African Roman Catholic lay catechist and medical doctor in Tanganyika (modern Tanzania).
Born at Toundourma, west of Timbuktu, of a Taureg mother and West African Father, Atiman was abducted as a youth and sold into slavery. In 1876, as part of a caravan crossing the Sahara, he was ransomed by missionaries of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), who took him to Algeria and enrolled him in school. He later attended the Lavigerie Institute and a university in Malta where he was trained as a médecin-catéchiste. In 1888 he embarked for Tanganyika with a party of Roman Catholic missionaries and began work at the Karema Mission dispensary, where he served for sixty-eight years. His marriage to the daughter of a Bemba chief opened liaisons for advancing the mission. During World War I his medical services to Belgian soldiers won wide acclaim. A skilled surgeon, Atiman had an inquisitive mind and explored the use of indigenous African medicines while gleaning new findings from European doctors. In tandem with his medical practice was his fervent Catholic faith. As a respected catechist he challenged such practices as infanticide and trial by poisoning. For his wide-ranging achievements he was decorated ten times, receiving medals from the Vatican and from governments in Europe and Africa.
Marc R. Nikkel
For an edited version of Atiman’s autobiography in English, see Tanganyika Notes and Records 21 (1946): 46-76. Walter Breedveld, Atiman, de Negerdokter Bij Het Tanganyikameer (1965); Roger Fouquer, Le docteur Adrien Atiman, médecin-catéchiste au Tanganyika (1964). Atiman’s letters, 1888-1919, in French, are held in the Lavigerie Archive, Institut des Jeunes Nègres in Malta (D11/199-207). These include typed manuscripts of Atiman’s full-length autobiography and his Histoire d’un Soudanais.
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.