A. Lasch (Hrsg.): Mein Herz blieb in Afrika

Mein Herz blieb in Afrika. Eine kommentierte Anthologie Herrnhutischer Missionsberichte von den Rändern der Welt am Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts

Lasch, Alexander
Zinzendorf, Materialien und Dokumente
464 S.
€ 128,00
Rezensiert für 'Connections' und H-Soz-Kult von:
Marketa Krizova, Charles University, Prague

The anthology presents a specific type of documents produced by the Moravian Church (Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine), the Protestant Church that was formed at the beginning of the 18th century out of various groupings of unorthodox German Protestants who joined the exiles from Bohemia and Moravia. In the subsequent decades the Herrnhuters spread rapidly over Protestant countries of Europe and their overseas possessions. Precisely this expansion of the Church constitutes the principal theme of the volume under review that is composed of mission reports, sent by the members of the Church active in Greenland, North America, the West Indies, South America and South Africa in the period of 1817-25 back to the headquarters of Church in Herrnhut, Saxony. It can be assessed from two different angles. First, as a constitutive part of the extensive project of the publisher Georg Olms that has been for more than three decades making available to the general public the sources of this specific Protestant community’s history. Among the dozens of texts so far published can be named writings by Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf himself, founder of the Church, as well as its other leading representatives, but also Jan Hus, the celebrated instigator of the religious movement in Bohemia of the 15th century to which the Moravian Church looks as its forerunner, or the polemical and satirical pamphlets mocking the members of the Church in the early period of its existence. We can thus evaluate the contribution of this specific corpus of documents to the project in general.

Or, second, we can judge this volume in its own right, as a contribution to the current wave of interest in the problem of otherness, cultural encounters and clashes, as well as the study of social networking and transnational connections.
As for the position of the anthology within the frame of other volumes from the series „Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Materialien und Dokumente“, it definitly enriches the previously published documentary evidence for the history of Moravian Church that focused mostly on the initial phase of its existence. Several official missionary histories of the Church were published so far. [1] These, however, were texts propagating the achievments and moral qualities of the Moravians to the wider public in Europe. The present volume offers more immediate insight into the life of ordinary missionaries on the margins of the then-known world, their reactions to daily problems, their reflections of political and economic upheavals, documenting also the clash of missionary theory and the „real life“ experience. The editor tried to cover evenly all of the regions where the Moravian missionaries had been active during the chosen period, equally as the various types of texts produced by them (reports, diaries, letters, inventories). All of the texts were selected from Beyträge zur Erbauung aus der Brüder-Gemeine and Nachrichten aus der Brüder-Gemeine, periodicals destined for the use by the members of the Church themselves that replaced the earlier manuscript Gemein-Nachrichten. The beginning of the publication of printed Beyträgen determined the opening date of the period covered by the edition. Also the closing date is „arbitrary“, that is, not determined by any substantial structural change in the missionary activities of the Church – the year 1832 was chosen because of the centennial of the first Moravian overseas mission’s commencement. (The description of the „Feier zum hundertjährigen Bestehen der Mission 1832“ constitutes the final documentary entry in the volume.) As the editor stated in the introduction, his original plan was to cover a much wider time span; however, the volume of the documents preserved and the effort to deal with them in depth induced him to limit the edition to the early part of the 19th century. (p. 17)
The annotated texts are arranged systematically by missionary regions; introductory studies to each bloc of texts provide the historical context and maps (taken mostly from the Moravian Atlas, published in 1859) help with orientation.

Valuable for the specialist in the history of Moravian Church, the book certainly has its value even for researchers who do not specialize in missions or German Protestantism. (Therefore it is praiseworthy that the editor included into his introduction a short overview of the history of the Church, as well as the explication of the Moravian theology of mission, for the less-informed reader.) For example, as the editor has noted, the manuscript and printed production of the Moravian Church come to the fore as a unique source and an „unparalleled corpus“ of documents for the study of German language’s history (p. 2-3). To the historian of European colonization, the edited letters and diaries offer reflexions by a „third party“, not implicated directly into the struggles in the overseas possessions. As the theme of the reports was both „äußerer Gang“ and „innerer Gang“ of the mission communities, that is, not only the spiritual development of the members but also the material well-being and broader context of life in the colonies, the missionary reports can be approached as bridge between the micro- and macro level of historical events, between the local community and the world system of the Modern era. They reveal local implications of great events, be it the impact of Napoleonic Wars on the local population in Greenland (p. 28) or the course of „Kaffre Wars“ in South Africa (pp. 322-333) Sometimes the missionaries demonstrated their foresight and great knowledge of the situation: as in the case of their prognosis of resettlement of Cherokee Indians in the United States to the west side of Mississippi River. (p. 137) And also, they document amply the degree of „otherness“ with which the missionaries were confronted in their outposts; reveal what customs the missionaries considered as most barbaric and exotic and which cultural traits, on the other hand, they were willing and able to tolerate.

For the historian interested in global and transnational history, the documentary evidence of the Moravian Church can be of great value, as Gisela Mettele persuasively demonstrated in a monograph published almost simultanously with Lasch’s anthology. As Mettele stated, „Brüdergemeine [war] eine Gruppe, deren Bedeutung weit über einen lokalen oder auch staatlichen Bezugsrahmen hinausging. Der Gründungsort Herrnhut blieb als geistlicher Ursprungsort und administratives Zentrum ein wichtiger Referenzpunkt, prinzipiell aber wurde das Leben in der Brüdergemeine im übertragenen wie im wörtlichen Sinn als Wanderschaft begriffen. Weder die Region noch der Staat ihres jeweiligen Aufenthalts bildete die zentrale Bezugsgröße, vielmehr sahen sich sie als Teil einer weltweiten Gemeinschaft im heilsgeschichtlich gedachten universalen Raum des wachsenden ‚Reiches Gottes‘.“[2] Precisely the activities of Moravian missionaries in the far-flung colonial regions demonstrate the ways in which the Church „network“ was being created and maintained, the sense of specific identity of members coming from various national and cultural backgrounds was corroborated and the new ways of organization and economic ties were established. The seriál, in a way monotonous character of the documents presented in the edition enable the reader to become aware of several features that stick out again and again in various territorial contexts – the collective feasts and rituals, the modes of maintaining contact with fellow believers through the interchange of letters and reports, the continual interchange of personnel. In contrast to the common dichotomy we = Europeans vs. them = natives, they found ways to establish a community that went across national and ethnical borders and made also the non-European members of the Church aware of the diversity of humankind. (See, for example, the allusion of one of the missionaries to “Brief, der einigen Hottentotten an unsre Grönländische Gemeine geschrieben haben”, p. 38) There can be without any doubt other possible approaches to the collected material. This carefully edited anthology can certainly serve as a valuable basis for future research in various branches of historical study.

[1] Georg Heinrich Loskiel, Geschichte der Mission der evangelischen Bruder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika, Hildesheim 1989; David Cranz, Historie von Grönland enthaltend Die Beschreibung des Landes und der Einwohner etc. insbesondere die Geschichte der dortigen Mission der Evangelischen Brüder zu Neu-Herrnhut und Lichtenfels, Hildesheim 1989; Christian Georg Andreas Oldendorp, Geschichte der Mission der evangelischen Brüder auf den caribischen Inseln S. Thomas, S. Croix und S. Jan Hildesheim 1995.
[2] Gisela Mettele, Weltbürgertum oder Gottesreich. Die Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine als globale Gemeinschaft 1727-1857, Göttingen 2009, p. 10.

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