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The Spread of the Gospel in Barotseland: From the Paris Mission to the United Church of Zambia, A Chronological History, 1885-1965.

The Spread of the Gospel in Barotseland" From the Paris Mission to the United Church of Zambia, A Chronological History, 1885-1965. Burger, Phillippe, Escande, Francois and Honegger, Andre, eds., English translation by John Roden, Paris: DEFAP, pp. 197.

The United Church of Zambia (UCZ) was created in 1965 when churches from several mission and church backgrounds came together. Among them was the Church of Barotseland, which had its origins in the work of the "Paris Evangelical Mission" (PEM) with its mainly French and Swiss missionaries. This mission had been in Lesotho for many years and by the 1870s saw possibilities in working north of the Zambezi with people who, because the population shifts of the 19th century, were familiar with the Sotho language. Geographically, Barotseland is in the western part of what is now Zambia, and in the late 19th century it had considerable influence on the surrounding area. After expeditions by famous pioneer missionary Francois Coillard to Barotseland, a mission station was established about 80 miles upriver from the Victoria Falls at Old Sesheke (now Mwandi) in 1885. In the following year, Sefula mission was started a further 200 miles upstream near Lealui, the headquarters of Lewanika the Lozi King. In 1892 Lealui Mission Station was opened and most of the PEM's work was in that general area.

Coillard and the other European missionaries were accompanied by Sotho Christians, who must also be recognized as pioneer missionaries. Although the Sotho language was known in Barotseland, the climate and much of the culture were unfamiliar and challenging for them, along with diseases, such as malaria, that were not present in their mountainous homeland. West Africa was said to be the white man's grave, but in Barotseland the mosquito respected neither black nor white missionary and there were many deaths in the mission's early days.

The Spread of the Gospel in Barotseland helps in the telling of this fascinating story. The book does not claim to be a history or narrative, but a detailed chronology, a compilation of events and names in mission life and its development into the Church of Barotseland. As such, it is a work of reference that the editors hope will be of great interest to UCZ members and the families of missionaries. They and others interested in mission history are likely to find much fascinating and useful information here.

Not surprisingly, a number of problems arise with this style of presentation. The content is presented as items from a researcher's notebook arranged in chronological order, which makes for difficult reading. As a reference work, it is most likely that readers will dip into it rather than read right through. For those "in the know" the geographical and cultural details may be quite clear, but others may find these aspects confusing. For example, names of places are given but it is hard to work out where these places are or were. A map of Barotseland would have been an immense help. While the back cover does show a map of Coillard's journeys from Lesotho to Barotseland, it is quite inadequate for identifying the main places and mission stations. Also, the outsider may be puzzled by the sometimes inconsistent titles, as well as other terms that could have been explained in a glossary: for example, Litunga, Kuta, the Mokwae (or Mukwae), Ngambela. And more information about the Lozi people and their way of life during this period would have been helpful.

The editors used notes by J. R Burger on the period 1885-1930, and for 1936-1965 consulted their own archives as well as mission archives in Paris. If there are records at Sefula, the editors were unable to see them, and they seem unaware of UCZ archives now at Mindolo. If no records of the Barotseland Church exist in those places, then this book has done the UCZ and others a great service. The editors have clearly selected as much as they dare from the material at their disposal and though this may have led to frustrating omissions for readers who are interested in a particular line of enquiry, there is plenty of information here. It is not always easy, though, to distinguish between comments that were made at the time and later editorial remarks about the historical and political background. Scholars may crave footnotes, but if they fail to find other sources, may have to quote this one.

Many themes may be tracked through these pages. Light is shed on why Sotho was used at first and then abandoned, and Sotho Christians are acknowledged as the instigators of the Zambezi Mission. The names of African missionaries from Lesotho are included and more about them could possibly be teased out of these chronicles.

It is interesting to read about suggestions that the work should be taken over by the Methodist Mission, an action that was mooted in the 1920s. The book records the stay of Maurice Leenhardt, a missionary/anthropologist who came in 1923 to review the tense mission situation (62). According to James Clifford in his book Person and Myth (Duke University Press, 1992, p. 110f), Leenhardt was sent to review this state of affairs, and The Spread of the Gospel in Barotseland (16) quotes part of his report stating that the Lozi were denigrated from the beginning. Leenhardt saw that the missionaries controlled everything and were suspicious of Africans, and he called for greater confidence in African Christians. Those whom he criticized accepted his points. Although this is not explicitly reported in The Spread of the Gospel in Barotseland, Leenhardt's meeting with African staff explaining "the part they themselves should take in the evangellsation of their country" (62) and other information in The Spread of the Gospel in Barotseland reveal that from that time on African workers were given more responsibility and meetings of African Christians and Church Synods developed. Leenhardt was unwilling to support the transfer of the work to a British society, and in the 1930s the Paris Mission continued to be responsible for it.

This book shows that British missionaries have actually had a connection with this work from the earliest days. William Waddell, an artisan missionary from Scotland who did a great deal of practical work, was accepted as a full member of the mission in 1892, and one of his descendants remains active there today. Mr and Mrs Sherring from England joined the mission in 1930.

Other themes emerge in this book, such as interactions with the Paramount Chief and other local leaders, and the changing attitudes towards Lozi beliefs and customs, which shifted from strict opposition to traditional practices to a more accommodating approach, for example, in how to respond when wives in a polygamous household were converted. Overall, the beginnings, development, problems, and personnel of this mission--and the details of how it' developed into a church and became part of the UCZ--can be used to trace thematic studies or to stimulate further research. Careful trawling through these pages can yield interesting results.

For example, it is known that two of the missionaries from Barotseland, Rose Briod and Rachel Dogimont, went to Le Zoute, Belgium, in September 1926 for the International Conference on Christian Mission in Africa. While this is not mentioned in The Spread of the Gospel in Barotseland, we find a photo of Mlle Dogimont on page 61 and Rose Briod is mentioned many times with warm praise for her educational work from her arrival in 1920 until she left in July 1948. I think she must be the Rose Briod who wrote Souvenirs d'Afrique, 1920-1958 (1964), which, if a copy can be found, may shed more light on part of Barotseland's Christian history.

Also, I was very interested to come across references to the Rev. Philip Kazhila and traced his journey from evangelist to ordained minister along with his postings in Zambia, his missionary work in Johannesburg, and his appointment as General Secretary of the Christian Council of Zambia. After the story told in this book, he became President of the UCZ and was highly effective in that role until his untimely death in 1978. I met him in 1977 and was impressed by his high regard for the church--in which, in his view, the ordinary member is the most important person.

The editors have put a tremendous labour of love into producing this book and that has been replicated by John Roden who has translated the French text into English.

W. John Young is a retired Methodist Minister and lives in Wellington, Somerset, United Kingdom. He was a mission partner with the UCZ in Zambia (1977-82), started the UCZ archives at Kitwe and is the biographer of Edwin W. Smith pioneer missionary/anthropologist in Zambia).
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Author:Young, W. John
Publication:International Review of Mission
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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