I am reading a book that is all about the first US missionaries who came to Upper West, Gold Coast (Ghana) in the late 1930s. I shall post the salient points as a series over the next week for your interest. It is absolutely fascinating as it all takes place in towns and villages I know and all within the last 82 years. If the dates were removed from the text I would imagine the lives described here were lived in the far distant past. It’s not only the transport, or total lack of it, that leads me to feel that, but the fact that there were no schools, health care, nor any infrastructure at all in this region. I can appreciate how much development has taken place here in that relatively short time. I am hoping I shall not be so hasty in making judgements about the things I see and hear following this enlightenment.
The local Chiefs still have considerable influence over their people, but in 1930 it was absolute, bearing in mind the distance from Accra and the transport possibilities. Most people would walk most of that journey. The spirits of their ancestors and the influence of fetish priests were even more revered by the villagers and they believed that these spirits controlled their lives at all levels. Sacrifices to the spirits were a constant necessity and the messages received were acted upon without question. The ways of the ancestors were in opposition to the ways of God and this caused most of the challenge for local people and the missionaries. The early reaction of the Chiefs was anger, even though their feelings were, in fact, fear and desperation for the loss of the “old ways”. (How often has that been the case through history across the world?) However, in some families all the sons of a chief embraced Christianity with or without their father’s blessing. Where there was opposition, the sons went to great lengths to escape their compound and the clutches of the family guards in order to attend instruction and Mass. One son submerged himself in a river so as not to be found and then ran miles to arrive late for a Mass at the Mission.