Mizoram 1870-1926: Christianity and literacy
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The book is based on ‘History of the Church in Mizoram, Harvest in the Hills’, by J. Meirion Lloyd ‘Zohmangaihi Pa’ (1), 1991, and used [by its authors] with the kind permission of his daughter Eirlys ‘Zohmangaihi’.
Though written from the Christian missionary perspective, MizoStory is remarkably free of any kind of prejudice or condescension—towards pre-Christian Mizos, India or anyone else. Readers who would like to read the complete book, about six times as long as this summary, and also regale themselves to that treasure-house of photographs from the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, are urged to visit  MizoStory; .
1870-1926 (Christianity and literacy)
Hostile relations with the British
The ‘Alexandrapur Incident’
Prior to 1870 the interactions between the Mizos and the Burmese Government in the Chin Hills, and the Government in the Assam districts of Sylhet and Cachar, were intermittent and disagreeable. Mizo targets were the growing number of British run tea gardens in Assam (It was the young men of the ‘zawlbûk’ who carried out raids, under the direction of the village chief
The Mizoswere just emerging, as it were, from the stone age. Metal tools and weapons were easily obtainable on the tea gardens A Scottish tea garden manager called James Winchester, with his five-year old daughter Mary, was calling on another tea garden manager at AlexandrapurThe date was 27th January 1871.In her old age Mary ‘Zoluti’ wrote an account of what happened:
“The Lushais were on us. My father was shot from the back, fell, and I was extricated from his arms.I was given up on the 21st of January, 1872 one year except six days after being taken prisoner.”
The consequences of the ‘Alexandrapur Incident’.
The raid on Alexandrapur [had been] organised by a prominent chief called Bengkhuaia, who ruled over the villages of Serchhip, Sailam, Kawlri and Thenzawl The force sent by the government to rescue the little girl involved three columns of soldiers. A large scale attack was mounted.The southern column was led by an able and affable officer called Colonel Tom Lewin.He went unarmed to meet Bengkhuaia, and three other hostile chiefs, on the banks of the River Chal
They made an agreement, and, according to Mizo tradition, a dog was sacrificed and cut in two to ratify it.The chiefs agreed to release Mary ‘Zoluti’ and the other captives they held, but they soon came to resent the new restraints that were laid on them, above all, the fact that no Mizo was allowed to go outside his country without permission. In 1890 a violent and well-planned Mizo insurrection very nearly succeeded in breaking the new military control.
The first missionary to visit Mizoram
A young Welsh missionaryWilliam Williams was invited to visit the large Sylhet gaol where were several Mizo chiefs who had been recently captured.
Williams invited companions who were prepared to go with him on this perilous journey. The first was Benjamin Aitkin, a Scotsman and sub-editor on the Calcutta newspaper ‘The Englishman’. There was also an Assamese called Kasinath,who had been converted by a Khasi church elder at Shella.A Christian Manipuri also accompanied them.
On 15th March they met their first Mizos, mostly lads between ten and fifteen years old. The boys exchanged yams and bananas for salt and tobacco. Mizos [like hill people in Jammu and Ladakh as well] had little concept of money. Half and two anna pieces were ideal for making bullets.
William Williams and his party gave Scripture pictures to the children, and sang several songs to them.Their boat reached Changsil early the following morning where there were two stockades about 160 metres above the river. They were met by Captain Williamson from North Wales and Mr. McCabe the Political Officer, known by Mizos as ‘Lalmantua’ (the man who catches chiefs). From them they heard details of the great uprising of 9th September 1890, when 6,000 Mizos attacked government forts. The attack was only rebuffed with the greatest difficulty.
The party proceeded to Sairang where they were provided with horses and continued to Aizawl.They passed the place where Captain Browne’s secretary and several coolies were attacked. Their bodies were bound to a tree and hacked to pieces with a ‘dao’ (axe).
Williams entered Fort Aizawl on Friday 20th March 1891. Several villages could be seen from the fort and their size surprised him for there were up to a thousand houses in some villages. Far bigger than a normal Khasi village.
Williams writes:“There are hundreds of coolies from Assam, — Khasi, Jaintia, Naga, Mikir, Kuki and Lushai working here. They are building houses or working on the roads. During our stay there I spent a lot of time among the Mizos. They are living in little separate huts. They have not yet begun to build houses in Aizawl, such as they build in the villages.They call God ‘Khuaveng’ and he makes his home high above. ‘Khua’ means village and ‘veng’ is guard. Their language is most musical and its intonation remarkably beautiful. It falls with tender melody on the ear. I believe that it will be like Welsh, a good pulpit language.”
The missionary society Williams was working for was confusingly called at the time the Calvinist Methodist Mission. They had been active in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya, and the Plains of Sylhet, since 1841. The Presbyterian Church of India was founded in 1841 and its headquarters are in Shillong,
William Williams was posted to the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and arrived on 28th September 1887. He visited Mizoram from March to April 1891, the first missionary to do so. Williams aroused interest in Wales and gained the assent of the Assembly to adopt Mizoram as a mission field in 1892. He died suddenly of typhoid at Mawphlang on 22nd April 1892 and is buried at Shillong.
The Indian Aborigines Mission/ Arthington Mission
A millionaire businessman in Leeds called Robert Arthington, a sternly evangelical person, had formed the Indian Aborigines Mission (better known as the Arthington Mission)Two Baptists, James Herbert Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’, and his friend Frederick W. Savidge ‘Sap Upa’, members of the Highgate Baptist Church in London, joined the Mission and were sent out to India.
Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ was the first to arrive on 21st January 1891 and went to Agartola in Tripura. He applied to work with the tribes there and was refused.
Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ arrived in Bengal in November 1891.They travelled to Kassalong in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and felt led to try the Mizo Hills. In those days the hills were more accessible from Bengal than Assam They tried Tripura but the Maharajah offered them no hope of entry.
They then moved to the the Welsh Mission in Silchar, where they had frequent opportunities to meet Mizos in the bazaar. They were able to pick up a little of the language and learn more about Mizos ways. A Mizo who visited them most frequently was Pu Chawngkhuma, or Chawngi Pa, later of Mission Veng, Aizawl.
Within twelve months they were given permission by the Political Officer of North Lushai to go to Aizawl. On 5th January 1895 the North Lushai Hills were officially annexed to the British Government and made part of the Province of Assam. On 1st April 1898 the South and North Lushai Hills were amalgamated into one district of Assam.
Since the country was still considered unsafe it was decided the missionaries should live no more than a mile from Fort Aizawl at a site at Tea Garden Hill, later known as Macdonald Hill and now the site of the Government High School. There were two villages either side of the site, Thangphunga’s Veng and Lalchhinga’s Veng.in 1897 the Government ordered the removal of the villages to the south of Aizawl to make room for the houses of Government servants.
The linguistic diversity of Mizoram
In Mizoram there are a number of kindred tribes who could all be roughly described as Mizos. They spoke several different dialects of Tibeto-Burmese origin which have gradually been amalgamated into the Duhlian tongue, the language of the Sailo chiefs, which is now called Mizo. Though the area is large the language is much the same throughout. Dialectical differences occur between, for instance, Aizawl and Lunglei, but the differences are small compared to those found in Britain. [Or, say, within Ladakh.] The Mizo language (or ‘Lusei’ as Mizos called it) is basically monosyllabic with each syllable having its own pitch, tone, length, and special emphasis. The words tend to preserve their own form and pattern.
The Mizo language gets a script, a dictionary and printed books
Before Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ Mizo was not a written language. They proceeded to devise an alphabet using Roman lettering based on the Hunterian system of transliteration. Over the years this has been slightly modified but it still remains essentially the same.
The first book in the Mizo language was a Child’s Primer, printed and produced by the Assam Government in 1895. Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ composed a Lushai-English dictionary of several thousand words which was later published, together with a Lushai grammar for which Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ is presumably responsible.
Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ continued to work on his dictionary. By his death in 1940 he had produced a remarkable dictionary of 33,000 words, which the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal publishedHe and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ translated about a dozen hymns and composed a small book, known to Mizos as ‘The Old Catechism’.
They also translated St. Luke and St. John’s Gospels, together with the Acts of the Apostles, which they handed to the British and Foreign Bible Society, in Calcutta, before they made their way back to Britain at the beginning of 1898. But the Society was not in a position to publish them and they were sent to England where they were eventually printed and published.
Lalsuaka, who later became Chief of Durtlang, taught them Mizo from nine to ten in the morning, and Chief Thangphunga taught them in the afternoon. But during all that time both chiefs remained resolutely non-Christian, though it was they who helped to translate the first parts of the New Testament. Later Lalsuaka became a convert and proved himself a very fine Christian.
The first school
Savidge ‘Sap Upa’: about 1895 he erected a twelve foot square school building next to Thangphunga’s village.
The people were friendly, but suspicious. Some said, “The Government is certainly clever. It says, ‘Let us not try to make the Lushais slaves by the power of the sword. We shall use fair words and kind deeds and, when we have a firm hold on them, we can do just as we like with them”.
No one was baptised during those four years
Mr. Arthington died in 1900 and left £500,000 to the Baptist Missionary Society. Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ formed The Assam Frontier Pioneer Mission in order to prepare the way for returning to Mizoram a second time.
David Evan Jones ‘Zosaphluia’
It was to be a young man from Llandderfel, North Wales whose life’s work was to leave the deepest impression on the Mizo Church. He served from 1897 to 1926. Mizos had a good appreciation of his qualities. They had a deep respect for him. Before Jones was thirty years old they were calling him ‘Zosaphluia’, or the ‘old’ missionary.
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’settled down ina Government erected thatched house on the site of the present Mission bungalow.Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ left Mizoram at the end of 1897 Savidge ‘Sap Upa’encouraged Jones ‘Zosaphluia’to learn ninety Mizo words a day.
The Mizo carriers used the large Aizawl ‘zawlbûk’ in the Rahsi Veng as their hotel. Visitors often stayed just a night or two. It had in fact been erected by the Government. The usual occupants of a ‘zawlbûk’ were local youths between puberty and the age of marriage. Older men were welcomed but women were not allowed to cross the large smooth log that lay across the entrance. ‘Zu’ was not allowed to be drunk in the ‘zawlbûk’, otherwise, they were free to do as they wished, and only the chief was allowed to throw stones at the roof to tell them to tone it down.
The hut provided a semi-captive ‘congregation’.The singing of hymns usually caught their attention and the reading of the message would be sandwiched between the hymns. It was all new to the young men and they found it quite entrancing. It was also something to think about while travelling the next day with their heavy loads. The story of the death on the cross touched them deeply.
Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ had translated and published a dozen simple hymns during their stay in Aizawl. One of them told the story of Jesus from the time of his birth to the Resurrection. A hymn was easier to remember than a sermon and hymns preceded missionaries and evangelists to many places.
On his birthday, 15th February 1898, Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ opened a school on the verandah of his house. In 1900 a larger building was erected, further down the slope, which served as a church-cum-school until 1913. Raj Bhajur, a trained [Khasi evangelist and] teacher, took most of the classes. He remained in Aizawl for two years and was early proof of the interest Khasi Christians took in evangelising the Mizos. Many of the Khasis in Mizoram were Christians, or had come under the influence of the Gospel at some time or other. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Raj Bhajur held services for these Khasis every Sunday.
