No. 136.
Mr. Frelinghuysen to Mr. Brulatour.

No. 317.]

Sir: I inclose herewith a copy of a letter (with its inclosure) from Mr. John C. Lowrie, secretary of the board of foreign missions of the Presbyterian Church, in relation to a decree of the French Government concerning primary schools at Gaboon. Mr. Lowrie states that similar regulations have been published at Kangwe, on the Ogove River. The object of this decree is to enforce the use of the French language exclusively in that part of Africa. The secretary states that the board has reason to fear that this policy will seriously embarrass the benevolent work in which it is engaged in that region, of which education is an important element. The self-sacrificing agents of the society usually use the vernacular languages of the country as a medium of instruction, and they have reduced two of the languages to written form, prepared grammars and vocabularies and translated the Scriptures, all of which, with some small books, have been printed. Through their schools and [Page 273] these books they hope to extend the benefit of Christian education amongst the native African tribes in their own every-day speech, for to most of these tribes both English and French must remain foreign tongues, known to but few. In the service of the board engaged in prosecuting this praiseworthy work are twenty-three self-sacrificing American citizens, men and women, aided by some of the natives who have been trained as teachers. The enforcement of the decree will evidently embarrass the prosecution of the benevolent and self-imposed task of the board, in leading into civilization the natives whom they are endeavoring to educate. It would seem that a mild application of the decree would lead sooner to the result aimed at by France than a strict and literal enforcement of its provisions, and that by first educating the natives in their own tongues and training their minds by study in a dialect familiar and easy to them, the way would be prepared for acquiring the French language more easily and with less distaste to the pupil than were his untrained mind immediately directed to the study of a foreign tongue.

You will confer with Mr. Challemel Lacour on this subject, with a view of obtaining any concessions which may properly be granted modificatory of the decree, and which may relieve the hardship otherwise to be suffered by the agents of the society, who are engaged in a work which cannot fail to obtain the sympathy and approval of the French Government.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 317.]

Mr. Lowrie to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

Sir: I am directed by the board of foreign missions of the Presbyterian Church to lay before you the inclosed paper, the copy of a decree concerning primary schools at Gaboon, West Africa, by the French Government. Similar regulations have been published at Kangwe, on the Ogove River, in the same dependency of France. Their object is to enforce the use of the French language exclusively in the schools of that part of Africa.

The board has reason to fear that this policy would severely embarrass the benevolent work in which, under its charge, some of our countrymen have been employed for a period of about forty years as missionaries. Education forms an important part of their work. At first our friends make use of their own language in some of their schools, but their main purpose is to employ the vernacular languages as the medium of all instruction. They have reduced the Benga and Upongwe languages to a written form, prepared grammars and vocabularies in both, translated the sacred Scriptures, and prepared some small books, all of which have been printed in these tongues. And they hope by their schools and books gradually to extend the benefits of Christian education amongst the native African people in their own every-day speech. To the great mass of these tribes English and French must always remain foreign languages, learned by comparatively few persons.

In the service of the board there are now twenty-three of our American citizens, men and women, aided by twenty-five Bengas, Upongwes and other natives, in some degree trained to be useful to their own people as teachers, &c., and having under instruction about two hundred children and young persons. The pecuniary outlay of the hoard for this good work last year was about $30,000, the gift of benevolent people in our country.

The board takes pleasure in acknowledging the courtesy and favor of many French gentlemen in public service in the colony of Gaboon, as shown to its missionaries. It cannot doubt that these missionaries will always be found worthy of the respect and confidence of the rulers of that part of the world; and it ventures to hope that the embarrassment now brought to your attention may soon be removed. Such a result would be welcomed by a large part of the people in this country who are represented [Page 274] by the board, no less than by its members, many of whom must be well known by the President, yourself, and other officers of the Cabinet. The board therefore feels the greater liberty in requesting the good offices of our Government, in so far as may be considered advisable, to obtain from the honored rulers of France the relief sought in this memorial.

With great respect, &c.,

[Inclosure 2 in No. 317.—Translation.]

Decree conceding primary schools at Gaboon.

According to a dispatch of the 29th of April, 1883, is promulgated in the colony of Gaboon the decree of the President of the Republic, dated April 9, 1883, as follows:

“The President of the French Republic, on the report from the minister of navy and colonies, according to the eighteenth article of the Senatus consulate, of May 3, 1854, considering the notice from the minister of public instruction dated April 4, 1883, it is decreed:

  • Article 1. In the primary schools of Gaboon, teaching must be done exclusively in the French language. Half at least of the school time must be spent in studying French.
  • Art. 2. All persons wishing to open a school or infant school must ask the commandant for permission.
  • Art. 3. Primary schools for boys are to be under the direction of men. Primary schools for girls, mixed schools, and infant schools are to be under the direction of women.
  • Art. 4. There is instituted a diploma of primary studies. This diploma is given after public examination, where the children are present themselves, from the age of eleven years. The jury of examination is appointed by the commandant.
  • Art. 5. All violations of the regulations in the present decree are to be prosecuted before the tribunal correctionnel (police court), and the director of the school fined from 50 to 100 francs ($10 to $20). In case of a sentence being passed, an order from the commandant can pronounce the closing of the school.
  • Art. 6. The minister of navy and colonies has charge of the execution of the present decree, which will be inserted in the Bulletin des Lois and official report of the colony.

“Done at Paris, on the ninth of April, eighteen hundred and eighty-three.”

[Signatures of President, minister of navy and colonies, &c.]