have seen too much
I must now rest my eyes
But keep the windows open
For the day has not ended…

Andrew Ruolngul
is 18 years old and lives with his family in Tokyo, Japan. This poem was published in his school's literary magazine. Keep it up, Andrew!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Aspects of Mizo Literature - Dr.R.Thangvunga

This paper was presented under the title ‘Mizo literature in relation to other literature’ at the Poets’ Meet cum seminar on Mizo literature in Aizawl between the 3rd – 7th October, 2001. I am indebted to Dr. R. Thangvunga for generously allowing me to publish his essay online.

It may be assumed without fear of much controversy that the literature of the Mizos sprang up independently of the myriad native literature flourishing in this culturally rich nation, an assumption justified by the fact that Mizos are of Tibeto-Burman stock having little or no socio-cultural affinity with either the Aryan or Davidian races or the Austrics who form the bulk of the Indian populace. The long migration of the Mizo people from the T’ao valley in China to their present habitat had matured their cultural and religious life sufficiently for distinction from their neighbours. The long years of isolation from other more civilized people had a preservative effect. The pristine simplicity and naïve innocence of the people is in sharp contrast with the sophisticated and complex attitudes of the more progressive people around them from whose poisonous contact Providence seems to have kept them for a special purpose. This age of innocence is the early period of Mizo literature, a vast oral tradition and valuable heritage which a miracle of gospel event has captured in indelible pages of literary history. It is impossible, in the narrow confine of this introductory essay, to open up the panorama of the virgin songs of a people who are, perhaps, after Wordsworth’s own heart. It is a tempting thought that the earlier pre-Christianized literature possesses more human spirit than the Christianized literature which offered a sheepish hope of an underserved heaven in exchange for the more heroic idea of an earned Pialral (incidentally corresponding to the heroes’ Valhalla or Elysium of similar warlike people elsewhere).

If we assume the soul of all literature to be the whole-blooded expression of man’s heroic response to an environment hostile to his dreams and ideals, one may bravely
assert a pagan literature as superior to a literature of higher inspiration; for heroism remains the highest standard of human worth, and literature “the thought of thinking souls.” G.Wilson Knight observed: “A strong faith tends to render tragedy impossible.” The truth of this statement seems to be only too apparent. This humanistic position, owing allegiance to the empirical or Aristotelian precept, justified itself against the intractable and pontifical ideology of the medieval Church as a pristine force of enlightenment working through th powerful pen of a Milton or a penitent Donne. Christianity and its attendant Faith in the the heroic expiatory sacrifice of Christ had been a popular literary subject of the Renaissance, as exemplified by Spenser’s The Fairie Queene. The spiritual struggles of a believer have never been minimized as an easy pilgrimage and Bunyan’s Pilgrim was not found among the Canterbury pilgrims.

It therefore is essentially inadequate to assume that “a strong faith” is incapable of cathartic experience; for the road to faith is never easy, and many shun it. Religious literature is replete with spiritual conflicts of epic grandeur that the adventures of flesh and bones can never match. It is true, physical pain is usually subordinated when the spirit is elevated in the transcendental experience of a more enduring truth for which the sacrifice is being made. But it is true also that the inner struggle to accept physical pain for a principle, the price of the choice has not been a pleasure either. It is on these twin streams of critical viewpoint that the following lines attempt to highlight a few samples of Mizo literature for your evaluation on a more universal platform. To facilitate such an exercise, we have to rely heavily on available versions of the canon and critical works on the same in English. The following works are indispensable:

1. Tribal Folktales of Assam (Hills) by S.N. Barkakati, containing 69 pieces of Mizo folktales.
2. Folklore I – Folktales of Mizoram by Dr Laltluangliana Khiangte, 1997.
3. Anthology of Mizo Literature by Dr Laltluangliana Khiangte, 2001.
4. Mizo Literature by Dr R.L. Thanmawia, 1998.
5. The Lusei Kuki Clans by Lt. Col. J. Shakespeare, 1988.

A comparative study of Mizo literature with those of others, so desirable and imperative, is beyond the scope of this paper and of my abilities. Any accidental light emerging from random analysis of literary samples below which may reveal certain affinities with the literature of other peoples, kindred spirits showing the elements of common human nature, will more than afford the satisfaction looked for in having accepted this task of making intelligible our native voice.

THE PEOPLE: It is not the place here to decide on a creditable history of the Mizos from available research. Subsequent researches seem to have no better recourse than the pioneer British administrators but available oral folklore and tradition as their source materials. Reference pointing to Mizos in their generic name ‘Kuki’ was made as early as 1512 A.D. by Col. Lewin in his ‘Progressive Colloquial Exercises’ showing that it referred to the dwellers of the so-called Lushai Hills irrespective of clan names.

Mizos lived in a community of 50 – 300 houses with a hereditary chieftain who rules by counsel of advisers called “Upa”(s). Livelihood being dependent on agriculture and hunting for meat, shifting from hill to hill every decade or so, security and development were not known by the Mizos. Surprise raids being the method of war, every young man, even married ones, was on constant alert, and slept in the ‘Zawlbuk’, a kind of club for communal discipline.

Like most tribal communities, Mizos synchronized their agricultural calendar with a number of festivals and religious observances which punctuated their hard life with entertainment, relieving the burden of their hard labour and martial apprehensions. Otherwise, their life was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting, a vicious cycle of existence under the shadow of superstitious and moral fears from beast, man and evil spirits.

Contrary to conventional practice of dubbing the religious life of the Mizos as Animistic¹, a comprehensive examination of their religious activities leads me to regard them as being primarily deistic². For they believed in a God of goodwill who is responsible for the creation and preservation of all things, one who is not perturbed by the events of the human world, apart from his having ordained the temporal and spiritual systems which all creation may observe willy-nilly. The moral precepts and taboos bearing on human actions were imputed not so much to God as to a system not unlike the Greek idea of Nemesis, and possessing as impeccable and implacable memory and purpose as the latter. The main rituals of the community were directed to this God. Sacrifices made to appease various evil spirits who caused illness would not constitute a religion because it was not a form of worship, but a kind of anathema or exorcism – items of religious practice.

THE LANGUAGE: The language or languages spoken by the Mizos belong to the Tibeto-Assam branch of the Tibeto-Burman family. The major clans speak different dialects but having strong and direct links to one another. In time the Duhlian dialect of the politically dominant Lusei clan became the lingua franca of the majority of communities under the umbrella of the Mizo nationality. This dialect received a further boost when Christian missionaries arrived in 1894, namely, Rev. F.W. Savidge and Rev. J.H. Lorrain, who reduced the language into writing, using a simple and effective phonetic Hunterian system of Roman script. An earlier attempt to use the Devanagiri script had been made but met with poor results. Though, as Pu Buanga himself confessed, there is something to be desired for a fuller and more developed system of writing, their endeavour has remained totally successful to this day. The language has a phonetic nature like many other Indian languages which, in a script other than the missionaries had rendered it to, would have an array of phonetic characters beyond the ability of the then Mizos to master, with the effect that the present status would never have been attained.

