Ransome-Kuti, Josiah Jesse
1855 to 1930
Nigerian clergyman and administrator.
He was born on 1 June 1855 at Igbein, Western Nigeria. His parents belonged to the Egba Yoruba ethnic group, his father being a weaver, soldier and Egba diplomat. His mother was an early convert to Christianity and from an early age he was influenced by her deep religious beliefs despite opposition from the family and her husband.
At age of nine he began to attend the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Training Institution at Abeokuta. He did very well in his studies, excelling particularly in music. In 1871 he continued his education at the CMS Training Institute in Lagos. He successfully completed his studies there in December 1876 and then became a teacher at St. Peter's School in Ake, Abeokuta. After three years he went to teach music at the CMS Girl's School Lagos. He remained in this position for seven years and during that period he married Bertha Anny Erinade Olubi on 2 May 1882. They had two daughters and three sons.
Throughout this time his religious beliefs had deepened and in 1891 he was appointed catechist at the Gbagura Church Parsonage at Abeokuta. One of his first tasks was to found the Gbagura Church. Initially the services were held in the open air, but later, with the help of the village people, he was able to construct a building for the church. By this time he was an accomplished musician and singer. He improved the quality of the church music and was able to attract many people, some of whom were converted to Christianity. He also carried out much charitable work and although he was often short of money he refused an offer of a job in the big Lagos commercial ventures.
In 1895 he became a deacon and the following year he was transferred by the church authorities to the Sunren-Ifo district, an area of 60 square miles where law and order had virtually broken down after a recent war. Initially the people were suspicious of him and his ideas, particularly after he refused their welcoming gifts, suggesting that they should be sold and the proceeds put into a common fund for the needy. Meanwhile the Egba District government, impressed by his intelligence and capacities, increased his administrative responsibilities in the district.
He was ordained a priest in 1897 and between 1902 and 1906 he was appointed district judge. His sense of fairness and justice greatly increased the people's respect for him. In 1903 he became superintendent of the Abeokuta church mission and was also granted a mandate from the Egba District government to act as its representative in cases of emergency in the area. Gradually success in his administrative position enhanced respect for his religious activities and led to increased church attendance. He spent much time trying to overcome resistance to changing traditional forms of worship. He took many boys and girls into his house to provide them with elementary training.
By 1906 he had established 25 new churches in the Sunren-Ifo district, initially superintending them all and later helped by an assistant. He secured permission from Olu of Ilaro for Christians to use umbrellas, a right that had previously been reserved for the Olu. This caused widespread discontent among the people and some Christians left the church as they felt it was abrogating royal tradition. Ill feeling towards Reverend Ransome-Kuti grew and on his next visit to Ilaro he was attacked and severely wounded. On being arrested, the attackers said that they had mistaken him for a burglar. At the same time 100 armed men from Ifo decided to avenge this attack and marched on Ilaro. On their arrival, Reverend Ransome-Kuti persuaded them to return home in peace. Shortly afterwards another force of 200 armed men under British command arrived at Ilaro with the same intent and once again, after lengthy negotiations, he was able to convince the soldiers to desist from violence. His diplomacy in dealing with these incidents so as to avoid bloodshed greatly enhanced his reputation, both in Ilaro where a church was constructed on the spot where he was attacked, and in Nigeria generally.
In 1911 he was appointed pastor of St. Peter's Church, the leading church in Ake, while remaining a government official. At this time the church authorities began to apply their rules more strictly and Reverend Ransome-Kuti was later suspended from his duties for three months after baptizing children whose parents had not been married either in church or in court without first gaining special permission from the bishop. His parishioners were very angry about this and wanted to break their confrontation but he calmed the situation.
The Egba state lost its independence in 1914 when British rule was imposed. In the resulting upheavals Ransome-Kuti played a major role in mediating between various opposing elements. Although the situation stabilized, in 1918 there was an indigenous uprising against the British and also against literate Africans and Christians. Once again Ransome-Kuti played a mediating role and visited the troubled area at great risk to himself to perform services for the Christians there.
In 1922, after returning from a visit to the Holy Land, he was made a canon of the Lagos Cathedral Church of Christ. He also resumed his position as pastor of St. Peter's Church, remaining there until his death on 4 September 1930 at the age of 75.
From an early age he had been deeply committed to Christianity and through his life's work became a prominent African missionary of his time. He was deeply interested in African history and customs and used this understanding combined with his musical talents, in his religious work. He composed and sang many indigenous songs to increase awareness of Christian beliefs, several of which were recorded on gramophone and compiled into hymnbooks. His son was also a famous churchman.
Sources Consulted Include:
* Africa Year Book and Who's Who (London: Africa Journal, 1977).
* Africa Today, first edition, (Denver, CO : Africa Today Associates, 1981).
* Africa Who's Who, first edition, 1981.
* Africa Who's Who, second edition, 1991 (published by Africa Books Ltd., U.K).
* Ralph Ewechue (ed.), Makers of Modern Africa, 2nd edition (London: Africa Books, 1991).
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(Lagos, Nigeria: Africa Book Ltd.).
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Khalil Mahmud, 2nd ed., (London : Cass, 1968).
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volume on Sierra Leone & Zaire, (New York : Reference Publications, 1977-).
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ARTICLES IN LEARNED JOURNALS
* Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria (Ibadan : Ibadan University Press): Vol. V Nos. 2 & 3, 1970, (Adeleye, R. A.).
* Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria (Ibadan : Ibadan University Press): Vol. VI Nos. 204, 1969, (Ekejiuba, F.).
* Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, "A Biographical Sketch," (Omu Okwei), (Ibadan : Ibadan University Press): Vol. III No 4, 1967.
* Journal of African History, (London : Cambridge University Press): Vol. V No 3, 194 (Hopkins A. G.).
PERIODICALS AND NEWSPAPERS CONSULTED
Africa (Tunis : Ministère des Affaires Culturelles et de l'Information, 1971 ff).
Africa Diary (Delhi : Africa Publications (India), 1961 ff).
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Ambassador International (Vol 211; 1985).
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Guardian (London, s.n.).
Independent (London, s.n.).
The Times (London).
West Africa (London : West Africa Publishing, 1917).