Kamba Simango

I run into Eric Morier-Genoud at the peace and reconciliation meeting. It’s a small world.

Eric is Swiss, married to a Mozambican, and on the African history faculty at a university in Northern Ireland. We exchange a number of e-mails four or five years ago. He too is interested in Kamba Simango.

My interest in Simango has to do with the church. He is the key figure in my study, forming the sub-title of my Toward an African Church in Mozambique. But when Simango leaves Mozambique in 1936, he heads to what is now Ghana, his wife’s home. That is where Eric’s interest lies.

                                                                                      Kamba Simango

We sit at a table after lunch is finished, and we talk. When the Gold Coast becomes independent in 1957, he reminds me, Kwame Nkrumah makes a commitment to the liberation struggle in the rest of Africa. That commitment includes Mozambique. He establishes a ‘Portuguese service’ on Ghana’s radio – providing news for Mozambicans and Angolans in Portuguese on the progress of the struggle – and Kamba Simango becomes its head. Apparently a parade of Angolan and Mozambican liberation leaders, including Eduardo Mondlane, come to Accra, and work with Simango.

This all ends when Nkrumah is overthrown. Simango remains in Ghana. At some point he apparently is asked to assume a leadership role in the liberation movement Frelimo, but he declines. ‘I am too old,’ he reportedly says. Finally, in 1966, he is hit by a car while crossing a road, and dies.

Eric and I are not the only ones interested in Kamba Simango. There is a scholar in Brazil writing about Simango and his anthropological work. While in New York in the 1920s, Simango works with the pioneer Africanist Melville Herskovits and the pre-eminent American anthropologist Franz Boas. Margaret Mead is there at the time. I recall writing her in the 1970s about Simango, but it is close to her death, and I never hear back.

There is a musicologist Eric has come across who has written a brief paper on Simango and the mbira.

Simango is at least on the fringes of the Harlem Renaissance, living in Harlem at key times, and friends with Paul Robeson.

He is remembered in Mozambique, not just in the church. One of the latest generation of Simangos tries to use Kamba Simango’s name to build up his lineage in the recent election campaign.

It does not work.

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The Letter of Tapera Nkomo ‘to you all who are in Johannesburg, friends believers in the Lord’

This morning I am invited to speak to the Synod of the Igreja de Cristo Unida em Mocambique. It’s been a challenge to decide what to say, since neither I nor, I am sure, they want me to summarize the entire story of their pre-World War II history. Doing a sketch of the high points doesn’t appeal to me, nor does choosing one event and dwelling on it. How to keep it short is another challenge, since I will be interpreted into two languages.

                             With Rev. Dr. Lusas Amosse

I finally decide to say something about their story and how it connects to the universal story. I emphasize that it is their story. True, Fred R. Bunker, a Congregationalist missionary from New England, comes to Beira first in 1892, and tries to establish a mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions here for a few years from 1905, but on his departure they are the ones, young men mostly, who begin to establish small Christian communities up and down the Buzi and Sabi (now Save) rivers, at places like Mashanga and Mambone, Sofala and Chiloane, Gogoi and Machemeje. This is, I say, your story.

I try to suggest that though they may have felt forgotten from time to time, they are part of the church universal, and can claim their rightful place in the one Body of Christ.

Their story – like the stories of churches everywhere – is not always a noble one, and I remind them that the Church is a very human institution. We sometimes, often, must disappoint God. Kamba Simango – he is my key figure in their story – surely must have done. And yet, I say, God works through us nevertheless. God works through Simango despite his failings, he a critical figure who continues to intrigue me. And so does Tapera Nkomo.

That’s what leads me to what reads like an epistle from Paul. It is written by Tapera Nkomo, in 1942, to young men from the region who find themselves working in Johannesburg. ‘I your brother,’ he begins, ‘let you know… that, in the town of Beira in the country of Manica and Sofala, there is a house of prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ. Dear friends, the door which has been shut many years is now opened. I say: Rejoice in the Lord because the gospel is now spread and preached in your country.’

Pastor Nkomo makes an appeal to these young men, then challenges them: ‘Get up young men. The sun is up, the day has come. Let us walk faithfully…. Love avoids doing any wrong to those who are staying with him, to one’s fellow man.‘I am asking for your prayers. I am also recommending you to the Lord our Saviour. Amen.

‘Good bye, dear friends. I am your brother who loves you.’

At the mornig break a lay leader comes up with a copy of the book for me to sign. ‘Take a photograph of us and send it to me,’ he asks.

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On books, and on African books

Fr. James Amanze and I present commentaries on the Gospels of Matthew and Mark to our third-year ordinands.

We begin this last year, thanks to the initiative of Fr. Murdock Smith, who chairs the Diocese of North Carolina’s companion link committee with the Diocese of Botswana during the early years of our relationship. Then Fr. James and I present commentaries on the Gospel of Luke. Now we are completing the three-year cycle of the synoptic gospels in our lectionary.

The books are written by N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. They are thoughtful and readable and engaging.

They are also, well, very English, and the stories he sometimes tells to illustrate his points have little connection with the African context. But there we are.

‘There we are’ because of the dearth of literature on Christianity, the Bible and theology written by Africans. It is difficult to find suitable Bible commentaries or texts for use in our African theological schools written by African theologians and scholars.

One of the things that European missionaries get right, as they yield leadership of African Anglican churches to Africans in the 1950s and 1960s (a bit late, I know), is their conviction that the African churches will need African-based literature to proclaim the Good News to what are then called ‘Younger Churches.’ As a result, they help to establish local presses: Uzima Press in Kenya, Centenary Publishing House in Uganda, and the Central Tanganyika Press in Tanzania, to use East African examples.

These presses have done important work. But my concern here has to do with resources for African ordinands in African theological schools. And here, well, there is not much to see.

It’s not that there are not talented and engaged African theologians. Fr. James Amanze, our Principal here at St. Augustine Theological School and the chairperson of Botswana’s companion link with North Carolina, is a case in point. At the risk of turning this diary entry into a bibliography, Fr. James’ books African Christianity in Botswana, African Traditional Religion in Malawi, A History of the Ecumenical Movement in Africa, Ecumenism in Botswana, and African Traditional Religions and Cultures in Botswana remind me of the invaluable scholarship provided to Africa, and to world Christianity, by Africans.

The work of Prof. Jesse Mugambi, an Anglican layman and sometime chairperson of the Department of Religion at the University of Nairobi, also comes to mind.

Still, what do we put into the hands of our seminarians? Commentaries by Bishop Wright from the Church of England.

John Pobee, an Anglican priest from Ghana who serves on the World Council of Churches’ ecumenical theological education staff many years ago, is instrumental in producing a bibliography of essential books for African theological school libraries (and libraries elsewhere in the Two-Thirds World). The bibliography is filled by books by non-African authors.

Back when I am Dean of Studies at Trinity, the Diocese of Nairobi’s theological college, I visit him in his offices in Geneva. It is some two decades ago now. We talk about the need for African authors to come forth. Not concerned persons such as myself, an expatriate in Africa. Africans.

Recently I wrote a book, Toward an African Church in Mozambique. (Hard not to know if you have looked around this website.) In my unbiased judgment, it is a pretty good book, and for me the story of the key character, Kamba Simango, is fascinating. But it has the same flaw: Non-Africans writing about Africa. Of course we non-Africans can have something important and helpful to say about African affairs and about the African Church – if I did not believe that, I would not have followed the life journey I have followed – just as Africans have something important and helpful to say about what happens in North America and Europe, and in our churches there. But none of that changes the fact that we need people of a culture speaking and writing about their culture and their faith journeys within their world.

It really has not happened, at least not for appropriate works for Anglican Africans. The Roman Catholics maintain an active publications program: Paulines Publications in Nairobi is a case in point. And the evangelicals and fundamentalists and Pentecostals have theirs. We in what are once called the ‘mainline churches’ – the Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists – are largely silent.

This is little short of a tragedy.

I am somewhat amused (not all that much, but somewhat) with the preoccupation of the Episcopal Church in the United States with structuring itself to be more ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’ and ‘nimble.’ What matters is mission, God’s mission, and structure and efficiency are a minor part of that. And when it comes to mission, of course there are competing missiological priorities. But it is hard for me to see how far we as an Anglican Communion (or indeed the church universal) can go if we do not address the desperate need for ministerial formation, appropriate to the varying contexts within our world. And that requires meaningful resources written, in this case, by Africans for Africans.

The sad thing is: I could have written this reflection two decades ago, without changing a word.

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