John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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him gladly ; some had brought him presents, and
not a few had repeated the messages which they
had heard from him on his previous visit, having
treasured them carefully in their minds all the
time. And so it became evident that, if the mouth
of this messenger was to be stopped at all, and
if Madagascar was not to be turned upside down,
the gods must bestir themselves.

Special feasts were proclaimed and sacrifices
offered ; and day and night, before the idols, did

64 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

their keepers chant their prayers : " O, Kelima-
laza, save the country ! O, Ramakavaly, avenge
thyself upon thy foes! O, Fantaka, exert thy
magic power and slay this deceiver! O, Man-
jakatsirva, keep thy throne and let not thy king-
dom be divided with Jehovah ! " But the idols
were sleeping or journeying in a far country;
for though the priests became more and more
vehement in their prayers, there was none to hear
or to answer. This time the charms failed; the
teacher lived. And what was more, it began to
be rumored that this messenger had grown bolder,
and now talked of marching up the country, of
entering the capital, of meeting the king, and
there, in the very heart of idolatry, of claiming
the whole land for his God. Nor were the ru-
mors without good foundation. In a few days,
accompanied by guides and bearers, who had
cheerfully agreed to convey him thither, the
teacher had started for Antananarivo.

For a second time a deputation was despatched
to the capital. This time they went, not to the
royal palace, but to the keepers of the national
idols, to warn them of the approaching danger,
and to urge every effort for the safety of the city
and people in view of the evil which threatened.

Great was the excitement awakened by this
news, and great the preparations made to secure
the protection of the idols and to defend the city
from the pollution which must surround it should
the enemy of the grods succeed in entering its

Light in the Darkness 6$

gates. Charms were erected at every point, and
special honors conferred on the idols to induce
them to put forth their utmost strength in this
moment of peril. Yet charms and sacrifices and
prayers were unavailing. A Mr. Hastie had been
appointed to proceed to Antananarivo, to act as
British Resident, and early in September, 1820,
his party, accompanied by Mr. Jones, left Tama-
tave for the capital.

For some sixty miles, as far as Andovoranto,
their route lay almost along the seashore ; and day
after day, they heard the waves of the Indian
ocean as they rolled upon the beach.

Presently they turned off, to climb the mountain
side; and for some two weeks, their paths led
them upward and forward through ever chang-
ing scenery. At some spots, beautiful flowers
grew in wild luxuriance. At times they seemed
to be passing through parks which reminded them
of other lands. Fruit trees abounded, and much
of the soil appeared to be very fertile.

As they entered the province of Imerina
they were struck with the contrast it presented.
Barren looking hills, on whose crests were often
planted little villages, the houses being built of
mud made of the red soil, constrained them to
wonder how the people of the interior could be
supported. But they soon found that the valleys,
carefully tilled, were capable of yielding a supply
of rice equal to the support of an even larger
population. So they pressed forward.

66 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

On the afternoon of October 3, as the sun was
slowly declining in the west, this group of
travelers steadily climbed the hill on which the
city stood, and, passing through the gate, this
strange messenger at length stood in their midst,
fearless, unawed, and unharmed. The city was
filled with wonder, for it had been known for
some days past what unprecedented efforts had
been put forth in order to bring disaster upon
this teacher of new doctrines; and many minds
were filled with misgivings as they witnessed the
utter failure of all these efforts, and realized that
their citadel had been entered and that the servant
of this new god stood, as it were, face to face with
the gods of the nation and demanded their re-
nunciation. Before nightfall it became known
that on the morrow this teacher would enter the
palace, and state his mission to the king. All the
hopes of the heathen party were now centered
on Radama ; and that night, throughout the city,
special petitions were made that the morrow
might witness a signal victory for the idols over
Jehovah! That evening, while Rafaravavy and
some of her friends were engaged in eager con-
versation over the events of the day, a special
messenger from the palace arrived, bearing a
summons to Prince Ramon j a to be at the Royal
Court at the rising of the sun next day, in order
to take part with the king and his council in the
reception of this messenger.

With a promise to bring next night a full re-

Light in the Darkness 67

port of how matters should go on the morrow,
Ramonja withdrew, returned to his home and
retired for a few hours' rest. The following
morning at the time appointed the momentous
event took place. Seated upon the raised dais in
the throne room, and surrounded by his council,
Radama received the messenger of Jehovah, and
received him not merely with respect, but with
evident cordiality. For the first time in the midst
of his council the king had revealed that he felt
himself to be in the presence of one who was the
equal of Radama, king of Madagascar.

After introductions and the exchange of mu-
tual courtesies, Radama invited the teacher to
state the object of his visit. This was done with
freedom and at considerable length, the main pur-
pose set forth being that the teacher came to
bring to Radama and his people the knowledge
of the living and true God, who alone was able
to save men, who alone was worthy of the wor-
ship and service of mankind. The messenger set
forth the wonderful love of God toward man ; the
story of the life and sufferings of Jesus, the
friend and Saviour; and appealed to the king
not to oppose his mission, but rather to further
it, and himself to learn, and to permit his people
freely to learn of, and accept, the glad tidings he
came to proclaim.

In reply to the king's question as to how he in-
tended to perform the work of which he spoke,
the teacher explained that he, and others who

68 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

would shortly join him, would go all about
preaching these truths to the people, setting forth
the folly of idolatry and teaching them to worship
the God whom he served. He also intended to
master the language of the land so as to be able
to speak intelligently to the people, and expected
to conduct himself as a loyal citizen, striving by
his life and example to give the people even a
higher, purer, nobler ideal of life and manhood.
He also spoke of translating the word of Jeho-
vah into the language of Madagascar, of opening
schools to teach the people to read and write, and
so fit them to become better citizens and subjects ;
and went so far as to hope that in future days
men might come to join him who would be able
to teach the arts of Western civilization, and so
give a further uplift to the people.

Radama and his council had listened with a
somewhat languid interest while the teacher
spoke of the special message he had come to de-
liver, and of the worship of Jehovah. But when
he began to speak of schools and teachers, of arts
and civilization, the whole council waked up and
the king manifested a degree of enthusiasm. So
that when, as Radama was promising his support
to the messenger in prosecuting his mission, one
of the more determined of the heathen party re-
minded him that he was the one to whom the peo-
ple looked as the champion of their ancestral
worship, which seemed to be threatened by these
new tidings, " Yes," replied Radama, " I am

Light in the Darkness 69

king, and I am also defender of the ancestral
worship. But am I not also the father of my
country? And must not my great care be to
seek in every way the progress and enlightenment
of my people? I am loyal to our national gods
and religion. But gods must defend themselves
against gods. Here is the promise of knowledge
and of advancement and prosperity for my
country and my loved children, and I am not
going to allow a mere question of religious forms
or worship to stand in the way of a nation's prog-
ress. I will, therefore, encourage this man in
the work he comes to do. I will welcome others
like him who may come to seek the welfare of my
people ; I will protect them even as my own
children, and I will proclaim that my people shall
be free to choose for themselves how far they will
accept their teachings and worship their Jeho-

Radama went even farther. For, on October
29th he sent a letter to England, to the Directors
of the London Missionary Society, making the
following appeal : " I request you to send me,
if convenient, as many missionaries as you may
deem proper, together with their families, if
they desire it ; provided, you send skilful artizans
to make my people workmen as well as good

So was a rift opened in the dark clouds of
heathenism, which for centuries had hovered over
the life of this country, and at length light began

70 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

to arise in darkness. Naturally the idol-keepers
were greatly incensed at the results of this au-
dience with the king, and the liberty given this
strange messenger to go through the land, pro-
claiming another religion and seeking to turn the
people from the idols. Yet they could not take
any active steps to oppose the work, for the king's
authority was absolute. And while Radama
himself remained a heathen and loyal to the gods,
it was impossible to attempt to excite the popu-
lar feeling against the king or his decree.

When Prince Ramon j a visited Rafaravavy
later in the day he found quite a large and eager
company waiting to hear what had transpired at
the council. As he carefully rehearsed matters
point by point various emotions moved his hear-
ers, and when at last he told them of the king's
resolve, it was evident that some of them felt as
angry as the priests.

To them it appeared as if the flood-gates had
been opened, through which a tiny stream would
fl ow — the stream which, though small at first,
would grow stronger and wider, till it would be-
come a mighty power, sweeping away before it
every vestige of the ancestral worship, drowning
all the idols and utterly changing all the cus-
toms of the land.

Even when Prince Ramon j a spoke in rather
favorable terms of the appearance of the mes-
senger, and of his conduct at the council, their
minds were not set at ease. Ramon j a, of course,

Light in the Darkness 71

assured them that he was in no way affected by
the new religion, but that, as a matter of policy,
he could not object to the king's action. As for
the gods, they knew their worth and power, and
the impossibility of uprooting the faith of the
people in their ancient religion. Why, then,
should they fear to accept so slight a religious
risk for the sake of so large temporal and politi-
cal advantage? Those who did not agree with
Ramon ja's opinion at least did not venture to
dispute it, and there the matter was allowed to
rest for the time.

But it soon became manifest that a greater is-
sue than most were aware of had been joined.
Very shortly other messengers of this strange
religion began to arrive, and many signs to ap-
pear that they intended to make the influence of
their God felt in the life of the country.

Not many weeks had passed away before it
was announced that two schools would be opened
in the city for the education of boys and girls.
Preaching of doctrines was constantly engaged
in publicly and privately. Every opportunity for
setting forth the message of divine love and
mercy and of the life of Jesus was seized, and so
amazed were the people at the zeal, the kindness,
the joyousness of this messenger, as compared
with the spirit of their own idol-keepers, that
very soon both schools were filled with eager
scholars. Schools were opened in the villages
near the capital, and almost before the priests

72 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

had come to realize the true state of affairs, it
was reported that as many as two thousand
young people were under instruction.

Two other events presently created great as-
tonishment amongst the heathen. The king, per-
ceiving the advantage to be gained by sound edu-
cation, determined to make a special effort for the
good of the country. Selecting, with the aid of
the messenger, twenty of the brightest young
men to be found, he sent ten of these to the Mau-
ritius, and the other ten to England, that they
might secure a thorough education and become
the instructors of their people. One of these
young men was Prince Ratefy, who left his son
Rakotobe under the care of the teacher. Under
the instruction of the messenger it gradually be-
came apparent that young Rakotobe was losing
his interest in the idols, and was gaining an in-
terest in the religion of Jesus Christ.

The second event of importance was the es-
tablishment of a printing press in the city of An-
tananarivo. So rapidly did the influence of these
messengers and their message grow and spread,
that within eight years not only had the language
of the country been reduced to writing and
printed, but in and around the capital thirty
schools had been established, and more than four
thousand scholars were being taught ; the Gospel
of Luke had been translated, and was being
printed by trained Malagasy, and so many had
come under the influence of the strange message

Light in the Darkness 73

that already it was becoming the best known
teaching in the city, and some were not only for-
saking the worship of the idols, but were seeking
to live in accordance with the new teaching they
had received. Thus the people that sat in dark-
ness saw a great light.



Picture to yourself, in a suburb of the city,
standing back a little way from the road, one of
the most frequented spots of the capital — the
home of Bezanozano. At the head of a grassy
slope stood a house, somewhat superior to the
general style in construction and furnishing. Be-
hind the house a good-sized garden, where vege-
tables of various kinds grew, and where tropical
plants abounded. Farther back the ground rose
so as to form a knoll, and this little hill covered
with a wood piece, contained trees of several va-
rieties. A little way in front of the house, and
off to the left, a smaller and rougher building,
used by Bezanozano as his workshop. Inside
the shop, the furniture consisted of a seat and
bench for the workman, and a rather uncomforta-
ble seat for his customers.

Look on the shelves at a number of small and
curiously shaped objects, some of them rudely
carved to resemble beetles, fish or men ; some of
them simply the teeth of crocodiles, polished, and
in some cases painted. See under the bench, and
scattered about the floor, small blocks of wood and
unpolished teeth and bones, awaiting the skill of
the workman. Bezanozano was an idol maker,

The Idol Maker's Shop 75

and this his workshop. As such he occupied
an influential position in the community, many of
the poor people having a wholesome dread of the
man who made gods ; while even the better classes
counted it a privilege to spend a while in con-
versation with the man whose work was so essen-
tial to their peace of mind and sense of security.

Just at the time when the strange messengers
were filling the whole city with their doctrines,
Rafaravavy seized the opportunity to secure an
idol much larger than those usually made, and
one manufactured from a tree that would not

Arriving in the early morning, she found Be-
zanozano alone in his shop, seated at his bench and
just putting the finishing touches to a charm he
was preparing for one of the nobles.

Greeting the idol maker cordially, and receiving
in response a respectful welcome, Rafaravavy
congratulated him on the beauty of the piece of
workmanship he was completing, and then made
known her errand. A hurried search through
the material at hand showed Bezanozano that he
had not in his shop a piece of wood sufficiently
large and sound to enable him to meet Rafara-
vavy's requirements. But he promised, if she
could wait a short time, to go up to his knoll and
select a kind of tree that should be in every way
suitable. Taking his axe he went forth, and in
a short time returned, bearing on his shoulder
that which would amply suffice for his purpose.

y6 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Rafaravavy watched with much interest the
gradual development of the idol that was to be-
come her possession, and which she expected
would prove a powerful protector of her person
and home. She saw Bezanozano trim the branch
he had brought from his wood piece. Cutting
from the thick end of the limb a piece sufficient
for the work in hand, he chopped up the smaller
pieces of the thin end, and threw them in a heap
by themselves. Then, taking his seat, he began
the task of shaping the rude block of wood.

Occasional remarks were passed between Ra-
faravavy and the idol maker on matters connected
with his trade and the skill required for its suc-
cessful conduct.

At length Rafaravavy touched upon the sub-
ject which was so much in her mind by the ques-
tion : " Have you been unusually busy, or have
you had less demand for your services, of late,
Bezanozano? "

''Well," replied he, "I think I have found
trade rather more brisk than usual. But why do
you raise the question ? "

" You cannot be a stranger, Bezanozano, to the
strange tidings which are being everywhere pro-
claimed in and around our city, or to the large
interest which many seem to take in the messages
spoken ; and I was anxious to know if these things
had in any way affected your craft, or interfered
with the demand for idols."

" Well, no ! if anything, these strange events

The Idol Maker's Shop 77

seem to have increased the anxiety of the people
to possess Ody (charms) for their protection,
and business has been good for a considerable

" Then, you do not think much is being done by
these strangers to unsettle the faith of our peo-
ple in our gods ? "

" I have not yet ventured an opinion on that
subject, but if I must be candid, my impression
is, that the increased demand for my services is
evidence of the progress being made in under-
mining our national worship."

" But how ? Explain what you mean, Bezano-
zano, for I thought many had done, or would do,
as I myself am doing. As for me, have not I
come to purchase this mighty idol for the express
purpose of safeguarding my home against the
inroads of this false teaching? Surely this is
what others are also doing, and with an increase
of devotion and reverence for the gods, how will it
be possible for those who oppose them to pros-

" Ah ! but your words only seem to confirm my
theory. For, do you not see that the very deep-
ened spirit of devotion to our idols is token of a
widespread fear that our gods are not themselves
awake to their danger, and so is a concession that
it may be possible for these new teachers to cir-
cumvent the gods in whom we trust? Not only
so, but, as I said, the increased demand does not
come from those young men and women who are

