Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort, by Richard Edward Dennett, , at sacred-texts.com
By the Fjort I mean the tribes that once formed the great kingdom of Congo. From the Quillo river, north of Loango, to the River Loge, south of Kinsembo, on the south-west coast of Africa, and as far almost as Stanley Pool in the interior, this kingdom is said to have extended. My remarks refer chiefly to the KaCongo and Loango provinces: that is to say, to the two coast provinces north of the great river Congo or Zaire.
The religion or superstition of the Fjort, as well as their laws, can easily be traced to their source, namely, to San Salvador, the headquarters or capital of the great Fumu Kongo. Their legends describe how Fumu Kongo sent his sons KaCongo and Loango to govern these provinces; and their route can be traced by their having left what you call fetishes at each place where they slept. These fetishes are called Nkissi nsi, the spirit or mystery of the earth, just as the ruler or nFumu
[1. See my Seven Years Among the Fjort. London, 1887, p. 50, sqq.]
is called Fumu nsi, the prince of the land or earth. Together with these two sons of Kongo (called Muene nFumu) or, as we should write it, Manifumu), the king sent a priest or raindoctor, called Ngoio. Even to this day, when the rains do not come in their proper season, the princes of KaCongo and Loango send ambassadors to Cabinda or Ngoio with presents to the rain-doctor, or, as they call him, Nganga.
Loango, KaCongo, and Ngoio are now all spoken of as nFumu nsi; and their existence is admitted, although, as a matter of fact, their thrones are vacant, and each petty prince, or head of a family, governs his own little town or towns. Each little town or collection of towns or better perhaps each family, has now its patch of ground sacred to the spirit of the earth (Nkissi nsi), its Nganga nsi, the head of the family, and its Nganga Nkissi (charm or fetish doctor), and its Nganga bilongo (medicine-doctor or surgeon). Nzambi-Mpungu. is what we should call the Creator. Nzambi (wrongly called God) is Mother Earth, literally Terrible Earth. In all the Fjort legends that treat of Nzambi she is spoken of as the "mother," generally of a beautiful daughter, or as a great princess calling all the animals about her to some great meeting, or palaver; or as a poor woman carrying a thirsty or hungry infant on her back, begging for food, who then reveals herself and punishes those
[1. Thus the voyage of Kongo's sons KaCongo and Loango from San Salvador to Loango is marked for us; for where they rested the ground became blessed (Nkissiansi, land sacred to the spiritual law family Fetish). There are no altars made with hands, no images among the Nkissiansi. Sometimes one meets with a stone, a mound of earth, a tree, a mound of shells, on this holy ground, and I have met with huts containing the family fetishes.]
who refused her drink or food by drowning them, or by rewarding with great and rich presents those who have given her child drink. Animals and people refer their palavers to her as judge. Her name also is used as an ejaculation.
Nkissi nsi is the mysterious spirit that dwells in the earth. Nkissi is the mysterious power in herbs, medicines, fetishes.
The missionary is called a Nganga Nzambi. This alone proves, I think, that the natives consider Nzambi, the earth, as their deity; and when once the missionaries are convinced of this fact it should be their duty to protest against the use of the word Nzambi as the equivalent to the white man's God. The word they must use is Nzambi Mpungu, or perhaps they had better make a new word. Mpungu, or mpoungou, is the word used by the Fjort to mean gorilla. This should delight the heart of the evolutionist. But mpounga has the signification of something that covers. There are, however, no gorillas south of the Congo, and in the Ntandu dialect mpoungou has the signification of creator or father. And we must remember that this religion came from the south of the Congo.
Upon the sacred earth in each village or family a small hut or shimbec is usually built, where the family fetish is kept. A tree is also usually planted there, and holes are made in it, where medicines are placed. Each hole is then covered by a piece of looking glass, which is kept in its place by a rim of clay, which again is spluttered over with white and red earth or chalk, moistened in the mouth of the prince. Here the prince summons his family to what they call a "washing-up." That is, after having made their offerings (generally of white fowls)
[1. See below, p. 121.]
the people cut the grass and clean up the sacred ground and dance and sing. The prince also on certain occasions admits the young men who have been circumcised to the rights of manhood, and teaches them the secret words which act as passwords throughout the tribe. The prince is crowned here; and it is this fetish that he consults whenever he is in trouble.
The Nganga Nkissi has his hut apart from his holy ground; and there he keeps his image, into which nails, spear-points knives, etc., are driven by the suppliant who seeks the help of the mysterious spirit to kill his enemies or to protect him against any evil. The Nganga Nkissi also sells charms, such as little wooden images charged with medicines, bracelets, armlets, bead-bands, waistbands, little bits of tiger's skin to keep the small-pox away, the little horns of kids, and other pendants for the necklace.
The Nganga bilongo is the doctor and surgeon. Each surgeon or doctor keeps the secret of his cure in the family, so that the sick have sometimes to travel great distances to be cured of certain diseases. After most sicknesses or misfortunes the native undergoes a kind of thanksgiving and purification according to the rites of Bingo, who has a Nganga in almost every family. This is not the same as the form of going through the "paint-house."
The Nkissi, the spirit, as it were, of mother earth, is met with in mountains and rocks. Thus, in the creek that flows behind Ponta da Lenha in the River Congo there is a rock falling straight down into the water, which the natives fear to pass at night; and even in the daytime they keep close to the far side of the creek. They declare that the Nkissi will swallow them up. The story of the four young men who left their town early in the morning to visit their lovers across the mountains, and after a long visit, at about four o'clock wished to return, proves the power of the terrible spirit of the earth. For their lovers determined to see the four young men part of the way home, and so went with them up the mountain. Then the young men saw the young women back to their town. The young women again went up the hill with their lovers, and again the young men came back with them. The earth-spirit got vexed at such levity and turned them all into pillars of clay, as can be proved, for are not the eight pillars visible to this day (white-ant pillars taking the shape of four men and four women)? And the lying woman who said she had no peas for sale when she had her basket full of them, did not the earth-spirit turn her into a pillar of clay, as can be seen in the woods near Cabinda behind Futilla even to this day?
The mountain Mongo is spoken of at times as a person, as in the story of the old lady who, after many exchanges, secured a drum in exchange for the red wood she had given the image-maker, to keep for her. For the old lady took this drum to Mongo and played upon it until Mongo broke it. But she wept and Mongo was sorry for her and gave her some mushrooms and told her to go away.
Islands in the River Congo are spoken of as the home of the men who turn themselves into crocodiles, so that they may upset canoes and drag their prisoners to them and eventually sell them. Monkey Island, just above Boma, in the River Congo, is used as the burial-place of princes of that part of the country.
The names of the rivers are also the names of the spirits of the same. These spirits, like those of the Chimpanzu and Mlomvu, kill those who drink their waters; others get angry, and swell, and overflow their banks like the Lulondo, and drown many people; while some punish those who fish in their waters for greediness by causing them to become deaf and dumb, as Sunga did in one of the stories I have given on a subsequent page.
Then the great Chamma (rainbow) is described as a huge snake that enters rivers at their source and swells them up, and carries everything before it, grass, trees, at times whole villages, in its way to the sea.
Any place, either in the hills or along the banks of rivers (near fishing places), or near wells, can be reserved by any one by his placing shells, strips of cloth, or other charms there. The nearest approach that we have to these charms in England is the scarecrow, or the hat which the Member of Parliament leaves on his seat to show that the place is his.
The dead bodies of witches are either thrown down precipices or into the rivers.
The sun, Ntangu, and moon, Ngonde, are generally described as two brothers. There is a legend which tells us that two brothers, Ntangu and Ngonde, lived in a village by the sea and Ntangu bet Ngonde that he could not catch him up, so they set off racing. Ngonde caught up Ntangu; and then Ntangu got vexed and said he could catch up Ngonde, but he never did, so Ngonde won the bet. The fact of the moon's being seen during the day, together with the sun, and the sun's never being seen at night in company with the moon has, no doubt, given rise to this story. I have also collected two versions of a story of two brothers setting out, one after the other, to the land whence no man returns, which also are sun-myths.
