20 / 2004
Zvone Žigon


The article is derived from the recently concluded research – a post doctorate project – titled Sodobni (slovenski) misijonar kot izseljenec (The modern (Slovene) missionary as an emigrant). Its intention is to present and describe the missionary above all as an individual, representative of a certain culture who in his/her otherwise voluntary position finds him/herself in a unique cultural dilemma. Like everybody, he initially experiences a cultural shock, and after that, he is put before for an “emigrant” expressively atypical task: as a carrier of a defined mission, he is obliged to preserve his own cultural identity and to announce his “message”. He can achieve this most easily – which is with the issue most interesting and paradoxical - with a great proportion of empathy and adaptation in domestic culture, which inevitably makes a greater or lesser impression on him and thus influences on his personal identity.

The article finds out that rules of assimilation valid in all other migration situations, in such cases do not apply mainly because of the cause itself (temporary and in some cases permanent) emigration from the source missionary’s culture. The research brings some interesting observations and results. For example, it resumes that Slovene missionaries are practically in any culture they appear in known as open, as well as for languages as for local customs, they have a direct, “partner” relation with the locals. Missionaries themselves are of opinion that in such a context there is with missionaries an obvious difference between members of former colonial states and members of a small (Slovene) nation that was in its entire history compelled to accept external influences and to adjust.

The author who has met in the past more or less casually some Slovene missionaries (Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Egypt, Botswana), performed within the research several semi structured interviews with missionaries during their holidays; a large part of primary documentary material is personal declarations – letters, poems, answers to questions and similar that missionaries themselves mediated to the researcher. The treatise deals in detail with the case of the missionary Sister Dorica Sever who is active among the Canadian Intuits in Repulse Bay, a settlement of 700 inhabitants (from May on in the “near” Gjoa Havn).

Organisational, social and pedagogical work presents a large part of missionary work, which can – if the locals are seeing the missionary only “over an empty plate” – present “danger” for the basic mission, announcing (Christian, Catholic) religion. In the case of Sister Dorica Sever, a different social-political environment is in question as Canada is among most social states of the world and in that sense takes good care of the mainly unemployed and in small artificial settlements captured Inuits. The stereotype of “hungry Negroes” in this case does not blur the questions connected with religion and its announcing for the locals are materially relatively well “supplied”, regardless of the fact that they are entirely dependent on state aid.

The missionary is far away from home even more aware of her Slovene identity although she is of opinion that identity presents a burden to the religious message she wishes to convey.

In contrast to another stereotype about missionaries as attenders of colonisation, we can see on the case of Sister Dorica Sever that (modern Slovene) missionaries are actually pronounced “antiglobalists” as they are trying to implant in the culturally confused Inuits or other disregarded nations self respect, love for their own language, nation and customs.

Missionaries frequently interlace their “teacher” position with the experience of the “learner” because in the very culture of the natives they are seeking new cognitions and supplementing of their own spiritual, cultural and intellectual knowledge or even sensation. Connected with this is another observation, namely for almost every male or female missionary, the truly powerful cultural shock is the one they experience when returning into source environment.

The article is enriched with a letter from the missionary and with a supplementary interview with her, taken in the mission in Repulse Bay.