Introductory--Idea and purpose of the mission--Reflections of Principal Rawle--Codrington College--Practical outcome--Pongas country--The Rio Pongo--Abortive effort by C .M. S.--Climate--Fevers--Tornado--Scenery--The White Ant--The Susu tribes--Form of government--Customs--Art of healing--Religious ideas--Mohammadanism--Contrasted with Christianity, etc..
BEFORE beginning to relate the story of the Rio Pongo Mission, it will be necessary to sketch briefly the idea and purpose which its original promoters had in view, to offer some explanations of the main object to which its inception was due, and also to give a few particulars of the Pongas country and the Susu tribes amongst whom the missionaries labour. First of all, then, it must be clearly understood that this Mission was the outcome of a noble effort of missionary zeal on the part of the West Indian Church. To that Church it owes its birth, and from that Church it has ever derived its main support. There were many just and good reasons for this, as well as for the choice of that particular part of Africa which was decided on as its field of work.
The West Indian Church has within her fold many whose ancestors were born, lived, and died on the Rio Pongo. These Christians could not forget their father land, and naturally the thought occurred to them, as well as to their teachers, the clergy who had brought them to Christ, "Can nothing be done by us to carry the message of the Gospel to those of our own flesh and blood in far-off Africa?" Africa's children felt they owed a debt to her, but there were others who were equally indebted, viz, the Christian Europeans in, and connected with the West Indies. It was a claim of justice as well as charity, that restitution be made to those who had been wronged in the past. To undo the past was impossible, but nevertheless it was possible to do something to root out the remains of that slavery which, even now, after so many years of Christian influence, continues a blot upon the progress of African civilization. And this claim of Africa was not confined to the West Indian colonies, but addressed itself to all British subjects for the old slave-trade, which brought the negro of Western Africa to the West Indies, did not originate in the efforts or wishes of the colonists, but against their wishes and remonstances--in the policy of the mother country. Thoughts like these led to the formation of an association in the West Indies for the furtherance of the Gospel in Western Africa.
The idea may have occurred to more than one West Indian Churchman certainly Bishop Parry of Barbados had conceived it, when, in answer to an invitation from the S.P.G. inviting co-operation in the celebration of the Society's third jubilee he wrote as follows, April 14, 1851:-- [It is of interest to note that after the lapse of another fifty years, and whilst celebrating its Bicentenary, the Society is helping the Pongas Mission, in its first jubilee, to build churches in Western Africa.]
"The chief commemoration of the jubilee which I propose in my own diocese, and venture to suggest also to the other West Indian bishops, is to commence an African Mission, if only in answer to our prayers and efforts the great Lord of the Harvest be pleased to send forth the labourers, disposing also the members of the West Indian Church to unite in the work, and others in England to assist it. I am fully aware how far from attractive is the missionary field which the Western Coasts of Africa present; how trying the climate; how degraded the people; and how slow, probably, the progress will be in anything lovely and of good report. Still it is a work which ought to be done, which has, indeed, in more than one place been already commenced, and in which the West Indian Church should certainly take a part. If the Society's jubilee should find us at length engaged in it, surely it would be a suitable commemoration of the Society's benefits, to be thus, after a century and a half given to America and Asia, thinking also of Africa." ["S.P.G. Digest," 1898. The succeeding paragraphs in the Digest (p. 264) fully explain the unbroken connection which has existed between the parent society and the Pongas Mission:--"At the Barbados Church Society's meeting (S. P.G.), June 16, 1851--which also happened to be the jubilee day of the Society--it was determined to make the African Mission not a mere branch of the Church Society's operations, but the object of a distinct organization, to be called--in the hope of that general co-operation already contemplated--'The West Indian Church Association for the furtherance of the Gospel in Western Africa, in connection with the S.P.G., as Trustees of Codrington College.'
["Towards the Mission the Society appropriated, in February, 185!, an allowance from the Codrington Trust Property for the Education of Missionaries; and (in 1852) £1000 was voted from the Jubilee Fund as an endowment, a like sum being at the same time granted in aid of the endowment of a bishopric at Sierra Leone."]
This was the living idea which afterwards took a practical shape in the mind of Mr. Rawle, Principal of Codrington College, Barbados (afterwards the first Bishop of Trinidad). This singularly gifted man, after a remarkable record at Cambridge, was holding a Trinity College living, when he decided to offer him self for missionary service. The S.P.G. hailed his offer as most timely, for Codrington College at that time was without a Principal. The foundation of this noble institution was due to the far-sighted conception of a West Indian layman in the reign of Queen Anne, and its purpose, the raising up of faithful clergy and instructed laity in the churches of the West Indies, was one which was wholly congenial to the talents and sympathies of Mr. Rawle. When he was settled at the college he found that its windows looked direct across the Atlantic to West Africa. Surrounded as he was by liberated Africans, for whose spiritual and moral benefit assiduous efforts were being made by Christians of all denominations at home, he could not but send his thoughts far out to their ancestral tribes. And thus the idea came to birth in a master-mind.
In 1850, after consultation with Bishop Parry, he prepared a speech for the annual S.P.G. meeting at Bridgetown, Barbados, in which he pressed upon a crowded audience the immediate steps which should be taken to inaugurate such a mission.
