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Reverend William Pettigrew and Modern Education in Manipur

By- Dr.L.Leiren Singh

Reverend William Pettigrew (1869-1943) was an Engilsh missionary. He came to India at an early age of 21 in 1890. He worked for two years in Bengal. The Manipur war of 1891 attracted his attention to work in Manipur. As such, he sought permission from the administrative authorities of Manipur for his entry permit. While waiting for his permit at silchar, he contacted some Manipuries there for learning Manipuri language. Making purposeful use of his newly acquired knowledge of Manipuri, he wrote the first Manipuri Primer and Manipuri Grammar including English-Bengali-Manipuri dictionary. Later on, he was assigned the task of reducing Manipuri vernicular into writing.The initial wrk done by him facilitated in entering Manipur at a time when Manipur administration did not allow Christian missionaries to work freely in Manipur adopting the policy of religious neutrality not to hurt religious sentiment of the people.
However, Mr.A.Porteous, the then acting political agent of Manipur, granted permission to enter Manipur to William Pettigrew. He arrived in Imphal on 6 January, 1894. After his arrival, he started his work by opening a primary school at Singjamei bor boys in his name. The school is now upgraded to Junior High School and till known as Pettigrew Junior High School. In the same year, there was a problem concerning Johnstone Middle English School, the first School of Manipur established in 1885 under the initiative of Sir James Johnstone, due to the resignation of its headmaster. To fill-up vacancy, William Pettigrew worked as the honorary headmaster of the school and his service was highly appreciated by all sections of the people of Manipur. Later on, honorary service in various capacities happened a regular feature on his part. During his short tenure of 6(six) months at Imphal, he initiated the spread of girls’ education and strived to find out a suitable lady teacher from outside the state.
But the action of Mr.A.Porteous permitting Pettigrew to function freely was strong resented ny the orthodox Hindus of Manipur. They suspected it as an attempted in-road upon the Meitei culture by means of imposing christianity. A tension had been created in this way in the mind of the people. The arrival of Major Maxwell, political agent in Manipur from furlough set things at rest and the tense situation was brought under control. Pettigrew was asked to work in the hill areas of Ukhrul which under the British administration at that time, that too at his own risk. It was a blessing in disguise for him in the hope that one day he would be able to resume his earlier work in the valley areas of Manipur. He started contacting 16(sixteen) tribal chiefs for permitting him to work in their respective villages. But they all rejected his proposal on the idea of alien religion and education to be imposed on them.
At last, he was given a plot of land at Phungyo in Ukhrul in the month of January 1896 and he worked there with his wife, Alice Gorcham. In January 27, 1896, he was also appointed as Missionary of the American Baptist Mission Society. The first task taken up by him was to win the confidence of the people and start a boys’ school there. A lower primary school was accordingly opened at Ukhrul in the month of February, 1897 with an enrolment of 20 boys. Thus, modern education had its root in Ukhrul under the able guidance of Pettigrew. He was , later on, assisted by Major Maxwell by all possible means. But the earlier years of Mr. and Mrs. Pettigrew at Ukhrul were very difficult. The primary school upgraded to the standard of a Middle English School in 1906. He continued as the headmaster of the school for a long period after its establishment.
He also inspected all the schools of Manipur as the Honorary Inspector of schools for 7 (seven) years 1897-1903. His knowledge of Manipuri and Bengali languages and the valuable service rendered by him during his brief stay at Imphal attracted the attention of the political agent who asked him to assist the government in establishing scholls in various part of Imphal, Ukhrul and secured and appointed teachers and prepared curriculum with the help of the teachers. When he relinguished his assignment of Honorary Inspector of schools for furlough in 1903, 28 schools has been established including Mao and Hundung Lower Primary School and 23 text-books had been translated from Bengali language to Manipuri. It was also during this period of furlough, Pettigrew took two years course at the Livingstone-Medical College for Missionaries and studied dentistry and surgery along with practical work done in the outdoor dispensaries in the slums of East London. He applied his medical knowledge in Ukhrul after his arrival there with help of Mrs. Pettigrew which ultimately paved the way for the establishment of a hospital in Ukhrul in 1902.
In 1911, Pettigrew was also given an unexpected opportunity to visit all his areas of Manipur as he was the only Englishman who knew tribal dialects. He was made superintendent of census operation which was being taken for the first time in the hill areas of Manipur. Christian teachers and student in the higher classes from Ukhrul helped him as enumerators and supervisions in successfully concluding the census. The contracts made at this time proved useful in extending his areas of operation in non-Tangkhul areas well as in motivating the people for the propogation of Christianity and the benefits of modern education. He also gave similar assistance in the census operations of 1921 and 1931.
During the first world war 1914, Pettigrew was commissioned to France as an Army Captain by the British authorities. He was further entrusted to recruit labour corps to France from the people of hills areas of Manipur. Through his missionary influence, he successfully recruited the labour corps under the leadership of his 6(six) trusted church leaders and students. Similarly, during the Kuki rebellion (1917-19), Dr. Crozier had been transfered from Tura to Manipur in the year 1917 at the request of William Pettigrew. But, Manipur Government refused to permit more than one missionary to work in the state. However, Dr. Crozier and Mrs. Crozier spent their time in helping the state. After Pettigrew’s return from war, he pleaded for a second missionary family to work in Manipur. It was due to Pettigrew’s war service, the state Government permitted a second missionary to work in Manipur in 1917 and the Mission centre from Ukhrul was also shifted to Kangpokpi in 1919.
It amy be pointed out that for 23 years (1894-1917), Manipur administrators allowed only one missionary to work in Ukhrul. But in 1928, permission was granted to all missionaries to work area in the hill areas of Manipur.
It was also originally thought that Pettigrew and Crozier would work together in Manipur. But the difference of opinion between them led to divide Manipuri field into two spheres of influence, Pettigrew supervised  schools on Imphal, North East and Sadar Hill regions and Dr. Crozier assumed the responsibility for the North-Western regions including supervision work for dispensaries, hospitals and leper asylums. Hence, Pettigrew worked mainly among the Nagas and extended his work to Imphal by establishing a church at Keishamthong in 1916. However Dr. Crozier worked specially among the Kukis. For the benefit of the people,  a dispensary and a leper asylum were also opened in the new mission centre.

