The Chin Hills of southwestern Myanmar border India to the north and west and Bangladesh to the south. With altitudes of 5,000 to 8,000 feet, the region is rugged and remote. The Chin people are speakers of a Tibeto-Burman language. Their ancestors probably moved into the region from Southern China, though the timing and details are not clear. In the late 1880s, the British arrived in the Chin Hills and established a fort at Hakha. British colonial rule lasted until Burmese independence in 1948. The Chin are predominantly Christian as a result of late 19th and early 20th century missionary activities by the American Baptist Mission.
The objects and photographs shown here were donated to the museum by the family of Dr. Erik Hjalmar East. Born in Sweden in 1866, East joined his brother in Kansas City in 1885. After relocating to Portland, Oregon, he decided to become a Baptist missionary. He attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, then the University of Kentucky Medical School. Upon earning his MD in 1901, he became the first medical missionary at Fort Hakha.
In 1908, ill health forced East’s wife Emily and their three sons, born in Burma, to return to the U.S. In late 1910, heart problems led East himself to leave Burma for good, and he became a successful physician in Portland, Oregon. He died in 1939.
Dr. East, who published numerous medical journal articles on the causes of and cure for goiter, treated thousands of Chin patients over the years. The Baptists prohibited important Chin cultural practices, making their missionary efforts less well received, but Dr. East and his wife introduced Western-style education, contributing to literacy and helping to improve health and hygiene. The pair also designed and helped to build a twenty-bed hospital facility at Fort Hakha.
The items shown here are a sample from this important collection. They chronicle a time of profound cultural change at the turn of the twentieth century, when modern Myanmar was just beginning to westernize.
Research by Malinda Stafford Blustain with contributions by Alison Carter. Object photography by Steve Wilkinson. Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History.
2014 The Lost Dictionary: A History of the Chin People, the Newland Family and the American Baptist Chin Mission. Vivid Publishing, Fremantle, AU.
Strait, Chester U.
2014 The Chin People: A Selective History and Anthropology of the Chin People. Xlibris LLC, Bloomington, IN.