Nagaland, home to the many Naga tribes, is a hilly state in the northeastern hills of India. For a long time the Nagas were in darkness – animists and headhunters. However, God led the Nagas from darkness to light. To understand the coming of Christianity to the Lothas, there is a need to mention the coming of Christianity to the Nagas as a whole.
Introduction of Christianity to the Nagas:
Christianity was introduced to the Nagas in the latter half of the 19th century by the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society. From the year 1813, American missionaries started coming to India. The removal of the ban on Missionary activity by the inclusion of the clause in the Charter of the East India Company in that year encouraged American missionary activity in India. But it was not until the British annexation of Assam under the treaty of Yandaboo in 1826 that Christianity was allowed to penetrate among the native people. It was during the same decade that the attention of the American Baptist Foreign Missionary union was directed toward the hill tribes of Assam.
Major Francis Jenkins, Governor General Agent to the North East Frontier, was interested in establishing mission among the people of Assam. He wrote to the American Baptist Mission Foreign Society (ABMFS) at Moulmein (Burma) for sending missionaries to work for the regeneration of the Hill tribes. The Baptist Foreign Missionary union gladly accepted the invitation and sent the Rev. Oliver T. Cutter as the first missionary to Assam in 1835. This led to the beginning of mission work in Sadiya, Assam in 1937 through Rev.Nathan Bronson, O.C.Cutter, and Rev. Miles Bronson. The American Baptist mission in Assam expanded gradually. In the 1840s stations were opened at Sibsagar, Nowgong and Gauhati in Assam.
Miles Bronson established a Christian Mission Centre at Namsang village ( Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh ) in 1839. In the following year, he was joined by his wife and his sister, Rhoda Bronson. They opened a Primary school, and Bronson wrote a Naga vocabulary book, a catechism, and a book called ‘Natahema Heran Kabanva Nyapran’, which is the first book to be written in a Naga language (NBCC Platinum jubilee,2012:12 ). However, plagued with illness, the family shifted to Assam and Rhoda Bronson died there on 7th December 1840, thus becoming the first Missionary to sacrifice her life for the Nagas.
Bronson left the Namsang Mission permanently and joined the Sibsagar Mission. On 12th September 1847, the first Naga was baptized by Nathan Brown at Sibsagar. His name was Hubi, but he died the following October. The second Naga to receive Christ, Longjang Lepzuk, an Ao Naga from Merangkong Village, was baptized by E.W. Whiting in 1851 and became a member of the Sibsagar Baptist Church. But when he went to his village intending to bring a wife, his village was attacked by a neighbouring Naga tribe and he was killed. The Namsang Naga Mission was abandoned for about thirty years, from 1840 to 1870, until Rev. E. W. Clark came to Sibsagar in 1869 and restarted the Naga Mission from another Naga region called Dekhahaimong.
Rev. Dr. E. W. Clark’s work among the Ao Nagas:
Rev. Dr. Edward Winter Clark, the first American Baptist missionary to the Naga Hills arrived in Sibsagar, Assam on 30th March 1869.
Initially he was entrusted to look after the work of the printing press in Sibsagar by the American Baptist missionary union. Here, Clark came to know of Naga traders who walked down to the Assam Plains with baskets of goods for trade. Clark was curious and interested in these tribesmen with Mongolian features and developed his vision to evangelize the Nagas. Among the Naga barter traders was Subongmeren, an Ao Naga from the village of Dekahaimong who was approached by an Assamese evangelist by the name of Godhula. Subongmeren was baptized in early 1871 by Dr. Clark at Sibsagar. He became the first contact person who paved the way for further evangelization of the Nagas.
With the help of Subongmeren, Rev. Clark first sent Godhula, an Assamese Evangelist, to Dekahaimong village. Godhula stayed in the village and spread the Gospel initially facing hostility, resistance and risk to life. After staying a few months he returned along with nine Naga converts from Dekhahaimong village. They were baptized at Sibsagar on 11th November 1872. The following month in December, Rev. Clark himself went up to the village and fifteen new converts were baptized on 23rd December 1872 in the village, and the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in the Church that had been built by the first group of believers. Thus the first Church in Naga soil was established. Rev. Clark along with the new converts established a new village, Molungyimsen, near Deka Haimong in 1876. Clark set up his Mission Station here until it was shifted to Impur in 1894.
The decade 1887 to 1896 saw the humble beginning of evangelism and the growth of Christianity in the Naga hills. In addition to the Missionary activities of Dr. Clark at Molung in the Ao field, other missionaries were appointed to the other Naga tribes. On the initiative of Clark, in 1878, the American Overseas Missionary Board at Boston appointed Rev. C.D King to reinforce Dr.Clark in the Naga Hills. He established a mission centre at Kohima in 1880. Similarly, in early 1885, the Government granted permission to the American Mission to open another centre at Wokha, a British post.
Introduction of Christianity to the Lothas:
Rev. Dr. W.E. Witter and his wife arrived at Wokha on the morning of April 9, 1885. With the arrival of Witter and his wife, the process of evangelization among the Lothas began. In addition to the Missionary activities of the Clarks at Molung in the Ao areas and the C.D.King in the Kohima areas, Rev. Dr. W.E. Witter and his wife began their promising work among the Lothas in 1885.
With zeal and dedication, Witter began the preparation of a script for the Lotha language adopting the Roman alphabet. This landmark in the beginning of the Lotha literature had an unprecedented impact on the future of the Lothas. The expansion of American missions in the Naga Hills was marked by important pioneering works on their part in several directions. To proceed with their activities of evangelization, it was also necessary to spread education so that the Bible could be read and understood. The translation of the Bible to the language of the local tribes was also essential. As a result the missionaries were not only preachers and translators, but also educators and publishers. Significant contributions were made in these areas among the Lothas by Dr. Witter.
