Back To Culture

       By:     IAP_MHA_CTL
                  (The Internet Association for the Promotion of Manipur History Art Culture Tradition
                  and  Literature)



Special thanks,  for providing valuable materials,  are to:

Rev.  Sangai Yangya and
Rev. Joelouis Songate
Reformed Theological Seminary
Jackson, MS, USA


    Before going to the topic directly, a historical background will help us to understand the arrival of the British, Christian Missionaries and starting of Western (English) Education in Manipur.  Maharaja Surchand Singh (1886-1890 AD),  the eldest son of Chandrakirti Maharaja  ascended the throne after his father in 1886.   Since his accession, Manipur had become a divided house - the ten sons of the late Maharaja by his six queens were divided into two groups, one led by Surchand Singh and the other by Tikendrajit Singh, the flamboyant and the most popular prince,
who was the idol of the masses; at the age 31 he was the most capable prince.  The dissensions, quarrels and mutual mistrusts and rivalry among the princes culminated in the Palace revolution of 1890; the immediate cause being the ban order by the Maharaja on the 17 year old prince Zilangamba to sit in the durbar as a result of his quarrel with Paka Sana, otherwise known as the arch enemy and rival of  Jubaraj Tikendrajit, the Senapati. Zilangamba and Angousana made an attack on the palace in the night of 22 September, 1890. The week-willed king was totally unnerved and fled to the British residency without putting up a fight.  It appeared that the king and his brothers were demoralised and
greatly frightened at the revolution which they knew was engineered by Tikendrajit himself.  Kulachandra, the jubaraj, who wanted to take a neutral position for obvious reasons and went to Bishenpur in the night of attack, was recalled to Imphal and crowned the new King of Manipur. Surchandra with his brothers and his followers left Imphal for Calcutta
in the pretext of going to Brindabon. He requested the British Government to restore his throne. Lord Landsdowne, the viceroy of India ordered Mr. J.W. Quinton, Governor of Assam, to recognise Kullachandra as the King but to arrest Jubaraj Tikendrajit. Accordingly, Mr. Quinton and his army raided the residence of Jubaraj without prior notice.
However, Tikendrajit was not at home as his informers tip the plan off. In further attempts, Mr. Quinton, Mr. Grimwood, the political agents along with five other British officers were killed.

    The British Government declared open war against Manipur. Three columns of army were sent to Imphal from three directions: 1. Tamu (Moreh)- in south-east, 2. Kohima (Nagaland)- in the north and 3. Cachar (Assam)-in the west. In this Anglo-Manipuri war, the forces from the west and north advanced to Imphal after strong fighting. But in the south  at Khonjom (40 km from Imphal), Paona Brajabashi and his army resisted repeatedly in spite of the larger and superior British Army. Paona lost his life on the war and the British conquered Manipur on 27th April, 1891 AD. Jubaraj Tikendrajit and Thangal General were hanged by neck at 5 p.m.on 13th August, 1891 AD at Mapan Kangjei-bung (Polo ground). Manipur's independence and sovereignty which were so long preserved throughout the
centuries and millenniums had now lost. But Sir James Johnstone, the political agent from 1877-1886, writing five years after the war, cautioned, "Let us beware, we have not heard the last of Manipur".  On Thursday 22nd of Langban (September), 1891 AD,  the Political Agent in Manipur called Maharani Moirangthem Chanu and Jubaraj Churachand (8 yrs old) and made him the king.  Maxwell was appointed the Political Agent of Manipur and Superintendent of the State.  The instructions given to him  (Maxwell) were that "he should excercise those powers with due regard for the customs and traditions of the Manipuris and should endeavour to interfere as little as possible with the existing institutions, in so far as they might be compatible with the peace and good order".  After Churachand's formal investiture to the throne of Manipur on 29 April 1892, the young Raja was admitted to Lord Mayo's College at Ajmer, Rajasthan, for his education.

    The first office of the British Political Agent in Manipur was established in 1835, long before the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891,  and Lt. Gordon was appointed the first Political Agent in Manipur. The presence of a British Political Agent in Manipur, according to a treaty signed between the two sovereign countries, was to increase trade and
commerce between Manipur and the British and to help each other from outside invaders, - Ava in the case of Manipur and  the Burmese and other Indian reactionaries  against  the British.  During the time, Chandrakirti Singh, a minor boy, was the ruling monarch of Manipur and his uncle Nara Singh was the Regent.