THE LITERATURE: What has come to be admitted as Mizo literature, the older portion of which was in the oral tradition, is a medly of deiifernt dialects unintelligible to modern students. Profuse notes on vocabulary and cultural history cannot be dispensed with. Classification is another problem. Different approaches are possible: chronological, generic, thematic, stylistic or functional. The older, pre-Christian literature is more diverse in nature than the literature after conversion to Christianity. In common with other tribal communities of the country, the very life of society was throbbing with the rhythm of folk literature. The telling of legends and stories, enthusiastic singing of fresh (un-weather-beaten) songs celebrating the latest victory and exploits, riddles and moral fables, reverberating with the sound of guns, and the merry, merry festival days of singing and dancing days and nights, were the central focus of their social life. No joy, no sorrows, no victory, no success in hunting was not but a communal affair. It was all for one, one for all kind of existence the modern world has almost forgotten. Even if Mizo literature does not make itself known for a new and fresh philosophy for man, no one can deny its place at the center of the people’s life for generations as repertory of their inner lives recorded in endless streams of songs. What nation is there who has not a poet for every individual or public occasion? The Mizos are second to none in their love for a song to sing their thoughts!

Folk literature offers tempting historical and anthropological research. Mizo folk literature is no exception: perhaps more tempting in the need for a historical certainty of roots. Beyond that there are legends and myths echoing down the ages pointing to a common knowledge of cataclysmic events like creation, universal flood, universal darkness and cold, dispersion of races and languages, as well as giants and angels, superhumans, giant snakes and birds, dragons, ghosts and hobgoblins, magic and witchcraft, etc. Here are samples of such folklore:

1. The myth of Chhinlung, a cave or stone wall, whence people issued (imputed to be of Mizo origin).
2. The myth of Thim zing, a great darkness enveloping the world, when people were transformed into animals.
3. The myths of Pialral (Elysium), Mitthi khua (Hades), Lunglohtui & Rih Lake (Styx), Pawla (Acheron), all corresponding to belief in after-life.
4. The legend of Palova ( No father) adventuring in quest of his unknown father.
5. The legend of Ngaiteii and her father’s spirit causing a flood to claim her.
6. The legend of Mualzavata, superman.
7. The legend of Chhura with its comic cornucopia.
8. The legend of seven brothers, the youngest Tlumtea, paying court to the lady of the sky. (An allegory of the ideal character for a young man)
9. The legend of Lalruanga the magician.
10. The legend of Chawngchilhi and the Serpent.
11. The story of Liandova and Tuaisiala, orphans triumphant by virtue.
12. The romances of Chala and Thangi, of Duhmanga and Dardini, of Raldawna and Tumchhingi, masterpieces of plot and realism.

Apart from this narrative heritage, it seems appropriate to treat the poetic heritage of the early times as a continuous stream of literary activity.

POETRY: The main characteristic of Mizo poetry is the couplet and triplet stanza forms, with the tune being a kind of formal distinction. Another poet (who is not a singer-poet) may add to the existing poem any number of stanzas. The earliest extant poems correspond to nursery rhymes, a number of them actually used by children at play, chanting them with accompanying actions in play. e.g.
Pang aw inzial inzial, pangpui aw inzial
(Children joining hands would roll into a bundle, and at the line…)
Pang aw inphelh inphelh, pangpui aw inphelh inphelh
(they would unroll again).

Another is accompanied by the music of a number of bamboo tubes of different length being blown upon, each giving the correct pitch. The bamboo may be substituted by small gongs.
Chhimbu leh peng peng intu
A lu lam kawng lu lam kawng.

Liando te unau unau,
Dar ze nge in tum in tum?

It is a common feature of primitive society to possess war-cries and hunting-cries. Mizos had several such cries in the form of proud declarations of victory over a conquered foe whose head was a proud trophy. Such is Bawh hla:
Kei chu e, ka sentet an sa leh doral ka pianpui e,
Ka do e, rimnampa e, thlangchem e, aikim min ti u law.
(Born was I with game and foe,
I kill whom I fought, the smelly one, ‘kill all’ I am.)

And after a successful hunt, Hlado is declared:
Mi an e hrang chi awm e, saah hrang chi awm na ngei a,
Tiau dung e, ka zui changing, kawlkei e, than hawl ka vak liau e.
(Of men heroes there be, of beats wild ones there be,
Along Tiau, on the trail of the tiger, fame follows me)

Tribal communities are rich in festival song and dances. Some such songs are nicely accompanied by appropriate actions or mimes. The Assamese and Garo dances exhibit such virtuosity. Others show the agricultural life-cycle of the community in action. Mizos appear to have had their cultural life abbreviated from attaining artistic elegance of such nature, or that their occupation was too rough and insecure to indulge in the more peaceful art of eurythmics. The most popular dance was Chai performed on really big occasions by young men and women locking arms and shoulders in a big circle, swaying and shifting, singing the song of the day, eg Lalvunga zai:
Lalvunga’n ka lian a ti Farzawl a luah,
A luah sual e changsial sawmthum an la e.
(Lalvunga proudly occupied Farzawl,
A grave mistake, thirty mithuns taken away.)

Songs of victory are heavily tinged with sarcasm and lampoons. Even the plight of a prince became a song:
Ka sen in e, ngunkual ka bun e,
Zoah siahthing Manga’n ka bun e.
(When I was a babe, a brass bangle I wore,
A redwood becomes Manga’s stock.)

There was absolutely no limit to the number of themes for there was a song for everything. Here is a song on the swings:
We made a swing here and everywhere,
Brave is he who slashed it down.
I spied below the plum tree,
The handsome prince Phunchawnga.

We may have seen now that the couplet form was very popular. A triplet became popular with star-crossed romance, the maid usually singing her heart out:
Pining for you the sweet birds’ song I reply,
E’en the soundless night
Refuse my eyelids rest. (Darlenglehi)

A bereaved mother pines for her dead:
Death comes along every hill,
Stopp’d by our ill-fated home,
Dragged my sweet one by the arm. (Darpawngi)

Once a poet/poetess had instituted a new form, it was hailed on every hill, the chiefs enthusiasthically patronizing it. Any number of stanzas on any theme could be superadded.Perhaps the most important factor for the popularity of poets and their songs was that they were sung vocally, and it was a social obligation to keep up with the Joneses of another village.

A late development that became very popular was adaptation of sacred tunes for secular songs. A number of Christian hymnals had been translated, and native worship and praise with local tunes had been ushered in by waves of spiritual revivals. Education and broader outlooks tended to encourage a carefree life. Earlier the still unconverted enjoyed parodying Christian hymns with sarcastic mockery of the converts’ abstinence.Typical themes of literature like love, death, time, and other life exigencies appear in Mizo poetry but in a very brief, unsustained manner. The finality of the triplet seems to exert a strong pause on the thought pattern of a poem so that even a single stanza often contains the wholness of a poem. As such, despite their oral character, the problem of fragments is hardly felt.

Christianity lifted Mizo poetry to a new height of thought and style. The missionaries who came to evangelize the Mizos happened to be good linguists, and their pioneering works on the language and literature helped to put these on a sound footing. Missionaries and their aides began with the translations of English hymnals, and the new converts lost no time in taking the cue. A succession of spiritual revivals produced great religious poets of such powerful visions that would make Milton envious. The vivid and powerful imagery of their poems greatly boosted the faith of believers with beatific visions of the Promised land and the River of Life in the Golden City.

Life on earth was no paradise for the early Mizos. Toil and fear, social inequality under autocratic chiefs, high mortality, taboos and omens took their toll on their minds, weakening them spiritually. It is not to be wondered if the bias of Mizo spiritual songs leans towards the beatific vision, and made little of mortal life. A new convert came to a village apparently for a routine visit, but to witness purposely. Knowing him, the chief denied entry. He could not go through the tiger-infested way back home. While waiting wistfully for the sun to set and darkness to allow him to steal into the village for food and safety, this song came to him:
Ni tla ngai lo Zion khawpui,
Ngaiin ka rum, ka tap chhun nitinin,
Puan ropui sinin an leng tlansate,
Ka tan hmun a awm ve, chu ramah chuan. [Rev. Lianruma]
(Zion city, no setting sun,
With sighs and tears all day long I pine,
In royal robes the redeemed they walk,
A place there is for me in that bright land)

The weight of the poem falls on the acute realization of his plight and suffering, the good fight he was putting up on his way to that final place where he was sure of a welcome. But not all believers are faithful
An nghilh rei lua thing krawsa I tuarna,
An thinlung sual thim rawn chhun eng leh la,
Kian tir ang che, an lawman lei pangpar,
I hruai theihna tur. [Siamliana]
(Too long have they forgotten thy death on the cross,
Illumine their hearts full of sin,
Remove their joys the world’s flowers,
That thou can lead them on.

