Classic DACB Collection

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

Camwaka, Sambateshi Jean-Baptiste Mangara

Catholic Church

In 1991, the Zambians celebrated the centenary of the Catholic community in Zambia. One usually thinks of the priests and missionary Brothers who settled first on Zambian soil. But some of the credit should also go to lay African missionaries.

At Mponda in Shire Highlands in Malawi, from whence the White Fathers came to settle in north Zambia in 1891, there was, together with them, an African whose name was Dominique. He had been trained in Europe as doctor-catechist. Following the instructions of Cardinal Lavigerie, the founder of the White Fathers and of these lay missioners, he had married a Yao girl. When the Fathers were ordered to leave Mponda, Dominique’s wife refused to follow and Dominique stayed behind with her.

At Mambwe-Mwela, as soon as the missionaries had settled in 1891, their fellow-missionaries at Karema, Tanganyika, sent another catechist, Vincent by name, to open an “apostolic” school. When the school moved back to Karema in 1895 Vincent followed it.

A year later, 1896, another young man arrived at Kayambi, Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste gave some 15 years of his life to teach converts and pagans alike and to train the first Zambian catechists at Kayambi.

Jean-Baptiste, whose full name is Sambateshi Mangara Camwaka (Sambateshi stands for the French Jean-Baptiste), died in 1972 in the village of Chitambi near Kasama (Northern Province) at the age of 94 or 95.

I met him for the first time in 1952, October 9th. Freshly arrived from Europe, I was strolling in the streets of Kasama, getting the feeling of the new land I was in, people and things, noises and smells, when someone behind me greeted me: “Bonjour mon Père. Vous êtes nouvellement arrivé dans le pays?” (Good afternoon Father. You are a newcomer in the country?) The voice was deep and rich. The French was beautifully articulated with no trace of a foreign accent. My surprise was great to see on my left an African. He spoke a fluent, colloquial and excellent French.

During the conversation that followed I learned who he was, a retired government employee who had worked at Kayambi Mission as teacher-catechist in the 1900s. Later the Fathers told me that he was a former slave who had gone to Malta, to the school the founder of the White Fathers and White Sisters, Cardinal Lavigerie, had opened to train doctors, teachers and catechists for Africa. He was now living in a nearby village with his family.

The White Fathers’ Response to Slavery

In 1891, the slave trade was far from being over. The condemnation of the trade by European countries at the turn of the 18th century had mostly benefitted the peoples along the Atlantic Ocean. In East, Central and Southern Africa, along the Indian Ocean, the traffic of slaves was still practiced by Arabs and friendly tribes, in spite of the watch of the British Anti-Slavery Society along the coast.

In Mambwe-Mwela the Fathers continued to liberate slaves, who totalled 46 in 1894 and 60 in 1895.[1] Among them we count only 12 adults, 27 were very young and 68 were adolescents. Besides these redeemed slaves were those whom the Fathers called the “voluntary ones” or the “followers”; 14 of them in 1895. Such was the custom at the time. Other people who belonged to the mission were girls who were given by the chiefs as a token of friendship or of goodwill.[2]

All these people enjoyed a new type of freedom, although they appeared in the eyes of the Arabs and traders as a new type of slaves. Indeed they belonged to the mission and could not leave without impunity. They were free to organise their life in the village and to decide their future. The difference with slavery was that the missionaries did not sell their people, but they moved them from mission post to mission post, individuals or whole families, as helpers to be the nucleus of a Christian village.

Beginnings at Kayambi

On July 23, 1895 when the missionaries moved from Mambwe to the newly opened mission of Kayambi in Bembaland, they came with 200 liberated slaves. They had spent several years trying to penetrate into Bembaland.

Jean-Baptiste is first mentioned in the diary of Kayambi on 1st January 1897:

Last night we found all our young men in a semicircle before the door of our house. They were dressed in their best, each one holding a small branch. In the middle was Jean-Baptiste, a student from Malta, between two acolytes, one holding a bunch of flowers, the other a light to enable Jean-Baptist to read the speech he had prepared. We asked him to hold it a moment to let us first offer our own wishes to the superior and to each other. Then the speech was read and good wishes exchanged for the conversion of the “infidels” who surround us. Promises were made by all, missionaries and pupils, to work to that effect each one within his own functions and capacities. The performance ended with a distribution of bananas followed by drumming and singing that lasted until bedtime.

Nothing indicates when Jean-Baptiste arrived but it was probably in September 1896 when the diary says that a “caravan” had arrived from Europe. This was confirmed by the archivist at the Generalate of the White Fathers in Rome. The next reference to Jean-Baptiste in the diary is found on March 10th 1898 when he received a beating from the people. We have to resort to private letters, the records of the weekly councils of the missionaries (Council Book) and personal memories of conversations with him and other people to glean information.

Jean-Baptiste appears, holding a flute, in a photograph taken in 1896, one of “three African doctors” (caption) posing with a group of White Fathers. Cardinal Lavigerie “realized early on that ‘foreign’ missionaries would never suffice to carry out the enormous task of bringing the Gospel to Africa. They would never be able to enter completely into the heart and soul of the African.”[3]

Jean-Baptiste was in the last group to leave the Malta school for doctor-catechists, founded by Cardinal Lavigerie, after it was closed in 1896. The Malta experiment had been the personal dream of Lavigerie, which was not shared by the missionaries. This partly explains the closing of the Malta Institute after the death of the Cardinal. Jean-Baptiste left for Africa that same year as a teacher-catechist and arrived on September 9th, together with Father Letort and Brother Jacques who were to stay at Kayambi.[4]

The Superior of Kayambi, Joseph Dupont, and the writer of the diary, Fr. Guillé, failed to record the arrival of Jean-Baptiste as if he did not belong to the group of the newcomers. For lack of documents no one can say how he was received.

Was it that Jean-Baptist had not the prestige of being a doctor? A doctor-catechist would not have been a luxury at Kayambi in the early days of the mission. The written records, particularly the council book until the 1910s shows that, together with teaching, tending the sick was the main activity of the missionaries. Each one of them had his villages to care for “in health and sickness” as their motto could have been.

