Kuki people

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Kuki / Chin
An Aimol musician playing a traditional wind musical instrument in Manipur India.jpg
A Kuki man of the Aimol group playing a traditional musical instrument.
Total population
ca. 5 million
Regions with significant populations
Various Kukish languages
Christianity, animism, Buddhism, Judaism
Related ethnic groups
Naga, Meitei
Approximate extension of the area traditionally inhabited by the Kuki people.

The Kukis, also known as the Chin[1] and sometimes as the Zomi, and in the state of Mizoram Mizo are a number of related Tibeto-Burman tribal peoples spread throughout the northeastern states of India, northwestern Burma, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. In Northeast India, they are present in all states except Arunachal Pradesh. This dispersal across international borders is mainly attributed to the British colonial policy.[2]

The Kukis have Mongoloid features and are generally short-stature with straight black hair and dark brown eyes. Some fifty tribes of Kuki peoples of India are recognised as scheduled tribes.[3] This tribe recognition is based on the dialect spoken and region.


The name "Kuki" is used in India, "Chin" in Burma.

In the literature, the term Kuki first appeared in the writings of Rawlins when he wrote about the tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It refers to "wild tribe" comprising numerous clans. These clans share a common past, culture, customs and tradition. They speak in dialects that have a common root language belonging to the Tibeto-Burman group.[4]

The name "Chin" is disputed. During the British Raj, the British used the compound term 'Chin-Kuki-Mizo' to group the Kukish language speaking people, and the Government of India inherited this.[5] Missionaries chose to employ the term Chin to christen those on the Burmese side and the term Kuki on the Indian side of the border.[6][7]Chin nationalist leaders in Burma's Chin State popularized the term "Chin" following Burma's independence from Britain.[8]

More recently Chin and Kuki have been rejected by some for Zomi, a name common to several peoples speaking small Northern Kukish languages, including the Zou.[9] which other groups like Hmars, Zou/Zo Hmal,Koms may not coopt.[10][11] The term Mizo also can cause confusion, particularly following the emergence of the Zomi National Congress.[12][13]

Territory and people[edit]

Young woman of the Thadou group.

The Kuki tribes spread out in the contiguous regions of Northeast India, Northwest Burma (Myanmar), and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. They are most prominent in Manipur, Nagaland, Assam and Mizoram.

The main Kuki tribes include the following: Anal, Bom, Biate, Gangte, Halam, Haokip, Hmar, Kharam, Koireng, Kom, Lai, Mara, Mate, Purum, Saihriem, Simte, Thadou, Vaiphei and the Zou people, among others.


Early history[edit]

There are no historical data about the Kuki before the 19th century. Ancient Sanskrit legendary literature mentions the Kirata people, which have been identified with the Mongoloid tribes such as the Kuki.[14]

The Chin probably came to Burma, especially the Chindwin valley in the late 9th or 10th century AD. Most Chin people moved westward and they probably settled in the present Chin State around 1300-1400.

Contact with outside world and resistance[edit]

Long ignored by the outside world, an important landmark in the history of the Kuki people was the arrival of missionaries and the spread of Christianity among the Kukis. Missionary activity had considerable social, cultural and political ramifications. The acceptance of Christianity marked a departure from ancestral customs and traditions. The spread of English education introduced the Kuki People into the modern era. William Pettigrew, the first foreign missionary who came to Manipur, arrived on 6 February 1894 and was sponsored by the American Baptist Mission Union. He, together with Dr. Crozier, worked together in the North and the Northeast of Manipur. In the south, Watkins Robert of the Welsh Presbytery mission organized the Indo-Burma Thadou-Kuki Pioneer Mission in 1913. To have a broader scope, the mission’s name was changed to North East India General Mission (NEIGM).[15]

The first resistance movement by the Kuki people was the Kuki Rebellion of 1917-19. Which was against the British hegemony. Kuki country was subjugated by the British and divided between British India and British Burma administrations following the 'Kuki Uprising of 1917-19'.[16] Up until the defeat in 1919, the Kukis were an independent people ruled by their chieftains.

