The Salesian Congregationís commitment to the all-round development of peoples included also a highly qualified service to local languages and cultures. Such contribution was particularly notable in the context of tribal societies, especially in North-east India. Many such communities in the region, who accepted the Christian faith, were the first to be positively affected by this contribution of the Salesians, who were their pioneer missionaries. Special mention must be made of the deepening of tribal identity, inter tribal as well as intra tribal. At the same time, local cultures were enriched by an opening to other cultures and peoples, in the wider catholic context of the Church. Moreover, Salesian communities themselves, with their international composition, were a striking example of this. Again, Christian teaching on the sacredness of marriage, imparted by the missionaries, affected deeply the family, the most significant cell of society. This led also to better care of children. Education resulted in greater awareness of the personal dignity of individual persons, in a traditional set-up where the community came before the individual.
Contribution to language and literature was a particularly commendable way to influence culture and society. Fr. J. Costa wrote on Garo customary laws and did anthropological studies on the Garo tribe. Father J. Bacchiarelloís book in Khasi with a title that means Footprint of Our Predecessors contains also precious information on the local culture. Fr. Elias Hopewell Sohlia wrote over 30 books, in prose and poetry. Some of the works of these two are included in the academic syllabi of Meghalaya. In 1973, Mgr. E. Bars published his monumental English-Khasi dictionary. Fr. Henry Fantin and his collaborators published a new translation of the entire Bible in the Khasi language. Fr. Sngi Lyngdoh, still alive, has already published 23 volumes of biblical commentaries in the local language. Earlier he had published biblical dictionaries as well as a weekly newspaper for several years.
Fr. Michael Balvoine contributed significantly to the Tiwa language with his fourteen books in it. Father Paviotti published an Assamese grammar. Fr. Thomas Kalapurackal and Fr. Joseph Thattil Umbavu have brought out translations of parts of Scripture in Mishing and Rabha languages respectively. Sacred Heart College, Shillong, has been publishing a magazine for the past twenty-five years in Sadri, founded by Father Zephyrinus Baxla. The College with its numerous other publications continues the tradition set by the early Salesians.
Among cultural and artistic contributions are music, band, stage and gymnastics for which Don Bosco schools throughout the country are well known. One of the most impressive Salesian contributions to culture is the recently established multi-crore Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures at Shillong. Its purpose is to study more deeply all the cultures of the region so that the good news of Jesus Christ can help preserve the numerous lovely and beautiful things in them: languages, customs, traditions, dances, songs, folklore, stories, myths, ways of worship, the way people relate among themselves, cultural artefacts, and above all, the values they hold dear and which form the soul of their cultures.
Examples of Salesians promoting the local culture in other parts of the country are not wanting. Fr. Philip Thayil broke new grounds in starting the Don Bosco Cultural Centre in Vennala, Kerala. Training young artistes, he strove to contextualise the Gospel message through native art and classical dance forms. In the west, in Gujarat, the dying culture and dialect of the Rathwa tribe have been revived and preserved, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Fathers Byron DíSilva and Monteiro Rodrigues who founded the Don Bosco Museum in Kawant which treasures in tape-form a collection of the ancient traditions and dance forms of the Rathwas. Besides, for the first time, in Chhotaudepur, Father Ivan DíSouza has brought out a translation of the New Testament in the Rathwi dialect which was in danger of extinction. Finally, in May 2003, Mathia, a film directed by Father Joseph Pulinthanath, in the tribal Kokborok language of Tripura, bagged the best feature film award at the international film festival held at Warsaw, Poland. The film depicts the culture and heritage of a community in Tripura.
At the Service of Indigenous Cultures
The Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures (DBCIC) in Shillong is a unique venture of the Salesians of Don Bosco in India to promote and preserve the numerous, beautiful and diverse indigenous cultures of North East India and of the sub-continent as a whole.
Built over 10 years (1994-2004), its seven floors represent the Seven Sister States of the North East.
The DBCIC building has a total floor area of 56,000 sq. ft. and 15,154 sq. ft. of wall area for display of art objects and paintings. The Centre has three distinct sections:
1. Exhibition of Cultural Artefacts
This is the most visible aspect of DBCIC. It consists of thematically arranged exhibition galleries of artefacts from floor to floor. It houses the following galleries:
n Photo Gallery: Precious photos of anthropological value taken by missionaries working in the area.
n Mission and Culture Gallery: cultural presentation of the Church among the Khasi-Pnar and the Garos.
n Entrance Alcove consists of 22 small alcoves, representing all the States of the North East.
n Introductory Gallery: Here visitors get an overview of the whole North East.
n Prehistory Gallery : explains the history of humankindís gradual development as expounded by physical anthropologists.
n Land and Peoples Gallery: a beautiful overview of the places and peoples of the North East.
n Fishing, Hunting and Gathering Gallery: a glimpse into the creative genius of the peoples of the North East.
n Agricultural Gallery: A 255-year-old mighty tree in the middle of this gallery is a graphic demonstration of the harm slash-and-burn cultivation does.
n Traditional Technology Gallery: dioramas showing pottery, wine making, basket making, black smithy, gold smithy, weaving, wood carving, leather works and cane making.
n Basket Gallery: a wonderful diorama showcasing four different tribes engaged in the same occupation of basket making, in realistic village setting.
n Musical instruments gallery: the traditional musical instruments.
n Religion and culture gallery: the major religious beliefs and cultures of the world.
n Weapons Gallery: traditional weapons used by various tribes in the past to protect themselves.
n Costume and ornaments Gallery: life size figures of tribal men and women in their traditional dress and ornaments.
n Don Bosco and Culture Gallery: a continent-wise showcasing of the services to culture around the world rendered by the Don Bosco institutions.
n Land and Housing Patterns Gallery:
n Art Gallery: ancient artifacts and paintings of all the Seven Sister States and Sikkim.
n Media and Culture Gallery: Situated on the topmost floor, it is a welcome place to relax, to watch a dance, and enjoy a cultural celebration.
2. Study and Research Wing
A library with 8500 volumes (and space for an additional 10,000 volumes) dealing with cultures, anthropology, sociology, linguistics, museology, and general knowledge, plus a Conference Hall for scholars and researchers.
Publications on culture and related topics constitute the third aspect of DBCIC.