Mizoram Images Publication
‘COLONIALISM REPRESENTING CULTURAL IMPERIALISM’ : A Critical Study of Colonial Mizo Fictions With Special Reference to ‘THLAHRANG’ and ‘C.C.COY. NO.27’
Department of Mizo
Pachhunga University College
The term ‘Colonialism’ is not a new topic in the realm of educated and intellectual discourses of contemporary Mizo society. Even though it is familiar to most disciplines in Social sciences. its application or inclusion in different genres of Mizo literature still appears to be a new approach, both theoretically and critically, even more than half a century is gone after colonial era. Thus, it seems to be a challenge for most students of Mizo literature and critics as well, to have a retrospective view on various literary aspects during the ‘colonial era’. This paper is, therefore, an attempt to-take a step in this endeavour a critical examination of colonial Mizo literature selecting the fiction genre. It is important to note here that my approach is mostly based on post-colonial literary perspective.
1.1.Origin and Meaning
Etymologically, the word ‘colony’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Colonia’ which simply means ‘a place for agriculture and farming’ and the term ‘colonialism’, from its root, can be applied to a practice of searching new land/territory for domination. It involves the subjugation of one people to another, the transfer of alien population to a new territory where the arrivals (new settlers) lived as dominant and superior which could make them to exercise their power over the original settlers while maintaining political, economic, cultural and even religious allegiance/link to their mother country or nation. For this reason, colonialism is somehow difficult to distinguish from the term ‘imperialism’; the term which comes from the Latin word ‘imperium’ meaning ‘to command’. Many historians also frequently used to treat these two concepts as synonyms. The basic reason is that like ‘colonialism’, ‘imperialism also involves political and economic control of a more powerful and superior people over a dependent territory. To make the term colonialism and imperialism more clear or for better understanding, let us highlight some definitions.
Chambers 21st Century Dictionary defines ‘Colonialism’ as “the policy of acquiring colonies, especially as a source of profit” while Collins English Dictionary defines it as “the policy of acquiring and maintaining colonies, especially for exploitation”.
The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy uses the term ‘Colonialism’ to describe ‘the process of European settlement and political control over the rest of the world.’
The term ‘Imperialism’ is defined Oxford Dictionary of Current English as “the policy of dominating other nations acquisition of dependencies or through trade’.
The definition given Reader’s Digest Family Encyclopaedia of World History is very much in congruous with the topic chosen in this paper which explains ‘Imperialism’ as “a system of rule whereone country exerts its influence over others, either force or political control… Indigenous populations gained some benefits from imperial rule, but often they lost their traditional identity and were forced to accept new religions and social doctrines…”
From the above different definitions, it is clearly evident that ‘Colonialism’ and ‘Imperialism’ cannot be separated. Many historians often used to treat these the two terms as synonyms and are therefore used interchangeably.
The topic that we are going to examine is based on how colonialism and imperialism with their colonial culture had an influence and impact on the lives of the colonised nation/race/people. No one can deny that colonial nations or people have tried their level best to exercise their colonial power in terms of territory and economy thereannexing the natives. They used different instruments, tools, weapons, and sometimes Violence too to stand as a supreme. Education and religions have been used as important instruments of domination to colonise the original or indigenous people. However, the most important motive is to gain a wholesome benefit out of the colonised territory. The colonised people are always inferior in every way, so therefore there is no chance for change, development and upliftment. It leads to degradation of moral values, identity crisis and breakdown of culture, custom and traditional values. The impact of colonialism is such a destruction and devastation for the colonised people that many colonies, as history shows, were therefore unable to come up to from the tolerable situation again at any point of time. The primary objective of this paper is to examine the historical truth about how colonialism led to cultural imperialism in every corner of Mizo society through a critical analysis of selected two Mizo fictions based on the post colonial theory and concept.
2.THE WORLD OF COLONIALISM
2.1 .Origin and Nature –
Activity and practice that could be called ‘Colonialism’ has a long history. The ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans etc. all built colonies in antiquity. This kind of practice also happened in other parts of the world; for example, in South East Asia, the Vietnamese established military colonies out of their original territory and absorbed those territories in a process known as namtién.
The origin of mankind carries with itself the urge to control the powerless as a natural custom from centuries. Powerful or superior race/nations ruling and controlling over the less powerful/inferior has been an interesting stories in the history of human civilization.
