Christianity and traditional values
IFP Editorial: It is a fact that the age-old traditions and culture of the hill tribes had waned with the advent of Christianity and a modernity devoid of cultural heritage had taken roots among the hill population. We hope that the newly injected Christian values would be able to go hand in hand with the traditional value systems of the tribal people.
Updated 24 Dec 2021, 6:44 pm
This time, there are no Christmas gifts from the government or the ruling party for the hill brethren who are mostly Christians, even though 2022 assembly elections are knocking at the door. Just ahead of Christmas last year, Chief Minister N Biren Singh sanctioned an amount of Rs 3.88 crore for the construction of 37 Tribal Museums across the state. The government's move was aimed at preserving the cultural heritage of the diverse hill communities inhabiting the state. Now, almost all the museums have been constructed. There are at least 33 recognised tribes in Manipur, while a few other tribes are yearning for recognition as a different entity from the larger groups. It is a fact that the age-old traditions and culture of the hill tribes had waned with the advent of Christianity and a modernity devoid of cultural heritage had taken roots among the hill population. Today, the youth population in the hills have lost track of their own roots and value systems evolved through generations of shared history in this part of the country. We are indeed optimistic that the proposed tribal museums would certainly help in evoking that sense of history and lost heritage. We also hope that the newly injected Christian values would be able to go hand in hand with the traditional value systems of the tribals.
Before the advent of Hinduism, Manipur had a heterogeneous population. While the Meitei people in the valley areas were basically ancestor worshipers and its cultural and traditional practices were based on a core value system developed over the centuries, hill tribes of the surrounding hill areas had their own traditional and religious practices before the advent of Christianity. Prior to the coming of Christianity, several mission societies including the American and the Welsh missions had made an attempt to establish its mission centre in Manipur. But until the end of the 19th century, they were not allowed to enter the state, because of strong opposition from the Manipur King. The British administrators wanted to maintain status quo in religious matters. After the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the British rulers had a social policy in their relationship with the princely states that they should not interfere with anyone's religion but maintain strict neutrality.
Reverend William Pettigrew was the first foreign missionary to arrive in Manipur on 6 February 1894. After six months of working among the Meitei people, he was not allowed to continue his work in the valley. This happened when the then Political Agent Major Maxwell returned from furlough. As he found the Hindu Meiteis were alarmed by Pettigrew's work, he immediately ordered the missionary to stop working and leave Imphal. Having wandered through some of the neighbouring villages, he finally came back to Ukhrul and decided that it was most suitable place for his missionary work.
In 1901, the two communities of the Kukis and the Nagas were the first to have received Christianity. And the rest is history. Today, most of the hill tribes have converted to Christianity except for a few. Even among the Meiteis, there is today a sizeable number of Christian converts particularly in the poorer sections of the population and those living far away in isolated locations. Maybe it is because of extreme poverty or the impact of close proximity with Christian tribals, no one knows for sure.
First published:24 Dec 2021, 6:44 pm