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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 XIV. The Rev. D. Hinderer--Extension of Mission

"Enlarge the place of thy tent, end let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitation; spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes."--Isaiah liv. ii.

The Rev. David Hinderer joined the mission, as we have said, in May, 1849, and, during the remainder of Mr. Müller's earthly sojourn, was associated with him in the care of the congregations at Aké and at Ikija, as well as in his preaching in "the streets and lanes of the city."

But the return of Mr. and Mrs. Townsend in March, 1850, and the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Smith in August of the same year, set Mr. Hinderer free for a work to which his inclination strongly prompted him, and for which he seemed peculiarly qualified--the lengthening of the mission cords; and, after dwelling for a few pages on the history of Abbeokuta for the year 1850, we shall devote the rest of the chapter to an account of some of Mr. Hinderer's visits to distant places. [Mr. and Mrs. Smith had been at Badagry since January, 1843.]

[187] The feelings of Mr. and Mrs. Townsend, upon this their return to Abbeokuta, were very different from those on their first journey hither in 1846, and, to those of our readers who remember the account we then gave, the following extract from one of Mr. Townsend's letters of 1850 will not be unacceptable: "How different is our present journey from our former one! Then what anxious nights I passed, full of fear at the prospect before us! we were strangers in a strange land; Andrew Wilhelm indeed was working for God in Abbeokuta; but we knew of no one but himself who would help or welcome us there. Now we return, no longer as strangers, but to meet a goodly band of helpers, to a friendly people, and to a settled home." The people on their part were delighted to see them back again; different parties of Sierra Leone emigrants, of native converts, and of school children went out to welcome them, they were soon comfortably settled in their old place again, and Mr. Townsend rejoiced to be again permitted to minister to his overflowing congregations in the church of Aké.

Mr. Townsend was accompanied by Mr. T. King, whom our readers already are acquainted with as having accompanied the Niger Expedition; another native catechist, Mr. Barber, and several Sierra Leone emigrants; and the next day, which was Easter Sunday, was one of peculiar joy and [187/188] thankfulness in the Abbeokuta congregations; for several of the women received as from the dead their long-lost children. One of these was Mary Ije, the mother of Mr. King; and their mutual joy was deepened by their mutual hopes as fellow-heirs of the kingdom of Christ. Not so Mr. King's companion, Mr. Barber; he too was restored to his aged and attached father, but, poor man, he was still a heathen; and though his heart overflowed with gratitude to England for the restoration of his son, it was impossible to make him understand that his chief thanks were due to an infinitely higher Power. Mr. and Mrs. Smith were appointed to what had been intended for Mr. Müller, the station at Ikija, and the change from the discouraging and apparently fruitless labour at Badagry to a sphere where all was full of hope and promise filled them with thankfulness. It was no small comfort to them also to have the friendly Ogubonna as the chief of their district, for they knew that from him they were sure of receiving every kindness and assistance he could render them. And among the minor advantages of Ikija was the situation of their house. It stands on a rising ground, the air is free and healthy, and the view is very interesting. The eye traverses the towns of Ikija, Lao, Ilugun, and part of Bagura, till it crosses the bright and beautiful Ogun, which [188/189] is here 400 or 500 yards wide at its fullest time, and rests at length on the opposite bank, where the uneven ground is carefully and richly cultivated with maize and Indian corn, interspersed with pasture land, and where the plantations of yams, trained up the low poles, almost made Mrs. Smith fancy she was looking on a newly planted Kentish hop-garden. The adult Sunday-school was an object of Mr. Smith's special interest. It was held in the church, which stands near the mission-compound, but in the open street, that passers by may feel they are at liberty to enter. [This is also the case at Ako and at Igbein.] Here, on the morning and afternoon of every Lord's Day, eighty persons were assembled to learn to read, in their own tongue, "the wonderful works of God." They were divided into classes, in which the primer, Watts' first Catechism, the Liturgy, all in Yoruba, were the subjects of instruction, while the more advanced were reading the Yoruban translation of the epistle to the Romans, and entering into St. Paul's descriptions and reasonings in a way which showed how truly they must have been taught by the Spirit of God. But perhaps the most interesting of all the classes was the lowest, where, with a large alphabet board, a little boy belonging to Mr. Smith's day-school, would be endeavouring to impress on the memories of his scholars, some of whom were old enough to have [189/190] been the father or mother of his own parents, the mysterious connection between the forms and sounds of the various letters.

