REV. G. R. KAMPFER IN THE LAND OF THE GALLOWS AND TIGERS
(An excerpt from ‘A Review on “The Unpublished Notes of G.R. Kampfer”)
By Dr. Surya Kumar Daimari
“The Unpublished Notes of Rev. G. R. Kampfer”- as has been entitled does not bear the name of the author in the original manuscript, no where in the entire content. It’s wonderful to see that the author is in awful silence, as silent as the grave and did not leave a stint about himself in his writing. This valuable document like a precious jewel was perhaps kept hidden inside a sealed casket for a century. It is only recently that David W Mc Kenny, the grand son of Rev. George Richard Kampfer claims to have been the beneficiary of this document and designated this writing to his grand father. Mrs. Pitt Holland Moor has mentioned the name of Rev. Kampfer several times in her book called, “Stray Leaves from Assam”. However, she did not leave sufficient details of his personality and works in Assam. Thanks to Shri Protul Kumar Bhubora, the compilator, and Shri Rihon Daimari, the publisher, for bringing this document to public by publishing it.
The name of Rev. George Richard Kampfer has been included in the “Prelude to 50 Triennials” by director Jackie Howell in the “Baptist Herald Reports of Triennial Conference and the Timeline of North American Baptist history, 1979. The Prelude reads,
“Missionary George Kampfer with Emma Kose, his bride, received conference blessing as they departed for mission field in Assam, India.” (1910)
This clearly indicates that Rev. Kampfer set out for India towards the end of 1910. According to Mrs. P.H. Moor’s record in her “Stray Leaves from Assam”, Rev. Kampfer and Mrs. Kampfer along with Miss E. Marie Homes arrived in Guwahati in January, 1911 as missionaries sent by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (page-09).
On arriving in Guwahati Mrs. Kampfer gave birth to a baby in the month of August.
“A good news came from Gauhati that Rev.and Mrs. G.R. Kampfer had a little daughter, Margaret Alethea, born August 2, 1911”. (August4- Stray Leaves from Assam, page-14)
Mrs. P.H. Moor in her book mentions about the report of Rev. G.R. Kampfer which was presented to a Calcatta paper, in March, 1915 .This report shows his extensive mission work as an in-charge for the whole region of North Eastern India, starting at Nogaon to Tura, Kohima, Lakhimpur and Manipur. Rev. Kampfer was also the Chairman of the All Assam Convention held in February, 24-27; 1916. The grave of Rev. Kampfer is honored in the Lake Side Cemetery—where his date of birth and death has been clearly engraved as,
“04/29/1881---09/04/1927” (MDY) i.e., 29th April,1881 and 4th September, 1927
The notes of Rev. Kampfer without any title, did not seem to be written for publication. Perhaps, he wrote it for himself as a devotional note or as his diary---yet, it is beneficial and good to be used as devotional notes for personal growth in the faith. The Bible quotes used on each chapter are like faith quotes that make us bold for each day before we walk out for His mission. These notes are full of lure and romances of his experiences of becoming a missionary in a strange land, the land of the gallows and tigers, i.e., the land of the Kacharies and also in the land of the head-hunters, the land of the wildest of tribes in Nagaland and other parts of the North Eastern Province of India. These are true stories written in the form of slide documentary reports but without any date and without any chronology. The book is divided into eight chapters as has been shown below,
Chapter- 1 Plain Dwellers
Chapter- II The Assamese
Chapter- III Immigrants
Chapter- IV Among the Kacharies
Chapter- V In the Mikir Hills
Chapter- VI Nagas and Mountains
Chapter- VII Towering Tribesmen
Chapter- VIII Stray Remnants
This division of the book shows his extensive works and ministry that covers a wide range of fields and experiences among various groups of tribes mainly, the Assamese, the Immigrants, the Bodo-kacharies, the Nagas in Nagaland, towering tribes and the stray remnants.
With special reference to the auspicious celebration of the Centenary Jubilee of the Boro Baptist Convention, 2014, I would like to limit this review to Rev. Kampfer’s great works and ministry among the Bodo-kacharies in the land of the gallows, tigers and elephants simply skipping to chapter IV.
