Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Mary Slessor of Calabar: Pioneer Missionary by W. P. Livingstone

Part 3 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

But Mary could be as stern and strong as her native granite when
combating evil. Mr. Ovens saw her repeatedly thrust brawny negroes away
from the drink, taking them round the neck, and throwing them back to
the ground. An intoxicated man, carrying a loaded gun, once came to see
her. She ordered him to put the weapon in a corner of the verandah. He
declined. She went up, wrested the gun from him, placed it in a corner,
and defied him to touch it. He went away, and came back every day for a
week before she gave it up. Another man came to her for medicine, and
after he had described his symptoms she brought a bottle of castor oil
and told him to open his mouth. Fearful that it might be some sort of
witchcraft, he demurred. "Ma" simply gave him a smart box on the ear
and repeated the order, whereupon he meekly took the stuff and went
ruefully away. About this time, also, she went and prevented two tribes
from fighting: although her heart was beating wildly she stood between
them and made each pile their guns on opposite sides of her, until the
heaps were five feet high. On another occasion she stopped and
impounded a canoe-load of machetes that were going up-river to be used
in a war.

Mr. Ovens was struck by her mental power and wide outlook. Despite her
incessant preoccupation with matters about her she never ceased the
cultivation of intellectual interests. She was a loving student of the
Bible, a wide and discriminating reader, and she followed with a
brooding mind the development of world affairs throughout the world.

Before his work was finished Mr. Ovens began to suffer from the
exposure, and she nursed him day and night through a serious illness.
When he returned to Duke Town she missed his cheery company; her
isolation and loneliness seemed intensified, and she was only sustained
by her faith in the efficacy of prayer and by her communion with the
Father, "My one great consolation and rest," she wrote, "is in prayer."
So invariably was she comforted: so invariably was she preserved from
harm and hurt, that her reliance upon a higher strength became an
instinctive habit. It conquered her natural nervousness and
apprehension. She had frequently to take journeys through the forest
with the leopards swarming around her. "I did not use to believe the
story of Daniel in the lions dens" she often said, "until I had to take
some of these awful marches, and then I knew it was true, and that it
was written for my comfort. Many a time I walked along praying, 'O God
of Daniel shut their mouths,' and He did." If she happened to be
travelling with bearers or paddlers, she would make them sing and keep
them singing; "And, _Etubom_" (Sir, Chief, or White Man), she would
say, when telling her experiences, "ye ken what like their singing is--
it would frighten any decent respectable leopard." And yet in some
things she was as timid as a child. When travelling in the Mission
steam-launch she would bury her head in her hands and cry out in fear
if the engine gave a screech or if the vessel bumped on a sandbank. She
was in terror all the time she was on board.

It was not possible for her to go on expending so much nervous force
without a breakdown, and as attacks of fever were coming with
increasing frequency she began to think of her furlough. The difficulty
was to fill her place. In 1890 Mr. Goldie reported that only she or a
man could fill it; no native agent could go from. Calabar on account of
tribal unfriendliness. But she thought otherwise. "No person connected
with me need fear to come to Okoyong, or suffer from lack of
hospitality." Okoyong was a very different place from what it had been
in 1888. There was greater order and security, and much less drinking
among the younger people, many of whom were at school; none dared to
use the slightest freedom with, her; they might come as far as the
verandah but no farther. The people were becoming ashamed of their
superstition, and were ready to inform her secretly when palavers and
sacrifices were in contemplation. Chiefs came voluntarily and requested
her to sit in the seat of judgment and adjudge their disputes. The
tribe, as a whole, was also working better, and developing a regular
trade with the Europeans. The problem was solved by another woman with
a stout heart, who voluntarily agreed to occupy the station during her
absence. This was Miss Dunlop. The Home Board were anxious as to her
safety, and recommended frequent communications with her; and later,
Miss Hutton, who had just arrived from Scotland, was appointed to keep
her company. When Miss Dunlop went up before "Ma" left, she was met by
what she thought was a crowd of peaceful, cheerful--people, eager only
to greet her and to help her. She modified her opinion later: a "wild
and lawless class," she called them, "boasting of their wildness," and
who came to the services drunk. When she spoke of God's love they would
say, "Yes, Ma Slessor tell us that plenty times." But she bravely held
the fort.


At the last moment she was busy packing when messengers arrived from a
far-off township with intelligence that a young freeman had
accidentally shot his hand while hunting, and a request that she would
come to him with medicine. She was weak and ill: she was expecting
tidings of the steamer; she was beset with visitors from all parts who
had come to bid her farewell. Telling them what to do, and asking them
to let her know only if serious symptoms set in, she gave them what was
needed. Almost immediately came secret news that the man had died, that
his brother had wounded one of the chiefs, and that all the warriors of
the latter had been ordered to prepare for fighting on the morrow. She
never knew how this message had come or who had brought it. She made up
her mind to proceed to the spot, but the chief people about her opposed
the idea. They pointed to her weakness, and the probability of her
missing the steamer. They enlarged on the savage character of those
concerned. "They own no authority"; "They will insult you in their
drunken rage"; "The bush will be full of armed men, and they will fire
indiscriminately;" "The darkness will prevent them recognising you."
But they could not prevail upon her to relinquish what she thought was
a duty to those who had sought her aid. She, however, compromised by
consenting to take two armed attendants with lanterns, and to call at a
chief's place some eight miles distant, and secure a freeman to beat
the Egbo drum before her, thus letting the people in the fighting area
know that a free protected person was coming.

She reached their village about midnight. The chief was reported to be
at his farm, and she was urged to lie down until the morning, She
suspected that he was not many yards away, and she persuaded a
messenger to carry an urgent request to him for an escort and drum. The
reply was in the language of diplomacy all the world over:

"I have heard of no war, but will enquire regarding it in the morning.
If, in the event of there being war, you persist in going on you prove
your ignorance of the people, who from all time have been a war-loving
people, are not likely to be helped by a woman."

This put her on her mettle.

"In measuring the woman's power," she responded, "you have evidently
forgotten to take into account the woman's God."

She decided to go on. The people were astonished, not so much at her
folly in risking her life as in daring to disobey the despot, who held
their fate in the hollow of his hand. Somewhat chilled by her
unsympathetic reception she started, without much enthusiasm, on her
journey, but with her faith in God as strong as ever.

Reaching the first town belonging to the belligerents she found it so
silent and dark that she began to imagine the chief was right, and she
had come on a wild-goose chase. She crept quietly up to the house of an
old freewoman whose granddaughter had once lived with her: there was a
cautious movement within and a whispered, "Who's there?" She had barely
answered, when she was surrounded by a band of armed men, whose dark
bodies were like shadows in the night. In a few moments they were
joined by scores of others, and the greatest confusion prevailed. She
was asked what her business was and who were her informants, but
ultimately the chiefs permitted her to remain, and the women saw to her

After conferring together the chiefs thanked her for coming at such
discomfort to herself, and promised that no fighting, so far as they
were concerned, would take place until she heard the whole story.

"All the same," they averred, "we must fight to wipe out the disgrace
that has been put on us-see here are men badly wounded. Now, Ma, go to
bed, and we shall wake you at cock-crow, and you can accompany us."

This meant an hour's rest, which she urgently needed. At second cock-
crow she was called, but before she was steady on her feet they were
off and away down the steep hillside and through the stream at the foot
like a herd of wild goats. The women were at every house.

"Run, Ma!" they cried.

Run! Was she not running as fast as her weak and breathless state
allowed her? But she soon lost sight of the warriors, and could only
fall back upon prayer.

A hundred yards from the village of the enemy she came upon the band in
the bush making preparations for attack: the war-fever was at its
height, and the air resounded with wild yells. Walking quietly forward
she addressed them as one would speak to schoolboys, telling them to
hold their peace and behave like men and not like fools. Passing on to
the village she encountered a solid wall of armed men. Giving them
greeting, she got no reply. The silence was ominous. Twitting them on
their perfect manners she went up to them, and was about to force a
passage. Then a strange thing happened.

From out of the sullen line of dark-skinned warriors there stepped an
old man, who came and knelt at her feet.

"Ma, we thank you for coming. We admit the wounding of the chief, but
it was the act of one man and not the fault of the town. We beg you to
use your influence with the injured party in the interests of peace."

It was the chief whom she had travelled in the rain to see and heal
when she first came to Okoyong. Her act of self-sacrifice and courage
had borne fruit after many days.

She was so thankful that her impulse was to run back to their opponents
in the forest and arrange matters there and then; but she restrained
herself, and, instead, purposely told the men with an air of authority
to remain where they were while her wants were attended to.

"I am not going to starve while you fight," she said, "and meanwhile
you can find a comfortable seat In the bush where I can confer with the
two sides; choose two or three men of good address and good judgment
for the purpose."

They obeyed her like children.

When the two deputies from the other side came forward, two chiefs laid
down their arms and went and knelt before them and held their feet
saying it was foolish and unjust to punish the whole district for the
action of a drunken boy, begging them to place the matter before the
White Ma, and expressing their willingness to pay whatever fine might
be imposed. She, too, knelt and begged that magnanimity might be shown,
and that arbitration might be substituted for war. So novel a proposal
was not agreed to at once. The next few hours witnessed scenes of wild
excitement, rising sometimes to frenzy. Bands of men kept advancing
from both sides and joining in the palaver, and every arrival increased
the indignation and the resolution to abide by the old, manlier way of
war. She was well-nigh worn out, but her wonderful patience and tact,
coupled with her knowledge of all the outs and ins of their character,
again won her the victory. It was agreed that a fine should settle the
quarrel, and one was imposed which she thought exorbitant In the
extreme, but the delinquents accepted it, and promptly paid part in
trade gin.

Here was another peril. As the boxes and demijohns were brought forward
and put down the mob began to grow excited at the thought of the drink.
She foresaw trouble and disaster, but though her voice was now too
feeble to be heard in the babel of sound, she was not yet at the end of
her resources. Divesting herself of as many of her garments as was
possible, she threw them over the stuff, thus giving it the protection
of her own body, according to Egbo law.

It was a custom for providers of spirits which might have been tampered
with on the way from the boat, to taste the liquor in order to prove
that neither sorcery nor poison had been placed in it, and every man
wanted to be the taster on this occasion. As soon as the test had been
applied, every man on the other side likewise demanded the gin, and for
a time it seemed as if all had gone mad.

Mary seized the one glass which they held, and as each bottle was
opened she dealt out to the older and chief men one glass only,
resolutely refusing to give more, and placed the bottle under the cover
of her garments. No one dared to touch the stuff. There was some
jostling around her, but a few of the men constituted themselves into a
bodyguard, and by whip and drum kept the mob off. Amidst much tumult
and grumbling and laughter at her sallies she got them to agree to
leave the spirit in her charge on her declaring that she would be
surety for it arriving in their several villages in good time, and
untampered with.

She made them promise to go straight home and remain at peace during
her furlough (a promise that was loyally kept); but there was one party
she was obliged to accompany for a mile or two. They had--declared that
they were ashamed to return "like women," without having fought. They
begged her to allow them to have a "small scrap," in order to prove
they were not cowards. Not till they were safely past the danger zone
did she leave them. She remained till night at the village. The feeling
was still too disturbed to permit of a regular service, but she spoke
to them quietly of Christ as a Saviour: and then ordering all to their
rest she set out, tired as she was, on her lonely tramp through the
long miles of forest path.