With such maturity of spiritual concern, Mizo poetry has come of age.

Higher education and readings in great literature fostered a new dream. A new stream of poetry flowed from the minds of educated young men who felt a new calling, altruistic enthusiastists who desired to build their new Jerusalem in these pleasant hills of Mizoram. Their poetry oozes the love of their native hills, rejoicing in the peace and harmony of its nature. Euphoria of discovering a new patriotism is the key of Rokunga’s songs:
Kan zo tlang ram nuam hi chhawrpial run i iang e,
Hal lo ten lungrual a kan lenna,
(Our pleasant hills are like a mansion in the sky,
Where in peace and harmony we live.)

A significant characteristic of this new poetry is the conspicuous reduction of the usual “poetic diction” which, not very unlike the Wordsworthian controversy, has come to be used as a matter of rule, making it somewhat unwieldy. Perhaps in the songs of Rokunga is Wordsworth’s ideal most fulfilled. For there the medium is almost transparent, and invisible, and the poet can speak directly to the heart.

Comparatively, there is something to be desired in Mizo poetry. Superficiality, easily excused as simplicity and spontaneity, is the most obvious. Long isolation had developed an almost impermeable defensive crust in the mentality of the Mizos, rendering them unsophisticated in life and thought. Even the most poignant expression of a wounded heart, such as

Ka chun leh zua suihlung in mawl lua e,
Kan sumtualah Thangdang thlunglu hawihte’n in tar le! [Laltheri zai]
(How unfeeling can you be, parents mine,
To dress our courtyard with the head of my Thangdang!)

spends itself in the too too obviousness of the situation. But in contrast,

Rauthla lengin kan run khuai ang a vel,
Chhunrawl ring lo, ka nu, sawmfang a belin hlui rawh [Laltherei zai]
(A spirit like a bee circles our house
A starved soul, mother, give it the pot of rice)

gives the feeling soul something to feed on. [It was common belief that spirits of the dead, before departing for Mitthi khua, frequent the house in the form of the carpenter bee or a butterfly.] Such allusions are not exceptional as the literature has a rich culture and history to draw upon.

DRAMA: Drama in Mizoram, as in England, began in religious entertainment. Till today, the use of drama is limited to charity shows with social or moral lessons. In this age of home media, there is no expecting people to go to a theatre. However we have a few plays on the lives of historical figues, prominently Pasaltha Khuangchera, Lalnu Ropuiliani and Darlalpuii by Dr. Laltluangliana Khiangte. Mizo colloquial speech, to be realistic, is not the best medium for the quick, witty dialogue of standard drama, especially as used by the characters in these plays. Still the language serves well for the goal of the story and the plots are well managed.

FICTION: Mizos then and now are inverterate lovers of stories, perhaps to the extent detrimental to a profitable life. Handwritten copies of translated novels were often read in groups by young people. World War II facilitated local composition on love themes. The few novels bearing on life in society, however, bear testimony to the writers’ understanding of life and their narrative skills. Of these, the novels of Lalzuithanga Thlahrang and Phira leh Ngurthanpari deserve mention, the former for its skillful plot, and the latter for sustained interest despite its loose plot. One is wistful, however, for a novel sharp enough to slice through layers of frozen moral pretensions and guarded reticence, for a character to explode the unconscious.

Books consulted:

1. Mizo Hun Hlui Hlate, B. Thangliana, Aizawl, 1998.
2. Mizo Kristian Hla thar Bu, Synod Publication, Aizawl, 13th ed., 1988.
3. Mizo Poetry, R.L.Thanmawia, Aizawl, 1988.
4. History of Mizo in Burma, B. Thangliana, Aizawl, 1978.
5. The Lushei Kuki Clans, J. Shakespear, Aizawl, reprint, 1988.
6. Tribal Folktales of Assam, S.N. Barkakati, Guwahati, 1970.
7. Comparative Indian Literature, Vol. I, (Ed.) K.M. George, Macmillan, 1984.

¹ Animism: a belief that within every object dwells an individual spirit capable of governing its existence. Natural objects and phonema are regarded as possessing life, conscience and spirit (soul).

² A system of natural religion which recognizes one God but not a divinely revealed religion.

Dr.R.Thangvunga works in the Mizo dept. of Mizoram University. He had earlier been a Reader in the English dept. of Govt. Aizawl College for several years.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Juvenilia - Mona Zote

The Idiot Goes to Hell

He marked the spot
with a precise cross
and brought a chair
to place it there.
He tied the rope
up round the hook
and put the noose
around the neck.
He kicked the chair
down to the floor
and presently
he went to hell.

It had to be
(his mother said)
in all his life
the only thing
that he did well.

Home Going

Making landfall by intimations alone
On the lunatic fringe, in a paper ship,
I fold the accordion of my selves.

Rehearse the fruitless grammar of queens,
Here in the motionless latitude of Ma'rib
That sulks in silence like a rebuked putto.

I sit and finger the apple of my youth,
Turning a face as though blindfolded
To the imprint that a menstrual sun

Has left on the inner scroll of my eye.
The dialogue of two will continue
Unchecked, in the oil-press of the mind
Under the formalaic shade of reason.
At Knossos, having tea with the minotaur,
I saw lightning sew the purses of the sky

And against my will recalled that man,
Reputed for wisdom, as last I saw him,
Seated with the harp smashed across his knee.
Thoughtful, scratching the pale more on his hand.


Editor's note: As the post title indicates, these poems are very early works of the writer.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Great War of Animals

Once a python asked a tortoise to guard her eggs. While the tortoise was guarding the python's eggs, a deer came passing by. The deer said to the tortoise, "Come, let's see if we can jump over the python's eggs." But the tortoise said, "I don't think I can jump over the eggs. If I fall and break them, the python will kill me." The deer replied, "Don't be afraid. If you break the eggs, I'll save you from the python." The tortoise then agreed.

The deer then jumped first and easily jumped over the python's eggs. But the tortoise could not jump over the eggs. He fell on them and broke all the eggs. The deer, who had promised to save him, said, "I am also afraid of the python. I cannot help you. Please run away as fast as you can." But the tortoise could not run fast. He tumbled down and fell on the wall of a bear's house. The bear shouted, "Who is it?" The tortoise answered, "It's me, the tortoise." The bear asked, "Why are you running? What are you afraid of?" The tortoise said, "I am running away from the python. I broke her eggs and I am very afraid. Please help me." But the bear said, "I am also afraid of the python, I cannot help you."

The tortoise went everywhere for help. He went to a tiger, a wild boar, a stag and a wild goat for help. But they were all afraid of the python and could not help him. He tumbled and rolled everywhere. At last, he knocked on the door of a big eagle. The eagle asked, "Who is it?" The tortoise answered, "It's me, the tortoise." "What do you want?" said the eagle. The tortise replied, "The deer and I were trying to jump over the python's eggs. I fell and broke all the eggs. I am very afraid of the python and no one can save me from her anger. So I came here hoping you will save me." The eagle said, "Don't be afraid, I'll help you and save you from the python."

