When you connect the dots between Hugh Hefner, Giacomo Casanova, Wilt Chamberlain, Pablo Picasso, Silvio Berlusconi and Muammar Gaddafi, they have something in common which every men secretly desires. No matter how different their portfolios are, all the above powerful personalities are womanizers literally having license to entice any women in the planet. It might seem cliche’ but women in are drawn to these powerful men. Such is the temperament of the laws of attraction.
Forget concubines, Illicit relationship within a marriage is forbidden and considered taboo in our society. Nor does the society approve of polygamy with exception to Mormons and Muslims. Besides my hypothesis is; It won’t work out between the wives because I wouldn’t want to share my man? Until I saw it with my own eyes. Proving this concept wrong is a contemporary community called ‘Lalramkawngpuizawhtu’ which still practices polygamy. It is a bizarre Christian sect in Tlangnuam Baktawng Village, Serchhip district of Mizoram, India. The head of the Christian cult himself is also unofficially 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 in Baktawng, Ziona is feared and worshiped by all in the village. Whats even more strange is Ziona’s followers firmly believe that he will one day rule the earth with Jesus. In India polygamy is illegitimate but 67 year old Ziona, is a harbinger of plural marriage breaching all conventions of society, mandated religious values and legislation.
Lalramkawngpuizawhtu in the local Mizaw dialect means ‘The Followers of God’ and their place of worship is called ‘Hnamthlanrunpui’. This christian denomination shares close resemblance with the Mormon Fundamentalism or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also associated with Polygamy.
The founder of Lalramkawngpuizawhtu was Ziona’s father Chalianchana, who during his period himself had married seven wives and fathered 15 daughters and 14 sons. Ziona, being the eldest was handed over all the responsibilities by his father and to continue the polygamous tradition he started. He recalls during his younger years Ziona didn’t even wanted to marry but his father insisted he get married for he is the chosen and blessed one by God.
Even though Ziona was criticized and excommunicated from his former village, today he has come out stronger by setting up his own village. 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’. 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. Locals compare him to the wise king Solomon, the king of Israelites, who also had 39 wives. He looks a little frail and weak but he claims he’s strong as an ox and he won’t give up looking for more wives just yet.
He owns Tlangnuam Baktawng village 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 holly molly capacious drawing room cum dining room awaits you. While the married son’s sleep in separate compartments 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, I wondered how does one man provide for the humongous members. But I observed the family lives in a strict military like fashion and the main bulk of income is credited to their profitable furniture business. Other than owning the village, he owns Chhuanthar Stadium, Chhuanthar primary school, Chhuanthar High school, poultry farms, piggery farms and acres of arable land for kitchen garden.
Ziona’s translator and PR, Mr. Lalrinthanga extols him saying “Ziona is very 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 quite made an impression upon the people so much that he is considered as a king, a ruler and a good leader. 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.
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. 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. Everyone is involved in at least one thing.
He knows that furniture business in Mizoram state is a booming industry 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 utilizes the dry fecal remains as organic 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 to 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 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 squatting 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 as Ziona himself is a cleanliness freak.
When I asked the family members how many of them live in the house no one gave me the accurate number because they were so infinite. 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.
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 Christian organizations and being banished from his old village does not deter him. Ziona is sticking to his guns and has plans to expand his sect. 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 long will his polygamy tradition continue, no one knows for sure but as of now in Baktawng, the tradition is alive and thriving, all credit to this man called Ziona.