Culture & Heritage
Every Society has its own traditional music and in every society, folk music is as old as the age of that society. Some Indian cultures have very long musical histories; but Mizo culture does not have such history. Yet the origin of Mizo Music is a mystery. It is therefore, difficult to trace the origin, and to arrange the chronological sequences of the heritage of Mizo Music. However, we have seen some couplets are developed during the settlement of Thantlang in Burma estimated between 1300-1400 AD. As recorded by B.Lalthangliana, the folk songs developed during this period were dar hla (songs on gong); Bawh hla (War chants), Hla do (Chants of hunting); Nauawih hla (Cradle songs) A greater development of songs can be seen from the settlement of Lentlang in Burma, estimated between late 15th to 17th Century AD1.
As mentioned earlier, Couplets are the earliest followed by triplets. Triplets are found during the settlement of Lentlang. These couplets and triplets are very simple in nature. They convey no great philosophy. The rational attitude to life is also absent. They are mainly songs of individual experiences.
The Mizo occupied the present Mizoram from late 17th century. The pre-colonial period, that is from 18th to 19th century A.D. was another important era in the history of Mizo folk literature. Prior to the annexation by the British Government, the Mizo occupied the present Mizoram for two centuries. In comparison with the folk songs of Thantlang and Lentlang settlement, the songs of this period are more developed in its number, form and contents. The languages are more polished and the flows also better. Most of the songs of this period are named after the composers.
The Mizos are fortunate enough in having traditional way of classification of their folk songs. A study of their folksongs on the basis of the indigenous system of classification shows that the Mizos are having about one hundred different types of folksongs2. But it can broadly be classified into ten as follows:-
- Bawh Hla : This is the chant or cry raised by the warriors when returning from successful raid. The warriors chant Bawh Hla to show his superiority over the enemy, and in order to let his people know that a successful raid has taken place. No other members of the warriors except the killer of the enemy can chant Bawh Hla.
- Hlado: This is the chant or cry raised by the hunters when a successful hunting has taken place. Chanting Hlado can be done on the spot, or on the way home, or just before entering the village, or on the celebration. Any one who witnesses his success can chant Hlado at any time and place.
- Thiam hla & dawi hla (Invocation & Incantation): These two verse forms are chanted by the Priests and the witch while performing ceremonies.
- Dar Hla: These are named after musical instruments. These songs are not sung by human voice, it is meant for musical instruments. Dar hla means ‘song for gong’. There are several songs named after the instruments; but Dar hla is the most popular and greatest in number. So it is commonly known as Dar hla. It has three musical notes.
- Puipun Hla: These are songs named after merry and festive occasions. These songs are the most popular among the folksongs. People sung together with dancing at the time of merry and festive occasions.
- Lengzem Zai: These are love songs. It has no distinctive form but it was named after the theme.
- Songs named after Tribes: Some verse forms are named after the particular tribe such as Sailo zai, saivate zai etc.
- Songs named after Tribes: A few songs are named after the village such as Lumtui zai, Dar lung zai etc.
- Songs named after modulation of the voice: A few song are named after modulation of the voice or sound such as Kawrnu zai, Zai nem, Vai zawi zai, Puma zai etc. For example, Kawrnu is a kind of Cicada whose voice is gentle and low. So the tune of new song resembling to the tune of Kawrnu is called Kawrnu zai.
- Songs named after individuals: A great number of Mizo folksongs are named after individual. Most of them are named after the original composer of the music as well as the verse tunes. But some of the songs are named after a beautiful women or the hero of the tribe. The first six have their own common name while the last four have no such common name.
The first three categories are individual in nature. The fourth one is played by musical instruments. The last six categories are meant for group singing. Even though some of them may be sung by individual; most of the Mizo folk songs are to sung together by group of people with music.
Major Theme: We have seen different themes in Mizo folksongs. The major themes are war, hunting, love, nature and patriotism.
Love: Love is the principal theme of the Mizo folk songs. The Mizo love songs in the primitive period reflected their natural closeness to the object of nature. In Nilen zai the poet conceives the dove as a living persons:
Dove of the forest near my jhum
Do cease crying please,
I too spend many a day crying for my beloved
They often used different birds as their love messengers. Even the ferocious birds like eagles are used as their messengers:
Hasn’t my tender message reached you.
Hasn’t my messenger the eagle told you,
That I love and miss you, my darling.
The young lovers revealed the sensuous feeling in love, and the projected light upon social and domestic relations and values through their love-songs.
Hunting: Hunting was the most favourite game among the Mizo. The society honours pasaltha, the successful hunters. When a boy was born they blessed him to be the pasaltha. They have plenty of songs on these themes. Pasaltha, the successful hunter was held in high esteem. Therefore, every young man tried to become a successful hunter. These songs also disclosed the manner in which the rich man as well as the commoners achieved fame and prestigious title Thangchhuah. A poor, but successful hunter thus chanted as follows:
On the day the richman performs a grand feast,
The village sounds with joy and laughter;
But we poor men, achieve fame,
When the hills echo chants of our hunted victory.