The python went searching for the tortoise everywhere, and asked all the animals she met if they had seen the tortoise. At last she crawled towards the eagle's house with a dreadful sound. The eagle asked, "What's that noise?" The tortoise answered, "It's the python! What should I do now?" The eagle asked the tortoise to quickly hide under his wings. When the python reached the python's house, she asked, "Have you seen the tortoise?" The eagle replied, " No, I have not." But the python did not believe him as the tortoise's trail ended at his house. So she asked him to spread his wings. The eagle spread only one of his wings. The python asked him to spread the other wing as well. But the eagle said, "I cannot spread it because it hurts very badly." The python insisted that he should spread at least a little of it. The eagle then spread the other wing slightly and the python immediately saw the tortoise's tail. She was so angry that she immediately declared war between animals on land and animals on trees.

All the animals that lived on land gathered together to plan the war. And at the same time, all the animals that lived on trees gathered together on a big branch of a banyan tree. They were very busy planning the war. And so began the great war of animals! It started with the python standing up and smashing the branch where the birds were sitting. The birds were so frightened they flew over to a branch on the other side of the banyan tree. Animals that lived on land were so happy that they shouted and jumped with joy when they saw what the python had done.

The python rested for sometime. Then she stood up and again smashed the other branch where all the birds had shifted. The branch came down with a crash! Animals on trees were feeling very defeated and sad while animals on land were shouting with joy. A bat, who was with the birds, thought that the animals on land were going to win the war. He cunningly decided to join them. He flew down and said, "Look at me, look at my head and teeth, I should be on your side." So he fought against animals on trees along with animals on land. They fought the battle very hard. Smaller animals on land were fighting with smaller animals on trees. Bigger animals on land were fighting with bigger animals on trees. All of them fiercely fought the war.

After they had battled for a while, the eagle began to violently shake the python. The python became tired and could hardly move. When the animals on trees saw what was happening with the python, they sang and danced with happiness. The bat once again wanted to belong among the animals on trees. He flew up to them and said, "Look at me. look at my wings. I should be with you."

The war was fought harder than ever before. The python, for the last time stood up and tried to snap the branch once more. But this time she could not break it and instead her body hung loosely on the branch. Just then the eagle saw his chance. He bit the python's spine, broke it and finally killed her. All the animals on trees happily celebrated their victory shouting, "Hurrah! We won!!"

Many years have passed, animals on land and trees have made peace with one another. But the cowardly bat who kept changing sides during the war did not know where to stay. He was so ashamed that he decided to live in a cave during daylight and come out only after dark. This is why we see bats only at night even today.

Taken from Selected Mizo Folk Tales, 2008, published and edited by the English Language Teaching Institute (ELTI), SCERT Mizoram.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mauruangi, Ideal Woman of Mizo Folklore

There are some human qualities that Mizos of all times value highly. These qualities are epitomized in Mauruangi, a folklore heroine. The tale is retold here by Malsawmi Jacob

Folklores express the ethos of a people. They are means of passing on value systems from one generation to another.There are some human qualities that Mizos, both ancient and modern, regard highly.Some of these are courage, patience, perseverance, diligence and skill with work. Along with these, beauty, humility, hospitality and skill in spinning and weaving are considered very desirable in women in particular.

Mauruangi, a legendary heroine, is perhaps the epitome of ideal womanhood. In spite of all imaginable suffering under a callous father and true-to-tradition wicked step mother, she grows up into a lovely woman. She possesses all the virtues, triumphs over all odds and has a happy ending. Here is her life story.

Mauruangi was a little girl who lived with her parents in a village. One day, the parents went out to fetch pumphir (a type of bamboo). On the way they had to cross a wooden bridge that was soft with age and rot. The wife remarked, "How frightening it will be to walk on this bridge when we come back carrying burdens!" The husband responded, "When we come back, whoever is afraid to cross this bridge must be pushed down."

They reached the field and began to pack their loads. The husband tied a heavy bundle for his wife to carry, while he took a light one for himself. When they came to the bridge again, the husband crossed it easily but the wife was afraid to cross. "Remember what I said? The coward has to be pushed down," said he, and pushed his wife down into the river. She fell in the water and turned into a giant catfish.

Meanwhile, Mauruangi was impatiently waiting for her parents to return. When her father came home alone she asked him, 'Father, where is Mother?"
"She is washing my turban in the river," he replied.
Some time later she asked again, "Father, why is Mother taking so long?"
"She is washing clothes," he answered.
Mauruangi kept looking out for her mother but she did not come even when it got dark. She asked her father once again, "Father, why hasn't Mother come home?" He finally told her, "I pushed her into the river because she was afraid to cross the bridge".
At this Mauruangi was heart broken and wept dejectedly.

The next morning, Mauruangi tried to start the fire but all the embers in the fireplace had died out. So she went to the neighbour's house to ask for some. The neighbour was a widow witha daughter named Bingtaii, about Mauruangi's age. When she asked for fire the woman replied, "I will give it only if your father promises to marry me."

Mauruangi ran home and told her father what the woman said. He replied, "Perhaps we will marry some day."

After some time, Mauruangi's father and Bingtaii's mother got married. At first the stepmother treated Mauruangi kindly, but gradually began to ill treat her as time passed. There came a time when she became outright cruel, and did not allow Mauruangi to eat normal food but gave her rice husk. Of course, she could not eat that, and so grew thinner day by day.

One day Mauruangi, grieving for her mother, went to the river. Her mother the catfish saw her and said, "I am your mother. Your father pushed me down here so I became a giant catfish. How are you managing without me? And why are you so thin?"

At this, Mauruangi told her mother all about her life, how her stepmother mistreated her and starved her. The giant catfish gave Mauruangi a good meal of rice and meat and sent her home, telling her to come back whenever she was hungry.

The stepmother pampered and spoiled her own daughter. Bingtaii slept when she pleased, sat when she pleased, and went roaming when she pleased. But Mauruangi was given harsh treatment, made to do all the hard work and starved. In spite of all this, she looked healthy and well fed. This made the stepmother curious, and she said to her daughter, "How is it that Mauruangi looks so fat and healthy though I give her only husk to eat? Find out and tell me."

So Bingtaii started spying on Mauruangi. When she saw her stealing away towards the river she followed at a distance, and watched as she ate the food served by the catfish. She went back to her mother and reported, "I have found out how Mauruangi got fat. She goes to the river, where a big fish gives her rice and meat to eat."

On hearing this, the step mother persuaded her husband to call the men together to catch the giant catfish. When Mauruangi heard it she ran ahead to her mother and told her their plan and said, "When they come to catch you, if I shout 'Run up the river', run down it. And if I shout 'Go to the middle', go to the side."

When the men arrived and chased the giant catfish, Mauruangi shouted, "Mother, run up!". The men ran up the river on hearing this, but the catfish ran downstream. Then she shouted "Run to the middle!" but the catfish swam to the side. This went on. The men were confused by Mauruangi's directions and the catfish would escape meanwhile, so they could not catch her. At last some one shouted, "It's because of that little girl. Gag her with a rag and take her away." So they gagged Mauruangi and led her away. They soon caught the giant catfish after that.

The village folk feasted on the fish's meat but Mauruangi refused to eat it. Instead, she collected the bones and buried them in the garden. A plant sprouted out of the bones, grew into a phunchawng¹ tree and bloomed profusely. Mauruangi, starving again, would stand under the tree and sing :
“Bend down, O, my mother,
Mother phunchawng Darnghiangi,
Bend down, O, my mother.”
At this, the branches would bend down low enough for the girl to reach, and she would suck nectar from the flowers.

