3.1  São Tomé island

The diocese of São Tomé was founded in 1534.  It included the island of São Tomé with the other islands and coastland from Cape Palmas to Cape Agulhas, except that Congo and Angola were separated in 1596 to make the diocese of São Salvador.  The Portuguese discovered São Tomé in 1470 and settled it with colonists and slaves.  Franciscans were present at the beginning,1 and by 1494 African priests trained in Lisbon were sent to the island.2  Augustinians came early in the 16th century and remained until 1594, returning at a later time.

The first bishop, Diogo Ortiz de Vilhegas (1534-40), was a diocesan priest.  He never came to his diocese and was transferred to Ceuta.  His successor, the Dominican Bernardo da Cruz, never came either because less than a year after his appointment he was made rector of the University of Comimbra in Portugal.  Nevertheless he retained his title to São Tomé and another Dominican, João Baptista, was appointed his auxiliary in 1542.  João Baptista, however, was to reside in Congo to succeed the late auxiliary Bishop Henrique, while a vicar general looked after São Tomé.  Bernardo da Cruz finally resigned as bishop of São Tomé in 1553 and the next year Gaspar Cão, an Augustinian, was appointed and took up residence on the island.  Gaspar Cão had many disputes with the governor of the island.  Complaints led the Pope to order an ecclesiastical trial in which the Bishop was acquitted of the charges against him.3  In 1571 Gaspar Cão founded a seminary which lasted until his death in 1574.4  In the same period he sent Augustinians to Warri.  The first Jesuit chaplain came to São Tomé in 1570.  Other Jesuits came in 1604 and 1636.5

Under Bishop Martinho de Ulhoa (1578-91), of the Order of Christ, the seminary was revived in 1585, but his successor, the Franciscan Francisco de Vila Nova (1593-1602) had it moved to Portugal in 1595 because of a quarrel with the Augustinians about the running of the seminary and because the Africans would not let their sons or relatives enter.6  Portuguese relations with the Africans in São Tomé were not in fact good at this time.  In 1584 and 1593 the black people of the interior revolted and there was a slave revolt in 1595.7  In 1598 the Portuguese waged a war against the blacks of the interior with the intention of wiping them out.8  The Portuguese on their part suffered a devestating invasion by the Dutch in 1599.

The next bishop was a Dominican, António Valente (1604-9).  He did not get along well with the governor any more than his predecessor and in 1607 returned to Portugal with his complaints.  The same year he went back to São Tomé with a new governor.  In 1605 there was talk of setting up a seminary in Lisbon for West Africans, but in 1609 the talk was still going on with nothing being done.9  Seven years elapsed after Bishop António Valente’s death before a successor was provided, Pedro da Cunha (1616-22), an Augustinian.  The year he arrived another revolt of the blacks was put down.10  In 1632 he died, supposedly poisoned by “new Christians”, i.e. converted Jews or Muslims from Spain who were so often the object of suspicion at home and in the colonies.11  A new bishop, António Nogueira, of the Order of Christ, was appointed the same year, but never went.

From 1641 to 1649 São Tomé was occupied by the Dutch.  When the island returned to Portuguese hands, a normal but not problem-free Church existed.  The only development connected with São Tomé in the following century was the work of the Capuchins.  Since 1639 they stopped there on their way to other destinations, and after 1685 had the church and hospice of Santo António which was a base for their missions on the islands of Anno Bon and Principe and the mainland kingdoms of Warri, Benin, Ardra, Whydah, Calabar and Bonny.  Lack of numbers, controversies with the civil and diocesan authorities of São Tomé and Portuguese restrictions against foreigners led to the final withdrawal of the Capuchins in 1794.  The Church continued to exist simply as a holding operation.

3.2  Elmina and the surrounding coast

            The Portuguese period (1471-1642)

In their exploration of the West African coast the Portuguese reached in 1471 a place in present day Ghana called Shama at the mouth of the Pra river.12  A short distance to the east they came to a place called Adina, which the Portuguese dubbed “A Mina”, meaning “the mine” because of the gold available there.  The place was later called Elmina because of a Dutch transformation of the name.13  On Sunday, 20 January 1482, the feast of Sts. Fabian and Sebastian the first Mass in this part of Africa was celebrated under a tree at Elmina, and in the same year the fort of São Jorge (St. George) was built on the spot as a permanent trading post.14  Christopher Columbus visited this fort in 1485 before he made his voyage discovering America.15  In 1503 another fort was under construction at Axim, some 100 klms to the west of Elmina, and in 1526 one was built at Shama.

These forts were provided with chaplains who tried to interest the neighbouring people in Christianity.  In 1503 Xeryfe, the ruler of the Komenda people to the west of Elmina, became Christian with many of his people.  So also did Nana Sasaxy and many of his Efutu people just northwest of Elmina.   In 1513 a new Efutu chief is reported to have been baptized.16  In 1514 three priests were reported resident in Elmina.17  There was some trouble with the king of Efutu at that time, but the Portuguese tried their best, especially in a diplomatic drive in 1519-20, to win the good will of these people as well as the Asins, Akans and Aburas.18  But Portuguese diplomacy and the school for African boys started at the initiative of King João III in 152919 resulted in no substantial progress of the faith because trade was the dominant concern.  Between 1514 and 1525 this included the sale of slaves from Congo and Benin to the Africans of Elmina.20  Moreover there were repeated complaints that the chaplains of Elmina were more interested in trading and making money than in spreading the faith.21  To remedy the situation in 1554 the Jesuits were invited to come,22 but they declined.  Martin Frobisher, an Englishman captured and brought to Elmina in 1555, said that no attempt was being made to acquaint the Africans with Christianity.23

A serious effort to evangelize the country surrounding Elmina began in 1572 when four Augustinians came.  The next year two more arrived and they divided the work so that two were chaplains at the fort while two worked among the Komenda people and the other two among the Efutu.  A letter of 1550 refers to “King João and his son Luis” of Efutu, and in 1576 the Augustinians baptized a new king and his six sons.  Shortly after this date some incident occurred between the Portuguese and the Africans and all the Augustinians but one were killed.24  A chaplain continued to reside in the forts of Elmina and Axim, except when quarrels with the captains prevented them.25  In 1607 there was a vicar in Elmina of the Order of Christ with five assistant chaplains, four in Elmina and one in Axim,26 but these did little if anything for the surrounding peoples.

Throughout the 16th century the Portuguese beat off English and French attempts to trade on the West African coast, but after the Dutch became independent of Spain they began to move in on the West African trade.  In 1598 they built a fort at Morsee.27  The Portuguese tried to dislodge them but could not.  The Dutch took the offensive and attacked Axim and Elmina in 1607.28  In 1615 Elmina sustained three attacks.29  The Dutch put up another fort just to the west of Elmina in 1617,30 and in 1618 the Portuguese were complaining that the Dutch had taken over the gold trade by underselling the Portuguese and providing goods of better quality.31  In 1625 Elmina held out against an attack by 2,000 Dutch and African soldiers, but the end was only delayed.

The religious state of the people at this time is described in a report to Propaganda Fide in 1632.32  The few African Christians were poor in knowledge and practice of the faith and secretly consulted the traditional religious experts who gave them protective holy water and advice based on fire divination.  They also took part in an annual festival at a sacred rock on the beach.

A brighter side of the picture is given in a report of Raphael de Nantes, the Capuchin provincial of Brittany, based on the testimony of eye-witnesses.33  In 1632 the new governor Pedro Mascarenhas brought to Elmina statues of Mary, St. Francis and St. Anthony of Padua.  As the ship neared Elmina the hands and face of the St. Francis statue turned black, which was interpreted to mean that St. Francis had become African to win the Africans through his spiritual sons the Capuchin Franciscans.  Later a man man escaped from his relatives near Elmina and went into the bush.  After 15 days he was given up for dead and the customary funeral rites were held.  Later the man returned completely sane and asked for baptism.  He pointed to the statue of St. Anthony and said that this man appeared to him in the bish, healed him and told him to leave his worship of spirits and embrace the faith of the Gospel.  He was baptized and led an exemplary life for the rest of his days, dying before 1641, the date of the report.

The Dutch pressure on the coast kept up and in 1637 Elmina fell, followed in 1640 by Shama and in 1642 by Axim, Portugal’s last post in this part of Africa.  The principal aim of the Dutch was to get slaves for Brazil, which they had taken from the Portuguese, and other markets in tropical America.34  Under the Dutch the slave trade swelled enormously, but their monopoly was soon broken by the entry of the Danes, the French and especially the English who made their headquarters at Kormantin in 1631, moving to Cape Coast in 1663, and by the end of the 18th century had half the trans-Atlantic slave trade in their hands.  These nations had forts or trading posts interspersed almost every 10 kms along the coast from Ghana to Nigeria.  They very often had Protestant chaplains, but only exceptionally did these interest themselves in converting the Africans.  Rev. Meynaert Hendricksen planned a school for African children at Elmina in 1641 but could not get a teacher.35  Rev. Wilhelm Johann Müller, a chaplain for the Danes in 1661, planned Scripture translations in the Efutu language and the training of African preachers, but this project too did not get off the ground.36  The official Protestant theology of the time discouraged mission work because Africa had rejected the preaching of the Apostles and now God’s wrath lay on its peoples.37

            The French and Castilian Capuchins (1637-84)38

In 1633 Colombin de Nantes with another Capuchin from Brittany went on a French ship which visited West Africa as far as Cape Lopez.  He wrote a description of the places he saw, including Benin, whose people were very polite and skilled, and Devil’s Mountain, just west of Winneba, where a man with the Muslim name Amadou performed gruesome rites.39  Propaganda Fide was impressed by Colombin’s report and his high hopes for spreading the Gospel, and authorized the Capuchin province of Brittany to evangelize West Africa.  In 1637 a group of five Capuchins and one diocesan priest arrived at Assinie.40  They were enthusiastically welcomed because the French ship had goods to trade and promised that more ships would come to continue the trade.  A plan was made that four Capuchins would remain at Assinie and Fr. Bernardin, the other Capuchin, and Fr. Bénédict, the diocesan priest, would open another station further down the coast.  The two boarded the ship but both died from fever within a few days together with four members of the crew.  Frs. Angélique and Samuel went by foot to Allé, an area east of Assinie, and opened a station, but both died within a short time.

Frs. Colombin and Cyrille, left alone in Assinie, noticed the attitude of the people gradually cool.  A year passed and no ship returned, no doubt because there was no harbour and a landing had to be made by canoes from the anchorage point over rough waves to the shore.  The people’s coolness turned to hostility.  The priests’ goods were stolen and they were subjected to insults and mockery.  Without having baptized anyone, they fled one night and made their way some 115 kms east to Axim.

At Axim the Portuguese received the Capuchins kindly and they began to work with much success among the Africans.  In spite of the people’s great devotion to prayer in the “house of Christ” and to learning about the faith, the Capuchins had to cope with a few difficulties.  Once the village church burned down and the people bravely rescued all the furniture and paraphanalia, disappearing with it to their houses.  No entreaty would bring the items back until the people were told that Christ himself would punish the guilty ones.  In bargaining for food the Capuchins eventually had not enough to offer in exchange for what they needed to eat.  Then they found that by asking in the name of Christ they were given all they needed.  In 1639, after fourteen fruitful months, difficulties with the Portuguese forced the Capuchins to leave for São Tomé.

From São Tomé Fr. Colombin left the same year for France to report on the situation and recruit for the future mission in Warri, Benin and Yoruba country.51  He came back to São Tomé with three companions early in 1641.  Another group of five followed behind, but before they arrived the Dutch took the island and put Fr. Colombin and his three companions on ships for Brazil.  One of them died, and Colombin and the other two settled to work in Brazil.

The group following behind went to Komenda where they opened a station.42  By a year’s time all were afflicted with guinea worm and died from infection except for Hugues d’Ancenis who, after baptizing two prominent Africans, left for Brazil.

A group of Castilian Capuchins stopped at Takoradi in 1651 and preached for twenty days.  Headed by Ángel de Valencia, who formerly worked in Congo, they were on their way to Benin.  The people of Takoradi asked them to stay but they had to go on.  Off Elmina the Dutch governor of the fort deceptively invited the captain and others on the ship to visit the fort, saying that he was a secret Catholic.  Once there he laid hold of his guests intending to capture their ship.  Some of the men escaped back to the ship, but Frs. Ángel and Tomás were held with some of the crew and eventually set free and allowed to go on another ship.

In 1658 the king of Ardra (or Allada) sent two ambassadors to the king of Spain.  The king was mainly interested in trade, but some Castilian Capuchins instructed the ambassadors in the faith and baptized them.  Moreover they collaborated to write and publish a catechism in the Ga language.  Eleven Capuchins went with the ambassadors taking copies of the catechism to Ardra in 1660.  But the king by then was not interested in the faith and even one of the baptized ambassadors apostatized.  Five of the Capuchins died over a period of a year before the other six boarded ship and left.43  In another disappointing mission two Capuchins from Brittany went to the Ghana coast in 1671 or 1672, but died almost immediately.44

In 1681 Fr. Célestin of Bruxelles and another Capuchin from Brittany went to Whydah and were well received by Chief Bangaza.  Fr. Célestin saw the founding of schools for children as the best way to plant the faith.  He wrote eloquently for help, but within two years his companion died and the French gave up their post at Whydah.  He returned to Europe and died in 1684 at the age of forty.45

The French entered into contact with Komenda in 1685 and an ambassador was sent to France.  He had to wait six months in La Rochelle where he became a friend of the bishop who led him to the faith.  A solemn baptism was arranged for in Paris, but on the way the ambassador died after receiving an emergency baptism.  As for the Capuchins, they never revived their West African mission.

            The French Dominicans (1686-1704)

In 1685 the French revived their interest in establishing posts for the gold and slave trade in West Africa and founded the Compagnie française de Guinée for that purpose.  At that time Gonzalez François OP was looking for transport to join his Dominican brothers working in the French West Indies,46 and could find no other way than by a ship of the new company which was going to trade and prospect along the Gold Coast before going on to the West Indies.  The first stop was to be Assinie, where they arrived at the beginning of 1686.  But the Africans would not go near them, nor did the French dare land, because a French ship once kidnapped Africans who had come aboard with gold to trade.  The Dutch, who wanted to keep a monopoly of the Gold Coast trade, did their best to spread the reputation of the French as pirates.

The Africans themselves, however, had not been idle during their nearly a century of contact with different European powers.  The traders and officials had learned European languages and were astute in taking advantage of competition among the European countries and playing one against another.  The Komenda people eagerly welcomed the French and filled their water casks, hoping to counterbalance the Dutch in the area.  Leaving the Komenda people to suffer reprisals from the Dutch for this act of kindness, the French ship then moved on to Whydah.

At Whydah Fr. François went ashore and was invited to a dinner with Chief Bangaza, during which the chief obliged the French Dominican’s susceptibilities by replacing his nude female attendants with some male servers.  The chief then got down to business and offered every accommodation if the work of the Capuchin Father Célestin had abandoned a few years before could be revived.  Fr. François made up his mind to ask the Master General of the Dominicans to change his assignment to West Africa.  His intention was strengthened when he reached São Tomé and met the sole Capuchin on the island, Francesco da Monteleone, who showed him a letter from the Oba of Benin asking for a priest.47

Fr. François returned to France at the beginning of 1687 and asked to be sent to Whydah with other Dominicans who would open stations also at Assinie, Komenda and Benin.  The Master General and Propaganda Fide approved the project, and Gonzalez François set out immediately with three other Dominicans, two of them priests.  The ship stopped at Sierra Leone where a chief asked if one of the Dominicans could stay.  He could only be told that hopefully one would be sent later.  The next stop was Assinie, where the French had made peace with the people and restored the kidnapped traders.  The king welcomed the French and Fr. François agreed to let Fr. Henri Serzier remain there with five French traders and teach the Assinie people.  An inaugural Mass was celebrated on Christmas 1687.  The king also sent his “boy” Aniaba and another young man with the French to greet Louis XIV.

The ship went on to Komenda where another French ship had anticipated them and already built a compound with a church.  A third ship arrived bringing two more Dominican priests, but these were contracted to stay on ship as chaplains.  While the Dominicans waited on their ships at anchor they saw the whole new compound go up in flames, the work of Komenda’s enemies armed and instigated by the Dutch.  One of the ships stayed to try again, but Frs. François, Melchior Vacher and Bro. Antonin Poulallion decided to continue on to Whydah.

At Whydah the Dominicans met Chief Bangaza once again and enjoyed his full cooperation in building a church and a school to teach religion and secular subjects as well.  But French plans in West Africa were interrupted by Louis XIV’s war with the League of Augsburg from 1688 to 1697.  All the Dominicans and those French traders who could not get home died, Gonzalez François by 1689 (A Mass on the occasion of his death was celebrated at Valence, France, on 4 January 1690) and the rest shortly afterwards.  No one returned to tell the story.

Another sympathiser who celebrated Mass for Gonzalez François was the Prior of Rodez, Gabriel-Pierre Caumels.  He probably wanted to go and replace his deceased brother but, because of the war with the Dutch who were so entrenched in West Africa, went to the French West Indies instead.  As he died in the Virgin Islands in 1694 he requested Godefroy Loyer to go and revive the West African mission.  Fr. Loyer returned to France in 1695 or 1696 with dysentery.  In 1700 he went to Rome, ready to go to Africa.  The Master General approved his going with four others.  Fr. Loyer then bypassed the normal procedure whereby the Master General would ask Propaganda Fide for authorization, and wrote directly to Pope Innocent XII for permission.  The matter was referred to Propaganda Fide anyway, who first checked to see if the Capuchins were still interested in this territory for which they had once been given responsibility and since abandoned.  The Capuchins were not in a position to do anything; so Fr. Loyer was made Prefect Apostolic.  Early in 1701 he was ready to travel.

In the meantime the two young men sent to France from Assinie made their acquaintance with Louis XIV and his court and were put with the Dauphin under the tutorship of Bishop Bossuet.  In 1691 Aniaba was baptized, with King Louis as his sponsor.  The other young man was apparently baptized later and was sent back to Assinie in 1695.  In 1700 Aniaba heard that his “father” had died and that he should come back and be king.  First Aniaba wanted to found an order of knighthood.  At a solemn service held at Notre Dame in February 1701 before the French court and Bishop Bossuet Aniaba received the insignia of his Order of the Star of Our Lady from the hands of Cardinal de Noailles, Archbishop of Paris.  In April, leaving a stack of debts and children from various French women behind, he departed for Assinie with Fr. Loyer.

Fr. Loyer went with only one other Dominican, Jacques Villard.  For some reason he excluded the other three who were to go.  French intelligence in West Africa had discovered as early as 1692 that both young men sent to France were only slaves captured in war as boys.  The French kept the secret and went on with the pretence in case they should have to support him against a rival unfriendly to their interests.  When the ship arrived at Assinie in June 1701, Akasini, the supposed regent, welcomed Aniaba and the French and hoped the Dominicans would instruct the people in the faith.  Some time later Aniaba announced to the French that they must thenceforth carry on all business with him and not with Akasini.  But Aniaba alienated the French as well as the Africans by his unbearable haughtiness.  The French captain Damon, to tip the balance in favour of Akasini, arranged a meeting with both of them and asked Akasini who really was king of Assinie, since Akasini seemed to be king but Aniaba claimed that he was.  Hearing this, Akasini lunged at Aniaba and if Damon had not intervened would have taught Aniaba something then and there.  Akasini left no doubt that he intended to be the sole master of Assinie.  Aniaba then became the sworn enemy of the French but was powerless to do them any harm.

A fort was soon constructed at Assinie and in September Damon departed for Whydah, leaving behind the two Dominicans and 28 other men.  Fr. Loyer, who later wrote a description of his experiences in Assinie,48 from the beginning had difficulty relating with the people.  He had no answer for their strong attachment to “fetishes” and his teaching about an eternal destiny in the next life sounded ridiculous to them in the light of their belief in reincarnation.  Fr. Loyer moreover appeared to them as just another Frenchman, and was not exempted from theft of his belongings.  He could not wait to leave the place but over a year passed and no French ship came.  Supplies ran out, and in November 1702 the Dutch attacked the fort but were beaten off.  In March 1703 a Portuguese ship came to buy slaves.  Fr. Loyer boarded it, but because of shipwreck, sickness and war did not reach France until July 1706.

The remaining Frenchmen, together with Fr. Villard, were evacuated from the fort in June 1704.  Fr. Villard then spent four months at Whydah where Chief Bangaza begged him to stay or at least return.  When he arrived in France and did not find Fr. Loyer all the Dominican communities celebrated a funeral Mass for him on 13 March 1705.  When Fr. Loyer did arrive over a year later Fr. Villard begged him to return with him to Whydah, but Fr. Loyer did not seem to have been interested, and in 1710 Fr. Villard became prior of the community of Chambéry and had to give up the idea.  Well over two centuries passed before Dominicans returned to West Africa.

            Protestant efforts (1737-1800)49

At the beginning of the 18th century, a time when the slave trade was at its fiercest, Protestantism was affected by the movement of Pietism and consciences were being roused to bring the good news of Christ to less fortunate peoples.  Yet the high mortality rate of Europeans in West Africa led the Churches very early to emphasize the training of Africans for the work of evangelization.  Nikolaus Zinzendorf, founder of the United Brethren or Moravian Church, in 1735 found in Copenhagen a boy named Christian Protten, born in Accra of a Danish father and an African mother.  After two years of training Christian Protten was sent to Accra with another Danish missionary who died shortly after arrival.  The Moravian Church was disappointed in their expectations of Rev. Protten because in three approximately six year stays at Accra he did not go out of the fort to the Africans and did not seem able to manage his personal life either.

The Moravians in Holland came across a young slave boy from Ivory Coast, instructed him in the faith and gave him every opportunity for educational advancement.  J.E.J. Capitein was the first African ordained in a Protestant Church.  He distinguished himself at Leyden University and returned to Africa in 1742, running a school at Elmina until his death in 1747.

In the same period another slave brought from Axim to Holland came to Brunswick, Germany.  Anton W. Amo won a degree at Wittenberg University, wrote books in Latin on international law and logic and lectured at the Universities of Jena, Wittenberg and Halle.  He and several other such Africans became celebrities in Europe but had no direct influence on their countries of origin.

Frederick P. Svane, half Danish, half African from Accra, was sent to Copenhagen for education in 1726.  He returned as a missionary in 1735 but, when preaching to his own Ga people, found that, although he remembered his language quite well, he could not express Christian religious ideas in it.  For this reason and for lack of support he gave up and worked as a catechist in the Danish fort of Accra from 1736 to 1746.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent the Englishman Rev. Thomas Thompson to Cape Coast in 1751.  Although his preaching among the Africans was negative and fruitless he had the merit of promoting the education of the Mulattoes among whom he afterwards worked.  Of the several he sent to England one of them, Philip Quaque, was ordained for the Anglican Church in 1765 and returned the next year to Cape Coast.  During his eleven years in England he had distanced himself from his Fante language and when preaching he used an interpreter.  Yet almost all his energies were concentrated on school and chaplain work with the English and mulattoes at Cape Coast.  Rev. Quaque was one of great numbers of West Africans at this time who were schooling in England.  This fact contributed to the replacement of Portuguese with English as the trade language of the West African coast and laid the base for greater British influence.

A disappointing side of some of these preachers was their position on slavery.  Thomas Thompson and J.E.J. Capitein all wrote tracts in defence of the practice, although Anton Amo expressed some objection to it.50

3.3  Benin and Warri

            15th and 16th century contacts with Benin

The Portuguese learned about Benin between 1469 and 1475 and Ruy de Sequeira possibly visited in 1472.  The first definite contact was made by João Afonso de Aveiro in 1486.  Oba Uzolua51 was interested in a Portuguese alliance and, according to form, sent an ambassador to Portugal asking also for priests to come and teach the faith.  A trading post was opened at Benin’s port of Gwato which dealt first in pepper and later also in slaves and ivory.52  The Oba gave some slaves as presents to the Portuguese,53 but slaves were also bought, both here and at Ijebu-Ode, Gwato, Warri and Bonny for 12 to 15 brass bracelets or 8 to 10 copper ones per slave.54

João Afonso de Aveiro died at Gwato before 1504,55 but commerce continued56 and in 1514 Benin sent to Lisbon two ambassadors bearing the Portuguese names Jorge Correa and António.57  A third ambassador, Pero Barroso, was sent the next year.58  Their request for arms was turned down because the Oba was not a Christian, but their request for priests was granted.59  The Oba was in fact at war with Idah60 and must have been disappointed that the Portuguese representative Duarte Pires brought only priests and no arms.  These priests, the first we know of to have reached Benin, arrived in August 1515.  They were received royally and, contrary to custom, allowed to see every part of the Oba’s palace and to dine with his son.  As for the faith, the Oba said he needed time to think about such a “deep mystery”; moreover he was occupied with the war and could not do anything until he returned.  In August 1516, during a lull in the war, the Oba had a church built and allowed his on and some other prominent men to become Christian.  The priest also taught them to read Portuguese.61

By August 1517 the first group of priests, referred to as clerigos (diocesan priests) in the letters of King Manuel62 but called padres (religious) by Duarte Pires,63 had left Benin and Oba Uzolua was dead, possibly killed in the war.  Some army officers were running the country on behalf of the boy Oba named Esigie.64  Although he may have been the same as the former Oba’s son who was baptized the previous year, a new group of priests left São Tomé for Benin at this time “to make the king Christian.”  The group consisted of “Friar” Diogo Belo, vicar of the island of São Tomé (possibly an Augustinian), and three other priests, one of them named Jerónimo Pires, a chaplain at São Tomé, and another named Jeañes, a “cleric” who had come from Benin.  Diogo Belo did not intend to stay long in Benin because he left belongings behind on São Tomé to claim on his return.65

The slave trade continued to expand on the Nigerian coast.  Even during the war of 1516 the Oba of Benin provided a ship from São Tomé with 400 slaves, along with some ivory and other merchandise.66  The requirements of the slave market may even have been the motive of the war.  One thousand slaves a year were being brought from Benin to Elmina for sale when, around 1532, King João III (1521-57) of Portugal prohibited this trade because he objected to selling baptized slaves to pagans or Muslims.67  The station at Gwato was closed because the Portuguese were all getting sick and dying, but they continued to visit this and other Nigerian ports and buy slaves for “Christian” masters in the West Indies.  Some of the Binis moreover were employed by the Portuguese as translators and trading assistants not only at Gwato but throughout the Portuguese maritime network.  In 1526 King Afonso I of Congo complained of unscrupulous foreign traders such as Guromentes (people from Cacheu, Guinea), mulattoes and Binis.68

In 1538 two Franciscan priests, António and Francisco, and a teacher named Miguel Magro, a lay affiliate of the Order of Christ, came to Benin. Because they brought no gifts the Oba was not glad to see them and paid no attention to a letter they brought from João III of Portugal.  Their attempts to get him to abandon human sacrifices and let the faith be preached led to their being put under house arrest with no opportunity to celebrate the liturgy.  Gregorio Lourenço, a Bini who had become a Christian in 1516, was not allowed to baptize his children.  Afonso Anes, a Christian teacher, was held prisoner in order to teach the children Portuguese, but he was not allowed to use the catechisms that the Franciscans brought or to teach the faith in any way.  The Franciscans had been there over a year when they wrote to João III to have him request the Oba to let them go, because otherwise he would not release them.69

João III must have done something to improve the situation because the next year, 1540, there were ambassadors from Benin in Lisbon whom João de Barros interviewed.70  In 1553, a year when Portuguese ambassadors were again sent to Benin,71 Thomas Wyndham met the Oba and found that he could speak Portuguese, which he had learned as a boy.  English and Dutch traders frequented Benin from the end of the 16th century but had no religious influence.72

            Warri accepts the Christian faith

Warri came into its own in the second half of the 16th century when the Itsekiri or Iwere, as they call themselves, began to organize their own trade with the Europeans independently of Benin.  Their town on the Forcados river (at the present Ode Itsekiri) was then commonly known as Ale Iwere, and written by the Portuguese as Oere or Overe etc., giving rise to the present name of Warri.73  Portuguese trade with Warri drew the attention of the bishop of São Tomé, the Augustinian Gaspar Cão who, when cleared of his difficulties with the governor of São Tomé in 1571, was able to initiate projects dear to his heart such as a seminary and the mission to Warri.  Our knowledge of the mission comes from the ad limina report in 1620 of a later Augustinian bishop of São Tomé, Pedro da Cunha.74

One of the Augustinians who went to Warri was Francisco “a Matre Dei” (We only have the Latin form of the report), who boldly cut down a sacred tree and was not hurt by the guardian spirit of the shrine.  He gained a hearing for his preaching and soon baptized the heir to the throne, who took the name Sebastião, after King Sebastião of Portugal (1568-78).  The Augustinians must have returned to São Tomé when their Bishop died in 1574, because the Carmelite Diogo do Santissimo Sacramento, writing in December of that year on his way to Congo, complains that although the king of Rios Forcados (Warri) was already Christian there were no priests there and they were greatly desired.75  This letter also supposes that Prince Sebastião had already become the Olu.

Apparently no more priests came to Warri until 1593 when the new bishop of São Tomé, Francisco da Vila Nova, brought seven Franciscans with him who worked on the coast of Africa.76  In 1597 no priest was going to Warri because the climate and the mosquitoes were too severe and the Olu of Warri was too poor to pay the cost of a priest.  The Bishop asked the King of Portugal to have the traders going from São Tomé to Warri bring a priest along with them once a year and pay him a fitting allowance, but on the advice of his state council, the Mesa de consciencia e ordens, King Felipe of Spain and Portugal ordered that priests should be brought to Warri on the trading vessels but should support themselves by trading in slaves.77

The Portuguese State Council recognized that the best solution would be to have indigenous priests.  Consequently in 1600 Domingos, the son of Sebastião of Warri by a secondary wife, was sent to Portugal to study for the priesthood.78  He studied first at the Colégio de São Jerónimo in Coimbra and in 1604 transferred to the Colégio de Santo Agostinho in Lisbon which was run by the Augustinians.79  In early 1606 he transferred to the Colégio de Santo Antão, a Jesuit school in Lisbon.80  While there his interest in his home led him to secure from King Felipe freer trade conditions for Warri.81  In 1608 he received a message from his father to come home.  At that time there was no consideration of the priesthood.  He had come to study “so as to help in the conversion of his people as well as to be able to rule well.”  King Felipe was advised to give Domingos leave to go because “he was gaining nothing by staying, and for his colour he is well enough instructed.”82  Bishop Pedro da Cunha was more pointed: “He had neglected his studies.”83

Domingos, however, had some business to take care of before departing.  In 1606 the Dominican bishop of São Tomé wanted to send some priests to Warri and Benin and King Felipe’s advisers said that the Bishop should do so at the expense of the kings of those places. 84  This time Domingos asked for priests to go back with him, and King Felipe gave an affirmative answer without any conditions.  Domingos’ request for arms was put under consideration.85  Along with his father and his brother he was given affiliate membership in the Order of Christ.86  And finally he was given a wife, the daughter of Cristovão Pereira and niece of the Count of Feira.  Just after his wedding Domingos filed a complaint against a judge of his town who with a band of men broke into his house after midnight in search of a wanted person.  Compensation for damages was awarded Domingos for the incident.87  In August of 1610 Domingos’ departure for Warri was arranged.88

When Domingos returned his father chose him as his successor, hoping that he would be better to propagate the Catholic faith.  Sebastião was himself most devoted to the faith, and while there was no priest he personally taught his people and led them in religious processions.  A priest was resident up to 1616 when Sebastião announced his death to Bishop Pedro da Cunha and asked for a replacement.  The Bishop found a priest who only intended to stay until the ship returned to São Tomé, but in fact stayed a whole year.89  In 1620 Sebastião was very old and Domingos was effectively running the kingdom.  After his Portuguese wife died Domingos became somewhat hostile to the Portuguese.  As for the spread of the faith, there were no Christians outside the town of Warri and they were a minority within it.  Most of these had no deep conviction but were only following Sebastião and Domingos.  They refused to have their children baptized, thinking that the children would die right away from it.  The marriage system and traditional cults were other obstacles to the growth of Christianity.  Christian priests could at most sporadically visit the town and could do little about the situation.  In 1625 the King of Spain and Portugal urged Bishop Francisco do Soveral of São Tomé to go to his diocese and send two Capuchins to Warri,90 but the Capuchins apparently never went.

According to Pedro da Cunha, Prince Domingos had no children by his Portuguese wife, but Olfert Dapper, borrowing from the writings of Samuel Blommaart who visited Benin and Warri in 1644, asserts that the reigning Olu of Warri, António Domingos, was the mulatto son of Domingos and his Portuguese wife.  Whether Blommaart was right or wrong on this point, his character description of the Olu rings true:  “He dresses like the Portuguese, always wearing a sword at his side, as other mulattoes do.  The writer continues: “In the matter of religion these people observe almost the same customs as in Benin.  Yet they do not make so many human or animal sacrifices, because they consider such sacrifices horrible and the work of the devil.  So that with only a little instruction these people could be brought to the Christian faith.  No fetish priest or devil-hunter is allowed in the country.  Neither do the people there pardon one another as easily as in Benin.  The inhabitants and the king himself adhere somewhat to the Roman Catholic religion.  In the city of Warri there is a church with an altar, a crucifix, statues of Mary and the Apostles, and two candlesticks alongside.  The black people come into this church with the rosary constantly in their hands, just as proper Portuguese do.  They recite it together with other popish prayers.  Outwardly they show themselves very religious.  They also know how to read and write and are eager for Portuguese books, pens, ink and paper.”91

            The Capuchin missions: preparations

When Propaganda Fide was founded in 1622 Spain ruled and spoke for Portugal.  After Portuguese independence in 1640 Rome did not recognize Portugal for twenty-nine years.  For this reason Propaganda Fide’s attempts to gather information on Africa were frustrated, because it had no communication with the Portuguese who were the only people who really knew.  Only in 1631 did Propaganda Fide learn that Elmina was not in India but in Africa.92  In his fact finding trip of 1634 Colombin de Nantes learned of the existence of Benin and some of its customs, but heard nothing of Warri.93  After his attempted evangelization of Assinie and expulsion from Axim he learned in São Tomé that Benin and Warri were distinct and that the Olu of Warri was Christian and many of his people were baptized but they had no priest.  This information he sent to Propaganda Fide in his report of 1640.94  Propaganda Fide sent him and a group of Capuchins from Brittany to Benin and Warri in 1641 but, as we saw above, their mission was sabotaged by the Dutch conquerors of São Tomé.

Other Capuchin plans were hampered by geographical ignorance and the persistent confusion of Benin and Warri.  In 1639 Ignazio da Perugia proposed to go through Benin on his way to Ethiopia!95  In 1644 Bonaventura di Alessano, faced with delays in going to Congo, proposed going to Benin as a second choice.96  In the same year the Andalusian Capuchins offered men to go with Bonaventura di Alessano to the “kingdom of Nigritia”.  Since that could lay anywhere between Morocco and Congo, they decided to withdraw their offer until they knew exactly where Nigritia was.97  Propaganda Fide apparently disregarded the second report of Colombin de Nantes when in 1646 it proposed to send Castilian Capuchins to Benin because “the king is Catholic and receives a fifteen day visit every six years from a priest of São Tomé.”98  Francisco de Pamplona, returning from Congo and proposing to go to Benin with other Castilian Capuchins, repeated the same notions.99  His province, however, turned down the mission both for lack of men and because they had no confidence in Francisco de Pamplona.100

            The mission of Ángel de Valencia (1651)101

In 1648 Propaganda Fide succeeded in getting the Capuchin provinces of Valencia and Aragon to commit themselves to a joint mission to Benin.  Ángel de Valencia, recently returned from Congo, was appointed prefect.  If it were not for the persistence of Ángel de Valencia the many obstacles and red tape would have condemned the mission.  As it was, the group of eight Capuchins, five from Aragon, two from Valencia and one from Flanders, left Spain in 1651.  On the way, as we saw above, Ángel de Valencia and Thomás de Huesca were held prisoners at Elmina while their companions continued on to Benin.  The six arrived in June at the port of Gwato, and José de Jojona went on to Benin to present the credentials of the group to the Oba, hoping to win the Oba to Christianity and thereby all his people.  A court official took the letters of the Pope and of Propaganda Fide which he carried and promised an audience, but alter returned saying that the Oba had read the documents and considered an audience unnecessary.  José did not believe him and decided to return to Gwato.

In the meantime Ángel and Tomás arrived in Gwato after a forty day imprisonment at Elmina.  Both were sick and they found José de Jijona and Eugénio of Flanders also very sick.  The latter two died six days later, followed by Tomás de Huesca.  Ángel, having recovered, then left two of his companions to look after a third who was sick and went with Felipe de Híjar to Benin, arriving there on 10 August 1651.  After being taught the elaborate court ceremonies they were given an audience.  The Oba still had the letters brought by José and returned them to Ángel explaining that there was no one who could read them.  Ángel then translated them into Portuguese and someone interpreted them into the Edo language.  The Oba was pleased and offered to give the Capuchins accommodation in the palace.  Ángel was elated and promptly sent for the three Capuchins he had left in Gwato.  Within two months the Oba granted the Capuchins a second audience in which they gave presents to the Oba, his mother and various officials, and in return were promised land for a church and interpreters for their preaching.

After this auspicious beginning none of the Oba’s promises were executed and the Capuchins met only obstruction.  The chief minister prevented them from seeing the Oba even though they tried every expedient to do so, such as sending the Oba a clock with chimes.  When it stopped they volunteered to show the Oba how to wind it, but the chief minister merely returned the clock saying the Oba did not want it.  The Capuchins wanted to leave the city and work in neighbouring areas, but when they tried to learn the language no one was allowed to teach them or even speak with them.  They became sick from starvation and were only saved by some English traders who gave them food and a barrel of cowry shells to buy what they needed.  The Capuchins maintained that the Binis’ hostility was the result of direct instructions given them by demons who frequently appeared to the people and demanded complete subservience.

After a year and a half of getting nowhere the Capuchins decided as a last resort to confront the Oba and all his officials on the occasion of an annual festival, at the beginning of Lent 1653, in which five men were to be sacrificed along with many animals.  Going into the palace with the huge crowd, they met a kind old man who led them right up to the edge of the action.  The chief minister spotted them and twice ordered them to leave.  But the Capuchins stepped out into the middle and denounced the whole proceedings.  The guards lost no time in throwing them out and prevented them from returning on a second and a third attempt.  All the way home a crowd heckled them.  In the evening ten men came with orders for them to leave the city, but were persuaded to allow them to pack their Mass equipment and wait until the morning.

In the morning some men came again saying that the Oba wanted to see them.  Frs. Ángel and Felipe de Híjar followed the men, but soon found themselves instead prisoners in a hut on the edge of town.  Fearing they would be taken to the bush that night and killed, as was done with criminals, they found a way to inform their companions of what had happened.  Ángel and Felipe were then brought to Gwato.  On the way, weakened and thirsty, they passed a shrine which contained among other things a calabash of palm wine.  They asked their guards if they could drink it, and were told that the “demon” would kill them if they touched the offering.  In a test of faith the guards let them drink it and the Capuchins were not harmed.

