The Leipzig mission in the Kilimanjaro area – On foreign vineyards

For over a 175 years there has been an Evangelical-Lutheran mission in Leipzig. The Leipzig missionaries have been witnesses to the founding of the empire by Bismarck, the First and Second World War and a few things more. As the Leipzig missionary society was active in the Kilimanjaro area in present-day Tanzania exactly at the time when the country had just become a colony and was called German East Africa, the question concerning their conduct during the period of German colonialism is an interesting one.

Until today missionaries from Leipzig work in the area, officially however under another banner: the in the meanwhile independent evangelical churches in Tanzania are partner churches of the East German regional churches. Today the deployment of missionaries takes place, as stated by the Leipzig mission, in response to a request by a partner churche. »The Leipzig mission is in permanent exchange with its overseas partners as to estimate at which location help is needed« it is formulated on the website of the Leipzig mission. The partner churches are in need of, or so it is written, »multiplicator who […] contribute so as to inspire faith, pass on knowledge and give new hope.«(1) The relation between mission and colonialism is also mentioned, if shortly, on the website: »has the mission colonised the souls and taught the inhabitants in colonies to obey their new rulers?« goes the supposedly self-critical question which is answered by a vague referrence to »ample not so pretty things« to then quickly pass on to the affirmation of the Leipzig missions fundamental »colonial critical« position.(2) Although herein, there can be recognised an effort to deal with the own history yet so far these attempts cannot be seen as critical.(3) The following text aims to complement this lacuna.

To German East Africa

Besides the catholic missions orders, four Protestant missionary societies were active in the colony of German East Africa: aside from the Leipzig Missionary Society (LMG), they were the Herrnhuter Moravian Church, the Berlin Missionary Society (BMG) and the Evangelical Mission for German East-Africa (EMDOA).(4) From 1893 on the Leipzig mission was active in the Kilimanjaro area, which they had taken over from the British Church Missionary Society (CMS). The young German colonial state did no longer tolerate any foreign missions, out of a fear of »behaviour inimical towards the empire«.(5) Whereas missionary societies as the EMDOA were very eager to become active in the colonies in order to conquer the new territories hand in hand with the colonial administration, the Leipzig and other older missions were sceptical towards such colonial zealousness. For them, the Christian mission was more of an international nature, it had for them less to do with the expansion of »German kind« Christianity and they warned for an instrumentalisation by the colonial administration.(6)

Gradually however even the older missionary societies got involved in the colonies, in light of the increased security situation for mission members and the promise of prestige and standing with the colonialism-crazed wider population in their homelands(7). In Leipzig, a change of leadership also made for the decision in favour of the colonial missions, as Carl von Schwartz took over the position of mission director in 1891. His predecessor Julia Hardeland had so far blocked the activities in the colonies.(8) Nevertheless the LMG complied to the wishes of the imperial government for exclusive German missions by taking over the Kilimanjaro-area, the mission did underline explicitly the independent character of its operation in German East Africa:

»It needs […] scarcely to be said, that our mission, by the initiation of a new mission area, does by no means put itself at the service of the colonial movement in Germany and would, mingling the spiritual with the worldly, serve the German empire instead of the kingdom of God, or both at the same time […].«(9)

The activities of the Leipzig mission on the ground

The first Leipzig missionaries, an all-male five-member group(10), founded in October 1893 the first missionary station named Machime – yet only after an initial discussion with the colonial administration, who wanted to discourage the missionaries from settling in the turbulent area around Moshi, relegating them to the coastal area. Leipzig however threatened to refrain from any engagement in a German colony whatsoever if the LMG was not allowed to work in the desired Kilimanjaro area.(11) Giving in to the demands the colonial administration directed them towards an area near Moshi which was already under their control and donated the land.(12) The responsible district chief furthermore facilitated a friendly reception of the missionaries by the Shangali, the local ruler of this area.(13) Without this support from the colonial administration, gaining a foothold would have been much more difficult for the Leipzig mission.

Nevertheless the first phase of missionary work could not be seen as an unanimous cooperation between the missionaries and the colonial administration, as the continuing resistance of the local population against the colonial regime, and the merciless suppression by the German military, put the missionaries in a dilemma: on the one side they had to rely on military protection of the colonial troops, on the other hand they did not always agree with radicality and brutality of their reactions.(14) Eventually they publicly complained about the wrongdoings and the hard approach of the military station chief Merker, yet their complaints did not have much effect – not in the least because the Leipzig mission director von Schwartz, loyal to the government, purposefully diluted their claims.(15) But the colonial administration’s disempowerment of the local rulers was in favour of the mission, whether they wanted it or not. As the influence of the local political and religious structures continued to diminish with increasing colonial pervasion and reach, the missionaries, who often mediated between the population and the colonial institutions, came to be regarded as a new authority, treated by the indigenous with more and more respect.(16)

During the first few years, the missionaries proceeded with care as they still lacked sufficient language skills and cultural knowledge about the Wachagga to be able to replace their beliefs about faith and society by Christian ones. Initially, they limited themselves to the construction of the station and the medical care. Alongside, they founded more missionary stations in the surroundings.(17) Only slowly did the missionary school system come about which would later form the backbone of the Leipzig missionary work in the Kilimanjaro area.(18) After the last resistance fighters of the Wachagga were defeated by the colonial troops in 1899 and the missionaries had branded themselves as mediators with the population, more and more people let themselves be baptised.

