Lost Tribe: The Mizoram of India


The people of Mizoram in Northeast India are Indian nationals but culturally are more Indo-Chinese. Although most Mizos are Christians today, some claim to be one of the lost tribes of Israel. According to history in 722 BC the lost tribes of Israel were conquered by the Assyrians and several went into exile. The Tribe of Menashe travelled east and eventually reached China, and then ended up in the area which today forms the spur of India separating Bangladesh and Myanmar.

And for several hundred years, the Mizo people remained largely undisturbed by the outside world, until Christian missionaries entered the area more than a hundred years ago. They found a community still practising ancient rituals and customs, which many believe, bear a distinct similarity to those of the ancient Israelites.

Today, apart from the tribal drums, few of those traditions have survived the influence of Christian missionaries.

Their ancestors were sent into exile from the Holy Land more than two and half thousand years ago and formed an independent community, Mizoram. Many clues can be found to associate Mizo people with Israel by investigating their distinctive cultural heritage. Mizo funeral rites, as with other ceremonies for births and marriages, followed tribal custom, which are believed to be far more in common with Judaism. Their old folk songs talk of crossing the Red Sea and flight from Egypt. The cotton shawls made by women in Aizawl have stripes and tassels similar to those of the traditional Jewish prayer shawl.

No one over there knows where their folk songs or the design for the shawl have come from. All they know is they have this tradition this way, even many generations before them. Too strong a link, says Zaithanchhungi, the local anthropologist, to be a coincidence.

“We have wanted for so long to be accepted by the Israelis. If the day comes that we do get accepted then I will be very, very happy,” said Doliana from Israel Organization. But so far, efforts to win recognition of their claim have been rejected.

On one side, Mizo with claims of Israeli descent, proudly celebrated in the names of streets and shops. On the other side, many in Israel fear it will open the flood gates to a tide of economic emigration if recognising the Mizo’s as direct descendants. To eliminate the doubts about Mizo identity, a system in Israel is set up for the Mizo to be converted to Jew.

Rob McBride travelled to Aizawl in Mizoram to investigate their story