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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 VIII. Badagry

"It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."

Along the northern coast of the Gulf of Guinea there runs a kind of "backwater," called by Europeans the Lagoon, and by the natives the river Ossa. It begins near Cape St. Paul on the west, and after receiving a few tributary streams from the north, falls into the river Ogun at Lagos. It varies very much in breadth, now spreading out into a lake, and now contracted to half a mile across, but always so gentle, smooth, and clear, and so adorned on either side with trees of luxuriant foliage, that "the beautiful Ossa" has become its frequent epithet, even among the European residents.

The space between the Lagoon and the sea is of various breadths, and in some parts thickly studded with towns and villages, and adorned with trees. Opposite Badagry it is a strip of sandy soil, with grass and bushes, about a mile across, against which the sea dashes with such impetuous fury that the landing is generally dangerous, and at some seasons of the year scarcely practicable.

[95] Like the surf on the Coromandel coast of India, it rolls towards the shore in three successive ridges, separated from each other by deep troughs. Flat-bottomed canoes take the place of the massouli boat of Madras, and as the little vessel shoots up the watery ascent, its prow may sometimes be seen several feet beyond and above the summit of the wave before it dashes down into the channel below, again and again to rise and fall with the same impetuosity. Should it unhappily not have reached the crest of the wave before it begins to arch, its doom is certain; it is instantly filled with water or upset, and if the cargo is saved at all, it generally is severely injured. [The readers of the Children's Missionary Magazine will doubtless remember that it was here that the Abbeokuta bell, sent out by Miss Barber's youthful contributors, was lost.] But not so the canoe-men themselves; they care little for the accident; flinging their paddles from them, they may be seen floating, like some inhabitant of the ocean, amid the foam of the broken surf, till they can reach the boat, and, clinging tightly to it, are carried by succeeding waves safe to shore. Here our missionary party, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Gollmer, Mr. and Mrs. Townsend, Mr. and Mrs. Crowther, and their companions, landed in safety in January 1845, and were kindly welcomed by Mr. and Mrs. Annear, of the Wesleyan Missionary Society.

[96] They were full of hope and energy; and their first business was to send off a messenger to Abbeokuta to inform Shodeke of their arrival, and their intention of proceeding thither in a few days. But God's ways are not our ways; and in a moment their plans were disconcerted and their spirits damped by the news of the death of Shodeke. The authority which this chief held over the others, the superiority of his mind, the steadfast desire he had always manifested to have a mission established among his people, and Mr. Townsend's previous acquaintance with him, had all combined to give them a confidence in him which they could not feel towards the other chiefs till they should have the opportunity of becoming better acquainted with them, and they feared that this event would prove a severe blow to the proposed mission. They found too that the roads from Badagry to Abbeokuta were very unsafe in consequence of disputes with the people of Adu, a town nearly in the direct route, and who were continually lying in wait for travellers either to plunder or to kidnap them; and this helped to perplex their plans. When their messenger returned from Abbeokuta, he brought very friendly messages from the chiefs, with assurances that their desire for them to reside among them continued as stedfast as in the life-time of Shodeke, but urging them strongly [96/97] to delay coming for the present, till they should hear from them that it was advisable. The fresh accounts their messenger brought of the danger of the roads, and of the unsettled state of things in Abbeokuta itself, confirmed the message of the chiefs, and plainly showed the missionaries that they had no alternative but to remain for the present where they were.

Badagry is a good-sized town, standing on the northern shore of the Lagoon, and numbering about 11,000 inhabitants. These are almost all Popos, and are in a fearfully demoralized state; [The same tribe as the Dahomians.] but there are a few Yorubans, and among them some Sierra emigrants, who, as we have said, have settled in the eastern quarter of the town,--and are much less degraded than the rest of the population. The English factory is in this part, and also the Wesleyan mission-premises; and here our missionaries determined likewise to take up their abode.

There were several circumstances that concurred to make Badagry appear a desirable place for a permanent mission-station--not only on account of its own population, but as being the resort of strangers from all quarters, and as affording, by means of the Lagoon, ready access to the numerous and well-peopled towns and villages in its neighbourhood. It would also facilitate the transmission of [97/98] stores to the interior. It was finally settled, therefore, that Mr. Gollmer should take up his abode there, and that Mr. Townsend and Mr. Crowther should proceed to Abbeokuta as soon as the way should be again open.

Badagry was anything but a pleasant or a promising station. The slave-trade, and the unlimited indulgence in rum supplied to them by the European slave-ships, had led the people far deeper into brutality and vice, than those of the surrounding smaller towns. They seemed swallowed up in sensual enjoyments, and their selfish avarice rendered it very difficult for the missionary to obtain an intelligent listener.

The idolatry of the Popos is of the most debasing character. They have Ifa and Sango, and the other deities of the Yorubans, but have added others to them; their national deity is a black, venomous snake, to whom they pay great respect, and they avowedly worship the evil spirit himself.

