TRIBUTE TO PROFESSOR AJAI MANSINGH
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
INTERFAITH AWARENESS DAY
Thursday March 1, 2012
What an honour to address this wonderful gathering! This event gives spiritual meaning to our country's motto, "Out of Many One People". In this beautiful space, we are also demonstrating that out of many faiths we are one people – God's people. This 'Interfaith Awareness Day' challenges us to broaden our acceptance of each other, and to be grateful that we are in a country like
This was the vision of the extraordinary human being to whom I am honoured to pay tribute today. Born in
As a UWI lecturer, he was much loved by his students, to whom he was affectionately known as "The Chief". He joined the Department of Zoology (now Life Sciences) as a Senior Lecturer in 1973. For the next 30 years, he made a wonderful contribution through teaching and research in the fields of entomology, and pest and pesticide management. Following his retirement, he served as the first Executive Director of the Natural Products Institute at UWI. There he helped to establish the International Society for the Development of Natural Products and served as the Founding President and President Emeritus.
He shared his knowledge and experience willingly, serving as a consultant to the World Bank, the Caribbean Environmental Trust, and as a director on various committees and statutory boards. He was also a well-respected historian.
Fascinated by reports of this multi-faceted, much enlightened gentleman, I sought out and interviewed Professor Mansingh in 2009 for my column in the Observer. He was so proud of his wife and her achievements in Library Sciences. Their children are much loved and have done them proud. The Professor spoke dotingly of his grandchildren, and mourned deeply the loss of a young granddaughter.
It is interesting to note that one of Prof Mansingh's experiences helped to cement my own Christian faith. In our meeting at his home, the devout Hindu described his personal encounter with Jesus in 1987, which led to his commitment to the National Interfaith Fellowship. He said he was sitting on his porch at College Common with students when, he related: "Suddenly I saw a golden aura that I identified as Jesus Christ, and I went towards Him to receive Him."
Professor Mansingh said he felt blessed with cosmic bliss. Especially significant for today's gathering, he reported "I could see nothing but unity in the world – one Source, one unity, pure divine bliss, not man-made".
It was immediately after that experience that he got together with Rev. Dr Ashley Smith, and started the Interfaith Group which evolved into the Jamaica Council for Interfaith Fellowship. They went on to collaborate with that extraordinary man of faith, Sir Howard Cooke, then Governor General, who hosted their first meetings at King's House, and has been their inspiring Patron to this day.
In Prof Mansingh's writings, he also explored the theme of national unity. In his brilliant book, "Home Away From Home – 150 Years of Indian Presence in Jamaica," he described the rescue of the Indian indentured servants by former African slaves after they had been thrown off the estates, and left to starve, because the owners said they were not strong enough for the work in the canefields.
It was the former African slaves, who themselves had experienced great inhumanity, who assisted the Indians, sharing their scarce rations and befriending them.
In our discussion, Professor Mansingh further explained that the Africans who had been attending Christian churches, observed the Indians gathering under trees to conduct their ethnic religious ceremonies. This inspired them to return to their African forms of worship, Christian in belief but with Hindu influences including the central table laden with food and flowers. "There is still a revival group in
Truly, in this
The Jamaica Council of InterFaith Fellowship demonstrates to our political parties, to the various sectors of our society that we can celebrate, not desecrate our differences. This was the dream of Professor Ajai Mansingh.
We bless his memory and thank him, Rev Dr Ashley Smith and the InterFaith Council for standing up for God -- by standing together for His people.