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The Life of James Stewart
The Essential Ethiopian


Bishop Colenso—How to ‘think black’—The African Warrior—— The Sluggard—African Religion—Nature’s Gentleman— The Raw Kafir—Religious Instincts—African Loyalty.

[Light is shed on this subject by the lives of the great African missionaries, chiefly by those of Livingstone and Coillard. Three recent very valuable books introduce us to the modern Ethiopian—. Dudley Kidd’s The Essential Kafir; Savage Childhood: A Study 01 Kafir Children (the first English book on this subject); and Kafir Socialism and the Dawn of individualism: An Introduction to the Study of the Native Problem (newly published). (A. and C. Black.) The heading of this chapter has been suggested by the first of these. The adjective ‘Essential’ is here used, as Mr. Kidd uses it, to denote those qualities which are common to all the tribes in South Africa, and form what may be called their national Catholic religion.]

‘Men are apt to be impressed by the unknown. ‘—Galgacus, as reported by Tacilus.

‘A man cannot live without charms.’ —Beck uana Proverb.

‘Do you know why man is the most suffering creature in the world? It is because he stands with one foot in the finite, and the other in the infinite, and is torn asunder, not by four horses, but by two worlds.’— Larnennais.

‘The Zulus are a wonderful people. They defeat our generals (Isandblwana), they convert our Bishops (Colenso), and they add finis to the fortunes of a French Dynasty (the Prince Imperial). ‘—Disraeli.

IN the beginning of 1878 Stewart returned from Livingstonia to Lovedale. During the years 1878 to 1890 he was on what may be called the level tableland of his life. These years had not the same romantic incidents as the pioneering days, for they were devoted chiefly to the consolidation and expansion of Lovedale. Confusion must overtake us if our record of this period attempts to keep equal step with the growing years. We must, therefore, for the present abandon the chronological order, and describe consecutively what was contemporaneous. We shall thus devote a separate chapter to each of Stewart’s many-sided activities; for he was at this time a Missionary, an Educationalist, an Agriculturalist, a Captain of Industry, a Physician, a Preacher, an Author, and a Statesman who had some share in shaping the laws. All these efforts were intertwined, but we can untwist the strands, and then reunite them. It will help us to understand him in all his capacities, if we begin by examining the human material upon which he was always working. The subject has many attractions for all students of mankind and of comparative religion, and it will reveal the environment of the African missionary, and, to some extent, of all foreign missionaries.

There are three attitudes toward the native:

extravagant laudation, pagan scorn, and Christian reasonableness. The first is represented by Bishop Colenso, who petted and spoiled the Zulus. He regarded them as a glorious race, destined to guide, ‘absorb and assimilate’ the white man. Some at the other extreme would practically deny him the bare rights of manhood. Between these two stand all reasonable Christians, who accept him as a member of the human family and capable of elevation. No one was more reasonable in this matter than Stewart was.

Lovedale had pupils from some fifteen tribes south of the Zambesi. Nearly all were from the parent stock of the Bantus. The Makololo, the Banyai, and the Barotsi were originally Zulus, Hence Coillard’s native Basuto evangelists could at once address Lewanika’s people in their mother-tongue. The wild Ngoni around Lake Nyasa were also of the Zulu stock, and so they could understand William Koyi from Lovedale.

All missionaries agree that it is very hard, some would say that it is impossible, thoroughly tc explore the black mind, or to ‘think black.’ ‘It is no disparagement to his insight into native character, writes one of Stewart’s friends, ‘to say that the more he knew them, the more he recognised that inscrutable something which has puzzled the most experienced missionaries.’ Selous, the hunter, says that he failed to fathom the native mind. ‘The character of the Zambesians,’ writes Coillard, ‘is like the cataracts of Musi Oa Tunya (the Victoria Falls) One cannot sound them, or yet even see the bottom.’

It seems that the native can be many men al once: he can say one thing, think another, and do third. The best informed often say regarding him ‘After all, one never knows.’

Many place the Kafir next to the white man though he is prone to believe that everything need5 a lie. The Ethiopian is usually a great liar, and he dearly loves superlatives, finding in big words an apparent relief from the little things that make uç his life. For centuries he has had to practise such habits of concealment as weak wild beasts use when encircled by powerful and cunning beasts of prey Then he is polite, and lies from his desire to please the white man. ‘They value politeness more than truthfulness,’ Dudley Kidd says. Stewart regarded the native as a diplomatist, who, like diplomatists all the world over, is full of suspicion, and, in self-defence, studies ‘an economy of truth,’ and will never commit himself till he has discovered the probable consequences. Hence in his dealings with his neighbours his intellect is often his accomplice rather than his guide. Some heathen practices clave at first to the early Christians who were deeply devoted to Christ, and so the Christian native needs to have his conscience trained, especially regarding his besetting sins of lying, ingratitude, and dishonesty.

It has been said that in their native state all the roots of their nature were exhausted in the production of one sterile orchid—the warrior without a conscience. In their creed war was the chief end for which man was made, as with Homer’s heroes. ‘To go on plundering expeditions against other people,’ an African replied, when asked for what purpose he had been made. Chaka, the Napoleon of South Africa, is said to have killed one million of people in his wars. Lo Bengula’s title was ‘the Eater of his People,’ and his capital, the last great stronghold of African heathenism, was called Bulawayo, ‘the place of slaughter.’ Yet cruelty is not a distinction of the native except when specially provoked. Stewart said that, when a medical student in Edinburgh, he was more afraid of the white heathen there than he was in after years of the black heathen in Africa. I have heard him say that he found in Africa nothing so shameful as the wife-beating by drunkards at home.

These earth-children are a very sensual race, but paganism is protected from complete disclosure by the enormity of its vices: among them is the shame that cannot be explained or even named for shame. Kidd makes exceedingly painful statements about the atrocious immorality of their celebrations when boys and girls enter on manhood and womanhood. The fountains of their life are then poisoned, and the native girls are treated as chattels, not as persons. ‘The imagination of the Kafir runs to seed after puberty. It would be safer to say that it runs to sex.’ (Kidd.) Educationalists believe that this is the reason why the natives keep pace with the whites till about fifteen years of age, and then fall far behind them. [Mr. Bryce, in his impressions of Africa, says that our Government now forbids these evil rites, as well as the ‘smelling out’ of witches.]

Stewart denies that the Ethiopian is incurably lazy, and Dudley Kidd and Sir Harry Johnston agree with him. He is not lazy as a warrior, a hunter, a carrier, or a runner in the ricksha, the man-drawn carriage. Like people nearer home, he works only when he has a sufficient motive. He greatly enjoys warm and social laziness, but he is capable of great exertion and perseverance. Stewart highly appreciated their services as carriers. In an article in the Nineteenth Century for January of this year, Sir Harry H. Johnston says that, all things being equal, the negro is as willing to work for a salary as the Asiatic or the European. This has been proved, he says, on a large scale by the construction of the Congo Railway The negro’s reputed laziness, he maintains, is due to the fact that for centuries he has been regarded ‘as a fit subject to be cheated.’ No doubt, like people in other lands, he wishes to secure the prizes of life without paying the price.

The South African Native Affairs Commission say: ‘The theory that the South African natives are hopelessly indolent may be dismissed as being not in accordance with facts.’

The chief difficulty with the genuine Ethiopian is to get him to think. He always turns up laughing, whatever his troubles may be. Life is treated by him as a joke. His ideals are few and low, and he is not sobered by the struggle for existence. An animal programme of life contents him, and his idea of personal responsibility is very faint. ‘He is the greatest optimist of all the human types.’

Like the rest of mankind, the Africans are a religious race, though they have neither temple, nor idol, nor stated worship, nor written creed. The universal heathen heart has still something of its fatherland in it: if you go deep enough, you will find the instincts of God and the life to come even among those who are at the swine troughs. Homer truly says, ‘As young birds ope their mouths for food, so all men crave for the gods.’ ‘Religion is not a new invention,’ says Max Muller, ‘it is at least as old as the world we know. The earliest man was in possession of religion, or rather possessed by religion. There is no trace of the making of religion out of the rudest of materials. It grows wild and luxuriates, like wind-sown plants in the richest soil.’ ‘As for the inscription of a deity in their hearts,’ says Fuller, ‘it need not be new written, but only new scoured in them.’ Among the heathen, religion needs not to be created, but to be corrected. Their hearts, like ours, require a god. There are kindred rays in all men, and from the same source, and beclouded by the same errors. Tertullian taught that religion was as old as the world, and that the soul of man was naturally Christian. When rightly understood, every religion is, in some degree, a preparation for the teaching of Christianity. / Africa wishes to worship God, but does not know how, and gropes about like a blind man. Popular superstitions are practically the same in all heathen races and have their origin in the same definite facts and experiences; and many of them survive even in nominally Christian lands. As with the wise men from the East, and as with some who met Christ in the days of His flesh, superstition may pave the way for the true faith. These world-wide facts are a striking proof of the unity of our race, and especially of the essential identity of men in moral and spiritual things. Julius Caesar and Augustus believed in magic as thoroughly as the Africans of to-day. Child-life everywhere is essentially the same, though a white child sucks the thumb and a black the forefinger. The life-blood in all men is red, and flows according to the same laws.

The Ethiopian believes that his life at every point touches the supernatural. He lives continually in an atmosphere of spiritual things. His use of the poison cup and other ordeals is an appeal to a spiritual and final tribunal. Such a practice was common in England in King Alfred’s day, and regarded as a direct appeal to God. The African is hag-ridden by religious fears, many of which are shadows projected by his accusing conscience and by centuries of frightful oppression. ‘I believe in devils,’ is the first article of his creed. Feeling helpless in the presence of the unseen, he grows old in seeking imaginary relief from imaginary evils, and in vain efforts to ‘square’ the evil spirits with which he peoples the unseen world, and whose hearts, he believes, are full of vengeance and mischief. The amulets he wears are to protect him against their malignity. All his customs about witchcraft are based upon a belief in a world of spirits. In him we see religion gone mad, but it is religion still, and by far the mightiest force in his life. This bewildered religion proves that the African is a man.

