John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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upon the progress of the church of Christ in their
country ; and, growing out of this, came a native
missionary society, formed in 1875.

Such was the spirit of the people that, in addi-
tion to what the churches of Imerina did for their
own home work, they raised, in the ten years
1880-90, more than $15,000 for aggressive work
in the heathen provinces, and sent forth twenty-
three young men to open up fields hitherto un-
touched. Gradually the work extended and
other tribes began to receive the gospel. The
Betsileo province was entered in 1870; the Antsi-
hanaka in 1875 ; the Iboina in 1877 ; important
work was done on the east coast, around Tama-
tave, in 186 1, and 1874-81, and again from 1885-

270 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

94; while on the south coast work was begun in
1887. Recent statistics of all the societies, except
the London Missionary Society, have already
been given — showing the tabulated results of the
work to 1894. In order to complete this view of
what has been accomplished it should be stated
that, at the end of 1894, this society, which first
carried the gospel to Madagascar, had in the field
38 missionaries, with 1,328 congregations under
their care; 280,000 adherents, and 63,000 com-
municants. It had also 1,061 native pastors, and
5,879 local preachers ; while 74,000 children were
being taught in its nearly 1,000 day schools.

Here, probably, the brightest period in the his-
tory of Madagascar, and the most prosperous in
the establishment of Christianity in the island,
had been reached; and surely the picture is one
which should fill the heart of every child of God
with great joy and gratitude. Alas ! that there
should be any need to chronicle any less joyous
and hopeful record. Yet faith must wait and
weep, and pray and labor, until once again the
shadows shall have wholly departed, and over a
re-delivered church and a fully redeemed people,
the sun of righteousness shall arise and flood the
land with the noon-tide glory of Christ's king-



Already, in the early eighties, signs had ap-
peared on the horizon indicating that the long
period of joy and liberty, and spiritual prosper-
ity, was not to continue unbroken. But the
strange aspect of the subject is, that the peril
threatening the life of the Christian Church in
Madagascar should spring up, not from within
the land — as from an uprising of the people, an
upheaval of the government, or the accession of a
hostile ruler — but from an outside power, a great
European nation ; and one whose self-estimate has
claimed for it a foremost place in the civilization
of the nineteenth century. During the period we
have just been considering, changes did take
place in the sovereignty of the island ; yet peace-
fully, happily, and without any breach in the re-
ligious equality enjoyed by all sections of the peo-

In 1883 France forced war upon Madagascar,
and almost immediately after the outbreak Rana-
valona II. died. The entire Hova people were
plunged into deepest grief; for the justness and
mildness of her reign, compared with anything
they had previously known, and her own stead-

0.J2 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

fast Christian character, had greatly endeared
her to her subjects. She was buried at Ambohi-
manga, the ancient capital of Imerina, some
twelve miles from Antananarivo. After a relig-
ious service in the chapel roval, the funeral cor-
tege set out ; and it is stated that for the entire dis-
tance, the miles of road leading to the grave were
lined with mourners, who chanted funeral dirges.

On Nov. 22nd, 1883, a niece of the late queen
ascended the throne, being 22 years of age that
day; and assumed the title of Ranavalona III.
Like her predecessor, Ranavalona III. was a
Christian woman, deeply interested in every pro-
ject which would tend to the elevation of her sub-
jects and anxious for the spread of Chris-
tianity amongst them. Her spirit was shown at
the opening of a new girl's school a few years
ago. The queen was present with the prime
minister; and just before the meeting closed,
rose, and in a few words pressed upon the chil-
dren the importance of becoming, above all other
things, earnest followers of Jesus Christ.

Her reign of thirteen years was a troublous
one — made so by the war with France which, in
1895, culminated in the conquest of the island;
and, in 1896, in the banishment of the queen.
These wars and conquest have been the cause of
the shadows which have passed over the island,
and the work of the Christian Church therein;
and it is necessary we should briefly follow the
course of events.

War and Conquest 273

Whatever earlier claims, if any, France may
have had to any part of Madagascar, certainly
ceased after the Peninsula War ; for in connection
with that war, England seized the Mauritius and
all its Madagascar rights ; and, after the battle of
Waterloo, while by treaty restoring Bourbon to
France, retained by treaty and conquest all else.
In 1817, England renounced her claims on Mad-
agascar and officially recognized Radama I., as

France still held the opinion that since no
other power claimed the island, she had some
rights; and on several occasions sought to es-
tablish them. At length, to settle all questions,
in 1868, Queen Rasoherima paid to the French
government $240,000, as an indemnity for all past
claims and treaties ; and a new treaty was formed
in which France recognized her as queen of
Madagascar. This, according to every principle
of justice and honor, was a clear renunciation by
France of every claim she may have thought she

It soon transpired, however, that the French
people were not satisfied. They provoked fur-
ther quarrels ; and the Malagasy paid a further
indemnity to secure their independence. Still, it
seemed as if nothing but the conquest of the 'is-
land and its incorporation as a colony, would sat-
isfy the desires of France. Accordingly in 1883,
the government made demands of such a charac-
ter that the Malagasy could not grant them. On

274 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

their refusal to concede them, war was declared.
The French seized the towns of Mojanga on the
North-West, and Tamatave on the East.

The war continued for three years, but the
Hova troops were not dislodged from their camp
a few miles above Tamatave. In 1886 the Hovas
agreed to a treaty which, while it reserved to
them the control of all the domestic affairs of the
island, gave the French certain privileges in for-
eign affairs, and placed all the Malagasy residing
outside the island under French protection. Some
clauses inserted in the treaty by the French were
of an ambiguous character, and were promptly
and persistently repudiated by the Malagasy gov-
ernment; but in correspondence these were ex-
plained away by French officials, so that, though
never quite easy concerning them, the Queen's
government was led to believe that they had mis-
interpreted these clauses and that they were in-

During this period, the action of the French
commander, Admiral Pierre, almost involved
France in war with England. One of the mis-
sionaries at Tamatave, Mr. G. A. Shaw, was
seized and confined as a prisoner on board a
French warship. He was cut off from all com-
munication with his wife and friends; held in
close confinement, shamefully ill-treated; and, it
was at one time feared, would be executed ; while
no crime had been proved against him. Public
indignation was aroused in England, and feeling

War and Conquest 275

ran very high. The government was compelled
to interfere to secure Mr. Shaw's release. When
he reached England, a triumphant reception was
given him, and the story of his sufferings at the
hands of the French admiral aroused such wide-
spread resentment, that the government called
upon France to apologize and make amends for
the action of their commander. Probably it was
only the yielding of the French government that
averted a fierce and bloody war.

In 1893 France returned to the attack on the
independence of Madagascar, in the determina-
tion to enforce, not merely a protectorate, but
absolute control of the country. On Dec. 12th,
1893, Tamatave was seized, and plans were grad-
ually matured for marching to the capital, con-
quering the country, and abolishing the sover-
eignty of the queen and her government.

For a long time it seemed doubtful if the
French would be able to accomplish their desire
without a loss of life which would have rendered
a victory too costly. However, with an estimated
loss of 6,000 men, they at length succeeded in
their purpose. Antananarivo was taken on Sept.
30th, 1895, the French flag was raised on the
palace, and the Kingdom of Madagascar had
ceased to exist.

The spirit of the French conquest was soon to
be revealed. In 1890, a diplomatic controversy
arose between England and France, as to the
claims the latter country was putting forward.

276 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

On Aug. 5th, 1890, the British government con-
cluded a treaty with France, in which, many
think unwisely, Lord Salisbury recognized the
French protectorate; while the French govern-
ment consented to the following clause : " In
Madagascar the missionaries of both countries
shall enjoy complete protection. Religious tol-
eration and liberty for all forms of worship shall
be guaranteed."

Immediately after the conquest of the island
this clause was repudiated; the door was thrown
wide open for the intrigue and intolerance of the
Jesuits; and, in 1896, the queen was banished
because she was a Protestant and refused to be-
come a Roman Catholic. When the question was
raised in the French Senate, and the Colonial
Minister declared that religious liberty was
guaranteed by the French flag, he was met by
roars of laughter from the Senators. Such was
the course of the French nation in the conquest
and subjugation of Madagascar; such was the
passing from her high position of a Christian
queen, who had ruled her people in the fear of
God, banished by a powerful nation, — which could
not justify its acts of conquest on any moral
grounds — not for crime, intrigue or rebellion,
but for loyalty to conscience and God.

We have yet to learn of the terrible conse-
quences which followed, — of the letting loose of
the passions of heathenism; the persecution by
Jesuits ; and the destruction of life and property

War and Conquest 277

in the attempt to destroy all that had been ac-
complished for God and the people in the previous
thirty years.

It is worthy of note, that, during these times
of war and peril, the missionaries remained at
their posts. They chose to suffer if needs be with
their people, or, at any rate, to render comfort
and guidance during the dark days which covered
them ; and determined, so far as possible, to pro-
tect them from outrage and wrong, while striv-
ing to restrain them from any acts of revenge.
On the morning of the day on which Antanana-
rivo was bombarded by the French, the mission-
aries were gathered at the hospital ; and there the
doctors and nurses attended to their duties, while
shells were flying around and bursting only a lit-
tle way off. They did not remain at their posts
for want of inducements to forsake them, for
many of their friends chided them sorely, and
would, if possible, have compelled them to leave.
Neither did they stay as a matter of bravado.
They felt the Malagasy needed their presence and
counsel in their time of danger ; that the time had
come to prove their sympathy, devotion and
courage; and that God himself was directing
them to stand at the post of duty ; and therefore
they stayed.

It was impossible that such marked political
changes could take place without decided conse-
quences following, favorable, or unfavorable, to
the work of the Christian churches in the island.

278 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Since one of the earliest acts of the French gov-
ernment was to ignore the religious liberty clause
in its treaty with England, it was not to be ex-
pected that the political results of the conquest
would be favorable to the work of Protestant mis-
sions; and the event justified the fear. From
the very first, the government of France, through
its agents, seized the church, school and residence
buildings of the Protestant societies, where need-
ed, for the quartering of troops or other govern-
ment purposes; and this without arranging for
any compensation. It was so at Tamatave and
elsewhere. At Antananarivo two hundred sol-
diers were quartered in one of the churches of the
London Missionary Society.

The Malagasy government had always been
superstitiously unwilling to give an absolute
transfer of land to any foreigner ; and even when
such titles were given, in the utmost good faith,
insisted on inserting a clause which reserved a
nominal right to the sovereign. This was the
case in a great many of the titles to the mission
properties, although the clause of reservation
always stated that the sovereign's rights were
agreed to, on condition that the buildings should
ever be used for the worship of the church con-
nected with the particular society.

The French Government treacherously availed
itself of this clause in many of the titles, to claim
that the mission properties were really govern-
ment possessions; and while ignoring the condi-

War and Conquest 279

tion attached, viz., that they were held for the wor-
ship of the particular churches, confiscated some
of the largest and most valuable mission proper-
ties; either using them for official purposes or
handing them over to the Jesuits. It thus came
to pass that the work of a great many mission-
aries was seriously retarded — in some cases alto-
gether stopped ; while official countenance was
given to the claims of the Jesuits and their at-
tempts to become possessed of the properties of
Protestant societies. It should however be here
stated, that after three years of negotiations, be-
tween the London Missionary Society [aided to
some extent by the British government] and the
French government, some measure of reparation
has been granted. It has just been announced
that the government has given all missionary so-
cieties the right to purchase the freehold of all
their properties. Numbers of the buildings have
been restored; and in 1899, the French govern-
ment agreed to pay, in three yearly instalments,
the sum of $30,000 for the hospital building at
Antananarivo, and $6,000 for the furniture, drugs
and supplies which were in the building, when, in
1896, it was seized; also to pay interest for the
years 1896-99, at 3 per cent.

