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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 XVII. Ibadan

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation."--Isaiah lii. 7.

A further advance into the interior had long been the aim of the Committee at home, and the endeavour of the missionaries themselves, but, hitherto, every application to the Abbeokutan chiefs for permission to proceed thither, had been met with so decided a refusal, that the only course seemed to be to wait quietly till, in the providence of God, some way should be opened for the accomplishment of their wishes. The Dahomian attack unexpectedly opened this way. The conduct of the missionaries at that critical time, and under those trying circumstances, had so won the admiration and confidence of the chiefs, that they were evidently more inclined to listen to their requests; and advantage was taken of this favourable disposition to renew the proposal that Mr. Hinderer should pay a visit to Ibadan. The two principal persons whose consent it was necessary to obtain, were Sagbua, as senior chief, and the war-chief Sokenu, who was "master of the [230/231] road" to Ibadan. When the chiefs received this renewed message from the missionaries they at first, as usual, objected, on the ground that the road was not safe, and what would the English people think if they should consent to his going, and any harm should happen to him? [This consideration doubtless weighed strongly with them, but there was another cogent reason for their wishing the missionaries not to proceed into the interior, viz. the unwillingness that any of their neighbours should shave with them in the honour of having white men residing among them.] With some adroitness the messenger met this difficulty by suggesting another, and reminding them that it was "his fathers in England "who had bade him go, and what answer could the chiefs send to them if they put any obstacle in the way? adding, "and, besides, you know that when white men set their minds upon a thing, they will do it."

This reasoning succeeded, and the chiefs consented that a messenger should be dispatched to Ibadan, to propose a visit from Mr. Hinderer to the chief there, secretly hoping and believing that the proposal would be declined. Contrary to their expectations and their wishes, the messenger brought back a very cordial invitation; and as there was now no alternative, the chiefs courteously did all in their power to make the journey safe, and the reception favourable. Each of the two chiefs appointed special messengers of their [231/232] own to accompany him, and those from Sagbuatook with them the Aké staff of office, as a symbol that Mr. Hinderer's expedition was sanctioned by the government.

A caravan was on the point of starting for Ibadan, and though Mr. Hinderer would have greatly preferred travelling with only his own attendants, he thought it better to submit to the delay and inconvenience of a caravan, than to run the risk of encountering the Ijebbus, who were, he knew, roaming about that part of the country in search of plunder. [A person travelling on horseback might reach Ibadan in two days, but a caravan takes lour or five days to accomplish the journey.]

Mr. Hinderer could not leave Osielle without great regret; he had become much attached to the people, and they to him; but it was evidently his work to push on farther, and he knew that Osielle would be well taken care of, for Mr. Moore, a native catechist from Sierra Leone, was to reside there, and it would be occasionally visited by Mr. Townsend and Mr. Smith.

