American Missionaries and North-East India (1836-1900)

By H.K. Barpujari

This review of this book The American Missionaries and North-East India (1836-1900) is written by one who served from 1967 to 1983 as the Area Secretary of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (a.k.a. Board of International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches) for South Asia. For those 16 years he had the oversight off the work and ministries of the missionaries of the A.B.F.M.S. in North East India. Although this office was located in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, he made visits to North East India every two years as liaison between the Baptist churches in North East India and the American Baptist churches including visits to Assam, Nagaland and the Garo Hills. Thus, this reviewer had more than ordinary interest in the subject of this book under review. He was glad to be of some help to the author, H. K. Barpujari, during his time of research in the offices of the American Baptist Churches at Valley Forge.

This review begins with the question which must be asked: Does this book provide information not covered in previous books describing the accounts of the American Baptist Mission to the people of North East India? In his preface H. K. Barpujari lists the books which have been written on this subject. But only three of these, one of which is by Rev. V. H. Sword and two by Dr. Frederick S. Downs, dealt exclusively with the Baptist missions in North East India. While these three books presented a broad scope of the total history of the growth and development of Christian/Baptist churches including evangelization, education, medical and other auxiliary aspects of Christian missions, the book under review limits itself more to correspondence from missionaries to the Home Board in America and some replies from the Home Board secretaries. Thus the major portion of this book is taken up with quotations with very little commentary analysis from the author himself. This approach to the study of the history of Christian mission gives a certain sense of authenticity and immediacy for the readers. It is as though we were given the privilege of peering over the shoulders of the letter writers as they described their experiences and findings to the home based churches in America. Thus, to answer the question raised above, the answer is decidedly Yes, this book does provide information not covered in previous books on the subject although much of this information can be found in those books but not in such extensive quotations from the pens of the early missionaries as we have in this book under review. Now to the book itself.

Introduction

The 57 pages in the chapter titled Introduction is much too lengthy to serve as introduction to the subject per se. More correctly, this section should have been entitled A Summary of Missionary Activity (1836- 1900), for indeed, the author seems to be attempting a summary of all that is to follow in the remaining sections or chapters. Then too, the chapter does not seem to follow any particular outline or movement from one point to another. The divisions of the Introduction are noted with numbers but not informational headings. I found this to be a weakness in the book.

The Organization of the Book

The book is divided into two parts. Part one carries the title: The American Baptist Mission containing the following 10 sections:

  1. Missions to Shans,
  2. Early Operations,
  3. Internal Affairs,
  4. Problem and Difficulties,
  5. The Baptists and the Mutiny (1857-58),
  6. Urban Development,
  7. The Baptist and the English,
  8. Christian Education,
  9. Problem of Language, and
  10. Assamese-Christian Literature.

Part two has the title: The Land and The People with the following five sections:

  1. Assam and Assamese,
  2. Bronson and the Nagas,
  3. The People of the Garrow (sic) Hills,
  4. The Mikirs,
  5. Miris,
  6. Singpho and Abor Tribes, and
  7. The Hill Tribes of Assam.

Although these two parts are excellent sources of information for those who have an interest in the two main subject headings, the reviewer found it difficult to make use of correspondence quotations which were limited to only one of the two headings. For example, Part One contain references on the use of opium by the people as the American Baptist Mission work is studied. Yet, the same subject on the use of opium was mentioned under Part Two, The Land and the People. Even more serious is the anomaly in which the author has a section under The American Baptist Mission which deals with Mission To The Shans. Yet there is no other section in Part One dealing with Mission to the Assamese, Mission to the Nagas, Mission to the Garos. Rather, the author seems to have covered those subjects, mission to the various other ethnic and tribal groups, in Part Two, The Land and the People.

Biographical Notes

This is a valuable contribution to the book, for, after all, this is a book about the American Missionaries. It is uncertain if the 19 male missionaries, with their spouses, made up the entire American Baptist missionary force from 1836 to 1900, or were there others not mentioned in these Biographical Notes? The author does not state this information in this section. In addition to the bio-sketches of the missionaries, this section also includes bio-sketches of several national leaders such as Godhula, Omed and Ramkhe, without whom the American missionaries would not have carried out such effective mission work.

It is the opinion of this reviewer that the purpose of the author in writing this book was to provide ``an objective assessment" of the ``multifarious activities" of the American Baptist missionaries in North East India from 1836 to 1900. If this was indeed the purpose of H. K. Barpujari in writing this book, then I would have hoped that he would have included a chapter (section) giving his own assessment and evaluation of the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of these missionaries. There were undoubtedly many positive and good contributions made to the people and nation by these missionaries. Likewise, there may have been some negative or less than helpful contributions which these missionaries made during those years of the 19th century. What were these positive and negative influences? The readers are left to decide these questions themselves based on the first hand information found in these pages.

Raymond W. Beaver
Written: April 1990 in Philadelphia
Published in Asomi, Assam Society of America, 1990
Posted on the Web: 8/28/98