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European Missionaries in Africa
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Christianity was bounded to the coastal areas of Africa. At this time in Western Africa, there were a total of three missionary societies operating in western Africa. There was the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), the Wesleyan Missionary Society (WMS), and the Glasaw and Scottish Missionary Society (GSMS). In the southern portion of Africa, the Morovian Missionary and the London Missionary were dominant. There was only one society in eastern Africa and there were none at all in northern Africa. However, by 1840 the number of missionary societies had increased to more than fifteen in western Africa, eleven in southern Africa, five in eastern Africa in 1877 and there were six in northern Africa in 1880. Not only were these societies active in the coastal region of Africa, but they also started stretching inland to lands where they haven t reached before. Around the year 1860, these societies in southern Africa had traveled as far north as present day Botswana, Lesotho and Zambia. (Boahen
15) Famous names of this time include David Livingston and Robert Moffat. (Gordon 285)
Maybe it is good to look at how these missionaries spread and shared their ideas to all four corners of Africa. When the Europeans landed in Africa in the beginning, they had no knowledge of the type of people that they were dealing with. They knew nothing of their culture, language, religion or anything of that nature. So the Europeans had to find someone or something to tell them about the people they were dealing with. The Europeans looked no further than the slaves mainly in the United States. The United States exported freed slaves back to Africa in order to help the colonization process run smoother. After all, these people knew about African culture and language and the people of Africa would probably listen to someone of their own color before a white European whom they knew nothing about.
The Christian Africans were most successful around the Guinea coast around Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. (Gordon 44) In fact, most African Catholics owe their conversion to black catechists. Catechists were Africans who were mostly untrained and unordained, but preached the gospel and set up Catholic communities all over Africa.
These catechists were the main people responsible for the huge increase of Christians in Africa, particularly in the Nigerian area. (Hastings) Samuel Adjai Crowther was the most famous among these African missionaries. Crowther was very popular amongst his people and later became the first African Anglican bishop. ( Gordon 285) Crowther had a firm belief that Africa could not be evangelized by Europeans, but only by Africans themselves. He argued that the presence of Europeans endangered the manly independence and the courage and bravery of Africans ( Boahen 22)
Even though white missionaries did place pressure on some portions of Africa, take for example southern Africa, there is little doubt that those in the heart of Africa were facing great danger in being subjected to the Zulu, Boers, or Ndebele people and saw the white missionaries as a savior and embraced them. (Boahen 16) This could be a reason why the Africans tolerated and welcomed the white man to begin with, when they could have fought them out of their lands.
In addition preaching the Gospel and converting the African people to Christianity, these European Missionaries also translated the Bible into several African languages.
The Missionary Societies also promoted agriculture as well as teaching certain skills such as printing and tailoring. They also set up trading posts and various points to help trade flourish, although these posts were more than likely set up for their own benefit. But perhaps the greatest thing that the European missionaries tried to enforce on the Africans was the educational system. (Boahen, 16)
The Europeans saw the Africans as uneducated savages who needed the white mans help to function as a society. All missionary societies set up elementary schools and some even had training colleges and secondary schools. They also had teacher training colleges, seminars and technical schools. By 1894, the protestant missionaries claimed to have had a total enrollment of 137,000 students attending their schools. (Boahen 16)
However things were not all peaches and cream. Very rarely did a student stay in school a whole session and the amount of schools, particularly the training and secondary schools, was very scarce. Even if the student managed to get into the school, he was often sent off to work in the fields or the mines to make money to pay taxes imposed by the Europeans. (Boahen 104) Even the Africans who had access to school and stayed in them long enough weren t
getting a quality education. The books, teachers, and methods of teaching were all second-class. New ideas that were in the big cities areas never reached the smaller towns. There were very few schools in which science was even taught. (Rodney 246) Whatever history of Africa that was taught in school only went back as far as they first Europeans landed on the continent. A prime example of this is that Europeans supposedly discovered Mount Kenya and the river Niger. (Rodney 247) In the end, the spread of Western education in the African elite is what ultimately started the overthrown of the colonial system as well as constituting the center of the civil service in independent African states. (Boahen 104)
The missionaries certainly had an impact on African society as the standard of living had been changed, for the better and for the worse. Some Africans started wearing European style clothing, and there were also some modern style houses built in Africa. The Africans gained access to modern medicine. They also began practicing monogamous marriages. As far as social Africa goes, the largest impact the missionaries had was the stratification of African societies into a small educated elite. (Boahen 16) Members of the elite were given jobs such as teacher,
clergymen, doctors, civil servants, law clerks, and journalists. In the long run, this stratification was not a good thing. Members of African society were split up into two groups. There were the school people, and then there were the red people, which mainly comprised of the workers and the poorer citizens of Africa. The result of this was, of course, much social tension and upheaval.
Even though the people of Africa were given a steady diet of Christianity and Christian doctrine from the missionaries, there were still many that had no intentions of converting. Most Africans held true to their own traditions, there own religion, and their own customs. It also didn t take a while for the Africans to realize that the missionaries and colonization went hand in hand. The missionaries help the colonizers work up treaties that cheated Africa tribes out of their land and their resources. Kenyan nationalist leader, Jomo Kenyatta, was quoted saying When the missionaries came the Africans had the land and the Christians had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes we saw that they now had the land and we had the Bible. ( Gordon 286)
This is the sad truth. The missionaries did use Christianity as a way to control the Africans and make the colonization process easier. These people were doing quite well without having Christianity in their lives believe it or not.