About the Book
German writings on India and south Asia. This series brings together a body of work on India and south Asia from Germany. The books in this series will reflect German scholarship in the social sciences and literature, made available to the English speaking world often for the first time. This is an award winning book Cultural encounters in India. The local coworkers of the tranquebar mission, 18th to 19th centuries is an English translation of a German book which has won the geisteswissenschaften. International award for excellence in scholarship. It is now available for the first time to the English speaking world. Heike Liebau relates the history of social and religious encounter in the 18th century south India through fascinating biographies and day to day lives of Indian workers who worked in the first organized protestant mission enterprise in India, the tranquebar mission (1706-1845). The mission was originally initiated by the Danish king friedrich IV, but sustained by religious authorities and mission organizations and supporters in Germany and Britain. The book challenges the notion that Christianity in colonial India was basically imposed from the outside. It also questions the approaches to mission history concentrating exclusively on European mission societies. Liebau maintains that the social history of the 18th century south India cannot be understood without considering the contributions of the local converts and mission coworkers who played an important role from the very beginning in the context of tranquebar mission.
About the Author
Heike Liebau is senior research fellow at the zentrum moderner orient (ZMO) in Berlin. Her research interest lies in the history of cultural encounters, biographical studies and questions of knowledge production. She is the coeditor of Halle and the beginning of protestant Christianity in India (with Y. Vincent Kumararadoss and Andreas gross), Halle 2006; and of the world in world wars: experience perceptions and perspectives from Africa and Asia (with katrin bromber, Katharina Lange, dyala hamzah, Ravi ahuja) Leiden, Boston 2010.
A few days before he died Daniel Pullei (1740-1802), the Indian dubash of the Danish governor Peter Herman Abbestee (1728-94) in Tranquebar narrated the circumstances of his life to his long-standing confidante and friend, the German missionary Christoph Samuel John (1747-1813). John transcribed this narrative and sent it to Europe with the remark that it was one of the 'most remarkable and rich' biographies. Although Daniel Pullei died before he could complete the account of his life, his memories, as written down by C.S. John, provided an impressive testimony of the manner in which an Indian convert dealt with the Christian faith and its moral teachings in an environment shaped by Hinduism. As a Tamilian Christian Daniel Pullei had attended a mission school and had also served for some time in the mission. Even after he had been appointed in the service of the Danish governor in Tranquebar and had shifted from the religious to the political sphere he maintained his good contacts with the mission. As a Tamilian and as a Christian, as a member of the local court and in his function as an advisor to the Danish governor, as a churchwarden and as a prosperous citizen of the small South Indian town of Tranquebar Daniel Pullei combined many different, even conflicting identities. While narrating his story to his friend he revealed his personal strife, the inner conflicts and doubts in a matter-of-fact manner. He said that he often didn't know what to do, 'since he sometimes incurred the displeasure and calumny of the Europeans, but more often that of his countrymen when he could not or did not want to act according to their separate interests.
Daniel Pullei was one of those Indians who as a 'national worker' for the Danish-English-Halle Mission acted as an intermediary between the Europeans and the local population in the early phase of the spread of colonial domination in South India. When the Danish king, Frederick IV (Rule from 1699-1730), set up a Protestant mission in Tranquebar in 1705 this town on the south-east coast of India had already been in the possession of different Danish trading companies for almost one century. The Danish-English Halle Mission-also known as the Tranquebar Mission-was active as the first Protestant mission in India between 1706 and 1845 in different parts of what is today the state of Tamil Nadu. From 1706, when the first missionary, Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg (1682-1719), landed in Tranquebar till the Danish trade settlement was handed over to the British colonial rulers in 1845 more than fifty-mainly German-missionaries were entrusted with the task of propagating Christianity among the Tamils.
Along with the missionaries sent out from Europe several hundred local employees worked for the mission. Collaboration with Tamilians was crucial for the survival of the mission. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the missionaries themselves, whose numbers were never very large, could not cope alone with all the work linked with the schools and churches as well as with administration and correspondence. Secondly, while travelling, the missionaries not only needed porters, but also people familiar with the place, the people and the language and who were integrated in local networks. Especially in the early years these people were indispensable as advisors and interpreters. Finally, the missionaries also relied on their local informants for the geographical, historical and political information they required for writing their reports and scientific studies. These informants were often employees of the Mission.
