Having striven unsuccessfully for 33 years between 1857 & 1890—contrary to their earlier boasting—to convert the Igbo in mass to christianity, the missionaries (CMS, RCM, Methodist, Presbyterian) grew frustrated and became desperate to do EVERYTHING POSSIBLE, good or bad, to advance their ambition and scheme. To catalyse this desperation to convert the Igbo in mass was the bitter rivalry between the CMS and RCM at Ọnịcha and also in their head offices at London and Rome. To position themselves for the desperate and hook-and-crook agenda ahead of the coming 20th century, the Romanists (catholics) replaced the Frenchman, Fr Joseph Lutz with an Irishman, Ignatius Shanahan as the British traders and colonists had bitterly requested in resistance of having Frenchmen leading in their territories. On the part of the CMS, Bishop Ajayi Crowther was hounded by the white racist priests under him who began to challenge him openly even as their London head office connived in diminishing his episcopal powers. It was a ploy to quicken the old man’s death who was about approaching his early 80s. And they succeeded. Ajayi died in 1891. With speed, Ajayi was replaced by a bishop who served very briefly before he died. Strategically, a stronger and healthier British man who could match Ignatius Shanahan in the battle for the Igbo souls was ordained bishop and deployed to Ọnịcha with immediate effect. His name was Herbert Tugwell. The CMS also added another fierce man to assist Tugwell. His name was Rev. Thomas John Dennis. The RCM too equipped themselves with such fierce persons as Fr Bubbendorf. The whole matrix at Ọnịcha was then an allwhite affair and predominantly British/Irish-led. The battle for the heart of Igboland was now ready to begin ahead of the much talked-about 20th century!
But with all these reshuffle, reorganisation and reordering, the missionaries still felt frustrated in their penetration of the Igboland beyond Ọnịcha, Obosi, and Ogidi. They were all bitter rivals and quarreled among themselves denominationally. But they were united in the realisation that there has to be some application of violent force to subdue and intimidate the Igbo into accepting christianity and abandoning their indigenous religion. At that realisation, they became one with their colonial brothers who were planning violent invasion and expedition of the Igbo interiors to bring the Igbo firmly under British government.
Desperate to support Ralph Moor, the leader of the bloody invasion and expeditions as well as Gallwey and Montanaro who led other army columns, the catholic missionaries rushed and sent a memo to its leadership in Paris saying firmly “This war is necessary”. The biggest role of the missionaries in the expedition was gathering intelligence for the soldiers while they pretended to be preaching the gospel in the interiors. The CMS, RCM, Methodist, Presbyterians — all became intelligence officers and supplied information to the soldiers, exaggerating their findings most times. More desperate to have this war executed, some of the missionaries even supported the military materially and fooled the natives they preached telling them that the little gossips they hear of the oncoming war were lies and won’t happen. Arọchukwu was the biggest target as it was believed that once the Chukwu deity and institution was destroyed and the resistors mowed down with guns, the rest of Igboland will be soaked in fear to surrender both land and religion. All the missionaries agreed with the British colonialists to start with Arọchukwu. Thus, on 1st December, 1901, the British attacked the Igboland from Arọchukwu. Arọ people resisted the invasion and paid with many lives until the expedition ended on 24th March, 1902. Then, other parts of Igboland were faced for invasion and conquest for the next 17 years.
Happily, the missionaries moved in to take advantage of the fears of the Igbo people who hadn’t seen or expected such superior military firepower on their peaceful spaces. The missionaries promised to protect communities from the invasion of soldiers and provided care to the wounded persons. But that was all part of the grand plan with the colonial invaders: STRIKE FEAR INTO THEM WITH VIOLENCE AND WE MOVE IN TO GIVE THEM SUCCOUR BASED ON THE CONDITION OF CONVERSION. In that circumstance, the missionaries moved with the greatest masterstroke of only protecting those who admit to be baptised and remain consistent in attending church activities. Defenceless, most Igbo people rushed to the church for protection and believed that the presence of the missionaries will protect their communities from being invaded or shelled like Arọ, Abam and other communities in the Bende axis. For example, Ogidi people entrusted their native republican leadership into the hands of Walter Okafọ Amobi who was a British trade agent as well as a CMS agent, in the hope that he’d help ward off the soldiers from attacking Ogidi being that he was the first Ogidi man to know the Whiteman. Walter would mischievously take advantage of this and went on to become a warrant chief, introduced the fake monarchy (Igweship) in Ogidi and other parts of Anambra, ruling the people with heavy hand from 1904-1925, forced men to labour for nothing and also snatched people’s wives to add to the retinue of the over 50 wives he married during his reign.
As the first decade of the 20th century progressed into the second, the British colonialists, in connivance with the missionaries, consolidated their conquest of Igboland in grand style. The introduction of Forced Labour and Prisons helped the process. The building of the rail tracks, carrying colonial officers and missionaries on hammock for hours along bush paths, clearing long miles of roads and other forms of unpaid labour were so much that many young and middle-aged men were breaking down in the face of the unending recruitments which prevented them from working on their farms to feed their families. The treacherous missionaries knew the plan and had an agreement with the government not to recruit the converts. And so, only the non-converts who were called “heathens” were forced to labour for weeks and days without seeing their families. The wearied ones resorted to going to church to see if they could escape the predicament for the meantime. But the missionaries were ruthless. They subjected them to taking catechisms and threatened them with ejection if they absented from church or returned to their indigenous faith. To make this more formidable, the middle-aged and old men who were desperate to evade unending labour were forced to bring their Ọfọ, Ikenga, Okposi for destruction at the churches or risk being rejected as converts, thus putting the final nail on the coffins of their indigenous religion. In this way and other subtle ways of instilling fear, the missionaries penetrated the Igbo more than ever between 1902 and 1920s, destroying the foundations of the indigenous social order to build theirs. In their words of justification and unified goal with the government: “pull down the fabric of the native society in order to build on the ruins”.
For the ignorant Igbo christian who is unteachable and overloaded with dogma, the missionaries were amazing and thought the best for the Igbo. But for the enlightened, freeminded Igbo who is ready to understand and appreciate the experience of his ancestors whose stories were unwritten and were overwhelmed by the ‘victorious’ narratives of the missionaries, there is no difference between the merchants, colonialists and the missionaries who worked together with them not primarily for the benefit of the Igbo but for the utmost agenda of advancing their country’s economic well-being and material prosperity using Soft Power behind the Hard Power of the colonialists.
How I wish one million Igbo persons between the ages of 25 and 40 would read F K Ekechi’s Missionary Enterprise and Rivalry in Igboland. If I had money or knew anyone who would sponsor it, I would print the ‘hidden’ book into 1 million copies and share freely to 1 million freeminded Igbo young persons who desire to understand how their ancestors were broken despite their resistance — those young Igbo who are wary of the danger of the single stories of missionaries presenting themselves as amazing, blameless people who did all amazing things and rescued us from “darkness”. Every Igbo below 40 years should, before he or she dies, read more than once Ekechi’s monumental book which has been intentionally hidden away from succeeding Igbo generations for many years!
©Chijioke Ngobili, 2020