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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Chp 84. Mizos: The Lost Tribe of Israel or just a Lost Tribe?

Once again, Mizo Jews are on the news. Two days ago, TOI reported on it’s Front-page about Mizo Jews in Israel ready to fight the Hezbollah, right under the headline that screamed out “Israel kills 34 children by mistake”.

“Mannn, not again” was the first thought that came to my mind. Once again, Mizoram came under the limelight. Once again, the “Lost Tribe of Israel” theory resurfaced. Once again, we come across familiar names like Bnei Menashe and the children of Manasseh.

It was around 6-7 years ago during my Engineering College in Coimbatore that this news about Mizos being the Lost Tribe of Israel first made headlines all over India. Ofcourse many Mizos were already aware of this theory by then but it was only when Israel stepped in that the Indian media finally considered it worthy enough to print on their newspapers.

It was at that moment that every Mizo studying outside Mizoram who had non-Mizo friends became the laughing stock of their entire circle. I was the butt of all jokes for almost a month or two. The harshest of them all were my Christian friends, who never spared me for a single moment.

Like for instance, we were all eating together at a restaurant, and they would ask me to say Grace since I was now much closer to God than them. And when it was time to split the bill, my friends would pay for my share and when I protested, they put on a very serious face and say “Oh comon, how can we make you pay? After all, you’re the lost tribe of Israel.” And then they would all burst out laughing after that.

Sometimes when I went over to their room in our hostel to hang out, as soon as they saw me coming, they would all bow down mockingly, even addressing me as “Your Holiness”. And when I get more marks than I deserve at a particular paper, my friends would sarcastically say “It’s not a fluke that you got extra marks. It’s because of Divine Intervention. After all, your great grand father is Abraham himself.” And once again they would all laugh their asses off. Sometimes when I order my favorite dish, pork, at a restaurant, my friends would all put on this theatrical surprise facial expression which deserves an Oscar award and they would all exclaim in great unison “Kima!! Pork!!! Lost Tribe of Israel!!!! Blasphemy!!!!!” Aaaaargh…

Ofcourse all those jokes were in good fun, after all, we were the closest of all friends. But deep down inside, I used to hate those Mizos who claimed to be the “Lost Tribe of Israel” with all my heart. How could they embarrass me? How could they not realize how stupid this whole theory is?

Because back then, our thoughts were very limited. The only reason why my friends and I found this theory extremely preposterous was the fact that we Mizos were of a Mongoloid origin. And we had never heard of a Mongoloid Jew then. To our much limited minds, we couldn’t just imagine a “yellow man” with “slit-eyes” skilled in martial arts to be a Jew. (Jew-jit-su? )

But it was only after my graduation and many researches later (read: Googling) that I found out one’s race or religion has got nothing to do with one’s origin. When people migrated from one place to the other thousands of years ago, years and years of different settlements, civilizations, inter-cultural marriages and environmental adaptations could indeed change one’s facial and physical appearances. It was then that I came across terms like Sephardic Jews (Jews from the Mediterranean regions of Europe, Africa, and the Middle east), Mizrachi Jews (Jews of Central Asian or Middle Eastern origin or descent) etc. Black African Jews like the Lembas carry “The Cohen Modal Haplotype” marker in their genes. It was indeed possible for a person of Mongoloid origin to carry the Y-chromosomal Aaron (the supposed chromosome that all descendants of Aaron should share).

Around 5000 Mizo Jews in Mizoram and Manipur claimed to be the Lost Tribe of Israel. Mizoram, with around 90% of it’s population Christians, often referred to as the Last Bastion of Christianity, where the Church is more powerful than Politics or the Government, where the word of the Church is the final word, where a large portion of a person’s income goes to the Church, where not a single shop or recreation establishment is open on a Sunday, where hundreds of Mizo missionaries are sent out all over the World to strengthen the Word of God, had definitely opposed to this claim.

On one extreme end are the likes of Dr. Biaksiama, ex-Finance Officer in the Central Govt who is now a notable researcher in Christianity, who exclaimed that this revelation about the Lost Tribe theory is the work of the Devil and that all Christians are put to a test. Quote Pu Biaksiama: “We need to deal with this seriously, with earnest prayers to God. This is an instrument of our greatest enemy, Satan, to burst asunder Mizo society and its religion. Christianity is at stake here and we should never take what is happening now lightly”.

