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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 XVIII. Abbeokuta Schools--Messages from distant Chiefs--Visit of Commander Forbes

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."--Eccles. ix. 10.

The permission given to Mr. Hinderer to visit Ibadan, was not the only fruit of the increased confidence felt at Abbeokuta in the white men. It seemed as if the chiefs had suddenly been awakened to the importance of having their children properly educated, and no sooner had the excitement of the Dahomian attack a little subsided, than they came forward, intreating the missionaries to take both sons and daughters to live entirely with them. Mr. Townsend already had several children living in his house, whose expenses were paid by friends in England, but so urgently did the chiefs press him to admit their own children, and so important did he feel the matter to be, that he was induced to increase his number to twenty-four, trusting that He who had thus so evidently influenced the hearts of the chiefs to send their children, would not fail to supply him with means for their support.

In the same spirit and with the same confidence, [242/243] Mr. and Mrs. Smith received twelve into their own house at Ikija, and we will not doubt that in both cases our missionaries will find that their confidence has not been in vain.

There were some interesting children in the Ikija school. One of these was Temiwanome, the same little captive boy from Abaka that we spoke of in a former chapter, as brought by Ogubonna, in his new white cloth to the chapel at Ikija, when first opened in 1847. The little fellow had for some time attended Mr. Townsend's day-school at Aké, but having met with an accident and becoming seriously ill, Ogubonna prevailed on Mr. Smith to receive him. He soon recovered, and is become a nice lively intelligent boy, making good progress in learning, and is generally the teacher of the alphabet class in the adult Sunday school.

One of the little girls is Ommaniye; she is Ogu-bonna's own daughter, but her mother having died some time before, she had been living at one of her father's farms, and having no one to control her, had become half wild. It required a little management to bring her into regular habits, and to accustom her to some degree of restraint; but by degrees Mrs. Smith succeeded, and found her to be a clever and amiable child. She was eleven years old when first admitted, and during the nine months that [243/244] elapsed, before Mr. and Mrs. Smith left for England, she had learned to sew very neatly, could read with fluency all the books translated into her own tongue, including the epistle to the Romans, some of which' she appeared to understand, and had so far mastered the English language as to be able to read her own verse when a chapter in the English New Testament was read in turn, at the morning family worship. [In the evening the Bible was read in Yoruba.] Her great ambition was to possess an English Bible, and she worked so hard at her lessons to gain the required proficiency, that for a time her health was affected.

When, early in 1852, Mr. and Mrs. Smith were preparing to visit England, Ogubonna one day came to the mission-house, evidently with his mind full of some subject of great interest. This proved to be an earnest request that they would take his little Ommaniye to England with them. It was in vain to tell him, in general terms, that the thing was impossible; he must know the separate reasons. The child's discomfort in a foreign land, the embarrassment and responsibility of the charge, the expense that the scheme would involve, were all mentioned to him; but some he could not enter into, and the others were of no account in his eyes. Mr. Smith then mentioned the probability of the climate being too cold for her, and of her not surviving the severity [244/245] of a northern winter. This staggered him for a moment, but after a short pause he replied that not even this would alter his wish, that his child must die somewhere, and it mattered little whether it should be in England or in Abbeokuta. At last Mr. Smith told him plainly that such a step would be contrary to the rules of the Church Missionary Society. This silenced the chief, though it did not satisfy him, and as a sort of compensation it was agreed that during Mr. and Mrs. Smith's absence the child should remain in the mission-house under the care of Mrs. King, whose husband has the charge of the district as catechist, till Mr. Smith's return. Three other children are also, at the urgent request of their friends, left under the charge of Mr. and Mrs. King; one is our young friend Temiwanome; another is Temi, son of the war-chief Sokenu; and the third is a daughter of Atamballa, the chief of Ikreeku.

Before we leave the district of Ikija, we must mention an interesting instance of that eager desire manifested generally by the converts to bring others to the knowledge of God. Our readers will remember Susannah Kutè, one of Mr. Müller's early converts, who so meekly and stedfastly endured as seeing Him who is invisible. She lived in the town of Ikija, and consequently belonged to Mr. Smith's [245/246] congregation. One Sunday morning a heathen woman came to her to ask some questions about the market. Susannah replied that as it was the Lord's day, she could not enter upon worldly business, but begged her to call again the next morning. The woman turned to go away, when Susannah, suddenly recollecting herself, said "Suppose you stop and go with me to God's house." The woman hesitated for a moment, but then replied that she could not go to God's house with all the heathen ornaments and charms with which her arms and feet were covered. "Do not mind them," answered Susannah, "they need not hinder you, nobody will observe them." While this discussion was going on, another Christian woman came up, and exclaiming, "You cannot go to God's house with all those things upon you," so discouraged the poor woman, that she decided not to go. But Susannah would not be easily conquered. She returned again to the charge, and at last succeeded in prevailing on the woman to accompany her to church. She was astonished at all she saw and heard--the attention and devout behaviour of the people, and the words of our beautiful Liturgy, struck her with admiration; but when Mr. Smith commenced his sermon, her attention was rivetted, and, as he proceeded, she was seen to loosen first one ornament and then another, and gently drop them on the floor, till, before the service was ended, [246/247] she had disencumbered herself from all. Within a fortnight she became a candidate for baptism and a regular attendant at the Sunday-school. Some little time after this, Mrs. Smith, observing her to be much depressed, inquired into her family and her circumstances, and found that her depression arose from having, while yet a heathen, pawned her little girl. This is a very common practice among the heathen, and it was not till Christian truth began to influence her mind that she felt the evil or the sin of such a practice. It appeared that some time before, having an unexpected demand for a sum equal to about five shillings of our money, she attempted to borrow it, but could only do so by putting her child in pawn. From that time she had continued to pay as much as threepence a week as interest, and had in this way repaid the original sum over and over again, but she could not raise the required amount in one Bum, and thus the poor child remained in pawn, and the interest continued to be paid. We need scarcely add that Mrs. Smith soon took measures for her daughter to be restored to her.

