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ONE of the effects of witchcraft beliefs in Africa is the depopulation of that continent. Over enormous areas of the country the death rate has exceeded the birth rate. Much of Africa is desert--the Sahara of the north, and the Kalahari of the south--with estimated populations of only one to the square mile. Another large area is a wilderness covered by the great sub-equatorial forest,--a belt about three hundred miles wide and one thousand miles long, with an estimated population of only eighteen to the square mile (among whom are the Pygmy tribes); and these not scattered uniformly, but gathered chiefly on the banks of the water courses, the only highways (except narrow footpaths) through that dismal forest.

The entire population of Africa, including all nationalities,--Copts of Egypt, Moors and Berbers of the north, Arabs of the east, Abyssinians, Pygmies, and Cannibals of the centre, Negroes, both Bantu and Negroid, of the west, south, centre, and east,--probably do not number two hundred million. Of these, the Negroes probably do not amount to one hundred million. German authorities variously estimate the population of their Kamerun country at from two to five million, and they have been vigorously reducing it by their savage punitive expeditions in the interior. The French authorities of the Kongo-Français estimate theirs at from five to ten million.

The population of the great Kongo River was much overestimated after the opening of that river by Stanley. Its people were massed on the river banks, and gave an impression of density which subsequent interior travel has not verified. To walk slowly in an hour over a mile of road that constitutes the one street of a town; to count the huts, and allot such or such a number to each, would give a sufficiently accurate census of one thousand or perhaps two thousand to that town. But that place is the centre of travel or traffic of that region. A half-day's journey on any radius from that town through the surrounding forest would confront the traveller with scarcely any other evidences of human habitation. Towns of the thousands are not the usual sigbt; rather the villages of one hundred, and the hamlets of twenty, excepting in the Sudan, in the Yoruba and other countries of the Niger, and in tbe large capitals of Dahomey and other Guinea kingdoms. There walled cities of from fifty to one hundred thousand inhabitants are known.

These congested districts help to lift the average that would be made low by the paucity in the wilderness and desert portions. Probably the population of the entire continent was much greater two hundred years ago. Depopulation was hastened by the export slave-trade. Livingstone estimated that, on the East Coast, for every slave actually exported, nineteen others died on the way. The foreign slave-trade has long ceased, except from the Upper Nile down through Egypt and Arabia, and from the Sudan across the Sahara to Morocco. But far worse than Arab slave-trade are the diabolical atrocities, committed during the last fifteen years and actually at the present time, in the Kongo, under white officers of the miscalled "Free State," and with the knowledge and allowance of the King of Belgium.

But, aside from all these and other civil and political causes, the fetich religion of Africa has been a large part of its destruction. It has been a Moloch, whose hunger for victims was never satisfied: as illustrated in the annual sacrifice of hundreds and thousands by the priests of the kings of Dahomey and Ashanti; and the burial victims at the funerals of great kings, as in Uganda and all over the continent. If the destruction of such human victims is not so great to-day as it was twenty years ago, due to enlightenment by Christian missions and forceful prohibition by civilized governments, the spirit of and disposition to destruction is not eradicated; it is only suppressed. It is so deep seated and ingrained as a part of religion, that it is among the very last of the shadows of heathenism to disappear after individuals or tribes are apparently civilized and enlightened. Under transforming influences the native has been lifted from dishonesty to honesty, from untruth to truth, from immorality to virtue, from heathenism to Christianity; and yet there still clings to him, though he no longer worships the fetich, a belief in and fear of it. The presence of foreign governments can and does prevent witchcraft murder for the dead; but if these governments were withdrawn from English Sierra Leone, French Kongo-Français, and other partitions of Africa, the witchcraft ordeal and murder would be at once resumed. And no wonder. Inbred beliefs, deepened by millenniums of years of practice, are not eliminated by even a century of foreign teacbing. Costume of body and fashion of dress are easily and voluntarily changed; not so the essence of one's being.

Under the assurance that a consecrated charm can be made for the accomplishment of any purpose whatever, it results that almost every native African heathen, in hours of fear or anger or revenge, has made, or has had made, for himself amulets, or has performed rites intended to compass an injury to, and perhaps the death of, some other person. Should that other die, even as long a time as a year afterward, it will be believed that that fetich amulet or act caused the death.

It follows, therefore (although even heathen natives do, in rare cases, say of a death, "Yes, Anzam took this one," i.e., that he died a natural death), that almost universally at any death which we would know as a natural one, surviving relatives and friends make the charge of witchcraft, and seek the witch or wizard, by investigation involving, in the trial, torture, or ordeal by poison, fire, or other tests. For every natural death at least one, and often ten or more, have been executed under witchcraft accusation.

I have pleaded for the lives of accused when I believed them innocent, and whenever I was informed that an investigation was in progress, I said to the crowd assembled in the street, "When you kill these three people to-day, do I see three babies born to take their place in the number of the inhabitants of your village?"

The Balengi on the Benita River, among whom I travelled in 1865-70, were then a large tribe. It is now very small, exterminated largely by witchcraft murders for the dead. The aged, defenceless, and slaves are generally selected as victims. But no one is secure. Relatives of a chief who during his life may have seemed envious of his power, are often suspected and put to death.

For the determination of a doubtful cause of decease postmortems are made, but not on any rational basis or with any knowledge of anatomy. In the autopsy of an ordinary person the object is to find among the bowels or other internal organs some sign which the doctor-priest may declare to be the path of the supposed sorcery-injected destroying spirit. In case of a magician, the object is to see whether his own "familiar" had "eaten" him. Cavities in the lungs are considered proof positive that one's own power has destroyed him. The fimbriated extremities of the fallopian tubes of a uterus are also declared to be "witch." Their ciliary motions on dissection are regarded as a sign that the woman was a witch. In proof, the native doctor said to me, "See! those are the spirit-teeth. Don't you see how they move and extend in desire to catch and eat?" It was in vain that I declared to him that if that was true then every woman all over the world was a witch, and that he was bound to go ahead and kill them all; for that God had made no woman without those things. (Was this "doctor's" idea the same reason for which the old anatomists called those fimbriæ "morsus Diaboli"?)

In Garenganze, among the Barotse, [1] "the trial for

[1. Arnot, p. 76.]

witchcraft is short and decisive. If one man suspects another of having bewitched him,--in fact, if he has a grudge against him,--he brings him before the council, and the ordeal of the boiling pot is resorted to. My proposal is that if they consider it a fair trial of 'whiteness' or 'blackness' of heart, as they call it, then let both the accuser and the accused put their hands into the boiling water. The king is strongly in favor of this proposal, and would try any means to stop this fearful system of murder which is thinning out many of his best men; but the nation is so strongly in favor of the practice that he can do nothing. An old friend of mine, Wizini, who took quite a fatherly care and interest in me, for some peculiar reason of his own, was charged with witchcraft. He pleaded earnestly to be spared the terrible trial, and was reprieved because of his years, but banished from his people and country for life, for no other reason than that a neighbor had an ill feeling against him. Had he, been first to the king with his complaint, he might have gotten his neighbor burned or banished instead of himself.... Their punishments are very cruel. Burning alive is, among the Barotse, a common occurrence; also tying the victim hand and foot and laying him near a nest of large black ('driver') ants, which in a few days pick his bones clean."

But it is well to repeat my own qualification of most statements about "African" customs, which Arnot makes in connection with the above, that, "when manners and customs are referred to, the particular district must be borne in mind. Africa is an immense continent, and there is as much variety in the customs of the different tribes as in their languages. Certain tribes take delight in cruelty and bloodshed; others have a religious fear of shedding human blood, and treat aged people with every kindness, to secure their good-will after death. By other tribes the aged would be cast out as mere food for wild animals."

