Christianity in the Niger delta area

By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
• discuss how Christianity got to Delta area
• enumerate the benefits that Christianity brought to the people of Delta
• describe the negative attitude of Jaja to the growth of Christianity in Delta area.

Christianity in Bonny 

In 1864, Christianity got to the Niger Delta area. Mission stations were 
established in Bonny, in 1864, Brass in 1868, Calabar in 1874 and Okrika in 1880. The people were responsible for the expenses of the Missionaries that were stationed in their areas. They did this in order for the Missionaries to educate their children whom they believed would be 
enlightened to boost their commercial trades in the future. Besides, the land of Bonny which was known for violence became very peaceful as a result of Christians’ involvement in the political and social affairs of the city. The establishment of the Christian Mission in the area encouraged King William Pepple who was the ruler of Bonny land between 1835 and 1867. He then appealed to the Presbyterian Mission in Edinburgh 1848 to come to his kingdom andestablish a Mission station He and his chiefs volunteered to support the educational programmes which they wanted the Missionaries to embarked on in the area. Furthermore between 1849 and 1860, the King offered to pay the annual salaries of 
the Missionaries worth five hundred pounds in order to encourage them to spread the Gospel in his land. However, the Presbyterian Missionaries turned down the offer because the Bonny people did not agree to abandon their traditional religion. Again in 1864, King William Pepple approached Samuel Ajayi Crowther who was in charge of the Niger 
Mission to open a Mission Station in Bonny area. In 1867, Crowther accepted the invitation of the King and he established a Mission Station in Bonny. The religion of Christianity dominated other religions in the area. This however led the opposition groups especially the Manilla Pepple to cause civil war in the area. The civil war took place between 
1869 and 1873. The Manilla Pepple wagged war against the Annie Pepples who had accepted Christianity and also controlled the political affairs of the area. But the Christian groups had the upper hand over the Manillas and this made Jaja fled Bonny. Among the people who had 
accepted Christianity in the area were Oko Jumbo and the Annie Pepple people. They were very devoted to their new religion and thus incurred the hatred of the non-Christians in the area. Despite their hatred Oko Jumbo submitted himself to learning, reading and writing. He went about reading the Bible even in Qua Ibo market, the famous oil trade area. His action of reading the Bible in the public places indicated that he supported the spread of Christianity in Bonny area. Oko sponsored 
thirteen pupils in the boarding school at a cost of one hundred and fifty six pounds. In addition to this, he also built a tower for the Church bell in Bonny. 

The Contribution of King George Pepple I to the Spread of Christianity in Bonny

Jumbo further championed the campaign on stopping the killing of twins in Bonny in 1868. Jaja was against the Christians for preaching against the sacrifice of the iguanas, that is, the big lizard to the idol of the land. 
So, he persecuted the Christians in the land. However, the Missionaries 
did protect the family of Manilla Pepple by providing shelter for them in the mission house. But the people of Jaja, they had no protector for this reason, they were killed in the civil war. Jaja saw Bishop Ajayi Crowther as his enemy therefore, would not welcome him and other Christians in the new land named Opobo which he had relocated after escaped from Bonny.
In 1867, King George Pepple I became the King of Bonny. He was an adherent of the Anglican Church in Bonny land. He encouraged the citizens to abandon their traditional religion for Christianity. He also 
encouraged them to adopt the white man’s dressing. George Pepple had his formal education in England where he was converted into Christianity. He also accepted the White man civilization which he introduced to his people in Bonny Kingdom. He kicked against elonging to secret society while he was on the throne in the land. He encouraged his subjects to serve the living God instead of idols of the 
land. George avoided the taking of oaths and performing of the traditional rites in the land. Instead, he kept to his Christian faith [Ayandele pp.78-79]. He also replaced their traditional constitution with 
the Christian constitution. George gave the citizens equal rights and gave slaves freedom in the land of Bonny. He also taught Sunday School Children on Sundays in Bonny. In 1881 he was appointed the 
Finance Committee member of the Niger Mission. He seek political advice from the Missionaries instead of the traditional chiefs of Bonny land. He was hated by the chiefs for these actions. He patronized 
Missionaries in order to liberate his people from ignorance and superstitious beliefs. All Christians in the land enjoyed brotherhood, freedom, individual rights, justice and honour that were lacking during the reign of Jaja.
Under Jaja, slaves were badly fed and ill-treated. For example, according to Ayandele, slave masters had power of life and death over them. The ruling house denied slaves many liberties such as freedom of speech and inheritance marriage. 
However, in 1901, Lord Lugard, the Governor of the Niger area, enacted 
a law that abolished unjust practices in the land. The outcome of the presence of the Missionaries in the Niger Delta area indicated that the acceptance of Christianity by slaves in the area saved them from the humiliation of the ruling house. Christians in the area became the most useful and law-abiding citizens of the land. According to Ayandele, they 
were industrious and they practiced the principles of their faith and they 
were found more trustworthy than the non-Christians. In the Niger Delta area, Christianity provided a social leveler for the citizens. For example, slaves were treated equally with their chiefs and the children of chiefs and slaves attended the same school, they sat together in the 
same class room to learn and worship in the same Church. However, in 1883, the Church Missionary Society tried to make Bonny the headquarters of the Niger Mission thinking that Bishop Ajayi Crowther and the European Missionaries would leave in the area. The chiefs of the 
land put the case before King Jaja who advised them to reject the offer 
for it would pave way for the British to colonize them. But George pressed the chiefs to allow the Missionaries to establish in the area. 
However, he was accused by Jaja that he had interest in the issue because he was given one thousand pounds by the Missionaries as bribe. For the wrong notion which Jaja had against the establishment of the mission station in the land, he advised the chiefs to send away African Missionaries including Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther. The chiefs therefore sent away Bishop Crowther from their land. 
Consequently, Bishop Crowther relocated to Brass and established a Mission station.

Discuss the roles of some chiefs in the planting of Christianity in Delta.


The people of Delta invited the Missionaries to their area to plant 
Christianity in various places. As a result, they welcomed the 
Missionaries to their land. They also contributed to the welfare of the 
Missionaries voluntarily. For instance, King William Pepple supported 
the Presbyterian to establish Mission station and schools in the area. 
Some of the chiefs believed in Jesus Christ. They allowed their children 
to receive formal education from the Schools that were established by 
the Missionaries. However, Jaja kicked against the Missionaries for his 
selfishness. You have also learnt that Ajayi Crowther was sent away from the area. He later relocated to Brass where he established a Mission station.


The following are the major points you have learnt in this unit:
• The people of Delta invited some Missionaries to establish various Mission stations in the area.
• The people of Delta aided the Missionaries with finance to pay their workers. Many schools were established by the Missionaries in the area as means of converting them into Christianity. 
• Some of the pupils were also used to interpret the gospel to people in the Niger Delta.
• Later the Missionaries were persecuted by some chiefs in the area in order to achieve their selfish ends. 
• The persecution became a blessing to the spread of the Gospel to 
other areas, such as Brass area.

1. Christianity brought progress to Delta people. Discuss.
2. Why did Jaja persecute the Missionaries?

Ayandele, E.A. (1966).The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria, 
1842-1914: A Political and Social Analysis, London: Longman. 
Ajayi, J.F. (1965). Christian Missions in Nigeria, 1841-1891: The 
Making of a New Elite, London: Longman.

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