Missionaries and morals: climatic discourse in nineteenth-century central Southern Africa

G.H. Endfield, David Nash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The letters, personal papers, and journals written by British missionaries based at mission stations within and around the Kalahari region of central southern Africa in the nineteenth century provide an invaluable insight into time- and place-specific interactions with local cultures and environments. This article employs a range of unpublished and published missionary correspondence and travelogues to examine two key aspects regarding the conceptualization of and responses to climatic variability in the region. First, we explore the way in which missionaries positioned climate variability within a moral economic framework and illustrate their attitude towards local drought myths and rainmaking superstitions. This reveals a degree of conflict in the respective environmental ideologies of missionaries and the local populations. Moreover, while missionaries appear to have linked drought to moral degradation, local populations had their own "environmental religion" or climatic philosophy that located the arrival of the European within a framework of climatic change. Second, we examine the introduction of irrigation technology to the region by the missionaries. The actual construction of irrigation projects provided a forum for cultural interaction, but findings also indicate that irrigation was considered to be not only a practical response to climatic conditions in the region and a means by which the missionaries could assert some ideological control over this environment, but also a route towards moral redemption of the local populations and environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)727-742
Number of pages16
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2002


Dive into the research topics of 'Missionaries and morals: climatic discourse in nineteenth-century central Southern Africa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this