Sunday, September 19, 2010
IN MEMORIAM : WILLIAM KOYI
From Among the Wild Angoni by W A Elmslie
|William Koyi 1846-1886|
FOR the following particulars of the early life of William Koyi I am indebted to Lovedale: Past and Present, and the account of a humble yet worthy convert from African heathenism will be read with interest. "William Koyi was born of heathen parents at Thomas River in the year 1846. His mother died a Christian. He left his home during the cattle killing mania in 1857, and went to seek employment among the Dutch farmers in the Colony, earning half-a-crown a week as a waggon-leader. About this time his father died, and five years later his mother and two sisters. He left his Dutch employer and worked for five years at one of the wool-washing establishments at Uitenhasfe, and was promoted to be overseer. From thence he went to work in the stores of Messrs A. C. Stewart &Co., Port Elizabeth, where he remained for about the same number of years. He had never attended school, but now felt the need of education, and therefore set about learning to read Kafir. He had about this time, 1869, been converted, and been admitted a member of the Wesleyan Church at Port Elizabeth.
"He came to Lovedale in 1871, and his case is one of the most remarkable results of Lovedale work. A stray leaf of 'Isigidi mi Sama-Xosa' which he picked up and read during his dinner hour at Port Elizabeth, was the first cause of his attention being directed to the place. On enquiry he found it was 150 miles distant, and he then resolved to walk to it and seek admission. He had friends at Tshoxa, Rev. Mr Liefeldt's station, and it was from that missionary he brought a note of recommendation. He attended the first, second, and third year's classes ; and during his stay at Lovedale he was active, willing and trustworthy, caring for duty and not for popularity among his fellows.
"He came to regard Lovedale as his home, and to be regarded as a humble but valuable worker who could always be depended on and needed no pushing to his work or pressure to keep at it and do his best, and make himself generally useful. After a time he was appointed assistant-overseer of the work-companies of the native boarders.
"In 1876 he offered, along with thirteen others, to go to Livingstonia as a native Evangelist ; only four including himself were chosen. He has steadily continued these nine years, at the work at Lake Nyasa, and shown considerable energy and natural intelligence, and has thus proved to be of great service to the Free Church Mission in Central Africa.
" He returned to Lovedale for a time to recruit his health, and in 1882 married the second daughter of the late Rev. A. Van Rooyen of Blinkwater, Fort Beaufort : she also a little later proceeded to Lake Nyasa, and is now engaged there in the work of the Mission."
The foregoing account was in type in 1886, in which year William died on the 4th June; and soon after, his stricken widow, herself in bad health, returned to the Colony to her own friends.
William served the cause at Cape Maclear in its early stage, afterwards removing with the others to Bandawe. In 1877 he accompanied Dr Stewart on his exploratory journey along the west side of Lake Nyasa. In 1878 he accompanied Dr Laws and Mr James Stewart on their journey of further exploration of the west side of the Lake, and on their meeting with Ngoni on the hills to the north of Bandawe he was invaluable to the party, being able to speak their language so as to be understood. This was the Mission's first contact with the Ngoni, and William was the first to speak the name of God to them.
In 1879 he accompanied Mr John Moir in his visit to the Ngoni and to the Basenga on the Loangwa, several days' journey west of Ngoniland. Later on in that year he accompanied Mr Stewart on his journey from Ngoniland northward to Karonga, and westward to Lake Tanganyika. If we remember that Stanley and other African travellers have noted how African travel proves a man's character more than any other mode of life—and they refer to Europeans—and think of those long and arduous journeys of William Koyi, during which his character stood the test, no more need be said as to the genuineness of it. Of him, Dr Laws, under whom he laboured for several years, wrote these words: "William has been a truehearted and earnest worker in our Mission; and in many a difiicult time in dealing with the tribes among whom Mr Stewart, William and myself, were travelling, his advice and help proved most useful. In 1876 when Dr Stewart of Lovedale was comiug up to join us and be at a native meeting, he called for volunteers to go with him to Nyasa. A number stood up, and last of all William got to his feet, saying that though he had not the education of the others, he had the desire to engage in the Master's service, though he could only go as a 'hewer of wood and a drawer of water' Since then he wrote of having half a talent, but being anxious to use it for Christ. This spirit of humility, so alien to the tribe to which he belonged, has been honoured of God, and doubtless many wall yet arise to call him blessed, having first heard from his lips the Word of Life."
It will illustrate the character of William Koyi if I give a few incidents connected with these. On one occasion, not long after the Mission had settled at Bandawe, report of a large Ngoni war party, on its way to attack the people around the station, was brought from a village some miles distant. On such occasions the terror-stricken natives, women and children, rushed to the vicinity of the station in hope of protection by the Europeans. Thousands of helpless women and children crouched among the bushes around the station, or crawled into holes among the rocks on the neighbouring hill, or lay on the beach ready to take to the water as a last chance of life. On one occasion, not only were the natives alarmed, but so threatening were the circumstances that the missionaries hastily put together a few things and launched the boat ready for escape to the rocky island some hundreds of yards off. As Dr Laws was on the beach superintending operations, he was attracted by a little boy with book and slate in hand near to him. As nothing apparently could be done to save the natives, or the station, Dr Laws said to the boy, "Run away and save yourself," to which the little fellow, clinging to his only possessions worth saving, replied, "Where shall I run to, white man?"
When the report above referred to reached the station, a consultation was held, and Mr Koyi volunteered to go out and meet the war-party, and endeavour to turn it back from its purpose. He walked on for some hours, and at last met the party at a little stream, where it had made a temporary camp to await a favourable opportunity to attack the village of Matete, some two hours west of Bandawe station. It turned out to be a party belonging to the Chipatula family, before referred to as having been the first to receive kindly the Mission party in 1879. They were, it was stated, not only intending to attack the natives, but also the Mission station, in order to secure the wealth of cloth, beads, and other goods they imagined were in store there. When Mr Koyi met the party, and before he could open his mouth, the young warriors began to engage in war-dancing. On such occasions the slightest indiscretion in speech or movement, which might
be interpreted as defiance, would have led to an immediate attack. There, with only a few friendly boys, William beheld the awe-inspiring war-dance of the Ngoni. They danced in companies and they danced singly, each warrior clad in hideous looking garb which, with their large war-shields, almost hid their human form, and made them more like war-demons than men as they leaped and brandished their broad - bladed stabbing spears which they fight with. Mr Koyi stood for a time watching them, and utterly unable to decide what he should do, or how to efFect the purpose for which he had come out. With secret prayer to God for guidance and success, he sat down on the bank of the stream. Still at a loss to know what to do, he took off one of his boots and stockings and began to wash his feet. That done, he, as leisurely and still puzzled, put on his boot again ; but still the dancing went on, and there was no opportunity to speak even had he known what to say. He then proceeded to wash his other foot, and the warriors sat down. He found the opportunity for speech, and with his native instinct remarked, in an off-hand manner, "Now you are sensible people to rest yourselves on this hot day." This produced a burst of laughter from the warriors. The spell was broken; the warlike intentions of the party were frustrated, and then free and open speech was found. The result was, war was averted and a section of the party was conducted to the Mission station, when it was arranged that Mr Koyi and Albert Namalambe, who was at that time at Bandawe, should go back with the party and see Mombera, with a view to a permanent residence among the Ngoni.
Thus, in the providence of God, the party that left home bent on war and plunder, returned home as guides and escort of the messengers of the Gospel of peace ; and that incident, which well illustrates the valuable work of our departed colleague, was the prelude to the commencement of work among the Ngoni, the success of which has been phenomenal, as we shall presently see. Mombera once said to me, ''My army, when away from home, are like mad dogs ; they cannot be kept in, but bite small and great the same." And only those who passed through the fire of the pioneering days at Bandawe and in Ngoniland can measure the service done that day, not only to the thousands around Bandawe, but towards the success of the Livingstonia Mission. Years after, on encamping at that village near which the Ngoni army was met, the chief related the story to me, and sent with me for Mr Koyi a bunch of bananas to show that he had not forgotten what he had done for them.
