John and his wife Omolofi, were victims of the slave trade-inspired wars that ravished their Yoruba homeland (in present-day Nigeria), throughout most of the nineteenth century. The two were taken captives and sold to a Portuguese slave trader. They were rescued by a British anti-slavery squadron in the mid-Atlantic, and were taken to British Guyana to work on the colony’s coffee and sugar plantations, instead of being resettled in Sierra Leone.
John and Omolofi became Christians before the birth of their son in Demerara on September 15, 1857. The father took the name of John and the surname Davis for the family. The child was named Orishatukeh Faduma and was later christened William J. Davis in honor of the Welsh missionary. Faduma spent the first years of his life in British Guyana. He and his parents later immigrated to Africa and settled in Sierra Leone. The family settled in the village of Waterloo, which was founded in 1819. Faduma’s father became a successful farmer. Faduma grew to adulthood and in Waterloo, he saw firsthand the strength and weaknesses of Islam, West African traditional religions, and the various Christian denominations that sought to supplant them and one another.
Presumably, Faduma started school at the institution established by the Wesleyan missionaries in Waterloo village in the early 1870s. It was here that Faduma developed academic skills, interests and contacts that later put him among the elite in Sierra Leone. In 1876 when he was 19 years old, he moved from Waterloo village to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. In the city, he stayed with J. C. May, the founder and principal of the Wesleyan Boys High School in Freetown. Faduma attended classes in this school while serving as a kitchen boy for J. C. May. From him, he acquired many of the values and practices that helped shape his later life and work. He later became a teacher at the Wesleyan Boys High School. He won first prize “in competitive scholarship of nine subjects.” This paved his way to Wesley College in Taunt, England in 1882.
Having studied at London University, Faduma came back to Sierra Leone with a heightened appreciation for African culture and growing dissatisfaction with various European influences in West Africa. When he returned to Sierra Leone from England in 1885, Faduma was praised as the first West African to “successfully pass the intermediate BA at London University.” He taught at the Wesleyan Boys High School and distinguished himself not only as a teacher, but also as a community leader.
In 1886, he demonstrated a growing pride and interest in his African heritage and ancestral roots and published in the Methodist Herald his famous verse of “A Tale of Egba Land.” Faduma and a few of his Creole colleagues started the movement for cultural reform that aimed to foster attitudes and practices more attuned to African heritage and identity. In conformity with the goals of this reform, on August 15, 1887, Faduma announced his change of name from William J. Davis to his native name Orishatukeh Faduma. With this, he became the focus of criticism and controversy from and among the Creole conservatives. At the time, he also became a member of the Dress Reform Society which seeks to establish a form of dress which is more culturally and environmentally appropriate for West Africans than the Victorian attire–the Religion of the Frock Coat and Tall Hat–which many Creoles associated with the attainment of Christianity and civilization. In December 1887, in a meeting of the Dress Reform Society, Faduma modeled a loose-fitting tunic and gown won over the knee breeches that they hoped would replace the European attire and become the standard dress of Sierra Leone.
The presence of African Methodist Episcopal Church in Sierra Leone provided Faduma with an awareness of an African-American ecclesiastical institution that appeared to embody the ideological, ecclesiastical, and missiological tenets espoused by himself and the members of the reform movement. He then subscribed to the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church Review, and used it as a forum to counter the negative stereotypes of Africa and Africans prevalent within the African-American religious community. Faduma realized that the malaise afflicting Sierra Leone had its roots in the system of faulty education–“defective training”–which was introduced by the European missionaries and perpetuated by the Creoles themselves. Faduma wrote that such an education “makes men content to be made tools for the destruction of others…parasites, incapable of ameliorating their own unfavorable environments and those of their neighbors, incapable of working out the Salvation of their race, and resigned to an invisible and invincible fate.”
Faduma believed the antidote to this malaise was a progressive and expansive Pan-African-oriented pedagogy that would encourage men “to think for themselves.” He strongly believed that Africa and Africans everywhere need this kind of training to produce the leaders needed as the future rulers of the “Church and country.” He insisted that, Africa needs leaders who are “receptive, originative, productive and capable to do some small good for the amelioration of their race, from degradation and oppression” and “place it on a lofty pedestal, converting the calumny of our detractors to praise and admiration.” In 1891, Faduma visited the United States, the purpose of which was to “observe school methods and the Negro.” But Cornelius May insisted that, Faduma left Sierra Leone hoping to find a wider field where he could freely study and freely express himself without any hindrance. His hope was to find a freedom in the United States, to realize that “unselfish individuality” for the race that had been stifled and ridiculed in Sierra Leone.