I have heard very little about the stars. The new moon is greeted with a cry of "Lu lu lu lu," in a high key, the native beating his mouth with his hand as he cries.
Lightning is said to be made by a blacksmith (Funzi) who lives in the centre of KaCongo. Nzassi means thunder; Lu siemo, lightning; and they are both spoken of as persons, Nzassi being used often for both thunder and lightning. Thus, they say that if it comes on to rain when you are in the woods, and it thunders, and you try to run away, Nzassi runs after you and kills you.
A man named Antonio one day told me a story of how he had .seen Nzassi's dogs. It was raining, he declared; and he and his companions were under a shed playing at marbles when it began to thunder and lighten. It thundered frightfully; and Nzassi sent his twenty-four dogs down upon them. They seized one of the party who had left the shed for a moment, and the fire burnt up a living palm tree.
The sky is spoken of in certain stories as something to be bored through, as in the story where Nzambi on earth promises her beautiful daughter in marriage to anyone who should go to Nzambi above, and bring down a little of Nzambi Mpungu's fire from heaven. The woodpecker bores the hole through which all those anxious to compete for Nzambi's daughter's hand creep, after having climbed up the silken cord made by the spider from heaven to earth.
The clouds they call Ituti, or rather Matuti (pl.), They rise from where the walls of heaven touch the earth, and sail across the sky to the other side, or round and round about.
[1. The story is given at length on p. 74.]
The Fjort divide the year into two seasons: i mûna ki mvula (rainy season), i muna ki sifu (dry season). They divide the month (ngonde) into seven weeks of four days; Tono, Silu, Nkandu, Nsona, on the last of which they do no work.
The sea is known as Mbu. The sun rises in the Mayomba bush-country, and sets in the Mbu.
Before going to sea, the fishermen knock their fetishes to bring them good luck, or to kill those who spoil their luck. If a fisherman goes to sleep, and while he sleeps the little black bird called ntieti comes and rests in the stern of his canoe, and in the morning he awakes and finds it there, he knows some misfortune has come upon his family, or is to come upon himself.
The spirit that dwells in the sea is called Chicamassi-chibuinji. At times she comes ashore to collect red-wood and other necessary articles of toilet. Now, when anyone steals some of these articles she gets vexed and causes a calemma (swell) to arise, which stops all fishing and at times causes loss of life to those passing through the surf.
Waterspouts they call Nvussuko and Ngo-lo; and they fear them as we should a ghost.
They say that they do not make sacrifices to the sea; but that when Chicamassi is vexed she comes ashore and takes one of twins or triplets, and drowns it in the sea. It is well to save a relation from drowning; and if you like to save a stranger's life, he becomes your slave, or gives you a slave in exchange. When the native passes certain places where Chicamassi is supposed to have passed, he throws bits of fish, mandioca, or whatnot, into the sea for her. They also splutter rum into the sea before drinking it.
The tides are caused by Nzambi Mpungu, who, when the time comes, drops a large stone into the ocean to make the water rise and takes it out again when it is time for low tide.
Zimini has towns under the sand in the sea; and at times he comes up and seizes a man or woman, and takes him or her down to his place. There are stories in which the white man is said to have his town under the sea, and to take thither all the slaves be captures and buys to help him to make his cloth.
Woods and forests are the homes of the Mpunia (highway robber and murderer), Ndotchi (witch), and Cbimbindi (spirit of the departed).
The Nkissi that exists in herbs, plants, and trees, poisons or cures people; and the natives have a great knowledge of the different properties of plants, herbs, and trees. The Nkissi grows with the plant out of the earth.
Fetishes are made of a wood called Mlimbe; and it is said that when the tree is felled the blood that flows from the tree is mixed with the blood of a cock that the Nganga kills. This cock used to be a slave, when slaves were cheaper than they are now.
Grasses are worn as charms around the neck or body of a sick man.
The greater number of natives are called after animals. Ngo, the leopard; Nkossa, the lobster; Chingumba, lion; Nzau, elephant; Memvu, a kind of wild dog; are the names given those of royal blood; and the greatest of these names is that of Ngo. Only princes can wear a leopard's skin. The Leopard, the royal animal, the figure of royal motherhood (the earth, as opposed to Nkala, the crab, the figure of the sea), is the name given to women through whom the royal line may descend, Kongo being the name of the Fjort's Adam, the great and first King or Nfumu (judge), the father of KaCongo and Loango and Ngoio. And many customs touching the hunting and slaying of the Leopard still exist, and in themselves would form an interesting study. Its skin is still worn as a sign of Royalty, and its hair is used as a charm against small pox: thirty skins used to be sent from Loango to Ngoio, so that he might send Mbunzi with rain to water his plantations.
In listening to their many stories about animals, one forgets for the time that the relator is talking about animals; and when it comes to where one eats the other, one wonders whether the native forgets that his ancestors did act in this outrageous fashion. The Fjort believe that some people have the power, or misfortune, to change themselves into beasts of prey, such as leopards and crocodiles. Stories of quite recent date tell of relations who have suffered in this way, and who in their better moods have admitted that they have killed so and so, and torn him to pieces.
This brings us to another interesting subject, that of the kazilas, or things forbidden. Some families, especially those of royal descent, may not eat pig; others may not touch goat, flat-fish, shell-fish, doves. None except witches would attempt to eat snakes, crocodiles, lizards, chamelions. Many families will not touch certain animals because their ancestors owe such animals a debt of gratitude, as many of their stories point out to us.
[1. Another kind of kazila, or taboo, is mentioned below (p. 122), namely, the prohibition to women to fish in the lake Mbosi or Mboasi, near Futilla.]
The native herd in the white trader's employ talks to his sheep and goats as if they certainly understood him.
The plagues were sent by God (so the Hebrews say) to punish the oppressors of the children of Israel: so also any great scourge in this part of Africa is looked upon as a punishment. The locusts are at this moment eating up the Fjort's plantations here in Loango. The locusts are known by the name of Makonko, and are not entire strangers; but this year (1896-97) is the first time that the Fjort have seen them in such abundance. They do not know what to do to get rid of them; they say that their princes in the olden days would have done something and sent them away in a day.
A French official cut the long beard of poor old Maniprato, who was acting in the place of the King of Loango. The Fetish, who is the nephew of the great Mbunzi (S.W. wind), was very much annoyed at this action of the French official, and sent word to Mbunzi, and Mbunzi sent the plague of locusts, which in one night ate up the large banana plantation of the French mission. And now they are eating up the Fjort's plantations and his palm trees, and the poor Fjort has no longer any princes to send presents to Ngoio to calm the angry Mbunzi.
Bimbindi (pl. of Chimbindi), the spirits of the good who have departed this life, live in the woods, and are generally considered the enemies of mankind. But I knew a Chimbindi who was a very decent woman indeed. She was in love, and about to be married; but she fell sick, died, and was buried. Her lover was accused of having bewitched her, and he took casca and died. Her parents grieved greatly for her, for she was an only child. When she rose from the dead she found herself a slave, and married to a white man in Boma. She lived there with him until he went to Europe, when he freed her. She then tried to get back to her native town, which lay behind Malella. So she hired a canoe, and got the owners thereof to promise to paddle her there. But they took her to the south bank of the Congo, and sold her. Here she remained nearly three years, when she happened to meet some people of her own family, and they took her back to her parents. The parents were rejoiced to see her again; but they will not believe that she is a human being, and continue to treat her as the departed spirit of their daughter. I have tried to convince her that the Nganga Nkissi, or native doctor, must have played her some trick, and that she had been buried by him while in a trance, or while unconscious, and that he must have taken her to Boma and sold her there to his own profit; but she would not believe it.
But Bimbindi as a rule are hostile to the human race, and consequently greatly feared.
