Miscellaneous Arts and Crafts in Mizoram
The Mizos, blessed as they are with a beautiful environment and rich culture, are a vibrant and sociable people. They love to dance as much as they love to sing. They can boast of a number of folk and community dances handed down from one generation to the other through the ages.
The dances are expressions of the gay, carefree spirit of the Mizos. These dances are not intended for stage performances. Rather, they have been evolved for community involvement and participation.
It is the most colourful Mizo dance. This dance is referred to as the bamboo dance, as bamboos are used in its performance. But Mizos call it Cheraw.The dancer move by stepping alternately in and out from between and across a pair of horizontal bamboos, held against the ground, by people sitting face to face on either sides. They tap the bamboos open and close in rhythmic beats. The bamboo placed horizontally are supported by two bases, one at each end. The bamboos when clapped, produce a sharp sound which forms the rhythm of the dance. It indicates the timing of the dance as well. The dancers step in and out of the beats of the bamboo with ease and grace. The pattern and stepping of the dance have many variation. Sometimes the steppings are made in imitation of the movements of birds, sometimes of the swaying of trees and so on.
Cheraw is one of the most popular folk dances of the Mizos. Similar bamboo dances are also performed by the tribal people of Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand. The origin of the Cheraw is uncertain. It is possible that the fore-fathers of the Mizos had brought it from their early abode in far-east Asia. Mizos were originally animist they believed that much of their sufferings and illness was caused by evil spirit. Cheraw is a dance performed as part of such sacrifices to appease the spirits on the death of the child. The spirit of the child, according to the old beliefs, had to pass through the portal of `Pu Pawla`, the legendary custodian of paradise before it could enter `Pialral`, the heavenly abode of the dead. The spirit of the poor child will not be harnessed, but allowed safe entry into `Pialarel` in full glory, if a Cheraw was performed in its favour. Cheraw is therefore, a dance of sanctification and redemption performed with calculated precision and charm.
Khul, in the Mizo language, means a guest and lam stands for dancing. So, Khuallam is the dance of the guest. This dance was orignally performed on the occasion of Khuangchawi, the seventh and final of the rites performed for the attainment of the coveted title of the `Thangchhuah.` This honourable title was the outcome of a belief of the Mizos in the life after death. According to this belief a man is entitled to go to Paradise with his family, if he performs seven ceremonies during his life time. Those who performed all the seven ceremonies were called `Thangchhuah. To attain this title, a man had to be very rich and brave, both in the face of the enemy and wild animals. The title was given to a man who had distinguished himself by killing a certain number of different animals in a chase, or by giving a certain number of public feasts. This title was also shared by the wife of such a man. They and their children were allowed to wear a particular cloth called`Thangchhuah Puan`. Such men were held in high esteem and they used to enjoy many privileges in social ceremonies and were next only to the chiefs.
During the `Khuangchawi` ceremony the performer had to kill two full grown mithuns and one full grown pig for feast. The man who performed the ceremony would send special messenger to his father-in-law. The messenger prepared forked pieces of bamboos to which a white cocks`s feathers and pieces of ginger were fixed. The bamboos were fixed on the wall of the house called,`Banglai` which divided the inner house from the back of the verandah. While on this mission, the messenger had to observe strict silence. After the bamboo had been fixed on the wall, the father-in-law had to kill a pig to complete the ceremony. It was obligatory on the part of the father-in-law to arrange a dancing party of young men and women, who would start out for the village of the person offering sacrifice. On the day of the sacrifice, the party would dance in the village streets and the whole village would render a hearty welcome. This dance is normally performed by men dressed in Puandum(traditional Mizo clothes with red and green stripes to the accompaniment of a set of gongs, known as Darbu.
Joi de vivre would be the appropiate term to describe Chheih-Lam , a dance that embodies the spirit of joy and exhilaration. This dance is of the recent origin. Chheih-Lam is performed to the accompaniment of a song called Chhei Hla. It is a three line stanza and the words used are very simple, yet sponteneous. The ideas conveyed are quiet relevant to the occasion and indeed, some of them are thought-provoking and they speak of the heroic feats, achieved by them and their ancestors. The song is sung to the beats of the drum or the bamboo tube or clapping of hands. People squat on the floor in a circle while the dancer stands in the middle, reciting a song with various movements of limbs and body. An expert Chheih dancer performs in such a manner that the people around him leave their seats and joins the dance. Anyone can try this dance, for it has no specific choreography. All that one has to do is to get into the mood and live it up.
The dancer in the middle starts his dance, in a tiptoe position with jerking movements of leg and gentle movements of hands and body. This dance, though physically trying, gives enormous mental release and has tremendous physical effects. It is normally performed in the evening when the day`s work is done but can also be performed on any occasions.
Chai is a festival dance. It is community dance with men and women standing one after another in a cirlce, holding each other on the shoulder and the nape. The dancers sway to and fro and swing their feet to the tune of the song sung in chorus by all of them, while a drummer and gongmen beat their instruments. Horns of the Mithuns are other important instruments used in the dance. Chai presents a grand show, but it is not exactly suitable for performing on the stage. In olden days the Chai dancers used to consume rice beer continously while dancing, they did not know when to stop.
Strictly speaking, Rallu-lam is not a dance as such. It is rather a celebration or a rite in honour of a victorious warrior. When a warrior comes back after a successful campaign, he is given a warm and colourful reception by the village chief. The celebration consists of a re-enactment of the warrior`s heroic exploits. The mode of the celebration, however, varies from village to village.
Originally, the dance was to be performed mainly by the people of the Maras and Pawi communities of Mizoram. They remain the best exponents of the dance to date. Like Rallu-Lam, Solakia was also performed in earlier time to celebrate a victory in war. Marked with five principal movements, the dance seeks to recapture the actions of hero at war. Men and women stand in profile, while the hero, brandishing a sword and a shield, dances in the middle to the accompaniment of the gong beats.
