1651 mission to Benin
20-6-1634 Columbin de Nantes, Report on West Africa
To come to our observations, in a kingdom called Benin the king is the god of his people who adore him, prostrating before him, carrying him in triumph, building him palaces, sacrificing children to him every seven years and making many other ceremonies for him which I did not have time to learn. These peoples are the most civilized and polite of the coast. They love foreigners and treat them with much love and reverence, always kneeling on the ground when they present them something. There are also distinct classes among them: Only gentlemen have the privilege of wearing blue. There are great riches in this kingdom. The nations have a good spirit and are industrious in working with iron, gold, ivory and drapery, making cloths and covers out of cotton of different colours.
26-12-1640 Columbin de Nantes, Report to Propaganda Fide: proposes a mission
Since in that part of Axim where the Portuguese live we were not allowed to stay long, for many serious reasons, therefore... we went elsewhere, namely to the island of São Tomé where Portuguese also live. We stayed in that island for two months, exercising our mission with some progress and the greatest consolation of the Christians who live there who have to struggle hard in matters of their faith and their salvation, because of the lack of relgious and other ecclesiastics distinguished for virtue, zeal and doctrine, not only in this island but in many othe parts of Guinea about which we have special information and where we can testify to your Excellency that there is the greatest hope of a most abundant harvest if workers are sent there, especially in the kingdoms of Benin, Ijebu, Licomin [y] and Warri, which are parts of Guinea where the Portuguese do not live. In these kingdoms an extraordinary multitude of people live who are very docil, polite, friendly to religious, of good example and receptive of every good doctrine, so that they only lack the light of faith, instruction and the example of good virtues.
Long ago some Portuguese religious sent to that kingdom made some fruit, but because of their bad example were expelled by the king. Now the king very much desires to have others, provided they are not Portuguese. In that kingdom the people are very happy to accept the faith, and religious can live there with greater ease than in the rest of Guinea, because of the health of the air and the fertility of the soil and because the people are more charitable and their language is easy. It is called Licomin [Yoruba] and is universal in that region, just as Latin is in Europe. The people have their own high priests, priests and other ministers for their own worship. The king is so feared by them that if just his name is mentioned everyone falls down and adores with fear and incredible reverence. From this we can guess that if the king is converted to the Faith his subjects would easily follow.
Concerning the kingdom of Warri, the king is Christian and many of his subjects are baptized, but none is a priest or a religious. Therfore the people live like pagans because of the lack of religious. For these reasons and considering the very many opportunities of gathering such an abundant harvest, we judged it necessary to come to our Province of Brittany and there give our superiors a full report of our mission, to call for workers for the future harvest and to consult about the necessary means for the continuation and consolidation of this mission. So we discussed the possibility of making a residence in the above-mentioned kingdoms, namely Benin, Ijebu, y and Warri, where the Portuguese do not live, because they already know, love and desire us; we already know how to converse with them and have some friends who promised to help us in this work of God. So in truth we can say that the door open to us is wide and evident.
20-11-1653 The King of Warri to the Pope
Most Holy Father and Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth:
I have heard of the very fervent zeal that burns in the heart of your Holiness for the propagation of the holy Faith in these regions which, because they have never been irrigated with the blood of Jesus Christ or the Apostles or saints, lack the light of the Faith. To remedy the situation, I am told that your Holiness has sent a mission of friars called Capuchins to the gentile kingdom of Benin, my neighbour. This mission could not achieve anything; the king even expelled the friars from that kingdom without giving them any information about me or my kingdom. I reallly believe, Most Holy Father, that Your Holiness sent these religious for me, according to the information that they gave that the king of Benin was a Christian and desired evangelical ministers. I am the Christian king and my kingdom is on the same coast and borders on that of Benin. Only my own kingdom is called Warri and has stayed a long time without disinterested ministers to propagate the Faith in my kingdom. This Faith is almost completely lost because no priest has come here for more than seven years, and any who came before came only once a year, when a ship came here from São Tomé, and he returned with the ship. I am amazed that none has come in such a long time. I was told that there is no bishop in São Tomé and there are few priests, so that they are almost in the same situation as I am. I leave Your Holiness to consider those who go around distorting the Faith, while I am serving as a preacher of what I know and I encourage my vassals to hope in the mercy of God that within a short time things will improve, as I understand, by the intervention of Your Holiness. I beg you by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ to please help me by sending me a mission of Capuchin fathers. Since they are disinterested (as I understand) they will be very good for me and my kingdom. I, as a faithful Christian kneeling at the feet of Your Holiness and kissing your feet as the other Christian kings do, profess to Your Holiness the obedience of myself and of my kingdom, not only to your Holiness, but also to all those who afterwards will be canonically elected to your dignity.
I beg Your Holiness once again to please sent me the said friars as soon as possible and, so that the mission may last long, to appoint as prefect, if possible, the provincial of these friars in Portugal, so that he may be obliged to send every year some religious on the ships coming from Lisbon to São Tomé and from there to my kingdom to trade. I will help them with all my means and with good interpreters to subject to the Fatih the king of Benin, my neighbour, and others. I also beg Your Holiness to please send some relics for me and my kingdom.