In 1885, Dr. Witter and his wife started the first school in Lotha area, heralding the beginning of education in the Lotha area. Dr and Mrs. Witter was assisted by H. Daniel Baruah at Wokha. A day school was opened on August 25, 1886, with three Lotha boys but the number subsequently increased.
The American Baptists missionaries contributed to the development of Lotha literature. Dr. Witter was the first to reduce the Lotha language to writing. In 1888, Dr. Witter prepared the Lotha primer and a phrase book. In the same year the “An outline Grammar of the Lotha Naga Language with vocabulary and illustrative sentences” was printed in Calcutta which was published at government expense. Dr. Witter also translated hymns and the first catechism, excluding the Lord’s prayer into the Lotha language. The translation of the New Testament also started. Besides Dr. Witter, other missionaries also helped in the development of literature in the Lotha language. The Rev. S. A Perrine completed the Lotha Primer, Arithmatic, English-Lotha vocabulary and translation of gospel of Matthew in Lotha by 1905.
In 1888, Dr. Witter and his wife left for America to seek medical treatment and they did not return to the mission field at Wokha. Dr. Witter came back in 1922 with a medical degree, but worked in Gauhati till 1923. He returned to America and served as pastor in Lake Avenue
Church, Rochester till his death in November 1931. (Lotha Churches Association History,1998:9)
After the departure of the Witters in 1888, the mission activities took setback for more than a decade. Other non- resident missionaries were entrusted from time to time to look after the Wokha mission from Impur and Kohima.
It was not until the arrival of Dr. James Railey Bailey, an American medical missionary who in 1927 established the first Baptist Mission Centre in Vankhosung under Wokha District. In his memory, when the Wokha Town Baptist Church (WTBC) sponsored college was established in 2006 at Wokha, it was christened after his name.
Besides the above mentioned missionaries, there were other non- resident missionaries who worked for the evangelization of the Lothas. Rev and Mrs R.P.Longwell stayed in Impur and looked after the Lothas from 1920- 1926. During his time Lotha literature had improved and the New Testament in Lotha was released in 1943.
By 1940, the gospel of Mathew,Mark, Luke and John were translated for the Lothas. In 1946, the first edition of the New Testament was completed by Rev. Anderson and Rev.Tanquist.
The Houstons ( Howard and Harriet Houston) were the last missionaries who lived with the Lothas during 1948- 1953.
Lotha Metalo Wothung Roden
(Source: Centennial Souvenir, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Clark jo Ao metalo wothung, tolia ombo na ete Lotha jipo jiang ha Potsow shancho motsü tona limha ntsinran to yakchia wondang ekümo sosi yicheü to zechei Dr. W E Witter ompoe ji Wokha Station lo wothok elhi chonchiv tsükona etssyukae picho. Hoji ephanina paniponi na Ephi 9, 1885 lo Wokha Station jancho. Osi juthung Deputy Commissioner, Naga Hills na wothung ompoe ji kike motsünga miso na ethungzhüa tvü licho jilo evam picho hoji ntssüngrüngi pichepiri vantacho. Yuta tara Wokha Station lo kyon olan olan vamo jiang vanlanyilan sükhying jiang ntsi khia vancho. Ompoe na Bible osi shancho lanka jiang ryüpaka kyon püngnocho. Elani ompoe na nonghori thungi ntsinran lanka yakchia Khrista elhi mmhonkata tssorhüpchevü to zechei Chümangshan yonton, jithüng jo British Inspection
Bangalow, enhünga 12 AR. na vanta evamo shilo Jikanika 25, 1885 lo khaphen chonchicho. Benka nzyu jo nonghori nchyu (3) tae tssocho, tolia sülami jo kyongkata yicho. Püngno osi ekha jo Assamese na Daneil Boruah, Assam Kyon jina püngnocho.
Jithüng DC, Naga Hills jina khaphen ji yenjo eni oro zesi ekhae jiangna mmhona khata vamo ji hüngi emathata khaphen ji mmhonkatokvü tsükona Rangpyak 300/- nzanchi epivü tsükona Chief Commissioner thüngi ehüngpvüi picho.
Dr. W.E Witter ompoe na “Outline Grammar of Lotha Language with a Vocabulary” to eramo ji Chief Commissioner yidan lona Yansasae rang na ethüngezüa ejüpcho. Shi tae mekna Lotha Khaden Kako (First Lotha Primer) ji ha erancho elani kako thanpho ha Lotha yina khophicho.
Dr. Witter kikhümvü jina Jikanika 2, 1885 lo Emong Khaphen ji benkacho. Shi lona Potsow motsü tona okhen to lona nonghori jiang sokabenkacho. Hojito ete Lotha tsükona ezüp khia elhi tssoa vanathüng Dr. Witter Kikhümvü ji nochonoria ha talüngphen enhyano n lio ji yakchia Chesü choro 1887 lo Kohimae chüngi otsük talüngta vansi onte metae yilamo sükhying tssoa jo Americani yilani sicho.
Dr. W.E. Witter ompoe sülojo ete Lotha meta ndana wothung jo nvam sicho. Tolia Ao metalo
Wothung Rev. R.B. Longwell ompoe na Impur lona e nzanna e zenhya vancho. 1905-22 yuta lojo ompoe na eyi eyi oro Khristian jiang janthechia osi onte ethelan jiang zeyata vancho.