Nevertheless we may presume that he was welcome. Can we dare say that the missionaries at Kayambi had even asked for him? This is plausible. Indeed, on July 19, 1896 they had expelled the teacher-catechist, a certain Msangawabe, for misbehaviour. He not only showed disrespect for the Fathers, but he praised the generosity of the English and induced the people to join them with him. The council book says that he had become a danger to the mission.[5]

Jean-Baptiste settled in the local village of Ilondola, where he built himself a nice house, Father Letort wrote to Algiers. He eventually found a wife, Mrs. Kanyapa, a local girl, and was married on the 25 January 1898. For the people he was patili mutifi, the black padre. He was loved by them.

When I took him to Kayambi in 1965 to visit old friends, the children gathered round him gaping: “Kanshi ni yaba” (So that is the man). His former pupils, catechists, catechumens and others had spread his fame and kept it alive.

Jean-Baptiste as Teacher and Catechist

Jean began his mission work as a teacher. Twenty days after his arrival, on November 27, decisions were taken regarding the school. Swahili was to be the medium of instruction. Father Letort would teach in the junior section, Father Guillé in the middle one and Father Goetstouwers in the top class. Jean-Baptiste was assigned to help Fr. Letort. He had until then been a student with no teaching practice.[6]

The school began with zest. Twice the diary records an excursion of the whole school to the Chambeshi and to the Kalungu-wa-Bwiba rivers, some two days’ walk south of Kayambi, to the great satisfaction of the kids. Jean-Baptiste must have been in the party.

His teaching was very elementary: reading with the help of linen charts and learning things by heart. Initially writing was not on the programme. In February 1896 all the boys expressed the desire to write. On principle the missionaries agreed, but decided to wait for the right moment.[7] Possibly the right moment had come when Jean Baptiste arrived. The teaching of arithmetic, of sciences as we read on the council book, came much later, in October 1899.

At an early stage the children were taught only in the morning, first 35 minutes, that is, 25 minutes reading and 10 minutes catechism, with explanations. The rest of the day they worked. In February 1896, another period of 50 minutes was added in the afternoon.

He taught in the school until the system of orphanage and boarding school collapsed in 1900. As we already said, pupils were recruited in the villages as far as in the Chilinda country of chief Mwalule and Shimusanya to join the orphans as boarders. Already in April 1898 the institution went through a crisis. “From 200 pupils we are down to 70 or 80,” and in July of the same year: “50 are left, of whom more than half are former slaves.”

In March 1900 the school reopened. The day school was to be the new formula for the future; villages were to be evangelized, not individuals. Jean-Baptist enters the picture again, for the diary was rather silent about him during these last four years. He must have become an experienced teacher, and possibly boarding master. In the minutes of the council the missionaries held on October 21 1900, we read: “At the end of the month the boys of the third class who will be able to read fluently the first two charts will become Jean-Baptiste’s pupils.”

This implies that the school was upgraded to a fourth class, and that Jean-Baptiste was put in charge of the top class. Moreover, in the diary (7/10/1900), we read that the priests distributed the periods of religious instructions among themselves. In the past the priests were in charge of the school and were teaching. It appears that they were not so much involved in this new type of school.

Jean-Baptiste was also a catechist. He was trained to instruct “the infidels of Africa” as was the expression at the time, and to teach catechism. Two of his former pupils, in 1953-1958, said that besides reading, writing and counting they had long sessions of catechism and hymn singing, first in Swahili then soon in Bemba. The Bemba the Fathers spoke at the time sounded more like Cimambwe, as a Bemba reader can judge from the sample reproduced below. This is an extract from the first catechism in Bemba which was published in 1900.[8] In 1955, to our great amusement, an old man who had been a catechumen when Fr. Letort was still in Kayambi, recited the catechism lessons he still knew by heart.

(12.) Kuli misango inga ya zambi?

Kuli misango ibili ya zambi.

(13.) Soseni majina yawo?

Zambi lya kisinte na zambi lya kukita ifwe bene.

(14.) Zambi zya kukita zyonse pamo?

Ioo, zibie nazikulishe, zibie nazichepa.

(15.) Zambi nazikulisha jina lyawo kinshi?

Zambi nazikulisha jina lyawo ni zambi zya kufwa.

[A sample of the Bemba that was used (Catechism of 1900).]

Jean-Baptiste as Trainer of Children and Adult Catechists

The school was more than a primary school. In a letter to Algiers in 1899, Father Molinier tells us that out of the 700 children who passed through the boarding school, hardly two or three could be confidently sent “to teach catechism.”[9] And in the diary we read: “His Lordship tries to have children to go and pray in the villages, but they are not numerous enough, and we must postpone this beautiful work. As soon as we have adequate catechists, they will go and work in the villages we are preparing for them.”

And so do we learn that the aim of the school was to recruit catechists. This had been decided unanimously in council on November 1, 1892: “to choose the most promising pupils and to train them as catechists.” They learned prayers, hymns and catechism by heart. When in 1898 the small chiefs that surrounded the mission asked and received permission to build a “house of prayer” in their village, the mission had “a small present” for them: a child who went there “on fixed days to lead the prayers and to teach catechism” (entry April 1898).

But we know the fate of the school. Evangelization through orphanages and boarding schools proved to be a failure at Kayambi as it had been in Tanganyika.[10] The reform of 1899 ended, as we said, in “razing the ‘barza’ to the ground.” Moreover, resorting to day school did not bring much improvement.

On November 23rd, 1901, a major decision was taken: “We decide to take up the work of training catechists anew, in more modest proportions. Therefore we will tend to six or seven young men more gifted than others. We will instruct them more thoroughly. Eventually some will be sent to other missions.”

The new school opened the following January, in a new building that stood where the actual parish offices are. Jean-Baptiste is then named in the diary: “We open our catechists’ school. It is Jean-Baptiste who will be in charge of the religious instruction of our future auxiliaries.”

While teaching the catechists, Jean-Baptiste helped in the children’s school, replacing Fathers who moved: Fr. Claquin 9 July 1905, Fr. Chauviré 16 June 1907. On December 10th, 1909, it is said: “Jean-Baptiste will teach those who begin to know how to read.”

The output of the catechists’ school was rather impressive. On April 22, 1906: “twelve new catechists are assigned residence in the villages,” the diary says. They were local young men. Contrasting with other missions, like Chilubula and Chilonga, the Mother Mission, Kayambi, had always had resident catechists. The other missions in the northern part of the Nyasa vicariate had opted, with a few exceptions, for itinerant catechists.

