The Great African Island: Chapter on Madagascar. Together with Illustrations of Scripture and Early Church History, from Native Statists and Missionary Experience.
by SIBREE, James (1836-1929).
London:: Trubner, 1880., 1880. 8vo. xii, 372 pp. Engraved frontispiece, 3 plates, 2 maps (1 colored & folding, by W.J. Turner, Royal Geographical Society), tables, footnotes, index. Original half calf, raised bands, brown title label, gilt-stamped bands, marbled boards; extremities showing some wear. "Roberton Library"; The Ferguson Bequest Fund (with their bookplate & rubber-stamp on title) [Church of Scotland, Glasgow]. Very good. First edition. The author had spent many years on the island and travelled extensively, describing the natural history, geography, peoples and their characteristics, beliefs, folklore & superstitions (ghosts), language, customs, animal life, biology (vegetation). In Chapter VIII is discussed family names, unpleasant names, tabooed words in Chiefs' names, Royal names, Sakalava customs, Christian names, etc. Chapter IX deals with local customs, slavery included, kissing and nose-rubbing, tattooing and other adornments, hair styles ('dressing'), female adornment, weapons, circumcision observances, etc. / "Typical of the period, James Sibree's (1880) text, The Great African Island (Sibree was the founder and editor of the Antannanarivo Annual), includes chapters on Madagascar's geology, geography, flora, fauna, and "tribes"—their languages, customs, and "folklore." Folklore, for Sibree, consisted primarily of oral literature, "superstitious beliefs," and charms. Customs, on the other hand, under which heading was included material life and "religious beliefs," were understood to be a concern of ethnology. / Perhaps the most interesting feature of Sibree's account, and symptomatic of a contradiction plaguing the work of many of the British missionaries, Malagasy religious beliefs tied their holders firmly to ancestors rather than God and led to a number of abhorrent practices such as polygamy (an offence which led the great proverb collector William Cousins to expel one of his prize native congregationists). Folklore, on the other hand, was seen as an ambivalent and intermediary realm: superstitious beliefs did not exert such a strong grasp on their subjects, and could thus lead to or away from god, and verbal art . . . evidenced a 'primitive' Malagasy monotheism. Although such folklore forms were seen by LMS members as providing a path out of fetishism and idolatry in both their content and performance . . ., they were interpreted by the Malagasy as 'ancestral words' and, as such, steeped in traditional authority. The English missionaries were never able to resolve this contradiction." – Philip M. Peek, Kwesi Yankah, African Folklore: An Encyclopedia, 2004, page 462. / Sibree: Born in Hull, England, Sibree began missionary work in 1863 as an architect appointed by the London Missionary Society (LMS) to superintend erecting four large, stone churches in Antananarivo, each a memorial to a particular martyr of recent persecutions. He then returned to England, studied for the ministry at Spring Hill College, married Deborah Richardson, and went again to Madagascar in 1870. He led in extending mission work outside the capital and began teaching in the theological college. Difficulties with the government forced him to withdraw for a time (1877-1883), during part of which he worked for the LMS in South India. Back in Madagascar, he became principal of the theological college, in which position he continued till retirement in 1915. In the years leading up to the French conquest, he was an outspoken champion of Malagasy independence and urged the LMS in England to be so also. He exhibited amazing industry, continually turning out plans for new mission buildings and writing numerous works in Malagasy and sixteen books in English. His books, which were accurate and popular although not scholarly, dealt with Malagasy fauna and flora, general history, and mission history in his adopted land. He was elected fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. – Charles W. Forman, "Sibree, James," in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan, 1998), pp. 619-20. REFERENCE: Robert L. Hess & Dalvan M. Coger, A bibliography of primary source for nineteenth-century tropical Africa as recorded by explorers, missionaries, traders, travelers, administrators, military men, adventurers, and others, Stanford University Press, 1973, no. 2928. FULL TITLE: The Great African Island: Chapter on Madagascar. A popular account of recent researches in the physical geography, geology, and exploration of the country, and its natural history and botany; and in the origin and divisions, customs and language, superstitions, folk-lore, and religious beliefs and practices of the different tribes. Together with Illustrations of Scripture and Early Church History, from Native Statists and Missionary Experience. With physical and ethnographical sketch-maps and four illustrations.
(Inventory #: LV2316)
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