    Imphal, the capital (Kangla)  was a  centre for all  literary and intellectual activities of Manipur for centuries.  The Kings of Manipur were great patrons of learning and learned men. The Pandi (Maichou) Loisang, the Department of Scholars, was the main center of the intellectual life of the Kingdom.  Thus, a huge literature dealing with all branches of knowledge has now come down to the present day.  The Meiteis had their own script and scriptures written in leaves and barks of trees.  In  the first quarter of the 18th century during Meidingu (King) Pamheiba  (aka, Maharaja Garibaniwaj),  the King accepted Hindhuism as a Royal Religion in place of the original Meitei faith of  Sannamahi and ordered the burning of all religious scriptures related to Sannamahi, which is still remembered  as "Puya Meithaba".  A number of  Hindu Brahmins from Bengal replaced the Meitei Maichous in the Loisang and Temples,  and with time,  Bengali script and language were introduced in the Kingdom.  More than one hundred years later, when the British took over Manipur in 1891, the King and his Assembly (darbar) were devoted Hindus, and the Meitei population had embraced Vaisnavism after decades of resistence.  Bengali was introduced as a medium of instruction in religious rites and education.  However, with the coming of the British and Western education, the literary work began to carry
out independently of the King's patronage,  although  the King and his Assembly  had a strong political influence and control over educating the citizen. In 1872,  a school was established at Imphal, but it had to be closed down due to the lack of encouragement from the authorities. Dr. G.H. Damant published the Meitei script for the first time in 1877
for the Asiatic Society of Bengal.  In 1885, the Johnstone middle School, Imphal,  was established after many years of objections from the Darbar.  As a reward  of  friendship and help in establishing  the school,  Sir James Johnstone agreed to address Thangal Major,  Balaram Singh and  Roma Singh Major as "General".    [Sources: History of Modern Manipur (1826-1946) edited by Dr. Lal Dena, 1990; History of the Christian Missions in Manipur by Karam Manimohan Singh, 1991]. With this brief background, we now go to the arrival of the first Christian Missionary and starting of English Education in Manipur.



Rev. W. Pettigrew
The Baptist Missionary Review
Vol. XXXVIII, November, 1932 No. II
Manipur State 1891-1932.

    I wrote an article for the Baptish Missionary Review in 1915, entitled, "On the right hand side of the Road, YES; on the left hand side, NO". From January 1891, when I first set foot on Indian soil, and heard two months later of the terrible massacre of seven Britist officers in Manipur, including the Chief Commissioner of Assam and the Political
Agent of Manipur, until our return from furlong in 1915, there had been a decided NO on any attempt to branch out into the hills and valleys south-east, south-west, or north-west of the strip of country wherein the Tangkhul Naga dwells, and amongst who we were allowed to establish ourselves under the A.B. Mission  in the beginning of the year 1896.

    From the day we heard in Eastern Bengal of that massacre in March, 1891, to the day we were given permission to enter this native state in January, 1894, preparation in language study and for the experiences ahead of us were the order of the day.  That permission was given by a British Officer in charge of the State at that time, since the newly
appointed Rajah, who succeeded the usurper who was executed, was but a young Hindu lad.  For twelve years, until this boy ascended the gaddi and very conservative Hindu Darbar was inaugurated, both civil and military British Officers rendered the A.B. Mission grateful service and financial help along educational lines under the conditions laid down.

    It is well to remember that no Christian missionary had ever been allowed into the state, nothing is revealed in the annals or histories, whether written by Indians or by British officials, to show that Christianity was even as much as known.  I have searched the Widener Library at Harvard, the Boston Library at Boston, the congressional Library at Washington, and the British Museum at London, to find out how William Carey got into touch with a Manipuri, or omeone who had knowledge of the Manipur Language, and translated and prinited at Serampore, in 1831 portions of the New Testament into Manipuri in the Deb-Nagri character. No clue of any kind was found, and in Manipur itself no tradition or story is existence of any Christian missionary entering the State until the way was providentially opened in 1894. And this after three years of patient waiting almost at its doors.

    The conversion of the Manipuri Hindu in the valley was our goal. Knowledge of Bengali and Manipuri, gathered while waiting outside the frontier, had prepared the way for this work but it was not to be.  The Government of India recognised their responsibility of governing the State until the Hindu Rajah could come of age, hence the propagation of the Christianity among his Hindu subjects was not allowed.  This refusal come six months after I entered the State.  To accept either one of two conditions was the alternative sent us from Shillong a year and a half later: Say "Yes" to the proposal of leaving the valley alone, and establishing mission head-quarters among the head hunting Naga tribe
called the Tangkhul Naga in the hills in the north-east corner of the State, bordering on Upper Burma.  Say, "No" and leave the state for good.  This was the ultimatum given to us in November, 1895.  It is interesting to note that a few months before this announcement was made, one of the villages of the tribe had been raided and over 140 heads cut
off and carried away.  We established ourselves under the A.B. Mission at Ukhrul the most central village of the tribe, in February, 1896.

