THE ORIGIN OF THE CHIN

By Lian H Sakhong

As the title indicates, this paper investigates, by applying a comprehensive approach of ethno-symbolic theory, who the Chin are?  Why can they be described as separate ethnic group? What are their chief features that distinguish the Chin as separate ethnic nationalities from other human collectives or ethnic groups? And what criteria make it possible for them to be recognized as a distinctive people and nationality in Burma?

Anthropologists such as A. D. Smith, suggest that there are six main features, which serve to define “ethnic nationality”. These are: (i) a common proper name, (ii) a myth of common descent, (iii) a link with a homeland, (iv) collective historical memories, (v) one or more elements of common culture, and (vi) a sense of solidarity. [1] A causal link between the “ethnicity” and the formation of an “independent homeland” or “Autonomous State within the Union” — which the Chin and other non-Burman nationalities in the Union of Burma today are fighting so hard for — is the search for what Clifford Geertz called “primordial identities”, that is, the search for the past to find the evidence of the existence of “collective memories, symbols, values and myths, which so often define and differentiate” the Chin as a distinctive people and nationality throughout history. [2] However, since I am going to opt for a comprehensive approach, I shall not limit myself within any single theory of either “primordialism” or “circumstantialism” but apply both theories when they are deemed to be appropriate the context of the study as I explain the ethnicity of the Chin.

One of the main arguments in this paper is that the word “Chin” is not a foreign tongue but the Chin in its origin, which comes from the root word “Chin-lung”. According to the myth of the origin, the Chin people emerged into this world from the bowels of the earth or a cave or a rock called “Chin-lung”, [3] which is spelled slightly differently by different scholars based on various Chin dialects and local traditions, such as “Chhinlung”, “Chinn-lung”, “Chie'nlung”, “Chinglung”, “Ciinlung”, “Jinlung”, “Sinlung”, “Shinlung”, “Tsinlung”, and so on. In doing this, I am going to differentiate between national name of “Chin” and tribal names such as Asho, Cho, Khuami, Laimi, Mizo and Zomi. In other words, I shall argue that term “Chin” is the national name of the Chin, and the terms such as Asho, Cho, Khuami, Laimi, Mizo and Zomi are tribal names under their national name of “Chin”.

In this study, I shall therefore define the Chin people as a ‘nationality’ or ‘ethnic nationality’, and Chinland or Chinram [4] as a ‘nation’, but not as a nation-state, based on already well-recognized theories but also based on the traditional Chin concepts of Miphun, Ram, and Phunglam. The meaning and concept of Miphun is an ‘ethnie’ or a ‘race’ or a ‘people’ who believe that they come from a common descent or ancestor. Ram is a homeland, a country or a nation with well-defined territory and claimed by a certain people who have belonged to it historically; and the broad concept of Phunglam is ‘ways of life’, which includes almost all cultural and social aspects of life, religious practices, belief and value systems, customary law and political structure and the many aesthetic aspects of life such as dance, song, and even the customs of feasts and festivals, all the elements in life that ‘bind successive generations of members together’ as a people and a nationality, and at the same time separate them from others.

The Chin Concept of Miphun
A Collective Name of “Chin”

The tradition of ‘Chinlung’ as the origin of the “Chin” has been kept by all tribes of the Chin in various ways, such as folksongs, folklore and legends known as Tuanbia. For people with no writing system, a rich oral tradition consisting of folksong and folklore was the most reliable means of transmitting past events and collective memories through time. The songs were sung repeatedly during feasts and festivals, and the tales that made up Chin folklore were told and retold over the generations. In this way, such collective memories as the origin myth and the myth of common ancestors were handed down. Different tribes and groups of Chin kept the tradition of ‘Chinlung’ in several versions; the Hmar group of the Mizo tribe, who now live in Mizoram State of India, which I refer in this study as West Chinram, have a traditional folk song:

Kan Seingna Sinlung [Chinlung] ram hmingthang
Ka nu ram ka pa ram ngai
Chawngzil ang Kokir thei changsien
Ka nu ram ka pa ngai.

In English it translates as: ‘Famous Sinlung [Chinlung] is my motherland and the home of my ancestors. It could be called back like chawngzil, the home of my ancestors’ (Chaterjee 1990: 328).

This folksong also describes that the Chins were driven out of their original homeland, called ‘Chinglung’. Another folksong, traditionally sung at the Khuahrum sacrificial ceremony and other important occasions, reads as follows:

My Chinland of old,
My grandfather’s land Himalei,
My grandfather’s way excels,
Chinlung’s way excels (Kipgen 1996: 36).

Modern scholars generally agree with the traditional account of the origin of the name ‘Chin’, that the word comes from ‘Chinlung’. Hrang Nawl, a prominent scholar and politician among the Chin, confirms that the term ‘Chin ... come(s) from Ciinlung, Chhinlung or Tsinlung, the cave or the rock where, according to legend, the Chin people emerged into this world as humans’ (Vumson 1986: 3). Even Vumson could not dispute the tradition that the Chin ‘were originally from a cave called Chinnlung, which is given different locations by different clans’ (1986: 26).

In addition to individual scholars and researchers, many political and other organizations of the Chin accepted the Chinlung tradition not only as myth but as historical fact. The Paite National Council, formed by the Chin people of Manipur and Mizoram States, claimed Chinlung as the origin of the Chin people in a memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister of India. The memorandum stated, ‘The traditional memory claimed that their remote original place was a cave in China where, for fear of enemies, they hid themselves, which is interpreted in different dialects as “Sinlung” [Chinlung] in Hmar and Khul in Paite and others.’ [5] In this memorandum, they suggested that the Government of India take initiative to group all Chin people inhabiting the Indo-Burma border areas within one country as specified and justified for the safeguard of their economic, social and political rights.

The literal meaning of Chin-lung is ‘the cave or the hole of the Chin’, the same meaning as the Burmese word for Chindwin, as in ‘Chindwin River’, also ‘the hole of the Chin’ or ‘the river of the Chin’ (Lehman 1963: 20). However, the word Chin-lung can also be translated as ‘the cave or the hole where our people originally lived’ or ‘the place from which our ancestors originated’ (Z. Sakhong 1983: 7). Thus, the word Chin without the suffix lung is translated simply as ‘people’ or ‘a community of people’ (Lehman 1999: 92–97). A Chin scholar, Lian Uk, defines the term Chin as follows:

The Chin and several of its synonymous names generally means ‘People’ and the name Chinland is generally translated as ‘Our Land’ reflecting the strong fundamental relationship they maintain with their land (Lian Uk 1968: 2).

