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Effects Of Colonialism On Mission In Nigeria And Its Implication For Contemporary Missionaries
Africa, the land of blessed race, where the opportunists came to develop in order to colonize their resources for their good are left in vain hope. Even the religious motives of some were not Gospel but material gains. Africa had suffered so much from the white Generals and ‘missionaries’ because we trusted and relied on their concept of modernization, civilization and development. Colonialism was not in the dictionary of a black man because the idea of collectivism was the order of the day. Africans live in community headed by a leader that always seeks the good of his subjects. The Africa shore was blessed as vast as the sea in treasure, yet the ‘developers’ came and explored the land in the name of the Lord, saying African do not know God, having no theological platform for theology. However, Nigeria was part of the countries that suffered the development. The people around the Niger River area had intention of accepting the white men and their mission but the effects of colonialism affected the country till today as we deny the authenticity of our culture with civilization that promotes immorality that even the Gospel could not handle due to the dilapidated foundation of deception. Nevertheless, the presence of these missionaries still brought about development of infrastructures and other benefits to the nations. This paper shall review the positive and negative effects of the missionaries during colonial era in Nigeria.
THE GENESIS OF MISSIONARIES DURING COLONIALISM IN NIGERIA
Nigeria Background Information (2010, Standard 17) reveals that during the period 1885-1900, nearly the entire continent of Africa fell under the formal political control of European powers; Nigeria was no exception. After the ground rules for colonial conquest had been ironed out at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, Europeans intensified their expeditionary and colonial activity within the “Dark Continent.”
Before the advent of colonial rules, missionaries had visited African soil to spread Gospel of Christ and this led to the trooping in of other people of different motives either for trade or politics. However, missionaries were used by the colonial power as an avant garde, to expand into new regions. For many Nigerians, missionaries were the first Europeans with whom they came into contact. Many pioneer missionaries served during the colonial era without looking back. John Ferguson (1971. 52) writes about these pioneers devotion to mission. Anna and David Hinderer in 1848 served rejoicing in the thought of living and dying for Africa. Also, “Mr. Venn, that great and good man, whose name has for us a familiar household ring, which has never failed to kindle in our hearts a feeling of genuine enthusiasm”, says Ferguson. The pioneers’ suffered for the mission brought yet they stood their ground. Ferguson notes the ordeal of John Taylor and Jona. He states that:
Taylor and Jona were left alone with an immense task before hem. Any who think that the picture of West Africans society at this time is coloured by European prejudice, should read the diary of Taylor, an African, wit its record of slavery and murder, blood-feud and tribal war, human sacrifice and twin-killing, superstition and idolatry, filth and disease. The missionaries first made their presence felt through their work in abolishing the slave trade. As Crowder notes, they took the emphasis away from the ”human products” of Africa in a bid to use more fully her abundant natural resources. The overall, and idealistic, aim was to promote a healthier and mutually beneficial trade between Africa and Europe. Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton once put forward the argument that ”the only way to save Africa from the evils of the slave trade… would be call out its own natural resources” (Crowder, The Story of Nigeria, 111).
Right from the outset, there was both a commercial and religious context to all missionary work in Nigeria. If anything, it could be argued that initially, the commercial aspect was more pressing than the religious, due the urgent need to find a quick substitute for trading slaves so that the traders would not feel their profit was at stake.
However, the scene changed in the face of Christianity spread that brought hope to all. Edmund Ilogu (1965) says that those who embraced Christianity prior to 1900 were mainly people who, perhaps, were alienated from the traditional society; or suffered from certain social disabilities; or experienced certain natural misfortunes. The heathens are looking on, bewildered, and powerless to stem the torrent of enthusiasm that is flowing like a river towards the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ. From the CMS Archives (1881), the records reveal, however, that it was in the period following the extension of British political authority into the Igbo country that missionary evangelism prospered. Prior to that time, in fact, it may be safely said that most Igbos treated missionary propaganda with ‘respectful indifference’. Thought many came to the missionary because of relief. Ekechi, F. K. (1971) writes that other forces that brought about the remarkable mass movement of the early twentieth-century included fear of being flogged or imprisoned for refusal to comply with the government’s Forced Labour Ordinance or failure to pay local fines. Nevertheless, missionary interest in Africa achieved a similar level of British evangelical militancy to that of the 1650s, when the Interregnum witnessed a proliferation of Religious sects in the wake of the English Civil War.
Yet despite this setback, within a decade the missionaries were back in Nigeria. The missionaries completely overlooked any cultural richness that existed in Nigeria. They arrived with the same straightforward views as the colonial employees were later to possess. They were absolutely convinced of the superiority of Europeans as an undeniable fact against the assumed inferiority of the natives. Indeed the missionaries could be seen as the first colonial propagators of Manichean Opposition ideology, from the outset using it as one legitimizing factor for their presence in Africa. This resulted in a potent attitude of patronization towards the natives. Indeed, they often found the Africans themselves, the very subject of their duties, to be utterly repulsive both in appearance and behaviour.
This is not to say that the missionaries were not dedicated to what they felt was their duty in Nigeria, and Africa as a whole. CMS Archives (1902) affirms that:
Initially the entire populace was subjected to military expeditions and wanton exploitation, in due course, however, it appeared that Christians became immune to certain local exactions. Some ‘Christian’ villages were indeed treated with some measure of respect by British officials and in a few cases were freed from military patrols. To most people, therefore, it became quite obvious that those who were associated with the Christian missions received preferential treatment. Fear and insecurity coupled with the realization that Christianity had suddenly become a badge of honour, persuaded many people then to reconsider their position vis-a-vis the Christian missions.
Many made sincere efforts, often putting their lives in danger to accomplish their goals. Yet, the underlying forces at work behind the missions, as well as their inextricable links with commercial activities should never be overlooked. From the outset, the missions were seen as ideal vehicles for gaining the trust and confidence of the tribal leaders, before the real monies interest moved in. It could be argued that the missions were one part of the wheel of business and economics that starting to turn in Nigeria, while a substitute for slaves was sought. The humanitarian touch they seemed to bring disguised these motives behind a facade of peaceful and beneficent civilization. It would be naive to assume that the missionaries were innocently unaware of the drastic consequences their opening of the African heartland would bring. In this sense they must, at least in part, be held answerable for the colonial predicament of Nigeria.
EFFECTS OF COLONIALISM ON MISSION IN NIGERIA
Jordan (1905) writes that the missionaries’ formal education was a means to an end. Through a sustained education programme both religious proselytization and social transformation might be realized. For, as Father Shanahan suggested, ‘Those who hold the school, hold the country, hold its religion, and hold its future.’ For the Africans, too, the acquisition of Western education was a means to an end; education would provide the weapon with which to fight colonialism. Stewart, Dianne (2005) notes that embracing Christianity provided African captives with opportunities for leadership, education, travel, and social mobility, which were unviable to them as adherents of African religious traditions. Becoming a Christian meant having the opportunity to learn how to read and write along with opportunity to receive standard theological training. This offered converts more potential for upward mobility than ancestral religions of Africa. Ekechi (1971) adds that the writers of the era had tended to stress the utilitarian aspect of Western education as a means to higher jobs and overall economic improvement to the neglect of its ideological aspect. From 1901 both the C.M.S. and the R.C. Missions were intent on expanding their education programme.
Relief and Health Programme Developments
Health facilities were in place during the colonial era through the missionaries. It was a great impact to affects the lives of people that were neglected by the government of the day. Babajide, Femi (5) notes the benefits that were in place when the missionaries entered Nigeria, especially Yoruba Land. He observes that Christianity became so successful in Abeokuta such that the town was described by Miss Tucker as “the sunrise within the tropics.” Also, the various denominations that arrived in Abeokuta were able to translate into three fold programmes of the missionaries: Christianity, commerce and civilization (western education). Although, a fourth dimension was later introduced by the Baptist Mission, which is Healthcare.
Commercialization and Modernization
From the outset, the missions were seen as ideal vehicles for gaining the trust and confidence of the tribal leaders, before the real monied interest moved in. It could be argued that the missions were one part of the wheel of business and economics that starting to turn in Nigeria, while a substitute for slaves was sought. The humanitarian touch they seemed to bring disguised these motives behind a facade of peaceful and beneficent civilization.
