Eliza Whitney Brown, the woman writer of the 19th century
was known as in the world of Assamese literature as Eliza Brown. She was
the wife of Nathan Brown who contributed much to the development of
Assamese language and literature.
With the end of the reign of the Ahom in Assam, the
British started their rule and the American missionaries made their
journey to Assam along with their families. In 23rd March 1836
they are arrived Sadiya. They were attracted to the tone of Assamese
colloquialism and tried to learn the language of this region. Eventually
within a very short span of time they learnt the language. After a year
Miles Bronson stepped in Assam. Apart from Assamese language, they learnt
the dialect of ‘Khamti’ and ‘Chingphou’ also. They directed their hands in
the composition of books for spread of Christianity in the country. "In
order to learn the nouns Nathan Brown and Eliza Brown used to finger at
certain things in front of the natives and wrote the word uttered by them
in Roman scripts. In this way they try to enhance their knowledge of
vocabulary. They also learnt the use of verbs in that context.
In 1836 the Bengali language was imposed upon the
schools and offices of Assam as the official language. Although Eliza
Brown and Mrs. Cotter had established several schools to teach Assamese
language, unfortunately they had to leave Sadiya due to the Khamti and
Chingphou uprising. So they considered the plains of Assam to be the
suitable areas for spread of religion and education. Accordingly they
proceeded in their mission. They realized that there was a vast difference
between the colloquial and official language. They wanted to remove this
anomaly and appealed to the ruling authority to establish and recognize
Assamese language as official language in Assam.
Mrs. Brown started her work actively. As a first step
to help her husband she planned to teach language to the illiterate people
of Assam. During her venture she found Nidhiram,as her student, in one of
the schools of Sadiya. She began to teach language to this intelligent
orphan very carefully and made him to work in the printing press.
Eventually this meritorious student Nidhiram came to be known as Nidhi
Liwai Farwell and he contributed a lot for the development of the
Coming to Sibsagar Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Cotter
established six schools. Later the number of such schools was increased to
fourteen in 1846 and this facilitated the missionary workers to do more
for the Assamese language. In this year the missionaries published the
first Assamese periodical and news paper ‘Arunodoi’. Primarily intended
for the propagation of Christianity this news paper contained informative
knowledge of Science, history, geography and general knowledge. They
wholeheartedly proceeded in this area and tried their best to establish
the identity of Assamese language.
Eliza Brown published her writings in ‘Arunodoi’ in the
name of I.H.B. From 1850 to 1851 she published ‘Mrityu Hoa Paduri Barkar
Vivaran’, ‘Ram Gatir Vivaran’ and ‘Dharani Chahariar Vivaran’ in the page
of Arunodoi. The contribution of the Bapist Missionaries to the
development of the Assamese language and literature has been established
by the famous Assamese critic Dr. Maheswar Neog in the following words:
"The Missionaries of Assam and their periodical ‘The Arunodoi’ had
occupied an important place in the history of Assamese language,
literature and culture."
The central figure that contributed much for Assamese
language and literature .during the Arunodoi era was Dr Nathan Brown
(1807-1886). Eliza brown helped her husband in every step of his mission.
Hence the contribution of Dr. Brown and his wife in the reestablishment of
Assamese language is beyond question. Dr. Nathan Brown’s translation of
the New Testament and prayer songs are worth mentioning works in Assamese.
Apart from this, Nathan Brown wrote the first grammar of Assamese language
and in this field Eliza Brown’s contributions are also to be acknowledged
In spite of adverse climate and environment of Assam,
Eliza Brown helped her husband as far as possible in respect of the
publication of Kashinath Phukan’s ‘Assam Buranjir Puthi’, Bakul Kayastha’s
‘Ganitar Puthi’ and ‘Chutia Buranji’. Unless Eliza’s sincerity, continuous
inspiration and co-operation, publication of so many books in Assamese
language would not have been possible for Nathan Brown.
The Brown couple had a son and a daughter. The girl
child Dorothy Sophiya died when Browns were in Sadiya. For fear of
disturbance in the works of Dr. Brown, Eliza sailed across the Brahmaputra
taking her blind son on 10th February 1840. During this
hazardous journey to Calcutta for the treatment of her son Eliza wrote a
book named ‘Gananar Anka’ and printed the book in her own printing press.
Besides she wrote ‘Bhugolar Vivaran ‘for the students. She also translated
twelve narratives from Assamese and Bengali language. Among these ‘Afrikar
Konwar’, Ratnagirir Kahin’I, Rabir Kahin’I’ Dharmik chaha’, ‘Moura Chowali’,
‘Igalar Bah’, ‘Juddhanayaka’, ‘Sarukalar Dharma’, aru ‘Vijnanar Kahini’
are worth mentioning. She published her books for children. The literature
for children published by her was so popular that the children visited the
residence of Mrs Brown in search of these story books. Besides she wrote
the autobiography named ‘Nathan Browner Jivanee’ reflecting the ideals of
Mrs. Brown’s contribution may not be a great one. But
she wrote all these books for the people of Assam in a period full of
gloom and hesitation in the field of Assamese literature. So their work
was like a bright streak of lightning in the midst of darkness and gloom.
Both Eliza and Nathan Brown enlivened Assamese literature and language and
reestablishment the lost pride of Assamese language and thereby made the
beginning of modern Assamese literature. Moreover they helped to generate
self confidence in the mind of the Assamese people.
Mrs. Cotter and Mrs. A.K. Garni are the two worth
remembering American Baptist Missionaries who contributed for the
development of Assamese language and literature along with Eliza Brown.
Mrs. Cotter came to Burma with her husband Oliver Thomas Cotter from
Boston and they arrived at Sadiya along with Brown’s family. Though their
main objective was the spread of Christianity, they published books in
Assamese language. By learning Assamese and Chingphou language Mrs. Cotter
wrote her ‘Assamese Vocabulary and Phrases’ and the Mission press of
Sibsagar published it in 1840. It was re printed in 1877. In 1853 she went
back to her own country with her husband, but her contribution of Assamese
literature will remain alive for ever.
Like these two enthusiastic women A.K. Garni also came
to Assam in 1885 and had stayed in Sibsagar till 1907. She too tried her
hand for the development of Assamese literature. She translated ‘Phulmoni
aru Karuna’ from Bengali language in 1877 and this can be said as
pioneering work in the history of Assamese novel.
Whitney Brown, Harcit Cutter and Mrs. Garni made such a
contribution for the development of Assamese literature that they will be
remembered for ever in the history of Assamese literature and language for
their inspiring works.