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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!