The impact of American missionaries on the Bura people of Nigeria

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Baldwin, Alma Ferne, 1919-
Scruton, David L., 1928-
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
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This study traces the development of the missionary movement in Europe and America as part of the cultural history which led to the arrival of American missionaries in the remote area of Nigeria which is occupied by the Bura tribe. The central concern is to assess the results of that contact between members of two very different cultures and to evaluate the changes in the Bura society which have resulted from the work of these missionaries during a period of fifty years.Differences in the material environment are most easily observed and marked change can be seen in such things as the common attire of the people, in the kinds and amounts of equipment available for use in ordinary tasks and in the style of houses in which many Buras live. Missionaries exerted considerable influence in many of these changes. Improved seeds and new farming methods, the training of carpenters and bricklayers and assistance in the development of orchards are other examples of the kinds of technological innovations introduced by the mission. But many of the changes which are more directly traceable to missionary influence relate to Bura thought patterns and particularly to changes in the religious thinking of the people.There have been two basic changes in this area of Bura life. One involves the communal structure of the group. The communal approach to a Supreme Being whereby one elder often spoke for the entire group was confronted by the Christian belief that every individual must establish a personal relationship with his Deity. In secular life there has been a lessening of forms of cooperation. There is also more physical separation of clans, families and individuals as persons trained in mission schools go out of the area for higher education or for job opportunities. The total impact has been toward a weakening of the community structure.Another basic change is in the belief about the nature of the Deity. The Buras had traditionally lived in a fearful world of threatening evil spirits in which a distant Deity and lesser gods nearby required constant appeasement. The Christian idea of a loving Father presents a very different viewpoint.Positive benefits to the Buras include a written language which has helped to unify the tribe and has been of major importance in the educational program which could be carried on in a familiar medium. Christian activities initiated by the mission have enabled the Buras to meet easily with members of other tribal groups. On the negative side must be included the threat of the loss of the traditional arts since dancing, and the use of local musical instruments in worship services were discouraged by the missionaries.The final conclusion, however, is that the missionary was the only agent of change who was concerned about the moral well-being of the Buras and who attempted to prepare these people to live in the novel circumstances in which they unexpectedly found themselves.