Ibia J'ikenge: A Man's Man Among Benga
Mary Henrietta Kingsley listened with rapt attention as the aging Benga pastor described what his people once were: a powerful and proud nation among the many peoples of Equatorial West Africa. It was 1895, and the famed British traveler was visiting the island of Corisco, gathering scientific data on indigenous fish species, and also recording interesting details on the local cultures and people she encountered. Pastor Ibia described to Kingsley how the Benga entered into trade with Europeans—exchanging ivory and slaves for European goods. They had fallen into the trap of receiving goods on credit, and becoming indebted to the European traders. Rum was destroying their culture, and men no longer valued hard work or the glories of war; the incentives were gone, and men had become “indolent.” Ibia added that the Benga had “taken to bad habits...such as infant marriage.” This practice was unknown a mere forty years earlier, but now, “old men buy girl children, both as wives for themselves and for their infant sons.”
While Ibia was glad that the “old warlike, bloodthirsty Benga spirit was broken,” he lamented that the ancient Benga values of ‘manhood’ had been compromised by the effects of the white man’s influence. Throughout his forty-five years of Christian ministry, he sought a return to godly manhood through industry, education, and Christian values. Ibia recognized, early on, that to build up his people, he needed to affirm the rights of women, to recognize their giftedness in ministry, and to honor their worth and investment in the well-being of the community.
Ibia fought this war for Benga manhood on two fronts-- standing against patriarchal Benga customs which held women in fear, subjection and oppression, and standing against the missionary patriarchy, which kept ecclesial control in the hands of missionaries, who were reticent to grant autonomy and authority to African church leaders. Ibia capitalized on the growing wave of woman’s work, both in the US and in his scattered local churches, to bring social reform and spiritual renewal to his people. In many ways, it was the emphasis on women’s ministry (much supported and promoted by Pastor Ibia) which brought transformation among the Benga men, and spiritual growth among the Benga people.
Conditions for Women of Corisco
Seventy years prior to Kingsley’s visit with Ibia, and thirty years before missionaries first brought the gospel to Corisco, Captain Thomas Boteler visited the island. As he sailed up the Atlantic coast of equatorial Africa in the 1820s, Boteler recorded his encounters with local people in his travelogue, which was published in 1835. Boteler was a keen observer of the people and customs, though he relied on a local informer, a young African man who served on the ship, to interpret and explain the local customs:
The women of Corisco are also kept in precisely the same degraded state as those on the Gaboon and I am inclined to believe that, in savage life, where might constitutes right so much more than it does in civilized countries, the weaker vessel always goes to the wall, and forms, as it were, a link between freedom and slavery.” He continued, “At Corisco, a female is purchased for a wife from her parents; and if her husband, after taking her to his house, finds, even after keeping her some days, that she falls short of his expectations, as to her ability to perform the various duties allotted to her, he returns her forthwith to her parents, demanding at the same time restitution of the goods which he paid. If this is refused, he immediately sells her for a slave, to reimburse himself in part for his loss: for the value of a free woman, as a wife, is far greater than that of a female slave; and the difference consequently constitutes the loss.”
This was the world into which Ibia J’Ikenge was born, and one that he would ultimately challenge as the first Christian pastor among the Benga people of Corisco in Equatorial Africa.
The Corisco mission was established on the island in 1850. Two couples, the Mackeys and the Simpsons, spent their first weeks at the Gaboon Mission, in order to “acclimate” to the African climate. Just before their transition to Corisco, Mrs. Mackey died, and was buried at the Gaboon Mission cemetery. Within a year, the Simpsons were lost at sea in a powerful storm, leaving the widower, Rev. James L. Mackey, alone in the fledgling work. Over the next decade, several other couples and single missionaries joined the Corisco Mission and were soon accompanied in their work by three local Christians who served as evangelists and schoolteachers. From the beginning, they worked to establish schools for local children, hoping to invest in the next generation of leaders who would be “a blessing to their tribes” and would eventually reach “numerous and widely spread tribes [who] could be reached and effectually influenced only by a Christian native agency”. They saw the educational operations of the mission as important to the eventual evangelization of that vast region of Equatorial Africa. The missionaries also hoped that the education of girls and young women would transform the “social conditions” of their people. Some fifty years after Boteler’s description, the women of Corisco were still being treated by their husbands and fathers as property. In 1874, a young woman lamented to missionary Louise Reutlinger: “We are bought with bars of iron, and ruled with iron…pray for us!”.
Corisco Mission’s First Convert
Ibia J’Ikenge was a teenager when the Presbyterian missionaries first arrived on the island of Corisco and is considered to be their first convert. He had initial contact with Christians as a young boy while employed on the distant island of Fernando Po. “Here...I first heard the gospel and the fear of hell got hold of me. Afterward I went home to Corisco, and understood the word more perfectly from the missionaries there.” Missionaries noted that Ibia was a bright student, well-behaved and fully trustworthy. He received an education at the mission school established by Rev. and Mrs. Mackay and later prepared for ministry under the tutelage of Rev. Clemens. Ibia was the “first” in many such spiritual and cultural transitions, often meeting conflict with both his community and with the mission leaders as he pioneered Christian leadership among the Benga people and their neighbors.
In the 1858 Report of the Board, Corisco missionaries reported the loss of at least one missionary and the departure (due to sickness) of several others. They add that these absences would have rendered it impossible to carry on the various departments of labor at these stations, if it had not been for the marked efficiency of three native young men, who were called into more active labor by these circumstances. They also reported a Christian marriage among the Corisco believers. Though their names are not given, it is clearly Ibia and his bride Hika:
One of the older and more advanced pupils of the [girls’] school has recently been united in marriage to the native Christian man who has charge of the school at Alongo. This is the first Christian marriage ever ratified among the inhabitants of the island, and it is fervently hoped that it may be the beginning of a better state of things among them.
