Reviving Mim Kut: Celebrating Mizoram's Ancient Festival of the Dead

Mizoram festival Mim Kut

 - Ruata Lungchuang 

The government of Mizoram has recently announced the revival of the ancient Mizo festival known as Mim Kut, and it appears that the Mim Kut festivities are set to be held as a grand Gala, sponsored by the government at the state level. It's a commendable effort by the government to actively promote and revive this forgotten aspect of Mizo culture. This resurgence can also be attributed to the Mizo Cultural Renaissance of the 2020s, in which our page is an active participant. As of now, everything related to the celebration of Mim Kut seems to be in full swing and going strong, despite some criticism aimed at the State-level Mim Kut logo design. If all goes as planned, we can expect to witness a fabulous Mim Kut celebration.
But what is Mim Kut? It is a Mizo festival, one of the oldest and most ancient celebrations among the Mizos. The festival exists under different names among various Mizo tribes, but most have ceased celebrating Mim Kut, except for the Kukis of Nagaland and a few organizations in Mizoram. Unlike the larger and more colorful Chapchar Kut festival, which celebrates life, Mim Kut is a festival dedicated to the dead. It's reminiscent of other festivals of the dead or the underworld, such as Halloween in the West, Day of the Dead in Mexico, and Daimonji in Japan. All these festivals, including Mim Kut, share a common theme: they are dedicated to spirits and the departed, and they are autumnal festivals.
Traditionally, Mizo people believe that when a person dies, their souls linger around the house and the village for some time, until the month of August-September, known as "Thi Tin Thla" in Mizo, which signifies the month when the dead depart. Mim Kut marks the end of this period and serves as a farewell and a final rite for these departing souls, who are believed to journey to the city of the dead according to Mizo tradition. During Mim Kut, various rites and rituals are performed in honor of the departed family members. A "Thlai Chhiah," a bundle of crops or food, is offered to symbolize their participation in the feast held in their honor. Graves are cleaned, Mizo rice beer (Zu) is consumed, and lamentation songs are performed throughout the day and night.
With the advent of Christianity, particularly the Calvinistic branch, into Mizoram, which places little emphasis on the dead or their affairs, Mim Kut became incompatible with Mizo Christianity, leading to its extinction in Mizoram. Unlike some other practices, it was not carried forward into Mizo Christianity.
Nonetheless, great efforts have been made to revive 'lost' Mizo heritage and culture, with the revival of Mim Kut garnering particular interest, especially among the more culturally minded Mizo population. The name "Mim Kut" derives from two Mizo words: "Mim," representing a category of crops that includes starchy and nutty varieties, and "Kut," which means festival in Mizo. Traditionally, Mizo culture recognized four types of crops: Anhnah (leafy crops), Be (beans and other pod-bearing crops), Mim (starchy and nutty crops), and Fang/Buh (rice and millets). Mim Kut coincides with the harvest season of Mim crops, such as the Thingsemim (acorn), and with the introduction of maize, known as Vaimin, which was imported from foreign cultures. Despite its name, Mim Kut is not specifically a festival of maize or Mim crops but rather a celebration associated with the season of Mim plants.
Efforts to revive Mim Kut have included initiatives within some churches, dating back to the late 2010s, where the tradition of Thalchhiah involves bringing agricultural produce to the church for distribution. Additionally, certain superstitions surrounding Mim Kut have not been entirely lost among the Mizos. For instance, the period of Thi Tin Thla in August-September, encompassing Mim Kut, is considered a godless time when even God does not oversee human affairs. Consequently, during this period, people avoid seemingly mundane actions like cutting their nails, as it is believed to bring bad luck. Marriage during this "godless" period has historically been avoided at all costs, resulting in statistically low marriage rates among the Mizos during August-September.
To successfully revive Mim Kut among the Mizo people, it's essential to learn from past mistakes. For instance, when reviving Chapchar Kut, a mistake was made by making it a government holiday and stripping it of its religious connotations. Today, Chapchar Kut is associated with a grand Gala held in Aizawl every year as the State-level celebration. However, this trend is changing, with Chapchar Kut increasingly celebrated at the local community and family levels. To prevent sacred festivals like Mim Kut from losing their cultural and religious significance, they should follow a path similar to Pawl Kut, another Mizo festival that became integrated into Christmas. While Pawl Kut is no longer celebrated as a separate holiday, its elements, including feasting, charitable works, house decoration, and worship, have enriched the Mizo Christmas tradition, preserving its religious and community significance.
Mim Kut as a religious festival: Mim Kut can be revived as a religious festival, particularly among non-Christian Mizo communities like the Hnam Sakhua practitioners and Mizo Jews, who possess elaborate rituals and lore related to the dead. Both groups can make efforts to incorporate the festival into their modern theology and concepts. Among Christians, especially Roman Catholics, who have a deeper connection and lore regarding the dead, Mim Kut can be celebrated as a day dedicated to family members in Purgatory, or as a feast in parallel to All Saints' Day in the Catholic calendar. The Mizo Catholic Church's efforts to localize and enrich Mizo Christianity has been tremendous and the observance of Mim Kut as a Christian holiday would contribute significantly to enriching the church tradition. Even among Protestant Christians lacking specific lore about the affairs of the dead, Mim Kut is unofficially celebrated through practices like Thlai Chhiah and other associated rituals. Strengthening these traditions and making them official church events can be considered. While these churches need not offer prayers for the dead or make offerings to them, they can observe the occasion by focusing on the church's history, honoring those who have contributed to its well-being, and collecting offerings as Thlai Chhiah to aid the less fortunate. There are numerous ways in which Mim Kut can be reestablished as a religious festival.
Mim Kut as a secular festival: In today's world, the best way to ensure the survival of certain traditions and festivals is by making them secular. Currently, Mim Kut is already celebrated as a secular holiday, with the government planning to sponsor the festival as a grand State-level celebration. As mentioned earlier, Mim Kut shares similarities with other festivals of the dead, such as Halloween in other cultures. However, Halloween has been a contentious subject among the Mizos, with its celebration viewed as too foreign and satanic by many. Instead of adopting Halloween in its entirety, it might be more suitable to incorporate certain aspects of Halloween, like dressing up in costumes and decorating houses in thematic ways, into Mim Kut. This approach would provide less religious youths and other members of society with more reasons to celebrate Mim Kut, ensuring the survival of the custom and offering a unique perspective on Mizo traditions and folklore related to the dead and the underworld.
As we eagerly anticipate the upcoming Mim Kut celebration, we find ourselves in an exciting period of the Mizo cultural renaissance. This revival not only showcases our rich heritage but also demonstrates our commitment to preserving and celebrating our traditions. As we prepare to enjoy the festivities and rituals of Mim Kut, let us embrace the diversity of our culture, whether through its religious or secular aspects. We extend our warm wishes to everyone for an advance Happy Mim Kut. May this festival bring us closer to our roots, fostering unity, and providing a deeper appreciation for our unique traditions and the exciting times we are living in.
Dear readers, The Mizos is not a large organisation; We are a small independent media outlet from Mizoram trying to cover lesser-covered stories from Mizoram and the Northeast in English. You can always support us by contributing to our Buy Me a Coffee page here - ALSO READ : Ethnic Violence in Manipur Exposes Urgent Need for Justice and Equality ( Opinion )
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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.

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