Page 15: A reaction against Christians.
Events similar to those in Aizawl were repeated in the outlying eastern village of Khandaih (1) and led to an early persecution of Christians. What happened in this village contributed not only to the spread and growth of the Mizo church, but also to the pattern of that growth.
In his autobiography Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ recalls a particularly vivid experience which occurred in the first week of the Aizawl ‘Awakening’, at one of the evening meetings.
‘A pleasant young teacher from Vanbawng (an extension of Khandaih) rose to speak. He was obviously under considerable stress as he strove to express his experience of the influence of the Holy Spirit on him. He kept on stammering. Under a sudden urge I told the congregation that the revival would also break out at Vanbawng. I’m not sure what I meant by that. If I had any idea at all it was that revival would come about through Hranga, for he was going home in the morning. His journey would take four days. But before he reached home the message came that revival had broken out in his village. It was the finest young men in Vanbawng that had been affected by it’. (translation from Welsh)
The mission had established a village school in Khandaih in August 1903 which was the first village school in the whole of Mizoram, with the grudging permission of Vanphunga, the chief of Khandaih. Hranga (2) was its first school teacher.
An epidemic broke out in the village, which had two zawlbûk and hundreds of houses. Many people moved to a nearby site at Vanbawng. Chief Vanphunga remained in Khandaih, as did Hranga. The strength of Hranga’s Christian convictions may be seen in the fact that when the epidemic raged in the village he refused to sacrifice to the jungle spirits as others did.
In early 1906 Hranga had been visiting Aizawl and when he returned in April he saw many changes. The revival had affected many of the youths and the Chief was highly incensed at this. Anything that caused an estrangement between the young men of the zawlbûk and the Chief could damage the structure of village life. The youths of the zawlbûk provided the Chief with his soldiers, his police force, and his skilled labour. Chief Vanphunga’s bitterness spread over to three other neighbouring powerful chiefs who were his younger brothers. The four chiefs were united in their resolution to stop the further growth in the number of Christians. One of them, Zataia, sent a message to his brother to say, “Let us resolve to be rid of the Christians which are in each of our villages. Get rid of those in your village and I will get rid of mine in the same way. Cause them to go away and I will follow suit. We will keep in touch.”
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ heard complaints of ill-treatment from the Khandaih Christians and decided to visit the village as the new converts too needed teaching and preparation for baptism. He thought it judicious to take with him a young Christian called Lalsailova (later to become Chief of Kelsih), who was the cousin of Chief Vanphunga’s wife, together with Thanga and the evangelist Vanchhunga. In the meanwhile Vanphunga had been marshalling his forces. He called his brothers to a conference.
To punish a certain Christian in Khandaih they had removed his wife to Chief Vanphunga’s house and placed her on the bamboo floor at the foot of the main bed, a part of the house where courtesy forbade any visitor from trespassing. The Christian husband complained to Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ that his wife was unwell and he had been refused permission to visit her. Thangkhama, one of Chief Vanphunga’s brothers, visited Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and refused to listen to any of the missionary’s pleas on behalf of the distressed husband. A chief, said he, had every right to act as he saw fit in his own village, and in any case, what had happened to the woman was for her own good.
Later that afternoon Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ and his companions went to the Chief’s house in the new village of Vanbawng hoping to see the woman. The chiefs were drunk and voluble and Thangkhama got into a heated argument with Jones ‘Zosaphluia’. In the evening Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ returned with his companions. The house was full of drunken people. Vanchhunga tried to go across to the woman but he was punched and insulted. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ tried to make peace with the offer of a gift but the Chief rejected it saying he feared catching Christianity from him.
On the following day, a Saturday, Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ went to one of the two zawlbûks in the old village of Khandaih, and held a service of preparation for the baptism of thirty young men. This service was conducted in whispers throughout for fear of being disturbed but when it was over one of the chiefs discovered a service had been held in a zawlbûk. He came rushing in and threw red-hot embers from the fire at the Christians. They scattered in all directions. However, a service of baptism and holy communion was held on the Sunday without much interference. The only commotion came during the address when a somewhat drunken old man tried to drag out his son by the hair. The young man resisted and the old man staggered out muttering, “I have lost a son”.
