Building Up Resources for Theological Education in Asia

Seminar-Workshop on Asia-Pacific Forum for Library and Achives Management Training
Bangalore, India, June 10, 2004

Rita England

Your have heard much in lectures this week about the resources, the early writings, and the ecumenical and missionary approaches to archives that are available for our understanding of history. These have been viewed from both within our region, from the standpoint of our own culture and place, and as seen through missionary eyes. Today we will ground these more within the archival task.

1) What are archives? Refer also to chapter 8 in Ministering Asian Faith and Wisdom: A Manual for Theological Librarians in Asia. (Manila: New Day Publishers; Delhi ISPCK, 2001.)
Firstly – what do we understand by the word archives? Archives are both depositories where collections of unpublished, one-of-a-kind – unique - materials are preserved for their research value, and the materials themselves thus preserved. According to the Oxford Dictionary, an archive is both “a place in which public records or historical documents are kept” and “a historical record or document so preserved.” An archivist is the keeper of the archives, the caretaker of the historical records, and also the discoverer of deep meaning in such historical materials.

As I have already suggested, the archive we build has long-term goals and is developed to be a permanent institution. A well-founded collection of archives will continue to benefit your college, church or community far beyond your own work as archivist. The policies you, and your support committee, put in place therefore have a lasting significance. The shape of your work, its aims and goals, the policies you develop, the focus or bias you establish will have long-term implications and values, both to historical research and informed decision-making in your country and perhaps beyond.

There are of course many different sources for archives – files, or accumulations of old documents, pictures or correspondence in attic or basement; old relics, inscriptions, carvings or artefacts in storehouses, memorials or cemeteries; public and corporate records (often already referred to as “archives”) generated by governments or businesses or institutions, and private papers and records (usually described as “manuscripts”) created by individuals. An archive may be an individual item or a collection which is built up systematically as in the church minute book or letter file, series of statements, records of a college or ministerial training centre. This corporate material is viewed as a unit in itself.

Note that genuine archives record history as it is being made. They provide a close and contemporary picture of the past. They are an official record of religious life and witness, and so that today's decisions can be informed, far-reaching decisions. They are a cultural resource, as important as parks, monuments and buildings. They feed personal awareness of history and the necessary background of an institution or group of people. At best they are an efficient, accessible and treasured means of holding records.

It will be obvious that in determining what should be kept, the archivist needs the help of a historian or other professional, preferably one who well understands the subject focus of the archive. Together they will preserve the records valuable to historical research and present experience. In preserving records useful for research and awareness in a variety of fields, the archivist acts as an intermediary between official records and the scholar. This is a special ministry and where possible of course a specialist archivist should be employed for this ministry.

2. For whom is an archival centre developed?
This is a basic question which must be asked again and again is “For whom is the archive developed?”

i) For our church.
You will remember we spoke of the work of Herbert Swanson, and his colleagues in the Church of Christ in Thailand, whose archival centre became the nucleus of the Payap University Archives. Swanson’s comment was “That the archives could serve the academic world was not at all a ‘bad thing,’ but that role did not fulfil its central purpose as a church archives, which was to collect, preserve, and provide access to historical materials to the substantial benefit of the work and life of the church.” For the life and work of the church therefore could be one reason for an archival collection.

ii) Our own history.
You will remember, too, that we spoke of how differently the history of an area can be told when different sources for that history are used. The two students from Ethiopia who wrote their doctoral theses - the one using oral history interviews made with local people and the other using archival holdings of letters and reports written by missionaries from overseas. Both these sources of knowledge provide understanding of ourselves and of our history, but too often we rely on the written word alone. So the question becomes more insistent. Are we gathering together materials for our archive for academic recognition or excellence, or so that we can all know our identity and history, and learn from it as we make decisions and exercise faith for the future?

iii) Our theological understanding.
Theological understanding and the development of Christian knowledge, always grows out of something which has gone before. Creative theologians have built on the study and teaching of their forebears in the faith to develop far reaching programmes for their people. Others have studied folk practices and belief alongside biblical material and church history in order to clarify Christian life and witness for today. For one example out of many, one theologian has recently taken the Chinese understanding of the dragon and its ability to bring order out of chaos and studied this in contrast with Hebrew images of the dragon, bringing a fuller faith understanding to his people. Here is an example of thus enlarging Christian understanding through archival or traditional story. Many more have emerged in the work of e.g. CCA, FABC, PTCA and CATS.

iv) Our identity.
Many peoples today have had their whole lives turned upside-down - whether through colonial occupation, displacement through warfare, dictatorial governments, movements of populations looking for work. We can look at old, now become new, countries finding themselves again after the breakup of Russia’s empire – or we can look at places within our own region like Burma/Myanma, Indonesia, divided Korea, multi-ethnic Malaysia or Fiji along with many other countries and situations. People finding themselves, their identity, within such situations as these is of vital importance and another reason for an archive. One’s original identity is fundamental, and any form of evidence found in linguistic usage, ritual or custom is a part of that process. The dialect, the use of certain phrases or words, imagery and thought-forms all help in the search for identity. Folk-literature, the memories of our old people, and fragments of letters, prayers or inscriptions are similarly most valuable for the nurture of our own identity.

Perhaps actual documentation has been lost or never existed, with subsequent damage to a people’s identity. When asking for whom the archival collection is being gathered, for what purpose, we must also recognise that many of our people still live in an oral culture, and certainly very few are accustomed to using written research materials, let alone electronic ones.

There are still many other sources of archival reference however and some of these will be referred to below.

3. Let us look at the adventure of Gathering and rescuing archival material – which we are joining. In this we should be proactive. I have selected some stories to show both the adventure of archive collection and the dangers we may meet in this pilgrimage.

i) Xuan Zang (Hsuen-tsang)
The classic scholar-librarian in our region who undertook the arduous task of acquiring archives and the wisdom they held was Xuan Zang (Hsuen-tsang), a Buddhist pilgrim from China who journeyed across Central Asia to India in 629-630, returning in 644 with a caravan of books, mostly copies of scriptures, art and relics. In 652 he had a five-story pagoda built to house them at Da Yan Ta (Big Goose Pagoda) in Xi-an (Sian), then the capital of China and situated in north-west China. He then began to translate these books and scriptures. Compare our search for archival material, our inheriting of historical church records, our encouraging the deposit of personal documents and manuscripts, or our concern with budgets, with this journey of Xuan Zang. He was met by kings at various stages on his return route, hosted in monasteries while teaching and studying along the way, welcomed in some districts by waving flags and banners, in others with incense, and offered elephants to ride on in triumphant procession! And yet the books and documents we seek today in Asia and the Pacific are no less worthy of such excitement and reverence.

Xuan Zang's pilgrimage is one of numberless such journeys, many of them undertaken by Christians of the Churches of the East in the first millenium, between Persia, Syria, Turkestan, India, central and south China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, and "further India" (that is, south east Asia). Libraries were developing in many parts of the region, especially at Buddhist centres, but also at Christian monasteries and churches, on the maritime or land trading routes across Asia, from the earliest Christian centuries onwards. Many of these libraries, or parts of them, remain and amongst their contents are the earliest extant writings of Asian Christians, some dating from the second century, along with rich collections from the next thousand years. Many writings from Persia for instance, have been found in India, Turkestan or China, and some Turkestani Christian writings have reached as far east as Kyoto, in Japan. What a wealth of very early archival material is represented here!

ii) And archives may be found in unexpected places. Let me introduce you to 2 women, known as the 'Giblews' - Mrs Gibson and Mrs Lewis. Their portraits are on the wall of Westminster College, Cambridge as they provided funds for this seminary. They are possibly the only women featured on the walls of Cambridge colleges! They were twin sisters, Scottish, Presbyterian, who married late in life and were widowed early. They were self-educated and inherited wealth from their merchant father. They loved to travel. On one journey after many weeks on camel and foot they reached St Catherine's monastery in Sinai where they knew there was a rich source of uncatalogued Syriac (similar to Aramaic) writings. However the big find was a 'butter dish'! They were such expert linguistic scholars (Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, and other languages) that they were able to recognise that the writing on this piece of parchment, put to use to hold the butter, was of very old texts which took the sources for the New Testament back some centuries. In fact this was a fragment of a very early Syriac version of the gospels in the form of palimpsests (parchment pages used a second time after an attempt to erase earlier writing) – the Syriac Sinaiticus, from the 4th century. Using the teapot to separate the pages, they began to decipher the texts on these pages, and eventually found 358 damaged pages in a basement basket. They were able to persuade the monks of the value of their find and to preserve these amazing documents. The importance of their work is internationally recognised and the original palimpsests are stored under strict archival conditions in the tower of Westminster College. Their story is told in The Ladies of Castlebrae by A Whigham Price.

iii) The search for early history may be prompted from small clues and most exciting discoveries are still being made.
In his book The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China (1951), P.Y. Saeki includes an ancient a map of an early centre of Christianity in west-central China. Using this map, Martin Palmer and a team of researchers made three attempts to search for this early place of worship. In 1988 they eventually discovered a pagoda which seemed to be somewhere near the right area. In talking with local people he was told that no, this was a Buddhist Pagoda, so they began to turn away. The elderly woman they were talking to then said “Oh, but it was Taoist before that”. However that was still not what they were looking for. But they were mystified because of the alignment of the building, its feng seui, was not right for a Taoist building. Then the woman told them that earlier still it had been a Christian place of worship, that everyone in the village knew that, and would they like to see for themselves! Upon entering they were astounded to find many wall paintings, documents and statuary which could only have been of Christian origin. The Chinese government is now preserving this temple and Palmer has published the story along with writings found there in The Jesus Sutras.

iv) Philip Gibbs works in Papua New Guinea, particularly with the Enga people. Many records have been lost or are inaccessible to these people for a variety of reasons. Gibbs has therefore set up several projects to ‘rescue the memory’ of these people and one of these was to collect Enga proverbs. The collection now stands at over a thousand proverbs and sayings and contains an important dimension of Enga culture that was in danger of being forgotten. Gibbs has also arranged for the life stories of local, mostly elderly, people to be recorded and taped. He has developed week-long faith and culture workshops during which participants are encouraged to reflect on life topics, the rituals of everyday living, of childhood, courtship and marriage, domestic life, religious life, conflicts and reconciliation, aging and death. And he has also begun a video documentation centre to preserve a photographic record for the future.

v) In our own situation we can see that some of those who created that history may often be still alive, or may personally still remember those who have died. It is a personal story passed on from teller to teller. It is a reminiscence, it may be in a newly found diary, a suitcase filled with old, yellowing letters and documents under someone's bed. Often librarians who are custodians of such materials are called upon to define and redefine history, separating – at least to some extent - myth from history and some of the memories from reality. There are corroborated facts, but also reminiscence, anecdote, life story, and folk memory, and all are worth preserving. Oral history, preserving and sharing the story, by whatever means are available and appropriate, are the urgent tasks for us today.

4. But what of the loss and destruction of archives? Again you will look more at this in later sessions but it is important to note also now.

i) Archival documents may of course be lost through a natural disasters or warfare. To prevent this much forethought and planning is required. At the time of a flood for instance there is no time to decide what to do to save your repository! Yet some remarkable repositories hidden away at times of disaster or civil unrest have been saved through careful and secure storage. Amongst many examples would be the Benedictine archives at Monte Casino, Italy, (1944-45) or early documents of the Church of the East at Dunhuang and Turfan (1053!). Sadly many other priceless materials, including those of western centres, have been irretrievably lost over the centuries. Within Asia the Jaffna library, in Sri Lanka, was largely destroyed just recently through civil unrest and Ambon Christian University library is another example just this year. Some materials are lost through a combination of neglect, extreme climates, humidity, and the depredations of dirt and insects. Some have been lost just because of carelessness. Many copies of church records for example were recently destroyed when a Hong Kong library moved its premises. Those then making decisions did not know of or care for the importance of these documents and discarded them. So continuing vigilance is required once an archival collection is begun.

ii) But here is a success story of lost and found records
Dr James Ng, a New Zealand Chinese Christian, published a 4 volume Chinese history in 1993 called Windows on a Chinese Past. The volumes provide a first in-depth social history of Cantonese immigrants to Otago's gold fields and the details of the lives of more than 3,000 Chinese gold miners, documented over 20 years. They also tell the stories of violence and prejudice that prevailed for more than two generations. This largely untold story can now be told because of the meticulous recordings of Presbyterian missionaries - and because of the perseverance of Dr Ng! In fact in May of this year a ceremony was held to right some of the wrongs suffered by these people, as a result of Dr. Ng’s work.

The primary sources of information were the salvaged writings of the Rev'd Alexander Don, who worked among the Chinese gold miners in southern New Zealand from 1879 to 1912, and the Rev'd George McNeur who formed the Canton Villages Mission in 1901 as a result of that work. The treasure trove included three of Don's complete diaries and fragments of others, and the diaries and collections of more than 100 photographs taken by McNeur.

But even more historically significant was Dr Ng's discovery, among a pile of discarded old books in the Church's national offices, of a bilingual register written by Don giving the names, origins and personal details of about 3,500 Chinese gold miners. Dr Ng had the register photocopied at a national archival centre. The original was to be stored at the church's theological college's library, but it disappeared during a purge when the library was later renovated! He wrote to the newspaper about it and was approached by a former student who had bought it for 50 cents! Now it is locked in a bank vault for posterity! The contents of this valuable register form 220 facsimile pages in one of the volumes of Windows on a Chinese Past, and are now available to all.

Dr Ng reflects: "It has given me a perspective on how frail and transitory our lives are here. Inevitably if you are looking at history you are looking at death, religion and faith - and that has strengthened my links with the church. In the short term there were many negative features in the church's mission to the Chinese, yet in the long term God's will was done. [God's] time scale is not ours."

iii) Such stories as this highlight many issues, both good and bad, that are important to a discussion of archives. Let me summarize:
- A local story is being rediscovered.
- It is bigger than a local story because in significance it moves across national boundaries.
- We must make allies of chance and diligent searching.
- The keeping of notebooks and photographs form an integral part of the detective story in uncovering the past.
- The importance of making a professional copy of the register.
- The pitfalls of purging library collections.
- The persistence of the true researcher.
- The publishing of the record so that all can have access.

5. You may have your own stories of such disasters, or you may be adding to the story of valuable finds!

i) There are many other stories of archival documents being rescued. For instance here are two overseas examples. Correspondence, operational files, legal documents and financial records which represented the documentary history of the formation of consciousness in the Afro-American community in California were found in a Berkeley landfill, and ephemeral items and leaflets, along with letters between a young couple who were interned in Utah during World War II because they were Japanese-American have been likewise saved from a rubbish dump. You will know of other stories from your own countries.

ii) A good place to look for such discarded materials is in the second-hand shop. A post-card which had been written from a prisoner held in a World War II Prisoner of War camp in Germany was only found this year and delivered to the family concerned! I know of someone who regularly visited second-hand book shops in Hong Kong and found many unique archival treasures there. In fact the shop-keeper can be asked to put aside items of archival value that come in for sale, so that the archival centre may add these to the repository.

iii) Many historical records have remained in the hands of missionaries, or were collected together by them. These were mostly sent back to their home countries, such as France and Italy, the United States or England - away from their place of origin. ; Some of the most useful records available are to be found in the large mission agency collections, but these are housed overseas, alas, making them unavailable to local Christians and others. Many others are still to be found in various places such as churches, private homes, school or church hospital records, letter collections, newspaper entries, or secular repositories, throughout each country in the region. Such records should be found and preserved.

But in addition we should consider doing what some of our theological libraries have done, e.g. in Korea and India, in negotiating the return of either original archives or photocopied or microfiche forms of them. Has this been considered in your particular situation?

iv) Let me repeat - the archives we gather become living history. These records are the life-blood of the local and national church's identity. They feed theology and are essential to the making of informed decisions on all levels of the church's life. Most important - the local or regional church, to stand tall on its own feet, needs this base to root not only its life and work, but its fuller understanding of itself as an Asian or Pacific church with a very long history of its own. They are also the living history of our own people.

You see we are not just learning to cope with what is ‘landed’ on us by our church or college, but setting our hands to develop the treasure-house of archives that the future of our church and college will need!

6. So what could a collection of archives could look like?
Archival material and historical writings, take various forms, and there are many good examples for us to use and promote. Many early collections are outlined in Chapter 2 of Ministering Asian Faith and Wisdom. Let us now look at some of these early libraries and collections, examples of many others which could be chosen

i). One of the richest accumulations of early writings is found in Kerala, south-west India, in the village of Pampakuda. This is one of eleven libraries of 'medieval' Asian Christian writing in that state. Here is a library of early manuscripts cared for by Abraham Konat, 23rd hereditary priest-librarian for this priceless library (think of how many hundreds of years that means), which contains more than 300 books and manuscripts of writings in Syriac for instance, from the fourth to the eighth centuries. And they have resisted attempts to allow their treasures to be siphoned off (or shipped away) into the British Library!

Amongst these manuscripts in Pampakuda, and in many other libraries in India, are found the songs, liturgies, and chronicles of early Indian churches, along with the letters, homilies and commentaries of such doctors of the Eastern Church as Ephrem (4th century), Daniel of Tela (6th century), Timothy I (8th century) and Bar Hebraeus (13th century).

iii) Near Dunhuang, numerous Buddhist murals and other relics fill hundreds of caves, and amongst them are found Christian paintings, books or scrolls. In a sealed side cave, rediscovered and opened by Aurel Stein in 1907, were many scrolls – including those of Christian manuscripts and paintings dating from the 8th to the 11th centuries and hidden away in a time of persecution. From these, and many other areas and sources, in for example the Turfan depression to the north of the Gobi Desert, we find a rich history of early Christian presence and understanding of the faith, and this in 24 distinct languages. (John has already mentioned examples of the rich theological understanding, the faith and insight of these Asian Christians of the desert.)

iii) From Japan comes the story of the Kakure Kirishitan, Christians who had remained ‘hidden’ for centuries. These Catholic converts resulting from the work of Francis Xavier and his colleagues in the 16th century, were persecuted severely for their faith throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, were regularly forced to publicly reject Christian images and belief, and to renounce their faith. Many of these Christians were martyred because they refused to do this, but others went into hiding. They kept their faith hidden for hundreds of years and when Japan again opened to western trade, Catholic missionaries were surprised to find people retaining much of the Christian faith. The stories, manuscripts and artifacts of these Kakure Kirishitan are still being discovered and studied, and give an excellent picture of a life lived by these ancestors in the faith during times of such persecution and separation from their fellow believers.

Many of these documents are listed in the 560-page bibliography compiled by Laures

iv) Another way of recording archival history of a people is found in a Hong Kong Archive. An archivist and historian, the Rev'd Carl T. Smith, a long-time citizen of Hong Kong, has collected an impressive archive of Hong Kong Chinese families and church life. He started this collection because library material on Hong Kong Christian history represented only the voices of the missionaries. Over many years of painstaking research, and good filing practices, he has gradually built up a picture which has influenced all subsequent study of Hong Kong and its Christian communities. The facts are there, they cannot be ignored, and the true history can be told without bias.

Carl Smith, and other researchers and writers, thus bring to life past and contemporary history of Christian communities, along with issues of major importance for the region. The collection itself has been microfilmed for regional use and now has worldwide importance. It has its own unique life and strength because it is specialised, localised and comprehensive.

v) Zi-Ka-Wei (Xujiahui) - Shanghai
This became the principle Jesuit library in China from 1847, although much of its holdings date from over two centuries earlier. The site was associated with one of the most scholarly of Ricci's Chinese colleagues Xu Guangqi (1562-1633). It has become one of the most valuable collections of Chinese and Western manuscripts in the world.

In the China section there are five categories - classics, history, teaching of the Sages, collections and series. There are 2,000 books and tracts published by Catholic presses in China prior to 1800 alone! In the Western section there were thirty-one categories in ten different languages.

In both the Chinese and Western sections of this library there are unique and rare manuscripts from many centuries - and are therefore archives. Since 1992 these have again become available to scholars.

vi) Among many other examples of documentary and archive collections outlining the story of Christianity are those of Nicholas Standaert for Christian writings from China before 1800; William Campbell for archives of the Protestants in Taiwan in the 17th century; the M.K. Kuriakose collection of Source Materials for the History of Christianity in India; Luciano Santiago’s work on the records of the first Filipino priests; and most recently the collection just published by Karel Steenbrink of early Catholic documents in Indonesia; Allan Davidson AND Peter Lineham have compiled documents which illustrate aspects of New Zealand church history in Transplanted Christianity.

vii) A different type of archive takes the form of a museum. In Flores, eastern Indonesia, along with an extensive and quite historic library (and Christianity has many centuries of history in Flores), a very significant museum of the cultural life of the people of the area (the Sika people) is attached to the seminary. The museum has dioramas of village life, historical artefacts, costume and practices of the people, all vividly portrayed, and forming an indispensable resource for those studying theology and ministry within the context of that island community. It has a full-time curator and is in fact the most important source for all concerned with Flores culture. The library's museum supplies information within and beyond the college, making links to the wider community.

The collections of the Korean Christian History Museum at Soongshil University, Seoul and one found in a museum at Shimabara in Japan also hold rich sources of archival materials. At Soongshil University may be found manuscripts and early printed materials, carvings, inscriptions, ceramics and other artefacts dating from the earliest Christian presence in Korea (possibly as early as the 8th century), while at Shimabara many artefacts from the history of the hidden Christians - the Kakure Kirishitan mentioned above - are held. Amongst these are impoortant manuscripts, metal mirrors which held in certain lights revealed Christian etchings, ornamental combs, carved wooden pillows, etched candle stands, sword hilts or guards, lanterns or padlocks, hidden moveable panels in the backs of statues of idols, and statues of the Goddess of Mercy holding a child, and known as Maria-Kannon.

viii) Remember too that much of our past Christian story, and the story of our people can be found in documents of national and supposedly “secular”, rather than church or mission, history. Clear examples of this appear in the records of colonial or later dictatorial regimes – where it has not been possible to exclude reports of our people’s struggles or witness. Such “lost” history and story can also be found by reading the ‘cracks in the parchment curtain’ (William Henry Scott of the Philippines coined this phrase), listening to the silences, studying the gaps in the story for the reasons behind why a document was written, gathering the fragments which together provide a significant understanding of the past.

ix) More recently much archival material will be found also in multi-media formats, such as videos, photographs, transparencies, disks, statuary, symbols, music and art. These of course need special preservation measures, which will be addressed later in this course. Some of these have been developed for a particular purpose such as ensuring the story of protest movements will not be forgotten, or to be used as a presentation, or because the author felt this medium would be more appropriate at the time of creation.

The thesis written by a theologian from Fiji was considered very important. He was encouraged to put this into book form. However he used the material instead to produce a series of tapes for broadcasting, which to him was far more important, as it reached a wider range of people whose tradition was oral rather than book-based. We must be able to preserve such materials, in whatever format, and encourage their continued use.

x) Another source to research when looking for archival materials is in catalogues. Many companies specialise in rare books which are of archival significance.

xi) And lastly one very important source of archival information is the People File. This is a file of people who can be called upon to help with archival information, a sort of who's who of people with expertise in particular aspects of Asian and Pacific Christianity or in the religious and social contexts in which Asians and Pacific Islanders live. It would include people who have personal collections of material which form important repositories of archival information.

7. A practical “next step” for which further guidance is available.
Looking further at such gathering of archives today let us return to the dilemma faced in northern Thailand regarding for whom the archives were held. In 1988, the Church of Christ in Thailand founded the Office of History, which sought to move beyond the custodial model of information management – then the classic model for church archives – to a new model that intended to make local churches the chief beneficiaries of the Church of Christ in Thailand’s information processes.

This new model moved through various stages – from one of doing research for the churches, to the training of others to do such research. A turning point was reached when, during a seven-week local church history research project, nine Karen tribal seminarians, who had been studying theology using Thai-language, were taken back to their Karen context. Using basic oral history research skills taught by the Office of History, they interviewed elderly Karen, heard their stories and accounts of traditional Karen life – the beauty and importance of their Karen heritage. You can imagine they returned to the seminary filled with enthusiasm and dedication.

As a result of this programme the Office of History has set up pilot projects to train churches to do their own research. “If the goal of local church research is growth and renewal at the congregational level, then the church itself has to participate in the research process in a meaningful manner. … A transfer of skills has to take place, one that will equip local churches to take ownership of the information process for themselves.”


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Mrs. Elizabeth T. Pulanco, Convenor, email:
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