translation: cheraw and the mizo

This was written as a piece meant to generate discussion on the forum, and not as an article, which explains the almost bullet-point style. I will try and keep up with the responses and add any further information I can find. The context is the intense discussion surrounding the Guinness record made by Mizoram (and here) in a bamboo dance called the Cheraw, elements of which we share with other south east Asian cultures.

The original piece here, and the author's blog here.

Particular thanks also to zozem and peer gynt, without whose help I would have been unable to complete this translation.

                     Cheraw and the Mizo


I’m not going to speak of whether we have or have not made a Guinness World Record in a bamboo dance. I think we have said all we wanted to. As for me, I want to know how Cheraw became our tribe’s dance, and since when this has become part of our culture and lifestyle. I’ll say what I know of it, you can then add what you know. I think the people at might profit more from this discussion than from discussions about bamboo-dances and World Records.

I have not heard of the Cheraw being danced at the Chapchar Kut. Somewhat like the Sawlakia, this was one of the dances of the Pawi before we came west (from Burma). Though I don’t have documented proof of this, I’m going to tell you what I’ve heard. I have not heard a clear explanation of how the word ‘Cheraw’ came to be used. It has many names. As far as I know, in the Pawi language, ‘Cheraw’ means ‘to move oneself around’. I have also heard this (dance) called “Hreichhun Zai”, “Ramkhat lak” and “Ngam lam”. It is also said that it was popularly called “Cheural Lam” before we crossed the Tiau river (between Burma and Mizoram), and that those that came west called it Cheraw.

Our Pawi siblings don’t use the term ‘Kan’ (cross) when referring to dancing Cheraw, they use ‘Tlawh’ (kick). I have also never heard of Cheraw being danced at the Chapchar Kut. The reason they dance this today seems to be as part of a show of our culture. Cheraw (known as Ngam Lam) was danced at the time of Buhza Aih* and Mim Kut.**

It seems the Pawi call Buhza Aih ‘Hrangza Tlawh’. You cannot throw a Buhza feast/Aih just because you’re already wealthy– you should have been blessed with a Buhza harvest consecutively for 10 years for you to be able to throw a feast. My father told me “In your grandfather’s Buhza Aih year of 1956, they definitely danced the Cheraw. They sang Cheraw songs, though men did not sing.”

Mim Kut was observed in Thitin month (August). Cheraw was also danced so that the spirit of a mother who dies in childbirth could pass peacefully.

Nowadays many different ways (steps) of dancing the Cheraw have emerged. Each place has its own way of dancing the Cheraw. Bualpui lam and Buhza Aih Lam seem to be among the more popular ones (steps). Apparently the dance steps that the Arts & Culture department has introduced is a conglomerate of steps taken from various areas, arranged in the most pleasing way. Pu Tlangrema from Hnahlan seems to have had a lot to do with these standardised steps.

* Buhza Aih/Ai: A feast given by a family for the whole village when they have been blessed with a surplus harvest. Buhza would have come from the fact that to have/throw such a feast, you should have reaped more than a 100 sacks of paddy, which is usually far more than the family can eat/keep/manage. This is a time of feasting for the whole village, with meat and zu (rice-beer).
   Literally, Buh phur Za = 100 sack loads of rice grain 
   1 Buh phur = approx. 3 tins of buh hum (paddy)
   1 Tin of of buh fai = 6-7 kg

** A festival that follows the (mim/vaimim) maize harvest, usually around September. Part of the celebration involved force feeding one another with eggs and other food in the graveyard. 


illusionaire said...

Bro, am commenting from my phone. ur blog is not mobile friendly. I got the notification (google alerts) abt this post of yours, but cannot read anything when i come here from my winmo browser. it must be bcoz of ur template. i can see the links as they are highlighted, but not the content.

illusionaire said...

by the way this was one of my fav posts by vaiva.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora,
I found your place via Marty Mars and I must write I find it very enjoyable and stimulating indeed. Rave on.

feddabonn said...

@illus: any simple(ish) suggestions on how to make it mobile friendly? i think this trans thing has potential, kan application hi enge an an le aw?...[grin]

@robb: kia ora, honoured to see you here. i must admit i have been a lurker on your excellent blog, also through marty. glad you like this, and thanks for dropping by!

Shuakshuali said...

ummm..In your intro you said you live on the fringes of Zo culture and wish to know more about your heritage. Kudos to you, because, I am completely immersed within the culture, yet I probably know less than you. Maybe this is why our elders despair of us "thrang thar te" :)

My first time here. And I like what you're doing.

feddabonn said...

