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THE observances of fetich worship fade off into the customs and habits of life by gradations, so that in some of the superstitious beliefs, while there may be no formal handling of a fetich amulet containing a spirit, nor actual prayer or sacrifice, nevertheless spiritism is in the thought, and more or less consciously held.

In our civilization there are thousands of professedly Christian people who are superstitious in such things as fear of Friday, No. 13, spilled salt, etc. In my childhood, at Easton, Pa., I was sent on an errand to a German farmhouse. The kind-hearted Frau was weeding her strawberry bed in the spring garden-making, and was throwing over the fence into the public road superfluous runners. I asked permission to pick them up to plant in my own little garden. She kindly assented, and I thanked her for them, whereupon she exclaimed, "Ach! nein! nein! Das ist no goot! You say, 'Dank you'; now it no can grow any more!" I was too young to inquire into the philosophy of the matter. Surely she would not forbid gratitude. I think the gist of what she thought my error was, that I had thanked her for what she considered a worthless thing and had thrown away. I do not think she would have objected to thanks for anything she valued sufficiently to offer as a gift.

The difference between my old Pennsylvania-Dutch lady and my "Number 13" acquaintances, and my African Negro friend is that to the former, while they are somewhat influenced by their superstition, it is not their God. To the latter it is the practical and logical application of his religion. Theirs is a pitiable weakness; his a trusted belief.

It would be impossible to enumerate all the thousands of practices dominated by the superstitious beliefs of the Bantu,--practices which sometimes erect themselves into customs and finally obtain almost the force of law. Many of these are prevalent all over Africa; others are local.


Everywhere are rules of pregnancy which bind both the woman and her husband. During pregnancy neither of them is permitted to eat the flesh of any animal which was itself pregnant at the time of its slaughter. Even of the flesh of a non-pregnant animal there are certain parts--the heart, liver, and entrails--which may not be eaten by them. It is claimed that to eat of such food at such a time would make a great deal of trouble for the unborn infant. During his wife's pregnancy a man may not cut the tbroat of any animal nor assist in the butchering of it. A carpenter whose wife is pregnant must not drive a nail. To do so would close the womb and cause a difficult labor. He may do all other work belonging to carpentering, but he must have an assistant to drive the nails.

In my early years on Corisco Island, and while I was expecting to become a father, I was one day superintending the butchering of a sheep. It was not necessary that I should actually use the knife; that was done by the cook; but I stood by to see that the work was done in a cleanly manner, and that in the flaying the skin should be rolled constantly away, so that the hair should not touch the flesh. In the dissection I assisted, so that the flesh should not be defiled by a carelessly wounded entrail. My servant was amazed, and said my child would be injured. He was still more shocked when Mrs. Nassau herself came to urge haste and to secure the liver for dinner.

Among the station employees oil Corisco in 1864 was an ex-slave, a recent convert, whose freedom had been purchased by one of the missionaries. The native non-Christian freemen begrudged him his position as a mission employee; for his wages were now his own, and could no longer be claimed by his former master. Some of his fellow-servants, freemen, put off on him, as much as they could, the more menial tasks. It was incumbent, therefore, on the missionaries to see that be was not oppressed by his fellows. Clearing of the graveyard was a task no one liked to have assigned to him; and it was often thrown on poor Evosa. One day a newly arrived missionary, the Rev. George Paull, the noblest of my associates these forty years, who just then knew little of the language or of native thought or custom, ordered Evosa to take his hoe and clean the cemetery path. Evosa bluntly said, "Mba haye!" (I won't). "You won't! You refuse to obey me?" "Mba haye!" "Then I dismiss you." Evosa went away, much cast down. Some of his fellow-Cliristians came to me saying they were sorry for him, and asked me to interfere. "But," I said, "he should obey; the work is not hard." "Oh! but be can't do it!" "Why not?" "Because his wife is pregnant." Immediately I understood. Evosa may not have believed in the superstition, but for all that, if he did the work and subsequently there should be anything untoward in his wife's confinement, her relatives would exact a heavy fine of him. We had not required our converts to disregard these prohibitions, if only they did not actually engage in any act of fetich worship. I was careful to say nothing to the natives that would undermine my missionary brother's authority; but privately I intiniated to Mr. Paull that I thought that if be had been fully aware of the state of the case, be would not have dismissed the man. He was just, and reversed the dismissal. Evosa was pardoned also for the bluntness of his refusal; it was a part of his slavish ignorance. In conclusion, I warned him that he should have explained to Mr. Paull the ground of his refusal, and should have asked for other work. He had not supposed that tlie white man did not know; wid the asking of excuse is a part of politeness tbat has to be taught. Almost every new missionary makes unwise or unjust orders and decisions before be learns on what superstitious grounds he is treading. Not all are willing to be rectified as was my noble brother Paull.

