Culture & Heritage


Pherzawl and I


There are some places in the world that lie on the path frequented by the march of history. Likewise, I believe Pherzawl is one of them. Another example is Bethlehem in the Judean hills where I set foot on 28 September, 1993 during my ten-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While Pherzawl is my birth place and secularly my Second Sinlung after the mythical one believedly lying somewhere in China, Bethlehem has become my religious Sinlung. The twin converges in me and formed my secular and religious identities.

Of the several villages in the original Tipaimukh sub-division which the inhabitants fondly call ‘Hmar Biel’ (Hmar Area), Pherzawl has been the only village set up and ruled by a Hmar chief and his descendants. The rest Hmar villages invited men from their kindred Thado tribe to be their chiefs in exercise of high diplomatic manoeuvre and survival instinct. The circumstances which compelled them to adopt that kind of policy was described by Lt. Colonel J. Shakespear in his book ‘The Lushei Kuki Clans’ (1912; Reprint 1975) which I quote: “When the aggressions of the Ṭhangur chiefs disturbed the Khawthlang (Old Kukis) and Khawchhak (New Kukis) one section fled through the country of the Thados into Cachar, another took refuge among the Chhinchhuan, (Singsuon) a Thado family in the southern portion of the Manipur Hills, to whom they paid tribute and a certain number joined the Ṭhangur villages. Between those who fled to the Chhinchhuan (Singsuon) and the Lushais, hostilities were carried on until our arrival in 1890, and, as in the case of Vuite, we found many of them living in a state of semi-slavery in the Sailo villages, whence they have mostly rejoined their relatives, and there are now 296 households of these people in the south-west of the Manipur Hills and more in the adjoining parts of the Lushai Hills” p.184.

Let me try to explain the historical background of the above narrative. In the wake of fratricidal wars of the Sailo chiefs known as Chhim leh hmar indo (1849-1856) and Chhak leh thlang indo (1877-1880) a section of mixed Old Kuki group took advantage of the situation and left Mizoram in two groups, one group entered Cachar and the other Manipur south west and settled in Tipaimukh area but found themselves trapped and sandwiched between the powerful Sailo chiefs (offspring of Thangur) on the south and the Thado-Kuki chiefs on the north. Cast between the devil and the deep blue sea, the 296 households mentioned by Shakespear had no choice but to seek the protection of the Thado (Singsuon) clan by installing them as their chiefs. Pherzawl was the only providential exception!

Placed between hammer and anvil, the founding father of Pherzawl, Pu Bulhmang and his brothers Lienbul, Sawnte, Lalsanghlei and Hranghlim had to suffer innumerable hardships because of stiff opposition from Ngullien, Chief of Khuongjang village in the north who earned notoriety for impertinence and brutal behaviour. As a show of subjugation, he used to send unruly brutes to beat up Pherzawl chief Bulhmang and his people and once took away the chief as prisoner and hang him on the branch of a tree by tying him with a string in his wig, but was luckily saved on the right time by dedicated souls who followed him closely and  brought him back. Unfortunately, the torture inflicted on him was so severe that Bulhmang never recovered from it and died early leaving his 13-year old son Dolur to take the rein through regency till he attained maturity.

In 1905 Lt. Col. J. Shakespear, Political Agent of Manipur visited the South-west to demarcate village boundaries. Having served many years in the Lushai Hills, Col. Shakespear could speak Mizo fluently. When he visited Pherzawl and Tinsuong and fixed the jurisdiction of Pherzawl village vis-a-vis its neighbouring villages, he asked Chief Ngullien the extent of his authority. Without batting an eyelid, Ngullien pointed his finger towards all the lands west of Kailam Range including Pherzawl area. Col. Shakespear was not amused at the chief’s audacity. Pointing to a house built at the saddle of a hill, he asked Chief Ngullien to whom the house belonged to and the latter said it was his. The Political Agent then told him he was going to give order to construct a road and cut the house in two! The crest-fallen Khuongjang chief got the message loud and clear but remained unrepented. He continued to harass Pherzawl chief and sent his hordes to mow down all their standing crops in late September for which he was taken to court by the Pherzawl chief. The Assistant Superintendent Major Cosgrave ordered him to pay a hefty fine of Rs. 300 which in today’s value will amount to a few lakh rupees. After Ngullien died, his successors and the young Pherzawl chief Dolur buried the hatchet and maintained good neighbourly relations till Khuongjang village was wiped off in 1960 during the Kuki-Hmar conflict.

