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Beginnings in India

By Eugene Stock, D.C.L.

London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.

Chapter IX. The First Work among the Hill Tribes

IF we travel by rail from Calcutta some 150 miles northward, and arrange for the train to stop at a particular spot where there is no station, we shall find ourselves among a people quite different in appearance from the Indians we have met so far; nearly black in colour, almost African-looking, with great black eyes. We see no signs of idolatry, but upright stones smeared with red paint are the outward tokens of religion, which in fact is a sort of animism, belief in and fear of evil spirits. But presently, on a hill, we see a great church, with a tower visible miles away; and if it is Sunday, and we stand at the church door, we shall see little companies of these people coming over the hills from their distant villages. In their own little chapels or prayer-huts they gather day by day, but on Sunday they walk these many miles to join joyfully in the common worship of the true God. They fill the great church, and when the time for the offertory comes, they will bring their gifts in kind--grain, rice, etc., and perhaps a live kid--up to the Holy Table.

Who are these people? and how came God's great Message to reach them? Their forefathers were in India long before the Hindus or Mohammedans. They belong to the original inhabitants, the non-Aryan Hill Tribes. We are in the Rajmahal Hills, and these are the Santals. But they live in the valleys, or on the slopes. If we go up to the tops of the hills, we shall find a different tribe, with a different language, known as Paharis; but Pahari is really a generic name for any hill-people. They were the terror of the countryside in former days, until in 1780 Warren Hastings, the famous Governor-General, sent to them a young civil officer, Augustus Cleveland, who was successful in taming them by kindness. The Government then marked off a large area of the hill-country, to protect them from the oppressions of the Hindu landowners, and invited the Santals from a district farther south to come and occupy the valleys.

But taming is not evangelizing, though it may prove a step towards it. It was Bishop Heber who thought of their evangelization. He sent the Rev. T. Christian, one of the first two S.P.G. missionaries in North India (other than for Bishop's College) to carry the glad tidings to the Paharis; and Christian quickly won their confidence, and began a promising work; but his early death left them without a teacher for many years. Then Sir George Yule, the Commissioner of the district, having suppressed an insurrection of the Santals provoked by the exactions of Hindu money-lenders, bethought himself that the best cure for unrest is the Christian Faith. He applied to Droese, a Berlin Lutheran who had been ordained by Bishop Wilson and was in charge of the C.M.S. mission at the nearest big town, Bhagalpur on the Ganges, and asked him to come and open schools.

At last, in 1860, appeared the real founder of the Santal Mission. This was E. L. Puxley, an Oxford man who had been a cavalry officer, and had served with his dragoon regiment in the Crimean War. He offered his services to the C.M.S., and was commissioned to Lucknow, the very place for a soldier; but on his voyage out some officers on board awakened his interest in the Santals, and to them he presently went. He began, like Mr. Christian before, promisingly. He bought with his own money from the railway company some buildings at Taljhari; he made a first translation of St. Matthew's Gospel and parts of the Prayer-Book; he formed a class of boys to be trained as teachers, and from that class came the first two converts, who eventually became the first two men ordained in the country. But Puxley was struck by the jungle fever, and ordered back to England to save his life. He was succeeded by W. T. Storrs, who built that church on the hill above mentioned. Among other good men must be mentioned H. W. Shackell, Fellow of Pembroke, Cambridge, who, like Puxley, extended the Mission Stations at his own expense; and F. T. Cole, who lately died after forty-five years' valuable service, particularly in transla-tional work. He was an Hon. Canon of Calcutta.

To the south-west of the Santal country is a much larger district, Chota Nagpur, inhabited by many tribes to which the Hindus gave a common name, Kol--i.e., pig-eater. To them, in 1845, came four young Germans, sent from Berlin by a remarkable man, Pastor Gossner, who had been a Roman Catholic priest in the Tyrol, but had been excommunicated for his "liberalism," and whose heart was filled with longing for the evangelization of the world. From his one church in Berlin went forth Missions to West Africa, India, the Malay Archipelago, and New Guinea, sustained by the prayers and offerings of his people.

The little band settled at Ranchi, the chief town, living in the most frugal simplicity. Five years passed away, and they were still learning, praying, and tending orphans. Then four Kols said they wanted to "see Jesus," but failed to understand that He could only be seen spiritually. Then three others came, and observing that the "sahibs" worshipped without "seeing Jesus" with bodily eyes, came under instruction, and were baptized in 1850. Many followed in their steps, not all for the sake of Christ, but in hopes of improving their social condition--a motive by no means to be despised, seeing that it so often leads on to what is higher and better. In the next few years 700 joined the little Christian community; and after the Mutiny of 1857, m which they were scattered and suffered much, the numbers rapidly increased.

