Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

The Rev. Joseph Jackson Fuller: A 'Native' Evangelist and 'Black' Identity in the Cameroons

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

The Rev. Joseph Jackson Fuller: A 'Native' Evangelist and 'Black' Identity in the Cameroons

Article excerpt

THE HISTORY of the use of black evangelists in Africa has received a good deal of attention in recent years. In the process it has become clear that the story of the successful missionizing of black Africa is tiie story of its indigenous evangelists. There are few things about the history of missions that scholars agree on, but one of them is that, until native Christians became available to evangelize their fellows, missionaries had few or no converts. The role of the white missionary seems to have been to enable a small number of black catechists to become the main instrument in generating conversions in larger numbers among their own people. Such indigenous evangelists had several advantages. Often they spoke the languages and were familiar with the customs of the peoples they sought to convert. But even when they were not from the same ethnic or linguistic group, they showed a broader understanding of the cultures they encountered, and so engendered a greater sympathy and hearing from their fellow Africans. One of the great figures of West African Christianity, the first black Anglican bishop, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, was a Yorúbá speaker who had been raised as a so-called 'recaptive'1 in Sierra Leone. He accompanied the CMS missionary J.F. Schön on his exploratory voyage up the Niger River in 1841, and although he spoke no Ijaw, Igbo or Hausa, a comparison of his journals with those of his mentor Schön easily confirms that he understood and sympathized with the societies he encountered in ways that his fellow white missionary could not.2 This may serve as an example of how problematic the term 'indigenous' is in discussing the role of black missionaries and their helpers in Africa, since being indigenous to the continent did not necessarily mean being from the region of operation or specific mission field assigned. Even more so, the term 'indigenous evangelist' would seem to preclude those black missionaries who were bom elsewhere - for example, in the US A or in the Caribbean - and who returned to Africa as agents of white mission societies. But in practice the overarching idea of the 'native' employed in colonial discourse often broke down this neat division, and black missionaries from elsewhere were seen to occupy an ambivalent space between their white colleagues and the local indigenous pastors the mission trained and employed. Despite this, they often played a vital role in getting the missions accepted by black communities who identified with them on the basis of their colour and their ethnic origin.

In Ghana, for example, when the missionaries of the Basel Evangelical Society established themselves in the hilly, malaria-free regions behind Accra at Akropong, they failed to persuade the Omanhene (King) that Christianity was a religion suitable for his people.3 The king supposedly remarked that clearly the religion was suitable for white men but not for black. The response of the Rev. Andreas Riis, the charismatic leader of the Basel Mission in the region, was to introduce black missionaries from the Caribbean as proof that die new religion could be taken up by black men like the Ghanaians of Akropong.4 In this vignette is captured the way in which a perception of a shared identity based on colour rather than place of birth or language might be employed by missions. Black missionaries, especially from the Caribbean and from the US A, were employed successfully across Africa. When the tensions between colonial authorities and 'natives' erupted, as it did in various places across the colonized world in the late-nineteenth century, these 'returned' missionaries of African descent were often caught in the clash and forced to acknowledge that they were never regarded by the colonial authorities as quite as reliable as their white fellows.5 But, conversely, they seem to have been able to sympathize with their fellow blacks in ways that white missionaries did far less frequently.

The case of the Jamaican-born missionary J. …

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