John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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ing on the worship and superstitions of the peo-
ple. Very soon rumors went abroad that one and
another had ceased to worship the idols, and had
placed themselves entirely under the instruction
of the teachers.

In the schools many were learning not only to
read, but by their reading to understand more
fully the truths of the religion called Christianity.
And so in homes throughout the capital parents
discovered that their boys and girls were becom-
ing indifferent to the customs which they them-
selves deemed so sacred.

Yet it seemed unwise, and indeed impossible,
to prevent the children from taking advantage
of the opportunities for self-improvement thus
prepared for them. In many homes the risk of
the children joining the new sect, and forsaking
altogether the worship of their fathers, was ac-
cepted in the same spirit in which the king had
welcomed the teacher — for the sake of the un-
doubted advantages which the school teaching
would yield to those who received it. These

The New Sect 83

teachers had mastered the Malagasy language,
and were able to speak so that all the people could
clearly understand their message.

The immediate effect was an increasingly
widespread interest in all they said or did. It
was now no uncommon thing to see hundreds of
old and young alike gathered to listen to their
words. Some were visibly affected, not only by
the beauty and purity of their teaching, but by
some mysterious power which the heathen could
not understand, but which the teachers had said
they would surely sooner or later feel, because
it was the power of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus
had promised to send abroad with His messen-
gers to convince the world of sin, of righteous-
ness and of judgment to come. It was noticed
that this strange influence was felt by the listen-
ers, especially after the teachers had been upon
their knees engaged in prayer to Jehovah. And
so convinced at last did the heathen become that
the success attending the teaching was connected
with these prayers — prayers withal so full of
fervor, of joy, and of expectancy, and in so
marked contrast to the cold petitions offered to
the idols — that at length they began to call the new
sect by a new but significantly beautiful name,
viz. : the " praying ones."

With this deepened interest in the new mes-
sage, which now began to be known by the term,
the gospel, came a corresponding decrease of
interest in the former worship and practices ; and

84 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

it became indeed evident how much power the
new sect was gathering, when, shortly, some of
the heathen resolved to publicly repudiate their
idols, acknowledge their faith in Jehovah, and
receive in the presence of a great multitude the
rite of baptism, which they had come to under-
stand was the sign by which they should confess
their faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour, and
their loyalty to Him as their Master and Lord.

Now a definite opportunity was afforded for
contrasting the fruits of idolatry with the fruits
of this gospel and the worship of Jehovah; and
as weeks and months passed by even the most
prejudiced were compelled to admit that the con-
trast was altogether in favor of the Christians.

The changed disposition, the joyousness, truth-
fulness, honesty, the purity of speech and life,
soon began to proclaim the absolute superiority
of the Christian faith over idolatry. And many,
even of those who had no intention of renounc-
ing their idolatry, were constrained to admire
the wonderful change in the character that had
been wrought by this new faith, and to modify
their hostility toward a religion that could so
change men's hearts ; for that was the truth that
forced itself upon the heathen minds — that in
some way these Christians had got new hearts.

As might be expected, Radama was highly
pleased with the results which had followed his
reception of the teachers. Even if the idol
makers were chagrined, and a number of his

The New Sect 85

people had fully embraced the new faith, were
not singular benefits being conferred upon the
country by the schools ? And was there not here
the promise of a day of generous enlightenment
for the land ? And would not his name go down
to future generations surrounded with a halo of
glory as the one who introduced this era of light
and civilization? So Radama was satisfied, and
the influence of Christianity grew, making head-
way and gaining friends even at court.

Well was it that for a season Christianity
flourished thus. Such friends would yet be
needed for dark days.

One of the first to make an open confession of
the Christian faith was a young man named
Ramaka. Naturally bright and clever, he had
made the most of the advantages offered by the
schools, and acquitted himself as one of the best
scholars connected with the Christian faith.
Added to his enthusiastic disposition was a pas-
sionate love for Christ, and very soon, in Ra-
maka, the heathen began to discover a hitherto
unexpected quality in this new faith.