I wrote to King Dom Joaõ of Portugal, my Cousin, to do me the favour of helping these friars with their transport and necessary supplies for their trip. I believe that he will do so, since the Portuguese are acustomed to helping me. Since they planted the Faith in my kingdom and married King Don Domingos, my predecessor, with a Portuguese lady I regard them as brothers that I love.
May our Lord protect Your Holiness as I desire and consider necessary.
From Warri, the City of Saint Augustine, 20 November 1652. (1)
The King of Warri.
c. January 1654 Anonymous note to the above
He knows that the King of Portugal has received this letter by another way, and should have, in some respects, have waited before sending it, unless he had sent it and it was lost. He has also decreed that all religious who are not Spanish or vassals of the king of Spain can go to any part of his Conquests, and he will give them transport.
He has also ordered the French Capuchin fathers of the Province of Brettany to go to Cape Verde, Rios de Cacheo and Sierra Leone, and has had his ambassador in Paris wirte a letter to the Father Provincial of that province to request this of him, offering not only transport but also everything they shall need for the mission, such as vestments and other things. So that the religious may be sent as quickly as possible, he does not want them to go to his counsellors but only to Don [Sebastião César] de Meneses, Archbishop elect of Lisbon, since it is his responsibility to provide these religious with everything necessary for their mission.
c. January 1954 Alphonse de Toulouse: What happened in Benin
Nine of us religious, including seven priests and two lay brothers, departed from the port of Cadiz in a ship constructed in Holland for this purpose. Instead of taking us directly as they had promised, the ship stopped along the coast of Cape Palmas, Malageta, Cape Layud in Takorare, spending more than two months trading. This excuse kept us in the port of Takorare 18 or 20 days, getting a boat ready that was made in Seville to enter the rivers of Benin. Father Friar Angel de Valencia, Prefect of the mission, tried to see if he could accomplish anything with the gentiles of this port through a Duchman of the ship, explaining to them how they were under the power of the Devil and that they would all go to hell if they did not convert to the Faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and received baptism and the other sacraments; he told them these and other spiritual matters through an interpreter. These gentiles answered that they desired to do so, knowing from what was told them that our Faith is good and their own bad, and if we would stay there to teach them the mysteries of our holy Faith they would willingly be baptized and receive the other sacraments. But we told them that because we were sent by the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith to the kingdom of Benin, we could not stay there, but we would advise Rome to help them in this need. In the meantime we would baptize the infants. They answered that if it was good for the infants they would like to have it also. We said that we had no chance to catechize and teach them the mysteries of our holy Faith, but only the infants could be baptized. Since the gentiles saw that we could not remain there, they had about twenty-two children baptized.
At this time the bursar of St. George of the Mine of Gold [Elmina] came to the ship saying that he was send by the general of the Dutch of Elmina to ask if the captains wanted to go to Samá, which is a good seaport seven leagues from there, where there is a river of fresh water for the ship's supply and wood and supplies for finishing the boat. The fathers who were on the ship should also come ashore, because the General, who was a hidden Catholic, wanted to entertain them well.
In view of this they decided to go to that port of Shamà, where the religious were well entertained and the captains and seamen given much alcohol to drink so that the Dutch could take the ship by means of a large ship with two small boats. They were armed for this treachery, but did not succeed because our captains were on their guard. Nevertheless they held the Father Prefect and one other father and brought them to the castle of Elmina under a good guard of soldiers. Three other religious (one of whom writes this letter) were captured at Samà with a few other men from the ship, while the rest escaped on a canoe to the Spanish ship. Seeing this, the Spanish captain gave an order to capture one of the Dutch boats and hold it until the Dutch would release the religious and other prisoners.
After the Dutch bursar spent some days lamenting the fact that he had two chests on that boat, he said that if we who were in Sama would have his chests sent back he would send us to our ship. As poor prisoners, we offered to do what we could, and with this he let usgo, though still keeping in the castle of Elmina the Father Prefect and his companion and some others of the ship. The Spanish captain would not return anything until all the prisoners were freed. After waiting some days and sending messages every day and seeing that the General of Elmina was not going to release the prisoners, he decided then to take us straight to Benin. When the General saw that the ship had gone, leaving behind the religious, he said, "What good do they do me except to eat?" so he asked the Father Prefect if he wanted to go to Benin. The father said that this would satisfy for the harm that was done. So the General had the Father Prefect and his companion put on a ship going to Benin. As they passed Terral (?) and the coast of Arda, all the religious fell sick. When they arrived at a place in the Benin kingdom three Preacher fathers died in six days.
The rest of us went to the very large and populous city of Benin, which is forty leagues from the sea, and callled on the king, after first waiting in the first place, called Gotto, about four months because it was the rainy season. The king gave us an audience, although this was difficult to obtain. He showed himself very benevolent at the presents we gave him and said, according to the interpreters, that he wanted to make us a house for God and that he would have interpreters brought to explain our mission and the mysteries of our holy Faith. His mother also showed us much affection. After waiting 17 months, we could not speak to the king, because we did not have an interpreter, and those who understood a little Portuguese were not faithful. The king had a servant who, because he did not receive a present as he desired so they told us commanded us on behalf of the king to go back to Gotto, where the three religious had died. The brother-in-law of the king told us that this servant did this on his own, without the king knowing anything about it. When the gentiles saw that this servant treated us so badly, many of them were compassionate. Since we wanted to learn the language of that country and make a dictionary, one of the chiefs came to tell us how the Devil, his lord, had told them that we wanted to learn the language, and that anyone who taught us a single word would be killed by hanging. After this no one wanted to teach us anything. By making them promises, we only learned with great difficulty enough to reproach the king one day for sacrificing so many men to the Devil, saying how much evil he was doing and that if he did not convert he would suffer cruel punishment in thenext life. When the above-mentioned servant heard this he was very annoyed and had these religious dragged out of the king's palace by force. When the religious continued to reproach them, they threw them out and shut the doors.
