Haipou Jadonang : A social reformer and religious leader of Zeliangrongs

 Dr Budha Kamei
Contd from previous issue
The missionaries employed many welfare programmes such as education, medical works etc. and the tribal people did fall an easy victim to the persuasive strategies adopted by the missionaries.
The western culture and civilization which was based on scientific technology had been accepted as a superior race. In addition, “the personal testimonies of the native converts rather than the foreign missionaries appealed to the spiritual problem of the tribes who were told that they would have a millenarian life in Heaven, living in God’s Kingdom” (Kamei 2004:282-283).
Traditional religion was conservative, and had some elements of superstitions and taboos. They believed in a Supreme God (Tingwang/Tingkao Ragwag) who is the creator of the Universe, controller and dispenser of good and prosperity and who lives in Heaven’(R. Brown 1996:23). “Death is not an end of life just a change of way of life.” (Coulanges1874:15) After death, human soul goes to the land of death where he will lead another life with his ancestors. The Universal God, gods of pantheon, presiding deities of the villages and ancestors of the family are worshipped by them. They also worship the natural objects, the wind, the fire, the earth but evil spirits residing in mountain, fields, river and gorges are propitiated not to disturb them. They had become superstitious to such an extent that the worship of Tingkao Ragwang was submerged in the performance of countless sacrifices from smallest to biggest animals to the spirits for any kind of ailments. In this situation, poor people who could not bear the expenses of the sacrifice attracted to the new religion which had no economic burden in worship of God. This is also one the important factors for conversion to Christianity. Truly speaking, poor people became debtors as result of expensive sacrifices. They observe Nuhmei, taboos and Neimei, gennas which had replaced the religious prayer. Their religion had become a mere observance of sacrifices and gennas. Moreover, there was no unity among the Zelangrong people and inter village feud was prevalent.  In short, Jadonang found that the people were deeply rooted in social and religious orthodoxy—the taboos and gennas covered all the true ideals of Zeliangrong religion. In the meantime, Christianity entered into the Zeliangrong country and started challenging the traditional religion, its old value and ideals of Zeliangrong people. Being a religious minded man, Jadonang wanted to eliminate the evils that crept in his religion as practiced by the common people. He wanted to save the “religion from the onslaught of the alien religion and reform and revitalized the religion” (Dena (ed.) 1991:135) of his people.
In spite of such religious practices, God had communicated with the Zeliangrong people through the dreams of Mhus. Unlike the simple medicine man, Mhu was not taught by anybody but chosen by some deities or Tingkao Ragwang himself. Among such Mhus Jadonang was one of them who happened to be an extraordinary holy young man chosen by Tingkao Ragwang to reform the superstitions and genna-ridden religion of his people. Jadonang was directed by God in his dreams to carry out His directives. As a successful healer and dream interpreter, he could treat and cure the leper, malaria fever and even the removal of the after birth of a child delivery of a woman and asking for a birth of a son. Individual treatment to the affairs of the villages he dealt with. He had predicted that the villages would prosper in riches and money if they sacrificed mithuns to God. A large number of villages approached him for the same purpose and he did perform it; Kambiron soon became a place of pilgrimage for those in need and the centre of attraction was young Jadonang (Parratt 1995; Kamei 2004:148-149).
The socio-economic and religious-cultural problems of the Zeliangrong people were aggravated in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s by the world great depression. This made the Zeliangrong people not in a position to pay their house tax to the authority. In addition between 1925 and 1930 there were frequent crop failures in the Zeliangrong country, either due to attack of rats or strong winds or lack of rain (Administrative reports of Manipur 1931-32). The prevailing economic and religious condition, therefore, imposed on the common people to abandon the costly sacrifices and they began to look alternative way, it was the Christianity; the missionaries took the advantage of it and converted the innocent people. Medical work of the missionaries was one of the most effective means of destroying the traditional world-view and belief system which was essentially super naturalistic. The traditional view, for instance, had attributed illness or misfortune to evil spirits. The village priest was supposed to know which spirit was causing the trouble and what form of sacrifice would appease it. On the contrary, the missionaries were purveyors of a naturalistic world-view as opposed to this super naturalistic one. Edwin Rowlands, in his annual reports, wrote, “The medicine dispensed in the village is eagerly taken, and they tell each other of the cures effected. This is supplanting the sacrificing demons. Once a village priest, having been stung by a poisonous centipede, though a few days previously he had been warning a village not to take our medicine came to us for treatment”(Report of Foreign Mission 1899: LVIII; Dena 1988:106). Once the effectiveness of a small tablet was experienced, it became a great factor in winning the hearts of the people. The choice was thus between their traditional form of remedy, that is sacrifice of animal and the missionary’s remedy through administering of liquid medicine or tablet. Even though, the missionary’s action was determined by naturalistic world-view, he would inevitably invoke “divine help by saying prayer which gave impression that God was acting through human agency and medicines” (Dena 1988: 107).
