NATIVE LIFE IN TRAVANCORE
The REV. SAMUEL MATEER, F.L.S.
Of the London Missionary Society
One of the most obvious characteristics of the Travancore mission is its location in a Native State under the rule of a Maharajah and his Ministers, subject in a varying and undefined degree to the control of the British Resident and the paramount Government of India. This circumstance has had a very marked influence on the history of the mission, and has affected our work variously at different times, but has, doubtless, on the whole, in the wonderful providence of God, been made a help rather than a hindrance.
About a century ago, the British were the means of preserving the king of Travancore from the devastating power of Tippu Saib, Sultan of Mysore, and they thereby gained the gratitude of the Native State, and the right, by treaty, to offer advice and exercise some supervision over it. The missionaries were supported by the English officials in asking permission of the despotic and exclusive, but now somewhat humbled, Native Government to enter upon evangelistic labours in the country.
Then, while at work and resident in the midst of the native population, it was scarcely possible for them, as Englishmen, to witness the cruel oppressions practised on the poor without indignantly exposing them to public reprehension, and occasionally even interfering by petition, publication, or other legal means, for the redress of grievances and the amelioration of the condition of the people, and more especially for the protection of those who placed themselves under their instruction, and sought liberty to observe Christian rules and worship and ordinances.
This necessarily gave the missionaries much influence in addition to that derived from their life and teaching; and, when the Native Government was at its worst, they were even feared by oppressors, as the only persons intimately acquainted, from their knowledge of the languages and free intercourse with all classes, with the true condition of the country, and fearless in the exposure of clamant evils.
As the native rule improved, this kind of influence naturally ceased, and there are now many other Europeans in the country capable of forming intelligent and accurate opinions on questions of public polity and administration. But still openings present themselves for the acquirement of personal influence in a small kingdom like Travancore, by extensive knowledge of the country and its requirements, by steady adherence to right, and by philanthropic labour for the public weal. Right-minded natives, even thorough Hindus, give credit to the missionaries for what they have effected and are doing for the country.
Some of the nobles and officials are personally friendly, and even helpful, in benevolent undertakings, such as hospitals, female education, and popular lectures on useful topics; and, since foreign funds are expended on the primary education of over seventeen thousand children in our village schools, the Sirkar makes an annual grant in aid of the secular education afforded, which is but fair and reasonable under the circumstances. The poorer classes, at the same time, identify the missionaries, and the British influence generally, with the great amelioration in their condition which has gradually taken place.
Everywhere Europeans in Travancore are regarded with the utmost confidence and respect. There have not, as yet, been numbers of indigent or illiterate Europeans in the country — those whom the people are familiar with are officials, military, and professional men, very rarely indeed of immoral or vicious life; and Travancore has been exceptionally fortunate in the decided Christian character of several of the Residents, and of many English officials in the service of the Maharajah, not least of the Masters and Professors of the College at Trevandrum, who have from the beginning been men of Christian character, as well as superior abilities, and have had in their hands, for thirty years past, the training of nearly all the educated officials in the employment of the State.
Another distinctive feature of the mission arising, in the providence of God, in large measure, from the oppressions practised on the lower castes, and from the beneficent dominance of the British, was the coming over of the people in masses, influenced no doubt at first, and to some extent still, by inferior and selfish considerations; not, of course, for temporal support, but for sympathy, protection, and aid in their distresses. They were deeply impressed by the kindness of the missionaries, so unwonted an experience to them; they were aided in times of persecution by their intercession; and they witnessed Christianity elevating the first and each successive generation of converts in education, social status, and personal worth.
Acting, as the Hindus prefer to do, unitedly, they came over to Christianity in large numbers; whole families and villages joined the mission; others followed the good example of their fellows, and expected like benefits. They were generally guided by a few leading minds, who saw more clearly the excellence of what was proclaimed by the missionaries.
Most did not fully understand the Christian religion when they first came, but, as far as they did understand, they appreciated it, and recognized its sacred obligations. Our congregations are still largely recruited from without, not so much by individuals becoming deeply concerned about their salvation, as by families brought over by Christian sympathy, by the prevalent opinion of the supreme excellence of the Christian religion, and by the education, civilisation, and friendly aid that necessarily follow from Christianity.
