Mary Slessor, the woman who stopped the killing of twins

Olawunmi Omosanya - Mon, 29th April, 2019 @ 20:29: PM

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Herbert Macaulay, the Nigerian Nationalist Mary Slessor, the woman who stopped the killing of twins

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Mary Mitchell Slessor, the woman who stopped the killing of twins in Nigeria was born on the 2nd day of December 1848 in Aberdeen, Scotland into a family of 9 (comprising of father, mother and 7 children). Her parents were poor and as a result, they lived in the ghettos of Dundee where Mary was raised. Mary started working at the age of 11 even though she was still a student at that time. She lost her father and brothers from a lung disease and was left with her mom and sisters. After years of study in Scotland, she was assigned to the land of Efik in Calabar, Nigeria at age 28. During this time, various superstitious practices were prevalent in the land. Some of these include:

  • Taboos relating to the birth of twins
  • Taboos relating to albinos
  • Taboos relating to physically challenged infants and so on

Mary Slessor, a red hair and blue eyed woman lived a very simple life in an area of the Efik tribe called Okoyong. She blended so well with the natives, ate their food, understood the people and was able to speak their language. (I can personally tell you that the native language of the people of efik can be very tough to learn). She confronted various pertinent issues in Okoyong; some of which included:

  • Lack of Western education in the land
  • Determining guilt by making suspected persons drink poison
  • The sacrifice of human beings at the death of a village king or elder (they believed that these will serve the king in the afterlife)
  • The killing of twins

Note: She went to Okoyong even with the knowledge that previous missionaries had been killed there.

Image Credit: Reaching and Teaching

At that time, the birth of twins was considered a grave evil and curse. The people of Efik believed that the father of one of the twins was an evil spirit and thus considered one of the child to be a 'devil child'. They also believed that the mother of the twins had committed (or is guilty of an) unknown grave sin. Since they were not able to determine which twin was fathered by the evil spirit, they adopted the tradition of abandoning both babies (the twins) in the bush, inside a clay pot to eventually die. This superstitious threat against twins also spread to a town called Arochukwu in Abia state, on the west border of Calabar. 

Mary frequently evangelized the people concerning this evil act of twins killing but no one cared to listen to her, especially the elders. She then pleaded with the chiefs of Okoyong about her complete willingness to take the twins into her own home in order to prove her point "that twins are a gift from God and are completely innocent". She wasn’t granted her earnest request at this time.

Because of the great love Mary had for children, she took things personal and with great courage. She adopted every abandoned child she could find. She sent out people (referred to as twins' missioners) to find, protect and care for them at the Mission House. At one time, she saved a pair of twin, a boy and a girl. The boy eventually died but she took the girl as her daughter and called her Janie.

In addition to this great mission she had undertaken, she also went about on foot from home to home, preaching the gospel and praying for the sick. God blessed her mission by performing healing miracles through her prayers. She helped heal the sick and also stopped the practice of determining guilt by making the suspects drink poison. She settled disputes among the people and also established educational institutes as well as churches. It was during her selfless mission in Calabar that she received news that her mother had died. 

Her exploits were broadcasted all over Britain and she became known as the "white queen of Okoyong". She was a driving force behind the establishment of the Hope Waddell Training Institute in Calabar, which provided practical vocational training to the natives of Efik.

In 1892, Slessor became the vice-consul in Okoyong, where she presided over the native court. She was named vice-president of Ikot Obong native court in 1905. 

In 1913, she was awarded the Order of St John. 

Slessor's health began to fail in her later years, but by this time, the people of Okoyong looked up to her as a leader. She was well respected and loved by the people who at this time had stopped the killing of their twins and other superstitious practices. She remained in Calabar, where she died in 1915 at age 66. The entire village mourned when she died. Her funeral was massive as senior British officials were in attendance.


Other Honours of Mary Slessor

Her work in Okoyong earned her the Efik nickname of "Obongawan Okoyong" (Queen of Okoyong), “Eka Kpukpru owo” (Everybody's mother). She is still recognized with those titles in calabar to this very moment.

Several memorials in and around Calabar reflects the value placed on her work. Some of these include:

  • Mary Slessor road in Calabar 
  • Mary Slessor roundabout 
  • Mary Slessor Church 
  • Statues of her (usually carrying twins) at various locations in Calabar 

A high school named in honour of Slessor in Arochukwu 

A female hostel in the University of Nigeria Nsukka is named Mary Slessor Hall

A girl's house, "Slessor House", was named after her in Achimota School, Ghana

She is a part of the Hall of Heroes of the National Wallace Monument in Stirling, Scotland

A new city centre park in Dundee is named 'Slessor Gardens'

She is the first woman to be featured on the back of the Clydesdale bank's £10 note, depicting her work in Calabar. The note also features a map of Calabar

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