MALAWI: EARLY HISTORY
June 1, 1991 Issue
by Jerry Cutter
(Editor's. Note: In the April issue brother Paul Nichols wrote a very interesting article of our
being in Africa. This history, furnished by brother Jerry Cutter will predate brother Nichols as it deals with the way the Gospel (in any form) was first taken to Africa. I found it fascinating reading. We look forward to more from Jerry. Don
In Friday, February 12th, the following scene was witnessed by the church of Christ missionaries. "I went out to find a scaffold... the first I have ever seen. "They have been busy all day building a new scaffold. It is awful. This has been the most miserable day have had since I came here..." "They bring in fresh prisoners every day: quite a number have been shot and hung." What is going on here?. These scenes are being witnessed by the first church of Christ missionaries ever to work in Malawi (at the time Nyasaland) and, moreover, they themselves are in detention at Zomba. The year: 1915. The above quotations were from the diary of sister Mary Bannister, a spinster from England, who had come to Nyasaland in June of 1912 to help in the mission work directed by brother George Hubert Hollis. Hollis was originally from Australia. In all, seven were detained: Bannister, Henry and Etta Philpott, and the Hollis's and their two small children, ages one and five. At first they were housed in tents at Zomba and were often cold, sick and heartbroken. "It was a miserable situation, especially when the Hollis's children became sick." "Then began the sad process of watching the prisoners who were brought into the camp, and then even sadder fact of realizing that some of them were from their own mission, or had had connections with it at one time." These Christians were kept in the camp at Zomba for seven weeks.
The work these early Christians did in Nyasaland and their detention has a direct bearing on the work we are now doing in Malawi. However, with this introduction, now let us go back and pick up the early history of this era, and then we will return to the missionaries.
David Livingstone: Missionary and Explorer
Livingstone was born in 1813 and died in 1873. He first went to Africa as a medical missionary. "He wanted to convert the peoples of Africa to Christianity, to try to put a stop to the slave trade, and to explore the mysterious continent." At heart he was an explorer, and in the late 1850s he returned as an employee of the British government, and explored, among other places, the area that is now Malawi. The New York Herald sent the newspaper reporter Sir Henry Morton Stanley to find Livingstone in 1869. This feat was accomplished on Oct.28, 1871. I don't think Livingstone was lost, and I know he refused to leave Africa with Stanley. I am sure the New York Herald did well in selling the story, though.
In 1892 some form of formal administration and order was beginning to appear in British Central Africa. By "February 1893 a Protectorate was fined and declared over the country that was to be called officially, from 1907 onward, Nyasaland." On July 6, 1964 British rule ended and Nyasaland began to be called Malawi, and is an independent nation.
After Livingstone, several of the "traditional" denominations began to be established in Nyasaland, such as, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, with their Scottish background, and the Roman Catholics.
However, the authorities did not look upon the smaller religious groups with much favor. These included the Baptists, Adventists, JWs, and the churches of Christ.
In the late 1880s, Joseph Booth, a Baptist, entered Nyasaland. The following is written of him. "This extract reveals much of that volatile spirit of religious independence, fundamentalism, pacifism, and the tendency to criticize established authorities and institutions which, in the little world of British Central and South Africa twenty-five years later, was to bring Joseph Booth into conflict with the ruling Powers...",
One of Booth's early converts was an African named John Chilembwe. He became a very successful preacher and traveled to Europe and America. He also imbibed freely in Booth's ideas concerning Africa for Africans and independence.
The story is long and involved but the main point is, by 1915 John Chilembwe had organized and led an African revolt against British rule. This revolt came during World War I, and even in this same year the British had already been fighting the Germans in northern Nyasaland. The revolt began on Jan. 23, 1915 and was completely crushed with the death of Chilembwe on Feb. 4, 1915.
Most of the revolt was near Blantyre (which is named after Livingstone's home town in Scotland), and was within 50 miles of the city. One group of Chilembwe's men went to an estate called Magomero, about 20 miles from Blantyre, and well known to all of us recent missionaries. The estate was owned by David Livingstone's grandson, Alexander Livings-tone Bruce. It was managed by William Jervis Livingstone, another relative of Livingstone. William Jervis Livingstone was killed in the raid, beheaded, and his head was displayed on a pole while Chilembwe preached at the Sunday service the next day.
Church of Christ Missionary Hollis
Hollis was born in Australia in 1876. Service in the Imperial Forces during the Boer War brought him to Africa. As with Baptist Booth, he became a pacifist. "This is nothing strange for a member of the Churches of Christ, for there warn a strong pacifist strain amongst them before the First World War," it is reported. This Bible conviction also helped save Hollis' life.
Hollis was indulgent toward the African point of view, and he gave the Africans greater responsibility in the running of mission work than many Europeans. He also had opened up some small stores and was prepared to trade at close quarters with Africans.
Hollis had known Baptist Booth, and when the Chilembwe revolt took place the British authorities ordered the Hollis's, Philpotts, and Mary Bannister into laager in Zomba. The confinement continued for seven miserable weeks, ending in Hollis being deported. The authorities thought Hollis knew of the revolt, maybe even helped plan it, and had refused to inform them. The fact is, rumors had gone around, but Hollis knew no more than the British authorities themselves. And, also, the charges did not fit his character: he was a confirmed pacifist.
The church of Christ missionaries "Were the last to arrive in the camp and had to be housed in tents which, in the wet season, with their blow flies, made it difficult to keep their bedding dry. Then began the sad process of watching the prisoners who where brought to the camp, and even the sadder fact of realizing that some of them were from their own mission, or had had connections with it at one time." "We are prisoners," wrote Mary Bannister, "in the plain sense of the word...to be held up before all people in suspicion is to me a fearfully unjust thing." "The seventh week of their imprisonment provided Mary Bannister with further melancholy material for entry into her diary. Monday, 15 March, she noted that 'George (Masangano) was sentenced to 7 years; Ronald and Jackson, 2 years...' On the Thursday, 'two more were flogged.. .and given ten years imprisonment. It teemed with rain during the night. Oh, to be home..."' The British hung some brethren and the worst offenders were shot.
The end result: Hollis was deported immediately. The rest of the missionaries were allowed to stay providing they did no church work. In short, the church of Christ was officially closed down. Interestingly, two more times since then, once in 1969 and once again in 1989 the work has come very close to being closed down.
On Magomero Estate, where Livingstone's relative was beheaded in 1915, the church was closed. The authorities suggested the members could attend one of the "traditional" churches. However, in 1966, when Bennie Cryer and I were working in Malawi, a congregation was re-established on this Estate. There was at least one member of the church still living in the area, and with great joy came home. How many prayers had that member prayed since the local church was destroyed those many years before?
Moreover, much of the great growth that has been experienced in the work we have been involved in came from the African Churches of Christ, or those churches of Christ established and nurtured by African preachers, and without European help, after the 1915 revolt. E. C. Severe, the original contact with the brotherhood back in 1951, was a member of the African Churches of Christ.
Many of the quotations in this article came from the book entitled Independent African, by Shepperson and Price, Edinburgh University Press (1958).
The single most influential African in the early days of our mission efforts in Nyasaland (Malawi) was E. C. Severe. His name is the only one most brethren in America can even recall. Thus, before writing concerning my work with brethren James Orten and Bennie Cryer in Malawi, I hope to write about what happened to Severe and what subsequently changed the course of our work completely.
Jerry Cutter 1991 OPA Main Page HOME