With burning eloquence he depicted the wrongs which, up to the beginning of the present century, had been inflicted by the slave trade on Western Africa. He urged the claims of that dark land, upon the sympathies of Christian hearts, on the ground that it had furnished nine-tenths of the population of the Caribbean Islands, on whose labour alone they were dependent, at that time, for the cultivation of their fruitful soils. He maintained that Codrington College should be utilized to prepare young men of African descent for the work of Evangelists, who were willing to offer themselves, and who showed an aptitude for the high calling. "We look from our windows," he said, "straight towards that dark land there lies only the wide Atlantic between our college and Western Africa, and she seems to stretch out her hands to us to-day, and say, 'Come over and help us!"
The idea was at once taken up, and it was not long before the western portion of the Principal's own lodge at Codrington was prepared for the reception of half a dozen students of African blood. A fund for the maintenance of these, and for the endowment of the Mission, was then set on foot, and was readily supplemented by contributions from England, given by friends of the Principal, and from his old parishioners at Cheadle. The college staff followed the example of their Head, and took their share in the tuition of the students; and in 1855 John Duport, a coloured man who had received his education at one of the primary schools in St. Kitts, had been sufficiently prepared for Holy Orders to accompany to Africa the Rev. H. T. Leacock. the pioneer of the Mission.
It will now be appropriate to give some little information respecting the Pongas country and its inhabitants. It will suffice, for the purpose, to say that the country is situated on the coast of Western Africa, about 100 miles to the north of Sierra Leone, whilst the Mission itself is bounded on the north by the Rio Nunez, and on the south by the River Dubrika. Eastwards and landwards it has no boundary, let us hope. It includes also the Isles de Los: some small but very beautiful islands opposite the mouth of the River Dubrika, and belonging, happily, to Great Britain. They are a group of seven islands to which the Portuguese gave the name of Yolas de los Idolos (Islands of Idols). Three are inhabited, the other four being nothing more than a shapeless mass of volcanic debris. They are well situated, as regards the mainland, opposite the mouths of the Dubrika and Dembia rivers, which are easy of access, and are the centre of a considerable trade. As the crow flies they are 35 miles distant from Bramaia, the easiest route being up the Dubrika and Bramaia rivers. Colonel Chamberlayne, the acting Governor of Sierra Leone, writing in February, 1865, says of them: "All persons whom I have consulted agree in considering the isles an excellent position for a Mission. The salubrity of the isles would enable the missionaries to enjoy some amount of health, and their proximity to Sierra Leone would enable them to obtain supplies, advice, and change of air without trouble."
Situated nearly midway between the Rio Pongo and Sierra Leone, or about 50 miles from Fallangia, they are hilly, well watered, and wooded, and are far enough from the coast to be entirely free from the poisonous malaria of the low, marshy ground of the river banks. They lie, too, in the regular highway of the coast traffic of Africa.
The name "Rio Pongo" (or the mud river) was given to it, most probably in the fifteenth century, by the Portuguese, who visited this district as well as Sierra Leone (then called Tegaria) in search of slaves to supply the labour-market, of St. Domingo. We read that Cardinal Ximenes, the celebrated Biblical scholar who was Archbishop of Toledo in 1507, did all in his power to discourage the trade. The Roman Catholic clergy, however, upheld it, saying that they found it easier to convert the natives to Christianity when they where removed from the influence of their superstitions.
In early days they made many converts, and it is interesting to us to learn that their first were baptized in the waters of the Rio Pongo. Of the later history of their Mission, and its results, we know very little.
The river itself consists of an estuary of several streams, which meet at a short distance from the sea, and empty their waters through a muddy channel, into the Atlantic. Across the mouth of this estuary, which is nearly three miles wide, there are several islands, the largest of which is called Mangrove Island. There are seven entrances in all, each one being more or less blocked by a bar. The best of these entrances is called the Sandbar Passage, on the south side of Mangrove Island. At a distance of about four miles from this passage, on the southern bank of the stream, the Little Pongo enters the river from the south-east. Following it up about five miles above its junction with the Great Pongo, we reach Tintima where the first missionary landed; and twelve miles higher up the same stream is Fallangia, where the first Station was planted. Returning to the point where we left the Great Pongo, and proceeding up it, we pass Boffa on the north bank, distant some thirteen miles from the sandbar. Here the French commandant of the river lives, and there is also a Roman Catholic mission-station. Two miles farther on the same side of the river is Domingia, for many years one of the chief Stations of the Mission. One of the old Reports calls Fallangia the Canterbury, and Domingia the London of the Mission. A few miles above Domingia we pass an uninhabited, magnificent volcanic island, known as Devil's Island, which forms the channel called by the ill-omened name of Hell's Gate, in which there is at times a dangerous whirlpool, where many slave-ships have been lost. Here two streams meet and form the Rio Pongo proper. One comes from the north and is called the Bangalong, at the head of which, and at a distance of eight miles from Devil's Island, stands Farringia on the side of a kind of wide lagoon. The other stream, the Fattalah, comes from the north east, taking its rise in the Fullah country at least 150 miles off. The Fattalah is an exceedingly beautiful river, becoming more lovely the higher you ascend. About thirity miles from the sea navigation is stopped by rapids, but above the rapids are several falls, beyond which it is possible to travel on the river by boat for a month.
