“Our thinking has been so influenced by western theologians that we still continue to beat the old missionary drums which summon us to see that our cultural heritage is incompatible with Christianity.” — Rev. David Gitari, Kenyan Anglican Archbishop
A man cannot give what he does not have. We could add to this by borrowing from a Yoruba saying that he who has not been to another’s farm may erroneously assume that his father’s farm is the grandest. These maxims seem to be fair descriptions of the European missionaries who attempted to tackle polygamy in the continent. Coming from a culture where men had multiple unmarried mistresses, the European missionaries were ill-prepared to deal with Africa’s ubiquitous form of marriage: polygyny. Polygyny is a type of polygamy in which a man has more than one wife, and this was a quite common form of marriage in Africa before and after European encounters. Unsurprisingly, white missionaries assumed the worst about the polygyny they saw in Africa.
The message is simple: use the Africa Study Bible in your studies, for it will immensely help in exposing colonial ideals masquerading as Christian virtues and also arm you with knowledge of Africa’s colossal contributions to the faith.
Some years ago, while assisting in a Sunday School, a lady joined our class. She was a little above the age bracket that I was used to seeing, but she was calm, respectful, and teachable. I do not recall the lesson of the day, but it must have had a citation from the Pentateuch which mentioned ancient places like Cush or Put. Shortly after the reading, this lady raised a question: Why do we, black Christians in black churches, read passages having to do with Africa in such a hurry? On that occasion, her point was that we read through “Cush” or “Put” without mentioning that these terms have real referents that still exist today. We had read the passage like many Christians do the genealogy passages of the bible. After the class, I went to thank the lady for her contributions that day. It was then that I noticed she had an unusual bible with a trademark African design on its covers.
Sàngó’s story belongs to the very beginning of the Yorùbá nation which is believed to be founded by Odùduwà after migrating from “the East” to Ilé-Ifè. According to Samuel Johnson, Odùduwà might have originated from somewhere near modern-day Sudan or Egypt (5). People lived in the land before Odùduwà and his entourage got there (Johnson, 18); indeed, Odùduwà met Setilu, the father of Ifá worship, in the land (4). As is true of all empires, not all the people in the Ọ̀yọ́ empire were originally natives. Many of the different tribes that self-identify as Yoruba today likely had ancestors who identified differently. As Odùduwà and his army advanced, they absorbed natives of the land into the dominant culture of proto-Yorùbá. As I shall show later, the narrative fed to the people of an empire can be a powerful political tool having the effect of conferring a common identity and solidarity to a people group.
The Commissioner went away, taking three or four of the soldiers with him. In the many years in which he had toiled to bring civilization to different parts of Africa he had learnt a number of things. One of them was that a District Commissioner must never attend to such undignified details as cutting down a dead man from the tree. Such would give the natives a poor opinion of him. In the book which he planned to write he would stress that point. As he walked back to the court he thought about that book. Every day brought him some new material. . . . There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details (147-48).