During World War 2, seeing an opportunity to regain independence, the Kuki fought with the Imperial Japanese Army and the Indian National Army led by Subhas Chandra Bose. The success of the Allied forces over the Axis group dashed their hopes.[17]

Customs and traditions[edit]

Celebration of Kut, the post harvest festival of the Kuki people.

The land of the Kukis has a number of customs and traditions.


Sawm, a community center for boys – was the center of learning in which Sawm-upa (an elder) did the teaching, while Sawm-nu took care of chores, such as combing of the boy’s hair, washing of the garments and making the beds, etc. The best students were recommended to the King’s or the Chief’s service, and eventually would become as Semang & Pachong (ministers) in the courts, or gal –lamkai (leaders/ warriors) in the army.[18]


Lawm (a traditional form of youth club) was an institution in which, boys and girls engaged in social activities, for the benefit of the individual and the community. It was also another learning institution. Every Lawm has lawm-upa (a senior member), To’llai-pao (overseer or superintendent), and Lawm-tangvo (assistant superintendent). Besides being a source of traditional learning, Lawm was also useful for imparting technical and practical knowledge to its members, especially with regard to farming methods, hunting, fishing, and sporting activities such as- Kung – Kal (high jump, especially over a choice mithum), Ka’ng Ka’p, Ka’ngchoi Ka’p (top game), Suhtumkhaw (javelin throw using the heavy wooden implement for pounding-de-husking-paddy) and So’ngse (shot put).[19]

The Lawm was also a center where the young people learned discipline and social etiquette. After harvest season, ‘Lawm meet’ is celebrated with a Lawm-se’l (on the occasion, a mithun is slaughtered for the feast) and, as a commemoration, a pillar is erected. The event is accompanied by dance and drinking rice-beer, which sometimes continues for days and nights.[20]

Laws and government[edit]


With regard to governance, Semang (cabinet) is the annual assembly of a Kuki village community held at the Chief’s residence represents the Inpi (Assembly). In such an assembly, the Chief and his Semang and Pachong (cabinet members and auxiliary of Inpi) and all the household heads of the village congregate to discuss and resolve matters relating to the village and the community.[21]


The majority of Chins are Christians, with most belonging to Protestant denominations, especially Baptist.[22]

Traditionally, the Chin were animists. Due to the work of Arthur E. Carson a Baptist missionary, many converted to Christianity. Many Chins have also served as evangelists and pastors, ministering in places like the United States, Australia, Guam and India.

A small group of individuals from Manipur and Mizoram claimed that they are one of the lost tribes of Israel, that of Bnei Menashe tribe; some have since resettled in Israel.

