NOT TO BE MISSED
"Autobiographie de Mme Rosette Schrumpf née Vorster, missionnaire au sud de l'Afrique" by Rosette SCHRUMPF
Schiltigheim près Strasbourg: C. Schrumpf, 1863. (100p.).
Ce compte rendu en français
Born in 1815 on the bank of river Rhine, Rosette Schrumpf grew up in Prussia and became a private tutor in Switzerland and France before leaving for Lesotho as a missionary. There she spent fifteen years with her husband and family. Her autobiography published shortly after her passing in 1862 is interesting as it bears witness to early missionary activities in Africa. It highlights the values, beliefs and people's spartan living conditions both in Europe and Africa at the time. It also underlines the contradictory agendas of African and European leaders that prevented a genuine collaboration between the two continents.
In order to get the full meaning of Mrs Schrumpf's life-story, one has to put it in context, to imagine an epoch when bicycles, cars, sealed roads, running water, electricity and all the modern conveniences of today were not part of everyday life: a time when most people died young, raised large families on a meagre income and toiled in the fields. A turbulent era dominated by political tensions, violence, devastating wars and religious intolerance. That was true of Europe where the bloody Napoleonic wars had reshaped the political landscape of the continent. It was also true of the southern part of Africa where Shaka Zoulou, Moshoeshoe, the Boers and the English army had done exactly the same in their part of the world.
It was also a time when large tracts of Africa were out of reach to European travellers. While in 2012, it is possible to have breakfast in France and, on the same day, afternoon tea in South Africa. In 1842 it was months rather than hours that was the measuring rod of overseas travel. Moreover, ordinary travellers were subjected to considerable strain. Aboard sailing-ships, it was sea-sickness, cramped conditions, poor food and the odd gale force wind, even though the young and energetic Mrs Schrumpf comments upon landing safely on dry ground in Port Elizabeth: "All in all, our crossing [between London and Port-Elisabeth] that lasted about three months was quite a happy one. We experienced only one tempest that did not last for very long and had no dire consequences". (p.30) But, disembarking from the Guardian did not mean the end of her tribulations and the second leg of her journey, across the veldt under a blazing sun, was an experience she would rather have forgotten: "most of the thirtyfive days I spent in a bullock-wagon were excessively tiring and monotonous", she admits. (p.31)
The discomfort of the journey, though, was only a prelude to the harsh conditions she would encounter during her decade-long sojourn in Lesotho. Travelling under the burning sun was exhausting, but it was not nearly as dangerous as fording large rivers, negotiating bogs during the wet season, surviving wars, political unrest and recurring shortages of food. Furthermore, the days of modern medicine were still a long way off. Rough treatments for illness and injuries that were not limited to African circumstances and also prevalent throughout Europe had often dramatic consequences. Many infants did not make it to adulthood and the Schrumpf family was not spared the death of many of their children. A note related to the year 1849 is telling: " On July 31, our second daughter came to the world. She was given to us by God to comfort us after the successive loss of her two elder brothers who had flown to heaven." (p.65) Bringing children into the world was also fraught with danger for expectant mothers as another passage of Rosette's autobiography makes quite plain: "During the first few days of the year 1847, I could see the angel of death come for the second time to our house. An acute peritonitis attack after a difficult childbirth nearly killed me ... My body was suffering with incredible pain and my poor muddled head was unable to formulate any reasonable thoughts...". (p.56). Like all the women of child-bearing age, Rosette Schrumpf was at the mercy of fate.
