Chin/ Zomi

Asian Geographic - - On Assignment -

The Chins or the Zo peo­ple in­habit the Western moun­taineous re­gion that bor­ders In­dia and Bangladesh. Th­ese high­land dwellers lead labour-in­ten­sive lives and their sim­ple tra­di­tional dress re­flects this. Men wear loin­cloths dur­ing the warmer months and drape blan­kets around them­selves when the weather turns chilly, while the women don pon­cho-like gar­ments with geo­met­ric pat­terns. Judg­ing from the harsh weather con­di­tions, such lit­tle fab­ric should be in­suf­fi­cient to with­stand the chang­ing cli­mate; how­ever, it has grown so much in pop­u­lar­ity that the tech­nol­ogy be­hind Chin gar­ments and blan­kets are highly sought af­ter by tex­tile col­lec­tors to­day.

The Chins for­merly had a prac­tice of tat­to­ing spi­der­web pat­terns on women’s faces when they were 12 to 13 years old. This was to keep young Chin maid­ens from be­ing cov­eted by Rakhaing princes whose king­dom bor­dered the south­ern Chin Hills. The tra­di­tion died out af­ter World War II, but traces of the tat­toos can still be found on the faces of some sur­viv­ing el­ders. Dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, Amer­i­can mis­sion­ar­ies tar­geted this eth­nic group heav­ily and suc­ceeded in con­vert­ing many of the Chin peo­ple to Chris­tian­ity, es­pe­cially the North­ern Chin.

The Chin lan­guages com­prise 45 di­alects. The most widely spo­ken are Hakha and Falam among the Cen­tral Chin, Tedim among the North­ern Chin, and Min­dat Cho among the South­ern Chin. The Chin peo­ple are also flu­ent in Burmese.


The least seen mi­nor­ity group among the Chin tribes, this slightly unso­cia­ble camp mainly set­tles in the moun­tain­ous area of eastern In­dia, known as Na­ga­land. Apart from In­dia, its peo­ple are also found in the Western Sa­gaing Di­vi­sion be­tween the In­dian bor­der and the Chind­win River. De­spite be­ing a sub­group, the Naga tribe has many even smaller branches, di­vided into the cen­tral, western and eastern sub­groups.

Lan­guages used in the Naga tribe are one of the most com­plex, yet fas­ci­nat­ing top­ics. With the dis­per­sion of Naga tribes across Asia, the lan­guage dif­fers from vil­lage to vil­lage be­cause of the lack of in­ter-com­mu­ni­ca­tion. With other Naga tribes, they con­verse in Naga-as­samese or Nagamese, a hy­brid mix­ture of As­samese and Naga lan­guages. This bridge lan­guage is fairly sim­ple to adopt due to the ab­sence of strict rules of gram­mar. How­ever, in Septem­ber 1967, English was used in all of­fi­cial mat­ters in Na­ga­land. De­spite hav­ing 90 per­cent of stu­dents tak­ing up English, only a frac­tion can pass­ably speak it, pre­fer­ring to re­tain their Naga iden­tity and lan­guage.

Young boys at the Aoleang Fes­ti­val in Mon, Na­ga­land; a tat­tooed Dai woman in Min­dat

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The Asho tribes­peo­ple are ex­tremely wel­com­ing to­wards vis­i­tors. To date, there are just over 10,000 Asho speak­ers in Myan­mar. Among the Asho Chin tribes, there are 19 dis­tinct lan­guages and more than 40 dif­fer­ent di­alects. The main prob­lem of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween th­ese iden­ti­cal tribes is not the lan­guage bar­ri­ers, but rather the ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­tances.


The Tiddim sub­group of the Chin group num­bers to a healthy 189,000 mem­bers in North­ern Myan­mar and about 155,000 in Ma­nipur, In­dia. The peo­ple’s pri­mary lan­guage is Tedim Chin, the lo­cal name known as Zo Pau. Close to 70 per­cent of the Tiddim tribe con­verted into Chris­tian­ity. The Bi­ble was trans­lated into Tiddim in 1983.


Part of the 32 of­fi­cially recog­nised Chin tribes, the Dai tribe re­sides in the moun­tains ap­prox­i­mately 3,200 me­tres above sea level, sur­rounded by brooks and rivers. The Dai women have green­ish-blue fa­cial tat­toos con­sist­ing of a se­ries of dots. All Dai tribes speak dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of the Dai Chin lan­guage, which are mu­tu­ally in­tel­lig­ble, to some ex­tent. Sub­se­quently, in the 1990s, the Dai writ­ten lan­guage was de­vel­oped based on the Ger­man al­pha­bet.


The very hos­pitable K’cho, or Cho Chins, are from the south­ern Chin State in the Min­dat and Kam­pet­let town­ships. K’cho is the na­tive lan­guage, while Burmese is the sec­ond lan­guage. Gen­er­ally, the Chin di­alects are mu­tu­ally in­tel­li­gi­ble. His­tor­i­cally, the K’cho lan­guage is linked to the sea­sons and land; hence, a well-con­structed sen­tence must in­cor­po­rate in­for­ma­tion about the lo­ca­tion of the speaker, i.e. whether it is up­wards, down­wards or away from the present lo­ca­tion.

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