Haipou Jadonang : A social reformer and religious leader of Zeliangrongs
- Part 2 -

Dr Budha Kamei *

 88th Martyrdom of Haipou Jadonang at Keishampat, Imphal on August 29 2019
88th Martyrdom of Haipou Jadonang at Keishampat, Imphal on August 29 2019 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

The missionaries employed many welfare programmes such as education, medical works etc. and the tribal people did fall an easy victim to the persuasive strategies adopted by the missionaries. The western culture and civilization which was based on scientific technology had been accepted as a superior race.

In addition, “the personal testimonies of the native converts rather than the foreign missionaries appealed to the spiritual problem of the tribes who were told that they would have a millenarian life in Heaven, living in God’s Kingdom” (Kamei 2004:282-283).

Traditional religion was conservative, and had some elements of superstitions and taboos. They believed in a Supreme God (Tingwang/Tingkao Ragwag) who is the creator of the Universe, controller and dispenser of good and prosperity and who lives in Heaven’(R. Brown 1996:23). “Death is not an end of life just a change of way of life.” (Coulanges 1874:15)

After death, human soul goes to the land of death where he will lead another life with his ancestors. The Universal God, gods of pantheon, presiding deities of the villages and ancestors of the family are worshipped by them. They also worship the natural objects, the wind, the fire, the earth but evil spirits residing in mountain, fields, river and gorges are propitiated not to disturb them.

They had become superstitious to such an extent that the worship of Tingkao Ragwang was submerged in the performance of countless sacrifices from smallest to biggest animals to the spirits for any kind of ailments. In this situation, poor people who could not bear the expenses of the sacrifice attracted to the new religion which had no economic burden in worship of God.

This is also one the important factors for conversion to Christianity. Truly speaking, poor people became debtors as result of expensive sacrifices. They observe Nuhmei, taboos and Neimei, gennas which had replaced the religious prayer. Their religion had become a mere observance of sacrifices and gennas.

Moreover, there was no unity among the Zelangrong people and inter village feud was prevalent. In short, Jadonang found that the people were deeply rooted in social and religious orthodoxy—the taboos and gennas covered all the true ideals of Zeliangrong religion.

In the meantime, Christianity entered into the Zeliangrong country and started challenging the traditional religion, its old value and ideals of Zeliangrong people. Being a religious minded man, Jadonang wanted to eliminate the evils that crept in his religion as practiced by the common people. He wanted to save the “religion from the onslaught of the alien religion and reform and revitalized the religion” (Dena (ed.) 1991:135) of his people.

In spite of such religious practices, God had communicated with the Zeliangrong people through the dreams of Mhus. Unlike the simple medicine man, Mhu was not taught by anybody but chosen by some deities or Tingkao Ragwang himself.

Among such Mhus Jadonang was one of them who happened to be an extraordinary holy young man chosen by Tingkao Ragwang to reform the superstitions and genna-ridden religion of his people. Jadonang was directed by God in his dreams to carry out His directives.

As a successful healer and dream interpreter, he could treat and cure the leper, malaria fever and even the removal of the after birth of a child delivery of a woman and asking for a birth of a son. Individual treatment to the affairs of the villages he dealt with. He had predicted that the villages would prosper in riches and money if they sacrificed mithuns to God.

A large number of villages approached him for the same purpose and he did perform it; Kambiron soon became a place of pilgrimage for those in need and the centre of attraction was young Jadonang (Parratt 1995; Kamei 2004:148-149).

The socio-economic and religious-cultural problems of the Zeliangrong people were aggravated in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s by the world great depression. This made the Zeliangrong people not in a position to pay their house tax to the authority. In addition between 1925 and 1930 there were frequent crop failures in the Zeliangrong country, either due to attack of rats or strong winds or lack of rain (Administrative reports of Manipur 1931-32).

The prevailing economic and religious condition, therefore, imposed on the common people to abandon the costly sacrifices and they began to look alternative way, it was the Christianity; the missionaries took the advantage of it and converted the innocent people. Medical work of the missionaries was one of the most effective means of destroying the traditional world-view and belief system which was essentially super naturalistic.

The traditional view, for instance, had attributed illness or misfortune to evil spirits. The village priest was supposed to know which spirit was causing the trouble and what form of sacrifice would appease it. On the contrary, the missionaries were purveyors of a naturalistic world-view as opposed to this super naturalistic one.

Edwin Rowlands, in his annual reports, wrote, “The medicine dispensed in the village is eagerly taken, and they tell each other of the cures effected. This is supplanting the sacrificing demons. Once a village priest, having been stung by a poisonous centipede, though a few days previously he had been warning a village not to take our medicine came to us for treatment”(Report of Foreign Mission 1899: LVIII; Dena 1988:106).

Once the effectiveness of a small tablet was experienced, it became a great factor in winning the hearts of the people. The choice was thus between their traditional form of remedy, that is sacrifice of animal and the missionary’s remedy through administering of liquid medicine or tablet. Even though, the missionary’s action was determined by naturalistic world-view, he would inevitably invoke “divine help by saying prayer which gave impression that God was acting through human agency and medicines” (Dena 1988: 107).

By 1920s, the Zeliangrong people were facing problem of religious crisis as result of the spread of Christianity which attacked the traditional religious beliefs and practices of the people. More and more people began to embrace Christianity and to effect more conversion the Christian missionaries introduced a number of welfare programs such as education, medical works, and even offered white collar job in the state government (Downs 1971:177).

The new converts began to condemn the forefather’s beliefs, rites and rituals, ceremonies, feasts, festivals something connected with evil spirits (Yunuo 1982:30-35). They owed their loyalty more to the missionary and the officials. In this way, many young people came forward and began to embrace the new religion. This was one kind of local response to the external influence.

In the process of proselytisation, the traditional religion was loosing its foothold day by day, and this was a serious issue for the people who wanted to preserve and promote the traditional belief and practices of the people. A scholar wrote that the Christians faced opposition from the believers of the traditional faith. The conflict between the pastors and the village priest was very serious in the 1920’s.

The clash was mainly due to the “attacks of the Christian missionaries on the traditional tribal belief and way of life. Naturally the traditionalists had to defend against this onslaught”(Irene 1989:16). It is a fact, there was also some kind of conflicts between the “new converts and the traditional elites” represented by the Pei (village council) members.

The Pei began to feel that their privileges and powers were being undermined by the new converts who had the solid backing of British officials and the missionary. F. S Down wrote that “as among the Angamis the Zeliangrong villages strongly opposed Christianity…. Christians were invariably driven from their village”(1971:146).

The traditional Zeliangrong religion reacted against the conversion, which was condemned by the Christians as persecution, though it was they, who had encroached and violated the traditional religious beliefs and practices.

In this situation, Jadonang who wanted to defend his traditional religion on the one hand, and uplift his people on the other, had to take a very careful path. Jadonang realized that if the traditional religion was to be revived, the morass of superstitions and irrational taboos that afflicted the religion be removed and new ideas and forms should be injected to suit the changing time and space.

To be continued .....

* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at budhakamei(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 04, 2019.

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