In the 1800s, the American Baptist Mission Society started working in North East India. They most likely set up mission stations in the Nowgong and Goalpara areas of Assam. But even though people worked hard for years, not much progress was made. While Omed and Ramke did many great things, one of the most impressive is how they brought Christianity to the Garo people of the Garo Hills. E.G. Phillips says that the names of these first two followers, Omed W Momin and Ramke W Momin, must be included in any history book that talks about how Christianity came to the Garo people. On April 14, 1867, Dr. Miles Bronson opened the First Church on Garo Soil, where Omed W Momin worked hard and constantly. It was in Rajasimla that Momin was made the first ordained pastor of the church.

The Garos Before Christianity

William Carey

The Garos, along with the bulk of hill tribes in the Northeast, have seen substantial turmoil in the last two to three centuries, notably after the establishment of colonial governance in the region. William Carey observed that the speech of the Garos may sometimes be characterized by a dissonant sound like the collision of metal with stone. The Garos were averse to being governed by individuals from other tribes due to their dissimilar physical attributes. In addition, they were unwilling to impose taxes on zamindars residing in the plain regions. On many cases, when the tax collectors demanded payment, they were unable to remain silent and instead resorted to killing the individuals, decapitating them, and seizing control of their settlements. In 1852, Lord Dalhousie made the following statement:

“…But these furious people those who do not obey, not useful at all, even not heeded completely will bring a great tragic and dreadful doom. Though we may send strong soldiers to control them, our work and struggle will go in vain. Even though we try to control North-East hillsides, it becomes useless… therefore; I myself suggest that we should completely remove them from any angle. Until and unless we caught and tortured these crazy killers will continue and will dominant over all…”1

Keeping these suggestions in mind, it became highly satisfactory since the British government decided to accept this and subsequently chose to arrange the Garos’ major strike in protest of the previously mentioned problems, even though this strike significantly harmed their day-to-day existence. They were promised not to behave in such vile ways against the government, and they were persuaded to stop their negative habits and actions.

Earliest attempt at converting the Garos to Christianity
Professor Lindrid D. Shira said about David Scott:
“The Garo people could not forget David Scott, who was a British Commissioner to the whole North-Eastern Frontier of India for which he contributed a lot of good things. Though he could not do much to Garos in terms of the Christian religion, with much struggle he invited some of the American missionaries to work with their full commitment.”2

David Scott first encountered the Garos in 1816 when he was sent to handle problems on the Garo frontiers. He dealt with this ferocious tribe with the utmost diplomacy, and he soon won their obstinate hearts. He was certain that only the spiritual power of the Christian faith channeled through the medium of missionary schools, could ever bring the Garos lasting peace and benefit. He also held the opinion that a missionary was more important to tame this warlike tribe than a captain or a civilian, and he made an effort to convert the Garos to Christianity using this clear-cut belief as his guiding principle. David Scott put a lot of effort into securing missionary personnel to start schools among the Garos in order to achieve this. It’s clear from his letter to Mr. M. B. Baily, a Secretary to the government that he was willing to donate some of his own money to this cause:

“I am satisfied that nothing permanently good can be obtained by other means. I would greatly prefer two or more Moravian missionaries who, along with religion would teach the useful arts. If the Government would insure them subsistence only, I would be willing to take on myself the expense.”3

The American Mission Board decided to find the two missionaries with this crucial consideration in mind after receiving this brief appeal to the Secretary of the Government. However, due to the listed missionaries’ inability to perform as the Board had anticipated, these things did not, in some ways, turn out as planned. While in Assam, Commissioner and Agent to the Governor-General of Bengal, Captain (later General) Francis Jenkins, who shared his interest in and viewpoints regarding the Garos, founded a school in Goalpara district in 1847. His goal was to educate young Garo people in order to send them back to civilize their own people, much like David Scott.

Birthplace and Early Days of Omed and Ramke
Omed W. Momin was born in 1832 in the quaint hamlet of Watrepara.4 Omed was a born leader who was impulsive and forceful from a young age. Despite having been born in the wild, he became interested in reading and writing after going to a nearby market and finding a government interpreter who spoke fluent Bengali.5 Omed was always devoted to his nephew Ramke because he was the older of the two and because he was Ramke’s uncle. He made it a point to impart whatever wisdom or talent he had gained to Ramke. After living there with his uncle Omed for five or six years, Ramke W. Momin was born in 1838. Ramke, a boy of 11 or 12 years old, was for a time prevented by his stepfather, who preferred his assistance with the jhum cultivation to his education. When he was younger, he had a strong belief in demons and worked diligently to defeat them, frequently trapping wild birds to sacrifice to them.6 Ramke was deeply religious and did his best to uphold his native faith even before he accepted Christ as his Savior.7

