Page 19: Bible translation and the printed word.
Much Bible translation was undertaken in the early years. With the help of Chhunruma and Vanchunga, Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ translated The Gospel of St. Matthew (published in 1906), I and II Corinthians (1907) and the Book of Revelation (1911). Pu Thanga worked on the Book of Proverbs (1914) and Daniel (1915). Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ too was involved in translating The Gospel of St. Mark and the Pauline epistles.
On his return to the South Mizo Hills in March 1903, under the Baptist Missionary Society, Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ also took up the work of Scripture translation. Although the Presbyterians in the North, and the Baptists in the South, were eight days apart along the Government bridlepath, the two missions always worked well together. The history of Bible translation is a notoriously delicate one, especially when two different denominations are involved. Disputes over key words such as ‘God’, or ‘baptism’ have often occurred in the past, but from the first the problems were minor and there was constant co-operation between North and South.
In time they worked out a complete programme for the translation work and Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ acted as a general editor in liaison with the Bible Society (1). It was the work of translating the Scriptures and revising them for which they [Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’] were responsible in Mizoram. The printing and publication work was always undertaken by the Bible Society. This was occasionally done in London, but usually in Calcutta (2).
A small hymn book had been prepared by Lorrain ‘Pu Buanga’ and Savidge ‘Sap Upa’ before they left Mizoram in 1897. These were added to by Rowlands ‘Sapthara’. Many were translations of English and Welsh hymns. The English hymns favoured those taken from the Moody and Sankey hymnbook. Original hymns came later. Several editions of the ‘Hla Bu’, or Mizo hymnbook, had come out by the time of the ‘Mizo Revival’ in 1906. By that year it had become a very useful and adequate hymnary and a villager could have one for a couple of eggs. Mizo Christians knew most of them by heart and the hymns were sung with great gusto and fervour, especially when the revivalist spirit gripped the people. As a rule there was a ‘precentor’, usually self-appointed, who called out the first few words of every other line for the benefit of those who had no hymnbooks. These words, half-chanted, often heightened their meaning as they were sung.
The Curwen Tonic Sol-fa system was the poor man’s musical notation and at this time was in use throughout Wales. It enabled congregations to sing in four part harmony. The Mizo caught the infection. Many of them mastered the system and obtained proficiency certificates under London-appointed examiners. Years ago lads in the High School, standing around a Sol-fa copy of an unfamiliar tune, could read the music from any angle, sideways, or upside down, without any apparent difficulty. This was a skill only acquired by those who suffered from a shortage of books. In later years their knowledge of Sol-fa not only kindled a greater interest in hymns but in music of all kinds. By 1927 the ‘Hla Bu’ contained 500 hymns and other sacred songs.
The power of the printed word.
For about fifteen years books had to be sent away to be printed as there was no printing press within the borders of Mizoram. The Government had its own press at Shillong and Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ had some books printed there. Later books for Mizo schools and churches were printed and published in five other parts of India, in Sylhet, Dacca, Calcutta, Allahabad and Madras.
When Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ Rowlands ‘Sapthara’ made their first visit to the Khasi Hills in 1899, with Khara and Khuma, they returned via Guwahati [north of Shillong on the Brahmaputra River] and visited an American Baptist Mission station that had been in existence for some years. Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ describes seeing there ‘a printing press’ that was ‘intended to support the boys who attend the school’. This Guwahati press was later discontinued but it may have given Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ the germ of an idea.
However, it would be ten years before a press came to Aizawl. The Mission budget was always slim and it was unlikely there was enough money for such an expensive project. As can be seen from the Mission map of the period the Aizawl mission was on the ‘fringe’ position of the ‘Lushai Hills’, and the very youngest mission station at that. It is probably also fair to say that those who controlled Welsh Presbyterian mission policy at the time were strangely unaware of the power of the printed word.
There was a press within the Presbyterian mission area at Sylhet but in two histories of the work of the Mission by J.H. Morris no mention is made of it. The unavoidable conclusion must be that printing work was done as a sideline. Teaching, preaching and healing were considered the main activities of a mission and grants were given to support these. The necessity of having an active literature programme was overlooked.
Credit must be given to Jones ‘Zosaphluia’, and later leaders, for being so keenly aware that making people literate was not enough. It was necessary to feed their minds with new and interesting books if literacy was to be maintained. Evidence in other countries has proved that great efforts can be put into literacy, which can easily be lost and readers relapse into illiteracy because of the paucity of cheap books available.
This could have occurred in Mizoram but did not because the two busy missionaries ensured there was a regular flow of good and useful books in Mizo, always at a reasonable price. Gospels in Mizo sold very well and editions of 3,000-5,000 were needed for the most popular books to keep the prices down.
In 1911 the new medical missionary Dr. Fraser brought a small hand press to Aizawl. This was used to print medicine bottle labels with appropriate Scripture verses together with the dosage instructions. In October 1911 the small press was used to print a monthly magazine, initially called ‘Krista Tlangau’ (3), or ‘Herald of Christ’, which was later changed to ‘Kristian Tlangau’ or ‘Christian Herald’. The 32 page magazine has been produced without a break ever since. Though a journal of the Presbyterian Church it maintains its independence and has never been subsidized from outside, a record few church magazines anywhere could emulate.
The Loch Press.
