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The Missionaries, Episode 56 - 06/03/06


European Missionaries in Abyssinia (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

European Missionaries in Abyssinia, c.1867
(Getty Images)
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British missionaries, sometimes in league with Dutch pastors, colonised Africa with the Ten Commandments. However, their zeal could not simply be directed at a nation. They faced the sacrificial obedience of tribes within tribes under the authority of the paramount chiefs.

Undeterred, the missionaries were convinced pagans (they used the term in the AD 4th Century sense) would respond to a Christian belief that would give them the spiritual identity they lacked.

Of the pioneer British missionaries, Robert Moffat was the most celebrated until Livingstone who married Moffat's daughter, Mary. Moffat went to Africa in the early 1820s and famously preached at the London Tabernacle on "Africa or Gospel Light shining in the midst of heathen darkness". The missionaries saw Africa rousing what Moffat called the "noblest energies of their nature and the tenderest sympathies of the British heart".

Roman Catholic missionaries had arrived in West Africa in the 16th century, but it was the 19th Century breed that made the most inroads into the Christian spiritual education of Africans. They were supported by the arrival of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) founded in 1799 and the source of almost all British missionaries for decades. They began in 1807 in Sierra Leone and were followed by the Wesleyan Mission Society in 1813.

In South Africa the British missionaries tended to come through the London Missionary Society and this was the society David Moffat joined and extended his evangelism into Rhodesia in 1859. David Livingstone went to Africa with The Universities' Mission to Central Africa and joined another famous preacher, John Philip. It was he who became Livingstone's tutor when the latter arrived in Africa.

The flaw on the drive for conversion was that there was no missionary plan for what should be done to help Baptised Africans who for the most part then found themselves isolated from their tribal origins? An African ostracised by his or her tribe was homeless. Therefore, the ounce of respectability the missionary believed necessary for conversion was a dilemma for the convert and the responsibility of the evangelist. The answer was to either create a new community or convert a whole tribe.

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Historical Figure

Henry Morton Stanley (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

Henry Morton Stanley
(Getty Images)
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Sir Henry Morton Stanley 1841-1904

Mostly remembered for finding Livingstone with the words "Dr Livingstone I presume", Stanley was born a bastard in Wales and called John Rowlands. He sailed in 1859 as a cabin boy and when he reached New Orleans was adopted by a merchant who gave him his new surname, Stanley. Stanley was old enough to be in the Confederate army and then became a journalist. In 1867, with American citizenship, he joined the New York Herald and reported Napier's Victoria at Magdala. When in 1869, Stanley was ordered to search out Livingstone (thought to be missing), he was in no great hurry to do so. It was not until November 1871 that the two met at Ujiji. Stanley became a celebrated African explorer tracing the Congo to the sea and he was naturalized as a British subject in 1892 and became a Unionist MP for Lambeth.

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Did You Know...

Stanley, on behalf of the King of the Belgians founded the Congo Free State.

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Events of this episode took place in Southern Africa region. We're interested to hear your comments on the influence of Empire on this region:

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Contemporary Sources

The British missionary Robert Moffat preaches on the mission to bring Christianity to Africa

Excerpt from the sermon Africa or Gospel Light shining in the midst of heathen darkness, May 1840

"Africa! Thy name has roused the noblest energies of our nature, and called forth the tenderest sympathies of the British heart! Africa! How vast, how overwhelming thy burden! How numberless thy wrongs, the prey of fiendish men; the world's great mart of murder, rapine, bondage, blood and souls of men. On no part of earth's surface, in no state of condition of mankind can we find a parallel to thy woes. The skies have been obscured with smoke from towns in flames. Thy lovely, sunny groves transformed to lions' dens. They burning deserts bedewed with the agonizing tears of bereaved mothers. And thy winds have re-echoed back to thy blood-stained soil the orphans' cry, the widows' wail. Such is Africa. How long O Lord how long? '…Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus saith the Lord, even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away and the pray of the terrible shall be delivered for I shall contend with him that contendeth with thee and I will save thy children…' Yea her day is dawning and her redemption draweth nigh. Already her ransomed sons in our western isles are raising their hearts in songs of blest anticipation. Yes, Africa is stretching forth her hands unto God"

Livingstone describes African tribesmen's reaction to seeing a white man for the first time.

Excerpt from Journeys and Researches in South Africa by David Livingstone

"Great numbers came to see the novel spectacle of a white man and brought presents of maize and masuka. Their mode of salutation is singular; they throw themselves on their backs on the ground and rolling from side to side slap their thighs uttering the words 'Kina Bomba'. This to me was a very disagreeable sight and I used to call out 'Stop! Stop! I don't want that', but imaging me to be dissatisfied they only tumbled about more furiously and slapped their thighs with greater vigour."

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