In 1908, the system of itinerant catechists was contested by some missionaries, particularly Father Eugène Welfélé (Bwana Mulombwa). The catechists were excellent in teaching the doctrine, but lacked academic abilities. They could hardly read and write and could not count.[11] “Bwana Mulombwa” advocated a proper catechists’ school. The creation of two central schools was decided by the council of the Vicariate (diocese) in December 1908. But only one was opened in the southern part of the Vicariate, the Ngoniland. In Bembaland each mission continued to train its own catechists until the 1920s.

In April 1909 Jean-Baptiste was still on the job of teaching the future catechists. He was given the task of teaching them English which, until then, had been taught by the Fathers in the day school, particularly Schoeffer and Bournez. Jean-Baptiste, who had learned French at Zanzibar and English at Malta, kept on practicing it at Kayambi with English-speaking visitors. Indeed, Kayambi was on the main road at the time and once in the diary the Superior wrote: “Englishmen! They are pouring in like rain” (Il en pleut ici!).

The teaching of English had been introduced in the school a few months previously. The results must have been meagre and disappointing. In March 1911, Father Henri Marsan, a French Canadian, was asked to begin a serious course in English for the catechists for, the diary says, “the varnish of English they have makes them think they are superiors.”

Jean-Baptiste was to remain in the catechists’ school until 1910. It appears that he was not involved any longer in the children’s school. Indeed, whenever there was a change of missionary staff, his name never appears in the distribution of classes while it does in relation to religious instruction: he was a catechist.

Catechist in the Villages

In 1896, when he had arrived at Kayambi the missionaries had settled and had made friends: redeeming slaves, killing lions that were a plague at the time, giving daily medical care to sick, wounded or mutilated people. In that way, they attracted villagers to the mission. The war that threatened to take place between the British and the Bemba had been avoided, and one could visit the villages rather freely.

Bishop Joseph Dupont knew of the failures in Tanganyika. Moreover the slave trade was beginning to be a thing of the past and he foresaw an era of peace ahead. When the boarding school began to collapse he had to resort to Lavigerie’s idea of a “Christian village” or Christian villages around the mission.

In 1898, when Chief Makasa moved away, the Bishop invited those who stayed behind to come closer to the mission and build a village. The chiefs and others who chose to settle at Kayambi asked permission to build a chapel in their village. “All the chiefs see that as an emancipation from babarity, and from their subjection to cruel and capricious chiefs.”

As was the habit at Mambwe-Mwela, lessons in catechism were taught to those who came. This was done on a daily but free basis. Those villagers did not belong to the missionaries, and their coming to the mission was seen as the beginning of a conversion. If they persevered and asked for baptism, they entered the catechumenate like their friends in the mission village.

Since the catechist who was at Mambwe-Mwela, Vincent, followed the catechists’ school to Karema, and no one else is ever mentioned in the diary, we may presume that besides teaching in the school, Jean-Baptiste soon had his hands full.

A letter from Fr. Letort tells us that in 1900 Kayambi had then some 30 Christians, about 60 serious catechumens, and a few hundred postulants out of nearly 1500 inhabitants. The missionaries had then stopped going to the far away chapels and were concentrating their efforts on the immediate surroundings, ten chapels in all. In the same letter the Father does not praise the work of the catechists the Kayambi school had produced until then.[12]

In 1901 (at that time Jean-Baptiste was fluent in Bemba) his skill was put to good use. The ten villages were divided between the Fathers and him; two to Fr. Moneraye and eight to Jean-Baptiste. This is explicitly said in two entries in the council book. “In the other villages catechism will be taught by Jean-Baptiste under the supervision of Fr. Superior” (2/5/1900) and in the entry 14/7/1900, “The other villages will be catechized by Fr. Superior in agreement with (d’accord avec) Jean-Baptiste.”

This looked like a reversal of roles. Jean-Baptiste was in charge of the villages and the Superior could share the work after agreeing with him. The Superior was Father Letort, his travelling companion from Europe. Jean-Baptiste was a fully fledged head catechist. Six months later he was in the newly opened catechists school to train better lay auxiliaries.

This also shows that he shared responsibilities with the priests. The successor of Fr. Letort as Superior in 1903, Fr. Schoeffer, continued this sharing of responsibilities. Although Jean-Baptiste did not attend the weekly councils of deliberations, he is named whenever there were changes in the programme of religious instructions. On October 16, 1904 he was asked to take the group of boys who were preparing for baptism. Jean-Baptiste was not an ordinary catechist, nor a mere mission helper. He was a lay missionary.

His Life in the Mission Village

At Malta Jean-Baptiste had lived a simple and frugal life that did not estrange him from Africa. This was the express wish of the founder of the school, Cardinal Lavigerie, that is, not to make black Europeans out of the boys. Jean-Baptiste knew that he had to integrate himself into the population when back in Africa and become a leader. This is why he went to live in Ilondola, the mission village, with the people he had to evangelize. His first work was to build himself a nice house, wrote Fr. Letort to Algiers. When he left Kayambi in the 1910s he had “two beautiful big houses,” said Sister Mandalena Mbotwa.

In 1896 the mission village, Ilondola, was small. Most of the inhabitants were ransomed slaves or people who had been given to the missionaries, mostly girls. To these we must add some grown ups who had given themselves to the Fathers, as the reader knows. In the mentality of the time all of them belonged to their new owners, the Fathers, much in the line of the traditional allegiance to a chief and of domestic slavery. As for the Fathers, they called them “nos enfants” (our children).[13]

The mission village had no headman, as in a traditional village, but only a supervisor (kapitao). Life in the mission village was regulated by the missionaries, and the village had to be a Christian village, in the missionary pattern of the early White Fathers’ missions in Tanganyika.[14]

Marriages were decided by the missionaries. In December 1895 a selection was made of people to be married in the coming months. The following January, 1896, the missionaries allowed Jean-Baptiste’s predecessor, Msangawale to marry. On the 3rd Sunday of January 1898 (unless mistaken, on the 20th), during the ordinary session of the council, all members except one agreed to let Jean-Baptiste marry Kanyapa.[15]

When families and individuals came to settle in the village, like those 25 young men mentioned earlier, they had to accept the conditions: order and discipline, monogamy and respect of others’ property, no witchcraft. To fully describe life in the Ilondola village is beyond the scope of this booklet. Let it be sufficient to quote a few passages from the diary of the first years at Kayambi to give an idea of the society Jean-Baptiste had to integrate himself into.

Order and discipline:On principle no one could run away without impunity, although some did (15 July 1897); they disappeared. For misbehaviour one could be chased from the village for good (17 July 1897). This meant exile or return to a life of insecurity. One could also be told to leave the village for a while and fend for himself. This was a public punishment (pénitence publique) (18-19-24 July 1897). Some were put in chains and in prison (31 July-25 August 1897), and even publicly flogged. The reasons for such severe treatments were thefts, beating and brawls. In cases that pertained to civil law (crimes, taxes) the culprits were handed over to the British authorities.

Monogamy:On the 3rd September 1897 we read:

Something very important happened in our village, in the Bemba section. A Bemba, 25 years old, had come to settle in the village with his wife. One day, he brings in a second wife. His Lordship makes him understand that we cannot suffer that; we do not allow polygamy. But neither he nor the wife would hear about that. So, we plot with a group of other Bemba. During the night we kidnap the second wife and marry her to another Bemba who had none, and the affair is closed. But we have initiated a policy, we do hope we won’t give in in the future.

Respect of people’s property,including that of the missionaries. For trying to enforce this point forcibly, Jean-Baptiste was beaten and the able bodied men ran away, endangering the future of the village.

A general ‘debacle’ of Christians takes place in the village. Sokala takes bananas he had stolen from the Fathers to Kanyapa, the wife of Jean-Baptiste. The latter gets angry and reprimands Sokala, who does not deny his intention to seduce Kanyapa. In the evening, Jean-Baptiste beats Sokala. Sokala, in turn, helped by his companions, Tinda, Kipamina, Mukambu and Pio beat Jean-Baptiste, who takes refuge at the mission. The offenders run away to Mambwe land, their usual refuge. But other foolish actions obliged them to flee further off as far as Chilundumushi and elsewhere. They must no doubt have twinges of conscience and, with the help of God’s grace, it is hoped that they won’t delay too much their return. (10/3/1900)

Witchcraft.At Mambwe-Mwela people who had to undergo the poison test (umwafi) used to take refuge at the mission. Only one case of poison ordeal is mentioned in the Kayambi diary on August 11, 1895. From that day on, we may say that, under the missionaries’ care, Ilondola, the mission village of Kayambi became a haven, free of witchcraft fears, and where traditional taboos could be broken without impunity. No practices of sorcery were allowed in the village, although all the people believed in it. Pagan, i.e., non-christian practices were forbidden and non-christian beliefs were challenged. One day, on May 15, 1900, a child of evil omen, whose upper teeth had appeared first (cinkuula) was saved from murder by the Fathers.

Jean-Baptiste, the catechist, could teach with authority: “The first commandment of God forbids us to worship the dead, to divine, to make and to wear talismans, to have medicine horns and charms and to place them in houses and in water to wash oneself with.”[16] In the mission village, at Kayambi his listeners and pupils had no choice but to accept, because they belonged to the missionaries. They had to learn by rote a doctrine and a new code of behaviour. This was seen as a stepping stone to conversion. The diary says: “We hope that some will ask for baptism.” Then they committed themselves to the Catholic system of rights and obligations, and of worship. Ilondola village had to be the model village of a Catholic village.

Like any ordinary villager Jean-Baptiste had to grow his own food, pollarding trees, burning the branches over a patch of bush and sowing millet (citemene system). He also had his mounds (mputa) near the village. But he was a pioneer. The Sisters tell us that he was the first African to grow rice at Kayambi.

On March 28, (1909) our Sunday promenade takes us into the bush. We go and see the fields of the people. At the outskirts of the village most of them have a small field in which they grow maize, beans, tobacco, cassava and sweet potatoes etc… Finally we go to see the rice field of Jean-Baptiste, the first African to try that crop at Kayambi. The field is small but well cultivated. There are irrigation canals and the seedlings are already beautiful.

He not only was a pioneer but also an example to his fellow villagers; he grew more crops than they did. The Sisters had described the fields of the people in a rather disparaging way. As for the garden of Jean-Baptiste they say:

Beside (his rice field) he has an ordinary garden full of various local and even European vegetables. Potatoes and peas grow well. There is a house, or rather a round shelter with a circular bench, cleverly made of interwoven reeds, inviting us to rest. We take the opportunity and have a little chat with the wife of the owner.[17]

This little farm of Jean-Baptiste appears to have been his fair attempt at being self-supporting and financially independent from the mission, as Cardinal Lavigerie had wanted his Doctors-Catechists to be; a hopeless attempt in a country without market.

At Home

As we know, Jean-Baptiste married on the 25th January 1898, hardly two years after his arrival at Kayambi. The officiating priest was his travelling companion of 1896 from Europe to Kayambi, Fr. Letort. His wife, Kanyapa (or Kanyampa according to other registers), was a postulant ready to enter the catechumenate, which she completed successfully, for she was baptized on Easter day 1901, April 1, by Fr. Moneraye under the name of Angela. Their marriage was solemnly blessed on April 23, 1901.[18]

Who was Angela? Kanyapa (or Kanyampa) does not appear on the list of liberated slaves. According to the marriage record she was a Mambwe woman. In 1989, in an answer to an inquiry, the parish priest at Kayambi, who had contacted local people, specified that she was from Mukusa-Kalulu villages. Indeed these villages are in the country of the Mambwe-of-the-hills, i.e. the Mambwe who chose to stay on when the Bemba conquered the country.[19] But Mukusa and Kalulu are Bemba, and both of them are keepers of Bemba shrines. The riddle was solved by the family of Jean-Baptiste.[20] Angela was a daughter of Kalulu and belonged to the opposite clan (banungwe) of the royal one, the “wailing” clan (nkoonde), that is, the clan that mourns the death of a Bemba chief. So Kanyapa was Bemba. Possibly she was one of these girls who were given to the missionaries as a token of friendship; or was she that sick woman chief Kalulu allowed the Fathers to keep when cured? Obviously she belonged to the the missionaries, who could give her to Jean-Baptiste.

