• Young Converts:Christian Missions, Gender and Youth in Onitsha, Nigeria 1880-1929

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Church Missionary Society missionaries, both of African and European descent, became interested in gaining converts among Igbo-speaking women in southeastern Nigeria. Schooling was an integral part of the conversion process. This article contends that separate body/mind disciplines for Igbo "youth" were not only based in European gender categories but helped to develop a separate category of personhood among Igbo themselves: ndi kris, the Christian people, who marked gender dichotomies differently than their unmissionized compatriots. The article discusses what the development of this socially separate, gendered, and youthful category of persons meant for Igbo society, and offers a way to consider how gender is necessarily part of the historical construction of "youth" in colonial contexts.


West Africa, missionization, gender, youth, education

When African children of both sexes roam about at will indoors & out-of-doors without clothing of any kind, until in some cases 18 years of age, & when Christian mothers allow the same unclothed condition to prevail among their own young ones, the innocence of infancy is lost at birth, & how is it possible for the young people to be either pure in thought or chaste in deed? When the older girls & women are unclothed to the waist, & when even among Christian mothers an upper covering is considered a "fad," rather than an act of decency, is it to be wondered at that the young men fall an easy prey to the enticements of the girls? The African Christian woman has yet to learn her responsibility in this direction, & we trust that the Missions to Women held during the year in this District & elsewhere —to be followed by a Conference of Women on Social & other subjects next year at Onitsha—may lead women to see their duty in this matter of Social Purity.

(From Annual Letter, dated December 18, 1909, by Rev. J. C[raven]. R. Wilson)1

In the late nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth Church Missionary Society Anglican) missionaries, both of African and European descent, became interested in gaining converts among Igbo-speaking women in southeastern Nigeria. Schooling was an integral part of the conversion process. This education was perceived by the missionaries as a concomitant training to that of young, Igbo-speaking men. Igbo men were seen as the deepest foundations of the Anglican church in southeastern Nigeria. Europeans never really considered Nigeria a proper location for settler colonization but an experiment in indirect rule from its inception. So these young men were trained not only to be catechists and layreaders by their CMS missionaries but eventually to become missionaries and priests to a chain of indigenous congregations, stretching across the very populous Igbo-speaking region. During this same period girls were trained in the doctrines of the Christian faith, to become the "helpmeets" for their Christian male contemporaries and proper mothers of the next Christian (hopefully Anglican) generation. Women, therefore, mattered to CMS missionaries both as the domestic purveyors of an Anglican culture and as exemplars for women's christianization throughout the Nigerian southeast. While Anglican Igbo women, too, were to be missionaries of a sort, their mission was to be bounded by the walls of their European-style homes or, at most, kept to specific Christian localities over which their husbands held priestly sway.

I contend in this article that CMS missionization in Onitsha and other parts of the southeastern region of what is now known as Nigeria, was therefore based on developing quite separate and gendered body/mind disciplines for Igbo "youth" which were then meant to be extended into adulthood and on to the next generations. Indeed, I suggest ways these body/mind disciplines themselves, based on an amalgam of contemporary European as well as Igbo gender categories, helped to develop a new and separate category of personhood among Igbo-speakers. This was called, in some locations, ndi kris, the Christian people—a group that was generally youthful and otherwise marginal to ordinary Igbo social life in the period. The making of ndi kris was therefore also the making of "youth" as a cultural category in this part of West Africa, demonstrating how western gender regimes along with local ones were essential for that category's development and dissemination. I will therefore also discuss what the development of this socially separate, gendered, and youthful category of persons meant for Onitsha Igbo society at large, as well as [End Page 145] use the material to problematize not only western notions of gender but, indeed, to discuss how "youth" itself is meaningfully constituted in the theoretical literature.

Constructing Young Converts: The CMS and Gendered Problems of Conversion

Early CMS missionaries in southeastern Nigeria were mostly repatriated Igbo and Yoruba men from Sierra Leone, the children of people rescued from the transatlantic slave trade.2 The social persona of these young men was itself therefore formed by a process of conversion to Christianity and mission education, mostly in Freetown during the mid-nineteenth century. Missionaries of African descent were recruited in an evangelical campaign in that city by Anglican Bishop Samuel Crowther (a repatriated Yoruba speaker) during the 1860s and 70s.3 The new Niger Mission was an experiment for the CMS—the first time that the established English church had approved indigenous missionization. The mission's ultimate success or failure was carefully watched by CMS administrators in London. Because of its symbolic importance to the growing numbers of Christians in West Africa as well as its experimental status in the eyes of the Anglican Church, Crowther and his colleagues chose to begin the Niger Mission in the well-known river port of Onitsha. It was distant enough inland from the coastline of the Bights of Benin and Biafra to work outside the surveillance of most European colonialists but connected to coastal trading ports via the Niger so that supplies and correspondence could still be transported.

CMS missionaries first appeared in Onitsha, on the eastern banks of the Niger River, in the 1860s—partially in response to Bishop Crowther's shrewd economic and political assessment of the future importance of the town for European colonialism. When the first missionary (the Rev. Taylor, a repatriated Igbo) arrived, however, he found that Christian evangelism in the town would be difficult and fraught with dangers. Ndi onicha (Onitsha people) eagerly accepted European merchandise and were already involved with the representatives of European trading firms. They were, however, highly skeptical of the offer of a new religion, particularly once they discovered that African CMS missionaries were accorded little respect by western traders. This meant that important Onitsha elders kept their distance from the missionaries, although a few treated the Christian evangelists like obnoxious but amusing pets.4 The first, tentative converts were thus drawn from the ranks of Onitsha's more marginal populations: domestic slaves (ndi oru) attached to European trading compounds, a very few ndiani (freeborn, literally "people of the earth/soil") women who were widowed or impoverished, as well as a small number of children who were sent by ndi onicha to find out what was happening with these strange, new Africans who dressed like and spoke the same language as the Europeans. By the late 1870s the missionaries realized that they had little hope of success among Onitsha elites. They busied themselves buying enslaved children, rescuing twins (who were supposed to be cast into the ofia ojoo, the "bad bush," as abominations), and taking in the equally abominated mothers of twins, as well as ministering to the youthful African workers associated with the European "factories" (warehouses) along the riverside. It was these, mainly young converts, with nowhere to go and little to lose in their connection to the missions, who would form the most permanent, early congregation.