The testimony of Declè [1] as to the tribes of South-Central

[1. Three Years in Savage Africa, p. 512.]

Africa is: "You would suppose that the African expected everybody to live forever, since his one explanation of death is an immediate recourse to witchcraft. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that every natural death entails a violent one as its consequence. Along with witchcraft and the inevitable accusation of sorcery when one dies, goes the custom of 'muavi,' the ordeal by poison.... It is plain what complete domination this practice has got over the native mind. The reason is that be thoroughly believes in its efficiency. My own porters have constantly offered to submit to the ordeal on the most trivial charges. Of course, this thorough belief in 'muavi' hands the native over completely defenceless to the witch doctor. The doctor can get rid of anybody he likes to. Besides this, he is a kind of public prosecutor; that is to say, that when he accuses any man or woman of sorcery, he is not obliged, like any ordinary accuser, to take the poison himself."

The "ordeal" or test of the innocence of a person accused of practising witcbcraft or of having caused the death of any one (except in places where Christianity has attained power), is almost the same now as that described by Rev. Dr. J. L. Wilson, and subsequently by Du Chaillu, as existing fifty years ago on the entire West Coast of Africa. On the Upper Guinea coasts it is called the "red water." "It is a decoction made from the inner bark of a large forest tree of the mimosa family." At Calabar a bean was used, an extract of which since has been employed in our pharmacopœia, in surgical operations of the eye.

In the Gabun country the bark and leaves of a small tree called "akazya" are used. Farther south, in the Nkâmi (miswritten, "Camma") country, it is called "mbundu."

The decoction itself is supposed to have almost sentience,--an ability to follow, in the various organs of the body, like a policeman, and detect and destroy the witch-spirit supposed to be lurking about.

Accused persons sometimes even demand that they be given the ordeal. This an innocent person could fearlessly do, feeling sure of his innocence, and thinking, as any honest person in a civilized country charged with theft would feel, that it was perfectly safe to have his house searched, sure that no stolen article was secreted there. So here the ignorant native is willing to take this poison, not looking on it as what we call "poison."

People who know that they have at times used witchcraft arts will naturally be unwilling to undergo the test; but if the charge is made after a death, an accused is compelled to drink. "If it nauseates and causes him to vomit freely, he suffers no injury, and is at once pronounced innocent. If, on the other hand, it causes vertigo, and be loses his self-control, it is regarded as evidence of guilt; and then all sorts of indignities and cruelties are practised on him.... On the other hand, if he escapes without injury his character is thoroughly purified.... and he arraigns before the principal men of the town his accusers, who in their turn must submit to the same ordeal, or pay a large fine to the man whom they attempted to injure.... There is seldom any fairness in the administration of the ordeal. No particular quantity of the 'red water' is Prescribed." The doctor, by collusion and family favoritism, may make the decoction very weak; or, influenced by public feeling inimical to the accused, he may compel him to swallow a fatal amount; or he may save his life by a subsequent emetic.[1]


African cannibalism has been regarded as only a barbarism; but for many years I have strongly suspected that it had some connection with the Negro's religion. It may be a corollary of witchcraft.

Declè intimates the same: [2] "I do not mean such cannibalism as that of certain Kongo tribes, or of the Solomon Islanders, who kill people to eat them, as we eat game. With such tribes I did not come in contact. But there is another form of cannibalism less generally. known to

[1. Wilson.

2. p. 513.]

Europeans, and perhaps even more grisly, which consists in digging up dead bodies to feast on their flesh. This practice exists largely among the natives in the region of Lake Nyasa.[1] I know of a case in which the natives of a village in this region seized the opportunity of a white man's presence to break into the hut of one of these reputed cannibals, and found there a human leg banging from the rafters. This incident shows that cannibalism is practised; but also that it is not universal with the tribes among whom it is found, and is condemned by the public opinion of those who do not practise it. But public opinion in Africa is not a highly developed power.... The real public opinion is witchcraft. And, indeed, in the case of cannibalism, the real public opinion tends to shield the perpetrators, because they are reputed to be sorcerers of high quality."

Rev. Dr. H. C. Trumbull, in his "Blood Covenant" (1893), while gathering testimony from all nations to illustrate his view of the universality of blood as representing life, and the heart as the seat of life, as a part of the religious rite of a covenant, comes incidentally on this same idea of cannibalism as having a religious significance, or at least, as I have expressed above, as a corollary of witchcraft. This will explain why the African cannibal, in conquering his enemy, also eats him; why the heart is especially desired in such feasts; and why the body of any one of distinguished characteristics is prized for the cannibal feast. His strength or skill or bravery or power is to be absorbed along with his flesh.

Trumbull [2] quotes from Réville, the representative comparative religionist of France: "Here you will recognize the idea so widely spread in the two Americas, and indeed almost everywhere amongst uncivilized people (nor is it limited to the uncivilized), that the heart is the epitome,

[1. I know of its occurring on the Gabun and Ogowe rivers on the West Coast.--R. H. N.

2. p. 107.]

so to speak, of the individual,--his soul in some sense,--so that to appropriate his heart is to appropriate his whole being."

A constant charge against sorcerers in West African tribes is that they have made a person sick by stealing and eating the sick one's "heart," and that the invalid cannot recover till the "heart" is returned.

Also, see Trumbull: [1] "The widespread popular superstition of the Vampire and of the ghoul seems to be an outgrowth of this universal belief that transfused blood is revivifying. The bloodless shades, leaving their graves at night, seek renewed life by drawing out the blood of those who sleep, taking the life of the living to supply temporary life to the dead.... An added force is given to all these illustrations of the universal belief that transferred blood has a vivifying power, by the conclusions of modern medical science I concerning the possible benefits of blood-transfusion. The primitive belief seems to have had a sound basis in scientific fact."

Histories of our American Indians are full of incidents showing bow the heart of a captive who in dying had exhibited bravery in the endurance of torture, was promptly cut in pieces and eaten, to absorb his courage.

"The Ashanti fetichmen of West Africa, apparently acting on a kindred thought, make a mixture of the hearts of enemies mingled with blood and consecrated herbs, for the vivifying of the conquerors."

"In South Africa, among the Amampondo, one of the Kaffir tribes, it is customary for the chief, on his accession to authority, to be washed in the blood of a near relative, generally a brother, who is put to death on the occasion, and has his skull used as a receptacle for blood." [2]


Another outcome of witchcraft belief is the formation of secret societies, both male and female, of crushing power

[1. p. 115.

2. Trumbull, p. 129.]

and far-reaching influence, which, in one aspect of their influence, the governmental, were the only authority, before the intrusion of foreign powers, which could settle a fierce personal dispute or enforce intertribal peace. But their possibilities for good were overbalanced by their actualities of evil.

Among these societies I have, in a previous chapter, mentioned as governmental agencies the Egbo of the Niger Delta, Ukuku of the Corisco region, and Yasi of the Ogowo. There is also in the Gabun region of the equator, among the Shekani, Mwetyi; among the Bakele, Bweti; among the Mpongwe-speaking tribes, Inda and Njembe; and Ukuku and Malinda in the Batanga regions.

A detailed account of the ceremonies of an initiation into Malinda is contained in Chapter XVI.

In a previous chapter I have mentioned my own coming in contact with Ukuku and Yasi.

