review BLANTYRE MISSION AND THE MAKING OF MODERN MALAWI

The writer of this book, Andrew C. Ross, worked for about seven years in Malawi, after this periode (1958 – 1965) he was deported from this small landlocked country by the regime of Hastings Banda. Ross worked for one of the churches in the country.  

Ross (1931 – 2008) had an extensive knowledge of the ecclesiastical and missionary history of Malawi. In the late 60’s of the last century he wrote his Ph.D. and now in an adjusted form this study has been published. 

Blantyre (the original one in Scotland) was the birthplace of the famous traveller David Livingstone. And this man, who started his career as a missionary in southern Africa, is closely linked to Malawi, for he encouraged people and churches to take up missionary work in what is present-day Malawi. The Free Church of Scotland (FCS) and the Church of Scotland (Kirk) took up themselves the challenge to start work in these areas. The first phase was in 1874-1914, when the first missionaries went to these areas. The whole endeavour was very difficult to execute, one of the reasons being the lack of enthousiasm in Scotland and the dire financial situation.

One of the difficult questions in the beginning was the relationships of the missionary to the local people and the local church, his relationship to the sending churches, his relationship to his home country. Is Blantyre an independent colony (comparable to Freretown at the Kenyan coast) or is the work subject to British rule? Is Law and Order under local authority or under the authority of the missionaries?

One of the most influential missionaries was David Clement Scott, who worked in Blantyre from 1881 – 1891. He was clear in his opinion that the Africans are human being, in no way different from the British. Therefore Scott was of the opinion that right from the start local people should take up responsibility for the work and the church. It is remarkable that these ideas of Scott were overtaken in a later period when missionaries took more control of the church and the work became more mission-centred instead of Africa-centred. Racism crept into the system and left a sour taste. During his time the Home Office in Scotland was of the opinion that the missionaries had a very restricted duty. There should be no work of civilisation or medical work. Scott saw during his tenure four difficulties:  (1) he struggled very much with the inheritance of his predecessors, leaving him with bad relations with local chiefs; (2) the opposition of Portuguese traders, who were backed by their government who controlled the lines of communications with the outside world. In the end this was one of the contributing factors for the reluctant involvement of the British government. ; (3) three villages with freed (and runaway) slaves on the mission station. Who had to take care of the redeemed? Should they be dispersed? Should the runaway slaves be handed back to their rightful owners? ; (4) the gap between the present missionary conceptions and the missionary style of Apostle Paul. Scott realized he could not change number (4), but he started work on the other three.     

It is very tempting to go and on to show what Ross has unearthed in his study. For instance the role of the British settlers in their position towards the church work and the local workers.  

It could well be that it will be hard to find a copy of this book, but when you see a copy, take it in your hands, take it to the counter and buy it. It is worthwhile. 

Andrew C. Ross – Blantyre Mission and the making of modern Malawi ( A Kachere Monography – 1996 

Blantyre Mission

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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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