John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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comed by an enthusiastic people, it was not with-
out desire and effort on the part of the priests to
supplant him. Immediately on the queen's death
a heathen council was called, and, during the next
few days, repeated consultations were held, hav-
ing for their object the possible seizing of the
throne for one who would carry on the work of
the late ruler.

Every possible plan was discussed ; details out-
lined ; and the priests were congratulating them-
selves that they could successfully carry out their
plot, by proclaiming the anger of the gods against
Radama, because of his sympathy toward the
Christians ; and then proceed to arrest him, and,
by bribery, secure his banishment into exile ; but
their plottings were doomed to failure. The peo-
ple had suffered for the crimes committed at the
instigation of the priests and Ranavalona, at the
time of her succession, and did not propose to be
again subjected to such inflictions. The idol-
party had therefore to accept the inevitable and
Radama peacefully succeeded to the throne,
amidst much popular rejoicing. The first day of

232 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar «

Radama's reign revealed something of the reality
of his friendliness toward the Christians. It also
manifested the influence which the teachings of
the Gospel had exerted over his mind. He lived
a heathen, and a heathen he died ; yet, in the mat-
ters of religious freedom and equality, he had ad-
vanced beyond many who have had greater light
and education, and a civilization to which his
was not comparable.

The new king's first proclamation was at once
issued to the city and country; and it seemed to
bring to the suffering people of God almost a
millennial blessing. The key-note of the procla-
mation was " Liberty " — the freedom of every
man to worship whomsoever he would, and in ac-
cordance with the dictates of conscience, choice,
or custom. The ban was removed from the wor-
ship of Jehovah, and the fear of man was lifted
from the hearts of those who were loyal to His
claims. The penalties inflicted on the Christians
by Ranavalona were revoked, and those who had
been made slaves for the love of Christ were de-
livered from their bondage.

Many had already been released from their
captivity by the merciful hand of death; and
surely to them had been given the martyr's
crown. But, while many had thus died in their
chains, others in those dark days, and in the land
whither the persecutors had driven them, had
found opportunities to gather souls into the King-
dom of God. Away on the plantations they had

Out of Bondage 133

taught their friends and fellow-slaves the truths
which cheered and supported them in the times
of sore trouble. Thus, in the land of their exile,
heathen communities had been leavened with the
gospel of the love of God.

Amongst those who died in slavery, one de-
serves special mention — Rabodo. When a price
had been set upon her husband's head, and he
had succeeded in escaping, she was seized, and
again and again flogged in order to compel her to
divulge the names of her companions. As she
still refused, she was condemned to exile, and,
heavily chained, was marched with a company of
Christians away to the west — torn from children
and home. Her children were also sold into bond-
age ; and for ten years she lingered on, faithfully
serving her taskmaster, but hearing nothing of
her loved ones ; until at length, worn out with toil,
heart-broken with grieving for her husband and
children, yet still trusting in her Saviour, Rabodo
sank to sleep and was gathered into the land of
eternal day.

It is impossible for us to realize what that day,
and that proclamation, meant to the poor, despised
and hunted Christians. Ponder it ! All over the
land the tidings fly — Freedom ! Freedom ! !
Freedom ! ! !

The cry is thundered in the forests, and its
echoes are heard in the mountain caves ; and weak,
emaciated, starving, trembling Christians creep
forth to seek some friendlv hand, and to ask, " are

234 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

the tidings really true ? " Over the plantations
the new3 spreads quickly; and they who slept
last night in the shadows of slavery, awoke this
morning in the light of liberty.

Off with the fetters ! Break the chains ! Cast
away the tools of slavery! The Christians are
free. There are thousands of them scattered all
over the land, but especially in the north-west por-
tion of the island ; and as the tidings of deliver-
ance reach them, the almost universal instinct is,
to return to the capital and seek their friends.

From district to district the watchword is
passed — Home ! As the word is pronounced,
new hopes and sacred memories are awakened ;
and, as with one heart, the Christians prepare for
the return. Groups are formed and begin to re-
trace their way across the mountain tracks and
through forest thicknesses — not captives now, but
free men ! They went forth with weeping ; they
are returning with joy.

