There is a good deal of debate – as well as pure assumption – about the link between missionizing/missions and commerce, during 19th Century colonial ventures.
Here is what the explorer Dr. Livingstone had to say about the relationship between commerce and missions in one of his earlier works, based at that time on some years of experience in southern Africa – Travels and Researches in Southern Africa, 1857 (full title below).
As a missionary during the colonial period, his assessments make for interesting reading into the thoughts of one of the greatest colonial travellers, thinkers, and writers of the 19th Century.
While writing in the mindset of the time, regarding the beneficial roles of Christianity, capitalism and empire, he also shows no mercy to fellow missionaries of his time.
Sending the Gospel to the heathen must … include much more than is implied in the usual picture of a missionary, namely, a man going about with a Bible under his arm.
The promotion of commerce ought to be specially attended to, as this, more speedily than any thing else, demolishes that sense of isolation which heathenism engenders, and makes the tribes feel themselves mutually dependent on, and mutually beneficial to each other.
With a view to this, the missionaries at Kuruman got permission from the government for a trader to reside at the station, and a considerable trade has been the result; the trader himself has become rich enough to retire with a competence.
Those laws which still prevent free commercial intercourse among the civilized nations seem to be nothing else but the remains of our own heathenism.
My observations on this subject make me extremely desirous to promote the preparation of the raw materials of European manufactures in Africa, for by that means we may not only put a stop to the slave-trade, but introduce the negro family into the body corporate of nations, no one member of which can suffer without the others suffering with it.
Success in this, in both Eastern and Western Africa, would lead, in the course of time, to a much larger diffusion of the blessings of civilization than efforts exclusively spiritual and educational confined to any one small tribe.
These, however, it would of course be extremely desirable to carry on at the same time at large central and healthy stations, for neither civilization nor Christianity can be promoted alone. In fact, they are inseparable.
… Wherever a missionary lives, traders are sure to come; they are mutually dependent, and each aids in the work of the other; but experience shows that the two employments can not very well be combined in the same person. Such a combination would not be morally wrong, for nothing would be more fair, and apostolical too, than that the man who devotes his time to the spiritual welfare of a people should derive temporal advantage from upright commerce, which traders, who aim exclusively at their own enrichment, modestly imagine ought to be left to them.
But, though it is right for missionaries to trade, the present system of missions renders it inexpedient to spend time in so doing. No missionary with whom I ever came in contact, traded; and while the traders, whom we introduced and rendered secure in the country, waxed rich, the missionaries have invariably remained poor, and have died so.
The Jesuits, in Africa at least, were wiser in their generation than we; theirs were large, influential communities, proceeding on the system of turning the abilities of every brother into that channel in which he was most likely to excel; one, fond of natural history, was allowed to follow his bent; another, fond of literature, found leisure to pursue his studies; and he who was great in barter was sent in search of ivory and gold-dust; so that while in the course of performing the religious acts of his mission to distant tribes, he found the means of aiding effectually the brethren whom he had left in the central settlement.
We Protestants, with the comfortable conviction of superiority, have sent out missionaries with a bare subsistence only, and are unsparing in our laudations of some for not being worldly-minded whom our niggardliness made to live as did the prodigal son…
Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa. Including a Sketch of Sixteen Years’ Residence in the Interior of Africa, and a Journey from the Cape of Good Hope to Loanda on the West Coast; Thence Across the Continent, Down the River Zambesi, to the Eastern Ocean.
By David Livingstone, LL.D., D.C.L.
Fellow of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow; Corresponding Member of the Geographical and Statistical Society of New York; Gold Medalist and Corresponding Member of the Royal Geographical Societies of London and Paris F.S.A., Etc., Etc.