Once more, the stepmother noticed that Mauruangi was looking healthy again. She said to her daughter, "Mauruangi's fish mother is dead and eaten. But some one must be feeding her, she is growing fat again. Find out and tell me". Bingtaii again spied on her stepsister and found out the secret. She ran to her mother and said, "Mauruangi sucks nectar from the phunchawng flowers in the garden, that is how she gets fat. She stands under the tree and sings, then the branches bend down and she drinks the nectar."

On hearing this, the stepmother persuaded her husband to cut down the tree. He called the neighbours together and they chopped at it with their axes. All the while Mauruangi stood near by singing—
“Hold on, O, my mother,
Mother phunchawng Darnghiangi,
Hold on, O, my mother.”
The tree held on fast and refused to fall. The cuts they made on it kept filling up again. Some one shouted "Gag that girl with a rag and take her away". So they gagged Mauruangi and led her away, and they felled the tree without any more trouble.

Though ill treated and starved, Mauruangi somehow grew up along with her stepsister Bingtaii. It was now time for both of them to start cultivation work. The stepmother said, "Now it is time for you both to cultivate crops, so go and choose a patch for yourselves". Then she gave the best seeds to her daughter to sow in her field, but gave the worst, worm eaten ones to Mauruangi. They both set out to the fields.
Bingtaii, used to being idle, did not work at all but lay in the shelter, fried and ate the dry maize meant for seed, and lazed about all day. Mauruangi, on the other hand, laboured hard. When evening came and they went home, Bingtaii told her mother, "I was working hard but Mauruangi did not work but lazed all day." The stepmother scolded Mauruangi and called her a lazy good for nothing. But she just kept quiet.

As Mauruangi worked diligently every day, her field thrived and yielded crops. But Bingtaii's field had nothing but weeds growing. One day, some men passed by Mauruangi's field while she was working. They were the servants of vai lalpa (lord of plains men). As they were hungry, they asked Mauruangi if she would let them have some cucumber and maize. She replied, "By all means, eat as much as you wish". She plucked some of the best ones and gave them. They were very pleased at her kindness and hospitality. Before parting they said, "We are in search of a wife for our master. Would you be willing to marry him?"

"My stepmother will not allow me, as she has her own daughter to marry off. So the only way out is, come to our house and ask for Bingtaii's hand. I will follow to see her off, and after passing the village you can leave her and take me along instead."

So that evening the men came and asked for Bingtaii to be their master's wife. Her mother was very pleased, and sent her with them the next day. The mother told Mauruangi, “See your sister off, Mauruang. You can’t even get a husband for yourself, so be happy for her!” So Mauruangi followed the party as if to bid Bingtaii goodbye. When they passed the village, the men dropped Bingtaii, whom they were carrying, and carried Mauruangi instead. Bingtaii went back home crying.

Vai lalpa was very happy when he saw Mauruangi. They got married and started living together happily. But the step mother was burning with anger and jealousy at Mauruangi's good fortune, and plotted evil against her. She sent a message that said, "Let Mauruangi come home for a few days, we are going to kill a pig." Mauruangi went.

One day, the stepmother was sitting at her loom when she called out to Mauruangi, "I have dropped my quill under the house. Go and pick it for me." (Porcupine quills were used for picking and straightening thread while weaving. Mizo houses were built on stilts, with crushed bamboo for floor). As Mauruangi was looking for the quill, the stepmother poured boiling water on her and she died. Her body was thrown out among the bushes. A serow found the dead body, blew on it and brought it back to life, and employed her as his baby-sitter.

Meanwhile, vai lalpa missed his wife who had been absent for such a long time. So he sent his servants to bring her back. When they reached Mauruangi's old home and asked for her, the stepmother presented Bingtaii to them. "Here is your master's wife, you may take her back," she told them. The men answered, "No, this one is not our master's wife. She is different." But Bingtaii's mother insisted that she was the person, so they had to carry her home to their master.

One big toe of Mauruangi, which did not get wet when the stepmother poured hot water on her, turned into a little bird. As the servants carried Bingtaii, the little bird flew behind them and sang—

“Don't carry her, don't carry her,
She's Bingtaii, not Mauruangi,
Bump her bottom, bump!”.
The men then bumped her on the ground. Bingtaii scolded and cursed the little bird.

When they reached home, their master looked at his supposed wife and said, "No, this is not my wife. Just see how round her face is, and how red her nose!" Then he had an idea. "My wife was very good at weaving. Give her the loom and see how well this one can weave." So they gave her Mauruangi's loom, but Bingtaii could not weave at all. The little bird came and sang to her :
“The top strands, put them down below
Lower strands, bring them up above
I say ir liak ir liak e.”
Bingtaii was annoyed and tried to hit the little bird with a stick saying, "You noisy bird, keep quiet!" But try as she might, she could not work the loom at all and had to put it away.

One day as vai lalpa's servants were passing through the woods, they heard a woman's voice singing inside a cave. The voice sounded like their old mistress's, so they looked in to see. Sure enough, there was Mauruangi, rocking the serow's baby to sleep and singing :
“Once was I a vai lalpa's wife.
But today a serow's nursemaid.
A i e i u aw aw.”
Greatly surprised but happy, the men addressed her and asked her how she came to be there. Mauruangi narrated how her stepmother killed her and how the serow brought her back to life. They tried to take her home at once, but she said, "Please wait for the serow to come home and ask his permission." When the serow came back from work, he was afraid to get into the cave when he saw the men. But they called him in a friendly tone. When he finally came in they said, "This lady, your baby sitter, is our master's wife. May we take her back home? We will give you a lot of money in return." The serow replied, "If she is so, take her back. I do not care for money. I will be satisfied with a bunch of bananas." So they gave him a bunch of bananas and carried Mauruangi home.
When they got back to the master's house, he was very happy to see Mauruangi. He wanted to get rid of the impostor, and decided to let the two women fight a duel. He covered Mauruangi with a thick new blanket and gave her a sharp sword. But he wrapped Bingtaii in thin clothes and gave her a blunt sword. When they were ready, Mauruangi said to her step sister, "Cut me first." Bingtaii hit her with the sword but could not hurt her at all. Then Mauruangi attacked and killed her with the sharp sword.

Then Mauruangi and vai lalpa lived together again.

The theme of a lovely, sweet natured, virtuous girl harassed by a wicked step mother seems to be of universal interest. Mauruangi may be seen as representing her western counterparts, the fairy tale heroines like Cinderella and Snowwhite. Like them, she also finds escape from her hard life in marriage to a 'prince'.

¹ Silk cotton tree

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Poems - Lalbiakdiki Pachuau

Kernel of Truth

Bits of spark start the fire
We both add fuel to the flame
But both love quenching one’s desire
Nobody can tell who is to blame.

It is awful to be unlawful
Terrible deed leads to an ineluctable,
It was very harmful; but beautiful
An affair sensible; but not reliable.

You give words which write in three
I give love and set you free,
You want freedom which I agree
Mesmerize new waves; enjoy the spree.

Besotted with Love

Like a bird without its chant
Like a flower without its scent,
Oh, where thou art my strength is!
Like a feather floating in the air
My aimless heart follows you everywhere.

Call me fanciful
Call me flimsy
Call me a flirt,
They all suit me fine.

This sweet terrifying flavour
This fearful fun verve
This living death life
Is the Niche I dwell,
But somehow I like it.

