Indian Literature in Tribal Languages: Mizo Songs and Folk Tales

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Item Code: IDH396
Author: Laltluangliana Khiangte
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788126013647
Pages: 186
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.3" X 5.3
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Book Description

Back of the Book

The dialects and languages spoken by tribals in India are very large In number. The literary compositions in most of them have survived in oral form though some tribal languages have taken to writing as a means of recording literary composition. Conventionally, they have been perceived as mere anthropological curiosity, or at best a source for oral history. They have rarely been translated into English or an Indian language as a representation of tribal imagination. In order to meet the long felt need for bringing out a systematic series of India's tribal literature, Sahitya Akademi has established a Project of Indian Literature in Tribal languages and Oral Traditions. The editor of the Mizo Literature volume, Dr. Laltluangliana Khiangte is a well known Mizo poet and scholar.



Indian literature is marked by its immense variety of styles and forms and the rich interchange of language traditions that form its complex fabric. The distinction between the classical or elite and the oral or folk styles of composition has not been as sharp in India as elsewhere, though of course such a distinction is bound to arise wherever writing Is used as a means of literary communication. Similarly, literary traditions in India have not evolved exclusively along the lines of development of one and the only standardized variety of any of our languages. Rather they have developed through an active interchange between regional varieties and standard forms. As such, no acquaintance with literature in any Indian language will be adequate in absence of an acquaintance with literary compositions in related dialects. Again, the linguistic complexity of our social situation is such that it is often impossible to decide whether a certain speech style forms the dialect of a given literary language or if it is an entirely independent but related language itself. Most of the speech varieties forming the basis of the culture of tribal communities in India are of this nature. Of course, the exceptions to this general observation too are large in number; and there indeed are many languages spoken by tribals that are clearly independent languages.

The dialects and languages spoken by tribals in India are very large in number. The literary compositions in most of them have survived in oral form, though some tribal languages have taken to writing as a means of recording literary compositions. The value of these oral literary works can by no means be undermined. Conventionally, they have been perceived as mere anthropological curiosity, or at best a source for oral history. They have rarely been translated into English or an Indian language as a representation or tribal imagination.

However, no systematic attempt to document and publish literary works in tribal languages- as literature per se - has been made in the past, the need for which can be hardly over emphasized. In order to meet this need, Sahitya Akademi has literature in tribal languages. It is proposed to bring out these publication in two streams: in one stream, short anthologies will be published giving the original works together with their translation in a related language, in most cases the main languages of the particular state; and in the second stream, a series of volumes will be published containing the original works, their Roman transliteration as well as their translation in English/Hindi and in a state language. The present volume of Mizo literature compiled by Lalthuangliana Khiangte belongs to the first series in the same series, other volumes containing Kunkana-Dangi, Warli, Bhilli, Dehwali and Garhwali literature have been published.

These volumes are not intended to be seen as exhaustive compilations but only as representative sampling of literature in the respective language. It is hoped that the general readers in the respective languages, and the students of literature, history anthropology and tribal culture will find them of sufficient interest.


The main aim of this introduction is to highlight the uniqueness and salient features of Mizo folk-literature. The examples of written literature, mainly songs and poems, included in this volume are self-explanatory in nature. Folk literature includes different aspects of folk narratives and traditional proverbs, sayings, songs, tales, nursery rhymes, riddles, war slogans, sacrificial chants, etc. However, all these genres have not yet been properly documented although the Mizos celebrated in 1994 their literacy centenary. An attempt is made here to collect and present different genres of Mizo songs and folk-tales representing the uniqueness and salient features of the Mizo-folk literature.

The Mizos are justifiably well known as a singing tribe. Their musical tradition, unlike that of some other tribes of the country, is well developed in several ways. Mizo historian K. Zawla has said that among the pre-literate people of the world, the Mizos are likely to be the richest in songs. Another writer once remarked that ‘if the possession of a large volume of songs is to be used as the criterion of measuring the civilisation of a people, the Mizos would, without any dissent, be counted as one’. Unlike any other folk literature, the composer, or the one whose name the composition bears, can be identified in Mizo folk song. It is customarily assumed in any study of folk-literature that the composer of folk songs can never be identified with certainty as the primary source of the poem. It is assumed that since those pieces are the product of folk composition, a particular composer can never be isolated from the style of those who sing them. However, in Mizo folk tradition the previous generations have handed down the source by the word of mouth. For example, the first known composer of folk songs was Hmuaki.

Hmuaki composed varieties of songs for all occasions and her fellow villagers feared that she might compose every possible verse and that the new generation would be left with no possibility of composing any new song. So they decided to bury her alive and then they dug up a grave for her lasting rest. As they started filling the pit, Hmuaki once again cried out a meaningful exhorting dirge :

Young ones, oh dear young villagers,
Just bury me here in perfect style.

Besides Hmuaki, many other women poets like Lianchhiari, Saikuti, Darpawngi, Laltheri, Lianrikhumi, Darlenglehi and Darmani recited a good number of memorable folk songs. It is likely that they did not compose all songs ascribed to them. However some other poet used to compose a few lines of verse or song in the style of a particular poet, which later came to be associated with the name of the earlier poet. In doing so, the composers of those additional verses were never known and hence the songs came to be considered as folk songs.