In the burial of a first-born infant the lid of the coffin is not only not allowed to be nailed down, but it must not entirely cover the corpse; a space must be left open (generally above the child's head); the superstition being that if the coffin be closed, the mother will bear no more children.


Almost every traveller in Africa, in publishing his story, has much to say about the difficulties in getting his caravan of porters started on their daily journey. His detailed account of slowness, disobedience, and desertions is as monotonous to the reader as they were distressing to himself. Did he but know it, the fault was often largely his own. The man of haste and exactitude, that has grown up on railroad time-tables, demands the impossible of aborigines who never have needed to learn the value of time. Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic, and even Latin diligence expects too much of the happy-go-lucky African. The traveller fumes, and frets, and works himself into a fever. He would gain more in the end if he would festina lente. He would save himself many a quarrel or case of discipline (for which he earns the reputation of being a hard master; and for which, further on in the journey, he may be shot by one of his outraged servants) if he only knew that superstition had met his servant, as the angel "with his sword drawn" met Balaam's ass, "in a narrow place"; and that servant could no more have dared to go on in the way than could that wise ass who knew and saw what his angry master did not know.

Mr. R. E. Dennett, for many years a resident in Loango among the Bavili people, and author of "Seven Years among the Fjort," recognizes this in "A Few Signs and Omens," contributed recently to a Liverpool weekly journal, "West Africa." What he says of the Fyât (Fiot) tribes is largely true of all the other West African tribes. "They have a number of things to take into consideration, when setting out upon a journey, which may account for many of those otherwise inexplicable delays which so annoy the white man at times when anxious to start 'one time' for some place or other.

"The first thing a white man should do is to see that the Negro's fetiches are all in order; then, when on the way, he must manage things so that the first person the caravan shall meet shall be a woman; for that is a good sign, while to meet a man means that something evil is going to happen. Then, to meet the bird Kna that is all black is a bad sign; while the Kna that has its wings tipped with white is a good sign.

"The rat Benda running across your path from left to right is good; from right to left fairly good; should it appear from the left and run ahead in the direction you are going, 'Oh! that is very good!' but should it run towards you, well, then the best thing for you to do is to go back; for you are sure to meet with bad luck!

"See that your men start with their left foot first, and that they are 'high-steppers'; for if their left foot meet with an obstacle, and is not badly hurt, it is not a bad sign; but if their right foot knocks against anything, you must go back to town.

"See that you do not meet that nasty brown bird called Mvia, that is always crying out, 'Via, via'; for that means 'witch-palaver,' and strikes consternation into your people. Nobody likes to be reminded of his sins or witch deeds, and be condemned to be burnt in the fire; and that is what 'via' means.

"Then there is that moderately large bird with wings tipped with white called 'Nxeci,' also reminding one of 'witch-palaver,' and continuously crying out, 'Ke-e-e,' or 'No.' You had far better not start.

"Take care also to shoot the cukoo o Nkuku before it crosses your path; for if you allow it to pass, you had better return; it is a bad omen.

"Then, concerning owls: see that your camp at night is not disturbed by the cry of the Kulu (spirit of the departed), that warns you that one of you is going to die; or that of the Xi-futu-nkubu, which means that you may expect some evil shortly. On the other hand, let the Mampaulo-paulo hoot as much as it likes; for that is a good sign.

"Then look out that the snake Nduma does not cross your path; for that is a sign of death, or else of warning to you that you should return and see to the fetich obligations the iron bracelet Ngofu reminds you of. Examine your men, and ask those who wear the bracelet the following questions: Have you eaten the flesh of anything (save birds) on the same day that it was killed? Have you pointed your knife at any one? Did you know your wife on the Day of Rest (Nsâna, Sunday)? Have you looked upon a woman during a certain period of the month? Have you eaten those long 'chilli' peppers instead of confining yourself to the smaller kinds?

"You must send those who have not the bracelet, together with those who have not been true to ngofu, back to town, to set this 'palaver' right. Take great care of your fowls, and see that you have no ill-regulated cock to crow between 6 P.M. and 3 A.M., as that means that there is a palaver in town to which your men are called, so that it may be settled at once.

"Then, there is that large bird Knakna, whose cry warns your men that there is something wrong with the fetich Mabili ('the east wind,' on the gateway at the east entrance to each town), and this knowledge will hang as a dead weight on all their energies until they have just run back to town to see what the matter may be.

"Get your men to sleep early, lest they should see the 'falling stars '; for it means that one of their princes is about to die, and that is disquieting. Then don't let it thunder out of season; for that portends the death of an important prince.

