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Power for the Elite (Among Chins)

Following article was compiled from the “Conversion of the Chin in Burma: The Creation of an Elite” by Bianca Son (Mang Khan Cing) Ph.d, daughter of the late Dr. Vumson Suantak, her thesis paper for Master of Science at International School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Contemporary Asian Studies, Universiteit van Amsterdam (August 2007).

The previous chapter demonstrated a carefully constructed effort of the Hakha to separate themselves first from the Burman and then from other Zomi, resulting in a Hakha elite.  This section examines how this elite has used Christianity to gain political power within Burma, specifically by creating a new Christian community, the Hakha have vied for leadership of the whole of the Chin.  They have further parlayed their Christianity to gain attention and power on the world stage.

 According to Weber (in Gerth and Mills 1947) and his later followers, conversion is simply a means to gain power over and/or within a community, whether it is political or economic.  Weber’s notion of the prophet’s power and the fact that there is potential political gain by using religion is demonstrated in the Chin case as well.  That is, many of the political leaders inside as well as outside the Chin Hills are trained theologians.

 Weber argued some sort of interdenominational conflict must exist for conversion to take place.  Hefner quotes Weber, “[there must exist] a struggle between various competing groups and prophecies for the control of the community” (Weber in Hefner 1993:11).  In this way, Weber argued that competing doctrines are necessary and that individuals and groups’ leadership struggle for control and power must exist within the community.  In this way, then, the attributes necessary for leadership in any given community are redefined.

 Further, Weber believed that there are other influences as well.  He strongly believed that a certain amount of tension and complex interplay of circumstances and ideals must exist in order to come to a rationalized decision regarding conversion.  He argued that rationalization is not simply a cost/benefit issue for the potential convert, but that religious leaders such as priests also have an agenda, to maintain power and status privileges by “their commitment to the abstract truth of religious ideals” (Hefner 1993:11, Gerth and Mills 1947).

 As mentioned previously, Burman Buddhists persecuted converts early in the missions.  Before the Buddhists objected however, many Chin suffered persecution from other, non-converted Chin.  Laura Carson reports about a convert Thang Tsin who converted and was baptised by Rev. Carson in 1906 (Sakhong 2000).  When announcing that he had become a Christian was beaten by the village chief. Thang Tsin did not waiver in his new belief system, henceforth his house, his farm and even his wife were taken from him by the village chief.  Thang Tsin, according to Laura Carson remained a Christian.  She writes, “His case was taken up to the government by the missionaries, and the chief who ordered him beaten was fined and Thang’s property, liberty and wife were restored” (in Sakhong 2000).  Obviously, new leadership orders was evolving, where the chief had lost much of his power and the Christians were not only able to overturn his ruling, but were able to punish the chief.

 A. Prophet’s Power
In a traditional religion, elders are often leaders.  More often than not, men are leaders.  With conversion, however, the earliest converted or the most pious and devout can become leaders.  Further, strangers bringing the new religion, although of different ethnicity, nationality and race may suddenly have the power to lead a community through the new doctrine.  In any event, eventually, the belief system, along with the leadership will be institutionalized religious ideals.

 Another important factor in conversion, according to Weber (in Gerth and Mills 1947), is the one who brings the new religion to a community.  Weber discussed, extensively, the notion of the prophet whose voice is one of anti-traditionalism.  This prophet, who must also be charismatic, convinces the community that he has the ultimate world vision and demands immediate and complete conformity of the community to his set of ideal truths.  He becomes the voice of the redemptive social world, has Heilbesitz [1]or the prophet’s power.  This is certainly true in the case of the Chin who, after more than a century, still herald the first missionaries that came to the Chin Hills.  In fact, the Chin also herald their own indiginized ministers in high esteem.  One such minister was Hau Lian Kham.  Several biographies have been written about his life.[2]  In an article, Legacy of Hau Lian Kham (1944-1995): A Revivalist, Equipper, and Transformer for the Zomi-Chin People of Myanmar published in the Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, Chin Khua Khai writes, “Kham arose as a giant of faith” (Khai 2001:100).  Khai continues by giving a brief account of Kham’s life and his Christian work among the Chin.  Khai also writes that Kham was successful because he was able to take lessons from the Bible and put it into the context of the Chin Hills, i.e. Indiginization.  Finally, Khai closes the article by writing, “He could say as Paul did, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’ (2 Tim 4:6 NIV)” (Khai 2001:107).  Clearly Hau Lian Kham was such a modern day prophet in the Chin community.  He brought Christian Renewal to the Chin Hills in the 1970s.  Before him, there were the American missionaries.  While in the Chin Hills, the missionaries indiginized local converts to teach and preach the Bible.  In this way, the prophet power moved from western Christians to locals.

