Woman's Mysteries of a Primitive People, by D. Amaury Talbot, , at sacred-texts.com
OF jujus there are two kinds, good and bad. The former are usually termed idemm by Ibibios and ndemm by Efiks, while the latter are called mbiam. By a queer turn of native thought all, or nearly all--for in spite of careful inquiry many details were probably concealed from us--idemms would appear to have female attributes, and most of these beneficent jujus bear the additional title "Bestower of Babes"; yet no authenticated example of an idemm priestess has reached our cars. The cult would appear to be served only by men. Of mbiam priestesses, on the other hand, the names of several could be given, though it is better not to do so, since the greater number of these appear as far as possible to seek to conceal their identity from the males of the tribe. To them, however, go women in trouble, especially those who wish to invoke the aid of the juju to remove a successful rival from their path, or inflict the curse of barrenness upon a more favoured fellow wife. Such a case came before the Native Court when a woman, Unang Obo by name, accused one Teahri of invoking mbiam against her. In the course of the evidence Ese Efiom, sworn, stated.
I am an mbiam priestess. The defendant never
came to me to ask me to invoke mbiam on Unang Obo. The accused and other women came to the juju house and took an mbiam drum to beat round the town, calling people to assemble and give reason why a calabash was broken."
This last-mentioned action was usually taken by a wife who wished to divorce herself from her husband on the ground that he was keeping a woman who had already borne twins as wife or sweetheart. A calabash, or native pot, is always regarded as the feminine symbol, as is a spear that of the opposite sex. To break a calabash, therefore, signifies that a woman no longer regards herself as the wife of the man to whom she has hitherto been married.
Another example of this custom came before the Native Court at Ikotobo, in which the plaintiff stated:
"Defendant is my husband. I had no son. After he married me one of his wives took an empty calabash and ran round the market beating it with her hands, and shouting, 'My husband has married this woman, therefore I have nothing more to do with him.' By our custom, if the old wives were not satisfied with a new one whom their husband brought to the house, they used to proclaim publicly, 'My husband has married such a woman. I will have nothing more to do with him'--knocking at the same time upon the calabash. As she beat it she cried, 'The new wife has already borne twins,' after which she went away. Last year, however, she came back and was his wife once more. On that I told defendant to divorce me, but he replied, 'I cannot do so.' Some time later he wished to become a member of the Idiong
Society, and I helped him to gather together the entrance money, but after the ceremonies were over he said, I can no longer be your husband.'
"Then, on account of the money which I had given him, I refused to go away, but he said, 'I am now a member of Idiong, and if you do not leave me Idiong himself will kill you.' At that time there were several Court Messengers present. I said, 'First you must pay me back what I gave to help you join this society'; but my husband said, 'You must keep yourself for the future, for if you do not go away from me you will certainly die.'
"In revenge for this treatment the woman went to an mbiam priestess and bought a bottle of juju medicine, which she buried in the yard, believing that this would bring about the death of her husband and that of her rival."
Beside its functions as giver of babes and bestower of prosperity on farm and byre, an idemm juju is thought to exercise a beneficent influence not only upon its worshippers, but even upon their descendants to the third and fourth generation, should such be reduced to poverty.
A story illustrating this gentler aspect of juju worship is told of a man named Akpan Adia Agbo, of Ikot Akpan, who died some fifteen years ago. While yet a small boy he had the misfortune to lose both his parents, first his father and then his mother, and was left with nothing to eat and none to care for him. When he went round to the houses of the townsfolk they drove him away, so he crept off by himself and slept in the Egbo shed. At dawn each day he left
his sleeping-place lest he should be driven forth, and went out searching for something to eat.
When he came to the place where the juju offerings were laid before the shrine, sometimes a small chicken, and sometimes a few plantains were to be found.
Now his parents had been pious people who had always given of their best to the juju. Before the mother died she had gathered together all that she had and offered it as a last sacrifice, praying that the spirit might protect her son and be to him as a mother, since there was none other to care for him.
So the boy took what he found and ate fearlessly, cooking the food in a secret place, and trusting that the juju would do him no harm for the theft.
For several years he lived thus, but at length a sister of his dead father, who some years before had married and gone to a distant town, came back, and finding the boy deserted, took him to her home. There she fed him well, and showed him every kindness, but when he was grown up the longing came to go back to his own people. So the woman said, "Very well, if you are able to feed yourself you can go:"
On reaching his native town the lad asked to be shown the place where his father's mimbo farm was. When the people saw how big and strong he had grown they agreed to do as he wished, and led him thither.
At once he began to cut mimbo, and they found that his palm trees bore sap more plentifully than those of all the other townsfolk. He sold the wine for a good price, and with the money bought goats and sheep. These latter bore kids and lambs in great
abundance, so that he soon grew rich and was able to marry a wife strong and tall, who bore him many piccans.
Whatever he undertook succeeded, so that those who had driven him forth as a boy began to come under him, and in the end he became head chief of Ikot Akpan. In his house dwelt threescore wives, and sons and daughters so numerous that he never counted them. All this prosperity came to him because the juju helped him, and blessed everything that he did from the time when he was lonely and deserted and had no sustenance save that which he took from the sacrifices.
A very different story, embodying the attributes more usually connected with the idea of juju worship, was told us by Idaw Imuk, half-brother of the head chief and most famous juju priest of the town where the events are said to have taken place. It may perhaps be called:
In the old days there was a very famous juju at Idua Eket. The name of this was Edogho Idua, and it was the dominant juju for many miles round.
"Only a little time before Government came to our country, one of the principal chiefs of Idua, Ukpon by name, wanted to join the cult, for the spirit was said to be strong to protect, and rich to bestow blessings upon its worshippers, as well as swift to avenge wrongs done them by enemies. In preparation for the initiatory feast many goats were brought, cows also, with yams and plantains innumerable; palm wine too and all that is necessary to make glad
the hearts of guests. So soon as everything was in readiness Ukpon sent round to all the countryside to bid the people come and rejoice with him over his entry into the cult.
"In great numbers they came and ate up all the good things provided for their entertainment. Seven days they feasted, playing the play of the juju, and dancing and singing continuously both by day and night. When some of the dancers grew weary and went to rest, others took their places, so that the sound of rejoicing rose ceaselessly in the cars of the juju during all that time.
"On the eighth day they left off dancing and gathered round to witness the last and greatest sacrifice. A man who had been bought for the purpose was led forth and slain before the shrine. As the blood of the victim bespattered the fetish, Ukpon cried out boastfully, 'See, Edogho! This is but a dog! If you protect me well I will bring you far better offerings!'
"At once the juju answered, 'So ho! It is but a dog which you have sacrificed to me. If you do not at once therefore fetch me a man I will not help you at all.'
"On hearing this Ukpon repented of his boastfulness and was very sorry, for he had not counted upon the extra expense of a second offering; but the wrath of the juju was too terrible to be braved, so he went forth obediently and bought another victim, thinking that Edogho would be satisfied at last.
"To his grief, however, the juju announced, 'Because of the word you have spoken you must bring me a human sacrifice every year for seven years, and the
one which I choose first of all is your first-born piccan.'
"To this Ukpon answered, 'Rather than sacrifice the little daughter who is my only child I will forfeit all the gifts which have already been spent upon you and leave your cult to-day'; but the juju answered:
"'Not so. If you leave me I will destroy the whole town this very night.'
"On hearing this cruel saying Ukpon turned round and called upon the townsfolk, crying:
"'The juju asks for my only child. I beg you, therefore, help me to collect the other sacrifices which he demands, so that this dear one may be spared.'
"On hearing this the people consulted together, and at length arranged that seven compounds should, each in turn, provide a man every year, till the seven years were over.
"Thus they did, but after that time was up they came to Ukpon and said, 'We are not able to pay this toll any more. For a long time now we have given a man each year, but now we can do so no more.'