Corresponding to the infrastructure of the Mission establishments and the requirements of the missionaries the group of local employees and supporters of the Mission included technical personnel (porters, cooks, washer men, bell-ringers, grave-diggers etc.), the mission helpers in a narrower sense (prayer-leaders, bible women, assistants, teachers, catechists, country-preachers) as well as interpreters, language-teachers and informants. A section of the 'national workers' was placed under the direct control of the Mission and paid by the Mission. These were, as a rule, the mission helpers in the narrower sense and most of the technical personnel. The interpreters, language teachers and informants also included non-Christians who worked with individual missionaries and were paid individually for their services.
In certain cases the missionaries maintained a close contact with people who had been educated in mission schools and had subsequently gone on to work in other fields. This group of people was primarily instrumental in ensuring that the actual influence of the mission extended far beyond the mission stations, although its sphere of activity in the first half of the eighteenth century was essentially limited to the territory under Danish control. It was only later that their missionary activity could be extended beyond this region. Local people educated in mission schools were sent to other European establishments as accountants, interpreters, soldiers, teachers, domestic helpers or, also, as craftsmen, especially after 1777 when responsibility for the colony Tranquebar passed from the trading company to the Danish state.
The Tamils who were associated with the Danish-English- Halle Mission over a period of 130 years are the focal point of this study. This group, by no means homogeneous with regard to their social background, their religious and caste affiliation, but also with regard to their function in the everyday work of the mission, will be studied against the backdrop of processes of social and religious change in South India. As co-workers and contact persons of a European missionary society these players had to bear the brunt of specific conflicts. In the framework of an encounter between different cultures they entered into religious and social commitments that were often in mutual conflict, and they also worked as intermediaries between the Europeans (missionaries) and non-Europeans (local population). This had its consequences for the lifestyle, the social status and the social actions of the Indian employees of the Danish-English-Halle Mission. Conversion to Christianity often meant that these converts had to find a compromise between the new faith and their earlier lives-a compromise that was practical for the needs of everyday life and suitable for dealing with different social classes. While this was a difficult social process for every convert, for those who entered into the service of the mission it presented a far greater problem. For the local mission employees, the 'national workers', the passage to Christianity did not end with a documented and publicly announced change of faith sanctioned by the act of baptism. They were subsequently expected to pass on the new religious content with its norms and values in a credible and convincing manner to the people of the region.
This study will attempt to gain insights into the lives of the local, basically Tamil, mission employees from a social and-only in a limited fashion-from a religious perspective. These people were intermediaries in political and legal conflicts, as well as advisors and contact persons for the local population, but they were sometimes also persecuted and cast out. Those among them who developed their own understanding and thus critically accompanied and helped shape the missionary cultural encounter became-although they were not always aware of it-initiators of religious and social change. They constantly crossed religious and social boundaries and created new social and religious identities.
As the first overseas Protestant mission the Danish-English-Halle Mission was in many respects, even with regard to the formation of a group of Tamil co-workers, a model for later missions. Urs Biterli's statement that the formation of an 'intermediary mixed-class' ('vermittelnde Mischlingsschicht') was carried out successfully in the missionary field only in the nineteenth century would have to thus be relativized. More so, since the formation of this intermediary class in the Tranquebar Mission took on more distinct aspects than in later missionary societies. In what follows the role of cultural, in this case predominantly religious, intermediaries in pre- and early colonial India will be examined through the example of the Indian co-workers of the DEHM. The history of this mission will be understood in the broadest sense as the history of cultural relations. Based on its religious agenda Christian missions initially only planned a one-sided influence of Christians on non-Christian peoples with a view to converting the 'heathens' to Christianity. In this framework the missionaries were cast in the role of superior teachers and helpers, while those who were to be converted were, at best, to play the role of grateful converts. They were not understood as thinking and active adherents of the faith. In reality, missionary work always proved to be a complex, often long-lasting and direct encounter between representatives of different religions and cultures in the process of which new social and religious values and norms were negotiated. By naming one side of the encounter as active (missionaries) and the other as passive (missionizedlconverts) we ignore the complexity of mutual dealings between the groups. If we look at the local co-workers as servants of the European missionaries and players controlled by the mission, as objects or victims of an intercultural encounter whose actions can then only be viewed as the result of external influences, we fail to see the possible scope of the actions of individual mission co-workers. It also makes it more difficult to analyze mutual contacts in the sphere of Christian missionary activity and only provides a limited scope for questions regarding relations of communication, negotiation and exchange between the 'missionizing' and the 'missionized'. In the course of missionary work many of the (local) 'missionized' became helpers or partners of the missionaries in their function as mission employees and were thus themselves 'missionizers', while the European missionaries learnt a lot from their Indian partners especially with regard to their understanding of local society, philosophy and literature. The concrete shape of relations between the Europeans and the local population was always dependent on the historical background of missionary activity, on the religious and social principles of the mission society, its methods of carrying out missionary work and the local conditions in the mission region.