Condemnation and Abolishment of Culture
Adrian Hastings (59) observes that the first assumption of these early missionaries was that everything African was heathen and superstitious barbarism. They came with an almost impregnable confidence in the overwhelming superiority of the European West and in all the ways of society and culture which they had taken for granted in their own homes whether Evangelical or Catholic. According to Adrian Hastings (58), the missionaries admitted little, if any, culture of value in Africa, just as many had denied that it really had any religion other than fearful superstitions. It was this feeling of superiority which crystallized in the social situation of masters and servants, which was very much pronounced in the churches established by the early foreign missionaries.
Ibewuike (352) expressly narrates the situation that negated the mission of the missionaries during the colonial time that as the time the CMS missionaries arrived, they condemned polygamy on the ground that it was against the Christian doctrine. They also condemned the traditional marriage ceremony and preached in favour of couples wedding in the Church with a priest officiating, rather than the elders negotiating according to the rules of the traditional system. Due to the missionaries, Christianity helped to modify this act, and some Asaba people, who were Christians, later wedded in the Church. All indigenous names were also censured by the missionaries (CMS), and they advised the people to take Christian names. All newborn children were to be baptized in the Church rather than by the traditional naming ceremony presided over by the elders. On several occasions, the missionaries and Asaba people disagreed on this issue. Stewart, Dianne (2005) also observes that the missionary insisted that Western Christian culture was the antidote for African spirituality, religion, and culture. Africans had to equate all of their inherited traditions with s sinful past if they were to convince the missionaries of their authentic conversion to Christ. European Christianity forced African religion underground (away from public view and influence) and there it remains even today.
Ibewuike (353) states further that the converts were left in a dilemma, because their people back home wished their children to be given indigenous names, whereas the missionaries condemned this practice. Any couple who decided to name their child in the traditional manner had to face suspension from the Church, or, alternatively, if the child was baptized in the Church, the couple was alienated from their families back home. But as time went by, the majority of the Asaba people became Christians. Furthermore, the CMS missionaries did not accept traditional burials because of the rituals involved. But the Asaba people could not see anything bad in these customs. To them it was a prerequisite for the final appeasement of the dead. The CMS missionaries preached against it, and Christians who took part in traditional burials were asked to leave the church. The CMS missionaries and the traditionalists, especially the Obi, did not agree on the question of title taking.
Entrance for Exploitations through Slave Trade Abolition
From the inception, white men had discovered what African had and the only way was to strategize by substitution. Amos Tutola ( http://www.qub.ac.uk ) writes online that missionaries were used to their utmost effectiveness. After their success in fighting for the abolition of the Slave Trade, they targeted Nigeria with a dual purpose to convert the natives and to discover natural resources which could be traded as a substitute for slaves. It was on the back of the large trading companies, like the Royal Niger Company, that colonization began in the latter half of the nineteenth century. To a large extent, Nigeria was colonized using her own resources. Nigerian soldiers were used to apply the brute force of colonial demands, the administration and bureaucracy relied heavily on Nigerian co-operation, and the missionaries made full use of Africans in evangelizing the region.
Omoyajowo, J. A. remarks so much on the state of black man when the missionaries came with the Gospel. His word is quoted below:
These missions made reasonable and considerable impact on the society and paved the way for the later successes of the Church in this African country. But the approach by the foreign missions was largely negative. The general tendency by them was to condemn African things in toto and to paint the picture of a dark continent. The missionaries had no respect for the peoples’ way of life, their religion or culture. Here is an illustration of such negative attitudes by a Capuchin missionary in the Congo. “On my way, I found numbers of idols which I threw into the fire. The owner of these idols… seemed very annoyed. To calm him down by humiliating him, I let him know that if he persisted in anger, I should see that he himself is burnt with his idols”. It is this negative attitude which characterised the missionary work of the foreign missionaries. It was evangelism that had no regard for the peoples’ culture and religion. They were too simply convinced of the enormous superiority of the European West and came unconsciously, but naturally, as bearers not only of the Christian message, but also of westernization. We are, therefore, little surprised that the Christianity imbibed by the Africans from these foreign missionaries was veneer and in most cases superficial and hypocritical. It was these weaknesses that the ‘African’ group of Churches and after them, the African “indigenous” Churches exploited in establishing their Churches.
