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4— Missionaries, Migrants and the Manyika: The Invention of Ethnicity in Zimbabwe
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Language and Ethnicity: the American Methodist Episcopal Church

There has recently been a good deal of attention given to the importance of language in defining ethnicity—what Isabel Hofmeyr has called 'Building a nation from words'.[21] Increasing attention has also been given to the key role played by missionaries in specifying African languages.[22] Three mission churches dominated the Christian history of Makoni and Umtali districts—the Anglicans, the Trappist/Mariannhill Catholic fathers, and the American Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC). All three developed a particular vested interest in these eastern territories. The Anglicans developed their main Southern Rhodesian intellectual and educational centre at St Augustine's near Umtali, and they had by far their greatest early evangelical successes in Umtali and Makoni districts. The American Methodists radiated out from their main station at Old Umtali: unlike the Anglicans they did not have missionary bases in any other parts of the country. Their first and deepest penetrations were in Umtali and Makoni districts where they, too, scored considerable evangelical success. Although Catholicism aspired to and increasingly achieved a territory-wide presence, the Trappist/Mariannhill mission represented an odd enclave in an otherwise Jesuit domain. The Mariannhill fathers operated out of their main mission at Triashill on the borders of Inyanga and Makoni, and, from there, they spread into Inyanga, Makoni and Umtali districts. Beyond these they could not go without invading the Jesuits' sphere of influence. It was not surprising, then, that all three of these churches came to develop a strong doctrine regarding alleged special qualities of the people of these eastern districts—of what they all came to regard as 'Manyikaland'.

This doctrine was founded intellectually on the language work of the three churches. Missionary language work was of central interest and importance, both to the missionaries and to the Africans among whom they worked. Oral communication and rhetorical skills generated amongst many Africans a great


linguistic enthusiasm as well as a fascination with linguistic variations and with linguistic techniques. The missionaries possessed the linguistic skills and tools to give the people what they were interested in and curious about. The missionaries, of course, began with the attempt to understand the spoken vernacular but it was their intention to develop a written form of the language as soon as they could.

The American Methodists made their linguistic assumptions explicit. They knew that they must acquire the vernacular and they knew that to do so they had to learn from their first converts. On the other hand, they believed that Africans were longing for something which only they could give—namely, the reduction of the language into writing, with a formal orthography and regular grammar. At first, they concentrated especially on giving God's word—'We never forget', wrote Helen Springer in 1905, 'that the primary object object of our work here is to give the native the Bible and enable him to read it.'[23] Soon, however, they broadened their ambition. 'We need literature—TRANSLATIONS—for these people,' wrote J.R. Gates in 1911, 'they cannot grow without it. They are dependent upon it as every other race has been dependent upon it.'[24] 'We ourselves have hundreds of devotional and other volumes on our shelves,' wrote H.I. James, 'while they have almost nothing.' 'The situation with us as far as vernacular literature is concerned is nothing short of appalling', added Gates. 'What a supply other peoples of the world have of national life, of literature, of history. . . . But all these are absent in Africa.'[25]

These ideas attained their most impassioned expression in 1918 with two articles in the AMEC journal, African Advance . Under the heading 'And He Said Unto Me Write', one of these described the linguistic and printing work at Old Umtali. 'What would the World be today without . . . books?' it asked, 'Without a written language?' In Africa,

without a history and a literature, or the knowledge of how to make them, the shadows of the primeval forest have deepened into darkness. . . . That there has never been a written language may in some measure explain why there are nearly a thousand different spoken languages and dialects. . . . The highway to constantly rising levels of human life and living is paved with good books. Africa must have books. . . . and educational literature in the vernacular.'[26]

From the beginning, then, American Methodist missionaries worked with their converts to create a written language. On the missionary side, the great pioneer was E. H. Greeley. 'My duties have been largely with the boys', he wrote in 1901, 'and it has been delightful to talk with them and to learn their languages, manners and customs.'[27] On the African side many of the first converts and pupils from the area around Umtali worked closely with Greeley as they progressed on their way towards becoming a Christian elite. They provided the vocabulary; Greeley provided the orthography and rules of grammar. 'I am learning grammar and helping Mr Greeley in translation work', wrote Mark Kanogoiwa in 1909. 'I teach the Chimanyika primer, the New Testament in Chimanyika also.'[28] Another African pioneer was Enoch Sanehwe, a product of Old Umtali School and a subject of Mutasa, through whom, wrote Greeley in 1910, 'much of our vernacular work has reached its present stage of perfection'.[29] Others of the founding generation of African Methodism who were deeply involved in language work were David Mandisodza, Joseph Nyamurowa, Paul Mariyanga and Jason Machiwanyika, all of whom were 'Manyika' in the narrowest sense.

Between them, these converts and the missionaries had created something new—a literary instrument which in various ways differed from speech; an instrument to which the mission-educated had unique and privileged access; an instrument


which African teachers and clergy went on to use to write the histories, moral fables and collections of literature which justified their claim to be the leaders of their people. Machiwanyika, for example, produced 'hundreds of pages of history and folklore . . . a volume of material concerning the kings and their wars, and the native customs and a number of hymns of merit. . . . No native I know', wrote Greeley on Machiwanyika's death in 1924, 'spent more of his spare time for the good of his people.'[30]

Moreover, this written language in which the mission elite came to have such a vested interest was innovative in another significant way. It created rather than merely reflected one specific dialect of Shona—Manyika. In pre-colonial Zimbabwe there did not exist bounded dialect zones within the overall Shona-speaking territory. Each village spoke the 'same' language as its neighbour, across the whole territory, but there was nevertheless gradual lexical and idiomatic change so that, by the time a man from the extreme western edge of the Shona-speaking area reached the extreme eastern edge, he encountered significant differences. Missionary linguists created discrete dialect zones by developing written languages centred upon a number of widely scattered bases. The American Methodists at Old Umtali, the Anglicans at St Augustine's and the Mariannhill fathers at Triashill together produced Manyika; the Jesuits at Chishawasha, near Salisbury, produced Zezuru; the Dutch Reformed Church at Morgenster produced Karanga. Differences were exaggerated, obscuring the actual gradualism and homogeneity of the real situation. And once these new forms had been codified, they then expanded out from these missionary centres by means of the mission out-school networks until specific dialect zones had been defined. As Clement Martyn Doke, missionary and noted linguist, put it in 1931 in his report on Shona language and dialect:

Owing to the way in which Missionary work (and hence language study and literary production) has been developed in districts isolated one from the other, and Missionary Societies working independently, four distinct dialects have been pushed into prominence, viz., Karanga in the 'Victoria Circle', Zezuru in the 'Salisbury Circle', Manyika in Manicaland, and Ndau in Melsetter District. . . . The difference between the dialects has been grossly exaggerated by these artificial means . . .

For the sake of argument, let us suppose England to be a heathen country. Four distinct Missionary Societies commence work, one among the Cockneys, one among the University class, one in Yorkshire, and one in Devonshire. Each produces a translation into the 'local' vernacular, each further uses a different orthography and some split up their words into their component parts. What an enormous difference there would be between the four literary efforts; they would not be mutually understood.[31]

It was not at all the original intention of the American Methodists to create a dialect. At first they thought they were reducing the language of all the 'Mashona' into written form. When Helen Springer produced the first vocabulary and handbook in 1906 she called the language 'chiKaranga' to emphasize its links with the recorded past of all the Shona. But inevitably the language work of the mission reflected the particular forms of the language spoken among the Manyika of Mutasa. Thus, wherever they worked in the American Methodist zone of influence, they produced Manyika. In 1909 Greeley was based at Mount Makomwe among the people of Chief Maranke, whom the Native Commissioner insisted was not Manyika. In his school, he had '10 sons of the King [Maranke] and all are praying. I am diligently seeking after every possible heir to the throne.