War: One of the forces which did most to shape Mizo life for nearly three centuries was the frequent wars with the neighbouring tribes or the wars between the villages. As such, they have several war-chants and songs on the triumph over their enemies. If the Mizo warrior killed his enemy, he had to trample the dead body under his foot, declaring his own name and would cry war-chant (Bawh hla). After doing this, the soul of the enemy would no longer frighten him, and even when he would die, the soul of the enemy would escorted his soul to the Pialral (the Paradise) and served him forever3.
Patriotism: As mentioned in the previous section, some of their folk songs are named after villages. These songs are patriotic in nature. One of the Ngente zai said like this:
Our Ngente village delightful village,
I will never forget until I die.
A poet from Darlung village also exaggerated the greatness of his village as follows:
Come and live in our Darlung village,
The Chief’s house lies sprawling in the centre,
The Chief’s house lies sprawling in the centre,
The sound of a gong reverberates ever and anon.
Saikuti composed several songs encouraging young men to be great warriors, and stimulating them to glorify their village so that other villagers might not dare to raid it. She also used to praise the warriors for the achievement they had made against their enemies.
Lack of inter-dependence is the most important characteristic of the Mizo folksong. Every stanza is self-sufficient. Each couplets or triplets have its own message. This is, infact, the typical form of all folksongs. Mizo traditional music is generally associated with dance and drama.
From time immemorial, the Mizo have been using different musical instruments. Even though we cannot date the origin, the “Mizo of Kabaw valley during late 10th to 13th century AD had developed their music as nearly as they have done today”4. The traditional Mizo musical instruments are very simple and crude in comparison to other Indian musical instruments and very out-dated to Modern Musical instruments. They can broadly be divided into three: Beating or Striking instruments; Wind instruments and String instruments.
Most of the Mizo musical instruments used at the time of festivals and dances are striking instruments such as different types of Khuang and Dar, Bengbung, Seki, Talhkhuang.
Khuang: Khuang (Drum) is Mizo indigeneous instrument which occupies a very significant place in Mizo social and religious life. Khuang is a must on all occasions. It is made of hollow tree, wrapped on both sides with animal skin. The Mizo gives different names according to its size and length. The big sized one is call Khuangpui (Big drum), the middle one is called Khuanglai; and the small sized, Khuangte (little drum). If it is longish, they called it Kawlkhuang.
As far as the history of Mizo is concerned it is commonly concluded that the Mizo ancestors started using drum as far back as when they sung and composed song. Lianhmingthanga believes that the Mizo had received drum from Chinese civilization through cultural diffusion. The process of that cultural diffusion might have passed through the Burmese with whom the Mizo had a close cultural contact which took place from the middle of the 9th century AD until the end of Pagan period at the close of 13th century AD5.
Khuang is the only Mizo traditional musical instrument that is popularly used in the 20th and 21st century. In the olden days, Khuang has no role in the religious functions; but today the use of drum is a must in every church service.
Dar (Gong): Another popular musical instruments are various sizes of brass-gongs viz-Darkhuang, Darbu and Darmang.
Darkhuang: Darkhuang is the biggest type. Darkhuang is very costly and is one of their most valuable possessions. In the olden times, it was sometimes used as a means of exchange; and sometimes the parent of a bride demanded Darkhuang for the price of their daughter. In one of the oldest folksongs we have the following lines:
Chawngvungi her price so high
I gave necklace hut they refused,
I gave a gong and they refused
They demanded our sacred gong,
Chawngvungi, her price unsurpassed.
But this song (dor hla) is played with Darhu. Darkhuang is played on all occasions.
Darbu: Darbu is a set of three different sizes of brass-gongs, producing three musical notes. Darhu is usually played by three experts. Some experts played individually by tying the two gongs, one on each sides of his body with rope and hung one gong by his left hand, produce three distinct, rhythmic notes by simultaneous beating. Darbu is meaningfully used on certain occasions like Khuallam and other traditional group dances.
Darmang: Darmang is the smallest type of gong. It has no effect without other gongs or instruments, but it is used in the traditional dances to keep timing. All these gongs appear to be Burmese in origin, and therefore, it is tempting to conclude that Mizo got them from the Burmese while they were living in the Kabaw Valley during 9th to 13th century AD6.
Bengbung: Benghung is another Mizo indigenous instrument which has some similarity with xylophone. It is a musical instrument consisting of a series of flat wooden bars, producing three musical notes. Bengbung is usually played by girls it their leisure.
Talhkhuang: The process of making Talhkhuang is almost the same with that of Bengbung but Talhkhuang is much bigger than that of Bengbung. It is made of three wooden pieces which are curved out, the depth of the curves being made vary so that the sound produced when beaten are different in notes. It is played with a wooden hammer. The Mizo would never take Talhkhuang to their houses or anywhere wise except to Lungdawh, the great platform at the entrance of the village. It has played when a chief or the village erected memorial stones.
Seki: Seki is the domesticated mithun’s horn. The two hollow horns are beaten to lead or to keep timing for the other musical band like Darbu, etc. It was commonly used at the time of group dances are performed.
The Mizo have six varieties of Wind-instruments such as Rawchhem, Tumphit, Mautawtawrawl, Phenglawng, Buhchangkuang, Hnahtum.
