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On the Introduction of Christianity Into
and The Past of West Africa

By Mark C. Hayford,1900
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      So far as we have any authentic account of it the introduction of Christianty into West Africa was by the King of Portugal in the year 1481, from which time dates the contact of the Natives of that part of the world with European Christian civilisation, although the French had been trading down to that region since 1380, and had actually built a fort at Elmina in 1383. To quote the words of Dr. E. W. Blyden - the prince of African literati - "In 1481 the King of Portugal sent ten ships with 500 soldiers, 100 labourers, and a proper compliment of priests as missionaries, to Elmina" from which spot Christian knowledge spread to other parts of the country. The Romish missions, however, were abandoned in time, for from the year 1723 nothing was heard of them - they were given up, and "disappeared altogether from West Africa." - Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, p. 56.

      Before noticing the circumstaces which led to their abandonment or failure, the attempts since then made to re-establish Christian missions there, the success or non-success of those attempts, and the best means of promoting the evangelisation and the educational interests of that region, let me ask, What was the condition of West Africa before the introduction of Christianity into that part of the globe? It will be of interest and service, doubtless, to learn or recall something of the past of that part of the African continent particularly as the question is often

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asked, "Has West Africa really had any past worthy of the historian's attention, or the student's consideration? Has it ever taken part in the race of the nations for that which ennobles humanity in politica1 government, in society or in religion?"

      The following descriptive note1 in a publication connected with the work of the Church Missionary Society of England fully answers the question: -

“Before Eng1and was a Monarchy, and whilst the Heptarchy was still a troublesome fact, there existed in the northern part of the Sudan [or Country of the Blacks] several large and fairly well ordered native Negro States, which had developed indigenously a comparatively high condtion of civilisation. Some of these States attained to vast proportions, one, for instance, that of Songhay, was nearly half the size of Europe, stretching from the Atlantic to what is now called Sokoto, and from Borgu to Morocco.2 The Empire of Bornu was also very nearly as large. But now little remains of these ancient glories....

“It was about the middle of the 13th century,that is, when the third Henry reigned in England,that the Empire of Bornu rose to its zenith. The seat of

1 See Paper on MARY H. KINGBLEY by the author, pp. 11-13.

2 The causes which led to the declension of this Empire are thus described by Canon Robinson: -

"Towards the end of the sixteenth century the Sultan of Moroco crossed the desert with an army of 4000 men, armed with muskets, and succeeded in defeating the Songhay army, which was then unacquainted with the use of firearms. Then, as the native historian says, 'peaceful repose was succeeded by constant fear; comfort and security by troubles and suffering; ruin and misfortune took the place of prosperity; and people began everywhere to fight against each other,so that property and life became exposed to constant danger; and this ruin began, spread, increased, and at length prevailed throughout the whole region.' Partly in consequence of this defeat, and partly owing to the introduction of slave raiding, which dates from this period, the empire began to decline, and finally split up into a number of independent states." - Nigeria: our latest Protectorate, pp. 10-11.

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its government was then in Kanem. It was then known by the name of Kanem, and is so shown on El Edrisi's map published in 1153, but its name subsequently became changed to that of Bornu, which has continued for many centuries until this day. Now Bornu, or rather, as the natives spell it, Bar-Noa, means the land of Noah, and its people are called Ka-nuri, that is, the 'people of light.' . . . The greatest extent of the empire was from the Niger to the Nile, that is, about 1400 miles, embracing what are now known as Wadai, Baghirmi, Darfur, Kordofan and Kanem, which is now tributary to Wadai. It remained prosperous, although occasionally suffering vicissitude, until the middle of the last [18th] century, when an Arab seized the throne,and civil wars and discord ensued, which have resulted in its present decadence.

"Although Bornu has been reduced to about the size of England, it is by no means an unimportant State. Its form of government is constitutional, but its Sultan is practically despotic, being the head of both Church and State,and the mirror of all excellence and infallibility. He has a special body-guard of horsemen still coated in suits of armour, manufactured in the country. He has twenty metal cannons which were cast in the capital. Kuka,the capital, contains 60,000 inhabitants. . . . There are [besides Kuka] many other walled towns in the country. There is a large trade done in the country 'in horses, cattle, asses, sheep, goats, ivory, ostrich feathers, indigo, wheat and leather, besides native manufactured goods, woven fabrics, pottery and metal ware, which are highly prized throughout the Sudan,'" and, we might add, outside the Sudan too.

