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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 10 The Making of the Mission Agent


Our final interpretation of history is the most sovereign decision we can take, and it is clear that every one of us […] has to take it for himself […]. — Sir Herbert Butterfield Earlier research into Samuel Johnson and his activities has shown that the major problem he presents is the inscrutability of his personality. Michel Doortmont has been able to identify the character poise of his brothers – Henry, Nathaniel, Obadiah and Adolphus – but Samuel remains an enigma.1 Ajayi is of the view that he ‘will remain enigmatic as long as we rely solely on the evidence of his of ficial Journals and the Minutes of the British missionaries in the CMS Finance Committee in Lagos’. The reason is because ‘he deliberately shielded his personal life from those resources’.2 However, his close association at Ọyọ with Samuel George Pinnock, the British Wesleyan missionary turned Southern Baptist missionary, may indicate something about his person. This is because certain aspects of Johnson’s character dimly shine out from the missionary records, and his association with Pinnock whose character is well known gives them force as revealing of his personality. 1 Michel Doortmont, ‘Recapturing the Past: Samuel Johnson and the Construction of Yoruba History’ (PhD diss., Erasmus University, Rotterdam, 1994), 37. 2 J. F. A. Ajayi, ‘Samuel Johnson and Yoruba Historiography’, in Paul Jenkins, ed., The Recovery of the West African Past: African Pastors and African History in the Nineteenth Century – C. C. Reindorf & Samuel Johnson (Basel: Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 1998), 68. 292 Chapter 10 First,...

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