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Wednesday, November 10, 1999 Published at 07:15 GMT

UK: Wales

Indian poet retraces literary heritage

The Khasi capital of Shillong is a bustling city

The historic legacy of a little known Welsh missionary is being brought to life by an Indian poet and professor.

Poet Nigel Jenkins: "The missionaries had a profound effect"
Bevan L Swer is visiting Wales to publicise the Khasi culture and discover the past of controversial missionary Thomas Jones, who brought Welsh religion to the hill tribe in northern India in the 1840s.

Prof Swer will be appearing at Llantrisant Folk Club on Wednesday night for a special poetry reading, which will prove to be a memorable occasion for poet and writer Nigel Jenkins.

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"The Welsh are the fathers of Khasi literature," explained Mr Jenkins, the author of Gwalia in Khasia.

"It is a momentous thing for a writer and literary academic to visit a country that gave him his literary culture."

Prof Swer will also travel to the University of Wales Bangor and hopes to fit in a trip to the mid Wales birthplace of Thomas Jones.

'Strange country'

"I suppose he will find Wales a very strange country indeed," added Mr Jenkins.

"Given the religious reputation we have there, I think the reality is very different.

[ image: Nigel Jenkins: Bevan L Swer's visit is a momentous occasion]
Nigel Jenkins: Bevan L Swer's visit is a momentous occasion
"They ask in Khasi why Wales is no longer the christian country it once was."

Bevan Swer said he had been warmly welcomed in Wales and looked forward to his performance.

"We will give a few folk songs and a few indigenous songs which are not directly influenced by Wales."

With chapel life in Wales continuing to decline, Presbyterian church numbers in Khasi, in Meghalaya province, are increasing by 4,000 a year.

By the time the last Welshman, Arthur Hughes, had left Khasi in 1969, an everlasting impression had been left on the Khasi people.

Missionary zeal

Their own 'national anthem', Ri Khasi, uses a jaunty version of the tune to Hen Wlad fy Nhadau and they remember the Welsh hymns taught to them.

Jones's missionary zeal to aid the Khasi came in the form of teaching skills such as dressing stone, blacksmithing, keeping accounts and distilling alcohol for medicinal purposes.

The Revd Prechard Bassaioimoit said the most important development, though, was the creation of a written alphabet from the local dialect.

"Without the written alphabet the Khasi people would not be what they are today," he said.

"We were the first educated people in north east India."

The Khasi owe their current medical service to the work of Dr Arthur Hughes and Dr Gordon Roberts.

Shillong Hospital superintendent Dr Pherlock Lamare said the Khasi were "extremely fortunate" to have benefited from the work of Dr Hughes in particular.

"As well as being a very busy surgeon, he had the time to build the support a good hospital needs.

"He was a model of christianity in action."

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