John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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happen the very object that had weighed so much
with them in joining the conspiracy would be
frustrated, and the Christians would become the
supreme power in the land.

The proclamation of the new queen had not
long taken place when Kelazapa, seeking a pri-
vate audience with her, suggested that the dread-
ed favorite should be destroyed. The queen in-

102 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

dignantly refused to listen to the suggestion,
though again and again it was urged with vehe-
mence. But the priests were as crafty as their

Kelazapa knew the disposition of Ranavalona,
and that she was the subject of a strong drink
passion. Under cover of a pretended revelation
from the gods he secured an invitation to sup at
the queen's table. His plan was to secure an
interview with her when she was strongly under
the influence of liquor, and a small bribe to a
slave was sufficient to accomplish this aim. At
the supper table Ranavalona drank freely, so that
when the slave placed at her hand a draught
of stronger potency she did not detect the differ-
ence, but drank it. Kelazapa insisted that be-
fore he could announce the important message
from the gods all the slaves must withdraw — the
message was for the queen alone. And she,
growing each moment more intoxicated, gave
orders for them all to retire. It was then that
Kelazapa, producing a warrant for the execution
of her favorite, demanded in the name of the
idols that she should sign it. And when she hes-
itated, even in her drunken condition to take the
step, threats and bribes were so freely used that
presently the priest left the palace armed with
the queen's warrant for carrying out the dark
deed. That warrant was put into execution at
once, and when the queen awoke from her

A Woman's Intrigue 103

drunken condition her favorite was slain. Kel-
azapa and the idol keepers had gained the ascen-
dency, and through a stream of blood Ranava-
lona had waded to the throne of Madagascar.



The events connected with the succession to
the throne had not passed unnoticed by the Chris-
tians, and it is not to be wondered at, that in the
minds of some of them there arose anxious fore-
bodings as to the evils that might be involved in
the events. They knew well that the idol keep-
ers had been the queen's ablest helpers in her
plots, and were convinced that some sort of com-
pact regarding the Christian faith existed be-
tween them; and the murder of the queen's fa-
vorite at the instigation of Kelazapa, on the
ground of his tolerance toward their faith, was
an indication to them of the spirit likely now to
prevail at court.

A few months after the death of Radama, a son
was born to Ranavalona and was named Rakota
Radama (the young son of Radama). But the
awakening in her heart of the mother-love for
her child, did not seem to soften her feelings to-
ward any whom she might regard as enemies or
as standing in the way of her avarice and love of

Rafaravavy, and those of her friends who fre-
quently assembled at her home, began to be more

Evil Omens 105

watchful, while in no way relaxing their efforts
to strengthen one another in their faith or to win
new converts to the faith. And in these efforts
they became more and more successful. Steadi-
ly the little band of Christian converts grew.

Rasalama was another of this group of friends
who early accepted the truth proclaimed, and ac-
knowledged herself a follower of Christ. In the
cases of Rafaralahy and Ramon j a there was a
deepening interest in the doctrines of the faith;
but still their own personal relations to it were
of an indefinite character. Fantaka seemed to
become less actively hostile, but apparently the
truth made little or no impression on her heart.

One of the company seemed differently affect-
ed, but whether from fear of possible consequences,
or from fickleness of nature, was not at present
manifest. At any rate, Ranivo gradually with-
drew herself from the Bible readings, and,
though still remaining outwardly friendly to-
ward her old companions, resumed her devotions
at the idol shrines.

It was not possible for this state of affairs to
continue long. The Christians felt that, in some
way, the line of demarkation between them and
the heathen was being made more clear; while
the heathen party were beginning to realize that
if something were not done, and done promptly,
the whole city would go after the Christians.

Even now there could be heard the low mut-
terings of a rising storm. As the rustling leaves

106 Sign of the Gross in Madagascar

and the bending treetops, the tiny specks of cloud
and the restlessness of the birds and beasts, give
certain premonition of the coming tempest, so
did the whispered grumbling of court officials,
the furtive glances of royal favorites, the ill-con-
cealed elation of the heathen priests, the anxious
expressions of friendly heathen and the spon-
taneous sense of strained relations when Chris-
tian and heathen met, seem to imply just that
condition which so often precedes, and ushers in,
some great upheaval in the social or religious life
of a people.

