African Journal of
History and Culture

  • Abbreviation: Afr. J. Hist. Cult.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-6672
  • DOI: 10.5897/AJHC
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 188

Full Length Research Paper

Missionary education: An engine for modernization or a vehicle towards conversion?

Fantahun Ayele
  • Fantahun Ayele
  • Department of History, Bahir Dar University, P. O. Box 79, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 03 April 2017
  •  Accepted: 15 May 2017
  •  Published: 31 July 2017


It is now 460 years since the arrival of the first Jesuits who came to implant Catholicism in Ethiopia. In order to promote their evangelical activities, these Catholic missionaries managed to open the first mission schools in the country. The Jesuits are, therefore, regarded as pioneers of missionary education in Ethiopia. Their missionary work was not, however, successful for the introduction of Catholicism resulted in much bloodshed. King Fasiledes (1632-1667) who viewed Catholicism as a threat to the country’s unity expelled the Jesuits and cut off Ethiopia’s relations with Europe. European missionary societies had to wait for more than a century and a half before opening mission stations in Ethiopia. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Protestant and Catholic missionaries began flocking to Ethiopia. As a means of winning converts, they opened mission schools at various sites. Since missionary education was geared towards religious success, it was accompanied by the publication and distribution of Scriptures. This gave rise to the development of vernacular literature. The study employs a qualitative study based on primary and secondary sources. This study thus, critically examines available literature and tries to reinterpret existing evidence to investigate the nature of missionary education in Ethiopia. The findings show that missionaries played a great role in expanding modern education in both rural and urban areas. However, missionary education was used as a means to win converts and subsequently increase the number of adherents. In most cases, a considerable number of students who attended their education at mission schools eventually became followers of Protestantism or Catholicism, and some even managed to be evangelists.

Key words: Missionaries, education, Jesuits, Protestants, Ethiopia, converts.