Similarly, Carey and Tuck, who were the first to bring the Chin under the system of British administration, defined the word Chin as ‘man or people’. They recorded that the term Chin is ‘the Burmese corruption of the Chinese “Jin” or “Jen” meaning “man or people”’ (Carey and Tuck 1896: 3).

Evidently, the word ‘Chin’ had been used from the very beginning not only by the Chin themselves but also by neighboring peoples, such as the Kachin, Shan and Burman, to denote the people who occupied the valley of the Chindwin River. While the Kachin and Shan still called the Chin as ‘Khyan’ or ‘Khiang’ or ‘Chiang’, the Burmese usage seems to have changed dramatically from ‘Khyan’ (c†if;) to ‘Chin’ (csif;). [6] In stone inscriptions, erected by King Kyanzittha (1084–1113), the name Chin is spelled as ‘Khyan’ ( c†if; ) (Luce 1959: 75–109). These stone inscriptions are the strongest evidence indicating that the name Chin was in use before the eleventh century.

Prior to British annexation in 1896, at least seventeen written records existed in English regarding research on what was then called the ‘Chin-Kuki linguistic people’. These early writings variously referred to what is now called and spelled ‘Chin’ as ‘Khyeng’, ‘Khang’, ‘Khlang’, ‘Khyang’, ‘Khyan’, ‘Kiayn’, ‘Chiang’, ‘Chi’en’, ‘Chien’, and so on. Father Sangermono, an early Western writer, to note the existence of the hill tribes of Chin in the western mountains of Burma, lived in Burma as a Catholic missionary from 1783 to 1796. His book The Burmese Empire, published in 1833 one hundred years after his death, spells the name Chin as ‘Chien’ and the Chin Hills as the ‘Chein Mountains’. He thus recorded:

To the east of Chein Mountain between 20’30’ and 21’30’ latitude is a petty nation called ‘Jo’ (Yaw). They are supposed to have been Chien, who in the progress of time, have become Burmanized, speaking their language, although corruptly, and adopting their customs. [7]

In Assam and Bengal, the Chin tribes – particularly the Zomi tribe who live close to that area – were known as ‘Kuki’. The term Kuki is Bengali word, meaning ‘hill-people or highlanders’, which was, as Reid described in 1893:

(O)riginally applied to the tribe or tribes occupying the tracks immediately to the south of Cachar. It is now employed in a comprehensive sense, to indicate those living to the west of the Kaladyne River, while to the west they are designated as Shendus. On the other hand, to anyone approaching them from Burma side, the Shendus would be known as Chiang, synonymous with Khyen, and pronounced as ‘Chin’ (Reid 1893: 238).

The designation of Kuki was seldom used by the Chin people themselves, not even by the Zomi tribe in what is now Manipur State of India, for whom the word is intended. Soppit, who was Assistant Commissioner of Burma and later Sub-Divisional Officer in the North Cacher Hills, Assam, remarked in 1893 in his study of Lushai-Kuki:

The designation of Kuki is never used by the tribes themselves, though many of them answer to it when addressed, knowing it to be the Bengali term for their people (Soppit 1893: 2).

Shakespear, an authority on the Chin, said in 1912 that:

The term Kuki has come to have a fairly definite meaning, and we now understand by it certain ... clans, with well marked characteristics, belonging to the Tibeto-Burman stock. On the Chittagong border, the term is loosely applied to most of the inhabitants of the interior hills beyond the Chittagong Hills Tracks; in the Cachar it generally means some families of the Thado and Khuathlang clans, locally distinguished as new Kuki and old Kuki. Now-a-days, the term is hardly employed, having been superseded by Lushai in the Chin Hills, and generally on the Burma border all these clans are called Chin. These Kuki are more closely allied to the Chakmas, and the Lushai are more closely to their eastern neighbours who are known as Chin.

He concluded by writing:

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Kukis, Lushais and Chins are all of the same race (Shakespear 1912: 8).

In 1826, almost one hundred years before Shakespear published his book, Major Snodgrass, who contacted the Chin people from the Burma side, had already confirmed that Kukis and Lushai were of the Chin nation, but he spelled Chin as Kiayn. He also mentioned Chinram as ‘Independent Kiayn Country’ (Snodgrass 1827: 320, on map) in his The Burmese War, in which he detailed the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824–26. Sir Arthur Phayer still spelt Chindwin as ‘Khyendweng’ in his History of Burma, first published in 1883 (Phayer 1883: 7). It was in 1891 that the term ‘Chin’, to be written as ‘CHIN’, was first used by Major W.G. Hughes in his military report, and then by A.G.E. Newland in his book The Images of War (1894); the conventional spelling for the name became legalized as the official term by The Chin Hills Regulation in 1896.

The Myth of Common Descent

Traditional accounts of the origin of the Chin people have been obscured by myths and mythologies that together with symbols, values and other collective memories, are important elements of what Clifford Geertz called ‘primordial identities’, which so often define and differentiate the Chin as a distinctive people and nationality throughout history (Geertz 1973: 255–310). As noted already, one such myth handed down through generations describes how the Chin ‘came out of the bowels of the earth or a cave called Chin-lung or Cin-lung’ (Gangte 1993: 14). According to some it was located somewhere in China (Cf. Zawla 1976: 2), others claimed it to be in Tibet (Cf. Ginzathang 1973: 7) and some suggested that it must be somewhere in the Chindwin Valley since the literal meaning of Chindwin is ‘the cave or the hole of the Chin’ (Gangte 1993: 14). I shall come back to the debate on the location of ‘Chinlung’, but here I shall concentrate only on the traditional account of the origin of the Chin.

Almost all of the Chin tribes and clans have promulgated similar but slightly different versions of the myth, which brings the ancestors of the Chin out from the hole or the bowels of earth. The Ralte clan/group of the Mizo tribe, also known as the Lushai, who now live in Mizoram State in India, have a tradition now generally known as ‘Chinlung tradition’ that brings their progenitors from the bowels of the earth. The story was translated into English and recorded by Lt Col J. Shakespear in 1912 as follows:

[Once upon a time when the great darkness called Thimzing fell upon the world,] many awful things happened. Everything except the skulls of animals killed in the chase became alive, dry wood revived, even stones become alive and produced leaves, so men had nothing to burn. The successful hunters who had accumulated large stocks of trophies of their skill were able to live using them as fuel. After this terrible catastrophe, Thimzing, the world was again re-peopled by men and women issuing from the hole of the earth called ‘Chhinlung’ (1912: 93–94).

Shakespear described another similar story:

The place whence all people sprang is called ‘Chinglung’. All the clans came out of that place. The two Ralte came out together, and began at once chattering, and this made Pathian [The Supreme God] think there were too many men, and so he shut down the stone (1912: 94).

Another similar story of the origin of the Chin, also connected with the “Chinlung tradition” as handed down among the Mara group of the Laimi tribe – also known as the Lakher – was recorded by N. E. Parry in 1932:

Long ago, before the great darkness called Khazanghra fell upon the world, men all came out of the hole below the earth. As the founder of each Mara group came out of the earth he call his name. Tlongsai called out, ‘I am Tlongsai’; Zeuhnang called out, ‘I am Zeuhnang’; Hawthai called out, ‘I am Hawthai’; Sabeu called out, ‘I am Sabeu’; Heima called out, ‘I am Heima.’ Accordingly God thought that a very large number of Mara had come out and stopped the way. When the Lushai came out of the hole, however, only the first one to come out called out, ‘I am Lushai’, and all the rest came out silently. God, only hearing one man announce his arrival, thought that only one Lushai had come out, and gave them a much longer time, during which Lushais were pouring out of the hole silently in great numbers. It is for this reason that Lushais to this day are more numerous than Maras. After all men had come out of the hole in the earth God made their languages different, and they remain so to this day (Parry 1932: 4).

All sources of Chin traditions maintain that their ancestors originated from ‘Chinlung’ or ‘Cin-lung’. Sometimes the name for ‘Chinlung’ or ‘Cin-lung’ differs, depending on the specific Chin dialect – such as Khul, Khur and Lung-kua, – but it always means ‘cave’ or ‘hole’ no matter what the dialect. The reason Chin-lung was abandoned, however, varies from one source to another. Depending on the dialect and local traditions, some said that Chin-lung was abandoned as a result of an adventure, or because of the great darkness called Khazanghra, Thimzing or Chunmui. In contrast to the stories above, some traditions maintain that their original settlement was destroyed by a flood. The Laimi tribe from the Haka and Thlantlang areas had a very well-known myth called Ngun Nu Tuanbia, which related the destruction of human life on Earth by the flood. The Zophei also had their own version of the story about the flood, called Tuirang-aa-pia (literal meaning: ‘white water/river is pouring out or gushing’), which destroyed their original settlement. The story goes as follows:

Once upon a time, all the humankind in this world lived together in one village. In the middle of the village there was a huge stone, and underneath the stone was a cave that in turn was connected with the endless sea of water called Tipi-thuam-thum. In this cave dwelt a very large snake called Pari-bui or Limpi, which seized one of the village children every night and ate them. The villagers were in despair at the depredations committed by the snake, so they made a strong hook, tied it on the rope, impaled a dog on the hook and threw it to the snake, which swallowed the dog and with it the fish hook. The villagers then tried to pull out the snake, but with all their efforts they could not do so, and only succeeded in pulling out enough of the snake to go five times round the rock at the mouth of the hole, and then, as they could not pull out any more of the snake, they cut off the part that they pulled out, and the snake’s tail and the rest of the body fell back into the deep cave with a fearful noise. From that night water came pouring out of the snake’s hole and covered the whole village and destroyed the original settlement of mankind. Since then people were scattered to every corner of the world and began to speak different languages. And, it was this flood, which drove the ancestors of the Chin proper to take refuge in the Chin Hills (Ceu Mang 1981: 12–19).

Many Chin tribes called the Chindwin River the ‘White River’, Tui-rang, Tuikhang, Tirang, Tuipui-ia, etc; all have the same meaning but differ only in dialect term. Thus modern historians, not least Hutton, Sing Kho Khai and Gangte, believe that the traditional account of the flood story, which destroyed the Chin’s original settlement, might be the flood of the Chindwin River. They therefore claim that the Chin’s original settlement was in the Chindwin Valley and nowhere else.

The Chin Concept of Ram

For the Chin, Miphun cannot exist without Ram. They therefore define themselves as a Miphun with a strong reference to Ram – the original homeland, a particular locus and territory, which they all collectively claim to be their own. At the same time, they identify members of a community as ‘being from the same original homeland’ (A. Smith 1986: 29). The inner link between the concepts of Miphun and Ram was strengthened in Chin society through the worship of Khua-hrum at the Tual ground. As Anthony Smith convincingly argues, ‘Each homeland possesses a center or centers that are deemed to be “sacred” in a religio-ethnic sense’. In Chin society, the Tual grounds, the site of where they worshipped the guardian god Khuahrum, were the sacred centers, which stood as protectors of both men and land.

For the Chin, the concept of Ram, or what Anthony Smith calls the ‘ethnic homeland’, refers not only to the territory in which they are residing, i.e. present Chinram, but also the ‘original homeland’ where their ancestors once lived as a people and a community. What matters most in terms of their association with the original homeland is that ‘it has a symbolic geographical center, a sacred habitat, a “homeland”, to which the people may symbolically return, even when its members are scattered ... and have lost their [physical] homeland centuries ago’ (ibid.: 28). Ethnicity does not cease to exist simply because the Chin were expelled from their original homeland, or because they are artificially divided between different countries, ‘for ethnicity is a matter of myths, memories, values and symbols, and not material possessions or political powers, both of which require a habitat for their realization’ (ibid.). Thus the Chin concept of Ram as ‘territory’ and ‘original homeland’ are relevant to Miphun. The relevance of the ‘original homeland’ is:

Not only because it is actually possessed, but also because of an alleged and felt symbiosis between a certain piece of earth and ‘its’ community. Again, poetic and symbolic qualities possess greater potency than everyday attributes; a land of dream is far more significant than any actual terrain (ibid.: 28).

I shall therefore trace the history of the Chin’s settlements, not only in present Chinram but also in their original ‘homeland’ in the Chindwin Valley, in the following sections.

Migration Patterns

Chin tradition maintains that the ancestors of the Chin people originated from a cave called ‘Chinlung’, but in the absence of written documents, it is difficult to locate the exact site of ‘Chinlung’. Scholars and researchers therefore give various opinions as to its location.