He started on May 16th, 1851, and the next day, at Atade, the Abbeokutan halting-place on the Ibadan road, he joined the caravan of travelling merchants, who, with a number of "rough soldiers" as an escort, made up a party of about four [232/233] thousand. On the 18th they came to a place called Otere, where the soldiers became very troublesome, drinking and quarrelling, and exacting money from the travellers. The next day, finding the soldiers still in the same state, and knowing that their conduct would involve delay and other serious inconveniences, Mr. Hinderer resolved to risk the perils of the road, and to start by himself, trusting to God for protection. His determination gave courage to some of the traders, who joined him, and they left Otere tolerably strong in numbers, but entirely unprotected. As they travelled through forest and bush, over hill and dale, "I must confess," says Mr. Hinderer, "that I sometimes felt uneasy, ahead of all the caravan in the midst of the dark lurking-places of our sworn enemies the Ijebbus; but my trust was in the Lord on whose errand I was thus exposed. About noon we halted, and soon the headman with some soldiers made his appearance. He advised us not to continue in the direct road, as he had had fresh intelligence of the Ijebbus, but to turn aside into the intricate paths of the hunters. He gave me six soldiers as a guard, and I proceeded onward with them, leaving him and the rest of the caravan to follow. After we had travelled about an hour, the soldiers slackened their pace, looked mysterious, and I found they were frightened by the sight of one of the robbers on our right. But he [233/234] was frightened also, and crept into the bush. The trouble I had hitherto had in forcing my horse through the entangled bush, and over logs of wood, was nothing to what I now met with from the exceeding narrowness of the path, the straggling underwood, and the overhanging shrubs and branches, for which however I was sometimes compensated by the delicious fragrance of the flowers of this forest. About four p.m. the soldiers sat down and refused to go any farther. I proceeded with the carriers of my goods, hoping to reach some of the Ibadan farms before night-fall. But we found it would be impossible, and only went on in search of water, for we could scarcely lie down without quenching our thirst. It was not till dark that we met with a large dried-up watercourse in the midst of a gloomy forest, where however we found a little of last night's rain in a small hollow rock in the channel. It was so dark that we could scarcely see each other, and we had no means of striking a light or making a fire. My tent also was behind, and we had no alternative but to lay ourselves down under the canopy of heaven, imploring the gracious protection of our Almighty Preserver. My situation was very dismal all night; all were fast asleep except myself, and the doleful yelling of the wild beasts of the forest, by which the silence of the dark night was every now and then interrupted, added not a little to the awful [234/235] loneliness. But He with whom is no darkness was near. After midnight the moon made her appearance, but her pale lamp could find little or no admittance into the darkness of the forest."

At daybreak the party started again, and by nine o'clock a.m. reached the ferry over the little river Onna, four miles from Ibadan. Here they halted till the chief should send his messengers to conduct them into the town. These soon arrived, and as the party proceeded through the streets, they were joined by numbers who saluted them with cheers, and with cries of "Oku ewa onna!" a salutation at having escaped the dangers of a journey. And Mr. Hinderer found that his anxieties had not been unfounded, for the Ijebbus were really in the bush. He was very kindly received, and Abere the head chief, lodged him in a small dwelling belonging to one of his own people.

Ibadan, like most of the towns in Yoruba, stands on rising ground, on the declivity of a range of hills that run from north-west to south-east. It is a large and important town, though not so large or so populous as Abbeokuta; its mud walls being not more than ten miles in circuit, and its population being about 60,000. Its inhabitants are Yorubans, specially so called, and are very different from the Egbas of [235/236] Abbeokuta and its neighbourhood. They are less inclined to agriculture, and their delight is in war; almost all the chiefs are war-chiefs, and the fierce boldness of the soldiery has procured for them the unenviable name of "the mad dogs of Ibadan." The late chief was almost as ferocious as Gezo of Dahomey; human sacrifices were continually offered by him, and at his death seventy unhappy victims were slaughtered on his grave. Happily for the cause of religion and humanity, he had died about two years before Mr. Hinderer's visit, and his successor, Abero, was of a less barbarous disposition. But all the higher classes, including Abere himself, were cruel and demoralised, and the chiefs were so frequently intoxicated, that when Mr. Hinderer visited the council on any matter of business, they sometimes were not able to give him a rational answer.

There was one exception however to this in an elderly chief of the name of Agbaki. He was very superior to all the rest in morals and in ability, and had consequently obtained so much influence that even Abere would seldom take any step in opposition to this faithful counsellor. At Mr. Hinderer's first coming to Ibadan, Agbaki had received him with an unexpected and gratifying warmth of affection, as if he had a kind of instinctive feeling that he was one of those "who bringeth good tidings," though probably he had no idea whatever of the nature of those [236/237] "tidings;" and during his abode there he rendered him essential service in various ways. On one occasion, not long after his arrival, some Mohammedan slave-dealers, who were in great favour with Abere, appealed to the council to have him sent out of the place, on the plea that "the white men had made the people of Abbeokuta like women, so that they no more went out to war." [This was rather an unfortunate time for a remark of this kind, as it was not three months since the repulse of the Dahomians!] When the matter began to be discussed, Agbaki rose, and boldly answered, "White man shall stop, but yon (addressing the Mohammedans) may leave the town as soon as you please, the sooner the better; but if you stay, learn at least not again to slander a good man."

