Zomi Education Centre, Taman Cheras

Transforming Lives Through Education   

Who Are the Zomi?

The Zo, also known as the Mizo, the Kuki, the Chin, the Zomi and a number of other names, are a large group of related Tibeto-Burman tribal peoples spread throughout the northeastern states of India, northwestern Burma, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. In northeastern India, they are present in: NagalandMizoramManipur and Assam. This dispersal across international borders resulted from British colonial policy that drew the borders on political grounds rather than ethnic ones.

The Zo have typical Tibeto-Burman features and are generally of short-stature with straight black hair and dark brown eyes. Natively, the Zo speak one of the fifty or so languages that linguists call the Kukish language group, which is also known as Kuki-Chin (Kuki/Chin), Mizo/Kuki/Chin, or Kuki Naga.

The Zomi or Zo people (‘mi’ means people) have long inhabited the mountainous areas between India and Burma for centuries. In Burma, the Zo people occupy the whole of Chin State and Kalay, Tamu and Khampat townships in Sagaing division. 

However, due to the lack of contact with the outside world, the group was often referred to as the “Chin” instead of their own name “Zomi.”

The British first imposed the name “Chin” on the group when the colonists first made contact with the Zo people in the 19th century. According to Dr. Vum Son, the author of Zo History, the British adopted the name from the Burmans.

When the Burmans first came in contact with the group in the eleventh or twelfth century, they began calling the Zo people “Chin” for the simple reason that the basket carrying people occupied the western part of the Chindwin River – “Chindwin” meaning “the valley of the baskets”. The word “chin” means basket in Burmese.

The Zo people have their own traditions, culture and language that are completely different from the ethnic Burmans. After Burma gained independence from the British, many Zo people refused to accept the name Chin – a term that they have never used themselves and was only officially used only after British annexation.

Dr. Hau Go, a Zomi scholar and lecturer at Mandalay University, wrote: “Whatever Chin meant or means, however it originated and why, the obvious fact is that the designation ‘Chin’ is altogether foreign to us, it has been externally imposed [on] us. We respond to it out of necessity but we never appropriate it and never accept it and never use it to refer to ourselves. It is not only foreign but also derogatory, for it has become more or less synonymous with being uncivilised, uncultured, backward, even foolish and silly.”