Faduma went to the United States at the time when liberal theology was gaining momentum within the American faith (religious) community. As early as 1888 he had joined the debate concerning the theological and social implications of the new scientific and intellectual currents. As to what religious denomination Faduma belonged it is difficult to say, as documentation on this issue is unavailable. But before he left Sierra Leone for the United States, there are indications that he was a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church through its Freetown mission. Upon arrival in the United States, he stayed in Philadelphia where the headquarters of the church were located. The church employed him as a teacher at an AME church school. He also attended the church’s annual conventions. This association provided Faduma with membership in a church that seemed to cherish the principles of racial pride, ecclesiastical independence, and progressivism that he held very dearly. He was employed by the AME church to teach at Kittrell Normal Institute in North Carolina. This employment gave Faduma prolonged interaction with African-American students and teachers. In 1891,he was already the assistant principal of the institute. He used the pages of the Christian Recorder to further his evangelical Pan-Africanism and his role as a conduit of that sentiment to the African-American community.
Faduma’s spiritual and ecclesiastical restlessness led him to enroll in Yale Divinity School where he began preparing for the Congregational ministry. He had written an article “Thoughts For The Times, or The New Theology” which was published in the AME Church Review before his arrival in the United States. It was one of the first sustained assessments of the New Theology by an African and was recognized as such by a review originally published in the Boston Herald and subsequently reported in the Christian Recorder:
A curiosity is a paper by native African, Orishatukeh Fadumah, on “Thought for the Times,” by which he means the new theology. This is the first time that a critic of the new theology has turned up from the dark continent, and is a curious and a significant paper. When a native can write like this on subjects in which he has been obliged to educate himself, it means that we are to say nothing more against the intelligence of the African race.
Faduma definitely was the first African, advocate of liberal theology. In this connection, he asserted that:
The fundamental principles of Christianity will never remain the same, while in their application to meet the necessities of the human race, adaptation is desideratum. This is as fair as it is scientific. Upon the Hebrew mind, there is and ought to be a Hebrew coloring; upon the Negro mind, a Negro coloring; upon the European mind, a European coloring.
Faduma advocated the contextualization of religion and theology, and affirmed the equality of men before God. This position was key to Faduma’s subsequent efforts to develop a mission theory and policy that is sensitive to the ethnic, racial, and cultural perspectives of non-European peoples which was consistent with Faduma’s own developing ideology of evangelical Pan-Africanism.
Orishatukeh Faduma was the first native African to enroll at Yale Divinity School in 1891. His time at Yale prepared him and gave him the opportunity to become a Congregationalist and a liberal missiologist. He was a strong supporter of the compatibility of the theory of evolution with the spiritual account of creation. He was also a great supporter of philosophy and comparative study of religion. In short, he was a strong supporter of liberal missiology and that made him to forge a viable Pan-African missiology. He graduated with “Honors” from Yale Divinity School in 1894 and because of his excellence in his academic life, was awarded a $400 scholarship which enabled him to continue graduate studies at Yale University for another one year in which he studied Semitic languages and philosophy of religion.
Faduma passed the rigorous ordination examinations and was ordained as a Congregational minister in May 1895. He yearned to return to Africa to apply his liberal missiology. He then applied to the American Board of the Congregational Church for Foreign Missions for an appointment as a missionary to Africa. But the Board could not appoint him due to financial constraints. “While under appointment by the American Board to return to Africa as soon as the finances will allow,” Faduma took up a temporary assignment with the American Missionary Association, to work among the lowly in the South, in preparation for missionary work in Africa. He was the superintendent of Peabody Academy and pastor of the Congregational Church at Troy, North Carolina. This was the beginning of his 39 years tenure as a missionary and educator of the American Missionary Association. In fact, Faduma served as an African missionary to his kinsmen in the South of the United States. He spent 17 years in Troy. Ironically, he was opposed bitterly, not by whites but blacks “who all believed that a Negro was not sufficiently trained to be a leader in missionary work.” But, all the same, Faduma was happy with his assignment in the South as he later on explained: “While I had educational advantages in the North and could have stayed there, yet I saw that, the bulk of my people lived in the South. I chose the South for my field of labor so as to be of use to my people”.
