JOURNEY OF THE CROSS AMONG THE ZOU PEOPLE
Background: 20th century developments
The light of Christianity was brought to the hills of Manipur in the early part of 20th century. The pagan Sakhua religion was under direct assault in Southern Manipur with the establishment of NEIG Mission at Old Churachand (Mission Compound) in 1930. The Paite, Hmar and Thadou tribes were among the earliest advocates of the Christian conversion. Along with the Simte, the Zou tribe was slow in responding to new ideas ushered in by the Christian mission. Perhaps due to their anti-colonial legacy, the Zous became the last bastion of pagan “Sakhua” in the area. Though cultural rootedness has its own merits, it was a setback for modernization. By the 1950s, there were a handful of Christian converts among the Zous too. But the Zou converts were disorganised and scattered. The new Zou Christian converts joined different dialectal groups, especially the Paite and Thadou Christian groups. Among the intelligent sections of the Zou, there was a strong desire to stem the tide of this social crisis. Their solution was to embrace the Church Movement by preserving the unity of the Zou community ironically through mass conversion.
The preliminary Tuaitengphai meet 1953
There seemed to be a lot of spade work before the historic JCA Conference could be convened on 20 February 1954. A preliminary meeting was held at Tuaitengphai village under Churachandpur district of Manipur state on the occasion of ‘Haitha’ (First Fruit) festival in which the villages of Daizang, Bohlui and Khianglam were scheduled to participate; but the last two did not turned up. The outcome of all those untiring discussions and persuasions was the staging of a partially successful joint meeting between Daizang and Tuaitengphai in 1953. That, in turn, provided a solid foundation for a more spectacular success. It actually became a prelude to the historic Jou Christian Association (JAC) meeting at Daizang on 20 February 1954.
The historic Daizang JCA Conference 1954
On 20 February 1954, the first Zou Conference was held at Daizang village. The JCA (Jou Christian Association) conference deliberated on issues related to the social and religious life of the community. The JCA agenda was not exclusively religious. Besides Pu Kamzakhup, the pillars of the JCA in its initial days were the three educated figures – Pu Thawng Hang, Pu Sem Kho Pau, and Pu Kai Za Kham. The triple leaders were still students at Imphal at that point of time, and they were entrusted with the task of drafting a ‘Constitution’ for JCA, which was finally adopted at the Daizang assembly. This historic conference accelerated mass conversion to Christian faith into an irreversible social movement within the Zou community. Ironically, such collective conversion did not necessarily led to de-tribilization. This strategy rather ensured the viability of “tribal identity” under changing conditions.
Manipur Evangelical Lutheran Church
After a number of transitional changes, the Jou Christian Association (JCA) was later changed into Manipur Evangelical Lutheran Church (MELC) in ????????. It has celebrated Golden Jubilee of its ministries in 2004. At present it is a body of 49 local Churches with 8500 members. Its general headquarters is situated at Zomi Colony, Churachandpur, Manipur. It is a proud member of the Lutheran community (UELCI & LWF)