Chin - History and Cultural Relations

Our earliest notice of Chin is in stone inscriptions in Burma of the twelfth century, which refer to Chin living in or adjacent to the middle Chindwin River of northwestern Burma. In the next century the Chindwin Plain and the tributary Kabaw-Kale Valley were conquered and settled by the Shan (a Tai-speaking people of the region), and from then on more and more of the Chin were pushed up into the mountains (no doubt displacing their close relatives already living there). By the seventeenth century these pressures increased owing to the Burmese wars with the Kale Shan and with Manipur. This brought about major population movements within the mountain region, and the present distribution of peoples in the mountains goes back mainly to the eighteenth century. The Kuki are remnants of people who were pushed out from the main Chin areas of occupation by the ancestors of the Mizo, and who then took refuge under the protection of the maharajas of Manipur. The Chin and Mizo peoples were independent of any major state until the imperial era when, in the late nineteenth century, they were brought under British rule: the Mizo in the Lushai Hills Frontier District of India, the Chin in the Chin Hills of Burma. With the achievement of independence for India and Burma in the late 1940s, these districts became respectively the Union Territory of Mizoram (Mizoram State within the Indian Union since the late 1980s) and the Chin Special Division, now Chin State, of the Union of Burma, now Myanmar. However, in spite of their traditional freedom from any semblance of outside rule or administration before the colonial period, these peoples were dependent upon the plains civilizations of India and Burma. They got all the iron for their tools and weapons from the plains, which they reforged locally, and they looked to the plains as the source for luxury goods (preeminently brass-ware, some elaborate woven goods, and gold and silver) and for their ideals about more luxurious social and cultural life. Their name, Zo, reflects this sense of their relative deprivation, and their origin tales also expand on this theme, purporting to explain why the Burman or Assamese "elder brother" of their original ancestor came to have all those amenities and the Chin so few. The Chin peoples got what they needed from the plains partly through trading the produce of their forests and partly by raiding border settlements in the plains. It was this habit of raiding plains settlements (for goods, slaves, and human heads—especially Lushai raids on the tea plantations of Cachar and Assam) that caused the British, in the late nineteenth century, to occupy the Chin and Lushai territories.

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