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William and Louisa Anderson
Part III - Old Calabar Period, 1849-1889, & Closing Years, 1889-1895
Chapter 4


The First Victory—"Society for the Suppression of Human Sacrifices in Old Calabar" formed, and Law Abolishing Sacrifice passed, 15th Feb. 1850.

Till-: ten days from 5th to 15th Feb. 1850 were crowded with energetic and arduous efforts to save twelve doomed men, and to secure the passing of an Egbo law which should for ever prohibit human sacrifice for the dead. Mr. Anderson was the principal agent and the initiator of the proceedings which led to the formation of the "Society for the Suppression of Human Sacrifices" and the passing of the Egbo law. The incidents are so fully described, and the significance of the victory achieved so clearly set forth, in the Journal of Mr. Anderson and the letters by him and Messrs. Edgerley and Waddell, that it is needless to say anything by way of introduction to what follows.

One remark will suffice. The practice of sacrificing human beings for the dead, although repugnant to our moral sense and appreciation of the sacredness of each individual life, is interwoven with the social customs of savage tribes, and receives the sanction of the "Nature" religions. The passing of the law abolishing the sacrifices at Old Calabar was the result partly of the undermining, through intercourse with Europeans, of the old beliefs which sanctioned the sacrifices, and party of the awakening of more humane feelings and of the introduction of new ideas of human life and destiny, by the teaching and example of the missionaries and the remonstrances of British captains trading in the river and captains of war vessels sent by Government. The visits of the French and British cruisers in the preceding years undoubtedly helped to prepare the way. But the use of force, had it been employed, would not have been permanently influential in securing obedience to the law had it been passed at an earlier date. So far as the leading men in Creek Town were concerned, and in a-less degree those of Duke Town, the passing of, and the adherence to, the law marked a moral advance— the recognition at least of a new moral idea—the sacredness of human life as such.

Tuesday, February 5, 1850.—Two gentlemen died in town to-day, or, at all events, were brought to the town to be buried. Their names are Efiong Bassy and Edem Cuffey. Heard that seven of Efiong Bassy's slaves and one of his wives had been murdered, and buried along with him. Went down to inquire into the matter. Saw Mr. Young and told him what I had heard. He declared such a report to be wholly untrue. Having no evidence but that of flying report, I could not—though my suspicions were strong—persist in charging him, or anyone else, with perpetrating or permitting the eightfold murder. In the evening, a slave of Edem Cuffey, named Manam-owo (make man), fled to my house, and assured me that nine of his fellow-slaves had been strangled in the women's yard, for the purpose of being buried with their master, and that he was quite willing to show me where they were lying, and where they were to be buried, the interment not being over when he ran away. He also stated that as he was running off a gun was discharged after him. He escaped the shot, however, as well as the cord. As I was weighing the probabilities of his story, and felt dubious what course to pursue, or whether I could do anything at all, I was sent for by one of the ship-captains then in the town. On meeting him, he told me that he had seen twelve or fourteen men, attached to a large chain, in Edem Cuffey's yard, and that he had fears that they were going to kill them. This confirmed the slave's story, and determined me to instant exertion.

