The Jubilee Celebrations
October 1925 dawned bright, the sky was blue, the heat intense though mellowed by a mountain breeze. At six a.m. I had a squad of workers tidying up the avenues, cleaning up flower and shrub plots, watering shaded plants, cleaning windows and removing deadwood. At the exhibition centre my wife was busy with the huge variety of arts and crafts, displaying them to advantage. My 'witch doctor' friend, completed his little 'spirit temple', with its numerous pots of 'secret medicines'. One of my students supervised the section where blind, maimed, dumb, deaf outcasts would show what they could do. Another student arranged the area where six men would be curing skins and one working on cattle hides to make attractive leather goods. Two senior students toiled hard on the products section, another on forestry, displaying a miniature tree nursery bed and a selection of tree seeds on a stand. My head gardener had his lovely display: fruit, vegetables and flowers. Selected Africans, husbands and wives, with children, ochered and adorned the various huts, hen runs and storage bins.
The Rev Edward Boti Manda offered his services, which I gladly accepted, in displaying all that was necessary for the tiny church and school. A village headman, a trained blacksmith, had a special place to work at his craft. Near the 'smith' there was a team of carvers in wood, bone, ivory, ebony, also two clever Africans making pottery and sculpture in soft stone. Never before had so many crafts been brought together in one place. I was indeed pleased, not one African had disappointed me. What is more remarkable, not one single article or tool was missing or stolen.
European missionaries, African ministers and teachers, planters and commercial traders arrived on foot, by bush car, in machillas, motor cycles and one Ford car; also three steamers made special trips up the lake. I had to rely on African 'bush telegraph' for most of my information. Only the captains of the steamers gave me advanced information and exact times of arrival.
Fortunately, I managed to meet and welcome every visitor, including the Governor, Chief Secretary to the Legislative Council, Provincial Resident, Commissioners from all the African Missions (except Roman Catholics who declined) and representatives from European and African Associations. The programme was carried out without a hitch.
On the evening of the official reception, Dr Laws was the centre of well merited praise. As he stood up the whole gathering rose and applauded. Thousands of Africans outside joined in the acclamation. Many eyes were wet with tears, for this was the most momentous event in the whole history of Central African missions and African civilization.
When the Grand Old Man spoke, his first words were for the long line of consecrated missionaries and devout Africans who had toiled unselfishly down the years to make Central Africa have peace. Five strikingly dignified Africans stood near Dr Laws - five ordained African Ministers and nearby, another African, a supporter of Dr Laws for fifty years, Yuriah (or Uriah) Chirwa. Yuriah was known as the African with smiling eyes. As my eyes met his he winked and I winked back.
For four days there were various meetings, all a build up to the great day, 12th October. On the Jubilee conference morning, before many Europeans were up, my wife and I were up before dawn, supervising the provision of fruit, vegetables, meat, milk, fuel to each European household and food for 10,000 Africans. My staff rose to the occasion; they had been up at four a.m. making up orders. At five o'clock the African butcher said, 'I have killed and dressed eight sheep. Do you need more!'
The day before the conference, my chief clerk told me about loud singing coming from the lake road.
'They will need food, sir. Let us ask God in prayer for more flour.' His prayer was short and sweet - 'Lord, if the people are hungry tell them to each see what they are carrying first and we will do our best with Your help.'
I am happy to report no one, black or white, spoke of being hungry. There was ample for everyone.
The day before the actual celebrations I had three hundred workers with hoes clearing a twelve feet wide strip, eleven miles long, around the Plateau, as a fire prevention belt. It was very interesting to see the Africans work, hoeing and singing. I was not taking any risks with hundreds of strangers in the area -some living in makeshift erections. A spark could easily start a fire by mistake. Two actually started but were put out within seconds.
On the same day I had squads of men examining all roads, paths, bridges, irrigation courses and stream banks to make sure everything was in first class order.
At four o'clock in the afternoon of 11th October 1925, all my sixteen key men reported to me in person that all work was complete. I was extremely happy, for there were times when sudden calls for workers from other departments made me anxious.
In the centre of the football field the carpentry department erected a special elevated stand around which many thousands of Africans of many tribes and Europeans would see all that was going on. On the stand, a blue flag with a white dove in the centre fluttered in the breeze. It was the same flag that flew from the mast of the little steamer Illala in 1875 - the flag of peace that challenged darkest Africa fifty years earlier.
