“Mizoram has the most variegated hilly terrain in the eastern part of India. The hills are steep (avg. height 1000 metres) and separated by rivers which flow either to the north or south creating deep gorges between the hill ranges. The highest peak in Mizoram is the Phawngpui (Blue Mountain) with a height of 2210 metres.” (from Wikipedia)
I’ve been working on a mental map of mizo(-ram, -ness) for a while now. The idea was to make a visual representation of what it meant to be Mizo. The first part was easy- I sent out a mail to the Mizos I know, asking them for the top-of-the-mind associations they made with Mizoram/Mizo identity. A little harder was getting responses, thanks a heap to those of you that did. The hardest part was translating the variety (wow!) of data I got into a comprehensible visual.
I knew that I wanted to represent it as hills (obviously) and was playing with various adaptations of contour maps, but couldn’t come up with anything that made sense. I’d almost abandoned hope of ever getting anywhere when it suddenly struck me last night that I was looking at the whole thing from the wrong angle. A pre-occupation with maps had me thinking contours, so looking *down from above. A much more natural position is to look at it from the side! And what better way to do that than in a graph!
Here are the results, then. I have clubbed a few things together, such as grouping all the various vegetable names under Mizo Chawhmeh, Synod and Church under Church etc. The results are fairly interesting. The top five mentions are:
1. Mizo chawhmeh. Chawhmeh literally means eaten with rice, the staple, and refers to various herbs, vegetables and fermented things we like to eat)
2. Church. This is not surprising, considering how much of Mizo social life is centered around the church and church-related activities.
3. Things. Ok, ok, this is hardly a coherent label. Under this, though I have grouped items of material culture that are familiar to most Mizos, like ar-bawm (a woven box where chicken are kept), chem (a machete-type knife) and em (a basket used to carry things).
4. Vawksa (pork). There were so many mentions of this it deserved it’s own category. Of 10 responses, 8 were for vawksa-rep(smoked) and 2 for vawksa-chhum boiled). We are obviously a culture obsessed with food, eh?
5. The 5th place is tied between funerals, puan and singing.
- Funerals: Not surprising either, considering how the community gets together in times of bereavement, and give the bereaved family tremendous support.
- Puan: Mizo garment, like a sarong, still very popular with the women, though the men have sadly abandoned it in daily life. The puan is the most obvious element of Mizo visual culture. While there are traditional and festive designs, contemporary weavers have come out with new designs and these change with the change in fads and fashions.
- Singing: Mizos love to sing. We sing when we are happy and when we are sad, and most often as a group. There are all-night sings held most commonly when some one had died or in the weeks preceding Christmas.
Please remember, NONE of this is REMOTELY scientific. This is an art project, not an anthropological one. My subjectivity is probably showing, right from the people I asked (most live outside Mizoram) to the way I grouped data. This is also a rather shallow approach to understanding culture, and I hope this is treated as an *entry point to introspection/exploration rather than a result of it.
I got the hills I wanted, though, and am happy!
EDIT: I didn’t mean the lines of text under the ‘hills’ to be read. For me, they signify the rivers/streams of Mizoram. On hindsight, they also look like a mirror image in water. I’ll leave you to your own interpretation though!