Early in the year 1798 two medical missionaries, Henry Brunton and Peter Greig, were sent by the Scotch Presbyterian church to "the land of the Susus." They met with but little success. Greig was cruelly murdered at Kubia, on the Fattalah River, by a party of Fullahs, instigated by a desire of plunder, and their labours were not followed up.
In the year 1807 the attention of the Church Missionary Society was directed, in the first instance, to the Susus because their language was understood by several other tribes, both on the coast and in the interior; and because, of all the numerous languages of Western Africa, it was the first reduced to writing, several books of religious instruction having been printed in Susu at an early period. Accordingly, after some preliminary explorations, the first Mission station amongst the Susus was opened, in 18o8, at Bashia, on the Fattalah River, and a few years later, Kanofi, on the same river was occupied.
In 1815 a missionary settlement called Gambier (after Lord Gambier, then president of the C.M.S.) was opened among the Bagas, at Kapparu, about seventy miles north of Freetown, at the mouth of the Dubrika River. These pioneering efforts were carried on under the most discouraging circumstances, and were attended with most serious loss of life. In eleven years fifteen missionaries had gone forth, of whom seven were early victims to the climate. In 1817 the slave-trade revived, and, at the instigation of the slave-dealers, the Mission buildings were destroyed by fire. On all sides the opposition became so formidable that the missionaries were compelled to withdraw from the settlements they had formed, and take refuge in Sierra Leone. Then followed a time when darkness spread over the land like a cloud; but still God was not without His witness--the prayers of one faithful penitent were rising up day by day to the throne of grace until, in His own good time, the Light of Truth once more returned.
The climate is an obstacle to the Mission, but there are two qualifying considerations; the one, that an improved system of medical treatment in the acclimating fever has been at least partially successful on the coast during past years; the other, that West Indians, and especially coloured persons, though not perhaps proof against the African climate, would suffer less from it than Europeans. The heat, which is so fearfully oppressive to white men, is a luxury to them. "In Barbados, for instance, it is a great delight to the negro children to place themselves at midday on the limestone step in front of the school, in the angle of a white-washed wall, and there to sit or lie exposed to the full glare of the tropical sun, which no white child could endure. But admitting the objection of climate to its utmost extent, surely this cannot deter us from missionary enterprize. Has climate bound the extension of our empire, or of our commerce? Some of the unhealthiest parts of the African coast are studded with European agents of the nefarious slave-trade. If only as much pains had been taken, during the past century, to evangelize Africa as to debase her; if as many Missionaries had braved her climate, as there have been servants of Mammon there, engaged in the vile traffic of human flesh, ere this the Gospel would have reached the Kong Mountains. Had the same gallantry and self- devotion been shown, and as many lives been tendered for the extension of our Redeemer's kingdom, as have recently advanced the British frontier to the Sutlej and the Indus, no mountain barrier would have checked the triumph of our faith; it would have been borne victoriously from Sahara to the Cape, from the Gold Coast to the gates of Egypt." [Bishop Rawle.]
At any rate the fever of the West Coast is a very formidable foe, and is caused to some extent by the noxious exhalations from swamps or from the decay of rich tropical vegetation. The first symptoms of the fever are nausea, headache, and morbid fancies, together with sleeplessness and loss of appetite. The imagination is unusually active, but study is out of the question. As the disease advances, the longing to do impossible things alternates with a great apprehension of approaching danger. Then come fits of shivering, with dizziness, intolerable thirst, and, in all probability, delirium. To guard against it, a young missionary should be careful not to sleep in the middle of the day--keep the mind active, do some thing during the day; (2) of course, to be moderate in the use of food, and abstemious with regard to alcoholic drinks--drink and fear have slain more white men in tropical Africa than the climate itself; (3) after a severe attack run out to sea, malaria perishes about three miles from land.
Apropos of the African fever a story is told of a slave-dealer who shipped several cargoes from the Rio Pongo, that illustrates the blind superstition of the Mohammadan on the coast. The slave-captain on one occasion wanted to delay the start of a caravan which was going up country in search of a cargo. He was the guest of the Fullah chief; who was to lead the expedition, and on the morning of the start, the captain declared that he was suddenly attacked with fever. "I don't know," he said, "whether the worthy Mussulman understood my case or believed my fever, but the result was quite the same; he assented to my request like a gentleman, and ex pressed the deepest sympathy with my sufferings. His next concern was for my cure. True to the superstition of his country, the good-natured Fullah insisted on taking the management of matters into his own hands, and forthwith prescribed a dose from the Koran, diluted in water, which he declared was a specific remedy for my complaint. I smiled at the idea of making a drug of divinity, but as I knew that homoeopathy was harmless under the circumstances, I requested the Fullah to prepare his physic on the spot. The chief immediately brought his Koran, and, turning over the leaves attentively for some time, at last hit on the appropriate verse, which he wrote down on a board with gunpowder ink, and then washed it off into a bowl with clean water. This was given me to swallow, and the Mohammadan left me to the operation of his religious charm, with special directions to the servants to allow no one to disturb my rest."