"So Ukpon went before the priest and put the case to him, begging that his foolish speech might be forgotten, and that all might now be well. Through the mouth of his servant, however, the spirit made answer:
"'You called upon the townsfolk to help you, but in vain. In spite of all that you have done I will take your piccan in my own way.'
"Now in the meantime the girl had grown up to be a maiden so beautiful that she was sought in marriage by many youths. She was still the only
child of her house and the pride of both her parents. Yet, knowing that it was useless to struggle further, when the time came round for the annual sacrifice Ukpon led her before the Juju.
"Bitterly the girl wept as she went to the shrine, and bitterly wept the mother, but it was all of no avail. Her young blood gushed forth and the reek of it was sweet in the nostrils of Edogho Idua.
"In despair at the sight of his pitiful dead, Ukpon cried out, 'If I had only known the ways of this juju I would never have had anything to do with it! Should the juju keep on like this I will take it and throw it into the water!'
"Then the spirit announced in a terrible voice, through the mouth of the priest his servant, 'Before you throw me into the water I will destroy you utterly with all your house.'
"That night the compound of the unfortunate man burst into flame, and himself, his wife and all within were utterly consumed.
"After that the other townsfolk feared 'too much' to place themselves in the power of so terrible a juju. No fresh members joined the cult. It lost its power, and since Government came to our country, it has had no more authority within the town."
Chief Ansa Ekang Ita Henshaw told us of a place called Eise, which, according to his account, lies opposite to Akuna-Akuna on the Cross River. Here there is said to be a very powerful crocodile juju, in connection with which is a priestess. There appears to be no mystery about the celebration of the rites of this cult. Anyone, so we were told, either white
or black, may witness them, which is fortunate, since otherwise it would be difficult to believe that Chief Ansa's story was of actual present-day happenings, rather than a page torn from some as yet unpublished novel by Sir H. Rider Haggard.
Coming across this tale in a place so reminiscent of scenes through which in the days of our youth we hurried breathless, led by the author's magic, the thought forced itself upon us as to the ingratitude with which we regard many writers who, all unknown to us, had so great an influence in determining the course of our lives. To the great authors of old we are forced to yield some tithe of their due, because they have marked us so deeply with their mark that we see to a certain extent at least through their eyes, and even when coming suddenly upon a scene of surpassing beauty find ourselves repeating their very words, because none other seem fitted to describe it. We could not forget them if we would, for from Homer and his great brothers of song, from Virgil, Herodotus, and many a less-known Roman and Greek, sayings, forgotten till the moment, suddenly come to mind at some fresh sight as if spoken anew in one's ear. So it is too with Beowulf and the Maldon Poem, with the sweet haunting rhymes of old ballads and the great moderns: Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Keats, and Shelley--all demand a gratitude which we could not withhold if we would; but as for men of the present day--to how many of these do we offer adequate tribute for having first turned our thoughts to adventure or research, to the glory of man's work on the edges of Empire, to the fascination of seeking for old-world
treasures, hidden in forgotten glades and amid long-buried cities, or the joy of penetrating secrets behind the back of beyond?
With something of all this in mind we accepted the offer of one of our kind friends at Oron to take with us on a six hours' canoe journey a copy of "The Yellow God."
In a country where every tree and stone hides a story which is simply crying out to be written down, it seemed almost wrong to give any time at all to the reading of one safely printed; but the temptation to see how a writer, who to one's youthful fancy seemed to breathe the very essence of Africa--the terrible and mysterious--would stand the hard test of reading in an open canoe, amid scenes so near to those which he describes, was irresistible. The accuracy of description and the convincingly real language of the wonderful Jeekie came as a surprise. It was pleasant to slip back again into the atmosphere of childhood, even at the cost of finding a description of the fall of one of the great trees, witnessed by us a little while before, given almost word for word as we had written it down on reaching camp some half hour after the occurrence. A pencil stump soon erased the passage from our manuscript, and a few days later Chief Ansa's story was told us. It is given as nearly as possible in the words of my informant.
