The Simte are one of the Zomi/kuki tribes in Northeast India. They are mainly concentrated in the southern parts of the state of Manipur. A significant number also are settled in neighbouring areas of Mizoram and Assam. There are also Simte in Chin State in Myanmar.
(A) HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
(1) The land:-
Manipur is one of the seven states of North East India. It is bounded by Burma (Now Myanmar) on the South East, Mizoram on the south coast, Assam on the west and on the North by Nagaland. The State has an area of approximately 22,327 km2, lies between longitude 93.03 to 44.78degree east latitude 23.83 to 25.68 degree north.
Manipur is divided into two broad divisions, namely, the Hills and Valley. The valley in the central parts of the state and Hills surround the valleys. The whole state is divided into 8 (eight) district, out of which three are in the Valley and 5(five) in the Hills. They are :
- Imphal District
- Bishnupur District
- Thoubal District
- Chandel District
- Churachandpur District
- Senapati District
- Tamenglong District and
- Ukhrul District.
The People:-The People of Manipur can be classified broadly into three groups, namely- The Meiteis, The Zomi-Kuki-Chin tribes and The Nagas. The Meiteis who are commonly known as “The Manipuris” are the dominant ethnic group of Manipur. They mostly live in the valley. The Zomi-Kuki-Chin tribes and the Nagas mostly occupy the Hills. There are altogether 29(twenty nine) tribes within this group. The Zomi-Kuki-Chin tribes of Manipur are Kom, Purum,Gangte, Paite, Simte, Thadou, Vaiphei-Sukte (Tedim Chin), Hmar, Zou, and other Mizo(Lushai) Tribes. According to 1991 census, the population of Manipur is 18, 26,714 consisting of 9,31,511 males and 8,95,203 females. The population of Churachandpur district is 1, 76,039 consisting of 90,563 males and 85,476 females.
The Meiteis and the Muslims generally used Meitei (Manipuri) as their language. The Naga tribes who have no common language to communicate among themselves also use Meitei. The Kuki-Chin tribe dispute their division into many sub-tribes, of more than 2 dozens dialectic groups have no language souvenir each for the religion of the state, while the Meiteis are predominantly Hindu Viashanavites, the tribals embrace Christianity. There is sizeable Muslim population who are called Meitei Pangals.
(2) The Simte Tribe:-
(a) Their name :-Etymologically the term “Simte” is a combination of two words, ‘Sim’ which means South and ‘te’ the suffix to denote people. Therefore, the term Simte simply means the ‘southerner or those who come from the south’. The origin of the term is uncertain. Maybe, it was applied to them by others after they settled in Manipur since there was no reference to be found regarding the use of the word or term previously.
(b) Their Origin :- The Simtes belong to the Zo people. A man named ‘Zo’ was the originator of all Zo people. The main clans of Zo are Asho, Sho, Masho, Mizo, Laimi and Zomi. Simte belongs to the Zomi clans of the Zo people. They are basically Mongoloid in their ethnic origin belonging. So the Tibeto-Burma sub family of the Tibeto-Chinese linguistic group. Thus the Simtes are of Mongoloid stock belonging to the Zo race.
The origin of the Simtes or Zo people has been a vague. However, the theory that they had originally come from the central China has gained currency among Zo historians. According to this theory, once the Zo people came out of a very ‘big stone cave’ called Khul (Chhinlung, Singlung) believed to be located somewhere in China. If this proves to be true the Simtes, thus, have been originated from China. In fact their physical appearances like small eyes, straight hair, yellowish -brown skin, flat face somehow traced their origin as Tibeto - Chinese.
The history of the Simtes today can be traced as late as to their settlement at Zuangkhua in Burma. The Simtes today remember their settlement once as an unified and relatively strong tribe at Khuangnung village, the peak of which was so memorable and very much alive in the mouth and often talked of as “Khuangnung Vanglai” or the Zenith (Jest) of Khuangnung. Khuangnung village lies between the present Lailo and Tuiluang in the Tedim area of Burma. This shows that the Simtes, as a tribe, were originated from Burma, perhaps, under a different name or just without a particular collective name. However, as they entered Manipur and settled, they were called so “Simtes” by others based on their previous settlement or present settlement, both of which are possible in terms of geographical location.
