The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúhíyyih KhánumBahá'í News, 468-513
‘Amatu’l-Bahá Rúḥíyyih Khánum tours East Africa
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #468, March 1970, pp. 2-12
On August 5, the wheels of our plane touched down at Entebbe Airport, Kampala, Uganda — at last the long-promised visit of ‘Amatu’l-Bahá to the believers of Africa was commencing. In 1961, at the time when she dedicated the Mother Temple of Africa for public worship, Rúḥíyyih Khánum promised the friends to come back and really visit them, touring as many Centers as possible. After nine years, this has now been fulfilled.
During her ten-day stay in Kampala she was able to attend a reception given in her honor and that of two visiting members of the Universal House of Justice, Hushmand Fatheázam, and my husband, ‘Alí Nakhjavání; to deliver a public lecture in the hall of the National Theater; and to be interviewed for a full half hour on Radio Uganda on the “Guest of the Week” program. Originally the introducer and the interviewer had contemplated ten to fifteen minutes devoted to the Bahá’í guest, but the discussion became so animated, and the two young men and Rúḥíyyih Khánum got so interested in the very diverse questions on the Faith, that after the half hour was over the conversation continued for some time in the studio.
Hands Unite in PrayerRúḥíyyih Khánum’s happiest moment came when she was able to attend a service in the Mother Temple of Africa, sitting between Hands of the Cause Músá Banání and Enoch Olinga. It is very seldom that Mr. Banání can leave his home these days, but he was able to be present at the marriage of his granddaughter Bahíyyih Nakhjavání to Paul Adams of England; and so three of the Hands could unite in prayer in the heart of the African Continent prior to the very long African safari of ‘Amatu’l-Bahá.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum had purchased a large Land Rover — three and a half tons when loaded! — which was awaiting her arrival in Nairobi, Kenya; her plan was to reach the Bahá’ís in the villages, who so seldom have any opportunity to meet their brothers and sisters from other places, how much less other nations and continents; a Land Rover, or similar four-wheeled drive vehicle, is the only method of doing this, as it will go through sand, mud, shrubs, and treacherous wasteland — certainly not comfortably, but it will go.
The plan was to have a few days much needed rest near Mombasa, then visit the coast of Kenya and Tanzania, inland centers of Tanzania, return to Nairobi, visit some areas in Kisii, leave by air for a month to Ethiopia, and then complete the Kenya visit by a ten-day tour of Western Nyanza before proceeding to Kampala.
Although the official Bahá’í reception and public address of ‘Amatu’l-Bahá were scheduled to take place towards the end of her Kenya visit, she was nevertheless interviewed on Kenya television on August 17,1969, on a program called “Today’s Guests,” and spoke for seven minutes. Prior to her departure for Addis Ababa, she was invited to the home of Vice-President Moi and his wife, where in a most cordial and intimate atmosphere, with tea and refreshments, the subject of the Faith and other things of a topical nature were discussed for about an hour.
Tour Covers Large AreaIt is not possible to go into the details of a tour such as this when already, in a little over four months, we have visited more than sixty-three Bahá’í localities, driven five thousand miles and flown all over Ethiopia. However, many of the highlights are of interest and their recounting may help fulfill the second reason ‘Amatu’l-Bahá undertakes these arduous journeys — to stimulate others, young and old, to take heart and arise to spread the message of Bahá’u’lláh, particularly among the villagers and illiterates in different parts of the world.
From August 28 to September 2, Rúḥíyyih Khánum visited the Bahá’í communities on the coast between Mombasa and Malindi which are mainly composed of members of the famous Giriama tribe. A member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Kenya accompanied us on this trip and as far as Morogora in Tanzania.
In the village of Dera a dear Bahá’í had built a hut and offered it for the Bahá’í meetings. As all attendants were Bahá’ís, Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke on the importance of Bahá’í administration and regular meetings of the local assembly. This coastal region is very beautiful, with miles and miles of cocoanut palms outlined against the sky. The delicious drink and food we were served were all prepared with cocoanut juice or cocoanut meat.
In the village of Mwezangombe over sixty-five Bahá’ís and their friends, young and old, gathered to welcome their beloved guests. This meeting was held in the home of one of the devoted believers who had especially erected a pavilion of branches and leaves for this meeting and had decorated the entrance to his home with flowerbeds and arches. The Bahá’í children sang several songs, which is certainly one of the best methods of teaching.
The Anti-Witch DoctorThe following day we went to visit an old man in the village of Msabha. He is Chief Jacobi Kabwere Wonje, a famous anti-witch doctor who is licensed by the Government of Kenya to practice. (An anti-witch doctor is one who breaks the spells of the witch doctors.) This man was a pagan, and his conversion to the Bahá’í Faith has impressed non-Bahá’ís very much. Several of his middle-aged sons and some of his wives — of which he has seventy — have also accepted the Faith. When Rúḥíyyih Khánum learned that on the previous day one of his children had died, she suggested that he might prefer not to hold the meeting. This consideration obviously pleased him, but he expressed the desire to go on with the meeting and called many of his wives and children to be present.
After Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s talk, the request he made was an echo of the cry of many of the Bahá’ís in the villages. He said, “Please send us a teacher to stay with us for some time and confirm us in our understanding and in our faith, too. What is the use of someone coming once and telling us of these wonderful teachings of Bahá’í love and then leaving us to ourselves?” Rúḥíyyih Khánum promised that she would see to it that one of the famous Bahá’í teachers of Kenya should come and stay with him, as he requested, for at least two weeks.
On September 2, we left Mombasa for the coastal town of Tanga, in Tanzania, a distance of 120 miles over a frightful road. At the end of five and a half hours of driving we were absolutely exhausted. Owing to the fact that post office boxes are usually the only addresses available, and the owner of the Tanga one was away on a teaching trip, it was disappointing to spend a day and two evenings in a place where there were over seventy believers and to meet only six at the last moment!
“One Sod — One People”In the afternoon of September 4, we arrived in the capital of Tanzania, the city of Dar es Salaam. The seven-day visit of ‘Amatu’l-Bahá in this city was exploited to the full and every effort was made to use her presence for the proclamation of the Faith. A public meeting was held in the beautiful new National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds; Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to an audience of over two hundred on the subject of “One God — One People.” She said:
“As I was sitting here tonight thinking about my subject, ‘One God — One People,’ I thought of my own part of the world, because you know I am North American — half Canadian and half American, and I thought about Asia and Africa, and I thought about the great difference in the way that one would have to approach this subject in the Western Hemisphere as opposed to the Eastern Hemisphere. In sophisticated circles, in other words, in the cities of the West, nowadays, I don’t even know whether you could give a talk on the subject of God because most of the people probably wouldn’t believe that He existed. Mind you, I don’t mean the rural populations, I mean the sophisticated, the very well educated populations in the cities . . . .
“I remember an experience I had when in India in 1964. . . . There was an audience of perhaps twice the number of people that are here tonight, and they were drawn from the officers camp which was near the center of this town, the University professors and students, and many professional people. In other words, it was quite an elite, educated audience. After I had finished my talk, one person got up and said, ‘What do the Bahá’ís believe about the love of God?’ I had never been asked a question like this, and I thought a moment and said, ‘We believe that the love of God is the beginning and end of all things.’ As I was at the top of the room and could see the audience, when I answered this question so simply and absolutely sincerely, because that is what we believe, I saw a tremor go through the audience, and do you know what caused this? It was the intense agreement with what I had said. I thought to myself that where we would not succeed in ending in the West after perhaps a series of lectures, in the East you can begin. . . . My impression is that Africa shares this quality with Asia.”
In the course of this same talk Rúḥíyyih Khánum said: “The Bahá’ís do not believe in unity through uniformity. We believe in unity through diversity. If you analyze it, this is fundamentally opposed to the modern trend of thought in the world. The attitude of people is that if everybody belongs to my political persuasion whatever it may be — socialism, communism, capitalism, feudalism, dictatorship, whatever the particular national belief of a nation or people, or a block of nations or of people may be — their philosophy is that if you think as I do, you become converted to my philosophy; then we will have world peace; then we will have a better society, and so on. It is uniformity — being like me — that is the [non-Bahá’í] answer.
“We do not believe that at all. We think that the most wonderful thing in the world is that we are all different, but we combine to make a whole. What does this mean in practice? How does this work out when you start practicing this doctrine? I can take my own experience as a Bahá’í as an example, because I am more familiar with what goes on in my own life. I have traveled a great deal to visit the Bahá’ís, particularly in the rural areas all over the world, in Asia, in South and Central America, and in Africa. I find myself speaking to people who are of different racial and different religious backgrounds and many of them have been pagans. When I go to these people I do not have to say, ‘You are wrong’; I can say, ‘You are right.’ The reason I can say it is because of this Bahá’í fundamental belief that God has given to each group of His children wonderful qualities, wonderful beliefs, wonderful contributions to give to the whole of humanity.”
One Thing . . . Very ChallengingIn Dar es Salaam interesting interviews which Rúḥíyyih Khánum had with various reporters were published in the national press. The National Assembly of Tanzania gave a reception in her honor in the best hotel, at which a number of Members of Parliament, members of the Diplomatic Corps, and other notables were present. In the address she made to the assembled guests at the end of this reception, she said:
“One thing that I think is very challenging and very hopeful in the Bahá’í world community is that we have succeeded in incorporating the illiterates and the literates on an equal basis . . . villagers who cannot read the newspapers, who haven’t gone to school, who don’t hear the radio, who don’t know that the world we live in even exists . . . you find that these people have accepted this universal teaching of Bahá’u’lláh, and you feel this intense feeling of brotherhood with them and of common purpose and understanding. It is a very, very wonderful and encouraging thing, and I think that men of thought and goodwill should know that the Bahá’í Faith is doing this in the world, because to me this is one of the most significant things that we are doing. . . .
“In my part of the world, the intellectual person wonders, really with bafflement and with a certain amount of cynicism, how we are going to be able to bridge the gap between people living in the past — living in civilizations that are really almost Stone Age civilizations — and the Twentieth Century. What are we going to do with these people to bring them into the Twentieth Century? They have to come into it; they want to come into it.
“I am talking about people like the Vedas of Ceylon, the Senoys of Malaysia, the Australian aborigines — these people that are in the Stone Age. What can one do with these people? Let them die out like a race of animals? Let them cease to exist? Have they no place in the world? What are we going to do with these people to make them come into a world where they will feel they have a part? If we don’t have a love and an understanding for these people, if we don’t make them feel wanted, if we don’t make them feel that they have a gift to give to the world of humanity, then what is the use? Now I don’t say we Bahá’ís will succeed, but I do say that where we are teaching this great modern message of love and brotherhood, which we believe is from God and is divinely given to the world, we find that we can succor these people because there is no criticism of them.
“We believe that they have a contribution to make to us; we believe that they are wanted and needed in the world and not just some kind of a remnant like an animal that, out of pity, we are willing to help and willing to condescend to bring into our human world, when they are little better, so to speak, than apes. Now this difference of attitude inside this Bahá’í world community is, I think, perhaps one of the most constructive things we are doing in the whole world. And as I am on the subject, I would like to make a plea. Perhaps no one in this audience needs to hear these words, but I’ll be very surprised if all of us don’t need to hear them. . . .
Modern Prejudice“In our modern world . . . a new prejudice is growing up, this is the prejudice of the educated against the illiterate, and it is a very cruel and brutal prejudice . . . it is a criminal thing that has taken place. All of us were illiterate not very long ago. . . . Just because a Bolivian Indian is illiterate today doesn’t mean that I am such a miracle because I can read and write. . . . I think this is something that we have to make people realize when we go to people who don’t yet know how to read and write; we must make them understand that there is a difference between knowledge and learning, book learning.
“It is a wonderful thing to have learning, book learning, and to study all the things that we can study now in our school systems, but that has nothing to do with knowledge. For millions of years man has organized himself, he has had tribal life, national life, empire life if you like, without having the capacity of nearly anyone in the country to read and write. This was a very rare thing — reading and writing — special categories, special people knew how to read and write; the masses never knew how to read and write, but they ran the whole country, they carried on their affairs: commerce, art, learning, music — all of these things were given to the world, and still the masses of the people could not read or write.”
‘Amatu’l-Bahá was given a ten-minute interview on the Tanzania Government radio station. Direct questions on the teachings of the Faith were asked, and she had the opportunity of answering them fully. At a private dinner party in the home of one of the earliest pioneers, ‘Amatu’l-Bahá met with several prominent people, one of them the Chief Justice of Tanzania, another a foreign ambassador.
Man Needs BrakesArrangements had been made for her to address the Rotary Club at its weekly luncheon gathering. She spoke on “The Moral Failure of Present Society,” quoting Bahá’u’lláh’s soul-stirring words: “The vitality of man’s belief in God is dying out in every land.” She said, “When there is no more belief in religious values, whatever the religion may be, then you find the fiber of society disintegrating. Man, it seems to me, has to have something that he loves and something that he is afraid of, and if you do not have any love for God and any love for the Word of God — in whatever scriptures you may have come to accept His words — then you do not have brakes; and if you have no fear of God and no fear of doing the wrong thing, and consequently tipping the scales so that the balance will be against you organically, if you like, not necessarily philosophically, then also you are in danger. And it occurs to me that one of the great, great perils of this society in which we live today is that people all over the world are ceasing to either love Him or be afraid of Him, and those two things act like great brakes on human conduct.”
She concluded her talk by these encouraging words: “In the Bahá’í teachings it says that if a man has, say, nine bad qualities and weaknesses, things we do not admire in him, but one good quality, keep quiet about the nine and mention the good. Now, if you visualize a world in which there was just even a little bit more constructive attitude toward other people and other nations, you might change a lot of the atmosphere, politically and morally and spiritually.”
As Rúḥíyyih Khánum had, during her previous visit to Tanzania, flown over to Zanzibar, she decided this time that she would fly to Mafia and see the handful of new believers on this Island. It proved an unexpectedly fruitful and happy experience for us and for the two National Assembly members who were with us (one of whom was accompanied by his wife; both, amongst the oldest pioneers in East Africa). An impromptu meeting was held in the Municipal Hall, with the kind permission of the authorities, at which over one hundred people were present, and animated discussion and questions followed Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s lecture. As the town has no electricity, the hall was lighted by a kerosene pressure lamp kindly lent for the occasion by a member of the audience.
Before departing from this small copra-growing island, ‘Amatu’l-Bahá and those accompanying her paid a visit to the Area Commissioner, assuring him of our appreciation of the friendly reception we had had on his island and calling to his attention the entirely nonpolitical character of the Bahá’í Faith and its cardinal principle of strict obedience to government. Such contacts are essential in these days when the times are disturbed and various movements with political overtones are viewed, quite legitimately, with suspicion.
It is not possible to give a detailed account of the Centers visited from September 14 to 28 while we traveled in the Eastern and Central part of Tanzania, but some highlights remain in my mind most vividly, such as the use Rúḥíyyih Khánum so often makes in her talks of an example on the spot:
In the village of Kingolwira, addressing a small audience, ‘Amatu’l-Bahá took the building we were gathered in, a long, tunnel-like hall with arched beams supporting the roof, as a graphic illustration of her point. She said it consisted of three parts: the walls which could be likened to humanity, the iron beams which were like different religions of the world, and the roof which was like the Bahá’í Faith, uniting and protecting all.
A Tree RevisitedAt the meeting at Mwami, which was held under a very big tree, the same one where, eight years ago, Rúḥíyyih Khánum had met and addressed the Bahá’ís, some of those same believers were again present, providing a cordial atmosphere of reunion.
In the small town of Korogwe, we spent five days visiting Bahá’ís in nearby towns and in meetings held on some of the big sisal estates. On four evenings we had meetings in an African hotel in a room occupied by the member of the National Assembly who was accompanying us on this part of our Tanzanian tour. Another member of the National Assembly, a young pioneer, joined us with his wife and four small children.
As old and new Korogwe are about two miles apart and our hotel was in the new section — but the few local Bahá’ís lived in the old section — we would all huddle together (adults, children, believers; and new friends come to learn of the Faith for the first time) on the bed, table, chairs, and floor of our Bahá’í brother’s bedroom, sometimes fourteen of us in a space about three meters wide by four meters long! Animated discussion and questions would follow Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s opening remarks, in which she invariably emphasized how happy she was to be there, how much she enjoyed such informal exchanges of ideas, and that they were welcome to ask any questions they liked.
The questions, as we have always noticed in the villages and small places, were the reflection of intelligent and questing minds, and the discussion most stimulating and interesting. The Africans were touched by the way these little Persian children would recite prayers, even the tiny girl of three saying, in her piping, mouse-size voice, a little prayer in front of almost a hundred people, half of them children, in a meeting at Mombo,
Rúḥíyyih Khánum often comments that when the pioneers will take their children with them on village teaching trips it has a profound effect, as it is a true demonstration of our sense of the oneness of humanity; people do not take their precious children among people they do not trust; also, the influence on the Bahá’í children is profound and encourages them to teach from their earliest infancy. Several young men and women embraced the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh as the result of this Korogwe visit. This is really the best way of planning the itinerary of traveling teachers, giving them time to remain in one place for several days, to teach and deepen the believers. The field is vast, the harvest waiting to be gathered so abundant, and the laborers so few.’ This is the true heartache when one goes out into the field of actual service.
Why We Need the MassesRúḥíyyih Khánum often asks the friends how we are going to build the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh with a handful of believers. It is like trying to bake a loaf of bread with a spoonful of flour and a few drops of water! She says we need masses of believers to work with, to knead into loaves, to shape into a new society.
For two nights in the beautiful town of Moshi, close to the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro, we met with the fine local group of Bahá’ís and their friends in the Bahá’í Center; all eagerly listened to the loving and refreshing words of their beloved and precious guest.
Our last stop in Tanzania was in the charming town of Arusha, where a gathering was held in the home of a Bahá’í couple, ten miles from the city. At this meeting Rúḥíyyih Khánum told the friends they should not be discouraged by the fewness of their numbers, for in the future their descendants would be proud of the fact that their ancestors were among the first Bahá’ís of Tanzania. They were like the first drops of the rain, isolated and few in number, but soon the heavy downpour would begin which would water the hearts of great masses of people.
From October 7 to 11 ‘Amatu’l-Bahá, accompanied by two of the earliest pioneers to Africa, one of them a member of the National Assembly of Kenya, visited the Kisii District in the highlands of Kenya. At an evening meeting in the home of Bahá’ís on a tea estate at Kericho, it was so cold we huddled around a wood fire for warmth as well as light. We found the group was all new Bahá’ís, both sincere and well informed, thanks to the services of a full-time, Bahá’í teacher in their area.
In Mogwekobi Teaching Institute, over one hundred adults and children attended a meeting held to welcome Rúḥíyyih Khánum. All four of our party, which had now been joined by two other members of the Kenya National Assembly, were the guests of one of the old Bahá’ís in his home in Mosima, and daily we visited other Bahá’í communities in this area.
The Admirable MasaiThe highlight of this trip was the day when, in Geteri Market, we met with several Masai Bahá’ís and their friends. These beautiful and colorful people, whom Rúḥíyyih Khánum has always admired, hold a special place in her heart; so you can imagine her joy when she was introduced to a dignified old Masai and discovered that he and another member of his tribe were on the Area Teaching Committee.
Some of the roads, after heavy showers which started regularly every afternoon, were absolutely impassable to any vehicle but a four-wheel drive. One stretch of sixteen miles of mud, Rúḥíyyih Khánum said, was the worst she had ever driven over in her entire life. Nevertheless, she insisted in keeping her appointment with the Bahá’ís, saying that they so seldom had any guests from far away and quoting the words of Bahá’u’lláh, “Say not that which thou doest not, and promise not that which thou canst not fulfill.” She had promised, and she was going; but her shoulders were sore from the driving for several days.
Arrival in Addis AbabaOn October 15, we landed in Addis Ababa airport to be met with a tremendous welcome from a large and most loving group composed of the Ethiopian Board member, National Assembly members, pioneers and friends from many places. The dream of visiting Ethiopia, cherished by both ‘Amatu’l-Bahá and me, was at last being fulfilled. Our stay of over one month was truly the climax, so far, of this long African tour. Every day was packed with activity, and great victories were won for our beloved Faith in this ancient and historic land.
On arriving at her hotel, Rúḥíyyih Khánum was interviewed by a reporter from one of the larger journals. In the afternoon the director of one of the leading programs of the National Radio came to her sitting room and recorded her in an informal interview of questions and answers — a full half-hour of comprehensive information on the history of the Faith and its teachings. He was greatly impressed by what he heard and put the entire interview on the air, a unique occasion for the Bahá’ís in Ethiopia as it was the first time mention of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh had ever been broadcast in that country. We later learned that many of the believers in other cities had been able to hear this program. It was a source of great encouragement to the friends who are just beginning to emerge from obscurity and are, for the first time, experiencing a rapid increase in numbers in spite of the fact that Ethiopia was opened to the Faith in 1935, almost twenty years before the start of the World Crusade in 1953.
It had long been the desire of Rúḥíyyih Khánum to meet His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I. This interview had been tentatively arranged for the following morning at ten, but as it had still to be confirmed, we were not actually certain it would take place until a few minutes before we left for the office of the Emperor, in the Grand Palace.
Emperor Grants InterviewMr. Gila Bata, a lawyer, one of the first believers of Ethiopia and a member of its National Assembly, whose duty had brought him into contact with the Emperor on more than one occasion, had made all the arrangements and was present with ‘Amatu’l-Bahá and me.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum had decided she preferred the low Ethiopian bow to the curtsy of the West; and when we were ushered into the spacious drawing room, furnished much in the tradition of a comfortable, tasteful, European parlor, which was evidently used as a more informal reception room and office than a Chamber of State, she bowed very low, and so did we. The private secretary of the Emperor, who, in addition to being an officer of the Court, holds among other things the title of Minister of the Pen, a man of fifty or so, told us to come forward and shake hands with the Emperor. I noticed that as Rúḥíyyih Khánum took his hand all she said was, “Your Majesty.” He motioned her to be seated in one of the two armchairs placed to the right of his armchair, not six feet from him, and I sat next to her. He instructed Gila Bata to sit opposite him on one of a row of chairs against the wall. This, we later learned, was quite contrary to Ethiopian custom, as the subjects do not generally sit in the presence of the Ruler. It was evidently to be a European interview.
His Imperial Majesty is such a familiar figure that he scarcely needs to be described. Short, and slight in build, he is great and commanding in presence. Although his hair and beard are now streaked with grey, his eyes are brilliant and full not only of life and a keen intelligence, but at times there is a surprising degree of warmth and kindliness that reflects the very soul of this great man.
Interview InformalWhen we were seated, the Emperor said something in Amharic to his Secretary, or Chamberlain, who did all the translating and was the only other person in the room with us. Then he turned to Rúḥíyyih Khánum and said, “Proceed.” She afterwards said that this disconcerted her very much, as it sounded as if she had come with a petition of some kind. She then said that if she might express what was really in her heart, naturally and openly, she wanted to tell His Majesty how deeply she was honored and moved by being received by him, as she had so long admired him “as a King and as a man” because of the way he had conducted himself in the face of the many trials and hardships of his life, and the way he had overcome them.
Throughout the entire interview, which lasted a full half-hour, the sincerity of her feeling for this Ruler, a true depth of feeling, was very apparent. It even affected her voice at times, as if one could hear the tears in it, and this was in no way lost upon the Emperor, who, whatever he had expected, had certainly not expected this. I think it moved him, too.
Gila Bata said he had never seen the Emperor so informal, that he seemed to be enjoying the meeting with ‘Amatu’l-Bahá. Indeed, the length of time he accorded us would seem to confirm this, as his antechamber was full of people who no doubt had urgent matters for his attention.
Although the Emperor evidently understands English quite well, for the most part he addressed Rúḥíyyih Khánum in Amharic through his Secretary, who would then translate, prefixing his remarks by “His Imperial Majesty says. . . .” Every now and then the Emperor would say something to her in English, but finding discussion on philosophical matters too complicated, would go back to Amharic. One of the first things he said was, “You have many Bahá’ís in my country?” to which Rúḥíyyih Khánum replied, “Some, Your Majesty,” and added, “under the protection of Your Majesty’s wing.”
There were certain points that she was able to bring out clearly, as the Emperor not only spoke himself, but asked her questions and listened attentively to what she said. All in all, it was quite a remarkable conversation.
She said (and no attempt is made here to give either a verbatim account or follow the sequence of these remarks) she wished him to know that, as obedience to governments was one of the cardinal teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, he would find no more loyal and obedient subjects in his Kingdom than the Bahá’ís, that they were entirely nonpolitical in their activities, indeed never interfered in political matters.
“When she had mentioned these characteristics of the Bahá’ís, His Majesty stated that in his country there was complete freedom of religion, that it comprised many Muslims as well as Christians, and that even the pagan who worshipped a tree was free to do so, as he was worshiping the spirit of God behind that tree, so to speak. Indeed, he spoke so beautifully and so tolerantly that it was a revelation to us. He also strongly deplored the derisive spirit among religious leaders, and said that he constantly strove to promote unity and cooperation amongst them.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum was able to set forth in lucid language the concept the Bahá’ís have that religion is a natural phenomena of life in this world, always unfolding as man matures on this planet; that all Revelations are from God; that Bahá’u’lláh is the Revealer of the one for this day, and that there will always be, in the future, a further unfoldment of divine truth.
She also stressed the point that she felt we must all be on our guard against: the new prejudice of the Twentieth Century — being added to all the terrible, old prejudices of race, religion, and class — that of the educated against the illiterate.
The Exchange of GiftsWhen we rose to take our leave, ‘Amatu’l-Bahá asked if she might present a gift to His Imperial Majesty, though it was only a modest token of her esteem. She then took from me the silver box she had wrapped in silk, saying this was the workmanship of her husband’s native land, Persia, and handed it to the Secretary. To our surprise, he unwrapped it and presented it to the Emperor to survey.
We then bowed low, the Emperor again shook hands, and we backed respectfully towards the door. Just as we reached it, His Imperial Majesty said something to his Secretary, who approached Rúḥíyyih Khánum and asked her to wait a moment. As we stood, he opened a cabinet against a wall, took out a box and handed it to the Emperor, who asked Rúḥíyyih Khánum to approach. Opening the small case, he showed her the gold medal of his Coronation, saying this was a token of his esteem and not because of any intrinsic value it might have. Rúḥíyyih Khánum accepted it gracefully, thanked him, and we departed. Thus ended what must truly be considered an historic interview in every way.
On the 17th of October we motored, accompanied by a number of other cars, to Awasa in Southern Ethiopia, where the Board of Counsellors with the co-operation of the National Assembly had arranged a three-day teaching conference in Gemeto. Many hundreds of the new, local Bahá’ís, as well as a large number of the friends from Addis Ababa and Asmara, attended this conference.
On the second day of our arrival, before going to nearby Gemeto to the conference, ‘Amatu’l-Bahá paid a courtesy call on the highest government official who was present in the district, Mr. Girazmatch Kebede Woldemedhin, the Chief Secretary of the Sidamu District. When the Chief Secretary insisted that Rúḥíyyih Khánum should be escorted to the conference by the Chief of Police, as well as by the Governor of the Gemeto area, she said, with a deep sense of humility:
“One hundred years ago Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of our Faith, Who was a distinguished nobleman, was taken on foot, bareheaded and barefooted, in chains under the burning sun, from His palace in the mountains to the worst dungeon in Ṭihrán; now, for His sake and in His honor, I accept the honor you are bestowing on me.”
An Ethiopian ConferenceThe conference, which took place amidst a cluster of mud huts in the depths of a luxuriant growth of muck bananas, was held under an immense tent borrowed from the army. The villagers, a tall, handsome people (many of the men carrying spears which they used to defend their cattle against wild animals; many of the women clad only in aprons and cloaks of hide), listened attentively, hour after hour, to the many talks, most of which had to be translated from either English or Amharic into their own tongue.
At night, the ladies from Addis Ababa cooked a big pot of food, and we all sat about on the ground under the stars, eating with our hands in that happy and easy spirit of companionship that seems to spring up among Bahá’ís everywhere in the world. This was the first conference of its kind ever held in Ethiopia and a source of great joy to all the friends.
The last day, ‘Amatu’l-Bahá laid three foundation stones in the vicinity for three Bahá’í buildings. The National Assembly had selected a piece of land, offered by the chairman of the local Spiritual Assembly of Gemeto, to build the Banání Teaching Institute on; and two other friends had each also eagerly donated a piece of land on which, in the future, it is hoped to erect a simple Bahá’í Center and a village school.
Ethiopians Display TalentsOne of the highlights of this visit was an unusual and fascinating dance given by the young villagers. The Addis Ababa friends, who have been going down on successive weekends to teach the Faith in the Gemeto area, were very surprised as none of them had ever seen it before. As usual, the villagers knew how to honor the guests who had come from so far to be with them!
Another thing that added to their experiences of this day was the singing by a group of the local children of Bahá’í songs in Persian, in English, in Amharic, and in their own language, which songs they had learned in such a short space of time. So distinct was their pronunciation that we could understand both the English and the Persian words. Truly, the Ethiopian people have a unique gift for languages.
Another scene that lingers in my memory is the old man who, with a trembling voice, addressed these words to Rúḥíyyih Khánum:
“Our hearts are so full with all the blessings that you have brought us. Last night you lightened our meetings with electrical light and showed us beautiful films; and today you have lightened our hearts and souls with the spiritual light of the love of Bahá’u’lláh.”
The celebration of the Birthday of the Báb was the happy crown of these wonderful days.
On our way back to Addis Ababa, we stopped in the village of Bulbula. Four distinguished Muslim Sheiks were present in this meeting. They were greatly touched by the spirit of the Bahá’ís and the beauty of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. In this meeting, which was held under the shade of a tree on a flat, dusty plain, ‘Amatu’l-Bahá sat on the ground with the other friends and spoke such words of wisdom as to melt the hearts of all who heard her.
Sheiks Declare FaithThe most distinguished Sheik, who was visiting this area, expressed his joy on hearing this wonderful message of God and invited the Bahá’ís to come and visit him and teach the Faith in his home. Two of the three Sheiks accepted the Faith, and several others also acknowledged their belief in Bahá’u’lláh.
On our way back, we also stopped at the home of one of the Bahá’ís whose young wife had given birth to their first baby. We had prayers for the mother and the baby, and, as the parents of the baby requested a name for their baby girl, Rúḥíyyih Khánum gave the name of Bahíyyih to her. On this same route there was a small hotel where we spent a night, and where three of the staff had accepted the Faith a few days earlier. We were happy to have the chance of seeing these new believers.
On October 22, ‘Amatu’l-Bahá, Mr. and Mrs. Belete Worku, and I had the honor of being received by Princess Tenagne Worke Haile Selassie, a daughter of the Emperor and one of the best-known members of the royal family, and her daughter Princess Seble Desta. Both of these ladies are very active in women’s work in their country. For almost an hour we stayed with them, had coffee, and talked about the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, which Rúḥíyyih Khánum very eloquently clarified, explaining our belief in progressive Revelation.
To Princess Tenage, a copy of The Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh was given, and to her daughter, a copy of Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era. When Rúḥíyyih Khánum mentioned the beauty and power of the prayers of Bahá’u’lláh, this young princess expressed the desire to read them. Rúḥíyyih Khánum said she would send her a copy of Prayers and Meditations of Bahá’u’lláh.
Amatu’l-Bahá in East Africa
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #469, April 1970, pp. 1-8
In the theater of the Municipal Hall of Addis Ababa, on the evening of October 22, Rúḥíyyih Khánum gave her main public address in Addis Ababa on the subject, “The Bahá’í World Faith,” Over two hundred and seventy people attended, and the lecture was followed by a long period of written questions, the audience seeming reluctant to depart.
This was our second stay in the capital, and the appointments seemed to pile up on each other, literally day and night, prior to our departure for a visit to other cities in Ethiopia on October 25. An animated press conference resulted in excellent publicity in English-speaking daily, and various Amharic, newspapers. There were innumerable meetings and luncheons with the Bahá’ís. On the occasion of United Nations Day, the Addis Ababa community sponsored a public lecture, well attended, at which Dr. Cooppan, a member of the United Nations Secretariat stationed in Ethiopia, gave the principal address. And Rúḥíyyih Khánum, as honorary chairman, was able to first present the Bahá’í attitude toward, and relationship with, the United Nations.
When one has been received by His Imperial Majesty, the doors of protocol open for other contacts with high-ranking officials. We flew to Dera Dawa in the Province of Harrar and drove straight from the airport to call upon the Governor General, His Excellency Workineh Wolcomanuel, who had set a time to receive us. He is stationed in the ancient town of Harrar, the city Haile Selassie I himself comes from, and was waiting for us in his office at the Governorate. A tall, handsome, most charming and polished man, he typifies the caliber of officials the Emperor himself chooses to appoint to hold such high office.
We spent one night in Harrar and two in Dera Dawa, where Amatu’l-Bahá, literally exhausted, was ill in bed for two days and could not meet in person the Governor of Dera Dawa. She was able, however, to send him her greetings and present him with a copy of Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era.
Dr. Leo Neiderreiter, a member of the National Assembly, who has recently bought an airplane in the hope it will facilitate teaching trips as well as visits to patients in different parts of the country, picked us up and flew us to the Port of Asab, where we had lunch with the small but very active and devoted group of believers there, and then to Masawa for a two-day, much needed rest at sea level.
Activities in Asmara, EritreaAgain flying with Dr. Neiderreiter, we arrived in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, on October 31, for a five-day visit. During this period, Rúḥíyyih Khánum addressed the Bahá’ís at a luncheon the community gave in her honor and at the Nineteen Day Feast she was able to share with them, on the eve of her departure; and on the other four nights consecutively addressed well-attended public meetings, at a number of which the same non-Bahá’ís were to be seen. This interest was unique in our experience and, combined with the wonderful spirit of love and harmony that pervades the small but devoted Bahá’í community in that city, seemed to draw forth from Amatu’l-Bahá a flow of eloquence that lifted both her and her hearers to a level of enthusiasm, and a communion of thought, that I have never seen before.
The first of these addresses was delivered at the Officers Club, where about one hundred and fifty people, many of them high-ranking government officials and town dignitaries, gathered to hear her speak on the subject of “Science and Religion.” Some of the remarks she made as her treatment of this subject greatly interested her hearers:
SCIENCE AND RELIGION“There is a tradition in the East that knowledge was twenty-seven letters and that only two of these letters have been given to man in the past, but that when the Promised One came He would give the other twenty-five letters. As I say, this is a tradition, and it is not really of any importance except that it makes one wonder if there is not a relationship between this tradition, these prophetic words, and the fact that it is only in the last two hundred years really that what we understand today as modern science has come into existence.
“Electricity was always there, but nobody discovered its nature, nobody captured it and brought it down and harnessed it to machines. We had the knowledge of atoms in theory, but nobody ever even saw the molecule, they never saw an amoeba, they never saw bacteria before two hundred years ago.
“Nobody could make anything run that wasn’t run by purely natural means. People had horses, they had sailboats, they got around all over the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean. They conquered each other through different methods; they subjugated different tribes and different races and nations in great empires like the Roman Empire, the Chinese Empire, the Egyptian Empire, the Syrian Empire, and so on.
“Man had a way of living, and in very much the same pattern for the thousands of years of known history. He reached great intellectual attainments; he created wonderful art; he created wonderful buildings; he created wonderful literature. He had an understanding of science in a very rudimentary form. He had medicine dating back from the ancient Greeks, and so on.
The Scientific Phenomena“But why is it that in all these thousands of years he never learned to fly; he never made the internal combustion engine; he never went to the moon; he never had the principle of rockets; he never split the atom, and so on? He had intelligence, he had ability, he had all these same capacities that we see in ourselves today. And yet, somehow in all these thousands of years of recorded history none of this phenomena of scientific progress and development ever took place.
“So, it seems to me that it might make us pause for thought and ask ourselves, ‘Is there any better explanation than this old oriental tradition to explain why it is that the same human race, having the same capacities, and having all the same hands, arms, faculties that we have now, never made this fantastic leap forward in the past? Why did it come so suddenly, and how is it that it has advanced so rapidly?’ Which really brings us to one of the great problems of the age in which we live: What are we going to do with this science?
“. . . It is quite trite to say nowadays that we are in danger of wiping out the human race if we have another atomic war; we all know that. We know the immense power of destruction which we have in modern armaments is not only quite capable of wiping out the big cities of the world, but if we have another war it will wipe out the great centers of civilization. It will wipe out my country — I am an American-Canadian — wipe out my two countries, probably.
“It won’t wipe out your country if it comes within the next decade because you are not worth dropping atom bombs on. You are amongst the fortunate people; you are not wealthy enough, and have not yet got enough modern science to make anybody want to waste one of these very beautiful, expensive, modern, destructive weapons on your country. So, if we have another atomic war, perhaps you will escape . . .
“It is nice to think about the merits of the undeveloped countries, and it is rather difficult for somebody from my part of the world to think about the cost of being overdeveloped — and that is, of course, what we are in many places.
Tilting the Scales“In the past, because of this teaching of Bahá’u’lláh that science and religion should go hand in hand, I always had the idea that this meant that religion had to give up being so limited; it had to come out of its very unscientific concepts about the universe, and it had to accept some of the things of modern science. But in the last few years, perhaps because I am getting older and wiser (I hope so!), it has occurred to me that now we have reached the tilting of the scales in the other direction, and that it isn’t so much the people who are still steeped in so-called religious traditions and a religious background that are the ones who now have to accept modern science.
“Modern science is rapidly reaching the point where it will have to accept some religion. If it is not rapidly affected by the higher moral values of religion, God knows what it is going to do to this planet. And I think that these are the thoughts that people have to think about to some extent. And particularly the youth have to think about them, because the young people nowadays are living in a world which is quite different from my generation. People in this audience who are, say, over forty-five, you are not going to be able to take away from us our concept of life, which is based on deep spiritual values. If we have become reconciled to the advances in modern science, our religious training of our childhood and our youth is too deep for you to be able (by you I mean the younger generation) to take it away from us.
“But what about the young people. They are growing up in modern schools and modern universities and receiving a highly scientific education. What are we going to give them? They will not give up science for old-fashioned religion. Where the religious concept that is taught to them is against science they will never give up science for religion, which I think is one of the great facts we must face today. One of the tragedies of this particular point at which we stand in history is that the youth, like anybody else in the world, desperately needs moral guidance and moral help. But it is not going to take it all wrapped up in the trappings of an old-fashioned, unscientific outlook on the universe. It cannot!
A Major Miracle“It is going to cling to this modern universe that it lives in, where you go to the moon and get off and walk around, and you actually get back to this earth. This is the generation that these young people are living in, and this is the miracle of this generation. For that matter, it is one of the greatest miracles that has ever taken place in the history of mankind. It shows what powers man has in science. But if you ask young people to deny all this marvelous realm of science and cling to an outmoded religious concept — not an outmoded religion, because religion will never be outmoded as far as I am concerned, but the trappings of it can be outmoded — they will not be able to do it. And I don’t blame them, because I don’t think I would do it.
“So it seems to me that one of the great needs of this age in which we live is that we should be able to give people the essence of religion, a spiritual concept of life, a spiritual concept of the universe, and, at the same time, not criticize, and not ask them to give up miracles of a science that they have studied and that they are becoming more deeply interested in all the time.
Technology and Ecology“This science, which is so capable of changing man’s environment and enabling him to live in a way he has never lived in the past, is also very much like a Frankenstein. We have conjured it up, and now it has placed our whole way of life and our whole planet in great danger; because, as I said before, it has this brilliant intellectual power in it. We have cast the light of our minds onto matter; we have invented means of releasing powers in matter we had never dreamed of having; but we haven’t any way of controlling it whatsoever, because our moral status is steadily deteriorating all the time. And I don’t believe that ten million years of science is ever going to give man any moral character, It is not the nature of science, because if it were, then as science is increasing daily all over the world, the knowledge of it, the technology that it gives birth to, the understanding of it in schools and universities everywhere, then if it has a redeeming power, we should be getting better all the time because certainly science is getting better.
“Then we must ask ourselves, ‘Why is it that with all this knowledge and all this power, society is getting worse and worse?’ Our scientists are in danger of absolutely destroying us and the world. It shows that somewhere there must be a terrible lack of balance. We have to get back to moral values, and those are the only values that can harness safely the powers of science.
“I am sure that people like you people here, educated people in Ethiopia, see what I am talking about more clearly than perhaps a comparable audience would in the West. I am afraid that we have already gone so far away from spiritual values in the midst of our materialistic civilization of the West that, although we believe some kind of ethical illumination is necessary, the spiritual part of man has become so weak that he does not understand how essential it is to have the balance of deep religious feeling in order to control the powers which we have released in modern science.
“I think we should ask, ‘What do we want of man?’ What is the use of a man who has all this power through technology, who can go to the moon and perhaps other places, who can change the climate of the world, who can change the nature of a human being? What use is he if he has not got any spiritual values? Does anybody want to live really in a world where you become increasingly small in the face of the machines and the gadgets and the technology that you yourself have created? . . . There are many scientists in this world, perhaps too advanced, perhaps a little too pessimistic, who consider that man has already upset the ecology of this planet, poisoned the atmosphere of this planet to a point where it is off balance.
“Now, I can not believe that; that is too much. I believe he has almost done it . . . But it shows you the dangers of a science that forgets the other part of what God has given us, which is the spiritual values. When we lose those, which are to me the eternal values, then we will have lost the balance of life on this planet. If we can harness the good things that science gives us, if we can ride on them like a horse that will carry us where we want to go, that is fine; but if it becomes a Frankenstein that devours us spiritually, that destroys all our moral values, that renders our youth absolutely hopeless, not to mention unmanageable, then what is the use of having more television, more science, more sprays, and more chromium furniture? What price will we pay for it if we pay the supreme price of our spiritual values?
Bahá’ís Envisage One World“I don’t want to talk very much on this subject, but it seems to me that these are some of the challenging thoughts that this question, ‘Science and Religion,’ arouses in the mind. I would like to just add, as a Bahá’í, at the end of this, that we do not have a wholly pessimistic outlook. On the contrary, we Bahá’ís feel very strongly that, although the immediate future is dark, the distant future is bright, because we have fundamentally a spiritual concept of life and of this world, and we feel that God is not going to abandon His creature, Man. We feel that however far we may go in our scientific development today, however extreme, to what dangers and extremes we may go in modern science, still there will be a point where Man will come out of this fire. He may even go into the fire and singe his wings, but he will come out and fulfill his destiny, which is a very glorious destiny, and will always carry men to greater heights spiritually and intellectually as well as materially.
“The Bahá’ís envisage a world in the future which, because of the development of modern science, will have perforce become one world.”
Three Additional TalksThe following evening she had been invited to address the Teachers Association of Asmara. Over three hundred people were present, mostly principals and school teachers, as well as some students and members of the Ministry of Education. Rúḥíyyih Khánum, on her arrival, was taken into an office by the chairman of the meeting who wished to meet her and discuss his opening remarks. Because of this, we missed the announcement to the audience that she was sharing the platform with a representative of the Moral Rearmament movement. In complete ignorance of this, she launched into her subject, “The Moral Failure of Present Society,” and, carried away by the unusually wrapt attention of her hearers, spoke for about forty-five minutes.
At the end of her talk, to her horror, the chairman announced that, as the speaker on Moral Rearmament was still to address them, questions would be limited to five minutes. Rúḥíyyih Khánum assured him she was unaware that there was another speaker to come, apologized for monopolizing the floor so long, and suggested moving the questions. But as a number of people had already raised their hands, the chairman said he would allow a few questions. The audience became so absorbed in the answers, including the Moral Rearmament speaker (who sent word he waived the right to give his address and preferred she should continue with the questions), that the chairman let them go on for at least half an hour. And there were still people trying to put questions when he drew the long meeting to a close.
Although this was undoubtedly one of the most inspiring talks Rúḥíyyih Khánum had ever given, it was exhausting for her in every way.
The next night there was a large public meeting in the Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds of Asmara, followed by a very successful Bahá’í exhibition. The Bahá’í youth of Asmara had worked throughout the previous night on its arrangement, and their efforts were greatly appreciated.
The last talk was to the public the following day, November 3, at the Women’s Christian Association, and I quote some of her speech on that occasion:
“Madame Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:
“I am very happy to be here in the Y.W.C.A. . . . When I heard that I was invited to address a women’s organization, I was particularly happy; and I am astonished at the number of men who have dared to enter this meeting! I thought we ladies were going to have it all to ourselves. But, today, at lunchtime, when I said good-by to one of the Bahá’í gentlemen, he said, ‘Can we men come to the lecture; after all we are married to women?’ But, nevertheless, I consider that this is an entirely women’s affair, and everything I have to say is addressed to women . . .
Humanity Flies on “Wings”“Another thing that we have in the Bahá’í teachings is this concept of humanity as a bird. Humanity flies on two wings. One wing is men, and one wing is women: and if these two wings fly in perfect balance and perfect co-ordination, the bird of humanity, so to speak, can fly very high, just like any other bird: if its wings operate rhythmically and strongly and equally, the bird has power to go very high. And this is taught in the Bahá’í teachings, that men are one wing of humanity and women are the other wing of humanity . . .
“I think that one of the most important things that women should do is to be conscious of the fact that fundamentally, I believe, the guardian of morality and virtue is women — not men. The very nature of a woman, her physical nature, the nature of her emotions and her passions is such that she can be the one to lead the way to morality and virtue much more than a man. A man is swept by much more tempestuous passions. which he always is only too glad to give way to, than a woman; and if women will be firm morally, on all issues of life, they can raise up their entire family . . .
“A man wants a woman to be something he can look up to, but for some strange reason he will do everything he can to pull her down. And if he cannot pull her down, then he is, inside, very pleased. If he can pull her down, he enjoys it, but he is disillusioned and it makes him unhappy. He does not really like it. But still he will do everything he can, as I say, to undermine a woman, but if she stands firm he will admire her, and it will have a good effect on him. And I think that this is one thing that women should teach their daughters. I think it is something they should remember in their own lives, and they should have the strength to be decent, clean, noble, idealistic women because, by doing that, they will raise the whole tone of the society in which they live.
“Another way that I think women must be very, very strong is in all the moral values; I am not talking about sex values now, I mean moral values. Often men are tempted to do something wrong. Supposing that a man is in great stress, he may even be a very nice man, and he has problems in his family, and he is tempted to do something dishonest or dishonorable. Supposing he is a man of religion, and he is tempted to go out of the path of his religion because he is under pressure. Then I think the woman should stand firm. She should put her confidence in God. She should say, ‘God will help me if I am strong and I do the right thing. If I believe in Him and turn to Him and pray to Him and do what I know is right in my religion’ . . . .”
The Male-Female PrincipleQuestion: “Throughout the lecture you have been examining the position of women (and no doubt they deserve it) and the equality they are having now, and they deserve all these things. But there is one thing that astonishes me most, and that is that throughout the history of the world we have never heard about a single woman prophet. Could you just tell me the reason behind that?”
Answer: “I can answer that question, but I think it was hitting below the belt. The Chinese base their whole concept of the universe on, as I remember it, the principles of Ying and Yang — in other words, masculine and feminine, positive and negative — and this concept has existed in many philosophies. For instance, the sun is always considered the power of a man, it is a male power. The moon is always considered the feminine power. The earth is considered feminine. We say ‘Mother Earth,’ whereas to the power of the sun we give a masculine quality. And I think that there is no doubt about it that there is something in it; it may be a philosophical concept, but I think also it is borne out in matter, because even matter itself is based on charges of negative and positive electricity which form a balance inside the nucleus of the atoms.
“So there is this polarization; it exists, and it seems to create a tension of forces that pulls everything into a state of balance. There is no doubt about it that the aggressive, more positive force, if you like, the impregnating force, we associate with the male force, the male principle. The receiving force that develops things, the passive side, is woman. So it seems to me perfectly natural that we should have always conceived of God, the Creator, as the male principle because, after all, it is the creative power that we associate with God. And that same principle has been followed in the creative power of the Manifestation of God, which has always been a man. And as far as I am concerned, just because of this principle, which is a mysterious, if you like, philosophical concept, I think that all the Prophets of God will always be men. But I do not think it means that women are inferior; it means that they are different.”
The Mayor of Asmara, Degezmach Haregot Abbai, a well-known political figure, received us in his office in the Town Hall and spent a few moments discussing the Bahá’í teachings and general topics.
A Prince and Bahá’í HistoryBut, undoubtedly, one of the most interesting figures we met in Ethiopia was His Highness Prince Asrate Kassa, related to the ruling dynasty, and Governor General of Eritrea. An imposing man of middle age, suave, exceedingly courteous (a characteristic most Ethiopians share with him!), he received Amatu’l-Bahá, accompanied by one of the Asmara believers and me, in his office in the Governorate and kept us talking for half an hour.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum discussed with him the art and history of his country, a subject on which he was obviously a well-informed scholar. After about fifteen minutes he said, “But let us discuss the Bahá’í Faith.” He told us how, at the time when His Imperial Majesty the Emperor went into exile and was staying in Jerusalem, he was a boy of thirteen and had been one of those in his entourage. He remembered a woman who had had an audience with the Emperor and given him a Bahá’í book, which particularly attracted the Prince’s attention because it was wrapped in ribbons of the national colors of Ethiopia. He had taken it from the Emperor’s room and read it.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum said this was indeed a remarkable coincidence as the woman was Mrs. Schopflocher, a friend of her family, a Bahá’í from her own city in Canada, Montreal, and the book had been Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era in Amharic, presented to the Emperor by her late husband, the World Head of the Bahá’í Faith!
It was obvious His Highness was well informed of the Bahá’í teachings, which he evidently admired, and he accepted with pleasure a copy of the book, The Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh, which Rúḥíyyih Khánum presented him with on behalf of the Bahá’ís.
Axum, Lalibela, and GondarOur precious experiences in Ethiopia were drawing to a close. We flew off, on a brilliant sunny morning, from the high plateau on which Asmara nestles, and leaving the white city amidst its green trees proceeded with Dr. Neiderreiter and his wife to the ancient capital of Axum, where we parted reluctantly.
It was Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s intention to see at least a few of the historic places in so historic a land, and after half a day in Axum and two days in Lalibela we joined the Bahá’ís once again; this time in Gondar, another historic city, but one that now has special connotations for the Faith, as it is here that not long ago ten of the believers were severely beaten by a pack of drunkards and mistakenly hauled off to jail in the belief they were disturbing the peace. The misunderstanding and false accusations were soon straightened out on strict orders being received from the Capital to free the Bahá’ís; but the priest-inspired persecution served a useful purpose, for one of the priesthood went and inquired about the Faith and promptly accepted it. He was not the only new believer as a result of this local uproar.
Upon our return to Addis Ababa on November 9, we were again caught up in a whirl of activity. A lecture was given by Rúḥíyyih Khánum at the regular weekly Rotary Club luncheon; a dinner in her honor was given by His Excellency the Israeli Ambassador, to which members of diplomatic corps and other distinguished guests were invited.