The remaining Capuchins in Benin, Fr. Bartolomé de Viana and Bros. Alonso de Tolosa and Gaspar de Sos, had some friendly visits with the Oba’s mother and brother-in-law, and finally were themselves conducted to Gwato along with their baggage at the end of Lent.  After Pentecost the whole group was brought to nearby Ardo where for five months they were cared for by some Dutch and English traders.  In spite of these traders’ kindness the Capuchins suspected they might have had something to do with turning the Oba’s officials against them.  Of the Binis, however, Felipe de Híjar concluded that “they behave very well, and they know that the devil is evil and that God is good.  But they serve the devil for fear that if they do not do what he asks he will punish them severely.”102

Going by an English ship to the island of Principe, the Capuchins were asked by the Portuguese if they had been to Warri, which no priest had visited in seven years.  They had never heard of Warri and, learning of its Christianity and eagerness for priests, resolved to go there.  But the Portuguese authorities would not permit them since they were Spanish.  Going on to São Tomé, the Capuchins appealed the matter with the governor, who said that the King of Portugal would have his head if he allowed them to go.  He sent them under guard to Lisbon and from there they returned to Spain.

            The mission of Angelo di Ajaccio and Bonaventura da Firenze (1656)

While the Capuchins leaving Benin were waiting at São Tomé the governor sent an “indigenous sacristan” to Warri to talk with the Olu about a possible future Capuchin mission.  On the basis of the sacristan’s information the Capuchins drafted a letter “of the King of Warri, Domingos II, to the Pope” on 28 November 1653.103  The letter requests a mission and expresses the Capuchins’ hope to use Warri as a point of eventual return to Benin.  It is correct in referring to the Olu’s predecessor Domingos who had a Portuguese wife.  But a letter written by Ángel de Valencia to Propaganda Fide on his return to Seville persists in saying that it was the Oba of Benin whose predecessor was Catholic and had a Portuguese wife.104

In 1655 Propaganda Fide organized a mission to both Benin and Warri composed of thirteen Capuchins headed by Giovanni Francesco da Roma, who had previously worked in Congo.  Trying to gain Portugal’s cooperation, Propaganda Fide sent the whole group to Lisbon, but Portugal objected to the prefect and stalled on permitting the group to go.  The delay and squabbles arising between the French Capuchins resident in Lisbon and their Italian missionary confrères reduced their number to four when Portugal finally agreed to the departure under a new prefect, Angelo Maria da Ajaccio.

The group arrived at São Tomé in September 1656.  Two of them answered the appeal of the people to stay on the island and help them, while Angelo da Ajaccio and Bonaventura da Firenze went on to Warri together with a Genoese trader, Giovanni Battista Borel, who was interested in becoming a Capuchin brother.  Borel changed his mind and went back to São Tomé in March 1657.  The Portuguese found in his loads some souvenirs and a map of the approaches to Warri and accused him of being a spy.  They arrested him together with the two Italian Capuchins who had remained at São Tomé and sent them off to Lisbon.  Luckily for the Italians Dutch pirates captured the ship and set them free in Amsterdam.

In Warri the two Capuchins were enthusiastically received by the Olu, who had the tottering church rebuilt and gave the priests full freedom to preach the faith.  Bonaventura da Firenze says that the Olu’s name was Mattias, and was born of an African wife of the former Olu after his Portuguese wife died in childbirth along with her child.  Mattias, he says, was seven or eight years old when his father died and the court officials (fidalghi) ruled in his stead for nine years until he was of age.

It is difficult to harmonize the different versions of this story.  There are three possibilities: 1) that Mattias is the same as the António Domingos whom Dapper says ruled in 1644 (if Dapper is wrong that he was a mulatto) and “Domingos II” who is purported to have written the letter to the Pope of 28 November 1653 (although this letter and the name given the king are suspect),105 2) that Domingos I had two sons: a) António Domingos (or Domingos II), possibly born by the Portuguese wife and possibly considered a fidalgo by Mattias, and b) Mattias, who succeeded his brother; 3) that Mattias is António Domingo’s son.  It is significant that Bonaventura did not even know Mattias’ father’s name, thinking it was António or David.106

With the coming of the Capuchins the people once again sought baptism, which they had not bothered about since Domingos I died.  At that time a priest canon from São Tomé came with a trader and for the baptisms he performed charged so many slaves, tusks of ivory and other goods that he returned richer than the trader.  The revived interest of the people in Catholic practice did not mean, however, that they were prepared to give up polygamy or spirit cults, and Angelo di Ajaccio expressed his disappointment at the lack of progress in a letter of 2 February 1659.107  In this letter he also complained that his companions on São Tomé had left without his permission and he did not know why.  The two Capuchins found they could make no progress on the polygamy issue unless the king first set the example by marrying one wife.  The Olu said he would gladly do so if he could have a white wife as his father had.  The Capuchins first prayed about the matter and then a ship from São Tomé arrived whose captain said the matter could easily be arranged in São Tomé.  Angelo di Ajaccio went with the ship and surprisingly the Portuguese authorities cooperated with him, possibly because of the prospect of commercial advantages to be gained through a marriage alliance.  He must have learned what happened to his companions in 1657, but the Portuguese did not press charges against him.  A girl 20 years old was found who agreed to the proposal and had the consent of her parents.  The people of São Tomé gave her a royal send-off, matched only by her reception in Warri.  The Capuchins were then besieged every day with people wanting them to solemnize Christian marriages.

The Capuchins had brought letters from Rome for the Oba of Benin and now wanted to deliver them.  They went to Benin but could not get to see the Oba and, pressed for time, they returned to Warri.

Some time earlier a Dutch ship came to trade at Warri.108  The Capuchins warned the Olu about the “heretics” but did not object to his trading with them.  In the latter part of 1659 a Portuguese ship came from São Tomé whose captain never attended Mass and the first thing he asked of the Olu was two young girls for his enjoyment.  The Capuchins could not pass over such behaviour when they condemned such things among the Africans; so they publicly excommunicated him.  In retaliation the captain accused the Capuchins of plotting against Portugal by having written to the Dutch of Elmina to send their ship to Warri.

After this confrontation Bonaventura da Firenze became sick and both he and Angelo di Ajaccio wanted to go to São Tomé and find out why the long promised reinforcements to their ranks never came.  The ship captain “kindly” agreed to take them, but to reassure the Olu of their return the Capuchins left their Mass equipment behind.  Arriving at São Tomé around the beginning of 1660, they were promptly accused of colluding with Portugal’s enemies and of coming without ecclesiastical authorization.  The vicar of São Tomé excommunicated them and they were imprisoned for three months before being sent to Angola, and in October to Lisbon.

In Lisbon the two were declared innocent and given permission to return, but they wanted to wait for others to come with them.  In November 1663 Propaganda Fide sent eight other Capuchins to Lisbon to join them, but the Portuguese government would not let the new members go.  In 1665 our two Capuchins went to Angola to await assistants, but since none came Bonaventura da Firenze returned to Italy in 1666 and Angelo di Ajaccio to Lisbon in 1669.  The latter was sick and dying, but after two months the superior of the French Capuchin house put him on a ship for Italy.  The captain had pity on the man and brought him to a friend’s house near Lisbon to be taken care of.  When the French superior was approached about the matter he replied that he would not receive the dying Capuchin in his house even if the General of his Order and the Pope commanded him.  After six months Angelo di Ajaccio died without receiving one visit from his French brothers and was not even permitted to be buried in the Capuchin cemetery.

