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Mizo Indigenous Calendar: A Source of Mizo Indigenous Knowledge and Identity


(Subtheme: Indigenous Knowledge System and Practices)

K.C. Lalmalsawmzauva Ph.D
Department of Geography & Resource Management
Mizoram University

Abstract
This paper is an attempt to understand about Mizo past lives from indigenous calendar with special reference to their knowledge and understanding pertaining to environments and agricultural practices. There are two broad objectives: One is to explore Mizo indigenous knowledge about weather and climate from Mizo indigenous calendar. Another objective is to examine about their agricultural practices, which laid the foundation of Mizo culture and identity from indigenous calendar. An attempt has also been made to highlight the intrinsic relationship of indigenous people and surrounding environment, particularly the significance of flowers and fruits as natural indicators of seasons. Present study will focus on calendar months in which different types of agricultural practices unfolding throughout the year that ultimately is responsible for the formation of Mizo cultural identity that expressed in the form of calendar.

Key words: Indigenous, knowledge, calendar, agriculture, identity, weather, climate, culture, environments

Introduction
Understanding indigenous knowledge and practices is crucial for realizing the identity of any society as it forms the basis wherein indigenous calendar appears to be one of the best study materials. Though, living in an internet world today, the foundation of modern knowledge built upon simple indigenous knowledge and value system, which always incline towards human development. Re-visiting one own indigeneity and origin strengthen modern technology and sometime it provides better option particularly for long term perspective and sustainability.

Indigenous knowledge (IK) is the local knowledge – knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. IK contrasts with the international knowledge system generated by universities, research institutions and private firms. It is the basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education, natural-resource management, and a host of other activities in rural communities (Warren 1991). Indigenous Knowledge is the information base for a society, which facilitates communication and decision-making. Indigenous information systems are dynamic, and are continually influenced by internal creativity and experimentation as well as by contact with external system (Flavier et al. 1995: 479)

In the study of traditional knowledge and practice system, indigenous calendar play extremely significant roles as it acts as an epitome of all the indigenous knowledge and identity. Though, indigenous calendar may not fully cover all the indigenous way of lives, it may capture more than half of the root of it and genesis of the so-called cultural identity.

The word calendar derived from calendae, the term for the first day of the month in the Roman calendar, related to the verb calare "to call out", citing to the "calling" of the new moon when it was first seen. In Latin word it is called as ‘ calendarium’ which means "account book, register" which later adopted by French as calendier and from there in Middle English as calender by the 13th century and today we spell it as calendar.

According to Wikipedia ‘a calendar is a system of organizing days for social, religious, commercial or administrative purposes. This is done by giving names to periods of time, typically days, weeks, months, and years. A date is the designation of a single, specific day within such a system. A calendar is also a physical record (often paper) of such a system. A calendar can also mean a list of planned events, such as a court calendar or a partly or fully chronological list of documents, such as a calendar of wills’.

WordWeb also define that ‘calendar is a system of timekeeping that defines the beginning and length and divisions of the year’ Before the introduction of the widely used today’s calendar generally known as Gregorian calendar/ Western calendar or Christian calendar in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, many country or society had their own contextual calendar.
It is therefore very clear that calendar is originated from ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ as well as associated with festival, weather and climate, which eventually determine human lives and understanding of times and events.

There might be a variety of way to examine one own particular indigeneity to understand their cultural identity in the context of space and time. Inter alias, indigenous/traditional calendar acted as a treasure of knowledge about the past lives of any particular tribe or indigenous people if they have. It symbolizes their way of living, practices, understanding about their surrounding and their socio-cultural and geographical knowledge too. Indigenous calendar mostly records cultural events, agriculture practices, which generally associated with festivals and celebrations. Thus, indigenous calendar might be treated as one of the best study materials to understand history of any society or culture. Calendars in the past were not merely acted as for counting times and scheduled rather it worked like a diary of events and seasonal changes which unfolds along with their agricultural practices.

