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Chapter Two The Center Cannot Hold Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world . . . —­William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming” (1919) Joseph Booth arrived in the Shire Highlands in 1892, and established his Zambesi Industrial Mission at Michiru,north of Blantyre.Invasions by Yao-­ speaking people,the expanding slave trade,and a devastating famine in 1862 had left the once-­ populous region nearly uninhabited. After a protectorate was declared over the area that became Nyasaland (today Malawi) by the British Foreign Office in 1891, colonists faced the problem not of engineering land alienation—­ large tracts had been purchased in 1880s by speculators hoping to draw British interest in the highlands—­ but of establishing a reliable labor force. The year Booth arrived, the first tax was imposed on the peoples living south of Lake Nyasa (now Lake Malawi),later revised as a hut tax in 1894. When taxation proved an insufficient mechanism to compel Nyasalanders to the farms, migrant workers were recruited from neighboring Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique), drawn by promises of cultivable land on the large European estates. In return, workers agreed to contribute one month’s labor for the estate owner, a system known as thangata. An additional month of labor could be contributed in lieu of paying the yearly hut tax.1 As was customary, missionary contact predated political rule. The famed Livingstonia mission of the Free Church of Scotland was established at Cape Maclear in 1875, to the north, and later moved to its permanent location further north at Bandawe. Legend has it that the mission’s namesake, David Livingstone, drew his pistol against African belligerents for the first time while traveling through Magomero, in the highlands.2 Within this grand tradition of African proselytization, it was clear that Booth was peculiar . He was deeply troubled by the widespread abuses of the thangata 46 • Chapter Two system, by African poverty, by European ownership of vast and often unused tracts of arable land. Booth offered his converts unusually high wages to work on mission-­ owned property. To demonstrate his fundamental equality with his flock, he sat with Africans for meals. He insisted that the end of missionary work was African independence, that Europeans were not honest brokers in this pursuit,and that Africans must “rise up”and save their country. One day Booth met M. M. Chisuse, an African convert of the Church of Scotland mission, gazing out at the Indian Ocean from a beach at Chinde in Portuguese East Africa. “I love the sea, because the sea do[es] not tell any lies,” Chisuse remembered Booth reflecting. “[Y]ears ago we Europeans use to sail in this Ocean on to the coast and got you Africans as slaves and sold you in America; but now Europeans have got another plan of just coming to take away the land from you and make you slaves together with the land.”3 Upon his arrival in the highlands, Booth launched an industrial mission scheme designed to establish self-­ sufficient, industrious, and multiplying communities of African Christians through the production of coffee and other cash crops. The industrial mission, he argued, provided an ideal mechanism for spreading the Gospel, offering a “ladder” and a helping hand “while the man himself climbs to the higher life by his own labor.” The foundation of Africa’s future strength depended simultaneously on the spread of Christianity across the continent,and in the continent’s “undeveloped power” to furnish the world with cotton, coffee, and other “tropical and subtropical articles of commerce.” It did not take Booth long to realize that his European compatriots were unlikely partners in Africa’s regeneration . The partition of Africa, he wrote in 1897, “is a proposal to deprive 200 million . . . people of their birthright, seize upon their property and permanently drain the wealth of Africa and the African’s labor into European channels.” Missionaries, he argued, served merely as “the forerunner of another set of men, sent to appropriate, to kill, to tax and subjugate,” bringing words of peace in order to facilitate acts of war.Instead,Booth proposed the establishment of an African Christian Union that would align Africans—­ in need of agricultural, commercial, and spiritual education—­ with “Afro-­ Americans”from the West Indies and the United States in need of a country to call their own. The Union would encourage unity among members of the “African race,” and...


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