Rebmann Biography Print

We are happy to update you about my Rebmann Biography, entitled: Johannes Rebmann: A Servant of God in Africa before the Rise of Western Colonialism. This study (originally VTR, 2011) has seen a new edition, revised and enlarged (May 2018), 333 pages, published by Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft (VKW) in Bonn, ISBN 978-3-86269-152-4. The book has been co-published by Wipf & Stock in the USA.

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Rebmann was a mid-19th century German missionary who worked for the English Church Missionary Society (CMS) and was instrumental in starting the Church in the Mombasa region, East Africa. He compiled proto-lexicons in the Kinika and Kiswahili languages. Together with a Malawian (ex-) slave, Salimini, he made the first-ever lexicon in Chichewa, a very important language in south-central Africa. Click the button ‘Johannes Rebmann’ for introductions in German and English and reviews in English, German and Dutch.

Johannes Rebmann played an important role in the history of dictionaries of Chichewa or Chinyanja. His collection of Chichewa-English vocabulary in the 1850s, was printed in 1877 as the Dictionary of the Kiniassa Language. He shares his place in history with Salimini, a Malawian slave who served him as informant. Rebmann and Salimini belong to the earliest fathers of Chichewa Lexicography. Apart from the linguistic aspect of Rebmann’s work, I am impressed by his spiritual characteristics. As a missionary in the Mombasa area from 1844 to 1875, he was instrumental in founding the Church in East Africa and in preparing mission to Central Africa, including Malawi. I am convinced that we all can profit from taking away the veils of history that have hidden Rebmann.

The study is meant as a scholarly presentation of facts and aspects of Rebmann’s life and work. As such it is a monograph and a biography. It taps not only the German literary sources, but also the more numerous Rebmann documents in English. We trust that the Rebmann Biography will throw more light on the missionary, his spiritual and linguistic work, and his place in the pattern of 19th century relationships between Europe and Africa. Chapter 1 is an introduction, surveying available literature. Chapter 2 pictures the setting of German Pietism that fed Rebmann. Chapters 3-8 describe the course of his life. Chapters 9 and 10 deal with his work as a linguist, particularly as a lexicographer. The two Appendices to the book are especially related to these chapters on Rebmann’s linguistic significance. Chapter 11 reviews the various aspects of his work as a missionary. Chapter 12 is an evaluation of the impact Rebmann had on developments after him.


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