Theophilus Opoku, the first indigenous African to be ordained pastor by the Basel Mission in 1872

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Theophilus Herman Kofi Opoku was a renowned native Akan linguist, translator, philologist, educator, and missionary, notable for being the first indigenous African ordained as a pastor on the Gold Coast by the Basel Mission in 1872. Opoku played a pivotal role in the translation of the Bible into the Twi language, collaborating closely with the German missionary Johann Gottlieb Christaller and other native Akan linguists.

Born in 1842 in Akropong, Akuapem, approximately 48 km (30 miles) north of Accra, Theophilus Opoku was the son of Nana Yaw Darko, the linguist of the paramount chief, and Nana Akua Korantema. His grandfather was Nana Addo Dankwa, the paramount chief of Akropong. During his childhood, Opoku faced health challenges but demonstrated intellectual promise early on. At the age of nine, he entered primary school in Akropong and later became the houseboy of Basel missionary Rev. J. Mader in 1852.

Opoku's journey to becoming a missionary was interrupted by health issues, including a heart-related ailment that necessitated traditional treatment. Despite setbacks, he was baptized in 1856 and enrolled at the Basel Mission Seminary in Akropong in 1858, where he pursued rigorous studies in theology and languages.

Opoku's missionary career began as a pupil teacher in Mamfe near Akropong. Despite initial opposition to Christianity in Larteh, he later returned to support and lead mission operations, ultimately winning over the locals and significantly expanding the Christian community. Opoku's efforts led to his ordination as a minister of the Basel Mission in 1872, marking a historic milestone for indigenous African clergy on the Gold Coast.

Opoku's commitment to Christianity faced challenges, including disputes with traditional authorities over religious practices. His advocacy for Christian beliefs and principles, even in the face of resistance, exemplified his dedication to his faith and mission.

Alongside David Asante, Opoku contributed to translating the Bible into Twi, advancing vernacular literature and education. His writings and ethnographic research shed light on the cultural landscape of the Gold Coast during his time.

Opoku's personal life was marked by both joy and sorrow. His marriages, particularly to Anna Mary Engmann, yielded several children, one of whom followed in his footsteps as a Presbyterian clergyman. Opoku's sudden passing in 1913, during a visit to his cocoa farm, left a void in the community. His funeral, attended by prominent figures, underscored his enduring legacy as an influential missionary and translator.

Opoku's life and work exemplify the intersection of faith, education, and cultural exchange in colonial Africa. His contributions laid the groundwork for the growth of Christianity and the preservation of indigenous languages, leaving an incredible footprint on Ghanaian history.

Explore the life of Theophilus Herman Kofi Opoku below.

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