George Byres Mainwaring, popularized in Lepcha world as G.B.Mainwaring, is known for his pioneering, painstaking, original and authentic contribution in the Lepcha language. The Lepcha language, which was once the national language of earlier independent Sikkim, had turned into a simple dialect of the few people. “The Lepcha language which had, hitherto, been the language of the whole country of Sikim, which all Tibetans, Butias, or others who entered the country acquired and spoke, in which under the rule of Colonel Llyod, business was carried on, and justice in the English Courts administered, in the character of which, decrees and documents were written and recorded; - this language was completely set aside, and Hindustani was made the chief language in Dorjeling” (Mainwaring; 1876, xiv). Lepcha language has been revived and recognized as one of the official languages of Sikkim under the patronage of Government of Sikkim. But on the other part of the hills, in Darjeeling district, where majority of the Lepchas of the state are residing, no initiative has ever been taken by the government to protect and safeguard the Lepcha language.
A community lives through its culture and language. Language not only gives oxygen to the individual but it is the single most important marker of identification of the community. Seeing the deplorable condition of Lepcha language, Mainwaring was very much shocked and did not hesitate in expressing his distress. “To allow the Lepcha race, and language to die out would indeed be most barbarous, and inexpressibly sad” (Mainwaring; 1876, xx).
With the advent of the Tibetans in Sikkim during the middle of seventeenth century, the downfall of the Lepchas started. “They (Tibetans) collected and destroyed the manuscript books of the Lepchas; and translated into Lepcha parts of their own mythological works, under the name of Tashi-sung, (History of Tashi), thus giving the pure and unsullied name of Tashi, (which single and invisible God, the Lepchas had hitherto worshipped with all the simplicity and purity of children), to a foul and fabulous incarnation, whose pretended life, they published, and this, (with the indoctrination of a host of other deities), they preached to the Lepchas as gospel” (Mainwaring; 1876, xi). The work of throttling Lepcha language was started by the Tibetans but in the process the last nail was put by the Europeans in the coffin. “The advent of the Europeans was the first real blow the Lepchas received; their downfall quickly followed” (Mainwaring; 1876, xii).
It is true that the Lepchas were known and popularized in the outside world by the Europeans. The Europeans, be whatever reasons behind, were the persons who took initiative in developing, safeguarding and publicizing Lepcha language and literature. Some of the well known Europeans whose contribution is remarkable in the Lepcha world are: A. Campbell (1840), J.D.Hooker (1855), E.T.Dalton (1872), G.B.Mainwaring (1876, 1898), A.Grunwedel (1898), F.Donaldson (1900), LSS O’Malley (1907), J.C.White (1909), C.De. B. Stock (1925), G.Gorer (1938), J.Morris (1938), M.Hermonns (1954), R.Shafer (1955), W.R.V.Nebesky (1956), C.Nakane (1958, 1966), H.Siiger (1967), H.Plaisier (2005), J.Bentley (2007), K.Little (2008) and others. Of these European scholars, anthropologists, travelers, botanists, linguists, soldiers, administrators etc., “the most colourful person who has ever studied the Lepchas is undoubtedly General G.B.Mainwaring” (H.Sigger; 1967, 18). He took the leading role in understanding the Lepchas properly and contributed enormously for the cause of the Lepchas. K.P.Tamsang observed that “Lieutenant General G B Mainwaring, Bengal Staff Corps, the one and only Western who thoroughly mastered the Lepcha language and, to this day, remains unsurpassed and supreme amongst foreigners on the Lepcha language and literature” (K.P.Tamsang; 1980,1).
It is only G.B.Mainwaring who devoted and spent many years among the Lepchas (nearly twenty-five years) and become more a Lepcha than many of the Lepchas. Mainwaring made a solitary effort in developing Lepcha language. “In contrast to the Christian missionaries and the Buddhist Lamas, he (Mainwaring) was not prompted by any ulterior motive. In the course of his duties in the Darjeeling Hills, he came in contact with the Lepchas. He found them plain, simple and innocent, and thus he was gradually drawn towards these people. Their customs, manners and way of life so much attracted him that he is said to have even married a Lepcha woman so that, through the family relationship, he could learn everything about the tribe” (A.R.Foning; 1987, 157-58). Mainwaring was, indeed, not a Lepcha by birth but he was a perfect Lepcha in the true sense of the term. He married a Lepcha woman, dressed up in Lepcha costume, spoke Lepcha language, thought like a Lepcha, and above all his mind set was like a true Lepcha. His love, respect and affection to the Lepcha culture and literature is reflected through his life and writings.
