As the evening shadows grow longer, and the birds seek their nests for their evening rest, the youth of Mizoram, a state in the Northeast India, assemble in their common dormitory which is called Zawlbuk. It is a place of learning, sharing experiences and building up the social culture. It had been the concentration of male power of the whole village. Though it has lost its importance now due to cultural changes, the part played by it in building up the society was really great.
The Origin of Zawlbuk
The origin of this system is difficult to be fixed as most of the knowledge of Mizo history is lost in antiquity. Old folks state that the Mizo people had this custom even before their migration from the east of the River Tiau during the seventeenth century. All their young men used to sleep in their Chief’s house so that they can be ready for any immediate action.
A Central Place of Every Village
The Mizos lived in villages. They had to be on their alert every time. Hence every village had a common dormitory of its own in those days. Some villages contained more than one as they were divided into several parts. The people found these young men sleeping in a Zawlbuk useful. When there was a clarion call at night they all gathered in one place to act at once. It helped the security of the village as well as the individual people. They had to be vigilant to safeguard their village from the attacking enemies as well as the dangerous animals.
The Common Evening Nest of All The Youth
In the evenings the youngsters gathered in the Zawlbuk to exchange ideas. Merrily they sang songs of heroism and spoke of the achievements of their ancestors. Late in the evenings they went out to keep dates with their girlfriends. Wherever they go they returned around bedtime to have a good sleep. The practice of sleeping out on a regular basis with their friends and neighbors helped the Mizo youths to build up a strong awareness of community welfare. They cared more for their village. The main purpose of the Zawlbuk was to safeguard the youth from the delinquencies of adolescence and to build up good habits.
Every village had a common dormitory located in the open on the highest point of a village opposite the house of the Chief. The village elders, called Upa had their houses clustered nearby.
The Zawlbuk was mainly made of timber, bamboo sticks and had a thatched roof. Its entrance was approached by a platform of rough logs at the uphill end. A fireplace, which burnt all the time occupied the center of the dormitory hall, while there was a raised bunk to sleep on spreading from the far end through the whole breadth of the room. Building and the maintenance of the Zawlbuk was the duty of the young men according to their age. On the open space by the hearth the youth practiced wrestling and sometimes it served as a dance floor. The Zawlbuk was not only a sleeping place for the Mizo youth, it served also as a rest house by travelers and visitors to the village.
The Change of Culture
After the arrival of the missionaries the indigenous people of Mizoram lost most of their ancient cultures. Education and the influence of Christianity brought many changes in their societies. This led to the extinction of Zawlbuks. The elders of the Mizo communities felt that their own homes were a better place for their sons to live in than the bachelors common bedrooms. Another blow was that when the power of the Chiefs wee taken away there was no need of any Zawlbuk.