IN most tribes of the Bantu the unit in the constitution of the community is the family, not the individual. However successful a man may be in trade, hunting, or any other means of gaining wealth, he cannot, even if he would, keep it all to himself. He must share with the family, whose indolent members thus are supported by the more energetic or industrious. I often urged my civilized employees not to spend so promptly, almost on pay-day itself, their wages in the purchase of things they really did not need. I represented that they should lay by "for a rainy day." But they said that if it was known that they had money laid up, their relatives would give them no peace until they had compelled them to draw it and divide it with them. They all yielded to this,--the strong, the intelligent, the diligent, submitting to their family, though they knew that their hard-earned pay was going to support weakness, heathenism, and thriftlessness.
Not only financial rights, but all other individual rights and responsibilities, were absorbed by the superior right and duty of the family. If an individual committed theft, murder, or any other crime, the offended party would, if convenient, lay hold of him for punishment. But only if it was convenient; to this plaintiff justice in the case was fully satisfied if any member of the offender's family could be caught or killed, or, if the offence was great, even any member of the offender's tribe.
Families recognized this custom as proper, and submitted to it; for the family expected to stand by and assist and defend all its members, whether right or wrong. Each member relied upon the family for escape from personal punishment, or for help in their individual weakness or inability.
In getting a wife, for instance, no young man had saved up enough to buy one. His wages or other gains, year after year, beyond what he had squandered on himself, had been squandered on members of his family. The family therefore all contributed to the purchase of the wife. Though he thenceforth owned her as his wife, the family had claims on her for various services and work which neither he nor she could refuse.
If in the course of time he had accumulated other women as a polygamist, and, subsequently becoming a Christian, was required to put away all but one (according to missionary rule), it was difficult for him to do so, not because of any special affection for the women involved in the dismissal, nor for pity of any hardship that might come to the women themselves. True, they would be a pecuniary loss to him; but his Christianity, if sincere, could accept that. And the dismissal of the extra women does not, in Africa, impose on them special shame, nor any hardship for self-support, as in some other countries. The real trouble is that they are not his to dismiss without family consent. The family had a pecuniary claim on them, and the heathen members thereof are not willing to let them go free back to their people. If this man puts them away, he must give them to some man or men in the family pale who probably already are polygamists. The property must be kept in the family inheritance. Thus, though attempting to escape from polygamy himself, this man would be a consenting party in fastening it on others. His offence before the church therefore would still be much the same.
For such concentrated interests as are represented in the family, there naturally would be fetiches to guard those interests separate from the individual fetich with its purely personal interests.
Respect for the family fetich is cognate to the worship of the spirits of ancestors. Among the Barotse of South Africa, for this worship, "they have altars in their huts made of branches, on which they place human bones, but they have no images, pictures, or idols."
Among the Mpongwe tribes of Western Equatorial Africa, "the profound respect for aged persons, by a very natural operation of the mind, is turned into idolatrous regard for them when dead. It is not supposed that they are divested of their power and influence by death, but, on the contrary, they are raised to a higher and more powerful sphere of influence, and hence the natural disposition of the living, and especially those related to them in any way in this world, to look to them, and call upon them for aid in all the emergencies and trials of life. It is no uncommon thing to see large groups of men and women, in times of peril or distress, assembled along the brow of some commanding eminence or along the skirts of some dense forest, calling in the most piteous and touching tones upon the spirits of their ancestors.
"Images are used in the worship of ancestors, but they are seldom exposed to public view. They are kept in some secret corner, and the man who has them in charge, especially if they are intended to represent a father or predecessor in office, takes food and drink to them, and a'very small portion of almost anything that is gained in trade.
"But a yet more prominent feature of this ancestral worship is to be found in the preservation and adoration of the bones of the dead, which may be fairly regarded as a species of relic worship. The skulls of distinguished persons are preserved with the utmost care, but always kept out of sight. I have known the head of a distinguished man to be dissevered from the body when it was but partly decomposed, and suspended so as to drip upon a mass of chalk provided for the purpose. The brain is supposed to be the seat of wisdom, and the chalk absorbs this by being placed under the head during the process of decomposition. By applying this to the foreheads of the living, it is supposed they will imbibe the wisdom of the person whose brain has dripped
upon the chalk." 
