In 1926, Philip. J. Fisher published “The Island Heritage. Episodes from the Missionary History of Fernando Poo, West Africa. A Play for Young People”. This book has remained unknown until present. There is one copy at Archives and Special Collections, SOAS Library (London)1, and to our knowledge, it has been studied and cited only by Susana Castillo Rodríguez (2016)2. This play is of enormous interest not just for it has been mentioned above but also because:
It is a vivid narration of the settlement of Protestant missionaries in Clarence, based on historical facts and personal experience collected first hand by Philip. J. Fisher as he interviewed some of the protagonists in the play.
It is the first document with paragraph-length documented in Pichi, the Pidgin English (acrolect) originated in Clarence upon the arrival of liberated slaves who arrived with British colonizers in 1827, called Fernandinos (Sundiata 1975, 1996).
It adopts the format of a play, something unusual until recent years, to the point that it can be considered the first work of this genre in the Equatoguinean colonial letters.
The play tells the History of the Baptist Church work in Fernando Po and the missionaries’ vision to expand their proselytizing project in the mainland, which was achieved later on in Igumale, Nigeria. It is a piece of the British colonial archive, as we learn what was at stake on foreign policy between Spain - the official colonial power - and Great Britain regarding the African territories of Fernando Po (present day Bioko Island).
Historical facts are divided into three periods: 1) the pioneering work of the British Church in Fernando Po, when the British Government occupied the island in 1827 to be used as a base by the British for the suppression of the slave traffic. In this period missionary work was done from 1842 until 1858 when the Spanish returned to Fernando Po and brought Roman Catholic missionaries. As a result, Baptist missionaries were compelled to withdraw by the Spanish authorities who had now taken possession. 2) the work done from 1870 until 1893 when missionaries were allowed to return to Santa Isabel and were hosted by freed slaves, widows called “Mammies”- the first ones converted by the Rev. John Clarke and Dr. Prince- when in 1842 they commenced work at Clarence (later Santa Isabel, now Malabo). 3) the life at the Mission House in 1923 at Igumale, Nigeria, amongst the Okpotos, and the work in progress by Reverend Norcross and his wife.
The Equatoguinean colonial archive from that period was composed mainly by Church reports from missionaries, travel books written by adventurers, and word list. An exceptional case is Robert Hamill Nassau’s work (1835-1921), a Presbyterian pioneer from Pennsylvania (USA) who worked in Corisco island from 1861 until 1870 and then in a mission on the Ogowe River. He wrote essays about fetishism and spirituality, tales, books about the history of the Mission and grammar books, to name a few. Nevertheless, a piece like this finding is rare because it is a play for young people, based on historical facts, and it covers almost a century of Britain missionary work in Africa and West Indian. The Island Heritage can be considered the first play in the Equatorial Guinea letters written in English, being Cuando los combes luchaban from Leoncio Evita, the first work of the Equatoguinean letters written in Spanish by an Equatoguinean. The Island Heritage is divided in five scenes and tells us about real stories with some imagined dialogues between characters from real life as they appeared in reports from the Primitive Methodist Missionary Society Publication found at SOAS library.3 As a literary genre, this play has a clear set of scenes, characters, annotations, notes and introduction and its theme is framed as the historical memory of the Baptist Mission in Africa. Through its lines and dialogues, a recreation of how images of missionaries, European colonial powers, race, and empire circulated in England are depicted. The reader is confronted with the relations of power between white missionaries and “coloured” widows, native maids and boys, and even if there are not direct assumptions or mentions of the inferior capacity of one race, mutual imbrications between “coloured people” and their strange broken English, their manners, the way they are dressed, and their “primitive” mindset speak itself about the colonial ideology. The slavery question was also in dispute given the fact that Great Britain played a key role in controlling human traffic during the nineteenth century, especially in the Bight of Biafra. As a piece written by a chaplain, The Island Heritagecontains a moral about faith, hard work and perseverance. There are also a couple of veiled critics of the Roman Catholic Spanish missionaries because of their conflict over Fernando Po's brethren. This and much more information will be addressed in the annotations in the English Critical Edition’s version. Instructions on how to contribute to this critical edition can be found in “Contribute” in the main menu.
Philip J. Fisher was born in Maidenhead in 1883 and died on July 6, 1961 (http://www.myprimitivemethodists.org.uk). Fisher studied at Hartley College, Manchester, and from 1905 onwards he worked as a chaplain.4 His service as chaplain is linked to the foundation of ‘The United Army Board’. In 1915, 13 chaplains from the Primitive Methodist Church were assigned. Fisher left his memories from that epoch in Khaki Vignettes, a book with sketches handmade with a pencil and stories about the troops deployed during the First World War. Khaki Vignettes was published by the Primitive Methodist Publishing House, Joseph Johnson, Holborn Hall, in 1917 with the subtitle “Six Months Chaplain to the Troops in England and Fifteen Months in France.” In Khaki Vignettes there is a chapter “Cheerfulness of the lads” in which Fisher wrote: “If you, my chance reader, can gather from it some lively impression of the joys, the toils, the deeds and sufferings, the heroism and the amazing cheerfulness of the British lads in khaki - the lads from our Churches and congregations - your own lads, maybe - then I shall feel that this book, imperfect as it is, was worth the making”.5 Apart from this information, there is no other trace about this author or his publications.
The translation from English to Spanish has been made by Susana Castillo-Rodríguez keeping in mind the historical context, the language change and the potential reader today. Because it is a direct speech, the meaning is condensed in one or two sentences. This led to make decisions about choosing the precise words to convey the message. Therefore, I had to implement some translation strategies such as transposition (for example, adding formality or informality to the translation in the target language), modulation (changing the speaker point of view), reducing information, adding information, or adaptation, when necessary to maintain the meaning instead of doing a literal translation. In several passages when Pidgin English is spoken, the strategy we follow is to provide 1) the original Pidgin English,6 2) the current Pichi translation (Pichi is the Equatoguinean Pidgin English spoken in Malabo), 3) the Spanish translation.
This is a live project. Our intention is to create an educational resource that can serve not only to study the play itself but also to learn about the missionary colonial history in West Central Africa and the West India Islands. Because African colonial history has multiple imbrications with slave trade, cocoa farming, European power relations, migration and race, this project can be instrumental to scholars, students and readers interested in this historical period, theme and region.
The ongoing second phase of this project is the English Critical Edition in which anyone with credentials will be able to add information or comments. Comments will be supervised to make sure that follow ethical principles before being posted.
In a third phase, Bocamandja, a theater company based in Malabo, will adapt this play to be represented in Equatorial Guinea. A recording of the play will be uploaded in this website.
As an open resource and live project, we hope to serve and educate the community, to grow with the feedbacks from anyone who wants to collaborate and, ultimately, to put this play into young Equatoguineans hands because it belongs to their social and historical memory.