The British Intrusion and the Coming of Missionaries
The British Invasion 1795
- the VOC government authorities made barely a token resistance before surrendering; the Company had been going bankrupt for some years and its resources were very limited.
- there were endemic problems between the white settlers, especially the trekboers, and the Company; Landrost Maynier in the 1790s was trying to extend Company control in the Graaff-Reinet district, especially to collect taxes and fees and to control the administration of justice. Mayniers attempts to restrict maltreatment of Khoikhoi and to deliver a more equitable brand of justice were met with bitter resentment. The white settlers in the interior rebelled in 1795 complaining that Maynier preferred the Heathens before the Christians.
- other white settlers in Swellendam revolted as well and made demands to be allowed to do what they had been doing previously:
... all Bushmen captured by commandos or by private individuals might be retained in perpetual slavery by the Boersthey and their children after them; that the custom ... [of keeping Khoikhoi children until 25 years] be restored; and that no Hottentot who left his employment should in future be allowed to take refuge in any colony, i.e., village, but that after his complaints had been noted down he should be forthwith returned to his lord and master. Marais, The Cape Coloured People, p.113.
- white rebels in both areas had declared their independence and declared republics. Because of weakness and a sense of affinity, neither side pursued hostilities actively; the rebels were sending representatives to the Netherlands to make appeals and to make demands for changes in government that would give settlers a greater say.
- British military authorities were treating their invasion as mainly a military occupation to keep out the French, not an annexation. Therefore, they intended to maintain the status quo under the VOC; that included the suppression of the rebellions.
- the British had much larger military forces; also, they quickly raised the Hottentot Corps, a force of Khoikhoi under British NCOs and officers (like the sepoy armies in India). The use of the Corps led to an incident when troops sent to arrest some white rebels resulted in violence; a couple of whites were killed and other whites were taken into custody and jailed. This produced outrage among whites; that these lowly servants should be used and allowed to attack Christians was a wickedness that passed all bounds! In addition, believing that the coming of the British meant that they were free, thousands of Khoikhoi and Coloured servants deserted their employers.
- however, the British were taken aback by the responses on both sides; in any case, they decided that the Khoikhoi should be disarmed and resettled. Some Khoikhoi reacted to the disarmament by rebelling and joining the Xhosa. Thus, the British had irritated both sides.
- both the British, and later the Batavian, officials worked to wean the Khoikhoi away from the alliances with the Xhosa; partly, this was done by ameliorating the conditions of labour that had been imposed by the white settlers. In their policies, the British were trying to do enough to wean the Khoikhoi away from alliances with the Xhosa without going too far in completely alienating the white settlers. They were largely successful as most of the Khoikhoi rebels returned to the colony and settled down within 10 years.
- as part of the armistice with Napoleon in 1803, the Cape Colony was turned over to the Batavian Republic which Napoleon had created from the Netherlands and much of Belgium. However, when the war with Napoleon resumed in 1806, the British reoccupied. This time, however, the British had decided that the Cape of Good Hope was too strategic a naval position to allow in the hands anyone else as it controlled the route to their empire in India and the East. The British intended to stay. In 1815, the British government made a payment in compensation to the Netherlands for its annexation.
- the other very important reason for pressure to improve the conditions of Khoikhoi employees was the coming of the missionaries.
Missionaries and their arrival in South Africa
- in 1739 the Moravian Brethren, a sect in Germany, were the first to send missionaries to S. A. [The Moravians are also noted in Canada for their long time mission in Labrador.] This first mission was short-lived, only 1739-43. Georg Schmidt, the only member of the party who survived, did make a number of converts. When Schmidt baptised some of these converts, local DRC clergy raised an outcry and Schmidt was expelled from the colony. Some have argued that this indicated an belief that heathen could not be saved; however, Gersner argues that in baptizing these converts himself, Schmidt seemed to be starting a separate Moravian church and the DRC clergy were determined that the colony remain homogeneous with only one church, the Reformed Church. Most DRC clergy were in favour of teaching Christianity to Khoikhoi although few did very much themselves.
- when a new party of Moravian missionaries arrived in 1792, they found a number of Schmidts converts who had maintained their faith for 50 years. These new missionaries founded a mission at Genadendal about 100 miles from Cape Town. Even though the Moravians were very simple folk who stressed submission to political authorities and manual labour, there was a good deal of opposition from white settlers who feared that the missionaries would interfere with their labour supply.
- there had long been a relative absence of missionary fervour and action in European protestantism. This was especially true of much early Calvinism, although there was some enthusiasm in early New England. Earlier, Catholics had been very vigorous in the early phases of European expansion in the new world, in Africa, in India and Asia. However, this too had long since waned to very low levels. Another factor may have been that 18th C Deism was not aggressive or derogatory of other religions.
