who had come down into the valley to barter, met the Assamese evangelist Godhula and invited him to come and live in his home village. But Godhula's conversion and training, in turn, had occurred many years earlier under the American Baptist Miles Bronson (1812-83) who, with Nathan Brown, had failed to reach the Nagas. British Baptist missionaries, even earlier, had opened the door for American Baptists in Assam. Thus, on foundations long abandoned and then resumed by Godhula, the American Baptists Edward and Mary Clark became the first missionaries to settle among the Nagas. They were followed by many others. But, throughout the ensuing decades, it was the Naga preachers and teachers who carried the gospel to new tribes: from the Ao Nagas to the Angami Nagas, the Sema Nagas and fifty others. A very similar story can be told about the Garo, Khasi, Abhor, Mishmi, Lushai and other peoples. Thus, while the Ahom-Hindu cultural heartland in the Assam Valley remained largely impervious to Christianity, the cultures of aboriginal peoples in the surrounding hills and mountains were increasingly, and profoundly, altered. This pattern, to a lesser degree, was replicated in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa and other regions of the north.
Aboriginal peoples became Christian without ever becoming either 'Hindu' or 'Indian', a circumstance that would cause problems, especially for the national government. In each instance, the gospel was reinterpreted in new ways, so as to fit prevailing conditions, older traditions and local challenges. Lives of peoples inhabiting ever lower strata or ever more remote frontier areas were touched and transformed, especially among women and children. Social reforms, together with educational and health services, reached peoples in hitherto neglected sectors of society, such as aboriginals and outcastes, including impoverished and impaired and disease-stricken elements. Notions of humanity and society expanded, suggesting that all - men, women and children alike, no matter what their birth or condition - should be intrinsically equal, at least in the eyes ofthe law. For the first time in history, universal literacy became more than an ideal. As newly literate people went on to high schools and colleges, as these joined movements for reform and self-determination, changes so engendered had revolutionary implications. Local Christian leaders within each community, aided by missionaries, played pivotal and reciprocal roles.
Was this article helpful?