Greeley was hoping to indigenize and localize the gospel among a people who were quite distinct from the Manyika of Mutasa. 'A hundred boys and girls are reading the Gospels in their own tongue', he exulted, 'and going out to talk it and sing it and live it.' But the African teacher with whom he worked in Mount Makomwe and who helped 'in translation work' was Mark Kanogoiwa from Umtali.[32] In 1910 Greeley remarked that four out of the seven school boys who were going on to higher training at Old Umtali from his school in Maranke were themselves 'from Mutasa's kingdom . . . part of the fruit of our labours there'.[33] Indeed, the great majority of the 'Native Pastor Teachers. The Apostles to the Manyika People. The output of our Training School', whose group photograph was published in 1916, had been born in Mutasa's chiefdom. Hence, in its formative stages, the 'language of the American Methodists' was profoundly shaped by the experience and contribution of a particular group of converts.

Fairly soon the AMEC missionaries came to accept that what they had produced was 'chiManyika', the language of the 'Manyika nation'. Greeley, who had begun his work by finding 'the language so limited as to vocabulary and especially so in words expressing religious truth', ended by admiring and loving its richness:

The Lord has helped me to say some things in the native language which I have never said in English. . . . There are greater depths in Chimanyika than you dream and while in some ways it is inferior to our world conquering English there are wonderful possibilities in using a vernacular. . . . Even Paul Mariyanga, who has been doing little else for years than translating, is constantly discovering new words and new meanings for old ones.[34]

Armed with this new literary language and with instructional and devotional materials in Manyika, teachers and evangelists poured out into all the area of the American Methodist outreach. The AMEC paid no attention to colonial administrative boundaries. So far as they were concerned, their thriving stations in the Gandanzara, Chiduku and Headlands circuits, situated in the Makoni Reserve, the Chiduku Reserve and the white farmland areas of Makoni district respectively, were an integral part of their core territory and hence 'Manyika'. Converts in Makoni were offered the full American Methodist progressive package—plough production for the market and literacy in Manyika going hand in hand. A scene recorded in Gandanzara, which rapidly became the nucleus of American Methodist entrepreneurial endeavour in Makoni district, vividly illustrates the interconnections:

In November I carried a trunk full of books and some grain bags to the quarterly meeting at Gandanzara. When the announcement was made that books would be given in exchange for grain, the children scattered in every direction. Presently they returned, each laden with a basket of grain. . . . After the purchase little groups could be seen here and there about the village, the proud owner of a new Catechism asking questions and the other children chiming back the answers.[35]

In this way a Methodist Manyika 'language' entered Makoni as one of the marks of commitment to modernization. At the same time, boys were recruited out of Makoni district to be added to the elite of potential teachers and catechists being trained at Old Umtali. In 1910 Herbert Howard, propagandist for both plough and pen, toured Makoni to hold up 'to the boys there their need for such a training as Old Umtali affords, and of the need of our church for the best boys'.[36]


Reluctance to go to live in the feared 'Manyika country' was overcome: soon teachers and evangelists for Makoni constituted a second wave of AMEC 'progressives'. They married into the families of the Methodist leaders in Umtali district and were themselves posted to yet other areas of the AMEC's outreach. As they responded to the great popular clamour for literacy which raged through these eastern regions in the 1910s, such teachers did so through the medium of the literary Manyika which was their particular and prized possession. These men from Makoni had come to see themselves as among 'the Apostles to the Manyika People'.

Such a process of assimilation and incorporation could not go on forever. Over the years the hierarchies of status and authority among the African agents of the church hardened and it was no longer possible for the bright young men of a newly evangelized district to add themselves rapidly and easily to their ranks. So, when the established teachers and evangelists from Umtali and Makoni districts spread out into Mrewa and Mtoko, they encountered a new hostility and resentment from local converts. The differences perceptible between the Manyika texts from Old Umtali and the speech of Mrewa and Mtoko were magnified by this rivalry into specifically ethnic notions. Mrewa American Methodist converts sought to repudiate foreign 'Manyika' teachers and to obtain local 'Zezuru' ones. 'It has always been recognized that there has existed a strong and at times unfriendly feeling between the Africans in the Eastern sections of Southern Rhodesia and those of the Mrewa and Mtoko Areas', noted an AMEC memorandum. 'Although both sections speak different dialects of the same Chishona language, yet the language barrier has always been exaggerated as a reason for these feelings.'[37] Nevertheless, the idiom of the confrontations in Mrewa and Mtoko served to confirm and sharpen the sense of men from Makoni district as well as men from Umtali that they belonged to a superior Manyika culture.

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