Another source of anxiety and danger is, of course, the Tornado which comes with pitiless force and spreads disaster and ruin on all sides, undoing the work of long years in an hour's time, and causing sadness and sorrow in the missionary's home. A recent writer from the Isles de Los, thus describes it:--
"All is unusually calm and still. No sound can be heard except what is made in and out of the house. Even the birds cease their twitter. The air is sultry and we feel that there is a storm coming on. Suddenly it gets very dark; the clouds are purple and lowering. There is a distant rumble of thunder. The island looks calm and dark, the sea is dark and unusually calm and looks dangerous. Suddenly a strong wind blows, and we have to make haste and shut all the windows and doors, because we know what is coming. It is comfortable to think that the roof is safe and not likely to come off. There is a vivid flash of lightning followed immediately by a terrific roar of thunder. The wind increases and the rain comes down in torrents. When we look out of the window no islands are visible. The sea is showing its dog's teeth, and the wind is dashing the waves against the rocks. It lasts for about an hour; then the dark clouds disappear, leaving the sun shining brightly and the air clear and fresh. Just like an April shower, only not quite so light."
In spite, however, of both fever and tempest, Nature is kind, and compensates the inhabitants with some of the choicest scenes of beauty and grandeur.
As the traveller along the coast turns the prow of his boat through the surf; and crosses the bar that guards the mouth of an African river, he suddenly finds himself moving calmly onward between sedgy shores buried in mangroves. Presently the scene expands in the ruffled mirror of a deep, majestic stream. Its lofty banks are covered by innumerable varieties of the tallest forest trees, from whose summits a trailing network of vines and flowers floats down, and sweeps the passing current. A stranger, who beholds this scenery for the first time, is struck by the immense size, prolific abundance, and gorgeous verdure of every thing. Leaves large enough for garments lie piled and motionless in the lazy air. The bamboo and cane shake their splendid spears and pennant leaves, as the stream ripples among their roots. Beneath the massive trunks of forest trees the country opens; and, in vistas through the wood, the traveller sees innumerable fields lying fallow in grass, or waving with harvests of rice and cassava, broken by golden clusters of Indian corn. Groups of oranges, lemons, coffee trees, plantains and bananas, are crossed by the tall stems of cocoas, and arched by the broad and drooping leaves of the royal palm. Beyond this, capping the summit of a hill, may be seen the conical huts of the natives, bordered by fresh pastures dotted with flocks of sheep and goats. As you leave the coast, and shoot round the river-curves of this beautiful wilderness, teeming with flowers and birds of gay plumage, you plunge into the interior where the rising country slowly expands into hills and mountains.
The forest is varied. Sometimes it is a matted pile of tree, vine, and bramble, obscuring everything, and impervious save with knife and hatchet; at others it is a Gothic temple. The sward spreads open before you for miles on every side, while from its even surface the trunks of straight and massive trees rise to a prodigious height. At length the hills are reached; and the lowland heat is tempered by mountain freshness. The scene that may be beheld from almost any elevation, is always beautiful and sometimes grand. Forest, of course, prevails; yet with a glass, and often by the unaided eye, gentle hills swelling from the wooded landscape, may be seen covered with native huts. Such is commonly the westward view; as far as the eye can reach, noble outlines of hill and mountain may be traced against the sky, stretching away to the distant horizon. At daybreak in the neighbourhood of a river, a dense mist will be seen lying beneath you in a solid mass, while out of this lake of vapour the tops of hills peer up like green islands. But ere long the "cloud compelling" sun, lifts itself over the mountains, and the mists which have haunted the valley since nightfall quickly dissolve, and the sun rises higher and higher in all its terrible splendour. Africa unveils to her master, and the blue sky and green forest quiver under his fierce beams.