"And if you determine to go out fishing, and meet the rat Benda (as above noted), go or not, as the signs command you. If you meet the bird Mbixi that sings 'luelo-elo-elo,' go on your way rejoicing; or when the little bird Nxexi, true to nature, sings 'xixexi,' all is well; but when it sings, 'tietie,' go back, for you will catch nothing.

"Then there is the wild dog Mbulu; well, that must not cross your path at starting. You laugh? Well, so did Nyambi, the brother of my headman, Bayona; and what bappened? Nyambi had come down from the interior with his master; and after a short stay was ordered back to his trading post, his master saying that he would follow him shortly. A friend handed him a son of his for him to educate, and to attend upon him; in fact, to be his 'boy.' Everything being ready, be set out from Loango; and the first thing they met on the road was the wild dog. Now Nyambi was a plucky Bantu and took no notice of this warning, but continued on his way. On reaching the forest country in Mayomba, the boy entrusted to him ran away. Nyanibi, true to his trust, came after him back to his town, to see that the boy was once more placed in the care of his father, and so to avoid any further complications. Then he once more started on his way, and, nearing the forest country again, was bitten severely on the foot by a snake. He tied a rag around his leg just under the knee, and another just above his ankle, and squeezed as much blood as he could from the wound itself. Then he hobbled into the nearest town, and waited there for assistance from his family, to whom he had at once despatched a messenger. They sent men and women to bring him back to Loango, where he arrived in a very weak condition, and with a fearful sore on his foot,--an awful warning to all those who will not take the omens sent to them in earnest! What! you still laugh? Well, there is no hope for you; you are too persistent, and have not read the story of the rabbit and the antelope, and of the trap laid for the former.[1] And if you keep on laughing at these superstitions of the natives, don't blame any one if they call you a 'rabbit,' and refuse to follow you in your wanderings through their land. Most haste is

[1. Tale 23, p. 93, my "Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Fiort."]

very often worst speed in Africa; and the white man who ignores all but physical difficulties does well to stay his impatient hand when about to strike his most provoking and apparently dilatory black carrier, who is beset by endless moral obstacles retarding his progress as no physical difficulties can."

When I was beginning my pioneering of the Ogowe River in September-November, 1874, 1 had with me one Christian coast native. I completed my canoe's crew with four heathen Galwa, placed myself under the patronage of the Akele chief Kasa, resided in his village, and bought from him a site, Belambila, for my mission station, about a mile distant from him. Daily I went with my crew in the canoe to work at the building of a temporary house on the Belambila premises. One day a water-snake crossed the canoe's bow, and I struck at it. The Christian looked serious, and the four heathen laid down their paddles. It was sufficiently disastrous that the snake had crossed our path; I had made matters worse by attempting to injure it. They said, "You should not have done that." "Why?" "Because somewhere and sometime it will follow us and will bite us. Let us go back to Kasa's." I refused, and insisted on our proceeding with the day's work. I might better have yielded to their request. It was as if I were under an Ancient Mariner's curse. My snake was as bad as his albatross. My men either could not or would not. Everything went wrong. They worked without heart and under dread. What they built that day was done with so many mistakes that I had to tear it down. I did not fully appreciate at that time, but I do not now think that they were intentionally disobedient or recalcitrant. Just as well compel a crew of ignorant sailors to start their voyage on a Friday. The fear of ominous birds and other animals is over all Africa. In Garenganze, according to Arnot, "many have a superstitious dread of the horned night-owl. Its cry is considered an evil omen, which can only be counteracted effectually by possessing a whistle made out of the windpipe of the same kind of bird.

"Jackals, wild dogs" also are very much disliked. The weird cry of one of these animals will arouse the people of a whole village, who will rush out and call upon the spirit-possessed animal to be quiet and leave them, or to come into the village, and they will feed and satisfy it.

"When travelling, they are careful to notice the direction this animal may take. Should its cry come from the direction in which they are going, they will not venture a step farther until certain divinations have been performed that they may learn the nature of the calamity about to befall them." [1]

The chameleon is an object of dread to all natives wherever I have lived. I have never met, even among the most civilized, any man or woman who would touch one. For friendship, or to make a sale, they would bring it to me at the end of a long stick, in my various efforts at zodlogical and other collections.

The millepedes they also dread. I handle them with impunity, and my little daughter, on the Ogowe, in 1888 did so too, under my example. But her young Negro companions soon made her afraid. True, the adult millepede ejects a dark liquid which stained my hands and which natives said was poisonous if taken internally. (That I never tested.)