Yet as they return, they leave behind them
many a hallowed spot, where they have raised a
little cross to mark the resting place of some of
their friends who sank beneath the severity of
bondage and their cruel treatment, and who are
lying in slumber until the last trump shall sound
and the dead in Christ shall rise. As these groups
pass along they are constantly joined by solitary
companions, who, as fugitives, have been hiding
in pits and forest recesses, but who have heard
the tidings of liberty and have come to unite with

Out of Bondage 235

the throng who, with singing and gladness are
moving homeward.

What emotions thrill their breasts, as these
separate companies march forward. Memory-
brings back the faces and forms of the loved ones
of twenty years ago. Memory recalls the trials
since endured. Mothers think of their children,
snatched from their arms and sent away in other
directions — shall they meet again? Husbands
think of wives, and wives of husbands torn from
their embrace — shall they see one another again?
Children, who have forgotten their parents'
faces, are wondering if they shall find, and be re-
stored to, their loved ones ?

Presently, as they go forward, signs begin to
reveal that many groups of Christians are
gradually converging on their loved city. One
company, as they are skirting the edge of the
forest with singing and gladness, Rear the strains
of Christian song wafted down the mountain side.
They pause, and presently catch glimpses of a
company dressed in white ; and farther on, where
the paths unite, they meet. So group joins
group, and the glad throng grows ; while at the
sound of those songs the weak and lonely creep
from their caves, and wait by the roadside till
their friends come along; and they fall into line.
What mutual recognitions ! What recounting of
experiences ! What testimonies to the goodness
of God!

From all sides, but especially from the north-

236 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

west, in ever-increasing numbers, the redeemed
ones of the Lord are returning to their Zion with
songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads. Day
after day they press onward, till at length the
companies begin to assemble on the hills that
overlook Antananarivo.

They come as conquerors ; and conquerors they
are ! They have conquered by love ; they have
overcome by faith! A few hours and they will
see their city. Onward through the day-blaze;
on into the early evening hours; and they have
gained the mountain pass from which they will
descend to-morrow and enter through the gate
into the city. To-night, the city is all commotion.
Many groups of the returning exiles have already
arrived, and all is excitement and eager expecta-
tion. Hungry eyes and longing hearts scan the
faces of every group, as long-separated friends
and relatives seek for some mark of their loved
ones — some token of recognition.

In not a few homes there is joy unbounded ; for
the long lost have been found. The excitement
has increased ; for just before night-fall, those in
the city have seen a great company gathered on
the mountain, encamping for the night. Which
of their hearts, which of their homes, will be made
glad to-morrow? There is little sleep for the
city to-night, and there is no time to think of the
chagrin of the priest party ; for preparations are
going forward to receive the ransomed ones.

Before day-break a long stream of eager, ex-

Out of Bondage 237

pectant, rejoicing people issue from their homes;
and, as the sun rises, they see that already their
friends on the hills are moving forward. Listen !
Songs break forth on all sides ; and hills and vales
echo and re-echo with the strains of gladness:

"They come! they come! Thine exiled bands.
Where'er they rest or roam,
Have heard Thy voice, in distant lands,
And hasten to their home."

Down from the mountain comes the plaintive
chant : " By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat
down ; yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion."
And from the plains below goes back the inspir-
ing response: " I will lift up mine eyes unto the
hills from whence cometh my help." Again,
there floats downward the chant : " Oh, that men
would praise the Lord for His goodness, and de-
clare the wonders that he doeth for the children
of men; for He hath broken the gates of brass,
and smitten the bars of iron asunder." And so
response succeeds response, as the wondering and
rejoicing companies approach each other. Sud-
denly the descending singers are lost sight of as
they wind around the base of a hillock, sur-
mounted by a heavy forest growth. A moment
more, and the returning captives march forth
into full view. And now, on the very spot where,
many years before, they had stood, while their
best friends were slain, and from which they had
been banished into bondage, loving hands are

238 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

stretched forth to welcome them, and friendly
arms embrace them.