Jean-Baptiste and Angela had three children. The firstborn, John Msidjuma, was born on May 31, 1901. In the entry of the day, the writer of the diary notes the happy event saying: “Mrs. Kannyapa [sic], wife of the negro [sic] Jean-Baptiste, finally gives him a baby after five years of marriage. The poor man was beginning to despair.”

“After five years of marriage” is either a distraction of the writer or an exaggeration. Or, does it not rather indicate that the Fathers knew of some kind of tension in the marriage? An earlier incident might be revealing. On June 15, 1900, Fr. Letort wrote to Mgr. Livinhac, the Superior General of the White Fathers, that by accident Jean-Baptiste (who was well known to Mgr. Livinhac) burnt the nice house he had built. He was so vexed that he wanted to go to Kibwa, but his wife prevented him from doing so.[21]

The next child, William, was born five years later, May 6, 1906, and the last, Maria, in April 1910, 4 years later. The lapse of time between the children was rather great, even if we make allowances for the former traditional time of weaning a child, up to three years, because of breast feeding.

Soon after the birth of Maria, Jean-Baptiste left for Kasama where he eventually took a second wife. The registration of the baptism of Maria, April 6, 1910, is the last mention of Jean-Baptiste in the Kayambi registers. The age of Kanyampa could not have been the reason for Jean-Baptiste’s polygamy. She was 20 in 1901 and she died at the age of 36 at Kasama.

Jean-Baptiste: the Man

Jean-Baptiste was a handsome young man of about 18-19 years old when he arrived in Kayambi in 1896. He remained so all his life. He had a beautiful voice and spoke and walked with distinction and a touch of elegance. He was a gifted man and possible an artist. In one photograph, he is holding a flute. Indeed he was an musician. He played the harmonium every Sunday and on Feastdays. This is the first and practically the only vivid remembrance Sister Mandalena Mbotwa, the small child of 1902-1910, had of him at the beginning of my interview with her at Malole.

The White Sisters describe him in their diary (15 December 1905).

We are beginning to learn the Christmas carols in Bemba. Jean-Baptiste is teaching the men. (He is) the organist of the parish and performs his task well. On Sunday we see him arriving in the church wrapped in a blue blanket, over which he wears a long white shirt. This is the latest fashion at Kayambi: the shirt over the rest. They must find queer that Europeans who wear a shirt hide it carefully under other clothing.[22]

When in the 1960s Church music was Africanized, he had an unconcealed dislike for drums, rattles, clapping of hands to accompany religious hymns in the church. He found them very “unholy.”

Obviously he knew Gregorian hymns by heart. We are told that he had a try at composing hymns in Bemba, or rather of translating existing French hymns. He freely translated the famous “Minuit Chrétiens,” which was sung for the first time on Christmas night 1902.[23] In 1905, as the Sisters noted, it was still sung: “The church is packed. We sing Minuit Chrétiens in Bemba.”

Jean-Baptiste and the Bemba

One may wonder what Jean-Baptiste thought of the Bemba, and how they saw and treated him. What did the White missionaries themselves think of their “dreaded Awemba”? Father Foulon, who lived at Kayambi in 1902-1903, wrote: “A Bemba, as any warrior, is very proud and even disdainful of African strangers and sometimes of the Whites.” Possibly Jean-Baptiste had the painful experiences of an evangelist whose teaching disturbs his listeners and is told: “You do not even know Bemba - you are not a Bemba.”[24]

But it must be said that the Kayambi people appreciated his services. In the 1950s they still spoke about him. In beer parties, when beer loosened the tongues, he was praised together with the pioneers, Letort and Schoeffer. Like them he was “Patili wesu,” our Padre.[25]

Letort again wrote:

A Bemba is rather clever, he understands rather quickly what we want to teach him… He is cheerful and jovial. He can take a joke and does not miss an opportunity to poke fun at others… He usually is of mild temper when nothing makes him fly off the handle. When he is angry he can be shocklingly violent. Jean-Baptiste who was beaten up one day knew something about that.

That incident, which was described earlier, showed that he was a disturbing presence in the village. He was something of an outsider. We could apply to him another quotation from Foulon:

A Bemba, like any African, is distrustful of strangers, particularly the Whites. As he does not understand why they came into his country, he suspects them of evil intentions. Because of this he is not inclined to speak of his religion and customs. This mistrust, even of missionaries, may last for years. If he becomes attached to them he nearly always does so in his own interest. Did the people understand why Jean-Baptiste was among them, the man of the Fathers?

Was he considered a rich man? Foulon again wrote: “For the African the White man is essentially rich. If he lacks something, like cloth, beads, hats etc., he simply wishes them and they come his way.” With his two nice houses, his garden and rice field Jean-Baptiste was a well-to-do man. What was his secret? He must have been something of a sorcerer. His departure from Kayambi and his leaving the work of catechists must have been somehow shocking to the people.

Jean-Baptiste leaves Kayambi

At an unknown date Jean-Baptiste left Kayambi and joined the Company (BSA) and colonial authorities in Kasama as an interpreter, as he was fluent in Swahili and Bemba, French and English. His departure from Kayambi is nowhere recorded. An undated note, Chilubula, in the margin of the Baptism Acts of the members of his family indicates that the whole family moved to that mission.

The only evidence of his absence, or retirement is that, in January of 1910, the priests distributed the classes to the catechists among themselves, with no mention of Jean-Baptiste. This was repeated in August of the same year and in June and July 1911. This contrasted with the practice of the previous years. From 1902 till 1910, no such deliberations had taken place concerning the catechists. Something was amiss, or new.

This was the case: there was a new superior. In 1909, the good Father Schoeffer was replaced by Father Pueth, whose nickname was Shikapula,- “He who goes his way undeterred.” Two days after his arrival at Kayambi on January 7, 1910, Pueth gathered the Fathers for a new job description. This was repeated on the 14th and 21st of the same month; nine pages full of precise directives. The new superior kept a lot of work for himself, so much so that, on May 22 of the same year the visitor, Fr. Larue, made the following remark: “I note that the Superior has too many functions. This is detrimental to his health and to his fellow missionaries who are not employed as they should be.” He advised him to re-distribute Catechism lessons, classes, sermons, confessions, etc. We can imagine that Jean-Baptiste also felt left out and underrated.

