Maipak Kabui and the Church at Keishamthong Kabui Village
The first Church in the valley of Manipur

Star Kamei *

A Church in Manipur
A Church in Manipur

Crossing the river at Noney Bazar, popularly known as Mile-41, distant about 64 kms. from Imphal along the National Highway 37 (Imphal-Jiri Road) at the village called Khokiu (now called Bakuwa village) in Tamenglong District, a village lying at about 18 kms. northwards of the place where a railway bridge considered to be the highest in the world is being built, Namrijinnang shows the light in 1874 as the son of Dikhennang Kamei and Poumengliu Riamei. The villagers abandoned the old Khokiu village and settled at a place 4 kms. away from the old village, Namrijinnang lost his mother when he was very young. Therefore, Dikhennang brought his son up acting as both parents.

When small-pox broke out in Khokiu village, Dikhennang took asylum with his little son at a place named Luangmol about 4 kms. to the south from his village. Staying there for about five years he changed his residence in 1880 to a village of the Kabui community named Khudeipan (now extinct) in Lamsang area. There Namrijinnang grew into adolescence. The father who always worried about his only son’s future and welfare sought favour of officers for obtaining a job in the royal palace for his son. Namrijinnang got the opportunity of joining the service of the royal palace as an apprentice in the cobbler’s vocation.

Then he was taken in as a carpenter. While doing the work of carpentry he obediently accepted and sincerely preformed other works entrusted to him without any discrimination and reluctance. He was successful in any work he took up. For that reason he was known by the name of Maipak instead of his original name Namrijinnang – ‘Maipak’ means a successful man. A smile of joy and satisfaction beamed upon his father’s face.

But fate was unpredictable. Leaving behind his loving son, Dikhennang breathed his last at Khudeipan village and departed for his heavenly abode. After some time he was shifted to Baja Loisang (office of the musical band) attached to Haomacha Loisang (Office of Tribals) in the heart of Imphal. In 1902 Namrijinnang was absorbed in the service of the Royal Palace Guard. Then he was inducted as a drummer of the musical band of the palace. While remaining in the musical band he was converted to a bugler in place of a drummer. Being pleased with his proficiency the Royal Office elevated him to the rank of Bengule Major (Major of buglers) ultimately. Having served in the Royal Palace for 17 years he retired from service on 15th May, 1919.

When Maipak Kabui was an employee of the Royal Palace, a man named Gongthailung Panmei, also called Hijari, from Phalong village was also serving in the palace office. He took Hijari’s daughter Pantigongliu as his wife and entered conjugal life. Owing to a critical and inevitable situation all the personnel of the Baja Loisang left their quarters and shifted to a place near the present Keishamthong Kabui village and he also joined them.

After some years he became the father of 3/4 children, but all of them died in their childhood. The thought of being a childless father tormented him always. As was customary, he consulted Maibas and Maibis (Shamans or indigenous faith healers) of hill and plain both, but to no avail. But his wish did not got to naught at last. He had a firm belief in the existence of a benign Supreme Creator. He never lost his confidence that his desire would by fulfilled by Him.

At that time a man named Bhagirath Gurkha coming from Sodia, Assam was employed as Band Master for Maharaj Churachand’s musical band. He was a Christian by faith. That man married a Kabui lady named Thuijillu of Majorkhul. The Kabui gave him the name Gairengpou and he was generally known by that name. Once Maipak got the chance to tell his sad tale to his Band Master.

After hearing his story Bhagirath asked him if he sincerely believed in the existence a Master who saves and preserves the world. Without any doubt or hesitation Maipak expressed his firm belief in God. By giving a Bible Tract written in Bengali script he said to Maipak, “Read this and after reading it tell me what you feel in your mind and we will have a conversation later”. Maipak read it again and again. Whenever he found any difficulty he asked learned persons for clear understanding. The reading of it seemed to mitigate his worry, and one reading provoked a next reading.

A young Chritian missionary of Arthington Aboriginess Mission named William Pettigrew of Edinbourgh, Scotland, U.K. come to Manipur in 1894 when he was 24 years of age only. He ardently strived to impart good education in Manipur. He worked as a missionary for 40 years till 1934. When Maipak studied Jesus Christ he was eager to know more about Jesus and Christianity. He believed that there must surely exist a Creator who made the sun, the moon, stars and all lives on the earth, and whom he was searching for.