"In an African forest," says Professor Drummond, "not a fallen branch is seen. One is struck at first at a certain clean look about the great forests of the interior--a novel and unaccountable cleanness, as if the forest-bed was carefully swept and dusted daily by unseen elves. And so, indeed, it is. Scavengers of a hundred kinds remove decaying animal matter, from the carcase of a fallen elephant to the broken wing of a gnat, eating it, or carrying it out of sight and burying it on the deodorizing earth. And these countless millions of termites perform a similar function for the vegetable world, making away with all plants and trees, all stems, twigs, and tissues the moment the finger of decay strikes the signal. constantly in these woods one comes across what appear to be sticks and branches and bundles of faggots; but when closely examined they are seen to be mere casts in mud. From these hollow tubes, which preserve the original form of the branch down to the minutest knot or fork, the ligneous tissue is often entirely removed, while others are met with in all stages of demolition. There is the section of an actual specimen, which is not yet completely destroyed, and from which the mode of attack may be easily seen. The insects start apparently from two centres. One company attacks the inner bark, which is the favourite morsel, leaving the coarse outer bark un touched, or more usually replacing it with grains of earth, atom by atom, as they eat it away. The inner bark is gnawed off otherwise as they go along; but the woody tissue beneath is allowed to remain to form a protective sheath for the second company, who begin work at the centre. This second contingent eats its way outward and onward leaving a thin tube of outer wood to the last, as props to the mine till they have finished the main excavation. When a fallen trunk lying upon the ground is the object of attack the outer cylinder is frequently left intact, and it is only when one tries to drag it off to his camp-fire that he finds to his disgust that he is dealing with a mere hollow tube, a few lines in thickness, filled up with mud." And again, the same writer's description of the White Ant may be usefully quoted here: "It is a small insect, with a bloated, yellowish-white body and a somewhat large thorax, oblong-shaped and coloured a disagreeable, oily brown. The flabby, tallow-like body makes this insect sufficiently repulsive; but it is for quite another reason that the white ant is the worst-abused of all living vermin in warm countries. The termite lives almost exclusively upon wood, and the moment a tree is cut or a log sawn for any economical purpose this insect is upon its track. One may never see the insect, possibly, in the flesh, for it lives underground; but its ravages confront one at every turn. You build your house, perhaps, and for a few months fancy you have pitched upon the one solitary site in the country where there are no white ants. But one day suddenly the door-post totters, and lintel and rafters come down together with a crash. You look at a section of the wrecked timbers, and discover that the whole inside is eaten clean away. The apparently solid logs of which the rest of the house is built are now mere cylinders of bark, and through the thickest of them you could push your little finger. Furniture, tables, chairs, chests of drawers, everything made of wood, is inevitably attacked, and in a single night a strong trunk is often riddled through and through, and turned into matchwood. There is no limit, in fact, to the depredation by these insects, and they will eat books, or leather, or cloth, or anything; and in many parts of Africa I believe if a man. lay down to sleep with a wooden leg it would be a heap of sawdust in the morning. So much feared is this insect now that no one in certain parts of India and Africa ever attempts to travel with such a thing as a wooden trunk. On the Ilanganyika plateau I have camped on ground which was as hard as adamant, and as innocent of white ants, apparently, as the pavement of St. Paul's, and awakened next morning to find a wooden box almost gnawed to pieces. Leather portmanteaus share the same fate, and the only substances which seem to defy the marauders are iron and tin."
It is a great pity that no English traveller of modern times has penetrated this part of Western Africa, and that so little is known of a country which, according to the Vicomte de Sanderval, who passed through it in 1880 on his way to Timbo, is exceedingly beautiful, very productive, and occupied by an un usually fine and intelligent race of natives.
The people belong to the Susu tribe, and are of a distinctly negro type--black, with woolly hair and thick lips. They are tall and handsome, in this respect contrasting strongly with the natives of the Congo and South-Western Africa generally. The women are nice-looking and, what seems rather surprising, very clean. They are industrious, skilful with their hands, making their own clothes as well as mats, hammocks, baskets, wooden tubs, and chairs. The Susu language is spoken over a space of 800 or 1000 miles, a country larger than Great Britain, and, in many ways, excels all the languages of Western Africa. In softness it even approaches Italian.
In the busiest time of the year the people are at their farms all day, busy planting their rice, fundengi, cassava, etc. They go through the pouring rain, men and women, young and old, down to the tiny babies on their mothers' backs. It does not hurt them--they are used to it. They plant rice according to the Eastern way of scattering it with the hand. Fundengi is a species of rice, a small round grain, and cooked like rice.
The form of government under which the West African negroes live in their own country is a despotism of the most decided kind. There is but one free man in a nation--the king. The rest are all his slaves, and he has unlimited power over their property, and even over their lives. The following anecdote of a late king of Dahomey will illustrate the extent to which this power may be carried. Being much troubled by a dream, in which he thought he saw his father and his brother, both of whom had been some time dead, he sent for one of his subjects, and addressed him in some such way as this: "I saw my father last night, and I fear he is not quite comfortable where he is--something disturbs him, makes him restless and uneasy. I intend, therefore, to send you with a message to him, to let him know how anxious I am for his well-being, and how glad I should be if I could do anything that would increase his happiness." The man's head was immediately cut off in order that this message might be delivered without delay. It then struck the king that, in his care for his father, he had entirely forgotten his brother; whereupon he ordered another subject to be put to death in order that a message might be carried to him also. The property of every one who dies goes to the king--nothing to the wife and children, except what the king may be pleased to give them. But though all the people are the slaves of the king, and thus subject to occasional caprices of the most fearful kind, their slavery is, in the main, of a very mild description. The subject is not required to work more than a quarter or half a day for the king; the remainder of his time is his own, and is found sufficient to enable him to raise food for his subsistence.