A certain chief owned a large town, and all the inhabitants were either his children or his relations, He was sorely troubled at times how to provide them all with animal food; and so he used to go into the woods, and set traps. One night he got up, and went to see if there was anything in his traps and sure enough there was a large antelope in one of the traps. He made short work of its life by drawing his long knife and cutting its throat. Then he carried it home, and called upon all to get up and eat. They rejoiced greatly, and got up quickly enough to skin and cut up the antelope. It was then fairly divided, and each took away his share. And they all ate their shares, except the father, who put his away. Before the first cock crew, he got up again to look at his traps. Yes, there was another antelope. He killed and took it to his town, and again roused the, people up. They came, and again each took his share. And they all ate their shares, except the father, who put his share in the same place where he had kept his first share. He now slept until sun-rise. About midday his son came to him and said: "Father, I am, hungry. Give me the antelope you have kept in your shimbec (hut)." "No," he answered, "I wish to sell that meat for cloth, even if I only get a fathom or two for it." But the son pestered and bothered his father until he waxed wroth and shot him dead. Then the father called his people again, and said "See, here is more meat for you, take it and eat it." "Nay," they all said, "we cannot eat this; for your son was one of us; he is of our family. But we will cut him up, and give the meat to the princes round about." And the princes were thankful for the meat, and gave the bearers presents.
The next evening the father again went to visit his traps, and thought he saw a huge something in one of them. He ran up to the thing and tried to kill it; but as he neared the trap, the monster's arms embraced him and held him fast. "Ah ha!" said the Chimbindi, "so you have dared to set your traps in my woods, and to kilt my antelopes. You shall die." With this the Chimbindi cut the father's head off, and hung his body to a tree by its feet. Now when his wife had cooked his food, she called for him to come and eat. Receiving no answer, she set out to look for him. "Surely he has gone to look at his traps," she thought. So she went into the woods; and after a little while she caught sight of the body hanging by its legs to the tree. The head was not there; the Chimbindi had taken it away with him. She examined the body carefully, and at last convinced herself that it was that of her husband. She sat down and wept. Then she got up, and went crying into the town. The people asked her what she was crying for, and she answered: "My husband has been killed, and I have seen his body in the woods." Then they tried to comfort her, telling her that she was mistaken. But she continued weeping, and offered to lead them to the place where he was hung. Then the whole tribe went with her; and when they saw with their own eyes that their father was dead, they were, sorely troubled and lamented. Then the Chimbindi returned, and utterly annihilated the tribe, cutting off their heads, and leaving their bodies as food for the eagles, and the crows, and the beasts of the woods that eat the flesh of men. So are those punished who kill a relation and offer his meat to be eaten.
But the natives have a weapon with which they can put the Chimbindi to flight, as we learn from the following story.
All preparations for a long stay out of town were made by a married couple, the parents of a little boy some four years old. As they could not take their little one with them on this occasion, they left sufficient food for him with a neighbour, and asked her to take care of him. Soon the little boy felt hungry, and ran to the neighbour's house and asked her for food. "What food, my child?" she asked. "But mother told me to come and ask you for food whenever I felt hungry." "Your mother left no food with me, so that I cannot give you any; and you can run away and play." Each day the little boy went to the woman and asked her for food. But each day she refused to give him any. So on the sixth day the little boy sat down and cried, saying: "Six days have passed and I have had no food. I know not whither my parents have gone. I shall surely die. I will find them, I will go from here at once." Then he got up and walked and walked all day, but could not find his parents. When the night came, he climbed up a big tree and sat in it and cried. And a Chimbindi came and found the boy. He called his friends together, and they asked: "Who is this?" The little boy was very much afraid; but he sang, in a piteous voice: "My father and mother left me, they gave another food for me; but she did not give it to me; and now I have come here to die." The Bimbindi came near to him and meant to kill him. When the little boy saw what the Bimbindi were about he cried bitterly for his mother.
Meanwhile the parents returned. The mother said Father, our little one has left our town, and has wandered away. Listen! I hear him crying." " Nay," says the father, " we left food enough for him, why should he have left the town? Look again for him." " No," says the mother; " he is in the woods, and the Bimbindi will surely eat him, and we shall lose our little one." Then the father went to the market and bought some chili pepper, and loaded his gun with it. And the mother carried a calabash of pepper with her. "Let us go," said the father, "and search for him!" And the mother soon found him, attracted by his cries. Then the father shot the Chimbindi just as he was climbing up the tree to kill his son. And the mother flew at the others that were looking on, and rubbed pepper into their eyes, so that they all ran away.
When the parents returned to the town they demanded an explanation from their neighbour; but she could make no excuse for her conduct, so that the irate father shot the woman, saying: "You tried to kill my child, am I not right in killing you?"
And the people said he was acting rightly.
Women have been captured by Bimbindi and made to live with them, according to their tales, but have managed to escape. The Bimbindi have followed them to their towns, and to get rid of them these women have thrown pepper into their eyes, and poured boiling water over them.
I have also heard of an opposite case, where a Cbimbindi has come to a town and married a girl and tried to live with her, but he would run away at daybreak, and all night he was busy eating insects and lizards; so she left him. Native women dare not go out at night alone for fear of meeting them; and any wailing noise they hear during the night they immediately put down to the Bimbindi.
The word witch, in our sense, I think, would correspond rather with that of Nganga Nkissi, the man learned in the art of mystery. But whereas our witch combines the office of spell-binder with that of curer, the Nganga Nkissi acts as the curer only, and the power that he exercises is not supposed to be his, but rather that of the Nkissi, or, as you would call it, his fetish. The sufferer goes to him to find out why it is that he suffers, and who it is that is making him suffer, and he divines the cause or person if he can; and if he cannot, advises the sufferer to knock a nail into the Nkissi, or fetish, and ask it to kill the person who is causing him so much pain.
The causer of the pain or suffering is called by the Fjort a Ndotchi, which has rather the sense of poisoner, and then spell-binder, or evil-wisher, or hypnotiser. This last personage is usually called the witch, and the Nganga Nkissi, the witchdoctor, by Europeans. The Ndotchi, it is true, may have poisoned some of his people to get rid of them, but he will have done this very secretly. He is not at all likely to go about proclaiming the fact that he can cast spells upon people, raise storms, or hypnotise, as such a proclamation would mean certain death. I am, therefore, sceptical when I hear Europeans talking about African witches and witchcraft, unless indeed, you call, a poisoner a witch. It is the knowledge of poisons in the native, his horror of death, and his disbelief in death from natural causes, that force him to believe, when a death does take place, that poison has in all probability caused it. Accordingly, a so-called Ndotchi, or poisoner, is called upon to prove his innocence by being forced to undergo the ordeal by poison; he is made to eat two or three spoonfuls of the powdered bark of the "casca" tree, and drink a bottle of water. If he vomits, he is innocent; if the casca acts as a purge he is guilty, and at once slain. A native goes to sleep and dreams some fearful dream, awakes and feels himself spellbound. Up he gets and fires off a gun to frighten away the evil spirits. He imagines that he has an enemy who is seeking to kill him, and accuses people right and left of attempting to poison him, and gives them casca.
There are certain of the Ngangas who profess to work miracles like the magicians of old.
Women give their husbands certain medicines to cause them to love them, and try their own love for them, by undergoing different ordeals. For instance, a woman will bet another woman that she loves her husband more than she does. They will heat an iron and place it on their arms; if a blister is raised, they consider their great love as proved.
As you enter a village by some road or other you will often find the grass tied into a knot (nteuo) with medicines enclosed, to prevent anyone bent on evil from passing that way; or an arch formed by a string of feathers and charms, stretched across the road from one pole to another, will keep away evil winds and spirits.
Then, every town has some Nkissi or other to guard it. One will often notice an earthenware pot (nduda) balf-full of sand, containing two eggs, placed upon a stand. It is said that these eggs will explode with a fearful report, if anyone bent on evil enters the town.
The Fjort have no legends about the creation, except such as are easily traceable to the teachings of the missionaries of old, settled in this country some 400 years ago. Nzambi Mpungu made the earth, or gave birth to Nzambi; and she brought forth many children. We are told nothing more about the creation. The difference in colour between the black and white man is accounted for by stories of the short-sightedness of the black man. The best, perhaps, is that given on a later page.
Then, we have tales which begin: "A long, long time ago, before even our ancestors knew the use of fire, when they ate grass like the animals," etc., which then go on to tell how a river-spirit first pointed out to them the mandioca root and the banana. These I think go a long way to prove that the agricultural age was prior to the pastoral and hunting age. This river-spirit taught them the use of fire, and then came the blacksmith, Mfuzi, (Loango, Funzi) and the iron and copper age.
