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Jan 13 - Mary Slessor and Twins

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

Today's pod looks at the life of a remarkable Scottish Woman, who dedicated her life to saving twins from infanticide amongst the Okoyong people in Nigeria


On the 13 January 1915 Mary Slessor a Scottish Presbyterian missionary died of a malarial induced fever in a remote mission station in Cross River State. A bust of Slessor is now in the Hall of Heroes of the National Wallace Monument in Stirling, and roads, parks, schools and churches in both Scotland and Nigeria are named after her. She was honoured on a 1997 bank note by Clydesdale Bank and had a Main-belt asteroid named after. What do we know about this remarkable woman and her life?

The Slessors, lived in the slums of Dundee, where her alcoholic father and both brothers died of pneumonia, leaving behind only Mary, her mother, and two sisters. Her mother a devout Presbyterian, read each issue of the Missionary Record produced by the church and when Mary learnt about David Livingstone, the famous missionary and explorer, she wanted to follow in his footsteps. For 15 years, she lived with the Efik people in Okoyong , in Southern Nigeria near the border with Cameroon. She lived a simple life in a traditional house with Efiks, sending much of her salary back to her mother. Strong-willed, but also pragmatic with a warm sense of humour, she gained her a reputation for eccentricity and was often in conflict with the local authorities. Because of her understanding of the native language and her bold personality Slessor gained the trust and acceptance of the locals and was able to spread Christianity while promoting women's rights and protecting native children.

It was a local belief that the birth of twins was considered a particularly evil curse, and that the father of one of the infants was a 'devil child', and that the mother had been guilty of a great sin. Unable to determine which twin was fathered by the evil spirit, the natives often abandoned both babies in clay pots to die. The practice had nearly been eliminated by the Missionaries but Slessor adopted every child she found abandoned, and sent out people to find, protect and care for them at the Mission House. Her esteem and authority grew so that she was named vice-president of the native court. After repeated bout of Malaria, Slessor's health began to suffer in her later years, but she refused to return to Scotland and after her death she was given the colonial equivalent of a state funeral. A report on her death in The Southern Reporter of 21 January 1915 mentions a time she spent on furlough in Bowden, Roxburghshire, Scottish Borders. It states that "She and her four adopted African children were a centre of great attraction and helped to deepen the interest of the whole community in the Foreign Mission work of the Church."


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