Eliza Whitney Brown
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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 Christian literature.

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 gratefully.

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 her husband.

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.


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