Obstacles no match for pioneer spirit

August 21, 2004
Baha'is in Oveng, Equatorial Guinea.

MALABO, Equatorial Guinea — When Elise Lynelle arrived in this West African country in 1954 to introduce the teachings of the Baha'i Faith, she faced two major obstacles.

The first was a restriction on free association between whites and blacks. The second was that she was allowed only a one-month visa, barely enough time to get settled, let alone explain the teachings of a world religion.

Nevertheless, she was able to help establish the Faith in this country, then known as Spanish Guinea. Fifty years later, she described those early days to participants in the jubilee celebrations, which the Baha'i community held here on 20-21 August 2004.

A young journalist from the United States, Ms. Lynelle (then Elise Schreiber) arrived in Bata, Spanish Guinea, on 17 May 1954.

Normally it would have been difficult to obtain a visa but, fortunately, her arrival coincided with a festival, and the military authorities allowed her to stay for a month.

While in Bata, Ms. Lynelle was unable to make contact with black Africans because of restrictions on association between the races, and any new religion was frowned upon. However, a Spaniard, Jose Ramos Espinosa, accepted the Faith.

With Mr. Espinosa's help, Ms. Lynelle joined a group of surveyors who were traveling in the colony looking for places to build lighthouses.

In June 1954 she sailed with them to the island of Corisco. Here she met the elderly King of the island, Santiago Uganda Mdelo and his nephew, Edward Robinson, both of whom readily accepted the Baha'i teachings. King Uganda told Ms. Lynelle that he had had a premonition about someone who would come to him with a message.

Baha'is in Luba, Equatorial Guinea, 1990. Slideshow
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Baha'is in Luba, Equatorial Guinea, 1990.

For introducing the Baha'i Faith to Equatorial Guinea Ms. Schreiber received the accolade Knight of Baha'u'llah from the then head of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi.

Her arrival in this country contributed to the achievements of 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.

Returning to the country for the first time in 50 years, Ms. Lynelle said she was impressed at the changes that had taken place in Equatorial Guinea and the progress of the Baha'i community. The country now has four Local Spiritual Assemblies.

Other speakers at the jubilee festivities to describe the early days were Alberto Ntutumu, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Equatorial Guinea, and Miguel Bielo, a member of the Auxiliary Board.

Also present was Jose Maria Fierro Cueto (also known as Dr. Pepe), who came from Mexico to Equatorial Guinea in the 1980s to assist the Baha'i community.

A slide presentation about the history of the Faith paid tribute to other early members of the community, among them Joseph Enonguene and Johanna Ngompex, who came from Cameroon in the 1960s.

At the celebrations, a member of the Auxiliary Board in Cameroon, Christine Tchameni, represented the Continental Board of Counsellors in Africa.

Some prominent non-Baha'i officials attended the celebrations, including the Health Minister, Dr. Justino Obama Nve, and Mrs. Obama.

Theatrical and musical presentations entertained the participants, a highlight being traditional dances by members of the biggest tribe of Equatorial Guinea, the Fang.

In a message to the participants at the golden jubilee celebrations, the Universal House of Justice expressed its hope that "this occasion, besides giving pause for reflection on what has so nobly been attained to date, will provide inspiration to each individual present to see his own role in advancing this world-embracing Cause."

The national television channel, RTV (Radio Television Malabo), covered the event. A monthly magazine, La Gazeta, later published an article about the celebrations.

The Baha'is of Equatorial Guinea organize various activities which are also open to the wider public, including regular moral educational classes for children and pre-youth, prayer gatherings, and study circles aimed at building individual capacities.

As part of the jubilee celebrations, a graduation feast for study circle participants will be held in November 2004.