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The Romance of the Black River
The Story of the C.M.S. Nigeria Mission

By F. Deaville Walker

London: Church Missionary Society, 1930.

Chapter XV. "The Central Sudan"

ALL through the 'nineties the "Central Sudan" was engaging the minds of many Christian people. The passionate appeals of Graham Wilmot Brooke had awakened a response far beyond the immediate circle of the C.M.S. The death of Brooke and Robinson at Lokoja only served to increase the interest and call forth devotion and a readiness to sacrifice on behalf of the Hausa and Fulani peoples.

The Central Sudan was one of the greatest unreached mission fields of the world. It consisted mainly of the seven important Hausa kingdoms that together formed the empire of the Fula Sultan of Sokoto. Each of the seven states had its own Fula emir, or king, independent in his own dominion but sending annual tribute to the sultan. It is a land of great walled cities and towns, each with its cluster of surrounding villages. The Hausas alone were estimated to number at least 15,000,000, and another 5,000,000 were believed to use the Hausa language. They are a fine Negroid race, well-built and of splendid physique, a nation of peace-loving traders and agriculturists. Their rulers, the Fulani conquerors of the land, were warlike, born to rule, and much given to slave raiding.

Part of the tribute to Sokoto was paid in slaves, and to keep up the supply, the emirs every year carried out raids on a large scale, usually against the pagan tribes in their own dominions. Though Sokoto was the sultan's capital, Kano was the larger and more important city. Discovered by Clapperton in 1823, and visited by Dr. Earth in 1856, it exercised a fascination second only to Timbuktu. Its huge mud walls are over twelve miles in circumference, and its population is estimated at over 60,000. It has been described as the Manchester of Central Africa, from the fact that it is a great manufacturing centre. To its gates caravans of camels bring cotton, hides, and indigo. From its markets the famous Kano leather goods and indigo clo'th are carried far and wide. Within a radius of thirty miles round the city there are some forty walled towns and many villages, and its emir rules over 12,000 square miles and upwards of two millions of people. The written records of Kano date back a thousand years; and it is a stronghold of the Moslem faith. Yet Kano was but one of the seven Hausa kingdoms. No wonder such a land attracted the attention of Christian people, and many coveted it for Jesus Christ.

In previous chapters we have seen how the mind of the apostolic Crowther turned more than once to this great land, and how Graham Wilmot Brooke planned the first organized efforts to reach it. Death frustrated their efforts, but though postponed, the idea was not abandoned. In England, in memory of John Alfred Robinson, the Hausa Association was founded to study the Hausa language, prepare a dictionary, and translate the Scriptures into it. To this end in 1894, Robinson's brother, the Rev. Charles H. Robinson, went out to Africa and with a small but well-equipped expedition succeeded in reaching Kano via the Benué and Keffi. [Afterwards Canon Robinson, the well-known Editorial Secre-ary of the S.P.G. and editor of The East and the West.] He spent several months in the city, collected very valuable material for his dictionary, and returned to England. He was the first Christian to reach Kano with a missionary purpose in view, though he did not himself go as a missionary.

Meanwhile, private individuals, unconnected with any of the great missionary societies, were making plans for sending missionaries to Kano. One of them formed a small undenominational mission on "faith lines," and got together a band of young men at Tripoli, on the north coast of Africa, with a view to reaching Kano by crossing the Sahara with the Arab caravans. Attempt after attempt was made, from both Turkish and French territory, but they failed to get more than 400 miles into the interior, and ultimately the effort was abandoned. But four youthful members of that band went round to try the Niger route; one died at the mouth of the river, two turned back when they had got some hundreds of miles into the interior, and the fourth, pressing forward alone, reached Kano, but soon afterwards was murdered by pagan robbers in the Yakoba Country on his way back to the Benué.

Wilmot Brooke's death aroused interest in yet another quarter--America, and an interdenominational mission devised a plan for a chain of stations from Sierra Leone to Hausaland. Then a band of three young men from Canada, ill-equipped and without any real understanding of the task before them, attempted the Lagos-Niger route. One died, one was invalided home, and the third, Gowans, pressed bravely on, with neither provisions, money, nor experience, and the darkness closed around him. Fleeced, robbed, and despised, he was ultimately found dying, and was buried at the village of Gierku, in the very heart of Hausaland.

It was by this time evident that, humanly speaking, the real hope of evangelizing Hausaland lay with the C.M.S., and the task laid down by Brooke and Robinson was never wholly dropped either by the Committee in England or by their workers in Africa. Lewis Nott, of the Niger Mission, felt the burden of it laid upon his heart and the Committee gave him permission to proceed. Bishop Tug well entered heart and soul into the project, and it was with a view to reconnoitring the country that, in 1897, he and Nott went together up the Semie to Loko and thence overland to Keffi (the first stage on the route to Kano) as recorded in our last chapter. As a result of that journey the bishop wrote to The Times appealing for volunteers for a new effort to reach Kano. At first there was no response; but ultimately Nott secured three men and took them to Tripoli for training in work among Moslems and for language study. Again there was disappointment. Nott's health gave way and he had to give up all thought of leading the venture.

Bishop Tugwell was not the man to let such a project fall through. The three men were ready to go forward, and he resolved himself to lead them to Kano.

On January 22, 1900, the expedition started from Lagos. It consisted of Bishop Tugwell, the three men who had been trained at Tripoli (the Rev. J, Claude Dudley-Ryder, the Rev. A. E. Richardson, and Dr. W. R. S. Miller) and Mr. J. R. Burgin, a lay missionary who took charge of the baggage and supplies. The plan was to travel overland through the Yoruba forests to the Niger. Such a journey required very considerable equipment, and also supplies of goods for barter, for cowries, at that time the chief and almost the only currency, were of such low value that a "bag" containing 20,000 was only worth 5^. [In those days the table of values ran: 40 cowries =one string; 50 strings = one head; 10 heads = one bag.] No less than 240 carriers were required. Mr. Bako, a devoted Nupé Christian, also accompanied the party and rendered splendid service in obtaining information and in conducting negotiations with the chiefs through whose villages or towns the expedition passed.

The first part of the journey lay through familiar forest-covered country, passing the established mission stations of Ibadan and Oyo, and thence via Ilorin to the Niger. Crossing the river at Jebba (where the Dayspring had been wrecked over forty years before) they entered the Sudan, a land of undulated plains, dotted with rocky hills. In the autumn the country is covered with tall grass, but each year, about Christmas time, it is burned down by the great fires that sweep over the plains, leaving them dry and barren. [The present writer, in crossing this very country, saw several such fires, one of which must have been at least two miles wide, a vast advancing wall of flame and smoke. It was night and the effect was lurid and awe-inspiring.] The party advanced slowly, riding on horses, but of necessity keeping pace with the carriers, whose speed, burdened as they were with head-loads, was slow. All sorts of troubles beset the path. African carriers are proverbially difficult to manage, starting when it suits them, and resting when they feel inclined. Several times there were mutinies among them, and once 127 deserted; they soon returned, demanded more pay, and then, on being refused, returned home in a body. New carriers, some of whom were Hausas, had to be obtained before the expedition could go forward, but at one place it was necessary to leave much of the baggage behind. The carriers from the south of the river, knowing that they were crossing country where slave raiding was common, were thoroughly frightened and eager to get back to their own land. It soon became obvious that the news of the expedition had spread far and wide in the mysterious way that news travels in Africa. Some village chiefs were afraid to receive the missionaries; others put on a friendly demeanour, but were obviously perplexed and welcomed their visitors with caution. More than once the frightened people prepared to flee from their villages and seek refuge among the rocks on the hill-tops. Mounted messengers were observing their movements and riding from town to town to report upon them. It was evident that the chiefs and emirs were consulting one another as to what should be done; and as the mission party advanced the nervousness of the rulers increased. The fact that the white strangers were friendly and peaceable, and had no guns, only added to the perplexity that their coming created.

The key to the situation lay in the fact that the expedition, quite unintentionally, coincided with very important political changes. The British Government had recently concluded agreements with Germany and France by which practically the whole of Hausaland became a British Protectorate. On January I, 1900, three weeks before Bishop Tugwell's expedition started from Lagos, the British Government took over all the territorial and administrative responsibilities previously vested in the Royal Niger Company. The great emirates of the Fulani Empire had by a stroke of the pen become the British Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, a change about which those most concerned--namely, the Fulani rulers and their peoples--had not been in any way consulted. At the very time that Bishop Tugwell and his party were entering the Sudan, the Sultan of Sokoto and the emirs of the subject states were being notified that the Queen of England had undertaken to rule over them, and a strong patrol of the West African Frontier Force was working up the Kaduna River to find a suitable place for the head-quarters of Sir Frederick Lugard, the new High Commissioner. We can hardly wonder that the nerves of the Fulani emirs were on edge, and that in their own minds quite naturally they connected the missionary expedition with the advance of the W.A.F.F. up the Kaduna.