I got a hint where I might see the men myself, by pushing aside a branch of a certain bamboo fence ; but, as it was getting dark, I could not avail myself of it. Went immediately to King Archibong, and charged Ephraim Duke—brother of the deceased Edem Cuffey—with the murder of nine slaves, lie heard me in silence. Supposing that he might be ignorant of the occurrence, I offered to take him, or to get him taken, to the spot, where he would see not only the nine corpses, but a dozen men in chains, ready to be slaughtered. Urged him with all the arguments and earnestness I could command to interpose and rescue those innocent men. I thought he seemed afraid to interfere ; indeed, by Egbo law, he could not legally interfere in the matter, for the lives of the slaves are at the mercy of their owners. What then? I told him that all white men look to him as king for Duke Town ; that no man should be killed if he objected to it; and that if he be afraid to do anything himself, all the white men and Krumen in the river were, I had not the slightest doubt, willing to help him—not to fight, or do anything bad, but to save innocent men from being murdered; but that nothing could be done if he were unwilling. I also gave him distinctly to understand that, being king of the town, all white men would consider him now responsible for the lives of these men, seeing that, according to their custom, if not their law, white men have the privilege of "begging off" slaves from punishment. He seemed thoughtful, and, after a pause, he told me that he would take in hand to stop any more killing this night, and that I would see all those now in chains alive to-morrow. I then went to Mr. Young and addressed him in the same manner in which 1 had spoken to Archibong; accused Ephraim Duke of the murder of nine, and entreated him to use his great influence or pretended ignorance of the whole affair. He sent one of his people to inquire about it. On the return of the messenger he told me that the slaves were in chains merely to prevent their running away. This, I assured him, was a mere pretence. I went on to remind him of much that the Bible says, which shows the value, the sacredness of human life. When I had reasoned a little, he stopped me, and declared, with vastly greater energy than I had ever before heard him exert in speaking, "If God spare me, two years don't pass before this bad fashion break off; but we can't do things all in a day." From Mr. Young's I went to the house of murder, and asked to see Ephraim Duke. My admission was out of the question. He came out quite excited, and walked down with me to his own house. When we came to it, I taxed him with the murders committed and intended. He became quite furious, and denied that any person had been killed, or even put in chains. I told him I had plenty of proof that he had strangled nine—perhaps many more—in his brother's women's yard. He seemed most anxious to know how I had got the information; but I told him that his part of the business was to confess the wrong which he had clone, and to give it up. As he was scarcely sober, I saw 1 could make little of him, and I left him on getting a promise that he would kill no more that night.

Wednesday, February 6. — Having said all I could think of to the natives last evening—as I have done in preaching and in conversation at former times—I took the round of the ships to-day, rehearsing to each captain the occurrences of yesterday, and closing with the question, "Can we do conjunctly nothing to prevent the recurrence of such deeds of blood?" I felt that a display of united moral force, on the part of all the white people in the neighbourhood, whether missionaries or traders, was fully warranted, if not imperatively called for, on behalf of insulted, injured, bleeding humanity; and, on the broad basis of our common nature, I suggested a conference on the subject. I found all the captains of one mind in regard to the matter, and all agreed to meet at the mission-house to-morrow at 10 o'clock A.M.

Thursday, 7.—Ten captains, three surgeons, and two missionaries (Mr. Edgerley and myself) met this morning in Duke Town mission-house, at 10 o'clock, for the purpose of considering what steps should be taken for the prevention of human sacrifices on the deaths of persons of importance in Old Calabar. Mr. Waddell being with the mission-ship at Bonny, was, of necessity, absent from the meeting. At this meeting the slave who had escaped was examined; the captain who had seen the bound slaves repeated his statement; Messrs. Anderson and Edgerley delivered impressive addresses,—all felt that matters had reached a crisis, and that it became them to do what they could to save their fellow-men. After deliberation, it was accordingly resolved that all present go in a body to King Archibong and the gentlemen of Duke Town this evening, at five o'clock, to denounce the murders committed on Tuesday, and to protest against the recurrence of such barbarities. To save the trouble of going from house to house, a letter was sent to Archibong, requesting him to come, with all his gentlemen, to the church palaver-house, at five o'clock, to meet with the white gentlemen on very important business ; and in order that the matter might be properly done, three persons were appointed to conduct the conference, and to represent to the chiefs the views and feelings of the white gentlemen.