One of the most impressive Mizo community dances, Sarlamkai is a variation of Solakia. The two dances are almost identical. The only difference lies in the dress and tempo. No song is sung; only gongs or cymbols or drums are used to beat time. Sarlamkai has been taken up by most schools in Mizoram for cultural activities these days.
The land of enchanting hills has yet another dance to its credit-Par-lam. Girls attired in colourful dresses, with flower tucked in their hair, dance to the tune of the songs sung by themselves. The principal movement in the dance involves the waving of hands. A couple of boy lend musical accompaniment by playing guitars. This is a comparitively a new dance. Nevertheless, it has become part of the Mizo culture. The most popular song sung for the dance is :Far from the mountain the gay little stream, rippling along, rippling along… .
Sakei Lu Lam
According to an ancient Mizo belief, the tiger was regarded as a sacred animal and it was taboo to kill it. It was supposed to be a friend of the slaves and could guide them to freedom. At times, the hunters had to kill a tiger in self-defence. The spirit of the tiger thus killed had to be appeased by performing the ceremonial dance called the `Sakei lu lam`. The warriors and hunters were also expected to say that it was the thunderbolt, which had killed the tiger, and not their gun. He would put on the dress of a women and arm himself with a loaded gun. Then publicly eat a hard -boiled egg. The killed animal`s head used to be brought to a spot decorated with bamboo posts with, buntings on them which were supposed to be the symbol of the tiger`s spirit.
Ornaments is one of the essential adornment of Mizos. There are many types of ornaments. Both men and women wear ornaments. These ornaments are worn not just to decorate oneself but sometimes not wearing them may convey some deeper message. Like the widows remove their earrings and slit the lobes of their ears when they abandon all thoughts of remarrying.
The Lushai tribal are very fond of wearing ornaments. The Lushai wears a variety of articles in his hair knot. The most common is a brass two-pronged pin with projecting pointed ends with a head shaped like G. Skewers of ivory, bone and metal about six or eight inches long are also worn. Of the two, former there are two patterns, one four sided, about a quarter of an inch thick at two thirds of its length, tapering to a point at each end, the other being flat, pointed at one end and about half an inch broad at the other. Both are ornamented with engraved circles and lines. The metal skewers are quite plain. The hair comb is also an ornamental article; it consists of a piece of ivory or wood about three inches long, half an inch thick and an inch or so wide, into which are inserted, very close together, teeth of strips of bamboo about two inches long. The back of wood is generally crescent-shaped and lacquered red and inlaid.
Earring -Most men have their ears pierced and wear either small wooden studs, with flat heads about half an inch in diameter, and coloured red, or cormelians suspended by a piece of strings. The stones are barrel shaped and unpolished, the surface being pitted with minute holes and circular marks. These are valued very highly, and are passed on from father to son, or given as daughter`s dowry. Some of them have names connecting them with story of bygone days.
The earring of Lushai women is quite distinct from the men. It is ivory disc some inch or inch and half in diameter, with a hole in its centre.
Necklaces-Both sexes are fond of necklaces;those of amber are most valued. Besides amber, agate, carnelian, and various sorts of bead necklaces are worn, or, failing all these, white shirt buttons are acceptable.
A tiger`s tooth is often hung round the neck as an ornament and is also thought to have magical properties. Some times tufts of white goat`s hair are bound together with red thread.
Songs of the Lakhers are not only melodious but have deep inner meaning. Infact their songs are attached to their soul, and they sing from their soul. The Lakher boys and girls sing songs in war and peace, while working in field and while hunting, in funeral or in festival and so on. In fact they move everywhere with songs in their tips. The songs may be divided into three categories.
- The everyday songs which include the Tlongsaihla, the Zeuhnangla, the Chapihla and the Awhkheupahla.
- The head hunting songs sung during the Ia ceremony known as the Hladen.
- The songs sung during Pakhupila dance( or knee dance) known as Pakhupila.
An example of the Tlongsaihla mentioned here is very old
” Siata hrai no chong liachang lainang to
daw et tilpa I khia hlong di dua ra
ma a thei Khai I nata.
Nong pila ma thla hraw no pho cheu e ehho
To a to pala daw ei nang chhong
Rai ti ni hla to “
The English translation goes like this -I am a young men, I have shot a bull elephant and wild boar. I am beside myself for joy. I have actually shot what till now I had seen in dreams. We all pass ten months in our mothers womb, but a man who is blessed by a bison can shoot a bison between sunrise and sunset.”
Spears, dahs, spikes, bows and arrows are some of the oldest instrument used by Lushai`s. The spears are weapons with iron laurel- leaf shaped blades about a foot or fifteen inches long, attached to the shaft, which is of hard wood, often a piece of sago palm; at the other end of the shaft is a long iron spike which stuck to the ground when the user halts. A special spear is used for sacrificial purposes, the blade of which is much longer and diamond shaped.
The dah is the most serviceable weapon. Its blade is shorter, the handle is of wood lacquered black and red, and ornamented with brass bands and brass knob at the end.
Bows and arrows in the past were used especially in the chase, when the arrows were poisoned. The bows were small and made of bamboo, the string being of bark. Arrows were furnished with barbed iron points and were carried in a bamboo quiver with a leather cap to it.
The bamboo spikes were of two kinds, one used round the village and other carried in a neat little cane-work quiver and stuck in the path when returning from a raid to delay pursuit. The former were simple bamboo spikes of various lengths, while the latter were carefully smoothed bamboo spikes about six inches long, no thicker than a knitting needle; each sort was nicked so that it might break off after entering the flesh.