The other Mr Wilberforce: role conflict and colonial governance in Sierra Leone 1878-1913

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This article considers role conflicts for Africans who occupied leadership positions inthe colonial governance structure of the Sierra Leone Protectorate in the late nineteenthcentury. In particular it examines the source of conflicting identity issues for Westerneducatedor mission-converted indigenous leaders. It focuses these general issuesthrough the example of the Rev. D.F. Wilberforce, who was both a missionary and acolonial appointee to a paramount chieftaincy. Wilberforce exemplifies the kinds ofproblems faced by colonial appointed chiefs, problems exacerbated by his role as anAmerican missionary. It examines the pressures inherent in the contradictory roles hewas required to fulfil. More generally it suggests that economic shifts in agriculturalpractice resulting from the late colonial desire to make West African colonies selffundingexacerbated already declining relations between the colonial authoritiesand indigenous rulers in the Protectorate. It examines the way colonial governmentsdealt with traditional governing practices vested in native social organizations andsocieties; how colonial paranoia about African secret societies allegedly involved in‘ritual murder’ and ‘cannibalism’ compromised the colonial government’s understandingof traditional authority structures; and how this influenced the exercise ofpolitical and legal control over these organizations and over supposedly recalcitrantnative rulers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-449
JournalAfrican Identities
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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