In this case, it was the premonitory sign of a
long, dark and cruel life and death struggle be-
tween the long-established and well-equipped
forces of idolatry, and the new and lightly-estab-
lished, though infinitely more mighty, force of
Christianity. It only remained to be seen how
and when the storm would burst. That the
Christians, small a body as they formed, were
fearless of the consequences was evidenced by the
fact that just now they resolved to unite them-
selves into a Christian community or church. By
permission of the queen, two houses had been
opened for preaching and teaching near the close
of 1830.

In May of the following year, the queen had
also given public permission to the natives to re-
ceive the rite of baptism, to partake of the Lord's
supper, and to be married with the Christian, in-
stead of the heathen, ceremony.

Evil Omens 107

Encouraged by this royal permission, and in
fulfilment of their resolve, and acting on the
teaching of their Scriptures, in the early part of
1 83 1, twenty-eight of them received public bap-
tism, and the first Christian church was formed.
By November 4th the number of those received
into membership had grown to be seventy-five,
and a second church had been formed.

The heathen party responded to what they con-
sidered a challenge by approaching the queen
with a request that she would in some way exert
her influence to stem the tide of progress of this

Kelazapa sought to awaken the queen's jeal-
ousy by pointing to this small community,
amongst whom were already to be numbered sev-
eral of her wealthy subjects, and by suggesting
that one day, when those wealthy ones had se-
cured a larger following, they would be likely to
raise a sedition and seize the royal power. The
queen listened to all he had to say, but, for the
present, seemed undecided what steps to take.
But soon the priests were roused to still more
urgent efforts. Rumors had been circulating for
some time past that not only were some of the
nobles favorable to this faith, that not only had
some of these wealthier persons adopted this new
religion, but that at least one notable diviner was
showing an interest in the teaching. On the day
the first Christian Church was formed, the truth
of the rumor was abundantly verified. For there,

108 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

in truth, was the notorious diviner, whose influ-
ence had for long been most powerful in support
of the idol worship, now numbered with the
Christians, and receiving in baptism the Chris-
tian name of Paul. Publicly he renounced his
allegiance to the heathen religion ; publicly he ex-
posed the superstitious folly of divination; and
in presence of all declared his faith in Jesus
Christ as the only Saviour. Such a confession
produced a marked effect on the heathen present.
It also stirred more deeply the anger and jealousy
of the priests, who, in their indignation and fear,
wondered whereunto this thing would grow.

Again, therefore, Kelazapa approached the
queen and sought to incite her jealousy and
to awaken in her mind a fear for her own safety.
This time he was more successful in the effort,
and when the queen questioned him as to the
possibility of putting down this sect, he cunning-
ly reminded her of what happened when the first
teachers landed on her soil. He told of the
struggles between the idols and Jehovah, and
how, in a few weeks, the idols slew all the band
save one, and drove that one from the land. He
was shrewd enough to pause there, and Ranava-
lona, in her excited state of mind, did not pause
to consider that the same teacher had returned to
the island, and that the very body she was now
asked to exterminate was the living proof that
the idols had not, even on the first occasion,
triumphed over Jehovah. It now became the

Evil Omens 109

settled purpose of the heathen party to work upon
the fears and jealousy of the queen until they
could move her to lift her hand and strike the
blow that should destroy the new religion, and
restore to the idols their sole sway over the hearts
of the people. After a time the queen so far
yielded as to issue a decree prohibiting the edu-
cational work of the teachers. In this connec-
tion a curious incident happened, which shows
upon what seemingly insignificant events mighty
results depend.

The queen in condemning the educational work
of the missionaries asked if they could not teach
something more useful than Greek or Hebrew.
For example, could they teach how to make soap ?

