A well-known Chin scholar Dr. Lian Hmung Sakhong made a presentation on ‘the origin of the Chin’ at the international Chin seminar, calling to look back together into the past in order to see the origin of the Chin. The seminar was held in Aizawl, Mizoram State for three days on 13-15 October.
In a historic conference with more than 150 scholars attending from across the globe, Dr. Sakhong said that he was standing there as an activist and historian, adding: “As a historian, I am engaging a dialogue between the past and the present, and when I look the future, I look backward. I first look backwards in order to look towards the future.”
“As an activist, I am currently engaging dialogue between the present and the future. But an activist approach is quite opposite to a historian: we first look towards the future in order to look backwards into the past,” continued the author of a widely acclaimed book ‘In Search of Chin Identity: A Study in Religion, Politics and Ethnic Identity in Burma‘.
Speaking about a series of historical workshops conducted for the ethnic groups in Burma, Dr. Sakhong, the current Vice-Chairman and former General Secretary of Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) highlighted the purpose as ‘knowing the past and understanding the present’.
The Arakan Historical Workshop was done in 2006 and the Mon in 2007 which was followed by the Chin this year. The Shan historical workshop will be done next year in Shih-song-pana in Yunan Province of China.
His message included the importance of challenging the notions of ‘self-determination’ and ‘nation-state’ in the course of writing history by people, both low and high, after admitting the Chins have very little knowledge about their own history between 1896 and 1948, and also after 1948. The right of self-determination should not be narrowly interpreted as a sovereign nation-state but is the good part of federal system that we are advocating for the future of Burma, according to his paper presentation.
“As a people, and as a Chin, we don’t want to remain forever a child. And that’s the reason why we want to re-organize our past memory in order to preserve, protect and promote our identity, our culture and our ways of life so that we would be able to create a vibrant and admirable future for the next generations to come,” said Dr. Sakhong, winner of the 2007 Martin Luther King Prize.
Blaming the international boundaries for dividing us today as Indian, Burmese and Bangladeshi citizens with different Standard Times practiced in each country, and slight differences in the suffix of our names, Dr. Sakhong said this is part of the destruction of primordial identity that bound us as a distinctive ethnic group with clearly defined territory of homeland before.
The seminar was sponsored by Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office and organised by Mizoram University. This is the third time the international Chin seminar has been held with the first in 1892 and the second in 1998.
A prolific Chin writer on Chin history, traditions and politics in Burma, Dr. Lian H. Sakhong said: “In order to reclaim our identity and declare that we are brothers and sisters from the same ancestors, who proclaimed this land as our homeland by their lives and their destiny, we have to look back our past and ask the question of ‘Why’ very boldly. Asking the question of ‘Why’ in history is very much related with the question of change and continuity.”
“It is this process of change that influences our day-to-day behaviour, thereby our ways of life and our thought pattern, which eventually creates our new identity. Through change, we created socially constructed identity but continuity allowed us to preserve our primordial identity. If change occurred on constant basis and if we didn’t realize what happened to us, then we wouldn’t be able to freeze the reality, and then we all would become the strangers in the midst of our brothers and sisters.”
All the scholars’ papers and documents presented at the seminar will be published as a collection in a book form, according to the organising committee.
Van Biak Thang
16 October, 2008