Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Soga, Tiyo (C)

South Africa

Tiyo Soga

South African writer also well known for his work with the Scottish mission. Tiyo Soga was, most likely the first African missionary and could have been the inspiration for Reverend John Laputa in the novel Prester John. He was a man of two worlds, an African who believed that his people, the Xhosas, had to be “civilized to enable them to be converted to Christianity.” He was a missionary of the old school that was prepared to sacrifice their lives to convert the “natives.” Late in life Tiyo Soga also preached Black Consciousness.

He was born in the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony in South Africa. This was a period of frontier wars when the Xhosas were resisting the encroachment of white settlers and suspicious of the motives of the missionaries who were widely regarded as agents of the colonial government.

Tiyo Soga was born into an enlightened family. His father sent him to Tyhume Mission School, later known as Lovedale College, which was run by the Glasgow Missionary Society. This was a multi-racial school and all the pupils were children of missionaries. In 1846 his education was interrupted by a frontier war. The principal of the school resigned and returned to Scotland with young Tiyo. Four years later he was baptized and returned to South Africa. He joined the staff of the Tyhume School for a brief period, and then transferred to Uniondale where his Christian zeal and loyalty to the colonial government made him extremely unpopular with the people. His life was threatened and he had to flee to Grahamstown. He was persuaded against his father’s wishes to return to Scotland.

He studied theology at Glagow University. He was in great demand as a speaker. It was during this period that he experienced racial prejudice in Scotland. This was most likely the seed that was to blossom in his ideas in later life. In 1856 he was ordained a minister of the Presbyterian Church. By this time he was suffering from tuberculosis, which was to be the ultimate cause of his death.

A year later he married a Scots girl, Janet Burnside, and returned to South Africa with her. This shocked and disgusted the whites, and confused his fellow Africans. But there was still no reconciliation between him and his people, who were now even more convinced that he was a missionary like all other white missionaries and a part of their machinations.

In 1860 Prince Alfred and the governor of the Cape Colony visited his mission and were so impressed with him that they invited him to join the royal party to Cape Town. Tiyo Soga was always loyal to the Crown and colony.

Later in life Tiyo devoted a great deal of his time to writing. In 1866 he translated The Pilgrim’s Progress into Xhosa. He was on the board that was revising the Xhosa Bible. He also felt it was his duty to record Xhosa fables, proverbs and customs, and the genealogy of Xhosa chiefs. But his most gratifying task was writing hymns, which are still used in South Africa.

His most important political contribution was an article he wrote for a newspaper on pride of color, race and history. To his children he said: “For your own sakes, never appear ashamed that your father was a kaffir (Black man), and that you inherited African blood. It is every bit as good and as that which flows in the veins of my fairer brethren.”

His children all grew up to be dedicated missionaries like their father after their Scottish education. Soga died in 1871.


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