Accustomed, as they were, to the apathy en-
gendered by their own superstitions, they im-
agined Christianity would prove itself an easy-
going opponent. But Ramaka soon undeceived
them on this point.

His heart had laid hold on one fact — namely,
that his new Master, Jesus Christ, expected every
one who loved Him to become a messenger for

86 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Him. And so it was that, in the aggressive ef-
forts of the young disciple to bring others to the
service and love of Jesus, the heathen found they
had a new force — and one difficult to estimate —
to reckon with. If every Christian was going
to be a Ramaka, then what power would stem
the tide of this religion that it should not over-
flow the whole land and sweep the idols into the

Even if Rafaravavy had so wished, it would
not have been possible for her to avoid coming
into closer contact with Christianity. The gospel
message, the spread of the new faith, and the char-
acter of its converts, were constant themes of con-
versation at her home. Often the discussion of
some doctrine was animated. Often the admi-
ration of the heathen for some of the truths they
heard, and the practices they witnessed, was ex-
pressed in almost unguarded terms; and when,
one day, Ranivo proposed that out of curiosity
Rafaravavy and some few friends should go and
hear one of these teachers publish the gospel, she
yielded with something more than a formal as-
sent — with something of warmth and earnest-
ness. It caused no slight astonishment when
Rafaravavy, accompanied by Ranivo, Rasalama
and Prince Ramon j a entered the place of wor-
ship, and at once the question began to be asked :
Is Rafaravavy also among the Christians?
Though no visible effect was then produced, yet
the Christians had noticed the manifestation of

The New Sect 87

a preparedness to listen. Accordingly, the next
day Ramaka made his way to the home of Ra-
faravavy, and after some time spent in conversa-
tion, asked her that he might read her something
from his Bible on the subject of idolatry. Being
permitted to do so, he turned to the prophesies
of Isaiah, and read thence a description of the
idol maker and the idol worshiper. The actions
of Bezanozano were fresh in the mind of Rafar-
avavy, and it was with feelings of wonder she
heard Ramaka read from his book so exact a de-
scription of what she had seen : " He planteth
a fir tree, and the rain doth nourish it. Then
shall it be for man to burn ; and he taketh thereof
and warmeth himself; yea, he kindleth and bak-
eth bread ; yea, he maketh a god and worshipeth
it." At that moment a strange light broke in
upon Rafaravavy's mind, revealing to her much
of the folly and shame of idolatry. She reques-
ted Ramaka to come often and read to her from
this wonderful book. Gradually her mind
opened to receive the truth, until shortly after-
wards she renounced the idols she had so long
worshiped, accepted the Christian's God as her
God, and, casting in her lot with the new sect,
publicly confessed her faith in Jesus as her

Rafaravavy at once became the center of an
interested group. Rasalama was in a state of
great indecision as to the new religion ; Ranivo,
who had gone to hear the gospel out of mere

88 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

curiosity, had since then seemed much more
thoughtful; Ramon j a and Rafaralahy were both
of them much less zealous in their devotions to
the idols, and seemed desirous of affording coun-
tenance to the Christians.

Probably in this desire they were strengthened
by the knowledge that there was in the palace
one powerful friend of that faith. Ratefy had
returned from England with clear and strong
impressions as to the greatness of that country,
and the help that must come to Madagascar
through her friendship; and, although not a
Christian, he was most favorably disposed to-
ward the faith, for he had seen that the Chris r
tian faith was at the foundation of England's

Thus, when on his return to Antananarivo, he
discovered that his son Rakotobe had become a
Christian, and was openly recognized as such, in-
stead of feeling angry he was conscious of a
sense of relief and joy. If such were his feel-
ings, what must have been those of the Chris-
tians in this matter, for, notwithstanding his
youth, Rakotobe was at present the most influen-
tial person at court. He was nephew to the
king, and it was well known that Radama had
designated the young man as his successor. Ra-
tefy, therefore, was filled with hope that when
his son should come to the throne he would build
his kingdom on the same foundation as that on
which England's greatness rested. And yet

The New Sect 89

higher and more jubilant were the expectations
of the Christians as they looked forward to hav-
ing a Christian king on the throne of the country.

