By Major F. M. Rundall, D.S.O., 4th Gurkha Rifles, late O. C. Chin Hills and Political Officer, Northern Chin Hills
Origin of the Chins : “I believe some people are of the opinion that they were aboriginal tribes of Upper Burma, and were gradually forced back into the hills, driving back in their turn the Lushais, who dwelt in the hills now occupied by the Chins; the Lushais retreating across the Manipur River still further into the hills.
After our subjugation and occupation of Upper Burma the Chins began to be a thorn in our side, just as they had been to King Thibaw and his predecessors. Thibaw had tried sending an army to invade their country; but it was ignominiously defeated, and the troops retired after doing more harm than good to the prestige of the Burmese army. The Chins told me that they had heard rumours of our fighting in Upper Burma, but they imagined our troops were no better than King Thibaw’s, and so, bursting from their hills on sudden and unexpected raids, they pillaged the Burman villages in our newly-acquired territory, slew all who resisted them, carried off into slavery all whom they succeeded in capturing, and murdered such of their prisoners as could not keep pace with them in their rapid retreat to their mountain fortresses.
The Chins further forced themselves into our notice by harbouring dacoit leaders whom we were using our best endeavours to catch — men whose existence at large implied fresh and serious outbreaks of rebellion. When Govt found that the peace of certain of our newly acquired districts was being rudely disturbed by the hill tribes, negotiations were opened up with them in the hopes that we and they might come to some satisfactory understanding. It soon became apparent that nothing but a punitive expedition would suffice to keep these wild tribes in check”.
Punitive Expeditions. — For the last four cold seasons our troops have been operating in the Chin Hills. The first expedition was sent in the winter of 1888-89 under General Faunce. The force started from Kalemyo, and advancing towards the Letha Range, met with determined resistance the whole way. As our force advanced we constructed stockaded posts at convenient spots, in which small garrisons were left to guard our rear, furnish escorts for convoys, etc. These posts were known by their numbers, such as No. 2, No. 4 etc. It would take up much space to give any detailed account of the campaign; suffice it to say, we lost many men, chiefly through the unhealthiness of the primeval forests through which the troops worked; and though we drove back the tribesmen as we advanced, still they showed subsequently, by their undiminished misdemeanours, and by the incessant harassing of our posts and convoys that they had not the slightest intention of giving in without further chastisement. Our troops, however, did very excellent work, as anyone will acknowledge who has ever attempted to force his way through a wholly unknown country, and operate in wild rugged hills where no supplies whatever are obtainable, and resisted, as we were by hardy hill-men, who fought us pluckily every step of the way, and know how to turn to the best account every coign of advantage offered by dense jungle or precipitous hill-side.
General Faunce’s force pushed down the western slopes of the Letha Range, destroyed many villages, built Fort White, and penetrated, by means of small columns, as far as the principal Kanhau village of Tiddim.
I had been entrusted with the political work of the Northern Chin Hills, and had had the good fortune to succeed in getting in touch with the Siyins, the most warlike of all the tribes; but I knew that our friendly relations with this tribe were in their infancy, and an ill-advised speech, or anything which could be construed into a repulse at the hands of the Kanhaws, would bring the Siyins about our ears again at once. (The above was written and printed some months ago. Since then the Siyins and Nwengals rose and gave much trouble. It is more than two years since I left the Chin Hills, and I do not at all know what caused the rising. Just as the Afghan tribes on the North West Frontier of India (notably those in the vicinity of the Black Mountain) are continually giving trouble, so, I suppose, will the tribes on our frontier in Burma fret and chafe at the power which has been the first to hold their untamed spirits in check).
Dress and Appearance of the Siyin Chins. — Taken as a whole, the Siyins are a finer race of men than the Burmese, and have well-developed arms, chests, and legs, though their average height does not, I think, exceed that of the Burman race. Some of the men have fairly good looking countenances.
Disposition and Nature — The Siyins are undoubtedly a brave and hardy race. It is their boast that one Siyin is worth five of any other men; and the other tribes, generally speaking, acknowledge their superior pluck. The Siyins are very independent, and the free and easy way in which they put their hands on your shoulder and stroke you is apt to be resented by new-comers, who do not understand that this is not meant for impertinence, but friendship. The Siyins are easily moved to mirth, and readily understand and appreciate a joke. They are by no means dull of apprehension, and I should put them down as a quick-witted, intelligent race, who would readily take to education
Siyin Villages — The villages are always built on the hill-sides where either natural springs exist, or where water can be brought from the above by means of wooden troughs The Siyins, like all other Chins, adorn the outside walls of their chase houses, just where the door is, with trophies of the chase. I have seen hundreds of skulls of all manner of animals, including those of tigers, bears, and panthers. Villages are rarely stockaded all round. Stockades are usually met with wherever the village is most easily approached. The jungle is allowed to grow around a village so as to afford the Chins good cover both for ambuscading and attacking an enemy, or for making his escape from one. The stockades are generally very difficult to attack, being purposely built in spots very disadvantageous to an attacking party; and to take a Chin village which means to offer an obstinate resistance is a task which requires less skill than pluck-pluck of the best quality that can be got.
Volleys fired out of an unexpected stockade, or out of thick jungle at a distance of a few feet, where you cannot even see your enemy, try the pluck of men and officers considerably; and as the Chin almost invariably fires low, the wounds received are usually fatal ones in the stomach. The ground is also sometimes “pangied” — that is, thickly studded with bamboo spikes, which are difficult to see, and which inflict severe wounds in the leg, and are a formidable obstacle to pass. A Siyin village is a picturesque sight when the apple, apricot, or other trees in it are in full blossom. The Siyin, like all other Chins, is extremely hospitable, and it is thought an insult to go to a Chin village and not partake of the hospitality offered. To get drunk is considered a delicate appreciation of their hospitality.
- Compiled from the “Profile of a Burma Frontier Man”
- Photo above is not related to this original article, It was just some Siyin military officers of Burma Army, Second Chin Battalion, taken around 1950s.