G.B.Mainwaring: A Brief Biography:
George Byres Mainwaring was born in India on 18th July 1825 while his father, George Mainwaring, was serving in the Bengal Civil Service. He received his first name ‘George’ from his father, George Mainwaring and middle name ‘Byres’ from his mother, Isabella Byres. G.B.Mainwaring hails from an aristocratic family of Cavenagh-Mainwaring from Whitemore in Staffordshire. In his childhood he completed his schooling at Aberdeen, Scotland and then he was sent to Wimbledon for higher education in Classics and Mathematics.
At the age of seventeen, young Mainwaring was commissioned into the 16th Bengal Native Infantry and on 8th January 1842 he sailed for India. For his outstanding contribution in the Battle of Maharajpur, young Mainwaring was awarded with ‘Gwalior Campaign Bronze Star’ in 1843. He took part in the first Sikh War of 1845-46, wars of Moodki, Ferozashapur and Sabraon. Due to his able participation and bravery contribution in the war, Mainwaring was awarded with ‘Sutlej Campaign Medal’ in 1846.
After the battle of Ferozashapur and Sabraon, there was some dramatic change in the young Mainwaring’s life and he diverted his mind and got interested in learning Indian languages. Very soon he became master in both Hindustani and Urdu languages. In 1854 he left for England and spent three years at home. He returned India in 1857 when India was passing through the period of Sepoy Mutiny or first war of Indian independence. The British Government used the expertise of Mainwaring in Indian languages and employed him as interpreter with 42nd and 49th Highlanders. As interpreter he was first posted at Kanpur and then at Punjab. In 1867, Mainwaring was ordered to come to Darjeeling to study Lepcha language and compile a grammar and a dictionary in Lepcha language. A new phase in Mainwaring’s life started at Darjeeling and he become the champion of champions in the Lepcha world by writing the first grammar and dictionary in Lepcha language. He stayed sometime at Lebong and then at Poloongdaong below Sukhia in Darjeeling district and learned Lepcha language.
G.B.Mainwaring died on 16th January 1893 at Serampur, Hoogly district of Bengal near Calcutta and where he was buried (evidence is still present).
Areas of Activity of G.B.Mainwaring:
G.B.Mainwaring arrived at Darjeeling by the end of 1867. He started his career to become an expert in Lepcha language. During his stay at Darjeeling G.B.Mainwaring came out with two pioneering works in Lepcha language – the first one is a grammar of Lepcha language and the second one is a dictionary of Lepcha language. Both the works are unique, original, pioneering and first of their kinds in Lepcha language. The translations of Namthar, the Buddhist scriptures into Lepcha were of great influenced on Mainwaring’s work. “The main source of and the base of Col. Mainwaring’s famous Lepcha Grammar and Dictionary along with the works of the later Christian missionaries are without doubt, these translated and wonderfully written Namthars in the language” (A.R.Foning; 1987, 187).
