John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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However, they gathered, as usual, each even-
ing for prayer ; and under the peaceful influence
of their worship their hearts grew more calm.
Saturday night came, and for the last time they
gathered in their church at Ambotonakanga.
The church was filled to overflow by the Chris-
tians and friendly heathen ; and an address, full
of pathos and power, was delivered by the native
preacher, who took for the keynote of his address
the prayer of another company in time of trouble
and despair : " Save, Lord, we perish." Words
of consolation and help flowed from his lips —
words which had brought comfort and calm to
his own heart, and now filled the hearts of the
threatened Christians with peace. Thus the

A Royal Proclamation 121

hours of the night passed away in worship and

These Christians had drunk deep draughts of
the water of life. Christ was the foundation of
their life and hope. They had searched the
depth, and explored the recesses of the love of
God; and so, though babes in the Christian life,
they were giants in the faith !

As they saw the storms gather round their
heads, they renewed their covenant with Christ;
and, as the ivy, clinging to the oak, outlasts the
winter's tempests, so did they entwine every
clinging tendril of faith and hope and love
around the mighty Saviour. And though some
of the twigs and leaves were torn from the vine,
as blast succeeded blast, the vine, when the last
breath of the tempest had swept past, still lived,
stronger and more widespread ; their faith, made
mightier by its trials, still clung to the Christ,
whose strength had been its support. At the first
gray dawn of day the Christians separated with
tears and handshakings. The morning of trial
had come ; what would the day bring to them ?
Would they ever meet thus again ?



As the little band of Christians were wending
their ways homeward, the booming of guns
awoke the city, and announced that the day had
come which was to witness the first trial of
strength between the heathen and Christian
faiths, and the casting down the gauntlet, by the
heathen, at the feet of Jehovah. Could the con-
tending parties have seen the final issue of the
great conflict opened that day, with what differ-
ent feelings would they have regarded the first

The heathen were jubilant as, secure in their
numbers and power, they anticipated a speedy
triumph. The Christians were calm, and, though
few in number, were not expecting defeat — for
even now were they not conscious that they
possessed a victory that overcometh the world;
even their faith?

Soon the city was all astir and, in a whirl of
excitement, crowds were rushing hither and
thither. From all sides streams of people were
pouring into the city, or skirting its suburbs, as
they made their way to the great plain. Very
early the steady tramp and the clanking of arms,

The Kabary 123

told that the soldiers were moving out to the
place of assembly. As the hours passed away
the crowd steadily grew — tens of thousands, ar-
rayed in holiday attire and overflowing with the
excitement of the unusual event, were gathering.

All around could be seen large groups of
heathen eagerly discussing the questions concern-
ing the Christian faith, which had led to the call-
ing of the kabary. Here and there could be
seen much smaller groups, whose anxious faces,
and quiet conversation, marked them as bands of
Christians or adherents of the new faith, to
whom this day might mean so much. While
from many of the heathen groups fierce and vin-
dictive glances were cast at the companies of
Christians, when they were recognized, there
were not wanting signs that many of the heathen
present that day regarded these fearful Chris-
tians with feelings of kindness and sympathy.
Their glances of compassion or admiration, and
many a friendly nod or greeting, revealed the
fact that there were many who, at heart, did not
sympathize with the avowed purpose of the
queen toward the Christians.

As the multitude increased and the sound of
their voices swelled, above all the din and noise
could be heard the constant roar of artillery,
with which it was thought to strike terror to the
hearts of the superstitious people. A little be-
fore the hour for commencing the proceedings,
the officials were seen approaching, and, when at

H4 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

length the judges and commander of the army,
accompanied by Kelazapa and some fellow-
priests, took their places on the stand erected for
their use, some fifteen thousand soldiers were on
the field, and probably one hundred and fifty
thousand people were present, waiting to hear
their sovereign's decree.