At night, when they finished their sacrifices, they came against us with great rage and seized the Prefect and his companion to take them to Gotto. The others they imprisoned, making them suffer much want. In view of this, since there was no way to get any support, the two religious went by night to the city of Benin to complain to the mother of the king and his brother-in-law about their bad treatment and want. Since they could not speak to the king, they asked for permission to leave and a boat to go to Ardo, where there were Dutch and English they could ask for support. The mother and brother-in-law were very compassionate to us and, since we could do nothing without interpreters and the intervention of the king of Portugal, they gave us an alms of local food that would last us a few days, with and order to let us go to Ardo and join the other white men.
The reason why these blacks could not be subjected to the Faith is because, as they said, they recognize that they are captives of their king and they would not dare become Christians until the king converts. After reaching Ardo, the English and Dutch fed us for four or five months. When an English boat came to Ardo, we asked them to take us to another land. They were very good to us. The ship was to take us to Cape Lobos in gentile territory, but the wind was against us and carried us to the island of Principe where we were very well received and stayed six months. The whole island turned into a paradise of spiritual flowers, after suffering from having no more than one priest [por padeçer no teniendo mas de un sacerdote??]. No other songs were heard day or night except Christian teaching. We preached every day and gave out Communion; we had an hour of prayer with them every day, reading them a passage of the Passion of our Lord for meditation, as is our custom, and three days a week without fail taking the discipline in the evening, until the Captain Major and almost all the others in the community heard nothing else on that island except petitions for God's mercy and thanksgive for the favour of having sent us to that island to teach them to be Christians. They said they were only nominally so before. During this time the inhabitants led a very exemplary life, so that when we came by ship to Lisbon, a black man from that island came along to Portugal and taught Christian doctrine to the Portuguese seamen serving [criados??] in the city of Lisbon.
The inhabitants of this island, knowing that we came from Benin, asked us if we had been in Warri, next to Benin, saying that if we had been there they would have received us with great affection. They were in need of a priest, since that poor people had not seen one for five or six years. The king had a wife for five years without being able to have a marriage, for lack of a priest, while so many children perished for lack of baptism. São Tomé used to help them before with a boat bringing them a priest every year, who spent two or three months while the boat remained in the port. The priest baptized and married, but now, because there are no more than six priests on São Tomé and it is a long time since the bishop of that city and of Angola has died, almost all are suffering the same thing. The island of Principe has been a long time without any priest, and the one who was there had no one to confess to for two years.
Seeing this need, we begged those people to let at least two of us religious to go to Warri. They answered that they were very sorry they could not do so, fearing the governor of São Tomé who would kill them all if they did such a thing, since we came on behalf of the king of Spain. They said that Don Manoel de Barros, a knight of the habit of Christ and Captain Major of that island would cut off their head; he could not let us be sent to Lisbon to see the Most Serene King Don Juan IV of Portugal, but he would send us to the governor of São Tomé to see if he would permit it and decide what he thought best. He was very sorry he could not keep us longer on that island, since we had done much good among the people.
At this time a ship came from Lisbon for São Tomé, and the people saw that we had to go and the Captain Major did not dare detain us, the poor people spent two the two days before we left shedding many tears and crying whether it was possible that the fathers would leave them. "What will we do now? How will we preserve what you have taught us?" They cried so much that all of us could do nothing else but cry with them. Sending us off this way, we arrived at São Tomé where we were very well received by Don Christobal de Barros Rego, knight of the habit of Christ and Governor, and by the Chapter and inhabitants of the city. We petitioned him to do us the favour of sending at least a few of us, including the Preacher Father Friar Filippo da Híjar and Friar Alphonse de Toulouse; these pressed hard to obtain this coveted opportunity, since the Governor had shown them great friendship since they helped him in his sickness. The Governor answered that he understood well the need of that king and kingdom and that he was unable to help them with a single priest for such a long time, since there were so few priest, while so many people had no chance to go to confession. But to supply this need, of the six priests that were there only two were able to go and only by offering them a large sum of money and five slaves to each one, for they had no interest in those poor people. They priests replied that His Holiness should know the need that the whole kingdom of Portugal and the Conquests is suffering from because they have no bishops or priests in those territories, and that they could not leave the city of São Tomé in such straits and go to the kingdom of Warri. Understanding this, the Governor sent the sacristan of the church of São Tomé, since he was a native of Warri, to to king to teach his people Christian doctrine and give them hope that soon things would improve.
After some time the Governor handed over to Friar Alphonse de Toulouse a letter of the king of Warri for His Holiness, asking him for disinterested religious and professing obedience to His Holiness, a copy of which is enclosed.
