Project Canterbury

Fifty Years in Western Africa
Being a Record of the Work of the West Indian Church on the Banks of the Rio Pongo

By A.H. Barrow, M.A.
Vicar of Billinghurst, Sussex

London: SPCK, 1900.

Chapter VI.

Mr. Neville at work--Africa for Christ--The missionary's home--The Bansungi--The warrior chief--King Jelloram--More helpers.

BEFORE the end of the year Mr. Neville found himself at Fallangia.

"It was a beautiful morning, and joyfully I stepped on shore," he wrote in his journal, "and if there was no human being to welcome me, the dear birds seemed to rejoice at my arrival, and to hail my coming; for kingfishers flew near me in various directions, and other birds flew round about me, and uttered a glad note or cry of joy. My baggage was but little, so two of the boat's crew picking it up, we trudged on together--the aspect of everything making a most favourable impression on my mind--till we got to the Mission station."

One of Mr. Neville's first acts was to examine the schools. He found the children backward, but with a fair knowledge of Holy Scripture. The number of day scholars was 101; of Sunday scholars, 106. The total number of persons baptized so far had been 173; and now, as the results of three years' work, at Christmas, 1858, a central station had been established at Fallangia, with a church and mission house; the full services of the Church were being carried on, together with regular celebrations of the Holy Communion, which for want of a clergyman in priest's orders had been so long impracticable.

The Mission was now as it were making a new start for and in order that we may learn a little more of the character of our new missionary, it will not be out of place to quote here a few words from a letter of his to his friend, the Rev. T. Brutton, in England:--"I little knew the thrilling delights in store for me in Africa. I little knew what God had in store for me; for I will confess to you I sometimes venture humbly to hope and think that He has brought me here. I cannot tell you how I love the dear black children in the schools. They love the white man that come3 to teach them. In preaching to these black children I experience such deep emotions of love and pity when I think of their extreme and deep degradation as Pagans, and what they might be, and some of them are, as 'sons of God.' Oh, what a blessed work to be employed in bringing this people out of darkness into light! I never knew what it was to enjoy life before. Notwithstanding the heat, which is increasing every day, and the deadly climate, I am years younger than I was in England. I am as persuaded of the conversion of Africa to Christ as I am of the rising of the sun to-morrow."

The beginning of the year 1859 saw Mr. Neville settled at Fallangia and hard at work. His life must have been one of very considerable hardship for a man of his age; but still his letters and journal are full of expressions of joy and extreme satisfaction. He thus describes his new home:--"Approaching Fallangia from the river there is an opening in the mangrove bush, showing the way straight up the ascent of the hill to the first stockade and gate into the town. On both sides there is a rich broad fringe of various tropical trees, flower-bearing and fruit-bearing; and though there has been no rain for some weeks yet, bedewed as they are by night, the leaves--some of a pale (as the plantain leaf), and others of a shining, though very dark green (as the leaf of the monkey apple and locust tree), are all unfaded here. Conspicuous are the rich scarlet flowers of the titimindi, and two orange trees of the largest growth, studded all over with globes of gold, and on all sides shedding forth their fragrant perfume. On either side of the gate, through the stockade, stand huge trees--on the right a silk-cotton tree, with its vast trunk, buttressed as it were by its strong and great roots; and on the left a magnificent mango. Entering through the gate you see three great mango trees, delighting the eye and affording a most pleasant and refreshing shade. On the right hand of the large space, stockaded as to its entire circumference (in the centre of which are the mango trees), stands the chief's house--mud-built, grass-roofed, and having a deep verandah, brought down low, as some defence against the tornado. But I must hasten on to the mission house. If some of my friends in England," Mr. Neville adds, "were to visit the mission house in this primitive place, and could see the way in which we are housed and living, I am sure they would smile, and allow that this does look like missionary life. The mud walls of my house, though white washed and clean, are rather rough workmanship. In one corner of my room, the grandest apartment in the house, stands a barrel of flour; next to it a large packing-case containing books, etc.; on the top of it-a gun-case; next in order is a two-handled saw about six feet long; then a great iron boiling-pot and the medicine-chest; then comes my large and valuable armchair; then a doorless cupboard, being nothing more nor less than a dirty packing-case turned upside down and divided into partitions containing dishes, plates, etc.; then a window, a mere hole in the wall furnished with strong rude shutters, window-glass being unknown on the Rio Pongo."

Shortly after this Mr. Neville went on a short missionary tour up the Fattalah; then to Domingia and Bakia, where he visited Chief Gomez, the brother of Mrs. Lightburn, of Farringia. He was a polygamist; but called himself a Christian, and said that he had been baptized by the chaplain of some Portuguese slave-ship. That these Portuguese clergy, coming to this place with slavers, did baptize, and receive as a fee a slave or two, is certain. In the rivers of the south, where the Portuguese had missions about two hundred years ago, crosses and "Ajim's Dei's" are found in the possession of the heathen, and worn by them as greegrees and fetishes.

