Woman's Mysteries of a Primitive People, by D. Amaury Talbot, , at sacred-texts.com
THE rumour of another "twin town" of a very different kind has lately reached our ears. It is given on the authority of Akpan Abassi of Ndiya, who asserts that he visited the place with five companions. Certainly his fame as a magician has been greatly augmented since this visit. The following is his story:
"About three months' distance from Ndiya on the far side of the Kwa Ibo River, when one has journeyed past Opobo and past Bonny which lie to the leftward, after marching for many miles to the north-west, one comes at length to a part of the land where white rule is unknown. Here there is a town called Ekeple Ukim, where none but women live. It is a famous town, and the women who dwell there know 'plenty medicine too much.' That is why strangers go thither, because they seek to learn both magic and healing from its inhabitants. Our people call the place by another name, namely, Obio Iban-Iban, i.e. the Town of Women.
"By the side of the road grows high bush, which, as the town is neared, arches over till the view is quite shut out. So thick are the bushes, that towards the end of the way one cannot walk upright,
but must bend down and in places even creep, especially where the bamboo clumps grow thick and high. When we had passed through this leafy tunnel, the prospect suddenly opened before us, and we saw the town, girt round with hundreds of giant cotton trees.
"Near to the main entrance bubbles a spring, the water of which is white like milk, because it flows over chalk. This the townswomen drink; but we refused it. Luckily, near by grew clumps of a cane, something like sugar-cane to look at, but with acid juice. This we cut and sucked, and its sap served us instead of water.
"When we entered the town the women left their occupations and ran up, crowding round us and asking by signs, 'What do you want?' Adding, 'No man may come here!'
"As we did not know the language of the country we could only talk by signs like deaf and dumb people at home. When we tried to explain why we had come, an old wife said further:
"'If you would live among us, even for a short time, each of you must sacrifice a fowl to our juju, otherwise you will die.'
"To this four of us agreed, but the other two said to themselves, 'What these people say is mere foolishness. We are strong and well, and have our own jujus; therefore we will not sacrifice to theirs.'
"On behalf of the four who made the offering ordained the women prayed to the gods of the town that their lives might be spared; and this prayer was granted. For a month all of us were permitted to stay because the women saw that we were foot-sore
and weary, so they said that we might tarry for that space to refresh ourselves for the fatigues of the return journey. Longer than this we were not allowed to linger, so at the end of the time all six set forth once more; but the two who had refused to sacrifice died on the homeward way. Every day during our visit the women beat fu-fu and cooked soup, and set it out in a certain place. It seemed to be the custom for visitors to eat this, so we did so, and left money in exchange on the spot where the 'chop' had been found.
"At one place in this town was a great juju, the name of which we could not learn. On the top of it was a man's skull, and many skulls lay around. Hundreds of sheep and chickens wandered up and down in the streets, but not a single goat was to be seen, nor one solitary head of cattle.
"It was a very big town, and we wished to find out the reason why it was inhabited by women only. After a time we learnt as follows from nelghbouring tribes:
"'Once, long ago, at a town hereabouts, a woman bore twin children--a boy and a girl. Now, it was unlawful for twins, or the mother of twins, to dwell in these towns; so the inhabitants drove them off.
"'It happened that the husband of the woman loved her very much. So he said, "If my wife may not live in this place neither will I. I would rather dwell with her in the bush." He therefore followed her, and built a home where they might all live together.
In course of time the boy died, but the girl grew
strong and big. Again the mother conceived, and bore twins once more, a boy and a girl. A second time the boy died and the girl lived. A third time also the same thing happened.
"'Now, all these girls grew up to be fine and tall, and when men passed by that way they wished to wed them. Each time, however, that a male babe was borne to any of these he died, and only girls were left. After awhile, therefore, the habit was formed of sending boy children away when they were still very small; while the girls remained and grew up, until at length they formed a big town. Even now, though they welcome lovers who please them, they will never let these stay for long. Boy babes are sent away to be brought up in the homes of their fathers, but girls must always remain with their mothers in Obio Iban-Iban.'"
Perhaps it is wrong to suspect our informant and his companions of other motives in visiting this mysterious town save that of the thirst for knowledge alleged by themselves. An air of retrospective pleasure ran through the man's account, however, possibly due to satisfaction in relating a rare--and indeed for this part of the world unique--experience. Unless my memory deceives me, certain similarities in his description and in that of the town of the Amazons given by Spruce in his book "A Botanist on the Orinoco," would, I think, strike the most casual reader. At any rate, the lot of these far-off "twin town" women is much to be envied by their unfortunate Ibibio sisters.
One day, when after a very long march we arrived
at Okon Ekkpo, or Jamestown, as it is more usually called by white men, we learned from the two lady missionaries stationed there in connection with the Primitive Methodist Mission that an event, rare amid races such as these, had just taken place--namely the birth of triplets to a woman of the town. No sooner was news of this occurrence brought to the Institute than the devoted missionaries set out for the house of the unhappy mother in order to make sure that the new-born should not be sacrificed according to the ancient custom of the tribe. They found the woman in a state of utmost terror, and it was only through constant visiting, and themselves holding and tending the unwelcome new-comers, that the mother was somewhat reassured and induced to nourish her offspring. They noticed that one of the three was stronger and bigger than the others, and to this the mother devoted herself to the neglect of its fellows, which were therefore not long-lived. So far as we could learn this is the first case recorded among Ibibios in which even one out of a triple birth has been allowed to grow up.
To show how rare is such an event among primitive peoples, it may perhaps be well to mention here that among the Ekoi and neighbouring tribes, so far as we could learn, the arrival of triplets had never been heard of, nor would such an occurrence appear to be regarded as within the bounds of possibility. Dr. Mansfeld, a well known German Commissioner in the South Kamerun, told us that once, when questioning a native on the subject, the man had smiled with a superior air and answered:
"Aber, mein Herr, mit drei Kindern Niederkommen ist nicht möglich! Eine Frau hat ja nur zwei Brüste!"
Had it not been for the presence of the missionaries and a fear that rumours of the deed might reach the ever-open ear of Government, the mother and her three babes would, in all probability, have been sacrificed. The power for good wielded by such white women as these missionaries can hardly be exaggerated. Young, almost childlike in appearance, the one with wide-open blue eyes and long braids of golden hair falling below the waist, the other with eyes of steady brown set in a, face grown pale with overwork and strain, these two heroic women lived alone in a part of the district, which, although we personally have rather a partiality for it, is generally regarded as a kind of Alsatia for the whole region. The "Girls' Institute," for which at the time of the occurrence above related Miss Fisher and Miss Elkins had made themselves responsible, was founded some years ago by Miss Richardson, a member of the same mission, who later returned to resume charge of the educational department, while Miss Fisher (now Mrs. Dodd) has accompanied her husband to another sphere of missionary work. To our pleasure Miss Elkins still remained.
In that part of the district which lies round Awa a reason is given for the killing of twins which is quite unconnected with any idea as to demoniacal origin. The following is the local account of the cause of the custom:
"The first pair of twins sent to Earth, so our
mothers tell, unfortunately came to the dwelling of a family poor and of little account. When news of their arrival reached the neighbouring chiefs and members of great houses, these gathered together in much anxiety at such an unprecedented occurrence, and consulted as to what should be done. 'Behold,' said they, 'this woman first bore one child. Now she has given birth to two together; should she continue to go on in the way in which she has begun, next time she may bear four, and after that six or even eight, and so on until her family surpasses any of ours. If poor people are allowed to grow "strong" at such a rate, what will become of us? We shall have no chance to seize their property on the death of the head of their house, nor to force them to serve us as before when their family was small and of little account and there was none to take their part.'
That, so our grandmothers tell, is the reason why the murder of twins was started in the Awa country. Had the first twins come to a rich or powerful family there would have been no killing.
"Not long afterwards the king's head wife also gave birth to a boy and a girl, and a meeting of the townsfolk was called to discuss the matter. The king and his relatives tried their utmost to save the lives of the babes, but the poor folk combined and said, 'They shall be killed, as were those of our woman.' The more the rich strove to save the chief's twin children, the more did the poor insist upon their death, crying, 'As you did to us and our babes, so will we do also unto you and yours.' That is the reason why twin children were killed even unto our own day. In the
country round Awa, however, no 'twin mother' is ever put to death, only driven forth from her town."
With this fear before their eyes, it is natural that women about to become mothers should consult a native doctor some time before the expected birth of their babes in order to learn from him if there is any probability of the arrival of twins. Should he answer in the affirmative, medicine is given by which the danger may be averted.
Next to the dread of becoming a mother of twins looms that of bearing a child into whose body some evil spirit has entered. This may be that of ancestor or kinsman undesirable on account of bodily or mental deformity, or because they come from a family tainted with "witchcraft."
