The Story of an Unsung Hero: History and Legacy of Garrick Sokari Braide (1882-1918)

African Church history is rich with stories of renewals across the continent. Garrick Braide is one of the pioneers of revival in Africa. Braide was born ca. 1882 in Obonoma, a small Kalabari pagan village in the Niger Delta (now Bayelsa, Delta and River State in the South of Nigeria). This village was noted as one of the leading places of pagan worship and pilgrimage in Nigeria. His parents were servants of the Ogu cult which was a titular deity of Obonoma. His parents were very poor; therefore Braide did not have the opportunity of being educated.  He later became a Christian and was baptized on January 23rd 1910 at St Andrews Anglican Church in Bakana. Garrick Braide was an Ijaw man by tribe, but he had to learn the Church catechism in Igbo language, as this was the language of instruction in all the Niger-Delta Pastorate. Braide had to learn the Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer and the Creeds in Igbo before he was baptised. After his baptism, he was confirmed by Rev. James Johnson. Around 1912 Braide was beginning to be noted for his enthusiasm and religious exercises. He later felt called by the Lord into ministry and was accepted as a lay preacher in the Anglican Church of the Niger-Delta pastorate.

Braide’s method of teaching and ministry was very different from that of the Mission Churches. While they introduce Christianity through the teaching of the Creeds, The Lord’s Prayer and catechism, Braide adopted a more practical approach and contextualized the Gospel among the Delta people. He taught the people to renounce their gods, destroy their fetishes and to simply believe in the Lord Jesus. This approach is Biblical, as reflected in 1 Thessalonians 1: 9-10. Braide was convinced that the approach of the Mission Churches did not deal with the root problems of the Delta people; namely idol worshipping. He knew that until the Delta people lost faith in their witch doctors, idols and fetishes there could be no true conversion. To this end he organized a crusade against charms, idol worshipping and the use of fetish objects. The following are some of his teachings:

(1)  He emphasized absolute dependence on God and explained sin and suffering as cause and effect. He taught the people to depend on God for physical and spiritual healing. He encouraged his hearers not to seek traditional medicine nor seek the help of medical doctors.

(2)  He also preached that people should abstain from alcoholic beverages and refrain from dealing in magical practices.

(3) Braide demanded a strict observance of Sunday, because in the traditional religion the day of rest was every eighth day, Fenibene, ceremonially observed for the gods. Sunday was the Lord’s Day; therefore no normal activities should take place.

(4) He recommended a liturgy in which the indigenes should praise God in their local songs, prayers and worship. Braide taught Africans how to worship God in an African way. He castigated the missionaries for not taking the world-view of the Africans into consideration in presenting the Gospel. The Mission Churches made Christianity too remote and intellectual to meet the ritualistic needs of the Delta people’s traditional religion.

Braide’s methods of ministry redefined Christianity as a practical religion for the people of the Niger-Delta, and the result was a large number of conversions to the Anglican Church. Braide, using and encouraging the native language of the Ijaw people and not Igbo, made Christianity available to the average person. He reasoned from his own personal experience of learning the Church doctrines in Igbo that it took a long time, making it burdensome to become a Christian. Aided also by his ability to demonstrate the gift of healing through prayer, he was accepted by his people as a Prophet commissioned by God. The effect of Braide’s preaching was evident in the number of those coming to the enquirers’ class (a modern day equivalent of The Alpha Course). At the Anglican Church the number of people enquirering about Christianity ca. 1909 was 300, but by 1912 (when Braide was already involved in evangelistic activities) the number increased to 2,933.  Another influence Braide’s preaching had on the Ijaw people was to convict them to set on fire their fetishes and charms. Like the Biblical Gideon he stopped people from offering sacrifices to the great divinity of Kalabari.  Visitations to witch doctors also dramatically decreased as the people relied on God for healing. Another change that occurred was the fall in the sales of alcohol and beverages. As a result, the British administration faced a deficit of £576,000 in 1916, a loss which was ascribed to Garrick Braide’s movement. Braide moved from one village to another preaching the Gospel and telling the people to renounce their fetishes. His ministry spread from Bonny to Urhoboland, Benin and Yorubaland. Some Anglican ministers who supported Braide’s ministry noticed that the statistical figures of those becoming Christians had risen steeply. The cross of Christ was erected in the place of idols, revival meetings were held with thousands of people attending and people were healed faster at Braide’s meetings than in the care of the traditional or European doctors.

