Black Sheep: I the Mail From the Bush
BY JEAN KENYON MACKENZIE
[FOR five decades the Presbyterian Church in America has maintained a mission on the West Coast of Africa. From its original occupancy along the coast of what became, with the partition of Africa, the French Congo, Spanish Guinea, and the German colony of Kamerun, this mission has gone inland from the coast of southern Kamerun.
The station in Gaboon, of which mention is made in these letters, is now under the care of the French Protestant Society at work in the French Congo.
The ten years preceding the present war were a season of great activity and success in African missions. The Presbyterian mission in Southern Kamerun shared with its French neighbors to the south and its German neighbors to the north in the encouragements of this epoch. There was a tumult of development. The forest tribes and the tribes by the sea crowded into the tribe of God, — and under black leaders: in the past decade the black men with whom the white missionary shares his burdens have increased at the rate of eight to one. Under the thatched roofs of the churches gather, here and there in the forest, Sabbath congregations of six thousand, of eight thousand. Selfsupport is a major intention; and in the year before the war the thirty thousand adherents of this mission gave, out of their primitive circumstance, nearly fifteen thousand dollars to the treasury. There was a large industrial plant at Elat; there were more than ten thousand pupils in the schools; there was a beneficent medical work at four stations. The clamor of the drums at unnumbered villages called the young to school of a week day, and broke the dark before the dawn of a Sunday with the call to ‘gather.’
So much for the days before the war in a neighborhood which has been, since the war began, a battlefield.]
LIVERPOOL, June 30.
Now surely you would know that I am off to West Africa. My circumstance reeks of it. My room smells of the rubber that is to keep me dry. My shining tin trunks and my traveling bed mark me missionary or government.
S.S. SOKOTO, July 10.
It is late afternoon of one of our monotonous bright days. We sail always south toward a horizon of summer clouds that we never overtake; sometimes we pass dreary-looking steamers making their journey north, and sometimes lovely lady ships. One to-day, a four-masted bark with every sail set and as white in the sun as Hubert’s stag in the forest, made us feel the mean vessel that we are.
Near by, but where he cannot see me, the chief engineer leans his long young body over the rail and talks to the stewardess in tones of the utmost cynicism about missionaries.
Yesterday we called at Monrovia and this morning at another town. Monrovia makes quite a showing of clustered European houses, but the town at which we called to-day showed only native huts, gray and squat. We lie off shore; this is all open sea beach. All day we make along the coast; the stain of it is all day on the eastern rim of the bright circumference of the sea. Sometimes our course lies well in shore; then we feel the land-swell, we see the white line of the inevitable surf, and back of this, the wall of the forest with its higher trees rising on bare trunks, a scanty and fernlike foliage. There is a level light of afternoon that picks out to an extraordinary degree the detail of this forest and drenches it in green.
The coast line is for the most part low. The water hereabouts varies in color, — gray, sometimes green, once emerald with amber in the lights. Once we came to anchor in jade. To-day the Kroos came about the ship in their canoes, brown bodies in brown canoes, all wet with the sea and struck with violet lights. They came up the ship’s side and took passage as crew boys; it is they who will handle the cargo when we come to discharge it.
Past Axim, Secondi, Accra, and Lagos, and always beauty to hold the eye. From every settlement there come out to the ship boats manned by strapping black men who sit on the gunwales as a woman rides a horse, six on a side, each with a short paddle that is a trident, my dears, like Neptune’s. They lean to the water in unison. In the stern stands the helmsman, his loin cloth blowing about him, and the effect of all this is not just primitive, it is classic.
Many of the Africans wear a garment like the toga. I look at a row of them leaning over the rail (for our lower decks fore and aft are crowded with black passengers now) — I see them leaning looking out to sea with so much about them, in dress and gesture, of the Romans.
Among them are others: Mohammedans, effeminate-looking young fellows as easily distinguished by their hauteur as by their dress; and their dress is fine, — handwoven stuffs in stripes, lemon yellows striped in lavender, or tawny yellows striped in bronze.
