Project Canterbury

The Life of Charles Alan Smythies
Bishop of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa

By Gertrude Ward

Edited by Edward Francis Russell, M.A.

London: Offices of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, 1899.

Chapter V. The Fourth Year, 1887

AT the end of January the Bishop left Zanzibar for the Usambara country, where he spent the greater part of Lent, and as usual travelled to all the stations in the district, and noted with satisfaction that Christianity seemed to be gaining a real hold on the minds of the people. More than one instance of justice, conciliation, and courage to withstand the pressure of heathen relations was brought to his notice during this visit:

We have a great deal to contend with here in the heathen customs. . . . One of our boys lately utterly refused, against all the pressure put upon him by his father and the chief of his town, to join in these rites. He said they might force him to do what they liked; but he would take no step of his own will, and would resist as much as he could. At last he broke away from them and they had to give him up in despair. I had the happiness of baptizing him last Sunday as a reward for his constancy. [Some years later, after the boy had left school, he was prevailed upon by his family to join in these rites.]

Before leaving the country, the Bishop had the happiness of seeing the new little brick church at Umba completed, and dedicated it on March 27. The church was a memorial to Mr. Wilson, who had worked in the Umba district, and the Bishop hoped great things from the presence of a permanent Christian building in a part of the country particularly difficult to touch on account of its being near the coast and much influenced by Mohammedanism. Unfortunately this baneful influence still makes itself felt in the district, and Umba church, though still worked from Mkuzi, remains a monument of disappointed hopes.

Returning to Zanzibar for Easter, the Bishop found that the time had come to appeal for a new chapel for Kiungani, for the school had increased so much in size and efficiency that, as the Bishop's letter shows, this new expenditure was not only justifiable, but necessary. It will be noticed that the Bishop speaks of the greater number of the hundred boys as being released slaves. This was the case in 1887, but is so no longer. That such good results had been obtained out of material so difficult and unpromising speaks well for the teaching and discipline of the school. Later experience has proved that, as the number of free-born boys from the mainland schools continues to increase the slave element had best be eliminated, for the mixture of the two classes gives rise to many difficulties.

One great object of the Universities' Mission is to train a native ministry for that part of Africa in which they are working. That end is constantly kept in view by those who are directing the studies and training the lives of the boys who are living at our large school at Kiungani, near the town of Zanzibar. Most of these boys have been rescued from slavery and are entirely under our charge. But as we gain the confidence of the people on the mainland, amongst whom our missionaries are working, they are becoming willing, and even anxious, to send their sons to Kiungani to be taught. As the parents have very little control over their children, we can only, as a rule, get them to come if they wish it themselves. It is only the best boys who will stay long enough in our up-country schools to make it advisable to bring them here, or who will themselves wish to come. We may therefore hope that they are boys who will greatly profit by the training they will receive. We have now about one hundred boys in the school. As they grow up care is taken to select such boys as we hope may one day be fitted to be missionaries amongst their own people, and to train them for that end.

Besides these, we hope there may be many others trained in our school who will do good work as secular teachers, and set a good example to the people amongst whom they will live and work. As we have these objects specially in view, it will be seen how important it is that every facility should be given for training the boys to reverence and devotion in their worship. But, unfortunately, our chapel is the only part of our school buildings which is ill adapted for the purpose for which it is used. It is defectively built, so that the chancel roof has to be supported by an unsightly pole, and it is not considered safe. It is much too small, so that the boys are very much crowded together, and it is badly ventilated. We are anxious to build a new chapel as soon as possible on the site of the present one, but very much larger. For this we must appeal to the friends of our boys in England to help us, and this I feel we can do with confidence, because of the great kindness and the great interest in this department of our work which they have always shown.

