The Vanishing Tribes

BAN METHUOT was dull enough after the Dak Lac. I was promptly reinstalled by Doustin among the silent splendours of the Residence, and told, once again, to ‘pousser un grand coup de gueule’ out of the window if I wanted anything. Doustin thought that there was little hope of leaving Ban Methuot yet awhile, in any direction, and mentioned that the convoy which had left Ban Methuot, following mine, had been badly shot up. However, one would see – one would see, and smiling secretly he withdrew, to the crashing of the sentries’ salute. I felt that he had something up his sleeve.

In the cool of the later afternoon I visited the local missionaries. Having heard something of their activities in the Dak Lac area, I was curious to see these people who taught their Moi converts to sing in harmony from Sankey and Moody and distributed woollen berets, as a sign of grace, to their children.
Mr Jones, the missionary, was a spare, bearded American, who looked like a New England farmer out of a picture by Grant Wood. His expression was one of severe beatitude, and his wife, too, gave the impression of being the happy possessor of a simple formula which had relieved her from doubts and misgivings of any kind. I do not believe that either of the Joneses had ever wrestled with an angel, nor would they have seen any point in the pessimistic attitude of most of the prophets. The practice and propagation of their religion was to them a pleasant and satisfying activity, offering, moreover, plenty of scope for self-expression. They lived in the best villa in Ban Methuot, and were aided in their tasks by two cars and a plane.
The pastors of the American Evangelical Mission do not agree with a diet of locusts and wild honey. It is normal for them to arrive in a country, I was told, with several tons of canned foodstuffs, calculated to last the length of the stay. Referring to the luxurious appointments of his villa, Mr Jones went out of his way to assure me that they were normal by French Colonial standards. Moreover, he said, he and his wife often slept in the bush. He went on to say that they both liked and admired the French immensely and did their best to cooperate with them in every possible way. They were in better odour, in fact, than the French Roman Catholic Mission, which had been banned from some areas for its political activities. By this the pastor supposed they had taken some sort of interest in the natives apart from their spiritual welfare – a thing the American Evangelical Mission never did. I waited in vain for the quotation beginning, ‘Render unto Caesar’, and re¬frained from telling the pastor that the missionaries are universally thought by the French authorities (I believe them to be wrong) to be political agents of Washington. In this the French show a lack of understanding of the American mind, arguing with Latin simplicity that as the missionaries make few converts – in the Buddhist parts of the country, none at all – why, otherwise, keep them there?
In reply to my enquiry after the progress of his labours the pastor said that they were making some headway against unbelievable difficulties. To take the language problem alone. Like most of these Far-Eastern languages, it was barren in abstractions, which provided the most appall¬ing difficulties when it came to translating the Holy Writ. To give just one example, he cited the text, ‘God is Love’. In Rhades there was no word for God. In fact these people didn’t get the idea at all without a great deal of explanation. Also there was no word for love. So the text came out in translation, ‘The Great Spirit is not angry’. It got over that way, he supposed, but not as he would have liked it.
You could imagine, he said, the kind of effort that went into the preparation of his address when he visited a new village for the first time. ‘Before starting in on them, we had to build a prayer-house of our own. We told them that we wouldn’t go into any of their houses that had been tainted with the blood of heathen sacrifices. After we got the place built, and it cost us plenty – in commodities like salt, I mean – we went right in there and endeavoured to preach the Christ crucified and risen, to all that attended.’ The pastor said that they always took pictures of the crucifix¬ion to give away, having learned that the natives were interested in the technique of any new blood-sacrifice. Some of the natives used to turn up expecting a ceremony with what the pastor called ‘that damnable alcohol of theirs’, and when they didn’t see any jars about the place they went away again. ‘However we didn’t give up the fight. There was nothing so sweet to my ears as to have one of these poor, ignorant, deluded souls we had struggled and prayed for, come to us and say, “When I die you will plant a cross on my grave and not a buffalo skull.” That was victory indeed,’ said the pastor, and for a moment there was a true pioneering gleam in his eyes.

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