MORE THAN THE MISSIONARY ACTIVITIES IT WAS EDUCATION THAT BROUGHT TRANSFORMATION IN THE LIFE OF PEOPLE IN MANIPUR’S CHURACHANDPUR DISTRICT. SAYS NINGLUN HANGHAL
Phaitong village in Manipur’s Churachandpur district saw the light of the Gospel for the first time when Thangvang Guite returned home after completing his study in a missionary school in the Lushai Hills (now Mizoram) in 1913. Guite was one of the first converts after Welsh Calvinistic missionary Watkin Roberts set foot in Manipur in 1910 with his medical team.
Thangvang was one of the greatgrandsons of Pu Mangsum Guite, who established Phaitong village in 1824, and one of the grandsons of Raja Goukhothang, a powerful Guite chief whose dominion and prowess so shook the then Meitei maharajas in the erstwhile Manipur kingdom, that he was conferred the “Raja” title by the rulers of Manipur valley. Raja Goukhothang was held captive by Maharaja Chandrakriti and died in prison in 1873. Later his son Sumkam Guite made peace with Maharaja Chandrakriti under the Treaty of Sanjenthong.
Village chiefs of the then Guite Kual (region ruled by the Guite clan) in the hills of India and Myanmar border area were constantly at war/loggerheads with its neighboring rulers, the Meitei Maharajas, in particular.
Though the then Phaitong village chief Pu Kamkhothang Guite ( who died in 1956) was unwilling to convert, he did not oppose the “new belief “, rather he allowed Thangvang to carry on his “teachings”. It is said that the chief gave his people the freedom to decide, declaring “whoever wants to belief (convert) is free to do so”.
Until the arrivalof missionaries, the practice and belief in this region were known as “Pusa,” some of which are still prevalent in the form of custom, tradition and culture, simultaneously followed and observed along with the ‘‘new belief” and religion. This fusion, a complex one perhaps, faced no major conflict but helped society to progress.
Thangvung started his missionary work in the form of an informal school, teaching basic alphabets, reading and writing to children and adults. This was followed by establishment of the Phaitong mission primary school in March 1914 and later, the first formal church was institutionalised in 1916.
More than the missionary work, it was education that brought transformation to the people in south Manipur. It is worth recall that in 1910 when missionaries arrived at Senvon village, the first thing its chief Pu Kamkholun Singson did was to negotiate for education. In his own words, as written by scholars and writers, the chief was said to have asked the missionaries to teach him and his subjects about the biblical pamphlets on seeing some of them. Had it not been for “education”, the Christian missionaries would not have their way. Probably Thangvang, being the near kin/clan of the village chief, had the advantage and no one opposed him. Earlier attempts by missionaries to establish in south Manipur had failed. William Pettigrew, a Baptist missionary, was not allowed to enter the village during in the early 1890s. He moved on to north and north-west Manipur.
It all started with Sunday school where children were taught biblical literature, songs and hymns. Then came missionary schools which became the key factor in the upliftment of society and the people. Even today most villages have only missionary schools as the main educational centres and they are doing better than government schools.
Simultaneously came the growth of church and its organisations. The first church in south Manipur was christened Thadou Kuki Pioneer Mission by Watkin Roberts in 1913 with its headquarters at Senvon. It was renamed the North East India General Mission in 1924. Roberts left India in 1929.
Coming of Christianity thus paved the way for a strong basis of perspective in people’s outlook, in every spheres of socio-cultural and political life. Its influence therefore cannot be ruled out in the development and transformation process of Churachandpur district today.
In the history of North-east India at large, accounts of Christian mission and missionaries figured as prominent turn of events, in transformation among the people of the region, particularly in the tribal dominated areas. As such Christianity and missionary education played an important role in the scripting and understanding of history in the region. A deeper search into the process and progress of the institutions of the Church, its eventual growth, reach and influence could well give an enlighten perspective of the contemporary North-east and its socio-political discourse.
Phaitong Khua as Christian village celebrated its centenary year on 1-2 February. Relatives, kins of the villagers and anyone associated with the village, including church and social leaders and politicians, converged at the village to commemorate the occasion. Besides memorial inscriptions, there was the symbolic march with the centenary torch, and most importantly, remembrance of evangelist Thangvang Guite, a name that will go down in history as the harbinger of education.
The writer is Delhi-based freelance contributor
The Statesman ( NE page) February 3, 2014