All these societies had for their primary object the good one of government, for this purpose holding the fetich in terror; but the means used were so arbitrary, the influences employed so oppressive, and the representations so false, that they almost all were evil. Most of them are now discontinued as a tribal power by the presence of foreign governments, the foreign power having actually come in conflict with some of them, as in the case of England recently with the Aro of Nigeria; or, where they still exist, they have degenerated to mere amusement, as Ukukwe, in Gabun; or are kept up as a traditional fashion, as Njembe.

But they all exist, as described by Rev. Dr. Wilson a generation ago, and are at this very present among the tribes of the interior, where foreign government is as yet only nominal.

Mwetyi "is a great spirit, who is supposed to dwell in the bowels of the earth, but comes to the surface of the ground at stated seasons, or when summoned on any special business. A large flat house of peculiar form is erected in the middle of the village for the temporary sojourn of this spirit. The house is always kept perfectly dark, and no one is permitted to enter it, except those who have been initiated into all the mysteries of the order, which includes, however, almost the whole of the adult male population of the village.... When Mwetyi is about to retire from a village, the women, children, uninitiated lads, and any strangers who may be there at the time, are required to leave the village."

"Indâ is an association whose membership is confined to the adult male population. It is headed by a spirit of that name, who dwells in the woods, and appears only when summoned by some unusual event,--at the death of a person connected with the order, at the birth of twins, or at the inauguration of some one into office.... If a distinguished person dies, Indâ affects great rage, and comes the following night with a large posse of men to seize the property of the villagers without discrimination. He is sure to lay bands on as many sheep and goats as are necessary to make a grand feast, and no man has any right to complain.... The institution of Indâ, like that of Mwetyi, is intended to keep the women, children, and slaves in subjection."

"Njembe is a pretty fair counterpart of Inda, but there is no special spirit nor any particular person representing it." Its power resides in the society as a body, and rests on the threat of the employment of fetich medicines to injure recalcitrant persons. Only women are admitted to it. A very considerable fee is demanded for admission to membership. Formerly it was considered an honor to be allowed to be initiated; now, to perpetuate itself, it compels young women to enter it, especially if they have made derogatory remarks about Njembe. The initiation then becomes a kind of punishment. Strange to say, young women thus compelled to enter accept the society, and become zealous to drag others in. The initiation occupies about two weeks, and is accompanied with harsh treatment. Njembe has no special meeting-house. They assemble in a cleared place in the centre of a jungle, where their doings are unseen by outsiders by night or day. Nothing is known of their rites, except that they dance in a nude state, and the songs of their dances are openly heard, and are often of the vilest character.

"They pretend to detect thieves, to find out the secrets of their enemies," to direct women in pregnancy, and in other ways claim to be useful.

"The object of the institution originally, no doubt, was to protect the females from harsh treatment on the part of their husbands."

As a rule, the Mpongwe women say that every woman should be in the Njembe Society; so, at a certain age of a girl, they decide that she shall "go in." But she is not always put through all the ceremonies at once. She may be subjected to only a part of the initiation, the remainder to be performed at another time.

The special occasion for an initiation may be perhaps because the spirit of some recently dead member wants a new one to take her place; or if any young woman has escapea being initiated during her youth or if she is charged with having spoken derisively of Njembe, she may be seized by force and compelled to go through the rite.

The entire process so beats down the will of the novices and terrorizes them, that even those who have been forced into it against their will, when they emerge at the close of the rite, most inviolably preserve its secrets, and express themselves as pleased.

Just before the novices or "pupils" are to enter, they have to prepare a great deal of food,--as much as they can possibly obtain of cassava, fish, and plantains. Two days are spent, before the ceremonies begin, in cooking this food. They make big bundles of ngândâ (gourd seed) pudding, others of ground-nuts and odika (oily kernel of the wild mango), pots of odika and fish boiled, boiled hard plantains, and ripe plantains beaten into rolls called "fufu." This food is to be eaten by them and the older members of the society the first night.

Those older ones, as a part of the hazing which they always practise, deceive the new ones by advising them in advance: "Eat no supper this evening. Save up your appetite. All this food you have prepared is your own, and you will be satiated at the feast to-night." This is said in order to play a hard joke on them. But sometimes a more tender-hearted relative will pity them, and will privately warn them to eat something, knowing that they will be up all night, and that the older members intend to seize and eat what these "pupils" had prepared for themselves, allowing the latter to be faint with hunger.

That evening the society goes into the adjacent jungle, the spot selected including a small stream of water. There they clear a small space for their ceremonies. They dance all night, part of the time in this camp, and part of the time in the street of the town, but always going back to the camp at some early morning hour.

On the second day they come to town, dance there a little while, and then go back to the forest. They beat constantly and monotonously, without time, a short straight stick on a somewhat crescent-shaped piece of board (orega) that is slightly concave on one side. It makes a clear but not a musical note; is heard quite far, and is the distinctive sign of the Njembe Society. No other persons own or will strike the orega music.

In the part of the ceremonies that are public in the village street, a man is invited to assist by beating oil a drum, a matter in which women here are not expert. This drum does not exclude the orega, several of which may be beaten at the same time; at least one must be kept sounding during the whole two weeks by one or another of the candidates, or if these become exhausted, by some other member of the society.

One of the first public preparations is the bending of a limber pole (ilala) as an arch, or two branches, their tops woven together, over the path entering the village. They are wreathed with lycopodium ferns, and at their bases are stuck a young, short, recently half-unfolded palm-leaf, painted with Njembe dots of white, red, and black. At the distance of a few hundred feet may be another ilala; indeed, there may be several of them on the way to the camp.

While dancing during the first few days, the society occupies itself with preparations, unknown to the public, for their "work" in the camp. Thither come older members from afar, especially those related to the candidates.

Certain women skilled in the Njembe dances and rules are called "teachers." The first step which an already initiated member takes to become a "teacher" is to find and introduce a new recruit, with whom she must again go through all the rites of initiation more severely than at her first experience. She makes herself perfect in the lessons impressed on her by impressing them on the new pupil. The prospective "teacher" has thus to endure, in this second passage tbrough the rites, all and more than is put on the novice. Little as is known of these rites, it is certain they are severe.

In the singing, each song is known by its own descriptive motions. The motion mentioned is to be actually performed, however difficult or immodest it may be. Generally the immodest portions are reserved for the seclusion of their camp; but the words sung at the camp can be heard at the village, so that all hear them,--men, women, and little children.

One common public song has for its refrain, "Look at the sun"; while that song is being danced, the candidate must gaze steadily at the hot sun, even if it be blinding. Most of the "rules" (and the teacher may invent as many new ones as she chooses) are purposely hard in order to make the candidate suffer, and as part of the process of breaking her will, and ensuring secrecy by a reign of terror.

Also most of the nights the candidate (or several of them if there are a number) must spend hours in keeping a fire burning in some part of the forest. That fire, once started, must be kept burning day and night during the whole two weeks. A girl who in ordinary times would be afraid to go out into the forest alone at night, will, under the Njembe initiation, go out in storin and rain to see that the fire is not extinguished. Sometimes the teacher will lighten the task for her by accompanying her; or some one, pitying, will help to gather the dead wood with which the fire is kept smouldering.

There are also rules for the breaking of which there are fines, e.g., "When you are dancing in public during the initiation, do not laugh aloud." Another rule is that no salutation is to be given or received, nor the person or even the clothing of a visitor touched by a candidate.

The teacher must be quick to imitate, in this her second "degree" or passage through the rites, the rapid motions of the skilled older one who is teaching her and her new recruit.

In order to increase the severity, the pupil, though she may be already wearied, is required to repeat her dance before every newcomer or spectator. The teacher will start the beat of the orega and take a few steps of the dance, and then stop and rest comfortably, the tired pupil taking the orega and continuing the dance.

If pupils are sulky or shy, their teacher and other older members will scold them: "Go on! dance! You may not stand or rest there' Go on! You! this girl with your awkwardness! Do you own the Njembe?" Sometimes a pupil is sulky or stubborn, or, disheartened, begins to cry. No mercy is shown her. Others, in anxiously trying to follow motions, will make absurd mistakes, and bring down on themselves the derision of the spectators. Some pupils really like the dancing, and endeavor to learn quickly. Such as these are praised: "This one knows, and she will some day be a teacher."

It is expected that the relatives of the pupils will be present and encourage them with some little gifts.

It is remarkable how well the secrets of the society are kept. No one has ever been induced to reveal them. Those who have left the society and have become Christians do not tell. Foreigners have again and again tried to bribe, but in vain. Traders and others have tried to induce their native wives to reveal; but these women, obedient to any extent on all other matters, maintain a stubborn silence. Nothing is known outside of the society of their doings in their camp, except that they are all naked, lay aside all modesty, make personal examinations of each other's bodies, sing phallic songs, and indulge in the hardest, severest, and most violent insults and curses heaped up in assumed wrath as jokes on each other. It is really a school in which to learn the fine art of using insults and curses which will be utilized outside the society, upon other persons on occasions of real anger. No man can equal these women in their volubility and bitter tirades when really angry. It is Billingsgate in its glory.

After keeping up the ceremonies for a number of days, the society chooses one for their "last." The day preceding it, they go out in procession with baskets, kettles, and basins, from village to village, still singing, the song being adapted for their errand of begging, and still beating the orega, to get offerings of food, or gifts of rum, tobacco, plates, and cloth. (In a civilized religious worship this would be the taking up of the collection.) At each village on their route any member of the society will direct one of the new pupils to dance, as an exhibition of her recently acquired ability. She does not hesitate, but asks, "Which dance?" The teacher replies, "I will show you," and starting a few steps measured, she stops, and the designated pupil takes it up.

During the initiation the pupils are required to go barefooted; and if they have been wearing dresses, the dresses are taken off and only a native cloth worn. But a slight concession has occasionally been made in favor of some mission-sebool girls when forced into Njembe, who, accustomed to dresses, were allowed to wear them when walking in this public collecting procession.

The night of the day on which they come back from this collecting of gifts is the "last night." Dancing is then done by all, both by the teachers and the pupils.

It is not known who is leader. One is spoken of as the "Mother," but it is not known who she is. The chief teacher is seen whenever they come from their camp, and is known by the colored chalk markings different from others.

The next morning, the morning of the "last day," all go out fishing, young and old, along the river or sea beach. This fishing is done among the muddy roots of the mangrove trees. They gather shell-fish of different kinds. But whatever they do or do not obtain, they do not return till each one has caught a small common snake which lives in holes at the mangrove roots. The sound of the orega (which is still constantly beaten) seems to act as a charm, and the snake emerges from its hole and is readily caught; or the hand is boldly thrust into the hole in search of the reptile. In starting out on this fishing the new members do not know that they are to handle snakes. They go as on a happy fishing excursion. Really, it is their final test. They are told to put their hands into these holes, and not to let go of the "fish" they shall seize there. The novice obeys, but presently screams in alarm as she feels a snake-like form wriggling about her hand. Her teacher terribly threatens her; she begs to be excused, dares not let go, and is compelled to pull out the snake twining about her arm. They all then return to the camp, each with her snake in her basket. It is not known what is done with these snakes.

The teacher is to be paid for her services. As the pupils come from different villages, each one has to ask her teacher's permission to go to her relatives to collect the fee. This is done a few days before the final day. They are allowed to go, but with an escort to watch them that they break no rule of the initiation. They do not go into the houses, nor do they speak. They stand in the street. Those who escort them have to do the talking, thus: "We have come to collect our money, as the Njembe will soon be done." If they get a plenty, the pupils are glad; otherwise they have to stand in the hot sun uncovered, except by their crown-like wreath of lycopodium, fern. It is a trying and humiliating position for any girl whose people are poor or unwilling. She must stand there till some one of her people shall contribute what the escort deems sufficient.

Having collected each her fee for the teacher, the pupils go back to her at the village, and seat themselves on the ground under the eaves of the houses on one side of the street, each with her pile of goods near her. The teacher eyes these piles, and selects the girl who apparently has the most, to be the first to begin to pay. Just previous to this, stalks of amomum are laid down in the street, parallel to each other, about eighteen inches apart, in number according with the teacher's random guess of the number of articles in the chosen pile. Then she lays the articles of the pile, one by one, on the amomum stalk. Then another of the teachers seizes the band of the girl who owned these goods, and swinging her from side to side, runs with her rapidly over that line of goods, herself stepping carefully on the interspaces, but apparently trying to confuse the girl into stepping on and breaking some one of the articles, e.g., a mirror or a plate. This ordeal safely passed, the goods of that girl are accepted and put aside near the teacher. The goods of each of the other new girls are treated in the same way, and laid, one by one, on the amomum stalks.

The number of some girl's articles may not equal the standard set by the first, and there may be not enough to cover every stalk. In that case the teacher will allow some article, e.g., a head of tobacco-leaves, to be opened and its separate leaves used to piece out the number. Nevertheless, she will demand that something be added. It is an anxious time for the pupils, watching to see whether their fee is accepted. Sometimes the teacher, seeing that a girl's pile of goods is small, will not even attempt to count or divide it, but, looking at it, sneeringly says, "I see nothing here! Sit you there in the sun till some one brings you more!"

The last act of the "last day," before adjourning, is a public dance called Njegâ (Leopard). For that, the members of the society, and most spectators, dress up in fine clothes. It is performed in the afternoon, and visitors go to see it. The "Leopard" is done by the teachers, two at a time. All these pairs must have their faces painted, each in a different style, no piece of skin left untouched.

In beginning the Leopard dance, one of the pair imitates a leopard sneaking around the corners of the houses; while the other one, waiting, has collected perhaps a dozen of the members as her "children," whom she as their "mother" is to guard from the "leopard." This teacher-mother begins a song, "Children! there is the leopard in shape of a person," adding as a refrain the word, "Mbwero! mbwero! mbwero!" which is repeated rapidly as a warning that the leopard is coming, ending with, "my children!" They sing, and step backward and forward to a drum accompaniment. While these "children" are in great pretended excitement, the leopard is advancing slowly, steadily, and nearer from the ogwerina (rear of the houses) into the street, with extended tongue, and growling. When the mother sees this, her dance step grows quicker, and she backs and motions to her children behind her, they imitating all her steps. The leopard advances with a swaying step in time with the music, and then suddenly dashes forward, and catches one of the children, and sets her aside. This is kept up by the leopard till most of the children are caught, only one or two being left. The mother then seems very much exhausted, with a sad slow step; but the leopard at last catches the others. Now that her children are all dead, the mother is aroused to fury. The conflict remains between her and the leopard. And "mother" must finally kill "leopard." The dance becomes very much more rapid; the two approach nearer and nearer. Mother has a stick like a sword, and finally she kills leopard with a light blow. This coup is received by a shout from the spectators of "o-lo-lo!"

Then another pair are selected to go through the parts of mother and leopard again. Sometimes one will refuse to act, or to be mated with the other one. Then, like a singer in civilized lands, she is met with entreaties from the crowd, "Do act! You know so well how to do it!" And then she yields. If at the last there is remaining only one teacher who has not done the act, one of those who has already performed will mate with her.

At night, the last work of the society is to put out their fire. If the leader has come from a distant village, she wants to go, and she will extinguish the fire that night; or, if she lives near, she may choose to wait several days longer. But during that time the dancing and singing are not kept up, for the society has adjourned.

Whatever else is unknown of the objects of Njembe, it is known that it is a government. It was formerly much more powerful than it is now. At Libreville, Gabun, thirty years ago, no woman dared to speak against it. Mission schoolgirls, feeling themselves secure on the mission premises, sometimes in their school-girl talk foolishly made disparaging remarks about it. When this reached the ear of Njembe, those girls would some day be caught when they were visiting their villages, and forced through the rites. Parents did not dare interfere, and missionaries had no authority to do so.

In one case, however, a missionary did make a successful interference. The girl did not belong to Mpongwe (the tribe of Gabun); she was a slave-waif that had been picked up by the mission, and therefore, in a sense, the mission's daughter. The senior missionary, Rev. William Walker, was a tall, powerful, utterly fearless man, and his custom was always to carry a heavy cane. That day, the Njembe lessons that were being given to the abducted girl had only begun in the village street; she had not yet been taken to their secret camp. Mr. Walker strode among the women and laid bold of the unresisting girl. When some women attempted to drag her away, he brought down his cane heavily at random over any head or shoulder within reach of his long arm; and the girl was glad to be led back to the mission. The rescue was successful. Mr. Walker's use of force was justifiable as against Njembe's forcible abduction of the girl; and his parental position in the case would have justified him if the women had made any complaint against him before the local French magistrate on charge of assault.

In a somewhat similar case, more recently, Njembe sued a missionary, he having assaulted them when they refused to remove their distressingly noisy camp from a too great proximity to the mission grounds. The magistrate dismissed the case, resenting Njembe's existence as a secret society, and its assumption of exercise of governmental authority.

Recently also a native man was successful in thwarting Njembe. A certain native Christian woman had escaped being forced into Njembe during her youth; and by her being very much in mission employ during her adult years, Njembe had ceased to threaten her. Her daughter, of about eighteen years of age, though not a Christian, had also, by her mother's care of her, escaped, though often threatened. A cousin of this daughter had been put through the rite while her father was away on a journey. And now this cousin was trying to induce the daughter to enter. The daughter refused, and perhaps may have made some slighting remark. This remark her cousin reported to Njembe; and some intimations were made that the young woman would be seized. The father of the cousin had formerly been a eburch-member, is educated and gentlemanly. Though he had fallen away from the church, he had no desire to see his niece dragged down. He spoke severely to his daughter about the excitement she was trying to raise, and threatened to call in the aid of the French Chief of Police. The firm stand taken by him and also by the young woman's mother was efficient in preventing her seizure by Njembe. Both these parents are of unusual strength of character and advance in civilization. Without their efficient backing, this young woman would have been forced into Njembe.

Rev. J. L. Wilson, [1] wrote of Njembe almost fifty years ago: "There is no spirit, so far as is known, connected with this association, but all its proceedings are kept

[1. Western Africa, p. 397.]

profoundly secret. The Njembe make great pretensions, and as a body are really feared by the men. They pretend to detect thieves, to find out the secrets of their enemies; and in various ways they are useful to the community in which they live, or, at least, are so regarded by the people. The object of the institution originally, no doubt, was to protect the females from harsh treatment on the part of their husbands; and as their performances are always veiled in mystery, and they have acquired the reputation of performing wonders, the men are, no doubt, very much restrained by the fear and respect which they have for them as a body."

Most of the above description is, after so many years, true now, except that the power of and respect for the society is lessened by the permeating leaven of a Christian mission and by the dominance of a foreign government; but even in that same region, in portions where these two forces are not in immediate contact with the community, Njembe still is feared.

It is true, also, that there is no special spirit belonging to Njembe, but when the society has occasion to investigate a theft or other crime, it invokes the usual ilaga and other spirits.

It is also still true that in the tribes where Njembe exists women have much more freedom from control by men than in tribes where it does not exist. But even if it has been thus a defence to women against man's severity, it undeniably has been an injury to them by its indecent ceremonies and phallic songs. Such things may make men fear them, but also make it impossible for men to respect them.

Those songs I myself have beard when the Njembe camp was in a jungle near to a village. The male generative organ was personified, and, in the song addressed to it, the name of a certain man, who was known by the singers to be at that very time in the adjacent village, was tauntingly referred to. Even immoral men were overwhelmed with shame at the shamelessness of the women. And yet those same women, when their Njembe adjourned, resumed in their individual capacities their usual apparent modesty which, as a collective body, they had cast aside. Little has been printed of Njembe's secret proceedings more than Dr. Wilson wrote fifty years ago.

Paul Du Chaillu makes a short statement that he was allowed to witness a part; and he describes a but containing a few almost nude old women sitting around some skulls and other fetiches. Doubtless he saw what be asserts. But, unusual as were his opportunities, and large as was his personal influence with his "Camma" (Nkâmi) native chiefs, it is positive that what was shown him was only a little of Njembe, if indeed it was Njembe at all.

Other white men, with, indeed, perhaps less tact than he, but of greater money power and larger trade opportunities, failed to see anything.

Some twenty-five years ago two Germans (now dead) trading in the Gabun determined secretly to spy out Njembe.

The merchant, the bead of the trading-house, was a welleducated gentleman, and his clerk was an active, intelligent young man. Both knew native customs well, and both spoke the Mpongwe language fluently. Each had a native wife, and being generous--and liberal-handed, had many native friends; but they had been unable to bribe any Njembe women, even their own wives, to reveal anything.

One dark night when the society was in session in a small jungle not far from their trading-house, they went secretly and cautiously through the bushes. They had not approached near enough to the circle of women around the camp-fire to actually recognize any of them (it would have been difficult to recognize their painted faces even by daylight); and they really did not see anything of what was being done. Somehow their approach was discovered, either by information treacherously carried from some one in their retinue of household servants, or by being seen by one of the pickets of the camp, or by the breaking of a branch as they crept through the trees, or, possibly, by their white odor carried on the wind,--odor which to Africans is almost as distinct as is Negro odor to the white race.

Njembe raised a frenzied cry, and started to seize them. The two men fled desperately through the thick bushes. The clerk was recognized, and his name was called out, and the other was assumed to be his employer. They escaped to the safety of their house. Njembe did not dare assault it, French policemen being within call; but next day word was sent by the society denouncing them both, laying a curse on them, and plainly saying that they should die. If the threat had been that the means of death would be magic, these gentlemen would have laughed; but the women did not hesitate to say that they would poison them in their food. This would be entirely possible, even without collusion among the several men and boys that ranged from steward to cook and waiters as their household servants; though, if need were, some of these servants would sooner be treasonable to the white master than dare to refuse Njembe. The case was serious. The older man, as a dispenser of wealth to the entire community, was, even in Njembe's eye, too valuable to be killed; his wife, herself a Njembe woman, interceded for him, and the curse was removed from him on the payment of a large fine. But the curse was doubled over the poor clerk. Njembe would listen to no appeal, nor accept any bribe for him, as they had actually seen him at their camp.

It is a fact that shortly after this this clerk did fall into a decline, with strange symptoms which no doctor understood nor any medicines seemed to touch. He became weaker and weaker, and his life was despaired of. Njembe openly boasted that it was killing him.

I do not know why an appeal was not made to the local French authorities. Perhaps because the merchant did not wish to give more publicity to his escapade; perhaps because it would be difficult to prosecute a society, no individual Njembe woman appearing to be responsible.

To save his clerk, the merchant offered to pay a very large sum. Njembe having had a partial revenge, having demonstrated its power, and standing victorious before the community, was induced to accept. It was never known publicly how much was paid. The curse was withdrawn, and the clerk immediately began to recover; but it was some months before the evil was entirely eradicated from his system.

Beyond Dr. Wilson's and Du Chaillu's short statements about Njembe, I have seen nothing else in print, except the mere mention of the existence of the society by several African travellers. What I have written in the above I have obtained piecemeal at various times from different men and women, Christian and heathen; but all of them spoke with hesitation, and under promise that I should mention no names.


There are native poisons. It is known that sometimes they are secretly used in revenge, or to put out of the way a relative whose wealth is desired to be inherited. This much I have to admit, as to charges of "bewitching" and so-called "judicial executions," therefore, that in the case of some deaths they are actual murders, and that the perpetrator deserves to be executed. But it is rare that the proof of guilt is clear. I have to be guarded in my admission of an accused person's guilt, lest I give countenance to the universal belief in death as the result of fetich agencies. I explain to my native questioner: If what the accused has done in fetich rite with intent to kill had any efficiency for taking away life, I allow that he shall be put to death; if he made only fetiches, even if they were intended to kill, be is not guilty of this death, for a mere fetich cannot kill. But if he used poison, with or without fetich, then he is guilty.

But even so, the distinction between a fetich and a poison is vague in the thought of many natives. What I call a "poison" is to them only another material form of a fetich power, both poison and fetich being supposed to be made efficient by the presence of an adjuvant spirit.

Not all the deaths of foreigners in Africa are due to malaria. Some of them have been doubtless due to poison, administered by a revengeful employee. Very many white residents in Africa treat their servants in oppressive and cruel ways. Even those who are not cruel are often autocratic and arbitrary. In a country that has little law to hinder, and no public opinion to shame them, some white men treat the natives almost as slaves, cheating them of their wages, cursing, kicking, striking, beating, and otherwise maltreating and even mutilating them. Some are kind and just; but even they are at times severe in enforcing their authority. So it could occur that even a kindly-disposed foreigner might have his life attempted by an evil-disposed employee whose anger be had aroused.

In general, the Bantu natives of Africa are patient, long-suffering, and not easily aroused to violence, but taking their revenge, if finally their endurance is exhausted, by robbing their master of his goods or otherwise wasting his trade; abandoning him in sickness, so that he dies really of neglect, or, when his boat upsets in the surf of the sea, making no effort to rescue him.

The Bantu tribes are less revengeful and more amiable than the Negroes of Upper Guinea, or the tribes of Senegal and of the Sudan, with their mixture of Arab blood and Mahometan beliefs.

An English traveller recently, in the Igbo, country of Nigeria, in discussing the native belief in occult forces, says: "It is impossible for a white man to be present at their gatherings of 'medicine men,' and it is hard to get a native to talk of such things; but it seems evident to me that there is some reality in the phenomena one hears of, as they are believed everywhere in some degree by white men as well as black. However that may be, the native doctors have a wide knowledge of poisons; and if one is to believe reports, deaths from poison, both among white and black men, are of common occurrence on the Niger. One of the white man's often quoted proverbs is, 'Never quarrel with your cook'; the meaning of which is that the cook can put something in your food in retaliation if you maltreat him.

"There is everywhere a belief that it is possible to put medicine on a path for your enemy which, when he steps over it, will cause him to fall sick and die. Other people can walk uninjured over the spot, but the moment the man for whom the medicine is laid reaches the place, he succumbs, often dying within an hour or two. I have never seen such a case myself; but the Rev. A. E. Richardson says be saw one when on the journey with Bishop Tugwell's house-party. He could offer no explanation of how the thing is done, but does not doubt that it is done. Some of the best educated of our native Christians have told me that they firmly believe in this 'medicine-laying.'"

The most distinct instance of attempt at poisoning which I have met was related to me in March, 1902, by Mr. H. L. Stacey, of the English trading-house of J. Holt & Co. Ltd. I took the following statement from his own lips, and he gave me liberty to use it publicly. He has since died, and his death was sudden.

Mr. Stacey was a gentleman of courteous manner and of good education; fearless, universally kind, and generally just in his treatment of the natives. He was a Christian in his belief, and endeavored to be one in his life. His truthfulness is beyond doubt, thus making his statement entirely reliable.

He had his headquarters at Bata, with native sub-traders scattered north and south and up the Benita River, sorne twenty-three miles south of Bata. There came to him for employment a Lagos man, by name Croly or Crowley. He spoke English well, could read and write, had quite a display of manner, and made himself very useful by his apparent devotion, faithfulness, and honesty. All this deceived Mr. Stacey, who thought he had obtained a valuable servant; and rewarded him by giving him a sub-factory at Lobisa, a few miles up the Benita River. To have a factory of one's own is the goal of the ambition of every white trader's employees.

Mr. Stacey had also a Benga sub-trader on the river at Senje, some ten miles above Lobisa. This Benga went to Bata and reported to Mr. Stacey that Crowley was wasting his goods in riotous living and extravagant giving. While the Benga was away, Crowley falsely told the native Fang, who had been paid in advance by the former to collect india-rubber for him, that the Benga had been dismissed, was in jail, and would never come back, and induced them to sell to himself the rubber they had collected for the Benga. When the Benga returned to his post, and asked his Fang to pay their debt, they told him of the deception Crowley had practised on them. There was, therefore, a triangular quarrel, the Benga suing the Fang for their debt to him, the Fang denouncing Crowley for his cheat, and Crowley angry at the Benga for informing Mr. S. on him.

Just at this stage of affairs Mr. S. came on one of his usual visits of inspection to Senje. The Fang immediately sent secretly a deceptive message down to Crowley, saying that--Mr. S. wished to see him. As soon as he came, the Fang began to fight him. Notwithstanding Crowley's dishonesty to him, Mr. S. magnanimously defended his life, locked him for safety in the Benga's bedroom, and then made the quarrel a quadrilateral by protesting to the Fang against their assaulting his premises. His contention with them was "talked" in public "palaver," and finally was amicably settled. During the "talk" a lad came to Mr. S. excitedly, saying that Crowley was spreading "medicine" in the bed of the Benga, with intent to kill the latter. This aroused again the indignation of the Fang. But Mr. S. laughed down their anxiety, telling them that be was not afraid of "medicine" (he thought it was only fetich); that fetich could not kill a white man; and that, to prove it, he would that night sleep in that bed, and the Benga should sleep elsewhere. When all was settled, be got Crowley quietly away, and sent him down river to his Lobisa house, with expectation of dismissal. At night Mr. S. awoke with a great pain in his abdomen, a great sense of constriction in his chest, skin hot, and body tortured with shooting pains. Only his head was clear and free from any distress. The symptoms were not those of malarial fever. The next day his limbs were paralyzed. The natives said that Crowley had scattered in the bedding and through the mosquito net a poisonous powder.

Mr. S. was taken helpless in his canoe down river, on the way passing very near Lobisa, to a house on the sea-beach near the river's mouth. Believing that Crowley had attempted the life of the Benga, Mr. S., while lying sick, sent word to the adjacent Spanish Government Post for two soldiers to come and arrest Crowley. (Mr. S. had been informed that C. was on his way to him.) For C., when be saw Mr. S. lying sick in his passing canoe, surmised what had happened, and was afraid the Fang would follow him to Lobisa and assault him there. So he had closed his house and fled, following Mr. S. He was coming with a double purpose: first, to plead with Mr. S. against dismissal; second, as be promptly had heard of Mr. Stacey's sleeping in the poisoned bed and being sick, he feared arrest and was ready also to make the murder plan complete, if his plea for mercy was denied. To this end be came prepared with a handful of the powder.

Before he had reached the house where Mr. S. was, the two soldiers had met and arrested him, and were taking him to jail. He asked permission first to be allowed to see his "master." So they brought him to the sick-room, where be made many protestations of friendship and devotion, and plead for mercy. Mr. S. rebuked the soldiers for hesitating in their duty, and for having brought their prisoner there, and bade them take him away to the magistrate; then he fell back on his pillow exhausted, and lay with closed eyes, only semi-conscious. The soldiers went out of the room, leaving C. clinging to the bed. He fell on his knees by Mr. S.'s head, as if still to beg for pardon. Mr. S. felt C.'s hand insinuated under the bed cover near his pillow, and suddenly opened his eyes, to find C.'s closed hand near his face. He struck away the hand. A quantity of dark powder fell on the pillow near his nose. Half suffocated, by an effort he shouted to the soldiers, who came and took C. away. Mr. Stacey's little waiter-boy, who had also come in at the shout, was horrified to see the poison-powder on the pillow. He snatched away the pillow, threw the powder out of doors, and told the soldiers. They, without waiting for official judgment at the Post, gave C. twenty-five lashes at once. Farther blows, twenty-five at a time, were given him while waiting in jail for Mr. S. to get well enough to appear against him. Subsequently the Chef de Poste appointed a day for the hearing; but Mr. S., in his devotion to the trade interests of his employers, asked that the day be postponed, as his sub-traders needed just then much supervision. So the Chef dismissed the matter, seeming to think that if Mr. S. regarded his trade as of more importance than the defence of his life, it was no business of the government to hold the prisoner; and took no farther interest in it.

Having been given, in instalments, an aggregate of two hundred lashes, C. was discharged. He wandered about that region gathering a little food, without friends, feared and hated, and not allowed by some even to enter their villages.

The reputation of the Lagos powder as a powerful agent in destroying life has been known for years among the equatorial coast tribes. Reports of it are well known among white men on the steamers. It is believed in, not as a superstition, nor as a fetich, but as a powerful poison. Clerks and other workmen from Lagos are not welcomed in the Gabun region, as are clerks from other parts of Upper Guinea, for fear of their carrying that poison with them.


As a result of the universal employment of fetiches in African tribes, there is no confidence between man and man. Every one is in distrust of his neighbor; every man's hand against his fellow.

"The natives of Africa, though so thoroughly devoted to the use of fetiches, acquire no feeling of security in consequence of using them. Perhaps their only real influence is to make them more insecure than they would have been without them. There is no place in the world where men feel more insecurity. A man must be careful whose company be keeps, what path he walks, whose house be enters, on what stool he seats himself, where he sleeps. He knows not what moment he may place his foot or lay his hand upon some invisible engine of mischief, or by what means the seeds of death may be implanted in his constitution."[1]

Because of this lack of confidence, the natural affections and the duties of the dearest relations are perverted. Wives afraid of husbands, and husbands afraid of wives; children afraid of parents, and parents afraid of children; the chief of the village uncertain of his people; and the entire community that must live and eat and associate together, living and eating and associating with a constant secretly entertained suspicion of each other.


While in some of the rites performed by the native doctor-priest there is real diabolism, i.e., communication with Satan, and certain wonders are performed through the Prince of the Power of Darkness, I am disposed to believe that in most cases the "doctor" is self-deceived, certainly in many cases I believe him to be a deliberate deceiver. The native socalled "prophet" is probably an artful mind-reader; and the fortune-teller, like our own fortune-tellers, a skilful observer of the subject's tones, manner, and unguarded admissions in conversation which give ground for shrewd guessing.

Arnot[2] says: "These professional diviners are no doubt smart fellows, arch-rogues though they be. The secret of their art lies in their constant repetition of every possibility in connection with the disaster they are called upon to explain until they finally hit upon that which is in the minds of their clients. As the people sit around and repeat the words of the diviner, it is easy for him to detect in their tone of voice or to read in their faces the suspected source of the calamity.

"A man had a favorite dog which was attacked by a leopard,

[1. Wilson, Western Africa.

2. Garenganze, p. 107.]

but succeeded in escaping with one of its eyes torn out. To ascertain the reason of this calamity, the owner sent to call one of these diviners. When he arrived, to test him, he was told that a disaster had befallen my acquaintance, and was asked to find out by divination what it was. The diviner with his rattles and other paraphernalia, and dances, and other movements to occupy attention, after the manner of jugglers, asked leading questions of the spirit he was professing to consult, but really he was watching the faces of his audience for their unconsciously given assent or dissent. Thus, in succession, he found that the misfortune, whatever it was, was not to a human being; then not to certain families; then to some object possessed by a certain man; then that it was not about an ox nor about a goat; then that it was about a dog; then, after, certain other possibilities, was it connected with a leopard? So excited were the audience that they forgot that they had been 'giving themselves away,' and when the diviner asked the spirit, 'Was it a leopard?' they shouted with admiration at his supposed skill. After a whole day of such proceedings the diviner triumphed by announcing "that the spirit of the father of one of the man's wives had been grieved at the man's long absence from his town and family, and had employed the leopard to tear the dog's eye as a gentle reminder that it was time he should go back to his own village."

In connection with the Yoruba custom of parents of twins having images carved of their dead twins, "the carving of those images is a flourishing and money-making trade. If the parents of the dead child are in comfortable circumstances, the carvers tell them that they have seen in their dreams the dead twin, and that he or she has asked them to send such and such clothes, articles of food, money, etc.

"Sometimes they say the twins appeared to them in the forest when they went to cut the Ire-wood to be carved, and bade them not to venture it. In such cases special sacrifices must be offered before taking any steps. In this way months pass before the carving is complete; during which time the carvers demand of the parents whatever they feel they are capable of supplying them with."[1]

In the Corisco region, some thirty years ago, I knew a native sorcerer who achieved quite a reputation because he could perform the thimble-rig juggler-trick of making a leaf appear and disappear between two plates.

One of my associates in the Ogowe, the late H. M. Bachelor, M.D., had brought with him from the United States a few tricks of "parlor magic." He quite astonished my schoolchildren by swallowing and subsequently vomiting up a penknife, and by passing a threaded needle through the thigh of one of the boys. Dr. B. did the tricks so artistically that even I did not detect the deception about the penknife; and the boy solemnly asserted that be felt the needle travelling through his leg. The exhibition was a happy one in revealing to the natives how an evil-disposed sorcerer would be able to deceive them.

A lady of the West African Mission of the American Board says: "I once witnessed the performance of a witch-doctor on one of my visits among the villages. The chief of the country was sick, and the doctor was giving him a massage treatment. By sleight of hand he seemed to draw from the patient's side chicken's claws, feathers, bones, sticks, pebbles, etc. Some "witch," it was supposed, had caused these things to grow in the man's body with intent to kill. It was evident to the astonished crowd which had gathered around, that their king would probably get well, now these things were removed. The doctor's bill was promptly paid,--a thousand balls of rubber, ten pieces of cloth, and a large pig. An ox was slaughtered, and a beer drink indulged in to celebrate the occasion and to appease any offended spirit."


