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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 XVIII. The Task before Us

FEW mission fields in the whole world offer such opportunities for Christian service as Nigeria. That very striking World Call report, The Call from Africa, in dealing with the Dioceses of Lagos and the Niger, declares:--

As missionary dioceses these must be regarded as perhaps the most important in all Africa. . . . Nigeria is about three times the size of Great Britain and Ireland, and contains for Africa the very dense population of at least nineteen millions. This fact alone puts the dioceses of Nigeria in a class of their own. But there are other reasons. The potentialities of the country are enormous, and its development under British rule can only be compared with that of the Gold Coast. [Published in 1926 by the Missionary Council of the Church Assembly.]

It is often said that tropical Africa is a land of villages, and it may be added that in most parts of the continent these villages are far apart. Nigeria differs from all other parts in that it has also many large native towns. These towns do not owe their origin or present size to the white man. In the Yoruba Country several towns have populations of 30,000, 40,000, and 50,000, while Abeokuta has 100,000, and Ibadan 250,000, the largest town in tropical Africa. Taking Southern Nigeria as a whole, the 1921 census returns [The census returns are in many instances notoriously under the mark, owing largely to the African's superstitious reluctance to declare the number of his children, and also to the fear that the census was taken as a basis for taxation.] show that there are:--

187 towns with a population of from 5,000 to 10,000 each.
84 towns with a population of from 10,000 to 20,000 each.
19 towns with a population of from 20,000 to 50,000 each.

Southern Nigeria is the most densely populated region of all tropical Africa; the province of Owerri having an average of 200 to 300, and that of Onitsha 300 to 400 persons to the square mile, which for Africa is very high indeed, and equal to many parts of India. Northern Nigeria, too, is a land of walled cities with very large populations.

Fortunately this great territory is well covered by the missionary societies. In addition to the C.M.S. the Wesleyans and the American Baptists are very strong in the Yoruba Country and Lagos, and the Salvation Army is represented in Lagos Colony. [We may perhaps be permitted to say, in no spirit of boasting, but merely stating a simple fact, that in Nigeria the work of the C.M.S. is carried on on a larger scale, and is far more widely spread, than that of any other society.] In the delta region, to the east of the C.M.S. areas, the Primitive Methodists have a number of stations, and the United Free Church of Scotland have developed an important work, mainly in Calabar, well known as the sphere where Mary Slessor laboured so nobly for God. The Qua Ibo Mission has work in Calabar and Owerri. In Northern Nigeria, the Sudan United Mission, the Sudan Interior Mission, the Mennornte Brethren, the Dutch Reformed, and the Seventh Day Adventists have work in the pagan belt. Happily there is a great deal of fellowship and co-operation between the missions, especially the larger ones, and in 1930 a United Christian Council of Nigeria was formed to deal with common problems and co-ordinate the work in every way possible. The main part of the country is fairly well covered, and save in the four great northern provinces of Sokoto, Kano, Zaria, and Bornu, there is not much room for expansion except by developing the untouched villages and towns around existing mission stations; for this, of course, there is ample scope. Only the remote districts of Sokoto and Bornu remain untouched. As compared with other mission fields, there is strangely little being attempted in the way of medical work, although the need is tremendous. The C.M.S has only two hospitals, Zaria, and lyi Enu near Onitsha.

The missionary forces are exceedingly well placed for bringing their influence to bear upon the people. Almost all the really strategic positions are occupied by one or other of the societies. Both the western and eastern railways, together with their branch lines, are dotted along with mission stations, and the same is true of the Niger and the Benué', and the numerous creeks and rivers of the delta. But the fact remains that the total number of European and African clergy, ministers, lay and women workers, is wholly inadequate for such a tremendous task. In many areas, the subordinate workers of all the missions are still left with far too little oversight, and the dangers we have dealt with in a previous chapter still obtain. There is an almost overwhelming need for more missionaries and well-trained African clergy.