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ was able to visit new villages and appears to have made one of the longest of his early trips to the eastern side of the Chalfilh range.
On the last day of 1898 another missionary called Edwin Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ appeared in Mizoram. He was a Welshman from Pensarn, North Wales, and went on to work in Mizoram for ten years. he married a Mizo girl.
In the autumn of 1899 Raj Bhajir felt he had to return to his own Khasi people, the Bhoi tribe. the well-established Khasi church continued to take an interest in the Mizo work.
one Khasi Babu Sahon Roya government contractor shared his Christian faith with many of the villagers he met.
The missionaries were often suspected, sometimes despised, and frequently misunderstood.
The land was slowly pacified and inter-tribal hostilities virtually ended.The new government paths, though only five feet wide, were regular, though arduous and made travel easier. Permanent bridges were built over turbulent rivers.
Between 1899 and 1905 the missionaries made very extensive tours. Northwards to the border of Manipur, eastwards to Champhai overlooking Burma, westwards through thick jungle to Tripura, and the longest journey of all took them south. The language Mizos spoke wherever they went varied little.Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ would always sell hymn books, typically for four eggs, to remind purchasers of their value. It would also feed the missionaries.
The young men were quickest to respond, which is why the ‘zawlbûks’ were so important. Pastor Phawka, the first pastor in charge of the West District, first heard the Gospel from Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ in a remote village ‘zawlbûk’ in the west. Rev. Challiana, a senior Baptist pastor, first heard the Gospel message from Rowlands ‘Sapthara’. He had asked all who didn’t want to listen to go outside, to those who stayed he promised a story. This was how Challiana heard the story of the Lost Sheep
It would be nearly two years before the first two young converts were baptised.
Then, and for many years to come, there were two indications a man was sincere about becoming a Christian. He gave up drinking ‘zu’, which meant much more than abstinence as it involved giving up traditional Mizo religious and social rites. Secondly he surrendered the ‘kelmei’ amulet. This was the tuft of the tail of a goat that had been specially sacrificed and was intended to ward off evil spirits. To Mizos these spirits were everywhere and it was very significant when the ‘kelmei’ was put to one side.
Khuma, the first Mizo to be baptised
Khuma was eighteen years old On 25th July 1899 Khuma and Khara became the first Mizos to confess their faith openly in baptism.
Khara moved some distance from Aizawl, and sadly, away from the influences that led to his conversion and he lost his faith. Khuma, on the other hand, learned to read and write and knew much of the Gospels by heart. His travels became legendary. He went alone through the wildest parts of the country to tell the message of God’s love in Christ
Khuma usually visited every house in whatever strange village he was in, and, before sitting down to a meal, would ask one simple question “Have you accepted the Gospel?”
Khuma died after a long illness, aged 36, on 23rd August 1917.
The Khasi and Mizo churches join
The Khasi Church By the end of the 19th century the Church’s numerical strength was impressive. In 1901 there were 15,678 church members and 396 places of worship. These had been formed into the Khasi Assembly to which the Mizo Church belonged until 1923.
After the first Mizo baptism it was decided to attend the next meeting of the Khasi Assembly due to be held on 20-23 October 1899. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’, Rowlands ‘Sapthara’, Rai Bhajur, Khuma and Khara undertook the long journey to Meghalaya and were warmly welcomed.
The early growth of Christianity in Mizoram.
in 1903 there were 46 communicant members. 11 were Khasis the rest Mizos.
As far as possible they celebrated Christmas together as a family, and those who had quarrelled were not expected to come to the Lord’s Table unless they had been reconciled. Each member brought his own lantern to chapel. Later they had a communal lamp and each gave towards the paraffin.
As early as 1900 the Christians agreed to provide for their evangelists. Four were appointed on a salary of 3 rupees a month. To provide the required revenue the Christians gave a tenth of their income, In those days the only wealth in many homes came from the rice stored in the bamboo bin. Money was a foreign element and the Mizos can be said not to have entered a money economy until after the 2nd World War. [People in the remoter hills of Ladakh and Jammu carried out most of their transations without money till the early 1980s.] The Mizo word for wealthy ‘hausa’ means having enough rice for the family for a year.
The first printed Gospel.
L. M. Chhinga of Baktawng wrote as follows after a journey he made with Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ and others:
“...Before we had the Bible in the Duhlian (Mizo) language... ...we used to translate a few short verses and teach them to the school children. Pu Buanga (Lorrain) and his friend had completed the translation of Luke’s Gospel. They sent it to Calcutta to be printed and it was kept there for five months or so. O! how we looked forward to it, but the MS (manuscript) was returned to us, and then we had to send it to Britain…The postman came and gave us a letter telling us that the St. Luke’s Gospel would be arriving shortly In five days the parcel arrived containing 50 copies. On the day following its arrival I took Vanchhûnga and Lianphunga and we went on a journey to the South carrying one copy with us. Wherever we spent the night we read the book. People were fascinated to hear the verses of the Bible being read in their own tongue. ”
They would have to wait until 1916 for a complete New Testament. A complete Bible was not published until 1959.
A shortage of Christian brides
Mizo evangelists had great difficulties in finding suitable wives as there were so few Christian girls.
In the autumn of 1900 the first Mizo men braved the prospect of going on unaided evangelical tours.. Khuma, Khara and Phaisama made a tour of south Mizoram and pressed on as far as the Chin area in the south-east. Phaisama had come to Aizawl from Chhippui in early 1900 and had been very responsive to the Gospel. He later joined the Salvation Army, then the Roman Catholics, before becoming a Hindu priest in Manipur State.
Thanga and Khuma’s journey took them to Sawleng and close to the Manipur border.
