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  • Making Headway: the introduction of Western civilisation in colonial northern Nigeria
  • Usman Ladan
Andrew E. Barnes, Making Headway: the introduction of Western civilisation in colonial northern Nigeria. Rochester NY: University of Rochester Press (hb £66–978 1 58046 299 0). 2009, 352 pp.

This is a detailed and well-researched book, destined to be received favourably by scholars for its wealth of information, if likely to divide opinions for its perspective. The book deals with the impact of missionaries and British colonialism in northern Nigeria, which the author articulates as a cultural encounter in which Western civilization was implanted. He uses a comparative historical perspective to show how European cultural transfer took place at different levels and phases during colonialism. Barnes argues that between 1900 and 1935 cultural transfer was based on 'trial and error efforts', effected through the contested notion of 'indirect rule'. These were pursued through the implementation of various administrative policies, like the 'requirement that taxes be paid in British currency', which he identifies as the most potent.

The author argues that the failure of the first phase was followed by headway made from 1920 to 1935 in spite of differences within the colonial administration, although the question of whether there was a colonial (or missionary) cultural policy with clearly defined goals in northern Nigeria is insufficiently addressed. Barnes deploys overwhelming evidence in pointing out the inadequate educational opportunities of the period and the limit it placed on cultural transfer until the establishment of the Katsina College. However, his restrictive consultation of critical theoretical studies on colonialism in Africa seems to inhibit a critical evaluation of the writings of ex-colonial officials, which he widely consulted. Hence his patronizing reference to colonial officials as 'expatriates' or 'northern administrators', pervasive use of ethnic categories, and tendency to reduce the foreign and imperial character of the colonial state to a mere 'government'.

The book tries to show that missionaries and colonial officials pursued a zero sum game of either the 'serpent or the crescent' between 1900 and 1930, in which the missionaries wanted Christianity to prevail while the colonial officials preferred conversion of traditionalists and shielding Muslims from it. The missionaries resisted the imposed restrictions through underground evangelization–making little progress, however, in the conversion of either group. The author has a manifest sympathy for missionaries, perceived to have been unduly frustrated by the colonial state, which indicates his insufficient appreciation of the difficult position in which British officials were placed by the vehement opposition of northern emirs to Christian evangelization.

The book argues that although missionaries from the southern provinces surged into the north between 1900 and 1935, setting up over 70 missions and preaching the gospel in thousands of villages, only a few hundred converts [End Page 671] were made. The failure is blamed on the fixation to produce Europeanized converts, which was subsequently overcome. By the 1930s, the British and the missionaries had learned to co-exist, with increasing converts made among traditionalists, earlier discounted by both competing groups. Hence, the zero sum game of the cross or the crescent did not prevail, as both made inroads.

The earlier reluctance of both missionaries and the colonial administration in granting access to Western intellectual skills is shown to have been reversed between 1940 and 1945. The pace of acculturation was hastened, according to the author, by Protestant and Catholic competition, which became intense after 1945. The expanding colonial economy and the necessity for paying taxes created the need for Western education among the African population, which the missions and the colonial administration tried to provide. The latter established Katsina College, referred to by the author as the 'Eton of the north', which brought marked changes, moulding students who became 'anglophiles'.

Unprecedented progress is said to have taken place when European social and cultural values became more entrenched in the post-war period, accompanied by creeping individualism, despised by the missionaries. However, in the end both missionaries and the colonial administration succeeded in converting some Africans who 'shared their dream', although Barnes adds that the British were far more pleased than the missionaries with the products turned out by the cultural transfer.

The book quite rightly...


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pp. 671-672
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