Zou people are an indigenous tribe and ethnic group considered to be of Tibeto-Burman race who live throughout northeastern India, northwestern Burma, and parts of Bangladesh. The Zou people are known by many names such as Zo, Mizo, Zomi or Kuki and are often counted among the Chin people of Burma and given names which they do not identify with (Chin, Kuki and Lushai). Each individual of this culture may have their own name that they prefer to be called, but Zo, Zou, Zomi or Mizo are the most commonly preferred names. 

Brief History

During World War II India, Pakistan and Burma gained independence from the British Government. The land that was inhabited by Zomi people was then divided into India, Burma and Bangladesh. To this day, Zomi people are scattered and live mainly in Burma, Bangladesh and India. It is estimated that 3 million members of the Zomi population are currently living in Burma. The Zo people have their own traditions, culture and language that are all distinct from that of the Burmese people.

US Immigration

Over the last five years, Zomi people in Burma have been seeking refuge in the United States after living in refugee camps in Thailand, Malaysia and India.  The current Military regime in Burma (State Peace and Development council (SPCD)) have in recent years been accused of subjecting the Zo people (among other ethnic minorities) to forced labor, torture, extrajudicial killings and religious persecution. This has caused many Zomi people to move out of Burma into refugee camps in neighboring and nearby countries. Recently the Zomi National Congress (ZNC) was denied entrance into the political landscape of Burma because the term 'Zomi' was not recognized by the Burmese government. This denial of recognition of both the rights of the ZNC to participate in the general election of the country and the existence of the Zomi nationality has caused many Zomi people to feel rejected by their own government. In 2009 at least half a million minority people had been internally displaced in eastern Myanmar as a result of the regime's military campaigns and many more have been displaced since then

Large groups of Zomi people have been relocating to countries throughout the world such as Malaysia, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Europe and the United States. Because of the strong family ties of the Zou culture, when one family member moves to a city, the rest of the family will follow. There are several associations throughout the world and in the US (Portland: Zomi Association of United States) that help Zomi people reunite with family members if they have been separated during resettlement.            


Traditionally Zomi people belonged to a religion called Sakhua, which consisted of the belief in supreme beings (or Spiritk), the existence of many benevolent and malevolent spirits, and the accompanying propitiatory sacrifices to them. For many years the Zomi people resisted Christian conversion, but after many of their neighboring communities converted to Christianity and young Zomi people came in closer contact with the western world during World War I, the majority of the Zomi people became Christian. Currently 90% of Zomi people are Christian and 80% of the Christians belong to the Zomi Baptist Convention (ZBC). Zomi people have however, preserved many of their traditional cultural beliefs within the church. Though ancestor worship is being abandoned by modern Zomi people, their traditional marriage practices and customs have been incorporated into church practices. Traditional folk songs played on a khuang (a drum traditionally used for social and religious occasions) have also been incorporated into modern church services.


The Zou language (also known as Zoum, Zomi, Zome, Zau, Yote, Yos, Yo, Kuki Chin and Jou) is spoken by 81,900 people worldwide. Zou is a Tibeto-Burman language that is reportedly similar to Tedim, Paite Chin, Vaiphei, and Simte. Zou uses a Latin script and the use of a falling, rising or even intonation can change the meaning of certain words.


In the Zou language, there are seven vowel phonemes /i, e, o, u, a, ɔ, ə/ and eight diphthongs. All vowels occur initially, medially and finally in this language. There have been 22 consonant phoneme identified /p, b, t, d, c, j, k, g, ph, th, kh, v, s, h, tʃ, m, n, ŋ, l, w, y/. In the Zou language, there is a distinction between aspirated and unaspirated consonants. The sounds p and ph, t and th and k and kh are minimal pairs in the Zou language.  The /r/ sound is a borrowed phoneme and only shows up in “loan” words. In the Zou language only /p, t, k, m, n, ŋ, l/ can occur in final positions. 


The Zou language has three contrastive tones; level, low-rising and falling. For example, kai said with a level tone means to rise, hang or ascend. Kai’ said with a low-rising tone means “askew” or “low.” Said with a falling tone, kai` means “pull,” “drag” or “draw.”

Family Structure

In traditional Zomi culture a family consists of a mother, father and their children. Throughout history the male has been viewed as the head of the family and though the father may consult his wife and children on some matters; the power and final decision lies with the father. Even though this trend may be changing, many modern families still maintain their patriarchal structure.

Clinical Implications

  • Because only /p, t, k, m, n, ŋ,/ and /l/ occur in final positions in the Zou language, a pattern of final consonant deletion of all other sounds may be a likely pattern. Being aware of the reasons behind this pattern of deletion and being aware of what sounds can be used as a reference point will be beneficial in planning treatment.
  • Someone with a background in the Zou language may have limited exposure to certain vowel sounds in English. Because i, e, o, u, a, ɔ and ə are the meaningful vowels in the Zou language, other vowels in the English language that are not differentiated in the Zou language such as æ, ɑ, ʊ, ɪ, ɛ, eɪ, aɪ, ɔɪ, oʊ, ʌ and rhotic vowels may be less familiar and potentially more challenging to gain awareness of.
  • The meaningful differences between aspirated and unaspirated sounds (p and ph, t and th and k and kh) in the Zou language may be a difficult difference for the clinician to identify if they are not familiar with this difference.  
  • Similarly, because English /r/ only shows up in words from other languages, the production of /r/ sounds may be challenging for a native speaker of Zou.
  • Due to cultural differences, clients from the Zomi culture may have ideas of what caused their illness/communication difficulties that differ from Western medical explanations. It is important to be respectful of these differences and take family explanations into consideration.
  • Because of several linguistic differences between English and the Zou language, clinicians who are unfamiliar with the language should have a basic understanding of the rules of the language to accurately differentiate between difference and disorder.
  • Because of their refugee status, it may be important for the clinician to become familiar with Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA); an eight month short-term health-insurance they should be receiving. 


Original Contributor: Mitchell Fagan, Spring 2014.