On May 21 the Bishop left Zanzibar for Newala en route for Nyasa, taking with him a large party of Kiungani boys going home for a holiday. Writing of this journey he says:

I had just had a smart attack of fever from getting wet, so was not well prepared for roughing it. But, as usual, as soon as I got on shore and began to walk I was all right. I like the camping-out life; each day a long walk through the forest with a rest at midday, and then a night under the trees with the curious sounds of birds and beasts breaking in on the stillness. One always has a good appetite, and I feel quite strong and well; the forest, too, is very shady. The chiefs always ask for presents; I have got now to chaff them about it. I told an old Makua, who asked me to-day, it was who ought to have a present for feeding and teaching their boys, and I expected a goat, two fowls, and some flour, which he took in very good part. In fact, I do not think they are offended at refusals. It seems natural to 'try it on' by asking, but if one takes it good-humouredly they don't seem to mind being refused.

In the same letter the Bishop writes of Lake Nyasa:

Very little has been really known about Nyasa by those who have written about it. There are two good sheltered harbours on the east side, Mbampa Bay and Likoma. I think we have the best at Likoma, and it is a perfect shelter from all winds. There are sudden violent storms, and I have been dreadfully sea-sick, but I do not suppose they are worse than on most inland lakes of the same kind. The little Ilala of the African Lakes Co. has been up and down for years without any accident, I think. I have not heard of any difficulty about food, though it might be difficult without a steamer to go for it. Likoma is a really beautiful island, but only about seven or eight miles long, two broad, and with, I should think, nearly three thousand people on it. They all manage to live, and I cannot see how there can be scarcity of food on the lake. There are very large towns surrounded with fields of corn and maize extending for a great distance, and all seems very fertile. All the parts of this country are subject at times to famine, because everything grows easily, and the people keep no store of food; so that if the accustomed rains do not come in sufficient quantity, as sometimes happens, they have nothing to fall back upon. I think Likoma is very healthy and pleasant, and I hear of scarcely any illness there.

From the letters written during this third journey to Nyasa the following extracts are given:

I have begun my journey again to Nyasa, and this is the evening of the second day. I am sitting with my two companions, Mr. Weigall and Mr. Williams, with nearly sixty men sitting over their fires around us talking or eating. In a few minutes they will all come nearer for evening prayers. Though this is the middle of winter, and sometimes the nights are very cold, especially towards morning, it just now happens to be very mild. The leaves are all falling as with you in autumn. We have not had the tent put up, but I am writing in the open air. Close by, our three beds are spread on the grass under a cover of boughs and grass erected by the men. We have just feasted on crested guinea-fowl, of which Mr. Weigall and I shot six on the way. A few men are bringing up water from the river. All are very cheerful and happy, though many of them have carried loads of over sixty pounds' weight on their heads for more than seventeen miles. A monkey, which is a pet of Weigall's, sits on a tree behind us. All rather a contrast to your drawing-room, but by no means unpleasant when one is in good health. The climate feels delightful now, and it is not at all too hot for walking.

.... I am not certain about the two men you mention, though I always feel sorry if we cannot take men. Our experience has been that if men are uneducated, unless they have some regular trade which will be useful here, it does not do to have them, except to fill some special post, such as storekeeper at some station. The natives want very tender handling, and it is almost impossible, we find by experience, for the ordinary uneducated man to treat them properly. If we had a monastic system of missionary work, and these people had a vocation to that life of strict obedience and rule, it might be different. As it is, I have not found their coming a success.

Certainly, wherever we have settled for long the slave trade practically is coming to an end. People are able, by selling us food to keep us and our schools of boys, to get cloth without buying and selling or catching people. Before we came, people did not dare go to the coast: now they regularly earn money by going to fetch loads for us, and the roads are safe and open. Practically there is now very little war for the purpose of getting slaves on this side of Nyasa, except on the part of the Magwangwara. The slaves come from the far interior, the other side.

I expect to be detained on the Lujenda to make peace (or try to) between some quarrelling chiefs, then to Nyasa for a month, and back to Newala by another route, stay there for a time, go to Zanzibar in November, Magila for Christmas, and start for England in February by Egypt and Venice--all this if God wills. In Africa one is often reminded of St. James's words about making plans always subject to that. Pray always that I may have the spirit of a true missionary, so as to turn every opportunity to account. I find it very difficult, especially on my journeys.

