Togo Baha'is celebrate jubilee

August 22, 2004
Mavis Nymon, 2002.

LOME, Togo — A message from one of the Baha'is who introduced the Baha'i Faith to Togo was a highlight of the jubilee celebrations held here.

"I love you all so much, pray for your spiritual growth and that you may continue in faith and teaching the Cause of Baha'u'llah -- the Cause of God," wrote Mavis Nymon, 82, who now lives in the United States and was unable to attend the celebrations in this West African country.

Ms. Nymon, originally from Fargo, North Dakota, was 32 years old when she and 59-year-old Vivian Wesson of Chicago, Illinois, took the message of the Baha'i Faith to what was then called French Togoland on 2 May 1954.

In her letter, which was read to the jubilee participants, she vividly described their dramatic landing by large dugout canoe in Ghana and then their subsequent night journey across the border, ending with their arrival in the capital city of Lome just before midnight.

"What an unspeakably joyous occasion for us," she said. They had accomplished their goal of contributing to the Ten Year Plan (1953-1963) to establish the Faith in countries where there were no Baha'is. By the end of the decade the number of national communities had more than doubled.

In her letter Ms. Nymon described the help she and Ms. Wesson received from Togolese people and how, about one month after their arrival, they met another Baha'i there, David Tanyi, from Cameroon.

For introducing the Baha'i teachings to French Togoland, the three received the accolade Knight of Baha'u'llah from the then head of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi.

"I wanted to go to Africa since I was 16, and it was the great fulfillment of my life," Ms. Nymon later said.

At the Tanyi residence, 1955: Vivian Wesson (left), David Tanyi (standing rear), Esther Tanyi (right), and the Tanyi children, Mbu and Enoch. Slideshow
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At the Tanyi residence, 1955: Vivian Wesson (left), David Tanyi (standing rear), Esther Tanyi (right), and the Tanyi children, Mbu and Enoch.

Later Ms. Nymon and Ms. Wesson moved to Liberia to assist the Baha'i community there.

"In 1964 I visited Togo again but now I am amazed to know of the progress of the Baha'i community there," she said. Mrs. Wesson and Mr. Tanyi have since passed away, though the three were reunited at the Baha'i World Centre in 1992.

Fifty years after their arrival more than 300 participants gathered in the capital city of Togo to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Baha'i community.

Guests came from 20 countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, France, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Iran, Mali, Martinique, Niger, Senegal, and the United States.

Throughout the jubilee celebrations youth groups and choirs from Togo provided entertainment, and many groups of guests contributed songs.

The jubilee festivities, celebrated 20-22 August 2004, were held not only in Lome but also at the Vivian Wesson Training Institute in Djidjole.

A representative of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Togo, Philip Smith, welcomed the participants.

In an address to the participants and their guests, Komi N'Sougne, an Auxiliary Board member, said the jubilee was also a celebration of unity in diversity, one of the main principles of the Baha'i Faith and one that is evident in the Togo Baha'i community. The Faith here is established in 665 localities and there are 108 Local Spiritual Assemblies.

"For the Baha'is it is not a question of building uniformity but rather to create unity and an environment where potentials [of individuals] can develop," Mr. N'Sougne said.

A message from the National Spiritual Assembly, presented by its secretary, Akakpo Yaovi Kougblenou, described the early days of the Togo Baha'i community, and it named those who first accepted the message of the Faith there, among them being Emmanuel Ocloo, Bruno Adjakly, Samuel Ggogbo, Michel Kokou Negble Attigah, and the first Togolese woman to become a Baha'i, Patience Adjakly.

Leyla Moustapha from Togo and Amrullah Khelghati from Guinea spoke to the participants about the history of the Baha'i Faith in Togo. A slide show by Thelma Khelgati also brought back many memories of the early days.

Attending as a representative of the Cameroon Baha'i community was Mary Tanyi, the wife of Enoch Tanyi, who is the son of the late David Tanyi. She also addressed the celebrants.

A member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Africa, Antoinette Ziehi from Cote d'Ivoire, spoke on the role of the youth in the Baha'i community.

Other members of the Continental Board of Counsellors present at the celebrations were Moussa Kamaye and Ibrahim Galadima from Niger.

An integral part of the jubilee was a regional Baha'i youth conference, the main theme of which was unity in diversity.

Performances came from the Henri Montra dance group, the La Voix de l'unite (Voices of Unity) choir of Djidjole, a choir from Yoyovi Kondji, the Rossignols d'Akka (Nightingales of Akka) choir, and a dance group from Niamey, Niger.

The jubilee received extensive coverage in the local and national media. The event was covered by Television Togolaise (a national television channel), Radio Lome (a national radio station), the Grand Quotidien National d'Information Togo-Presse (a national daily newsletter), and some private news organizations.

The first Local Spiritual Assembly was formed in Lome, in 1955. Many Baha'is from other countries have come to live in Togo to assist local Baha'is develop their community.

During the past 50 years the Togo Baha'i community has welcomed some distinguished Baha'i guests, among them Hands of the Cause Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani and Rahmatullah Muhajir.