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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 XIX. Badagry and Lagos

"Blessed are they that sow beside all waters."--Isaiah xxxii.20.

This passage was quoted by Mr. Van Cooten in one of his letters when speaking of the discouragements at Badagry, and it is so appropriate to the whole course of the missions there, that we have placed it at the head of this chapter.

The Badagry missionaries had, indeed, need to remember that the blessing is promised to the faithful sower, for while at Abbeokuta every attempt at cultivation seemed to prosper, at Badagry it has pleased God to withhold the increase, and it has continued as to spiritual things in the same barren unproductive condition as when we left it in 1846; and neither Mr. Gollmer, Mr. Smith, nor Mr. Van Cooten, who, either alone or conjointly, have laboured there from that time, have been permitted to see any satisfactory fruit of their spiritual labours.

In external things there has been an evident improvement through the influence of the missionaries. Their steadfast and consistent conduct won for them the attachment of some and the respect of all the [253/254] chiefs, while the people generally have from the first considered them as their friends, and have always deprecated their removal as the greatest misfortune to the place. A taste for agriculture, too, has been awakened among some of the people. Hitherto, though the soil is productive, cultivation had been wholly neglected: the slave-trade seemed to many a more easy and profitable way of living, and some Sierra Leone emigrants who had attempted to plant their land were discouraged by their crops being stolen. But the garden the missionaries made in their own compound, their persuasion, and the distribution of small prizes, had an extraordinary effect. Woods, in which many an unhappy fugitive had been hunted and kidnapped, were cleared and planted; some of the heretofore neglected plains were now covered with beautiful cattle, and the neighbourhood of the town began to assume quite a different appearance.

Among the chiefs by whom the missionaries were received with the most kindness was Akitoye, the ex-king of Lagos, who was now residing at Badagry, and his friend Mewu the chief of Mo, who with a constancy not often found among uncivilised people, had for twenty-three years clung to him in weal and in woe, and never deserted him, even when his fortune appeared at the lowest ebb. Mewu had also come to reside at Badagry: he was as unvarying [254/255] in his kindness to the missionaries as in his attachment to Akitoye, he was regular in his attendance at Divine worship, often remained behind to talk over the subjects that had been brought before him, and seemed not far from the kingdom of God. [At the time of the Church Missionary Jubilee in 1849, Alewu was at Mo, and could not attend the services, but having been at church on the preceding Sunday, when Mr. Smith gave notice of it and explained its purport, he sent in a head of cowries as a contribution to the Jubilee Fund.] But superstition and early prejudices, and perhaps the fear of man, keep him still in chains. Four of his young relations have been in turn committed to the missionary's care, and received into the boarding-school; and perhaps, through their means, strength may yet be given to this kind and friendly chief to burst through every bond and throw himself at the loot of the cross. Akitoye now and then attended the Sunday services, as did several of the other chiefs, and even Possu, who for a long time showed himself most unfriendly to the mission, was latterly often to be seen there. The average attendance was about 150, including the Sierra Leone people, and 30 boys in the boarding-school; but the number always was considerably increased when a caravan from Abbeokuta happened to be in the town; and it often refreshed the missionary to observe the intelligent countenances of some of these people and their [255/256] devout attention to the service, and to see them at every leisure moment studying their primers, which were their inseparable companions on a journey as well as at home.

The boarding-school was the most encouraging portion of the mission. Besides Mewu's four boys, Possu had sent his son, and Akibode, the chief priest of Ifa, also had two there. All were tractable, well-behaved, and intelligent; but more than this we cannot as yet say of any of them.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith landed at Badagry in January, 1848, and Mr. Gollmer, whose health had for some time required a change of climate, took advantage of their arrival to pay a visit to England. Neither the chiefs nor people were of course able to appreciate the value of his indefatigable spiritual labours among them, but their conduct at his departure and on his return showed in a very gratifying manner the estimation in which he was personally held. On the morning of his embarkation in April, 1848, several chiefs came to pay him a visit, and to wish him a safe voyage, bringing a sheep or fowls or yams as presents, and among others was his former opponent Possu.

Mewu brought him a bullock and a bag of yams, "to make," as he said, "soup on the salt water, that he might not forget him." Akitoye sent his messenger with his gilt-headed staff of office to bid him farewell, and the still more friendly chief of Ajeido [256/257] had three days before sent a confidential agent with a silver-headed staff, and with orders not to return till he had seen Mr. Gollmer and Mr. and Mrs. Townsend (who were going with him to England) safe on board. The man, on his arrival, delivered up his badge of office to Mr. Gollmer, and only resumed it in order to attend him to the beach in proper form.

The greeting was as warm when he returned in March, 1850. The people crowded down to the beach to welcome him; some of them insisted on lifting him out of the canoe, and on the heads of some and on the hands of others he was carried a good way up the beach.

But the missionaries longed to see some signs of spiritual life among those for whom they were spending their strength. A few of the Yorubans gave some evidence of this, and about twenty were at different times baptised, but among the Popo part of the population all continued dark and dead. [One of the baptised was a wife of Akibode, tie chief-priest of Ifa. She had diligently worshipped the twenty-one palm nuts, and the sixteen pieces of iron, which, suspended on a piece of wire, represented the god Ifa; and as diligently had she endeavoured to propitiate Yemaja, the goddess of brooks and rivers, but found no satisfaction from either. She had heard of Olorun, the god of heaven, and had listened earnestly to Mr. Gollmer, while he declared God's punishment on the impenitent, and His willingness to receive sinners. When Sir. Smith came, she watched to see if he said the same things, --she found he did, her heart was melted, and after due instruction she was baptised, as well as her mother, and the two sons of her husband, who were in the school. Akibode himself appeared to be seriously seeking the way of salvation; he gave up sacrificing to Ifa, regularly attended the Sunday services, talked with some earnestness on the subject, and it had been at his special request that Mr. Smith had baptised his boys at the same time as the wife. But Satan held him fast, and at the destruction of the town he resumed his sacrifices, privately removed his wife and children from the mission-premises, where he had placed them for security, and took them we know not whither, for he has never been heard of since.]

[258] During Mr. Gollmer's absence, Mr. Smith's anxiety was most strongly excited by the question brought before the House of Commons in 1849 as to the continuance of the cruising squadron in the Bights, for he knew that if it should be withdrawn, there would no longer be any safety for himself and his brother missionaries, nor the English merchants, nor even for the Sierra Leone emigrants, of whom there are several thousands in the country, and who, as British subjects, have a just claim to British protection. [There are 3000 of these emigrants in Abbeokuta, several hundreds in Badagry, and many others in Lagos and in most of the large towns.]

None but those on the spot can fully estimate the important service that squadron has rendered to European missionaries and merchants, to the emigrants, and to the natives themselves. The happy decision of the question on the side of justice, humanity, and sound policy, was received with joy and [258/259] thankfulness not only by Europeans, but by the people of Abbeokuta and the neighbouring towns, and even by the more peaceable of the inhabitants of Badagry. Kosoko, Gezo, Domingo, and their slave-dealing allies, would of course have rejoiced in a contrary result.

Even as it was, the Badagry missionaries continued to be frequently exposed to alarm and danger from the conflicting elements both within and without the town. On these occasions, they used their utmost endeavours to restrain the angry passions of the opponents, and although sometimes a whole day would thus be consumed in a "palaver," they had the comfort of being generally successful, and of thus preventing the effusion of blood.

One of the disputes of this kind that occurred while Mr. Smith was residing there, arose between Akitoye and some of the Badagrian chiefs. Mr. Smith, hearing of it, went to Akitoye, and found him sitting in state among his troops. The main road that led to his house was lined with warriors seated on the ground on either side, with their muskets in their hands, and so close to each other that Mr. Smith had some difficulty in making his way between the rows. The narrow streets that crossed this road were filled with women and girls, dancing, shouting, and exciting the men to war by extempore songs in praise of Akitoye and his allies, and recounting [259/260] their former deeds of valour. It was a strange and stirring scene, not often to be witnessed by an European. Mr. Smith's mediation had the desired effect, and the gong that was to have been employed in summoning to war, now gave out the notes of peace, to the joy not only of Mr. Smith himself, but of the great majority of the inhabitants.

Such things were continually occurring, too often for us to specify; but our friends were enabled to commit themselves and all their concerns into the hands of Him who had placed them there; they knew that Jehovah reigneth, and that if God were for them, it mattered little who were against them.

Twice in the autumn of 1850, the significant token of a faggot, bound up in a particular way, was sent to Mr. Gollmer to warn him that his house was to be set on fire; and daring the latter part of 1850 and the beginning of 1851, he and Mrs. Gollmer were subject to continued alarms of war and conflagration.

At last, in June, 1851, the long smothered enmity between Akitoye and Mewu on the one side, and Kosoko and his allies on the other, burst forth afresh, and Mr. Gollmer's attempts at mediation proved unavailing. The town was attacked, and the scenes that followed cannot be described. The firing of the opposing parties close to the mission-house--the town itself in flames--the screams of the women and [260/261] children, who ran about in all directions, and several hundreds of whom took refuge in the mission-compound,--were enough to appal the stoutest heart. Some of the poor people crowded into their canoes and tried to cross the Ossa to the opposite shore, but many of the overladen boats were upset. In the afternoon a quantity of gunpowder exploded with a terrific noise, and had not the mission-house been strengthened with new timber during the preceding week, it must have been shaken to the ground. Before night the greatest part of the town was burnt to the ground. In the morning the fight was renewed, the eastern part of the town was set fire to, and nothing escaped the devouring element but the two mission-premises, and the chief part of Mr. Hutton's factory. All this time Mr. Gollmer was ill and unable to walk or even to stand, and could only give instructions from the window. The catechists and others connected with the mission were greatly frightened, and urged him to retire to the beach for safety, but he felt, as he says, "that I was at the post where God had placed me, and I must not desert it without plain and special orders. He knows I am here, and I know and believe His arm is not shortened. So in faith I committed myself to our covenant God, and resolved to await the issue. Blessed be God for His faithfulness in giving me, in this time of need, grace sufficient for the day!"

[262] During the remainder of 1851 all was confusion and ruin. The Abbeokutans sent eight hundred men under Sumoi, the Obbashorun, to the succour of Akitoye, and, by one party or the other, towns and Tillages on either side of the Ossa were destroyed without mercy.

The affair at Lagos, on the 26th of December, 1851, and the restoration of Akitoye to his lawful authority there, happily put an end to this miserable state of things, and there seems to be some hope that the peace which was then established with the neighbouring tribes may be a permanent one. Even the restless and marauding Ijebbus, of whom we have so often had occasion to speak, sent to the English resident at Lagos to propose a treaty of peace. The symbolical letter by which this proposal was conveyed is so curious that we shall present our readers with an engraving and a description of it. Certainly we should not have discovered the meaning of the symbols unless we had had the explanation, and we doubt whether any of our readers would have done so either.

1st. The cowries--there are four times two; this mean that there are four corners of the earth all peopled, and that among them the Ijebbug and Lagos people are closely united.

2nd. The round stone-like kernel is used in the game called "ware," which is universal in [262/263] those parts, and means that the Ijebbus and Lagos people used to be friends and play together.

3rd. The next two cowries complete the first sentence, of being one.

4th. The plum-like kernel of the fruit called "ossan" means, "What is good for me is good for you."

5th. The long black bean is a kind of spice called "eree" and means, "Do not make a fool of me, and I will not make a fool of you."

6th. The rest of the cowries, with their faces the same way, and the two other kernels, mean, "Let us go on straight; let us play together, and what is good for you is good for me."

The proposal was gladly accepted, peace was established, and we earnestly hope that it will not be of so fragile a nature as the rice-straw on which the letter was strung.

The advantages of peace with the Ijebbus are immense to the whole of the interior; the Ogun is open, the roads are unmolested, and traders and travellers can safely pass and repass. Christians should arise and take advantage of this favourable moment for carrying the light of the gospel far and wide.