During the Congress on Africa held in December of 1895 in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., Faduma strongly argued for and supported the study of African ancestral religions, thus bringing into light the necessity and the importance of the study of comparative religion and philosophy of religion. He also made manifest his perspectives of liberal theology and made it abundantly clear in that Congress that, one of the drawbacks was the missionaries’ attempt to replace the native languages with their own, stressing on the point that, “The African people must hear the Word of God in their own language.” He argued that:
None of the European languages is poetic enough, none is euphonious, none touches the tender cords of the soul and makes them vibrate in harmony with the music of heaven and the great heart of God, as the native language as spoken to a native. If God is to be seen, felt, and interpreted, let this be done by the eyes, the ears, and the understanding of the native.
In this Congress, Faduma made his views and conviction on the contextualization of religion very clear when he said:
Let us have a Christian life and thought expressed in Africa, not after the manner of a Frenchman, an American, or the Englishman, but assimilated into African. Let Christianity planted become native to the soil, growing from within and without, but losing none of its manhood and inherent vitality… If Christian religion is not the white man’s religion, but the religion of Jesus Christ, having life to support every race, let it have a trial on these ethnic races… Everyone has a peculiar contribution to make to the sum total of spiritual and moral life. Christianity has not reached its highest achievements until all the races of mankind have brought in their contribution to the foot of the cross.
He, however was frustrated in his efforts to attain an appointment to be a missionary in Africa. But, his work as an evangelical Pan-Africanist missionary of the American Missionary Association among the African-Americans was equally as important as working among Africans on the Continent. As an African missionary to African-Americans, he became a symbol of pride and amazement for his friends back in Sierra Leone. He later on preached that the New Theology was “destined to uproot American prejudice against the Negro, elevate and purify the state, the Church, [and] conquer Anglo-Saxon haughtiness…” In 1898 he described himself as a “philosopher” of the race problem and became a member of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. In 1902, he became a citizen of the United States by naturalization in solidarity with his fellow African-Americans. In this respect he said: “…In order to feel and suffer as my people felt and suffered, I made up my mind to become a naturalized citizen under the Stars and Stripes of the United States of America. I was willing to pass through the stings of Southern segregation.” In 1899, he was elected to be a member of the American Negro Academy. This provided him with an opportunity of being in contact with the African-American intelligentsia. It was also an important forum for him to further his liberal-oriented evangelical Pan-Africanism. At the meeting of the American Negro Association in 1902, Faduma in his presentation called for reformation of the Black Church in America.
In 1913, Faduma moved to Boley, Oklahoma and joined the Back-to-Africa Movement of Chief Alfred Sam. On July 3, 1914 Faduma and others went to West Africa and published extensive apologies in West African papers. In 1915 he settled in Sierra Leone. While there, he was appointed as principal of the United Methodist Church Collegiate School. After two years, he was appointed to serve on the colony’s education committee, and he became the government Inspector of Schools, tutor of teachers training, and officer in charge of the model school. At the Collegiate School, Faduma introduced vernacular instruction, the study of science, Negro history, Arabic and African folklore. He rejected traditional missionary education. He contended that, “the only true interpreter of the man African must be an African, one like himself with similar yearnings, hopes and aspirations.” Faduma emphasized that, for the African to be self-conscious and race-conscious, it was important for him to know the new sciences of “Negrology.” The curriculum should focus on African environment to ground the student in his own culture and history before turning to Europe. Faduma was also a radical and strong supporter of the controversial issue of educational opportunities for women.
In 1918, Faduma helped very greatly in the founding and formation of the West African Congress. This Congress, according to its founders, of whom Faduma was one of the key architects of its goals, “was to secure for West Africa a recognition of those social, political, and national rights, which the representatives of Great Britain in the colonies have not infrequently denied us.” The National Congress of British West Africa provided a forum from which Faduma would project his Pan-African pedagogy.
