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Abbeokuta; or Sunrise within the Tropics
An Outline of the Origin and Progress of the Yoruba Mission

By Sarah Tucker

New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1854.

Chapter IV. Foundation of Abbeokuta--Sierra Leone Emigrants

"O ye that dwell in Moab, leave the cities, and dwell in the rock, and be like the dove that maketh her nest in the sides of the hole's mouth."--Jer. xlviii. 28.

When we look back on our own personal history, or on that of the church of Christ, how continually do we find that our heavenly Father, in his providential dealings with us, has brought about some important result by indirect, and, perhaps, unlikely means. It has been so in the case of Yomba; the circumstances that have worked together for her good appeared at the time to have no connection with each other, though now we see they were all linked together by the golden chain of God's sovereign will and determinate counsel.

Part of this determinate counsel of God was to bring together people of rival tribes and jarring interests into close connection and mutual dependence; and as none but Infinite Wisdom could have accomplished this, so it is profitable for us to trace out the mode of its accomplishment.

In the south-western part of the kingdom of [39/40] Yoruba, amidst rocks and Mils of primitive formation, there stands near the eastern margin of the river Ogun, a huge porphyritic rock called Olumo, or the hiding-place, from the concealment it used to afford to a band of robbers. The summit is composed of large rounded masses of stone; and at one spot the intervening space forms a kind of deep, but low cavern, capable of giving shelter to a considerable number of persons. It was deserted by these robbers some short time before the year 1825; and in that year became the refuge of a few poor people, who had fled from the merciless hands of the slave-hunters, and knew not where else they could be so secure.

The party who first took possession of the cavern was soon joined by others, who, like themselves, had been driven from their homes and friends; and here they dwelt secure, though exposed to many hardships; often in want of food, and still oftener obliged to subsist on the leaves of the pepper plant, wild roots, or any animals that came within their reach. At length a few, more courageous than the rest, ventured to cross the river that lay beneath them, to purchase a little seed-corn at the nearest village, and cultivation now began among the rocky hills. Meanwhile the desolation we spoke of in a preceding chapter was rapidly spreading in all the surrounding country; town after town was destroyed, and [40/41] the inhabitants captured; while the comparatively few that escaped wandered about the country in search of a resting-place.

The attention of some of these was attracted, after a time, to Olumo, and by degrees many a small and feeble band established themselves among the hills, and the forest gave way to human habitations. The different parties settled themselves down in small, but separate, communities; each under its own laws; each with its own chief and judge, and war-captain, and with its own council-house; and each fondly giving to this new-found home the name of the town or village from which it had been driven. [These townships are still entirely distinct from each other; but there is no visible separation or boundary, either natural or artificial. The whole is surrounded by a common wall, the circuit of which is not less than fifteen miles.] To the whole they gave the name of Abbeokuta, or Understone, partly in memory of the original cavern, and referring also to the rocks on which most of it was built. Fresh parties continued to join them, till the remnant of one hundred and thirty towns had found refuge in Abbeokuta; and the spot in which, thirty years ago, a robber's cave was the only human habitation now, in 1853, numbers eighty thousand as its population, [This is the lowest computation. Several English gentlemen, who have visited it, speak of 100,000 as nearer the real amount.]

[42] All belonged to the Egba tribe of Yorubans; and for a time the joy of a common deliverance, and the sense of a common danger, were sufficient to keep down any heart-burnings and disputes between the different townships. It is more than probable, however, that as a feeling of security returned, the old jealousies would have revived and led to disastrous consequences, had they not in 1829 been joined by a chief named Shodeke, of the town of Aké, who by his judicious conduct succeeded in consolidating the hitherto heterogeneous mass.

Shodeke was a man of a superior mind; wise in council, and brave in war, he gradually gained an ascendancy over all the other chiefs, which, instead of using for his own aggrandisement, he employed for the advantage of the whole community. Each township still retained its own local government; but all matters of general interest were discussed and settled in a public council, composed of the civil governors of each town, called Ogbonis, and the war-chiefs, or Baloguns. This general council was always held in Shodeke's township of Aké; and it proves the respect with which his memory is even now cherished, that there it is still holden, though Sagbua, who is the senior chief, belongs to another town.

Thus have discordant interests been knit together; and the people of Owu, and of Kesi, and of Ikija, and of many other towns, have learnt to forget [42/43] their former animosities, and to live side by side in peace and friendship.