 1. The First Convert
Being the first converts for the Hakha is important in that they are able to yield that prophet’s power.  Also, it creates legitimacy in the religious as well as the political realm.  For example, as I explained earlier, Sakhong claims that the Tedim went to Europe instead of defending their homeland, the Chin Hills.  Further, according to Sakhong they were converted when they saw European Christians in Europe whereas the Hakha converted in the Chin Hills and also stayed to defend their homeland.  This strongly implies that the Hakha are not only more pious in that they quickly recognized that Christianity is the one true religion, they are also more loyal demonstrated by the fact that they rejected going abroad and refused to take orders from the British.

 The Hakha claim to be the first converts and thus were the center of Christian activity in the Chin Hills.  In Hakha the Chin Hills Baptist Association was formed and according to Sakhong (2000), they invited the “Zomi tribe of the Tedim area” whom they historically mistrusted.  But because the Hakha had become devout Christians, they were able to share their Christian faith with the Tedim.  To support this change, Sakhong quotes Johnson, “The Hakas were used to calling the Sizang and Kamhau by the appellation ‘Thaute’, a derogatory term, and could not understand how Christians could accept these Thaute as brothers. The superstition that the Teddim are people possessed the power of the evil eye was still strong, and so the Haka tended to shun them” (Sakhong 2000:227).[3]  Truly he paints a picture of the Hakha as being simply “better” people than the Tedim. They are better because they are more pious, have stronger values and are kinder in that they invited the Tedim whom they did not trust to join them in their church.

 2. The Capital of Conversion
Sakhong, a Hakha himself, refers to Hakha dialect as “the Chin language” in Chapter VI although he mentions the differing dialects in Chapter I (Sakhong 2000). In this way it is implied that Hakha is the only “real” Chin language.  He explains that the “the Chin language” was adopted all over the Chin Hills in its missionary schools.  In this way, explains Sakhong, the village chiefs attended school as did their children and, “Thus, the conversion of this new generation of the ruling class spearheaded not only church growth after the war but a change in society as well.”  Sakhong continues, “…the emergence of a Chin elite based on professional soldiers and teacher-cum-preachers also contributed in many way and means for church growth…” (Sakhong 2000:232).  Thus Sakhong tries to argue that Hakha was not only the first Chin to convert, but that they were the elite in the Chin Hills.  After his statements, he continues to suggest that only after the Hakha converted, established schools employing “the Chin language” did the Church expand into Tedim.  In fact, Tedim had been converted first and/or simultaneously.  Tedim was also first to indiginize  locals to teach and preach (Johnson 1988).  Hence, Sakhong grossly misrepresents history by implying and outright stating that the Hakha are superior.  In fact, Johnson recalls, “It was a mistake to have opened the mission station at Haka. Teddim would have been a better site.  This view was expressed gently while Arthur Carson lived, but after his death East[4] became much more blunt in saying that Teddim would have been a better choice and that American Baptist Missionary Union ought to open a second station at Teddim and take advantage of the northern openness to change and conversion” (Johnson 1988:239).  Still, Sakhong continues to argue that Hakha was the center of conversion.  Sakhong contends that it was Laura Carson who did not wish to open a second station in Tedim.  According to Sakhong she said that all missionaries should, “…stay in Hakha, the center of Chinram” (Sakhong 2000:234).