A native friend, one of my Batanga female church-members, a sincere Christian, of bright mind but limited education, told me recently (1902) of her belief in the chameleon as a bad omen. She was visiting relatives a dozen miles north. Word was sent her to return, as another relative, a woman in my Bongaheli village, was dangerously ill. Her host told her to go, and advised her to gather on the way a certain fern, parasitic on trees, that is used medicinally in the disease of which the woman was sick. My friend started on her day's journey, came to the tree, and was about to pluck the ferns when she observed a chameleon clasping the tree; it stood still and looked at her. She instantly

[1. Arnot.]

left the tree, abandoned the ferns, went back to tell her host that a chameleon was in possession of them and had stared at her, and that it was useless to gather the medicine, for she was sure their relative was dead. And she resumed her journey, coming back to Bongaheli in order to attend the mourning. It was true; the relative was dead, and the mourning had begun. Her belief was not shaken when I reminded her that that chameleon was only doing just what all chameleons do when they are not walking, and when confronted by any one. They all clasp the branch on which they happen to be, and stare at their supposed pursuer, if unable to escape.


Formerly a strange superstition said that on him who should kill a leopard there would come an evil disease, curable only by ruinously expensive ceremonies of three weeks' duration, under the direction of the Ukuku (Spirit) Society. So the natives allowed the greatest ravages, until their sheep, goats, and dogs were swept away; and were aroused to self-defence only when a human being became the victim of the daring beast. The carcass of a leopard, or even the bones of one long dead, were not to be touched.

While I was living at Benita, about 1869, the losses by leopards became so great that, in desperation, some of the braver young men, under my encouragement, determined that the depredator should be caught. (Nothing was just then said about what should be done with it when caught.) A trap was built in one of the villages, and baited with a live goat. Soon a leopard was entrapped. What to do with it was then the question. Some favored leaving it alone till they could ask permission of Ukuku to kill it, even if they had to pay heavily for the permission. Others, who had heard me laugh at their superstition, proposed that I should be asked to shoot it. They came at night; I willingly and promptly went with my Winchester repeating rifle, which could easily be thrust into the chinks between the logs of which the trap was built. When the animal was shot, came the question, Who should remove it? None would touch it.

Among my employees were two young men of another tribe with whom that superstition did not exist. With their aid I lifted the carcass upon a wheelbarrow, and took it to a place where I could comfortably skin it. Some objected to my retaining the skin. They wanted the whole animal put out of sight. But the majority agreed that the skin should be my compensation for my rifle's service. Then a deputation carefully followed me out on the prairie, to see that the spot where the skinning was to be done was not near any of their frequented paths. After the flaying was complete, what was best to do with the carcass? The majority objected to its being buried, fearing to tread over its grave. So I sent the two young men in a canoe, to sink the carcass out in the river's mouth toward the sea. Even then there were those who for two weeks afterward would eat no fish caught in the river.

With this fear of the leopard was united a superstition similar to that of the "wehr-wolf" of Germany, viz., a belief in the power of human metamorphosis into a leopard. The natives had learned, from foreigners who were ignorant of the fact that there are no tigers in Africa, to call this leopard fiend a "man-tiger." They got their fears still more mixed by a belief in a third superstition, viz., that sometimes the dead returned to life and committed depredations. This belief was not siniply that disembodied spirits (mekuku) returned, but that the entire person, soul and body (ilina na nyolo), rose temporarily from the grave, with a few changes (among the rest, that the feet were webbed). Such a being, as mentioned in a previous chapter, was called "Uvengwa." At one time, while I was at Benito, intense excitement prevailed in the community: doors and shutters were violently rattled at night; marks of leopard's claws scratched doorposts; their tracks lay on every path; women and children in lonely places saw their flitting forms, in the dark were knocked down by their spring, or heard their growl in the thickets. It was difficult to decide, in hearing these reports, whether it was a real leopard, a leopard fiend, or only an uvengwa. To native fear, th-ey were practically the same. I felt certain that the uvengwa was a thief disguised in a leopard skin. Under such disguise murders were sometimes committed. By bending my thumb and fingers into a semiclosed fist, I could make an impression in the sand that exactly resembled a leopard's track; and this confirmed my conclusions as to the real cause of the phenomenon.

The pioneer of the Gabun Mission, Rev. Dr. J. L. Wilson, in 1842, found the wehr-wolf superstition prevalent among all the tribes of Southern Guinea. The leopard "is invested with more terror than it otherwise would have, by a superstitious apprehension on the part of the natives, that wicked men frequently metamorphose themselves into leopards and commit all sorts of depredations, without the liability or possibility of being killed. The real leopard is emboldened by impunity, and often becomes a terrible scourge to the village be infests. I have known large villages to be abandoned by their inhabitants, because they were afraid to attack these animals on account of their supposed supernatural powers."

At Gabun, about 1865, there still remained a jungle on one side of the public road that constituted the one street of the town of Libreville, as it followed the curve of the bay for three miles. There were frequent alarms and occasional murders along lonely parts of that road. The natives believed that the leopard fiend was a beast; the French commandant believed it was a human being. He had the jungle cut away. Since then, no mangled bodies have been found there.

Among the Garenganze people, in 1884, Mr. Arnot often chid them "for their want of bravery in not hunting down the many wild animals that prey around their towns, carrying off the sick people, and frequently attacking and seizing solitary strangers. They excused themselves by explaining that these wild animals are really 'men of other tribes,' turned, by the magic power they possess, into the form of lions, panthers, or leopards, who prowl about to take vengeance on those against whom they are embittered. In defending this absurd theory, one man said it was not possible for a Luba and a Lamba man to go out into the country together without one stealing a march on his neighbor, getting out of sight, and returning again in the form of a lion or leopard, and devouring his travelling companion. Such things, they say, are of daily occurrence amongst them; and this foolish superstition leads them not only to tolerate the wild animals about, but almost to bold them sacred."

This particular superstition still exists extensively. As late as 1898, it is stated of the Barotse of Southeast Africa: "They believe that at times both living and dead persons can change themselves into animals, either to execute some vengeance or to procure something that they wish for: thus a man will change himself into a hyena or a lion in order to steal a sheep, and make a good meal off it; into a serpent, to avenge himself on some enemy. At other times, if they see a serpent, it is one of the 'Matotela' or slave tribe, which has thus transformed himself to take some vengeance on the Barotse." [1]


There exists a custom, even among the civilized, for the seller of an article to hold back a small portion after his price has been paid. When I first met with this custom, I was indignant at what seemed like stealing; and yet it was so open, and without any attempt at concealment, that I was amazed. One who brought for sale a bunch of plantains twisted off and took away one of its "fingers." Another who had just been paid for a peck of sweet potatoes deliberately picks off one tuber. Another who brought a gazelle for sale would not complete the bargain till I had consented that be might remove the gall-bladder and a portion of the liver. I learned that all these were for "luck": in order that the garden whence came that plantain bunch or potato

[1. Declè.]

should be blessed with abundance; and the hunter, that be might be successful in his next hunt. The gazelle is credited with being a very artful animal, the cunning being located especially in the liver.

One might ask why, if those pieces are so needed for luck, the owner did not take them before selling, and while they were still his own and under his entire control. I do not know their exact thought; but the statement was that the chances of good luck were greater if the pieces of plantain, potato, meat, etc. were abstracted after the article had actually passed out of the seller's possession.

On the Ogowe, at Lake Azyingo, in 1874, I was present at the cutting up of a fernale hippopotamus which a hunter had killed the night before. By favor of the native Ajumba, chief, Anege, I was allowed to see the ceremonies. They were many; of most of them I did not understand the significance; and the people were loath to tell me, lest I should in some way counteract them. Even my presence was objected to by the mother of the hunter (he, however, was willing).

After the animal had been decapitated, and its quarters and bowels removed, the hunter, naked, stepped into the hollow of the ribs, and kneeling in the bloody pool contained in that hollow, bathed his entire body with that mixture of blood and excreta, at the same time praying the life-spirit of the hippo that it would bear him no ill-will for having killed it, and thus cut it off from future maternity; and not to incense other hippopotami that they should attack his canoe in revenge. (Hippos are amphibians, but are generally killed in the water.) He kept choice parts of the flesh to incorporate into his luck fetich.

Mr. Arnot mentions the same custom in Garenganze:

One morning I shot a hyena in my yard. The chief sent up one of his executioners to cut off its nose and the tip of its tail, and to extract a little bit of brain from the skull. The man informed me that these parts are very serviceable to elephant hunters, as securing for them the cunning, tact, and power to become invisible, which the hyena is supposed to possess. I suppose that the brain would represent the cunning, the nose the tact, and the tip of the tail the vanishing quality." The stomach of the hyena is valued by the Ovimbundu (of Southwest Africa) as a cure for apoplexy.


Mr. Arnot states that in Garenganze "cases of infanticide are very rare. Twins, strange to say, are not only allowed to live, but the people delight in them." Though they are not regarded as monstrosities deserving death, as among the Calabar people on the West Coast, it is nevertheless considered necessary that certain preservative ceremonies should be performed on the infants and their parents.

Mr. Swan, an associate of Mr. Arnot, describes a ceremony be was unexpectedly made to share in while on a visit to the native king Msidi: "My attention was drawn to a crowd of folk, mostly women, who approached, singing and ringing a kind of bell. They formed in lines opposite to us. In front of the rest were a man and woman, each holding a child not more than a few days old. I learned that the little ones were twins, the man and woman holding them being the happy parents, who had come to present their offspring to the king. They wore nothing but a few leaves about their loins,--a hint to Msidi, I suppose, that they would like some cloth.