One event, in the summer of 1850, gave the missionaries great pain: it was the death of Oso Ligregere, who had been, it will be remembered, Mr. Townsend's and Mr. Crowther's host, for the first five months of their residence in Abbeokuta. He had always shown a sincere attachment to them, and, as the confidential friend and agent of Sagbua, had rendered them much assistance. His wife was Sarah Ibikotan, of whom we have spoken as among the earliest who were baptized; his only child was entrusted to Mr. Crowther's care, and he had lost all confidence in idols. But the fear of man kept him back from a full reception of the gospel, and all that Mr. Townsend, who visited him in his last sickness, could say of him was, that he was almost a Christian.

And now, turning for a little while from Abbeokuta itself, we shall fulfil our promise of accompanying Mr. Hinderer in some of his pioneering expeditions.

It was arranged that he should begin by visiting some of the towns that lie to the west of Abbeokuta; and he accordingly set out on the 18th of July, taking with him Mr. Phillips, as interpreter, and proceeded to the Abaka gate, at the north-western [190/191] extremity of the town. Here, after addressing a number of people who, like himself, were waiting on the bank for canoes, he crossed the river, and rode on across a wide plain, partly cultivated and partly grass land, for ten miles, when he reached a small farm town called Ibara. At first, the chief was displeased, because he had not sent him notice of his intention, that he might have made suitable preparations; but upon Mr. Hinderer assuring him that as he was no great man no great preparations were required, his good-humour returned, and he treated the missionary with the most friendly kindness.

Mr. Hinderer was soon surrounded by a host of people, to whom he explained the objects of the white men in coming to Abbeokuta, and preached the way of salvation. They listened with the greatest attention, only that now and then while he was speaking, one and another would exclaim, "Amin! God helps the English people to do all this;" and then a general "Amin" would burst from the assembled crowd. ["Amin," though now become a common Yoruba word, has evidently been derived from the Arabic, through the Mohammedans, and is less characteristic than their own native expression--"Ke oh sheh," "So be it."] The next day was the market, when the surrounding farmers bring in their produce; and these men, to whom the slave-trade brings only misery and ruin, lent a willing ear, while, standing on the broken mud walls of a ruinous house, [191/192] Mr. Hinderer told them of the efforts of the Queen and people of England to suppress it, and went on to speak of a heavier bondage, and a far more blessed deliverance.

From Ibara Mr. Hinderer proceeded to Isagga, seven miles farther to the west; the country resembled that which he had already passed, except that it was diversified with groves of tall trees; and as he journeyed on, the undulating ground gradually swelled into hills, apparently the outlying spurs of the not very distant Kong mountains. The same friendly greeting awaited him here as he had experienced at Ibara. The chief sent for the elders of the town, and the people thronged round him to know why he had come among them. He told them of all England had done and was doing for their country; and spoke to them of a crucified and risen Saviour. When he ceased, the chief and elders bowed their heads, and rubbed their hands together in token of approbation, while some were heard praising God, and invoking blessings on their benefactors. ["Olorun," which means, "the Lord of Orun or Heaven." This instance is another of the many proofs, that though these people have "gods many and lords many," yet that they have an idea of one supreme Being, the original author of all good. See remarks on same subject in chapter iii.] Mr. Hinderer exclaims--"What an inexpressible cause of thankfulness to missionaries in this benighted land is it to be thus received! The [192/193] tidings of a Saviour dying for sinners always fall on willing ears, except when addressed to Mohammedans." [The missionaries frequently speak of the effect which the declaration of the atonement has upon the people. It fills them with astonishment, as too good and too wonderful to be believed; and when enabled at all to realise it, they are melted and humbled before that glorious truth, which even in our own days, is "to the Greeks foolishness."]

In the evening, many of the surrounding farmers came into the town, telling Mr. Hinderer that they were working on their farms far away, when all at once they heard that white man was come for good and not for evil, for he spoke good words. So "their hearts would no more sit down, they must come and see for themselves, and now they saw, and heard, and ware glad."

The following morning Mr. Hinderer again preached a crucified Saviour to the people; and again the hearty farmer chief thanked for his visit, and for a small present he had made him the day before, and asked his elders to help him to express the joy they felt at his having visited them. "Never," says Mr. Hinderer, "did I experience more African affection than at Isagga and Ibitra. Would to God that these two towns, containing not less than 5,000 souls, might soon have a missionary placed among them; there are many villages round to which he would also have access."