In March, 1852, Mr. Gollmer removed to Lagos, [263/264] which is now the chief missionary station on the coast. Badagry remains nearly in ruins; a few of its inhabitants have returned and rebuilt their houses, but it is a mere village, and there is only a catechist residing there.

We must not finally leave Badagry without a short tribute to the memory of one of the most devoted of God's servants that have ever left their native land on a message of mercy to a fallen world. We mean Mr. Van Cooten. He arrived at Badagry in March, 1850, with Mrs. Van Cooten, but like Mr. Müller, of whom his course strongly reminds us, had been called to part with her a few weeks after their arrival. The whole of the missionary party at Badagry were attacked with fever in that spring; Mr. Van Cooten himself suffered severely with it, and while he was too ill to minister to her, Mrs. Van Cooten was, on May 13, taken from the evil to come, leaving behind her the testimony from all who knew her, that "she indeed walked with God."

It was some time before Mr. Van Cooten recovered from his illness, and from the shock this unexpected loss had been to him; but as soon as he was able to go out, he set about the work God had given him to do. His knowledge of medicine gave him access into houses which might otherwise have been closed against him, and he never failed to use every opportunity of proclaiming to others the Saviour [264/265] whom he loved. For a time, his earnest appeals, coming as they did warm from his own heart, seemed often to reach the hearts of others; but as far as the human eye can see, all these impressions were as the early dew that passeth away, and we have no evidence that any soul in Badagry was converted to God by his instrumentality. His principal work, however, was among the towns and villages around, both on the north and on the south of the Ossa. Though the people are chiefly Popos, they are far less degraded than those of Badagry. He was always courteously, and gone-rally kindly received, and it was seldom that his affectionate and tender appeals were listened to without emotion. They often told him they hart never heard such things before, and begged him to come again and tell them more, and he says, "It pains my heart to think it may be months or even years before they again hear the message of salvation. I cannot tell you the deep sorrow that fills my heart when they ask, as many do, 'How can we find the way if we have none to tell us?'"

Mr. Van Cooten's last excursion was along the southern shore of the Ossa, where, as we have before said, there are many towns and large villages between the river and the sea. He was not well when he set out; but the more than usual earnestness of the people, arising probably from his own unconscious [265/266] fervency of manner, beguiled him on from village to village, till his strength entirely gave way, and after a day of acute suffering at Porto Novo, he returned in a canoe to Badagry. Here, on the 13th of March 1851, he fell asleep, full of "thanksgiving to God for having permitted him during the few months of his sojourn in Africa to make His name known to thousands;" some of whom, we trust, though unknown to man, may yet be his crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus.

A few extracts from the letters of this devoted man of God will be acceptable to our readers.

Writing soon after the death of his wife, he says: "I am now alone, and I desire to give myself to the work before me, and to have the void that is left in my heart filled with supreme love to God and to His work. I feel I am unworthy of the high and holy trust reposed in me by the Committee, but it will be my aim to carry out their views as far as I have grace and ability to do so."

In a later letter he says, "Dr. Krapff's letter to the Committee warmed my heart; I pray that the Christian public may respond to his appeal, and furnish men and means for so noble and glorious a work. I should like to go half way and meet him. I have afresh dedicated myself and all I have to this work. Africa is henceforth my only home on earth; and I desire not to dwell in houses, but to be a [266/267] stranger and a pilgrim from day today. I have one great object at heart--the salvation of the sons of Ham. So that I may but be used in this work, I am content to be like my Saviour, and not have where to lay my head."

And in a letter written only four days before he set out on his last expedition, and when he was ripening fast for glory, he says, "I can truly say I praise God for putting the desire into my heart thus to spend and be spent in His service. Now I see why I was left alone, why I was tried in the furnace. Silver to be fit for use must first be purified, and the vessels for the Lord's house must be made meet for the Master's work. Oh! how much I needed, and still need, the refining process, the cleansing of the blood of Jesus, the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit! I am unworthy of this great work; but God uses ' the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.' In myself I can do nothing, in Christ much."

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