Melbourne, Australia: The Chin people in Melbourne, Australia held their traditional harvest festival on November 29, 2008 at Croydon Secondary College. About 350 out of more than 1000 Aussie Chins in Melbourne turned out to celebrate the festival which plays a significant and important role in the Chin culture.
The festival was organized and held under the banner of Chin Festival Celebration Committee (CFCC), comprised of representatives from The Hornbill Chin Association of Australia (HCAA), Melbourne Chin Community (MCC), Australia Matu Community (AMC) and Lailun Association Melbourne (LAM).
Due to the ongoing religious persecutions and human rights abuses rampantly committed by one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, the so-called SPDC (The State Peace and Development Council), the Chins in Burma have been forced to flee their home country, scattering around the world which indeed poses a threat to the gradual disintegration and eventual extinction of their traditional Chin values, languages and cultures. Therefore, knowing the imperatives of preserving and maintaining their distinct national identities, cultural values, and traditions, the Chins around the world have undertaken systematic initiatives by running language classes for their children, by celebrating their Chin National Day which falls on Febraury 20 and cultural festivals including their Harvest festival in any possible means but not in a way that clashes with the mainstream cultures and values of the countries in which they live.
As a multicultural country itself, Australian government always encourages and supports people who are not from the mainstream, such as the Chin people, to openly exercise their rights and freedom such as celebrating Chin New Year Day or Harvest Festival Day and Chin National Day, of which the latter is banned in Burma. “In today’s celebration, the turnout is not as high as we expected, but more than 350 showed up enthusiastically, signifying once again that even though we are thousands of miles away from our homeland, we still value, cherish, and want to preserve our cultures,” one organizer told Chinland Guardian.
As this is the day the Chins in Australia can present their unique identity and culture to the mainstream Australian society, many participants showed up with their Chin traditional dresses, some with the traditional ones and the others with the modernized ones. “I’m so proud of myself today and feel that being a Chin in Australia is not like being a Chin in Burma, where the military regime will judge you by your ethnicity and religions. If you are a Chin, which in most cases also means that you are a Christian too, for sure you will face discrimination on the ground of your race and religion, I mean, in one way or another. But here, even if Australia is not a paradise as I thought before I came here, I have my freedom,” said one of the participants who came here as part of Australian government refugee settlement programs.
“When I was in Burma, I only saw Chin traditional dances in television on occasions such as Union Day. And in the past 1990s, there weren’t many Chins in Australia and I never heard and hardly saw them. But now, there are a lot of them in Australia. As a Burman, I’ve always wanted to learn about the Chin people. Today, I got that opportunity and thanked for that,” said Myint Myint San, the adviser to Women as Peace Builders Team based in Thailand.
At the festival, Chin traditional and modern songs sung by Chin youngsters and elders in Australia, and Chin traditional dances, such as Pangparlam and Chantharlam performed by members of HCAA were presented. “I felt like I was in Chin State, Burma when I saw Chin traditional dances and people with Chin traditional dresses,” said Jessica, coordinator of Burma Campaign Australia, Victoria branch.
After the celebration, the participants devoured one of Chin traditional foods, Sabuti. “Today is a wonderful opportunity for the Chin people in Australia to come together and celebrate their Harvest Festival. And I’m so pleased that I was among the participants,” said Jill Jamesom, who has been actively involved in Burma issues since 1990s and worked at Thai-Burma border refugee camps.
Chin Harvest Festival is also known as Chin New Year Day and in fact it has been called with various names such as ‘Lai Kum Thar’ or ‘Tho’, ‘Fang-er’, ‘Khuado’ and so on, depending on the people of the Chin tribe and dialect they speak.
Lian Ding Hmung
30 November, 2008