John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

The sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light online

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The Sign of the Cross
in Madagascar

Back from the Land of Bondage."

The Sign of the Cross in
Madagascar $ or, From
Darkness to Light * *



New York Chicago Toronto

Fleming H. Revell Company

Publishers of Evangelical Literature

171 u

Copyright 1900



In 1895, when the London Missionary Society
of England was celebrating the centenary of its
existence and work, I was laboring as pastor of
one of the churches formed by missionaries of
that society in the island of Jamaica, West In-

In connection with our local celebration of the
event, it fell to my lot to be appointed a deputa-
tion to visit all the Congregational churches in
the island, and lecture on the hundred years'
work. To me, personally, the task was a most
pleasant one, since, through my father and a great
many personal friends, I was related to the mis-
sion field; and had for many years tried to keep
myself in touch with the progress of the Kingdom
of Christ in the world.

That portion of my lectures which seemed al-
ways to make the deepest impression, was the
story of the planting of Christianity in Madagas-
car; the season of fierce persecution endured and
outlived; and the wondrous growth which fol-

Since residing in Pittston, I have several times

6 Preface

been asked to give the story of Madagascar in
neighboring churches; and the story has been
listened to with strange interest.

By these steps it has developed, until it ap-
peared to me that the story of that work, if told
with a somewhat free hand, while adhering to
facts in so far as they are known to be historical,
should prove as interesting as, and more inspiring
than, most works of fiction. There are master
hands which might have made the story more
thrilling in its influence. But few, I think, would
have written it with a sense of more genuine
sympathy. With such a record, the difficulty is
always to find reliable data. Here we have a
considerable number of works; yet not one of
them the story of an eye witness. For such was
the condition of affairs that no European was
present to record the events as they transpired.

Still, we have the geographical knowledge of
the country ; insight into the customs of the peo-
ple; the traditional, and later the written, history
of the country ; the statements made by the perse-
cuted themselves, and by those natives who, in the
dark days, were eye-witnesses of the trials and
sufferings of the church ; and, in post-persecution
days, the official reports of the societies whose
missionaries have labored in Madagascar. From
such materials all the stories of the Malagasy
Martyr Church have been compiled. Naturally
there are many gaps, with only a few verbal state-
ments to fill them; many incidents, only a sum-

Preface 7

mary of which could be given by those who took
part in them.

Let it be frankly said, that in such cases, a sym-
pathetic heart has sought to make vivid the scenes
and facts, based upon the meagre statements on
record. An illustration of this may be found in
the scene in the Judgment Hall — where we have
authentic information as to the pith of the de-
fence made by the Christians, but no verbatim, or
even full, reports.

Here, a free but loving hand has endeavored to
carefully weave these scattered fragments into a
connected and living story.

The names of thousands who suffered, of hun-
dreds who died, are not known to day ; and yet the
facts of their sufferings and deaths, the spirit they
manifested before their judges and persecutors,
and their loyalty to Christ, are abundantly vouched
for by the testimony of friends and foes, given
immediately after the dark days. In two cases
names have been supplied to designate persecuted
ones, whose names are unrecorded.

Kelazapa is framed as a representative character
— expressing the feelings, spirit, actions, of the
idol party. Otherwise the characters are his-
torical, and the story, beginning with the days of
Radama, and the arrival of the first missionaries,
down to the Great Emancipation, is based clearly
on historical facts. The remainder of the story,
bringing it down to this date, is gleaned from the
later official reports of the various missionary so-

8 Preface

cieties, and a number of published works, such as
Cousin's " Madagascar of To day."

My aim has been so to tell the story as to awak-
en as deep interest as if it were a work of fiction,
while keeping in the realm of realities. He who
reads this book may safely say that he knows the
wonderful story of the work of God in Mada-
gascar. That it may be owned of God to the
stimulation of a deeper interest in the. service of
His kingdom, and as an inspiration to greater
earnestness in the prosecution of that work and a
more vital faith in the power of the Gospel, on the
part of all who read, is my sincere prayer.

J. J. Kilpin Fletcher.

Pittston, Pa., October ist, 1900.



Introduction— With a Purpose . . . . n


I. Heathen Home Life .... 15
II. A Remarkable Group . .. .25

III. A Heathen Court 34


IV. Strange Messengers and a Strange

Message 45

V. In a Mighty Faith .... 57
VI. Light in the Darkness . . . .63

VII. The Idol Maker 74

VIII. The New Sect 82

IX. A Woman's Intrigue .... 93

X. Evil Omens 104

XL A Royal Proclamation . . .114
XII. The Kabary 122

XIII. Suspense 130

XIV. Betrayed 140


io Contents


XV. Divine Interposition . . . .150

XVI. Deceived 158

XVII. The First Martyr 165

XVIII. Fugitives 174

XIX. Out of the Jaws of Death . . .185

XX. A Queen's Infatuation . . . . 196

XXI. In the Judgment Hall .... 202

XXII. Faithful Unto Death .... 210

XXIII. The Last Kabary 220

XXIV. In the Chamber of Death . . . 226

XXV. Out of Bondage 231


XXVI. Changes 243

XXVII. A Coronation 250

XXVIII. Expansion 258

XXIX. War and Conquest 271

XXX. The Sign of the Cross Again . . 284
XXXI. Looking to the Noonday .... 300

List of Illustrations.

"Back from the Land of Bondage'' . . . Frontispiece.

facing page

mem3ers of the bara tribe 34

Their Spirits Fled to the " Land of Light and Rest" .216

French Residency, Fianarantsoa, Betsileo . . . . |

Observatory, Imerina . )

Andrianaivoravelona, a native Pastor )

y 268
Dr. Ravelina and family, a native Doctor . . . )

Rev. J. C. Thorne and Band of Sunday School Workers 286

A Country Station of the Paris Missionary Society . . 302

A Malagasy Singing Class 306



" In the days of Nero." With such a custom-
ary phrase does the record of many an example of
the heroism revealed in the history of the Chris-
tian church begin. To those, days it seems natural
to turn when illustrations are wanted of the quick-
ening power of the Christian faith, of the meek-
ness, the courage, the faithfulness, even unto
death, of those who had found in Christ their life
and their eternal hope. The love, courage and
fidelity of those who, in the days of the Caesars,
sealed with their blood their testimony to the
saving power of Jesus, will ever prove an in-
spiration to the Church of Christ in days of trial
and persecution — will shine as a beacon-light to
the followers of the Nazarene, in the periods of
darkness and gloom through which the full-day
splendor of His kingdom must come on earth.

It is well it should be so. For where will be
found so favorable a spot at which to study the
simple, yet profound and mighty principles, on
which that kingdom is to be finally established,
and which, all through the centuries have been the

12 Introduction

strength and consolation of the church, as here,
at the fountain head ?

Love to God; faith in the Lord Jesus Christ;
the assurance that He who died, rose again and
lives; the sense of the ever-living Christ, always
present with them ; the hope of righteousness, the
certain looking for the overthrow of sin, and the
bringing of all the nations under the sovereign
sway of Divine grace ; love to man, and fellowship
with Jesus in the toil and suffering by which the
world will be redeemed — were not these the truths,
the facts, the impulses, which inspired and sus-
tained the martyrs of the cross ?

It will be difficult to discover finer examples,
calculated to inspire the faith of the disciples of
Christ to-day, than may be discovered by going
back to those early days, and witnessing the calm
faith and triumphant joy with which the first

" Met the tyrant's brandished steel,
The lion's gory mane."

The noble matron, with gentle mien ; the pure vir-
gin, with radiant face; the tender youth, with clear
and sparkling eye ; the mature man, with weather-
beaten brow; the father, the wife, the bride, the
child — gaze upon them, as they fearlessly bend
their knee upon the arena floor, and lift their eyes
upward toward heaven's throne; and listen to
their prayers — gaze upon them as the iron gates
fly back, and the ravenous lions spring forward
and tear them limb from limb; and say if their

Introduction 13

calmness and faith and joy be not a heritage,
which, to the end of the ages, will prove the in-
spiration of the saints of God, whenever and
wherever trial and persecution for the sake of
Christ shall overtake them.