The slave-trade was first introduced by the Portuguese about 300 years ago, and Englishmen took a leading part in it, until, in the year 1834, through the unceasing labours of Wilberforce, Buxton, and a few others, the British Government abolished slavery in all our colonies, declaring the black man, in every respect, as free as the white. Great apprehensions were entertained lest the emancipation thus granted should, in the first instance, be abused, and degenerate into rioting and licentiousness; but it is a remarkable fact, and greatly to the credit of the negroes, that the day of the Emancipation was one of the quietest days ever known in the British West Indies. The first use they made of their newly-acquired liberty was to repair to the house of God to return thanks for the boon. We must not suppose, however, that because we have at length done our duty in emancipating the negro in the British possessions, we have, there fore, done all that can be required of us; we still owe him a heavy debt. What return can we make him for 300 years of oppression? Surely the least we can do is to strive to raise him in the scale of mankind. And hence it is, that the cause of a Mission to Africa comes before us with such great claims upon our sympathy. Doubtless the West Indies should be foremost in the mission, as it has been for their benefit, primarily, that the negro has undergone so much; but the inhabitants of the mother country are, in every point of view, bound to lend a helping hand.
In a pure Susu town you will often find a yard, in the centre of which is a thatched building having within it a sort of bed, or four posts with mats thrown over them; near this stands a calabash of cooked rice, a pipe or knife, and a jug of water, to mark that a great man or head of a house is dead. They are placed thus, believing that his spirit returns in the night and continues the pursuits in which the man was generally busied when in life. The very clothes he wore are placed in this fetish-house, too. When the funeral takes place a sacrifice is offered, frequently a white fowl is killed and its blood sprinkled before the corpse. Before the sheet or mat is wound round the body all the family assemble round the corpse. The head of the family takes the hand of The dead and says, "Good-bye, you are gone. I have not done you any bad (harm). Where you are going, remember me." All the rest of the family in order of nearness of kin do the same, saying the same words. After this some words are said (possibly a prayer), and then the body is wrapped in white cloth or else a rush mat. The body, laid on cross sticks, is then carried to burial, and, after some more words are said, it is placed in the grave; over it, in order to protect it, sticks are laid, their ends being fixed in the sides of the grave. Upon these sticks green branches are placed, the earth is thrown in, and the grave filled up. Some favourite possession of the deceased, such as his sleeping-mat, or an old calabash, is placed on the grave and left there, and there it remains, as no one dares to remove it. After a time the Kolungi, or native feast for the dead, is held, where the relatives can afford it, at which a sheep is killed, or one or two cows, according to their means. The friends of the deceased are gathered together, and feasting and dancing indulged in. When Mr. Duport visited the town of Yenungia in 1861 (Yenungia being a strong hold of devil-worship), he was horrified at the various kinds of "country fashion" which met his eye in every direction. Mohammadan writings (i.e. charms), natives greegrees, and, alas! the sign of the Holy Cross, all mingled in a curious manner, hanging up above the gates and over the doors and entrances of every house.
The use of the Cross amongst them was thus accounted for: "At the time when the nefarious traffic in human flesh was at its height, Portuguese missionaries accompanied some of the slave-trading vessels. These missionaries were accustomed to baptize those who could afford to pay for their baptism, and every one whom they baptized received a little cross, which the priests suspended round their necks." Possibly we have here the source of that knowledge about the Cross which some of these people have perverted to superstitious uses.
When Mr. L. Wilkinson's mother died at Fallangia, the female chief, Gomez, sent for the corpse (for the families of Wilkinson, the heathen name of whose ancestors was Tanu, and Gomez are related) in order that it might be placed beside the Devil's house, while sacrifice was made to him, and be sprinkled with the victim's blood, and then buried there. Of course Mr. Wilkinson would consent to nothing of this. So the poor woman was left, and, having descended from the verandah, Mr. L. Wilkinson, pointing, said, "That is the Devil's house." And there, in the centre and deepest shadow of four magnificent and stately mango trees, I beheld the horrid sight. I felt as if I could hardly walk, and could only creep, and I should think my own look must have been a horrid stare. I have no recollection of ever having been frightened by danger; but on this occasion I was appalled, and from hot became suddenly cold. And my horror was increased by observing that a carpet of dark-green leaves, which was in front, was sprinkled with blood. I made, in three places in the sand, the sign of the Cross, and took possession of the spot, of the whole town and its inhabitants, in the name of Him that was crucified! I crept nearer to the temple; and stooped down, for the thatch was brought down low--within sixteen inches of the ground. I beheld what there was within it. The house was like the dwelling houses round, about two yards in diameter. There was an altar of earth, six inches high, in the middle of the temple, with bottles of wine piled upon and all around it, and a plate containing an offering of rice. With regard to the leaves sprinkled with blood, we learned that Mrs. Gomez had caused a bullock to be sacrificed to the devil. Its throat had been cut over the leaves, and some of the blood sprinkled upon the altar.
The art of healing, as practised by Africans in their mode of dealing with diseases of every kind, is entirely different from that employed by Europeans in general. With the latter science is the law and the guide, but with the former the method used is just the reverse; and, judging from the reasoning, and ways by which they try to effect a cure, we should call it natural and instinctive, or perhaps superstitious.
