The Aos in Church movement in Amri Karbi areas
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By Oken Jeet Sandham
It is not out of nowhere, but it is God’s plan that I landed in a village called Rongphar. It is one of the Amri Karbi tribe’s villages in the Amri Karbi areas of Assam. The village is some 40 kilometers away from Guwahati and some 4 kilometers away from the National Highway 37.
I along with my colleague Takoba Teron reached the village on October 21, 2012. I was invited to present a paper in a “Seminar” on the theme “Awareness of Political Consciousness of Amri Karbi Tribes and Their Chartered Demands” on October 22 and 23, 2012 at Rongphar Community Hall. It was organized by Amri Karbi National Council (AKNC) which has been spearheading for the “Autonomous District Council” under Sixth Schedule for a separate Amri Karbis in Assam. Over the last decades, the leaders of the AKNC have been meeting various Central leaders including former Prime Ministers late Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. They have also submitted various memoranda to previous Dr Manmohan Singh Government and also the present Narendra Modi Government at the Center.
The day we reached the Rongphar village was Sunday and did not know where we would be staying. But, so lucky that our accommodation was arranged in the Church Guest House. In fact, we were received by Pastor of the Rongphar Baptist Church, Pichong Ronghang when we reached in the village. Our team was first received by President of the AKNC, Mr Pudum Ingti, when we arrived at Sonapur, and from there, he led us to Rongphar village where I would be addressing the “Seminar.”
After having exchanged some pleasantries, the Pastor invited me to speak in the Church the same evening as that day was Sunday. I was really happy on being invited to speak in this Church, though not showing immediate response to him feeling a bit of reservation thinking it wouldn’t be fair as I reached in the village for the first time in my life, and not knowing anything of its background rather.
My sharing in this Church was one of the most memorable ones in my life but the most important one, which I would like to tell here, is the way the Christianity started coming in this village and also other villages in the Armi Karbi areas. I didn’t have much to share except my happiness of coming to this beautiful village. Although the attendance was thin, every moment was historic for me as it was the first time for me attending Karbi Church Service in my life. The news of sharing my feeling in the Church spread like a wildfire in the village and many complained the next morning saying that they would have attended the last evening’s Church Service if they knew that I would be speaking in the Church. I really felt humbled by such responses from the villagers in this village.
It is heartening to note that the Christianity has been planted in this village and other Amri Karbi areas by the Ao Church leaders under the Merangkong Godhula Mission (MGM) of Mokokchung, Nagaland.
Rongphar village is inhabited by mostly Amri Karbi tribes. This village lies at the foothills and the people were mostly non-Christians but after the Christianity came in 32 years ago, majority of them are today Christians. The village has two denominations – Baptist and Catholic.
The Rongphar Baptist Church (RBC) was first set up under the sponsorship of MGM in 1983. Those first converts are still active in Church activities in the village and also in other neighboring villages. The initial thatched Church with few negligible members has today become a symbol and prestige for the Christian community in the village. Today they have a huge RCC Church boasting of having a good number of members from the village.
Many Ao missionaries from Nagaland’s Mokokchung district have been actively engaged in promoting and developing Christianity in this village and other Amri Karbi villages. Yet, they still need supports for running and maintaining the Church administration and other activities. Prominent Ao Church leaders and high profile officials have been extending financial and material supports to the Churches, which have been established under MGM, from time to time. One of the known families not only among the Aos but also Nagas in Nagaland, late NI Jamir’s family had their share for the growth of the Church activities in the Rongphar village. The name of late NI Jamir, father of former Nagaland Chief Secretary Alemtemshi Jamir and grandfather of present NPF MLA Marentoshi Jamir, has been written and displayed in the Church.
Late LL Yaden, IAS, father of Nagaland Post Editor Geoffrey Yaden was also one of the pioneers for Christian movement in Amri Karbi areas of Assam. He was also one of the architects of MGM, which has established at least 29 Churches in Amri Karbi areas of Assam. Amenba Yaden, Parliamentary Secretary and James Yaden, IGP and Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (Retd), were also among others who had contributed towards the Church funding in Amri Karbi areas of Assam.
It is said that the Christianity, which was first brought in the Amri Karbi areas, was Rongphar village. It was way back in 1983 when Reverend Puna Ao with his wife Theresa landed in this otherwise nondescript Village, Rongphar, coolly and silently perching at the foothills of Rongphar areas. It was Rev Puna who set the Christianity in motion in Rongphar Village under the sponsorship of MGM. The Rongphar Christian people said, “Rev Puna Ao is Edwin W Clark of the Rongphar Village.” Today there are 29 Baptist Churches in Amri Karbi areas. There are more than 240 Villages in the Amri Karbi areas.
Reverend Puna with his wife, who is a Garo, peacefully lives in Guwahati. The couple is blessed with two sons and daughter. Unfortunately their eldest son has already expired. A beautifully framed photograph of the missionary couple is hung up at the Office of the Rongphar Baptist Church.
Pastor Ronghang could speak fluently Nagamese as he had his earlier education from Mokokchung areas and also his Theological education from there. He has also been closely working and associated with the leaders of RBC since its inception in 1983. He gets a meager Rs 2000 as his monthly salary, besides he lives in a very pathetic condition. I was pained at seeing the condition of the Pastor but he seemed more comfortable and enjoying to being a servant of God.
The Rongphar village is indeed a blessed one. In the middle and surrounding areas of the village, there are paddy fields. It is bestowed with many streams, river and huge pristine forests. Inside the village, a massive tea farm is there covering huge areas of the village foothills. But if you look around, there is hardly any sign of developments from the Government side—be it State or the Center. There are two village approach roads. One is hardly motorable while the other is motorable, but no blacktopping.
We hardly thought that such beautiful Amri Karbi villages would be there along the foothills in Amri Karbi areas in Assam as most of us had hardly had any ideas of visiting them. About 99 percent of these villagers are Amri Karbis and they live peacefully and silently without causing any slightest disturbances to either other non-tribal communities or administrations. They have been surviving and they can do so for centuries to come without the support of the state Government. But they have to live at par with the rest of the State, and they should be given their due share and recognition.
In the meantime, the Amri Karbis have a cherished love for the Aos for showing them the light from the darkness.