Prior to Rev. Kampfer, a handful of missionaries already came to the Northern part of the Brahmaputra river and tilled the ground and sowed the seeds of the gospel among the Bodo-kacharies and entire Assam, namely, Rev. Cyrus Barker from American Baptist Union (1843), Rev. Nathon Brown, Nidhi Levi Farwel and Rev. Miles Bronson from American Baptist Mission Society. It was perhaps the Church Mission Society of England who first extended their mission work and also educational activities among the Bodo-kacharies in the north bank of the Brahmaputra. It was Captain James Gordon who in collaboration with Charles Bruce founded a mission centre at Tezpur in 1840 called, “Anglican Mission Centre”. A church called, “The Church of the Epiphany” was also established during his time . Another veteran missionary named Rev. Hussel Myre came to then Mangaldai Sub-Division and preached the gospel among the Bodos. Meanwhile, it is worthwhile to mention the name of Rev. Sidney Endle, who worked heart and soul among the Bodo-kacharies under the Society for the Propogation of Gospel. Rev. Endle, a great missionary, coined as the Morning Star among the Kacharies dedicated his whole life for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the Kacharies-----established a mission centre at Bengbari, founded a church (1865-1873) called St. Paul Church, established the first ever L.P. school in 1868, introduced the instruction of Bodo medium in the school he established.This school was transferred to Duamokha village (now Borigaon) in 1893 and an SPG church was founded in the village during his time. It means that a church already existed in the village before 1900 before the advent of Rev. Kampfer, a church that belonged to the Rabha Kachari community. But a tragic situation was created among the Christians after Rev. Endle went with the Lord in 1907. Many problems broke into the churches in the area due to the lack of leadership. Many believers wasted their time, took to liquor (Jaw) and opium (Kani).
The Advent of Rev. G.R. Kampfer:
In this tragic situation, the advent of Rev. Kampfer from American Baptist Foreign Mission Society at Borigaon brought a new hope and a new life to the believers and the church. Many new believers came up and as many as 21 believers including other few members from SPG church got baptized by Rev. Kampfer on 27th Jannuary, 1914. Thus a new first ever Baptist Church was founded. This was the beginning. After this, the church began to flourish in different parts of the area—such as in Edenbari, Ambagaon, Phasia, Belguri and so on. Rev. Kampfer thus may well be called as “the Pioneer” of the Baptist churches among the Bodo-kacharies who stood as the FOUNDATION STONE AND THE PILLER for the churches of the Mangaldai Baptist Christian Association from the human point of view.
AMONG THE KACHARIES: CHAPTER IV
This chapter specifically deals with the tribes of the Bodo-kacharies mainly residing in the northern part of the then Mangaldai Sub-Division just bellow the Bhutan Hills so called the Kachari Duars in Rev. Endle’s time, now in Udalguri District. This chapter has been squeezed to a brief summery to highlight his missionary activities in the land of the Kacharies. It gives certain specific information about his ministry, the social life of the people and on the top of it, the love he bore for this tribe. The land he first landed was perhaps the most terrific land where people were “spirit-worshippers sunk in the depravity of ignorance”- “driven back into the swamps and jungles”. He calls the village he first visited, “the village of the gallows”—where people were half-dazed, half savage, half demonized worshipers of devils. He was perhaps greeted by the roaring of a tiger or welcomed by the trumpet of a wild elephant when he fist landed. Yet, despite this fact, amazingly, to our surprise, he calls his trip “ a glorious trip”. Incredible! In his own language,-
“ How glorious these trips in the open in November! The evening sky so clear, covered with myriads of stars, such as on American sky rarely reveals, and the air so quiet and heavily verdure-scented. And how welcome the rest after the heat and burden of the day!”
This was the land of the Kacharies, the land of the gallows, tigers and elephants where he met Hova-Bura (Hobha Rabha), Chandra, Khangkhua, Buihagu, Doya, Alfred, Nobomi, Mariam, Yohan, Lambaram and many others.
