Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

The Berlin Mission Archive as a Repository of African Knowledge


Gefördert durch: Pretoria University




Prof. Lize Kriel (Pretoria University)



Dr. Annekie Joubert (HU Berlin)



The project investigates the dynamics of Northern Sotho belief systems as observed over a span of approximately one century.  It looks into the establishment of the independent missionary societies in Germany with the emphasis on the Berlin Mission Society. The Society played a key role in propagating Christianity in Africa and in the production of cultural knowledge by one of its members, missionary Carl Hoffmann, and various Northern Sotho interlocutors from the late 1890s until the early 1930s. The focus of my investigation is on the 'searching' of the soul and the relationship between the soul, the spirit and the human body. The investigation reflects on European historical research on matters related to the soul and moves to Africa and more specifically to existing research on Northern Sotho communities. I look into the terms body (mmele), soul/soul of the ancestors (moya/moya wa badimo), and spirit/shadow (seriti), as these terms seem to be used in close connection with one another. The state of the human soul after death is also contemplated. An investigation is also made into the important role blood plays as carrier of the soul. Practical examples from interlocutors in South Africa on everyday life situations are investigated. I also devoted some time on the way in which Northern Sotho people grapple with the gods/God as I try to establish if any interconnectedness exists between the human body/soul/spirit and the Supreme God (Modimo) and/or the personalized gods (badimo). Lastly, I turned to contemporary notions of religious cultural practices in Northern Sotho communities, in order to ascertain the current state of Northern Sotho belief systems, and if changes have taken place since the documentations of Carl Hoffmann in the late 19th century.