And on the other extreme end are Organizations like the “Chhinlung Israel People’s Convention” who vehemently believe in this theory and even invite Rabbis from Israel to come to Mizoram to mass-convert the people. Fortunately for the Christians, the Govt Of India has disallowed this from taking place, putting its “Anti-Conversion” Bill into effect.

And in between these two extremes are the likes of Pi Zaithanchhungi, a respected researcher in Mizo History, who said “Since the history of the Mizos is shrouded in mystery, as they had no written form of their language before the Missionaries came, it is very difficult to trace their origin. However, the oral traditions that had been handed down from father to son gave many clues as sayings and rituals pointed to many similarities that are practiced by the Jews”. She further said that, the Mizos, as the tribe of Manashe, wandered towards China where they settled for many centuries. Escaping from the yoke of the Chinese monarchy, they wandered down towards Burma, and from there they settled in present Mizoram around the 15th century AD. She stressed the fact that being one of the Lost tribe is not about religion but rather about knowing our origin, and that one does not need to migrate to Israel or change one’s religion because of it.

And then there is the Media involved too. These people play a great role in influencing the opinion of the rest of India. Every now and then, a journalist would go to Mizoram to “investigate” this claim. They always write about the interview excerpts they had with the Mizos there. It’s funny that the ones they interview always happen to be someone who supports this claim. I have many friends and a huge family network back in Mizoram and know for sure that there are many many Mizos out there who don’t believe in this. Yet they never interview this majority. The ones they happen to interview are always Mizos proponent of this theory. After all, I don’t blame the Media as their main intention is to dig up stories regarding this and sometimes hype up things a bit, but atleast can they also please point out that it is not in the mindset of every Mizo to believe that he or she belongs to the Lost Tribe of Israel?

Before the Welsh Protestant Missionaries came to Mizoram around 1894, we never had a written form of language. Everything was passed on orally from father to son, from Village Chief to his subjects. We were head-hunters then, much feared by the other tribes around us. There were many inter-clan rivalries too resulting in frequent raids and wars. A hundred years later, the place has developed at a rate that surprised everybody. Mizoram is now the second highest in literacy, where Education is one of the top most priority within the State. With education came the power to reason, and soon, many people started questioning their origin. With almost everybody well versed in the contents of the Holy Bible, they started finding similarities between the customs followed in the Old Testament (practiced by the Jews today) and their old Mizo customs. Similarities such as the circumcision of new born males, levirate marriages, strict laws regarding menstruation, building of altars, the sacrifice of animals, burial customs, marriage and divorce procedures, a belief in an all-powerful deity and the symbolic presence of the number seven in many festivities. Hence this lead to many people believing that they belong to the Lost Tribe of Israel.

But enough of this for now. For once let us stop debating whether this claim is actually true or not. Let us look to the future and try to discuss the various possible consequences. A recent test conducted by notable researchers including the late Isaac L.Hmar at the Dept of History, Manipur University, said the test results were negative and no evidences were found that would indicate a Middle-Eastern origin. So what if there is another DNA test done and the results this time actually say we are indeed the Lost Tribe of Israel?

Will I suddenly denounce my belief and faith in Christianity and convert to Judaism? No! Will I migrate to Israel? No! Will I denounce my Indian citizenship and become an Israeli National? No! Will I voluntarily join the Israeli Army in its mission to protect Zion’s interest, bombing and killing hundreds of innocent people in the process? No, never! Will I suddenly stop eating pork? No bloody way! (Kima sings: “Pork-ing till I die” )

No offence intended to my Jewish brothers, but Christianity and India is what made me what I am today. Suppose you are a small boy with loving parents that means the World to you. Your parents had shown you all the love and affection they possibly could, protecting you and nurturing you as they prepared you to face the World alone. They taught you everything from what is right and wrong to compassion, love, forgiveness, sharing and caring, and family values. And then years later when you are all grown up and still following the principles that your parents had imbibed within you, you suddenly discovered that you were adopted, or that your father was not your real biological father. Does that make them any less of a parent? Do you suddenly hate them or stop practicing what they taught you? No. To you, everything they had taught you still matters. To you, your dad is still your dad, even if he’s not your real dad.

Similarly, I have too deep a connection with Christianity and India to ever denounce them. All the wonderful memories I had at various places in India with my Indian friends will never be erased from my mind. I will forever cherish them by continuing to be what I am today: An Indian Mizo Christian. But although I don’t believe in this theory and used to find it ridiculous, now I have a much different opinion (after all, opinions change from time to time). It would be nice to know that our ancestors indeed did descend from the lines of the Bnei Menashe tribe. This has nothing to do with Israel or being a Jew. The fact is, it really sucks to not know where you came from or what your ancestors were like. It’s as if we were created in a Laboratory somewhere around the year 1400-1500AD and multiplied from then onwards. We’ve got nothing much to inscribe in our history books, except for folklores and folk tales. Doesn’t matter if we are the descendents of Manasseh or Genghiz Khan or Atilla the Hun. As long as there is hard evidence showing who our ancestors really were, I am a contented man.

