Archibald Monteath, Maureen Warner-Lewis, Journal of Moravian History, No 6, Spring 2009
Maureen Warner-Lewis. Archibald Monteath: Igbo, Jamaican,
Moravian. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2007.
367 pp. $40.00 (paper) ISBN 978-976-640-197-9.
Warner-Lewis has written a microhistory of the social networks that surrounded Archibald Monteath (aprox. 1792-1864). The study is based on Monteath'stestimonial Lebenslauj (autobiography), which is a rare slave narrative for the Caribbean; only two others exist for Jamaica. Through it Warner-Lewis traces Monteath's transformations from free Igbo (one originating from an eastern region of modern Nigeria), to enslaved Jamaican, and self-liberated Moravian during the first half of the nineteenth century. She highlights the status and social meanings marked by his name in each of these stations-Aniaso, Toby, and Archibald John Monteath, respectively. Warner-Lewis's training as linguist and literary scholar gives rise to the book's non-chronological structure.
Her analysis is more concerned with the various sites in which social meaning is created than with strict temporal order. For example, she opens with a review of the conditions under which five versions of Monteath's autobiography were produced and disseminated to modern readers. Two full versions of these are included in the appendices. She implicitly invites her readers to first familiarize themselves with Monteath's self-description before beginning an " ... exegesis of its events and an identification and amplification of the characters whose lives and actions impacted those of Monteath himself" (p. 21). An important aspect of this excavation is that although Monteath was functionally literate, he dictated his memoirs to Moravian missionaries. This process produced distinct German and English versions of his life story, raising questions about the translation shifts from Igbo-based thought to the Jamaican Creole or patois, in which Monteath expressed himself in later life, and then to the German or English of his amanuenses. Such challenges and "textual silences"-typical of any autobiography-leave many areas open for speculation, but Warner-Lewis does so only with thorough reference to the best available evidence.
In examining Monteath's life in Igboland, Warner-Lewis does not simply accept his self-described ethnicity, but narrows his origins to a much smaller cultural zone and attests to his birth within the local elite. It is with this approach that Warner-Lewis's expertise in West-African linguistics is most visible. That expertise also appears later in the book as she analyzes the parallels that Monteath attempted to create between the Igbo Chukwu and the Christian concept of God. Two problematic points arise in Monteath's effort, which were likely repeated for many early African converts. First his young age at capture did not afford him full initiation into Igbo cosmology, and second, his own profound Christianity provoked a retrospective dismissal of important elements of Igbo spirituality.