The peace between mission and colonial state was troubled anew by the increased influx of White settlers in the mission area of the LMG from 1904. Source of the disruption was the fact that the German settlers and companies exploited plantations and therefore needed a labour force, which they recruited from the indigenous population. Partially this happened through wage labour, partially through colonial administration instructed forced labour.(19) It was not the economical exploitation of the colonies or the forced labour as such which caused the anger of the missionaries, their main issue was that the state hat delegated the control over the labour force to the settlers, who were known to oppose the work of the mission and also confronted the mission members whenever they could.

Apart from that, the plantation owners also employed children who helped their parents to earn the money for the colonial taxations (Hüttensteuer). The poor working conditions on the plantations did provoke protest of the missionaries yet also here, it was not just about altruism: the working children could not attend school, which negatively affected the success of the mission.(20) The missionaries sought to have instated a compulsory education of three days a week by the government but to no avail. As well in this case the Leipzig college – the mission director – had mitigated the accusations from those in the field – probably as well to avoid a potential public counter-criticism by the settlers regarding the plantations of the mission. There both children and adults worked in similar poor conditions, however under the disguise of a »work education« and as a compensation for the educative and humanitarian deeds of the mission.(21)

The size of the plantation activities of the Leipzig mission is hard to determine precisely. The missions of both confessions in East-Africa however possessed together about a quarter of the private plantation land, thereby controling the largest share of private plantations in the colony.(22) The plantations of the Leipzig missionaries were unlike the Catholic missions not known for their size and economical importance but for the low wages that were paid: 5 to 6 rupies in contrast to the average wage in the Kilimanjaro area, which mounted to 10 to 14 roupies.(23)

Leipzig's missionary society and the German colonial movement

The Wachagga missionaries of the colonial era, notwithstanding the ambivalence described above, are today seen as comparatively critical and restrained considering the cooperation with the colonial administration.(24) Even so, the large part of the board of the LMG did position themselves extremely loyal towards the German colonial state. Worth mentioning here is the first colonial mission day, 1911 in Dresden, organised in the name of the Protestant missionary societies by Herrnhuter mission director Hennig in order to advertise for those four missions active in Africa. The LMG, which had after its initial reservation in the 1880’s, had turned into a strong advocate of the colonial mission, evidently was also present.(25) In 1913 the board even came up with the idea to hold a advertising event for the colonial mission, parallel to the inauguration of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. It did however not happen. With German imperialism at its peak, shortly before the start of the first World War, no one was interested anymore in the Christian opinion on colonialism. German colonial rule had been in the meantime so extensively established that the missions slowly lost their key role for the colonial expansion.(26) That they were nevertheless seen as an integral part of the colonial rule is attested by the Kaiserspende (Emperor’s donation). On the occasion of the 25th jubilee of the rule of Emperor Wilhelm II, the German population was expected to show a financial commitment to the engagement of the empire in the colonies. The concrete recipient would be the German missionary associations, whose »cultural mission« in the service of the empire the government wanted to honour. The LMG also received a part of the almost five million mark which were accrued until November 1913.(27)

Colonial mission history?

Reflecting on the work of the Leipzig mission during the colonial era, it must be acknowledged that the missionaries on the ground in many cases stood in for the indigenous population, trying to protect them for ruthless settlers and them becoming completely dependent on wage labor.(28) On the other hand they profited clearly from the repression of the Wachagga by the German colonial state. They did criticise the hard policies, yet did not question the submission of the indigenous people as such.(29) The plantations of the LMG can in this respect be seen as one of the darkest chapters in its history. And that the chiefs in Leipzig were not averse to chauvinist ideas is clearly demonstrated by director von Schwartz, who talks about »the divine law, after which the vine dresser who does not reap the fruit of the vineyard, loses the right to tend it« and »we have to be clear, that the acquisition of colonies is in no manner whatsoever afflicted with a moral flaw.«(30) Horst Gründers concluding judgement about the Christian mission during the colonial era can also be said to apply to the Leipzig mission: »the Christian mission has not only been a beneficiary of the European colonial expansion but simultaneously an integral and integrating part of the colonial movement itself.«(31) The mission house on the Paul-List-Strasse is thus intimately connected with the colonial history of Leipzig.