K. Zawla, a Mizo historian from the Indian side of Chinram, or West Chinram, suggests that the location of Chinlung might be somewhere in modern China, and the ‘Ralte group [of the Mizo tribe] were probably one of the first groups to depart from Chhinlung’ (Zawla 1976: 2). Here, Zawla quoted Shakespeare and accepted the Chin legend as historical fact. He also claimed that the Chin came out of Chinlung in about 225 B.C., during the reign of Emperor Ch’in Shih Huang, whose cruelty was then at its height during construction of the Great Wall. Zawla relates the story of the Ch’in ruling dynasty in Chinese history in a fascinating manner. He uses local legends known as Tuanbia (literally: ‘stories or events from the old-days’) and many stories which are recorded by early travelers and British administrators in Chinram, as well as modern historical research on ancient China. Naturally, this kind of compound story-telling has little or no value in a historical sense, but is nevertheless important in terms of socially reconstructing collective memories as identity-creating-resources.

Other theories have been advanced in this connection, more noticeably by Sing Kho Khai (1984) and Chawn Kio (1993). Both believe that the Chin ancestors are either the Ch’ing or Ch’iang in Chinese history, which are ‘old generic designations for the non-Chinese tribes of the Kansu-Tibetan frontier, and indicate the Ch’iang as a shepherd people, the Ch’ing as a jungle people’ (Sing Kho Khai 1984: 53). Thus, according to Chinese history, both the Ch’iang and Ch’ing were regarded as ‘barbarian tribes’ (Cited in Sing Kho Khai 1984: 21). Gin Za Tuang – in a slightly different manner than Zawla, Sing Kho Khai and Chawn Kio – claims that the location of ‘Chinlung’ was believed to be in Tibet (Cf. Ginzathang 1973: 5; Sing Kho Khai 1984: 10; Gangte 1993: 14). Gin Za Tuang, nevertheless, maintains that the Chin ancestors were Ch’iang, but he mentions nothing about the Ch’ing.

Gin Za Thang simply follows Than Tun’s and G. H. Luce’s theory of the origin of Tibeto-Burmans and other groups of humans, believed to be the ancestors of the Southeast Asian peoples. According to Professors Than Tun and Gordon Luce, [8] the Ch’iang were not just the ancestors of the Chin but of the entire Tibeto-Burman group, and they ‘enjoyed a civilization as advanced as the Chinese, who disturbed them so much that they moved south’ (Than Tun 1988: 3). Regarding this, Professor Gordon Luce says:

With the expansion of China, the Ch’iang had either the choice to be absorbed or to become nomads in the wilds. It was a hard choice, between liberty and civilization. Your ancestors chose liberty; and they must have gallantly maintained it. But the cost was heavy. It cost them 2000 years of progress. If the Ch’iang of 3000 BC were equals of the Chinese civilization, the Burmans [and the Chin] of 700 AD were not nearly as advanced as the Chinese in 1300 BC (Cited in Than Tun 1988: 4).

Before they moved to the wilderness along the edges of western China and eastern Tibet, the ancient homelands of Ch’iang and all other Tibeto-Burman groups, according to Enriquez, lay somewhere in the northwest, possibly in Kansu, between the Gobi and northwestern Tibet (Eriquez 1932: 7–8). It is now generally believed that the Tibeto-Burman group and other Mongoloid stock who now occupy Southeast Asia and Northeast India, migrated in three waves in the following chronological order:

The Mon-Khmer (Talaing, Palaung, En Raing, Pa-o, Khasi, Annimite.)
The Tibeto-Burman (Pyu, Kanzan, Thet, Burman, Chin, Kachin, Naga, Lolo.)
The Tai-Chinese (Shan, Saimese, Karen.)

The Tibeto-Burman group initially moved toward the west and thereafter subdivided themselves into several groups. They follow different routes, one group reaching northern Tibet, where some stayed behind, while others moved on until they reached Burma in three waves. These people were:
The Chin-Kachin-Naga group
The Burman and Old-Burman (Pyu, Kanzan, Thet) group
The Lolo group (Enriquez 1932: 8).

This migration pattern theory, as mentioned above, has mainly been adopted by historians like Than Tun and Gordon Luce. However, anthropologists like Edmund Leach believe that ‘the hypothesis that the Southeast Asian peoples as known today immigrated from the region of China is a pure myth’ (Lehman 1963: 22). The main difference between the historical approach and the anthropological approach is that while historians begin their historical reconstruction with the origins and immigration of the ancestors, anthropologists start with ‘the development within the general region of Burma of symbiotic socio-cultural systems: civilizations and hill societies’ (ibid.: 22). However, both historians and anthropologists agree – as historical linguistics, archaeology and racial relationships definitely indicate – that the ancestors of these various peoples did indeed come from the north. But, anthropologists maintain their argument by saying that, ‘they did not come as the social and cultural units we know today and cannot be identified with any particular groups of today’ (ibid.: 23). Their main thesis is that the hill people and plain’s people are now defined by their mutual relationships in present sites, because, for anthropologists, ethnicity was constructed within the realm of social interaction between neighbouring reference groups.

The anthropological approach could be very helpful, especially when we investigate the pre-historical context of the Chin people, with no written documents existing. Thus, based on ethnic and linguistic differentiation, not on written documents, Lehman demonstrated that ‘the ancestors of the Chin and the Burman must have been distinct from each other even before they first appeared in Burma’. And he continues:

Undoubtedly, these various ancestral groups were descended in part from groups immigrating into present Burma, starting about the beginning of the Christian era. But it is also probable that some of these groups were in Burma in the remote past, long before a date indicated by any present historical evidence. We are not justified, however, in attaching more than linguistic significance to the terms ‘Chin’ and ‘Burman’ at such dates.

And he concludes, by saying:

Chin history begins after A.D. 750, with the development of Burman civilization and Chin interaction with it (ibid.: 22).

Chin anthropologists like T. S. Gangte seem eager to agree with Leach and Lehman. Like Leach and Lehman, Gangte rejects hypothetical theories proposed by Zawla and Gin Za Tuang, who locate ‘Chinlung’ somewhere in China and Tibet, respectively, as myths. ‘In the absence of any written corroboration or the existence of historical evidence to support them,’ he said, ‘such hypothetical theories are considered highly subjective and conjectural. They are, therefore, taken with a pinch of salt. They remain only as legends’ (Gangte 1993: 17). He nevertheless accepted the ‘Chinlung’ tradition as the origin of the Chin and even claims that the Chindwin Valley is where Chin history begins. Similar to Gangte, the ‘Khuangsai source of Chin tradition mentions that the location of Chin-lung was somewhere in the Chindwin area’ (Sing Kho Khai 1984: 10).

