John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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was one to whom Rafaralahy had shown much
kindness — helping him in his times of difficulty,
so that he was in Rafaralahy's debt.

Unwilling to pay what he owed, he used the
knowledge which through friendship he had
gained, to secure the arrest of the man who had
succored him, thus seeking to destroy the debt by
destroying his creditor. Heathenism regarded
his treachery as an act of peculiar merit.

One day, as Rafaralahy returned from a visit
to the leper's hut, and drew near his door, he saw
signs of commotion, and heard the loud lamenta-
tions of his wife and relatives. Hastening for-
ward to see what had happened, he had scarcely
stepped inside the door when he was seized by two
strong arms, and found himself under arrest for
having encouraged the Christians to meet for
worship at his house. He was allowed but a few
moments to say good-by to his weeping wife and
relatives. Yet he found time to encourage them
with the remembrance that this was a part of the
great renunciation which discipleship of Christ
involved, and to assure them that he then left
them in the Hands of Christ, who would never fail
nor forsake them. It was a sudden and sharp
trial, thus to be wrested from his young wife, who
loved him deeply and clung to him, even when
the officers would have hastened his departure.

There is no pity in heathenism, no compassion
in the heart where superstitious reverence for
idols reigns supreme; and the officers found a

Fugitives 177

grim pleasure in the agonized grief of the young
wife, though they marked the heroic courage with
which Rafaralahy bore the testing.

When tortures, and other methods, failed to
make him confess the names of his co-worshipers,
Rafaralahy was led forth to the place of his exe-
cution. Surrounded by a great crowd of heathen,
who were greatly moved by his calmness and fear-
lessness, Rafaralahy peacefully lay down on the
ground, offered a last short prayer, and received
the executioner's spear. Within a year his own
prophecy had been fulfilled — Rafaralahy, like Ra-
salama, had died for the sake of Christ.

Not satisfied with having shed this blood, but
rather emboldened thereby to attempt to repeat
such acts on a larger scale, further steps were
taken to secure the arrest of such Christians as
had been accustomed to assemble at Rafaralahy's

Having failed to extort these names from him,
they seized his widow, and, by torture and cruel
scourgings, at last forced from her a confession of
the persons who had frequented their place of
abode, for religious services; and now the hour
of triumph seemed at hand.

There have been noble deeds performed by
heathen — deeds which surely will not lose their
reward, and the day of Rafaralahy's death wit-
nessed one of them. The queen's council had
been sitting, and had resolved on the death of a
number of well-known Christians. One of the

178 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

councilors, who was friendly toward these per-
secuted ones, purposely engaged in conversation
concerning this decision in the presence of a
heathen woman, of whose friendliness to the
Christians he was aware, and significantly indi-
cated the nearness of the peril, since they were to
be arrested that night. No sooner had he passed
on than the woman sped away, out through the
gate of the city to the suburbs, and as the evening
drew on, managed to find Rafaravavy and two
other Christians. To these she gave the names
of those whose destruction had been resolved
upon, and telling them that already soldiers had
been selected to arrest them, she urged them to
escape while yet there was time. Some of the
threatened ones were living as slaves inside the
city, and the question arose, should these three
escape and leave the others unwarned, or should
they risk their own lives to help their brethren
and sisters?

The choice was soon made. Night had just
fallen, and under cover of darkness they all crept
round the city till they reached Ambohipotsy.
There they paused awhile ; then, kneeling on the
soil, stained with the blood of their martyred
sister and brother, commended themselves to the
care of God, praying for help and courage, if
needs be, to suffer; or, if He so wished, for de-
liverance out of the hands of their foes. Then
they separated, two of them going off into the

Fugitives 179

woods to hide, while, alone, Rafaravavy under-
took the dangerous task of entering the city to
warn the other threatened ones.

Fortunately, the soldiers sent to arrest these
three, not finding them at home, concluded they
had all gone to a secret meeting of the Christians,
and decided that the best thing to do was to wait
near at hand, so that as they returned from the
meeting they might arrest them, and possibly oth-
ers too. With beating heart Rafaravavy sped
along the dark streets till she found Fantaka and
Ramon j a.

Here for a brief space her sad and lonely heart
was comforted and gladdened. There was a
strange kindness in Fantaka's manner — a gentle-
ness Rafaravavy had never seen there before.
And soon the secret came out. Fantaka had be-
come a Christian, although she had not yet openly
confessed Christ. So that a deep Christian af-
fection, added to her human love, moved her
whole energy to secure the safety of the threat-
ened Christians.

She would not allow Rafaravavy to take the
risk of going through the city; but she herself
sent to call the condemned ones to come with all
secrecy to her home.

They came, and were filled with surprise and
thankfulness when they saw Rafaravavy, and
learned that she had come to seek their deliver-
ance from the death that was so nigh them.

180 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Having appointed a meeting place outside the
city, they crept back to their homes to put together
a few things, complete the day's task, place their
owner's property in safety, and prepare to flee.
At midnight the city was still, and dark clouds
overcast the sky. With mingled feelings Rafar-
avavy took farewell of Fantaka, and then, pro-
tected for a time by the presence of Ramon j a,
walked toward the city gate.

By different routes the other warned Christians
sought the place of meeting. They all reached
the spot in safety, and at once struck out for the
woods. They realized that they must place as
great a distance as possible between themselves
and their enemies before morning, for next day
their flight must be discovered, and they would
be known as fugitives. But they were able to
endure the fatigue of that night's long journey,
for they had eaten heartily before setting out, and
were well supplied with food for the first two or
three days. Noon the next day found the fugi-
tives some fifty miles away from the capital.

That morning the city awoke to learn that the
warrants for the arrest of Rafaravavy and others
had not been executed, because the Christians
could not be found. This of itself would not
have occasioned great surprise. But when it was
reported that the slaves inside the city walls,
whose arrest had been decided on, were missing,
then Ranavalona realized that she had been be-

Fugitives 1 8 1

trayed this time — the Christians had escaped from
her snare, and her anger burned within her.

Immediately several companies of soldiers were
ordered out to scour the country for the fugi-
tives. It so happened that in the company of
soldiers that first discovered the route the fugi-
tives had taken, and so had the advantage in pur-
suit, were two young men — cousins — who had
been taught by the Christians before they entered
the army. The effects of that teaching and of re-
cent events had been to lead them to more earnest
inquiry, and now they were secret disciples of
Christ. The fugitives had fled to the great for-
est, hoping to reach the inside belt of woodland,
between which and the broader outer hill lay the
Sihanaka country. If by any means they could
cross it, they would then be right above Tamatave,
and might possibly find an opportunity to escape
from the island.

Traveling mostly by night, and resting and hid-
ing by day, they gradually made their way on-
ward. Often they suffered greatly from thirst
and hunger, and sometimes from exposure to the
inclement weather. Fortunately, the forest con-
tained a good many trees, from which they se-
cured succor. From the traveler's tree they often
obtained plenty of good water; frequently they
were fain to stay the pangs of hunger by eating
the roots of the lattice-leaf plant.

Gradually the soldiers gained on them, being

1 82 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

helped by the discovery of spots where they had
hidden, and soon the fugitives had to keep as
sharp a look-out for the soldiers as the soldiers
were keeping for them.

As they pressed forward they found, again and
again, real friends in their time of peril. Some
for political reasons were glad to do anything to
discomfit the queen. But others, out of genuine
sympathy for the persecuted Christians, were
willing to help them escape from the cruelty of
the oppressor. Early one morning, as they were
skirting the south end of the Sihanaka province,
on coming down a steep track, they were sur-
prised to hear voices near them, and their surprise
grew to alarm when they discovered that within a
few hundred yards from them, and separated only
by a hillock and a clump of trees, was a company
of soldiers searching for them. For safety's sake
they separated to seek shelter. Some of them,
by retreating, got behind the soldiers and hid in a
cave. Rafaravavy found a house, whose owner
promised, as far as possible, to help her. And
the opportunity soon came, for while they stood
speaking in the room a group of officers were seen

Hurriedly, Rafaravavy went into the bedroom,
crept under the bed, and was covered with some
old garments. There was a demand at the door
to know if any of the Christians were in the

Prevarication would have been useless. The

Fugitives 1 83

officer was simply told that if he suspected such
to be the case the door was open and he could
search. Two soldiers were ordered to enter the
house, and these happened to be the two cousins
who were secret disciples of Christ. They made
a search of the house, but without prying into
places where, possibly, a Christian might have
been concealed. As they did not bring forth any
prisoner, the whole company turned away and
continued the search. After a few days' rest the
fugitives again moved on slowly and cautiously.
Once again they found themselves almost face to
face with their pursuers ; but a friend was at hand.

Quickly descending into a rice-pit, the mouth of
which the friendly heathen covered with thorn
bushes, they lay concealed while the soldiers slow-
ly went past, uttering their names, and expressing
their disgust at the difficulty found in capturing

But soon their hopes for immediate escape were
cut off. The fugitives, to avoid the soldiers, were
obliged to retrace their steps. They were actual-
ly hunted back to the capital, and for some time,
while hundreds of soldiers were scouring the
country, seeking to seize and destroy them, they
were hiding about the very palace gates and tak-
ing final leave of their friends.

Here a new prospect of help and escape opened
to them. One of the European teachers, who
had left the island for a time, filled with a desire
to help the persecuted Christians, succeeded in

1 84 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

getting a message to them, promising help to es-
cape if they could only reach the coast. Thus en-
couraged, they set out once more on the long and
perilous journey to Tamatave.
Could they reach it ?



The second effort to reach the coast was, per-
haps, more perilous to the fugitives than the first
attempt. Since they had so long eluded their
pursuers, the queen's anger had increased. The
soldiers were urged to more strenuous efforts to
capture the Christians, and instructions were is-
sued that those found by the troops were not to
be brought to the capital, but executed just where
caught. The execution, too, was to be of a bar-
barous character. The queen's instructions were
to simply dig a hole, to bind the Christians hand
and foot, place them in the hole in the ground,
pour boiling water over them, and bury them.
Probably the search would have been more suc-
cessful than it was had there not been in the
hearts of many of the soldiers a secret admiration
of the Christians. Indeed, the very cruelty of the
death penalty they were bidden to inflict on any
they found made a good many of the soldiers se-
cretly hope they would not find any. For there
were qualities displayed by the Christians which
compelled their adversaries to respect them; and
even in the hearts of many heathen were some
glimmerings of light, which made many of them

1 86 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

hate the foul deeds to which their sovereign's rage
was driving them.

In order to render their possibilities of escape
more sure, the fugitives decided to separate into
several groups, the aim of all being to keep one
direction in their flight, and to make for one point
— Tamatave.

They felt that, in the event of being surprised
by the soldiers, two or three could be more speed-
ily and effectively secreted than a larger number.
This plan, while it made the probabilities of es-
cape greater, also made it necessary for some of
the fugitives to encounter greater dangers of an-
other kind.

Yet they felt they would rather meet the attacks
of the brute creation than to fall into the hands
of their heathen brethren.

Some of them were compelled to make wider
circuits, and so had to cross deep rivers and
mountain torrents, where alligators abounded ;
others of them went so far round that they were
prone to face perils of storm on the lake, and at
times had to cross deep ravines and mountain
gorges, by narrow and slender paths, where a slip
of the foot must have meant instant death.

Added to the danger was the hardship of hav-
ing to go for long periods without food, or to
subsist on the meanest support the forest could
afford. Their feet and legs were bruised and lac-
erated as they climbed over the rocks of the moun-
tain passes, or forced their way through the thick

Out of the Jaws of Death 187

underorush that served to conceal them from their
pursuers ; and they were weary from the constant
dread of being seized by unfriendly hands, and
marched back to the capital — and death.

At length, after several weeks of such exposure
and privation, they drew near to Tamatave, and
were filled with thankfulness that, so far, not one
of them had been discovered, neither had any evil
befallen them.