To-day I got off the ship and walked in Africa, my friends, and it smelt like a hothouse. This is Old Calabar. The government building and the mission building are on a hill that slopes to the river; the native town falls into a hollow and climbs half way up the next hill. I took a photograph, but you will never see from that how the mammoth trees father the little brown huts.
We had tea with some Scotch missionaries, all set about with Rossetti on the shelves and on the walls, and we had good things to eat. But the little girl-wife thinks Old Calabar a pretty severe field, for here, she says, the natives are semi-civilized and vicious. She envies us going into the bush. And indeed so do I. I mean I would n’t change with her for anything.
BATANGA, KAMERUN, July 31.
This is the receiving port for our mission, and we landed yesterday at sunset. Here the ship lies about three miles off the coast, and we had to go ashore in a surf-boat. I never went anywhere in a surf-boat, and I must say, when I saw them begin to hand the babies from the ladder to that intoxicated surf-boat, I felt sick of the sea. You get into the boat any way you can. Presently we were all sitting where we had dropped, and we pulled away from the ship. The evening was golden, but the sea was pretty rough, and no one looked much at the scenery. There were five rowers on a side, and they were, it seems, very skillful in their management of the boat. But this was lost on me, and on my word of honor, when I saw the tremendous surf, and the boat came broadside to wait the next wave, I began to take off my mackintosh. I thought we would end in the sea. But before I could get free of my coat the boat headed for shore, ran up a mountain and down, and hard on the sand. Back again with the return of the water into the turmoil; but when the next wave carried us ashore again, natives ran into the surf to her prow and held her against the return, while others picked agitated missionaries off the sides. Mrs. Lehman had said to me, ‘Don’t fight the native when he comes for you as we land.’ Fight him! I literally fell on his neck and embraced him all the way to dry land.
I never saw anything more tragic than the faces of the mothers watching their little ones being carried through the surf.
Yesterday our people — fifty carriers — came in from the bush. They came to shake hands with the new missionary, and looked at her gravely. There is at first something disquieting about their unsmiling regard, but presently one knows it to be friendly. Four of these men will carry my hammock, in relays of two; we shall be four nights on the road.
Friday, August 12.
We left Batanga Monday morning at seven, and got into Lolodorf on Thursday at four in the afternoon. This means that we walked twenty miles each day and twenty-two the last day. I don’t mean that I walked all the way; I had four hammock-carriers, but hammock-carriers reach their limit, and there are many steep places along the road; so I walked perhaps half the way, and yesterday I must have pegged along fourteen miles.
There are different sensations for different hours of the day on the road. There is the miserable 4.30 A.M. sensation. You are asked to get up, and the cot is snatched from under you. You start to wash and the basin is whisked off. Presently you sit down to breakfast by the light of a lantern, and as you eat, day breaks; well, you feel better. And when at six o’clock you take the road, in the dawn and the dew, it is heavenly. And so it is heavenly all day, in and out of the hammock, swaying along a level path, or panting up an incline, in the forest or under the open sky, sunk in a valley with your road suspended behind you and before, or on some hilltop, with the mountains for your betters. In four days I saw more beauty than in all my life before. So the morning passes gloriously. And at noon in the palaver house of some town you sit on a pole bed, or a sort of bamboo couch, with your knees up to your chin, and eat what your native cook has brought in the chop-box, and it is good. You are ready for the road again. But by three o’clock you droop. At four you limp and drag. When you come to the native town where the tent is to be pitched, you sit on the ground until your men set up the camp-chairs, and after that, too, for you are too weary to move. Somehow you get to bed, and then it is 4.30 A.M.
All your meals, your uprisings and your downsittings, are witnessed and commented upon by all the natives in the town. I suppose they stand outside the tent and listen to us breathe. The tent is always pitched in the centre of the town. In the morning Dr. Lehman paid our debts for water and vegetables when any had been bought, and our currency is matches or fishhooks or needles, — needles are especially acceptable.