The Chin’s Homeland of Chindwin

Professor Than Tun claims that Tibeto-Burman groups of the Burman came down into present Burma via the Salween and Nmai’kha Valleys, and reached the northern Shan State before AD 713. But before they were able to settle themselves in the delta area of the Irrawaddy Valley, ‘the rise of Nanchao checked their movements soon after 713’ (Than Tun 1988: 3). The Nanchao made continuous war with neighbouring powers such as the Pyu who had founded the Halin Kingdom in central Burma. In 835 the Nanchao plundered the delta areas of Burma, and in 863 they went further east to Hanoi. However, by the end of the ninth century the Nanchao power collapsed because, according to Than Tun, they had exhausted themselves. Only after the collapse of the Nanchao were the Burman able to move further South into the plains of Burma.

The Chin, according to Professor Luce, descended from ‘western China and eastern Tibet into the South via the Hukong Valley’ (1959 (b): 75–109), a completely different route than the Burman had taken. Thus Lehman’s theory is quite convincing that the ancestors of the Chin and the Burman were distinct from each other even when they first appeared in Burma. There is ample evidence that the Chin were the first to settle in the Chindwin Valley. The Pagan inscriptions dating from the eleventh century onward refer to the Chin of the Chindwin Valley. There is also persistent reference in the legends of almost all the Chin tribes to a former home in the Chindwin Valley. Chin myths uniformly refer to the ruling lineage when speaking of the original homeland in the valley (Cf. Lal Thang Lian 1976: 9). Archeological evidence supports this interpretation. [9] Sing Kho Khai therefore claims that:

The literal meaning of the name ‘Chindwin’ definitely suggests that the Chindwin area was primarily inhabited by a tribe called the Chin (1984: 36).

Vumson goes even further by saying:

When the Burman descended to the plains of central Burma, during the ninth century, they [the Chin people] were already in the Chindwin Valley (1986: 35).

Concerning historical evidence of the Chin settlement in the Chindwin Valley, reliable sources come from the Burman inscriptions erected by King Kyanzzittha and other kings during the peak of the Pagan dynasty. According to Professor Luce, an expert on Pagan inscription, ‘Chins and Chindwin (‘Hole of the Chins’) are mentioned in Pagan inscriptions from the thirteenth century’ (Luce 1959 (a): 19–31). The earliest Pagan inscriptions put the Burman in upper Burma in roughly the middle of the ninth century. Professor Luce suggested that the Chin settlement in the Chindwin Valley began in the middle of the eighth century, while allowing for the possibility of a date as far back as the fourth century. Lal Thang Lian, a Mizo historian, also gives the eighth century as the possible date for Chin settlement in the Chindwin Valley (Cf. 1976: 71).

Before the Chin settled in the Chindwin Valley, kingdoms of the Mon and the Pye existed in the major river valley of Burma, Sak or Thet and Kandu in Upper Burma, and also the Shan in the eastern country, but no one occupied the Chindwin Valley until the Chin made their home there. The Burman fought against the other occupants of the area, such as Thet, Mon and Pyu, but they did not fight the Chin. G. H. Luce writes;

The Pagan Burman had wars with the Thets (Sak), the Kandu (Kantú), the Mons, the Shans and the Wa-Palaungs, but he called the Chins ‘friends’. Moreover, while he pushed far up the Yaw, the Mu and the Irrawaddy, he apparently did not go up the Chindwin. I cannot identify any old place of the Chindwin much further north than Monywa. From all this I infer that in the Pagan period the home of the Chin was mainly in the Chindwin Valley above Monyaw (1959 (a): 21).

In his major work, ‘Old Kyakse and the Coming of the Burmans’, Professor Luce also mentioned the Chin settlement in Chindwin and their relation with the Burman as follows:

If the Chins had joined the Thet peoples in opposing the Burmans, the latter’s conquest of the central plains might have been precarious. But the Thets probably hated the Chins, whose descent from the Hukong Valley had cut off their western tribes in Manipur, and overwhelmed their tenure of Chindwin. Burman strategy here was to conciliate the Chins. They advanced up the Lower Chindwin only as far as Monywa and Alone, called the Chins Khyan, ‘friends’, and seem to have agreed to leave them free to occupy the whole Upper Chindwin Valley. There is no mention of any fighting between the Chins and the Burmans; and whereas the Pagan Burmans soon occupied the M’u Valley at least as far as Mliytú (Myedu) and the Khaksan, Yaw and Krow Valleys as far as the Púnton (Póndaung) Range and perhaps Thilin, I know of no place up the Chindwin much beyond Munrwa (Monywa) and the Panklí 10 tuik (ten ‘taik’ of Bagyi), mentioned in Old Burmese (1959 (b): 89).

Based on the Burman inscriptions of the Pagan Kingdom, which refer to the Chin as comrades and allies in the Chindwin Valley, Prof. G. Luce even suggested that the word ‘Chin’ might come from the Burmese word Thu-nge-chin ‘friend’. But this is very unlikely, because the word ‘Chin’ had already been well recognized by the Burman and other peoples, such as Kachin and Shan, even before the Chin made their settlement in the Chindwin Valley. The Kachin, for instance, who never came down to the Chindwin Valley but remained in the upper Hukong Valley and present Kachin Hills, called the Chin Khiang or Chiang. So did the Shan. Thus, it is obvious that the term ‘Chin’ had been used to denote the Chin people long before the Chindwin Valley became their homeland. And the term Chindwin comes from ‘Chin’, as in ‘the hole of the Chin’ or ‘the river of the Chin’, but not the other way around.
Collective Memories of Chindwin

Over the course of time, the Chin people moved up from the eastern bank of the Chindwin River to the Upper Chindwin of the Kale Valley. Although we do not know exactly when and why, the date can be set approximately to the final years of the thirteenth century or beginning of the fourteenth century. Until the fall of the Pagan dynasty in 1295, the Pagan inscriptions continuously mentioned that the Chins were in between the eastern bank of the Upper Chindwin and west of the Irrawaddy River. Thus, it can be assumed that the Chin settlement in the Kale Valley began just before the end of the thirteenth century. The reason is equally unknown. Perhaps a flood destroyed their settlement as oral traditions remembered it; or as Luce has suggested, ‘the Chin were left to themselves in Upper Chindwin’ (Luce 1959 (b): 89). As far as linguistic evidence is concerned, traditional accounts of the flood story seem more reasonable than Professor Luce’s suggestion. The traditional Chin account from the Zophei group of the Laimi tribe has recounted that the flood from the low valley had driven their ancestors to the mountains on other side of the river, in Chin: Khatlei, Khalei or Khale. It is believed that the root word of Kale is Khalei, and the meaning is ‘other side of the river.’ [10]

After their original settlement in the Chindwin Valley was destroyed by the flood, according to the traditional account, the Chin moved to the Upper Chindwin, and some groups such as the Asho went as far as the Pandaung Hills and other hills near the western part of the Chindwin River. Since then the Chin have been broken into different tribes speaking different dialects. Many myths and legends exist to explain why they broke into distinct tribes and speak different dialects. One such story is recorded by B. S. Carey and N. N. Tuck:

They (the Chin) became very powerful and finding no more enemies on earth, they proposed to pass their time capturing the Sun. They therefore set about a sort of Jacob’s ladder with poles, and gradually mounted them higher and higher from the earth and nearer to their goal, the Sun. However, the work became tedious; they quarreled among themselves, and one day, when half of the people were climbing high up on the pole, all eager to seize the Sun, the other half below cut it down. It fell down northwards, dashing the people beyond the Run River on the Kale border and the present site of Torrzam. These people were not damaged by the fall, but suddenly struck with confusion of tongues, they were unable to communicate with each other and did not know the way home again. Thus, they broke into distinct tribes and spoke different languages (Carey and Tuck 1986: 146).

Another story from the Zophei area, also known as the “Leather Book”, relates not only the story of the Chins being broken up into distinct tribes but also how their written language came into being:

In the beginning, when the stones were soft, all mankind spoke the same language, and there was no war on earth. But just before the darkness called Chun-mui came to the earth, God gave different languages to different peoples and instructed them to write on something else. While the Chin ancestors carefully inscribed their language on leather, the Burman ancestors, who were very lazy, wrote their language on stone, which was soft. However, soon after they had made the inscription of their languages, the ‘darkness’ came and the Sun disappeared from the earth. During the ‘darkness’ the stone became hard but the leather got wet. Before the Sun came back to the earth, and while the wet leather was still very smelly, a hungry dog ate up the leather, and in this way, the Chin ancestors lost their written language.
When the Sun came back to the earth, the Chin ancestors realized that while they had lost their written language, the Burman language which was written on the stone had turned into ‘the magic of letters’. Moreover, while the sons of Burman spoke the same language, the sons of Chin spoke different dialects because their common language was eaten up together with the leather by the hungry dog. Thus, the ancestor of the Chin prepared to make war against the Burman in order to capture ‘the magic of letters’. Although the Burmans were weaker and lazier, the Chin did not win the war because ‘the magic of letters’ united all the sons of the Burman. Since the sons of Chin spoke different dialects, their fathers could not even give them the war order to fight the Burman. It was for this reason that the Chin broke into distinct tribes and speak different dialects (Pu Sakhong 1969: 11–12).

Another story connected with the ‘magic of letters’ comes from the tradition of the Mizo tribe, which was recorded by Shakespear in 1912. According to Mizo tradition, God gave mankind not only different languages but different talents as well: ‘to the ancestor of the Poi [Laimi] tribe he gave a fighting sword, while the ancestor of the Lushai tribe only received a cloth, which is the reason that the Poi tribes are braver than the Lushais’ (Shakespaer 1912: 95). In contrast to the Zophei tradition, the Mizo story tells that ‘the magic of letters’ was given to the white man, not to the Burman. Shakespeare therefore concludes by saying that ‘I was told he (the white man) had received the knowledge of reading and writing – a curious instance of the pen being considered mightier than the sword’ (1912: 95).
From the Chindwin Valley to Present Chinram

Historical evidence indicates the Chin lived peacefully in Upper Chindwin of the Kale-Kabaw Valley for at least a hundred years, from the fall of Pagan in 1295 to the founding of the Shan’s Fortress City of Kale-myo in 1395. There is no historical evidence that, between those periods, the Chin’s life in the Kale Valley was disturbed either by natural disaster or by political events. During that period, the Chin founded their capital at Khampat in the Kabaw Valley. Lal Thang Lian, a Mizo historian, and M. Kipgen, a Zomi historian, both claim that the Khampat era was ‘the most glorious period’ in Chin history. ‘Most of the major clans, who now inhabit the Chin State of Burma, Mizoram, Manipur, Cachar and Tripura, are believed to have lived together there under a great chief having the same culture and speaking the same language’ (Kipgen 1996: 39).

But in 1395 when ‘the Shan built the great city of Kalemyo with double walls’ at the foot of what is now called the Chin Hills, twenty miles west of the Chindwin River, a century of peaceful life in the Kale Valley came to an end (Luce 1959 (a): 26–27). The Shan had become the rising power in the region of what is now called ‘Upper Chindwin’ and ‘Central Burma’ by the middle of the thirteenth century. Before they conquered the Chin country of the Kale Valley, the Shan had already dominated the regions by conquering the then most powerful kingdom of Pagan in 1295. They continued to fight among themselves and with the Burman kingdom of Ava, which was founded after the fall of Pagan by King Thadominphya in 1364. The Shan finally conquered Ava in 1529. Although Ava was recaptured by the Burman King Bayinnaung in 1555, the Kale Valley remained under the rule of Shan until the British period. In the century after they had conquered the Chin country of the Kale Valley, the Shan also annexed Assam and established the Ahong dynasty, which lasted for more than two centuries.

According to Sing Kho Khai and Lal Thang Lian, the Chin did not leave the Kale Valley after the Shan conquest. The Chin traditions of the Zomi and Mizo tribes, which were accepted as historical facts by Sing Kho Khai (1984) and Lal Thang Lian (1976), mentioned that the Chins lived in the Kale Valley side by side with the Shan for a certain period. Zomi tradition, as noted by Sing Kho Khai, goes on to relate that ‘while they were living in the Kale Valley, a prince came up from below and governed the town of Kale-myo. During the reign of that prince the people were forced to work very hard in the construction of the fortress and double walls of the town’ (Sing Kho Khai 1984: 43). The hardship of the forced labor was said to be so great, according to Naylor, that ‘the fingers of workers, which were accidentally cut-off, filled a big basket’ (Naylor 1937: 3). The tradition continues to relate that the Chins, unable to bear the hardship of manual labour, moved up to the hills region to establish such a new settlement as ‘Chin New’, which was located in the present township of Tiddim of the Chin State in Burma (Carey and Tuck 1986: 127). Historian D. G. E. Hall confirms that the Shans ‘drove the Chin out of the Chindwin Valley into the western hills’ of present Chinram (Hall 1968: 158).