At the time, 1910, the question of the catechists was in dispute, regarding the type, - resident or itinerant,- and the training,- religious or profane or purely religious. Bishop Dupont was throwing his weight about, showing his preferences for evangelists travelling from place to place, teaching by rote a doctrine. Indeed, a few days before the arrival of Father Pueth, he had visited Kayambi, and in his “visitation card” had given rather surprising directives: The catechists “should stick to teaching the catechism word by word, spend fifty out of sixty in doing so, and give explanations only for some ten minutes. They should not indulge in doctrinal discusions and arguments, except to refute the errors of the Protestants.”[26] We may imagine that Jean-Baptiste somehow felt left out of tune with that method, and out of place with the shift from resident to travelling catechists.

Another event might have played a part in his decision to leave the work. In February of the same year it was decided to try women-catechists.[27] In all likeliness he left Kayambi after the birth and baptism of his last child, in April 1910, the last mention of his name at Kayambi.

Why such a silence about him? Had he not for fourteen years shared responsibilities with the Fathers and enjoyed their trust not only as a teacher and catechist but as a reliable substitute? In 1904 (October 1) he was leading a group of 90 carriers to Mwenzo mission on the Stevenson road, to go and fetch White Fathers who had just arrived from Europe. In 1905 (July) he was sent to the Mambwe to try to recruit workers and did so successfully. In 1907 (February) during the absence of the Superior he replaced him to teach in his villages. In June 1907 he had stepped into the class of Father Chauviré who was on tour, and in December he helped out teaching those who began to read.

As there are no written records, the reason for his departure is a matter of conjecture: of his own accord or forced to do so. The common memory of the people is that “he left the job because of money, of low income.” This was repeated to me by Sister Mbotwa, quoted above.

Polygamy was the only reason the missionaries gave for his retirement. Indeed, at Kasama Jean-Baptiste took a second wife, hailing from Munkonge (Mpolokoso district-Lubishi). He himself admitted to this. He did not resume his work as catechist when he was pensioned off by the Government at the age of about 50, because, he said: “I was too old, Father, and I had given a bad example.”[28]

Polygamy cannot have been the reason for his leaving Kayambi, as he took a second wife later. Moreover, dismissals were discussed in council by the priests, and the only record of such a case at Kayambi is found in March 1911, when a certain Simeo was asked to leave the work, because of public scandal. Moreover, at Chilubula, Jean-Baptiste’s name never appears in the Council book of 1908 to 1918, in which mere exclusions from the reception of the Eucharist were duly recorded. In fact, there are no records at Chilubula stating that Jean-Baptiste worked there as a catechist.

In the aforementioned interview his family threw some light on the puzzle. Jean-Baptiste simply retired from the job of catechist at Kayambi, went to live at Chilubula, where he played the harmonium on Sundays and Feastdays. When the 1914-1918 war broke out, he settled at Bwembya’s village, near Kasama, became interpreter in the enrollment of carriers for the army, and some time between the two World Wars he retired. He then received some 20 heads of cattle from the Government and began farming. The site of his farm is near where his daughter-in-law and grandson Stephen live in Bwembya.

The work of Jean-Baptiste deserves recognition and appreciation. He was a pioneer in what we may now call the “lay ministry,” that of teaching. Some of his pupils are well known: Remy Kayunge, the father of the priest, Fr. Joakim Kayunge; Pio Diluna whose son and grandson also became catechists; the parents of Mr. Stephen Mpashi, the Bemba writer; the grandfather of Father Telesfor Kabiti, Remy Kabiti, and many others.

Jean-Baptiste left his missionary work for reasons he knew best, but he remained faithful to his commitment to the Church. His grandchildren can be proud of him. He died in April 1972 in Chitambi’s village, Kasama, a dignified and respected man. His son, the second born, William, became a catechist and worked at Kasama till his death.

He had been spared the shame that the stain of slavery brings onto people and families in Bemba society. He wife was Bemba, as we said. But the main reason was that he had been able to find his roots in Tanganyika.

Finding his roots

This section is based on a recorded interview of Jean-Baptiste by the author and Father Ronald Roy in 1964 about his childhood in particular and on archival material from Rome.

The idea of searching for his people haunted Jean-Baptiste. “I often dreamt of going to find my parents. One name kept ringing in my mind: Dabani (Abani). I knew that we were not living far from the sea and Zanzibar. I reckoned it was somewhere south of Mombasa.”

One day (he gave no date) he was given a leave of absence by his employers. They even helped him to reach Dar es Salam. The Dabani of his dreams turned out to be Sadani, a small town on the coast, north of Bagamoyo. This is the place of birth he gave when he registered after the independence of Zambia.

From Dar es Salam he headed north to Sadani, intent on visiting systematically the neighborhoods.

The first thing I did was to go and visit the sultan, to whom I related the story of my capture. The sultan gathered the headmen of the old villages. They came, a dozen of them, and heard my story again. After a moment of discussion, one of them told me to stand up and walk away, then called me back. He said: “Yes, your story is true. Your father is Mututa Mangara, you walk like him.”

During the conversation that followed Jean-Baptiste learned that his parents were dead. His mother had died of a broken heart soon after his capture. He followed the old man to his village, where he found some cousins. “They were all muslims. I tried to convert them. But nothing doing. They rather wanted to convert me to Islam, and wanted me to stay. But I had a family.”

Here is the story as he told it in 1964; a story I heard again from one of his grandchildren, Stephen, in 1990.

Our father was away. In the evening I was playing with my brother, when our mother told us: “I am going to the water place. Stay within the enclosure. Do not go out.” Soon after her departure, a boy we knew came in to call us: “Come. I have seen a big bird. Let us catch it.” We answered: “No, our mother forbade us to go out.” “Oh, come on, it will not be long. I need your help.” So we went.

As we were hunting, two men came out of nowhere and grabbed us. We were drawn away and locked up in a house. I wept the whole night. The following morning, before dawn, the same men came and took us to the sea where a big boat was waiting. I had never seen such a big boat. We were taken to Zanzibar.