‘A Grammar of the Rong (Lepcha) Language as it exists in Dorjeling and Sikim Hills’ written by G.B.Mainwaring and published in 1876 is the first systematic printed Grammar of the Lepchas. It is a wonder that with eight years of his stay among the Lepchas, Mainwaring not only mastered Lepcha language but came out with a Grammar which is the key of Lepcha language and it is the first of its kind and even today it is considered to be the most systematic, scientific and authentic grammar of the Lepchas. It is the first original printed book in the Lepcha language; the earlier printed works were the translation of holy books in Lepcha. The first translation work ‘The Genesis and Part of Exodus on Lepsha’ was done by K.G.Niebel in 1849 and published by L. Thomas at Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta. Rev William Start and K.G.Niebel were the first independent clergymen who translated parts of Bible like Gospels of Matthews, Mark and John from English to Lepcha during 1840’s. Two books were reprinted – ‘The Gospel of John’ in 1872 and ‘The Book of Genesis and Part of Exodus in Lepsha’ in 1874. Just two years after these reprints, Mainwaring’s Grammar was printed and gave Lepcha language a sound footing. However, during the period of Mainwaring, there was already Lepcha Fount at Baptist Mission press, Serampur, near Calcutta and so Mainwaring was “indeed fortunate in having a well designed fount of Lepcha letters ready for him to use, supported by 28 years’ experience of printing Lepcha at the Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta” (R.K.Sprigg; 2005, 58).
Mainwaring’s Grammar is the first systematic printed grammar of Lepcha language and it is the root of all grammar books written by other writers. Although missionaries like K.B.Niebel and William Start had attempted to compile grammar of Lepchas way back in 1840’s when both of them were devoted in translating Bible in Lepcha language. But they could not complete their work and print it and thus Mainwaring’s grammar is the first printed grammar of the Lepchas.
Grammar written by Mainwaring has 146 pages and has been arranged in six parts: Part I - Alphabet; Part II- Symbolic Scheme; Part III – Parts of Speech, Formative- Etymology; Part IV – Parts of speech. Derivative and Primitive – Etymology; Part V - Parts of speech. Formative and Derivative – Etymology Numeration etc; Part VI – Syntax, Figurative and Honorary speech; Expletives etc.
‘The Grammar of the Rong (Lepcha) Language’ is important and relevant not only to the linguistics but to all those who are interested and work with the Lepchas. The introductory section of the book comprises twenty-one pages and it contains history, culture, custom, life style, political aspects, literature and what not about the Lepchas. Even today all researchers find the book relevant, authentic and reliable for their reference.
Mainwaring was very clear about the purpose of writing the Grammar of the Lepchas. “The Grammar itself is simply written to assist the learner; it does not challenge the strictures of the critic; its mission is alone, to be useful, and should it conduce to the employment of a language and the amelioration of a people, both of which have been too long neglected, its object will be fully gained” (Mainwaring; 1876, xxi).
The Grammar written by G.B.Mainwaring “has been of pivotal importance for the survival of the Lepcha language, although it has been criticized because of its strong latinate bias” (H. Plaisier; 2007, 5). “This is, of course, impossible, and it has earned him a great deal of ridicule, but his book contains a large number of Lepcha sentences and as a collection of sample phases his book serves a useful purpose” (H.Sigger; 1967, 18). Nobody can deny the importance of Mainwaring’s grammar as the first systematic work particularly when the Lepcha language was passing through deplorable condition. “Unfortunately, General Mainwaring made the structural grammatical principles of Latin the foundation for his analysis and tried to make Lepcha conform to Latin. This is, of course, impossible, and it has earned him a great deal of ridicule, but his book contains a large number of Lepcha sentences (beside many extracted from the missionary translations of the Gospel), and as a collection of sample phases his book serves a useful purpose (H.Siiger; 1967, 18).
A critical analysis of Mainwaring’s Grammar on Lepcha language discloses the fact that its positive factors far outweighs the negligible negative effects. “The importance of his work can be gauged from the fact that in 1971, about a century after its publication, his Grammar of the Rong or Lepcha language was reprinted by Bibliotheca Himalayika, an organization whose purpose and aim is to make available works on the civilization and nature of Central Asia, and the Himalayas. His work on the language has without doubt proved to be most valuable; it has served and still serving as a beacon light for those taking an interest in the language, and to those who aspire to revive the language for posterity” (A.R.Foning; 1987, 158).
Following grammar on Lepcha language has been written but Mainwaring’s grammar is not only the pioneering work but has been followed by all:
1. G.B.Mainwaring (876) - The Grammar of Rong (Lepcha) Language as it exists in Dorjeling and Sikim Hills. Baptist Mission Press. Calcutta. Reprint (1985) Daya Publishing House. Delhi.
2. Prabhakar Sinha (1966) – A Descriptive Grammar of Lepcha. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation. Pune Decan College Post Graduate & Research Institute. Maharashtra.
3. Kharpu Tamsang (1978) – Rongringthrim: A grammar of the Lepcha Language. (In Lepcha). Mani Printing Presse. Kalimpong.
4. Dongtshen Luksom (1981) – Mutanci Rongthryum un Ringtshuktom: A Lepcha Grammar and Composition. Department of Education, Government of Sikkim. Gangtok. Sikkim.
5. Heleen Plaisier (2007) – A Grammar of Lepcha. Leiden. Brill.
Reviewing the grammar books written by other scholars, H. Plaisier comments that “these grammar books should not be seen as comprehensive grammatical descriptions of the Lepcha language, but rather as language text books. Both books are of prescriptive nature, apparently written with an audience of language learners in mind. Although both grammars appear to be based on Mainwaring’s grammar of 1876, Luksom follows Mainwaring much less than Tamsang does and offers several original and insightful discussions and examples” (H. Plaisier; 2007, 6).
In the preface of his grammar, Mainwaring promised to come out with a Dictionary if “his health and circumstances permit” (Mainwaring; 1876, xxi). The materials for the dictionary were collected during 1870’s and 1880’s. Unfortunately, Mainwaring could not find it in printed form and after his death the manuscripts were taken to Germany by one of his colleagues, Albert Grunwedel, a Tibetologist who revised, edited and finally printed the ‘Dictionary of the Lepcha Language’ from Berlin in 1898. The dictionary was published by order of Her Majesty’s Secretary of States for India in Council and it was the first dictionary for the Lepchas. Due to his death, the dictionary could not be published as per the original format of the author. Mainwaring was an expert in Lepcha language and originally the dictionary was drafted in Lepcha script but due to some reservation of British government, the book ultimately lost its basic essence and was published in the format where “Lepcha words were given in Lepcha-character, transcribed into Roman and rendered into English, they were arranged in the order of the Lepcha alphabet as set down in Mainwaring’s Grammar” (Mainwaring; 1898, ii). In the preface Grunwedel wrote “When the manuscripts of late General Mainwaring were entrusted to the editor it was desired by the British Government, that the type used should be Roman.” (Mainwaring; 1898, ix). Dr R.K.Sprigg noted the matter as: “In view of this ill-informed prohibition by the British Government the most that Grunwedel could do to follow the author’s wishes was to illustrate the 55 letters of Lepcha script, in both their printed and their written type (x; with corresponding Tibetan letters, for comparison, in both the U-med and the U-can style), followed by two pages of hand-written Lepcha in facsimile form the Berlin manuscript of the ta-she sung (R.K.Sprigg; 2005, 59)
The Dictionary compiled by Mainwaring and revised and completed by A.Grunwedel contains 552 pages and can be divided in three parts. The first part (16 pages) contains the preface which is absolutely written by A Grunwedel who mostly narrated the story behind the publication. The second part (454pages) is the Lepcha-English dictionary; of course, the Lepcha alphabets are in Roman character and this is the original work of General G.B.Mainwaring. The third part (96 pages) of the publication contains Index where English-Lepcha format of dictionary is presented by A.Grunwedel.
The Dictionary could not be published as desired by General Mainwaring which is evident from the statement of A.Grunwedel. “The difficulties were very great, the editor having to rewrite and to rearrange the whole of the manuscripts, to excerpt texts (together with a mass of Tibetan matter), to correct the proof sheets, to add new definitions in cases, where he had no Pandit, no assistant to consult, not to mention the fact that the book was to be printed by men, who did not understand the language. He ventures to hope that in this instance the reader will excuse a number of errors and deficiencies, which are indispensable from a work like the present, as well as certain peculiarities in Mainwaring’s English orthography which the editor has failed to remove” (Mainwaring; 1898, xi).
Death limits Mainwaring to show the Power of Lepcha letters and the Lepcha Dictionary could not be published as it was desired by General Mainwaring. G.Gorer criticized the revised present form of the dictionary as: “After his death (Mainwaring) his manuscript was edited and published by a German Tibetan scholar who knew no Lepcha and not too much of English: all the General’s fantastic etymological derivations were cut out and the Lepcha script abandoned in favour of an almost incomprehensible system of phonetic transliteration. The Government official in charge wrote to Herr Grunwedel ‘The so-called Lepcha alphabet used by General Mainwaring is a pure fiction. The language has properly speaking no written character, though it is possible that on a few occasions a debased variety of the Tibetan character may have been resorted to. There is however no necessity whatever and no real justification for incurring the expense of starting Lepcha type, nor as a matter of fact can a complete fount of such type be constructed’. Considering that there were then numerous Lepcha books in manuscript in existence, and that the Baptists had already founded a complete Lepcha type, the instructions are, in a small way, a fine example of Imperial diplomacy. The dictionary is almost entirely Lepcha-English, and is chiefly useful for its indication of Tibetan loan words; the identifications of plants and animals are in many cases questionable” (G.Gorer;1938, 41). But Lepcha faunt was already in existence in Serampur and the cost of publication in India could have been less than publication from Berlin.
Holfdon Siiger critically reviewed the dictionary compiled by Mainwaring. “It is an extraordinary comprehensive dictionary, especially considering the early date of its appearance. It is further remarkable for the very large number of every day sentences and phases which it contains, and while it is true that some of these are of missionary origin, and therefore open to question as truly Lepcha, they are easily recognized, and allowance can be made for them. Although both Waddell (1899) and Gorer ((p.41) are rather critical of the Dictionary, I can only state that I have found it of inestimable value, and that on the whole my field work tends to confirm the translations which it gives” (H.Sigger; 1967, 19).
Albert Grunwedel, who revised and printed the dictionary, himself wondered about the voluminous work collected by Mainwaring and faced difficulty in compiling them. In the preface he wrote: “They are written in large octavo in 703 pages of bluish and yellowish, paper. They contain a huge collection of Lepcha-glosses, which were augmented by revising the first entry again and again. The single words were written in the so-called Lepcha character but according to the European alphabet. But I must say to my great regret that no notice was at hand concerning the method and the sources from which the collections were derived, it was at first impossible to ascertain where the lost clue was to be taken up again. But in sifting the materials it could be stated, that the author had commenced his work by collecting oral and manuscript- information from the natives. (A.Grunwedel; 1898, preface).
Following dictionaries on Lepcha language are available, but Mainwaring’s dictionary is not only the pioneering work but has been followed by all:
1. G.B.Mainwaring (1898) – Dictionary of the Lepcha Language. Revised and completed by Albert Grunwedel, Printed and published by order of Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for India in Council. Berlin.
2. Iman Singh Cemjong (1970) – Lepca Nepali Angreji Sabdakos. Royal Nepal Academy. Kathmandu.
3. B.B.Kumar & G.Chiring (1978) – Hindi Lepca (Rong) Kosa. Nagaland Bhasa Parisad. Kohima. Nagaland.
4. Kharpu Tamsang (1980) – Lepcha English Encyclopedic Dictionary Mani Printing Press. Kalimpong. Second edition 2009.
5. Dongtshen Luksom (1983) – Rong-Hindi-Anggrezi Tshukzat: Lepca Hindi Anreji Sabdokos. Lepcha-Hindi-English Dictionary. Text Book Unit. Directorate of Education of the Government of Sikkim, Gangtok, Sikkim.
6. U.Shipmu, K.L. Rigimu, N.T.Likmu & D.W.Kunchudyangmu (1996) – An English to Lepcha Dictionary. Lyangdok Kurmom. Gangtok. Sikkim.
Mainwaring and his Love for Lepcha Language:
G.B.Mainwaring’s command over the Lepcha language is without doubt. In fact, he is the person who has given the Lepcha language a proper and scientific form and dimension. Both Lepcha language and its alphabet were in existence but they were not properly used and directed. Grammar is the basis of any language and by writing the grammar of Lepcha language, Mainwaring for the first time gave the appropriate and systematic direction of Lepcha language and introduced Lepcha language as one of the important languages of the world during the end of nineteenth century. Mainwaring may be called the ‘Father of Lepcha language’ like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar as ‘Father of Bengali prose’.
G.B.Mainwaring loved Lepcha language very much and used it in his day to day conversation. In order to spread Lepcha language, on his personal initiative, he opened up a Lepcha school at Lebong (near Darjeeling) and it may be considered as the first school for the Lepchas. “Lebong belonged to him (Mainwaring) and he greatly desired to transform it into an institution or College for the Lepcha population. He took a Lepcha boy to England who graduated in the Oxford University, and returned to India as the Headmaster of the Lepcha School. Unfortunately for the Lepchas, he suddenly took ill, and died at the Eden Sanatorium. His name was Thomboo Sahib” (R.K.Sprigg; 2005, 71). After the death of Thomboo Sahib, there was no appropriate person to take care of Lepcha School. “Through sheer disappointment, he sold Lebong for the price of Rs 26,000 to the government of Bengal, and retired to England broken heated” (R.K.Sprigg; 2005, 71). It is also reported that Mainwaring had the proposal of opening “a sort of College for Lepchas near Darjeeling. But before anything concrete could be worked through the institution the philologist died and a golden chapter of Lepcha language came to an end” (S.W.Lepcha; 1979, 219). A great mission of opening Lepcha School and College at Lebong could not materialize just because there was no support either from any institution or the government. The death of Mainwaring is sad and is the cause of infinite loss on the part of the development of Lepcha language otherwise Lepchas could not have to face the present deteriorating condition all around.
Mainwaring’s high regards for the Lepcha language is reflected through his own writing. He wrote “The language (Lepcha) is a monosyllabic one, (though not altogether an isolating one, as it possess in a degree – as all languages however primitive do – an agglutinative structure), and is unquestionably far interior to the Hebrew or Sanskrit. It is preeminently an Ursprache, being probably, and I think, I may, without fear of misrepresentation, state it to be, the oldest extant. It is a most comprehensive and beautiful one: and regarded alone, as a prolific source of the derivations and etyma of words, it is invaluable to the philological world. It however recommends itself to us on higher grounds; it possesses and plainly evinces the principle and motive on which all language is constructed. But, like everything really good in this world, it has been despaired and rejected. To allow the Lepcha race, and language to die out would indeed be most barbarous, and inexpressibly sad” (G.B.Mainwaring; 1876, xx).
In his review, Gorer comments: “After profound thought General Mainwaring came to the conclusion that not only were the Lepchas the descendants of our first parents, but that – as could be simply shown by a device of the General’s called the Power of Letters—Lepcha was the language spoken in the Garden of Eden” ( G.Gorer; 1938:, 39).
Mainwaring could enter deeply into the Lepcha language, their life and could understand the once glorious but present misery way of life of the community. His own letters can express his love, affection, respect and care for Lepcha language and the style of living and the community: “Of the language I cannot speak too highly. The simple and primitive state in which the Lepchas lived is admirably shown by it. It has no primary word (beyond the words for gold and silver) to express money, merchants or merchandise, fairs or markets. Their peaceful and gentle character is evinced by their numerous terms and tenderness and compassion, and by the fact that not one word of abuse exists in their language. Nevertheless the language itself is most copious, abounding in synonyms and possessing words to express every slightest change, every varying shade of meaning, it admits of flow and power of speech which is wonderful, and which renders it capable of giving expression to the highest degree of eloquence. The language also arrests the astonishing knowledge possessed by the Lepchas. I shall here again make an extract from the letter before quoted:- “Of all the almost inconceivable diversity of trees with which the hills are covered ; of all the almost incalculable variety of plants and flowers with which the forests are filled ; the Lepchas can tell you the names of all, they can distinguish at a glance the difference in the species of each genus of plants, which would require the skill of a practiced botanist to perceive ; and this information and nomenclature extends to beasts, to birds, to insects, and to everything around them, animate and inanimate ; without instruction, they seem to acquire their knowledge by intuition alone. The trees and the flowers, and the birds, and the insects have therefore been their friends and companions. But now, this simple knowledge, this beautiful language, this once happy people are fast dying out. The Lepchas have left their woods and innocence and have fallen into sin and misery, and is there no one that will help them, no one that will save? (Mainwaring; 1876, xix).
Mainwaring and his Love for Lepcha Life:
It can truly be said that General G.B.Mainwaring is a more Lepcha than most Lepchas of today. This is reflected through his personal life style. He lived not only like a Lepcha but his thought is also like the Lepchas. He always dressed in Lepcha costume of Daampraa, the traditional Lepcha male dress and Thyaaktuk, Lepcha hat. Even when he needed to go to Darjeeling for official purposes, Mainwaring used to dress up in Lepcha costume. His attachment with the Lepchas was so much so that Mainwaring was known as ‘Lepcha Mad’. He was indeed a ‘Mad’ for the right cause of the Lepchas and the Lepchas will remember him for his exceptional ‘Madnesss’.
In order to learn Lepcha language, Mainwaring preferred to stay among the Lepchas of remote village. He not only stayed among the Lepchas but purchased hundred acres of land in Lebong for opening School and College for the Lepchas. He also stayed at Poloongdong below Sokhyaam (present day Sukhia) for some time among the Mun, Bongthing and the common Lepchas. His love for Lepcha life is shown by his choice of selecting the remote areas where the Lepchas are in majority and kept themselves away from the influence of the outside world. It is reported that during end of 1860’s and 1870’s Mainwaring spent some time with Mun Dey Mem at Poloongdong to learn pure Lepcha language.
By learning Lepcha language, Mainwaring became a Lepcha in real sense of the term. He not only loved Lepcha way of life but practiced it by heart. It is said that he also “married a Mun, Lepcha priestess” (S.W.Lepcha; 1979, 49). He was the first and probably the only European who could understand and feel by hearts the problems and pathetic condition of the Lepchas.
Mainwaring was very sentimentally attached with the Lepchas. His understanding about the simple life style of the Lepchas is reflected through his writings. “What or whatsoever might have been their original source, they here appeared in the most simple, primitive state, living in the midst of the vast, wild, magnificent forests, old as the hill themselves, and, as I think, I mentioned, to you, each family residing by itself, having no villages or communities, and but little intercourse with each other ; thus they dwelt in pretty cottages, around which they cultivated their plot of ground, which afforded them rice, - their staple food :- grain of different sort; cotton, from which they spun their cloth ; seeds from which they expressed their oil &c. From the forests they obtained fruits of numerous descriptions, edible and otherwise useful; thus all their wants were supplied. They knew no care, and but little sorrow, cheerful as the birds, and sturdy as the trees around them, they roamed through the forests inhaling health. They understood little about medicines and had not much use for them, sickness being almost unknown among them, but they possess some very efficacious roots, &c, with which I believe Europeans are still unacquainted. Their religion was particularly simple; they believed in one Good Spirit, and in innumerable evil spirits; to the former they conceived their worship was due, and to Him they offered their prayer and thanks giving; the latter they considered prowls about, and haunted every spot; to them they attributed whatever sickness or misfortune befell, therefore deemed it requisite to propitiate them, which they did by offerings of rice &c. The first fruits of the season were always offered to the Good Spirit. I may state that the purity of their belief was, at a period antecedent to our arrival, somewhat prevented by the introduction from Tibet of the Buddhist religion; it had and still has, however, but little hold on them” (Mainwaring; 1876, ix).