I was born and brought up in Pherzawl till my matriculation and migration to Saidan in Khuga Valley (nicknamed by someone as ‘Second Pherzawl’ and Khawmawi, a further extension of Pherzawl through Saidan). Saidan was established in 1941 by Lalsanghlei and his sons after giving up regency of Pherzawl with the installation of Dolur as chief. Two books-Zawlkhawpui Chanchin, 2004 (enlarged edition 2013) by Dr. Lal Dena and Lal Remruot (Saidan Chanchin), 2008, a marriage diamond jubilee compilation of Chief Hmanglien and Pherzawl High School Golden Jubilee (1951-2000) Souvenir edited by me provided detailed account of not only the history of Pherzawl but also the genealogical chronology of Fima, the progenitor of Infimates (the largest group among the Lungtrau clan of which Pherzawl chiefs belonged) from the time they crossed the Trieu River from Burma and settled at Champhai to the present day. In fact, one section of this group who once settled at Keivom Zo (Peak) at the present Ngaizawl, about 40 km north of Khawzawl killed a black tiger from which we derived our family clan’s name Keivom. Fima’s offspring are known as Infimate Keivom and the rest Keivom are known as Tramhrang Keivom.

Being the only village in Hmar Area with a Hmar chief, Pherzawl had to play a pivotal role in matters concerning ethnic political initiatives especially when Mizo Union movement swept the area with a call for Zo unity to form a State of its own which compelled the then Chief Minister Maharajkumar Priya Brata Singh (1912-2005) to rush to the area to defuse the situation. Soon after Mizo Union was established at Aizawl, Hmar Area branch was opened and the first Manipur Mizo Union General Assembly was held at Pherzawl in early 1948 and elected L. Tawna as President. All the Thado chiefs in the area strongly opposed Mizo Union movement as one of the party’s agenda was the abolition of chieftainship and their privileges. This situation led to a big divide between the chiefs and their henchmen on one side and their subjects who supported the movement on the other. Pherzawl with a benevolent chief had never experienced this divide between the ruler and the ruled. It’s a crime-free, self-sustained and egalitarian village where refusal of hospitality and lodging to travellers, strangers, and guests was unheard of. The land was fertile; people worked hard and many produced rice enough to feed themselves for two consecutive years. A month survey conducted by Lalkama, youth leader in the early fifties showed that Pherzawl with less than a hundred households had an average of 80-100 guests per night and the highest recorded was 150! Many of the guests were traders from far and wide and some of them came from the Chin Hills with their horses and mules to buy essential provisions well-stocked by Pherzawl merchants.

Pherzawl High School was opened in January, 1951 by H.Thanglora, the first graduate among the Hmar tribe in Manipur. It was the first ever high school in all Manipur hills, and there was none either in rural areas in the immediate neighbouring states. Students from far-flung areas came to study with students from Mizoram dominating the cultural scene. We learnt to play the guitar and the ukulele and popular secular Mizo songs from them and also following their footsteps we started composing songs with T. Khuma Songate leading the way. I was only 12 years old when I composed my first piece for the newly established Pherzawl Youngsters Athletic Union (PYAU). Some sort of Pan-Zoism was born in me in this atmosphere which ultimately crystallized forty years later into my prize-winning book ‘Zoram Khawvel’ which also by default inaugurated the birth of a versatile socio-political terminology that embraces all Zo descents on this planet and beyond.

