Since the arrival of Rev. Dr Edward Winter Clark and his wife, Mary Mead, the Church has grown significantly among the Ao Nagas. However, not much is known about Godhula, the local Assamese evangelist/schoolteacher, who courageously made the first contact with the Ao Nagas.
Back then, the British Colonial administrators viewed the indigenous communities of Nagaland only as ferocious head-hunters. Moreover, a permit signed by the Viceroy himself was required to enter their hills even though the Naga Hills were not under British control. Initially, the Viceroy denied Dr Clarke the necessary permission to enter the Naga wilds. However, Godhula, the local Assamese evangelist/schoolteacher, courageously volunteered to go to the Ao Nagas. Until then, no one had dared to travel to their hills.
Godhula’s journey wasn’t easy. First, he was suspected to be a British spy and was imprisoned for a few days. Thankfully, Godhula had learned the Ao language earlier through one of the Naga men (most probably Ao) in Sibsagar. So, he sang Christian hymns and gradually shared the Christian Message, which motivated some villagers to be favourable to the Christian faith. His pioneering work was quite successful, and by November 1872, Godhula baptised as many as nine Nagas in the Dikho river in Sibsagar.
The American Baptist Missionaries had a great zeal towards learning the Ao language and culture to communicate the Gospel to the native Nagas. However, Godhula played a crucial role in preparing the Missionaries to learn the Ao language and culture.
Gradually, Christianity reached the other Naga tribes and various other parts in North-East India through the Ao Baptist Arogo Mungdang (ABAM, the Ao Baptist Church Association). At present, the membership of ABAM has reached more than two lakhs, who worship in more than 163 constituent congregations.
We need to be ever thankful to God for the life of Godhula, who courageously took the first journey to the Ao country and paved the way for Dr Clark and Mary Mead Clarke.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”- Isaiah 52:7.
Dr Asenla Ao holds a PhD in Christian Communication and is based in Kolkata
Photo by Varun Nambiar on Unsplash