Chins

   One of Burma's major ethnic minorities, most of whom live in Chin State on the country's mountainous western border with India and Bangladesh, though smaller numbers are found in Arakan State and Magwe (Magway) Division. Census data are unreliable, but they are believed to comprise about 2 percent of the population. They are also found in India's Mizoram and Manipur States and in upland areas east of the port city of Chittagong in Bangladesh. Taken together, their homelands are often referred to as Chinram. The Burmese Chins are divided into many local groups and speak 44 mutually unintelligible but related languages, which are part of the Tibeto-Burman group, like the Burmese (Myanmar) language. The large number of languages among them (more than one-third of Burma's total of 107 recognized languages) is explained by a Chin legend resembling the story of the Tower of Babel. Although American Baptist missionaries working among the Chins in the late 19th and early 20th centuries standardized the different languages so that textbooks and translations of the Bible could be distributed, no single standard language was adopted such as the one promoted by missionaries among the Kachins. This has been an impediment to Chin unity. However, the missionaries did devise a written script for the languages, based on the Roman alphabet.
   There are six major Chin tribal groups: Asho, Cho/Sho, Khuami, Laimi, Mizo, and Zomi. Chin legends claim a common origin for the people and an ancestral homeland in the valley of the Chindwin (Chindwinn) River (Chindwin meaning, in Burmese, the "hole [cave] of the Chins), from which the Shans drove them into the western hills around the 13th to 14th centuries. The origin of the name Chin is in dispute; it seems to derive from the Burmese language, meaning "friend," although some scholars in the colonial era thought it was derived from the Chinese jen, "man." They are known as Kuki by the Bengalis and Assamese, and in referring to themselves traditionally used some variation on the term Zo, which is said to mean "uncivilized."
   Before they were "pacified" by the British and proselytized by Baptist missionaries, the Chins lived in isolated and mutually exclusive tribal groups governed by Ram-uk, or chiefs. Their society was hierarchical, with noble, commoner, and slave strata. The chiefs were not only rulers, owners and distributors of crop land, and commanders in war, but also high priests who offered sacrifices to the Khua-hrum, or guardian deities. The Chins frequently raided Burma or Bengal in search of slaves, which led to confrontations with the British, who in 1871 began sending military expeditions into Chin territory. By 1896, they had largely succeeded in imposing control, and implemented the Chin Hills Regulations as a means of governing them. But a major uprising, the Anglo-Chin War (1917-1919), occurred, and after this war the Chin Hills Regulations were reformed to make British rule more acceptable, one of the most important measures being to restore the ram-uk to their traditional authority. Many Chins were recruited into the colonial armed forces, and the Chin Levies fought alongside the British against the Japanese in World War II.
   Traditionally, the Chins were animists, but by the end of the 20th century as many as 80 percent of them were Christians, mostly Baptists (some sources give a lower percentage). Conversion brought not only a change in old beliefs (though some aspects of the old religion could be reconciled with Christianity, such as belief in an afterlife and Supreme God), but also a social revolution, as tribal society broke down and was replaced by communities of worshippers, presided over by new elites of preachers in churches and teachers in missionary schools, a process that continued up to and even during World War II, when much of Chin State was a battleground. The economy of Chin communities has traditionally been based on swidden (slash-and-burn) agriculture in upland areas. The old religion was closely tied to the indigenous economy and social system because sacrifices of cattle and other livestock were seen as necessary to appease the guardian deities and to celebrate major events, such as a wedding or a successful hunt. Only nobles and chiefs could afford such ritual sacrifices, so the old religion confirmed social and economic inequalities.
   Apart from trade and slave -raiding, the Chin tribes were largely isolated from the outside world until the late 19th century, and their relations with the Burmans (Bamars) were relatively amicable. The Panglong Conference of February 1947 cleared the way for establishment of a "Chin Special Division" under the Constitution of 1947 (it became Chin State in 1974). Compared to the Karens (Kayins), Mons, and Kachins, the Chins have lacked a strong ethnic nationalist insurgency, although the Chin National Front, established in 1985, has not signed a cease-fire with the State Peace and Development Council. Many Chin men have served in the rank and file of the Tatmadaw.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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