SOAS alumna Hazel King reviews Scandal at Congo House by Christopher Draper and John Lawson-Reay published in 2012.
This is a long overdue comprehensive study of the African Training Institute of Colwyn Bay, North Wales which existed from 1890 to 1912 to train Africans as indigenous missionaries with a trade to enable them to be independent of western missions. Over 100 Africans and those of the diaspora passed through its doors and returned to various parts of West, East and South Africa as pastors, doctors, teachers, tailors, printers and activists.
The book is produced in a readable format and will be of interest as local history in Wales (indeed its publication is with financial support from the Welsh Book Council); but there is plenty to interest and intrigue the academic. Draper fully explores the motives of the Welshman William Hughes (who had struggled to learn to speak English to facilitate his becoming a Baptist missionary in the Congo). It draws out his desire to see a contextualised African Church which does not take normative reference to the embodiment of Christianity in England (paralleling English oppression of the Welsh, with that of Africa), while also exploring Hughes as a man of his time with respect and enthusiasm for the benefits of trade and civilisation.
From political activists Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu in South Africa, and Peter Nyambo in East Africa, to mixed race descendants of Dutch traders and Congolese women, Draper has attempted to give serious treatment to each of the students; as well as the impact of their presence, and such a venture, on a seaside town in rural North Wales.
Draper has chosen to draw readers by his reference in the book’s title to the scandal that ended the Institute, but the impression readers are left with, are of a sympathetic treatment of Hughes as a missionary maverick, spurned in his project by the Baptist establishment, but popular with Welsh Baptist congregations.
The book is lavishly illustrated by John Lawson-Reay; some of the illustrations of students are reproductions from annual reports, and so are not of the best quality nevertheless they deserve their place to add to the telling of the human story.
Draper has filled in many gaps – but one can only wonder at the conversations between the African students and visitors, drawn from across the continent, America and the Caribbean, deep in Colwyn Bay!
Scandal at Congo House. William Hughes and the African Insitiute, Colwyn Bay by Christopher Draper and John Lawson-Reay was published in 2012 by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch