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ZO-Naga and Bnei Menashe triangle: Are we redefining the Menashe

Wednesday, May 27, 2015



By Yochanan Phaltual

When India attained independence in 1947, North East India has been cut out into many small states, each imbued with the British ideology of encouraging ethnic, sub-ethnic, religious and linguistic identities. The divisions of states based on claims and counterclaims of vague ethnic constituencies and borders resulted in instability of the whole Northeastern states till today.
  
The categorization of the so-called tribal groups remained a bubbling cauldron and vulnerable to secessionist movements. To name few among the myriad of tribes classified by the British which try to achieve a “Nation” status were the Kuki,Chin,Mizo,Naga and Zomi (post colonial entry).  The revivalist-cum-awakening movement for tribes and ethnic conglomerations has the objective to establish a Sovereign State or Autonomous settlement by unifying their self-inclusive tribal/sub-ethnic cognates in all their inhabited areas in the North East India, Burma and Bangladesh.

The unifying movements led to the demand for ZALENGAM by the Kuki, NAGALIM by the Nagas and MIZORAM by the Mizo. Mizoram attained the status of ‘state’ in 1987 after a period of armed insurgency starting in the 1960s by the Mizo National Front (MNF) under Pu Laldenga. And the Zo Reunification Organization (ZoRO) established at Champhai in Mizoram in 1988, as a political forum to unify the ZO race is gaining ground with the President Pu Thangmawia and Kuki National Organization (KNO) President Pu PS Haokip sharing the same ideology and working in close tandem.
Meanwhile, about forty years ago there was another re-awakening and consciousness movement in Churachandpur among the Kuki- Chin-Mizo-Zomi groups postulating themselves as the LOST TRIBE OF ISRAEL. These groups were a non-political organization but, purely a religious group trying to embrace and revive the creed and belief of the once long lost identity of MANMASI, a biblical version of MENASHE.

The Menashe movement gains momentum under vile and discrimination with the establishment of “formal Judaism” from 1976 in Churachandpur in Manipur and further propelled by connection and helped from AMISHAV under Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail. A real powerful movement and internationalization of the issue of MENASHE began with the worked and assistance of the SHAVEI ISRAEL organization under Pu Michael Freund since 2003. There is no turning back as the issues of the Bnei Menashe now crisscrossed all sections of societies and organizations and touching even states governments on both sides of the country- India and Israel
.
On the other side, the ZO Reunification movement gain ground under the aegis of ZoRO and KNO. At last year Chavang Kut in Moreh, the unity championed by the two organizations bore fruits as there were high profile dignataries of the Kachin from Burma, the Konyak from Nagaland, the Karbi from Assam, the Heimi from Arunachal Pradesh and, the Zaliangrong from Tamenglong (Manipur). PS Haokip in his key note speech, clarify and dispel certain misgivings that have been propounded concerning their identity by declaring  them as blood brothers of the Kukis. Manipur Deputy CM Gaikhanngam Gangmei as Chief Guest of the events also expresses his subscribtion of the Zaliangrong Nagas as kindred of Kukis.

On May 2014 at the Third Session of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)at New York in USA, Pu Thangmawia and PS Haokip stated the oneness of the Zo people and the right to be a single political entity. According to PS Haokip's UNPFII speech,Kuki, Mizo, Kachin and Chin collectively comprises the ZO people.

At M.Songgel in Churachandpur, in March 2013, Prof. Za Gun from Kachin state shared his views on similarities of dialects, customs and culture between the Kachin and the Kuki. In 2013 ZoRO conferences in Moreh and Saikul, the Kukis of Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh and Tripura sent representatives. And in February 2015 at Kholmun playground in Churachandpur, the 123 anniversary of Fort William Calcutta was celebrated by ZoRO and attended by dignitaries from Zaliangrong . The conference is to marked the British effort to resolved to put the ZO divided race together in the historic Chin-Lushai (Mizo) conference held at Fort William Calcutta in January,1892. 

In January 2015, the 10th anniversary of Menashe Cultural Troupe (MCT) was held at B.Vengnuom community hall with PS Haokip and Dr HH Mate as Chief Guest and Guest of Honour respectively. On this historic day PS Haokip clearly affirmed that all the ZO were descendent of Menashe and the same theme is equally accorded by Dr Mate.

So, is the issue of Bnei Menashe is to be politicize by using as an umbrella  organization and what seems to be the future?

When we feel the slow political wind of change, there is also a new development in the Bnei Menashe Organization (BMC) which spring forth a parley of debate and discussion.The BMC admission of hardly a minyan of 15 Nagas families following Judaism religion from Khoupum and Tupul area in November 2014 sparked off controversial and contradicting opinions, with most people not able to sober up.

There is nothing to panic about the issue. If we approach by the present political movement of unification we can say somehow that they were part of the Kuki. And at the same time those few groups also claim to be related to the SINGSON/SINGSIT sub-clan of Kuki.

