ETHNIC NATIONALITIES COUNCIL (Union of Burma)
|CHIN: HISTORY, CULTURE & IDENTITY|
|By Lian H. Sakhong|
CHIN: HISTORY, CULTURE AND IDENTITY
Lian H. Sakhong
The following speech was given at the book release of ‘Chin: History, Culture and Identity’ on the 16 November 2009 at Mizoram University, Aizawl.
His Excellency Pu Lal Thanhawla, Chief Minister of Mizoram; Sao Harn Yawnghwe, Executive Director of Euro-Burma Office; Distinguished Guests [I can see at least three MPs from Burma and India on the front row]; Ladies and Gentlemen; and Dear Friends;
This is a great pleasure and honour for me to say a few words of thanks on behalf of the Chin National Council, the Chin Forum, and the Euro-Burma Office (EBO).
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I do not know how history will remember what we are doing here today; I do not know how many words spoken here will be remembered and recorded in history books; but I do hope that one day in the future: people will remember that the children of this homeland, although they were still divided by three international boundaries, come here and gathered together in Aizawl, in the Mizo hnathlak te innpui, on the sixteenth of November 2009, in order to find their own origins, to remember their own history, to embrace their culture, and to celebrate their common identity.
We are here to release this book, a result of the International Chin Seminar entitled “Exploring the History, Culture and Identity of the Chin”, which was held here in this Chin Khuapui in October 2008. The seminar itself was a milestone for the entire Chin people who are still divided over three countries, namely, India, Burma and Bangladesh. The seminar was attended by more than 150 scholars from around the world, and at least 36 papers were presented, which are all put together and printed in this book.
I sincerely believe that what we are doing here today is a historic moment for the Chin people because the 2008 Chin Seminar was comparable to other historical landmarks in our history, such as the 1892 Chin-Lushai Conference in Calcutta, and the 1947 Panglong Conference in Shan State, but for different reasons.
The significance of this book’s release is what we are celebrating; it is not just the result of an academic venture. This is a celebration of the brotherhood of the children of this homeland.
As I mentioned in my opening speech at last year’s seminar, the very purpose of the seminar was searching for our origins, our history, our identity and our culture so that we will be able to call ourselves, to declare ourselves, as brothers and sisters. No matter which side of international boundaries we happen to live, no matter where we are, we are still brothers and sisters of the same ancestors and we are the children of this homeland.
Our homeland may still be divided and known in many different names: Chinram, Lairam, Zoram, Zogam, Maraland, and Mizoram; and our people may also be known by many different names, such as: Asho, Cho, Khumi, Laimi, Kuki, Zomi, Mizo, and Chin; but we all are the descendent of Chin-lung and the brothers and sisters of the same Chinlung-chuak kan ni ta a; Zofate, Mizo hnamte kan ni bawk a, we all are the same Lai hri tlai “Chinmi” unau kan si. We are all the same Chin people.
As we are celebrating this joyful event and historic moment, our joy, our gratitude, and our thankfulness are graced and complimented by the presence of His Excellency Pu Lal Thanhawla, the Chief Minister of Mizoram.
Kapu, your presence at this ceremony for us is like fulfilling our dreams. Your presence makes what we are doing here more meaningful and also legitimizes the fact that we all are the same children of this homeland. I say this because you are the democratically and legitimately elected Chief Minister of Mizoram, elected by our brothers and sisters in Khua-thlang. Since we cannot have such democratic elections in Khua-chak, you are the only democratically elected leader that we all have in this homeland, so you are like the father to all of us, and you are Kanpa bik na ni a; Kanpu bik pawh na ni e!
Secondly, I would like to give a word of thanks to Sao Harn Yawnghwe, Executive Director of the Euro-Burma Office. Sao Harn, welcome to Aizawl, Chin Khuapui in Khua-thlang! Perhaps you are more familiar with the terms like Chin State in Burma and Mizoram State in India, but for us this is just our homeland with two connotations, Khua-chak, and Khua-thlang. So, welcome to the Khua-thlang side of our homeland.
I sincerely believe that what Harn has done for us, not only the 2008 Chin Seminar, but also the publication of this book, is a landmark in our history. So, at this auspicious moment, I would like to say a few words about what Harn has been doing for us, not only for the Chin but also for all ethnic nationalities in Burma through the Euro-Burma Office, and under the National Reconciliation Program.