A schoolmaster at Fotobah, Isles de Los, relates the following: "I had occasion to hear recently of a singular manner of curing a sprained foot or broken leg. My informant was himself the subject of the cure. He is a native of Sierra Leone, and is carrying on a little trade of his own, among the Susus of these parts. On getting on board the vessel one day, by chance my foot slipped and I fell; and in the fall either my foot was sprained or the bone. was broken. In that state I thought the best thing I could do was to proceed at once to Sierra Leone for medical help, as I believed no one in the country could make me well; but my friend, a countryman, told me that I need not do so, as there was a person among them who could cure my sprained foot if I applied to him. I consented, and made up my mind to try the country doctor, who, when he came, assured me that he could make my foot well within three weeks; and that after this time I might walk about, or run or jump as I pleased. I was glad to hear this. But what do you think I judged of my doctor's skill, when he brought the medicines for the foot, and began to rub and tie them on the sound, uninjured foot? Of course I instantly objected to this new and unheard-of way of curing a sprained foot; but he told me to be quiet, which at last I was obliged to do. Soon the three weeks passed by, and I found myself perfectly better.'" [Bishop Rawle.]
As to the religion of Heathen Africa, the negroes in the interior, it must be remembered, are not without a kind of religion; and this religion is by no means found to be always a hindrance in the spreading of the Gospel among them.
Their tradition is, that when the world was made, the Creator formed two pairs of human beings--a pair of blacks and a pair of whites--and that these four persons were the first parents of all the people in the world. In the first instance the black man and woman stood highest in the favour of their Maker, but, on a certain occasion, He summoned both pairs before Him, and showed to them a closed box and a roll covered with written characters. They were to choose between these two articles, and on their choice was to depend their future destiny. The blacks, being the favourites, had the first choice, and, impelled by that curiosity which is still their characteristic, selected the box, which they thought must contain something wonderful. They opened it, and in it they found nothing but lumps of iron, and lead, and earth, and clay, which they knew not how to use. The white pair took the roll, and found that it gave them a knowledge of arts and sciences, and of the foundations of the true religion, and of the way in which to offer to their Creator such service as would be acceptable to Him. The first use they made of their newly knowledge was to construct a ship, and sail away from Africa to a richer and more favoured country. The possession of the roll accounts for the white man's great progress in civilization, and the negro feels that the degraded state in which he now finds himself is a due punishment for the error of his first parents in not choosing the roll. They do not think they are altogether disowned by the Supreme Being, but that He has handed them over to the care of inferior deities. They do not pay--they think they have no right to pay--any adoration to Him, that is now the white man's privilege by virtue of his possession of the knowledge of religion imparted by the roll: He knows more of the creator, and may approach Him more nearly. They may not know, and must not inquire about Him, but they worship the inferior deities, who are symbolized by lions, tigers, etc. They believe, too, in the existence of evil spirits, who, they think, have great power to do them mischief and to propitiate whom is their great aim. They think that the Creator, being good, will not hurt them; and that, therefore, they need only to pray to the evil spirits to deprecate injury. In front of their dwellings you will see what looks like a maypole, dressed with ribbons, beads, bits of glass, etc. This they call a "gree-gree," and use it as a charm to keep the evil spirits from injuring them. Some time since a converted negro explained how, before he had made up his mind to become a Christian, he had taken his "gree-gree," and set it up in a place where it was exposed to the weather; that the rain had fallen and destroyed the finery with which it was decorated; and, "so I thought," he said, "that if my gree-gree could not protect itself from the rain it could not protect me from evil spirits."
Into the subject of Mohammadanism generally it is unnecessary to enter. We are dealing, however, with a country in which the votaries of that creed abound in large numbers, and where polygamy is one of the standing hindrances to the spread of the Gospel. To refer, then, briefly to some of those difficulties which so often cross the missionary's path, and to give one or two instances of Mohammadan interest in the Mission, may be a fitting conclusion to this chapter, and help us to appreciate that self-denying and patient labour which must ever characterize the champions of the Cross.
"A West Coast trader" must have been a keen observer of what was going on about him to have written as follows:--"A journey into the interior of Africa would be a rural jaunt, were it not so often endangered by the perils of war. The African may be fairly characterized as a shepherd, whose pastoral life is varied by a little agriculture, and those conflicts into which he is seduced, either by family quarrels or the natural passions of his blood. His country, though uncivilized, is not so absolutely wild as is generally supposed. The gradual extension of is slowly but evidently modifying the negro. An African Mussulman is still a warrior for the dissemination of faith as well as for the gratification of avarice; but still the Prophet's laws are so much more genial than paganism that the humanizing influence of the Koran must be allowed. In all the changes, however, that may come over the spirit of man in Africa, her magnificent external nature will for ever remain the same. A little labour teems with vast returns. The climate is not exacting, demanding but shade from the sun and shelter from the storm. Its oppressive heat forbids a toilsome industry, and almost enforces idleness as a law. With every want supplied, without the temptation of national ambition or personal pride, what has the African to do in his forest of palm, his grove of orange, pomegranate, and fig?--left to himself he will lead a life of self indolence."
The Mussulman is never slow to argue that his creed is entitled to at least as much credit as any other. The Rev. D. G. Williams, of the Rio Pongo, relates the following:--"Because in some things Christians and Mohammadans agree, some of the latter conclude that both are alike. One of them said to me, 'As God makes everything two and two, e.g. two eyes, two ears, two hands, etc., so He has given us two religions, the Mohammadan and the Christian. We are both alike, correct.'"
