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The Kukis constitute one of several hill tribes within India, Bangladesh, and Burma. As Chin in the Chin State of Myanmar and as Mizo in the State of Mizoram in India 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 a culmination of punitive actions made by the British during their occupation of India.
The name "Kuki" is used in India, "Chin" in Burma.
The name "Chin" is disputed. During the British occupation of India, the British used the compound term 'Chin-Kuki-Mizo' to group the Kukish language speaking people, and the Government of India "inherited" this. 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. Chin nationalist leaders in Burma's Chin State popularised the term "Chin" following Burma's independence from Britain.
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. which other groups like Hmars, Zou/Zo Hmal and Koms may not co-opt for themselves. The term Mizo also can cause confusion, particularly following the emergence of the Zomi National Congress.
The early history of the Kukis is obscure. The origin of the word "Kuki" is uncertain, but like the word "Naga", it is an exonym: it was not originally as a self-designation by the tribes that are now called Kukis. According to the colonial British writer Adam Scott Reid, the earliest reference to the word Kuki can be dated to 1777 CE, when it first appeared in British records. However, PS Haokip of Kuki National Organisation claims that a 33 CE record refers to two Kuki chiefs named Kuki Ahongba and Kuki Achouba. Ancient Sanskrit legendary literature mentions the Kirata people, which have been identified with tribes such as the Kuki.
According to CA Soppit, the "Old Kukis" migrated to Manipur in the early 11th century, while the "New Kukis" migrated to Manipur during the first half of the 19th century.
Contact with outside world and resistance
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 them. Missionary activity had considerable social, cultural and political ramifications while the acceptance of Christianity marked a departure from the tradition religion of the Kuki peoples as well as both the Kuki peoples' ancestral customs and traditions. The spread of English education introduced the Kuki people to 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 organised 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).
The first resistance to British hegemony by the Kuki people was the Kuki Rebellion of 1917-19 after which their territory was subjugated by the British and divided between the administrations of British India and British Burma. Up until their defeat in 1919, the Kukis had been an independent people ruled by their chieftains.
During World War II, seeing an opportunity to regain independence, the Kuki fought with the Imperial Japanese Army and the Indian National Army led by Subhas Chandra Bose but the success of the Allied forces over the Axis group dashed their hopes.
Cultures and traditions
Sawm, a community centre for boys – was the centre of learning in which the 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. The best students were recommended to the King’s or the Chief’s service, and eventually would achieve the office of Semang and Pachong (ministers) in their courts, or gal –lamkai (leaders, warriors) in the army.
Lawm (a traditional type 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 a Lawm-upa (a senior member), a To’llai-pao (an overseer or superintendent) and a Lawm-tangvo (assistant superintendent). Besides being a source of traditional learning, the institution of the Lawm also facilitated the transmission of both technical as well as practical knowledge to its members, especially with regard to particular methods of farming, hunting, fishing and sporting activities such as Kung–Kal (high jump, especially over a choice mithun), Ka’ng Ka’p, Ka’ngchoi Ka’p (top game), Suhtumkhawh (javelin throw using the heavy wooden implement for pounding-de-husking-paddy) and So’ngse (shot put).
The Lawm was also a centre where young Kuki people learned discipline and social etiquette. After harvest season, the Lawm meet is celebrated with a Lawm-se’l 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.
Laws and government
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.
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.
The Bnei Menashe (Hebrew: בני מנשה, "Sons of Menasseh") are a small group within the indigenous people of India's North-Eastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram; since the late 20th century, they claim descent from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel and have adopted the practice of Judaism. The Bnei Menashe are made up of Mizo, Kuki and Chin peoples, who all speak Tibeto-Burman languages, and whose ancestors migrated into northeast India from Burma mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries. They are called Chin in Burma. In the late 20th century, an Israeli rabbi investigating their claims named them Bnei Menashe, based on their account of descent from Menasseh. Most of the peoples in these two northeast states, who number more than 3.7 million, do not identify with these claims. Some have supported other movements to separate from India.
Prior to conversion in the 19th century to Christianity by Welsh Baptist missionaries, the Chin, Kuki, and Mizo peoples were animists; among their practices were ritual headhunting. Since the late 20th century, some of these peoples have begun following Messianic Judaism. The Bnei Menashe are a small group who started studying and practicing Judaism since the 1970s in a desire to return to what they believe is the religion of ancestors. The total population of Manipur and Mizoram is more than 3.7 million. The Bnei Menashe number below 9,000; several hundred have emigrated to Israel.
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- Burmese: ချင်းလူမျိုး; MLCTS: hkyang lu. myui:, pronounced [tɕɪ́ɴ lù mjó]
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- 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 ..."
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