John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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four hundred thousand people assembled to wit-
ness, what proved to be, the most remarkable
public event in the history of Madagascar.

It was with difficulty that either the Christians
or heathen party could suppress the excitement
felt, or allay the alternating hopes and fears
which filled them. The thoughts of many went
back to the first kabary of Ranavalona L, and all
it had been productive of. What would be the
effects to follow the first assembly, and the first
declaration of Ranavalona II. ? The air was full
of rumors. But gradually the confidence of the
Christians increased as they noticed the arrange-

A Coronation 253

ments made for the coronation. And when, as
the hour drew near, it was seen that the priests
were not in evidence, the hope became assurance,
that the policy of the government was to be lib-
eral in matters of religion.

As the queen advanced toward the canopy that
over-arched her throne, the festoons were drawn
aside, and the scene presented sent a thrill of
mingled joy, wonder and fear through the whole
multitude. In bold letters there shone forth from
the canopy these sentences : " Glory to God " —
" Peace on earth " — " Good will to men " — " God
is with us ".

When the people had somewhat recovered from
their first astonishment, a mighty cheer arose from
the great assembly; and then the Christians, no
longer able to restrain their feelings, broke forth
into a song of grateful thanksgiving to God.

Before the throne had been placed two tables.
On one lay the crown which was presently placed
on the queen's head. On the other lay a copy of
the Malagasy Bible, which she took to her heart,
and for her guide. Repeatedly, as the prime min-
ister read the queen's speech, the Christians were
gladdened to hear such quotations from the Scrip-
tures as showed the queen's familiarity with the
sacred writings. The speech was printed and
circulated amongst the people. One sentence is
particularly worthy of unfailing record : — " This
is my word to you, ye under heaven, in regard to
the praying; it is not enforced; it is not re-

254 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

strained; for God made you." Thus the inaugu-
ration of Ranavalona's reign declared the policy
of the government to be for the promotion of
Christianity in the land; and, while continuing
liberty to the idolaters in the matter of accepting
the new faith, to encourage them to renounce
their idols and turn to the living God.

The national idols had been ignored, and the
name of Jehovah exalted in their stead. The
effect was mighty. The churches were thronged
with worshipers; enquirers multiplied; within
a year the queen and prime minister were both
baptized and received into the fellowship of the
Church; and those who followed the example of
royalty began to manifest, at least, an outward
interest in this new religion.

Prince Ramon j a was appointed to an important
office, and many government positions were filled
by Christians ; so that, all through the central
province of Imerina a new cry began to be heard
— " God bless the queen."

But the last struggle in connection with this era
of persecution, was yet to come. The heathen
priests determined to rally their forces once more,
and to make a final effort to arrest the progress of
Christianity and to assert the supremacy of the
idols. The next annual festival of the gods was
the season chosen for the attempt. A few days
before the occasion, a deputation of priests, led
by Kelazapa, sought an audience with the queen.
Their request being granted they proceeded to

A Coronation 255

point out the dishonor which, for the past two
years, had been done to the idols, and the disfavor
shown to the priests of the national religion ; also
to foretell the calamities which they were sure
must ultimately come upon the land if the course
were persisted in ; and to demand that the privi-
lege of exemption from punishment and the pow-
ers of life and death, of which the idols and priests
had been despoiled, be restored to them.

The effect of their request upon the queen was
very different to that which they had anticipated.
She had almost forgotten the existence of the
idols, and had failed altogether to realize that,
while she was a Christian queen, the idols still
continued in her realms, and she was nominally,
and legally, their patron and protector. Dismiss-
ing the priests for a time, she summoned a meet-
ing of the Council, at which she explained the
situation as it had become apparent to her. How
incongruous her position was became at once
plain — and in a very short time, a decision was
arrived at. Soldiers were immediately despatched
to Kelazapa to demand that the idols be given up
to the queen. He, divining what her intention
might be, hesitated to comply with the demand.
But the officers were not to be put off. " Do not
the gods belong to the queen ? " they demanded ;
to which the only possible reply was, " Assured-
ly ! " " Then the queen wants her property, and
if the idols be not given up, we will search for
them." " Then ", said Kelazapa, " the idols will

