NASHVILLE, TN/PINGWAIT, NEI
A Visit to Pingwait
by Jim Seavey, on behalf of the Pingwait task force (Rev. Gail Seavey, Doug Pasto-Crosby, Jane Norris, Sasha Reed and Julian Raschke)
Six members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville had an opportunity to meet members of the church’s newly designated Partner Church in Meghalaya, India in February. We arrived in the dry season, planning to visit Unitarian Church Pingwait and attend the simultaneous 113th annual Unitarian Union of N.E.I. Conference and the end of the 125th Anniversary Year Celebration of the Unitarian Church Jowai, the founding church in North East India (NEI). Each of us came with various expectations, from seeing friends from a previous visit to feeling the warmth of a south India climate (it was seasonably chilly in NEI).
In Pingwait we gathered at the church with Mr. Fairstar Bina, secretary of the church and Kong Bria Mynsong, and many from the Mynsong family and other members who could be there on a weekday. We then had more conversation and lunch at the home of Kong Morilda Mynsong. The food in NEI is simple, no curries and spices, just rice (local and extremely tasty) and fresh vegetables, with a bit of chicken (also local free range and especially delicious). People in the Khasi tribal areas speak one of five dialects and many have a good grasp of English, though they do not have many opportunities to speak with a native speaker. We each made many acquaintances, and the two return visitors were warmed by the renewed relationship with Kong Bria Mynsong, who had been especially kind to them on their previous visit.
Our two younger members had a good time sharing their stories with peers. We gathered for a group photo in the back yard with the rolling hills covered with cultivated plots in the background. After lunch we paid a brief visit to the Annie Margaret Barr Children’s Village, where our path intersected with a group lead by Reverend Darihun Khriam, supervising minister of nine churches, including Pingwait, and Treasurer of the Unitarian Union of North East India. We were accompanied by Mr. Wanlang Mylliemngap of the Unitarian Union, who also showed us the isolated village of Laitum from the cliff edge 2,000 feet above it, and brought us for tea at his aunt’s house in Kharang on our way back to the hotel in Shillong. Wanlang helps church communities form Self Help Groups, an important economic engine for the area. We missed seeing Rev. Player Marboh of Pingwait who was detained due to his wife giving birth (a boy, Feb. 8).
We then moved to Jowai for the opening ceremony of the Conference and Celebration. The raising of the flag for the occasion with a burst of confetti and song was conducted by Revs. Derrick Pariat and Nangroi Suting, President and Secretary of the UUNEI. We stayed with various host families, some of whom were also hosting whole villages who had come for the weekend. We are especially grateful to Rev. Helpme Mohrmen, past UUNEI President and member of the Jowai church, for the arrangements. On Saturday we were treated, along with the thousands of Unitarians from the villages, Shillong and Jowai, to tribal drumming and dances of the Karbi tribal group, and of the Jaintia tribal group from Nongtalong and Jowai. We were guests of honor with other dignitaries from the U.S., U.K., Canada and ‘mainland’ India, sharing the platform and introducing ourselves to the audience during one of the many religious services. Sermons for two services were by Revs. John Gibbons and Gary Smith. On Sunday for the afternoon service we sat in the audience with our new Pingwait friends. The celebrations ended with a torchlight parade winding through the hilltop streets of Jowai, with throngs of Jowai citizens along the edge exclaiming at those of us from ‘away’ in native dress. We sang the hymns translated into Khasi 125 years ago at the top of our lungs with the accompaniment of a sound truck blaring what we called ‘Country Khasi’—modern electric instruments and percussion and amped-up vocals. We marveled at the bamboo torches, filled with kerosene and wrapped at the open end with cloth, refreshed occasionally by dipping the torch.
Monday, Revs. Pariat and Suting sent us on a tourist’s trip of the Khasi Plateau to within a few miles of the Bangladesh border (which we could see from 3,000 feet above). We stopped at a river ravine, a Buddhist museum of Khasi tribal culture, a cave (which some of us thought the highlight of the trip), a major waterfall—quiet in the dry season but still spectacular, and the border view near a hundreds-foot-high natural plinth.
The thing that will stay with us is the passion of the people for their Unitarian faith which spurs them to ever wider knowledge of the world, commune with nature, and strengthening of community. ••