The Lost Mizo Script and its revival

A commemorative monolith with instruction in Zo script or the Pau Chin Hau Script ( Credit - Zo Lai )

Ruata Lungchuang 

It is popularly said that Mizoram and the Zo people had no writing system before the arrival of the British, however, this is only partially true. Mizo folk tales talk of a lost script which was once written down on parchment. As far as the myth goes, the parchment was supposedly eaten up by a mad dog which rendered Mizo people scriptless for much of their supposed history. Now, these are myths and cannot be taken as historical facts,  however, this does not stop historians from speculating the origin of this story. According to some historians, this particular story was never meant to be interpreted literally, the mad dog that ate up every parchment available they say was not a literal dog but a foreign king or an authoritative figure who invaded the Zo people. Incidents of invading forces destroying all records and documents of the invaded is not an out of the world phenomenon, in fact, it happens very often. The burning of the Puyas( Manipuri religious text) by a Hindu king as retold by the Manipuris is an example.

An old stone inscription in Zo Script - Hakha Museum ( Credit - Zo Lai )

As much as the pattern of world history supports this theory of book burning in Mizo ancient history, it is still a myth and cannot be taken as historical facts. This however does not mean that the Mizos had always been without a script or were ignorant about the art of writing. As much as the Hunterian writing system( The Latin based script used by the Mizos today) is credited as the first writing system in Mizoram, around the same time the Latin based script was popularised by the missionaries, a section of Mizos were already writing and recording information in their own script. This indigenous script was not the mythological ancient Mizo script from the old stories but was rather a purely indigenous script developed by a religious figure to spread his messages. 

The Zo lai or the Pau Chin Hau script ( also called Sukte Hawrawp in Mizoram) is an indigenous Zo script that developed in the then Chin Hills and was in use by followers of the Laipian religion whose leader was Pau Chin Hau. The Laipian movement was a reformation movement of the indigenous Zo religion that put a lot of emphasis on Literacy and the reformation of certain o religious practices like animal sacrifice and the role of the "Pathian". The group spread their message by writing down manuscripts and inscriptions on stones while teaching locals how to read and write. 

The Sermon on the Mount, printed in the Zo Lai or Zo Script ( Credit - Zo Lai )
The Laipian religion first took off in Zo inhabited areas of Burma particularly  Chin State and then rapidly spread to eastern Mizoram. However, the movement was abruptly halted by the arrival of the British empire in Lushai Hills in the late 19th Century. With the arrival of the British the indigenous missionary religion had to compete with Christianity and the Hunterian writing system( The Latin based script currently used by the Mizos) in some places, the script was so prominent that the Christian Missionaries adopt it for their Bible translations.

The introduction of modern education with the Hunterian writing system greatly diminished the use of the Zo lai script and by the early 20th Century Zo Lai writing system had practically become extinct in Mizoram. Some Mizo historians speculate that had the British not invaded the Lushai Hills, both Chin state and Mizoram would have been a predominantly Laipian region with people using the Zo lai script. 

This is not to say however that all  Zo Lai inscription in Mizoram is now lost, few stone inscriptions survive to this day. Apart from the few stone inscriptions surviving, a small Community in Chin State is still preserving the use of this script. This community is made up of Laipian practitioners and numbers to only about a handful of thousands, making the already endangered script even more critically endangered. Surrounded by other Zo people who use the Latin based script and being under the Military Junta government of Myanmar, the propagation of the script and its development by the community has been slow and on a downward trend. In Mizoram, a century of ignorance within the academic circle and the effectiveness of the Hunterian writing system within the masses have prevented Zo Lai from taking any roots. The Lai Pian script for a very long time was lost in the memory of the people in Mizoram. 

Hopeless as it seems, there could be a silver lining in the story of Zo lai or the Script of Pau chin Hau in Mizoram. With the advent of the internet and social media, more and more people, particularly younger scholars are beginning to show interest in the script and the Government of Mizoram realising the importance of the script and the heritage that it carries conducted a seminar on the Script in 2016. With the small yet significant development that is unravelling in regards to the script in Mizoram,  Pau Chin Hau script may one day get the interest and admiration it deserves, only the future can tell. 

A brief introduction to the Zo Lai Script and the man behind it 

A Religious iconography of Pau Chin Hau, founder of the Laipian religion and the Zo Lai script

The Zo Script as found by Pau Chin Hau consisted of 37 letters,in which 21 of them are consonants, 7 are vowels and the remaining 9 letters are subscriptions.

The founder lived in Mualbem village during the reign of Hau Chin Khup, the great Sukte chief who ruled over most areas of Tedim(1874-1934)
Pau chin Hau was sick and bedridden for 15 years. He developed the said Zo Script as what he saw in his dreams
The script was used to write Sermon on the mount by Dr JH Cope in 1913.
The Dy Commissioner, Chin Hills persuaded and patronised the Zo Script by making it printable in 1931.
Pau Chin Hau was a religious leader who founded the Laipian religion. The followers and the religion are called Laipian.

If you find this article interesting, check out our other articles and writings on Mizoram by clicking here 

The Mizos

The Mizos is a one-man team news blog, that brings you news and stories from Mizoram, Northeast India and the rest of the World.


  1. Mizo á¹­awng a ziak chhiar tur a awm em.?

  2. Sukte nilovin tun hma chuan 'Sokte' a lo ni thin zawk a ni maw?

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