Hnam zia leh rochun thilte
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 generic term Mara includes several territorial sub-groups namely the Sizô-Chapi, Hawthai, Hlaipao-Zyhno, Iana or Vyhtu, Lôchei and Tlôsaih. The Hlaipao has a number of sub-groups such as the Heima, Lialai and Zyhno. The Sizô sub-group are the Aru, Chapi, Khihlô, Lialairâ, Ratu, Saby, Sôsai, Taikua, Tikei, Tisi, etc. The Tlôsai sub-group are the Saikao and Siaha. The three territorial sub-groups such as the Hawthai, Lochei and Iana had no sub-groups. The Maras are widely distributed in the Indo-Myanmar bordering areas, but the greater numbers of the people are found in the Mara Autonomous District. According to the District Census Record of 2011 conducted by Local Administrative Department, Mara Autonomous District Council, Siaha, there are 49 Mara villages in the Mara Autonomous District, and there are 85 Village Councils and also 11965 houses; and the total population is 60,453, out of which 31,025 are males and 29,996 are females.
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). However, Mara language has a written script shared by all Mara people in Tlôsai dialect. Mara scripts are derived from Roman alphabets by Rev. Reginald Arthur Lorrain, an English pioneer missionary to Mara people, who arrived at Saikao, South Mizoram in 1907. Lorrain started teaching them how to read and write in the new Mara alphabets the following years. Today, Tlôsai dialect has become the lingua-franca of Mara people. 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. Mara language written in Tlôsai dialect is taught in Primary schools (class i-vii) under Mara Autonomous District Council (MADC); it is one of the elective subjects at middle school level under Mara Board of School Education (MBSE), MADC, Siaha, Mizoram state. Mara language is an official language of Mara Autonomous District Council (MADC).
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 finest cloth produced is the Chylaopoh, the ground of which is dark blue. Two whites line run down the middle, and the whole cloth is heavily embroidered with patterns in silk, said to represent the eyes of different birds and beats. The Chylaopoh is only worn by men or women belonging to a Chief’s family. Another fine cloth is the Chynapoh, its ground is red and it is embroidered with red and yellow silk. It is worn by chief and well to-do people. The Viapoh is a plain dark blue cloth with a red stripe down the middle, and the Zypo is a thin cloth with white stripes on a black ground. The cloth most usually worn is the Chiaraku, which is a plain white cloth with two broad black stripes running through it. The warmest cloth the Mara posses is the Siahriapo, a heavy cloth of very coarse cotton which is used as blanket. All these cloth can be worn by men and women alike, except the Dua, which can only worn by men. The Mara men always wear called Khutho, which is about 4 feet long and a foot wide with black stripe cloth for older men, the younger men Khutho is a strip of white about 6 feet long and a foot wide. They rag round their top-knots when on warpath or on journey, when dancing Sawlakia, or when performing the Khazohpina and when going to meet a high officials. In order to hold the top knot of the hair, they used Sakia, Sathi, and Sawkahro. Mara younger men and women also worn a special kind of earring called Hawmirahy from the age of nine up to the time of their marriage. Earrings are not worn by the elderly men. These earrings were made by themselves from metal. The Mara men also wear necklaces of pumteks, a black and white beard, sometimes round and sometimes oval or flat in shape. The round beads resemble peppermint bull eyes. Necklaces of these beads are very highly valued and treated as heirlooms. The Mara also worn a small embroidered bag called Sahria regularly hung over the left shoulder.
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.
Over Chyna-hno they have worn a plain dark blue skirt, which is shorter than the petticoat which is called Hnorah. Another embroidered skirt called Viahno is also wear like Hnorah. Sisai-a-hno is ornamented with cowries and different kinds of beads and only ladies belonging to a royal family were permitted to wear on a special ceremonial occasions. The upper part of Mara woman’s body is clothed in a small sleeveless jacket called Kaohrei, open or very loosely tied in front, which barely hides the breasts while a considerable gap remains between the bottom of the jacket and the top of the skirt. Ordinary skirts and petticoats are wide enough to go once around the body only. They are held up by metal belts worn around the waist and over the buttocks. These belts are called Hrakhaw, Chaiphiapa, Chochi, Saka, and Takari. The Saka belt is the most costly and valuable belt of the mara women. A womens hair worn at the back by two types of heavy brass hairpins called Hrokei and Sawkahro, which keeps the hair well down on the neck. A highly valued and completely decorated head dress called Lakho are also worn by the daughters and sisters of chiefs on the occasions of marriages and when dancing the Pakhupi La. There are several kinds of womens necklaces Sisai, Dapachhi, Lavaw, Naba or Theisa. A necklace called Kihlo decorated and attached to a necklace of Sisai beads is also worn by mara women. There are three kinds of earrings, Hawmirahy, the most valued earring, Thorahy and Takarahy. Bracelets called Lakyu are worn by the mara women. There are three types of Lakyu – Rahopachhih, Viachhipo and Chhihro.
