Before I tell the story of missionaries who followed David Livingstone, we need to understand that Europe was a different place from the one we see today. At the end of the 1800s Europe was very religious. The countries were governed by a rich and powerful elite of men. Those people who were not part of the rich elite were generally very poor owning no land or home; they did not vote for their leaders. It took the First World War (1914-1918) to break that traditional society and start the beginnings of ‘the crumble’. The Second World War (1939-1945) started a renaissance of the society by which time, most of Europe was almost destroyed.
So, at the time we are looking at the land that was to become Zambia, we have to understand this background. David Livingstone was a typical example of a man who had humble beginnings. At the age of 10 he started to work in a cotton factory to help out his large family. During the evenings, by candlelight, he studied. By the age of 25 he had studied medicine and theology and took himself to the London Missionary Society to offer his services.
Many of the missionaries which we see coming to our region would have had similar lives – driven by religious fervour to spread, as they called it, the Word of God.
This, however, was not the upbringing of all missionaries. Some were part of the rich elite. In those days all families were large. The first son of any family inherited the family fortune but later sons had the choice of becoming a member of the army, navy, clergy or colonial service.
Notice that I have not mentioned women. European women, either rich or poor, just got married. They had no rights or prospects.
Towards the end of the 1800s, our region was little explored and the slave trade was ravaging the people. Disease too was a serious block to exploration by Europeans who did not have immunity to malaria as did the Bantu. There was sleeping sickness, spread by tsetse fly, leprosy and smallpox. The tsetse fly also infected animals with sleeping sickness which meant that large areas of the land could not support domestic animals. This was a serious issue for travel as then travel was by wagons pulled by oxen. Certainly, horses could not survive.
At the end of the 1800s we also know that Cecil Rhodes and his British South African Company were involved in the ‘conquest’ of the region. He had sent out emissaries to the chiefs to get signed treaties to allow the Company to look for minerals, in effect, to ‘own’ the land. Cecil Rhodes, who was not religious, had a very pragmatic attitude towards missionaries: Missionaries are better than policemen and cheaper.
Most of the missionaries who came to our region were dependent on funding from well-wishers and from their home congregations. It was only the Catholics (White Fathers) who were financed by the church – the Catholic Church being rich.
Frederick Arnot was a member of the Plymouth Brethren. He came to Loziland, from the Cape Colony, in 1883 where he tried to set up a school at Limulunga. He did not stay long (until 1884) when he moved to Angola.
King Lewanika quote: Yes, yes, that is good to read, write and to know numbers. But don’t, don’t teach them the Word of God; it’s not nice. No, no you must not teach them that in this country.
London Missionary Society
The London Missionary Society came to North Eastern Rhodesia through present-day Tanzania. They were following the footsteps of David Livingstone who had been a member of the same society. Edward Hore started a mission at Lofu in 1883.
While at Lofu, the missionaries realised that they needed a route to bring much-needed supplies to their station. The British were already active in Nyasaland (Malawi) and it seemed the best route to use was via Lake Nyasa. However the trek between Lake Nyasa and Lake Tanganyika was rough and took weeks. A man, James Stevenson, from Scotland, donated £4,000 for a road between Lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika, a road which was to be named The Stevenson Road.
This eased the trade route which now consisted of travelling by boat up the Zambezi River from Chinde to the Shire River. Along the Shire River to a series of waterfalls and rapids. By road to Lake Nyasa, up Lake Nyasa by boat to the Stevenson Road and across country to Lofu. It is said that the first load along the Stevenson Road was a boat named The Good News, carried in bits, to the Lofu station. The missionaries had the idea to ‘spread the word of God’ all around Lake Tanganyika to the Bantu people. This however, was a non-starter as the Bantu did not want to change their religion to this new one. The missionaries, therefore gave up that idea and decided to concentrate on the people who lived nearby.
There were several deaths at Lofu, so the mission moved to Niamkolo. Then in 1886 it moved again to Fwambo. The move from Niamkolo was decided upon as the missionaries realised that the Lungu people were not in the least bit amiable to the new religion, so the missionaries wanted to try their work among the Mambwe people who lived around the new station at Fwambo. In 1889 one of the missionaries, Picton Jones, came to the conclusion that the people were not going to come to school to learn to read and write. The Mambwe people thought that school was work and that they should be paid to attend. Picton Jones changed direction from teacher to linguist/translator. He learned the local language, wrote it down and, by 1901, had produced the New Testament in the Mambwe language.
Then again in 1890, the station moved to Kawimbe. In 1893 another missionary, Charles Mather opened a leper settlement there with a school which was successful. He died in 1898 from malaria.
Picton Jones, in 1894, built a new station at Kambole and then finally, in 1889, a station was built in Bembaland at Mporokoso.
Throughout these years the slave trade was still ongoing. The Mambwe people had clustered around the mission stations, not to learn about the new god, but to be safe. They built stockaded villages nearby in the hopes that the slave traders would leave them alone. The Bemba were involved as intermediaries for the Swahili traders so it was them who the Mambwe were afraid of. In 1899 the slave trade had been quashed with a lot of financial help from the British South African Company. Big battles had been fought, mostly around Lake Nyasa, in order to block the trade routes of the Swahili (and Yao) traders.
It seems likely that the London Missionary Society were ‘welcomed’ into Bembaland once the Bemba could see the end of their lucrative trade.
By 1900, some of the Mambwe had been attracted to learn at the schools which had been set up by the London Missionary Society. So Picton Jones took a group of them across country to King Kazembe’s Lundaland and set up a mission station at Mbereshi. David Kawamdami was one of the Mambwe missionaries. He stayed at Mbereshi until 1950!