Where may we witness more clearly the re-
markable effects which have always followed the
efforts of the enemies of Christ to exterminate
His church than there, where, under the eyes of
the bloody Caesars, the very witnesses of the suf-
ferings of the martyrs became their immediate
successors in the service and travail of His king-

Yet we shall do well to remember that these
principles and facts, on which the Christian faith
was founded, and in the strength of which the
martyrs suffered, are eternal. Wherever they
are firmly grasped, the same wondrous results
follow — the weak are made strong; the cowards
brave; the unlearned become wise; the dark are
enlightened; and a love of Christ — strong as
death, aye stronger — is begotten in the hearts of
those who have once realized that He loved them
and gave Himself for them.

Our own century has furnished abundant evi-
dence that these things are so; and thus these
pages seek to set forth a latter-day testimony to
the power of the gospel of Christ. To show the
effects of the gospel of redeeming love upon the
heathen hearts ; to reveal the power of the gospel
of Christ in the face of nineteenth century unbelief

14 Introduction

and scorn; to manifest the steadfast love and
Christliness, in deepest sufferings, of heathen con-
verts; to present the unchanging presence of
Christ and His power to sustain His followers in
times of trouble; and by displaying the triumphs
of His kingdom over all the power of sin and
darkness, to lead many to feel the worth of Christ,
to awaken the enthusiasm of faith and consecra-
tion in thousands of young hearts, and to summon
them to the great work of spreading the knowl-
edge of Christ and His salvation to earth's remot-
est bounds — this is the purpose of the story " The
Sign of the Cross in Madagascar."




In a heathen island, a thousand miles long and
two hundred and fifty miles broad, and separated
from the dark continent of Africa by two hundred
and sixty miles of water, would have been found,
ninety years ago, the homes of those who, in the
days to which our story refers, were to become
the heroes and heroines of the Cross in Madagas-
car. The derivation of the name of the island is
considered uncertain. But it is generally
thought to signify either "The country of the
hill men," or " The country of the Madai " — an
African tribe. We shall better realize their sur-
roundings, and the events which form some of
their life-experiences, if we here pause to obtain
some knowledge of the country in which they
lived. Lying almost entirely in the tropics, and
enjoying a tropical climate, Madagascar pre-
sented commercial prospects which, centuries ago,


1 6 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

led several European nations to attempt its colo-
nization. Charmed by its natural beauties, al-
lured by its supposed mineral wealth, and at-
tracted by the wondrous fertility of its valleys,
persistent efforts were made to establish and sus-
tain colonies. Surely a foreseeing and farseeing
Providence formed this island with fullest knowl-
edge of what would transpire within its borders
in this nineteenth century of ours. All around
the coast and extending inland, runs a vast stretch
of comparatively level country, studded in many
places with dense swamps and lagoons, and
scarcely attaining an elevation of more than five
hundred feet above the level of the sea. For a
distance of some three hundred miles the lagoons
add to the charm of the scenery; and it is note-
worthy, as evidence of the alertness of the heathen
king, Radama I , that he realized their value and
began the construction of short canals, so as to
provide this stretch of country with an unbroken
water-way. The whole interior of the country
forms one great mountain region, many parts of
which reach an elevation of five thousand feet;
while the Ankaratra range rises nine thousand
feet above the sea. Between these mountain
ranges lie widespreacling and fruitful valleys —
the rice-fields of the highlands. Through these
mountain regions run narrow paths, sometimes
fairly level and smooth, but at others ascending
the faces of what seem almost perpendicular rocks.
Over these mountain paths and passes the peo-

Heathen Home Life 17

pie journeyed from tribe to tribe, bearing with
them loads of produce, or wares for barter.
Through a long stretch of this mountain land
reaches a chain of extinct volcanic crater, while
following the coast line of the island it is almost
girdled with a dense forest, which in some places
is twenty-five miles wide.

Several lakes— the largest being Alaotra— are
also found in the highlands, while the grandeur
of the scenery is often enhanced by the rivers
which cut their ways down the mountain sides
and through the dense forest, and so come leap-
ing and rolling and sparkling to the sea.

Large tracts of fertile land are devoted to the
cultivation of rice ; and on the rich pasture lands
of the wild plains many herds of cattle are

Throughout the island one language, though
having several dialects, is spoken.

It was in this country — a country devoted to
idolatry and to most of the abominable practices
of heathenism, that there were to be discovered
men and women, who should prove themselves
worthy to take their places side by side with the
earliest martyrs of the Christian church.

It is true that, at this time, some in Madagascar
had risen to a level of social comfort and of in-
tellectual power far above the standard of general
heathenism; and as several of those, whose ac-
quaintance we shall presently make, belonged
to the more well-to-do classes, we will try to fa-

1 8 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

miliarize ourselves with some of their probable
surroundings. We must form some idea of a
heathen home, and the manners amid which
they who were to suffer for Christ had been
trained, if we are to rightly appreciate the power
of the gospel, or to realize what it meant for them
to separate themselves from the worship of their

Very few facts are known regarding the life
of the individuals, with whom much of our story
is concerned, prior to the period at which the
story opens. We do, however, know the posi-
tions in life in which some of them moved, and
so can form a fairly accurate impression of the
influences which moulded their characters before
coming under the power of the gospel.

We also know that, at the time of the introduc-
tion of Christianity, Rafaravavy, who became
such a leader of its followers, was living in her
own comfortable heathen home in the city. This
position furnished her with the opportunity, so
well used, for making her home a center for
Christian teaching and prayer.

Let us then picture such a home, situated in
Antananarivo, the capital of the island. In this
home we discover a typical heathen family, con-
sisting of a father and mother, with their daugh-
ter and her adopted sister — who, for the sake of
narrative, we will call Rafaravavy and Fantaka.

As they belonged to the well-to-do class of the
community, they were surrounded by a full reti-

Heathen Home Life 19

nue of slaves. Human flesh and blood were of
small value then ; and not only did many heathen
themselves purchase and possess slaves, but also
engaged in a slave traffic with other countries,
selling their own kinsmen into the misery of
bondage. High on the mountain range, some
fifty miles above the city, is a point called still
" The Weeping Place of the Hovas." And why ?
Because the slaves sold in the market were usu-
ally driven along this mountain track on their
way to the coast. As the weary, sad, and some-
times sick and wounded slaves, chained together
for the march down country, reached this spot,
they caught the first glimpse of the sea across
which they were to be transported, and, turning
their heads for a moment, they cast a brief and
pitiful last glance at the city they loved, and the
home of their childhood. The slaves in Rafar-
avavy's home were better cared for than in most
other homes, for both her parents were remarka-
ble alike for their supreme devotion to their idol
worship and for a gentleness of disposition most
rare in heathendom. But their devotion to the
idols did not enable them to train their children
on a higher moral level than others around them ;
so that, in many respects, the girls grew up with
only the loose rules of heathenism for their guide.
Take, for example, the matters of theft, deceit and
lying. They were taught that the only bad thing
about these habits consisted in being found out;
and children were often punished, not because

20 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

they had done wrong, but because they had not
been shrewd enough to conceal their acts.

As girls, Rafaravavy and Fantaka spent much
of their time in spinning silks ; and as they be-
longed to the wealthier class, they were fre-
quently arrayed in silken robes of splendid tex-
ture and design, which their own hands had

Their father being a devout heathen, it was
natural the family should develop a sincere re-
gard for the idols. According to the custom of
the Hova tribe, the head of each family served
as priest for his own household. Thus from her
earliest years, Rafaravavy had been accustomed
to seeing her father bring forth the ancestral
charms, and at their shrines burn fragrant gums
and offer prayer; and so, early taught the ways
of idolatry and initiated into the rites and ceremo-
nies of heathenism, she and her sister became
very deeply attached to the worship of the kings,
ancestors and idols. While only a girl, Rafara-
vavy's mother was seized with a fatal sickness,
and the child never forgot the scenes she wit-
nessed then. Each day brought its company of
visitors to discuss the condition of the sick and
dying mother ; each day the diviners and fetishes
joined with the priests in elaborate ceremonies
to bring about a recovery. But all their charms
and incantations proved unavailing, and, while
mere girls, Rafaravavy and Fantaka were left
motherless. In accordance with Malagasy cus-

Heathen Home Life 21

torn her mother had a large number of charms
which were worn continually, and one of these
which she coveted greatly — a fine specimen of a
crocodile's tooth, covered with a small piece of
scarlet cloth, came into Rafaravavy's possession,
and, for the next few years of her life, formed
her chief treasure.

