Linger Longer in Kenya

Retracing Dr. Ludwig Krapf footsteps and Legacy (1844- to date)

By Didier S.S. Madzayo

By the early 1880’s almost all of the epoch-making scientific expeditions to east Africa had been completed. East Africa’s explorers’ elite had been primarily with hair raising stories, most tantalizing geographical x-factor and the source of the Nile and since its quest was in many respects a race, the competitors did not tire, en route Europeans found out that talking to Africans was like passing of a large pumpkin through the hole of a fine needle.

Johanne Ludwig Krapf is one of the early missionaries and visitors to Kenya. He came to Africa four years before Livingstone. He, Johanne Krapf came with a purpose and vision to creatively introduce and spread Christianity.

Dr. Krapf found himself able to satisfy craving for distant places and good works as a member of England’s Church Missionary Society (CMS). In 1837, he was sent to Abyssinia where he picked up old scraps of information about the Galla tribe to the south, and formed a considerably exaggerated notion not only of the desperation and influence but of their adaptability as Christians. He thought that the Gallas language would produce the greatest impression on the whole of east Africa. He finally left Abyssinia to launch the undertaking from what he felt to be a more suitable location. This was Mombasa where he settles in 1844 almost immediately undergoing a terrible taste of spiritual fortitude when his young wife and new born daughter died of malaria while he lay in the same room, in helpless delirium of the fever. Eventually recuperating his will and some of his health he began working among the coast people mainly the wanyika tribe.

By 1846, he opened his first mission at a place called Rabai Mpya on the outskirts of Mombasa. Krapf’s religious teachings do not appear to have made a great impact on his friendly but indifferent flock. The inhabitants of one village paid no attention to his words respecting eternity and the life to come another congregation slipped away until only a few men and women remained. Krapf left his mark in other ways. For one thing he was simply there, the trailblazer of all evangelists.

At the very last his presence gave the local populations an idea of what the future missionaries would be up to. He explained that he was neither a soldier nor an official nor a traveler nor a “mganga” nor a “mchawi” nor a physician nor an exorcist or an enchanter; but he was simply a teacher (book man) who wished to show the right way to salvation in the world to come. To the natives the other missionaries were stepping in the flying saucer. Krapf’s shoes to them seemed like iron: his hair to them seemed like the hair of an ape his spectacles were objects of astonishment and derision.

Krapf’s greatest contribution to the white man who followed him was his removal of the language barrier. Krapf worked so hard to translate the New Testament from Deutsch (German) to Kiswahili. In 1850, he had completed his classic outline of the elements of the Kiswahili language which was to become a standard text for many missionaries, explorers, administrators’ traders and settlers. For two yeas his travels were confined of necessity to occasional preaching circuit tours of villagers lying in the scrub country to the north and south of Mombasa. In 1846 however, he was joined by another missionary from Wiiretemburger by the name Johanne Rebmann, who proved no less eager than Krapf himself to carry the gospel into the interior. Rebmann’s arrival infact enabled a system where by each man took turns to supper intending mission affairs at Rabai,  while the other marched deeper into the interior of the country which upto then, had existed on maps only as flights of catastrophic fancy.

He went to chagga-land, a land of beetling mountains some 200 miles west of Mombasa. In his journey, Krapf, with the Church Missionary Society, being eager to encourage conversions in the interior of east Africa, only limited sums could be allocated to pair of obscure clerics working in a corner of the world. It was not easy for Krapf to capture the public’s attention, this created a problem. East Africa’s travel during the 19th century usually meant paying one’s way across the land with gifts/extortions was a genuine pay for entrance into the domain of every smaller kingdom one entered at a time. One had to pay something little. In indigenous parlance it was called ‘hongo’ taking the form of beads, copper wire and clothes the amount closely determined by the individual sovereign’s mood and avarice. As a rule set the entry charge paid to each petty king averaged the equivalent of roughly $40 and a few travelers even those who could a measure of lavishness, did not feel the pinch. One might always refuse to pay but this could be incredibly dangerous. The explorer could be harassed or tortured by hit-and-run assaults on his flunks. It could also mean being denied guides and when you continue playing “games” it now took the form of being denied foods they had to be soldier less heartedly, but Krapf and Rebmann could not afford such luxuries.

Although only eternity can tell the immortal achievements of this selfless servant of God are as follows:-

He, Dr. Krapf took the initiative of translating the bible from the “white” man’s language, English, to the local indigenous Rabai language and thereafter into Kiswahili. This undertaking enabled him connect with the natives in conveying the message of salvation. Up to date and for the generations to come, whenever the locals read the bible in their own dialect, we can still have contact with the altruistic Dr.

-in his preaching, Dr. Ludwig Krapf, was so much concerned with the inhumane, barbaric and ungodly treatment of slaves and slavery trade. The un-compromising values that he emitted from his sermons worked great deal in discouraging the continuance of this inhumane trade.

-Johanne doubled up as an ardent evangelist who not only had the zeal to merely preach but was more concerned with the spiritual growth and well being of his converts and in so doing, he ended up forming discipleship groups that eventually turned out to be full fledged churches.

Rabai is a well renowned area apart from its history, it has an extra-ordinary culture. Having learnt that a number of missionaries, foreign and local tourist are very much attracted to Rabai museum it brings on question; how did Christianity reach this place and progressed to where it is right now? Rabai museum works closely with the National Museums of Kenya that have established both business and affectionate interests that have benefited quite a great deal.

Rabai museums also works closely with a number of institutions of higher learning like universities, colleges and cultural centers to accommodate and promote study by special interest groups like both foreign and local tourists focusing on history and theology and its backgrounds. Rabai can satisfactorily be considered an archipelago.


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