The Maras also practiced Tattooing, and were fond of tattooing their bodies, both men and women were tattooed. However this tattooing has no religious significance at all. Tattoo marks such as a circle (o), a cross (x) or other signs (vvxxxm) and images of animals such as Mithun, tiger etc are placed on the arm, the leg, the shoulders and the chest. Young men are fond of having Mithun or Tigers heads tattooed on their chests. Prior to the introduction of needles, the Mara people used the thorns of Isa for pricking in the pattern. Strangely the Maras are the only tribe who practice tattooing among their neighboring hill tribes.
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. Tolyu river is found in the south western part of the land and flows towards the western direction. Ka-ao river is found in the western part of the land and flows towards the northwest directions and joins the river Beino. The northern rivers of Maraland are Tisopi and Titlao and both rivers are rich in fishes. Pala Tipo, an oval shaped lake is the most popular lake and is situated in the southwestern part of Maraland .There is a marvelous story in connection with the Pala lake even today. The villagers belived that the water of the lake still turns reddish in color ever couple of years that makes people suffer from influenza or other air borne disease. This Lake is surrounded by charming natural thick forest trees of different species such as tropical evergreen and moist decidous forest. The Lake is comprise of species like diptero carpus, michelia, seina, wallichin, mesue ferrea, ficus bamboos, canes, a large numbers of fish, crabs and wild animals like elephant, tiger, bear, wild pig, deer and variety of fauna are also found in the surrounding forest with rare aquatic birds with wild duck of different species inhabiting the lake.
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. When human beings relate themselves to each other they established structural form. It may be group, association or organization. Social structure is made up of these structural forms, which are arranged in an inter-related way to enable the society to function in harmonious manner. Every society functions through these structural units. Thus institution, groups, organizations, associations, community all are part of social structure instruments through which it functions.
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.
In a general sense, the bride price is very high among the Maras in comparisons with their neighboring tribes. The higher status of the clan may be demanded the higher bride price. Men of Maras always tried to marry into clan higher than his own and this attributed to better protection received from the higher clan. The marriage price consists of several parts and a number of subsidiary prices. The rates of bride price fixed in terms of animals and household goods. The Mara custom permits widow remarriage. A widow could marry immediately after the erection of a Memorial Stone in connection with her husband. The Mara opens a place for child marriage called ‘Noapahawh’. The parents of both the families had solely arranged child marriage and it had taken place before the boy and girl attained puberty. Divorce is fairly simple in Mara society. One could divorce one’s spouse at will. However, as the bride price is high, divorce is rarely found among the Maras.
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.
Clan and Lineage
To the Mara, the filial ties between some groups or Patrillineally groups of people are clan and lineage. A lineage is traced back through the father and passes through the male line only. The first Kin group in the Mara society is the Patrilineal clan. A multiple clan inhabited each village. A single clan’s is no existence in the Mara society. The clans were marked by a sense of corporate identity and solidarity delimited by genealogy ties. Clanship has a great importance in the political field. Broadly speaking, the Mara society is composed of at least four major clan group, such as the ruling class, the high class, the middle class and the lower class clans. Each clan is said to have the name of its earlier ancestors. It is in connection with marriage, birth, death and certain sacrifices of a private nature that the clan assumes importance. The ruling classes of the Maras are Hlychho, Nohro, Chozah, Bohia and Zawtha.
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.
The Voluntary Organization of the Society (Khihchhôh mohôhtuhpazy)
Young people played a vital part in the religious and cultural life of the Mara. Before Christianity penetrated Mara land and before the establishment of the Christian Youth Organization, an organization called Kihchhôh Mohôhtuhpa Py (The Voluntary Organization of the Society) already existed in almost every village in Mara land. This organization had nothing to do with religious activities, rather it was purely a social organization involved in helping the needy and the helpless in society, and thus they were Guardians of the village.The Mara society depended very much on this Khihchhoh Mohotuhpa Py, because it comprise of a group of young people .Interestedly, a separate voluntary organization existed for girls as well. In these organization the leader divided the members into different small groups in order to achieve their goals by giving a name like Chakeibarohneipa Py, Pahmoh Py, Chhizao Py and so on.
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.
The political system of the Maras
The political system of the Maras can briefly be examined under four subtitles: Early politics, Abei, Theithaipa, Machas (Council of Village elders), Thla-awpa, Syudaipa and Khih-reipa. The history of the nomadic maras and their early settlements in the western hill regions still remains oral, noting raids, wars and invasions. Heroes and charismatic leaders arose from time to time, giving leadership to their own respectives communities. Historical accounts of their accompalishment were sometimes traced back orally but were largely embodied in local myths. The most important leadership roles were those of the chiefs, Theithaipa, Tla-awpa, Machas, Syudaipa, and Khih-reipa.
The economic system of the Maras People
The economic system of the Maras can be examined in terms of materials property and the system of economic transaction.
A traditional Mara house is strongly built with thatched roof and plank walls. The posts of the framework are of rough hewn timber uprights, supporting sides of split bamboo. It has a front door and a back door and usually no window. The floors are split bamboo, plaited together, the whole resting on uprights, and being some few feet above ground level, of about five or six feet high of the ground. A house is divided into three parts: the inner most part, the middle part and the front part. The inner most part is the storage place where pots, seeds, tools and arnaments and the family shrine are kept. The middle part is in two parts: The fire place called Cheiko and a place for daily used utensils.
Land is the most important resource for the maras. It is the wealth of the family and the main resourse for their livelihood. A familys wealth has often been figured on how many pieces of land they posses. They used land for crops and maintain them ecologically. The same Lyu or Sadoh land were own by the same family and used for agricultural purpose, Chiefs in the past were also acts as landlords.
Tools, Arms, Crafts and Household articles – The Maras used a variety of tools, Bara, Sohri, Baitarupa, Baiba, Dawhkia, Seihna, Bakai, Awhby, Dawkia, Kachu, Apheih, Abei, Ahrei, Atu, Tako, Ti-o, Sokhao, Sokhai etc all these are used in their daily life. Arms include guns, swords, knives axes, javelins and bows. Except for imported guns all other arms are made locally.
Basket, weaving and blacksmithing are very important crafts that require training. Bamboo and cane are used for making baskets and mats.Blacksmithing is an exclusively male profession. This hard labor is also a trade in that the crafsmen supple demand arms and tools which are in great demand for villagers. Hunting and fishing are hobbies pursued in leisure time. The Mara men are also praised for the wild animals they have killed.
Livestock’s- The Mars raise livestock’s such as cattle, Mithun, horses, goats, pigs, fowls, dogs and cats for four main purposes. First, animals are sold to make money. Second, they are killed for feast. Third, they are kept to produce milk, eggs and leather. Fourth, they are used for carrying goods. As a matter of fact, livestock has always been the largest resource for making money. Thus wealth is sometimes figured on how much livestock the family possesses.
Agriculture- Agriculture is the basic economic resourse and the main occupation. Slash and burn and rotation of both fields and crops are the fundamental practices of jhum cultivation. The fields are two kinds: By Lyu, which is in lower altitude and warm, and Tla Lyu, which is higher and cold. The main crops are maize, millet, rice, mustard, yam, cucumber, ginger, bean, peas, potato, sweet potato, pumkin, melon, banana and other crops are grown to the kind of fields.
Literature and Communication
According to Parry the Mara people have no written language prior to the advent of Christianity. The Maras have a very interesting story about writing In the story of Nara it is related how Nara, before he drowned himself in the ocean, threw all his possessions into the water, among them the art of writing, which was pick up by the foreign soldiers, who thus learnt to write, though the mara themselves lost all knowledge of the art. The tradition says Nara used to write on skin. Apart from this story they have no other source to claim that they have a written language in the form of scrolls or symbols. In every village Laipho served as social institution center among the maras. Not only social recreational activities were taken place, but oral education or information was also taken place as elders imparted education to all the boys. However, the education at Laipho was only oral education and written education was unheard till the missioners introduce written education to the Maras.
S.R. Tickell, who in 1852 drew up a short vocabulary, made the first record of the language of the Maras. It was not however, till 1908 that a grammars and dictionary of the Mara language was published by the Rev. F.W. Savidge, a missionary working at Serkawn, lunglei, whose grammer remains the best published record of the language that the Maras possess. The only books published in the Mara language are some translations from the Bible and few school text books; these are the works of Rev. R.A. Lorrain, a missionary to the Maras at Saikao. Rev. Lorrain has compiled a Mara grammer and dictionary, and also drawn up twenty two Mara alphabets of his own which he has used in all the books he has published and taught in the school also. Rev. Lorrain alphabets have twenty-five letters as follows, A, AW, Y, B, CH, D, E, H, I, K, L, M, N, NG, O, O, F, R, S, T, U, V, Z, AO, YU.
Read more at : Mara Art & Culture