Spieth, Jakob

Basel Mission
Togo , Ghana

Jakob Spieth Jakob Spieth was a German Protestant missionary in Togo, West Africa. Born to pietist parents in Hegensberg, near Esslingen, Würtemberg, Spieth entered the Basel Mission seminary in Switzerland in 1874. The Norddeutsche Missions-Gesellschaft, based in Bremen, asked the Basel Mission for help in Togo, and Spieth agreed to the unexpected assignment. In 1880 he arrived at Ho (now in Ghana), his mission base. In 1882 he married the daughter of a missionary; three of their four children were born in Africa. Interrupted only by a two-year stay in Germany to recover his health (18831885), Spieth spent 21 years in Togo (from 1887 as superintendent), acquiring an excellent knowledge of the language and culture of the Ewe-speaking peoples, translating the New Testament, and continuously making notes on all his travels. Plagued repeatedly by fever, he was forced to return to Germany in 1901. Living in Tübingen and aided by the Africanists Carl Meinhof and Diedrich Westermann, he prepared the voluminous Die Ewestämme: Material zur Kunde des Ewevolkes in Deutsch-Togo (1906). It was mainly for this highly praised collection of Ewe texts and their translation into German that he was awarded the honorary D.D. by the University of Tübingen in 1911. In 1904, aided by Ludwig Adzaklo, he started translating the Old Testament into Ewe (the New Testament having been published in 1898). In 1909 he went again to Africa to conclude this task with the help of a translation committee working in Lome. He spent his last years directing the mission house in Hamburg and preparing the publication of the Bible. Two hundred printed copies reached the Ewe in 1916. Spieth had died in Hamburg two years earlier and was buried in his hometown.

Otto Bischofberger, SMB


Spieth’s Die Religion der Eweer in Süd-Togo (1911) was a follow-up study of the collection of Ewe texts mentioned above and remains a lasting contribution to the ethnography and history of the Ewe-speaking peoples. Many articles by Spieth in the AMZ from 1883 to 1913 cover traditional Ewe culture and applications to missionary work.

Emil Ohly, Andeas Jakob Spieth, der Bibelübersetzer des Ewevolkes, ein Lebensbild (1920).

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.