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OUR readers are aware that a British army is at this moment penetrating into Abyssinia, with a view of compelling Theodore, who has claimed to be its king, to surrender a number of British subjects, whom now for a
lengthened period he has cruelly kept in imprisonment and chains, without any demerit on their part to justify such ill-treatment, and in despite of repeated remonstrances. The captives consist of Captain Cameron, Her Majesty's Consul to Abyssinia, two Missionaries of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, and several other British subjects and persons-men, women, and children-connected with the British embassy. They have been in durance now several years, during which time they have been subjected to great indignities, kept in prison, chained hand and foot, herded together with the lowest. criminals, and some of them even tortured.
The Missionaries were put in chains in 1863, Mr. Stern having been, when first seized, so severely beaten, that his life was for a time despaired of. Then the Consul and other Europeans were laid hold upon and brought into the Emperor's presence.
As to what they have had to endure, one passage from Mr. Stern's letters, having reference to May 12, 1865, may suffice to show
"I was blinded with buffets, while at the same time several fellows violently seized me by the hand, and began to twist round my arms hard coarse ropes, formed of the fibres of the Dolossa tree. Generally criminals under torture are only tied around the upper part of the arm, but the white miscreants were deemed unworthy of such leniency. From the shoulder down to the wrists the cords were tight rolled around the unresisting limb. This being still regarded as insufficient, the swollen throbbing hands were bound together behind the back, and then other ropes were fastened across the chest, and that, too, with a force that caused the miserable sufferers to agonize for breath. Writhing and agonizing for breath, we lay heaving in pain on the hard, bare ground."
The king had retired when the binding with ropes commenced, but his confidential adviser every few minutes came to ask Mr. Stern whether he would confess the truth of the charges made against him, and which referred to certain passages in the book published by him in this country, entitled, "Wanderings amongst the Falashas," and when the reply which he received was not such as he wished, immediately he whispered to the guards, "Give him another rope round the chest." Three quarters of an hour the torture lasted. At last the Negûs, as the Emperor is called, fearing he might die, and so escape his vengeance, ordered the cords to be loosed. "This process caused excruciating pain, for the ropes, rebounding from the stiff marble limbs, tore away skin and flesh in broad gory shreds."
Like the apostle, Mr. Stern was chained to a soldier that kept him, a kind of Galla from Enárea. This rough man was moved by his sufferings, arranged the pallet on which he slept, and gently swathed his wounded arms in the soft folds of the "shama," or loose dress of white cotton, which is in ordinary use among the people.
Next day this scene was repeated, and even with more cruelty. The only wonder is, how any man could endure such protracted agony.
What supported Mr. Stern and his companions under such horrors appears from the following passage-"The Bible, prayers, a morning and evening exposition of an appropriate passage, were the exercises in which we regularly engaged. Religion constituted a wonderful bond of
harmony; and when I looked on the devout countenances which hung over the inspired page, as I commented on the sacred text I cherished the hope that the clouds, so big with wrath, had been changed into a flood of everlasting mercy."
When not under the rope, and in their usual state of captivity, they were chained by manacles, about three-eighths of a yard long, between the ankles. After a time, hand-chains were added to those already round the ankles, the two being so fastened together that the wearers were bent double, and were thus rendered unable to move about by day, or stretch their weary limbs by night.
In February 1866, Mr. Rassam arrived as an Envoy from England, to obtain the liberation of the prisoners. At first, success seemed to crown his efforts, and orders were given for their release. Their chains were taken off, and they were handed over to the English Envoy.
Rassam now sent the Missionaries and other captives forward toward the coast, he himself purposing to follow them. But he was not allowed. The king resolved to detain him also as a prisoner, and soldiers were sent after the captives to bring them back again.
A Mr. Flad, a German Missionary, who had come to London from Abyssinia for the transaction of business, and was about to return to that country, was now commissioned to be the bearer of a letter from the Queen to Theodore, requesting the immediate liberation of all the Europeans; but, before he left, it was known that they were all prisoners at Magdala.
Magdala is a hill fort in the province of Amhara, and in the country of the Wollo Gallas, who for the last few centuries have occupied the central and finest portion of Abyssinia. This place is almost impregnable by nature, and Theodore, since he obtained possession of it, has greatly strengthened it, having made it into a chief fortress, arsenal, and state prison.
In this region lived Adara Bille, the Wollo Galla chief, by whom Dr. Krapf, on his return from Shoa, was so cruelly treated and plundered. Attempting to resist Theodore, this chief, with upwards of 1000 Gallas, fell in battle, or perished under the executioner's knife, while the country around was plundered, and the women and children carried captive into the various provinces of Abyssinia.
Abyssinia is for the most part a great highland region, bounded on its eastern side by a narrow lowland, which lies between it and the sea. Rising up abruptly out of this sea of sand, this lofty region may be regarded as a north-eastern promontory of the great plateau of South Africa. High table-lands, crowned with mountains, rising to the line of perpetual snow, are intersected by deep ravines, cut by rivers and streams. Here lie the sources of the Blue Nile, which unites with the White Nile at Khartum, and to which, in a great measure, is to be ascribed the inundations which fertilize the valley of Egypt.
