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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 XII. Progress of the work--the Queen's and Prince Albert's presents to the Chiefs

"And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, end some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."--Eph. iv. 11,12.

While Mr. Müller was thus, as we have seen, honoured in his more especial work of an evangelist, Mr. Crowther was equally blessed in his more pastoral labours.

He was now settled in the newly erected mission-premises in Igbein, in the southern quarter of the town, and about two miles from Aké; and here, in April 1848, he was permitted to open another church for Divine worship. It was of the same rude materials as that at Aké, but when filled with between 200 and 300 worshippers, he felt that if only a portion of these were indeed made "lively stones "of the spiritual temple, it mattered little that the walls of the earthly building were of mud and its roof of thatch. [The circumstances attending the erection of this church were particularly gratifying to Mr. Crowther. The requisite funds (i'42) had, at the suggestion of Mr. Townsend, been contributed by his Christian fellow-countrymen at Sierra Leone; the congregation gave the labour; and as it was carefully built, it was a tolerably substantial structure. The women too had improved the appearance of the interior by washing it over with ochre.]

[154] Mr. Crowther, and his catechist Morgan, also held regular services in the so-called chapels of Owu and Itoku, but the latter was burnt down by a destructive fire in the beginning of this same year, and the services were suspended for some months. [These fires are so frequent and so destructive in Abbeokuta, as to cause the missionaries considerable anxiety. Once Mr. Crowther's house was injured; and on another occasion, when the fire swept for between one and two miles across the town till it was stopped by the river, both his own house and that at Aké were only saved by a providential change of wind. Partly from terror and partly from superstition the people make very little attempt to extinguish them.] A donation from the widow of that devoted servant of God" whose name had been given him at his baptism, enabled him at last to rebuild it; and the manner in which the site was given was another proof of the influence the missionaries were gradually gaining. As the former situation had not been found a convenient one, Lajoyé, the war-chief of Itoku, accompanied Mr. Crowther in search of another, and coming to a piece of land belonging to himself, Lajoye advised him to build it there, as it was the place of greatest resort in the whole town. Mr. Crowther pointed out to him that the spot was so [154/155] near a fetish grove belonging to the people of Igbore, that they would object to it; but Lajoyé overruled all objections by saying that it was the most suitable for his purpose, and he had only to do as he bade him. Mr. Crowther was but too glad to do so, and though the people of Igbore were very angry, and reviled the workmen while building it, yet they were obliged to submit to Lajoyé's decision. The chief had judged rightly as to the situation; the chapel was quickly thronged, and on one occasion, soon after it was finished, the numbers so increased, that Mr. Crowther was obliged to dismiss one congregation, and begin afresh with a new one. We have mentioned that before Mr. Crowther left Sierra Leone, he had translated part of the Liturgy into the Yoruban language; this he now used, and found how suitable it was to the wants and feelings of his people. The comprehensiveness of the prayers in the Litany particularly struck them; and even bigotted idolaters, if they happened to come in at that part of the service, were astonished at Christians praying for their enemies. Our missionaries longed to receive printed copies of it from England, that the congregations might join more effectually in the service. [In 1850 they had their wish, and they speak with joy of the way in which the responses resounded through the churches.]

[156] The "interpretation of tongues" was among Mr. Crowther's most important occupations, and he had already sent home the Gospel of St. Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistle to the Romans, besides a translation of "Watts' First Catechism. He had also revised a Yoruban primer, which had been prepared by Mr. Townsend and Mr. Gollmer in England, and its reappearance at Abbeokuta in print was hailed with delight by his hundred-and-eight Sunday adult scholars. Half their difficulties vanished when they found that the strange characters now conveyed to them some familiar sound; they were never tired of reading it; several of them committed the whole to memory; and they were particularly interested in comparing the passages of Scripture it contained with the corresponding ones in their English Testaments. The thirst of these people for instruction was most encouraging; and could it have been given them for three hours in the morning, and as much in the afternoon, they would still have thought the time too short.