In the Benga tribe, just north of the equator, in West Africa, this family fetich is known by the name of Yâkâ. It is a bundle of parts of the bodies of their dead. From time to time, as their relatives die, the first joints of their fingers and toes, especially including their nails, a small clipping from a lobe of the ear, and perhaps snippings of hair are added to it. But the chief constituents are the finger ends. Nothing is taken from any internal organ of the body, as in the composition of other fetiches. This form descends by inheritance with the family. In its honor is sacredly kept a bundle of toes, fingers, or other bones, nail clippings, eyes, brains, etc., accumulated from deceased members of successive generations. This is distinctly an ancestor worship.
"The worship of ancestors is a marked and distinguishing characteristic of the religious system of Southern Africa. This is something more definite and intelligible than the religious ceremonies performed in connection with the other classes of spirits." 
What was described by Dr. Wilson as respect for the aged among the tribes of Southern Guinea forty years ago, is true still, in a large measure, even where foreign customs and examples of foreign traders and the practices of foreign governments have broken down native etiquette and native patriarchal government." Perhaps there is no part of the world where respect and veneration for age are carried.to a greater length than among this people. For those who are in office, and who have been successful in trade or in war, or in any other way have rendered themselves distinguished among their fellow-men, this respect, in some outward forms at least, amounts almost to adoration, and proportionately so when the person has attained advanced age. All the younger miambers of society are early trained to show the utmost deference to age. They must never come into the
[1. Wilson, Western Africa, p. 393.
presence of aged persons or pass by their dwellings without taking off their hats and assuming a crouching gait. When seated in their presence, it must--always be at a 'respectful distance'--a distance proportioned to the difference in their ages and position in society. If they come near enough to hand an aged man a lighted pipe or a glass of water, the bearer must always fall upon one knee. Aged persons must always be addressed as 'father' (rera, lale, paia) or 'mother' (ngwe, ina). Any disrespectful deportment or reproachful language toward such persons is regarded as a misdemeanor of no ordinary aggravation. A youthful person carefully avoids communicating any disagreeable intelligence to such persons, and almost always addresses them in terms of flattery and adulation. And there is nothing which a young person so much deprecates as the curse of an aged person, and especially that of a revered father."
The value of the Yâkâ seems to lie in a combination of whatever powers were possessed during their life by the dead, portions of whose bodies are contained in it. But even these are of use apparently only as an actual "medicine," the efficiency of the medicine depending on the spirits of the family dead being associated with those portions of their bodies. This efficiency is called into action by prayer, and by the incantations of the doctor.
"In some cases all the bones of a beloved father or mother, having been dried, are kept in a wooden chest, for which a small house is provided, where the son or daughter goes statedly to bold communication with their spirits. They do not pretend to have any audible responses from them, but it is a relief to their minds in their more serious moods to go and pour out all the sorrows of their hearts in the ear of a revered parent.
"This belief, however much of superstition it involves, exerts a very powerful influence upon the social character of the people. It establishes a bond of affection between the parent and child much stronger than could be expected among a people wholly given up to heathenism. It teaches the child to look up to the parent, not only as its earthly protector, but as a friend in the spirit land. It strengthens the bonds of filial affection, and keeps up a lively impression of a future state of being. The living prize the aid of the dead, and it is not uncommon to send messages to them by some one who is on the point of dying; and so greatly is this aid prized by the living that I have known an aged mother to avoid the presence of her sons, lest she should by some secret means be despatched prematurely to the spirit world, for the double purpose of easing them of the burden of taking care of her, and securing for themselves more effective aid than she could render them in this world.
"All their dreams are construed into visits from the spirits of their deceased friends. The cautions, hints, and warnings which come to them through this source are received with the most serious and deferential attention, and are always acted upon in their waking hours. The habit of relating their dreams, which is universal, greatly promotes the habit of dreaming itself, and hence their sleeping hours are characterized by almost as much intercourse with the dead as their waking hours are with the living. This is, no doubt, one of the reasons of their excessive superstitiousness. Their imaginations become so lively that they can scarcely distinguish between their dreams and their waking thoughts, between the real and the ideal, and they consequently utter falsehood without intending, and profess to see things which never existed." 
All that is quoted above from Dr. Wilson is still true among tribes not touched by civilization. What be relates of the love of children for parents and the desire to communicate with their departed spirits is particularly true of the children of men and women who have held honorable position in the community while they were living. And it is also all consistent with what I have described of the fear with which the dead are regarded, and the dread lest they should revenge some injury done them in life. The common
[1. Wilson, Western Africa.]
people, and those who have neglected their friends in any way, are the ones who dread this. The better classes, especially of the superior tribes, hold their dead in affectionate remembrance.
I have met with instances of the preservation of a parent's brains for fetich purposes, as mentioned above by Dr. Wilson. As honored guest, I have been given the best room in which to sleep overnight. On a flat stone, in a comer of the room, was a pile of grayish substance; it was chalk mixed with the decomposed brain-matter that had dripped on it from the skull that formerly had been suspended above. I then remembered how, on visiting chiefs in their villages, they frequently were not in the public reception-room on my arrival, but I was kept awaiting them. They had been apprised of the white man's approach, had retired to their bedrooms, and when they reappeared, it was with their foreheads, and sometimes other parts of their bodies, marked with that grayish mixture. The objects to be attained were wisdom and success in any question of diplomacy or in a favor they might be asking of the white man.
Around the doctor and his power is always a cloak of mystery which I have not been able to solve entirely, and of which the natives themselves do not seem to have a clear understanding. The other factors in their fetich worship have to them a degree of clearness sufficient to make them able to give an intelligible explanation. It is plain, for instan that the component parts of any fetich are looked upon them as we look upon the drugs of our materia medica. It is plain, also, that these "drugs" are operative, not as on ours, by certain inherent chemical qualities, but by the presence of a spirit to whom they are favorite media. And it is also clear that this spirit is induced to act by the pleasing enchantments of the magic doctor. But beyond this, what? Whence does the doctor get his influence? What is there in his prayer or incantation greater than the prayer or drum or song or magic mirror of any other person? For, admittedly, he himself is subject to the spirits, and may be thwarted by some other more powerful spirit which for the time being is operated by some other doctor; or he may be killed by the very spirit he is manipulating, if he should incur its displeasure.
Belief in the necessity of having the doctor is implicit, while the explanation of his modus operandi is vague, and he is feared lest he employ his utilized spirit for revenge or other harmful purpose. A patient and his relatives who call in the services of a doctor are therefore careful to obey him, and avoid off ending him in any way.