(c) Migration: – Historians write about the migration of the Zo people under three waves. The Tibeto-Burman group move towards Burma. Some even reached up to mainland India. They distributed themselves at different places across north eastern states. Khup Za Go believes that some of the Zos directly entered the hills of Manipur and other entered north-east India through Chin hills. The former group includes the Zous, Paites, Simtes and some families of the Thadou clans. It is said that the Simtes, before they settled permanently, in Manipur had sojourned extensively and shifted to about 28 villages. Those villages are Zuang khua, Baljang, Tedim and Khuangnung in Chin Hills, Songtal and Tualtongphai in Lushai hills; Gelon, Sabulon, Kehneng, Maukot and Khuangnung (Second time) in Chin hills; Labung, Ponlau, Tuailong and Teikhang in Lushai hills; Tuikul, Moirangphai, Thangching, Nahbil, Maumun, Lamlan, Singbuang, Saikul, Kaihlam, Sanching, Phaikhotun, Haulon, Tualbual (New Thanlon) in Manipur. Thus, the Simtes migrated from Burma and crossing the river ‘Gun’ penetrated to the south-west hilly region of Manipur. Until their permanent settlement at Thanlon area of Churachandpur district, they had been shifting from one place to another and led a nomadic life.
Referring to their early settlement close towards the 19th Century. E.W. Dunn said, “The Simte being strange to the country hold pretty well together can master about 850 fighting man………….. their villages are all clustered together in the south-west corner of Manipur”. Today the Simtes occupy the same area mentioned above i.e. Thanlon Area, without any more shifting. However, they did not confined to their area alone, but some villages of the Simtes are also found in the areas in and around Churachadpur Town.
(d) Identity :- The Simtes has been a distinct tribe having separate socio-cultural tradition of their own. They remained hidden and unrecognized tribe in the Pre-independence period of the Indian nation. Nobody, neither the Simtes nor the outsider seems to bother about maintaining any written record on their life and culture. Moreover, the Simtes were so long contented with whatever and whoever they were. However, with the emergence of independence movement in India, nationalistic idea arose in the mind of some thoughtful people among them. Following this, since, 1948, re-unification of the Simtes began. In 1956, an assembly was held at Khuangnung village, Churachandpur with Khaikam Thangsing as its convenor. Thus Simte National Council was formed. Pumkhothang Thangsing being the first President. The formation of the Simte National Council was followed by a demand for recognition of the Simtes as one of the tribe under Indian Constitution of the Government of India. As a result, in the same year Simte became a recognized tribe listed as one among the Scheduled Tribes of Indian Union.
The clans of Simte tribe according to the list submitted to the Government consisted of (1) Ngaihte (2)Hangnung (3) Taitom (4) Seldou (5) Tonsing (6) Hangsing (7) Thangsing (8) Leivang (9) Vangkot (10) Khumlai (11) Tlaulual (12) Munluah (13) Vanghan (14) Vangngoh (15) Sona (16) Hatsing (17) Haukhup (18) Hangluah (19) Luahki (20) Biangtung (21) Naulah (22) Suhte (23) Julom (24) Buansing and (25) Saute-Shoute. The population of the Simte then was 10200 comprises 5432 males and 4768 females.
(B) TRADITIONAL WAY OF LIFE
It is very unfortunate that the Simtes had no written records and books which we can be referred for information concerning their traditional way of life in detail. Whatever sources we required is only fragments from the writings of outsiders and oral tradition. However, the Simtes, from very early times was a group of people with particular system of social, political, cultural and religious practices.
(1) Socio-Cultural Life:-
(a) Family:- Family is a smallest unit of the Traditional Simte Society. The father or husband is the head who supervised all the matters related to the family. Next to the father is the mother in terms of position. Simte society follows patriarchal and matrilineal system. Women have no property right under any circumstances. While the eldest son remained with the family even after his marriage, the younger brothers (if any) used to live separately after a certain period from their marriage.