She spoke three nights running at the Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds to the Bahá’í ladies, the Bahá’í youth, and on the occasion of the anniversary of Bahá’u’lláh’s Birthday, November 12, as well as the Addis Ababa Community banquet at the airport restaurant. A long, last, happy day with many of the Addis Ababa believers and friends was spent visiting the Bahá’ís in Sabeta and lunching on the way back to Addis Ababa in the hospitable home of one of the friends. A last reception was given in her honor, before the departure next day for Nairobi, at which some cabinet ministers and other prominent people were present.
The Crown PrinceThe outstanding event, however, of this third and final sojourn in Addis Ababa was an interview with His Imperial Highness, Crown Prince Merid Asmatch Asfaw Wossen, which took place in a reception room in his palace on November 14. His Highness asked many questions about the Bahá’í Faith, and we found in him that same gentleness and extreme courtesy which was so notable in his sister, as well as in the Emperor himself. It was with his permission that photographs were taken on this historic occasion.
The spirit of unity and love which animates the Bahá’ís of Ethiopia is undoubtedly the cause of this attraction of so many blessings from on high. I have no doubt that it is this spirit which drew out of Amatu’l-Bahá torrents of most wonderful counsels and some of her most inspiring talks.
They Return to KenyaOn November 17, we returned to Kenya to complete our tour of that country. Three days later Rúḥíyyih Khánum delivered a public talk in one of the halls of the University of Nairobi, following upon the reception given in her honor by the National Spiritual Assembly and the Nairobi Local Assembly, at which distinguished non-Bahá’ís and friends were present.
The Board of Counsellors likewise arranged a meeting, held at the National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds, for the believers of Nairobi and their friends to meet and be addressed by Amatu’l-Bahá. Again the Community lavished its love and hospitality on its beloved guest until the day came for our final departure, this time accompanied by Counsellor ‘Azíz Yazdí and his wife.
We proceeded on our final tour of Kenya: eleven days spent in the Western Provinces. During this period, except for one night, we slept either in the homes of the Bahá’ís or in one of the local Teaching Institutes.
Many Meetings, ConferencesAmatu’l-Bahá opened the Bahá’í Center of Givogi, where over a thousand believers and their friends, many of them Bahá’í children, were present. This area is the “singing” region of Kenya. In every Bahá’í meeting we had one group of children after another competing with each other in their beautiful Bahá’í songs. Many of these children are members of what is known there as “Bahá’í Character Classes.”
During these days, several large conferences were arranged where Bahá’ís attended from adjoining communities. In Kisumu, Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke at a public meeting held in the hall of the Community Center. More than once, when on our way to a meeting, we were stopped by a small group of Bahá’ís and begged to just stop for a moment at their local center so that, as they would very lovingly say, Rúḥíyyih Khánum could bless their center.
Nights were as exciting as days on this trip, for Bahá’ís and their friends would drop in, and discussions would go on till very late in the night. As we could neither eat our supper nor put up our camp beds until they departed, we kept very irregular hours.
One of these exciting nights was in the Bahá’í Center in Nandi Land, very high in the mountains and very cold. More than twenty of the young girls, who had been assisting in arrangements during the day and remained for the evening meeting, spent the night with us, as it was too late and not safe for them to go home in the dark. The cold and the excitement of spending a night out resulted in continuous giggling and talking throughout the night.
In most of these meetings, such as the conferences in Malava, in Namawanga and Menu, the Bahá’ís had invited the local dignitaries of the government and churches. In Menu, the principal of the high school invited Rúḥíyyih Khánum to address the students as well as the teachers in his school.
The last meeting of Amatu’l-Bahá in Kenya was in the village of Nasianda, close to the border of Uganda. As the local Bahá’í Center was too small for our audience, the Bahá’ís decided to meet under the inevitable “big tree”; this particular one was gigantic.
On December 3 we returned to Kampala, almost four months to the day from our arrival in Africa in August. This is not the official tour of Uganda; and Rúḥíyyih Khánum has only met informally with the Kampala Community, at the homes of the ever-hospitable Bahá’ís, and attended several services at the Mother Temple of Africa.
Long Trek PlannedAmatu’l-Bahá, however, has met with Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga and some of the members of the Board of Counsellors, as well as the National Assembly; and planned her next move, which will take us overland in the Land Rover through the Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, Niger, Dahomey, and Togoland to Ghana, It is a long trek, a jump into the unknown, but we are confident that Bahá’u’lláh will watch over us and Counsellor Oloro Epyeru, who is accompanying us at least as far as Fort Lamey in Chad, and that as we go to serve His Cause, only that which He wishes can come to pass.
Six Thousand Miles Across Africa
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #471, June 1970, pp. 3-18
The great trek from East to West Africa began on January 1, when Amatu’l-Bahá drove her Land Rover away from the Banání home, where she had been a guest for some weeks, and accompanied by Mr. Oloro Epyeru, member of the Board of Counsellors for Central and East Africa, and me, she turned her car towards the Congo.
On March 2 we reached Accra, Ghana, after successfully — but far from uneventfully — traversing 6000 miles of jungle, burning savannas, parched bush country, and the steaming tropical coast of West Africa. This achievement, though far from unique, is certainly a rare one; and I believe it must be the longest single overland journey to date undertaken by any Bahá’í — let alone a Hand of the Cause of God — in this continent.
Many times in Haifa, when we pored over the map of Africa, Rúḥíyyih Khánum would say, “It is so big, how are we ever going to do it? Well, maybe if we bite it off, piece by piece, we can get there . . .” This can be truly said to have been our method, because almost no information, especially of a detailed nature, is available on one side of Africa about the other side. For instance, two days before our departure we discovered that the car insurance, which we thought was for all Africa, carried us no farther than the frontiers of East Africa! With great difficulty we got it to cover the Congo; but from there to the capital of the Central African Republic we rolled many hundreds of miles with no coverage, hoping and praying no catastrophe would occur until we could obtain a new policy.
We were told there were rebels in the Congo, bandits in Chad; that there was fighting along the frontiers; that the great danger was theft of the car by rebels or regular army; that we might be attacked or murdered; that the insects were going to be terrible — we already knew about the diseases! But we suffered from none of these things.
No one ever said much of a specific nature about the roads. Rúḥíyyih Khánum says if she had known what they were like she does not think she would have had the courage to do it. Before leaving, we were given a condensed course (an hour and a half) by one of the pioneers on how to replace various parts of the car from our large supply of spares — if we broke down. Rúḥíyyih Khánum wrote it all down, but it was a good three weeks before she discovered where she had put her notes! In any case, it is unlikely the two of us could even lift one of the heavy wheels into position to change a tire. We soon discovered, however, that the average African truck driver is extremely courteous and helpful on the road, and we now feel we could always get help, providing, of course, a truck happened to come along.
We Face Nine FrontiersOn January 3 we crossed into the Congo. All the warnings we had received of how difficult this would be — everything examined, everything needing to be unloaded and reloaded in a car full of suitcases, camping equipment, provisions, water cans, cameras, tape recorders, and so on — turned out, in our case, to be untrue, In fact, crossing nine international frontiers, we never suffered (with one memorable exception) the slightest inconvenience. We were checked in and out with great ease; the main delay often being caused by our having to explain to minor customs or immigration officials (who seldom see a foreigner) where to stamp our passports and automobile Garnet de Passages, the latter being much the hardest problem. It was not the officials who caused us inconvenience; usually it was the impossibility of finding the frontier, which in Central Africa never seems to be marked in any precise way.
We knew that if we once reached West Africa travel conditions would be much easier, roads better, and dangers less. The problem was to get any information about the Congo and what route to take. By chance, at a wedding in Kampala, I met a Greek trader from Beni. He gave us the only information we ever received about roads; however, he neither described their condition nor forewarned us that some of them had practically ceased to exist. We looked him up when we reached Beni, our first night in the Congo, and he advised us which road was open to Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville). As the rainy season was not entirely over, many roads were still wet, and one section of the usual route had become wholly impassable. What was just a normal course of events to men such as these turned out to be a nightmare for us. The distance between Beni and Kisangani could not be traversed by anything but a truck or four-wheel drive vehicle such as the Land Rover, and then only if it had a first-class driver; and ours was the best, with the whole Supreme Concourse watching over her!
On Becoming RoadbuildersWe drove ten and a half hours that day, encountering the most terrible road conditions of our entire trip. I have asked Rúḥíyyih Khánum to let me copy her own description of them.
“I don’t think any photograph or any words could possibly describe what we were up against. Only huge trucks, I mean trucks with eight tires and sixteen tires, huge, huge things for transportation . . . can make it through these potholes and this mud; and, of course, what it amounts to is that (with their weight) they churn up the road, when it is muddy, to a degree that makes it almost impossible for anything in the world to go through it except one of themselves.
“We came to potholes that were often four feet deep and full of mud and water, and everything as slippery as possible. In theory, one might be able to straddle by going on the hump that stands up in the middle of the road between the ground-in tracks of the trucks and the verge of the road, but it is so extremely slippery. . . . You cannot control the car. If you begin, for the first fifty feet, straddling this huge channel cut by the wheels of the trucks, then, in a second, you find you have slipped down into the pothole, and of course the danger is of hanging up your car on this great hump between the two tracks; and I was absolutely petrified! . . .
“I have had plates riveted onto the bottom of the car to protect its intestines, so to speak, from coming down with a terrible crash onto a stone and ripping out the insides . . . But, even so, there is a limit to what a car can stand. . . I was appalled! Well, I managed in four-wheel drive, going very slowly, to get through the first of these bad patches . . . We went along, and we came to places where the holes were so deep that I was afraid that my wheels, as I say, would not touch the bottom to get a grip without my being suspended on the hump in the middle. So Violette and Oloro and I got out and put in some branches of trees and some stones that we found on the side of the road . . . we just built the road as we went along.
We continued this, and finally we came to an even worse place that day, which was about a quarter of a kilometer of, without any doubt, the most appalling sight I have ever laid eyes on; and I did not know how I was going to get through . . . I eased my way along the first hundred meters of it and managed to get about half way through . . . along came a huge truck in the opposite direction and he sailed right straight in till we were almost nose to nose . . . I said, ‘Wait, and let me get out, and you back up. I’ll try and get through, and then you come through.’ Well, he would hear nothing of it whatsoever. He was just about as mean and disagreeable as he could be. He was the only really tough, nasty customer we found.
“But it shows that you could be completely at the mercy of people. You are in a jungle; you are hundreds of miles from anywhere; you are in the middle of the most ghastly road in creation; you are stuck! And along comes a truck with perhaps ten or fifteen Africans on it, and if they are not cooperative . . . well, that is just too bad, you better look out for yourself. He said, ‘I’m coming through. Get out of the road!’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I can’t, and I have worked my way up here. Go back and at least let me see if I can get forward and out.’
No Rocks, Please“One of the things we discovered — naturally you have to learn these things — is that it infuriates all of the drivers if you put stones in the road. . . . Now I understand the reason for it. When the trucks come along, their big wheels throw up these boulders which can ruin the insides of their machines. They would rather dig themselves through the mud, knowing there are no rocks for them to hit, than to have any rocks around. That is why you see, all along the worst parts of the road, great piles of stones they have taken out of the road. . . . We, of course, had no way of knowing this, and no experience, and this made the truck driver mad, too. . . . They all got out, all these men, and [took] all the nice rocks which we had put in the next hole that I was going to drive through and chucked them indignantly to the side of the road. What had broken Violette’s and my back and Oloro’s, they just tossed aside as if they were straws; and this fellow said, ‘I’m coming through. Get out of the road.’
Potholes and Prayers“I realized that if I did not somehow manage to scramble out of his way with my car (which weighed about three tons) he would literally just push me out as if I were a match box. . . . With a great deal of prayer — I have done a tremendous amount of urgent praying on these potholes — I succeeded in getting up onto the side, hoping that when he tore through the tracks in the center of the road he would clear me. He went through like a knife through cheese; and if I had been in the way, I would have been tossed aside just like something thrown away by a bulldozer. Well, he got by me; and then one of the men said, ‘Don’t worry, he’ll come back and drive you out.’
“I had about one hundred and twenty yards more to go to get out of this ghastly situation, and I could not see the depth of the thing in front of me at all. It was just a lake on either side of a vast hump of mud; and I thought I was sure to hit a rock or sure to get hung up on the mud and just sit there; and I looked at it. And then I thought of the alternative; of this extremely brutal truck driver coming and taking charge of my lovely new Land Rover and forcing her, if he could, through this sea of mud; and the thought electrified me.
So I began to pray. I said, ‘Ya Baha’u’l-Abha’ about a thousand times during the period I got from one end of this morass to the other. I just lit out . . . I flew through the mud, from one end to the other! You have to do things like this to understand what it is like. . . .
The car roars, she sputters, she flounces from side to side like a fish out on a bank, she hits things on the bottom and you think, ‘There it is, the whole works have come out, they’ve been ripped out of the middle of the machine and I’m done for, this is the end of the whole thing; there go my shock absorbers; there goes the under part of the car . . .’ Somehow, I really believe mostly through prayer, I found myself (shaking, and the car shaking under me) on the other end of that horrible, horrible stretch of road. I had gotten out of the mud, but my arms felt as if they had been torn out of their sockets.”
The Christian MissionariesFor our second night in the Congo we slept at an American Baptist Mission, quite a large one, at Lolwa. We had been on the road from Beni ten and a half hours. The great problem on a trip such as this is to find a place to sleep at night. We had been told that the missionaries sometimes have facilities and will put one up, but we found that any extra room is really for the accommodation of their own people when traveling; but out of real Christian charity these kind people took us in. The wife of the older couple, we learned, had been born there, the child of missionaries. She had returned to her birthplace with her husband to serve her church; she had spent forty years in the Congo, teaching. Rúḥíyyih Khánum many times said she wished the Bahá’ís had this spirit of utter dedication and self-sacrifice that so many of these Christian missionaries bring to the work of their Faith. She admired the way, in spite of the lifeless philosophy of a narrow sectarianism, they bring up their children to follow in their footsteps, to go back and continue the service of their parents. These people had been fortunate to escape the massacres of 1965, and, as soon as the disturbances were over, returned to their Mission.
The following night we slept in another Mission, of the same church, where only an African pastor was left. The Mission — a large and enterprising one — had been looted and overrun and was half deserted, the buildings in ruins. The African pastor alone had lost eleven members of his family, and two women and four men of the white missionaries had been killed.
The aftereffects of the political uprisings and riots had left their mark everywhere in this part of the Congo. But the people are the same wonderful, open, receptive, and friendly people that I came to know and love sixteen years ago when my husband and I crossed through the Congo with three African pioneers from Uganda. These three had been among the first to respond to the call of the beloved Guardian for pioneers during the Ten Year Crusade. Two of them became Knights of Bahá’u’lláh; one, Mr. Enoch Olinga, was later elevated to the rank of Hand of the Cause of God.
Nya Nya and KisanganiAs we continued on our way, encountering many bad spots in the road, we entered the tiny town of Nya Nya. What were the emotions of Amatu’l-Bahá when she suddenly saw, at a turn in the road, that same hotel she and the beloved Guardian had passed a night in when they crossed Africa during the war, in 1940? It stood deserted and falling into ruin, with the jungle slowly closing in upon it. Indeed, all through the Congo one sees the scars of the civil war: abandoned Missions, filling stations, road construction equipment, burned-out automobiles, mud villages from which the inhabitants fled to the deep forest; a pattern of desolation that underlines the urgent need for that peace and unity that are the cardinal tenets of Bahá’u’lláh’s Faith.
We arrived in Kisangani on January 6. This town, the third largest in the Congo, held many memories for Rúḥíyyih Khánum as she and the beloved Guardian had spent some days there, in the Stanley Hotel, when they passed through the Congo. Strangely enough, ‘Ali and I had also stayed there. Though still operating, it wore an air of ill repute, and we went to the newer hotel. With the greatest difficulty, after tracing down his home address through his post office box and wasting a day in fruitless efforts to find him, we met Mr. Molisso Michel. He had never received the telegram sent him ten days earlier, and only learned we might be in Kisangani through a letter from a friend. He is one of the old and staunch Bahá’í teachers of the Central African area, having been a believer for over fifteen years. A Congolese who accepted the Faith in Bujumbura, he is now living in Kisangani, his home area, and has succeeded in building up an active local Assembly and community there. In his home we were able to meet the Kisangani Bahá’ís, and Molisso sent one of them, by truck with his bicycle, ahead to the village of Bobama, about 115 miles away, to arrange for Rúḥíyyih Khánum to visit the friends there and spend the night. In practice, this means that one catches a ride on a truck, paying for one’s fare, goes as far as possible, and the rest of the way one cycles; on a side road like the one to this village, this can easily be the entire distance. Although this was in the general direction we were going, it took us over seventy miles out of our way to meet these new Bahá’ís; along the road there are three groups in different villages; and Bobama has its own local Spiritual Assembly, including a very active woman who serves as treasurer.
The nephew of Molisso, although he had had less than twenty-four hours’ notice of our coming, had prepared a room for us in his home, decorated the approaches of his house with palm fronds, built thatched walls of green leaves to enclose a new toilet and separate place for a bath, placed a generous supply of fresh water in big basins for our ablutions (in a place where all water must be brought some distance on the heads of the women), and prepared a delicious dinner for his guests — the first Bahá’ís, other than their teacher Molisso Michel, whom any of them had ever met. Over seventy-five people gathered that night to listen to Amatu’l-Bahá and Oloro Epyeru, and the meeting went on until very late. The next morning, early, even more came to listen and ask questions of their beloved guest of honor. and it was with great difficulty that we tore ourselves away from our new friends; but the ever-present necessity of reaching a place where we could find shelter for the night obliged us to depart.
These meetings in Kisangani and in the deep jungle were the source of great joy to Amatu’l-Bahá. She was happy to go through all the dangers and hardship of traveling through the Congo in order to meet these dear Bahá’ís who never have visitors from outside. She also felt that the fact that Counsellor Oloro Epyeru was able to visit this area of the Congo was not only a great inspiration to the friends but that it would enable the Board of Counsellors to see the needs and teaching possibilities from his first-hand experience.
Ferryboats and BatteriesAmong all the other hazards of travel in this section of the Congo were the ferryboats. No one ever tells you these things; and we were appalled, on reaching a big river, to discover that the government ferryboat, although it has a diesel motor that runs, has no battery to spark the engine! This means that the motorist is expected to supply twenty-four volts of battery power. The Land Rover carries a twelve-volt battery — maybe huge trucks carry a twenty-four volt one — but unless the full charge is available you sit and watch the river until something, by the grace of God, comes along! As no six-volt car, in its right mind, would ever tackle one of these roads, we never found out what the fate of a small automobile might be. Rúḥíyyih Khánum, being very reluctant to have her new battery removed from the car to provide half of the necessary power, went to see a number of local officials in the village where the ferry crossed. She finally succeeded in getting a truck to bring the ferryboat over from the other side; then, as the motor was running, we could make the trip back to the other bank. All this took at least two hours in the stifling midday heat, but it gave us time to see the local memorial, “Place des Martyrs,” commemorating the massacre of thirty white people during the rebel disturbances.
We managed, with luck, to cross another ferry by someone else’s batteries, and at a third ferry were poled across by manpower, a highly reassuring method. But when the day came for us to cross the Mbomou River, which is the frontier between the Congo and the Central African Republic at Bangassou, we found ourselves really caught.
Questionable AccommodationsOn the first night, after leaving the clean and hospitable home of our Bahá’í villagers, we slept in an empty government dispensary, still in existence but without medicines or equipment, where the ever friendly and helpful Congolese had given us permission to put up our camp beds and cook our dinner. When we got up at dawn we were horrified to see the filthy, stained walls and floor of the room; the light of a candle the night before had not revealed its true condition — fortunately, for us, for the idea of the sick patients that had been treated and probably died in it was far from reassuring!
For the second night the customs official at Ndu (the Congo frontier) allowed us to use the abandoned Immigration Office, the active one having been moved over thirty-five miles inland. We would have gone right by it had not a missionary warned us where it was! What one must remember is that there are no places to stay; every hut, however hospitable its owner may be, is crowded with people all over the floor. The single-track roads are so narrow one cannot draw the car off the road to park, as the jungle forms a thick, impenetrable wall on either side. There was no place in the fully loaded car for us to sleep. Oloro managed on some nights to stretch out on the front seat, but that was the only possibility; so we had to find shelter.
After we had unpacked our equipment and cooked our dinner, we invited the exceedingly nice customs official to have coffee with us. He, and the corporal in charge of the handful of soldiers stationed on the frontier, sat and chatted with us. We not only told them a great deal about the Bahá’í Faith, but we gained still further insight into the miserable conditions prevailing in this part of the Congo, where such men are never relieved, rarely paid, no one visits them to inspect or to hear their problems: but in spite of this they perform their duties, slight as they are, with cheerful good will, an example more people in the world would do well to follow. We learned that the frontier — the main road between the two countries for hundreds of miles — had been closed for many months to everyone but the very occasional international tourist because of the political situation.
The next day, January 13, was the first day of a new entente between their respective presidents, and it seemed an auspicious one for Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s African safari to cross over — but not without a five-hour delay while she and I went over by dugout canoe; borrowed a twelve-volt battery from a friendly Baptist missionary two miles out of town; brought it back; found its charge, in conjunction with the Land Rover’s, was too weak to spark the ferry motor; returned the same way by boat and on foot; were again driven around by a friendly customs official in the car we had paid for petrol for, and, after long delay, succeeded in borrowing another battery from a truck; and finally got across the river. From then on we never faced the same difficulties.
We Leave the ForestAs we drove northwest towards Bangui, we left, with sad hearts, the beautiful forest behind us. For eleven days we had traversed its heart. It is one of the greatest belts of jungle in the whole world. And as each day passed, the air became hotter and drier as we entered the great savannas south of the Sahara desert. Often the temperature was 112° Fahrenheit in the car, and we would arrive, at the end of an eight- or ten-hour journey, caked with the fine dust of the roads: Oloro’s and my black hair and eyebrows dyed red with it; the entire contents of the car silted over with it; our lungs so coated with it that even ten days in a large town was not sufficient to clear them of it, and we still coughed up traces of dust!
We found the Central African Republic much more prosperous in every respect, and the progress being made in all fields was obvious. However, we missed the wonderful, friendly, spiritually receptive people of the Congo very much, and we long to go back there. The first night we spent with a dear Swiss family of Pentecostal missionaries. They took us into their home with great kindness when they found us at their door in the dark asking for a place where we could just put up our beds under cover.
The following evening we arrived in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. There are two pioneer families in this town; one of them from the far-off island of Haiti in the Western Hemisphere. Both are devoted and very active, and the results of their services are clearly seen in the firm and active communities they have established.
We stayed ten days in Bangui, and were able to meet the friends there a number of times as well as to visit several Bahá’í communities in the neighboring villages. In Tete Source, Ounngo, and Kolongo, Amatu’l-Bahá met many of the Bahá’ís, addressing them in French and answering their questions. One morning, to her delight, she was taken to a village where there are some Pygmies the pioneers hope to teach: men, women, and many children came to hear the message of Bahá’u’lláh. Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s talk had to be translated into the local language, and as the power of concentration of these people is not very strong, she could not speak more than a little at a time. The important lesson that Amatu’l-Bahá taught us all was her deep insight in singling out one older woman from amongst all the people present. She saw the intelligence and the capacity for leadership in this woman, and she directed her talk to her; telling the pioneers that if they wanted to establish the Cause there, they should teach her first, and through her teach the others.
These Pygmies are very poor and terribly neglected; you could see hardly a child who was free from some kind of infection or open wounds. A little girl of seven or eight particularly caught Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s attention, as her toes were almost eaten off by the awful affliction caused by jiggers, a fly that lays its egg under the skin. When these eggs hatch, if the larvae (grubs) are not removed from under the skin, open sores and infection develop. Most Africans know how to do this very well, but in the unhygienic conditions these Pygmies live in the infection literally eats the flesh raw and further infections develop. This child was obviously in great pain, and Amatu’l-Bahá was so moved by this that she told the older woman we would come back with medicine in a few days to treat her. When one of the pioneers and I returned with the medicine, we found that Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s insight was very true. This older Pygmy woman proved to be dependable and kindhearted and took the responsibility of this poor orphan child upon herself, promising to go on treating her toes with the medicine.
The teaching possibilities in these countries are very great; but when one travels by car one comes to appreciate the hardships and difficulties involved, the vast distances to be covered, the constant barrier of different languages necessitating a proper translator, who is more than likely not available. When one adds to this that many of the pioneers have jobs, one gets a slight idea of how very great are the victories being won in these remote and difficult countries by these dedicated and selfless souls who have arisen to serve Bahá’u’lláh and plant His Banner among the peoples of all nations.
When we arrived in Fort Lamy, the capital of Chad, the second night after leaving Bangui, we felt as if we carried with us half the dust of the desert. Ten hours of driving, day after day, through the heat and the dust is extremely exhausting. The bush, consisting mostly of grass and small shrubs, is constantly being burned off, which turns the wilderness into miles and miles of smoking fields. It seemed very symbolic that it was only in the blackened, ash-strewn ground that a fragrant, delicate, yellow flower grew, with a very short stem and no leaves — it seemed to push itself up right after the flames had passed.
In Fort Lamy we were constantly with the three Bahá’í pioneers, visiting the many believers in different areas of the town as well as several nearby villages. Our visit coincided with the very gay and elaborate celebration of the tenth anniversary of Chad’s independence. For a whole week tribesmen from all parts of the country, decked out in their beautiful costumes, often mounted on horses and camels equally colorful in their rich harnesses, were to be seen in the streets, while men and women sang and danced everywhere. Ten heads of State from the neighboring countries attended this celebration. While this was for us a unique experience, very beautiful and interesting to see, it distracted the people from any serious interest in religious meetings and discussions! However, through the devoted services of the pioneers in Fort Lamy, the Cause is progressing very rapidly in Chad. I am sure greater victories will be achieved as the result of Amatu’l-Bahá’s two weeks’ visit in that country.
In Fort Lamy we parted, with regret, from our dear brother and traveling companion, Oloro, who had to return to Uganda. The five weeks we had been together, under such difficult circumstances, left us all with a never-to-be-forgotten memory of companionship in the service of the Faith, and with an even deeper friendship than before.
A Frontier ConfrontationWe were a little hesitant about starting out on the next lap of our journey all alone — over 2000 miles, passing through the Cameroons and Nigeria to visit the Bahá’ís in Niger, Dahomey, and Togo before leaving the Land Rover in Accra, Ghana. However, after seeing that no danger threatened us from the Africans, who, far from ever being vicious and dangerous, as are so many people today in the more “civilized” regions of the world, are decent, friendly, helpful, and honest, we decided that, as the countries ahead of us had no rebel activity or bandits, we could risk going on by ourselves.
Although we had the most dangerous and exciting incident of our trip the first day we started out alone, nevertheless it was providential that we had no man with us. particularly an African. In order to understand what happened, one must realize that in this area of Africa the frontiers are so poorly marked that no human being can recognize one. There are no signs saying, “You are now leaving the Congo,” or “Welcome to the Cameroons,” or even “Frontier — halt.” In theory, there is a wooden pole across the road and, presumably, somewhere near it a customs, an immigration. and a police check post; but, in fact, there are no signs to indicate any such thing is about, the road is the same dusty track, and the bar, more often than not, is up. To understand the difficulties of the traveler, one must remember that all through these states, in many places on many roads, there are such barriers, which are either to check the big trucks going through the country or are what they call “rain barriers.” When the rains are heavy and the roads flooded — often for a hundred-mile stretch — these poles bar the way to protect the unwary motorist from going forward into a swamp or from just sinking down hopelessly into the lakes formed by floods. One gets used to them, and there is always a well-worn track passing beside them. One is waved on. so as not to waste time in a line of trucks being checked, or everyone just ignores the rain barrier because it is the dry season and the pole is still down. Having done this dozens of times through the Central African Republic and Chad, we were use to it.
We checked into the Cameroons, and the guard at the frontier told us to be sure to check out at a place called Fotokol: as we were only traversing the narrow top of the Cameroons to reach Nigeria, we knew it could not be too many hours’ drive away. Over and over again, when our mileage indicated we must be getting there, we stopped, and Ruhiyyih Khanum would ask in French, “Where is Fotokol?” We were always moved ahead up the road. After some time we came to a car driving towards us on what, to him, would be the left side of the road; in other words, we were both on the same side of the road. Rúḥíyyih Khánum said, “That man can have an accident; he does not remember he is in the Cameroons and should keep to the right!” She drove on, and a number of cars kept coming at us on our side of the road; so she changed over to the left side too. I vouchsafed the explanation that this must be the British Cameroons and that they still kept to the left. We went on and on; the road was terrible, full of holes and loose dust; the heat was terrible too, and as Rúḥíyyih Khánum had been driving since morning she asked me to take the wheel. We jogged along about thirty-five miles an hour, getting more and more puzzled as to where the frontier and Fotokol could be. I will let her describe in her own words what happened to us:
“Suddenly a police Land Rover pickup came racing alongside, simply bristling, through every crack in the canvas, with men’s hands holding guns. I told Violette to quickly get on the side and stop. The Land Rover passed us in the best Hollywood Western tradition, with a great skid and a cloud of dust, barricading the road in front of us; and armed men poured out, their rifles trained on us, and began to approach. I realized that something was very wrong indeed and hastened to get out and walk towards the man who appeared to be in charge, and slightly older than the rest. He was a policeman and very furious, fairly spluttering with rage. He asked me what I thought I was doing; how dared we break the laws of Nigeria, enter the country by force, not stop at the frontier, or check with anyone at all! I was very surprised and explained we were looking for Fotokol, the Cameroon frontier; that we had no idea we were in Nigeria, had had no intention of breaking into the country, had seen no signs, no check posts, no guards, nothing! He continued to bawl me out, and the three policemen and four young soldiers in army uniform trained their rifles on me, and some went ahead and ordered Violette out of the car at the point of their guns. It was all very tense; we were excited and confused. As I spoke to the officer I looked down and saw he had a revolver about five inches away from my heart. It could have been very dangerous if this man had not been a British-trained — a well-trained — police officer.
“He used his head! Gradually he began to listen to my explanations, sized us up as a couple of probably very foolish women, and with some sharp orders got the younger men to stand back. He said we would have to go back to the check post and be investigated. I said I not only had to do that; I had to go back to the Cameroons and check us and my car papers out of that country. I said some of his men should come in front with us (as if we were not really under arrest, as if he had any intention of letting us drive alone!). First one policeman got in and then another, but he called them out and put a soldier in instead, next to Violette, who sat in the middle. The soldier boy looked as if he might be seventeen: he had some trouble getting his long rifle in, and I found the muzzle about an inch from my nose; I suggested he rest it on the floor between his legs, which he obediently did. Because of this mishap, and because it was getting on towards sunset, I was worried over where we would sleep. So I drove about fifty miles an hour back to the town that had the honor of being the frontier. It was rough going, and to our consternation our young solider informed us we were thirty-five miles inside Nigeria. Gradually the boy relaxed and answered a few questions, and I realized he had been very frightened.
Live Ammunition“I could not understand why it had taken them thirty-five miles and about one hour to catch up with us because, of course, they could easily go at least fifty miles an hour (as I was now doing). But when we got back to the police and immigration post — a building like any other, off the road inside a courtyard and a fence — the first thing the officer did was to have everyone unload their guns and revolvers, and he counted all the ammunition. He also unloaded his own revolver. Then I realized the delay had been due to organizing this great expedition to capture the dangerous people who had broken into the country; the necessity to issue ammunition, pick up soldiers as well as police, and no doubt decide what to do to meet this unprecedented emergency. Violette was amused to see two pairs of handcuffs also turned in!
“For security reasons they searched every single thing in the car; an interminable process which must have been a liberal education to the many bystanders as to what two women tourists considered necessary for a safari, including many African baskets, jars, and mats! At one point one of the men thought he had really caught us red-handed. He asked Violette what we were doing with a surveying instrument. ‘What surveying instrument?’ she asked, puzzled. He then pointed to our huge jack, and she had some trouble convincing him what it was and why we needed one that size.
“Finally, it was all over, amicably, and with one of the policemen telling us he ‘pitied’ us. Well he might! And they let us go back to the Cameroon frontier where the various officials, although they had closed their offices for the night and gone home, came back and checked us out, not only with courtesy but with kindly commiseration for our troubles!
“As we went back over the river bridge that separates the two countries, we put the strong headlights on a large green sign by the roadside; barely legible, like ghost writing, was the word, ‘Nigeria’; in the daylight it had been completely invisible. We called this to the attention of the various officials, who then checked us into Nigeria, and they all freely admitted there was no sign stating one had entered the country. In addition to this, the pale barrier on the other end of the bridge had been up as we went through the first time. There was no pole on the Cameroon side! We had been very lucky indeed, as one police officer pointed out, that it was the police, with the military, who had come after us. Otherwise it might have ended very differently. After all, they had just finished a civil war of many years’ duration.
“Long after dark we started to retrace our way on that fateful road where ‘Fotokol,’ we had been repeatedly assured, was just ahead. We stopped, shaken and exhausted, and made ourselves some strong tea. It was then we realized that, under such circumstances, a strange African from another country accompanying us could have made the situation much worse, and Oloro might have been in real danger.”
All the details of this incident (and the two following nights and days when we stopped over in Kano) cannot be included here. We hope, however, when we go back to Nigeria, on our return to continue our safari in Africa, that we will have a happier impression than the last time.
Niger, and PioneersNiger was the next country on our list, a vast and arid land, with its northern part on the edge of the Sahara desert. We were there during the cooler season, and yet it was often above 105° F. in the shade. It took us two days to reach Niamey, the capital of Niger, from Kano. There are two Persian pioneer families who have lived in Niger about five years. The story of these devoted souls is so moving that I think it can be of great encouragement to other pioneers.
Two housewives from Tihran, with the encouragement and approval of their husbands, left Persia for Niger. The men were to follow them shortly, as soon as they disposed of various business matters. These women had five children between them, ranging from two years old to ten years old. They could speak no French and were not well informed about Africa. Within a week of their arrival everyone of them was ill with malaria, and three weeks later the oldest child of one of them, a boy of five, died from a severe case of cerebral malaria. This terrible shock, far from driving them from the pioneer field, strengthened their resolution to remain at their post and teach the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh. The mother of this child, a young woman in her early thirties, when Amatu’l-Bahá visited the grave of their beloved child, said with a radiant face, ‘We hope and pray that Bahá’u’lláh may accept our offering for Niger and enable us to remain here and serve.”
The husbands, who joined their families soon after this tragedy, were unable until recently to obtain any kind of employment, and these two courageous women kept their families in the field by earning their living through dressmaking, which has now become their profession. During Amatu’l-Bahá’s one-week stay in Niamey, the Cause was befittingly proclaimed far and wide. She was received by His Excellency Diori Hamani, the President of the Republic, and had a very cordial and friendly discussion with him for over twenty minutes. This President is one of Africa’s outstanding leaders, very much loved by his people and respected abroad.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum also had a long and animated interview with the representative of Radio Niger, which was later broadcast in full. The pioneers wrote me that when they saw this man to request him to give them a copy of the tape he said, “There was one question I forgot to ask Madame Rabbani. How does one become a Bahá’í?” He is now studying the Faith.
In a public meeting, attended by over seventy people (despite the fact that it was on the eve of a very important Muslim Feast), the entire talk by Rúḥíyyih Khánum, in French, was recorded by Radio Niger to be broadcast later on. Niger is primarily a Muslim country, and both the teaching work and the response of the people is different from neighboring countries. We were deeply impressed by the depth of the new believers and their knowledge of the Faith. The people are receptive, and the future appears very bright. The visit of Amatu’l-Bahá will no doubt open a new chapter in the unfoldment of the Faith in that country.
On our way to Dahomey we made a special point of visiting the Bahá’ís in Dosso, 140 kilometers from Niamey. The dear pioneers accompanied us this far, and we said good-by with regret at parting. Rúḥíyyih Khánum said she firmly believes one reason the Cause is progressing so well there is because of the complete love and unity between these two families.
In spite of the terrible heat, we went out of our way to call on an isolated but devoted believer, who is the headmaster of a government school in a small village, I shall never forget this man’s face when he realized who Rúḥíyyih Khánum was. His face lit up; he got up and came over, and once again shook hands with her with such joy and pride! These jewels of Bahá’u’lláh, hidden away in such remote places, are to me a never-ending revelation of the greatness of this Cause. Often I have heard Rúḥíyyih Khánum say that the reason she undertakes such trips as this is to be able to reach these dear Bahá’ís who live so far away from the capital cities, where most of the visitors tend to go, and to encourage them and give them her love.
Dahomey, and PioneersThe next country in Amatu’l-Bahá’s program was the Republic of Dahomey. This is to be the seat of the new Regional National Spiritual Assembly of Niger, Dahomey, and Togo. The dear Haitian pioneer family, who have been teaching the Faith in this country for the last five years, have laid a firm foundation. A pioneer from France had recently joined them, and there was much activity in preparing the way for the Convention soon to be held in Cotonou.
A one-day deepening and teaching conference at the village of Agoue was attended by over thirty adults, and many more children. Amatu’l-Bahá was happy it coincided with her visit and that she could take part. In the course of the meeting, many different aspects of the Faith were taught.
The Bahá’ís of the village of Dohoua, not far from Port Novo, organized a special meeting for Rúḥíyyih Khánum. This is the first village in Dahomey where the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh was accepted. They have a very active local Spiritual Assembly, are building their own Bahá’í Center, and regularly send contributions to the National Fund. In addition to this, their Assembly is paying the school fees of a young believer whose family has no means of educating him. He is a very devoted believer, and not only helps others to read and write but acts as translator in the Bahá’í meetings. What impressed us more than anything else in this village was the number of active Bahá’í women; Amatu’l-Bahá especially praised their services, and told them the words of ‘Abdu’l Bahá about the station of women, and that the first and the most important educator of man is the mother. She said an enlightened, honest, God-fearing mother will bring up enlightened, honest, God-fearing children who will, in turn, influence society.
Amatu’l-Bahá also met with the believers of Porto Novo and Cotonou in their respective Bahá’í Centers. These were both very stimulating meetings, and Rúḥíyyih Khánum enjoyed answering their remarkably deep and penetrating questions. Indeed, in Niger, Dahomey, and Togo many young men who are new believers asked questions of a nature that greatly impressed us. Amatu’l-Bahá said she could not remember ever having had more interesting and stimulating discussions in any meetings, anywhere.
High EntertainmentIn the small fishing village of Hiye over a hundred people, Bahá’ís and friends, received Amatu’l-Bahá with great warmth, and entertained her with a very special exhibition of dancing and acrobatics. The Bahá’ís have erected a small center, where Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to them. The Chief and local dignitaries also attended the meeting, which lasted about an hour. Afterwards, we were invited to move to an open space by the wall of the village where the entertainment took place. A narrow wood pole, about 10 meters high, had been erected in the sand; the village orchestra played very exciting music on drums, and three young Bahá’í men, dressed as women, danced. The highlight of the entertainment was when one of these young men climbed up the pole — to the dramatic beat of the drums — and for more than twenty minutes exhibited his skill as an acrobat, finally balancing on the top of the pole on his stomach and waving his arms and legs in the air. The atmosphere of excitement and suspense was sustained and augmented most skillfully by the orchestra, and all of the spectators held their breath during the more dangerous movements of the acrobat. Rúḥíyyih Khánum enjoyed the performance very much, and was deeply touched by a song the villagers had composed in her honor in which they referred to her as “Holy Mother.”
During the four days we spent in Togo, Amatu’l-Bahá was able to see some of the Bahá’ís in the capital, Lome, and also to hold meetings in the villages of Ahepe, Dzafi, and Zowla. In Zowla, where a one-day teaching conference had previously been scheduled to take place, we were especially impressed by the quality of the Bahá’ís. They were mostly middle-aged men of deep understanding, firm and devoted believers. The two American pioneer ladies in Togo are very active in serving the Faith, and results of their efforts are becoming increasingly manifest. A half-hour radio interview on the national station was arranged, in which Amatu’l-Bahá was able to fully expound the tenets of our Faith. This was all in French, which Rúḥíyyih Khánum finds more of a strain than interviews in English. Indeed, by the end of our two months spent in French-speaking territories, she was worn out; not from physical hardships of this 6000 miles overland trip, but from mental fatigue after giving so many talks, mostly in a language which, although she speaks it fluently, she says she feels requires so much more effort and concentration on her part than when she can talk in her own language.
After 12,000 MilesOn March 2 we arrived in Accra and drove up to the beautiful National Bahá’í Headquarters, which had been recently purchased and redecorated — one of the nicest and most spacious we have seen in Africa — and were greeted with a warm welcome by the young American man who is one of the pioneers at present residing in Ghana. Although Rúḥíyyih Khánum gave three lectures and a television interview over the national station, this was not her formal visit to Ghana; that will take place when we return from the Western Hemisphere in the autumn, pick up the Land Rover, and finish the West African part of our safari.
Looking at the map of the gigantic continent of Africa, I realize that so far our journey has covered perhaps a quarter of the distance we intend to travel — yet already we have 12,000 miles behind us, for two-thirds of which Rúḥíyyih Khánum herself has driven her car, The challenge presented by Africa, which attracted men such as Livingston and Stanley a century ago, is still there, only in a new form. Its many new nations, developing at an astonishing rate, should receive, at this critical stage in their progress, the glad tidings of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh. Its youth, awaking to the new age they are living in, need to have the divine civilization of this world-redeeming Faith brought to them before they become engulfed in the materialism and godlessness of a dying order. More and more pioneers and traveling teachers are urgently needed to follow in the footsteps of our beloved Amatu’l-Bahá. If she can do it, surely they can do it too!
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #483, June 1971, pp. 16-20
Trying to recapture the events which took place between March 1970, when Amatu’l-Bahá temporarily left West Africa, and the end of November 1970 when once again she returned to Accra, Ghana, I see a panorama of diverse fields of service and the shining faces of a heroic band of pioneers and native believers in over nineteen countries and islands in the western hemisphere.
Amatu’l-Bahá Rúḥíyyih Khánum interrupted her African tour because of a promise she had made some time ago in Haifa. When one of the friends arrived from the United States and eagerly related how wonderful the National Bahá’í Youth Conference held in Wilmette had been and what tremendous capacity the American Youth had, Rúḥíyyih Khánum said she would go to address a Youth Conference in the United States, no matter in what part of the world she might be, because she felt it was so important. The invitation came from the National Spiritual Assembly when she was in the middle of Africa. The Universal House of Justice had requested Rúḥíyyih Khánum to attend as their representative the first Regional Convention in Georgetown, Guyana for the election of the new independent National Spiritual Assembly of Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana and also, as she was going to be in that part of the world, the National Convention in Ecuador, a country very dear to her heart.
A month of badly needed rest in Panama was arranged and the friends in that city had the privilege of celebrating the Feast of Naw-Ruz in the presence of their dearly loved Hand of the Cause who is so closely attached to the Temple they are building. She also spoke there to a large public audience about her African trip and showed the beautiful slides she had taken.
A week prior to the Convention in Ecuador Amatu’l-Bahá went to the city of Esmeraldas to visit the new Bahá’ís there who had recently embraced the Cause in great numbers. She was impressed by the quality of these new believers and their enthusiasm in spreading the Cause far and wide in their province. Many times Rúḥíyyih Khánum said she had never been in a town where the whole population was not only so friendly but so receptive and eager to hear the Message of God. She was particularly impressed by a new method of teaching the Faith through children. The believers go to the homes of the people and ask them if they would like their children to attend a Sunday class, learn about God and His prophets and learn new songs. The parents are usually delighted to do this and when the children bring these strange new ideas home and sing their unusual songs of love and brotherhood, the parents become curious and go to the teacher and ask the meaning of these teachings and prayers their children recite. This has proved a most effective method of attracting hundreds of souls.
CONVENTIONS IN ECUADOR AND GEORGETOWNThe Convention in Quito was a wonderful experience. The representatives of the original inhabitants of the Americas have a spiritual quality that permeates the atmosphere of whatever gathering they attend, a quality of tranquility and peacefulness. The love and deep affection Rúḥíyyih Khánum has for the dear friends in Ecuador was very visibly reciprocated.
In this Convention we witnessed, something that impressed us very much: Ecuador had embarked on a most ambitious teaching program which required 9000 new Bahá’ís before the end of August 1970. By Convention time only about half of the goal had been achieved. One evening was devoted to discussion, in separate groups representing the Bahá’ís from different areas, on ways and means of winning the goal. Next morning the chairman of the Convention, suspended its agenda for over an hour and permitted anyone present to speak to the plans the different groups had drawn up; between them they had apportioned, carefully, according to the possibilities and man-power available for teaching in each place, the approximately 5000 new believers required to meet the National Assembly’s plan. By this brilliant but slightly unusual procedure the National Assembly was able, in its meeting immediately following the Convention, to adopt whatever it desired of the proposed plans and thus surge forward with no loss of time to win its all-important goal.
The first Convention in Georgetown brought into existence a new pillar of the Universal House of Justice. The spirit of utter dedication and heartfelt gratitude to Bahá’u’lláh was so powerful that after the announcement of the names of the members of the new National Spiritual Assembly there were very few dry eyes in the room. During our days in Georgetown the friends took full advantage of Amatu’l-Bahá’s presence and widely and with great dignity proclaimed the Cause through the press, radio and public discourses. Amatu’l-Bahá was received by the President of Guyana, Mr. Arthur Chung, as well as the mayor of Georgetown, Mr. John M. Ford who was also chairman of her public meeting. The main theme of some of her talks was on the importance of abolishing all race prejudice. As Stokely Carmichael was visiting and lecturing in Guyana at the same time one can imagine how opposite her remarks were, and how favorably they were received in one of the most multi-racial Republics of the world! She repeatedly reminded her audiences that Guyana was ideally constituted to demonstrate to the world, so torn by racial hatred and jealousy, that unity in diversity is the answer. There was no reason why they should not be a workshop for the world to demonstrate this great principle. “The people of the world”, she said “would then turn to your country and take heart and find hope”.
VISIT TO ISLANDSWith the advice of Counsellor Alfred Osbourn Amatu’l-Bahá worked out an itinerary for a visit to the Leeward, Windward and Virgin Islands. Between the end of the Convention in Guyana and the National Bahá’í Youth Conference in America she had five weeks available and decided to seize on this golden opportunity to visit as many of the islands in the West Indies as possible. For a great many years she had longed to visit the dear Bahá’ís in this part of the world and now set out to do so with a joyous heart. Trinidad, Grenada, St. Vincent, Barbados, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Antigua, St. Martin, Nevis and St. Thomas — like a sea bird she winged her way from island to island. In each place she was received lovingly by another group of devoted believers. It was a happy and fruitful but exhausting thirty-six days. In spite of the fact that there was a curfew in Port-of-Spain. Trinidad, she was graciously received by the Governor General and Lady McShine as well as the Mayor, Mr. Hamilton Holder. During the three days Rúḥíyyih Khánum stayed in Trinidad she attended a luncheon reception, met with many dignitaries and was able to address the friends in several communities near the city.
GRENADAIn Grenada Rúḥíyyih Khánum was received by the Governor General, Dame Hilda Bynoe, a charming lady who was originally a medical doctor by profession. It was quite obvious she intended to greet us only as she was very busy, but somehow the conversation turned to the Bahá’í teachings on the life after death and the influence on people in this world exerted by those illumined souls who have passed on to the next world. These ideas so closely resembled her own that she kept us in conversation for over half an hour and Rúḥíyyih Khánum said she would mail her a copy of Gleanings from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh. In the Island of St. Vincent, Rúḥíyyih Khánum was likewise received by the Governor, this time a white man, and met with the Bahá’ís on several occasions. Although there are no pioneers there they have a very strong and active Bahá’í community, some of the friends traveling and teaching in neighbouring islands.
BARBADOSOur next stop was the famous island of Barbados. The five days of Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s stay there was packed with activities. She met with the Governor General Sir Winston Scott who also happened to be a medical man and discussed the Faith and allied topics for over half an hour in a most cordial interview. The press and radio coverage was excellent. Prominent women listened to an informal talk given at a reception in her honor. A one-day deepening and teaching school was held at which all the Bahá’ís as well as their interested friends were present and Rúḥíyyih Khánum also addressed a public meeting. A charming woman has a very interesting weekly program on the radio; she had been reading Prescription for Living and interviewed Rúḥíyyih Khánum on her radio program; she asked her if she would permit her to quote from her book on her regular program. Rúḥíyyih Khánum readily agreed to this and we have since heard that she often does so.
ST. LUCIABecause of a meeting with the National Assembly for the Caribbean area we passed through St. Lucia more than once. Although it is a small island Rúḥíyyih Khánum was interviewed on the local television station and at a reception given in her honor the very thoughtful group of guests lingered on long after night had fallen, absorbed by the Bahá’í teachings on the subject of race, the oneness of mankind and the unique opportunity the West Indies has to put these teachings into practice.
MARTINIQUEOn the French island of Martinique there was a single Bahá’í family, Guy Martail, his wife and young children. It was in their hospitable home that we spent the two nights of our stay and it was a very rewarding experience. He is a native of that island who heard of and accepted the Faith thirteen years ago in Cayenne and has since taught his wife and children. He is utterly isolated, does not speak any English and rarely has the opportunity of associating with fellow believers. You can imagine his joy and excitement in meeting Rúḥíyyih Khánum and having her all to himself for two day’s! He has a very good Bahá’í library and a note book filled with his thoughts and questions. At every opportunity he would eagerly look at Rúḥíyyih Khánum and ask questions on every possible subject. I once watched him: he agreed that Rúḥíyyih Khánum was too tired and needed a half hour to rest, but the moment she left the room he picked up his note book, added a few more questions and waited for her to come back into the room!
DOMINICAOne of the more beautiful islands in the entire world from a botanical standpoint is Dominica; spiritually, however, it is in great need of reinforcement. The islanders seemed to us an unusually gentle and courteous people and there is a colony of Carib Indians still living there; it is desperately in need of pioneers. We spent almost three days in Guadeloupe but in spite of every effort were not able to meet any of the local believers. People move about a great deal and lack of proper addresses wastes time and energy on the part of visitors to more than one country, we have found. We were happy, however, to locate the young new pioneer from Haiti and give him at least some encouragement and instruction. Amatu’l-Bahá has often said that if no other result is achieved by her visits than to see the pioneers and encourage them, she feels the great effort involved is still worthwhile.
ANTIGUA, NEVIS, ST. MARTINIn the island of Antigua the local pioneers as well as the pioneer from the small island of Barbuda gave a reception in Amatu’l-Bahá’s honor where she met with the local Bahá’ís and their friends. She also addressed a Teachers Training College where a keen and enthusiastic group of students asked many questions. In the charming island of Nevis, where again there are no pioneers, we met with the believers three nights running in the home of the dear Bahá’í family who really constitute the pillars of the Faith there. In the island of St. Martin Rúḥíyyih Khánum was received by the Governor General Mr. Van Delden and met with believers and friends on both the French and Dutch parts of this island.
