Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Healing the Open Sore of the World

Albert Hall, London
It was in 1865 that a constitutional amendment prohibited slavery throughout the whole of the United States of America. In the next decade the practice was still rife in Africa. This was the discovery of explorers such as David Livingstone. Archbishop, later to become Cardinal, Charles Lavigerie, the founder of the missionary society to which I belong, the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), was an avid reader of the accounts of the African explorers. He became an active promoter of the Anti-Slavery Campaign, travelling to different cities of Europe to arouse public opinion. He came to London in 1888, and on 31st July spoke in the Prince's Hall (today known as the Albert Hall). In the course of his speech he mentioned his emotion at seeing Livingstone's words, inscribed on his tomb in Westminster Abbey, describing slavery as "the open sore of the world". He also referred to the inspiration he drew from the pioneering efforts of William Wilberforce in the struggle to have slavery abolished.
Livingstone's Words inscribed on his Tomb
Lavigerie, sending his missionaries into the interior of Africa, wanted them to "show kindness and compassion to the victims of the slave trade, but he knew full well that the trade itself must somehow be stopped" (Shorter p.64). Slaves were ransomed, some bought at the slave market, others after having sought asylum at the mission. This practice was often condemned as only serving to encourage the illegal trade, yet it sprang from love and compassion. Refuges and orphanages were set up, and even Christian villages created, especially for those who could no longer be reunited with their families. Education was imparted and trades taught so that the freed slaves could stand on their own feet. All this was worthy, but insufficient to put an end to slavery. For slaving was a kind of warfare, raids being made on peaceful populations to obtain captives. Lavigerie felt the need for armed expeditions which would oppose the slavers and prevent their actions. Through his speaking and writing he helped to increase awareness of the problem, but he was unable to bring about any concerted action. At the time of the colonial scramble for Africa, each nation preferred to do its own thing. One wonders whether, over a hundred years later, the situation has changed much in this respect.

+ Michael L. Fitzgerald, M.Afr.