Unitarians in the Khasi, Jaintia and Karbi Anglong
Where On Earth Is The Khasi Hills?
India is famed for its cultural diversity and considering the cultural plurality of the Country, it is rightly said that India is a Continent in itself. Each region in the Country has as wide-ranging culture as the next and the magnitude of its diversity can only be seen to believe. Perhaps many people would be familiar with the mainland India and the four metros of the Country but haven’t heart of the exotic hill region of India. The hilly region is know as the North East part of the Country and it comprises of the 7 (seven) tribal states of India viz. Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
The Khasis is the common name of the two main tribes of the State of Meghalaya, the Khasi and the Jaintias. And the two along with another tribe the Garos are the Indigenous tribe of the state of Meghalaya. Meghalya is a new state of Indian dominion and was created out of the then composite state of Assam on the January 21, 1972. Geographically the state is bounded to the north by the various districts of Assam and to the east by another district of Assam. Meghalaya is bounded on both the west and the south by Bangladesh. So to make things easier for a person to locate Khasi Hills on the map, one should try to locate Bangladesh first and then move to the north of Bangladesh where the State of Meghalaya lies. A large chunk of the Khasis population lives in the East and West Khasi Hills District, the Jaintia Hills District and the Ribhoi District of Meghalaya. The state lies between 20o 1 `N and 26.50o latitude and 85o 49`E and 92o52`E` longitude.
The Khasis being autochthons of the region is also one of a very distinctive tribe of the country, the people not only follow Matrilineal system in linage and kinship but it also has its own traditional (tribal) religion which is animistic and very different from the Hinduism of the main land India. In a nutshell the Khasi tribal religion worship the formless Creator God, knows in the local parlance as “U Blei Nongbuh Nongthaw” and like any other Pagan religion, people also worship the Nature and other of its manifestations. The Khasis tribal religion also has a basic canon, three cardinal value system, know in Khasi as “Tip briew tip Blei,” (To live courteously or uprightly and to know or respect God.) “Tip kur tip kha,” (To know and respect ones relation from both the mother and the father side.) And the last but not the least is “Ban kamai ia ka hok,” (To earn righteousness).
With the arrival of the Missionaries from the west to the region during the British Raj, a large section of the tribe converted to the various Christian denominations. About 70 percent of the Khasis now are Christians. Apart from converting the tribals to their own folds, the Missionaries, the Welsh missionaries to be precise help put the Khasi language to writing by using the Romans script and the first book ever written in Khasi language was of course the Bible.
Unitarianism In The Khasi Hills: History In A Nutshell
Unlike other Christian denominations Unitarianism was not brought to the Khasi Hills by the Missionaries from the West, but it was started by a youthful Khasi whose name is Hajom Kisor Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri. Unitarianism in Khasi Jaintia Hills and Karbi Anglong District in Assam, like any of its sisters in faith in different parts of the World is a unique religion with an equally distinctive beginning. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Khasi-Jaintia society witnesses an emergent of giants and stalwarts of Khasi intellectuals and the doyen of Khasi literature in the like of Babu Soso Tham, Pahep R.S. Berry, Nissor Singh and his brother u Babu Hajom Kissor Singh, the list is however by no mean exhausted. The mentioned personalities were great littérateurs and of these H.K. Singh was not only poet par excellence but he is also religious reformer in his own right. Born to a Khasi family whose father was an employee of the mighty British Empire, the Singhs along with few of their contemporary were perhaps few lucky educated Khasis. It is said that in those days one can count on one’s hand the numbers of educated Khasis and H.K.Singh was able to complete his Entrance examination (equivalent to 10 standard). H.K. Singh though born a Khasi was converted to Calvinist faith along with the whole family while he was studying at a school in Nongsawlia Sohra. He being an educated and an ardent quest for spiritual truth was well acquainted with the traditional animist religion and read his Bible thoroughly. He read the sacred text from cover to cover and found that the Bible has only reinforced his belief in one God, which in fact is a belief not alien to the Khasis. His studies of the Bible particularly the Gospels convinced him that Jesus himself; a true Jews to the last worshiped one God, which he called Abba. At the same time H.K. Singh though he discovered that even the Bible and Jesus teaches about the existence of one true God which is similar to the belief followed by the Khasi, he however is reluctant to go back to the Niamtynrai/Seng Khasi (traditional animist religion) fold for other theological intricacies.
H.K.Singh was struggling with the new truth that he had discovered, he was in search of faith or religion, which worship one true God as well free human from the bondage of other super natural deities and at long last his search led him to his goal. By divine providence he met one Brahmo (member of Brahmo Samaj) from Kolkata on a visit to Shillong who introduced him to Rev. C.H.A. Dahl a Unitarian Missionary of the American Unitarian stationed at Kokata (Calcutta) at that time. Singh’s contact with Dahl was like the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and the correspondence between the two has indeed greatly influenced Singh. The communication between H.K.Singh and C.H.A. Dahl came to an end only in the demised of the later, which had shocked Singh and ironically the tragedy happens only two months before Unitarianism in this Hills saw the light of the day. H.K. Singh in spite of all odds went ahead with his plan and started “Ka Niam Mane Wei Blei” Unitarianism in the Khasi Jaintia and Karbi Anglong on the 18th of September 1887.
Social Outreach Projects: The Unitarian Union currently runs schools to educate and poor and under-privilege section of the society. Almost in all the 34 churches in the Union they have Lower Primary Schools, which provide education to the children in the age group from 5 years to 10 or 11 years old. These schools are being run by local churches and sponsored by the Unitarian Union. Apart from the Lower Primary Schools the Union is also currently running 4 (four) Secondary School (up to 10 standard). These are the H.K.SinghMemorialSecondary School at Jowai, the KongBarrMemorialSecondary School at Kharang, the UnitarianSecondary School at Puriang, the UnitarianProceedingSecondary School at Mawlat and J.T. Sunderland Memorial proceeding Secondary School, Laban, Shillong.
Publication: The Publication Committee of the Unitarian Union publishes a monthly newsletter in Khasi language named “U Nongwad”
Contact Persons in the Khasi Hills :
Rev. H.H. Mohrmen, General Secretary Unitarian Union
This is a great overview of UU culture and Religion and a great description of the tribalReplyDelete
background. I learned a lot!