Them Who Kill the Body: Christian Ideals and Political Realities in the Interior of Southern Africa during the 1850s

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 3-25-2010


This article considers the changing political significance of Christianity in the interior of southern Africa during the 1850s, focusing primarily on the views of Tswana rulers, converts and others within their communities, and secondarily on attempts by European missionaries to reconcile their service both to African communities and to European expansion, which compelled them to articulate a rationale for their civilising mission. The article historicises the process whereby Christianity lost its initial universalistic ideals and became politicised by African-European competition, with divine sanction being claimed by one side or another. That process was accompanied by considerable debate and doubt: the separation of believers from unbelievers, faith from works and souls from bodies was far from clear or certain. Although African converts would ultimately continue to pursue the promise of equality offered by Christian teachings, they would do so more as individuals than as intact African communities, surrendering their bodies to European rule while entrusting their souls to the care of God.