Such persons are not at once baptized or admitted to church fellowship; this is only done by degrees, and with especial caution and reserve in our own mission, as one or another gives evidence of personal piety and love to God; but all the adherents are organized into congregations, and carefully taught in the doctrines and trained to the practice of our holy religion. While we freely admit the worldly motives by which many were led to place themselves under Christian instruction, it is important to remember how far personal friendship and external environments have often aided the progress of the truth.
The mode of working which was demanded by these circumstances, and which naturally sprang from them, was to form the multitudes of adherents into local congregations, placing over them native Scripture-readers or catechists to instruct them.
These numerous congregations are visited frequently by the missionary for inspection, instruction, and discipline; the English missionaries being thus placed in a peculiar position as the trusted and accredited messengers and representatives of the English churches, and the leaders and directors of the native churches. This whole scheme of English administration is intended to drop off by degrees, and is already yielding in proportion as the native church arrives at maturity for the purposes of self-support, selfgovernment, and self-propagation.
The progress which has already been achieved is marked, continuous, and even surprising, leading us to exclaim with gratitude and joy. What hath God wrought !
The first missionary, Ringeltaube, working quite alone, amid difficulties and discouragements of every kind, and often suffering under heavy depression of spirit in view of the unpromising character of the early converts, was not able to realise the grand proportions which the mission would ultimately assume, nor the full value of the work which he was doing in laying the foundations of a noble Christian church in Travancore. Tempted by low spirits and long-continued solitude to unbelief, bitterness of mind, and a somewhat undue depreciation of native character, he wrote to his sister : —
“I have little hope, and almost no desire to see once more in this world my beloved ones. My life is almost without any joy; for the soul finds nothing new, and, therefore, nothing that gladdens it. The artificial help of books, society, &c., is lacking here entirely. However, I am not cast down. You will ask, how many have you baptized (in 18 10) in Travancore? About four hundred. What do you think of them? Not much of the most; about forty of them may be children of grace. Some have died already in the Lord. They are not so cunning and insolent as the people under the English Government.”
Three years later he writes: “I have now about six hundred Christians, who are not worse than the other Christians in India. About three or four of them may have a longing for their salvation. The rest have come through all kinds of other motives, which we can only know of after years have passed.”
Yet, before he left India, in 1815, through ill- health, debility, and depression of mind, he was able to say, “I have brought a mission to good standing by the assistance of our merciful Lord, and given it over to an honest Englishman. About 1,100 have been baptized by me in Travancore.”
When I arrived in the beginning of 1859, there were then in our mission nearly 17,000 adherents of all ages; now there are 41,347 worshipping in 253 congregations. Of those, there were but 980 in full communion as church members; these now number 4,124. There was not a single ordained native minister in 1865, now there 18; and their annual meetings for mutual consultation and united prayer are an interesting feature of the time. The native converts having been regularly instructed in the duty of giving to the cause of God, their contributions have steadily advanced from Rs. 3,500 in 858, to Rs. 12,165 in the past year. Corresponding progress has been made in the education of males and females, both children and adults.
There are now 10,696 children learning in our schools of whom 2,375 are girls. Eleven native pastorates or sub-districts have been formed, with their own distinct churches, pastors, and agencies, largely self-supporting; one of them has not received any pecuniary help from any quarter for upwards of twenty years.
The mission has, upon the whole, been established and worked upon sound and Evangelical principles as to the authority and dissemination of God’s Holy Word, the saving doctrines of the Cross of Christ, the entire rejection of all that is heathenish and evil, Scriptural discipline in the church, and the duty of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have never had more than eight, often only six, missionaries at work in South Travancore.