Picture: Acrylic on canvas by Tlangrokhuma

Monday, August 4, 2008


Translated by Dr. Margaret L. Pachuau

Once upon a time there lived a little girl called Kelchawngi. One day her parents were about to set off for the jhoom and her mother instructed her, “You must cook some pumpkin for dinner.” Kelchawngi queried, “Cook my sister for dinner?” But her mother thought that she was only fooling around and so she went to the jhoom without bothering to clarify to Kelchawngi.*

However it turned out that Kelchawngi had actually thought that her mother had asked her to cook her sister. So she obediently killed her younger sister while her parents were at the jhoom and cooked her for the evening meal.

Late in the evening her parents came home from the jhoom and as they entered the house they asked her, “Where is your younger sister?”
Kelchawngi was too frightened to tell them the truth so she mumbled, “She has gone to take a look at our neighbour’s gayal.”

After a long while, as her sister did not show signs of returning her mother asked her yet again, “Where is your sister?”
Kelchawngi replied, “She has gone to fetch water.”
Later she said, “She has gone to fetch some firewood.”and much later, “She is doing something some chores,” and so the excuses went on.
Even after the last of the jhoom workers returned there was no sign of her sister and by then her parents were very worried.

At length her parents said, “All right then, serve us the pumpkin you have cooked.’’ Kelchawngi did so and she began doling out her sister’s head and arms. Her parents were aghast, “Is this not your sister’s head? And are these not your sister’s limbs?” And they began chiding her. But she retorted, “Of course not…these are remnants of the head of the animal slain by my grandfather…remnants of the limbs of the meat slain by my grandfather.” After a while her parents realized that Kelchawngi had indeed cooked her sister and they were enraged.

One day her parents placed Kelchawngi atop the roof in order to dry some tobacco and they refused to take her down even after she had finished the task. Kelchawngi then cried, “Mother, take me down…father, take me down!” But they did not relent and declared, “This is your punishment for cooking your sister.” And they refused to lower her down.

Later Kelchawngi in despair looked up to the skies and implored,
Pu Van¹, please lower your string of ropes
that I may climb atop the heavens.”

Immediately Pu Vana lowered his string of ropes and Kelchawngi caught hold of them and went up to dwell in the heavens.

Pu Vana bedecked her with the very best of garments and ornaments.He gave her the choicest necklaces, bangles and apparel. Attired in these Kelchawngi once again clambered atop the roof of her house. As she lowered herself upon the roof her armlets and trinklets made a great sound.

Her parents called out,“Who is that atop the roof?” and she replied, “It is I, Kelchawngi, the daughter you have rejected.” At that her parents cried out, “O…we do want you,come, we shall lower you down.” And saying this, her parents rushed out of the house.

But alas…Kelchawngi no longer wanted to stay with her parents. She refused to be lowered down to the house and instead she went up to the sky once more and legend has it that she spent the rest of her life in great comfort up in the heavens.

¹The God of the heavens

* Note: The Mizo for pumpkin is mai and a younger sibling is nau.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Poems - Dinkima Sailo

The Narrow Path

Silent screams, past and present
Frozen ice slowly simmers
And the chicken enters the shell
Back from where it came
And barren lands bear fruits.

Illusions no longer fool
And dreams are lived
Where words from depths of times
Speaks and thus be
“Let there be life”.

Drowning men seek out
And charlatans win.
As we tread the straight path crookedly.

To rein kalokagathia
Holy, Holy, Holy.


We Will Rise Above

Sing again , the song you sang
Lovely in the field
With swaying women
In crimson and pink.

Plucking paddy before the dew
Sift the shaft
And dance and sway
I will meet you late at night.

Hold my hand and we will run
Far away and plough a field
For we need to warm the pot
Millions will feed on what we reap.

If the village elders bare us both
And tell us, nigh and nigh….
Many fields will wait for us
Sundari, shall we meet by the paddy fields?

We are feeders of the Nation…above all else.


Laldinkima Sailo has published a book of poems titled Spectrum: A Plethora of Rhapsody.

Picture: In the Dark by Tlangrokhuma

Friday, July 11, 2008

Poems - Dawngi Chawngthu

The Mask

Your voice
Coming over the telephone
Across measureless miles
Still remains a mystery
As always

I am
Once more at a loss
Searching for, maybe, a hint of tenderness
Into polite enquiries
Of how things are with me

I try
To decipher
Hidden meanings
Into words you speak
So effortlessly - hats off to you

I fail
None the wiser
As to how things are
With you and me


Each morning
I awake to a day
That promises nothing new
Just a vague question of
What for breakfast...
The day then drags on
To a finale of
What for dinner...
But sometimes
On luckier mornings
I awake
To a faraway voice in my head
That says
I care...

Photograph: Zualteii Poonte

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Translated by Dr. Margaret L. Pachuau

Chepahakhata was a very ugly young man. So ugly was he that no one wanted to marry him and so he remained a bachelor for many years. At long last he found someone who was willing to marry him. However, it turned out that she was actually a witch and after they were married she turned the entire foliage of wild plantains where they lived into a marvelous town. Much to his fortune, his wife also belonged to royal lineage and so Chepahakhata lived in great comfort.

After some time a daughter was born to them and so the three of them lived together happily. One day, Chepahakhata went out for a stroll. The people of the town treated him with great respect and they even slaughtered an animal for him. He enjoyed himself thoroughly and very soon he forgot all about the time. A great deal of time ensued and by then his little daughter had grown into a young lady. Her mother told her, “My dear, your father is still not back from his jaunt, do go and ask him to come home.” So his daughter called out to him, “Father, do come home. Mother has asked me to call you home.” He replied, “Alright. I shall be on my way shortly.”

However he did not go home even after a long while and his wife became very angry. She told her daughter, “Dear, go and call your father yet again.” Her daughter went once more to do as she was told, “Father, do come home right away for mother is very angry.” He replied, “Alright! I shall come home directly.” Yet he did not do so.

His wife was greatly enraged by then and she told her daughter, “Dear, go and ask your father to come home once more and tell him that if he does not do so, we will go away from this place.” So his daughter implored once again, “Father do come home, or else mother and I will go away from here.” Chepahakhata replied, “Alright, I promise you that I shall be home right away.” Alas! he had no intentions of returning home. His wife was livid with fury and so she turned the entire town back into a foliage of wild plantains. Then she took her daughter up to the heavens and went to dwell with Pu Vana¹.

At that time Chepahakhata was fast asleep. When he awoke from his slumber he realized that he was surrounded by the wild foliage. “Ah…is this all a dream?” he wondered.

Yet it was all too real. He wandered aimlessly without food for several days. His daughter saw her father from the heavens in his hapless state and felt very sorry for him. She pleaded with her mother, “Mother, I can see my father wandering about in search of food.”

Her mother replied, “If you are feeling sorry for him you may send down the bottomless pot for him.” His daughter did so and soon he had enough food to eat every time he was hungry.

One day he went into the village of a vai² chieftain, and the chief took a strong aversion to him since he was very ugly. He challenged Chepahakhata, “Let us compete with one another. We will both dole out rice from a pot and you must dole out more rice than me from the pot, or else you shall be put to death.”
They both began doling out great mounds of rice and soon the chief exhausted his share. As Chepahakhata was doling out the rice from his bottomless pot, it was impossible for him to exhaust his share. The chief was enraged and he declared, “Break his pot into pieces!”
The attendants did so and after that they tied Chepahakhata atop a banyan tree.

At that time within the banyan tree, the hill mynahs and the drongos were gathered together. The hill mynahs were on the side of the vais, while the drongos were on the side of the Mizos. The debate that was underway was, “Who are more clever? The Mizos or the vais?” To this the hill mynahs replied, “The vais of course. Very soon a mother and daughter duo will appear on the scene and the Mizos will not be able to distinguish the difference between the pair.”

