Cheraw or the Bamboo
Mizo traditional songs and dances were the common amusements of the people. A Zu party would always be an occasion for songs and dances. The songs were slow and generally sounded mournful. Songs would be accompanied by beat of drums or gongs. The theme would mostly be narration of some events or praise of some hero or former villages, description of some hunt or simply of love. The young Mizos have, in the recent past, taken up western music and dances with great aplomb. In all the villages, groups of young men and women gather in the evening and sing and dance, sometimes the whole night. The only musical instrument used is the Spanish guitar, called ting tang by the Mizo. The young Mizos, both boys and girls, have a very lilting musical voice and they have a natural flair for music. A very recent development is pop music with a composite band which is popular in towns and big villages.
The most colourful and distinctive dance of the Mizos is called 'Cheraw'. Little is known about the origin of Cheraw. Possibly the forefathers of Mizos brought it with them when they left their homes in far-east Asia. Cheraw is performed on any occasion these days. But, as the legend goes, it used to be performed in earlier times only to ensure a safe passage for the soul of a mother who died at childbirth. Cheraw is, therefore, a dance of sanctification and redemption performed with great care, precision and elegance. Long bamboo starves are used for this dance, therefore many people call it 'Bamboo Dance'. The dancers move by stepping alternatively in and out from between and across a pair of horizontal bamboos, held against the ground by people sitting face to face on either side. They tap the bamboos in rhythmic beats. The bamboos, placed horizontally, are supported by two bases, one at each end. The bamboos, when clapped, produce a sound which forms the rhythm of the dance. It indicates the timing of the dance as well. The dancers steps in and out to the beats of the bamboos with ease and grace. The patterns and stepping of the dance have many vibrations. Sometimes the steppings are made to imitate the movement of birds, sometimes the swaying of trees and so on
Khual, in Mizo language, means a guest, lam means dancing. So, Khuallam is the dance of the guest. The Mizos, in the pre-Christian days, believed that the soul, after death went either to 'Pialral' or paradise, or 'Mitthi Khua', a land of sorrow and misery. To have a place in Paradise, one had to prove one's mettle either in war or in hunting or by being a man of distinction in society. To claim a distinguished place in society, one had to perform various ceremonies which included offering community feasts and dances. These ceremonies performed together, were known as 'Khuangchawi'. While performing Khuangchawi one was obliged to invite relatives from nearby villages. The guest entered the arena of the Khuangchawi dancing Khuallam- hence, Khuallam is the dance for the visitors or guests. The dance is normally performed by men dressed in Puandum (traditional Mizo clothes with red and green stripes) to the accompaniment of a set of gongs known as Darbu. A group dance, the more the merrier, they dance to the tune of gongs and drums.
On occasions of Chapchar Kut festival the boys and girls would dance chai the whole night. The boys would sit with their backs to the wall. Each boy would have a girl sitting in front of him, in between his knees, with her back towards him. Individual dancers would perform in the clearing in the middle, all the others joining in the music. The young folk would perform another type of dance in the open courtyard. They would make a circle with a girl in between two boys with their arms over the shoulders of the girls. In the midst of the circle, one would beat a drum or gong and all in the circle would move forward and backward and would also progress slowly along the circle. The person in the middle would chant a song and the refrain would be taken up by all. All the time the dancers would get rounds of Zu and the dance would last as long as the supply of Zu could be kept up.
Another popular dance is Sawlakin. This was originally a Lakher dance, but now it has been adopted by all the Mizas. Sawlakia means spirit of the slain. The dance was led by the warrior who had hunted a big game or killed a man. He would wear his best clothes and a plume of red feather. He would wield a gun or dao and a shield. He would be followed by other dancers in a row, who would also carry weapons, or cymbals or gongs. Some boys would stand in a group beating drums or blowing bugles. The dancers would move forward and slowly go round the head. While dancing weapons and shields would be wielded keeping time with drum or gong beats. All the time dancers would be plied with Zu by the women. This dance is a popular dance now. The modifications now are that there is no head in the circle and no Zu.
It is the dance over a round of rice beer in the cool of the evening. The lyrics in triplets are normally fresh and spontaneous on-the-spot compositions, recounting their heroic deeds and escapades and also praising the honoured guests present in their midst. Joie de vivre would be the appropriate term to describe Chheih lam, a dance that embodies the spirit of joy and exhilaration. Chheih lam is performed to the accompaniment of a song called Chheih hla. The song is sung to the beats of a drum or bamboo tube or clapping of hands. People squat on the floor in a circle while a dancer stands in the middle reciting a song with various movements of limbs and body. An expert Chheih dancer performs his part in such a manner that the people around him leave their seats and join the dance. Any one can try this dance, for it has no specific choreography. All that one has to do is to get into the mood and live up to it. Chheih lam is performed on any occasion normally in the evenings, when the day's work is over.
Strictly speaking, Rallu lam is not a dance as such. It is rather a celebration or a rite in honour of a victorious warrior. When a warrior comes back after a successful campaign, he is given a warm and colourful reception by the village Chief. The celebration consists of a re-enactment of the warrior's heroic exploits. The mode of celebration, however, varies from village to village.
