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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 9 Change and Decay


We blossom and f lourish as leaves on the tree, and wither and perish […]. — Walter Chalmers Smith Samuel Johnson’s race against time in the bid to redeem the fading memory of his people was paralleled, tragically, by the same urgency of time at work in his life. From 1893, some processes that were not complementary to life and ministry became manifest in his experience at Ọyọ. It appears the long itineration he undertook on behalf of the Alafin and the governor of Lagos Colony had taken their toll on his health. At the same time, the emerging CMS mission ethos was proving unfavourable, and administra- tive concerns were threatening his continuous stay in the royal city. New and younger European recruits were entering the service of the Society who did not share the old vision of a culturally engaging mission practice of Christianity, commerce and civilization, in which his family had been groomed from their days in Hastings, Sierra Leone.1 The first sign of Johnson’s diminishing vigour became evident in the second half of 1893, when he was out of work for eight weeks and 1 Henry ‘Ẹrugunjimi’ Johnson, Samuel’s father, was a beneficiary of a training pro- gramme organized between the CMS Sierra Leone Mission and the Parent Committee in London. It was part of the missionary agenda of Christianity, commerce and civilization aimed at improving the economic and social condition of Africa. The programme took Henry Johnson to Kew Gardens in 1853 to learn horticulture. H. Venn to...

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