Mr. Crowther had established a school for boys, and Mrs. Crowther one for girls, and they seemed likely to prosper. Ogubonna regularly sent some of his household, though the distance was considerable, and they had to come over a rocky road; and two [156/157] even of the babbalawos brought their little girls to Mrs. Crowther. "What shall I sacrifice?" said one of them, "a pig or a fowl? or what shall I pay?" adding, "if you do not like their heathen names, change them for some of your own." When assured that no sacrifice was needed, that there was nothing' to pay, and that there was no wish to change their names, he could not sufficiently express his surprise; nor was his astonishment lessened when he was conducted into the room where Mrs. Crowther was teaching her twenty pupils to sew; for in Yoruba the men alone are considered worthy of being initiated into the mysteries of needlework!

The attention paid by the people to the observance of the Sabbath-day was a token of the sincerity of their professions, and Mr. Crowther mentions one instance in particular that shows a strength of faith we should hardly have expected from such recent converts.

It appears that some of the Christians supported themselves by trading at the Lagos market, which was held once in seventeen days, and consequently occasionally involved the necessity of cither travelling or trading on the Lord's-day. The rivers were unsafe except for large parties; for the Ijebbuns often lay in ambush on the banks, ready to catch and plunder any who were not strong enough to resist them. The question among the converts was, [157/158] whether when the market occurred at such times, they should, as a case of necessity, travel with the rest of the traders on Sunday, or whether they should on these occasions refrain altogether. Neither of these alternatives satisfied the minds of our friends; and after much deliberation and prayer, they resolved at all risks to keep the Sabbath holy; but as they were not well able to relinquish their attendance at the market, they determined to trust in the good providence of their God, and when necessary, to travel with only their own small party. And God honoured their courage and their confidence in Him, for no instance has occurred of their being molested, while the larger parties have more than once been attacked and plundered, and some of the people seized as slaves.

Mr. Crowther was anxious to promote in every way the temporal as well as spiritual welfare of his people, especially to encourage agriculture among them. He planted rice in his own compound, and induced others to do the same; and took advantage of a liberal present, sent him by the Dowager Lady Buxton, to bestow trifling gratuities on the small cultivators, according to their skill; and it was pleasant to find that "half-a-crown or five shillings thus given was more valued than gallons of rum would have been."

There was evidently an increasing activity and [158/159] desire for improvement, generally, among the people, in which Ogubonna took the lead. A new house he was building had doors and glass windows, in imitation of the missionaries' dwellings; [The windows had been taken out by Mr. Townsend.] and even before Mr. and Mrs. Townsend left Abbeokuta, he had prevailed on them to accompany him on a visit to his farm. They were very much pleased with this little excursion. The farm lay a short distance from the town, and was very picturesquely situated on the side of a rocky hill. Much care had evidently been taken in its cultivation, according to their native fashion, and it was with some degree of pride that the chief led his visitors through fields of cotton, of ginger, and of ground pepper, [A trailing plant that produces a kind of pepper.] which he had planted in the sanguine, though undefined hope, that they might some day obtain a place in the English market. [When Mr. Crowther came to England, in 1851, he brought some African cotton with him as a sample, and it was so much approved of by some of the great Manchester manufacturers, that there is good reason to hope, that with an improved cultivation, it will become a staple article of trade between Abbeokuta and England.] Ogubonna was much gratified by this visit from Mr. and Mrs. Townsend, and as they were passing through a plantation of yams, they heard him say to the overseer of the farm, "No Osha, however famous, would have been believed, [159/160] had it foretold that Europeans would ever visit the farm!" ending by an exhortation to the man to be more than ever diligent, that it might always be in a fit state to be seen.

We mentioned in our tenth chapter, the letter sent by Sagbua and his colleagues to the Queen, when Mr. Townsend returned to England, in 1848; and the arrival of an answer in May, 1849, is too memorable an event in the annals of this people, to be passed over in silence. Her Majesty had been pleased very graciously to receive the letter from the Abbeokutan chiefs, with the present of country cloth that accompanied it, and authorised the Earl of Chichester, as President of the Church Missionary Society, to return the following reply.

"I have had the honour of presenting to the Queen the letter of Sagbua and other chiefs of Abbeokuta, and also their present of a piece of cloth.

"The Queen has commanded me to convey her thanks to Sagbua and the chiefs, and her best wishes for their true and lasting happiness, and for the peace and prosperity of the Yoruba nation.

