Missionaries In Pre Colonial And Early Colonial Nigeria

1013 words - 4 pages

Missionaries in Pre-Colonial and Early Colonial Nigeria

In any study of colonial Nigeria, the groundwork accomplished by the missionaries in pre-colonial days must be a central concern. They were instrumental in setting the scene which would meet the colonists when they started arriving. Missionaries were used by the colonial power as an avant garde, to expand into new regions, a fact keenly displayed by Achebe in Things Fall Apart. For many Nigerians, missionaries were the first Europeans with whom they came into contact.

The missionaries first made their presence felt through their work in abolishing the slave trade. As Crowder notes, they took the emphasis away from the ''human products'' of Africa in a bid to use more fully her abundant natural resources. The overall, and idealistic, aim was to promote a more healthy and mutually beneficial trade between Africa and Europe. Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton once put forward the argument that ''the only way to save Africa from the evils of the slave trade ... would be call out its own natural resources''(Crowder, The Story of Nigeria, 111). Right from the outset, there was both a commercial and religious context to all missionary work in Nigeria. If anything, it could be argued that initially, the commercial aspect was more pressing than the religious, due the urgent need to find a quick substitute for trading slaves so that the traders would not feel their profit was at stake.

Outcry in England against the horrors of the slave trade reached unprecedented levels. Never before had there been such unanimous public support over a single issue. Cheap pamphlets and tracts were sold in abundance, meaning that the public was fairly well informed in matters such as the cramped and pestilential conditions on the ships. All this was backed up by the first hand accounts of native Africans such as Olaudah Equiano in the late eighteenth century, who described in vivid detail the mistreatment of the slaves.

Missionary interest in Africa achieved a similar level of British evangelical militancy to that of the 1650s, when the Interregnum witnessed a proliferation of Religious sects in the wake of the English Civil War.

In this atmosphere of religious zeal, the apparently barbaric and helpless Africans seemed an ideal area on which to demonstrate the benevolence of European society. The initial expeditionary feelers were sent out in 1841, approximately thirty years before serious colonisation began. The mission was funded by the Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and for the Civilisation of Africa, one of the many such societies in existence at this time. Dickens parodies these societies with acute insight in Bleak House with his portrayal of Telescopic Philanthropy and its attempts at ''educating the natives of Borrioboola-Gha, on the left bank of the Niger'' (Chapter 4).

Crowder states that ''the expedition was the brain-child of men who were almost entirely ignorant of conditions in...

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