Father Kevin Carroll, anthropologist, linguist, ornithologist and photographer, was a member of the Society of African Missions. Born in Liverpool in 1920, he died in Ibadan, Nigeria in 1993 on the morning of his 50th Ordination anniversary.
His legacy includes a collection of some 4,000 photographs spanning his 50 years of missionary work in Africa. The first section of the ‘Carroll Collection’ has now been classified and published. This consists of 2,000 photographs covering all aspects of life in Africa – religious, social, cultural and artistic.
This work will be of interest to all but particularly it will be of benefit to students and scholars and those engaged with African issues. The collection will lead to a better and richer understanding of Africa, its beauty, its diversity, its people, its tradition and its renowned heritage.
Classification and presentation
The Collection has been prepared by the SMA Archives Department (Irish Province) which was responsible for the sorting and classification of the photographs and for producing an inventory of the related documentation. The printing work was undertaken by the firm, John Sheehan Photography of Cork. The prints are displayed on album pages in binder boxes, equipment provided by the specialist firm, Conservation by Design. The entire project received generous support from the National Committee for Development Education (NCDE) for which the SMA is most grateful.
The Carroll Collection is located in the SMA Archives at Blackrock Road, Cork. Access to the photographic prints and Carroll documentation will be provided to bona-fide students and researchers, but prior notification is needed. The Archives Reading Room is available for consultation of the material. There is also electronic access which will be provided on CD-Rom discs to institutions and interested persons on application to the Rev Archivist, Society of African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork.
The classification and publication of the second part of the Collection is ongoing and is expected to be completed within the next two years.
Fr Carroll spent most of his fifty years as a missionary priest in Ghana and Nigeria. He was keenly interested in the natural sciences and anthropology and studied closely various indigenous cultures and ethnic communities. He left behind him a rich legacy which includes his classic works: Yoruba Religious Carvings and Architectures of Nigeria as well as many articles and contributions to learned journals. He also bequeathed a large collection of unsorted papers and photographic images. Some of the images had been used in his two books, many have been identified and classified and utilised in the present release; work continues in the classification of the remainder. Included among the photographic material are images of masks, figurines, door-posts, wood panels, ritual objects and ceremonies, textiles and dress, and architectures. Part of the key to an understanding of these images is to be found in the copious documentation accompanying them.
Kevin Carroll had a profound interest in African art that went back to his childhood days when he used visit the museum in his native Liverpool where he was always struck by the African carvings. After ordination in 1942 he was appointed to the Gold Coast (Ghana) and immediately became interested in the local Fanti language, learned about pattern weaving from a native Ashanti craftsman and organised local carvers to teach simple carving of objects like spoons, bowls and stools. This interest in local culture was extended over the years to include brass work, bead and leather work, native architecture and music. During the course of his busy missionary career Kevin also found time to produce the two very important aforementioned books on African culture: Yoruba Religious Carving – subtitled Pagan and Christian Sculpture in Nigeria and Dahomey (1967), and Architectures of Nigeria (1992). The first of these books describes the “Oye-Ekiti Scheme” in the course of which – with a fellow-SMA member, Sean O’Mahony from Cobh – the available sources of skill were identified and the carvers and weavers, bead and leather workers, organised in a new and purposeful way. Kevin’s next quarter century made him master, in addition to Yoruba, the Hausa, Kamberi and Tiv Languages.
The core value of Kevin’s ministry for fifty years and on which he concentrated his many talents and skills was the single objective: to inculturate Christ into the lives and religions of the people he felt privileged to serve, the peoples of Africa. He was utterly single-minded as he felt called by God for His work and, like all prophets, proclaimed His message, welcome or unwelcome. Kevin mastered the languages of his people; was the first in Nigeria to use indigenous composers for sacred music, local carvers to produce acceptable Church art and local weavers to make liturgical vestments. Every talent given him was used to proclaim Christ.
His legacy is a promotion of all that is good about Africa.