At the burial of her mother numerous sacrifices
were offered to the various charms which had
been worn by the deceased, and prayers and
offerings presented at the shrine of the idol Keli-

The scenes of the day on which the building
of her mother's tomb was completed were those
which clung to the mind of young Rafaravavy,
and in days to come often caused her to question
what must be the character of their idols, since
they reveled in such scenes of debauchery. Co-
pious libations were poured upon the large slabs
of rock which formed the vault, and charms were
attached at various points to ward off evil spirits.
Two richly carved posts were erected in front of
the vault; and these were intended to protect
against every evil influence those who should
come to worship at the tomb. Then followed
a feast and dancing, in which full vent was given
to the licentious nature of the people; and the
scene of debauchery and drunkenness was pro-
longed far into the night, even her father and the
priests who had assembled for the special occa-
sion being the leaders in the revelry. Had they

0.2 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

belonged to the poorer people, she would probably
have been buried when the moon was dead.
The dead body would have been wrapped in hide
and tied to a post. Then twice each day, the
corpse would have been taken down and the cords
drawn tighter — until at last all but the bones had
decayed and been squeezed into the soil ; when the
skeleton would have been placed in a rude coffin
and buried.

In consequence of her mother's death, Rafara-
vavy was, at an early age, compelled to take up
the duties of the household; and naturally her
position brought her into frequent contact with
the practices of sorcery and witchcraft. Often
was the young girl kept from sleep almost the
whole night, that she might preside over the ar-
rangements for the entertainment of her father's
guests. The strange thing was that, accustomed
as she was to hearing the immoral conversation,
to witnessing the indecent gestures, and to endur-
ing the drunken folly of these occasions, Rafara-
vavy should have been able to retain even a
moderate measure of decency and self-respect.

But she did more than this, for she grew more
and more disgusted with the practices she wit-
nessed ; and as her father became increasingly
addicted to the extreme customs of heathenism,
she grew to loathe many of them. Often would
she and her sister withdraw from feasts, and seek
to console one another at the fate that compelled

Heathen Home Life 23

them, without the possibility of choice, to be par-
ticipants in such scenes.

At length arrived at woman's estate, Rafara-
vavy came into possession of the wealth which
belonged to her by inheritance; and then it was
that the first opportunity presented itself for her
escape from the surroundings she loathed. It
was not that she had knowledge of any higher
religion than the heathen customs amid which
she had been brought up. But as in every
land there have always been a few who have
seemed to be possessed of finer traits and nobler
instincts than the multitudes around them, so
Rafaravavy's nature shrank from many of the
common customs which could not be separated
from the idolatrous beliefs of her people. The
opportunity now presented was speedily taken
advantage of. Rafaravavy purchased a home for
herself, and thus was enabled to escape, in a large
measure, from those practices which, even in her
heathen condition, were distasteful to her. Fan-
taka was of a different temperament to Rafara-
vavy — bright and clever, yet lacking the more
generous sympathies, and the quicker apprecia-
tion of higher qualities in men and things which
belonged to Rafaravavy. Her nature was tinged
with selfishness — largely the result of the cir-
cumstances in which she lived — and a greater
love of gaiety ; and thus, while her devotion to the
idol worship of her country may have been no

i\ Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

more sincere, she was more ardent in her ex-
pressions of reverence and less tolerant of any sug-
gestion hostile to their influence, than Rafara-
vavy. Still, a very sincere attachment existed
between these two — perhaps as strong an affec-
tion as in the great majority of cases would have
been found in real sisters.

So it came to pass that Fantaka spent a great
portion of her time in the home of Rafaravavy.
Thither would she often escape from the feasts
at which her father entertained his friends, and
there would she always find a haven of com-
parative rest. Intelligent, shrewd and loving

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 1 of 17)