Not only was the fledgling congregation made up of marginal people residing in and around the town, but it was a fragile group, highly susceptible to any shock. During the late 1870s, for example, the CMS mission in Onitsha—whose interest in twins (umu ejima), so-called sacred slaves (ndi osu) and other outcasts was now apparent and the cause of some disquiet in Onitsha's main "village" of Inland Town—was almost destroyed by a series of witchcraft accusations leveled against the congregation by two former domestic slaves.5 Although, from archival evidence, there is a hint that these women may have been coerced to "confess" their witchcraft and implicate the mission, the very notion that Christians were really witches setting up shop by the Onitsha riverside ensured that it would be twenty more years before the Anglican church made serious inroads into converting the local population. Indeed, rumors persisted of witchly doings at the old CMS compound through the late 1980s when I did fieldwork in Onitsha, so it could be said that the mission never fully recovered its reputation, even a hundred years after the event.

The Niger Mission's greatest success in Onitsha came through its early decision to educate local boys (and, by the 1890s, some girls) in basic English literacy and western numeracy. Although male and female elders continued to shun the church throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century and forbade [End Page 146] their dependents to spend time there on Sundays, the spectacle of a small number of young boys sitting over their slates doing arithmetic and learning to speak a smattering of English proved enticing. Ndi onicha quickly deduced the usefulness of a cadre of young men, owing their allegiance to the Obi (king of Onitsha) and his imobi (court), who could interpret and keep accounts in the recently introduced western style.6 A small number of ndiani women, who had been involved in the mission since the witchcraft episode, against the better judgment of the kingly court, were now quietly encouraged to send their sons to the mission school to see what they could learn. One of these young men, Isaac Mba, became the CMS's star convert and pupil. He went on not only to become literate in English but to assist in the translation of the Bible into Igbo, as well as to teach in CMS schools before being exiled for the unforgivable mission crime of polygyny.7 Although one of the first and most talented, Mba was soon followed by a flood of boys. It became fashionable by the late 1890s for Onitsha ndiani boys to spend as much of their days as possible in the CMS compound—even when school was not in session.

Boys who were taught at CMS schools also received training in the Christian religion—not as a secondary set of lessons but as the centerpiece of their education. This was an unexpected consequence of mission schooling, as far as Onitsha elders were concerned, and soon became an unwelcome one as the boys lectured their seniors on such topics as "idol worship" and polygynous relations. One response to male missionization was for wily elders to implicate their own children in polygynous unions and estrange them from the church, as in the case of Isaac Mba. Senior men's control over bridewealth and access to marriage partners proved to be a major stumbling block for maintaining Christian conversion among the missionaries' pupils by the 1890s.8 As male students like Isaac Mba matured, they clearly needed to marry someone. The CMS's relative lack of interest in the cultivation of marriageable girls made the mission compounds a masculinist preserve and a place where female companionship was almost unknown. Mba was not the only young convert who strayed, however unwittingly, from CMS Christian teachings in his search for a lover or wife, and a veritable war ensued between the missionaries and Onitsha elders over the hearts and minds of younger men, using young women as pawns. (See Wilson quote, above.) After the desertion of Mba and a few other, favored young male converts, senior missionaries began to intervene in the possible marriages of their catechists, actively corresponding with one another over the question of which converts might productively take on the responsibilities of marriage and when they should wed.9 With the need for their converts to marry within the church if the congregation was to be maintained and reproduced, missionaries were forced to reconsider the importance of women for their mission and to take a serious interest in girls' education for the first time during this decade.

Because of complicated internal CMS politics which there is no space to go into here, the 1890s also saw the phasing out of Africans and the introduction of British clerics and layworkers into the Niger Mission.10 Since the population of British CMS missionaries at this period invariably included a few adventurous women as nurses and elementary school teachers, this also meant that some female missionaries soon found their way up the Niger to Onitsha.11 These women missionaries, who appear from their correspondence and clearly ideological programs to have been (somewhat covert) Christian members of the first wave of feminism, at once made girls' training their special mission.12 By the 1910s, a scant twenty years after British women's arrival on the southeastern Nigerian scene, almost no male missionary had anything to do with the education of Igbo girls. Indeed, girls' educational establishments were by then constructed outside the environs of Onitsha proper, away from "harmful influences" on the Waterside, where most male CMS missionaries lived and worked and where Igbo boys and young men were constantly in attendance.

Female separatism was not only encoded in women's missionized space in the 1900s but in the very mode of girls' education. Where the boys' school curriculum included such coursework as New and Old Testament classes, English poetry, arithmetic, geography, physiology, hygiene, and first aid, all taught in English after the elementary forms, using English textbooks,13 girls were instead taught to read enough Igbo to understand their Bibles and hymn-books. Indeed, they were rarely introduced to the English language prior to the 1920s, unless marked out to become pupil teachers or special students at CMS "ladies'" academies in Lagos or Sierra Leone. Girls were also taught a plethora of domestic courses meant to hone their skills to become proper Christian homemakers and housewives. Pamela Row, one of the missionaries at the Girls' Training School at Umudioka (outside of Onitsha, but a location where many Onitsha girls were educated), described [End Page 147] the typical girls' training regime in her Annual Letter of 1909:

The girls do a great deal of practical work; what with washing, ironing, cooking, sweeping, fetching wood & water, their days are fully occupied. We try to do as much outside work as we can . . . . 14

By the 1910s converted Christian girls and young women were sent to these establishments not only by their parents but by their prospective, Christian fiancés, who were expected to pay all their fees (as part of the bridewealth special to ndi kris) as well as for their food and lodging. Young Christian men with an eye to advancement within the CMS and colonial administrative hierarchy were already becoming convinced at this early period of the need for Christian, relatively sophisticated wives who could offer domestic support to their husbands in a manner approved by the Europeans. Such wives were considered by men a token of youthful male success within the emerging colonial class structure and were, indeed, an integral part of the development of an elite, Christian class.15

It is also clear that the development of such a new class within Igboland did not go unnoticed outside Christian ranks. The potential pragmatic benefits of the missionized girls' coursework became so well understood outside CMS enclaves that a number of non-Christian parents, hoping for a larger bridewealth and connections to the increasingly well-to-do Christian families, eventually were willing to send their daughters to Umudioka and other similar locations. Igbo-speaking parents sent their daughters away knowing full well that this would mean the girls would be christianized and effectively cut off from omenani ("tradition," literally "respect for the earth"). From the point of view of the missionaries, the girls' training centers were therefore a huge success —particularly since it was discovered that local people would pay more willingly for this practical, domestic training than for the more expensive, technical, religious education that boys were offered. Many more boys, it appears, studied on scholarships paid for by Anglican congregations in the U.K. than did girls.16 The girls' training centers became largely self-supporting; partially a function of the separatist ideologies of the women missionaries and partially a function of a reluctance, on the part of "home" congregations, to promote African girls' education of any kind.17 This reluctance could be a sign that British outside the colonies were aware of the usefulness of mission education to transform the class situation of the colonized, or simply a sign of late Victorian ambivalence about women's education more generally. Whatever this lack of support for girls' education meant to those living in the metropole, however, it had serious ramifications for the development of categories of youth and gender within the CMS mission sphere.

Within the emerging Christian community in the Nigerian southeast during this period, a community which was predominantly youthful and alienated from both its elders and non-Christian peers, this separate and unequal training meant that boys and young men were necessarily considered by the missionaries to be the superior members (even if they brought in less money for the mission coffers). Boys and young men were given scholarships and more prestigious coursework, and they were being groomed as catechists for future mission work. Girls and young women were constantly told that their duties as converts lay in providing decent, Christian homes for their future husbands and children.18 Later, in the 1920s, when the demand for girls' training grew too great for CMS missionaries to handle on their own, some would lament that they had trained young women too well in their domestic roles:

At St. Monica's School [descendant of Umudioka Girls' Training School, above] the pressure is getting utterly beyond the physical powers of the Staff. The work now falling upon the ladies cannot be done in the time of mortal disposal. The School has been brought under Government Inspection practically on the orders of Salisbury Square [headquarters of the CMS in London], and the work has doubled in consequence. The impossibility of maintaining a responsible native staff aggravates the situation. The girls as soon as they become really effective leave on account of marriage. Three senior members of the native staff have gone during the last few months and only one responsible native teacher remains at the moment. Native girls cannot be found yet who are prepared to consider any other career but that of wife and mother, hence the school has to depend on European workers which is the opposite to the work in the charge of men. Boys can be got by the score but not girls.19

By this time, ndi kris in Onitsha subscribed to different and more distinct gender boundaries than those existing between their parents and grandparents. Girls and young women opted out of many community events where their female elders had important, public roles and had learned that their own power must be firmly based in domestic responsibilities under male heads of household.20 Most Igbo societies were both patrilineal and exceedingly patriarchal before the advent of the Christian missions and [End Page 148] colonialism more broadly, but women did have, through their interactions in the marketplaces of their marital towns and as daughters of particular patrilineages, many connections outside the marital household (Uchendu 1965; Amadiume 1987). Certainly some Igbo-speaking women could become priestesses, prophets, and ndi dibia (healers/diviners), as well as, in Onitsha, take on the important roles of "mothers of the town" or "market queen" (omu) and be members of female title societies. (See Helen Henderson 1969 for a full discussion of these roles.)

These connections enabled Igbo women in the immediate precolonial and early colonial periods to establish themselves as important personages in their own right as well as to know other women and men, across the generations as well as across space. Christian girls and young women were not encouraged to make these connections or to take on these social roles, even after they matured, because they could not participate in the "pagan" ritual practices that were an important part of each activity. Some Christian girls may have used this severing of ties to the older women's community (umunwaanyi) to their individual advantage, or as a marker of their resistance to "outmoded" ways. We see in the footnoted quote above, however, they were also more isolated within their households and consequently more bonded to the fortunes of their husbands than ever before.

The Despised and Misunderstood Minority: Igbo Christian Girls and Young Women in the Early Twentieth Century

Female missionaries, perhaps acting out of their own experiences of domestic isolation as well as Christian feminist principles, tried to mitigate this isolation somewhat by establishing women's groups at school. One such group was the Scripture Union, for those women who could read their Bibles and by encouraging Christian women who had graduated from their training to meet periodically as "Old Girls" or members of Christian women's associations. In the early 1900s regular Women's Conferences were established by joint committees of female missionaries and prominent Old Girls. The first of these conferences was held in January, 1910, at Ozala, on the Waterside in Onitsha, where CMS women missionaries maintained a residence and offices in conjunction with the main, and mostly male-dominated, mission compound. Over seventy women, youthful and married to CMS-educated men, attended the conference, many coming from what were then formidable distances. Besides prayers and lengthy discussion of the future of mission education for women in the Igbo-speaking areas, the Old Girls were encouraged to discuss their personal situations. The writer of the official report of the conference (probably one of the women missionaries) noted that

Some of the women spoke very well and most were eager to give messages from their town and to tell out their difficulties. Prayer was asked in almost every case and difficulties in connection with the heathen, the Government, and the Roman Catholics were spoken of besides those of a more private nature. One was impressed with the fact that although we are winning some, Christians in this country are the despised and misunderstood minority.21

As the Igbo attendees were clearly among the most activist and committed Christian converts, one may have some sense from the above of their everyday circumstances, once the converted women moved away from the secluded and supportive atmosphere of the girls' training centers. From the Aba Commission's Notes of Evidence in 1930 we know that missionized women sometimes banded together in their marital towns in groups that became known as mikiri ("meetings;" see also Green 1964 and Van Allen 1976). These mimicked, in many respects, other indigenous women's groups, particularly savings collectives and the dance groups (based on something like age-grades) whose egwu (songs/ dances) would otherwise have content offensive to Christian sensibilities.

CMS missionized girls and women during the early 1900s needed these support groups, not only to maintain and enlarge upon what they had learned in their schools, but to give them some prestige in what could be hostile living environments. It appears that many girls throughout Igboland had risked the wrath of their parents, even at times nominally Christian parents, to apply for training at the mission schools during the early period of the intensification of girls' missionization—perhaps with an eye to making a Christian marriage of their own choice. We have, for instance, CMS missionary Frances Dennis's testimony on women who expressed an interest in the western Igbo missions during the first years of the century:

Such was the state of the women when we went to Idumuje Ugboko in 1902 and they were quite content—the work among them was most discouraging from the first—while many young men came forward for Baptism and were baptized [,] only one old woman could be baptized with the exception of two young girls who were betrothed to Christian men and went away to the Girls' School at Iyienu & were married last year. There was apparently no [End Page 149] hope for the women [,] fanning any desire in their hearts to be good only brought them into great trouble—the chiefs and the native courts were strongly opposed to any reform and in several cases when girls persisted in their refusal to marry heathen 'husbands' and wish to marry Christian men. The native courts were appealed to and judgment was given against the women.

Meanwhile the young converts were breaking away from this bad custom seeking young girls to whom they could be married in Church.

Clearly things could not go on as before & for many months in 1905 there was chaos in Idumuje Ugboko. Public opinion was all against the women who wanted to be good & there were no Christian parents to be willing for their girls to release themselves from old bonds made for them—I was several times awakened by the screams of girls being dragged away to neighbouring towns to men whom they hated. Many flung themselves upon our protection —one or two girls 'devoted' to the house persuaded their fathers to allow them to marry went to the Girls' School at Iyienu with others whose 'husbands' had been prevailed upon to receive the dowry back again.

Towards the end of the year Bishop Tugwell made representations to the Govt Officials which led them to see that something must be done to make a law in favour of the women. It was to the effect that no young girl should be forced to marry a man to whom she had been betrothed as a child never having lived with him, and any young man wishing to marry her could do so by paying the dowry into the native court to be repaid to the former 'husband'. So the women have been saved—Praise God.22

Although the majority of Igbo-speaking girls during this period were unlikely to approach the missions, Dennis' account shows us that some were not only willing to take the risk of offending their parents and destroying their patrilineally arranged marital opportunities, they had determined upon it. For Dennis, of course, these were the "women who wanted to be good," but from the point of view of Idumuje Ugboko elders, they must have seemed young hellions, bent on destroying proper gender relations along with carefully constructed networks of alliance and affinity. The picture of girls dragged screaming into the night was constructed by Dennis to woo potential CMS donors for a girls' training institution in western Igbo. Nonetheless, there remains in the account something of the horror and embarrassment that must have been felt by every participant in these evening dramas. Nothing could have been farther from the expectations of western Igbo parents in relation to their female children's behavior; nothing could have been more agonizing for Igbo girls than to have their well-known rights of marriage refusal (Uchendu 1965: 52-53) publicly flaunted. For those Idumuje Ugboko residents who were not directly involved, the piteous sobbing, pleas, and loud arguments between missionaries and long-suffering parents must have been completely disruptive of the town peace—something that would have confirmed that the missions had brought abomination along with their books and new religious practices.

Even devoted missionaries like Miss Dennis seemed nonplused by the reaction of girls and their parents alike; the CMS's belated focus on girls had stirred up something unexpected and clearly powerful. Frances Dennis, trained by her own culture to be obedient to her elders, including senior administrators in the CMS itself, is obviously torn in her account between a belief that western Igbo parents had responsibility for and authority over their children and her equally strong sense of the importance of the Christian mission for the people's personal salvation. Partially because of this struggle within their consciousness, it appears, CMS missionaries did not all take up the cudgels fiercely for their "wayward" female charges but surrendered the majority of them back to their lineage mates for marriages that—from Dennis's use of punctuation ("'husbands'")—the Anglicans did not consider legitimate. The metaphors of marriage and women's submission were simply too engrained, and the lack of funding for girls' training too overwhelming, for missionaries fully to embrace the radical step of emancipating jural minors from the power of parents and other elders, even to spread the gospel.

This did not, as we can see from Wilson's quote at the beginning of this article, keep male Christian missionaries from holding local women and girls responsible for leading male youth astray in Igboland. Igbo-speaking boys were so valued as converts that their sexuality and marriage interests were to be catered to at all costs. Young Igbo women's bodies and sexuality, conversely, were perceived as snares that could entangle the missions in dangerous local politics as well as destabilize the "young converts" who were expected to lay the foundations of the Anglican church throughout Igboland. Although largely unspoken, the need to maintain the girls' training centers at some distance from the homes of the centers' inmates was not only a statement about checking girls' perilous sexuality and policing their improperly bounded bodies, but of maintaining some secrecy about the transformation in gender relations being effected by the missions. This transformation would find its clearest expression in new models of youthful female behavior.

Before discussing this transformation at any length, however, it should be made plain that the [End Page 150] western category of "girl" was not one that would have seemed common sense to Igbo-speakers in the early 1900s. The model of girlhood, or female adolescence, that missionaries imported from Britain during this period was marked by specific body practices—notably putting up one's hair and lowering the hemlines of one's skirts—keyed to the onset of menstruation or certain calendrical celebrations (for example, "sweet sixteen" birthday parties).23 Although menstruation was an important marker for Igbo female personhood as well, it was not construed as the beginning of "adolescence," if we consider this a period of relative freedom before marriage and adult responsibilities, or as marking a particularly poignant moment in a sentimental construction of "girlhood." Instead, menstruation among Igbo-speakers enabled the partial fulfillment of a marriage process that may have begun some years earlier. Menstruation could be marked by taking on the dress and hairstyles associated with full, married womanhood—that is, the wearing of cloth around the waist and discarding the elaborate, semi-permanent constructions of hair and mica-flecked mud as well as some of the adornments that demarcated unmarried status.24 In some Igbo-speaking areas, menstruation and/or the growth of breasts was the signal for the placement of young women in "fattening houses" (nkpu; see Basden 1966: 73-75), a ritual process of seclusion and beautification that might last several Igbo four-day weeks or even months at a time. Emergence from seclusion did not mark a beginning of a liminal period of adolescence but, once again, marriage and the bearing of children, quite often at a chronological age felt by the British to be too young for such a responsibility. Christianizing young women also meant turning people who qualified as candidates for full adulthood in Igbo into "girls" in order to preserve them for a short time from marriage and for a western domestic education.

The CMS missionaries therefore had to respond to their own ambivalences about both the centrality of marriage to Christian culture (most of the women missionaries were unmarried while in the Niger Mission) and the need to establish a proper, liminal period of "youth" or "girlhood" for christianized women to prepare them for their duties as wives and helpmeets to Christian husbands. Older women were welcome as converts, but the missionaries were constantly disappointed at how little influence such women seemed to hold over their "heathen" husbands, at least in terms of evangelism. It became apparent during the early period of missionization that converted older women were likely to be peripheral in their husbands' households, whether as mothers of twins, barren women, or women too sick to be fully productive as farmers or traders. Younger women and girls proved more important to the long-range plans of missionaries, just as they were crucial to the plans of fathers and lineage elders. By the early 1900s young women were thought by the missionaries to be more malleable and interested in new ideas and commodities—ripe for conversion as well as indoctrination into other Europeanized activities. Missionaries' focus on young women's conversion was also seen as an investment in the future of the church. The children of Christian women had already proved to be the foundation of the Anglican church in the forty years since its inception in Igboland, and CMS missionaries were eager to maintain a hold on the imaginations of children to come through their mothers' examples of faith.

Besides having souls that missionaries could save for Christ, however, these young women also provided much needed domestic services for the busy Europeans and a ready-made set of potential "role models" for other women in the community. They were, in return, educated to attract the young, christianized men who were gaining status and wealth throughout Igboland. Among the mission girls' virtues for the arriviste male Christians were their basic understanding of Christian tenets, their adherence to "modest dress" (frocks that covered those offending bodies from neck to ankles), and their expressed willingness to live in the domestic isolation of a Christian, monogamous household. Missionized women were also trained to assist their Christian catechist fiancés in low level evangelical work among the Igbo unconverted. Not least of their work was offering support for the men's Christian ideals within their households and, as noted above, by training Igbo Christian children in the tenets of their new faith and under a domestic regime modeled on that of contemporary Europe. Some of these children were their own, but young Christian wives were later encouraged by the missions to engage in a form of fosterage. They would take in a few of the children of other, aspiring families and train them about Christianity, sanitation, and the proper care of a "modern" household. These children would act as household help for their foster mother while gaining access to the Christian networks that could eventually mean school, employment with the colonial administration or, at least, an [End Page 151] enhanced understanding of the new regime.25

This model of domestic support and dependency was completely unlike what was expected of the unconverted Igbo woman. Such a woman was more likely to live separately from her husband, with her children, inside a polygynous or extended family household and to attend to women's business, only engaging in a discussion of men's affairs under very special circumstances. Nonetheless, ordinary Igbo women of the period had allegiances that extended beyond their marital households, whether through continued participation in their natal patrilineages or through the relations developed in trade or among other "wives of the village." Missionized women were actively discouraged from spending too much time with Igbo-speaking women of their own lineages or households who refused to convert. They were also discouraged from becoming overly familiar with women or men who had converted to Catholicism or one of the indigenous Christian churches springing up around southeastern Nigeria in the early years of the twentieth century. (See quote above on the antagonism between the CMS and its Catholic counterpart, the Holy Ghost Fathers.) The ties created within Anglican mission schools or training centers were supposed to take the place of all culturally significant relations with other women. For instance, CMS women missionaries walked a fine line between being seen as taskmistresses and having a somewhat strained friendship with their pupils and Old Girls, while young women in the schools were encouraged to be both competitive and cooperative with one another through an extracurricular program that ultimately included, besides the domestic labor outlined above, team sports, drill, and, by the 1920s, European women's institutions like the Girl Guides and the YWCA.26

Missionized men who showed some interest in evangelism were, by the 1910s, often sent off to villages at some distance from mission centers like Onitsha in order to prepare the way for more professional missionaries or to demonstrate their own fitness for more evangelical responsibility. Their young, recently trained wives would either accompany them directly or be sent for after completing their course.27 Wives' immediate duties included assisting their husbands in setting up Bible studies as well as developing a model, Christian home for the "heathens" to emulate. This they had to do out of materials that were available to a stranger couple on a stringent budget, without many village-level resources (such as ready access to farmland or seed crops) or the materials of the mission schoolrooms they themselves had only recently quitted. Since there are a number of dialectical variations in what we today call the Igbo language,28 it is possible that most of these young women were isolated not only by their adherence to the new religion, their manner of dress, and their reluctance to take part in markets or "pagan" women's organizations, but by language as well. Even in Onitsha, where there was a good deal of missionary support for the Old Girls and where the Niger Mission had been based for half a century, young Christian women might find their lot overwhelming, as in this excerpt from a woman missionary's letter to her London-based superior:

I also spent a few days in Onitsha Town in the house of one of our newly married girls. She was trying to do her best to help her husband in the work but I realized how difficult it was for her. There were a few Christian women all her seniors so it was difficult for her to suggest to them new meetings or means of help. She said to me if I speak to the heathen they say to me 'why do you tell us to follow God look at your own father how he has gone back from following God'—It was true her father is a backslider. These things showed me how hard it must be for these young girls to witness for Christ & not get discouraged. We try hard to prepare them & to strengthen their characters in every way possible. We ask also for your prayers that God will put His Spirit within them that they may be all He wants them to be.29

In some cases the husbands were sent back to their natal region, but these were probably not villages familiar to the young wives. The fact that the CMS training centers took in girls from all parts of the Niger Mission therefore meant that missionaries were, however inadvertently, maintaining Igbo requirements of exogamy for many of the new Chris-drill, tian marriages. The missionaries, also like Igbo patrilineal elders, expected their charges to make alliances of duty rather than the "love matches" of sentimental western fiction, and many of those who married out of mission schools and training centers knew each other very slightly. Some girls who were placed in CMS training, under the impression that they would eventually marry specific Christian men, found themselves married instead to strangers when their original partners backed out of the agreement or professed themselves dissatisfied with the girls' progress.30 Young women who had thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the CMS enterprise of training might also find that their pasts, before Christian conversion, were held against them by their husbands (even in the tight Christian marriage market) as well as by their new neighbors. For example, [End Page 152] girls who had been rescued twins or had been at an early age dedicated to village deities (so-called sacred slaves, ndi osu) found that their prospects were limited, even with the valued CMS training. Converted Onitsha Igbo men did not look with any favor upon girls from the interior Igbo areas, and the majority of converted girls during the early years of the twentieth century were former domestic slaves (ndi olu) or ndi osu who had been taken into missionary care at an early age. This led to a shortage of acceptable marriage partners in Christian Onitsha and gave the educated converts one more reason to leave the CMS and go in search of employment at the newly opening offices of the colonial administration.31 Young men with connections to Onitsha aristocracy were particularly apt to move away from the CMS over questions of marriage, since their future prospects within the town's social system could be completely destroyed if they married female slaves, twins or young women dedicated to the Igbo deities (osu).

If such marriages were a problem among the urban sophisticates of Onitsha, they were perceived as utterly abominable in the towns and villages of rural Igboland. Women who associated with these "tainted" Christian wives, or who allowed their children to play with the children of such abominable marriages, would have been considered a danger to their own households and to the town at large. The girls were secluded by their religion and a hybrid material culture made up of valuable European commodities and familiar Igbo domestic objects used in new ways, their possibly truncated understanding of the local Igbo language, some of the girls' backgrounds in problematic Igbo institutions, as well as by their Europeanized models of monogamy and "nuclear family" domesticity. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that youthful Christian women became the "despised minority" throughout the Igbo-speaking region.32 Doubly strangers in the villages where they were sent by the CMS and without the protections of masculinity or western education that characterized their husbands, these young women were peculiarly vulnerable in every social situation.33 Although missionized women would eventually predominate in Igbo-speaking towns and villages during the years after 1929,34 the first Old Girls and their daughters faced discrimination and what sounds like crushing loneliness. The fact that they continued in their lay work, usually without much support from the Niger Mission's "home" base in London and in the face of their severe social isolation, is a tribute to these young converts' personal perseverance, thorough indoctrination in and devotion to the "new ways" of Christianity.


One of the primary ways that "youth" is described in the theoretical literature in both sociology and, more lately, anthropology is in terms of lack. It may be a lack of the privileges of adulthood, a lack of adulthood's responsibilities, or, even among those theorists who have "youth's" interests squarely at heart, a lack of voice to describe their own social lives.35 Perhaps this is true of youth cultures in the west at the end of the twentieth century, but it was clearly not the case of the emerging missionized Igbo youth culture described above. I would like to suggest, in this conclusion, that lack, or nullity, is a highly implausible base upon which to build any social group. What the CMS missionaries seemed to see, as they looked for and helped to create "youth" among the Igbo-speaking peoples of the Nigerian southeast, was plenitude rather than lack: Igbo young people, as the missionaries hopefully constructed discourse about them, were filled with potential —not all of it good, but potential nonetheless.

This had something to do the desire for a Christian futurity that missionaries imposed on the clever, strong, curious, and willful young Igbo who found their way into the CMS's schoolrooms and compounds. We may also wonder what part was played in the development of a mission focused so narrowly on youth by the fact that most of the British members of the Niger Mission were denied the society of their own children, whether because they never married, like the majority of the CMS women missionaries while in the field, or because they maintained families in the United Kingdom, like a number of the male missionaries.36 As we have seen, missionaries had little choice in the matter: older, socially adept Igbo-speakers were largely unsusceptible to the Christian message in the early years of the Niger Mission, and there was a willingness to put at least some younger people forward as what we might call "test cases" when it was clear that mission education might lead to employment and advancement in the burgeoning colonial system. It is not clear that the CMS missionaries, male or female, fully thought through the implications for conversion and western-style education for their charges. However, from the surprise and displeasure of Europeans in later years as they confronted the fruits of mission [End Page 153] labor in southeastern Nigeria, we may infer that the development of a new, elite class of the colonized was an unexpected result of CMS efforts.37

However little the development of an elite had been expected, though, other European categories of personhood were more purposefully implemented. The separate disciplines of the male-dominated schoolroom and the girls' training institutions, and, indeed, the focus on education that missionaries found to be most successful for gaining converts, were all geared—from their antecedents in European culture—to developing "youth" as a socially meaningful category, along with "Christian" and, perhaps, "modern" persons. In these new, Christian dominated spaces, young people did not only "learn to labor," in Willis's (1977) phrase, but they learned to see themselves as separate from their Igbo-speaking elders and to appreciate and desire ideas and commodities outside those elders' experience.

While this may have been liberating for some missionized young people, it was not—as I hope to have shown—an unmitigated blessing for all. Young Igbo women's experience of mission modernity, for instance, may have freed them from the surveillance and control of patrilineage mates, but it did not free them from surveillance and control more generally. Becoming a "Christian girl" in Igboland during the early years of this century was not tantamount to living the lifestyle of a pampered Edwardian, middle-class adolescent. If anything, their movements were more greatly curtailed, first in the isolated girls' institutions, where their every waking moment was scheduled and supervised by women missionaries and their local assistants. From these institutions, most women converts then moved directly into marital households, where the husband was meant to be the unquestioned head, and where they could have fewer outside contacts or allies than in a so-called traditional Igbo marriage.

Paradoxically seen as more weak by the missionaries, but objectively less protected by their new gender roles or "practical" education, a scarce but consistently undervalued commodity in the cultural economy of the CMS mission, Christian female youth in this period nonetheless somehow managed to flourish. And they underwrote the ongoing missionization of rural Igboland through their school fees, unpaid domestic labor, lay church work, and the bearing of children who would be raised in households where the Christian mores of the CMS missionaries were the norm rather than the exception. This is what Mitchell (1988: 113), writing about the nineteenth-century British colonial perception of Egyptian women and their need for education, calls the discourse of "modern motherhood." Modern motherhood, in this sense, placed the onus for "civilizing" the colony on its women, forcing them into an engagement with the colonial and (in the present case) mission apparatus through school, but only in order to send them back into "the home" with a new set of domestic priorities. Perhaps we need to explore the notion of "modern motherhood" further, however, since its consequences were not always as negative as they might appear at first glance. The Igbo-speaking Christian schoolgirls of the early 1900s became the elite, Christian matrons of the 1930s and the mothers of women who, during the next three decades, took an active part in Nigeria's struggles for independence, women's suffrage, free universal primary education, and the Biafran civil war (Mba 1982). In this instance, at least, becoming a "civilized youth" meant anything but lack, and the construction of a new set of gender standards during missionization would make a dramatic impact on the history of a twentieth century African nation-state.

Misty L. Bastian
Franklin and Marshall College


Acknowledgments I would first like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of my student researcher, Ms. Estelle Sohne, during the summer of 1997. Estelle not only brought the liveliness of her personality and the sharpness of her intellect to bear on the CMS materials we read together in Birmingham that year, but she offered the perspective of a young African woman who is living with the aftermath of her ancestors' Christian mission training. I would also like to thank the Hackman family for its generous support of student research at Franklin and Marshall College, which made Estelle Sohne's assistance possible. The College's Committee on Grants also gave generous monetary support for my own research in the United Kingdom during the summer of 1997. Deborah Durham must be thanked for forcing me to sit down at the computer and work on this CMS material for her panel on youth in Africa at the 1998 American Anthropological Association meetings. I am also grateful for all comments from other members of that panel, particularly those of Harry West. Jane Parpart and several of the participants in the Dalhousie University program in African Studies gave me valuable feedback during a presentation of this material in February of 1999, as later did my colleagues Maria Mitchell, Ogbu Kalu, and Elisha Renne. Finally, thanks to the two anonymous reviewers for Anthropological Quarterly for their insightful and helpful comments.


1. G3 A3/O 1910, item 23. Unless otherwise denoted, all of the Church Missionary Society materials in this article come from the CMS Archives, University of Birmingham, UK.

2. See, among others, Curtin 1969: 244-246 for data about the numbers of repatriated slaves living in and around Freetown in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1848, at least, it appears that Yoruba-speakers [End Page 154] were the most numerous of these urban residents.

3. For a refreshingly Igbocentric view of Crowther and his Niger Mission, see Kalu 1996: 81-89.

4. The Rev. John Buck's 1872 diary (C A3/O9) testifies to this fact of Onitsha mission life. At one point the Odu of Onitsha (one of the king's advisors) tried to force Buck to drink with him, probably to ridicule him for his drunken behavior at some later time. Such temptations and "snares" were a daily part of the missionaries' interactions with Onitsha's machiavellian elders. (See the entry entitled "Odu the Chief.")

5. G3/A3/0 1890, written in Crowther's hand, dated July 1890, "Statement of Okuwan in an open air Meeting in the market place at Onitsha." Okuwan was the witch who Crowther personally heard confess during this event. For an analysis of this document and what it reveals about gender and social class in Onitsha during the 1890s, see Bastian 1999.

6. By 1901 the desire among ndi onicha for young men's education had grown so large that the missionaries requested permission from their home office to institute classes in both "infant" and secondary school. Fearing that these extraordinarily well-educated young men would wish to take their knowledge out of the church and work for the colonial administration or trading organizations, Salisbury Square (CMS headquarters) denied the request and instructed its missionaries to instruct students up to secondary school level in "the vernacular" as much as possible. In another decade this demand would be impossible to fulfill, and male students would have their own secondary school classes, taught in English. (G3 A3/O 1902, "Minutes of the Meeting of the Executive Committee, Nov. 26, 1901.")

7. Isaac Mba did not, in fact, marry polygynously on his own, but was married to a second wife by his father (against his will and outside his knowledge). His letter of explanation is one of the most heartfelt from any convert in the CMS archives but evidently availed him little (G3 A3/0 1890 [September]; Isaac Mba, "A History of the Cause of Scandal which has separated me from C.M.S."). Disgusted with the rigidity of the church's position, Mba left the CMS altogether and became an important early addition to the colonial administration's staff of interpreters. His descendants still live in the Onitsha area and make up one of its most prominent lineages.

8. This was hardly unique to the Onitsha Igbo case. The Comaroffs (1991: 140 passim) describe very similar elder resistance to mission interference in Tswana marriage patterns.

9. This was completely in keeping with CMS policy for its African and European missionaries alike, all of whom were required to receive permission from the home office in Salisbury Square before taking a wife or husband.

10. See Kalu 1996: 88 for some discussion of the internal politics of African and European CMS missionaries.

11. One such woman was Edith Warner, who would go on to found the first girl's training institution in the Nigerian southeast. See Basden 1927 for Miss Warner's mission biography.

12. This was, of course, the period of the "New Woman" in Britain and the United States. However, it seems unlikely that the women missionaries—unorthodox as they might appear to the population at large in their desire for travel and spiritual work among Africans—would have lightly taken on the appellation. "New Women" were roundly satirized in the popular media and viewed with dread by the "respectable classes." See, for example, Alison Blunt's (1994: 154-157) short disussion of Mary Kingsley's rejection of the term. Callaway (1987: 34-35) also makes the point that most important British imperialists, including Lord and Lady Lugard, were known as staunch opponents of women's suffrage in Britain and the "New Woman" in their own households. Feminist women missionaries, like colonial wives and early female administrators, therefore were more likely to enact their principles as quietly as possible under the British administration in Nigeria.

13. G3/A3/0 1909, item 72, "Precis of the Response of the Education Sub-Committee on the Oka Training Institution." Amadiume (1987: 134-136) also notes the exclusion of Igbo women from equal educational opportunities during this period.

14. G3 A3/O 1910, item 126.

15. This was, of course, a common enough occurrence in West Africa. See Mann 1985 for a discussion of marriage and class among elites in colonial Lagos and Moran 1990 for more on the concatenation of class and "civilization" for women in Liberia. Karen T. Hansen's edited volume on African Encounters with Domesticity (1992) contains a number of essays that are complementary to the points made in this article.

16. In 1909 fifty-one girls were enrolled in the Girls' School at Umudioka, all being maintained there by a four-shilling per month contribution from prospective husbands or their own families. In all the elementary schools supported by the Niger Mission in Onitsha and its environs that same year, there were 280 girls and 1,096 boys in attendance, with some 300 other children attending without registration. Total school fees collected for the elementary schools in 1909 were only £125, so the majority of these mostly male children were attending school under some form of scholarship. The same appears to be true for the CMS boys' secondary and industrial schools, particularly since the Roman Catholics were dropping all school fees in order to convince young men to transfer their Christian allegiance to Catholicism (GA/A3/0 1910, item 40, "Review of the Niger Mission for 1909.").

17. Women missionaries did attempt to solicit money from home congregations, as did their male counterparts, often making particular pleas on the behalf of local women. See, for example, G3 A3/O 1903, item 14; "A Journey to Idumuje Ugboko" by Miss M[ary]. Elms (Onitsha, Southern Nigeria, West Africa, December 7th 1902). In this autograph manuscript Mary Elms writes that women are interested in her early mission work to the western Igbo and could be convinced to take a deeper interest in Christianity.

18. See, for example, G3/A3/0 1910, item 18; Pamela Row, Annual Letter on the Girls' School, Dec 4th, 1909:

Lessons are not considered the most important thing here; most of the girls leave us to get married & what we want them to learn is to live a consistent Christian life in their own homes.

This emphasis was not peculiar to southeastern Nigeria; see Schmidt 1992: 131-40 and Coquery-Vidrovitch 1997: 144-146, for strikingly similar missionary sentiments in what were, during the same period, Southern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo.

19. G3 A3/0 1926, item 46; letter from Rev. George T. Basden to H.D. Hooper, dated August 5, 1926.

20. Sylvia Leith-Ross (1936: 296) in the early 1930s recorded an interesting conversation with a male informant on this topic:

He [Leith-Ross's informant] merely explained that the boy who goes to a Mission school takes it for granted that becoming a Christian is a corollary to becoming a scholar and will automatically and unreasoningly go through the requisite forms without thought or question. Pursuing the subject, he stated that some girls, other than schoolgirls who would pursue the same course as their brothers, would also become Christians for the unexpected reason that it was "less trouble." Questioned more closely, he reminded me of the innumerable family and social obligations a pagan [End Page 155] girl is under. She must take part in the girls' dances, which, with all the rehearsals, represent a good deal of physical exertion; she must pay the proper visits, at the proper times, help cook at festivities, condole with the bereaved. The Christian girl says: "I am a Christian. I have nothing to do with this," and sits quietly at home. It is true she has to go to church on Sunday but there again "she can sit down, then she comes home and her duties are finished."

21. From G3 A3/0 1910, item 39; "Report of the First Women's United Conference, Onitsha. Jan. 18-20. 1910." The style of the Report is well-represented by the following passage:

We met on Wednesday expecting great things, and were not disappointed. Miss Dennis' address on women's position and influence reached the highest point in the Conference and one could see the eager longing in the faces of the women to reach up to something more nearly approaching the ideal women.

22. G3 A3/0 1906, item 103; Frances Dennis, "Young Women's Institution for the Asaba Hinterland"

23. See Brumberg 1997, particularly pp. xvii-xx and 1-56, for a detailed discussion of transformations in notions of adolescence, puberty and the social construction of western girls' bodies during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As she notes (p. xvii),

Although sexual development—the onset of menstruation and the appearance of breasts—occurs in every generation, a girl's experience of these inevitable biological events is shaped by the world in which she lives, so much so, that each generation, at its own point in history, develops its own characteristic body problems and projects.

We might add to this that different cultures, at their own, different historical moments, also develop such body-based "problems projects." Wulff (1995: 6) makes a similar point:

Biological generations are about the same in length, but cultural generations may vary considerably. The experience of being young is universal, but it takes many different form, partly cultural and political, partly personal.