One of the missionaries asked for a week in
which to prepare an answer to the queen's ques-

The days of the week were devoted by the
theologian to the study of soap manufacture;
and at its close a reply to the royal question was
sent, in the form of a bar of soap. A new in-
dustry was commenced amongst the natives ; and
this evidence of the usefulness of the teachers led
the queen to allow their presence in the capital
for several years longer than would otherwise
have been permitted. These were the years of
most profound importance to the firm planting
of the Christian religion in the land. While the
educational work was of necessity almost wholly
discarded, the gatherings for worship and Bible

no Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

study continued. And during the periods of re-
laxation from school duties the teachers pressed
forward the work of translating, printing and
circulating thousands of copies of the Scriptures
and other books helpful to the Christians.

A partial failure of the crops, and a serious and
long-continued drought, were skilfully used by
the priests to convince the queen that the gods of
the country were angry because she did not adopt
some strong measures to uphold their honor and
check the spread of Christianity. But it was
another event, of an entirely different nature,
that really roused Ranavalona to action.

Raindavaka, a Malagasy of superior intellec-
tual power, had received from Paul a certain
measure of instruction in the elements of the
Christian faith, and seeing, as he thought, an op-
portunity for making himself famous and pow-
erful, he conceived the idea of forming a sect of
his own which should unite in their faith the
leading facts of Christianity and the idol cus-
toms of the country. He soon secured a follow-
ing of some two hundred people, and then ( sought
an opportunity of setting forth his teaching be-
fore the queen. Reports of his teaching were
regularly carried to Ranavalona, who began to
be alarmed, and ultimately she issued a command
that the entire sect should be arrested.

When they were brought before the queen she
herself announced with perfect calmness the aw-
ful penalty she intended to inflict. Twelve of

Evil Omens 1 1 1

the principal members were selected for special
punishment, and all the others were at once pub-
licly sold as slaves. Eight of the reserved ones
were ordered to drink the tangena cup, and so
were poisoned.

Raindavaka, and the other three, the queen
condemned to the most horrible death she could
conceive of. " Let their feet and hands be tied,"
said Ranavalona, " and let them be suspended,
head downward, over a rice pit. Then let boil-
ing water be poured over them all, and immedi-
ately let the pit be filled with earth/'

Forthwith the queen's sentence was carried
out, and the Raindavaka sect ceased to exist.
Such an act seems to us too inhuman to be possi-
ble; and yet, other actions of the queen went to
show that her whole nature was steeped in de-
praved cruelty.

One of the missionaries reports that, at one
time, ten thousand natives of other tribes, who
had sworn allegiance to the queen, were massa-
cred. On another occasion fifty petty chiefs
were crucified and when their wives resisted the
doom of slavery they were ruthlessly speared to
death. The queen was loudly applauded by
Kelazapa and the ultra-heathen party, and her
pride was fed by the commendations of her skill
in dealing with this sect and by the admiration
of her power which had so speedily crushed

Still they continued to incite her anger by

H2 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

strange reports, brought by spies, as to the teach-
ings of the Christians, all of these reports being
calculated in some way to make her believe the
Christians were disloyal, and that it was only a
question of time when they would surely attempt
her overthrow. Shortly after the death of Rain-
davaka and his friends, it was represented to the
queen that one of the Christians, Ramaka, had
absolutely refused to obey the law of the land
by observing the national idol festival, and she t
filled with anger at his defiance of her authority,
as she regarded it, ordered his arrest and trial by
tangena. Ramaka first declared his innocence
of the charge of disloyalty to Ranavalona, and
then drank the poison draught. The cup failed
to harm him, and the news spread through the
city that by the heathen trial Ramaka had been
declared innocent and was free. His fellow-
Christians were overjoyed at his escape and this
public vindication of their loyalty, and as an ex-
pression of their joy went to meet Ramaka on
his return from court. Dressing in white, as an
emblem of the purity of their faith, and singing
hymns of Christian love, they marched along the
street and brought him home with rejoicing. It
was not difficult for Kelazapa, in the present tem-
per of the queen, to convince her that this act of
the Christians was a hostile demonstration, aimed
at her ; and that their jov was not so much on ac-
count of Ramaka's deliverance as of her defeat.
He urged her to lift her hand once more, and

Evil Omens 113

as she had so speedily and effectually disposed of
Raindavaka, so to exterminate the Christians.
Others sought to convince her of the true mean-
ing of the Christians' act. But Ranavalona
chose to regard their conduct as a shaft of dis-
loyalty aimed at her; and with an oath she de-
clared she would wipe out the Christian faith
with the blood of its followers.