Leon Litvack (1998) probably rebukes missionaries on the guilt of graded humanistic hierarchical order that Blackman is inferior. He also notes that missionaries completely overlooked any cultural richness that existed in Nigeria. They arrived with the same straightforward views as the colonial employees were later to possess. They were absolutely convinced of the superiority of Europeans as an undeniable fact against the assumed inferiority of the natives. Indeed the missionaries could be seen as the first colonial propagators of Manichean Opposition ideology, from the outset using it as one legitimising factor for their presence in Africa. This resulted in a potent attitude of patronisation towards the natives. Indeed, they often found the Africans themselves, the very subject of their duties, to be utterly repulsive both in appearance and behaviour.
IMPLICATION ON CONTEMPORARY MISSIONARIES
To this state, it is revealed that missionaries were both salt and sour to Africa, especially Nigeria on influence and affluence towards economy growth and civilization which actually brought eye opener to our taste of survival and changes. The effects had much on the contemporary missionaries in some other region whereby the colonial missionaries were rejected for their negative impacts and to the others that were warmly received due to physical and spiritual development realized. Missionaries of this age have to learn to inculcate the value system of the people as culture appraisal as platform for theological approaches.
African knows God but in the myth and oral tradition that was not really documented yet mission has to come in that line to step up through it but not to become syncretism (the extreme mix up of Christianity with culture). The imbalance of thought over what Africa is relegated the missionaries in the land. However, contemporary missionaries should learn from the past err of the former that inferiority should be omitted from human relation in mission work. Equality before God is the message of Christ. Though developments were recorded, however, if the tragedy aftermath is overhauling the structures, greater failure will be the end. Visible structures do not weight as the invisible character. Nigerian loves character appreciation as part of African ethics, so missionaries of today should create platform of integrity and loyalty to Christ and the gospel. Missionaries were an important factor in promoting economic change. The contemporaries should engage the people in things that will enhance their daily living without taking advantages of the people for self gain.
The effects of colonialism on mission in Nigeria has greater impact on contemporary missionaries to rediscover and redesign mission strategy that is not from ‘love and hate’ syndrome of the westerns, but genuine purpose to win the world to Christ. Nigeria had suffered from the colonial rulers which came in through the missionaries path, yet it has make up of development that was set up then in view for the contemporary missionaries to strive for excellence as they missionize the nation with integrity, adequate information of the people and their culture and indifference and discrimination over colour, tribe, language and ethnic differences.
Babajide, Femi. The Beginning of Christianity in Nigeria. The Marks, Aflame Discipleship Labour Magazine, Volume 4 No 1, 2010, Ilorin, Nigeria, 2010.
C.M.S. Archives, Elm to Baylis. G3/A3/o, 7 Dec. 1902.
C.M.S. Archives, Report of Stations in the Archdeaconry of the Upper Niger for the year ending December, I88I. Standard 17, Historical Geography of Nigeria, A Basic Chronology for Nigeria’s Historical Geography, G. 3/A3/o: Niger Mission.
Ekechi, F. K. Colonialism and Christianity in West Africa: The Igbo Case, 1900-1915. The Journal of African History, Vol. 12, No. 1, Cambridge University Press Stable,
Ferguson, John. Some Nigerians church founders. Ibadan: daystar press, 1971. 52
Hastings, Adrian: Church and Mission in Modern Africa. New York: Fordham University Press, l966. 59.
Ibewuike, V. O. African Women and Religious Change: A study of the Western Igbo of Nigeria with a special focus on Asaba town. Uppsala. ISBN 91-506-1838-5, 2006. 353
Ilogu, Edmund. Christianity and Ibo Traditional Religion. International Review of Missions, LIV, 1965. 335-42
Omoyajowo, Joseph Akin. Gospel and Culture from the Perspective of African Churches Founded by Foreign Missions. accessed 13th February, 2011 by 2.15pm.
Stewart, Dianne M. Three Eyes for the Journey: African Dimensions of the Jamaican Religious Experience. New York: Oxford Press, 2005. 92
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