At five o'clock, accordingly, there was a good muster at the palaver-house of both white and black gentlemen. There were present ten captains (one a Dutchman), seven surgeons, and two missionaries; and King Archibong and all the chief men of Duke Town. Captain Rieken was called to the chair. One of the captains spoke, pointing out the evils of the custom; after which Mr. Edgerley delivered a very fervid address, referring to facts which he knew, and showing the imperative necessity of putting an end to this most sinful practice. The black gentlemen seemed to be impressed, and had a talk among themselves in their own language. One of them said that the slaves ran to the mission-house with lying stories. Mr. Anderson instantly said, "Well, gentlemen, send to my house and white, to Edem Cuffey's grave, and let us dig it up; if there be no dead man there but Edem Cuffey, then your slave be liar." This was a proposal that could not be objected to. Mr. Young was obliged to say, "We no deny what you say; it be true this time what slave say." Thus pressed, and seeing the combined and resolute bearing of the white men, indignation and horror painted on every countenance, the black gentlemen said that if Creek Town gentlemen would meet them, and were willing to make an Egbo law in order to put an end to this work for the future, they were quite willing to have such a law made. This was what the white gentlemen wanted; and, after stating that they would meet with King Eyo and his chiefs to-morrow, they shook hands with the black gentlemen and parted. That evening a letter was written to King Eyo, requesting him to call a meeting of his gentlemen to-morrow, at 12 o'clock.

The friends of humanity now saw the way clear before them, and they acted with most commendable energy. Hence Mr. Anderson says:—

Friday, 8.—According to agreement yesterday, the meeting of white gentlemen was resumed at Duke Town mission-house this morning at 7 o'clock,—Captain Rieken again in the chair. It was resolved—"That we form ourselves into a permanent Society for the suppression of human sacrifices in Old Calabar, or of the destruction of human life in any way, except as the penalty of crime."

The members of the Society then went up to Creek Town, and met with King Eyo and his gentlemen at twelve o'clock, in order to state to them what had occurred at Duke Town, and to urge upon them the propriety and necessity of joining with the Duke Town gentlemen in making an Egbo law, to put down, in all time coming, the practice of killing persons for the dead. Mr. Edgerley saws that the king's house was filled; and that Mr. Anderson delivered a thrilling speech, at which King Eyo's eyes sparkled with delight and approbation, and which he then faithfully interpreted to his gentlemen. One of the captains said that their feelings had been so shocked by these atrocities, that all friendly intercourse between them must cease, "unless within a month they passed an Egbo law for the suppression of these sacrifices,"—a statement to which all the white gentlemen loudly responded. King Eyo and his chiefs entered readily and cordially into the proposal, and agreed to meet the Duke Town gentlemen on board the Cc/ma, the largest ship in the river, on Tuesday the 12th inst., to confer with them about the passing of an Egbo law—a thing which could be done only by the united influence of the two towns.

Tuesday, 12.—The anniversary of my arrival here. Could not have suggested a better observance of the day than it has had. The members of the Society for the Abolition of Human Sacrifices, King Eyo and the Creek Town gentlemen, and King Archibong and Duke Town gentlemen, all met on board the Celma; and, after a good deal of discourse on all sides, King Eyo and King Archibong, and twenty-six of the principal gentlemen connected with both towns, signed a document, in which they promise to allow no human being to be killed among their families or dependents, from this elate, except for crime; and they pledge themselves to exert all their influence to have an Egbo law passed, within one month from this date, prohibiting the practice of killing slaves on the death of any person throughout the whole country of Old Calabar.

Friday, 15.—A good day for Calabar. This day will be memorable in the annals of this land. Grand Egbo came down the river in his state canoe; and the usual ceremonies having been gone through in the town palaver-house, a most stringent Egbo law was enacted, and forthwith proclaimed in the marketplace with the customary formalities, forbidding any sacrifice of human life on the death of an individual, of whatever rank or station. Having performed their duties in Duke Town, the Egbo party, preceded by twelve Egbo runners, passed the mission-house, to repeat the proclamation at Henshaw Town. The party consisted of about twenty-five or thirty gentlemen, most of them from Creek Town—one of King Eyo's brothers carrying the mace—who moved on in a stately manner, as became an occasion of such importance. One of them came to me in school, to tell me that the law, which all "makara" beg them to make, now made ; and them blowing it by Egbo. I told my informant that I was exceedingly glad to see them make this good law so quickly—that I would hoist my flag, and send word to the ships immediately. This was about 4 P.M. In a minute our flag was "floating on the breeze"; and in a quarter of an hour the ships' flags were all unfurled. At sunset, the most of the vessels fired a gun each, in honour of the day. One captain was absent, being up the river, so that his ship was silent. To compensate for delay, on coming down the river, about eight o'clock, he caused two guns to be fired. Went down to the town after school, to see how matters looked. All the gentlemen whom I saw had happy countenances.