Already we have seen sufficient of the charac-
ter of Ranavalona to know that, in the fulfilment
of any purpose on which her mind was fully re-
solved, no course or crime, however horrible in
its nature, would be allowed to prove itself an
obstacle. Now her anger was fully awakened,
and the one purpose of her life, the one subject
which filled her mind, was to destroy the Chris-
tian sect.

If there came to her any moments of relenting
all spirit of hesitation was speedily driven forth
by the renewed efforts of Kelazapa and his fel-
lows, who, full of craftiness and cruelty, were
prepared to compass any crime if only the hated
Christians could be destroyed, and the gods be
left in undisputed sovereignty over the minds and
hearts of the people. Thus it was the heathen
raged, and the people imagined a vain thing.
Since Ranavalona had thus placed herself as the
champion of the national gods, it was necessary
that all her plans should now be governed by an
appeal to them, and that on every occasion her
actions should be taken in their name.

In this way it came about that the policy of

A Royal Proclamation 115

the government was really controlled by the idol
keepers and priests ; and Ranavalona, as defender
of idolatry, became the willing associate and tool
of the heathen leaders, whose every interest was
bound up in the destruction of the Christians.
There were two other men who took an import-
ant part in seeking to arouse the queen to decis-
ive action against the Christians. One of these
was an officer whose name was Razakandrian-
aina ; the other, a man named Ratsimanisa.

The former prepared a series of accusations
against the Christians, charging them with de-
spising the idols, with desiring to change the cus-
toms of the country, and to bring Madagascar
under the authority of England.

Ratsimanisa assisted him in his plottings,
brought his charges to the notice of the queen
and sought to create in her mind a feeling of
intense alarm.

They wrought upon her fear of treason against
her person and throne. She persuaded herself
that her zeal was in the behalf of the national
gods and in defence of the national customs and
worship. To her superstitious mind all hope of
her being able to carry out her terrible oaths de-
pended on her securing the help of the idols and
learning from them the most favorable time at
which to strike the first blow.

Summoning the prime minister and Kelazapa
to the palace, she showed them her deep anxiety
not to do anything without the approval of the

n6 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

gods, and stated that she had invited them to
consult with her as to the best and surest mode
of securing the favor and guidance of the idols.
The prime minister expressed his conviction
that in an enterprise that so deeply concerned the
honor of the idols, and which was about to be
undertaken for the express purpose of extermi-
nating their foes, there could be no doubt of their
readiness to help; and that all that was needed
was that the priests at a morning sacrifice should
inform the gods of the queen's intentions, and
beseech them to be alert and watchful so that
none of her plans might fail. But Kelazapa,
wishful to bring the queen still more fully under
the control of the priests, demurred somewhat to
the prime minister's opinion. Said he, " it must
be remembered that this work which is now
about to be undertaken is one that may involve a
long and arduous struggle. Moreover, already
the national idols are incensed at the treatment
accorded the Christians by Radama, and many of
the nobles ; and, indeed, at the apparent indiffer-
ence of the government to the reputation of the
gods who have, from time immemorial, been the
guardians of the land. So that even now they
are so highly offended at the indignities to which
they have been subjected, that only the intensest
reverence and importunity on our part will secure
their attention to our desires. And there is this,
farther — the gods will only come to our aid when
they see that our plans are such as will convince