In today’s parlance and in terms of the number of households, Pherzawl of our time was a tiny village, smaller than one-fourth of the Society’s apartment where I live in Delhi. Perched on top of 1037 metres (3402 feet) mountain range surrounded all around by a kilometre long forest reserve, salubrious Pherzawl was divided into three quarters- Muolveng, Venglai & Vengsak. Muolveng where the Chief and his close relatives and trusted lieutenants lived had only 30 households. But Muolveng was no ordinary ‘veng’. From its bowels came, to name a few, the first Hmar historian L. Hranglien Songate, his son T. Khuma Songate, leading song writer and composer and his nephew Lalrorem Songate, IAS, translator and publisher of Hmar Standard Version of the Bible who now settled in Hyderabad after retirement; my nephew Hrangchunghnung Hrangate (H.C.Hrangate), writer of several school text books before joining Indian Ordnance Factories Service (IOFS) and settled at Rengkai after retirement; another nephew, Dr. Lal Dena, a noted historian and writer, former Head of Department of History at Manipur University who, after retirement was appointed Vice Chancellor of Sangai International University, Churachandpur; and me, the writer of this article, the first Indian Foreign Service (IFS) from Manipur, translator and publisher of the Holy Bible in Hmar known as Delhi Version, author of more than 30 books including Zoram Khawvel series, composer of more than 150 songs and writer of more than a dozen short stories and over 1000 essays and articles on various topics and whose children living and serving in Wellington (NZ), Philippines, London (UK) and New York (USA) in which world the sun never sets, have in their own stride earned accolades in their respective fields of engagement and continued to proudly fly Pherzawl flag high across the continents.

Pherzawl and its high school produced many leaders and pathfinders in the field of politics, religion, education, socio-economic developments, etc. Statistical figure provided by Dr. H Thanglora, Founder of Pherzawl High School at the Pherzawl High School Golden Jubilee (1951-2000) Souvenir which I edited contained 40 names of Ministers, Central and State Civil Service officers and religious leaders who were the products of Pherzawl High School. It is impossible to write the history of this part of the world and its people without Pherzawl. Trying to do that would amount to writing the four Gospels without mentioning the young carpenter of Nazareth.

Like any history of civilisation, Pherzawl had its ebb and flow. I was fortunate to have witnessed and enjoyed the heydays of Pherzawl. I also witnessed afterwards with a heavy heart the collapse of the idyllic world during a chance visit on holiday from abroad. The deserted old village site was now covered with thorny bushes and groundsels and the graveyard at the outskirt of the northern gateway where the tombstones of Pu Bulhmang, founder chief and his wife, my father, my brother and my sister-in-law standing in a row was in a state of total neglect and disrepair. The high school building from where I matriculated was the only structure left at the old site when I visited in 1986 and its fate too had already been decided: to be dismantled and moved to the new village site. To bid eternal farewell, we took a group photo in front of the building which, after 14 years occupied a pride of place when I used it as the cover photo in Pherzawl High School Golden Jubilee Souvenir (1951-2000).

Nevertheless, in my deepest heart I always believed that Pherzawl would rise again one day as it stands on the path frequented by history from time to time. The Government of Manipur’s announcement on December 8, 2016 of the formation Pherzawl District with Pherzawl as its headquarters as part of the creation of seven new districts in Manipur was therefore a pleasant surprise and a rare Christmas present. Whatever the purpose and considerations that weighed the move, I consider the choice of tolerant and farsighted Pherzawl as a very wise and balanced decision worthy of praise and appreciation. How to make the new district viable with a zero balance and almost near absence of infrastructural facilities will, however be a daunting challenge that requires foresight, wisdom, understanding, patience and hard-work. Pherzawl occupies a special place in my heart. Please take good care of it. (Wednesday, July 18, 2018, Delhi).

–Born and brought up in Pherzawl, the writer of this article, Pu L. Keivom is the first Indian Foreign Service (IFS) from Manipur. He is not only a diplomat par excellence, but a prolific writer who, to his credit, is author of more than 30 books including the widely read ‘Zoram Khawvel’ (1-8 parts). He also translated and published the Holy Bible in Hmar known as Delhi Version. Pu L Keivom lives in Delhi with his wife