From the book: The Segregation Fallacy and Other Papers by D.D.T Jabavu
There are two current platitudes which have been an obsession with the great masses of unthinking people in this land with reference to the Natives: The first is, that the Bantu are a child race; the second is that the Europeans are two thousand years ahead of the Bantu in civilisation.
These two ideas roughly constitute the basic philosophy of most Europeans in South Africa when they dogmatise upon the Native question. The very simplicity of these dogmas is insidious because on the one hand they appeal to the bucolic backveldter as obvious axioms, while to the sophisticated but untrained thinker they suggest an irrefutable logic based on historical facts.
To sift the truth from the confused half-truth is now our task, for these dogmas form the germ of our subject of Bantu Psychology and Ethnology of which we must begin with a clear understanding. Psychology is the scientific study of the working of the mind, whilst Ethnology is the systematic collation of the ascertained historical facts of the development of a race.
Assuming that we are agreed on these simplified definitions, three questions at once arise, the successful answering of which may greatly help us in our consideration of our subject:
a . Is Bantu psychology different from the psychoÂlogy of any other given race?
b. What is the connection between Bantu psychoÂlogy and ethnology?
c. Of what use is that connection, if proved, to our question of the representation of the Gospel to the Bantu?
A popular story tells us that an Orange Free State farmer once dreamt he had been in heaven, and on the following morning he gleefully described the entrancing beauties of the celestial mansions to his servants. The latter accidentally asked, him whether he had seen any black people there, and the reply was " -No, I forgot to go to the kitchen to see." One mentions this story for what it is worth in order to show that there are many white Christians in this land who honestly believe that a black person is essentially an inferior creature to the European in the eyes of God exactly in accordance with their mundane anti-Native prejudice. They hardly believe the black man has a soul, or if they do, then that it is a sort of soul branded with the racial stigma derived from the earthly negrophobism Biblically based upon the Old Testament curse of Ham. Evidently there is a great deal of work requiring to be done by preachers to convince many of their fellow-professing Christians that the black man possesses a soul as worthy as that of any other race, and, by inference, a body containing that soul also worthy of tender consideration and just treatment.
In anticipation of this discussion the Rev. B. J. Boss, writing in the "Outlook " of last May, argues that there is no difference in kind between the psychology of the Bantu and that of any other race. From the point of view of pure psychology this is true, but to be practical we need to include also the view of Educational and Social Psychology, and consider the factors of environment and language and how these re-act upon temperament and suggestibility. Environment is perhaps the most important factor because even if we grant that the Bantu are psychologically similar to the Europeans in mental behaviour, the environment under which they grow and live is utterly dissimilar to that of the Europeans. The influences that surround the Native must be taken into account in all our study of the presentation of the Gospel.
Is it possible for these influences to be known and mastered by the missionary novice from overseas? For the Europeans who, having been born and bred among the Bantu, have learnt to speak the Bantu language as efficiently as the - Natives, will command every advantage that can be claimed by the Bantu in this respect, except the confidence mutually shared by those bound together by the identity of racial interests. Therefore I agree with Mr. Ross when he says: ''To the European who knows the language as well as the Bantu himself, and who, in talking to a black man, quite naturally thinks as well as talks in that man's language, what difference there is seems to be no more than one of language and environment, and such a European has no greater difficulty in understanding Bantu psychology than he has in understanding European.
But there are very few Europeans situated in such a happy position, and we have to solve the problem for the majority who wish to learn. This can be done in two ways: first, by the study of certain theoretic principles; secondly, by direct study and observation.
To begin with, we may lay it down that it is necessary to distinguish carefully between the three cognate studies of Ethnology, Sociology and Social Anthropology, in order that the energies of those concerned may be saved from a fruitless occupation of their limited but precious time devotÂed to those studies.
(a) Ethnology, according to Professor Radcliffe Brown, collates historical data of races with reference to law, morals, art, language and social institutions of every kind. Thus we see that while the subjects it deals with are just those in which we are deeply interested, we must acknowledge that if we end only at collating historical data thereon we shall not get very far. ThereÂfore, for our purpose I would not recommend a study of ethnology per se.
(b) Sociology too cannot be recommended here because the term covers an indefinite and undefined ground. Nowadays, it is in fact condemned by usage in English-speaking countries, says our authority, because it stands for a formless study of a vague assortment of subjects. It is not specific enough for our purpose.
(c) Social Anthropology deals with the subjects mentioned above under Ethnology, but with this difference that it assumes that " these phenomena are subject to natural laws, and that it is possible by the application of certain logical methods to discover and prove certain general laws, statements, or formulae, applicable to a certain range of facts or events."
It is these phenomena in relation to environment and the manner in which environment impinges upon the people that render Bantu psychology different from European. This conference is in a position to bring together original contributions on information now rapidly disappearing with the death of the older Natives, throwing the much needed light upon the psychological working of the Bantu mind. As between psychology and social anthropology we may distinguish by saying that the "former deals with individual behaviour in its relation to the individual; the latter deals with the behaviour of groups or collective bodies of individuals in its relation to the group."
Social Anthropology can be of immense and almost immediate service. "The study of the beÂliefs and customs of the Native peoples, with the aim not of merely reconstructing their history, but of discovering their meaning, that is, the place they occupy in the mental, moral and social life, can afford great help, to the missionary, or the public servant who is engaged in dealing with the practical problems of the adjustment of the Native civilisation to the new conditions that have resulted from our occupation of the country.
