INTRODUCTORY NOTES TO MARA DISTRICT OF SOUTH MIZORAM INDIA
BY DR. K. ZOHRA, Ph.D
LECTURER, GOVERNMENT SAIHA COLLEGE
The Maras occupy the southern portion of Mizoram,the hill tracts situated in the areas of Indo-Myanmar border. The whole region inhabited by the Maras is commonly called "Marara" in the local language meaning the "land of the Maras" or "Maraland".In the early British period,it was popularly known to the Britishers as "Lakherland" as the Maras were then designated as "Lakher".In 1922,the whole region occupied by them was divided up into different parts among the three districts viz the Lushai hills, the Chin Hills and the Arkan Hill Tracts.From 1924,the Maras villages which had fallen to the Lushai hills had been administered as part of the district under the Chief Commissioner of Assam.In 1953, the Mara area of the erstwhile Lushai Hills was loosely amalgamated with the Lai area to create an autonomous region under the name "Pawi-Lakher Region" under the Sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution.
Capt.T.H.Lewin used the term "Lakher-Pawi" in his account while he visited the southern Mizoram in the year 1865-66.Under the same context,in 1972,the Mara area was again separated from the Lai area to form an autonomous district under the name"Lakher District" which was again rechristened into "Mara District" in 1988. Saiha, locally known as Siaha is the capital town of the Mara Autonomous District,and also the headquarters of the Chhimtuipui District,which is now changed into Saiha District.Tuipang also known to the Maras as "Tipa" is the sub-headquarters of the Mara autonomouse District.
The Mara Autonomouse District lies in the loop of the Kolodyne river between the latitude 21'.50' and 20degree.35' North and between the longtitude 92degree 55' and 93degree 35' East.Situated in the southern part of the Mizoram, it covers an area of about 1445 square kilometres.It is flanked on the north and east by the Lai Autonomous District of Mizoram and on the east and the south by the Chin State of Myanmar.Geographically,the Mara Autonomous District is isolated from the rest of India both its distance and forbidding nature of hills terrain.Steep hill ranges running in different directions pludge the features. Hills ranges are separated from one another by ridges and forrows.The average height of these range is about 900-1500 metres.There are a number of high peaks.The Mawma with a height of 2050 metres is the highest mountain in the Mara district.There are more prominent mountains like the Tliatlu 1941 metres, the Kahrie 1918 metres and many others hill ranges.In almost every dimension numerous summits, valleys and huge precipices of every description are noticed but there is only one plateau, the Pala-Khaikhy which covers an area of about 180 hectares.
Several rivers run through the land.The more prominent rivers are the Beino,otherwise known as Kolodyne, the Tisi,the Pala, the Lakie,the Sarau,the Titlao and the Salyu.The first named river is the bigest,and is also known as Kolodyne or Chhimtuipui which means "the big rivers of the south".This river has its source in the Lai lake of the Chin State of Myanmar and after a course due south it makes abrupt turn in the Indo-Myanmar bordering areas and then after running south it joins the Bay of Bengal.There are also many small rivers,brooks and streams in every rugged valley.Besides,there are also Lakes, the more important remarkable lakes are (1)the Pala Tipo(Pala lake) is the biggest lake situated in the southern part of the Mara Autonomos Distrit and the lake has a depth of twelve metres,covering an area of about one square kilometres.(2)Beihlo Tipo(Beihlo Lake) is also located close to the Pala Tipo, and is locally known to the Maras as"Tipo Ataw".(3) Chhohmo Lake is also situated near the Pala Tipo, and this lake is also locally known as "Tipo Apino". 4) Hmolai Lake is also situated near Khaikhy village of southern part of the district. Some of the rivers drain towards the north-south directions.These rivers are abound with many varieties of fish of which the biggest is the cat fish.Even crocodiles are also found in the Kolodyne river,a fact indicating its size and connection with the Bay of Bengal.
Lying below the striking point of the Tropic of Cancer,the Mara District is bestowed with a pleasant climate enjoying cool in summer and temparate winter.There is, therefore, no extreme variation of temperature throughout the year; the temperature everaging 18degree C in winter 31degree C in summer.Due to the variation in altitudes and features,some places are subjected to tropical and sub-tropical climate whereas the rest has temperate and sub-temperate climate.Monsoon period which falls from May to September brings heavy rain with violent storm, average annual rainfall is 240.6cm. During the monsoon season the rain water rushes down the hill sides causing landslides and soil erosion, and some rivers swell up with great concussion,while in winter they dry up quickly. The most remarkable flood occured in 1989 and in 1995.
