Litografi föreställande de indiska bröderna Samme
Kolorerad litografi av Antonín Machek, cirka 1820, Prag, föreställande bröderna Mooty och Madua Samme. Källa: Bokkatalog från Antiquariat Turszynski, München.
Photo: Antonín Machek

An Indian Juggler's Life in the 19th Century Newspapers


By analyzing how the Swedish press depicted the life, love story, and Christian baptism of an Indian juggler during the 19th century, a picture is also painted of the contemporary view on religious freedom and people from other countries. The result became the "Article of the Year" in Journal of Religious History.

In 1826, the Indian juggler Madua Samme arrives in Malmö. He tours around Sweden and quickly becomes highly publicized and popular. A year later, he meets the vicar's daughter Erica Schyttner, and they fall in love. However, Erica has a condition for accepting marriage: that Madua converts to Christianity and gets baptized, which he agrees to.

Madua Samme apprentices under the priest Frans Michael Franzén, later bishop, who was also the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy from 1824 to 1834. The baptism becomes a significant and noted event, with the crown prince (later Oscar I) as a godparent. In the baptism, he is given the name Frans Madua Samme.

"Sammes baptism was extensively covered in the press and highlighted as proof of the excellence of Lutheran doctrine," says Jens Carlesson Magalhães, doctoral student in history.

Best Article of the Year

Fredrik Jansson
Fredrik Jansson, doctoral student in religious history at Lund University.

Together with Fredrik Jansson, doctoral student in religious history at the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies at Lund University, Jens has just won the Bruce Mansfield Prize for the best article published in the Journal of Religious History 2023.

The scholarly article focuses on Madua Samme, the historical event of his baptism, and how it later took on a life of its own as various narratives. They used numerous newspaper articles and notices from the 19th century, accessed through the National Library of Sweden's newspaper search, as well as a few documents from the baptism itself, from digitized church archives.

"First, we analyze how the baptism was reported at the time of the event itself, and then how the story is revived in the 1840s when it is mentioned in a French travelogue with clear romantic elements. The travelogue does not mention the Samme couple by name, but in a Swedish translation of the section concerning the Samme couple, they are named. It is this translation that spreads in the press, where Samme is greatly exoticized, but also Erica to some extent."

”The Son of the East”

The relationship between Madua and Erica is described in romantic terms; "the descendant of Brahma and the daughter of the Swedish priest, the son of the East and the daughter of the North." Furthermore, it is said that "the young Swede with the blonde curls loves her brown husband and admires him as he performs his tricks," and it is told how Samme "holds for his wife a love that almost borders on worship, and shows her a touching attention."

"The text also pokes fun at how difficult a Hindu had in understanding Christianity, especially the concept of forgiving one's enemies," says Jens Carlesson Magalhães.

Franzén, who by this time is bishop in Härnösand, responds to the widely circulated text and defends Samme.

"Even in Franzén's narrative, Samme has difficulty understanding how Jesus could forgive those who crucified him, but that is said to have convinced him. However, Franzén's version of the story is of course colored by his being a priest."

The later texts appear in newspapers at a time when religious freedom is beginning to be discussed, not least the rights of Jews.

"Many argued that Lutheran doctrine was the state religion for a reason, and how Samme's baptism was written about can be understood as a small part of a larger narrative about the superiority of Lutheranism."

Debate on Religious Freedom

Debates on religious freedom also gained momentum in the 1850s, and in 1852, Madua Samme's name appears again – but now he is not mentioned as an Indian juggler or for his baptism.

"In the story that now appears, Samme suddenly becomes a Hindu missionary trying to convert people in Stockholm. Hinduism is described as barbaric customs, and it is argued that it cannot even be called a religion because it is so barbaric," says Jens Carlesson Magalhães.

"Here, the name was used as a typical Indian name, instead of the name of a real person, showing that Madua Samme came to be seen as a 'typical' Indian in Sweden around the mid-19th century."

The historical change from how the baptism was written about in 1827 to how it was written in the newspapers during the 1840s and especially 1852 can be seen.

"From depicting India as the birthplace of civilization and Indians as teachers of all other peoples to a more negative portrayal, especially in the debates on religious freedom where Hinduism was not even recognized as a true religion."

Essay Sparked Interest

Jens Carlesson Magalhães and Fredrik Jansson became fascinated by both Samme and the love story between him and Erica, and their first collaboration resulted in an essay about Madua Samme in Historisk tidskrift 2021.

"We then felt that we wanted to delve deeper into how the Swedish press portrayed Samme's baptism and what it could say about the time, so we put our heads together and studied the sources again with our two different areas of expertise: Fredrik's expertise in religious history with a focus on North America's indigenous peoples and my historical expertise with a focus on Swedish-Jewish 19th century. The result was this article, and we are very honored that our joint effort has been rewarded with the Bruce Mansfield Prize."

So, how did the story end for Samme?

In the years following the baptism and marriage, the Samme couple travels around Europe and settles in Italy, before losing the fortune they built up when the bank goes bankrupt. Samme is then forced back on tour again but is not as successful, and he dies poor and sick in Hamburg in 1848. Erica moves back to Stockholm in 1846, where she makes a living as a private teacher in French and Italian. She dies in 1890, and according to contemporary newspaper obituaries, she often talked about her time in Italy, which is said to have been her happiest years.

Text: Johanna Hillgren

tidningsnotis efter Ericas död
Stockholms Nyheter, 24 januari 1890.
The Mansfield Prize

The Mansfield Prize Committee unanimously agreed to give the award for the best article published in the Journal of Religious History (2023) to Jens Carlesson Magalhães and Fredrik Jansson for a well-structured and well written study that shows how a single, relatively unusual story, namely the conversion to Christianity of an Indian juggler in nineteenth-century Sweden can illuminate so many larger issues relating to religious stereotypes within society. It provides an exemplary model of how pursuing a single episode about an individual who might not have major political importance can reveal so much about the attitudes of an officially Christian society.