September 19, 2020

The Editor Speaks: We can learn a lot from Mary

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Colin WilsonwebThe Mary I am referring to is Mary Slessor?

Have you ever heard of her?

Probably now as the publicity machine has been rolling advertising the play “Mary Slessor: Great White Ma” that opens Thursday (9) at St George’s .

She was not then and not even now the conventional missionary. She was way, way ahead of her time in the 1860’s and still is.

As a magistrate she boxed the ears of persons who were drunk and causing a disturbance. She whacked persons who were attacking others with her umbrella. She outstared 6ft tall fiercesome looking African war chiefs totally unafraid – a woman who was only 5ft 3in tall.

Nowadays she would have been the one arrested.

The message – the African people from Okoyong (Nigeria) from the chiefs/kings to the poorest of the poor loved and respected her. The operative word is respect. She respected everyone including their customs and didn’t attempt to change them except the barbaric ones. These included stamping out the horrific practice of murdering twin babies including the . Their belief was that one twin was good and one was evil so both had to be put to death along with the as she had been sleeping with a demon.

She was the very first person to speak up for women’s rights.

She learnt their language – Efik – and was fluent in it.

She hated drunkenness and had battle with the selling of alcohol by white traders to the Africans. “if it is wrong,” she was asked, “why do your own kind sell it to us?”

Mary realized that as long as the Okoyong had nothing else to do, they would get drunk, and drunkenness always led to fighting. “Perhaps,” she thought, “if they knew there was something better, this would stop.” So she displayed her nicest possessions: some cloth, a teapot, and an old sewing machine. The Okoyong liked what they saw. “You can have nicer things than this if you take the palm oil and yams to the traders,” she told them.

“These things you have–very nice,” said one chief. “But it is no good. Traders afraid to come here. No good for us to go to them. River gods kill us.”

“I will go with you. You will be safe,” she replied. That scene is portrayed in the play.

She preached love and peace and when the first world war started just before she died she lamented at how easy it was for persons to obtain weapons of war but hard for persons to find food How hard it was to find people to teach goodness and the words of Jesus Christ but so easy to find persons to teach the use of weapons of destruction to kill and maim.

Her last speech in the play is taken from her last letter.

She wasn’t at all about gloom and doom but about love. She danced her way through and dancing was her way to relax. “I hope you dance?” she asked the man she loved but didn’t marry, even though they were engaged,

We have a lot to learn from Mary.

She died in January 1915 in Calabar and she was buried in Duke Town, on a hillside by the mission station where she had first served. This was her wish, even though she was from Scotland and lived most of her early life in Dundee.

She was indeed the Great White Ma.

Mary Slessor: Great White Ma plays Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun from October 9-12 at the St. George’s Anglican Church Hall, beginning at 7:00 p.m. (except Sunday [matinee] 3pm) Tickets are available from the Church Office (above Pre-school) or may be purchased at the door on the nights of the production. Telephone: 949-5583/9164594

IMAGE: Mary Slessor with her adopted childrenMary Slessor flyer

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