It was under such conditions that Bishop Tugwell and his companions rode slowly forward across the sun-baked plains of the Sudan. First one and then another went down with fever or dysentery and had to be carried in a hammock; there were the daily difficulties with the carriers, and the constant difficulty about places to camp, for in town and village alike, both rulers and people wanted the white men to camp outside their walls.

On April 6 the party reached the great walled city of Zaria, the first capital of an emirate to be visited, and were received cautiously but kindly by the emir, a notorious slave raider. When Dr. Miller explained to him their object in coming he seemed satisfied, and not a little surprised to hear that they knew nothing whatever of the British force that was encamped only two days' march from his town. It is more than probable that he did not believe them. Their stay in Zaria was a very happy one, for they secured the confidence and goodwill of all the people, and the emir seemed eager to detain them. He warned them that dangers lay ahead, and that the Emir of Kano would not receive them kindly as he had done. "They will keep you at a distance and treat you coldly," he said; "the Kano people think much of themselves, and their emir puts on 'side.'" Had their minds not been set on Kano it is possible they might have elected to stay in Zaria. Subsequent events proved that it might have been better had they done so, for the people were eager to have them, and the city was an excellent centre for missionary work, and in importance second only to Kano itself.

Finding them resolute in their determination to go forward, the Emir of Zaria provided them with an escort and a guide, and sent on in advance a letter to disarm opposition and fear. On the day they left, he sent them a special messenger, saying:--

Thank the white men for their present, and not only for this but for the way they have dwelt at peace in my town. Their stay has done nothing but good. I wish them God-speed. May God be with them.

So with goodwill on all hands, Bishop Tugwell and his party passed out through the gates of Zaria and started on the last stage of their journey. They estimated that it would take them eight days to reach Kano.

The bishop had written in advance to tell the Emir of Kano of their approach to his dominions; but the emir on his part had determined not to receive them and had sent messengers to turn them back. Fortunately the missionaries took another road and did not meet them. But it became increasingly evident that they were regarded on every hand with suspicion. "The news of our approach had spread throughout the whole Sudan," wrote A. E. Richardson. "Messengers were hurrying along the caravan routes with all speed. Richly dressed courtiers were coursing along, bearing the latest news and still later rumours. The Sultan of Sokoto was dispatching envoys to Kano, to Zaria, to Katsena. Runners were speeding from city to city. 'What is to be done,' they asked. 'The peaceful white men are coming--and coming unarmed.' Then, behind all this was the proclamation ... to resist the white man and do all they could to hinder the spread of the white man's religion." [In the following account of the visit to Kano we have in the main followed Mr. Richardson's narrative.]

Quite unconscious of the alarm their approach was causing, the missionaries steadily pursued their journey, and in two or three days they entered the territories of the Emir of Kano. At once they became aware of an even greater spirit of hostility. The chiefs of towns and villages did not come to greet them, but excused themselves on the ground that they were very ill and unable to see the visitors.

At last, on April 19, 1900, the great, red-mud walls of the city loomed up through the dust of the hot, sandy plain. It was a scorching day, "the sun literally roasting the parched-up country; "and the little band of missionaries, wearied with the dust and fatigue of their long journey, were utterly jaded. But when they looked up and saw Kano's walls "reaching up to heaven," they burst into hymns of praise, and singing the Te Deum they entered the tunnel-like gateway, cut through the solid forty-foot mud wall, rejoicing that they had at last reached their goal.

Soon a company of horsemen came to meet them, led by the maaji (the treasurer) who had been deputed to receive the visitors and look after them. "You will see the emir to-morrow," he said. Then, escorted by prancing horsemen, on horses decked with silken tassels and trappings of leather dyed red, yellow, and green, the messengers of Christ rode slowly on, through the cultivated lands and gardens of date palms that lie within the walls until the inhabited part of the city was reached and they were settled in a large, cool house, built, like all the others, of red mud. [The author was upon one occasion escorted into Kano (on a visit to the emir) in similar style.] Kano was then, and still is, unspoiled by foreign influence, an oriental rather than an African city, with narrow streets of well-built mud houses, and amazing markets. The whole city throbs with industrial and commercial life. The great palace and mosque are splendid specimens of what the mud architects can accomplish in mud.

Early on the following morning the bishop and his companions were led out of the city to Faniso, six miles away, where the emir was then in residence at a country palace. They were conducted by the maaji and a cavalcade of a dozen brilliantly-dressed courtiers, each missionary having one told off to ride beside him. The Fulani are magnificent riders, and have their horses under perfect control; they can dash forward at high speed, shaking their spears or swords and raising clouds of dust, and then pull up almost instantly, their horses rearing back upon their haunches. On that ride, the visitors were carefully instructed as to court etiquette; they were on no account to stand in the royal presence.

