There is often a confabulation on whether the Hmars did originally have Jewish roots. Some of the Hmar’s oral sources appear to indicate their Jewish origin and on the basis of these sources, some writers even go to the extent of saying that Hmars and their brethrens, Kukis and Mizos could perhaps be one of the ten lost tribes of ancient Israel. Let us try to highlight these particular oral traditions and examine them critically.
According to L Hranglien Songate (Hmar History: 1956), the first known ancestor of Hmars was Manmasi (Manasia) who occupied a very sacred and important place in the lives and beliefs of Hmars. His name was uttered in prayers and ceremonial sacrifices. Whenever they were to make any new settlement or to undertake an adventurous exploits, they had to invoke Manmasi’s name. In times of great calamities like earthquake, they used to shout," Be kind, be kind; we, the descendants of Manmasi are here!" As for the origin of this name, it is argued that it is derived from Mannaseh, the older son of Joseph, the eleventh and favorite son of Jacob in the Old Testament. To support this theory, the B’Nei Yisrael, North East India, Imphal has quoted one folk song as follows:
Mannaseh, you came crossing sea and rivers,
You came through hills and mountains;
You came all the way victorious through hostile countries,
Just to have the good portion of meat;
Let the liver and the heart be yours, Mannaseh.
Another Hmar pre-Christian legend also mentions about an unusual flood which covered the whole earth except one hill-lock where all living beings fled to their safety. Surprisingly enough, the Chorei tribe who once lived with the Hmars at Ruonglevaisuo (Tipaimukh) for several decades and who are now found mostly in Cachar district of Assam also mentions in one of their folklores thus: "Muolsang rengpa rakuong tuk" (muolsang=hill, rengpa=chief, rakuong=boat or ship, tuk= construction).
Obviously, this could be taken to refer to the construction of Noah’s ark as found in the Old Testament. One of Hmar legends also refers to what is known as Tawngsemzawl literally meaning the valley of distribution of languages resulting from an unsuccessful attempt to build an exceptionally tall building beyond the reach of any flood and subsequent providential intervention leading to the confusion of the languages of the people involving in it. This is again very similar to what is written in the Old Testament (Genesis 11: 1-9)
To further support the theory of the Jewish connection, it is again argued that the Hmars like the Jews used to observe three important festivals in a year, such as the Chapchar Kut (in April); Mim Kut (in September) and Pawl Kut (in December). In pre-Christian era, whenever the forefathers of Hmars performed sacrificial rites, the priest used to construct an altar having four corners and sprinkled animal’s blood on the flour which was spread on the platform of an altar. These religious practices tend to suggest that the ancestors of Hmars and the Jews might perhaps live together at one point of time in the past.
Most often quoted in this connection is the Hmar Sikpui Festival which was celebrated from time immemorial. When they celebrated the festival, they performed the Sikpui dance with Khuongpu (drummer) and Khuongpuzailak (chanter) sitting in the middle on a raised flat stone especially erected for the occasion and the dancers making two rows-old men against old women, married men against married women, young men against young women and so on and so forth. The song of this festival makes a vivid reference to the Israelites at the time of their liberation from the Egyptian bondage under the leadership of Moses and to the events that followed after they crossed the Red Sea. The song both in original Hmar dialect and its English rendering is as given below:
Sikpui inthang kan ur laia,
Changtuipui aw sen mah rili kangintan.
While we are preparing for the Sikpui festival,
The big red sea becomes divided.
Ke ralawna ka leido aw,
Suna sum ang, zanah mei lawn invak e.
As we are marching forward fighting our foes,
We are being led by cloud during day and by fire during night.
An tur an sa tlua ruol aw,
In phawsiel le in ralfeite zuong thaw ro.
Our enemies, Ye Folk, are thick with fury,
Come out with your shields and spears.
Sun razula ka leido aw,
Ke ralawna mei sum invak e.
Fighting our foes all day,
We march along as cloud-fire goes afore.
Sun razuala ka leido aw,
Laimi sa ang changtuipuiin lem zova e.
The enemies we fight all day,
The big sea swallowed them like beast.
A va ruol aw la ta che,
Suonglung chunga tui zuong put kha la t ache.
Collect the quails,
And fetch the water that springs out of the rock.
The song is self-revealing. It speaks about the incident as referred to the Exodus (Old Testament), Chapter 14: 1-31. On the significance of the song, L.Keivom, IFS (Retd) illuminatingly comments thus: "This popular song occupies such a sacred place that the Sikpui festival can start only after the participants sing it with rapt attention. This fact may, therefore, suggest that the incident referred to in the song might have been an unusual happening of great consequence in the pages of their national history. Otherwise they could not have attached such importance to it."
Assuming that the Hmars and Kuki-Mizo people originally came from ancient Israel, what routes and which countries did they pass through to reach their present habitats? Hranglien Songate again simply stated that the Hmars entered China from the north after having passed through Afghanistan and Baluchistan. It is argued that some of the ten lost tribes were taken as captives by the king of Assyria in 722 B.C. and some of them lived in Persia following their exile there in 457 B.C. during the reign of Darius and Ahashveresh.
In 331 B.C. when Alexander the Great conquered Persia, Afghanistan and India, some of the lost tribes were exiled to Afghanistan and to other countries. On their onward migration, it is said:" From Afghanistan, their migration continued eastward through Hindukush until they reached the Tibetan region and the Chinese border. From there they continued into China, following the Wei River until they reached the central region. A settlement was established at Kaifeng in 231 B.C.
As a result of the cruel behavior of the Chinese towards them, they were forced to serve like slaves to the Chinese. Thus began the process of assimilation which crept into the tribes as a result of Chinese influences." Citing Chao Enti’s version, Hranglien Songate contends that the forefathers of Hmars had already settled in China by the time Shi Huang-ti (209-207 B.C.) established his suzerainty over the greater part of the Chinese empire. He further argues that the Chin dynasty had absorbed many of the tribes that settled in China and those who refused to be assimilated were pushed out and the forefathers of Hmar-Kuki-Mizo could perhaps be one of them.
Mainly on the basis of these oral traditions which point to the historical connection between the Shinlung people and the Israelites, some sections of Kuki and Mizo in Manipur and Mizoram have now already in the Judaising process. As a matter of fact, as many as 700 Kuki-Mizo have been settled in the territories in Judea, Samaria and Gaza in Israel on the initiative of Eliyahu Avichail, a soft-spoken, grey-bearded Jerusalem Rabbinical scholar.
Whether one agrees with the theory of the Jewish origin, we can no longer ignore the fact that it has now gained topicality and urgency both among the local writers in North East India and the Rabbinical scholars and intellectuals in Israel. Accompanying Rabbi Avichail in his extensive tour of East Asia and South East Asia including North East India in search of lost tribe of Israel several times, Hillel Halkin, an Israeli veteran journalist, has just published a very thought provoking and illuminating book entitled Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel.