Ernst Kotz was born at Strombach near Gummersbach, Germany, on February 11, 1887. He did some theological studies at Friedensau Mission School near Magdeburg, the Seventh-day Adventist college for Central Europe at that time. In preparation for his missionary service in what was then called German East Africa, he studied with Carl Meinhof and Felix von Luschan at the Oriental Seminar in Berlin for one year.
Arriving in Africa in July 1905, he was assigned to the South Pare Mountains where the denomination had one mission station and planned to erect others. Kotz started to work on the Asu (Southern Pare) language immediately after his arrival. Because of his outstanding language abilities that were soon recognized by his colleagues, language work became his special assignment in 1909. From April 1910 on, Kotz served as director of the Pare field.
Among the missionaries, much of the early translation work into Pare was his responsibility. In cooperation with Petro Risase and Anderea Senamwaye, he was instrumental in writing a grammar manual and in translating a primer, a hymnal, the Gospel according to Matthew, an Old Testament story book, and finally the New Testament. In addition, Kotz launched a periodical called Mbirikizi (“Preacher”). Matthew’s Gospel, which was issued in 1910, was the first translation of a portion of the Bible ever published by a Seventh-day Adventist. Kotz’s language work made a significant impact on the denomination as a whole by stimulating similar activities in other Adventist missions, particularly in Eastern Africa, where Adventists soon participated in Bible translations into Luo, Gusii, Kinyarwanda, and Jita.
On the practical level, Kotz was involved in various lines of missionary work, mainly at Kihurio. Kihurio was the most successful area for Adventist operations before World War I, and the mission administration was also located there. For a considerable time before Christianity was brought there by Seventh-day Adventists, this large village at the southeastern end of the Pare Mountains had been under a variety of influences, including Islam and non-Pare people groups such as the Sambaa, the Zigua, the Maasai, and the Nyamwezi. This may explain why in the pre-war years Kihurio emerged as the largest Adventist congregation with almost 100 members; moreover, half of the teachers came from the place where Kotz was the major missionary personality. After realizing that religious debates with Muslims did not yield any significant outcome in their conversion to Christianity, Kotz’s strategy was to prevent as many persons as possible from becoming Muslims by building a “bulwark” of Christianity at Kihurio.
Under Kotz’s leadership, the Adventist education network in Pare expanded to twenty-eight teachers and 2,300 pupils among a population of 20,000. After the first baptism in 1908, membership numbers reached 250 in 1914. A peculiar aspect of Adventist missionary operations in Tanzania that should also be mentioned is the acceptance of “spheres of influence.” For the sake of orderly educational work, Kotz helped negotiate a partial comity agreement with the neighboring Leipzig Mission.
Kotz was outstanding among the Seventh-day Adventist missionaries of that period in that he was the only one who showed such a deep interest in ethnography, demonstrated in his books on the Pare, Im Banne der Furcht (“Under the ban of fear”) and Sklaven (“Slaves”). Although the titles betray his critical view of many elements of traditional culture, his overall perspective of Pare life is realistic and reveals much appreciation for the culture–for example, traditional Pare law and economy. He insisted that the African is capable of being a “philosopher, poet, and thinker” (the title of one chapter in Sklaven) and declared that Europeans could learn a lot for their own parliamentary sessions from the patience and respect governing Pare courts. Moreover, at a time when some degree of racism was common even among missionaries, he declared that Andrea Senamwaye, one of the earliest converts, was a real friend to him. Considering the absence of other anthropological works by Adventist missionaries until more than a generation later, Kotz’s sympathetic approach to the Pare must be viewed as exceptional.
At the same time, Kotz was cautious enough not to idealize traditional culture. He attacked the idea that Africans were “happy children of nature” in view of many Pare practices which, according to him, were dictated by fear rather than by harmony with creation. Against what he viewed as the tendency of over-appreciating “folkhood,” he warned, “If one tries, as a missionary, to sustain the folk identity of the Pare man, one will, unfortunately, experience again and again that one can take over into Christianity only a very small remainder of his customs and practices because his whole doing and thinking is completely dipped in pagan religious and superstitious ideas.” (Im Banne der Furcht, p. 203)
Kotz believed that a time might come when, among the Pare “everything has become new, and still the people will not have lost their identity in language and character. Only the ugly and the mean have had to cede.” (Sklaven, p. 182) Thus, he envisioned a transformation of culture through a Christian remnant of converted individuals. By imagining an African Adventist folk church, he went beyond the missionary model within which his denomination often operated–the formation of religious minority communities.
World War I halted the thriving Adventist activities in Pare, and in 1917, Kotz was interned in India and Egypt together with most of his fellow missionaries. His wife, Hilde Kotz, held the semi-official leadership of the whole Pare field in the absence of her husband until she was repatriated with most Germans in 1918-1919. After a short time of studying at a university in Germany in 1920, Kotz climbed the ranks of church hierarchy and became European Foreign Missions Secretary then an Associate Secretary of the General Conference, and finally the Secretary of the General Conference. From this post he resigned in 1933 and left the denomination. Thus, although he had been elected president of the Central European Division in 1933, this call was not implemented. His two sons Hans and Siegfried, however, continued to serve the denomination as missionaries in Africa, and his daughter Ilse also remained a church member.
He died in Berlin on September 27, 1944. In spite of his tragic separation from the church that he had loved, Kotz has been justly called “one of the most gifted Africa missionaries that Adventism had brought forth” (D. Heinz).
Publications by Kotz or with his contribution:
Articles in German and American church periodicals: Adventbote, Adventbote in der Heidenwelt, Herold der Wahrheit, Review and Herald, and Zionswächter, 1905-1930. (More than 50 articles are listed in S. Höschele, “Christian Remnant - African Folk Church”)
Kotz, Ernst. Im Banne der Furcht: Sitten und Gebräuche der Wapare in Ostafrika. Hamburg: Advent-Verlag, 1922.
——–. Sklaven. Hamburg: Advent-Verlag, 1925.
——–. Von Schwarzen und Weißen. Hamburg: Internationale Traktatgesellschaft, 1919.
——–. Grammatik des Chasu in Deutsch-Ostafrika (Pare-Gebirge). Berlin: Reimer, 1909. [Second edition: Gregg: Farnborough Hants, 1964.]
Maagano Mashaa a Mfumwa na Mkiza wetu Yesu Kirisito [The New Testament in Asu]. London: BFBS, 1922.
Missionaries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Pare. Malumbo a Mtaso: 55 Geistliche Lieder in der Sprache der Vaasu (Vapare) [55 songs in Pare]. Hamburg: Internationale Traktatgesellschaft, 1910.
Mburi yedi yakwe Mateo: Das Evangelium Matthäus in der Sprache der Vaasu [Vapare], transl. by SDA missionaries in South Pare. Hamburg: Internationale Traktatgesellschaft, 1910.
Mburi za Murungu za Maagano a Kale: Die biblischen Geschichten des Alten Testaments in Chasu, transl. by Ernst Kotz. Hamburg: Verlag der Internationalen Traktatgesellschaft, 1914.
Missionaries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Pare. Fibeli ya Chasu. Hamburg: Internationale Traktatgesellschaft, 1910.
Missionaries of the Seventh-day Adventist Mission in South Pare. Masomo ya Kitabu cha Muungu. Hamburg: Internationale Traktatgesellschaft, 1914.
Nyimbo za Mtaso (409 songs in Pare) rev. and enlarged ed. Kendu Bay: Africa Herald, 1967. [first ed. 1908, with 27 songs; second ed. Malumbo a Mtaso (see above), third ed. Nyimbo za Mtaso 1915 with 102 songs; fourth ed. 1935 with 181 songs, all published at Internationale Traktatgesellschaft, Hamburg]
Elineema, K. B. Historia ya Kanisa la Waadventista Wasabato Tanzania, 1903-1993. Dar es Salaam: By the Author, 1993.
Elineema, K. B. (ed.). The Development of the SDA Church in Eastern Africa. Dar es Salaam: By the Author, 1992.
Heinz, Daniel. “Kotz, Ernst,” in T. Bautz (ed.), Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon. Vol. 15. Herzberg: Bautz, 1999: col. 797-799 (online: http://www.bautz.de/bbkl/k/kotz_e.shtml).
Höschele, Stefan. “Christian Remnant - African Folk Church: The History of Seventh-day Adventism in Tanzania, 1903-1980.” Ph.D. diss., University of Malawi, 2005, sections 3.3.2 (“Ernst Kotz and the Literature of the Young Church”) and 7.1.3 (“From Gutmann to Kotz: Adventist Missionaries and Tanzanian Culture”).
Kazmierczak, Hubert. “Die interkulturelle Begegnung der Missionare der deutschen Advent-Missionsgesellschaft e.V. unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Missionars Ernst Kotz im Lichte der gegenwärtigen Missionstheologie,” thesis, Theologisches Seminar Marienhöhe, 1988.
“Kotz, Siegfried Arthur (1915-1967),” Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia, rev. ed., ed. by Donald E. Mansell. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1996.
Pfeiffer, Baldur E. (ed.). Seventh-Day Adventist Contributions to East Africa, 1903-1983. Frankfurt: Lang, 1985.
Reinhard, Rudolf M. “Ernst Kotz: Sprachforscher und Missionar,” in Adventecho, Vol. 84/13-14 (1985), p. 15.
This story, sent to us in 2005 by Dr. Hudson E. Kibuuka, DACB liaison coordinator for the SDA East Africa Division, was written by Dr. Stefan Höschele, of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a lecturer in Systematic Theology at Friedensau University, Friedensau, Germany (email: [email protected]; Web: www.stefan-hoeschele.de or www.thh-friedensau.de).