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Alexander Merensky
1837 to 1918
Berlin Mission (BM)
South Africa


Alexander Merensky was a missionary in South Africa. Born in Panten, Silesia, Germany, he studied at the Berlin Mission (BM) seminary and went to the Transvaal in 1859. He first labored among the Sotho Pedi in the north and then in 1864 founded a new station, Bothshabelo near Middelburg. It became the center of the BM work, with workshops, printing press, and training school for evangelists. Merensky mastered several African languages, studied indigenous cultures, and published the results of his scientific research in Europe in many books and articles, beginning with Beiträge zur Kenntniss Süd-Afrikas (1875). He returned to Germany in 1882, strongly advocated missions and economic development in Germany's newly acquire colonies, and encouraged the BM to open a work in Tanganyika (Tanzania). In 1891 he led a research expedition to Tanganyika's southeastern region to gather data about the Konde people, which paved the way for BM to occupy this field. In his later years he moderated his excessive emphasis on colonial missions and to some extent became a spokesperson for African rights. Although a highly respected scholar of African geography and ethnology (some even compare him with David Livingstone), his ambivalent stance toward imperialism remains a matter of contention.

Ulrich van der Heyden


Bibliography:

Alexander Merensky, Erinnerungen aus dem Missionsleben in Südost-Afrika (Transvaal) (1888), Deutsche Arbeit am Njassa, Deutsch-Ostafrika (1894) and Die Stellung der Mission zum Volkstum der Heidenvölker (1901). Ulrich van der Heyden, "Alexander Merensky's Beitang zur ethnographischen und historischen Erforschung der Völkerschaften Südafrikas," Ethnographisch-Archäologische Zeitschrift 32 (1991): 263-268; O. Lehmann, Alexander Merensky, ein deutscher Pionier in Südafrika (1965).


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.