Consuming Christianity: deconstructing missionary accounts of cannibalism in Vendaland in the late nineteenth century

Berlin missionary accounts of warfare among Tshivenda-speakers in Vendaland (South Africa) make a number of references to cases where the bodies of fallen enemies were ‘abused’ or ‘defiled’ by, or on the orders of, the rulers of victorious factions. A number of these accounts also describe the purported consumption or use of body parts severed from the vanquished. One might simply reject these tales. Stories about cannibalism were arguably the most extreme form of ‘othering’ perpetuated by Europeans against Africans. In their obsession with cultural evolutionism, they dichotomized what they saw as their own developed ‘civilization’ and African ‘savagery’. The author has come to a different conclusion. According to him, what has been overlooked in many accounts, is the idea that the missionaries were also an audience for the public performances of the ‘mahosi’ (sing. ‘khosi’, ‘chief’) and their people. This may have influenced the way in which people behaved and/or what they allowed/persuaded the missionaries to see/hear. The author illustrates this argument with a case study of conflicts involving various factions among the Mphaphuli people during the late 19th century, including an examination of the way in which the missionaries wrote about the person and the actions of Khosi Makwarela Mphaphuli, son and subruler of Khosi Ranwedzi Mphaphuli, one of the great ‘mahosi’. Notes, ref., sum. in English and Afrikaans. [Journal abstract, edited]

Title: Consuming Christianity: deconstructing missionary accounts of cannibalism in Vendaland in the late nineteenth century
Author: Kirkaldy, Alan
Year: 2004
Periodical: Historia: amptelike orgaan
Volume: 49
Issue: 1
Pages: 12-26
Language: English
Geographic term: South Africa
Abstract: Berlin missionary accounts of warfare among Tshivenda-speakers in Vendaland (South Africa) make a number of references to cases where the bodies of fallen enemies were ‘abused’ or ‘defiled’ by, or on the orders of, the rulers of victorious factions. A number of these accounts also describe the purported consumption or use of body parts severed from the vanquished. One might simply reject these tales. Stories about cannibalism were arguably the most extreme form of ‘othering’ perpetuated by Europeans against Africans. In their obsession with cultural evolutionism, they dichotomized what they saw as their own developed ‘civilization’ and African ‘savagery’. The author has come to a different conclusion. According to him, what has been overlooked in many accounts, is the idea that the missionaries were also an audience for the public performances of the ‘mahosi’ (sing. ‘khosi’, ‘chief’) and their people. This may have influenced the way in which people behaved and/or what they allowed/persuaded the missionaries to see/hear. The author illustrates this argument with a case study of conflicts involving various factions among the Mphaphuli people during the late 19th century, including an examination of the way in which the missionaries wrote about the person and the actions of Khosi Makwarela Mphaphuli, son and subruler of Khosi Ranwedzi Mphaphuli, one of the great ‘mahosi’. Notes, ref., sum. in English and Afrikaans. [Journal abstract, edited]