The Yâkâ is appealed to in family emergencies. Suppose, for instance, that one member has secretly done something wrong, e.g., alone in the forest, he has met and killed a member of another family, devastated a neighbor's plantation, or committed any other crime, and is unknown to the community as the offender. But the powerful Yâkâ of the injured family has brought disease or death, or some other affliction, on the offender's family. They are dying or otherwise suffering, and they do not know the reason why. After the failure of ordinary medicines or personal fetiches to relieve or heal or prevent the continuance of the evil, the hidden Yâkâ is brought out by the chiefs of the offender's family. A doctor is called in consultation; the Yâkâ is to be opened, and its ancestral relic contents appealed to. At this point the fears of the offender overcome him, and be privately calls aside the doctor and the older members of the clan. He takes them to a quiet spot in the forest and confesses what he has done, taking them to the garden he had devastated, or to the spot where he had hidden the remains of the person he had killed. If this confession were made to the public, so that the injured family became aware of it, his own life would be at stake. But making it to his Yâkâ, and to only the doctor and chosen representatives of his family, they are bound to keep his secret; the doctor on professional grounds, and his relatives on the grounds of family solidarity. The problem, then, is for the doctor to make what seems like an expiation. The explanation of this, as made to me, is vague. I am uncertain whether the Yâkâ of the injured family is to be appeased or the offender's own Yâkâ aroused from dormant inaction to efficient protection, or both. The Yâkâ bundle is solemnly opened by the doctor in the presence of the family; a little of the dust of its foul contents is rubbed on the foreheads of the members present; a goat or sheep is killed, and its blood sprinkled on them, the while they are praying audibly to the combined ancestor-power in the Yâkâ. These prayers are continued all the while the doctor, who makes his incantations long and varied, is acting. The sanctifying red-wood powder ointment is rubbed over their bodies, and the Yâkâ spirit having eaten the life essence of the sacrificed animal, its flesh is eaten by the doctor and the family. The Yâkâ bundle is tied up again, and again is hidden away in one of their buts, care being taken to add to it from the body of the member who next dies. The curse that had fallen on them is supposed to be wiped out, and the affliction under which they were lying is believed to be removed.
Recently (1901) a Mpongwe man bad gone as a trader into the Batanga interior. He was sick at the time of his going, one of his legs being swollen with an edematous affection, so much so that people in the interior, natives of that part of the country, and fellow-traders, wondered that he should travel so far from his home in that condition. He said he was seeking among different tribes for the cure he had failed to obtain in his own tribe. Later on, be died. He happened to die alone, while others who lived with him, one of them a relative, were temporarily out of the house. The suddenness of the death aroused the superstitious beliefs of the relative, and be rushed to the conclusion that it had been caused by black art machinations of some enemy. But of the whereabouts or the personality of that enemy be had not even a suspicion. He cut from the dead man's body the first joints of his fingers and all the toe-nails, put them in the hollow of a horn, and closed its opening, intending to add its contents to his family Yâkâ when he should return to Gabun. Then he waved the horn to and fro toward the spirits of the air, held it above his head, and struck it on the back of his own neck, uttering at the same time an imprecation that as his relative had died, so might die that very day, even as he had died, the unknown enemy who bad caused his death.
There is another family "medicine," still used in some tribes, that was formerly held in reverence by the Banâkâ. and Bapuku tribes of the Batanga country of the German Kamerun colony. It was called "Malanda." For description of it see Chapter XVI.
Another medicine similar to the Yâkâ in its family interest is called by the Balimba people living north of Batanga, "Ekongi." The following statement is made to me by intelligent Batanga people who know the parties, and who believe that what they report actually occurred.
At Balimba, in the German Kamerun territory, lived a man, by name Elesa. He possessed a little bundle containing powerful fetich medicines, so compounded that they constituted the kind of charm known as Ekongi. Like Aladdin's lamp, and almost as powerful, it warned him of danger, helped him in all his wishes, assisted him in his emergencies, and when he was away from it, as it was hidden in one of his chests in his house, caused him to be able to see and hear anything that was plotted against him. Only he could handle it aright; no one else would be able to manage it.
A brother-in-law of Elesa, husband of his sister, knew of this Ekongi, and asked Elesa to loan it to him in order that he also might be successful in some of his projects.
Now, the peculiarity of the Ekongi medicine is that it acts for and assists only the family of the person who owns it. Elesa refused his brother-in-law, telling him that as they did not belong to the same family, he would not know what to do with a strange Ekongi, nor would Ekongi be willing to answer a stranger.
The brother-in-law knew perfectly well that this was the manner of all Ekongi medicine; but be was so covetous and so foolishly determined that he hoped that in some way this Ekongi might be of use to him if only he could possess himself of it.
