Rat boom sparks India hunger alert

The government in India’s north-eastern state of Mizoram says it is heeding advice by village elders about an impending famine caused by a boom in the population of rats.

We are all alert about what could be in store for us

Mizoram Chief Minister, Zoramthanga

The oral tradition of the Mizo tribe suggests the famine – called Mautam – ravages the Mizoram hills once every 40 to 50 years when the rats multiply by millions and devastate the standing crop, leaving nothing for the farmers.

The last time the Mizo hills were struck by Mautam was in 1965-66.

Village elders say it is still about two or three years away but the rats are beginning to multiply and the anxious state government has announced one Indian rupee as reward to anybody killing a rat to keep their numbers down.

Quiet preparations

Nearly 40 years ago, Mizoram’s current Chief Minister Zoramthanga joined the Mizo National Famine Front to conduct relief for his hungry tribesmen during the Mautam.


State government will reward rat killers

When his leader Laldenga dropped the word Famine from the title and the Mizo National Front went underground to fight India, Mr Zoramthanga followed him to the jungles.

Mr Laldenga signed an accord with Delhi in 1986 and returned to normal life but Mr Zoramthanga followed him on the road to power.

Mr Laldenga is now dead and Mr Zoramthanga is the chief minister of Mizoram.

But as village elders across the Mizo hills become nervous over the onset of Mautam, Mr Zoramthanga says he is quietly preparing for it.

“From our experience twice or thrice, we know the bamboo flowers rapidly before the Famine. We know what is going to happen and we are not worried because we have time to prepare. Nobody is worried but we are alert,” said Zoramthanga.

No research

The link between bamboo and the famine is an established part of the Mizo oral tradition and suggest the rat population of the hills will multiply several times over.

The rodents ravage the crop, leaving very little for the farmers. That is when disaster strikes.

Nearly 40 years ago, the Assam government did not heed the village elders and when the famine came, thousands of angry Mizos took up weapons to fight what they felt was an indifferent government.

But now Mizoram is a state by itself, no longer part of Assam and the MNF – which was born of the Mautam – is in power.

Chief Minister Zoramthanga confirmed the government was happy to pay an Indian rupee to everyone who kills a rat and collects its tail.

“We have the Rodents Control Committee set up by the government and the Mizoram Farmers Union. We are all alert about what could be in store for us”, he told the BBC

No serious research has been undertaken to unravel the mystery of the Mautam but Mizos know from their oral traditions and the elders that when it comes, it can be disastrous.

Source: BBC


Black Rat Populations Explode

Sep 28, 2010 John Blatchford


Black Rat - Liftarn - Wikimedia Commons

Black Rat – Liftarn – Wikimedia Commons




Famine in India occurs twice a century when the bamboo forest flowers and the rats have so much food that their reproductive rate goes into overdrive.

Plagues of rats devastate rice fields in Mizoram every 48 years. Vast numbers of black rats take advantage of the bamboo flowers that are only available twice a century, then turn their attention to farmers’ crops when the flowers becomes scarce.

Black Rats and Brown Rats

The Black Rat (Rattus rattus) is a natural inhabitant of Asian bamboo forests, where it is typically present in small numbers. Black Rats spread through the Near East to Europe, and then widely across the world, as humans moved them accidentally from place to place in historical times.

Black Rat parasites (fleas) were responsible for the outbreaks of bubonic plague that occurred across Europe during the fourteenth century (the ‘Black Death’ killed one third of Europe’s population at that time).


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The black rat is best adapted for life in tropical bamboo forests, but it used to survive well around humans in northern climes until it was replaced there by the Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) in recent times. Most pet rats, and all laboratory rats are descended from Brown Rats.

Black Rats and Bamboo Flowering in Mizoram

Small populations of Black Rats live the bamboo forests of India. The species of bamboo that predominates in the state of Mizoram (North East India) flowers once every 48 years and when this happens the rats suddenly have a superabundance of food, and the population explodes.

In the years when there was a vast supply of bamboo flowers to eat (1863, 1910/11, 1958/59, 2006/7) these rat plagues went on to cause famines and outbreaks of disease – there was also violence back in 1959 (BBC News).

Why this species of bamboo (Melocanna baccifera) should only flower once every 48 years is a bit of a mystery. One theory is that it saves up all its energy to produce vast numbers of fruits at the same time so that the rats can’t eat them all and sufficient survive to germinate and grow into the next forest (the parent plants die after flowering). Another theory suggests that lightning causes fires that burn off the old, dead, forest – leaving clear ground for germination and growth of the next generation. (The truth might well be a bit of both!).


Read on

Rats, Bamboo, and Mautam in Mizoram

The regular occurrence of rat plagues and famine in Mizoram is known as the ‘mautam’ (YouTube video – ‘Mautam in Mizoram‘). Local oral tradition relates that twice a century, when the bamboo flowers, there will be a plague of rats followed by a famine.