Both the school and dispensary became one of the best centres for learning and medical treatment later on. In 1919, Pettigrews left for furlough and they joined the work of Croziers in 1921. But Dr.Crozier resigned from the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society in 1932 and joined Baptist Mid-Mission for reasons best known to him. With the growth of Christianity, education also developed largely due to the efforts of missionaries. The influence of Christianity perhaps brought awareness of better standard of living among the tribal people of Manipur. Mrs.Pettigrew also extended great help to the women- folk giving them training in nursing, knitting,weaving,cleanliness etc. which stood in good stead in their future life. The impact of christainity,undoubtedly,advanced the socio-economic life of the tribal of Manipur. As the local churches rapidly grew along with the advancement of modern education among the hill people,higher theological trained leaders were also urgently required for the churches. William Pettigrew made adequate arrangement for the supply of theological manpower.

Reading materials were essentially required for the spread of modern education among the people of Manipur. To meet this requirement, Pettigrew prepared text books in Manipuri,Tangkhul and Thadou Kuki. Other instructional materials-primers, books on Arithmatics were also prepared either by him or under his supervision to meet scriptures and christian literatures not only in Manipuri language but also in Tangkhul, Thadou and Kom Kuki dialects.

Pettigrew’s linguistic studies and researches had given him a position of unique authority on the language of Manipur. In 1923, Sir George Grierson, Director of the Linguistic Survey of India, asked him to collect relevant materials for the publication of a monograph on archaic Manipuri. He undertook the assignment in collaboration with W.Yumjao Singh and a Meitei  Maichon, collecting a vocabularly of over 600 words thereby preparing a skelton grammar, a translation and transliteration of two selected scripts. In 1931, a rough statement of the work was sent by Pettigrew to the general secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

Reverend Willaim Pettigrew’s work has been recognised and appreciated not only in Manipur but also outside the state. In recognition of his distinguished public service, he was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Silver medal by the British government in 1918. He was also awarded a war medal in 1920 for military service in the British army during the First World War. He had also been made a member of the educational standing committee pf the state of Manipur since 1926 in recognition of his work in developing modern education in Manipur as well as his own interest in uplifting the masses of Manipur through education. In 1928, In recognition of his scripture translation work in Manipuri language, Tangkhul and Thadou Kuki dialects, he was made honorary member of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Pettigrew carried out systematic and consistent research work among the various tribes of Manipur and useful research in archaic Manipuri also found recognition in his election to membership of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1930. Thus he held many positions of trust and respect within the Christian mission and served in a number of committees of the state government in various capacities.

The value of the work done by him for forty years (1894-1933) of his life in Manipur cannot be described in words as he dedicated his life for the cause of Christianity and modern education in Manipur. He was a dedicated field worker of education and linguist, He has also taken all assignments given to him with a spirit of team work with the people and government officials. The educational and religious development of hill-districts of Manipur may be attributed to the selfless and dedicated service of Reverend William Pettigrew. Modern education was for the first time introduced to the tribals of Manipur by him and as such he is rightly called the father of modern education for the tribals. He successfully experimented the monitorial system of Andrew Bell in the village schools of Ukhrul utilizing the service of class 6 students for teaching lower classes. This method of entrusting teaching work to brilliant students had a great educational value.

He secured the confidence of the people at the grassroot level and paved the way for the development of girls, education in the valley and hill areas of Manipur. It may not be out place to point out that the history of the development of modern education in Manipur would have been different without the dedicated service of Reverend William Pettigrew in various capacities. To commemorate his valuable service in developing particularly the people of Ukhrul by all possible means, Pettigrew College was established in Ukhrul with the local initiative in 1965. The college is at present functioning as a co-educational Arts degree college. The colleges gives an edible indelible impression in the mind of the people of Ukhrul about the contribution made by him.

In concluding our discussion, it may be pointed out that Manipur had only one primary school in 1885. But the whole scenario of education had been completely changed after the arrival of Pettigrew and his stress on introduction of modern system of education. Now, the state has 3,225 primary schools, 687 Junior High Schools, 394 High Schools,27 Higher Secondary Schools,60 colleges and 2 Universities including Central Agriculture University, Iroisemba. The literacy percentage of the state in 1991 is 60.96 in the break-up of 72.98 for male and 48.64 for female.

The state is now an educationally advanced state of India even though the country has 10(ten) educationally backward states. The state may not have the present status if Reverend William Pettigrew did not start his educational exploration in 1894 and 1897 In both valley and hill areas with a missionary zeal. He worked not only for the spiritual welfare of the various tribes of Manipur by means of propagating Christianity but also the role of Reverend William Pettigrew in the field of modern education in Manipur is of great significance. He combined religion with education successfully.


Last modified onSaturday, 11 May 2019 17:34
Ashinikumar Mutum

Ashinikumar Mutum, a resident of Sagolband Meino Leirak has been writing for Imphal Times since 2016. He handles mostly Press release and announcement related news. Ashinikumar is also a social worker. He can be emailed at [email protected]

1 comment

  • Romen Lai
    Romen Lai Monday, 08 July 2019 21:25 Comment Link

    wow!!!!! what a dedicated and influenced religious person we found in this state.....
    most of his life was spend here for the sake of our people....
    Thank you Revd. petegrew.....

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