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Eugène Casalis
1812 to 1891
French Reformed Church
South Africa

Eugène Casalis was a French Protestant pioneer missionary in Lesotho and mission administrator. He was born in Orthez, France, of Huguenot stock. He was educated by Henry Pyt at Bayonne and converted in the Swiss revival. At the age of 15 he decided to become a missionary. He entered the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (PEMS) School of Missions in 1830, taking courses in Islam and Arabic, preparing for Algeria. Instead, the PEMS elected to send him to Cape Town. He was ordained to the ministry in 1832, learned Dutch, the lingua franca in South Africa at that time, and eventually preached his first missionary sermon in Dutch. On his arrival, he made the strategic decision not to serve with either the colonists of Huguenot stock or with the Hottentots, but with the Africans of the interior. He set out on an exploratory trip without knowing exactly where he was going. Arriving at Philippolis, on the Orange River, in 1833, he heard of the desire of Moshoeshoe, king of the Basothos, to receive missionaries. Casalis established the mission at a place he called Morija, later at the foot of the royal mountain, Thaba Bossiu, where he served for 20 years. He translated the Gospel of Mark into Sotho and published linguistic and anthropological studies. He is revered particularly for his role as political adviser of King Moshoeshoe in foreign affairs ad in the process of nation building. In 1849 and 1850 he was on furlough in Europe, bringing the first eyewitness reports of the planting of the church in Lesotho. The Lesotho mission became the PEMS emblem and paradigm. From 1856 to 1882 he was PEMS director and principal of the School of Missions. He greatly expanded the activity of the society, opening a new field in Senegal and accepting the responsibility of Tahiti from the London Missionary Society in 1862.

Marc R. Spindler


Bibliography:

Eugène Casalis, Études sur la langue séchuana, précédées d'une introduction sur l'origine et les progrès de la mission chez les Bassoutos (1841), Les Bassoutos, ou vingt-trois années d'études et d'observations au sud de l'Afrique (1859, 1933; English trans., The Basutos, 1861, 1965), and Mes souvenirs (1884; English trans., My Life in Basuto Land, 1889). Jean-François Zorn, Le grand siècle d'une mission protestante: La Mission de Paris 1822 à 1914 (1993).


This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.