As by sudden instinct, there is a pause; and a
spell of awful silence falls upon the throng.
They are standing on holy ground — ground sanc-
tified by the blood of their martyred companions,
and God's saints. A great sound of weeping goes
up — tears of mourning and tears of joy mingle ;
for a day has come for which they had scarce
dared to hope. But again their songs break
forth : " O sing unto the Lord a new song ; for
He hath done marvellous things : His right hand
and His holy arm hath wrought salvation."

Even while they sing, their famished hearts
and eager eyes are strained in the longing to dis-
cover some loved face — some dear friend ; and
again and again, a wild shout of joy, rising high
above the songs of gladness, tells that some have
found their lost ones.

Hours pass by, while still the voices of prayer
and praise mingle on that holy place. But now,
the united companies, and re-united loved ones,
turn their faces in the direction of the city.
What hath God wrought !

There is only one way in which the pent-up
feelings can find relief and the air is rent with the
shout of Christian praise. As they enter through
the city gates, the loudest song of joy ascends, as
from thousands of hearts, and by thousands of
voices, the old psalm of Israel is chanted : " When
the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we

Out of Bondage 239

were like unto them that dream. Then was our
mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with
singing: then said they among the heathen, the
Lord hath done great things for them. The Lord
hath done great things for us, whereof we are
glad." Thus the exiles came back from the land
of bondage.




XXVI. Changes.
XXVII. A Coronation.
XXVIII. Expansion.
XXIX. War and Conquest.

XXX. The Sign of the Cross again.
XXXI. Looking toward the Noonday.



While such a complete change had been
wrought in the condition of the Christians, and
their hearts were filled to overflowing with the
gladness of deliverance, very different emotions
were filling the minds of the leaders of the idol
party. To say that a sense of consternation came
upon them would be to use a mild term. They
were amazed at the numerical strength attained
by the Christians, and at the discovery that
twenty-six years of fierce and relentless persecu-
tion, instead of wiping out the new religion, had
served rather to multiply the number of its pro-
fessors. They were also alarmed at their
own loss of influence over the heathen party. Re-
monstrances to Radama were powerless to modify
his proclamation of liberty. Wherever they
turned, it seemed as if the very heathen were
mocking them, because, at the end of the long
struggle Ranavalona was dead, the Christians
had conquered, and the new religion had, by
royal decree, been placed on an equality with the
old idolatry.

Not the least important factor in the changed


244 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

attitude of the heathen populace toward the
Christians was the spirit manifested by the latter
toward their former foes and persecutors. No
talk of revenge ; no remonstrances ; no display of
ill-feeling; but just a glad, peaceful, forgiving
spirit toward all. Some of them even sought out
those who had been their bitterest enemies in
the past, for the purpose of assuring them of for-
giveness. When the heathen stood around the
worshiping congregations and heard, repeatedly,
earnest prayers offered for the mercy and pardon
and blessing of their Jehovah upon those who
had injured them, the contrast between the spirit
of the Christians and that of the priests was so
marked, that large numbers desired to know the
source of that beautiful spirit; and so became in-
quirers after the truths of the gospel !

A period of successive changes now followed.
While many homes were filled with unspeakable
joy, others were overshadowed by dark clouds,
as the weeks passed by, and no news reached them
of their loved ones. One of the saddest hearts
amongst the whole Christian band was Ram-
on ja's. Eagerly had he watched for the return of
Fantaka. He had gone out to meet each group
that approached the city; but she came not,
neither could he gain any news of her. At length,
having discovered the locality to which she had
been banished, he determined to go forth and
search for her.

Accompanied by two faithful servants, he set

Changes 245

forth on his journey of almost two hundred miles ;
and after some two weeks of weary traveling,
reached the village. He sought out Fantaka's
former master, only to find that she had been sick
at the time the king's proclamation arrived ; and
her master, angry at the loss of his slaves, had
put her out on the village street, to do the best
she could for herself. Beyond that, he knew
nothing of her. But a few hours brought the
evidence that, amongst the heathen, there were
hearts that had been softened to compassion
toward the persecuted ones. An old heathen wo-
man had found Fantaka at the road side, exhaust-
ed, and almost at the point of death. She had
gently raised her, and, with assistance, taken her
to her own hut; and there had fed and nursed
the suffering woman. Unspeakably joyous was
the re-union between Rarronja and Fantaka; and
their gratitude to the poor woman who had so
cared for an outcast disciple of Christ was over-
whelming. Surely that Divine Master, whose
servant she had nourished has given her the re-
ward of a righteous man.

Fantaka was too weak to travel; and so, send-
ing back the servants with the tidings of her
welfare, and with instructions to return to meet
them, Ramon j a decided to remain until his be-
trothed was sufficiently restored to take the jour-
ney. In this way it happened that several months
had elapsed, since the dawn of freedom, when
Fantaka at last reached her old home.

a^.6 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

In the meantime remarkable events had been
transpiring in Antananarivo and elsewhere.
Tidings of the changed condition of the Chris-
tians speedily reached England; and in a few
weeks the missionaries were once more nearing
the shores of Madagascar. Rafaravavy, and her
fellow-exiles, returned also; and within a short
time the Christians were rejoiced at welcoming
back their loved teachers, and their old friends
who had succeeded in escaping from the island
till the persecution was past. Right royal was
the welcome they received; encouraging the re-
ports they heard; and inspiring the enthusiasm
revealed for the prosecution of the work of the
gospel all through the land.

Ever memorable was the first Sabbath after
their arrival at the capital. In less than a year
the conditions were so utterly changed that, in-
stead of the Christians meeting in small groups
for secret worship, at the peril of their lives, they
assembled openly and fearlessly in their tempo-
rary church, and nearly eight hundred belong-
ing to the city alone, sat down to the Lord's Sup-

At the outbreak of persecution, some twenty-
six years before, there were about two hundred
Christians in the island. Now, nearly eight hun-
dred united in one service in Antananarivo alone ;
and it is supposed there were nearly seven thou-
sand in the country. Such was the harvest of a
quarter of a century of persecution.

Changes 247

Rafaravavy's first concern was as to the fate
of Fantaka; and it was with feelings of devout
thankfulness she learned of the steadfastness in
suffering she had displayed. Anxiously she
awaited her return from the land of bondage.
And when at length that moment came, tender,
loving, and joyous was the meeting between them.

The task of erecting churches and schools, of
teaching and preaching, and of thoroughly re-
organizing the work, now proceeded vigorously ;
and on every hand were evidences that a few
years of such labor would alter the character of
the entire community around the capital. The
priests still lived in hope of a reversal of the new
policy toward the Christians ; and it was not long
before events transpired which at first seemed to
justify their hopes.

Radama II was fast becoming imbecile, as the
result of his wild and licentious life ; dissatisfac-
tion with his government was spreading all
abroad ; and there were signs of approaching rev-
olution, from the results of which the heathen
party expected to gain much.

The conspiracy developed, resulting first in the
putting to death of several ministers of state,
and ultimately, in the strangling of Radama.

The natural successor to the throne was Ra-
bodo, wife of the late king ; and on the fact that
she was a devoted idolater, the priests built their
expectations for the future. But again they were
doomed to disappointment.

248 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

The leaven of Christianity had been working,
even amongst the heathen party; and the same
desire for peace and stable government, which
had led to the destruction of the late king, led
the conspirators to take such steps as would make
it impossible for his successor to adopt a policy
which would defeat their wishes. Before con-
senting to Rabodo's being proclaimed queen, the
leaders required of her the concession of a num-
ber of popular demands, and of constitutional
liberties and rights. These involved full relig-
ious equality, and the rights of the people and
nobles, through representatives, to a voice in
framing the laws ; and especially in those matters
which involved interests of life and death. Both
these guarantees conceded, Rabodo ascended the
throne as queen Rasoherima.

