The formation of Afro-Catholicism in colonial and post-colonial West Africa

Annalisa Butticci

- completed -

The project focuses on the Roman Catholic missionary projects and expansion in West Africa, with a particular focus on Gambia and Ghana. The research in Gambia focuses on the life story of Father Samba (1842-1881), the first Gambian Catholic priest of the Vicariate of Senegambia. Father Samba was a young, talented, and yet rebellious young Wolof Catholic priest who became the ‘nasty affair’ of the Catholic mission, as the European missionaries called him. Through Father Samba’s history of resistance to ecclesiastic power and racial hierarchy of both the Catholic Church and colonial administrations, the research highlights the messiness of colonial and missionary expansion in Senegambia, and reveals the social, religious, and political relevance of colonial unsettling subjects. 

The research in Ghana focuses on the cult of the statue of Nana Ntona, or Saint Anthony renamed as a local deity. Brought by the Portuguese in the seventeenth century, the statue became popular for its healing and miraculous power. Successively, during the period of the Atlantic slave trade, when Elmina became one of the major Dutch sources of slaves, Nana Ntona’s shrine became an asylum for runaway slaves, and years later became the great protector of the Elminians who were fighting against the British colonial empire. By historically and anthropologically investigating the rituals, practices and aesthetics related to the remains (or relics) of the statue of Saint Anthony, the project illuminates the clashes, continuities, and ambiguities that shaped, and continue to shape, the encounter and relationship between Roman Catholicism and African traditional religions.

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