I did the Book Review at the launch of Batilloi Warritay’s walking his way at the Leone Preparatory Hall on March 16, 2023, which I would like to share with you. This book which tells the life story of his father, a fervent Madingo Muslim who became an influential Christian preacher of national renown should be of immense interest to so many people – Christians, Muslims, Madingo people-especially those from the Warritay Kunda, Bayoh, Kakay, Mansaray, and Saccoh families, alumni of Albert Academy-during and after the “caning era” and indeed anyone who would like to read a truly inspirational story of a great Sierra Leonean worthy of emulation. Read on and ponder my review-and after that, do the needful- Buy the book! You are assured I have not been paid by my friend Batilloi for this sales pitch! Here is the review.
Walking in His way is a profound biography of the Rev. Sylmadie Warritay, written by his son Batilloi Isaac Warritay. Although it starts with a story of Madingo migrations across Africa and the settling of the Werehtieges into various locations in Sierra Leone, it is much more than this. It is a powerful and enchanting account of the life and career of a Madingo man born into a strong Muslim family who became a fully committed Christian, impacting so many lives in a positive way. It takes a peek at the activities of the Evangelical United Brethren/United Methodist Church before and after national independence. The lives of Sylmadie Warritay and his wife, according to the author were “a vivid tapestry of struggle, adventure, and love”. The book captures the hopes, joys, and sorrows of a couple from two different cultural backgrounds-a bright South African beauty, married to an ambitious Sierra Leonean missionary. It is also a story of how two remarkable women in individual ways piloted their families toward modernization and progress.
Batilloi Warritay started to think about writing a biography of his dad in 1999, twelve years after his passing and nine years after his mum’s death. His motivation was his deep gratitude and appreciation for his parents’ act of love in bringing him into their lives.
He cites the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:1-3 in justifying the book title as it was clear to him Sylmadie Baba Edro Warritay had decided to walk in the Lord’s way. Paul wrote in Ephesians, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” This, in a nutshell, was a description of the life he saw his father live which he shares with us in this absorbing biography, which has stimulating contributions from various people who knew him.
We learn in the first chapter how all three Werehtiege brothers, after a long sojourn which took them to several places in Sierra Leone eventually settled in Segbwema. After a few years, however, Baba Mohamed Boie Werehtigie left Segbwema for Yamandu in the Baoma Chiefdom, some forty miles from Bo. Apart from trading, Baba was also a money lender who derived his nickname Mbatilo from his Mende neighbours who would shout at the exasperated Baba’s defaulting creditors-“Mbatiloi mia wu ngi navoi ve!” (“‘This is a somebody’s child! Give him his money!”). This earned him the nickname Mbatilo or pipul pikin in Krio. We learn how he married Tigidankay Saccoh of Bullom Madingo heritage, one of his many wives, whose eldest son Sylmadie is the subject of this biography. Buoyed by the success of her nephew L.M. Baryoh who was attending the Albert Academy school, Tigidankay plotted rather surreptitiously to get Baba into the Albert Academy. The plot indicates her indomitable quest for the progress of her child. We also learn how over time and with many mutations, Werehtigie became Warritay.
Sylmadie was enrolled into the Albert Academy and eventually became a Christian. His conversion was not a sudden conversion on the road to Damascus-there was no dungeon flaming with light! Rather it was gradual as Albert Academy introduced him to Christian principles that changed his life. Christian worship was just as important as studies in the Albert Academy, being surpassed only by the liberal use of the cane to keep the students on a straight and narrow path. The author expresses this conversion well when he writes- “All the while, Sylmadie felt as though he was being barraged with the Christ, who showed up continually in the hymns he had to sing, the prayers he had to memorize, and the Bible passages he had to read. Try as he might to hold on to his Islamic values, he felt his grip loosen.”
He taught for a while at the Albert Academy after finishing school and would also assist the Principal G.F. Rosselot and his wife with house chores and with looking after their children. Fate struck when he met a visitor to the Rosselots, Mary Elizabeth Philander, a twenty two year old South African. They fell in love and got married-a marriage that would last some fifty years.
USA beckoned for both Sylmadie and Mary who left with the help of some friends and relatives to study at University. After several years of Mary unsuccessfully trying to conceive, Lester Bullard came into their lives by adoption through the help of a Christian family friend. The little boy was later renamed Batilloi Isaac Warritay.
The Warritays returned to Sierra Leone in 1956 and embarked on mission work which took him on a long and spectacular spiritual and missionary journey. It is therefore understandable that the bulk of the book dwells on his work in the Christian Ministry. Sylmadie served the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB), later renamed the United Methodist Church (UMC), in several capacities. He started his missionary life at the Kulanda Town Church where he was also attached to the famous Bible Training Institute (BTI) which trained Catechists.
From 1956 to 1981 he held pastoral roles at the EUB church in Kulanda Town in Bo, Bishop Baughman Memorial, Musselman Memorial, King Memorial, and Price Memorial churches in Freetown. He served in the Prison Ministry as Prison Chaplain and tried his hand at Hospital Ministry. In 1961 Sylmadie took up a position in the United Christian Council, UCC where he was later appointed its first Executive Secretary. Then came fifteen years at the Bible Society.
It is instructive to learn how Sylmadie conducted himself in his pastoral Ministry. His Church life often entailed promoting outreach to surrounding villages, sometimes wading across streams and braving bush paths to reach small villages to preach the Word of God. When he was without a car he reasoned that he did not need to drive or take a bus or taxi, when by walking he could save money that could go to pay a child’s school fees. And so, he walked everywhere, which had the advantage of bringing him into contact with people along the way, to whom he would hand out Bibles, tracts, or pamphlets from the leather briefcase he always carried. His was a veritable walking ministry for the Lord.
For Sylmadie, practising Christianity meant that leading people to Christ through one’s example was better than winning them over only by preaching. One of his students remarked that he practised love-in-action with Muslims as well as Christians.
As an ardent Churchman myself who has always clamoured for the reform of our traditional Churches, I was amazed about the extent to which Sylmadie was ahead of his time in Church reform matters. He introduced the subject of Africanizing worship services, suggesting the incorporation of traditional dance, drumming, and dress for choristers and pastors, and pointing out that some of the hymns were meaningless in an African context. Sylmadie encouraged literacy and teaching in local languages and was a vocal advocate for an extensive youth training program. He also stood for gender equality.
After his father found out he had become a Christian at the Albert Academy, he disowned him, beat her mother in a rage, and threw her into a large country pot, injuring her back. From that moment on, his son was dead to him.
Sylmadie seemed to have an ambivalent relationship with his Madingo relatives before his father’s death. Shortly after settling in at the Bible Training Institute in Bo, however, he recognized that it was time to mend broken links with his family. So much had happened over the nearly twenty-three years of their estrangement. He continued this engagement going forward. It became obvious he was a Mandingo man who had found his Lord and completely turned his back on Islam but not his people. He loved and respected his people. His practice of adopting and taking on responsibility for relatives’ children came from a genuine desire to provide opportunities denied to him when he was their age.
Family life for Sylmadie was never uneventful. Between 1961 and 1995, the family lived in three different homes in Freetown. Family life was not always easy, with the couple often clashing but they soon learnt to accommodate each other. Sylmadie soon realized that Mary was not a submissive wife of a Madingo man-nothing like that. She was headstrong, opinionated, and outgoing, notwithstanding the fact that she was very kind and accommodating.
Sylmadie ran his house like clockwork: 5:00 am would see him striding from the main house to rouse the boys. All Muslims had to get up and pray, and he insisted that they observe fast days.
The book has several interesting family anecdotes.
One morning during breakfast, a vile odour wafted through the open dining room window of his house. His cistern had burst and was spewing its contents into the neighbour’s compound. Against all protestations, instead of calling the Public Works Department (PWD), he got his whole family to dip and shovel for six hours until the cistern was empty and clean, teaching by example the ethic of hard work.
Cleopatra Agbaje, a neighbour, only 200 yards away, who eventually married Batilloi (case of a neighbor fol?) relates the story of how Rev. Warritay got up at between 5 am and 6 am on New Year’s day to pray at the Agbaje’s residence after Cleopatra and others had just come back from a night out. The sleepy-eyed children were not amused especially as his prayers were never short.
He was in many ways liberal. He gave his blessings to Batilloi and Cleopatra to get wed in Madingo gowns, much to the chagrin of some family members who wanted them in European attire.
Sylmadie was generous to a fault and there are many stories about the sacrifices he made for others.
Eventually, toward the end of his life, dementia set in but his loving family was always around to help him maintain his dignity in love.
The question may be legitimately asked. Did he walk in the Lord’s way? Batilloi answers in the affirmative by quoting a passage from a sermon in the Methodist Recorder as preached by Bishop Bangura on the qualities of a Minister.
“The Minister must have the strength of a lion, the tenacity of a bulldog, the patience of a donkey, the vision of an eagle, the meekness of a lamb, the disposition of an angel, the loyalty of an apostle, the heroism of a martyr, the faithfulness of a prophet, the tenderness of a shepherd, and the devotion of a mother.”
He affirms that in many ways this describes Rev. Sylmadie Edro Warritay over his thirty-seven years as a minister of religion. You can’t argue with that after reading the book.
According to the author, this book serves as a guide to many people:
It tells the story of the Warritay Kunda and the Bayoh, Kakay, Mansaray, and Saccoh families who intermarried and retained strong bonds formed during their common odyssey in the late 1890s. He, therefore, urges family members to remember their common beginnings. He hopes his glimpses into Sylmadie’s life encourages other Warritay clan members to pen their own glorious family history.
Secondly, he himself is grateful that his Warritay training made him the man he is today even if he does not agree with some of his methods and approaches. He particularly cherishes his truthfulness, loyalty, integrity, and diligence. He will honour him by trying to emulate him and his values.
It is also hoped this book, written in well-written prose will be an inspiration for all those who shepherd their flock and indeed to all devout Christians and Muslims and also serve as an excellent example of how to practise religious tolerance. Batilloi should be commended for writing such an inspirational book, Walking in his way, to honour his father.