When Mr Koyi accompanied the warriors back to Ngoniland, he and Albert were introduced to Mombera, and resided in a hut in his village. The Ngoni took some time ere a welcome was given; there was one party favourable to and another against their being allowed to stay. They were exposed to many insults and threats, and for a time their position was most critical. They could not both go to sleep together at night, but took turns in watching on account of the threatening attitude of the people. In all these times Mr Koyi's knowledge of the Kafir language was invaluable; and Mombera, despite his rough manners and despotic behaviour, was extremely fatherly and fond of children, and formed a remarkable attachment to Albert, who had a very attractive appearance and manner. Mr Koyi was known by the native name of Umtusani, and from love to him Mombera named one of his sons thus, just as afterwards he named one after Dr Laws as Robarti, Mombera was very kind to Koyi, and although he only made sport of what was told him of the Gospel, he always showed him great respect, and became the butt of his head-men on account of his attachment to him. On the occasion of the last great tribal ceremony of putting crowns on the heads of those who were henceforth to take their place as men in the tribe, there was a gathering of several thousands of armed men from the different sections of the tribe at the royal kraal. The crowning ceremony I elsewhere notice, but here I mention as showing how prominent and open was the hostility to the representatives of the Mission for many a day, a clamour got up that Koyi should be killed. He was present in the cattle-fold, as it was always found advisable to go about without giving evidence of fear, as one of the best methods of disarming their hostility. One of tbe most famous of the Ngoni generals, named Nawambi, led off a great war-dance which Koyi described as making his hair rise up. This valiant's war cry was "Beka pansi" (submit). His movements were terrific to witness, as I once beheld them myself. We were wont to call him Belshazzar, for in his war-dance he " lifted up himself against the Lord of Heaven."
With spear in hand he began by walking with raised proud look round in front of his warriors. Then kicking the dust of the ground over those around, and pointing his spear in seeming indignation, said "submit." The assembled thousands of warriors, beating their shields with their warclubs, cried " submit." Then he named the surrounding tribes, the hills and mountains,the sun, moon and stars, his seeming fury waxing stronger and the clouds of dust flying, while at each call the warriors beat their shields and roared "submit." The elements of nature, rain, thunder, lightning, were all called on to submit ; and amid the increasing din of shield beating and roaring of the warriors, the climax of his dance and his daring blasphemy was reached when, pointing to the sky, he cried, as the foam flew from his mouth, "Wena spezulu! Beka pansi! " no doubt meaning Umkurumqango, the God they spoke of as dwelling above. The tumult was as if all assembled had turned into demons, and no wonder great fear fell on Mr Koyi. Mombera saw his discomfiture, and rising up, went and took him by the hand, and led him to his own place and sat down beside him. It was probably what saved Koyi's life on that occasion, for once a cry of blood goes out in a company of warriors, fired by such dancing as that of Nawambi, they indeed become as mad dogs or worse. Such scenes have for ever passed away, but in those days they always ended in bloodshed.
William was in perils oft. On the occasion of a visit of Dr and Mrs Laws to Ngoniland, Mrs Laws in a kindly manner put her hand on the head of one of Mombera s children with the remark, "Such a fine child." After they had gone the child sickened and died. The cry got abroad that he had been bewitched when the white lady put her hand on his head and remarked on his appearance—a thing the people refrain from doing, reminding one of the superstition at home connected with "for-speaking" anyone, especially a child. The matter was threatening enough at the time, and it reveals something of Mombera's character when he secretly informed Koyi, and said that he himself did not agree with those who said the child had been bewitched. The matter was of great importance, and the council summoned the divining men who fortunately blamed some evil spirit and not Mrs Laws. The council was not satisfied, and more than likely the party opposed to the Mission conceived the idea of seizing on this as a pretext for driving Koyi out of the country, if not of killing him. Secretly Mombera informed him of all that was going on. The council insisted on having recourse to the Tonga muave ordeal, and so fowls representing the Mission party had the poison administered to them. They all vomited, which had to be taken as evidence of the innocence of the accused. But so determined apparently were the council to obtain a conviction, that they suddenly discovered that the usual test as to whether the doctor presiding was giving true muave or not had not been carried out. Another fowl was therefore taken and received the poison and died. This shows how insecure for a long time was the position of William Koyi and the others.