- beginning in the 1790s with the evangelical revival and postmillennialism, there was an enormous upsurge in support and enthusiasm for missions among Protestants in Europe and North America. The tide of missions spread out to various parts of the globe, but Africa, especially South Africa, was one of the early foci for this tide.
- the impact of the missionaries on Africa was very large. However, there continues to be much debate about the nature of that impact, including the issue of how much missions and missionaries contributed to the conquest of Africa and its peoples.
- Christianity has always harboured 2 very different eschatologies (visions of the future and the end of the world)premillennialism and postmillennialism. The terms relate to the relationship between 2 events which would lead to the end of the world as we know it:
- there are other ideas also (time of troubles [the tribulation] as in the Book of Revelation in the Bible; the Final Judgment; a new Creation and a new world).
- The Second Coming or Second Advent;
- The millennium1000 years of peace, Kingdom of God.
- however, the relationship between these 2 gave rise to the two traditions as illustrated in the diagram below:
- these traditions embody very different perceptions of the world and the trend of events. The expectations for the future are almost opposite; one tends to be pessimistic and the other much more optimistic.
- in this cosmology, the world is evil and getting worse (i.e., the trend is down); the world (i.e., the existing societies and social order) is not redeemable. It is heading for destruction and damnation.
- premillennialists expect the Second Coming momentarily, at any minute. This expectation from time to time convinces individuals that they have noted all the signs and causes them to make a prediction of when this will take place. Just a few years ago, a fundamentalist preacher in Korea decided that 1992 was the year and many of his followers sold their property etc. in preparation. [A similar incident occurred in 1914; many of the people who had joined later concluded that the prediction was false. However, the leader maintained that he was correct and that the Second Coming had taken place; those who accepted this came to be known as Jehovahs Witnesses.]
- immediately after the Second Coming there will be an extended period of troubles, including the 7 plagues foretold in the Book of Revelation and great loss of life; it will culminate in the great Battle of Armageddon. After this, all the existing political entities will be destroyed and the Kingdom of God will be established throughout the entire world. This will inaugurate the Millennium.
- in this view then, achievement of the millennium requires a cataclysmic transition, involving destruction of the existing world, the deaths of enormous numbers of people and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
- most (but not all) Christian fundamentalist preachers are premillennialist, including Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, etc. Most avoid politics because it is seen as being a waste of time (the world cant be saved) and it distracts the fundamentalist Christian from doing what he/she should be doingstaying prepared and in a state of Grace for the Second Coming (being saved) and trying to save as many other people from damnation as they can. As a result, this tradition is to a considerable degree apolitical.
- people in this tradition believe that the world (society and people) can and will be improved until it reaches a state where the Kingdom of God will be achieved (i.e., in an evolutionary, gradual fashion); this involves the idea of progress.
- this improvement and progress will be achieved in 2 ways:
1. reform of individuals by evangelism and conversion; as this takes place on a large scale and large numbers of people change their behaviour, conditions in society will improve. Thus, attempts to evangelise and convert as many people as possible is just as strong as in premillennialism.
2. reform of society to eliminate evils which tend to promote sin and evil (such as, drink, slavery, prostitution, etc.); this reform could, and often did, require political activism and produced a wide range of movements and actions in the 19th century. Thus, people in this tradition can be very active politically.
- again, it is important to note the differing views of the present and how the future will unfold which are embodied in the 2 views. Postmillennialists believe that the millennium will be achieved in a gradual, evolutionary fashion by a slow perfecting of humans and human society. Premillennialists, on the other hand, believe that the millennium will come about only as the result of supernatural intervention and a cataclysmic destruction of the existing world and its political arrangements.
- postmillennialism had become the dominant view in Protestantism in the late 18th C and provided the impetus for the mission crusade. The millennial society was to include the entire world; therefore, before it could be achieved, the non-Christian parts of the world would have to be evangelised.
- suddenly (the stimulus is usually identified as the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792), missions became a crusade which stirred tremendous enthusiasm and support. Old mission societies, which had been mostly very sleepy organisations, were galvanised into action and a whole raft of new societies were founded, first in Britain, but quickly spreading to the U.S. Early in the 19th C, the enthusiasm spread to Protestants in Germany, Switzerland, France and the Nordic countries as well.
- one of these new societies was the London Missionary Society (it was non-denominational but had a strong core of English Presbyterians and Congregationalists); in 1799, it sent out a party of 5 missionaries which included the Netherlander, Johannes van der Kamp, to the Cape Colony. Initially, van der Kamp and his assistant went east to try to open a mission to the Xhosa with Chief Ngqika; when this failed, van der Kamp returned to the eastern frontier of white settlement and began to work with the Khoikhoi. He was given a large grant of land to provide a mission and refuge for the Khoikhoi whom the British were trying to lure back to the colony from their alliance with the Xhosa. The other LMS missionaries went north to open a mission among the people who became known as the Griqua and among African peoples in the interior from the Orange River up into present day Botswana.
