Martinius Borgen was one of the pioneers of Lutheran missionary work in Madagascar. Born in 1834 in Kongsberg, Norway, he studied theology at the seminary of the Norwegian Missionary Society (NMS) in Stavanger, from 1859 to 1864. He then studied medicine, and went on to complete his studies in Hebrew and Greek at the University of Christiania (the present University of Oslo). Ordained to the pastorate in 1865 and assigned to Madagascar, he arrived there in 1867, led by the Lutheran bishop, Schreuder. He was the third Norwegian missionary to arrive, as two others had arrived the year before (pastors J. Engh and N. Nilsen). After he had learned to speak Malagasy and had participated in the evangelization of the Betafo region, he founded the mission station of Masinandraina, near Antsirabe, in 1869, and stayed there until 1873.
In 1870, this period of time spent in the highlands was interrupted by a reconnaissance trip to the west coast. Accompanied by Chr. Borchgrevink, Borgen left from the east coast city of Tamatave and traveled by sea to Tulear and on to Morondava. Then, on land, and alone - in spite of the very serious risks of doing so at that time - he went up from Morondava to Fianarantsoa, then on to Antsirabe. This exploratory mission prepared the way for the work of the Lutheran Mission on the west coast, which began in 1874.
In 1873, in Antananarivo, a joint Protestant Missions commission, presided over by W. E. Cousins, undertook the revision of the Malagasy Bible. Because of his knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, Borgen was sent to chair the commission, and he played a very active role there. At the same time, he was also directing a school for boys in the capital city, and teaching in the Lutheran seminary started by L. Dahle in 1871. It was at that time that he helped Dahle collect the “Stories of the Ancestors, Anganon ‘ny Ntaolo.”
Borgen did not write any original literary works, but he translated several fundamental works into Malagasy, works that are still in use to this day, such as Luther’s “Shorter Catechism.”
In 1882, because of his wife’s poor health, Borgen had to return to Norway before the revision of the Bible was complete. In spite of his great knowledge of Malagasy, he was not to return to Madagascar, but he continued to serve with the NMS, and he was sent to South Africa. After a few years of retirement in his homeland, he returned to South Africa and died in Durban in 1915.
O. Chr. Dahl, L. Molet
Katekisma, na fotopianarana no soratany Dr. M. Luther [Luther’s Shorter Catechism], Stavanger, 1873
Ny tantara ny Soratra Masina [History of the Bible], Antananarivo, 1874.
Ny tantaran’ ny eklesia [History of the Church], Antananarivo, 1879.
This article, which is reprinted here by permission, is from Hommes et Destins: Dictionnaire biographique d’Outre-Mer [People and Destinies: Overseas Biographical Dictionary] vol. 3, published in 1977 by the Académie des Sciences d’Outre-Mer (15, rue la Pérouse, 75116 Paris, France). All rights reserved.