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
top & right page
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.
DAI ( YINDU)
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.