Hika was no more than sixteen years of age at the time of her marriage. Within a year, there were at least five more Christian marriages involving girls educated at the mission school. Missionaries saw this as an indication of a strong tendency among the people to conform to habits of civilization, especially when it is remembered how strongly the sentiment in favour of polygamy was formerly entrenched in their hearts. The marriage of Ibia and Hika seemed to be a stable and strong one. Forty-five years later, in an article on the ramifications of polygamy, missionary Robert Hamill Nassau paid homage to Ibia’s relationship with his wife, as a contrast to the typical marriage: “It is man’s idea here that woman is inferior, and must be in every way subservient. I know scarcely any of our male church-members who are thoroughly civilized on this matter”. Nassau lamented that even native ministers model this type of relationship, with the exception of the late Ibia, whom he considered to be a notably civilized man: “I know none of our native elders who accord their wives equality”. 
Licensed to Preach
Ibia is first mentioned by name in the Annual Report of the Board for 1858. That year, he was listed as a native teacher. Subsequent annual reports list him as native assistant, and native helper; by early 1861, he is officially listed as a licentiate preacher. As one reads the mission reports, it becomes evident that such “promotions” came slowly, and usually at times when missionaries had no other recourse but to elevate a local leader to a position of authority due to loss of missionary personnel to death and illness.
Within six months of Ibia’s placement as preacher at the Ilobi out-station, there were fifty persons attending services on the Sabbath and seven were expressing interest in salvation. Despite the laudatory remarks on Ibia’s ministry, and the responsibility given him when missionary leaders were absent, the 1863 mission report states that “none of the native brethren, as yet, appear to be called to the pastoral office, nor does the time seem to have come for organizing the native communicants into separate churches at the different stations. The firm planting of the gospel amongst the people greatly depends on the establishment of such pastoral charges; in every missionary field this is a matter of the greatest moment; but many things have to be considered before measures are taken for this purpose”. It should be noted that one of the greatest barriers to training local pastors was the missionaries’ own lack of organization and availability in regard to theological instruction. In the early decades of the mission, according to Dr. Robert Hamill Nassau, no formal arrangements were made; there was no regular curriculum; no stated school; no designated teacher. Each missionary, from among the employees of his station, or the school assistants, found someone whom he adopted as a protégé, and to whom he gave special instruction. The training was irregular, as to time, because of the missionary’s many other duties.
When missionaries would return to the field, or when new recruits arrived, they were put in positions of authority, and the “native pastors” seemed to be subjugated to them. In May 1864, new missionary George Paull wrote in his journal having visited Alongo and meeting Ibia, who was in charge of the school there, in the absence of the missionaries. Ibia served as interpreter when Rev. Paull was preaching to the Benga people living near Alongo.
In the early 1860s, missionaries noted a positive trend in female attendance:
A large portion of those received to the communion of the church the last year were adult females, who had had no connection with the [mission] schools, and who had had no opportunities of religious instruction except those derived from public preaching on the Sabbath. This is an unusual event in the history of African missions, especially in the earlier stages of their history, and may be regarded as a most encouraging fact in relation to the future prosperity of this particular mission.
The same report also noted that female education was now valued by the local people:
The earlier stage of the mission, it was found very difficult to get any female pupils at all. The habits, prejudices, and superstitious notions of the people were all opposed to the moral and intellectual elevation of the female sex. But this opposition is yielding to the influence of religious principle, and husbands and parents alike are becoming desirous of the education of their daughters and wives.
Charity L. Sneed, who was supported by the Presbyterian Women as both Bible reader and women’s ministry worker among the Benga people, described the local women as “very, very ignorant and miserable”. Sneed had arrived at Corisco thirteen years earlier, in 1859, and had established relationships with the women of the island. She describes her ministry among them:
It has been my custom for some time to visit the women in their different towns. I at first tried to get them to come every afternoon to the mission-house and let me teach them, but they did not continue this long, giving many excuses for not coming. I now go to them. Some are glad to see me and try to learn their letters, others will not try, as they say they cannot see. I also read to them from one of the Gospels and a hymn-book in the Benga language. Generally they are very quiet until I have finished, then they say, ‘You must come often, we like to hear, but are too tired to walk to you after we come from our gardens. We have so many things to do.’
Despite the difficulties of working in a culture where women were treated poorly, the Rev. Cornelius DeHeer noted in his 1873 report for the Corisco mission that the “work among the degraded women has been a most important and promising feature in our work”.
Demoralizing Influence of Trade
In 1864, missionary J.L. Mackey described the negative influence of foreign traders on the men of Corisco in terms of greed, the prevalence of rum, and the lure of easy credit that led to financial bondage. Mackey stated that the mission hoped to establish a trade school, to train men for labor (such as building furniture), and to help them earn a living independent of foreign trade. Mackey also described the “anarchy” common to the tribes of the coast (Corisco, Gaboon), who
…throw off their allegiance to patriarchical [sic] control, to which they formerly, in some degree, submitted; and every man deems it best to do what seems right in his own eyes, which often happens to appear very wrong in the eyes of others… In this tribe, and some others around us, who have made some little start in civilization, there were formerly cunning and artful men, who, through superstitious influences and fetiches [sic] could exercise some control over the people, but these things are becoming antiquated, and there is no suitable governmental power to take their place.
In 1867, while Ibia was still a licentiate preacher, he was stationed at the Mbangwi out-station, and overseeing the scattered preaching outposts. He had, by this time, established a small industrial school, for the purpose of teaching men woodworking skills, and reported that there were “thirteen learners, consisting of ten boys, two men, and one girl”. Ibia also reported progress in the level of morality, industry and marital equity, in that some of the local men are now planting gardens of groundnuts (peanuts) and corn. One man, in contrast to local customs, worked with his wife in making a garden, and “in the open street he carried cassada stick for planting”. Nassau, who summarized Ibia’s report, noted that this is a matter of “reason triumphing over pride”. One Christian man had made a conscious decision to end his betrothal to a young girl who would have been his second wife. Other men were showing resistance to the practice of “trust”—a form of credit given to African traders that quickly entrapped them in debt.
Missionary John Menaul described his visit to “Ibia’s Place” praising the improved methods of constructing bamboo houses, erecting fences around their houses, and planting different kinds of crops. While Ibia hoped that the industrial school would be self-sustaining, he asked the mission for help in procuring machinery to make boards of native lumber, a condenser to help in processing cane sugar, and a machine to grate a local tuber, called mevonda, into starch. The mission educational program for girls gave added training to girls in the skills of housekeeping, sewing, ironing and hospitality. This was seen as a way to help them towards “civilization,” and also potential employment.
Dr. Robert Hamill Nassau, in his History of the Presbytery of Corisco, notes that Ibia was ordained on April 5th 1870. This was the first ordination of a native pastor in the Gaboon and Corisco mission, yet Nassau implies that Ibia’s promotion was primarily due to the need to preserve the Presbytery, which was otherwise reduced to one member.  Published reports of the event also indicate mission reticence in ordaining Ibia:
ORDINATION OF A NATIVE AFRICAN.—The Presbytery of Corisco ordained Mr. Ibia, on the 5th of April, as a minister of the Gospel. In the absence of any other missionaries, he has now sole charge of the work on the island of Corisco—a work altogether too great for him; indeed, one that heretofore required the services of two missionaries from this country.
Shortly after Ibia’s ordination, Dr. Nassau visited the mission at Corisco. He stayed for the week at the home of the pastoral couple, and “did not cease to be struck with respect for Mrs. Ibia’s lady-like entertainment of [him], and her often delicate appreciation of the rites of hospitality”. Nassau also remarked that some of the church women were now clothed with garments made by their own hands, “contrasted with the naked skins of others in the public meetings.” —this seems to indicate that Ibia’s congregation accepted women in either state, seemingly without reproach or shame.
Missionaries and travelers to Corisco through the 1870s continued to remark on the ill-treatment and oppression of women and girls by the men of their community. Among the evidences of this control were the practice of child marriage, polygamy, and the Ukuku men’s secret society (which kept women and girls in fear and subjection) against which Ibia fought head-on. One could argue that Ibia merely appropriated and maintained the views of the white missionaries, as seems apparent in various missionary reports; yet, his own writings indicate a genuine pastoral attentiveness to the concerns of women, and a belief that by improving the quality of life of the women of the community, he was bettering the quality of the community itself. This often put him at odds with the men of Corisco. His 1870 report to the Board describes the early beginnings of women-initiated church ministries, notably a weekly prayer meeting. Ibia saw this as evidence in their “interest in better things”, noting that “it is very pleasing to see them dropping foolish customs one by one, and reducing their knowledge to practice. It is true these things are not godliness, but they help men to lead godly lives better.” In the same report, Ibia mentioned the increased attendance at Sunday services and Sabbath School, including that two of the Sabbath School teachers were women, adding, “It appears at present on the island that the females take more interest in the things of God than the men.”  This increase in women’s activity and ministry in the local church coincided with the new emphasis on “Woman’s Work” in the Presbyterian churches in the U.S. Women were now forming their own mission boards to promote ministries overseas, which focused specifically on women. This was a great boon for Pastor Ibia, who received empathy, encouragement and support (prayer and financial) for the continued work at Corisco, at a time when unbelievers were fighting against the spread of the gospel, and its transforming work among the women.
Missionary Isabella Nassau drew reader attention to Ibia and his wife, Hika, by sharing two letters they had sent her, regarding the progress of the women’s ministry at Corisco. In the first letter to Miss Nassau, which was published in the November 1872 issue of Woman’s Work for Woman, Ibia wrote:
The women receive much opposition from the men. The Bible woman got very ill treatment from one Nga-lo. This man Nga-lo thinks that the Bible woman is spoiling all women, and one of his own in particular. I do not believe that the men will accomplish much by their opposition. The Lord reigns. He will make their wrath to praise him, and restrain the remainder. Tell the Christian ladies to pray more and more for the women of Africa. We feel the influence of their prayers here. Among some of our wants here is a lady to teach the women. My wife salutes you, and hopes you are well. I am your friend in Christ, Ibia. 
Two months later, Ibia added the following report which indicates the continued tension between men and women:
The women are making a good and hopeful progress both in religion and in civilization. If things continue progressing as they do now, there is much hope. We have now seven women in the inquirers’ class, five having professed Christianity, for longer than sixteen months. There is much good news, but we have no time to say all that I like to say. The interest among the women is not confined to Corisco alone, but other places are not so fortunate as to have teachers. All polygamists are angry with what is doing [sic] for women, but it is evident they cannot stop the course of events.
Ibia then adds his wife’s comments, reporting the progress of the sewing school and the women’s prayer meetings on Corisco. The couple had moved to another mission outpost, and was making periodic visits to their former home and station. The letter is signed, “We are your friends, HIKA IBIA, IBIA J’IKENGE”. The mere act of signing his name below hers is a silent tribute to Ibia’s respect for, and deference to, his wife.
The 1873 Annual Report of the Gaboon and Corisco mission noted that, “in the absence of the missionaries [DeHeers, Reutlinger], the native minister, Mr. Ibia, kept up some of the preaching services and other work with good encouragement”.  The report also describes a rise in spiritual interest among the people: “This increase in interest seems especially to manifest itself among the women, who are becoming more and more inclined to civilization. Of nine adults who were baptized last communion, four were women”. Ibia adds to this report,
We are not anxious, however, for numbers only, we are concerned about having real converts. We have now three candidates for the ministry. A chapel was built by the freewill offerings of the people, traders included. It is not yet completed, but worship is held in it’… The stand the Christians take against that murderous imposture Ukuku and other superstitions is gratifying to see. 
