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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 XII.

"Simoi" bushes--Mr. Duport's illness and, death--Missionary tours-- Conference.

FIVE years of steady work was now beginning to tell upon the Rev. J. F. Turpin, and his health was giving way. He was still, however, able to continue his regular duties during the first half-year of 1872. He then left for a trip to the West Indies and England for the sake of his health.

From Mr. Doughlin at Domingia came the sad news that during the early part of this year Simoi bushes had been established in various heathen towns about the country, for the purpose of admitting people into the dread mysteries of heathenism, in opposition to the efforts of the Mission. This struck terror into the hearts of all, especially those who had to travel. There were two of these bushes on the road from Fallangia to Domingia by land, and one at Kaninjla opposite to Fallangia, on the other side of the river. Usually notice is given of the intention to stick Simo in a particular spot, and a peculiar drumming is kept up there, during the dancing of the Sons of Simo. Those who wish to join, enter the bush and remain there for six months. During the first three they are said to be dead. They are washed and brought back to life, taught the songs, language, dances, etc., of the Simoi, and come out with dreadful scars on their backs--signs of the treatment they have met with--so dreadful indeed, that "Simo sofo" (to stick Simo) is proverbial for undergoing any painful operation. It is customary to set bounds round these bushes, beyond which none but the initiated are allowed to pass with impunity. Should any male pass them unawares, he must eat the Simo, that is, join their people, or else redeem himself with a great sum of money. For a woman there is no alternative but death. How true is it, indeed, that "the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty." In spite of this there was much cause for thankfulness and encouragement in the steady though slow growth of the work at the stations. Very interesting cases were reported from time to time. One is that of a woman named Saio, who, about four years back, exposed her child to death in the bush, saying that it was a witch, and inquired if there were no piazzas attached to heaven for such as had a desire for happiness, but could not trouble themselves with the duties of religion. She now became a catechumen and began to attend church. In the same class with her were two men, who were formerly Mohammadans. Another who joined the class was a woman named Maninga, who, on one occasion, swept her house and threw the dust on the late Mr. Morgan, as he was speaking to her and urging her to become a Christian. Shortly before joining she said that her idea of the way to get to heaven was to give. "If you give," she said, "you will go to heaven. If you don't give you will not go there." It was, however, and always has been a drawback, that the mission staff being short-handed, the missionaries are obliged to be away a great deal from their stations itinerating from village to village.

In 1872 the Bishop of Sierra Leone visited the Isles de Los, and confirmed twenty-one persons, this being the first Confirmation ever held on the islands. At the end of the year the Fallangia registers showed that during the past seventeen years, 571 persons had been admitted to Holy Baptism at that station, 80 adults had been confirmed, 14 couples had sought God's blessing in Holy Matrimony, and 65 persons had been laid in the grave with the rites of Christian burial. At Domingia during eleven years, there had been 236 baptisms, 7 marriages, and 19 funerals, making in all a total at these stations of 807 baptisms, 21 marriages, and 84 funerals. Tables and numbers can give but a poor estimate of the time, labour, and money expended, and they give no idea of the trials and disappointments experienced; still, however, it is very necessary that they should be kept, and recorded occasionally.

Notwithstanding his bad state, of health Mr. Duport, during his stay on the Rio Pongo, preached three times at Domingia and four times at Fallangia; administered the Holy Communion three times at the former place, and four times at the latter, besides helping as far as he was able in the services. This was the last work he was to do for the Mission, for it was now considered quite necessary that he should go home to England, to seek, if possible, the restoration of his health; but this, as it proved, was not to be. He died on September 20th and was buried at St. James' Cemetery, Liverpool.

When the end was near, he said that, on reviewing his past life, he could not but wonder at his great presumption in ever becoming a minister of the Gospel. The responsibility seemed so great, that he wondered at any one accepting it, and trembled at the thought. It was only on the mercy and merits of Him Who had laid such a responsibility upon him, that he could place any trust.

The Day of Intercession was observed in 1873 on December 3rd, and was sadly clouded over by the news of Mr. Duport's death. As soon as the people heard of it they flocked to the mission house to sympathize with the clergy. On December 11th, Mr. McEwen started on a missionary tour up the Dubrika River, and the following notes of his journey give to us a very interesting account of the country in the neighbourhood of Bramaia.