The forest is not lonely. There is a continual line of carriers coming from the east with ivory and rubber, — big men from Yaunde or Bene, fine physically, and just as untutored as you can conceive; indeed more so than I could have conceived. Happily they speak Bulu, so I shall be able to talk to them some day. The last day on the road it poured rain, the beginning of the rainy season. You can imagine struggling up hills and sliding down, ‘and when we came to greasy ground we split ourselves in two.’ At four o’clock we arrived at Lolodorf. The native pastor, Ndenga, who had been left in charge of the station, had opened the house for us.
This is a beautiful place. Everywhere you look you see a detached hill that is a young mountain and every little mountain is dressed in tropical opulence. Lolodorf is a military post; the fortifications are on an abrupt hill near by. The mission itself is on the land that rises from the river and is bounded by the river on the west and north. South of us runs the road. The station consists of two dwelling-houses, a church in which school meets as well, and between six and eight workhouses, toolhouses, or what not. The houses are all built bush-fashion — saplings set up for stanchions about three feet apart. The walls, of bark, — great sheets of brown bark, slatted horizontally with strips of bamboo, — are sewed to the stanchions with a rattan thread. No nails are used in the entire house; everything is sewed or tied with ‘bush rope’ as I tell you. You can see daylight through the punctures and sometimes through the splits in the bark. The roof is a thatch of palm leaves, and the eaves are low. We are very cosy and look Elizabethan.
At this station there are the Lehmans; Ndenga, a native pastor from the beach, who has done very well by the work during the Lehmans’
The people here are largely Ngumba and Yaunde. These latter have been brought up by the government from the interior; the Yaunde are the carrier tribe, they and the Bene. In carrying to the beach, hundreds of carriers in the week sleep here. The mission has a palaver house for their benefit, and one of the most interesting opportunities is offered by this transient audience, a people absolutely virgin. There are dwarfs in this neighborhood, too, serfs of the Ngumba. Dr. Lehman journeys among them and we get them in the school.
I am to learn Bulu; the Ngumba and the Yaunde understand it, though it is not theirs. The Fang understand it, and it is the best thing to learn, since my ultimate station is uncertain.
High above us looms the government hill, where three Germans live. The senior officer, a lieutenant, came to make his call on Sunday, and told me that he already felt well acquainted with me, as indeed I should think he might, since he had informed himself by document as to the age and condition, intent, and station of Missionar Schwester Mackenzie. After making this hopeful statement he became terribly embarrassed and went away. I was so sorry, for I had some impertinent questions to ask him, with a view to acquaintance.
There is a strange beauty about these people, especially the Yaunde and the Bene, — a beauty of body and of posture, of color and of draping. A thousand things would remind you of the art of the Renaissance. The way they dress their heads is so often like Botticelli. They have a surprising instinct for decoration; often the tattoo is a single figure on one side of the face, and their hair is dressed with no superstitious regard for the middle of their foreheads.
LOLODORF, August 26.
Oh, you dears, to write me so!
Some belated carriers have brought mail. I feel as lavish as Ahasuerus when Esther entertained him — you shall have half of my kingdom. Dear me, I see your embarrassment when my retainer makes good. My kingdom is Bitum, in the trousers I helped him make, and in no shirt at all if you insist on immediate delivery, for he is washing his shirt to-day. Which half will you have? I suppose you will be selfish and take the dressed half. He came to me this morning with a most virtuous air; he was going to wash his shirt! ‘Good,’ cried I, with enthusiasm. But where, he begged to know, was he going to get soap? I suppose this appears to you fair enough, but there is a root of evil. I asked of Mrs. Lehman, ‘Mayn’t I give him soap this once?’ ‘Well, if you do, tell him that he is not to have soap again; that he is to buy it out of his wages.’ I looked at Mrs. Lehman and wondered. Did she forget her first struggle with the Bulu language?
There is no organized church here, but the people are moving that way. On a Sunday there will be some four hundred of an audience, — more brown arms and legs, closer packed, than the church was built to hold. Every day people come to make confession of faith and to be received into the class for instruction. This initial step is a long one; you step out of your tribe and its custom into the tribe of God and its custom. But you clean up your record before the transfer is effected; you pay your debts, you settle your quarrels, you confess your misdeeds to your husband, and you suffer, often enough, your beatings.
There are Macedonian signals from a town about twenty miles from here, Nshicko’s town; he is the headman. Nshicko is middle-aged. He, with several men like himself, well-to-do, was converted. Each put away all his wives but one, —and superfluous wives mean property; they formed the bulk of these men’s possessions,—and they entered school here. This was before the Lehmans’ furlough. This last year the men have spent in their town, where they have told their people ‘the news.’ Now they come to us for help; sixty of their townspeople believe. I wish you might have been with us the night this deputation waited on us as we sat about the lamp, — three middleaged men, two of them with loin cloths, the other in a white nightshirt. This last was an old man, silent and mild, with a droop half patient and half sad, and a sort of austere mysticism that quite awed me.
We are short-handed here, but we have sent Ndenga to Nshicko’s town, where he will start a school and preach.
Now I study Bulu and teach the primary class in a school. Some of you smile at this and so do I, but not all the time. I have over seventy pupils, some young ones and some grown men and women, — poor long-legged men who sit patiently through the morning while I explain with a chart and a pointer the difference between e with an accent and without. It is my aim and my passion to keep the grown people up with the children. I can’t tell whether this is the fruit of compassion or of the natural enmity between one generation and the next. There is a man called Zambe, and I mean that he shall read if it is to be done by sheer will.
LOLODORF, September 8.
I realized the other day that I am not giving you much sense of the externals of ‘Life in Africa.' Too bad, for they are understood to be so thrilling. Truly I could write you a thriller if I saw things in a certain light. The other evening I was talking with Mrs. Lehman, and we agreed that we could get up a very moving account of our affairs. It would read like this: —
A missionary, his wife, and two children live in one room of a three-roomed house. They eat, read, and work in one room, in company with a single woman missionary, who occupies the third room. The walls of the house are made of sheets of bark, which are split here and there so that the sun’s rays penetrate in swaths of light which threaten the life and reason of the missionaries. Moreover, the roof, which is made of palm-leaf thatch, has given way here and there, so that in the rainy season t he water falls into the soup and on the heads of the missionaries. (On the head of the little single missionary — think of it, she who never liked to get her head wet!) When it rains, the sheep and the goats take refuge under the house, and at night these heathen beasts clamor. When the single missionary puts her hand into her wall pocket to pull out a handkerchief (an innocent luxury which she allows herself), she pulls out a cockroach as big as a mouse — and so on, horrors upon horrors. But I spare you.
This is the wet season, one of them. Every afternoon it rains terrifically. Long before the rain booms upon the roof the rush of it may be heard in the forest, and there, among the great trees, the gray army advances. When it has passed and the sun comes out, the heat is pretty severe.
Sunday, September 11.
Yesterday I took to myself and went for a long walk. I meant to say to Bitum, ‘I will walk presently.’ I said something in Bulu, very proudly. Afterwards Mrs. Lehman explained to me, between her laughs, that I had asked to walk in hell. (Dear Margaret, it was their own hades, that they manufactured for their primitive uses before ever the missionary appeared on the scene.) Small wonder that Bitum had looked at me oddly, shaking his head. I suppose he thought it was time to call a halt.
Already these hills are less strange and this forest — I know the secret of many paths and shall soon know all. A country and a circumstance are soon familiar; only people are perpetually mysterious. I thought about this so much to-day when I was plodding along in the mud, the hills about me blue with evening, and we passed some carriers, — Yaunde women, nude but for leaves, and beautifully formed, as so many Yaunde women are. The carrying of loads does not encourage sightseeing, and by the day’s end the eyes of a carrier don’t wander far from the path; so these women were passing me, heads down. But I spoke the word of greeting and they looked up. Their eyes met mine. Ah, how far away the dim islands of their entity, and between us what expanse of ‘ unplumbed, salt, estranging sea’! Often, in meeting such women, I am conscious that a word has passed between us. They go on, I believe from my heart, not ungreeted. But our intercourse is hardly what might be called genial. It is very oppressively sad; there never was one that smiled at me. And truly youth seems most desolate; the younger the girl the more morose her gaze. Perhaps the capacity for pain is the essential jewel of Yaunde youth. The Ngumba people seem much less tragic.
To-night I was reading about Stanley’s search for Livingston, when suddenly I asked myself, ‘Am I really in the country of which he writes?’ I went to the window to look out, to see, my dears, if I were. It was raining heavily, but for all that the moonlight penetrated the clouds and fell with a most impartial ray and no glamour. There were the wan paths leading from little gray huts to little gray huts; there were the innumerable banners of the plantain trees, and the slim, upstanding pawpaws, and beyond these the great columns of the trees of the forest, all patient under the vehement rain. And I knew perfectly, and for the first time, that I am in Africa.
Nowadays during half of the school hours I teach several classes in the primer. Zambe has graduated to the primer and reads, with inexplicable pauses and with strange agitations of his arms and legs, sentences of three words each. Always his eyes plead with me not to desert him in this adventurous country of learning. Do you know, I am happy in this: that all these people are real and individual. One is clever, another is stupid; another’s lips, when he recites, tremble with trepidation; another, bless her little heart, has a little frightened pulse that throbs in her neck when she grapples with the chart. Who could resist such allurements, such weaknesses, such eagerness?
To-day on the road I saw a woman so small, so perfect, so black, and so comely that I looked at her with wonder. She walked with her arms folded, before a big carrier. She wore a leaf bandage supported by a crimson strap which held in place low on her back one of those curious bustles which are the pride of the people from the interior, — a thick even glossy bunch of dried grass that looks like black horsehair, and is jaunty to a degree. Her dark skin was in perfect condition; her beautiful slender limbs moved with elastic decision; above her slim shoulders her head was poised with a sort of nervous pride; and her hair was charmingly and elaborately dressed, Fairly she seemed to glitter in the sunlight.
LOLODORF, October 4.
The other evening as I sat writing there came from outside a sound of vehement voices. So I went out into the night, where the moonlight lay broad and even on the paths and on the banners of the plantain trees and on the little thatched church. The noise came from the dark interior of the church, through its doors and windows, which are never closed, lacking the wherewithal. Presently Mrs. Lehman called to me from the house that Ngya, one of the early converts, was in the church talking to a company of carriers; and then I could distinguish his voice, urgent and rapid in the languid night, and the occasional unanimous response of the carriers. ‘You have understood?’ he would ask. ‘We have understood!’ they would roar in concert. Standing there, listening, I wished that you might hear too.
On Sunday, at the women’s meeting, some twenty carriers strolled in and sat back against, the bark wall, where they presented a great array of arms and legs. Mrs. Lehman told the women of that illuminating quarrel between Abraham and Lot, — we were sure of the carriers during that time, for these people respond readily to the Old Testament. At the close of the service t he rain hindered our return to t he house, and while we waited for the storm to pass, Mrs. Lehman played on the little organ. Presently there was about her a wall of great strapping carriers, so pleased with the magic of the keys, and with the brightness of her hair, that they looked at one and the other smiling. They had never heard the word of God before, and t hey turned their faces on Mrs. Lehman with a sort of animal innocence, — such an unwinking, amazed interest as I could hardly have imagined as human, though I have seen horses look so before they were broken. Then such huddlings together, such linkings of arms, such leanings of friend against friend, such exclamations one to the other in their virile ungoverned voices, such sudden laughs of jocund wonder. ‘Zambe, he who created us is not one to endure fetish! Is that a true word?’ —and they laughed.
So Mrs. Lehman talked to them and I looked at them till the rain had moderated — and we were going. But one thing they must know — what was that fruit? pointing to the revolving globe. Then they were told how the earth is round, and all the rest of that unlikely legend of its relation to the sun. So we left them, and they went on their way in that, new world which is round, and was made by a God who rejects medicine (fetish). They may pass this way again.
It will be Thanksgiving season at home, when you read this, and so it will be with us. The other Sunday Mrs. Lehman held a Thanksgiving service with the women; they were to tell of the mercies they had enjoyed during the past year. So they assembled on Sunday afternoon in their motley garments. At one service I saw a woman with pink corsets over a very proper dress; but there was no such indiscretion on this particular Sunday. These were some of the reasons given as cause for thanksgiving, and from among all I have taken one of every kind: —
One woman said that her child had died, and that she had found comfort in the House of God.
Another that, in answer to prayer, the animals no longer molest her garden.
Another, that when she had visited a distant clan, ignorant of the things of God, and was taunted by them for her belief, she had been given strength to withstand their taunts.
Another, that while she used to have to work hard and had none to help her, now God had sent her some one from the beach.
There is an insult in vogue here which gives rise to the most deadly quarrel, — it is to ta. I am sure I can’t say why it is so effective; it is all a matter of words; but several women gave thanks for this: that they had suffered without retaliation when told that their husbands or their mothers were taed.
Pretty smiling Malinga, wife of Ze, was thankful that she and her husband had been given grace to carry loads for the governor, and that God had put it into the heart of the governor to allow them to rest on the Sundays.
There is one old woman who has held my attention from my first sight of her, so unhappy and so poor does she appear, — so like an ancient maltreated orphan. She rose in her bits of rags to say that she had ten children, five of them were dead and five of them scorned her, — God helped her bear it. Her name is Wawa; I go often to see her since, to make up for her children. Of course, we do not converse very much, since she speaks only Ngumba, and I speak ‘three words’ of Bulu, but in spite of such limitations we seem to be in a fair way to make friends. She told me yesterday that we were ‘one person,’ which I thought a rather extreme inference; but Mrs. Lehman said not to be frightened, that it was a not uncommon expression and entailed no responsibilities.
Well, these were some of the reasons why the women thanked God; and some of them, you will agree, went deep. If many were quaint and fantastic, and if some were grossly material, why, so must many of our own appreciations seem to God.
These people are not without manner; indeed, they have a great deal. They greet one, and take leave; they clasp hands; they appreciate by facial expression and by little formal ejaculations the conversation of the missionary even when it is not understood by them, or, being understood, bores them; and all this in a very finished fashion. They have, I think, a real courtesy of the heart. But their conventions are so unlike ours that we often have mutual misgivings, and they infer, I fancy, that we have been badly brought up. I take lessons wherever I may, and hope to be able, eventually, to enter and to leave a town, having properly saluted the inhabitants and having announced my departure in form.
A town in this neighborhood consists of two rows of houses with a street between. The houses differ very little. They are all low huts of a room each, say, a matter of eighteen feet by seven, with two openings like windows in the centre of each long wall. The framework is of sapling poles, the walls of plates of a bark which is yellow when newly cut but which soon tones to a silver brown, as do the leaf-mats which form the roof and make a thatch in appearance very like a straw thatch. The eaves project beyond the walls some two feet, and hang low; it is almost always necessary to stoop in passing under them. Certainly you must stoop to enter the door of the house, and at the same time must step over the sill, which will be anywhere from one to two feet from the ground. Inside you find yourself on a mud floor in an interior persistently brown. For furniture there will be several beds made of split poles laid in rows on two logs which serve as legs; another serves as pillow, and all these are brown and polished with use. From the roof will be hanging mysterious bundles done up in plantain leaves brown with smoke; gourds, brown by nature, I suppose; brown baskets for peanuts and corn. On the ground will be a fire and a woman evolving a meal; but there will be no chimney in the roof, which explains a good many things, and why the unseasoned visitor presently makes for the street. An average street will be from fifty to sixty feet wide, perfectly clean and generally barren, necessarily so when it is a section of the excellent government road.
There is, now that I think of it, quite a difference in character between such a travel-worn town and one where the little forest path, which has wandered into t he street at one end, makes out at the other into the green shade. In such a town there may be oil-palm trees; there will be, back of the houses or near them, little groves of plantain trees, their great banner-like leaves murmuring in the wind or drooping, green like the inner curve of a wave, in the still air. But most gardens are at a distance from the town. Thus, if you pass at eleven of a morning there will be no life stirring more than the silly, coatless sheep; while at five of an afternoon every house will give you a greeting.
