Christianity in Manipur
History of Christianity in Manipur
In the beginning of the 18th century, Manipur had a heterogeneous population – the Meitei people in the valley areas were the followers of ancient Meitei religion; the hill tribes of the surrounding hill areas were the practitioners of the primedival tribal religion and the Shan people of the Kabaw Valley in the eastern frontier were the followers of Buddhism.
Prior to the coming of Christianity, several mission societies – including the American and the Welsh missions – had made an attempt to establish its mission centre in Manipur. But until the end of the 19th century, they were not allowed to enter the state, because of strong opposition from the Raja and the people. Moreover, the British official had to maintain status quo in religious matter and Mr. Maxwell, the then-political agent of Manipur was fully conscious of the fact. Since the revolt of 1857, the British in India had a social policy in their relationship with the princely states that they should not interfere with anyone's religion but maintain strict neutrality.
Reverend William Pettigrew was the first foreign missionary to arrive in Manipur on 6 February 1894. With the consent of Mr. A. Portious, the acting political agent (as the political agent major Maxwell was on furlough), Pettigrew was able to establish a school at Imphal (at Moirangkhom), named after himself as the Pettigrew Lower Primary School. After six months of working among the Meitei people, he was not allowed to continue his work in the valley. This happened when the then-political agent major Maxwell returned from furlough. As he found the Hindu Meiteis alarmed by Pettigrew's work, he immediately ordered the missionary to stop working and leave Imphal.
From December 1894 until December 1895, Pettigrew searched for a suitable location for his new mission. First, he turned to the south and approached Kamkholun Singson, a Kuki chief of Senvon village, in December 1895. But as Pettigrew and his teaching was not welcomed by the chief, the missionary proceeded towards the northwest to the Mao areas. Here too, he faced the same treatment he met in the south. Not only this, he was warned by the village authorities to leave the place as soon as possible. In his search for a suitable location, he came to Ukhrul and went as far as Paoyi (now Peh) to the north; and on his return from Paoyi, he came up to Shirui mountain and further to Khangkhui.
Having wandered through some of the neighbouring villages, he finally came back to Ukhrul and decided that it was most suitable place for his missionary work. In 1901, twelve students of the mission school including the Kuki, komrem and Naga people – established during the 1890s at Ukhrul in the hills north and east of Imphal – were baptised; in 1902, a church was organised. This Phungyo Baptist Church became the first Baptist church in Manipur. In fact, as far as conversions are concerned, the two communities of the Kukis and the Nagas were the first to have received Christianity.
In 1906, twenty-five new converts were added. By 1907, the Christians numbered seventy. The Ukhrul mission school was attended both by the Nagas, koms and the Kuki-chin-mizo as well. Among the koms, we can mention Teba Kilong, Longkholel Kilong, among the kuki, Seilut Singson, Jamkithang Sitlhou, Tongngul Gangte, Helkhup Chongloi, Pakho Sitlhou, Thangneilal, Dengkho, etc. They were the first among the kom and Kukis to receive their schooling in the Ukhrul mission school, the first mission school in Manipur.
In 1910, Pettigrew was appointed as the superintendent of the first real census of the hill tribes of Manipur, as he had already learnt to deal with the tribes of Anals, Kuki, Tangkhuls, Mizos and others. For the second time, Pettigrew went to the south and preached the gospel for two years, i.e., from 1911 to 1912 at Senvon, Lailong, Saichang, Parbung, Songsang and at Phenjol villages. When the need for more missionaries arose, Reverend and Mrs. U.M. Fox came from America to Ukhrul in 1911. During the first five years of stay, Fox opened the gate for higher education.
In 1912, nine students of Ukhrul Mission School were baptized. Among them, the names of four koms and Kukis were included viz Teba kilong kom, Longkholel kom, Helkhup kuki and Jamkithang kuki. During the next few years, other Kuki students were converted. On 30 August 1913, three couples, namely Lhingkhosei and his wife Chonghoi, Let'am Kipgen and his wife Chinthem, VunYaseh and his wife Phalkim, were baptized by Fox. He also wanted to baptize the Christians of Tujangwaichong village.
