Botanically, Job’s tears (Coix lacryma-jobi var. Ma Yuen), or mim as it is called in northeastern India, is described as an annual, erect grass, 1-2 m tall, with corn-like roots that grow from the lower nodes. The grass is monoecious, having separate male and female flowers on different parts of the plant. The female flowers produce yellow, purple or brown seeds that are often tear-shaped (hence the name). It is the last crop to be harvested in December each year from the shifting cultivation fields of the Tuensang, Mon, Lonleng, and Khonoma Districts of Nagaland. Locally, the soft-shelled variety is prepared by boiling or steaming, or by being added to soups or casseroles. In Nagaland, it has traditionally been grown to be fermented and used to make beer called zhu or dzu. In addition to agricultural and nutritional applications, Job’s tears has also been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine. The grain contains kanglaite, a neutral lipid extract from the endosperm, which has been endorsed as a treatment for various cancers by the Chinese government.
Tradition handed down orally from generation to generation says that the Kuki people of northeastern India originated from a subterranean underworld. They came out from this underworld in search of better land and they found rice and Job’s tears growing together, which they then cultivated. Mimkuut is the name of a weeklong harvest celebration held in the month of Tolbol (January) each year. It features traditional songs, including one that translates as: “Job’s tears is harvested and gathered. Time to wrap up the year’s toil and relax. Countless birds encircle the Job’s tears field. Suddenly a kite swoops down and carries one away, before a stone could be pelted at it.”
With changes in cultural traditions, such as a rise in Christianity and a prohibition of alcohol, Job’s tears is being grown less and less in Nagaland. It is rarely found in local markets, and mainly grown by farmers for personal consumption. However, in many places, overharvest of fields is preventing stands from reseeding themselves. For all these reason, this crop may be lost from the area in the coming years.