One may presume Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ had put a little money aside from the small profits generated by the successful sale of cheap books to think about sending the first Mizo to train as a printer. He writes: ‘I sent the son of one of our earliest converts, Kailuia, to learn to be a compositor and bookbinder at the Mission Press in Sylhet’. Sylhet, was a centre of population for about a million and a half people, of whom most were Muslims. The staff at the Press were experienced and it was a good place for Kailuia to learn his trade. He remained there for four years.
Dr. Fraser’s hand press was small, about the size of an armchair, according to Pasena, and it belonged to Dr. Fraser himself. When he left Mizoram for Lakhipur, Assam, in 1912, he took it with him. The loss of the press was a blow to Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ but help came from a surprising quarter. Colonel Loch, the local Commandant, heard the press had gone and offered to replace it, together with the necessary type, out of his own pocket. This generous and unexpected gift allowed Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ to buy a foot-treadle press that was light and easy to operate. The total cost for press and type was £100 or 1,300 rupees at 1914 exchange rates. The only stipulation from Colonel Loch was that it should never leave Aizawl.
With the prospect of acquiring a printing press Kailuia was recalled from Sylhet where he had received a thorough grounding in letterpress composing, printing and bookbinding. The four years on the Plains had, according to Jones ‘Zosaphluia’, made the young man more Bengali than Mizo. When the new treadle machine arrived he had no difficulty assembling it. He started printing the following day, a very notable day in Mizo history.
In time Kailuia taught thirty young men how to print. When they first started to work at the Press the enthusiasm was touching. They would turn up for work at six in the morning and not leave till 9pm. For this they were paid overtime, but it caused Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ concern over health and safety issues and the long hours were reduced.
The little press was named the Loch Press in honour of its donor. It retained its name until electrification of the Press in 1958, when ownership was transferred from the Mission to the Synod, and it became the Synod Press.
In those days there was probably no area of India poorer than Mizoram. Rarely would there be even 5 rupees in any single house in any village. Annual visits were made by many villagers to Aizawl to sell a few goods. The money from these sales would be used to buy a few items not available in the villages, chiefly tools or clothes. If a villager could read he would also go to Jones’ ‘Zosaphluia’ house a mile and a half away from the bazaar, in the southern part of the town, to see what new books were available. Although they were all cheap the purchase of a book meant a considerable outlay. The book would be taken home, wrapped in a cloth, and placed in the driest place in his bamboo home. No doubt it would be circulated among friends. The impact of windows opening on fresh vistas in the minds of Christian Mizos cannot be overemphasised.
New books were mentioned in the ‘Kristian Tlangau’, and by word of mouth. Sales were steady and print production increased but profits were always slender. Originally books were stored in one room of Jones’ ‘Zosaphluia’ bungalow and sold from there, but as business increased a larger room was needed, and the books needed to be protected from white ants [termites], which cause enormous damage to wood and paper in tropical countries. A simple but adequate building was erected, just below the bungalow, in 1926, until a new building was erected opposite the main Mission Veng Church. That too has now since been replaced by a much larger building.
Jones ‘Zosaphluia’ sometimes grumbled that the little bookroom where he sold books was a continual distraction. Was this what God had sent him to do in the Lushai Hills? He did it however, because someone had to do it and there was no one else who would. So too with the school work, and preparing and printing school text books. But, despite his misgivings it was obviously an essential part of the life of the church.
Since the advent of the printing press books have been of great use in Christian missions. Since the Methodist revival in Britain during the 18th century the establishment of schools has become a prime factor in all missionary work.
The Free Churches had replaced the Anglican and Catholic liturgy of the clergy with the reading of Scriptures by individuals as the path to salvation. For Dissenters faith was always embodied in print. Even before Britain had a national school system missionaries abroad were busy opening and running schools. Dissenters largely concentrated their efforts on the provision of primary education. Simple literacy for all. Catholics tended to favour training leaders and scholars in church and state.
In Mizoram the main emphasis for many years lay in primary education and the Bible, in various ways, was made central to the children’s education. It was a book which provided them with a rich and varied literature, a window on the world, and a guide on the way to salvation.
It is easy to be critical of such a system but it was the new faith enshrined in the Book that made people want to learn to read and gain education for the first time in their nation’s history. It was fortunate too, when successive waves of revival shook the land, that there was a substantial body of Mizo readers, an increasing variety in the number of books available, and a small press ready to meet fresh demands as they arose.
The Mizo New Testament was increasingly available by the early 1920’s. The cost of printing was about 40 annas, but a subsidy from the Bible Society brought it down to 8 annas per copy. 8 annas was commonly what a man could earn in a day.
Mary Jones and her Bible.
After a period there was a shortage of New Testaments but by 1923 there was a good supply. Money was still short and numerous Christians were unable to buy Scriptures even at the subsidised rate the Bible Society was selling them.
The story of ‘Mary Jones and her Bible’ was re-enacted many times. The young girl Mary walked 25 miles to Bala to obtain a Bible. For years others, poorer, barefoot, and in ragged clothing, walked for seven or eight days to the Aizawl Bookroom. Sometimes they got the Scriptures they wanted, but sometimes the cupboard was bare. In later years they came even from the hills of Western Myanmar in their eagerness to have a New Testament of their own.
(1). The British and Foreign Bible Society. See: Wikipedia.
(2). The Baptist Mission Press (see right, above) at the Baptist Mission in Calcutta had as its largest client the British and Foreign Bible Society. The Press had been printing Christian Literature since 1818.
(3). Every Mizo village had a ‘Tlangau’ or village crier. Everyone knew that the ‘Tlangau’ did not speak in his own name but that of his chief.