Arthur Ruffelle Barlow was a Scottish teacher, linguist and church superintendent in Kenya. Born in Edinburgh, Barlow arrived in Kenya at the Kikuyu (Thogoto) mission station in 1903 to visit his uncle, D. C. Ruffelle Scott, who was a Church of Scotland missionary there. He was only 17 years old at the time, just out of high school, and became informally associated with the work of the young mission by serving as Scott’s personal secretary until 1909, when he officially became a missionary teacher of the of the Church of Scotland mission at Tumutumu near Nyeri. He gained the nickname Bwana Barlow, and his station became known as Kwa Bwana Barlow (Barlow’s place or village). He studied the Kikuyu language as well as nine Kikuyu-related dialects of the area northeast of Mt. Kenya, including Chuka and Mwimbi. As a result, he played a leading role in writing the standard Kikuyu grammar and other books. With Leonard Beecher (later archbishop of East Africa) and Canon Harry Leakey, both of the Church Missionary Society, he translated the Scriptures into Kikuyu. The trio’s language work was also the basis of a Kikuyu-English dictionary of 1964. Barlow served as superintendent of the Tumutumu mission as well as secretary of the mission council in Kenya. He was one of the influential voices in the missionary debate toward church union in Kenya, always insisting that the African opinion must not be ignored if meaningful unity was to be achieved. He was often consulted on African matters by government officials and other missionaries in Kenya. He retired in 1941 but returned to Kenya in 1952 to assist in translating documents during the Mau Mau troubles. He left finally in 1959.
Gerishon M. Kirika
R. Macpherson, The Presbyterian Church in Kenya (1970); E.N. Wanyoike, An African Pastor (1974).
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.