ST. THOMASSt. Thomas, the seat of the National Spiritual Assembly was the last island we visited. Over twenty Bahá’ís had come from Puerto Rico and a few from St. Croix to meet with Amatu’l-Bahá, mostly enthusiastic young people. The three days we were able to stay in St. Thomas were all too short to pack in the many activities that had been planned. Rúḥíyyih Khánum was received by Governor Evans. At a large reception the National Assembly gave in her honor she addressed many of the elite of the island, who listened to her message of racial harmony, peace and oneness with absorbed interest, obviously greatly impressed by the Bahá’í teachings. She had a three-quarters of an hour television interview that went very deeply into the Faith. She also attended a Bahá’í Youth gathering.
YOUTH CONFERENCE, U.S.A.Amatu’l-Bahá’s attendance at the Youth Conference in Evanston — which was the main reason for her trip to the Western hemisphere — has already been adequately and befittingly covered in the Bahá’í News, so I will not go into it here. My personal feeling was that I had witnessed the birth and emergence of a bond of love, understanding, trust and deep appreciation between Amatu’l-Bahá and the body of the youth, which was brought into being during the first five or ten minutes. This bond was then strengthened and deepened in the hearts of both sides during every succeeding session. This generation of Bahá’í Youth, the majority of whom have entered the Cause in very recent years, probably for the first time found themselves in the presence of a living link to the four central figures of our Faith and particularly Shoghi Effendi. I felt as if through her radiant and lively personality they were able to feel the ever-present spirit of our beloved Guardian. Through her they saw him as a man who lived and labored to build up this glorious world-wide community of Bahá’ís — not as a legendary figure.
SOUTH EASTERN STATES SUMMER SCHOOLFrom mid-June to the first week in August when Amatu’l-Bahá left for South America, she travelled constantly. This was a very busy and hectic period. The three days she was able to attend the South Eastern States Summer School in Camp John Hope near Perry, Georgia, was a most wonderful experience, one of its highlights being when “Dizzy” Gillespie played spirituals on his magic trumpet for her. The news of masses embracing the Cause in the southern states has a dual effect on Rúḥíyyih Khánum. It makes her very happy to see at last the wishes and hopes of both the Master and Shoghi Effendi being fulfilled but it also saddens her when she remembers that had the Bahá’ís responded to the call of our beloved Guardian some twenty-five years ago to concentrate on the South if the North was unresponsive, this entering in troops might have taken place during Shoghi Effendi’s lifetime and brought infinite joy to his heart.
VANCOUVERThe Teaching Conference in Vancouver was a very wonderful occasion during which Amatu’l-Bahá addressed over 700 believers and was able to meet the National Spiritual Assembly. The Bahá’ís of Canada have a very special love for Amatu’l-Bahá. She is their own! At one time she was the only Bahá’í child in the entire country, her beloved mother being “the spiritual mother of Canada”. The great honor that the beloved Guardian bestowed upon the Western world by choosing one he referred to as his “companion” and his “shield” from their midst, has a special meaning for Canada. On her way to Montreal Amatu’l-Bahá stopped for three days to visit the Indian Institute at Fort Qu’Appelle Saskatchewan. Owing to lack of time she was not able on this trip to fulfill her cherished desire of making special visits to the Indian and Eskimo people of North America so that this short stop was a consolation and joy to her heart. The warm reception she received from many Indian Bahá’ís and their friends, the special entertainment given in her honor by them and the meetings she was able to have with the friends all touched her deeply.
MONTREALIn Montreal Amatu’l-Bahá stayed in her old home, the “Bahá’í Shrine”, the Maxwell house. It must have brought back to her many memories of her beloved parents and the early years of her life. A large afternoon meeting, attended by believers from far and near, was followed by another large public meeting the same night and a few days later she addressed, in French, the animated and promising Bahá’í community of Quebec city, had a television interview and returned to Montreal. She herself had offered, in spite of lack of time, to give this talk in Quebec as she said she remembered the long years of her youth and childhood when her mother had so longed to see the French Canadian people enter the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh and all doors had seemed to be closed in the faces of the Bahá’ís.
SOUTH AMERICAOn August 5th, on her way to represent the Universal House of Justice at the Continental Conference in La Paz, Bolivia, she stopped for a few days in Lima, Peru and met with her old friends, those whom she had visited in 1967 The accounts of this wonderful South American Conference have been fully reported elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the tremendous pace of the past four months, augmented by the unavoidable pressure put upon her during this Conference, depleted Amatu’l Bahá’s strength to such an extent that she fell ill immediately after it ended. We hoped that a few days of rest in Brazil would help, but unfortunately it was already too late for just a rest and her condition worsened and developed into pneumonia. After a month in bed in Rio de Janeiro during which she steadily got worse and her doctor absolutely forbade her to go to Africa for at least two months Rúḥíyyih Khánum turned her face towards her dear companion of so many years and flew to Florida to be treated by Dr. Alice Kidder and also consult with her sister Dr. Elizabeth Ober.
GHANA, AFRICAWhen, on November 20th we arrived in Accra, Ghana, Amatu’l-Bahá was still not well enough to resume her strenuous “Safari”. Through the wise council of a Bahá’í doctor we changed our original plan which was to motor up to the North and instead went to Abidjan on the Ivory Coast. We stayed three weeks in Abidjan in comparative quiet and Rúḥíyyih Khánum was able to continue to recuperate. My husband had joined us in Accra and travelled with us for five weeks and Amatu’l Baha said this enabled her to rest as he went out to some of the villages where she was not able to go. While in Accra Amatu’l-Bahá was received by the acting Prime Minister Mr. J. Kwesi Lapte (the Prime Minister being absent from the country), the Ministers of Education and Information in a cordial interview lasting over half an hour. She also had a very good television interview.
THE SPIRITUAL DESTINY OF AFRICAIn a meeting in the Bahá’í Center she spoke on the “Spiritual Destiny of Africa” a talk which is now one of her regular subjects for public meetings. Her theme, in brief is: “Today we stand at a cross roads in history, a dangerous point in the life of mankind. We have an extraordinary amount of advancement, but we are full of prejudices and animosity towards each other. When we look at Asia, ancient, wise, with her religions and philosophies, her uninterrupted memoried past going back to well over three thousand years, we see she lacks the vitality to provide the world with moral leadership, even though she is so deeply spiritual. We look at the white race, which has played such a dynamic role in world history during the last few centuries, which is the creator of the present Western civilization, and we see that this very civilization, having over-stepped the bounds of all moderation, has become self-destroying, consumed by a pernicious materialism which threatens the foundations of affluent society and is at present quite evidently incapable of providing spiritual and moral world leadership. What remains is Africa, ancient in herself but modern in her development, surging forward with all the vitality of youth, of nations newly born, of a vast continent awakening to itself.
“The African is fundamentally an unprejudiced man and a spiritual man. The great challenge facing Africans today is not so much how to procure the benefits of modern economy at home, but how to do this without introducing the irreligion, and the intense materialism of the West and its attendant evils and ills.”
In words such as these Rúḥíyyih Khánum has been both encouraging and warning the African people in her lectures. She has been pointing out, particularly in her lectures in Universities and High Schools, that the youth are the future of the world in every country and that the degree to which they are moral and spiritual in their outlook and conduct will be the degree to which they can raise the level of social consciousness in their own country and in the world itself, the whole being dependent on the part for its quality. She often uses the example of gold, how twenty-four karats is pure gold, eighteen karats has six parts of alloy, nine karats much less pure gold, and so on. She stresses the value of individual effort and leadership pointing out that history, in any field, is the story of individual effort affecting the whole and not written by various parties, clubs, societies, congregations and so on. It is always the vision and initiative of one man — whether in the field of art, science, literature, war or politics — that leads the way and therefore, in spite of the vast mass of human beings in the world, each one of us must realize he can, through his beliefs and conduct, distinguish himself and influence society. The youth drink in this encouragement and brighten visibly under the warmth of the love and constructive ideas Rúḥíyyih Khánum pours out on them. She also widely repeats the words of Bahá’u’lláh in which He likened the colored people to the “black pupil of the eye”, pointing out that vision is situated in the pupil alone and that for us Bahá’ís these words of the Manifestation of God have great importance.
ABIDJANThe three weeks in Abidjan were a very happy and fruitful period. The dedication and devotion of the friends in this city is truly exemplary. Daily some of the Bahá’ís go out to both near and far towns and villages on teaching trips. One of the dear Bahá’ís in this city has put his car at the disposal of one of the devoted pioneers and the combined efforts of all concerned is bringing marked results in paving the way for the establishment of many new communities prior to the election of the new area National Spiritual Assembly during Ridvan 1971. The love and unity which exists in the Bahá’í community of Abidjan is undoubtedly the magnet which attracts the ever-present guidance and assistance of Bahá’u’lláh. Amatu’l-Bahá constantly reminds the friends that unity is the inexhaustible source of the confirmations and blessings of Bahá’u’lláh. The friends meet in Abidjan twice a week to teach the Faith and deepen their own knowledge of it; often these meetings continue far into the night.
For the first time during this trip in Africa Rúḥíyyih Khánum was invited by a new believer, a young school teacher to go to an entirely pagan village (in other words, followers of the old religion of Africa) and tell his father, the chief, and his relatives and other villagers about the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh so they would understand what he had accepted in becoming a Bahá’í. In the Ivory Coast these people are called animists. Amatu’l-Bahá’s approach to these people was simple and logical. She said: “There is one God; the God that you worship and call the Creator is the same as the God all men worship. This God has never abandoned men, His children, and always guided them through His Divine messengers. Your religion also came from God, but as it is so very old its source is lost in the mists of time. There were no written records to pass it down.” Then she very simply introduced the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and His life. The old chief, who was the father of our new young Bahá’í, thanked Rúḥíyyih Khánum very politely for coming and sharing her ideas with them and then said: “We have heard you and we like what you said; we will think about it and later give our answer.” Afterwards Rúḥíyyih Khánum told us she was at first very puzzled by this reply, then she realized why he said it. Many years of constant pressure from different sects of Christianity have made these people very suspicious and they thought we had come, like the others, to thrust our belief upon them. This made her very indignant and she said, very firmly: “My friends, I do not want any answer from you ever. I am going away and never coming back. I have brought you this wonderful news, because it is true and because of my love for you, whether you accept it or not is not my concern at all.” She said: “If you go to man’s house and he puts food in front of you, you will eat if you are hungry, but he cannot force you to eat if you are not!” I could see the relief in their eyes as she said this. More Africans still follow the traditional religion of Africa than we realize. They believe that Almighty God is unapproachable by man and needs an intermediary being to reveal to him the Will of God. Of course a lot of superstition is added to this fundamental truth and it would do the Bahá’ís a great deal of good to learn the tolerant approach of Rúḥíyyih Khánum so that they can bring into the Faith these wonderful masses of Africa who have not yet accepted the narrowness and bigotry of the other religions.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #484, July 1971, pp. 17-20
MONROVIAOn December 24th, 1970 we drove into Monrovia, the Capital of Liberia, to attend the Continental Conference, first Bahá’í conference ever to be held in West Africa and attended by believers from thirty-eight countries, twenty-four representing African territories alone. It was thrilling to see so many new Bahá’ís from neighboring countries and later hear them say that the conference had changed their lives as they had seen with their own eyes what the Faith stood for, what unity really means. One of the highlights of the conference was the address given by Vice-President Talbert who came as the representative of President Tubman who was unable to attend it himself because of an eye operation. Dr. Talbert, himself a Christian Minister, gave a talk which Rúḥíyyih Khánum, in thanking him officially for his presence, said was one of the best Bahá’í talks she had ever heard. The presence of Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhajir, as the representative of Universal House of Justice, and Amatu’l-Bahá as an added attraction, provided the conference with that dynamic surge forward towards greater teaching activity and the winning of the goals of the Nine Year Plan which is one of the reasons the Hands of the Cause travel so widely and attend such gatherings.
The lady Mayor of Monrovia, Mrs. Sandamani, as well as the special representative of the United Nations in Liberia, Mr. Curtis Campaign, also came to the conference and welcomed the friends in the most cordial terms, praising the teachings of the Faith and the work of the Bahá’ís.
President Tubman, although still not completely recovered from his operation, was kind enough to invite Rúḥíyyih Khánum to his residence where we had a most friendly, interesting, informal and animated discussion with him and Mrs. Tubman, which lasted thirty-five minutes. He remembered the Bahá’í Shrine in Haifa and the very kind reception he received from Amatu’l-Bahá and other Hands of the Cause during his visit there.
The Faith could not possibly have received better publicity or been more widely proclaimed than it was at the time of this historic conference. It was very exhausting, however, for Rúḥíyyih Khánum who found herself the spearhead of much of this activity. Guilda Navidi, who has recently received her M.A. degree in Public Relations, had been assisting, with her mother, the Committee of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of West Africa in making suitable arrangements for this large and important conference, and for it to receive as much public attention and good will on the part of the authorities and the Liberian people as possible. In view of her qualifications and Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s desire to assist her to gain experience in the field of mass teaching, she decided, after consulting her parents to invite Guilda to travel with us for some months, arranging the public relations in the capital cities Rúḥíyyih Khánum would be visiting and coming to the villages and towns on the way. This proved to be a very happy arrangement and the meetings with Heads of State as well as press, radio and T.V. interviews have been outstanding.
BOWTAOn the 8th of January the three of us left Monrovia for Bowta, where we slept two nights in Washington Farm, a National Bahá’í endowment, using our camping equipment and doing our own cooking. George and Bessy Washington were American Negro pioneers who came to Liberia in the early years of the Ten Year Crusade, purchased this property themselves and built a large house on it and shortly thereafter passed away; they were an elderly couple singularly devoted to the Cause and evidently excellent Bahá’í teachers. All the time in their home we were deeply conscious of the spirit of love and devotion these beautiful souls had left behind them and which still pervaded the very walls. With a number of local believers from the nearby village we visited the twin graves of the Washingtons in a peaceful clearing he himself had chosen. Amatu’l-Bahá made a wreath of what flowers and ferns she could find and placed it on their joint grave, reading a prayer for them to which we others added ours. How joyous and blissful these souls must have felt on that day. These graves of dear pioneers all over this continent undoubtedly play a very important role in attracting the mercy and blessings of God on this wonderful continent of Africa. Twice we met with the Bowta Bahá’ís and their Mends. One evening Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to them at length on the Bahá’í teachings regarding the life after death, linking them to the pioneers they had loved so much and whose memory was obviously fresh and cherished although they had died in 1959.
During this visit Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke in the Chapel of Cuttington College, an Episcopal Mission some miles from Bowta, to the elite of high school students of the nation who were gathered for a special course of studies, her theme being “The Role of Youth in the Modern World.” At the end the Principal, visibly impressed, thanked her for saying things to the students they all wished they could say! The Principal later wrote Amatu’l-Bahá informing her that at the end of the course many of the students in their written comments on this course had mentioned this lecture and its stimulating message. I particularly mention this because it shows the type of teaching opportunity available to travelers if the proper contacts are made and the type of subjects Rúḥíyyih Khánum chooses in order to call the attention of both students and teachers to the Faith and at the same time be general and unprovocative in her approach. She is introduced as a Bahá’í, she says her thoughts are shaped by the Bahá’í teachings but then she launches into a talk that has an absorbing interest for young people and has no odor of propaganda and invariably the questions that follow at the end of her speech enable her to paint a graphic picture of what the Faith is in the world today.
MALIDuring our eighteen days in Mali Rúḥíyyih Khánum was received by Vice-President Captain Yoro Diakiti, who said he had never heard of the Faith but was interested in religion and wanted some Bahá’í literature. She sent him The Goal of a New World Order — that brilliant and invaluable picture of the future written by Shoghi Effendi and “Obedience to Government.” The radio interviews and press coverage were excellent. So deep is the interest in the Faith and so keen the minds of the young believers in Bamako that we had almost daily meetings in the home of a single pioneer for this vast country; they drank in every word of their beloved guest and asked innumerable questions. Among those who embraced the Faith during Amatu’l-Bahá’s visit was a lovely Vietnamese lady, a Russian lady, wife of one of the local Bahá’ís and two distinguished Malians.
Aside from many followers of the old African religious beliefs, Islam predominates in such countries as Mali, Upper Volta and Senegal. The Muslims of West Africa are very receptive to the Faith and become deep and steadfast believers. This whole area is in great need of pioneers but it is essential that on arrival in Africa they study with experienced teachers who know how to teach the Muslims, because the questions they will be asked are specific and searching. It is similar to teaching in a Bible area where the people know their own Scriptures and seek proof of the truth of Bahá’u’lláh’s appearance. Unlike many other Muslim countries today the rank and file abstain strictly from alcohol, observe the fast rigorously, and obey the laws of obligatory prayer. They are delighted when they find, in addition to the breadth and all-encompassing nature of the Bahá’í teachings, that prayer and fasting and the prohibition regarding drinking are part of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.
TIMBUKTURúḥíyyih Khánum had had a life-long desire to see Timbuktu, the ancient Center of Islamic learning south of the Sahara. When she discovered that by driving over 400 miles north to Mopti we could fly to Timbuktu and back and that we could also see some of the other places of interest in Mali, she invited the American pioneer to come with us (we left Guilda to do her public relations job in Bamako) and off we went in the blasting heat, the temperature often reaching 105° Fahrenheit inside the car.
As far as we know no other Bahá’í has ever made a special trip there though there is an Air Mali pilot who lands at the airport in the course of his routine nights, but he never stops over there. Today this desert city is all but abandoned and its dilapidated old mosques and religious school only visited by the few tourists who are drawn there by its magical name. Amatu’l-Bahá paid a formal visit to the mayor of Timbuktu who is a captain in the army and presented him with Bahá’í literature. We also were able to talk to the head of the Government Tourist Office there as well as to our very well-educated and charming tour guide.
During the three days of our visit Rúḥíyyih Khánum anxiously walked through the deep sand of the narrow lanes of the town, looking at the faces of the people to find some receptive souls and tell them about the wonderful message of Bahá’u’lláh. Every time I remember one hot and dusty afternoon when beloved Rúḥíyyih Khánum sat patiently in the filthy dirty back room of a local restaurant, trying to tell two young boys of this great glad tiding of the appearance of the Promised One of all ages, my heart fills with love and humility for this spirit of utter dedication she has. I am sure that the thoughts and the prayers she left behind in Timbuktu will water the little seeds that were scattered in some hearts there and one day we shall witness the results. On this trip to Timbuktu we drove to Mopti, Sanga, Djenne — another center of Moslem learning in this part — and passed through San and Segou. In this way the pioneer was able to obtain an excellent idea of the teaching possibilities in other towns of Mali and where any future pioneers or travelling teachers could be sent to best advantage. We then drove on to Upper Volta, an even more desolate and undeveloped country than Mali.
UPPER VOLTATen days in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Upper Volta was a very wonderful experience. There are two pioneers only in Upper Volta, young men from the far-off island of Mauritius, Most of the Bahá’ís there are young people and very devoted to the Cause. In several meetings Rúḥíyyih Khánum met with the believers and their friends and held very lively discussions and answered their questions. When one travels by land the way Ruhiyyih Khanum is traveling, one senses the isolation and loneliness of the pioneers and believers, dots on the vast map of Africa, hundreds of miles from each other. A year ago I didn’t know where Ouagadougou was and until I got there, I couldn’t pronounce it correctly. Because our French Bahá’í literature comes from Europe and there is little available in such distant places as these French-speaking African countries, because there are rarely any visitors and hardly any exciting events to bring these young, new Bahá’ís together, it is often difficult to gather them for meetings and Feasts. One of the most wonderful characteristics of Amatu’l-Bahá in her contact with the Bahá’ís, as well as the non-Bahá’ís, is her ability to convey the greatness of the Cause of God. She makes one see and feel how vast, how boundless is this precious Faith that we belong to. She is able to inject into her listener that bubbling enthusiasm and joy that is her distinguishing characteristic. Through her vision and her love she leaves a sense of happiness, of eagerness to serve this Cause with whomever she comes in contact. During her stay in Upper Volta she was received most courteously by President Lamizana and by the Speaker of the Parliament Mr. Joseph Ouedraogo, who is a progressive farmer and has visited Israel more than once. Rúḥíyyih Khánum also had an excellent half hour radio interview and very good press coverage. Ouagadougou is in the heart of the Mossi area, the home of a famous and powerful people who live under the tribal system and are still ruled by their own king who is always addressed as “Emperor”; we were received by him and his wife, the “Emperess”, in their palace in the city. We had an interesting half-hour discussion on various topics. They are Muslims but many of the tribe are pagan.
TAMALE AND KUMASIIn one week, making our way Southward from Upper Volta, we visited Tamale and Kumasi, two very important provinces in the North of Ghana, where there are many Bahá’ís. In Tamale Rúḥíyyih Khánum met with some of the local believers. She gave a public talk, to over 250 girls at the Teachers Training College. She was able to visit five nearby villages where there are Bahá’ís. In the village of Pagaza, addressing a simple group of farmers, she told them that every “first” thing is important, very special and precious: “Your first born has a special place in your hearts, in the same way the first Bahá’ís in a village, in a town or in a country, if they remain firm and devoted to the Cause, have a very special place in all our hearts and in the history of the Faith in their own land. You are the first Bahá’ís in your village and therefore you are very dear to all of us.” She said, “When we become illumined with the light of God, we are like a candle. When we are able to form a local spiritual assembly then the light becomes greater like the light of a kerosene lamp. When many thousands accept the Faith their light will be powerful like the electric lights in the town. When the majority of the world becomes Bahá’í then their light will be like the light of the sun which illumines all.” In the village of Nyankpala, which is a flourishing agricultural experimental farm, she said, “People are always afraid of new ideas or new ways of doing things. For example how many farmers come forward and agree to try a new variety of seed or a new way of farming? There are always one or two or a few who courageously step forward and become the first to try and then gradually others follow their example. You Bahá’ís are like those few who adopt the new seed.”
In the city of Kumasi, the capital of the powerful and famous Ashanti tribe, Amatu’l-Bahá was graciously received by His Highness the Asantehene, Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, the traditional king of this ancient tribe, an extremely well-educated barrister who had recently been chosen to succeed his uncle as king. Amatu’l-Bahá had a very nice interview with the editor of a local newspaper which resulted in a very good article. The Bahá’ís of Kumasi, in addition to a number of meetings with themselves, had arranged for Rúḥíyyih Khánum to speak at three schools where students of high school age and over bombarded her with many intelligent questions. We were told that in a period of two months the Kumasi community has increased by over seventy new Bahá’ís.
The belief in the traditional religion and especially the existence of spirits and ghosts is very strong throughout Africa and as much superstition and fear is mixed in with some truth the people are more influenced by the priests of their own religion than one might realize. Often questions were asked on these subjects such as: What is a ghost? Is it true? Rúḥíyyih Khánum gave many answers which helped them to understand a little bit of the nature of these mysteries. She said we have many attachments in this world, our home, our family, our friends and surroundings; these sometimes act as a mirror. When the departed soul looks back at his precious worldly surroundings and attachments under some circumstances, the nature of which we do not understand, his thoughts may be reflected in them. People see this reflection and are alarmed thinking he has come back, whereas he himself is not there, only a reflection of him, so to speak is there. Through prayers we should beg Almighty God to release such a soul from this earthly attachment and let him turn his thoughts to the new world he has entered. To the question of “Is it good to communicate with the departed souls?” She said, “think of the baby in the womb of his mother. He has organs that he can not use until he is born in this world, such as hands, feet, eyes, ears, mouth and so on. Should he wish to use them before birth he will only harm himself. Likewise the psychic faculties that are for use in the next world if tampered with in this life are harmful to us. We have been warned by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá not to cultivate them and not to go in for such practices. To an audience of over 300 young men and women in a school she said, “I have been told that in Ghana you have the second largest gold mines in the world. You know that the quality of the gold and its value is according to its percentage in relation to alloys mingled with it. The more gold you have, the less alloy you have, the higher the value of the gold will be. It is the same way with a society; every individual who becomes like pure gold in his character adds that much more value to the society in which he lives. In this way, individually, we can raise the level of human society throughout the world.”
Ghana seems to occupy a peculiar place in our travels. This was our third visit there and when our tour of the rest of West Africa is finished we will once again return to Ghana to visit the believers in the south of that promising country where Bahá’í work is expanding so rapidly.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette NaKhjavani
published in Bahá’í News #486, September 1971, pp. 18-22
Originally it had been the intention of Amatu’l-Bahá, after the African Continental Conference held in Monrovia, to visit the centers in Liberia and then motor to Sierra Leone, Gambia, Senegal, Mali and Upper Volta and return to Ghana. However, we were informed if we followed this plan, that by the time we reached Mali and Upper Volta the heat would be unendurable so we went first to them in January and February and returned to Abidjan in the Ivory Coast where we reluctantly left the Land Rover to visit these other West African countries by air.
On March 3rd we arrived in Monrovia, this time to visit the Bahá’í communities in the South and West of Liberia. Although during the Liberia Conference two months previously the Faith had been fully and adequately publicized, again at this time the National Assembly was able to arrange for more publicity. Amatu’l-Bahá had two very good television interviews, on one of which she appeared with the American Ambassador. The interview of the other was broadcast over the radio the following day. The story of two women who have driven over 18,000 miles from East Africa to West Africa is obviously a very interesting story and one of these television programs was almost entirely about Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s African safari. She also had a very good radio interview mostly on this same topic. Interviewers often ask her why she travels over land which must be a very tiring and difficult mode of travelling in Africa. To this Amatu’l-Bahá answers: “The purpose of my trip is to visit the Bahá’ís of Africa in as many places as possible. To get to the villages one needs a car. There are many Bahá’ís who travel and meet with the Bahá’ís of the cities and towns and occasionally some villages, but very few have the opportunity of visiting their brothers and sisters in the villages.” The interviewers were surprised and usually pleased by her praise of the villagers and the emphasis she places on the spiritual and human qualities of the usually wholly illiterate villagers.
Teaching About Life After DeathIn Monrovia the friends were privileged to have Amatu’l-Bahá in four of their regular firesides. Rúḥíyyih Khánum often spoke in such meetings, as well as in her public meetings, on the concept of life after death in the Bahá’í teachings. She has been urging the friends everywhere to speak more on this subject. In Africa the fear of death and belief in the presence of ghosts and spirits is very deeply rooted in the hearts of the people. The witch doctors’ power is to a large degree based on the belief that they can control and exorcise these apparitions and protect the living from the dead. Amatu’l-Bahá declares that to combat this fear and superstition the Bahá’ís must speak more on this wonderful topic in the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and let the people know that the power of prayer can exert a tremendous influence on the souls of the dead. In this way the people can be freed from their fears and superstitions. The beautiful examples she uses tend to clear away the doubts and fears of the people. Once she gave the example of a bird in a cage. She said: “If you have a bird who has lived in a cage all his life and one day you open the door of the cage you can see how frightened the bird is of leaving the cage. He comes to the door of the cage, he may even come out of it, but again he will go back to his cage. Several times he may hesitate at the door until he realizes he is at last free and then with joy he will fly away, higher and higher. Often the spirit of man is in the same way attached to the cage of his body and his environment and is afraid to leave them, but through the power of prayer his soul will be freed and learn to fly to its celestial home.”
In Buchanon, Bomi Hills, Mano River and KongotownAfter an over-night visit to the Bahá’ís in the port town of Buchanon where Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to some of the believers and their friends we spent some days visiting Bomi Hills, Mano River and Kongotown. This was a wonderful trip. Bomi Hills is one of the oldest Bahá’í Communities in Liberia. During the life-time of our beloved Guardian the Bahá’ís acquired an endowment which became the first Bahá’í Summer School. Now it is the Teaching Institute of West Africa. They had just completed a large additional building on this site to enable a greater number of students to be accommodated at the courses. A well advertised public meeting brought over forty people, Bahá’ís and their friends, to hear Amatu’l-Bahá expound the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.
The following night we slept in Mano River, also a mining town, and she spoke at another public meeting. A question period and an intimate and very lively discussion followed until late that night. The next morning we started on our way back to Bomi Hills to spend another night and have another meeting. In the school-house in Kongotown she spoke to a group of Bahá’ís and their friends. It was a wonderful experience to see that many of the dear new believers in both Mano River and Bomi Hills were keeping the Fast. We all know that obedience to His Laws attracts the bounties of Bahá’u’lláh.
The Importance of Harmony and UnityAfter our return to Monrovia a very well attended talk was held in the University of Liberia. In that same hall we had held the African Continental Conference. It was full of pleasant memories for us. The President of the University, Mr. Patrick L. Seyon acted as Chairman for Rúḥíyyih Khánum. She spoke on the “Role of Youth in the Modern World.” The students would have continued asking questions indefinitely if she had not had to leave to give another talk to over 700 students in the Episcopal High School. Amatu’l-Bahá has often remarked on how gratifying it is to speak to the students, as the future of society lies in the hands of the youth. A meeting with the Monrovian believers at the National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds marked the end of our second visit to Liberia. Amatu’l-Bahá spoke to them on the importance of unity and harmony. She said “These are not mere pleasant sayings of Bahá’u’lláh but great spiritual laws for this day. If we ignore and break them we bring spiritual ill health upon ourselves and forfeit the blessings of God.” She said, “Inharmony can make one actually physically ill as it is poisonous and against the whole intent of the Teachings which are to produce love and harmony, in the family, in the community, in society, throughout the world.
Interview with the Governor General of Sierra LeoneDuring Amatu’l-Bahá’s visit in Sierra Leone from March 16 to 26 every door seemed to miraculously open for a befitting proclamation of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh. It was the first time such tremendous publicity was accorded the Bahá’í Faith. The then Governor General of Sierra Leone, Sir Banja Tejan-Sie, received Amatu’l-Bahá in his palace and for over a half-hour a very frank and friendly discussion was held on the tenets of the Bahá’í Faith. In the course of this conversation he said “the majority of the people of Sierra Leone are Muslims, next come the so-called pagans and last the Christians; in spite of every effort they have not been able to convert the Muslims to Christianity.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum said “naturally they cannot convert Muslims to Christianity because Muslims, through the words of Muḥammad in the Qur’án, already believe in the divinity of Christ and there is no need for them to take a step backward in history.” He liked this very much as if such a logical answer had never occurred to him before. He said that he was a devout and practicing Muslim. When Rúḥíyyih Khánum praised the Muslims she had met in West Africa and observed how they follow the laws of Muhammed and do not drink, he felt a bit uneasy and said, “Well I don’t see what harm it does anyone if a hard working man takes a glass of whisky now and again to stimulate his tired mind.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum told him “A law is always aimed at the greatest good for the greatest number.” This is an argument he could well appreciate, as he himself is a barrister. She related her observations on this subject and said “How unfortunate are the consequences of drinking in places like Bolivia and Africa, where every penny of the already poverty-stricken families goes to pay for the drinking of the parents. As a result the children are often deprived of even elementary education, of the clothes and food and medicine they need to live.” He then agreed with her that for the good of the majority of mankind such laws should be enforced. He was very cordial and jovial and expressed his desire to join us in our trans-Africa safari.
Talks at CollegesAmatu’l-Bahá spoke in both the University of Fourah Bay College in Freetown and its auxiliary institution in the South, Njala College near the city of Njala. At Fourah Bay there was a large attendance of students, who kept asking questions for almost an hour. Dr. Koso Thomas, Professor of Engineering, acting as Chairman, seemed to take as much interest in the questions as the students themselves.
At Njala College there is a devoted American Negro Bahá’í pioneer who transferred to this small African university in order to spread the Faith. It is most encouraging to see how many of the Bahá’í youth are doing this in Africa. His counterpart, a young Persian pioneer, is studying in Fourah Bay College. The Chapel of the College had been placed at our disposal for the lecture but just before the time it was scheduled to take place all the lights on the campus went out. We nevertheless decided to go over and see if anyone had come and discovered two students sitting in the dark interior. By the light of three candles placed on the floor Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to about fifty young people who went on and on asking questions when she had finished her talk. It was eerie to see the circle of faces, barely discernible in the huge black interior of the Chapel, but it seemed to create a more intimate atmosphere among us as Rúḥíyyih Khánum went on tirelessly explaining the wondrous Message of Bahá’u’lláh.
The title of both of these lectures was “The Spiritual Destiny of Africa”. There are two aspects to this subject which she emphasizes. She said: “Bahá’u’lláh once compared the colored people to the black pupil of the eye surrounded by the white. In this black pupil is seen the reflection of that which is before it, and through it the light of the spirit shineth forth.” She pointed out “because we Bahá’ís believe these words spoken by the Messenger of God are divinely inspired we attach great importance to them. As the pupil of the eye alone is the seat of vision it behoves us to weigh the spiritual significance of this statement.” On the other hand she points out: “Although Asia has always been a great source of spiritual inspiration to mankind, she seems to lack at present the vitality to export this wonderful quality to the rest of the world. Europe and the Americas, the great centers of the white man’s civilization which is today the fountain head of our technological and material civilization in the world, are proving themselves at the present time to be materialistic and lacking spiritual or moral fibre. Because of this they now find themselves faced with self-destruction and deprived of the spiritual vision necessary to lead the world. Amatu’l-Bahá refers to those powerful words of Bahá’u’lláh: “The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men . . . If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation.” This is given as a proof of the moral failure of this Godless civilization of the white man. If at present it seems unlikely that we are to receive moral and spiritual leadership from either Asia or the West, she asks “what remains except Africa? The black race in Africa, old in itself, yet young and vital at this point in world history is now showing immense vitality, while at the same time it has not yet lost its spiritual and moral values; it seems to hold promise of that leadership so desperately needed today. This can be Africa’s glorious destiny if she arises to fulfill it and seizes her opportunity, if she takes from the West what is good and useful for her technological advancement and shuns the poisonous materialism and amoral outlook of Western civilization and refuses to forfeit her spiritual and moral values.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum often concludes her talk by saying, that she sees no other hope.
The next day we drove back to Freetown where Amatu’l-Bahá was received by the Prime Minister, Dr. Siaka Stevens and the Minister for Education who happened to be with him.
At Sierra LeoneIn looking back over our visit to Sierra Leone it seems to me it would be impossible to secure more publicity or ensure a greater proclamation of the Faith than took place during this brief visit. I asked myself why this was so. First there was the firm basis of all successful Bahá’í activity, a loving and united community. The Persian-English pioneer couple have welcomed into their home as a much loved, adopted mother, one of the oldest American Negro pioneers in West Africa, Mrs. Vivian Wesson, a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh. She is now seventy-six years old, still pioneering, but too frail to live alone. It is to this hospitable home that the friends come for teaching and meetings. Through a series of things that only happen to Bahá’ís who arise to serve the Cause of God, the right contacts were made to secure publicity. Third, the things Rúḥíyyih Khánum was inspired to say in her press conference were of a nature that pleased the officials at the moment when the country was going through a violent political crisis of which she was wholly unaware at the time.
There were about fifteen people present, including a representative of Tass, the Russian Press Agency. Rúḥíyyih Khánum answered their questions for over an hour and at the end said there were two points she asked them to mention, regardless of anything else they chose to write up: “non-interference in political matters and strict obedience to government; whatever government, in whatever part of the world in which the Bahá’ís live, they must obey. We Bahá’ís believe in change through proper channels, never in violence; evolution not revolution.” For her this was purely routine as she always stresses these two points. For them, however, it was evidently the right words at the right time for in huge black headlines the Daily Mail next day printed: “Violence not a solution says Bahá’í leader” — and went on: “Violence is a short-time solution for a local problem.” The government agencies were evidently so pleased by these views that the radio news broadcasts mentioned Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s visit to the country and quoted her words.
It was probably due to these factors that when Amatu’l-Bahá went to the television station for her interview and asked how many minutes she had they told her she could talk indefinitely as they were planning to use it on the radio as well the next day. A live broadcast of three-quarters of an hour then took place, full of animated discussion between the two participants, Rúḥíyyih Khánum and Dr. Thomas, who had been her Chairman at the University. She often says “In the treasure house of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh we can always find that specific teaching which will apply to any situation or person or group of people; the remedy for everything is there if we but learn to apply it — tactfully!”
In Milton Margai Teachers’ College Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke on “The Role of Youth in Modern Africa”. Over fifty students heard her heart-warming thoughts and aspirations on this subject. As this was not directly a Bahá’í talk she very casually stated at the beginning of her speech, as she usually does: “As I am a Bahá’í naturally my thoughts are colored by the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith”. When the period of questions came, everyone wanted to know more about this Faith and so a second lecture was delivered by her on this subject! On that day there was one young man, a very fine Bahá’í, who was the only believer in that Teacher’s College. However, a few days later at the celebration of the Feast of Naw-Ruz this dear young man very proudly told us that now there were five Bahá’ís in the college.
How Rúḥíyyih Khánum Approaches New PeopleIn one of His talks given in America ‘Abdu’l-Baha said that on the Bahá’í New Year it was highly praiseworthy to inaugurate some good undertaking. It was on Naw-Ruz day that Amatu’l-Bahá opened two new villages to the Faith. The first was the village of Lakka, a very beautiful and prosperous community of fishermen. In explaining why we had come to see them she said: “If one of you goes to the sea and finds a lot of fish if you are a good man you will surely come and inform the rest of the village where the fishing is good and guide them to it. Now we have come in that same spirit to tell you of the spiritual abundance of God’s grace and bounty in this day.” Then she told them of the coming of Bahá’u’lláh and His life-giving Message of love and brotherhood.
In the second village, Malekei, the inhabitants of which are farmers and traders, Rúḥíyyih Khánum gave another beautiful example. She said, “If one of you goes into these beautiful green hills and finds a fresh spring of water, will you not come back and inform the rest of the village that in that spot good water is to be found? We have come to tell you that today Bahá’u’lláh has brought us that eternal spiritual water of life and we invite you with love to drink from it.” She then gave them a brief outline of the Teachings and answered their questions. In both these places the reaction was sincere and warm and the villagers asked the Bahá’ís to visit them regularly and teach them more.
In the Methodist Boys’ High School there was a Bahá’í youth who had been made fun of and laughed at because he belonged to an entirely unknown religion. When his teacher saw Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s television interview he became so interested in the Faith that the next day he asked the Bahá’í youth to see if Rúḥíyyih Khánum would come and speak to the school. The Vice-Principal acted as her Chairman in a gathering of over a hundred students. The young Bahá’í found himself fully vindicated.
We were able to visit two other villages, where Bahá’í groups had already been established; Gbendembou, where over fifty people gathered, and Goderich, where the majority of the inhabitants are Muslims. As the coastal area around Freetown is mainly Christian the reaction of the Muslim villagers was interesting. One of them asked (no doubt remembering missionary activity in the past); “have you come here to make us change our religion and join yours?” Rúḥíyyih Khánum then once again gave the example of the fisherman and said, “I have only come to bring you this wonderful news; for your own sake I hope you look into it, otherwise it makes no difference to me what you do with it; having heard about it, then it is up to you to decide.” They liked this answer so much that they asked the Bahá’ís to come regularly to their village.
The exciting part of this trip was the day of the attempted coup d’etat, when for six hours we could not leave our hotel room because of the fact that soldiers were shooting from the hotel grounds at the offices of the Prime Minister across the street and the fire was being returned from the guards defending them. As our room opened onto a corridor into which every now and then bullets came through the glass louvered wall, we dared not attempt to go downstairs and inquire what was happening. We presumed there was a revolution going on. Eventually, when the firing died out, we went downstairs. It was a dangerous and uneasy period; fortunately we were leaving the country.
In SenegalFrom March 26 to April 8 Amatu’l-Bahá visited the friends in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. She was received by the President, Leopold Senghor, in an interview lasting almost half an hour and presented him with a French copy of that wonderful essay of the beloved Guardian The Goal of a New World Order as well as the pamphlet on obedience to government. An excellent official press conference was held at the Ministry for Information as well as two individual interviews with representatives of different papers. During two radio interviews Rúḥíyyih Khánum was able to speak very openly and in detail about the Bahá’í Faith.
A representative of the Ministry for Information arranged a public meeting at the Centre Culturel which was attended by about 200 young people, mostly university students. Senegal has not been immune to the current student riots. For months the government had to close the university, so it was to a discontented and in some degree truculent audience that she spoke. She emphasized that she wanted them to think, to get new ideas based on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, and at least examine them even if they did not agree with them. She spoke of obedience to government and non-violence, and dwelt at some length on the effect upon society this one teaching would have: to mention the good qualities and be silent about the bad ones, to praise instead of constantly criticizing. She said “this could not only be applied individually but could well be applied amongst nations, as they almost never had a good word to say about each other!” She laughingly asked the audience “Not to fall upon her too hard when the question period came; and to have some consideration for her age”; she said that French was not her native language.
The question period was stormy; of course immediately negative criticism about everything started, to which she said: “You see what I mean? Today we can not even open our mouths without criticizing and being entirely negative in our approach.” A nice man, a little older than the students, came and stood beside her and said he agreed with everything she said and was ready to defend her views. It was hectic, the room was overcrowded, some of the youth openly scornful. We have heard since then, however, that several of the young men who attended this meeting have accepted the Faith.
In the towns of Rufisque and Pikwe Amatu’l-Bahá met with the Bahá’ís and their friends. The Persian pioneer family in Dakar have succeeded in laying a firm foundation of faith in the hearts of the new believers, almost all of Muslim extraction. This year the first Local Spiritual Assemblies in these two towns were elected. The loving and attentive reception- Amatu’l-Bahá received from all the Bahá’ís in Senegal touched her deeply and added a new series of precious memories to this trans-Africa tour.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #487, October 1971, pp. 14-19
Motoring to Gambia we stopped over -night in the town of Kaolak and met with the Bahá’ís and their friends there, a group which largely resulted from the work of a full-time African Bahá’í teacher from Gambia. They were devoted and well-informed. Their first Assembly was elected during last Riḍván.
Eighteen days, from April 9 to 26,1971, were devoted to teaching work in Gambia. This was one of the most thrilling and fruitful periods we spent in Africa. Because of the departure of several pioneers and a general apathy the re-election of old Assemblies and formation of new ones was in serious jeopardy. Lack of manpower was one of the major factors. Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s arrival coincided with a meeting of the National Assembly and the quarterly meeting of the Board of Counsellors for West Africa, She was therefore able to consult with both bodies and lay out a campaign to elect the local Assemblies.
Amatu’l-Bahá, accompanied by Counsellor Dr. William Maxwell and myself were received by the President of Gambia, Sir Dawda Jawara. He informed us that he had been in the Holy Land and had visited the Shrine of the Bab. He is a much admired leader. Amatu’l-Bahá presented him with a copy of The Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh. He was impressed when she said “We must all be on our guard against a new prejudice that has come into our society today, the prejudice of the educated against the illiterate and uneducated.” The President replied that he himself was a village man and that he liked this thought which was very true, but that it had never occurred to him before. This remark seemed to strike just the right note.
As Dr. Maxwell’s visit to Bathurst had been planned a long time before and now coincided with that of Rúḥíyyih Khánum they shared public events together, which was very pleasant in every way. Both spoke at the public meeting in the Bahá’í Center and on an interesting radio interview.
Encouraging Local Travel-TeachingAmatu’l-Bahá encouraged the friends to participate in the teaching activities of the coming week, both for the purpose of opening new centers as well as strengthening old ones and ensuring the formation of as many local Assemblies as possible. As a result of her appeal, a number of Gambian believers volunteered to devote most of their time to this work during that week. She also made sure that the National Assembly met with the volunteers and planned a definite step-by-step program. She then took her place as the General of our little army of ten or so and with much love, wisdom and enthusiasm guided it daily to its goals.
Our area stretched as far as eighty miles from the city of Bathurst. One of the pioneers had a small omnibus which he had bought for just such a purpose. Every morning he filled his car with as many of the friends as he could collect. With our beloved General seated on the front seat next to him, we would all set out, later to be dropped off in teams, each of the foreigners with a Gambian believer to translate and help us in the different villages.
We were a typical group of Bahá’ís for the pioneer who owned the car was a Turkoman from ‘Iráq, married to an American believer who had to stay home with their Gambian born baby. The other devoted pioneer was from Malaysia. We had known him in his own country during our visit of 1964. Now here he was jogging along with us on his way to form new Local Spiritual Assemblies in Africa.
The plan was that we would be picked up along the route several hours later as the driver of the car was with the last team that went the farthest. Often more than an hour or two was spent in walking around the village in the heat of the mid-day sun trying to find and collect the Bahá’ís and invite them to gather under the shade of the big tree, the usual meeting hall. Discussions, questions and answers would continue until late afternoon and often many new people would enroll under the banner of Bahá’u’lláh.
On our way back each team would eagerly relate to the others the wonderful incidents of their own teaching. The joy and enthusiasm of everyone was so great that although very tired we could hardly wait for the next morning. During this period between ten to fifteen villages were visited, each more than once. Some of them were completely new villages. One of the points Rúḥíyyih Khánum often stressed in these meetings was the role of women in the community. She would encourage the women, who usually stay on the outer fringes of such gatherings, to come closer and sit with the others. She would tell them of the wonderful teaching of Bahá’u’lláh about equality of men and women; of the beautiful example of ‘Abdu’l-Baha likening humanity to a bird, one wing men and one wing women; When they fly in perfect unison the bird can go higher and higher. In such words she encouraged the women to participate in the discussion and independent activity in the Cause. To our infinite joy and pride many of these women were elected to the new Local Assemblies.
RiḍvánThe climax of this week’s effort came with Riḍván. The teams went to the nearby villages on the eve of Riḍván, April 20th, and then to the far away places all day on the 21st of April. Although for a whole week we had prepared the friends for this wonderful occasion yet often on arriving we would not find a single Bahá’í present. Again, we would spend an hour walking around the village, calling the friends. Gradually they would arrive and the meeting could then be held. Time as we know it, the hurry and pressure of civilization, does not exist in the villages. There are also almost no highly nervous or bad tempered people!
Rúḥíyyih Khánum made it clear to all of us that we visitors were only the helpers on this wonderful occasion and that the responsibility for the running of these meetings and the election of the Assemblies was in the hands of the pioneers and the Gambian believers. April 21st was for Amatu’l-Bahá as well as for Guilda Navidi and me the longest and one of the happiest days of our lives. Amatu’l-Bahá herself was present at the formation of three of the nine Assemblies elected in our area (one other was elected up country). She enjoyed this experience so much that she later on told us all that from now on she will make sure that every year around this period she is in a place where she can help with the formation of such Assemblies. She said that although she was afraid to write the ballots for the illiterate friends — not being familiar with the language it was hard for us to catch names — still just to be able to address the friends — to hold the ballot papers in her hand until the tellers came to collect and count them, was an infinite bounty.
The highlight of this day was an incident which took place at the end of it. It was dusk and everyone was exhausted. We had just collected our last team and faced the long eighty mile drive home. Several times going to this village the car had passed by another village and because we did not know any one in this village, never stopped. Every time Rúḥíyyih Khánum said one of these days the inhabitants of this village will stop the car and complain that we never stop here, and ask us what we are doing in the other villages.
Once again she said the same thing. As the car bumped slowly over the dirt track they saw an old man standing on the road and very energetically motioning the car to stop. Sure enough he asked the inevitable question “Why is it that you go through our village to the next village and never stop here to speak to us?” Every one was tired and hungry and ready to postpone this meeting to another day, but our beloved General would not hear of this. She came down and walked into the little village square and sat and talked to them about Bahá’u’lláh’s Message until it was so dark no face could be seen. The old man, who was the still older Chief’s brother, listened carefully, and asked questions. He stated that he wished to be accepted as a believer there and then and his son, a man in his forties, with him. He plucked at his eighth-of-an-inch-long grey beard and said: “I am not foolish. I am an old man, as you can see by my beard. I do not say this lightly without being sure, I have asked in the other village what you told them. I believe this is the Truth and accept it and I would like to see all my children and kindred accept it too.” After this there was nothing to do but enroll him and his son on the spot.
Annual ConventionRúḥíyyih Khánum invited the new believers and several others in some of the villages to come to the Convention and made it possible for them to do so. It is extremely important to seize the opportunity of the Annual Convention and get the Bahá’ís, especially new ones, to come to it as it confirms and deepens them and makes them realize they belong to something great and world-wide. This old man during the Convention got up in his very beautiful local costume and with great dignity said: “If a man sees his neighbors carry shovels and spades and go to their fields, although it is the dry season and not a cloud in the sky, he should also follow them and work on his field, otherwise the harvest time comes, his neighbors will reap a rich harvest and he will have none. When I saw a car going to the neighboring village I did not ignore it. I went to the next village and asked them what they heard and when I was satisfied I asked them to come to us also so that we may not miss the rich spiritual harvest.”
The friends were blessed by the presence of their beloved Amatu’l-Bahá in their Convention and were thrilled to hear that ten Local Assemblies were formed in Gambia, six in Senegal and one in Mauritania. This was a very joyous occasion and some of the time the floor was open to all the participants. We were all thrilled to hear so many wise and beautiful examples and parables from our dear brothers from the villages. One of the new Bahá’ís who had not accepted the Faith prior to Amatu’l-Bahá’s visit did so when she asked him frankly why he had not done so. At the Convention he got up and said: “If we are asleep and some one comes and calls us in great urgency, we must not neglect his call. It may be for a real reason. There may be fire in the house or flood in the field. We must instantly get up and investigate. For some time I did not heed, but this was wrong. I might have lost a great thing in my life.” A dear old man said: “In our language of Wolof we have a proverb. We say ‘if the bird is eating he does not need to make a noise’ and so if the Bahá’ís live the life of a Bahá’í they will naturally attract the attention of everyone.”
Another villager said: “Some of our Bahá’ís are weak and some are strong, but we should be kind and loving towards all. If we have several children one may be ailing or one crippled. But don’t we love all of them equally?” To hear these beautiful words of wisdom, the immemorial heritage of the villagers, is a joy and a pleasure. One of the many lessons our beloved Amatu’l-Bahá has taught us in her trips is to draw out these shy and humble villagers in the conferences and conventions so they will stand up and speak and share their beautiful thoughts and experiences with all. If one listens to these simple but wise people, the majority of whom are illiterate, one can learn much about the way of approaching others and proving to them the beauty and validity of the message of Bahá’u’lláh.
Convention for Ivory Coast, Mali and Upper VoltaIn Abidjan, the Ivory Coast, Amatu’l-Bahá attended the Convention to elect the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Ivory Coast, Mali and Upper Volta as the special representative of The Universal House of Justice.
