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Section IV: Africa Missions

Part 8: Nigeria - Yoruba, 1880-1934

Part 8 continues the Nigeria -Yoruba papers started in Part 3. It consists of Letter Books, 1880-1934, and Original papers, 1880-1903. The Letter Books, containing copies of outgoing correspondence from the Secretary in London to the missionaries and mission secretary, contain material on official and personal matters including all aspects of mission finance and administration. There are reports on training at Fourak Bay, and at the mission schools domestic slavery and employment of native agents. Regulations for native church committees and general instructions to missionaries are to be found as well as a wide variety of letters concerning topics such as Bible translations, liqueur traffic amongst the native races and the constitution of the synod for Western Equatorial Africa.

The Original Papers comprise all incoming papers sent by the mission to London. They consist mainly of letters concerning all manner of mission business as well as the fascinating annual reports of the missionaries, detailing their year’s work and experiences. There are also minutes and papers of local CMS and diocesan committees. Please see the description of Section IV, Part 9 for further details on the sort of topics covered.

The opening up of Nigeria to Christian mission originated in the desire of British merchants to extend their trade on the West Africa coast. Following the discovery of the source of the Niger in 1830 Thomas Fowell Buxton combined commercial argument with his zeal against slavery and urged the government to undertake expeditions into the interior.

The first Niger expedition was in 1841 and two CMS men were members of it. One of them was Samuel Crowther, by then a teacher at Freetown, who was chosen because he was himself a Yoruba from Western Nigeria. The expedition was a failure but the Society, impressed by Crowther's ability, invited him to England for training and ordination. Shortly after his return to Sierra Leone some of the liberated slaves, who had returned as prosperous merchants to their native country around Lagos, asked for Christian teachers. Crowther and a young Englishman, Henry Townsend, were sent to them and began the Yoruba mission, with its headquarters at Abeokuta.

Venn strongly supported economic development as a means of spreading the Gospel. Industrial institutions at Abeokuta (and later also at Onitsha and Lokoja in the Niger mission) provided apprenticeship schemes for the fast developing cotton trade, instigated by Manchester merchants. The missions also led the way in building and architecture, printing and medicine.

In the 1860s the Dahomian wars interrupted European mission work around Abeokuta, but by that time the local Christians were fully capable of continuing unaided and the Church grew.

Meanwhile, in Eastern Nigeria the CMS Niger mission had been started. In 1857 following a successful private expedition up the Niger, Samuel Crowther was commissioned to establish an African mission to evangelise Africans. In Yoruba country the Christians from Sierra Leone had been returning to their own families. Here they came as missionaries, strangers to the country, though of the same peoples.

CMS supported the work with a small grant, but urged Crowther to make the Church self-supporting. In 1864 he came to England to be consecrated Bishop of the Niger Territories, with eventual responsibility for the whole area from the Nupe country in the north to the Delta States in the south. A special endowment fund was set up to support the bishopric. For Crowther both academic and practical education were of the greatest value in evangelism. He centred the mission stations on schools, and at the same time emphasised the need for missionaries and converts to exercise direct Christian influence on the laws and customs of the people.

It was difficult for Crowther always to recruit the type of men he wanted, for although the work swiftly grew there was no increased support from CMS either in money or men. By 1875, with growing commercial interest in West Africa, there was friction between the European traders and the African missionaries. There was a ferment of new ideas in Europe. Venn was dead and Crowther no longer had support from Salisbury Square. Hutchinson, who had taken over Venn's responsibility for the Niger mission, tried to introduce European supervision and sent out young missionaries to report on the state of the mission. Years of controversy followed, exacerbated by the impetuous stubbornness of the English missionaries who were trained in new ways as were the fresh group of Secretaries in London. Confidence between Crowther and CMS was lost.

