Missionary Work Among the African Women and Children - A Christian Hottentot and a Kaffir Chief Tell what the Bible Taught Them - In Pigmy Land - The State of African Women Training Homes - Work for Teachers
In South Africa in 1801 there was only one Hottentot who could read. Travellers thought that to civilise such savages was an impossible task. The missionary going forth to obey his Master's command " to preach the Gospel to every creature "has proved that the Word of God can reach and raise the lowest.
It was not long, we are told, before " the Hottentot was seen poring over a tattered portion by the roadside, and the Kaffir shepherd on the veldt carried in his skin wallet a Testament, which he valued more than gold and silver."
A Hottentot Orator
"When the Bible came to us we were naked; we lived in caves and on the tops of mountains; we painted our bodies with red paint. The Bible charmed us out of the caves, and from the tops of the mountains. Now we know there is a God; now we know we are accountable creatures before God. I have travelled with the missionaries in taking the Bible to the Bushmen and other nations. When the Word of God was preached the Bushman threw away his bow and arrows; the Kaffir threw away his shield. I went to Lattakoo, and they threw away their evil works; they threw away their assegais and became children of God."
Over 10,000 Bibles and Testaments were sent to South Africa between 1841 and 1844, and yet so great was the demand that the colony was reported to be " suffering something like a famine of the Word of God." In other parts of Africa the same eager longing was displayed to possess a Bible. In Basutoland the natives, as soon as they could read, read the Bible with the in-tensest interest. "I cannot sleep," said one native, " when I get hold of a new chapter." "And I," said his friend, "I light my fire, lie down beside-it, and read by its light till I can hold out no longer for sleep." It is calculated that there are now over a million Protestant Christians in Africa.
Much has been done and marvellous results achieved, but much remains to be done on this vast continent of 170,000,000 inhabitants. The Christian communities are but oases in a desert. Mrs. Fisher, in her enthralling book, "On the Borders of Pigmy Land," gives an account of her first Sunday in Mengo, Uganda (in 1900). She says :
"The day after our arrival being Sunday, we had an early opportunity of witnessing a little of what Christianity has done for Uganda. The unreached tribes we had passed through in their nakedness and savagery, propitiating demons and offering human sacrifices, are what these people were before the Gospel reached them. Now, as the huge church drum, echoing from hill to hill, called to morning prayer, a continual stream of people was seen pouring into the large 'basket' cathedral. As we entered at 9 a.m. what an impressive sight awaited us. Perhaps the first sight that attracted one's attention was the veritable forest of poles that supported the roof; but then, looking down, the eye travelled over a sea of black woolly heads - of about two thousand men dressed in spotless white linen on one side, and of women draped in the bark cloths, soft and restful to the eye, on the other.
"There were no chairs or pews, but each one brought a goatskin or grass kneeling-mat. With no muffled, inarticulate voice did they join in the Lord's Prayer; a noise as of thunder sounded through the building. When the time for the reading of the Scriptures had come, there was a general un-bandaging of Gospels or Testaments, which their owners securely bound round in strips of calico to protect them. Surely," says Mrs. Fisher, "the most ardent critic of missions could not have failed to be convinced of the reality of these people's Christianity had he looked at the order of this great service. Their reverent behaviour as they worshipped in a church built with their own hands and listened to one of their own native clergy must have deeply impressed even the most cynical onlooker."
On the West Coast, too, progress is being made. Girls' schools were established in Sierra Leone so early as 1846, and have been carried on ever since with wonderful success. It is utterly useless to Christianise and civilise the men unless the women can be taught at the same time.
From a mission field in one part of West Africa we are told of a great fight going on between the baptised young men and their people. It is the custom for a girl when betrothed to go at once to her mother-in-law's house to be trained by her for her husband. A missionary wrote in 1909 :
" I cannot describe the condition of the older women. It is more near the animal than the human, and one can see how possible it is for each generation to get lower down than the last with such teachers. A great storm of opposition is being raised now, and we await the result, confident that the Christians will win in the end, and be allowed to have their wives trained as Christians. We anticipate that in the near future it will be absolutely necessary to have a home where such girls may be placed by their future husbands."