There a man who looked like an Arab took me. Weeping I was taken to his house where I found a lot of children like myself. I never saw my brother again.

“The man who looked like an Arab” was a White Father, whose uniform was a ‘gandoura’ (white cassock or robe), a ‘burnous’ (cape) and a ‘chechia’(fez). Indeed the White Fathers had a procura in Zanzibar, where the missionaries stayed before venturing into the interior of Africa, and whence supplies to the same were dispatched. The Fathers at Zanzibar used to run an orphanage, to redeem slave children, and to care for those who were sent by missionaries from the main land, particularly from Uganda. So much so that “pagan” became synonymous with Africans. It was the express wish of Cardinal Lavigerie to recruit young boys for his Apostolic School in Malta of which we spoke earlier.

In the diary of the Procura, on July 24, 1884, we read:

Our Procura has acquired eleven more black children, whose gaiety is pleasant to see. The wish of his Eminence (Cardinal Lavigerie, regarding young slaves) was that we ransom only ten. But one of them has been given to us and we willingly accepted him. They come from the continent, Munyema, Unyamwezi, Ukani etc. Two are about 9 years old, the others between 4 and 8. Here are the names we gave them. Victor, the oldest, then Felix, Jean-Baptiste, Augustin, Joseph, Alfons, Leonce, Louis and the youngest, Emmanuel. So Jean-Baptiste was in the group.

In a letter to the Superior General in Algiers, dated April 9, 1888, Father Jamet, the procurator, discussed the possibility of baptizing some of the boys, who had spent 4 years in the procura and followed the catechism classes. Jean-Baptiste was also one of them.

In the letter we find the explicit mention, and of his arrival at Zanzibar: “Racheté en Juin 1884” (ransomed in June 1884), and of his age: 12 years. The diary of Zanzibar says that he was baptized April 13th, 1890.

On his National Registration card he gave the year 1880. If, according to Jamet, he was 12 years old in 1888, the date of his birth would have been 1876 and he would have been baptized at the age of 14. This is very unlikely, for several reasons. In the recorded interview aforementioned he said that he was about 5 years old when he was captured, in 1884. This gives us 1878 or 1879 as the date of his birth. Moreover he stated that he was still a child when he was baptized. In fact it must have been in his 12th year. Finally, as we shall see later, he stayed 6 years in Malta, from 1890 to 1896. This makes him arrive at Kayambi at the age of 17 or 18.

Two years later when he married he must have been in his twenties. His wife who is recorded as being 20 years old when she was baptized in 1900 must have been 17 or 18 when they married. African customs of the time did not allow a man to marry a woman older than himself. Consequently our guess is that Jean-Baptiste was born in 1879.

From the letters of Father Jamet we also learn the child’s name of Jean-Baptiste: “Mouijouma” (French spelling), usually written Mwijuma or Mwidjuma.[29] This is the name we find in the records of the baptisms of his three children born at Kayambi. “Mwijuma” is said to mean “born on Friday.” This might have been his birth name (the navel name, as the expression goes).

At Kayambi (or Kasama), following a well established custom to take a name which is relevant to the situation in which one is, “the man of Friday” became “the man of the year, or of the time,” Chamwaka, to which he added Mangara, the name of his father.

Moreover, at home, at Sadani, he discovered his clan, so says his family. And this is an interesting point. It was the Wild Boar clan, Ngulube, the Bemba clan in which men have ritual functions.[30] Was it a mere coincidence or a deliberate choice? Was not Jean-Baptiste the “patili mutifi,” the man with religious functions? He was really integrated into the population, as Cardinal Lavigerie had wished.

His Preparation for Malta

The White Fathers’ Procura was a school for the orphans. The aim was not to make them Christians as soon as possible but to prepare the boys for the school for doctor-catechists at Malta.

The selection was severe. In previous letters Jamet had written that all were enthusiastic about going to Malta. This means that there was some zest and emulation in the school. Jean-Baptiste was a witness to this when he said: “We learned French and good manners.”

But Jean-Baptiste does not seem to have been among the most gifted or the most eager, if we judge from the date of his baptism. His friends who had been ransomed with him in 1884 were baptized in 1888 and 1889, while his turn came only in 1890, shortly before leaving Zanzibar for Europe.

Europe and the Anti-Slavery Congress

Jean-Baptiste Mwijuma left Zanzibar on September 3, 1890, together with Bishop Livinhac who had been called back to Algiers by Cardinal Lavigerie. With him were thirteen other young Africans. Their destination was Malta. The group arrived at Marseilles on September 19, where Bishop Livinhac was requested by the Cardinal to proceed to Paris with all his young Africans. They were to attend the opening of the anti-slavery congress.

Cardinal Lavigerie’s anti-slavery campaign in several European capitals brought about the creation of anti-slavery societies throughout Europe. A congress of all these societies was to be held in Paris in 1890, and that is why Bishop Livinhac was called to Paris. The young Africans were to appear in public at the opening of the congress in the church of St. Sulpice. In a report of the time we read:

On both the stairs that lead to the pulpit, six White Fathers were standing while at the end of the nave, that was packed with devout people, and against the brightly illuminated main altar the silhouettes of a “legion” [sic] of young Africans, the adoptive children of the Cardinal, attracted the attention.

Jean-Baptiste proudly related that experience. “The people were looking at us. We were smiling at them, while the Cardinal was speaking in the pulpit. How well he spoke! He was beautiful, he was a great man. He came to chat with us.” All the anti-slavery societies that had been founded at the initiative of the Cardinal were represented, that is, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal as well as the British Anti-Slavery Society.[31]

From Paris Bishop Livinhac took his boys to Lyons on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fourvières and then back to Marseilles. Before sailing to North Africa, they duly visited the famous local Marian sanctuary (N. D. de la Garde). Out of the 14 who had come with Bishop Livinhac, eight went to Algiers, where they were directed to the seminary of St. Eugène to eventually become priests. The other six went to Carthage in Tunisia, and from there to Malta, where they arrived in October. Jean-Baptiste was among them. He left Malta in 1896 to go back to Africa, to Kayambi.


Spiritually, Jean-Baptiste was a “son” of Cardinal Lavigerie, together with his other “sons” and “daughters,” namely the White Fathers and Brothers and the White Sisters, but a son of a particular type. He was a missionary who was neither a cleric (deacon or priest or minister) nor a Religious (monk or Brother), but a simple Christian.