      But, comparing the past with the present, the writer
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correctly adds in the account from which we are quoting: -
“What a different condition of things to that of earlier ages, when the native historian, Iman Ahmed, wrote of the then Princes of Bornu, that they were 'learned, liberal toward the Ilama, prodigal dispensers of alms, friends of science and religion, gracious and compassionate towards the poor.'

"But, it may be asked, how are these statements known to be facts? The answer is, because they have been written down by native Negro historians. The celebrated traveller, Dr. Barth, saw and perused their books when he stayed for a year at Timbuktu, and for eight months at Kuka, and he copied there from extensive chronologies now in the possession of the British Foreign Office. But how do we know these books to be genuine and not spurious and modern? Because at the time when the Moors occupied Spain, there lived a geographer of that nation named El Bekri, who wrote a book on Africa in 1067, one year after the Battle of Hastings. Parts of his work are still extant, and his main facts agree with those of native authors.... Then again, an Arab traveller, El Edrisi, who wrote in 1153, and who published a map of Africa, a copy3 of which exists in the British Museum, gives corroborative and later information with regard to Bornu and other smaller states." - Account of the Past History and Present Condition of the Western Sudan, added to Bishop Hill's Address to Young Men of London, 1893, pp. 12-16.

      Canon C. H. Robinson, Lecturer in Hausa in the University of Cambridge, in his able work on Nigeria, written in 1900, and previously referred to, also says: -
"Songhay was then nearly half the size of Europe.
3 The date on the copy, to be seen in the British Museum on "S. 128 (1) No.8" is 1154.

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... The empire of Bornu was of near1y equal size ... In the thirteenth and again in the sixteenth century it attained a very high degree of civi1ization and prosperity. In the middle of the last century an Arab adventurer seized the throne, soon after whichh the empire began to break up. It is now confined to the province of Bornu, which is situated on the western shore of Lake Chad, and is about the same size as Eng1and." - pp. 9-12.
      Not less interesting and instructive is the following from the London Bαptist Times and Freemαn, the organ of the Baptist Denomination in Great Britain and Ireland, on the "Origin of European Civilisation": -
      “One after another, the beliefs of our youth are being shattered. Unti1 comparatively recent1y it has been unqueioningly be1ieved that we belong to the Aryan race, coming orignally and in successive migrations from the steppes of Central Asia. The cradle of the races, civilisation and languages of Europe, was to be found in the neighbourhood of the Hindoo Koosh Mountains. That theory seems to be breaking down under the researches of modern science. Pre-historic criticism now maintains that we owe nothing to the Aryan races except our language and the destruction of an early civilisation. The evidence on which these conclusions are based is the science of craniology, i.e., the shape and formation of the skull. It is said that the skulls of the inhabitants of Europe do not resemble those of the Aryan races in shape or essential characteristics. They invariably resemble the skulls found in European tombs of prehistoric times, except that they show some modifications traceable to Aryan intermixture. We are slowly being led to the conclusion that our far off ancestors came from the lake regions of Central Africa. On this hypothesis we are

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allied to the Kabyles and Berbers in Northern Africa. Further evidence in support of this theory is found in the archaological discoveries of recent years. Undeciphered inscriptions show that the early inhabitants of Greece and the ancient Etruscans spoke languages and had a culture in no way related to the civilisation and languages of Greece and Rome." (Issue of June 28th, 1901.)
      On the question of the relationship of Central Africans with the Berbers of North Africa, the following from Canon Robinson, from whom I may quote again, throws additional light: -
"The Hausas [in Nigeria] in early time evidently regarded the Bornuese people as being closely connected with the Berbers of North Africa,as is shown by their calling a Bornuese man 'ba-Berberchi,' or the nation 'Beriberi.'" - Nigeria, p. ll.
      Although it is a historical fact, that, as far back as the time of the Phoenicians, the West African coast and parts of the hinterland became the scene of operations of those early traders and navigators - the somewhat scanty account left us of those exploits being supplemented by three discoveries made in the gold-bearing lands in the Wassaw part of the country, viz., that of the "aggry beads,"4 and of the "traces of ancient workings,in two cases
4 The beads, the manufacture of which is a lost art, are unique specimens of ingenious workmanship. They are thus described by Bowdich: -
"The plain aggry beads are blue, yellow, green, or a dull red, the variegated consist of every colour and shade.... The variegated strata of the aggry beads are so firm1y united, and so imperceptibly blended, that the perfection seems superior to art: some resemble mosaic work, the surfaces of others are covered with flowers and regular patterns, so very minute, and the shades so delicately softened one into the other, and into the ground of the bead, that nothing but the finest touch of the pencil cou1d equal them. The agatized parts disclose flowers and patterns, deep in the body of the bead, and thin shafts, of opaque colours,running from the centre to the surface.... The colouring matter