Finally the Governor said that he could only send us to Lisbon to appeal to the king. As we left, he very magnanimously gave us all the necessary means [auiamento??] for the journey. On the sea the Father Prefect fell very sick and, while passing close to the island of Santiago of Cape Verde, he asked the captain to please let him receive the sacraments and die on land. The captain granted this request, and taking his companion, Friar Alphonse de Toulouse, to look after him, while the rest continued their journey to Lisbon and then went on to Spain, we stayed in the hospital of that town six months. Father Prefect preached for Lent, as two men carried him, with his fever, to the pulpit. Thanks be to God, very much was accomplished on this large island, especially general confessions.
Afterwards we left for Lisbon, where the Father Prefect was commanded to leave, while Friar Alphonse, since he was French, could stay if he wanted with the French Capuchin fathers who had a hospice in Lisbon, which was very convenient [que quedasse muy en hora buena??]. Desiring to find some means of informing the Sacred Congregation of what had transpired and seeing that the Father Prefect was so old and could not do so, he decided, with the agreement of the fathers, to wait a while to see what God our Lord would dispose. After about fifteen days there arrived at Lisbon Father Friar Giovanni Francesco da Roma, Preacher and Vice-Prefect of the mission of Congo, after his companion, Father Friar Marcello, had died at sea. They were very happy to meet one another, and after Friar Alphonse communicated the above to this father, he thought he should go and give an account to the Sacred Congregation. We departed from Lisbon on the 25th of November and arrived at Livorno on the 8th of December and went on successfully to Rome.
January 1654 Filippo da Híjar: Description of Benin
The kingdom of Benin is six degrees north of the Equator. It has as its neighbours the kingdom of Arda on one side, and on the other that of Warri, Calabar and Ijebu. Through other kingdoms beyond one can travel to the land of Prester John of the Indies. Entering through the bar to the large rivers, one of them is called Rio Formoso, which is divided into other such as that of Warri, that of La Sal and Rio de Lagua. Following up the Rio Formoso, you meet a place (after many others) called Arbo, where there is a warehouse of the Dutch and English. Twenty leagues up the same river there is another large place caled Goto, which offers many goods of the country on market days which are held every week. Here you leave the river and go ten leagues by land of continuous forested flat land, but every two leagues there are large places where food is sold to travelers. Off the road there are other settlements. At the end you come to a very large city where the king lives which is called Benin; it is very large and has a good climate and excellent water from re river that is called Gibel.
The city has very large spaces for buying and selling. In one of these is the palace of the king, which is as large as two miles [y tablas??] because it has three large patios where feasts are held every day with sacrifices and adoration of the devil. The streets of the city are very wide and straight and seem to have been perfectly measured out [tiradas a nibel??]. The walls of the houses are made of red mud and are so beautiful that they seem painted or transparent; the rest is covered with palm branches.
The people are black; the king goes out of his palace only once a year. He has three hundred wives; the first who gives birth to a boy who will later become king has the other wives as her servants. Also the king in this city gives away some of his wives to whomever he wishes as presents after using them, and they take this as a great favour. Everyone has as many wives as he likes.
Before taking a wife, the black man must rub himself completely with a kind of white chalk, so that he looks like a devil. After going through the city for a few days with this decoration, he must wash it all off and have his whole head done up with a chalk paste, a complicated job that looks like Flemish lace. All white, he walks around the city in the company of others with great majesty and then receives his wife from the hand of the king, who acts as a priest. She is all adorned with corals, brass bracelets, pieces of glass, [abolorios??] and snail shells and goes this way to the house dedicated to the devil where she does homage and sacrifice to him with certain ceremonies in their language. The women are obliged to work or to trade to support their husbands, who spend the whole day walking around or smoking and drinking palm wine.
If the king wants to make someone a chief, the ceremony is to place a string of colored corals around his neck, and the man is made a chief. But sons do not inherit this honour, even if they are sons of great chiefs, unless the king makes one of them a chief. These chiefs are the lords of all the others, and when one speaks to them he must kneel down. To get this honour of nobility, the chiefs have their children serve white men, and by this service the king is oblige to make them chiefs.
When they go to the palace of th king or elsewhere the chiefs dress like the others, except for [despaña de??] the belt below with cloths like sheets, with soldier guards and some men on each side on whose shoulders he puts his arms to support himself, and they serve him as pages. They move with this seriousness even if they go by horse, and especially when they go to the palace for feasts or sacrifices. Their movement is like an Ash Wednesday procession in Europe. Whoever looks more horrible is the most elegant. Each one goes to the accompaniment of much music, all of it different, some with ivory flutes, others with little guitars, others with calabashes with pebbles inside, and others tambourines. In their houses every one, great or small, has according to his class, an altar or shrine elaborately arranged with the ugliest idols, skull bones of cows and pigs, monkies, rotten guavas [guebos Podridos??] and other dirty things, with some sheep skulls. Each one has a very large elephant tusk and some holes in front of which is sculptured the devil and other figures according to the devotion of each one. They make a sacrifice each day of cola, which is a bitter fruit, palm wine, and something of everything they eat or drink, before consuming it.
They also have some very large houses commonly called the house of the devil, with its priests, and they so respect it that when the pass in front of it on the road they keep silence and do not dare to speak, although on the almost daily feasts that they keep day and night they do nothing but shout, singing and dansing.