What makes her somewhat different from many other women of the time is the fact that Mrs Schrumpf remained in charge of her destiny from an early age. As a child, she was spared the brute necessities of basic subsistence as her father was a prosperous manufacturer. But like her siblings, young Rosette was fed strict principles of morality, and her education was based on hard work, frugality and fraternity. Adding to these precepts emblematic of her parents' ethic, her mother's religiosity, attachment to the Moravian Church and empathy for the poor and the sick also made a strong impression on her children. Yet, in spite of her religious fervour, Rosette's mother was not averse to secular reading beside the Bible and, Rosette says, "we spend many hours together reading Mathilde ou les Croissades, Delphine, Corinne ou l'Italie and many other novels no less attractive." (p.4) 
Interestingly enough, these titles are by women writers and the reasons why a devout Christian and puritan mother should encourage her young daughter to read books about love, travel and the empowerment of women that challenged social conventions is somewhat puzzling. But whatever her motives, it influenced her daughter's perception of the world and the latter's determination to live at the intersection of piety, charity and self-reliance. Rosette's dream of becoming a missionary, travelling to the other side of the world, no doubt dates back to these formative years; and her subsequent sojourn among the Basotho of Lesotho reflects her family sense of religious duty and social responsibilities. As she tells her children, who she prevents from playing with the little Basothos of their age: "We came here to teach these people about what Jesus did for them; not to play with them." (p.71)
That single sentence alone explains the shortcomings and ambiguous achievements of her enterprise. Sent by the Paris Evangelical Society to convert "African pagans", it never came to Rosette Schrumpf's mind that the African rulers who facilitated settlement on their land were not looking for a new religion, but rather secular advantages, knowledge and alliances that would solidify their grip on power. An interesting study by historian S. G. de Clark suggests that: "in the early 1830s the Basotho were still a people in the making. They were mostly composed of diverse groups who had pledged allegiance to Moshoeshoe in the previous decade after their polities had been scattered by a series of conflicts. Hoping to protect the group, which he was creating, from outside threats, the paramount chief welcomed missionaries, whom he had tried to attract, even before Arbousset and his companions arrived  . . . . When the missionaries arrived in Lesotho, Moshoeshoe had already ensured his position as paramount chief by traditional means. For this very reason, his support of Christianity was as much a liability as it was an advantage from a political point of view: he took advantage of the missionaries presence to increase, and even extend his control over populations away from the capital, but the reforms he made in line with evangelical demands caused much discontent among his subjects." 
Confronted by the somewhat condescending and dogmatic attitude of missionaries who were critical, if not strongly dismissive of local knowledge and beliefs, local chiefs and elders had to tread a fine line in order to reassure the locals and to maintain the missionaries' support, knowledge and connections. Moshoeshoe, for example, never converted to Christianity yet, de Clark suggests, he was "very impressed with the innovations introduced by the missionaries ... and encouraged a number of Basotho to convert."  But the delicate balance he managed to maintain between short-sighted missionaries, who were only there to save souls, and the wise old men not prepared to submit to evangelical fervour, was often strained. Converts came and went; and the Schrumpfs' morale went up and down accordingly.
What the missionaries and probably the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society who sent them to Lesotho never understood was the real impact of their encounter with the Basotho. Contrary to what they thought, they did not open missionary establishments among people bereft of religious beliefs. Thus, the most successful influence of Christianity, beside non-religious pursuits, was in those domains where the new religion did not enter in direct conflict with traditional thinking and way of life. Thus the great success of the Xhosa prophet Molageni, who claimed to be "God's envoy extraordinaire in charge of delivering his flock and throwing off the yoke of the foreigners" (p.71) and who was enthusiastically welcomed in Lesotho. Polygamy, dowries and the purchasing of women were not called into question by this Holy man, yet his theology borrowed the features of Christianity he found attractive. According to de Clark, "the beliefs held by his Sotho followers confirmed the Basotho's predilection for the idea of a universal deity, especially as creator, and for the possibility of an everlasting blissful after-life, both of which were already evident in the statements previously quoted by the missionaries. Molageni's movement further revealed that the notions of divine judgment and punishment in themselves appealed to the Basotho, provided that the damned were those who had given up existing customs, and the elect those who upheld them. The phenomenon also showed that many Basotho had been impressed by the stories of miracles performed by Christ, as well as by the promise of general resurrection. Pre-existing religious elements which had not been criticised by the missionaries became very important in the Basotho's view of Christianity. In particular, this was the case with dreams. They had already had great significance in 'traditional' religious life, because they were believed to be the way in which the ancestors communicated with the living."  For Rosette Schrumpf however, Molageni was nothing but a fraud, a new "Mahomet" [p.71] who was lost to the virtues of Christian morality and values.