She found her baggage had gone, and that messengers had arrived to take
her down to Duke Town.


Arriving in England la January 1891 with Janie, who proved a great
comfort and help, she went straight to Topsham to view the graves of
her mother and sister. She was anxious to spend as much of her furlough
as possible amongst the scenes and with the friends associated with her
loved ones, and she secured and furnished a house. It possessed a fine
garden, and there, with the little black girl, she passed a quiet and
restful time until the autumn, when she went to Scotland, making her
headquarters at the home of her friend, Mrs. M'Crindle, now at Joppa.
For many months she was engaged on the deputation work which
missionaries on furlough undertake for the stimulation of the home
congregations. She had less liking than ever for addressing meetings,
but she did not shirk the duty. "It is a trial to speak," she said;
"but He has asked me to, and it is an honour to be allowed to testify
for Him in any way, and I wish to do it cheerfully." She wanted also to
persuade the women in the Church to give themselves up more whole-
heartedly to Christ, and to consecrate themselves to His cause. No
trouble was too great if it served that purpose. As a halo of romance
was beginning to gather about her she was in great request; wherever
she went the interest of the meeting centred in her, and her visits
were often followed by the formation of a Zenana Mission Committee.

Not always, however, did she satisfy expectations. She would talk
freely at the manse tea-table, especially if children were present, and
be led on to give vivid pictures of her life in the bush, so that the
company would be still sitting entranced when the bell rang for the
meeting. Then a rush would be made to the hall, where impatient people
would be waiting to be thrilled by stories of heroic service. And what
they heard was an evangelistic address! The minister would look
disappointed, feeling that he could have done as well himself. But she
sometimes deprecated surface interest, and said that if the heart was
right and the life consecrated, mission work would be well supported
without any adventitious aid.

After addressing a meeting at Slateford near Edinburgh she was on the
way to the station when a woman who had been in the audience took Janie
and kissed her and pressed some money into her hand. Next day the
minister received a letter inscribed:

_"For the lady who gave Janie the money and the kiss on the way to the
station.-M. M. Slessor."_

Enclosed was a photograph of Janie and a letter in which she wrote:

MY DEAR FRIEND--For such I must call you. Such a true womanly Christian
spirit as you showed yesterday is one of the fruits of our holy
Christianity--I thank you for loving and kissing the child--God bless
you, my dear sister. I may yet see you in the flesh. I will if I go
back to Slateford. But I may be sure of meeting you in the Father's
house when the shadows flee away and the everlasting glory has dawned.

The recipient kept the photograph and letter and still treasures them
as mementoes of one of whom she never ceased to think and for whom she
always prayed. It was in such ways that she knit hearts to her.

She made many friends in the manses and in the homes of the members of
the Church, and greatly increased the interest in her work in Calabar,
with the result that after she returned a larger stream of
correspondence and Mission boxes began to flow to Okoyong.


Aware of her singleness of mind and aim in the service of Christ, and
her whole-hearted devotion to the interests of the people of Okoyong,
it came as a surprise to her friends to learn that she was engaged to
be married. The hidden romance was disclosed at a meeting of the
Mission Board in September.

The suitor for her hand was Mr. Charles W. Morrison, one of the
teachers on the Mission staff, a young man from Kirkintilloch,
Scotland, then in his twenty-fifth year. His career at home had been a
successful one; he had been an active Christian worker, and when he
applied to the Board for an appointment in Calabar he was accepted at
once and sent out to Duke Town. He was a man of fine feeling, with a
distinct literary gift. On the few occasions that he had seen Mary he
was attracted by the brilliant, unconventional little woman, and when
she was ill was very attentive and kind to her. Before she left on
furlough they had become engaged on the understanding that he would
come and live at Okoyong.

She made it clear to the Board that she had pledged her word to her
people not to leave them, and that she would not, even for her personal
happiness, break her promise, Mr. Morrison, she believed, would make a
very good missionary, and they would be able to relieve each other, as
she would remain at Okoyong when he was at home. The Board took time to
consider the proposal, and meanwhile Mary received the congratulations
of her friends. Her replies indicate that there was no uncertainty in
her own mind on the subject:

I lay it all in God's hands, and will take from Him whatever He sees
best for His work in Okoyong. My life was laid on His altar for that
people long ago, and I would not take one jot or tittle of it back. If
it be for His glory and the advantage of His cause there to let another
join in it I will be grateful. If not I will still try to be grateful,
as He knows best.

Both were a little doubtful as to the action of the Board, and Mr.
Morrison asked her whether, in the event of a refusal, she would
consent to return to Duke Town, Such a project, however, she would not

"It is out of the question," she explained to a friend. "1 would never
take the idea into consideration, I could not leave my work for such a
reason. To leave a field like Okoyong without a worker and go to one of
ten or a dozen where the people have an open Bible and plenty of
privilege! It is absurd. If God does not send him up here then he must
do his work and I must do mine where we have been placed. If he does
not come I must ask the Committee to give me some one, for it is
impossible for me to work the station alone."

The Board, seemingly, were not sure of the wisdom of the arrangement,
and their decision was a qualified refusal. The work which Mr. Morrison
was doing at Duke Town, they said, was important, and they could not
sanction his transference to Okoyong until full provision was made for
carrying it on effectively and to the satisfaction of the Calabar

When Mary was told the result she merely said, "What the Lord ordains
is right," and, apparently, dismissed the subject from her mind.

Mr. Morrison was, shortly afterwards, compelled to return to Scotland
on account of his health. A medical specialist advised him against
resuming work in Calabar, and he offered for service in Kaffraria, but
there was no opening in that field, and to the regret and
disappointment of the Committee, who regarded him as an able and valued
worker, he resigned. He went later to America and was living in a hut
among the balsam woods of North Carolina when a fire took place in
which his much-treasured literary papers were consumed. The loss
affected him greatly, and hastened his death, which occurred shortly

Amongst the few treasured books which Mary left at the end were
battered copies of _Eugene Aram_ and _Sketches by Boz._ On the fly-leaf
of one in her handwriting are the letters:

_C. W. M.
M. M. S._

On the other are signatures in their respective hands:


Love of mother and sister had been lost to her long since, and now love
of lover and husband was denied, and again she turned her face, alone,
towards the future.

_Yes, without cheer of sister or of daughter,
Yes, without stay of father or of son,
Lone on the land and homeless on the water,
Pass I in patience till my work be done._


A sharp attack of influenza followed by
bronchitis cut short her engagements. During her convalescence she one
day took up the Missionary Record, and read a letter by the Rev. James
Luke entitled "An Appeal for Lay Missionaries for Old Calabar." Like
her own writing it had a touch of style and originality, and her
comment was "Splendid!" But there was one incidental statement with
which she did not agree. Mr. Luke called for two more artisan
missionaries--"not to teach the trades; we haven't sufficient men for
that, even were Calabar ripe for such instruction." As the result of
her own observation and experience she had often felt that something
ought to be done to develop the industrial capabilities of the natives.
The subject had not been lost sight of by the missionaries and the
Mission Board, and the latter had sought, by sending out competent
artisans, to attend not only to the work required in connection with
the Mission but to train some of the native youths in the various
departments of labour. There had, however, been no attempt to establish
the work on organised lines, and the remark which Mr. Luke made induced
her to place the whole matter before the Church. She penned a long
letter, the writing of which so exhausted her that she scarcely knew
whether or not the words were rightly spelled. It went to Dr. George
Robson, then beginning his long and honourable editorship of the
_Record_, and appeared in the next issue under the signature of "One of
the Zenana Staff."

It was a letter which displayed all the qualities of missionary
statesmanship, was clear, logical, and vigorous in style, and glowed
with restrained enthusiasm. She pointed out that it was necessary to
help the natives to become an industrial people as well as to
Christianise them, and she combated the idea that they were not capable
of being taught trades; their weak point no doubt was their want of
staying power, their lack of persistence in the face of difficulties,
but this could be accounted for by their history; their only rule and
mode of life hitherto having been "force of circumstance," The question
of training them, however, was too large a problem for the unaided
missionary, too large even for the Mission Board; it was a matter for
the whole Church to take up. "Let the science of the evangelisation of
the nations occupy the attention of our sermons, our congregations, our
conferences, and our Church literature, and we will soon have more
workers, more wealth, more life, as well as new methods."

So earnest an appeal caused some stir in official circles. The Mission
Committee took up the subject, and after interviewing the missionaries
who were at home at the time, including herself, referred to Calabar
for information. As she had no further connection with the matter the
outcome may be briefly noted here. The Calabar Committee were
favourable to any scheme of industrial training, and the local
Government also expressed their willingness to assist. After the Rev.
Dr. Laws, of Livingstonia, and the Rev. W. Risk Thomson, had gone out
and reported on the situation and outlook, the proposal rapidly took
shape, and the Hope Waddell Training Institute--thus called after the
founder of the Mission--came into being, and was soon performing for
West Africa the same valuable service that Lovedale and Blythswood were
doing for South Africa. She never took any credit for her part in
promoting the undertaking, and never made a single reference to it in
her letters. She was content to see it realised....

Medical advice sent her down to Devon to recruit. She did not complain
or worry about the readjustment of her plans. "We alter things for the
good of our children," she said, "and God does the same to us." With
Janie she left for Calabar in February 1892, the Congregational Church
at Topsham bidding her farewell at a public meeting convened in her


It was strange, even for her, to pass from the trim, well-ordered life
of Britain into the midst of West African heathenism,--to find waiting
for her in her yard two refugees who, being charged with witchcraft,
had been condemned to be sold and killed and preserved as food,--to be
interviewed by a slave woman who had been bought by an Okoyong chief as
one of his many wives, after having been the wife of other two men, one
of whom had been disposed of to the cannibal tribe, whilst her boy had
been carried to Calabar in bondage. Such were the conditions into which
she was once more plunged.

The majority of the people admired and trusted hers and gave her
implicit obedience, but there were some who avoided and feared her, and
sought to undermine her authority and perpetuate the old customs. Her
own chiefs remained staunch, and Ma Erne, although a heathen, continued
to be her truest friend and best ally. It was to her that Mary was
still mainly indebted for news of what was going on. If there was any
devilry afoot she would send a certain bottle to the Mission House with
a request for medicine. It was a secret warning that she was to be
ready to act at a moment's notice. As a result of these hints she was
able to prevent many a terrible crime. On one occasion, when the
natives were seeking to compass a man's death, she lay down without
undressing for a month of nights, ready to set out, and the first night
she took off her clothes and endeavoured to obtain a good sleep she was
called. And just as she was she set out for the scene. The chiefs began
to think it was useless to hoodwink or browbeat the wonderful woman who
seemed to know their inmost thoughts and all their hidden plans.

