Demonizing African Culture in the Name of Christianity

It is the same ship that brought the Bible which
also carried guns and alcohol to Africa.”

This is the popular saying in some parts of Africa,
a response to the claim that the missionaries who came to Africa
were on a humanitarian “civilizing” mission, bringing salvation
to the “primitive” tribes and “lost souls”. We however know from
all the available evidence on the activities of the “missionaries”
that they were just the forerunners who paved the way for the
colonial conquest and subsequent rape of the African continent

Source: Black
Studies Centre, Canada

Demonizing African Culture in the Name of Christianity

by Michael Baffoe

“It is the same ship that brought the Bible which
also carried guns and alcohol to Africa.”

This is the popular saying in some parts of Africa,
a response to the claim that the missionaries who came to Africa
were on a humanitarian “civilizing” mission, bringing salvation
to the “primitive” tribes and “lost souls”. We however know from
all the available evidence on the activities of the “missionaries”
that they were just the forerunners who paved the way for the
colonial conquest and subsequent rape of the African continent.

In many parts of Africa, nation states which accepted
the culture of the missionaries, called Christianity, without
a fight were left with little disruption of their traditional
and cultural values. This was the beginning of the system called
Indirect Rule introduced first by the British under its governor
Lord Lugard in Northern Nigeria. In return for the agreement to
allow the British colonialists to carry on their imperialist activities
and maintain “law and order” the Northern Nigerian Hausa and Fulani
chiefs were allowed to keep their traditional institutions, their
culture and even their Islamic religion. The situation was however
different in other parts of Africa where the people resisted the
introduction of colonial rule.

The Asantes in Ghana fought the British at every
turn and even defeated the British in a brutal war in 1826 in
which the British Commander Charles McCarthy was killed. In these
areas the colonialists used the missionaries on strong “civilizing”
missions. The Presbyterian Missionaries were the worst offenders.
In the areas that they settled they sought to divide the population
by creating separate living communities called “Christian Quarters”,
for those who converted to Christianity. These were the “civilized,
clean souls” who were not expected to mix with the “uncivilized
heathen ones”. This practice divided family units and the divisions
have endured till now to the extent that children were separated
from their parents, wives from husbands and so on because parts
of certain family units would not convert to Christianity.

There is abundant evidence to show that the introduction
and imposition of this European colonial culture was a direct
extension of European capitalist expansion. The Christian missionary
activities was just a guise for European commercial activities.
They were the most ambitious ideological agents of the British
Empire, bearing with them the fanatical zeal to reconstruct the
native world in the name of God and Great Britain. The British
“Christian” missionary, David Livingstone who is portrayed as
the most dedicated missionary with a passionate vision for the
“Dark Continent” (Africa) summed up their intentions in a speech
at Oxford University in 1864. He argued that:

“Sending the Gospel to the heathens of Africa must
include more than is implied in the usual practice of a missionary,
namely, a man going about with a Bible under his arms. The promotion
of commerce ought to be specially attended to as this, more than
anything else, makes the heathen tribes depend on commercial intercourse
among civilized nations.”

“I go back to Africa to, open a new path to commerce.
Do you carry on the work I have started?”

Passionate vision indeed!!

Even in modern times, the policies and practices
of financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund
(IMF), the World Bank and the foreign and economic policies of
most Western nations towards Africa have not diverted from the
vision of David Livingstone.

One of the painful destructive legacies unleashed
by the Christian missionary adventurers was the perversion of
the natural names of Africans. Every African name has a meaning
and a significance. For example children born in Ghana carry names
of the day on which they were born. We do not carry family names.
The surnames reflect the significance of the circumstances in
which the child is born. Parents name children after people who
have done significant things in their lives. To keep the good
name of such persons parents honour them by naming a child after
that person. For example I was born on a Friday. My first name
is therefore Kofi. I was named after my grandfather whom my father
really admired. Baffoe is therefore my grandfather’s name. Also
spelt as Baffour in some areas my name means an adventurer, a
fighter. My sister is called Afua (female Friday born). Her surname
is Maanu which means she is the third female born in the family.
Therefore anybody from Ghana looking at my sister’s name: Afua
Maanu knows exactly what it means. I have a Nigerian friend whose
parents were so happy that they had a son that they named him
Olu Gbenga, meaning “God has elevated me”. And there is my Ugandan
friend from East Africa who is named Muhumuza (one who brought
relief). His sister is called Nankunda Katangaza: (the little
one who amazes)

However our Christian invaders decided that those
names were heathen, primitive, uncivilized. At baptism, (another
cultural imposition) the civilized parents are expected to give
Christian names to their children. I was therefore called Michael
instead of Kofi. This signified that I had been transformed from
paganism to a new civilized life. I do not even know what Michael
means. My Nigerian friend was christened Thomas instead of Olu
Gbenga and my Ugandan friend is Gabriel instead of the beautiful
Muhumuza.

Many Africans who have arrived in Canada have had
to fight uphill battles with the immigration department on their
names. They do not understand why family members do not bear the
same names. I have two brothers but they do not carry my father’s
name because we have nothing designated as family name.

There is now a cultural revolution going on in most
parts of Africa. Many people are shedding their Christian names
for the natural meaningful names given to them at birth. For me
I would still carry my Christian name, Michael. At least it will
continuously remind me that once upon a time I came into contact
with a bunch of strange people who sought to civilize me by just
changing my name!


For any inquiries or feedback contact the Black Studies
Centre at bscinfo@blackstudies.ca.
This site last updated by PB June 12, 2002

Copyright ? 2002 Black Studies Centre (Quebec)
Inc.

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