NATIVE LIFE IN TRAVANCORE
The REV. SAMUEL MATEER, F.L.S.
Of the London Missionary Society
CHRISTIAN WORK AMONG THE SLAVE CASTES
In spite of opposition and persecution, open or concealed, in spite of natural defects of character and evil habits long cherished, Christianity has done much for those who have embraced it in Travancore. They have risen, not slowly, but with marvellous rapidity, as soon as the unnatural incubus of their superstitions was removed, and the light of intelligence and religion shed upon their hearts and upon their path in life.
Through their improvement in industry, sobriety, and domestic order, and through the Divine blessing upon those who seek Him, their temporal circumstances speedily begin to improve. The children of Christian Pulayars, Kuravars, Vedars, and other castes learn in the Mission schools; some have even been able to render service to illiterate masters by reading for them documents and letters.
A Sudra conversing with an Evangelist, said: — “Kuravars cannot learn anything — that is quite impossible.”
The teacher called several of his congregation to him and bade them repeat their Scripture lessons. When the man heard this, he was astonished and confounded : an illustration this of the inspired words, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.”
Some who have had much to do with these outcaste races testify that the converts are, as a rule, persons of excellent natural abilities, as I myself have frequently found them. They are quite capable of rapid improvement.
“At Venkodu,” says a native missionary, “I saw a wonderful instance showing the rapid progress of these once most degraded slaves, both in temporal and spiritual circumstances, which has been made solely by the gracious and mighty arm of our Lord. I saw the newly built house of a Christian, who was fifteen years ago a slave, and the whole of his property then did not exceed three rupees. Now his house itself is worth Rs. 1,000, and he has besides landed property and cattle worth more than Rs. 500.
"Reading and singing, which I have heard from a house while passing the jungle in the dark of the night, was a proof of what Christianity is spiritually doing among them.”
Another report contains some remarkable illustrations of the good influence of Christianity upon this class of people. Writing in 1873 of his own congregation, numbering nearly four hundred, the native missionary says : —
“Twelve years ago, most of these Christians were zealous heathens and oppressed slaves. They lived in huts some ten feet long by ten broad, worth about seven rupees each; huddled together in filthy villages rendered disgusting by the remains of dead animals on which the people fed, and other foul refuse. Carpenters and masons dared not work for them, even if some one possessed the means to employ such. Eleven years ago one of these men, who had become a Christian, undertook to employ carpenters in building a decent abode. The Brahmans interfered, prevented the carpenters from working, and put the man in prison for making the effort to better himself, where he stayed until one of the missionaries interposed and procured his release.
"At another time the Government caused several houses of the native Christians to be pulled down because they were too good for such people to live in. But now the times are changing. Last year a native Christian, who was formerly of the class described, erected a house of two stories, worth a thousand rupees. This same man, who a few years ago was prohibited from owning any other property than a wretched mud house, now owns besides his house other property, valued at over a thousand rupees, and pays rent and taxes to the amount of 250 rupees a year.
"Another case is mentioned of a man once a slave to a cruel Brahman, who now owns a house worth Rs. 350, and other property worth about a thousand. These are exceptional cases; yet the social status of all those Christians has improved wonderfully as well as their style of living, and they are now building neat houses, in clean and orderly villages.”
“Most of these Christians,” he adds, “are now advanced in spiritual knowledge and in worldly circumstances. They had not formerly any foot of ground to call their own, but have now bought lands from their masters by money earned after the abolition of slavery. They have now cattle of their own, and lease lands from the Sudras for cultivation. Some Sudras even work on the lands of those who were once their slaves. One is now bullock driver for his former slave.”
In their former condition it was their custom to deceive their Brahman and Sudra masters, and to steal their property. If one wanted to take a girl in marriage for his son, he would not inquire into her beauty, property, or education, but her cleverness to steal.