.... The next day we had to cross the Rovuma and Lujenda just above their junction, and found it by no means easy. It was almost breast high in places, with a very rocky bottom and a strong current, so that it was most difficult to keep one's feet at times. Yet the men carried their heavy loads over on their heads with very few mishaps. Two let their boxes fall into the water and were unable to get them up again without help, and on looking back I was horrified to see the boy who was carrying my box of books dragging it under water, to their inevitable ruin. It was late on Saturday night when we reached the first village we had come to since Monday, the day we started.

As I was stalking some guinea-fowl which had flown into some thick trees, I fell into a deep pit which had been dug as a trap for animals and covered with grass. I suddenly found myself supported by my elbows on the sides of this hole with my cocked gun under one arm and an unknown depth with possible spikes below. Happily my boy was near, and soon extricated me from this unpleasant situation.

The party halted at the large village of Mataka, who received the Bishop with considerable state for an African, and whose town was under Mohammedan influence. They then went on to Mwembe, where, six years before, Mr. Johnson had begun to work, and where they were kindly received by those who remembered the first missionary. After many days' further walking, the Bishop notes with joy: 'We were cheered by coming out on a beautiful view of the lake.' As they descended from the heights he began to feel anxious as to how he was to reach Likoma, not knowing at all where the steamer might be. However, by great good fortune, the Charles Janson was close at hand, and the weary traveller had the great happiness of being welcomed by Mr. Johnson, whom he had last seen so ill a year before at Newala. One of the first things he found waiting to be done after reaching Likoma was the blessing of the grave of Mr. Swinny, with whom he had travelled to Nyasa in 1885, and who had died at Bandawé, in spite of the care of Dr. Laws, of the Scotch Mission, in February 1887. On returning to Likoma he writes:

A terrible thing happened here the other day. Four women were burnt on a charge of witchcraft before it was known here that it was going to be done. Some of our party went by night and buried the remains of the bodies, and we have shown our horror of such deeds by talking a great deal to the people about it, and by not going near the village where the people live who did it. The Archdeacon has also tried to stir up the chiefs about it. It was followed by another outrage of the same kind: a nephew killing his aunt on the same charge of witchcraft, and the Archdeacon came upon the half-burnt body lying at the door of her burnt house, with people around and children playing about as if nothing had happened. We can only hope that, as the people get gradually taught, and come under the influence of the Gospel, these horrible crimes will cease, as they have to a great extent in the Masasi and Newala district. Mr. Johnson goes in the steamer every week to visit a number of villages on the eastern shore, and comes back for Saturday and Sunday. I hope he will gradually have teachers and schools placed at these villages. He has already begun at Maendaenda's. He also takes great pains with the men on the steamer, so that they may be a help to the work by their example, and not a hindrance. Certainly I do not see how this work could be done without the help of the steamer, which alone makes it possible.

Archdeacon Maples wrote, on the conclusion of this visit:

The Bishop .... told me the other day that he is looking forward with intense eagerness to his return to England. He certainly has spent a wonderful three and a half years out here, and has done an amazing amount of good and excellent work amongst us all.

The return journey to Newala was accomplished much more rapidly than in the two previous years, and the Bishop was able to write:

I have been very well, and it has been cooler than I expected. ... I cannot be too thankful that I am so well at the end of this my third year of long journeys.

During the three weeks' stay in the Rovuma country he noted with gladness the great progress manifest on all sides. The buildings were improved, the schools increased, and in the towns a very marked advance of the influence of Christian teaching was observable:

Year after year the boys seem to be getting to feel the advantage of being taught, and are therefore coming more steadily and regularly. . . . One great difficulty is to know what to do to keep the boys after they leave school, if they are not fit to be teachers. There seems no work for them to do till they are married, at least no pressure seems put upon them to do any. The consequence is that they are generally idle, and exposed to every possible temptation. At present I hope we have saved some boys by taking them to Kiungani for a year of work and discipline; but we shall have to use our influence with the chiefs to get them to try to alter the present state of things, and give their boys some work to do. I am sure those we know best will do what they can.

