John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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as Rafaravavy was ; possessed also of a fine
physical frame, and of strength and courage; it
was most natural that Fantaka should learn to
lean largely on her for guidance and help in her
seasons of difficulty. Thus Rafaravavy's home
gradually became, more and more, the home of



It is necessary that we should make the ac-
quaintance of some of the friends of Rafaravavy,
in order that we may understand the ties that
bound them together when, years afterwards,
they had been brought out of the darkness of the
heathenism in which they were brought up, and
were called upon to wear the sign of the cross
for the sake of Christ and their country. Every
life is susceptible to the influences which sur-
round it, and, perhaps, especially to the personal
influences of those who are chosen as the intimate
companions of life. There is no standard by
which to measure the influence of companionship
or the far-reaching potency that flowc from one
life into another.

Rafaravavy was to become the remarkable cen-
ter of a remarkable group, and already, although
a heathen woman, the ascendency of her character
was beginning to make itself felt.

Amongst the distant relatives of Rafaravavy
was one who was destined to occupy a large place
in her heart and home, and, ultimately, to dis-
play a courage and fidelity to sincere conviction
and heaven-born love, which should prove

0.6 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

an example to all who, in coming dark days,
should be compelled to prove their loyalty to

In another part of the city was another home,
which was adorned with evidences of heathen
luxury and wealth. And here, surrounded by the
best society that a heathen city could supply, was
brought up Rasalama, kins-woman of Rafara-

Probably some twelve years younger than her
relative, Rasalama was but a girl at this time.
But already a strong attachment had grown up
between them. They constantly met in ancestral
worship at the same shrines ; frequent visits were
paid by the young girl to the home of her rela-
tive, and so their friendship ripened — the elder
drawn to the younger by the brightness and gen-
tleness of her disposition; the younger attached
to the elder because of her wisdom, strength of
character and kindliness of heart. Who could
fail to be attracted toward the young girl, Ra-
salama ? Possessed of a happy, smiling face, and
beautiful withal; physically vigorous and active;
free from many of the darker traits of character
which marked so many of her companions;
with clear eyes and honest face, with merry laugh
and ringing voice, and elastic step ; what wonder
that her friends were legion, and that Rafaravavy
should desire much of her companionship?

So little is known of the life of some of the
most faithful Christians, before their confession

A Remarkable Group 27

of their faith in Christ, that not even their
heathen names have been recorded. In other
cases, owing to the enforced absence of the
missionaries during the years of fierce persecu-
tion, the names of many who suffered even unto
death have no place in the written annals of the
Church ; although the testimony of their friends,
and of their heathen persecutors, completely es-
tablishes the purity of their faith, the beauty of
their lives, and the steadfastness of their loyalty
to Christ. There was one such young woman
among those who frequently came to Rafara-
vavy's home — and of whom we know little save
that she was constant in her loving co-operation
with her husband when, a few years later, he was
a mainstay of many poor and suffering Chris-
tians ; and that she herself endured stripes and
bruises for the sake of her Lord and of His peo-

To that home frequently came another visitor
— a youth of good family, and of bright and
generous disposition. He bore his father's name
— Rafaralahy — and was held in esteem for his
father's sake and the position he filled.

At this period there were a few men in Mada-
gascar who seemed to be many years in advance
of their generation, and foremost amongst these
was the elder Rafaralahy. Sagacious, enlightened,
and possessed of unusual executive ability, he had
been appointed to a responsible governorship,
which demanded such qualities in its chief magis-

28 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

trate, and he enjoyed the full confidence of King

Watchful as to the interests of his people, he
was equally mindful of the necessity of giving
his children every assistance which could be ob-
tained in a heathen country for advancing them
in life, and young Rafaralahy, placed by his
father at the capital, that he might be trained to
fill a government position, availed himself of
every advantage that came in his way.

Among those advantages, and not the least in
his opinion, was the kindly interest that Rafara-
vavy took in him, and the friendship she showed
him. Ere long he became an ever welcome guest,
and in her home he made a number of acquaintan-
ces and friendships which would last while life
lasted, and the memory of which would prove to
be cherished with fragrance after his life should

Nearly of the same age, and thrown much into
one another's company at the home of Rafara-
vavy, a warm friendship gradually sprang up
between Rafaralahy and the un-named heathen
damsel whom he there met.

Often the friendships of youth and maiden-
hood have in them the germs of unchanging love,
and it would not be surprising if, in this heathen
home, there should be found that which would
correspond with what has often taken place in
civilized and Christian countries. But at present
their friendship was that of two young people

A Remarkable Group 29

in similar stations of life — both intelligent, con-
stantly thrown together in the home of a mutual
friend, and each of whom felt the attractiveness
of the other's person and disposition.

Amongst other welcome friends of Rafaravavy
was one who belonged to the ranks of the Mala-
gasy nobility — aye, royalty — Prince Ramonja.
Sometimes in palanquin, sometimes on foot, he
was one of those who most frequently bestowed
his presence and company upon our heroine and
friends, and certainly none received warmer wel-
come than did he.

Ramonja was possessed of a somewhat strik-
ing personality. Slightly above the average
height, with intelligent eyes, features unusually
clear-cut, and a certain stateliness of carriage,
there was that about him that suggested some-
thing of the rank to which he belonged. Of
vigorous constitution and active step, having a
well modulated voice and gentle manner, Prince
Ramonja approached very nearly to the ideal of
a Malagasy prince. Of course, he was a heathen,
and firmly wedded to the worship and super-
stitions of his country and people. Indeed, he
was one of the pillars of idolatry, on whom the
hopes of the idol-keepers were built, and few, if
any, at this time gave greater promise of being
a brave and strong champion of their heathen
customs ; and this, notwithstanding the fact that
he often absented himself from the coarser and
more degrading features of the idol-worship,

30 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

and did not hesitate even to rebuke some for their
utter licentiousness and brutishness.

There were some busybodies who, before long,
began to link together the names of Ramon j a and
Rafaravavy, evidently satisfied, in their own
minds, that his frequent visits to her home signi-
fied that she was destined one day to attain to
even higher rank than she already held.

This thought of many minds was productive of
one result, at least. It tended to create still deeper
respect for her and to enlarge her influence over
her neighbors. The conclusion of the people was
one which, under the circumstances, was natural,
for Rafaravavy herself had such a dignified bear-
ing, and was of such character and abilities, that
it might well be thought she was fitted to be the
wife of a prince. Yet Rafaravavy was not at all
deceived. For some time she had noticed that
while the friendship of Ramonja toward herself
was most cordial and respectful, it was only to
Fantaka he gave any sign of special friendship or
marks of distinction. And Rafaravavy was quite
satisfied that matters should be so. She loved
Fantaka, and, at that time, could conceive of no
higher ambition for her foster-sister; while, for
herself, it was high enough honor that she was
the intimate friend of Ramonja, and would one
day claim a closer family connection with him.

There are at least two individuals who may
here be mentioned; for, although not just at this

A Remarkable Group 31

time numbered amongst Rafaravavy's personal
friends, they presently came to be not only recog-
nized, but also loved and honored by her and by all
who met at her home. One was Ratsilaingia.
Brought up, as others, in heathen darkness, a re-
markable change manifested itself in him under
the influence of the gospel. When the dark days
of persecution came, a letter, written by him to one
of the missionaries, revealed the spirit that dwelt
in him. After stating the death of his father, his
wife's father and his uncle, he bewailed the dese-
cration of the Sabbath by the heathen of the cap-
ital. Then he added : " All the missionaries are
gone, for their work is ended! Oh, when shall
we behold a new day? Make haste the promise
which says, ' The earth shall be filled with the
knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the
sea ' ; that the broken heart, which is now too
heavy, may be bound up ; and may the power of
Jehovah quickly appear, that all may see it and
be astonished thereat ! Do not forget to pray for

The other was Raintsiheva, at this time not only
a heathen but a diviner, and highly esteemed by
the people around the city for his supposed super-
natural power. It was he who, when baptized
in the name of Jesus, received the name of Paul —
a name which he bore worthily, so that as the
moment of martyrdom approached, he could
say, like his prototype, " I am now ready to be

32 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.

Henceforth, there is laid up for me a

crown of righteousness. "

There is yet another person who should be
mentioned here — not because he was so frequent
a visitor at Rafaravavy's home, or even a friend
of hers, as were others, but because she had fre-
quent occasion for intercourse with him, and sub-
sequently he held an important place in some of
the events narrated in our story.

All through this period, Rafaravavy was an
earnest heathen, and worshiped the idols as de-
voutly as any, and believed in the practices which
form a part of idolatry, wherever it exists. Idol-
atry and divination are never separated. They
are twin sisters, and the more degraded the form
of idolatry, the more complete the subjection of
the people to the diviner's power.

Again and again, at important moments in her
life, Rafaravavy had had recourse to a diviner.
From him she had sought to learn the best days
for feasts, the most auspicious times for starting
on her journeys, entering her new home, and other
such events. The name of this diviner we give
as Bezanozano — a man of medium height, strong-
ly built and well on toward middle life.

While there was nothing attractive about his
person, there was not, on the other hand, anything
repellant; and, at least, he had a great reputa-
tion as being amongst the most skillful and de-

A Remarkable Group 33

vout of the diviners. In this way it happened
that, at this stage, Rafaravavy and Bezanozano
were well known to one another, and often, in
connection with his profession, Bezanozano was a
visitor at her home.



Probably no better site could have been found
than that chosen by the Hovas for the location
of Antananarivo, the capital of the province of
Imerina, and the seat of government for the
greater part of the island.

The province of Imerina occupies, approxi-
mately, the central portion of the island; and,
while its boundaries are not very clearly marked,
its extreme length would probably be ninety-five
miles, and its width seventy-five miles.

An ancient custom prevailed in Madagascar of
locating a certain number of settlers in a district,
so forming small townships. This custom prob-
ably indicates the meaning of the name of the
capital, Antananarivo — viz., " The Town of a

The whole population of the island had for-
merly been divided into numerous independent
tribes, sometimes widely separated from one an-
other by stretches of unappropriated country, but
each tribe subject to its own chief, and retaining
in large measure its own customs. The inhabit-
ants of the land were of several mixed races, and
with the growth of tribes and the desire for ex-

Members of the Bara Tribe.

A Heathen Court 35

pansion of territory began to arise feuds and in-
tertribal warfare. In addition to the tribes
about to be referred to, may be mentioned the
Taimoro, occupying a portion of the coast lands,
and of Arabian descent; the Antsihanaka, living
to the northeast of Imerina; the Betsileo and
Bara tribes, occupying, respectively, the south
central and southern parts of the island; and the
Tankarana, occupying the northern end of the

About one hundred years before the time at
which our story opens, there was one very war-
like and powerful (though small) tribe, called
the Sakalava, dwelling in the southwest of the
island. Filled with a desire for conquest, they at-
tacked their nearest neighbors on the west of the
island, and conquered them. Pressing forward
they spread their conquests northward, until all
the western side of the country and some of the
interior tribes were subject to their sway. Ul-
timately another tribe, called the Hovas, who oc-
cupied the central province of the island, gained
the ascendency over the Sakalava and other
tribes, and, with European aid, succeeded in es-
tablishing a sovereignty over almost the whole
land; and their chiefs became recognized as the
kings of Madagascar.

The more intelligent character of the Hovas,
their natural aptitude for commerce and govern-
ment, and their lighter color, would indicate that
they are of Malayan, rather than Ethiopian origin.

36 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

At this time the palace at Antananarivo was oc-
cupied by Radama I. Compared with the pal-
aces of European countries this royal home might
have appeared a veritable barn. But, contrasted
with the huts occupied by the ancestors of the
Hova and other Malagasy tribes, the outward
structure gave evidence of great development,
and showed these people to be possessed of natural
powers which were capable of culture, and might
one day place them high amongst civilized na-

Whatever might be thought of the exterior of
Radama's palace there were some features of its
interior which might have provoked the jealousy
of other rulers — especially such were the lavish
hangings or curtains of silk. A large variety of
the curtains were manufactured by the people;
and, since the king had power to command the
best labor of the most skilled men and women in
the island, it was to be expected that the best
specimens would be found in the palace.

King Radama was a man far in advance of for-
mer rulers, and of the people over whom he ruled.
But a young man when he became king, the open-
ing years of his reign gave promise of great
growth and improvement throughout the coun-
try. He speedily organized a government, which,
in its administration, conferred much greater lib-
erties on the people, and aimed more directly at
the improvement of their social conditions.
While not relaxing the supreme authority, which

A Heathen Court 37

had always centered in the person of the chief
or king, Radama generally contrived to use
that authority for the welfare of the tribes subject
to his control. Long before the days of Radama,
repeated attempts to establish one kingdom in the
place of the many independent tribes and chief-
taincies had failed, and while Radama's father
had so far succeeded in his purposes as to consoli-
date the government of the whole Hova tribe
under his own authority, he left to his son the
larger task of subduing the surrounding tribes to
Hova rule. To this end the young man had de-
voted all his energy and courage, and had carried
his warfare to a successful issue.

Radama was a soldier, as his father, Impoina,
had been ; and, having gained for the Hova tribe
the ascendency they enjoyed, as the result of
fierce and bloody struggles, it was natural he
should feel that he must secure the stability of
his throne, and be safe from reconquest by other
tribes, by raising an army. This he did ; and so
became not only the king of the country, but also
general of a well-trained and well-disciplined mili-
tary force.

In character Radama differed widely from
those who had hitherto ruled over the Malagasy.
He was humane and enlightened, and blessed
with a gift of foresight. Added to this, he took a
strong personal interest in the welfare of his peo-
ple, and was constant in his efforts for their bet-
terment. Keeping himself well informed as to

38 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

their condition, planning methods for their help,
and ready to adopt such measures as seemed to
promise well, Radama easily earned the claim to
be regarded as the foremost ruler the Malagasy
had ever had. Capable of appreciating the ad-
vantages of being connected with the powerful
governments of other, and especially European
countries, Radama courted the friendship of Eng-
land, and entered into commercial treaties with
that country. One result of these relations
which was also an indication of the progressive
character of the king, was that by treaty the ex-
portation of slaves was abolished. It is true the
British government gave him considerable com-
pensation, as an inducement to this step — annual
grants of money and arms, and assistance in train-
ing his army, yet the more enlightened spirit, and
the alertness to obtain whatever might tend to
the development of his country, were clearly re-
vealed in his conduct.

He also maintained relations with the govern-
ment of France ; and though in later years these
French relations have proved an almost unmixed
curse to Radama's country, yet he was not to be
blamed for his efforts to bring his people into a
healthy connection with the most civilized nations
of the earth.

Had Madagascar since his day been favored
with an unbroken succession of rulers as enlight-
ened as Radama, she would not to-day occupy the
humiliating position she does in having been con-

A Heathen Court 39

quered by the army of France — largely, it is to
be feared, at the instigation of the hidden hand of
Rome. This, however, does not belong to the
present portion of our story.

While thus enlightened and humane, Radama
was a heathen king, and maintained the customs
of heathenism. In his personal habits he was to
be distinguished from the more humble of his
people only by the greater lengths to which he
went in evil and licentiousness. In these prac-
tices he was encouraged by many of the gay
young Malagasy nobles who formed his friends
and companions. It was to be expected that one
in his position and of his disposition would
make and retain many friendships. So it was
that both the young men and women of the nobil-
ity were his constant guests. Some of these, who
entertained hopes of possibly securing the throne,
encouraged his course, expecting that a vicious
life would speedily destroy Radama. Others,
who desired his favor, or who feared to incur his
disapproval, connived at the recklessness which
marked his life, and even became the instruments
of evil to him.

In this way the palace frequently became the
seat of lewdness and debauchery ; and from the
heathen court went forth an example calculated
to degrade more and more utterly the already low
morals of the people. On many of these festive
occasions drink would flow freely ; naked slave
girls would dance for the amusement of the com-

40 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

pany ; obscene conversation would be indulged in,
and, under the influence of intoxication and in-
flamed passions, the company, led by the king,
would give themselves up to forms of revelry and
licentiousness too vile to utter. Such, in part, was
the strange and evil contrast presented by the
character of Radama. The king- adhered strongly
to the worship of ancestors and kings, and at-
tached the highest importance to the erection and
maintenance of the tomb of the late king. Indeed,
his superior intelligence inspired him the more
elaborately to celebrate his memory.

A magnificent tomb was erected by the king's
command, he himself preparing the design. A
large variety of charms surrounded the great
vault, and others were raised at the entrance ; all
of them being designed either as objects for wor-
ship or as a protection for worshippers. Rad-
ama himself, as chief of his tribe, filled the priest-
ly office, and at the dedication of the tomb of his
predecessor, it was he who presided over the cere-
monies, and offered the sacrifices incident to the
occasion. Repeatedly, at state affairs, Radama
would present offerings, and burn the fragrant
gum at this tomb ; and here he observed the reg-
ular seasons for ancestral worship.

The king still claimed, and at times exercised,
the extreme power of life and death over his sub-
jects. The slightest offence was sometimes vis-
ited with the death penalty. Indeed, instances
are on record, such as the strangling of the cook

A Heathen Court 41

because by accident a few drops of soup had been
spilled on the queen's dress, showing that even
Radama set but small value on the lives of slaves
and lower subjects. If further evidence of his
loyalty to the customs of heathenism were needed,
it would be found in the fact that he had twelve
wives; and often the inner rooms — or woman's
portion — of the palace became the scene of quar-
rels and intrigues. Little else could be expected
than these continual manifestations of jealousy
and ill-feeling among his wives. The peace
that usually seemed to reign in the king's harem
was not the peace of concord, but of a deep-seated
fear of the king's anger in case the strifes should
become too bitter or too loud. The lives of these
wives were but a form of slavery, as exhausting
and bitter as, and probably more degrading than,
the life of the most despised manual slave on the
cotton plantations of the country.

There was in those days a semblance of law and
justice ; but the law was that of chance, and the
justice that of the poison cups. Trial by ordeal, or
tangena, was the usual mode of deciding the
guilt or the innocence of any person accused of
either of a large variety of crimes. It has been
estimated that ten per cent, of the population sub-
mitted to the ordeal in the course of their lives,
and that five per cent, of the entire population
died from the effects of the tangena cup. Upon
an accusation being made against a person, and
the king's authority for trial being given, the di-

42 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

viners prepared the poison cup. There was op-
portunity given here for bribery, so that really
the will of the diviners, or the gifts of the accused
or his friends, usually decided the fate of such an

Standing in the courtyard, surrounded by sol-
diers, friends and public spectators, the accused
was handed the poison cup, and required to drink
its contents. In almost every case it produced
violent vomiting and great discomfort. In some
cases nothing more serious happened, the accused
recovered, and was declared innocent. Prob-
ably in the majority of cases intense pains fol-
lowed the drinking of the potion, and these in-
creased until, in bitterest agony, the accused either
swooned and died, or was more mercifully and
speedily dispatched with a spear — the effects of
the cup being accepted as evidence of guilt. Such
was Radama, the brave and enlightened Malagasy
king; and such his court in a heathen country
and in heathen times. Such ever is heathenism !
Such ever is human life, apart from the purifying
and sanctifying influences of Jesus of Nazareth,
and of the religion He gave to men.


IV. Strange Messengers and a Strange

V. In a Mighty Faith.

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 2 of 17)