A recent translation of reports by two missionaries provides an insight into the purpose of missionaries, and when compared to later writings, it hints at the trajectory of change in their own approach to their assigned tasks.

This view emerged during the discussion that followed the presentation of two papers at the seminar organised to commemorate the bicentenary of Hermann Moegling of the Basel Mission.

The papers were based on the translation of reports prepared by Moegling and Gottfried Weigle. Moegling and Weigle detailed their experiences during a tour in 1840, across the district and their views on the cultural, social, and religious lives of the people they encountered.

Senior researcher at Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, Jennifer Jenkins, who translated the two reports, said that 29-year-old Moegling was impatient and wanted to record as much as possible of what he saw.

Both he and Weigle along with several porters travelled during the day and spent their nights staying in places as diverse as police stations, temples, government guest houses, Jain houses, and farmsteads. All of these are described in some detail.

Possibly referring to the cattle fair in Kulkunda in Sullia, one of the missionaries said that he had never seen so many oxen in one place.

Ms. Jenkins said that it was “difficult to sympathise” with Moegling's views on the religious beliefs of the local people. However, they should be seen as a part of the time they come from.

It was difficult to understand how Moegling and other missionaries could be so “optimistic” about how fast they could change the religious beliefs of the people. She attributed this attitude to social climate in Europe, where rapid changes were taking place.

Denis Fernandes, lecturer at the Department of History at St. Aloysius College, said the two reports contained between them detailed accounts of a number of temples and daivastanas, and which community they were run by and so on.

There was a mention of how Moegling and Weigle entered the chamber of Annappa daiva in Dharmasthala, and when they came out; a few Brahmin men demanded a fine of Rs. 100 from them as they had violated the sanctity of the temple.

Mr. Fernandes said the writings gave an impression that the missionaries were strategising on how best to spread Christianity among the local people, akin to a general strategising during a battle.

During the discussion, lecturer in the Department of English at Mangalore University Parineeta Shetty said that Moegling and other missionaries should not be judged solely on the basis of these early reports, as later writings showed a different person. The close interaction that the missionaries had with local people was bound to have left its mark upon them, she said. Senior researcher M. Prabhakar Joshy chaired the session.

More In: Mangaluru