256 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

be safe; for they will become invisible, and you
will not be able to find them.'' Again he asked
what the queen intended to do with the idols?
and on being told she would burn them, he in-
formed the officers that the attempt would be use-
less as the idols would not burn. " Well, we will
take our chances in these things ; only, deliver up
the idols as the queen demands," replied the of-
ficers. At length the idols, both great and small,
were brought from their place of hiding; and
with deep emotion, and dejection almost pitiful to
behold, the priests gave them into the hands of
the soldiers.

Then, while the soldiers proceeded to kindle a
fire in order to prove the combustibility of the
idols, the priests used many charms to save their
gods. But when the people realized how utterly
helpless their gods were, and how unable to pro-
tect themselves, they ceased, very largely, to be
concerned for their fate. Through the villages
of Imerina the queen's example spread ; and soon ;
from almost every village of the province, the
smoke of the burning idols ascended. Not only
the public gods, but the family idols also, with
charms and other articles of the ancestral wor-
ship, w r ere brought together, and publicly de-
stroyed ; and in a very short time, so far as the
Hovas were concerned, the idols were utterly
abolished. Kelazapa was heartbroken — crushed
with the weight of the disgrace that had overta-

A Coronation 257

ken the idols, and the overthrow of the ancient
Malagasy idolatry.

Soon after this, Rainiharo was promoted to an
official position. Ramaka, too, was given an im-
portant office. Rafaravavy, who was advanced
in years, settled in her own quiet home ; and one
of her neighbors and closest friends was Ranivo
— who had been falsely accused, in earlier years,
of betraying her friend, and was thus led to the
Christian worship and life. A great deliverance
had come to the people, and the sign of the cross
had assumed a new meaning. On every hand the
tidings of the Gospel were spreading, and
churches being multiplied, while large numbers of
the heathen turned unto the Lord. The Cross
was victorious ! Instead of being any longer the
sign of suffering and persecution and death, it
became the symbol of salvation, the inspiration
of joy, the quickener of hope, the standard of
triumph; and from the lips of many thousands,
who once gloried in their shame and idolatry, a
new song arose :

" In the Cross of Christ I glory !
Towering o'er the wrecks of time ;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime."



It remains for us, in these four closing chap-
ters, to rapidly trace the spread of the Christian
faith and the growth of mission work, since the
close of the long period of persecution under
Ranavalona, and the destruction of the idols un-
der Ranavalona II. In so doing, we pass largely
from the realm of, what some would call, " the ro-
mance of missions " ; and yet it is difficult to un-
derstand why men should consider the romance
to have worn away when the era of suffering for
the truth, and the excitement accompanying the
long struggle for supremacy, between Christian-
ity and idolatry, came to an end. However, if
we pass from the days of romance, we at the
same time enter upon a more accurately historical
period, which might, perhaps, be fittingly de-
scribed as a miracle of missions. The destruc-
tion of idols throughout the province of Imerina,
and the action of the queen and prime minister in
openly avowing themselves Christians — while full
liberty and protection were guaranteed to those
who did not desire to renounce idolatry — led to
a very widespread, even if in large measure su-
perficial, interest in Christianity.

Expansion 259

The heathen were not indifferent to the exam-
ple of their royalty ; and very soon church-going
and the worship of Jehovah became fashionable.
Such facts, probably, often caused the new condi-
tion of affairs to be painted in too rosy colors,
and, in a few years' time, led many to the dim im-
pression that the whole island had been Chris-

At the same time, let it not be thought that the
work was merely superficial. The Malagasy had
learnt too dearly the reality of the Christian faith,
and the vital effects of a change of heart, to per-
mit of their being mere formalists. Making all
allowance for the changed condition, there was
an awakening of interest, and an eagerness to
learn the truth, which produced a miraculous
change in the life of the people of Imerina.

The first missionaries to re-enter the province
were soon besieged with requests for teachers —
many of these requests coming from distant
places, where, without any teachers, the people
were beginning to assemble for worship, led only
by those who happened to have received a little
instruction elsewhere. Immediately plans were
framed by the London Missionary Society, whose
agents had been used of God to accomplish all
the results so far attained, to largely reinforce the
missionaries, and to broaden the foundations of
the work, with a view to meeting all the claims
which the tide of progress made upon them.

One of the first arrivals, the Rev. W. E. Cous-

160 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

ins, who reached Antananarivo in August, 1862,
in describing the eagerness of the people to learn
and to attend meetings, says : " It seemed as if
they could not spend too many hours in the house
of God." The new experience of singing, pray-
ing and hearing the gospel, without fear of man,
thrilled them with joy; and numbers of the people
would spend as many as ten hours of Sunday in
church. In a few months a large supply of testa-
ments, portions of Scripture, and other books
arrived ; and so great was the demand for them,
that in three days nearly one thousand Testa-
ments and five hundred portions were sold —
while, of tracts and other books, thousands were
quickly purchased by the people.

Bible classes were widely established and
proved one of the wisest methods of missionary
labor. New missionaries and teachers arrived;
schools were opened all around, and congrega-
tions gathered. By the year 1870 there were, in
connection with this one society, 621 congrega-
tions, with more than 230,000 adherents. It was
natural that a new mission field, such as Mada-
gascar was, should arouse the interest of other
societies; and that, in view of the widespread
sympathy with the persecuted church, all the
Christians of England should be stirred with a
desire to take a part in sending the gospel through
the re-opened doors. Consequently, the next
few years witnessed the commencement of work
by several societies, much of that work being

Expansion 261

undertaken, and performed, in the spirit of Chris-
tian love and co-operation with the society which
began work in the island ; but in some instances,
unfortunately, marred by the attempt to establish
some particular form of church government.

In 1864, the Church Missionary Society and the
Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (both
Episcopalian), began work. The former society
had, for two years, been contemplating this work,
which had been urged upon them by their sup-
porters; but, moved by a wise and Christian
spirit, they did not desire to introduce anything
like denominational rivalry.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
was not quite so liberally inclined. However, at
a conference of representatives of these societies
and the London Missionary Society, held in 1863,
at which were present the Archbishops of
Canterbury and York, and the Bishops of Lon-
don, Oxford and Capetown, it was agreed that
the province of Imerina should be left to the care
of the London Missionary Society, while the so-
cieties representing the two sections of the
Church of England should confine their labors to
the east coast. These societies, in 1864, estab-
lished missions on the east coast, and all promised
well for the evangelization of Madagascar upon
lines which should be free from sectarian differ-

In a few years the Society for the Propagation
of the Gospel determined to abolish the agree-

262 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

ment of 1863 ; to enter the territory of the London
Missionary Society, and to establish itself at
Antananarivo. The reason for so doing is given
in an official record of the society thus : " The
prayer book was in use on the coast, but it had not
reached the capital; and when the coast people
went on business to the capital, they found no
church services and so were taunted by the ruling
people. So it became necessary that the church
should extend its mission to the capital." This
declaration does not seem quite charitable toward
the work of the London Missionary Society,
whose agents had been instrumental in laying the
foundation of the church of Christ in Madagas-
car : and is scarcely consistent with another state-
ment in the same official record, where one of its
workers is spoken of as finding, at Mahanoro, " a
clear field, with no rival teachers, whereas in al-
most every part of Madagascar, there are too
many tokens of a divided Christianity."

For it was the action of the Society for the
Propagation of the Gospel that first introduced
those divisions, which its missionaries subse-
quently found cause to lament.

The Church Missionary Society nobly declined
to be a party to this violation of Christian agree-
ment; and, in 1874, altogether withdrew from the
island, thus leaving the work of the ritualistic
portion of the Episcopal Church to be continued
by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.
While for a time the action of this society created

French Residency, Fianarantsoa, Betsileo.

Observatory, Imerina.

Expansion 263

some heart-burnings, and was productive of some
evil to the native Christian communities, the un-
pleasantness gradually began to subside; and a
considerable measure of harmony has for many
years prevailed between its agents and those of
other societies.

Following the example of the London Mission-
ary Society, the Society for the Propagation of
the Gospel took steps, in 1876, for the establish-
ment of a college for the training of a native min-
istry. This was built at Ambatoharanana, twelve
miles from the capital, and during its course of
service more than fifty students have received
training within its walls. The work of this soci-
ety has developed largely in and around the cap-
ital, and in various parts of the country. The
Cathedral of St. Lawrence was dedicated on Au-
gust 10th, 1890. The statistical report for 1899
reveals the results, so far as they can be tabulated
in figures, viz., 8 English and 16 native mission-
aries (ordained); over 100 native catechists; 3
English lady teachers and 14 native school teach-
ers; 14,000 on the roll of church members, and
nearly 3,000 communicants.

In 1866, agents of the Norwegian Missionary
Society began work in Madagascar. And, al-
though at first some friction arose because they
too established themselves at the capital, this
presently passed away. A portion of the Betsileo
province was placed entirely under their care;
kindly relations with other societies were created ;

264 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

and here their missionaries have labored with
great success. At the end of 1894, there were
44 Norwegian, and 60 native ordained mission-
aries connected with the society. They had then,
under their care, 60,000 adherents, of whom 28,-
000 were communicants; and in their schools
were found 30,000 children.

In 1867, the Friends' Foreign Mission Associa-
tion, on appeal being made to them to assist in
providing for the educational necessities of Mad-
agascar, began work. While this association at
first devoted its energies mainly to the work of
education, its labors have gradually been de-
veloped along other lines as well — establishing
congregations and taking an active part in medi-
cal work. Throughout the whole period of over
thirty years the most harmonious relations have
existed between the representatives of this society
and those of the others — especially the London
and Norwegian Societies.

In much of the hospital and medical training
work the doctors of the former two societies have
worked in closest co-operation. From the report
for 1898, the following statistics of results are
gleaned: 178 congregations, with 154 preachers;
2639 church members; 12473 adherents; nearly
18,000 children in schools; and some 9,000 cases
of sickness cared for.

So far back as 1648, an attempt was made to
establish Roman Catholic Missions in the island.
But in a few years the priests, by their violent

Expansion 26$

and haughty spirit, incurred the hatred of the
natives. One priest was murdered and the mis-
sion was relinquished. Immediately upon the re-
opening, of the island to missionary work, in 1861,
Roman Catholic priests re-entered the field. At
once they denounced the Protestants, notwith-
standing it had been the Protestants who had en-
dured the twenty-five years of bitter persecution
for the sake of Christ ; and without any scruples
began the attempt to secure political control. In
this effort they failed, and every Christian heart
will thank God that it was so.

We shall yet see that Madagascar was to suffer
severely at the hands of the Jesuits; but, for a
few years, the land was spared that trial. Still
their mission work met with considerable success.
They built a fine cathedral at Antananarivo, and
established several industrial schools, and four
dispensaries. At the close of 1895, they could
boast of 113 agents, about 100,000 adherents,
nearly 600 native teachers, and 15,000 children in
their schools.

The multiplication of agencies, and the rapid
progress of the work, very soon led to the devel-
opment of methods for reaching the people and
making more effective the efforts of the mission-
aries. One scheme that has had great influence
through the intervening years, and has served as
a stronghold to Christianity in the central prov-
ince of Imerina, was the proposal, gradually car-
ried into effect, to build four memorial churches

i66 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

close to the capital. At the request of the mis-
sionaries of the London Missionary Society the
government set apart, and afterwards transferred
to the society, four sites on the spots where the
martyrs had suffered. On these sites solid stone
churches, capable of seating from 800 to 1,000
people, were built at a cost of some $90,000 — the
money being almost all raised by special contri-
butions in England; and now, four spots which
are for ever linked with the history of Christian-
ity in Madagascar are marked by splendid build-
ings devoted to the worship of God, viz. — the
spot where the Christians were imprisoned before
being taken to death; that on which Rasalama,
the first martyr, died; the cliff from which large
numbers were hurled to the rocks below; and
Faravohitra, where the four nobles were burned
at the stake.

