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Samuel Johnson of Yorubaland, 1846-1901

Identity, Change and the Making of the Mission Agent

Series:

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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Chapter 1 Looking Back

Extract

Each age tries to form its own conception of the past. Each age writes the history of the past anew with reference to the conditions uppermost in its own time. — Frederick Jackson Turner The exploits of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in Yorubaland, as indeed the entire process of Britain’s engagement with the Yoruba people, beginning from the nineteenth century, are as complex as the history of the Yoruba nation itself. From the middle of the second decade of the nine- teenth century, when a swift intra-ethnic fury ignited an open rebellion in the old savannah kingdom of Ọyọ, till the death of Rev. James Johnson in 1917, the Yoruba witnessed a century-long oscillation between hope and despair. As the war that reconfigured the political fortunes and geographical boundaries of the nation ate its way into its social fabric from the north, a cross-current mitigating factor in evangelical mission Christianity f lowed in from its southern end. The thrust of this mitigating factor was as profound as the rapid pace at which the political crisis that ushered in the decay developed; for the evangelization of Yoruba people in the long century of confusion was marked by a degree of earnestness, quiet though, that matched the res- tiveness that gave rise to the nation’s political travails. In qualifying this eagerness that became a distinctive feature of Yoruba Christianity, Adrian Hastings notes that, The crucial factor underlying the development of by far the most considerable and confident Christian community in West Africa...

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