Their union has been their strength; they have more than once been attacked, first by Ijebbus, then by Yorubans, and lately by the king of Dahomey; but they have proved themselves strong enough to repulse them all; or rather, He who had designs of mercy for Abbeokuta, has thrown around her the shield of his Almighty strength.

How little did the Egbas know or think by whom it was that their steps had been thus directed, and their hearts turned to each other! The cave of Olumo had not revealed to them that better "hiding-place" from a still greater danger to which they were unconsciously exposed. The granite hills conveyed to them no thought of the "Rock of Ages;" nor did the river Ogun, as its bright streams danced over their rocky bed, bring them tidings of that "River of Life," of which they would hereafter be invited to partake. God "hides his bright designs" in the unfathomable depths of Infinite Wisdom and Love; and leads the blind in a way that they know not.

And now, leaving Abbeokuta in peace and security, let us pass on to another of those means which God was pleased to employ for its lasting benefit, and turn to Sierra Leone.

We would that some able pen would trace the [43/44] entire history of this remarkable colony, in which the records of bare realities are more romantic than the day-dreams "that float in soft visions round the poet's head," but it would be beside our purpose were we even to attempt it, and we shall therefore only briefly allude to it in its relation to our present subject.

The devoted missionaries had laboured long and anxiously in Sierra Leone, many of them even unto death, among the thousands rescued from the slave-ships; and abundantly had God blessed their labours. Education and civilisation had changed numbers of the enslaved and degraded negroes into men of enterprise and intelligence; the preaching of the Gospel had turned them from idols to serve the living God, and, by His grace, the missionaries could thankfully rejoice over many of these as fellow-heirs with themselves of the kingdom of their Lord. [Some still remained enslaved to former limits of indolence, recklessness, and heathenism, but those were comparatively a small proportion.]

This progress was the most rapid among the natives of Yoruba, many of whom by degrees acquired a little independent property; and in the year 1839 we find a few of them actually embarking their small capital in the establishment of a trade with those very shores from which they had been sold as slaves. They purchased from the Government [44/45] a small captured slave vessel; freighted her with European and Sierra Leone productions; selected. for the crew African freedmen like themselves; [The only white man on board was the master, who wag needed to navigate the ship.] and, encouraged by the presence of British cruisers in the Bights, (for they had become British subjects,) set sail for Badagry. What a picture for us to contemplate with feelings of adoring gratitude! A vessel, whose only cargo had hitherto been human beings led forth to perpetual misery, now laden with articles of lawful commerce, and manned by tome of those very people whose souls and bodies bad once been its only freight! Praised be God who put it into the hearts of his servants to establish the colony of Sierra Leone!

These spirited adventurers succeeded admirably; they were well received at Badagry, easily disposed of their goods, and returned with palm-oil and other native produce. Others of their countrymen were encouraged to follow their example; two more condemned slave-ships were purchased, manned, and freighted like the first; and it was not long before a small but brisk trade commenced between Sierra Leone and Badagry.

And now the thought arose among the colonists, whether it would be possible to return abidingly to their native lands, and be again united to friends [45/46] from whom they had been, as they had believed, separated for ever. There were serious obstacles to their attempting this; the difficulties of the journey inland, and the great danger of being again enslaved, might have deterred less sanguine spirits; but the heathen at Sierra Leone longed to escape from the presence of true religion; and many unestablished Christians could not resist the temptation of returning to their fatherland, for they thought not of the danger to which they would be exposed by venturing among their heathen relations without any outward means of grace. [The more established Christians felt this to be an insuperable impediment; and no love of kindred or of country could induce them to quit the colony, unless accompanied by one of their present ministers.]

Various parties thus emigrated back into their own lands; and between the years 1839 and 1842 no less than five hundred had left the colony for this purpose. We may imagine the excitement and interest which these departures would occasion, and the eager preparations made by the people themselves. They were for the most part Yorubans, and bound for Abbeokuta, of which some vague uncertain rumours had reached them through the traders. They could know but little of what they should find there, but they were well assured that European manufactures could seldom reach that distant market. They must [46/47] therefore take with them clothing for themselves and their children, for they had adopted the European dress; they must carry the implements of their various trades, for these would probably be unknown there; and to these they added various little articles as presents and curiosities for their friends in the interior. All this, added to the passage-money, which was something considerable, made the undertaking an expensive one, and prevented many from joining them who would otherwise have rejoiced to go.

