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Samuel Johnson of Yorubaland, 1846-1901

Identity, Change and the Making of the Mission Agent


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 3 Reorientation


Education has for its object the formation of character. — Herbert Spencer Ibadan was establishing itself as a new territorial power when mission arrived there in 1851. Its restless warriors were busy prosecuting a defensive war against the Fulani army in Ilọrin and yet another one, fuelled by impe- rial ambition, eastward into Ijesha and Ekiti lands.1 Ironically, it was the unsettled nature of the country that hastened mission to the city where Yoruba traditional religions and Islam already held sway.2 Hinderer’s exploratory visit to the town in 1851 impressed on him early the nature of the environment in which he would be functioning; and his subsequent residence there as a missionary confirmed it time and 1 In 1852, while Mr Hinderer was away to England, Ibadan warriors ‘engaged exten- sively in war’ in the Ijesha country. The missionary reported that the ‘expedition was considered a […] failure, for they only brought about 5000 captives, & lost no less than 2000 of their warriors’. D. Hinderer, Journal for the quarter ending 25 March 1853, CMS C/A2/O49/105. 2 The precarious situation of Abẹokuta, following the vigorous but unsuccessful attempt of Dahomey to sack the town in March 1851 made Townsend to look further afield for missionary extension. The fate of the CMS mission in Zululand, which was shut down in 1838 because of the endemic war between the people and the Boers, was instructive for the English missionary at Abẹokuta. H. Townsend to Missionaries, 3 July 1851, CMS C/A2/M2(1848–1854)...

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