True to the cunning of his nature, Kelazapa
had arranged for a good number of heathen,
whose services had been made dependable by
lavish gifts, to place themselves amongst the
great crowd. They had been instructed to care-
fully notice any Christians whom they could rec-
ognize, and try to gather, either from their ap-
pearance or any stray words they might catch,
just how they regarded the purposes of the
queen; and if they could learn any facts that
might incriminate any of the Christians, to re-
port them immediately. They were also to watch
closely the heathen, and try to form an opinion
as to the spirit in which the queen's proclama-
tion was regarded by them.

For the fact was, Ranavalona and Kelazapa
were yet anxious as to the probable effects on
the heathen party of the persecution and shed-
ding of blood that might be necessary ere the
Christian faith could be stamped out. The chief
judge bore in his hand the queen's message, and
after a heroic discharge of musketry by the sol-
diers, he stood forth to open the official duties of
the day. It was not difficult to secure comparative

The Kabary 125

silence, seeing that one-tenth of those present
were soldiers, detailed for that purpose.

A number of officials had, shortly before, been
despatched to the west part of the province to
announce the kabary, and make known the
queen's intention, and they at once presented a
report to the judges. There was little in that
report that could encourage the heathen party,
for it gave evidence that Christianity was being
favorably regarded by the people of the west,
and that the queen's intention to maintain the
idol-worship had not awakened any enthusiasm
even in the heathen mind. The chief judge then
stepped forward and delivered a violent ha-
rangue, which altogether ignored the question
for which they had been called together that day,
but was a wonderful setting forth of the value
of guns and of the rare qualities of gunpowder.
Probably his intention was to make the Chris-
tians feel how hopeless was any effort on their
part to oppose the will of a queen who could call
into her service such a mighty force.

His speech was received with a quietness which
seemed to say: If your guns shoot as wide of
the mark as your speech has of the question this
day, nobody has much to fear from either. The
ground in front of the judges' stand was then
cleared ; a large number of dusky warriors
marched forward, and, when they had passed av*
repassed, halted. At the command of their offi-
cers they separated into companies and began to

126 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

execute a rude sort of war dance. Their spears
were frequently brought into use, and the princi-
pal object of the dance seemed to be to imitate
the execution of criminals. These were repre-
sented by soldiers whose spears had been wrested
from them, and who cringed in well-feigned ter-
ror while again and again the soldiers would ad-
vance upon them with poised spears and pretend
to thrust them through. This also was intended
to be an object lesson to the Christians of what
some of them might expect to experience in real-
ity, unless they would yield to Ranavalona's de-
mand, and again worship the idols.

When it was thought the multitudes were suf-
ficiently impressed with the queen's power to
carry out whatever evil she might threaten, the
dancers retired and the royal message was read.
The speech opened with an ascription of praise
to Andriananahary — the name under which the
Malagasy spoke of the Supreme Being. And,
although they had no knowledge of His nature or
spirit, they felt that on all public occasions He
must be acknowledged. Such an appeal to the
unknown God to assist in destroying His own
true servants, was doomed to disappointment.

The speech appealed also to the great national
gods of the country to protect the land against
the false teaching that was being spread abroad
and to recognize and prosper the efforts put forth
by Ranavalona to re-establish the national wor-
ship and reverence for the gods. The worship

The Kabary 127

of the Christians was then described, followed
by the queen's declaration of her utter detestation
of their practices and her determination that
while she ruled over Madagascar, such customs
must cease. Then followed a number of charges
against the Christians. The queen was shocked
to know how utterly these people despised the
idols of the land and felt it was no wonder
drought and distress had fallen upon the prov-
ince since the gods were so provoked.

Again, what blessing or prosperity could be
hoped for so long as these Christians continued
to devote one day a week, and several evenings,
to the worship of an unknown God ; and avowed
their intention of praying to Him alone and of
trying to lead the people of the land to acknowl-
edge Him ? Indeed, how should the very throne
of Madagascar be preserved inviolable if the sub-
jects of the queen were to be taught to submit
themselves to the authority of England? But
the crimes which the queen and her council de-
tested most of all were these: That the Chris-
tians had ceased to swear or to utter low and
polluting words, which was absolute proof of
their having renounced idolatry; and now these
Christian women dared to be chaste, absolutely
refusing to surrender their virtue to the vicious
appetites of the nobles and court officials. What
further evidence could be required of the utter
disloyalty of the Christians to customs which had
long been established in the country, and which

128 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

were good enough for the queen ? What further
proof was needed of the rebellious attitude of this
sect toward the wishes and demands of the sov-
ereign ?

Therefore the queen would use every power
at her disposal to destroy the last vestige of
Christianity, and all who opposed her will must
endure the punitive strength of her arm.

Finally, one month was allowed for all who
called themselves Christians, or who had accepted
the Christian teaching or been baptized, to ac-
cuse themselves to the government.

Those who accused themselves would be dealt
with severely. Those who did not accuse them-
selves would be sought out and their punishment
would be instant death. The commander of the
army came forward on the platform and pledged
the troops to faithfully carry out all the queen's
pleasure. The men of sixteen honors, twelve
honors, nine honors, down to the sergeants of
three honors, and the rank and file, stood ready
to obey her commands. After another volley of
musketry, the assembly dispersed.

If the excitement had been great in the morn-
ing, it was tenfold greater as the people returned
home. Few people in and around the capital,
save the children, slept that night. Among the
heathen speculation was rife as to the effect of
the queen's resolve and the possibility of destroy-
ing the Christian faith.

Many had seen evidence of its power; and

The Kabary 129

during the scenes of the day they had noticed the
quiet demeanor and calm courage with which the
Christians had listened to the queen's charges and
denunciations against them. In truth, their
purity of speech and virtue of life, which seemed
to so enrage the queen, were just some of the
characteristics of the Christians which most
strongly commended them to many of the

The Christians retired in groups, and in secret
gatherings spent the night in laying their troubles
before their God and seeking His guidance as to
future action. During the night the spies sent
out by Kelazapa were busy bringing in their re-
ports; and such was the character of these re-
ports that it soon began to be felt that a mistake
had been made. There were indications that, if
a whole month were allowed, very many of the
heathen might join the Christians, and so the work
of unrooting Christianity would become doubly

These circumstances were laid before the queen
and her council ; and early next day a further de-
cree was issued, reducing the month to one week
and requiring all Christians to accuse themselves
within the seven days.

Did not the Christ whom the Christians loved
and served, and who " endured the cross, despis-
ing the shame," Himself say " if they have perse-
cuted Me, they will also persecute you ? " And so
the sign of the cross descended on Madagascar.



The new proclamation, reducing the month to
one week, was clear evidence to the Christians
that the queen meant to strike a swift and decis-
ive blow for their destruction, and they began
to realize that the fiery trial that was to prove
the constancy of their faith and love toward
Christ, and which was to separate the chaff from
the wheat, had commenced. When the evening
of the first day after the kabary came, and in
secret gatherings the little companies assembled
to read the Scriptures and pray, it became ap-
parent that many had only received a head knowl-
edge of the truth ; that, as yet, its glad tidings
had not influenced their hearts.

Many who had regularly met with them
walked with them no longer; aye, some of these
unstable ones, in their efforts to prove that they
were in no way connected with the Christians,
denied with oaths that they knew their Christ,
and entered with seeming thoroughness and joy
into the idol worship. Some even praised in
public the loyalty of the queen to the religion of
the land, and her firmness in dealing with those
who were undermining the influence of the gods.