I do not think the people north of the Congo can yet be said to
[1. An ordinary knot in the grass means that some. lady has marked the pIace for a plantation, or that a passer-by has hidden something within a certain distance from that knot.]
be, in the Pastoral Age, or to have passed through it, for, although they do keep a few goats, and fowls, and sheep, their attention is given more to the planting of mandioca, bananas, and potatoes than to the care of animals. But they certainly are hunters. They are also manufacturers of native grass-cloth, of knives, arms, and ornaments of iron and copper, and of ornaments made from European silver coins. They gather cotton, and spin a coarse kind of thread, with which they make chinkutu, arm-bags, and netted capes for their princes. They make beautiful caps from the fibre of the pine-apple, and mats from the leaves of the fubu-tree. And all these goods they dye red, black and yellow. Earthenware pots, vases, carafes, moringos, and pipes they make from the black clay that abounds in the different valleys. The fishermen make their own nets from the fibre of different trees, and floats from the bark of the baobab-tree.
Others gather the palm-nuts from the palm-trees, and extract the oil from them, dry them and crack them, and then sell the kernels and the oil to the European. Some go into the woods and collect the milky juice of several vines and trees, and sell it as caoutchouc, or rubber, to the white man.
And the women, as they bee their fields, at times dig up pieces of preserved lightning (aulo, or buangu, gum copal), which they and their husbands also sell to the trader.
People collect round the shimbec, or hut, in which a woman
[1. There is no word in the KaCongo dialect to express the word shepherd. The nearest they have is i lungo mbizi, he who keeps animals; but mbizi is used in the sense of wild animals. Thus a native missionary, or priest, in preaching in native-mouth to the children at the mission here in Loango talked of the shepherds who came to visit the child Christ and his Mother as the galigneru, from the Portuguese gollinheiro, one who looks after the fowls.]
lies, about to give birth to a child, and fire off guns and shout to her to help her to bring it forth. The woman is attended by her mother, or other female relation; and the child is washed, sometimes in palm-wine, by them. As soon as the after-birth comes ,Way, the woman walks away to the place where she is to take her hot bath. The women then throw the very hot water upon her parts with their hands.
Charm upon charm is attached to the infant; and the mother suckles it until it is nearly two years old, being separated from her husband until she has weaned the child.
When a boy arrives at the age of puberty he is circumcised, and if he is wealthy a dance is given in his honour. A girl arriving at the same age is closely watched. The moment of her first menstruation is marked by the firing off of a gun, and this is followed by a dance. And now, while she little suspects it, she is caught and forced into what the natives call the paint-house. Here she is painted red, and carefully fed and treated, until they consider her ready for marriage, when she is washed and led to her husband. But if she has not a husband waiting for her, she is covered over with a red cloth, or handkerchief, and taken round by women to the different towns, until someone is found anxious to have her.
Should a man wish to marry a girl, he has to present her parents with goods according to the value placed upon her by them. In fixing the value, her position and wealth have to be considered. He can marry her according to different rites, such as those of Lembe or Funzi. On such occasions a certain kind of native-made copper bracelet is given to her by the husband, and worn also by him. She swears to be faithful to him, and to die and be buried with him. Formerly these wives were buried alive with their husbands, but the custom is now dying out.
Or a man may not have money enough to marry. So he proposes to give the girl so much of his earnings if she will live with him. He presents the parents with some small donation, and they live together until he can marry her.
But virgins may be used by a man for a certain payment, and afterwards put aside. These women are then at the service of anyone who chooses to pay them. This life is not looked upon as being immoral by them, and in no way stands in the way of future marriage. And it is a strange fact that these women do not seem to lose their sense of modesty. They seem to think that it is natural that their desires should be satisfied, and that until they are married they are in their right to live in this way.
A man may marry as many wives as he has wealth enough to obtain; and as they all make their plantations he is not likely to starve so long as he treats them properly. But the wives quarrel for his favours, and so very often a very-much-married man does not live so happily as one who has (say) two wives.