Some of these parties landed at Lagos, at the mouth of the river Ogun, as being the easiest and most direct route to Abbeokuta, but they soon had reason sorely to repent of the course they had taken.

Lagos was in great measure inhabited by Popos, whose naturally ferocious dispositions had been rendered still more cruel by constant intercourse with slave-dealers. One would have supposed that the sight of these people, rescued as they all had been by a far-distant and independent nation, and now returning home after years of exile, would have softened even their obdurate hearts. But cherished sin, of whatever kind, gradually chokes every kindlier feeling, and leaves the heart wrapped up in its own selfishness.

The various articles of property the emigrants had brought with them roused the cupidity of the chiefs and people; and as each different party reached [47/48] Lagos, they seized and robbed them of all they had, save the clothes they wore, and sent them away a four days' journey into the interior, without money or provisions, tauntingly bidding them rejoice that they had not again been seized and sold.

It fared far better with those who had taken the safer, though more difficult route, by Badagry. Though a slave-port, like Lagos, and chiefly belonging to the Popos, part of the town is occupied by Yorubans, and they, as well as the chief of this quarter, Wawu (who, though a Popo, is good-natured and friendly) welcomed this return of their countrymen, prevailed on some few to settle among them, and helped the others forward on their journey.

Before the end of 1842, nearly 300 of these liberated negroes, from Sierra Leone, had thus arrived at Badagry, most of whom proceeded on to Abbeokuta; and it may be well to follow, in imagination, some of these people, as they landed from the trading vessels, in parties of fifty or sixty, and took their course to the interior. There would be young, and old, and middle-aged in the company--some Christians, some still heathen, but all with hearts beating high with hope and expectation. All probably were strangers to the actual road by which they travelled, for the slaves were generally brought down to the coast by very circuitous routes, but the general aspect, of the country, the birds, the flowers, the very [48/49] air they breathed, would be to them instinct with life of other days, and would bring back, with increasing force, the associations of their childhood. For many miles, they would travel through a flat, alluvial country, where no stone of any size is to be seen, but the ground is sometimes swampy, and at others covered with almost impenetrable jungle. On leaving this level land, they would enter on an undulating and picturesque country, where the plains shone bright with buddhleas and hibiscus of various colours, while beautiful groves of palm and other trees invited the weary traveller to rest beneath their shade, and here and there a sparkling stream supplied them with delicious water.

But the hand of the spoiler had been hero, and had marred the pleasant prospect; the untilled ground, and the ruined villages, told of depopulating slave-wars; and the beautiful cocoa-nut, banana, and other trees, laden with fruit, that lingered among the ruins, stood in mournful contrast with the scene around. [Mr. King, at a later period, mentions, that in the course of one day's journey, between Badagry and Abbookuta, he passed not less than twenty ruined towns and villages.]

As our travellers advanced into the more hilly country, and came within eight or ten miles of Abbeokuta, the aspect of things greatly improved; the land was well cultivated; fields of Guinea and [49/50] Indian corn were interspersed with pastures in which cattle, sheep, and goats were feeding; farm-villages were scattered here and there, where pigeons and poultry were seen round almost every dwelling, the people were busy at their various occupations, and all wore the appearance of cheerful industry.

As they still proceeded, the narrow path widened into somewhat of a road; the number of passers to and fro told of their approach to Abbeokuta; already they discerned the picturesque rocks that surmount its eastern quarter, and could trace the river Ogun by the luxuriant foliage that marks its course; and how must every heart have throbbed and every eye been strained to catch the first glimpse of the longed-for spot!

At last it burst upon them in all its beauty of situation, and with all the bold romantic scenery that has called forth such admiration from even the passing visitor. [See Journal of Rev. T. B. Freeman, in "Missionary Register" for 1813. Later English travellers speak of it in the same terms.]

The town of Abbeokuta, more than three miles in length, and nearly as much in breadth, stands, as we have said, amidst a group of granite rocks on the eastern bank of the river Ogun, and its native dwellings have a singularly picturesque effect as they are seen rising one above another on the rocky heights, or clustering in the intervening hollows, and every [50/51] where interspersed with trees of various forms and hues. Here the lowly roofs are half concealed by the orange, the lime, the plantain, and the banana, with their pleasant fruits; there the broad umbrella-tree spreads its grateful shade; and there are seen the tall and handsome cotton-trees overtopping all the rest. Huge blocks of uncovered granite are towering higher still, and in the midst of all, the eye rests with peculiar interest on that broad fiat rock that covers the cave of Olumo.

Our minds involuntarily turn to Tasso's description of the army's approach to Jerusalem, and their first sight of the desired city, where he says:--

"Ali ha ciascuno al core, ed ali al piede,
Ni del suo ratto andar però s'accorge;
Ma quando il sol gli aridi campi fiede
Con raggi assai ferventi, ed in alto sorge,

Ecco apparir Gerusalem si vide,
Ecco additar Gerusalem si scorge,
Ecco da mille voci unitamente,
Gerusalemme salutar si sente."

["One would have thought each heart and foot had wings, For now, unconscious how the gushing springs Of nearer hope unwonted strength supply, Swift and more swift o'er hill and plain they fly. When lo! Jerusalem before them stands,--Jerusalem! they pause--a thousand hands Are raised on high,--a thousand tongues proclaim Jerusalem! Jerusalem! thy hallowed name!"]

Far different thoughts, however, from those of the heroic but mistaken Crusaders, occupied the minds [51/52] of our pilgrims. No dreams of earthly conquest were theirs, but every heart swelled with the hope of again embracing the beloved ones who had so long been lost to them, and with the joy of being once more the denizens of their own cherished land. Doubtless, thoughts of future victory arose in some of those hearts, but it was a victory not over Saracens and earthly enemies, but over idolatry and sin; they cared not to regain the long-forsaken tomb of Him they loved, but to lead others to know and love Him as the Resurrection and the Life.

Many a heart-stirring recognition, and many a joyful re-union awaited their arrival in the town; and the people heard with wonder the tale they had to tell. Hitherto all that the tribes in the interior had known of Europeans was from the Portuguese, who had spared no pains in endeavouring to persuade them that God created the black man to be slave to the white; and so entirely had these simple-minded people believed the assertion of their betrayers, that they actually invented a fable to account for it. But now, when their friends and countrymen related their strange adventures, and they listened to the history of their sufferings at the barracoon, and in the slave ship; of their rescue by the English; of their settlement at Sierra Leone as free men; and of all the kindness shown them there, the truth broke in upon them, and their astonishment and admiration [52/53] of the English nation were unbounded. And when their Christian brethren told them, not only of the love of English Christians, but of the source from which it flowed, the conviction forced itself on some of their hearts that the English religion must be the right one.

The emigrants, on their part, must have been agreeably surprised at the prosperity and comparative civilisation of Abbeokuta. The houses, though of clay and thatched, were better built and more commodious than is usual in Africa. The people were well clad, industrious, cheerful, and contented, the markets were numerous and well supplied. Indian and Guinea corn, beans of various kinds, sugar-canes, yams cooked and uncooked, fresh meat, beef, pork, and mutton; fish, fowls, pigeons, and dried rats (of which the people are very fond), were all to be purchased there. Pepper, ginger, pine-apples, oranges, plantains, and bananas, apples, papaws, limes, ground-nuts, ready-made soup, palm-wine, beer made from Guinea corn or from maize, and palm-oil, were in abundance; while various articles of domestic use--such as cotton, raw or in reels, cloths, some of rich texture and woven with the red cotton, from Haussa, Moorish caps, sandals, leather bags and embroidered leather cushions, saddles, stirrups and bits of native manufacture, bill-hooks, and hoes, knives and cutlasses, earthen bowls and dishes, [53/54] calabashes, ropes and lines, are all enumerated as among the articles for sale. All, or most of these were of home manufacture, and one sighs to observe, that the only articles that Europe furnished wore tobacco and gunpowder.

But many of those Christian emigrants, who, while enjoying the means of grace at Sierra Leone, had thought they could do without them here, soon discovered their mistake, and how important it was to them to have a regular ministry, and stated times for public worship. Their former indifference was changed into anxiety, and they seized on every opportunity of intercourse with Sierra Leone, to send the most urgent intreaties to their friends and former ministers to use all the means in their power, that missionaries might be sent to Abbeokuta. The child-like confidence of these simple-hearted penile in the love of English Christians, is very touching, for they felt so sure of an answer to their appeal, that they did not hesitate to assure Shodeke, the king, that "White man would soon come."

We shall only speak of one more of the many means that God made use of for the deliverance of Yoruba; and this, though less direct in its effects, has not been less important in its bearing on the destinies, not only of Yoruba, but of nations far beyond it; we mean the Niger Expedition, which we shall reserve for the following chapter.

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