The estimation in which the white men were already held at Abbeokuta continued to extend in the countries round. In the summer of 1851 the chief of Ife, a town three days to the east of Abbeokuta, sent to propose an union between himself and the Abbeokutans with their English allies, and to [247/248] request that missionaries might go and reside there. And this request was the more remarkable, as Ife has always been the stronghold of idolatry. All the deities are said to have come from thence; the sun and the moon rise there again after having been buried in the earth; and all the human race, white as well as black, were originally created at Ife. It must then have been a strong impulse that led this chief to send for Christian teachers. Later than this, the chief of Ketu, a large town with a population of 10,000, sixty or seventy miles to the south-west of Abbeokuta, requested a visit from Mr. Crowther; and the intreaties of the chief of Ijaye, two days to the north, containing 40,000 inhabitants, were so urgent, that in August 1852 Mr. Townsend visited the place, met with a very cordial reception, and made arrangements for the future establishment of a mission there. [Later accounts mention that Mr. Crowther has visited Ketu, and been very favourably received there.]

Mr. Crowther had returned to Abbeokuta about a month before, to the delight of "a host of friends" who came out to welcome him; and to the thankful joy of his own heart for preservation and many blessings since he had left it in April 1851. He was accompanied by his son, Mr. Samuel Crowther, and by Mr. Macauley, a catechist from Sierra Leone; and the medical knowledge the former of these had [248/249] acquired in England was no small comfort to the converts, who hitherto in times of sickness had been precluded from seeking any advice, except that of the missionaries, as the babbalawos were the only persons among the natives who understood anything of medicine, and they of course mingled with it their own heathen charms and ceremonies.

We must not omit to speak of a visit paid to Abbeokuta at the end of 1851 by the late lamented Commander Forbes. He was sent by Her Majesty's Government to make a treaty with the chiefs, and to render them any assistance which his superior knowledge and experience would enable him to do, in the expectation of a renewed attack from the Dahomians, which Gezo had positively threatened. Capt. Forbes threw his whole mind into the business, and his own descriptions are so animated, that in giving an account of his proceedings we shall chiefly make use of his own words. He writes:--

"Ake, Abbeokuta, Nov. 16, 1851.

"I arrived here on Thursday the 13th instant, having been met at Awoyade by the Rev. Messrs. Townsend and Smith, and the gentlemen of the Wesleyan mission, at the head of at one hundred and fifty Africans in European costume, and many of them on horseback. The scene was most interesting, and exceeded my most sanguine expectations. [249/250] On Friday, Sagbua and several other chiefs called on me."

"On Saturday, a gathering of the horsemen and soldiers came to perform the ceremony of 'meeting,' and a most interesting sight it was, being particularly novel in this part of Africa. Horsemen in gaudy dresses, on horses showily caparisoned, were gallopping about in a confused mariner; the whole art of the rider being displayed in making his horse kick, rear, and demi-volt as often and in as small a space as possible. Meanwhile the chiefs assembled, and at noon came to the house."

Captain Forbes then goes on to state the proceedings of this meeting between himself and the chiefs. He told them that the Queen of England, desirous to assist those who had given protection to her subjects, had sent him to Abbeokuta to teach them how to protect themselves. He went on to give them some advice on this point, and ended by saying; "Abbeokuta must not be destroyed. Let the Egbas fight well; your country is under the protection of God; thanks to the missionaries who have taught many of you the power of God. Egbas, protect yourselves, and the Almighty God will guard you."

The chiefs were, as may be supposed, delighted with this address, they warmly thanked him and declared their intention to comply with all his advice. "In their reply," Captain Forbes observes, "there [250/251] was no bravado, no gesticulation, no useless expressions, but they evidently said what they intended, and nothing more." He afterwards observes, "I cannot of course describe Abbeokuta; but I am perfectly surprised at all I see. The surrounding country is beautiful and cultivated; the town immense and picturesque, scattered and clustered among granite hills. The walls,--none of the best,--of mud, and extending over a circumference of fifteen miles, are impossible to fortify."

"The Egbas are a nation of farmers, and with the blessings of peace would become traders; but that which calls on Great Britain to make a bold attempt to save Abbeokuta is, that within its walls are several hundred people who are Christians. Indeed, the missionary accounts I have read did not convey to me so sufficient a reason as my own eyes have witnessed."

There could not have been a more fitting person for this embassy than Captain Forbes; the warmth and energy of his character gained for him an influence over the chiefs, which he was able to turn to their own best advantage. He threw his whole heart into the matter, procured some field-pieces from the men-of-war on the coast, had them mounted in the best way that was possible with the scanty means within his reach, and organised a body of men to act as gunners, to the utter astonishment of the [251/252] Abbeokutans, who had never seen anything of the kind before. He superintended the repair of the walls as far as was practicable, instructed the people in several other arts, and by his kindness, energy and zeal, won from them ail, we are told, "a respect almost amounting to adoration."

He was very anxious to remain with them till the question of conquest or defeat should be decided; but was summoned to other duties on the coast; and it was not long before his friends in England were called upon to mingle their own regrets with those of the Abbeokutans at his untimely death.

Whether the king of Dahomey was moved by the remonstrances sent to him from England, or alarmed at hearing of the preparations thus made by the Egbas to receive him, or whether any other cause prevented him, we do not know; but after having been kept in anxious suspense for several months, the Abbeokutans found that Gezo had, at least for that year, relinquished his intention of attacking them, and we trust he will never be permitted to put his threat into execution.

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