The positive contribution of Christian missionaries in Ghana can be felt in such areas as education, local language development, stoppage of outmoded cultural practices, agriculture and commerce.
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On the opposite side, the coming of the Christian missionaries brought in its wake certain negative developments like disregard for African culture and rebellion against traditional authority.
In this essay on the impact of Christian missionary activities on Ghanaian society, we shall examine the role of the missionaries in the development of Ghana and the rest of Africa.
The contents of this tutorial will serve as a guide for a suitable essay on the below WAEC/WASSCE History past question.
ASSESS THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE CHRISTIAN MISSION TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF GHANA
Are you ready to discover the points for an essay on the contribution of the Christian mission to the social and economic development of Ghana? Then let’s begin straightaway.
The European missionaries began their activities in Ghana as far back as the early fifteenth century. This was around the same time that the first Portuguese sailors arrived on the coast of Ghana.
Prominent among the early Christian missionaries to come to the Gold Coast (Ghana) were the Roman Catholic, Methodist, Basel, Bremen and Anglican missions.
Their activities had both positive and negative effects on Ghanaian society. Some of these effects are still with us today.
Christian Missionaries in Ghana
Before we examine the contribution of Christian missionaries in Ghana, we need to identify the missionaries that came to Ghana.
The first missionaries to come to Ghana were the Roman Catholic missionaries in the 15th century and the Anglican missionaries. Among the Christian missionaries that came to the Gold Coast (Ghana) were the following.
- Joseph Rhodes Dunwell – Methodist Missionary, 1835
- Thomas Birch Freeman – Methodist Missionary, 1838
- Andreas Riis – Basel Missionary, 1832
- Thomas Thompson – Society for the Propagation of the Gospel/Anglican, 1752
Reasons Why Christian Missionaries Came to Africa
So why did the European missionaries come to Ghana and other parts of Africa? It is obvious that the main reason why the missionaries came to Ghana was to convert the indigenous people to the Christian faith.
Just look at the lyrics of this evangelizing song written in 1819 by Reginald Heber, a prolific English hymnist in the Anglican church. This hymn sums up the reasons why the Christian missionaries came to Africa and other parts of the world.
From Greenland’s icy mountains, From India’s coral strand, Where Afric’s sunny fountains Roll down their golden sand; From many an ancient river, From many a palmy plain, They call us to deliver Their land from error’s chain. What though the spicy breezes Blow soft o'er Ceylon’s isle; Though every prospect pleases, And only man is vile; In vain with lavish kindness The gifts of God are strown; The heathen, in their blindness, Bow down to wood and stone. Can we, whose souls are lighted With wisdom from on high; Can we to men benighted The lamp of life deny? Salvation! O salvation! The joyful sound proclaim, Till earth's remotest nation Has learned Messiah’s name. Waft, waft, ye winds, His story; And you, ye waters, roll, Till, like a sea of glory, It spreads from pole to pole; Till o’er our ransomed nature, The Lamb for sinners slain, Redeemer, King, Creator, In bliss returns to reign.
It is possible to hear the tune of this missionary hymn.
Saving Lost Souls for Christ
One reason why the Christian missionaries came to Ghana and the rest of Africa was to convert the people to the Christian faith.
Desire to Civilize Heathen Africans
The European missionaries believed that European culture was superior to African culture. To their minds, Africans were too backward and needed help to become more civilized.
For example, the missionaries preached against certain aspects of African culture they considered barbaric or satanic or both. In Ghana, for instance, they persuaded their converts to reject polygamy and human sacrifice.
In fact, the Christian missionaries encouraged Ghanaians to reject African names and choose ‘Christian names’ instead. They even considered traditional drumming and African clothing as practices that were not worthy in the sight of the Lord.
Hope for Eternal Glory
Another reason why the Europeans came to spread the Christian religion in Ghana was to pave their own way into eternal glory. These missionaries saw death in the course of their evangelizing work as a means to ascend to heavenly glory.
To put it differently, the motive was to gain acceptance in the sight of God so that after death they would be judged kindly by the heavenly father.
Support for European Colonial Rule
We must not lose sight of the fact that the colonial government in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa relied on the activities of the missionaries to help them achieve the objectives of colonial rule.
The mission schools trained Africans to be able to work as translators, messengers and office clerks for the colonial government.
Again, the missionaries helped to pacify Africans while their rich natural resources were being plundered by the colonial government.
Sustenance of the Slave Trade
Some observers have argued that the Europeans used the Christian bible to justify the practice of slavery and the slave trade.
In fact, Jacobus Capitein, a former Ghanaian slave who became a priest in the Dutch Reformed Church in the 18th century was on record to have defended the practice of slavery.
We shall now turn our attention to the activities of the Christian missionaries in Ghana.
Major Missionary Activities in Africa
The early Christian missions concentrated their activities not only on religious matters. They did a lot to impact the social and economic lives of Africans.
Missionaries travelled through dense evergreen forests, crossed rivers and climbed mountains to bring the Gospel to as many Ghanaians as they could.
