Bethesda-Khankho Foundation

Impact of Christianity on Kuki people: A Preliminary observation (English)

The given topic includes issue of change in all aspects of our lives – both individual and society, positive as well as negative - through Christianity for the last one hundred years or so when Christianity first came to us. This explains the difficulty of doing justice to the topic for want of space. Therefore, we shall focus only on the conceptual aspect here.

Caution…

Before entering into the discussion, we need first to differentiate Christianity and its messengers, that is, our missionaries. The essence of Christianity is Love - God loves us first and we love God and others as our response to God’s love (Jn.3:16ff). This is a transformation of one’s life and it indeed is THE Good News! At the same time, in accepting this Good News, people lost their cultural identities and values hence, conversion often turns out to be a question for debate. The clear examples are the experiences of the American Indians, the Africans and many part of Asia including ours. Andrew Walls, a renowned missiologist calls this twist as proselytization committed by the missionaries. In that sense, what we, for that matter the Hindus, see as negative impact of Christianity on the people is the mistake of proselytization committed by the missionaries and the misuse of Christianity by the local Christians themselves. This is to say that while the Christian message is essentially the Good News, the so-called ‘missionaries’ and local Christians, including us, can distort its meaning and have it impacted on the society negatively.

Facts …

In order to gauge the impact of Christianity in our society, we need to remember that Christianity came to the Kukis as ‘a crumb fallen from a rich man’s table’. This is important to remember in order to expect the kind of Impact Christianity might have on the people. Both William Pettigrew (1894) in the north and Watkin Roberts (1910) in the south of Manipur, the first two pioneer missionaries of the Kukis, did not have intention to work among the Kukis. While the former came to the Meiteis, the latter worked among the Lushais, now called Mizos. Such being the case, for instance, Pettigrew’s main focus of ministry never was on the Kukis. There are hints suggesting that he (Pettigrew) first came to Senvon, a Kuki village, before going to the Tangkhuls and if that was true, it may be incorrect to say that he had no interest for the Kukis. This needs further research. Whatever it may be, it was the fact that no concentrated Christian work was done among the Kukis until 1912 when the Kuki boys started coming to School in Ukhrul. By then Pettigrew had already completed about eight years of ministry among the Tangkhuls. In the case of Roberts, his first choice was the Lushai hills and even when he came to the Kukis in Manipur in 1910 he was not accepted by the government and the American Mission in the person of Pettigrew. Although he had had a heart for the Kukis, he was restricted by the then authority to the extent of torturing his converts and burning of their houses. For these reasons, both Pettigrew and Roberts did not do a ‘concentrated-ministry’ or well thought-out plans among the Kukis. Could this be one of the reasons for our present-day identity crisis, disunity, ethnic conflicts, and unhealthy relationship between the church and politics/state or secular and sacred/Tahsa leh Lhagao?

The sad story did not end there. Christianity and colonial power with western ‘civilization’ came hand in hand. What forces cannot do Christianity could by softening the hearts of the people and similarly the colonial power also helped the works of the missionaries. They had benefited from each other’s work. The problem of that cooperation was the indistinguishable identity of Christianity with that of the people of the Western world and their culture. Western culture was mistakenly taken as a Christian culture and their worldview and understanding of God superior to that of the local people. This is seen, for instance, in the way Churches are built, how the people of western world and their culture and theology are regarded ‘necessarily better than our’ even today. This is well observed by Robin Boyd, a missionary in India, in his book Indian Christian Theology (1969).

The Result…

The end result of such a change is self evident – cultural dislocation. In the process of Christianization, we have accepted the Christian message including the culture of its messengers uncritically. That is to say, ‘we have mixed up in our mind the Christian message and the western culture.’ The Western culture, I meant one-sided world view or an imperialist mindset that sees the indigenous people as inferior, heathens, or uncivilized who need to be ‘civilized’ according to their terms and values. In this case, the local people are stripped off of their cultural identity and dignity. In other words, their culture, world view, language, knowledge and skills became worthless in comparison to that of the West and when the people discarded their culture, they lost everything! Such cultural assassination leads to inferiority complex, dependency and dormant on the part of the people. That has created for them ‘knowledge’ (hence, power) in the hands of others, so far and expensive to achieve it. By imposing ‘western way of knowledge or Christianity’ on us, the Christian message could not take its root deep in our lives both individual and society. The reason being we cannot hear and understand the message of God through the language or concept that is foreign to us. It is possible that because of this, today, we can live in two worlds at the same time - without any guilt feeling, we could kill each other, or accumulate money and wealth illegally, or cheat others and at the same time called ourselves Christians, and some even take leaderships in some of our churches.

The way forward …

We need to re-place ourselves in the right place where God wants us be in His/God’s creation. Genesis 1:27 clearly tells us that we all are created in the Image of God. That is to say we are equal with other human beings on earth, and have equal responsibility for the well being of God’s creation. God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery speaks clearly about God’s (or ‘His’) concern for justice among all people including the Kukis, the Nagas, the widows, the orphans, the strangers and so forth. In fact, this is exemplified in and through the life and death of Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus was born in the home of, if a Kuk village, possibly a Khochaga, identifying with them in their suffering and condition of vulnerability and uncertainties; he has compassion on the Meithaiho, the nao chagaho, the galjamho, so on and so forth; turns over the offerings of the so-called Christian workers/Church leaders for using the church for their own fame and gain; unloads the AK-47s of our thingnoimis in order to save the life of other human being who are also equally created in the image of God yet never compromises with injustice. His death on the Cross was the clearest message of love. It shows the possibility of loving others until death. It shows the way to win evil and injustice of this world. In short it was the example of living a life in a community. For this reason, we can say that Jesus practised Khankhuo, showed the way how we can also follow it and finally he fulfilled it on the Cross. Our foreparents including Lendou te U-cha practised Khankhuo dimly and partially but Christ fulfilled and showed us how to follow it.

We need to look at our problems from the perspective of Khankhuo. When the rich become richer and the poor, poorer; power and gun overrule and silence truth and wisdom; the chiefs/cultural system oppresses the villagers; wealth is accumulated illegally; when the people in the plain have plenty while others starve in the hills; moral life degrades; corruption prevails in the society including in the church; ethnic conflict occurs, we should know that they are not the impact of Christianity. They are from the evil one, and when we see that happening it is Khankhuo that we should turn to. Khankhuo is the way that Jesus shows us to follow. Khankhuo is our basis, inspiration, hope and direction for the future. Khankhuo is a Kuki way to respond to the present globalization and global injustice, discriminations, and exploitations. Khankhuo is the mission of the church/KWSs.

For the people of Israelites, God used judges, prophets, and kings to show how they should live as the people of God, likewise in our situation, God (or ‘He’) uses people like Lendou te U-cha to teach us how to share life in a community in times of need.

By Rev J Lamboi Haokip PhD, Glasgow, UK.