Survival of the Chin People: The Pathology and Solution for Unity
23 December 2010 [Note: Since the early 1990s, the Chin people have started migrating to foreign countries as a result of various forms of repressions, human rights violations and brutalities inflicted upon them by the ruling military authorities.
After resettling as refugees and migrants in foreign countries, some leaders realize the importance of unity and collaboration as a way of protecting and promoting the uniqueness, identity and mutual understanding among the Chin people not only in Burma but also in their respective dwelling countries.
In November 2010, a meeting titled ‘Global Chin Christian Conference’ was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with more than 250 Chin pastors, ministers and leaders from both inside and outside Burma as well as Bangladesh and India.
In the opening ceremony of the conference, one of the GCCF organizers Rev. Dr. Stephen Hre Kio gave the following touching yet aspiring speech to the Chin leaders on 26 November 2010 at Senthang Christian Fellowship in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.]
Beloved Colleagues/Friends in the Ministry,
Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Welcome to this first ever meeting of the Chins from various churches – representing Chins in various countries – in fact (around 16 countries) in four continents of the world – Asia, Australia, Europe and America.
This is a historic day for the Chin Christians, and we praise God for making this meeting possible. And because this is such a historic day, we need to heed and listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit, only with whose help can we make this meeting successful. Listening to the Holy Spirit would mean being humble at heart, being open to the whisper of God’s Spirit and being willing to obey His instruction. That is to spend times with Him. To love one another and respect each other in His name (Phil 2:1-11).
First I want to speak on who we the Chins are: Our Identity.
According to Timothy Z. Zote’s Chronology of Zo-Chin-Kuki-Mizo, our ancestors migrated from China to Burma way back between 98 BC and 400 AD. During the migration, it is commonly assumed that there were two Chin brothers (Chin being the elder) and Kachin (being the younger) who settled down in Upper Burma. Probably, it was because of their settlement and presence of the Chins in the region that the main river in the region namely Chindwin contained the word Chin as the main component of the word. It was further assumed that it was in the 1400s AD the Chin’s descendents migrated to the North West, and scattered throughout the regions which we now called Chin State, Assam State, and Mizoram State. We should be reasonably sure that it was the name Chin that was commonly used even at the time of their migration to the North West.
In recent history, (i) when the British colonized Burma in 1825, and annexed Chin Hills sixty years later, there was the practice of the British Government, to record all colonized nations and tribes in the royal registry, it was the name Chin that was recorded in the royal registry of the British Empire.[i] (ii) As the British ruled our land, a Law was passed to regulate the society of our people known as “The Chin Hills regulation of 1896”[ii]. This law was operative in Chin Hills till Burma’s independence in 1948. (iii) When the United Nations convened a meeting of “Indigenous ethnic nationalities” in New York some years ago, one of the purposes among many is to recognize the existences of these ethnic nationalities; and it was “Chin” that was recognized as an indigenous ethnic nationality for our name. (iv) In the first constitution of independent Burma in 1947 (under Gen Aung San and U Nu), and again in 1975 (under Gen Ne Win), and two years ago in 2008 (under Snr-Gen Than Shwe), the sname of our land and our people is constituted as “Chin”. (v) After our independence, a ministry was created for our people and it was known as “The Chin Ministry”. Minister for Chins was known as “Minister for Chin Affairs.” These are historical records and I suggest that we should accept the name “Chin” as legal, valid and as our own.
We the Chins are small in numbers – in fact, only about 400,000 heads in Chin State. And within that small number, we are divided in over 30 different language groups, and we are not uniting either. And mind you, this is a recipe for disaster! You may maintain that we can survive for the next six hundred years, because we have done that before! But not so in these days and ages when instantaneous information is at the tips of your fingers every day: Instantaneous radio, television, telephone, iPhone and Face-book. There is no safe culture from the invading waves of others and dominant cultures. We, small tribes and sub-tribes, are at the mercy of dominant cultures. We have two choices: Either we unit and survive, or we adopt, surrender and perish.
We, the Chins, often adopt an attitude that singly we can survive even in modern times. I am declaring my conviction today that no single Chin tribal group by itself will survive. The Zomis by itself will not survive a century; neither the Falam nor the Hakha (Laimi) will survive by itself for long. The Matus and the Cho and Khumi will not survive either for a century by itself. Divided they all will sink in the ocean of the Burmese culture.