According to a legend, which Lal Thang Lian accepted as historical fact, the Chin planted a banyan sapling at the site of an altar where they used to worship their Khua-hrum,   [11]  just before they were forced to abandon Khampat. They took a pledge at the sacrificial ceremony to their Khua-hrum that ‘they would return to Khampat, their permanent home, when the sapling had grown into a tree and when its spreading branches touched the earth’ (Kipgen 1996: 40–41).  [12]

We do not know exactly when the Chin left Khampat and the Kale-Kabaw Valley to settle in the hilly region of Chinram. But we can trace the periods, approximately, from the Shan and the Burma chronicles from the east and the Manipur chronicles from the west. The Manipur chronicles first mentioned the Chin people, known to them as Kuki, in 1554 (Cf. Shakespear 1955: 94–111; Lehman 1963: 25). It is therefore certain that the Chin settlement in present Chinram began only after the founding of Kale-myo in 1395, and reached the furthest northern region of their settlement in present Manipur State of India in about 1554.

According to Sing Kho Khai, the first settlement made in present Chinram was called ‘Chin Nwe’, or ‘Cinnuai’ as he spelt it. Carey and Tuck, however, spelt ‘Chin Nwe’(1896: 127). The Chins lived together in ‘Chin Nwe’ for a certain period. But they split into tribal groups because of ‘their struggle against each other for political supremacy’ (Sing Kho Khai 1984: 41). Economics may have been the compelling reason, because ‘Chin Nwe’, a rather small, hilly region, could not provide enough land for the self-sufficient agriculturally-oriented economic system of peasant society. Thus, one group made their new settlement in ‘Lai-lung’, located in the present township of Falam, and eventually became the ‘Laimi tribe’ (Z. Sakhong 1983: 5). Another group who first settled in ‘Locom’ eventually became the Mizo tribe who now populate part of Mizoram State in India. From ‘Chin Nwe’ some groups moved up to the north, and they are now known as ‘Zomi’, meaning northern people, or highlanders. Prior to these settlements, there is no historical evidence that differentiates the Chin into the Liami, Mizo and Zomi tribes, etc. Only the national name of ‘Chin’ is represented in the records. Until that time, there were no such tribal names as Asho, Chó, Khuami, Laimi, Mizo and Zomi. B. S. Carey, who knew very well the Biblical story of the fall of mankind, [13] described ‘Chin Nwe’ as ‘the Chin Garden of Eden’, which indicated ‘before the fall came upon the Chin people’, to use the symbolic term (Carey and Tuck 1896: 127).

Some Chin tribes, however, did not move to the hills but remained in the Chindwin Valley, especially in remote areas like the Gankaw Valley and the Kale-Kabaw Valley of Upper Chindwin. They are still called today by their original name but with suffixes like Chin-pun, Chin-me, etc., because of their old-fashioned tattooed faces. Asho groups, as mentioned earlier, split away from the main groups even before they moved to Upper Chindwin. They first lived in the Pandaung Hills and then scattered around the Irrawaddy Delta, Pegu Yoma, Arakan Yoma; some of the Asho tribe even reached the Chittagong Hill Tracks in what is now Bangladesh (Lian Uk 1968: 7). In Arakan and Chittagong they are still known by their old name, ‘Khyeng’.
The Chin Split into Tribal Groups and Tual Communities

Historical evidence shows that the Chin were known by no other name than CHIN until they made their settlement in ‘Chin Nwe’. However, after they were expelled from their original homeland, the Kale Valley in Upper Chindwin, by the flood as oral traditions recounts – or conquered by the Shan as modern scholars have suggested – the Chin split into different tribal groups speaking different dialects, with different tribal names.

Undoubtedly, a vast majority of the Chin people moved over to the hill regions of present Chin State in Burma, Mizoram and Manipur States in India, and the Chittagong Hill Tracks in Bangladesh. But some groups, as mentioned, remained in their original homeland of the Chindwin Valley and later scattered into such areas as the Sagaing, Maqwi, Pakukko and Irrawaddy divisions of present Burma.

Linguistically, according to the 1904 Linguistic Survey of India, the Chin dialects are divided into four major groups: Northern, Central, Old Kuki and Southern.
1. The Northern Group: Thado, Kamhau, Sokte (Sukte), Siyin (Sizang), Ralte, Paite.
2. The Central Group: Tashon (Tlaisun), Lai, Lakher (Mara), Lushai (Mizo), Bangjogi (Bawmzo), Pankhu.
The Old-Kuki Group: Rangkhol, Kolren, Kom, Purum, Hmar, Cha (Chakma).
The Southern Group: Chin-me, Chin-bok, Chin-pun, Khyang (Asho), M’ro (Khuami), Shendus (Yindu), and Welaung (Grierson 1904: 67).

Scholars generally agree that there are six major tribal groups of the Chin, namely the 1) Asho, 2) Chó or Sho, 3) Khuami or M’ro, 4) Laimi, 5) Mizo (Lushai) and 6) Zomi (Vumson 1986: 40).

For the Chin, the term ‘tribal group’ is a social group comprising numerous families, clans or generations together with slaves, dependents or adopted strangers. In other words, it is a group of the same people whose ancestors made their settlement in a certain place together, after their common original homeland in the Kale Valley was destroyed. The Laimi tribe, for instance, is made up of the descendents of the group who made their settlement at Lai-lung, after being forced to leave the Kale Valley. Thus, the term ‘tribe’ as a Chin concept does not refer to common ancestors or common family ties but to a social group of the same ethnic nationality, who settled in a certain place. As the names imply, the tribal groups among the Chin rather denote geographical areas and the ownership of the land; for example, Asho means the plain dwellers, Cho means southerners, Khuami may be translated as ‘the native people’, Laimi means descendent of the Lai-lung or the ‘central people’, as Stevenson (1943) defines it, Zomi or Mizo means the northern people, and so on. The tribal group therefore is not a divisive term, it only denotes how the Chin are split into various groups, having lost their original homeland of Chindwin.

In the course of time, different tribal groups gradually developed their own tribal dialects and identities, which in turn were integrated through the ritual systems of Khua-hrum worship. Because of difficulties in communication between the different groups, different local dialects and customs gradually developed. This level of group can be called a sub-tribal group, or Tual community in Chin. The Tual community was usually begun by the same family or clan, settling in the same village. However, as the community became larger and newcomers increased, they would also establish satellite settlements and villages, although they all shared the principle Tual village when they worshiped their guardian god, called Khua-hrum. I shall discuss further details of the nature of the Tual community in the next chapter. This kind of sub-tribal group, or Tual community, was usually ruled by a single chief or the patriarch of the clan and his descendents. The Lautu group of the Laimi tribe, for instance, was ruled by the Lian Chin clan, who worshiped the Bawinu River as their guardian Khua-hrum. The entire community of Lautu – some fifteen villages – shared the Tual of their principle village Hnaring. Likewise, the Zophei group of the Laimi tribe, with more than twenty villages shared the Tual worship of their principal village Leitak, and so on.