However, with the passing of Dark Age and the urge to build a strong and powerful nation through the light of Renaissance, the race for modern colonialism opened its way with the Age of Discovery in 15th century. The development of science contributed a lot in this race. The discovery of the world as a sphere and that it revolves round the sun brought a new challenge to explore the unexplored world. Many European countries set out in the race for geographical discoveries and inventions, more profited ones among them are Britain, France, Portugal and Spain. Britain is the most successful, expanding their colony in many parts of the globe, and could thus claimed to be the most powerful nation for about three centuries.
2 .2.British Colonialism and ‘Lushai Hills’
The British colonialism which began in India in 1600 AD in the name of English East India Company with its main aim of ‘mercantilism’ led to gradual expansion, consolidation and final establishment of British colonial rule in most parts of India including the north eastern part, i.e. Assam. This colonial expansion and control on the part of Britain in the north eastern territory inevitably resulted direct contact of the so called ‘White people’ with the ‘Lushais’ (the name as commonly known the White) who settled independently in the surrounding areas. Due to some unfortunate occurrences and certain incidents, the British conducted the in First Lushai Expedition in 1871-1872 with an objective, according to them. to suppress the barbaric behaviour of the Lushais. After fulfilling their goal, they withdrew; status quo was maintained for a few years. However, their relations became worse once again which resulted the Second Lushai Expedition of 1889-90 the British troops with an ultimate objective to occupy the Lushai Hills which was accomplished within a short period of time. Hence the British colonial rule in the Lushai Hills began in 1890 which was officially declared the Governor General-in-Council in 1895. Since then, the erstwhile independent and sovereign territory of the Lushais, mostly administered successfully and smoothly their ‘Chiefs’, came under the British colonial empire. The British rulers immediately applied their infamous policy of ‘Divide and Rule’; dividing the whole Lushai Hills into northern and southern parts, running most of the administration through indirect rule for about half a century till India got independence from Britain in l947. The impact of British colonial rule in Lushai Hills seems immeasurable; in short, it changed every aspect in the life of the Lushais.
3.THE TWO FICTIONS
The two selected fictions for our study are based on the time when Lushai Hills was governed the British and hence could be named as ‘Colonial Fiction’. The two fictions contained a lot of British colonial features and characteristics. The British were labelled as ‘ Sap/Mingo’(white race/people) and their government or Royal dynasty as ‘Kumpinu’. These names are therefore used interchangeably in the two stories. However, it is important to note that they all represent the same meaning. Firstly, let us have a brief account on the authors. ‘
3.1.‘Thlahrang’ and its author
The author of ‘Thlahrang’ (The Ghost) Lalzuithanga was born to be the eldest son of Chawnghnuaia and Zachhingi on 16th April, 1916. He was born and raised in Aizawl, Kulikawn locality. He studied up to 8th Standard, and was employed at Sikulpui and Welsh Mission Board. He joined the Labour Corps during the World War II and later joined the Royal Indian Air Force. After he left Air Force he joined the Office of Aijal Superintendent as a Map Drawer. During his later years as an Agricultural Demonstrator (1949-‘50), he went for a training at Monachera Tea Estate Kunchunpore, Cachar District where he died of heart attack on 28th Sept. 1950. He was a versatile genius person. His works can be traced back to an attractive piece of literature for the Mizos. Through there is no proper record about the period when one of his meritorious fiction ‘Thlahrang’ was written, the settings, the environments etc. in the story are all being written in between the two World Wars, i.e.1920-’40.
It is important to note that the first and one of the most praiseworthy Mizo detective/crime fictions occupies a very limited time. It occupies only from Wednesday to the next Thursday, but still it has the capability to keep the readers interest aroused, startled and in suspense. His ability to arrange the plot and characters in such manners is what mark the author‘s trademark. It is a fiction that contained a lot of important struggle for survival on the part of the colonised people and exercising power and supremacy on the part of the Whites to dominate the Lushais in a territory marked with murder and wicked intentions.
3.2 C.C Coy. No.27 and its author
Regarded as one of the most magnificent writers among the Mizos who was also selected as ‘Writer of the Century’, K.C. Lalvunga (Pen name Zikpuii Pa) need no introduction amongst the Mizos inside or outside the literary field. He was a great poet, excellent essayist, outstanding novelist. Being considered as one of his great works, C.C.Coy.No.27 is an interesting and a pleasant fiction, filled with slow witted and accomplishment, a race for silliness and intelligence and the long and narrow road for success in life. It clearly reveals the typical ideology of the Mizos narrated in biographical style.