Harassment of Christians spreads.
On Monday the party moved on to Lungpher, Thangkhama’s own village. They arranged an open-air meeting and a small group gathered, apparently to listen, but when Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ began to speak they all melted away. The reason became apparent later. The Chief had announced that any villager who listened to the preaching would be fined one pig. The pig was an important part of a Mizo household. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ threatened to report the Chief’s action. The Chief, then knowing he had done wrong rescinded his previous order and gave permission to the villagers to listen if they wished.
Chief Vanphunga intensified his harassment of Christians by, forcing them to prepare the rice-beer for him and his elders on a Sunday, when official visitors came to the village demands for extra provisions were highest from Christians, he robbed them of their property, Christians were given the poorest and most barren land in the annual distribution of the rice fields, and in many cases they were driven out of the village into the jungle when the monsoon rain was at its heaviest. Much against their will Christians were forced to find homes elsewhere, in whatever village that would give them shelter.
Wherever they went they formed churches and Chief Vanphunga’s actions thus proved the unconscious means of spreading the Gospel to many places. The majority of the chiefs remained implacably opposed to Christianity and unfairly persecuted them in many ways. Some Christians resented this and thought the missionaries could be more helpful. As Pasena wrote. ‘Mr. Jones’ tendency was to encourage them to bear persecutions great and small in the name of Jesus Christ who suffered all the reproaches and persecutions to the end’.
Some of the persecutions occurred in the home. There were, battered wives, divorces, extra chores were created for Christian wives on Sundays, there were even cases of brothers stripping sisters and driving them out of the house, sometimes sisters were tied up and icy water was poured over them. Even fifty years later the memories of their misery still rankles in the memory of many Mizos.
At a much later date Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ realized the true gravity of what had occurred at Khandaih and wrote:
‘I was blamed for the trouble and was personally at risk. It was believed that the conversions (of the young men) were due to magic. I learnt later that the Chief planned to kill me when I went there to baptise thirty converts. In that way it was thought they would be rid of this new faith. But by God’s mercy I was spared’. (translated from Welsh)
The ‘bawite’ or serf system.
Real growth began after first ‘Mizo Revival’, but for some years it was unspectacular. The opposition of powerful chiefs succeeded to some extent in retarding it. The Gospel often appealed to to the poorest and weakest in the village, but they were the most vulnerable. According to age old custom a man, or a woman, or a family, if they were destitute, could claim refuge under the chief and become part of his household. They would then be his ‘bawite’, meaning they would be his serf or slave, in perpetuity, unless they were freed on payment of a fixed price. The bad side of the system was that many could never be freed and were sometimes badly treated, with little chance of redress.
An elderly pastor gave the following account of his difficulties:
‘When I read the Scriptures (four books of the New Testament were widely circulated) I wanted to become a Christian; but I was in the Chief’s house. Since I was a ‘serf’ I was not allowed to ‘believe’. In 1906 my uncle (or grandfather) who lived in another village paid for me to be free. On the 10th March 1908 I read Acts 4vv. 19, 10 (about listening to God rather than men) and I asked to be put on the candidate’s list to become a member of the church. My relatives, in the village where I lived were furious. They sent me to work in the rice field on Sunday, 23rd May. I refused. They stripped me, put some dirty rags on me, and pushed me out of the house. I went off to Aizawl on the next day. The following year I began to study to be an evangelist’. (translation from Mizo)
From 1906 to 1910 the growth of the church was very slow and the number of Mizo Christians was less than a thousand.
(1). Khandaih was later moved a mile or so away and renamed Phullen.
(2). Hranga continued to hold this post until well after the 2nd World War.