The encounter between the Basotho and the missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, 1833--1933: some perspectives
S G de Clark
The Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (PEMS) encounter with the Basotho is an interesting case study for several reasons. When the first group of PEMS missionaries arrived at the Sotho capital, Thaba Bosiu, in June 1833, the Basotho had had very little contact with Europeans. Eugène Casalis and Thomas Arbousset, together with their assistant Constant Gosselin, were indeed the first Europeans to report on their contact with them.1 Also, in the early 1830s the Basotho were still a people in the making. They were mostly composed of diverse groups who had pledged allegiance to Moshoeshoe in the previous decade, after their polities had been scattered by a series of conflicts. Hoping to protect the group which he was creating from outside threats, the paramount welcomed missionaries, whom he had tried to attract even before Arbousset and his companions arrived. With the support of Moshoeshoe, Casalis, Gosselin and Arbousset founded the mission which was to become the pride of their society, and the only such endeavour among the Basotho for three decades. It was also a mission which, unlike most of its counterparts in Southern Africa, achieved a measure of success: in 1848, after 15 years of Evangelical presence, approximately 1,5% of Moshoeshoe's subjects had become church members, and half as many were catechumen. Between 3% and 3,5% of the population attended church regularly.2
Missionaries and chiefs
This relative success can be largely attributed to the paramount's active support of the mission -- although, for political reasons, he could not always satisfy the missionaries' demands. Significantly, the other missionary success in southern Africa, namely that among the Ngwato, also occurred because of the support of their ruler, Khama. Both rulers used the new religion in order to strengthen their power. However, apart from this, the Sotho and Ngwato situations differed greatly. Khama's political identity rested on the Christian religion. He converted, and used the church itself to build and support his power: it became Khama's church.3 In contrast, Moshoeshoe did not make use of Christianity to enhance his personal power, but rather to increase the cohesion of his polity. When the missionaries arrived in Lesotho, Moshoeshoe had already ensured his position as paramount by traditional means.4 For this very reason, his support of Christianity was as much a liability as it was an advantage from a political point of view: he took advantage of the missionaries' presence to increase and even extend his control over populations away from the capital,5 but the reforms he made in line with Evangelical demands caused much discontent among his subjects.6 The ways in which Moshoeshoe and Khama supported Christianity also differed. Moshoeshoe did so by helping the missionaries establish their stations -- encouraging people to move onto the stations.7 He urged people to attend the missionaries' services and to pay heed to their injunctions,8 and he made as many reforms as he could politically afford.9 Although he never converted -- except perhaps on his deathbed -- he was clearly motivated by the belief that much of the missionaries' message was valid; but, unlike Khama, he did not attempt to control the church and make it his own instrument of power. The PEMS missionaries remained in control of their mission, which was no doubt a far more comfortable situation for them than that experienced by the ministers of the London Missionary Society among the Ngwato.
The relationships between paramount, power, Christianity and tradition among the Basotho also partly differed from those among the Ngwato. In both cases, initially Christianity and tradition were largely viewed as opposites. However, when Khama embraced Christianity, it was a conscious act of breaking with the past for political reasons. Moshoeshoe, however, did not gladly reject Sotho tradition for such motives because, unlike Khama, he had reached power using traditional institutions and means. Also, the fact that the Sotho polity was a recent formation, whose identity rested on the Basotho being Moshoeshoe's subjects, led by the end of the nineteenth century to a somewhat unusual situation; the Evangelical missionaries themselves became part of Sotho tradition. They came to be viewed by the chiefs -- especially by the third paramount, Lerotholi -- as a way to enhance their prestige.10 This was largely due to the fact that Moshoeshoe, as founder of the polity, had welcomed them.11 The presence of missionaries in the vicinity of a chief thus became part of Sotho political tradition, and thus a mark of prestige.
Reception of Christianity
Despite the fact that the PEMS missionaries had a measure of success in Lesotho, in the early decades of their presence the Basotho's general attitude towards Christianity was very fluid -- although this was not specific to the Sotho case. These shifts were often related to the Basotho's perception of Europeans, especially in the first decades of the missionaries' arrival. For instance, after some initial distrust, a number of Basotho soon changed their opinion of the Evangelicals' message.12 This was largely the result of their favourable impressions of European culture in general.13 Moshoeshoe, in particular, had been very impressed with the innovations introduced by the missionaries.14 Conversely, the resistance to Christianity which occurred in the late 1840s to the early 1850s can partly be ascribed to the Basotho's disappointment with British policy, in particular with the boundary line between the Free State and Lesotho decided by Major Henry Warden.