Sometimes, when she received the intimation that a palaver was
beginning, and that a fight was imminent, she would not be ready, and
would resort to stratagem: she would seize a large sheet of paper and
scribble some words--any words--upon it and add some splashes of
sealing--wax to make it look important. This she would despatch by a
swift runner to the chiefs, and by the time they had discussed the
mysterious official--looking document, which none of them, could read,
she would come on the scene and allay the excitement and settle the

One of her favourite devices during palavers was to knit. She fancied
that the act kept her from being nervous, as well as from showing fear,
while the sight of the knitting going quietly and steadily on, in the
midst of uproar, helped to calm the excitement. She used to say that it
was only during these long palavers that she could get some knitting
done. We can well believe this when we are told by an official that on
one occasion she stayed knitting and listening the whole of one day and
night, until the opposing powers became hungry, and retired without a

The story of one of these knitting palavers must suffice. Shortly after
she returned she wished to settle an important dispute that had been
going on for a time between two sections of the Okoyong people. Three
years before, a gathering such as she summoned would have been
impossible--they would have laid down "medicine" and fought. She
trembled to go, and longed for some of the Calabar missionaries to come
up and accompany her. But God gave her peace. After a sleepless night
she started with her knitting material, and reaching the clearing in
the forest passed alone through the guards of armed men. Every chief
was there, dressed in all the colours of the rainbow,--thanks chiefly
to Mission boxes,--each sitting under a huge umbrella of blue and red
and yellow silk, with from twenty to fifty of his men forming a cordon
about him, all with guns loaded and swords hanging from their sides.

The sky was sober and grey, and the magnificent foliage overhead made
the atmosphere cool and sweet. A chair was placed for her beside the
oldest chief, in the centre, with the one party on the right and the
other on the left. But first she moved from one group to the other,
drawing laughter as she went with her jokes and by-play, and trying to
lessen the tension that all experienced. Then she took her seat,
started her knitting, and the business began. A word from her was
sufficient to check any outburst of feeling, but she only spoke now and
then, in order to elicit information or to make clear a bit of

Time was nothing to these men, and, accustomed to one square meal a
day, they did not mind a long sitting; but Mary knew what backache and
chill and hunger were and she was often tempted to tell them to keep to
the point, but it would have been of no avail.

Night fell, torches were lit, the voices waxed louder, the excitement
spread, until Mary felt that matters were getting out of hand, and
brought the issue to a head. An old chief summed up, and did so with
rare tact and patience and good humour. She gathered up the main points
and gave her verdict, which was unanimously adopted with ringing
cheers. A native oath had now to be taken to ratify the agreement, and
the necessary materials were sent for--a razor, corn, salt, pepper, and
rum. A freeman from, each side was called forward, and after divesting
themselves of all superfluous clothing they knelt at her feet and
clasped each other's fingers. Another made an incision with the razor
on the back of their hands, and when the blood had flowed a little
salt, pepper, and corn were laid upon the wounds. Then out of courtesy
to "Ma," they asked her to say a prayer. But she always witnessed the
oath under protest, recognising that they knew no better way, and she
would not comply with their request, though she offered no objection to
one of the chiefs praying. After the terrible oath formula had been
repeated, the two men sucked up the blood-saturated ingredients and
swallowed them, and the covenant was ratified. Relieved from the
strain, the whole assemblage became suddenly smitten with the spirit of
fun. The proceedings were over before midnight, and after a tea hours'
sitting Mary began her homeward journey of four miles, tired and
hungry, but happy.


Her letters at this time bear witness to the strenuous character of the
life she led. They often begin with a description of household events:
then a break will occur: the next entry starts with "It is many days
since I had to leave off here," and then follows an account of some
sudden journey and adventure. Another interruption will take place,
caused by some long palaver or rescue: and the end will be a remark
such as this: "So, you see, life here, as at home, is just a record of
small duties which occupy the time, and task the strength without much
to show for it."

Here are some incidents which reveal to us the nature of what she
deemed her "commonplace" work:

1. _A Forest Vigil_

"Run, run, Ma! there is something going on!" was the significant
message. "Where?" She was told, and went straight off. A chief had
died, and the people were administering the poison ordeal at a spot
deep in the forest, in order to avoid her interference. She arrived
before the proceedings began, and for four days and four nights she
remained there constantly on the watch. Her clothes were never off--and
only those who have lived in tropical lands know what this means. All
the rest she allowed herself was a short half-slumber, as she lay upon
some plantain fronds. The men would not leave the spot, hoping to tire
her out, and at night they lit fires to keep off the wild beasts of
prey, and slept about her. In these long hours she was often afraid,
not of the armed men, but of the wild creatures of the bush that came
creeping up, and with sombre eyes stared at her for a moment ere they
slunk away from the flames. Such courage and endurance could not be
withstood,--in the end the people gave in and life was saved.

2. _Egbo_

She was sitting quietly in the house, thinking she was alone, when a
stealthy step behind made her look round: it was a woman, followed by
others all crowding in as smoothly as tigers. "Run, Ma! run!" they
said. The words were no sooner spoken than Mary was down the stair and
out in the open "square," where she found a number of men pulling about
and frightening the slaves and women. She seized hold of one fellow and
locked him in her yard, and the act brought quiet. The mob turned out
to be Egbo from a far-off town, come to sue for a debt due by a widow,
who had already given up everything to liquidate it. She knew the
people, had been kind to them, and had induced them to trade with
Calabar. She at once ordered them out of the place, and made them
restore the property they had seized, and in a short time the matter
was settled,

3. _Robbers_

One day she was busy standing on a box plastering a wall when the
warning cry came, "Run, Ma! run!" The villagers had gone off with their
arms and were fighting a band of plunderers, who had stolen two slave-
girls and two slave-men from Ma Eme's farm. Washing the mud off her
hands and face she ran to the scene, and all next day, Sunday, she was
sitting in the midst of a drinking mob trying to keep down their
passions, and succeeded at last in finding a pacific solution.

4. Twins

Again the cry, "Run, Ma! run!" this time from two boys. It was a case
of twins born of a Calabar mother, who had come to Okoyong after trade
began. The father and his womenkind were furious, and the mother lay
deserted and alone. Mary took the two babies into her lap, and as they
were Calabar twins sent word to the elder chief. The answer she
received was "Ahem!" But the messenger added, "A big lady said, 'Why
don't you take the twins to Calabar?'"

She next sent to the younger chief, and asked him to come and confer
with her at a distance.

After two hours' weary waiting the reply was, "I am not coming, what
should I come for? Should I tell my Mother what to do? Let her do what
she sees fit."

"Well," said Mary, "as one chief says, 'Ahem' and the other gives no
command, I shall take the children by a back road to my own house, and
during the night the mother can follow, and we will see how things turn

On being told that she had brought twins to the house Edem groaned and
said, "Then I cannot go to my Mother's house any more. Are they

"Yes," said the messenger, "and they are in her own bed."

He groaned again, "No, no, I cannot ever go any more."

Mary went to his yard to see a sick baby, whom she had nursed back from
death's door after the witch-doctors had done their best with their
charms and medicine, but the mother held the child tightly in her arms
and said, "Ma, you shall not touch her!" She turned away, her heart

On the Sunday rain fell all day, and she could not leave one of the
children who was ill, but in the late evening she took two lanterns and
went to the roadside and held a short service with the few prepared to
come, and who huddled together in the rain. But none of them guessed
how near to tears the speaker was. She felt the alienation from her
people keenly; it was the greatest trial that had come to her, but she
was resolved not to give in.

One of the twins died, and some days later Edem offered her a present
of yams, but she declined the gift, as it might be mistaken for a bribe
to her conscience. He remonstrated, but she remained firm, although it
cost her much. Gradually, however, he and his House showed contrition,
and the shadow passed away.

Then a chief from another village came, also with a present of yams.
Going on his knees he held her feet and begged her not to give up the
child. "You are our Mother; and a woman has proved stronger than all
the men of the tribe: we will be able to believe in all you ask us by
and by, but have patience with us."

When he was gone a message came: "A chief from a distance wants to see
you; come for a little."

This man was from a turbulent part of Okoyong and given to fighting and

"I live in my house as ever I did," was her spirited reply; "and if any
one wishes to see me I am here." She felt pretty sure of her ground,
though she could not help trembling for the result.

The strangers arrived, and Edem with them, and chairs and mats were
placed for them in the court. To her surprise she was asked for her
advice, and the visitor went away convinced that the new ways were
better than the old.

The elder chief, Ekpenyong, next sent and begged for forgiveness. "The
Mother cannot keep a strong heart against her son. Are you not the hope
and strength and counsellor of my life? Forgive me, for it was
foolishness, I have not been taught from my youth, and have never seen
a twin."

Thus good came out of the trial, and the bonds that bound her to the
people were strengthened. What was still more remarkable than the
attitude of the chiefs was the fact that the husband took the twin-
mother and the surviving child home.

5. _The Poison Bean_

A slave woman of importance who occupied a position of trust died
suddenly. When her master was told he flew into a passion and
despatched a messenger to Mary with the rude intimation that "somebody
hereabouts knew how to kill people." She returned a curt reply, and he
sent an apology. The next development was the appearance of some chiefs
and a crowd of armed men in her yard. With them was a young man, not a
favourite of hers, to whom they attributed the woman's death. She
questioned him, and he asserted that he had not seen the woman for
months, and knew nothing of the supposed witchcraft; but he would take
the poison bean, and, he added vindictively, if he did not die he would
see that they paid for the outrage. She sent a message by the chiefs to
the owner of the woman to dissuade him from inflicting the extreme
test. There was the usual period of uproar, and on her part the usual
recourse to prayer, and then back came the chiefs with the astonishing

"I have heard. I understand that the Mother is determined in her way.
What can I do but submit."

Instead of death the sequel was a feast, a goat was killed, drink
procured, and dancing was indulged in all night. Next day the young man
went home to his aged mother.

6. _Runaway Slaves_

One day when she was baking, a man and his wife, slaves of a chief in
the neighbourhood, came to the door of the Mission House, and after
giving compliments squatted down with the air of people who had come to

"Well, what is the matter?" she asked. She knew the woman had a child,
which could not have been left at home.

A long tale was told. The woman had been in the field all morning
hoeing grass: as the sun rose she and her child grew hungry and she
went home to cook some food. As she was doing so her master, who was
not a favourite either with bond or free, unexpectedly appeared, and
angrily ordered her back to her work. She protested that she needed
food, but, brandishing a sword, he frightened her into flight. Her
husband, a palm-oil worker, heard the noise, and came on the scene,
stopped her, and told her to return and take the food. "What does it
matter?" he remarked, "we are his; he can kill us if he likes; we have
nothing to live for." The master, enraged, seized a gun and fired at
the man, but missed. Taking hold of the screaming child he declared he
would kill it and went off.

It was a simple case, but required delicate handling. She sent one of
her girls to the chief with the message that his slaves were in her
yard, and that as they were householders and elderly people and
parents, she hoped there would be no palaver, and that he would take
them back.

"I will come to-morrow," was the reply.

The runaways slept in the yard and held something of the nature of a
reception, the other slaves coming and condoling with them as the poor
do with each other all the world over. It was like a scene from _Uncle
Tom's Cabin_. One moment the company would encourage them cheerily,
urging them to have patience, then came a string of doleful tales, then
a gush of warm sympathy, and next a burst of laughter, followed by a
shower of tears.

