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Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Bhatia, Nandi

2nd Supervisor

Esonwanne, Uzoma


University of Toronto

Joint Supervisor


My thesis reflects on the implications of 19th century missionary interventions for Africans, by drawing attention to how missionary translations and schooling facilitated colonial rule in Africa. Although the acquisition of missionary evangelism and schooling alleviated the conditions of subjugated colonized Africans, particularly females, contradictorily, white missionaries and colonizers used those same institutions to marginalize the missionary educated Africans, who they utilized as agents of mission groups. In turn, the missionary system enabled African males (who were ranked higher than females) to inflict both traditional and missionary patriarchal authorities on females. The idea for the study originated from reading a linguistically distorted Igbo version of Psalm 23 from Union Ibo Bible (1913) which was translated by CMS missionary Archdeacon T. J. Dennis supposedly to amalgamate Igbos. While this colonial Bible has since been superseded by locally translated Igbo Bibles, the linguistically distorted missionary translations and literal approach to Bible translation, which denigrate the Igbo reader, persist. Because of the breadth and complexity of the subject and the African continent, I focus on critiquing Union Ibo Psalm 23, the missionary history of Igbos of Southeastern Nigeria, and the missionary history of Zimbabwe to a lesser degree. I not only examine the Union “Ibo” Psalm 23 against contemporary Igbo versions, I also critique the act of translation, and the authoritative missionary translator, who used the means of translation to deride, marginalize, and colonize local people. The latter part of the thesis examines Chinua Achebe’s and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s fictionalized responses to missionization and colonization through Things Fall Apart and Nervous Conditions and interprets them as acts of re-translation of missionary and colonial histories through local perspectives. Both novels show that the narration or translation of (missionary) history depends on the narrator. The fact that Nervous Conditions is narrated in the autobiographical voice reinforces the importance of narrating one’s own story; that is, it is important to re-translate missionary and colonial histories from indigenous perspectives. This effectively destabilizes the overarching position of the hegemonic translator and storyteller while identifying the position of the formerly subjugated Other as an active participant in translations and in re-translating missionary colonial history.

Summary for Lay Audience

My thesis shows how 19th century missionary interventions in Africa affected Africans in complex ways. Although missionary services like Bible translations and schooling improved the conditions of living for the colonized Africans, the missionaries also placed those Africans in very lowly positions within the missionary system. African females, especially, were placed in even more subservient positions because the missionaries ranked them lower than African males. The idea for my project came from reading Psalm 23 from the Union Ibo Bible (1913) which was translated by Archdeacon T. J. Dennis, a white missionary. Rather than translating into the indigenous Igbo language, Dennis translated into “Union Ibo,” an artificial language which he engineered to unify Igbos for ease of colonial administration. Because of the linguistic errors in translation which I observed in reading the Union Ibo Bible, I re-examine the history of missionary work in Africa. I also re-examine the history of Union Ibo Bible (1913) and Union Ibo Psalm 23 in order to show how it disparages potential Igbo readers. By comparing the Union Ibo Psalm 23 to contemporary Igbo versions of Psalm 23, I further demonstrate that the distorted missionary translation is still present in the newer texts. But translation is not only a means of converting from one language to another, it is also about how people write stories or histories about others or themselves. In the last section of my study, I examine how Chinua Achebe and Tsitsi Dangarembga respond to European accounts of missionary colonial history in Things Fall Apart and Nervous Conditions, by re-translating those histories from local perspectives. Nervous Conditions, which is narrated as a fictional autobiographical story, further shows the importance of telling one’s own story. Any act of translation or writing about others can become a means of colonization. Therefore, it is important to revisit and re-translate missionary colonial texts and histories through local perspectives.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Available for download on Thursday, May 01, 2025