But Pastor Gossner was now (1857) in his eighty-fifth year, and found the direction of the Mission beyond his strength. He appealed to the C.M.S. to take over the whole work, the missionaries and the converts being quite willing to join the Anglican Church. The Society, however, could not add to its already heavy responsibilities; but it voted him £1,000 from a special India Fund raised after the Mutiny; whereupon a new committee was formed at Berlin. But after the aged saint passed away, the new men sent out belonged to the younger and rationalistic school of Lutherans, and friction ensued in the Mission. The older men approached the Bishop of Calcutta, renewing the request to be taken over by the English Church. Bishop Cotton went to see them, and was present at the baptism of 143 candidates. The Te Deum sung by the large congregation filled him with astonishment, and he wrote: "The effect of that grand verse, 'The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge Thee,' sung by these people reclaimed from savagery, was quite sublime." But for a time nothing could be done.

Eventually Bishop Milman, who succeeded Cotton, consented to receive the aggrieved section, and the S.P.G. undertook the charge of them at the Bishop's request. On April 17, 1869, he welcomed 7,000 Christians into the Church by confirming the communicants among them, gave Anglican orders to three Lutheran missionaries, and ordained a native deacon, Luther Daoud Singh. The younger Germans continued their own Mission, and friendly arrangements were made to prevent future friction. The Rev. J. C. Whitley, of the S.P.G. Delhi Mission, came to superintend the new work, and progress continued happily. In the next six years ten Kols were ordained. The German veterans eventually retired in broken health, the senior, F. Batsch, after forty years' service. When he first came to the country there was not a single Kol Christian. When he left there were over 40,000. Here, too, we again see the value of the co-operation of civil and military officers. Colonel Dalton, the author of The Ethnology of Bengal, was the great friend of the Mission. On the other hand, the S.P.G. Reports give a painful account of the aggressions on it of the Jesuit missionaries.

In 1890-1891 two events occurred of great importance to the Mission. Bishop Johnson of Calcutta arranged for the formation of a conventional diocese within the legal boundaries of Calcutta Diocese, and Mr. Whitley was consecrated first Bishop; and Dublin University organized an University Mission to join the S.P.G. in Chota Nagpur, which has given the work a fine succession of able Hibernian missionaries, introduced the happy influence of doctors and of devoted women, and aroused the deep interest of the Church of Ireland. The European war has wrought a great change in Chota Nagpur. The Germans of the Lutheran Mission have been necessarily deported, and the present Bishop of the Anglican Mission, Dr. Foss Westcott, has courageously undertaken the supervision of their 'work, educational and pastoral, refraining in a generous spirit from "proselytism," and leaving the Kol Lutheran pastors to administer the sacraments to their own people, whose numbers have largely increased in recent years. That is the true spirit of Christian brotherhood.

South-west again of Chota Nagpur, we come to the extensive hill districts comprised in the Central Province and the contiguous native States. These are partly peopled by the Gonds, another large non-Aryan nation, and their district is known as Gondwana, on which Bishop Chatterton of Nagpur, the diocese which includes it, has written a valuable book. In 1860, Colonel (afterwards Sir Arthur) Cotton, who was engaged in irrigation works on the Godavari river, applied to the C.M.S. for a missionary for the Kois, a branch of the Gond people, thus again illustrating the good influence of officers who are earnest Christians "Two things," he wrote, "are wanted to make this country a garden--the natural water and the water of life." One of his assistants, Captain (afterwards General) Haig induced some of the subordinate officials to unite with him in prayer about it, and one result was the conversion of a Hindu Rajput, who was head of the local commissariat department, and who was eventually ordained--the Rev. Vencatarama Razu. Missionaries were sent, one of whom was afterwards well known as the learned Chancellor Edmonds of Exeter. Another, John Cain, died lately after forty-seven years' service. His excellent wife from Australia is one of the recipients of the Kaisar-i-Hind medal. There are some 2,000 Christians, but the majority are not Kois, but of the Telugu race.

For the main part of the Gond people, Sir Donald McLeod, another of the benefactors of Missions, provided at his own expense, in or about 1850, a party of six German artisans with wives and families to form a Christian agricultural settlement; but all except two were carried off by cholera, and of these two, one became insane. Not till 1879 was the C.M.S. Mission established; of which, owing to famines and epidemics, the chief agencies have been the hospital, the leper asylum, the orphanage, etc; and the results in figures are small beside those of the Chota Nagpur and Santal Missions.

One more non-Aryan tribe must be introduced, the Bhils of Rajputana. The Mission to them was started on the strength of a gift to the C.M.S. of £1,000 by E. H. Bickersteth, afterwards Bishop of Exeter. C. S. Thompson was sent out in 1880, laboured with rare self-sacrifice twenty years, and died of cholera under a tree in the jungle in 1900. He left only sixteen Christians as the fruit of his work, but his patience and gentleness had opened the way to a people who had at first taken him for a government agent sent to tax or to kill them; and others entered into his labours. One of these was Arthur Outram, grandson of Sir James, the hero of Lucknow. The leading missionary for some years, A. I. Birkett (who was drowned lately in crossing a swollen river), was successful in organizing a self-governing Bhil Church, and his wife's medical qualifications were a great blessing. A Hindu revenue-officer declared that nothing but Christianity could have so transformed such barbarians. All these hill people might well worship and praise Him who "remembered them in their low estate."

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