            Francesco da Monteleone and the mission of 1684-95

In October 1673 the Olu of Warri gave a passing Franciscan, Sebastião dos Reis, a letter for the King of Portugal complaining that no priest had come since the departure of Angelo di Ajaccio.  The Olu’s religious interest was definitely connected with his interest in developing commerce, but in this and similar cases it would be a mistake simply to reduce his religious interest to commercial interest, as some authors do.109  No answer came to the Olu’s appeal until the Italian Capuchin Francesco da Monteleone accompanied the new bishop of São Tomé, Bernardo Zuzarte de Andrade, to his diocese in 1684.  The Bishop wanted to send Francesco to Warri and Benin, and therefore had a Capuchin church and house established at São Tomé as a base for missions on the continent. The Bishop died in February 1685, and of the several Capuchins who were to come only one arrived in 1687.  The arrival of others was delayed because of an oath of loyalty which the King of Portugal demanded and the Italians refused.  The problem was eventually solved and in 1691 eight Capuchins went to São Tomé, three of whom died almost immediately and three others were very sick for three months.  Most of them preferred to stay and work on the island because of the desperate spiritual state of the people.  Because the Portuguese territories had been so long without bishops the quality of the local clergy was very low, so much so that in 1688 Propaganda Fide took the questionable step of forbidding the ordination of “mulattoes and bastards”.110

In 1689 the Olu sent three boys to São Tomé to study for a short period.  The next year Francesco da Monteleone left São Tomé for a three months visit to Warri.  He also tried to go to Benin but because of hostilities with Warri the guide could not take him.  By the time the Binis could send boats to collect him in a neutral spot it was time for him to return to São Tomé.  He brought a letter from Olu Lewis II dated 16 January 1690, giving land for a church and residence for the Capuchins.111  Francesco says that the Olu was young, and that he inherited the wives of his father and of an older brother who died.112  Presumably the older brother was “Lewis I”, and both were sons of Mattias or Domingos II.

When the group of Capuchins came in 1691 Francesco da Monteleone wanted to send two of them to Benin and two to Warri but his vice-prefect Giuseppe da Busseto, who had been twenty years in Luanda and Congo, would not hear of going to Benin because the Oba was not baptized and had expressed no desire for priests.  Francesco thought that if Warri were given first attention the Oba would be offended.  After some argument Francesco let Giuseppe da Busseto and two companions go to Warri.  They arrived in August, well prepared with Mass equipment, seven barrels of biscuits, nine of wine, two of flour and one of olive oil, together with barrels of salted meat from five cows and two large pigs.113  In spite of these precautions one of the Capuchins, Bernardino da Tavera, was sick from arrival and after four months boarded the ship which had brought him.  The ship went to Benin and while it was at anchor Bernardino died in March 1692.

Giuseppe da Busseto wrote a letter on 12 January 1692 expressing his disappointment with Warri.  Although he should have been glad of the Olu’s good will, he complained that Catholic belief and practice was only an elite court affair and did not penetrate the masses. 114  Surprisingly one of his main complaints was that the Olu would not compel his people to stop circumcision, which Giuseppe considered a Jewish practice.  In despair he asked to be relieved of his assignment and transferred to his former station in Congo.  His relief came in August when he was transferred to the next life.  The one remaining Capuchin, Protasio da Castrezzano, left on the next ship in September.  He carried a letter from the Olu fro Francesco da Monteleone saying that the residence was nearly finished and the church about to be built and begging for the return of other Capuchins.115

Francesco da Monteleone reported to Propaganda Fide about the situation and repeatedly asked for help.  He even claimed to have sent a message to the Oba of Benin and received an answer inviting priests to come.  At last in 1695 six Capuchins arrived at São Tomé.  In September some of them set off for Benin, but in Gwato Francesco da Monteleone died.

            Further contact with Benin and Warri

Before dying, Francesco da Monteleone appointed Angelico da Pettineo to be in charge.  Angelico did not continue immediately to Benin, but may have visited it in 1696 when he sent three Capuchins to Warri; they were Bonaventura da Brescia, Felice da Piaggine and Colombano da Bologna.  Apart from David van Nyandael’s notice of the Portuguese lodge and church in Warri in 1700,116 there is no record of how they succeeded or how long they stayed, except that Felice da Piaggine became gravely ill on arrival and that Colombano da Bologna was sent to Congo in 1703.117

Other Capuchins continued to come to São Tomé and some of them visited the mainland.  An interesting report by Francesco da Morro and Francesco da Montecassiano in 1707 refers to the problem of polygamy in Warri and how a priest exiled from São Tomé by his bishop went there and solemnized the marriage of the Olu even though he was polygamous.  The report speaks eloquently and at length about the scandal of slavery.118

Fr. Cipriano da Napoli, who had become prefect in 1705, made a trip to Benin and Warri in 1709.  In Benin he could not even get to talk to the Oba and left on the same ship for Warri.  Two Capuchins were there already for several years and Cipriano intended to let two of his companions join them.  But he found the two who were there in such a dire state, having sold most of their belongings and being obliged to engage in petty trading and manual labour in order to survive, that the took them all back to São Tomé.  At São Tomé, where no bishop would stay because of the climate, the Capuchins met increased opposition from the vicar who excommunicated anyone who accepted their ministration.  The Capuchins were ready to abandon São Tomé as well if were not for a sudden turn of events at Benin.

In 1710 Cipriano sent two priests to Benin who saw the Oba and received every welcome and encouragement.  From the reports of the two priests, Cipriano (presumably) drafted on 2 November 1710 three letters “from the Oba” to the Procurator General of the Capuchins, to Propaganda Fide and to the Pope.119  The letters apologize for the Capuchins’ not being attended to in the time of the Oba’s father and up to the previous year.  Protracted war prevented it, but now the Oba had set aside a house for the Capuchins and hoped they would come and teach his people the Christian faith.

Other sources tell of a civil war and point to a change of regime around this time.120  If the Oba actually expressed such enthusiasm for Christianity as the letters say we may suppose that he was mainly looking for outside support for a shaky throne.  If Cipriano exaggerated the Oba’s feelings, it is still credible that the Oba had a moderate genuine interest in Christianity.  After a three year stay in Benin Filippo da Calvello and Celestino d’Aspra remarked that the Oba’s interest in Christianity was very moderate, and the two Capuchins could not see that they were making any progress.

Cipriano’s successor as prefect, with three companions, spent two years in Warri in 1715-17.  Two of these stayed a longer time, but Celestino d’Aspra’s report in 1724 says that no Capuchins were in Warri and two were needed.121  When Olu Agostinho died between 1731 and 1733, his brother took an anti-Christian stance and smashed a statue of Christ after it failed to end a drought.  In 1735 the Capuchin Francisco Maria was sent to Warri with presents for the Olu.  The consignment originally included some statues, but these were left at São Tomé “for lack of shipping space”, while the Olu was urged to build a church suitable for their reception.  After three disappointing months in Warri Francisco Maria decided to leave at the first opportunity.  Warri was visited again in 1748 by Fr. Illuminato di Poggitello after he failed to gain entry into Benin.  This is the last mention of Benin in the Propaganda Fide archives. 122

Around 1765 a new Olu of Warri began making repeated requests for missionaries.  A native of Warri named João Álvares, who was a canon at São Tomé, was sent in 1770 together with the Capuchin Fr. Felix, who had just arrived at São Tomé.  In 1771 Fr. Felix was back at São Tomé full of complaints about João Álvares’ scandalous life.  Afterwards, according to the French Captain Landolphe who visited Warri in 1786, Brazilian missionaries came and baptized the Olu Manuel Otobia, who possibly may be the Olu “Otoo” whom John Adams met around 1795.123

John Adams has this description of Warri: “on entering the first apartment of the palace we were much surprised to see, placed on a rude kind of table, several emblems of the catholic religion, consisting of crucifixes, mutilated saints, and other trumpery.  Some of these articles were manufactured of brass, and others of wood.  On inquiring how they came into their present situation we were informed that several black Portuguese missionaries had been at Warré, many years since, endeavouring to convert the natives into Christians; and the building in which they performed their mysteries, we found still standing.  A large wooden cross, which had withstood the tooth of time, was remaining in a very perfect state, in on one of the angles formed by two roads intersecting each other.  We could not learn that the Portuguese had been successful in making proselytes; indeed, King Otoo’s subjects appeared to trouble themselves very little about religion of any kind.”124  Adams adds that the Olu had over 60 wives.

In 1807 the governor of São Tomé wrote a complain to Olu João, who was a Christian, but was making trouble for Portuguese traders.  Trade dropped in the early 19th century and priests no longer visited Warri.  Religious practice continued, nevertheless, as evidenced by a British naval officer who witnessed a Christmas procession in 1820.  In 1848 the king and his two leading heirs died, and for the rest of the century the Itsekiri were only a collection of independent villages.  All tradition of the Warri kingdom had disappeared when the British began their rule.125

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1MMA, I, 163.

2MMA, IV, 18.

3MMA, V, 9-10, 11-12, 15-16, 17-19, 37.

4MMA, III, 52, 76.

5MMA, III, 3; V, 94; VIII, 373.

6MMA, III, 569, 314, 492.

7MMA, III, 271, 461, 484.

8MMA, III, 594.

9MMA, V, 149, 156, 172, 451, 557.

10MMA, VI, 273.

11MMA, VIII, 111, 164.

12Variantly Samma, Sama, Saama; the proper name is Esma; cf. Wiltgen (1956), 2, note 6.

13The original name is variantly written or pronounced Adena, Edina, Adana, Odena, Edena; cf. Wiltgen, 3, n.9, and 53, n.84.

14MMA, I, 10, 20; cf. Wiltgen, 1, note 1 on the date.

15MMA, I, 49.

16Blake (1942), I, 94.

17MMA, IV, 87.

18MMA, I, 426, 444.

19MMA, I, 502.

20MMA, IV, 136; Blake (1942), I, 59-60; Debrunner (1967), 20.

21MMA, I, 519; II, 351, 513.

22MMA, II, 351.

23Blake (1942), II, 360.

24MMA, VIII, 185; Wiltgen, 20 ff.

25MMA, III, 454 (for the year 1592); V, 261 (for 1605).

26MMA, V, 375.

27Variantly Maure, Mouri, Boure.

28MMA, V, 249.

29MMA, VI, 227.

30MMA, VI, 274.

31MMA, VI, 344, 346.

32MMA, VIII, 185, 214.

33MMA, VIII, 549.

34Fage (1961), 46.

35Debrunner (1967), 52.

36Ibid., 52.

37Ibid., 38.

38Wiltgen, 32-55; Jadin, 450-2.

39MMA, VIII, 278.

40Variantly spelt Asseny, Isseny, Issinie, Issiny, Issyny, Isgny, Issigny, a name given 30 years after the Capuchins arrival.  They knew the place as Besnè, Bené or Abiany.  Cf. Wiltgen, 36-7 and notes 22 & 24.

41MMA, VIII, 462, 465.

42According to Jadin, 451, this was in 1641.  Wiltgen, 45-6, places their coming in 1638, following a letter of Colombin quoted in the Capuchin Acta.

43Debrunner, 34, mentions an earlier mission of Brittany Capuchins to Whydah in 1644, quoting Rocco da Cesinale second hand.  The latter, III, 488-9, mentions no date and does not say the Capuchins were from Brittany.  He says the Capuchins travelled with Du Casse and that one factor in the failure of the mission was counter-propaganda by the Dutch and the french.  Du Casse became captain of a ship only in 1675 (Wiltgen, 60, note 109).  Rocco da Cesinale evidently had confused information and I see not reason why this mission should not be identified with the one of 1658.

44Wiltgen, 60.

45Ibid., 60-5; Jadin, 456-7.

46Loenertz, 245, note 25.

47On the identity of the Capuchin see Wiltgen, 71; Jadin, 464-5.

48Loyer (1714).

49Wiltgen, 106-9; Debrunner, 60-83.

50Debrunner, 81-2.

51The name given by Egharevba, 23.

52MMA, I, 52, 54.

53MMA, I, 159 (for the year 1499).

54According to Duarte Pacheco Pereira, writing in 1505; cf. Hodgkin, 92.

55MMA, I, 54; for the date see Ryder (1969a), 32-3.

56MMA, IV, 58, refers to a Portuguese feitor at Benin in 1509, although Ryder (1969a), 33, says that the port of Gwato was finally closed in 1506-7.  Manuel de Gois complains of the small amount of trade in 1510 (MMA, IV, 63).  A ship was reported sunk off the coast of Benin just before 1512 (MMA, I, 217).

57MMA, I, 326.

58MMA, I, 342.

59MMA, IV, 88 and note 2; cf. Salvadorini (1972), 27, note 85 on Papal prohibitions regarding arms sales.  See MMA, I, 324, on the priests going to Benin.

60Egharevba, 29.

61Duarte Pires, writing “during the war” on 20 October 1516 (MMA, I, 369).

62MMA, I, 324; IV, 88.

63MMA, I, 369.

64Egharevba, 27.  Ryder (1969a), 50, corrects the date of Esigie’s succession form 1504 to 1516.

65MMA, I, 412; IV, 109.

66MMA, I, 492.  Brásio erroneously puts 1526 in the title.  The text mentions 1516 three times; it also refers to the war and the presence of Pero Barroso, the ambassador of 1514.

67MMA, I, 54.

68MMA, I, 475.

69MMA, II, 79; I, 369; Ryder (1961), 231-58.

70Salvadorini, 28.  Part of the text is in Hodgkin, 96.

71MMA, II, 292.

72The assertion of Bane (1956), 77-8, (1968), 136, that Baltasar Barreira SJ visited Benin is based on a confusion of Bena in Sierra Leone with Benin.  Cf. Fyfe (1964), 49 ff.

73Ryder (1969a), 28, 59, 75.

74MMA, VI, 535.

75MMA, III, 279, 299; 307.

76MMA, III, 563, 584.

77MMA, III, 557.

78Cf. Pedro da Cunha’s report (MMA, VI, 542); the date is inferred by a letter of 1608 (MMA, V, 438).

79MMA, V, 40, 123, 125, 138.

80MMA, V, 170, 184, 230.

81MMA, V, 360.

82MMA, V, 438.

83MMA, VI, 542; for other variations on the story see Salvadorini, 123 ff.

84MMA, V, 230.

85MMA, V, 497.

86MMA, V, 514, 560.

87MMA, V, 590.

88MMA, V, 601.

89MMA, VI, 542.

90MMA, VII, 336.

91Dapper, 507-8.  Dapper actually calls the Olu Antonio de Mingo, an easy mistake for one not familiar with the Portuguese Domingos.  See also Salvadorini, 126, n. 13.

92Salvadorini, 64.

93MMA, VIII, 278, 283.

94MMA, VIII, 462.

95Salvadorini, 70.

96MMA, IX, 138, 144.

97 Salvadorini, 72 and note 44.

98MMA, IX, 429.

99MMA, IX, 472; X, 19, 21.

100MMA, X, 104.

101See the letters of Felipe de Híjar (MMA, XI, 3610, 390); Cavazzi, 41-102; Kilger (1932); Ryder (1961, 1969a); Salvadorini.  The sources are very discrepant about chronological details for this and the following section.  Ryder and Salvadorini agree about the main dates.

102MMA, XI, 395.

103MMA, XI, 242.  On the dating and authenticity of this letter see Salvadorini, 93-7.

104Cavazzi, 49; Salvadorini, 91.

105Salvadorini, 96.

106Ibid., 123.

107Ibid., 274.

108Bonaventura da Firenze actually says “a few days after returning from Benin” (Salvadorini, 149), but then speaks of a Portuguese ship arriving two years later.  The chronology is impossible.

109Ryder (1960), 13.

110Salvadorini, 198, n. 35.

111Text ibid., 282.

112Ibid., 201.

113Ibid., 205.

114Text ibid., 287.

115Text ibid., 290.  The letter is signed “Domingos II”, which cannot be right; cf. p. 208.

116Bosman (1967), 427; cf. xiii, n. 1.

117Ryder (1960, 17; Salvadorini, 214-10.

118Text ibid., 292-6.

119Texts ibid., 297, 298, 299.

120Egharevba, 39; W. Smith, in Hodgkin, 152; cf. Ryder 1969a), 118 ff; Bosman (1967), 466-7.

121On 18th century Warri see Ryder (1960), 19-24.

122Ryder (1969a), 120.

123Ryder (1961), 121.

124Adams (18210), 124-10.

125Gray (1969), 3010; Jadin (19106); Lloyd (1963).