Saturday, 16.—Grand Egbo, accompanied by Duke Town gentlemen, went up the river to-day to proclaim the new law at Creek Town. It was one of the arrangements made on Tuesday, that Creek Town gentlemen shall send Egbo to Duke Town should the law be broken here; and vice versa, should the law be broken at Creek Town.

Asked Archibong what would be done to any gentleman who may break this law. He assured me that it is so strong a law that no man can break it. Wishing to know the penalty, I asked if Egbo would kill him? The reply was, "he will chop him down to nothing"; that is, he will forfeit to Egbo all that he possesses. I feel deeply grateful for what God has accomplished this week for poor Calabar. Some fear that the law will not be carried fully out. I have no fears on that score. However, it will be a part of the business of the Society (of whites) for the Protection of Human Life, to keep a watchful eye on the natives, lest there should be any attempt to evade the law.

Tuesday, 19.—The Society met here to-day, and appointed a deputation to write and present a letter of thanks to the native gentlemen for so promptly fulfilling their engagement, by passing the Egbo law referred to above.

Tuesday, 26.—The Society met to-day on board the Celuia, and resolved to adopt the name of "The Society for the Abolition of Inhuman and Superstitious Customs in Old Calabar, and for the Civilisation of the People of this Country."

Saturday, March 3.—Two slaves of Egbo Basse}', who have been at the plantation, and ignorant of the new law, came to the mission-house for safety, their master's brother being dead. Whenever they were informed by our watchman of the big palaver with white men and of the new law, they departed with cheerful countenances. Saw their master afterwards. He says that this is proper law; for, in past time, when gentleman die, all slaves run away, and the)- can't get one to dig grave; but that no one slave afraid, or run away (of those who know the law); but all stop, and do work as before. He says that the new law is very strong ; that suppose the biggest gentleman in the country break it, Egbo take him to marketplace, and hang him at one time.

Mr. Anderson wrote:—

The ten days from February 5th to 15th were important days in the history of Calabar. In my Journal I have given you an outline, and only an outline, of the sayings and doings of that period. There are several things in which the finger of God may be traced very clearly. Besides the general preparation for the measure, which had been going on for a considerable time, by means of the representations and remonstrances of trading captains and commanders of war vessels, and instructions communicated, both publicly and privately, by the missionaries, who have embraced every opportunity of proclaiming the sacredness of human life, there were four things without which, humanly speaking, the Egbo law for the protection of human life would not have been made at that particular time. These were, the escape of the slave who could testify to the murder of nine of his fellows; and in immediate conjunction with this, the discovery, by a white gentleman, of a dozen of slaves chained, and ready to be killed; the circumstance of the missionary being on the spot, and prepared to act on the information given; the fact that ten large vessels—a force not to be despised —were then in the river ; and the unanimity of the white gentlemen, all acting in this important matter as if animated by one heart and soul. God smiled on our united efforts. His blessing rendered them effectual. To Him we ascribe the glory. O for the arrival of the time when we shall see, and you shall read, of "greater things than these"—even of men rising from a state of death to that of life; when men and women and children now " dead in trespasses and sins shall be quickened by the Spirit of the living God."

Mr. Edgerley, who took an active part in the proceedings, says:—

As Mr. Anderson was the principal agent in what I am going to relate, I perhaps need not allude to it; but my heart has been so filled with indignation, and now with such lively joy and gratitude, that I cannot refrain from commending his untiring zeal and successful efforts in the matter, and in which I endeavoured to sustain and help him in some humble measure. Yes, the cruel and bloody system of human sacrifices has at last aroused the indignation of every white man in Calabar, and they have risen in a compact body to deprecate and to sweep away from the land this awful and horrid custom ; and, let us bless God, they have succeeded. That which could not be effected by men-of-war and remonstrances from our Government, has been accomplished by a humane band of captains, surgeons, and missionaries.

