John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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felt sympathy for her that the sale was over in a
few minutes. Rafaravavy was purchased by one
who esteemed her, and while she had to endure
for some time a semblance of bondage, in reality
she enjoyed a great deal of liberty, and was able,
as had been her custom, once again to meet with
the little bands of Christians. The faith and
teaching of one who had suffered so much, and
been almost in sight of the martyr's crown, had
a specially inspiring and sustaining influence on
the Christians amid the trials to which they were
all subjected.



But we must go back a few days, for during
the time that Rafaravavy lay under expectation of
death, events had transpired which filled the
hearts of the Christians with grief and fear ; and
in prison, bound and waiting to die, she heard the
news that the first Christian martyr from Mada-
gascar had gone home. It will be remembered
that, leaving the cell in which Rafaravavy was
detained, Rasalama had been arrested and im-
prisoned. The day following she and the other
nine Christians in chains were brought into court.
How they had been discovered was a mystery to
them and to the public. All that was known was
that a low-born woman in some way contrived
to secure the names and place of meeting of a
number of the Christians, and on her informa-
tion they had been arrested. When these prison-
ers again appeared before their judges the court
room was crowded. Some of the Christians were
present to see what would be done; but most of
the people were heathen, and, whatever may have
been their inmost feelings, were obliged to out-
wardly approve of the trial.


Deceived 159

As the names of the accused were called over
a grim smile overspread the face of Kelazapa.
Most of them had already been accused once be-
fore, and the queen's promise had been that a
second charge should be followed by immediate
death. Here, then, thought he, were several of
the Christians appointed for the slaughter.

But not quite so quickly, Kelazapa! There is
a will stronger than yours to be consulted; there
is a power mightier than Ranavalona's which is
pledged to their help! The hearts of many in
the room were filled with elation, for they seemed
to see the triumph of their idols over Jehovah,
and those who sympathized with His cause shrink
away into the recesses of the forests to save their
lives. But in a moment all this was changed, and
the proud priests and the court of judges were
smitten with astonishment. " Fanivotra," asked
the judge, " is it true that you are a Christian ;
that you have renounced the worship of the idols,
and in defiance of the queen's decree do now wor-
ship and serve Jehovah ? " And a firm voice,
that they all recognized, replied : " It is true that
I am a Christian, and that, according to the light
I have, I follow, serve and worship Jesus Christ."
In a moment the eyes of all in the court were
turned on Fanivotra, and one of the judges asked
her: "What is this, Fanivotra? How do you
come to be standing amongst these despised
Christians? Say you are a witness against them

160 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

to-day, but do not let it be known that you have
fallen under this infatuation and have been fool-
ish enough to join yourself to them."

But the reply came steadily and calmly : " I
have not fallen under any infatuation, but I have
come under conviction of the truth as it is in
Jesus, and to-day I rejoice to stand as a witness
and confessor for Him." " But, Fanivotra," said
the judge, " was it not you who recently enabled
us to discover some of these Christians? Nay,
was it not you who rendered that signal service
to the gods, in betraying your mistress, Rafara-
vavy, who now lies under sentence of death?
Do not now say that you have betrayed the gods of
your fathers." " It is true, judge," was the
answer, " that I did all that of which you have
accused me, and in doing so I knew no better.
But I have since learned that in such action I was
sinning against the true God and persecuting
Christ. By so much the greater as was my crime
then, by so much the more is the mercy of the
Lord magnified now, in that He has forgiven my
sin and made me, the chief of sinners, even the
least among His followers. I am a Christian,
and for the sake of Christ I stand here before you
all for trial this day."

For a space there was a silence in court. Such
boldness astonished the judges; and even the
priests began to wonder whether they would be
able to conquer a faith which made its followers
so fearless, and yet so calm and generous.

Deceived 161

The judges then returned to their former ef-
forts to discover from those before them the names
of their companions, in order to have them arrest-
ed, and so, if possible, bring the whole church un-
der one trial and condemnation. " Fanivotra, you
have watched the Christians for a long time, and
in your mistress's home have had opportunity of
knowing them. Tell us, in the queen's name,
who are they that have confessed this Christ?"
Such was the next demand of the judges.