The periods of widespread interest in Christianity were in fact quite short. They lasted a few years at most, and were usually followed by times of hostility or by revivals of traditional customs. Until 1837, the Basotho's reception of Christianity was in fact quite similar to trends which occurred elsewhere in southern Africa. Prior to 1837, most of the Basotho who had access to the missionaries' religious message displayed a variety of attitudes towards it. Some were indifferent, others were casually curious without taking it seriously. Still others were unsure about what to make of it; they wondered whether or not it should be regarded as valid and significant, and therefore be welcomed. This relative lack of interest in the Christian message can be ascribed to the fact that most Basotho were not fully aware of its implications. The ministers of the Norwegian Missionary Society met a similar reception among the Zulu, for instance. Torstein Jörgensen indeed ascribes Zulu indifference to the Norwegian missionaries' preaching to 'a lack of understanding, which again was due [...] to Zulu unfamiliarity with the subject spoken of'.15
Moreover, even at this early stage, some Basotho -- especially the elderly at Thaba Bosiu -- expressed reservations about the missionaries' message.16 This had already occurred in December 1835 -- very early indeed if one takes into account that, when the missionaries arrived, they did not speak any Sesotho, and had to learn the language before their message could be communicated. Their interpreter reportedly spoke neither Sesotho nor Dutch well and, most significantly, '... he allowed himself [...] to leave out of [their] preaching everything that Christianity contains that was in disagreement with the customs of his ancestors ...'.17 Only by the middle of 1837 were the missionaries able to convey their message clearly in Sesotho, so that, prior to this time, the Basotho had virtually no access to the Evangelical views which were at variance with Sotho beliefs. However, in the mid-1830s whatever disapproval existed did not develop into outright hostility. It was only a minority of individuals who disliked the missionaries' message, perhaps the same number as those who were interested in it.
This period of relative indifference came to an end in 1837, when many Basotho began to be interested in Christianity. By the following year, people flocked to listen to the Evangelicals' message.18 A number of Basotho converted. Among them were several of the most influential members of Sotho society, which was unusual for missions in southern Africa: among the Zulu, for instance, from the beginning it was only outcasts and refugees who were interested in Christianity.19 This period of widespread interest in Christianity can be ascribed both to a greater availability of books,20 and to the visions of a councillor of Moshoeshoe, Makoniane,21 which had aroused interest in Christianity, and made it appear more familiar.
From 1841, however, the conversions which had occurred gave rise to widespread opposition to Christianity.22 This resistance, which sometimes assumed a violent character, lasted throughout the decade and seriously impeded missionary work on the most recently established stations.23 The situation of the Evangelical mission further deteriorated from 1848 until the early 1850s. A series of events occurred which caused existing opposition to take on new forms. For the first time, converts defected from the church, especially influential individuals.24 There was a renewal of interest in customs which the missionaries condemned25 and many Basotho enthusiastically embraced the syncretic millenarian movement led by the Xhosa prophet called Molageni in Sesotho and Umlanjeni in Xhosa.26 However, this was followed by another short period of general interest in Christianity from about 1854 to 1856.27
Sotho attitudes towards Christianity remained very fluid during the 1860s, but by the following decade they had largely settled. Most Basotho had by then grown up with missionary presence, and the Evangelical message was no longer novel enough to excite their curiosity or for them to feel as much threatened by it as the previous generation. Only in 1919 did a period of widespread interest again occur, as a result of the influenza epidemic.28
Sotho reception of Christianity was also characterised by several other traits. Firstly, opposition to Christianity was rarely motivated by strictly religious concerns. Only in the late 1830s, during the first period of widespread interest in the missionaries' message, did some resistance occur because Christian ways clashed with what was perceived as the will of the ancestors. In 1838 Chapi, the engaka at Thaba Bosiu, criticised private prayer and schooling -- quite probably literacy;29 and in 1839, when Moshoeshoe's wife Mantsane died, her relatives opposed the paramount's wish that she should receive a Christian burial.30 Later instances of hostility to Christianity were the result of either grievances against Europeans, or of the missionaries' demands which threatened the existing social organisation: the Evangelicals forbade polygamy and the exchange of bohali for church members. The opposition which occurred in the 1840s, following the first conversions, was motivated by such social concerns.31
Secondly, although many influential individuals were interested in Christianity and even converted in the early decades of missionary presence, especially in the 1830s and 1840s, by the end of the nineteenth century this had become very unusual. High-status Basotho needed the customs which the missionaries condemned in order to maintain their standing. The trend was accelerated by the resistance which occurred in the early 1850s, as many of Moshoeshoe's relatives and friends defected from the church.32 Also, as the nineteenth century progressed, the proportion of women in the church increased.33 Whereas in the mid-1830s women had shown very little interest in the missionaries' message,34 by the end of the century, small churches were sometimes composed exclusively of women.35 In 1924, women represented more than 80% of the church members. However, this should not be interpreted to mean that women found Christianity particularly attractive. It is true that the church allowed women to gain greater social influence,36 and this probably contributed to the phenomenon. However, the feminisation of the churches was mostly due to the fact that conversions of men were increasingly unusual, because the sacrifices required to join the church were heavier for them.
Thirdly, until the end of the nineteenth century, although Sotho attitudes to Christianity frequently varied from one station to the next, they did not follow a geographical pattern. In the mid-1880s, however, a distinct regional polarisation began to emerge -- although the missionaries realised the importance of the phenomenon only in the mid-1890s. After the Gun War (1880--1883), many Basotho began moving to the mountainous northern areas of the country. This was partly due to concerns of security, but according to missionary reports the emigrants also wished to avoid the influence of the Evangelicals' religious message.37 The central and southern regions of the country then emerged as areas where the missionaries had made most headway. There, congregations were relatively large and the missionaries usually met with little opposition,38 whereas in the north, converts were few and strong aversion to Christianity was widespread.39
The adoption of Christian concepts and beliefs
Initially, the Basotho generally viewed Christianity as characterised by several aspects which were presented by the missionaries as essential, namely resting on Sundays, European clothing and architecture, and literacy. Resting on Sundays was probably the most easily adopted, because it had pre-existing equivalents: people had to refrain from agricultural work during some ceremonies.40 Later, in the second half of the nineteenth century, European-style clothing and architecture became less strongly associated with Christianity, as they were gradually adopted by society at large. Literacy was probably the element which was the most closely associated with the new religion. Until the late 1850s, interest in the Evangelicals' message and enthusiasm for reading and writing went hand in hand.41 The fact that reading gave access to the Bible was not the only reason for this, although it was why the missionaries emphasised literacy. The Basotho considered reading and writing to be integral parts of Christianity: religious activities in themselves. Some Basotho regarded them until at least the 1840s as magical, sometimes even when they had attended school and had some command of these skills.42 Many people seem to have attributed protective properties to scriptures and spelling books, which they wore around their necks like other amulets.43 This perception of literacy in religious terms can be ascribed to several factors. Firstly, teaching reading and writing was one of the missionaries' foremost priorities. Secondly, apart from spelling books, religious works were the only books available. Thirdly, reading and writing appeared quite extraordinary in their own right, and exerted a deep fascination.
Moshoeshoe's subjects were not entirely oblivious to the more theological aspects of Christianity however, even in the earlier years of missionary presence. Gradually, an increasing number of Basotho embraced several Christian concepts and beliefs.