Suspense 131

The first effect of these lapses was to greatly
discourage the faithful ones ; but when they be-
gan to realize how many were still uninfluenced
by fear of the threatening evils, and called to
mind how clearly Christ had foretold just this
effect of persecution, they recovered heart and
hope and simply resolved that, though all should
deny Christ, they would remain His faithful wit-

During the early days of the week there was
manifest joy at the palace. As the days passed
by and no Christians came forward to make the
self-accusation, the queen began to congratulate
herself on the success of her scheme, and felt sat-
isfied that these Christians were cowards, how-
ever bravely they might at this time seem to bear
themselves. But she and her councilors were
yet to be undeceived. On several nights of the
week lamps were lighted in the vestry of the
church, and gatherings for prayer were held;
and thus, in waiting upon God, the Christians
who had at first felt somewhat weak and fearful,
were recovering their strength, and building up
a courage which would one day startle the forces
of the heathen arrayed against them.

The week was drawing to a close before the
Christians gave any indication of their intentions.
But then an incident occurred that filled even
the judges with astonishment.

One day, toward the end of the week, the
judges had not long taken their seats in the court

132 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

room, when a small group of men and women
were seen approaching. Among them were sev-
eral of those whose acquaintance we have made
— Rafaravavy, Rasalama and Ramaka. They
entered the court with erect heads and firm tread,
their whole conduct manifesting a spirit of joy
and strength, and even of pride, as they ad-
vanced to the platform on which the judges sat.

On being questioned by the judges as to their
wishes, Ramaka replied that they had come in
obedience to the queen's command, thus to prove
their loyalty to her. And, when a further ex-
planation was asked, he answered that they were
Christians who were in the habit of meeting for
worship, who had utterly renounced the idols of
the land, and who prayed, and would still con-
tinue to pray, to Jehovah alone. To Ramaka's
declaration they all assented, and their names
were recorded.

But so astonished was the court at the frank-
ness and fearlessness of the Christians, as con-
trasted with the cowardice and deceit usually
practiced in their presence, that they paused to
ask some questions. " How long have you been
in the habit of neglecting the idols and praying
to your Jehovah? " asked one of the judges. To
which Ramaka replied that, as for the others,
some for periods varying from five years to a
few months; as for himself, he had for nearly
four years worshiped Jehovah only.

" How often do you pray to your God ? " asked

Suspense 133

another. " That I cannot tell you," was the re-
ply ; " for many times a day do I come into His
presence with my petitions. And sometimes,
even the night-watches are prevented with the
voice of prayer and supplication. Whenever oc-
casion of need arises, whenever temptation as-
sails, whenever danger threatens, so often do I
cry unto God — for He ever listens to the prayers
of His children."

" So," said the judge, " may we hear a sample
of the prayers you offer to Jehovah ? "

For answer Ramaka simply closed his eyes,
while he and his companions fell upon their
knees ; and then, in presence of the hostile judges,
Ramaka poured forth a simple, earnest prayer,
remembering in his petitions his native land, the
queen and her officers, seeking for himself and
his fellow Christians a spirit of love toward their
enemies, and that, in time of trial, their hearts
might be kept in peace, and pleading that the
heathen around might come to the knowledge
of Jesus, the only Saviour.

So impressed were the judges with the beauty
of Ramaka's prayer, that, even before the
heathen assembled in court, they were fain to
admit it was so good they could not find any fault
in it.

As other groups of Christians, or individual
followers of Christ, came in succession to accuse
themselves, a similar scene was witnessed. And
when at length the period for self-accusation had

134 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

closed there were some among the judges, and
the heathen party, who seemed inclined to call
for a stay of proceedings.

So beautiful had been the spirit of these
Christians — so fearless and frank, yet utterly free
from revenge toward those who threatened them
with death — that for a time not a few began to
question the wisdom of attempting to extermi-
nate them. Their lives and spirits seemed to
form almost the one bright spot amidst all the
surrounding heathen darkness.

The first day passed without any official move-
ment being made, and some were beginning to
think that perhaps the queen was relenting her
threats of coercion. And perhaps if she had
heard for herself the confessions of the Chris-
tians, or had listened to the counsel of some of
her officers, she might have spared her country a
quarter of a century of misery and bloodshed,
and have saved herself the guilt of many hun-
dreds of murders.