The nearest girls' school then was sixty miles away, a prohibitive distance for most, even if there were sufficient accommodation for the extra pupils. Now (1911) a special school for the training of native women has been started only four miles away.
The Need for Schools
From Abeakuta Miss Rankilar wrote, in December, 1910, that on her return from her furlough in England she was met, even before arriving in the town, with the question, "What about our girls' school ? " Alas ! Miss Rankilar could hold out no immediate prospects of the establishment of such a school. She says :
"I wish some teachers, especially infant-school teachers in England, could realise the vast opportunities there are in a great town like this, in which there is no separate school for girls, except the Roman Catholic school. Yet the parents have begged again and again for one. Why do we not open a school ? Because there is only one missionary available, and no one to take her place when furlough falls due or if sickness should come. . . . Women's work in every form awaits leaders, but as yet it waits in vain."
From Nigeria we hear of training homes which were established in 1907 for girls who are too old to go to school, but who wish for training, either in order to earn their own living or to enable them to become useful wives. Most of them are Christians who are betrothed to heathen men, but who cannot now become one of many wives. The refusal to do this brings a great deal of misery and distress to the girls, and often active persecution. In the homes they learn sewing and laundry-work, besides receiving regular religious instruction and lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic. A good many of them have married Christian men, and are making them truly admirable wives.
From Miss Warner, in charge of the Girls' Training Home at Umwdi, Oka, we have an account of a Women's United Conference, held at Onitsha in 1910. Miss Warner writes :
"It was the first conference of native and European women, and was successful beyond expectation. Two delegates and the teacher's wife from each mission station were invited, and were the guests of the Christians of Onitsha during the three days of conference."
Miss Warner also sends an encouraging report of the training school, each year "showing a rather higher standard of education in order to keep up with the times. Each girl also receives the industrial training which is so important in its effect on the future homes of the 160 Christian women."
Miss Chollet writes of an itinerating tour in the neighbourhood of Umunya, and of the hearty welcome she received. Everywhere she was greeted by the women with the cry, " Do come and live amongst us to teach us. How are we to learn ? We have no one to teach us."
This cry for teachers comes from all parts of Africa, and is being answered by the Government, as it is in India and China (see Vol. 2, page 1515), by the establishment of secular schools. In this connection a letter from the Rev. G. T. Basden, of Awka, dated November, 1910, is of interest. He says:
"The making of systematic religious instruction a compulsory subject in our code necessarily prohibits our schools receiving grants in aid from the Government. But the simple West African cannot comprehend a man who professes to hold no religion at all. A man without any sort of belief is unthinkable in these parts at present. Hence the children attending our schools are willing to pay fees rather than attend other schools freely. The West African is a distinctly religious man. Religion, of whatever kind, always appeals to his nature, and so there is no difficulty in keeping our schools well filled with pupils. School fees for this year will amount to something like £150, and this in spite of the fact that, in towns where there is a Government school, a tax is levied upon the people- generally to pay for the educational facilities supplied, so that many people pay both the tax and the fees. This clearly illustrates the desire for religious instruction in a very practical manner."
The Church Missionary Society at home is unable to respond to the urgent appeals made to them by missionaries abroad. The need for English teachers is very great, but even where there are women willing to give up work in England in order to plant the seeds of learning in the fertile soil of Africa, the lack of means to send them out is at present an insuperable obstacle. Unless it is speedily overcome the opportunity will have passed away. The Africans are now in a plastic state, which will not last. Civilisation, apart from Christianity, is making rapid strides. But Mohammedanism also is advancing very rapidly.
The African is proving that he possesses a power of organisation and leadership not to be found in India, and which will make him a power to be reckoned with in the future.
A group of East African school-children. The natives of Africa are intensely anxious for education, and are most willing to contribute towards the cost of denominational schools
Those willing to go or to send others are asked to communicate with the Secretary, Women's Department, Church Missionary House, Salisbury Square, E.c.