Journey of a Missionary Priest //
People and The Place :
Fr. George Pallivathukal
We used to sit for hours in the evenings talking about the püeople : their religious beliefs, their customs, and their feasts both seasonal and personal from birth to death and after. How they celebrate the birth of a child, their marriages, customs, celebrations after death and burial etc; the kind of tribal songs and dances and a variety of other information connected with the life of the people. The tribals were very rich in their culture. There were many good elements in their culture. Fr. Paymans would never interfere with their culture or social customs. On the contrary if he went for a marriage he would also follow all the customs connected with the celebration.
Pankas are not tribals. They are more sociable than the Gonds and their Guru is the great poet Kabir Das. Then there are Lohars or Blacksmiths and Agarias who made agricultural implements. Agarias made steel from iron ore, but on a small scale. They are also famous for making ploughshares. Ahirs,also called Yadavs, are also found in villages. They are defferent from the Yadavs of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Mandla Ahirs are an offshoot of the Gonds. Ahirs are the official cooks in the village. Anybody can eat the food cooked by an Ahir. Their main occupation is looking after the cattle of the village. Some are farmers. Then there are Dhemmers who live along the river banks and their main job is fishing and ferrying people across the river. Dhobas are a small group of people found only in the eastern part of Mandla district. Dhobas as a group do not have any special function in the village. They cultivate their lands and earn their livelihood. Dhobas like Pankas are a friendly type of people..
The taibal district of Mandla is situated in the eastern part of Madhya Pradesh and is surrounded by Satpura mountain range. There are thick forests all around and in between there are valleys and plains where the traibals live. Land is fertile and the main occupation of the people arround here is agriculture. They have quite a number of cattle heads which help in the agriculture. Forests are another source of their livelihood. Farmers depend much on the rain water for their cultivation. Normally they get 55 inches of rain in a year. If there is scarcity of rain in a year, that year is a year of famine.
Narmada river, considered to be a holy river by the Hindus, originates from Amarkantak in Mandla district and flows through the heart of Mandla providing water for the people. Narmada is 1300 kilometers long and she passes through several districts of Madhya Pradesh, flows into Gujarat where she joins the Arabian sea. There are many tributaries like Burner, Halon, Karmer flowing into Narmada. But the important fact is that all the water of these rivers was flowing into the sea. Neither the Government nor any other agency had done anything in those days to harness the rich resource of water which could be used by the farmers for their cultivation and other domestic needs. Later the Goverment built the Bargi Dam in Narmada near Jabalpur and many small Dams in her tributaries.
There were several small towns in Mandla district, but they are all in the hands of caste Hindus who are business people. In the past local markets were in the hands of Hindus busuness people. They were also money lenders. They exploited the villagers and kept them poor. At the time marriages, and funerals villagers used to take loans on higher interest from the money lenders which they were not able to pay back. As a result either they lost the little land they had or became bonded labourers for generations. They were illiterate and hence they could not keep any accounts of their transactions.
What the landlord or the money lending bania said was the account. The cash crops which the farmers produced were bought by the business class at a very cheap rate; this way also the villagers were cheated and exploited. Muslims who were spread out in different parts of the district were also businessmen end expoliters. These are some valuable information which I have procured from a veteran missionary about the place and the people whom I started serving fifty years ago.
Knowing the Method of Evangelization.
Fr. Paymans, in his after-dinner discourses continued to narrate the origin of mission work in Mandla district. When the Dutch missionaries came to Jabalpur and started mission work in Mandla district, they did not know how to start the work and how to proceed with it. So they turned towards the Belgian jesuits of Chotanagpur for help and guidance. On the request of Mgr. Dubbelman of Jabalpur, Bishop Oskar Severin S.J. of Ranchi had visited Jabalpur and both of them had toured the Mandla district offering guidance and encouragement to the Dutchman working there.
Chotanagpur church suplied number of trained catechist and school teachers to work in the Mandla mission. The church in Mandla owes much gratitude to these pioneering lay missionaries for their effort to establish faith communities at the grass root level facing much opposition, difficulties and privations.
The Chotanagpur Model
Chotanagpur was a model for new budding Churches. Fr. Leevens S. J. was the first Belgian missionary to reach Ranchi, the capital of Chotanagpur. Fr. Leevens noticed that the poor tribal farmers there were exploited, their land illegally appropriated by rich landlords, sometimes even using muscle power. People were fighting court cases to recover their land. For farmers land is their life. Fr. Leevens plunged into the poor farmer's struggle. He learned the land revenue laws and fought several court cases in favour of the farmers and managed to recover their land. He introduced Jesus to them. People accepted his God as their God, his Guru as their Guru. Village after village became christian. The priests instructed the people in their faith, they insisted on sacramental catechists after baptism to deepen their faith in Jessus.
|Children of Coolies in Chotanagpur |
Health care of the villagers was considered to be an important service. Women religious opened dispensaries and referral hospitals to cater to the health of the people. Missionaries taught people to cultivate their land on a co-operative basis. The Jesuits started a cooperative Bank in Ranchi where where people could deposit their money and earn interest. They could also borrow money at low interest in time of need, thus freeing the villagers from the clutches of money lenders and banias. /-
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