Abstract: This paper specifically studies the various narratives of Nuchhungi’s childlores. It reflect the folk culture of Mizo children and examine the exciting rhymes and games often played by them and disclose the way in which they are instrumental in validating Mizo culture and teaching moral principles as well. Cultures around the world all have troves of stories that have been passed down through generations. Such stories often reveal the lives and lifestyles of their ancestors. These stories are termed as ‘Folklore’ Every society around the world has stories and songs as well as physical heirlooms that have been passed down from one generation to the next. The study of such matters is called folklore. The purview of Folklore is quite vast: it includes everything that have been passed down through the generations, from stories and songs to even clothing and furniture. And it is from studying the stories and way of life of our ancestors that we can understand their culture, customs, and even whether they were savages or cultured.
On August 22, 1816, an Englishman by the name of William John Thoms suggested to his magazine publisher friend that he use the word Folklore to describe traditional literature. And since then, folklore has been used in common parlance. According to M.H. Abrams, “Folklore since the mid-nineteenth century, has been the collective name applied to sayings, verbal compositions, and social rituals that have been handed down solely, or at least primarily, by word of mouth and example rather than in written form” (138). K.C. Vannghaka writes, “Folklore is immensely useful in understanding the fascinating and interesting lifestyle, way of living, livelihood and religious traditions of our ancestors as well as the things they cherish (Folk Literature 7, 8). The purview of Folklore is quite vast: it includes all those that have been passed down from one generation to the next via both verbal and non-verbal means of communication. According to Richard A. Waterman in Journal of Folklore Research, “Folklore is that art form, comprising various types of stories, proverbs, sayings, spells, songs, incantations, and other formulas, which employs spoken language as its medium” (264).
Folklore is the stories we hear, the beliefs and traditions of our ancestors as well as the history of our ancestors. It is from these sources that we can understand their culture. Also, there is another genre under folklore dealing with children’s activities which are passed on by children to other children called Childlore. Childlore includes those folk stories and songs specifically meant for children. Sylvia Grider stated, “Children’s folklore is those that are transmitted, and performed by children without the influence of adult supervision or formal instruction” (Folklore 123). According to Brian Sutton Smith childlore covered activities “Those that are a part of children’s own group traditions. Thus: games, riddles, rhymes, jokes, pranks, superstitions, magical practices etc” (Psychology of Childlore: The Triviality Barrier 1). It includes children’s games along with the songs associated with it, as well as the various stories meant for children. In addition, it also includes present-day children’s behaviors within and outside schools, the games they play and the stories and rhymes they hear and sing.
Mizos have a number of games associated with children. In 1965, Nuchhungi published Mizo Naupang te Infiamna leh A Hla te (Mizo Children’s Play and Songs), which is a collection of traditional plays and songs. This book compiles different traditional Mizo children’s games, how they are played, and the songs associated with it. In addition, the book also contains children’s songs composed by the Mizo ancestors, lullabies, nursery rhymes and swinging songs. These games can be categorised as ‘Folk Games’. Martha Hartzog explained:
Folk games are those traditional games passed along informally from one group to another. They reflected the values and beliefs of their parents cultures. Games help small minds and imaginations mature, providing children with a chance to act out roles, make choices, and experience the thrill of winning and the disappointment of losing (n.pag).
Folk games include those games meant for general participation and entertainment, games which inculcate friendly competition. They are the games which have been passed down from one generation to the next.
Mizo Children’s Game Songs
Nuchhungi was the forerunner, and may even be considered as the first, in collecting and compiling traditional Mizo children’s games. Some of the games that Nuchhungi has included in her book contain songs which are intended to be sung while the games are being played. There are also those that do not have any particular song associated with them. Even those games that have originated from the pre literate times play an important part in molding the mind and improving the body. As there were no schools, the children were left to playing during the day and spending the soft moonlit evenings lost in their innocent reveries. There were a number of games such as – a game of making a circle or another shape while holding hands, walking in a single file, walking shoulder-to-shoulder in single rank, walking in a single rank without touching each other, games which are played while sitting down, games which are played by teams of two and a number of others more.
Some of the games and songs presented by Nuchhungi have deeper meanings, but there are some that have no discernible significance or origin that can be identified. Because these songs are primarily intended for the young, there are quite a few repetitions of words in the lyrics. As such, they are structured in a way that allows them to sing and memorise them. Due to the difficulty in discerning the meaning of the lyrics, no translations have been provided for the songs.