When the bridegroom takes his bride from the paint-house, he is generally supposed to give a dance, and this dance is kept up all night round about his house.
Unfaithfulness in a princess used not very long ago to be punished by burying her into the ground up to her neck, leaving only her head visible., and then leaving her to starve and die. The adulterer used to be impaled and allowed to rot.
If a KaCongo princess, one of the wives of KaCongo, was found to have crossed the River Loango Luz, a certain prince called Maloango had the. right to break off her ivory bracelet and declare her a whore. The same law applied to any of the wives of Loango who crossed over into KaCongo.
"I am in debt" is the cry of nearly every native one meets; and thus he stirs himself to action. He now owes the Nganga Nkissi for some charms, or the Nganga bilongo, for some medicine, or else he has borrowed goods to help him to bury some relation. Wealthy men lend people goods, such as a hoe to a woman to bury her child. In her grief she perhaps might bury it with the body. Then the wealthy man would ask her for his hoe and she would have to dig it up again. The man would say to her: "This hoe smells of death; keep it and pay me for it." The woman having nothing to pay him with, the wealthy man would take one of her little daughters to live with his wives. The woman might repay him at any time up to the time when the girl should come to the age of puberty; but once he put the girl into the paint-house she became his "daughter of the cloth," a household slave. Men wanting money used to go to these men and accept loans, thus becoming their dependants.
The burden of debt seems to have been the only great motive power in the life of the Fjort. Thus all along the coast you will find that the traders have always been forced to lend money, or rather goods, to native princes and traders, and then use all their knowledge of native law to oblige them to give them the produce promised in exchange.
When a child dies it is marked round the eyes and about the body with white and red chalk, and is buried perhaps the next day. The slave, or poor man, is also buried quickly without any particular ceremony. The rich man for woman) when dead, is smoked dry over a smoky fire wrapped up in endless lengths of cloth according to his wealth, and after some months is buried in an imposing case very similar to that of a prince.
A prince dies. Immediately it is known, all other princes either go themselves with, or else send, their people dressed in feathers, with drums and bugles, to cry. These visitors receive unlimited drink, and dance and sing until they are tired, and then they return to their towns. The Nganga Nkissi is set to work to find out who it is that has caused the death of the prince; and many people are forced to take casca. Many deaths, therefore, follow that of the prince.
His body is smoked and watched by his wives in the back room (as it were), while in the front half of the shimbec the prince's wealth, in the shape of ewers, basins, figure ornaments, pots, pipes, glassware, etc., is on view. One of his wives will generally be found walking about in front of the shimbec, throwing her arms about and crying. This may last for a year or more before the body is buried.
The coffin is a case, perhaps 15 feet long, 4 feet broad, 6 feet high, covered over with red save-list. White braid is nailed by means of brass-headed chair-nails in diamond-shaped designs, all over the red cloth. The coffin (into which the dried body, wrapped in cloth is placed) is then put on the funeral car. Stuffed tigers, an umbrella, and other ornaments are placed upon the top of the coffin. The whole is then drawn to the burial ground by hundreds of assembled guests, who sing and dance by the way.
The grave is ready; and the coffin is lowered into it. Then one or two of his wives (10 years ago) jumped in, or (as is the case to this day, a little north of Loango) two small boys are placed in the grave beside the coffin; and all are buried. His relations proclaim the new prince, and place over his shoulder a wreath of grass. The people then return to the prince's town and dance.
A year or two after this, a kind of festival in honour of the departed is kept. An effigy in straw of the late prince is placed in a shimbec, seated behind a table which bears such earthenware, glassware, and ornaments as belonged to him, and were not placed over his grave when he was buried. The rest of his wives, who from the time of his death until that of his burial have never washed themselves, have now only certain marks in charcoal upon their faces, and walk about the place more reasonably. Some of his children take it in turns to beat a drum and sing near to the shimbec. Visitors, bringing their offerings, come and congratulate the new prince upon what we should call his coronation; and he receives them sitting perhaps under the shade of some great tree. The relies of the late prince are visited; and then dancing, and singing, and eating, and drinking commence; and this is continued for perhaps three or four days.