Baktawng (Mizoram) Many would consider it an achievement of Biblical proportions! With 39 wives and more than 120 children and grandchildren, all staying together, a tribal Christian cult leader in the northeastern state of Mizoram could perhaps claim to head the world’s biggest family.
Not only that, Zionnghaka Chana, 67, is still keen to expand his family by marrying a few more women.
“I can travel beyond the borders of Mizoram or even India to marry as that would help me to expand my family,” a beaming Zionnghaka said .
From a playground to a school and a church, the village of Baktawng resembles any other tribal village but for the fact that the community members belong to one single family of 181 members — 39 wives, 94 children, 14 daughters-in-law and 33 grandchildren.
“We are all happy and like any other church we believe in the existence of god but the only distinctive difference is that our denomination allows us to marry more than one wife,” said Nunparliana, one of Zionnghaka’s sons.
The family is part of a Christian cult called Channa, named after Zionnghaka’s father Challianchana who died in 1997. The cult, founded by Challianchana some time in the early 1930s, is now spread over four generations and boasts of having some 1,700 members.
Challianchana was believed to have had 50 wives, with Zionnghaka being the eldest of his many children — there is no count available of the number of children Challianchana had.
Perched at a hilltop, the 100-room four-storeyed building they live in is as unique as the family – the youngest wife sleeps near to Zionnghaka’s bedroom. There is a rotation system among the wives to share his bedroom.
Most of the community members are today known across Mizoram for their skills in carving out wooden furniture and pottery items.
The circumstances leading to the establishment of the cult are as bizarre as the traditions and practices followed by the Channa sect, whose ancestors worshipped a traditional drum called the ‘Khuang’, until the arrival of the Welsh missionaries.
“The Welsh missionaries banned the worship of the Khuang. Upset over this, my grandfather Challianchana and his brother severed ties and founded this sect whom we call either Channa or the Lalpa Kohhran,” another community member said.
But church leaders, Presbyterian being the dominant denomination, reject the cult’s claims to be Christians.
“Christianity does not allow polygamy and hence accepting the cult as Christian does not arise at all. Polygamy is very rare in Mizoram,” said a Presbyterian Synod leader in Mizoram capital Aizawl.
There are an estimated 95 Christian cults in Mizoram with diverse practices — some of them do not allow their children to mingle with others and attend school, while some of the sect claim their members to be gods.
A predominantly Christian tribal state of just over one million people bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh, Mizoram is India’s third highest literate state, next only to Kerala and Lakshwadeep. Christians account for about 88 percent of the population.
The Mizo tribal people were animists until two British Baptist missionaries William Frederick Savidge and J.H. Lorrain first landed in Mizoram some time in 1894.