A Mizo passion for education
Or why the Mizos are among the most literate in India
During 1900 two village boys who were eager to come to school were found accommodation in the mission bungalow. The funding Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ were given from Wales was small and did not provide for hostels for schoolchildren, but rice was cheap and the accommodation was provided without too much difficulty. Each year the appetite for education increased and the number of pupils requiring food and shelter grew to thirty.
The resourceful Mizo lads soon found a way of funding their schooling.
A detachment of Assam Rifles was stationed in Aizawl. Ghurkas [Gurkhas] almost to a man. They were always in need of unskilled labour in their canteens and kitchens. Mizo boys from outlying villages could earn a meagre income in this way to pay for their keep. The Ghurkas were friendly and could be relied on to treat them fairly. In time the boys came to be known as the ‘Bêl Nâwt’ Boys, namely those who scrubbed and cleaned the cooking pots, amongst other things, to support themselves in school.
A number of future leaders of the Mizo Church, men who rose to positions of considerable importance and responsibility, were ‘Bêl Nâwt’ Boys.
The Mizo passion for education: There were two motivating factors.
The first was a spontaneous desire to share with others the knowledge that had been acquired. As a rule, a person who had mastered even the simple recently invented alphabet felt obliged to teach it to others Later a small Sunday School would be formed, largely for adults, and they were encouraged to read the Scriptures for themselvesIt was a method that had been used in Wales in the 19th century with considerable success.
Secondly, the access to books and contact with minds of other people
The Mizos had entered [literacy] very late and had only received their first alphabet five years before the end of the 19th century.Furthermore the funds the Mission was able to raise in Wales and England was meagre. The school buildings and furniture were made by villagers themselves.
It is said that before 1908 there were 30 villages that were near enough for pupils to come in daily. Girls attended, but numbers were far fewer than the boys. Two girls bravely came from the south, nearly a hundred miles away, to attend the school in the first few years of its existence.
Expansion to Chhingchhip
In the monsoon season of 1900, some eighteen months after his arrival, Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ set out for Chhingchhip It was a large village some two days journey from Aizawl. It seemed a promising site to experiment in establishing a school in a real Mizo village, The experiment was a success. He was encouraged to expand the school system to a number of other villages
Towards the end of 1901 teachers were sent out to three villages. Tawka became the teacher at Chhingchhip, Thanga went west to Khawrihnim, and Chawnga went to a village in the east. this was still only an experiment for three months. By the end of February 1902 they were all back in Aizawl. None of these teachers was paid. The villagers gave them rice.
from Khawrihnim School came two young lads, Dohleia and Pasena, to the Aizawl School, to continue theirlearning.Pasena showed great talent and made a considerable contribution to Mizo education over many years.
Government recognition brings funding
Rowland decided to establish a village school on a permanent basis and chose Khandaih village, some four days journey from Aizawl.its chief, Vanphunga, was powerful and influential. He was related by blood to various chiefs and they looked to him for leadership. There had previously been a positive response to the Gospel there and a teacher called Hranga was ready to take care of the school.
Early in 1904 the Chief Commissioner for the whole of Assam, Sir Bamfield Fuller, paid a visit to the town and took an interest in the Aizawl Mission School. There had been a small government school in Aizawl but the Mission School was more popular and better organised. The Chief Commissioner decided to close the government school and transfer the government grant of fifty rupees a month to the Mission School, which meant that it now had government recognition. A capital grant of two hundred rupees was given towards the School building. A further substantial grant of one thousand rupees was given by Major Loch. A new building was put up and which came to be known as the Red School
Chief Commissioner Fuller also promised two gold medals for the girl and boy who came highest in the Primary School examinations. The first recipients were Saii and Chhuakhama. Later Chhuakhama became the first Mizo pastor.
The Mission, with the full involvement of the infant Mizo Church, went on to develop a Primary School System throughout the land. This continued until 1952, by which time every Mizo village with more than a hundred houses was provided with its own school.
It was the enthusiasm of the villagers that made the system work. Everywhere they took responsibility for erecting buildings and making the bulk of the school furniture. The Church, with Mission help, provided teacher’s salaries and some of the equipment
At the time of Chief Commissioner Fuller’s visit in 1904 the Mizo language had only acquired an alphabet eight years earlier. In 1959 an American literacy expert, working for the National Christian Council of India, visited Aizawl and the surrounding villages. It was with considerable difficulty that a few Mizo illiterates were found for him on that occasion. It was obviously a new experience for him. [In the 21st century Mizoram is one of the most literate states of India] The literacy rate is 95%.
The Baptist Missionary Society enters South Lushai
By 1901 the Baptist Missionary Society had turned their attention to South Lushai and its possibilities. In September 1901 they gave instructions to Baptist Missionary, Rev. George Hughesto proceed to Lunglei. Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ heard of Hughes’ visit in early 1902 and went to Chittagong to clarify matters. It appears Hughes convinced him that the B.M.S was going to take over the South Lushai
Unanimity and loyalty develops between Presbyterians and Baptists
Denominational rivalry was a very real and stubborn element in British Church life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.It is fortunate that the endemic rivalry between churches in Britain did not transplant itself to Mizoram The influential Government Superintendent, Colonel Shakespear, was also a factor as he apparently invited the missionaries from both North and South to his bungalow to discuss the extent and nature of co-operation between the two areas
Rev. Zairema, a Presbyterian minister, wrote the following in 1978:
“A Baptist or Presbyterian migrating to the other area becomes automatically a member of the church in that area, and no question arises concerning change of denomination. A Baptist minister may baptize infants if parents so demand.”. (‘God’s Miracle in Mizoram’, Zairema.)