Next day their master did not appear, and they went to work on the
station grounds. The woman was fretting for her child, and Mana, one of
the girls, was sent with another message, to the effect that if he
could not come himself he must, for the woman's sake, send on the babe.
The messenger brought back the news that he was on his way, but was
tipsy, and breathing out dire threats against everybody. When Mary
heard that three of his wives were with him, and that her own chief had
joined the party, her mind was at ease.

His first act was to lie down at her feet. "Ma," he said, "you are the
owner not only of my head but of all my house and my possessions. These
wretched slaves did well to come to you"--and so forth.

She sent for a chair and a palaver of several hours began. The master
sometimes lost control of himself and charged the slave with being full
of sorcery and responsible for all the deaths of recent years. Shaking
his fist in the man's face he cried:

"If it wasn't for the reign of the white woman I would cut you in two!
The white woman is your salvation."

The slave biased with passion, but Mary entreated him to be calm. She
set the matter in the best light. Both had been angry and behaved as
angry people usually do, saying and doing things which in their saner
moods they would have avoided. Alternately scolding and beseeching, and
throwing in a few jokes occasionally, she at last said both must go
home, the master to restrain himself, and the slaves to work faithfully
and not to provoke him, as he had troubles of which they were unaware.

Thus with wise words she pacified them, and when she had given them a
few presents they went off in great good humour. The slaves found that
during their absence thieves had stolen their goats and fowls, but the
return of the child compensated for the loss, and in their gratitude
they sent "Ma" a gift of food.

7. _Spoilt Fashions_

A woman was seized on the assumption that she was concerned in the
death of a girl, and Mary watched day and night until the burial was
over. A goat was killed and placed in the grave, along with cloth,
dishes, pots, salt, a lamp, a lantern, and a tin case of cooked food.
But her presence prevented any one being murdered to bear the dead
company. "Ma!" said a freeman reproachfully, "you have spoiled our
fashions. Before you came, a person took his people with him: now one
must go alone like this poor girl; you have confused Okoyong too much."
The woman who was seized was allowed to take the native oath, praying
that if she had a hand in the girl's death _mbiam_ should eat her and
corrupt her body until she died.

8. _The Cost_

Mr. W. T. Weir, who had joined the Mission staff, paid her a visit one
day, and they were enjoying a cup of tea when she suddenly became alert
and said, "There's something wrong, they will be here in a moment." The
words were hardly spoken when they heard the pit-pat of bare feet
running towards the house. A number of natives appeared, and placing
their hands on the floor shouted, "Ma! come! come! come!"

She said to her guest, "Come on." They reached a large compound filled
with people excitedly shouting and gesticulating. On one side of the
yard lay a girl on a mud slab who seemed to be ill, and opposite was
her mother, in appearance a fiend incarnate. It appeared that the girl,
the daughter of an old chief, had taken a fainting fit, and the mother,
who had once been a refugee in "Ma's" yard, was blaming people for
taking her life.

Mr. Weir examined the girl, and said there was nothing much wrong, but
she was terribly excited with the noise. Mary at once said, "I'll get
quietness," and springing into the middle of the compound she seemed to
exert her utmost will-power, and, crying in the native manner, "_Soi,
wara do_" (Shoo, go out there!), pointed to the door. In a moment, men,
women, and children, including the staid old chief of the village, and
the girl's mother, struggled with each other to get out of the
compound. The scene reminded Mr. Weir of nothing so much as a lot of
sheep being hurried through a gate by a dog. She then came to where he
stood. She was trembling from head to foot, and as she sat down she
remarked, "I am done for this day." The girl was taken over to the
Mission House, and under her care made a quick recovery....

Never in all her dealings with the tribes was she molested in any way.
Once only, in a compound brawl, in which she intervened, was she
struck, but the native who wielded the stick had touched her
accidentally. The cry immediately went up that "Ma" was hurt, and both
sides fell on the wretched man, and would have killed him had she not
gone to the rescue.


In these years far-reaching changes were taking place in regard to the
political status and destiny of the country. Hitherto the British
Government had exercised only a nominal influence over the coast
districts. A consul was stationed at Duke Towns but he had no means of
exercising authority, and the tribes higher up the Cross River would
war upon one another, block the navigation, and murder at will. In 1889
the Imperial Government took steps to arrange for an efficient
administration, and despite difficulties incidental to the absence of a
central native authority succeeded in obtaining the sanction of the
principal chiefs to the establishment of a protectorate--the Niger
Coast Protectorate. In 1891 Sir Claude Macdonald, who had carried out
the negotiations, was appointed Consul--General. No man was better
fitted to lay the foundations of British authority in so backward a
territory. The period of transition from native to civilised rule
brought to the surface many delicate and perplexing problems requiring
tact, skill, and unwearied patience, but the task was successfully
accomplished, though not without an occasional display of force. It was
a special cause of thankfulness to the missionaries that Sir Claude was
in full sympathy with their work, and co-operated with them in every
scheme for the benefit of the people. When he was promoted to Pekin,
the Foreign Mission Board in Scotland expressed their sense of the
value of his efforts in promoting the welfare of the native population.

Sir Claude appointed vice-consuls for the various districts, and was
proposing to send some one to Okoyong. Miss Slessor knew that her
people were not ready for the sudden introduction of new laws, and that
there would be trouble if an outside official came in to impose them.
Sir Claude took her point of view, and recognising her unique position
and influence, empowered her to do all that was necessary, and to
organise and supervise a native court. He then left her very much to
herself, with the result that the inevitable changes were felt least of
all in Okoyong, where they were made through a woman whom the chiefs
and people implicitly trusted. Her position was akin to that of a
consular agent, and she conducted all the public affairs of the tribe.
She presided at the native court. Cases would be referred to her from
Duke Town, and she would travel over Okoyong to try these, taking with
her the consular messenger, who carried back her decision to
headquarters for official signature. Crowds of the natives also visited
her to consult her regarding the readjustment and co-ordination of
their customs with the new laws, and she was able to settle these
matters so quietly that little was heard of her achievements. Although
she rendered great service in this way, creating public opinion,
establishing just laws, and protecting the poor, it was a work she did
not like, and she only accepted it because she thought it in line with
her allegiance to Christ.

Her duties brought her in contact with the officials of the country.
Government men came to see her, and were not only amazed at her
political influence, but charmed with her original qualities. One of
these, Mr. T. D. Maxwell, for whom she had a great regard--"a dear
laddie" she called him--writes:

What sort of woman I expected to see I hardly know; certainly not what
I did. A little frail old lady with a lace or lace-like shawl over her
head and shoulders (that must, I think, have been a concession to a
stranger, for I never saw the thing again), swaying herself in a
rocking-chair and crooning to a black baby in her arms. I remember
being struck--most unreasonably--by the very strong Scottish accent.
Her welcome was everything kind and cordial. I had had a long march, it
was an appallingly hot day, and she insisted on complete rest before we
proceeded to the business of the Court. It was held just below her
house. Her compound was full of litigants, witnesses, and onlookers,
and it was impressive to see how deep was the respect with which she
was treated by them all. She was again in her rocking-chair surrounded
by several ladies-and babies-in-waiting, nursing another infant.

Suddenly she jumped up with an angry growl: her shawl fell off, the
baby was hurriedly transferred to some one qualified to hold it, and
with a few trenchant words she made for the door where a hulking,
overdressed native stood. In a moment she seized him by the scruff of
the neck, boxed his ears, and hustled him out into the yard, telling
him quite explicitly what he might expect if he came back again without
her consent. I watched him and his followers slink away very
crestfallen. Then, as suddenly as it had arisen the tornado subsided,
and (lace shawl, baby, and all) she was again gently swaying in her
chair. The man was a local monarch of sorts, who had been impudent to
her, and she had forbidden him to come near her house again until he
had not only apologised but done some prescribed penance. Under the
pretext of calling on me he had defied her orders--and that was the

I have had a good deal of experience of Nigerian Courts of various
kinds, but have never met one which better deserves to be termed a
Court of Justice than that over which she presided. The litigants
emphatically got justice--sometimes, perhaps, like Shylock, "more than
they desired"--and it was essential justice unhampered by legal
technicalities. One decision I recall--I have often subsequently wished
that I could follow it as a precedent. A sued B for a small debt. B
admitted owing the money, and the Court (that is "Ma") ordered him to
pay accordingly: but she added, "A is a rascal. He treats his mother
shamefully, he neglects his children, only the other day he beat one of
his wives with quite unnecessary vehemence, yes and she was B's sister
too, his farm is a disgrace, he seldom washes, and then there was the
palaver about C's goat a month ago. Oh, of course A didn't steal it, he
was found not guilty wasn't he?--all the same the affair was never
satisfactorily cleared up, and he did look unusually sleek just about
then. On the other hand, B was thrifty and respectable, so before B
paid the amount due he would give A a good sound caning in the presence
of everybody."


Does it seem as if we were watching the career of a woman of hard,
self-reliant, and masculine character, capable of living by herself and
preferring it, and unconscious of the natural weakness of her sex? In
reality Mary was a winsome soul, womanly in all her ways, tremulous
with feeling and sympathy, loving love and companionship, and not
unacquainted with nervousness and fear.

When people saw, or heard of her, toiling with her hands they were apt
to imagine that she possessed a constitution of iron, never realising
that her life was one long martyrdom. She was seldom free from illness
and pain. Whether her methods of life were partly responsible for this
cannot be stated. In any case, she seemed able to do things that would
have proved fatal to other people. She never used mosquito-netting,
which is considered to be indispensable for the security of health in
the tropics. She never wore a hat, which seems a miracle to those who
know the strength of the sun in these regions. Her hair she kept cut
close, partly because it was a cleanlier fashion, and partly because it
was less trouble to look after. Shoes and stockings, also, she never
wore, although jiggers and snakes and poisonous plants were common in
the bush pathways. Mr. James Lindsay, who was the engineer of the
Mission at this time, says, "I walked many miles with her through the
bush, and only once did I know her to be troubled with her feet. She
had been to Duke Town, attending Presbytery, and made some small
concession to the conventions by wearing a pair of knitted woollen
slippers. On returning to Okoyong through the bush, small twigs and
sticks penetrated the wool and pricked her feet. With an expression of
disgust she took the slippers off and threw them into the bush. That
was the only time I saw her other than barefoot." She never boiled or
filtered the water she drank, two precautions which Europeans do not
omit without suffering. She ate native food, and was not particular
when meals were served. Breakfast might be at seven one morning and at
ten the next; dinner might be an hour or two late; but this was, of
course, mainly due to the constant calls upon her time, for she was
often afoot most of the night, and her days were frequently taken up
with long palavers.

These habits, so seemingly eccentric to people lapped In the civilised
order of things, grown naturally out of the circumstances into which
she had been forced In pursuit of the task she had set herself. She had
deliberately given up everything for her Master, and she accepted all
the consequences that the renunciation, involved. What she did was for
Him and as she was not her own and had taken Him at His word and
believed that He would care for her if she kept in line with His will,
she went forward without fear, knowing that she might, through
inadvertence, incur suffering, but willing to bear it for His sake and
His cause. Her faith devotion led her into strange situations, and
these shaped the character of her outward life and habits. She shed
many conventions, simply because it was necessary in order to carry out
the will of Christ. She knew there were some people like the official
who saw her pushing a canoe down to the river and preferred not to know
her; but she was always sustained by the knowledge that she was acting
in her Master's spirit. She found in her New Testament that He ignored
the opinion of the world, and she was never afraid to follow where He
led. "What," says Mr. Lindsay, "she lost in outward respectability she
more than gained in mobility and usefulness. She kept herself
untrammelled in the matter of dress that she might be ready for any
emergency. In of a sudden call in the night to some distant village
where twin children had been thrown out or a bloody quarrel was
imminent, she was literally ready to leave at a moment's notice." The
one thing essential to her was her work, and anything that hampered her
freedom of action was dropped.

Not that she was thoughtlessly reckless of her health. She frequently
wrote about the need of conserving her strength, and stated that she
was taking all due care. She apologised for reading her Bible in bed on
Sunday mornings; it gave her a rest, she said, before she began her
day's work. As her Sunday began at 5.30 A.M. and ended at 7 P.M., and
during the greater part of that time she was walking, preaching, and
teaching, she might well allow herself the indulgence. It may be noted
that she sometimes misplaced Sunday. "I lost it a fortnight ago," she
wrote, "and kept it on a Saturday. Never mind, God would hear all the
prayers and answer them all the same." On another occasion she was
discovered on a Sunday on the roof of the house executing repairs,
thinking it was Monday.

Mr. Ovens relates that once when he went up on a Monday to do some work
he found her holding a service. She was glad to see him; "but what,"
said she, "is Duke Town coming to when its carpenter travels on the
Sabbath Day?"

"Sabbath Day!" he echoed. "It's Monday."

"Monday! why, I thought it was Sabbath. Well, we'll have to keep it as
Sabbath now."

"Na, na," he replied, "it's no Sabbath wi' me. I canna afford two
Sabbaths in a week."

"Ah, we must though," she said; adding in a whisper, "I was
whitewashing the rooms yesterday."

Realising that he must "save her face," he took part in the service and
started his work next morning.

In one of Mr. Goldie's letters to a friend at this time there is a
delightful touch. "I am at Okoyong," he wrote, "and am not sure of the

Her womanly sympathy and tenderness were never better exhibited than in
her relations with her dark sisters about her. She entered into their
lives as few have been able to do. She treated them as human beings,
saw the romance and tragedy in their patient lives, wept over their
trials, and rejoiced in their joys. There was one little idyll of harem
life which she liked to tell.

Some slave-dealers arrived at Ekenge, and among their "bargains" was a
young and handsome girl, whom Edem bought for one of his chief men. Ma
Erne, who heard of the transaction but paid no attention to it, had a
respectable slave-woman at one of her farms whom she ordered to come
and live in her own yard. The woman obeyed somewhat unwillingly, and in
the village began to grumble to others about her enforced removal. The
new slave-girl was cooking her master's food when she heard the voice.
As she listened memories were stirred within her and she ran out and
gazed at the woman, then went nearer and stared closely into her face.
The woman demanded what she was looking at. The girl screamed and
caught her round the neck and uttered a word in a strange language. It
was the name of the woman, who, in turn, stared at the girl. When the
latter called out her own name the two embraced and held each other in
a grip of iron. The daughter had found a mother who had been stolen
many years before. Both went into the yard and sat on the ground
discussing their experiences and receiving the warm congratulations of
the other women in the village.

There was trouble at the time in the district, and Mary had occasion to
see Ma Eme after midnight. She found the two sitting beside some
burning logs, with Ma Eme on the other side, all three talking over the
mystery of life and its pain and parting and sorrow. She squatted down
beside them, and gradually the girl told her story. How she had prayed
to the great God for some one to capture her so that she might have a
chance of finding her mother when the traders went to Calabar. She
believed that among the crowds at Duke Town she would see her face, and
when they left there she almost lost hope.

But "Ma" craved the companionship of her kind, and she enjoyed going
down to Duke Town to the various meetings, and seeing the ladies of the
Mission. She would not leave the children behind, and as the whole
family would descend unexpectedly on a member of the Mission staff,
some embarrassing situations occurred. One missionary, a bachelor, was
preparing to turn in about 10 P.M. when he heard people crowding up the
stairs of the verandahs and a babel of voices. It was "Ma" and all her
boys and girls and babies come to lodge with him for a week.
Fortunately he knew his guests, and, as he surmised, they were content
with the floor. When the household grew, and she could not leave the
children so often, she would sometimes walk with them to Adiabo on the
Calabar River, taking provisions with her, and there, halfway, would
meet and picnic with the Calabar lady agents.

It was about this time that the sense of her loneliness grew upon her
to such, an extent that she could not sleep at nights, "I feel
dreadfully lonely," she wrote, "and want a helper, and I have made up
my mind to ask the Committee at next meeting for a companion." But when
she went to Duke Town and realised the depleted state of the Mission
caused by illness and death, and the manner in which the staff was
overworked, she could not find the heart to prefer her request, and
instead she thanked God for being able to hold on. She added her appeal
to the other requests for workers that were so constantly sent home
then, and her idea of the kind of woman most suited for the Calabar
field is of interest:

... Consecrated, affectionate women who are not afraid of work or of
filth of any kind, moral or material. Women who can nurse a baby or
teach a child to wash and comb as well as to read and write, women who
can tactfully smooth over a roughness and for Christ's sake bear a
snub, and take any place which may open. Women who can take everything
to Jesus and there get strength to smile and persevere and pull on
under any circumstances. If they can play Beethoven and paint and draw
and speak French and German so much the better, but we can want all
these latter accomplishments if they have only a loving heart, willing
hands, and common sense. Surely such women are not out of our reach.
There are thousands of them in our churches, and our home churches have
no monopoly of privilege in choosing to keep them. Spare us a few.
Induce them to come forward. If there be the call from the Holy Spirit
do not let mere accomplishments be a _sine qua non_. Help them to come
forward. Take them to your own homes and let them have the benefit of
all the conversation and refinement and beauty which fill these, and so
gently lead them out of their timidity and accustom them to society
that they may meet out in the world, and hand them on to us. Up in a
station like mine they want to teach the first principles of
everything, and they need to help in times of trouble in the home or in
the town palaver. They will not need fine English, for there is none to
admire it. No one knows other than native languages, and I would gladly
hail any warm-hearted woman from any sphere if she would come to me. I
cannot pretend to work this station: the school work is simply a
scramble at the thing, mostly by the girls of the house. I can't
overtake it. It is because I am not doing it efficiently that I am

On her visits to Calabar she was an object of much interest. One who
knew her then says: "She had the power of attracting young men, and she
had great influence with them. Whether they were in Mission work, or
traders, or government men, they were sure to be attracted by her
vigorous character and by the large-hearted, understanding way she
would talk to them or listen to their talk of their work or other
interests. She loved to stir them to do great things."

It was sometimes remarked by visitors that her surroundings had not the
spick-and-span appearance which usually characterises a Scottish
Mission station. She had, nevertheless, a real appreciation of order
and beauty, and liked to have everything clean and tidy about her. How
to accomplish this was her daily problem, and perhaps only those who
have lived in tropical lands can understand the position. The
difficulty there is not how to make things grow, but how to prevent
them growing. She waged as fierce and incessant a war with vegetation
as she did with man, but it proved too much for her strength. "I
think," she wrote, "if I left alone some of the outdoor work, even it
the place did go to bush and dirt, I would not be so tired, and I could
do more otherwise. But I can't help it. I must put my hands in wherever
there is work to be done." The task had not become easier for her, for
the new trade with Calabar had brought about a demand for Okoyong yams,
and the people were so busy planting at their farms that she was unable
to hire labour. The bush would creep up swiftly and stealthily to the
edge of the dwellings and become a covering for beasts of prey, and,
then she and her girls would sally out and cut it down and burn it and
dig out the roots. And in its place would be planted corn and cocos and
yams and other products, the children each having a plot to tend. A
private pathway to the spring which she had constructed in order that
the girls might not mix with the village women and hear their talk had
also to be kept clear. It was hard work in the hot sunshine, and she
and her bairns literally watered the soil with their perspiration. But
no tears were shed at the work save those caused by merry jokes and
laughter. She often surveyed the scene with pride, revelling in the
wild beauty of form and colour, the brilliancy of the flowering trees,
the tender green of the yams on their supports, the starry jasmine with
its keen perfume. She loved flowers, and taught her scholars to bring
them to school. They had never been conscious of these before, and the
fact that they began to appreciate them was, she considered, a step
forward in their educational development.

Often she longed for the power to bring out thousands of the slum
people from the cities at home to enjoy the open life, and to work the
rich lands. Not that she used the word "slum"; it seemed to reflect on
the poor, many of whom she regarded as the heroes and heroines of God;
in her humility she believed that many of them would have been far
ahead of her if they had had the same advantages. One of her day-dreams
was to inherit a fortune and to spend it all on the poor. "If only"--
but she would check herself and say, "Mary Slessor! as if God does not
know what to give and how to give it, and as if He did not love and
think for all these poor creatures who are so mercilessly pushed aside
in the race of life."


Of all the tasks to which she put her hand the sweetest as well as the
saddest was the care of the babes of the bush. Her house was the refuge
of little children: sickly ones that were left with her to nurse and
return; discarded ones that were taken to her; outcast ones that she
rescued from injury and death. So many came, received names, were
described in her letters, and then passed out of sight, that her
friends in Scotland were unable to keep abreast of her efforts in this

They arrived in all stages of sickness, but usually the last. With many
a broken body she had never a chance, but with marvellous patience and
tenderness she washed them and nursed them and loved them and fought
the dark shadow that was ever ready to hover over the tiny forms. Night
after night she would sit up watching a face that was wasted and
twisted with pain, or walk to and fro crooning snatches of song to
soothe a restless mite in her arms. Sometimes a hammock was slung up
beside her into which they were placed, so that if they awoke during
the night she could touch it with her foot and swing them to sleep
again. More than once, when the supply of condensed milk ran out, she
strapped her latest baby to her body and tramped the long miles to
Creek Town through the bush, and returned next day with the child and
the tins.