"To the left of the town of Eise lies a river in which live crocodiles of many kinds--big, mighty ones, and others very small. The people honour these as their juju, and of this cult a woman is always chosen to be the head. When the priestess grows too old
to serve fittingly any more, the King Crocodile himself chooses out a new one. The way in which the choice is made is as follows:
"In the night-time the lord of all the crocodiles goes himself or sends a messenger into the town. Through the quiet streets the great reptile creeps, straight for the house of the woman who has been chosen. Arrived there he lays him down by the wall behind which glow the 'seeds of fire' kept alive for the cooking of the morrow's meal.
"When people come forth at dawn they see the great beast lying before the house, and know at once the meaning of the sight. Where there is but one woman in the family she is forthwith acclaimed as the new priestess; but as this is hardly ever the case, the townsfolk go round and try to find out which of the women in the house is the one chosen for the service. All are led before the diviner, and trial made of each in turn, until one is named for the honour.
"When this has happened the old priestess knows that her time has come, for it is the will of the lord crocodile that she should die. Uncomplainingly, therefore, she hands over everything to her successor, teaches her all the lore of the cult which has been handed down to herself from a long line of predecessors, and, when all is ended, quietly lies down never again to rise.
"Whenever anyone in the town has offended against the law of the juju, a sign is given so that the evil-doer may be sought out and punished. So sure as the chief crocodile is angered he sends forth one of his breed as a messenger, who goes up into the town
and catches a dog in his jaws. This he carries to the water, and then swims up and down with his prey held aloft, so that all the people may see and take notice.
"Then the townsfolk know that one of their number has transgressed against the law of the juju, and that, because of this, trouble is about to fall upon them. So they consult the oracle, and try to find out which is the sinner, and begin to get together a sacrifice in order to appease the wrath of the sacred reptiles.
"Only the priestess may offer sacrifice. At the edge of the water she stands, calling upon the name of the juju, a live chicken held aloft in her hand. After awhile one of the holy crocodiles is seen swimming slowly towards her. He lays his head on the bank by her feet, waiting until the prayer is finished, after which she bends down and sets the chicken close by his cruel jaws. Sometimes he swallows it at once, sometimes lets it run a little way, then dashes after, but always catches it in the end, and dives with it beneath the water. Next, rum or palm wine is poured into a horn or into one of the long cucumber-shaped calabashes. The priestess chants a new invocation and the beast comes to the surface again. Then she cries aloud, 'Behold! I bring you your drink offering,' at which he opens his mouth and receives the libation. After that he waits until the last rite is over, on which land-dwellers and water-dwellers alike all go back to their homes.
"One of the strangest things about this strange cult is that the crocodile is said never to accept any chicken which has once been owned by a 'twin mother.' No matter how cunningly people may seek to deceive
him in the matter by passing the bird through many hands, or however long a time it may have been kept in other compounds, should it ever have been in the possession of a 'twin woman' the crocodile will know this and refuse to appear at the call of the priestess to receive the polluted offering.
"On great occasions a ram or goat is sacrificed. This is too heavy for the priestess to hold up by herself alone, so two men usually help her, standing one on either hand.
"So soon as her cry is heard ringing out from beneath the uplifted ram, nine crocodiles are said to be seen hastening down stream. In the midst of them swims their chief, the King Crocodile, a big mighty beast, very old, with the others stretching out, four on either side, as if to guard him. Straight to the feet of the priestess swims the central figure, while the rest stay a little way off. Then the ram-bearers step to the edge of the water into which they fling their burden. This the great reptile seizes in his jaws and drags under, while his eight companions dive beneath the surface in order to share the sacrifice with him.
"Such were the rites of this juju ordained to our fathers before the great trees of the forest were yet formed as small seeds in the heart of the flowers which bore them, and such are the rites which last unchanged till to-day."
This account is quite unconfirmed, but we hope some day to visit Eise and make the acquaintance of its priestess.