Education of Omed and Ramke
In an effort to exert some influence and control over the tribe, the government established a school for Garo boys in Goalpara in 1847. Despite their lack of understanding of how providence was guiding them.8 The news that the government wanted Garo boys for a school at Goalpara and would feed, clothe, educate, and produce great men for them was announced one day in 1847 by beating the drums at the Rangjuli market. The rumors reached Omed and Ramke’s neighborhood in the nearby hills as well.9 Omed and Ramke signed up for formal schooling at Goalpara along with a group of young Garos. After some time, it was decided that it would be wise to broaden their perspectives by sending them on a government-funded steamer to Gauhati. The Garo boys were very drawn to a regiment of Sepoy that was stationed there. Omed was asked to participate at first, but he declined. Jongrin and Ronja were initially enlisted. Ramke returned to school to finish his studies at Goalpara, but Omed was compelled and was forced to join the police at Gauhati before he could finish his education.10

Conversion and baptism of Ramke and Omed
The period of active planning for the establishment of the Church in the Garo Hills was between 1847 and 1867. Even though they did everything they could during this time to make the best of things, neither of them was happy with Garo’s doctrine of rebirth after death. Omed and Ramke were resentful of this doctrine since they were young and started looking for other religions that would assure them of eternal happiness.11 Omed was tasked in 1857 as a sepoy with guarding a mission house in Gauhati that would be temporarily occupied by a British officer. He was such a thoroughly honest and sincere sepoy while guarding the bungalow under British discipline that he even resisted the urge to take some old tracks that were scattered on the floor. He hastily picked up one of them and tucked it under his shirt one day after the sweeper had swept some of them outside. Omed read the tract that night incessantly out of curiosity and in Bengali under the title “Apattinashak“ (“Apati Nashak” means ‘The Destroyer of Objections.’ It explained the Christian faith and disposed of different objections to its acceptance). He finally located what he had been looking for for a while.12 However, he didn’t share this idea with anyone until he happened to run into Samuel Loveday, a Bengali Christian who was working as a contractor in Gauhati. In 1859, Loveday persuaded Omed to visit the pastor and attend church services. He also persisted in his conversations with Kandura Smith, but Omed refrained from seeking baptism because, like many hill-men, he found it difficult to give up drinking rice beer.13

Ramke, on the other hand, started studying the Hindu Sastras (bibles) after enrolling at the Goalpara School and sought advice from the Sadhus seated beneath the tall trees there. Ramke spent about 8 or 9 years as a practicing Hindu after being persuaded by the sadhus’ explanation of the Sastras. He began and ended the day by saying “Ram,” respecting the Brahmins, and generously giving them alms from his meager allowance as instructed by Sadhu. A Christian tract called Apatti Nashak was distributed at Goalpara by a group of traveling Baptist missionaries led by Rev. In the winter of 1856, Ruprecht Bion and Ram Jivan traveled from Dacca. He was once more overcome with utter hopelessness and despair after reading this tract. His appointment as a teacher at the Rangjuli Primary School, where he spent about eleven months, distracted him, though. On the advice of a Brahmin, he returned to Goalpara after that and continued his studies there for a while. Omed recently expressed his growing interest in Jesus Christ in a letter to Ramke. Ramke was overjoyed and made his way to Gauhati as soon as the school let out for the summer. There, he enrolled in the Normal School and studied for a year.14 Omed told him there about his brief encounter with the enigmatic tract. In actuality, the nephew and uncle shared a common interest in spirituality and frequently discussed how they felt about spirituality. They were both seekers of the eternal truth. A lively debate about which religion—Hinduism, Islam, or Christianity—they should follow soon broke out between them. The older of the two, Omed, expressed the following opinion:

The animistic belief of our Garo people is indeed detestable. Hindus practice the caste system. If we become Hindus, we will have to stay away from our relatives. Besides, even Ramayana does not teach anything about the salvation of the soul. In the Koran of the Muslims, indeed there is a promise of God to make the followers of Islam a great nation; but not much importance is given to the soul of human beings. Therefore, after examining what is written in the booklet (tract) and after weighing all the pros and cons, it seemed to me that Christianity is the best and the truest of all religions.15

Omed and Ramke were examined by Kandura Smith, who after being persuaded of their sincerity, promised to recommend their baptism to Dr. Miles Bronson when he next traveled to Gauhati. In the end, the baptism was performed for the first time on February 8, 1863, at Sukheswar Ghat in Gauhati. Few people present at the ceremony on the riverbank that day could have foreseen the contribution that the first two Garo Christians would soon make to the cause of Christ.16 Formerly barbaric Garos sat down at the Lord’s table that afternoon for the first time, partaking of the symbols of His broken body and shedding blood in holy fellowship with Him and those who had pointed them to Him as the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.17

Sukheswar Ghat 1863

Sukheswar Ghat 1863

 