"After chanting a little, an elderly woman came forward, with a dish in her left hand and an antelope's tail in her right. When she reached Msidi, I was astonished at her dipping the tail in the dish and dashing the liquid over his face. Msidi's wife had a like dose. But my surprise increased when she came to us and gave us a share. What was in the dish I cannot say, but it struck me as possessing a very disagreeable odor. This discourteous creature was the Ocimbanda (fetich doctor). She did not cease her dousing work till she had favored all sitting around. The king then went into the house, and his wife came out with some cloth, which she tied around the mother's waist; and then a piece of cloth was given to the husband. The friends had brought some native beer; and when Msidi came out, he went to one of the pots, filled his mouth, spouting the beer in his wife's face; she did the same to him, after which the spouting became general.... They told me it was their custom to act thus when twins are born."

In the Benga tribe, thirty-five years ago, I observed that if one of a pair of twins died, a wooden image was substituted for it on the bed or in the cradle-box, alongside of the living child. I strongly suspected Animism in the custom; but some Christians explained that the image was only a toy, so that the living babe should not miss the presence of an object resembling its mate.

Names of twins are always the same, in the same cognate tribes. In Benga they are always Ivaha (a wish) and Ayenwe (unseen). These names are given irrespective of sex. But not every man or woman whom one may meet with these names is necessarily a twin. They may have inherited the name from ancestors who were twins.

All over Africa the birth of twins is a notable event, but noted for very different reasons in different parts of the country. In Calabar they are dreaded as an evil omen, and until recently were immediately put to death, and the mother driven from the village to live alone in the forest as a punishment for having brought this evil on her people.

In other parts, as in the Gabun country, where they are welcomed, it is nevertheless considered necessary to have special ceremonies performed for the safety of their lives, or, if they die, to prevent further evil.

In the Egba tribes of the Yoruba country they become objects of worship. As in other parts of Africa where twins are preserved, they are given twin names; which, of course, differ in different languages. Among the Egbas the firstborn is Taiwo, i.e., "the first to taste the world," and the other Kehende, i.e., "the one who comes last."[1] About eight

[1. See "Niger and Yoruba Notes."]

days after their birth, or as soon as the parents have the money for the sacrificial feast, they invite all relatives on both sides, neighbors and friends together. Various kinds of food are prepared, consisting chiefly of beans and yams. A little of each kind of food is set apart with some palm-oil thrown upon it, and the small native plates or basins containing it are set before the children in their cradle. They are then invoked to protect their mother from sickness, to pity their parents and remain with them, to watch over thern at all times. I quote in this connection the following from a West African newspaper:

"After the ceremony an elderly man or woman who has been a twin is called upon to split the kola nuts, in order to find out whether the children will live or die. This is their way of asking the god or goddess to answer their requests (and it is singular that this throwing of kolas may be done repeatedly until the reply is favorable to the inquirer). Thus: if a kola nut is split into four parts in throwing it down, they say, "You Idol, please foretell if the children will live long or die.". If all the four pieces of the kola fall flat on their backs, or all flat with their faces to the ground, or if two of them fall with their faces downward and the other two upward, then in each of those cases the reply is favorable, and it means they will live long and not die. But if three pieces of the kola should turn their faces to the ground and only one fall flat on its back, or if the three pieces should turn their faces upward and only one downward, the reply is unfavorable, and it means that the children will die before long. In such cases they continue throwing the kola nut indefinitely until they obtain their wish; or, in rare cases of total failure, the subject of inquiry is reserved till a future time, when they hope the idol may speak more favorably. Thus, twin children are worshipped every month.

"In some cases, where the parents have the means, an invitation goes round to as many twins as they can get to partake of the sacrificial feasts. Of course, the people enjoy themselves at the feast.

"The twins have everything in common; they eat the same kind of food and wear the same dress. If one of them should die, the mother is bound to make a wooden image to represent the dead child. This kind of image is generally about a foot in length, and is made of Ire wood, which is flexible and durable. It is carved in such a manner as to represent the human anatomy."

These images, substitute for a dead twin, are used very extensively among all the tribes of Africa. Various reasons are given for their use: that the surviving twin shall not be lonely; that the departed one may be sure it is not forgotten; and other reasons. The images are retained as family fetiches, to ward off evil from the mother.

"If both children should die, the mother must have two wooden images, and regard them as her living children; she worships them every morning by splitting kola nuts and throwing down a few drops of palm-oil before them. Of course, the occasional feasts follow in their due course, and as oftentimes as she may happen to see them in her dreams.