A similar work is carried on by the Church Missionary Society in North Travancore and in Cochin, to which reference has been made throughout this volume, on principles and lines similar in essentials to those of the London Mission, and with like efficiency and success. Their converts are drawn from the Syrian Church, the Chogans, and the Pulayars, the last now constituting nearly a half of the total number, which amounts to 19,505 of whom 5,418 are communicants. Ordained clergy number 15, and catechists 59, under a learned and devoted missionary Bishop. Children learning in the schools 5,173; and contributions of native Christians, according to the latest reports received Rs. 5,772.
The state of transition through which the mission is now passing, from its former almost entire dependence on foreign aid to a measure of vigour and maturity — from looking solely for direction to their European instructors, to the formation of independent character and opinion — from the payment by the Society of most of the native teachers, to the beginning of a union of Congregational churches, supporting their own chosen ministry and Christian ordinances — is not without its trials and dangers to the missionaries and the native converts.
Our early difficulty was how to obtain access to the country, and win any converts whatever : we are now called to consider where we can find men and means to overtake the work open to us, and how to settle on a solid basis for the future the two hundred and fifty congregations committed by the Lord to our care, and to bring them on to the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus.
We have arrived at the stage when new and perplexing problems spring up, which require for their solution great wisdom, experience and grace; regulations must be made and plans entered upon, which may prove in future times a source of great spiritual power and profit — or, it might be, trammels and snares — to the Native Church. As an independent position is won, mistakes will probably be made, and severe trials and painful revelations of character may be expected.
The evils of the Indian character in heathenism will crop up in cases of wicked and hypocritical men endeavouring to make a gain of godliness — others grasping at power before they are fitted to use it aright — and others yielding to supineness and sloth, or to laxity of discipline through the fear of man, when placed in positions of trust and independent action.
An additional difficulty in the way of self-support and extension springs from the changes which have taken place in the economic condition of the country, and the retrenchments which have been necessary within the last ten or twelve years. These have caused some retrogression and loss in various institutions and agencies connected with the mission, and especially some falling off of personal attention on the part of missions’ agents, whose pay is now insufficient for subsistence, and who are, therefore, driven to spend a portion of their time in adding to their domestic income, in order to make both ends meet.
The old class of native catechists were usually persons of humble attainments as to education, but of general intelligence and sound piety, possessed of some little property and influence amongst their neighbours; to them any small monthly pay was acceptable, and sufficed when eked out from private resources. A better salary must be given to the present class of agents, educated in the Boarding Schools and Seminary, and devoting their whole time to the service of the mission.
Some of the agents have two, or even three, congregations to attend to in such fashion as they can; so that there is reason to fear that Scripture teaching, catechising, and individual dealing with souls have been of late years less efficiently performed through the pressure of routine work. Defections thus occur : many individuals and families were once, for a time, attendants on Christian teaching, but, having apostatized, are now harder in heart and farther from grace than ever.
Native agents specially trained in English and the vernacular under a missionary at the Nagercoil Seminary have always been employed in the mission; and the proportion of such is now greater than ever; but a still larger number of these is required, for which more reliable means of support for the Seminary, and increased facilities for training agents for the Malayalam Districts are needed to enable us to keep up with the progress of the age, particularly as the neighbouring missions of other societies are better equipped, in these respects, than ourselves.
Much prayerful effort is still demanded for the spiritual conversion and growth in grace of the mass of nominal Christians, whom we enumerate in our reports as adherents, who are still unbaptized, and, we fear, in many cases, still unsaved.
One very obvious duty resting on the mission is the increase of distinct efforts for the evangelisation of the higher classes in Travancore. Amongst these we have sown comparatively little and, of course, reaped but little. It happened that, in the early stage of the mission, the lower castes joined first, and in large numbers; and this circumstance of itself proved a hindrance to the higher castes coming in and mixing with them.
“Where conversions are made from the lower strata of the Hindu polity in large numbers, great difficulties will arise in getting the better classes to join such rising churches : no doubt the early Christians felt the same difficulty in the congregations at Rome, consisting of slaves, Jews, and Syrians, to which the lordly Roman of the conquering race was invited in the name of Christ to join.” *
Our successes have thus created a caste prejudice against the native Christians. Then the pressure of work in the care of so many congregations has gradually deprived both missionaries and native teachers of time to devote to this special form of labour; and for the last few years pecuniary embarrassments also have disabled us from employing evangelists for itinerating amongst the heathen, as we were formerly accustomed to do. Not that very little has been effected in this direction.