- early in the 19th C, Wesleyan Methodists and Scottish Presbyterians of the Glasgow Missionary Society also began to arrive in South Africa, although the LMS continued to lead the way in numbers for many years. French missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Mission (although Swiss Protestants were also involved) arrived first in 1833. Anglicans were a bit slow, but after 1850, they greatly expanded in numbers and influence. American Board Missions (American Congregationalists) began sending missionaries to Natal in the 1820s and a bit later, Norwegian missionaries also began to arrive. Other German missionaries also arrived, but many of these went north into what is now Namibia.
- very early, the mission station model was developed in the Cape Colony. A substantial block of land would be granted to the mission society in trust for the indigenous people. Initially, these were part of the ameliorations of the British; they were a refuge for the thousands of Khoikhoi who had left their employers. Except for small portions of land for churches, schools, and missionary gardens, all the land was given to the indigenous people. While the missionary had a certain amount of patriarchal power by having land to allocate, it also over time came to be a very considerable source of friction. Late in the 19th C, most of the land on these mission stations was surveyed and individual titles given to the occupiers. The missionaries had much earlier ceased to have any real control of the land.
- some scholars, especially writing from a materialist point of view, have claimed that these reserves were intended as labour reservoirs for white farmers; they did function in that fashion to some extent. However, they were a refuge and an alternative for the Khoikhoi in the context where they had had neither. Morever, it is clear that this was not what white farmers wanted. They wanted the people tied down to their farms as they had been previously, not free to leave and go to a mission station. Having an option gave them more leverage than they had had previously.
- among the Griqua where there was no white government authority, the missionaries were more on sufferance of the chief and acted more as advisors. This was true also among the independent Xhosa early in the 19th C.
- often, missionaries were initially welcomed; they had a reputation of being good rainmakers and such people were always in great demand. Also, there was a need for someone to help in dealing with white governments and missionaries helped to fill this need. However, later, reactions against missionaries and the effects of their work made them less welcome.
Models for mission activity
(1) Large mission station
- in many ways, it resembled a sub-chieftaincy. Missionaries had much the same status and influence as a chief or headman (we shall discuss this a bit later). Africans were accustomed to chiefs and headmen and missionaries often came to be regarded in the same way.
-this meant bringing all disputes, even domestic ones; every morning the missionary would be met by a string of people bringing disputes and problems of the most mundane kind to the missionary. This often drove the missionary almost to distraction.
- however, the mission station was also an opportunity to build a Christian community; missionaries often felt that this was the only, and certainly the best, way to promote conversion and changeseparate the Christians and would be Christians from the rest of African society; only in this way could people get free of traditional, heathen customs and practices which the missionaries regarded as inimical to Christianity.
(2) Whole society approach
- some missionaries hoped to convert and Christianise entire societies or tribes together with political leaders. They wanted to establish their mission stations close to the residence of the chief. These stations were much smaller onesjust church, school, residence for missionary and enough land for the missionary. The land would not only supply food to the missionary family but also be a model farm illustrating irrigation, plowing and new crops; it would not be enough to form an entire community.
- missionaries would work with the support of the chief and thought of their role as being advisors to the chiefs. This is the tack taken by the missionaries to the Griqua and by the Moffats in their work with the Tswana. It was also dictated by the fact that in going to these people, the missionaries were dealing with peoples who were independent.
- in this approach, the missionaries often wanted to preserve their chosen society and that meant trying to keep white settlers out and trying to limit contacts. It also involved helping the chief and his council with negotiations and relations with the government at the Cape.
(3) The leaven the lump approach(using yeast as a metaphor)
- this model was not pursued until the 1860s and after. It required the development of African clergy. Instead of separating and/or isolating the African Christians from African traditional society, African Christians should go out and live among the reds as both an example and influence for conversion.
- we shall discuss more about the role of missionaries in terms of struggle and conquest; here I shall talk about their role in altering relations between whites and non-whites in the early 19th C.
- the missionaries brought different attitudes. The Enlightenment had included the idea that all people were basically equal. Early missionaries were relatively free of racism; however, they were not free of cultural bias as they believed their own religion was true and all others false; they also believed that many or most aspects of social and political life in Europe were better than what they believed existed in Africa.
- however, they believed that the superiority of European institutions and customs were the result of Christianity; therefore, the inferiority of those in Africa were the result of lack of Christianity. Once Christianity was accepted, the differences would disappear as would any inferiority; thus, the inferiority was cultural and not innatenot genetic or racial.