There is a large root which they call inyam, of a consistency like a radish, but very white and excellent, is roasted, boiled or fried in palm oil. There are also bananas, a little turkish millet [milho??], vegitables of [curtas??], black and white beans, calabashes , a few cows, sheep without wool, goats and chickens. But even though the blacks like these well, they prefer the meat of horses, boars [Verro??] and monkeys, which they call "macaco"; they say that this is the best meat of all. There is also fish in abundance, but they do not like to eat it fresh, but smoked dry.
2-6-1654 Felipe de Híhar to the Apostolic Nuncio in Madrid: Report
No doubt your Emminence knows how in 1650 we left the realms of Spain by order of his Holiness and of the King of Spain, our Lord (may God preserve him). We were eight Capuchin religious of the Province of Aragon and Valencia, going to the kingdom of Benin in Africa. We reached that kingdom in the month of June, the same year. Disembarking, the first place we stopped, which is the third in order from the port, is called Gotto. Here we were all sick, because the climate of this land is very bad and, of the eight religious, three preachers died in six days; the rest of us survived, but were very low. We tried, even with little energy, to continue our travel to the city of Benin, the capital of this kingdom, where the king lives. We arranged to talk to him to let him know that we came to his kingdom to convert the people. We carried a letter from his Holiness to the said king, but since no one in this whole kingdom can read, we explained it to him in Portuguese, which some blacks of this kingdom understand a little. To get this far much had to be done, since the king spends the whole year in his house mixed with four hundred wives, and he is held as a god, because they say he does not eat (although if he really did not eat he would not have such a big belly as he has). To keep us this deception and this custom, he does not go out of the house. Besides he keeps a black man called the Beedor Major, who assists him with such care that no one (I mean foreigners) can talk to the king without him standing by serving the king as a second interpreter. For this reason it was very difficult for us to see the king. We arranged, to gain the good will of both the king and the Beedor, to present them some things which were neither holy nor for eating. With this we were able to speak to him twice, through an interpreter. They accepted the presents, promised much but fulfilled little, because after we saw him these two times we could no longer reach him, even though we tried every possible means, going through his mother, his brother in law and the other Beedors of that city. As far as we could understand, it was not the king's fault, because he showed us much affection and said that he wanted to build a house for God, and even sent to of his black chiefs to tell us that, pointing out the place where it was to be built. But, since to do this and to look for an interpreter it was necessary to talk to the king and the Beedor Major would not have it, we found ourselves unable to accomplish anything worthwhile, after trying every possible way and wasting a year and a half doing so with much labour.
During this time we were able to see very much of their rites and diabolical ceremonies, which are many and very great, and even the least of the people are very much involved in them, so that they do nothing without having something offered to the devil, whose picture everyone has in his house and compound; with this they decorate elephant tusks, and heads of cows, sheep and other animals they meet. Besides what they keep in their houses, they also have buildings specially dedicated to the devil, where they offer him sacrifices of wine, fruit and various animals of the earth.
Apart from these, which are general for all, many times a year the king makes sacrifices in his house of men, cows, horses and any other animals.
Then seeing that the time was passing and for all our preaching we could not convert the blacks, we got the answer that they could not do so because they are all captives of the king and that he did not order that infernal minster of the king to stop us from talking to him [y que el no se lo mandaua por impedirlo aquel infernal Ministro del Rey que no le ablaramos??], we made up our minds, even if the Beedor did not agree, to talk to the king. So we chose a day which was the first day of Lent, when in the palace before the king they sacrifice five men to the Devil along with many animals (I omit the ceremonies they follow in such an action, which are many, various and ridiculous.) More than two thousand chiefs, as they are called, gather for this, each one coming with a large entourage of servants which perform many tasks for him, such as shading him, making music, leading the horse and serving him as pages under whose protection he is confident and secure to travel down the street.
Finally we went to the palace with the above intention, to impede them from making the sacrifice (so inhuman a thing those barbarians do). We entered the first of the three or four patios that are there, each one twice as large is the plaza of Madrid, which make up the palace. We mixed among the people, who were jammed along with the horses. After a while a man, who was black in colour but with a white beard, who outwardly looked like a Saint Peter, saw us and made us a sign with the hand to follow him. We agreed easily, because we found no other way than to let someone guide us to the place of sacrifice, which was in the last patio. When we entered this one, amid so much confusion of people, our volunteer guide told us that we should go to where there was a covering over the same patio, where we met a half-caste [mesita??] who held some matchets for the decapitation. We went on further in the same patio coming as close as we could to the king, for our purpose. The whole time until we left the patio we were among people who were doing their ceremonies, making speeches and the chiefs, including the king, began to shout [baylar??]. When they turned around they saw us. The Beedor Major sent us a message that we should leave, but we would not obey. He then came in person, terribly annoyed, demanding that we should leave. We gave him the same answer and went to the middle of the court and began to preach to them in a loud voice what great evil they were doing in making such sacrifices to the Devil. But after a few words those barbarians attacked us, carrying us through that patio like a ball, with enough bad treatment. Although we really did not want to leave without insisting on new proposals, they threw us out of that patio by force and shut the door. We tried again and again to enter, but they would not let us, and they did not stop until they had thrown us completely out of the palace. Outside a great number of black children followed us all the way home, shouting and making fun of us.