It was a great pleasure to me to be able to confirm Barnaba Matuka, the chief of Chitangali, who has just been invested by his brother chiefs with the name and dignity of Nakaam, his uncle, a superior chief of the Yaos. Barnaba has been chosen to succeed him, over the heads of other senior men, very much because his abilities have been developed and his knowledge widened by his intercourse with the Mission for many years. This is what his elder brother told us himself. None of his people were Christians, and his position has been one of great temptation. Though I have very much wished to do so, I have not felt able to confirm him before; but this year I felt quite satisfied. It has been a most trying time for him.

Taking three more boys for Kiungani, the Bishop returned to Zanzibar in November,' and on arriving found that the new industrial wing at the girls' school at Mbweni was ready to be opened. This marked a great advance in work amongst the girls, and the opening of the building by the Bishop on November 21 was a joyful event observed with much merry-making. The Bishop had intended to stay some time in Zanzibar; but, finding that the news from Magila was full of trouble and apprehension, he determined to start at once for the mainland. During his last absence a distinct forward step had been taken there, too, in the matter of women's work, by the arrival of three Sisters of the Community of St. Raphael's, Bristol, who reached Magila in the month of August, and at once set to work with a girls' day-school. Scarcely was the school well started, however, before a disastrous fire burnt down the greater part of the buildings, and the Sisters were houseless. Meantime the hostile chiefs Kimweri and Kibanga were at war not very far off, and it was on account of these troubles that the Bishop, anxious to comfort and protect his people, hastened away from Zanzibar.

Writing after his arrival at Magila he says:

The fire has made sad havoc of all the buildings here, and destroyed a great deal of our property. But it is delightful to find three Sisters of Mercy working here amongst the women, and all work seems flourishing. The poor Sisters were burnt out of their house, and now are all living and sleeping in one room. To-day is Advent Sunday, and I am sure you would have been delighted could you have been here this morning. First there was the Christian service early, a full choral celebration of Holy Communion with a sermon, and a very good congregation of Christian converts. . . . Then at the service in Bondei for the heathen and catechumens the Church was quite full, three-fourths men, to whom I preached through a most excellent native interpreter. After that the clergy, Sisters, and other missionaries all had classes--one class of one hundred young men. I went to the Archdeacon's class and found more than sixty elders and headmen of towns, not yet Christian, who had stayed to be taught. Even that was not so many as usual, as the rival chiefs of the ruling family are fighting desperately about thirty miles off, and some had gone to the war to help the chief of this district. I hope to stay here till after Christmas.

Thank you for your kind promise of welcome when I come. Sometimes I have looked forward so much to seeing my friends in England again that I have thought it never could come true. You will be glad to hear I have been wonderfully strong and well on my journeys, with very little sign of the climate having told upon me. I feel very thankful to God for all His goodness.

Notwithstanding the misfortunes of Magila the Bishop held a Retreat very soon after his arrival, and later in December baptized converts at all the stations, spent Christmas at Magila, and returned to Zanzibar early in January. Not long after his departure another fire broke out at Magila, and most of the remaining buildings were destroyed. In both cases the grass-thatched roofs were the cause of the rapid spreading of the flames, and since that time grass has not again been used for the main buildings. As if to complete the destruction of this unfortunate station, a terrific cyclone burst on the night of February 18, 1888, causing great damage to the church and houses; and ten days later the war between the Bondei and Masai tribes was carried on briskly within a mile or two of the Mission, bringing danger so near that preparations were even made for using the Church as a place of refuge. Happily, however, the fears of actual attack were not justified. The war subsided, and the calamities of the Mission had at least one good effect, in rousing the best feelings of the natives, who did all in their power to help in rebuilding.

In February 1888 the Bishop left Africa for England, having spent exactly four years in his diocese, and returning home now in order that he might be present at the Lambeth Conference. The holiday was well earned and much needed, and he would have stayed longer in England than he did had he not been recalled in the autumn by the startling development of political matters in connection with the occupation of East Africa by Germany, of which matters a brief account must be given in the next chapter.

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