On returning to Fallangia, Mr. Neville learned that two days before his arrival the church, mission house, and lives of all at the station had been in danger from a band of devil worshipp It appeared that at about 9 p.m. on the day mentioned, it being clear moonlight at the time, Bansungi passed by the mission house. Three or four boys living in Fallangia, hearing the tomtoms (drums) and the cries, came up to Bansungi and looked upon him. Now Bansungi is a man dressed up in a certain way, who represents and is worshipped as the devil. The pagan here believe that, excepting his attendants, who have been prepared by a mysterious preparatory initiation, no mortal can behold Bansungi and live. If therefore there is no house to run into, you must prostrate yourself with your face to the ground. Now the fact of these boys being alive some days after looking at Bansungi was rather damaging to his reputation, so he sent a band of Pagans to threaten destruction if the boys were not-given up. They wanted the boys, they said, not to harm them, but to put medicines and throw earth upon them, to save their lives; but probably their intention was to poison or make a sacrifice of them. At once the chiefs of Fallangia and Bakia came to the station, each with a band of warriors; meaning to act solely on the defensive if possible, but at the same time declaring that if the enemy fired a shot, they would fight in defence of the mission station. At last the pagans went away on receiving from Chief Wilkinson a promise of a handsome present; which he afterwards sent them.

The difficulty did not end here, however, for the matter in which the three boys were concerned was only a pretext; in reality the invasion was a determined attempt to stamp out the Mission. Before long a large army of devil worshippers advanced again, under Simo, Chief of Yanungia, and occupied the town of Konfungea, about five miles from Fallangia. Several of the friendly chiefs assembled, and formed a guard round the mission station: and then, after causing many days of anxiety and trouble, on Saturday night, March 12th, one-half of Simo's army ran away, and he withdrew the rest; promising Chief Wilkinson, as one of the terms of peace, that Bansungi should not pass near the mission house again.

During this blockade of the Mission, and at the time when an engagement with the enemy seemed imminent, a warrior was sent through the ranks to stir up the warlike courage of the soldiers--a custom which seems to be necessary amongst most savage races. Mr. Neville thus describes his strange proceedings:--"Whilst I am writing, I am informed that a head warrior in full costume, with his piper and other attendants armed with bows and arrows, and beating a tomtom, is coming into the yard to practise fighting with an adversary. I did not approve of this; but the next instant a gigantic African, armed only with a long sword, bounded in front of the room in which I am sitting, and instantly began fighting with an imaginary enemy. I am not equal to a description of his appearance. His helmet was made of the black-haired hide of some animal, and was like the 'bearskin' of our English Foot Guards, excepting that at the top it was square. From the helmet in front depended a veil of scarlet cloth, about eighteen inches long, with eyeholes, round which was sewed white cloth, and the veil itself was trimmed with an edging of black-haired skin. Here I must add that the black helmet had squares of scarlet cloth upon it, and the veil, too, was ornamented with square patches and wavy stripes of white cloth, and several very small bells were sewn on to it. He wore a rather close-fitting body garment and wide trousers, reaching a little below the knee; both made of the same material--native red-brown cloth. Greegrees (or charms) he had thickly strewn over, or rather sewn to his attire, both before and behind. His piper, bow-bearing, and tomtom men kept close behind him during his imaginary fightings. He had two tassels, depending by a sash from his side, with which he wiped the blood from his sword, and little squares on his body coat, and spots on his trousers representing greegrees; besides this he had many bells fastened to his back. His boundings into the air, and the leaps he made, pursuing his imaginary foes clean over the mission fences, several feet high, were surprising; at last he slew his adversary by cutting off his head, whereupon he made a loud whirring noise with his mouth. Then he threw his head quickly and violently forwards and downwards, barking like a dog; after which, bending forwards he twirled himself round and round, and vaulted high into the air. Soon, however, another foe appeared, which this time was a real living man, armed with a long musket which he pretended frequently to discharge at the warrior with the sword, but of course with no effect--the greegrees rendered bullets as harmless as pellets; and so he too lost his head, by the sword of the invincible warrior. After all was over, he again bounded over the mission fence and away. I would not have given my consent to this exhibition, which was unchristian, savage, and horrible; he came here, however, to arouse the armed men, who were lying in all directions about the mission yard and under the verandahs."

The work at Fallangia continued to prosper under Mr. Duport's charge; the number of baptized persons having now increased to 205, of school children to 108, with 22 persons under instruction for baptism the average daily attendance at the church services being 80.