A natural Mizo church structure develops
The Government itself had no wish to let in more than the minimum number of outsiders. The Mizo Hills were made an excluded area. This policy helped the infant church to grow in a natural way.
No Presbyterian church has ever been established in the Baptist area, nor a Baptist church in the Presbyterian area. This policy was changed in 1985.
The nature of Church organization was more due to the Mizo heritage than any structure introduced from the West.Traditionally the elders in a Mizo village were appointed by the invitation of the Chief. Church elders, however, were appointed from below as it were, by the members of the local congregation. These elders were later approved and ordained by the Presbytery.
Translation and printing
Meanwhile the work of translating more of the Scriptures (mostly the New Testament) continued, and the little store of other literature in the Mizo tongue began to grow steadily. With this, the extension of the schools, and training of new teachers, some amendments and improvements to the alphabet proved necessary.
Changes to the symbols and sequences of the letters were soon made. The changes were made chiefly in the North Initially the word ‘Jihova’ was used for God, but it was soon replaced by the Mizo word ‘Pathian’. Also ‘Jisua’ was used for Jesus, but the initial ‘J’ was dropped to make ‘Isua’ as it was easier for Mizos to say. There is no ’J’ in Greek as there is none in Mizo. New words had to be found to express new concepts. Mizo words for salvation, redemption, and justification etc. had to be adapted from words already in existence.[Some words] were taken from Khasi and Bengali but, surprisingly, there was little need for such borrowing.
Today Mizo uses a 25 letter phonetic alphabet:
[a, aw, b, ch, d, e, f, g, ng, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, ţ, u, v, z.)]
The first Mizo books (apart from the Scriptures) were printed at the Assam Government Press in Shillong in 1895. Subsequently, according to Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ in his autobiography, books were sent to be printed in Shillong, Sylhet, Dacca, Calcutta, Allahabad, and Madras. The reason for sending print orders to all these places was that sending proofs to and from Aizawl took an inordinate amount of time. No press could afford to keep a lot of metal type standing while proofs were being checked.
First print runs were for 500, but these quantities soon proved inadequate and the purchase of books of all kinds increased greatly.
The first books
The sale of books was usually a system of barter for eggs or often, as Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ recounts, for hairpins.The three books of the New Testament, Luke, John and Acts, in a single volume, was probably the most popular. There was also a catechism which Christians learnt.The little hymnbook begun before Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ left in 1897 was constantly expanding. There were hardly any Mizo compositions then, but a surprising number of that small band of early converts turned their hand to the translation of the various hymns they knew in English and Khasi. Khasi men and women living in Mizoram such as Siniboni and Omia Nu contributed a number of valuable hymns.
Strict Sunday observance
Under the old animistic religion no Mizo was allowed to leave the village on a feast day. This discipline was applied to the Christian Sunday.The rule formulated was that no one should travel to another village on a Sunday unless he could return the same day. Even pastors and evangelists on their preaching visits would take the utmost care not to breach this rule.
Celebrating the Lord’s Supper
For the first sixteen years (till 1913) the only ordained personnel were the missionaries. The Lord’s Supper was only given on rare occasions.
The [Mizo Christians] practised total abstinence and this has continued to be a rule among Christians. All Mizos had always made their own beer and spirits. This was brewed from the rice they had harvested. In every home ‘zu’ absorbed a considerable part of the huge rice-basket in the corner of the house.
By their abstinence Christians had more food for their growing families and better nourishment. Non-Christians themselves were aware of the benefits of such temperance and were attracted to Christianity because of this part of its way of life.
A change of tempo
By 1906 the first period may be regarded as coming to a close. Mizo Christians were aware of the ‘showers of blessing’ that had fallen on Wales and the Khasi Hills in 1905, and were to embrace them wholeheartedly in 1906.
in 1906 the small and weak Mizo church welcomed wholeheartedly the coming of ‘The Awakening’.
Mizoram sends delegates to Mairang
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’, as was natural, was following with interest the course of the ‘Welsh Revival’ Thanga, one of the earliest of the converts, was in his mid-twenties in 1905 and something of a leader in the Christian community in Aizawl. In the rainy season of that year he was seconded, along with Dala, to work in Lunglei with Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ because they were short-handed at the time.
Jones’ ‘Zosaphluia’ and Lorrain’s ‘Pu Buanga’ showed readiness to send a joint north-south party to the Khasi Hills Assembly to be held in Mairang in March 1906. ten of them [Mizos] set off on the long and arduous journey.
at Cherrapunji during the singing of a hymn they saw three people shaking like leaves.As the Mizo Christians set out from Cherrapunji a group of revivalists caught up with them in the main street.As they arrived at Mawphlang to spend the night they began to realize what lay ahead. Enormous numbers were gathering from all over the hills. The Mizos had never seen so many Christians.
Raja Kine Singh, the Syiem of Khadsawphra, was probably the most prominent Christian Chief among the Khasis. He made a very generous gesture. “I invite whoever wishes to come to the Assembly which is to be held in my village (Mairang) and I will provide meat and rice for three days free of charge for all who come”.
In time the Mizos themselves became infected with the revival atmosphere.
Non-believers converted at ecstatic meetings
There had been considerable expectations for the Mairang Assembly among Christians in Aizawl and in the school-cum-chapel prayers had been offered every evening on behalf of the delegates. However, though they were welcomed On their return there was no sign of any revival and the delegates themselves were disappointed.
at the Sunday evening meeting Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ invited all who could come to attend a farewell meeting on Monday morning. A few came together early and the meeting continued quietly, but as they sang the farewell hymn ‘God be with you till we meet again’, something mysterious happened. The hymn was repeated time and again, together with other hymns. An ecstasy possessed the congregation as others came to join in.
