A Living Man from Africa: Jan Tzatzoe, Xhosa Chief and Missionary, and the Making of Nineteenth-Century South Africa

Born into a Xhosa royal family around 1792 in South Africa, Jan Tzatzoe was destined to live in an era of profound change—one that witnessed the arrival and entrenchment of European colonialism. As a missionary, chief, and cultural intermediary on the eastern Cape frontier and in Cape Town and a traveler in Great Britain, Tzatzoe helped foster the merging of African and European worlds into a new South African reality. Yet, by the 1860s, despite his determined resistance, he was an oppressed subject of harsh British colonial rule. In this innovative, richly researched, and splendidly written biography, Roger S. Levine reclaims Tzatzoe’s lost story and analyzes his contributions to, and experiences with, the turbulent colonial world to argue for the crucial role of Africans as agents of cultural and intellectual change.

Yale University Press has recently published A Living Man From Africa: Jan Tzatzoe, Xhosa Chief and Missionary, and the Making of Nineteenth Century South Africa ($30 hardcover) by Roger S. Levine, Associate Professor of History at Sewanee: The University of the South.

This book is the first to be published in a new series, New Directions in Narrative History. It brings the colonial encounter to life while providing a fascinating account of the South Africa of the nineteenth century and one of her most interesting sons: Jan Tzatzoe – world traveler, chief, missionary, and cultural intermediary.  For more information visit the publisher’s website at:

http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300125214

One response to “A Living Man from Africa: Jan Tzatzoe, Xhosa Chief and Missionary, and the Making of Nineteenth-Century South Africa

  1. I found your site via Chris Thurman’s splendid review of A LIVING MAN FROM AFRICA (Business Day, 4 October 2011), and wish to add the following:

    Among the amaXhosa the living head of a family or male chief is the one closest to the ancestors and so, in turn, he lends his leadership to their work. As a son of the amaNtinde royal household, Jan Tzatzoe would certainly have been aware of his role, traditionally, and despite his conversion to Christianity, knew the living were closer to the ancestral spirits than to any all-powerful god—albeit Thixo or Jehovah. Moreover, he knew the ancestors would only be reborn if we remembered them.

    Thus describing himself as “a living man from Africa” Tzatzoe not only challenges Eurocentric perceptions of a static culture, but presents his people as dynamically linked to those that will see justice done in future—whether it be generations later or in another country—just as we’ve seen Biko, Mandela and Tutu do in our own time.

    As a narrative, A LIVING MAN FROM AFRICA is itself an act of memory. What Roger Levine most admirably does is to show how Tzatzoe struggled with his own disparate beliefs while, simultaneously, trying to merge profoundly different cultures on the frontiers of history. In doing so Levine, like Tzatzoe, also positions Africans as agents of cultural and intellectual change in our world. My congratulations to the author and his publisher.

    Nicolaas Vergunst

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