They found a place of concealment, where they
hoped to be able to elude detection for some time,
and succeeded in getting a message by a friendly
hand to those who were preparing to assist their
escape. Great was the joy as, one by one, the
various groups came safely to the rendezvous, and
rehearsed the gracious help and many deliver-
ances, vouchsafed them by their Lord and Mas-
ter, amid the perils of their journey.

Though they dared not lift their voices in songs
of praise, for fear of being discovered, there was
not one of them who did not, in the heart, sing
unto the Lord. News soon reached them that
their friends were hastening preparations to de-
liver them ; but great watchfulness and care were
urged upon them, for the undertaking was sur-
rounded by many difficulties. The queen's ha-
tred was relentless ; her orders arbitrary. Their
designs were suspected, and the quay at Tama-
tave seemed to almost swarm with soldiers whose
commission was to find, and arrest, the fugitives.
During the days of waiting there came one mo-

1 88 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

ment in which the hearts of the little band were
filled with consternation. Rafaravavy had gone
out from the place of concealment for the purpose
of seeking food, and thought she had succeeded
in evading the watchfulness of the soldiers and
of every one else who could have any interest in
knowing their whereabouts. She was returning
through the forest tracks, and had just reached
the foot of the steps leading to the cave in which
their hiding place had been made, when there was
a crackling in the bush, and on turning her head,
she saw a man in the queen's uniform within a
few yards.

Their place of concealment was discovered.
Rafaravavy ran up quickly, with the intention of
at least warning the others, but, calling her name,
the man followed, and, close behind her, entered
the cave.

It was clearly no use attempting to escape, and
the Christians came forward to give themselves
up to their pursuer.

But the next moment their dismay was turned
to gladness unspeakable. They found themselves
in the presence of an officer of the governor of
Tamatave, but discovered that he was secretly a
friend of the persecuted Christians ; and, although
endangering his own life thereby, had sought
them out for the purpose of helping them in their
hour of need. Yet another surprise was in store
for them. The cousin of Radama, who had es-

Out of the Jaws of Death 189

caped the slaughter by which Ranavalona secured
the throne, had become a Christian.

By his hand the officer was able, again and
again, to send supplies for the necessities of the
fugitives, and through him they were enabled to
send messages to their friends and to complete
preparations for their escape. He succeeded in
bringing to them several suits of sailors' clothes.
While in conversation with some of the soldiers
he did his utmost to throw them off their guard
as to the whereabouts of the fugitives, At length
plans were perfected, and the evening on which
they were to attempt their escape drew on. A
ship, flying the British flag, lay peacefully at an-
chor in the harbor, but some distance away from
shore. On board all seemed quiet and free from
activity of any kind, although the captain's secret
intention was to sail before next day.

As usual, the soldiers were scattered along the
quay, but were keeping only a perfunctory look-
out. There had been no sign of the fugitives
discovered, and no evidence seen of any attempt
to rescue any, and after a time the officers had
grown careless and unsuspicious, so that their
watch had been relaxed.

Night had just fallen on sea and land when,
from the ship, a boat was lowered, and swiftly
but quietly rowed to one end of the harbor. At
the same time Rakotomanga appeared on the quay
and, as he had often done before, engaged the

190 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

soldiers, who were straggling around, in conver-

How calmly, yet how earnestly, did he seek to
rivet their whole attention that night, for he knew
how much depended on his efforts. Meanwhile,
the fugitives had cut their hair short, and, casting
off their garments, had donned the sailor suits,
and thus prepared, they awaited the dark cover
of night.

Presently, while Rakotomanga and the soldiers
were still engaged in conversation, their attention
was arrested by what appeared to be a party of
sailors strolling across the quay.

One of the soldiers raised the question as to
whom they might be ; but so deep was the interest
in the subject they were discussing that an officer
hushed him, remarking that they were evidently
some boat's crew, who had been spending the
day on shore, going off to their vessel. It was
thus, with beating hearts and alternating hopes
and fears, our friends reached the shore, stepped
down into the boat, and were immediately borne
off to the ship anchored in the stream.