The Arrival of Christianity in the Garo Hills
They wanted to bring Christianity to their fellow Garos in the wild hills18 because they had been proven to be extraordinary Garo soul-winners after accepting it as their new religion. Stayed true to this belief, Omed and Ramke to find a missionary who could share the gospel with the Garos, asked Dr. Miles Bronson. Though his nephew agreed to go with him, neither Ramke’s wife Suban19 nor Omed’s wife Epiri20 gave their consent to be baptized or accept Christ as their Savior. Omed was, however, given the chance to receive specialized training at Nowgong, but he turned it down, citing his advanced age as justification.21 Because they were both completely untrained and inexperienced with the major evangelistic thrust in the wilderness, Dr. Miles Bronson and Kandura Smith disapproved of this idea. In order to be supported by the Christian community there, they persuaded the new converts to stay in Gauhati for a while longer, but they were adamant. However, Dr. Miles Bronson granted their request and agreed to pay them a meager salary before entrusting them with the task of evangelizing the Garo Hills. As a result, they both left their respective positions in March, and on May 10, 1864, they left Gauhati with their wives and children. They were then kept under the direct supervision of Captain Morton, the Deputy Commissioner of Goalpara.22 From Goalpara, they traveled to Damra, where they spent the night and conducted open preaching at the weekly market,23 which is how Omed and Ramke in order to reach their own people, became the first missionaries.

(Volume-2 continues)

 

 

  1. Rehunath K. Momin, “The Hut at the Foot of the Pass,” in History of Rajasimla Baptist Church, p5.
  2. Lindrind D. Shira, A·chik A·songona Nama Katta Sokbaani,” First Edition: Tura, n.p., 1991, p87.
  3. K. I. Aier, The Growth of Baptist Churches in Meghalaya (Gauhati: Christian Literature Center, 1978), p24.
  4. This village is perched on a hill and has a view of Rajasimla village. Even before 1812, bloodthirsty, barbaric Garos called this hamlet home.
  5. Medistar K. Momin, “The Contribution of Omed W. Momin,” The First Garo Convert in the Establishment of the Garo Baptist Church, p6.
  6. M. S. Sangma, History of American Baptist Mission in North-East India, p188-189.
  7. L. D. Shira, “God’s Plan of Salvation to the Garos,” in ABDK Quasqui Centenary Souvenir, 1875-2000. p14.
  8. E.G. Phillips, “Historical Sketch of the Garo Field,” in The Assam Mission of the American Baptist Missionary Union: Papers and Discussions of Jubilee Conference, December 18-19, 1886 (Calcutta: Assam Mission of the American Baptist Missionary Union, 1887), p54.
  9. “Beginnings of Christianity in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya,” in ABDK Quasqui Centenary Souvenir, p3.
  10. William Carey, The Garo Jungle Book, p56.
  11. Milton S. Sangma, “Advent of Christianity into Garo Hills,” in Rajasimla Quasqui Centenary Souvenir, 1867-1992, p3.
  12. K. I. Aier, The Growth of Baptist Churches in Meghalaya, p27.
  13. F. S. Downs, The Mighty Works of God: A Brief History of the Council of Baptist Churches in North-East India: The Mission Period 1836-1950 (Gauhati: Christian Literature Centre, 1971), p48.
  14. Milton S. Sangma, “Advent of Christianity into Garo Hills”, p3.
  15. (Jaseng D. Marak, comp., History of Rajasimla Baptist Church in Garo Hills, p2-3.)
  16. F. S. Downs, The Mighty Works of God, 50. This baptismal report was sent by Dr. Miles Bronson on February 13, 1863, from Gauhati to American Baptist Mission Board, and his report was published in the titled, in The Missionary Magazine, Vol. 43, August 1863, No. 8. p300-303.
  17. William Carey, The Garo Jungle Book, p80.
  18. Milton S. Sangma, History of American Baptist Mission in N.E., India, p188.
  19. Suboni B. Sangma was the wife of Ramke W. Momin from Amjonga. Her name was written as ‘Suban’ in William Carey’s Book title, The Garo Jungle Book, p71; A.G. Momin, “Omed the Saga of a Pioneer,” in Quasqui Centenary Souvenir, Rajasimla, p35; Interview with Rehunath K. Momin, Reverend of Rajasimla Baptist Church on May 13, 2013.
  20. Epiri was the wife of Omed W. Momin. Actually, she was not from the Garo tribe but from the Kachari tribe of Assam. She got married to Omed while he was in a sepoy at Gauhati. Later on, she became Garo and took the Garo clan’s title as ‘Epiri D. Marak.’
  21. A. G. Momin, “Omed the Saga of a Pioneer,” in Quasqui Centenary Souvenir, Rajasimla, p34.
  22. “Beginning of Christianity in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya”, in ABDK Quasqui Centenary Souvenir, p4.
  23. Milton S. Sangma, “Advent of Christianity into Garo Hills”, p5.

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