One day Elesa went off into the forest on a hunting trip, leaving his Ekongi safely locked in a chest in his house. The brother-in-law obtained a number of keys, and going secretly to Elesa's house, tried them on the various chests stored in the back room. Finally a key fitted, and a lock turned. Suddenly the lid flew up, and out of the now opened chest jumped the little Ekongi bundle, followed by all the goods that bad been packed in the chest; and these spread themselves at his feet, yards of cloth, and hats, and shirts, and coats, and a multitude of smaller articles. He rejoiced at the success of his effort. His covetousness overcamehim. He said to himself that he would put back Ekongi into the chest, would lock it, gather up all this wealth and carry it away; and no one would see them, or know that the chest had been opened by him.
He started to step forward, but his feet were held fast by some invisible power. He tried to stoop down to lay bold of some of the goods within reach, but his arms and back were held fast and stiff by the same invisible power. And he realized that he was a prisoner in Ekongi's hands.
Off in the forest Elesa, in his chase, was enabled by his Ekongi to see and know what was going on in his house. He saw his brother-in-law's attempt at theft, and that his unlawful eyes had looked on the sacred Ekongi. He abandoned the chase that day, and came back in great anger to his house. There was his brother-in-law rooted to the spot on which he stood, the chest open and empty, and the goods scattered on the floor.
Elesa controlled his anger, and at first said nothing. He quietly took a chair from the room out into the street and sat down on it, opposite to the doorway, as if on guard. Then he spoke: "So! now! You have looked on my Ekongi! And you have tried to steal! I will not speak of the shameful thing of stealing from a relative. That is a little thing compared with the sin you have done of looking on what was not lawful for your eyes. We are of different families. I will punish you by taking away my sister, your wife. You shall stand there until you agree to deliver up your wife, and also an amount of goods equal to what you paid for her." The brother-in-law began to plead against the hard terms, and offered to put his father into Elesa's hand instead of the wife. But Elesa insisted.
The brother-in-law's father, at a distant village, possessed also his own family Ekongi, which enabled him to see and know what was being said and done at Elesa's house. He was angry at the hard terms demanded; according to native view, he would defend any one of his family, even if he were in the wrong. A native eye does not look at essential wrong or right; it looks at family interest. His son's attempt at theft did not disturb him. It was enough that Elesa had seized his son as prisoner. He snatched up his spear, and hasted away to quarrel with his marriage relative Elesa.
On reaching the house, he saw his son still standing helpless, and Elesa seated, still pressing his hard terms on him. The father said to Elesa, "You are not doing well in this matter. Let my son go at once!"
Elesa refused, saying, "He wanted that which was sacred to me. He has looked upon it and has desecrated it. I will not agree that the angry Ekongi shall let him go free. He shall pay his ransom." After along discussion Elesa changed his terms, and demanded a money substitute of one thousand German marks in silver ($250). The father also receded from his demand that the son should be released unconditionally. And after further discussion the father, having saved both his son and himself from the first terms of the ransom, returned again to the question of a person instead of money, and offered his daughter in marriage instead of the $250.
[1. To a native African that is a much greater wrong than stealing from other people, particularly from foreigners.--R. H. N.]
Elesa accepted. He picked up the now satisfied Ekongi, and put it back into the chest; and all the scattered goods followed it, drawn by its power. And when the lid was again closed down and locked, the brother-in-law felt his limbs suddenly released from constriction, and was able to walk away.
This was gravely told me by my cook, a member of the Roman Catholic church, and was endorsed by a woman of my own church, who was present during the recital.
My friend the late Miss Mary H. Kingsley, on page 273 of her "Travels in West Africa," mentions an incident which shows that she had discovered one of these Yâkâ bundles, though apparently she did not know it as such and suspected it to be a relic of cannibalism. It is true, however, that she did come in contact with cannibalism. She had been given lodging in a room of a house in a Fang village in the country lying between the Azyingo branch of the Ogowe River and the Rembwe branch of the Gabun River. On retiring at night, she had observed some small bags suspended from the wall. "Waking up again, I noticed the smell in the hut was violent, from being shut up, I suppose, and it had an unmistakably organic origin. Knocking the end off the smouldering bush-light that lay burning on the floor, I investigated, and tracked it to those bags; so I took down the biggest one, and carefully noted exactly how the tie-tie (rattan rope) bad been put around its mouth; for these things are important, and often mean a lot. I then shook its contents out in my bat for fear of losing anything of value. They were a human hand, three big toes, four eyes, two ears, and other portions of the human frame. The hand was fresh, the others only so-so and shrivelled. Replacing them, I tied the bag up, and hung it up again." It was well she noticed a peculiarity in the tying of the calamus-palm string or "tie-tie." A stranger would not have been put in that room of whose honesty or honor there was doubt. White visitors are implicitly trusted that they will neither steal nor desecrate.
