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Missionaries, Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Exchange


In the series
First Nations and the Colonial Encounter

Patrica Grimshaw is a leading historian of women’s history in Australia and author of Paths of Duty: American Missionary Wives in Nineteenth Century Hawaii (1989).

Andrew May is Associate Professor in Australian History in the School of Historical Studies at The University of Melbourne.

This book brings together fresh insights into the relationships between missions and indigenous peoples, and the outcomes of mission activities in the processes of imperial conquest and colonisation. Bringing together the work of leading international scholars of mission and empire, the focus is on missions across the British Empire (including India, Africa, Asia, the Pacific), within ransnational and comparative perspectives.

Themes throughout the contributions include collusion or opposition to colonial authorities, intercultural exchanges, the work of indigenous and local Christians in new churches, native evangelism and education, clashes between variant views of domesticity and parenting roles, and the place of gender in these transformations. Missionaries could be both implicated in the plot of colonial control, in ways seemingly contrary to Christian norms, or else play active roles as proponents of the social, economic and political rights of their native brethren. Indigenous Christians themselves often had a liminal status, negotiating as they did the needs and desires of the colonial state as well as those of their own peoples. In some mission zones where white missionaries were seen to be constrained by their particular views of race and respectability, black evangelical preachers had far greater success as agents of Christianity.

Missionaries, Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Exchange contains contributions by historians from Australasia and North America who observe the fine grain of everyday life on mission stations, and present broader insights on questions of race, culture and religion. The volume makes a timely intervention into continuing debates about the relationship between mission and empire.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-308-9
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $79.95
Release Date: January 2010
Page Extent / Format: 240 pp. / 246 x 171 mm
Illustrated: No


1 Reappraisals of Mission History: An Introduction
Patricia Grimshaw & Andrew May

2 Mother’s Milk: Gender, Power and Anxiety on a South African Mission Station, 1839-1840
Elizabeth Elbourne

3 “The Natives Uncivilize Me”: Missionaries and Interracial Intimacy in Early New Zealand
Angela Wanhalla

4 Contested Conversions: Missionary Women’s Religious Encounters in Early Colonial Uganda
Elizabeth E. Prevost

5 “It is No Soft Job to be Performed”: Missionaries and Imperial Manhood in Canada, 1880-1920
Myra Rutherdale

6 An Indigenous View of Missionaries: Arthur Wellington Clah and Missionaries on the North-west Coast of Canada
Peggy Brock

7 The Promise of a Book: Missionaries and Native Evangelists in North-east India
Andrew May

8 Translation Teams: Missionaries, Islanders, and the Reduction of Language in the Pacific
Jane Samson

9 Practising Christianity, Writing Anthropology: Missionary Anthropologists and their Informants
Helen Gardner

10 Missionaries, Africans and the State in the Development of Education in Colonial Natal, 1836-1910
Norman Etherington

11 Colonial Agents: German Moravian Missionaries in the English-Speaking World Felicity Jensz

12 “A Matter of No Small Importance to the Colony”: Moravian Missionaries on Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, 1891-1919
Joanna Cruickshank & Patricia Grimshaw

13 Mission Dormitories: Intergenerational Implications for Kalumburu and Balgo, Kimberley, Western Australia
Christine Choo & Brian F. McCoy

Notes on Contributors



Patricia Grimshaw and Andrew May take a fresh look at the missions and the interaction between missionaries and the indigenous peoples of Oceania. This volume eschews both an institutional approach and an older triumphalist account of missionary evangelisation, aiming rather at the deconstruction of missions, mission activities and outcomes in the British Empire of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It represents newer trends in religious history that focus on how the mission functioned, and missionaries acted ‘on the ground’, emphasizing acts and outcomes as well as discourse, rather than missionaries’ and governments’ expressed good intentions. There was often a wide gulf that separated intent and outcomes, and, as the several essays attest, such differences were parsed further by regional and cultural diversity. These original essays provide yet another reminder that the frontier encounter was characterized above all by diversity of peoples, relationships, cultures, and outcomes.
From the Preface by First Nations Series Editor, David Cahill, University of New South Wales

Historians Grimshaw and May offer a dozen essays that provide close readings of missionaries encountering African, Oceanic, Native American, and Asian communities from the early 19th century to the 1960s. All of the contributors recognize the complicated gendered relationships that emerged between foreign evangelists, local communities, and colonial governments. Topics include the cultural encounters brought about by translating Oceanic languages, debates over English missionary nursing practices in South Africa, tensions raised by interracial intimate relations, and the challenges Moravian Protestant missionaries faced in Australia. The authors link together disparate regions of the globe with common concerns regarding cultural change in which indigenous peoples were active participants rather than passive victims. For example, Jane Samson’s essay exposes how missionaries learned to value Pacific collaborators in their language studies, even as they tried to overcome local cultural practices. The co-option of missions for the aims of colonial regimes also is highlighted. An important addition to the burgeoning literature on cultural exchanges and missionary experiences. Recommended.

The central aim of this collection of 12 studies ‘is the deconstruction of missions, mission activities and outcomes in the British Empire in the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth.’ Key themes that emerge are the explanatory power of intimate relations and gender; day-to-day interactions between missionaries, indigenous groups, and other groups of people; the role of indigenous Christians in the spread of faith and the creation of religious communities; and the socio-political and geographic contexts of missions in the British Empire. Examples of specific topics include missionaries and interracial intimacy in early New Zealand; missionaries and imperial manhood in Canada from 1880 to 1920; missionaries, islanders, and the reduction of language in the Pacific; missionary anthropologists and their informants; and missionaries, Africans, and the state in the development of education in colonial Natal, 1836–1910.
Reference & Research Book News

This volume's two introductions and twelve case studies present a variegated blend of approaches that bear on central problems related to mission history. Considering the aims of its parent series on encounters between indigenous and colonizing cultures, this blend is apropos though disparate and scattered. Moments of contact were themselves impromptu and sudden, and the format here lends well to the syncopated intrusions of colonizers on the status quo of indigenous societies. Missionaries, Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Exchange positions itself as a deconstructive piece in the debate over how to compose a history related to colonialism. It gives a dual response: one, to earlier narratives that projected a triumphalist or Whiggish interpretation of Christian mission and the other to more recent critiques of mission that have highlighted missionaries' complicity in advancing colonies and empire. The editors seek to call attention to the complexities of the interplays between missionaries and missionized. Far from rejecting postcolonial critique – in fact, most authors demonstrate awareness, and in some cases directly apply the criticisms raised by postcolonialists – this book nonetheless checks against assuming the worst of the colonial encounter between missionaries and indigenous peoples. Too many streams of action converge at the intersection of cultural exchange to prejudge the actors involved as inherently conscious of violence or inherently motivated by power. This book provides much needed nuance in the discussion on historicizing colonialism and mission.
... The title of the volume gives an accurate priority of what the othr essays treat as their subjects: missionaries come first, with attention given to indigenous peoples and the cultural exchange between the two. Readers persuaded by postcolonial critique may still call for more inclusion of the indigenous voice, but as a contribution to mission history, the conclusions drawn here are valuable and needed if we are to approximate a more balanced assessment of colonial encounters involving mission and missionaries.
David Golding, Claremont Graduate University, Anglican and Episcopal History

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