Mizoram which became a state on February 20, 1987, was earlier known as the Lushai Hills district. It is a narrow, thumb-shaped state with an area of 21,081 sq km and a population of 689,756 (1991 census). The capital city of Aizawl is located at an altitude of 1,220 metres above sea level and is surrounded by picturesque hills.
Mizoram is sandwiched between Myanmar in the east and south, and Bangladesh to the west. Steep rugged hill ranges run from the northern border with Assam and Manipur and the average height of these is 900 metres.
The highest peak is Phawngpui or Blue Mountain with an altitude of 2,065 metres above mean sea level. The two main rivers are Tlawng (Dhaleswari) in the north and Kolodyne (Chhimtuipui) with their tributaries which become turbulent during the rainy season. Geologically, like other parts of the Northeastern region, the hills of Mizoram are of soft sandstone and shale. Owing to this geological composition there are frequent landslides during the rainy season. The climate is temperate with pleasant summers and tolerable winters. The entire territory receives an average annual rainfall of approximately 208 centimetres.
The traditional rulers of the Mizos were the Sailos, who ruled as chiefs, claiming rights over land and life. As rulers of an agricultural economy, each chief had within his court an agricultural exper who was well-versed with the secrets of the forest.
History and people
Mizo folklore says the Mizos came from a place called Chinglung or Singlung which means a covering rock. Traditional Mizo society has been nurtured on a unique code of behaviour based on a philosophy known as tlawmngaihna or selflessness. This code bounds Mizos to be hospitable, kind, unselfish and helpful. Such traits are still visible in this closeknit society where there is no class discrimination.
TheMizos have numerous influential clans including the Lushai, Pawi, Lakher, Hmar, Paite and Ralte. Besides the Mizos, the state is also home to a number of smaller communities culturally akin to the former, like the Thadaos and the Kukis. There are 11 sub-tribes which are collectively termed as Abzia. The Chakmas who are Buddhist, also constitute a distinct tribe. They were originally inhabitants of the Chittagong Hills of Bangladesh and have settled in the Mizo hills over many years.
Till a few years ago, tribal endogamy was strictly practised among the Mizos, but today marriage outside the group is also permitted. Christianity is the dominant religion. It has brought about changes in their social lives and outlook. A Western lifestyle and modern education have had their impact, yet the cultural tradition of the Mizos have remained vibrant. Many of the present Mizo customs are a mixture of the old traditions and a Western pattern of life. Pop music contests and fashion shows are quite popular among the youth. Although a dilution of heritage characterises the passage of time in most cultures, pride in the identity of Mizo culture and its preservation makes this state unique.
In 1966, insurgency exploded in the state. The Mizo Famine Front formed by Laldenga to provide succour to the people suffering from the famine which began in 1959, was converted to Mizo National Front (MNF) and turned secessionist out of anger at the Assam government’s failure to provide relief. Militancy rocked the state for the next two decades, till the MNF signed a treaty and came overground in 1986. Mizoram, till then a Union Territory, became a full-fledged state. The Mizo Accord is credited with being the only successful agreement with an insurgent group in the entire region. The pact was total and all-encompassing. There were no breakaway groups, and nor did anyone challenge the supremacy of Laldenga.
The state has also witnessed another successful pact, the Hmar Accord, which saw the Hmar People?s Convention (HPC) return from the jungles to regional electoral politics after being promised an autonomous council.
The state?s agricultural economy consists of wet rice cultivation in the plain areas and terraced cultivation in the hilly slopes. Though jhum or shifting cultivation has been checked to an extent, lack of adequate plain areas for wet rice cultivation is one of the major drawbacks.
The state abounds in valuable medicinal herbs which are reasonably easy to come by. A pastoral economy or primitive means of agriculture is still the mainstay of the majority. Recent advances in the agricultural sector at the national and international level have still not trickled down to the local level. The single-crop agricultural economy in many cases has resulted in low production and poor living conditions.
Industrialisation is still at a nascent stage. With the region?s substantial natural resource base in bamboo, cane, forests and limestone, the emphasis is on cottage industries, including sericulture and handlooms. Cane and bamboo baskets and wood carvings with intricate designs have export potential. The colourful and exquisite jewellery crafted out of glass beads, ivory, brass and shells are examples of fine workmanship.
Besides the indigenous handlooms, brightly-coloured handwoven shoulder bags, jackets, decorative spears, table mats, wood carvings, bamboo work, are available across the state. As in other Northeast states, piggery and poultry are sources of income generation. Horticultural produce, canned fruits and fruit products, vegetables, besides mushroom and sugarcane are important marketable commodities.
Art and culture
Adept at their looms, Mizo women weave intricate, colourful designs in the traditional clothes that they don. The people have held on to certain patterns and motifs that have been handed down through the ages. These designs have become deeply rooted in their tribal consciousness and have become part of their heritage. The traditional craft of the tribals can be seen even in exquisite cane and bamboo work, where both utilitarian and decorative pieces find pride of place. There are indigenously produced and intricately woven bamboo hats, mats and shawls.
The people enjoy a number of community cultural festivals that have been handed down from the earlier days. It is in such festivals that the tribal heritage of the Mizos is reflected. Some significant dance forms are Cheraw (bamboo dance), Khuallam, Solkia and Chheihlam. These dances are said to have evolved through community participation.
Mizoram has a mini zoo at Bung, 15 kms from Aizawl. The State Museum depicts tribal culture, heritage and lifestyles of the Mizos. The Blue Mountain, Dingdi Art Gallery, Dampa Sanctuary and Tamdil Lake are other places of tourist interest.
Entry formalities require Inner Line Permits (ILP) to be acquired from the Resident Commissioner or any Liaison Officer under the Government of Mizoram in New Delhi and the other cities like Kolkata, Guwahati and Silchar. Visitors should contact the state Department of Tourism or the district administration concerned for reservations in guest houses, hotels, circuit houses and dak bungalows.