Religious conversion and resistence
Find out more about Christianity
Some missionaries combined conversion with exploration and geography. David Livingstone, a Scottish mill worker, and the first European to cross the continent from East to West, is the obvious example.
As more people became converted to Christianity in Africa, an increasing number became missionaries with broadly the same aims as their European colleagues: of converting people in the interior. African rulers and their people took a pragmatic approach to government emissaries and missionaries.
Kabaka Mutesa I to Colonel Gordon, 24th March 1876:
"To Sir Colonel Gordon, My dear Friend, I wish you good day. It is I, M'tesa, King of Uganda who sends you this letter. I wish to be the friend of the white men. Therefore, hear my words which I say.
I want a priest who will show me the way of God.
I want gold, silver, iron and bronze.
I want clothing for my people and myself to wear.
I want excellent guns and good cannons.
I want to cause to be built good houses for my country.
I want my people to know God."
Missionaries offered some advantages besides salvation and a new faith. They provided a link between African rulers and European rulers, who might have arms or other commodities to sell. And they introduced literacy.
Learning to read was an essential part of Christian conversion, so that the bible could be read in English or in an African language. The skill of reading was to change the status quo for ever. Some African rulers like the King of Rwanda and the Kabaka of Buganda opposed the spread of literacy, because it empowered people and upset the social order.
Already by 1809 all the Hausa states were under Muslim rule and Sokoto was established as the Caliphate for the region. In East Africa, Islam came from the East with the rule of the Omani sultanate; but many coastal people remained Muslim even though the power of the Sultanate began to give way to the British and Germans.
It is estimated that nearly two thirds of Africa would have been converted to Islam had the European powers not embarked on the 'Scramble for Africa' in the 1880's.
Islam, compared to Christianity, had a great deal more to say about the precise nature of political rule and administration. In one sense, the order imposed by Islam impressed the Europeans - the British liked to work though Muslim leaders. On the other hand, Islam also endorsed the idea of sacred war, or jihad, a war launched against nonbelievers in order to spread the word of Islam, something the British saw as a threat to colonial control.
In Central Sudan one of the Mahdi's disciples, Rabin ibn Fadl Allah, led a resistance against the French. On his death his son followed in his footsteps and fought the French for 15 years until he died in 1901.
In Libya the Sanussi Brotherhood fought the Italians tenaciously for twenty years until 1932.
A far more successful and formidable enemy of the French was Samori Toure who kindled some of the glory of old Mali with his Mandinka Empire, defended by an army 30,000 strong. He kept this force very mobile, constantly surprising the French and had a tremendous sense of military tactics. He used the latest quick loading guns, which his blacksmiths knew how to mend. After his death, his son was defeated by the French in 1901.
His movement spread from his base in Ngarambe, some 200 miles south from Dar Es Salaam. Five missionaries were murdered and German reinforcements were sent in. In the end, the magic water which they thought would protect them from the German guns failed.
Thousands were killed in battle. German revenge was terrible; a scorched earth policy wiped out whole villages and all their crops. It's estimated 250,000 died from famine.
In Nigeria Garrick Braide called himself Elijah II and claimed the British were about to leave Nigeria because of the war - his prophesies contributed to a revolt in Kwale Ibo.
|^^ Back to top|