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Réaction sur l´article "Douala, ville d´Alfred Saker" 

Je voudrais reagir a l´article "Douala, ville d´Alfred Saker" dans la rubrique Tourisme (Douala: presentation generale). Je trouve qu´il est un peu trop elogieux envers Alfred Saker. Autant le personnage est un element central du developpement de Douala et des missions protestantes au Cameroun par la longue periode qu´il a vecue en terre camerounaise, autant il fut vivement critique par un missionnaire ecossais Alexander Finnes. On reprochait a Saker d´etre brutal envers les populations locales, de detourner les fonds des missions et de s´enorgueiller de traductions (Bible en Douala) qui, en fait, sont en tres grande partie l´oeuvre des misionnaires noires (Jamaicains et autres anciens esclaves) qui l´entouraient.
Ceci est relate sur le site de la Baptist World Alliance Heritage: . Vous trouverez en piece jointe les extraits relatant cet episode (texte en caractere gras).

Thecla Mbongue

Background and Development of the Work in Cameroon

During their first year on Fernando Po, Clarke and Prince contacted Duala chiefs along the Wouri River estuary and King William of Bimbia. Probably due to the presence of Portuguese or Spanish slave ships in the area, King William received them in a cautious manner. On a later visit he was less co-operative. He told Prince, "he and his head people had had enough of God´s palaver; that he would not interrupt their trading by repeating the call for assembling them, nor would they obey it. He frankly said that he had other business, and that he indulged himself with his women (MH 33 December 1841: 672)."

In 1844 Merrick found King William more accommodating (MH 36 September 1844: 484-87). The following year, Merrick initiated work along the coast, opening a station among the Isubu of Bimbia and two stations at Aqua Town and Bell Town along the Wouri River estuary. Unaware of difficulties that made the river largely unnavigable, he hoped that the system of creeks might ultimately provide access to the interior. However, Merrick´s first task was to "prepare the way for the preaching of the gospel among the Isubu and the Dualas." This he did by forming churches and schools and learning the Isubu and Duala languages. A gifted linguist, he soon was able to preach in both tongues. He arranged to print some texts and scripture (Clarke, 1850; Aka).

Recognized as the pioneer of Christian work in Cameroon, Merrick´s sojourn was brief. In October 1849, he died at sea on his way to Jamaica. However, his contribution endured through the excellence of his linguistic work. Among those who pioneered the work at Bimbia was Alexander Fuller, a "worthy man--a native of Jamaica, but in parentage and complexion an African, himself a fruit of missionary labour." He too died prematurely on April 23, 1847.(10) It remained for missionary son Joseph Jackson Fuller to carry on his work. Alfred Saker wrote, "I cannot speak too highly of brother Fuller´s zeal and devotedness. He had indeed clutched with a firm hand the sword which his father dropped on his dying bed, and by his superior intelligence and knowledge of the native tongue promises to be still more efficient than his sainted father" (MH, 1849:326; E. M. Saker, 1929: 118-19).

Much of the credit for securing the work at Cameroon belongs to Fuller. Initially, he moved to Bimbia where he ran the station´s print shop and bindery. When Merrick died, Fuller based himself at Douala where he taught, supervised printing operations and did itinerating work. In 1858, when the Baptists transferred their work to Victoria from Fernando Po, Fuller conducted most of the negotiations with King William.(11) Ordained in 1858, Fuller served in the field until 1888. In 1881 he completed a translation into Duala of Bunyan´s Pilgrim´s Progress. Between 1884-1888, Fuller supervised the transfer of the mission to the Basel Mission Society. During forty years of service, Fuller provided a stable Christian presence.

In addition to Merrick and Fuller, African converts provided leadership at Bimbia, Victoria and Douala. Thomas Horton Johnson, the first African baptized by Saker, was an ex-slave who moved from Fernando Po to the Cameroon mainland in 1849. In 1855, Johnson was ordained and given charge of a congregation of fifty members. He baptized the first Duala Christian, Bekima Bile, who took the Christian name Smith. In 1866, when Johnson died, a Jamaican-born BMS missionary Francis Pinnock described him as follows,
He was a truly good man, and was especially remarkable for his patience and forbearance, and love of peace. Some twenty years of his life were devoted to the service of Christ and of the society, the greater part of which time was spent at Cameroons, where he was mainly instrumental in the formation of the Church there. . . . his family consists of a widow, a son 11 or 12 years old; and three grandsons, the oldest of whom is about the same age as that of his uncle.(12)

Freed West Indians and Africans such as Fuller and Johnson formed a cohesive group at Victoria and Douala. In effect, they were cultural intermediators, middlemen and women who concretely embodied the ideals of the BMS. They created two model Christian villages best described as theocracies. In addition to their BMS responsibilities, they helped establish a prospering system of plantations of cash crops, including some introduced from Jamaica. They provided European trading firms mundane services such as translation and printing. Though they learned African languages, they used English routinely in the schools and in worship. In theory, they were equal to the British missionaries. In practice, the BMS did not treat them as such, as their salaries indicated: in 1863, Saker received 250 pounds. By contrast, Fuller received 125 pounds. Johnson received 100 pounds.(13)

Among early Cameroonian converts, two stood out: Joshua Dibundu and George Etonde Nkwe, co-pastors of the large Bonaku congregation by the 1870s. A freed slave probably from the Bamileke interior, Nkwe was a charter member of a school Merrick opened in 1845 in Douala for former slaves. Subsequently, Nkwe played a role similar to that of Fuller and Johnson. He aided in the translation of the Duala Bible. In 1888, at the time of the transfer of the BMS holdings to the Basel Mission Society, Nkwe received recognition as a former pastor of the Bethel congregation. As a middleman and trader, he gained a reputation for healing many disputes amongst the Duala. As for Dibundu, he played a leadership role in the Bethel congregation at Duala and succeeded Nkwe as pastor. In 1888, he led a revolt against the imposition of Basel Mission Society authority and established an independent Native Baptist Church (Osteraas 1972:36; Joseph, 1980:9; Barrett, 1968:25).

Despite the importance of the contribution of African and Jamaican converts, Alfred Saker was the key figure in the mission. Trained and recruited as a millwright, naval draughtsman and engineer, Saker proved to be the most durable of the British Baptists to serve in West Africa. In addition to pastoral work, at Victoria Saker served, in effect, as governor of a Christian colony (Victoria Rules and Regulations).

Saker´s first challenge was to supervise the removal of the Christian community from Fernando Po to Victoria. By January 1859, Saker was able to report that the process was complete. "My heart is joyous indeed for my heavy toil in removing from Clarence is over ... God has opened a wide door at Victoria, Amboize Bay ... its swelling hills and noble mountain range tell of freedom, fertility and health (Victoria, Southern Cameroons 1858-1958 20)."
Despite this success, a controversy that would dog Saker throughout much of the balance of his career surfaced. Alexander Innes, a Scots recruit from Liverpool, arrived at Victoria. Within months, Innes was protesting Saker´s cruel behavior towards black colleagues, mistreatment of natives, and mishandling of mission funds. This was not the first time that a missionary found himself in conflict with Saker, nor was it the first time that serious charges had been directed against Saker. Earlier, Thomas Horton, a Duala convert, and sixteen others had complained of harsh treatment at the hands of Saker. The BMS had to take such complaints seriously. It named a committee of inquiry that responded by recalling Innes for consultations. The sub-committee interviewed Innes in February 1860 and reported to the BMS. The BMS reassured Saker of its support and dismissed Innes. At the same time, the committee suggested to Saker that he consider modifying the manner by which he treated natives.

These actions did not end the affair. Saker´s conduct continued to arouse suspicion. In 1862, Innes published a pamphlet repeating his charges. Innes claimed that Saker´s translation efforts were overrated, and that much of the credit belonged to Merrick and Fuller. He further stated that these activities were a waste since the Bibles did not find their way into the hands of the people. Finally, he accused Saker of running a slave establishment. Instead of devoting himself to mission work, Saker was, in the words of Innes, "a complete tyrant" engaged in secular work and monopolizing the legitimate trade of the nations (Innes, 1862:6).

Twice, in 1864 and 1869 the BMS recalled Saker to London. Finally, it sent a delegation headed by Edward Bean Underhill, BMS secretary from 1849 to 1876, to investigate first-hand the situation in Cameroon. The sudden death of Underhill´s wife in Cameroon undermined any expectation that Underhill could conduct a thorough inquiry. In the end, the committee cleared Saker of most of the charges (MH 62 May 1870): 333-36). This did not placate Innes. He published a second, scathing attack on Saker (Innes, 1895).
Scholars have reviewed the case (Ardener 1968:9-11, Stanley 1992:110-14).(14) For our purposes, the missiological aspect of the Innes-Saker controversy is of interest. Innes, who held up the three-self policy and the centrality of native agents, compared Saker unfavorably with Merrick, a "much beloved and respected" evangelist, and Dibundu, a "self-denying" model for other African Christians. Again in contrast with Saker, Innes stressed the effective evangelical outreach of native Cameroonian Baptists who established eighteen new mission stations, with a schoolmaster and a preacher at almost every one in the aftermath of partition (Innes 1895:59).

