Culture & Heritage
The Maras were in early period known to the outside world under different tribal names such as Mara, Lakher, Shendu or Shendoo, Maring, Zyu or Zao/Zho, Tlosai, Khongzai, etc. They constitute a distinct tribal group lying in Saiha district of south Mizoram. They called themselves Maras. The word Mara is used as a generic term for the whole Mara people. And as such the different tribal sub-groups or clans of the Maras who inhabit the entire perimeter of the present Mara Autonomous District of Mizoram and the hill tracts of the erstwhile south Haka sub-Division of the Chin Hills of Myanmar and whose culture, traditions, dialect, etc. being closely similar are commonly designated as Mara.
The Maras were animists by religion. By the year 1907 a couple of British Missionaries from London landed in Maraland who fortunately reduced Mara language into writing. They composed manuscripts and opened school for the children. Hence, gradually all the Maras embraced Christianity. The Maras speak a language of their own, different from that of their neighbours i.e. Mizos, Bengalis, Nepalese, Lai, Chakmas and Burmese. They have their own Bible and Hymn Book, etc. The Evangelical Church of Maraland and Congregational Church of India (Maraland) one the major church of the area.
Mara language is spoken by Mara people. It belongs to the Kuki-Chin-Naga group of Tibeto-Burman stock of the great Sino-Tibetan family of languages. The speakers of the language are also known as Mara. Mara people speak their language in their own dialects, altogether they form Mara language. Therefore, different dialects spoken by Mara people are commonly known as Mara language. Mara dialects are Tlosai, Hawthai, Ngiaphia (Ngephe)-Chapi, Vytu (Vawngtu/Zyphe) and Zyhno (Zawhnai). So, though Mara people may speak in their own dialects, however, they write in Tlôsai dialect. Mara Alphabets: A, AW, Y, B, CH, D, E, F, H, I, K, L, M, N, NG, Ô, O, P, R, S, T, U, V, Z.
The Mara Dress Code
The Mara dress code is very important purpose for their everyday lives. Generally both men and women wear their hair long, the men knotting at the top of their head and the women at the back. The most important article of a Mara men dress is the Dua or Loin-Cloth. There are two kinds of Loin-cloth; the Dua-Kalapa for everyday wear, and the Dua-âh for more ceremonial occasions. The most important article of a Mara men dress is the Dua or Loin-Cloth. The Dua-Kalapa is a cloth about 3 half yards and its width is 1 half feet. The cloth is an ordinary white cloth, but at its end there is sween on a 2 half foot length of dark blue cloth, richly embroidered with patterns in different colored silks.
The Mara women wear far more clothes than the men. Apart from clothes there are several dresses like belts and other ornaments which the Mara women wear regularly and on special occasions. The Mara women cover their low limbs with a dark blue cotton petticoat called Chyna-hno, the lower part is embroidered in silk.
Rivers & Lakes
Maraland has a number of small rivers. The major rivers are – Beinô, Tisi, Salyu, Palâ, Ka–ao, Tolyu, Titlao and Tisopi. The biggest and most important river of maraland is Beinô. The Beinô River clearly demarcated the eastern and western boundary of maraland with a land of 13,846 kilometers.It is navigable for small stretches by using a country boat. The Tisih river is found in the middle part of maraland and flows towards southern direction. This river is rich in fish, lobsters and snails. The Pala river is found in the south western part of Maraland and has a fertile river bank. It flows towards the northern direction and joins the Beino river. Salyu river is also rich in fertile river valleys and is found in the southern part of Maraland.
The Mara social system is largely built on political, kinship and economic bases. Family, Kin, Clan, Lineage and voluntary organization are the basic units of social structure in mara society. Village is the first territorial group in the Mara society and it has been occupying an important part in the framework of Mara traditional society. Village is apolitical unit as well as economical unit in the Mara society. The traditional Mara village used to control its own administration and economic activities through warfare.
