By Aiborlang Nongsiej
Shillong, Sept 14, 2022:
Has Christianity destroyed our culture? This is the question often asked by many during my school and college days. Teachers and lecturers have also often stated that Christianity has destroyed many of our cultures in Northeast India. The arrival of Christianity in the 19th century is believed to be the beginning of destruction of many cultures in Northeast India.
But has Christianity really destroyed our cultures? Personally, I would say ‘No’. In fact, it has come to empower us and enhance our cultures; our standard of living, and an improved way of life. It is unfortunate that some individuals continue to harbor such thoughts when most of them have received their education from Christian institutions.
Imagine, what would be the situation in Northeast India if Christian missionaries had not come here. What would have been the standard of living and how disadvantaged would we have been in terms of education? Who developed the Khasi alphabets? Was he not a Christian missionary? In my opinion, most of the scripts of the tribes of Northeast India were developed by Christian missionaries.
The contribution of the Christian missionaries to the literature of the tribes is very rich. A concrete example of how the cultural tools and traditions of most of the tribes of Northeast India have been conserved is visible at the Don Bosco Museum, Mawlai. Who started this Museum? Is it not the Christian missionary who saw the danger of losing the rich cultural values of the tribes of Northeast India?
Such contributions are the contributions of Christian missionaries to the tribes in Northeast India, can we say that Christianity has destroyed our cultures? I strongly disagree with those individuals who still hold that opinion against Christianity.
Of course, there are certain practices of different tribes that Christianity has discouraged from practicing, particularly those against certain moral aspects of life. Christianity is a religion of love and forgiveness and most importantly preservation of life. Life is precious and a gift from God, for this reason Christianity discourages any practices of the cultures that are against life such as head hunting among the Nagas.
The Salesians of Don Bosco arrived in Northeast India in 1922. They took over the Assam mission from the Salvatorian missionaries who were asked to leave the mission due to the First World War in 1914. The Salvatorians and the Salesians missionaries lived with the people and mastered the language in order to better the mission work.
They not only concentrated on giving them Christian faith but were also interested in raising their standard of living particularly through education. The Salesian missionaries worked wholeheartedly to develop the region, particularly to care for the young people. For this reason, many schools were opened, in order to provide education to the youth. The first college of the Salesian congregation in the world is St Anthony’s College Shillong. The man behind the beginning of this college is Salesian Father Joseph Bacchialero, who also wrote the Khasi book named ‘Dienjat Ki Longshuwa.”
Father Bacchialero did a thorough research of the Khasi cultures and also collected many oral traditions to preserve them in this particular book which is used by the secondary school students under MBOSE. Likewise, there are many Christian missionaries who developed the cultures and the standard of living of the people in Northeast India.
Therefore, we cannot say that Christianity has destroyed cultures. The arrival of the first Salesians of Don Bosco to Northeast India brought several changes and added value to the lives of people in the region. The Missionaries opened schools and vocational training that contributed a lot to the development of cultures and society in terms of education and a better standard of living.
If Christian missionaries had not come to this region we might have perhaps lost our culture and been dominated by the other majority cultures. How many of us appreciate our traditional dress now? Generally, I see people putting their traditional dress such as Dhara (Khasi) and Dakmanda (Garo) only when they go for Church service.
Church service is one of the platforms for wearing the traditional dresses. If Christianity has come to destroy cultures, it could have stopped people from wearing their traditional dresses during Church service. But they did not impose any such sanctions because the missionaries respected the culture of the people and helped them to conserve the good culture. Likewise, many of the hymns for the Church services are being adapted to the traditional tunes of the people.
In fact, most cultures are better celebrated with the help of Christian missionaries. The ‘Shad Suk Mynsiem’ which is one of the most important festivals among the Khasis is being adapted to the ‘Shad Paskha’ of the Christian (Catholics). This shows that Christian missionaries appreciate our cultures. In general, most of the good cultures of the people are being preserved and adapted in Christian celebrations, particularly in the Catholic celebration.
For instance, there are certain individuals who want to represent their culture by stitching the costumes of the priests for the Holy Mass such as chasuble and stole in their traditional way. Therefore, to say that Christianity has come to destroy cultures is totally wrong and unacceptable. For us residents of Meghalaya, Christianity has contributed a lot to improve the lives of people. If Shillong is known as the educational hub of Northeast India it is because of the Christian missionaries.
Certainly, the presence of many Christian educational institutions in the city makes Shillong the educational hub of Northeast, India. Imagine our state of Meghalaya without Christian educational institutions! What would have been the situation of our educational system and the living conditions of the people? As mentioned above, Christian missionaries came to our region not only to proselytize and spread the Christian faith but also to improve the living conditions of the people in different aspects of life. It is therefore totally unjustified to blame Christianity for the loss of culture.
Matters India strives to be a platform to tell stories of church and society for Indians to think and act beyond their regional, linguistic, ritual, and caste differences and to enable them to see the goodness in others irrespective of their faiths.
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