    To understand the situation in those early days clearly, one must not forget the fact that A.B. Mission workers were confined, under pain of dismissal from the State, to one little corner of the State in the north-east, and this from 1896-1916, twenty years.  The Maharaja of Manipur and his Darbar have always recognized the A.B. Mission, and have annually subscribed a Grant-in-Aid for education.  The Darbar, however, have never so far as I can remember, acceded to any request to lengthen our stakes, increase the number of missionaries, and branch out to other
tribes in the State.  The Maharaja under the advice of Political Agent, or the Governor of Assam, has listened to petitions from me, and from the Reference committee in Assam several times since 1915, and has
vetoed actions of the Darbar.

    This is the situation during those twenty years of confinement. One tribe, one language, that had to be reduced to writing, and that in a dialect among many dialects in the one tribe.  We were just as much confined in our work as a South Sea Island missionary was confined to one small island among many, or as a Moravian missionary in Leh,
confined to some place on the border of Tibet, with restrictions all around him.  During those twenty years that little word "NO" figured a good deal in our thinking.  However much we sang the hymn, "Send the light, the Gospel light", we were up against a wall of opposition to prevent the spread of the Gospel outside the north-east confines.  While
working in such limitations, away from our Ďain folk', 45 miles distant from the capital of the valley, 134 miles from the railway and its communications, amid animistic fear and supertition, and the fight against the devil and all his works, God moves in that corner of the State in a company of believers.  God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.  After waiting seven years in the first converts we had a lone church and the one lone school.  Still they both have served their purpose, and have been a means of bringing many outside the closed area to Christ, and with manifold service in the many Christian communities that are now scattered in all the hills surrounding the valley of Manipur.

    In looking back over those twenty years of isolation, it has been borne upon the hearts of both Mrs. Pettigrew and myself, that in view has appened in the years following, there  is  sure indication of God's leading.  Under the conditions prevailing during that long period, it was a privilege to lay foundations, to teach the converts,  though small numerically, to bear responsibilities from the very beginning.  They were taught the meaning of self-support,  self-government in church and the village affairs, and self-administration of their own funds. The word of God cannot be confined.  It is the same all over the world, and especially among hill peoples of Assam and Burma.  There is something in their mental make up that urges them to go forward, and in spite of barriers and persecution, even by their nearest and dearest,
they preach the Gospel, suffer persecution from their village chiefs and elders, and spread the news around wherever they may go.  Up to 1915 the lone church at Ukhrul among the Tangkhul Nagas reported sixty-three members, the majority of them Tangkhul Nagas.  The year 1932 reports the largest number of church members among this tribe, and the largest number of organised churches.  Just as it should be, for they had all the opportunities for cultivation and nurture during those years of isolation among them.

    In 1912, I was asked by the Political Agent, Colonel Shakespear, to visit the other side of Manipur - the side which had "NO" printed in large letters in the mind of the Darbar.  A severe famine cause much distress among the Lushai Christians of the south-west area of the State and because permission to allow a missionary family to establish
themselves in the section was withheld, I was asked to visit the land and report on the conditions there.  As I look back on that landmark, I am persuaded that my contact with other tribes during tht visit was one of the seasons for the subsequent ingatherings from year to year.  1913 and 1914 were quiet years while we were on furlong.  On our return in 1915, the lone school in Ukhrul was ready to turn out young Christian men, who had come in as heathen boys from heathen villages of the south-east, south-west and north -west hill areas of the State.  They for the most part had followed me to this north-east corner, when I visited the famine-striken villages in 1912.  And so 1916 saw petitions
coming to us from a small group of Thadou Kukis in the north-west area, another group of Kom Kukis in the Sadar area north and west of the capital and still another from the Anal Kukis in the south-east area, praying for teachers and pastors to come over and help them organise themselves into companies of believers based on the training and
teaching of the parent church at Ukhrul.  This lone church whose converts had been trained and taught during those years of isolations, and now were so manifestly made ready for the time when the Lord decided those years of isolations, and now were so manifestly made ready for the time when the Lord decided the hindrances and restrictions, encountered for so long, should be swept away, and the other twenty odd tribes of the State have the same previlege which the Tangkhul Nagas had had for so long.

