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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 7 Redeeming the Land


I have often thought and said the Yorubas will yet want af f lictions before they can receive the humble gospel now of fered to them. — David Hinderer The nineteenth century mission triad of Christianity, commerce and civi- lization evolved from the awakening of the social conscience of English people in the second half of the eighteenth century, especially with regard to the involvement of a segment of their people in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This awakening of social conscience through the activities of the anti- slavery movement, later given the misnomer ‘Clapham sect’, set the agenda for the CMS when the Society emerged in 1799. As a result, the activities of the CMS in West Africa, for much of the nineteenth century, were driven overtly and covertly by the urge to transform the social structures on which indigenous societies were established. The failure of the attempt to ef fect this agenda among the Susu people, from 1804, was an early indication of the enormity of the challenge ahead. Happily, from 1816, the emerging colonial environment of Sierra Leone, being home to uprooted peoples of Western Africa, provided the mission a viable apprenticeship platform to sharpen its skill in social transformation. With the persistence of the slave trade, however, the anti-slavery movement explored the possibility of destroying it at its roots through the blueprint of fered by Thomas Fowell Buxton in his 1840 publication, The African Slave Trade and Its Remedy. It led to the ill-fated Niger expedi- tion of...

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