The Portuguese Government was in a serious dilemma. It was true that when DOMINGO was in Portugal he had granted a monopoly of trade on behalf of his father to the Portuguese and that from that time the Portuguese Authorities in Sao Tome had seen to it that no other Country operated in the area.
Olu ANTONIO DOMINGO was therefore not unjustified in feeling that it was the duty of the Portuguese Government to urge Merchants to come to trade with Warri. The trouble was that the trade with Warri was unprofitable and the King of Portugal could not reasonably compel his Merchants to continue a traffic that did not yield adequate compensation. If the Olu could provide commercially attractive trade compulsion would be unnecessary.
To show the sincerity of his plea for Religious help, the Olu sent three young ITSEKIRI to Sao Tome to be trained in Holy Orders. This was a practical step to secure continuity in Religious Ministrations and it is difficult to understand why it was not taken earlier. What happened to those young men we do not know.
Meanwhile, however, the Italians were again active. The earlier Missionary’s attempt had been promising and there was now a desire to revive the Mission which Father Angelo had been forced to abandon when the Portuguese had refused him reentry.
There was now a second reason also for doing so. When Father Angelo had been in Warri, the idea of a Benin Mission had had to be dropped because of the hostility of the Benin Authorities. But there were now indications that the tide was changing and that the Benin Mission might be revived as well.
It was probably hoped that if this happened and if Priests were stationed in the more prosperous Kingdom, it would become easier to feed the Warri Kingdom from there.
The man who led this important Missionary Expeditoion was the Italian Priest Francesco da Monteleone. He arrived in Sao Tome in 1684 charged with the function of reviving the Benin and Warri Missions.
His first problem was how to obtain helpers. Appeals were made to the Pope for more Priests but those that came quickly succumbed to fever. Monteleone had no choice but to go to Warri himself.
Why he chose to go to Warri first rather than to the more prosperous Benin is not very clear, but since the Olu of Warri was already baptized and Monteleone was assured of a warm welcome there, it was a reasonable and cautious proceeding.
Portuguese Merchants who had revived their trade with Benin at this time might have preferred him to go to Benin. Monteleone was more concerned with his Christian Mission however, than with acting as the agent of the Merchants.
After the set-backs in Sao Tome, the Priest finally arrived at the Capital of the Warri Kingdom in 1689 to the satisfaction and relief of the Olu. Luckily there was still a Church building that could be used for Services and the arrival of Italian Missionary meant that Christianity would flourish again.
At the same time, some Portuguese Ships began to appear for purposes of trade bringing with them Arms with which the ITSEKIRI were able to ward off attacks from Benin.
Monteleone himself was a man of iron will and constitution. From the day he arrived he threw himself into his work, preaching and converting those who had not the opportunity of hearing the word of God.
“He administered the sacraments, took confessions and baptized infants. He was so respected for his good works that one of the most influential Women in Warri accepted baptism. He so endeared himself to the King and People that Olu ANTONIO DOMINGO, writing about him afterwards said, “From the first day of his arrival he began his works of piety with untiring zeal and true Doctrine of Heaven, never resting for a single day, so that we marvelled beyond all measure, for it seemed to us something new, something that other Fathers had never achieved.
We welcomed him as a gift sent to us from Heaven, and all were filled with the great preoccupation of winning the Salvation of Our Souls”.”
Having worked for some time in Warri, Monteleone thought the time had come to pay a visit to the land of Benin of which he had heard so much.
The ITSEKIRI King did not want to stop him. He was taken to the frontier at the Benin River between the territories owing allegiance to the Oba and those that had allegiance to the Olu. But the ITSEKIRI Overlord of the area was afraid that if he allowed Monteleone and his followers to land he might be arrested as a rebel Chief and sent to be beheaded at Warri.
Since there was no other way to get to Benin City at a time when trouble between Benin and Warri was at crisis point, the Priest decided to return to Warri to wait for a more opportune moment.
That moment never came. After a year’s stay in Warri Monteleone had to return to Sao Tome. There was nobody to relieve him and not until 1691 was he able to send Priests to continue the Missionary work.
These men however lacked Monteleone’s zeal and energy. One of them was more interested in trade than in Christian Enterprise. He probably saw that the only thing that might make the Mission pay its way was for the Priest to Serve both God and mammon.
He found that the ITSEKIRI made some unusual Cloths from straw and that the Olu himself held the monopoly of these products. The Priest bought all the available stock with tobacco and neglected the work of conversion while he pursued this profitable trade.
END OF PART THREE