Cry My Beloved Pangmu

Dedicated to all our forefathers who have struggled & sacrificed mightily to build up Kachinland

It is with great sadness and trepidation – amid news of heavy artillery fire swirling around Sinlum, of chemical weapons being deployed, of unspeakable atrocities being committed, of folks having to flee homes and farmsteads – that I turn my thoughts to this corner of our homeland, built by the hands of our fathers.

It was in the late 1800’s that Zau Tu of the Gauri Lahpai chieftain clan, and Nangzing Hka Jan, a daughter of one of the first 7 Kachins to be baptized in the Christian faith, met at the Bhamo mission school run by American Baptist missionaries.  Heeding the words of Rev. Roberts to “go save your brethren”, they returned as newlyweds to the ancestral homeland in the Sinlum Hills, to start a mission of their own.

With nothing more than their strong faith, a sword, a spade and a brass cooking pot, the couple set about clearing thick, dense jungle to found the new settlement of Pangmu, a village like many others that dot the Sinlum Hills, overlooking Yunan, China.  Then the British came, and saw fit to establish a civil station at Pangmu to administer the Sinlum Hills.   Zau Tu and Hka Jan, ordered to relocate elsewhere, had to put their energies into setting up yet another village, which they also named Pangmu.  The British hill station became known variously as Sinlum, Sinlum Kaba, or Kala Kawng (Foreigners’ Hill).

At the new Pangmu, they started a small primary school, which today is acknowledged as the first self-supporting Kachin school.  The British government did later recognize it as a government aided school, and awarded it a small annual grant.  Nangzing Hka Jan, as headmistress, was honored with a gold watch and certificate for her pioneering efforts.

When the little primary school was on its feet, Zau Tu left the business of teaching, and devoted his full energies to mission work. On April 26, 1914, he received his ordination as pastor of Sinlum Church.  During a lifetime that spanned 105 years (by his own calculation), he founded 21 churches, which included 8 on the Chinese side of the border.

Pangmu Duwa Rev Lahpai Zau Tu, as he was later known, was a man of great faith, courage and vision, a lover of his land and people.  In his dual role as pastor and chieftain, he served his God and people faithfully.  Keen of mind and strong of build, he preached and practiced a strong work ethic, and impressed upon his people the need to adopt healthier lifestyles, more diversified farming and sound economic practices.  Most of all, he stressed the need to look after, and build up the buga or homeland.

His fervor for an autonomous homeland directed him to lead a delegation of 56 chiefs and elders to Rangoon in 1925, to petition then British Governor Sir Spencer Harcourt Butler for Home Rule status, or failing that, to institute better education, health, agriculture and commercial opportunities for the Kachins.  When the petition was rudely rebuffed, it became the impetus for Kachin support of General Aung San and his promise for an autonomous Kachin State upon independence.

Sara Zau Tu was passionate about education, believing it to be the key to upward mobility for the Kachin people.  Having himself run away from home to attend the Bhamo school against the wishes of his animist parents, he made sure that all 9 of his children received high levels of education.  He also fought hard for all Kachins to have access to higher education.  His vision of a university for the Kachins did not materialize during his lifetime, but his strong advocation with the British District Commissioner at Bhamo, led to the establishment of an English high school at Sinlum.  Also, his fierce arguments at the 1930 Burma Baptist Convention in Rangoon, led the Missionary Council to revise its decision against granting a separate theological school for the Kachins.

More than anything, he loved to tell stories – and what wonderful stories he had to tell! They were personal tales as well as folk lore and legends, of which he was a fountain of knowledge.  He could recite the Kachin migration saga, which the jaiwas, folk bards or oral historians, take days to narrate on special occasions. It is through his migration story that I, his granddaughter, am able to trace my lineage -19 generations removed – to our progenitor in the plains of Tibet.

Although his own grandfather Shadip Zau Seng had been favourably impressed with the British when Colonel Sladen came through Bhamo in 1867, and celebrated a friendship feast with Kachin chieftains, our grandfather himself had an uneasy relationship with British frontier officials.  In fact the British Resident at Sinlum threatened numerous times to banish him to China, invoking the Frontiers Cross Act.  One story he liked to relate with relish was of the time he and 2 other paramount Kachin chiefs were invited to attend the great Durbar in Rangoon as special guests of the Governor.  He chuckled over how the British frontier officers, who liked to lord it over them in the hills, were at their beck and call the entire time of the visit.

The Pangmu home that our grandfather built in 1916, with the help of his 2 brothers, is now considered a historic and heritage site.  The building was badly in need of repairs, until the combined efforts and contributions of family members made renovation possible.  On April 3, 2011, the descendants of Pangmu Duwa Sara Zau Tu and Sarama Nangzing Hka Jan, gathered together with the Sinlum Church to celebrate and dedicate the restored ancestral home.  It was decided at that time that there would be another such gathering to celebrate the home’s centennial in 2016.  Sadly, the way things are now, that possibility seems in doubt.

Will our heritage be lost forever?  Will the struggles and sacrifices of our forebears be of aught?  These are questions that bedevil me day and night.

Daughter of Pangmu

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect kachinlandnews’s policy.