In short, Innes made a striking case that Saker´s secular activities undermined the specifically religious mandate of early BMS policy, which emphasized preaching, teaching and translating. Innes challenged the integrity and worth of three alleged achievements of Saker: Bible translation, printing work and the creation of Victoria. According to Innes, credit for each of these rested, with Merrick and Fuller, even though Innes faulted each at some point (Innes 1895:9-15).

For his part, Saker was the architect of a model Christian village of which he was governor. In part an entrepreneur, Saker established the mission because he afforded access to converts to the benefits of encroaching European rule. In part a survivor, he maintained the mission through force of will and personality. Reflecting discouragement with the results of the native agency, the BMS sanctioned Saker´s secular work and surrounded him with young missionaries who would be the primary agent in propagating the gospel in the interior. Among his secular work was exploration and some scientific work (Burton, 1863).

In 1870, in his report exonerating Saker, Underhill reflected two emerging trends: first, a shift in mission theory from the three-self policy to support for western commercial interests and western civilization as the foundation for a Christian society; and second, a push to open the interior. The appointment and practice of new recruits, notably George Grenfell (1849-1906; served in Cameroon 1875-1878) and Thomas Lewis (1859-1929; served in Cameroon 1883-1886) confirmed these trends. They opened the interior to the Gospel, rather than native evangelists. They represented civilization to the unchurched rather than the emerging native elite. They championed the expansion of empire, as the following excerpts from their biographies indicate. In 1877, Grenfell wrote: "The prejudice against adopting anything like the habits of civilized countries, is jealously fostered by the Ngambi men or witch-doctors. This state of affairs would be quite altered upon British occupation. Civilization would be at a premium then, and the people not afraid of mending their habits" (Hawker, 1909:86; cf.. Stanley, 1997). As for Lewis, he did not oppose about German annexation of Cameroon in 1884. He wrote, "The military rule did not commend itself to many of us, but after all Africans can with advantage do with some discipline, and the government under the guidance of Baron von Sodan was altogether to the good ... I found him very favourable to our work as missionaries" (Lewis, 1930:79).

Grenfell and Lewis reflected a more aggressive BMS policy that had, as its principal motive the rapid penetration of the interior of Africa by European missionaries. With a goal of establishing stations in the Cameroon interior Grenfell and another new missionary Thomas Comber concentrated their attention on exploring the Wouri River.(15) When the Duala stymied their plans, they responded quickly to the promise of a new field, the Congo.
As for Lewis, he reflected the complacency of the English and assumed the senior missionary was governor of a colony under English protection. He was unprepared for the circumstances by which, in 1884, the Germans successfully outmaneuvered Britain and claimed Cameroon as a colony.(16)

As in 1858, the BMS found itself in a difficult position. Weakened by conflict, its ranks decimated by ill health, apparently surrounded by alien forces, the BMS first turned to British authorities for protection. Britain renounced any claims it might have had to Cameroon. The main concern in the minds of BMS officials shifted not to maintaining a native ministry, but to recovering their financial investment in Cameroon while finding an alternative place to continue its missionary activity. The BMS turned its attention to a new mission field which had opened up along the Congo River and, over a two-year period, negotiated with a German-speaking Basel Mission Society for transfer of the field. Fuller was left to assist in the transition, completed in 1888.

As has already been mentioned, the nascent Baptist communities resisted imposition of authority by both German government and mission officials. Unwilling to forfeit the autonomy of the local congregation, Bethel Baptist Church, Douala, followed by the Victoria Baptist Church under the leadership of Pastor Joseph Wilson, Jr. declared their independence. The principal issues turned on questions of how the congregations would be organized, the nature of the worship and congregational self-government. The German government and the missionaries insisted on asserting European authority. When the Baslers failed to gain the support of the local Baptists, the German government permitted German Baptists to enter the field, which they did in 1891. One of the incoming Baptist missionaries summarized the prevailing European attitude as follows, "The work cannot be left completely without the supervision of Western missionaries, even if an effort should be made to have the larger congregations become independent. Black tribes are so used to authority that, if left to themselves, they will feel abandoned and disintegrate."(17)

The new missionary societies never completely brought the native Baptists under their sway. Dibundu especially continued to exercise his prerogatives as pastor until the early 1900s, when the German Baptists charged him with fraud. Dibundu served a jail term of five years. Upon his release, Dibundu, unrepentant, persisted in seeking his former position and was arrested again. Though the German Baptists finally found a successor in one of its loyal workers, the independent-minded native Baptists found a new leader in Lotin Same, who led them to the Second World War.

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