Garrick Braide achieved in three months what the Church Missionary Society (CMS) had not attained in half a century. Bishop James Johnson, the supervisor of the Niger-Delta, believed that Braide was gifted by God, but only as long as Braide acknowledged that he was endowed by God. Braide used his gift to win thousands of converts into the Anglican Church under James Johnson for a period of seven years.  Braide’s ministry was a success in that there was an awakening in Nigeria which had never occurred before. Initially, several Anglican clergy declared their approval of Braides’s evangelistic crusades because of the obvious increase in Church membership which resulted in mass baptisms, especially in the Anglican Churches.

Later the Anglican Church authorities became suspicious and ultimately very critical of Braide’s activities because he did not apply the discipline of the Anglican Church. He was accused of tolerating polygyny and calling himself ‘the second Elijah’ (Elijah redivivus). Braide had inevitably become the object of adoration because he was popular among his people.  It was even reported that people wanted to drink his bathwater in order to be healed. Personality worship, something common in Pentecostal circles today, took the place of true worship as people regarded disobeying Garrick Braide as disobeying God. The final straw came in February 1916, when chiefs from all over the Delta assembled to meet with Bishop James Johnson. The purpose of the gathering was to persuade the Bishop to give Braide an officially recognized place in the Delta Church. The request was tantamount to asking Johnson to institute the office of the Prophet in the Anglican orders. His rejection of this request led to a great schism. From this time on Braide’s followers rejected the leadership of Bishop James Johnson and the Anglican Church. Later on, as the situation deteriorated, James Johnson appealed to the Colonial administration to intervene. This intervention was welcomed by the Colonial Authorities for obvious reasons. Firstly as mentioned earlier the reduction of the sales of alcohol as a result of Braide’s preaching caused a huge deficit for the Colonial government. The Government had largely depended on the sale of alcohol for its revenue, hence their willingness to intervene. A second reason for intervention, was the prophetic movement of William Wade Harris (1865-1929) which was contemporaneous with the Braide movement and which the Colonial administration in Ivory Coast (now Cote d Ivoire) had claimed was associated with political matters. In 1915 the French government in Ivory Coast had thought it expedient to arrest and expel Harris, so the British government thought it wise to follow suit. It must also be reasoned that the Colonial powers felt threatened by a strong local man with a large following.

In March 1916 Braide was finally arrested and accused of insurrection, blasphemy and schism. He was pronounced guilty by the Colonial Authorities and was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour. Shortly before he was to be released in November, eight further charges were brought against Braide and his followers. He remained in prison until January 1918. His activities after release from prison are unknown, and he was said to have survived only eleven months. He died on 15 November 1918 following an illness.

After his death his followers founded the Christ Army Church and flourished under the leadership of Rev S.A. Coker. Braide himself had never intended to start a Church of his own; he had always insisted that his mission was that of a Prophet. The Christ Army Church constituted a rival Church to the Anglican Church in the Niger Delta Pastorate, with Christ Army Church in control of Delta Christianity. However, by 1939 Christ Army Church began to decline as a result of poor funding and weak organizational structures. There was also a split in the Church because of power struggles amongst the leaders. Later, S.A. Coker was able to bring together the various strands in the Church. The Braide Movement continues today with its prophetic distinction, although they are not very prominent. In conclusion, Briade was the first revivalist and Prophet Nigeria ever witnessed to pioneer mass gatherings, which have become typical of African Christianity today. He will be remembered for his contextual approach to ministry which resulted in the Niger-Delta revival.

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