Another immediate result, which has interfered
with the labors of the missionaries, was the secu-
larization of educational work. This was de-
creed in the expectation of hindering the instruc-
tion of children in religious knowledge and scrip-

280 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

ture truth. The hands of the # Jesuits can be clear-
ly traced in this change, and in a still more em-
phatic decree, which insisted on the French
language being taught in every school. It was
supposed by the Jesuits, that this would force im-
mense numbers of children into their schools, be-
lieving that few Protestants would be found who
could teach French. But they had under-esti-
mated the educational status, the energy and de-
termination, of the protestant missionaries.
These immediately set themselves to meet the
government requirements. The law was fully
respected ; and although so much time is required
to be given to French, that other subjects have to
be somewhat neglected, they have maintained
their position as the principal educational force
in the land. In several examinations the children
in the Protestant schools have secured the highest
positions. They have surpassed, in their knowl-
edge of French, even the children taught by
French Jesuits in their schools ; so that, not only
has this attempt to embarrass the work of the
Protestant societies failed, but the success which
has attended the efforts to loyally carry out the
requirements of the government has been one of
the factors in leading that government to ulti-
mately remove some of the restrictions "which
had been placed upon their operations.

The French conquest may possibly be produc-
tive of some benefits. The hand of a strong
European power may ultimately give to the whole

War and Conquest 281

island a firmer and more uniform government;
but, if this is to be so, the government will be
compelled to dissociate itself from the intrigues
of religious factions, and especially from the
claims and doings of the Jesuits ; and this, thanks
to the wise and statesmanlike policy, and the con-
ciliatory representations, of the directors of the
London Missionary Society, they are already be-
ginning to do.

Proclamations of religious equality have been
recently made which are already bearing fruits
in the re-assurance of the people ; and, if the gov-
ernment will firmly enforce these provisions, it
may do much for the stability and prosperity of
the island. The abolishment of slavery is anoth-
er measure in which all friends of humanity will
rejoice. When that curse becomes wholly a
thing of the past, a new era of light and manhood
will have dawned for the people.

One of the first effects of this action is being
seen in the increased attendance of children at
the public schools. Given freedom, education,
and religious toleration ; the French Government
may, by a strict and impartial enforcement of
these constitutional provisions, help on the peace
and prosperity of the whole land. Unfortunate-
ly there are at the same time only too many sad
signs that the French conquest has brought in its
train habits which will, for long, prove an utter
curse to the people. Already the spirit of the
Continental Sabbath has taken hold upon them;

a 8 2 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

and the breaking down of that safeguard of the
national life forms a very real peril to the coun-
try. The missionaries in their reports bear wit-
ness to the increased demoralization of the people
through their coming into contact with a new,
and largely irreligious civilization. Irreligion
and immorality — the licentious habits of the con-
tinent — are making themselves felt even among
those who seemed to have been lifted out of the
licentiousness of heathenism.

It is authoritatively stated that, in some cen-
ters, nearly every European and Creole keeps a
concubine; and the more respectable and intelli-
gent girls, who have been educated in the mission
schools, are sought and ensnared for these im-
moral relations. Another of the sorest curses is
the spread of drunkenness. France is, perhaps,
not more to blame than other nations, in this mat-
ter; yet that fact does not destroy her responsi-
bility, nor minimize the evil as it now presents it-
self in the life of the Malagasy. Drink shops
have multiplied. Liquors used in Europe, and
wines of the coarsest grades, have been intro-
duced; and the effects are becoming disastrous.
In these ways, the French conquest has proved,
and must prove yet more and more, an injury to
the people, a blight on the life of the land, and a
terrible obstacle in the way of the spread of pure
religion over the country.

Consequences of a very different character
were also to follow — consequences which we may

War and Conquest 283

speak of as religious, in order to distinguish them
from those referred to in this chapter as political
effects; results which, unhappily, seem to be in-
separably connected with every attempt at French
colonization, because of the absence of anything
like a clear realization of what religious liberty
means, and because of the fear and subservience
of the French government to the intolerant power
of the Jesuits. With these results the next chap-
ter will deal.



Let us read, once again, that protecting clause
in the Anglo-French treaty of 1890: " In Mada-
gascar the missionaries of both countries shall
enjoy complete protection. Religious toleration
and liberty for all forms of worship and religious
teaching shall be guaranteed." What words
could have inspired larger confidence and hope in
the hearts of Protestant missionaries than these?
They were almost like a breath of the British
Constitution, and might well partially reconcile
them to the change in government, since they
seemed to exclude any interference with their re-
ligious work. But their hopes were raised too
high. There ought to have been no difficulty,
under that clause, in prosecuting Christian work
unhindered and peacefully, had it been faithfully
enforced ; but the repudiation of the clause opened
the way for a double-headed evil to arise. There
came at once an extension of Roman Catholic
propagandism, conducted on Jesuitical methods ;
and also a serious resistance, on the part of the
heathen, to all civil authority, and a fierce on-
slaught upon the Christians, with a view to their
extermination; and a twofold persecution of the

The Sign of the Cross Again 285

Protestant Christian churches quickly de-

It soon became evident that the government
cared little or nothing for religion ; and this in-
difference was manifested in various ways. As
we have seen, the seizing of many churches by the
government, and their use for long periods as
quarters for. soldiers, gave the people to feel that
their rulers had no hesitation in desecrating the
house of God. The scattering of the congrega-
tions was an insignificant matter in the eyes of
the authorities ; but it opened the eyes of the na-
tive Christians to see that their new masters put
the house and the service of God in the lowest
place. In many cases, churches having been
claimed by the government, and used as public
schools, were only with great difficulty saved to
the congregations who had built them, at great
sacrifice, for religious worship. Not only did the
government itself appropriate the church edi-
fices, but also permitted the Romanists to take
public possession of Protestant churches and to
hold many of them for years.

In December, 1899, by persistent and fearless
efforts, the missionaries succeeded in securing
the surrender of the last of the churches in the
Eetsileo province, which had thus been taken by
the Jesuits, and held for so long a term. In the
province of Imerina, in which the seat of govern-
ment is, there are still quite a number of churches
which are unlawfully retained in their possession.

286 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Such inaction on the part of the government,
when the people were being robbed of the
churches they had erected, and saw them either
given up to purely secular uses, or prostituted to
a form of idolatrous worship, convinced the
Christians that religious freedom and interest
held a very small place in the policy of their new
rulers. Besides this, the civil and military au-
thorities gave their full sanction to the violation
of the Sabbath day, and themselves set the ex-
ample of disregard for its sanctity. In Antana-
narivo the military bands play in the Andohalo
square on Sunday afternoons, enticing the young
people away from Sabbath School and Church
services ; while at the government house at Am-
bohimahasoa, the Sabbath evenings are given up
to band playing and public dancing.

Some of the people, as formerly, simply remain
lounging about their homes; but large numbers
now betake themselves to their fields, and dig-
ging, planting, reaping, house-building, and all
kinds of work proceed on the Lord's Day. From
irreligion it is not a far step to toleration of per-
secuting tactics on the part of those who ever seek
to assume political as well as ecclesiastical power
in a country. The authorities simply winked at
the acts of the Jesuits, which were not only a
violation of the treaty, but also a constant provo-
cation to the people to retaliate ; so seeking to
place the Christians in the position of combatants
against a semi-political church.


The Sign of the Cross Again 287

The French conquest of the island was the sig-
nal for a vigorous extension of Roman Catholic
missions. The Jesuit order took charge of the
central portion of the island ; thus, as ever, keep-
ing in touch with the political authorities. The
Lazarists occupied the southern districts; while
yet another order planted its agents in the north.
In this way they were so placed as to be able to

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 15 of 17)