"We landed first at Conakry, the nearest point to these islands. The very first thing that met our and invariably did so at each place where we landed, was an idol or devil's house, beneath a large silk-cotton tree near the beach. Strange to say, we found on the side of the tree nearest to this settlement, a Latin cross distinctly carved out, which had apparently been there for many years, perhaps cut by one of the early missionaries of the Church Missionary Society. Hence we walked across to Bullabina, another small town. Both chiefs were glad to see us. The same day we started up the river, and, the wind being fair, we reached Kapparoo, the residence of King Demba, at p.m.; we called upon him, and he made his attendants at once bring cola, the customary present, signifying goodwill and friendship. We slept at Kapparoo that night. Here the C.M.S. had a school about fifty years ago, but now there is no trace of it, nor of those who were brought up in it. Most of the people follow the Mahommedan creed. Kapparoo is a good specimen of an African town; the houses, although built of the usual country materials, are far more substantial than the houses on the Rio Pongo, shewing more pains and skill in their construction. There was the regular court-house by itself in the centre of the town, where the King and chiefs meet to settle great matters. There was the mosque not far from it, where at five in the morning, and six in the evening, they gather to pray. The worshippers were not pretenders; but among them were some venerable-looking old men, whose earnestness and evident purity of heart, were well worthy of the best religion. The Isles de Los were formerly the possession of the kings of Kapparoo. The next morning we proceeded on our journey, and by midday we had sailed fairly into the Dubrika River, and left the sea-coast altogether. We reached the town of Dubrika at half-past four, and as soon as we landed went to see the chief Sookbe, who at once made us feel at home. At sunset we walked out of the town into the open country to have a sight of the high mountain which we had been admiring all the way up. We slept at the chief's house, and next day starting with the early tide for Corera, we arrived there about two o'clock. Here we felt that we were no longer near the sea, but far inland, and the prospect around us was an unusual one. We were now ninety miles from the Isles de Los, and the high mountain peaks and hills were close to us. Here the bamboo grew luxuriantly, and the river-water, unlike the muddy-looking colour of the branches near the sea, was as clear as possible. Bocary Bango was chief of Corera, and his country embraced a large tract of territory. The town is on elevated ground--indeed the whole country is, and the climate is very pleasant and cool. The old chief; who lived in patriarchal style, with his sons, received us warmly. Every morning his sons and people, as soon as they are up, go to him to pay their respects by making Obeisance to him. The chief's sons accompanied us through the town, which was a large one, to the top of one of the high hills near, whence we had a splendid view of the whole country round. The day after our arrival was Sunday, and we held service in the Piazza, which was attended by a large number of natives as well as the chief's sons. Bocary Bango is of pure Susu race, and at Corera the Susu language is spoken much purer than near the sea-coasts. On the fourth day after our arrival we returned home wards; the old chief expressing great pleasure at our visit. On the way down we landed at several towns and villages, and reached home safely on December 18th, glad and thankful to find that. Mr. Turpin and his sister had arrived from England. The Christmas of 1873 was a bright and happy one."

In the autumn of 1874 the staff was recruited by the arrival from Barbados of the Rev. R. J. Clarke, ordained deacon before his departure for work in the Mission. In November a Conference of the missionaries was held at Domingia. This was followed by public meetings, which stirred up considerable interest, and were largely attended by influential natives, some of whom were heathen, others Mohammadans. At Fallangia the chair was taken by Mr. Curtis, the prime minister. The following speeches made at the meeting are worthy of preservation.

After several chiefs had spoken, Mr. Demba got up and said, "I am a Mohammadan. I feel that the Christian religion has brought great blessings to this country. I am a young man, but I would ask the old people which of them can remember nineteen years to have passed without war in this country. There has been no war now for more than nineteen years, and this is the result of the Christian religion. It is our privilege to live in the peace of the Gospel; let us shew that we value these privileges. The Mission has given us feet to walk with; we must now begin to use our hands. Mohammadans are quite ready to assist, but must not be expected to take the lead. We watch the Christians; many people join the Mohammadan religion, not because they believe it better than the Christian, but because they get some worldly benefit from it. The Mohammadans are always ready to help one another."

Mr. Booboo then said, "Although I am a Mohammadan there is no one in the country who would be more sorry than myself to see the church in which we are now sitting allowed to fall. I assisted under my late chief, Fa Dicki (Richard Wilkinson), in building it. All have received benefit from the Christian religion and feel an interest in the work, and if it were only a fowl that I had to give I would give it to aid in keeping the missionaries here."

After a time Mr. Charles Wilkinson rose and said, "I give my son Henry for the work of the Mission," placing him in the aisle.

Then after a pause Mr. Turpin, the chief missionary, said that two others had given themselves--William Harvey, a lad who had been with him for five years, and t young man Gomez, who had been acting temporarily as schoolmaster.

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