Missionary Robert Hamill Nassau describes Ibia’s critique, and even defiance, of local religious and social customs of his people. The first was the male secret society, called Ukuku. Nassau states that the object of the society was
the government, especially, of women, and the settlement of tribal disputes. Knowing their commands simply as men would not be obeyed, the members shrouded themselves with secrecy and oaths, and a claim that the society’s decrees were dictated by a spirit, Ukuku. Denial of this belief, or exposure of its secrets, was followed by instant death.
The Ukuku Society was required of all local men, and while Christians would sever their membership with the society, they would not divulge its secrets. Women and children were terrified by the coming of Ukuku, and would hide or shield their eyes at its coming. Ibia had once been a part of this society, and made an ill-advised effort to expose its falsity. According to Nassau, the incident nearly cost him his life, and it was spared only through the intervention of the missionaries and Ibia’s family. Though they did not kill him, the Society put a curse on Ibia by concocting “fetich charms which would destroy the life of his child, and…would curse the ground on which he trod so that it should sicken his feet.” Nassau notes that Ibia’s infant son, in fact, died not long afterwards, and that he developed a painful ulcer on one foot, which lasted more than a year. While Nassau saw these as startling coincidences, ‘Ibia recognized his afflictions as a trial of his faith permitted by God”  Ukuku proved to be a periodic threat to the missionaries and native ministers for at least the first two decades of the Corisco Presbytery. The Society could pressure whole communities to boycott their targeted “enemy,” refusing to sell them food, give them access to water, or to interact with the community. Ukuku occasionally interrupted mission schools, church services and other Christian activities, according to missionary reports.
The second custom that Ibia challenged was the practice of polygamy and the “marriage-market”. Rich polygamists would buy up young girls for themselves or their infant sons. Marriage was necessary in this culture, and celibacy was virtually unheard of. The Christian young men were unable to find available wives, due to the “dowry” required. For a time, the mission paid the dowry of young Christian schoolgirls and would then be their “guardian.” The young Christian men could choose a wife from these girls, if she consented. Nassau noted that that Ibia “obtained his wife in this way,” but that her parents demanded more money. Because of this, Ibia advised the mission to “give away no more wives, but to require the Christian young men to repay, from their wages, the “dowry” that the mission had given. The system worked for several years, but was eventually abandoned by the mission. By that time, the church had established a rule that Christian parents must not “sell” their daughter in marriage.
Ibia wrote a treatise for his own people, Benga Customs, which was published in his native Benga language in 1874, in the United States, under the direction of Rev. Robert Hamill Nassau. Many years after Ibia’s death, his old colleague, Myongo, shared a translated copy of this book with missionary Jean Kenyon Mackenzie, who then featured it in an article submitted to The Atlantic Monthly magazine:
The people do say, ‘A woman and a man are two different tribes.’ This is not so, woman and the man are but of one nation…Let the woman know everything, that which the man knows only; that which she herself does not want to learn; and let her eat that which the man eats, also except herself refuse. Let them not be kept in ignorance anymore, let them not be deprived of good things; and, I know and they shall ask me that I should shew them the nobility of a woman. I will also ask them that they should shew me of a man.
Missionary correspondence in 1878 indicated a deep rift between Ibia and his missionary colleagues on Corisco. In early January of that year, missionary Louise Reutlinger wrote to Dr. Lowrie: “The mission has released us entirely from our work on Corisco committing it into Mr. Ibia’s hands, whom we trust will be faithful to his charge.” Rev. Cornelius DeHeer had been serving on Corisco Island for twenty-three years, and had known Ibia as a young man, in his earliest years as a believer. DeHeer had buried his first wife and baby son on the island, and now served with his second wife, Reubina. Mrs. Louise Reutlinger had come with her young husband eleven years earlier, and had also buried her spouse and a baby son. The three missionaries had invested a great deal in the early years of the Corisco church, and had been deeply wounded by their rejection by the Corisco church members, and asked to be released from that mission post. Their colleague at Gaboon, Rev. Albert Bushnell, describes the situation: “It is so sad, that they leave Corisco under circumstances so bad—no love or sympathy between them and the people, and no expectation of return there.” Ibia was then officially appointed to take charge of the mission, and one of the theological students was licensed to assist him in the work at nearby Benita station on the mainland. Rev. Bushnell squarely blamed Ibia for “getting rid of Mr. DeHeer and company,” and noted Ibia’s “same old evil spirit” in writing a letter to the newly arrived Rev. Murphy of his concerns. Bushnell attributed this to Ibia’s “ambition” for the “entire control of the Corisco part of the mission.” That year, the mission sent no missionaries to Corisco or Benita, but assigned them to Gaboon (Libreville) and the interior missions. A letter from Rev. Samuel Murphy to Dr. Lowrie, later that year, finally revealed the underlying issue of the conflict between Ibia and the missionaries:
Mr. Ibia was here recently to see me, and I feel much more encouraged about him. Possibly he has been misunderstood in some matters, but I think since your valuable and plain letter to him, he sees the folly of antagonism. Certainly, he does not deserve that treatment which it was necessary to give natives fifteen or twenty years ago. These people are not the same now. There has been progress and he ask [sic]missionaries should keep this in view. 
Many years later, Dr. Robert Hamill Nassau published an article, entitled “Ibia—A West-African Pastor,” in which he describes the incident between DeHeer and Ibia:
Mr. De Heer had preached an earnest sermon, urging the Bengas to more active work, rebuking them for seeming to depend on white aid, and closing by saying, ‘What will you do if I should go away?’ Just what he intended by that I do not know. But, Mr. Ibiya [sic]in his prompt, bold, and somewhat curt manner, took it as ‘a dare’ and replied: ‘Go away, and we Bengas will take care of ourselves!’ Not long after, in 1877, Mr. De Heer did remove to Benita, and Mr. Ibiya was appointed in charge of the Corisco church and school, and carried them on successfully.
