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Henri Alexandre Junod
(1863 - 1934)

Born May 17, 1863 in St Martin (Neuchâtel), son of Pastor Henri Junod (1825 - 1882) and of Marie Adele born Dubied (1833 - 1907), Henri Alexandre is the 4th (first son) of six children.
On March 18, 1889 he marries in Couvet Emilie Julie born Biolley (with whom he had 4 children). Following the death of Emilie on July 10, 1901 in Shilouvane, Transvaal, South Africa, Henri Alexandre remaries on March 15, 1904 in Zürich to Sophie Helene born Kern (with whom he had 3 children). He died in Geneva on 22 April 1934.

The Ba-Ronga map by H.-A. Junod as well as the text below are reproduced with the kind authorization of the author Mr Serge Reubi as well as Revue Historique Neuchâteloise No 4 - 2004, text extracted from the excellent French article "Aider l'Afrique et Servir la science: Henri Alexandre Junod, Missionnaire et ethnographe (1863-1934) »

(click on the map to enlarge): Ba-Ronga country in 1898. Lourenço Marques is located at the end of the bay (Junod 1998:9)

Note: the text below was translated by me (Nicolas Junod) and while I will fine tune the result also through your comments (by Email to my attention), the French version (accessible selecting "Version française" on the top left of this screen) remains the official version.

From Europe to Africa, a missionary ethnographer
© Copyright 2004 - Serge Reubi & Revue Historique Neuchâteloise

Henri-Alexandre Junod was born on May 17, 1863 within a family of pastors from Neuchâtel. In spite of his marked interest for natural science during his school years, he decides to perpetuate the family tradition and enters the faculty of theology in 1881. At the end of his studies, during which he spends a six-month period in Basel and another in Berlin, he is admitted in the Swiss-French speaking Mission in 1886.

In 1887, the Mission sends him to Edinburgh where he receives a basic training in medicine and surgery. This stay is undoubtedly crucial in the training of the young Junod, because he does not only get acquainted with medicine. He seems to have met Henry Callaway, a former bishop of the Natal country, who is then famous for his research on the Zulus and whose scientific course enlightens Junod to some extend. Callaway started by working on the Zulu language, in the intention to translate the Bible in the local idiom, before its interest gets lost in some proselytism dimension.

At this point in time Callaway is devoted to the study of the Zulus from an anthropological point of view. For Callaway indeed, the control of the language is necessary to understand the natives well, so as to correctly seize what they say (FRIESEN: 38): from an aim in itself, the linguistic analysis becomes a means of understanding the natives. More generally, the interest of Callaway goes from the language to the Zulu oral literature - he publishes a book on this subject in 1866 - and, at the end, to studying more strictly anthropological issues. While it is true that an encounter between the two men is not formally established, the influence of the first on second is undeniable.

Following his stay in Scotland, Junod settles during one year in Neuchâtel before being sent to the Portuguese possessions of the south-east of Africa, in Lourenço Marques (current Mozambique), where the Swiss-French Mission was established.

There, his work of evangelization and teaching with the Mission prove to be ideal occasions to observe and study the Ba-Ronga country and its inhabitants. As a good missionary and for proselytism, it is with their language that he is interested initially. His objective is initially, like Callaway, to translate the Bible. This work of translation, as his contact with the pupils of the Mission, finally enable him to quickly get a command of the language, and he is able to publish, in 1896 a Ba-ronga grammar. But, like Callaway, his study of the language enables him to widen his interest to songs and tales, which he collects from the school, then to a monography of Ba-Ronga.

Concurrently to this influence, the work of Junod is also the result of a conversation with Lord Bryce in 1895, which he reports in the introduction of The Life of a South African Tribe. This British politician, after having lengthily traveled through the Empire, became aware of the poverty of Western knowledge on the natives in general and of the south of Africa in particular. He therefore encouraged Europeans who live on the spot to undertake the scientific study of their primitive life (…)

(…) Initially, it his concern of recording the primitive way of life of Ba-Ronga to keep it’s trace after their traditions will have entirely disappeared and replaced by "the great level from our civilization" (JUNOD 1898: 8) which animates the missionary. But Junod, in the evolutionary tradition, also makes of his knowledge on Ba-Ronga (of that time) a means of understanding European prehistory:

These primitive people probably arrived at a degree of development by which we formerly went through once. I imagine that Lakeshore populations of the stone ages ranked hardly above the Bantus. To some extend they were probably even lower. It thus seems, when studying these primitives to decipher their view of the world and life that our ancient history emerges to our eyes. Certain problems of our civilized souls, grown up daughters of these primitive souls, are explained.