At this time information was received that Jelloram Fernandez, King of Bramaia, intended to come with an army to Fallangia, to burn, kill, and destroy; and that consequently the Mission was in danger. Chief Wilkinson accordingly fortified his town by strengthening his stockades and setting up new gates. The Governor of Sierra Leone presented Mr. Neville with fifteen barrels of gunpowder, and a quantity of arms, as a means of defence in the event of the worst extremities. On considering the position of affairs, Mr. Neville now resolved on visiting King Jelloram in his own town, in the hope of making such explanation as would render him a friend instead of an enemy.

On December 5th Mr. Neville embarked in the mission boat, with a crew of four native Christians, and a heathen named Pake. Anchoring at the mouth of the Rio Pongo, they slept in the boat, and suffered much from great heat, combined with heavy dew. The next morning they sailed southward, on the Atlantic Ocean, until they sighted the Isles de Los; soon after which they saw on their left the high volcanic mountain upon which Bramaia, Jelloram's capital, is situated.

The king was sitting with about thirty men in a spacious yard, adjoining his own house, and containing a temple erected for the worship of the stone. A long and unsatisfactory conversation ensued. Mr. Neville told the king that "as a priest of the Most High God, he had come to speak peaceable- and to establish friendly relations;" but the king was far too dexterous for the missionary, and it was impossible to bring him to the point of a frank disavowal of hostile intentions. He, however, permitted Mr. Neville to preach a short sermon, after which he rudely shouted, "When the world is turned upside down, I will believe what you have said; but not before." At one o'clock, when Mr. Neville left the town, the heat was most intense, Entering his hammock, in order to be carried down the hill by bearers, one of the poles broke, and he was thrown to the ground and much bruised. On arriving at the water's side, it was found that the tide had receded, and the boat was aground. On account of the mud it was impossible to reach the barrel which was on board, and Mr. Neville endured the torments of thirst: not a drop of water having been offered him by the savage king. Bruised and weary as he was, he would gladly have rested on the ground, but multitudes of large red ants prevented him. A new source of anxiety was added. The king, considering that the same men who had brought up the mission boat might hereafter pilot an English vessel of war to the same place, arrested three of the crew, and it was only by the wise interference of the king's brother that they were allowed to escape. The tide having now risen, the whole party took to the boat, and rowed for their lives, apprehending an ambush. They toiled till midnight, and after a short rest arrived on the welcome bosom of the Atlantic at sunrise, and, in the course of another twenty-four hours landed at Fallangia, on the night of the 10th; but Mr. Neville was now prostrated by a dangerous illness, the effect of the unwholesome water which he had been obliged to drink on his voyage to Bramaia.

Christmas, 1859, was a gloomy time. The entire burden of the Mission had again fallen on Mr. Duport, who was distressed with the apprehension that Mr. Neville was about to be taken away, like Mr. Leacock before him. Relief; however, was at hand. On January 22, 1860, the Rev. Abel Phillips, of Codrington College, a deacon of the diocese of Barbados, was ordained priest, and Mr. Joseph Dean, a young English literate, deacon, for the Mission, in the Chapel Royal, Whitehall, by the Bishop of Barbados. They landed at Sierra Leone on February 12th, and arrived at Fallangia on the 17th. They found Mr. Neville still very ill, and confined to his bed. On the 22nd (Ash Wednesday) they saw him placed in a boat on his way to Sierra Leone, to be under medic care. The invalid was eventually obliged to go to Teneriffe for change of air, and was unable to return to Africa for several months.

Mr. Lewis Wilkinson continued to act as interpreter to the Mission. Writing at this time to acknowledge the gift of a watch which the English Committee had sent out to him, he says:--"We were once in darkness, and like cassava plants in a wilderness where there is no gardener, till the first preaching of the gospel by the late Mr. Leacock. Now streams are running into this mighty wilderness where the weary traveller may quench his thirst. The desire of the gospel is becoming great in this country, more especially among the middling classes. Our new missionaries were received with every demonstration of joy."

Mr. Phillips speaks of the good example set at Fallangia having its inauence for a long distance round, even in towns hostile to the Mission, and of the increase of legitimate trade with Sierra Leone since the establishment of the Mission. On the other hand great difficulties still remain in the way. 1st, the opposition of Heathenism and Mohammadanism; 2nd, the slave-trade, which is still carried on in the river, in spite of the vigilance of the British cruisers; 3rd, the social habits of the people, which the prevailing custom of domestic slavery tends to keep at a low point. The commencement, however, of a new station at Domingia, and the acquirement by the missionaries of the Susu language, are matters for thankfulness, which may be noted in the work of the year.

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