Here’s why missionary activities in the Gold Coast were described as a “mixed bag.”

Before the coming of the Europeans to the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana), the colony had its traditional system of education and culture. This educational system promoted good hygienic practices, enhanced industrial knowledge, and production as well as produced the ideal Gold Coast man or woman. The advent of the missionary activities led to a drastic change in the political, economic, and socio-cultural development of the Gold Coast. Join me and let’s read along to know why the activities of the missionaries had both positive and negative effects in the Gold Coast.

Crash course: a mixed bag simply means a situation that contains both good (merits) and bad (demerits) sides. According to Collins English Dictionary, describing a situation as a mixed bag means it contains some good items and bad ones as well.

Related media: The Gold Coast | Kwame Nkrumah | (1985)

Whence Cometh Western Education?

In 1471, a Portuguese trader named Gomez arrived at Shama in the Gold Coast. He continued his journey to Edina (present-day Elmina), a rural fishing community. Due to the excess gold the Portuguese found at Edina, he renamed the place El Mina, which literally means “the mine.” The Portuguese traded with the people of Shama for about ten years.

In 1482, Portuguese merchants which were led by Don Diego de Azambuja arrived at Elmina. Upon their arrival, they met the then king named Nana Kwamina Ansah and asked him for land to build a castle. Their request was granted and they built the Elmina CastleFort St. Sebastian, and others. After the completion of the castles, they attempted to provide formal education at the Elmina Castle.

This initiative was spearheaded by the Portuguese king called King John III in 1529. He instructed the then governor at the Elmina Castle to teach the African children how to read and write. As a result, reading, writing, and religion were taught using the Portuguese language as the medium of instruction. The instructors were paid 250 grains of gold a year for each child taught up to a maximum of 15. But this initiative was short-lived.

To revive the process, four Catholic Augustinian missionaries were sent in 1572 from Portugal to the Gold Coast but still did not yield the results the Portuguese were looking for. The whole project was terminated when the Dutch captured the Elmina Castle in 1637.

Merits Of Missionary Activities

Firstly, the missionaries were the pioneers of elementary, secondary, technical, vocational, and teacher training education in the country. The Roman Catholic Mission was the first mission to start elementary school in the country when they came with the Portuguese in 1482. By the beginning of the 19th century, basic schools in the Gold Coast were largely mission schools.

For instance, by 1880, the Wesleyan Mission (present-day Methodist Church) had more schools than any other body. It had 83 basic schools with an enrolment of over 3,000. Similarly, the Basel Mission (present-day Presbyterian Church) had 154 basic schools with an enrolment of over 4,984 children in 1898. With regards to secondary education, the Wesleyan Mission was the first to start a secondary school in the Gold Coast in the year 1876. The school was named Wesleyan Secondary School, presently known as Mfantsipim Senior High School.

The Basel Mission was more concerned about technical and vocational education hence, they established schools at Osu, Akropong, Abokobi, and Aburi. They provided courses for wheelwrights, carpenters, locksmiths, blacksmiths, shoemakers, and bookbinders.

Secondly, the missionaries played a pioneering role in the scientific study and development of the local languages. They were instrumental in the development of local languages in the Gold Coast. They built up collections of proverbs, folktales, songs, and dictionaries. They also introduced the local languages in the Gold Coast educational curriculum as the medium of instruction in primary schools. They also translated the bible into the various Gold Coast languages.

Andreas Riis wrote a book in Twi (the predominant local language in Ghana). Also, Rev. Johann G. Christaller translated the four gospels, the New Testament, the Psalms, and Proverbs, and the remaining bible chapters into Twi in 1859, 1864, 1866, and 1871 respectively. Similarly, in 1859, the Wesleyan missionaries translated into Fante (a variant accent of the Twi language) the books that were already translated into Twi by the Basel missionaries. Again, Rev. Carr translated St. Mark’s Gospel into Fante in 1874.

Demerits Of Missionary Activities

Although the activities of the European missionaries yielded many positive results in the Gold Coast, other actions executed by them negatively impacted the country. One of the most disgusting demerits was the condemnation of the Gold Coast culture. When the missionaries arrived in the Gold Coast, they did not see anything good concerning the culture of the country.

Everything in the Gold Coast was recognized as evil and attracted derogatory remarks such as pagan, barbaric, primitive, animism, fetishism, and idolatry. Due to this, the Gold Coast culture was undermined and it generated an inferiority complex among the citizens of the colony, making them timid and perceiving themselves to be useless.

Additionally, the missionaries place too much emphasis on the 3Rs or liberal education to neglect technical and vocational education. This brought about excess clerks and pen-pushers in the country which led to the introduction of unemployment in the colony. In 1922, the Phelps Stroke Report that was sent to the then governor of the Gold Coast, Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, indicated that the curriculum was too bookish and as a result, did not satisfy the local needs of the natives of the Gold Coast.

Let us know if you lived during the Gold Coast.

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Written by: William Donkor, Wed, Dec 29, 2021.


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