Cast as written : Protestant missionaries and their translation of Molimo as the Christian God in 19th-century Southern Africa

03 Feb 2021

This essay reads the 19th-century Protestant Christian missionary archive in order to explore how it deals with translating the term ‘molimo’ as (the Christian) God. It shows that this work of translation rests upon a binary division that Protestant Christian missionaries make between the inside and the outside with priority given to the former over the latter. This binary division that informs the translation of molimo as God, has the consequence of dis-solving the material religion of the 19th-century Sotho speaking people and inaugurating in its place a notion of religion whose foundation is personal interiority. The result of this departure of molimo from the material to personal interiority is the reorganization of the relationship between space and time. The essay argues that molimo’s departure from the material to personal interiority privileges space over time because, reconstituted as the Christian God, molimo gets cast in the language of writing. Writing has the consequence of dissolving an order of life based on the priority of speech (orality).