These were not the only occasions on which our colleague was placed in trying circumstances which required great wisdom, manliness and devotion to duty, but all through there was no wavering or weakness shown. He understood his position and the trust which was placed in him, and with characteristic humility and absence of self-seeking, he wxnt through it all, counting it an honour to be a messenger of the Cross to the Ngoni. A European member of the Mission once said to me, " It requires great grace to be humble, when one is called Mfumu (chief) by the people on every hand." If a European with his education and attainments found himself tempted to be lifted up by the merely respectful greeting of the natives, how much more so might Mr Koyi be expected to feel that temptation, in the position assigned to him in Ngoniland and the respect and affection of chief and people which he gained for himself! Those who have had to deal with natives understand how many a native, otherwise good and trustworthy, loses himself entirely when intrusted with a little authority. But Koyi never forgot "the hole of the pit whence he was dug." The character for steadiness, humility, and devotion to duty, which Dr Stewart gave him, was fully borne out to the very end. In those early days Mr Koyi had to bear the chief burden of those frequent outbursts of Ngoni pride and impatience. If he was not there alone and having to meet them by himself, he was, till near his death, required as interpreter and chief speaker.
I became aware on several occasions that he hid from others and from me much of the anger, hard words and wicked intentions of the Ngoni. He was, as a native, able to discount what they said, but the kindly nature of the man was shown in his rather suffering obloquy himself than that his white friends should be distressed. This was shown on another occasion. During a time of trouble, when we were being accused of inciting the Tumbuka to revolt, there was great distrust of us manifested. It was a Sabbath morning, and earlier than usual some people were gathered for the service. Some head-men and others fully armed came over from the chiefs villages, as they said, to pray to God. This was very unusual, and as we knew it was reported that the attendance of the Tumbuka, who were coming on Sabbath to our service in large numbers, was exciting the jealousy of the Ngoni, the presence of armed men led Mr Koyi to apprehend trouble that day. To add to his view of the situation, from the hollow below the station, between it and the chiefs residence, we had all morning seen smoke arising from a number of fires. Mr Koyi asked the armed men who came from that direction what it was, and they said some people were roasting cassava there. After observing Mr Koyi's restlessness and troubled face, I asked what was causing it. He then told me that he feared trouble at the service, and proposed that I should remain in the house and not go to the service that day. I said that could not be, and we went to the service together, and Mr Koyi preached. Everything passed quietly except that in the middle of the address a leading man got up from his place and gathering up his spears said, "We have heard enough of that. Give us cloth. That is what we want," and walked out alone. The others seemed ashamed at his conduct. At the close of the service William came into my room, and with a half-ashamed look on his face said, "Did I not give my knee a great knock to-day ?" This was his parabolic way of saying that he had been frightened at his own creation. He explained it by relating how a Kafir, tired while on a journey, had lain down to rest and fallen asleep with one of his knees flexed. On half awaking he saw the knee as if another were over him ready to slay him. Reaching out for his knobkerrie he dealt a blow on the supposed murderer, only to find it was himself he had hurt. This, I think, was the only occasion on which Mr Koyi showed that his fears were near unmanning him, and to Africans the matter is plain when I say he had been suffering for some time from feverish attacks. It appeared, however, as we afterwards learned, that the headmen had indeed come to hear what was said at our services.
