Monday, June 25, 2012

The Mau-Tam Puzzle

Facts of the case seem fairly straightforward. Every 50 years or so a bamboo species widespread in Mizoram suddenly blooms and dies. In its wake it leaves millions of seeds which trigger a population explosion of rats. Once the rats are through with the bamboo seeds, they devour crops and empty out granaries, leading - over a period of three years - to widespread famine and death by starvation.

Mizo's call this phenomenon 'Mau Tam'.

The Mau-Tam of 1959 is also noted as one of the triggers for the insurgency that gripped the hill-state, leading, at its peak, to the first and only case of the Indian Air Force bombing its own citizens (Aizwal, 1966).

An EPW paper of 1978 goes into this subject in some detail:

According to the Mizos, there are two death cycles of different in character. ..The first, the Mao Tam, is a sudden disaster - voile katha (?). The second, the Thing 'Tam, comes to wreak slowlv. The Mao Tak and Raw Thing (Melocanna Rambueoides and Bambose Hamiltonii) are the most widespread in Mizoram and the distress is very severe. But the bamboo flowers almost simultaneously and the famine passes in a year. The Thing Tam that follows begins its flowering in the eighteenth year and continues for about there years after: The three species that flower during the period are the Rawthing (Bambusa Tulda), the Rawnal (Dendrocalanus Longgispathus) and Rawngal (Caphalostachyum Capitatum). The flowering comes in batches. The distress is slow, long drawn. The invasion of the rats comes to its peak during the third or fouth year, a series of crop disasters which a peasant economy can hardly stand.

Now the puzzling this is that 2009 was supposed to mark the 50th year, and the time for the next Mau-Tam. What happened? Was there actually a disaster which was averted by human intervention?

Since there was nothing about it in the papers, I guess some reliable, first-hand info from a Mizo or a Manipuri would be required...



Rangasami, Amritha (1978): Tragedy of Our Own Making, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 13, No. 15 (Apr. 15, 1978), pp. 653-662

Bhaumik, Subir (2012): Indian army's new enemy is rats, BBC World, 3Jun2006, URL -

Mautam - The Bamboo Death -

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