 Claiming that Hakha was the capital of conversion is important to Sakhong, because according to Sakhong (2000), the concept of power and its legitimacy is sacred.  That is, the Chin believed that when one settles in a place that is occupied by benevolent spirits and if those spirits allows a person to take on political power, it is because the spirits mandated it so.  The person taking on political power was usually a patriarch chief who belonged to a specific clan and was thus, “ritually clean.”  Sakhong takes this argument further by contending that there are aristocrat clans that, “…their power was a mandate from the guardian god Khua-hrum” (Sakhong 2000:103).  And almost all of the aristocrats were usually the direct descendents of the founder of a particular clan or a particular settlement.  One specific family, the Za Thang family who originated in Hakha was said to rule all of the central part of the Chin Hills.  Sakhong states, “Haka, where the ruling chief lived, became the principal village…and all its satellite communities became the… community of Haka.” (Sakhong 2000:103)  “According to tradition,” writes Sakhong, “…the Za Thang family of Hakha was blessed with an abundant life.  They increased in numbers and performed many successful rituals.  They ruled the villages and communities, which covers the present Chin State of Burma.  That is, Sakhong once again marginalizes that Tedim and Falam.  Interestingly he uses previous notions of spirits and their blessing a specific family, the Za Thangs and a specific settlement, Hakha.  Although he does not implicitly state is as such, but this is a case of syncretism at its best.  Certain families are accepted by spirits, hence they are special and ought to be appreciated and trusted.  Also, it is suggested, as is in traditional religions that blessings run along kinship lines.  Thus, families are chosen.  He implies this to be true for Christians as well and in his theological dissertation infers that the Chin (or Hakha) were chosen by God.  Furthermore, Sakhong literally, puts Hakha in the center of Chin State, psychologically as well as literally.  Given the map of Chin State, this is again a gross misrepresentation.[5]  Below is a map of Chin State taken from Sakhong’s own text.  It appears that they “dots” indicating the cities were hand-drawn onto the map.  Still,  without doubt, Hakha is not in the center of Northern Chin State.

 Chin Map

 B. Using Christianity on the World Stage
To date, those in the business of Chin politics tend to stem from the Hakha region.  Thus, they are the elite and most are in exile living all over the world.  These leaders also use Christianity as a means of representing the Chin community both inside and outside of Burma.  Conversion and political gain are very much interdependent in terms of the Chin.  There are dozens of non-governmental organizations campaigning for Chin Human Rights, Chin Refugee Rights, Chin Women’s Rights and so on.  Hakha Chin almost exclusively lead these organizations. Dr. Lian Hmung Sakhong wears  “several hats as he himself acknowledges.”[6]  He is general secretary and leading member in the following organizations.

 Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC), [7] United Nationalities League for Democracy (UNLD),[8] Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD),[9] Chin National Council (CNC),[10] Federal Constitution Drafting and Coordinating Committee (FCDCC),[11] National Reconciliation Program (NRP)[12] and the Chin Forum whose task is to create draft Constitutions for the future independent Chinland.[13]

 After Sakhong resigned from the Chin Forum which had been drafting versions of the future Chinland Constitution for the past decade, he initiated a new non-governmental organization (NGO), the Federal Constitution Drafting and Coordinating Committee (FCDCC).  I argue that he did so in order to take over the drafting of the Constitution, and thus receive funding, from the National Endowment for Democracy which is currently funding the Chin Forum for their constitution efforts.

 The Hakha have also sought funding from Christian aid organizations, such as the Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW),[14] an international organization headquarted in London and supported by The Baroness Cox of Queensbury in the British House of Lords.  CSWs two primary on-going projects are Burma and Nepal.  The advocate for Burma is Benedict Rogers.  Rogers is the author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma’s Karen People  and  Carrying the Cross: The military regime’s campaign of restriction, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma.  His most recent project is the plight of the Chin.  In fact, CSW is recommending that the Department for International Development in the UK (DFID)[15] budget for Burma increase from 8 – 16 British pounds annually.[16]  CSW, with Benedict Rogers as the advocate for the Chin, took Chin, i.e. mostly Hakha activists[17] around Europe and North America last year to meet members of Parliament in London, members of Parliament in Berlin, to speak at the U.N. in Washington D.C. and Government officials in Canada. Around this time (June 2007), Sakhong, representing the Ethnic National Council managed to get an audience with the United State’s first lady, Laura Bush where he represented the whole of the “Chin.”   Members of the Chin Forum, for example, were unaware of his visit to the White House.[18]