There is no exact record of the time when this fiction was written but the introduction in the book tells us that it was written during the author’s training on District Administration at Nashik District near Bombay. It is recorded that the author joined Indian Foreign Service in the year 1962; hence it can be assumed that C.C. Coy. No.27 was written Zikpuii Pa during 1963-’64 while having training. Through the period when the fiction was written was a Post Colonial Era, but the setting, the plot and the characters portrayed a Colonial Era. This fiction interestingly portrayed how Mizo traditional culture and western colonial culture wrestled among themselves and how the Mizo traditional culture was surpassed and suppressed in every way the Whites.
4.FEATURES OF COLONIALISM HIGHLIGHTED IN THE TWO FICTIONS
As mentioned, the two fictions are written in a colonial background, therefore the features of colonialism can be seen from the beginning to the end of the story. The settings and characters do not portray the pre-colonial life, but only the British Lushai Hills. It can be noticed easily how the Lushai were ruled over the British.
Let us first examine the features of colonialism in ‘Thlahrang’. The leading role in this fiction was named as Tawia. The family conditions of Tawia portrayed that Aijal was an important base and headquarters for the British during their rule. Tawia and his younger sister Chawii studied in Aijal Middle School and Tawia even continued High School in Silchar. This clearly shows that the British introduced education at the first stage for the indigenous people for the sake of welfare of the colonised people, but hardly contributed in providing and setting up higher educational institutions. The fiction tells us that the elementary education was introduced in the Lushai Hills, but was used just as a tool for spreading Christianity and the supremacy of the educated Whites. They hardly opted for the indigenous people to pursue higher education. This is clearly evident that High School was only started in the year 1944 just before they left Lushai Hills (P 2)
Aijal was given preference in everyway to rule over Lushai Hills. It portrayed the supremacy of the Bawrhsap (Superintendent) and the Colonial staff such as Sapté, Dahrawk etc. and how the Mizo Chiefs were beaten down it. The colonial rule provided different kinds of occupation such as businessman, contractor etc… Even Tawia’s father is a labourer under a colonial Contractor.
The society even witnessed a lot a colonial rule and domination. Though there was peace and harmony in the society but the White people were highly respected. The Bawrhsap was regarded as the sole authority. When Parmawii (a female leading role) was found Tawia in the forest, the first thing that he thought was to report it to the Lushai Clerk (P 7). The fashion of the Lushais witnessed a dramatic change during the British rule. The dress of Tawia and Parmawii in the forest portrays a colonial dress; Parmawii wearing a knitted woolen silk skirt with a navy blue woolen jumper. She even wore a navy blue silk scarf on her neck, with a powder and lipstick on her face. This kind of fashion does not clearly portray the pre colonial fashion of the Lushais (Mizos).
The Assam Rifles, Dawrpui, Bazar, Hospitals, Doctors and Nurses are the products of colonial rule. They provided useful, respectable services but at the same time, they brought a drastic change for the Lushai society. Another important role played Kawla, his daily routine, thinking etc. portrayed a great change in individuals and society after the colonial rule. The good and easy transportation between ‘Kawl Ram’ (Burma) and ‘Reng Ram’ (Tripura) clearly shows that they all belong to the British colony.
British colonial policy always carries with itself ‘Christianity’. Sunday, Church and Sunday school came into existence. An important landmark in British colonialism is the spreading of Christianity through their Missionaries in every of their colonies. This policy was even carried out in the Lushai Hills and even the Colonial administrators had a warm welcome for it which gradually brought a total change for the indigenous people’s religion and society.