Literacy was also one of the most popular elements associated with the new religion and "the Basotho considered reading and writing to be integral parts of Christianity: religious activities in themselves . . . . that exerted deep fascination." Not surprisingly then, Rosette Schrumpf's persistent efforts in teaching reading and writing paid off and many pupils of all ages soon became able to read for themselves the Holy scriptures. However, what she neither expected nor appreciated fully was the fact that some of the people she taught would either use their new skills for non-religious purposes or leave the mission altogether; thus her disappointment with the many people who played the game according to their own rules: "Very often, the result of our actions was quite disheartening", she says. "During a whole year, for example, I spent much time and effort to teach our two shepherds how to read. Eventually, both could read fluently, but their contract come to an end and both of them took the cow given to them in payment for their work and returned to their home, never to be heard or seen again." (p.59)
In a similar way, it was beyond Rosette Schrumpf to comprehend that a Basotho woman could shun domestic chores and develop a passion for reading, similar to the one she experienced with her mother a few decades earlier when she was discovering Madame de Staël and other writers. Thus the irony of some unexpected results of her teaching activity:
"As for the bother generated by our indigenous helpers, it did not diminish: far from it. To begin with the cooking activities: if, for example, two pots were put in the fireplace in the morning, the responsibility was mine to check regularly if the fire was still burning, if the dogs were not helping themselves to the pots or, if the hens had not invaded the kitchen to play havoc. 'But', one may ask, 'where was the cook? wasn't she there?' No. Seated in front of the door, in the sun, our good Salomé Malitlaré (who had replaced Rasida) was chatting with her many friends, or preaching (go khothasa) to some passer-by, or reading and studying her Bible. One has to know that the good old lady who had learned to read with me was so thrilled and taken by her reading that she was forgetting everything else. Should I ask her, 'How is the food coming along?', she would answer: 'I don't know, I haven't checked yet'." (pp.57-58)
Empowering Malitlaré and putting her on the path of independence and freedom represented some great outcomes vindicating Rosette Schrumpf's missionary activity; but she did not see it that way; to her, it was a disappointing result that unwittingly reinforced the "fundamental flaw" in the people she has to deal with: "The short-comings of our Basothos" she says "is their unbelievable insouciance".
Rosette Schrumpf's autobiography is interesting because it goes to the origins of the misunderstandings that have impaired the relationship between Europe and Africa for centuries. Like many well-meaning political entities, churches and NGOs keen to convert the 'South' to the benefits of Christianity, the Schrumpfs left Europe for Africa with the best of intentions. However, their unwavering faith in the superiority of their values, religion and wisdom left no room for meaningful dialogue and collaboration.  Thus the long-lasting transformations associated with missionary proselytising were not those they had in mind, but rather a mishmash of contradictory outcomes that were beyond their comprehension or willingness to contemplate. There is therefore a lesson to be learned from Rosette Schrumpf's sojourn among the Basothos, long ago: meaningful change cannot be forced upon others and a good listener is worth far more than a passionate preachers lost to the world of diversity.
1. Mme Cottin. "Mathilde ou Mémoires tirés de l'histoire des Croisades" (1805); Germaine de Staël. "Delphine" (1802); "Corinne ou l'Italie" (1807).
2. Arbousset arrived in Lesotho in 1833, that is about ten years before Schrumpf.
3. S. G. de Clark. "The encounter between the Basotho and the missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, 1833-1933: some perspectives", "Kleio" XXXII, 2000, University of South Africa, Journal of the Department of History. http://www.unisa.ac.za/default.asp?Cmd=ViewContent&ContentID=1082 [Sighted 8 June 2011].
4. de Clark.
5. de Clark.
6. de Clark.
7. Mrs Schrumpf's husband own account of his sojourn among the Basotho emphasises, even more than his wife's, the disappointing results of his attempt to force Christianity upon the Basotho. Christian Schrumpf. "Souvenirs de l'Afrique méridionale". Lausanne: Georges Bridel, 1860.
The University of Western Australia/School of Humanities