"The Queen hopes that arrangements may be made for affording to the Yoruba natives the free use of the river Ossa, so as to give them opportunities for commerce with this and other countries.

"The commerce between nations, in exchanging [160/161] the fruits of the earth, and of each other's industry, is blessed by God. Not so the commerce in slaves, which makes poor and miserable the nation that sells them, and brings neither wealth nor the blessing of God to the nation that buys them, but the contrary.

"The Queen and people of England are very glad to know that Sagbua and the chiefs think as they do upon this subject of commerce. But commerce alone will not make a nation great and happy like England. England has become great and happy by the knowledge of the true God and Jesus Christ.

"The Queen is therefore very glad to hear that Sagbua and the chiefs have so kindly received the missionaries, who carry with them the Word of God, and that so many of the people are willing to hear it.

"In order to show how much the Queen values God's Word, she sends with this, as a present to Sagbua, a copy of this Word in two languages, one the Arabic, the other the English.

"The Church Missionary Society wish all happiness and the blessing of eternal life to Saghua and all the people of Abbeokuta. They are very thankful to the chiefs for the kindness and protection afforded to their missionaries; and they will not cease to pray for the spread of God's truth, and of all other blessings, in Abbeokuta and throughout Africa, in [161/162] the name and for the sake of our only Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

(Signed) "Chichester."

The Bibles were handsomely bound in red morocco, and Prince Albert added the valuable present of a steel mill for the grinding of their Indian corn. The Rev. D. Hinderer, who was just then proceeding to Abbeokuta as a missionary, was entrusted with the letter and the presents: at Badagry he was joined by the Rev. I. Smith, then stationed there, and they arrived at Abbeokuta on May 14th.

Sagbua immediately sent round the crier to summon the chiefs for the 23rd, when Mr. Crowther, Mr. Müller, Mr. Smith, Mr. Hinderer, and a number of converts were invited to meet them in the outer court of the council-house at Aké. There was a large assembly, and Mr. Crowther read and translated the letter, paragraph by paragraph; the Bibles and corn-mill were then presented to them, and Mr. Crowther addressed them. He drew their attention to that portion of Lord Chichester's letter in which the Queen so gracefully acknowledges that it is not commerce alone that can make a nation great or happy, but the knowledge of the true God and Jesus Christ; and then, with the Bibles in his hand, spoke of the prosperous reigns of David, of Jehoshaphat, and of other kings of Judea who feared God, and led their people to serve Him; and then referred to the [162/163] unhappy state of the Jewish nation when prince and people turned from Him to idolatry and wickedness. The other missionaries followed, and, as it was not often that they had the opportunity of speaking to so many chiefs, they endeavoured to turn the occasion to good account.

The mill was then brought forward, some Indian corn was put into it, and the chiefs were taken quite by surprise, when they found that by merely turning the handle of the mill, it came out as fine flour. They all crowded round, each begging for a little of the flour to take home to show his people.

Sagbua and his brother chiefs were very much gratified by all the proceedings; they evidently felt that a great honour had been conferred upon them, and there is reason to believe that a powerful effect was produced by the whole transaction. The friendly Sagbua showed his appreciation of the Queen's present in a way that, though natural, was painful to the missionaries. Mr. Crowther happened to call on him a few days after, when he inquired whether he ought not to offer some sort of sacrifice to the things that had been sent. Mr. Crowther asked, "What thing? the corn-mill or the Bibles?" "The Bibles, "was the reply, and our missionary, opening the Bible, and reading from it the first and second commandments, endeavoured to show the chief how contrary to that very book such an act would be.

[164] Ogubonna afterwards spoke of the deep impressions that had been made altogether upon the meeting, and added that it was his firm persuasion that in six years Christianity would become the national faith of Abbeokuta.

We shall close this chapter with an account of one or two of Mr. Crowther's communicants.