Children were taught by their parents to steal — it was about all the education they had. So lying, quarrelling, and the use of foul language were fixed and constant habits. These have all been renounced, and creditable instances are given of self control under severe provocation. Drunkenness was common, but is being abandoned.
The improvement in moral character of the freed slaves under Christian instruction and discipline, renders them more acceptable to sensible and welldisposed employers and landowners. Some of these have been observed to walk past a Christian prayer-house where converts were assembled for worship, just to hear and see what was going on inside. An intelligent Sudra woman, residing near such a congregation, bore clear testimony not long since to the effect of Christian teaching upon these people.
“We acknowledge,” said she, “that Christianity is a good religion, because formerly the Pulayars and Pariahs were afraid of demons: they used to spend all their earnings in time of harvest for offerings to their terrible demons — but now a great change is seen. They also used to steal our property, but do not do so now; and we must acknowledge that it is your religion that has produced such good results.”
Interested and struck by this marked reformation of their former slaves, the master will sometimes make inquiries of his servant as to this Way; or ask him to repeat some of his Scripture texts, or sing a hymn to him, as they are very fond of singing. These poor Christians are becoming able to converse with and exhort their masters and superiors in caste; and are sometimes listened to with pleasure and interest. One we have known purchase tracts to present to the children of his employer.
The other day a respectable Sudran came to one of our catechists, and said, “I want all my Pulayars taught Christianity, and I will help you to build a prayer-house for them.”
They are also remarked as exemplary in giving, according to their small ability, for the support and spread of the gospel; they help in building chapels with unpaid labour, or for mere food in cases where they are so poor that if they do not earn something for a day they must want. Some of them go about when they can to pray with their fellow Christians, and exhort heathens of the same class to embrace the truth.
A native missionary from a distance recently paid a visit to some of these congregations, and was struck with the wonderful changes which Christianity and education are working.
“My tour in the hilly districts, he writes, was very trying, but how pleasing it was to behold here and there among these jungles, chapels for the worship of Jehovah rising up like towers of refuge, and to see those poor ignorant wild people — Puliars, Pariahs, and Vedars — who live in little huts scattered in different parts of the jungle, and who earn their maintenance by hard daily labour in the fields, coming on Sundays with neat dress and cheerful countenance into the sanctuary of the Lord to worship and sing His praise, having cast off their former superstitions.
"It was also delightful to witness the devotedness of the catechists to the noble work of the Lord, leaving their own homes and properties to live and labour, with their dear wives and children, in places infested with wild beasts and malarious fevers.”
A sketch of these converts was given in 1874 by the Rev. J. Emlyn, who has several thousands of them under his spiritual care in the Pareychaley District. He writes : —
“The people that have, as a body, made the greatest progress during the last few years are the converts from the Pariahs and Puliars. While in slavery, and for some time after the proclamation of their freedom by the Sirkar, fearing their masters, they rarely ventured to speak with Christians, and when spoken to by mission agents generally ran away. But after a while they became less timid, and venturing, in jungle paths and other sheltered places, to listen to the words addressed to them, they gradually obtained more enlightened views, both of the Gospel and of their own degraded condition; and understanding the aims and motives of their instructors, they eventually placed full confidence in them, as well as in their teaching.
"A few in this district made an open profession of Christianity in 1862 and 1863, but it was not till 1867 that large numbers did so : that year the increase reported in the adherents in this district was 2,649 persons, the majority of whom were from these castes. Since then they have every year become more numerous. Some notion of their former ignorance may be formed from the fact that once when I visited a congregation of learners for the first or second time, nearly all the hearers had absented themselves, having been told by their masters that I intended catching them, and sending them to Great Britain to serve as food for goldproducing rats !
Their character corresponded with their knowledge. Marriage, properly speaking, they had none, men and women living together only as long as they pleased; and so addicted were they to stealing, lying and drinking, and so low was public opinion among them, hardly any considerable evil being considered disgraceful, that the attempts to elevate them used to be ridiculed by many of the higher heathen.