The insane being supposed to be physically and mentally possessed by an intruding spirit, their actions are necessarily

[1. Niger and Yoruba Notes.]

not considered to be the outcome of their own volitions. This view does not always, in the native mind, relieve a lunatic of the burden of the consequences of his acts.

There is great diversity, therefore, in the treatment of. the insane in different districts and in different tribes. In some regions a tribe holds to the following reasoning: This person is possessed by a spirit. That spirit is. occupying his body and using his voice and limbs for some reason. If we interfere with this person's doings, then we will be interfering with the spirit and may bring evil on ourselves. Therefore it is considered proper to make offerings and some degree of worship to the incarnated spirit. But it is not true that the lunatic himself is an object of worship. The gifts and sacrifices are made solely to and for the spirit; the prayer of the petitioners being that it may refrain from inciting the possessed person to do them evil, and in the hope that it may conclude to depart and leave the patient and them alone.

In other places this same belief of possession leads to a very different logical conclusion. The thought is: This person is possessed by an evil spirit; if we allow him to remain, that evil spirit will do us only evil; let us put this man, who is thus being utilized for evil, out of the way, and perhaps in so doing we may get rid of the possessing spirit also. So the lunatic is put to death. The manner of death sometimes chosen is a cruel one, as if thereby the spirit itself might also be injured or incapacitated to do further evil. Observe that this cruelty is not directed against the demented human being, but against the indwelling spirit. The maniac in being put to death is sometimes beaten with clubs, sometimes burned, sometimes drowned, as if the evil possessing spirit might itself be fractured or charred or sunk.

The forms of lunacy I have seen are mild, rarely maniacal. The lunatics I have met in the Gabun region were both men and women. Among women I have thought a cause was uterine complications; among both men and women, excessive use of tobacco; in two cases of men the cause was hashish-smoking. These last were characterized by a deep melancholy; all the others were marked by absurd hallucinations. Undeniably, in two cases in Gabun, the paroxysms were influenced by the stage of the moon.

The only medication of which the natives know is exorcism by fetich with drum and dance, baths and purgatives. When a person is discovered to be crazy, he is taken to the doctor, who gathers medicinal barks and leaves, makes a very hot decoction, and puts it under a seat on which is placed the patient. Both seat and patient are covered by a cloth, and he is subjected to a severe sweating process. During this time the doctor calls out to the supposed possessing spirit, "Who are you? who are you?" Perhaps the sick man will say (his voice supposed to be under control of nkinda), "I am So-and-so." The doctor replies, "Eh! you So-and-so! leave him, or I will catch you and put you in prison." The prison is a section of sugar-cane stalk with its leaves twined together; and the doctor is believed to be able to confine the nkinda there. And it remains there indefinitely; but it may be released by the will of the doctor, who will choose to free it some day unless he is paid not to do so. Sometimes the crazy person has so many sinkinda that he becomes a maniac, losing all sense of shame or even of hunger. In such a case he is tied till he becomes quiet and the doctor announces that the sinkinda have all gone out. The patient is then washed, and the doctor with song and drum calls on good sinkinda to come and enter, and directs them to take care of the man's body.


When the Negro was brought to America as a slave, he brought with him a variety of African things, some good, some bad.

When hurried upon the slave-ships in the Kongo or at Lagos, the slave tied into a little package, hung among his other fetich treasures, seeds of his favorite foods. At least one of these seeds survived, in the West Indies and thence to the United States, with a native name "gumbo." It is the okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), that exists all over Africa, and has spread over the United States.

Ground-nuts--"pea-nuts" (Arachis hypogea), which botanists claim to be a native of South America--have been grown from time immemorial all over Africa, and, in the Loango country bordering on the Kongo River, by the Ashira and some other tribes are used as their staple article of food, rather than the plantain (Musa sapientum), or "manioc," cassava (Jatropha manihot). It is an important export from those regions and from the Gambia to-day. If the nut itself was not carried from Africa to America, its native name was; that name is "mbenda," and it was corrupted to "pindar" in parts of the Southern States.

The evil thing that the slave brought with him was his religion. You do not need to go to Africa to find the fetich. During the hundred years that slavery in our America held the Negro crushed, degraded, and apart, his master could deprive him of, his manhood, his wife, his child, the fruits of his toil, of his life; but there was one thing of which he could not deprive him,-his faith in fetich charms. Not only did this religion of the fetich endure under slavery; it grew. None but Christian masters offered the Negro any other religion; and, by law, even they were debarred from giving him any education. So fetichism flourished. The master's children were infected by the contagion of superstition; they imbibed some of it at their Negro foster-mother's breast. It was a secret religion that lurked thinly covered in slavery days, and that lurks to-day beneath the Negro's Christian profession as a white art, and among non-professors as a black art; a memory of the revenges of his African ancestors; a secret fraternity among slaves of far-distant plantations, with words and signs,--the lifting of a finger, the twitch of an eyelid,--that telegraphed from house to house with amazing rapidity (as to-day in Africa) current news in old slave days and during the late Civil War; suspected, but never understood by the white master; which, as a superstition, has spread itself among our ignorant white masses as the "Hoodoo." Vudu, or Odoism, is simply African fetichism transplanted to American soil.

"It is almost impossible for persons who have been brought up under this system ever to divest themselves fully of its influence. It has been retained among the blacks of this country, and especially at the South, though in a less open form, even to the present day, and probably will never be fully abandoned until they have made much higher attainments in Christian education and civilization. In some of the plantations of the South, as well as in the West Indies, where there has been less Christian culture, egg-shells are hung up in the corners of their chimneys to cause the chickens to flourish; an extracted tooth is thrown over the house or worn around the neck to prevent other teeth from aching; and real fetiches, though not known by this name [perhaps "mascots"?], are used about their persons to shield them from sickness or from the effects of witchcraft." [1]

While on a furlough in the United States in 1891, I visited a town in Southern Virginia, and by invitation of the Negro pastor of the African church addressed them on foreign missions. Somewhat at a loss what attitude to take toward a Negro audience in speaking to them of Africa, I candidly asked the pastor what I should say. He bade me speak exactly as if I was addressing an educated white assembly. I did so. In describing native African virtues and vices, I mentioned their fetichism, and remarked that it was the same that obtained in the United States; and lest my hearers might think I was personally attacking them, I added, "down South in Georgia and Louisiana." The bench of elders sitting just in front of me broke out, "And jist around hyar, too."

I had read Cable's "Creole Tales." One of his characters is sick with a strange vague affection whose symptoms medicine had failed to reach. He is superstitious, and one morning he wakes in horror at finding a dead frog secreted under his

[1. Wilson.]

pillow. That fetich was no novelist's conjecture; it wa's true to life. About 1894 or 1895, while I was alone in charge of Gabun Station, for three successive mornings when I opened the front door, I found a dried frog leaning against the threshold. I did not care enough about it to inquire its significance or to ascertain who put it there. Since then I have found that it is not used as a fetich by people of the Gabun region, but probably by Upper Coast people. I remember that at that time I had three Bassa workmen from Liberia whom I suspected of stealing and who then suddenly deserted my service. I think they placed the frog,there, either to injure me or to prevent my following up their theft.


An attractive survival of African life in America are "Uncle Remus's" mystic tales of "Beer Rabbit." They are the folk-lore that the slave brought with him from his African home, where in village hut and forest camp often have been told to my own ears similar weird personifications before Harris had actually written them. There being no rabbits in West Africa, "Br'er Rabbit" is an American substitution for "Brother" Njâ (Leopard), or Brother Iheli (Gazelle), in Paia Njambi's (the Creator's) council of speaking animals.

Next: Chapter XVI: Tales of Fetich Based on Fact