The children that were brought back to health and strength and restored
to their parents it was always a pang to part with. She wished she
could have kept them and trained them up away from the degraded
influences of their homes. Those who died she dressed and placed among
flowers in a box, held a service over them, and buried them in a little
cemetery, which by and by became full of tiny graves. She mourned over
them as if they had been blood of her blood. Mr. Ovens used to say to
her, "Never mind, lassie, you'll get plenty mair"--and indeed there
were always plenty,

Of all the African children that passed through her hands none endeared
itself so much to her as Susie, her first Okoyong twin. The mother,
Iye, was a slave from Bende, light in colour and handsome, and was the
property of one of the big women, who treated her with kindness and
consideration. When the twins arrived all was changed. Miss Kingsley,
who arrived at Ekenge the same day on a visit to Mary, thus describes
the scene:

She was subjected to torrents of virulent abuse, her things were torn
from her, her English china basins, possessions she valued most highly,
were smashed, her clothes were torn, and she was driven out as an
unclean thing. Had it not been for the fear of incurring Miss Slessor's
anger, she would, at this point have been killed with her children, and
the bodies thrown into the bush. As it was, she was hounded out of the
village. The rest of her possessions were jammed into an empty gin-case
and cast to her. No one would touch her, as they might not touch to
kill. Miss Slessor had heard of the twins' arrival and had started off,
barefooted and bareheaded, at that pace she can go down a bush path. By
the time she had gone four miles she met the procession, the woman
coming to her, and all the rest of the village yelling and howling
behind her. On the top of her head was the gin-case, into which the
children had been stuffed, on the top of them the woman's big brass
skillet, and on the top of that her two market calabashes. Needless to
say, on arriving Miss Slessor took charge of affairs, relieving the
unfortunate, weak, staggering woman from her load and carrying it
herself, for no one else would touch it, or anything belonging to those
awful twin things, and they started back together to Miss Slessor's
house in the forest-clearing, saved by that tact which, coupled with
her courage, has given Miss Slessor an influence and a power among the
negroes unmatched in its way by that of any other white.

She did not take the twins and their mother down the village path to
her own house, for though, had she done so, the people of Okoyong would
not have prevented her, yet so polluted would the path have been and so
dangerous to pass down, that they would have been compelled to cut
another, no light task in that bit of forest, I assure you. So Miss
Slessor stood waiting in the broiling sun, in the hot season's height,
while a path was being cut to enable her just to get through to her own
grounds. The natives worked away hard, knowing that it saved the
polluting of a long stretch of market road, and when it was finished
Miss Slessor went to her own house by it, and attended with all
kindness, promptness, and skill to the woman and children. I arrived in
the middle of this affair for my first meeting with Miss Slessor, and
things at Okoyong were rather crowded, one way and another, that
afternoon. All the attention one of the children wanted--the boy, for
there were a boy and a girl--was burying, for the people who had
crammed them into the box had utterly smashed the child's head. The
other child was alive, and is still a member of that household of
rescued children, all of whom owe their lives to Miss Slessor.

The natives would not touch it, and only approached it after some days,
and then only when it was held by Miss Slessor or me. If either of us
wanted to do or get something, and we handed over the bundle to one of
the house children to hold, there was a stampede of men and women off
the verandah, out of the yard, and over the fence, if need be, that was
exceedingly comic, but most convincing as to the reality of the terror
and horror in which they held the thing. Even its own mother could not
be trusted with the child; she would have killed it. She never betrayed
the slightest desire to have it with her, and after a few days' nursing
and feeding up she was anxious to go back to her mistress, who, being
an enlightened woman, was willing to have her if she came without the

The woman's own lamentations were pathetic. She would sit for hours
singing or rather mourning out a kind of dirge over herself: "Yesterday
I was a woman, now I am a horror, a thing all people ran from.
Yesterday they would eat with me, now they spit on me. Yesterday they
would talk to me with sweet mouth, and now they greet me only with
curses and execrations. They have smashed my basin, they have torn my
clothes," so on, and so on. There was no complaint against the people
for doing these things, only a bitter sense of injury against some
superhuman power that had sent this withering curse of twins down on

The surviving infant, Susie, was not commonplace in feature like the
other black children; she was not in reality a negress, but fair,
shapely, and clean-skinned, with a nose like a white child's and a
sweet mouth--a mouth which Miss Kingsley called the "button-hole."
Every one loved her, and she was queen of the household.

When she was fourteen months old Miss Slessor one day went to the
dispensary and left her in charge of Mana, who put down a jug of
boiling water on the floor beside her. Susie thought it a plaything,
and, seizing it, pulled it over upon herself. Instead of calling for
"Ma" Mana ran with the child to the bathroom and poured cold water over
the wounds. For thirteen days and nights she was never out of Mary's
hands. Fortunately Miss Murray, a lady agent who, at her own request,
had been stationed at Okoyong for a time, and whose companionship she
valued, helped her greatly. "She was like a sister to me," she wrote.
Thinking more might be done by a medical man she started off with the
child in her arms, arrived at Creek Town at midnight, and woke up the
doctor, who, however, said he could not do more than she had done. She
returned at once to Ekenge, and again watched the suffering babe by day
and night. In the darkness and silence, when all were asleep, she would
hear the faint words, "Mem, Mem, Mem!"--the child's name for her--and
the wee hand would be held up for her to kiss. Early one Sunday morning
she passed away in her arms. Robed in a pinafore, with her beads and a
sash, and a flower in her hand, she looked "like an angel child."

The event caused a strange stir in Okoyong. None of the villagers went
to their farms or market while the child was hovering on the brink of
death, and when she passed away they came and mourned with "Ma."

She was buried in the cemetery where so many other hapless waifs were
already at rest. In her anguish Mary could not conduct the service, but
sat at the window and looked out while Miss Murray bravely took her
place. The people, respectful and sad, gathered round the grave--the
grave of a twin!--and one of the women, a leader in heathenism, praised
the white Mother's God for the child, and prayed that they might all
have her hope in the Beyond. "Surely," was Mary's comment, "they all
felt the vast difference between their burials with all their drink and
madness, and ours so full of quiet hope and expectant faith."

The slave-mother had often come to visit her, and had actually got to
love the child, and when it died she was heartbroken. "Ma," she said,
"don't cry. I have done this. God hates me. I shall go away and not
bring any more evil on you." With that she went back to her hut in the

"If I were a wealthy woman," said "Ma," "I would buy her; but I cannot
afford it, so we must do our best to cheer her up."

Although she objected to buying slave-women, even to restore them to
freedom, on account of the wrong impression it left on the native mind,
she made an exception in the case of Iye, and not long afterwards she
was able to purchase her liberty for L10, and she became an inmate of
the Mission House, Miss Slessor's intention being to train her so that
she might be useful to any lady who lived at the station during her
absences in Scotland. To the natives Iye was an outcast, and had "no
character." "_Etubom_," Mary said to Mr. Ovens, "If a slave-dealer came
round I would not get L6 for her." "Why?" said he. "She has no
character." "But he would buy her and take her up country." "What for?"
"To feed her for chop!"...

For some time she suffered physically from the shock she had received.
No mother could have grieved more bitterly over the loss of a beloved
child. "My heart aches for my darling," she wrote. "Oh the empty place,
and the silence and the vain longing for the sweet voice and the soft
caress and the funny ways. Oh, Susie, Susie!"


Miss Kingsley paid her visit to the West Coast in 1893. Like all who
travelled in West Africa, she heard of the woman missionary who lived
alone among the wild Okoyong, and made a point of going up to see her.
Miss Slessor welcomed so capable and earnest a worker, "She gave me,"
says Miss Kingsley, "some of the pleasantest days of my life." In some
respects these two brilliant women were much akin, though they were
poles asunder in regard to their outlook on spiritual verities. They
had long discussions on religious subjects, and would sit up late
beating over such questions as the immortality of the soul. Miss
Kingsley was profoundly impressed. "I would give anything to possess
your beliefs," she said wistfully, "but I can't, I can't; when God made
me He must have left out the part that one believes with."

Nevertheless Miss Slessor said that for all her beliefs and unbeliefs
she was one of the most truly Christian women she had ever met. On her
return to England Miss Kingsley spoke often of her in terms of
affection and admiration, and acknowledged to friends that she had done
her much spiritual good. Mary, on her part, poured into her possession
all her treasures of knowledge concerning the fetish ideas and
practices of the natives, and probably none knew more about these
matters than she. Most missionaries confess that they never get to the
back of the negro mind, and one who worked in a neighbouring field once
said that after nineteen years' careful study he had yet to master the
intricacies of native superstition. The information that Mary supplied
was therefore of great value, and much of it was utilised in Miss
Kingsley's books. In _Travels in West Africa_ she gives the following
considered view of the missionary:

This very wonderful lady has been eighteen years in Calabar; for the
last six or seven living entirely alone, as far as white folks go, in a
clearing in the forest near to one of the principal villages of the
Okoyong district, and ruling as a veritable white chief over the entire
district. Her great abilities, both physical and intellectual, have
given her among the savage tribe a unique position, and won her, from
white and black who know her, a profound esteem. Her knowledge of the
native, his language, his ways of thought, his diseases, his
difficulties, and all that is his, is extraordinary, and the amount of
good she has done, no man can fully estimate. Okoyong, when she went
there alone--living in the native houses while she built, with the
assistance of the natives, her present house--was a district regarded
with fear by the Duke and Creek Town natives, and practically unknown
to Europeans. It was given, as most of the surrounding districts still
are, to killing at funerals, ordeal by poison, and perpetual
internecine wars. Many of these evil customs she has stamped out, and
Okoyong rarely gives trouble to its nominal rulers, the Consuls, in Old
Calabar, and trade passes freely through it down to the seaports. This
instance of what one white can do would give many important lessons in
West Coast administration and development. Only the sort of man Miss
Slessor represents is rare. There are but few who have the same power
of resisting the malarial climate, and of acquiring the language and an
insight into the negro mind, so perhaps after all it is no great wonder
that Miss Slessor stands alone, as she certainly does.

With all her robust ability Miss Kingsley's mental range was curiously
narrow. She wrote strongly against Protestant missionary aims and
methods in West Africa, her views being entirely opposed to those of
the White Woman of Okoyong, who had a much greater right to speak on
the subject. But the latter, nevertheless, loved her, and when the news
of her death came, some years later, she was plunged into grief. "The
world held not many so brave and so noble," she wrote. "Life feels very
cold and seems grey and sunless." Hearing of a proposed memorial to the
intrepid traveller she sent a guinea as her mite towards it.


An outburst of fighting had taken place amongst the factions around
Ekenge. Women were the cause of it, and a number had been herded into a
stockade near the Mission House, where a band of men were proceeding to
murder them. Mary came on the scene and held them at bay. All day she
stood there and all night, her girls handing her from time to time a
cup of tea through the poles of the enclosure. Next night matters had
become quieter, a tornado of rain and wind having eased the situation,
but she was soaked, whilst the mats of the Mission House had blown up
and the interior had been flooded, so that both the girls and herself
needed dry garments. Then the condensed milk was nearly done, she was
told, and the baby she was nursing would suffer without it. Both
clothing and milk could only be procured from Calabar, and as she had
no messenger to despatch there, she resolved to go herself.

After dark she stole out of the stockade, placed the child in a basket,
secured a woman as guide, and with a lantern started out to walk
through the bush to Creek Town. She reached Adiabo on the Calabar River
about half-past ten, obtained a cup of tea from the native pastor, and
pushed on. Her guide lost the way, a deluge of rain fell, and they
wandered aimlessly for a time through the dripping forest, before again
striking the track.

Creek Town was reached at four o'clock in the morning. She knocked up
Miss Johnstone, who sent her to bed for an hour, and sought for some
tins of milk. As soon as two had been procured Mary was eager to be
off. Miss Johnstone gave her some changes of clothing, and King Eyo put
his canoe and a strong crew at her disposal, and she was soon speeding
up-river. On her arrival she found to her satisfaction that her absence
had not been discovered, and she was able eventually to restore peace
without the shedding of blood.