The first we will mention is a man of the name of Kashi. He was a carpenter and a carver of wooden idols. Observing the superior skill of the workmen from Sierra Leone, and anxious to improve in his art, he frequently visited a carpenter who worked for Mr. Townsend. Happily for Kashi this man was a Christian, and, while instructing him in his work, often spoke to him on the concerns of his soul. Kashi became in some degree impressed, gave up working on the Sabbath day, and attended public worship. One Sunday, the missionary was led to read and explain Isaiah xliv. 13--17. The man was astonished, he could hardly believe the passage was in the Bible; it seemed as if written on purpose to describe himself. He returned home, but the words followed him; he walked out to a neighbouring plantation, and looked at the trees of his own planting:--"He planteth an ash and the rain doth nourish it; he taketh an oak which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest;"--how true of himself!--"The carpenter stretcheth [164/165] out his rule, he marketh it out with a line, he fitteth it with planes, and marketh it out with a compass."--how accurate the description! "Then he will take thereof and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god and worshippeth it."

Thus did his mind run over the whole passage; the Holy Spirit brought it home to his conscience; he reflected that while the tree was alive and brought forth fruit it was nothing thought of; how then when it is dead can it become an object of adoration? He gave up idol worship, determined to examine more closely into Christianity, and became a regular attendant on the means of grace. Some of the chiefs observed the change and became alarmed; for his abilities had procured for him the headship of the artisans in Abbeokuta, and he had great influence among the people. They tried to bribe him to relinquish his new opinions, and to identify himself with them; but he had already learnt too much of Christianity to be so moved, and continued to maintain his ground. He gave up, of course, the carving of images; and had it not been for Mr. Crowther's persuasion, would have laid aside also his occupation as carpenter, lest it should prove a temptation to him.

His wives now deserted him, and soon his two children were also taken away; and thus, in time of [165/166] his greatest need, when his struggling soul was seeking for an answer to the inquiry, "What must I do to be saved?" he was left alone without one of his friends to sympathise with, or to care for him. But none of these things moved him; he steadily advanced in knowledge and in grace, and was in February 1851 baptised, and soon after admitted to the table of the Lord.

The Dahomian attack, of which we shall give the account in a future chapter, occurred very soon after his baptism, and he was called upon to assist in the defence of his country. A watchful, and perhaps suspicious, eye, was kept upon the converts during the conflict, and an observation of one of the war-chiefs was therefore the more satisfactory, when, happening to meet Kashi in the very heat of the battle, he exclaimed, "Ah, Kashi, if all fought like you, they might follow what religion they liked!"

The other case we will relate is that of a young woman named Oteshade. She was engaged in marriage to one of the babbalawos, when, by the instrumentality of her grandmother, who had been baptised some time before, her heart was opened to the influences of real religion, and she began to attend the instructions of the missionaries. Her convictions and desire to become a Christian increased continually, and she begged to be baptised. Her engagement to the priest prevented Mr. Crowther [166/167] from acceding to her request, and her way seemed hedged up, for the engagement could not be broken through on her side. The only course that seemed open to her was to endeavour to make conditions with her future husband that she might continue to attend the services of the church, and to keep the Sabbath day holy; requesting him, if he disapproved of this, to go to one of the services and hear and judge for himself.

This proposal stirred up the most angry passions; he put her in the stocks, and used other severe measures in the hope of inducing her to yield. But all his ill-treatment was of no avail; she remained stedfast, and at the end of nine days of this ill-treatment, one of the chiefs, heathen though he was, interceded for her. The babbalawo then concerted other measures with her own family, and she was treated with the greatest kindness. But, when Sunday came, she found that she was expected to give up her religion, for they put a basket into her hand and bade her go to a distant field and bring home some cassada. Her resolution was promptly taken, she quietly received the basket, and without making any observation, set off in the direction of the field; but after a while turned round and making a long circuit, reached the mission-premises just as the service was commencing. Her feelings were overcome, and setting down her basket, she joined the [167/168] congregation. Afraid of returning home, she lingered on till evening, when her family, finding she did not come back from the field, set out in search of her. "We may imagine their rage when at last they found her in the mission-premises; they reproved and threatened her, but she continued stedfast; and finding that they could make no impression on her, they at length returned home, leaving her under the care of Mr. Crowther. There she remained for some time, receiving instruction as a candidate, was baptised, and afterwards married a Christian young man. She still continues to walk stedfastly in the fear of the Lord.

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