Educated in Classics and Mathematics, Mainwaring served in the rank of General in the Native Infantry but ultimately showed his skill in the field of Philology and became expert in Lepcha language. His love, respect and interest in Lepcha language is undoubtedly be remembered by the Lepcha scholars in particular and the Lepchas in general. A new chapter in the history of Lepcha language has started by the dedicated work of General Mainwaring. In fact, the rich and beautiful Lepcha language not only been prevented from its near extinction but has got a new dimension and spirit of its survival and flourishment. Both of his books are still been recognized as the most authentic and basic documents in the Lepcha language. Most grammars and dictionaries on Lepcha language appear to follow the style and format of G.B.Mainwaring with some modification here and there. Thus, Mainwaring’s contribution to both Lepcha grammar and dictionary is considered pivotal importance and is the basis which saved Lepcha language from dying and has given a strong foundation for its development and enlargement. General Mainwaring died at the age of 67 and worked nearly 25 years among the Lepchas but his contribution in the development of Lepcha language is so outstanding, original and unique that it would be recommended and used in the Lepcha society for many many years to come. Mainwaring could not fulfill his dream in his life time to see his dictionary in printed form and his demise indeed is the end of a golden chapter in the history of Lepcha language. Mainwaring can rightly be said as the ‘Father of Lepcha Language’. Born to an English aristrocrate family, Mainwaring is a more Lepcha than many Lepchas of today. It is only Mainwaring who could say “To allow the Lepcha race, and language to die out would indeed be most barbarous, and inexpressibly sad” (Mainwaring; 1876, xx).
Mainwaring devoted many years among the Lepchas and gathered personal and practical familiarity with the life style of the Lepchas. He loved the Lepcha language, culture, custom, ways of life much more than the Lepchas. It is really an exceptional work and full of admiration, appreciation, reverence and respect of the Lepchas. It is only Mainwaring who used some adjectives/phases which no other Europeans could dare to do so. Lepchas are ‘most simple, primitive state’, ‘perfectly distinct’, ‘the free sons of the forest, the hearty yeoman of the land, the lords of the soil’, ‘descendents of our first parents’, ‘Lepcha language was the language of the whole country of Sikim’, ‘rich and beautiful language’, ‘power of letters’, ‘not one word of abuse’, ‘skill of a practiced botanist’, ‘prehistoric language’, the language is ‘far anterior to the Hebrew or Sanskrit’, ‘oldest language extant’, ‘most comprehensive and beautiful one’, ‘in the structure of Lepcha language, all language is constructed’ etc etc.
In recognition to his contribution to Lepcha language, Sikkim Lepcha Youth Association (SLYA) since 1994 has started conferring ‘Ren G.B.Mainwaring Award’ to the renowned personalities for their contribution in the field of Lepcha language in Sikkim. Lapon Sonam Tshering Lepcha, Padmashree awardee was also honoured with this prestigious Award in 1996. The Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association (ILTA), Kalimpong has taken an appropriate, correct and praiseworthy decision in celebrating G.B.Mainwaring Birth Anniversary from this year. Many more things can be done in this regard but only by developing and enriching Lepcha language one can offer proper respect to General G.B.Mainwaring.
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2. Foning, A.R. (1987) - Lepcha : My Vanishing Tribe. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Limited, Delhi.
3. Ghosal, S. (1990) - Lepchas of Darjeeling and Sikkim : A Study in Cultural Ecology and Social Change. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, North Bengal University, Darjeeling, West Bengal.
4. Gorer, G. (1938) - The Lepchas of Sikkim. Reprint 1984, Central Publishing House, Delhi.
5. Lepcha, S.W. (1979) - The process of Detribalization of an Indian Tribe and Problems of Modernization: A Sociological Study of the Lepchas of Darjeeling District. Unpublished Ph.D., Thesis, Department of Sociology, Bhagalpur University, Bihar.
6. Mainwaring, G.B. (1876) - A Grammar of the Lepcha (Rong) Language. Reprint 1971, Manjusri Publishing House, Delhi.
7. Plaisier, H. (2007) – A Grammar of Lepcha. Brill Leiden. Boston.
8. Siiger,H. (1967) – The Lepchas; Culture and Religion of a Himalayan People. National Museum Ethnographic Series. Copenhagen.
9. Sprigg, R.K. (2005) – Shedding Some Light on the History, Language and Literature of the Lepchas. Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association. Kalimpong.
10. Tamsang, K.P. (1980), The Lepcha-English Encyclopedic Dictionary. Mani Printing Press. Kalimpong.
11. Tamsang, K.P. (1983), The Unknown and Untold Reality about the Lepchas. Luen Sun offset Printing Co. Ltd., Hong Kong.