Converting the Nagas and Kukis: Missionary Representations

By Ningmuanching

This paper is a study of missionary encounter and the coming of Christianity to Manipur, and its influence on the historical development of Naga and Kuki identities. Through a discussion of missionary representations and conversion of the hill population around Manipur valley which constituted a part of the Assam Mission Field of the American Baptist Mission, the paper argues that the missionary representations of the people were distinct from colonial official representations. Rather than classification of people from hills and plain as well as Nagas and Kukis according to one’s place in the scale of civilization, differences were represented on the basis of one’s propensity towards conversion. It shows that inspite of their instrumental contribution in providing written languages for the Naga and Kuki group of tribes, missionaries were not the only agents here. The allegiance exhibited by converts towards their own spoken dialect equally emphasizes the agency of the hill people in the reshaping of their social world in which the language of a group became the primary basis of identification. Ironically, the mission project to reduce the dominant dialects of the Nagas and Kukis into a written form was to establish linguistic borders between the different tribes.

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