An Introduction to the Chin

16 February 2021


Given recent events in Burma/Myanmar, the complexity of the country’s ethnic make-up, and the fact that our partners in Burma/Myanmar all operate in minority ethnic community areas, HART is pleased to offer a brief introduction to some of the main ethnic groups within the country. Here we continue with the Chin people. HART currently works with our partners Health and Hope in Chin State.


The Chin

The Chin are one of the founding groups of the Union of Burma, alongside the Kachin, the Shan and the Bamar. Whilst the Chin now predominantly reside in Chin State in the West of Burma/Myanmar, they are also spread throughout Burma/Myanmar, Bangladesh, and India. The Chin speak a variety of related languages, share a rich culture and have many specific and historic traditions.

It is worth noting that the name “Chin” is disputed. “Chin” initially referred to all the hill tribes in the western frontier of Burma/Myanmar. Chin nationalist leaders in Chin State are credited for popularising the term “Chin” for the ethnic Chin following Burma’s independence from Britain in January 1948. Before this, the British had used a compound term, “Chin-Kuki-Mizon,” to group the Kukish language speakers of Burma, a system which was also adopted by the Government of India. More recently, the word “Chin,” has been rejected by some in favour of “Zomi.” This is in recognition of “Zo” which some believe is the original name for those predominantly referred to as the “Chin.”



The Chin are believed to have entered Burma at some point between the late 9th and early 10th Century and settled in modern day Chin State between 1300-1400. The exact dates surrounding early Chin history are difficult to specify because of the longstanding Chin tradition of oral history resulting in a distinct lack of written historical record for the period.

The codification of the history of the Chin people began with the arrival of the British in Burma/Myanmar in 1824. In 1896, once British rule had been established, the Pakokku Chin Hills Regulation Act, stated that the British would govern the Chin separately from the rest of Burma/Myanmar. This allowed for traditional Chin chiefs to remain in power while Britain allotted itself indirect rule over the area. Burma/Myanmar’s independence from Britain in 1948 coincided with the Chin people adopting a democratic government rather than continuing its traditional system of chief rule. Chin National Day is celebrated every year on 20th February to mark the State’s transition from traditional to democratic governance.

Chin State’s newfound democracy was abruptly ended by the ascent to power of General Ne Win and the Burmese military in 1962. Ne Win remained in power until 1988 when uprisings, commonly known as the 8888 protests erupted. The protests were met by a violent government response which killed approximately 3,000 people in a matter of weeks and imprisoned many more. It was during this period that the Chin National Front (CNF), and its armed branch, the Chin National Army (CAN), formed and gained momentum.

In 2012, the Chin National Army organised a ceasefire with the Burma military and in 2015. The Chin National Army signed a National Ceasefire Agreement with the Burma Army.


The Situation Now

Today, 110,000 predominantly Christian Chin, are caught in the crossfire of an ongoing conflict between the Arakan Army and the Burmese military.

The Arakan Army is a Rakhine armed group based in Kachin State. It is the armed wing of the United League of Arakan (ULA), currently led by Major General Twan Mrat Naing. Burma’s Anti-Terrorism Central Committee designates the Arakan Army as a terrorist group under the country’s counter-terrorism laws. Clashes have re-emerged and worsened between the two armies, leaving dozens dead and thousands displaced with Chin State being unfortunate enough to be left in the middle.

The Burmese military currently operate a Four-Cut strategy to deprive the Arakan Army of food, money, intelligence, and soldiers. Because of Chin State’s geographical position these sanctions badly harm the Chin, who suffer from shortages, high food prices, a lack of medicine and a lack of suitable shelter.

The Burmese Army currently occupies the Paletwa Township, an area in Chin State, consisting of 400 villages near the Bangladesh border. This and neighbouring townships, are home to thousands of internally displaced people who are scattered throughout the area or concentrated in camps. In May 2020, it was estimated that at least 9,000, mainly women and children, were living in these camps.

In May 2020, the Office of the Commander in Chief of Defence Services declared a ceasefire until 31st August to help contain, prevent, and treat COVID-19. However, this ceasefire did not extend to areas where “terrorist groups” had positions, such as Paletwa Township. Additionally, the Arakan Army considered the ceasefire to be an attempt by the Burma Army to use the pandemic for their strategic gain and so fighting continued in Chin State. This unrelenting violence was the official reason that voting in the November 2020 election was cancelled in parts of Chin State.

In February 2021, the Burmese military seized power in a coup, potentially throwing the future of the Chin and Chin State into further turbulence.



The Chin people were traditionally Animists. However, in the late 1800s, the first Christian missionaries arrived in Chin State and began sharing the message of Christianity with the indigenous population. The Baptist Arthur E. Carson is credited by many as the driving force behind the rise of Christianity in Chin State. Today, approximately 90% of the Chin identify as Christian. However, the Chin adoption of Christianity was not followed by the rest of Burma and since independence, the military government has persecuted the Chin on religious grounds.

Interestingly, since the late 20th Century, a group of Chin, Kuki and Mizo people have claimed descent from the Bnei Menashe, one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, and have adopted the practice of Judaism.


Language, Culture and Traditions

There are at least 31 different varieties of the Chin language which are also spoken across Burma, parts of India and Bangladesh. Amongst the many dialects of the Chin languages, there are also regional accents which add to the complexities of the Chin languages. Almost all Burmese Chin also speak Burmese as it is a requirement it is taught in all Burmese schools.

The most important day on the Chin calendar is Chin National Day. Celebrated annually on 20th February, the day commemorates the transition to democracy which occurred as Burma gained its independence from Britain. On Chin National Day, the Chin perform traditional dances such as the bamboo dance, the Sarlam, the Khuangcawi and the Cherua dance. Wrestling also plays a big part in Chin culture and the traditional Lai Paih wrestling is held every Chin National Day. Alongside these events, traditional food such as Sabuti (corn soup) and Chang (rice cake) are served.

Traditional clothing is also important to the Chin, and there are several types of traditional dress such as Matu, Hakua, Lautu, Falam, Tedim, Zo, Mara, Mindat. Whilst the designs are different, there is consistent use of bright red and green colours often partnered with black. Accessories such as bracelets, necklaces, hairpins, and rings also play an important role in traditional Chin clothing. These outfits are reserved solely for important days such as Chin National Day, Christmas, and weddings.


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