The Contributions of Christianity to the Kukis

Published on March 28, 2009

By Onkhothang Haokip

Christianity brought tremendous blessings to the Kuki people. The contributions of Christianity can be seen in their religious system, their sociological system, and their political system.  Religiously, the Gospel of Christ transformed the spiritual life of the Kukis, nullified the superstitious beliefs, and eradicated demonic powers among the Kuki people. In a social context, the coming of Christianity made inroads in education, improved the economy, and introduced civilization to the Kukis. And politically, the coming of Christianity raised political consciousness, brought into being political organizations, and marked the dawn of social organizations to the Kukis.

 

The Spiritual Transformation of the Kukis

 

The first and foremost contribution of Christianity to the Kuki people is eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.  In times past, the British and some tribes had frequently waged war against the Kuki people, which resulted in different kinds of sicknesses and brought poverty to these people. Moreover, the devil also oppressed them in different ways, like sickness. In the midst of all this chaos and spiritual darkness, the coming of Christianity turned their situation upside down.

 

Christianity tamed the wild tribes, the Kukis, and also blessed them with a new heart and new life. Among the Kuki-Chin groups, for example, the pagan way of worship is gone. Ancestral worship has also been abandoned. The Satan box called ‘Doibom,’ which every family placed in their home, was also removed.[1] These people were once headhunters, but now Jesus has called them to be soul hunters.

 

The Nullification of Superstitious Beliefs of the Kukis

 

The Kukis believed that certain places such as bug trees, rocks, thick forests, riversides, and graveyards were the abode of demons and responded to them with great fear. Brackish springs were believed to be the abode of demons and were prohibited for cultivation. They observed different kinds of taboos in order to attain a good life in this world. Their lives were bound with the fear of superstitions. The fears and superstition are no longer seen, mainly because the Kuki people can now pray to God whenever they feel afraid or uncomfortable.

 

L. Jeyaseelan notes that stillbirths and twin-births were regarded as a bad omen to parents among the Kuki-Chin-Mizo groups.[2] Therefore, they followed elaborate rituals to appease those spirits causing such tragedies of life. The practice of offering food to the spirit of the dead has been removed by the gospel of Christ as the people now understand that human spirits do not roam the earth. Christians began to condole with the grieving families by giving firewood, clothing, rice, sugar, salt and money, according to the ability of the mourners.[3]They also have given up their superstitious practices of palmistry, soothsaying and performing sacrifices to appease the revengeful gods.

 

The Cessation of Demonic Persons and Powers among the Kukis

 

The Kukis in their pre- Christian dispensation believed that some among them were controlled by a demonic power. The child of a demonic person also automatically became a demonic person. If a man who was clean from demonic power married a girl who was demonic, he would become demonic within three years. But if the girl was free from this power and the boy had demonic power, the girl would become demonic as soon as she stepped her leg across the doorway. Not only the parents but also their offspring shared the demonic nature and identity.

 

But after the coming of Christianity, these kinds of people have slowly decreased in number by the Spirit of Christ, because the Spirit of Christ is greater than the spirit that was with them (I John 4:4).  After the coming of the Gospel to the Kukis, demonic powers and demonic persons were slowly filtered out. The Kukis also removed satanic boxes, demonic powers and gave eternal life to the Kukis. According to Thangchungnung Singson, sorcery, divination, and sacrifices to the evil one were removed after the coming of Christianity to the Kukis.[4]

 

The Contributions of Education and Literature to the Kukis

 

William Pettigrew, who is known as the father of education for the tribals, first introduced a kind of modern education to the tribals of Manipur.  A report about Christian education in Manipur (1913) throws light on this. The report is reproduced as follows:

 

Four or more Kuki boys are now in the school, and it is hoped that in the next three years, or probably before, they will be ready to act as teachers and preachers for this great and promising tribe. For some years there has been a hostel for Kuki boys at Imphal, who attend the school under Mr. Pettigrew’s care for the purpose of studying Manipur. There are at present about twenty of these boys in the school and hostel, and it is understood that there would be no objection to a missionary to the Kukis taking charge of this hostel and superintending the moral and spiritual needs of the boys.[5]

 

Pu Teba, Pu Longkhobel, and Pu Sheifalut, who were schooled in the Ukhrul School, became Head Clerk in the sub-divisional office at Ukhrul, second clerk in the sub- divisional office of the South West area, and a teacher at the new secondary school at Kangpokpi respectively. Pu Ngulhao who was trained and taught at Kohima Middle English School and at the Higher School at Jorhat also visited Ukhrul and helped Pettigrew in educational work. The trained pastors and evangelists passed on their knowledge to the churches which resulted in the formation of Sunday schools among the churches.