And Mr. Waddell, [The account given in Mr. Waddell's book is even less adequate than the letter quoted above, and hardly does justice to Mr. Anderson's pluck in throwing himself into the breach, and by his persistency and determination securing the co-operation of others that was needful lo secure the passing of the law. But Mr. Waddell's book is chiefly a personal record of his own work in Calabar. Dickie's admirable little Story of the Mission in Old Calabar, published 1694, does full justice to Mr. Anderson. See pp. 37-38.] who was at Bonny while those things were being done, says:—

The first news, and joyful news they were, which greeted me on my return from Bonny, were, that the horrid custom of making human sacrifices for the dead was at an end, abolished for ever in Old Calabar, by Egbo law formally made and publicly proclaimed in all its towns. The causes which more immediately led to this happy result were—the death of a chief man lately in Duke Town, the numerous sacrifices which were being made for him by the gentry there, with as much daring recklessness and barbarity as if no remonstrances had ever been made on one side, and no promises ever given on the other side, against the devilish system— the righteous indignation of your missionaries in the country, and of the white gentlemen trading to it, when the\- learned what was going forward—the formation of a Society by them and among themselves, for the Abolition of Human Sacrifices—the pointed and urgent dealings of that Society immediately with all the native gentlemen— the prompt and cordial concurrence of King Eyo Honesty with the white people, and for the object they sought—a general meeting of all the chiefs, black and white, on board the largest ship in the river, the Celma, 900 tons, to consider the question—the unreserved submission of the old country party, who have hitherto defended the old country superstitions among themselves—and finally, the formal enactment of a strong and decisive law against the infernal system by Egbo authority, the highest and only general authority and source of law in this country to which kings and chiefs alike bow. The friends of humanity and religion will give thanks to God for this necessary and beneficial measure. Long has it been sought on our part, and long evaded on theirs, but grace and truth have at length won the day. You will remember the formal protest, solemnly and authoritatively made by your brethren here, first in King Eyamba's time, on the death of John Duke (October 1846), and the year following, on the death of King Eyamba himself (May 1847), when these customary slaughters were so numerously perpetrated—a protest delivered to the principal men of the country in person, and renewed on every occasion of these barbarities. You will remember the benevolent appeals of some of the captains of our trading ships, and of the cruisers on the coast, to the natives, against the inhuman custom. You will remember also, that the efforts of both the former parties have latterly been vigorously supported by representations from the English Government by men-of-war officers; and that one of these, Captain Murray, of H.M.S. Favourite, two years ago (March 1848), obtained a written promise from King Eyo and other chiefs, that they would endeavour to put an end to these atrocities. [See Waddell's Twenty-Nine Years, chap. xix. p. 374. In it he hardly attaches the same importance to the engagement entered into in 1848. So far as Duke Town was concerned, it was not "a fatal blow" to the system; and the conditions which made the passing of the law possible were doubtless brought about chiefly by the teaching of Goldie, Edgerley, and Anderson from 1848 to 1850. 16] The last measure, I was convinced, was the fatal blow to the horrid system, which might linger a while even with convulsive efforts, but could never recover it. King Eyo took the same view of the question. He feared the visits of men-of-war every year to make palaver about it, as they had done about the slave-trade, and knew that they would never rest till they had gained their object. So he advised the chiefs of the country to yield the point, and please the white people, on whom they depended for their trade and everything. By many and various means does God work, and He is glorified in them all. And let His people rejoice and give Him praise, that their prayers and labours have not been in vain; and that so great an exercise of Satan's tyranny over hapless, ignorant heathens, so great cruelty to poor slaves, so great an obstruction to the welfare of the country, and to the reformation of the people, has been swept out of the way. Let us thank-God and take courage, to see this breach made in the strongholds of darkness, sin, and death, and foresee numerous other breaches consequent thereon, till the whole fortress of the power of darkness be shaken and demolished in this region, and a free path be opened for the spread of gospel mercy, light, and love through all the countries and nations of degraded Africa.


 


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