- another indication of the relative absence of racism is the fact that 2 of the earliest LMS missionaries, Johannes van der Kamp and James Read, married Khoikhoi women, much to the horror and disgust of most trekboers. It should be noted that these examples were not followed later. In fact, in most denominations such actions usually resulted in the missionary being dismissed.
Missionaries and their purpose
- this is an area of debate and a good deal of misunderstanding. As I am presenting it, the motivation and purpose of missionaries was to convert people to Christianity and in this way to assist in the Divine Plan to improve the world and bring about the millennium.
- materialist historians present a different interpretation. In their view, economic factors and influences determine everything. Thus, an expanding capitalism in Europe was extending to other parts of the globe and the missionaries were primarily witting or unwitting agents of that expanding capitalism. This can and does lead to distortion and misunderstanding of what missionaries were doing.
- most of the early missionaries were drawn from upper working class backgrounds (tradesmen blacksmiths, printers etc.) and many had modest educations. That is, they were not capitalists or even middle class. However, they did see themselves and their social stratum in Britain (i.e, lower middle and upper working class) as being the backbone of society and what was making that society successful; they were sober, serious, hard-working and devout.
- in spreading the gospel, they were trying to convert Africans into people like themselves. They were also trying to transform indigenous societies, not into societies like those back home because they were aware of many short-comings (there was still lots of work to be done converting people there too). Conversion meant not just a question of few dogmas or beliefs; the missionaries were trying to effect a big transformation in peoples behaviour. Thus, they hoped to see indigenous societies, not transformed into replicas of British society, but rather into what they thought Britain should be.
- in ideology, most missionaries and their supporters were increasingly accepting the ideas of laisser-faire except that the invisible hand was not simply impersonal forces in the universe. It was God who created the universe and determined how it operated.
- moreover, ideas of improving standards of living, of trade as a mutually beneficial activity, of the ultimate disappearance of war (i.e., the notion of progress) fitted into their view of how the millennium would gradually evolve and unfold.
- the idea that Christianity and Commerce were compatible and mutually reinforcing elements and activities was widely held during the 1st 60-70 years of the 19th C; this idea is widely associated with David Livingstone because he made a special point of preaching this message; howeveer, because trading was against the rules of the LMS, Livingstone was forced to resign when he engaged in trading.
- this perceived complementary link between trade and Christianity has led many scholars to argue that missionaries were simply the servants and henchmen of the capitalists who controlled everything. Thus, missionaries are frequently depicted (using a football analogy) as the linesmen and blockers sent in to disrupt and undermine African societies; this then allowed the traders and business interests to romp in to score the touchdowns.
- there are a number of problems with this depiction:
Missionaries and political action
- despite the allegations of many scholars, big business did not provide much support for missions; D. Livingstone made a big point of going to the Chambers of Commerce etc. in Britain to speak (even snubbing a number of churches), but the captains of industry, while cheering claims of the benefits to trade that the promotion of Christianity would bring, gave little money to the missions. Most of the money for the missions to central and east Africa that Livingstone stimulated came from the churches and the traditional supporters of missions (there are certainly examples of successful businessmen contributing generously as individuals, but these were not the norm nor did they provide most of the funds). Most supporters of missions were from the lower middle and upper working classes, especially in the 1st half of the 19th C.
- African trade was never very large or important compared to other areas, yet Africa always received a disproportionate share of missionaries and mission resources.
- on the other hand, Latin America, which was always much more important for trade purposes than Africa, received only minor amounts of attention. If capitalists were really jerking the puppet strings of the mission societies and missionaries, why didnt they direct more attention to S. America?
- even more, in places like India and China, business was lukewarm and frequently even hostile to mission activity; missionaries stirred up trouble and that interfered with their trade and business.
- many of the early missionaries were prepared to be actively involved on behalf of indigenous people they believed to be treated unjustly. This became a matter of debate among missionaries, even in the same mission society as some felt that certain missionaries became too involved politically. For example, Robert Moffat criticised van der Kamp, James Reid and later Dr. John Philip for being too political although all were missionaries of the LMS.
- nevertheless, missionaries were politically active in 2 respects during the early period:
(1) trying to change the treatment, legal status and rights of non-white people (Khoikhoi, free blacks and San) in the colonyemancipation of Hottentots or Coloureds.
(2) protecting and preserving the indigenous communities outside the boundaries of the colony from intrusion, disruption and destruction by whites, especially pastoralist farmerstrekboers.
- on the first, they tried to remonstrate with and affect policies of the colonial government in Cape Town. When that failed, they took their appeals and activities to Britain, enlisting the so-called philanthropic pressure groups (anti-slavery groups, aborigines protection societies and mission societies) on their side.
