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Friday, December 11, 2015

How the Lushais of Mizoram Fought the British in Late 19th Century along with Rare Historical Photographs of the Lushais | For Honor of Women at Stake

Hi Everyone,

The people’s struggle against the British is well-known to us and so are most of the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives so that we may be born and live in Free India. But is it really so?

I have been wondering about this topic and have found to my dismay that we know very little, if anything at all, about the struggle in the remote corners of the nation. How many, for instance, outside the North-East, know about the subjugation of the hill tribes there, their initiation to Christianity and the sacrifices these bravehearts made to try and oust the British from their hills and homelands? 

Here is one such true story from late 19th century Mizoram wherein a young tribal chief was willing to become a British ally and turn his own people into cheap labour for the English but revolted when the honour of the women of his clan was at stake. The name of this young revolutionary was Jacopa and he is still revered by the Mizos for going all out to protect the honour of the Lushai women of his tribe.

Lushai Woman With Pipe (Watercolour by R. G. Woodthorpe, 1872)

Without further ado, let’s begin with the story of Jacopa and how and why he fought the British.     

Portraits of Lushai, Paite and Lai (Poi) Men (Watercolour by R. G. Woodthorpe, 1872)
Jacopa (Zacopa) was a Howlong chief and head of the Vonlaiphai group of villages in south Mizoram. Vandula and Dacopa were his subordinate chiefs and a terror to the English. Vandula’s son Lalthuma was also a close associate of Jacopa. During the Chin-Lushai expedition of 1890, Jacopa surrendered to General Tregear without offering resistance. He became friendly with the English even though the Lushai chief, Saipuia, who was a British ally, was against him.

Jacopa was young and had a beautiful wife.

Lushai Chiefs with Guns During Their Visit to Kolkata, 1872

After the expedition of 1890, the Bengal government decided to build better roads in the Lushai Hills for speedier communication and imposed forced labour upon the Lushais. The Mizos did not like working as coolies in their own land but had no choice.

A Group of Lushai Men, 1872

Jacopa agreed to supply coolies to Murray, the Assistant Political Officer of the South Lushai Hills. Murray accompanied by his force, ammunition and money reached Jacopa’s village. Dacopa supplied 59 coolies to Murray on 8 February, 1891. Jacopa agreed to supply a number of coolies to Murray and went to Lalthuma’s village for consultation at night. Something happened during the night and Jacopa refused to meet Murray the next day.

This infuriated Murray and he stationed his troops in Jacopa’s village under a native officer without giving them any instructions. Murray discovered Jacopa was with Lalthuma and warned him of dire consequences. Subsequently, he along with Taylor, the Superintendent of Police, burned the foodstock of Jacopa’s village stored in granaries about 2 and a half miles away from the village. He was attacked by the Mizos and narrowly escaped death. He fled to the Kolodyne camp in the Lower Kolodyne Valley on 11th February. His party killed 25 Lushais.

Lushai Implements

Major Hutchinson, the Political Officer of the South Lushai Hills, arrested all the subordinates of Jacopa. He even tortured the women of Jacopa’s clan to secure information about Jacopa but was not successful. Jacopa was however soon arrested and deported and thus ended the South Lushai Rebellion of 1891.

The question that arises in our minds is:

Why did Jacopa break his promise to Murray and revolt?

According to Alexander Machenzie who analysed the cause of the rebellion, “there is something more than the coolie issue at question”. It seems that Murray sent a message to Jacopa on 8th February to supply 2 girls for him and Taylor. Jacopa naturally refused. Murray threatened to abduct Jacopa’s wife. That threat and the actual burning of the foodstock of the village forced them to revolt against the English. Daokopa raised the standard of rebellion and burnt the Union Jack, the British flag.

When the truth was known to the Bengal government, Edgar, the Chief Secretary, transferred and demoted Murray.

Jacopa and his Rani are tragic figures in Lushai history who tried to befriend the English but were still insulted and oppressed by them.

Even today, Jacopa and Daokopa are held in high esteem in Mizoram because they fought against the English to save the honour of Lushai women.

Mizos Chiefs and the Chiefdom, Pg 95, By Suhas Chatterjee

Readers may also want to take a look at The Camera As Witness: A Social History of Mizoram, Northeast India, By Joy L. K. Pachuau and Willem Van Schendel, Cambridge University Press. All photographs in the article are from this book.

This book presents an interesting collection of rare historical photos of Mizoram. The photos have been taken from various archives in the UK and India including over 100 private collections in Mizoram. Spanning over 150 years of Mizo history, from the 1860s onwards, these photos offer a unique insight into the complex historical changes that unfolded in a remote imperial frontier. They present a rich and diverse visual record of Mizo history including the colonial state-making of the Lushai hills, the changing social and cultural landscape and the shifting historical context after India’s independence. They include images taken during surveys, military expeditions, administrative tours, missionary ventures and travels.

Please feel free to share your views about this article as well as any true incidents from the history of the North-East.

Article Category: Miscellaneous

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