In 1887 J A Robinson was appointed secretary of the Niger mission which was by then administered by a committee at Onitsha of which Bishop Crowther was chairman. At a meeting in 1890 Robinson attempted to usurp the chairman's power over the clergy and Crowther resigned. His son Dandeson, archdeacon of the Delta, removed his churches from CMS control and established the Niger Delta Pastorate Church. The estrangement between the Society and the Delta church was to continue for more than thirty years, although the first signs of reconciliation were to come in 1897 with formal approval of its constitution as an independent church.

Crowther died in 1891 and the Niger and Yoruba missions were united in one diocese, Western Equatorial Africa, under an English bishop J S Hill. Not until 1952 was there an African successor to Crowther. Hill's jurisdiction extended over the whole of modern Nigeria and at the very end of the century, his successor, Bishop Tugwell led a small party some 600 miles from the coast near Lagos to Zaria in the north. This was the beginning of the church in that largely Muslim area.

Over the next fifty years in Nigeria the Society's role changed. The government played an increasing part in the financing of education, while as dioceses were created the Society gradually handed over its authority to the indigenous church.

For the long-established work in Western Nigeria it was a time of consolidation. CMS increasingly worked with others, particularly the Methodists, in education and shared in supporting the United Missionary College at Ibadan. The CMS Bookshop at Lagos, supervised by C W Wakeman, supplied schools and mission stations, outstripping similar CMS Bookshops in the Niger mission to become the chief schools' supplier in West Africa. Medical work was not so prominent. The hospital at Ado Ekiti opened in 1936.

In the Niger area CMS extended its work to Awka, where it founded a teacher training college, then to Egbu and Patani and by 1910 to the Isoko people. Archdeacon Dennis translated the Bible into Ibo, producing a Union version in 1911 to replace the Onitsha version till then used in the schools; Henry Procter translated the Book of Common Prayer into the Brass language. For CMS however there was greater interest in the development of the Bookshop at Onitsha (started 1896) with its branches at Egbu (Owerri from 1923) and Port Harcourt 1920. There was also medical work at Iyi Enu from the 1890s, a small hospital being opened in 1908.

The diocese on the Niger was created in 1922. Its jurisdiction included the Niger Delta and Bishop Lasbrey was able to win the confidence of the leaders of the Delta Church as well as the CMS clergy. Integrating the diocese took time, skill and patience but by 1931 a constitution was approved.

The work in Northern Nigeria expanded in four areas. Work amongst the Hausa was pioneered from 1905 at Zaria by Dr Walter Miller, a man of vision and a brilliant linguist. From 1926 it gained a series of recruits from a group of Cambridge University men, the Hausa Band. Max Warren, one of their number, was later to become CMS General Secretary.

Guy Bullen, who proved a leader of sound judgement and a patient negotiator developed the work at Wusasa, where another member of the Band, Dr Norman Cook, was in charge of the medical mission and the building of the hospital from 1930.

Another group of missionaries from Cambridge, the Cambridge University Missionary Party, had been working on the Bauchi plateau since 1907. CUMP like the Hausa Band was a largely self- supporting group within CMS. A new station among the Angass at Kabwir was opened in 1910 and in 1915 the first converts were baptised. It remained a small mission however and in January 1930 the work was handed over to the Sudan United Mission.

Work among the Nupe began in 1903 at Bida and extended to Katcha in 1909. Progress was affected by the isolation of the mission and the lack of reinforcements, but the first Nupe was ordained in 1935.
The Bassa district was a region where the Aladura movement made great impact and Miss K E Ritsert and Miss Christine Matthews were transferred from Lokoja to Kpata in 1931 to work among those influenced by it. They started medical work. By 1936 there were about eight thousand worshippers in the district.

The CMS Archives reveal much about African history and culture. They record the collision between western and indigenous cultures and the changes that resulted from this. They describe the introduction of western medicine, the establishment of schools, and the confrontations and compromises between differing religious beliefs. The papers are a rich source for ethnologists, social historians and all those trying to understand Africa both before and after missionary intervention.

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