Two days later a canoe which came down-river to Duke Town brought word
that she was ill with dysentery. Dr. Laws of Livingstonia, who was then
visiting the Mission as a deputy, happened to be at Creek Town and was
asked to go and see her with Mr. Manson, one of the industrial staff,
as guide. Their canoe was nearly swamped by rain, and they had to
change their clothing when they arrived. She was soon up and through to
the hall to provide hospitality for her guests, supporting herself by
the table the while. A peremptory order came from Dr. Laws to return to
bed at once. She gave him a long curious look, and then without a word
went and lay down. He noticed that his companion appeared both
astonished and amused, and it was not until he returned to Calabar, and
heard Mr. Manson telling how "Ma" Slessor had been taken in charge for
once, that he realised how bold he had been. Dr. Laws thought that few
women, or even men, could have stood the isolation that she endured.


Although force of circumstances made her the instrument of law and
order her chief aim was to win the people to Christ, and all her
efforts were directed to that end. It was for souls she was always
hungering, and the lack of conversions was her greatest sorrow.
Nevertheless she was making progress. The people were becoming familiar
with the name of God and Christ and the principles underlying the
Gospel, and there were many who leant more to the new way than to the
old, whilst some in their hearts believed. The boys that were being
trained at school and service were perhaps the most cheering element in
the situation, and upon them she set her hopes.

It was wonderful that she achieved what she did in view of the
conditions that prevailed. How difficult it was for a native to break
away from habits and customs ingrained in them through centuries of
repetition may be gathered from the story of Akom, a freewoman, one of
the most self-righteous of the big ladies of the district. She had been
betrothed, when a year old, to a young and powerful chief, and had been
brought up in the harem and was a zealous upholder of all superstitious
practices. On her lord's death she escaped the poison ordeal, and was
active in placing wives and slaves into the grave. By and by Ekpenyong
made her his wife and mistress of the harem, and for twenty years she
held undisputed sway.

When Edem's son was killed by the falling of a log it will be
remembered that Ekpenyong was blamed for the event and retired to the
bush. Not long afterwards a young chief there fell sick, and the witch-
doctor on consulting his oracle declared that he saw Akom and her son
dancing the whole night long, and gaily piercing the sick man with
knives and spears. Akom was charged with sorcery, and asked to take the
poison ordeal. Her friends advised her to flee, and she and her son
disappeared during the night and took refuge in Umon, where the people
gave them the protection of their _ibritam_ or juju.

"Ma" was in Scotland at the time. When she returned Ekpenyong begged
her to interfere and have his wife brought back. This she managed to do
after Akom had taken _mbiam_--the strongest and most dreaded of native
oaths, which included the drinking of blood shed from the wrist. The
woman came to see her, but stood outside. "What?" exclaimed "Ma," "you
cannot come within my gate?" "No," was the reply; "you had a twin-
mother once living in the yard, and I cannot come in lest I touch the
place she touched," Those who took the _mbiam_ oath, believed that they
would die if they came in contact in any way with a twin-mother. "Ma"
pretended to be hurt, and said, "If my house is polluted you had better
go home, as I do not receive visitors on the road." After a time Akom
ventured in, and she was kind to her and gave her an order for mats, at
the making of which she was an adept.

She then came regularly and listened intently to "Ma's" teaching,
although she said nothing. By and by she began to remark on the purity
of the Gospel religion and show increased reverence at the services.
Twins came, and she mastered her fear and went into the house. But
alas! a mysterious pain straightway developed in her foot, and this
surely was _mbiam_ punishing her; and when a skin disease followed, her
faith nearly failed her, and she wailed and mourned in despair. "Ma"
spoke strongly to her; and at last she rose and said, "I am a fool; my
God, my Father, listen not to my foolishness. Kill me if Thou wilt, but
do not leave me."

The disease was checked, and a native medicine effected a cure. But she
stood out against any sacrifice, saying very sensibly, "My Father owns
the bush and gives us the knowledge of the medicine, and as the Master
knows what He has made He knows also how to bless it apart from any

Ekpenyong all this while had ignored his wife, expecting that the
_mbiam_ would do its work. He looked grimly on, and when she injured
her foot against a root he believed the end had arrived. All the people
watched the struggle between the white woman's prayers and the
_mbiam's_ power, and when the wound healed they were nonplussed, but
quaintly explained the miracle by saying that their Mother was
different from other white people, and so had prevailed.

Akom grew in grace despite her surroundings, and found strength in her
contact with Christ. An amazing thing to her was that the man who had
accused her of witchcraft came and made friends with her.

"Ma," she said, "see what God has wrought. The man who demanded my life
comes to tell me his affairs! I sometimes wanted to take revenge, but I
have got it from God, and His revenge is of a sweeter kind than that of
the Consul."

It was cases like this that coloured Miss Slessor's life with joy.
Sometimes, too, she was unexpectedly cheered by evidence of the fruit
of her work in past days. In 1894 a lad, an old scholar of hers in Duke
Town, turned up in the village. He had made good use of his education,
and wherever he went, on farm and on beach, he held worship and got the
people to listen. It was not surprising that she regarded the boys as
her most hopeful agents, although she was always very careful in
choosing them as teachers for bush schools; she thought it belittled
the message to send those who were not thoroughly fit for the work.


The most joyous break in the domestic life at Ekenge, both for the
house-mother and the children, was caused by the arrival of boxes of
gifts from Scotland. So many congregations and Sunday Schools had
become interested in her and her work that there was a continuous
stream of packages to Okoyong. "I am ashamed at receiving so much," she
would say. Her own friends also remembered her; and on one occasion she
wrote to a lady who had sent a personal contribution, "It seems like a
box from a whole congregation, not from an individual."

She was specially delighted with the articles that came from the
children of the Church, and many a letter she wrote in return to the
scholars in Sunday Schools. None knew better how to thank them. She
would give them a picture of the landing of the boxes at Duke Town, and
the journey up the Calabar River in the canoe or in the steamer _David
Williamson_--which they had themselves subscribed for and supplied--to
the beach, and of the excitement when the engineer came over, perhaps
with visitors, to announce the arrival. "White people come, Ma!" The
cry by day or night always roused the household. One girl ran to make
up the fire and put on the kettle, another placed the spare room in
order, a third took the hand parcels and wraps, and "Ma" herself
welcomed the guests with a Scottish word or two, and a warm hand-clasp.
They would give her home letters, but these she would lay aside until
she was more at leisure. Then a whisper would go round that there were
goods at the beach, and every man, woman, and child about the place
would be eager to be off to bring them up. But the boxes would be too
large and heavy to be borne on heads through the forest, and they would
be opened and the contents made up into packages, with which the
carriers marched off in single file. Depositing them at the house they
would return for more until all were safely conveyed. Then the articles
would be exposed amidst cries of wonder and delight, and the house
become like a bazaar. Sometimes there would be a mix-up of articles,
but the loving messages pinned on to each would clear up the confusion.
Mary dearly loved to linger over each gift and spin a little history
into it, and she would pray with a full heart, "Lord Jesus thou knowest
the giver and the love and the prayers and the self-denial. Bless and
accept and use all for Thy glory and for the good of these poor
straying ignorant children, and repay all a thousandfold."

She was careful in her allocation of the gifts amongst the people in
order that they might not be regarded as a bribe to ensure good
behaviour or attendance at the services. She would not even give them
as payment for work done, as this, she thought, put the service on a
commercial basis and made them look again for an equivalent gain.
Pictures and texts, like dolls, were somewhat of a problem, as there
was a danger of the people worshipping them. But they liked to beautify
their squalid huts with them, and she regarded them as an educative and
civilising agency not to be despised. Also to a certain extent they
gave an indication of those who had sympathy with the new ideas, and
were sometimes a silent confession of a break with heathenism.

To one old woman, the first Christian, was given a copy of "The Light
of the World." Holding it reverently she exclaimed, "Oh! I shall never
be lonely any more. I can't read the Book, but I can sit or lie and
look at my Lord, and we can speak together. Oh, my Saviour, keep me
till I see you up yonder!" It was explained that the picture was an
allegory, and the woman understood; but she simply saw Christ in all
the fervour of her newborn love and faith, and Mary trusted to keep her
right by daily teaching.

Some of the articles found odd uses. A dress would be given to a girl
who was entering into seclusion for fattening; a dressing-gown would go
to the chief who was a member of the native Court, and he would wear it
when trying cases, to the admiration of the people; a white shirt would
be presented to another chief, and he would don it like a State robe
when paying "Ma" a formal visit. Blouses she retained, since no native
women wore them. The pretty baby-clothes were a source of wonder to the
people--they were speechless at the idea of infants wearing such
priceless things. It must be confessed that there was something for
which "Ma" always searched when a box from her own friends arrived.
Like the children she was fond of sweets, and there would be a shriek
of delight from more than juvenile lips when the well-known tins and
bottles were discovered in some corner where they had been designedly


"Religious missions have worked persistently and well, and pointed out
to the people the evil of their cruelties and wrongdoing, but there
comes a time when their efforts need backing up by the strong arm of
the law of civilisation and right."

Sir Claude Macdonald wrote this in the autumn of 1894. Perhaps he had
in mind the case of Okoyong. For in that year Miss Slessor came to the
conclusion that it was time to invoke the great power which lay behind
her in order to put a stop to the practice of killing on charges of

She was busy with a twin-murder case when word suddenly arrived that a
man was being blamed for causing his master's death, and that a palaver
was going on. She sent some of the children at once to say that when
her household had retired she would walk over in the moonlight. But a
tornado came on, and the rain poured all night. As soon as it cleared
she despatched a message: "Don't do anything till I come--I will come
when the bush is drier." On receiving this the accuser rose: "Am I not
to give him any ordeal till Ma comes? I will not be able to do it then!
She won't be willing. Unlock his chains and take him to Okat Ikan,
where he will be beyond her reach."

Seizing the man his henchmen hurried him off, and the chief followed
with a grunt of satisfaction at having outwitted the White Mother.

When she heard of the manoeuvre she determined not to go wandering
aimlessly in the bush in search of the party. She resolved to do what
she had never done before, send down to the Consulate at Duke Town and
seek the assistance of the Government not only to rescue this
particular victim, but to end the evil throughout the length and
breadth of Okoyong.

The house-girls became aware of her intention, and the news that "Ma's"
patience, so often and so sorely tried, was at last exhausted, and that
she was going to adopt stronger measures, spread swiftly through the
villages. In order not to involve any native in the transaction she was
the bearer of her own communication to the beach, and she was not long
gone on her walk through the forest when the people concerned arrived
breathlessly at the Mission House to beg her to forgive them for going
beyond her voice.

"Ma is away," announced the children, "and you cannot reach her now."

Sadder and wiser they returned to their village, for they feared the
Consul, who was associated in their minds with big guns and burnt
towns. She returned late at night, wearied with the journey, yet was up
early in the morning again and walked six miles in intense heat to a
palaver, carrying a couple of babies. When she arrived she was at the
point of fainting.

