Samuel Johnson of Yoruba Land, 1846-1901 : religio-cultural identity in a changing environment and the making of a mission agent.
Olabimtan, Kehinde Olumuyiwa.
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This thesis explores the cultural and the religious formation of Rev. Samuel Johnson and his response to the changing environment of West Africa, particularly Yorubaland, in the nineteenth century. Divided into two parts, the first part looks at the biography of the man, paying attention to his formative environment and his response to it as a Yoruba evangelist in the service of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). The second part explores the issues that were involved in his response to his changing milieu of ministry—encounter with Yoruba religions and Islam, the search for peace in the Yoruba country, and historical consciousness. The first chapter, which is introductory, sets the pace for the research by looking at the academic use to which the missionary archives have been put, from the 1950s, to unravel Africa’s past. While the approaches of historians and anthropologists have been shaped by broad themes, this chapter makes a case for the study of the past from biographical perspectives. Following the lead that has been provided in recent years on the African evangelists by Adrian Hastings, Bengt Sundkler and Christopher Steed, and John Peel the chapter presents Samuel Johnson, an agent of the CMS in the nineteenth century Yoruba country, as a model worthy of the study of indigenous response to the rapid change that swept through West Africa in the second half of the nineteenth century. Chapter two explores the antecedents to the emergence of Johnson in Sierra Leone and appreciates the nexus of his family history and that of the Yoruba nation in the century of rapid change. The implosion of the Oyo Empire in the second decade of the nineteenth century as a result of internal dissension opened the country to unrestrained violence that boosted the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Sierra Leone offering a safe haven for some of the rescued victims of the trade, “Erugunjimi” Henry Johnson, was rehabilitated under the benevolence of the CMS. At Hastings, where the Basel trained missionary Ulrich Graf exercised a dominant influence, Henry Johnson raised his family until he returned with them to the Yoruba country in 1858 as a scripture reader. The Colony of Sierra Leone, however, was in contrast to the culturally monolithic Yoruba country. Cosmopolitan, with Christianity having the monopoly of legitimacy, the colony gave Samuel and his siblings their early religious and cultural orientations.