Academic journal article African Studies Review

Making Headway. the Introduction of Western Civilization in Colonial Northern Nigeria

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Making Headway. the Introduction of Western Civilization in Colonial Northern Nigeria

Article excerpt

Andrew E. Barnes Making Headway. The Introduction of Western Civilization in Colonial Northern Nigeria Rochester, N. Y: University of Rochester Press, 2009. Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora, xii + 330 pp. Maps. Graphs. Abbreviations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $95.00. Cloth.

The colonial history of Africa is all too often regarded as a story of how Western civilization was introduced to the continent by outsiders, rather than how Africans reacted to new influences and opportunities, adjusting them to fit their needs. Andrew Barnes turns this viewpoint around. While concentrating on the motives and actions of colonial administrators and missionaries in Northern Nigeria, he shows how their aims were increasingly reformulated by the Africans they were supposed to be ruling and guiding.

According to Barnes, Northern Nigeria appeared to the conservatively minded British administrators, mostly products of public schools, as an Arcadian utopia in which to create an ideal society under the wings of a Muslim aristocracy. Disillusioned by liberalism and working-class democracy back home, they craved an African Camelot, an idealized society of lords and subjects under their own control. Protestant missionaries shared much of this sentiment, dreaming of remaking the North as an idyll of Christian yeomen working the fields of their traditional hamlets.

What divided the two groups was the issue of religion, the administrators fearing that Christianity would undermine Muslim aristocracy while introducing the unwanted effects of egalitarianism and social mobility. Struggle over proselytizing weakened the ability of both parties to influence the changes in Northern Nigeria, eventually leading to a society that was very different from what the expatriates had expected.

While persuasive in his approach toward the aims of the white administrators and missionaries, and the reactions of the Africans, Barnes is in some danger of stereotyping his subjects. The letters and biographies of the colonial administrators reveal that they included adventurers, romantics, and careerists, as well as the unthinking (rather many of those) and the bewildered, who just happened to find themselves in the middle of Africa. …

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