William Wadé Harris

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William Wadé Harris dressed in a white robe and turban, carrying a Bible and bamboo cross.

William Wadé Harris (c. 1860[1] – 1929) was a Liberian Grebo evangelist, who preached in Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.[2]

Harris converted to Christianity in 1881 or 1882, and worked for the American Episcopal Mission as a school teacher and catechist. In 1910 he was arrested for his part in an insurrection, and he later indicated that while in prison he received a vision of the angel Gabriel.[2] Harris went out preaching in 1913, clad in a white robe and a turban.[3] He carried a bamboo cross, a Bible and a gourd rattle, symbolizing the African nature of his mission.[3] Harris identified himself with the biblical prophet Elijah.[3]

Harris preached an orthodox Christian message, with an emphasis on dealing with indigenous fetishes.[3] He burned the objects and called on his hearers to spurn occult practices. He approved of polygamy, and traveled in the company of several wives.[3] In an eighteen-month period in 1913-1914, Harris baptized over 100,000 new converts.[1][4]

Harris died in 1929 in extreme poverty. His preaching produced "Harrist" churches, although many of his followers joined established denominations, both Catholic and Protestant.[5] Jones Darkwa Amanor suggests that he can "be considered as the precursor of the Pentecostal Movement in Ghana,"[2] while Mark Noll notes that his form of Christianity was "not as thoroughly indigenized as the Zionist movements of South Africa."[5]

Shank argues that Harris's work "brought about a massive break with the external practices of traditional African religions all along the coast," including the disappearance of lascivious dance, huts for isolating women during their menstrual periods and a variety of taboos about days and places.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Shank, David (1986). "The legacy of William Wadé Harris". International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 10 (4): 170–176. Retrieved 9 February 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c Amanor, Jones Darkwa. "Pentecostalism in Ghana: An African Reformation". Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research. Retrieved 9 February 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Jenkins, Philip (2002). The Next Christendom. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 49. 
  4. ^ Irele, Abiola; Biodun Jeyifo (2010). The Oxford encyclopedia of African thought, Volume 1. Oxford UP. ISBN 978-0-19-533473-9. 
  5. ^ a b Noll, Mark (2000). Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. p. 290. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Shank, David A. Prophet Harris, the 'Black Elijah' of West Africa (Studies of Religion in Africa, No 10). Brill, 1994.