After this similar ecstasy meetings went on daily for several weeks, sometimes continuing till midnight.Believers were confirmed in their faith and a considerable number of non-believers were converted.
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’, who was a quiet, stolid man, admits‘Some sank so deep into a coma that it was impossible to detect either their pulse or their breathing. They seemed as though dead and at first we were greatly perturbed by this.But we were assured similar events took place in the Khasi Hills, and that there was no danger nor any need to worry.'
Events similar to those in Aizawl were repeated in the outlying eastern village of Khandaih
What happened in this village contributed not only to the spread and growth of the Mizo church, but also to the pattern of that growth.
The mission had established a village school in Khandaih in August 1903 which was the first village school in the whole of Mizoram, with thepermission of Vanphunga, the chief of Khandaih. Hranga was its first school teacher. Khandaih was later moved a mile or so away and renamed Phullen.
An epidemic broke out in the village,Many people moved to a nearby site at Vanbawng. Chief Vanphunga remained in Khandaih, as did Hranga.The strength of Hranga’s Christian convictions may be seen in the fact that when the epidemic raged in the village he refused to sacrifice to the jungle spirits as others did. Hranga continued to hold this post until well after the 2nd World War.
From 1906 to 1910 the growth of the church was very slow and the number of Mizo Christians was less than a thousand.
The position of Mizo women
A Mizo woman called Pi Hmuaki was remembered as one of the earliest Mizo poets and her verses were part of the oral tradition.Women were generally present at the very earliest meetings held by evangelists and missionaries, except when they were held in a zawlbûk. A woman was among the first four to be baptised in the South and it is significant that three of the four delegates to the 1906 Mairang Assembly were women.
The leader of the Mizo delegates was a Khasi woman called Siniboni who had acted as a Bible-woman in Aizawl for several years before. The presence of Siniboni and other capable Khasi women (who came from a rigidly matriarchal society) in the young church at Aizawl may have helped to emancipate their Mizo sisters whose background was so different.
Vangchhunga, one of the earliest evangelists, found home life very difficult before his wife was converted. She objected to grace before meals. He would sometimes pray over his plateful of rice at some length only to find that his rice had disappeared by the time he re-opened his eyes.
The period 1906 to 1908
Towards the end of 1907 Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ was called back to England to meet the Board of Directors in Liverpool for a disciplinary hearing. The charges, based on rumours, centred on a young Mizo girl from a family he had helped, with whom he had been observed to be overly friendly. Presumably there was enough evidence to mount a prima facie case against him
(The sympathies of the Vai editor of this article are entirely with Rowlands ‘Sapthara’, because the Mizos are, indeed, an exceedingly good looking people. See Miss Mizoram.)
Since no real Mizo leadership had yet emerged within the church the absence of Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ in 1907 caused serious problems. It would take three more years for Mizo elders to be ordained, and six years for a Mizo pastor to emerge. It was decided to release a missionary from the Khasi Church to care for the Mizo Christian Community. Robert Evans, the missionary who had welcomed the Mizo delegates to the Mairang Assembly the previous year, was chosen.He helped to produce a useful book on solfa, its notation and practice, and stayed until autumn 1908.
An unfortunate new phenomenon suddenly appeared in the form of a very popular anti-Christian song. It was at first called ‘Puma Zai’, or ‘The Song of Puma’. It came from Ratu, a big northern village. A simpleton named Puma made up a little lullaby. Men had always sung around the ‘zu’ pot, but the songs were slow and dirge-like. ‘Puma Zai’ was catchy. It was sung in the open-air, and verses were added to it as young people beat the drum and danced to it. It echoed everywhere. Its name was then changed to ‘Tlanglan Zai’, or ‘The Communal Dance’. it was only the great famine of 1911 that defused its popularity.
The first church building in Aizawl was dual-purpose. On Sundays it was a place of worship and it became a schoolroom during the week. Not until 1907 did the Mizos build their first church, or ‘Biakin’.
The Christians were allowed to build a ‘Biakin’in Zokhawsang village, even though it was built on the village outskirts.
‘In’ means house and ‘Biak’means to speak, or address, or interview someone with a purposeIt was the old Mizo word for worshipping through sacrifice.
It was built largely of bamboo, including the doors and windows. Unlike the average house it was built on levelled ground. The seating consisted of wood planks set on short posts, and these backless benches were ideal for the women who brought their babies to church, as most of them did.
Churches in the early period sprang up in places where the spirits were once worshipped. ‘bawlhmun’ sites.
In Aizawl both Mission Veng and Thakthing churches are examples of this, having been erected on ancient
The arrival of many ‘zosahibs’
On 9th December 1908 a new era began in Aizawl. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ returned from Wales with the first medical missionaries, Dr. and Mrs Peter Fraser The presence of so many ‘zosahibs’ (missionaries) in their midst impressed the Mizos Until 1964, when missionaries were no longer permitted to work in Mizoram, there were only short periods when there was a larger staff at Aizawl than in January 1909.
The beginnings of Aizawl Theological College
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’formed a class of five evangelistsThose who came were barely literate but were sure of their Christian faithIt was from these modest beginnings that the present flourishing Aizawl Theological College started.
Chhuahkhama, a key conversion
Chhuahkhama was the son of an important village elder and village priest.He had supported himself by doing odd jobs for the Ghurka [Gurkha] soldiers of the Assam Riflesas one ofthe ‘Bêl Nâwt’ Boys.
One day Rowlands ‘Sapthara’, who took the class, noticed that Chhuahkhama, during prayers, kept his eyes open and his head erect.Chhuahkhama explained his father’s special position in their village and added that he had no wish to be a Christian. In the quiet of that little schoolroom Rowlands ‘Sapthara’, to the boy’s great surprise, said that Christ had great work for him to do.
