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Eight Years in Kaffraria, 1882-1890.

By Alan G. S. Gibson, M.A.
S.P.G. Missionary to the Pondomisi, and Archdeacon of Kokstad

London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1891.

Chapter XIII. Some Missionary Problems

A FEW words may be added on some of the chief missionary problems which arise for solution; some of them involving points so intricate, and on which so great a divergence of opinion may and does exist, that the question has to be debated again and again before a final decision can be arrived at; some of them affecting the conversion of the heathen, others again the edification of the faithful.

The two greatest obstacles to the evangelisation of the Kaffirs are probably these--polygamy, and the tribal feeling. The latter is mainly interesting now as a piece of history; as giving one of the reasons why the progress of conversion among the Kaffirs has not been more rapid, and why there has been so notable a difference in this respect between the Fingoes and the Kaffirs properly so called.

The "tribal feeling" is briefly this: the feeling that the man gained to Christianity is lost to the tribe--a sentiment which has evoked against Christianity all the force of patriotism. The origin of this most unfortunate misconception would seem to lie in the following circumstances. Generally the missionary has been the pioneer, as has been said before: after him has followed ultimately the white Government: he himself has perhaps not unfrequently spoken of himself as a Government man, and the Government officials have claimed him as one of their children, so that the missionary comes to be identified with the idea of the passing away of native dominion and rule, and equally with him his followers, that is, the professors of Christianity, are considered to have thrown in their lot with an alien system and sovereignty. It is also a fact that the greater number of native Christians are not Kaffirs at all, but Fingoes; men who have accepted European ideas in a very large measure, and have learnt to look up to the Government as their chief men, moreover, who are looked upon to a certain extent as renegades to their own colour and nationality on this very account, so that to become a Christian is often considered tantamount to joining with these men. The notion, also, that Christianity implies an allegiance to a new chief, and repudiation of ancient loyalty, has probably been fostered to a certain extent by the mission station system, in which the missionary becomes, as it were, a kind of headman, granting permission to settlers to come and reside on the mission land, giving out gardens, settling disputes, and the like. In a certain degree, also, the feeling is true and unavoidable; for the acceptance of Christianity must at times lead to disobedience to the native chief in those customs and commands which are contrary to religion. Through such causes as these the feeling seems to have had its origin.

It is true, as has been said, that the difficulty is now mainly a historical one of the past, because all the various tribes in Kaffraria have come under colonial rule except the Pondos. And there is now the counteracting feeling, to which allusion has already been made, that education is a necessity for the rising generation, and that this can be acquired only through the missionaries. And yet, when the outwork of education is passed, and it is a question of accepting Christianity, the material advantages of which are not so evident, the old feeling is still found to subsist; and the notion of turning Christian is reprobated, because it seems to mean an abrogation of patriotism, a breaking loose from the tribe, an act of disloyalty.

No doubt the feeling is on the wane, and will die away of itself in good time, before the influx of the new ideas; bat that happy consummation will be greatly accelerated if we can get hold of the chiefs, the natural leaders of the tribe, and enlist their influence and support on the side of Christianity. So will one great bar to the conversion of the Kaffirs be taken out of the way.

The second great hindrance to the acceptance of Christ's religion by the heathen Kaffirs, at least by the men, lies in the system of polygamy.

The question of how to deal with this practice has been discussed again and again in Kaffraria. Before the meeting of the Lambeth Conference of 1888, it was, by the Bishop's request, once more considered by local native conferences in every parish in the diocese. The feeling was unanimous, that it was impossible to admit a polygamous man to holy baptism as long as he retained his plurality of wives. It can hardly l be doubted that any relaxation of this rule would utterly break up the Native Church. The Kaffir is a very shrewd thinker and speaker. If the young men who had been baptized before marriage were to see polygamists baptized who had not renounced their unchristian custom, they would at once say: Then, after all, there is no absolute principle involved in the matter; it is merely a question of degree and of circumstance; if the rule is relaxed in one case, it may be relaxed in others also. With these examples before them, and these thoughts in their hearts, they would give the rein to their passions, which are very strong, and the probability is that not a few of them would be unfaithful to their Christian profession, and take to themselves other wives.

In the Diocesan Synod of 1885, the question was very fully and carefully debated in Synod, with the assistance of the Native Conference. Of the Canon then drafted on marriage and divorce, the following clauses bear upon this subject:--

1. A polygamist, on conversion, and before baptism, must put away all his wives but one, arranging, if necessary, for their support.

Note.--The Native Conference is of opinion that the chief wife ought to be chosen, if still living with her husband. Among the other wives, some preference may be given to the wife adopted into the chief wife's house (iqadi).

2. The wife of a polygamist, if not allowed by her husband to separate from him, may be baptized, and continue to live with him.

It is, of course, urged that it is very hard on the wives who are put away; even that to insist on their repudiation is an actual sin; But this is rather the sentimentality of those who look at the question from a distance, and try to pass judgment on it from a European standpoint, than the sentiment of natives themselves, who understand all the customs of their own people. At the same time, it must be added that, while all Christian natives are unanimous in supporting the Canon just quoted, all are not agreed as regards the amount of hardship involved to the woman.

The following points must be taken into consideration, in any estimate of the right or wrong of the repudiation of the wives, and the effect that such action would have on the minds of natives.

It is almost impossible to say that there is any lifelong contract, implicit or explicit, in a Kaffir heathen marriage. Separation between husband and wife is very far from being uncommon in Kaffir heathen society.

One wife is differentiated from the rest as being the "great wife," so that natives have been known to say that their marriages must originally have been monogamous.

It is, of course, hard upon both parties, for to the husband the repudiation of all his wives but one may involve a considerable drain upon his means: it may lower his prestige in the eyes of the heathen world, who are often inclined to rate a man according to the number of his wives: it may be a blow to his affections, and equally to the affections of his wives. All this explains why it is so hard for a polygamist to embrace Christianity; but after all, our Lord speaks of leaving wives for His sake, and there is no true profession of Christianity which does not involve a certain amount of hardness according to the flesh.

But again it is said, What will become of the repudiated wives? and how are they to live?

I have known cases where a discarded wife continued to live at her late husband's kraal, having of course her own hut, as indeed would always be the case, but no longer living with him as his wife. But the position is one obviously full of temptation.

Ordinarily, the wives would return to their fathers' kraals. There they would be supported by their late husbands, or they would be married afresh to new husbands: if by this time they had become Christians, to Christian husbands by Christian rites; if they still remained heathen, to heathen husbands by heathen customs. The general opinion among those natives whom I have consulted on this head is that they would ordinarily experience no difficulty in finding husbands, and that they would not be tempted to adopt evil ways.

While, however, we contend most strongly that the Christian rule of monogamy must be adhered to most positively and rigidly, at the same time we allow that the difficulty to the polygamous Kaffir is, for the reasons stated above, a very real one.

We may now pass on to some of the problems which present themselves in dealing with Christian natives.

The first of these is the question how to deal with circumcision. It has been already stated that this custom prevails among most of the tribes (although not now among all--the Zulus, for instance, and the Pondos do not practise it); that the rite is performed at an age varying from about fifteen to eighteen; and that it is the sign of manhood. No one, of course, contends that circumcision is in itself wrong, nor is the practice to be reprobated on the ground that it is connected with any false religious ideas; and yet there is no question bearing upon Christianity which is more constantly or hotly debated than this, Is circumcision, as it exists in Kaffraria, lawful for Christians, or is it not?

It is acknowledged by all that the rite, as it is ordinarily practised among the heathen, is connected closely with many customs which are objectionable, and more than objectionable; that the time of circumcision is a time of license and immorality; and it is contended by many that this immorality is absolutely an inseparable accident of the circumcision, that the rite absolutely involves and compels impurity. On the other hand, this has never been satisfactorily proved; and circumcision as it is practised on mission stations, under the supervision of Christian men, is widely different from the practice of the rite among the heathen.

In the diocese of S. John's itself there is a wide divergence of opinion upon this subject. In our Canons it is clearly stated that in circumcision itself, provided it is not attended by evil practices, there is no sin. Beyond this there is no consensus of opinion in the diocese.

Those who wish to see the entire abolition of the rite contend that it is inseparably connected with sin, and initiates boys into impurity; that it takes lads away from school and puts a stop to education at far too early an age; that it carries off the very boys who ought to be being presented for confirmation. And in some parts of Kaffraria, upon these grounds, it has been practically forbidden by local authority.

But the effect of this has been proved to be as follows: that the rite is practised all the same in secret in defiance of parental and clerical authority, and consequently without the safeguard which the due supervision of the station would impose; and that this contravention of rule puts the lads into an attitude of rebellion, in which they break loose from Church and from the restraints of school, home, and missionary. It appears to be exactly in those places where circumcision is discouraged or forbidden that there are fewest candidates from among the boys for confirmation.

It is quite true that where the rite is permitted under the supervision of the station, the results are not as satisfactory always as could be wished. And yet it is a fact that from such places there are not a few boys, both before and after circumcision, presented for confirmation, and that those who have been circumcised, after the completion of the rite, return to school. In addition, it may be urged that to speak of circumcision as an initiation into impurity seems to show a considerable ignorance of the prevailing tone of heathen life.

Much, however, depends upon local circumstances, for the customs vary greatly in different places, and therefore it would seem that any hard and fast rule absolutely forbidding the practice would be much to be deprecated. For in dealing with such a heathen tribe as the Pondomisi, there can be little doubt that the forbidding of it would add a fresh enormous difficulty to the acceptance of Christianity by abrogating a national custom, and such action could only be justified by absolute necessity.

The question was debated again only recently at the first missionary conference of the province, held at Clydesdale, in the diocese of S. John's, towards the end of 1889, and the divergence of opinion was as strongly marked as ever. The conclusion arrived at for the time being was that fresh efforts should be made to regulate and control, rather than to forbid, the practice.

The end to be aimed at is to try and form a strong public opinion against circumcision, so that the rite may quietly drop out of itself, not by external authority imposed from above, but by the internal feelings of the people whose welfare is involved.

Another problem which is now pushing itself strongly to the front is the question how to deal with Kaffir beer. This beer is made from the millet, or Kaffir corn, which is so extensively grown. It is very sustaining, and is used as much as an article of food as for purposes of unnecessary drinking. It is extensively employed among the natives themselves as a remuneration for certain kinds of labour instead of payment in coin; and at particular times of the year it is the custom for the heathen to spend their whole time in going from one beer-drink to another.

Taken in moderation, it would be hard to contend that there is any harm in it, but the difficulty is to ensure moderation.

The Wesleyan rule forbids to their members absolutely the use of Kaffir beer. This is said, with what truth I cannot say, to give occasion to a good deal of hypocrisy. The Wesleyans also forbid wives to make Kaffir beer for their husbands, with the results which have already been noticed, that, among the heathen, they considerably contract their work If, however, the rules be necessary ones, these considerations must not be put into the balance against them; and it is quite certain that at present there is a strong feeling in the Church, and among the Presbyterians also, to the effect that greater stringency is needful than was thought necessary in the past.

The Church rule at this date stands as follows:--The use of Kaffir-beer at weddings is entirely forbidden. The attendance of Christians at beer-drinks is entirely forbidden. The making of Kaffir beer for sale is entirely forbidden. But wives are allowed to make it for their husbands' use; it is allowed to be used as an article of food at home; and it is allowed to be given in small quantities as a remuneration for labour.

The problem is this: Is this rule sufficient, or should it be made more stringent? and if greater stringency be necessary, what line is it to take?

To this as yet we attempt no answer: we are observing, and ready to take such action as may be needful from time to time.

The last problem to which attention shall here be called is the development of self-help among the natives for Church work.

Much attention has been devoted to this in Kaffraria, and yet it cannot be felt that the problem has yet been satisfactorily solved.

According to the rule of the diocese, four-ninths of the stipends of all native workers must come from the people among whom and for whom they are working.

Again, according to the regulations of the Government, every Government-aided school must have its grant met by a local subsidy of £10 per annum.

It is also the custom of the diocese, as already related, that the churches and schools for the native work should be built, almost or quite entirely, by the natives themselves: either literally, or at their cost.