But again the crafty priests were at her side,
and Kelazapa had her ear. Listening to his
blandishments and threats, the queen resolved to
ignore all the milder counsel she had received,
and to prosecute her resolve to destroy the Chris-
tian faith.

It was announced that the court was consider-
ing what penalty should be inflicted upon the
Christians whose names were in their possession.
The general expectation was that a death pen-

Suspense 135

alty would be inflicted on most, if not all, who
had dared, in defiance of the queen's decree, to
adhere to their faith. Thus, with a refinement
of cruelty, day after day was allowed to pass
without any decision being announced; and,
while the heathen were filled with excitement,
and exultant at the prospect of victory, the Chris-
tians, who were most concerned, were kept in
long and anxious suspense.

This trying experience they bore with great
calmness and fortitude. More than once it was
rumored that the delay was caused by differences
in the council. It was well known that the Chris-
tians had powerful friends at court, who, al-
though they had not themselves made a confes-
sion of Christ, would not allow those who had to
be consigned to destruction, without a strong
effort to save them. And the queen, unable to
command the unanimous consent of her council
to the more extreme measures she was inclined to
adopt, feared to go forward in the path to which
Kelazapa incessantly urged her. The judgment,
when at last it came to be announced, confirmed
these suspicions; and, while it thus brought a
feeling of disappointment to the heathen, brought
a corresponding sense of hope to the Christians.
Yet the persecutors were not idle during the
week, and the queen made it clear in other ways
that her mind was still unchanged toward the

The hearts of the missionaries were consider-

136 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

ably tried by the hindrances placed in their way,
and the increasing fear that at any time their
work might be wholly stopped. The queen had
laid her interdict upon the Scriptures on March
1st, 1835, and at that time, a part of the book of
Job, and the prophecies from Ezekiel to Malachi,
were unprinted and partly untranslated. While
the missionaries were anxious to complete this
work, the natives, who had been taught to print,
forsook them. But day and night they worked
on, some translating, another setting type, and
another toiling at the press.

Thus they succeeded in completing the first
issue of the entire Malagasy Bible, by the end
of June, 1835, and these were, most of them, at
once placed in the hands of the Christians. It
is on record that some of the people walked
more than 100 miles in order to secure a copy
of the Bible.

That the fears of the missionaries were not
groundless was presently made abundantly clear.

One night they were disturbed about midnight
by a number of soldiers entering their yard and
a loud knocking at the door. On the door being
opened, the soldiers demanded, by queen's war-
rant, the surrender of their servants, who were
charged with joining in family worship with the
teachers. They were conveyed direct to the
palace yard, where the judges directed them to
at once drink the tangena. Two of them died
from the effects. The lives of the teachers were

Suspense 137

not endangered; for even if the queen could, in
her ignorance, despise the Christians' God, she
was not ignorant of the power of England's arm,
and knew right well that any injury inflicted on
the teachers who were protected by treaty, would
have to be answered for to that power.

But a full consideration of the state of affairs
made it appear that the persecuted Christian
Church would be in a better position if, for a
time, the teachers who had led them to know
Christ should retire from the country. They
were perfectly assured that the moment they de-
parted all the copies of the Scriptures in their
possession would be seized by the queen's offi-
cers and be destroyed. Therefore, calling to-
gether the native teachers, they took counsel to-
gether as to what should be done. A number of
large holes were secretly dug in the compound
belonging to the teachers; boxes of Bibles and
books were lowered into them, and buried, in the
expectation that a day would come when these
books would be wanted. To their faith there
was no question that the hour of trial and dark-
ness would pass, and peace and light shine once
more. Then, commending all the Christian
Church to the care of Jehovah, and with parting
words of counsel an<l love, the teachers turned
their backs on the capital and their faces toward
the coast. Many of the Christians went some
distance with them, weeping together as they

138 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

passed along the hillside upon which the city

Still, for a few days, the suspense was pro-
longed. But these days were to the Christians
a season for refreshment and the girding on of
strength. There was no special reason for pre-
serving secrecy concerning their profession, for

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 7 of 17)