| Portrait of Thomas Jones, father of Khasi alphabet and literature |
Shillong, Jan. 21: The Welsh missionary who gave Khasis their alphabet will be remembered on his 200th birth anniversary this Saturday with a memorial tablet, a little gesture of gratitude for his contribution to the hills.
In 1841, Thomas Jones set foot on Khasi hills and began his mission from a small hamlet, Nongsawlia, near Cherrapunjee.
This Saturday, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, Rev. Gwenda Richards, will unveil a memorial tablet at the very place from where Jones began his work.
The memorial tablet to be erected will mention his contribution to Khasi-Jaintia Hills by way of introducing the Khasi alphabet in Roman script and opening schools in parts of Sohra in 1842.
“We did not have a written language before Thomas Jones came to Khasi hills in 1841 and we are grateful to the great social transformer from Wales,” said Rev. J.F. Jyrwa, senior administrative secretary of Khasi-Jaintia Presbyterian Church, here.
Historian Prof. David Syiemlieh of Nehu who traced Jones’s grave to the Scottish Cemetery in Karaya Road, Calcutta, said the missionary’s great grandson from Australia, Andrew Brown May, had also wished to join the celebrations.
But he will not be able to travel to Khasi hills because of work.
“Andrew is excited about the celebrations in Khasi hills and he also informed us that as a tribute to Jones, he is writing a book which will have references to his contribution in Khasi Hills,” Syiemlieh said.
Andrew had visited Shillong and other parts of Khasi hills six years ago for research.
Syiemlieh, who has also researched extensively on Jones, said he was the first Presbyterian missionary to set up a church at Nongsawlia in Sohra, Khasi hills.
“He was also the first one to use Roman script to produce Khasi alphabets in 1842 besides opening three lower primary schools in Mawsmai, Mawsynram and Sohra,” Syiemlieh said.
Following Jones’s path, other tribes in the Northeast, including the Nagas, the Mizos and the Garos introduced Roman scripts.
It was under Jones’s guidance that the Presbyterian mission spread to Sylhet, Mizoram and parts of Assam.
Syiemlieh lamented that despite his contribution, Jones has not been sufficiently recognised by the government.
The Khasi Authors’ Society will also remember Jones at a gathering for his contribution to Khasi literature.
“For us, he is the father of Khasi alphabet and literature since he had provided us the written language,” said the secretary of Khasi Authors’ Society, Phrikshon Kharshiing.
The former pastor of Nongsawlia church set up by Jones, Rev. P.B.M. Basaiawmoit, said there would be a prayer at the church on Sunday and all the Presbyterian churches in Khasi-Jaintia hills will also hold special services as a mark of respect to Jones.