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consisting of tunnels, which had been driven into the bowels of the hills to follow up a gold-bearing vein," together with that of "the remains, in one of the tunnels, of antique bronze lamps designed to hold a wick floating in oil" and seemingly of Phoenician origin - yet, doubtless, it was the later and indigenous development, before, during, and after the Mediaeval Ages, in the Western Sudan,of a high condition of civilisation, whose wave passed over the whole area from the Atlantic to the Nile, that, more than anything else, brought the Natives of West Africa, in a good many places, the knowledge of the useful arts, and accounts for the advanced state to which these had attained before modern times.

      In fact, this is not the only part of Africa South of Egypt and Barbary where evidences of a civilisation of a conspicuous nature have been discovered.

      On the Zambesi, in Inyanga, and in Manicaland Dr. Carl Peters has recently, according to his very interesting accounts

of the blue beads has been proved, by experiment, to be iron; that of the yellow, without doubt, is 1ead and antimony, with a trifling quantity of copper,though not essential to the production of the colour. The generality of these beads appear to be produced from clays coloured in thin layers, afterwards twisted together into a spiral form, and then cut across: a1so from different coloured clays, raked together without blending. How the flowers and delicate patterns, in the body and on the surface of the rarer heads, have been produced, cannot be so well exp1ained." - Mission to Ashantee, pp. 267-8.
      Lieut. Colone1 A. B. Ellis, who has written a very full history of the Gold Coast from the earliest times, on this point, says: -
"Exactly similar beads have been found in ancient tombs in North Africa, in others in Thebes, and in parts of India; and when it is remembered that Sidon was famous for such work, it is not unreasonable to ascribe a Phoenician origin to them. It might well be that they were bartered by the Phoenicians with the natives for gold dust, for they are only found in the gold-producing districts of the Go1d Coast.... What is certain is that the beads were introduced into the country from the sea, for had they been brought overland,from Egypt for instance, some of them would certainly have been found in the far interior, which is not known to have ever been the case. And as the natives had these beads in their possession when the Portuguese first explored the Go1d Coast, they must have been introduced there before the re-discovery of Western Africa by the nations of Modern Europe." - pp. 10-11.

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appearing in the Journal of the African Society for January, 1902 [?], p. 176, found the ruins of "whole Cyclopean cities" and "fortifications," &c.; and, however this eminent state was reached, and through whatever agencies, here, and supported by other data, stands revealed the fact that in Negro-land generally, in Africa, there has been known in past ages much that has characterised the great nations of the earth, which occupy a common plane, and in whose advancement in the knowledge of the more important arts and sciences Africa has from the earliest times taken a leading, if indeed not the most leading, part.

      The answer to the question as to what accounts for the present comparatively benighted condidion of parts of [tropical] Africa which at one time were highly civilised is found in the fact of the desolation wrought by the Sultan of Morocco, who, marching from the North in the sixteenth century with an army equipped with firearms, the use of which was then unknown in Central and West Africa, overthrew the powerful empire of Songhay, ruining the civilisation of that region and its established social order - much in the same way as the civilisation of Southern Europe was destroyed in the Middle Ages by the Northern Teutonic tribes, who, pouring down upon it, ruined its enlightened institutions, and introduced the ignorance, superstitutions, and evils of the Dark Ages, which covered seven long centuries - to which work of deso1ation have to be added the havoc made from the latter part of that century, and continued to be made, by that "sum of all villainies" - the slave trade or slave raiding, and the dismemberment of Bornu.

      We shall in the next chapter consider an important Institution in one of the countries of West Africa, whose past has been under review, namely, that affecting Marriage in Fantiland (including here the Akan countries), otherwise known as the Gold Coast, and the effect of that Institution on Christian and missionary enterprise there.


[A portion of a lecture delivered at the Rochester Theological Seminary, New York, September 28th, 1900; Augustus H. Strong, President. This is chapter 2 of 6 chapters printed in a booklet titled West Africa and Christianity. From SBTS, Archives and Special Collections, Adam Winters, archivist. The booklet was printed in a difficult format. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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