Page 3, 13th January 1956

13th January 1956
Page 3
Page 3, 13th January 1956 — And got himself 150 wives

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Organisations: MISSION ON THE NILE


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And got himself 150 wives

-By Mgr. S. M.SHAW

National Director of the Pontifical Mission Aid Societies

l'HE BISHOP WITH 150 WIVES, by F. X. Gsell (Angus and Robertson, 12s. 6d.).

MISSION ON THE NILE, by J. Dempsey (Burns Oates, 21s.). THE easy way in which missionaries write about their lives and their work could be misleading but for the flash of illumination that comes. quite casually. in the course of the reading.

Bishop Gsell's book, " The Bishop With 150 Wives," trips along so pleasantly that the reader almost gets the impression that being a Missionary is the easiest thing; then, on page 59, comes the flash: " Even after 30 years of work, we could not claim one single adult convert." Not so easy, perhaps, after all !

You may read, here, about the aborigines of Australia, as Fr. Gsell, M.S.C., found them in the island of Bathurst. off the north Australian coast. So persuasively does the author write that the reader feels that he himself is sharing in the triumph of getting a couple married, feels vividly that this marriage at which he is assisting is an historic occasion.

Don't they get married, then, these Australian aborigines? Indeed they do! Every girl born is born married; she belongs, as a chattel, to her mother's son-in-law who has been appointed to that office by the tribe.

It was in the upsetting of this immemorial tribal custom that the matrimonial triumph lay: Fr. Gsell's couple had been married in the way we are familiar with, in that the girl, of responsible age and still free, had been at liberty to say yes or no to her suitor.

The story of how she came to he free explains the unusual title of this book; Fr. Gsell bought 150 baby girls-they became his wives by tribal law--in order to bring them up as Catholics.


OTHER strange things you may read here : of a native surgeon operating with a broken bottle for a scalpel; of useless people in the tribe, who might not be killed outright, being helped to die by the compendious method of burying them alive; of divorce among the aborigines and of the terrifying way in which judgment is given.

It is sad to read that " the farther the black men are from the white, the easier they are to convert," and. again, that " half-caste children, the offspring of white men. arc inferior to the children of coloured men."

This is altogether a delightful book. The quality of the writing may he judged from the sentence on page 137: " Of course, it was quite out of the question for us to buy a tractor. And so we bought one."

Again, typical is the sentence on page 105: " Since, to the Communists, the aborigines, as ' an

oppressed people.' are already in a state of Communistic grace, it naturally follows that the missionary is Enemy Number One."

The translator, as well as the author, is to be congratulated.


FR. DEMPSEY'S " Mission On The Nile" is written in the same easy fashion that could, once more, give the impression that being a missionary is rather what our Victorian fathers might have called " a bit of a lark "; the big flash of illumination comes in the last sentence, where the author quotes an American colleague: " I guess you haven't got to he crazy to be a missionary, but it helps," The book deals with the Shilluk, a strange, not amenable people of Africa. living in the southern Sudan, along the left bank of the White Nile.

The story does not lead up to any great achievement; rather, it

gives a picture of the Shilluk themselves and of the life they lead, along side another picture of the missionary in their midst and the life he leads.

That is not to say that the hook is divided into two parts; the pictures emerge from the whole story, each growing clearer. more sharply in focus, as it is told. and told with much skill, by the author.

The Shilluk theology, presented on page 53, will probably surprise many readers; the rites attending the death and burial of the king. with the rites for the election of his successor, are utterly fascinating; the two chapters on " Justice" and " Religion " deserve special mention.


Fr HE Shilluk are not easily converted. Fr. Dempsey -he is one of our Mill Hill Fathers-tells of much work that produced a congregation for Mass of one child and two adults; he shows, in the chapter headed " Famine and Flood," how even the children can be bitterly disappointing to the priest who has given of his best for them.

Mentioning children reminds one of the multiplication table as learnt by the Shilluk : "Ten with two to its head (i.e. 12) its inside has two multiplied by six "; teaching people as literal as that must be gruelling work.

But the work goes on; and if the grace of God is the first requisite, a sense of humour seems to be the second. for the making of a missionary to the Shilluk; after that, all you need is the constitution of a horse and a vast charity.

Fr. Dempsey seems to have all the qualifications. together with a nice command of his mother tongue that has enabled him to make a valuable contribution to the literature on the Sudan.

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