Human sacrifices are not unfrequent, and the bones scattered round the fetish-houses, tell of many such deeds of darkness. These sacrifices are generally carefully concealed from the eyes of Europeans; but on one occasion Mr. Smith suddenly came upon one that had been lately offered up. It was in a beautiful grove at Ajido, on the banks of the Ossa, [The Rev. Isaac Smith, who joined the mission in 1848.] [98/99] and the contrast of the loveliness of the scene, as God had made it, with the deep depravity of man, that was now defiling it, increased the painfulness of the sight.

The people of Badagry are slaves to superstitious fear, and not even their sordid love of money hinders them from lavishing it on swarms of priests and priestesses, who have little difficulty in turning the fears and credulity of their neighbours to their own advantage.

Like many other barbarous people, the Badagrians have a great dread of witchcraft, and many a poor, helpless, aged woman fell a victim to this fear while our missionaries were residing there. No sooner is a suspicion imagined against any one, than she is seized and dragged by the feet through the streets, amidst the cries and invectives of an excited mob, till death terminates her sufferings, and the body is then thrown into the fetish-grove.

The feeling of personal insecurity added much to the trials of the missionaries. Soon after their arrival at Badagry, Akitoye, the chief (or, as he is called, king) of Lagos, was conspired against by his nephew Kosoko, and obliged to flee, first taking refuge at Abbeokuta, and then at Badagry. Kosoko was a determined slave-dealer, of fierce ungoverned passions, and little scrupulous as to the means he took to gratify them. The burning down of great part [99/100] of Lagos, and the wholesale massacres, by his order, at the time of his uncle's expulsion, showed the cruelty of his disposition; and no sooner had he obtained the authority at Lagos, than he endeavoured to gain dominion over the whole of the Ossa, that the slave-trade might be carried on with less hindrance from the cruisers. To accomplish this, he formed alliances with the king of Dahomey, the Porto Novians, and some of the Badagry chiefs, against the Abbeokutans and Akitoye, and the town was kept in continued alarm. But neither the sense of personal danger, nor the unpromising nature of the soil on which they were working, could lead Mr. Gollmer or his fellow-labourers to quit the spot as long as it seemed the will of God that they should remain there.

It was only three months after their arrival that the small band sustained a heavy loss in the death of Mrs. Gollmer, who fell asleep in Jesus in April 1845; and this blow made the detention of Mr. Townsend and Mr. Crowther additionally welcome to the heart of her bereaved husband.

Their detention was not without its use in other respects. It afforded Mr. Townsend the opportunity of becoming in some degree acquainted with the Yoruban language, with its accents and intonations, which are so difficult for a foreigner to acquire, and yet are of so much importance; and it gave Mr. [100/101] Crowther time to continue his translations, and to commence a vocabulary, which would, it was hoped, assist in reducing the language to a more systematic order.

The work of the mission, too, was carried on far more efficiently than it could otherwise have been. A church and dwelling-house were* built; a day and boarding-school for boys and a Sunday school for adults were established, and the streets, the markets, the palm-wine sheds, all heard the glad tidings of salvation through a crucified Redeemer. Visits too were paid to the chiefs at their own houses, and no means were left untried to awaken the people from their sleep of death. One of the most constant resorts of the missionaries was a large umbrella tree in the town, where a number of listeners often collected; but here, as indeed was generally the case, the cry, "We are hungry, we are hungry!" at the close of some searching appeal to their consciences, or of some touching declaration of the love of Christ, would painfully discourage the messenger of glad tidings, and show how the seed had only fallen on the way-side. [They frequently asked to be paid for coming to church, and sometimes for sending their children to school.]

Mr. Gollmer was also set at liberty to visit some of the neighbouring towns. One of these was Poka, nine miles from Badagry, with a population of 4,000. [101/102] Here Mr. Gollmer and Mr. Crowther were courteously received; the chief, wrapped in a red cotton cloth, covered with "beads of all colours, and with a crown and sceptre, came out of his house, and seated himself in the piazza to receive them. Having heard the purport of their visit, he exclaimed, "I praise you," and his words of welcome were echoed in a kind of chorus by a number of his wives and all the people present. The missionaries had a very interesting interview with the twelve elders of the town. They had more than once been deceived by white men, and were therefore at first very shy of entering into conversation; but when they found that the object of the missionaries was to declare to them the way of salvation, they replied that God himself must have sent them that message, and how could they do otherwise than attend to if. They did not care for presents, but begged for another visit, and hoped the travellers would proceed to the towns beyond them.

Another of the towns visited by Mr. Gollmer was Ajido, on the Ossa, towards Lagos. The chief here also was very friendly, and promised to send one of his sons to a boarding-school, which Mr. Gollmer had lately established in the mission-premises. Mr. Gollmer was accompanied in this visit by a Sierra Leone Christian, who with unspeakable thankfulness pointed out to him the barracoon in which he [102/103] had eighteen years before been confined for three months, and from which he had been shipped by his Portuguese purchasers.

But these recognitions of places and of persons, deeply affecting as each case was, individually considered, were of such frequent occurrence that we shall not attempt to record them, except in any special instance that may throw light on the general subject.

We do not intend to enter with any degree of fulness into the details of the missionary work at Badagry: the Popos have neglected their opportunities, and the station is now removed. We shall only return to it in a future chapter, to lay before our readers some few particulars which will enable them to have a clearer view of the whole.

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