The priest party were once more received with
favor at the palace, but the queen remained true
to the constitutional guarantees given; and she
manifested a friendly disposition toward the
Christians, who enjoyed equal liberties with the
heathen in matters of religion. Many of the
Christians who, in the days of persecution had
been despoiled of their property, had considerable
portions of their lands restored to them. Rafar-
avavy enjoyed the special favor of the queen, and
was largely reinstated in her former position.

During the short reign of Rasoherima the prog-
ress of the people was marked, the enlightening
influence of the new faith making itself felt in all

Changes 249

departments of their life. The prime minister
took an important public part in at least two cere-
monies connected with the Christian churches;
and the people manifested a strong desire for edu-
cation, and for knowledge of the Word of God.

It was when such progress gave promise of a
bright and happy future for the kingdom that
Rasoherima died ; and again the element of doubt
entered into the struggle for supremacy. The
moment was felt to be a vital one alike to the
Christian and heathen parties. A new sovereign,
who would hinder the work of the missionaries,
might set back the progress already made, and
inaugurate a new era of terror for the Christians.
A new sovereign, who should favor the Chris-
tians, might strike the final blow at idolatry, and
shatter forever the hope of the heathen su-

Which should it be ?



The fears and misgivings of both parties were
destined to continue for some time. There was
no direct descendant of the late king or queen, to
assume the throne; so that it passed to another
branch of the family.

A conspiracy had been formed having for its
object the putting of Rasala, a relative of Radama
II., upon the throne ; but it failed. Ultimately it
was decided that the true successor to royal power
was Ramoma, a cousin of the late queen ; and, ac-
cordingly on April 2nd, 1868, she was proclaimed
queen. The heathen party were at first chagrined
by this result, for Ramoma, though she had not
herself outlined any definite policy favorable to
Christianity, was a sister to Prince Ramonja, who
was one of the leaders of the new religion who
had suffered much for the name of Christ; and
she was known to be thoroughly acquainted with
the doctrines of the Scriptures.

At the same time they encouraged their hearts
so soon as it became known that Ramoma in-
tended to assume the royal title of her aunt, and
to be known as Ranavalona II. They hoped that
this might be an indication that she would revive

A Coronation 251

the policy that queen had pursued, and so com-
plete the work of exterminating Christianity.

The Christians, on the other hand, found their
hopes swayed by just the reverse methods of
reasoning. To them the title of the new queen
seemed an ill-omen ; while yet, knowing that the
queen was a sister of Ramon j a, that she had be-
friended Rafaravavy, and done many acts of
kindness to other members of the churches, and
that she had for years studied carefully the tenets
of their faith, they could scarcely believe it pos-
sible she would, as queen, deny all the hopes they
had entertained of her before her accession to the
royal power.

Ranavalona II. wisely decided to postpone her
coronation until she had had time to thoroughly
weigh several important matters of state, and to
frame her policy regarding them; so that her
proclamation at that period might indicate clearly
the mode of government she intended to pursue.
Perhaps the question that required most careful
consideration was the relation to be sustained by
the throne toward the Christians.

There was no denying the immense and rapid
progress they had made, the large numbers who
had become disciples, nor the fact that nearly all
the most loyal, intelligent and progressive citi-
zens, including especially the young people of the
capital, were ranking themselves under the lead-
ership of the missionaries.

For some time the queen and prime minister

151 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

seriously discussed this subject with the council.
It did not take long to come to the resolution that
any attempt to destroy the influence of Christian-
ity, or to root it out, was foredoomed to failure.
Eventually, the question resolved itself into one
of either remaining neutral and permitting the
respective religions to work for the mastery, or
accepting the Christian faith and assuming an
active part in extending its power. The resolve
of the queen, though not yet announced, was to
publicly and royally recognize the Christian faith,
place herself under the instruction of the teachers,
and so take a foremost part in advancing the in-
terests of the new religion. When the queen's
policy had been clearly defined, arrangements
were made for her coronation to take place on
Sept. 3rd, 1868.

In response to the royal proclamation, it is said

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 13 of 17)