Famous Kuki/Chin[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burmese: ချင်းလူမျိုး; MLCTS: hkyang lu. myui:, pronounced: [tɕɪ́ɴ lù mjó]
  2. ^ T. Haokip, 'The Kuki Tribes of Meghalaya: A Study of their Socio-Political Problems', in S.R. Padhi (Ed.). Current Tribal Situation: Strategies for Planning, Welfare and Sustainable Development. Delhi: Mangalam Publications, 2013, p. 85.
  3. ^ Alphabetical List of India's Scheduled Tribes
  4. ^ Grierson (1909), Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. 111, Tibeto-Burman Family, General Introduction, Specimens of the Tibetan Dialects, The Himalayan Dialects and The North Assam Group, Pt. II, with Grierson (1903), Specimens of the Bodo, Naga and Kachin Groups, Pt. III, Grierson (1904) Specimens of the Kuki, Chin and Burma Groups, Pt. 111, Vol. 111
  5. ^ Violence and identity in North-east India: Naga-Kuki conflict - Page 201 S. R. Tohring - 2010 "... for these tribes including • the Kuki/ speaking tribe such as: 'Chin', 'Mizo', 'Chin-Kuki-Mizo', 'CHIKIM', 'Zomi', 'Zou', 'Zo'. ... During the British era, the British rulers used the term 'Chin-Kuki-Mizo' and the Government of India seemed to follow ..."
  6. ^ Sachchidananda, R. R. Prasad -Encyclopaedic profile of Indian tribes- Page 530 1996
  7. ^ Pradip Chandra Sarma, Traditional Customs and Rituals of Northeast India: Arunachal ... Page 288 Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture "chose to employ the term Chin to christen those on the Burmese side and the term Kuki on the Indian side of the ... The Mizo of today's Mizoram are the descendants of Luseia, and the Zomi of Manipur are from the Songthu line, and thus all ..."
  8. ^ Amy Alexander Burma: "we are Like Forgotten People" : the Chin People of Burma Page 16 2009 "... within Chin State, Chin nationalist leaders popularized the term “Chin” following Burma's independence from Britain."
  9. ^ History of Zomi T. Gougin - 1984.
  10. ^ B. Datta-Ray Tribal identity and tension in north-east India Page 34 1989 "Now to accept the term Chin would mean subtle Paite domination in the matter, which the other groups like the Hmars, Zous, Anals and Koms may not coopt. A Zomi leader categorically stated that 'Chin' is a Burmese word which literally ..."
  11. ^ Keat Gin Ooi - Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East ... - Volume 1 - Page 353 2004 "Until recently, there appeared to be a consensus that the term Chin was not an identity that any of these peoples would ... Some promote the terms Zo and Zomi, stating that they are derived from the name of the mythic common ancestor of all ..."
  12. ^ Ramamoorthy Gopalakrishnan - Socio-political framework in North-East India Page 149 1996 "Later, the term 'Mizo' created a lot of confusion particularly when the Zomi National Congress emerged. ... But the problem arose with the use of the term 'Chin' (it is not given due recognition in the List of Scheduled Tribes in Manipur)."
  13. ^ Chinkholian Guite - Politico-economic development of the tribals of Manipur: a study ... Page 8 1999 "Conceptual Meaning and Various Interpretations of the Terms— Chin, Kuki and Mizo (a) Chin The term Chin is the name given to this Zo/Zou tribes (formerly known as Chin-Kuki-Mizo) group of people in Myanmar (Burma). They are mostly found in the ..."
  14. ^ Mrinal Miri (1 January 2003). Linguistic Situation in North-East India. Concept Publishing Company. p. 77. ISBN 978-81-8069-026-6. Retrieved 28 August 2013. 
  15. ^ T. Haokip, 'Kuki Churches Unification Movements', Journal of North East India Studies, Vol. 2(1), 2012, p. 35.
  16. ^ Burma and Assam Frontier, ‘Kuki rising, 1917-1919’, L/PS/10/724, Oriental and India Office Collections (OIOC), British Library, London
  17. ^ Guite, Jangkhomang (2010) "Representing Local Participation in INA–Japanese Imphal Campaign The Case of the Kukis in Manipur, 1943–45" Indian Historical Review Vol.37, No.2, pp. 1291-309.
  18. ^ Paokhohao Haokp, "Reinculcating Traditional Values of the Kukis with Special Reference to Lom and Som", in T. Haokip (ed.). The Kukis of Northeast India: Politics and Culture. New Delhi: Bookwell, 2013, Chapter 11.
  19. ^ Paokhohao Haokp, "Reinculcating Traditional Values of the Kukis with Special Reference to Lom and Som", in T. Haokip (ed.). The Kukis of Northeast India: Politics and Culture. New Delhi: Bookwell, 2013, Chapter 11.
  20. ^ Paokhohao Haokp, "Reinculcating Traditional Values of the Kukis with Special Reference to Lom and Som", in T. Haokip (ed.). The Kukis of Northeast India: Politics and Culture. New Delhi: Bookwell, 2013, Chapter 11.
  21. ^ T. Lunkim, "Traditional System of Kuki Administration", in T. Haokip (ed.). The Kukis of Northeast India: Politics and Culture. New Delhi: Bookwell, 2013, Chapter 1.
  22. ^ Chin Cultural Profile

External links[edit]