The very evening, when it was already dark ten black men came, saying the king sent them, comanding us to leave the city right away. This paing us a little, since the altar where we said Mass and all the vestments they would not let us take. We went by night through a terrible forest, but our Lord wanted them to taste a little of the rage they carries, and they left us that night, although under guard, so that we could get used to what we had [para que acomodaromos lo que teniamos??]. The next morning other black men came with a fake message that the king was calling us and wanted us to come. That the message was fake became clear when, passing by the palace, they carried us almost outside the city. We thought they were bringing us to a woods to kill us, as they do to their own criminals. This went on until night came, and our companions knew nothing of this [vellaqueria??]. We got a message to them about how the Father Prefect and I were held with six men. We spent that night in a hut with these men and in the morning, shaking the dust from our sandals, we left the place where those leopards brought us, leaving the three companions in the house in the city. They led us through a woods to a hut four leagues from the city. There we suffered hunger and thirst, since they would give us nothing but a small ration. After four other days they brought us to Gotto, where we were held the whole of Lent, until our companions brought our loads. After Pentecost we left that place for another called Ardo, which is in the same kingdom. There we stayed five months under the hospitality of four heretics who trade with the blacks, two of them Dutch and two English. Even though they did us this act of charity, we understood otherwise that they did much evil to prevent us from staying in that kingdom, since in this way they could stay there and live freely without fear that we might through them out of it.
At the end of these five months we left on an English ship which took us to the island of Principe, Portuguese territory, where we stayed until we found a Portuguese ship going to São Tomé. From there we went to Capo Verde, also Portuguese territory, where Father Friar Angel de Valenzia remained to convalesce from the illness he contracted on the way, with the intention of coming to Lisbon with his companion Friar Alphonse de Toulouse, a laybrother who stayed back to look after him. The rest of us, Fray Bartholomé de Viana and myself, priests, and Friar Gaspar de Sos, a laybrother of the Province of Aragon, continued our journey on the same ship and arrived thanks be to God at Lisbon, where we got a passport from the Duke of Berganza to go by land to our Province. We arrived at Seville, where I wrote to your Eminence the above story, but I know that your Eminence did not receive the letter, which made me feel bad, since the galleons are leaving soon. According to what a judge of traffic told me, it will be less than fifteen days.
We wanted to ask you if there would be place for us to go with Father Friar Fr. Lorenzo de Magallon to the mission of Cuamanagotto, where they say these galleons are going. So if the other letter has not reached you, we beg your Eminence as a father to allow us to go to that mission, where we could achieve what we could not achieve in Benin and which cannot be achieved as long as Portugal's independence is not crushed.
I wish to inform your Eminence that when I went to the mission of Benin I was asked by the fathers of the Province to go to Cumanagotto, but I did not go because I was first appointed to Benin. That is one reason; another is that, explaining this to the Father Provincial of that time that I would go where he wanted, he left it to my choice; so I went to Benin. We we have asked of your Eminence we have also already requested from the Province of Aragon while we were at Lisbon and later on here. We have had no answer to these letters, even though it is too soon to have one for the later ones. We are are ready for whatever your Eminence decides, and we would like also to have the agreement of our Province, so that an enterprise like this which entails so much suffering (at least where we have come from), where there is nothing to eat but rice, will not lose some of its merit because self-will enters in.
So I repeat that we are entirely at the disposition of your Eminence may God preserve you. I beg pardon for my lengthiness; I could have gone on longer, if I were to describe everything.
Seville, 2 June 1654.
The unworthy servant of your Eminence,
Friar Filippo da Híjar
24-8-1654 Propaganda Fide: Verdict on Filippo da Híjar's report
His Eminence the Lord Cardinal Albitio refers to the letters of the Reverend Father Lord Nuntio of Spain who transmits the letter of Friar Filippo da Híjar, Capuchin. The latter writes that the mission to the kingdom of Benin was unfruitful and besides that the Spanish members of the Order of Friars Minor of the Observance were very hostile to the Capuchin missionaries and went to the royal ministers to prevent these Capuchins from ever returning to that mission, from which they presume the Capuchins were expelled by them. The Sacred Congregation, having discussed the matter maturely, decrees that the missionaries of the Order of Friars Minor may work in that kingdom, since they have many convents there [in Spain]. And lest quarrels and contentions between missionaries of different orders become a scandal to the young Christianity, we decide to recall the Capuchins altogether.
25-7-1654 Felipe de Híjar to Propaganda Fide: report
Your most Eminent Lordship: When I arrived at Seville I informed His Most Illustrious Lordship, the Nuntio of Spain, of the state of the mission to Benin. When I arrived at his court I kissed his hand and spoke long of what happened, and he commanded me to give a report also [y diera dos??] to Your Eminence, which I amd doing.
