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Title: The Invisible Woman
Subtitle: Zara Schmelen, African Mission Assistant at the Cape and in Namaland
Author: Ursula Trüper
Series: Lives, Legacies, Legends 04
Publisher: Basler Afrika Bibliographien
Basel, Switzerland 2006
ISBN 9783905141917 / ISBN 978-3-905141-91-7
Softcover, 20 x 28 cm, 118 pages, several illustrations, 1 map, English text
Good. Minor traces of usage.
Africa in 1814: a 36-year-old German missionary exploring what is now southern Namibia marries the 20-year-old Zara, a Nama woman, whom he had baptized a few months previously. She helps him with translations and in transcribing her language into a written form, bears him four children, and dies in 1831. Those are the bare bones of a story that Ursula Trüper has fleshed out with the results of her research into this fascinating account about the African woman and her German husband. The missionary, Johann Hinrich Schmelen, was sent to South Africa in 1811 by the London Missionary Society. He is recognized today as a pioneer in the study of Khoekhoekowab, the Nama language, as well as for his evangelization of southern Namibia. His wife Zara and her contribution to her husband’s work, on the other hand, are rarely mentioned, let alone acknowledged. This book rectifies that neglect. It provides insights not only into African social history and British and German mission history but also makes an important contribution to the steadily growing literature on the role of African women in African history. What is often forgotten is the fact that even in the nineteenth century, quite a few missionaries - despite the warnings of their compatriots - married African women. Ursula Trüper has carefully evaluated the relevant archival sources in London. The appendices contain detailed extracts from both published and unpublished primary sources, enabling us to see the story of Zara and her husband in its contemporary context.