Chin - Orientation

Identification. The Chin live in the mountains of the Myanmar (Burma)-India border and in neighboring areas of Myanmar and India. "Chin" is an English version of the Burmese name for these people (cognate with a southern Chin word, 'kKxang, "a people") who call themselves Zo (or related words), meaning "marginal people." "Chin" applies strictly to the inhabitants of Myanmar's Chin State. On the Indian side of the border the major related people are the Mizo, or Lushai, of Mizoram State. The Kuki and Hmar are their relatives in Manipur State. The Plains Chin, or Asho, live in Myanmar proper just east of Chin State.

Location. The Chin live between 92° and 95° E, and 20° and 26° N. For the most part this is high mountain country (the highest peak is 3,000 meters) with almost no land level enough for plow cultivation; villages are found at elevations between about 1,000 and 2,000 meters. This region is not drained by any major or navigable rivers. It has a monsoon climate, with a marked wet and dry season. Annual rainfall is locally as much as 230 centimeters or more a year. In the hot season (March to June) the temperature can reach about 32° C, while in the cold season (November-February), after the monsoon rains, early-morning temperatures at the higher elevations can sink to a few degrees of frost.

Demography. There have been no useful censuses of the Burma Chin in a couple of decades, but reasonable projections from the figures of the 1950s indicate a population there of perhaps 200,000, while the population of India's Mizoram State is roughly half a million. Outside these two major areas the Chin-related population amounts to no more than a few tens of thousands. The population is unevenly distributed, but a crude estimate of average population density is at most SO persons per square kilometer. There are few towns of any size. The largest is Aizawl, capital of Mizoram State, with a population exceeding 100,000. Owing to the absence of flat lands and ready communications with major plains areas in India and Myanmar (Burma), the number of non-Chin peoples living in the region is negligible.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Chin languages belong to the Kuki-Chin Subgroup of the Kuki-Naga Group of the Tibeto-Burman Family. They are all tonal, monosyllabic languages, and until the late nineteenth century, when Christian missionaries developed Roman alphabets for at least the major Chin languages (including Mizo), none of them was written. There are excellent grammars and dictionaries of such major languages as Mizo, Lai (Haka) Chin, Laizo (Falam) Chin, Tedim (Northern) Chin, and n'Men (Southern) Chin.

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