The majority are now acquainted with the leading truths of the Scriptures; scores of adults as well as children have learnt to read; five have become mission schoolmasters; many have been baptized; a few have been admitted into the church; a good proportion are married; civilisation advances, and godliness increases. The Hindus who used to ridicule the efforts of the Mission now acknowledge their wonder at the results.
These converts do their own part well, and are worthy of continued help from us. They strive to learn; they give up their evil habits, and many of them certainly endeavour to walk in the ways of the Lord. They, moreover, contribute very liberally according to their means. In one respect these have an advantage over many of their fellow Christians of the Shanar caste — they have no special work to occupy them on Sundays, and are, therefore, able to spend several hours at the services. And in general they have much greater ability and love for singing than the converts from the Shanars; assembling for divine service, therefore, has perhaps more attractions for them.”
A few years later, in 1878, Rev. W. Lee, in charge of the same district, thus writes : — “In the north of the district the people who have joined us were altogether without education, and grossly ignorant and superstitious. Lying, theft, polygamy, were common amongst them. A wife was kept as long as the husband pleased, and then sent away. In like manner, also, the wife forsook her husband whenever she liked; and if illness or any other calamity overtook either, he or she was invariably forsaken. In morality they might be described as the lowest in the kingdom.
But within fifteen years the power of the Gospel to elevate men has been shown in remarkable instances and in many respects.”
In the Church Mission in North Travancore the work among the Pulayars began about 1851, three years before the emancipation. It was not suffered to proceed without great opposition on the part of the owners, not only Hindus, but Syrians : the slaves who came to learn were oppressed and cruelly maltreated, and those who ventured to teach them were treated as utterly polluted, and expelled from society. Twice the Mallapalli school was burnt down.
There are now in this Mission eight or nine thousand converts from these castes, of whom nearly a thousand have been taught to read. Fifty-one schools are conducted amongst them. Many more are willing to come under instruction were sufficient means and teachers available. The missionaries and pastors report that many have exhibited striking examples of a holy and humble life.
There have been cases to mourn over, of lying, pride, and the grosser sins; but taken as a body, and considering what they have been and their present social condition, they are regarded as most satisfactory converts, who would put many more highly-privileged Christians to shame. They may now be heard singing hymns, instead of howling to drive off wild animals while watching the fields at night.
The following translation of a pathetic Lyric, which they delight to sing at their work, will illustrate their sentiments and character : —
Chorus Our slave work is done, our slave bonds are gone.
For this we shall never henceforth forsake Thee, O Jesus !
1. To purchase cattle, fields, houses, and many luxuries (we were sold);
(Now) Messiah himself has settled in the land a people who once fled in terror. Our, &c.
2. The father was sold to one place, the mother to another; the children also separated. But now Our, &c.
3. The owners who enslaved us often caused us much suffering : But will it comfort us to relate all the oppressions in full ? Our, &c.
4. After exhaustion with labour in burning heat, in rain and cold and dew. They beat us cruelly, with thousands of strokes. Our, &c.
5. Dogs might enter streets, markets, courts, and lands; (but) if we went near they beat and chased us to a distance. Our, &c.
6. As unclean lepers must run and hide in the jungles, so we outcastes must leave the road after warning those who approach. But now Our, &c.
7. As the Lord freed from slavery the much-suffering Israelites in Egypt, So He has freed us from our distresses. Our, &c.
8 The Scripture teachers came, sent by the Triune God : Through this, slavery ended and liberty was gained. Our, &c.
9. They diligently taught letters, arithmetic and hymns; made us clearly see the path to heaven, and set us therein. Our, &c.
10. Come in crowds, brethren, let none hang back, Heartily to trust and worship Jesus, the great and wise God. Our, &c.
11. Come, ye elders! gather the people unitedly into the church : To-day and evermore remember the love of Jesus and the Judgment Cry. Our, &c.
12. Observe Baptism and Communion. Advance, And walk wisely in the path of a renewed nature. Our, &c.