Academic journal article African Economic History

Robbing Others to Pay Mary Slessor: Unearthing the Authentic Heroes and Heroines of the Abolition of Twin-Killing in Calabar

Academic journal article African Economic History

Robbing Others to Pay Mary Slessor: Unearthing the Authentic Heroes and Heroines of the Abolition of Twin-Killing in Calabar

Article excerpt

Despite the impressive array and quality of work that has been done on Calabar, our understanding of some of the episodes in the area has been distorted by the continuous recycling of faulty interpretations and conclusions in foundational texts as well as the inadequate attention to, or uncritical reading of primary records. A case in point, which this study addresses, is the abolition of the killing of twins. One commonly hears in Cross River State and beyond, both in the academic and public domains of knowledge, that it was the legendary Mary Slessor of Scotland who stopped the killing of twins in Calabar. This is the conclusion in all secondary publications on the subject; and this is taught to students at all levels of education in Nigeria. Influenced largely by these commonplace assumptions, which are not supported by concrete evidence, the Cross River State Government in Nigeria has strategically exhibited an effigy of Slessor carrying twins in one of its state capital's busiest streets, Mary Slessor Avenue, named after this towering figure. This effigy, which was constructed several decades ago, has continued to give undue impetus to the unfounded claim that Mary Slessor was the most important dramatis personae in the campaign for the abolition of the killing of twins in Calabar.

The present state of knowledge has not only swept under the carpet a great company of European men and women who devoted themselves to the fight against "barbaric" customs in Calabar long before the arrival of Miss Slessor in the area, but also excluded the astute and commendable involvement of some Efik people, which was crucial and decisive in many regards. Exclusion of the role of a man like King Eyo Honesty II, whom Europeans of the mid-nineteenth century in Calabar appropriately recognized as the hero of their accomplishments, including the abolition of twin-killing, distorts a substantial portion of history in which Calabar monarchs were critical agents of change. Historian Emmanuel Ayandele avers that "no contemporary chief in Nigeria could destroy important religious and social basis of indigenous society in order to patronize missionary enterprise as Eyo II did, and so made the missionaries revolutionary programme succeed in a short time."1 Support for Ayandele's assertion shows up in the words of Consul T. J. Hutchinson, who participated actively in the anti-twin killing campaign:

All the Kingdoms of western Africa would very soon present a difference from their present condition were they governed by such men as King Eyo.... He is anxious for the civilization of his country. Those who agree with me in thinking Christianity and civilization to be cause and effect in Africa as they are all over the world, will rejoice to hear that he has given every countenance and assistance to the body of Presbyterian Missionaries settled at Old Calabar.2

The motivation for this reappraisal therefore comes partly from historian Okon Uya's appeal that "we must reject the continuing domination and subordination of our people in historical narratives that present us as onlookers in the drama of our own vital existence."3 It is regretted that even indigenous scholars that set out to challenge Eurocentric views which present Africans in Calabar as mere objects rather than protagonists in historical narratives, end up with rash conclusions that are not significantly, let alone radically, different.

In the main, this study is a sample of a larger project aimed at guiding the present generation of students to critique the existing narratives as well as developing new methodologies to respond to their errors, gaps and challenges. As a result, students can offer a new historical literature that points people away from the stale argument of the past and brings in the perspectives of Africans into the story of reform movements in the Cross River region. The impetus for this project comes from the dictum that no argument from an authority, however eminent, is to be preferred to evidence in historical interpretation. …

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