Adding to this conflict was the subsequent arrival of Mr. Schorsch, a former missionary whom the Presbyterian Board had dismissed several years earlier due to his spiritual and mental decline. Corisco church leaders had invited Mr. Schorsch to live among them as an independent missionary, which resulted in dissension and division in the Corisco church. Soon after his arrival, however, Schorsch began “making war” on Ibia, further dividing the Corisco church. Ibia, in a letter to missionary Rev. Samuel Murphy, requested the intervention of the Mission in the case, and urged that the church give Mr. Schorsch no help: “His schismatic efforts will succeed only when he is helped from abroad.” Ibia did not see himself as independent from the Presbyterian Board, but called on them for help and support during this crisis, as evident in his numerous letters to missionaries and to Dr. Lowrie.
By July of that year, Ibia was fully engaged in the business of church discipline. In his letter to Dr. Lowrie, he noted that that a few of the members were involved in the (Schorsch) schism, for which he excommunicated five and suspended four. His efforts to “fix” the church were delayed because of the absence of the gentlemen. His next letter to Lowrie, three months later, reported that Schorsch was now being abandoned by his adherents. Some in the community saw him as the Antichrist, others made him a laughingstock. Ibia reports that the Corisco church “is in a bad state”—of six men in good standing, there were now only two. For lack of a quorum, there was no session or communion that quarter. Ibia laments that “even Elder Etiani who has examplified [sic] Christianity for seventeen or eighteen years has returned home. The other two are in Mr. Schorsch’s schism and guilty of other things.” By November 1878, missionary Dr. Robert H. Nassau noted that Ibia was fully cooperative with the mission. The Schorsch schism seemed to have exposed underlying tensions between local church leaders and missionaries. Nassau made reference to Dr. Lowrie’s earlier letter to the mission which addressed this subject; Nassau agreed with all Lowrie had to say about “our relationship to the native brethren,” though he still objected to the “past actions and doings” of both Ntâkâ Truman (Gaboon) and Ibia (Corisco). Neither had caused suffering for Nassau, “but to Mr. DeHeer Ibia has been most insulting.” Ibia, himself, admitted that the schism freed him from the “troubles of ungodly church members [sic] in the future.”
Pastor and Counselor
In 1879, Ibia kept a detailed journal of his ministry itineration to various towns on the mainland, including those that were asking for missionaries and schools. Among the common issues and questions posed to him were those related to the subject of marital relationships. On one occasion, during his visit to the Mbade church:
The female church members called me to a private interview. They wished to know whether in the present condition of the country it was not kind of necessity for them to marry polygamists after the death of their husbands, as they have no liberty to choose for themselves. I told them we must not yield to custom but fight against it, trusting in God for victory over custom. One of their number has yielded voluntarily to this: she can get free if she likes. Session took no action on her case hoping she might reflect and take a better course. 
Ibia’s own response is remarkably free of judgment or control, and shows abundant grace towards women making these difficult decisions.
Nearly three years after the Corisco schism, Ibia wrote a frank letter to Dr. Lowrie, describing the underlying causes from the perspective of the local people: “The principal [cause] was the anger of the people and of many churchmembers [sic] toward myself and foreign missionaries, which sought revenge by the queer way of going back to heathenism and neglect of Christian duties.” Ibia added that “the great drawback of the Corisco Church is want of male members. We have only six male members [;] one living on Corisco, the rest on the mainland. The one on Corisco is of no use to the Church as so are the majority of the five on the mainland” 
As the Corisco church progressed under Ibia’s leadership, he noted continual improvement and promise among the women, and consistent apathy on the part of the men. In a letter sent to Dr. Lowrie in early 1883, Ibia cites the observations of his colleague, Mr. Frank Myongo:
Mr. Myongo says he has noticed two things here that he never saw before, that when he goes to towns for meetings all the people attend and the activity of female members[sic]. Female members are the crown of this. Our contributions are largely from them. Nine members [,] eight of them women [,] were received…
Ibia made great effort to ensure that local families supported the costs of their children’s education, rather than depending on mission support. In the same letter, Ibia states that three boys were refused “because their fathers said they would give clothes only and the mission should give food. Their excuse was they were not able to furnish food, that their wives have much to do. These very men spend their time in idleness, drunkenness and can always have money enough for polygamous and other heathenish purposes. They are excommunicated persons and one of them is one of the best educated in our missions.” Ibia then goes on, at great length, to discourage the Presbyterian Board mission from supporting Corisco boys’ educational expenses, as the people of Equatorial Africa bury “several hundreds of dollars yearly” with the dead, as part of their “heathenish institutions.” He furthered asserted that “[p]eople in this country are poor through indolence and practigality [sic].” Ibia continued to rid the church of “rotten members” and credited this with the increased activity of the church and higher contributions than in previous years.
In early 1883, new missionaries Rev. Adolphus Good, Rev. William Gault, and Rev. Graham Campbell were sent by the “older missionaries” to address a problem with elder Petiye and to install Ibia as the pastor of the Elongo church on the island of Corisco: “the installation was a very enjoyable service, the interest of which has heightened by the thought that this was the first service of the kind ever held on the field.” Campbell also commented on the momentous occasion, which seemed to heal and reconcile the church and mission:
Mr. Ibia’s installation was a very interesting service as we remembered the labors of those who had formerly been on Corisco—some of them called Home to their reward, some still praying and indirectly working for the salvation of this people, it seemed to me that more than our little band were present but more than all we felt that we had the Spirit’s presence and that not only our own hearts were strengthened and encouraged, but that this church and pastor were made stronger for the Lord’s work through this union.
The missionaries noted that few of the members of that church were “consistent” and many members had fallen away.
Through 1883 and 1884, Ibia reported the increase of female inquirers and participants in the church, and the growing financial contributions, adding that “[s]ome of the female members are persecuted by their heathen and apostate husbands.” Ibia lamented that the church lacked “devoted men” who could instruct inquirers and share in leadership: “If we only have these and permanent Christians and not mere temporary professors the salvation of Africa is sure, in spite of rum, and polygamy and indolence.” By late 1884, there were only eight male members in the Elongo church, “and the influence of the six older ones is not altogether Christian.” By contrast, “[t]he bulk of the female members seem to be decidedly on the side of Christ, drawing their sex to Him.” Ibia felt strongly that polygamy would “send more men to hell than any other iniquity, in this country.” He knew that that what the church most needed was godly men, but he would not tolerate ungodliness in the church, preferring to discipline and excommunicate wayward members than increase the percentage of men through accommodation and compromise.