C.C.Coy. No.27 also portrays a lot of Colonial features. In the beginning of the stony, we see the village and its folk on the eastern comer of Lushai Hills having discussion on Sunday in a particular house (the protagonist Ralkapzauva’s family house); tea was served in an aluminium plate, the sound of the youth practising hymns and solfa in the neighbours could be heard (P 1). If we examine this closely, it can be noted that during the colonial period, not only Aijal but even the eastern corner of Lushai Hills was greatly affected colonialism. ‘Fren ram kal’(those participated in the expedition to France during World War I) and the news of the War occupied the most important topics in the discussion of village folk. Their ‘lal’ (village chief) ‘Dolura’ was sitting on a separate Western Chair, raising a topic nothing more than the glory of the Kumpinu (British Queen). Here is an interesting question? Where have all the splendid and marvellous Sailo Chief’s power and superiority gone? The behaviour of Dolura and his villagers clearly shows that there can be nothing more than fear, dread or timidity of the Mizos towards the White people who ruled over them. Again, the behaviour of Ralkapzauva and his father when they saw Varsiar Babu at Paikhai Bangla on their way to Aizawl shows the power and respect of the British colonial rule. They seemed to think that Bawrhsap as god; Ralkapzauva’s question to his father asking him if there was any possibility or chance for him to become a White which made his father speechless is nothing to be amazed of. Moreover, we still find the conditions of educational institute in Aizawl, only till Middle School standard which clearly portrays the colonial education policy as in Thlahrang. As a whole. C.C. Coy.No.27 settings and incidents, characters, its environments etc. perfectly portray the feature of colonialism and the grandeur of the White people. It shows evidently that the Mizos, along with their traditional Chiefs (Sailo lal) were totally ruled over the British.
5.COLONIALISM REPRESENTING CULTURAL IMPERIALISM
The Two fictions have highlighted interestingly about changes brought in the Colonial rule in all aspects of the indigenous society. The administration was totally transformed with the advent of the British. They decreased the power and authorities of the Lushai (Mizo) Chiefs and at the same time utilised them, under indirect rule, only for their benefit. They even removed some Chiefs whom they did not favour. At the same time, they appointed Chiefs from the common people (Hnamchawm) especially whom they could control according to their will. Due to the British colonial rule, the customs, tradition, social values and practices of the Mizo society gradually declined. The rise of the Middle Class, most of them educated under the Christian missionaries, also brought disrespect for the Chiefs. Different kinds of occupations developed especially in government jobs and business as Aijal was growing.
All these factors brought a big change in their outlook, down-sizing the traditional life and its value to great extent. Instead of the long-timed Chiefs and his elders, the colonial White rulers and their kith and kin became highly appreciated and respected the people enhanced the gradual decline of Sailo Chiefs. Most of traditional practices had been treated as ‘Sin’ and many social values became regarded as backwardness and against Christianity as taught missionaries, and were therefore gradually neglected the people. Educationa1 institute, Hospitals etc…. were utilised the missionaries as instruments for influencing and drawing people towards them.
The reason why all these things could happen was that the Government authorities and all their fellow Christian missionaries belong to common British citizens; a good network was always there between them. This is clearly evident that the colonial authorities put education into the hands of missionaries for a long time. With the decline of Lushai Chiefs and gradual deterioration of traditional life, the importance of Zawlbuk, the backbone of the community, also faded away. Important social ceremonies, festivals and taboos were given less importance; most of religious worships or rituals had been abandoned. With the emergence of colonialism, the Lushais/ Mizos witnessed major change in the society that led to decline of their cultural value. There was a great contrast between the new colonial administration and the old system of Chieftainship. The traditional or indigenous culture was slowly taken over the western colonial culture.
The two fictions show how cultural conflict and cultural imperialism took place over the colonised culture. In Thlahrang there was no prove that Tawia was the murderer but let us examine how the Dahrawk (Sub-Inspector) tells about the matter concerning Tawia as judged Bawrhsap.
“In any kind of such activity, laws are not always applicable. Bawrhsap has all the powers to forgive even a murderer. No one can even bring a case against it towards any higher judgement place. He is above law and is everything.” (P 48)
It is important to note the reason why Dahrawk can give such kind of message. Who can be the person who is above law and is everything? It is clear that this carries a great message for the Lushai people. It tells that the British were magnificent and powerful in everyway. It tells that the British are unbeatable, not worth opposing them in any point of time.