One of the basic units of the Mara social structure is the institution of marriages. Marriages among the Maras are a civil contact. The prevalent form of marriage is monogamy. In the indigenous Mara society, the chiefs and the nobleman practice polygamy. Traditionally the Maras are endogenous and marriage is strongly connected with the economy. Marriage could not be arranged unless the bride price has been given. As a rule, the parents select a man’s wife. Kins marriage is popular among the Maras. However, the marriage between the father’s sisters- daughters is usually not encouraged. The traditional Mara marriage system may be classified into seven classes namely the chief marriage, Arrange marriage, and marriage through elopement, child marriage, the ordinary marriage, widow remarriage and the slave marriage.
Inheritance and Property
The Mara Ryuto rules are very fair. No Mara can make a will and all property must descend to the customary heirs. Heirs inherit everything, debts and obligations, as well as assets. As Mara descent is Patrilineal and the heir is usually the eldest son, he inherits all property and must pay his father’s debts. He also has to pay his father’s Ru, the death dues. But the youngest son has the right to inherit the property of a house and he must pay his mother’s Ru, death dues. Sons, other than the eldest and youngest, have no claim whatever to any share in the estate. If a man haves only one son, that son must pay the Ru of both his father and mother.
Hla (Poets and Music)
The Maras are poets. They have recorded their stories by composing poems called Mara Hla. These songs are sung at all beer parties and wakes, the young men and girls sing songs as they go to the fields and while at work. Lovers habitually serenade their lady loves with a melody on the Cha-ei or Tota, Jewish Harp. Practically the only time when songs are not sung is during a Pana or an Aoh, as on these occasions all music and singing are Ana, forbidden.
The Mara song is classified into three categories- 1) the Awkhypa hla, 2) the Hladyu and 3) Pakhupi hla. It is believed that if these songs were sung at any other occasion, the singer would suffer from boils.
Mara Lâ (Dances)
A common practice in any social event among the Maras is traditional dance. There are many kinds of dance; a corporate dance, drum dance, solo and so on. Here are the most popular dances of the Maras, Sawlâkia, Dawh lâ, Chaochhipa lâ, Athih lâ, Bei lâ, Mathyu lâ, Azao lâ, Pakhupi lâ, Pazita lâ, Rakhâ lâ, Awhta Pheichhua, Athairapupa lâ, Awpivynô lâ, Chakei Lu-ia lâ and Awkhypa lâ. The three dances, the Sawlâkia, the Chochhipa lâ and the Dawh lâ were performed at the la ceremony only. Athih Lâ had been customarily performed in honor of the deceased. It is belived that Athih lâ dance was learned from the evil spirits, Lyurâhripa. Sawlâkia is a cooperate dance in which a boy and girls dance as the drummer at the head leads the dance.The dancer holds swords in one hand claiming victory by shouting a loud while dancing. Dawh La is an introduction for Sawlakia and only boys were taking part in the dance. Hmiakhupati La is a dance of one male and two female dancers in the midst of the crowd. Big and small gong were used for this particular dance. The dance is performed alonged singing.Pakhupi La is a joyous dance where all the young men and female take part in it. They make a circle by holding their hands together, dance and sing along. Azao La is performed by a male and female dancer, they make circle surrounded by young people. This dance is performed along with singing and could be performed at any occasions or festivals. Musical instruments accompany traditional Mara songs and dance. The popular musical instruments are, Cha-ei or Tota, Viadaw, Siaramo Chapawpa, Khoh, Tlaipi.
Feasts and Festivals
The maras also celebrated four major festivals in connection with their religious beliefs, cultural and social life, a festival called Ladawdai or Pazita “Festival of happiness” was celebrated during the month of September. The Mara believed that even the spirits of the death came to attend the festival. Young men and women sing danced the Hmiakhuti Lâ and drank rice beer. The festival known as “Festival for the dead” was celebrated in remembrance and farewell of the dead in September. Thus, it was called Awrao Ku. The Mara mourned the dead for several months; however this festival was a time to cease their grieving. The whole village celebrated Khohna Kuh Chycha in January or December. Six families shared two large pigs and sacrifice them for blessings of wealth and health. They believed that the marks they saw on the sand determined the future of the village, which were things like misfortune or success in war, wealth and health. In February they celebrated a festival called Pakhupi O Dopa bu killing a Mithun or a large male pig. Young men and women drank rice beer and danced the whole night on the eve of the festivals.
Read more at : Mara Art & Culture