(b) Marriage and Divorce:- Traditionally, a marriage is arranged by parents, sometimes even without consulting the concerned persons. Though love marriage also prevailed, the case was rare. In arranged marriage the boy’s family often initiates the procedure. Having decided on the girl, emissaries were sent to her parents to ask her for marriage. Then followed a long bargaining, for the girl’s parents tried to get as much price for his daughter as they could. Finally, the bride-price was agreed upon and the wedding day fixed. Generally, for the eldest son, a bride is sought from maternal relatives. Besides arranged marriage, elopement in mutual consent, love marriage and marriage by service did prevail among the Simtes. Marriage is performed with “Zu”, a home product of rice beer and “SA” meat with feasting, dancing and singing at the groom’s residence. The normal bride price is fixed at five mithuns, equivalent to Rs 500/- for a commoner and seven mithuns for a chief’s daughter. There is no dowry as such, however a bride should bring with her one “PHOIPI” a kind of rug used as blanket, without fail.
Divorce rarely took place except under extreme circumstances. In most cases of divorce, the reasons were adultery, barrenness and insanity. Depending on the matters, either a wife or husband could initiate it. If initiated by the husband, the bride price is not taken back but whatever materials a wife brought with her is returned along with one mithun imposed on the husband. In case of a wife initiating a divorce, she is not permitted to take back anything she brought and bride price is returned. The children (if any) also remained with the father.
(c) Feast and Ceremony:- Celebration of different festivals is part and partial of the tribal life. In tribal festivals, dancing, singing, eating and drinking are the four main features. There are different dances, such as War dance, Funeral dance, Post-harvest dance, Marriage dance and Village gate pulling dance. It is, therefore, natural that people look forward to dance festivals which relaxed their otherwise monotonous lives. The most popular dance among the Simtes is ‘SAIPIKHUPSUH’ a dance constituted of slow movement with gentle steps, accompaniment by a chanting unison, with the accompaniment of a drum and a gong. Ceremonies, feast and festival are primarily social in character. However, all those are clearly associated with their religions in character.
The main feast of the Simtes was Tong, Lawmzuneeh and Sawmzuneeh.
Tong: It is a service of feast for the attainment of ‘Thansuah. This simply means famous. The performance of a series of feast during ‘Tong’ required a good amount of money or wealth, therefore only the chiefs and few well-so do people could afford to performed it. In a feast of merit the host entertained the entire population of the village while feasting, drinking and dancing for seven days accompanied by worship and scarifies. Those who performed ‘Tong’ are given higher regard above the common people. Besides ‘Tong’ ‘Sa Aih’, a ceremony of wild animals, i.e. another ways of attaining ‘Thansuah’. ‘Sa Aih’ ceremony is very rare because it is a rare victory.
Lawmzuneeh: It is a feast exclusively for young men and women in the village. After their work in the field is completed they celebrate it.Lawmzuneeh celebration usually last up to 4 to 5 days of feasting and merry-making.
Sawmzuneeh: It means ‘guest feast’ and it is usually celebrated by the entire villagers after harvest by killing Mithun, Pig, etc. and last for 2 to 4 days. There are several occasions on which the Simtes perform ceremonies such as Child naming ceremony, marriage, death and burial.
Child Naming Ceremony:
In the Simte traditional practice, the eight days from the child birth is a child naming day. Usually a child is name after one of its grandparents. The first born of the son is necessarily named his paternal grandfather. Conversely, the first born daughter of the family is given the name after her grandmother. The third and fourth children usually go after the name of the maternal grandparents. When the child is named, the last syllable of the name-giver’s name is taken as the first syllable of the first name given. For instance, the name “Thangzamang” is named after the name-giver’s whose name is “Vumthang. ‘Thang’ is being the last syllable of the name-giver’s name and so it comes to the first syllable of the name given.
(d) Death and Burial:- The types of death are categorized into three main divisions, such as (1) Lamjuih, An infant death (2) Sihsia, an unnatural death and (3) Sihpha, a natural death.
Lamjuih: If a child dies shortly after birth, it is called ‘Lamjuih’.
