‘The Bible makes all nations one’
Biblical literacy and Khoesan national renewal in the Cape Colony
in Chosen peoples
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The rapid growth in popularity of the Protestant, Nonconformist missionary movement among the Cape Colony’s indigenous population, the Khoesan, coincided with Britain’s efforts to remould the Cape into a territory which exhibited British characteristics. Cape society had already been structured according to a racial hierarchy, though race was not yet the sole determinant of belonging as it was to become from the 1840s onwards. Christian identity held important sway in the Cape Colony during the early nineteenth century and was an important marker of social status and inclusion. For Khoesan descended from distinct, precolonial ethnic lineages, biblical literacy offered a language through which a new, Christian ‘nation’ could be imagined and articulated, and which could challenge settler–colonial hierarchies of power. This chapter explores how the Bible became a site of contestation in the struggle over the ownership of Protestant Christianity in the Cape Colony during the early nineteenth century. Khoesan acceptance of the Bible did not simply amount to submission to Western domination. Rather, Khoesan interpretations of scripture positioned the Bible as a disruptive, anti-colonial text. By confirming the Bible as a potent repository of symbolism and imagery, Khoesan sought to challenge racially based notions of Christian identity.

Chosen peoples

The Bible, race and empire in the long nineteenth century

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