Originally, the dance used to be performed mainly by the people of the Maras and Pawi communities of Mizoram. They remain the best exponents of the dance to-date. Like Rallu lam, Solakia was also performed in earlier times to celebrate a victory in war. Marked with five principal movements, the dance seeks to recapture the actions of a hero at war. Men and women stand in profile, while the hero, brandishing a sword and a shield, dances in the middle to the accompaniment of gong beats.
One of the most impressive Mizo community dances, Sarlamkai is a variation of Solakia. The two dances are almost identical. The only difference lies in the dress and tempo. No song is sung, only gongs or cymbals or drums are used to beat time. Sarlamkai has been taken up by most of the schools in Mizoram for cultural activities these days.
The land of enchanting hills has yet another dance, the Par lam. Girls attired in colourful dresses, with flowers tucked in their hair, dance to the tune of songs sung by themselves. The principal movement in the dance involves the waving of hands. A couple of boys lend musical accompaniment by playing guitars. Comparatively, this is a new dance. Nevertheless, it has become a part of the Mizo culture.
This is a popular folk dance of one of the Mizo communities known as Pawi. This dance is performed in two different occasions. Firstly, it is performed by a husband to mourn the death of his wife. The husband would be continuously performing this dance till he gets tired. Friends and relatives would relieve him and dance on his behalf. This signifies that they mourn with the bereaved. Secondly, Chawnglaizawn' is performed on festivals and also to celebrate trophies brought home by successful hunters.On such occasions, it is performed in groups of large numbers. Boys and girls standing in rows dance to the beat of drums. Shawls are used to help the movement of the arms, which also adds color to the dance. Only drums are used in this dance.
Tlanglam is performed throughout the length and breadth of the State. Using music of Puma Zai, there have been several variations of the dance. This dance is one of the most popular dances these days by our cultural troupes in various places. Both sexes take part in this dance.
Zangtalam is a popular Paihte dance performed by men and women. While dancing, the dancers sing responsive song. A drummer is a leader and director of the dance. The duration of the dance depends on the drummer.
The traditional musical instruments of the Mizos had been mostly the drum, gong and flute. The drum are made from hollowed out tree trunks two sides of which are covered by fine hides. It is about a foot in diameter and two feet in length. The drums is used in all feasts and festivals and it keeps beat in songs and dances. The gongs are made of brass and come in various sizes. These have always been imported from Burma and are rather costly. Gongs are sometimes played in a combination of three: each gong having a separate note the three gongs would together produce a tune. Another instrument used was made of gourds in which hollow reeds were inserted. The player would blow through one reed and would produce a tune by opening and closing holes in the other reeds. Flute was made from bamboo pieces. Now-a-days however, only the drum and gong are used.
Mizoram has rich and colourful range of handlooms. Notable handloom items are
This is one of the most beautiful dresses worn by the Mizo girls. This is worn on occasions such as weddings and festivals such as 'Chapchar Kut' and 'Pawl Kut'. In earlier times, these were all hand woven but nowadays these are mostly machine made. They are made from cotton and the colors are made by a thing called 'Ting'. Along with this, a blouse which is of the same pattern is usually worn.
It is worn in all festivals such as 'Chapchar Kut', 'Mim Kut' and 'Pawl Kut'. The colours used in this cloth are black and white. These are also hand - woven and are made of cotton. The black portion of the handloom is made from some kind of an artificial fur.
It is one of the most important handlooms of the Mizos. These are made from cotton and are handmade. This traditional hand-woven cloth called 'Puandum' is also wrapped over the shoulders while performing 'Khuallam', one of the famous traditional dances of the Mizos. A Puandum consists of black, red, yellow and green stripes. Significantly, Puandum is an indispensable item which every girl has to take along with her when she gets married. It is used to cover her husband's body when he dies. This is an integral part of the Mizo marriage and failure to bring the cloth entails punishment leading to a reduction in the bride price.
It is also worn on the various festivals. It is one of the finest handlooms of the Mizos. It is made from silk and cotton and were all hand-woven in the olden days, but nowadays they are all machine-made. It has its origin among the Pawi tribe. It is equivalent to the 'Puanchei' cloth among the Pawi tribe. They wear it while performing the various dances such as Cheraw and Sarlamkai during the 'Kut' festivals.
It is also known as 'Kawkpui zikzial' and are mostly worn by the children and girls. They are worn on the occasions such as 'Chawn Day', 'Chhawnghnawh Day' and 'Chapchar Kut'. This is one of the first handlooms made by the Mizos. They are usually made of cotton and they are hand-woven.
It is worn on every 'kut' such as 'Chapchar Kut', 'Mim Kut' and 'Pawl Kut'. It is one of the most beautiful blouses worn by the girls. Like other clothes they are hand-woven and are made from cotton. This are usually worn along with 'Puanchei' and while performing the various dances of the Mizos.
Mizo water-proof hat (Khumbeu) made with bamboo and leaves are also an important handicraft item.