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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 4 Back to Base


Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced. — James Baldwin Johnson returned to Ibadan at the end of 1865, having completed his train- ing at Abẹokuta. A major dif ference that marked his pre-Abẹokuta days in Ibadan and the present one was his father’s death, which occurred earlier in the year.1 All other things considered, the mission he was returning to was no dif ferent from the one he left behind in December 1862. The privation that marked the life of the Christian community under David Hinderer was as acute as it had ever been. The end of the Ijaye war had brought no peace to the country. Rather, in its aftermath, Ibadan became the centre of widening ripples of anger in the country. Its restless warriors continued to menace neighbouring peoples, and they, in turn, intensified the priva- tion of its people with blockade from the coast. To such a place Johnson returned at the end of 1865 to begin his service at the Kudẹti day school. As in the previous ef fort to carve a niche for Christianity in the Yoruba country through adult conversion, getting children for the mission schools in Ibadan was an arduous task. Abẹokuta and Lagos, for their being home to many Saro returnees and for their association with Europeans, could appeal to the people with the prospects of the encroaching colonial order. But Ibadan was a dif ferent case. The...

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