On this last point there is little difficulty. It is thoroughly in accordance with native ideas to give largely at the meetings which are held at the commencement and completion of the building. The enthusiasm is frequently very great, even the little children coming forward with their offerings of fowls or threepenny pieces (the "ticky," as it is called, being the smallest coin which. is in common use). At the same time, it must be added that great dilatoriness is frequently shown in the actual payment of what is promised on these occasions.

The method of raising the school fees varies in different places. As far as possible, the getting in of this money is left to the different native headmen, some of whom are very successful in enforcing prompt payment, while others are very slack over the business. In some cases there is a written guarantee list signed by the people, so that the money is recoverable at law. At S. Cuthbert's, if the fees are not paid up. to date, after a certain amount of time has been allowed, the names of defaulters are read out publicly in Church--a measure which has proved most salutary and efficacious. At other places, children of defaulting parents are sometimes stopped from school, or even the whole school is for a time suspended, until the payment is made good.

With reference to raising the balance of salary of Church workers, methods vary greatly in different parishes. In some, each member of the Church pays so much a head per annum. In others, the funds are raised mainly through the harvest offerings, which is more in accordance with Kaffir customs. Again, the surplus of offertories, beyond what is required for Church expenses, or for special offertories--of which there are five in the year, three for diocesan funds, one for S.P.G., and one for S.P.C.K.--may be put to this purpose; that is to say, if there be any surplus. But it is a noticeable fact that the natives have not at all fallen in with the offertory system.

The various efforts that have hitherto been made to raise in a satisfactory manner the four-ninths seem to show that it is not possible, at present, to trust to the spontaneous liberality of the Native Church, but that there must be fixed rules as to giving; and indeed this latter plan accords far better with the Kaffir character. One great failing in the systems which have obtained hitherto in many parishes seems to be this: that the communicant, admitted to the fullest Church privileges, gives little or nothing more than the baptized Christian, and indeed even the latter does not much exceed such heathen people as may be living on the mission station; that is to say, that the sense of responsibility, the sense of the privilege, and the duty of giving, does not increase in due proportion with the admission to the Church's greater blessings. As things now stand, it seems as if we might be forced to adopt a graduated scale of payments, graduated not only by age and sex, but also by Christian status, allowing, of course, in every case to the local authorities, clerical and lay, the power of dispensing with the obligation to pay in cases of manifest poverty.

Then the question at once arises: If a rule is to be made, what is to be the sanction for its breach? For it were better to have no rule at all, than to have one which cannot be enforced.

In the case of the unconfirmed, the deliberate breach of the rule might be punished by holding them back from confirmation. In the case of communicants, it is a very grave question whether those who deliberately neglect a Divine, command, enforced in detail by a precept of the Church, are fit to be admitted to the*Holy Communion.

No practice of such a punishment as is indicated here could be brought into vogue without the most careful consideration and the fullest debate; and it is obvious that there might be danger in it. At the same time, it is equally clear that there may be a risk on the other side also, and that the failure to give according to one's means may involve irreverence in communicating.

The question of the best methods of enforcing the four-ninths rule, and developing the Christian grace of almsgiving, is still under debate; and all that can be said at present is this, that we have not yet arrived at the correct solution of the problem.

There are many other difficult points which might have been touched upon; such as, how to distinguish accurately and universally between medicines and charms; how to provide best for theological training in cases where the collegiate course is almost or quite impossible; but the jproblems which have been put forward here are the most burning questions, and they afford instances of the great need of wisdom and experience in foreign mission work.


THE statistics of the diocese for 1889-1890, which have come to hand since these pages were in the printers' hands, are full of interest. The following salient points may be noticed. Of the actual receipts for the twelve months, for ecclesiastical and scholastic purposes, which amounted through the whole diocese to £11,000, £3000 was received from local sources, of which £782 were school fees, and £373 derived from rents and glebe. The educational grants of the Colonial Government amounted to £1876.

The number of catechists and evangelists is given as 160, and the teachers number 85. Of this total of 245, not more than 20 would be white. The baptized members of the Anglican Church are reckoned at 11,600, and the communicants at 3550--of the latter nearly 3000 are probably natives; but it is impossible to be positive, owing to the mixed character of the various parishes: 355 adults and 787 children were baptized during the year, and there were 194 catechumens on the roll when the return was drawn up.

January 1, 1891.

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