Any one passing through Benzork’s village the other day would have witnessed a nice civilized scene. A white man going about the country in the interest of rubber culture, laboring with the natives not to cut the vines down but to tap them, had pitched his tent in the middle of this village and so, white-man fashion, owned the place. Here he might be seen of an evening sitting outside his admirable little tent, playing pleasant airs on a cornet, — an accomplishment which might have endeared him to the entire community; but that he set little store by popularity, you will agree when his deeds come to light. One night he could not sleep for the noise of rats in a neighboring house. The house was empty, and the stranger found the rats among the fetishes of poor Benzork, who is off in Bulu. There is a flourish to the effect that he found some of his food hidden away by the rats in the treasured skulls. Be that as it may, the white man brought the skulls out of the house and arranged them in a line beside the path, sixteen poor skulls amazed at the stars. Behind these he set up two mingunemelan — small wooden idols — sitting passive among these ruins. So I saw them next morning, and so they were seen of common eyes, both of men and women. Who shall say what thoughts burned in the hearts of the men of Benzork’s town, or with what emotions the Christians looked at this shame of the past? For myself, I could not look at these things of darkness under the morning sun with any lightness of heart. Mr. Heminger saw Benzork’s little daughter step off the path to walk directly in front of the line, — a very bold, bad action indeed and entirely in keeping with the little girl’s reputation, for had not she once slapped the faces of the unwinking mingunemelan, the very same that watched her from behind the skulls? And did she not, for this offense, suffer a sore disease of her guilty arm? Presently the fetishes were gathered up by black soldiers, who took them up the government hill, and from there, by order of authority, they were thrown into the river; which is a reason, if another were needed, why one had best not drink river water. One evening after these events I saw the white man sitting in front of his tent playing a pleasing air, in which he paused to bow to me with mild courtesy. Benzork has not yet returned to his desecrated hearth; but one of his little daughters, three years of age, has been sent to him that she may be turned over to a man who has bought her.
Benzhuli is a young Ngumba who assists in the school and has many talents. He is the dressmaker of this region. He is very kind and gentle with stupid little children. For a long time he has been paying goods on a girl, — guns and goats and many hundreds of little iron objects called nsuba, that are currency for women. One day he hears that Minko, son of a big, bad headman, is in the running and likely to win out, for all that Benzhuli has the start of him in goods. Benzhuli takes a vacation to talk this palaver, and finds that the people of the girl’s village favor the other man. And when the girl says she will have Benzhuli or none, they tie her up with bush rope, and make off with her into the forest. You can think if Benzhuli is happy. He comes back to Lolodorf, and an account of the affair goes ‘up on the hill,’ that is, to the government, post. And one day along the road comes a file of people, the girl with her people and Minko with his, pretty well laden with goods, — Benzhuli’s goods, which they expect to pay back, as they certainly expect to ‘stand’ in the palaver. But not so. The governor listens to them and he listens to Benzhuli, and then, for all he is German, conducts himself like a true Ngumba ‘cutter of palavers.' Placing two sticks on the ground, he names them for the rivals, and ‘Which will you have?’ he asks the girl. She, in the face of her oppressors, takes the Benzhuli stick. ‘You belong to me,’ says Benzhuli (Dr. Lehman had heard him talking the day before to Minko about ‘our woman’).
So they come down the hill together. Presently they appear at the station, Benzhuli a very smiling school-teacher and dressmaker, but poor Mvunga sad and shrinking and timid, as how could she be else? It is no light matter to break through the custom of a country, and women are sorry pioneers. Since then her husband the dressmaker has made her a garment, and her husband the teacher has taught her the alphabet, and she quite blooms in school, for she is a pretty girl with more than average poise.
I have told you of these two events because they are of the most vital importance to these people. In all the community there is wagging of heads, the heads of the elders, for the old things are passing away. Two weeks ago last Sunday there was held in the church, after the morning service, a meeting called by the Ngumba Christians at their own instigation, to consider the giving and taking of wives without price. I cannot understand Ngumba, so I did not know what was said, nor do I think that the missionaries look for any material results from this meeting. But consider what it means that there should be a few men in any African community who voice such ideas. You cannot fancy how deeply complicated this marriage system is nor how many ramifications there may be to a ‘woman palaver.’ The other day Mr. Heminger was sitting in a hut talking with two members of his congregation, wives of one husband. He was talking to them about their sins, which were of an obvious character: the younger woman had been accused of stealing food. Then he turned to the elder, Wawa, she of the ten children, five dead and five cruel.
‘Wawa,’ said he, ‘why cannot you live at peace with this wife of your husband? Why are you always quarreling?’ (They are notorious scrappers.) ‘Well,’ said Wawa, ‘she was bought with one of my children and I cannot forget it.’
By the last steamer there came from America the latest translation into Buluof Mark, Luke, and John; we already have a new Matthew and Acts. Today these were put on the market. And what joy in the little Christian communities, what haste to buy the pearl of great price, what caressing of little black books, and how Ngwa’s teeth shone, and his eyes, when in a state of exalted extravagance he bought two, calling out to his wife, ‘I give you this!’ I think that this deep African joy in his Word must be a very flower of prayer before God.
To-day I started out on one of the main roads, and as I passed through the towns I put my head in at every brown hut and said who would might follow me; that I meant to hold a meeting in Biali’s town. Presently I might be seen to lead a straggling single file of women, — yet not so single either, for almost every one had a child slung to her shoulder by a strap. To these were added a few small boys who very much admire me. So we walked along the road, which left the open sunny spaces of the town and dropped into a hollow of the forest, very cool and green. And arriving at Biali’s town, we consorted under a roof which will some clay, perhaps, develop walls. Now it is open to all the winds, which is more of an advantage than you are likely to realize. The missionary, seated on a gin 2 box, was sufficiently elevated above her audience, which sat upon the ground. So I led the little meeting in a species of Bulu of which it is a shame so much as to speak. I spoke as well as I might about Christ and the Good Samaritan.
On the way home we passed a sick carrier who was being left by his fellows on the open road and with no more comfort than he was likely to get from a fire they had built him. When we neared him his friends were running from him, though I took them to be running from an impending rain; but a lad who had come with me from the meeting knew his people better, and the coincidence moved him. Here was his chance to be a good Samaritan! And I left him calling out shame upon the priest and the Levite, and holding out to the sufferer glittering possibilities of relief at the hands of Dr. Lehman. Don’t ask for the end of this story, for I was running home under an angry sky — you know that there was only one Samaritan in the parable.
A few minutes ago a black boy arrived on the porch in a great hurry, and set about wiping his feet like a welltrained dog before entering the house. There was quite an air of bustle about this performance. I supposed the boy to have arrived on an errand of importance. As he came into the lighted room it proved to be Bitum. ‘What do you hunt?’ asked I. ‘My hat,’ said he, ‘I hate to sleep far away from my hat. My hat and I, we sleep in one place!’ So off he went in the moonlight, with his atrocious hat under his arm. But there was something very quaint about the eagerness of this quest.
I must say the study of Bulu worries me. I am working at it with a will, but more will than anything else. I sit down in a palaver house and listen to the men talk. Yesterday I heard a most animated palaver about a woman and one Ndungo, and a goat. Bits of sugar-cane stalk were spread upon the ground as the characters took the stage. The woman enters — a strip of stalk. Ndungo enters — another strip laid down with a discriminating squint of the eye. The goat, placed at a safe distance; and then four little strips laid down and adjusted with a final pat — these were the woman’s children. What drama was enacted by these strips is beyond my guessing, but they moved about their little stage to the disapproval of their audience. Truly their doings would seem to have been shocking. Only one man laughed at. the play, and him I took to be Ndungo in the flesh, who could not see himself so dramatic without audible joy and self-approval.
Presently the man who was declaiming stopped to look at me, all his gesture at rest and the fire of his eloquence flickering. ‘Why is the white woman here?’ inquired he.
‘I have sat down to hear the Bulu speak, but if you hate to have me here I shall go.’
How he liked this reply and took me for the nice sensible person that I am! ‘That is good,’ said he. ‘You may stay and listen to me,’ which I did.
I am trying to get a little Bulu girl to live in the house with me, who will, it may be, love me. But I cannot, of course, exact this exercise of her affections, and I shall have to be very severe and very watchful if I get her.
(To be continued.)