Even though the Mizo have indigenous/traditional calendar, its significance for tracing Mizo identity and system of practices has not yet explore. Present paper tries to deal with this unexplored area of indigenous knowledge and practice system by using contextual calendar which is fully furnished by Mizo historical past. It appears that indigenous Mizo calendar had more significant and deep sense to the whole gamut of the Mizo at least in their local context than today’s Gregorian calendar. Thus, this paper tries to unfold these challenges.

Objectives
1.      To examine significance of agricultural practice system for understanding indigenous knowledge and the evolution of Mizo identity that reflected in the indigenous calendar
2.      To explore Mizo indigenous knowledge about weather and climate from the indigenous calendar
3.      To highlight indigenous understanding about environment particularly how they utilized flower and fruits as natural indicators of seasons.

Material and Methods: Present study mainly rely on secondary sources like- books, E-Journal and Mizo literatures. Consultation of old aged people and expert on Mizo literatures has also been made.

Background of the study area: Mizoram, located in the northeastern part of India is surrounded by Myanmar (Burma) in the east and the south, Tripura in the north-west half and Assam and Manipur in the north. The geographical location of Mizoram lies between 21°58' to 24°35' N latitude and 92°15' to 93°29' E longitude. Covering a total area of 21,087 square kilometers, the state is blessed with rich forest resources. The terrain of Mizoram is rough and tough with steep slopes dominating the whole geographical areas. There are 21 major hills ranges or peaks of different heights run through the length and breadth of the state, with plains scattered here and there. The average heights of the hills to the west of the state are about 1,000 metres (3,300 feet).

These gradually rise up to 1,300 metres (4,300 feet) to the east. Some areas, however, have higher ranges which go up to a height of over 2,000 metres (6,600 feet). As a result, the main agriculture practice is shifting cultivation or slash and burn agriculture system.

Mizoram experiences pleasing climates with moderate temperatures throughout the year. The summers are not very hot as the temperature remains between 20° to 35° C while the winter temperatures are ranging from 21° to 10° C. Mizoram witnesses heavy rainfall in all parts of the state during the rainy season. Monsoon starts from May and lasts till the month of September. An annual average rainfall of about 250 cm is recorded in the state. People of Mizoram had community land holding system and used to shift their cultivation land from one area to another and that form a cycle. It is commonly known as Shifting cultivation or Jhum cultivation. Their agricultural practices are fully depending on monsoon.

Literature Review: Literature review covered briefly of almost all calendar used before and after de facto international standard of Gregorian calendar. All these can be clubbed under the solar calendar and lunar calendar. In many cases both solar and lunar (lunisolar) calendar were used since ancient Romans, Babylonian, Zoroastrian and Hebrew.

Islamic calendar was mainly based on synchronized to the motion or cycle of moon (lunar) whereas Persian calendar was based on seasonal changes synchronized to the apparent motion of the Sun. Traditional calendar of China, Hindu and Hebrew are based on Lunisolar (sun and moon) while Egyptian used a calendars synchronization to Venus. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calendar)

In India, there are many indigenous or traditional calendars which still plays extremely important role in religious ritual, festival and celebration. Even among the Northeast tribes, the Khasi of Meghalaya too has their own calendar which deeply associates with their festival and practice of agriculture system. The Khasi tribe has 8 months in a year which are intrinsically linked with their festivals (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meghalaya).
The Nagas generally followed lunar calendar indicating some kind of astronomical prowess. This calendar invariably had 12months, each with 28-30 days. Some like the Angamis even had a 13th month. All festivals in Nagaland initially followed the lunar months, usually the phase between a new moon and a full moon. They have been rescheduled today to fit the Gregorian calendar (http://hornbillfestival.co.in/tribe.html)

Among the Northeast tribes, Arunachal tribal indigenous calendar was much similar to Mizo indigenous calendar. Gupta (2005), wrote in the ‘Journal of Indian Traditional Knowledge’ that tribal of Arunachal Pradesh have 12 months in a year in which agriculture practices dominate the whole calendar months and there are three birds used as natural indicators for felling of tree, slash and burn of felling trees and time for sowing of seeds.

Discussion: Traditionally, the Mizo used to observed and count motion of the moon that forms their indigenous calendar in the true sense. Counting the moon when it first appear in the skies till it becomes full moon took 14 days and they also thought that since from its full moon stage, the moon took another 14 days to completely fading away. They thought that the 15th night of the moon is not on neither side of the starting nor the fading; therefore, there were 29 days in a month and 348 days in a year (Dokhuma, 2004).

There were 12 months in the Mizo Indigenous calendar, which were chiefly associated with agriculture practice system; their knowledge on weather, climate and surrounding environments has been clearly revealed. Indigenous calendar is shown in the following table:-

Table-1. Mizo Indigenous calendar months and its relationship with climate, agriculture, environment and associated activity

Sl.No
Month
Relationship with Climate/Agriculture/Environment/ Festival
Main activities
1
Pawlkut thla/January
Agriculture/Festival or festive season
Celebration of new year
2
Ramtuk thla/February
Agriculture/Dry month
Selection of new plot for jhum and start feeling of trees for new year
3
Vau thla/March
Flower and Fruit
Appearing new flowers particularly Vaube (Bauhinia variegata)/Time for burning of slash dry trees
4
Tau thla/April
Flower and Fruit
Ripening of some local berries, particularly hmutau (Rubus ellipticus)
5
Tomir thla/May
Weather and Climate
Starting of monsoon season means time to star sowing of seed
6
Nikir thla/June
Weather and Climate
Returning of the sun from its peak position. Cultivation in the jhum land
7
Vawkhniakzawn thla/July
Weather and Climate
Heaviest rainfall season
8
Thi tin thla/August
Spiritual/ Sacred season
Forbidden of marriage &Merry making
9
Mim kut thla/September
Agriculture/ Festival
Harvesting of corn
10
Khuangchawi thla/October
Agriculture/ Festival
Ideal festive season with brightest moonlight season
11
Sahmulphah thla/November
Weather and Climate
Starting of winter season
12
Pawltlak thla/December
Agriculture
End of the year and harvesting of rice

Table-1, clearly shows the inter-woven of climate, agriculture, environment and festival-all together form Mizo cultural identity. It can also be identified that the Mizo are indigenously aware of their surrounding environments-weather and climates. They are systematically counting seasons based on natural indicators like flower, fruits, dry and cold season which were useful for their survival.

Therefore, the Mizo Indigenous knowledge may be divided into three broad categories based on their practices and understanding of environment, even though they are intrinsically related with one another. These broad divisions are:-

1.Indigenous Knowledge about Agriculture practice: It is interesting to observed table-1 which shows that Indigenous Mizo calendar can be claimed as ‘agricultural scheduled’. Agriculture practice played central role in the indigenous lives throughout the year. They were fully aware of jhum cultivation with common occurrences of weather and climate. Agriculture practices were associated with festivals and celebrations too. Agriculture practice became the foundation of Mizo culture. Since they spend most of their times in the jhum land, they have deep attachment to it and its surrounding environments. There were times when men and women stayed over in their jhum land for weeding and harvesting for many days that triggering men’s courting and wooing of girls in the jhum land during night time. Many stories, sensational and romantic songs are also borne out of jhum fields. Thus, agriculture practice can be said as the origin of Mizo songs and literatures as many of them are having jhum land background.

Shifting agriculture practice system actually dominates the whole scene of Mizo tradition and culture. Tribal communities like Mizo are close knit society with strong family and clan network. Each village communities devised institutional way for mobilizing the necessary labour at the community and even at family level. While the men folk look after the heavier and more laborious work like felling of trees, slashing, burning of forest, removal of stumps and logs; women on the other hand, look after sowing, weeding, husking, threshing and storage of the crops. In addition, children are also not spared; they used to draw water from the available stream around the jhum land. Besides, they were trained in early age by parents so that they can cope up with the system and this has been passing down from generations to generations. Thus, agriculture practice system is where the division of labour evolves in Mizo traditional society. As a result, common agriculture practice systems have been evolved in Mizo society as a whole. As mentioned earlier there were three prominent sections in the society based on division of labour, such as Man, Women and Children while old age people are generally expected to work on crafting and sharpening of agricultural tools and implements.