In a moment a shudder of alarm ran through
the hearts of the Christians who were present in
the court room as spectators. They knew they
were watched, and that all the doors were guard-
ed. If they should now walk out they would be
suspected. If they should remain, and the Chris-
tians at the bar should mention their names, they
would be at once arrested. But before they could
decide what to do, Fanivotra's voice relieved their
anxiety. Deliberately, yet gently, she replied that
she did, indeed, know a great many of the Chris-
tians ; but she also loved them ; yes, loved them
more than life, and respected them more than even
the judges' demand, and that nothing would in-
duce her to mention the name of one of them.

Each of the prisoners in like manner steadfastly
refused. Neither threats nor bribes could move
them. Almost in despair the officers consulted
together as to what further means might be tried
in order to get the information so much desired.

A good deal of attention had been centered upon

1 62 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Rasalama, because of her youth, beauty and re-
finement. Moreover, it was known she had strong
friends at court, amongst whom was Rafaralahy,
who had known her almost from childhood and
had often helped her and other Christians. It
was also known that she was betrothed to one of
the band of Christians, who was putting forth
strenuous efforts to secure her release; and her
love for him, and the prospect of his efforts to
secure her release being successful if she would so
far relent as to name her companions, were ap-
pealed to, in the hope of accomplishing the pur-
pose. Still she refused. At length the soldier
who had charge of her cell, and the cells of several
others, undertook to obtain some information.

Repeatedly, during the evening and night, the
guard went to Rasalama and used every blandish-
ment, promise and threat he could think of to se-
cure her confession, yet without effect. Then, as
a final resort, he thought to deceive her. Open-
ing her cell door he entered and addressed her:
" Rasalama, it's no use your longer concealing
the names of your companions." " Why is it to
no purpose, or why should I betray my friends ? "
she asked. " Because," said he, " whether or not
you name them, they will all be arrested." " No,"
she replied, " that cannot be, for they will not be
known to the government. No Christian will im-
peril the life of a brother or sister in order to save
his own." " Yes," said the guard, " it has already

Deceived 163

been done." " Nay, I cannot believe that," re-
plied Rasalama, " for I do not think torture or
death could extort their names from our band."

" Listen, Rasalama," was the answer of the
guard, " and I will tell you what is for your own
welfare. The bond of your brotherhood was very
powerful, but it has at length broken. Your
friends in the other cells have agreed to name
some of their companions. Each one has named
seven members of the church, and already those
names are in the hands of the officers. There is
no chance of escape open to them. Some of your
friends will be treated leniently because of the
information they have given. But the judges are
especially anxious to save you, and I am come
with a message from them to tell you that, al-
though they already have the names of most of
your companions at large, yet if you will name
seven, as the others have done, even though they
should be the same names as the judges already
have, in consideration of your act they will re-
lease you."

Had Rasalama for a moment suspected the
truth of this statement, how differently would she
have acted. But she was young and hopeful and
loved ; and when she heard that, through the weak-
ening of her companions in prison, her friends
outside could no longer be concealed — that, in-
deed, even if she should sacrifice herself, it could
not save them — she reluctantly consented to name

164 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

seven of her friends. The guard assured her that
the judges had those names already, yet she had
saved herself by mentioning them.

When the guard left her cell, Rasalama sat
down again and brooded over the sad let of the
Christians, grieving at the yielding of her friends
in prison to the threats of their persecutors, griev-
ing sorely over the fate of those she would have
died to shield, could it have availed, and weeping
for herself that even by the hopelessness of her
resistance to the queen's demand accomplishing
any good for her brethren and sisters, she should
have been led to acknowledge the names of any.

Little did she suspect with what triumph the
guard returned to the court, with what eagerness
his report was received by the judges and Kela-
zapa, or the swiftness with which warrants were
issued for the seven persons she had accused, and
officers despatched to arrest them. But she was
soon to discover the base treachery that had been
practiced upon her.



