The Vanguard of Colonialism: Missionaries and the Frontier in Southern Africa in the Nineteenth Century

Paul Gifford


In this essay, I undertake an examination of how Christian missionary societies facilitated the spread of European ideals and belief systems within an African community, and how this spread both prepared and weakened the African polities for increasing contact with colonial authorities. I specifically explore the role missionaries took in everyday functioning of African chiefdoms and kingdoms through their roles as interpreters and diplomats. Missionaries played a role in shaping the day-to-day existence of the polities in which they were based, as they saw themselves fighting in the “war for souls” in Africa. I examine the effects of this contact in syncretising African and European beliefs, focusing on the especially tragic example of the Xhosa cattle killing. Life on the frontier shaped a deterministic “Christian” identity amongst white settlers along the fringes of colonial life, a distance which in turn led to these fringe groups being seen as un-Christian by their own churches.

Full Text: