The Evangelization of Slaves and Catholic Origins in Eastern Africa

By Smythe, Kathleen | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Evangelization of Slaves and Catholic Origins in Eastern Africa


Smythe, Kathleen, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


The Evangelization of Slaves and Catholic Origins in Eastern Africa. By Paul V. Kollman. American Society of Missiology Series 38. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2005. Pp. xxii, 356. $25.00 paper.

Paul V. Kollman, a Holy Cross priest and professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, has written an important book highlighting the early and fitful years of missionaries' and African ex-slaves' efforts at building Catholic communities in East Africa. While any study of the first Christian churches in East Africa must note the fact that many of their initial converts were ex-slaves, this is the first book-length treatment of those first Catholics and the missionaries who redeemed them. Among other things, what sets evangelization of slaves apart from other and better-studied mission processes is that there is no single ethnicity with which the Spiritan missionaries dealt, thus, as Kollman demonstrates, little attempt at inculturation. This is a well-researched work, carefully embedding its primary actors and their ideas within the multiple wider contexts of their liveswhether it is hierarchical Swahili coastal society in the late nineteenth century or relationships to French juvenile penal institutions from which Spiritans drew some of their ideas for social reform. In fact, some of Kollman's more interesting points are those he makes in comparison to Spiritan training or French Catholicism.

The Evangelization of Slaves is based on careful reading of the Holy Ghost archives in several locations. As the author acknowledges, there is a paucity of African voices from which to draw due to the time period covered in the book and the nature of missionary correspondence and reports. Yet, Kollman skillfully mines the sources for African reactions and voices, clearly demonstrating the challenges and opportunities available to ex-slaves in the early years of mission. The monograph first covers the literature and historical background to the subject (Chapter 1 ) and then the background of the Spiritans and African slaves who built the early Catholic Church (Chapter 2). The subsequent three chapters focus on the first three stages of Spiritan work, first at Zanzibar (Chapter 3), then at Bagamoyo (Chapter 4) and, finally, in the interior (Chapter 5). One of Kollman's points is the different way in which the Spiritans used space to form their nascent Christians. In urban, Muslim Zanzibar, missionaries trained and educated their Christian community within an enclosed space. At Bagamoyo, on the other hand, missionaries had different concerns and responded to the more rural environment by incorporating more open space within the mission and by deliberately placing no walls around their territory in order to develop discipline and obedience within each of their charges. …

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