    Not only were there these Naga petitions but there were also a strong on from our Assam Reference Committee to the State Darbar, praying for permission to allow the missionary, his wife and his workers, to visit and evangelise the tribes in the north-west area of the State.  This was allowed in 1916 through the good advice of the Political Agent to the Maharaja.  In 1917, when the prospects were bright for the ingathering of converts from among the Thadou Kukis, Kon, Anal and Kabui Nagas, a further petition from the Assam Reference Committee to allow the headquarters of the A.B. Mission to be removed from the isolated station at Ukhrul, to a more central part of the State, was granted by the Maharaja. The present head-quarters are at Kangpokpi,  on the motor road which runs from Imphal, the capital to Dimapur on the Assam-Bengal Railway.  And in this way the Lord opened up in the hills of all directions for the preaching of His word, and the gathering in of many souls of His praise and glory.

    I would like to close this article by giving interesting stories of the men and women who are now leaders, superintending pastors, school teachers and headmasters, among the 7000 Christians of A.B. Mission. These are now scattered among the principal hill tribes of the valley. The men and women mentioned above had their training at the school at Ukhrul in the days of isolation.  They had been the mainstay of our Baptist work in Manipur.  From 1915 onto converts have increased year by year in a normal way; from 63 in 1915, 235 in 1916 and 335 in 1917. Each year has shown marked progress in numbers.  The year 1923-1934 broughtus a revival in which over 1000 were baptized.  There are Christians in over 100 villages now.  There are no "NOS", - no more restrictions.  The surrounding hills are all open to the message of the Gospel.  Only the valley with its Hindus and Mohammedan population of over 280,000 is still closed to the missionary and his message.  The latest tribe to respond to the Gospel is the Mao tribe of Nagas, an important tribe at the estreme north of the State, bordering on the Naga Hills district.  The village of Mao is twenty miles from the town of Kohima, our nearest A.B. Mission station.  The Somra Tract which borders on our Tangkhul Naga country in the north-east area, and which is under the administration of the Government of Burma, has during the past year been opened for evangelistic and educational work.  This work in the Somra Tract is to be controlled and supported by the Tangkhul Naga and Thadou Kuki Christians of Manipur, under the supervision of the missionaries of Manipur.  Just a few weeks ago our leaders got together, and in spite of the economic situation  affecting all of our Christian communities in Manipur, brought sufficient cash with them to help support two teachers for the Somra Tract during this year.  Those two young men, one a Tangkhul Naga, and one a Thadou Kuki, are now on their way to open work for the Master in that unevangelised country.

    Since 1915 education among the Christians has naturally been much to the fore in our efforts to make the community an intelligent one.  I believe that 1931 census will show a surprising increase in the statistics for literacy, and Christians will form the bulk of that increase. Lower primary, upper primary schools, and a middle English school at Kangpokpi, are in full swing.  The vernaculars in three of the most important tribes are first taught, then Manipuri and English as
secondary language.  High school students from among the Christian community are studying at Jorhat and Imphal.  The son of one of the first boys to enter the school at Ukhrul in 1897 is now in Cotton college Gauhati.  A large number of boys who graduated from Ukhrul are to be found in different walks of life in the State, serving in various
capacities for the State as well as for the A.B. Mission.  A large number also are serving under the three associations as evangelists, teachers and pastors.  All church buildings, all pastors, and village teachers are supported by association funds. Village school buildings and equipment are supplied by the village owning the school.

    The present day Darbar of the State with intelligent and educated membership is now moving along progressive lines, due in a large measure to the energy and activity of the present President of the Darbar, Captain C.W.L. Harvey.  In 1891 there was just one school in the capital of the Hindu and Mohammedan population, and that of the very poorest. Now in 1932 there are primary schools in many villages in the valley, upper primary schools and two high schools in the capital.  An interesting story could be told of the way in which the second of the two high schools was established and carried on by the support of the wide-awake Manipuris, and of the latest recognition of same by the Darbar and the generous grant bestowed upon it.  We are expecting to see the majority of our high school Christian students to attend this school, with a Christian hostel under the control of the A.B. Mission workers.  This we hope to see erected this year in the Christian community compound in Imphal.