By 1920s, the Zeliangrong people were facing problem of religious crisis as result of the spread of Christianity which attacked the traditional religious beliefs and practices of the people. More and more people began to embrace Christianity and to effect more conversion the Christian missionaries introduced a number of welfare programs such as education, medical works, and even offered white collar job in the state government (Downs 1971:177).  The new converts began to condemn the forefather’s beliefs, rites and rituals, ceremonies, feasts, festivals something connected with evil spirits (Yunuo 1982:30-35). They owed their loyalty more to the missionary and the officials. In this way, many young people came forward and began to embrace the new religion. This was one kind of local response to the external influence. In the process of proselytisation, the traditional religion was loosing its foothold day by day, and this was a serious issue for the people who wanted to preserve and promote the traditional belief and practices of the people. A scholar wrote that the Christians faced opposition from the believers of the traditional faith. The conflict between the pastors and the village priest was very serious in the 1920’s. The clash was mainly due to the “attacks of the Christian missionaries on the traditional tribal belief and way of life. Naturally the traditionalists had to defend against this onslaught”(Irene 1989:16). It is a fact, there was also some kind of conflicts between the “new converts and the traditional elites” represented by the Pei (village council) members. The Pei began to feel that their privileges and powers were being undermined by the new converts who had the solid backing of British officials and the missionary. F. S Down wrote that “as among the Angamis the Zeliangrong villages strongly opposed Christianity…. Christians were invariably driven from their village”(1971:146). The traditional Zeliangrong religion reacted against the conversion, which was condemned by the Christians as persecution, though it was they, who had encroached and violated the traditional religious beliefs and practices.  In this situation, Jadonang who wanted to defend his traditional religion on the one hand, and uplift his people on the other, had to take a very careful path. Jadonang realized that if the traditional religion was to be revived, the morass of superstitions and irrational taboos that afflicted the religion be removed and new ideas and forms should be injected to suit the changing time and space.
After his journey to Bhuban cave, Jadonang constructed Rah Kai, House of God with the help of his followers as a place of worship and religious discourse. In the temple, there was a shrine and pulpits and aisles of bamboo. He built two different temples at Kambiron; such houses for religious purpose were not a feature of Zeliangrong culture except abodes or places of deities. A large number of people came to the Rah Kai of Jadonang and worshipped Tingkao Ragwang through prayer-hymns, songs and dance. Jadonang said: “Worshipping consists of facing east, putting the hands together and saying Tingkao Ragwang, ‘Do what is good for us.” In short, the worship was in rational forms; with community and individual worship of God for welfare and prosperity through sacrifices, ritual hymns and dance. Jadonang erected his temple facing to the east. East is vital for two factors: it signifies the direction of Bhubon cave, as well as that of the sunrise. In view of Evans- Pritchard, “The west is the side of death, the east the side of life” (1977:153). Jadonang advocated adoption of Tingkao Ragwang as the only God (monotheistic cult), encouraging the abandonment of the minor, local gods. In other words, he has shown that sacrifice of animals was not the only way to worship of Tingkao Ragwang/Tingwang. The introduction of this new cult was a great landmark in the religious history of the Zeliangrong people. With the help of this cult Jadonang was able to bring a social unification among the Zeliangrong people. Indeed, religion and religious movement greatly help in the reinforcement and conservation of social cohesion and discipline and it played a great role for promoting social integration and solidarity. Jadonang religious concept was highly influenced by revolutionary ideology and consciousness. His new religious cult gave two important features for the welfare of his people and their society; first, it was “an answer to the silent religious aggression of the Christian religion and secondly, it made a basis for the solidarity of the people” (Singh 1992:57). In each temple, there were two places of purification (bath rooms), one for male and other for female; the devotees had to purify by taking bath in these places before entering into the temple. Entering into the temple without being purified both physically and mentally was strictly prohibited (Kamei 2009:32-33; Yunuo 1982:54). Water purification is a means of gaining for the “worshipper the protection of water deity against the consequences of pollution” (Jevon, 1988:83).
(To be contd)