 

In 1917, Rev. Roberts, with the help of Thangkai published the Gospel of John in Vaiphei Kuki. This was the first gospel portion published among the Kukis in Manipur.[6] Pu Ngulhao translated the Gospel of John and the Acts of Apostles in Thadou Kuki. In 1931, he along with Dr Crozier, translated the Gospel of Matthew. In 1933, Mrs. Crozier translated the Gospel of Mark and Romans, which was revised by Pu Ngulhao and published by the British and Foreign Bible Society. [7] In 1950, the New Testament Bible was translated in Paite Kuki.[8] In course of time, the Kukis published the Holy Bible in their tribal dialect; the Hmar Kuki in 1968, the Thadou Kuki in 1971, the Paite Kuki in 1971, the Vaiphei Kuki in 1981, the Zou Kuki in 1983, the Gangte Kuki in 1991, the Simte Kuki in 1993, [9] and the Anal Kuki in 2008.

 

Thus, education became one of the best instruments for the proclamation of the Gospel and church planting and its growth among the Kukis. Some vernacular Bible schools were established and now there are more than 5 Bible schools among them. At present, there are a good number of Kuki who are outstanding officers, MLAs, MPs, scholars, theologians, and politicians in the world. These are the fruits of the seed sown by Rev. William Pettigrew and his successors among the Kukis.

 

The Contributions of Civics and Economy to the Kukis

 

The influence of Christianity on the life of Kuki people include stress on personal cleanliness and hygienic living, ways of dressing, and the building and furnishing of houses. The Kukis used to offer their domestic animals to the spirit to appease him whenever they became sick. This practice greatly hampered the economic life of the people. Nevertheless, the coming of the Gospel removed it totally and they were economically uplifted.

 

The missionaries taught the Kukis how to cultivate more crops like bananas, pineapples, sugarcanes, oranges, mangoes, etc. in different seasons so that they could  enjoy their products with a great side income. They were also taught a better trade within themselves and to others. Carpentry work, handloom industries, poultry, piggery, etc were introduced to them. Mrs. Alice Pettigrew extended great help to build the women folk in giving training in such things as stitching, weaving in modern loom, knitting and so on.[10] Christ transformed the civics and economical life of the Kukis through the missionaries.

 

The Contribution of Civilization and Modernization to the Kukis

 

The history of civilization among the Kuki people can be traced back to the advent of Christian missionaries. Christianity brought a new awareness and concern to the Kukis urging the society to move into new dimension towards modern civilization.[11] They found themselves comfortable in accommodating themselves to the new world. They were exposed to the nation of India and to other foreign countries which helped them to see and adopt a better standard of living.

 

Modernization implies the rationalization or institutional structure given to the Kukis. Their civilization involved factors like the introduction of cash for money, the availability and use of unknown commodities, modern education, medicine, newspapers, books, model for new lifestyle, and new judicial and political systems. It paved the way for further development, which may reach out, to many existential angles.[12]

 

The Rise of Political Consciousness among the Kukis

 

Though unity was kept and maintained among the Kukis in their pre-Christian dispensation their illiteracy blinded them to the systems of the world’s organizational polity. Gradually, as the number of educated men increased, their tribal consciousness became deeper and deeper, and even though they did not know how to form an organization, they knew that they were one family. They came to know that none of the Indian kings conquered their identity and land.

 

Christianity taught them how to fight against social oppression and for one’s rights. They could request the government to make the roads better, to keep the government schools active, and to supply them the schemes that were destined for them without disturbances. The Kukis, being conscious of their position in the state, started contesting the MLA election within the states. Gradually with the support of their organizations and people, they began to share the post of MLAs and MPs in Manipur, Nagaland, Burma, etc. There was/is no year that marked/marks the lack of Kuki politicians in the state and centre government of Manipur, India and Burma. They were fully conscious of their nationality, identity, and their ancestral land. They have toiled for their rights since the coming of Christianity. They hoped that their political movement would definitely liberate them from their plight and achieve their God given (their ancestral) land in His own time.