- on the second, they tried to reduce conflict and disunity within indigenous society as mediators and advisors; also, they assisted African leaders in negotiations with government in Cape Town (especially to get the latter to restrain and control the whites who were pressing in in search of new land).
- they would sometimes appeal to London, but usually the imperial government was anxious to limit responsibilities and liabilities so this coincided with mission views.
- later, after the Great Trek, missionaries began to switch in their goals. Threatened by trekboer pressures, missionaries felt that control by the imperial government was the least evil option. However, well discuss this later.
Emancipation of Hottentots or Coloureds
- British officials (mostly military officers) in the first occupation were anxious to avoid trouble; this tended to make them reluctant to do too much that might unduly anger the white settlers. Also, in the midst of the French revolutionary wars, leadership in Britain became more conservative and authoritarian. Therefore, while attempting to ameliorate some aspects of the treatment of Coloured people by whites, they also ended up legalising the practices.
- missionaries often had only limited influence on the military men who headed the government in Cape Town. They did have contacts with the missionary and philanthropic pressure groups in London; as the struggle to end the slave trade and slavery itself mounted, the influence of these groups also increased. As a result, the main procedure for getting change and reform in the Cape was to get their supporters and allies in London to pressure the imperial government who would in turn pressure or order changes in the laws and policies in the Cape.
Two areas were affected:
(1) Boer techniques for controlling the movement of labour
- authorities took a number of steps to ameliorate these practices:
(2) Administration of justice
- all contracts had to be registered with the local magistrateto avoid employers changing the terms unilaterally and after the fact;
- placed limitations on what could be in the contracts: limited what could be claimed as debt (e.g., excluded liquor) and these items had to be spelled out in the contract;
- limited the apprenticeship of children and young people to 10 years;
- reduced abuses under the vagrancy laws.
- while there was a separate legal code for slaves, Khoikhoi had no separate standing at law. As nominally free persons, they were considered to have the same standing as whites before the law. The key issue was that of accessibilitywhites controlled access; as a practical matter, those who were not accepted as white had little or no access to the law.
- the big change was the inauguration of a legal circuit court to bring law and justice to remote areas and to open access to non-whites. The first circuit (which became known among whites as the Black Circuit) took place in 1812. With help from missionaries, non-white servants brought a large number of charges against their employers. For the first time, white employers had to answer to a court for their treatment of servants. Moreover, the testimony of non-whites was given the same nominal weighting as that of the white employers.
- it is true that a large number of prosecutions failed (in many instances, the case revolved around the word of the servant against that of the employer); however, whites were outraged that they had to answer the charges in the first place. It was also a grievance that heathens had been placed on a level of equality with Christians before the court.
- although 2 or 3 laws were introduced to further ameliorate the labour practices, the missionaries were not satisfied and continued to find many abuses; they pressed for an end. Dr. John Philip, an LMS missionary, took the lead, collecting stories of abuse and maintaining active correspondence with pressure groups in Britain.
- eventually, 2 changes were introduced:
- as with so many other things, this emancipation has been the subject of opposing interpretations. Some materialist historians, in line with their views of the slavery abolition movement as well, argue that this was mostly an effort to make labour free and mobile. This, they argue, is what industrial capitalism wanted because free labour was more profitable and necessary for continued development. (One could quibble that in South Africa there was really no industrial development until late in the 19th C after the discovery of diamonds and later gold.)
- first, the Masters and Servants law of England was introduced. By our standards, this system gave employers much more power than we would be comfortable with; i.e., employment was a contract with many rights to the employer to prosecute. While employees could also prosecute for failures of the employer, lack of knowledge and lack of money on the part of servants meant that the balance of advantage was more for the employer. Nevertheless, this was less one-sided than the previous system had been.
- secondly, the missionary pressures and agitations over the first 3 decades of the 19th C eventually led to Ordinance 50 of 1828; this was sometimes called the Magna Carta of the Cape Coloured People.
- also, it should be noted that sometimes ways were found to accomplish the same objectives as differential legislation. (One of the best examples was the franchise qualifications when representative government was introduced in 1853. The property and income qualifications made absolutely no mention of colour or race; the qualifications were low enough to admit most white men [although not all] but high enough to exclude most [although not all] non-whites. Later in the 1880s and 90s when Africans began to become voters in larger numbers, the rules were tightened and the bar was raised! We shall discuss this later in Lecture 8module 12.)
- this stated very specifically that there should be no differential legislation; i.e., that Hottentots and other free persons of colour shall not be subject to any law to which whites are not also subject. [By differential, we mean laws that treat people differently depending, in this case, on colour or race.]
- it also specifically forbad vagrancy laws or other restrictions on movement.