The risk to health for Europeans is no longer so great as formerly. Tropical diseases have been the subject of expert study and to-day the sources of disease and sickness are well understood; the safeguards to health are observed, and during the last thirty years there have been comparatively few deaths among missionaries. In this, every white man who goes to West Africa owes a great debt of gratitude to the memory of the late Joseph Chamberlain, who, in the dark 'nineties, as Colonial Secretary, called in the aid of science. By the Malaria Commission, it was definitely proved that malaria is spread only by means of the bite of a certain mosquito and yellow fever by another. The mosquito curtain and daily doses of quinine have come into regular use, and other precautions have greatly reduced the number of victims to black-water fever, dysentery, and typhoid. West Africa is not yet a health resort, and is not likely to be so in the near future; but with due precautions and frequent furloughs it is no longer regarded as unsafe to go to West Africa. The C.M.S. has a notable list of long service missionaries in Nigeria. Of the present missionaries, Mrs. Melville Jones (wife of the Bishop of Lagos) has completed forty-one years of service, and the bishop himself thirty-seven; ten others have given over thirty years, and a dozen more have served terms of from twenty to thirty years in the country. Truly a notable list, and half of these long-service workers are women, showing that women can stand the climate as well as men.

It is well that we should remind ourselves that the Churches are not the only forces working for the uplift of Nigeria. All those factors and influences that are summed up in the one potent word "Government" are working mightily to the same end. In our enthusiasm for missionary effort we must not overlook the inestimably valuable work the Government is doing. Many of the men in highest positions are men of high Christian character, and many others who would not call themselves "Christians" except in a general and nominal sense are none the less actuated by a fine sense of duty and responsibility for the people under their care. There are problems that only Government can tackle with any hope of success; but there are others that the Churches are better fitted to deal with, and still others that can best be solved by Government and the Churches working together. More and more the Government recognizes the value of the help the Churches can render, and our policy should be one of co-operation at every possible point.

Take, for example, the slave raiding and slave selling in Northern Nigeria. Let us freely admit that in abolishing these gigantic evils the British Government has done what missionary societies could not have accomplished. Who was it that finally freed Abeokuta from all fear of Dahomian attack? It was the French Government, by crushing the powerful Dahomian kingdom. Who made tribal wars in Nigeria to cease and gave the land peace? It was the Government that issued the fiat: "Let there be peace," and there was peace. We cannot be too thankful for all that Government has accomplished.

Or consider the old pagan customs deeply rooted in the tribal life of the country, human sacrifice and cannibalism. The Government has prohibited such things; and they have practically disappeared. As to infanticide and the cruel treatment meted out to the mother of twins, the Churches can render most valuable assistance in bringing about the change in public opinion that alone can secure their complete suppression. The Churches can help by creating a new public conscience, by helping the people to realize that these things are fundamentally wrong.

Again, take the liquor traffic, concerning which the Government is of two minds: on the one hand glad to have the revenue that it produces; and on the other unwilling to see the Africans debauched by spirituous liquor. The matter is rendered the more difficult by the amount of drinking done by certain sections of the white community. Yet any one who has seen part of the population of a bush village drunk in connexion with a funeral ceremony (as occasionally happens) must be distressed beyond measure that much of the liquor is imported from so-called Christian lands, and that it has become such a staple article of commerce as to have gained the name of "trade" spirits. We have sometimes blushed for shame to see on a pretentious tombstone outside a remote village an inscription to the effect that at the funeral of the deceased the sum of £150 (or it may be £300) was spent. One knows too well that almost all of that money was spent in intoxicating liquors! Drink is a very serious temptation to many of our African Christians, and it has been known to lead to the fall of some catechists and teachers. The bad example of some Europeans is too readily followed by a people naturally imitative. Under the Brussels Convention of 1890-91 the importation of foreign liquors between seventy degrees north and twenty-two degrees south latitude was restricted, except for use of Europeans, and the Covenant of the League of Nations set still further restrictions to it. But the traffic, under one pretext or another, continues, and is doing its deadly work. Many people are acquiring a taste for distilled spirits, and it is most difficult to keep them from it. This again, is a matter in which the Churches, by vigorous campaigns, can help by creating a public conscience in favour of temperance.

Or consider the materialism that is rapidly displacing the old religious beliefs and is causing no little anxiety to the Government, for it means the breaking down of old restraints. This is a matter that the Churches alone can deal with; as the old foundations crumble, they alone can supply that new foundation that is essential to the moral well-being of the people.

