European Missionaries and Tswana Identity in the 19th Century

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During the nineteenth century, 'Batswana' became used as label for a large number of people inhabiting the interior of southern Africa, and European missionaries played an important role in the evolution of the term's meaning and the adoption of that meaning by both Europeans and Batswana. Through their long years of residence among Batswana and development ofwrillenforms of Sets wan a, missionaries became acknowledged by other Europeans as experts on Tswana culture, and their notions of Tswana ethnicity became incorporated into European understandings of Africans and, eventually, into Batswana understandings of themselves. The development of Tswana identity passed through several stages and involved different layers of construction, depending on the level of European knowledge of Tswana societies, the purposes served by that knowledge, and the changing circumstances of Tswana peoples' relations with Europeans and others. Although Tswana identity has, in a sense, been invented, that identity has not existed in one set form nor has it simply been imposed upon Africans by Europeans. Parallel to European allempts to define Tswananess, Batswana developed their own understandings of Tswana identity, and although missionaries contributed much to the formation of 'Tswana' identity, it was not purely a European invention but resulted instead from interaction between Europeans and Africans and their mutual classification of the other in reference to themselves.


Le Fait Missionnaire: Social Sciences and Missions



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