So I begin by saying that eight of us missionaries arrived in the kingdom of Benin, five from the Province of Aragon and the two from Valencia and one from Flanders. We disembarked in a river of the same kingdom from where we went to a place called Gotto. There we all got very sick and in six days our Lord was pleased to take to himself three preachers. The rest of us continued our journey to the city of Benin where the king lives. This was very difficult, but even more so getting to speak to the king. Yet, overcoming the difficulties [en efeto rompidas estas??], in two months we could speak to him two times, and this he did out of respect for the presents that we offered him and his officials. The second time the king said he wanted to convert and also build a church, and he even went as far as indicating the building site. But the Devil, who claims that whole barbaric nation as his own, since he commands them as his slaves, seeing that there were plans to dispoil him of the throne he has there, told the black men not to teach us their language under pain of death. Besides the Beedor Major of the king insisted on not letting us see the king, without which his conversion would be impossible. We saw this very clearly and what Satan had done in the hard hearts of those people, so that the diabolical teaching remained on their hearts as if they were of bronze. So we were never able to overcome them, neither by seeing the king nor by obtaining their conversion apart from that. We wasted more than a year at this without being able to soften them in the least by all the means that we tried.
Pained by seeing the door closed on every side, one day when the king was making a sacrifice of men and animals to the Devil in his house, we joined the infinite crowd of people that flock to such spectacles, so as to approach him and speak to him in public, since we could not do so in secret or privately for the reasons given. At the same time, if he did not want to hear us, we wanted to reproach him for the sacrifice he makes to the Devil many times a year, which is a terrible thing.
Happy to see this as an occasion fo offering a sacrifice to the Lord by confiding in him, we went to the palace and looked at its gate, which is very large. The chiefs of the city, who are said to be more than two thousand, were entering, dressed in different regalia for the feast. They were going through the four patios which make up the palace. Since by now it was all full, we entered the first patio. Among those who noticed us was a venerable old man who looked outwardly like a Saint Peter. He gave us a signal to follow him. We were surprised, since we had not seen him before, and because the blacks never wanted us to see the sacrifice. We went with the old man from one patio to the next unti we reached the last, where our volunteer left us, saying cowardly to get out. In the middle of the patio we saw a table on which were the matchets with which they were going to behead five men and five animals of every species that was found in that region.
We waited for the right time, and when it came we came out from our hidden place into the open and full view of the patio which, like the others in the palace, was full of high chiefs assisting the king in the sacrifice. But before they began to kill those poor men and innocent animals we began to talk to the king and the chiefs of the evil they were doing in making such a sacrifice and the state of perdition in which they were in and that the Devil to whom they were making the sacrifice was deceiving them etc. But as soon as we began to talk thos barbarian idolaters rushed on us, brutally carrying us through that patio and not stopping until they had thrown us out and shut the door. Trying to enter a second and a third time by mixing with the crowd which continued to enter, they stopped us, until they threw us out of the palace altogether. At its gate an infinite number of blacks gathered, shouting at us until we reached our house. There we bewailed our misfortune and the loss of those gentiles, until that evening came ten ministers of the king, saying that we should leave Benin right away, since they did not want us to stop the sacrifices they make to the Devil. That night we were under guard until the next day they expelled us from the house, taking Father Friar Angel de Valenzia and myself into a woods, where we stayed in the company of five leopards who guarded us without giving us anything to eat, which make us suffer a little. After four days they took us to a place called Gotto, where we were held prisoners a month and a half until our companions brought the loads of the mission where we were. From there we went to another place in the same kingdom called Ardo, where we stayed five months. Seeing that we could not gain anything for the meantime, we made up our minds to leave in an English ship, which took us to the island of Principe, in Portuguese territory.
When we arrived there they asked us whether we had been to the kingdom of Warri. We said no, because we had no information about it at all. Then they told us something about this kingdom, which made us feel greatly disappointed, seeing that this kingdom is adjacent to that of Benin and they both farm one another's land.
The Warri people are Christian, both the king and his vassals, but it is sad that a priest goes to that kingdom only once in many years, when a ship happens to go from the island of São Tomé, which is below the equator. The priest stays there two or three months for his own interests and at the same time baptizes the children and weds the adults. When the traders finish their business, they all depart and leave that poor people in the most miserable state that can be imagined.
When we arrived at the island of Principe no priest had gone there for over eight years. Your Eminence can imagine the state of that kingdom, which is in communication with neighbours who are all idolaters and ministers of the Devil. While we were there a ship came to the island of Principe going to trade in the kingdom of Warri. Seeing that that was our best chance, we intended to go, first to nurish those poor souls without a pastor, full of idols and superstitions because of lack of evangelical ministers, and secondly because this would be the best way to convert Benin, since the two kingdoms are neighbours and one can learn the language of Benin in Warri, and in this way found and cultivate the vine of the Lord, as this occasion provides. You could not believe how happy we were; we made our desires known to the Governor of that island, thinking that there would be no difficulty, seeing in what a sorry state of neglect were those sould. But he answered that he could not let us go, because we were Spanish and if he were to to do the king of Portugal would cut off his head. This is in spite of the fact that the kingdom of Warri is free and there are no Portuguese there.
Since our hopes were frustrated here, we went to the island of São Tomé and again there was a ship leaving for the kingdom of Warri (for the first time in eight years). The Governor wanted to send a priest and looked for one on the island of São Tomé. Of the six or seven that were there, none wanted to go, even though it would have brought them very good opportunities to serve their own interests. When I saw such a good chance, we volunteered to go and begged the Governor very earnestly, putting on his conscience the loss of so many souls who were dying and living like beasts.