- this was the foundation for the tradition of non-racialism or what is called the Cape liberal tradition. With only a few exceptions (e.g., some later liquor laws forbad sales to Africans), laws in the Cape did not differentiate or discriminate on the basis of colour or race.
- it also reaffirmed equality before the law.
Note: This did not mean total equality (that did not exist in Britain and in so far as the poor have a more difficult time and cannot afford to pursue all legal rights, it does not exist here in Canada either). Obviously, knowledge and wealth give some great advantage in the courts over those who lack either or both. As well, when the jury system was introduced, only whites sat on juries; this produced some blatantly unjust verdicts. Eventually, the jury system was abolished for all inter-racial cases.
- it is true that missionaries and those involved in these campaigns to end slavery and to free the Coloured people did use such arguments about the advantages and benefits of free labour. However, it is also true that they did so in attempts to build support among economic interest groups who were often opposed to their campaigns. It seems to me that this is much like environmentalists who are arguing to the forest companies that if they change their practices in a way which reduces the negative effects on the forests and in a way that promotes conservation, they will be better off in the long run. Does this mean that such people are really just henchmen for the forest industry? One has to believe in a truly devious and fiendish conspiracy.
Christian Missions and Impact
Missionaries and the European Onslaught
- this is an area of debate and widely diverging opinions. Missionaries tended to clash, often very strongly, with other whites in Africa:
- this led to 2 of the 3 major views of missionaries:
- in West Africa, they were trying to abolish the slave trade and the traders were not happy to be put out of business.
- in South Africa, they clashed with the white settlers over the latters treatment of the indigenous peoples and with colonial officials who seemed sympathetic to or influenced by the settlers.
1. Knights in shining armour
- not only were they bringing the gospel and civilisation, but they were also defenders of the weak and the oppressed.
- missionaries strove to improve the economic well-being of Africans; thus, they introduced plows and other equipment as well as crops as means to provide greater income and standards of living.
- they introduced literacy and African languages were reduced to written form for the 1st time.
- they introduced western education and made science and technology, as well as political ideas available to Africans.
- this view frequently has had a hagiographical dimension; i.e., the missionaries as super saints, completely selfless and with few flaws.
2.Do-gooders and meddlers
- often in this view, they are seen as at least naive (They do not realise that Africans are savages and need to be treated and controlled with a firm hand.)
- however, in S. Africa, the white settlers (especially the Dutch or Afrikaans-speaking) viewed them as malicious and evil; these last argued that God had intended that blacks should be servants of the whites and that it was impious and wicked to interfere with the divinely decreed order; even worse was any talk or attempt to implement equality.
3. Arrogant, insensitive, culture-bound disrupters of traditional society
- an early version of this was put forward in the 19th C, especially by white settlers; these latter often expressed a preference for the raw native as opposed to the school native.
- the latter was uppity and had ideas above his station; also, he had more knowledge of the laws and could defend his rights better than an uneducated, traditional African. This was really just a variant of the missionary as meddler.
- however, in the 20th C, this view has been developed by social scientists. Missionaries, it is argued, attacked many social customs as well as religious beliefs; the result was a good deal of disruption. Often too, the customs which replaced the traditional ones were not as effective and did not relate to other aspects of culture and society. Thus, coherence in society was reduced or broken.
- the encouragement of a market economy and trade with Europeans (clothes and manufactured goods) exposed Africans to the fluctuations and vagaries of international commodity markets and increased vulnerability. [This implicitly assumes that the old subsistence economy was more secure; however, the old subsistence economy had serious drawbacks too.]
- this involvement in trade and international markets, it is argued, created dependencies and thus weakened the ability to resist; however, on the other hand some Africans used trade to acquire guns which could be used to strengthen resistance.
- frequently, mission activity brought splits and divisions in traditional society; this may often have weakened African societies both politically and militarily and thus indirectly have assisted the conquest.
- in short, the missionaries have been charged with assisting conquest, at the very least indirectly and unintentionally, but some have argued even intentionally and consciously. (argued strongly in The Role of the Missionaries in Conquest from a Marxist view)
- David Livingstones journeys into central Africa in the 1850s and 60s stimulated a great renewal of interest and enthusiasm for missions; missionaries pushed rapidly into the remaining forest coastal areas of west Africa and increasingly into central and east Africa.
- Catholic, especially French, mission efforts also emerged in the 2nd half of the 19th C; in fact Catholics and Protestants increasingly felt in competition; to a considerable extent, this competition also got caught up in nationalism; it played a significant role in the scramble for Africa:
Missionaries were not all the same!
- a government, when looking for grounds to make a claim to an area, used the presence and involvement of its nationals; missionaries could be and were used for this purpose. In this sense, missionaries would be unwitting, passive participants in imperialism.
