Emelie Lundahl was a teacher who travelled during the 1870s as a missionary to Eritrea.
Emelie Lundahl was born in 1842 at Södermalm in Stockholm. Her father Erland Cassel was a butcher who died when Emelie Lundahl was small. Her mother Vilhelmina Cassel, née Larsson, had a little shop and had to work hard to support her four daughters and one son. To be able to continue working, she employed the nanny Mari. Emelie Lundahl wrote in her memoirs Från forna dagar och flydda år. Minnen, in 1922, that her mother was the sunshine in their home, but was unable to be at home that much, and then it was ”strict” Mari who stood for most of their upbringing. The children were not allowed to be out in the street playing but had to keep to their own yard, so as not to turn into street children. On weekends it was holiday time when their mother got out the butter that they had not seen all week long, along with the sausage and soft rolls.
Strong religious faith characterised the children’s home. The eldest sister, Hanna Cassel left home early on to go into service in the home of a senior official in St Petersburg. She later married a customs officer in Viborg. The two years older Thilda Cassel married Johannes Larsson, a tradesman. Mimmi Cassel, like Emelie Lundahl, became a teacher and missionary. Their brother Frans Cassel did not succeed that well; he took to drinking at an early age.
The children’s first school was Arvidssonska skolan, a private school with few pupils. At the end of her schooling, Emelie Lundahl had to take on the youngest pupils and that was the beginning of her future education as a teacher. In the autumn of 1864, Emelie Lundahl started at the teacher training college for schoolmistresses in Stockholm (later Högre lärarinneseminariet) and after three years, in 1867, she gained a post as an assistant teacher at the Norrköping elementary school. In 1872 she was appointed as a teacher at the teacher training college for elementary schoolmistresses in Stockholm.
After three years at the training college, missionary Lundahl turned up one day and asked the principal if he could listen to some lessons. The principal sent him to Emelie Lundahl’s class. Only one year later, Emelie Lundahl travelled with the deaconesses Bengta Nilsson, Benedicta Lager and Beata Carlsson to Eritrea. They left Stockholm on Saturday 25 January 1875, on the train to Gothenburg. It was a freezing cold winter and the train got stuck halfway at Hallsberg for five days. Ice later stopped the sea journey and they did not arrive in London until Easter. On 13 May they finally arrived in Massawa after a long journey full of danger. However three weddings soon took place for the three women who were then able to travel out to meet their husbands and begin their missionary service. Emelie Lundahl’s previously mentioned book of memoirs is a unique narrative about how missionary work was begun in Eritrea.
Her husband Bengt Peter Lundahl was afflicted by severe illness in 1878: ”We had namely all been poisoned by goat’s milk in our home. The goats had eaten poisonous herbs, and their milk caused violent vomiting. Only my husband did not suffer, but instead the poison affected his liver. It was decided that he would travel home, and I would stay with the children with the native teacher Terfu as my assistant.” It was unusual for a woman to be left alone with all the responsibility when her husband travelled away. When Bengt Peter Lundahl came back, he was healthy again and had with him Emelie Lundahl’s younger sister Mimmi Cassel who was to help them in the boys’ school.
In 1875, Bengt Peter Lundahl had visited the architect and composer Wilhelm Stenhammar who had drawn up designs for the new missionary station in Monkullo (Imkullo), just outside Massawa. Emelie Lundahl wrote: ”He used to put his drafts up on the piano and play to get ideas. My husband happened to be there at his home and heard him playing to our plans, and he thought as he sat there that if our house was going to be as beautiful as he was playing, then it was going to be quite wonderful.” However, it was first in 1877 that they were promised a plot and were able to start building. Two years later, the house was completed and they were able to move in. Emelie Lundahl gives a detailed description of the new building and life there.
In the building, there were various rooms for the children, a prayer room, church, guestroom, missionary room and girls’ and boys’ schools. Beata Carlsson had a sick tent on the farm and her husband had his carpentry workshop under their veranda. The forecourt with all the trees that had been planted is also described. The mission began early on to take care of freed slave children (Oromo, called Galla at that time) who had been abducted in western Ethiopia to be sold in some Arab country. Several Galla girls were purchased from slavery and came to the station.
At the mission station, joy was mixed with grief. 1885 was a dark year. On 25 April, the Lundahls’ daughter Hanna died aged 8 months. Within a few weeks, two of the older schoolboys also died, of typhoid: Gebra Krisus and Gebra Amlak, both about 15 years old. Then Bengt Petter Lundahl fell ill too and died in December 1885: ”It was 5 p.m. in the evening and the message that Aboi Lundahl was dead soon spread and everyone who heard it, came along and participated in the song of grief.” Emelie Lundahl was a widow but remained in her place and continued her work as a teacher and taking care of the children. Asmara too became open and there a new mission was built and it became the new centre for the church.
In the summer of 1894, Emelie Lundahl had to travel home to Sweden after a severe chest illness. She was given work at the organisation Evangeliska Fosterlands-Stiftelsen as assistant to the secretary. The EFS office became her place of work for a further 15 years. There she was able to contribute all her knowledge to the continuing missionary work. Emelie Lundahl died in Visby on 29 December 1929, at 87 years of age.