1.The Amazing Story behind the Village of the Gallows:
The name of the village was Phasiagaon where he met Khangkhua, a veracious name but who later became a devote follower of Christ. ‘Phasiagaon’ probably means village of the gallows---might be a place where condemned people or criminals were executed or hanged. The word ‘gallows’ means a wooden structure, typically of two uprights and a crosspiece, for hanging of criminals. The other meaning could be the village of Modai, i.e., evil spirit, where people were caught in their heathen state. There is an amazing story that runs through. One day Rev. Kampfer was riding on his bicycle over a crazy road. Suddenly, he felt that something very strange was running behind him. As he came across a culvert, he almost stopped to see the most fearful and inevitable a scene. Two very wild and savage looking people blocked his way holding their knives in front of him. There stood the two ‘breathless creatures half naked with their long hair tied into a top knot’- and to his surprise, they uttered to the top of their voice,
“Sahib, we want the Kingdom of God”.
Here stands today the beautiful church at Phasiagaon that “takes the Kingdom by storm”. According to Rev.Kampfer, the name of the church at Phasiagaon should have been changed to Bethal or Bethany by now. Perhaps there is no such an incident in the pages of the history taking the Kingdom of God by force. This is the most strange, the most awesome and unusual a phenomenon ----a rare example how the churches were established in the land of the Kacharies.
2.Rev. Kampfer as a missionary:
Rev. Kampfer was a missionary who like Paul made his missionary journey several times among the Kacharies. He had to travel a long way from his mission centre at Nogaon and Gawhati covering a distance of one hundred miles in three days by streamer, railway and buffalo curt to reach this land. The important villages he had traveled in this land mainly were Phasiagaon (the village of the gallows), Edenbari (the church of the garden of Eden), Borigaon (the village of the Highland), Naoherua (the lost boat), Ambagaon, Khuchurabari---the long stretches of boggy jungle and Panigaon (water town) in the district of Nogaon. The village, Panigaon in the southern part of the Big Brahmaputra, was perhaps the first village that received the gospel. But the gospel also began to spread towards the north of the great Brahmaputra among the same race. It was like a Macedonian invitation to the north. Many young men and women were gravitated to the call and joined Rev. Kampfer. To the north of this land of the Kacharies lies the Mighty Abode of Snow. The Mighty Abode of Snow refers to the snow capped peaks of the Mighty Himalayan Mountains. He gives a pen picture of the Kachari villages, their social life and beliefs. In his own language,
“………..There are pigs in a few bamboo cages in the courtyard, chickens roasting in the trees, cows under a thatch roof of an open shed. The Kachari dwelling is a mere grass hut in which the farmer keeps his few belongings, cooks his food on the ground in a similar hut, and sleeps on the bosom of mother earth. His houses and sheds are built in a square around a courtyard, his threshing floor. Somewhere in this yard he grows his sacred “Shijw” tree, a sort of slender cactus, at the foot of which he offers cooked rice and other food stuffs to malevolent spirits. His chief vice is drink, and he brews it from rice. This vice sent his race not only deterioration of character but also into poverty and ignorance. Hence, he is looked down upon by the Hindus and has become a mere hem of wood and a drawer of water for his mere sober Hindu neighbours. It is this people among them the gospel has taken a hold. And when the Kachari turns to Christ he forsook his liquor and opium, his indolence and his superstition.”
This is how God has loosed the bonds of these sons of the jungle from such wild conditions and given them the liberty of the spirit from the fear of demons. According to Rev. Sidney Endle in his book, “The Kacharis”, the religion of the Kacharis was earlier called, “Animistic”, believing in animals, earth, air, water, trees etc. having spirits which they usually called, “Modai”—all possessing powers and faculties. The Kachari duars of the Darrang District in earlier days were repeatedly attacked by a kind of virulent malarial fever. The common belief for it was that they were attacked by “Modai”—a kind of evil spirit which took hold of them. Rev. Kampfer mentions in his notes how many often he had witnessed scenes like breaking of taboo, and the driving out of the evil spirits. “ …these people were heathen, given to vice and ignorance and superstitions, degenerated and dejected”- he wrote.
It had been a delightful experience for him for he could see the difference that the inhabitants of the villages who fled on his first missionary journey like a flock of frightened birds eight years back , now had turned to the flock of Christ. And there are the congregations of Christian people singing hymns in their own tongue as the great heritage of the Church. Now Rev. Kampfer calls these children of God, “Walnut brown children of God”. Wonderful!
