review The HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSITIES’ MISSSION TO CENTRAL AFRICA

On page 259 I saw it with my own eyes. The words: “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi”.  One of the forms in which this famous statement has rolled through history. 

But let me start at the beginning. We do not start in Central Africa but in the British university town Cambridge. The explorer and missionary David Livingstone gave an appeal on December 4, 1857. He challenged his hearers to come to Africa and start missionary work in the area near the imposing river Zambesi. Out of this appeal came eventually this UMCA. The first group of the UMCA was with David Livingstone at the river and tried to get a foothold. I did not work, the leader of the missionary group, bishop MacKenzie, passed away in 1862, near the Zambesi. In the end the start near Lake Nyasa did not work out. The UMCA decided to withdraw to the island Zanzibar and regroup. From this small beginning work was started on the island, activities on the mainland were started and finally in this way Lake Nyasa was reached and missionaries started work around the lake.  

This book is a chronicle of the progress, the upheavals, the difficult periods in the work and the expansion of the UMCA in its work in Central Africa. The writer himself worked at the lake Nyasa (at Likoma), when he wrote this book. He was familiar with his topic. He writes about the difficulties on Zanzibar, with the local population, with slavery (the UMCA bought the Slave Market and built a cathedral on its site). He tells about the changes in the work during the Great War when the German authorities took captive many church workers (both local and British). It struck me that there was a rapid expansion of the churches and the number of church members after the Great War. We read about the meetings missionary workers had with local chiefs, with conflicts between different ethnic groups. Recounting the events of 1927 Wilson mentions a car, before that time everyone went on foot from one settlement to another village, day after day after day.  

An important feature of this book is that the spotlight is one the development of the local ministry. Yes, workers came from the United Kingdom (noting university education and rowing prowess), but already in an early period the clergy worked on the training of local workers: teachers, deacons, priests. The first local clergyman was John Swedi, who was ordained on June 8th, 1879. Much of the work was done by these local workers, who often had to cross borders to do their work. It is not clear to me how the social relations were between the foreign and the local workers. Wilson does not mention it, nor does he write about equality in pay, in housing etcetera. Near the end of the book it is mentioned that the new cathedral in Ndola was meant for people from different races. It is clear that the local clergy made a lasting impact  in Central Africa.

Critical comments are made the British (and also French and German) invasion in Central Africa. Attention is paid to translation work, learning languages, medical work, Johnson who worked 50 years for the UMCA, so many people who died while serving in Central Africa, creation of new parishes and even bishoprics, the ships on lake Nyasa, the work at the Home Office.

This book by Wilson brought me back over a hundred years, when life was different.

George Herbert Wilson – The history of the Universities’ mission to Central Africa – 1936 

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semper

I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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