Sihsia: It is buried beneath the house without much ceremony. A person who died by an accidental fall from trees, by drowning, killed by beasts, murder, suicide, etc. is called Sihsia or Saahsi or unnatural death. The corpse of such death is not entitled to get proper funeral rites as he would have received if he had met a natural death. When such death occurred, the whole village observed ‘Saah’ for a night. It was believed that the failure to observed ‘Saah’ could lead to the harmful manner of death. The next day the death body is buried at the peripheral of the village.
Sihpah/Natural death: It includes those sorts of death which are cause by sickness and old age. The burial for this type of death vary from one person to another depending on the social status he held during his lifetime. When a ‘Thansuah’ dies, contains rites. The corpse is kept at home for several days together.
Generally after death, the corpse is dress in its best clothes and kept for a few days. People who belong to wealthy family were not buried for a good numbers of days. It is put beside a fire in the corner of the house and liquids flow out of the corpse till it is dried up. The smell is bad but the nearest relative sits beside the coffin and drink rice- bear. A pig or Mithun is killed and this sacrificed is called ‘Kosah’. It is believed that the animal killed for the purpose of Kosah shall accompany the soul of the decease and will help on his or her way to the land where people go after they are death. When a man of outstanding ability dies, the corpse is brought out in the evening and the people sing and dance around it. A grave about 5 ft deep is dug by the ‘Tanus. If the bottom of the grave a tunnel branches in which the corpse is placed.
2. Political Life:
(a) Village administration: Chief (Hausa): Each village has a chief who govern the whole village system. It is a leader all in all. Whoever opposed the Chief order is liable to expulsion from the village. The chief has the authority to elect village elders (Upa) or Ministers, blacksmith ( Siihkheng), village crier (Tangsam) and village priest (Siampu). All of them become the members of the village council and assists in dealing case and maintaining law and order. Chieftainship is hereditary.
Elders or Councils of Ministers: The elders help the chief in all matters. They also have the privilege of exemption from Tangseu and Saliang. Elders are given priority to select a site for rice (jhum) field. Their office is hereditary, except in the case of disability due to handicap of the inheritor.
Blacksmith: Usually there is only one blacksmith in the village. He makes hoes, axes, spades, etc, and manufactures bullets, swords, spears, etc. In recognition of his services a share from games hutted and is given tangseu by all the villagers annually but at a smaller rate than the chief.
Village Crier: The ‘village Crier’ is the councilor in charge of information and broadcasting. He convenes the meeting of the village council and conveys its decision to the public and enforces and implements it. He is also an emissary, negotiator and mediator.
Village Priest: A village priest is nominated by the chief. He is the village medicine man too. Person for his office are chosen from those who tens ‘Phuishu’. The priest treats all kinds of diseases and receives Tangseu every year.
(b)Haam or Youth Dormitory: Every village has a youth dormitory known as haam. All the youths (male) in the village sleep together in haam. This practice is for the convenience of group action for village defense, enjoyments and other safeguards as necessary. A leader is selected to maintain social reforms among themselves. It is a place of learning customs and manners. Thus it serves as an institution of learning, discipline and other essential characters necessary for a man in future life.
3. Religious Life:
(a)Concept of God: The Simte has a vague idea of God. They believe in the existence of one supreme, omnipotent God whom they call ‘Pathian’ a God of all humanity, goodness and thought that He lives beyond the sky as such he is recognized as ‘Tung Pathian’ who rules the Heavens, the sun, the moon, and all the heavenly creation. The counterpart of the good God ‘Pathian’ is the ruler of the world known as Ziinmang, who is believed to be the greatest of all the land spirits.
(b)Good and Evil Spirits: Besides the Supreme God, they also recognized the presence of other supernatural beings known as ‘Dawite’. There are good spirits. They propitiate these spirits mainly in times of trouble. The good spirits are worshipped through scarifies for the bestowal of blessings where as the bad spirits are worshipped to get a cure from sickness and diseases.
(c)Sacrifice: Sacrifices for the propitiation of this spirits is done by the village priest who is known as ‘Siampu’. They try to cure diseases and to avert misfortune by offering rooster, dog, pig, etc., in sacrifices. The most popular sacrifices among the Simtes is ‘Sumtawng Bawl’ or ‘Pusa Bia’. ‘Pusa’ maybe interpreted as ‘family God’ and ‘Bia’ means ‘Worship’. In this worship a pig is killed in sacrifice and the head of the clan to which the family belongs acts as the priest for the worship, while praying to ancestors. This worship is done once or more than once every year in times of sickness in the family, for the safety of crops, etc.