And similarly: a Mohammadan Moonshee in South India once said to the present writer, "You have Jesus Christ, I have Mohammad; you keep Sunday, I keep Friday; I go to my mosque, you go to your church; I believe in my religion, you believe in yours; you will not give up your religion, I will not give up mine." All the more worthy of record are those instances of Mohammadan interest in the Mission which occur from time to time.
On one occasion the fields in the neighbourhood of one of the mission churches were set on fire, and soon the loose grass was burning wildly. About 7 p.m. the church was in serious danger. "I sounded an alarm with the church bell," says the missionary in charge, "and in less than seven minutes over 200 strong men were on the spot contending with the rolling flames. The Mohammadans were conspicuous amongst the valiant. Christians and Mohammadans vied with each other to save the church. Christian and Mohammadan young men scaled the roof of the church with branches of trees to put out the falling sparks. In less than twelve minutes the church was out of danger, for the crowd trampled out the fire. Amongst them was old Sori-Yarneh, oldest of the Mohammadans bent with age." There, are however two important particulars which prevent a good number of these Mohammadans from becoming Christians: (i), a firm and wholesome belief in the traditions of their forefathers, coupled with dread of censure in case they make a renunciation of their faith; (2) polygamy, which is one of the principal creeds of Mohammadanism, and not tolerated by Christianity. This, at least, has been the missionary's unfailing regret, that they have known scores of Mohammadan youths and maidens who would have become Christians but for the two above reasons.
An incident in the experience of one of the Rio Pongo Catechists is no solitary example:--
"The Rev. S. Cole, myself (Mr. Vincente), and a Mohammadan were some time ago on board a Norwegian sailing-vessel which was in port; and the ship- owner, being hospitable, received visitors--amongst others, with ourselves, were a few Mohammadans who met us there. After due salutation we entered into conversation with them; but the cleanliness, magnificence, and neat setting of the vessel threw them into a maze of wonder, and they were, as it were, forced to make loud exclamations. After a pause we interrupted them, and in our speech showed them the possibility of their making such vessels if they were only minded to do it.
"One of them, noticing the warmth with which we spoke, and having learnt that we were missionaries, entered into religious conversation, which we most gladly accepted. By his expressions we found that he was fully conversant with the historical portion of the Scripture--say from the Creation to Moses--as far as Mohammad wrote, besides, he was a grave and experienced man, consequently an At After a long controversy, he said, 'I believe,' speaking through an interpreter, 'that Mohammadanism and Christianity are one in essence, in that both serve the same God; but what we Mohammadans do not admit, is (1) Jesus Christ as being the Son of God, (2) the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity.
"In a long speech full of energy we showed him the base fallacies and fanaticism which exist in Mohammadanism; this he saw as through a glass, but darkly. However he, being candid, and as I had said, a man of experience, confessed that he believed in the Trinity. 'But' says he, 'I will never tell it to others, and you must know that all who disbelieve it--speaking of the Mohammadans only know the Koran and other Mohammad books superficially. I say this,' he continued, 'because you are missionaries.'
"In proving to us the doctrine of the Trinity, he said, 'As man is a unity, but his unity is composed of three parts, namely, body, soul, and spirit, so I believe that God is one, but in this Unity is a Trinity.' Our joy for this man's simple confession of faith was unboundedly great."
The views of a modern writer are much to the point--
"The resemblances between the two creeds are, indeed, many and striking; but the contrasts are even more striking than the resemblances. The religion of Christ contains whole fields of morality, and whole realms of thought, which are all but outside the religion of Mohammad. It opens humility, purity of heart, forgiveness of injuries, sacrifice of self to man's moral nature. If, then, we believe Christianity to be truer and purer in itself than Islam, and than any other religion, we must needs wish others to be partakers of it; and the effort to propagate it is thrice blessed--it blesses him that offers no less than him who accepts it--nay, it often blesses him who accepts it or not.
"The last words of a dying friend are apt to linger in the chambers of the l till the heart itself has ceased to beat, and the last recorded words of the founder of Christianity are not likely to pass from the memory of His Church till that Church has done its work. They are the marching orders of the Christian army; the consolation for every past and present failure; the earnest and warrant, in some shape or other, of ultimate success."
The value of a Christian Mission is not, therefore, to be measured by the number of its converts. The presence in a heathen or Moslem district of a single man, who, filled with missionary spirit, exhibits in his preaching and in his life the self-denying Christian virtues, who is charged with sympathy for those among whom his lot is cast, who is patient of disappointment and of failure, and of the sneers of the ignorant or the irreligious, and who works steadily on with a single eye to the glory of God and the good of his fellow-men, is of itself an influence for good, and a centre from which it radiates wholly independent of the number of converts he is able to enlist. There is a vast number of such men engaged in mission work all over the world, and our best Indian statesmen, some of whom, for obvious reasons, have been hostile to direct proselytizing efforts, are unanimous as to the quantity and quality of the services they render. Nothing, therefore, can be more shallow, or more disingenuous, or more misleading than to attempt to disparage Christian Missions by pitting the bare number of converts whom they claim against the number of converts claimed by Islam.