Before he left for his country, as he was not able to reach the village, he asked them to meet him at Karong. The villagers, accordingly, came to the place accompanied by their chief, Songjapao Kipgen. Seeing the Kuki chief, the missionary was delighted and on the 12 December 1914, Fox baptized twelve persons, including the chief at the Karong river. On this day, Fox declared the establishment of the Tujangwaichong Baptist Church and nominated T. Lhingkhosei Kipgen and Let'am Kipgen as church pastor and deacon, respectively. Thus, Tujangwaichong Baptist Church became the second Baptist church in Manipur and the first among the Kukis. It was established at Karong by declaration, due to time constraints faced by Fox.
In 1915, Fox baptized Maipak Kabui, Kachindai Kacha-Naga, Bhagirath Gurkha, Thanga Hmar, Jaison Kom and Manjaching at Imphal. Longkholel Kilong was appointed the first evangelist among the Koms. Through his endeavour, the Langkhong church was established. The Magui church, which is the oldest, came into existence through Nehseh, the first convert among the Thadou-Kukis. In June of the same year, as demanded by the villagers, Pettigrew established Lower Primary School in Tujangwaichong and deputized Ngulhao Thomsong as teacher (1915–1917) with the initial enrolment of thirteen students.
Through the invitation of Longkholel kilong (karung) and his co-workers, churches were established in Songphel Khullen in Tamenglong district, Tongkoi and Kachai village in Ukhrul district. Longkholel was appointed by Pettigrew as an evangelist for the west district of Manipur in 1914. He propagated the good news to every wild tribes he came across and converted many people. He had greatly influenced his family and relatives, so his whole family converted. His uncles Choison Kilong and Yampu Karung (Kilong) and their entire families along with his aunts and their families accepted Christianity and were baptized by Fox at Kaishamthong Baptist Church in 1915. With the help of these converted relatives and Semkhopao Haokip, they established the Makokching Baptist church on 7 March 1917, the fifth Baptist church in Manipur.
The growing increase in local churches and the widening on the frontier of missionary movement necessitated the formation of (what was known as) the Manipur Christian Association in November 1916, the first of its kind and its initial convention was held at Ukhrul in 1917. Meanwhile, a war broke out between the Kukis and the British, known as the First Kuki War of Independence, on 19 December 1917. After the war was over, Pettigrew was convinced that the mission centre should be moved to a more convenient place in the valley as the Ukhrul centre was quite isolated from the rest of the state.
In consideration of the contribution made by the missionaries and the native Christians towards the global war and the Kuki Punitive Measure (KPM), the state government had granted a land for the new mission headquarters at Kangpokpi on the Imphal-Dimapur Road. In 1919, when Pettigrew was on furlough, Crozier started the work of clearing and building at the new location in Kangpokpi under the direction of a Kuki Christian, Seilet (Seikholet) Singson. Before he started his mission works at Kangpokpi, Crozier first went to some Kuki-dominated areas and met the two Kuki chiefs of Sangnao (Sitlhou clan) and Santing. Crozier informed the two chiefs about his intention of establishing a mission centre.
He promised to connect their villages by road, provided the chiefs granted the needed land for the same. But, one after another, the two chiefs refused to accede to his request. So, in November 1919, the Croziers moved to the new centre and was joined later by Pettigrew in 1920. Thus for the first time, Crozier started the first missionary dispensary and leper asylum at New Mission Station on 7 November 1919. A Middle English School and orphanage were also established.
Followers include Meitei Christians. Protestants (mostly Baptist) outnumber Catholics in Manipur. A Manipur Baptist Convention exists. The Reformed Presbyterian Church North-East India Synod has its seat in Manipur. The Presbyterian Church in India and the Church of Christ are present in the state, too. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Imphal has its seat in the state. The Manipur Section of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has about forty congregations. The All Manipur Christian Organisation (AMCO) exists.
List of denominations
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