[194] The first out-station from Abbeokuta was not however formed either at Ibara or Isagga, but at Osielle, a town about eight miles to the north-east of Abbeokuta. Mr. Hinderer had paid it two or three passing visits early in 1850, and was received with the greatest friendliness both by chiefs and people. They afterwards sent him repeated messages begging him to come and "sit down" there; for that they would do all in their power to make him comfortable; and he found that some of the people delayed cutting down their best timber trees, till they should ascertain whether they would be of use to him in building his house amongst them. It was therefore settled that he should take up his abode there for a time; and on October 16th he set out for his new temporary home, leaving Mr. King to carry on his work of "highway "preaching.

Osielle, though not so populous, is nearly as large as Badagry, and beautifully situated on uneven ground. On one side an impenetrable bush protects it from attack, on the other three a small stream adds to the beauty as well as security of the place; and a good substantial wall completes its defences. The country around is very picturesque; and one of the most attractive spots is a farm belonging to Sagbua. It lies on the slope of a hill, and commands an extensive view. Towards the south-east the eye ranges over the country of the Ijebbus, and far off to the [194/195] south-west is seen the high land near Awoyade. Abbeokuta lies between, but is hidden by intervening hills, and only the high bare rocks near Ikija are visible; while looking nearer home, the villages and well cultivated fields show an industrious and thriving population.

The Osielle chief readily gave Mr. Hinderer two rooms within his own compound. In one of these his idols and charms had hitherto been kept, and here he had daily worshipped; but he had not the slightest hesitation in removing them, "for," said he, "it is all the same to them where they are put, and I can find them some other room." After they were removed, it was with some degree of satisfaction that Mr. Hinderer with his own hands demolished the altar near the wall.

The two rooms together measured only fifteen feet by six, yet when windows were cut out, and two smaller rooms were afterwards added for stores, it made a very tolerably comfortable abode.

But before Mr. Hinderer would complete his own house, he obtained from the chief a piece of ground for a church; and though the difficulty in obtaining labourers greatly hindered him, and obliged him often to work at it with his own hands, yet before very long it was finished; and the services were [195/196] regularly attended by a goodly number, among whom might generally be seen the chief himself. [The funds for the erection of this church also were collected by Miss Harber.]

One of the helpers in building this church must not be passed over without mentioning a few particulars about him. His name was Tombarchi; like Olu Walla, he lived by plunder and violence, and was the terror of the Abbeokuta markets. He was a man of a very diminutive stature, and was commonly known by the soubriquet of Akérikora, "Littlo-but-bitter." The cry that Akérikora was coming was enough to spread dismay through the ranks of the market-women, for they knew it was the signal for insult and robbery; and his character had also become notorious in the neighbouring villages. It was therefore with the greatest astonishment that some of the people at Osielle saw him patiently helping Mr. Hinderer to rear the walls of his little mud church. "What! you," they exclaimed, "you Akérikora, you Little-but-bitter! we never expected to see you here." "You may well say so," was the reply, "but I will tell you the reason; it is very different with me now from what it was when you last saw me. All that you say of me was true once; but I have since got 'ikonigba,' the gift of the knees; and the gift of a new heart, only to be gained by kneeling for it to the great King of kings."

[197] Mr. Hinderer opened also a Sunday-school for adults, and the people seemed very pleased to attend it, and were delighted with the books in their own language; but there was not among the people of Osielle so much of that eager desire for instruction that had been so remarkable at Abbeokuta. Occasionally, Mr. Hinderer made excursions to the neighbouring villages, and everywhere found the same friendly greeting, and the same desire that a white man would "sit down" among them. But in those excursions he too plainly saw the perpetual dread in which these poor people were living from fear of the slave-hunters. "It sometimes happens," he writes, "when I ride out to the more remote farms, that I meet a man working behind a bush or a tree. On hearing my horse's steps, he starts up with a hoe or a cutlass in his hand, ready to run away or to prepare for self-defence. But, on seeing it is a white man, his terrified countenance assumes a cheerful smile, and he exclaims: 'Oh, I thought it was a warrior; but no! you are our real friend--you will never do us harm; you come for good, for peace.'"

And now, while Mr. Hinderer is prosecuting his Master's work at Osielle, encouraged by the general kindness of the people, by the conduct of the chief, who was beginning to reverence the Lord's day and refusing to hold palavers, saying, "It is white man's [197/198] holy day, and, therefore, I wish to be left alone," and especially encouraged by the hopeful evidences given by some of the people that they were earnestly caring for their souls. While he is thus engaged, we shall return to Abbeokuta, for the purpose of relating one or two circumstances that occurred there in the end of 1850 and the beginning of the year 1851.

