(A REMARKABLE AFRICAN STORY, FOUNDED UPON FACT; NARRATED BY A MISSIONARY PRIEST IN AFRICA.) The following story is a remarkably authentic account of an African lad who manifested unto death an all consuming love for the '"Crucified Saviour" of mankind. The special feature of the narrative lies in the sincere and plain language used by the narrator, without recoursing to the usual frills and fripperies of romantic diction that often characterise present day sensational writing. We commend this narrative to the attention of our readers while remarking that the incident recorded herein runs a close parallel to the martyrdom of the early Catacomb Christians and we may entertain no doubt that this heroic African lad had laid down his life for a supreme cause.— (Ed. M.C.L.).
My story concerns Mabogo, who "was the eldest son of a sub-chief, right up there over the Pass, whose village was on the borders the Semena. Mabogo was a likeable lad, apparently, well made, strong, proud, and the joy of his father's heart. (Mwaza was the father's name.) Like the Basuto, there was nothing outwardly to show that he was a chiefs son. He went out at dawn with the cattle, usually fasting like the other herd boys; he came in at night with them, racing among "the lads on young bullocks, only Mabogo's bullock nearly always won . In those days they still killed-with the assegai, and none could stab better or throw stick more truly than mabogo. Therefore, at the earliest age, he went "to the boys' initiation school.
These schools have less power now, especially as so many even baptized fathers will not send their sons at all; but in those days they were in their glory. Mabogo -and some fifteen neophytes, under the care of a couple of old men, left the village after a day of ceremonies, and lived on the veld. They were trained in all manner of physical exercises; their bodies hardened by exposure to heat and cold, to rain, snow and sun; they were told the secrets of the tribe and the mysteries of life. There was doubtless some good as well ..as much evil in what they were told. Their minds were filled with stories, stories of the beginning of things, of the devils, of fair women, of fighting, of spoils and cattle. They were so trained that they might return to life -eager to play their part in it.
As the day of circumcision drew near, they were taught songs and prayers. Very many of these nave passed from human memory, and most of them have fallen into disrepute. Some were very evil, so that is to the good. But have you ever heard of the song-prayer said at high-noon after the long morning's work and before the afternoon's rest?
It is hard to hear even scraps of it in these days, and the natives themselves have nearly forgotten it; but it is one of the most interesting relics of native tradition that I know. The boys iined up in a row, stamped time with their feet, and shot up their right arms in unison. It must have been a stirring sight. Their remarkable song-prayer, if rendered into English, would run somewhat like this :—
Heaven of Heavens above,
Praise to Thee, Light of the Day!
Heaven of Heavens above,
Praise do Thy warriors say.
Grant us the spring-bok's speed,
The elephant's strength in our need,
And brave as the lion's breed Be we alway.
Heaven of Heavens above,
Praise to Thee, warriors' praise!
Heaven of Heavens above,
See, we the assegai raise!
Be with our raiding bands,
And when on the blood-red lands,
Dieth the foe at our hands,
Shield Thou our ways,
Heaven of Heavens above,
Praise to Thee, Lord, of the Dead!
Heaven of Heavens above,
The lust of the battle we wed!
The road of our fate is decreed,
And decreed is our grave in the lands;
Thither with swift foot we speed
0 God of the Pierced Hands.
Praise, in the light of the day,
Praise, as we stab and slay,
Praise to Thy wounds alway, Praise!
I imagine I hear you exclaim, "Astounding! Why, this is, in part, Christian!" I agree with you. But all record of its origin is lost. There can, I think, be no doubt that the Basuto, trekking South with the other Bantu peoples, crossed the Upper Zambesi somewhere about the end of the sixteenth century. There were Portuguese missionaries on the Zambesi then—Gonzalo for one, the proto-martyr of Equatorial Africa. That fragment of Christian teaching must have become incorporated into a heathen song, and generations of heathen Basuto boys came to be taught to invoke the God with the Pierced Hands. Mabogo learned that song with the rest, but his restless young mind did not accept it easily. He asked the old men who was the God with the Pierced Hands, and neither knew. After the circumcision and the big feast, and the return of the boys to village life, he asked his father about the God with the Pierced Hands, and he could not tell him. He asked old men in the villages around, but none could tell him. In fact, he was rebuked for asking. It was a mystery song of the schools, not to be spoken of. He must hold his peace. But he treasured it in his heart, as I now know, though of all this I can but largely guess.
