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On-line version ISSN 2309-8392
Print version ISSN 0018-229X


KIRKALDY, Alan. Klaas Koen: identity and belonging in the Berlin Mission Society during the late nineteenth century. Historia [online]. 2010, vol.55, n.2, pp.99-120. ISSN 2309-8392.

Klaas Koen was the first South African-born missionary of the Berlin Mission Society. From the perspective of the mission authorities, he was the perfect poster boy for their activities in this country. In the dominant thinking of the times, the fact that he was of Khoisan descent should have condemned him to a life of "wicked foolishness and... all sorts of heathen sins and disgraces". Instead, in the interpretation of the mission, having been reborn in Christ, he worked diligently for the mission and remained faithful even unto death. His life was celebrated in a tract and other texts produced by the society. Given the fact that the reports sent back to headquarters by missionaries in the field followed a rigid format, it is difficult to recover what Koen himself may have thought about his life and actions. This article examines Koen's life history and explores why the mission society treated him, wrote about him, and remembered him as they did. It also suggests some reasons why he may have made the choices that he did. It concludes with an examination of some aspects of his posthumous identity.

Keywords : Ancestry; Berlin Mission Society; biography; Christianity; class and mission; conversion; Emilie Lehn; Georgenholtz; Haarlem Mission Station; identity; Khoisan; Klaas Koen; missionaries; missionary texts; othering; Pietism; prejudice; slave ancestry; Vendaland; Vhavenda.

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