On arrival at Faniso, they were shown into a mud house and kept there/or three hours, until the emir deigned to see them. Tired of waiting, they made themselves tea and then lay down and slept!

At last the summons came. Through streets crowded with excited people who had come out from Kano, there rode another cavalcade headed by a courtier, obviously of high rank, who pranced up and reined in his horse before Bishop Tugwell. "The waziri! The waziri!" the people cried, as the second man in the kingdom dismounted to greet his master's strangers and conduct them to the palace for the momentous interview. [In West Africa a visitor is called a "stranger," and a host refers to his guest as "my stranger."] On reaching the palace, the missionaries were led through courtyards into the Judgment Hall, crowded with spectators who were sitting on the floor; their sun umbrellas were snatched from them, and amid a blare of trumpets they were ushered into the Hall of Private Audience.

At the far end of the dark, vaulted chamber, on a dais covered with rich crimson cloth, sat the great Emir of Kano. Around him, seated in rows on mats upon the mud floor, were the members of his court, ready at every opportunity to greet him with cries of "Zaki! Zaki! (Lion! Lion!)," an expression implying power, strength, and majesty. The emir's face could not be seen, for his rich black silk turban, folded in Fulani fashion round the lower part of the face as well as round the head, concealed all save his eyes and forehead.

In a moment it was evident that the interview was to be a stormy one. The missionaries respectfully saluted, but the emir returned the greeting most curtly, and turning to Mr. Bako (as the official "speaker" of the party) brusquely demanded: "Now why have they come? Are they soldiers?"

"No, they are not soldiers."

"Are they traders?"


"Have they come to see the world?"


"Then why have they come?"

"We are religious teachers; we are Christians. We have come to ask permission to teach your people."

"We have enough mallams of our own," retorted the emir angrily. "What will they teach? Will they teach the Koran?" And then, without giving time for a reply, he blazed forth in loud tones: "They must go back! They must go back! I will not allow them to stay in my town. I sattame them!"

That word "sallame" is one that is untranslatable. It is virtually a polite but very definite and final dismissal. You cannot leave a city until the king has "sallamed" you; but when once you have been "sallamed" you cannot remain. Realizing the seriousness of the situation. Bishop Tugwell urged the emir to have patience. "We have come from a far country," he declared. "We have been travelling many months, meeting with many difficulties and dangers, and spending much money. Now we have reached this great city, and you bid us go back! What will the world say? All the world knows that we have come here. All will know that you have sent us away. We are peaceful men. We bring glad tidings. We are messengers of God. . . ."

"Blasphemy!" roared the angry emir. "Messengers of God! That word settles it. You must go at once! "

"Let the emir hear me," said the bishop quietly. "We are not only teachers. We have a doctor. He will heal your sick people. . . ."

But the emir merely blurted out: "We have all the medicine we need in the Koran."

"Let the emir appoint men to watch us," urged Bishop Tugwell, changing his line of appeal. "Let them stay in our house night and day and spy upon us. If we do well, let us stay. If we do ill, punish us. We are your friends."

"You are not my friends," was the answer. "You cannot stay. Listen. You have entered my kingdom without my permission. Now you must go! You have done wrong in coming here. Go!"

"Let us remain if only for a few days."

"How long do you wish to stay?"

"As long as the emir pleases."

"No, no! Say how long."

The bishop suggested a month, to which the angry monarch sarcastically demanded: "Which month? This one or the next?" Then in wrath he cried: "Go away from my presence. If you wish to live in my town you must first go to Sokoto and get written permission from the King of the Moslems" (i.e. the Sultan of Sokoto).

"Very well," said the bishop, snatching at any straw of hope. "Let the emir send to Sokoto for permission, and meanwhile we will stay here and wait till the reply comes."

"No! If you want permission you must fetch it yourselves. But in the meanwhile you must go."

At this display of inflexible royal sternness the enthusiastic courtiers cried again and again: "Zaki! Zaki! May God give the emir long life! Zaki! Zaki! "

It was futile to prolong the interview. Emir Aliu was a usurper. He had won his throne by the sword and spear, and by them had held it for half-a-dozen years. No man is so suspicious and fearful as a usurper. Aliu was suspicious of the white man, and what he had heard of their power made him fear lest it should be turned against himself.