“A ṭhu tung tung
A ṭhu sawp sawp raiah” (110)
“Ka kawmchhaka thing kawrawng
A rimin thangvan a tawng
Uak uak thui thui
Uak uak thui thui” (114)
The lyrics of difficult songs are often incomprehensible and difficult to pronounce for children, so memorising them can be a challenge. Therefore, the verses are usually short and concise. Nuchhungi’s songs include short lines that have easy-to-understand words and short verses. The children’s play songs are composed in simple language and followed a proper rhythmical pattern.
“Zawnga leilawn dim dim
Chhim zawng leilawn
Zawnga leilawn dim dim” (138)
“Kinga lu thle lekah
Laikinga lu kinga lu thle lekah
Dar kawl chhun chhekah
Ama dark awl chhun chhekah” (123)
These songs are composed in such a way that different tonalities are used in order to make them both easy to sing and melodious at the same time. It is also applied to children’s songs to help embellish them.
It was common practice for Mizo children to play with their friends at night under the moonlight. This was called ‘pawnto’. Since there were no separate places for leisure in the olden times, pawnto was the social activity Mizo children did with their friends. This tradition was an integral social activity of Mizo children. The children play games during pawnto that are innocent and simple. Because they had no studies at night like today, the children spent their waking hours at pawnto. As they sang the various pawnto songs, sometimes forming groups based on localities, they competed with each other. Children from different neighbourhoods gathered in their respective neighbourhood and played games at night under the moonlight.
The Mizo people have a strong passion for games and sports. These are used both for recreation as well as to engender fellowship and camaraderie. Games play an important part in the lives of children. It helps them to make friends, provides them a measure of enjoyment and happiness, and instils a certain level of motivation. It provides children with perceptible health benefits for both body and mind. It helps to alleviate their loneliness and keeps them entertained, and is an important source of joy. It also eases whatever mental discomforts or misery they may be afflicted with.
There are a number of Mizo children’s play songs, some of which are meant to impart moral virtues.
“Tira mei kaiah ha ha
Chhimtira mei kaiah ha ha
A hnuhnung kha seh rawh,
Lailen te kha seh rawh” (122)
In the above song, the children lined up in descending order of their ages. They wrapped their cloth around their waists and held each other’s cloth. Firstly, they used chhepchher and sang the song together, the leader leading the way as the rest followed without letting go of the person in front of them. They disbanded as and when they liked. It showed them to be obedient to their elders, not to overtake them in life, and to be content with being at the rear. It was a good children’s game with deep meanings.
Inkawibah was one of the most popular games among girls. The game was played by girls of all ages, from young girls to adolescents. A pair of people could play this game, or a group of friends, or even an entire neighbourhood could play against each other. There were a number of ways the game could be played. They are: bahpui, thimi bah, bahte, chhuih bah, insal man bah. Games could be especially tense when they played in teams or against another neighbourhood. They always looked for excuses to quit if they were the losing team.
The Mizos had a number of games that were played with small stones. They are: inkawl vawr, inbuh vawr leh invai lungthlak. In order to play these games, at least two players were required. There was no upper limit on the number of players and they would take turns one after another.
Children especially benefited from these games, as they served as a workout and aerobics regime, as well as to strengthen arm and leg muscles. Children need an adequate amount of exercise as they grow. They played these games with friends and were their main leisure activity. Through these games, they learn friendship, solidarity, and fraternity. In addition, they were useful for forming new friendships. In fact, it teaches them the importance of unity. Further, it facilitates a child’s learning of new Mizo words.
The Mizos have a variety of songs meant to entertain their infants and toddlers. They are used to make them laugh. The most well-known and common song used to entertain young children is ‘tum bai lek’. It is usually intended to entertain or stop them from crying. The singer alternates opening and closing their hands as they sing the song. The purpose of this is for the toddler’s entertainment.
The short verses and repetition of the words in these songs make them easy to learn even for children. Despite the fact that the songs do not make much sense, it is believed that they are structured so that children can easily memorise them.