Ratefy was not permitted for long to share the
company of Rakotobe. It had been Radama's
purpose in sending him to England to have him
thoroughly fitted for the discharge of important
service to the government; and Ratefy had ful-
filled the king's expectations in the liberal views
he had imbibed and the knowledge he had gained.
Very shortly he was appointed to a large district
in the northeast, where there had been some
trouble, in the hope that his wisdom and humane
policy would restore peace and produce good re-
sults for the tribe. Almost at once Ratefy re-
moved to his new sphere of service, again leaving
Rakotobe under the watchful protection of the

The home of Rafaravavy naturally formed a
center where she and her friends had much to
say regarding the truths she had accepted, and
night after night the Christian gospel was read
and studied, and prayed over — Ramaka and Ra-
faravavy always leading. Little by little one
and another heart was opening to the knowledge
of Jesus. Fantaka alone seemed to be uninflu-
enced by the teaching. Indeed, for a time she
seemed to become almost fanatical in her devo-
tion to the household gods of her father, and she
bitterly reproached Rafaravavy for her unfaith-
fulness to them.

90 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

But her reproaches were received with such a
gentleness of spirit that gradually Fantaka was
compelled to acknowledge to herself that, after all,
the Christian was nobler than the heathen.

Thus the Christian faith was spreading and be-
coming established, and was already gaining fa-
vor and converts even in the royal palace. But
the same events which brought such joy and hope
to the hearts of the Christians served to quicken
the anger and arouse the jealousy of the heathen
party, and especially the idol keepers and priests ;
and many and deep were the mutterings against
these " praying ones " — the new sect.





IX. A Woman's Intrigue.

X. Evil Omens.

XL A Royal Proclamation.
XII. The Kabary.

XIII. Suspense.

XIV. Betrayed.

XV. Divine Interposition.
XVI. Deceived.
XVII. The First Martyr.
XVIII. Fugitives.
XIX. Out of the Jaws of Death.
XX. A Queen's Infatuation.
XXL In the Judgment Hall.
XXII. Faithful unto Death.

XXIII. The Last Kabary.

XXIV. In the Chamber of Death.
XXV. Out of Bondage.


a woman's intrigue.

Those who have lived in a tropical country,
such as Madagascar, are familiar with the strug-
gles through which the day often seems to dawn.
In its earliest stages thin forks of light gleam
across the night sky, cleaving it north and south
and pointing toward the meridian.

But for a time, dark, gloomy, inky clouds float
hither and thither over the horizon, and creep
along the tops of the Eastern hills, as if they
would stay the sun in his course and turn back
those streaks of dawning day.

Ultimately the clouds depart, or are burst
asunder by the rising sun ; and over and under,
and through the clouds, the day breaks.

The phenomena of nature might illustrate, in
measure, the phenomena which accompanied the
passing of the dark night of superstition and
idolatry in Madagascar, and the dawn of spirit-
ual light and life — daybreak through the clouds.

In the midst of the dawn of promise, a dark
cloud overcast the sky. Radama, as we have
seen, while possessed of many traits of charac-
ter which separated him from the majority of
heathen around, still adhered to the ancient cus-

94 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

toms and faith, and, without restraint, gave him-
self up to the licentiousness which prevailed
amongst his people. It could scarcely be ex-
pected that one who seemed to turn his whole
life into one long day of indulgence and excess,
should attain a great age. In 1828 it became
known that the king was sick, and as the weeks
passed away it became a matter of certainty that
his enfeebled constitution could not for long re-
sist the inroads of disease. Conscious that the
end was drawing near, Radama one day sum-
moned his council and his nephew Rakotobe as
his successor on the throne, taking an oath of
the council that they would faithfully execute
his will and loyally support the young king.
Turning to Rakotobe he reminded him of all that
he had done for the teachers and the Christian
faith, and expressed his gladness that, though he
himself was passing away in the darkness of
idolatry, Rakotobe had embraced the new faith
and rejoiced in the light it had brought; and
urged him to be the friend and protector of all
the Christians, and to seek to spread the light
and increase the blessings which had begun to
uplift the country. With the utmost heartiness
Rakotobe promised all this, at the same time ex-
pressing his own sorrow that Radama should
only have seen the light, and not have walked in
it ; so that, while the star of hope was rising, with
bright promise for his country, he who had pre-
pared the way for that light was now passing