After decades of pastoring the church and overseeing the educational ministries, Ibia continued to express in his reports his intent to balance academic work with training in manual skills, for increased productivity, industriousness and division of labor in his community:
I have not abandoned the idea, and I never will abandon it, of training boys and girls to be self-supporting, by teaching them something useful. Our boys are much praised at the expense of the padres. When any parent brings a boy to me they always say, ‘I want you to make my boy a strong man.’ Idle men are now despised by the women, and working men praised by them. No man that will turn to farming now will no more be laughed to scorn.
The 1891 Report to the Board is of particular concern, as the Corisco church and schools were now facing opposition and rivalry from Spanish Catholic missionary priests and nuns. Ibia urged the Presbytery to organize two churches within the field “so that the scattered flock may be suitably cared for.” He reported that the Catholics now had three sisters sent to instruct the girls, and that they were “using all possible means to induce the members of our own church to send their children to the school just opened.” Apparently, the Corisco mission school for girls had been closed for want of a qualified teacher. The remaining school, now for both sexes, had a roll of twenty boys and six girls. Because of the growing threat of the new Catholic mission school Ibia made an earnest plea that the Corisco mission girls’ school be reopened.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable descriptions of Ibia came from Mary Henrietta Kingsley, the British author and traveler, who gives a rare glimpse of the character and personality of Ibia and his wife in her famed book, Travels in West Africa. Miss Kingsley had visited the Gaboon Mission, and had been lent a boat and crew, courtesy of Robert H Nassau; among the crew was a young man from Corisco, Eveke, son of Rev. Ibia, “the sole representative of the America Presbyterian mission now on Corisco Island.” Upon landing in Corisco, young Eveke introduced Kingsley to his mother, whom she describes as “a pretty, bright-looking lady who it is hard to believe old enough to be Eveke’s mother.” Hika was likely in her mid-fifties by this time, and is surrounded by “a lot of strapping young women who came forward with her, and the grandmother of other strapping young women mixed up among them.” “Mrs. Ibea” then offers hospitality to Kingsley, insisting “in the kindliest way possible” that Kingsley take her own room. Kingsley spends a great deal of time with the family, taking tea with Mrs. Ibea and asking questions about the local people, their history, and their customs.
Days later, Kingsley finally meets Ibia, himself, after his return from an evangelistic mission. She describes him as “a splendidly built, square-shouldered man, a pure Benga, of the finest type, full of energy and enthusiasm.” When he discloses his age, and that of his wife, Kingsley jokes, “I still think he stuck a good ten years on.” Kingsley and Ibia have long conversations about the various local tribes, and their migrations and histories. He tells her that there are now 2,000 of his Benga tribe left, “and that those that are now representing it are far inferior, physically, to those he remembers as having seen as old men, when he was a boy.”
Death and legacy
Ibia died on February 28, 1901, and was estimated to be in his late sixties. Dr. Robert Hamill Nassau, who began his missionary career in 1861, met the young Ibia, “already a man of mark,” who was married with two children and already a licentiate in the Presbytery. After forty years of serving with Ibia, Nassau recognized that Ibia’s earlier conflicts with the mission arose from his appropriate desire to see his people independent and self-reliant, not dependent on the white man’s trade (and its related immorality), and not subjugated to the perpetual leadership of white missionaries. Once having received Christ, Ibia spoke out against the injustice and immorality of prevailing social and religious customs, drawing the wrath and vengeance of his own people. He later gave the same energy and dedication in decrying the practices and teachings of the Catholic Church, which was battling with him over souls and territory on the island of Corisco. His book, Benga Customs, which denounced local customs and taught biblical truths and morals for daily living, seemed to have had a profound influence on later missionaries as well as his own people. Missionary Jean Kenyon Mackenzie, who arrived on the field several years after his death, immortalized his teachings on the Ten Commandments in The Atlantic Monthly, as well as in her book, An African Trail.
Dr. Robert Hamill Nassau, in his 1902 obituary of Pastor Ibia, described him as “brave, outspoken, manly,” yet Ibia showed a gentle and fervent concern for the women and children of his community, wanting them to know the Savior, and to know freedom in Him. He affirmed women in their spiritual growth and in their leadership in the church, while respecting their difficult circumstances in polygamous marriages and the influences of heathen relatives. It was Nassau who recognized Ibia’s true “manliness” and strength in standing up against the men in his community, in their oppression of women, and against the patriarchal rule of the missionaries who were reticent to relinquish power, authority, and autonomy to indigenous church leaders. Much was written about Ibia’s godly character and gifted leadership for many years after his death. His legacy lived on in the ministry of his son, Bodumba, who felt called into the ministry just following his father’s death, in 1902. In praising the son, missionary Melvin Fraser credited the father:
Bodumba Ibia, of Sauline mien, modest and frank, still wearing the dews of youth and carrying seeds of promise, is ably holding the church at Corisco where he inherited the mantel of his sainted father, Rev. Ibia, who towered high among his fellows, and is cherished in memory as a many of marked ability and of weight in pulpit, parish, Presbytery.
Ibia’s story, only recently retrieved from mission archives, indicates that there is truly “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9); and that the church, today, is still trying to find balance in affirming culture, challenging unjust systems, and standing firm in the faith. Pastor Ibia J’Ikenge models for us many of the traits mentioned in Romans, chapter twelve, in his refusal to conform to the pattern of his contemporaries, whether of his own culture or even that of the missionaries serving among his people. His knowledge of Scripture and steadfast faith gave him the boldness to speak against hypocrisy as well as affirm the roles and giftedness of all members of the body of Christ, particularly women of faith, whose influence could transform their community for Christ. Ibia clearly welcomed a cooperative relationship with believers of other cultures, but taught his people the value of independence, self-support, mutuality, and industry. Ibia and his wife offered hospitality and honor to Christians and unbelievers, alike, little expecting that they would be immortalized in secular literature of their time. Though for many years he endured criticism and injury for his godly, yet counter-cultural leadership, Ibia shows us that we can resist being overcome by evil, and truly overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
 Kingsley, Mary Henrietta. 1897. Travels in West Africa: Congo Français, Corisco and Cameroons (London: MacMillan and Co., Limited), 403.
