The Missionary Writing Machine in Nineteenth-Century Kwazulu-Natal

  • Norman Etherington


Nicholas Thomas has called attention to the way the power of the colonial state “turned upon inscription, upon the absorption of events into a prodigiously dispersed writing machine” (Thomas 1994, 111). Missionary societies also functioned as writing machines, but for different reasons and with different results. They generated mountains of inscribed paper that make the work of historians difficult even in regions where only a single society was at work. There is simply too much to read. A great deal of this output was designed to raise the spirits and loosen the purse strings of supporters at home. Other papers reflect concern at headquarters to make their agents accountable. But by far the greatest outpouring of the missionary writing machine aimed to change, and after a fashion, to empower the objects of their attention: “converts from the heathen.” This chapter surveys many different forms of writing in one of the most heavily missionized regions on earth. It deals not only with the role of language in the colonization of African souls, but also with the material paraphernalia that marked the evangelical enterprise as distinctively as the colonial state was marked by the pass, the police register, and the tax collector’s receipt book. Missions to Natal and the Zulu Kingdom began in the 1830s at a time when disease still made most parts of Africa inaccessible to European preachers.


Purse String Colonial State Full Black General Letter Missionary Society 
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Copyright information

© Jamie S. Scott and Gareth Griffiths 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman Etherington

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