Some Gender Implications of the ‘Civilising Mission’ of the Anglican Church for the Acholi Peoples of Northern Uganda
2. Conceptual Framework
3. The Acholi15
4. Anglican Missionaries in Acholiland
4.1. First Contact
I too have longed for teachers to be sent to my country…We heard long ago that the Banyoro and the Baganda had learned to worship the white man’s God, but we too want to be taught to do the same. Do you fear that we should ill-use the teachers you might send to us, that we might become wise? Does the starving man turn away from the food that is brought to him?…and do you think we should mind the destruction of our old and worn-out customs of religion, if you provide us with good food that shall strengthen our souls?
It made one feel ashamed that for all these centuries they had been neglected and left to the mercy of their own idle superstitions and heathenism, while there evidently existed the dormant longing for something better, something that would uplift. And I knew that I held the secret, and I determined, by God’s help, to unfold it to them.(ibid)
4.2. Becoming Anglican
- Where did the Hunchback
- Dig the clay for moulding things,
- The clay for moulding Skyland
- The clay for moulding Earth....?
- Where is the spot
- Where it was dug,
- On the mouth of which River?
4.3. A Civilising Mission
5.1. Pressures to Make Change
5.2. The Influence of European Gender Norms
Conflicts of Interest
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This was the Anglican organisation responsible for the establishment of missions in Uganda.
This was explicitly articulated in Nigeria, for instance, with regard to the coupling of masculinity and breadwinning (Lindsay 2007).
Lloyd (c. 1869–1946) was born in Leicester and trained as a civil engineer. He became a lay missionary in Uganda in 1894, accompanied by his wife. Lloyd first visited Acholiland along with Kitching in 1903 and the following year he helped found the first mission there. He was ordained as a minister of the Anglican Church during World War I. Kitching (1875–1960) was born in London and was ordained as a minister in 1899. He first came to Uganda in 1901 and married Lloyd’s sister in England in 1905, after which they all returned to Acholiland. From 1926–1936, Kitching served as the first Bishop of the Upper Nile Diocese that included Northern Uganda. Meanwhile, he had developed a system of writing for the Acholi language, using this in his translation of the Bible (Cisternino 2004; Kitching 1912, 1935; Lloyd 1906, 1921).
It should be noted that while there are several historical studies of the Acholi people (Atkinson 2010; Crazzolara 1950, 1951, 1954), there are almost no ethnographic accounts. The only one I have been able to find that is relevant to the present topic is that of Girling, who carried out his doctoral research in the late 1950s. His book mentions the influence of the church only very briefly, no doubt because he was not himself involved in church matters (Girling 1960, p. 187). There are a few further descriptions of Acholi rituals in the colonial-period Uganda Journal. For the rest, during colonial times, the Acholi were marginalised in Uganda as indeed they still are. Together with a long-running civil war (1986–2006), this kept scholars away for many years. It has been only relatively recently that studies of this people have started focusing on topics other than the war. Studies of the CMS in Uganda mostly ignore the Upper Nile Diocese and northern Uganda (e.g., Dimock 2017).
See her letter about them to her sons in note 31, for instance.
These were later combined with the newly introduced notion of gender to form what I have termed a gender-age system (Harris 2012a).
This does not mean there was no sexual division of labour in Africa but rather that it was not based on an understanding of human physiology as inherently biologically fixed and dictating social performance, as by this time had come to be the case in Europe (Harris 2016).
As does Lawrance for the Iteso of eastern Uganda (Lawrance 1957).
The Yoruba, for instance, called theirs ‘customs of the country’ (Peel 2000, p. 90).
“The African… saw the church as a necessary ladder to power and material gain. Status in the new colonial regime and riches in the form of money, to supplement his other form of wealth: goats, sheep and cattle… Power, status and wealth were the main attractions of the Christian missionary at the height of the colonial regime. It was not salvation from sin that attracted the African to the altar” (p’Bitek 1986, pp. 66–67).
Much later, Keith Russell made it clear that this must have been Lloyd’s own interpretation of what the chief said, since it could in no way have been what he actually expressed, given that he could have had no grasp of the notion of religion and thus of souls and that he would never have equated his ‘clan rituals’ with religion (Russell 1966, p. 3). In other words, Lloyd is rewriting the chief’s speech so as to legitimise the conversion attempts in Acholiland for his readers. Alternatively, this wording might have arisen from the slant that the interpreter put on the chief’s words so as to bring it more into line with what he understood of the white men’s thinking, given the likelihood that he was himself a Christian convert. See also Section 4.2.
Alternatively spelled Rubanga.
Lawino and Ocol were apparently closely modelled on the author’s own parents (p’Bitek 1972).
A similar reduction was registered for the Acholi’s near neighbours, the Lango over the same years.
Adapted by Cisternino from Fr. Daniel Comboni’s ‘Plan for the regeneration of Africa’.
Quoted from a 1907 CMS report by the Reverend Pleydell, now in the CMS archives.
A similar situation appears to have occurred in Yorubaland, where male converts complained of being unable to find Christian women to marry (Oyěwùmí 1997, p. 128ff).
When in one of the villages where I worked, a local Acholi started a new Pentecostal church that banned all customary rites and rituals, this only succeeded because most of its congregation consisted of youths who had been denied the chance to learn about their own customs through having been raised in the camps and because the church provided compensatory rituals. The one custom they were unable to do away with was the payment of bride price, which the pastor had decided to integrate into their wedding ceremonies.
This was a very common attitude among missionaries of the time wherever they worked, all appearing convinced that true Christians must wear appropriate clothing to prevent their engaging in immoral behaviour (cf. Gaitskell 2003, p. 136).
Just as the wearing of long skirts in Victorian times made an exposed ankle appear sexy.
Even today, no Acholi marriage is legal without it. After all, the entire clan-based land-tenure system depends on it (cf. Arnfred 2011).
It is hardly surprising that even today, while many men cannot afford, and more educated urban residents may not want, more than one wife, polygyny remains an ideal everywhere I have been in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the northern Ugandan villages where I worked, most young Acholi men married a second wife as soon as they could manage it, even if they were already too poor to educate their children by their first wife. Christian men in central Uganda insisted this practice was legitimate because “we are Africans”, and a group of Christian youths I worked with in Kaduna, Nigeria insisted—“[a] man that has [only] one wife they call him a fool and he cannot help the community”.
In England at that time, such work was frowned upon for respectable women (Davidoff and Hall 2002).
In a letter to her sons at school in England written in 1913 as she and her husband were preparing to move to Gulu, Ruth Fisher writes: “King George’s soldiers out here have just been out to fight some very savage people that live not very far from us. They are very cruel, they will not do any work; but when a man wants some meat he steals a goat from his neighbor’s herd, and when he wants a servant he steals a little girl or boy, and when he wants to marry he waits about on the road and carries off the first woman he sees” (Cisternino 2004, p. 376). This nonsense was presumably based on rumours flying around among the British and totally disregards not only Kitching and Lloyd’s favourable opinion of the Acholi whose lives they had observed in some detail but also the far more savage and cruel behaviour towards the rebels of “King George’s soldiers”, an invading force that caused the death of numerous African women and children as well as of men (Whitmore 2013, pp. 12–13).
It was in great part to facilitate this that the Mothers’ Union was created to bring together Anglican women and teach them appropriate domesticity and overall gender performance (Prevost 2010, chp. 4).
The limitations this last imposed may in fact have facilitated conversion to Christianity for Africans who had moved away from their places of origin and who were thus unable to benefit from their customary rituals.
Although later women missionaries in central Uganda did try to raise the status of Christian women within the church there (Prevost 2010).
See note 31.
Personal communication from Professor George Openjuru of Gulu University.
© 2017 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Harris, C. Some Gender Implications of the ‘Civilising Mission’ of the Anglican Church for the Acholi Peoples of Northern Uganda. Religions 2017, 8, 245. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110245
Harris C. Some Gender Implications of the ‘Civilising Mission’ of the Anglican Church for the Acholi Peoples of Northern Uganda. Religions. 2017; 8(11):245. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110245Chicago/Turabian Style
Harris, Colette. 2017. "Some Gender Implications of the ‘Civilising Mission’ of the Anglican Church for the Acholi Peoples of Northern Uganda" Religions 8, no. 11: 245. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110245