"If they should live, and both are males, they make engagements and marry at the same time. If one is male, and the other is female, their dowry must be given the same day; the parents believe that if things done for them are not alike or do not go together, one will soon die."


Superstition mingles in customs of speech. There is the custom of Kombo, existing to-day. Something about the act of sneezing is considered uncanny. A phrase or a cabalistic word, intended as an adjuration or a protestation in the nature of a prayer for protection or blessing, is very commonly ejaculated by one who sneezes and sometimes when one stumbles. (In the old despotic days of native kings, in the Benito region, if a king, on first emerging from his house in the morning, should happen to stumble, be would order the nearest person in sight to be killed.) That word is uttered by an adult for

[1. From a West African Newspaper.]

himself, by a parent or other relative for an infant child. It may be an archaism whose meaning has been forgotten. Generally the Kombo is an epigrammatic phrase invented by the individual himself, and to be used only by him.

Sometimes, instead of a phrase, the single word "Kombo!" as representing the custom, is uttered.

Some forty years ago the ejaculation, before the invariable "Mbolo" salutation was uttered, that was used by visitors to the Mpongwe king on the south side of the Gabun estuary, was, "What evil law has God made?" The response was, "Death!" Little as the heathen natives liked to talk of death, their use of that word to their king was in the nature of a good wish that he might escape the universal law. And the "Mbolo!" (gray hairs) that followed was a wish that he might live to have gray hairs.

His son, an edueated man and a nominal Romanist, is now saluted quite as formally, but the ejaculation has been changed to a more respectful and Christian recognition of God.


Blasphemy of the Divine name, so fearfully common in professedly Christian countries, is almost unknown to the African heathen. Though the native name for God, Anyambe, is improperly used in names of persons (which is not intended for disrespect), it is not often actually blasphemed. An equivalent blasphemy, is occasionally practised in the misuse of the name of their great and sacred spirit-society. In the Benga tribe "Saba?" and "Sabali?" used interrogatively, mean only "True?" "Is that so?"; but, used positively, they are of the nature of an oath, especially when the society's name (Ukuk) was added: "Saba n' Ukuku" (True! by Ukuk!).

On the Ogowe River, in the Galwa tribe, the name of that society was Isyoga, more commonly spoken of as Yasi. In the initiation into it the neophytes were taught a long and very solemn adjuration, that could be uttered only among the initiated, as an oath; but they were allowed commonly to use simply its title "Yasi," the utterance of that one word being accompanied by a downward sweep of the right hand over the left arm from shoulder to hand. It was not permitted to women to speak this word.

In no tribes with which I have lived was this "By-the-Spirit" oath used so much as among the Galwa of the Ogowe. It became monotonously frequent, in and out of season, in all conversations and on the slightest assertion or the simplest excitement.

I became very tired of "Yasi! Yasi! Yasi!" and that sweep of the right hand, for the doing of which the canoe paddle or a tool was laid down. And, by the way, the more of a liar a man was, the more frequent and vociferous was he in his persistent use of "By Yasi!"


Totem worship is found in Africa, though nothing at all to the extent to which it existed among the Indian tribes of the United States, and especially Alaska.

In Southern Africa it exists among the Bechuanas (who, however, are not pure Bantu); not in the form of carving and setting up poles in their villages, but in the respect which different clans give to certain animals, e.g., one clan being known as "buffalo-men," another as "lion-men," a third as "crocodile-men," and so forth. To each clan its totem animal is sacred, and they will not eat of its flesh. In some parts this sanctity is regarded as so great that actual prayer and sacrifice are made to it. But in most of the Bantu tribes this totem idea does not exist as a worship. Indeed, the animal (or part of an animal) is not sacred to an entire clan, but only to individuals, for whom it is chosen on some special occasion; and its use is prohibited only to that individual. Only in the sense that it may not be used for common purposes is it "sacred" or "holy" to him.


Taboo" is a Polynesian term, and indicates that which man must not touch because it belongs to a deity. The god's land must not be trodden, the animal dedicated to the god must not be eaten, the chief who represents the god must not be lightly treated or spoken of. These are examples of taboo where the inviolable object or person belongs to a good god, and where the taboo corresponds exactly with the rule of holiness. But instances are still more numerous, among savages, of taboo attaching to an object because it is connected with a malignant power. The savage is surrounded on every side by such prohibitions; there is danger at every step that he may touch on what is forbidden to him, and draw down on himself unforeseen penalties."[1]

This idea exists very largely in the Gabun and Loango coasts: as described in a previous chapter, the custom is there called "orunda"; e.g., such and such an animal (or part of an animal) is "orunda," or taboo, to such and such a person.