“Tum bai lek, tum bai lek
Tumthang bai lek bai lek e” (182)
These Mizo play songs often portray the family life of Mizo people. Due to the Mizos’ dependence on their paddy fields, they could not abandon their fields. They worked there every day and had little time at home to care for their children, so they left household chores to their children. The parents left the younger children in the care of their eldest children. The girls would take care of their younger siblings, often carrying them on their backs. They even played games like inkawibah outdoors while carrying their siblings on their backs. (Pi Pu Chhuahtlang 18). The responsibilities entrusted to them by their parents enabled them to mature quickly. Mizo lullabies “were created not necessarily to compose new songs but to lull babies to sleep by chanting the words out loud” (10).
“Ka nauvi hi mu hle hle se, bei hle hle,
A mut loh chuan keiman ka beng mu nang e” (186)
The children at home would use these verses to try to put their younger siblings to sleep. They eagerly awaited their parents’ return, waiting for them outside.
From time immemorial, the Mizo people used to have chiefs. But prior to the appearance of ruling clans, the most valiant individuals simply became the chiefs. Since the chiefs had all the authority from the beginning of a village, they ruled their villages to the last detail. In addition, he virtually had all the power to make war and peace, to distribute lands—both agricultural and residential—and mediate any disputes within the village. No one would dare challenge the chief’s judgement. The following song clearly demonstrates the authority of the Sailo chiefs.
“Ngur kan lal lai,
Sailo ngurpui kan lal lai
Kan thlek lel lel kan thlunglu;
Kan vai riai riai kan chawnban
Kan per chhek chhek kan pheikhawng
Khawng lehzual” (109)
In this song the children hold hands singing “Ngur kan lal lai, Sailo ngurpui kan lal lai” while moving together in a circle, and immediately coming to a standstill after the words “Kanthlek lel lel kan thlunglu,” tilting their heads in unison. Then they raise their hands after singing “Kan vai riai riai kan chawnban,” and stomp their feet by singing “Kan perchhek chhek kan pheikhawng,” increasing the tempo after singing “Khawng lehzual.” They then repeat the whole song again.
This children’s play song is well-written containing many beautiful Mizo poetic words while expressing the position of the Sailo chiefs. It is a noteworthy song that children can use to learn about the Sailo chiefs.
“Ka pu’n sial a chhun,
Ni khatah se li se nga a chhun” (107)
We can see the importance of the mithun in the lives of the Mizo people. People who had sufficient livestock for sechhun in order to perform Khuangchawi were well respected in their society. The mithun was the primary livestock for the Mizos. Early Mizos traded it for the most important of their transactions, being used even as the bride price. The highest penalty for an offence was the fine of a mithun. Thus, the mithun was an integral part of early Mizo culture.
The games and game songs Nuchhungi collected mirrors the priority she had given to children. For them to learn it easily, she arranged the games and games song she collected in a simple manner. She knew that playing games was not only healthy for children, it made their life less stressful; it helped them in making new friends and have many other benefits for them. Being a teacher, she understood their feelings and knew how to think about what they will need.
There are a diverse amount of Mizo children’s play songs. Although some of these lack any real meaning, others offer important detail or interpretation. There are some games introduced in the early days that have remained popular until this day. The songs they sing or chant while playing such games usually have deeper meanings, many of which express Mizo customs and ideals. Today’s songs are rarely composed for children. Hence, these songs that we already have must be treasured and efforts should be made to learn them and ensure that they are not forgotten. Consequently, Nuchhungi has collected a number of Mizo games and play songs. She reasoned, “Our ancestor’s traditions are going to be forgotten. Many of these are educational for youth today so I created this book to preserve them for future generations.” (99). From the study of her Children’s game and songs. it can be said that Nuchhungi always wanted to safeguard Mizo culture. For this reason she did her best in collecting Mizo children games and songs. In the changing life of the Mizo, traditional Mizo game known as ‘pawnto’ is no longer in practice. As the new generations have different new games, majority of Mizo children are not familiar with pawnto and pawnto hla (game song). For this reason Nuchungi felt that Mizo traditional games will soon vanish and to prevent that she collected Mizo children’s game and game songs. She hoped that future Mizo generations do not forget traditional games and songs and to continue to cherish the traditional customs and ideals.
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Cite the original source:
Zoramthari, Evelyn, and Lalremruati, Ruth. “Nuchhungi Renthlei: Mizo Children and their Lore.” Mizo Studies, X, no. 4, Dec. 2021, pp. 773–783.