At noon in mid-October, despite the sunrays filtering through the cloud-strewn mountain-top forest at Hmuifang, Mizoram, it remains cool and dark under the dense canopy of evergreen trees. A serene silence pervades the forest – the only sounds are birdsong and the rhythmic thwack thwack of a wood-gatherer at work.
She is bent over, absorbed in her task, a small stack of firewood already arrayed around her. Lalzuiliani, or Zuiliani as she is called, 65 years old, is busy gathering wood for her home in nearby Hmuifang village. At her feet lies the maul. Its wedge-shaped heavy blade is fitted at the end of a long wooden handle worn smooth with use. With it, she had swiftly split the logs of the batlangken tree ( Croton lissophyllus ) into 3- to 4-and-a-half foot lengths. The gathered wood, not fully dry yet, weighs nearly 30 kilograms.
As she prepares the wood to carry back home, the dao (machete) in her hand blurs in efficient and fluid movements, in a seeming effortlessness that only comes from long years of daily use.