By Stephen G. Fellajuah
Nigerian historian and researcher Prof. Olutayo C. Adesina has told the audience at the Afterlives of Slavery International Conference in Monrovia that the impact of former slaves was most profound in West Africa.
Delivering a keynote address on the third and final day of the three-day international conference on Wednesday, October 19, 2022, Prof. Adesina said West Africa was where more than slaves were freed by the Royal Navy in Sierra Leone following the British abolition of the slave trade.
Prof. Adesina heads the Department of History, Faculty of Arts at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
He presented at the Conference in Monrovia on “Colonization, Christianity, and Commerce: The Afterlives of Slavery in the trans-Atlantic World” which was jointly organized by the University of Liberia and Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jerssy, United States of America.
Held under the theme: “Colonization, Christianity, and Commerce: The Afterlives of Slavery in the Trans-Atlantic World,” the conference is geared towards understanding the impact of the more than four hundred years of slavery on former slaves and the local population.
It is part of events commemorating Liberia’s Bicentennial Celebration in observance of the arrival of free Black slaves in Liberia in 1822 to settle following the abolishing of slavery in the 1800s. Free Black slaves arrived here from the Americas and other parts of the world.
Over the past three days, several Liberian and international historians, clergymen, and clergywomen have discussed Colonization, Christianity, and Commerce at the conference which brought together local and foreign guests at the EJS Ministerial Complex in Congo Town.
Dispersed into Christian villages around Freetown, Prof. Adesina said, many of the formerly enslaved people adopted Christianity and subsequently returned home along the West African coast as agents of Christian modernity.
“Catholic Orders such as the Holy Ghost Fathers, the White Fathers, and the Protestant Universities Mission to Central Africa used purchased and freed slaves in their attempts to socially engineer Christian communities,” said Prof. Adesina.
Considering themselves ‘Black English,’ Prof. Adesina said these returnees played a leading role in mediating British policies and practices in the era of imperialism and colonial conquest.
“…[And], according to Vivian Bickford-Smith, influenced change at ‘the level of religious belief, dress, agricultural practices, domestic architecture, privately owned objects, diet and the sense of self in relation to society,” he said.
He noted that grapefruits were grown on the Blaize compound and lemons, and pineapples were brought from the Western Nigerian Development Corporation plantation at Ijebu-Igbo and Apitipiti, while oranges were bought from farmers in and around Abeokuta.
“Production later increased to about a thousand bottles a day,” he said.
On the topic Liberia: ‘The Land of Return and the Clash of Civilizations,’ Prof. Adesina said the role of the natives became that of suppliers of farm and forest products to the settlers.
As the immigrants became settled, he said, natives, became a source of cheap and sometimes free labor- as domestic servants and unskilled workers in their economic enterprise.
“When in 1847, the American Colonization Society handed over power to the people of Liberia, the constitution brought the Republic into being,” he noted.
In time, Prof. Adesina said the political alignment centered around ‘race’: Americo-Liberian mulattoes versus dark-skinned immigrants.
But as more native lands were annexed, he said it became necessary to give native children formal education so they could play more roles as integrated members of the nation.
He explained that President Daniel Warner, the third President, helped in the spread of education into the hinterland.
“Even then, post-elementary education remained for a long time the privilege of the children of the Americo-Liberians.”
He said the former slaves’ sophistication in diet, deportment, and dress ran counter to the demands of Christian humility, and their evangelical initiatives conflicted with loyalty to new missionary patrons.
Moreover, he said, their rejection of the uncivilized ‘other’ ran counter to the demands of Christian fellowship.
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