Perhaps most of the problems before the Church in Nigeria may be summed up in the one phrase: "the home life." The home is the pivot of the nation. What the homes are, so is the nation. No nation can rise above the level of its home life. At bed-rock, all the problems of Nigeria are crystallized in the homes of her people.

Try to visualize the typical African home in some up-country village or town scarcely touched by European influence or by Christianity. It consists, not of a single self-contained dwelling, but of a number of dwellings, built more or less regularly round a courtyard or compound, and occupied by several branches of the same family. Really it is more a clan than a family dwelling. The walls are solidly built of mud, and the roof is thatch, or possibly, nowadays, of pan (i.e. corrugated iron). The rooms are small and dark, and all open into the wide veranda that runs round the compound. Most of the domestic life centres round that compound. There is very little privacy. If it be the compound of a wealthy villager or chief, each of his wives will have one room for herself and her children. There is very little that can be called "family life" in our understanding of the term.

The home is essentially the woman's sphere, though in West Africa not by any means her only sphere. She has her allotment in the bush, her "stall" in the market, and possibly her trading canoe on the river. Differing in every way from her Indian sister, she is not timid, shy, or dependent. Physically strong and robust, she is self-reliant and of independent spirit, accustomed to fend for herself. She has her rights and privileges and knows how to defend them. She is well able to take care of herself. She works hard, but not beyond her strength. It is very far from the truth to assert that the woman does all the work and the man merely smokes and eats. Each have their recognized duties, and the heaviest fall to the man. No one who really knows the African will suggest that he is lazy. Lord Lugard (and no one knows Nigeria better) wrote:--

It has long been the fashion to speak of the African as naturally kzy, leaving work to his women, and content to lie in the sun and eat and drink. It would seem, however, that there are few races which are more naturally industrious. . . . The labour expended in collecting and preparing for export some £4,000,000 worth of palm produce in the Southern Provinces of Nigeria, and of £1,5 00,000 worth of ground-nuts for the Northern Provinces, must be prodigious. No white man could ever carry so heavy a load, or for so long a distance as he does, without fatigue; and at heavy earth-work with his own implements the African can show good results.

Whatever is said of the men, we have never yet heard the African woman charged with idleness. Her life centres in the compound. There she cooks the meals and rears her children. She loves her children passionately; when they are ill she is driven by desperate anxiety to make offerings to the spirits, and her grief is almost uncontrollable if they die. But she has not the remotest idea of training them if they survive. She teaches the girls to do domestic and farm work, or to take part in the family industry, and the boys learn the corresponding duties from their father; but everything that we mean by the term "train up a child" is quite beyond the ken of African parents.

If that village home be in some part of the country where the fear of twins is still very real, the woman will live in constant terror lest that dreaded calamity should come upon her. Government has prohibited the destruction or abandonment of twins; but the fear of spirits is stronger than the fear of the far-away Government, stronger even than the Africans' usual love for their offspring, and little lives are still sacrificed to superstitious fear. Some of the Christians have been afraid of being poisoned by their heathen fellow-villagers because they refused to follow their usual custom and were therefore accused of bringing evil upon the whole village.

The central factor in African home life is polygamy. It is deeply woven into the very fabric of family and social life. Though it would be untrue to say that the majority of men have two wives (for the simple reason that there are not enough women for that to be so), yet very large numbers have two or three, and some chiefs and well-to-do men have sixty or seventy wives, or even more. A man's importance is increased by the number of wives he possesses. The average African woman, so far from objecting to the system, actually prefers to have several co-wives, partly because it enhances the wealth and social standing of her husband (and she therefore feels herself to be the wife of a man of consequence), and partly because it means company and other women to share with her the duties of the house and the farm or trade. She is quite unconscious that the subject has any moral aspect. From the man's point of view, the increase of wives means increase of prestige, and if he be a chief, it provides him with a cheap and reliable supply of labour for any work he may have in hand. The subject is an exceedingly difficult one, and any attempt to deal with it by a drastic stroke of law would almost certainly be futile; or, if successful, would still more certainly produce such an upheaval of the whole social system as would create moral problems vastly more serious than polygamy.