The following morning the Christians were
brought into court once more, where surprises
awaited them all. Great was the wonder of Ra-
salama's companions when they saw seven other
members of the church placed in the docks beside
them, and with anxious hearts they sought to
imagine by what means their friends had been
discovered. But greater still was the awe in
Rasalama's heart. She had expected that day to
see thirty or forty of her companions arraigned
in court. Yet here were only the seven whose
names she had admitted to the guard as being
amongst the despised sect. Rasalama's face grew
pale, and she herself visibly trembled — yet not
from fear of anything the judges could do to her,
but because of the fears which filled her mind that,
in some way, she had been made the victim of a
conspiracy on the part of her persecutors. When
the judges had taken their seats, and the court
opened, the names of the new prisoners were
called for identification, and one by one they an-
swered clearly and bravely to their names.

How was it that of all the Christians the judges
could get within their grasp, and though they all

1 66 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

realized so clearly the danger that overhung them,
not one of them ever showed any sign of fear or
weakness in facing their accusers?

When Paul, the diviner, who was one of those
mentioned by Rasalama, was called upon, he ad-
mitted freely the charge of being a Christian, and
spoke of the peace of heart he enjoyed in the sense
of sin forgiven. He spoke also of the friendship
and love of Christ for His people, and of his own
efforts to humbly obey the laws of Christ.

" What are those laws? " cried the judge. " Let
us hear them that we may know the nature of the
laws you Christians dare to place above the laws
of our queen ! " " The first great law that Christ
has taught us," replied Paul, " is to love God
with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and
mind. And the second law is this, that we should
love our neighbors as ourselves." If a bomb had
been exploded it could scarcely have caused more
surprise. The judges thought they were about
getting to the roots of disloyalty to Ranavalona,
and they found instead that the laws of these
Christians were of such a nature as to make them
citizens of the noblest type. The men who would
do to others as they would others should do to
them were not likely to seek any injury to country
or queen.

However, recovering from their surprise, the
judges questioned Paul on the subject of praying
to Jehovah, thinking that here, at any rate, they
would find some evidence that the claims of Je-

The First Martyr 167

hovah and Ranavalona were opposed, and that a
Christian could not be a loyal subject. But, if
anything their surprise was greater than before
when Paul, in simple words, told them that
amongst other subjects for his constant petition
were prayer for the queen and all the officers of
the court ; for the welfare of all the people of the
country ; for the cessation of evil and the making
all the land full of goodness and truth ; and that
he himself might be able to lead a peaceable and
pure life. It occurred to some of the officers that
even Kelazapa himself had never offered better
or more loyal prayers to the national gods ; and if
these were the prayers Jehovah rejoiced to
receive and answer, possibly Jehovah was a
friend, rather than an enemy, to their land. There
was a lull in court while the judges conferred.

Rasalama seized on this moment to turn to her
guard and demand where were the Christians ac-
cused by the other prisoners. He only shrugged
his shoulders and muttered, " There are none."
Then did it dawn upon Rasalama that, by a cruel
deception, she had been made the only informant
against her fellows in the faith. She sank down
upon the floor and wept tears of agony and re-
morse. Presently she was aroused from her re-
morse by hearing her name called and the demand
made by the court that she should testify against
Paul and the other six Christians who had been
arrested on her information.

Recovering her self-possession, Rasalama

1 68 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

quietly but firmly refused to speak about them.
When she was again called upon to give her evi-
dence, and was reminded that they had been ar-
rested on her accusation, at length her spirit was
stirred within her, and, standing face to face with
her judges, Rasalama denounced with words of
indignation the base trick played upon her by her
guard and the officers of the court ; expressed her
regret that she had ever allowed herself to be
deceived by the emissaries of idolatry, and, in de-
fiance of all the wrath of court and queen, refused
to open her lips to speak one word against those
who were placed beside her.