On evolution and the conflict between those who supported the evolution of creation and the supporters of biblical creation, Faduma provided an answer and the compromise. He reconciled the biblical account of creation with his understanding of the evolutionary process, thus presenting evolution to the Sierra Leonian community as the Divine method of creation. Because, Faduma created an awareness of what he called “the inadequacy of human language concerning God.”
Faduma was a theological, missiological, and a pedagogical reformer. He contributed greatly to the religious, educational, and political well being of Sierra Leone and West Africa as whole. In 1923, the Sierra Leone Weekly News appraised Professor Faduma summarizing his contributions in both West Africa and the United States thus:
From his youth up to the present, he has been a writer on many interesting subjects. He has not been known to be superficial in thinking and writing… Scholars who have passed through his hands are masters in the art of writing and speaking the English language… The education of the Negro and the psychology of education he has made a specialty. He speaks and writes clearly on the kind of education West Africa needs. A knowledge of the roots of economic and edible plants is as important to him as Greek and Latin roots, the handling of tools as needful as that of the pen, and to disconnect them is an educational blunder calculated to make the West African always subservient and dependent. In his remarkable address before the last Congress of British West Africa he anticipated in many respects the findings of the American Educational Commission. Had he not been a black man! That he is appreciated by members of his race in both continents cannot be denied. A man of simple tastes and quiet manners, yet high thinking, he goes amongst his people as one of them, absorbing and giving in return all that is best. In both continents he has inspired Negro boys and girls to noble action.
On September 19, 1923 Faduma sailed to the United States to see his family. In December 1924, he joined the American Missionary Association. He taught Latin and English literature at Lincoln Academy in King’s Mountain, North Carolina. He encouraged, and was very much concerned about African students studying in the United States. In 1925, he addressed a joint meeting of the African Students Union of America and the Student Bible Institute held in Hampton Institute. He cultivated in these young people, through these forums, the gospel of progressive evangelical Pan-Africanism. In 1927, at the age of seventy, Faduma enrolled in Summer Quarter at Chicago Theological Seminary, which was an affiliate of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. His enrollment made the school to be one of the leading liberal theological institutions in the country.
Faduma’s ideas contributed greatly to the liberalization of the mainstream Protestant missiology. Indeed, many of the adaptations and modifications made in the mainstream Protestant missiology were those, which he had long advocated. These include, inter alia,  the call for incorporation of the findings of modern scientific scholarship from a broad range of disciplines;  the call for a greater respect and appreciation of non-Christian religions and cultures;  indigenization of Christian ritual and personnel;  the disassociation of mission efforts from Western racial, cultural, political, and religious chauvinism;  renewed emphasis on the service and social dimensions of the mission enterprise;  a call for ecumenical and co-operative efforts;  the ending of the paternalistic relationship between the older and the “younger” churches. Faduma, not only encouraged, but strongly supported the study of Islam asserting that, “man who knows only one religion is a source of danger in any community.”
Amidst the intense theological, missiological, and ideological controversies of the time, Faduma continued to adhere to the central tenets of evangelical liberalism and liberal missiology as adapted to his Pan-African ideology. When in 1944 the Yale Divinity School sent him an alumni information form, Faduma replied that, he was a “Retired Missionary” who spent a total of “57” years at various mission posts and institutions in the United States and Sierra Leone. Dean Luther Allan Weigle of the Yale Divinity School, requested additional information and Faduma’s life history. Due to illness Faduma delayed but at last on May 10, 1945 Faduma replied and mentioned, inter alia, that “My life as a missionary has been very much crowded. I have spent the little money I have made in helping others. This has given me much joy.” On May 22, 1945 Dean Weigle responded with a letter expressing the Divinity School’s pride in Faduma’s accomplishments. He died on January 25, 1946.
James Lomole Simeon
Moses N. Moore. Orishatukeh Faduma, Liberal Theology and Evangelical Pan-Africanism 1857-1946. Maryland, USA: ScareCrow Press, Inc., 1996.
This article, received in 2002, was researched and written by Mr. James Lomole Simeon, Esq., Chancellor of the Diocese of Khartoum, Sudan, 2002-03 Project Luke Fellow.