It appears certain that polygamy is not due to any very great disproportion of the number of the sexes. At the last census (1921) the returns for Southern Nigeria were: males, 4,072,000; females, 4,299,000, an excess of only 226,000 females. That is to say, in every hundred of the population there are forty-nine males and fifty-one females. It is true that these figures are not altogether reliable; but this much at least is certain: there is no overwhelming majority of females, and the relative proportion of the sexes appears to be pretty much the same as in most other lands. There are places where it is impossible for any young men to get a wife at all, because the older men have too many, a situation that leads to deplorable moral evils. For our present purpose the essential point is that African home life is built upon the polygamous system, and, in spite of all the apologies that can be made for it, there is every reason to believe that it is utterly impossible to establish a healthy, Christian home life upon such a foundation.

Polygamy is one of the most serious problems the Church has to face in West Africa. It prevents thousands of men receiving baptism, for the rule is that no polygamist can be baptized, and many of the younger men who have only one wife and have been baptized find themselves handicapped and have to suffer loss of social prestige. The wives of polygamists, however, may be received into the Church, for each woman has only one husband. It is not a satisfactory position, either for the women or for the Church, and it leaves unsolved the problem of creating a truly Christian home life. On the one hand, the Church of Christ must at all cost be kept pure; on the other hand, we must be careful lest by unwise pressure we drive polygamy underground only to reappear in worse forms of sexual indulgence. Polygamy is preferable to prostitution. Probably the best course will be to work slowly and carefully; to create a Christianized public opinion, and leave time to work the changes we desire. Unfortunately it is exceedingly difficult to get Africans to see that there is anything morally wrong in polygamy; and it is pretty certain that not a few African Christians, who for themselves loyally accept the rule of the Church, are nevertheless unconvinced that polygamy is really wrong in itself.

It remains for us to ask what can be done for the transformation of the home. Along what lines can we work towards producing the home that is to be? It is a problem that can best be tackled simultaneously from all sides; and while Government can do something towards its solution, the Church of Christ can do still more. The most potent factors for the reformation of the home life are those that Government cannot control. Government may legislate with regard to things that are external; the Church can create influences that bear upon the inner life and produce from within changes that cannot be effected from without.

The Churches have in their hands large numbers of people who are more or less open to their influence and instruction. In Southern Nigeria, according to the last government census (1921) the African non-Roman Christians number 614,000, and the Roman Catholics 146,705. The former therefore are seven per cent of the population and the latter two per cent. The proportion of Christians may seem small, but it is a very important nucleus to work upon, and there has been a great increase since the census. [The remainder are: five per cent Moslems, and eighty-six per cent pagan.] In the whole of Nigeria, the C.M.S. has a flock of 263,000 in its churches, of whom over 45,000 are communicants. If, by regular and systematic teaching and training, they can be led to grasp the fundamental principles of the Christian faith and way of life, they will be as leaven in the life of the country. Here then is a crying need--a teaching ministry in all the churches from the weakest to the strongest. What our West African Christians need is not so much nice sermons as definite instruction in the Christian life and the making of Christian homes. The Church has a unique opportunity. Sunday by Sunday most of these 263,000 people are in our churches to be taught, and great numbers on weekdays also, and woe betide us if we fail to teach them.

Again, the Church has a unique opportunity through its schools. The C.M.S. has in Nigeria, 986 schools of various grades, and over 58,000 scholars and students. Think of the possibilities latent in those young people, the potential home-makers of tomorrow! In them we have an incalculable opportunity of influencing the life of the land. The great majority of these schools are of the village elementary type, and it is freely admitted that some of them are far from satisfactory; but there has been a great improvement in recent years, and the average standard of efficiency is steadily rising. The sphere of education is one in which the missions are working hand in hand with Government with very satisfactory results. Many C.M.S. schools are working under the government education code; they are under the inspection of the department, and a few receive grants-in-aid in accordance with its regulations. The policy of the C.M.S. is loyally to work to the government programme as far as its resources allow.

Much more needs to be done for the education of girls. We have already mentioned the exceedingly valuable work that is being done by way of the training of brides and wives, and also the special schools for girls. In addition to these efforts, young girls attend many of the elementary schools and prove bright scholars. But they are few as compared with the boys; and in most cases, owing to the marriage customs, they are taken away too soon. To deal effectively with the problems of the African home we must face up to an extension of all branches of education for girls.

