FROM Mopti I flew to Dakar, my first stop on the long
journey down to the Congo via the West Coast. Our small plane, in
the full heat of the day, turned and twisted like a thing in agony.
Even the African steward remained strapped to his seat, and all
the passengers, except one, were very sick. Perhaps it was the simplicity
of my missionary breakfast which enabled it to remain in place I
We were all glad to change planes at Bamako.
is a seaside town almost an island and the lovely
cool sea breeze was heavenly after the heat of the Sudan. The missions
of this area of Senegal are in the good charge of the Holy Ghost
Fathers, but the White Fathers have a house in Dakar itself, where
they edit the Catholic weekly newspaper. Its editor, Father de
Benoist, met me at the airport and drove me to his place in
Shantytown where I was met with what I can only fairly describe
as a dreadful stench. Daybreak showed me the cause. The house is
a few hundred yards from the edge of the shanties and round our
garden is the only convenient hedge! But for the sea breeze which
gives some relief, I should think life would be unbearable. I could
not help wondering why such a state of affairs was tolerated.
I found Dakar teeming with people of all tribes and races, mostly
Moslems. The great fast of Rhamadam was just over and the mosques
were full. We stood and watched awhile. Before entering the mosque
the people first went through the ritual washing of hands, feet,
face, and teeth (carefully spitting out the water).
We were besieged by beggars. Up they came one after another or in
groups; the blind, the lame, and at least five lepers.
From the sea Dakar starts as a modem port, goes inland as a great
ultra-modem town, and finishes up a dreadful native shantytown.
Men were swarming everywhere in hundreds, looking for work, for
they cannot make a living on the land. I was told that Government
was doing its best to solve the problem of unemployment, but just
cannot cope with it. There were no signs of any colour-bar here.
Whites and blacks mixed indiscriminately, as they did on the plane
from Bamako. One sign of "progress" was that we had a
football team with us, flying nine hundred miles to play a match!
Next to me, one of the players was reading a lady's fashion magazine,
another was whistling a tune from "Kismet", and just in
front an African was handcuffed to a black policeman. The prisoner
was reading. "The Imitation of Christ"!
We did not take many photographs in Dakar because of the touchiness
of the people who grew ugly if we pointed a camera at them. In the
market-place meat, fish, and other foodstuffs were spread out on
the ground for sale; millions of flies swarmed everywhere. The impression
was one of terrible poverty alongside magnificent modem buildings.
People are very poor up in the Dogon country but they are clean
and dignified. It is much worse to see poverty en masse in a modern
town like this.
At our house in Dakar, I was delighted to meet Monsignor Courtois,
our Prefect Apostolic of Kayes, over which the pilot had kindly
flown at my request. I had not thought it possible to visit that
Prefecture, nor did I expect to meet anyone from it. So here was
luck indeed for me. It was due to what the Prelate called his own
bad luck. He had gone to bring the Apostolic Delegate to visit his
Prefecture and he and his driver came to a broken bridge which,
nevertheless, seemed passable.
"I got out of the car and was guiding the jeep across with
my Moslem driver at the wheel, when the off-side wheels slipped
over the edge of the bridge, and in a moment the jeep was upside
down eight feet below in the ravine. I jumped down from the bridge
to help the driver, but it was he who helped me, for he crawled
out from under the jeep unhurt while I got a broken leg! "
So there he was: helpless and ready to be interviewed! He came out
to Africa at the age of twenty-four, and this was the first time
he had ever been ill. He was now forty-four years of age, and had
been a Prefect Apostolic for nine years. I am told that in the whole
of West Africa you will not find a harder mission territory, and
it is as big as Great Britain. In the north he has a desert inhabited
by Moors Moslems to a man and the centre and south
is Savanna-land. From east to west runs the crocodile-infested Senegal
River, and that is the country of the Bantu; the Bambara and the
Malinka tribes, who are fetishist. Islam is spreading but the people
are slow to change. They are watching and waiting.
"Don't rush us, Father, some day we shall decide; when we have
seen," they say.
Any mass movement would be very difficult here, each one must be
taken as an individual. In one family you may find a pagan father
with one son a Moslem and the other a Christian.
"Take the mission of Sagabaru, for example," said Mgr.
Courtois, "We started there fourteen years ago and I have just
heard that two of the people have at last decided to become catechumens.
It will, of course, be at least another four years before they are
There are five mission stations in the territory and he has only
seventeen priests and one Brother.
"But," Monsignor went on with obvious delight, "in
a few days now, we shall have our first African priest. He is a
convert from Islam. His father is dead but his mother is still a
"Elsewhere," remarked Monsignor, "missionaries are
fishing with large nets; here we have to use a hook and line; there
are only two thousand five hundred Christians in the whole area."
The Prefect Apostolic has Bush schools all over the territory as
well as six Primary schools. He is so poor that he has recourse
to extraordinary ways of making money.
"We install small grain mills in the bigger centres, these
give us a little income," he explained, "we also buy cement
and make blocks to sell. We'd make bricks, as they do elsewhere,
only there's no wood to make the fires to 'burn' them!"
I left this cheerful Prelate sitting up in bed. He had already had
two operations on his badly broken leg. It was his first time in
bed for twenty years in Africa! I felt he had earned the rest.