Rawchhem: It is a kind of Scottish “Bagpiper” or Chinese “Snag”. Nine small Bamboo pipes or hollow reeds, Having different sizes and lengths are inserted to the dried gourd. One of the pipes serves as a mouth piece. Small portions of the pipes are struck out so that it can produce sound when the instrument is blown. The Musician blows in to the mouth piece, and by controlling the holes with his fingers, he can produced various musical notes.
TUMPHIT: Tumphit is made of three small Bamboos having different sizes and length. The types are tied and plated in a row with caves or strings. The upper ends are cut open at differet length so that each tube has different notes. The players put the open tube against his lower lip and then blows down. This musical instrument was used during ritual ceremonies and particularly on the occasion of a ceremony called Rallulam and chawng festival, the use of this music was a must.
Tawtawrawt: This is a Bamboo trumpet. Different sizes of bamboo tubes are cut off. The smaller tube is inserted to the bigger tube and so on. Many bamboo tubes are joined one after another till the last tube happens to be the size of a forefinger from where the trumpet is to be blown. A dry empty gourd, the bottom part is cut off and joined with bigger end of the bamboo tubes. The whole length can be more than five feet.
Phenglawng: It is the Mizo flute made of bamboo. Originally, Phenglawng had only three holes producing three different sounds. Flute is popular among the other Indians.
Buhchangkuang: This is another flute made of reed or a paddy stalk. This simple instrument was usually played by girls.
Hnahtum : The Mizo boys can skillfully turn leaves of many trees into simple but indigenous musical instruments. They can produce interesting sound by blowing deftly folded leaves. This is called Hnahtum.
III. STRINGED INSTRUMENTS:
The Mizo have only three kinds of stringed-Instruments such as Tingtang; Lemlawi and Tuiumdar:
Tingtang: This is Mizo guitar. Mizo tingtang is a kind of fiddle or violin having only one string. A piece of bamboo shaft is fixed in the gourd to carry the string made of Thangtung, the fibre of the Malay Sago palm. The hollow gourd is cut open and covered with a dry bladder of animal.
Lemlawi: Lemlawi is the family of Jew’s harp but the shape and size are different. It is made of small pieces of bamboo. From the piece of bamboo, the craftsman took out a small portion with knife for its string. The sound it produces is controlled by the mouth.
Tuium dar : This simple musical instrument is also made of bamboo having three strings producing three different notes. From the outer covering of the bamboo, three pieces of cane like strings are curved out. The strings are then raised up by inserting two pieces of bamboo. It is played like a guitar.
All the striking-instruments except Bengbung are used for the group singing or on the festive occasions; while all the three kinds of stringed-instruments are meant for individual. Out of six instruments from wind-instruments only two are meant for public. The Mizo traditional music is performed for its own shake, in its own time and place, and it has its own meaning. Those individual instruments are not popular among the people; and almost all of them are not known by the present generation. The six stringed guitar was introduced during the second decade of the twentieth century. It has now become part and parcel of the Mizo society. Almost all the Mizo boys know how to play guitar. The guitar alone has replaced all the traditional musical instruments.
There is one popular Mizo saying “Khuang lova chai ang” which means “festival without drum or music”; and this saying shows that without music, the life of the Mizo is incomplete. B.Thanmawia says, “Music to the Mizo is as indispensable as air is to man and beasts”7. They sing on all happy and despairing occasions. When condoling bereaved family, they sing the songs of condolence for the whole day and night. When attending marriage party, they sing a song of joyous. They even sing or hum tunes while they are working or walking on the roads. Kathryn McKenzie remarks, “the sound of their harmonious singing and the haunting rhythm of their tribal songs can often be heard”8.
A survey of Mizo named indicates that great many of the names are derivatives of traditional musical instruments like Dar (Gong), Khuang (drum), Zai (Sing), Rem (accompanying music), Ri (musical sound). Some of the popular names are as follows:
Dar (Gong) : Darchhawna, Darliana, Darlawma, Darhmingthanga etc.
Khuang (Drum): Khuangliana, Khuanglawma, Khuangtuaha, Khuangchhunga etc.
Zai (Sing) : Zairema, Zaikunga, Zaihmingthanga etc.
The Mizo used to celebrate a new song or songs. It is said that one day, a cicada sings beautifully at Lungdawh, the platform at the entrance of the village while the villagers were about to work in the jhum. On hearing the sweet song of the cicada, no one could go on, and all the villagers gathered waiting for Saikuti, the poetess of the village. When Saikuti arrived, they immediately requested her to compose a song on that cicada. She then spontaneously recited the following verse –
Oh, thou cicada of the wood,
Your sweet voice of no rhythms,
Enchanted people from their works.
On hearing this verse, the villagers went back and sang together the whole day in celebrating to the new song. So, the love for music resulted in the love of poetry also.
The Mizo traditional tunes are very soft and gentle that they can sing the whole night without getting tired. Even without musical instruments, the Mizo can enthusiastically sing together by clapping hands or any materials which can produce complimentary sound. All these informal instruments are called Chhepchher. The Mizo in the early period were very close to nature and that music was the tune of their life.