The world has become a global village and with times every university has started encouraging young scholars to study the ways of our immediate neighbours or bring back the lost brothers, or anything related with our history and culture, to make this world a place better place to live. As I decided to go for my further studies, I sat myself before the Departmental Board for my final interview in the prestigious Bhamo University, Myanmar. By the grace of God I was selected and my guiding professor ask me to do a special research work in India.
Declining an offer from one of the best Universities of a country for the country and above all my earnest desire to be in a land where my grandfather belongs was time taking decision, as I will be facing a lots of criticism if I try to intrude into someone political situation where those targeted people were so convenient with the system by now. Yet I ponder myself to make my last call to say YES and go to the place where my grandfather belongs to but never returns. The land my fore-fathers have accepted thousands of years ago to rightfully claim as theirs. A land I have never seen but have always heard from my father & grandmother and read about thousand times from the paper, books, journals etc. but all through internet.
The little I knew about my grandfather from my grandmother and my villagers – A young soldier on a trip to China with a General called Mou, someone my grandmother has never seen but timelessly mentioned that he was a Godly figure to my grandfather and his troupes, they were ambushed by the heavily armed Burmese armies, many were killed, many injured, some gathered back and continue with their mission, yet many lost their way and my grandfather is among the last category. My grandfather could never return to his Home as his right leg was no more, but with times he met my grandmother, a widower, and made her home, a Home far away from Home. He found solace in my grandmother’s abode but unfortunately he succumbed to his long due injuries after the birth of my dad, Tukhemi Asah (named after a legendary spear maker, both Chin & Sema having the same pronunciation and storylines) & his sister, Avetoli Asah (Asah my grandmother’s clan), before he could completely learn Chin language to share his life journey, native place, near & dear ones, his reason for taking arms, and above all the real man as to who he is/was, but with him all his wonderful stories were taken away. Villagers always say that he was cheerful young chap with a King Midas touch in every work. Grandmother says that on one dark cloudy morning two badly injured men resurfaced from below the village pond, the older looking man was carrying the younger one on his back though he was more badly injured. Villagers gathered around them and gave them immediate shelter even thought they cannot communicate at all. And with times the young man condition gets better but sadly the older one, a man my grandfather always addresses as Sir, the man who was with my grandfather as a trainer, group leader, rescuer, carrier, doctor, everything in his hardest times passed away due to infection. Giving away his life selflessly for his promising junior who could not see the glorious moment of his nation.
I’m excited, as in few weeks times, I’ll be in the land I always dreamt off, looking for my grandfather families and his god-father’s families yet equally nervous as I doubt if I knew their real name and their real spelling. MUGHATO SEMA was my grandfather’s name and my grandfather savior’s name was POU, as pronounced by my villagers. Finding someone by just a name called Pou can be a big challenge, as I believed there is already a tribe name by that three syllable but I have a ray of hope because my grandmother always say that my grandfather always regarded Pou’s tribe to be the eldest & and the purest among all the Nagas and he happens to be the eldest son of a big village King. (And here, I honestly do not know what does it meant by the word PUREST but my grandmother always insist me to use the term in respect to my grandfather words.)
The word Naga and Nagaland has become something like a hallucination to me after I decided to critically examine the similarities between the Sema Naga tribe and the Chin of Myanmar. But first of all I need to trace the families of the two most important people of my life, who encouraged me to take up this big challenge where majority of the promising students would dare too even think off, for two reason:
1. Chin state of Myanmar and Nagaland state of India is very far away practically in all terms even though the distance between two is much nearer than our respective country capital. But I dare to as I need to know my roots.
2. Trying to bring back alive a history long forgotten is always faced by a strong criticism from every angle, when such a community is well established and settled conveniently with the neighboring community. But I dare to as I was brought up in a place strongly believed to be my ancestral land yet my immediate great-grandfathers have never seen it. But fortunately, fate gave me the privilege to let me be born & brought up in that wonderful land so now it is my responsibilities to bring a connection between the two land. And truth shall always reign.
My paper is to study the similarities between the Sema tribe and the Chin. There are thousands of similarities between the two tribes like – the culture, tradition, village administration, political reasoning, kingship, facial structure, dance & festivals, language phonetics, even names, and many more. According to the oral history as per the narrations and comparisons of many scholarly works of both the tribes, many Chin scholars and historian believes that Sema are the lost clan of the Chins. If it is wrong than let us reason out together and proof it as wrong, or if it is true at all than let us embraced the fact as it has nothing to do with our present political issues as we are far away and every human race has their own story to tell. And the bottom-line is – truth can be never hidden away.
Brief history of the Chin: The Tibeto-Burman Chin peoples entered the Chin Hills some time in the first millennium AD, as part of the wider migration of Tibeto-Burman peoples into the area. Some historians speculate that the ‘Thet’ people mentioned in the Burmese Chronicles might be the Chins. For much of history, sparsely populated Chin Hills was ruled by local chiefs. Political organization in the region prior to the Toungoo dynasty’s conquest in mid-16th century remains largely conjectural. The first recorded instance of a western kingdom believed to be near the Chin Hills is the Kingdom of Pateikkaya in the 11th and 12th centuries. Some historians (Arthur Phayre, Tun Nyein) put Pateikkaya in eastern Bengal, thus placing the entire Chin Hills under Pagan suzerainty but others like Harvey, citing stone inscriptions, put it near eastern Chin Hills. (Burmese Chronicles report the kings of Pateikkaya as Indian though the ethnicity of the subjects is not explicitly cited.)