I flew to Conakry next day and there I had a few hours to wait,
before taking off for Freetown, so I called on the Archbishop, a
Holy Ghost Father, and on the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny.
The tiny plane to Jungi (Freetown) landed me safely at my destination,
where I was met by a jeep sent down by the Manager of the Marampa
Mines. I was going there to stay with a doctor friend. My Moslem
driver's name was Why Worry ! He lived up to his name.
He was an excellent driver and I had no worry. Nevertheless, it
took us a long time to get to Marampa up a terrible road in torrential
rain. I tried to talk to "Why Worry" in English, but he
answered all my questions with "Yessir" and when
I put a question to which I thought he would have to say "no",
he answered "No sir-yessir!" As you can guess, he was
a kindly individual anxious to please, and realising, I suppose,
that my teeth were being shaken out of my head by the jolting jeep,
he offered me a tin of five hundred Codeine tablets and pointed
to his head. But I preferred my headache to a chew of dry codeine.
As we passed through the villages two things struck me. One was
that every man seemed to be in a hammock, and no one smiled or greeted
us as we passed. This was very unlike the Africa I had seen elsewhere.
The Doctor welcomed me with a delightful cold bath and a glass of
salt water !
"Nothing like it in this climate," he said. "I always
put salt in the water I drink - it spoils the taste but it does
One loses so much salt from the body in perspiration that it seems
obviously wise, yet I had never yet met a missionary who drank salt
The little mission church of Marampa is in the charge of the Italian
Xaverian Fathers, who had taken over recently from the Holy Ghost
Fathers. Some of these Italian priests had spent years in prison
in China from which they had been expelled. They were exceedingly
kind to me.
By phone we tried to arrange my next hop - to Accra, but a storm
had ruined the radio telephone. This meant that I had to go to Freetown
and back to reserve a place on a plane. Although the very thought
of another journey in that bucking jeep made my back sore I was
not sorry to have the chance of seeing Freetown, which is famous
in the history of Catholic missions. It was here that the Founder
of the African Missions' Society landed with four companions on
May 14th, 1859. By June of that same year they were all dead and
buried in Freetown, victims of yellow fever. At home, in France,
there remained only three priests and four brothers of the Society.
The disaster at Freetown looked like the end of a dream. But the
Society grew and forty-eight years later there were one hundred
and sixty-eight members.
The young Society paid heavily for its survival. For the first twenty
years, one third of its members lost their lives. For instance,
in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) three missionaries landed: one died
in twenty-four hours, the second in twenty-seven days, and the third
in nine months. Today the African Missions' Society has twenty dioceses
from the Ivory Coast to the Congo. ""Unless the seed go
into the ground and die, it will not bear fruit." The first
tombs of Freetown have borne much fruit: 1500 priests and brothers
and over one hundred African priests have come from that glorious
but tragic beginning.
The Jesuits were in Sierra Leone for a time as far back as the sixteenth
century, and at Bishop Broshanan's in Freetown I saw transcripts
of letters of A.D. 1500, found in Rome, speaking of the Termic people
of the north and the Mendi of the south. Bishop Broshanan,
who hails from Kerry, took me round. We stopped under the giant
Cotton Tree of Freetown which is depicted on the 2d. stamps of the
"Here," said the Bishop, "Mother Anne-Marie Javouhey
watched hundreds of men and women sold as slaves. She had no money
to buy and release them, but her gentle kindness brought some comfort
to those poor Africans waiting to be shipped to America."
Mother Javouhey, the Foundress of the Congregation of St. Joseph
of Cluny, was called to Freetown by the British Governor, to take
over the hospital which was in a deplorable condition. She came,
accompanied by a little African slave girl, who had been given to
her, and who afterwards became the first African Sister of the Congregation.
The charity of Mother Javouhey is singularly manifest in the fact
that she came to Freetown knowing that there was no priest in the
place, and that she would for some time at least, be deprived of
While she was at Freetown, yellow fever broke out and she nursed
the sick, instructed the dying, and baptised many of the hundreds
who died. She herself got the disease and had to return to France.
Forty years later the Sisters of her Congregation came to Freetown
to stay. I saw their fine school with over one thousand African
pupils. The Bishop took me to other schools and on the way pointed
out no less than sixty-three churches and chapels of various sects
in Freetown and only two Catholic ones. There are thirteen mosques,
and that gives an idea of the religious state of affairs. I asked
the Bishop about the possibilities of an African clergy here. He
"Look at the marriage registers. We've practically nothing
but mixed marriages. And that has been so for the last fifty years.
Until we can get good Catholic homes there's not much hope of Catholic
Not many priests appear to be coming from the West Coast missions
at all, but the situation improves as one moves south and east.
On signposts of Freetown I saw "Aberdeen", "Kent",
"Sussex", "York", and "Wellington";
villages established for the freed slaves. The whole atmosphere
was foreign and the lack of African art, the use of English for
prayers made me wonder about the future of the Church in these parts.
On my way back to Marampa I saw that the custom of giving names
to lorries was as common here as in the Northern Region of Ghana.
"I trust in God" was unhappily in a ditch, and "Heaven's
help" was stranded with a broken axle, but "Love the Ladies"
and "I'm no Angel" careered joyfully past me !
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