A Royal Proclamation 117

all the people that the idols, by their own myste-
rious power, have vanquished the Christians.
They will surely insist that, in all the steps taken,
due honor be given to them as the inspirers of
our deeds." " What, then, do you advise we
should do ? " asked Ranavalona. " My advice
is, that at the approaching festival, when the
royal party is returning from the worship at the
tomb of Radama, a special sacrifice be offered at
the shrine of the national gods, and such deep
homage be rendered to them as shall obtain their
favorable regard to our petitions. And if the
gods vouchsafe any revelation at this particular
time, the people will be more likely to heartily
approve the royal decrees, seeing they will con-
nect this revelation of the gods with Radama.
Feeling Radama has discovered the mistake he
made in receiving the Christians, they will be-
lieve that the spirit of Radama is now counsel-
ling the queen how to deal with the enemies of
her country and the gods. Their reverence for
the spirit of Radama will insure greater respect
for the acts of the government. ,,

It was, therefore, agreed that, after the pre-
sentation of offerings at the tomb of Radama, the
queen and her council should halt at the house of
the national gods, and join in the special wor-
ship and prayers for their help in the effort to
uproot Christianity from the land.

On the appointed morning, Ranavalona, with
her council, approached the shrine of the idols

1 1 8 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

in royal state, and immediately Kelazapa and his
helpers brought forth the four chief gods. Of-
ferings of the choicest foods were placed on the
altar before them; incense was waved and pre-
pared resins burnt; while all the time the priests
kept up a monotonous chant, extolling the virtues
of the gods and the mighty deeds they had
wrought. Then the royal party prostrated them-
selves at the altar, while Kelazapa presented the
special petition. He ascribed to the gods su-
preme power, so that nothing could withstand
their will ; he poured out lamentations on account
of the dishonor done to them by the permission
given the Christians to establish their religion in
the country, and especially because so many of
the people had ceased to worship the gods of their
fathers, and even denounced them as helpless
stocks and stones. He reminded them of the
loyalty of the queen to their worship and her de-
sire to serve them ; informed them of the lauda-
ble enterprise on which she was entering to crush
their foes and re-establish their authority; and,
pointing to the queen, prostrate before their altar,
besought them to regard her holy vows, to vouch-
safe some token of their favor, and so to direct
her actions as that her efforts to vindicate their
honor might be conducted to a speedy and com-
plete success. When Kelazapa had finished his
incantations, the royal party withdrew and re-
turned to the palace, the priests alone remaining
by the altar to learn the will of the gods, having

A Royal Proclamation 119

promised to at once communicate to the queen
any answers to her prayers. No sooner had the
queen departed than the priests and diviners as-
sembled for the purpose of feasting on the luxu-
ries that day placed upon the altar of the idols;
and when the cravings of the animal appetite had
been fully satisfied, it took but a short time to
prepare the answer Kelazapa should return to
the queen in the name of the gods.

The next day the whole city was startled by
the issue of a proclamation, which declared that,
acting upon the special revelation of the national
gods, Ranavalona informed her subjects that the
Christian worship must cease throughout the
land ; and that those who had accepted the teach-
ing of the Christian faith much renounce it and
turn again to the worship of their fathers. A
letter signed by Ranavalona, was delivered to the
missionaries by a deputation of officers, headed
by Ratsimanisa, which commanded them to cease
their efforts to change the ancient customs and
worship of her people. One paragraph from
that letter may be quoted, as it reveals the firm
tone which the queen had been led to adopt —
" And hence, then, with regard to religious wor-
ship, whether on the Sunday or not, and the prac-
tice of baptism, and the existence of a society (or
societies) those things cannot be done by my
subjects, in my country." In order that it might
be universally known that the queen's determi-
nation was to put an end to all Christian teach-

120 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

inrj and worship, a great kabary, or national as-
sembly, was summoned to meet on Sunday,
March 1st, 1835, on the plain of Imahamasina.

There a further proclamation would be made,
declaring the queen's intentions. The proclama-
tion required, also, that men, women and children
were to be present — all of the height of a cubit
and upward.

So unusual was this proceeding, so sudden the
action of the queen, and so short the notice (three
days) for the great gathering, that at first the
minds of the Christians were filled with alarm.
That some fearful evil was overhanging them
they knew ; and their alarm was increased by the
very indefiniteness of the threat in the queen's

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 6 of 17)