Another family medicine in the Batanga region is known by the name of Mbati. An account of the mode of its use was given me in 1902 by a Batanga man, as occurring in his own lifetime with his own father. The father was a heathen and a polygamist, having several wives, by each of whom he had children. One day he went hunting in the forest. He observed a dark object crouching among the cassava bushes on the edge of a plantation. Assuming that it was a wild beast wasting the cassava plants, he fired, and was frightened by a woman's outcry, "Oh! I am killed!" She was his own niece, who had been stooping down, hidden among the bushes as she was weeding the garden. He helped her to their village, where she died. She made no accusation. The bloodshed being in their own family, no restitution was required, nor any investigation made. The matter would have passed without further comment had not, within a year, a number of his young children died in succession; and it began to be whispered that perhaps the murdered woman's spirit was avenging itself, or perhaps some other family was using witchcraft against them. A general council of adjacent families was called. After discussion, it was agreed that the other families were without blame; that the trouble rested with my informant's father's family, which should settle the difficulty as they saw best, by inflicting on the father some punishment, or by propitiation being made by the entire family. The latter was decided on by the doctors. They gathered from the forest a quantity of barks of trees, leaves of parasitic ferns, which were boiled in a very large kettle along with human excrement, and a certain rare variety of plantain, as small as the smallest variety of banana. To each member of the family present, old and young, male and female, were given two of these unripe plantains. The rind does not readily peel off from unripe plantains and bananas; a knife is generally used. But for this medicine the rinds were to be picked off only by the finger-nails of those handling them, and then were to be shredded into the kettle in small pieces, also only by their finger-nails. A goat or sheep was killed, and its blood also mixed in. This mess was thoroughly boiled. Then the doctor took a short bush having many small branches (a tradition of hyssop?), and dipping it into the decoction, frequently and thoroughly sprinkled all the members of the family, saying, "Let the displeasure of the spirit for the death of that woman, or any other guilt of any hidden or unknown crime, be removed! "The liquid portion of the contents of the kettle having been used in the propitiatory sprinkling, the more solid pottagelike debris was then eaten by all members of the family, as a preventive of possible danger. And the rite was closed with the usual drum, dance, and song. My informant told me that at that time, and taking part in the ceremonies, was his mother, who was then pregnant with him. The Mbati medicine seems to have been considered efficient, for he, the seventh child, survived; and subsequently three others were born. The previous six had died. Though two of those three have since died, in some way they were considered to have died by Njambi (Providence), i.e., a natural death; for it is not unqualifiedly true that all tribes of Africa regard all deaths as caused by black art. There are some deaths that are admitted to be by the call of God, and for these there is no witchcraft investigation.
The father also is dead. My informant and one sister survive. They think the Mbati "medicine" was satisfactory, notwithstanding that the sister believes that their father was secretly poisoned by his cousins, they being jealous of his affluence in wives and children.
The last step in the Mbati rite is the transplanting of some plant. A suitable hole having been dug at one end, or even in the middle of the village street, each person takes a bulb of lily kind, probably a crinum or an amaryllis, such as are common on the rocky edges of streams, and pressing it against their backs and other parts of their body, and with a rhythmic swaying of their bodies plant it in the hole. Thereafter these plants are not destroyed. They are guarded from the village goats by a small enclosure, and should at any time thevillage remove, the plants are also removed and replanted on the new site. Such plants are seen in almost every village.