It is worth exploring how this new identity emerged. In standard mission history narratives, European missionaries emphasized their own role and that of God, appealing for more funds from Europe and America within a heroic evangelical narrative which characterized missionaries as pioneers harvesting African people, like ripe grain, for Jesus. This theme has been echoed by African church historians who have tended to focus on church leadership and the ways officials overcame challenges and built institutions.2 More recently, anthropologists and historians have emphasized how communities under pressure from colonial contact, conquest, and institutionalization found in Christianity a way of shaping the trajectory and consequences of the forces pushing for change.3 But instead of following or simply critiquing these standard narratives, I offer here another, potentially more polyvalent, somewhat more impressionistic, image of how people and their communities became Christians. In this essay, I explore the symbolic and sacramental ways missionaries, preachers, believers, and officials in colonial Zimbabwe marked out a new Christian world through cash payments.

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2003 University of Rochester Press. This book chapter appeared in Conversion: Old Worlds and New.

Edited by: Anthony Grafton and Kenneth Mills

Purchase online at University of Rochester Press.



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