Glimpses of Mizo Literature - RL Thanzawna
Ninety one years ago, not a single Mizo could read or write for the Mizo alphabet as we know it today, was only codified by the pioneer missionaries, Rev FJ Savidge and Rev JH Lorrain who landed in a small hamlet near Sairang by the banks of the river Tlawng in Mizoram in the chilly winter of 1894. If the true meaning of literature is to be taken literally, it may perhaps be a little presumptuous to claim the existence of any Mizo literature prior to that date.
If we remember, however, that long before man wrote down his thoughts and emotions, he expresses them in songs. Untouched by learned influences from without, these songs are crystallized into the living language of the people – folksongs and folk stories were born out of such full and spontaneous expression which were then orally passed on from generation to generation. As we follow history of any literature through all its transformations, we are brought into direct and living contact with the motive forces of the inner life of each successive generation, and learn at first hand how it looked at life and how it thought about it, what were the things in which it was most willing to be amused, by what passions it was most deeply stirred, by what standard of conduct and of taste it was governed, and what types of characters it deemed worthy of its admiration.
Mizo literature, we would therefore, claim did not begin with the day when the Duhlian dialect we now call the Mizo language was reduced into writing in the Roman script but in fact, started with the history of the Mizo people. Anything that, for good or evil, has entered into the making of Mizo society has also entered into the texture of Mizo literature – whether it was the travails of their migration, their fierce battles and ambuscades or the sweat and toils of raising their crops, their festivals and folk dances, all go to their general life, belief and aspirations which were profoundly imprinted in their literature.What we now call Mizo literature consists not only of the creation of literate writers or translations of the Bible and other western literature but also of the collection of those folk songs and folk stories which go under the anonymous name of the people’s creation.
Thanks to the hard work of the pioneering missionaries, their earlier converts and to subsequent generations, no less, Mizo literature has now gained, within a span of less than a century, a status which is considered fit to be included in the curriculum right up to the university degree courses. The tales told by grandmas to the children, war chants and love songs provided the necessary ingredients to the literature. All these not only generate existence of Mizo literature but also inspire and promote its development.
The earliest Mizo songs are those which can be called nursery songs or cradle songs, most of which are apparently nonsensical repetitive mnemonic rhymes but on closer look they reveal the imprint of the simple milieu of yesteryears of Mizo society. Perhaps the earliest Mizo songs we know of are the following –
Cradle songs such as these connote the primitive – animistic belief and their headhunting proclivities and their admiration for those who vanquished their enemies. In course of their migration towards the west from Central Asia, the Mizos established a big settled village in the fertile valley of Chindwin in Burma where they tarried for a considerable time until they were forced by a stronger tribe, such as the Chins, to move westwards to present Mizoram. Their stay in this valley of Run (a tributary of Chindwin) was marked by a number of songs and interesting tales. Their songs and stories wer indicative of their intercourse with other communities. Many of their songs talk of the marauding Chins who ransacked their villages, held their daughters to ransom, and took the men as captives while most of their war chants or Hlado as they were called, are interspersed with Chin dialect. Some Mizo tales like Khena leh Rama, Rairahtea leh Chhawnabawrahza, Mauruangi and many others smack of a faint acquaintance with Hindu mythology or the existence of some powerful Raja somewhere. It is presumed that such knowledge was gained by them through their contacts with the people of Cachar, tripura, Manipur or Chittagong areas. What is evident, however, is that some version of Hindu mythologies had been passed on to the forefathers of the Mizos long before Christianity made its entry into their society. Having first learnt something about the tenets of Hinduism, it is not known why not a single Mizo has embraced that religion. This can be an interesting subject for research. The history of the literature of the Mizos is, truly, the history of the Mizos. For reasons unexplainable by any glib interpretation, Mizos embraced the Christian en masse; since 1894 till now, within such a short time almost a hundred percent claim to be Christians. Since this date, ie 1894, Mizo history is an entirely new chapter.
Mizo language has no script of its own. Credit for reducing it into writing in the Roman script has been given to the pioneer missionaries. Their efforts were, however, preceded by commendable exercises of enterprising officers like Lt. Col. Thomas Herbert Lewin (affectionately called Thangliana by the Mizos – a corruption of Tom Lewin) who wrote Progressive Colloquial Exercise in the Lushai Dialect in 1874. Dr Brojo Nath Saha, a civil medical officer of Chittagong, also published a book called Grammar of the Lushai Language. Yet another British officer called C.A. Soppitt had compiled Rangkhol-Kuki-Lushai Grammar way back in 1885. All these efforts paved the way to the more systematic and organized efforts of the missionaries.
Having taught the art of writing and reading to the Mizos, one of the first things the missionaries did was produce some literature to read. Portions of the Bible particularly the Gospels, were translated into Mizo – first came the Mizo version of Luke (1896), then John (1898), then the Acts of the Apostles (1899). Then came the first Mizo Primer – Mizo Zirtir Bu (1903). The Mizo version of the Bible remains the standard for Mizo literature today.Original Works of Mizo Poets
Following publication of the Mizo Bible, a number of books on religious matters including translations of Christian hymns were published which were avidly learned by the new literates. Their thirst for more literature to read was nursed with the publication of the Mizo version of the Pilgrim’s Progress (Kristiana Vanram Kawngzawh) translated by Rev Chuautera which remains one of the most readable books, apart from the Bible, in Mizo literature today. The contribution of the missionaries and the churches towards the development of Mizo literature cannot be overemphasized; they do not only provide the printed material but opened up their eyes to wider horizons to the world of literature and changed their outlook on life and life after death. Not being content with the translated hymns of the western composers, many gifted Mizo poets came up with poems written in their own idioms and in tune with their own indigenious ethos and conception of Christianity. Such songs of worship are called Lengkhawm Zai and are sung in the traditional Mizo way with a drum. In style and profoundity these songs are dearest to the hearts of the adult members of the society and are original contributions to the wealth of Mizo literature.The codification of Mizo language and publication of Christian literature in that language not only paved the way for the development of Mizo literature but also resulted in the emergence of the Mizo language as the only language, the lingua franca as it were, for the entire Mizoram. Barring the Mara (Lakher) and the Chakmas, all the sub-tribes who used their own dialects switched over to the Mizo language. This has had a salutary effect on all aspects of development and the growth of literature.
Posted by Storyteller at 9:12 PM