Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mautam Famine in Chin Hills Myanmar

The people dwelling in bamboo covered land of Paletwa, Matupi, and Thantlang Townships are correctly called the Bamboo Landers by the outsiders as they solely depend on bamboo for almost everything, from a raw material to build their homes to food, and as one of few sources of cash. Houses are built with bamboo leaves roofing, matted floors and often double layered split bamboo walling. A man can sit in a bamboo chair on a bamboo table, and work in the rice field with a bamboo hat on his head. Bamboo shoot is their favorite side dish, and in times of famine they have to depend on bamboo sprouts. His meal is cooked over a bamboo fire, and he can fan himself with a bamboo fan, take a siesta on a bamboo bed, lying on a bamboo mat with his head resting on a bamboo pillow. His child might be lying in a bamboo cradle, playing with a bamboo toy and is to make the bier to carry the man when he is dead. On rising he would smoke a bamboo pipe and carrying his articles in bamboo baskets. Not only human beings but also the domestic animals such as pig, cattle, and gayal eat the bamboo leaves and trunks. Bamboo jungle has been thought to be fertile and rice productive land, and bamboo jungle indeed is regarded as rice bowl. From time immemorial to till today slash and burn hill side cultivation known as jhum has been the only available source of living for the people. In January and February the rural folk begin to fell bamboo for jhum. In March they set fire to the fallen bamboo, turn it to ash. This ash is the best nutrient muddy hills can get for cultivation. Without bamboo cultivators can grow nothing. Popularly referred to as 'poor man's timber', bamboo has been life blood of the people. Bamboo is closely associated with human lives and, this being the case, life in this region is unthinkable without bamboo.


This bamboo flowering and dying, locally known as Mautam or Mawtah, has begun in 2007 in some regions of Mizoram (India) and Chin State (Myanmar) which badly caused great famine and force the victims suffering of food shortage in this year 2008. All bamboo jungle has been withered where bamboo flowering occurred last year in 2007. Again in this year 2008, bamboo flowering is still happening in remaining parts of Chin State, predicting terrible famine that the people of these regions tremble and fear to face in the year to come. Rats and birds picked and ate up all the seeds by sowing time (April and May 2008) that resulted crops growing very scarce. The crops have been started snipping by the rodents from now. . Not only rice but also other agricultural products such as maize, cucumber, beans, and pumpkins have been starting eaten away by rats. The saying of forefathers, “The tragedy event of Bamboo Flowering Famine normally lasts from three to five years,” is practically comes true today. Many cultivators have forsaken their jhums in lack of hope. Last year from September, huge number of rat population were feasting on the bamboo seeds and multiplied themselves in terms of ten thousands in a year and once, the bamboo seeds were no longer available to them that they ate away and finished away all agricultural products over night or in a day, migrating from place to place throughout the hill land in thousands and thousands number. Henceforth, the severe starvation is unavoidable circumstance this year and the years to come.

 Response to the Attack of the Rodents:  

Last year in 2007 the destruction of crops by the rodents happened from the month of September when the time of harvest was near. All the crops   in a field had been devoured by a night. This year in 2008, it is wonderful that the great attack has been started from time of growing seeds. Now the rodents are gnawing and destructing all food crops by days and nights. Not only swarms of rats, but also porcupines and parrots invade the food cops very badly. The people also are trying to prevent by means of catapult even at night time that they could kill hundreds in number. They make traps for catching and killing porcupines. “There set an order of Village Peace and Development Council to the entire male in the village to try to kill the rats in their respective field. I think we have already killed more than ten thousand of rats in the field, but the number of rat seems to increase more and more,” said ThlaCung of   La-U village. At day time, all encaged protecting from flights of parrots. The report said that many households had left their cultivation which had been devoured by the rodents. It is like a fight with the spirit that we the human being will never win, the spirit of famine how awful it will overwhelm for months and years.

Fig Fruits being eaten by Children

Current Situation of Famine Affected Area:

                                                                         It might be wonderful to any interested one how the victims are keeping their livelihood till today though the Data Information showed food grains they reaped to be enough only for short period. The question had also been raised everywhere by the loved ones. Livelihood, especially in most affected area from November 2007 till now is summed up as below mentioned in general:

1. November 2007 -  January/February 2008    ---------------   Rice/ Maize left by rodents.

2. February/March - May/June 2008               --------------    Tung/Bako (a tree) and Yams

3. June/July onwards     -------------------------------------          Natural green leaves, Roots of

                                                                                           Bananas and leaves of crops

4.                              -----------------------------------             Few of food relief (rice)

                                                               received from Chin Communities abroad

                                                               through CFERC, mixed with green leaves. 

The Consequences of Famine:

  The consequences of the famine are expected to have widespread and long-term affects on more people of Chin State. The most immediate concern is high rates of starvation, malnutrition, and the rapid deterioration of people’s health in the affected areas. Villagers from affected areas have reported that families are currently being reduced to one meal a day of limited nutritious value. Mr. Dawt Cung of Surngen (Lautu Area), Thantlang Township in Northern Chin State said, “The Children used to fill up their stomach for two third of food by eating fig-fruits which caused them diarrhoea. Due to lack of Health care, we have lost the life of almost hundred children in our area.” There might be more in number of the dead in other areas beyond reach of information. The number of children who have lost their lives are 44 as listed below:

Route Requested for sending Famine Relief Aid:

      Bamboo Flowering Famine mostly affected along the western region of Chin State, closely bordering with Mizoram, India, where communication is mostly available by only foot-path. The most affected area falls in Zophei, Mara, Lautu and Khumi, covering 108 villages, 9523 households with 62679 populations. Road transportation at all seasons is available only up to Thantlang and Matupi from which needed three to four days journey on foot to arrive the famine affected area if the Relief Aid is to be given from Inland. We could not believe that the Relief items will safely reach into the hand of actual victims if initiatives will be taken from inland (Myanmar).


Therefore, on behalf of all famine victims per preference of themselves, special request is made to the individual, groups, NGOs (National/International) and governments to offer Relief Aid through Cross-Border System to the suffering Chin people.

 Contact: Email-    Ph:  +919436393666

By Salai Chinzah

 Chairman, CHRC and CNC




  1. Hi Tluanga,
    I am a teacher from Chicago, U.S. and I am very interested in the plight of the Matupi people because I have just befriended a Chin family from there. I wonder if you could tell me more about the town/ship?


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