So-called "birth-marks" seem to be quite common among this people, although such are here attributed to causes different from those assigned them in northern climes. An Ibibio baby is eagerly scanned for any sign which may reveal the identity of the indwelling Ego. Parents often notice some likeness to a dead friend, or trick of speech or movement in a child which to their minds shows that it is an old spirit reborn in some new body. A striking example of the way in which such deductions are made happened at Ndiya about ten years ago, and was told as follows:
"A man named Osim Essiet married a wife, and a little while before the birth of their first child he was attacked by an enemy and left lying in the bush with his head severed from his body. When he did not return, friends set out to look for him. After some time they found the corpse, bore it home and
laid it upon a native bed. When the young wife saw this horrible sight, she cried out and flung herself down by the side of the body, calling upon the name of her husband and entreating him not to leave her.
"Some weeks afterwards the child was born. Round his neck was the mark as of a line at the place where his father's head had been severed, and, indeed, his neck is still shorter than that of most people. The townsfolk noticed this peculiarity, and felt sure, because of it, that the boy was really Osim Essiet himself come back to life again because he loved his wife very dearly and in answer to her entreaties that she might not be left alone. They therefore gave him, in his new incarnation, the same name as he had borne before."
A somewhat similar case happened at Ikott Atako, near Eket, and is thus related:
"There was once a woman of this town, Etuk Nkokk by name, who, not long after she had left the Fatting-house, bore a boy. At first the babe was like other children save that he was very weak, but as the years went on he hardly seemed to grow at all, and by the age of twenty was not quite four feet high. One day his mother went out and noticed the fine strong children born to her neighbours. When she came home, she looked loweringly at her sickly son and said, 'No other woman has a child like you! I wish you might die that I may be no more shamed by the sight of you!' Not long afterwards the boy sickened and died, and before they brought the coffin in which to lay him for burial the mother said to herself: 'This piccan gave me too much trouble!
I wish to find some way of punishing him and preventing him from returning to life.' So she took thought, and at length cut off his right hand, saying to herself, 'Now he will surely be ashamed, and not come back into my family any more.'
"A few months later another child was born, but lo! it was the same boy come back again, as was plain to be seen because he had only one hand. When the people went to see the mother and the new-born babe, they recognised him at once for the one who had died, and, seeing the handless wrist, asked 'How could you do such a cruel thing to your firstborn?' She answered, 'It was because I did not want him to come back again, and thought he would be ashamed to show himself among us thus maimed.' The people said, 'It is a misfortune, but it cannot be helped! This is your punishment, and you must just do your best for him.' So the woman took their advice and did everything possible for the child, in consequence of which he grew up and is still alive, a little taller than during his first earth-life, but smaller than other men."
The mother of Chief Henshaw of Oron regards him as an example of reincarnation. The name Nyung, by which he is everywhere known among black people, means "thrice born"--an appellation which she gave him because her two first babes had died, and she believed that at his birth the same spirit came back once more; this time, not in vain.
The dread of the return of "wandering souls," who reincarnate only to bring trouble upon the family
into which they have chosen to come, is common over the greater part of West Africa. Mary Kingsley thus describes the way in which parents seek to protect themselves against the infliction of these annoying spirits:
"When two babes in a family have previously died in suspicious circumstances the father takes the body of the third baby which has also died in the same way and smashes one of its leg bones before it is thrown away into the bush; for he knows he has got a wanderer soul--namely a sisa. . . . He just breaks the leg so as to warn the soul he is not a man to be trifled with, and will not have his family kept in a state of perpetual uproar and expense. It sometimes happens, however, in spite of this that when his fourth baby arrives that too goes off in convulsions. Thoroughly roused now, paterfamilias sternly takes a chopper, and chops that infant's remains extremely small, and it is scattered broadcast. Then he holds he has eliminated that sisa from his family.
"I am informed, however, that the fourth baby to arrive in a family afflicted by a sisa does not usually go off in convulsions, but that fairly frequently it is born lame, which shows that it is that wanderer soul back with its damaged leg."
Mothers seek eagerly for the first sign of resemblance to deceased relatives shown by a babe, and should no likeness be traceable, they watch to see which of the surrounding objects will first attract the notice of the new-comer. This custom is also recorded by Miss Kingsley in her characteristically lively manner.
"The new babies as they arrive in the family are shown a selection of small articles belonging to deceased members . . . .; the thing the child catches hold of identifies him. 'Why, he's Uncle John! See, he knows his own pipe;' or 'That's Cousin Emma! See, she knows her market calabash,' and so on."