Lianchhiari (1750-1810) was the daughter of Thangluah clan chief Vanhnuaithanga, who was said to have administered a big village of seven thousand households at Dungtlang in the eastern part of Mizoram. Being a beautiful daughter of the great chief, Lianchhiari could win the love of all eligible bachelors of the village. But among these young admirable and well-to-do bachelors, she did not find her true match. Instead she turned to one commoner named Chawngfianga, who in the beginning dared not fall in love with the chief’s daughter for the fear of being killed by the royal family. But the chief’s daughter pressed him to respond to the love she had shown to him. As Lianchhiari disclosed everything to him, Chawngfianga’s manly nature could not be suppressed for long and the two began to enjoy their romantic love. A time came when they could not hide their true feelings and carnal enjoyment. On the night of the chief’s grand Khuangchawi celebration, over the heap of firewood at the dark side of the verandah the two lovers shared their love as the others were singing and dancing inside the house. While the mother of Lianchhiari tried to pull out some firewood from the shelf, she found the couple in love. As a result of that night’s special celebration, the villagers began to tell one another about the lovers. Lianchhiari thereafter related her repentance in a couplet as:

So remorseful was I, to enjoy to that very extent,
Hindering my father’s world-wide reputation.

Later, because of the selfishness and foul play of the marital agent, Chawngfianga had to migrate to another village, and he left the village secretly without informing his wife-to-be. Lianchhiari was sad to know about the escape:

You didn’t inform me your secret migration,
Never can I allow you to pass from me dearest first love of mine,

She then continued to visit Chawngfianga’s old residence and the surrounding areas:

I’ve come again to your pleasant site after you left,
Like feathers on the floor, none looks after the place.

Remembering how they had collected firewood together in the forest, Lianchhiari cried out,

Alone I go to the forest with loneliness,
Memories of yours shower upon me like tree leaves.

In this manner, she composed a large body of songs which were mostly addressed to her lover. As mentioned earlier some subsequent poets composed similar couplets which came to be considered as Lianchhiari’s corpus of verses.

Apart from Hmuaki and Lianchhiari and other women composers, there are some male composers or ones whose names are associated with the tune or flow of the song. Tradition mentions the names of Mangsela, Zakuala, Darchhuma, Lalsuthlaha, Laltuchhingpa, Lalawithangpa and others who had their own composition of verses. Not only this, many other folk songs like - Chawngchen zai, Chai hla, Bawh hla, Hla do, Tlanglam zai, Ralrun zai and Chheih zai are still being sung. They are handed down from one generation to another.

It will not be possible to explain all these songs in the space available here. What we need to know very clearly, however, is that in some of the Mizo folk songs the name of the composer or the tune of songs can be identified. This is one unique feature of Mizo folk-literature.

A systematic study of Mizo folk songs may reveal the status of women in the Mizo society. Today, some scholars, especially women theologians emphatically try to argue that the status of women in the Mizo society in the past was the most pathetic. One prominent feminist argued that women were considered as white domestic animals to be sold and bought’. “In marriage, Mizo women are purchased like property by men”. In practice, the Mizos still pay a nominal price for the bride. But normally unwilling women are never purchased, as if they are a movable property.

A great sense of individuality can be noticed in Mizo folk songs, especially enunciated by the womenfolk. It is unique that women played a vital role at the time when Mizo folk songs were composed. Let me give some examples from the works of these women folk.

One morning, as jhum cultivators and those workers who were going to their forest fields were gathered on the stone platform called Lungdawh at the village entrance, one singing cicada attracted people in a distinct way. When Saikuti arrived at that memorial platform of stone, they asked her to respond to the sweet music of the cicada. Saikuti, therefore responded to the music with the following lines :

You’re troubling people who are on their way to work,
The one singing sweetly in the tree without drums.

Everybody at the platform appreciated the couplet and they declared the day a no-work day and went home to their respective places and started drinking wine and making merriment for the rest of the day. Another time, young men of the village were angry for some reason and they decided to burn the dried firewood prepared for special ceremonies. Senior citizens could not stop them; and at last, they requested Saikuti to pacify them. She, therefore, composed this couplet :

Just as a weak fencing, I cannot stop them,
Torch bearing young men who burn special firewood.

Luckily, as Saikuti chanted with her sweet voice about her weakness in a meaningful way, the angry young men instantly decided not to be destructive. In doing so, Saikuti almost began to run the village governance with her songs and every one appreciated her talents. To my mind, she was as important and dignified at that time as any Poet Laureate in England.

When we turn to Laltheri, we notice an even more significant poetic career. Being the youngest daughter of chief Lalsavunga, she could not restrain herself from mixing with the commoners. In fact, she had fallen in love with a young man named Chalthanga, who was a commoner. When her brothers beheaded Chalthanga, she started crying aloud outside the chief’s house. She tore off her clothes and threw away all her lovely beads and lay down in the courtyard without wearing any clothes. Out of perplexity, her mother asked her to wear her clothes and necklaces. Responding to the request of her mother with full conviction, Laltheri replied :

Mother, I shall not wear my clothes
As my lover lies cold and dead deep down.

She further blamed her parents for their wrongful deeds of killing her lover against her will :

How thoughtless are you Mother and Father
Posting the head of Chalthanga in our courtyard.

Gripped by the fury, she did not drink or eat anything for a long time. When her caring mother asked her to eat for the fear that she may die without food, she replied calmly,

Sailo Princess may die out of loneliness,
Never I die without food, Mother.

All these verses remind one of Shelley’s statement, ‘The freedom of women produced the poetry of sexual love’. Love became a religion, the idols of whose worship were ever present. In Darpawngi’s couplet, a sense ‘of individuality and liberty will be clearly seen by the reader.


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