Connect the dots between Hugh Hefner, Giacomo Casanova, Wilt Chamberlain, Pablo Picasso, Silvio Berlusconi and Muammar Gaddafi. Many of us know who they are; All of them are Famous. Really famous no matter how unalike they are. It’s always intriguing to hear about Big stars, socialites and celebrities bragging about their manhood publicly, while for some reason the politicians prefer to keep it discreet. All the above personalities are debonaire womanizers literally having license to entice any women. Women in turn are constantly drawn to these powerful men. Such is the temperament of the laws of attraction.
I might sound a little too sexist but when it comes to commitments, men are the shrewd ones. As a case in point, I quote from the bible “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other (Matthew 6:24)”. Illicit relationship within a marriage is forbidden and considered taboo in our society. Nor does the society approve of polygamy. Besides It won’t work out between the wives because c’mon sharing the same man? Apparently there is no irony to this concept.
Proving this concept wrong is a contemporary community called the LKZ or ‘Lalramkawngpuizawhtu’ which still practices polygamy. It is a bizarre Christian sect in Tlangnuam Baktawng Village, Serchhip district of Mizoram, India, a tiny and thinly populated mountainous region bordered by Bangladesh and Myanmar. The head of the LKZ Christian cult himself is also the head of World’s largest family with 39 wives, 86 children, 14 daughter in-laws and 34 grand-children. With already 2000 members under his chieftainship, Ziona is feared and worshiped by all in the village. The followers of LKZ firmly believe that Ziona will one day rule the earth with Jesus.
Lalramkawngpuizawhtu in the local Mizaw dialect means ‘The Followers of God’ and their place of worship is called ‘Hnamthlanrunpui’. LKZ shares a close resemblance with the Mormon Fundamentalism or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also associated with Polygamy. But at the moment, the new generation of Mormon followers have left this practice deeming it as inappropriate with the present times.
In a democratic country like India where polygamy is illegitimate, 67 year old Ziona, is a harbinger of plural marriage breaching all conventions of religion and legislation. But wait a little; it’s not as dreadful as it sounds. Ziona lives contentedly with the entire family numbering up to 174 members in a huge mansion which they lovingly call ‘Chhuanthar Run’ or C.T.R meaning ‘House of new generation’. The family lives in a strict military like fashion, owing to the huge members in the Ziona family.
The actual founder of Lalramkawngpuizawhtu was (L) Chalianchana, the father of Ziona, who during his period had seven wives. Ziona is the eldest amongst Chalianchana’s 29 kids out which15 are daughters and 14 are sons. After the death of his father, all the responsibilities were handed over to Ziona and to continue the polygamous tradition. Forget living the ultimate polygamous life, he recalls during his younger yearss Ziona didn’t like the idea of even getting married. But his father insisted he get married for he is the chosen and blessed one by God.
Ziona married early when he was just 17 years old to Zathiangi, three years older than him. And one time he even married two women in a row in a single year. He looks a little frail and pale physically but he is just like any other guy in the 20’s or 30’s. He is compared to the wise king Solomon, the king of Israelite, who also had 39 wives. Even though Ziona was criticized and excommunicated from his former village, today he has come out stronger by setting up his own village. He says that he just won’t give up looking for more wives.
He owns Tlangnuam Baktawng village in Serchhip District which is an hour’s drive away from Aizawl city, the capital state of Mizoram. The village houses about 300 household and 2000 followers of Ziona’s sect. He lives in a huge four-storey building called Chhuanthar Run which has 22 rooms and on the front is a small signboard which reads House Number.1.
Once you step into the house, the kitchen to the left and a large capacious drawing room cum dining room awaits you on the second floor. While the married son’s sleep in separate compartments attached to each other on the third floor, there is this dormitory exclusively for Ziona’s older wives. Ziona has his own plush and lavishly decorated room on the second floor. The younger wives sleep in a dorm right next to Ziona while the older wives sleep farther away. The wives take turn to visit him when he summons them.
Given the massive number of the family members, isn’t it amazing how the complete family survives? Well, Ziona is literarily the owner of the whole nine yards. Other than owning Tlangnuam Baktawng village, he owns Chhuanthar Stadium, Chhuanthar primary school, Chhuanthar High school, poultry farms, piggery farms, vegetable gardens and the main bulk of income is credited to their profitable furniture business.
Ziona’s translator and PR, Mr. Lalrinthanga says that “Ziona is special, god gifted, and an architect, can work wonders when people are sick, very generous with an amazing memory”. For instance he remembers all the names of his family members and even calls villagers whether old or young- by name. “He plans everything ahead. The family and villagers execute them accordingly” adds Larinthanga. He has definitely made an impression upon the people so much that he is considered as a king, a ruler and a good leader. And therefore he is the religious leader setting an example upon his people
Under his supervision, the Chhuanthar Stadium was build which took them 15 years to complete without external help or government assistance. Everything from building a simple house to building the roads in the village, he is the mastermind. He works real hard from morning till night fell. Sometimes he is involved in building the village road and sometimes at his carpentry workshop which is the main bulk of income.
Furniture business in Mizoram state is a booming industry showing great potentials and on high demand in the market. This is a huge advantage for Ziona’s family whose livelihood mainly depends on furniture production. Like him, most of his sons are gifted and self trained professional carpenters. Almost the whole day is spent working at their furniture workshop, well equipped with both manual out dated tools and modern machines to catch up with the times and demands of the clients. The family has three major furniture workshops and whatever profits they yield is handed over to Ziona. They have no qualms of giving their hard earned money to the head as it is for the family’s maintenance. The furniture products are supplied to nearby towns, the main being Aizawl town.