@shuakshuali: welcome! to be honest, there was a time when i was immersed, but i wasn't as interested then, lol. this interest has come rather late, and recieved a shot in the arm when i see what maori here in aotearoa have been upto.

thanks for the encouragement, and i do hope you also let me know when you *dont like what i am doing!

Shuakshuali said...

hmm..the expat searching for his roots kinda thing? :)

This passage about the A & C introducing new steps struck me, bcos we have accepted these new 'standardised steps' as part of our culture, though some of them are, if I'm not mistaken, incorporated into the dance purely for aesthetic reasons.

Yet when someone does this :
we make a huge hue and cry about how our culture is perverted. If you have not seen the video, take a look. I'd like to know what you think about it. I for one, think that culture is not static, and should incorporate the best of the past and the present.

Long comment. Presumptuous too!

feddabonn said...

@shuakshuali: partly at least, i imagine, lol. i hope it is deeper than just that though.

i can't seem to watch the video...can you give me a search term?

i agree that culture is not static. and yes, while in theory we should incorporate the best of the past and the present, who decides what this "best" is?

for instance, i am quite un-ashamed of our headhunting past, but many of us are. on the other hand, i think the zo male impulse to be 'pa' (macho?) is silly, but it could be argued that a lot of our culture as a warrior/hunting tribes is actually based on that. till just a few years ago, chapchar kut was seen as 'too pagan' a festival, but is now widely celebrated in our *still fanatically christian state. similarly, the 'khuang' (drum) was once seen as too pagan, but is now the mainstay of church singing.

point being, i think it is precisely *in debate that the 'good' and the 'bad' are sifted and sorted, based on as many criteria as there are people debating. is the result perfect? far from it. but then there is another challenge, and off we go again, trying to decide what we accept and what we don't. A&C (art & culture dept. of the govt.) is one of the voices in the debate, the church is another, the YMA and/or the thang thar (youngsters) are yet another. i find the debates about what is culturally acceptable or not interesting, and would only be worried if the debate *stopped.

my personal belief is this- like ecological diversity, we need cultural diversity. even *within what is often seen as a mono-culture, there are always sub-cultures that need to be encouraged and nurtured. there are some elements i *personally prefer, but that is not to say they are better. i will, however, encourage those elements as much as i can.

a long response, but that is because i really am enjoying this conversation. thanks!

Shuakshuali said...

Thanks right back for the response :)

Something's wrong with the link I gave you. The video I'm talking about is Tlanglam Zai by Ramhlun North YMA.Maybe you've seen it. Also check out Thanglunghnemi Zai by the same. Some people have uploaded their own remixed versions, so check out the one marked official video.

While it's important to be aware of our cultural heritage in its original avatar, I think it's also important to make them a lil more appealing (as we have done with our cheraw) so that they don't become mere archival artifacts for scholars to ponder over.

Of course, am no expert, and I bow to older and wiser experts who have more knowledge in these matters :p

Shuakshuali said...

P.S. I revel in our 'head hunting' past! Once scared a vai bully by telling her that my veneer of civilization is still pretty thin and that the head hunting side could rear up anytime I'm provoked, LOL.

feddabonn said...

@tlanglam zai: interesting. if i have a complaint, it is that they didn't quite go far enough with the experimentation.

@thanglunghnemi zai: did this come afterwards? while i still like the idea and the *musical result, i feel the dancing looks like a dodgy cut and paste job, trying to hard to be 'contemporary'. thanks much for pinting these out.

i tend to dislike it when we try to 'make something more appealing' for its own sake. i think there is a difference between that and actual artistic vision, though i could not tell you what that difference is, heh. and right there's the debate!

lol@head hunting. i have a rather decent collection of skulls, though i am yet to get a human one. grin.

Shuakshuali said...

Thanglunghnemi came first, and generated a lot of controversy. I think they toned it down with Tlanglam, and emphasised the traditional parts more. And Ramhlun North YMA succeeded in making youngsters (yours truly included) become intersted in our old songs, songs in which they have had very little interest in before. But yes, I have to agree, its hard to make a clear cut distinction between artistic representation and mere 'commercialization'.

Once had silver skull earrings. A visitor told me they were Satanic, and scared the crap out of me. And thats another topic for endless debate :)

Great talking with you :)

feddabonn said...

"Ramhlun North YMA succeeded in making youngsters (yours truly included) become intersted in our old songs, songs in which they have had very little interest in before."

i think the project would have been worth it even in itself. a revival of interest makes it *truly worth it. thanks for the conversation!

reuben said...

Oi, what about Lu lam? Or did you already write about it? You know why I mention it. Can't read your posts properly; all text has done a massive shift off centre.