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BUTTERFLIES AND BARBARIANS (article first published : 2007-09-27)

He is unlikely to have any streets named after him, but Henri-Alexandre Junod is an important figure in the history of Southern Africa.

He was a Swiss Protestant missionary who between the 1890’s and 1920’s spent many years in Mozambique and the then Eastern Transvaal, now Mpumalanga. And he is the central figure in a scholarly and highly readable new book by Patrick Harries, who was born and educated in Cape Town and is now professor of history at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

Obviously the primary objective of Junod and his colleagues from the Swiss Romande Mission was to encourage the spread of Christianity among the indigenous peoples of south-east Africa, but they had other gifts and purposes, not least of which was their role in explaining nineteenth century Africa to a Europe which knew little about this part of the world.

Junod, in particular, was a versatile man. He became a distinguished anthropologist whose book The Life of a South African Tribe, a study of the Tsonga people, is still regarded as a classic, in spite of the very different attitudes of modern writers.

He was a botanist and an indefatigable entomologist, hence the “ Butterflies’ in the title of this book. He built up a large butterfly collection, and there is a delightful photograph in the book of Junod, rather formally dressed (he seems to be wearing a bow tie and a hat) hunting butterflies among the mountains of the Mpumalanga escarpment.

Published by Wits University Press, this book is an ample tribute to a remarkable group of people. - Michael Green




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