Accepted Paper:

Curiosity and Conversion: Congolese Experiences in Baptist Missionary Archives  


Amelia King (Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia)

Paper short abstract:

This paper demonstrates the potential to understand Congolese strategies for adaptation in processes of Christianisation through missionary authored texts, images & objects. Baptist Missionary Society archives are used to expose nuances in the ways Congolese individuals experienced social change.

Paper long abstract:

The production and consumption of objects, including photographs and texts, among Congolese people and British missionaries formed part of the way in which these cultures came to know and relate to one another in the colonial state. As such, material heritage from this period attests to multiple experiences of convergence and adaptation. This paper will demonstrate methodological approaches to using the material culture of mission environments to understand relationships between indigenous people and Baptist missionaries in northern Congo c.1880-1915.

The intercultural exchange of objects facilitated by mission communities offers a means of accessing shifting ascriptions of value in processes of negotiating identity, political affiliation, ideological translation and cultural resistance. Central to this research is emphasis on the agency of indigenous people in converting to Christianity in rural communities.

It will explore the theme of curiosity as it manifested in forms of collecting (through translation work, photography and 'curios') by Baptist missionaries, but importantly, draw out the ways in which this intrigue was mutual. In this way it will be shown how seemingly sterile and prescribed colonial representations can be used as sources to interpret Congolese reactions and action in a changing sociocultural milieu.

This paper arises from a larger doctoral project in progress focused on the nature of conversion to Christianity in northern Congo among Baptist communities. To this point original research has been undertaken using archives and object collections housed in UK institutions. Additional phases of work will be carried out using material elsewhere in the course of research.

Panel P017
Seeing Past the Settler Gaze: Objects and Objectivity in the Post-Colonial Archive