Although little has been said of it above, Mr Koyi was a devoted evangelist, and so far as liberty to carry on such work was given, he was eager to embrace every opportunity of telling of the love of Christ. He preached by his life, and to a great extent, and with an effect we shall never know, his personal talks with the people were powerful means of keeping our real work before them. He was a diligent student of the Word of God, and with much of the warmth of Christian feeling, he was a happy Christian. He had persevered so as to acquire a fair use of the English tongue and literature. A common Kafir—a Mission Kafir to be sneered at by men not possessing a tithe of his manliness or good character, he was one with whom it was a privilege to associate. I acknowledge with pleasure, I received unmeasured help from him; to his achievements in those early days the after-success of the work was in a large measure due. He died before he saw the fruit of his labours among the Ngoni. He lived in the assurance that the day would come soon when the work would be allowed to go on unhindered by the council, and he had a large idea of the importance of gaining the Ngoni, so that in his letters to Lovedale he showed himself as he was on that subject.
He could take a comprehensive view of the aims and work of the Mission — looking beyond the immediate future to a degree which was most remarkable for a native, and which exceeded that of some of his white brethren. He strongly urged upon his fellow-countrymen in the colony the importance and character of the work, and the call to them to give themselves to it. Writing home in 1883 he says, " It will be a great day when the native Christians of South Africa will willingly undertake the work here, and give up their lives to come and teach their countrymen at Lake Nyasa. I wish I had a better education; I would give myself wholly to my countrymen here. Here is work for Christ standing still. You (native Christians) have received much, and have also received education. I do not say you do not work with that education where you are. But can you not even spare two to come and teach these people who are dying in darkness? What am I to think, and what encouragement will my soul receive if no attempts are made by you to second my poor eflforts ? My great wish is that there was a white and also a native missionary here, and then the work would progress. I think there should be more coming to help in this great work." That "great wish" was the conviction of Dr Laws also, and my being sent out in 1884 was the response to it by friends in Scotland.
And his death ? How died the faithful soldier of the Cross? As he had lived, strong in faith and in the assurance of acceptance with God through the merits of Jesus Christ. The sickness of which he died ran a rapid course. Having to go to Bandawe, I left him convalescent from an attack of malarial fever. I had been away only a few days when his condition became serious, and he expressed a desire to have me with him, so I hastened back to find to my dismay that a dangerous affection of the heart had supervened. He rallied for a time, and though still confined to bed, he was full of hope that he was to be raised up again for his work. One day towards the end a large deputation came from the chief. As they were seen ascending to the station we were anxious as to what its object might be, having only too good reason from past experience to be anxious. Great was Mr Koyi's regret that he could not take his wonted place when the deputation arrived. It was the happiest day of my life—they had come to say that we had now full permission to teach the children and to go about the country. No sooner had the deputation withdrawn than I hastened to the sick chamber to give the good news. As I entered, William, who was sitting propped up in bed on account of his laboured breathing, said eagerly, "What is it ? Can you believe it ?" I said, " We have now full liberty to carry on all our work, and to open schools." Clasping his hands and taking up the words of the aged Simeon as he beheld the Saviour, with a never-to-be-forgotten gleam of joy lighting up his wasted countenance, he said, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation." He was overcome, and lay for a time as if dead.
The words he uttered were his prayer, and it was answered two days later, when in peace, and with a brief farewell to his wife and myself, he was taken to the higher service of the sanctuary above. The words he uttered were also his thanksgiving and his resignation. During the interval till his death, quite contrary to his former hopefulness of recovery, he was assured he was to die. He once said he would like to be raised up to see the work in progress, but he knew it was to be otherwise, and he said it was best. So died William Koyi, having been a humble and faithful follower of the Saviour, a trophy from heathenism, and the pioneer of the Gospel in Ngoniland. It was meet that, his work done, his dust should rest where he had fought the battle, becoming the title-deed to "Ngoniland for Christ." His was the second mission grave opened there.