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The Socio Economic Effects Of The Missionary Activities History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The purpose of this historical investigation is to answer the research question What were the socio-economic effects of missionary activities among the Taita people of Kenya from 1840 to 1900?”

This topic was chosen after a recent newspaper coverage on the caves in now abandoned caves in Taita, in a bid to find out why the caves were there initially and why they are now abandoned.

This question will be answered using the following texts as the two sources and other evidence encountered during the investigation.

Casting out Anger: Religion among the Taita in Kenya – Grace Gredys Harris.

Secondary Christian Religious Education: Form 2 Pupils’ Book- Ruth M. Kerre and Shiphrah N. Gichaga

I will then look at the defining aspects of the community such as religion, culture, tradition, economic and political organisation before missionary influence, and the changes after, after which I will conclude by answering the research question based on my findings on how influential missionaries were in the changes in the socio-economic organisation of the Taita community.

SECTION B: SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE

Believed in no specific religion but in the presence of both good and evil spirits and a vague belief in a higher being known as Mlungu. [1] 

Bodies of the dead were exhumed after a year of burial to retrieve the skull which was taken to the sacred ancestral cave. [2] 

There were no doctors or religious leaders, everything pertaining to health and religion was handled by the Mghanga (Medicine Man). [3] 

The Taita believed in worshipping ancestors at the caves, as all blessings came from them. [4] 

Music and dance was considered a unifying factor and a popular ‘Pepo’ (Spirit) dance called Mwazindika was performed during ceremonies. [5] 

The first Missionaries arrived in East Africa in the fifteenth century and were joined by other missionaries in the nineteenth century. These were David Livingstone (East and Central Africa), Ludwig Krapf, Johann Rebmann and Jacob Erhardt (Specifically Kenya). [6] 

The missionaries came to spread Christianity and to counter spread Islam, civilise Africans and spread Western Culture, to fight slave trade, to encourage legitimate trade and to explore Africa. [7] 

The reaction to the missionaries from the Taita people were faced with many problems when carrying out their duties. They had conflicts with nationalists, there was opposition to missionary work by the slave dealers, there were inadequate supplies of material, they faced transport problems in the hilly Taita terrain, there was hostility from the local communities , opposition from Muslims at the coast, they had inadequate personnel, there was rivalry between different missionary groups and they faced tropical diseases which they did not know how to deal with. [8] 

“Africans did not just sit watching helplessly as religious barbs were aimed at them” [9] The reaction from the locals to the missionaries was negative as they did not find it necessary that strangers with different behaviors, looks and belief systems which they were trying to impart to the Taita.

The missionaries activities also succeeded because they did not have a strong opposition, they received support from African converts, the development of railways and roads eased communication, the discovery of cures to diseases such as malaria reduced the risk of falling ill, Christian stability appealed to many, the missionaries brought political stability through the teachings and there were many churches emerging. [10] 

The missionaries left having abolished slavery, introducing modern medicine, influencing farming patterns and crops among the Taita, abolished slavery and establishes independent churches. [11] 

SECTION C: EVALUATION OF SOURCES:

SOURCE 1: Casting out Anger: Religion among the Taita in Kenya — Grace Gredys Harris.

This source is written by Grace Gredys Harris, a professor of Anthropology and Religion at the University of Rochester. She focused her study on the Taita people of Kenya for 30 years. [12] 

The purpose of this book is to give information on the effect of missionary influence on the religion among the Taita community in the early 1900’s.

This source is valuable because it gives a detailed account on the missionary influence in Taita in the 19th and 20th century by a scholar who had spent over 30 years studying the Taita. This source is valuable to my research because it is specific to the Taita community in relation to religion and how it has changed over time, through heavy influence of missionaries. “As one journeys from Mombasa by road or rail to the interior of Kenya… ” This sentence in the first chapter of Grace’s book adds value to the source as it shows that she did her study in the Taita community personally and it adds value to her information.

The limitation of this source is that it does not focus on any other aspect the missionaries may have influenced besides religion, thus being if no value when researching on Social and economic organisation. Also, the author is an anthropologist and not a historian. This may bias her judgment on the investigation and she is not part of the Taita community so she may have relied on secondary information. Lastly, another limitation is that the author focuses her study on all three Taita clans and is not specific to the Taita clan, but to all three sub clans.

SOURCE 2: Secondary Christian Religious Education: Form 2 Pupils’ Book- Ruth M. Kerre and Shiphrah N. Gichaga

The origin of the book Secondary Christian Religious Education: Form 2 Pupils book first published in 1997 by Ruth M. Kerre and Shiphrah N. Gichaga who are lecturers at Kenyatta University and Pwani University respectively. There is no other available information regarding the academic credentials of the authors.

It appears that the author’s purpose is to educate secondary school students on the spread of Christianity in the nineteenth century and Christian living today in Africa.

This source is valuable because it has been written by university lecturers and because it gives an overview of everything missionaries did, the challenges they faced, what they accomplished and how they changed the socio-economic organisation of various communities in the nineteenth century.

The limitation of this source is that it was first published in 1997, long after the missionary arrival and departure therefore, most of the information in it may be secondary data rather that first hand experiences from witnesses. Also, the source is not specific to the Taita community and is more general to missionary activities in Africa. Lastly, there is not much information regarding the authors’ in the book itself and on other sources, thus it is difficult to determine what point of view they would be writing the book in.

Both sources are reliable in that they both have invaluable information on the missionary influence on the Taita people. On one hand, Casting Out Anger was written by a British anthropologist who had devoted 30 years of her life studying the evolution and effect of religion in relation to the missionary activities of the nineteenth century on the Taita community. Thus Casting Out Anger may be more reliable because it falls in her area of specialisation. On the other hand, The book Christian Religious Education is written by two university lecturers ergo, there is limited information given in the book and on other sources on the authors of this book, it is difficult to determine how reliable they are; especially in comparison to Grace Gredys Harris.

SECTION D: ANALYSIS OF EVIDENCE

Religion among the Taita before missionary influence revolved around the spirits of the ancestors. These spirits and gods were called upon when ‘bad luck’, such as volcanic eruptions struck the community. They believed it was a sign that the spirits were unhappy with them. Illnesses were believed to be cured by ‘miti shamba’ (herbs) prescribed by the Mghanga During and after the missionary activities, the Taita people stopped visiting the Mghanga. “They began visiting the pharmacies and neglecting the Mghanga” [13] In the 1860’s, the missionaries had won the locals over and they abandoned visiting the medicine man because they were convinced of more modern ways of working and the missionaries were proof to the working of the modern medicines and not the herbal medicine. In addition, the locals stopped trading slaves and began trading crops instead. Furthermore, the missionaries introduced formal education, new crops abolition of slavery and independent churches to the community. [14] On the other hand, the Taita’s suffered a great loss. According to L T Muliro et. al “African traditions were challenged” [15] For the Taita community, song and dance were their most important cultural symbols and they believed that when the traditional drums were played and they danced, they were possessed by the ‘pepo’ spirit. The missionaries changed this and in turn, the Mwazindika dance to date is only performed during ceremonies where the Taita culture is being showcased and not during the usual ceremonies in which it was previously performed.

The first missionaries were Catholic and Anglican. They were later joined by other denominations. These missionary societies facilitated spreading the gospel. [16] 

Along with music and dance, death was sacred. They believed that when someone dies, they should be buried only for a year after which the body is exhumed and the skull detached and taken to a sacred cave so that the deceased may have their ‘proper’ abode with the ancestors [17] . This ritual was a sign of respect accorded to the deceased.

When the Catholic and Anglican missionaries and arrived in Taita circa 1840, their aim was to spread Christianity among the locals and convert them from their traditional beliefs.. This was difficult because of factors such as language and literacy and language barriers. The missionaries spoke English while the locals spoke Kitaita or Kiswahili. This forced the missionaries to learn Kiswahili. One of the reasons it was very easy for missionaries to “change” the Taitas cultural beliefs is because the Taitas do not have s structured society, it is loose and that made it easier for Western culture be instilled in them. [18] 

The first missionaries to arrive in Taita were the Holy Ghost Fathers from the Catholic and Anglican Churches. They built mission stations at Bura and Wusi, towns in the region. [19] Since then, people are Christian or Muslims and the traditional religion does not exist anymore. Along with religion, the missionaries educated the locals and modernised many of their practices. Schools, with the help of colonialists were built and formal education in this community was born. Some of the previously practiced traditions and cultures are no longer practiced, Nevertheless, some aspects like male circumcision and agriculture have not been abandoned as others have, but have been developed.

SECTION E: CONCLUSION

The missionaries brought many positive changes to the region thus it was easy introduce Christianity to the region. The missionaries began their work circa 1840 and it continued until around the 1950’s, before the country got independence. As much as this was a great change in the community, it had its disadvantages because the Taita people lost many of their cultural values and today, many of the Taita people, especially those in urban areas know very little about their traditional beliefs. Their dressing, farming skills, eating habits, religious views and traditions are just but a few of the aspects the missionaries modernised. This was possible because they spent a lot of time interacting with the locals and this exposed them to modern practices and enabled development to take place. This drastically changed their socio-economic organisation positively and brought modernisation to the Taita’s.


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