 Ibid., 402.
 Ibid., 403.
 Nassau, Robert Hamill. 1914. Ibiya—A West African pastor. The Missionary Review of the World 27 (6): 442-444. Dr. Nassau declared, ‘This holding of ruling elderships by the missionaries finally became an evil, resulting in the abuse of power’ (p. 442).
 Kingsley, Mary Henrietta. 1897. Travels in West Africa: Congo Français, Corisco and Cameroons, 403.
 Boteler, Capt. Thomas, R.N. 1835. Narrative of a voyage of discovery of Africa and Arabia, performed by his majesty’s ships Leven and Barracouta, from 1821 to 1826, under the command of Capt. F. W. Owen, R. N. in two volumes, Volume II (London: Richard Bentley), 404..
 Nassau, Robert Hamill. 1902. Rev. Ibia J’Ikenge [an obituary]. The Assembly Herald March 1902: 106-107. Dr. Nassau believed that Ibia was born in the mid-1830’s, though no exact birth year was recorded. The two met when Nassau first arrived as a missionary at Corisco in 1861; Nassauwas then twenty-six, and estimated Ibia to be a little older than himself
 The Gaboon Mission was established in 1842 by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), and located in an area that is now the capitol city of Libreville. Corisco island is situated north of Gabon, and off the coast of Equatorial Guinea. The Presbyterian Board established the Corisco Mission in 1850. The two missions merged in 1870, due to personnel shortages.
Nassau, Robert Hamill. 1888. A History of the Presbytery of Corisco (Trenton, N.J: Albert Brandt, Jr. Press), 5.
 Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission (PBFM). 1858. Corisco Mission Report. In The Twenty-first Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (New York: Presbyterian Board Mission House Publishers), 43.
 Ibid, 41.
 Reutlinger, Mary Louise. 1874. Letter excerpt quoted in the Third annual report of the Woman’s Presbyterian Board of Missions of the North-West (Chicago: D. & C. H. Blakeley, Printers), 58.
 Nassau 1902, 106.
 Ford, Rev. Edward A. 1891. Persecution of a native pastor. The Church At Home And Abroad 10(12):531..
 American Colonization Society. 1861. IBIA—The heathen boy of Corisco. The African Repository 37 (4): 120.
 Nassau 1902, 106.
 The three young men were Andeke (at Evangasimba), Sukonjo (at Ugovi), and Ibia (at Alongo).
 PBFM 1858, 39, italics added).
 Ibid., In this report, Ibia is listed as a ‘native teacher’ at Alongo, working with missionary Cornelius DeHeer.
 PBFM 1858, 41.
 Ibid., 40. The girls’ boarding school was composed of sixteen girls, aged six to sixteen .
 Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. 1859. Corisco Mission Report. In The Twenty-second Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (New York: Presbyterian Board Mission House Publishers), 42.
 Nassau, Robert Hamill. 1903. Some ramifications of polygamy. The Assembly Herald 8 (6): 238-240. P 238.
 PBFM 1858, 37.
 PBFM 1859, 36.
 Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. 1860. Corisco Missions Report. In The Twenty-third Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (New York: Presbyterian Board Mission House Publishers), 34.
 Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission. 1861. Corisco Mission Report. In The Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (New York: Presbyterian Board Mission House Publishers), 30.
 Ibid., 38.
 Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission. 1863. Corisco Mission Report. In The Twenty-sixth Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Mission of thePresbyterian Church in the United States of America (New York: Presbyterian Board Mission House Publishers), 19.
 Nassau 1914a, 442.
 Wilson, Samuel. 1872. George Paull of Benita—A memoir (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of
 Ibid., 118.
 PBFM. 1861, 33.
 Ibid., 35.
 Sneed, Charity L. 1872. Letter from Charity L. Sneed, a native Bible –reader, to the Martin Luther Mission Band, Wheeling, W. Virginia. Woman’s Work for Woman Vol. 1 No. 4. January 1872. 159-160. Charity Sneed, though African American, was listed as a ‘native helper.’ She and her parents were emancipated from slavery in 1854 and emigrated to Liberia. While still a teenager, in 1859, Charity journeyed from Liberia to Equatorial Africa, to serve with the Presbyterian mission. She joined the missionary women and local African women in evangelism, education, literacy and vocational training.
 De Heer, Rev. Cornelius 1874. Notices of the Corisco Station—Letter of Rev. De Heer dated Aug 18 1873. Presbyterian Monthly Record Vol XXV No 1 January 1874. 176.
 Mackey, Rev. J. L. 1864. Hindrances at Corisco, West Africa. The Home and Foreign Record of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Vol. XV. No. XII December 1864. 275-276.
 Ibid., 276.
 Nassau, Robert Hamill. 1867. Mainland work of the Corisco mission. Home and Foreign Record of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. XVIII (2): 61-63. P 62.
 Cassava, or manioc, is a staple food among the peoples of Equatorial Africa.
 Menaul, Rev. John. 1868. A visit to Ibia’s place. The Record of the Presbyterian church in the United States of America Vol. XIX(9): 215.
 Nassau 1888, 12. By the time he was ordained, Ibia had been a licentiate for ten years. It would be another ten years before he was given a church, and three more before he was officially installed. Nassau notes that the 1880 ordination of the second native pastor, Ntaka Truman, was due to the same reason—all missionaries were absent, and only Ibia was left to represent the Presbytery
 American Colonization Society. Ordination of a Native African. African Repository 1870, 350.
