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Among the Wild Ngoni

THE eyes of the world are on Africa, and the nations of the West are eagerly engaged in exploring and annexing land without asking the consent of the inhabitants. Till far on in the century only the fringes of Africa were known, the districts round the Cape up to Natal were early colonised, while the West Coast was specially known as the “White Man’s Grave.” The north, once the abode of pirates, fell chiefly under French influence, and the wondrous land of Egypt, stretching into the dim past, has been the battlefield of hosts contending for its possession. While the East Coast has languished under Portuguese misrule and neglect, Egypt and the southern regions have steadily advanced under British possession and influence.

The southern portion of what has long been known as the Dark Continent has been to a great extent civilised, and while elements have not been wanting to degrade the native races, much has been done to spread the Gospel and the arts of peace. But during all these years the interior of Africa was an unknown land, sometimes marked in maps as “Desert,” but believed to be the abode of horrid cruelty. Explorers from Bruce to Speke, Thomson and Grant, sought to penetrate its secrets, but the malarial climate, the fever swamps and tangled forests, not to speak of wild beasts and savage men, barred the way.

It was David Livingstone, a self-educated Scottish weaver, who, inspired with the passion to discover the secret sources of the Nile, and the mysteries of Central Africa, was raised up by God to carry the Gospel message to those who, for centuries, had sat in darkness and in the shadow of death.

This is not the place to recite how, time after time, he plunged alone into the dark land, and with a gentleness which won his way, and a dauntless and persevering daring which carried him through many perils, brought to light the secrets of centuries, and blazed a path for civilisation and the Gospel.

But his heart was wrung with the horrors of the dreadful slave trade which had decimated Africa for ages, and caused the groans and sighs of her sons and daughters to ascend to heaven.

On a May day in 1873, worn out by fatigue and cruel fever, he was found dead by his faithful native boys, kneeling as in prayer at the side of the rude bed in his hut, amid the swamps of Lake Bangweolo.

Among his last written words were, “May Heaven’s rich blessing come down on every one—American, English, Turk—who will help to heal this open sore of the world.” Carried by loving hands over a nine months’ march, his body was laid in Westminster Abbey in April 1874, and the story of his life and death sent a thrill through Christendom, and purposes were formed for the sending of the Gospel to Central Africa.

Dr James Stewart of Lovedale was the first to move, and the result was the formation of the Livingstonia Mission by the Free Church of Scotland, the Blantyre Mission by the Church of Scotland, the Universities’ Mission by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and the Tanganyika Mission by the London Missionary Society, while later Moravians, Germans, and others followed.

The sphere chosen by the Livingstonia Mission was the west shore of Lake Nyasa, an inland sea some 400 miles long, discovered by Livingstone and Dr Stewart; and in 1875 the Ilala, bearing the pioneers of the Mission, Dr Laws and his helpers, steamed into the Lake and took possession for Christ.

The first settlement at Cape Maclear, the south end of the Lake, had to be abandoned because of its unhealthy climate, which cost the lives of several missionaries. Moving to Bandawe, about half way up the West Coast of Lake Nyasa, the pioneers settled there, surveyed the land around, and began its conquest for the Gospel.

The story of the Livingstonia Mission is one of faithful and persevering work in the face of untold difficulties. Unknown languages had to be mastered and reduced to writing. Slavery and barbarism faced the Missionaries at every point. An unknown tropical climate tried them to the uttermost. When one fell at his post another stepped into the breach. Supported by prayer, faith and patience, they laboured on for years, till at last the seed sown in tears took root and sprang up. Now the labourers are filled with praise because God has given them to see fields white to the harvest.

The work has been carried on all these years by men and women, whose names shine as heroes in the Gospel story, on four great lines:—

1. The direct proclamation of the Gospel.
2. Education of young and old.
3. Medical Mission work.
4. Industrial training.

These have all been carried on at each of five stations, which all have many out-stations. In recent years a great central Training Institution has been established at Kon-dowi, to which the best pupils are drafted to be trained as evangelists, teachers, and skilled artisans. There are now some 500 resident and day students, and Dr Laws, who has been the honoured head of the Mission since its beginning, is in charge.

The Livingstonia Mission seeks to evangelise a field of about 300 miles long by 100 miles broad. There are now 7 native churches -with over 1000 members, 85 schools with 11,000 scholars, and 300 native teachers and preachers.

