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Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra

The Man with 39 Wives

A remote village in Mizoram.

Returning from Lunglei to Aizawl I took a detour via Sirchip in order to meet this man with a new idea of life.

Communication with the locals has been a challenge in Mizoram. Unlike the neighbouring states, where people knew either Hindi or English, the Mizos and I share no common language. Not knowing their language is entirely my loss – because they have really no interest in me or my life. But I am here to know about theirs and not knowing their language is a huge limitation.

My driver did not know any words I knew – so through hand signs we established the action required of him when I tapped his shoulder and yelled out ‘stop’. For communicating beyond that word, I’d stop a passersby, ask for an English speaking person and that person would translate my instructions to the driver. Quite an adventure.

So with the help of my ‘saarathi’ or charioteer – we somehow managed to reach the village of the man with 39 wives.

***

When I arrive with my driver, the first question I am asked is whether I would like to be hosted for the night as it is almost sunset.  Aizawl is at least another 3-4  hour drive away. I am taken aback by their warm hospitality they have offered to a stranger they have only just met – for all they knew, I could have been a murderess or a thief! But I decline, as the Chapchar Kut festival is scheduled for the next day in Aizawl.

An English speaking son is called out to meet me. He is about 30 years old. I ask about their life and allow the discussion to flow in any direction he wants. But he is a shy speaker. So I ask basic directed questions.

A unique sect was set up by the late Mr. Chana within Christianity and this sect has its own church

and its own laws, of which polygamy is one. Mr. Chana had 16 wives.

This sect has been taken forward by his son Mr.Ziona – the man with 39 wives

Mr. Ziona is now about 68 + years old.

There are 160 members in his family. He has about 60 children, the eldest being around 55 and the youngest being 7.

A large home with a community hall serves as a home for the entirely family of 160. Cooking, washing and other household processes are conducted collaboratively in the large community house.

Children of various age groups, born of different mothers hang out together and play and eat together.

Income is generated through piggery and carpentery.

I ask to meet Mr. Ziona – and I am told he is busy and will be free only after dinner.  That seems too late, but it is too early in my meeting with Mr. Ziona’s son to be pushy.

So I ask permission to stroll around the hall.

Two wives seem to be in charge of the dinner.

Children of all age groups are having dinner sitting in different age-group circles with their half-siblings.

After attending church on Sunday the entire family gathers together in the main hall for a family meeting.

And Mr. Ziona presides on his special chair.

These pictures from past media coverage hang on his wall. But this was many years ago, and his family size has increased since then.

I meet some of the teenaged children who are warming themselves at the hearth and laughing and enjoying their evening post dinner.

I meet some of the senior wives.

And finally I meet Mr. Ziona –

who emerges with his two young wives.

There was a B&W Hindi movie in the ’60s in which a matronly actress Dulari once blessed the hero with the blessing “May you have so many children that, at bedtime, you will need to do a head count” (in the olden days in India ‘more’ children was a good thing).

To me this blessing sounded cute but impossible to achieve. But Mr. Zaina has achieved that state and Dulari would have been happy!

jm

March 2012

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