- missionaries often had a decided preference for rule by their own governments; thus, during the scramble, some missionaries began to work consciously to have their territories taken over by their governments rather than a foreign government. Thus, some became active participants in imperialism.
- some missionaries became discouraged by limited success (seen especially in south Africa).
- in the early 19th C, missionaries were generally opposed to Br. annexation of territories (in 1835-37, they used their influence to get the British government to disannex Queen Adelaide Land and recall the governor who had annexed it).
- generally, they hoped to keep out other whites such as traders, settlers and so on because they would try to oppress the indigenous people or they would introduce liquor, guns, prostitution etc.
- what they hoped to achieve was an autonomous indigenous society under traditional leaders who had become Christian; they hoped to convert society as a whole; they hoped to see autonomous, agrarian Christian societies (not simply the same as at home, but better and with less evil).
- however, they found that they were not able to keep out disreputable and unruly whites; especially, the Great Trek of Boer settlers into the interior was a great threat and danger to African societies. Thus, some missionaries began to turn to the British government as a necessary means to protect Africans and to control the white settlers; thus, annexations by the British government seemed a lesser evil.
- some missionaries also came to be discouraged by the relative lack of success in conversions:
- many talked about the stony ground upon which their efforts were producing meagre results; also, in the recurring wars, mission stations were destroyed and they saw a lifetime of their work destroyed. Some came to believe that it was the chiefs who were preventing their people from becoming Christians and felt that the power of the chiefs must be destroyed before their mission work could enjoy success. However, in other cases, it was clear that the pressure was coming from the people; some chiefs who showed sympathy to Christianity were threatened with loss of their position. Thus, the cohesion of African society was seen as a stumbling block to the success of Christianity.
- as a result, some missionaries argued that conquest and annexation were a necessary prerequisite for the success of the gospele.g., J. C. Warner, Wesleyan Methodist, argued in the 1850s:
... as they have so resolutely and so perseveringly refused to give to the gospel even an attentive hearing; it seems to me that the way on which they themselves are so obstinately bent is the one which God will make use of to bring about this desirable object; and that the sword must firstnot exterminate them, butbreak them up as tribes, and destroy their political existence; after which, when thus set free from the shackles by which they are bound, civilisation and christianity will no doubt make rapid progress among them.
- soon after, Warner resigned from the ministry to become a government agenti.e., he believed that political control and assimilation were necessary first.
- in addition, as the century wore on, missionaries became more racist; they were still paternalistic and wanted to do good, but they increasingly viewed Africans as inherently inferior:
- partly this was a result of growing racism in all western societies and missionaries were products of those societies;
- the lack of success of missionary endeavours was attributed to the people themselves; that people could have the gospel preached to them and reject it or perhaps try it for a while and abandon it suggested moral and intellectual inferiority to some missionaries. However, other missionaries noted that Africans were adept at spotting weaknesses in the arguments and presentation of Christianity; Africans asked hard questions!
- this is a fact that is often ignored. The wildly differing interpretations of the missionaries noted above tend to be based on rather simplistic stereotypes.
- missionaries came in many varieties; there were, of course, not only many different religious denominations and organizations which could influence their reactions and views of Africans and African society. Of greater importance was the great diversity in intelligence, social background, education and ability to empathize with Africans. Some could spend their entire working lives with Africans and never gain much real insight and no appreciation; however, others could gain at least some and recognize that their own biases and prejudices had to be altered somewhat.
- e..g., Anglican Bishop Colenso was a leading mathematician and a liberal theologically (he was tried for heresy!); in Natal his views were very controversiale.g., he argued that polygyny should be accepted to some extent by the Anglican Church (i.e., that existing polygynous marriages should be accepted); Colenso also tended to defend the Zulu and their right to continued independence (he was virtually alone among missionaries and was excoriated by white settlers in Natal for doing so).
- one should be very cautious in making generalizations about missionaries. Whenever someone says, Missionaries did this ..., one can always find exceptions and even examples of missionaries who did the exact opposite. As you may have noticed, I almost always say, Some missionaries ... and Other missionaries ...
- many missionaries saw themselves as defenders of the weak and oppressed; therefore, they were frequently opponents of governments and of officials; this continued and it was missionaries who blew the whistle on the attrocities of Leopold and his henchmen in the Congo Free State.
- however, missionaries too began to be affected by the jingoism and nationalism of European societies in the late 19th C that were driving the scramble in Africa; some of the missionaries excused or rationalized the increasing brutality of the conquest (unfortunate and regrettable, but necessary).
- German missionaries in South West Africa (Namibia) are a good example. German missionaries had been there since early in the 19th C and provided much of the justification for the annexation by Germany in 1884.
