The problem of the impact which the African Cultural Heritage has on
the Christian Church in Africa is not a new one and names such as B.
Gutmann, E. Smith and D. Westermann will always remain associated
with its discussion. Today we live in a time where nationalism and
the growing number of independent States and Churches in Africa makes
the problem more urgent than it ever was before. There can scarcely
be a single missionary who has not been preoccupied by misconceptions
of faith and practice in the Church by African Christians. Unfortunately missionaries have too often attempted to explain them in terms
of their own Western background and have not subjected them to a
proper analysis. The failure to do this has time and again proved
costly, and still to-day is one of the greatest obstacles to the real
understanding of the Gospel in the African Churches.
The principal thesis of this dissertation is that in so far as
the natives of the Cameroons lack the Christian understanding of
history they are in continual danger of misconceiving the fundamentals
of the Christian faith.
Recent anthropological writings have fully demonstrated that the
behaviour of peoples with a tribal heritage cannot be explained in
terms of the Western outlook. Such people have their own culture and
their own outlook. To appreciate the character of the culture of the
Cameroonian tribes it is necessary first of all to know something of
their environment and circumstance. Accordingly we have opened this
dissertation by presenting a minimum of relevant information about the
economic and social context of the life of the peoples in question,
together with a sketch of recent political and mission history.
Anthropologists have shown that one of the chief determinants
of native community is the mode of social organisation, and, in
particular, the system of reckoning kinship. We have found in the
Cameroons that an understanding of the grouping of kinsmen into
lineages, and the emphasis placed on the lineage as a unit, is
absolutely vital to any understanding of traditional ritual and
philosophy, and, moreover, equally vital to the understanding of the
outlook of the apparently westernised African. In the light of this
fact we have then examined a number of these misconceptions referred
to and shown how they arise.
The first part of this dissertation contains a general survey of
the area under study and an outline of the traditional structure of
Hative Society and Religion and Ritual. The second part discusses
the impact of this traditional background and of culture contact upon
the thought and practice in the Presbyterian Church in the Cameroons.
We have shown among other things, how the identification of sign and
object is carried over into the understanding of the Lord's Supper.
We have also shown how the central importance attached in traditional
society to lineage organisation, and the association between the
lineage and the ancestral spirits, is carried over into the sphere of
the Church and therefore leads many to understand the Church as a new
social entity, conceived analogous to their tribe. Furthermore we
have demonstrated how the understanding of self and of community is
bound up with the understanding of history. In discussing Baptism,
Ethics and Church Discipline we have indicated how the impact of the
traditional outlook is bound to lead to misconceptions if it is not
replaced by the biblical understanding of history and of self which is
the basis of the Kew Testament Kerygma.
There are two points for which the author must apologise: The
first one is that in reporting on such a vast area covering so many
tribes the danger of generalisation could not be avoided. But for
the purpose of our subject, in which we are concerned with dominant
attitudes and not with peculiarities of one particular tribe or clan,
the area covered can, as far as we can judge, be taken as one cultural
entity. She second point concerns the language. We have used Duala
as an ethnographic language and have by doing this done something an
anthropologist would not be allowed to do. Duala is the language
used in the Presbyterian Church of this District and even if it is only
understood by a minority of the total population, we still thought it
suitable for our purpose to use it. We also know that the proverbs
quoted are widely understood in our area.