Witnessing to the Gospel: Pedro Arrupe's Mission Theology and Dominic Mulaisho's the Tongue of the Dumb

By Purcell, William Francis | Christianity and Literature, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Witnessing to the Gospel: Pedro Arrupe's Mission Theology and Dominic Mulaisho's the Tongue of the Dumb


Purcell, William Francis, Christianity and Literature


Abstract: Christianity and missions are recurring subjects in postcolonial African fiction, most frequently taking the thematic form of a clash between mission Christianity and indigenous culture. Consciously or otherwise, most of these texts present at times insightful historic explorations of missionary practices. Occasionally they also contain discerning examinations of the missiological and theological assumptions underlying these practices. Dominic Mulaisho's first novel, The Tongue of the Dumb, is one such text. This essay explores Mulaisho's examination of mission in the novel. It posits that the missiological outlook of Mulaisho, a consciously Catholic writer who had been educated by Jesuits, is rooted in a markedly Jesuit mission theology articulated by Pedro Arrupe, the then-Jesuit superior general, emphasizing the primacy of witness through daily living.

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... you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth.

--Acts 1:8

... make a point of living quietly, attending to your own business and earning your living, ... so that you are seen to be respectable by those outside the Church.

--1 Thess. 4:11-12

... the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life.

--Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (par. 41)

For when all is said and done, what transforms a man is not an ideology, not a theory, but life--something lived.

--Pedro Arrupe S. J., Challenge to Religious Life Today (62)

Late in Dominic Mulaisho's 1971 novel, The Tongue of the Dumb, Brother Aruppe, a minor missionary character, is killed by a lion. After his death, the narrator reports, members of the non-Christian community "felt a need to mourn their man" (148). So, in keeping with local custom, they build a fire around which they drink beer, occasionally fire their rifles, and sing funeral songs: "But it was not the song of drunken people, or of people rejoicing. It was the song of people sorrowing and people who sipped at the calabash to lighten their hearts" (148). Frederick Hale correctly notes that this simple lay brother managed to reach the local people in a way his clerical missionary brethren had not. Yet Hale is at a loss about what Aruppe's success should be attributed to, assuming simply that the character somehow managed to become "one of them, at least to the extent that the constraints of his own cultural identity have allowed this" (225). There is, I believe, more significance to Hale's observation, and to the character as well, than the critic himself realizes. Despite his limited appearances, the character's name and aspects of his personal spirituality seem clear allusions to Pedro Arrupe, the then-superior general of the Society of Jesus. (1) In turn, the character's embrace of poverty, obedience, and a simple, other-centered lifestyle reflects Don Pedro's firmly held conviction that the Gospel is most effectively proclaimed, not through the preaching of specific doctrines or the propagation and practice of particular liturgical rituals, but through the witness of daily life, testifying that the Gospel is, in Arrupe's words, "something lived" (Challenge 62).

Christian missionary activity is a recurring subject in postcolonial African fiction, most frequently taking the thematic form of a clash between mission Christianity and indigenous culture. This theme can be found close to the core of novels and stories by writers as ethnically, nationally, and religiously diverse as Chinua Achebe, John Munonye, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Flora Nwapa, Kenjo Jumbam, Mongo Beti, Timothy Wangusa, Ama Ata Aidoo, Francis Selormey, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Dominic Mulaisho. Although in recent years there has been increasing interest in literary explorations of the religious aspects of the encounter between Christianity and non-Western cultures, (2) the majority of postcolonial critics have tended to discuss these texts as dramatic explorations of the fundamental incompatibility of Christianity with indigenous culture, and Mulaisho's readers are no different. …

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