It is also important to note the reason why a person like Kawla who has high level of experience, capacity and ability could not oppose or deny the judgment of Bawrhsap. It clearly shows that his nature and temperament was not even worth comparing to Bawrhsap (representing White supremacy). It is exactly why Bawrhsap was labelled as being above law and everything. It we closely examine the reason why he committed suicide can be because he was terrified/scared with the Bawrhsap judgment not because he found himself guilty. A person who was well educated and well acquainted during their times such as Kawla and Tawia characters portray the supremacy of the British. Tawia‘s father who was ‘regarded as a friendly and a socialize person ’ (P 38), very distinct from others during their period was even found speechless when their son was taken to prison/ jail the police. He does not even have the sense to think back the reason why his son was taken or how to deal with it. He even mentioned that it might be because his son saw a demon/ghost and that was against the law of the government. It portrays colonial influence because the people even Tawia’s father do not have the sense to question the orders of Bawrhsap and violate against the actions of police. They had the feeling that every orders from the government must be followed without any complaint. Every Lushai/Mizo tried their best to keep the British people happy and to be at their command. The Mizos during this period were rather lucky that they were not aware of how they were being monopolised and controlled.
In C.C.Coy. No.27, we find that the actors in the fiction were greatly influenced colonial sentiment; even the remote area (Tuipuiral) was filled with colonial sentiment. The Chief Dolura and other elders were even influenced colonial power to great extent. Their conversations about the glory of the Queen, how they admire a person (Ralkapzauva’s father) who could take part in the expedition to France clearly shows the colonial sentiment and influence. Ralkapzauva’s village, their Chief and the villagers in the fiction portray how Lushai/Mizo society during that time was drifted away from their traditional culture and lifestyle because of education and religion.
The incident that Ralkapzauva and his father saw the Varsiar Babu at Pakhai Bangla again indicated the supremacy of the colonial rule and how they were being admired the colonised people. It is also interesting to note how Ralkapzauva see Aizawl on his first visit (P 7). During those days in the mind-set of children, they regarded as God being present in heaven and the rest of the world as being occupied White people. Bawrhsap, Babu etc. are representations of colonial power and supremacy and that there cannot be anything more grandeur than that. Therefore, Ralkapzauva’s (representing all Lushai students of that time) reason for study was to become at least a Babu if becoming Sap is impossible.
Ralkapzauva continued his studies in Shillong and still continue to admire the sap again and again. Their school Headmaster, a White gentleman became his mentor. There were other respectable persons other than the White ones, who could be his mentor but for Ralkapzauva, his mentor and guide necessarily need to be a white man. Even the author of this fiction was closely affected or influenced colonial sentiment and can be even mentioned as having the features of colonial hangover. During his army training, Ralkapzauva need to complete with the white colleague, other than that his whole life was spent in admiring Sap. One person important in Ralkapzauva’s life other than white people was ‘Bahadur’ whom he admired from the very first time he met. But the reason of his admiration is that Bahadur was in the army who also went to France during the war, so he had a feeling that Bahadur would be there with his father. The idea of keeping a high esteem for the colonial White people in the fiction is a fine a example cultural imperialism.
One important thing which is worth mentioning is that when Ralkapzauva joined an army officer and came back to his village, the villagers exalted and honoured him. The Chief even offered fermented liquor to him in front of the Church Elders. The Church Elders did not even dare to complain against it though liquor was prohibited strictly Church. Instead, they regarded the army officer as being excluded or above the prohibition. This is also a clear evident of colonial power.
From the above two fictions, we can find that Lushai Hills was greatly influenced British colonialism since the closing years of the 19th century following the occupation and establishment of colonial rule that only ended in 1947. The Chief and their Chieftainship was totally transformed, education changed the lives of people and the new religion introduced the white missionaries brought a drastic change in the social system. Besides agriculture, some other kind of livelihood such as business, govt. jobs etc. emerged as a result of colonial rule. The rise of Middle Class in the society contributed as an important factor in changing their culture and behaviour. The Chief became more powerless and even Zawlbuk could no longer hold its prestige; there was a big loss or breakdown of cultural values in the society. Different factors contributed and played as change-agents in transforming the society.
The notion and opinion of the older generations and younger generations in Mizo society might be differed to draw conclusion on the impact of ‘Colonialism’. The older generations and the Church (established those British Christian missionaries) seem to have a high prestige and admiration for the colonial people. However, such kind of opinion is gradually declining among the younger generations; it may be due to the development of thought and re-reading of literary text and context. But, no one can deny that the fifty plus years of colonial rule the British in Lushai Hills changed, transformed and controlled the Lushais/Mizos over their body, mind and thought and even spiritually. Thlahrang and C.C.Coy.No.27 clearly expose this historical truth.
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*This Paper is presented in the National Seminar-cum-Workshop on Mizo Novel at Aijal Club on 9-1 1, November, 2011
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