Cross-border experiences: Basel missionaries on the 19th century Gold Coast (Ghana)

Travelling was (and is) an integral part of Christian missionary existence. As part of their ‘mission’ 19th century European missionaries were expected to cross various boundaries, linguistic, climatic, geographic, political, cultural - to name some which make an appearance in their writings. Yet the list reflects preconceived patterns, according to which travelling impressions were conceptualised. In hindsight misrepresentations owing to preconceived notions become glaringly visible. On the other hand this list also shows an interest transcending the purely religious, (which does not exclude the possibility that it could also be intended as a means for religious ends). Missionaries often were close to everyday life. The knowledge they acquired was part of the European discourse on Africa, in some instances including academic discussions. While they created a potential connectivity and familiarity between ‘Africa’ and ‘Europe’, they also contributed to a European perception of “Africa” as the Other. And there is yet another story of how the missionaries’ knowledge was received, rejected and adapted – and how they acquired knowledge on Africa, namely the story of people in Africa who interacted with missionaries.

How all this was played out depended on the specific setting and on the actual actors involved. Therefore the paper proposes to look at one case. The Basel Mission is one missionary society which is known to have accumulated substantial knowledge on the various regions where it was active. The paper will focus on the Gold Coast (Ghana) where the Basel Mission is not least known for its linguistic work.