Nagaland, nearly 8,000 miles from Ewing, is a state in the far northeast of India, bordering on Myanmar (the former Burma) to the east, and south of the sprawling country of China. Wikipedia, the source of most of this information, describes it as a mountainous area, largely rural, and much of it covered with tropical or subtropical forests of bamboo, palms, and mahogany, among others.
The rhododendron is the state flower, but there are also many other flowers, including countless varieties of orchids growing wild. There are many unique and unusual species of birds and animals living in its biologically diverse environment.
It’s thought that centuries ago, tribes of nomads arrived in the Naga region from Mongolia, southeast Asia, and/or southwest China. Dozens of separate tribes in Nagaland still exist, each with its own language or dialect, so that most of them are unintelligible to another.
However, with British colonization of India in the 19th century, English became the official language, and remains the official language of Nagaland to this day.
The Naga people and their tribes are a fiercely independent sort, and have never been content with being a part of India or Britain. Thus there has been a history of political disagreement and conflict in the tiny region. Traditional tribal self-rule often remains “unofficially” in place.
And yet, despite this independence and tribal separatism, there are things that strongly unite these people. One is the devotion to their art and culture. Each tribe has its own preferred color palette and designs for weaving and making colorful necklaces and jewelry. Folk songs, stories and dances are widely shared and enjoyed.
The Naga people — who once had headhunters among their ranks — are known as the “festival people” in India, and joyously celebrate life, the harvest and friendship during the many festivals they hold each year. Evidently, they like to party.
Another uniting factor is their religion. Incredibly, according to Wikipedia, Nagaland is known to be “the most Baptist state in the world.”(!) Eighty-eight percent of Nagaland’s nearly 2 million people are Christian, and of those, the majority are Baptist, making it “more Baptist” than anywhere else in the world.
Christianity arrived in the area in the early 19th century, and the Baptists were some of the most active missionaries. They seem to have been very successful!
And thus the reason for this month’s seemingly unusual topic of Nagaland.
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Mark Falzini of West Trenton, in his fascinating book, One Square Mile: A History of Trenton Junction, NJ, tells the story of a missionary couple, the Rev. S.A. Parrine and his wife. Mrs. Parrine was the daughter of Rev. and Mrs. M.T. Lamb of Grand Avenue in West Trenton, then known as Trenton Junction.
The Parrines were missionaries in Nagaland, and, presumably, were in part responsible for strongly establishing the Baptist faith there.
In December 1904, the Parrines returned to Trenton Junction, and brought home with them Eramo Shanjamo Jungi, a roughly 16-year-old native of the Lotha tribe of Nagaland. Shanjamo stayed here in New Jersey, living with the Lambs for a year, and attending school at the Trenton Junction school (now the brick building across from the railroad station).
In doing so, he became the first Naga to come to the United States and receive a foreign education. It must have been quite an experience for him!
Shanjamo went on to attend two other schools in New Jersey, and eventually returned to Nagaland in 1908. He was ordained as a minister in the Baptist Church, established several churches in Nagaland, and continued to preach.
He died in 1956, at the age of about 70 years. He is revered in his native land.
But there’s more! We’ll learn the incredible follow-up to this story in next month’s column, thanks to the graciousness of Mark Falzini to share his work and knowledge.
In the meantime, let’s all join the Nagas in celebrating the harvest and friendship as best we can this Thanksgiving.
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I’m most grateful to Mark Falzini for sharing material for this column from his book, One Square Mile. The book is available on Amazon and elsewhere, and makes a terrific holiday gift for those Ewing residents on your list!
Helen Kull is an adviser to the Ewing Township Historic Preservation Society. Share your story of Ewing history with Helen by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.