In the past there were few roads in the region and it was not possible to get food in to places where the famine had struck, but by 2006/7 there was better communication and more efficient food relief was possible. In addition to this the precise relationship between the rats and the bamboo was better understood, and several things made the problem less severe:

  • a bounty of one rupee was paid for each rat tail, and over two hundred thousand rats were killed in 2006
  • alternative crop plants were grown in order to reduce the dependence on rice
  • people were encouraged to eat rats as an alternative food source.

Hopefully people will be even better prepared when the mautam strikes Mizoram again in 2054.


famine caused by rats‘ – BBC News, 2007.

Copyright John Blatchford. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Read more at Suite101: Black Rat Populations Explode when Bamboo Forests Flower http://www.suite101.com/content/black-rat-populations-explode-when-bamboo-forests-flower-a290918#ixzz166PM02Po

  Source: Suite101

Rats and Kyats: Bamboo Flowering Causes a Hunger Belt in Chin State, Burma

Aizawl: Dismayed Mizo National Front President, Pu Zoramthanga said that the amount of New Land Use Policy (NLUP) assistance given to the beneficiaries in the rural areas is “just like a mouthfull of bread which is far below the expectation of the people”.

Addressing a public meeting organized by Dinthar MPF Local Forum in Dinthar Bazar on October 30, the MNF chief compared the performance of the last MNF government and that of the present Congress government in supply of essential commodities.

Claiming better performance, the MNF President reiterated free distribution of rice to the poor families during mautam famine. The meeting was also addressed by MPC Working President, Col. Lalchungnunga Sailo.


History of Mizoram, Mizoram History, Birth of Mizoram

The origin of the Mizos (a conglomerate of several hill tribes), like those of many other tribes in the North Eastern India is shrouded in mystery. The generally accepted as part of a great Mongoloid wave of migration from China and later moved out to India to their present habitat.

It is possible that the Mizos came from Sinlung or Chhinlungsan located on the banks of the river Yalung in China. They first settled in the Shan State and moved on to Kabaw Valley to Khampat and then to the Chin Hills in the middle of the 16th century.

The earliest Mizos who migrated to India were known as Kukis, the second batch of immigrants were called New Kukis. The Lushais were the last of the Mizo tribes migrate to India. The Mizo history in the 18th and 19th Century is marked by many instances of tribal raids and retaliatory expeditions of security. Mizo Hills were formally declared as part of the British-India by a proclamation in 1895. North and south hills were united into Lushai Hills district in 1898 with Aizawl as its headquarters.

The process of the consolidated of the British administration in tribal dominated area in Assam stated in 1919 when Lushai Hills along with some other hill districts was declared a Backward Tract under government of India Act. The tribal districts of Assam including Lushai Hills were declared Excluded Area in 1935.

It was during the British regime that a political awakening among the Mizos in Lushai Hills started taking shape the first political party, the Mizo Common People’s Union was formed on 9th April 1946. The Party was later renamed as Mizo Union. As the day of Independence drew nearer, the Constituent Assembly of India set up and Advisory Committee to deal with matters relating to the minorities and the tribals. A sub-Committee, under the chairmanship of Gopinath Bordoloi was formed to advise the Constituent Assembly on the tribal affairs in the North East. The Mizo Union submitted a resolution of this Sub-committee demanding inclusion of all Mizo inhabited areas adjacent to Lushai Hills. However, a new party called the United Mizo Freedom (UMFO) came up to demand that Lushai Hills join Burma after Independence.

Following the Bordoloi Sub-Committee’s suggestion, a certain amount of autonomy was accepted by the Government and enshrined in the Six Schedule of the constitution. The Lushai Hills Autonomous District Council came into being in 1952 followed by the formation of these bodies led to the abolition of chieftanship in the Mizo society.

The autonomy however met the aspirations of the Mizos only partially. Representatives of the District Council and the Mizo Union pleaded with the States Reorganization Commission (SRC) in 1954 for integrated the Mizo-dominated areas of Tripura and Manipur with their District Council in Assam.

The tribal leaders in the North East were laboriously unhappy with the SRC Recommendation s : They met in Aizawl in 1955 and formed a new political party, Eastern India Union (EITU) and raised demand for a separate state comprising of all the hill districts of Assam. The Mizo Union split and the breakaway faction joined the EITU. By this time, the UMFO also joined the EITU and then understanding of the Hill problems by the Chuliha Ministry, the demand for a separate Hill state by EITU was kept in abeyance.

But folklore has an interests tale of offer. The Mizos, so goes the legend, emerged from under a large covering rock known as Chhinlung. Two people of the Ralte clan, known for their loquaciousness, started talking noisily while coming out of the region. They made a great noise which leg God, called Pathian by the Mizos, to throw up his hands in disgust and say enough is enough. He felt, too many people had already been allowed to step out and so closed the door with the rock.

History often varies from legends. But the story of the Mizos getting out into open from the nether world through a rock opening is now part of the Mizo fable. Chhinlung however, is taken by some as the Chinese city of Sinlung or Chinlingsang situated close on the sino-Burmese border. The Mizos have songs and stories about the glory of the ancient Chhinlung civilization handed down from one generation to another powerful people.

It is hard to tell how far the story is true. It is nevertheless possible that the Mizos came from Sinlung or Chinlungsan located on the banks of the river Yalung in China. According to K.S.Latourette, there were political upheavals in China in 210 B.C. when the dynastic rule was abolished and the whole empire was brought under one administrative system. Rebellions broke out and chaos reigned throughout the Chinese State. That the Mizos left China as part of one of those waves of migration. Whatever the case may have been, it seems probable that the Mizos mover from China to Burma and then to India under forces of circumstances. They first settled in the Shan State after having overcome the resistance put up by the indigenous people. Then they changed settlements several times, moving from the Shan State to Kabaw Valley to Khampat to Chin Hills in Burma. They finally began to move across the river Tiau to India in the Middle of the 16th Century.

The Shans had already been firmly settled in their State when Mizos came there from Chhinlung around 5th Century. The Shans did not welcome the new arrivals, but failed to throw the Mizos out. The Mizos had lived happily in the Shan state for about 300 years before they moved on the Kabaw Valley around the 8th Century.

It was in the Kabaw Valley that Mizos got the opportunity to have an unhindered interaction with the local Burmese. The two cultures met and the two tribes influenced each other in the spheres of clothing, customs, music and sports. According to some, the Mizos learnt the art of cultivation from the Burmese at Kabaw. Many of their agricultural implements bore the prefix Kawl which was the name given by the Mizos to the Burmese.

Khampat (now in Myanmar) is known to have been the next Mizo settlement. The area claimed by the Mizos as their earliest town, was encircled by an earthen rampart and divided into several parts. The residence of the ruler stood at the central block call Nan Yar (Palace Site). The construction of the town indicates the Mizos had already acquired considerable architecture skills. They are said to have planted a banyan tree at Nan Yar before they left Khampat as a sign that town was made by them.

The Mizos, in the early 14th century, came to settle at Chin Hills on the Indo-Burmese border. They built villages and called them by their clan names such as Seipui, Saihmun and Bochung. The hill and difficult terrain of Chin Hills stood in the way of the building of another central township like Khampat. The villages were scattered so unsystematically that it was not always possible for the various Mizo clans to keep in touch with one another.

In 1959, Mizo Hills was devastated by a great famine known in Mizo history as ‘Mautam Famine’ . The cause of the famine was attributed to flowering of bamboos which consequent resulted in rat population boom in large numbers. After eating up bamboos seeds, the rats turned towards crops and infested the huts and houses and became a plaque to the Villages.

The havoc created by the rats was terrible and very little of the grain was harvested. For sustenance, many Mizos had to collect roots and leaves from the jungles. Others moved out to far away places edible roots and leaves from the jungles. Others moved out to far away places while a considerable number died of starvation.

In his hour of darkness, many welfare organization tried their best to help starving villagers to facilitate supplies to the remove villages, no organised porters, animal transport to carry the air-drop food supplies.

Earlier in 1955, Mizo Cultural Society was formed in 1955 and Laldenga was its Secretary. In March 1960, the name of the Mizo Cultural Society was changed to ‘Mautam front’ During the famine of 1959-1960, this society took lead in demanding relief and managed to attract the attention of all sections of the people. In September 1960, the Society adopted the name of Mizo National Famine Front (MNFF). The MNFF gained considerable popularity as a large number of Mizo Youth assisted in transporting rice and other essential commodities to interior villages.

The Mizo National Famine Front dropped the word ‘Famine’ and a new political oraganisation, the Mizo National Front (MNF) was born on 22nd October 1961 under the leadership of Laldenga with the specified goal of achieving sovereign independence of Greater Mizoram. Large scale disturbances broke out on 28th February 1966 government installations at Aizawl, Lunglei, Chawngte, Chhimluang and other places simultaneously.

While the MNF took to violence to secure its goal of establishing a sovereign land, other political forces in the hills of Assam were striving for a separate state. The search for a political solution to the problems facing the hill regions in Assam continued.