The drongos replied, “That is easy, just give them a few lashes and the mother will cry out, “Ah, my dear daughter!” while the daughter will exclaim,
“Alas! Mother!”

The hill mynahs retorted, “Mizos will not be able to denote the difference between the two ends of a cow.”
Yet the drongos said, “That is easy.They will merely chase the cow and observe the direction in which it runs. As such, they will be able to make out the head of the cow very easily.”

The hill mynahs challenged once more, “The Mizos will not be able to make out the difference between the top and bottom of a thul³.”
The drongos defended, “That will also be an easy task, they will just have to upturn the thul and the lid will fall off.”

The entire debate was overheard by Chepahakhata and he listened with great attention. After a time the birds flew away. Later, the Mizos and the vais gathered together in a bid to test their wisdom. Everything that had been debated upon earlier by the birds took place. Chepahakhata then put all that he had overheard from the birds to good use. He outwitted all the contestants each time. Thus, the villagers marveled at his wisdom and very soon they no longer strapped him astride the tree!

¹ The God of the heavens
² Foreigner
³ A large basket with a close fitting conical lid or cover

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Translated by Dr. Margaret L. Pachuau

Once upon a time there lived a beautiful damsel by the name of Rimenhawihi. She was married to a man named Zawlthlia. They were an extremely loving couple. Rimenhawihi was very good looking and her beauty was legendary. Apart from her exquisite countenance she was noted for her lustrous locks of hair. She too was well aware of the attractive sight that her locks of hair presented and she was proud of them. She would often bathe in a river near her home and whenever she did so, she would never tire of gazing at her lovely reflection in the water.

One day while she was having a bath, a lock of hair fell into the water and it was washed downstream by the current. Soon a huge fish swallowed the lock of hair but as the strand of hair was very long, the fish soon became swollen and bloated up. It so happened that some distance down the river, there lived a chief who had ordered his servants to catch some fish. Strangely enough the servants caught the very fish that had swallowed Rimenhawihi’s strand of hair. The fish was still bloated and puffy and the servants wondered as to why it was so and they decided to cut up the fish in order to find out why. When they eventually cut up the fish they found out that it was stuffed with the strand of hair from Rimenhawihi’s locks. They pulled out the lock of hair and even then it was so lustrous that it filled an entire pate¹. As the servants wanted to display the strand of hair intact to their chief, they carried it carefully all the way home.

When the chief saw the strand of hair he was greatly astonished and he sent his servants to seek out the damsel who bore such locks. The servants went upstream and carefully searched every nook and cranny of the land till finally they arrived at the house of Rimenhawihi. Her house was built of iron and it was difficult to enter and so they had to first seek permission in order to enter the house. However, it so happened that Rimenhawihi had locked herself up securely inside the house because her husband Zawlthlia had gone on a journey and so she staunchly refused to let them in.

In the meanwhile, the chief’s servants were very persistent and so they appealed to her in song:

O you inside the house of iron, inside the house of brass
Pray do tell us your name

As soon as she heard these words, she replied in song:

A name, a name I do not have
I am one who feeds on water
One who feeds on vegetable broth

The servants then paid immense heed to the song, and they tried to memorise the song in earnest and finally they headed swiftly for home. When they reached their village they reported the incident to the chief. The chief was annoyed and he stated, “There can be no such name. You must find out what her name really is.”

Once again he commanded his servants to seek out the name of the damsel with the lustrous locks and so very soon, they set off to do as the chief had ordered them to.Yet again, they appealed to her and she too chanted the same lines to them in response. However, the chief could not be placated and so he sent them to her several times over. Finally Rimenhawihi relented and told them her name.

Rimenhawihi is my name
Menchanghawihi is my name

The servants of the chief were very pleased as they had finally achieved their task.However, they were worried that they would forget the name so they decided that the best way to remember her name was to chant it continually on the way back home. As such, they walked back home, earnestly chanting, “men men men.”

So fervent was their concentration that even if they tripped upon the way, they would still get up and continually repeat the word “men”. Unfortunately, by the time the entire group reached their village,there was not a single person who could repeat the name in full to the chief. All that everyone could repeat was, “She told us that her name was Men.”

The chief was furious. “There can be no such name. All of you must set off once more and this time you must make sure you seek out her name in full. If you do not learn of the same, you shall all pay dearly.”

And his servants beat a hasty retreat and proceeded once more to accomplish the task. They reached Rimenhawihi’s house once more and they began to cajole her as before. Once again she gave them the same rejoinder. However this time round, fortune favoured them and they could actually remember her name. So they went back to the village and told the chief all that he wanted to know. The chief commanded, “Ah…now that would be the name that I have been seeking. Now, you must all go back there once more and you bring her here to me. I do not care whether she is married or not.”

As it was orders that came from the chief, his servants had no choice but to obey. When they reached Rimenhawihi’s house they discovered that her husband had gone away on a journey. As he was afraid that his wife would be captured by miscreants in his absence he had locked her up very securely. He had bolted the doors so firmly that even she could not open them from inside. The chief’s servants then made several attempts to enter the house from the outside and they began circling the house in order to seek a way in which to break in. Eventually, they decided to climb atop the roof in order to lure her with the choicest fruit. They began to drop luscious fruits that the chief had sent for her. At first Rimenhawihi did not pay any heed. At length they dropped the most delicious fruit that they had brought with them — the orange! The lure of the orange was all too great and she could not resist it. As she reached out hesitantly for the orange, one of the servants grabbed her by the hair and as she was too vain and too scared of even losing a strand of hair, she allowed herself to be captured.

But as she was being led away, she racked her brains in terms of disclosing her predicament to her husband. So she hastily told the dogs and the fowl in their courtyard on how she was taken captive. She also disclosed that she would leave an easy trail by throwing a strand of thread upon the ground. Saying this she hastily walked alongside her captors.

After a long while her husband returned home. Upon his return he was greeted by the fowl and the dogs who narrated the entire incident in the manner that Rimenhawihi had instructed them. Her husband then asked of the dog, “O dog, where is my wife?” The dog answered, “You must follow the strand of thread.” Then her husband asked of the hen, “O hen, where is my wife?” And the hen replied, “You must follow the strand of thread.”

By then, Rimenhawihi’s husband was in a tearing hurry to find his wife. He rushed out of the house and sure enough his wife had left behind a trail marked by a strand of thread. He continued to follow the trail and after he had followed the trail for quite a while it became dark gradually. However the darkness did not deter him. He soon overtook his wife and her captors. He killed all the servants of the chief and soon both husband and wife returned home and they spent the rest of their lives in great happiness.

¹The name of a small bin or basket for storing tobacco, cotton, rice.

Picture: Art by Tlangrokhuma

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Translated by Dr. Margaret L. Pachuau

One day a young man by the name of Chemtatrawta set off on a hunt. He began to sharpen his dao along the length of the river. Suddenly, a prawn bit him on his testicles. He was greatly enraged and in his anger he cut off the large bamboo from where the khaum¹ creeper hung. The khaum was furious and in turn, he landed atop the spine of the jungle fowl below. The jungle fowl was very annoyed and in turn, it scattered the nest of the large ants. The large ants in turn, bit the testicles of the wild pig. The wild pig turned livid and it scattered the wild plantains where the bats nestled. The bat was furious and it flew up the elephant’s trunk. The elephant in turn, was infuriated and it destroyed the house of an old woman nearby. The old woman was incensed and she defecated by the mouth of the village well. This angered the entire village and the villagers began to rally in great rage.

After a while the villagers gathered together and asked the old woman the reason as to why she defecated at the mouth of the village well.