  • (1) Leipziger Missionswerk: -› Langzeitmitarbeit
  • (2) Leipziger Missionswerk: -› Kolonialismus
  • (3) An article of the former mission director Michael Hanfstängl in the year report 2007 addresses, not very critical, the position of the Leipzig missionaries during the colonial era. The year report can be found -› here (PDF in German, 1,54 MB) abrufbar. Furthermore there is since July 2008 a permanent exhibition in the Mission house named: »Mission, for the love of God!« on relevant questions concerning the missionary work yet only refers very limited to the delicate themes as cultural destruction and the relation with colonialism.
  • (4) Vgl. Thorsten Altena: »Ein Häuflein Christen mitten in der Heidenwelt des dunklen Erdteils«. Zum Selbst- und Fremdverständnis protestantischer MissionarInnen im kolonialen Afrika 1884 – 1918. Waxmann Verlag: Münster 2003, S. 70.
  • (5) Vgl. Horst Gründer: Christliche Mission und deutscher Imperialismus 1884-1914. Schöningh: Paderborn 1982, S. 200-201; außerdem Heinrich Berger: Mission und Kolonialpolitik. Die katholische Mission in Kamerun während der deutschen Kolonialzeit. Neue Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft: Immensee 1978, S. 27 – 28.
  • (6) Vgl. Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 24 – 26; außerdem Altena: »Ein Häuflein Christen …«, a.a.O., S. 53 – 54.
  • (7) Vgl. ebd. S. 15, 26 – 27; sowie Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 26.
  • (8) Vgl. Altena: »Ein Häuflein Christen …«, a.a.O., S. 67.
  • (9) Evangelisch-Luth. Missionsblatt, Jg. 1982, S. 194; zitiert nach Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 41.
  • (10) First after the turn of the century female members of the mission were sent to East Africa. The first female missionary from Leipzig in East Africa was Elisabeth Seesemann. She stayed – with interruptions – from 1905 until 1914 in the North of the present-day Tanzania. Vgl. Leipziger Missionswerk: Geschichte. Missionare: -› Elisabeth Seesemann
  • (11) In the Kilimanjaro area the climate conditions were better than those in the hot coastal regions. The availability of clean drinking water also made the missioning easier. Aside, the Wachagga people living there were attributed features which the Leipzig mission considered favourable for the missionary efforts as for example them being tiller, the hierarchic political structure as well as the high intellectual capabilities. Vgl. Altena: »Ein Häuflein Christen …«, a.a.O., S. 317-318; außerdem Paul Fleisch: Lutheran beginnings around Mt. Kilimanjaro. The first 40 years. Erlanger Verlag für Mission und Ökumene: Erlangen 1998, S. 45.
  • (12) Vgl. Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 220-221; sowie Altena: »Ein Häuflein Christen …«, a.a.O., S. 317.
  • (13) Vgl. Altena: »Ein Häuflein Christen …«, a.a.O., S. 317 – 318.
  • (14) Vgl. ebd., S. 68; sowie Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 221 – 222.
  • (15) Vgl. Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 222.
  • (16) Vgl. Altena: »Ein Häuflein Christen …«, a.a.O., S. 325 – 329.
  • (17) Vgl. ebd., S. 319 – 320.
  • (18) Vgl. ebd., S. 69; sowie Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 240.
  • (19) Vgl. Altena: »Ein Häuflein Christen …«, a.a.O., S. 329; sowie Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 238 – 239.
  • (20) Vgl. Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 239 – 241; sowie Altena: »Ein Häuflein Christen …«, a.a.O., S. 69.
  • (21) Vgl. Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 241 – 243.
  • (22) Vgl. ebd., S. 236.
  • (23) Vgl. ebd., S. 242 – 243; außerdem Th. Förster: »Negerkulturen und Plantagenbau am Kilimandjaro«. In DOAZ, Nr. 67 vom 25.08.1909; sowie Hans-Joachim Niesel: Kolonialverwaltung und Missionen in Deutsch Ostafrika. Dissertation: Berlin 1971, S. 228 – 229.
  • (24) Vgl. Altena: »Ein Häuflein Christen …«, a.a.O., S. 70.
  • (25) Vgl. Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 105.
  • (26) Vgl. ebd., S. 105 – 106, 231 – 232.
  • (27) Vgl. ebd., S. 106 – 109.
  • (28) Vgl. ebd., S. 220 – 223, 245.
  • (29) Vgl. Altena: »Ein Häuflein Christen …«, a.a.O., S. 68 – 70.
  • (30) Zitiert nach Gründer: Mission und Imperialismus, a.a.O., S. 326 – 327.
  • (31) Ebd., S. 324.