The work of the Tranquebar mission falls in the period of the formation and consolidation of British colonial rule in India, which was accompanied by far-reaching social changes. The eighteenth century, which comprises the main part of the period under study, also constitutes a break in the history of missions. It spelt the decline of influence of the Catholic missions, while Protestant missions came into being, at first hesitantly in association with pietistic movements. The Danish-Halle mission gave birth to 'the history of broad-based and continuous evangelical missionary work.
In the 1960s there was a shift in emphasis in socio-historical research from a predominant consideration of social structures and processes to a greater engagement with the role of social groups and classes as historical protagonists and as contributors to social transformations. With the development of the Annales School, the Subaltern Studies or the History from Below, history was no longer understood in a unidirectional fashion as the history of influential groups led by powerful ruling personalities. Historians increasingly directed their questions to the role of marginalized groups and lower sections of society in historical processes. Accompanied by a growing interest in mentality studies and the history of everyday life, as well as by new approaches in biographical and anthropological research these developments also promoted the turn to the so-called intermediary groups in history. Such groups always arose in specific historical situations when people with special characteristics and abilities were required to mediate between different interest groups. Political, economic and social developments influenced the need for such intermediaries and also determined their status in the concerned society. Based on anthropological research the scientific studies of intermediary groups have, in the meantime, also gained significance in other disciplines. The framework of these studies was considerably extended by applying the concept to the colonial context in which processes of mediation not only took on translocal and global forms, but were also extended to include different spheres of life. The activation of existing and the formation of new intermediary groups followed different patterns depending on historical circumstances and the participating players, but it was a necessary accompaniment and a consequence of intercultural encounter and colonial conquests.
From the 1970s, at the latest, relevant historical studies on Indian history propounded the thesis that British colonial rule could not have been established without the participation of different groups among the local population. The eighteenth century which was long considered a period of decline and chaos was reevaluated as a historical stage that contained the seeds of development in a political, economic and cultural sense. With this the study of the Indian middle class and elites that took part in social transformation processes became relevant. Local groups of intermediaries operated between representatives of European trading companies, on the one hand, and producers or Indian merchants on the other. Since they were not directly and exclusively answerable to any authority they could act relatively independently. They had to have contacts, networks, economic structures, means of transport and storage facilities at their disposal. They also required knowledge of languages and experience in the way of life and work both of the European merchants as well as of the Indian producers and merchants. These positions of trade intermediaries (brokers) were traditionally occupied in South India by certain castes who for centuries had specialized in coastal trade. Existing structures and networks often proved to be advantageous and stable for the European trade-settlements in India. Whether it was a matter of obtaining permission from local rulers to establish a trade-settlement, a matter of military and political alliances, economic contacts or information about the country and its people, the mutual relationships and interdependency between the colonial power and the colonized population had a wide range, and in this process local groups of intermediaries periodically gained immense significance. On the one hand, the agreements reached between European trading companies and local rulers cleared the path for European acquisition of territories on the coast to set up trade settlements while, on the other, it offered advantages to the local ruler in case of conflicts with other local powers. The European trading companies gained access to the local structures of production, exchange and trade. Initially, they did not seek to actively change or shape these structures. In addition, insufficient knowledge about the people and the place as well as of the language made the European employees of the East India companies particularly dependent on local support in the early phase of colonial conquest.
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