“Old woman,why did you defecate at the mouth of the village well?”
She replied, “Why did the elephant destroy my home?”

The villagers went across to the elephant,“O elephant,why did you destroy the old woman’s home?”
The elephant replied, “Why did the bat fly up my trunk?”

They asked the bat, “Why did you fly up the elephant’s trunk?”
And the bat replied, “Why did the wild pig destroy my hamlet?”

They asked the wild pig, “Why did you destroy the bat’s hamlet?”
The wild pig replied, “Why did the large ants bite my testicles?”

They asked the large ants, “Why did you bite the testicles of the wild pig?”
The large ants replied, “Why did the wild fowl destroy our home?”

They asked the wild fowl, “Why did you destroy the home of the large ants?”
The wild fowl said, “Why did the khaum hit my spine?”

They asked the khaum, “Why did you hit the wild fowl on his spine?”
The khaum demanded, “Why did Chemtatrawta slash away the large creeper from where I hung?”

They asked Chemtatrawta, “Why did you slash away the creeper from where the khaum hung?”
And Chemtatrawta said, “Why did the prawn bite me on my testicles?”

They turned to the prawn and realised that he had no excuses whatsoever. He was at a loss for words and so he merely said, “Ih, ih, ih if you roast me in the fire I will turn a fiery red, much to the delight of the children, and if you drop me in the water I will turn white and pale.”

So they did likewise and roasted him in the fire and he turned a fiery red, then they took him out of the fire and placed him in the water and he turned white and pale. But he soon regained consciousness in the water and declared, “Ah… nothing compares to the home of one’s parents!!”

And saying this, he glided away to freedom. He swam inside a cave and they continued to chase. They poked him about with the leaves of the hnahthial² plant. They prodded about the edges of his mouth and eventually it became scruffy and grungy. And that is why till today the prawn’s mouth still retains such a shape!

¹The name of a climbing plant and its fruit.

² The name of a plant and also its leaves.

Picture: Detail from "Mami pa, hmanhmawh teh", acrylic on canvas by HK Jerry

For a light-hearted reworking of this folktale, check out this link

Monday, June 9, 2008


Translated by Dr. Margaret L. Pachuau

Once upon a time there lived two children. The older of the two children was a young girl by the name of Nuchhimi. One day her mother told her, “Today you must go to your aunt’s house and give her some pork.” Nuchhimi replied, “I do not know the way to my aunt’s house.” Her mother said, “You must walk as the crow flies, until you come to a fork at the end of the path. You will find two paths and one path will be neat and clean and the other will be very dirty and unkempt. You must follow the path that is neat and clean. It will lead you to your aunt’s house while the other path will lead you to the house of Hmuichukchuriduninu. Make sure that you follow the right path.”

Unknown to them, Hmuichukchuriduninu was listening carefully to the entire conversation, so she ran home and cleared up the path that led to her house. She then piled up all the dirt and the debris along the path that led to Nuchhimi’s aunt’s house. After a time, Nuchhimi and her younger brother set off towards their aunt’s house. They followed the instructions which their mother had given them and very soon they came to the path which was neat and clean. And because they thought that the clean pathway was the path that they had to follow, they went up the path and finally they reached the house of Hmuichukchuriduninu and delivered the pork to her.

Nuchhimi became suspicious from the very beginning because she felt that it was the wrong house that they had come to and so she was very puzzled. But Hmuichukchuriduninu was very cunning and she spoke well to them and treated them just as their own aunt would. “How nice of you both to visit me. Keep your luggage aside, you must be very tired.”

When it was dusk and as night fell gradually, Hmuichukchuriduninu told Nuchhimi, “I will cradle your little brother in my arms at night and you can sleep by yourself in the corner.” And in that manner they went to sleep.

A little while later Hmuichukchuriduninu tried to devour Nuchhimi’s younger brother by digging her sharp beak into the little boy’s head. He cried out in pain and called out for his elder sister. Nuchhimi asked, “What is it dear brother?” But Hmuichukchuriduninu said, “It is nothing. It is only the ants that are biting him.You may go back to sleep.”

Saying so, she dug her sharp beak into the little boy’s head and killed him in the dead of the night. She laid the bones from his head and his limbs in a trivet. When dawn broke, Hmuichukchuriduninu rasped to Nuchhimi, “Go and light a fire at once.” Nuchhimi rose to do as she commanded and in the process of lighting the fire she saw the bones of her younger sibling and she began to weep. Hmuichukchuriduninu called out, “What is the matter? Why are you weeping? Just light the fire.” She replied, “I am not weeping, the smoke from the fire is making my eyes water.”

After the morning meal, Hmuichukchuriduninu caught Nuchhimi and strapped her inside a basket and tied her to the crossbeams of the house. She then shut the doors fast and went off to her jhoom. Nuchhimi could not get out and she was in great dismay. At that very moment a mouse came by and Nuchhimi pleaded, “O mouse, please gnaw away at the ropes that bind me for I want to escape.”

The mouse then bit away at the ropes that held her fast and so very soon Nuchhimi was able to flee to her own house. When Nuchhimi’s parents heard about the manner in which Hmuichukchuriduninu had tormented their children, they were enraged and they declared, “We will take revenge.”

And they thought up of a plan to torture Hmuichukchuriduninu. They went to her house while she was still away at the jhoom. They hid an egg inside the hearth and placed a nest of white ants inside her blanket. They also placed a snake inside her water jug. Then they hid a bamboo knife in the wall of her hut. After that they placed a number of tiny red ants inside her oil can. They smeared her bedpost with all kinds of filth and grime. By the opposite end of the door they placed a large wooden pestle. And finally they put a ferocious huge dog under her ladder. Then before they left the house they instructed the mouse very carefully, “You must respond every time Hmuichukchuriduninu calls out to Nuchhimi.”

In the evening Hmuichukchuriduninu came back from her jhoom. She had caught a barking deer that was pregnant with child and she was all wet and bedraggled after a heavy thundershower. When she reached the front porch, she called out to Nuchhimi, “Open the door fast.” And the mouse responded, “How can I open the door for you? Have you forgotten that you have strapped me to the crossbeams of the house?”

Hmuichukchuriduninu was beside herself with rage and she broke open the door in fury. The mouse then quickly scampered inside a hollow bamboo tube. When Hmuichukchuriduninu realized that Nuchhimi was not in the house she was greatly perplexed. She grumbled and began to light a fire to warm herself. As soon as she did so the egg burst in her eye. She rushed to get a drink of water from the water jar but the snake bit her hard and she howled in agony, ‘Awi! Awi! Awi! how painful this is …let me rest awhile upon my blanket.”

She pulled the blanket over herself and the white ants bit her all over her body. She grabbed hold of the bedpost in a bid to escape, only to smear dirt all over herself. She then tried to clean herself by wiping her hands on the wall of her hut, only to be pierced by the sharp bamboo knife that had been cleverly inserted in it. She then tried to smear some oil over her wounds but the moment she poured the oil over herself, the tiny red ants began biting her.

In alarm she cried, “There are too many pests inside my house. I must escape.” And as she ran out the large wooden pestle hit hard against her.

At the platform in front of her house, Hmuichukchuriduninu wept copious tears, “Nuchhimi has run away and so has the barking deer that I captured.”

And she began to jump about in painful frenzy. Soon the platform gave way under her weight. The ferocious dog and the equally wild goat began to bite her viciously. A little later Hmuichukchuriduninu died, much to the delight of Nuchhimi and her family, who headed for home and lived happily every after.

Picture: A u, pangang a mi, acrylic on canvas by HK Jerry