Some praise picturesque ‘heathendom’ and tell us that the man of Africa is ‘nature’s gentleman,’ happy in his raw state, and that he should be let alone. That is an old story, for Homer describes the ‘Ethiops’ as an ‘embrowned’ people, who dwell ‘most remote’ from men, in a state of native virtue; and some classical writers used to locate Paradise among the blameless Ethiopians whom the gods loved to visit. The ancient and the modern views are equally fables.

This objection to Foreign Missions is also very old, for Julian said that Christian fishers take men out of the element in which they are free and happy.

But what are the facts? The traveller could hardly find in any other land more woebegone faces than in South Africa, and years imprint more wrinkles on the heart than on the face. The native child, black but comely, and as chubby as a Cupid, looks like a statue of the boy Apollo painted black; but when he passes middle life, he bears the most monstrous traces of care and fear. His face is like corrugated iron, and his ‘wrinkles seem to obliterate the features and to be graven down to the very skull.’ They all keenly feel the mysteries around life and death, and they are like the Greeks in Homer’s day who attributed death to the arrows of Apollo or Artemis. The bow with the bowstring cut across is their touching symbol of death. They do not believe that any death comes from natural causes. ‘Death inspires them with terror,’ writes Decle in his Three Years in Savage Africa. ‘They have an unspeakable horror of a corpse. The boldest hunter when dying will call for his mother, though she has been dead for years. He knows no one else who would be minded to help him through the dark valley. It seems that the sacred writer must have known them when he wrote, "Through fear of death—all their life-time subject to bondage."

David Livingstone knew the native, if ever man did. More than any other man, he explored both the heart of Africa and of the African. His books are a rich mine of information, illustration, and suggestion regarding this attractive subject. [The fullest consecutive statement of Livingstone’s missionary creed is found in the last pages of The Zambesi and its Tributaries.] We are sure that he sets forth there what were also the deepest convictions of Stewart. Both very generously recognised all that is good and hopeful in the native religion, as Paul did at Athens.

‘Nothing,’ Livingstone says, ‘is more heartrending than their death wails.’ He speaks of their ‘dread of the strange land beyond the mountains.’ ‘Great Father, give us rest and peace,’ was their pathetic appeal to him. ‘Do people die with you?’ asked two intelligent young men. ‘Have you no charm against death? Where do people go after death?’

Livingstone believes as firmly as Paul did in the conscience and religious instinct of the heathen. He says: ‘A belief in a supreme, the Maker or Ruler of all things, and in the continued existence of departed spirits, is universal. The fact that His Son appeared among men and left His words in a book, always awakens attention. The primitive African faith seems to be that there is one Almighty maker of heaven and earth. Their idea of moral evil differs in no respect from ours. The only new addition to their moral code is, that it is wrong to have more wives than one. They believe in a Providence, a Judge, and an Almighty King. All the Africans we have met with are as firmly persuaded of their future existence as of their present life. They regard the dead as living. And we have found none in whom the belief in the Supreme Being was not rooted. . . Some begin to pray in secret to Jesus as soon as they hear of the white man’s God, and, no doubt, are heard by Him, Who, like as a Father pitieth His children. As I glance over their deeds of generosity, recorded in my Journal, my heart glows with gratitude to them, and I hope and pray that God may spare me to make some return to them. . . . If this fails to interest them (the story of the Birth, Life, and Death of Jesus Christ) nothing else will succeed... . Unquestionably a great amount of goodness exists in the midst of all their evil.’ He tells that he had seen a mighty hunter sink to the ground, melted into tears by the story of Christ.

The Ethiopians who are not familiar with town-life among the Europeans, have a most pathetic sense of their inferiority in presence of the white men, and are therefore very apt to be influenced by missionaries who have won their confidence. ‘Truly ye are gods,’ they exclaim when they see some of the wonders of civilisation. ‘God made the white man first, but did not love us black men.’ The ambition of many is to be white. ‘I really think that my face is becoming whiter,’ said an Ethiopian, as he looked at the glass after several severe scourings in the hope of changing his skin. One day

King Lewanika asked Coillard, ‘Where do the descendants of Japheth dwell?’ ‘In Europe,’ was the reply. ‘And where are the descendants of Shem?’ ‘In Asia,’ Coillard answered. ‘You need not tell me,’ the King added, ‘that Ham was the father of Africa. I knew it long ago.’ ‘Why so, Lewanika?’ Coillard asked. ‘Ah, my father, the curse.’

All the great African missionaries have proved that the Ethiopian is capable of a splendid devotion to the white man in whom he can completely believe. The world knows by heart the story of Chuma and Susi, and how, after a year’s terrible march to the coast, they brought the body of their beloved chief from Ilala to London. That story stands alone in history. Facts like these justify the belief that men who can display such an earthly allegiance may also come under leal-hearted allegiance to the Saviour of mankind.


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