The first confirmed political entity in the region was the Shan State of Kale (Kalay), founded by the Shan people who came to dominate the entire northwestern to eastern arc of Burma after the fall of Kingdom in 1287. Kale was a minor Shan state, and its authority did not extend more than its immediate surrounding area, no more than a small portion of northern Chin Hills. The minor state occasionally paid tribute to the larger Shan States of Mohnyin and Mogaung, and ultimately became a vassal state of Burmese Ava Kingdom in the 1370s. Starting in the 1480s, Ava began to disintegrate, and Kale was swallowed up by the Shan State of Mohnyin by the 1520s.
The entire Chin Hills came under the authority of Burmese kingdoms between 1555 and 1559 when King Bayinnaung of Toungoo Dynasty conquered all of Upper Burma and its surrounding regions—stretching from the eastern and northern Shan states to the western Chin Hills and Manipur followed by the king tyranny. During this era, Nikhoga Chief of Sumito Asah clan in the Chin hills revolted against the Shan ruler by grabbing the land of the royals and its officials (Sumito clan is believed to be present Sema Naga tribe of Nagaland), they were known for treachery worthless oaths, the angered King tried to killed all the Sumito Asah clan but they escaped with the help of the Lia clan. Lia was a big clan but the consequences for helping the Sumito clan to escaped from the wrath of the Shan king lead to mass killing of the Lia clan every year, asking the Lia to bring back the lost clan of the Chin so that he may give a befitting lesson but they could not, Sumito chief always says ok to his proposal but the truth is they have decided never to returned to its ancestral land fearing of the repercussion, after than they hide their real identity and assimilated with the people who pierce big hole in the ear and erect stone monoliths with pride in the north of the Manipuri Kingdom. While Nikhoga’s nephew, Simi’s wife Putheli got pregnant while hiding in the forest & some few groups stay back with them later known as Simi Asah got emerged with the small Tiighaki tribe a break-away clan of Lia. Now Lia are one of the smallest tribe in Myanmar and Sumitos were never heard off for almost 3 centuries.
Toungoo began to weaken in the late 17th century. By the 1730s, a resurgent Manipuri Kingdom had conquered the Kabaw Valley from the Burmese. Kabaw valley’s adjacent northern Chin Hills likely came under Manipuri suzerainty. Burma re-exerted control over the region in the 1750s as King Alaungpaya of Konbaung dynasty conquered Manipur in 1758 and made it a tributary to the Burmese kingdom once more. Konbaung kings conscripted many Chin levies (along with Hkamti Shans) to fight in their wars in Lower Burma, Siam, and Manipur. The Chin Hills were one western region the Burmese retained after the rest of their western possessions—Assam, Manipur, and Arakan—were ceded to the British after the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824-1826. While returning from the war from the Ahoms kingdoms (present Assam), many Shan and Chin warrior spread a rumours among themself saying that they had encountered with their lost tribe Sumito but nobody dares to take the mater seriously as they were badly defeated in their expedition. After the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, the Konbaung throne’s authority in the remote regions was largely nominal, with the vassals paying nominal tribute and the British took over everything and after the political administrative change no one ever talks about Sumito again as they themselves are now under the yoke of the great empire.
Today, I’m geared up for the historic moment to come to Nagaland with the little knowledge I recollect from my granny stories, Internet and Naga Facebook friends about the land. I know it will be hard to convince people to accept my simple truth got through stories, similarities in culture and history, and after a critical analysis of hundred books. Here my point is – Are the present Sema Nagas the lost tribe of the Chin? Are Sema really a Nagas by blood or a Naga tribe in Nagaland because of its political-geography conveniences like the Kuki & the Dimasas? If they are really Nagas than why is their socio-cultural history & political conception totally different from the rest of the Nagas? They seem to be more similar to the CHIN (Burma). Chin is known by various names: Kukis in some part of NE India, Chakmas in Bangladesh & India, Mizos in India & Myanmar, Zomi in India & Myanmar, Borok in Twipra India, Siam in Thailand, Lia in Myanmar, Simi in Myanmar, etc. While the majority of the Nagas according to the books has similarities in a way or other but not the Semas? Sumitos were chased out from their ancestral land due to land disputes & the present Sema of Nagaland are still continuing, if I were to believe the daily newspaper on the net. Why is my grandfather calling his Superior Pou as Pure, who are they and where are they actually from? Who is General Mou, whom my grandfather regarded as the younger brother of Pou tribe? Why is there lots of similarities in folk-tales, even legendary names and proper noun between the Chin and Sema? Many people may even condemn me but no matter what the consequences is I’m still a Sema by blood, stepping into Nagaland to search my bloodline & if things work out well, the similarities my grandfather always told my grandmother will be proven true.
After all, I’m told that my grandfathers favourite dog was killed and lowered into the grave with him, which was the same last ritual for both the Chin and the Sema. Your valuable folk-tales, ideas, suggestions and criticism will be highly valued, either to prove me wrong or to help my dream realized through the thesis.
Lastly, any clue in helping me to meet my unknown relatives and my grandfather’s savior families will be forever indebted.
Mathew Ngaito Asah,
Ph.D research scholar,
Bhamo University, Myanmar
E-mail: [email protected]