The Convention was preceded by a two-day teaching conference. This was another very happy occasion. Amatu’l-Bahá had been so recently in all three countries the friends were thrilled to have her as a witness to their marvelous achievements and to proudly inform her of the victories won in the short time since her visit. The number of local Assemblies in the Ivory Coast had already surpassed the goal set for them by The Universal House of Justice in its Message to the Convention! Mali proudly announced two new Centers having Bahá’ís, one of them none other than the famous city of Timbuktu visited by Rúḥíyyih Khánum a few months earlier. The village of Affery in the Ivory Coast, opened by Amatu’l-Bahá in December of 1970, now had over seventy believers, seventeen of whom, including many women, attended the Convention and delighted all by singing Bahá’í songs composed by themselves.
During this third visit to the Ivory Coast, Amatu’l-Bahá was received by President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, one of the most enlightened leaders of Africa. He raises his voice in a continuous appeal for unity, equality and peace throughout Africa and in the world. With deep sincerity he said that it was an honor for him to meet Rúḥíyyih Khánum and exchange with her such profound thoughts. Although we were seated in a luxurious palace, the President said he prefers the simplicity of village life and whenever possible flees to the sanctuary of his village home.
When Amatu’l-Bahá asked him if he had ever received the special copy of The Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh which was sent to Heads of State by The Universal House of Justice, he said that he had not but that he would very much like to see it. Amatu’l-Bahá said she would be most happy to send him a copy in French which she later did, with a warm dedication to him. She presented him with a copy of the small pamphlet on “Obedience to Government” during her visit, saying he would, no doubt, have the Faith brought to his attention in the future and he should know this was one of its cardinal tenets.
Publicity in AbidjanAmatu’l-Bahá had a very wonderful press conference in Abidjan which was televised and shown the next day. During this press conference several interesting questions were asked and ably answered. One of them was: “How can an illiterate villager who cannot read or write comprehend these profound teachings and become a Bahá’í?” “There are two channels,” she replied, “through which a man can understand and believe; one is through the head and one is through the heart. It is natural for an educated man to study the Bahá’í writings before he accepts them. He must read and weigh them with his reason and then accept. But for the illiterate man this is not possible; he judges by another method. Denied writing, his intuitive faculties are much sharper. He feels it is the truth and accepts it instantly. By either method anyone is welcome to become a Bahá’í; only he must believe it is the Truth. Her highly educated listeners immediately saw the point and liked this answer immensely.
Another astute question was: “How do you reconcile the two contradictory teachings of this Faith, strict obedience to government on one hand and belief that war is wrong and working for peace and brotherhood on the other? You say that strict obedience to government is carried so far that if a Bahá’í is obliged to take up arms and go to war he must obey his government, even though all his teachings are aimed at peace and against killing. How can you reconcile this contradiction?”
Amatu’l-Bahá, with that beautiful smile in her eyes as well as on her face, said “We are 100 per cent for peace and 100 per cent for obedience to government”. This answer was met with genuine applause.
In addition to this press conference there were two excellent television programs as well as a radio interview. Two public meetings were held, both on the topic “The Spiritual Destiny of Africa”, one in Abidjan and the other in Dabou, where the District Governor and many school teachers were present. This general proclamation of the Faith, for the first time in the Ivory Coast, will no doubt lead to still greater victories in future.
Again on SafariHaving stowed everything back in the Land Rover which had been waiting for us in Abidjan, we proceeded for the fourth time to Ghana, this time to visit the coastal centers in the South. Guilda Navidi had left us in Abidjan to fly to Europe. On May 10th Amatu’l-Bahá had started out for the frontier. Car trouble obliged us to sleep at the little border town of Agnbilerou because the two frontiers with all the officials had closed down at six o’clock! The next day we fully appreciated the fact we were no longer travelling by air for we drove fourteen hours, part of it on extremely rough roads. The jungles and hills were breathtakingly beautiful. We rejoiced that we were back again on the real safari. Late in the evening we reached the city of Takoradi in the South of Ghana. The next day we met one of the National Assembly members who took us to the meeting with some of the Bahá’ís of Takoradi. As most of the friends work in a cocoa factory on shifts it is very difficult to meet them all at once. We headed along the coast in the direction of Accra.
In the village of Sofokrom, newly opened to the Faith, and its Local Assembly scarcely a month old, Amatu’l-Bahá met with the friends and many villagers. Chairs and benches were put in the dirt street in front of a house which had an electric light above its door, a remarkable sign of prosperity for in Africa few villages are electrified. The son of this family is a Bahá’í. He had obtained his father’s permission, to have the meeting outside their house. Over 150 people, men, women and children, eagerly listened to Amatu’l-Bahá expounding the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.
It was once again her beautiful explanation on the subject of life after death and the Teachings on the immortality of the soul which captured their attention. Many questions on the laws of Bahá’u’lláh, about the Bahá’í funeral service, and other points were asked. It was a pity we had to motor on to our hotel near Cape Coast for the people, particularly the young men and officers of the new Local Spiritual Assembly would have liked to ask questions all night, it seemed.
Near Cape Coast, with the help of the dear Irish pioneers and local believers, many villages have been opened to the Faith. Amatu’l-Bahá gave a very thought-provoking talk to the senior students in the Ghana National College on the subject: “What kind of future do we want?” In the course of her lecture she recalled that in Gambia she had met an Englishman who had tamed a wild hyena. She was amazed to see how this ferocious animal came to its master to be stroked and petted, making little noises of joy. She remarked to him: “It seems strange indeed when we see how great the effect of love is on a wild beast that we seldom try it on our fellow human beings!”
She also spoke to a large number of senior girls at the Catholic Holy Child College on the role of women in society, the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh on the equality of men and women and the rights and duties of women in general, as well as on the role of youth in the developing societies of Africa. She said “How often women can be the voice of conscience to their men and through love, wisdom and righteousness keep them from taking a wrong step in life.” This was the second Bahá’í talk the college had permitted. Several of the girls expressed their wish to become Bahá’ís.
At the invitation of a young man, a new believer, whose mother has also become a Bahá’í and whose father is a prominent local Muslim, Amatu’l-Bahá went with him to visit his village of Adukrom. She spoke to more than seventy people there about the Faith. She was received with that typical African hospitality and love which is always such a joy to experience. In another village, Menyamewa, where the Bahá’ís have been teaching the children of the village regularly, they regaled us with Bahá’í songs and prayers in their loud clear voices.
Once again we arrived in Accra, just in time to attend a farewell gathering the National Assembly had arranged for five pioneers who were leaving Ghana. Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke of the devoted services of these pioneers, the great importance of both black and white Bahá’ís pioneering to Africa, and said “In this way we demonstrate, in a world where racial prejudice is steadily increasing, the cardinal principle of our Faith, the Oneness of Mankind.” She stressed that perseverance is of the utmost importance in pioneering. In this case the farewell was not as sad as it might have been for two of the pioneers were going to other African countries to serve. Two others planned to occupy home front goals on their return. One was going to complete her education and then plans to pioneer in the future.
The Bahá’ís of Accra have been very active in teaching in many villages within easy reach of the capitol. Domiabra, Amanfro and Matsi were all visited by Amatu’l-Bahá in one day and Kweimango and Peduase on the following day. Shortly before her departure she was also able to go to Ashiaman. In all of these places there are entirely new nourishing Bahá’í communities. Local Spiritual Assemblies have been formed and the friends are regularly visited and deepened in the teachings. In the village of Jan Kama an excellent Nineteen Day Feast was conducted, organized and participated in by the local believers. This was the best witness to the capacity of the villagers and the soundness of their Bahá’í teachers.
As our plane flew up into the bright African sky and headed for Switzerland another chapter of this fabulous safari of Rúḥíyyih Khánum came to an end. Amatu’l-Bahá had been urged by The Universal House of Justice to accept, if she felt she could, the loving request of the European Counsellors to address the European Youth Conference in Switzerland at the end of July. The Universal House of Justice also suggested she might consider taking time off for a much needed rest before she resumes her African tour. That is what she plans to do as the effects of her long illness after the South American Continental Conference in Bolivia have not yet entirely disappeared. God willing, in August, we will return to Accra, pick up the Land Rover and start to recross the continent from West to East. Then we will proceed Southwards to see the faces of other dear friends, eagerly awaiting Amatu’l-Bahá’s visit promised at the Intercontinental Conference for Africa held in Uganda in 1958. Since our arrival in Africa in July 1969, we have already flown at least 5000 miles and motored over 18,000 miles. We ask ourselves: “When will the great African safari end?”
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #491, February 1972, pp. 5-7
Just over two years from the inception of Amatu’l-Bahá’s African Safari in August 1969, we returned to Ghana, West Africa after an absence in Europe of two months. The Universal House of Justice had expressed the hope that she would accept the request of the European Counsellors and attend the first European Bahá’í Youth Conference to be held in Fiesch, Switzerland; Rúḥíyyih Khánum combined this with a period of much needed rest and medical care. As the reports of that exciting conference and the burst of enthusiasm it has released have been already befittingly publicized there is no need for repetition here.
Before going to Europe Rúḥíyyih Khánum several times commented that she was at a loss about how to speak to the Youth in Europe. She said all she wanted to say was why are you wasting your time in this spiritually barren continent; go to Africa, go to South America, go where there are receptive souls waiting to accept this wonderful message of Bahá’u’lláh! However, during our brief stay in Germany prior to the conference she felt a marked change in the people, especially the Youth, in Europe. This feeling was later on confirmed by observing a new receptivity in the people in Switzerland and particularly around the village of Fiesch. Encouraged by this Amatu’l-Bahá poured her own enthusiasm into the Bahá’í Youth, and they in turn, stimulated by her example of service to the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh, arose to go on teaching missions and achieved what, as far as I know, no one had yet achieved in Europe.
As we had a deadline to reach Ghana on August 6th and move the car out of that country before its permit expired on the 10th we spent a feverish four days of washing, ironing, airing damp clothes, and repacking the Land Rover. Finally we said a reluctant farewell to the devoted pioneers in whose home we had stayed as well as to the Accra Community — by now, after five visits to that city — our old friends. I remember in particular, how a mother whose non-Bahá’í daughter had just graduated from medical school, who, in spite of her maternal pride and joy, told us that she could think of nothing more precious to give to her daughter at her graduation than the gift of the knowledge of the Faith in Bahá’u’lláh and that in writing to her this innermost wish of her heart she was trying to give her eternal joy and happiness.
We left Ghana to cross the border to Togo and discovered with horror that the travelling documents of the car had only one more sheet left, which meant we could enter Dahomey but go no further until we received a new Garnet des Passages from the Automobile Club in Nairobi, Kenya. Because of this complication and the fact that it took twenty-six days for documents to reach us by air mail, we were delayed a whole month in Cotonou.
When impatient over this delay and worried over the possibility of the papers being lost Amatu’l-Bahá calmly assured me there must be some reason for it and we would eventually find out what it was. She met with believers as well as the pioneers in both Cotonou and Porto Novo, teaching and helping them and on one particular occasion counselling and guiding a very dear Bahá’í family who otherwise might have fallen into serious disaster. Many times Rúḥíyyih Khánum said, “I feel like a straw held motionless in cross currents of air, there must be a reason for this, we must not struggle against it.”
In the meantime the Bahá’ís of Nigeria were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their beloved guest. A delegation of some of the members of the Nigerian National Assembly came one afternoon to find out about Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s arrival and later on the Secretary of the National Assembly accompanied by the Counsellor Dr. William Maxwell came again to get the latest news. Rúḥíyyih Khánum assured them that the moment the documents arrived she would leave for Nigeria.
During this enforced sojourn in Cotonou Amatu’l-Bahá was able to meet two of the three Presidents of the Republic of Dahomey which she had not been able to do on her previous visit. On August 17th she was received by His Excellency Sourou M. Apithy at his office in Porto Novo and on August 21 by His Excellency Justin Ahomadegbe Tometin at his office of the President in Cotonou, who was then Acting President during the absence abroad of the Head of State. Dahomey has solved a number of problems through having a triumvirate of presidents, each representing a powerful group in the country, taking the presidency in rotation. Both of these gentlemen were charming to Rúḥíyyih Khánum and her visits lasted about a half an hour during which she spoke of the purpose of this long African transcontinental tour and also of the Bahá’í Faith and it’s teachings.
The last few days of our long wait in Dahomey were overshadowed by the sad news of my dear father’s serious illness and followed by the news he had passed on to the next world. In haste and distress we finally left for Nigeria on September 7 and on that same night I flew to Kampala to attend the funeral of my father, Musa Banání. As beloved Rúḥíyyih Khánum had been ill with a bad cold, I was very reluctant indeed to leave her at a time when all the pressures of a new tour in a new country would be weighing upon her. However, she was very sure that I must by all means go and pay my last respect to my dear father and be at the side of my mother on this sad occasion. I was away for eleven days. During the nine days Amatu’l-Bahá spent in Lagos she was able to meet the local believers at a welcoming meeting held at the National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds as well as on several other occasions. She visited with three members of the National Spiritual Assembly and the Bahá’ís and their friends in the Yoruba town of Ilaro, fifty-five miles from Lagos, where a successful public meeting was held with the Bahá’ís and their friends. A number of students of the Faith enrolled at the end of the meeting. Rúḥíyyih Khánum appeared twice on different television programs and was interviewed on the radio as well as at a Press Conference shortly after her arrival. One of the feature writers in one of the most important national newspapers, the Daily Times headed his article “Princess Feather” — taken from Amatu’l-Bahá’s Sioux Indian name of “Princess Pretty Feather”.
As Rúḥíyyih Khánum resents waste of time, when 12,000 newly printed pamphlets were delivered at the National Headquarters where she was staying as the guest of the National Spiritual Assembly she set all the Bahá’ís at one of the meetings to tying the pamphlets up into bundles of fifty so they could be properly counted and distributed to Local Spiritual Assemblies, teachers and so on. In doing this it was discovered about 2,000 were missing. Efficiency is needed in our urgent Bahá’í work in many parts of the world.
Driving the Land Rover Rúḥíyyih Khánum crossed Nigeria from the West to East, visiting Benin for five days, where she was able to secure a very good interview on the national radio. She also visited Eneugu, the capital of the South Central State in the heart of Ibo land where she had a radio interview, a public meeting and met with the Bahá’ís and a number of their friends at an informal meeting in the home of one of the Bahá’ís. Her visit to this state was announced over the radio and heard throughout both the Central and Eastern states of Nigeria.
On September 21st Amatu’l-Bahá, accompanied by the National Secretary arrived in the city of Port Harcourt, where I rejoined her on my return from Uganda. During the one week period of her visit in the South Eastern State she was the guest of Counsellor Dr. William Maxwell and his wife. A reception was given in her honor by the Bahá’í community in the leading hotel. It was attended by a number of prominent people as well as by the Press, who asked her many questions. It ended up in being an animated Bahá’í discussion group. This resulted in favorable articles in the papers, in addition to a dinner party given by the Maxwells for a select group of people interested in the Faith. Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to the students at the Teachers’ Training College in Port Harcourt, at a public gathering held the same day, and at the Government Comprehensive Secondary School, of which Dr. Maxwell is the Principal.
During her first talk she spoke of the importance Bahá’u’lláh has attached to the station of the teacher in human society. She said that to a great extent the destiny of a nation is in the hands of its teachers. The academic subjects they teach are really of minor importance when compared with the influence they should exert in shaping the minds and the characters of the youth. She mentioned that in the Bahá’í society of the future, for people who fail to comply with the advice of Bahá’u’lláh that every one should write a will, an automatic will has been provided in which the great and noble role of the teacher is recognized through receiving a small share of the inheritance.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum almost invariably warns her audiences of a new and a very cruel prejudice which has come into the 20th Century — the prejudice of the literate against the illiterate. She points out that none of our ancestors were literate. She says “even my own ancestors in Scotland six or seven generations back may have been illiterate”. She points out that even such great civilizations as those of the Incas and the Mayas and the Aztecs were illiterate. She states wisdom and intelligence are different from the ability to read and write and therefore no one should look down upon his unlettered parents or relatives back in the village. With the present scientific advancement in the world most probably in two or three generations illiteracy will be completely eradicated, but in the meantime we should guard against this unreasonable and cruel prejudice which produces so much hurt and such a sense of inferiority among the villagers.
At the Government Comprehensive Secondary School she spoke to over 400 students on the importance of the influence of the individual in the society. She said that the individual is a component of the whole; that if each one of them in that room possessed a better character and became a better human being, the standard of the entire group would be raised. She quoted the words of U Thant, on the tenth anniversary of his General Secretariatship of the United Nations, to this effect that “every year that I get older the more I am convinced of the importance of the influence of the individual in society.” At her public meeting Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke on the “Spiritual Destiny of Africa”. This is a theme that she often uses in her public talks. It is a superb resumé of the present state of the moral and spiritual powers of the different sections of the human race. She begins her talk by saying that economically as well as politically “Africa’s star is on the rise, there is no doubt about this, it is the spiritual and moral future of Africa that I am concerned with.” Here she points out that the continent of Asia has a very old, mature and spiritual culture, which has created a deep sense of spiritual values. However, it seems that at present their wisdom and these spiritual values are like the characteristics of an old person, though deep and precious in themselves the vitality and ability to expound them and export them to the rest of the world is lacking. The block of the white race, originally Europe and now most of the Americas, is the seat and source of our modern western materialistic civilization, the fountainhead of our present technological development. It is from this area the force of materialism, in spite of all its technological benefits, pours out to the rest of the world. Rúḥíyyih Khánum points out that unfortunately this civilization is devouring itself as it seriously lacks moral and spiritual values. It has reached its peak and now it is on the decline. The third block of humanity is the black race, whose cradle is Africa. Its peoples, although very old, are at present among the youngest of all the nations of the world. Africa has the vitality of youth, Africa is coming into her own. However, she must choose the right path in her upward climb, the path of moral and spiritual values, the path which leads her to her brilliant destiny. Amatu’l-Bahá quotes the words of Bahá’u’lláh, likening the black race to the pupil of the eye of humanity.
In describing the relationship of destiny to free will she gives that beautiful example of ‘Abdu’l-Baha who likens the life of man to a loom; the long threads, or warp, are the factor of heredity, over which man has no power of choice. She points out she did not choose to be white or to be born into a Canadian family, to have her particular color of hair and eyes and so on, anymore than her audience chose to be black, to be born in Africa and to have their own particular characteristics. These are factors over which man has no control. The woof or cross thread of the loom, ‘Abdu’l-Baha likened to the force of environment over which likewise a man has little choice or control; most men, all over the world, remain in the environment into which they are born and which they did not select for themselves. What then is due to the individual’s initiative? The pattern he weaves. A man, through the factors of heredity and environment, may have thread of pure gold or silk, yet weave nothing into it but one long, blank, uninteresting piece of cloth. Another man may have the poorest grade of cotton thread yet weave into it a design so wonderful that it is treasured as a work of art for thousands of years and preserved in a great museum for all to see. So individuals and nations must pay attention to the design they weave, for that is the domain of their choice, therein they can fulfill their spiritual destiny. God only desires good and great things for his children.
In addition to these public lectures a unique radio interview of one hour was arranged in which Rúḥíyyih Khánum gave four talks of about 15 minutes each, dealing with the history and teachings of the Faith. These were to be broadcast over Port Harcourt radio for one month, each talk repeated twice during a week.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #492, March 1972, pp. 20-23
A three day program took us to villages and towns of the East Central State, the land of the Ibos. In the village of Bende, over 200 adults and children, Bahá’ís and their friends gathered to welcome their beloved and long awaited guest. In almost all of these village meetings the Chief was present out of respect for Amatu’l-Bahá. The Chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly would read a beautiful address of welcome and a detailed program for the meeting had been written out. Indeed, this is the custom throughout both Nigeria and the Cameroon. The addresses were beautifully composed and very moving.
In Bende they told of donating a piece of land for the erection of their Bahá’í Center or any other Bahá’í institution. They proudly informed Rúḥíyyih Khánum that the number of believers in this year had increased from eleven to sixty-five. As many ladies and children were present at this meeting, Amatu’l-Bahá spoke at length on the greatness of the station of women in society and also of the importance of the spiritual education of children.
At the time set aside for questions and answers a fanatical voice loudly protested against the Teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, claiming that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. This excited the local Bahá’ís but the wise and dignified non-Bahá’í Chief of the village lifted up his cane and roared an order of silence to all! He said “No pressure has been placed on anyone to come to this meeting or to accept this religion; anyone who objects to it should leave and go; the rest of us who want to hear more of the Teachings and came to welcome this distinguished guest would like to remain in peace and order.” With these words the meeting returned to order and happiness.
In the town of Umuahia, although it was raining and restrictions on night meetings keep many people indoors, eighteen people turned up to meet Rúḥíyyih Khánum and listen to her beautiful words. She spoke on life after death, which always fascinates the African people. They like to hear her tell that the life of this world is as different from the world to come as the life of the embryo in the womb of its mother is different from its world after birth.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s explanations of matters such as the existence of ghosts and spirits, whether they can harm us in this world, the power of “juju” or witchcraft, and other such topics are so vivid and clear that one can see the joy and relief on the faces of her audience.
A Story by ‘Abdu’l-BaháOften she tells this beautiful story of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá which is an example of the relation of the soul of man in this world to the next world, or eternal life. It is the story of a stranger who arrives in a strange city and finds all of its inhabitants gathered in the market square looking anxiously up at the sky. He inquires the reason for this from a man standing nearby and is told: “It is the custom in this city that, once a year, a bird comes out of the sky, circles about and alights on the head of one of the men and this man then becomes the king for a year.” The stranger looks up and soon sees a bird appear which circles and then alights on his own head. At this point all the people acclaim him as their King and carry him off to the palace.
The man who had given the information said to the new King. “Since it was I who told you about our custom and now you have been chosen King, make me your Prime Minister.” The King agrees to this. As the Prime Minister watches him and finds he is a just and good man, doing his duty to his subjects, he comes to the King one day and said: “Come with me, I have something to show you” and takes him down to the seaside. There, far out, the King sees a desert island where an old and miserable man, naked and starving, is crying out and begging for help. The King asks who this wretched creature is and the Minister answers: “That is our King of last year. At the end of the year we take our old King and throw him away on an island. This is our custom.”
The King is distressed and bemoans his fate and says that he never chose to be King and doesn’t want to end in such a terrible condition and terrible place. The wise Minister then tells him: “Now, while you are King, you have the power, you have the money, you have the men to obey you; so choose an island and bring your people and cultivate your island. Dig wells for water and build yourself a palace there. Then when the day comes for you to be cast off, you will go from one palace to another and be even better off than you were before.” The King heeds him and does this.
‘Abdu’l-Baha uses this beautiful example to teach us that each one of us, when born into this world is like a king, and has power and means of building a future palace, a shelter against the day one leaves this earthly kingdom and goes to the heavenly kingdom. With deeds and virtues developed in this world, each man builds his heavenly home and prepares for his eternal future.
The Village of UmuasuIn the village of Umuosu Amatu’l-Bahá was received by a large number of enthusiastic Bahá’ís. Under a huge tree she addressed the friends and spoke of the great power of unity. She reminded the friends that they were good judges of seeing the truth of this, having experienced the strife and disunity that led to their recent civil war from the effects of which they were still suffering.
The Village of UbahaIn the village of Ubaha we met with only a few of the Bahá’ís as most of them had gone away in search of work. The National Spiritual Assembly of Nigeria had printed special posters of welcome, giving a photograph of Amatu’l-Bahá on her historic tour of Nigeria and including their address. Some 2,000 of these handbills were printed and displayed in remote villages by local communities all the way from Lagos. On our route we could see these posters nailed to trees and on the walls of huts.
The Villages of Umukwe and ItungwoIn the square of the village of Umukwe under a gigantic tree a group of Bahá’ís and their friends gathered to welcome Amatu’l-Bahá and listen to her words of love and wisdom.
The village of Itungwo was not on the itinerary but the friends sent an appeal and begged their beloved guest to stop at their village also, and bless their village too, with her presence.
In this village they had erected a very beautiful shelter from palm branches and decorated it with flowers. They presented Rúḥíyyih Khánum with an official address of welcome and showered her with their love and affection. As there were quite a number of women present at this meeting, Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke mostly on the importance of the role of women in society. She spoke of the great blessings and bounties that Bahá’u’lláh showered upon the female sex. She spoke of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s statement that the first educator is the mother, therefore to educate a woman is of great importance.
She also spoke on the importance of prayers and devotions in every family and for every individual, giving the example of the Master, likening the heart to a mirror. If you turn this mirror earthward you only reflect the darkness of the earth but if you turn it to the heaven you will reflect the heavenly light. She likened the cares and the attachments of this life to the dust which covers the surface of a mirror and pointed out that ‘Abdu’l-Baha said that through prayer we polish and remove the dust of everyday life from the mirror of the heart.
By this time Amatu’l-Bahá was so exhausted that her voice was broken with fatigue. She had spoken to five large gatherings in less than twenty hours, yet she was unwilling to cut any of these meetings short or to show any sign of haste. This is one of the most beautiful qualities of Rúḥíyyih Khánum. She always said “When you do something, do your best, give all of yourself and not just part of it.”
In the town of Aba a meeting was arranged to welcome Amatu’l-Bahá where she spoke to the Bahá’ís and some of their friends on the importance of service and devotion to the Cause, relating some unforgettable incidents associated with the martyrdom of the early believers. She reminded us that we today are the spiritual descendents of those heroes of the Faith.
Port HarcourtThe last of this unbroken chain of meetings, eight in forty-eight hours, was the Nineteen Day Feast in Port Harcourt where Rúḥíyyih Khánum encouraged the friends to consciously work on themselves to acquire the virtues that Bahá’u’lláh wants each one of us to have.
She gave a very simple but clear example. She said that some years ago she went to a teacher to learn some physical exercises in order to strengthen herself for her forthcoming visit to Asia. The first day her teacher came to the house she told Rúḥíyyih Khánum to lie flat on the floor and raise her feet up in the air. To her horror she discovered that she was incapable of raising them more than an inch from the ground! It had never occurred to her that she had lost the muscular control of her own body through lack of use. She set herself, over a period of many months, to regain command of her muscles through practicing a daily series of exercises, which, incidentally, she still does. She said that as a result of these daily exercises she is now able not only to raise her feet but to put them behind her head. She used this as an example of not only what we can learn to do through regular and systematic practice, but as an example that we can cultivate and strengthen our virtues and spiritual qualities through assiduously practicing them. Indeed, this is enjoined upon us in the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.
Our prayers must be true and pure so that God may take notice of them. She said a mother listens carefully to her child’s cry and decides whether the cry is just to draw her attention or whether he is in real pain or hunger. If it is the latter, she instantly reacts, but if the former, she does not pay much attention. So it is with God, if our cry is from the very depths of our heart and soul, He surely will reply to our need.
The City of CalabarOn September 28 we left the city of Port Harcourt and drove to the capital of South Eastern State, the city of Calabar. The week of our stay was packed with activities. Amatu’l-Bahá spoke at a public meeting on “The Spiritual Destiny of Africa”. She met with some of the elite of the city at a dinner-reception given in her honor at the home of the Auxiliary Board member, Mr. Friday Ekpe and Mrs. Ekpe. She had an excellent radio interview on the Faith conducted by the head of the radio station who was deeply interested in the Teachings. In addition to this she met, on more than one occasion, with local believers and addressed a large gathering of students at one of the commercial colleges.
The Village of AkpabyoOne day and night were spent in the village of Akpabyo, which was a highlight of her visit to Nigeria. Her arrival coincided with the national celebration of Independence Day. A troupe of Bahá’í men dancers from the village, attired in colorful skirts and feather headdresses, accompanied by drummers and followed by over one-hundred believers, young and old, met their guest at the junction with the main road and walked, dancing and drumming, through the jungle noonday heat for about a mile. It was a glorious and befitting welcome such as they reserve for visits of the highest personages in their land. As this procession made its way, in house after house as we went by, a Bahá’í woman would come out, sometimes an old lady or a mother with her babe on her back, and dance around ceremoniously, joyfully shouting “Alláh-u-Abhá”.
The Village of IkotubaAt last the procession reached the village of Ikotuba, the first spot where the Bahá’í Faith penetrated into Nigeria from the Cameroon and where today they have a teaching institute as well as the largest number of believers in Nigeria. Over 200 believers gathered at the Institute to welcome Amatu’l-Bahá and hear her words of encouragement and wisdom. In this community they have a singing committee of about fifteen men and women who made up a powerful choir. They sang many beautiful songs they had composed, praising Bahá’u’lláh, explaining His Teachings and giving hope to mankind.
Ceremoniously, they presented Amatu’l-Bahá with a beautifully carved and painted stool in the shape of an elephant, properly dedicated to her with the date and place written on it.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum pointed out the importance of the spiritual command of Bahá’u’lláh which enjoins upon each of us to teach His Faith, now most important, because the priesthood has been abolished. She explained that all the religions of the past, including the traditional religion of Africa, have had priests and that these priests have rendered a service to humanity; if they were good they had a great influence on the people and raised them to higher levels; if they were evil, they did a lot of harm and had a bad influence on the people. “In the past,” Rúḥíyyih Khánum explained, “Literacy was the prerogative of only a very small section of society, primarily the priests. It was the duty of the priest to tell others what was written in the Book and guide the multitude of adherents, In this day, however, literacy is the common property of all. Within a few generations illiteracy will have been completely abolished from the face of the earth. Because of this, in this new day in which we are living, it will be possible and it will be the duty of every man to study the scriptures of his Faith, and follow and propagate it himself.”
Rúḥíyyih Khánum pointed out that the world is full of words today and they all resemble one another, whether coming from the mouth of a priest, philosopher or scientist; therefore, it must be largely through deeds that we Bahá’ís can distinguish ourselves and demonstrate the effect of the Words of Bahá’u’lláh on our lives.
Until late that evening the dancing and music continued and the activities were repeated the next day.
In a neighboring village a new Bahá’í Center had been constructed and Rúḥíyyih Khánum was requested to visit it and pray in it. So we went there on foot. When we returned we attended a meeting held at the Teaching Institute where Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to a large group and several accepted the Faith. The occasion ended with a luncheon to which all were invited. As nearly every local meat or fish dish in this part of Africa is liberally spiced with red pepper it is fortunate that both Rúḥíyyih Khánum and I learned to eat hot food during our trip to India.
On October 5, we left for the Republic of Cameroon, after a twenty-eight day visit to Nigeria. A Cameroon believer, one of the first to carry the Faith to Nigeria, and who is still a most active and dedicated traveling teacher, accompanied us to Mamfe. He regularly visits this area where he has been instrumental in forming over ten Local Assemblies, It took us over six hours to travel a distance of ninety miles stopping at many of these villages to greet the Bahá’ís. In some places Rúḥíyyih Khánum would get out and say a few words of encouragement and distribute pamphlets to inquirers.
We were touched by a young man who greeted us in one village then jumped on his bicycle, rode ahead of us so fast we could not catch up with him, and carried the news of the coming of Rúḥíyyih Khánum — then he would be there when we arrived, ready with a speech he had written for the occasion.
These precious gems of Bahá’u’lláh, hidden in the remote jungles and deserts, islands and prairies are our beloved brothers and sisters in great need of our love and encouragement. If we only knew the joys and blessings we receive from visiting them and loving them — far greater than anything we can give them in return — we would all hasten to this field of foreign service and partake of the infinite blessings Bahá’u’lláh has reserved for those who arise to spread His Message.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Baha’i News #493, April 1972, pp. 12-15We left Nigeria on October 5th, accompanied by Oscar Njang a Cameroon pioneer long resident in Nigeria. Our arrival in the Federal Republic of Cameroon was not without excitement! It seems the closer you get to a frontier the wilder and more neglected the roads become.
We passed through the small and rarely visited border post of Ndu and drove eighteen miles on one of the worst roads you would ever want to encounter anywhere, a road so rarely used it consists of two faint tracks with a high growth of weeds in the middle and bushes that lashed the car on both sides as we bumped in and out of deep holes every few yards. At the end of this nightmare of a road we had to stop at an army check post and were taken before the commanding officer, an arrogant, half drunk, disagreeable man who told us we could not drive after six o’clock and must spend the night there. In the yellow light of a lantern, with a few other equally drunk soldiers about, we were very alarmed at this prospect and insisted we must go on. Indeed, we did not believe a word of what was told us but thought it a pretext to detain, and for all we knew, rob us! We later found out there was such a curfew in the frontier district. As the officer spoke only in French Rúḥíyyih Khánum was obliged to do all the explaining, telling him who we were, where we had come from, the purpose of our long trip and how tired we were after nine hours driving on such bad roads, that our friends were anxiously waiting for us only thirty miles away in Mamfe, etc. We were three people, there was no place to sleep in the car and no place to spend the night there except in the army barracks. We were really alarmed and did not know what to do. As Oscar’s passport was found to be lacking an entry visa which he required, this enraged the officer even more than our own insistence we should be allowed to proceed at once; we all three felt very distressed.
Difficulty Removed by PrayerIn desperation we decided to pray quietly for help and guidance. For about ten minutes we sat facing this man’s desk with our eyes closed; there was absolute silence in the room. Although at the beginning we were angry and distressed during this period of prayers we felt quieter and calmer and beloved Rúḥíyyih Khánum later on told us how as she prayed she felt waves of love in her heart for this man who had treated her with so much disrespect. It was as if her heart opened and took this man in and she felt perhaps this delay was meant in order to stamp the name of the Faith on his mind. This wonderful quality of Rúḥíyyih Khánum, the quality of returning love in the place of unkindness and through waves of positive and loving vibrations winning the cooperation and help of her opponents, is a quality often shown by her in the course of this trip. The beautiful part of it is the fact that it is spontaneous and not forced and that is why it wins the hearts and opens the doors. At length we opened our eyes and the officer was informed we had been praying. He had been ostensibly filling out reports! He was quite startled but it became clear he had decided to let us go on and only had to work up to it gradually so as not to lose face in front of his subordinates. After more discussion, he escorted us to the car.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum asked him if he was married. When he said “yes” she said, “Then you must be used to the obstinacy of women and will excuse my being so obstinate and insistent!” To which he replied with feeling “Madame, you are not obstinate at all compared to my wife!” We parted with hand shakes all around and on the best of terms.
At MamfeOn our arrival in the town of Mamfe we met with the Bahá’ís and made our plans for the next few days. Mamfe is the area where there are the largest number of believers in the Cameroon. In the days before Independence this used to be a very active and busy town as it was the crossroads between West Cameroon and Nigeria, but now there is very little traffic between the two countries. For the Bahá’ís, however, it will always be remembered as it has a unique position in the history of the Faith in that country. It was from this town of Mamfe eighteen years ago on October 15, 1953 that Enoch Olinga, a pioneer from Uganda who became the Knight of Bahá’u’lláh for British Cameroon and was called by our beloved Guardian “the Father of Victories”, and later made a Hand of the Cause of God, eighteen years ago on October 15, 1953 sent his cable informing Shoghi Effendi of his arrival at his pioneering post. Indeed Rúḥíyyih Khánum and I stayed at the same Rest House my husband and I had stayed in on that memorable trip when we accompanied Enoch Olinga to the Cameroon.
In a meeting with the Bahá’ís of Mamfe we met with many of the veterans of the Faith in that country. One of them, the Knight of Bahá’u’lláh, Edward Tabe, had been a new believer only one week old when he left Victoria in Riḍván of 1954 to open the virgin territory of what was then British Togoland. The community of West Cameroon, only one year after receiving the Light of Bahá’u’lláh contributed five Knights of Bahá’u’lláh during the beginning of the Ten Year Crusade. The heart of the continent of Africa, so newly enlightened with the Cause of God, gave eight Knights of Bahá’u’lláh of which no less than five came from the Cameroon. This is truly the best indication of the extraordinary capacity and receptivity of the Cameroon nation.
In this meeting Amatu’l-Bahá spoke a great deal on the importance of teaching the Faith to the women and the value of Bahá’í women in their community. Mamfe has some very strong and outstanding women. She also spoke of the importance of spiritual education for the Bahá’í children. She told them two stories about Bahá’í children in different parts of the world.
One was about an eight year old girl in the city of Baghdad, whose parents were Jewish, and her uncle, who lived, with them, a Bahá’í. She loved the Faith and considered herself a Bahá’í like her uncle. During one of the periodic Muslim attacks on the Jewish community an angry mob incited by religious fanaticism broke into the house of this family shouting “Jews, Jews”; the little Bahá’í girl courageously stood in front of the mob and pointing to a photograph of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the wall shouted, “We are not Jews, we are Bahá’ís!” The mob halted, astonished, listened to her, looked at the picture of the Master and left the house undamaged. This extraordinary demonstration of faith on the part of their child was so overpowering that the parents themselves became Bahá’ís.
The other story was that of a nine year old girl, the daughter of a devoted Latin American pioneer family in Colombia, who went out with an illiterate local teacher on April 21st to Gwahiro Indian villages and helped form four Local Spiritual Assemblies. The village Bahá’ís were devoted and eager to form their Assemblies but were illiterate and could not write the ballots. This little girl was taught how a Bahá’í election is conducted and helped the formation of four of them!
BamendaIt was decided that the first part of Amatu’l-Bahá’s visit be scheduled for the town of Bamenda and its surroundings. This is nearly 100 miles north of Mamfe, in one of the most beautiful and picturesque mountain areas in the whole of West Africa. Bamenda itself is perched up on the top of a mountain, surrounded by rolling hills and mountains from which cascade a number of waterfalls sparkling in the brilliant sunshine like white plumes amid the lush green vegetation. The whole place is a joy to the eyes. The climate in this area is perfect, cool, dry and healthy. There are a few Local Assemblies as well as groups in small townships very close to each other.
Nkwen and MendankweIn the town of Nkwen Amatu’l-Bahá met with the Bahá’ís of that community as well as the Bahá’ís of Mankon itself which is a large town within view of Bamenda.
The next day she met with some of the Bahá’ís of Mendankwe, a village beyond Bamenda high up on the mountain. From the town below where most of the Bahá’ís reside there is a distance of two miles straight up the mountain to this village. It was so steep that we could only get up in low gear and yet one of the dear Bahá’ís of Mankon, who had been instrumental in teaching and forming the Local Spiritual Assembly of this village, had pushed his bicycle up this road to inform them of our coming. To reach the home of the Bahá’ís we all had to walk the last half-mile as the so-called road progressively deteriorated until at the side of a mountain brook it ceased to exist.
The chairman of the Local Assembly in a written address, which was read by his young son, welcomed Amatu’l-Bahá and expressed their joy and pride in receiving such a distinguished guest. Like so many of the villagers these Bahá’ís asked for a Bahá’í Center, but their story had a very interesting side to it. Apparently they had donated a piece of land and built a small mud building for their center, but they could not afford the price of a tin roof and the National Spiritual Assembly had no money available for the purpose — such a roof costs about 100 dollars. They were very upset when the rains came and the walls began to fall down; their neighbors came to them and said: “When we were building our church you came and helped us. Now “we are ready to help you financially to build your center.” The Bahá’ís, however, explained to them that it was against the principles of their religion to accept any financial help from outside their own community. This was an unheard of thing! Whoever would refuse to receive money from anyone, for any purpose these days? So they said “Alright, then build it yourself, let us see if you can manage alone without our help!”
Now months had passed and the walls began to crumble and the Bahá’ís had become the object of ridicule in the area. They were very distressed and appealed to Rúḥíyyih Khánum to do something about this as “No one now would listen to the words of God”. Amatu’l-Bahá promised to investigate the matter when she met with their National Assembly. Through the help of one of the friends money for the roof of this local center has now become available and the Bahá’ís of Mendankwe will ‘be able to hold their heads up in front of their neighbors.
She also told the friends that they should seriously pray for God’s assistance and a way to open doors. One of the dear village Bahá’ís answered, saying that he had seen miracles from the prayers of Bahá’u’lláh and related an incident in his life. He said he lived on the little his land produced and contracts he could some times get. One day he heard of a small contract one of the government offices had and immediately applied for it but was almost turned down as there were many more applicants. That night he called his nine children and told them of his problem and asked them all to join him in ardent prayers, so that if it was the Will of God the door might open for him. They prayed as a family that night and the next morning, and then he went to the office and to his surprise was offered the contract. He said this was a direct miracle of Bahá’u’lláh as the other bidders had a much better chance and advantages over him. He finished his story by saying: “I went and bought some meat and made a rich food for my family in thanksgiving for God’s grace and we prayed again to thank Him for His bounties.” This partaking of food as a solemn thanksgiving is an African custom. This man’s nine children are such devoted Bahá’ís that all on their own they have started a Bahá’í study class attended by twelve of their young friends.
MankonIn the town of Mankon Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to a group of 200 students in Longla Community College on the effect an individual can have on the community. She gave an example: She said: “If you have a measure full of corn which you are going to plant, suppose half of the grains are only hollow seeds; naturally only half of the quantity will yield a harvest. It is the same with the quality and the number of morally and spiritually healthy individuals in any given society; the greater the number of distinguished individuals the more outstanding the sum total of any group will be.”
The highlight of this trip was Amatu’l-Bahá’s visit with the Fon of Mankon who is the paramount chief of a large area, as well as a big town of the same name. He is a fine, outstanding man of about fifty with a great deal of tolerance towards others. He is also a very active and distinguished member of the Council of Chiefs in West Cameroon, We had gone to visit him in his home, about eight miles from the city, and he received us formally but graciously and had a long talk with Amatu’l-Bahá. Somehow they got on the subject of the sufferings of the Indian race of the Americas and of the Bolivian Indians. He showed a keen interest and understanding and in the end asked for something to read on the Bahá’í Faith. Rúḥíyyih Khánum then gave him an inscribed copy of Prescription for Living.
Return to MamfeUpon our return to Mamfe — over a mountain road so bad it beggars description, Amatu’l-Bahá paid a courtesy visit to the Senior District Officer. Later in the day she spoke on the “Spiritual Destiny of Africa” at a public meeting to which this same officer came as well as a number of prominent people of the town. When she was asked, during the question period after her talk, what the Bahá’ís believe on the subject of the resurrection she gave the beautiful example of the recurrence of this phenomenon in the world of nature; how, at every spring, the characteristics and qualities of the previous year come back to life. Similarly at the time of the coming of each spiritual springtime all the characteristics and qualities of the bygone springtimes reoccur and that with the coming of each Manifestation of God, men, individually as well as collectively, are judged; with the acceptance of that new Manifestation of God, an individual spiritually is resurrected.
Amatu’l-Bahá also met with the Bahá’ís of Mamfe and friends who had come in from several other nearby communities. The officers of five Local Assemblies were ceremoniously introduced to her. It was interesting to see how often the treasurer of the Local Spiritual Assemblies in many communities of Cameroon are women. Indeed, we met in that country some outstanding Bahá’í women with deep convictions who are very active in the affairs of the Faith.
Foremost Problem, Alcoholic DrinkingIn that meeting the friends openly discussed and asked questions on what is the foremost problem of that country, the common and widespread habit of drinking alcohol. Rúḥíyyih Khánum in her loving and very tolerant way explained the reason for this prohibition in the Bahá’í Faith and the words of Bahá’u’lláh on this subject. She said “Bahá’u’lláh always gave us a reason for whatever He exhorts us to do or not to do; on the subject of drinking He said “Do not approach it, as it destroys the mind”. Now, a full century later, science has confirmed His words. She then cited an article in the Readers’ Digest of June 1970 “Alcohol and your Brain” by Albert Q. Maisel, in which article it was stated that alcohol produces blood sludging in the capillaries thus depriving surrounding tissues of the oxygen supply they require; deprived of oxygen, cells die; brain cells, unlike most body cells, once killed never re-grow so that the intake of alcohol, even in small quantities, has a permanent effect on the cells of the brain; in direct ratio to the degree to which alcohol is taken the number of brain cells, irreplaceable in the body, are destroyed. Even a single glass of beer kills off a quantity of brain cells. “At last we Bahá’ís,” she said, “can quote science in support of Bahá’u’lláh’s command not even to ‘approach it’.”
Eyumojok and EjaghamWe were able to visit two nearby villages and hold meetings with the Bahá’ís. In Eyumojok — where on the night of our arrival in West Cameroon we had our unpleasant encounter with the commander of the military check point — Rúḥíyyih Khánum met with some of the Bahá’ís from different villages and a large number of non-Bahá’ís who came to hear about the Faith, including the village chief. In Kembong one of the older Bahá’í communities in that part of the country, a good number of believers from several villages eagerly welcomed their beloved guest. Once again the officers of the different Local Assemblies represented were ceremoniously introduced to Amatu’l-Bahá and then a very beautiful and touching speech of welcome was read to her, as follows; “We the few Bahá’í believers of Ejagham do welcome you in our midst. Blessed are we for God has graciously blessed us to see the eyes that had once gazed on our beloved Guardian at the gate when he was crossing to the realm of Abha Kingdom. . . .”
The Bahá’ís of this area who had come from several villages had prepared a very delicious meal for their dearly loved guest and invited all the friends present to partake of it. As this was one of the old and tried communities of Cameroon Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke on the importance of teaching and serving the Cause. She said: “At the beginning of the rainy season the rain drops are large, few and far between but as it continues it falls faster and becomes torrential. It is the same way with the Cause of God; at the beginning the believers are few and far between but as the Cause of God penetrates, multitudes join in and soon they cover the face of the earth.”
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #494, May 1972, pp. 12-16
On the 14th of October we left Mamfe and proceeded Southward spending two days in the Tinto Tale district, where the largest number of Bahá’ís in Cameroon reside. The National Teaching Committee had arranged meetings for Amatu’l-Bahá in several villages to which Bahá’ís from as many nearby villages as possible were invited. In the village of Bachuo Akagbe over forty Bahá’ís came from four different villages. We visited with the friends for over an hour. As in all these meetings the officers of the different Local Assemblies were introduced, prayers said, songs sung and then Amatu’l-Bahá spoke to them showering the friends with her loving words of encouragement and wisdom.
From there we motored on to the village of Nbinjong, where friends from three other communities had come to receive their beloved guest.
Joyous Welcome at BakebeBy the time we ended that meeting and went on to the third meeting in the village of Bakebe, it was quite late in the afternoon. We found over a hundred Bahá’ís from five different local communities waiting to welcome Amatu’l-Bahá. The Bahá’ís of Bakebe are known for their beautiful singing and have a very wonderful choir with powerful voices who sing many beautiful songs they have written and composed on the different aspects of the Faith. The afternoon was rainy and the roads terribly muddy, yet from the home of one of the distinguished Bahá’ís to the Community Hall, where the meeting was held — a distance of about a half-mile — the sides of the road were decorated with newly cut palm branches stuck in the ground and the Bahá’ís who had come to attend the meeting walked this distance through the village rejoicing and singing at the top of their lungs. The Fon of Bakebe, whom we had already met in the Rest House at Mamfe, an old distinguished gentleman dressed in his best ceremonial robe, attended this meeting and in a talk of welcome encouraged the Bahá’ís to remain firm in their belief. He said he was an old man and had no intention of changing his religion, but now that they had changed theirs and accepted this one, to stand fast in it and live up to its wonderful teachings. By the time this meeting was over, and a delicious meal had been served us in the home of the Bahá’ís, it was almost dark and we reached our fourth and last meeting of the day in the village of Tinto quite late.
The meeting was held in the “New Era Teaching Institute” where a large crowd of Bahá’ís from many different villages had been patiently waiting to receive their guest since the early hours of the afternoon. The torrential rain did not help matters as the noise of it on the corrugated iron roof drowned out any other sound. Beautiful palm branches were made into arches at the entrance to the Institute. Messages of welcome were read, prayers said and Rúḥíyyih Khánum in a short talk thanked the friends for their loving welcome. As it was too late to hold a long meeting it was decided the next evening to meet again at an earlier hour. We spent two nights in this Institute and as we carry all our own camping equipment were very comfortable.
The next day they had arranged a very long program. Four or five miles from Tinto a Bahá’í was waiting on the road and motioned us to stop. Although no meeting was scheduled in this village the friends were gathered and requested Amatu’l-Bahá’s presence to bless their home and their community. This was a newly created village called Etokombatop. All the inhabitants had been brought over from another area, where the community had been overcrowded. The chief of the village was also a Bahá’í.
In the whole of this part of the Cameroon a great number of the Bahá’ís are women and very active in the local Bahá’í work. Indeed, there were five women on this Local Spiritual Assembly. This surely indicated the potentialities of these women in Cameroon and their capacity to shoulder the responsibilities and work of the Faith. In this village Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke on the importance of regular classes for the Bahá’í children and daily prayers and devotional periods in every home.
On our way to the next meeting we were once again stopped on the road by two of the Bahá’ís who said the Headmaster of the Beagwa Government Primary School was expecting Amatu’l-Bahá in his school. There were over 200 students between the age of six and fourteen and several teachers who listened with deep interest to Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s words of wisdom on the responsibility and importance of each individual in society.
This whole area is divided into two sections, Upper Banyang and Lower Banyang, separated by a bridge. In Upper Banyang twenty-one Local Spiritual Assemblies were formed last Riḍván. As we left the bridge and passed the boundary to Upper Banyang there was a beautiful and impressive arch of palm leaves and along the road covering the whole distance of nearly one and half miles from the bridge to the village of Ebeagwa, where our meeting was held, both sides of the road were decorated with palm branches. The friends were waiting on the road and with shouts of “Alláh-u-Abhá” greeted their guest and took her into their meeting where over eighty Bahá’ís from several villages had gathered.
Ebeagwa, Almost All Bahá’íThis village is one of the outstanding Bahá’í communities of Cameroon. We were told that daily, every morning, a number of the believers gather and have a devotional period before starting their daily duties. On Sundays they have regular Bahá’í children’s classes and the clear evidence of this was the many prayers recited from memory by many of the children in this meeting. Several of the women from this area have attended Bahá’í training courses in different parts of the country and are among the active teachers. An item on their program was the introduction of traveling teachers who had been trained at the Teaching Institute and at the end of their course were given a written certificate. Each one spoke of how he had accepted the Faith and what his method was of teaching it. We were told that this village is almost wholly Bahá’í. Amatu’l-Bahá in her speech encouraged the friends to teach and to live according to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, as living the life is the greatest means of attracting not only the blessings of Bahá’u’lláh, but also the attention of people around us. Each Local Assembly had brought some food and we all shared it together. It was a very wonderful meeting and one could feel the strength and depth of conviction of the believers.
The next meeting was in the village of Akatati where a good number of Bahá’ís from different villages had gathered to meet and welcome their guest. The last meeting that day was in the evening, again in the Teaching Institute in Tinto. Over fifty Bahá’ís and some non-Bahá’ís eagerly listened to Rúḥíyyih Khánum talk over two hours on the different aspects of the Faith and answer numerous questions, not for a moment showing any sign of fatigue or exhaustion, even though this was at the end of a very tiring day and the fourth meeting within a period of about ten hours.
Kumba, a Teaching Conference and a WeddingThe following day, on our way to Kumba to attend the Teaching Conference called for by the Continental Board of Counsellors, we stopped at the village of Eyang where a large number of Bahá’ís were waiting for their guest. A large sign at the side of the road proclaimed their welcome to Amatu’l-Bahá as well as many freshly cut palm branches which decorated the path leading to a good sized and very nice looking building in the center of the village. When Rúḥíyyih Khánum asked what this nice looking building was where we had been allowed to hold our meeting the friends informed her it was their own center which they had built, one of the nicest and the largest we had seen, though they are a relatively new Bahá’í community.
A young man, the chairman of their new Local Spiritual Assembly, in his introduction of Amatu’l-Bahá said: “This lady is the wife of our beloved Guardian. Do you know what is the meaning and the function of a guardian? When a father dies he appoints a guardian to take care of his children and so before ‘Abdu’l-Bahá passed away he appointed Shoghi Effendi as our Guardian so that when our father ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left us, Shoghi Effendi became the Guardian and the protector of the orphaned children of the Faith”. The directness and clarity of many of the explanations given by the African Bahá’ís are so beautiful and to the point that one is always thrilled by them. Amatu’l-Bahá spoke on the various teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, especially on the subject of life after death. This subject always is of great interest to the friends as it touches some of the deepest aspects of their traditional beliefs, all too often bound up with superstitions and fear.
One of the friends who was a professional cook provided a delicious lunch for us, after which ladies with a traditional dance bade farewell to their distinguished guest. The roads in West Cameroon have to be seen to be believed. The fact that it was the rainy season contributed to their condition.
We reached the city of Kumba in the late afternoon and went directly to the City Hall where the Teaching Conference had already started that morning. Two of the Counsellors were present, Mrs. Isobel Sabri and Dr. Mehdi Samandari, as well as over 120 Bahá’ís, mostly active teachers from all over Cameroon. Two devoted young pioneers, Thomas Rowan and Shahin Pezeshkzad were planning to marry and wanted it to take place during this Conference. As the next day was Sunday the government registrar required to legalize the marriage would not be available. So the immediate question was would Rúḥíyyih Khánum agree to have the marriage that evening and would she perform it? In other words would she be the one to see that they repeated the simple verses of Bahá’u’lláh which alone, in the presence of two witnesses, constitute the Bahá’í marriage ceremony? She gladly accepted and amid considerable rush and excitement, first the civil and then the Bahá’í marriage took place. Rúḥíyyih Khánum hastily picked the few flowers the hotel gardens afforded and made a beautiful flower arrangement for the bride’s hair. This is typical of Amatu’l-Bahá, whatever she does it is with a touch of perfection and deep love. As the Cameroon marriage form required the signatures of a sponsor for the groom and a sponsor for the bride, Rúḥíyyih Khánum volunteered to take on Tom, as she said he deserved to have an American stand up for him; and I undertook to represent the bride’s family, which was, after all, equally appropriate! Later the Bahá’í marriage ceremony at the Conference was a great joy and source of interest to all who attended. The simplicity and spirituality of this union of an Eastern and Western believer affected all of us deeply. The following day Amatu’l-Bahá spoke to the friends on one of the most fundamental aspects of the Bahá’í Faith — obedience to the Laws of Bahá’u’lláh. She said that the laws are like the bones of the body of the Faith of God. She spoke at length and with great force on the evils resulting from breaking these laws about drinking, polygamy, and the need for strict obedience to the government of the country we live in, and so on. For more than an hour the friends asked questions, particularly on the subject of marriage and monogamy. This is one of the major problems in the traditional society of Africa where polygamy is still an important aspect of the economy of the entire tribe and nation. However, Rúḥíyyih Khánum pointed out that a new way of life based on a different economy is changing the old customs. The Bahá’ís find themselves caught between their old customs, especially in the village way of life, and the law of God for this day which all must obey. To openly discuss these matters in such conferences as this one; to draw strength from such discussions and consultations, and above all for the believers to help each other to cling firmly to the Laws and Ordinances of God for this day is the logical way to overcome our difficulties and problems during period of transition.
Amatu’l-Bahá was able to meet during that week-end with the Counsellors and Board members as well as a short meeting with the National Spiritual Assembly to work out the full program of her visit to the rest of Cameroon. The five days stay in Kumba was extremely fruitful.
At Schools and CollegesRúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to a select group of teachers attending an advance course at the Community Development College. Her audience was greatly impressed and the Principal of the College requested further lectures on the Bahá’í Faith to be given in his College. In the Government Teachers’ Training College she spoke to more than 150 students on “The Spiritual Destiny of Africa”; this thought-provoking subject always stirs up her audience, particularly the young people. We were told that last year ten of the final year students had accepted the Faith and now are scattered to all the different parts of the country as school teachers as well as able Bahá’í teachers.
Amatu’l-Bahá’s last lecture in Kumba was at the Cameroon Commercial College, where one of the Bahá’ís teaches and had arranged this meeting. Over 500 students attended this lecture, asked many questions and requested further study of the Faith. The Principal of this College was a very fine young man who shyly informed us that he had never heard of the Bahá’í Faith, that this was his first post since he left the University and today the first day he had come to his school. What a blessing for him to start his career in life as the host of Amatu’l-Bahá in his college; if he only knew that the first day of his first job in life began with the name of Bahá’u’lláh, the Blessed Beauty, the hope and desire of mankind!
In Kombani, a neighboring township seven miles from Kurnba, Amatu’l-Bahá spoke to a small number of believers and their friends. As this meeting was held in a classroom of the local Primary School Rúḥíyyih Khánum used the blackboard to explain with a chart the relationship of God to Man through His Manifestations and the development of the soul of man after death. She told us many of the early Western believers used this and her mother told her this chart was drawn by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for Lua Getsinger during one of her visits to Him in the Holy Land.
A Little NamesakeOn our way to Victoria, the capital of what was once British Cameroon, where the Faith was first established by Enoch Olinga, we stopped at the town of Muyuka where the believers from three different communities had gathered to meet Amatu’l-Bahá. This was a very joyous occasion for among those who had come were some of the oldest Bahá’ís of Cameroon. The Chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly, a distinguished Bahá’í, proudly introduced his very active wife, who regularly goes on teaching tours accompanied by the young Persian girl who is a pioneer in that neighborhood. They had two beautiful children, Qudus and Vaḥíd.
Another young man, devoted and very active, brought his adorable doll-like little girl to greet Rúḥíyyih Khánum introducing the child as “Rúḥíyyih Khánum” after whom she was named! When I asked him what were the names of his other children he proudly said: “The eldest is ‘Táhirih’, the second is ‘Sitareh’ and the third is ‘Rúḥíyyih Khánum’; our little boy ‘Hussein’ passed away last year. You see the names used in this country are all Biblical names, I have finished with the Bible, now I have moved a step forward and I want my children to be blessed and inspired by the names of our great heroes and heroines in the Bahá’í Faith.”
The Danger of ImitatingWhile waiting for the Bahá’ís to gather, Rúḥíyyih Khánum addressed the students of the Fess Technical College on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and the purpose of the Bahá’í Faith. In her talk to the Bahá’ís later on she mentioned a very important point which is all too often overlooked. She warned the Bahá’ís against the danger of imitating in their meetings the customs and ways of other religious groups and thus giving the impression that what went on in the Bahá’í meeting was almost the same thing as what went on in the church next door, with only an apparent difference in name, but the same kind of singing and praying! She said we are inviting the people of the world to come and enter the new room Bahá’u’lláh has built for us; supposing a Muslim looks into this room and sees us using the same pattern of worship and meeting the Christians have in their churches, he will immediately say this is not new, it is a Christian sect. They say they are Bahá’ís but there is no difference for they are doing all the things the Christians do! This will naturally prejudice the Muslim and he will turn away from the Faith. Exactly the same thing is true for the Christian. If he sees us Bahá’ís worshiping in the same form as the Muslims do in the Mosque, he too will turn aside and not enter the Faith. The Hindu, the Buddhist, the Jew, all people of other religions, will turn away from this room Bahá’u’lláh has built for all mankind to worship in if they see us practicing in it the old forms of worship, such as all standing up to pray or kneeling down, or all singing a kind of Bahá’í hymn together, or performing some other form of warship associated with the forms of worship of other religions because these forms have not been given by Bahá’u’lláh and do not exist in the Bahá’í Faith.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #498, October 1972, pp. 8-11
At the Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds in Victoria Amatu’l-Bahá was warmly received and welcomed by some of the National Spiritual Assembly members and many local believers. In her talk she said that one of the most beautiful and outstanding characteristics of the African people is their compassion and love for children. She pointed out that in nearly every home an African family is sheltering, feeding and educating one or more children who do not belong to them. This characteristic is so strong, Rúḥíyyih Khánum pointed out, that after the passage of centuries the descendants of Africans carried off to the Western Hemisphere still do this, although it is almost unheard of among white people in the United States. This is a precious and beautiful quality in the African way of life.
She then suggested that the Local Spiritual Assembly of Victoria, which is the mother Assembly of the Cameroon Republic, should adopt nearby villages and towns as places to create daughter Spiritual Assemblies, visit these areas regularly, nourish them with the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and help them to mature and form their own Assemblies.
The most important event of our stay in Victoria was the celebration of the United Nation’s Day sponsored by the Local Spiritual Assembly of Victoria. This was held at the Presbyterian Youth Center and attended by a large number of people. Besides Amatu’l-Bahá there were four other speakers, each connected in some way with work of the United Nations. This was followed by a reception given by one of the American pioneers in her home attended by the distinguished speakers and many other guests. While in Victoria Rúḥíyyih Khánum paid a courtesy call on the Senior District Officer. She also spoke on “The Role of Youth in Society” to a large number of students in one of the Government Schools called the Council School.
In a very well attended and successful meeting in Tiko, a town about sixteen miles from Victoria, Amatu’l-Bahá spoke on the purpose of the Bahá’í Faith and various teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.
In BueaOn October 25th we left Victoria and drove to the seat of the Government in Western Cameroon, the town of Buea. The distance from Victoria to Buea is only twenty-three miles, but one climbs from sea level to 3000 feet on the slopes of famous Mount Cameroon, the highest mountain in West Africa. Buea is often enveloped in clouds and is cool, green and beautiful. On the following day Amatu’l-Bahá was received by Mr. Solomon Tandeng Muna, the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Cameroon and the Prime Minister of West Cameroon. For nearly half an hour Rúḥíyyih Khánum, Counsellor Dr. Mehdi Samandari, Mrs. Zora Banks and I had a very friendly and pleasant visit with him. As she was leaving Amatu’l-Bahá told him with deep sincerity that the greatest compliment anyone could pay to his people and his continent was the fact that two white women, mostly travelling all alone, had come from East to West Africa and were now, after driving over 21,000 miles, recrossing the continent. She said it is easy to pay compliments with your lips, for, after all, you can say anything and not mean it, but this a witness in acts, not words, to the fact that we have found we have nothing to fear. If we arrive in a village at night the villagers will be kind to us and shelter us. If the car breaks down a truck driver or motorist will stop and help us. So we have nothing to fear — but men with guns! She said she was afraid of them in any country of the world! These words had a visible effect on His Excellency and he said he wished to invite us two ladies to lunch to meet his wife. Unfortunately the day we went to the Lodge, the home of Mr. Muna, his wife had not yet returned from a visit to Bamenda but his son and his charming daughter-in-law had lunch with us. The son is a brilliant lawyer, a graduate of the Bar in London. During this luncheon Rúḥíyyih Khánum was able to further explain some of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and especially the important teaching of strict obedience to government enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh Himself upon all His followers.
While in Buea Rúḥíyyih Khánum had an hour-long radio interview as well as a press conference attended by the head of the Government Information Agency and several reporters. She also gave an introductory talk on the Bahá’í Faith at a government primary school where the headmaster is a devoted Bahá’í. At the end of her talk he told the children that he too was a Bahá’í and they could come to him for further information and to ask questions — a thing he had surely never done before this occasion! On a Sunday the Bahá’ís of Buea had a very nice meeting in the local Council Hall to receive and welcome Rúḥíyyih Khánum. Several of the friends from Victoria were present. After her talk a delicious meal of many varieties of Cameroonian food as well as fruit and nuts was served to us all. On our last evening in Buea some of the very active Bahá’í friends came to visit Rúḥíyyih Khánum and we had a long talk on many aspects of the Faith.
In and Around DoualaOn November 2nd we left West Cameroon and drove from Buea to the port city of Douala, where we spent a week during which Amatu’l-Bahá was received by the Senior District Officer and had an excellent half hour interview on radio Douala in French. The head of this department, who himself interviewed Rúḥíyyih Khánum, said he had heard about the Faith many years ago in Paris. At the Nineteen Day Feast, on the eve of November 4th, beloved Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke very intimately and informally to the gathering of Bahá’ís on the life of our beloved Guardian, on his sufferings and his victories. At this meeting we met another of the Knights of Bahá’u’lláh, Samuel Njiki, who had opened the French Cameroon and established the Faith in this city of Douala in 1954. There are several very deep and knowledgeable Bahá’ís in that community and as a result of this the questions they asked Amatu’l-Bahá were profound. One of the friends said that in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, Bahá’u’lláh says words to this effect that many a saint in his last moment falls to the depth of disgrace and many a sinner at the time of yielding up his soul is clothed with the robe of faith and forgiveness. “What is the meaning of this and how can we protect our souls from such downfall and disgrace?” He further asked, “For example, if one day I forget or neglect to say my Obligatory Prayer and on that very day I die, does this mean that I have died in a state of disgrace and lost my faith?” Amatu’l-Bahá answered this in her usual way of deep tolerance and compassion: She said: “I don’t think such small negligences are the cause of the withdrawal of the Grace of God. We read in the teachings that the Mercy of God exceedeth His Justice.” She went on to tell, how her mother used to say one should, every single day of one’s life, pray for the protection and preservation of one’s soul, as no one can be sure of one’s own end. She said her own answer to this, which had troubled her for many years, had been to try to serve the Cause continuously day by day, with as pure a motive as she could, trying to give to the Faith of God as much as she could. She believed each of us should keep our eyes on this objective, advancing step by step and praying for the Mercy and Grace of God to be given us at the end. The acceptance or rejection of our deeds is not in our hands but rests with God and we should learn not to worry too much about it, but to constantly strive to do our best as surely this will count at the end of each person’s life. During our stay in Douala we were able to meet the dear friends there a number of times.
Fourteen miles from Douala, in the village of Bonamaumbe Amatu’l-Bahá was warmly received by the Bahá’ís and their friends. One of the many joys of travelling and teaching in Africa is to hear the simple and logical proofs and answers the African Bahá’ís themselves give. In this village an argumentative, fanatical Christian asked Rúḥíyyih Khánum many foolish questions and hardly bothered to listen to her answers, then one of the local Bahá’ís, in his quiet and dignified way, said “Look my friend, if you had received the news that a very distinguished guest such as this lady was coming to stay in your house what would you do? You would first of all throw all the junk out of your house, clean it, sweep it and prepare it to receive your guest. Now it is the same with this wonderful Message of Bahá’u’lláh, unless you clean up your heart to make room to receive this Message there is no place for it!” In the closing remarks the Chairman of the Local Assembly, who acted as the translator at this meeting, said with deep humility these beautiful words: “If we fall on our bended knees every moment of our lives and thank God for having blessed us with the recognition of His Manifestation, Bahá’u’lláh, in this day, we have not thanked Him enough, for He has chosen us from amongst many.” That same day we also visited the village of Sodiko, where a Local Assembly was formed last year.
In YaoundeIn the period of almost two weeks we stayed in Yaounde, the capital city of Cameroon was packed with activities and every moment of Amatu’l-Bahá’s time was used to advantage to help proclaim the Faith. We were the guests of a devoted Persian pioneer family whose home became the center of many meetings. Unfortunately the President of the Republic was away and therefore unable to receive Rúḥíyyih Khánum. Among her engagements, however, was a very successful radio interview in English and a lively press conference during which she was bombarded with many challenging questions.
She spoke at two colleges, the Lycee Technique C.E.S. and the Ecole Normale Superieure, her subject at both being the “Role of Youth in Society”. During the question and answer period in the Ecole Normale one of the students asked: “If in Africa we want to concentrate on moral values and neglect the material values where would we be in this race of technological development in the world? We are already so far behind the West that we can not waste time thinking of anything else except catching up with the white man.” Amatu’l-Bahá said, “Supposing you are in a small African canoe, paddling along and far away you see a beautiful big white ship, blazing with electric lights and big and impressive and deluxe. You would long to abandon your canoe and board that beautiful big boat. But if you were told that on that boat there is no water, but plague and pestilence and the people are dying of thirst, would you still wish to exchange your canoe for that boat?” The young man laughed, for he saw the point quickly enough, and sat down satisfied with the answer.
In trying to depict the state of our civilization today, Rúḥíyyih Khánum gave another example: She said: “Civilization is like a horse and man the rider; the rider must be in full control of his horse and guide the horse its way. Today the horse has gone wild and is dominating its rider and carrying him towards a precipice and disaster.”
Amatu’l-Bahá also spoke at a public meeting held at the University of Cameroon, attended by over 100 people, on the “Spiritual Destiny of Africa”. I remember the night before this meeting someone questioned the wisdom of allowing the audience a period of questions after the meeting. We were told that the university students are very turbulent, negative, and ready to start unpleasant scenes, especially on a subject such as this. This made us all a bit nervous but as in the invitation a period of questions and answers was mentioned, nothing could be done about it. However, Amatu’l-Bahá, in the beautiful, sincere and absolutely honest way in which she always speaks charmed her audience in such a vivid way that at the end of the meeting there was not only no feeling of belligerence but a deep and peaceful atmosphere of unity and friendship filled the hall. This was so obvious that several of the non-Bahá’í guests remarked on it. The Chairman of this meeting, Dr. Ndam Njoya, is a young and very distinguished Professor of Law who studied in France and married his French wife there. He is also a Doctor of Law and teaches at the University. He is head of the School of Diplomacy at the university and a most charming man, a Moslem, of insight and tolerance. With deep feeling he told Rúḥíyyih Khánum: “Tonight you have solved many of my inner problems and answered many of my un-asked questions.”
In several firesides Amatu’l-Bahá was able to meet with a large number of close contacts and friends of the Faith and lively discussions continued till the late hours of the night. On more than one occasion Rúḥíyyih Khánum met with the Bahá’ís of Yaounde and nourished them with her wealth of knowledge and abounding love. In his words of welcome and gratitude for the presence of the beloved guest a young Bahá’í student from the university said this: “Bahá’u’lláh in the Hidden Words says: ‘Love me that I may love thee, if thou lovest Me not My love can in nowise reach thee’. We loved Him and so to show His love for us in return He has send you to us”. On the birthday of Bahá’u’lláh which was celebrated in the home of one of the Cameroonian Bahá’ís Amatu’l-Bahá spoke of the life, the words and the sorrows of the Blessed Perfection. She shared with us some of those gem-like incidents which she had heard from the beloved Guardian or the members of his family about the personality of Bahá’u’lláh, how He would call the members of His family after dinner sometimes and say, “Now it is time for laughing”; or His tenderness and love for children. The last meeting Rúḥíyyih Khánum had with the friends in Yaounde was a dinner she personally gave for them in the home of the pioneers where we stayed. It was a joyous occasion.
During this stay in Yaounde we visited two communities situated in other towns; In Mbalmayo, where there are no Bahá’ís, but good prospects for developing the teaching work, Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke in the Town Hall to an eager and receptive audience of over 200 people. As an example of the relationship of the Bahá’í Faith to other religions she pointed to the walls of the hall, saying: “Imagine that wall was built by Christ and we call it Christianity. That wall was built by Muhammad and we call it Islam. That one was built by Moses and we call it the Jewish Faith. That one was built by Buddha and we call it Buddhism. Now Bahá’u’lláh has come with His Revelation and He has added the roof to this building, but in so doing He has neither condemned nor destroyed any of the walls already erected, which are good walls. He has only united them under the roof of His Universal Teachings for this new age in which we are living which needs new answers to its problems. Her audience was so thrilled by this example that a roar of approval went up and thunderous clapping filled the hall.
Thirty-five miles south of Yaounde in the town of Obala Amatu’l-Bahá met with the Bahá’ís in one of their homes in the morning and spoke to them on the importance of teaching and spreading the Cause of God. Later on during the day she spoke to a larger group of the Bahá’ís in what is called the “Pioneer Village” and its village hall is named “Carmel”. The names were too significant to me not to mention them here. There are a number of these experimental villages set up by the government, helped and guided by special agricultural advisors from Israel. We found a great receptivity among these villagers toward the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh.
Amatu’l-Bahá’s third talk on that day was at a public meeting held in the Town Hall in Obala, where over eighty people attended and listened to the Message of God, asking many interesting questions at the end of her talk.
The devoted young French pioneer, the only European pioneer in all Gabon, flew to Yaounde to be with Ruhiyyih Khanum over the week-end and was able to attend a number of meetings with us and hear her speak. It was especially nice to meet him because as things turned out there was no representative of Congo Brazzaville in the Cameroon and so we could not get a visa to that country and therefore gave up going to Gabon as well, as to go and return to Cameroon would have taken too much time. This was a great disappointment to us as it ruled out both of these countries we had long anticipated visiting.
The Cargo Boat for ZaireOur very happy tour of East Cameroon, which lasted almost a month, and which had followed our equally enjoyable one in West Cameroon, which was almost as long, ended on December 1 in Douala, when we with the Land Rover boarded a Lloyd Triestino cargo boat called the “Piave” and set sail for Matadi in the Republic of Zaire (formerly Congo Kinshasa). With great regret we bade goodbye to the African member of the National Assembly and the two American pioneers who had come to see us off. Our ship stopped two days to load and unload in the small port of Lobito, in Angola — the twenty-first country visited by us on this long tour of Africa. We were fortunate enough to get acquainted with a sweet girl from Luanda and spend some time with her and to speak about the Message of Bahá’u’lláh. We took her back to our ship and Rúḥíyyih Khánum gave her an inscribed copy of her book Prescription for Living and our addresses in case she wished to follow it up. We were not only fortunate to find this young woman, who volunteered to translate for us, (as we were hopelessly lost in trying to make ourselves understood, no one seemed to know a word of anything but Portuguese) but considered ourselves blessed in having been able to at least mention the Cause to one person in that country and leave a Bahá’í book behind in Angola. On board “Piave” December 7th 1971.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #500, November 1972, pp. 14-17
Almost two years after the “Rabbani African Safari” had crossed from Uganda into Congo Kinshasa, as it was then called, and more than a thousand miles had been traversed through that country and through the Central African Republic, Chad and Niger, now we two, with the Land Rover were set ashore at the port of Matadi, again in Congo Kinshasa, but now the country had a new name, Zaïre, both more descriptive and beautiful.
We arrived on December 12, 1971, and as the boat was approaching the dock we could see a small group of friends holding up a large poster of welcome. The Bahá’ís who had come to meet us included the only Bahá’í of Matadi and three Bahá’ís of Kinshasa who had waited for us two days, uncertain of the time our cargo boat was expected to arrive. The little band eagerly looked for the face of their beloved Hand of the Cause, Rúḥíyyih Khánum.
Through the help of the Matadi Bahá’í who happened to be working in the Customs office, we were able to get the car and ourselves cleared within a short time. Then began the overland journey of 2,500 miles which took us across the country from west to south-east in a period of seven weeks, visiting Bahá’ís in twenty-six centers. Amatu’l-Bahá addressed almost 3,000 Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís during this period in over thirty-eight meetings, representing over eighty localities. Some of the friends walked over fifty kilometers to meet Amatu’l-Bahá, such was their enthusiasm, and many of these were mothers each with a baby tied to her back.
The Kinshasa community, containing many young people, had the privilege and joy of meeting with Rúḥíyyih Khánum and listening to her words of love and wisdom at a day-long conference where over forty-five Bahá’ís had gathered from different localities in this immense city. Amatu’l-Bahá spoke at length about the beloved Guardian’s trip to their country in 1940 during World War II, when they had traversed it from south to north. She recalled that this particular African country had always attracted him and visiting it had made him happy.
The questions the friends asked both in cities and villages revealed the depth of their knowledge of the Teachings and their deep love for the Faith. For example, in this Kinshasa conference one of the friends asked: “What is the meaning of ‘the Sun of Bahá has set?’.” He was referring to the cable ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had sent to the Bahá’ís after the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh. Rúḥíyyih Khánum explained: “This refers to the Sun of the physical existence of Bahá’u’lláh on this earth and not to the Sun of His Dispensation, as that Sun will shine for at least a thousand years.”
At the end of our ten-day stay in Kinshasa, once again Rúḥíyyih Khánum met with the Bahá’ís in the home of one of the pioneers where over fifty believers were present. She strongly emphasized the duty of the friends to go out and teach as well as to participate in the activities of their community, especially since they had just received permission to hold meetings in the Province of Kinshasa.
During Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s stay in the capital she was received by the Minister of Information. Unfortunately, the President was touring the Provinces during the entire period of her visit so it was impossible for her to meet him, but the interview with the Minister of Information unlocked the doors of publicity. Now, for the first time, the Faith was openly and widely proclaimed in the press as well as on television and radio. Because of past events, Zaïre is necessarily vigilant; without approval from high officials of the government, the publicity which Rúḥíyyih Khánum received would have been impossible.
The Minister was an extremely polished and charming gentleman and received Amatu’l-Bahá, Dr. Navidi and myself with great courtesy. Amatu’l-Bahá told him of our long journey by Land Rover, pointing out that this was the greatest compliment two women could pay to Africa and its people. She also voiced some of her ideas on the spiritual destiny of Africa. He was visibly impressed and said that he himself would arrange for a press conference. He also presented each of us with a beautiful set of voice records of some of the most important public speeches of President Mabutos.
The press conference the Minister arranged was attended by over forty people and the words of Rúḥíyyih Khánum were recorded for both national radio and television programs. A number of favorable newspaper and magazine articles were published, not only in the capital but also in the larger newspapers of some of the Provinces.
In a teachers’ training college in Ngiri Ngiri, Amatu’l-Bahá spoke to over 450 students and teachers on the much appreciated subject “The Spiritual Destiny of Africa.” Two young men reporters for the school magazine had a long and interesting interview with Rúḥíyyih Khánum and were keenly interested in the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.
In KasaiThe Kasai, in the central Provinces of Zaïre, is a very strictly controlled area as the country’s diamond mines are located there and, although travelers do receive permits to visit, usually it takes at least six weeks for the permits to be issued. Because of this prospect of delay Rúḥíyyih Khánum turned to the American Embassy for assistance. The Ambassador himself received her and gave instructions that a permit for both of us should be applied for on an urgent basis. This brought good results.
Within a week we were able to load the Land Rover once more on a boat, this time a barge of a river steamer going up the Zaïre river, formerly called the Congo. It branched off into the Kasai river.
We eventually disembarked at Port Francqui in Kasai. Auxiliary Board member Mrs. Ola Pawlowska, a pioneer in Zaïre for ten years, accompanied us on this trip from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi, which was the end of Amatu’l-Bahá’s tour of that country. Mrs. Pawlowska had lived in Luluabourg for four years, and greatly assisted the development of the Faith in both Western and Eastern Kasai. She knew every place there and most of the believers. Without her help and the help of our dear Congolese Auxiliary Board member Sylvain Ngindu, who for three weeks acted as translator for Amatu’l-Bahá, such a satisfying and successful trip as we had would have been impossible.
Eight Days on a BargeAt sunset on December 22, the pioneers and many of the Zaïre believers waved goodbye to us as we started on our eight-day voyage up the great internal waterway of this country, one of the largest waterways in all of Africa. As one leaves Kinshasa the river spreads out into what appears to be an immense lake. We proceeded up a very swift current appearing, undoubtedly, as a traveling island. Our boat pushed a cargo barge before it and pulled three barges attached to its right side. In the front barge was the Land Rover — we ardently hoped. The three other barges were for passengers, second class down to fourth class. Our own boat was for first class. Hundreds of passengers filled every available space. The lower decks of these barges served as market, restaurant and bar. A loud-speaker blared music from the beer bar all day and most of the night. Many women on the barges conducted successful businesses feeding the passengers and selling all kinds of merchandise. At every port along the route where we stopped, people would come on board to shop at our floating market. An exciting sight was the way men and sometimes women in dugout canoes would approach in the swift river current to reach the side of our barge, board it, attach their canoes and sell fresh fish, food, vegetables and fruit to the passengers. At one time I counted over twenty canoes tied up to the side.
In a small village, where our boat stopped for an hour or so, among the traders who boarded to sell their woven mats were two Bahá’ís who recognized Mrs. Pawlowska and excitedly rushed to her. They were so happy to be introduced to Rúḥíyyih Khánum. We were delighted to see that they quickly sold their beautiful handwork to the passengers. It was so sweet to see one of these men holding a Bahá’í pamphlet in the local language of Tshiluba and showing it to everyone he knew, bringing them to us to shake hands and telling his friends that our party also belonged to the Faith written about in the pamphlet. The devotion and enthusiasm of the Congolese believers is truly unique and a joy to see.
At the end of this happy week’s journey we disembarked at Port Francqui, reclaimed the Land Rover safely and started to drive to town when we noticed thick, smelly smoke coming from the engine. We quickly opened the hood and discovered to our horror that rats had built a large nest on top of the engine out of rags, cotton waste, wood shavings, leaves, paper and other odd objects. The heat of the engine had set these on fire and had we not noticed it immediately and put it out, this could have been very dangerous indeed.
At Port FrancquiRúḥíyyih Khánum paid a courtesy visit to the District Officer. In the course of their conversation she assured him that a cardinal principle of the Faith is loyalty of Bahá’ís to their government. He asked her: “Why is it that with all these wonderful teachings of love and brotherhood all the religions of the world propagate, the people of the world are in such a state of disunity, inharmony and strife?” Amatu’l-Bahá told him that Shoghi Effendi used to say if you want to forge several iron rods into one piece you have to place them in the fire; not until they become red hot can they be forged into one solid piece. Humanity is in much the same state. Men have refused to respond to the call of Bahá’u’lláh to unite and promote world peace. Their hearts are cold and hard; therefore it would seem the suffering of some kind of fiery ordeal can alone weld us into a world of peace and brotherhood. She explained how in every age, when the Manifestation of God appears, He offers mankind two roads, the straight and easy one of accepting Him and His call and the long and hard road of suffering which ultimately brings man down to his knees. We are now witnessing the consequences of man’s rejection of the call of Bahá’u’lláh in this day. The District Officer was quite impressed by these words.
During the two days we stayed in Port Francqui we met with Bahá’ís twice. On the first day several Bahá’ís came to the hotel to visit with us. On the second day a nice meeting was held in the home of one of the friends where over twenty people gathered, more than half of them Bahá’ís, and the rest eagerly listening and asking questions. At the end of this meeting one young man accepted the Faith.
Bahá’ís of Zaïre are well versed in the Teachings and have the keenest appreciation of Bahá’í literature. All through the country the loudest cry was for more literature, especially the Words of Bahá’u’lláh. Next came the demand for more pioneers, not only to settle among them but also to travel and visit.
Questions and AnswersThe deep questions asked were an indication of their understanding. One asked: “If a man is sick during the Fast period and unable to keep it, can he fast some other nineteen days after the Fast period is over?” Rúḥíyyih Khánum said that the Bahá’í month set aside by Bahá’u’lláh for the purpose of fasting is clearly defined, but in the Writings we are left free to fast any time we choose but this, however, does not replace the Fast ordained by God in this day.
Another asked: “What is the wisdom and meaning of the genuflections in the long obligatory prayer?” Amatu’l-Bahá replied that in the first place Bahá’u’lláh has given us the choice of three prayers and if we do not feel inclined to go through these movements we can always choose the short obligatory prayer. Then she said: “In your own traditions you have special ways of approaching a great chief or king. You prostrate yourself or kneel down or in some form to show your submission, your humility and utter nothingness in front of the great figure of the chief or king. It is in this same spirit that we approach Almighty God in these prayers. The genuflections are a symbol of our submission.” The desire to follow the laws and ordinances of Bahá’u’lláh is so deep and beautiful in the Congolese that we often marvelled at them.
Although in Zaïre as in the rest of Africa — indeed, like most of the world, drinking is a deeply rooted evil and wide-spread, in all these weeks we traveled in that country, neither in towns nor in villages did we ever come across a Bahá’í who showed evidence of drinking, or smelling of alcohol. Not only do the Bahá’ís of Zaïre follow this important law of Bahá’u’lláh regarding not using alcoholic beverages but the Congolese go even further. Many of them even abstain from any form of trade which involves liquor.
Palm wine is made in many parts of Africa from a special variety of palm from which the sap is tapped. This is usually a way the women earn a little extra money for their family, and some families have inherited and hold special plantations for this purpose. We came across in several villages, Bahá’ís who without any advice from the outside, on their own accord had decided that if Bahá’u’lláh forbad drinking then it must be very harmful indeed for mankind and they would have nothing to do with earning money from such a harmful business.
In one village Bahá’í women consulted their husbands and decided to give up wine-making and replace their only means of making a livelihood by having a small stall in front of their huts and selling items such as soap, matches and needles, and so on. Their men-folk agreed to supplement the income by making charcoal and selling it at the market. Their business flourished so well that they decided part of their gain should go to the Bahá’í Fund!
Another distinction of the Congolese believers was the fact that often men, women and children, in towns as well as villages know prayers of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Bab by heart. Both Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá repeatedly urged the believers to commit to memory the prayers and Writings, a teaching far too often overlooked and neglected by the Bahá’ís everywhere.
On December 30, 1971 we said goodbye to the dear Bahá’ís of Port Francqui and started our long, arduous but wonderful overland trip across the south-east part of Zaïre. By the end of this journey we came to the conclusion that no matter how ghastly some of the roads were in Cameroon and Nigeria, Zaïre still holds top place for the worst roads ever!
In Zaïre when traveling in the interior, if the Bahá’ís have no accommodations to offer you, then the only choice is to stay at the Missions where generally guest houses are available. In the town of Mweke we spent two nights in the Catholic Mission and ate our meals with the Bishop of this district and eight ordained priests, all Belgians.
After lunch on New Year’s day an interesting conversation took place between Rúḥíyyih Khánum and the Bishop. Amatu’l-Bahá asked the Bishop to explain to her how the Catholic Church in this age of scientific facts and modern knowledge understands and interprets such Biblical stories as the creation of Adam and Eve and the world in six days and so on. In brief he said that the way he understands it and the Catholic Church explains it is this: “Two men may approach the sea; one is a poet and the other a scientist; the poet describes the sea as he sees it, its beauty, color, the sound of its waves, the glow of the sun on the water, and so on. The scientist does not see it in these terms ‘but rather in those of evaluating its components, its evolutionary history, etc.” It was an extremely subtle answer and Rúḥíyyih Khánum enjoyed it very much and used the example herself on more than one occasion,
We had a very pleasant meeting with the three Mweke Bahá’ís and several of their friends and neighbors. The first Bahá’í of Kasai lives in that town and is proud of the fact that as early as 1956 he was the first to respond to the call of Bahá’u’lláh. In this meeting Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke a great deal on the power of prayers to attract more souls to the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #501, December 1972, pp. 18-21
“Our next stop was in the small town of Kakenge which is central to several villages where many Bahá’ís reside. As there was no Bahá’í home that could receive us once again we went to the Catholic Mission and spent the first night there. The next morning, however, we were politely told we must leave the mission where we had planned to stay two nights. The little Belgian priest was not openly hostile but it seemed the Mission school had a local board of Congolese directors and they had met and insisted the Bahá’ís had no right to use the Mission guest rooms. It was the only experience of this kind we ever had; usually we neither say we are Christians nor Bahá’ís, we are travelers on our way. Rúḥíyyih Khánum makes a special point of being kind and courteous to members of other faiths, particularly the Missionaries who are often examples of self-sacrifice and devotion to high ideals. After consultation with some of the Bahá’ís we moved to the village of Budimba five miles away to the home of the dear believers. We were much happier there than at the Mission! For the next two days we visited other villages in that area.
One of the exciting things along the roads in this district are the signs “Bahá’í Center” of such and such a village. Many of these signs were especially decorated with flowers and greens as a token of loving welcome to Amatu’l-Bahá. These numerous Bahá’í Centers are huts built with twigs and branches, some with mud walls and others with open walls and a thatched roof, some quite large. They are cool and adequate for their purpose and they were invariably decorated with flowers and streamers of fancy cut paper as a welcome to the Hand of the Cause.
In the village of Ishamba several chiefs from the neighboring villages, some of them Bahá’ís, came to meet Amatu’l-Bahá and offer their respects. Most of them were ceremonially dressed in their fascinating traditional costumes made of fine rafia cloth and decorated with cowerie shells, beads and skins of wild animals. The Chief wore a small embroidered and woven rafia cap or a fancy bunch of feathers as headgear. Over one hundred attended this meeting. When one realizes that sometimes Bahá’ís had come distances of 50 or 60 kilometers on foot (this seems to be the main and general means of moving about) one appreciates even more the devotion and love of these dear souls.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke frequently on the immortality of the soul of man and its continued progress after death. One of the friends asked: “Why it is that a child, often at the beginning of its life, suddenly dies. What happens to the soul of that child?” Amatu’l-Bahá told them of the example ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave that a man’s life is like a lamp; each lamp has a specific quantity of oil and should burn to the end of that oil. One lamp may have a small amount of oil and will burn out very soon when the oil finishes. How much oil is given to us when we come into this world is not in our hands. The progress and development of a soul which has left this world in infancy or childhood will continue under other conditions in the next world. Then she said: “The Master explains there is another form of death, the accidental death. Presumably the lamp is full of oil and is meant to burn for a full term, but foolishly this lamp may be placed in a draft and a sudden gush of wind blows it out. Through negligence, carelessness or stupidity accidental death can occur. This kind of death could have been prevented.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum went on to say that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had said there are three mysteries in this world which we cannot understand fully while we are here: the suffering of the innocent for the guilty, the nature of life after death and where the line falls between predestination and free will.
The people of Zaire are very musical and the Bahá’ís have composed many beautiful songs about the Faith. One in particular I remember was specially written as a welcome for Amatu’l-Bahá. In almost all our meetings there was much joyous singing as part of the program. In the small town of Kakenge, although the number of Bahá’ís are few, over eighty people gathered to welcome Rúḥíyyih Khánum. A question which was asked in this meeting as well as many other meetings was about the meaning of the Trinity and the nature of the Holy Spirit. Amatu’l-Bahá, in very simple words told them of the unique and beautiful example given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, of the sun, the rays of the sun and the mirror, likening these to Almighty God, the source of light and life; the Holy Spirit, the rays emanating from the sun; the Manifestations of God Who are the perfect mirrors, the recipients of the rays which convey the qualities of the sun. Although these are three separate things, the power and the glory of the sun can be seen in the mirror. She said that this is the Bahá’í explanation of the church doctrine of the Trinity.
Fourteen miles of unbelievably treacherous road took us to the village of Lukembe where over thirty devoted believers, including some pygmies of the Batua tribe, were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their much loved guest.
These people make their livelihood by hunting.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke specially on the power of prayer and the importance of teaching the children to repeat “Alláh-u-Abhá” which in itself is a prayer so that at moments of fear or distress, through repeating these blessed words, they may invoke the help and the protection of God. During the period of questions, a dear old hunter asked: “Is there a special prayer a hunter can use to catch his game?” Rúḥíyyih Khánum said: “When you set off to hunt repeat the words ‘Yá-Bahá’u’l-Abhá’ and beg Bahá’u’lláh to assist, guide and protect you on your hunt.” He was very pleased and at the end of the meeting he presented Rúḥíyyih Khánum with a small deer he had killed that morning.
The next day Amatu’l-Bahá had three meetings in three different villages. In Benalongo, where the community is very new and in need of strengthening, she spoke at length about Bahá’u’lláh referring to His wonderful and significant dream when still a child. Dreams and their interpretation have a very special meaning for the Africans. Rúḥíyyih Khánum told them about this dream of Bahá’u’lláh in which He floated on the sea and every strand of His blessed hair was taken in the mouth of a fish. When he awoke and told His father of this dream, the father went to an interpreter of dreams. The explanation given was that this child would bring a great Message to the whole world and the people, like the fishes of the sea, would cling to His Teachings. The glow of ecstasy and rapture on the faces of the audience was a never-to-be forgotten sight.
In the village of Pianga Matadi Amatu’l-Bahá was ceremoniously received by the chief, a non-Bahá’í, but very sympathetic to the Faith. Both he and his wife were dressed in their traditional costumes. They were a very beautiful old couple with noble faces and a noble bearing. During the meeting, when one or two of the rather fanatical members of the audience tried to cause trouble and start an argument, this Chief, with great dignity and authority, ordered them to be silent. He said: “These wonderful teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are to unite mankind and bring about harmony and brotherhood. You should not make them the cause of strife. No one is forcing you to accept these Teachings. If you like it remain here and listen; if you don’t like it, you are free to go and leave others to partake from this heavenly food.”
Amatu’l-Bahá confirmed his words by quoting Bahá’u’lláh on the purpose of religion; that it should be the cause of unity and harmony and if it is the cause of inharmony and disunity, to be without religion is better than having it.
The people of the Congo in general and the Bakuba tribe in particular are among the most artistic people in this vast continent of Africa; one of their beautiful handicrafts is rafia woven cloth for their ceremonial costumes which is decorated with cowerie shell, beads and skins of wild animals. The last meeting of that day was in the village of Budimba where over 150 friends from far and near gathered to welcome Rúḥíyyih Khánum.
One of the friends asked if among the white people sorcery and witchcraft also existed. Rúḥíyyih Khánum said: “maybe not in the form in which it exists in Africa but among the white people, too, there are all kinds of superstitions and manifestations of fanaticism which could be likened to sorcery. It is not confined to any one race.”
In the village of Bakua Mbuyi, where we stayed two nights holding three different meetings, the believers were specially blessed as these meetings really were more in the nature of a continuous deepening class. At times over 200 people were crammed inside the Bahá’í Center as well as outside, looking and listening through every opening in the wall! Many of these friends had walked long distances to be present. The audience roared with laughter when a non-Bahá’í asked how Bahá’u’lláh could be the Promised One if he was descended from Katura and not from Sarah. Rúḥíyyih Khánum calmly replied: “Because the Covenant of God was with Abraham and not with his wives!”
Asked when she thought these wonderful twelve principles of Bahá’u’lláh would be implemented in the world, Rúḥíyyih Khánum explained that in the first place it is wrong to say “Twelve Principles” as there is really no such thing. Bahá’u’lláh never mentioned such a thing. “If you stop and count the social principles given by Bahá’u’lláh they come to much more than twelve, and if you study the talks of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá you will see that He mentioned different principles in His different talks. So it is very misleading to always refer to ‘Twelve Principles’.” She pointed out that many of these social principles, since Bahá’u’lláh revealed them, have been implemented by the various nations and leaders of the world, unaware of their source; for example, compulsory education, equality of the sexes, and many others.
In the village of Batua-Mwana-Bende where the Bahá’í Chief and his two wives received Rúḥíyyih Khánum in their ceremonial costumes, she spoke at great length on the importance of preserving the beautiful traditions of their past and being proud of their tribes. She told them how, with every additional tribe represented in the Cause, the beloved Guardian used to add their name to his list and joyously announce it to the Bahá’í world. Then she said; “I also belong to some tribes; I am descended from the McBean, the Sutherland and the Maxwell clans in Scotland.” This remark always caused a strong reaction of surprise and joy from the Africans!
Some of the friends related significant dreams that had led them to recognition of the Blessed Beauty. One young man told how a year before he ever heard of the Faith, in a dream he saw a figure dressed in white, shining with a divine radiance, before whose feet he immediately prostrated himself, and was hurt and surprised to see that no other member of his family paid homage to this heavenly figure. When he became a Bahá’í he recognized ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the one before whom he had prostrated himself in his dream. With sadness he finished his story by saying, that no one in his family had accepted the Faith as yet.
Another devoted Bahá’í told us how for some time he had been rejecting the Faith and allowing doubts to keep him from recognizing and accepting the Cause of God. Then on three successive nights he had very strange and significant dreams which led him to whole-heartedly accepting Bahá’u’lláh. The first night he saw the Infant Christ in the arm of His mother. The second night he saw the blazing rays of the sun on the sea making a straight path across it. On the third night he saw the brilliant rays of the sun penetrating his house and filling it with a glow of perfect light. After this his heart was reassured and he accepted the Faith. The friends were spellbound when Rúḥíyyih Khánum recounted some of the beautiful dreams her mother had had in her childhood and youth which prepared her for acceptance and recognition of the Message of God.
In the village of Bena Leke the only accommodation available to us was an empty shop on the main road which we rented for two nights. The neighboring family kindly permitted us to use their outdoor toilet facilities and borrow their petrolux lamp. So for two days we had the experience of living right in the middle of the town, where often curious passers by would stop to ask us who we were and what we were doing. In two meetings Amatu’l-Bahá spoke to about seventy believers, most of them from the neighboring villages and some even from far away ones in the bush. One man with his wives and children had walked a distance of sixty kilometers to attend these meetings! Although the number of Baha’is living in Bena Leke was small, all these dear visitors from far away were taken into the homes of the local believers and cared for lovingly. A number of very devoted and active Bahá’í women had come from another nearby village so Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke especially on the role and responsibility of women. She spoke of the life and station of such a woman as Táhirih, the martyr and poetess. She also spoke of the influence of a woman on the spiritual destiny of not only her children but also her husband. She told us of an incident in the life of her parents which she had heard from her own mother. Before the birth of Rúḥíyyih Khánum, when her father, Mr. Maxwell, was still not a Bahá’í and Mrs. Maxwell very active and always busy with the work of the Faith (as she always was to the end of her life) Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s father one day said to her mother that he felt they were drifting apart and he would just spend more and more time on his profession and their marriage would suffer because of this difference in interests. Mrs. Maxwell was upset by these words as they loved each other very deeply and she was afraid that she might lose her husband’s love. She felt she wanted to reassure him and tell him that for his sake she was ready to pay more attention to him and be less active in serving the Cause, but her heart would not let her do this. So she said to her husband that he remembered before she married him she told him that this Faith would always come first in her life and if he felt this way, she would just have to go on alone. Mr. Maxwell thought for a while and then took his wife’s hand in his and assured her that he was willing to go all the way with her. This was really the beginning of his becoming a Bahá’í. Rúḥíyyih Khánum concluded this story by saying that if her mother had compromised and given in to her fear of losing her husband the whole course of her life as well as their life together would have been very different. If she had wavered then, her own faith would have weakened, her husband might have never accepted the Faith.
Often Rúḥíyyih Khánum was asked what she thought about Simon Kimbangu and the sect he founded, which is now wide-spread in Zaire. In the early 1930s this devout Congolese Catholic Christian believed that the church should be adapted to more African ways and introduced his own ideas and methods into his congregation or church. He was seized by the colonial powers, accused of being a disturbing element, and after almost thirty years of unjust imprisonment, died a prisoner. He never claimed any special right or position for himself and had the reputation of being a very good man. However, some years after his death his son took over the ideas his father had preached, proclaimed his father a Prophet (which Simon Kimbangu himself had never claimed) and also that his religion was a genuine Congolese religion. This sect has already divided into four subsects. Aside from some of its teachings it has now become a tightly-knit commercial enterprise something like a large co-operative which provides businesses on a small scale for individual members, opens schools and is generally profitable to belong to, resembling somewhat in this respect Ismailis or followers of the Aga Khan.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum explained the difference between a Prophet who claims to be sent by God and a reformer. Simon Kimbangu never claimed to be a Prophet, but tried to introduce some improvements into the religion he loved and believed.
She gave a vivid, original, and beautiful example. She said suppose for many years you have used a special candle, blue in color, sold to you by your village shopkeeper. One day one of your neighbors comes to you and says “Look, I have a red candle, it is made in our own village by our own people, so why should we go on buying the imported blue candle?” There will then be a dispute between the traders who sold the original blue candles and the supporters of the home-made red candles. At this point the government brings to your village electricity and informs you that you can now have electricity in your homes. What, then, is the use of wasting any more time in arguing over the superiority of a red candle over a blue candle? Once you have electricity you do not want candles anyway. The friends immediately caught the point and liked this example very much.
In addition to the two meetings Rúḥíyyih Khánum had with the dear Bahá’ís in this village, a well-attended public meeting was arranged with the help and encouragement of the military district officer. Over forty people came and stayed on asking questions until it was too dark to continue.
The Bahá’ís of Milamba, many of whom had been attending these meetings requested that when she continued her journey she stop and have some prayers with them and bless their village. We agreed to this request and stopped in Milamba. Next at Tshimbambula there were over sixty believers gathered to welcome her in their Bahá’í Center who eagerly listened to her words.
In two well-attended meetings in the village of Tshibala, Amatu’l-Bahá spoke to over fifty Bahá’ís and their friends.
A young man, a member of the Apostolic Church which is quite wide-spread in that area, dressed in his long white robe and carrying a shepherd’s crook as tall as himself — supposedly in remembrance of the Apostles of Christ, the Shepherds of mankind — asked Rúḥíyyih Khánum: “How is it that you, a woman, teach and preach when in the Gospels St. Paul clearly says no woman should do this?”
Rúḥíyyih Khánum smiled and said “When St. Paul, 2000 years ago, made this comment, there were no cars and no radios and your ancestors hunted for their food in the bush and wore no clothes such as the one you are wearing now. If you are ready to go back to living the way they did in St. Paul’s time and give up all the things that you have acquired in this modern age, then I am also ready to stop teaching and preaching!” At this answer the women who were sitting at one side of the room broke into thunderous applause and loud laughter. This was the first time we had seen such an open response of complete agreement.
To say, as many foreigners do, that women in Africa are downtrodden and have no rights is a very superficial judgment of things, especially as the situation varies greatly from tribe to tribe. Many tribes afford their women certain rights and privileges which, though they may not be exactly the same rights women have been clamoring for in other parts of the world, are nevertheless very substantial and make the women very independent. One thing was quite clear in Zaire, whether in the villages or in the cities; the purse strings are in the hands of the woman; she runs the home, and often the business too, and controls the money. Many Treasurers of Local Assemblies are women!
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #502, January 1973, pp. 16-18
Our one week stay in the capital city of Occidental Kasai, Luluabourg, (recently changed to Kananga) was very fruitful for the Cause. This city is divided into four townships, each with a separate Local Assembly. The representatives of these Local Spiritual Assemblies called on Amatu’l-Bahá formally at her hotel and with her help and advice arranged for the program of the week she was to be with them. A week-end conference was planned for all the friends to attend not only from these townships, but also for the villages surrounding the city. This was a very wonderful occasion and over 180 Bahá’ís from 21 centers came to the Saturday afternoon and Sunday sessions, eagerly listening to Amatu’l-Bahá and asking many questions on different aspects of the Faith.