A Woman's Intrigue 95

out into a darkness, awful and mysterious. Noth-
ing, however, could change the position of Ra-

Intellectually and politically he admired Christ
and His religion. But he had not, and sought
not, the power to break away from his evil life,
and morally and spiritually he remained a

When the council retired, Radama's mother
and sister came to take a last farewell of the king ;
and while they stood around his bed, heart-
broken with grief, just as the sun went down,
Radama's spirit fled — the most enlightened
heathen ruler of Madagascar had passed to his

Later in the evening the council assembled and
arranged to keep secret the death of the king
until all the plans were completed for proclaim-
ing Rakotobe the successor of Radama I. Little
did they anticipate the awful consequences that
followed this decision. The council separated
to meet again the next afternoon to complete the
preparations for the. coronation of the new king.

That same night another council was held in
the capital. The late king had had twelve wives,
and his harem had been full of intrigues ; so that
some of these heathen women were adepts in
the art. One of them, named Ranavalona, had at
present no child of her own, whose claim to the
throne she could set forth ; but, being a woman of
unscrupulous character and cruel disposition, she

g6 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

aspired to something higher. Her purpose was
already formed — to try and secure the royal
power for herself. She was fierce in her support
of the idols, and hoped on this account to receive
help from the idol keepers. She was also
wealthy, and hoped to be able to bribe others to
support her claims. Accordingly, she sum-
moned Kelazapa, the chief keeper of the national
gods, and with him the commander of the army.
After taking from them an oath of secrecy she
began to unfold her plans. To the commander
of the royal army she appealed by a heavy bribe
— urging him to put forth earnest efforts, and to
use such sums of money as might be necessary to
gain the army to her side. By this means,
coupled with promises of promotion and power,
she secured the promise of the commander to use
his influence in the direction desired. In seek-
ing to gain the hearty support of the idol keepers
she not only used bribes, but also sought to
arouse their zeal in her cause by pointing out
that Rakotobe had professed Christianity, and
that others, who might claim the throne in op-
position to him, were also favorably inclined to
the new faith ; while she had always been loyal to
the national worship, was the friend of the idols,
and was prepared to exert all the royal influence
against Christianity. She then went on to show
that, by supporting her cause, Kelazapa could
not only obtain wealth, but also secure a most

A Woman's Intrigue 97

powerful ally in his efforts to oppose the spread
of the new faith.

This council separated, to meet at noon next
day, that reports might be given as to the pros-
pect of securing the support of the army and the
idol keepers in the attempt in which Ranavalona
was now determined.

The following day, at noon, this council of
conspirators assembled; and one hour later the
government council met for the purpose of put-
ting into effect the will of the late king.

Ranavalona presided at her council, and was
encouraged, when, on asking what reports had
been brought back, she was assured of the abso-
lute support of the army and the priests. At the
same time the commander pointed out the grave
risks involved in her attempt. If by any means
it should fail, or if subsequently any of the sev-
eral claimants for the throne, apart from Rako-
tobe, should become sufficiently powerful to suc-
cessfully contend with her, it would mean instant
death for her and for all who united in her plot.

The priests also pointed out that they would
depend on her to protect them from the anger
of the late king's council ; and they warned her
of the difficulty of accomplishing her purpose un-
less in some way the people could be induced to
believe that this was not a contest between hu-
man beings alone, but between the national gods
and Jehovah. Then she might hope to have the
multitude on her side.

98 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Perhaps their own proverb did not occur to
their minds — one which might have made them
pause and consider that perhaps Jehovah was,
for the moment, winking at their plottings:
" There is nothing unknown to God, but He in-
tentionally bows down His head." To their credit,
be it said, the commander and Kelazapa had not
till that time entertained the idea of destroying
the claimants who might oppose Ranavalona's
accession to the throne; and, perhaps for this
reason the chances of success seemed to them the
more remote.

Not so, however, with Ranavalona. Strong in
her ambitions, and unscrupulous in her acts, she
was ready for all that might be involved in the
conspiracy. Speedily she unfolded her plans,
which were that the commander, with several
companies of soldiers, should seize Rakotobe
and put him to death; that any others who
sought to interfere with her plans should simi-
larly be put beyond the power to dispute them;
and that Kelazapa should make public a procla-
mation that the national gods had declared Ran-
avalona should be queen.

The calmness with which Ranavalona set forth
her scheme of death surprised even the soldier
and the crafty priest. But they had already so
far committed themselves that there was no re-
ceding with safety, and by the necessity of their
position they were now compelled to become the
tools in the hands of an inhuman woman, by

A Woman's Intrigue 99

which she would accomplish a diabolical crime,
and seize a throne.

No time was to be lost, for at any moment the
palace gates might be thrown open, and the ac-
cession of Rakotobe be proclaimed to the people.
Immediately a proclamation was made ready and
posted at the entrance to the palace courtyard,
announcing that the idols had nominated Rana-
valona for queen. At the same time several com-
panies of soldiers surrounded the courtyard and
the council meeting within the palace was sum-
moned to surrender. When the chief of the army
appeared at the council door, the president asked
for an explanation of the intrusion. He was in-
formed that the priests and the army had recog-
nized and proclaimed Ranavalona as queen, and
in the queen's name he called upon them all to
take the oath of allegiance.

For a moment they hesitated. But on coming
out into the courtyard and finding the palace in
the hands of the soldiers and the queen, all of
them, save four, accepted the situation. These
four were faithful to their oath to the late king,
and declared in favor of Rakotobe. Immediate-
ly they were dragged forth and speared to death,
while Rakotobe was sought for. So sudden and
unexpected had this movement been that he had
no opportunity of escaping or of concealing him-
self. In a short time Rakotobe had lost not only
a throne, but his life also, through a cruel wo-
man's intrigue.

ioo Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Having seized the crown with blood-stained
hands, Ranavalona soon discovered that she
must stain those hands again and again in the
blood of the innocent ere she could feel secure in
her position.

Selecting several of the swiftest officers and
soldiers, they were despatched in different direc-
tions for the purpose of getting rid of those rela-
tives of the late king who might possibly dispute
her title to reign. The eldest sister of the king
was cast into prison ; her mother, with her broth-
er and a son, were also cast into cells ; and these
four were left to a lingering death by starvation.
We have seen that shortly before Radama's
death, Ratefy had been appointed to an import-
ant governorship. So rapidly did the queen's
messengers travel that they reached the coast al-
most as early as the proclamation that announced
Ranavalona's accession. Ratefy was perplexed
by this announcement, but the full truth dawned
upon him when, a few hours later, he received
news of the death of Rakotobe. Ratefy would
have boldly demanded redress for this wrong had
he been allowed opportunity. But so swift were
the queen's actions that before he had fully re-
covered from the shock he was seized, a mock
court martial held, and Ratefy slain as a traitor.
Even yet the queen did not feel safe. Two
cousins of the late king still lived, and such
trifling peril must be removed.

By a base act of treachery, secured by a large

A Woman's Intrigue 101

bribe from the queen, one of them named Rama-
nanola was assassinated by the hand of a former
friend. The last probable claimant to the throne
being warned of his danger fled, and the most
vigorous search of the soldiers failed to discover
his whereabouts.

Several valuable lives had been sacrificed in
order that a vain and licentious heathen woman
might secure the throne of Madagascar instead
of the rightful heir, who was a Christian.

But the first stroke of retribution soon fell.
The priests and idol keepers had sold themselves
to Ranavalona. But she had, almost as surely,
sold herself into their power. And it was not
long before she was made to realize this fact.
One of the foremost conspirators, whose aid had
been invaluable in accomplishing the vile pur-
pose of the queen, was highly objectionable to
the heathen party because he had shown a spirit
of toleration toward the Christians.

The priests were filled with apprehension lest
this man should presently incline the queen's
mind to favor the new religion, for should this

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 5 of 17)