"Let us imagine the case of a missionary or a magistrate who is wondering what are likely to be the results of an attempt to abolish or to discourage the custom of ukulobola. He may experiment, but then he risks the chance of producing results that he has not foreseen, so that his experiment may do far more harm than good. Ethnological theories as to the probable past history of African tribes will afford no help whatever. But social anthropology, though it cannot yet provide a complete theory of lobola, can tell him much that will be of great help to him, and can set him on the path of enquiry by which he can discover more."
So much for abstract theory. Now we come to direct observation. This we shall take from three standpoints: -
(a) the ancient customs;
(b) the transition period;
(c) some suggestions.
(a) In the case of Native primitive customs, the modern view is that our predecessors in the mission-field committed a serious blunder when they hurled iconoclastic bricks at every ancient custom simply because it was a Native custom. For it is now being discovered that some of these customs had something in them worth preserving", if only the evil features could have been eliminated. For example, in the case of circumcision ceremonies for males and the female puberty rites of the "intonjane," we had the grave exhortation to the young men and women when they were enjoined to acquit themselves thenceforth like true men and women. This being followed with a valuable enumeration of all the highest and noblest duties and virtues of ideal manhood and womanhood. In consequence of the categorical condemnation of the whole custom we have today lost - much that was worth conserving. Dr. Aggrey, with characteristic wisdom, once said he wished all missionaries had learnt algebra, for then they would have known how to eliminate by substitution. Indeed the lack of appropriate substitutes for all the things that have been annihilated by missionaries in the social life of new converts is being felt now as having been a mistake in tactics. Take for instance the wholesale abolition of the old amuseÂments and musical dances, with nothing else put-in their place. In my district the heathen Natives sometimes taunt the Christians with being a long-faced, lugubrious and unamused community devoid of the natural entertainments of the good old times. Unwise as this has proved in the rural villages, it has been a positive evil in most urban locations where the absence of healthy recreation during the earlier evening hours has not only undone much of the good work produced by our missions but has actually aided and abetted the evils of gambling, drunkenness and immorality. This is truly a missing link in the modern missionary system, and the Gospel will not thrive until it is supplied.
(b) In the Transition Period, contact with EuroÂpean civilisation has altered the conditions of primitive African life irrevocably, and we must acknowledge that in our preaching of the Gospel there are certain axioms which must be granted and remembered: -
That the Bantu are no longer a virgin soil, no more a tobula rasa; they are already affected, perhaps contaminated, by European society, usually of the lower stratum. They are no longer a child race for they are in the boyhood stage. They are not homogeneous in their attainments. They are not identical in their psychology. Their rural and urban social conditions are not uniform; hence, what applies to the one group does not necessarily apply to the other. They do not speak with a single voice, for they have their defiant extremists led by bombastic press writers, and on the other hand they have their moderate sections and dignified communities controlled by leaders of sanity. They are not going to take as long as two thousand years to overtake modern European culture because they have immeasurably greater advantages than the ancient Britons had during the wars of Julius Caesar. They are not going to die out like the Red Indians or the Australian BIackfellows for they are multiplying in their virility faster than their dominant white rulers. They possess an enduring racial solidarity founded upon their traditional tribalism, which demands that the preaching of the Gospel to them shall adapted to their actual conditions rather than superimposed upon the debris of the total destruction of their social system. They are keen critics of European civilisation and Christianity when talking in mutual confidence among themselves although they are reserved before strangers.
(c) Suggestions: - In conclusion one might throw out a number of suggestions which may be of help in the presentation of the Gospel to the Bantu.
The best presentation of the Gospel I know is the Gospel as carried out in actual life by its Professors rather than the degree of eloquence that may be displayed from the pulpit of a Sunday.
This may sound a commonplace platitude, but it is more important today than it was some years ago because the Bantu are fast developing the acuity of criticism. Both the African and the European Christians are challenged in this respect by non-Christians and also by fellow Christians. The criticism of the Native converts by anti-black Europeans is equalled only by that of the European Christians by the anti-European extremists.
The strongest argument used by the Native extremists is the hard fact of the rigid social conÂventions of South Africa that preclude social interÂcourse between people of different races. Not that - they is hankering after miscegenation but that these inflexible customs prove a hindrance in the presentation of a Gospel that knows neither Jew nor Gentile. The obvious inference from this is that if these conventions are to be retained, then the day of the European missionary among the Bantu must sooner or later pass away, and must be hastened to pass by the adequate training of responsible Bantu missionary leaders on the lines of the Bantu Presbyterian Church of Africa recently effected by the United Free Church of Scotland. This can be done through a friendly policy of a gradual devolution of responsibility consistently with mutual confidence and a spirit of co-operation on both sides.
Other factors which will probably be fully dealt with by the other speakers in these conferences are:
”¢ The right use of recreation for Bantu converts
”¢ The uplift of Native women; social service;
”¢ The organisation of Native pupils in training institutions into Students Christian Associations and
”¢ The development of Native Agriculture as a missionary factor--on the lines indicated by my paper in the " Forward," (The Wesleyan Methodist missionary magazine of last month). Fortunately we have a tangible illustration of this in the policy of the Dutch Reformed Church in its Central African missions as recently noted by Dr. Jesse Jones.
Let us hope this Conference will be divinely guided to discover the true foundations of a policy that will effectively assist the spread of the Gospel among the Bantu in fulfilment of the command of our master in the last chapter of St. Matthew.