But it was not all the population of Ibadan that were fond of war; the lower classes, the few fanners, and indeed all but the chiefs and the soldiers were crying out for peace, and longing for some change in their present oppressed condition. The ears and heart of our missionary, as he passed along, were often saluted by such exclamations as these, "God bless you and help you! You always speak words of peace, but our headmen are for war. You must come and help us, white man, for though they will not attend to us, they will listen to you."

Not however all the oppressions under which they [237/238] groaned could destroy the gaiety of heart that is so natural to the children of Yoruba, and we must here relate a little incident that not only shows the buoyancy of their youthful spirits, but gives token of a liveliness of imagination that, when sanctified by the grace of God, will shine with attractive brightness.

Mr. Hinderer's abode at Ibadan consisted of one small low room, about six feet long and five feet wide, without any window, and with the door opening into the usual low piazza, of which a piece was parted off for his use about the same size as the inner room. This inner apartment served him for bedroom, study, eating-room and store-room, and the piazza was occupied by his servant and his horse. One day as his servant was opening a bundle of grass in the little compound, the seeds were scattered on the ground and were instantly attacked by birds of different kind and plumage. Some were of an almost dazzling blue, some were a brilliant red, and among the rest was one little active busy bird that fluttered here and there, now darting down among the others, and snatching up a seed or two, and instantly springing up and fluttering again over its companions.

There had often been some little bright eyes peeping over the low wall that divided Mr. Hinderer's premises from those of his neighbours, observing the [238/239] movements of the white man; but these birds were more attractive even than the stranger, and the children, clambering to the top of the wall, were eagerly watching the pretty group of feathered intruders, when they caught sight of Mr. Hinderer, and suddenly disappeared. In a minute after they began to sing; it was a playful merry ditty, and as the birds were the subject of it, Mr. Hinderer went out to listen. The children were frightened and ran away, but he overtook them, and when he had succeeded in quieting their fears, he persuaded them to repeat the little impromptu song several times over that he might write it down. We have not the words in Yoruba, nor if we had, could we convey them to our readers with the spirit and animation with which they were repeated to us, but the following is a rough version of the meaning:--

There's the bird of dazzling blue
That stole from indigo its hue;
And there's the bird that seeks to vie
With the cam-wood's brilliant dye;
But there's the one we love the best,
Better far than all the rest;
Now it hovers overhead,
Now it darts upon the seed,
Then again it upward springs,
Fluttering on its buoyant wings,
The sunbeams glancing on its breast--
Oh! that's the bird we love the best.

During Mr. Hinderer's residence of three months [239/240] at Ibadan, he was three times visited by messengers from the chief of Ede, a town two days farther to the north-east. The name of the chief was Temi, and the purport of his repeated messages was to urge the white man to come to his town. Mr. Hinderer would very much have liked to have visited him, particularly as he understood that he was the only ruler in all that part of the country that had resolutely set his face against kidnapping. Under any circumstances he would not have been able to do this, but during the greatest part of the time he was at Ibadan he was laid aside with illness, and all the answer he could send to Temi was a promise that if he returned there, as he hoped to do, he would use his best endeavours to visit him.

Mr. Hinderer left Ibadan on the 2d of October 1851, to the great regret of all the people, and, as our readers will readily believe, especially of Agbaki. The chiefs and headmen were unanimous in their expressions of earnest hope that he would soon return and "sit down" among them; and even Oso, the fiercest of the war-chiefs, spoke of his great disappointment that they could not "hold him fast now."

Mr. Hinderer on his part could not leave them without sorrow. The vice and wickedness he had seen and heard while residing there had painfully distressed him, yet to himself they had shown [240/241] unvarying love and kindness, and, as he himself says, "African affection binds very closely."

Soon after this Mr. Hinderer was obliged to come home to England on account of health; he has now returned to Africa; and we hope soon to hear that he has been permitted to take up his abode again at Ibadan. We shall be looking out to hear of the reception of the "good tidings "there; and especially to find that the affectionate and faithful Agbaki may indeed have accepted the message of "peace" and "salvation" that Mr. Hinderer is privileged to "publish."

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