(d)Life After Death: The Simtes have certain beliefs about the soul. They also believe in life after death. The general exception to the theory is the presence of Misikhua (Dead men’s village). They believe that the soul of the dead person goes to Misikhua. They lead a similar life as on earth. J.H Hluna said, ‘this belief was instrumental in moulding the cultural norms and values. Because the kind of life they live on earth determine their status in Misikhua. Those who hunt many animals are believed to hold high status there as well as those who celebrate feast of Merit. On the way to Misikhua, there is a female spirit known as ‘Guulsaamnu’ who disturbs the soul's journey. It is said that a man who at least didn’t kill a deer in his lifetime is compelled to touch the sexual organ of the ‘Guulsaamnu’. The soul of woman and children serve her in several ways in order to pass through her.
4. Economic Life:
(a)Agriculture: Agriculture is the main occupation of the Simtes. They practice Shifting cultivation. The main crops grown are rice, potatoes, pumpkins, gourd, and vegetables. Cultivating many crops is not possible due to some unavoidable difficulties like lack of storage of water due to steepness of hill-side and absence of neo-processes to keep the steep cultivable land wet. Since rice is the staple food paddy cultivation occupies an overwhelming proportion of the crop land. The fruit most commonly grown are mangoes, pine-apples, orange, papayas, bananas, peaches and pears.
(b)Industry: Industry includes cotton weaving, basket making, iron work, pottery, metal and brass work. Cotton weaving of every land is carried out extensively by women folks. Men folks used to make basket of numerous design and sizes required for various purposes in their day-to-day life. The materials for manufacturing the basket are bamboo and cane available in the jungle. Eastern pot of various shapes and size, musical instrument like drums, molchem, fiddle and ornaments like earrings, tokens are the products of their industry.
(c)Hunting and Fishing: Hunting and fishing are a part of life for the Simtes. They are fond of meat. They are good in hunting and skillful in trapping game, the snare animal like deer, bear, monkey, rat and birds. The meat of pigs and dogs are the most favorite. Due to its spirits or religious significance, many young people pursue to be a successful hunter. For fishing, they used net. But the most reliable tool is using ‘Ngoi’ or ‘Ngabawm’. Deep pools in the smaller stream were sometimes poisoned by decors ion of certain herbs called ‘Gu’ poured into them. This stupefied the fish, which floats to the surface and are easily captured. The mixture is harmless to human being and cattle.
(d)Domestic Animals: Domestic animals are kept to satisfy their appetite for meat and sacrificial purposes. The tamed animals are goat, pig, fowl, dog and cattle. The better-off can afford to keep mithuns. They are used in place of cash in the payment of bride-price or the payment of fine for offences or simply as exchange in commercial dealings.
(e)Market System: Very little is known about their trade relationship with their neighboring areas in the early days. However, it is presumed that barter system was the only means of exchanging goods. The token used for exchanging were domestic animals like pigs, mithuns, fowls, etc., and other agricultural products like rice, cotton etc., for instance, the bride-price is paid in terms of mithuns whereas taxes are paid in terms of paddy. Ornamental materials like necklace and agricultural implements like dao, axe are also used sometimes. To conclude this chapter, as it has been discussed, the Simtes belong to the Zomi clans of the Zo people. They originated from china and migrated to India, particularly Manipur through Burma. In course of their migration they lost some of their cultural elements and at the same time adopted many new habits and customs. The origin of their present name ‘Simte’ is not certain as well as the Simte dialect. However, based on their name and the particular dialect they spoke, they are presumed to be a distinct tribe with a separate identity. This sense of distinctiveness among themselves led them to seek recognition from the government of India which had been materialized. The Simtes are socially ceremonious, politically autonomous, religiously theistic and economically agricultural. This type of traditional societal set up contributed in one way or another to the embracing of Christianity when it was introduced to them.