After that stormy ten minutes' interview, the missionaries were led back to the little mud house, there to wait a further three hours, with a temperature of ninety-five degrees inside, until the maaji came to them with the emir's decision. Looking very serious, this man, who personally was quite friendly to his charges, said: "Listen to the word of the emir. You are allowed three days to do your business. The emir gives you a guide to conduct you through the city. On the third day you must go or take the consequences." This then was the end of their hopes and plans and toils. Weary and discouraged they returned to Kano to begin preparations for the homeward journey.

All sorts of rumours spread through the city during those days. People terrorized the carriers by telling them that they would all be killed or sold as slaves if they did not escape at once. Each night they were told that their throats would be cut before morning. Bako heard that a proclamation had been made that any woman who took food to the missionaries would be put to death. As best they could the little party made arrangements for the weary journey that was before them, and on the Sunday they together partook of the Holy Communion, the first time it was ever celebrated in Kano. The time allowed for rest and reorganizing their expedition was extended to seven days, but no further grace could be obtained. The emir refused to see them again, and there was no alternative to withdrawal. Before leaving, Bishop Tugwell sent to the emir a letter written in Hausa. It ran thus:--

In the Name of God the Great One, Maker of the World. This comes from the hand of the white men to Aliu, Emir of Kano, with friendship and salutations thousands of thousands until weariness.

May God prolong your life, O Emir! We have received your message, O Emir. We are sad at the Emir's word. We regret the Emir insists upon us leaving this town. Our hearts are disappointed because the Emir does not receive us. We have come from afar; our journey has been with suffering and difficulty. The motive of our coming was nothing but good. Our desire was nothing but mutual profit and friendship between us and you and your people; peradventure we might bring them highest prosperity. We expected to sit down in peace. But since you do not receive us, we honour your command and go out from this city of Kano by the Power of God. If it please God, the day will come when you will send for us and give us permission to enter your city again and receive us in peace. God grant it. Amen.

We thank you for your gracious kindness. We thank you for giving us a guide to escort us. We part in peace. May God grant you prosperity and give you peace and prolong your life. Amen.

On April 27 they passed out of the gate of Kano and set their faces once more towards Zaria. The chiefs of the towns they passed through had been instructed to provide them with all they needed, but they were forbidden to receive "dashes." "It is more than our heads are worth," they said. News reached them as they journeyed that the maaji, because he had shown kindness to them, had been fined 400,000 cowries and that his steward had been more seriously punished; there were grounds for fearing that he had been beheaded in the market place.

On May 3 the party reached Zaria once more, hoping to be able to stay there. But the situation had changed. The emir, formerly so friendly, declared that, since the Emir of Kano had declined to receive them, he himself could no longer do so, and he repeated the excuse that they must ask the permission of the Sultan of Sokoto. Probably, during the intervening weeks, there had been letters passing between Zaria, Kano, and Sokoto, and a common decision had been arrived at to get rid of the English. Moreover, in the interval Colonel Morland with his force had visited Zaria, and had informed the emir that Queen Victoria was now ruling the country through General Lugard; and it is more than likely that this may have played upon the emir's nerves'. There was no way open but to fall back on Gierku, a small town of 300 inhabitants, thirty odd miles to the south, where a small British force was then encamped; and with this in view they left Zaria. As they passed out of the streets of the city crowds gathered to see them depart, and they followed the missionaries out of the gate, shouting again and again: "Good-bye until you return!" It was a happy augury for the future.

Gierku was the place where Gowans, the young Canadian, had died, and Dudley-Ryder remarked as they drew near to the town: "We must see poor Gowan's grave." Little did he think that within a few days he himself would be laid to rest beside him. He died of dysentery on June 1. Bishop Tugwell, Richardson, and Miller all went down with fever, and Miller was at death's door; they were nursed through by Burgin and Bako. Then Burgin went down, and Richardson had to be invalided home. Colonel Kemball of the W.A.F.F. suggested that the bishop with Miller and Burgin should retire still further south, but agreed to their remaining at Gierku if they desired to do so. They hung on, and succeeded in opening a dispensary and a small church. But the difficulties increased. The Sultan of Sokoto, and his vassal the Emir of Zaria, brought pressure to bear, and on January 14, 1901, the party retired to Loko on the River Benué, there to "hold on" for five years.

In 1903 matters in Northern Nigeria came to a final crisis. Slave raiding was still going on, and peoples under British protection were being attacked. The Sultan and the Emir of Kano were defiant and insolent, and the only solution was to take action against them. A small force advanced from Zaria and stormed the great walls of Kano. At first the shells merely buried themselves in the thickness of mud and did no damage, but at last a weak spot was found; a gate was forced, and in a few hours the city was in the hands of the British. The emir had saved himself by flight. Sokoto fell a few weeks later, and a new era dawned for Hausaland.

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