Later Chhuahkhama became a Christian and became one of the better educated Mizos in Government service. When Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ returned in 1908 he found Chhuahkhama wholly prepared to dedicate himself to the Christian ministry. He asked his employer, the Superintendent of the Government Postal Service, if he could be released. Grudging permission was given
By1913 many adults started their journey to literacy through the intensive study of the Scriptures.Families went together to Sunday School on a Sunday morning.
It was impossible for Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ to visit all the villages even once a year. In 1909 there were about twenty Christians who went out to preach from time to time.
Already in 1908/9 natural leaders were beginning to emerge, but many were self-appointed andwere persistently pushing themselves forward. A study of Mizo Church history shows how readily this occurs and how disruptive such a leadership can be.However, Jones’ ‘Zosaphluia’ insistence on the regular election of church elders, and their ordination in Presbytery, ensured the office of eldership was elevated in the sight of Christians, and the Mizo church has been very fortunate in its elders.
‘Upa’ is the Mizo word for elder and, to a large extent, it was the village elders, under the chief, who ran each village.there was an important difference between the village elder and the new church elder. The village elder was appointed by the chief, the church elder was appointed by the church members,by secret ballot.The first Presbytery was held in 1910 under the leadership of Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and Dr. Fraser. Chhunruma was its Secretary and the members of the Presbytery were chiefly from the Aizawl church
Dr. Fraser’s activities as a medical missionary
During 1919 alone he treated some 24,000 cases at a time when the population of North Mizoram was only 90,000.Dr. Fraser’s favourite way of spreading the Gospel was to include appropriate texts on the medicine bottles along with the dosage instructions.
Watkin Roberts and the Hmars
The last missionary member to arrive in Aizawl on 9th December 1908 was, the ‘Youthful Sahib’Watkin Roberts ‘Saptlangvala’originally a Presbyterian
Over the northern border of Mizoram, in the Hmar village of Senvawn, Manipur State, the Hmar villagers were closely akin to the Mizos and had heard of the Gospel. In 1910 the village Chief sent an enquiry and the enquiry came to the attention of Watkin Roberts ‘Saptlangvala’ who sent the Chief a copy of St. Mark’s Gospel. The Chief’s response was to ask for someone from Aizawl to come and explain it.
In 1911 five Mizo youths, aged between eighteen and twenty-six, set off with all their worldly goods on their backs and preached the Gospel in Senvawn and the surrounding area.The mission was successful and Senvawn became a centre for evangelism and a base for Watkin Roberts’ ‘Saptlangvala’ work. He called his mission the Thadou-Kuki Mission, which later became the North-East India General Mission. He visited the United States and received considerable financial support from there. Roberts ‘Saptlangvala’ later created his mission headquarters in the US.
The Mizo language gets an alphabet
It is through Christian missionaries that many languages have obtained an alphabet, including Mizo.
In 1894 attempts had been made to represent Mizo in Bengali characters.
Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ adopted the phonetic Hunterian system which was based on the Roman alphabet. It was clear, simple, and immediately successful, so much so that a Mizo chief called Khamliana came to the missionaries and learned to read and write in two weeks. There are only one or two small variants to the letters in the English alphabet
Scattered over a large and rugged area of north-east India and Western Myanmar there are numerous tribes whose languages are closely akin to Mizo. There is Ralte, Zou, Biate, Hmar and Thado to name only a few.They followed suit.A Mizo ‘Grammar and Dictionary’ was published by the Royal Asiatic Society with seven thousand words, which became the nucleus of the large and detailed dictionary published by Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ in 1946.
The educated Khasi Christian Rai Bhajur had arrived in Aizawl with Jones in 1897 and had then helped greatly in launching the first Primary schools. Some of the first pupils were in their early twenties. They came not just from Aizawl but from distant villages. The 1901 census put the figure of educated men in Mizoram at just over 1,000.
With the help of Chhunruma and Vanchunga, Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ translated The Gospel of St. Matthew (published in 1906), I and II Corinthians (1907) and the Book of Revelation (1911). Pu Thanga worked on the Book of Proverbs (1914) and Daniel (1915). Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ too was involved in translating The Gospel of St. Mark and the Pauline epistles.
The translation of the Old Testament was eventually completed in 1955.
Several editions of the ‘Hla Bu’, or Mizo hymnbook, had come out by the time of the ‘Mizo Revival’ in 1906. The Curwen Tonic Sol-fa system was the poor man’s musical notation The Mizo caught the infection. Many of them mastered the system and obtained proficiency certificates under London-appointed examiners.By 1927 the ‘Hla Bu’ contained 500 hymns and other sacred songs.
The printing press
Gospels in Mizo sold very well and editions of 3,000-5,000 were needed for the most popular books to keep the prices down.
In 1911 the new medical missionary Dr. Fraser brought a small hand press to Aizawl. This was used to print medicine bottle labels with appropriate Scripture verses together with the dosage instructions. In October 1911 the small press was used to print a monthly magazine, initially called ‘Krista Tlangau’or ‘Herald of Christ’, which was later changed to ‘Kristian Tlangau’ or ‘Christian Herald’. The 32 page magazine has been produced without a break ever since. Though a journal of the Presbyterian Church it maintains its independence and has never been subsidized from outside
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’writes: ‘I sent the son of one of our earliest converts, Kailuia, to learn to be a compositor and bookbinder at the Mission Press in Sylhet’ Dr. Fraser’s hand press was small, about the size of an armchairand it belonged to Dr. Fraser himself. When he left Mizoram for Lakhipur, Assam, in 1912, he took it with him.