Paris Evangelical Mission
In 1885, Francois Coillard (French), his wife, Christina (Scottish) and Dorwald Jeanmairet (Swiss), George Middleton (English) and William Waddell (Scottish) set out for Loziland. Francois Coillard had been working among the Basuto people for 20 years. He knew that the language in Loziland was similar to that of the Basuto people because of the conquest of the Kololo people in 1838. When the Kololo were defeated in 1864, the Lozi had ‘lost’ their original Aluyi language and adopted that of their conquerors.
When Francois Coillard arrived at the Zambezi River from the Cape Colony, they found that there was civil unrest in Loziland with a succession dispute ongoing. They did, however, manage to set up a mission at Old Sesheke (now Mwandi).
By 1887, King Lewanika was back in power and he urged Francois Coillard to set up a mission at Lealui. While Dorwald Jeanmairet remained at Old Sesheke, Francois Coillard moved to Sefula to be near the king’s palace. A quote from Francois Coillard: I cannot conceive how it will ever be possible for us to have a real school. Slavery takes away all individuality from the masses and their masters will never consent to be taught in their company.
However, King Lewanika sent some of his family to the school at Sefula.
The Princess Mpololoa, aged 12, required three attendants, one to lean against as a cushion, one to hand her slate, pencil or book, the third to present her back as a writing desk.
Then in 1888 the school had to close for 8 months as the boys were taken to join the army to go and fight the Ila tribe in the north.
By 1897: Of the 24 mission workers who reached the country about that time, 8 died, and 11 were sent home, either as invalids or as widows. By 1902, 36 mission graves (16 of children) were mute reminders of the price paid in bringing the Gospel to the Barotse people.
By the end of the 1800s, more missions had been opened by the Paris Evangelical Mission – Senanga, Kazungula, Old Drift and Nalolo.
Francois Coillard liked to have the children sing: Even though the Barotse sing like crows, we sing and sing a great deal.
Both Francois Coillard and his wife died in Sefula and were buried there.
Henry Buckenham of the Primitive Methodists wanted to work among the Ila people. At the time, the Ila were seen as within the Lozi Empire, therefore Henry Buckenham had to get permission from King Lewanika to travel there. He arrived with his wife and Arthur Baldwin at the Zambezi River in 1890, but was kept at Old Sesheke for three years as he waited for this permission.
Finally permission was granted and they set off with their ox-wagons for Ilaland.
Arthur Baldwin: We had to cross 17 rivers, one of them 5 times, so winding was its course – involving off-loading all the wagons 6 times.
When they reached the Nkala River they set up a mission station there on a hilltop.
In 1895 another station was started at Nanzela and Arthur Baldwin opened a school there. Arthur Baldwin about the children in the school: Their chiefs came and wanted calico for their labours and finally took some of them home One or two lingered on and one of them stole something, was punished, and departed. The other went away.
United Free Church of Scotland
The United Free Church of Scotland had been working on Lake Nyasa (Malawi) since 1875. In 1894 they decided to expand into our region. Alexander Dewar and his wife came along the Stevenson Road and set up a mission at Mwenzo, 6 kilometres from Fife. They worked there with the Namwanga people.
By 1900 they were joined by James Chisholm and his wife who set up a teacher training school which became very successful and they were able to send out many Namwanga to start schools in other areas.
The White Fathers were Catholics and had plenty of money and resources.
In 1891 the White Fathers came to Mambweland via the Stevenson Road. They set up a mission there but it did not do well. In 1895 they got permission to set up a mission in Bembaland at Kayambi. Joseph Dupont worked there and he gained the nickname of Moto Moto – great fire. Joseph Dupont was medically trained so when Chief Mwamba of the Bemba people got sick he called for Moto Moto to come. Although Moto Moto could not cure the chief, he did manage to relieve the pain and, for this, the White Fathers were allowed to set up another mission at Chilubula in 1898.
In 1899 another mission was opened at Chilonga.
The first school at Kayambi started small with 14 ex-slaves. The Bemba, though, took to school life and by 1897 there were 235 children. It might have had something to do with the fact that the White Fathers paid the children to attend.
One story about Joseph Dupont: He would organise hunting parties with the students along the Chambeshi Flats to shoot wildlife to feed themselves and the children.
I am just going to cross over to 1902 for a funny story:
A group of White Sisters arrived at Chilubula. They had come via Chinde and up the Zambezi River. While being transferred to the Zambezi river boat, they were put in a large basket: one hand holding down their voluminous skirts and the other clasping their solar topees firmly to their heads. Having steamed up the Zambezi and Shire Rivers and reached Karonga (the start of the Stevenson Road), they set off with 150 carriers on the last stage of their journey. Their arrival at Chilubula caused a great sensation. Most of the Bemba had never seen a white woman before and found it inconceivable that four women could live together under the same roof in peace and harmony without the presence of a man to keep order in the house.
Christian Missions in Many Lands – Open Brethren
This group is similar to Frederick Arnot’s Plymouth Brethren and they had been working in Angola and the Congo for some years. In 1897 Dan Crawford and Harry Pomeroy came over from the Congo into Lundaland and set up a mission at Johnston Falls.
Dutch Reformed Church
The Dutch Reformed Church had been working in Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia for some time when Chief Mpezeni asked them to set up a mission in Ngoniland. At first, Cecil Rhodes refused the church permission to work there. He was expecting trouble from the Ngoni. But, in 1899 John Hofmeyer and Piet Smith opened a mission station at Magwero.