    Only a few years ago female education among the Hindus were frowned upon.  Now there are a number of schools for girls in Imphal.  Hence there is a brighter outlook all round, even the attitude of mind of the State Darbar, and a progressive spirit shown among the higher class students in Imphal.  Less of the exclussiveness of the old days, but a
progressive spirit will to co-operate in everything that loosens the slavery to old customs and habits.  Our Christian young men, having broken way from fear of evil spirits and their animistic practices, are rejoicing that they can see ways of co-operating with the progressive party which will evidently rebound to the praise and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    We are confident the Lord has been working in the hearts of all in Manipur to accomplish His purpose, and for this manifestation of His will, we are grateful to Him for allowing us to have a part in it, and to have been accounted worthy to carry on from the very beginning, the pioneer work of evangelising and educating hill tribes, out of whom He is calling a people for His Name's sake.

Kangpokpi, 1932.
[Source: Tangkhul Baptist Long Centenary Sovenier, 1996, pp 40-43].



    William Pettigrew was an Englishman born in Edinburg, Scotland on January 5, 1859 and was educated in Livingstone College, London. He was at first a member of the Anglican Church but latter he was convinced of
the inadequacy of infant baptism and therefore accepted Beliver's baptism while he was in Daka, Bangladesh, working as a Missionary under the Arlington Aboriginese Mission.  However, he remained an Anglican and worked under the same Mission till he join the American Baptist Church at Sibsagar in 1896. Not long after he joined the Baptist Mission he was called and ordained to the Gospel Ministry.  The same year in November 13, he was married to Alice Gorehome of Brighton, England.  The marriage took place in the Lower Circular Baptist Church, Calcutta. [Source:
Johan M. Solo  and K. Mahangthei (editors) in "Forty Years in Manipur Assam, An account of the work of Rev. and Mrs. William Pettigrew,  pp. vii-viii, 1986].

    Pettigrew had indeed a broad vision. He was instrumental in bringing the various hill tribes together and his contribution towards the integration of the people of Manipur remained unparalleled. As far as possible he encouraged inter-tribal marriage.  As a matter of fact, the first inter-tribal marriage took place between Ruichumhao from Somdal
village and K. Yangnu from Kom Tribe.  At the same time, A. Porom Singh, one of the first converts among the Meiteis, also married a Tangkhul girl and their eldest son, Dr. Koireng Singh is quite well-known among the people of Manipur.

    Even before Pettigrew entered Manipur, he studied Bangalee and Manipuri (Meiteilon).  When he work as a headmaster of the Johnstone School he insisted that Manipuri must be the medium of instruction in all the schools of the state.  He was also an Honorary Inspector of Schools in Manipur.  Bengali, which had so far been used as the medium of instruction, was immediately replaced by Manipuri on the initiative of Pettigrew.  It was through his efforts that Meiteilon had developed independently and finally becomes the official language of the state and is even included now in the 8th schedule of the constitution. In this way Pettigrew laid the foundation of the Manipuri Literature and language. [Source: Y. D. Luikham - Rev. William Pettigrew's Message of  Oneness, in: Rev. William Pettigrew (A Pioneer Missionary of Manipur), p94, 1996].

    Rev. W. Pettigrew wrote a Manipuri Grammar. The title of the book is "Manipuri (Mitei) Grammar" with illustrative sentences.  The book consists of 111 pages and it was published at the pioneer press, Allahabad in 1912. The book is written in English. [W. Tomchou Singh -Rev. William Pettigrew's Message of Oneness, in: Rev. William Pettigrew
(A Pioneer Missionary of Manipur), p 34, 1996].



    Watkins Roberts, a young missionary from Wales, was responsible for the early conversion of Hmars in the Churachandpur district of Southern Manipur.  It wa on Saturday, 5 February 1910, that Roberts, who had his
base at Aizwal, Mizo Hills, came to Senvawn, a biggest Hmar village in Tipaimukh, in response to the invitation from the village chief, Kamkholun. Roberts soon recruited native workers among the new converts for the new Thado-Kuki Pioneer mission at Senvawn.  William Pettigrew visited Senvawn in March 1912. Since only one missionary group was
permitted to work in Manipur at that time, Roberts changed the name of his pioneer mission in to the North East Indian General Mission (NEIGM) in 1919.  His group spread its areas of operation into the North Cachar Hills, Assam, Tamu, Burma and Tripura. [Lal Dena - Christian Proselytism 1894-1946 - in History of Modern Manipur 1826-1946, p 109, 1991].


    Rev. William Pettigrew and the Christian Missionary's contribution to Western Education in Manipur in general, and particularly among the Hill people, is remarkable.  Manipur owes a life time of gratitude to this One Man Army.

Back To Culture