Why Should We be Called Zoumi?

By S. Thangkhangin

“In search of Identity”, Kuki-Chin Baptist Union,
Imphal, March 1986, Pp. 52 -66.

The British colonial rulers and outsiders identified us as Chin or Kuki or even Lushai. But these misnomers and imposed nomenclatures have never gained popular acceptance among the people. Looking at it from the historical perspective and studying the socio-economic systems in the pre-British period, I cannot but draw a logical conclusion that the non-acceptance of these common nomenclatures by the various clan-groups of Zoumi could have been due to their social and economic systems, a system that lacks centralized authority which would unify and integrate all the Zou ethnic groups into one system thereby creating a well-knit nation or an united Zoumi kingdom.

Today, the Zoumis are divided into various tribes. Each tribe is further divided into a number of segments. The search for identity is still going on care-worn among the alienated so-called Kuki-Chin linguistic groups which bear a grudge of narrow clannish attitudes amongst themselves. In this world of family antagenism and alienation. I was born and brought up in a world of kindred bellicosity of Zoumi (descendants of Zou). Like many other members of Zou, I searched and searched the original name of common identity for Zou phylogenetic group, and new after many years’ research I am able to exclaim eureka; eureka :; Thank God for the period of frivolous internecines ended, and the days of interpolators and narrow communalists going by; the era of truth and nationalism begin to dawn upon the Zoumi: In this paper, I would like to explain with historical evidences the justification for ‘Why should we be called Zoumi.”

The term ‘Zoumi’ is an ancient and historical name of the Zou ethnic groups. Before the Zoumi society evolved into clanbase organization and lineage segmentation, historical records mentioned them as Yaw or Jo or Zo. The Shan chronicles clearly proved it. The Pong (Shan/Tai)
kings annals (80-1604 A.D.) pointed out the country and the people as Zo District and Zoumi respectively.[1] Sir Henry Jule’s historical geography (map about 1500 A. D.), “A Narrative of Mission (envoy) to the court of Ava, 1855”, showed the Chindwin plains and west of the Chindwind river as Zoumi District, Khampat was shown as the district headquarters.[2]

F. K. Lehman, a renewed social anthropologist, wrote in his book, ‘Structure of Chin Society’ a doctoral thesis submitted to Illinois University, Urbana (USA), 1965 thus.. ‘ all or nearly all of the peoples of the so-called Kuki-Chin linguistic group had a special term for themselves. The word by which they called themselves was almost always a variant form of a single rootword, which appeared as ZO (ZOUMI), JO (JOMI), YO (YOMI), SHO (SHOMI), CHOU (CHOUMI), and the like. People now in occupation of the Chin State of Burma like the natives of Tedim, Falam, Haka, Matupi, etc. mentioned themselves as Zoumi.[3] Lehman did his research on the Chins in Burma. He found out the truth, a true rootword of the common nomenclature that outlived the persecution of colonialism which imposed even wrong names like ‘Chin’ and ‘Kuki’ upon the natives who offered stern resistance from within and without the colonial ‘divide-and-rule’ policy by calling themselves by their original name ‘Zoumi’.

Dr. Vumkhohau, a Zoumi scholar-cum-leader and an international figure from Burma, affirmed ‘we have called ourselves Zoumi from time immemorial. Mi means man'[4] Long time ago in the middle ages, Reverend Father Vincentious Sangerno correctly referred to the Chins and the Kukis as the Zou (Jo) race. ‘There can be no doubt that the Chins and Kukis are one and the same (Jo) race, for their appearance, manners, customs, and language all point to this conclusion’.[5]

There are many opinions about the origin of the rootword Zou. B. Lalthangliana, in his M. A. dessertation, opined that the name Zoumi derived from the town they built under the leadership of Lallula in about 1765. The name of the town was Zopui, i.e., big town of Zou.[6] This opinion of Zoumi derivation from Zopui town cannot be accepted because before Zopui town was built, the name Zou or Zoumi was in existence, (See Pong chronicles translated by R. B. Pemberton). Chaw-kaa-pha, the 42nd king and the last king of Mung-Mau (Pong), who reigned from 1496-1520 A. D. distributed his kingdom to his relatives and governors, and he gave ‘Yaw (Zoumi) country (west of the Chindwin)’ to his only son, Chau-Hum-Pha.[7] The Zoumi country, on the right bank of the Chindwin and the northern districts, was under the Pong kings until the Chinese conquered Mung-Mau (Pong) kingdom, which became permanent territory of the Chinese in 1664. These historical records clearly indicated that the rootword Zou and Zoumi were in existence even in the early period of Pong dynastic rule.

Second, Zou was believed to be the progenitor of the various tribes and clans of the Zoumi. Capt. K. A. Khupzathang showing the genealogical tables of various Zoumi clans compiled elaborated genealogy. He traced back all the lineal descent to a person Zou, as the common ancestor.[8]

Dr. Vumkhohau also traced the Zoumi lineal descent to Zou.[9] V. Lunghnema wrote the genealogy of the Hmar tribe, one of the branches of the Zoumi family, and he traced all the Hmar clans to Zou, the ancestor.[10]

Yet, another belief suggest that Zou might not be the real ancestor of the Zoumi, but it might be a dynastic name of ancient times in China.[11] The Zou or Jo or Chou dynasty ruled China from 1027 to 256 B. C. The main argument or hypothesis in this regard was that in ancient times the name of the ruling dynasty became the identity for the subjects. This might be true as all the
Zoumi believe that the came from China. There was indirect evidence that the Zoumi might have migrated from China to estern Tibet sometime during the time of Jo (Chou) dynasty. In the second century B. C. during the Han dynasty, Buddhism as religion and culture became popular in China. The indirect evidence is that the Zoumi people were not proselytized into Buddist religious teachings. In Burma, Buddhism entered from Ceylon in the 4th Century A. D. and it did not penetrate the northern Burma until the Shan states were under the way of Ava kingdom in the 17th Century. The Zoumi might have left the Shan states and migrated into the west of the Chindwin when the Ava king conquered northern Burma. West of the Chindwin never felt direct influences of Buddhist rulers of Ava. The final analysis in this context would be the ancestors of the Zoumi and moved into present Burma easternly direction. Settling down in the Shan states, as Shan chronicles recorded they moved westward into the hill countries before the expansion of Ava kingdom. This would be the reason why the Zoumi maintained their own culture and religion until the western influences fell heavily on them after the British annexation of Zou countries. Therefore, there are possibilities for the name -rootword Zou’ might have been derived from the Jo (Chou) dynasty. Besides, F. K. Lehman, a British administrator, G. H. Pryer, Deputy Commissioner, Sandoway district, Arakan, wrote “The Khyanga (Chin) called themselves Jion of Shou.” Khyang was the corruption of Burmese name for Chin which was given to the Zoumi by the Burmese. In this paper our main objective is not to study the Zoumi original home or migration, but to the historical authenticity of “Zoumi” as the original name of the peoples.

Now, let us have expensive criticism of Chin, Kuki, and Mizo nomenclatures one by one so that the Zoumi today may discern the truth without any reservations and prejudices of tribalism. In view of the urgent necessity of undefiled common nomenclature and homogeneous unity among the Zoumi people. It is important to distinguish fact from fiction. The Zoumi today must accept the reality. They must accept the fact.

1. The Word ‘Chin’ was derived from the Burmese word ‘Khyan’ which meant basket.
Perhaps the Burmese c


About Zou Sangnaupang Pawlpi Delhi

Zou Students' Association Delhi Branch
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