Into this region the British forces are penetrating, their mission being the liberation of the Europeans, so long the victims of Theodore's cruelty. We trust that this may be accomplished without the necessity for bloodshed, and that the issue may be, not only the liberation of the captives, but the opening of Abyssinia to freer intercourse with Europeans, so that
an opportunity, more favourable than has yet been afforded, may present itself for the introduction of the Gospel into this country, which, although nominally Christian, needs the regenerating influence of Bible truth as much as any heathen land.
IBADAN is a large heathen town in the Yoruba country, where Missionary work was commenced in 1852, seven years after that at Abeokuta. Between this town and Abeokuta war prevailed for several years, and it was then that the Rev. D. Hinderer and Mrs. Hinderer, and Mr. Roper, suffered so great privations, and that Mr. Jefferies died.
Mr. and Mrs. Hinderer are again at Ibadan, and they will soon be joined by Mr. Roper, who, having been ordained by the Bishop of Sierra Leone at Brighton, in October last, will thus be enabled to render increased service. There are, besides, several valuable native assistants -Messrs. W. S. Allen, Daniel Olubi, James Okasehende, &c.
We are very hopeful about this great town. Abeokuta has driven away its Missionaries and converts; Ibadan, however, has not done so, but has bid them remain and work. Let us entreat our readers to pray that, as they are kind to the messengers, so may this people open their hearts to the Lord's message. May plenteous rains descend on the seed which has been sown, so that there may be a goodly harvest!
The journals of the Rev. J. Smith, who has recently returned home, will afford us not unpleasing sketches of the country and the work.
We find him on one occasion setting out with Mr. Okasehende to visit a farm village some seven miles distant. The road lay south-west, through changing scenery of grass fields, woodland and rural farms. Here and there were to be seen the huts of the farmers nestled in the bush, where many of the people live for weeks and months together without once visiting the town. After a ride of two hours and a half, the village was reached. Here reside two Christian members. These men were surprised and rejoiced at their unexpected arrival. Forthwith they set out amongst the neighbouring farms to gather together as many people as they could, and soon a fair congregation was mustered. To this the word of God was spoken, and then stood up the two native Christians. The first, whose name was Abraham, reminded them, that while he worshipped idols he had been a reckless man; but the Missionaries having brought Christianity into their land, he had been led, through grace, to receive it, and bad been benefited in so doing; and if they followed his example they would be blessed also. The other, whose name was Joseph, then rose to add his testimony. He reminded them of the words-He "willeth not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance," and exhorted them not to receive the grace of God in vain. He said, "It cannot be a light thing that induced white men to leave their home and friends to come out to Ibadan country; nor can we think that good people in their own country would help them to come to Africa, and support them here, to teach a vain religion. I therefore entreat you, my countrymen and women, to believe
the truths which are told you, for they are not the word of man, but the word of the Almighty God of heaven.'
This is so important, when the converts do not keep to themselves the truths they have received, but when they avail themselves of every opportunity to make them known more widely, and tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is king.
The people of this village promised to assemble regularly every day for morning and evening prayer, when the two Christians would pray with them.
On another occasion we find our Missionary starting, with his native assistants, for a large farm, where several of the church members wère wont to reside six days out of seven. The road was generally good, the scenery varying and beautiful. Now they were in the open grass-fields; now in the midst of brushwood. After an hour's ride they came to the first halting-place, where they preached to some forty listeners. Journeying on between two hills, which at length ran up into one, an ascent began. On reaching the summit there spread before them an extensive plateau, having the appearance of a large, well-cultivated plain. Crossing this, they descended on the other side by a gradual slope until they reached a toll-gate. There they found numerous women, who had put down their loads to ease their necks and pay their dues. To these poor drudges Christ was made known. On their arrival at the village, refreshments were set forth, of which they stood much in need. their repast they proceeded to teach the people. The houses not being of the best description, being low, and dark and smoky, they took their place under the shade of a large tree, and the people, gathering round, listened very quietly while they were spoken to on one of the parables of our Lord.
Returning home they entered on a wide, open plain, bounded by four high hills in the distance, the path being lined on both sides with high sugar-cane-like grass, with here and there farms of maize and yams.
It was now the autumn season, and our Missionary found a great difference in the aspect of the country from that which it had presented some weeks previously. At the first visit the farms were in full bearing, and in all their beauty, while the hills and valleys were clothed with verdure. But now the harvest had been gathered in, and the farms exhibited a more naked appearance. The dry stalks of the maize were left that by them the rising beans might climb and be supported. The yams had been rooted up and carried off to the markets. The egusi had been gathered and carried off in like manner, while the parings had been left to rot upon the ground for manure. The road, as they passed along, was lined with people, men, old and young, going to their farm labour, and hundreds of women returning with produce to the town. Their baskets were full of yams, corn, beans, egusi, indigo, firewood, and leaves which answer the purpose of paper to wrap up articles sold in shops or in the markets.
So abundantly does the earth yield its fruits, and so graciously does God provide for the wants of man. "He maketh the sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sendeth his rain on the just and on the unjust." And yet, while the earth is fruitful, man is barren, and yields