The European Christian missions preached the Gospel, built churches, and seminaries translated the Bible to Ghanaian Languages such as Ewe, Ga, and Twi.
Impact of Missionary Activities
Let’s now take a closer look at both the positive and negative impacts of the activities of the Christian missionaries in Ghana and the rest of Africa.
We shall begin with the positive contribution of the Christian missionaries in Ghana. They constitute the benefits that the missionaries brought to Africa as a whole.
Developments in Education
Foremost in the contribution of the early Christian missionaries to the development of Ghana is their efforts to bring Western education to Ghanaians.
The Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican missions all made a major contribution to education in Ghana and Africa as a whole. They worked tirelessly to lay a foundation for formal education The European missionaries established elementary and second-cycle institutions in the country.
Their educational activities helped spread literacy and vocational skills training among Ghanaians.
For instance, the Basel Mission established the first teacher training college in Ghana. This is the famous Presbyterian Teacher Training College founded in 1848 at Akropong-Akwapim.
They also introduced vocational education in the country.
Again, the Wesleyan missionaries established Mfantsipim School in Cape Coast in 1876.
Indeed, most of our early nationalists were all products of mission schools. They were at the forefront during the fight for self-rule in Ghana.
Find below a list of mission schools that still exist in Ghana today.
- Wesley Girls High School, Cape Coast – Methodist missionaries
- Mfantsipim School, Cape Coast – Methodist
- Adisadel College, Cape Coast – Anglican Missionaries
- Holy Child School, Cape Coast – Roman Catholic
- St Augustine’s College, Cape Coast – Roman Catholic
- St Paul’s Senior High School, Denu
- Archbishop Potter Girls’ School, Takoradi
- St Mary’s Senior High School, Accra
- Aburi Girls’ Secondary School – Presbyterian
- St Monica’s High School, Mampong – Anglican
Writing Ghanaian Languages
Another contribution of missionaries to the development of Ghana was their pioneering role in writing many local languages. They worked to write the bible, dictionaries and textbooks in such Ghanaian Languages as Ewe, Fanti, Ga and Twi.
Rev. Johannes Zimmermann, for example, produced a Ga dictionary, Ga bible and grammar book. The Rev. Johann Christaller produced a similar work in Twi.
Contribution to Agriculture
The coming of the Christian missionaries to Ghana had a positive impact on agriculture.
The Basel and Methodist Missions, for example, introduced scientific agriculture in Ghana. The Basel missionaries, in particular, established experimental farms and plantations in places like Akropong.
Moreover, they introduced new crops into the Ghanaian economy. Some of these new crops were grapes coffee, mango, ginger, and olives.
Further, the missionaries introduced improved methods of farming together with modern farm implements.
Trade and Commerce
The role of the Christian missionaries in Ghana and West Africa was not limited to the education and agricultural sectors alone. Their economic activities went beyond the development of agriculture. The European missionaries engaged in trading and other commercial activities as well.
For instance, the Basel Mission established Basel Mission Trading Company (UTC) in 1859. This company promoted the import and export trade in Ghana. The foreign exchange earnings helped to develop Ghana’s infrastructure.
These commercial activities, therefore, made an important contribution to the economic development of Ghana.
Discontinuation of Outmoded Cultural Practices
The Christian missionaries have been credited with the discontinuation of some obnoxious traditional practices among Ghanaians. For example, they preached against human sacrifice.
Today, human sacrifice is generally frowned upon and considered an abomination. The practice of inflicting multiple wounds on the bodies of so-called ‘spirit babies’ now belongs to history.
Again, the missionaries persuaded Africans to abandon the practice of tribal marks.
Negative Effects of Missionary Activities
Despite their significant contributions to education, local language development, agriculture and the economy as a whole, the missionaries have been criticized severally.
They Undermined African Culture
The missionaries condemned African religion, music, art, festivals and customary practices. For example, they made our people view polygamy and puberty rites as pagan practices.
They impressed it upon their converts not to have anything to do with these traditional practices. The result is that today, many Africans are alienated from their authentic ways of life.
Negative Impact on Traditional Authorities
The activities of the early Christian missionaries negatively affected the development of African traditional political institutions.
In many instances, they made their converts rebel against traditional rulers and other spiritual leaders.
Under the Basel Mission’s Salem system, converts were separated from the traditional society. These Christian converts considered themselves to be holier than their traditional rulers and elders. For that matter, they rebelled against their chiefs and elders.
The constant tensions between traditionalists and Christian converts often erupted into all-out conflicts. Many Ghanaian communities got divided along religious lines. The resulting atmosphere of disunity enabled the European colonialists to easily achieve their goal of economic exploitation.
Limited Support for The Production of Local Food Crops
The missionaries seemed to have concentrated much of their effort on the production of export crops. Notable among these were cocoa and coffee.
Consequently, they couldn’t do much to promote the cultivation of food crops like maize, cassava, cocoyam and plantain.
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