The printing press early came into service, and
has been largely used by all the societies laboring
in the island. During the four years, 1872 to
1876, more than 500,000 copies of hymn books,
school books, leaflets and magazines were issued
by the Friends' Foreign Mission Association
Press; and still they are pouring from the press
at the rate of some 45,000 per year. In connec-
tion with the press work of the London Mission-
ary Society, during the ten years, 1870 to 1880,
1,500,000 copies of various publications were
sent forth. The catalogue of school books, com-
mentaries, books on church history, Bible Die-

Expansion 267

tionary, hymn books, Pilgrim's Progress, maga-
zines, papers, pamphlets, etc., issued by this soci-
ety, fills nine closely printed pages ; and the press
has all along been one of the mighty levers to up-
lift and save Madagascar.

We have already indicated that a vast educa-
tional work has been carried on by all the soci-
eties laboring among the Malagasy. Not only
has the work of elementary education been so
thoroughly cared for that there were in 1895 some
120,000 children in Protestant schools; but nor-
mal schools, a palace school, and high schools for
boys and girls have also been established ; and to
crown the educational edifice, colleges for the
training of native teachers and ministers, and
schools for training doctors and nurses, have been
created, and have accomplished magnificent re-

From one of these colleges alone, that of the
London Missionary Society, some four hundred
young men have gone forth to labor for the in-
struction and salvation of their people. Medical
students who successfully complete their course
of study receive the degree of Member of the
Madagascar Medical Association. The medical
work has been most helpful, and in large num-
bers of cases it has been the means of breaking
down prejudice, and opening the way for the en-
trance of the gospel message, where it seemed im-
possible to secure it by any other means. In and
around the capital are hospitals and dispensaries.

268 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

One of these hospitals cost about $25,000, and in
one recent year cared for 904 in-patients and
6,373 out-patients. In other parts of the island
dispensaries have been established, and native
medical men and nurses provided; and in recent
years, many of the missionaries, before entering
on their fields of labor, have taken a short term
of instruction in first aid to the sick at some Brit-
ish hospital. There are now three leper settle-
ments in different parts of the island, in which
consecrated workers are doing all that skill and
Christian sympathy can do to alleviate the intense
sufferings of these most miserable and helpless of
all afflicted ones.

One very important work should be mentioned
as connected with this period — the revision of the
translation of the Malagasy Bible. Realizing the
need for giving to the people an accurate and per-
fect version of the Scriptures in their own tongue,
a revision committee, consisting of eight Euro-
peans, representing five denominations, and three
natives, was appointed on the financial responsibil-
ity of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and
began its work in December, 1873. Their labors
occupied nearly fourteen years, being completed
on April 30th, 1887. Then a public thanksgiving
service was held, at which the prime minister rep-
resented the queen, in order that the Christians
might celebrate with joy the placing of a well-
nigh perfect version of the Word of God in the
hands of the 300,000 Protestant Christians of

Expansion 269

2,000 congregations, and of 120,000 school chil-
dren in some 2,000 schools.

What results have accompanied all this multi-
plication of methods and agencies? Already
many of the results have been indicated. One or
two further statements must suffice.

The churches gathered by the London Mission-
ary Society adopted the Congregational form of
government. In 1868, the Madagascar Congre-
gational Union was formed — styled the six-
monthly meeting. Twice a year representatives
of all the churches gathered for prayer and fel-
lowship, and for conference in regard to the ex-
tension of their work. As the years passed,
sometimes as many as 1,200 Christian men would
assemble thus, to discuss live questions bearing

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 14 of 17)