- in the repression that developed in the 1890s, the German missionaries mostly kept silent, just recording their sadness and opposition in their journals; a few wrote home to their mission societies, but these did little and certainly did not launch campaigns of exposure and opposition. The Lutheran tradition of subordination and obedience to the state inhibited any real action. Even when they were appalled by what was being done, some missionaries obeyed when they were summoned to act as interpreters in kangaroo military courts that were sometimes held to give a veneer of legality to the repressive, harsh actions of the military authorities.
Missionaries and the image of Africa
- Phillip Curtin, in The Image of Africa, traced the way that African peoples and societies were portrayed in all kinds of literature from the early period of European contact. The volume of mission literature was very great; moreover, as sources, the missionaries and mission societies had great credibility, greater than was warranted. Thus, mission literature played a large role in developing the image of Africa. Of special concern is the role of missionaries and mission literature in the evolution of racism in the 19th C.
- mission activities were suported by private contributions which necessitated massive fund-raising, hence the massive literature. Then, as now, fund raisers use every trick in the book to get doners to open their purses and make contributions. Often, they would choose those aspects of African society which would startle and even horrify the British public. Even some missionaries were unhappy about this but were told that it was necessary.
- as a result, the images of African society were highly distorted and not balanced. Also, missionaries often failed to understand some African customs and were genuinely horrified. One of the most notable areas was in regard to the status of women in African societies. To many missionaries, African women were no more than slaves sold as wives for cattle by their fathers or brothers to the highest bidder. Eventually, many missionaries recognized that this was not an accurate interpretation of bridewealth; nevertheless, in the 1950s, missionaries in the Pentecostal church in which I grew up were still promulgating this view. We shall be evaluating the status of women in Africa in Lecture 4 (module 5).
- as a result, it is claimed that this mission literature, by presenting a negative image of African society and customs, was a major factor in feeding the growth of racism in Europe in the 19th C and a view of Africans as inferior. This is certainly true to an extent; however, the blame can be overdone. The abolitionists (often the same people who were prominent in the mission societies) had popularized the image of Africans as humans in the famous medalions, Am I not a man and a brother? in face of all the proponents and defenders of slavery who had asserted that Africans were less than human. Moreover, the literature of other whites (explorers, settlers, traders, etc.) was also extensive and in general much less sympathetic to Africa and Africans and even more inclined to sensationalize African society.
- Christian missionaries were unquestionably a part of the European and western assault on peoples in other parts of the world.
- also, regardless of intention, some of the economic , social and ideological changes promoted by the missionaries had negative effects upon African societies and affected the ability to resist conquest by western forces and governments.
- on the other hand, it was the missionaries who were most willing and indeed anxious to provide Africans with the tools (education and ideology) to adjust to and to do well in the new economic and political order which was imposed by colonialism; they helped Africans to acquire the skills required to challenge that colonialism and drive it out in about 3 generations.
- in defending the indigenous people many missionaries found themselves in opposition to and in conflict with fellow citizens from their home countriestraders, settlers and even military and government officials.
Were missionaries a factor in stimulating the desire for acquiring empires in Africa?
- that led them sometimes into opposing annexations by their governments, although that lessened and virtually disappeared later in the 19th C.
- more often it led them into campaigns and activism in trying to ameliorate the conquest and subsesquent treatment of Africans.
1. undoubtedly, missionary literature stimulated interest in Africa; the condemnation of African customs and political systems helped to promote the conclusion that conquest would be beneficial and contributed greatly to the negative stereotypes and image of Africans. Thus, it contributed to the racism which tended to put Africans at or near the bottom in the racist hierarchy that was adopted in the late 19th C; much of this was unintended, but the results were significant.
2. missionaries were used by governments and politicians, sometimes in spite of themselves and without their active cooperation.
- however, there were other, more important factors behind the drive for empire:
- it is likely that the scramble would have taken place without missionary involvement; the missionary role was secondary; missionary influence was used to try to ameliorate the impact, but it is hard to determine how effective they were. The conquest was bad, but it might very well have been worse.
- the incredible technological superiority which westerners acquired in the 19th C had a drive of its ownpower corrupts;
- there were economic interests and motives, even if frequently exaggerated.
- even more important, there were ideological and emotional forces such as, nationalism, racism, and the frantic drive to remain in the club of great or world powers.
- of course, great brutality showed that harsh colonialism was costly and eventually self-defeating so missionaries do not deserve all the credit; revolts in South West Africa and German East Africa brought new policies without missionaries doing much.
- a key issue is: Would Africans have been better off without missionary involvement? I find it difficult to be categorical.
- the best approach is perhaps still the balance sheeti.e., assessing the pluses and minuses.