Harris Movement

A monumental shift toward Christianity in West Africa sparked by a Liberian prophet’s vision.

The Harris Movement represents a significant chapter in the history of religious transformations in West Africa, characterized by a mass conversion to Christianity during the early 20th century. This movement was initiated by William Wadé Harris, a Grebo from Liberia, who, after a divine vision while imprisoned in 1910, embarked on a mission that led him to preach along the coast of West Africa, reaching Ghana by 1914.

Harris’s preaching led to an extraordinary mass movement toward Christianity, particularly in the Ivory Coast and Western Ghana, between 1913 and 1915. His ministry resulted in around 120,000 people across various tribes abandoning traditional religious practices and magic to embrace baptism and the elementary tenets of Christianity. These converts built churches, adopted the sabbath, and awaited the arrival of white teachers, as Harris had promised, who would further instruct them in the Bible​​​​.

The French colonial government in the Ivory Coast, disturbed by the rapid and widespread response to Harris’s message, deported him back to Liberia in 1915. Despite this, the impact of his ministry endured. His followers, including significant figures such as John Swatson in Ghana and John Ahui with perhaps 150,000 members by 1980 in the Ivory Coast, continued his legacy. These followers established various Harris independent churches, like the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Ghana and the Églises Harristes in the Ivory Coast, which counted around 100,000 adherents by the late 20th century​​​​.

The movement had a significant effect on existing Christian denominations as well; for instance, the Methodists and Roman Catholics in western Ghana benefited from approximately 9,000 converts and catechumens between 1914 and 1920. British Methodism, entering the Ivory Coast in 1924, saw a membership increase to 32,000 by 1926. The Harris Movement thus stands as a landmark event in the history of religious transformation in West Africa, showcasing the dynamic interplay between indigenous religious movements and the broader Christian missionary enterprise in the region.

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