Now in those days few came and went on the Pass, but at length Mwaza heard of the Store that had been opened about then down here, and he laded horses and oxen and came to trade. It chanced that the shop-boy was one Nikodema, a Christian, and he grew friendly with one of Mwaza's men. Nikodema apparently invited the man to his house, and in his house the fellow saw a picture of Our Lord, hanging on the wall. I can imagine the scene. "La!" the stranger cried, covering his mouth and staring at it.
"What is it?" demanded Nikodema
"Who is that?" asked the visitor.
"That is Jesu, Our Lord God." said Nikodema.
"How came He by the pierced Hands?" demanded the other. And Nikodema told him.
Probably, at the conclusion, his visitor grunted, native fashion. But he thought fit to speak also. "It is a strange matter, and one not common," he said. "There is our village a youth, Mabogo, son of Mwaza, and since the days of the circumcision he ceases not to ask after the God with the Pierced Hands Whose name is in the song at noon. You seem to know this God, which is a wonder to me because you are not circumcised after the manner of the people. I will tell Mabogo, son of Mwaza, of these things."
That is how it came about that one evening, after Rosary, as I shut the door of the church hut, a lad came riding up to me on a horse. He carried spears and wore a skin, and he had plainly come far.
"Lumela, ntate , " he said, getting off his horse (i.e., "Greeting, Father.") I greeted him in return, and asked his name.
"Mabogo," he said, "son of Mwaza."
"And what do you want with me, Mabogo?" said I.
"I would," he said calmly, "have news of the God with the Pierced Hands."
You can imagine my surprise. I had heard nothing then of the song nor of Nikodema's visitor, but of course I took him to my hut.. We talked much that night, and I heard of all these things which I have told you.
Well, I was naturally very interested, and Mabogo stayed two days. At noon of the second day came a messenger from his father seeking him, and then I learned that he had left the village secretly without farewell or leave. It was Nikodema's friend who has supplied the clue to his whereabouts.
"I will not return , " said he.
"You must," said I, "for it is the Christian law that sons should honour their parents. But ask your father if you may come here and learn."
"He will not let me," said Mabogo. "He will wish me to stay and marry."
"He may refuse," said I, "but he may, on the other hand, listen to your heart. I will pray for you."
"I go, my Father, " he said, and he went.
He came back though. I had hardly thought to see him return, but he came, about Christmas, I remember. He stayed, with us for two years, and when his father visited the store, he would come on to us to see how his son did, seemingly perfectly friendly. At the end of two years, Mabogo asked for Baptism, and I could see no reason to refuse him, and indeed did not wish to see any, for the lad was by this time very dear to me. God had given him great faith, and already I anticipated his future eagerly.
"But," said I, "you must ask the consent of your father, Mabogo."
"And if he refuses?" he questioned.
"We will speak of it further then," said I. "I do not think he will refuse."
Mabogo looked doubtful. "My father smiles, but his heart is hard," he replied.
"We shall see," said I. "Meantime, my son, go you in peace."
"Well, my Father," he pleaded, "give me at least a medal of our Lord with the pierced Hands that I may wear it always while I am away;" and as he had been signed as a catechumen, I did so.
It was in the early morning after Mass that he rode away, and on a First Friday too. It was mid-summer, and the lands were very dry. He rode down the path, and as I watched him pass the mealies, I remember thinking chiefly that it would be a poor crop that year; so little do we" know when we are on the verge of great things.
When I think of the manner of his return, I do not find it easy to speak of it. It was the night of Holy Saturday, and many people were camping about the Mission. Mabogo had not come, and Nikodema, to whom I spoke as I was turning in, shook his head and said that he did not expect the chief's son. "Mwaza, ntate," he said, "is a hard man. He does not wish that any of his people should become the people of Christ.
Moreover, he is proud of Mabogo, and he will not give him up. It is said that he has already chosen a wife for him, a heathen; nor will one suffice for the son of a chief. He must strengthen his tribe. It is the law. Mabogo will not come."