The significance of different Tual communities is that although they developed their own local spoken dialect, they all used the same ‘mother tongue’ tribal dialect when composing a song or epic. To give an example, among the Laimi tribe there are several sub-tribal groups, such as the Zophei, Senthang, Lautu, etc. All these groups have their own local spoken dialects; some are quite different from the main Lai dialect. But when they composed traditional songs and epics, called Hla-do, Hla-pi and others, they all used their mother dialect, the Lai dialect, and sang in it. However, because of communication difficulties, feelings of close kinship between tribal groups were no longer strong, sometimes replaced by Tual community-oriented sub-tribal group or clan identities. Because of this, the British administrators adopted the Tual community of sub-tribal groups as the basic structure for what they called the ‘Circle Administration’.

Concluding Remarks

Prior to British annexation in 1896, the Chins were independent people ruled by their own traditional tribal and local chiefs called Ram-uk and Khua-bawi, respectively. Surrounding kingdoms like Burman or Myanmar, Bengal and Assam (India) never conquered the Chin people and their land, Chinram. As a result, Buddhism, Muslim and Hinduism never reached the Chin. The Chin traditional religion was the only social manifestation of people’s faith, which bound the community together. Although all the tribes and villages followed the same pattern of belief systems, the ritual practices in traditional Chin religion—called Khua-hrum worship—were very much mutually exclusive, and could not serve to unite the entire Chin people under a single religious institution. Thus, until the British occupation, the Chin society remained in a tribal society and the people's identification with each other was tribally exclusive, and their common national identity remained to be searched.

By the turn of twentieth century, however, Chin society was abruptly transformed by powerful outside forces of change. The British conquered Chinram, and the Christian missionaries followed the colonial powers and converted the people. Within this process of change, the Chin people found themselves in the midst of multi-ethnic and multi-religious environments, which they did not welcome. They also realized that their country was not the central of the universe but a very small part of a very big British Empire. After the colonial period, they found themselves again being separated into three different countries—India, Burma, and Bangladesh—without their consent. While West Chinram of present Mizoram State became part of India, East Chinram of present Chin State joined the Union of Burma according to the Panglong Agreement signed in 1947. The smaller part of Chinram became part of what they then called East Pakistan, that is, present Bangladesh.

Primary agent of change, as I have argued elsewhere, [14] was modern political systems represented by British colonial power and its successors—namely, independent India and Burma. The political development, of course, was the only agent with necessary power to force change. In tribal society, ‘distinction cannot easily be made between religious, social, cultural and political elements’ (Downs 1994: 4). Anything that effects one aspect of life can strongly affect every aspect of life. In fact, ‘tribal society can only be maintained through traditional instruments of integration, if they remain in fundamental isolation from other societies’ (ibid.). When centuries-old isolationism in Chinram was broken up by the British colonial power, the traditional way of maintaining the tribal group’s identity was no longer effective, and the process of de-tribalization had begun.

The process of de-tribalization could be a dangerous moment because that process could either become what Frederick Downs called the process of “dehumanization,” or a process of what Swedish scholar Eric Ringmar called a “formative moment”(1995: 145). If the process became a process of dehumanization, that is, ‘to rob them of their essential life of the people's soul’, as Down puts it, then the existence of tribal peoples could really be endanger. There are many examples, according to Dawns, in the Americas, Africa, other parts of Asia and India where many tribal peoples extinct to exist.  On the other hand, the process of de-tribalization could become a “formative moment” if the people could find any other alternative, instead of seeking ‘to revitalize the old culture’ (Downs 1994: 24).

The process of de-tribalization in Chin society became a process of “formative moment”, that is—at a time in which new meaning became available and people suddenly were able to identify themselves with something meaningful. It was Christianity, which provided the Chin people the new meanings and symbols within this process of “formative moment”, but without ‘a complete break with the past’ (ibid.). Christianity indeed helped the Chin people—no longer as a divided tribal groups, but as the entire nationality of Chin ethnicity—to maintain their identity, and Christianity itself became a new creating-force of national identity for the Chin people within this “formative” process of powerful changes.

However, in order to understand this “formative” process of the Chin response to the new religious challenge and how did they become Christians, it is not enough to investigate purely institutional development of the Chin churches. It is important to see gradual shift from traditional Chin religion to Christianity as an integrating factor in the development of Chin self-awareness from the Chin local perspective, and then analyze how the local stories that people tell about their society and about the past, especially events personified in ancestors and other historic figures. Through such stories, both small and large, personal and collective, the Chin people do much of their “identity work” together. In other words, such ‘stories hold history and identity together’ (White 1995: 5).

The most prominent and frequently repeated local stories are, of course, about the moment of first confrontation with colonial power and the Christian mission, and subsequent conversion to Christianity. The stories of conversion are repeatedly told and retold, often in narrative accounts as writings, songs, sermons, and speeches passed on during such occasions as religious feasts, celebrations, and worship services. These are times when people engage in exchange practices that define social and political relations. Although the wars against British annexation (1872-1896), the Anglo-Chin War (1917-1919), the Second World War and Japanese invasion (1939-1945), and the Independence of Burma (1948) are also significant junctures in temporal consciousness, the events of Christian conversion are uniquely important in the organization of a socio-historical memory.

In present Chin society, telling dramatic versions of the conversion stories has become almost a ritual practice during Sunday worship services and the annual Local and Association meetings called Civui, where villages and communities commonly gather to recall the past. Narratives of shared experience and history do not simply represent identity and emotion, they even constitute them. In other words, histories told and remembered by those who inherit them are discourses of identity, just as identity is inevitably a discourse of history. Thus, ‘history teaching’, as Appleby claims, ‘is identity formation’ (1998: 1-14). Especially for the people who live in communities transformed by powerful outside forces, the common perception of a threat to their existence as well as the narrative accounts of socio-religio-cultural contact with the outside world had created identity through the idiom of shared history. However, just as history is never finished, neither is identity. It is continually refashioned as people make cultural meaning out of shifting social and political circumstances. In present Chinram, it is Christianity that provides a means of preserving and promoting the self-awareness of Chin identity through its theological concepts and ideology and its ecclesiastical structure, and the Chin people are gradually adjusted to Christianity through an accelerated religious change in their society.

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