He answered the same as the other, which left us perplexed for the moment, having gone through the Portuguese; we await to see if Your Eminence provides another way to go, but this will not be possible until Portugal is subjected by Spain. Then everything will go will, not only in the kingdom of Warri but also in Benin, where the key factor is the conversion of the king. We were greatly handicapped by not knowing the language; the Devil worked hard to hide from us the kingdom of Warri, where we could have gone without passing through the island of Principe.
The kingdom of Benin is very large. Its capital is also called Benin, and is greater than Madrid. It has more than two thousand chiefs, and the rest of the people are innumerable. They are all idolaters. The Devil, with whom they converse familiarly, commands them to raise up altars to him. These consist of a figure which they call the Devil, and the rest of the altar consists of heads of cows, goats, wild men, monkeys, elephant tusks and other superstitions. Everyone keeps an altar is his house where he makes an offering every time he dresses or eats, offering even the water with which he washes his hands. With the blood of the animals they kill to eat, even of turtles, they paint [vañan??] those idols; the king does the same with human blood. Apart from these things that everyone has in his house, there are other houses here and there where they gather to offer sacrifice and sing and shout before the Devil; this is their music.
Each black man keeps as many wives as he wants. The men are dressed from the waste to the knees and go barefoot. The girls before marriage wear nothing, even the daughters of the king. The men are circumcized and spend all their time with the sole purpose of enjoying themselves [pasar el tiempo alegremente al fin todo ordenado??], like the Devil who governs them.
These black men are completely illiterate. Nevertheless they are very talented and govern themselves well; they know that the Devil is bad and God is good, but they serve the Devil because they fear him, and if they do not do what he asks he punishes them severely.
Their food is a rice which they call inyam. Meat is scarse, and it is used for sacrifice. In general there is great misery and need, more than can be imagined, since there is no remedy, but they just have to suffer. Yet I willingly offer myself if the occasion ever arrises to go on mission to those kingdoms, as Your Eminence should indicate, trusting thast the Lord will give me strength for it.
Many other things have transpired in the mission pertaining to conversion, which I do not mention, since what I have said is the most important. May Your Eminence pardon my lengthiness; I wrote all this to make you cognisant of everything. May our Lord keep you for the protection of our holy Catholic Faith and the conversion of so many gentiles, which is expected.
From Madrid, 25 July 1654.
Unworthy servant of your Eminence
Friar Filippo da Híjar
Unworthy Capuchin of the Province of Aragon.
29-7-1654 The nuncio in Madrid to the Prefect of Propaganda Fide: Comment on the latter report
My most Eminent and Reverend Lord, and dearest Patron:
Father Friar Filippo da Híjar and his missionary companion returned to this court from a mission to the kingdom of Benin. On the 17th of June I already sent your Eminence a letter from them which they sent to me when they arrived at Seville. I insisted that they should make for the Sacred Congregation a separate report of what they did, even without fruit, in that kingdom. Father Friar Filippo assured me that he would fully satisfy my desire, and composed the enclosed report which I transmit to your Eminence. On this occasion, conscious of my humble respect, I kiss your vestments with a deep bow.
Madrid, 19 July 1654.
[Signed] humble and devoted servant
Francesco, Archbisho of Rodi.
To his Eminence, Lord Cardinal Antonio, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith.
c. 1654 Ángel de Valencia to Propaganda Fide
It was mistakenly supposed, before they were sent there, that the king of Benin professed the Catholic religion. The confusion came from the report that his predecessor had a Portuguese wife. Nevertheless that kingdom at other times was all passed [scorso tutto??] by evangelical ministers, through certain accords made by one of those princes with the king of Portugal, almost at the same time that Christianity entered Congo, as is stated in the history of Father Maffei, S.J., book 1, chapter 12. Although at the time it bore little fruit, since [attesoche??] the converts were few or none persevered in their intentions. Today, when commerce is prospering between European merchants coming up the Formoso River, the landing point of the more Mediterranean countries[??], the project is more feasible. But if the heart of the king is not first won over, any other efforts would be in vain. He shows himself really disposed to listen to the arguments for our holy Faith, but he does not have the freedom to put into effect his good desire, since he is surrounded by certain officials who in no way permit foreigners, especially Europeans, to enter, because they fear precisely that they would talk to him about religion. These have been the meetings and the obstacles that have moved him and his companions to abandon the enterprise. Nevertheless the case should not be given up as lost, according to the opinion of prudent persons, who suggest that the strategy should be to gain the confidence and good will of the king of Warri, neighbouring the kingdom of Benin, since he can sufficiently speak and write Portuguese and one can talk with him. If he once heard from mere curiosity our dogmas, he would easily be persuaded by way of arguments to detest idolatry. Since he is gifted with diplomatic sense and his neighbours respect him much, he would not only allow missionaries into his own kingdom, but would introduce them also into that of Benin. It is true that among these peoples a faint light of Faith can be observed, but because of the confusion of a hundred thousand errors with which their minds are so entangled, they seem no better than atheists, adoring what they do not know, without distinguishing the true God from other idols. The only difference among them (though all over they profess the same religion) is that the people of Warri at least do not confuse God with so many imagined gods, while the Benin people, with a more detestable impiety, openly associate him with the wickedness of their very many gods [??].