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Young puritan preachers in post-independence Malawi


In Blantyre, Malawi's main urban centre with a population of over 400,000, there are some thirty to forty young preachers who between them run fifteen or so organisations that constitute the Born Again movement. The organisations include ‘ministries’ and ‘fellowships’ as well as ‘churches’. The movement started c.1974. What is significant is that all the leaders were then teenagers; even today the second ‘generation’ of preachers are teenagers or in their early twenties. One theme dominates their message: vehement opposition to involvement in practices of a largely secretive or malevolent nature, witchcraft and ‘politics’ in particular. The young preachers assume these forces to be the basis of the power that elders wield in the villages or in urban townships. Yet in Blantyre, where political surveillance over everyday life is very marked, they have to be wary of challenging this older, powerful generation if they are to preserve the ‘intellectual space’ that religion offers them. The article ends by arguing that the theories which are used to explain urban Zionist Churches elsewhere in southern Africa are not relevant to the analysis of a Born Again movement run by successful young urbanites.


C'est dans la zone urbaine la plus importante de Malawi, Blantyre, ville de 400,000 habitants, que trente à quarante jeunes prêcheurs environ dirigent une quinzaine d'organisations constituant le mouvement ‘Regénération’ (‘Born Again’). Les organisations comprennent aussi bien les ‘saints ministères’ et les ‘confréries’ que les ‘églises’. Le mouvement a commencé vers 1974. Il est significatif que tous les dirigeants étaient à l'époque des adolescents; encore aujourd'hui, la deuxième ‘génération’ de prêcheurs comprend des adolescents ou des jeunes d'une vingtaine d'années. Leur message est dominé par un même thème: ils mènent une opposition véhémente contre les actions mêlées à des pratiques d'un caractère pour le moins mystérieux ou même malveillant, particulièrement la sorcellerie et la politique. Les jeunes prêcheurs présument que ces forces sont à la base du pouvoir exercé par les plus anciens dans les villages ou les communes urbaines. Pourtant, à Blantyre, où la surveillance politique sur la vie quotidienne est très forte, il leur faut rester très prudents en défiant la puissante génération precédente, s'ils veulent conserver ‘l'espace intellectuel’ qu'ils trouvent dans la religion. Enfin, dans sa conclusion, l'article soutient que les théories utilisées pour expliquer l'installation d'Eglises Sionistes en zones urbaines dans d'autres régions du sud de l'Afrique ne s'appliquent pas à l'analyse du mouvement ‘Regénération’, un mouvement dirigé avec succès par de jeunes citadins.

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B. Jules-Rosette 1975. African Apostles: ritual and conversion in the Church of John Maranke. London: Cornell University Press.

J. P. Kiernan 1974. ‘Where Zionists draw the line: a study of religious exclusiveness in an African township’, African Studies 33 (2), 7990.

J. P. Kiernan 1976. ‘Prophet and preacher: an essential partnership in the work of Zion’, Man, 11 (3), 356–66.

J. P. Kiernan 1977. ‘Poor and puritan: an attempt to view Zionism as a collective response to urban poverty’, African Studies 36 (1), 3141.

J. P. Kiernan 1981. ‘African religious research: themes and trends in the study of black religion in southern Africa’, Journal of Religion in Africa 12 (2), 136–47.

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