Science in Christian Perspective



James 0. Buswell, III, M.A.

From: JASA 6 (June 1954): 16-17.


In the January, 1953 issue of Eternity, Dr. Donald G. Barnhouse made the statement that "to me, the situation in Africa is the most important event in world history for the year 1952. . ." Since then the various situations arising out of the juxtaposition of African and European culture have become of extreme importance not only to Africa alone, but to the rest of the world as well. It is for this reason that this vast culture-contact situation has been chosen for discussion here as the most significant anthropological problem to which the attention of Christian people might profitably be drawn.

It must be kept in mind in connection with what follows, however, that the African situation is one of complexities, seen and unseen, all sides of which are by no means apparent to even the most experienced observer. Nevertheless', there are important aspects which we find eminently worthy of attention, partictuarly that we might pray for the Christian missionaries who are in the midst of a very perplexing situation with conflicting demands upon their loyalties of a very strenuous nature.

There have been, since World War 11, many developments in Africa of a truly progressive nature. The achievement of independence by Libya, the setting up of an African controlled constitutional government in Gold Coast, the uniting of Eritrea with Ethiopia to their mutual benefit, and the scattered but continuous improvement in African educational institutions in many parts, are only a few. The optimistic outlook for the eventual independence and self control of the Sudan has been partially a product of a completely new and unprecedented regime in Egypt. The ultimate goals and direction of this regime may still be, in a measure, obscure, but it can confidently be said, at least, that now they are going somewhere.

The major trouble areas, with the exception of the nationalistic ferment in the northern French provinces, are in the British territories of East and Central Africa, and in the Union of South Africa.

The most violent unrest is the bloody campaign against white occupation in Kenya by members of the Kikuyu secret society known as the Alau Mau. It is significant to note in passing that there are two segments of the Kikuyu tribe which outstandingly oppose the Mau Mau activities. They are, on the one hand, those who have been truly converted to Christianity, and on the other, those who still firmly believe in their old tribal religion. The Mau Mau organization is notoriously a sham of the old tribal fears and ritual, playing upon those who are partially acculturated and cut loose from the old sense of values and economic and kinship ties, but who have not become converted to genuine Christianity. Nevertheless some of the motives for this senseless campaign are far from imaginary.

The concensus of informed opinion seems to indicate that the core of the Mau Mau problem is the land situation. Most of the farmers in the native reserves are hopelessly overpopulating the alotted land which is able to be cultivated. Of the 52,000 square miles where the Africans are allowed to hold land in Kenya, only about 9200 square miles, or 1/25th of Kenya's land is productively arable, of the remainder, which comprises nearly two thirds of the Colony, most of the land is unarable because of forest, mountain and desert conditions, and supports a population of less than one per square mile.

The land set aside for whites, on the other hand, amounts to over 12,000 square miles of the very best land in the colony. There are about 30,000 Europeans in Kenya, three times as many Indians, and 5,251,000 Africans, according to 1948 figures.

This land distribution problem alone would be serious enough, but it is complicated by the fact that native Africans of this area once owned parts of the land since alienated to the Whites exclusively by the colonial government. There was individual and family ownership of estates with specific boundaries, quite different from the commercial ownership concepts traditionally attributed to all primitive peoples. This fact was misunderstood by the English settlers and colonial administrators who parceled out the land for white occupation shortly after the turn of the century. It was held that any unoccupied land would be automatically the property of those settling upon it, consequently no attempt at purchase was made according to Kikuyu custom, and payments made for land already occupied was considered by the Africans to be a form of rental only.

The tragic part of the history of Kenya's occupation is that it was not until after the first World War that most of the Africans began to realize fully that the Europeans actually believed they owned, exclusively, the land upon which they had settled. Furthermore the settlers refused to believe the facts concerning native land ownership. Although only a comparatively small percentage of the so-called White Highlands is actually disputed territory, it is the attitude and principle involved which has caused so much friction and misunderstanding.

In 1929 a Kikuyu Land Inquiry Committee reported to the government the nature of the former Kikuyu land holdings on the basis of ownership of boundaried estates. And yet British officialdom maintains the position that "The natives of this colony have no land interests in the Highlands ... and have no rights to the land. . ." 'with the time-worn explanation released by the British Information Service in February, 1953, that"

"When pressure arises on African land it is natural that Africans should regard neighboring land occupied by Europeans as the solution to their problem. The age-old African habit of meeting land congestion or exhaustion by moving on to the next piece of land not actually in cultivation leads to claims that contiguous land belongs to theni, and the Kikuyu claims to the White Highlands have developed from this typical African attitude.'12

Public opinion is also formed by statements of the press which allege that the Mau Mau society "is not the child of economic pressure or connected with any special grievances." Rather would they describe the outbreaks in a more popular style, such as that they

" stem from the frustrations of a savage people neither mentally nor economically able to adjust itself to the swift pace of civilization. Men whose sole aim in life was to be warriors, going on forays into other tribal territories, or defending their own against attacks from their neighbors, feel cheated their normal role in tribal life."3

Such fanciful terms are no longer applicable to known agricultural peoples, not to mention the obvious error of the author's estimate of their mentality.

True, the colonial government, with great financial assistance from Britain, is spending thousands of pounds annually for specific improvements. But the spending of money will not correct the direction of policy. It is a change in basic attitudes that is urgently needed. Those evident in Kenya have applied as well to the creation of the Federation in Central Africa over the protests of the Africans, particularly those from Nyasaland. The point of view is admirably illustrated by the following quotation from a native African:

"'We know what is good for you,' a member of the colonial administration said to me. 'Your people are not sufficiently educated to know. If they are wrongheaded enough to oppose our intentions, well, we have the power to enforce them.'

"That is an attitude which every African resents. Frankly, it means that if we will not accept what the Colonial Office or the Ministry of Commonwealth Relations thinks is good for us, the power of the police and the army will be used to impose it upon us.

"The day has passed when official Britain can adopt this attitude."4

1. Montgomery, in the Legislative Council for African Interests April 13, 1944. He added " ... and I hope they never will."
2. "The Situation in Kenya", British Information Service, an Agency of the British Government, Reference Division, ID 1168, Feb., 1953, p. 2.
3. Tanis, Long, in The New York Times. Dateline, London, October 19, 1953.
4. Seretse Khama, New York Herald Tribune, March 27, 1953.

Shelton College
Ringwood, New Jersey
May 1, 1954