Conversion to Translation: Colonial Registers of a Vernacular Christianity
A few years ago, while working on missionary records kept at a small repository in Missouri, I came across a 250-page manuscript and two shorter pieces, written between 1908 and 1913 by ‘native’ evangelical workers, designated as catechists, in central India. I skimmed over the longer manuscript, reading the author’s recounting of the strange and the familiar as he preached the Word in towns and villages. Here people told the catechist (and each other) that ‘Jesus is only some kind of an English incarnation’. Others ‘joked about such bad things’ — libidinous and earthy comments about the Immaculate Conception — that he just ‘could not write’. Not surprisingly, this lowly Indian evangelist turned down an invitation to attend a village festival declaring that it was impossible for him to ‘take part in such wicked things for God hates idol worship, hence famine is now raging’. Long before I reached the end of the manuscript, a question had begun to agitate me. How was I to read these texts?