78 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

reaching years of maturity, and, therefore, might
be expected to want household gods and charms,
but rather from parents, and such as have long
been loyal to our worship, and who seem impelled
by some secret fear of these doctrines which are
being spread abroad to seek for new, and, if pos-
sible, stronger powers to guard their homes from
the evils likely to follow upon their dissemination.
In truth, it seems to me these strange messengers
are already captivating the minds and winning
the confidence of our young people ; and you know
that if the young people of our country go over
to Christianity, our ancestral worship is doomed."
" But, Bezanozano, what exactly are the truths
these teachers set forth ? "

" Well, I have heard a good deal, from many
sources, of their teaching, and I find that these
men act as wisely as serpents. They point the
young people to the idols they have been accus-
tomed to worship, and ask them what those idols
represent. When they have drawn from the
young an admission that these images, as they call
them, represent the Supreme God, and have
proved that the people know little, or nothing,
of the Supreme God, then, say they, the very god
whom you are ignorantly worshiping is the god
we declare unto you. To us He has revealed
Himself, and it is His word, and will, and teach-
ing, we proclaim."

" And can it be, think you, Bezanozano, that
they have really received any revelation from the

The Idol Maker's Shop 79

Supreme God ? Can He have given to any peo-
ple larger knowledge of His will than to us ? "

" Of that, in truth, I cannot speak with cer-
tainty; but these teachers say so, and they seem
to believe them. Then they point to the idols,
which, they say, can neither see, nor hear, nor
speak, and which do not move about among their
worshipers as friends. And when this has taken
hold of the people's minds, they begin to tell of
one Jesus, whom they call the Son of God, and
say that He, in infinite love, came down to this
earth to live with men; that He saw and spake
to men ; that He was known as the friend of men ;
that He worked mighty miracles for the help
and comfort of even the poorest and most de-
spised; and all this because of the love He had
for men. Nay, more, they speak of Him as hav-
ing laid down His life to deliver all men from
the bondage of evil, in which they were heldj
and that, though He is not now on earth, but
living again in His Father's home, He still loves
all men, and is able and willing to save all who
look to Him and follow His teachings."

" Well," said Rafaravavy, " that certainly
seems an attractive way of putting forth their doc-
trines. But do you think such things can be

" On that point, Rafaravavy, I do not care now
to venture an opinion. But it certainly makes
their Jehovah a powerful antagonist of our idol
gods, when they set Him forth as One who loves

80 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

everybody, whereas our gods, all of them, seek
to maintain their influence by filling their wor-
shipers with fear of them. Beyond this, I un-
derstand they point to what they call the licen-
tiousness not only permitted, but encouraged, by
our religion — to the gross and open drunkenness
and immorality of its devotees; and then they draw
a picture of the purity and temperance, the gentle-
ness and love, the meekness and truth, which form
the character of their God, their Jesus, and which
mark the lives of all who live by His teaching;
and I fear the contrast presented to the minds of
our people is not favorable to our worship.

Thus, while Bezanozano worked, he and Ra-
faravavy talked on this subject that was stirring
all hearts, and so the time passed away and even-
ing drew on.

While he completed the work, the idol maker
put on the evening meal to cook, and Rafara-
vavy noticed that, in kindling the fire, he used for
that purpose the branches and remaining portion
of the limb from which he was making the idol.

When the meal was ready she partook of it,
and then, paying the idol maker for his work, took
her idol, and departed homeward. But Rafara-
vavy carried away with her more than the image
she had purchased — she carried food for long and
earnest thought from the day's conversation.

It was not, therefore, surprising that, before
retiring to rest that night, she rehearsed with
Rasalama most of the things to which she had

The Idol Maker's Shop 81

listened. Was it that she was unusually wearied
with the day's exercise and excitement? Was it
that the things she had heard from Bezanozano
concerning this new teaching were even now be-
ginning to affect her mind toward her own re-
ligion? In any case, Rafaravavy became con-
scious of a marked loss of interest in the new god
she had been so eager that day to obtain; and,
with very limited devotions at the shrine, she be-
took herself to rest.



It was not long before evidence began to be
furnished of the inroads the new faith was mak-

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 4 of 17)