While the whole field is full of the deepest interest, and each tribe has its own character, traditions and peculiarities, one of the tribes is dominant. The Ngoni, of whom the following pages tell, are the warriors of the country, of Zulu race, with splendid physique and qualities, but steeped for centuries in superstition, bloodshed, and cruelty. The fascinating story told by Dr Elmslie of the rise of Chaka’s kingdom, of the seas of blood shed by him and his warriors, accompanied by untold cruelties, and all for lack of the Gospel unsent by sleeping Christendom, should stir the hearts of many to send the message of peace where it has not yet gone.

Dr Elmslie, who with his devoted wife has just sailed for Africa to begin his third term of service, vividly pictures the lofty plateau of Ngoni land, with its native villages and the dark background of vice and cruelty which lies behind the village life, with the horrors of the slave trade which harried peaceful homes, leaving the smoking ruins, while the inmates were massacred, or reserved for a more cruel fate, and how their perils drove the people to live in swamps or inaccessible rocks.

The first advance of the missionaries to Ngoniland was in 1878 in the face of much personal danger. The first interviews with Mombera and his bloodthirsty chiefs, picture not only the danger of the situation, but the faith, courage, and tact of the men who, taking their lives in their hands, went as ambassadors of Christ to these bloodstained savages.

They were worth winning for Christ, but it was a long story of alternating hope and fear, of patience and trial. The inquisitive questions, the insatiable and insolent greed shown to the missionaries, who were known not only to have brought “The Book,” but calico and beads, were most trying.

The story of William Koyi, a Kafir Christian trained at Lovedale, and how, with Christian tact and patience, he disarmed suspicion, and secured for himself and his Europeans the friendship of Mombera and his people, has seldom been equalled in the missionary field.

To preach to the people was at first well-nigh impossible, the time of sowing had not yet come, much less the reaping; but the influence of his humble Christian life and example in the face of danger and difficulty, won at last the respect and love of the Ngoni tribe. Dr Elmslie touchingly tells how William Koyi, the faithful worker, heard on his dying bed that full permission had been given to teach and preach the Gospel, and with “nunc dimittis” on his lips went to his reward in 1886.

For full three years the pioneers laboured, prayed, and watched. The medical aid given helped them to win their way among the people, who wondered why they remained when no one would receive their message.

There came the first tiny blade when three youths came like Nicodemus at night to inquire, but these first-fruits met with bitter opposition, and Dr Elmslie and his faithful helpers were sorely tried by dangers, anxieties, fever, and disappointment. Then came the turning-point when, after a long drought, rain fell in response to the white men’s prayers, and a new era began.

Mrs Elmslie’s arrival created a fresh interest; work was begun among the girls, as had been done by Mrs Laws at Bandawe, and after a while, on the people’s own proposal, they had a harvest thanksgiving to God.

Dr Elmslie tells the life-story of James Sutherland of Wick, converted in connection with D. L. Moody’s mission there, who faithfully laboured with the Doctor amid dangers and difficulties, and who, before his death, showed such enthusiasm that when, in consequence of murderous threats, plans were made for the missionaries leaving, Sutherland had arranged to become a slave to one of the Ngoni in order to remain as a witness for God among the people.

The story of the exorcising of spirits, of Dr Laws’ visit, and the terrible suspense which the missionaries passed through, lead up to the first baptism in 1890. Then Dr Steele began his too brief work, which for five years brightened the band of workers, till his valued life was laid down.

In 1892 the first Ngoni woman was baptised; two years later Miss Stewart joined the workers, and that year 760 children attended school.

Then the most northern station was opened at Mwenzo by Mr and Mrs Dewar and the Training Institution was started at Kondowi, above Florence Bay.

While Europeans must be pioneers (and God has given the Livingstonia Mission a splendid staff), the evangelisation of Africa must be done by Africa’s sons, and the 500 students in training at the Institution who will soon be the craftsmen, teachers, evangelists, and pastors of British Central Africa.

The Rev. Donald Fraser, who has been nearly a year in Ngoniland, has had the joy of helping the earlier labourers in the reaping of the harvest which now gladdens the hearts of all. At Ekwendeni he joined the Rev. James Henderson and others in a great Communion service when 195 sat at the Lord’s Table, in presence of 4000 natives. In two days 198 adults and 89 children were baptised.

The scenes so graphically described in these pages, of warriors who once marched in impis to bloodshed and cruelty, now marching in hundreds to a Gospel gathering, witnessing the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism with reverent interest; of the night air vocal with hymns where once the war-cry was heard; of peaceful homes and cultivated land, all tell of the triumph of the Gospel of God, and how, through the labours of Dr Laws, Dr Elmslie and their noble band as well as those who have gone to their rest, the wilderness and the solitary place is glad for them and the desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose.


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