The first of these was a renewal of the persecution of 1849; it was, as before, chiefly confined to the town of Igbore, and stirred up by the same enemy to Christianity and civilization, the great slave-dealer, Akigbogun, or, as was his usual appellation among the converts, Pharaoh of Igbore. He was in league with Kosoko, and, fancying that the missionaries received money from their converts, imagined that by lessening their number, and consequently decreasing the gains of the white men, they would be obliged to leave the place, and there would no longer be any check upon the slave-trade. He again, therefore, prevailed on the chiefs of Igboro to renew the prohibition to attend public worship on pain of death, and to forbid any to buy or sell in the market unless they would worship Ifa. There were many instances of noble suffering, as on the preceding occasions, but we must refer our readers to the Society's periodicals for further particulars. By Sagbua's intervention, it was again [198/199] stopped, and a visit paid to Abbeokuta by Mr. Beecroft, Her Majesty's Consul in the Bights, in January, 1851, had a very salutary effect. [It would seem as though Sagbua desired to identify himself with the Christians, for he took this opportunity of requesting Mr. Townsend to re-admit one of his wives into the class of candidates for baptism.]

Mr. Beecroft arrived on the 10th of January, and was astonished at the size and population of the town, which he thought had been considerably underrated by the missionaries. The chiefs felt themselves greatly honoured by this official recognition of Abbeokuta, and prepared to give him an honourable reception. The Towncrier was sent round to proclaim the 14th as the day for a public audience; and in the morning drums were heard, and chiefs, with their gaudy native umbrellas, were seen gathering in the great square of Aké, where the meeting was to be held. Chairs and benches had been prepared for the consul and the missionaries under the shade of a large tree; the war-chiefs were seated on the gr und on the right, Sagbua and the Ogbonis on the left, under the verandah of the council-house, and a host of spectators occupied the rest of the space. "Mr. Beecroft, who was in full uniform, read his commission from the Queen, which was interpreted by Mr. Crowther; and the consul then, after thanking the chiefs for the protection [199/200] they had afforded to the missionaries, and reminding them that the English were the only people who had endeavoured to benefit them, and to remove "from Africa the awful darkness that overshadows her," proceeded to recount to them a visit he had made in the preceding year to Abomey, the capital of Dahomey, and to set before them the danger they were in from Gezo the tyrant king. He then spoke of the desire of the Queen of England for the welfare of Abbeokuta, of the importance of lawful commerce, and the necessity of suppressing the slave-trade, if they ever hoped for peace or prosperity. All this was warmly responded to by the chiefs, both now and at a subsequent meeting; they assured the consul they had not words to express their feelings of gratitude to the Queen for sending him, or to himself for taking the trouble of coming so far; and spoke very strongly of their earnest desire for the removal of the usurping Kosoko from Lagos, being well assured that no peace could be expected as long as he was there. The consul then represented to them in strong language the injustice as well as impolicy of suffering a few designing and interested men to stir up persecution of the converts, when they themselves were, with perhaps one or two exceptions, opposed to it; and the chiefs gave a proof of their assent to all he said, by sending for three women [200/201] who had taken refuge from their persecutors in the Aké mission-premises, and telling them they were free to go where they would.

Mr. Beecroft left Abbeokuta on the 22nd of January, carrying with him the good wishes and blessings of all. Doubtless his own venerable and dignified appearance contributed to the effect of his visit; for, they said, "if the messenger is so great a man, what must the Queen be who sent him?"

The chiefs gave him a fine pony and a goat, and Ogubonna supplied him with some of the produce of his own farm, viz. a large bale of cotton, a bag of ginger, and another of fine red pepper. He had also an opportunity, of which he was not slow to avail himself, of showing the natural generosity and delicacy of his mind, by another present that he made him. The evening before the consul's departure, Ogubonna paid him a visit at Mr. Townsend's, and in the course of the conversation Mr. Beecroft took hold of a very handsome country cloth that the chief had on, and admiring its colours and texture, asked him what he gave for it. Ogubonna answered, with an indifferent tone and manner, that he believed about twelve dollars. Here the matter dropped, and Mr. Beecroft thought no more of the cloth or of the price. Not so, however, the chief himself; for, on Mr. Beecroft's calling on him the next morning to [201/202] bid him farewell, he found the cloth had been neatly folded and pressed, and Ogubonna now insisted on his accepting it.

The next event of importance to Abbeokuta was the Dahomian attack, and of this our readers will find a full account in the next chapter.

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