The Mizo National Front was outlawed in 1967. The demand for statehood was gained fresh momentum. A Mizo District Council delegation, which met prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi in May 1971 demanded a full fledge state for the Mizos. The union government in its own offered the proposal of turning Mizo Hills into a Union Territory in July 1971. The Mizo leaders were ready to accept the offer on condition into a Union Territory in July 1971. The Mizo leaders were ready to accept the offer on condition that the status of U.T would be upgraded to statehood sooner rather than later. The Union Territory of Mizoram came into being on 21st January, 1972. Mizoram get two seats in Parliament, one each in the Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha

Rajiv Gandhi’s assumption of power following his mother’s death signaled the beginning of a new era in Indian politics. Laldenga met the Prime Minister on 15th February 1985. Some contentious issues, which could not be resolved, during previous talks referred to him for his advice.

All trends indicated that neither the Centre nor the MNF would pass up the opportunity that has now presented itself to have a full lenient and flexible. New Delhi felt that Mizo problem had been dragging on for the long a time, while the MNF was convinced that bidding farewell to arms to live as respectable Indian Citizens was the only ways of achieving peace and development.

Statehood was a prerequisite to the implementing of the accord singed between the MNF and and the Union Government on 30 June 1986. The document was signed by Laldenga, on the behalf of MNF, and the Union Home Secretary RD Pradhan on behalf of the Government, Lalkhama Chief Secretary of Mizoram, too signed the agreement.

The MNF volunteers came out of their hiding and surrendered arms to makeshift bamboo huts up for the purpose at Parva and Marpara. A total of 614 activists gave themselves up in less than two weeks in July. Large quantities of small and big firearms including LMGs and rifles were received from them.

While the MNF kept its part of the bargain, the Centre initiated efforts to raise the status of Mizoram to a full fledged State. A constitution Amendment Bill and another to confer statehood on Mizoram was passes in the Lok Sabha on 5 August 1986.

The formalization of Mizoram State took place on 20th February, 1987.Chief Secretary Lalkhama read out the proclamation of statehood at a public meeting organised at Aizawl’s Parade Ground. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi flew in to Aizawl to inaugurate the new state. Hiteshwar Saikia was appointed as Governor of Mizoram.


President Pratibha Patil stresses on agriculture for overall prosperity in Mizoram

Aizawl: President Pratibha Patil has said that “development of agriculture is essential for bringing about overall prosperity and for attaining food security” in Mizoram and urged the State Government to undertake research on Mautam– a cyclic ecological phenomenon of bamboo flowering, which has caused harm to agriculture and hoped that such research could help in dealing effectively with the next flowering cycle and it would help in the development of bamboo industry on a sound basis.

President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, arrived in Aizawl yesterday. She was received at Lengpui Airport by the Governor Lt. Gen.(Rtd.) M M Lakhera PVSM, AVSM VSM, the Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and other dignitaries. On reaching Aizawl, she was accorded a warm welcome at Raj Bhawan where a Civic Reception followed by a State Dinner was held in her Honour.

In her address at the Civic Reception, the President, highlighted that it was the Peace Accord signed in 1986 between the Government of India and the MNF that brought peace and tranquility in the state and congratulated the people of Mizoram in their efforts in ensuring the prevalence of peace and order through their active participation in the democratic process.

The President remarked that only when the most disadvantaged are brought into the mainstream, true progress will be achieved but added that, progress will be elusive without development of human resources. She lauded the New Land Use Policy (NLUP), the flagship programme of the State Government and said that it can uplift the poorer sections of society by giving them a permanent source of income and also commended the high literacy rate of Mizoram, which is the second highest in the country.

The President said that Mizoram with its vibrant culture, scenic beauty and pleasant climate has much potential to become a favourite tourist destination and added that it has great scope for small scale industries based on bamboo and timber products, agro-industry, handloom and handicrafts, as well as medicinal and aromatic plants. The President, who is also the Visitor of Mizoram University will attend the 6th Convocation of the University to be held today, at the campus of the University at Tanhril.


‘Nation’s prosperity depends on citizen’s quality’

Aizawl, September 24:  President Pratibha Patil said that welfare and prosperity of a nation depends on the quality of its citizen, which is determined by the education each one receives. Addressing the convocation of the Mizoram University at the varsity’s campus in Tanhril near here, Patil said education is fundamental for development giving emphasis on creative and scientific education for all-round development.

“Calibre of a university depends on the works of its lecturers and professors,” she said, adding that the faculty is like its life.

Patil, who is also the Visitor of the University, asked the students to have close interaction with the local community to understand their problems and find a solution.

The phenomenon of ‘Mautam‘ or famine caused by gregarious bamboo flowering which occurred in the state in a cycle of every 48 years and the extent of destruction caused by ‘jhum’ or shifting cultivation, where land is first cleared by burning or felling trees, must be taken up for scientific research and study, she said.

The President lauded the hospitality of the Mizos saying, “The hospitality of Mizoram is world renowned.”

The convocation was also attended by state Governor Lieutenant General M M Lakhera, Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and his council of ministers, legislators and top officials.

(with PTI inputs)