It is difficult to describe Livingstonia on Jubilee Day. African women in colourful dresses, men neat and tidy, well-mannered children, happy and wondering what the fuss was about. From early morning, drums of peace beat out a message of hope from mountain tops around. Cheerful Africans, rejoicing in song, often hymns; groups dancing until the mission bell sounded, calling for quiet.
The procession to the stand was dignified, orderly and quiet. Dr Laws, in his robes and hood, the Governor in white uniform, missionaries, African Ministers, teachers, white tradesmen, chiefs, headmen and a joint choir of Africans from distant mission stations.
It was an eventful day for Dr Laws as he was appearing in many roles, his latest being First Moderator of the newly formed Church of Central Africa Presbyterian.
One man stood close to Dr Laws, Mr Uriah Chirwa, the African who served all fifty years with Dr Laws. To mark the occasion, Rev W.P. Young presented Uriah with a cheque, a gift from his many white friends at home and on the mission field.
As on 12th October, 1875, the vast assembly joined in the 100th Psalm, followed by prayer and all in unison, The Lord's Prayer and the Benediction. Speeches were made by Africans and white people - all told of the dramatic change that had taken place and the long sustained service of Dr Robert Laws. To me, the grandest moment was when the Governor read a telegram from King George V, naming the towering mountain above the plateau as Mount Laws and the award of the decoration C.M.G. -Companion of St Michael and St George.
The acclamation was loud and long. The venerable old man stood erect, deeply moved by the words spoken and decorations given - a tear ran down his cheek - it was a moment never to be forgotten by all who were there. All who knew the Doctor realized that behind his rugged exterior there was a heart of genuine tenderness, affection and humility.
The Doctor raised his right arm and at once there was dead silence from the great gathering - not even a child cried. All at once thousands of eyes were beyond the unpraised arm. In the clear sky a great eagle hovered. Did the mighty king of all birds come from the newly named 'Mount Laws' to salute a courageous, unafraid adventurer? The Doctor's reply was one of thanks to God for the opportunity of service; gratitude to the long line of colleagues - black and white; pride in the known and unknown; donors who supported his work; gratefulness to chiefs, headmen and their delightful people; to government officials, white planters and traders and above all, sincere thanks to Jesus Christ and His Mighty Power in answering prayers. He concluded (in a quivering voice), 'May I say in deep humility, I have tried to be a servant of my Royal Master, Jesus Christ.'
The Governor and his wife, Director of Agriculture and his wife and other officials, visited my exhibition village, arts and crafts centres, booths and other side shows. According to schedule the visit was to last fifteen minutes - it lasted over one hour. No one present had ever seen such an array of purely African work.
The Governor's wife confessed to my wife, 'It's the first time I have been in a native hut!'
The Governor told me, 'In all my years in many parts of Africa, this is the largest and most interesting exhibition I have seen. I never realized the Africans were so clever.'
The Director of Agriculture just could not believe there were 1,036 exhibits under agriculture, horticulture and forestry, with all their by-products. He asked a K.A.R. soldier to count them again. So along with the other 1,000 exhibits they had to be counted!
The Governor and his wife admired many objects. I took a. note of all they admired and had them boxed and presented to them. On leaving the Governor said, 'Your exhibition was wonderful.' Lady Bowring, 'Amazing,' and the Director of Agriculture, 'A perfect eye opener.
Dr Laws put his hand on my shoulder, 'Good - very good show. Thank you.'
Celebrations ended I saw the officials safely back on the three steamers. Others were supplied with free plants and shrubs of all kinds, on their way to different locations. Every exhibit lent was either sold or given back to donors. Not one thing was missing, not one thing stolen, not one complaint about lack of food. The Africans had lived up to their reputation as hard working, honest, upright and truthful men and women.
A few days after the celebrations were over I walked up to the Doctor's Office, handed over my report of 3,000 words, a dozen line illustrations and a complete list of the 2,036 exhibition items. He looked it over and smiling, he said, 'Splendid, just what I wanted. You are a good writer. It will be easy to type. Thank you very much.'
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.