Colonel Loch, the local Commandant, heard the press had gone and offered to replace it, together with the necessary type, out of his own pocket.This generous and unexpected gift allowed Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ to buy a foot-treadle press that was light and easy to operate. The total cost for press and type was £100 or 1,300 rupees at 1914 exchange rates. The only stipulation from Colonel Loch was that it should never leave Aizawl.
In time Kailuia taught thirty young men how to print.The little press was named the Loch Press in honour of its donor. It retained its name until electrification of the Press in 1958 Although they were all cheap the purchase of a book meant a considerable outlay. The book would be taken home, wrapped in a cloth, and placed in the driest place in his bamboo home. No doubt it would be circulated among friends.
Every Mizo village had a ‘Tlangau’ or village crier. Everyone knew that the ‘Tlangau’ did not speak in his own name but that of his chief. New books were mentioned in the ‘Kristian Tlangau’, and by word of mouth.
Since the advent of the printing press books have been of great use in Christian missions. Since the Methodist revival in Britain during the 18th century the establishment of schools has become a prime factor in all missionary work.
In Mizoram the main emphasis for many years lay in primary education and the Bible, in various ways, was made central to the children’s education.
The Mizo New Testament was increasingly available by the early 1920’s. The cost of printing was about 40 annas (Rs3.50), but a subsidy from the Bible Society brought it down to 8 annas (Rs0.50) per copy. 8 annas was commonly what a man could earn in a day.numerous Christians were unable to buy Scriptures even at the subsidised rate
Building a Church at Mission Veng
The men in the Mission Veng were expected to help the missionaries when going on tour, and in return were free from impressed Government labour.The houses were naturally occupied by Christian families and led to an increase in the congregation of the Aizawl church on Sunday.
Although Mission Veng fell short of some of these aims they set a pattern for improvements in other parts of the Mizo Hills.
By 1910 some villages had built themselves a church but in Aizawl the same building housed both church and school. Mrs. Jones heard of a money raising scheme used by Khasi Christians called the ‘Handful-of-Rice Collection’. Mizos generally eat two or three meals of rice a day. In a Christian household when the mother measures the rice into the cooking pot she takes a large handful and puts it in a separate bin. The rice thus collected averages about 2 kilos a month and is presented to the church to be sold. This convenient and realistic mode of collection has become very popular among Mizo Christians.
Work started in 1911and the church was eventually completed in 1913.many tears were shed in the early 1960s when it had to be replaced by a much larger building The new church building in 1974, [was] in use until 2007 [and beyond].
The importance of the village schoolteacher
It was around this time that the village school teacher emerged as a key figure in the village. His school was there with the consent of the villagers and the chief. He was recognized by the Government and supported by the Mission. He lived for many years on a meagre salary but he raised the moral tone of the village, guided people away from superstition Some of the odd jobs he had to do were dig a grave; make a hoe; help the Chief to make a chest; comfort mourners by telling them funny stories; act as village secretary; fetch rice from a distant village; maintain the school garden and keep its fences in proper order; and persuade boys to repair the school buildings.
Mizo marriages: traditional and Christian
Among Mizos, in the early days, even among Mizo Christians, the marriage contract was a fragile one, and 17% of Christian marriages broke down during 1912. The Indian Christian Marriage Act governed Christians in most parts of India, but it did not apply to Mizoram, where the law was tribal and traditional.
The heart of the problem was that marriage in Mizoram was an arrangement between two families and the payment of a Bride Price. It was finalised by a ceremony that had no religious significance. The Bride Price was paid by the man and sealed the contract. If the marriage did not work out the Bride Price was forfeited and returned to the bride’s family. This made the bride’s position more secure.
It was customary for a new husband and wife to wait at least a year before they had their own home. The couple was usually quite young, in their late teens — a very vulnerable time for the young bride. The first child was often still-born and only short lived. The woman would be expected to return to work within a day or two, often carrying heavy loads. The groom’s family was often thoughtless of her welfare and even callous. Hence marriages frequently did not work out. The differences would usually be between the new bride and the groom’s family, not between husband and wife.
Mizoram [in 1991 was] still outside the governance of the Indian Christian Marriage Act.
Some unique characteristics of Mizo worship
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ writes: ‘A Mizo doesn’t mind going out in the middle of a service. He may even go out as soon as the minister has given his text’.
In a village the doors of a place of worship are never closed. When a service is in progress anyone who wishes can hear anything, at any time, can attend a service, share in it, listen casually to it, or even smoke outside, without drawing the least attention to himself.
Communal prayer was popular. In this everybody prays, makes his own confession and petition aloud, whilst scores of others praying swells around him. Often it is a moving experience to share in such a communal prayer, which may continue for ten minutes.
Outside church services Family Prayers were strongly advocated by Upa Thanga and he pleaded that every home in the ‘Veng’ should hold such prayer regularly. Sometimes a tiny booth was built for that purpose but mostly the practice was to go to the edge of the village where vocal prayer would not disturb others.
A simple message
It was the simplicity and directness of the message that enabled the Gospel to break through. This early Christian hymn is jointly attributed to Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ and nothing could have been more simple:
‘Jesus was in heaven... he came down to earth, became a human being so as to save us. We see this in the Bible... he visited every village, took pity on all sorts of people... healed them. He taught splendid truths. The works of God (Jehova) that Jesus tells us were liked by some, hated by others... these killed him. He died instead of me, rose again, is now in heaven and longs to save me.’ (No.1 in the first edition of the ‘Hla Bu’, 1903, printed in Allahabad.)
Mizoram: From ancient times to 1946 <>Mizoram 1870-1926: Christianity and literacy <>Mizoram: A brief chronology (1946-1997) <>Mizoram: A brief chronology, 1997- onwards <>Mizoram: Political history <> Mizoram: Parliamentary elections