Importantly, one of the Christian notions which was adopted most easily was that of a universal deity. Perhaps even as early as the 1850s, belief in the Christian god had become widespread among the general population, and was not restricted to converts.44 Various, usually compatible, perceptions of the deity existed but the emphasis on them often shifted according to circumstances. In the mid-1830s god was perceived both as the creator of the world and as a judge responsible for people's fate in the after-life.45 This latter notion was probably due to the missionaries' insistence on the existence of heaven and hell. By the late 1830s, during the wave of interest in Christianity, god was most often perceived in his role as creator.46 Some converts had even adopted the concept -- very popular in nineteenth-century Europe -- of a deity who had harmoniously fitted the resources of nature to his creatures' needs, just as a craftsman delicately builds a watch: the concept of the Christian god as the 'watch-maker' of nature.47 This can be ascribed to the fact that, in order to convince people of their god's existence, the Evangelicals argued that the existence of the world could not be explained without the notion of divine creator. In the mid-1850s, the belief that the deity had intervened in the Basotho's favour during the Battle of Berea (December 1852) led to his being perceived primarily as a source of protection and peace.48 In the late 1880s he was again mostly thought of as a good-hearted creator, to such an extent that many Basotho did not accept the belief that he could decide to refuse heaven to non-converts.49 In that period, his character of judge had therefore come to be perceived as incompatible with that of good-hearted father. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Sotho perception of the Christian god seems to have changed radically. The deity was no longer perceived as good-hearted: some Basotho were fearful of him.50 This was perhaps the result of the missionaries' greater insistence on hell as they tried to counteract the previous attitude. The changing perception of Sotho chiefs, who were quickly losing their people's respect, together with the fact that the Christian deity was symbolically associated with a ruler -- by the use of the term morena, lord, or other metaphors -- might also have contributed to the emergence of this fearful attitude.
Unlike the notion of universal god, other Evangelical tenets took decades to become common even among the Christians. For instance, the notion that suffering was to be regarded as good because it was the will of god was reportedly shared by a few converts in the mid-1850s, and appears to have been common among church members only in the mid-1860s. Other Christian elements acquired greater importance as the century unfolded. Prayers, which had always been common among the converts, began to assume a fundamental character in the late 1870s as a means to fulfil one's wishes and not simply for thanks-giving.51 By the 1910s, the trend had become widespread among the evangelists.52 At first, the missionaries were quite satisfied with these developments. However, they became displeased when the trends became more marked. They began to view the converts' attitude towards suffering as a form of fatalism, and their reliance on the power of prayer as laziness.53
The Basotho were motivated by different reasons in understanding, favouring, and adopting different Evangelical concepts. The fact that they adopted the notion of a universal god rather easily can largely be ascribed to their impression that this concept explained phenomena not addressed by known myths, particularly the existence of inanimate matter: it filled a gap in the existing world-view.54 Usually, however, the contrary happened: most of the Christian notions which were accepted had traditional equivalents, and were understood in terms of these existing beliefs and concepts, or at least by analogy to them. For instance, during the early decades of missionary presence, the Basotho often thought of sin as a form of sickness.55 In this context, the death of Christ could be understood as a sacrifice meant to cure mankind of sin, because sacrifices were the ordinary way of dealing with illnesses.56 In the 1830s and 1840s, even the missionaries were perceived in terms of pre-existing notions. They were viewed as being similar to lingaka,57 although people were doubtless aware of important differences between Sotho lingaka and the ministers. On some stations, at least, the Evangelical ministers were also perceived as chiefs.
Moreover, in the 1840s during times of epidemic, the missionaries and sometimes their converts were often seen as witches, and blamed for the outbreaks. Christianity itself was then thought to be a form of sorcery.58 In the same period, even when there were no epidemics, a number of Basotho also thought that ministers or church members bewitched people in order to convert them.59 These opinions probably resulted from the converts' odd behaviour in terms of the existing ideas and world-view. In order to become members of the church, the Christians had to fulfil the missionaries' requirements and renounce most of what was considered desirable by the rest of society, especially the exchange of bohali (cattle for marriage), polygamy and initiation. To the Basotho who had little or no knowledge of Christian doctrines, these decisions made no sense. Initially, these Basotho seem to have explained the phenomenon away as insanity. Isolated Christians sometimes complained that their fellow-villagers thought them insane. By the early 1840s, however, in some areas, converts who often were of high social status were becoming too numerous for this explanation to remain tenable. The idea of oddity which insanity entailed was difficult to reconcile with relatively large numbers and with respectability. Widespread rumours that Christianity was a form of sorcery were last reported in the 1840s. However, during the rinderpest epidemic of 1897, the notion of sorcery resurfaced, this time not directed at the missionaries, but at the British administration: many Basotho thought that government officials had been poisoning the herds' water.60
In addition, some Christian notions were adopted by the Basotho because they were found attractive, this motivation often existing simultaneously with those already mentioned. A fairly good test of which ideas were deemed appealing is whether or not they were present in syncretic movements. The movement led by the Xhosa prophet Molageni in 1850 to 1851 is particularly revealing in this respect, because it was welcomed enthusiastically, in Lesotho. The beliefs held by his Sotho followers confirmed the Basotho's predilection for the idea of a universal deity, especially as creator, and for the possibility of an everlasting blissful after-life, both of which were already evident in the statements previously quoted by the missionaries. Molageni's movement further revealed that the notions of divine judgement and punishment in themselves appealed to the Basotho, provided that the damned were those who had given up existing customs and the elect those who upheld them.61 The phenomenon also showed that many Basotho had been impressed by the stories of miracles performed by Christ,62 as well as by the promise of general resurrection.63
Pre-existing religious elements which had not been criticised by the missionaries became very important in the Basotho's view of Christianity. In particular, this was the case with dreams. They had already had great significance in 'traditional' religious life, because they were believed to be the way in which the ancestors communicated with the living. Consequently, they began playing a part in the Basotho's perception of Christianity very early. By the 1830s already, some people dreamt of the Christian afterworld -- of heaven and hell.64 Such dreams sometimes motivated conversions.65 The missionaries did not condemn those who converted under these circumstances, and they even appear to have ascribed these dreams to divine intervention.66 Presumably as a result of this tolerance, by the 1880s many Basotho had viewed dreams as personal callings, and considered them necessary to conversion. They might even have perceived dreams as an integral part of conversion.67
In addition, Sotho understanding of Christian concepts and beliefs was heavily influenced by the missionaries' religious practices. This is particularly striking when one compares perceptions which developed after Anglican and Catholic missions settled in Lesotho to those which had existed before their arrival. The practices of these churches had a profound impact on some of the views of Evangelical converts. This is most obvious in their understanding of baptism and consequently conversion. The Evangelical missionaries only administered baptism to adults and adolescents when they believed that they were converted, that is, when they thought that these Basotho had been completely transformed, 'reborn' by the holy spirit. Moreover, the Evangelicals only baptised the candidates after they had undergone long preparation. By contrast, other churches administered baptism to young children, which implied that the ceremony had transforming properties of its own, and even that it was necessary for salvation. Baptism could no longer be seen merely as the ratification of a change which the person had already achieved by other means -- the holy spirit -- as the PEMS missionaries believed and implied by their practices. Probably as a result of this perception, from the 1870s onwards, the ceremony began to acquire great significance for the Basotho, who sought it actively for its own sake.68
Although many Basotho adopted several Evangelical tenets, other Christian notions were largely rejected, even by converts. This was especially true of the idea that Christianity constituted a set of beliefs incompatible with 'traditional' ones, and which consequently required that converts should reject their previous world-view. From the outset, the Basotho regarded the missionaries' religious notions as compatible with their traditional ones, the validity of which were beyond doubt.69 This was one of the reasons for the initial lack of widespread hostility towards the Evangelicals' preaching: their message was not perceived as a threat to the existing world-view. Naturally, the missionaries made it clear that they viewed traditional beliefs as incompatible with theirs. Some converts did accept this, but they were a minority.70 Most church-goers were not ready to doubt the beliefs which they had grown up with, and which they had hitherto considered universal truths. At the same time, they adopted many of the missionaries' tenets and found themselves adhering to both religions.71 This attitude seems to have been even more general among the converts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than it had been in the 1840s and 1850s.72 Missionaries of a later generation often commented on the Sotho's adherence to both traditional beliefs and Evangelical practices. However, they believed that converts of previous generations had been closer to the Evangelical ideal, and there may well have been more to this perception than myth.
In the early decades of Evangelical presence, congregations were smaller than they were at the end of the nineteenth century. Early missionaries were therefore in a better position to influence their converts' thinking. This is substantiated by the fact that certain Evangelical notions were accepted by early converts but largely rejected by later Christians. This was especially so in the case of guilt. The missionaries viewed a sense of guilt as a first step towards conversion because they considered it the logical consequence when one was aware of one's sins. They consequently strove to instil it, and initially they often succeeded 73-- especially from the mid-1840s after they had begun using the term lechualo, which meant conscience or remorse.74 Some converts even felt personally guilty for Christ's death. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, PEMS missionaries complained that Sotho converts appeared to feel little guilt.75
Evangelical concepts and beliefs were not always either accepted -- if understood in terms of pre-existing ones -- or rejected: they sometimes also had an impact on the Basotho's beliefs and world-view by modifying 'traditional' notions. This was especially evident in people's perception of their ancestors. In the 1850s Casalis wrote that the Basotho feared them.76 By the late 1880s, however, most people had come to perceive the ancestors as compassionate, and thought of them more fondly.77 This was similar to the converts' view of their deity and of their relationship with him, and probably resulted from the influence of these Christian notions.
Several Sotho views stand out because they developed very gradually, becoming widespread by the end of the nineteenth century, and thus constituted long-term trends in the Basotho's perception of Christianity. They are also remarkable for the fact that, although they emerged for different reasons, they were closely related, and probably reinforced one another.
The first of these perceptions was the Basotho's view of conversion. As suggested by the fact that dreams had acquired great importance, attitudes towards conversion became increasingly passive. In the early 1840s, some Basotho understood the notion in a way that was similar to the missionaries' perception: conversion was seen as a process which required both the intervention of the holy spirit and the participation of the prospective Christian. However, this view never became dominant. By the mid-1850s many of the Basotho who were interested in Christianity seemed to find the notion problematical, and were confused about what the missionaries expected should happen to them.78 Throughout the nineteenth century the Basotho increasingly considered the part they had to play in their own conversion as minor, and viewed it more and more as the Christian god's responsibility. By the 1880s, people had often believed that signs such as dreams were necessary, and that one who wished to convert could only wait patiently for them.79
The belief that conversion necessitated signs such as dreams also revealed the perception that conversion was one critical moment, a turning point in people's lives. It is unlikely that the Basotho literally thought so, but the importance which they attached to dreams does suggest that they often believed that conversion was not as gradual as the Evangelicals ministers believed. The missionaries might have unwittingly encouraged the development of this perception by the fact that they classified people as either 'heathen' or 'Christian' -- despite the fact that the notion of catechumen revealed their belief that conversion was in fact a gradual process. This view of conversion as being sudden rather than gradual probably reinforced -- and was reinforced by -- passive attitudes towards it. In fact, conversion had come to be seen as an event, something that happened to a person, rather than a process in which one could be involved.
The development of these passive attitudes can probably be ascribed to several reasons, and it is unclear which was the most important. The diminishing influence of the missionaries -- as a result of the greater number of converts -- probably contributed to the phenomenon in the long run.80 At the same time, Evangelical doctrines themselves unwittingly encouraged such passivity. This was naturally true of the concept of undeserved divine grace, but other doctrines probably facilitated the importance lent to dreams. PEMS missionaries did not believe that these signs were required for conversion, nor that their occurrence constituted conversion. On the contrary, they viewed conversion as a long process during which one became painfully aware of one's sinful state; a change of personality had to occur81 and a deeper understanding of Christian beliefs had to be reached through the working of the holy spirit. However, this meant that the missionaries were of the opinion that believing in their god was insufficient to be deemed a Christian, and that one had to undergo an unusual personal experience. This encouraged the Basotho to think that conversion required special signs, such as dreams.
A second development was that, by the end of the nineteenth century, the Basotho had come to view being a Christian as synonymous with belonging to the church. The converts considered this both necessary and sufficient to ensure their place in heaven82 -- whereas others often believed that being church-members was not even necessary because god was too good-hearted to condemn them to everlasting torment.83 The converts' perception was mostly due to the fact that, ever since the 1830s, someone who regarded himself or herself as converted tried to join the church. The missionaries' acceptance of such individuals into the church when they considered them to be converted also encouraged this perception. Moreover, the changing understanding of baptism resulting from other missions' policies probably also played a part in this development.