Suddenly, while the soldiers were still speaking,
there came from over the harbor the sound of
Malagasy female voices singing Christian songs
of praise and deliverance.

The soldiers paused and listened ; they recog-
nized some of the voices ; they caught the words
of triumph and thanksgiving ; they saw the ship's
signals lighted, while, mingling; with the songs of

Out of the Jaws of Death 191

the Christians came the " Yo-ho's " of the sailors
as they heaved anchor; and before the officers
could recover from their surprise, the lights of the
ship grew smaller and more distant as she set
to sea, and they realized that the fugitives had
escaped from the jaws of death.

The governor despatched messengers to the
capital to make known the fact that the vigilance
of the soldiers had been evaded and that Rafara-
vavy, with six other fugitives had escaped to a
land where the warrants of Ranavalona were im-

It may here be stated that the arrival in Eng-
land of six of the fugitives was the means of
bringing home. to the Christian Church the im-
portance of the work that had been accomplished
in Madagascar ; and their presence at a great gath-
ering in Exeter Hall, London, on June 4, 1839,
awakened profound interest in the spiritual wel-
fare of the Island.

These fugitives did not, however, spend the
years, during which their fellow Christians were
suffering for the sake of the Gospel, in the ease
and security of life in England.

They wanted to be engaged in the service of
Christ; and so in 1842 they returned to the
Mauritius, where were large numbers of Mala-
gasy slaves, and there, for many years, they
found the opportunity for bringing the joy and
love of Christ into the lives of their downtrodden

192 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

It happened that while these events had been
transpiring, Fantaka, who was still unsuspected
of sympathy with the Christians, and was thus
able to move about freely, became anxious to
know the fate of Rafaravavy and her companions,
and so had set out, accompanied by some friends
and slaves, to learn something concerning them.
After traveling several days she met the messen-
gers from Tamatave, who told her of the escape
from the country of those who had so long been
hunted and persecuted. A great joy welled up
in Fantaka's heart as she returned in haste to the
city, bearing the news.

Great was the indignation and consternation of
the queen when the tidings reached her; while
Kelazapa and his fellow-priests became almost
frantic with rage. Fiercer, and yet more imper-
ative, were the orders given to the soldiery, so
that the deliverance of the first band of fugitives
was the signal for the outbreak of a more bitter
spirit of hatred toward all the Christians remain-
ing on the island. The command went forth,
" No quarter to the Christians ! " Scourging and
chains, imprisonment, slavery and the tangena
ordeal, were now the common lot of all suspected
of being Christians who could be caught. Many
escaped to the forests, and there, for years to
come, lived in volcanic craters, caves and dens,
subsisting on such roots or other kinds of food as
they could obtain.

Encouraged by the escape of Rafaravavy and

Out of the Jaws of Death 1 93

her companions, others made efforts to reach the
coast, hoping that some way of deliverance would
open to them. But the queen and her officers
had learned a lesson and it was scarcely possible.
A second such attempt had a disastrous and bitter
ending. A company of sixteen Christians were
making their way to the coast and had for a long
time successfully eluded the soldiers. But
through an act of treachery they were surprised
while in a place of concealment, and all of them
fell into the hands of the captors. They were
bound together, and set out to march back to An-
tananarivo for trial.

Life was dear to them, as to others, and it was
not to be expected that any opportunity to save
life would be allowed to slip. It so happened that,
toward the close of a day's march, one of the
prisoners discovered that, in consequence of
emaciation resulting from lack of food, the
bands upon her wrists were slack. Just at dusk
the company were skirting the edge of a forest,
and approaching the spot where they were to
halt for the night. At a bend of the road, taking
advantage of the negligence of the soldiers, she
managed to squeeze her shrunken hand through
the loop, and, quietly dropping out of the march,
fled to the forest and succeeded in making good
her escape. The other fifteen were brought to the
city, and after trial were placed in prison to await
their execution.

Whether by the connivance of a friendly guard,

194 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

or as the consequence of carelessness in the watch,
another of the condemned Christians succeeded in
escaping from the prison and fled to the forests.

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 10 of 17)