In the name of national reconciliation, peace, justice and harmony, the EBO has been organizing a series of seminars for all the ethnic nationalities in Burma. We started with the Arakan Historical Workshop in 2006, which was organized together with the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, and in 2007, we organized the Mon Historical Seminar in Bangkok, again with Chulalongkorn University.
As we all know, the International Seminar on Chin History was organized here, together with the Mizoram University. And very recently, in October 2009, we organized another seminar for the Shan in Bangkok, and we do hope that, in the coming years, we will be able to organize similar seminars for the Kachin, Karen and Karenni peoples as well.
We sincerely hope that a series of these seminars will bring peace and harmony, and it will create a better understanding between peoples and also between nations. It will also empower local peoples and ethnic groups so that they will appreciate and be proud of their own culture and identity - the very being of who they are!
We do hope also that a series of these seminars will build a bridge between Burma and our neighbouring countries, a bridge between South East Asia and South Asia, and between South Asia and China. The reason is quite simple. If you look at all these ethnic groups and their homelands, you realize that they all are transcending current international boundaries. The Arakan people are living in both Burma and Bangladesh, we the Chin people are transcending the three international boundaries of Burma, India and Bangladesh, the Kachins do the same: they are living in Burma, India and China; and the Shan are in Burma, India, China, Thailand, Laos and in Vietnam. Again, if we look at the Karen, Karenni and Mon peoples, they also are living on both sides of the boundary of Thailand and Burma.
So, if we approach such ethnic complexities in Burma as a positive contribution to the regions in Asia and even to the international community, ethnic groups in Burma can play an important role as bridge builders of the regions between South and Southeast Asia, and between Burma and its neighbouring countries; and they will all become actors that can contribute to peace and harmony in the region.
Unfortunately, for the past sixty years, it was not the case to be! Ethnic differences were seen as the basis for ethnic conflicts and the on-going civil war, not as the strength of the country and the region. Cultural differences were seen as the root cause of division not as the beauty of a plural society. Religious diversities were exploited for hatred, conflicts and violations. Religions, all religions, should be the foundation for love and tolerance in every human society.
These are the reasons for sixty years of civil war in Burma, which negatively impacts on our neighbouring countries. We send you many thousands of refugees and illegal migrant workers. There is drug trafficking, human trafficking, all kind of diseases and social problems. We do sincerely apologize for all these problems that we are creating for you, including here in Mizoram.
On the other hands, we are so thankful, and deeply appreciative for your understanding and your tolerance to our people. We know, and we admit, that thousands of our people are living illegally here in Mizoram, and they create so many problems for you. Despite all these problems that we create for you, you understand us, and still call us as your brothers from Khua-chak. We thank you for that! Kan lawm e; Pathian in malsawnnak in pek rawh seh!
The series of these seminars that the EBO has been organizing is a sincere and humble attempt to solve the conflict in Burma through dialogue and through people to people relations, which will eventually create a better understanding and peace and harmony not only in Burma but in the entire region. We sincerely hope that the seminars that we have organized here were helpful for you as well, especially for your ‘Look East Policy’ and for the regional stability and peace that we all want and desire.
This is what the EBO, under the leadership of our Executive Director Sao Harn Yawnghwe, is trying to achieve though the National Reconciliation Program.
Thirdly, I would like to express our sincere thanks to the Mizoram University, which hosted both our seminar last year and today’s function. We are so grateful to all the professors and faculty members and the students at the MZU. Whenever we mention Mizoram University, it will not be complete without mentioning one particular name: Dr. K. Robin. Dr. Robin coordinated the seminar for us last year, and he is still running around all over Aizawl, so that we are all safe and sound during our stay here in Mizoram. Above all, Robin is the one who put all these papers from the seminar together and edited this book.
Robin, I can assure you that the book that you have edited will remain as one of the most reliable sources, even indispensible sources, of the future of Chin study. Thank you for what you have done for us and congratulations for your achievement in editing this magnificent book.
Last, but not least, I would like to thanks also to our Chairperson, Mr. Joseph Lalzarliana, and Mr. Lallianchunga, who present this book review for all of us. We would like to express our sincere thanks to all of you who are here today; and the scholars who contributed their papers for this volume!
Thank you so very much to all of you!
The Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) was originally established as the “Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee” (ENSCC) in August 2001.