 Christianity has opened the doors for the Hakha to appeal to a world audience on the behalf of their “Christian” rights.  The role of being a persecuted religious group has gained the Chin worldwide attention, such as reports in the following publications: BBC Asia,[19] Religion and Ethics: News Weekly,[20] Christian Today,[21] Christian Freedom International, [22] Global Security,[23] and Christian Persecution Info – Asia.[24]


References : –

[1] Max Weber used Heilbesitz in this way,  “das Anliegen des Galvinismus, den Heilbesitz, die Gottesgemeinschaft durch Christus, durch eine entsprechende Erneuerung des Lebens zu seiner  Auswirkung kommen zu lassen.”  The English translation is as follows, “the concern of galvinism, to effect the heilbesitz, the association with god, by respective reformation of life.”

[2] Most of these biographies are written in differing Chin dialects and were not read by this author. For a brief history of his life see Chin Khua Khai’s article, “Legacy of Hua Lian Kham (1944-1995): A Revivalist, Equipper, and Transformer for the Zomi-Chin people of Myanmar” in Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 4/1, (2001) p. 99-107

[3] The Sizang and Kamhau are part of the Tedim area

[4] Dr. East established a medical mission in Hakha when the Carson’s “failed” to convert.  East did manage to convert through his medical mission.

[5] As mentioned in the introduction, this paper is concerned with Northern Chin State which is comprised of three major subdivisions: Tedim, Falam and Hakha.  The map illustrate the location of these three divisions and clearly Hakha is not in the center of Northern Chin State

[7] See: Encburma.org

[8] See: Encburma.org

[9] See: Chinland.org

[10] See: Chinland.org

[11] See: Encburma.org

[12] See: Encburma.org

[13] See: Chinforum.org

[14] for more information see: csw.org

[15] for funding schemes see: http://www.dfid.gov.uk/funding/#countries (visited August 3, 2007)

[17] I was also a member of this delegation and only one of the two non-Hakha Chin

[18] Chin Forum members did not know of this visit.  Based on personal communication with Salai Kipp Kho Lian (July 7, 2007)

Carson and wife

The First Converts in Chin Hills

GLIMPSES OF CHIN BAPTIST HISTORY

GLIMPSES OF CHIN BAPTIST HISTORY

Photo taken by Khai Cin Pau (Realtor)

How Chin Capital was moved

siyin mode

The History of the Siyin Tribe by Carey and Tuck (1896)

 


3 Comments

  1. Ngin Za Pum aka Pa Pum says:

    Himi cahram ngantu le posttu parah ka lungawi z…Thudik le thuhman cu thup thei asilo timi a fiang sinsin ding. Nu Cing thawn 2006 ZRA Hd q ah himi thuhla mallai kan rel tlang dah zo.Kawl in let/translate sak uhla a tha sinsin ding ka zum. Cule fb le chin world pawl ah rak suah bet uhla a sual lo ding ka zum. Lungdam

  2. Thang Khan Dal says:

    I felt so sorry that i ever stayed and reached all the chin townships, I did not know any one or any clan or tribes called themselves Chin.Really that Chin was given from outsider that means derogatory name..

    • thawngno says:

      Yes you are absolutely right. Chin is given by outsider, and it is 100% true. This kind of issue is happening all over the world. ‘Japan’ is given by outsider, ‘China’ is given by outsider, ‘India’ is given by outsider, ‘Germany” is given by outsider, “France’ is given by outsider, they don’t call themselves French or neither call their country France. No one in the world ever complained on how outsider called them, but some crazy people from Chin state do. If you don’t want to be called CHIN, just say “Can we change our official name to other, such as Zomi, or Laimi?” or “Should we change our name to Zomi or Laimi, since our ancestors call ourselves as Zomi or Laimi? Then many people will try to understand your idea. But some people say the same crazy proposal or idea again and again. Don’t you really know a lot of country names that we use today are just given by outsider?

      Please!! please look around the world and widen your mind….please

      I don’t understand how come you mentioned the name Chin as derogatory name. Its just your imagination. There is no facts that proved this opinion.

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