The Bahá’ís in this area are wonderful singers and have one of the finest choirs in the whole of the continent. Beautiful addresses of welcome were read. Then Amatu’l-Bahá spoke on the meaning and purpose of creation. She said: “The story of creation, according to the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, is really a most beautiful love story. Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth and all therein, felt the desire to love and to be loved in return, therefore He created man and endowed him with the most precious gift of all, an immortal soul. The soul of man, unique in all creation, yearns to return to God and so the journey of the soul begins from the moment a child is conceived. It is a long journey, it is the journey of a lover towards the Beloved One. This material world is the first step in the journey of man towards his Creator, and should prepare him to be worthy of appearing before his Beloved in the next world. Here we must develop the spiritual qualities we need in the next life, the eternal life. This is why, while he is living in this world, it is so important for man to recognize the Manifestation of God. We might liken the period of each Manifestation, in other words the Dispensation each one of them brings, to the electric current we have in the walls of this building; there are outlets, from which, if we plug into them, we can receive the power of the electricity. We can light a lamp, run a radio, a refrigerator, a television set, a motor, depending on what we plug in. In other words each individual receives power in accordance with his capacity. The important thing is for every human being to make this connection now with the divine source in the world today. Our responsibility as Bahá’ís is to ensure that this connection is made.”
A question often asked in Zaïre, both in the cities as well as the villages, was about the portrait of Bahá’u’lláh and whether it is possible for them to see it or not. Rúḥíyyih Khánum would explain that because it is the picture of the Manifestation of God it must be treated with great respect and reverence and cannot be made available for every one to have in his home as the pictures of Christ which are sometimes treated with irreverence and disrespect. Then immediately the next request was: “Please tell us what He looks like”. The beautiful black eyes of the friends would gaze at her and try to visualize the blessed face she was describing and to picture its beauty and majesty. It was very touching. Their love for Him was written on their shining, eager faces.
In one meeting they asked if any member of Bahá’u’lláh’s descendants had remained firm in the Cause. Rúḥíyyih Khánum explained what this Covenant of God is and how from the beginning of time, since Cain slew Abel, this principle of light and darkness has existed, often caused by the jealousy of a brother. This process has repeated itself at the time of the appearance of every Manifestation of God. She told them how the Covenant-breaking had begun with the jealousy and hatred of the young half-brother of Bahá’u’lláh, and how this poison had penetrated one generation after another until at the time of the passing of Shoghi Effendi, not one soul from the blessed Root had remained firm. Amatu’l-Bahá then said this is why in the Writings we read special prayers supplicating the mercy and protection of God so that we may remain firm to the last hour of our earthly life.
She told the friends of the wonderful services, the loyalty and steadfastness of the Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Tarázu’lláh Samandarí who had remained firm and devoted through three periods of the growth of the Cause. He had had the privilege and bounty of meeting Bahá’u’lláh as well as serving both ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the beloved Guardian and had lived until the age of ninety-three, yet just a few days before his passing in Haifa, when she went to the hospital to see him, his last words — after almost a century of devoted service to the Cause of God — had been; “Pray for me that until my last breath I remain firm in the Faith”.
During her visit to the villages of Tshingana and Mampanyi Tarnbwe, not too far from the city of Luluabourg, someone asked Amatu’l-Bahá if the person of Satan was a real being. She answered that evil is not a specific being or object like the sun, the object and source of light. The absence of the sun automatically produces darkness. Good is a positive force and its absence is evil; otherwise evil has no reality of its own.
The Mayor of LuluabourgOn the last day of our stay in this city we were able to meet the Mayor of Luluabourg as well as the mayor of one of the townships. It was a very friendly and cordial visit lasting nearly forty minutes. The Mayor himself had called the local newspaper reporter to be present and ask questions. Later on an interesting article about the Faith and Rúḥíyyih Khánum was published. The Mayor presented Rúḥíyyih Khánum with several beautiful artifacts of this Province and wished her a very safe and successful journey. He was eager that a public meeting be arranged and was willing to make all the preparations through his office. Unfortunately, however, due to our plans for leaving the city and reaching villages many miles away the next day, the time was too short to arrange anything for that night.
The following day, on a terrible road, for the first time in almost 23,000 miles, we had the indignity of getting stuck in mud and having to be pulled out by a truck. Fortunately there was a truck and we had a towline!
Sometime that afternoon we reached the village of Bakwa Kayembe. We slept two nights there in the home of a believer and had a very nice meeting with the friends. Over 120 from many villages had gathered and eagerly listened to Amatu’l-Bahá. One of her main objectives in talking to the village Bahá’ís in particular is to widen the horizon of their understanding. With patience she would explain in detail and show them that this world is far more immense than they imagined. Although Christianity is the religion they have heard about, it is but one religion in a world full of other beliefs and ideas. There is such a thing as what we call science and the truths of science. The villagers are eager and thirsty to acquire knowledge and were always fascinated by her explanations.
How to Banish SuperstitionMany times the questions would be on the subject of witchcraft and its relation to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. One must remember witchcraft has never ceased to exist in Africa and still exerts a profound influence over Pagan, Christian and Muslim, educated and uneducated alike. As a matter of fact it is on the increase all over the world as men frantically try to find answers to their problems. Rúḥíyyih Khánum developed an original and convincing approach and answer to this question that satisfied her hearers.
The way to dispel dark and superstitious beliefs is with the light of Bahá’u’lláh’s Teachings, clinging to His Words and His prayers. This acts exactly like the rays of the sun which dispel the night. The Chief of that area, a very dignified old man, the fourth generation of chiefs in his family, had come to this village to personally welcome Rúḥíyyih Khánum and stayed and listened to her talk until the end of the meeting.
In the village of Bena-Mvula over sixty Bahá’ís and their friends, gathered in their beautifully decorated Bahá’í Center to welcome and listen to Amatu’l-Bahá. As many women were present she decided to speak on the role of women in this age and the great mercy and bounty of Bahá’u’lláh in giving women equal rights with men for the first time in the history of mankind. She then explained that the meaning of the equality of the sexes, does not necessarily mean that both have the same functions. In the city of Mbuji Mayi, the capital of Oriental Kasai where we spent two nights, Amatu’l-Bahá was able to meet with the Bahá’ís and also visit the friends in the village of Bena Kasukuila. When we reached this village sixteen miles away from the city, over very treacherous sandy tracks, we learned that all the Bahá’í men with one exception, having heard on the radio that Amatu’l-Bahá was in the city, had left to meet her there. The Bahá’í women, who could not leave their children and homes, were thrilled to not only have this unexpected privilege of meeting their beloved guest but having her all to themselves in an unexpected meeting and learning from her that she was going to stay and talk especially to them. Several ladies and many children recited prayers by heart. This is a very wonderful thing one sees all over Zaïre, the friends memorize the Bahá’í prayers. That evening on our return to Mbuji Mayi Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to the villagers and the town Bahá’ís on the power of the Word of God. She said the Word of God is like a grain of corn. When planted in the soil of the heart it grows and multiplies and yields a rich harvest of knowledge and understanding. Obedience to the laws and ordinances of God causes spiritual growth and maturity. She quoted the words of ‘Abdu’l-Baha who said: “I desire for you distinction.” The Bahá’ís through their deeds and characters must be distinguished so that people will recognize us as Bahá’ís through our behavior.
Three days of tiring travel over awful roads — almost 700 miles — brought us to the end of our visit to Zaïre. The week we spent in the beautiful city of Lubumbashi, formerly called Elizabethville. brought back to Amatu’l-Bahá memories of her stay there in 1940 with our beloved Guardian when they crossed the continent during the war. They were a number of times in Kisangani, formerly Stanleyville. She said. “In 1970, it was thirty years since I was there with Shoghi Effendi and now here it is thirty-two years since we were here together in this city!” She recalled how that visit to the Congo had fulfilled a life-long desire of the beloved Guardian to see that country. Truly an eternal blessing was showered on this land!
Meetings ForbiddenUnfortunately as the result of an emergency decree, meetings of any sort were forbidden throughout Zaïre just at this time and so the Bahá’ís of Lubumbashi were not able to hold a meeting for their dearly loved Hand of the Cause. In small informal groups they came to the garden in our hotel and over refreshments we were able to have a number of visits with them. One of the believers in this city, a Bahá’í of eighteen years who had embraced the Cause through the efforts of dear Rex and Mary Collison in the early days of its introduction into the neighboring country then called Ruanda Urundi, told us of the sufferings he had endured in the path of God. Twice through the instigation of a priest he was imprisoned because he was a Bahá’í. He is a staunch and valiant defender of the Cause of God.
The unanimous cry of the believers in this vast and uniquely receptive country is for more pioneers. From Kinshasa to Lubumbashi, a distance of almost 2,000 miles, there is not one single pioneer. The teaching possibilities in Zaïre are unlimited. The villagers as well as city Bahá’ís all asked that more pioneers come from abroad, saying the demonstration of the oneness of mankind, when whites and Africans work together, has much more effect than when they teach alone.
The sorrow of parting from our newly found friends is always the saddest part of our trip. Somehow leaving Zaïre was even more difficult than usual. We had come to deeply love this country and its people. Our one consolation is the fact that God willing, we shall once again enter it, next time to visit the Province of Kivu, where the vast majority of the Bahá’ís of Zaïre are to be found.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #503, February 1973, pp. 14-18
On February 1, 1971, we crossed the border of Zaire and entered our twenty-second African country, Zambia. During the stay of Amatu’l-Bahá in this country which ended on March 10 she was able to bring the Faith to the forefront of press, radio and television.
In an unforgettable audience with President Kaunda which lasted half an hour, she was able to speak freely about the principles of the Faith. She assured the President of the loyalty and obedience of Bahá’ís to their respective government and their abhorrence of lawlessness and anarchy. President Kaunda, a charming, distinguished educator and leader, received Rúḥíyyih Khánum, who was accompanied by the Chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Lusaka and myself, in his private office in his home. He expressed his pleasure at meeting Amatu’l-Bahá. He said, “I have been studying the Bahá’í file and am impressed by the similarity of some of your principles to my personal belief and ideas.” When Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke of the cruel prejudice of the educated class against the uneducated and the illiterate, the President smiled and retorted: “Madam Rabbani, if you were not a visitor in my country I would have said you were spying on my thoughts, as I have just prepared a talk which emphasizes the same points.”
He was greatly impressed when told about our African tour, and commented on its length, asking if any disasters had been met with. Rúḥíyyih Khánum told him that the greatest compliment she could pay to Africa was that two women traveled alone across this vast continent and were not afraid. She said that we had realized the villagers everywhere would be kind and helpful. The President smiled and said “This is two-way traffic Madam; it is your attitude which has created such an atmosphere for you.”
Rúḥíyyih Khánum said she wished to present him with a copy of the pamphlet “Obedience to Government” but unfortunately had not been able to locate one and asked if she could send it to him. The President replied that he would like to have it and then asked Mr. Makwakwa, Chairman of the Local Assembly, to send him any new Bahá’í literature that was available. Amatu’l-Bahá was surprised and said: “Your Excellency, with all the burdens of state resting on you and all you have to read, you do not have time to read this literature,” He replied: “I have set aside a special time on Sunday after I return from Church for study and reading such material.”
The President is a great leader and has a vision of bringing his people up-to-date while preserving the traditions and virtues of tribal society. He knows about the Faith and seems impressed by its Teachings.
When one of the top television interviewers met Rúḥíyyih Khánum he told her he was planning to emphasize the Safari rather than the Bahá’í Teachings as he had recently done a long interview on the Bahá’í Teachings and felt it unwise to repeat so soon. However, after five minutes he began asking questions about the Faith and became so interested that he sent a note to the staff telling them to lengthen the half-hour interview with Rúḥíyyih Khánum to forty-five minutes!
There were two additional radio interviews and a number of favorable articles in the press.
At a public meeting in Lusaka in the auditorium of the Evelyn Home College, more than 400 people listened with rapt attention to the talk of Amatu’l-Bahá on “The Spiritual Destiny of Africa.” During the question period a young man asked: “Why is it that almost a century ago people such as Livingstone and Rhodes and now yourself, came to us telling us of our potentialities and capacities and warning us of the evils of losing our racial virtues and beliefs, yet none of our own people tell us such things?”
The answer of Rúḥíyyih Khánum was brilliant. The audience spontaneously broke into applause. She said: “In the first place there are great men in this continent who are also saying the same thing and trying to uphold such ideas and your President is one of them. In the second place we must learn to be objective and impartial. We must recognize what is universal and not regional or racial. In this room we are all enjoying the gift of electricity. This gift came to you through the white man, yet it is yours and does not belong to any one group of men because it is a principle, a universal principle. Religious truth, likewise, is a universal principle and belongs to whoever accepts it. Bahá’u’lláh belongs to me because I have accepted Him and love Him, but He also belongs to you if you accept Him and love Him.”
At Chalinshani, Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to the students at National in Training College, a Teachers’ Training College, on “The Role and Responsibility of Teachers in Society.” She said teaching is one of the three professions highly praised by Bahá’u’lláh — to the extent that in His will which comes into operation when a person dies without leaving a will, a portion of the wealth of the individual is set aside for his teacher.
In the capital, Lusaka, Amatu’l-Bahá met with the National Spiritual Assembly and with the believers on three different occasions. At the Nineteen Day Feast she suggested that for the purpose of attracting Bahá’u’lláh’s assistance in teaching and consolidation, it would be a good idea if during the month the Bahá’ís fast once a week, during a week-end. The believers could set aside a day for the purpose of concentrated community prayers. The friends liked this idea very much. On the first of such days she attended, and joined the friends in prayers which began at 6:00 a.m. and ended at 6:00 p.m. Some of the youth held the fort continuously and other friends joined them at different times during the day.
My son, Nehran, had been invited by Amatu’l-Bahá to join her Safari for a month on his way to teach the Faith in The Gambia during his vacation. He was able to join not only in the youth activities in Lusaka but to travel with us to a number of villages in the North West when we first arrived from Zaire. Unfortunately Rúḥíyyih Khánum caught a bad case of flu in Kitwe and had to remain in bed for some days. Before that she was able to visit Mwinilunga and Ikelenge, where she met with the famous Chief Ikelenge, a warm friend of the Faith whose Angolian wife is a devoted Bahá’í. In this village over 100 people gathered to hear Amatu’l-Bahá speak on “The Important Role of Women in Society”, also the power and devotion of the life of women.
In that area of Zambia alone, we were told, there are forty-five Local Assemblies. Unfortunately, because of heavy rains we were not able to meet with many believers. One of the goals of the National Assembly is the erection in that district of a Teaching Institute. We were happy to hear later on that it had been completed.
It was the pineapple season. An amusing scene took place. Without understanding a word, we were able to follow the movements of a husband and wife and understand all that was said. When the couple arrived, bringing a basket of pineapples as a gift for Rúḥíyyih Khánum and they saw a dozen or so pineapples already piled up, the wife told the husband to take theirs back as there were already too many. We quite agreed with her reasonable attitude!
During meetings it was necessary that every word be translated into two languages — so much time wasted. We all felt the urgent necessity for the universal auxiliary language foreseen by Bahá’u’lláh.
Both in the township of Mwinilunga and the village of the same name we met with the Bahá’ís. In the mining town of Chingola during a very short stop-over some of the friends had the bounty of meeting with Amatu’l-Bahá. In Kitwe, a beautiful town in the heart of the copper mining district, before Rúḥíyyih Khánum became ill and had to cancel her program she had a very interesting press interview which resulted in the publication of a long article on the Faith. She also had a radio interview in the same town. These interviews attracted a great deal of attention because of Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s unique trip across Africa in a Land Rover.
In LivingstoneAmatu’l-Bahá’s tour of Zambia was completed when several months later she was able to cross over the Rhodesian border into the southern town of Livingstone and meet the active and devoted Bahá’í’ community in the village of Mukuni. These dear friends who were disappointed in the month of March because Rúḥíyyih Khánum was too ill to visit them, rejoiced in her presence and presented her with a wood carving they had specially made for her. In Livingstone itself, at the home of the only pioneers there, a young Persian couple, she was able to explain the fundamental principles of the Faith to a selected group of seekers. This famous spot in Africa, where David Livingstone first came upon the majestic sight of Victoria Falls — known by the local inhabitants by the name of “Musi-o-Tunya” meaning “the smoke that thunders”, was blessed by the presence of the beloved Guardian himself. Amatu’l-Bahá told us that in 1940, when Italy entered the war and the Mediterranean was closed to Allied shipping, Shoghi Effendi with her father and herself had been forced to return to Palestine from England via South Africa, crossing the continent from Cape Town to Cairo. Shoghi Effendi had made a special trip to these falls to show them to her as he had already seen them on a previous visit to Africa. Standing in front of one of the wonders of the world where the larger-than-life statue of David Livingstone looks upon these falls, I could not but wonder at the perfection of God, the grandeur of His creation and the heedlessness of man. One day men will treasure the knowledge that this spot was blessed by the footsteps of the “Sign of God on earth”, the beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi.
In RhodesiaOur first visit to Rhodesia was during the three weeks in March, before Rúḥíyyih Khánum left for Panama to dedicate the Mother Temple of Latin America to public worship and also to represent The Universal House of Justice at the first convention of the new Windward Islands National Spiritual Assembly. For three weeks in Salisbury she was the guest of one of the first pioneers to Rhodesia who has faithfully remained at his post all these years and who moved out of his beautiful home so that Amatu’l-Bahá could be entirely free and undisturbed to rest and recuperate from her recent illness in Zambia.
When she was feeling better she attended several meetings, the most important one to address a society called “People to People”. This very constructive and liberal group of broadminded people is one of the few deliberately multiracial societies in that country. The Bahá’ís have cultivated their friendship and in the past have been able to participate in their programs and speak on the Faith. Amatu’l-Bahá was the guest speaker and the subject of her talk was “The Bahá’í Faith and the Social Order.” Her open and frank exposition of the purpose of the Bahá’í Faith in the world today created an atmosphere of joy and anticipation. Her clear explanation of the concept of progressive revelation was an answer to many unasked questions. She also stressed the cardinal principle of obedience to government and stated the Bahá’ís did not believe in anti-government demonstrations, revolution or anarchy. She ended her remarks by praising the spirit of such societies as theirs and said she admired the courage of the people who upheld them.
During the period for questions following her talk, some university students brought up the highly controversial subject of racial injustice and asked why anyone should obey an unjust government. Rúḥíyyih Khánum said: “The purpose of my talk tonight and my visit to your country is not to discuss such controversial issues; I am expounding a principle which is vital and important for us Bahá’ís. If every individual is given the freedom to judge his government and decide whether it is a just or unjust one, and reserves for himself the right to rise up against it because he considers it unjust and to overthrow it by force, then when the next government comes into power those holding the opposite views can likewise judge, condemn and decide to overthrow the new government. Where then do we find law and order? This is anarchy and anarchy is forbidden by Bahá’u’lláh. In the Teachings there is one thing which is considered even worse than war, and that is civil war.”
Many of the clergy and educators present were obviously pleased by this answer but some of the youth were not satisfied. Rúḥíyyih Khánum told them to reflect upon it, as it was a new idea very different from the one they read about but that they should consider it seriously.
When being given a vote of thanks at the end of this meeting, the Principal of the school, an Indian educator said: “I have no doubt in my mind that if the world was to choose one religion and live by it, it should be the Bahá’í Faith as its views on religions and mankind are broad and universal so that it can embrace all men.”
One of the pioneers had brought from his commercial-rose garden over 500 beautiful blossoms and at his suggestion Rúḥíyyih, Khánum invited each of the audience to take a rose away as a little remembrance of this meeting. When this mixture of races in a country increasingly agitated by racial distrust and misunderstanding left this meeting each person was carrying at least one fragrant rose, symbolic of the Bahá’í Teachings that we are all flowers of one garden. One could not but feel hope for the future, that a rose from the paradise of the Words of God, the perfume of the Message of the Blessed Beauty, would change men’s deeds.
The joyous occasion of the celebration of the Bahá’í New Year we shared with the believers of Salisbury and neighboring areas on the evening of March 20. Over 150 of the friends gathered to dine together and break the last day of their Fast with Rúḥíyyih Khánum. After dinner and the start of the Naw-Rúz meeting, she told the friends that thirty-two years ago she and Shoghi Effendi had traveled through Rhodesia and this visit of the beloved Guardian had blessed their wonderful land. She spoke of the tremendous power released through the Word of God and through obedience to His laws and ordinances.
In the homes of Bahá’ís she was able to speak to them and their friends on a number of occasions.
A Bahá’í’ Funeral ServiceOne of the unforgettable incidents during this period was a Bahá’í funeral which took place in the community of the Salisbury Motel, seven miles outside the city limits. A three-month old baby of a Bahá’í couple died. The father is a teacher at the Motel School which Mr. Lawrence Hautz has maintained free for over fifteen years on his property at which over a thousand children have received a primary education. All the legal procedures of the funeral had been attended to in an unbelievably short time: permission to bury the baby in a small African cemetery on the property was secured; a beautiful coffin was obtained; the long prayer for the dead (page 260, Prayers and Meditations of Bahá’u’lláh) was translated into the Shona language.
Over 200 people gathered at the site, a small hilltop overlooking flowering fields and beautiful green rolling country. Many non-Bahá’í relatives, including grandparents had come from long distances to attend the funeral. Africans have a profound respect for the dead and a feeling of obligation to bury them befittingly. The school children, well over a hundred holding bunches of wild pink and white cosmos in their hands marched the half-mile from the schoolhouse to the grave side, chanting “Yá-Bahá’u’l-Abhá.” They arranged themselves in a block then remained silent and disciplined throughout the long ceremony. One of the Bahá’í school teachers read aloud most beautifully in Shona the long funeral prayer while all stood and faced ‘Akká. The intense spiritual vibration which the repetition of the verses releases, each verse said nineteen times, profoundly stirred all of us.
At the end Amatu’l-Bahá spoke a few words on the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh about life after death and the condition of the soul. She told of the assurance of ‘Abdu’l-Baha that the innocent soul of a child which did not have a chance to grow in this world will be watched over and helped in the next world to develop and progress spiritually,
At the end of her talk, knowing some of the relatives were not Bahá’ís she asked a woman who had moved forward to the open grave to say a prayer. This dignified, elderly lady, whom we later learned was one of the grandmothers, said a few words we thought were a prayer but learned afterwards they were words of gratitude. She said that she had never seen such a funeral before where an atmosphere of love and joy prevailed in place of the usual wailing and weeping, and peace and tranquility had filled their hearts. The grandmother later accepted the Faith and in her own village repeated the story of the funeral of her grandchild. The effect of this unique prayer for the dead is so profound that Amatu’l-Bahá urged the Rhodesian National Spiritual Assembly and other National Assemblies she has since visited, as well as individual friends everywhere, to have it translated into the different native languages and make it generally available to the friends.
She told a personal experience, how in 1940 when the news of the sudden passing of her beloved mother reached her, her whole being was filled with such sorrow and longing that she asked permission from the Guardian to visit the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh alone. In that holy spot she recited this prayer out loud and as she repeated nineteen times each of its powerful verses, she felt as if the words, like drop by drop of refreshing water, washed away some of the sharp pangs of her sorrow and distress.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #504, March 1973, pp. 12-15
The official tour of Rhodesia did not begin until Amatu’l-Bahá returned from her historic trip to Panama where she dedicated the Mother Temple of Latin America for public services and in Barbados attended the first Convention of the Windward Island Bahá’ís for the election of another pillar of the august body of The Universal House of Justice as its special representative.
A group of university students had invited Rúḥíyyih Khánum prior to her departure for Panama to give a talk on the Faith and its influence on society. This was held in an informal atmosphere in one of the smaller halls at the university campus in Salisbury, attended by over forty students, most of them Africans. An atmosphere of freedom of discussion and exchange of thought was markedly present, in the spirit of students all over the world today. They especially wanted to know if there is really a need for religion or not.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum explained that religion acts like a brake on society. It controls and protects society from the danger of freedom carried to extremes. She also spoke of the destiny of Africa and the great hopes of the Bahá’ís for its future, based on the words of Bahá’u’lláh Himself. Afterwards a number of serious minded and eager students invited Amatu’l-Bahá and those accompanying her to the cafeteria for refreshments and the discussion was continued. Among this group was a young white postgraduate who was a student of theology, fanatical in his view regarding Satan as a personified being and with power over individual souls. This student’s views were so narrow and illogical that after we left one of the young African students said: “It is this kind of religion that has made us abhor and resent and deny the necessity of any religion at all! According to people like him our ancestors were idolaters, damned forever, yet our ancestors believed in one God and in a life after death and were tolerant of other people’s beliefs.”
The month-long tour of Rhodesia, from May 11 to June 10, 1972, was packed with many happy incidents. As a preliminary Rúḥíyyih Khánum was able to meet with the National Spiritual Assembly and discuss her program and hold a number of meetings in the Salisbury area. In the class room of the Salisbury Motel Bahá’í School many of the Bahá’ís came to see some slides of the Panama Temple and Conference and were thrilled by Amatu’l-Bahá’s description of these places and events.
The youth had arranged for a youth meeting in the community hall of Highfield, one of the African communities near Salisbury where some Bahá’í young men from Swaziland joined with the local youth in a festival evening of music and singing. At this meeting Amatu’l-Bahá gave a brief address on the Faith which was followed by animated questions from the young people attracted by this informal entertainment.
Mr. Shidan Fat’he-Aazam, one of the Counsellors for the Southern region of Africa, accompanied us on a three-day trip to a number of villages. In Mudarikwa where there is a strong Local Spiritual Assembly we were delighted to find some wonderful Bahá’í ladies actively educating the children in the Faith. Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to them on the importance of the role of women in the community and pointed out that wherever the women are strong Bahá’ís we find a strong and active community.
In Chidenga, deep in the interior over a very rough road, we met with a small group of believers who had recently achieved Assembly status but were eager to learn more and expand their activities. We were also able to visit with some of the Bahá’ís in the village of Musanhi near Mrewa.
On returning to Salisbury from this excursion Amatu’l-Bahá met with the believers, mostly the pioneers for the last time of this stay. She spoke of the importance of their services and the tasks entrusted to the believers, particularly the pioneers. She said she vaguely recalled a story she had read as a child about St. Anthony who, in the garb of a beggar, knocked at the door of a woman who was baking bread and asked for something to eat. The woman took a loaf out of her oven to give him but felt the loaf was too big and too good to part with. So she baked a smaller loaf and still it seemed too good to give to the beggar. In the end she baked a very small loaf and gave it to St. Anthony. He was annoyed and said, “I came to your house to bless you but because of your greed I shall give you nothing at all.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum said, “Bahá’u’lláh has knocked at the door of our hearts; we must not deny Him the best we have which is His right.” She urged the women to arise and participate actively in the teaching work, going out to neighboring towns and villages where the friends are longing to receive help and instruction. She pointed out that women, and especially women who take their children with them to the villages, can reach the women better than anyone else. She said: “Your children are most precious to you, and if you take what is most precious with you the villagers feel that you trust and love them.” One of the Africans confirmed this and said that when families take their children to a village the news spreads very rapidly.
In the beautiful mountain district of Umtali, 160 miles from Salisbury in the African township of Sakuba, Bahá’ís and their friends gathered to welcome their distinguished visitor and as a number of them were not Bahá’ís Amatu’l-Bahá’s talk was an introduction to the Faith and its principles.
The last function Rúḥíyyih Khánum attended in Salisbury on the eve of our departure was the celebration of the declaration of the Báb at the Salisbury Motel. She explained to them various slides of the Bahá’í Holy places,
Two happy days were spent in the Gokwe district in the village of Mufungwo which is in the middle of the wilderness. We met with about sixty wonderful adults and children. Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke on the importance of Bahá’í education for the children. “This”, she said, “primarily falls on the shoulders of the women as the mother is the first educator in society.” The sub-chief in this village is a Bahá’í and regular children’s classes are held as well as a special ladies’ club where a devoted young woman teaches them the Writings, prayers and some handwork such as sewing, knitting and embroidery. She proudly exhibited the work of her club and the writings and colored drawings of the children. There is no regular school in this area and the united cry of the villagers was for a school. It was truly pathetic to see the need, not in one place alone, but multiplied by dozens and dozens of places, and yet know that at this stage it is not possible for the Faith to embark on such projects. Amatu’l-Bahá, with great love and reasoning, explained to them that our Faith is like a big family, and like a well-organized family everything must be carefully planned and budgeted. If in a family there is not enough money then naturally they have to cut down and deprive themselves of certain things. Our situation in the Faith at this point is that we cannot, alas, afford schools in the hundreds of villages all over the world where mass teaching is developing.
Chief Nemangwe, one of the principal chiefs in Rhodesia who represents his people in the National Council of Chiefs, is a Bahá’í. For two nights we were his guests in the village of Nemangwe. He gave us the village Court House for living quarters while Mr. Fat’he-Aazam slept in his own tent outside. We were very comfortable and hung our clothes on the prisoner’s dock, put our stove on the raised platform where the Chief presides as Judge and ate our meals off the Recording Clerk’s table. We turned the main hall into a delightful dining room-living room and slept in one of the adjacent empty rooms.
This Chief has given land for an endowment for the Faith as well as for a Bahá’í Center. He is a loyal defender of the Cause of God.
Under the thatched grass awning outside the Court House people can meet and attend to their affairs protected from the sun in the hot weather. Some thirty people gathered there to hear the wonderful news of the Coming of Bahá’u’lláh. The questions and discussions centered on the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh regarding life after death, and the purpose of this life. Ruhiyyih. Khanum gave ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s example of the unborn babe, how in the womb of the mother it grows and develops the members of its body it does not need or use before it is born; and yet, if it should not grow these hands, feet, eyes, ears, etc., it will be forever deprived and handicapped after birth. She said: “This world also is a period of preparation for the eternal world and we must develop here what we will need in the next world after death.” The Chief was greatly impressed and excited by this example and said, “Now for the first time I understand why we are unable to ever understand the conditions and the state of the next world.”
In the village of Karambe, where the sub-Chief is a Bahá’í and has also given a piece of land for the Bahá’í Center, we likewise met with a number of believers and their friends.
Near Enkeldorn, in the village of Unyetu, in explaining the difference between the Word of God and all other words, Rúḥíyyih Khánum used the example of a stone and a grain of corn. She said: “If you plant this stone, in a hundred years it will not change; but if you plant this grain of corn in a short period it will grow and yield a hundredfold. The difference is that the grain of corn has life while the stone has no life. When we plant the Word of God in the soil of the heart it grows, blossoms and multiplies because the Word of God is endowed with spiritual life.”
An Audio-Visual LessonIn the village of Daramombwe, where over fifty people gathered to hear about the Faith, Rúḥíyyih Khánum gave a vivid example of how man, through ignorance covers up the light of God and therefore the need arises for the renewal of this Divine Light. Practically the only audio-visual aid she ever uses is her kit of about seven different colored ladies’ handkerchiefs, including black ones, carried in her handbag. She uses any handy object; a glass, a bottle, a pocket flash light to help illustrate her point. This object is imagined to be a lamp; in it the light of God is burning as left in this world when Jesus Christ was crucified. She then takes up one of the handkerchiefs and puts it over the supposed lamp, saying: “After a passage of time, a man, through his love for the lamp shining with the Light of God, decides to offer a beautiful covering in order to make a gift to the light he loves. As time passes more and more people want to make gifts to the lamp, each saying ‘I can give something better than the other man’ “.
While she is talking Rúḥíyyih Khánum keeps on adding one handkerchief on top of another, ending up with the black ones. Of course everyone can see there is less and less light. But if one man would say to the other “Take your covering off” this would cause anger, and quarreling as another would say, “Don’t touch my gift, remove your own which is obscuring the light.” “The result of all this”, Rúḥíyyih Khánum says “is that God looks down at this world and sees nothing but darkness, so he calls Bahá’u’lláh and says to Him ‘Go down and see what has become of my light.’ Bahá’u’lláh comes to the world. He looks for the light, He sees the coverings put on it by men and He removes them.” At this point Rúḥíyyih Khánum lifts off the whole bunch of handkerchiefs. “Once again”, she says, “the light of God in all its splendor is revealed to man.” She then explains that the coverings are like the different sects of Christianity, each sect interpreting the Teachings of Christ in its own way until no Divine Light remains, in spite of the fact that Jesus was one person, and gave only one Teaching. This example she uses not only in villages but often in her public lectures in cities where it is equally well received.
Finding ourselves with a day of rest we went to the famous Zimbabwe Ruins and spent a peaceful morning climbing about them before continuing on our way on May 31 to Bulawayo, Rhodesia’s second largest town. There in addition to meeting more than once with our local Bahá’ís she had a press conference which resulted in a very favorable article on her travels and on the Faith in the Daily Chronicle, a local newspaper. During a six-minute television interview she was able to mention the name “Bahá’í” and some of the major Teachings of the Faith several times. In the Y.W.C.A. hall a public meeting was attended by over fifty people. Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s subject was “Progressive Revelation and the Purpose of Religion in the World.” A three-day trip to Wankie, a big mining town in the North West, enabled Rúḥíyyih Khánum to meet with a number of friends. It was on this evening that one of the believers burst into the room with the news of the birth of a baby girl, and that she was to be named Ruhiyyih in her honor because the baby arrived on the same day as Amatu’l-Bahá to their town.
We also visited the village of Chikandakubio, forty-five miles from where the Wankie Bahá’ís had been actively teaching. Here Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke on the purpose and importance of prayer. She used the example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, explaining that the heart of man is like a mirror on which the desires, temptations and cares of life fall each day and dust on the mirror prevent it from reflecting the heavenly virtues. Prayer wipes away this dust from living and enables the heart again to receive the light of God within it.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #505, April 1973, pp. 16-20
During almost all of her visit to the Southern countries of Africa, Amatu’l-Bahá was accompanied by one or the other of the Counsellors for that area. Sometimes it was our good fortune to have them both with us at the same time. Again we were joined by Counsellor Shidan Fat’he-Aazam for the month we spent in Botswana. Challoner Chute, Junior, a Bahá’í youth and a cousin of Rúḥíyyih Khánum was also with us on this part of the tour, having come from the United States at her invitation to join us for six weeks.
On June 9 we crossed into Botswana, which, unlike Rhodesia, is an arid country largely composed of the Kalahari desert. It has a peculiarity of its own in that at certain seasons such as the time we were there, one has difficulty in finding the people in their towns or villages. In order to eke out a living, they have a home in a town or village, another on their bit of farming land and still another place where they graze cattle near a bore hole. Often, on arrival at a village where a meeting had been arranged, we would find only a few, the majority being away at either of the other two locations.
In Selebi-Pikwe a public meeting was arranged in a local school house. The Chief of the area, a very distinguished elderly gentleman, attended and was keenly interested in the Faith. A dear pioneer couple who live in this town were truly exemplary. We were surprised and touched when a young mother carrying her one-week old baby in her arms was the first to meet us, an hour’s drive from the town. All hearts were drawn to her. The villagers were deeply touched by her demonstration of love for the Cause and her confidence in bringing such a young baby with her.
In the interior of the country at the village of Ratholo, Amatu’l-Bahá met with and addressed a group of teachers, speaking on the purpose of creation and the journey of the soul of man throughout the worlds of God,
All of us spent a night in a government High School compound in Moeng as the guest of a young pioneer who is a teacher there. Rúḥíyyih Khánum was able to meet with some of the teachers who had shown an interest in the Faith.
A most satisfactory feature of the Botswana Bahá’í community to us was fact that the three pioneer families all reside in different areas of the country and are thus able to be of greater service. In some other countries, regrettably, pioneers are often clustered in the capital city while the rest of the country has to do without them. Sometimes this is due to job difficulties.
Botswana has very well built huts with beautiful thatch roofs but most of our meetings were held in the center of the village, the place where the village court and councils are held, a typical practice of the country. Often we met under the shade of a huge tree in the picket fence enclosure made of bales of trees.
In Seleka a number of teachers and farmers, including the Chief, gathered around Rúḥíyyih Khánum in such a spot to hear about the coming of Bahá’u’lláh, His Teachings on the state of the soul of man in the next world, and so on. This subject of life after death is a never-ending source of interest to the Africans. Amatu’l-Bahá often speaks of it and if she doesn’t, I have noticed that it is usually brought up in the question period.
In the township of Serewe, Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to over a hundred girl students in the Teachers Training College on the “Role of Women in Modern Society.” She said that one of the distinguishing aspects of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh is the fact that, for the first time in the history of religion, the Manifestation of God has decreed equal rights for men and women. She said in the Teachings of the Bahá’í Faith humanity is likened to a bird; one wing men, one wing women; when the two wings of the bird are equally strong the bird can fly high. She pointed out that to be a woman as well as a teacher by profession was a wonderful honor and privilege as women are the first teachers of the human race. It is from his mother that a child learns to eat, to walk, to talk and learns the difference between right and wrong. If the mother is endowed with a good character as well as an education she can shape the new generation to follow in the right path.
An interesting question was asked by a young lady: “From what I understand you have no priest or paid clergy in the Bahá’í Faith; therefore is this religion only for educated people who can read and understand for themselves?” Rúḥíyyih Khánum replied, “No, this is not true. Bahá’u’lláh has brought the principle of universal education and we see clearly in the world today that the circumstances of civilization are making it possible to eliminate illiteracy all over the world in one or two generations. But faith and recognition of the truth from God is not dependent upon book learning. There are two doors through which people can recognize spiritual truth; the door of mind or intellect and the door of the heart or intuition. The illiterate man instinctively knows in his heart whether it is the truth or not. This is why, I am proud to say, we have so many tens of thousands of village Bahá’ís all over the world who are illiterate, yet deep and convinced believers.”
In the capital city, Gaberone, that same evening Rúḥíyyih Khánum addressed a select audience in Lady Khama Center. An American missionary asked an interesting question: “Do the Bahá’ís believe in the power and existence of evil spirits?” Amatu’l-Bahá explained that the difference between the animal and man is in the fact that animals are governed by instinct but man has the power of reason, of choice and free will. “At every moment of our lives we have the freedom to choose which way we will go. Evil is not a concrete power in itself, but rather the absence of good. Good is like light, it is a positive force, whereas evil is like darkness, which is only the absence of light, just the way cold is the absence of heat. If we turn away from God and His Teachings we place ourselves in spiritual darkness and then the lower forces of our nature derive strength and we become evil. But we do not believe in Satan as a being, a personification of evil, as God is of Good.”
At a village meeting in Bonwapitse Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to a group of Bahá’ís and their friends on the importance of prayer and the meaning of “Alláh’u-Abhá”, which is in itself a short prayer of Bahá’u’lláh and should be taught to the children for their protection.
While in the village of Mmutlane, she addressed the school children and their teachers and later spoke to the believers and their friends on the subject of dreams and their significance, a fascinating subject to the Africans who are great believers in dreams. She related how Bahá’u’lláh in His childhood dreamed He was floating on the sea and His long hair was spread out on the water and each hair was held in the mouth of a fish. Bahá’u’lláh told His father about this dream who asked an interpreter of dreams what it signified. He was told that his son would give a Teaching to the world, and all the people, like the fishes in the sea, would attach themselves to His Teachings. “We Bahá’ís, all over the world are the fulfillment of that dream,” she said.
She also recounted the prophetic dream of the Báb when He stood before the severed head of Imam Husayn and held out His hands to catch some of the precious drops of blood which with great respect He drank, and how, when He awoke from this dream He knew that God had chosen Him to proclaim His Message.
In Mahalapye some of the Bahá’ís were able to come to the hotel to meet their beloved guest and spend a happy and sociable evening with much discussion. In Pallard nearly forty people, mostly seekers, gathered under the shade of the village tree to hear about the Message of Bahá’u’lláh and held long discussions on the proof of His claim based on the Biblical references.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum gave a beautiful example of the way different individuals react to spiritual matters. She told how some years before her marriage, she, on one of her pilgrimages to Haifa, with another pilgrim who also later became a Hand of the Cause, were taken to view the archives. When the mirror used by Bahá’u’lláh was shown to them she said they each reacted entirely differently. He took the mirror in his hand and with joy and wonder looked into it, probably saying to himself, “I am looking into a mirror where the blessed face of the Manifestation of God was once reflected.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum, however, held the mirror far from her, thinking, “I dare not reflect my face in a mirror wherein the face of the Blessed Beauty was once reflected!” Then she pointed out how different these two reactions were, but both pure and genuine, based on the love of Bahá’u’lláh, and added that we should not condemn a man because his understanding or reactions are the opposite of ours.
The Kalahari DesertThe highlight of this tour was a four-day trip into the Kalahari desert which fulfilled a life-long desire of Rúḥíyyih Khánum. Always keenly interested in the variety of ethnic groups everywhere, and to see the Bushmen of the Kalahari had long been one of her dreams. Our guide was the Chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of Botswana, who is a linguist and is studying the language of the Bushmen. We were very happy to have him accompany us. As at this time there were only two or three Bushmen in the country who were believers, the object of the trip was to visit them, rather than to teach them the Faith as this would require that one remain near and communicate with this highly nomadic people. The bands of Bushmen are constantly moving from place to place in search of food and water. Nevertheless, the possibility of all-Bushmen Local Assemblies in the future is an exciting goal which the National Spiritual Assembly is actively working to accomplish.
We were able to see several groups of Bushmen in four different places. They call themselves “the harmless people” and are one of the rare treasures of Africa, still living in the stone age. They ask for nothing but to be left alone and are but dimly aware of the outside world which is being forced upon them, threatening their integrity as a people. The Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the only thing which can possibly sustain such minority groups, cherish them and lovingly help them to come into the twentieth century without losing their God given qualities of gentleness and goodness. These five days, often driving over 180 miles a day in deep sand tracks which the Land Rover could barely go through even in low gear power drive, were very exhausting for the driver, Rúḥíyyih Khánum. But the scenery was strange and beautiful, the people a joy to meet.
We drove from Gaberone to Lethlakeng where we picked up our young guide and from there on the roads became progressively worse. Our first two nights were spent in a tiny village called Kungwane in the great grass land desert of the Kalahari with its sparse sprinkling of mostly stunted thorny trees no larger than bushes.
Mr. Fat’he-Aazam had kindly loaned us his tiny tent which we decided to sleep in after surveying the two mud huts of a villager at our disposal which were in a little circular compound surrounded by a fence of piled up thorn bushes, mainly to keep the goats out. The three men would use one hut and the other would be used for stores and eating. As this was during the coldest part of the winter we had brought along a gas cylinder with a heating unit. We kept this lighted all night in the tent in the eighteen-inch space between our sleeping bags and the ground. We were in peril of being burned to death, but that was preferable to being frozen to death!
We had brought a large three-legged iron pot and this over a fire of twigs and wood was used to boil water to make porridge for breakfast. Lunch usually consisted of sandwiches and supper was a bowl of soup if we had enough strength left to make a fire and heat the water.
Two nights were spent with this arrangement, and two more, deeper into the desert at an equally hospitable home. This time it was the dwelling of the white Afrikaan traders who ran the only store and petrol pump at Kang, half way to Khanzi, the ultimate jumping-off place in the desert, too far for us to reach. Life is so wild and hard in this part of the country that without this kindness and hospitality no one without full equipment of expedition facilities could visit it.
We drove one day farther west to find Bushmen at Digby’s Well and Lone Tree, both of which are water bores for cattle. They simply consist of a couple of tin shacks, a petrol pump and most importantly water in troughs in order to supply the vast herds grazing in the Kalahari.
Some of the little Bushmen families we met were living without even the rough branch shelter they usually erect. They were seated on the earth around their fire used for heat and cooking, with their quivers of arrows, their bones, leather bags for extra grain. A few meager rags of clothes were hanging in the branches of a thorn tree nearby, The people are very friendly, quite musical, and give the impression of being energetic by nature. We felt that they can play a valuable part in the Faith if pains are taken to teach them deeply and enable them to find their way into a useful role in the world surrounding them.
In pursuit of these elusive nomads, one evening we drove literally miles over the wilderness following a foot path in the high grass, visible only to the local guide we had picked up. We were rewarded by finding Bushmen families living next to a village of Bantus, and they sang and danced for us that night about the fire. We were so entranced by this unique opportunity to be with them socially and happily, that we ignored what lay ahead of us in trying to find our way back home (over forty miles) in the dark. Even our local guide lost his footpath a number of times but we eventually climbed back up our own roadless hill and in and out of trees until we located our thorn fence. Frozen and exhausted we ate our soup and crawled into our welcome fire-trap, to doze uncomfortably with the vision of Bushmen dancing before our eyes.
Amatu’l-Bahá and Shidan Fat’he-Aazam met with members of the Botswana National Spiritual Assembly who occasionally have special meetings when they spend their time studying the Faith and discussing different aspects of teaching and Bahá’í Administration. The theme of this session was “consultation” and they asked Rúḥíyyih Khánum to speak on this vital topic. She said that she believes in the future this topic will be taught in the schools to the children. “People do not know how to consult or the meaning of consultation. Often a member gives his view as if putting it on the table but then does not take his hand off it, but holds it, restates it over and over, considers it his precious right; the result is waste of time for everyone. We should be objective about our views and willing to submit to the majority view.”
She was asked whether or not it is permissible to loan the money of the Faith to an individual believer who was in need. Rúḥíyyih Khánum said: “The Assembly is only a trustee of the Bahá’í Fund; they do not own it and, therefore, how can they presume to spend it on matters which are not directly connected with the work of the Faith?” She explained that the money of the Faith is sacred, it is given with much love and often real sacrifice. “If we do not expend it for the specific purpose for which it is given we have greatly erred and are responsible to God.”
In the village of Themaga a small number of believers met Rúḥíyyih Khánum and joyously told her that they have given a piece of land for an endowment. The friends proudly took their guest to see the site of the future Bahá’í Center to be built on this property. It has been legally registered and thus fulfills one of the goals of the Nine Year Plan for Botswana.
Many people heard the Message of Bahá’u’lláh during a radio interview and also at a well-attended public meeting held in Gaberone, the capital city. Among others attending this meeting were the Honorable E. S. Masisi, the Minister of Agriculture, and his wife, Both showed great interest in Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s subject: “The Bahá’í Faith and the Social Order.”
At Lobatsi, one of the larger towns of Botswana, Amatu’l-Bahá spoke at the Teachers’ Training College on “The Role of Youth in Modern Society” to a large body of students and teachers. Among other pertinent remarks she said: “Youth are the future of any society and today they are becoming increasingly international minded as the result of modern means of communication. In the field of education, more or less the same subjects are taught all over the world. Music and art are increasingly the same in the East, West, North and South. The restlessness of Western youth has communicated itself to the rest of the world. Eager and idealistic youth, if enlightened, can change society for the better.” She pointed out: “The force and influence of an individual on society can be tremendous; one man, Shakespeare, had a tremendous impact on English literature; one Pasteur left his mark in the world of medicine; likewise one Napoleon created such havoc in Europe that he earned the title ‘butcher of Europe’.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum said: “We should not ‘be discouraged by the force of the masses of humanity and say ‘What can I, an individual, do in the face of millions and billions of people?’ Each one of us in this hall is contributing to the level of the society of all of us; if I am a better individual, the total value will be higher. If I am worse, I debase the standard by that much. It is the same principle as the amount of gold; twenty-four carats is pure gold, but nine carats means a baser alloy makes up the rest. We can add individually, so to speak, to the gold in our society and cause it to have a higher value.”
At the end of this talk the Headmaster caused a great deal of laughter when he said: “Madam Rabbani, I have a confession to make. When I heard that a lady, a religious figure was coming to give a lecture in my school I had some misgivings. I thought she would most probably be one of those strange females with strange ideas in a long dress with strange colors who would speak on all kinds of mystical, incomprehensible, metaphysical subjects and I truly did not look forward to it. However, I owe you a special vote of thanks for such enlightened thoughts and ideas.”
On our way out of Botswana, in the small town of Good Hope, Amatu’l-Bahá spoke to a large gathering of mostly non-Bahá’ís. The Chief called a special meeting to hear about the Bahá’í Faith but was ill so the sub-chief acted as Chairman. When Rúḥíyyih Khánum asked him if he knew anything about the Bahá’í Faith he said: “No, and I do not know if I would like it.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum said that was fair enough, he could like it or not as he pleased. After the talk he said that he did like it! Two of the very early believers of this part of Africa were present and we were most happy to meet this elderly, devoted couple.
It was late in the afternoon of June 29, 1972 when we in the Land Rover, and Challoner Chute with Mr. Shidan Fat’he-Aazam in his car, crossed the border into the Republic of South Africa where Amatu’l-Bahá was eagerly welcomed by the Chairman and Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly and Counsellor Mrs. Bahíyyih Ford, a friend of hers since childhood.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #506, May 1973, pp. 18-21
In the afternoon of June 29, 1972, Amatu’l-Bahá in her “Rabbani African Safari” (name of her Land Rover), left Botswana and entered the Republic of South Africa. The border city of Mafeking, the administrative capital of Bechuanaland in the early years of the Ten Year Crusade, brought the thought of dearly loved Hand of the Cause of God John Robarts to our hearts. It was there that he earned the title “Knight of Bahá’u’lláh” from the pen of our beloved Guardian for opening the country to the Faith. Some of the early devoted believers throughout that region are the spiritual children of the Robarts. Indeed, the friends even showed us the Robarts home, recalling with deep affection the days they served there.
Counsellor Shidan Fat’he-Aazam, who so lovingly had accompanied Amatu’l-Bahá on her tour of Botswana, now entrusted her to his able and distinguished fellow Counsellor Mrs. Bahiyyih Ford, a childhood friend of Rúḥíyyih Khánum. This reunion was a cause of great joy to both of them. The Chairman and the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of South Africa had also come from Johannesburg especially to welcome Amatu’l-Bahá to their land.
On a one day stop in Mafeking, Rúḥíyyih Khánum was able to spend some time with a few distinguished believers of that area. Although unable to go into the African location because permission for foreigners must be obtained now from Pretoria, she met with some of the friends at the roadside and at their suggestion recorded a message to the rest of the Bahá’ís to be heard that night.
The first real meeting, and one of the happiest of our entire trip took place near Rustamburg, some eighty-five miles from Johannesburg where a nice large Teaching Institute has been built and where over eighty believers had gathered to receive their beloved guest, Amatu’l-Bahá, as well as the Counselor, an Auxiliary Board member, and most of the National Spiritual Assembly members. The friends who had formed two lines approaching the building, sang a song of welcome for her, strewing her path with flower petals. This community is one of the first African Bahá’í communities and has many devoted families of Bahá’ís bringing up a second generation of whom they are justly proud.
At this meeting a Bahá’í youth asked an interesting question: “What color was Bahá’u’lláh? Was He black or white?” Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s reply was beautiful. She said: “You must first understand the difference between the soul of a Manifestation of God and the soul of man. The soul of man comes into existence at the moment of his conception. It is the nature of man to have a soul, as it is the nature of water to be wet and the nature of fire to be hot. In other words the soul of man has a beginning, but has no end. The soul of the Manifestation of God, however, is pre-existent. This means that His soul existed with God before His body was conceived. It entered (was connected with) that body and at the end of the physical life it returned to God. The soul of the Manifestation of God is like the sun, it is universal; it is not bound by the limitations of man. The sun shines upon all, it does not belong to the East or the West, to Africa or Asia, it belongs to whoever and wherever it shines upon. The Manifestation of God is not the product of His environment, He is above all. Bahá’u’lláh was neither a European nor an African, He was from the East and like the prophets of God, appeared in the East from whence His light shone upon the West, upon Africa, upon all the world.”
In the Bahá’í Center in Johannesburg Amatu’l-Bahá also met with some of the Bahá’ís of the Soweto community. This is one of the African locations near the city which is divided into municipal limits where several Local Spiritual Assemblies have been formed. In this meeting two of the African Auxiliary Board members were present. As circumstances and long distances oblige people to go home early, all were grateful for the opportunity for even a short visit with Amatu’l-Bahá.
One of the friends asked Rúḥíyyih Khánum: “How can a man under pressure and subject to so many injustices, pray to God?” She replied: “That is a very strange question. Prayers are the inner communion of the soul of man with his Creator, a private and individual relationship, and no one can prevent it. The Manifestations of God are themselves the greatest proof of this. Their lives are the essence of suffering. They are heaped with injustice from all sides, yet They were in constant communion with God, and were able to establish this relation between God and man.”
She spoke emphatically on the explicit injunction of Bahá’u’lláh Himself that Bahá’ís must obey their government, take no part in any form of riot, or public disorder, as anarchy, in the eyes of the Bahá’ís, is even worse than war.
In the township of Eersterus, the colored location near the capital city of Pretoria, Ruhiyyih Khanum met with a very devoted and lively community of believers. We had a most enjoyable evening with these friends who offered a delicious meal to all of us. The Bahá’í children entertained their beloved guest with songs and recitation of the Words of Bahá’u’lláh. A deep spirit of love and oneness pervaded this meeting which was sponsored by the Spiritual Assembly of Johannesburg. This was the meeting with the nonresident Bahá’ís inside the city. The following night Rúḥíyyih Khánum met with the Bahá’ís of Johannesburg in the national Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds.
In South West AfricaOn July 7, we flew to the capital city of Windhoek in South West Africa, spent a night there and the next day flew in a small chartered plane to Luderitz to visit for almost a week with the devoted family of Martin Aiff. Mr. and Mrs. Aiff came to the Holy Land as pilgrims in the days of the beloved Guardian before they pioneered to Africa. Amatu’l-Bahá was most anxious to see them again. They have been in Africa for over thirteen years.
We were able to spend some time with both the American family living there as well as with some of the very devoted local friends, one of whom said to Rúḥíyyih Khánum: “In my tribe there is a custom when a young man reaches the age of maturity and it is time for him to leave his father’s home and build a home for himself, his father gives him a handful of grain with which to start his life. This is a cause of blessing throughout his life. Now your loving kindness to me has this same value in my spiritual life.”
Again we flew by chartered plane over the desert to make our connection with the passenger service for Cape Town where Amatu’l-Bahá was met by some of the pioneers. During our five day stay we visited many friends in different places. In Maitland, a colored residential area, she met with a large group of devoted and lively believers.
The next day a gala spirit prevailed for it was the occasion for Rúḥíyyih Khánum to lay the foundation stone for the erection of their Bahá’í Center. The ladies served delicious refreshments. The land was donated by a devoted believer who had suffered much opposition from his Muslim relations and neighbors, who, at the passing of his wife, went so far as to carry off her body and bury it themselves. Amatu’l-Bahá, with her exquisite taste and sensitive heart, had brought a beautiful piece of rose quartz especially for the corner stone of this new Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds which will fulfill one of the goals of the Nine Year Plan. The hearts of all were uplifted in prayer and thanksgiving for the unending bounties of Bahá’u’lláh which are continuously showered upon His chosen ones.
In Stellenbosch, another colored community, we met with a group of devoted believers in the home of one of the Bahá’í families. An outstanding aspect of this city was that entire families accepted the Cause as a unit, and as a result there are active men, women and youth Bahá’ís!
In the city of Bredasdorp we were able to meet in the home of a new but most devoted Bahá’í, who, with her daughters, form the hub of the community there. Again, this community is classified as “colored”; we found them everywhere a warm, intelligent and gifted group of people, receptive to the Message of Bahá’u’lláh and very staunch and loyal once they had accepted it. These believers are not only eager to know the laws of Bahá’u’lláh, but to obey them. One main concern is how to get rid of the “Toddy system” introduced generations ago in Africa. This system means that employees, whether on a farm or in the factory, are paid partly in a ration of cheap wine or spirits. As a result, from very early childhood, people become addicted to drinking and often before the age of maturity many are alcoholics.
In the small town of Hawston, 30 kilometers from the southernmost tip of Africa, we met with a small but devoted group of believers. Again, a woman and her daughter are the strong motive power for the activities there. The young daughter conducts a Bahá’í children’s class weekly which attracts many non-Bahá’í children, and through them the parents are reached.
On a private estate owned by whites, the Bahá’í employees have received permission to hold their meetings; it was there they received Amatu’l-Bahá with much warmth and joy. The example of the personal character of this colored Bahá’í in whose home we met, has undoubtedly been the cause of not only winning the approval of his European employer but also of attracting many African friends. Before accepting the Faith he was nicknamed “Bottle Martin” as he drank continuously. When he became a Bahá’í he emptied his bottle in front of his house and has never touched it since! No wonder the Teachings exhort us: “Let deeds not words be your adornment.”
In these meetings Amatu’l-Bahá talked particularly on the universality of the Faith, telling the friends about other Bahá’ís throughout the world, as one feels here a sense of isolation more than at other places. Rúḥíyyih Khánum was asked to tell about the Bahá’ís in other parts of Africa and other parts of the world. In encouraging and heartwarming words she enabled these friends to feel that we are all members of one large, tightly knit and loving family of Bahá’u’lláh.
Just before we left Cape Town for Johannesburg we heard of a sad car accident involving a lovely Bahá’í girl, daughter of an English pioneer family, who was seriously hurt. The united, loving response of the entire community of the city, among all ethnic groups to this calamity was beautiful to behold. After a week of unconsciousness, a broken skull, a deep concussion of the brain, she made a seemingly miraculous recovery. Undoubtedly this was due to prayer — the prayers of The Universal House of Justice and of the community. Individually and collectively, the believers in their homes prayed round the clock until the danger was averted. What great and powerful force is the unity and prayers in this Cause of God! If only we hold onto these in every move in our lives we shall witness miracles upon miracles which will not only strengthen our faith but will undoubtedly draw that multitude of receptive souls who eagerly seek such manifestations of the power of God.
From July 19 to August 4, Amatu’l-Bahá visited the Bahá’ís of Lesotho. The two Counsellors, Shidan Fat’he-Aazam and Bahiyyih Ford accompanied her on most of this tour. A press conference was held which resulted in a good article about the Faith. Rúḥíyyih Khánum and Mr. Fat’he-Aazam were received by the Minister of State and this official interview was reported over the national radio.
Interviews with the King of LesothoOn the afternoon of July 27, His Majesty King Motlot-lehi Moshoeshoe II received Amatu’l-Bahá in an audience at which tea was served. His Majesty is a highly educated young man brought up mostly in England, much loved by the people of Lesotho. Rúḥíyyih Khánum told His Majesty about our trip, touching briefly on the Faith. She spoke about her strong belief in the spiritual destiny of Africa and her hopes for the future services its people would render humanity. The King became very interested and asked her if the Bahá’í Faith was progressing in his country or whether we knew there were still many people here who believed in their ancestral religion. Rúḥíyyih Khánum replied, “Yes, the Faith is spreading somewhat in Lesotho.” Then she continued: “I was born and brought up in a Christian environment, although my parents were Bahá’ís and I have always been a Bahá’í; but my background and environment were all Christian. Then after my marriage I lived in the Muslim environment of Palestine. Since the Jewish State of Israel was formed I have lived in close contact with the Jewish religion. I have come to the conclusion that the followers of these three great religions are among the most prejudiced and intolerant people in the world. Later on, coming in contact with the Buddhists I realized they are much more tolerant than the Christians, Jews or the Muslims. The Hindus are extremely tolerant. But of all the people of the world I have come to the conclusion that the so-called pagans are the most tolerant and lack any real religious prejudice and that is why I enjoy teaching them more than any others.”
She went on to say that after three years of traveling in Africa “I have become convinced that the African is fundamentally without prejudice; his only prejudice is tribal because that is his immediate historical background. He has no racial or religious prejudice. Often in Africa I have seen among the not too highly educated people, members of two quite different religions such as Catholics and Muslims married and living in harmony.”
His Majesty obviously found these ideas new and listened with wrapt interest. Amatu’l-Bahá had brought him a beautiful gift of a Persian hand painted dish and saucer, wrapped in the Persian manner in a beautiful silk scarf. The King, who had been a guest of the Shah of Persia at the Persepolis celebrations, opened this gift and for a moment held his breath in sheer pleasure at the sight. Shyly he asked “Do you think you could wrap this up again in the same way so that when my wife comes back from the country she may have the same pleasure I had in opening this beautiful gift?” So Rúḥíyyih Khánum wrapped this gift in her exquisite way.
During their conversation she told him that she loved his country and praised the Lesotho huts, saying she was so impressed by the houses that she would like to come and live in Lesotho, build herself one or two typical Lesotho mud huts, buy a horse to ride and eat the delicious mutton and cornmeal of the country every day. The King was very surprised at this. It was evident that it had never occurred to him that the native houses were beautiful or desirable in any way! He assured her she would be most welcome. He made no move to end the interview and seemed to be enjoying the conversation very much. But after more than an hour, Amatu’l-Bahá made her excuses and we left, accompanied by His Majesty with great courtesy to the front door.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #507, June 1973, pp. 18-21
At the public meeting in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, Amatu’l-Bahá gave a beautiful talk on “The Spiritual Destiny of Africa” which was followed by an animated and interesting discussion. At an evening meeting at the Lesotho High School in that same city, presided over by the Principal and Vice-Principal, and attended by over 200 students, one felt a certain resistance by those present to what may have been considered religious propaganda. This feeling was entirely dissipated by the universal theme of Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s talk on “The Role of Youth in Modern Society.” She said, “Today our society is based on competition, the aim to beat others. Whatever we do, we seem to think of values in relation to the others around us, not in absolute terms. Our aim should be to do a job — or whatever we are concerned with, to the best of our ability; to do it well for its own sake and not just to out-do others.” She pointed out that the Bahá’í Faith teaches that work done in the spirit of service is a form of prayer. She added: “The universal truth applied to hundreds of generations before us ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’ applies to us today. If you sow corn you reap corn; if you sow hate you reap hate, and if you sow love and goodwill, you are bound to reap love and goodwill — contrary to what many people imagine today, that if you sow anarchy, revolution, and bloodshed you reap peace, love and goodwill!”
An interesting feature of Lesotho society is its many chieftainesses. A wife of a chief, after the death of her husband, may inherit the position of her husband, her son acceding her only after her death. In many of our village meetings we met with chieftainesses, some of them outstanding, and a few of them Bahá’ís.
The National Spiritual Assembly of Lesotho assigned its Chairman, Secretary and some of its other members to escort Amatu’l-Bahá on her visits to various villages. In Mofelis, over a hundred people welcomed her. The weather was icy cold and we adopted the practical custom of wrapping up in two blankets, one from the waist to the ankle and the other over the shoulders. The scenic beauty of Lesotho is unique with its series of large and small mountains and beautiful rock formations resulting from erosion. Most of the villages were built on mountain tops. The mud huts were beautiful with their perfectly trimmed thatching and smooth mud floors. Sometimes the outside walls were decorated like a mosaic, incised with intricate designs or painted in a different natural color of clay.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum spent two days in the town of Butha Buthe and was able to meet many Bahá’ís and their friends in nearby villages. At Likhetlane, where the chief is an active Bahá’í, a good number of people from several villages eagerly listened to their distinguished guest. Here Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke on the importance of obedience to government for the benefit of the many Bahá’ís present.
At these village meetings, every day at around three in the afternoon, a delicious hot meal was served to all, consisting of mealie meal (boiled corn meal grits) and stewed mutton, two dishes which Rúḥíyyih Khánum likes especially.
In the village of Liphaleng, she was met a mile from the village by Bahá’ís on horseback, and Rúḥíyyih Khánum asked if she could ride one of the horses back to the village. To her delight, and the delight of the mountaineers, she mounted and rode into town.
The dignified old Chieftainess and many distinguished members of the village community attended the meeting for Amatu’l-Bahá in this village, and paid their respect to their honored guest. Looking down over the valley and toward the gigantic mountains on the horizon, the villagers told us proudly that this valley was the birthplace of the ancestors of the king, and therefore of their people. The talk of Amatu’l-Bahá was about creation, the purpose of life and belief in life after death. In explaining the nature of heaven and hell she gave a beautiful example. She said: “Last night this sun set and an icy chill gripped the earth. The sun was not here and we felt its absence keenly and yearned for it. Now that the sun is out again, we are all so happy, enjoying its warmth that enters our body and fills our being. God is like this sun; our souls yearn to be near Him and partake of His life-giving love. Hell is as if, when the sun has set and one is freezing cold, one is not even allowed to enter a hut and warm oneself by the fire; therefore hell is that condition of knowing of the heat, longing to bask in the sunlight of God’s good pleasure and love, but because of one’s own actions in this life, unable to get near it. Heaven is that blissful state of nearness to our Creator, our goal and our eternal beloved.” She repeated: “The greatest force in creation is the force of love; love is the most precious gift of God to man and the greatest love of all is the love of God for His creation. To be deprived of this love is man’s true hell.”
The public meeting in Butha Buthe was attended by officials of the area and many of the religious dignitaries of the town. Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke of the Message of Bahá’u’lláh and the purpose of religion for man. The wisdom and tolerance Amatu’l-Bahá shows when introducing the Faith is a lesson to all. She never uses words which offend people or insult other people’s beliefs. She brings out points of similarity and encourages everyone. I can never remember in these many years of having the privilege of being present at her meetings, of ever hearing a word of criticism of other religions or their leaders, or a word of argument or dispute. As a result of this attitude, at the end of her meetings people are drawn to her and to the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh, no matter in what spirit they may have come. Often, with deep sincerity, she has praised in her speeches and on television and radio interviews the services of Christian missionaries in Africa, reminding people of the great deal of good they have done in the past and still continue to do.
The village of Belos was the scene of great festivity and rejoicing. The famous Chieftainess Mamazibuku, originally a Zulu, was our hostess. Over 250 people, including a number of skilled dancers, both men and women, who came from neighboring villages, entertained us. After Amatu’l-Bahá had been formally introduced, she spoke on the power of love and unity.
We then adjourned for a delicious lunch of mealie meal and mutton. The Chieftainess, Mamazibuku, is eighty years old, has a delightful sense of humor and is a very perceptive person. She was instantly drawn to Rúḥíyyih Khánum and ordered her son to bring her a jar of homemade jam. She then turned to Rúḥíyyih Khánum and said: “You and I are married today, and this jam is our wedding sweet.” This highly unusual announcement took Amatu’l-Bahá back and I could see she was surprised. But after a moment of hesitation, she said: “Well, that is very interesting, but if you and I are married are you the bridegroom?” To this Mamazibuku promptly answered “You are the bridegroom and I am the bride.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum smilingly said: “Why should I be the bridegroom? After all, this marriage is your idea, not mine!” This was with a great deal of laughter and joking, and Rúḥíyyih Khánum could see that it was done to honor her in the highest degree, and as a sign of affection and esteem.
When Rúḥíyyih Khánum returned to Maseru she received a letter on behalf of Mamazibuku, asking her to call on her sister (who turned out to be a cousin) in the hospital. When we went to the hospital to visit this elderly woman, she greeted Amatu’l-Bahá with much love and said: “I know who you are, you are my new brother-in-law!” They are a merry lot of very fine people, the Lesothos.
In meeting with the Bahá’ís of Maseru, Amatu’l-Bahá spoke of the life of the beloved Guardian, his sufferings, the divine inspiration that guided him, saying that he often sensed things without having been given any information about them. She recalled how once he entered the house and for some time spoke angrily about a Covenant Breaker without anything bringing the subject up. Rúḥíyyih Khánum was astonished and later asked him how he knew this person had been in the house at that very moment. The Guardian was surprised and said he had no idea this person was in the house. “The Guardian was like a spiritual barometer” said Amatu’l-Bahá, “as he registered impressions which affected him deeply.”
In the village of Seqonoka, at the home of the first believer of Lesotho, they proudly showed us the hut where the dear pioneers and Knights of Bahá’u’lláh [Mr. and Mrs. Fred Laws] had lived when they arrived in 1954 in what was then called “Basutoland.” A meeting was held, attended by many non-Bahá’ís, so Rúḥíyyih Khánum introduced the Faith. Someone asked why God sends different prophets, causing so much confusion in the world. An old man gave a beautiful answer. He said, “In our village, our chief sends many messages, each time he asks a different man to convey his message to the people. Now, is the importance in the message or the messenger who delivers it?”
In the village of Sephapos Neck a large number of devoted believers welcomed Amatu’l-Bahá. A very active Bahá’í children’s class gladdened our hearts with the recital of many prayers they had memorized, and the singing of Bahá’í songs. This class was formed and is conducted by a devoted Bahá’í, mother of six, who felt deeply that the children, if well trained and brought up in the Faith, will provide the firm foundation of this community in the future. This fine woman, one of the few literate ladies of the village, seeing the need for education, without help or encouragement from anyone, has opened a school for the children and teaches them reading and writing and the prayers and Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.
In the meeting Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke on the spiritual teachings of the Faith. At the question period she was asked if a devoted believer, at the end of her life, as a result of physical suffering and pain and possibly mental dullness loses her deep spiritual awareness — then what happens to her soul in the next world? Rúḥíyyih Khánum replied, “In the Writings we are repeatedly assured of the Mercy of God and are told that ‘His mercy exceedeth His justice’.”
The Chairman of this meeting, a wonderful and devoted believer, with a voice trembling with emotion said: “If I were a dog my tail would be wagging with joy at this moment, for being near you. Alas! as a man I have no way of showing you how deeply grateful I am for your visit to our village!”
The village of Thbabosiu, twenty-five miles from the capital, had a special uniqueness; the Local Spiritual Assembly was composed of nine women and the efficiency with which they conducted the meeting was exemplary. During the talk, Amatu’l-Bahá pointed out that this community is a living example of the role of women in society. “Where we have strong, devoted Bahá’í women, the strength and stability of the community is assured.”
One of the highlights of the Lesotho visit was the trip to the Northern mountains of that country. On our way we stopped for a night with a newly arrived pioneer family from Canada. He is the only doctor in the area and is employed by the Catholic Mission. A Father from the Mission, a French Canadian, came over after dinner and he and Rúḥíyyih Khánum talked theology for over two hours — it was on his initiative. They got along famously and their mutual tolerance made possible a most harmonious meeting of minds.
The next day we took the Land Rover high up into the snow covered mountains, ten thousand feet above sea level, through some most frightening passes. More than once it seemed as if even this car, built for just such rough terrain, would not make it.
We spent two nights in the village of Thaba-Li-Mpe, meaning “very bad mountains”, a highly appropriate name, with the family of one of the members of the National Spiritual Assembly who had accompanied us on this trip. This village of only a few huts was six miles from the little town of Tlokoeng. The only road to it was a narrow horse track running straight up and down the side of the mountain. I have no doubt but that on that day, once again, the Supreme Concourse guided the arms of our able driver and saw us through some hazardous moments.
Over eighty believers attended a day-long conference, many of whom had traveled over the mountains for fifteen to twenty miles, many on horseback, the women on foot, some carrying babies. These wonderful mountain folk are among the most active and devoted believers of that country. There are several Local Spiritual Assemblies functioning in the area, despite the fact that they very rarely receive a traveling teacher, least of all one from outside the country. The reason is the extreme inaccessability of the villages. Only a four-wheel drive vehicle has sufficient power and clearance to go on the non-existent, so-called “roads”. Although small planes are used in this area, this is only a partial solution, and the main transportation is by horse or on foot.
All of us huddled up in our blankets as a slight protection against the bitter dust-filled wind, sitting gratefully in the warmth of the sunshine. Those eager and devoted souls drank in every word from Amatu’l-Bahá and asked many questions. Late in the afternoon we all enjoyed sharing the delicious mutton and mealie meal which was prepared for all the friends. We were told that we were the first white Bahá’ís ever to reach their village, and the fact that their first guest was their beloved Amatu’l-Bahá was not lost on them.
A man who arrived almost frozen with the cold announced that just before he left home his wife had given birth to a son. He wanted to know if he should call the baby “Shoghi Effendi.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum lovingly advised him that it would be better if he called his son “Rabbani”, which was also the name of the beloved Guardian given him by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Himself. She said she felt it was more respectful and better for the Bahá’ís to keep these four names of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi precious to our Faith and not use them for children. The man was exceedingly happy for this suggestion and took the name of “Rabbani” for his son.
An elderly Bahá’í, who had been a delegate to the convention last year and was still proudly wearing her name tag, had walked fifteen miles on these treacherous mountain paths and arrived late at night, cold and tired. I took her in my arms and said, “You have come a long way and must be very tired.” With a charming smile she replied, “What is the distance I have come compared to the distance our precious guest has come? If her love for us brought her so far over such terrible roads, would not my love for her and for Bahá’u’lláh bring me this little way?” The joy of being with these devoted souls was great.
At one point a local politician slightly disturbed the meeting and tried to attract some attention to himself and his views. However, Amatu’l-Bahá’s sincere love, wisdom and patience quieted him. Later, some of these devoted believers turned to a young lady, a National Spiritual Assembly member who had accompanied us to act as interpreter, and asked her why she did not request all the Bahá’ís to stand up and show that man how many we are and how much we love Bahá’u’lláh.
These mountains are bare of trees and shrubs so there is almost no fuel, only dung which produces a hot fire that smokes heavily, soon burns out and has a ghastly odor. The choice was between fifteen minutes of heat with eyes burning and watering, or shivering and chattering, bundled in blankets and clothes. When we finally reached our mud hut we were grateful to our hostess who sent us a wire bucket burning merrily with some of her precious fuel. We preferred crying to freezing.
Leaving Lesotho the next day and driving down to the Republic of South Africa was one of the most fantastic experiences of this entire Safari. When we left the village after two nights, we retraced the perilous path by which we had come. The day before Rúḥíyyih Khánum had gone down on horseback to see if the car could get out of the river and then climb immediately up a steep bank. We made this hazard safely and eventually came to the main road. We traveled forty-five miles over treacherous mountain passes in four hours in order to reach the border. The Sani Pass, known as the roof of Africa, takes one down a drop of 5000 feet in five miles, three miles of which consists of twenty-nine hairpin curves. Annually, able and outstanding drivers from all over this part of Africa and even from Europe come to participate in a rally, the main part of which consists of driving this pass, considered the most challenging. This was the nightmare of a road over which Rúḥíyyih Khánum drove! Some of the hairpin curves were so sharp that she had to reverse the car on the loose dirt road covered with loose gravel, only wide enough for one car — before she could get around at all. Needless to say, I sat on the edge of my seat, held my breath, counted the bends and prayed — all at the same time! When early in the morning before starting this drive, Amatu’l-Bahá, with a glowing face, told me she had dreamed of the beloved Guardian and that he was happy and pleased, I felt assured that the ever protecting grace of Bahá’u’lláh is surrounding this loved handmaiden of His, and He would watch over her as always.
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #508, July 1973, pp. 18-23
Our few days in Durban before going to Swaziland were very happily spent. In a holiday resort for the Africans, friends gathered for a morning and afternoon meeting. Bahá’ís from the city locations as well as towns and settlements farther away had been invited to come and meet with Amatu’l-Bahá and hear her speak. Quite a number of believers were present and a very happy atmosphere prevailed. Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke about the progress of the Faith all over Africa and all over the world. She encouraged the friends to study the Teachings more so as to deepen their faith and teach their own people the Message of Bahá’u’lláh because they are now free to do so.
On behalf of the Bahá’ís, an old Zulu believer presented Amatu’l-Bahá with a three-legged iron pot typical of those used throughout all the countries of Southern Africa as a memento of her visit. No doubt the news had spread around that Rúḥíyyih Khánum liked these pots as well as the traditional mealie meal cooked in them.
In SwazilandThe six week tour of Amatu’l-Bahá in Swaziland was packed with many thrilling occasions and great victories for the Faith. This was the twenty-eighth independent African country we had entered in the past three years. Once again we had the joy of having the companionship of Mrs. Bahiyyih Ford. A dear American pioneer in Manzini, with generosity and love for Rúḥíyyih Khánum, moved out of her own apartment and offered it to us. This was greatly appreciated as it gave us the comfort of a home and the freedom to rest more and eat a little simple home cooking for a change. Swaziland is truly blessed by a relatively large number of distinguished pioneer families from both the West and the East, among them many new arrivals. The spirit of unity and harmony among all the believers of that country is truly exemplary and brought rejoicing to the heart of Amatu’l-Bahá. The Knights of Bahá’u’lláh of that country are still living there, as active as ever and faithful to the plea of the Guardian that the pioneers should not abandon their posts. As there are very few believers holding this rank conferred by Shoghi Effendi (those who opened up new countries at the beginning of the World Crusade), it does one good to witness the faithfulness and steadfastness of these souls. Amatu’l-Bahá’s unique position and compelling personality were used by the National Spiritual Assembly, the pioneers and all the friends to proclaim the Faith in that land.
Received by the KingRúḥíyyih Khánum was received by His Majesty King Sobhuza II, through the help of Prince Masitsela, the distinguished royal prince who is also one of the Ministers in the Government of the King. He had met Amatu’l-Bahá in Haifa and was entertained by her, as well as his sister, Princess Gcinaphi, said to be the favorite daughter of the King. For the meeting with the King, Amatu’l-Bahá was accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. John Allen, the original pioneer couple to Swaziland who had known the royal family for years, and the writer.
The interview lasted for an hour and ten minutes. King Sobhuza II is one of the outstanding rulers of Africa today. He belongs to a dynasty unbroken for 300 years. His Majesty is a tall, handsome man in his seventies, every inch a King. He is fair-minded, powerful, tolerant of all religions and a follower of the ancestral religion. He is well informed of the Bahá’í Faith and respects its ideals and principles. This historic interview took place in the evening of August 25, 1972 in the home of La Ma Suka, said to be his favorite wife. Prince Masitsela and Princess Gcinaphi and two other court officials were also present. The King was seated with his wife beside him on a chair and our party all on chairs, but the rest sat on the floor out of respect for the King.
The King Asks QuestionsThe King was entirely at ease, very genial, and asked many questions on the origin of the Faith, its aims and principles. He asked when Bahá’u’lláh passed away. When Rúḥíyyih Khánum said “In 1892”, he was surprised and commented: “I was born in 1899 and only seven years before my birth the Founder of this religion passed away. It is so close to our time.” At one point he asked Rúḥíyyih Khánum if the Bahá’ís had any trouble or disagreement with members of other religions. She replied “We Bahá’ís have no quarrel with anyone. If two men are tolerant and wise and broad-minded thinkers, then there is no quarrel. It is only through narrow-mindedness and prejudice that men disagree.” On his fingers the King enumerated some of the world’s religions and asked why there are so many of them. With much warmth and courtesy Rúḥíyyih Khánum explained the principle of progressive revelation and ended by saying “We think that even the traditional religion of Africa was from God and a link in the chain of divine education.” He was very pleased and said, “When the Christians came here the missionaries condemned our religion as idolatry and evil. This was not true. We were never idolaters. We always believed in one God, the Creator. We believe in the intercession of our ancestors; through our father, grandfather and great grandfather, we reach out to the supreme power of God.”
He asked “What is the law of marriage in the Bahá’í Faith? Do you believe in polygamy or not?” (The king is known to have over 200 wives and several hundred children). He continued: “If we do not believe in polygamy, how do we deal with members of our religion who had more than one wife before accepting the Bahá’í Faith?”
Rúḥíyyih Khánum explained that there was nothing wrong with polygamy; “In the past it was the rule in most societies of man. It had not then been forbidden. But in this age the law of Bahá’u’lláh is monogamy because the world is rapidly changing. In some societies now, and in all societies in the future, one wife at a time for a man will be enough. But if a man has many wives, like Chief Kabwere in Kenya who had seventy wives when he accepted the Bahá’í Faith, we do not ask him to divorce all his wives but one. That would be most unjust. After all, he did not do anything wrong according to the law by which he married them. However, now that he is a Bahá’í, he cannot marry another wife, for that would then break the Bahá’í law.” She also mentioned that many of Chief Kabwere’s wives had become Bahá’ís too. The King liked this answer very much and said it was fair.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum presented the King with a beautiful clock she had especially bought for him a year ago in Switzerland which he graciously accepted.
The Reed DanceThe following day, at the invitation of Princess Gcinaphi, we attended the famous Reed Dance. This is traditional dance of the maidens which has now been revived by the King since independence. All the young unmarried girls of the land are free to participate. Thousands of beautiful girls, dressed only in colorful bead belts and necklaces, carrying a long reed upright in their hands, danced before the King and his ministers. The princesses of royal blood arranged red feathers fan like, in their hair, similar in effect to a large Spanish comb. These red feathers are exclusively used by those of royal blood; even the King, on occasions, wears them. For us, the most wonderful event of the day was the public favor the King showed to Amatu’l-Bahá, which was tantamount to showing it to the Faith.
The King and his Prime Minister were seated on chairs but his entire cabinet ministers, the royal Princess and the chieftains were seated on the ground near him. Through the Princess, his daughter, Rúḥíyyih Khánum, Mrs. Allen and the writer were invited to join him and were seated on chairs at his right, the only other person seated on a chair was a visiting Minister of Information from Nigeria.
At one point Princess Gcinaphi came to Rúḥíyyih Khánum and asked her to go with her and join the dancers. Amatu’l-Bahá, dressed in the Swazi traditional dress by the Princess herself, was unwilling to offend by a public refusal. She took off her sandals and joined with the Princess in the front row of dancers who reminded one of beautiful butterflies. The King was obviously pleased to see a white woman of her age and rank join so naturally in this national festival with an audience of four to five thousand people.
Princess Gcinaphi told us that after the first visit with the King he praised Rúḥíyyih Khánum, and in their own language, referred to her as “he”. Asked why, the King answered it was because she has the mind of a man.
The night of the festival, Prince Masitsela invited Amatu’l-Bahá to a dinner party given in honor of the visiting Nigerian Minister. After dinner and a speech by the Nigerian Minister, he mentioned the Faith warmly and introduced Rúḥíyyih Khánum. She then gave a short speech in reply, mentioning her thoughts on Africa’s great destiny. This obviously pleased the many distinguished guests. After all these events, the Bahá’ís felt the Faith has received the proclamation and widespread recognition it deserved. Their cup was full.
A good radio interview served to further spread the Message of Bahá’u’lláh. As before it was almost impossible to get any mention of the Faith on the air, this was particularly important.
At a reception given by the National Spiritual Assembly of Swaziland and Mozambique in honor of Rúḥíyyih Khánum, attended by many distinguished officials of the government and others, she gave a brief talk by which they were deeply impressed. We were also invited to attend the Prime Minister’s garden party held in the beautiful gardens of his home in conjunction with this period of festivities and the occasion of the National Independence Day celebrations. The Prime Minister was very cordial to Rúḥíyyih Khánum. She was invited to attend the official celebration of Independence Day on September 6, and we were seated in the royal box immediately behind His Majesty the King and his Prime Minister. In short, Swaziland accorded Amatu’l-Bahá a welcome befitting her high station.
One of the first Bahá’í activities Amatu’l-Bahá attended in Swaziland was a Youth Conference at the national Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds. One hundred and twenty-five young Bahá’ís from Swaziland, South Africa and Rhodesia were present. Swaziland had twenty-nine localities represented. Amatu’l-Bahá spoke about service to the Cause; encouraged them to organize themselves into teams and in a systematic way go out, teach and consolidate until all the goals were achieved. She mentioned her beloved mother and her deep love and devotion to the Faith. She said that once her mother was in great pain, and she said “Oh, mother, you must have suffered a great deal of pain in your life.” Her mother replied, “Yes, that is true, but one drop of the love of God washes away a thousand years of pain!”
Amatu’l-Bahá met with the National Spiritual Assembly and two members of the Board of Counsellors and the visiting Counsellor from India, reviewing the remaining goals of the Nine Year Plan and consulting on ways and means of accomplishing them.
In Many VillagesIn the village of Bhuna, Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke at a public meeting held in a school house. Her topic was “The Message of Bahá’u’lláh and Its Aim for the World.”
In the village of Bhekenkosi, after introducing the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh someone asked if one can be both a Bahá’í and a member of his previous Church. She answered this with a beautiful example. She said: “Suppose a man is walking in a desert searching for water. He finds the water at last. Does he then drink a drop and then continue his search?” The audience got the point and laughed.
An old man with a sad face, who was obviously slightly intoxicated said: “I cannot understand religions; religion is like a woman, very beautiful but impossible to understand!”
In the village of Musi and Dwaleni, a number of Bahá’ís and their friends attended the meetings and heard the wonderful explanations of Rúḥíyyih Khánum, asked many questions and were deeply grateful for her answers. By the light of candles in a meeting in the town of Nhlangano, high in the mountains, over thirty-five eager enquirers heard the healing Message of Bahá’u’lláh. Though we were extremely cold the meeting continued until late at night. In the village of Mantamba, in the home of a devoted Bahá’í woman whose whole family have embraced the Faith and are active teachers, Amatu’l-Bahá spoke to a large number of Bahá’ís and their friends. At the end of the meeting our hostess said “Now you have heard it for yourselves; you have seen our beloved guest and are all moved by her words. As soon as she goes, don’t go back to your lazy ways, sitting under the trees in the sunshine with your legs outstretched, doing nothing!”
After a dinner reception at the home of one of the Bahá’ís in Manzinini, Amatu’l-Bahá spoke to a good number of believers and their friends on the Word of God, saying that it is life-giving and endowed with miraculous power. A dignified elderly pastor of a Christian church who was present was impressed by her talk and at the end of it said: “The Word of God is like a piece of soap God has given to us for our use. Now if you have a piece of soap but do not wash your garment with it your clothes cannot get clean.”
Rúḥíyyih Khánum said this is a beautiful example “I accept it from you as a gift and shall use it in my talks. In return I will give you a gift of a beautiful example given to us by ‘Abdu’l-Baha.” Then she told them of the heart being like a mirror which if turned to God and spiritual matters will reflect heavenly light; but if turned earthward will only reflect the darkness of this world of material things, our baser nature of animal desire. “Then if a mirror is left exposed for some time the dust and dirt cover it and this dulls its capacity to reflect the light. Likewise the heart of man becomes dark by the dust of passion and greed, jealousy and desires, and so on. ‘Abdu’l-Baha told us that we can clean the mirror of our heart through prayer.” The pastor was very happy with this example and he said he would use this in his sermons.
The largest village gathering we attended in Swaziland was at their Bahá’í school. Over 200 believers came for an all-day meeting and a delicious lunch. The chief in this area is a devoted Bahá’í. He ceremoniously presented Rúḥíyyih Khánum with the meat of half a sheep, which she accepted, according to their local custom, and took it back to the town where, a few nights later, we ate it in the home of one of the friends. Amatu’l-Bahá spoke on the subject of service to the Cause and the station of the first believers. She said “At the beginning it takes courage and force of character to accept the Faith and be different from the rest of society. When the Faith becomes known and accepted by many it no longer requires this kind of courage to embrace it. ‘Abdu’l-Baha has said that in the future when many people acknowledge the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh there will no longer be any special distinction or honor in becoming a Bahá’í. The honor is in recognizing it as the truth before it has become popular.” She urged the friends to champion the Faith even in the face of adverse public opinion and proclaim this wonderful Message of God for this day.
In the town of Tshanene the friends had arranged a public meeting for Rúḥíyyih Khánum and many of the distinguished members of that township attended and were deeply impressed by her talk. She spoke of the spiritual Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and talked at length about the power of prayer and intercession. The beloved Guardian, in his beautiful message after the passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf clearly calls on her and asks her to go to her beloved Father and intercede for him. Rúḥíyyih Khánum said that Shoghi Effendi explained that we can turn to and address our prayers to holy souls who have passed away, to members of our family and those we love, and of course to Bahá’u’lláh or to ‘Abdu’l-Baha — as long as we understand their stations and do not confuse one with another in our minds. She said, “I have often turned my heart in prayers to my father or to my mother, asking them to help me. After the passing of Shoghi Effendi, when I was trying to complete his work of finishing and decorating the International Archives, I often turned to my father for help, because he was a great artist and an architect, and I often felt he was helping me from the invisible world.” With the most exquisite smile on her face, Rúḥíyyih Khánum said, “Sometimes on this trip, when I am driving on a particularly bad patch of so-called road, or there is trouble with the car, I call out to the Supreme Concourse and say ‘there must be someone there who knows something about cars or mechanics, come and help!’ — and it has always worked!”
At the end of these very full and happy six weeks in Swaziland we passed a few days in visiting the famous Kruger Game Park on our way to see Lorenco Marques, the capital of Mozambique. Although Amatu’l-Bahá was only able to spend one night there she met with a few of the Portuguese Bahá’ís for an informal social evening together in the lobby of our hotel. As there are restrictions on holding meetings, this was all that was possible at that time. As we made this trip with the two oldest pioneers to Swaziland, we drove with them back to Manzini to pick up the Land Rover and say farewell to the dear Bahá’ís there. In a last meeting in the national Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds, a large number of believers came to listen to their beloved guest and bid her goodbye. Amatu’l-Bahá spoke of the joy and blessing of teaching the Faith and serving it. She said, “At the inception of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh it was easy to sacrifice for Him. One could simply go forward and by saying he was a believer, could give his life, his belongings and his all. But today it is almost impossible to make any sacrifice for Him. Even at the beginning of the Ten Year Crusade the believers were more fortunate in being able to make small sacrifices for Him, as the material conditions of many countries were such that many commodities we are accustomed to in the West were not available. But now one can hardly find a country where one cannot have electricity, refrigerator, automobiles, a variety of foods, etc.” She said, “The friends must realize that teaching and serving the Cause are great bounties, the greatest means of learning and developing. When I look back at these three years in Africa, I realize how much I myself have learned and developed in my understanding of the Teachings. We must go out eager and prepared to learn from the people we come in contact with.” She recalled the warnings of Shoghi Effendi at the end of his life about the calamities ahead of mankind and said “You people of Swaziland and other countries such as yours are very fortunate as you may be the ones who will escape whatever destruction lies ahead if there should be another war. You are too poor and insignificant in the eyes of the great nations on which to waste an atomic bomb! You may yet count it a blessing that you are still an underdeveloped country and not a fully developed one!”
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #509, August 1973, pp 10-13, 16
Once again, because of the inaccessibility of Malawi by road, we put the Land Rover on a boat and sailed from Durban to Mombasa in Kenya. It was a strange coincidence to see the same Captain who took us on his cargo boat in 1970 from Duala to Matadi in the West Coast of Africa now in charge of our passenger liner of the same company. He was very surprised to find us still in Africa! In Mombasa we were met by Mr. ‘Azíz Yazdí, member of the Board of Counsellors in Central and East Africa, who saw us safely back to Nairobi.
A week’s stop-over in Nairobi was packed with activities which added greatly to the publicity of the Faith. Rúḥíyyih Khánum had two separate press conferences which gave rise to excellent articles about the reason for this unique Safari of two women crossing Africa alone — twice. At a reception given by the National Spiritual Assembly for Rúḥíyyih Khánum, in one of the popular hotels of the city, a good number of prominent people heard her give a brief introduction to the Faith.
While at a one-day Youth Conference in the National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds she spoke to over 200 young people about their responsibility in this sick society we see about us in the world today. She said one of the characteristics of youth has always been its tendency to want to be just like other youth; this is why whatever becomes the rage, all follow it. To be an exemplary Bahá’í is to be distinguished, not to be afraid to be different from the rest. This is not easy, but it is the greatest means of attracting the attention of not only other youth but everyone around you.
In addition to this, at an all-day meeting in the National Headquarters, over 150 friends gathered to meet Amatu’l-Bahá and hear her speak on the art of teaching the Faith. She said: “To teach the Faith is very much like selling your goods. If I go into a shop to buy a bar of soap, I want to get the soap first; if the salesman tries to sell me some bacon or salt I won’t be interested. We must first feel the need of the inquirer, then offer him from the ocean of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings what he is looking for, not something else we would like to thrust on him at that point. There is an answer to every need in His Writings.” In Africa, Rúḥíyyih Khánum said “There is a great need for the spiritual teachings such as the purpose of creation, life after death, prayers and so on. It is very easy to go around and say we believe in the unity of mankind, universal peace, compulsory education, a universal language and so on because we as individuals cannot do very much to implement these things; indirectly yes, but directly, to produce an immediate change in society, we cannot do a thing. But to speak of the moral teachings, teachings which should have an immediate influence in one’s daily life, we overlook; and I am afraid the reason often is because we do not try to live up to them in our own daily lives.”
In MalawiWe flew to Malawi on October 11th and were met by the Counsellor Mr. Shidan Fatheázam and the representatives of the National Spiritual Assembly, as well as by official government representatives in the V.I.P. lounge where Amatu’l-Bahá had a press and radio interview. This resulted in an announcement of her arrival on the radio which coincided with the commencement of the British Commonwealth Conference. This was highly gratifying, as were also favorable articles in the press. That same day Rúḥíyyih Khánum met with the National Spiritual Assembly and the Counsellor, and the proposed program of her tour was discussed and approved. At a meeting in the evening at the National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds in Limbe over 120 believers gathered to welcome her and listened to her words of love and encouragement. Later we all shared together a delicious meal provided by the National Assembly.
The highlight of the Malawi tour of Amatu’l-Bahá was her interview with the President of that country. On the morning of October 13th, according to an arrangement made before our arrival, Amatu’l-Bahá, accompanied by Mr. Fatheázam, the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly and myself, visited the Minister of State, the Hon. A. A. Muwalo Nqumayo, in his office. Mr. Muwalo became a good friend and admirer of the Hand of the Cause of God Enoch Olinga during his visit last year, and because of this friendship formed a very high opinion of the Faith. He is a very distinguished and courteous person and the first thing he told us after the introductions were over was that the President was waiting to see us. He said a call had come from Zomba and we should go there at once. Zomba is fifty miles away from Blantyre and Mr. Muwalo told Amatu’l-Bahá he would escort her there personally; this was very fortunate as during this same drive we were able to discuss with him a great deal about the Faith and to stress the cardinal principle of obedience to government. Because of an earlier close association with a young man in Uganda, who later on became one of the leaders of the independence movement in Malawi and who had been a friend of Mr. Muwalo, we were able to impart much of the Teachings. This subject of obedience to government is vital throughout Africa, but in Malawi it is crucial because of the activities of a militant Christian denomination which actively incites its followers not to obey their government and had not only caused President Banda and his government a great deal of trouble but had been recently banned and its followers expelled from the country.
We were received by the life President, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, in his presidential office in Zomba, where he conducts much of his official business. In the center of the room was a long board table surrounded by chairs. President Banda is a very dynamic man, in spite of his seventy years, and when he entered from a private office at the head of this room one immediately felt the force of his personality. After cordially greeting us all, he sat at the head of the table with Amatu’l-Bahá at his left.
He asked her whether she was a Canadian, and she said that her father was Canadian and her mother American but since her marriage in 1937 she has lived in the Holy Land, which is the World Center of the Bahá’í Faith. The moment the name of the Bahá’í Faith was mentioned the President beamed and pointed to an imposing, large, hand-wrought copper plaque on the wall, saying “Yes, I know the Bahá’ís. They gave me this.” This plaque represents the head of a majestic lion and was presented to him by Mr. Olinga on behalf of the Bahá’ís of Malawi with a dedication on it quoting the words of Bahá’u’lláh “So powerful is the light of unity it can illumine the whole earth” and added that it is given to Dr. H. K. Banda in appreciation of his efforts to establish peace and unity in the world. He is so proud of this beautiful and symbolic gift that he has hung it in this prominent place and calls the attention of many of his visitors to it (so we were told by others).
He remembered Mr. Olinga very well and told us what he had told him, that his hopes are to make his country a haven of peace and unity where all races and religions are free to live and function, providing they do not interfere with the peace of the land. He said there are certain Christian sects who force themselves on people, knocking at their doors and frightening them with hell fire if they do not join their particular church, which he felt was entirely wrong. He asked Rúḥíyyih Khánum if she did not agree with him. She said, “Yes,” and that in her public as well as informal talks she often told her listeners that she was not asking them to leave their religions and follow hers. She said “It is as if I am invited to dinner in someone’s home, the table is laid with all kinds of food, my host invites me to eat. If I am hungry I will, but if I am not no one can force me to eat. This is the spirit with which we offer the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh to other people. They are free to accept them or not as they wish.” The President liked this answer and example immensely. He said, “I always have believed that the government is the instrument of keeping law and order and religions are likewise upholders of law and order, therefore how can a religion set itself up to judge the doings and the laws of the government?”
When Rúḥíyyih Khánum quoted the words of Christ “Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” he agreed wholeheartedly. Rúḥíyyih Khánum once again stressed the cardinal Bahá’í principle of obedience to government and said this law is so important in the eyes of the Founder of our Faith that it even superseded the law not to kill: for instance although to kill another man is the most abhorrent act in the sight of God in our religion, if our government in time of war requires us to carry arms, we obey; if there is, however, a clause in the law of the country by which we can apply for non-combatant military service we do so, but we always obey our government. Amatu’l-Bahá went on to say that in the eyes of Bahá’u’lláh it seems there was one thing even worse than war and this was anarchy and revolution and civil strife. He listened attentively to this and was obviously very pleased and impressed.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum told the President about our trip through Africa and said that the fact that two white women alone had travelled across the continent with no driver or man accompanying them was the greatest compliment one could pay the African people, not just words; we had done it because we knew the villagers would always receive us kindly and we were not afraid. She said, “I cannot say as much for my own part of the world, the Western World, and particularly America.” The President replied, “When the Europeans came to this country, because they did not see the Bible in the hands of the people, they denounced them as heathen, evil and therefore doomed. They were wrong, our people always had a very strong code of morals, ethics and law.” He said, “All my efforts are now towards guarding my people against the evils of the Western World, its immorality, its lawlessness and irreligion.” He continued, “I do not allow so-called hippies in my country. Women are required to dress in a decent way.” (In fact, if a tourist arrives at the airport in a miniskirt, she is requested politely to conform to the law and cover herself. We were surprised — and pleased — to see that many white women, obviously residents, disembarked in most flattering long dresses.) “Films,” the President said, “are strictly censored so that as much as possible this filth of the West does not come into this country.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum vehemently said she thanked God the President saw the dangers and had the courage to do something about them. He was most cordial and when he said good-bye took her hand in both of his and wished her a very sincere welcome to his country and a long and enjoyable stay. This interview lasted almost half an hour and undoubtedly further strengthened the status of the Cause in Malawi.
In Blantyre Amatu’l-Bahá had a radio interview, as well as a very well attended public meeting in the University of Malawi. On this occasion she spoke on one of her favorite themes, the role of youth in modern society, which never fails to interest her listeners. They announced the title of her talk as “The Problem of Youth in Modern Society” but her talk was one continuous outpouring of hope and encouragement and at the end, when the chairman thanked her, he said, “Although our speaker did not talk directly on the Bahá’í Faith, we are anxious to know more about this religion which glowed through her words and her mind and gave us an inclination that it is a religion of hope and not despair.”
In the course of her talk Rúḥíyyih Khánum suggested a very interesting method of combating racial prejudice; she said often, when we do not approve of or like something in a person who is not of our race, we instantly and wrongfully jump to the conclusion that because he is of such and such racial background therefore he is like that. She said the answer I have found to this is simple; it is like a card game in which you match your cards. When for instance in Africa I enter a house that is dirty and untidy, instead of allowing myself to say all Africans are dirty or untidy, I say to myself, “Do you remember some years ago in London in one of the better hotels, when you bent down to retrieve something that had fallen under the bed, how dirty it was?” I match the same incident I had seen with my own race and people, then one finds that good and bad habits and characteristics can be found amongst all people.
She made everyone laugh when she said: “Racial prejudice is like a flea, if it gets into your clothes it bothers you no end, the best thing is to quickly get hold of it, kill it, and get rid of it.” During the question period a young man, a student, said: “Prejudice seems to be a characteristic of man everywhere, why do you say then that the African is without prejudice, are we different from all other men?” Rúḥíyyih Khánum replied, “I did not say you are without prejudice, I said you have no racial prejudice. Your prejudice is the tribal prejudice because that is the immediate historic background of Africa with all its tribal wars and strife, that is your problem. Prejudice is bad in whatever form it may appear. But there are different kinds of prejudice. It is like a man contracting chicken pox, he will have fever, he will be miserable, a rash will appear all over him and so forth; another man may contract smallpox, he will also suffer with fever and rash and discomfort, but can we say they both are in the same degree of danger? No, one is a real killer, the other is merely very uncomfortable. Racial prejudice is one of the most terrible diseases of humanity, it is a purely animal characteristic and we should all endeavor to purify the body of mankind from this cruel disease.”
During her stay in Malawi Amatu’l-Bahá visited many villages and communities throughout the country. In the village of Kanachi she met with the community and encouraged them, and when the women complained that their men were lazy and would not do their share in building their Bahá’í Center, she spoke to them with such love and forbearance that I am sure soon the men built the center with the bricks that the women had made. In the village of Mpaso, the community was quite new and very eager to know more. A number of older people were present and after Amatu’l-Bahá spoke on the different teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, they asked if her purpose was to tell them to leave their old churches and become members of this new church. Rúḥíyyih Khánum patiently explained that the Bahá’í Faith is not a new church adding to the numerous churches of Christianity, it is the Message of God for this day, it is the fulfillment of all the prophecies and hopes of past religions. She spoke of the power of prayer and said these words we use for a greeting, “Alláh-u-Abhá”, are in fact a prayer. She said if it was not for the power of this prayer which we repeated throughout our journey across Africa every time we were in trouble, we would not be here today. People were so thrilled by this that even many non-Bahá’ís asked us to write “Alláh-u-Abhá” on their Bahá’í pamphlets so that they could learn it by heart. They repeated it many times.
