Institutional Repository

Carl Hoffmann Papers (ADA Acc 28)

Carl Hoffmann Papers (ADA Acc 28)


Carl Adolf Gustav Hoffmann (1868-1962)

Carl Adolf Gustav Hoffmann was born in Prussia in 1868. He joined the Berlin Mission Society (BMS) in 1890 and four years later he was sent to Mashonaland. In 1896 he married Dorothea Kriele (1871-1951) in the former Transvaal. Hoffmann’s work and involvement with Northern Sotho communities span over a period of 46 years, from his first stationing in 1897 at the mission station Arkona in Sekhukhune land, to his retirement in 1943 as Head of the Berlin Mission Society in Pietersburg (Polokwane). Hoffmann, with his exceptional talent for scientific writing engaged in the documentation of all aspects of Northern Sotho language, oral literature and culture, for example: the documentation of folktales, songs, riddles, proverbs, dances and children’s games; customs of the Northern Sotho people such as law and order, marriage and initiation; religious practices such as ancestor worshipping, witchcraft and magic.

The large collection of verbatim transcriptions by Hoffmann of orally transmitted material is of particular importance to researchers working on South Africa, because in many African communities, like the Northern Sotho, locally-generated written sources are very rare since no form of script writing existed for a very long time. Carl Hoffman was one of the most talented missionaries of the BMS. He will be remembered as a sensitive artist and authority on Sotho history, language, culture, legends, myths and fables.

The digitised Hoffmann Collection of Northern Sotho Cultural Heritage

The digitised Unisa archival materials consist of 9 manuscript diaries (handwritten in German Sutterlinschrift) and 8 volumes of transcriptions. Publications and scientific articles by the Rev Hoffmann in German and Northern Sotho were also digitised.


The Hoffmann Collection of Cultural Heritage (housed in the Unisa Archives’ Hesse Collection of German Africana Archives and in repositories in Germany) was selected for incorporation in the 201/2013 German-South African Year of Science. The resources of The Archive of the Berlin Mission Society (ELAB) in Germany, are highly recommended. See also The Humboldt Univeristy - Institute for Asian and African Studies

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