3. Rev. Kampfer as a man:
Though Rev. Kampfer did not write anything about himself and his specific works and contributions, there are ample deep marks of his personality and concern for these people.
He was a man with an amazon heart who could sacrifice his whole self for the sake of the Kacharies. He was like a native-born to light. More than a preacher, he was an evangelist who went from one village to another to tell the love of Jesus. And more than an evangelist, he was indeed a disciple maker. He had a number of evangelists as his disciples who went with him preaching the gospel like, John, Yohan, Chandra, Alfred, Lamberam…………They walked with him, stayed with him and slept with him in the same hut, sometimes in the open air. There is an example of such ------one day four of his disciples slept with him in the hut at night, when a prowling tiger had taken a pig out of one of the nearby houses. He calls these days as “Happy Days” to be remembered. He was a leader with a vision and a burden for the Kacharies. But more than a leader, he was a teacher of the word. And more than a teacher, he was a friend and a comforter by heart. He comforted the broken hearts of Nobommi and Yohan when their only child died. It must be a worth mentioning that he had a vision of educating the people of this tribe. He transferred the existing L.P. school established by Rev. Endle to Duamokha, established a night school for the adults in Nov.1919, established a weaving centre for women . The Mangaldai Baptist Christian Association established a middle school at Borigaon in 1925 at the initiation of Rev. Kampfer just after his return to States.
A careful review of this wonderful personality makes these people exceedingly grateful to him and to God. Rev. Kampfer was indeed a gift from God who sent him down to the Kacharies to behold His Salvation.
‘The Unpublished Notes of Rev. G.R. Kampfer ‘ is a great work, a source of a missionary zeal which needs to be carefully preserved through both print and electronic media for the next generation . The book is also great from the literary point of view—an excellent piece of literature in matter and spirit---a mellifluous expression of the need of the people, the need of a Saviour. This book throws a light how the missionaries worked in the entire North East Region of India and lived their lives in different circumstances dedicating their whole selves for the sake of the Gospel and the people.
The entire North East awes a lot to Christian missionaries. And the contributions of the missionaries are also indeed great and incredible in the land of the Kacharies. Apart from saving souls---
“The contributors also deliberate on the contributions of Christianity towards development of literacy and education in the region, interface between customary and formal laws and their impact on tribal culture, revival of traditional institutions impacted by Christianity and the role of women missionaries in the development of female education in the tribal areas.”. Jacket.
“The gospel not only converts individuals but changes society on every mission field from the days of William Carey, the missionaries have carried a real social gospel. They established standard of purity and hygiene, promoted industry, elevated womanhood, restrained antisocial customs, abolished cannibalism, human sacrifice and cruelty, organized famine relief, checked tribal wars and changed the social structure of the society”. Dr. Samuel Zwemer, the great missionary Statesman.
The question often arises, What motivated these missionaries to come to the land of the gallows and tigers i.e., the land of the Kacharies---- and to the land of the head-hunters, the wildest of tribes in Nagaland and other parts of the entire North Eastern Region of India?
The contributions and sacrifices they made, the prices they paid leaving their home and hearth are really incredible. The great missionaries starting from William Carey in India, the father of the modern missionaries, Adoniram Judson in Burma, Hudson Taylor in China, Titus Coan in Hawaii, Nathon Brown in Assam and such as these missionaries in North East India did great works of sacrificing their own –- many times confounded themselves in small births of ships---- became sea sick, tossing and turning ,seeing their wives giving birth to their children at sea and in strange lands,----only having laid their faith on the altar of hope of ever seeing their families in their native land. Many missionaries to India never returned to their native land but lived and served the Indians, died and were buried in Indian soil by demonstrating Christ in words and in deeds. The example of Graham Staines in Orissa is great –who was burnt down alive inside a car along with his children----cut down by bows and arrows! WHY?
Rev. G.R. Kampfer answers, “Problems, difficulties, dangers, crisis often face the missionary, and there are worse things,---doubt and temptations, these wild beasts of the soul! What avails against them? A mighty song, the assurance of a promise, a lifting up of the eyes,---then into the dark, a quickened pace, and another victory. Do their hearts tremble? Let them tremble. The devil trembles even more.”
O, YES, it is the Promise of the Lord of Salvation, a promise of a CROWN.