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Samuel Johnson of Yorubaland, 1846-1901

Identity, Change and the Making of the Mission Agent

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Wolfgang-Ulrich Fischer

This study aims to understand how the nineteenth-century African agent of mission appropriated change without losing cultural integrity. Drawing essentially from the contexts that produced the man, from Sierra Leone to the Yoruba country, the study shows Samuel Johnson as embodying the opportunities and ambivalence that progressively accompanied Yoruba contact with Britain in the people’s war-weary century of change. Largely influenced by German missionaries in the British mission environment of Yorubaland, Johnson had confidence in the bright prospect the missionary message held for his people. This propelled him into a struggle to relieve the distressed country from its woes and to preserve the fading memory of its people. In an age of renewed cultural ferment called globalization, could Johnson offer a lesson in how to appropriate change? This is the concern of this volume.

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Acknowledgements

Extract

When I set out in 2002 for the Akrofi-Christaller Centre, in Ghana, now Institute (ACI), with the view to coordinate the web-based Dictionary of African Christian Biography (DACB) and to begin this study, little did I realize that it was going to be a long haul. Today, I look back with gratitude that the providence that shaped the subject of this book has not been less active in my trail. My residence in Akropong-Akuapem in the first two years and its attendant opportunity to sit in Bible study classes with its unsophisticated African readers turned out to be one of the informal experiences that drew my attention to biography as a method germane to Africa’s intel- lectual discourse. I noticed in one of those Bible study sessions that, for these unsophisticated but intelligent and earnest readers, it is not enough to articulate human reality in abstraction; it must find expression in f lesh and blood to be fully intelligible. This simple but profound discovery gave meaning to my assignment of coordinating the DACB, a project that was designed to recover Africa’s Christian past. It also proved to be of immense value in situating me in the context of my heritage of African intellectual tradition, a discipline which Professors Andrew Walls and Kwame Bediako – late – have been promoting in Akropong. I am indebted to these simple folks for this cultural enlightenment. Further ref lections on my experiences in the course of the research show that I have been borne along by...

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