Because a man without a past has got nothing much to cherish about. He got no past mistakes or experiences to learn from, hence his future becomes uncertain. It’s like driving a car blindfolded on an unfamiliar road; unlike other drivers around you who have been here before, you have no idea where the next speed-bump is because you’ve never been down this road before and nobody you know has ever been here. You just drive blindly through it, hoping not to run into any bumps. Although it scares you, deep down inside you know that your future generation can atleast benefit from this and learn where the bumps are from you. Better late than never. You become a Maverick Pioneer. You may not have a past but atleast you can be the past for your future generation. Just make sure it’s a bloody good past; don’t screw this up for the sake of your children and their children.

The bottom-line is, whether we Mizos are indeed the Lost Tribe of Israel or not, one thing is for sure: We are still pretty much lost on our origin . Maybe one day we will find out if our ancestor really is Manasseh, son of Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham.

Until then, this is me signing off.

- Kima, son of VL Rema, son of Zabanga, son of Zaneiha, son of Vanhlira.


Some Interesting reads :
>> The above mentioned Bnei Menashe and Manasseh on Wikipedia.
>> Found: A Lost Tribe of Israel by Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament, Northern Baptist Seminary.
>> The Lost Tribes of Israel A sequel to the above post by the same author.
>> An in-depth article on this topic by the late Isaac L.Hmar. RIP Bro.
>> The Blood of the Jews: Genetic connection.
>> One of the earlier news (1999) about “The Lost Tribe of Israel” I dug out from Google.
>> Long Lost Jews by Michael Freund, Jerusalem Post Magazine, March 2002.
>> Last year’s news entitled “Controversy over Mizo Israeli descendent”.
>> Glossary of Jewish terms including words like Sephardim and Mizrachi.


NoHiddenDepths said...

i think you missed out googling for the article at
Jerusalem Post-bnei manashe Joine thier tribe

I, to an extent am confused! :o)
Dad, who's an old-school believes it though-rationally i.e ... :o)

Mizohican said...

@ No Hidden Depths: Yes I totally understand what you mean bro. It is a very confusing World we live in right now :-)

I heard that some of these Mizo Jews who go back to their "motherland" are allocated living quarters in the Gaza strip and other more sensitive parts of the war torn Palestinian area. The biggest misconception most mizos have about this whole issue is the same misconception I used to have during my Engineering days, that being a descendent of the Lost Tribe doesnt necessarily mean we have to change our religion or Nationality. Its more about Identity.

Mizohican said...

Yes Steve, Ligia has already recommended that book to me and I am trying to get my hands on it. I heard it is a very interesting and enlightening book.

Don't worry dude, I will try to do my own research and will definitely update you on the latest facts and results about this. I am hoping to get a couple of really good comments from experts on this issue too...

Almostunreal said...

'Te he tia i sawi ve chia a???

I serh kha i tan tir a ni lom ni :O ???

Nazareth Hospital-ah amah "Pu Chhanhima ngeiin a kal pui" che an ti :D

Mizohican said...

Zahmawh thil sawi lo hian comment pang ngai hi i pe thiam lo em mi le oooooo ka pi.

P said...

As always well written and very informative.. I didn't know half of this stuff (ok, don't judge me...)

Almostunreal said...

Zahmzawh ka sawi emo ni le #-o ???

Ka hre chiang duh mai a nia? "An ti" tih hi a dik vek nge vek lo :D

Mizohican said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mizohican said...

@ Perspective: lolz. Its ok Pers Inc. I aint judging you at all. Thats what blogs are for, so that I can tell you stuff about the Northeast that the print media don't tell you :-) I'm at your service ;-)

@ Almost unreal: Serh tan hi jew tih na kher a ni lo. i van khawvel lo tak em nang hi chu. :-P a fai deih zawk (an ti) tan hian. chungtiang ang zawhna mi public blog ah an zawt hu hu ngai lo :-)

DovesandWolves said...

Very informative.. I always had this notion that "all" the Mizos supported this theory of being one of the lost tribes. Thanks for the clarification.

- a Naga brother.