The Portuguese Roman Catholic missionaries to the Kingdom of Kongo, more than two hundred and fifty years ago, found this custom "of interdicting to every person at their birth some one article of food, which they were not through life, upon any consideration, to put into their mouths. This practice was regarded [by those Roman Catholic priests] as specially heathenish, and was unconditionally" forbidden.

Explanation may here be found why a church which two hundred years ago had baptized members by the hundreds of thousands, with large churches, fine cathedrals, schools, colleges, and political backing, and no other form of Christianity to compete with it, shows in Kongo to-day no results in the matters of civilization, education, morality, or pure religion. Its baptism was only an outward one, the heathen native gladly accepting it as a powerful charm. For each and all his heathen fetiches the priest simply substituted a Roman Catholic relic. The ignorant African, while he learned to bow to the Virgin, kept on worshipping also fetich. The Virgin was only just another fetich. The Roman Catholic priests were to him only another set of powerful fetich doctors. They commanded that, instead of the orunda, "the

[1. Menzies, History of Religion, p. 71.]

parents should enjoin their children to observe some particular devotion, such as to repeat many times a day the rosary or the crown, in honor of the Virgin; to fast on Saturdays; to eat no flesh on Wednesdays; and such other things as are used among Christians."

A similar substitution was made in the case of a superstition of the Kongo country which exists universally among all African tribes to-day, viz., "to bind a cord of some kind around the body of every new-born infant, to which were fastened the bones and teeth of certain kinds of wild animals." In place of this, the Roman Catholic records enjoin "that all mothers should make the cords with which they bound their infants, of palm-leaves that had been consecrated on Palm Sunday, and, moreover, guard them well with other such relies as we are accustomed to use at the time of baptism."

Thus the heathen, in becorning a baptized "Christian," left behind him only the name of his fetich ceremonies. Some new and professedly more powerful ones were given him, which were called by Christian names, but which very much resembled what he had been using all his life. His "conversion" caused no jar to his old beliefs, nor change in its practice, except that the new fetich was worshipped in a cathedral and before a bedizened altar.


Forty years ago, on Corisco Island, I found the remains of a custom which resembled baptism.[1] Before that time it was very prevalent in other parts of the Gabun country, whose people probably had derived it, like their circumcision, from East Africa and from Jewish traditions. As described at that time, "a public crier announces, the birth, and claims for the child a name and place among the living. Some one else, in a distant part of the village, acknowledges the fact, and promises, on the part of the people, that the

[1. See an illustration of it on p. 102 of my "Crowned in Palm-Land"; an infant is lying on a plantain leaf in the street.]

new-born babe shall be received into the community, and have all the rights and immunities pertaining to the rest of the people. The population then assemble in the street, and the new-born babe is brought out and exposed to public view. A basin of water is provided, and the headman of the village or family sprinkles water upon it, giving it a name, and invoking a blessing upon it, such as, that it may have health, grow up to manhood or womanhood, have a numerous progeny, possess much riches, etc."[1] The circumcision of the child is performed some years later.


The same Benga word, "tuwaka," to spit, is one of the two words which mean also "to bless." In pronouncing a blessing there is a violent expulsiou of breath, the hand or head of the one blessed being held so near the face of the one blessing that sometimes in the act spittle is actually expelled upon him.

This blessing superstition exists among the Barotse of South Africa (whose dialect is remarkably like the Benga). "Relatives take leave of each other with elaborate ceremony. They spit upon each other's faces and heads, or, rather, pretend to do so, for they do not actually emit saliva. They also pick up blades of grass, spit upon them, and stick them about the beloved head. They also spit on the bands: all this is done to warn off evil spirits. Spittle also acts as a kind of taboo. When they do not want a thing touched, they spit on straws, and stick them all about the object." [2]


Recently (1903), in passing through a street of Libreville, I saw seven women sitting on the clay floor of the wide veranda of a house. In their arms or playing on the ground were a number of children. I was attracted by their gambols, and stopped on my way, and having saluted the mothers, I began to notice the children. The women knew me by sight,

[1. Wilson, Western Africa.

2. Declè.]

but I was a stranger to most of them. I thought they would be pleased by attention to their children. There were seven of them; and I exclaimed, "Oh! so many children!" And I began counting them, "One, two, three, four--" But I was interrupted by a chorus from the mothers, of "No! no! no! Stop! That is not good! The spirits will hear you telling how many there are, and they will come and take some away!" They were quite vexed at me. But I could not understand why, if spirits--can see, they would not know the number without hearing my count. Perhaps my enthusiastic counting brought the number more obviously to the attention of the surrounding spirits.

Next: Chapter XIV: Fetich--Its Relation to the Future Life--Ceremonies at Deaths and Funerals