The Fathers of Chichewa dictionary-making Print
Saturday, 05 November 2016 18:39

You may have noticed that in September 2016 the Oxford Chichewa Dictionary was published (see: this site). The book is part of a long tradition. In the history of written Chichewa or C(h)inyanja an important role was played by Johannes Rebmann (1820-1876), a German missionary in Mombasa (Kenya). He was at the cradle of dictionaries of Chichewa. Rebmann’s collection, in the 1850s, of Chichewa-English vocabulary was published consecutively in Switzerand and England in 1877 as the Dictionary of the Kiniassa Language. He shares his place in history with Salimini, a Malawian ex-slave, who was captured by the Swahili Arabs in the Lilongwe region. Via Zanzibar he was sold to Arab owners in Mombasa where eventually he regained freedom. Salimini served Rebmann as a language informant. Therefore Rebmann and Salimini belong to the earliest fathers of Chichewa Lexicography. Apart from the linguistic aspect, Rebmann’s work was important because of its 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.

Here are two books on Rebmann, written from entirely different angles. The first one is a piece of creative art, a novel. The other  one is a scholarly study of his life and work, a biography.


Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, Rebmann: A Novel, Washington: New Academia Publishing/ Scarith Books, 2014 [290 pages; ISBN 978-09915047-3-2]





Steven Paas, Johannes Rebmann: A Servant of God in Africa Before the Rise of Western Colonialism, Nürnberg: Verlag für Theologie und Religionswissenschaft, 2011 [Edition afem – mission academics 32; 274 pages; ISBN 978-3-941750-48-7]