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Methodist missionaries in colonial and postcolonial Upper Burma, 1887–1966

The first British Methodist missionaries came to Upper Burma in 1887 and the last left in 1966. They were known as 'Wesleyans' before 1932 and afterwards as 'Methodists'. This book is a study of the ambitions, activities and achievements of Methodist missionaries in northern Burma from 1887-1966 and the expulsion of the last missionaries by Ne Win. Henry Venn, the impeccably evangelical Secretary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), was the most distinguished and inspiring of nineteenth-century mission administrators. Wesleyan missionaries often found property development more congenial than saving souls. In Pakokku in December 1905, a 'weak' American missionary from Myingyan and a couple of Baptist Burman government officials began 'totally immersing' Wesleyans. Proselytism was officially frowned upon in the Indian Empire. The Wesley high schools were extraordinarily successful during the early years of the twentieth century. The Colonial Government was investing heavily in education. A bamboo curtain descended on Upper Burma in May 1942. Wesley Church Mandalay was gutted during the bombing raids of April 1942 and the Japanese requisitioned the Mission House and the Girls High School soon afterwards. General Ne Win was ruthlessly radical in 1962. By April 1964 Bishop was the last 'front-line' Methodist missionary in Upper Burma and the last European of any sort in Monywa. The book pulls together the themes of conflict, politics and proselytisation in to a fascinating study of great breadth.

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The Wesleyan missionaries eyed the world beyond their mission stations with profound suspicion, and neither colonialists nor Burmans knew quite what to make of the Wesleyans. Stephen Neill suggested that whatever their intentions, missionaries were ‘tools of governments’, and a young missionary in Kyaukse suspected that most Burmans assumed they were ‘part of the British Government’. 1 Proselytism was officially frowned upon in the Indian Empire. Conversion from one religion to another was highly political and

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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Politics and religion were two sides of the same coin. Wesleyan missionaries went to Upper Burma for many and complex reasons but their main purpose was to convert Burmans to Christianity. One scholar described it as a ‘corrupting’ task. 1 Another suggested that giving ‘pagan souls the same cast as our own’ was to personalise imperialism. 2 Few missions achieved the conversion targets set for them by their societies. As a result mission histories are often histories of failure. 3 Conversion rates

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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colonial rule and sovereign state. For decades past the British Army had nibbled away at Burma on the pretext of protecting India’s north-east frontier. Exploitation and the lure of profit were more likely motives. When British troops finally attacked Mandalay in 1885 the Burmese monarchy collapsed like a pack of cards. A ragbag of colonial civil servants, businessmen, lawyers, bankers, prospectors, forestry officials and ne’ er-do-wells flocked in behind the army. 2 The early Wesleyan missionaries were among those

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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if a hundred Wesleyan missionaries came. 5 The first warning signs appeared at the Baptist Mission in Toungoo where a letter was waiting from Rev. A.J. Rose. Rose had been in Burma since 1853 and was the ‘doyen’ of the ABM missionaries. He told Winston that American churches had donated $30,000 for the work in Upper Burma, Dr Cushing had been in Burma since 1877, Rev. E.D. Kelly was in Mandalay, and Rev. Carson was on his way to Bhamo where the ABM and China Inland Mission (CIM) both had bases. 6 Rose added ominously

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
Time and the Sabbath beyond the Cape frontiers

as paving the way for British colonisation, something which was explicitly conveyed by their custom of flying the British flag on the Sabbath. ‘The natives know nothing of our English national flag,’ one of the Wesleyan missionaries reported, ‘but when ours is hoisted, they understand the signal. They are aware it is then God’s day, and, as such, they pay some respect to it.’ 16 As it turned out

in The colonisation of time
Colonial constructions of ‘African time’

and modernise their Others. If sinfulness was understood as a spiritual time-lessness, evinced by the absence of a recurring day dedicated to God, the process of redeeming Indigenous peoples came to be associated with imparting knowledge of the ‘true’ ritual – the Christian Sabbath. This was pithily forecast by the Wesleyan missionary, Stephen Kay, when he wrote that ‘[a]ll days were alike common to

in The colonisation of time
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GCBA leaders, students and pongyis in a combined protest. 39 By contrast the YMBA footwear campaign of 1916 had been limited in scope and local in scale. The Wesleyan missionaries instinctively opposed the boycott because of YMBA involvement and they supported the University Act on the grounds that it would weed out ‘inefficient undergraduates’. ‘Storms of political and religious unrest’ erupted during 1921. Students stayed away from schools and roamed around the streets of Monywa and Mandalay in

in Conflict, politics and proselytism

Wesleyan Missionary Society had offered Jenkins a position as a religious teacher and caretaker at the remote Cloudy Bay mission station in the South Island. Jenkins displayed a keen interest in Māori language and customs, and his lay preaching enabled him to further his missionary work amongst Māori. After being posted at various stations, he was dismissed from the Church and moved

in Mistress of everything
Open Access (free)
‘If they treat the Indians humanely, all will be well’

the limits of White settlement, Roman Catholic and Wesleyan missionaries reporting to home societies in France and the United States had the capacity to highlight Britain’s failure to protect its Indigenous subjects. Such reports would later be seized on by the APS, anxious to add ‘waning loyalty’ to its list of evils consequent upon the failure of the Colonial Office to act in defence of Indigenous

in Equal subjects, unequal rights