 

The Birth of Political Organizations among the Kukis

 

Right after WWII, all the hill tribes of North East India suffered from a sense of anxiety and fear of change in the light of the impending independence of India. Many movements for self-determination in the region were led by Christians who sometimes sought the support of the general public for their movements, describing them as something akin to a Christian crusade; the peace movements also were initiated by the churches and the leaders of movements who rejected the separatism of the rebels were also Christians.[13]

 

In this respect, the Kuki people were enlightened to form organizations to get rid of their political plight. Consequently, the Kuki National Assembly,[14] Paite National Council, Hmar National Union, Hmar People’s Congress, Simte National Council, Vaiphei National Organization, Gangte Tribal Union, Thangkhal People’s Organization, United Zomi Organization, Zomi National Congress, Guite National Organization, Zomi Democratic Front, etc were formed. Most of them were formed in order to achieve their political objectives. Some of these organizations have died out in history.

 

The Dawn of Social Organizations among the Kukis

 

After the coming of Christianity and modern educational practices, the boys’ dormitory, Sawm was replaced by the Christian Youth Society, Sunday School, Women’s Society, and Youth Club.[15] The ideology of “love one another” motivated the Kukis to love one another and live as a society. Thus, the social and student organizations were germinated among the Kukis in a great number.

           

Some of the student organizations formed in their post Christian dispensation are: Gangte Students’ Organization (GSO), Hmar Students’ Organization (HAS), Kom-Rem Students’ Organization (KRSO), Kuki Students’ Organization (KSO), Paite Students’ Association- Siamsinpawlpi (SSPP), Simte Students’ Association- Khangthah Zun Pawl (KZP), Thadou Students’ Association (TSA), Vaiphei Students’ Association (VSA) Zillai, Zou Students’ Association- Zomi Sangnaupang Pawlpi (ZSP), etc. These student organizations primarily focused on the educational uplifting of the Kukis.

 

Some social organizations for various areas were also formed in Manipur. They are: Singngat Area Kuki Inter Sports Association (SAKISA) in Churachandpur District, Lonpi Area Games and Students Association (LAKSA) in Chandel District, and South Eastern Kuki Youth Organisation (SEKYO) in Ukhrul District, etc. These organizations have a concern for maintaining their customs-cultures and unity among them by having an area wide conference once in awhile. They also have philanthropic organizations such as the Kuki Khanglai Lawmpi (KKL), Young Paite Association (YPA), and Hmar Youth Association (HYA). In this way, the Kuki people maintained their oneness since the dawn of Christianity among them.

 

The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.” (Matt. 4:16 cf Isaiah 9:2, NASB).

 


[1] L Jeyaseelan, Impact of the Missionary Movement in Manipur. New Delhi: Interjeet Sharma, 1996, 147

[2] Ibid, 153

[3] Ibid, 154

[4] Thangchungnung Singson, Growth and Development of Thadou Kuki Churches in Manipur. MTh Thesis submitted to  SAIACS, Bangalore, 1992, p. 75

[5] Elungkiebe Zeliang, History of Christianity in Manipur.  Gauhati: Christian Literature Centre, 2005, 37

[6]  Prime Vaiphei, Church Growth among the Hill Tribes in Manipur, NEI.  Michigan: University of Microfilms international, 1981, 147

[7] Jonah M. Solo and K.  Mahangthei, Forty Years Mission in Manipur, Mission Reports of William Pettigrew  Imphal: Christian Literature Centre, nd, p 94

[8] Evangelical Convention Church, Tangthu Gen, Churachandpur: EBC, 1974, 27

[9] L. Jeyaseelan, 173

[10] R. R., Lolly, The Baptist Church in Manipur (Manipur Baptist Convention: Manipur, 1985),89

[11] Paokhohao Haokip, Re-Discovery of Traditional Institutions of the Kukis in Manipur with special Reference to Lawm and Sawm. BD Thesis submitted to Senate of Serampore, AICS, Aizawl, 2006,49

[12] L. Jeyaseelan, 132-3

[13]  Ibid, 191-192

[14] KNA was a regional party whose jurisdiction is said to be the whole northeast India. It had the unique distinction of being the only government recognized tribal political party in Manipur.

[15] Lolly, 74

 

The writer is a Master of Theology student at Evangelical Theological Seminary of Asian Christian Academy, India.