United the Chins have a better chance of surviving. Do not pretend that you – a singly sub-tribal group – can represent the whole Chin tribe either. All the Zomis are Chins, but all the Chins are not Zomis; the small Zomi group cannot represent the whole Chin tribe; to do so is a bad pretension. All the Falam speaking groups are Chins, but all the Chins are not Falam sub-tribe; all the small Falam speakers cannot represent the whole Chin tribe; to do so is a bad pretension. All the Laimis (Haka) are all Chin; but all the Chins are not Laimis; and as such, the Laimis cannot represent the whole Chin tribe; to do so is an ugly pretension. In like manner, the Cho and Khumis are all Chin, but all the Chins are not Cho or Khumis; the small groups of Cho and Khumi cannot represent the whole Chin tribe; to do so is an unacceptable pretension. We can only survive when we are all united; and united in the belief of our Lord Jesus Christ. And may God bless us all.
For the survival of our people: Can we survive as a viable people?
We, the Chins, are one of the many tribal groups in Myanmar; other tribal groups are Kachin, Shan, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Rakhaing. We, the Chins, are one of the seven tribal groups in Myanmar. Unfortunately, within our Chin tribal group, we do have over 30 language groups, which we might call “sub-tribal groups” scattered and dispersed in different and mountainous regions, inaccessible to each other. And these regions are now called with nine different names and townships such as Tonzang, Tiddim, Falam, Hakha, Thantlang, Matu, Mindat, Kanpelet and Paletwa, calling ourselves Zomi, Laimi, Matu, Cho, Khumi, etc. even Asho-Chin, Bawm, and Mizo, outside of the Chin State. Since our independence, over 60 years ago, we have debated, argued, fought for, and even suspected each other, over our name, one sub-tribal group claiming to be the representative for all the Chins. All these debates and arguments, suspicion and hostilities, even false representation of the Chins, do not bring us any closer toward better understanding among ourselves – among our sub-tribal groups. In fact, we are still painfully far apart from each other when it comes to our name. Sixty years of debates and arguments, even sometimes hostilities, did not being us any understanding among us, and healing for us.
The question is: Should we continue this debate, without much hope for any solution any time soon, or should we look for something else? Can we come to terms to realize that our future is wrapped up in the solution of our name? Crudely stated, why can’t we accept the word Chin as being the name of our ancestors over six hundred years ago – the descendents of the brothers being Chin and Kachin? Or even as the name being given to us, being registered in all national and international institutional bodies’ documents? I suggest the time has come for all Chins to come together and accept one another as brothers and sisters, as the descendents of a single brother “Chin.”
As Christians – believers of the Lord Jesus Christ – it becomes imperative that we do accept one another as one in the Lord. The command of our Lord Jesus is clear: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12); His prayer is also clear: “May they be brought to complete unity” (John 17:23, NIV). The command of the Bible is clear: “There is one body and one Spirit.. one hope .. one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all” (Eph 4:4-5). “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col 3:15). This biblical command should overrule any other man-made differences between us. Let us be clear in our hearts that as Christians, every day we remain dis-united and un-loving each other, claiming ourselves to be better than others, and having advantage over others, we are living against the will of our Lord. Our disunity and hostility among ourselves is an ugly scandal for the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Only in his death and resurrection, only in his blood and forgiveness can there be unity and peace among us. We, the Chins, should not rest until we achieve this unity in the Lord. And I believe the formation of Global Chin Christian Fellowship is one of the big steps toward realizing this goal.
We, the Chins, may not survive in this modern environment much longer, if we remain divided and being hostile to each other. I declare to you all: We are a small minority in the land (only about 400,000 in Chin State) among an overwhelming majority of different culture; we have only a slight chance of survival only if we are united; and we may have a good chance to survival if we are all Christians and be united in the Lord. No single sub-tribal group, be a Zomi, be a Laimi, be a Chomi, or be a Khumi, will survive the un-sympathetic waves of the hammering of history of modern times. You may believe that we had survived for 600 years of history, and we can repeat it again. Not so in this modern environment where transportation has a different key: transportation by cars, trains, ships and airplanes have made the world a global village. Communications by means of TVs, radios, telephones, mobile phones, iphone, you-tube and facebook have made live communication quick and instantaneous. The onslaught of modern technology on us will be relentless and unforgiving. And as such, no single sub-tribal group of the Chins has any chance of successful maneuvering the bumps and crash of modern life. We have only two choices: If we unite, we may survive; if we don’t, we will surely fall. Let us choose life!