We take better conscience of ourselves and the mysteries of our evolution." (JUNOD 1898: 8).
Junod thus piles up information on Ba-Ronga while continuing to work for the Mission until he returns in Switzerland the following year, in 1896.

In Neuchâtel he continues to collect the benefits of his first stay. As I already evoked, in 1897, in line of the work of Callaway, he makes use of the important quantity of indigenous accounts consigned, to write a collection of Ba-ronga songs and tales and, in 1898, he publishes an exhaustive monography on Ba-Ronga. This constitutes the third and last part of his trilogy devoted to this population, trilogy which he began with grammar and continued with the songs analysis.

This work, which is his first ethnographic search of significance and to which it owes the beginning of his celebrity among the scientists of the metropolis, seals at the same time the result of his studies on the matter. From now on, he will be limited to increase, supplement and specify its data, but will not basically change any more his research plan. Admittedly, he modifies his interrogations so that his data provides better answers to the state of his research, but, globally, all is there.

This sudden celebrity and the recognition which he enjoys does not modify at all his priorities. The ethnography perhaps supplanted entomology, but as he liked to says, more as a hobby, and he remains before all a missionary. Thus, it is not completely astonishing that Junod turns over to Africa the following year as soon as the Mission names him to head a school in Shilouvane, in current Mozambique.

Nevertheless, he continues to mix his missionary work and the collection of ethnographic data until his return to Switzerland in 1909. It is then, as he had done it after his first voyage, that he works on his collected data and works on The Life of a South African Tribe, which is in reality a second largely reviewed and supplemented English edition of his Ba-Ronga. His work, which is regarded as his "great accomplishment", was published in 1911 and 1912 and had a resounding success which got him to be elected as member of honor of the prestigious Royal Anthropological Institute.

Junod then lived the top of its ethnographic glory. It is indeed at the same time that he occupies his only official functions in this discipline in Neuchâtel. In 1910, the Faculty of Arts asks him to give an ethnography course - which he gives in 1911 - financed by the “Société neuchâteloise de géographie”; the following year, he is named at the commission of the ethnographic Museum. However, a new departure for Africa for the Mission obliges him to resign as of 1913. He will remain in Shilouvane until 1920.

As for his previous voyages, he profits from his missionary activity to collect new information, which he saves for a new edition of The Life. As always, it is upon his return to Switzerland that he analyzes his data while continuing his work for the Mission. In fact, the 1920 years, for Junod, will be primarily devoted to the Mission and his work at the “Société des Nations” (former UN) on behalf of the international Office for the defense of natives (H.-P. JUNOD 1936: 63-70).

Nevertheless, he does not entirely give up his scientific activity: first, he writes some articles in the specialized reviews in which he collaborates (Man, Folklore, Anthropos, Africa, Bulletin of the “Société neuchâteloise de géographie”). As such he is in close contact with the main actors of the discipline such as Lucien Lévy-Bruhi and becomes part of scientific controversies (STOCKING: 335-7). In addition, he gives various courses at the Universities of Lausanne, Geneva and London, from which a part relates to his study of Ba-Ronga.

He finally publishes a second edition of The Life, largely improved by the additional documentation assembled between 1913 and 1920. But this is his last large work. After that, his shaking health will not enable him to produce but some rare work, until his death in Geneva in 1934.

His life was thus in a constant balance, at the same time geographical, between his ground work in Africa and the drafting of his work in Switzerland, and professional, between his life of missionary and ethnographer. While it is obvious that his fatherland was Africa - he asked to be buried in Rikatla - it seems clear that he was also more a missionary than a scientist.

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