She was cautioned in regard to her language
and reminded that she was in the power of the
court ; also that the queen's decree had stated what
should be the penalty of a Christian confession.
But Rasalama, filled with an inspiration and
courage from heaven, only replied by holding up
to scorn the folly and wickedness of idol worship,
the sins and superstitions of the people, and con-
demned especially the conduct of the priests in
teaching the people to place confidence in stocks
and stones instead of in the living God. She also
demanded that the judges should contrast the vir-
tues of the Christians with the vices of the
heathen, pointing out that, whereas their Scrip-
tures taught that only the pure in heart should see
God, the very teaching and lives of the priests
were all calculated to make the people impure and
licentious, and such were the results. With

The First Martyr 169

great courage she bore testimony to the power of
the Christian faith, and to the purity and love-
liness of Christ, and reminded her judges that,
though the " kings of the earth should set them-
selves, and the rulers take counsel together
against the Lord and against His anointed,"
though all the people should say, " Let us break
their bands asunder, and cast away their cords
from us ; He that sitteth in the heavens shall
laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision."
Some of them that sat in the council almost
gnashed upon her with their teeth ; and the judges
fearing the power of her testimony, ordered all
the Christians to their cells. Later in the day
their condemnations were made public. With the
exception of Rasalama, all of them were to be sold
into an unredeemable slavery. Rasalama, be-
cause of her obstinacy, and the courage and vigor
with which she had assailed the idolatry of her
country, was condemned to die. For several days
prior to her execution Rasalama was subjected to
stripes and tortures, perhaps in the hope of in-
ducing her to relent. But her suffering seemed
only to deepen her joy in her Lord and her pa-
tience in enduring for His sake.

The only act of leniency shown her at all, and
that on account of the influence of friends at
court, was that Rafaralahy and her lover were al-
lowed to visit and comfort her in her cell during
the days she lay there awaiting death. These
were sacred seasons of fellowship in which was

170 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

begotten a fortitude strong enough to endure the
parting worse than death for one, and the brief
struggle of death for the other. Strong as was
Rasalama's love for her earthly friend, she loved
Christ yet better ; she could not deny her Lord to
live with her lover. Strong and jealous as was
his love for her, he could not ask her to deny her
Lord and Master for his sake. Since he must
give her up for the sake of the Lord they both
loved, he would do it generously and freely ; so he
encouraged and cheered her against the trying

The night before her execution, opportunity
was given her lover to say farewell to Rasalama.
At first it seemed as if both hearts would break.
How could he realize that to-morrow the spear
would pierce the heart of his loved one and not
weep for her ? How could she think of the mor-
row, and that alone she must face her executioner,
while the heathen around would gloat over the
sight of her sufferings?

But gradually peace returned to both hearts —
the peace that comes when every burden is cast
upon the Lord — and with it came a strength that
seemed divine. But we will not intrude on that
sacred last hour together. Presently the guard
informed them that the time was up and they must
say farewell.

One lingering grasp of each other's hand, one
fond embrace, one more earnest prayer, one more
word of comfort and cheer, in which her lover

The First Martyr 171

found voice to say : " Fear not, my beloved one ;
Christ will be near, and His arms will receive you
gently to Himself. I myself would die with you,
though I may not. Yet I will be near you at the
last, and, maybe, we soon shall meet again. Fare-
well ! " He left her side, the cell door closed and
alone Rasalama awaited the dawn of day, the
stroke of death, and the welcome home by her Sa-

But what prompted those words of her lover?
Could it be that deep in his heart there was an in-
tuition that the separation would not be for long?
Thus she mused for a time, then gave herself to
prayer. And was the vague thought that the
parting was only for a little while bringing com-
fort to his heart, and silently preparing him to
follow Rasalama in the path which should lead
him through the same portal of death to the same
bright glory and the martyr's crown? At day-
break on August 14th, 1837, Rasalama was led
forth from her cell, and, chained and fettered, fol-
lowed her executioner to the hillside — Ambohi-
potsy — where she was to die.

On the way to the fatal spot, she was carried
past the little church where she had worshiped,
and been baptized.

