Orishatukeh Faduma (1860 - January 12, 1946), also known as William James Davies, a recaptive of Nigerian descent, had a long and distinguished career both in Sierra Leone and in the United States as an educationist and Christian minister.
He was born in British Guiana (now Guyana), and was the son of John and Omolofi Faduma, who were freed African slaves from Yoruba country in what is now Nigeria. Faduma and his parents were “repatriated” to Freetown, when he was probably aged seven or eight. He was baptized a Christian on arrival in the Colony. In keeping with missionary attitudes, which then regarded African names as “heathenish,” he was given the name of William James Davies, by which he was known until 1887. Like the children of other recaptives, he received his education to secondary school level at the Methodist Boys’ High School.
He then attended Wesleyan (now Queens) College, Taunton, England, from 1882 to 1883, after winning first place in a competitive scholarship. Later, he attended London University, where he became the first Sierra Leonean to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree there. He then returned to Sierra Leone, where he was employed as senior master at his former high school.
In 1891, however, he went to the United States to continue his education. He obtained a degree from Yale Divinity School in 1895, and won $400 for post-graduate study of the philosophy of religion.
After completing his studies at Yale, he remained in the United States. At some time between 1891 and Faduma had become affiliated with the American Missionary Association, whose major focus was the evangelization of Afro-Americans and Africans. During this period, he also became more closely associated with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the first separate religious denomination for black Americans, and was most likely ordained a minister, since thereafter he was referred to as pastor.
From 1895 to 1914, he was principal and pastor-in-charge of Peabody Academy, Troy, North Carolina. This institution had been established in 1880 under the sponsorship of the American Missionary Association, for the education of black Americans. In the early 1900s it had four teachers, apart from the principal, one of whom was Faduma’s Afro-American wife, Mrs. Henrietta Faduma.
He returned to Sierra Leone, and from 1916 to 1918 was principal of the United Methodist Collegiate School in Freetown. From 1918 to 1923, he served as an inspector of schools in the Colony (now the Western area), and as officer-in-charge of the Model School, where he was also an instructor. The Model School generally prepared those students for entry into the job market who had failed entrance examinations for secondary school.
He returned to the United States in 1924, and continued teaching in North Carolina until 1939, serving as assistant principal and instructor in Latin, ancient and modern history, and English literature, at Lincoln Academy, King’s Mount. Upon retirement, Faduma took another assignment at Virginia Theological Seminary and College, Lynchburg, Virginia, where he taught Latin, Greek, French, and African history until his death at High Point, North Carolina, in January, 1946.
Orishatukeh Faduma’s life, however, ranged beyond teaching. He was greatly influenced by the contemporary trends not only in Sierra Leone, but also elsewhere in Africa, as well as in the United States. Thus soon after his return from England in 1887, he joined with other public-spirited members of the Freetown community, including the distinguished pan-African patriot, Dr. Edward Blyden, and A. E. Toboku-Metzger, also one of the earliest Sierra Leone graduates, to form what was known as the Dress Reform Society. The aim of this society was to foster the wearing of African robes more suited to the African climate than the Victorian mode of European dress.
It was at this time, also, that Faduma, as mentioned above, dropped his English names, William James Davies, and instead adopted the names Orishatukeh Faduma, derived from the Yoruba deity, Orisha, and from his father’s name, Faduma.
Later, Professor Faduma, as he was commonly known, continued to display both political awareness and breadth of vision. In 1923, when the second meeting of the National Congress of British West Africa was held in Freetown, Faduma was one of the participating delegates.
In the United States, Faduma was also active in public service. In 1892, he served on the Advisory Council on African Ethnology at the World’s Exposition in Chicago. In 1894 he represented Yale as delegate to the Inter-Seminary Missionary Alliance meeting held in Rochester, New York, and contributed a paper on “Industrial Missions in Africa.” In 1895, he attended a missionary congress in Atlanta, Georgia, where he presented two papers, one on Yoruba religion and the other on missionary work in Africa. It was at this time that the Cotton States Exposition was being held in Atlanta, at which, in September, Booker T. Washington, the leading spokesman for black Americans at that time, made his landmark “Atlanta Compromise” speech, suggesting that blacks stop agitating for political and social rights in return for economic opportunity. The missionary congress was probably affiliated with the exposition.
Faduma became a member of the American Negro Academy, a forum based in New York, which had been established in 1904 by leading Afro-American intellectuals for expressing their views on important issues affecting blacks. He was the only African to address the Academy, taking as his subject “The Defects of the Negro Church.”
In September 1895, after his appointment to the Peabody Academy, he married one of the teachers there, Henrietta Adams. They had two children-one, born in 1902, named Omojowu (a Yoruba name), and the other, born in 1922, called Du Bois (presumably after the famous black scholar and civil rights activist, W. E. B. Du Bois).
In addition to public speaking and writing, Faduma also wrote poetry. In one poem, “A Ballad on Egbaland,” he revealed that by descent he was an Egba from Yorubaland. In another, “In Memoriam: The Centenary of Sierra Leone,” he saw Sierra Leone as a symbol for the whole of Africa, and exhibited both nationalist and pan-Africanist sentiments.
The speeches, writings, and activities of the long life of Faduma reveal that he was endowed with keen wit, possessed tremendous energy, and had a passion for involvement in political and social issues. His prime avocation was education. He was also a devoted Christian. But early in his career he saw the gap that often exists between professed and practiced Christianity, as well as the contradictions regarding race, and the contempt for black and African values, that are sometimes to be found within the Christian ministry. He sought to combat these evils.
Professor Faduma’s experiences in the United States particularly sharpened his consciousness of race. Living in America at the height of “Jim Crowism,” he had to develop emotional mechanisms of accommodation to racial and legal segregation. Not only by his work, however, but also by his thoughts and writings, he inveighed against discrimination and sought to elevate the black man. He was nevertheless temperate, and not given to bitter attacks but to caustic wit.
Gustav K. Deveneaux
Charles Alexander, One Hundred Distinguished Leaders, Atlanta, 1899; Orishatukeh Faduma, “A Ballad on Egbaland,” The AME Church Review, Vol. VI, No. 1, July, 1888, “In Memoriam: The Centenary of Sierra Leone,” The AME Church Review, Vol. VI, No. 2, October, 1889, “Thoughts for the Times, or the New Theology,” The AME Church Review, Vol. VII, No. 2, October, 1890, “Africa or the Dark Continent,” The AME Church Review, Vol. IX, No. 1, July, 1892, “Religious Beliefs of the Yoruba People in West Africa,” and “Success and Drawbacks of Missionary Work in Africa by an Eye-Witness,” in Africa and the American Negro, Prof. J. W. E. Bowen (ed.), 1896, reprinted Miami, Florida, 1969, “The Defects of the Negro Church,” Occasional Paper No. 8. 1904, reprinted in The American Negro, New York, 1969, “Africa the Unknown,” The Mission Herald, No. 43, November-December 1939, “An African Background: My Pagan Origin and Inheritance, The Mission Herald,” No. 44, September-October, 1940, Who is Who in Colored America, New York, 1940; William H. Ferris, “The African Abroad, or His Evolution in Western Civilization,” New Haven, 1913, reprinted New York, 1968.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Two: Sierra Leone-Zaire, Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1979. All rights reserved.