Post Mortem

Christianity before the name ‘Jesus’ in Nagaland

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 8/23/2018 12:07:58 PM IST

 The article aims to retrospect the difference between the beliefs of the Nagas before and after the emergence of the American Baptist Christianity in the Naga society. The history of Christianity in Nagaland indicates that Nagas met or accepted Christianity initially in 1846/1847 (according to the first Naga convert mentioned in two books) and finalized it in 1871/1872 (according to the second Naga convert and the first Naga Church). The two different dates of Christianity in the Naga society indicate that Christianity came in two phases - Rev. Mile Bronson in Phase 1 and Dr. Clark in Phase 2 (Philip. 1999, NBCC. 1997, M.M.Clark. 1978, V. K. Nuh. 2006, M. Ganguli. 1984). Whichever phase marks the history of Christianity in Nagaland, it includes the history of beliefs that Christianity according to the Nagas means the name ‘Jesus’. ‘Jesus’ represents Christianity and ‘Jesus’ is the owner of Christianity. Hence, Christianity in the Naga society began at particular fixed and known time and period. 

However, in fragmenting the preceding concept of Christianity in the Naga soil with the name ‘Jesus’ as the owner of it, I invite scholars, religious leaders and lay people to see Christianity in the Naga society far beyond the date and time mentioned above and most significantly, Christianity beyond the name ‘Jesus’. Many Naga writers and story tellers have elicited and shared the history of way of life of the early Naga people in terms of their beliefs, culture, politics and social structure far away from the post “Jesus” Naga society. The early Nagas had beliefs in unseen God, Supreme God/Being and God of heaven and earth or maker of the universe. In brief they had beliefs of living under “High God” who manifests its spirit in human being and this human being has power to heal the sick and suffering. In addition, contextualizing the gender issue, a social justice element in the contemporary world, Nagas in the past had a concept of God in both genders like among the Angami, the High God is female and male among the Semas (Hutton. 1965). The ethics of religious beliefs among the Nagas before and after the emergence of the American Baptist Christianity is not a complete difference as it is interpreted.  

Missionary like M. Clark and few others have outlined the early Nagas to ‘Savage” people - described in 17 pages of her book (Clark. Ibid) in comparison to the western people and wrongly theologized that early Nagas were barbarians, beast, bloodthirsty, cruel, ferocious, heartless, and uncivilized and so on. Technically, these missionaries had dehumanized the Nagas in a way that Nagas became human only after their arrival. However, the history of early Nagas identically exists to the later definition of human being as defined by the missionaries based on their version of interpreting the Gospel. I argue that missionaries had only streamlined or repeated or reminded the way of human existence or human ethics among the Nagas from what they already had been practicing. It was an inappropriate approach of the western missionaries and the Naga religious leaders to marginalized the early Nagas to inhuman being by legitimizing the absence of the name ‘Jesus’ to measure the quality of life rather than using ‘civilization’ as an approach to measure the difference between the former and later way of life of the Nagas. 

Hutton narrates the beliefs of the Angami people in the spirit of other beings like stones, trees, river, birds and so on apart from human being (Hutton. 1921) continues to sustain till today among the entire Naga communities. However, foreign missionaries and Naga religious leaders follow up the marginalization of the early Nagas as people without Christianity based on the explanation of the foreign missionaries that Nagas were spirit worshipers, not the Christianity they have brought. In additional, missionaries and Naga religious leaders take pride of legitimizing the goodness of the Gospel by mentioning few abrogated Naga cultures like headhunting, feast or merit (Narola. 2007, Longkumer. 2010) and war among villages, in fact, like Haimendorf indicated that no inter-villages conflict existed unless it emerged in related to the issue of divorce and head hunting (Haimendorf. 1969). On the other hand, they have failed to identify the worst post ‘Jesus’ culture in the current Naga society like murder, rape, day and night robbery, divided families, churches, society, land dispute, prostitution corner, bars, drugs, and so on which in fact are more fiercest than the early Naga culture and beliefs and are more visibly anti-Christian/Jesus. There are numerous new cultures and traditions among the current Naga people according to the teaching of ‘Jesus’ which are almost the same to the culture and traditions of the early Naga people. As argued and stated by many scholars and lay people, the same cultures and traditions which were relinquished by the emergence of ‘Jesus’ are given more importance and battle today to preserve and revive.   

The sense of giving important to preserving one’s abandoned culture and tradition in the current Naga society clearly indicates that there is no such difference between the former and later religion (Christianity/Anti-Christianity, with/without Jesus) among the Nagas apart from the difference between the names that attribute to God i.e ‘Jesus’ and indigenous name like ‘Hahwang, Yowan, Humpu and so on’. The title of this article “Christianity before the name ‘Jesus’ ” argues that Christianity among the Nagas existed since the inception of the Naga people and what emerged or arrived with the western missionaries is the name ‘Jesus’ like Clark mentioned in her book “Jesus and Heaven were names now heard for the first time” (Clark. 1978). The only gap between the beliefs of the former and later Nagas was the name of God they believe i.e Christianity with and without the name ‘Jesus’. Therefore, what the western missionaries brought in 1872 among the Nagas was not new Christianity but the name ‘Jesus’ along with the western hymn books, the written word of God (Holy Bible) to add to the existed Christianity of the early Nagas. 

In theories and praxis, the article may intrigue to more debatable approach for the readers in defense of personal religious identity, moreover, due to limited space for broader elaboration. However, it is recommendable that there are inevitable reality of history that needs to retrospect and rethink the past initiative in the present participation to identify what is missing in what we belief and practice by following what was taught to follow naively. Rethinking and revisiting is not an anti-approach, it is an approach to collect any missed out understanding. 


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