The Mara District is very rich in forest resources.The entire area is covered with thick forest which is a continuation of Mizoram hill system. About 289 square kilometres of the area is under forest of which reserve forest occupies above 82 square kilometres the protected Reserve Forest covers 20.5 square kilometres, and Riverine Reserved Forest 72.5 square kilometres.The hills are covered with tropical jungles with evergreen enchanting. Several kinds of trees including flowering ones and variety of bamboo are in great abundance.The scenery of the jungle throughout the land is very pictureque, the hill and valleys are densely covered with boundless forest.Large areas of the forest have,however,been destroyed by the Maras over the years without any attention to the plantation. However,in late years, due to the efforts of the Mara Autonomous District Council,the hills are regaining their old picture with new plantation of many new species of trees.
The tropical jungle with its favourable climate makes the land an ideal sanctuary for wild animals.Large varieties of wild animals are found in the forest.These include elephant,mithun,tiger,bear,deer,varities of monkey and ape. At present there are two Asian elephants. Recently, on 24/8/2001 by 9:30PM one elephant killed a young man Mr.Jacob J.Chahnei, 34 years old of Mipu village of the Mara District. This is the only incidence committed by the elephants. Formerly, rhinoceros were also found in the Pala area, southern part of the Mara Autonomouse District,but they are now completely extinct. It has been reported that Mr.H.Hmokha of Zyhno village had killed one hundred rhinoceros. This is rightly recorded ih his memorial stone laid near Siatlai village.Several varieties of bird,jungle fowl,black pheasant,partridge,etc. are also found.In the past wild animals were extremely numerous but their number has been fast decreased due to the devastation of forest and indiscriminate killing of wild animals and birds. According to the office records of the Deputy Commoissioner, Saiha, there are 1289 arms as on the registration made upto 2001.
The Maras were in early period known to the outside world under diffrerent tribal names such as Mara, Lakher, Shendu or Shendoo, Maring, Zyu or Zao/Zho, Tlosai, Khongzai,etc. They constitute a distinct tribal group lying in Saiha district of south Mizoram.They called themselves "Maras".
The word "Mara" is used as a generic term for the whole Mara people. And as such the different tribal sub-groups or clans of the Maras who inhabit the entire perimeter of the present Mara Autonomous District of Mizoram and the hill tracts of the erstwhile south Haka sub-Division of the Chin Hills of Myanmar and whose culture,traditions, dialect, etc. being closely similar are commonly designated as "Mara".
The generic term "Mara" includes several territorial sub-groups namely the Sizo-Chapi,Hawthai,Hlaipao -Zyhno,Iana or Vytu,Lochei and Tlosai.The Hlaipao has a number of sub-groups such as the Heima,Lialai and Zyhno.The Sizo sub-group are the Aru, Chapi, Khihlo, Lialaira, Ratu, Saby, Sosai, Taikua, Tikei, Tisi, etc.The Tlosai sub-group are the Saikao and Siaha.The three territorial sub-groups such as the Hawthai, Lochei and Iana had no sub-groups.
The Maras are widely distributed but the greater number of them are found in the Mara Autonomous District.According to the 1971 cencus,the total population of the Maras in Mizoram is 24,365.The District Cencus of 1987 puts the figure at 24,365and the Cencus record of the Mara Autonomous District Council puts it as 37,112. According to 1998 Cencus Report of the Mara Autonomous District is 47,984,female 23,202, male 24,782.At present there are 50 villages, and 59 village councils within the Mara Autonomous District.
The Maras belong to Mongoloid,the eastern third mankind.They belong to central Chin sub-groups of the Kuki group of the Assam-Burma branch of the Tibeto-Burman family.Some writers have classed them as a number of the Kuki section.
In Mizoram, the word "Kuki" is not like by any tribe. Other writers also class the Maras as Chin people.The Chins are a group of hill tribes speaking various directs of the same Tibeto-Burman speech and calling themselves by various tribal names. All are,however,placed in the Kuki Chin group.All tribes do not recognise the name "Chin", but call themselves "Yo" or "Zo" in the north, "Lai" in the centre and "Sho" in the south, besides many other tribal names.
However,the Maras do not call themselves "Chin" or "Kuki", but designate themselves as "Mara". The ethnological classification made by various linguists and anthropologists brings out clear picture of about the tribal groups living in the North Eastern India.
The maras are also found in considerable strength in the south Haka sub-division of the Chin state of Myanmar. At present there are 61 villages and the total population is 29735.The majority of the people are Evangelical Church with its headquarters at Sabypi.The following is the Church report of 2001 taken from the office of the Mara Evangelical church. (details to be shown shortly).