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About Mizoram - > People

ZAWLBUK

Education makes a man, so goes the saying. Though the Mizos had no education during the pre-British days, they had a novel way of making their men. It was mandary on all Mizo youths over age 15 to stay in Bachelor's dormitories, known as Zawlbuk where they received training in 'tribal welfare wrestling, hunting and village government'. The boys who went to the Zawlbuk emerged as complete men. The training was intensive and strenuous, strict disciplines was maintained and basic values of life were inculcated on the youngsters. In other words 'Zawlbuk' or the Bachelor's dormitory was an institution where the young Mizo males not only picked up skills in self-defense but developed a positive attitude to life based on hope-spun values as well.

The importance of the Zawlbuk in Mizo society could be gauged from the fact that some scholars have compared it to guru and his sasya in an Indian Ashram. 'It (Zawlbuk) was not only the physical abode of the youth of the Mizo Village but also was the crucible where the Mizo youths, the marginal man, were shaped into responsible adult members of society', observe an author.

'…The simple forms of education for life, as evolved in Zawlbuk through their various activities, code of conduct and mode of living, ensured a healthy reciprocity between the different age groups and the elders as also between the claims of the family as a social unit and the wider Mizo society as an organic whole ..'   Zawlbuk

Every Mizo Village had a bachelors' dormitory of its own in those days. Some villages, which were large and divided into several parts known as Vengs, contained more than one. In fact, each Veng had its own Zawlbuk in a big village.

A dormitory was located in the open on the highest point of a village opposite the house of the Chief. The village elders, called Upa had their houses clustered nearby. Made of timber and bamboo, the Zawlbuk had a thatched roof and its entrance was approached by a platform of rough logs at the uphill end. A fireplace, which burnt round the clock occupied the center of the dormitory hall, while there was a raised bunk to sleep on spreading from the far end through the whole breadth of the room. The open space by the hearth served sometimes as a wrestling arena and sometimes a dance floor. The Zawlbuk was used as not only a place for sleep by unmarried youths but also as rest house by travelers and visitors to the village.

15 was the eligibility age to gain admission to the Zawlbuk. But younger boys too had their own assignments to do, though they had no right to participate in the Zawlbuk activities. The village boys over six years of age were entrusted with duty of supplying firewood to ensure that the hearth was always alight. A boy earn freedom from firewood-gathering duties and gains admission to the Zawlbuk as soon as he can prove that his public hair has grown and is long enough to tie around a smoking pipe. Maintenance of discipline at a Zawlbuk was the responsibility of a youth Commander called Val Upa, elected by the elders and the chief.

The Zawlbuk usually came fully to life in the evening when youngsters gathered there to exchange ideas. They sang songs of heroism and spoke of the achievements of their ancestors. Late in the evening they went out to keep dates with their girlfriends and returned around bedtimes to have goodnight's sleep. The practice of sleeping out on a regular basis with their friends and neighbors helped the Mizo youths to build up a strong awareness of community welfare.

The Zawlbuk, as a social institution, was not, however, exclusion to the Lushais. Several other tribal clans had their own respective versions of the Zawlbuk. According to Lt. Col J. Shakespear, the Chiru, Kom and Tikhap clans too had the dormitory system. The paites had no Zawlbuk, but the front verandahs of some of their bigger houses sometimes served as bachelors dormitory.

The Zawlbuk began to lose in importance after the appearance of the British on the scene. The introduction of formal education and conversion to Christianity on a mass scale struck at the roots of the indigenous village administration in Mizoram leading to a steady decline in the utility and relevance of the Zawlbuk. The Mizo, who developed a new outlook under Christian influence, felt their own homes were a better place for their sons to live in than the bachelors dormitories. The Zawlbuk suffered a fatal blow when the power of the chiefs, who administered the dormitories, were taken away.

Although some Missionaries such as Rev F.J.Raper of the Baptist Mission at Serkawn later made an effort to revive the Zawlbuk in a modernized form it met only a partial success. But the role played in the earlier days by the Zawlbuk as a collective organ of social control and the influence it exerted on the community life of the Mizo on the whole could hardly be exaggerated.

Ministry of Communication & Information Technology
National Informatics Centre, Mizoram State Centre
Annex-II, Civil Secretariat, Aizawl - 796001