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Africa History love reflection

Mary Slessor and The Killing of Twins

Tradition can be wrong

Sometimes tradition can be wrong. This story is a good one because it tells of a good hearted woman who saved innocent babies and it’s a gruesome story because it exposes the wickedness of ancient African tradition.

Mary Slessor

Mary Slessor, Scottish missionary in Eastern Nigeria, was born in 1848 in Aberdeen. Her father was a shoemaker and her mother a deeply religious woman. The family moved to Dundee in 1858 where Slessor began working in the linen mills at the age of eleven. She joined the local Christian Youth Club and became convinced of a call to be a missionary.

In 1876 the United Presbyterian Church agreed to send her to Calabar as a mission teacher. She worked first in the missions in Old Town and Creek Town but in 1888 went alone to work among the Okoyong. For the rest of her life Slessor lived a simple life in a traditional house with West Africans, concentrating on pioneering. Her insistence on lone stations often led her into conflict with the authorities and gained her a reputation as somewhat eccentric, but she was heralded in Britain as the ‘White Queen of Okoyong’. She was not primarily an evangelist but concentrated on settling disputes, encouraging trade, establishing social changes and introducing Western education.

Slessor frequently campaigned against injustices against women, took in outcasts and adopted unwanted children. In 1892 she was made vice-consul in Okoyong, presiding over the native court and in 1905 was named vice-president of Ikot Obong native court. In 1913 she was awarded the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Slessor suffered failing health in her later years but remained in Africa where she died in 1915.

Mary Slessor lived for a long time among the Efik people in Calabar in present day Nigeria. There she successfully fought against the killing of twins at infancy. Witchcraft and superstition were prevalent in Nigeria when she arrived there because traditional society had been torn apart by the slave trade. Human sacrifice routinely followed the death of a village dignitary, and the ritual murder of twins was viewed by the new missionary with particular abhorrence. Her dedicated efforts to forestall this irrational superstition were to prove a resounding success, as photographs of Mary with her beloved children testify.

She died in Calabar in 1915 and was given a state burial.


My mother lent some of her knowledge: Though as a growing child in thee village, she recalled twins being disposed in forests. As she told this story I imagined crying infants, left in the open forest, clad with nothing but blood fresh from birth and when they cease to cry what fate that befell them.

Mary Slessor was indeed an angel sent to liberate natives of West Africa from barbaric traditional practices.

By Oke Iroegbu

Finance Graduate, Bibliophile and Bard of Ovim, his hometown. Read more at www.oiroegbu.com/about

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