Colonization of Nigeria

Colonization of Nigeria

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Colonization of Nigeria


The British were not the first to infiltrate Nigeria. They weren’t the second either. First of all, people within Africa have been migrating all over the continent, including Nigeria, way before there was even written record. Also, there has been so much mixing of ethnic groups over the course of time. However, it isn’t all that hard to trace back and find the first evidence of outside infiltration.
External penetration of Nigeria started as early as the 9th century AD when Muslim merchants from western Sudan, Maghreb, Tripolitania and Egypt started traveling across the Sahara with camel caravans in search of trade. Over the course of the next six centuries, Islam became accepted widely in the north, especially among the Hausa and Fulani, and not only as a religion. It also imposed a central government, segregated the sexes, influenced language and script, and established a hierarchical class system that was not there beforehand. Islam did not spread south because of the dense tropical forest that divides Nigeria into north and south. This also caused the two regions to “develop” at different rates because while the south was still alien to Europeans, the north was expanding culturally and economically because of its deep involvement with the trans-Sahara trade routes.
The peoples of the south remained untouched by foreigners until the 1470’s when Portuguese explorers, under the inspiration and guidance of Henry the Navigator, showed up and traded spirits, cloth, guns and gunpowder in return for slaves. The Portuguese did not really have any sort of cultural effect on the indigenous people besides the slowly diminishing population. This is because they rarely traveled farther than the coast, if they even left the ships.
Eventually the British showed up after they realized the profits Portugal was making and what they could get from slavery. By 1712 they had established a slave monopoly along the west coast. Chiefs and African slave traders brought slaves to ship side in exchange for European trinkets. Most of the leading European nations were involved with the slave trade, especially after the discovery of America and the establishment of Spanish colonies in the West Indies, which greatly increased the demand for slaves. Nigeria became known as the “Slave Coast” until the middle of the nineteenth century. Characteristics traceable to Yoruba culture have been found in communities of African descent in Brazil, Cuba and in the West Indies.

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Also, many of the Creoles of Freetown, Sierra Leone, are descendants of early Yoruba freed slaves. Even after the British supposedly abolished slavery in 1807, slavery just stopped becoming an export for them and turned into forced labor to work for cultivating groundnuts, palm oil and ivory. Also, during this “abolishment” is when the Portuguese came back to pick up where the British left off. During the 400 years that the population was being depleted and controlled by Britain, Europe had gone through its agricultural, industrial and intellectual revolutions.
Not only were Europeans interested in the cash value of Africans, but they also wanted their souls. Missionaries, unlike traders, did not just stick to port towns, rail and river lines or commercial centers. They went out of their way to penetrate the most remote parts of Nigeria’s interior. Catholic Missionaries arrived in Benin, which is right next to Nigeria, in 1516 and were there until 1688 but their efforts failed to make a lasting impression. In 1841 missionaries tried again and eventually became successful with many Yoruba people and especially with the Ibo and peoples in the middle belt. It must have been a miracle they were even slightly successful. The preconditions in order to convert go against so many aspects of traditional life. They had to abandon dance, marriage dowry, polygamy, secret societies, ancestor worship, shamanism, semi-nudity, African names and traditional funeral ceremonies. By the end of World War I there were fifteen European and American evangelical groups, consisting of about 600 missionaries and assisted by about 5000 Nigerians, operating in southern Nigeria and in the middle belt and were able to establish about 3000 churches. Apparently missionaries found
Africans to be more appealing than people with globally recognized religions. They felt that, “the exceptional stubbornness of Islam and the strong resistance of Hinduism in India, of Confucianism in China, and Buddhism in Burma, Ceylon, and Japan, made pagan Africa appear especially inviting as a mission field.” It wasn’t the dense forest that kept the missionaries out of the north like it did with the slave merchants. It was the Muslims. The missionaries did help the people a little. The schools they made created an increasing number of educated Nigerians. That would give them an advantage when dealing with Europeans because they would be able to read contracts and all around understand what the British were saying.
While all this was going on, Britain was trying to gain more control over the people and the economy of the country. Naturally, they ran into some resistance. In the south they had to fight many wars, especially with the Ijebu (a Yoruba group), the Aro of eastern Igboland and the Aniocha of western Igboland. The British used forceful tactics and heavy armament against the resistance and destroyed homes, roads and farms. A lot of people resorted to migration instead of dealing with the British as well.
It is interesting how the British were met with so much opposition in the south as well as the north but the conversion to Islam in the north was voluntary. Also, many Nigerians are proud to be apart of the Muslim culture in the north, even if they are from the south because of its historical tradition, distinctive architecture, easily learned and useful language, Islamic faith and because it is an alternative to white European culture. This is probably because the Muslim merchants did not show up with the purpose of wide-range exploitation. They came with the intention of trade. Muslim conversion was gradual and voluntary and spanned over six centuries. Also, I haven’t read anywhere about wars between Muslims and Nigerians. The British were the ones that took people’s land and family members. They were accepted at first, but they betrayed the trust of the people and exploited them for Britain’s gain for 400 years. It is no wonder that they hated the British.
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