 Nassau, Robert Hamill. 1870. Notices of Corisco and Benita work (letter dated July 27, 1870). The Presbyterian Monthly Record XXI (12): 278.
 J’Ikenge, Ibia. 1871. An African minister’s report. The Presbyterian Monthly Record 22 (2): 51.
 Woman’s Work for Woman was a missionary journal put out by the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church, describing mission work around the world that was both supported by women and focused on ministry to women. By early 1873, the magazine boasted a readership of 5,000 (Woman’s Work for Women Vol. 2 No. 6, page insert, no number).
 J’Ikenge 1872. Letter from Rev. Ibia—The native pastor at Corisco--To Miss Bella A. Nassau. Woman’s Work for Woman 2(5): 202.
 J’Ikenge, Ibia. 1873. Letter of Ibia J’Ikenge—to Miss B. A. Nassau. Corisco, August 18, 1872. Woman’s Work for Woman 2(6): 272.
 Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission. 1873. The Corisco Report. In The Thirty-sixth Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (New York: Presbyterian board Mission House Publishers), 34.
 Ibid., 35.
 Nassau, Robert Hamill. 1874. Crowned in Palm-Land—A story of African mission life (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippencott & Co), 101. According to Nassau, Ukuku means ‘departed spirit’ in the Benga language (p 101)
 Nassau 1914a, 443.
 The Ukuku was actually a man dressed up to impersonate the spirit. Runners would precede his arrival, warning women and children to flee or hide their eyes, lest they be killed.
 Nassau, Robert Hamill. 1904. Fetichism in West Africa (London: Duckworth & Co), 144.
 DeHeer 1874, 17.
 Nassau 1914a, 443.
 Mackenzie, Jean Kenyon. 1916. The Black Commandments. The Atlantic Monthly 118: 794-803. Mackenzie also included Ibia’s material in her book, ‘An African Trail’ Mackenzie, Jean Kenyon. 1917. An African Trail (West Medford, MA: The Central Committee on the United Study of Foreign Missions), 796.
 Rev. John Cameron Lowrie was the Corresponding Secretary for the Presbyterian Board from 1850 to 1891.
 Reutlinger, Mary Louise. 1878. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, dated 17 January 1878. Vol 12 Reel 75 Letter 307. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 Rankin, William. 1895. Memorials of foreign missionaries of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (Philadelphia: The Trustees of the Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work), 96-97.
 Ibid., 302.
 Family information on both the DeHeers and Mrs. Reutlinger was provided by Mrs. Holly Lemons, who is a descendant of Rev. DeHeer and his first wife, and who has possession of the DeHeer family archives.
 The DeHeers and Mrs. Reutlinger returned to serve for many more years at the mainland mission posts, near Corisco, and remained as Ibia’s colleagues in the ministry.
 Bushnell, Rev. Albert. 1878b. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, dated 1 February 1878. Vol 12 Reel 74 #102. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives. Underlining in the original.
 Bushnell, Rev. Albert. 1878a. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, dated 1 February 1878. Vol. 12 Reel 74 #98. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 Bushnell, 1878b.
 Bushnell 1878a.
 Murphy, Rev. Samuel H. 1878. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, dated 24 May 1878. Vol 12 Reel 74 #111. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives. Italics added.
 Nassau 1914a, 442.
Nassau, Robert Hamill. 1914b. My Ogowe: Being a narrative of daily incidents during sixteen years in Equatorial West Africa (New York: The Neale Publishing Company), 237.
 J’Ikenge, Ibia. 1878a. Letter to Rev. Samuel H. Murphy (Gaboon Mission), dated 27 February 1878. Vol. 12 Reel 74 #105. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 J’Ikenge, Ibia. 1878b. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, dated 18 July 1878. Vol 12 Reel 75 #313. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 J’Ikenge, Ibia. 1878c. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, dated 2 October 1878. Vol. 12 Reel 75 #320 Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 Nassau, Robert Hamill. 1878. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, dated 1 November 1878. Vol 12 Reel 75 Letter 322. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 J’Ikenge, Ibia. 1879a. An African minister’s journal: April 16, 1879. The Presbyterian Monthly Record 30 (10):313-315. The second part of Ibia’s journal was printed in the following month’s issue: The Presbyterian Monthly Record 30 (11): 346-349.
 J’Ikenge, Ibia. 1881. Letter to Dr. Lowrie dated Dec 1881. Vol 13 Reel 75 Letter 117 Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 J’Ikenge, Ibia. 1883a. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, dated 1 January 1883. Vol 13 Reel 76 Letter 264. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 Alongo was one of four mission stations on the island of Corisco. The four were later consolidated under the name Elongo.
 Good, Rev. Adolphus Clemens. 1883. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, dated 17 February 1883. Vol 13 Reel 76 Letter 278. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 Campbell, Rev. Graham. 1883. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, dated 6 March 1883. Reel Vol 13 76 Letter 280. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 J’Ikenge, Ibia. 1883b. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, dated 17 September 1883. Vol 13 Reel 76 Letter 290. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 J’Ikenge, Ibia. 1884a. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, date 16 July 1884. Vol 13 Reel 76 Letter 62. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
J’Ikenge, Ibia. 1884b. Letter to Dr. Lowrie, date 31 October 1884. Vol 13 Reel 76 Letter 88. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society Archives.
 Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission. 1891. Gaboon and Corisco Mission. In The Fifty-fourth Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (New York: Presbyterian Board Mission), 18.
 Ibid., 18.
 Kingsley 1897, 385.
 Ibid., 386.
 Ibid., 387.
 Ibid., 393.
 Ibid., 399.
 Ibid., 402.
 Ford 1891, 532;
 Nassau 1902, 106.
 Nassau 1914a, 442.
 Ibid., 444.
 Fraser, Rev. Melvin. 1912. What missionaries are doing in West Africa. The Missionary Review of the World 25 (1): 22-29. P 24.