Out of 12 months/seasons in a year, 5 months are identical with agriculture related seasons, such as Pawlkut thla (January), Ramtuk thla (February), Mim kut thla (September),
Khuangchawi thla (October) and Pawltlak thla (December).

Pawlkut thla or January, was the starting of the year. ‘Pawl’ means ‘straw ’; ‘kut’ means
‘festival’ and ‘thla’ means ‘month’. It seems that Mizo generally celebrated sometimes during
the end of January and the beginning of February; before they start felling of trees for new agricultural field. ‘Straw’ or ‘Pawl’ still found i n the fallow land.

Ramtuk thla or February was the time when community decides for site selection of the new jhum. ‘Ram’ means ‘Forest/Jungle’; ‘tuk’ means ‘cut’/ felling of tree’. After selection of sites for jhum, they start cutting down the trees, which was mainly the responsibility of men folk.

Mim kut thla or September was the season of celebration of harvesting corn. ‘Mim’ means ‘corn’; ‘kut’ means ‘festival’. It can be und erstand from this calendar that corns seems harvested earlier than rice, which is invaluable information in the study of cultivation of corn under the climatic condition of Mizoram.

Khuangchawi thla or October was the time of festivities and celebration of natural beauty. ‘Khuangchawi’ need detail explanation but we might briefly put it that ‘the time when wealthy and respected persons in the society (in terms of assets like domestic animals, agriculture products or number of killing of wild beasts) make celebrations by hosting community feast. Rich people were respected and look upon mainly because they shared their wealth to the community, which is why they were in a distinguished class in a society. This is extremely critical to understand indigenous value system of the Mizo. During this season, they finished the third stages of weeding the jhum land and people were feeling free to enjoy. Moreover, this was the brightest moonlight season of the year and under which, Khuangchawi or celebration has been done.

Pawltlak thla or December was end of the year. ‘Pawl’ means ‘straw’; ‘tlak’ means ‘complete’ or ‘finish’. Harvesting crops especially rice/paddy was completed which indicates end of the year and time to start New Year celebration. Even though there was no fix date for New Year like today, Mizo generally celebrated sometime in January every year.

2.Indigenous Knowledge about Weather and Climate: Traditionally, farmers used traditional knowledge to understand weather and climatic patterns in order to make decisions about crop and irrigation cycles. This knowledge has been gained through many decades of experience, and has been passed on from previous generations. The knowledge is adapted to local conditions and needs (R.Rengalakshmi, 2009). Understanding the local perception on climate is critical for effective communication of scientific forecast. Since it is learned and identified by farmers within a cultural context and the knowledge base follows specific language, belief and process. The local weather and climate is assessed, predicted and interpreted by locally observed variables and experiences using combinations of plant, animal, insects, and metrological and astronomical indicators (R.Rengalakshmi, 2009).
As shown in table-1 there are four months/seasons indicating the knowledge of weather and climate by the Mizo. They were keen in the observation of surrounding weather and climatic condition, which played exceedingly important roles in their agriculture practice system.

Tomir thla or May is the season they first experience monsoon in the state. ‘Tomir’ means ‘rain or rainfall’ generally accompanied by w inds indicating the time for sowing seeds of different crops. When the rain comes, they know that it’s time for seedling. So, rain act as natural indicator for their agricultural activities.

Nikir thla/June is another significant indicator of the indigenous knowledge about climate. ‘Nikir’ literaly means ‘returning of the s un’ from its existing position. They indigenously knew that 21 June is the longest day of the year (Summer solstice). They called it “Lalmanganu lawmrawih ni’. The story goes that ‘the re was one widow, name Lalmanganu, who knew this particular day and invariably asked friends to work in her jhum land on this particular day every year so that she could benefit maximum labour input in her field’. The Mizo thought that after Lalmanganu lawmrawih ni (21 June) the sun will return or go back and then the day will start shorter day by day. This explicitly indicates keenness of the Mizo in observing movement of the sun.

Vawkhniakzawn thla/July is also another season that reveals the indigenous knowledge about weather and climate. In order to showcase that there exist maximum rainfall during this period, they name it Vawkhniakzawn thla. ‘Vawkhniakzawn’ literally means ‘footsteps of pigs’ to say that there used to be a contiguous footsteps of pigs left behind in the streets and courtyards due to incessant rainfall during this time. So, everybody knows that there used to be regular daily rainfall during this period.

Sahmulphah thla/November is also exposing indigenous knowledge about weather and climate. ‘Sahmul’ means ‘fur’ and ‘phah’ means ‘lay or lay down’ indicating that winter is coming and time to lay down the fur to warm one. Fur was the common sort of clothes used during winter season and when winter comes they suggested that ‘well, it’s time to lay down the fur onto the floor’.

3.Indigenous knowledge about significant of flower and fruit: Mizo indigenously understand about surrounding environment and used as natural indicators of seasons. Two months/seasons are purely named after flower and fruit.

Vau thla/March is one example that Mizo knowledge about importance of flower or flowering. Vau is the name of one flower (Bauhinia variegate) that start flowering at this particular periods of time. If this Vau start flowering they understand that new season arrive, so they name the season after this flower.

Tau thla/April is another example that expresses indigenous knowledge about fruit. Tau (Rubus ellipticus) is a local variety of wild berry, which start ripen in this particular season and which is why they named the months after it. At this time they start clearing the remnants of slash burned logs, stumps and prepares the jhum lands to sow the seeds.

Besides these months, there was one sacred month known as Thi tin thla/August.
Traditionally, it was believed that when people died, they did not go directly to paradise rather they stayed back for awhile in and around the villages and when August or Thitin thla comes, they start leaving for paradise or Mithi khua. ‘Thi’ means ‘die’ ‘tin’ means ‘leaving or left’. They treated as a sacred month and a time of mourning for family members who had passed away. It may be said that this month is the only month for religious or ritual among the Mizo. They forbid any merry making and even marriage at this time.

Conclusion: It can be concluded that in order to understand indigenous identity of the Mizo, it is pre-requisite to know their agriculture system of practice. All the Mizo festivals and sacred months are the product of agriculture practice system in the past. Way of living, formation of Mizo identity is originated from jhum or shifting agriculture practice in the hilly topography of Mizoram. It is also worthwhile to mention that Mizo were keenly observing their surrounding
environment. Moreover, they were kind of local meteorologists. Monsoon arrival, summer solstice and heaviest rainfall periods are also properly documented in the form of calendar. If one want to trace how division of labour has been evolves in Mizo society, he/she need to understand agriculture practices of the Mizo. One need to know lives around agriculture system to fully equipped with Mizo literatures and roots. One might not wonder why Mizo are transformed into Christianity merely within a span of century if he/she fully understand Mizo value and attitude toward Thangchhuah Pa- who used to distributed his wealth to the village community, or Pasaltha, who used to sacrificed even their lives to protect the community from enemy and from wild beasts. It is so similar with Jesus Christ who sacrifices his life for man. It is so easy for Mizo to obey the teaching of Christianity. Lastly, the interplayed of agriculture practice, festival, surrounding environment and understanding about weather and climate are the soul of Mizo identity formation.

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http://www.unep.org/maweb/documents/bridging/papers/raj.rengalakshmi.pdf)on24,November,2015
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calendar)
http://www.webexhibits.org/calendars/year-history.html
(http://hornbillfestival.co.in/tribe.html)

(It has been presented at the International Seminar on Indigeneity: Expression and Experience held on 25th -26th February, 2016 at Mizoram University. Organized by Department of English, Mizoram University, Aizawl)

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