William Pettigrew along with his chief followers, namely Teba Karong and Longkobel Karong came to visit him at his home. Later Maipak went to Phungyo Baptist Church at Ukhrul which is the first Church in Manipur and met Rev. W. Pettigrew. The latter elaborately told him about God he wanted to know eagerly. He was happy and satisfied in the belief that he attained God.

Then in 1914 he along with his wife Pantigongliu embraced Christianity and became staunch believers of Christ. Wonderful was the will of God! A son was born to his wife on 27th December of the same year at Keishamthong Kabui Village. The son was named Kaphunglung, meaning the living seed, and he was also named David. On the 6th December, 1915 six persons, namely Bhagirath Gurkha, Maipak Kabui, Thanga Hmar, Kachindai, Chaison Kom and Yangnu Kom (according to Maipak’s dairy in order) were baptised by Rev. U.M. Fox who substituted Rev. William Pettigrew when he went to Furlore.

Thus Namrijinnang Maipak Kabui became the first man in Zeliangrong community to embrace Christianity. Then his wife Pantigonliu also was baptised on the 19th January, 1916 by Pettigrew himself when he returned from his abroad tour.

The building lying at the West of Kangla, the house of the Haomacha Loishang at Phousu Khul and the Baja Loisang at Shingsaroi Khul were burned down after Manipur lost her independence in 1891 on the charge of assisting the king of Manipur and the inhabitants were driven out. The evicted people mainly those of Baja Loisang gathered and established Keishamthong Kabui Village later. The inhabitants of the new village were mainly form Tamenglong, a hill district of Manipur. It is a village which strictly adhered to the custom and tradition of the Kabui community.

While he was in the service of the Royal Palace, Maipak lived at Keishamthong Kabui Village. Persons in the State Military Police (S.M.P.) mainly lived in the village. The buglers and other instrumentalists of the Royal Palace were regarded as a constituent of the State Military Police.

Zeliangrong generally is a community which firmly believes in and adheres to its tradition, belief and rituals. Again they do not embrace another religion haphazardly and hastily. This is because of their deep rooted love and faith in their original religion and worships. Zeliangrong regards the changing of the concept of the identity of the Creator and accepting another concept (religion) as a taboo and sacrilege. If a person changed his belief and converted to another religion he was regarded as an outcaste.

Maipak Kabui had a strong desire and determination with a spirit of dedication to build a Christian church in the valley of Manipur. The Lord made him realize his cherished wish actually. He built a church and his efforts were successful. When Maipak began to faithfully pursue his prayer in actual contrast to his traditional ways of worship, the children of Keishamthong Kabui Village watched him with suspicion and wonderment.

And when they were doing children’s make belief play they imitated the form and manner of prayer done by Napminshinnang (Namrijinnang is also known as Napminshinnang to the villagers of Keishamthong). An old Kabui woman of Keishamthong Kabui Village named Sanaru told this writer that they did not know much about his procedure of worship, but when they played Chakthongbi (children’s make-belief play) they said they should play in imitation of Apo Napminshinnang’s manner of prayer and they sang, said prayers shutting their eyes, knelt and trembled as he did.

A little church was built at Keishamthong Maning Leikai on the bank of Nambul stream, the place south of Thengbung in village No. 40 (K) of Imphal West Tahasil under Dag No. .0375 and Patta No. 18 (Old)/No. 19 (New). It was a thatched house having a door and a window only. A cross was fixed at the frontispiece. There chimed a bell. It is told.

Angom Porom Singh (1883-1956), the first Manpuri Christian who along with 18 dedicated followers embraced Christian faith, was the pastor-in-charge of church. Those Church members were –
(1) Namrijinnang (Maipak Kabui),
(2) Kachindai,
(3) Bhagirath Gurkha,
(4) Thanga Hmar,
(5) Chaison Kom,
(6) Yangnu Kom,
(7) Pantigongliu,
(8) Thuijeiliu,
(9) Lunsiliu Kabui,
(10) Kimnu Kom,
(11) Abung Kabui,
(12) Angou Kabui,
(13) Angom Kaboklei Devi,
(14) Chingkholen,
(15) K. Shimray,
(16) K.G. Momin Garo and
(17) Majachin Kom.

Whenever Rev. William Pettigrew happened to be at Imphal he always attended Keishamthong church. Thus, by dint of the sincere and dedicated efforts of Maipak Kabui the first church in the valley of Manipur was built in 1916 at Keishamthong Kabui Village.

* Star Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express and Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on December 27 , 2014.

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