Thirdly, converts developed an approach which the missionaries termed 'formalist': Christianity came to be lived as the observance of a series of rules, usually prohibitions.84 Because they believed that most 'traditional' Sotho customs were incompatible with their god's laws, the PEMS missionaries had stressed very heavily that Christians should abstain from them. People were accepted and allowed to remain within the church only if they submitted to its mostly prohibitive rules, which required important sacrifices. Consequently, refraining from the practices which the missionaries disapproved of soon became in the eyes of the Basotho virtually synonymous with Christianity. As they then came to equate 'Christian' with 'church member', they viewed Christianity as following church rules -- especially the converts, who were most directly affected by Evangelical prohibitions. The development of such 'formalist' attitudes was probably facilitated by the fact that it correlated with the traditional notion that one had to abide by a number of practices in order to avoid angering the ancestors.85
These trends in the Basotho's views of Christianity shared a common feature: they all represented increasingly binary perceptions. Thus, conversion had essentially become a critical moment, a switch between the only two possible spiritual states -- convert or non-convert -- which respectively had become equated with the status of church member or non-church member. Church members had no reason continuously to try to achieve the deeper state of piety which the missionaries desired; following church rules was of primary importance for such people to ensure that they remained in this category.
The binary understanding of Christianity and, especially, what it meant to be a Christian was accompanied by a related development among Evangelical converts: community formation. Two major stages can be distinguished in this process. Firstly, a distinct Christian culture had emerged. This culture was not merely evident in the converts' different life-style and customs. Evangelical religious beliefs had become mostly a matter of cultural transmission between converts, rather than of individual interpretations of the Bible or of the missionaries' sermons. Initially, in the late 1830s in particular, Christian notions had stimulated much discussion among the Basotho who took them seriously enough to attend church. People were particularly interested in the concepts of a universal god, sin, conversion, the holy spirit, and in the reason for Christ's death.86 As they grappled with these ideas, the Basotho displayed much individual creativity in an effort to understand them, usually by means of analogies and metaphors. By the mid-1850s, however, this creativity had largely subsided. Instead, when individuals became interested in Christianity, church members provided them with relatively fixed metaphors, especially for these newly-interested people to express the experience of conversion.87 Only a few of the earlier variety of metaphors and perceptions had been retained, perhaps because the Christians had found them most effective in convincing the missionaries that they were converted. These images and perceptions thus became crystallised as cultural forms, which were available to condition the experiences of later converts. Although the missionaries most probably played an important role in this process by showing their preference for some forms rather than others, it largely resulted from interactions within the congregations. This can be contrasted with what occurred in Natal, where, on the contrary, the Kholwa were trying to emulate the large European population around them.88
The process of community formation among Evangelical Christians reached a second and final stage at the end of the nineteenth century. Conversions of people who came from non-Christian families had by then become increasingly rare in proportion to church membership. Together with the incompatibility between the customs of converts and non-converts -- particularly with respect to marriage -- this situation resulted in Evangelical congregations being mostly composed of second- or third-generation Christians. Church members, who had always formed a group distinct from the rest of society by virtue of their culture, thus became distinct with respect to heredity as well. This strengthened their sense of a Christian, Evangelical, identity and apparently resulted in fairly strong in-group loyalties: by the 1910s young people who were the children of church members were scornful of converts who came from a non-Christian background.89 By the beginning of the twentieth century, Evangelical Christians had become a fully-fledged community, with distinct lifestyle and customs, a specific culture transmitted along hereditary lines, in-group loyalties, as well as beliefs and understandings of Christian notions which, although once varied and highly personal, had begun to crystallise half a century earlier, and could therefore be considered to have become tradition. Moreover, this community had become partly independent from the missionaries in so far that its leaders -- ministers and evangelists -- increasingly came from its ranks,90 and that the Evangelical church was largely self-supporting financially.91 This made Evangelical Basotho unique among Sotho Christians, because neither Catholic nor Anglican converts were in this situation. The Catholic church still relied very heavily on outside funding for its financing, and it had no Sotho priests. The Anglican church was still much smaller. This situation soon changed, however. In the following decades the Catholic mission grew considerably -- mainly due to the opening of numerous schools, to its substantial financial resources and to the chiefs' support. By the 1930s, it had already become comparable to the Evangelical church, which never regained its former pre-eminence.92