Edwin W. Clark and his wife served as missionaries in Nagaland India. “They sailed from Boston on October 20, 1868 in Bark Pearel via Cape of Good Hope under the Missionary Union as Missionaries and Printers. They arrived in Sibsagar in March 1869 and relieved William Ward who had long need of furlough.”1
He (Edwin Winter Clark) was told that an enormous rock, standing vertically and alone and in which dwelt a mighty influential spirit, was up there, and no one must pass that way. Clark kept to the ridge, and to the amazement of his attendants walked back and forth unharmed before the sacred boulder.”2
One of the most striking social characteristics to the western mind was the practice of headhunting. According to Alva Bowers Nagaland was “the paradise of the head-hunters.”3 “They were dubbed by the Assames, ‘head cutters’.”4 “Men were dubbed women or cows until they had contributed to the village skull house.”5
Although the Naga villages were known for their headhunting practices thee was no known case of cannibalism. Some felt that the aspect of “head cutting” among the Nagas has been overemphasized. “The positive remarks wee always left behind or ignored by the missionary and other writers of the Nagas. They in fact over-emphasized the negative aspects and painted the Nagas as the Head Hunters of northeast, India.”6
This tribal animism may at first glance appear to say that the early missionaries would have difficulty bringing the message of Christ to a people of this religion. According to Mrs. Clark this was not the case. “Religiously, these hill people south of Assam. Not being grounded in the old systematized religions of the East, and having no caste, are far more ready to accept the simple story of Jesus of Nazareth.”7
During their stay at Sibsagar the Clarks had opportunity of meeting some Nagas roaming in search of food. Like Bronson the Clarks developed a burden for the Nagas and wrote the Home Mission Board in 1871. “Tribe upon tribe of Nagas are accessible to the Gospel. It is certainly painful for us at Sibsagar to be unable to lift our eyes without seeing these hills and thinking of them who have no knowledge of Christ.”8
Clark sent an evangelist to penetrate the Naga Hills. The evangelist came down with nine others and they were baptized by Clark on November 11, 1872. Clark was at this time not permitted to enter Nagaland by the British Government and his own mission board was hesitant to approve his plan to enter the Naga Hills December 23, 1872. That very day Clark organized the first Baptist Church of Nagaland.
It was an important day in Naga history when the first Baptist Church was formed. It is no wonder Clark knew his calling would henceforth be with the Nagas. “’I believe I have found my life-work,’ exclaimed Mr. Clark, as he entered the old press bungalow on his return from his twelve days’ absence in the wilds of barbarism.”9
The glorious moment for Clark was not without troubles. The village became divided over the new religion. Some felt that Clark could not be trusted because he had the same white face as the British military. The Nagas were opposed to anything that would promote alliance with the encroaching British power. Clark was determined to dedicate himself to the people and trust the Lord alone for protection.
Clark concentrated on developing a good knowledge the language, their character and medicine. These skills proved helpful in soul winning and opened doors in many homes. Clark also would encourage the Nagas to pray for the sick and the recovery of a sick person would lead to a renunciation of animistic sacrifice.
“In 1894 Mulong became the center of missions to further the evangelization of the Naga tribes. Mulong is the first Christian village in Nagaland. Then in a later year Clark moved his mission center to Impur which is presently known as Ao Baptist Arogo Mungdang.”10
In 1905 Clark saw a record one hundred and ninety baptisms. The work was truly blessed of God but Clark saw that better days were yet ahead. “Thirty years ago I took up residence in these Naga hills in a village where some work had been done by a native evangelist. Save at this place, over all these ranges of hills hunt the black pall of heathen, barbaric darkness. Now from some twenty of the fifty or more villages crowning the mountain crests floats the glorious banner of Christ, held by his Naga disciples. The softening twilight of Christianity is here. Soon the broad daylight with its transforming power will reveal a Christianized people.”11
The Nagas were well aware that to accept Christianity would mean drastic changes in their social life. “Adherents of the old, cruel faith were quick to see that the gospel of peace and love would rapidly empty their skull houses and put to rout most of the old customs handed down from forefathers, for whom they held the greatest reverence. The missionaries presence and his teaching had spread like wildfire from mountain peak to peak and everywhere was fostered the suspicious spirit.”12
The Nagas saw the important benefits that Christianity would bring including education and economic benefits, sanitation, but not all were willing to extend open arms to the new missionaries.
Christianity was of major importance as far as integrating the once warring Naga tribes as can be seen from the British military report. “An American Baptist Missionary, The Reverend Clark, has for some years past settled in the Naga village of Molar Kay, south of Amguri, and his labours are apparently bearing fruit in leading to the settlements of blood feuds, and a desire on the part of those villages which have come under his influence to live at peace with their neighbors.”13
It must be noted that it was Christianity that brought an end to the practice of headhunting. Although the results were dramatic they were not always immediate in the early days of mission efforts. “In short the government did not get the hoped for benefit of tribal pacification that was the primary motive behind the early support of missionary efforts.14
Clark’s vision for Nagaland came true. We can see the broad daylight of a Christianized people from the growth statistics:15
________________ ____________ _______________ __________________
Year Net growth Rate of Growth Native Preachers
1890-1900 307 409% 12
1900-1910 246 195% 90
1910-1920 3,697 328% 100
1920-1930 12,749 264% 250
1930-1940 18,738 107% 250
1940-1950 41,233 114% 145
1950-1960 4,173 5% 140
____________ ____________ ___________ ______________
It should be noted that during this period (1890-1960), that the number of foreign missionaries was never above ten. “By 1980 the Naga population was 572,742 and the Baptist population was 185,987 according to the Baptist Atlas; Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1980.”16
Today Nagaland is known for its church movement. Nagaland is still growing spiritually in reaching out to people who need the message of Jesus Christ. The main denomination of Nagaland today is the American Baptists. There are some other denominations, but they are only the minority.
1 Kijung L. Ao, Nokinketer Muncgchen (Impur: Nagaland, Ao Baptist Arogo Mungdang, 1972.
2 M. M. Clark, A corner of India (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907) page 59
3 A. C. Bowers, Under Headhunters’ Eyes (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1929), Page 195.
4 Clark, A Corner in India, page 1
5 Ibid, page 47.
6 Jamir, A Study on Nagaland, page 12
7 Clark, A corner of India, page 57
8 Jamir, A Study on Nagaland, page 15
9 Clark, A Corner in India, page 15
10 Jamir, A Study on Nagaland, page 18
11 Ibid., page 168
12 Ibid., page 17
13 F. S. Downs, Christianity in North East India (Delhi, Ispeck: 1976, page 81)
14 Ibid., page 82
15 Tegenfelt, A Century of Growth, page 296
16 Joseph Puthenpurakal, Baptist Missions in Nagaland (Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1984) page 255