The next night the slave who had been carried off succeeded in breaking
the lock of his chains and escaped to the Mission House. In his baffled
rage his master chained all who belonged to him, but fear of the
impending visit of the Consul made him reflect, and he sent word later
to "Ma" to ask her forgiveness, and to say that all the people had been
freed. He asked her to go down to Duke Town and make the Consul come
"in peace and not in war." She did so, taking the refugee with her. The
Consul adopted her view of the situation, and arranged to visit the
district and hold a conference. To this she invited all the chiefs,
telling them to free their minds of fear, and preparing them for the
subjects that would be dealt with.

It was Mr. Moor, the Vice-Consul, who came, and he brought a small
guard of honour which paraded in the village, and gave Okoyong a
greater thrill than it had yet experienced. Mr. Moor found "Ma" on the
roof of her house repairing the mats which had been leaking, but she
was not in the least perturbed, and received him with perfect
composure. He was very patient and kind with the chiefs, but sought to
impress upon them the necessity for some improvement in their habits.
Already Mary had been much impressed with the new stamp of Government
official under Sir Claude Macdonald, and this representative of the
class she thought one of the best.

As a result of the conference the chiefs promised to abstain from
killing at funerals, and to allow "Ma" to have an opportunity of saving
twins and caring for them in a special hut. She gave thanks to God; but
she knew the African nature, and did not relax her vigilance. A month
after the Consul's visit a kinsman of the above chief, older and much
more wealthy, died suddenly. "We trembled for their promise to the
Consul," she wrote, "but we left them to themselves, believing that it
was better to trust them to a great extent, and instead of going and
staying with them to watch, we sent our compliments and gifts, and told
them we expected they would remember their treaty and the consequences
of any breach of faith. After all was over not a slave or vassal was
missing, and though there were not wanting idle tongues let loose by
the unlimited supply of strong drink, and brawlings, and determinations
to take the poison of their own accord in order to prove their
innocence, not one person has died as the direct result of the dread

Mrs. Weir once spent a week-end at Okoyong, and accompanied her to a
village two or three miles away where she was in the habit of going to
conduct a service. When they arrived they found that the head of a
house had died, and was being buried, according to custom, inside the
house. They were taken to the place and saw the dead man's possessions
--his pipe, snuff-box, powder-flask, and other articles--placed in the
grave in order that they might be useful to him in the other world.
Mrs. Weir could not help wondering at their superstition after all the
teaching that they had been given. She said nothing; but Mary, with her
keen intuition, read her thoughts and said. "You will be thinking they
are not very different yet, but when I came to Okoyong, do you think I
would have seen men and women moving freely about like this? They would
have all been refugees in the bush, and those who had been caught would
have been in chains, waiting to be put to death, so that their spirits
might accompany the chief."

Towards the end of the year she had what she called one of her descents
into the valley of the shadow, and was removed to Duke Town. "Daddy"
Anderson, who had retired, but had come out again to Calabar on a
visit, walked over to see her; he said very little, but just sat and
held her hand. He, himself, was passing into the shadow, but not to
return. She was with him at the last, and did her best to comfort him.
"Dear Daddy Anderson!" she wrote; "Calabar seems a strange land to me
now. All the friends are strangers to the old order. The Calabar of my
girlhood is among the things of the past."

Her scepticism regarding the promise of the people was justified, for
the killing of twins went on as usual; and in the following year she
brought up Sir Claude Macdonald himself to renew the covenant. Sir
Claude was all kindness and courtesy, assuring the chiefs that he did
not come to take their country, but to guide them into a proper way of
governing it, that all, bond and free, might dwell in safety and peace.
What he insisted on was their recognition of the claims of justice and
humanity. The spokesman, an old greyheaded man, said they wished to
retire, in order to consult together. On returning he naively excused
their conduct by stating that when they only heard words once they
thought the matter unworthy of their consideration, but when they were
repeated, they thought there must be something in them, and so they
would obey the requirements of the Government this time. As regards
twins, they were doubtful, "We are not sure that no evil will happen to
us if we obey you; we have our fear, but we will try." They would not,
however, consent to keep them in their own homes, and again Mary said
that if they would notify her of the births she would be responsible
for their welfare.

She had been acting as interpreter, and as the palaver lasted from
early morning until after dark she was much fatigued. Her last words
were to encourage the chiefs to keep their pledge, and they would enjoy
the benefits when she might be no more with them. The very suggestion
of farewell alarmed them. "God cannot take you away from your
children," they exclaimed, "until they are able to walk by themselves."


Africa is slow to change: the centuries roll over it, leaving scarcely
a trace of their passing: the years come and go, and the people remain
the same: all effort seems in vain. Could one weak woman affect the
conditions even in a small district of the mighty continent?

It had been uphill work for her. At first there had been only a dogged
response to the message she had brought. When some impression had been
made she found that it soon disappeared. In ordinary life the people
were volatile, quick as fire to resent, and as quick to forgive and
forget, and they were the same in regard to higher things. They went
into rapture over the Gospel, prayed aloud, clasped their hands, shed
tears, and then went back to their drinking, sacrificing, and
quarrelling. They kept to all the old ways, in case they might miss the
right one. "Yes, Ma," they would say, "that is right for you; but you
and we are different."

But she never lost hope. "There is not much progress to report," she
was accustomed to say, "and yet very much to thank God for, and to lead
us to take courage." She was quite content to go on bringing rays of
sunshine into the dark lives of the people, and securing for the
children better conditions than their fathers had. "After all," she
would say, "it comes back to this, Christ sent me to preach the Gospel,
and He will look after results." She was always much comforted by the
thought of something she had heard the Rev. Dr. Beatt, of her old
church in Aberdeen, say in a sermon: she could recall nothing but the
heads, and one of these was, "_Between the sower and the reaper stands
the Husbandman._" But results there were of a most important kind, and
it is time to take stock of them. Fortunately she was induced at this
time to jot down some impressions of her work, and these, which were
never published, give the best idea of the remarkable change which had
been wrought in the life and habits of Okoyong. It will be noticed that
she does not use the pronoun "I." Whenever she gave a statement of her
work she always wrote "we," as if she were a co-worker with a Higher

"In these days of high pressure," she says, "men demand large profits
and quick returns in every department of our commercial and national
life, and these must be served up with the definiteness and precision
of statistics. This abnormal and feverish haste has entered to some
extent into our religious work, and is felt more or less in all the
pulses of our Church. Whatever may be the reasons for such a course in
regard to worldly callings, its methods and standards are utterly
foreign to the laws of Christ's kingdom, and can only result in
distortions and miscalculations when applied to His work. While
thanking God for every evidence of life and growth, we shrink from
reducing the throes of spiritual life, the development and workings of
the conscience, or the impulse and trend toward God and righteousness,
to any given number of figures on a table. Hence it is with the
greatest reluctance that we endeavour to sum up some tangible proof of
the power of God's Word among our heathen neighbours. While to our
shame and confusion of face it has not been what it might, and would
have been had we been more faithful and kept more in line with the will
and spirit of God, it has to the praise of the glory of His grace
proved stronger than sin and Satan.

"We do not attempt to give in numbers those who are nominally
Christian. Women, lads, girls, and a few men profess to have placed
themselves in God's hands. All the children within reach are sent to
the school without stipulation. One lady of free birth and good
position has borne persecution for Christ's sake. We speak with
diffidence; for as no ordained minister has ever been resident or
available for more than a short visit, no observance of the ordinances
of Baptism or the Lord's Supper have been held and we have not had the
usual definite offers of persons as candidates for Church membership,
We have just kept on sowing the seed of the Word, believing that when
God's time comes to gather them into the visible Church there will be
some among us ready to participate in the privilege and honour.

"Of results as affecting the condition and conduct of our people
generally, it is more easy to speak. Raiding, plundering, the stealing
of slaves, have almost entirely ceased. Any person from any place can
come now for trade of pleasure, and stay wherever they choose, their
persons and property being as safe as in Calabar. For fully a year we
have heard of nothing like violence from even the most backward of our
people. They have thanked me for restraining them in the past, and
begged me to be their consul, as they neither wished black man nor
white man to be their king. It would be impossible, apart from a belief
in God's particular and personal providence in answer to prayer, to
account for the ready obedience and submission to our judgment which
was accorded to us. It seemed sometimes to be almost miraculous that
hordes of armed, drunken, passion-swayed men should give heed and
chivalrous homage to a woman, and one who had neither wealth nor
outward display of any kind to produce the slightest sentiment in her
favour. But such was the case, and we do not recollect one instance of

"As their intercourse with the white men increased through trade or
otherwise, they found that to submit to his authority did not mean loss
of liberty but the opposite, and gradually their objections cleared
away, till in 1894 they formally met and bound themselves to some
extent by treaty with the Consul. Again, later, our considerate,
patient, tactful Governor, Sir Claude Macdonald, met them, and at that
interview the last objection was removed, and they promised
unconditional surrender of the old laws which were based on
unrighteousness and cruelty, and cordial acceptance of the just and, as
they called it, 'clean' code which he proffered them in return, Since
then he has proclaimed them a free people in every respect among
neighbouring tribes, and so, placing them on their honour, so to speak,
has made out of the roughest material a lot of self-respecting men who
conduct their business in a fashion from which Europeans might take
lessons. Of course they need superintendence and watching, for their
ideas are not so nicely balanced as ours in regard to the shades and
degrees of right and wrong, but as compared with their former ideas and
practice they are far away ahead of what we expected.

"No tribe was formerly so feared because of their utter disregard of
human life, but human life is now safe. No chief ever died without the
sacrifice of many lives, but this custom has now ceased. Only last
month the man who, for age, wealth, and general influence, exceeded all
the other chiefs in Okoyong, died from the effects of cold caught three
months before. We trembled, as they are at some distance from us, and
every drop of European drink which could be bought from all the towns
around was bought at once, and canoes were sent from every hamlet with
all the produce at command to Duke Town for some more, and all was
consumed before the people dispersed from the funeral. But the only
death resulting has been that of a man, who, on being blamed by the
witch-doctors, went and hanged himself because the chiefs in
attendance--drunk as they were--refused to give him the poison ordeal.
Some chiefs, gathered for palaver at our house on the day of his death,
in commenting on the wonderful change said, 'Ma, you white people are
God Almighty. No other power could have done this.'

"With regard to infanticide and twin-murder we can speak hopefully. It
will doubtless take some time to develop in them the spirit of self-
sacrifice to the extent of nursing the vital spark for the mere love of
God and humanity among the body of the people. The ideals of those
emerging from heathenism are almost necessarily low. What the foreigner
does is all very well for the foreigner, but the force of habit or
something more subtle evidently excuses the practice of the virtue
among themselves. Of course there are exceptions. All the evidence goes
to show that something more tangible than sentiment or principle
determines the conduct of the multitude, even among those avowedly
Christian. But with all this there has dawned on them the fact that
life is worth saving, even at the risk of one's own: and though chiefs
and subjects alike, less than two years ago, refused to hear of the
saving of twins, we have already their promise and the first instalment
of their fidelity to their promise in the persons of two baby girls

Book of the day: