Christian Gottlob Barth and the Moravian Inuktitut Book Culture of Labrador

By Rollmann, Hans J. | Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Christian Gottlob Barth and the Moravian Inuktitut Book Culture of Labrador


Rollmann, Hans J., Newfoundland and Labrador Studies


Introduction

The following paper was delivered in part at a symposium on Newfoundland and Labrador Book History. (1) It was subsequently developed into a contribution to the literary and intellectual history of Moravians in Labrador. (2) As such, it seeks not to analyze by social scientific methods the culture contact between Inuit and Europeans but to map out one potent religious and literary influence of the encounter. In so doing we are led to Christian Gottlob Barth, a figure of the German Erweckungsbewegung, a Continental expression of the global religious revival movement called the Second Great Awakening that had deep roots in the older Pietism. (3) Barth was one of the most prolific periodical and literary voices influencing foreign missions a few decades before and after the middle of the nineteenth century. The nature of his contact with missionaries and Inuit in Labrador and the literary scope of the encounter are the subject of this paper. Up to this point, we have known very little about Barth's religious influence in Labrador. This paper seeks to remedy the obvious neglect through an examination of all relevant archival and literary sources from which Barth's presence in Labrador can be seen. Once the extent and nature of his literary influence are known, cultural historians can better analyze the effect his intellectual and theological presence may have had upon Inuit culture.

Moravian Literacy in Labrador

From the eighteenth century on, the Moravian Church has had a pervasive presence on Labrador's north coast. (4) Perhaps rivalled in its antiquity only by the Waldensians, this old Protestant institution, founded in 1457, with roots in the reform efforts of Jan Hus of Prague, became a worldwide mission-oriented church after its renewal under Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in Herrnhut, Saxony. Familiarity of Moravian missionaries with Inuit and the Inuit language since the 1730s in Danish-governed Greenland led in the second half of the eighteenth century to Moravian settlements in Nain (1771-), Okak (1776-1919), and Hopedale (1782-) on Labrador's north coast (see Figure 1), in what today is known as Nunatsiavut. The churches and settlements were governed by religious ideals grounded in Biblical, liturgical, and catechetical literature and had as distinctive cultural contributions universal education and literacy in Inuktitut for male and female church members. (5) As before in Greenland, Moravian missionaries to Labrador gave the Labrador dialect of the Inuit language a written form in the Roman alphabet that was taught in Labrador schools from 1780 until well into the twentieth century. (6) Pervasive Inuktitut literacy also resulted in a body of printed literature, which commenced with the first primer of 1790 printed at the Moravian printing press at Barby, Saxony (today's Saxony-Anhalt), and shipped to Labrador for use in Moravian schools. (7) The body of Inuktitut literature that emerged consisted largely of Biblical, liturgical, hymnal, devotional, and catechetical texts, but also featured religious fiction and geographical and other literature. In the early twentieth century, a printing press in Nain published smaller catechetical works and modern religious hymns as well as a periodical. (8) Education and literacy even spread through lay instruction to areas in the south, such as Snooks Cove and Karawalla, which had an Inuit presence but no Moravian settlements. (9)

Education and literacy were already a hallmark of the original Unitas Fratrum (Jednota bratrska) that had preceded the eighteenth-century worldwide mission-minded Renewed Moravian Church in what today is the Czech Republic. Jan Amos Comenius, the last bishop of the old Unity of the Brethren and the man after whom the school in Hopedale, Labrador, is named, was also a pioneer in early modern education. In the seventeenth century he advocated universal education "for all young people, for nobility and common people, for rich and poor, for the children of both sexes. …

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