Homepage
Home Read stories Africa maps The Project Resources Our Writers News

Johann Ludwig Krapf
1810 to 1881
Lutheran
Ethiopia / Kenya / Tanzania

Johann Ludwig Krapf was a German Lutheran pioneer missionary in Kenya. Born in Tübingen, he trained for mission work at the Basel Mission seminary in Switzerland. He was accepted by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and sent to Ethiopia in 1837 to work with C. W. Isenberg among the non-Christian Galla (now known as Oromo). They taught a few boys but were expelled at the instigation of the Ethiopian Orthodox clergy.

Krapf settled at Mombasa in 1844, hoping to find a southern route to the Galla, but he failed in this although he made a few Galla contacts. The same year he married Rosina Dietrich, but she died two years later and is buried together with their infant daughter near Mombasa. In 1846 he was joined by Johannes Rebmann and in 1849 by Johann Erhardt. They established a station a few miles inland at Rabai on a ridge overlooking the coastal plain, hoping the Mijikenda would prove more responsive than the slave-owning Muslim society of Mombasa. Krapf traveled extensively, reaching Usambara and Ukambani and sighting Mount Kenya. When he visited Europe in 1850 he impressed the CMS with his vision of a chain of missions across Africa from Rabai, but the hinterland and its people were hostile and the right missionaries were not forthcoming. An attempt to find an alternative route inland via the Tana River almost ended in disaster.

In 1855 Krapf returned to Europe in poor health and published an account of his travels in 1860. He returned to East Africa briefly in 1862 to help Charles New found Methodist work in East Africa before returning to Germany where he died at Korntal. He made only a few converts and failed to found a church. His importance lies in his pioneer work in Swahili and other languages, and in his geographical discoveries, which aroused great interest in the region.

M. Louise Pirouet


Bibliography:

Johann Ludwig Krapf, Travels, Researches and Missionary Labours (Eng. tr., 1860; 2d ed., 1968), The Journals of the Rev. Messers Isenberg and Krapf, Missionaries of the Church Missionary Society, Detailing Their Proceedings in the Kingdom of Shoa, and Journeys in other Parts of Abyssinia in the Years 1839-1842 (1843; repr. as The Journals of Isenberg and Krapf, 1968), and Dictionary of the Suahili Language (1882). Eugene Stock, History of the Church Missionary Society, vols. 1 and 2 (1899), pp. 458-462 and 124-139.


This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.