Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’

pick up the torch.

A millionaire businessman in Leeds called Robert Arthington, a sternly evangelical person, had formed the Indian Aborigines Mission (better known as the Arthington Mission) to put into practice his own original ideas for sending the Gospel to those who had never heard it. He recruited total abstainers who would go out two by two with the intention of staying no more than a few years in any one area. Mr. Arthington believed in the imminent Second Coming of our Lord and it was his view that his recruits would concentrate on proclaiming the Gospel to those tribes who had never heard it. They would then move on to a new area. Even learning the language, it was thought, would take too long so they would usually preach through interpreters. Two Baptists, James Herbert Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’, and his friend Frederick W. Savidge ‘Sap Upa’, members of the Highgate Baptist Church in London, joined the Mission and were sent out to India.

Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ was the first to arrive on 21st January 1891 and went to Agartola in Tripura. He applied to work with the tribes there and was refused.

Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ arrived in Bengal in November 1891. By January 1892 they had joined forces in Chittagong and formed a friendship that would last forty years. They travelled to Kassalong in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and felt led to try the Mizo Hills. In those days the hills were more accessible from Bengal than Assam. Their attempt was unsuccessful. They were refused permission to enter. Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ went down with a severe attack of dysentery and they both returned to Calcutta. When he recovered they tried Tripura but the Maharajah offered them no hope of entry.

They then moved to the the Welsh Mission in Silchar, where they had frequent opportunities to meet Mizos in the bazaar. They were able to pick up a little of the language and learn more about Mizos ways but they could not persuade any Mizos to stay more than two or three days. A Mizo who visited them most frequently was Pu Chawngkhuma, or Chawngi Pa, later of Mission Veng, Aizawl.

Within twelve months they were given permission by the Political Officer of North Lushai to go to Aizawl. Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’, and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ were overjoyed and set off on Boxing Day 1893, following the same route as William Williams had taken less than two years earlier. Because of the unsettled state of the country they could find no one to carry their baggage, so they made their tent and bed clothes into a bundle and entered Aizawl on 13th January 1894. In the Bazaar their arrival caused great astonishment as Mizos had never seen sahibs carring their own packs. Some called them ‘Wandering Sahibs’, others ‘Mad Sahibs’. They obtained permission to put up their tent on the parade ground.

There were five British officers at Aizawl at the time, with two regiments of Ghurkas and Bengal Infantry. When the land became more peaceful the Bengal Infantry returned to the Plains. On 5th January 1895 the North Lushai Hills were officially annexed to the British Government and made part of the Province of Assam. On 1st April 1898 the South and North Lushai Hills were amalgamated into one district of Assam.

Foundations for the future.

Since the country was still considered unsafe it was decided the missionaries should live no more than a mile from Fort Aizawl. The two friends were given a site at Tea Garden Hill, later known as Macdonald Hill and now the site of the Government High School. There were two villages either side of the site, Thangphunga’s Veng and Lalchhinga’s Veng. Their proximity benefitted the missionaries in various ways but in 1897 the Government ordered the removal of the villages to the south of Aizawl to make room for the houses of Government servants.

Early in 1894 Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ built a small house of bamboo, roofed with sungrass. The period between the beginning of 1894 and the end of 1897 were fruitful years during which they laid the foundations for the years to come.

A later Welsh Presbyterian missionary, Jones ‘Zosaphluia’, described his impressions of Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’. To him they were men of cultivated tastes, with a great fund of general and practical knowledge, were very methodical in their habits, scrupulously neat, and took great care of their food and use of their leisure time. Their principle was never to waste anything.

Learning the language.

In Mizoram there are a number of kindred tribes who could all be roughly described as Mizos. They spoke several different dialects of Tibeto-Burmese origin which have gradually been amalgamated into the Duhlian tongue, the language of the Sailo chiefs, which is now called Mizo. Though the area is large the language is much the same throughout. Dialectical differences occur between, for instance, Aizawl and Lunglei, but the differences are small compared to those found in Britain. This uniformity is not easy to explain considering the difficulties in travel but this may have been overcome by the fact that Mizos are great travellers and journeys on foot of four or five days were common occurrences. The nature of the language also helped to create uniformity.

The Mizo language (or ‘Lusei’ as Mizos called it) is basically monosyllabic with each syllable having its own pitch, tone, length, and special emphasis. The words tend to preserve their own form and pattern.

It isn’t known whether Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ had received formal training in linguistics but he did have a natural flair and sensitivity for languages. While on the Plains he had learnt Bengali well enough to preach in it and while in Abor-Miri, Assam, had learnt their language sufficiently to produce a grammar.

While in Aizawl both men devoted most of their time to learning the language. They practised by writing small books in Mizo and translated parts of the New Testament.

Before Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ Mizo was not a written language. They proceeded to devise an alphabet using Roman lettering based on the Hunterian system of transliteration. Over the years this has been slightly modified but it still remains essentially the same.

The first book in the Mizo language was a Child’s Primer, printed and produced by the Assam Government in 1895. Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ composed a Lushai-English dictionary of several thousand words which was later published, together with a Lushai grammar for which Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ is presumably responsible.

Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ continued to work on his dictionary. By his death in 1940 he had produced a remarkable dictionary of 33,000 words, which the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal published.

He and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ translated about a dozen hymns and composed a small book, known to Mizos as ‘The Old Catechism’.

They also translated St. Luke and St. John’s Gospels, together with the Acts of the Apostles, which they handed to the British and Foreign Bible Society, in Calcutta, before they made their way back to Britain at the beginning of 1898. But the Society was not in a position to publish them and they were sent to England where they were eventually printed and published.

Translation was not possible without the help of the Mizos. There were two who proved particularly helpful. Lalsuaka, who later became Chief of Durtlang, taught them Mizo from nine to ten in the morning, and Chief Thangphunga taught them in the afternoon. But during all that time both chiefs remained resolutely non-Christian, though it was they who helped to translate the first parts of the New Testament. Later Lalsuaka became a convert and proved himself a very fine Christian.

Education and mission work.

Before his arrival in India Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ had been a schoolmaster in London. Probably in about 1895 he erected a twelve foot square school building next to Thangphunga’s village. It had a clay floor and was without walls on three sides. Here he taught a few rather unwilling children from the village.

Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ began to hold services on a Sunday and formed a small Sunday School. They gave out pictures and when a child had collected four of them they qualified for a string of beads, or other reward. Chawnga, who later clearly remembered these lessons became one of the first Mission teachers and remained in the Mission Veng Primary School until he retired in 1946.

On Sundays they also ventured into one or other of the nearby villages. The people were friendly, but suspicious. Some said, “The Government is certainly clever. It says, ‘Let us not try to make the Lushais slaves by the power of the sword. We shall use fair words and kind deeds and, when we have a firm hold on them, we can do just as we like with them”.

Though no one was baptised during those four years the two missionaries had created an interest in the Gospel and had won a measure of trust. The medicines they gave out established mutual confidence and the Mizos were very sensitive to the kindness shown. The following was a common saying of those days:

Zosap Vênga ka len lêh

Zosapin damdawi min pe.

I went to where the missionaries live,

Good medicine is what they give.

Mr. Arthington becomes restless.

In a surprisingly short time Mr. Arthington became restless and demanded Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ should move on. They had only been in Mizoram eighteen months. They enquired of the American Baptist Missionary Union as to whether they were prepared to take over from them, but the reply was negative. Mr. Arthington authorised his agent to hand the field to the Welsh Mission. Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ wrote to the Welsh Mission Secretary in Liverpool in May 1895. The Mission felt they could not accept the offer.

In June 1895 they wrote to C. L. Stephens, a missionary in the Khasi Hills, expressing their feelings:

“We love the people and country very dearly, and have all along been cherishing the hope that our lives would be spent in leading these tribes to Jesus. As you know we are Baptists and of course your Mission would not feel justified in taking us as regular missionaries, but we have such a longing to remain and work for Christ in Lushai that we would only be too glad if your Mission would accept us as evangelists whose work it would be to preach the Gospel, leaving all Church matters to the regular missionaries.”

They must have felt increasingly alienated by Mr. Arthington’s short term approach and a few years later their connection with him was severed. Mr. Arthington died in 1900 and left £500,000 to the Baptist Missionary Society. Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ formed The Assam Frontier Pioneer Mission in order to prepare the way for returning to Mizoram a second time.

The Asiatic Society. Kolkata.

A dramatic sky over Mizoram. http://www.flickr.com/photos/8355947@N05/4112203588/

The first chapel in Mizoram. ‘The Lushai Hills’, Grace R. Lewis, 1907.

A memorial to the first church.

Map of Mizoram, Manipur, and Tripura. Also parts of Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland.

Savidge and Lorrain in traditional dress.

‘The Lushai Hills’, Grace R. Lewis, 1907.

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Page 3: Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’.

The Lushai alphabet of 1898.

Mizo man and woman smoking.

‘The Lushai Hills’, Grace R. Lewis, 1907.

Mizo woman weaving.

‘The Lushai Hills’, Grace R. Lewis, 1907.

Mizo women carrying water in bamboo canes.

‘The Lushai Hills’, Grace R. Lewis, 1907.

Mizo men splitting bamboo canes for building.

‘The Lushai Hills’, Grace R. Lewis, 1907.

Mizo ‘zawlbûk’.

‘The Lushai Hills’, Grace R. Lewis, 1907.

The first mission house
in Mizoram.

‘The Lushai Hills’, Grace R. Lewis, 1907.

Mizo villages.

‘The Lushai Hills’, Grace R. Lewis, 1907.

Mizo ‘gayals’.

‘The Lushai Hills’, Grace R. Lewis, 1907.

The first chapel
in Mizoram.

‘The Lushai Hills’, Grace R. Lewis, 1907.

Click on the image
to read an 88pp public domain PDF of

‘The Lushai Hills.
The Story of the Lushai Pioneer Mission.’
by Grace R. Lewis,

Click on this link to gain easier access to the PDF.