On the other hand, the womenfolk of the family are occupied with rearing pigs which forms as a subsidiary for the family’s economy. Tlangnuam Baktawng village and Mizoram as a whole, is a mountainous region. Hence, farming is not possible in this steep and sloppy state. However, pig farming plays an important role for the livelihood of small farmers. Besides, piggery is the most potential source of meat production among the various livestock species. The family even utilizes the feces remains as manure and natural fertilizer for their vegetable farms. Ziona’s wives and daughter in-laws cook for the pigs, feed them, clean the pig sty, bath and even inoculate the pigs. Everything is prepared and planned one day prior like plucking green leaves, chopping the fodders and preparing food for the pigs. Besides the piggery farm, the women also look after the family’s poultry farm.
The family survives on their own vegetable gardens. They have to manage economically owing to the family’s size and be self sufficient. The plantations include spinach, cabbage, mustard, chilly and broccoli using natural manures. All essential commodities are however delivered to their doorsteps by a delivery truck. It is the responsibility of the wives to look after the gardens. The children also do their every bit of looking after the gardens. They carry water from the tanks, climb up the steep gardens and water them regularly every morning.
Preparing food for the family as seen by an onlooker would create an impression that either a celebration is going on or a feast is taking place. The women have to wake up before everyone else does and start out the firewood for cooking. Their breakfast consists of just only a cup of tea or two. Other than lunch and dinner it is raw tobacco that gets them through the day. It usually takes 50 kg of rice for lunch and 40 kg for dinner respectively, altogether 90 kg per day. The family barely eats meat as it takes a lot of time preparing. They consume whatever seasonal food is available in their vegetable garden.
Their eating habit is just as simple as boiling vegetables and adding a tint of garlic, ginger, salt; and voila, food is ready. The women cook food in unison, helping each other and even the kids lend a helping hand to their mother and grannies. Every one seem to get along well as they smile and have conversations amongst themselves. It is the kids who get to eat first on the dining floor. After their turn is over, the elder ones place the dining table and have a mass luncheon. When everyone leaves the dining room, the ladies clean up the tables very swiftly, do the dishes, mop the floor and keep it spanking clean. It’s worth mentioning that Ziona himself is a cleanliness freak.
Ask how many members live in the house and you’re going to receive a rather confused response from them. They are so infinite and updated that they have to browse through family files and registers to find the exact members in the family. Even the family chronology is confusing because at times Ziona’s sons are younger than his grand-sons.
For example, 24 years old Hmingthanzauva is the grandson of Ziona yet he is older to his young uncles. Hmingthanzauva is already married Just a post metric passed, he helps his father Parliana (Eldest son of Ziona) in the family furniture business. Says he won’t marry twice, unlike like his father Parliana or grandfather Ziona because he loves his wife very much. He also adds that he love his grandmothers equally and has no favorites.
On the other hand is Hnamhlunthara, a 22 year old educated son who is two years younger than his nephew Hmingthanzauva. He completed his MBA program in 2011, but decided to help his father and family by teaching at the school. Hnamhlunthara is the middle-son of Ziona but unlike his brothers he is not a gifted craftsman or carpenter.
Another example of age diversity in the family are these two kids, Ramvengzela and Chhuanzauzualla. Despite being related as uncles and nephew, they bear the same age, innocence and these two kids have a special bonding. Ramvengzela is Parliana’s youngest son whereas Chhuanzauzualla is Parliana’s grandson. It is very hard to distinguish how is a person related to each other within the Ziona family.
Call it a social work or for the welfare of the villagers, Ziona is involved with everything in the village whether it be building and expanding the village road. The villagers take their time every morning for at least two hours helping him accompanied by his family. arrive on a truck at the site of the social work, while the ladies prefer walking towards the work site. The men fix pipelines, break rocks and level the road. Not just building the roads or Chuanthar stadium, Ziona has build water tanks sculptured from rocks to preserve underground waters for the convenience of the people. It looks like as if the phrase ‘Work is worship’ stands true in this village. Everyone is involved in at least one thing.
In Baktawng all the people have for the leader of ‘Lalramkawngpuizawhtu’ is respect and honour. Polygamy is not big deal here as Ziona has set an example that no matter how many members are there in the family, a man can take care of his other halves on the basis of mutual consent, understanding, respect for each other and most of all ‘love’. Ziona also justifies his deed saying he marries widows, poor people and helpless women. And despite criticism from the other mainstream Christian organizations and being banished from his old village does not deter him. Ziona is sticking to his guns and has the heart of a lion for he is ever ready to get married again and expand his family and his sect.
His life is co incidentally in complimentary with a fictional American TV drama series “Big Love” that aired on HBO. The show revolved around a family’s struggle to live their polygamous lifestyle without making it known to the outside world. However, Ziona beats it all in reality. He does not shy away from the media and balances the family with so much ease and enjoys being surrounded by a gaggle of women round the clock. In addition to it, he refuses to claim his spot in the prestigious Guinness Book of World Records as he doesn’t want recognition and unnecessary publicity. How far will this polygamy tradition continue, no one knows, but he sure is a keeper!