Descendants of former Indian head-hunting tribe unveil headstone for Stretham missionary

PUBLISHED: 11:23 18 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:24 18 September 2018

Members of the Baptist Church of Mizoram, in India, attended a gravestone unveiling for Frederick Savidge in Stretham. PHOTO: Mike Petty

Members of the Baptist Church of Mizoram, in India, attended a gravestone unveiling for Frederick Savidge in Stretham. PHOTO: Mike Petty

Mike Petty

Descendants of a remote former head-hunting tribe travelled nearly 5,000 miles across the world to dedicate a headstone to a Stretham missionary.

Members of the Baptist Church of Mizoram, in India, attended a gravestone unveiling for Frederick Savidge in Stretham. PHOTO: Tom RichesMembers of the Baptist Church of Mizoram, in India, attended a gravestone unveiling for Frederick Savidge in Stretham. PHOTO: Tom Riches

Frederick Savidge, born in Stretham in 1862, was a Christian missionary who brought literacy and formal education to the mountainous region of Mizoram in northeast India in the late 19th century.

His influence among the tribe proved so profound that Mizoram now boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the country.

Men, women and children from the mountainous region travelled to Stretham to dedicate a headstone at his unmarked grave in the village cemetery, on Friday, September 14.

Frederick Savidge, who attended the King’s School in Ely, quit his job as a teacher to begin missionary work in India in 1891 with London-born missionary James Herbert Lorrain.

Members of the Baptist Church of Mizoram, in India, attended a gravestone unveiling for Frederick Savidge in Stretham. PHOTO: Mike PettyMembers of the Baptist Church of Mizoram, in India, attended a gravestone unveiling for Frederick Savidge in Stretham. PHOTO: Mike Petty

At that time, the Mizoram tribe practiced head-hunting, which involved ambushing and cutting off the heads of fighters from enemy tribes.

Local historian Mike Petty said the pair were entirely responsible for the creation of written language in Mizo, beginning of literacy, origin of formal education and establishment of churches in Mizoram.

Speaking of the gravestone unveiling, Mr Petty said: “What really came over was just how much they revered this man.”

The Baptist Church of Mizoram (BCM) became a thriving church with some 160,000 members. On their centenary in 2003 Frederick Savidge’s grandson, Ian Savidge, journeyed to India to join them for the occasion.

Members of the Baptist Church of Mizoram, in India, attended a gravestone unveiling for Frederick Savidge in Stretham. PHOTO: Mike PettyMembers of the Baptist Church of Mizoram, in India, attended a gravestone unveiling for Frederick Savidge in Stretham. PHOTO: Mike Petty

He remained in India until he retired in 1922 and returned to Stretham where he died in 1935.

The BCM spent the last couple of years finding where Lorrain and Savidge had been buried and have since funded the new gravestones, including one for Lorrain in South Ealing Cemetery in Greater London.

The unveiling ceremonies were organised the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) and Larry Zadeng, a Mizo based in the UK, and was attended by 11 members of the BCM.

Tom Riches, mission personnel organiser at BMS, said: “It was a privilege to welcome a number of people from Stretham.

Members of the Baptist Church of Mizoram, in India, attended a gravestone unveiling for Frederick Savidge in Stretham. PHOTO: Mike PettyMembers of the Baptist Church of Mizoram, in India, attended a gravestone unveiling for Frederick Savidge in Stretham. PHOTO: Mike Petty

“After the new gravestone ceremony at the cemetery, Mike Petty led the group on a tour of Savidge-related sites in the village, including where he once lived and the former Methodist church where his name is inscribed on a stone he laid.”

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