DUST OFF - Love, folklife, history: the making of a Mizo novel : Rini Tochhawng

A picture of the Mizo society and glimpses of its historical journey is given to us in the space of the ten years. Biakliana has masterfully woven the intricacies of the Mizo way of life into his story

Hawilopari L. Biakliana
Tlangveng Press, 1983
155 pages
Hailed as the first novel written in the Mizo language, Hawilopari was the masterpiece of L Biakliana (1918-1941) who never lived to see it published. The story speaks of the love shared by a group of young boys and girls who grow up in difficult times. This love triumphs and the tale ends with the lovers united in matrimony, despite the obstacles each life is made to face. An interesting facet of the novel is the depiction of elements that have close links to the repertoire of Mizo folklore. We find a cruel stepmother who initiates the action from which the main plot of the story springs. Hminga and Liana, unable to live under the constant torture by their cruel stepmother, finally leave home and join the army. The author does not introduce this stepmother without warning. The brothers know of the stereotypical cruel stepmother in folktales and compare their own situation to that of the children in the folktale Pafa Hruaibo. We also find the character of Zema who, although unrelated to the brothers, fulfills the role of a guardian, much like the fairy godmothers or helpful other-worldly characters in folktales. He leads them to find a new life in the army and sacrifices his life to bring about the union of Hminga and Hawilopari (Pari). Another interesting folkloric twist to the story is the rivalry between women – the antagonist in the person of Hminga’s stepmother and Thangi, who poses as a friend of Pari but is motivated by jealousy over Khuala’s affection for Pari.
As is often the case with woman protagonists, Hawilopari’s life is riddled with problems, probably more so than any of her friends – male or female. Her parents are affected by tragedies that make her the sole bread earner in the family, in a society that does not prize women except as trophies for their beauty and practical skills. She is the main suspect over the disappearance of Hminga and his friends and often called to court by the council of the chief and his elders. To add to her misery, Hawilopari’s beauty brings her a curse in the form of Khuala, the son of an elder in the chief’s council. Khuala has tried to court Pari for a long time, but she never wavers from her affection for Hminga. Khuala seeks revenge for his failure leading Pari and her family to despondently leave the only village they had ever called their home. This brings before us another important element in the novel – depiction of the life of its times.
Biakliana is believed to have finished Hawilopari in 1936, but the story is set in the period between 1850 and 1890. While writing the novel, he used historical facts such as the capture of Mary Winchester (1871) and the subsequent campaigns into the Mizo Hills by British colonisers. At that time, the chiefs were the be all and end all of the villages. Their councils of elders had great power too, and we find that loyal citizens such as Pari and her parents could be evicted on the basis of the false testimony of an elder’s son. Moreover, Pari’s mother asserts that their lands will belong to the chief once her family moved – a practice that once again shows the power of the chief. The insecurity of life and the warring nature of the tribes are brought out in the Pawite attack on Pari’s new village and their capture as slaves. It is interesting to note the mention of the biblical story of original sin and of Pari’s prayer to her Maker in a time before the advent of Christianity. Although Biakliana was careful to avoid the use of the word ‘Pathian’, now used for God, the idea of a personal prayer had never been a part of the animistic practices of worship in native Mizo religion. More in keeping with the beliefs of the time was the supernatural nature assigned to the reflection of a mirror held by Hminga and his friends. When Pari speaks of this seemingly unnatural light her mother is quick to put it down to a portent of gloom while their old lady neighbour accepts it as a sign of good things to come.
A picture of the Mizo society and glimpses of its historical journey is given to us in the space of the ten years between the friends’ farewell and their reunion. Although the main plot of the story centres round Hminga and Pari’s struggles, Biakliana has masterfully woven the intricacies of the Mizo way of life into his story. It is easy to identify with his characters, even if many of them appear to be only foils, and realise the ultimate Mizo love story of faithfulness and devotion, rewarded with a union against all odds.

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