Vocational and industrial education is of immense importance. The tendency is to devote too much attention to the literary side of education, with the result that the schools are turning out men who decide to be clerks in much greater numbers than the business houses and government offices can absorb, and this leads to great disappointment and even bitterness. We need to educate both boys and girls for village life and occupations, young people who will be content to remain in their native village or town and make their mark there, rather than crowd into Lagos to swell the already overcrowded ranks of clerks. The education must be so given that it will not de-nationalize; and above all it must be such as will tend to the making of good citizens, good Christians, and good home builders. Manual training and domestic economy are needed to this end. We must teach the boys how to make the home and the girls how to look after it.

The Church's plan is to work for the transformation of Nigerian home life (i) through the people in the churches, and (2) through the young people in the schools. All this means an adequate supply of trained workers, African clergy, cate-chists, and teachers (both men and women), for the brunt of the work must inevitably fall upon African shoulders. One of the biggest tasks before us is that of training of workers. St. Andrew's College and Awka College amply provide for the training of clergy for both dioceses. The provision for training catechists and teachers is good, but too limited to overtake the almost overwhelming needs of the ever-growing work. We have, in the preceding chapters, seen how important these subordinate workers are to the life and health of the Church; we have seen how vitally important it is that they should be thoroughly trained, tested, and equipped. But we have to confess that the provision for such training is insufficient to meet the urgent needs of the situation. The need for training women teachers is especially urgent. Both St. Andrew's and Awka are training men, but so far the only possibility for training girl teachers has been by using the top form of a girls' school for the purpose. Both at Ibadan and St. Monica's this has been done with quite good results. Now a forward step is being taken: the C.M.S. and the Wesleyan Mission are co-operating to run a United Normal School for girls in Ibadan. Girls will be sent up for normal training from the high and boarding schools of the two missions, and we have great hopes for the future.

Yet another step towards the transformation of the home life is a development of specialized women's work for women, not evangelistic work among the pagan women, but the training of the Christian women within the churches. There are large numbers of them in the congregations; they are earnest and devout, but multitudes are painfully uninstructed. They listen to sermons and other forms of public instruction; but they need much more than that. They need such instruction as only women can give them. They need trained women who can sit among them, women among women, and talk to them plainly and faithfully about the intimate things of a woman's life. That is what is needed if the Christian homes are to be what they should be. Such women's conferences as the one at Oyo should be multiplied, and all special work for women increased. In India and China, the missionary societies make great use of trained Bible women; one wonders why there are none in West Africa. They would be invaluable.

Another thing that would tend to promote all-round progress would be the training of the responsible African laymen to play a still greater part in all forward movements. Already some of them are rendering splendid service, but others are somewhat backward. It is not easy to see how advance can be brought about. The synods and the district councils provide them with opportunities of service, and perhaps will also prove a training ground for greater efficiency. The task before us calls for the united effort of every section of the Church, both African and European. Bishop Lasbrey writes: "We cannot sit still and be content to look back, however thankfully; we have to plan for twenty years ahead."

The task before us is a vast one, and a very sacred one. It is urgent; the forces now working in Nigeria, for good or evil, will not stand still. The tide of progress, of civilization, of commerce, will not wait upon our convenience. More can be accomplished in five years now than will be possible in ten years a generation ahead. Every one who really knows the African peoples, so capable, so devoted, so lovable, knows what immense possibilities for the future lie dormant in them. They surely have a great and valuable contribution to make to the general progress of mankind. All we do to help them to make that contribution will be repaid a hundredfold. The African churches are doing magnificently, but they need such help as we can give to develop their own resources. The tasks before us in Nigeria call for the united effort of the African churches and the Mission. In the days to come, the leadership must be more and more in the hands of the African Church and less and less in the hands of the mission.

Already that is the definite policy and the goal towards which all efforts tend, and matters have reached the stage at which we as a Mission, are no longer planning for the African but with him. By wisely directed co-operative efforts, aided by the Spirit of God, we shall see the extension of Christ's Kingdom in Nigeria.

This is no time to slacken our efforts. The door of opportunity stands wide open before us. The peoples of Nigeria, by their very needs, call us. The work still undone, and the work half-done, call us. The possibilities and promise of the future call us. And in these things, if we have ears to hear, we shall surely detect the voice of Christ Himself calling us to go forward in His Name.

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