Healing the leper? Mission Christianity, medicine, and social dependence in 20th century Swaziland
McCoy, Jr., William Kent
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation examines global shifts in medical and religious thinking about leprosy, using the southern African kingdom of Swaziland as a case study from the start of British rule in 1902 to the first decade of the twenty-first century. Involving a wide variety of both local and international actors, these encounters were frequently characterized by highly unequal power dynamics, especially between Swazis and Western doctors, bureaucrats, and missionaries. However, it is a central theme of this work that Swazis often turned Western scientific and religious preoccupations with leprosy into assets for their own benefit. Understanding the reasons why and under what circumstances Swazis did so illuminates the processes by which peoples of different cultures adapt themselves to shifting circumstances. Rather than abandoning local cultural ideas in favor of those of more powerful outsiders, I argue that the adaptations enacted by Swazis were coherent within their own cultural perspectives and are best understood as evolutions of local ideas instead of the byproduct of a foreign value system. Influenced by the narrative approach of microhistory, this project correlates evidence from three major archival collections, representing chiefly the perspective of British colonial figures and medical missionaries from the Church of the Nazarene, with insights derived from oral interviews conducted with both medical personnel and former leprosy patients in Swaziland. In so doing, it investigates themes related to the transfer of stigma across social and cultural boundaries; the clashing expectations of cultures divided by geography, language, education, and more; the limits of Western science and bureaucracy when attempting to exercise control over other cultures; and the continual negotiations through which all parties pursued their particular agendas. In analyzing the interplay between the primarily scientific and political concerns of the British colonial government and the chiefly spiritual concerns of the Nazarene medical missionaries, the story makes possible an understanding of how Swazis created advantageous spaces for themselves. I argue that they did this primarily by entering into relationships of social dependency, which they understood as creating bonds of mutual obligation between themselves and Westerners.