He gave some 16 years of his life to a cause that was beyond him; first as a victim of the slavery that was plaguing Africa, then as a willing youth who accepted to be expatriated to Europe for training. He joyfully came back to his native Africa with the missionary pioneers to share with them the responsibility of founding the church of Christ in Zambia, a country that was not his. Together with the White Fathers and White Sisters he made history in Zambia.

At the root was an idea of the founder of the White Fathers and White Sisters, Cardinal Lavigerie. At a time when the clerical members of the Hierarchy, Pope, Bishops and priests, were believed to be the whole structure of the church, and in whose hands was the responsibility of spreading the Gospel, Cardinal Lavigerie had a profoundly original idea at the end of the last century. Outside of the traditional framework of ordained ministry, religious orders, societies and congregations, ordinary people would share the responsibility of missionary work.

At first the Cardinal wanted Doctors-Catechists. They were to be trained in such a way that they would not be estranged from their native Africa. Once back in Africa, they would live with the local inhabitants, share their culture and way of life. Their profession would put them on an equal footing with the missionaries and make them financially independent from them.

The idea was ahead of Lavigerie’s time and the response of his missionaries was not enthusiastic. It must be said to the credit of the early Fathers at Kayambi that they endorsed the original idea of their common founder, Cardinal Lavigerie, by sharing responsibilities with him, even to the point of asking for his agreement (d’accord avec Jean-Baptiste). This fact of being at one with the missionaries, together with the fact of having, like the White missionaries, expatriated himself, must have been so extraordinary that the Kayambi Christians called him “The Black Padre” and “Our Padre” rather than teacher or catechist.

He left. This does not mean that he was a failure. Out of the nine Doctors-Catechists who were trained at Malta and went to work in Africa, many left the service of the Church to join that of the Government or to begin a private business. The same may be said of the Teachers-Catechists. It would be interesting to know why they did so. Did they leave of their own accord or were they forced to do so, even by the missionaries?

Maybe the priests of the time were not ready to make full use of these apostles of a special type, who shared the responsibility of missionary work with them.

And the priests of today, in a developing church?

Louis Oger M.Afr.


  1. Mambwe diary, 17/05/1893 and 27/01/1895.

  2. Mambwe diary, chief Kirango 3/09/1892 and chief Makasa 7/10/1893, 25/7/1894, 2/8/1894, 7/10/1894.

  3. Denis Starkey, W.F., “Bought Our of Slavery, The Life Story of Adrian Atiman” in White Fathers - White Sisters, issue 304 p.13.

  4. Lamey, archivist, Generalate, White Fathers, Rome, letter 4/10/1990.

  5. Council book, February 18 and 19, 1895.

  6. Council book, August 27, 1896.

  7. Council book, February 13, 1896.

  8. *Catéchisme (en langue Kibemba) *by J. Dupont, Missionaire des Pères Blancs. St. Cloud, Imprîmerie Belin Frères, 1900.

  9. Chroniques Trimestrielles 26 Mai 1899, p. 489.

  10. For example Kibanga, 1882-1884. François Renault, Lavigerie, l’esclavage africain et l’Europe, 2 volumes, ed. Roccard, 1971: I p. 196-197.

  11. Welfélé to Livinhac, Superior General, 23/5/1908.

  12. Chroniques Trimestrielles n. 88, October 1900.

  13. In the Ilondola parish (Chinsali district) I found evidence of that custom of belonging to someone in repute. Some people or families are still called slaves (musha-basha), although they enjoy perfect freedom. The explanation given is that their ancestors had belonged to a chief or to a family. Stephen Chipalo, interview 30 May 1992, in relation to Chiombe, a Musukuma/Yeke man who was involved in the slave trade and chose to stay in the country at chief Mwaba’s service. See Oger, Where a Scattered Flock Gathered, 1991, p. 39.

  14. Read Renault, op. cit. I p. 196-208 and elsewhere.

  15. Council book, 1/12/1895, 6/1/1896 and January 1898. This custom of the priests’ involvement in marriages continued. When I was stationed at Kayambi in 1953-1958, quite a few men who were working either in Tanganyika or in the mines, wrote to us to find girls for them to marry.

  16. J. Dupont, Catechism 1900, p.8 n.4.

  17. Printed Diary of White Sisters, p.334-335, 28 March 1909.

  18. Diary entry, 23 April 1901.

  19. See Oger Icalo ca Mpanda. The country of chief Makasa, 1958, edited by Archives of Missionaries of Africa, 1992.

  20. Interview, 2 November 1992, at Bwembya (Kasama) with Sabina, 80 years old, wife of William, the second born of Jean-Baptiste, and of her son, Stephen.

  21. Kibwa (now pronounced Chibwa) was the first missionary settlement in Mpika district, Chibwa plain, before the opening of Chilonga.

  22. Printed diary of the White Sisters, 15 December 1905, p. 87.

  23. Diary, 25 December 1902.

  24. Foulon Emile, 13/8/1907. Manuscript 803.113 WFA Rome. Further quotations are from the same manuscript.

  25. Heard by the author several times in Makasa’s country (Kayambi mission) between 1953-1958.

  26. Livre d’ordres, Chilubi, Décisions du Conseil du Vicariat, December 8, 1908, and Cahier d’Ordres, Kayambi, Carte de Visite, January 1910.

  27. Council book, 4 February 1910. The experiment failed. On July 23, 1911, we read: “To have women as catechists? The experiment clearly shows that we are heading for a failure.”

  28. Petit Echo n.631, 1972.7 p.303.

  29. In the brief account of his life which was published in the White Fathers’ link at the occasion of his death (Petit Echo, n.631, 1972.7 p.303.) I gave the name Mwij, trusting my memory, as I was not in possession of the tape at the time. There is no doubt that the full name was Mwijuma.

  30. Information supplied by Father Justin Chomba, parish priest at Kayambi, letter 7/7/1990.

  31. F. Renault, op. cit. II p. 314.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Forget Me Not by Louis Oger M.Afr., Mission Press, Ndola, 1991. Published by the Missionaries of Africa on the occasion of the Centenary of the death of their founder Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, 26 November 1892.