The higher classes always have had a share of attention from the mission. Lectures have been delivered to educated natives, and the Medical Mission has exercised a highly beneficial influence upon such as it reaches. For some years past all the native ministers have undertaken an itinerant tour of a month each year amongst the heathen, the results of which have often been of the greatest value. And, within the last year, two of the brethren have initiated a new form of labour-tent-preaching amongst the caste villages -which has excited much attention. They were surprised and gratified with one thing-the intense interest manifested by Brahman women to glean anything that might be heard.
The once despised native Christians also, and especially those of the third generation, who show the cumulative effects of continuous Christian teaching and privileges, begin to exert a beneficial influence on the higher classes. A new force is thus at work. The public opinion of Christians is now considered worthy of notice by public men; and they own and edit an English and Tamil paper published at Nagercoil.
A considerable amount of voluntary effort for the surrounding heathen is put forth in several pastorates-earnest Christian women, for instance, first uniting in prayer on the afternoon of the Lord’s day, and then going out to visit and read to Hindu women. This is a marked feature in the last report, which shows that a powerful impression is being made on heathen women by the ardour, intelligence, and sympathy of their Christian country- women, by means of which several converts have been made in the past year.
When the Deputation from the Missionary Society visited Trava!lcore in December last, what did they find ? Along their whole course, from Quilon to Trevandrum, Pareychaley, Neyoor, and Nagercoil, they found Christian congregations scattered all over the country-fruitful oases in a spiritual desert-and were received with demonstrations of the utmost affection and gratitude from the native converts, who know how much they owe to the British churches who have sent them the Gospel with all its civilizing and elevating influences. Entering the Christian town of Nagercoil, they were received with triumphal arches and canopies tastefully decorated in Indian fashion with garlands of flowers, rows of lamps, texts and mottoes; and welcomed with singing and music by the Christians who went out in crowds to meet them.
They addressed an eager and attentive audience of some two thousand persons in the great church at Nagercoil, where they also administered the holy communion to a thousand church members. To the address of welcome presented to them, there was appended a cheque for a hundred rupees for the purchase of a chair for the use of the chairman of the Board of Directors in London, that they might never forget the Christians of Travancore.
The deputation visited the Seminary, now for nearly a quarter of a century under the able and indefatigable superintendence of Rev. J. Duthie, the Girls’ Boarding and Day Schools, the lace workers, the Mission Press, whence Scriptures, magazines, school books, and tracts are issued in large numbers-the Hospital at Neyoor under Dr. Thomson, and dispensaries in other towns, where 25,000 patients are tenderly and skilfully treated every year, four-fifths of the expense being provided by local contributionsand the houses of several prominent Christian laymen, presenting to one of them a Bible in recognition of valuable voluntary services rendered to the church.
They lectured in the Kottar Reading-room to a crowded audience, after which an address was presented by the non-Christian community, expressing their thanks for the philanthropic and educational work of the mission. At other places also, Hindus decorated the schoolrooms, and presented addresses of commendation and thanks for the labours of the Society in Travancore.
From Quilon, in the centre of the State, to Cape Comorin, at its extremity, where the waters of two oceans mingle, they met the agents of the mission, native missionaries and preachers, school teachers and zenana workers, made inquiries of each, and heard their detailed reports of work on the spot, where they could be tested, and addressed to all suitable words of counsel, encouragement, and stimulus.
They laid the foundation of a new chapel to be built at native cost, opened a new reading-room and caste girls’ school, and greatly cheered and animated the people by their kind words and earnest exhortations to increased faithfulness, devotion, and activity in the service of our Lord and Master. It was a more than royal progress to these representatives of English Christianity, everywhere surrounded with prayerful and loving hearts.
It is a marvellous thing that men are found who deny or sneer at these striking results of evangelical labour, which are patent to the eyes of all who care to see them, and are a splendid feature of the age.
Christian missions have certainly not failed in India, where there is now (exclusive of Burmah and Ceylon, and in addition to Roman Catholic and Syrian Christians) a Protestant Christian community of 417,373 souls, which may be expected at the present rate of increase to number nearly a million in another decade.
We are, at the same time, reaping the fruits of past labours, limited and inadequate as they have been, and sowing seed for a future harvest. “Every accession to the Christian ranks loosens some portion, however small, of the consolidated mass of heathenism; and every advancement in piety, culture, respectability, material prosperity, and visible strength on the part of the Christian community removes some measure of prejudice, and awakens the minds of observant heathen onlookers to a sense of the power of Christianity to elevate and bless mankind.”
Could my readers but witness in person, as we who labour in India have been privileged to do, the beneficent effects of the Gospel of the grace of God in society, in the family, and in individuals-in reforming the laws and civil institutions of governments-in ameliorating the social condition of semi-civilized castes and races, and conferring upon them freedom, comfort, and decency-in moulding, sweetening and rescuing society, raising woman to her proper sphere as the intelligent companion of man, and introducing the blessings of marriage and family order into domestic life, where polyandry, concubinage, and immorality prevailed, and were recognised by caste law-in brightening and gladdening the poor homes of the peasantry with a joy and satisfaction which false religion can never supply; teaching the dear children and the outcastes, who dared not approach a school or walk through a village street, to read and write, to pray and praise anti work-in reforming the lives and saving the souls of individuals; consoling them under the sorrows of life, and conquering the baseless and degrading fear of demons and unknown maleficent agencies, from which they have so terribly suffered, by a more ennobling fear of God, and supporting them in the dying hour-in raising up and directing the labours of native preachers of noble and exemplary character, of whom any society or church might be proudand in opening the gates of heaven to multitudes now in glorythey would think no gifts too generous, no efforts or self-denial too great for such noble ends.
To plant Christianity in India is a task worthy of a great nation. At but a trifling cost of life and labour, we can confer incalculable and endless benefits upon a perishing world.
Our fellow-countrymen go to Travancore and elsewhere to engage in the cultivation of coffee and other useful products of the soil. They ascend the lofty mountains in search of suitable soil and climate for their enterprise. They fell the dense primeval forests filled with jungle trees, prickly canes, and thorns which tear the hands and clothing and endanger the eyes, and with damp dense vegetation exhaling a poisonous malaria, by which the planters are often prostrated, and some die.
They let the light of heaven into deep valleys and dismal dells previously haunted by ferocious tigers, leopards and bears, powerful elephants, deadly serpents, and other creatures whose strange cries and unearthly howls are taken by the ignorant and superstitious mountaineers for the voice of forest demons and satyrs.
They clear and burn and level and fence; make roads, bridges, irrigation channels, and build their bungalows on charming and romantic sites. The estate is soon filled with the beautiful laurel-like coffee, the camellia-like tea, the chocolate, cinchona, nutmeg, clove, and other spice trees; while the house is surrounded by trim gardens, rich fruit trees, and lovely hedges of roses.
That is the work which we also are striving to do in the moral wastes of India, cutting down the poison tree of idolatry and superstition, clearing the dark dells of devil worship with its accompanying cruelties and vices, turning up the fruitful soil, and sowing in it the seed of life eternal.
And already we are permitted to see, in some not inconsiderable measure, the fulfilment of the promise, “The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose-instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, and for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
Happy, thrice happy, are they who are permitted to take part in so great a work-to introduce Christianity into new castes and tribes and villages; to lay the foundations of a Christian Church in India, which shall be the admiration of the world a hundred years hence; to train the future teachers and preachers, the future fathers and mothers and citizens of India; to help the poor and needy; to rescue the perishing; to proclaim liberty to the captives of sin, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.
To comfort and to bless,
To find a halm for woe,
To tend the lone and fatherless,
Is angels’ work below.
The captive to release,
To God the lost to bring,
To teach the way of life and pence,
Is a most Christ-like thing.