We spent a night in the village of Naminyuku in the home of one of the National Assembly members and had a very pleasant meeting in their Bahá’í Center. This is one of the earliest communities established many years ago. They had built themselves a Bahá’í Center, but their Local Spiritual Assembly decided recently that their Center was too small and was beginning to be destroyed by termites so they agreed to tear it down and build a new one. This new building was almost completed when we arrived. A large meeting took place in it, attended by the Chief, who is a good friend of the Bahá’ís. A man who was attending his first Bahá’í meeting asked: “Do the Bahá’ís believe in the teaching of the oneness of mankind or is it just beautiful words?” He said: “In our country many white people in theory believe that we are all children of one Father and so on, but when it comes to everyday acts such as eating a meal with an African, they never do it.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum said: “What better example do you want than our group here who are the guests of your people, sleep in their homes and eat with them their food? In fact, we Bahá’ís are delighted when a member of one race marries in our country a member of another race, which is increasingly taking place.”
click for larger image
The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #510, September 1973, pp. 16-18
The visit to the northern district of Malawi was a very happy and unforgettable occasion. In Karonga, where we spent two nights, we were able to meet with the Bahá’ís and their friends on several occasions. This is a relatively newly opened area through the efforts of one of the devoted members of the National Spiritual Assembly, and the Bahá’ís there are very devoted and eager to spread the Faith.
In the village of Bwiba, near Karonga, we met with about 30 of the friends under the shade of a huge mango tree. Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to them in detail about the teachings, prayers, and the spread of the Message of Bahá’u’lláh. After the meeting a non-Bahá’í lady, who is an admirer of the Faith and runs a shop near this tree, invited us into her shop for a cup of tea and some buns. The friends begged us to come again on the same afternoon, which we did. However, when the meeting was about to start a message arrived from the senior chief of the district to the effect that he was very anxious to meet Amatu’l-Bahá but could not leave a scheduled meeting of his own some distance away in another village. He is a very well-educated man, an admirer of the Faith, with a perfect knowledge of English, and is translating some Bahá’í pamphlets and books into his own language for publication. He had also given a piece of land to the Bahá’ís and was anxious for them to build a Centre on it as soon as possible. When Rúḥíyyih Khánum arrived at the meeting, she found about 200 people gathered, many of them sub-chiefs and other important villagers. She was immediately invited most courteously to a seat by Chief Mwaka Sungula, who introduced her befittingly and asked her to tell his people what the Bahá’í Faith stands for. Her short and illuminating talk was much appreciated by all. The spirit of this wise and tolerant chief, who was most anxious to have the land he had donated have a suitable meeting place built upon it, combined with the great need of this newly opened area, prompted Rúḥíyyih Khánum to contribute, from a sum which has been placed at her disposal by a class of Bahá’í students in Persia, the amount needed for this building.
The most northern town in Malawi we visited was the town of Chipita, where Amatu’l-Bahá gave a talk at the Chipita Secondary School to over 120 students. This talk was very enthusiastically received, discussions continued after the question period even outside the hall. Counsellor Mr. Shidan Fatheazam was invited to go back that night and show some Bahá’í slides.
In the town of Mzuza, which is the provincial capital of the North, we spent one night meeting with the believers in the evening, and Amatu’l-Bahá gave a public talk at the Townhall the next day to over 30 selected enquirers, many of them distinguished government officials. This was later followed by a reception given by the Local Spiritual Assembly of that town which had made all these excellent arrangements on their own initiative.
In the city of Lilongwe, a modern city under construction and planned to be the future capital of the country, we met with the Bahá’ís in the home of the pioneers. Unfortunately at the last minute, because of an unforeseen complication, the public talk had to be cancelled, but at an informal gathering the Bahá’ís and a few of their friends were very happy to meet with and listen to Rúḥíyyih Khánum.
In the village of Malaka Market over 120 people gathered under the shade of trees, at Amatu’l-Bahá’s meeting. In the course of her talk she said those who accept and follow the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are like a farmer who comes in contact with a new and superior type of maize grain and has the courage to take it and try it out. It is this first farmer to whom the honor goes, because after the others see the results with their own eyes many will follow him and plant the new grain, but the honor and the distinction will not be theirs; that belongs to the one who had the vision and dared to try the new grain. When the meeting finally came to an end — the villagers being most reluctant to let it end at all and continually plying their visitor with questions — the wife of the devoted traveling teacher, whose home was in that village, served us all most lovingly with a delicious lunch.
After this strenuous week of continuous activity, the National Assembly in its program had left a day of rest for Amatu’l-Bahá and we spent it alone on Zomba Plateau, one of Malawi’s famous scenic beauties, high up on a mountain overlooking a vast panorama of lush green valley, distant hills and the town of Zomba.
In the village of Ntonda the Bahá’í children, holding beautiful bunches of flowers, welcomed Amatu’l-Bahá with songs in front of their newly erected Centre. In a number of these local village Bahá’í Centres we noticed that several copies of the same colored photograph of the Shrine of the Báb decorated the walls, and when we inquired how there happened to be so many of these, we were told that at an advanced deepening course held by the National Spiritual Assembly a copy of this photograph had been given to each attendant as a memento of the occasion; and when they returned to their villages, they had decided that they wanted to further beautify their local Centres and therefore had donated their photographs to the Centres. We noticed throughout Malawi that the believers took much pride in their village Centres; often they had surfaced the floor with bricks, planted flowers outside, and in general showed their love and pride in the building they themselves, often without any outside help, had erected in the name of Bahá’u’lláh.
At Mthumpwa, one of the most active communities, a large number of village Bahá’ís received and welcomed Amatu’l-Bahá in their beautiful Centre. The chairman of the meeting, in his words of welcome, made a singularly beautiful and touching remark; he said we have heard the name of Shoghi Effendi and have learned to love him very much for his work and his life and his station, but although he lived in our time we did not have the privilege of seeing him; how fortunate we are today to see his wings (meaning Rúḥíyyih Khánum). In this village was a very old man, believed to be over a hundred, doubled up with age, but extremely sharp in his mind. He asked to meet Rúḥíyyih Khánum and had his picture taken with her, because, he said, “I have seen everything that has happened in this land and this day is a very special day in my life.” We slept there that night and partook of a delicious meal prepared by the dear Bahá’ís.
Malawi is a tea planting country and in the middle of beautiful estates are several Bahá’í communities; believers from four different areas gathered in Manjolo to receive and meet with Amatu’l-Bahá. This was one of the happiest meetings we had. The friends met her some distance from the home of one of the believers where the meeting was to be held, and all the way to the meeting place they danced before her and sang to her. She entered this house from under a green arch they had specially erected for her, and as the crowd was too many to get into the building, the meeting was held outside. One of the believers, a precious soul, had written a special poem of welcome for Amatu’l-Bahá, and as he sang it to her he was himself so deeply moved that several times he had to wipe away his tears. The refrain of this song was, “Amatu’l-Bahá means the one who carries the Faith of God all over the world, who comes from Haifa.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke on the great honor which belongs to the first believers everywhere; she said when we teach people we should not ever make them feel that we are forcing them to accept; this is the water of life which we offer to anyone who is thirsty; anyone who is not thirsty is free to leave it and go his own way. She said to dispute and argue with people is forbidden by Bahá’u’lláh and we should guard ourselves against such things. Ladies from each of the communities very ceremoniously presented Rúḥíyyih Khánum with gifts they had brought for her, such as fruit and baskets and so on. A very beautiful incident was the farewell talk of the chairman, the same man who had written the song. He said for this meeting Bahá’ís from these four communities had contributed a sum of money to prepare food for all of us, and of this sum “about thirty cents remains and we would like to give it to our beloved guest.” Rúḥíyyih Khánum was very touched and told them that for herself of course she could not accept, but she would take this money and give it in their name to the National Spiritual Assembly. This pleased everyone. Before we left they kindly served us a delicious meal they had prepared.
At the end of her tour in Malawi Amatu’l-Bahá lunched with the National Spiritual Assembly at the National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds and once again met with them and thanked them for all they had done, as well as for their gift of beautiful national costumes they had given each of us, which we wore all the time.
The town of Amalika has a beautiful National Bahá’í Teaching Institute where we met with a large number of believers. In addition to the very spacious main hall there are dormitories and many other rooms, as well as a beautiful garden. The purchase of this property fulfilled a national Nine Year Plan goal and it is gradually being put into regular service for its primary and vital purpose of deepening the believers. Amatu’l-Bahá, in her most inspiring talk, said the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh is like a vast living temple and each of us believers is like one of its bricks; though we are all so different we are part of the whole. She spoke of the life and sufferings of the Blessed Beauty and answered the many eager questions put to her. This was the last meeting Amatu’l-Bahá was able to attend in Malawi as unfortunately she caught a bad cold and was confined to bed. She was therefore unable to attend the meeting in the south and sent me in her place with other friends.
Southern Malawi, unlike most of the country, is very hot. At Kalenso, a large number of believers and their friends were awaiting the arrival of Rúḥíyyih Khánum and, needless to say, they were disappointed but understood the reason for her absence. We spent that night in the home of a member of the National Spiritual Assembly and deeply appreciated the hospitality we received from him and his beautiful wife. The next day on our way back to the city we stopped in the village of Blair and, under the shade of mango trees that were indeed live-saving in that heat, had a very enjoyable meeting. There were many non-Bahá’ís present, and the discussion went on and on in their eagerness to learn more about this Faith. A delicious lunch which we shared with them all crowned this happy occasion before we returned to Limbe.
This trip to Malawi was one of the happiest experiences we have had in Africa. We found a devoted and exemplary community with both distinguished African believers and dedicated pioneers, all harmoniously serving Bahá’u’lláh together. Honesty, trustworthiness, and friendliness seem to be marked characteristics of the Malawi people; indeed, as Amatu’l-Bahá assured the President when she met him, it was her hope and prayer that this nation may be blessed and grow from strength to strength, to become a shining example to the rest of this continent.
The Great Safari in the Seychelles
[The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum]
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #511, October 1973, pp. 12-14
Because of the rainy season it suddenly became possible to fit in a visit to the Seychelles islands. During her tour of the Indian Ocean in 1967, when we visited Mauritius, Reunion and Madagascar, this had not been possible, and Amatu’l-Bahá was delighted that we would now make a visit to the believers there. We arrived in this beautiful tropical paradise on November 9 and were received in the V.I.P. lounge by the members of the National Spiritual Assembly and many of the Bahá’ís, who had come on a special bus from all over the island, as well as by one of the dear Auxiliary Board members who had been paying a visit to the Seychelles to assist the friends in winning their goals.
On that same day Amatu’l-Bahá met with the National Spiritual Assembly and approved the program they had planned for her. Before her departure she had another meeting with them, reporting her views on the special interviews she had had, as well as the work in general in the Seychelles.
As one of the Nine Year Plan goals was to secure the incorporation of the National Spiritual Assembly, the talks Rúḥíyyih Khánum was able to have with high-ranking government officials were undoubtedly of assistance. The remoteness of the Seychelles and the small population of the islands means that everybody of any importance knows everything. Thus the Governor-General Sir Bruce Great-Batch was familiar with both the Faith and the Bahá’ís. He received us in his office in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and particularly asked about drinking and moral conduct. He expressed the wish that the Bahá’í Teachings would spread rapidly throughout the islands and take root in the lives of the people. As the Deputy Governor and Attorney-General are both more concerned with the execution of government decisions, Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to them in detail about the incorporation, receiving valuable advice about how to go about securing this objective. The Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly was with us at these interviews and thus was able to put these valuable suggestions into action immediately. At the official reception given by the National Assembly for Rúḥíyyih Khánum, some of the government officials were present among the eighty or so guests and this again strengthened the favorable impressions for the Faith her official calls had already produced. As a result of an informal interview with the editor and the reporter of the only news media on the islands, a weekly bulletin, a short but informative article was published. On the occasion of the Birthday of Bahá’u’lláh, Amatu’l-Bahá had a very good English radio interview. The Bahá’ís have been accorded the right to broadcast on each of the nine Holy Days. The Seychelles, like the island of Mauritius, are bilingual. The native language is a form of Creole French, so generally the people understand French better than English. Later during our stay Amatu’l-Bahá also had a short radio interview in French. All her public talks, and her talks to the believers, were made in French.
The celebration of the Birthday of Bahá’u’lláh took place in the National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds, where Bahá’ís from many different localities assembled and had the privilege of hearing Rúḥíyyih Khánum speak on the life of the Blessed Beauty. She said the purpose of His life and His teachings and His suffering was to establish unity and harmony in this world. This teaching is the core of all his other teachings; we Bahá’ís must be able to mirror forth the realization of this teaching in our lives and particularly in our communities, because if we do not, how can we prove that such an achievement is possible? If we do not hold out this hope to humanity, where else can man find any hope at all? A delicious dinner was then served to all, and the distinguished, active youth who have a singing group called the “Smiling Souls” entertained us with Bahá’í songs they composed, including a song of welcome especially composed for Amatu’l-Bahá. On this happy occasion a review of the goals of the Seychelles islands was given. With great joy the friends learned they had surpassed their locality goals, after the several weeks of intensive teaching and consolidation which took place before we arrived. Everyone’s cup was overflowing when the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly shared with the friends an official letter he had just received from the government, giving permission for Bahá’í children throughout the islands to be absent from school on their nine Holy Days. This indeed was a great victory and cause for deep happiness and gratitude to Bahá’u’lláh.
Amongst her other public activities Rúḥíyyih Khánum addressed the students and staff of the Government Teachers Training College in Mahe on “The Role of Youth in Modern Society”. A very interesting interview was recorded between her and a woman who is a roving reporter for the B.B.C. She had heard about Amatu’l-Bahá and asked to come to her hotel for this interview; she spent a very pleasant hour with us.
The schedule for this visit of Amatu’l-Bahá was quite full. Almost daily she visited different communities, some of which grouped together for joint meetings. In Anse Boileau, in the home of one of the National Assembly members, an old believer who had accepted the Faith many years ago in Tanzania, Rúḥíyyih Khánum, in her talk to the friends, spoke on the greatness of the station of the first believers in each country, city or village. She said their spiritual reward is assured if they remain firm in the Cause and serve it with all their hearts.
In Anse Aux Pins, where the only Bahá’í Centre other than the National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds is located, a small but very devoted group of Bahá’ís received Amatu’l-Bahá and drank from her ocean of wisdom and love. The land for this little Centre was donated by a dedicated local believer who has, like all the other people in these islands, a large family, all of whom are now Bahá’ís. The National Spiritual Assembly built this Centre and behind it is a shop which belongs to this same man. Because of the extreme shortage of land on this small island many offers to rent his shop had come to him, but he steadfastly refused to rent until he had a written agreement with the tenant that liquor would not be sold or served there. He felt this might make it impossible to hold Bahá’í meetings in the Centre. His determination will mean a great deal of financial sacrifice to his family; less food, less education for his children, and less of the little amenities of life. Drinking is a national curse in these islands. To see such devotion to the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s laws, and firmness of conviction and spirituality, is like a bright ray of sunshine in the darkness and corruption of this world. In the meeting in this Centre the dear friends asked Rúḥíyyih Khánum to talk to them about fasting and prayer. She suggested they gather daily in the Centre for prayers and devotion to attract the bounties of Bahá’u’lláh for themselves and their neighbors.
One afternoon we visited Souvenir and met in the home of a young woman who is a devoted Bahá’í and has put her home at the disposal of the believers for their regular meetings. Later that evening we had another meeting in the southernmost community of the island of Mahe, called Grand Anse/Port Glaud. It was in the home of a beautiful family, all of whom were devoted, dedicated Bahá’ís, including the brothers and sisters of the host. In this meeting too the address was on prayer and meditation. The young son of the family recited the Tablet of Ahmad by heart and when Rúḥíyyih Khánum commented on this and praised the parents for bringing up their children within the shelter of attachment to the soul of the Faith which is the Words of God, the father shyly told us that in their family they have regular devotional periods in the evenings and in the mornings. In the course of her talk, Rúḥíyyih Khánum pointed out that towards the end of his life our beloved Guardian spoke very often to the pilgrims and the Bahá’ís around him—and in his writings—about the inevitability of the calamities and sufferings foretold in all the Holy Scriptures. He told us that these events were approaching and urged the believers to pioneer and scatter around the world and spread the Message of God for this day to all the people, especially those who inhabit the far islands and countries. She said you must be aware of this and bring up your children in such a way that if such calamities strike humanity in small islands such as the Seychelles we will have strong, devoted and informed Bahá’ís to carry on the work of the Faith. A time may come when Bahá’ís such as these will carry the teachings they have preserved and studied and treasured back to the Western World and the centers of modern civilization which have been ravaged and destroyed.
The Seychelles are an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, between the fourth and tenth parallels. The largest island is Mahe, upon which is situated the capital city Victoria. Our three nights’ stay on the small island of Praslin was a most enjoyable part of our trip, however, for in addition to meetings with the very devoted and active Bahá’í community there, we visited the famous “Valee de Mai” where the unique coco de mer palm grows. This is the only place in the world where this ancient and unusual tree grows, except for a very few isolated specimens on neighboring islands. A forest of almost 4000 palms was able to flourish because the islands were uninhabited until 200 years ago. The two-lobed fruit of the coco de mer, suggesting a double coconut, is among the largest known, and takes almost ten years to ripen. This palm forest is very strictly guarded by the government as once destroyed it can never be replaced; it is one of the botanical wonders of the world. The senior ranger of this valley was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly so we were privileged to receive a very enjoyable guided tour of this “Garden of Eden”. On arrival at the tiny air field Amatu’l-Bahá was met by the believers from three different communities where the Faith was established and we all proceeded to our little hotel where Amatu’l-Bahá spoke briefly to the friends and was cordially and lovingly welcomed. The following day the Bahá’ís from all over the island gathered in Baie Sainte Anne and though it rained heavily, a good number of non-Bahá’ís attended the meeting. Amatu’l-Bahá gave a beautiful introductory presentation of the Faith which was followed by a slide show. Later that night, in the home of our dear forest ranger friend, over 30 Bahá’ís dined together on exotic dishes such as heart of palm salad and delicacies of the sea prepared by a number of the ladies from different communities.
In a heavy downpour the next day we crossed the ocean in a little boat to the tiny island of La Digue where an intensive teaching campaign recently brought in a number of new believers. A group of about 20 Bahá’ís, mostly youth, had come the previous day from Mahe to make arrangements for the public meeting to be held there; an entire building was rented to accommodate them. The day before the meeting they started an around-the-clock devotional session for the success of the teaching work the following day. Amatu’l-Bahá spoke on the life of Bahá’u’lláh, His sufferings, His teachings and the effect they have on the lives of people; she told stories of the martyrs as shining examples for us all; she pointed out that the Seychelles islands are the best example of the oneness of mankind because the people are truly a mixture of many races and backgrounds, and live together in unity and harmony, not concerned with each other’s race or background.
The last event in Mahe was a very enjoyable dinner party given in Amatu’l-Bahá’s honor in a Chinese restaurant, followed by a farewell party at the National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds where a large number of believers had gathered to bid their beloved Hand of the Cause goodbye. After Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s words of love and encouragement the “Smiling Souls” once again entertained us, singing their beautiful song of farewell composed for Amatu’l-Bahá’s departure. The visit to the Seychelles passed far too quickly; we enjoyed every moment in those beautiful islands with the active, devoted and highly promising Bahá’í community there.
From Nairobi to Kabimba
[The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum]
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #512, November 1973, pp. 5-9
The last part of this long African Safari started on December 12th when once again Amatu’l-Bahá and I left Nairobi in the now quite famous “Rabbani African Safari” Land Rover. She invited a young Canadian student who was going to travel and teach in Zaïre during his vacation to drive there with us. We arrived in Rwanda — our thirty-first African country — where we stopped two days in the capital, Kigali, so that Amatu’l-Bahá’ could consult with the National Spiritual Assembly about the program for her official visit, which would follow after a month in Zaïre.
During this short stop in Kigali Amatu’l-Bahá met with the believers at their Centre. She was shown two buildings that were possible choices for the National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds, one of which had to be quickly purchased to fulfill one of the important remaining goals of the Nine Year Plan. She gave the National Assembly her views; the building she favored was later purchased.
Mr. Oloro Epyeru, one of the members of the Continental Board of Counsellors for Central and East Africa, who had been visiting the friends in Zaïre, came to Kigali specially to welcome Amatu’l-Bahá and accompany her on her tour of Kivu Province, in the eastern part of Zaïre. Mr. Epyeru, who is a very old and dear friend of ours, and the adopted brother of Amatu’l-Bahá, traveled with us in January 1970 when we started across the continent from Kampala, Uganda, to Fort Lamy in Tchad, so to have him with us once again in Zaïre was a great joy.
Zaïre, one of the largest countries of Africa, is also one of the dearest to our hearts. During her tour of Africa Amatu’l-Bahá visited Zaïre four times in all; first in January 1970, when we crossed the northern part, motoring almost 1,500 miles over some of the roughest roads in the entire continent. The second visit was in January 1972. We entered from the east coast and visited the capital, Kinshasa, and motored almost 3,000 miles through central and southern Zaïre, traveling by river boat and over unspeakable roads. On our third visit we motored to the province of Kivu, one of the most beautiful regions of the country, where the ity [sic] of the people to this Faith is very great. The largest concentration of believers — about 30,000 — are scattered throughout this region.
I would like to think that the seed for this abundant harvest was planted during the first year of the Ten Year Crusade; the direct consequence of the devoted labors of Rex and Mary Collison and their much-loved interpreter and co-worker Dunduzu Chiziza. All three were Knights of Bahá’u’lláh for the former Belgian colony of Ruanda-Urundi. Heroically, in the face of many handicaps and adversities, they taught the Faith to a handful of Congolese, who later carried the Message to their native villages across the border, spreading it far and wide with depth and understanding. Despite many years of cruel civil war, tribal bloodshed and opposition from Christian missionaries, these devoted and exemplary believers not only remained firm, but spread the Faith deeper into the heart of their country.
In this region alone there are now more than 600 Local Spiritual Assemblies and thousands of centers. The deepening and teaching task is gigantic and there is a constant need for more teachers and pioneers. We have not been able to fathom why the people of Zaïre are so spiritually outstanding. It is not a tribal characteristic, because their superior spiritual receptivity to the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh is evidenced throughout the entire country, among different tribes, and this innate receptivity has evidently drawn to them the repeated mercy and blessings of Bahá’u’lláh. Although the country did experience the bounty of having Shoghi Effendi travel through the land in 1940, and of having Amatu’l-Bahá visit there on four different occasions.
On December 19,1972 we arrived in the beautiful city of Bukavu, the capital of Kivu Province, located at the south end of Lake Kivu, and surrounded by mountains. Bukavu has a cool and lovely climate, which makes it an ideal resort town. One very dear friend, Mrs. Ola Pawlowska, a Board member who traveled with us last year through the central and southern parts of Zaïre, lives in Bukavu. She recently moved into a nice one-room apartment, which she most lovingly and thoughtfully vacated so that Amatu’l-Bahá could have more rest and quiet during her stay. She herself moved back into the overcrowded Bahá’í Centre.
The love and harmony among the pioneers, the three Persian traveling teachers living and conducting study courses in the Bahá’í Centre, and the African believers, created an atmosphere of such joy in the whole area that our hearts were uplifted, and we wondered why the friends so often deny themselves, through backbiting, criticism, inharmony and bickering, the blessings of Bahá’u’lláh. The sensitive African feels these spiritual deficiencies even more acutely than other people, and when he sees this true and sincere love and unity, he is drawn into, and becomes a natural part of the Faith. After consultation between Amatu’l-Bahá and Mr. Epyeru, Mrs. Pawlowska, and the Teaching Committee, a tour was planned which took her to the southern area as far as Fizi, and to the north as far as Goma. Unfortunately, because of heavy rains, the only bridge to the south of the Fizi region was down, and to our great disappointment, we were not able to visit the majority of the Bahá’ís who lived in that area and whom we had hoped for so long to meet.
In Bukavu, at the time Amatu’l-Bahá had her radio interview, a very fruitful press conference was also held, at which there was a long and open discussion on the Faith; this was broadcast later that evening, and a beautiful article appeared in the regional newspaper, JUA. In this interview, Rúḥíyyih Khánum stressed two points very strongly, which captured the attention of many people. A week later we heard through a friend that President Mobutu had commented to him on it and said he wished to meet Amatu’l-Bahá, as he felt the same way she did. One point was the importance of preserving the African identity and culture, fostering it and being proud of it; the second, the cardinal teaching of Bahá’u’lláh on obedience to government. She pointed out that although the Message of Bahá’u’lláh is the message of love and peace and we abhor war, there is one thing we hate even more than war and that is anarchy and civil war.
On the 21st of December Rúḥíyyih Khánum was received by the Mayor of Bukavu, a most handsome, cultivated, well-dressed and charming young man. During the last days of her stay she was received by the governor of the region, N’Debo A Kanda Di Ne Nkeza; he knew of the Faith from Kinshasa, where he had met one of the pioneers, and he spoke very warmly about it. Because it was the Christmas season, most of our tour was delayed until these festivities were over. In Zaïre, as in most parts of the world, these celebrations are characterized by an excess of drinking and brawling.
The day before Christmas we were able to visit the Bahá’ís and their friends in the town of Kabare. The Faith had been recently introduced there, and the believers were all very new. About 70 people gathered in the town’s social center to welcome Amatu’l-Bahá.
In her talk she said, “Yesterday I watched a very small bird sitting on the water. As it started moving, even though it was an extremely small bird, it left in its wake a deep impression and for a long time I could see this wide mark it had left on the water. The Word of God is very much like that. We who carry it are like that small and insignificant bird, but the Word uttered by us has such power that it will leave a deep and everlasting impression in the hearts of our hearers.” A new Bahá’í asked, “How can I protect myself from sinning? I love this Faith, I have just accepted it, but I want to know how I can live without sin?” Amatu’l-Bahá replied, “The nature of man is such that we always commit sin, different degrees of sin, but always we are sinners. Only the Manifestations of God in this world are free from sin. However, the purpose of the appearance of these Divine Beings is to teach us how to improve ourselves and under Their guidance we learn to polish our characters and our hearts and thus to sin less.”
In the afternoon the dear Bahá’ís in Walungu were very disappointed and unhappy because we had to cancel our meeting. It was to be held in a room next to the public and the people were already too inebriated to keep quiet. There was nowhere else we could meet. However, a few days later these dear friends came to the Bahá’í Centre in Bukavu, about 30 kilometers away, to hear and meet Amatu’l-Bahá. Although one meeting with the Bahá’ís of Bukavu had already been held on our arrival, a second official welcome was held at the Bahá’í Centre after the holidays were over, which over 50 believers attended. The formal letter of welcome, read aloud by the Chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly, who was also a member of the National Spiritual Assembly and one of the oldest believers in Bukavu, is so touching that I would like to quote it in full: Very dear Mother Amatu’l-Bahá Rúḥíyyih Khánum, Hand of the Cause. In the name of the Local Spiritual Assembly and the groups about Bukavu I express our intense joy at welcoming you. You are now in the Kivu area which has embraced with no reservations the Bahá’í Faith as a result of the organization so firmly laid down by our deeply regretted and much loved Guardian Shoghi Effendi who called upon pioneers to voluntarily leave their own countries and go sow the seeds of the teachings of this Holy Cause in the hearts of the human race. The community once more thanks the pioneers for responding to this appeal. They left their families, their possessions, their jobs in order to propagate the Faith, and the House of Justice is following the same road laid down by our Guardian. Amatu’l-Bahá then spoke on the love of God, quoting the Words of Bahá’u’lláh: “I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.” She spoke of the answer of our beloved Guardian to a Bahá’í who was unhappy in his local community and did not particularly like his fellow Bahá’ís. Shoghi Effendi said that in families often the children were very different and two brothers might not love each other at all. But if they loved their father, for his sake, they would make an effort to love each other, because they would know that it was his wish. Our love for Bahá’u’lláh should help us to love our fellow Bahá’ís, because it is His wish. She said capacity attracts; it is the spiritual capacity of the people of this country which has attracted the grace and the mercy of God and the blessing of the visit of Shoghi Effendi.
A young man asked, “As we live in age when material needs make such demands on us, how can we combine the spiritual values with these material demands?” Amatu’l-Bahá said that in the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh we read that God has created all things for man and permitted us to partake of all the joy and pleasures of life; the only thing which God has reserved for Himself are the hearts of men. As long as we preserve our hearts for God and do not lose them to this world and its needs, we are safe and protected and can enjoy every benefit and comfort that this world gives us, she said. But we must be watchful and alert so that the love of this world and its comforts does not surpass our love of God. If we are able to keep a balance, then we are safe and protected.
On the 28th of December we left Bukavu and went to south of Kivu for four days. The first meeting was in the village of Luvungi. On the main road, where the village road began, several arches were erected, decorated with leaves and flowers. A man stood holding a long stick decorated with flowers, on the end of which a beautiful copy of the Greatest Name was mounted.
With singing and dancing, Amatu’l-Bahá was accompanied through the village to the largest building, the village court and community center, which had been reserved for the meeting. As this was the cotton harvesting season, one side of this hall was piled high with cotton balls which made very comfortable seats. Some non-Bahá’ís, and more than 550 Bahá’ís attended this meeting. We were told the people of this area were among the singers in Zaïre, a country full of good singers.
Amatu’l-Bahá quoted the words of Saint Paul, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” She said this applies to mankind today. Bahá’u’lláh tells us that man has entered the stage of maturity. Modern inventions and science have changed our lives. The world we live in today is different from the world of our grandfathers. We must now learn to live like mature men and put away childish ideas.
On the afternoon of the same day, in another village called Sanga, more than 500 Bahá’ís received and welcomed Amatu’l-Bahá. She spoke on the importance of living a Bahá’í life, and showing in our deeds and characters that we are truly the spiritual descendants of the early heroes and martyrs of our Faith. To be amongst the first ones to recognize and accept the Faith of God is a great bounty and privilege because it requires courage, she said. It was dark by the time we left this village and drove to the little township of Kavimvira, where we spent the night.
The following day in Kavimvira, more than 800 believers from many villages gathered to welcome Amatu’l-Bahá. Nineteen believers had walked long distances from the mountain villages to present at this meeting. The friends had decorated the area under huge mango trees with flowers tied to strings and stretched from branch to branch. Unfortunately, very strong winds began to blow in from Lake Tanganyika and we were obliged to move the meeting to a small unfinished building nearby. To our surprise we saw that the dear friends had foreseen such an emergency and had also decorated this building and its entrance to make sure that their beloved guest would sit under flowers wherever the meeting might be held.
The courtesy and sincere love of these believers moved Amatu’l-Bahá very deeply. She spoke of the life of Bahá’u’lláh. She said, “When I look at your shining, smiling faces gazing at me with so much love, I cannot help but remember the Words of Bahá’u’lláh, uttered with such joy when He was in Baghdád, when He announced to the believers that the Cause of God had now reached Karkuk. Karkuk was about 30 kilometres from Baghdád, yet the fact that the Message of God had reached there rejoiced His heart. How happy then He must be now to see all of you in this meeting.”
The believers in this area, and in Fizi to the south, have suffered a great deal since 1965, when a civil war began. Many entirely innocent people suffered in the tribal wars, despite their lack of involvement in the contested issues. For years, many of them were hidden in the forest. Even now they suffer from time to time at the hands of rebels who attack villages in search of food and kill whoever gets in their way. A dear Bahá’í had just lost his eight year old son. The boy was shot dead when a band of rebels attacked the village during the father’s absence. In addition, both the man’s wife and his old mother were injured.
Amatu’l-Bahá’s interpreter during this whole period in Kivu was a young man, consecrated to the service of the Faith; a deep, well-informed Bahá’í, and the secretary of the Regional Teaching Committee. When a man asked why Bahá’u’lláh had appeared in the world, and had He come to supplant Jesus Christ, Amatu’l-Bahá told this young man, her interpreter, to answer the question himself, in his own language, as he knew the answer just as well as she did. His reply was short, logical, and absolutely convincing.
He said, “Do you have a brother?”
“Yes,” the man said.
“Is he younger or older than you?” “Younger.”
“When your brother was born did he make you any less than you are; did he take your place in life; did he reduce you in any way?” “No,” the man said. “It is the same way with Jesus and Bahá’u’lláh,” our young Bahá’í said. “They came to this world at different times, each has His own place and position, neither takes anything away from the other.”
Because our little hotel was very noisy we spent the next three nights in a Catholic mission school in the town of Uvira, where the nuns very kindly took us in. It was one of the more interesting places we slept in during our years of traveling in Africa. As it was the Christmas holidays, the girls were all away and we were given a huge dormitory with 68 beds all to ourselves. It was very eerie at night with bats flying in and out. What was interesting to us was the fact that on New Year’s Eve 1972, we dined with the Catholic Bishop in Mweka, in Kasai, central Zaïre. On New Year’s Eve 1973 we dined with the Italian Catholic Sisters in Uvira, in the eastern province of Zaïre. In many parts of the country, the missions, particularly the Catholic missions, are the only place one can spend the night. There are no hotels and usually the homes of the believers are too small and overcrowded to enable them to take in guests. We were surprised to find so many of these Catholic missionaries friendly towards the Faith and very tolerant as a whole.
In the village of Kabimba, where the friends had recently built a fine new Centre and had decorated it with beautiful arches of flowers to welcome Amatu’l-Bahá, more then 400 believers listened to her word of encouragement. She praised their building and told them a mud building is a practical, cool and economic building; it is not a sign of poverty or ignorance, as you sometimes think it is. Nor are these buildings confined to Africa; in the whole of Asia and South America, she said, almost all buildings are entirely built with mud. Mud is an ancient, convenient and universal building material. Many Persian Bahá’í villagers live in mud houses too, she said. She told them that mud is an excellent material for hot climates because it is always cool; and the thatched roofs are the best ones, because they do not make any noise during the torrential rains, the way tin roofs do. As she spoke these words the beautiful faces of her listeners broke into smiles of self-esteem and confidence.
Rúḥíyyih Khánum said that if we look at our lives we see that our health, our children, the food we eat, the air we breathe, are all bounties of Almighty God. Without His bounty, His mercy and His grace we would not exist even for a moment. With all His continuous bounties, what do we do for God? Whatever we do in service to Him and love for Him is like a small grain brought to the feet of the King by a lowly ant, she said. Yet He not only accepts our humble offering, but abundantly blesses us. The beautiful building built in the name of Bahá’u’lláh was part of their lives spent in His service. If we look at our daily lives, we realize how little of such hours we give Him. She said hours, days, weeks, months and years of our lives are spent in eating and sleeping and attending to the trivial things of life. She said they must be happy that they had given this service to Bahá’u’lláh, should continuously use this Centre to attract more souls to His Cause and serve Him in teaching His Faith.
The spirit of service is a God-given gift, she said. You can see this in a family. One child may be endowed with this gift; without being asked he searches for ways to serve his parents, his sisters and brothers. He is always ready to give a hand to others. We must be like that; vie with one another in the service of the Cause of God. This Bahá’í Centre, Rúḥíyyih Khánum said, can become the focal point of your activities. If you come here daily for prayers you can attract the help and guidance of Bahá’u’lláh. Through these prayers you can connect your souls to the source of power and energy, which is there to help us, if only we know how to reach it. By accepting Bahá’u’lláh we have made the fundamental connection. Through prayer we shall witness great miracles. ‘Abdu’l-Baha said, “As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be. This is the balance, this is the balance, this is the balance.”
One of their most recent songs has words such as these: “Oh Bahá’u’lláh, we were blind, You opened our eyes; we were deaf, You gave us hearing; hold our hands to the end of our lives.” When they sing these exquisite songs their faces become radiant with their joy at being Bahá’ís. What precious jewels Bahá’u’lláh has created in these remote villages of Zaïre.
The End of the Great Safari
[The Great Safari of Hand of the Cause Rúḥíyyih Khánum]
By Violette Nakhjavání
published in Bahá’í News #513, December 1973, pp. 17-21
The day we spent in two villages with the Bahá’ís in Fizi was one of the happiest days of our stay in Zaïre. The village of Ngovi, which was the nearest village to the damaged bridge that separated us from hundreds of villages and tens of thousands of believers, was chosen to receive beloved Rúḥíyyih Khánum. Almost 2,000 people, mostly believers representing more than forty communities, were gathered. A group of them had walked more than 100 kilometers over the mountains to get to the meeting. These mountain villages are practically cutoff from the rest of the region, because even during the dry season only a part of the area is accessible by a car with four-wheel drive. The rest of the area must be reached on foot.
Somehow, news of Amatu’l-Bahá’s arrival in their region reached the mountain villages. A delegation came down to the nearest village to find out more about this news. When they arrived, they found the believers streaming in from all over that district to cross the river to attend the meeting in Ngovi; they promptly joined the friends and came to this meeting.
It took the two Auxiliary Board members and the National Spiritual Assembly and Teaching Committee representatives quite some time to calm down these mountain friends and answer their vehement protestations at having been neglected and not properly advised of Amatu’l-Bahá’s arrival. With proper notice a much larger group of the believers might have come to welcome her and hear her talk. It should be noted that the omission was not deliberate. Communications in Africa are an ever-present obstacle to organized activity of any kind.
A number of Pygmy Bahá’ís from nearby villages also attended this meeting. The decorations and arches erected in this village were very beautiful. There were five rows of nine poles, set about five meters apart; forty-five poles altogether. These structures were roofed with branches.
The branches were not leafy enough, and the hot morning sun penetrated easily. The ladies present would get up from time to time, remove one of their outer skirts or their cloth headgear, and spread them over the branches to increase the shade. I counted twenty-five pieces of brightly colored material spread gaily over our heads.
The exemplary conduct of the Bahá’ís of Fizi has been for many years a source of pride not only to the Bahá’ís of this region, but also to their National Assembly. There are numerous local centers throughout this district, erected wholly by the local believers, without any assistance from outside. The holding of Nineteen Day Feasts and Local Spiritual Assembly meetings is a common thing here. The regular donations of the Fizi believers to the different Funds has been exemplary. Many believers in this district have suffered imprisonment and have been beaten because they were Bahá’ís. Some have been falsely accused or suspected in periods of civil distress and strife. The believers here have sacrificed a great deal because of their love for the Faith. Their greatest blessing and protection has been their strict adherence to the Laws of Bahá’u’lláh, such as abstinence from alcoholic beverages, the practice of monogamy, and non-interference in politics. Disobedience of the law by any individual believer, we were told, is promptly reported to the Local Spiritual Assembly concerned, which makes a detailed report to the National Spiritual Assembly, and recommends a just punishment.
The thirst and eagerness of the Bahá’ís to learn more, to drink in every word uttered by Amatu’l-Bahá, was evidenced on this [sic] beautiful, alert and smiling faces, with their shining eyes. The unusual and tangible spirit of these believers conveyed itself to the heart of beloved Amatu’l-Bahá, eliciting from her such thoughts and words as to make this meeting one of the rarest I had witnessed.
She said the foundation of all creation is love. It was the love of our Creator that caused us to come into being, and it is our love for Him that will cause us to establish our eternal connection with Him. In The Hidden Words, Bahá’u’lláh says, “Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee.” This is the essence of life. Rúḥíyyih Khánum then offered the following example: If a thirsty man reaches a spring of water but has no hands or receptacle with which to drink, he knows the life-giving water is there, he knows that he should drink of it in order to live, but he is not equipped to partake of it. The love and the mercy of God are there, abundant and always available for us to reach, but we must make the effort to get to them.
She said the body of man is exactly like that of the animal, because physically man is an animal, with all the characteristics of animals. What distinguishes man from the animals is his soul, the spiritual side of man which survives death and lives eternally. It is this side of man that is created in the image of God, and during our earthly life, must be developed.
On January 14 we left Goma and entered Rwanda, accompanied still by Mrs. Pawlowska. On our way to the capital we stopped to visit several communities. In the village of Nhomero, more than 140 adults and children received Amatu’l-Bahá on a hillside looking out to beautiful, rugged terrain. She spoke of life after death and mentioned several ways we can help our loved ones in the other world, like offering prayers for them or giving money to the Fund in their names, or undertaking some special service to the Cause on their behalf.
In the home of one of the believers, near the town of Butare, where the Cause was first taught by the dear Collisons in 1953, Amatu’l-Bahá met with the Bahá’ís and their friends and spoke to them of the progress of the Faith all over the world, and particularly its progress in Africa.
On our return trip to Kigali, she met with the believers and their friends in two suburbs, and held deep discussions on the proofs of the truth of the Message of Bahá’u’lláh.
In the village of Taba more than 150 people, mostly non-Bahá’ís, attended Rúḥíyyih Khánum’s talk. She encouraged the believers to make an effort to travel away from their village and to carry this wonderful message of love and brotherhood to others; she spoke of the life of the Master, and recounted how, at the end of His life, when His body was old and His health broken by a lifetime of suffering, exile and imprisonment, He made long and exhausting journeys to carry the Message of His beloved Father to the people of the West; and how, before His passing, He had appealed to the believers to travel and teach.
Amatu’l-Bahá said, “I am a widow, sixty-two years old; I have no children, no sisters, no brothers, no parents. The only reason I have come to Africa, at this age, is in response to the beautiful words of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and because the only time the beloved Guardian gave any indication of what I might do after him, was one day, when suddenly, he looked at me and said, ‘What will become of you after I die …?’ This distressed me very much and I pleaded with him not to say such a terrible thing, that I would never live after he was dead; but he continued and said, ‘I suppose you will go and visit the friends in different countries and encourage them.’ If I can do this at my age,” she said, “of course you can do it too.”
The last village meeting was in Kagina, in Rwanda, where more than 250 people gathered to receive Amatu’l-Bahá. Our meetings were often held on a hillside, outside the crowded village. Here they had erected a special shelter of branches and leaves to protect us from the blazing sun. Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke to them about the purpose of creation and the journey of the soul of man through the different worlds of God. The life of man in this world, she said, is only a period of preparation for the eternal world of God; if, in this life, we make no spiritual preparation for that eternal life, we will be unhappy and undeveloped when we die and pass on to the next world.
In Kigali Amatu’l-Bahá was interviewed on radio about the Bahá’í Faith. This was particularly important because it was the first time news of the Faith was broadcast in the country. The highlight of her visit to Kigali, however, was her audience with President Gregoire Kayibanda, the President of the Republic of Rwanda. This meeting took place on January 17, at the President’s residence. It lasted forty-five minutes, during which time Rúḥíyyih Khánum was able to speak on many different topics that deeply interested the President. He was a teacher by profession before entering politics, and is a very thoughtful man, deeply interested in spiritual subjects. Amatu’l-Bahá several times mentioned the name of Bahá’u’lláh and some of His Teachings, particularly the principle of obedience to government. She presented the President with a copy of her own book, Prescription for Living, which interested him very much, and a copy of the pamphlet on obedience to government. I am sure this interview and the personality of Amatu’l-Bahá impressed him deeply and influenced his subsequent decision to grant official recognition to the Faith.
One of the topics Rúḥíyyih Khánum touched upon in her talk with Mr. Kayibanda was her love for the people of Africa and the glorious destiny that lies ahead for them. The President was pleased by her statement.
He replied, “I have studied the philosophy of the people of the West, which is very different from the African understanding and belief. You take birth, puberty, maturity and death as one process. When you reach death it is all cut off and stops, that is the end. Then there is something called eternal life, but that is vague and separate from all the different phases of this life.
“We Africans believe in birth, puberty, marriage, maturity, death and the continuation of life into an after life, all as one unbroken line,” he said. “We do not see them as separate parts.”
Amatu’l-Bahá told him this was exactly the Bahá’í belief and doctrine. His Excellency was very kind and permitted me to take his photograph with Amatu’l-Bahá, which necessitated stepping out into the garden where there was more light.
The purpose of the appearance of all the Manifestations of God is to teach man how to develop his soul and control and harness his animal side. These Divine Teachers give us the shortest directions to reaching our goal; but, man, unfortunately, through ignorance and stubbornness, always chooses the longest way, which is thorny and full of suffering. The physical life is finite and of short duration compared with the eternal and everlasting life of our souls. The soul of man is like a mirror; if this mirror is turned down to the dark earth, it reflects only the mud, but if it is turned upwards to the light of God and to spiritual matters, then it reflects the divine light and glory.
For more than two hours Amatu’l-Bahá spoke on these subjects and answered many questions. It was with great reluctance on everyone’s part that the meeting finally ended. That afternoon we had to go to a second meeting, in the village of Katota.
The Bahá’í Center of Katota was built on the top of a small, steep hill, up high for all to see; the steep path to the Center was decorated with green, flower-covered arches, a beautiful and delicate symbol of love and unity. More than 500 people, mostly Bahá’ís, came to welcome Rúḥíyyih Khánum. She praised their building, especially the site they had chosen for it. She said the beloved Guardian always advised and encouraged the believers to buy, if possible, Temple lands on hillsides; this Center is seen by all the villagers and passers-by, and is itself a silent teacher proclaiming the oneness of God, the oneness of religions and the oneness of mankind. This was a long and exhausting day, but that night, when we went to sleep in our dormitory with 68 beds, tired but blissful, our souls were uplifted by the memory of our visit with such lovely believers.
The last stage of Amatu’l-Bahá’s tour of Zaïre was along the western shore of Lake Kivu. This area has been newly opened to the Faith. In the village of Tshibanodja more than sixty greeted her. They had borrowed a house still under construction for this meeting and had decorated the exterior and interior with flowers.
Because there were non-Bahá’ís present, Rúḥíyyih Khánum spoke on the Message of Bahá’u’lláh and its significance in the world today. The children, who have a regular Bahá’í class, recited prayers and sang Bahá’í songs for us. On January 10 we left for Goma; we bade farewell to the friends in Bukavu, and to the believers gathered at the center for an intensive deepening course for several months. Bahá’ís from Fizi and elsewhere had been meeting at the Bukavu Center for an extended teaching institute to deepen a larger number of believers, who would, in turn, conduct similar courses in villages throughout their region.
Goma is the town on the opposite end of Lake Kivu from Bukavu, on the Rwanda frontier. Accompanied by Mrs. Pawlowska and the secretary of the Regional Teaching Committee, who was an excellent translator, we drove over a ghastly dirt road through the hills, to meet in some villages along our way. An Auxiliary Board member, Mr. Shabani Salatiel, one of the oldest believers in Kivu, went ahead to prepare the friends for Amatu’l-Bahá’s arrival. In the village of Kiniezeri, where only three or four months earlier the Message of Bahá’u’lláh had been introduced, the believers had already built a very presentable local center, now beautifully decorated to honor their distinguished guest. More than 120 people anxiously listened to the words of encouragement and love from Amatu’l-Bahá, who spoke on the power and potency of the Word of God. She said it is through this power that hearts are changed, characters are transformed, and the lives of men become mirrors of the Will of God; love must nourish our souls with the transmuting power of the Word of God, and thus allow the Will of God to shine through our lives. ‘Abdu’l-Baha used to tell the believers that He wished for them to be distinguished. In this way people would see in us something different and good and wonder what it was that made us different. They would soon ask us to share it with them.
We said goodby to the Board member, Mrs. Pawlowska, who had accompanied us on so many trips, and to the dear Kigali believers, and drove off to Burundi, the thirty-third African country on our tour (if one includes the visit to the Seychelles, our thirty-fourth country). Although we had little hope of being able to see anyone but the dear Egyptian pioneer family who have steadfastly served the Faith there for many years, Rúḥíyyih Khánum felt impelled to make this extra journey for their sake. We arrived in Bujumbura after an all-day drive. During our two nights and one day visit, we were able to meet with the Egyptian family and a few of the old and dear believers in the city. Because of the state of emergency which had existed, and the necessary restrictions imposed upon all persons by the government, it was not possible to visit the believers or hold any meetings. In fact, it was little short of a miracle that we got our visa to go there at all, as we were told that no tourists were being permitted entry for the time being.
However, five of the African believers were privileged to meet Rúḥíyyih Khánum and share a cup of tea with our group. These dear friends, because of the disturbances in their country, have been deprived of any form of public Bahá’í life. Consequently, their joy at meeting Amatu’l-Bahá was very touching. In her conversation she told them about the dedication of the Panama Bahá’í Temple and about the rapid spread of the Cause of God throughout the world. She encouraged them to be patient and to read and study the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. In her deep love and sympathy for these friends, Rúḥíyyih Khánum spontaneously took out a vial of attar of rose from her handbag and anointed the entire company. She had never done a thing like this before, except the Temple dedications, as the believers prepared to view the blessed portraits of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb. It brought to our minds the words of the Prophet Muhammad, “. . . and their end shall be perfumed “
On our way back through Tanzania we stopped for a couple of days in the beautiful town of Arusha. The friends there arranged for a reception in Amatu’l-Bahá’s honor, to which a number of distinguished guests were invited. They listened with interest to Amatu’l-Bahá’s short talk on “The Spiritual Destiny of Africa.” A day long get-together in the home of one of the devoted pioneer families there enabled many of the believers from the town, as well as nearby villages, to be near Rúḥíyyih Khánum. listen to her, ask questions and participate in discussions. During the afternoon the announcement of the engagement of two of the young pioneers, one from Iran and one from India, turned the meeting into a most joyous occasion for all present.
During the three weeks we were in Nairobi to prepare for our final departure from Africa, Rúḥíyyih Khánum and I made a five-day, 1,000-mile journey to the northeastern part of Kenya, one of the wilder and more untouched portions of that beautiful country, to visit some of its famous tribal people. We drove to Maralal, Lake Rudolf, across the desert to Marsabit, and then back to Nairobi. By the time we finished driving in Africa, the Land Rover’s speedometer registered 36,000 miles. In itself this distance is not great. But considering the type of roads these miles were driven on, one realizes what a tremendous achievement this was. The last engagement of Rúḥíyyih Khánum was a very happy day spent with a large number of Bahá’ís in the National Ḥaẓíratu’l-Quds. She made many observations about Africa, and voiced her conviction that what is needed most in the world today is a sincere demonstration of unity and harmony among the believers, words of encouragement for our distressed fellow men, a positive outlook, seeing the good in people and mentioning it, and ignoring the bad. Even heads of state, presidents, and kings were visibly affected by an encouraging word, she said; how much more the ordinary men, who have so often received nothing from the white man but criticism and ridicule.
Looking back on this period of three years, eight months and eleven days, during which Amatu’l-Bahá was absent from Haifa, almost three years of which were spent on the continent of Africa, I cannot help but feel gratitude at being a witness to one of the greatest acts of devotion and servitude in the history of this period of our Faith. The seeds of the Message of God, spread abundantly throughout this continent by our most beloved Guardian a little over 20 years ago, had, during these last few years, been continuously watered and nurtured by the presence of Amatu’l-Bahá, the last link between humanity and the blessed source of our religion, the four Central Figures of our Faith. Amatu’l-Bahá crossed the continent of Africa twice and with her deep love breathed a new life and a new hope into all its inhabitants. I firmly believe that future generations will study her life, her services and her travels in those lands honored by her visits, and pattern their conduct on her example, inspired to follow in her footsteps. To my fanciful imagination, her visit to the resting-place of her most beloved Shoghi Effendi in London was symbolic. It was in July 1969, from that blessed spot, that she took her leave and started on her long African Safari; and now, in February of 1973, she came back, laying her services and her victories at his feet.