Ceasing, for a moment, the hymn she was sing-
ing, she pointed to the place, saying : " It was
there I heard the words of the Saviour."

Already a large crowd of heathen had gathered
to see the first Christian die ; and as they saw the

172 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

lonely maiden step forward peacefully and calmly,
and without a blush of shame, to the appointed
place, many a heart was filled with secret admira-
tion. As Rasalama took her place she glanced
around, and on one side of the hill she saw a small
group of Christians, and amongst them Rafaralahy
and her lover, who looked at her with eyes full
of tenderness and compassion, which looks in
themselves were full of comfort and help for her.

She waved her hand to him — that hand heavy
with the chains of persecution ; and he, regardless
of the onlookers, waved back to her. A few mo-
ments she stood ; then, fearless, kneeled on the
green sod. One last glance she took at her lover
and the little band of Christians ; one last prayer
offered for him and for them; then bowed her
head and closed her eyes and turned her thoughts
to Jesus, to whose arms and embrace she was go-
ing. For a moment her voice was heard : " Fa-
ther, forgive them ; they know not what they do.
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." The next mo-
ment the executioner's spear entered her heart.
Rasalama's eyes saw the King in His beauty, and
His hand placed upon her brow the crown of ever-
lasting life.

At that instant Rafaralahy exclaimed : " If I
might have so happy and tranquil a death, I would
not fear to die for the Saviour too." The words
were too late for her dying ears to hear. Her
spirit had taken its flight. But did Rasalama's
glorified spirit catch the words of one who had

The First Martyr 173

ever been a true friend to her and to all the Chris-
tians ; and was the prayer for his faithfulness unto
death the first petition she laid at her Saviour's

Standing among the group of Christians,
though not yet one of them, was Fantaka. She
made her way to the cell of Rafaravavy, and told
her with what calmness and peace of mind,^ the
first Malagasy martyr had gone home.



The death of Rasalama had a wonderful effect
upon the Christian Church — an effect just the
contrary of that which the queen had intended
to produce. So peaceful had been her end that
they began to realize how completely Christ takes
the sting from death ; and instead of shrinking
from the ordeal, there were hearts which began
to desire that they, too, might win the martyr's

They now knew the worst that could happen,
and instead of being afraid, their courage was in-
creased, their faith made firm, and their strength
to endure abundantly enlarged. We have seen
that Rafaravavy, though sold as a slave, still had
a large portion of leisure, and that she devoted
her opportunities yet more earnestly to comfort-
ing and teaching her fellow-Christians. So that
the Word of the Lord spread, the number of in-
quirers grew, and, in secret, many were added to
the Church. One Christian had been slain, but
as a result, many heathen were born into eternal
life and the kingdom of Christ. Rafaralahy, too,

Fugitives 175

became more bold in his Christian witness. He
did not take the trouble to conceal his love for the
Christians, his loyalty to Christ, and his abhor-
rence of all the practices of heathenism.

His words at the time of Rasalama's death hag!
been duly reported to the government, yet he took
no steps to conceal his actions for the help of the

Rather, he sought to do more than ever for the
furtherance of the cause he loved. A good deal
of his property was freely devoted to the relief
of suffering and needy Christians, and these deeds
of charity soon caused him to be marked out for
punishment and death.

Another way in which his very goodness pro-
voked the anger of the priests was this: Some
little distance from the gates of the city a hut had
been built for the use of some lepers, who, in
Madagascar, as in other countries, were regarded
as outcasts and unclean. Heathenism had no
compassion for such sufferers ; the priests had no
hands to help these outcast ones. But Rafaralahy
had both. Frequently he would visit and talk
with the lepers, cheering and strengthening their
hearts ; and many a kindly gift did he carry to re-
lieve their sufferings and needs. The heathen
were not slow to mark the contrast, and Kelazapa
could not brook anything that reflected, even by
its own silent merit, upon the spirit of idolatry.

Among those who, on the outbreak of persecu-
tion, had gone back from a Christian profession,

176 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 9 of 17)