Rio Nunez--Strange visit from the Bansungi--Result of seven years' work--West Indian sympathy and interest.
SATURDAY, 11th of January, 1862, was a memorable day in the history of the Mission. It was the day on which the foundation was laid of the first church at Domingia, on the Great Pongo River, by King Katty, in the presence of a large number of people, and, as was reported, "amid the roars of cannon."
After this was done, and the new schoolmaster, Mr. Maurice, had been settled at his work at Fallangia, Mr. Duport started on a missionary tour up the Fattalah River, visiting and preaching in many of the towns. At the end of January he found it necessary to go to Freetown on business connected with the mission house; and while returning, the captain of the vessel carried him about eighty miles out of his way, to the north-west of the river, and entered the Rio Nunez. This was the first visit of any of our missionaries to this important river. For three days the vessel ascended the stream. The banks were lined on both sides with the establishments of French merchants and their Jaloff factors. [An important race of West Africans. They are an active, powerful, and warlike race: the most comely negroes on the coast, having the best features and the clearest and softest skin. They are an industrious people, excelling all their neighbours in the manufacture of cotton cloth--spinning the wool to a finer thread, weaving it in a broader loom, and dyeing it of a better colour. A distinction of caste exists among them, and is observed as strictly as among the Hindoos. Their language is quite peculiar to themselves, and is represented as poor but soft, and easy to be acquired.] Ropas, the town to which the vessel was bound, was formerly a handsome place, and though at this time almost in ruins, it still looked well from the river. Mr. Duport was most kindly received by the resident factor and his wife, the latter entreating him "to intercede that a missionary might be sent them, and they would do everything in their power to assist in advancing the civilization and evangelization of the people." On February 12th he left the Nunez, and reached Fallangia on the 14th. During his absence Mr. Maurice had been ill with fever, but was now much better.
One of the most curious events in the history of the Mission for 1862 was a visit from the Bansungi, or representative of Satan. This is the person through whose influence the Mission was threatened with a hostile invasion in 1859, and who was after wards grievously offended with Mr. Phillips, on account of a sermon on the power and wickedness of Satan, preached at Yengisa in 1860. On Septuagesima Sunday (February 16th) the Bansungi most unexpectedly presented himself to Mr. Duport at Fallangia, together with three others who were in the habit of coming over to church from Yengisa. Mr. Duport did not at first know him, and the Bansungi's own account of himself was somewhat marvellous. He said that "the old people now dead, had appeared to him in a dream, and had urged him to give up country fashion, and join the missionaries. He awoke terrified, and fled directly to the house of a Christian, to whom he told his dream. At first the Christian could not believe he was in earnest, and sent him away. The next day he came again, and with better success. He was strongly urged to go to Mr. Duport, which he did on the following Sunday, and after some conversation with the missionary, attended the service in church. The congregation which had formerly dreaded him were now filled with amazement, some doubting his being sane.
Soon after this the Mission was still further rein forced by the arrival of the Morgan family from Barbados, on May 1st; whence they had come by a sailing vessel to the Gambia River. Mr. Morgan soon began work. He prepared a good piece of land for cultivation, with a view to instructing the people in the cultivation of cotton. The next few months were spent in missionary journeys from town to town.
Thus closed the seventh year of the Mission's eventful existence. The missionaries and teachers with one exception were now all of African descent. Through God's blessing the converts might be counted by hundreds, while the worship of devils and of idols had been to a large extent uprooted and abolished. England and the West Indies, for many years partners in the profits of the slave trade, were now in these better days associated together in the attempt to repay a portion of the vast debt due to Africa.
The visit of Mr. Phillips to the West Indies during 1861 stirred up a very keen interest in the Mission, which now began to show fruit. Branch associations were formed in Antigua, St. Kitts, Nevis, and St. Thomas. The diocese of Antigua during this year alone contributed £186, while £100 was received from Jamaica. The work only required to be made known in order to awaken the warmest sympathy amongst those who owned Western Africa as their fatherland. Shortly after this, Mr. Phillips, whose health had again given way, was obliged to comply with the wish of the Bishop of Barbados, who had recalled him to the West Indies, in the hope that his life, imperilled by frequent attacks of fever in Africa, might be prolonged in his native climate. Before leaving the Mission, he reported on March 20th that Mr. Maurice had been ordained by the Bishop of Sierra Leone, and now the work was once more placed under the charge of a single deacon.
During the year the duties of the two stations were faithfully carried on by Mr. Maurice. The church at Domingia was not yet completed, but services were being conducted by Mr. Coker. In October the good chief of Domingia, Charles Wilkinson, having promised to give up polygamy, became a candidate for Holy Baptism. About this time Mr. Duport arrived in London from Barbados, on his return to the Mission, accompanied by Mr. Morgan, jun., a young student of Codrington College, of African descent, and a member of the family already settled at Fallangia. From October 14th, when he arrived in London, until his departure for Africa at Christmas, he was constantly engaged in preaching or speaking for the Mission. In the churches of Notting Hill, and in many parishes in the diocese of Salisbury, he met with much encouragement. The pulpits of Wells Cathedral and Sherborne Abbey, and other great churches, were opened to this earnest black clergyman, who told the story of his African experience with extreme simplicity. His collections amounted to more than £400, the greater part of which was set apart for the erection of a new church at Fallangia, and to meet the expense caused by an unfortunate accident which happened to the mission boat whilst on her way to the Rio Pongo in September.
Many presents were given to the Mission, amongst which there came an ancient stone font from St. Peter's, Marlborough, which was afterwards placed in Fallangia Church. On December 2 Mr. Duport and Mr. Morgan sailed from Liverpool for the Rio Pongo, and landed at Fallangia on 6th February, 1864, "to the great joy of all the people, both Christian and Mahommedan."
Up to this time the number baptized (as nearly as it could be traced, for the first Fallangia register was destroyed when the mission house was burned down), was 421.