There are two groups presently in the Naga society which follow Judaism and assert to be Kuki. One group is the Zaliangrong group of Tupul and Khoupum area and the Chakpikarong  (Chandel disrtict)Anal group. The Anal, Mayon, Monsang, Chiru and Maring were OLD KUKI according to William Shaw's (1929) "Notes on Thadou-Kuki".

The two periphery group has had contact with the Bnei Menashe Council in India (BMC) since the early 1990s when they were professing Messianic Christianity faith. In 1992 they attended a lectured on "faith of Judaism-Christianity dichotomy" by Pu Makkabi Touthang at  Old Lambulane in Imphal at "Shalom Inn" of (late) Pu JK Gangte's. During.During the BMC Presidenships of Pu Makkabi Touthang, Pu Amihud Phaltual and Pu T.Aviel Hangshing, the group came to meet them many times and the BMC leaders welcome without any objection of their request for admission into Judaism but, their request of their tribes to become a Bnei Menashe was unacceptable on the ground that it is more of political issue and the BMC being merely a religious organization.

As the previous and the current BMC's leaders wills to take the group into the fold of Judaism, there is nothing inconsiderable of the decision to be within the fold of BMC,for Judaism is open to any person. 

BUT, can anyone wanting to become a Bnei Menashe acceptable and who really are the Bnei Menashe ?

The Bnei Menashe were one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and that in their exile lands they were known under the classification of ethnic groups such as the Kukis, Chin, Mizo and Zomi.

The Nagas are not Bnei Menashe and they have not even one clues or folk-songs or tales to prove to be a Menashe. They traced their origin to be somewhere from mainland China or Southeast Asia.Nagaland state officially recognizes 17 Naga tribes in 2012. Prominent among them were the Sumi,Angami,Ao,Konyak,Lotha,Zaliangrong (Zemi,Liangmai and Rongmei),Mao,Tangkhul,Chiru,Maring,Moyon,Maram, etc.

The big question arise - How is it possible that some Naga tribes can be blood brothers of Kukis? According to "theory of human migratory", the inflow of migrants  over a period of century has caused friction of population (due to intermarriage) which continue till today. So, some Kukis over the past might had married the Nagas as some case of today and became part of the community and just because of this it would be wrong to say that one whole particular tribe of the Nagas is Kuki.
The Nagas apex civil-cum-political bodies like the Naga Hoho in Nagaland and the United Naga's Council (UNC)in Manipur will never allow and accept any Naga tribes to be officially annex outside the Naga society. In the early 1980s a local research scholar Pu Thangsei Singson of Phungchongjang (the village vanished during the Naga-Kuki crisis) in Tamenglon district was so successful in his genealogical research work that many of Pamei and Rongmei Nagas claims to be Singson,Misao,Chongloi and Hangshing. Sadly, he stopped his fieldwork after he received death threats from the NSCN(IM).

There is wide and different approach and objectives between the Unification movements and the Bnei Menashe. Though we need to have cordial understanding with them,we have different problems and concerns for the Bnei Menashe people in diaspora and in Israel. Our future have many challenges and let me mention only four points.

One, the population of Bnei Menashe is only around 7000 as recorded by the Israeli government. The number cannot remain the same in the news and media after every aliya.There will be a breakout time and what if it happen.The growth of Bnei Menashe is slow but it is irreversible and we are on the march. A time can come when people embraces Judaism in droves and there will be new thinking and big movement but that's still a far distance from now

Two, anyone cannot be Bnei Menashe and not everyone can use the banner of Bnei Menashe to make Aliyah. We do not make aliya just because we are clubbed together as Kuki,Mizo,chin and Zomi but, rather because we are the Bnei Menashe of  Kuki,Mizo,Chin and Zomi people observing the religion of Menashe, that is, Judaism. For Aliya you should be a Bnei Menashe Judaism.
Three, the seemingly simple issue of the new members under the supervision of BMC can have big problem in the distant future, as it will surely effect the Naga and Kuki society  like nuclear chain reactions because their seemingly dual status of Kuki and Naga will be a bone of contention. And, ultimately it will have bad ramification in Israel. If those few group remain static, that will be fine. However, if their growth rate in Judaism bloom in 10/20 years, there will a political upheaval and not a sign of peace.

Lastly, we the Bnei Menashe will one day be the pillar and bastion of the Chin,Kuki,Mizo and Zomi . In the coming days, every political organizations and unification movements will aspire to use the name  MENASHE or ISRAEL as a generic name to cobbled all nomenclatures under Menashe umbrella. And here we should always remember that our greatest source of strength and power is and will always be TORAH AND MITZVOT.

We should think long-term and built for the future.

# The writer is a contributor of articles to the largest circulated English News Paper "The Sangai Express" and "Eimi Times" in Manipur.

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