Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Mizo Origin Myth

Translated by Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte

Eons ago, in time immemorial, a goddess named Khuazingnu created the earth. To make it cool and habitable, she created all sorts of vegetation, and to nurture these, she periodically opened the windows of heaven and poured water upon the earth. She created humans and other living beings to devour the foods and fruits produced by the plants. All living beings could talk and communicate with one another.
Time went by, and these living creatures reproduced and multiplied, co-existing harmoniously. They never harmed each other, and they were never in want of food. With the increase in population, beings of different natures and temperaments emerged, and they decided that they needed a ruler to protect them and rule over them. So, they chose one among them to be their king.
One night, after having had his supper, this king took a nap. It was the night of the full moon, and all creatures made merry dancing and singing, celebrating the moonlight. In the midst of their revelry, the moonlight suddenly began to fade and disappear even as they were looking on. The creatures became frantic with worry, and proceeded to make a loud commotion by banging on whatever object that could produce sound. After a while, the moon reappeared, and this made them very happy. In the meantime, the king had awoken at the tremendous noise that his subjects had made. In response to his query, the elders narrated what had transcribed. The king said, “Listen, while I was asleep, I dreamt that I had swallowed the moon; then, I heard a terrific noise, and I became scared, so I spat out the moon again with great difficulty.” The elders then noticed that the king’s mouth indeed had deep gashes and bloodstains at the sides, and they believed that the king had truly swallowed the moon.
Not long after, the king died, went to Heaven and was transformed into a Creature who could, and often did, swallow the moon. Once, he swallowed the moon for such a long time that the whole earth was plunged into darkness from morning till night. With total darkness enveloping the earth, there was complete chaos and nobody could do any work because they could not see anything. During this time, there were sudden transformations among the creatures of the earth; some humans became monkeys, while young boys and girls became birds. The village elders were transformed into a flock of birds, and the bravest hunter became a tiger, and so on. Their Creator, the goddess Khuazingnu, became anxious and sad that her creations were changed into lesser beings. Before they could all be transformed, she decided to put a couple from each human clan, as well as representatives of each animal species, into a deep pit, and sealed the pit with a huge rock called Chhinlung.
After four or five generations had been born, the goddess decided that enough living beings existed to sustain life on earth. She gingerly lifted the rock, Chhinlung. There was a loud buzz from within, and when she opened the covering fully, droves of humans emerged from behind the rock, like locusts. After many humans had emerged, the Ralte clan came out in a great multitude, noisier than the other clans, and full of arrogance. At this juncture, the goddess decided that there were enough people, and she closed the Chhinlung again.
While under the Rock, humans and sprites had cohabited freely, and produced offspring. Among these was an exceptionally strong and powerful man named Thlanrawkpa, born of a liaison between a human and a sprite. He became the king, and planned to host a great feast, later known as Thlanrawkpa Khuangchawi to show off his might and splendor. Unfortunately, he forgot to invite Sabereka, his father-in-law. Sabereka was furious, and caused a thunderstorm to rain for the entire night on the eve of the feast. The rain washed away all the earth of the village, leaving behind only the rocky layer underneath. It became impossible for the villagers to dig through the rocks to mount the pillar on which was hoisted the mithun’s head, a crucial part of the feast.
There was a fertile expanse of earth on the other side of a perilous body of water; the otter and the badger volunteered to make trips across the water to bring back the earth to their village. The earthworms volunteered to eat the earth once it had been transported so that it would be multiplied through their excreta. The legendary Chhurbura offered to beat the earth so that the level would remain even on the ground. In this way, all beings of the village cooperated with one another, contributing to the community work until the earth became habitable again, and the glorious feast could be held.
All creatures made merry during this feast, laughing, playing and dancing. The mole played the drum and in his enthusiasm, he donned a flower on his head. It was not a pretty sight, and the other creatures laughed at him. He became angry and retreated into his hole with the drum (khuang) and would not be mollified. Since the feast could not go on without the drum, they tried various means to cajole him out of his hole. Eventually they poured water down one end of the burrow, and he emerged, still sulking, with the khuang and threw it out. It landed just at the knee joints of the hen, who was nearby, and to this day, the hen’s knee joints are bent backwards as a result of this incident.
It was at this feast, which went on for several days, that many creatures were given their names, based on their performances and feasts, and they retain their given names to this day. Also, as a result of this, the typical Mizo house built on stilts replaced the former homesteads of the Mizos, whose mud floors had been washed away by the torrential rain. In order to avoid such calamities again, it was decided that all houses would henceforth stand on stilts, well away from the ground.
During this prolonged feast, there was a great battle between the creatures of flight and the beasts of the earth due to a misunderstanding. The conflict resulted in a victory for the earth-bound creatures. They decided to celebrate their victory, which would also mark the culmination of the great feast hosted by Thlanrawkpa. However, the domesticated animals refused to bow under the dictates of their human masters any longer, claiming that they should have a more exalted position because of their contributions to the victory. They raised a great protest when some of them were to be slaughtered for the feast. The situation became critical until Sabereka, Thlanrawkpa’s father-in-law decreed that, henceforth, neither animals, plants nor humans should be able to speak the same language. Thus, with communication cut off between them, other creatures could no longer make protests, and order was restored with humans continuing to be masters over other living beings.

Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte works in the English dept at Mizoram University. She writes poetry in English and also does translations from Mizo to English. The piece reproduced here is part of her seminar paper presented at the International Seminar on History of Religions, JNU, October 2007 entitled Myth and the Mizo World View.


mesjay said...

This is truly interesting. And kudos to this blog that carries such variety treats!

Storyteller said...

I always thought it was just Khuanu which I understood was something akin to Mother Earth?