In the USA, we face one embarrassing situation. Last summer, there was a national census. Each group of people is given names as a group. The name “Chin” is not acceptable to the US census authorities. And the Chins are lumped together as Burmese-Chin. We don’t really like the name “Burmese-Chin”, we were never called “Burmese-Chin” but the reality is that there is nothing we could do to change it. There is no single Chin group to represent all the Chin sub-tribal groups. No single Tiddim-Falam-Hakha-Zophei-Matu-Mindat-Kanpalet group exists to represent all the Chins. As far as I know, only Chin Baptist Churches, USA, voted to say that our name is Chin, not Burmese-Chin. Does that count? Maybe not. But what else could we do? Divided we are! And divided voices never count much!
What we went through: During the last forty eight years, during the rule of the military, our Chin culture (mainly our language) and our way of life, has suffered a decline. Burmese language has flooded our schools, our shops, offices and our daily lives. Our young people are “good” in Burmese language (they became burmanized!) but they are “bad” for our culture; for they cannot speak well or write well in Chin anymore. Chin language is not learned in schools, most publications are in Burmese, and love songs and love letters in the lives of our young people are all in Burmese. Burmese language and culture has flooded our Chin society so much so that they (the Chins) even quarreled and fight in Burmese! How long can Chin language and culture really last? Another fifty years? A hundred years? It will be a miracle if we last a hundred years.
The Chins and their languages in other lands – in foreign countries – will not fare well either. Most probably it will be swallowed by the dominant culture of the lands where the Chins migrated; and they might be swallowed up within the next four or five generations. We should not expect much hope, and depend on the Chins who had migrated to other lands, to sustain and nurture the Chin culture and language in Chin State, Myanmar. Sustaining the Chin culture in Chin State from abroad will not happen! The only chance the Chins have for the survival of their identity and their language is through a combination of efforts to unite among ourselves – our sub-tribal groups within the Chin State, as well as the Chins abroad in concerted effort with religious determination and commitment from all sides, even from the Chins in Bawm district, and Mizoram in Northeast India.
Our future: There is a wise saying which says: As far as the future is concerned, there are three groups of people:
Those who wish it happen,
Those who make it happen, and
Those who wonder what had happened.
I do not want the Chins “to be in the first group” – just to be wishing that something happens. Wishing something happens will not help the Chins a single bit. I do not want to the Chins “to be in the third group either” – wondering what had happened. When the Chins know that something had happened, it is too late to do anything. I want to the Chins “to be in the second group” – making sure that something happens; doing something, deciding something, taking some actions for the good of the Chins and for the Lord, not merely wishing and wondering and regretting. Global Chin Christian Fellowship is an effort to make something happen.
Therefore, Global Chin Christian Fellowship, if we are prepared to form it, should make commitment to the works of the ministry of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It must be a total commitment by all Chins throughout the world, not only commitment of our personnel resources, but also our intellectual and financial resources. To that end, we should spare no energy, wisdom, and material blessings we have received from Him. All these resources should be geared towards establishing Christian environment wherever the Chins have settled, and bringing the Kingdom of God here on earth. There should be peace and justice among the Chins, as well as in the Chin environment of their dwellings.
My prayer is that the good Lord will use our feeble organization called Global Chin Christian Fellowship (GCCF) for His glory and for His Kingdom. And my hope is that all of us, Chins throughout the world, will be used by Him for His purpose: Our hands will become His hands to do things for His name, our feet will become His feet to go wherever He wants us to go, and our mouths will become His mouth to declare His gracious gospel of salvation to every Chin, and to every creature on earth. In other words, we will be His tools in His hands.
When that happens – we should make it happen – our wounds, both individually and corporately, would be healed; our hearts will enjoy peace and serenity; our spirits will be in tune with the Spirit of the Lord. And His will will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
To His name, be the glory and the praise, Amen.
[i] Chin: History, Culture, & Identity, Ed. K. Robin, Dominant Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi, 2009, p. 339.
[ii] Chin: History, Culture, & Identity, Ed. K. Robin, Dominant Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi, 2009, p. 261.
By Rev. Dr. Stephen Hre Kio
26 November 2010 [Friday]
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia