Obongawan Okoyong: Mary Born of Robert Slessor

By: Arc

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They didn’t all come to kill and destroy; some of them came with good intentions. Some came to share in our humanity, to speak in our tongue, to share in our pain.

Mary was born on the 2nd day of December, 1848 to alcoholic cobbler Robert and skilled weaver Mary Slessor. Mary Slessor The II  or Mary Slessor Jr. if you like grew up in the slums of Dundee and learned to work at the early age of eleven. At a time when there was no penicillin, Mary lost her father and two brothers to pneumonia. By age fourteen she had mastered the art of turning jute into mats and clothing, doing her best to support her mother and sisters.

On hearing about the death of famous Presbyterian missionary and explorer David Livingstone, 27 year old Mary sought to replace him. Upon completing her missionary training she set sail aboard the SS Ethiopia on the 5th August 1876 heading to West Africa, heading to destiny.

She arrived the Calabar region and stunned the Efik people with her bright blue eyes and red hair. In teaching, she learnt the local dialect Efik and in order to save her salary for her mother and sisters, she ate the local food gaining popularity for herself. In some way Africa was greener pasture for Scottish born Slessor.

In spreading the gospel and mingling with the locals, Mary heard the the sordid tale of servants being killed to accompany dead village elders to the next life. Having watched her father and brothers die, human life was indeed very precious to Mary and she rose to fight this. She set out to debunk the belief that dead men needed servants; no man’s life should be bound to another. As she did her best to enlighten the locals another ugly superstition reared its head. The great mystery of birthing twins; the evil curse reserved for adulterous women. One of the infants was believed to be fathered by an evil spirit as the gods visited their wrath on the woman. Both babies were abandoned in the bush as there was no way to determine which was evil and which was human. Mary Slessor fought this vehemently, she not only spoke against this, she adopted every twin child she found. During one of such rescue missions she found Janie (Adiaba) who she was particularly fond of.


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4_image07_ms and janie while in dundee on furlough

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Mary is also credited with stopping the use of poisonous Physostigma venenosum (Calabar bean) to determine guilt in the eye of the gods. This lady warrior led by example and encouraged many reluctant Chiefs to enroll their daughters for Western Education.

Malaria was the gods way of fighting Mary for destroying their people’s belief system and the bouts of fever drove her back to Britain a couple of times. She always returned although she was not armed with Artemether and Christ kept her to fulfill her mission.

In August 1888, she moved up north to Okoyong, a town notorious for killing male missionaries and they warmed up to less threatening beautiful Mary. Rumor has it that the then King of Okoyong sought her hand in vain for years, making her vice consul four years later. She presided over the native court and became vice president of Ikot Obong court in 1905.

10 years later, Christ let malaria lead his faithful servant to his light. She passed on the 13th day of January 1915 and was buried in a cemetery opposite Duke Town on Andersen Street not far from the Obong of Calabar palace in present day Calabar, Cross Rivers State, Nigeria. She is remembered fondly by the Efik, Ibibio and the Nigerian people and has numerous memorials in her honor.


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She is the real Nigerian Mary, never mind the Nazarene mother of Jesus. She’s the one Psquare pray to when they say “Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pray for Us.”

Obongawan Okoyong- Queen of Okoyong


Naztory: Know Your Country, Love Your Country

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