Christian Missionaries: Cameroon

Figure 1.--Here an Adventist mission school is participating in Cameroon's independence celebration (1960).

. Christianity and Islam are the country's two dominant religions. Christian churches and Muslim mosques can be found throughout the country and there is a gradition of religious tolerance. About 70 percent of the population is to some degree Christian and 20 percent Muslim. Traditional religions are still practived. There is a north/south religious divide between Christians and Muslims, the general pattern between in West Africa. Protetants dominate the east toward Nigeria and Catholics the west toward Gabon. Although Europeans reached the area very early (late-15th century), there was no real effort to convert the local population for several centuries. Unlike the Spanish conquest of the Americas there was no effort to conquer the area or move inland. The focus of the Portuguese was to miove further south to open trading routes to the East. The Prtuguese and subsequent Europeans did set up coastal trading posts. The most valuable commodity became slaves with the development of the Trans-Alantic slave trade. The first Christian missionaries to reach Cameroon were from the London Baptist Missionary society (LBMS) (1845). The Baptists along with the Quakers and Methodists were the heart of the British Abolitionist Movement. The abolitionist effort was a Christian effort. There was no comparable Islamic movement. At the time the LBMS were very concened with ending the slave trade and the British Royal Navy had done a great deal toward achieving that goal. hile the Royal Navy worked at sea, the LBMS in the Cameroons worked to cut off the supply of captives reaching the coast. They were also of course there to spread the message of the Gospel. The missionaries were part of a wider influx of European merchants and explorers looking for business oppotynities and raw materials. The first LBMS missionaries were led by Alfred Saker aling with some West Indian Baptist preachers mainly from Jamaica which until a decade earlier has been largely a colony based on slave labor. Saker ordained Joseph Merrick whose short but outstanding activities in the work of evangelization earned him the title of “founder of Christianity in Cameroon”. Another important LBMS missionary was Joseph Jackson Fuller who worked along with Joseph Merrick and Alfred Saker. Saker ordained the first ever-Cameroonian pastor, George Nkwe, a native Bamelieke (1866). The American Presbyterians followed the Baptists and togerher the planted seeds of Christianity in Cameroon. By this time the European Scramble for Africa had begun. The Germans began colonzing the region (1880s). The Protestant effort was taken over by the German Baptists and the German Basel missionaries. At the same time Catholic misionaries began working in Cameroon (1883). Fathers Davezac and Bichet (Holy Ghost Missionaries) from Gabon came to Cameroon in search of new lands to convert. The effort failed because German Protestant missionaries were now dominant and German authorities were supicious of the French. Chncellor Bismarck had a particular antipathy toward the Jesuits and associated orders. A few years later German Catholic missionaries opened the first successful Catholic mission (1890). Mgr Henri Vieter and a group of German missionaries reached Cameroon. They celebrated their first mass at Marienberg where they opened a mission. . These missionaries played an important role in founding the country's education system. Both the Catholic and Protestant missionaries opened missions and schools. Most of the early missions were located along the coast and the missionaroes then gradually move inland. The opening of schools was a factor in competition which developed between the Catholic and Protestant missionaries. At the time, colonial officials did not found a chool system for Africans. One source reports, "In 1910, there were about 11,000 pupils and three years later, 22,000." [Sundkler and Steed, p. 266.] Missionaries used education as a tool that was used to promote Christianity. Here the British were particularly active after World War I. Most of the early rulers at independence wre taught in mission schools. At the time of independence, Cmeroon had one of the largest school systems in Africa.


Sundkler, Bengt and Christopher Steed. A History of the Church in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2000).


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Created: 2:54 AM 5/24/2012
Last updated: 2:54 AM 5/24/2012