I said that I was sorry, and went to bed. Quiet settled on the place, and I slept, for I was very tired. But at about mid-night I awoke.
I sat up in bed for I thought I heard a movement in the room, and I called out, but there was no answer. Then I heard sounds again, and this time it seemed to me that there was scratching and rubbing on the door. So I got out of bed. crossed the hut, and opened it.
The mild, bright moonlight lay on the sleeping world, and the church, the huts, the fields, lay clear in it. At first I thought no one was there, but then at my feet, huddled up, I saw a form. Somewhat startled, I bent down and cried out softly. "I am late, my Father, " said a voice so changed and hoarse that I hardly recognized it, "but it is not yet the Easter dawn."
It was Mabogo, but almost unrecognizable. He was naked except for a loin-cloth and some dirty rags bound about his hands, and his body now a mass of scars and cuts, was a terrible state. I tried to lift him. but he was too heavy for me, so I ran and woke Nikodema. We carried him between us to my bed, and washed his body. Then I untied the rags from his hands, and then I saw. Both hands had been stabbed right through with a spear!
It was some time after, that I got at the truth. It appeared that Mabogo had indeed been refused leave for baptism by his father, but had persisted in begging for permission. Finally his father, to stop him, made the final arrangements for the marriage, and then had followed a terrible scene, witnessed by all the village, native fashion. The boy declined to marry a heathen; was deaf to all argument and entreaty; and had declared he would go to the Mission. He had at last risen from his stool in his father's hut, bidden them farewell, and turned to go.
Then, like the judges of St. Stephen, his father's fierce heathen anger had burst out. He had rushed upon him, dragged him without, the boy making no resistance, and flung him to the ground; and he had seized a Siarnbok and flogged him. At intervals he demanded submission, and Mabogo had simply said again and again, "I must be baptized, O my father." At last the chief got no reply at all, seeing that he had beaten his son into insensibility, and had stalked off to his hut. No one had dared to touch the poor boy.
Some time later Mabogo came to, got to his feet, looked round in a dazed way, and then set off without a word down the path that led to the Pass and the Mission. But he had not gone a hundred yards when his father was informed; and at that example of the boy's determination, Mwaza's anger overstepped all bounds. He seized an assegai and rushed out. His wife thought he meant to kill her son and tried to stop him, but he flung her to one side. He caught Mabogo by his wrist and dragged him to an old stump fixed in the ground as a block for cutting up meat. There he held the lad's two hands on the wood and drove his assegai through them at a stroke, pinioning him, crucifying him. "We shall see what will come of pierced hands," he had cried savagely. Again no one dared go near, but at night Mabogo actually succeeded in wrenching out the spear with his teeth. How he had had the pluck, I do not know, but natives can do things like that. Then he bound up his hands with strips of meagre garment, and started to walk and crawl to the Mission. It took him three nights, for he hid by day; and how he arrived alive at all was a mystery.
When he was conscious again, he asked for baptism, and I baptized him 'Stephano', for indeed he was plainly dying. Buthe lived five days, and received his First Communion. And this was the manner of his passing.
A dozen or more of us were gathered about him in the gloom of the hut. He had been very feverish, muttering and talking, earlier on, but he lay still at length, with open eyes. I had anointed him, and he lay and listened while I said the prayers for the dying. Presently he whispered something. I bent over him inquiringly.
"Water," he said. We gave him to drink. Then he looked up at me and said, "I understand now, my Father," he said.
"What, Stephano?" I asked.
"Why, the song. Listen."
The road of our fate is decreed, And decreed is our grave in the lands, Tnither with swift foot we speed, O God of the Pierced Hands. Praise in the light of the day, Praise to Thy wounds alway, Yea, though Thou wound and slay, Praise!
Then he reached out his hands for the crucifix, and whispered a line from another prayer he had been taught, one you know too this time.
"Within Thy wounds hide me!" He whispered it twice, and passed away.
He is buried yonder in my garden. Every Holy Saturday, as the last act of the week, I visit his grave. We have had no other martyr, and I always ask his prayers. One other thing: they gave me his medal that they found in the village. I have it still, and it shall be buried with me. It is stained with his blood.
- Malaya Catholic Leader, Saturday, March 16th, 1935 (pdf pp 106)