24. Unmarried Igbo women during this period were not supposed to wear cloth, particularly around their waists or wrapped around their hair. They did, however, adorn themselves elaborately with uli (indigo dye or camwood) body paintings and scarifications, often on the face, breasts, and abdomen. Unmarried but eligible status might also be marked, among wealthier lineages, by very elaborate brass jewelry, especially anklets and bracelets. Almost every early colonial or mission commentator, however, remarked upon the aesthetics of unmarried Igbo women's hair arrangements. Generally swept high, in an almost helmet-like construction, over what appear from contemporary photographs to be flexible frames, and molded with clay, charcoal, and palm oil into objects that could not be combed out, the unmarried Igbo woman added several inches to her height and/or extended her head in width. These constructions could be augmented with braids, brass disks, and other eye-catching objects. (See Basden 1966: 78-79 for a description of such an arrangement.) Upon marriage, these hairstyles had to be cut away, leaving a closely shaved head that would later be arranged in neat braids or kept trimmed. This more modest hairstyle could be covered, among women of substance, with cloth of varying richness and length. Any proper extension of the married woman's head therefore would relate not to her ability to grow hair (which may well have been seen, for the unmarried woman, as a sign of her future fertility) but to her ability to gain access to cloth through market trade or gifts from her husband.

25. For a fascinating portrait of such fosterage, see 'Wole Soyinka's (1989) description of his mother's duties in a 1940s CMS parsonage in southwestern Nigeria.

26. See G3 A3/O 1925, item 24, "St. Monica's School Report, 1924," by P[amela]. R. Row.

27. This new form of Igbo domesticity was noted approvingly by CMS officials in the early 1900s:

In the young women of the Country lies the hope of the Church; they are all unconsciously the life of the Church or its bane. But here in this Ibo Country the young women appear to be full of promise. Those who have gone forth from the School of which Miss Warner is the head, and have become wives of Agents are doing valuable work. There is not the tendency to trade on their part which one notices in some districts, and they appear to regard the work of their husbands as their work to which they devote themselves whole-heartedly (G3/A3/0 1907, item 91, letter from Bishop Tugwell to CMS administrator Baylis, dated September 24th, 1907).

28. Echeruo (1998: xv) suggests that there are only two major dialect zones of Igbo, Onicha (Onitsha) and Owerre (Owerri), but within these zones today important dialectical variations exist from town to town, sometimes even from city quarter to city quarter. During the early years of this century, before the spread of Standard Igbo and before people could move easily between different Igbo regions, dialectical variation was probably even more pronounced.

29. G3 A3/0 1910, item 125; "Miss Martin's Annual Letter, Girl's Training School, Umudioka, Nov. 1910."

30. G3 A3/O 1905, from "E[ducation] C[ommittee] Minutes," Onitsha, Feb. 1905:

A letter from Jacob Mmegafu was read objecting to the suggestion that he should pay part of the cost of the education of a fiancee whom he now felt no desire to marry. The E. C. decided that Jacob must pay 2/6 monthly for one year.

In this case Jacob Mmegafu was given little choice by CMS missionaries and may well have married the woman they arranged for him. No further information was available in the archival records.

31. See G3/A3/0 1909, item 31; letter from Smith to Secretary Baylis, dated Onitsha, March 22, 1909.

32. See Ugwu-Oju's (1995) account of her mother's life for a better understanding of the problems faced by a young Christian (in this case, Catholic) but also osu Igbo girl of the early twentieth century.

33. If there is any doubt that Christians felt oppressed by their neighbors, one might do well to read the testimony of Nnochiri Oriaku, a man from Uzuakoli:

Among the boys of my age, I was the first to have a woman to wife. It was rather premature that I should have a wife at that age, but custom overlooked my tender age and made me inherit, of all things, the wife of my dead elder brother. When the persecution of the Christians was in vogue, I ran with my inherited wife to Ogboko Ozuitem in 1913. Then at Ogboko Ozuitem lived one huge and influential man, Mazi Onwukwe Anyaogu by name, who was a pious and devoted Christian. He made his house a place of refuge for persecuted Christians (Isichei 1978: 298-299).

There is nothing said here of how Oriaku's wife felt about this enforced flight—or, indeed, about being inherited by a young, Christian boy. That silence, we might say, speaks volumes for how little women's interests were regarded during this period and the isolation that must have been the lot of many Christian [End Page 156] women.

34. Amadiume 1987: 119-133 gives an account of Igbo Christians' rise to prominence in Nnobi, a town not too distant from Onitsha. She, very rightly, sees that this rise came at the expense women's social position in Nnobi and elsewhere in the Nigerian southeast and makes a very interesting argument for how a Christian insistence on masculine deities undermined Igbo women's political and religious power.

35. See, for an example of well-meaning theoretical discourse, James 1995: 46, who talks about the need to see

the cultures of childhood and youth, not as subcultures seemingly fixed in their opposition to the adult world or in jeering mockery of it, but instead as Geertzian contexts within which the generational experience of being denied access to and participation in central social institutions can be thickly described. Further, it allows the processual quality of children and young people's social lives to be explored as participatory experiences of transition, rather than zones of exclusion, in the life-course.

36. Edith Warner died unmarried, after over thirty years of missionary work among Igbo-speakers. She did, however, seem to have—for about five years—a close female companion in the field, Miss Duncum. Warner mourned Duncum, upon the latter's death in 1907, as sincerely (and, in the eyes of male CMS officials, "inexplicably") as any recognized spouse. See the perplexed correspondence between the Rev. Smith and CMS Secretary Baylis, dated July 12 and July 25, 1907 in G3 A3/O 1907, item 72 and 75. George Basden married one of his missionary colleagues, a Miss Lorimer, in Onitsha in 1905 and left her behind in England, seemingly pregnant, after a furlough (G3 A3/0 1905, item 137). Mrs. Basden never returned to the Niger but remained in England for the duration of Basden's mission (almost thirty more years). She did, however, merit this dedication in Basden 1966, written while her husband remained in the mission field in 1920: "To my beloved wife, who has bravely and patiently borne the responsibilities of home and children whilst I have been absent in Nigeria . . . . "

37. Sylvia Leith-Ross published a diary she kept in Onitsha during 1937, discussing her experiences with ndi onicha (Onitsha people), particularly with the emerging Onitsha elite. Her description of Ibeze, her landlord, is fairly representative of the disdainful bemusement felt by British colonialists towards the products of mission education:

As in many others, I've seen in Ibeze a hunger and thirst after a righteousness which has no specifically religious connotation, but is a strange mingling of snobbery and sincerity; an intense desire for "civilization," the mirage always on the horizon of those who have come into even the slightest contact with the white man, and which means everything under the sun from patent leather shoes to a row of books on one's shelf; from the planting of a zinnia to the building of an "upstairs." It means Standard VI passes and Cambridge Locals; it means jobs in an office with a careful crease to one's trousers; it means possessions and power, too; but right behind, in Ibeze's case at least, there's an inkling of something else that they expect, some citizenship of a brave new world, some kind of freedom and of splendour . . . . Poor Ibeze, it's not by following in our footsteps that he will get there, and how can he and his like blaze a new trail? (Leith-Ross 1943: 18-19).

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