I have been born a Mizo and I have always felt like a Mizo (whatever that is). Nowadays, every one is talking about ‘going back to one’s roots’ and ‘loving one’s own culture’ and so on. This led me to thinking - how Mizo do you have to be to be a Mizo? Are there levels? What is being a Mizo any way? All my life I thought I was just as Mizo as the person next to me, my neighbour, my best friend and my dog. With a pair of jeans and a hair colour that changes every six months, I felt like a Mizo just as any other Mizo person out there. I didn’t know wearing a traditional dress was the only way to become a real Mizo!
I understand that the older generation wants to preach to the new ones about the importance of wearing one’s own traditional dress. They are only trying to make us more Mizo! I am a little confused as to what constitutes a Mizo in the first place. Blood-tribe-location-facial prominence-dress? Which is it? Personally, I associate being a Mizo with Tlawmngaihna first and foremost. I think that is the only thing that really sets us apart from other cultures. That selfless act of pure sacrifice for others - nothing can beat that. I don’t really care about how you look as long as you have a good heart! Right? Apparently not. It seems we need to play ‘dress up’ in order to show that we belong to a certain tribe.
‘Image is everything’ says the Kardashian clan. If you don’t know who they are, then you do not really care about "image." If image is what we aim for, we Mizos are pretty good at creating the Mizo Brand. Sunday-Christian Mizo image, puan-wearing-virginal-looking Mizo women, formal shirt-wearing-church-going men, you get the drift. I do not have a problem with the way we want to dress. I think it's classy and smart. It becomes my problem when the way we dress is not backed up by substance. It’s all style and no substance. I care more about the inner workings of a person’s heart rather than the way a person appears to be. Yes, I enjoy watching ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ but I also know it’s not ‘real’. So which image do we want others to see in us? The fake or the real?
Young Mizo kids today are enamoured by Korean styles and everything Korean. There is a strong reason for it. Korea is cool. Korea is hip. Korea sells and it sells big time. Now I don’t ever recall Korea forcing its culture down our throats, we gladly welcomed it with open arms. There’s something we can actually learn from them before we brand them as bad influence to our society. You see, we need to re-package Mizo culture! In order to do this we first need to re-define what Mizo is. With all due respect and no offence to our forefathers, maybe its time to change our perceptions with the changing times. Let us be accommodating. A Mizo can be a traditional-dress-wearing man, a Mizo can be a young kid with green spiked hair. The sooner we accept this, the more comfortable we will be. Instead of focusing on the way we dress, why don’t we teach the true values to our younger generation? True values like honesty, hard work, self-sufficiency, and of course being true to one self more than anything else. We do not have to force any one to buy the Mizo culture. They will when they see something they like. Our job here is to re-package it.
For instance, you can’t force anyone to wear a traditional dress on their wedding day. Instead show them how good it feels to be a Mizo. Re-wrap the Mizo dress and sell it to them (metaphorically). If we see what we like, we buy it. Simple as that. People may flinch and say, "You can’t sell culture, its absurd!" Well, let me burst your bubble, culture has been commoditized since paper became money. We have been buying the western culture for years, haven’t we? What about Mizo culture? Do we have anything worth selling? Can we sell? The answer is Yes. We can sell our family values, our never ending allegiance to God, our humility, our smiles.. the list can go on forever. The important thing here is to re-package our cultural products. How do we do that? I do not have all the answers but I will give one example.
Repackage Tlawmngaihna. I think this is by far the most prominent value that Mizo people have. If we can sell this to us, we can sell it to the world. You may have heard of the word ubuntu which has its origin in an African saying which goes, ‘I am because we are.’ In short, it talks about being a good human being to each other. Now this word/value has been repeatedly discussed by world famous people like Nelson Mandela and Oprah. They are repackaging Ubuntu and selling it to the world. I know we have also taken pride in our Tlawmngaihna but in recent times, it has taken a back seat. Maybe we need to put it in a nice bottle and gift wrap it with a sweet note.
Be creative and sell me my Mizo and I shall buy it willingly. You don’t need to force it down my throat. Sometimes all you need is to serve it with a spoonful of sugar.
P.S. I am a Mizo as much as you!
Lal aka Lalremruati Khiangte is an Assistant Professor in the department of Mass Communication at Mizoram University. She wrote this feisty assertion of the young, educated, urban, contemporary Mizo in April 2013 for her blog https://gkhiangte.wordpress.com. I am grateful to her for allowing me to repost it here.