SCIENTIFIC TAMIL PIONEER
DR SAMUEL FISK GREEN
(10/10/1822 - 28/05/1884)
"Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our life sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sans of time.."
Great men leave footprints on the sands of time, footprints that the winds of change cannot erase. They engrave a permanent impression with a silver lining and fluorescent glow that shines and guides future endeavors.
Dr Samuel Fisk Green was one such great man who toiled with a will and left his footprints on the Jaffna soil by his devoted service to the Tamil people and the Tamil language, a hundred and fifty years ago.
Dr Green's like and deeds are worthy of preservation on the pages of history of the Tamil people. Hence, here is a concise account of his life and deeds and more specifically, his pioneer contribution for the development of western medical and scientific literature in Tamil.
Dr Green (1822-1884) of Worcester, Massachusetts, USA, was an American medical missionary doctor who served the American Ceylon Mission (ACM) in Jaffna, during the period (1847-1873).
On arrival in 1847, after a brief period of medical service at the ACM Centre at Vaddukoddai, Jaffna, he was moved to Manipay in 1848, by a decision of the mission. At Manipay, he established the first hospital and a medical school to teach western medicine to the natives. Thus, Manipay enjoys a pride of place in Ceylon history as the venue of the first hospital and the first medical school, thanks to the ACM, and in particular to Dr Samuel Fisk Green.
There stands at Manipay the Green Memorial Hospital, which brings to revered memory the pioneer services of this great medical evangelist, and the ACM - now known as the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI).
The continued service of the medical mission over a period of 150 years and its timely contribution to the Jaffna society are definitely milestones reached by the mission and need special focus and dissemination of historically important information. That is not all.
As mentioned earlier, in addition to the hospital, Dr Green established a medical school at Manipay. That medical school has another 'first' to be proud of. It was in that medical school has another 'first' to be proud of. It was in that medical school that Dr Green introduced Tamil language as the medium of instruction of western medical science - in 1860s.
Why did he decide to introduce Tamil as the medium of instruction of western medical science at a time when the society was not prepared? Dr Green's feeling was that it was the only way in which he could get his students to settle down as physicians in the villages of their own people.
It was the period of colonial rule. There were hardly any natives qualified in western medicine, except those who were trained by him. Qualified doctors had good prospects of government employment. Hence, once trained as doctors in the English medium by Dr Green, his students left their villages for greener pastures-government employment.
That defeated Dr Green's aim - his primary purpose. His aim was to educate and train natives as doctors, to serve the people in the villages. Thus in his attempt to keep his students in their villages to serve the people, he switched over to the Tamil medium, which by no means was an easy task.
To teach western medicine in Tamil, he had to prepare technical terms in Tamil, translate western medical books into Tamil and write medical books in Tamil. This meant the development of medical and scientific Tamil as different from literary Tamil. There was also a need to write medical treatises in simple Tamil for the benefit of the common man - the layman. He boldly and with confidence, undertook all these challenges.
Here is an overview of his pioneer undertakings and accomplishments at Manipay during the twenty-five year period 1847 - 1873.
It is a fact that all mission evangelists did sacrifice their lives for the benefit of greater humanity. They have to be remembered and their services have to be acknowledged, appreciated and respected.
In the case of Dr Green, he was not just another evangelist. He was very much more, and his secular contributions were unique and unparalleled.
Dr Green's work in introducing western medical science in Tamil was first ever attempt to render western medical science into Tamil. His work was the pioneer work in that field. The foregoing overview would amply portray the magnitude of Dr Green's undertaking.
Dr Green lived amongst the Tamils of Jaffna and laboured for the Tamil people and developed medical and scientific Tamil - as different from literary Tamil. He made pioneer efforts to gear the Tamil language to the needs of a world in which science and technology made rapid strides.
His life was dedicated to the Tamils. Even in his last days, ten years after leaving Jaffna, he expressed his wish to be remembered as Medical Evangelist to the Tamils. He had expressed this request in his last "will".
The request was observed and the inscription engraved on his gravestone. Today, his gravestone in the Rural Cemetery at Worcester, Massachusetts bears testimony to his love and affection towards the Tamils amongst whom he lived and to whom he dedicated his entire life.
Dr Green's pioneer contribution towards the development of scientific literature in Tamil, scientific and technical nomenclature in Tamil and his original Tamil treatises for dissemination and popularization of science knowledge amongst the layman - is noteworthy, praiseworthy and historically significant.
Given the period of time and the society in which he faced the challenge and accomplished his pioneer task of rendering scientific knowledge in Tamil, makes his achievements even more significant. Placing his undertakings and achievements in perspective, and viewing in the light of and the status of prose literature in Tamil during mid-nineteenth century gives a new dimension for evaluation of his contribution.
Taking cognizance of the fact that he was an English speaking American to whom our language was alien, we see the 'real' Dr Green when we pause with gratitude to recapitulate his pioneer undertakings and achievements, and his determination and commitment to leave behind something permanent.
At one stage, in 1855, he was suffering from cholera and his sister wished that he returned home and recuperates. He firmly replied thus:
"I have spent too much time in getting the language and in getting here, to run home before having really accomplished something. If I can leave behind a series of medical text books in the vernacular, I shall feel as if something permanent has been done. If I can stay out my ten years, I would prefer to do so."
That says it all about his commitment and dedication, though there are more instances to quote. He stayed on, risking his health and life.
It is unfortunate that we, the present Tamil generation, have failed to pause in gesture and reflect on his endeavors with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving for his valuable and priceless contributions. Even the institutions of higher learning have not given due recognition to his pioneer work. Most of them are still unaware of his pioneer efforts and achievements. The volume of Dr Green's contribution, given the period of time and the society in which he undertook this venture with confidence, deserves much more recognition and research.
Missionaries of the calibre of Dr G U Pope, Fr Beschi (Veeramaa Munivar), Rev Myron Winstow, Rev Peter Percival and other such great men have been acknowledged for their contributions to the development of the Tamil language in the pages of history.
Why didn't the Tamils equate Dr Green's work with these?
The answer is simple. The then Tamil society understood the significance of the contribution of those scholars. Their contributions were in field of language development, Tamil grammar, translation of Thirukural and Thiruvasagam, lexicography and the like. The ambit was confined to language and literature.
In contrast, Dr Green dealt with an alien discipline, which was totally new to the society. Science in general and western medical science in particular, were new to the Tamils and the then society did not really understand the nature of his contribution.
Now that we understand what Dr Green laboured for at a time when our society was unaware of developments in the west, we have a responsibility - a sacred responsibility to honour Dr Samuel Fisk Green and re-trace his trails. We should admire his vision and his mission.
Is it not up to the present generation to take a pledge to perpetuate his name, deeds and achievements in the annals of the history of Tamil and Tamildom?
Author:R Ambihaipahar (Ambi)
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