Mary Henrietta Kingsley.

Travels in West Africa, Congo Français, Corisco and Cameroons online

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case, it is not always a forest-grove they are secluded in,
sometimes it is done in huts. Among the Grain Coast tribes, ^
however, the girls go into a magic wood until they are married.
Should they have to leave the wood for any temporary reason,
they must smear themselves with white clay. A similar
custom holds good in Okyon, Calabar district, where, should a
girl have to leave the fattening-house, she must be covered with
white clay. I believe this fattening-house custom in Calabar
is not only for fattening up the women to improve their
appearance, but an initiatory custom as well, although the
main intention is now, undoubtedly, fattening, and the girl is
constantly fed with fat-producing foods, such as fou-fou soaked
in palm oil. I am told, but I think wrongly, that the white
clay with which a Calabar girl is kept covered while in
the fattening-house, putting on an extra coating of it
should she come outside, is to assist in the fattening process
by preventing perspiration.

M M 2



532 . FETISH CHAP.

The duration of the period of seclusion varies somewhat.
San Salvador boys are six months in the wood. Cameroon
boys are twelve months. In most districts the girls are
betrothed in infancy, and they go into the wood or initiatory
hut for a few months before marriage. In this case the time
seems to vary with the circumstances of the individual ; not
so with the boys, for whom each tribal society has a duly
appointed course terminating at a duly appointed time ; but
sometimes, as among some of the Yoruba tribes, the boy has
to remain under the rule of the presiding elders of the society,,
painted white, and wearing only a bit of grass cloth, if he
wears anything, until he has killed a man. Then he is held to
have attained man's estate by having demonstrated his
courage and also by having secured for himself the soul of
th man he has killed as a spirit slave.

The initiation of boys into a few of the elementary dogmas
of the secret society by no means composes the entire work
of the society. _A11 of them are judicial, and taken on the
whole they do an immense amount of good. The methods
are frequently a little quaint. Rushing about the streets dis-
guised under masks and drapery, with an imitation tail swing-
ing behind you, while you lash out at every one you meet with
a whip or cutlass, is not a European way of keeping the peace,
or perhaps I should say maintaining the dignity of the law.
But discipline must b^maintained, and this is the West
African way of doing it/

The Egbo of Calabar is a fine type of the secret society.
It is exceedingly well developed in its details, not sketchy like
Yasi, nor so red-handed as Poorah. Unfortunately, however,
I cannot speak with the same amount of knowledge of Egbo
could of Poorah.

'Egbo has the most grades of initiation, except perhaps
'oorah, and it exercises jurisdiction over all classes of crime
except witchcraft. Any Effik man who desires to become an
influential person in the tribe must buy himself into as high a
grade of Egbo as he can afford, and these grades are expensive,
1,500 or 1,000 English being required for the higher steps,
I am informed. But it is worth it to a great trader, as an
influential Effik necessarily is, for he can call out his own class



xxin TRAPPING EGBO 533

of Egbo and send it against those of his debtors who may be
of lower grades-, and as the Egbo methods of delivering its
orders to pay up consist in placing Egbo at a man's doorway,
and until it removes itself from that doorway the man dare
not venture outside his house, it is most successful.

Of course the higher a man is in Egbo rank, the greater his
power and security, for lower grades cannot proceed against
higher ones. Indeed, when a man meets the paraphernalia of
a higher grade of Egbo than that to which he belongs, he has
to act as if he were lame, and limp along past it humbly, as if
the sight of it had taken all the strength out of him, and,
needless to remark, higher^ grade debtors flip their fingers at
lower grade creditors.

After talking so much about the secret society spirits, it may
be as well to say what they are. They are, one and all, a kind
of a sort of a something that usually (the exception is Ikun)
lives in the bush. Last February I was making my way back
toward Duke Town late, as usual ; I was just by a town on
the Qwa River. As I was hurrying onward I heard a terrific
uproar accompanied by drums in the thick bush into which,
.after a brief interval of open ground, the path turned. I
became cautious and alarmed, and hid in some dense bush as
the men making the noise approached. I saw it was some
ju-ju affair. They had a sort of box which they carried on
poles, and their dresses were peculiar, and abnormally ample
over the upper part of their body. They were prancing about
in an ecstatic way round the box, which had one end open, beat-
ing their drums and shouting. They were fairly close to me,
but fortunately turned their attention to another bit of under-
growth, or that evening they would have landed another kind
of thing to what they were after. The bushes they selected
they surrounded, and evidently did their best to induce some-
thing to come out of them and go into their box arrangement.
I was every bit as anxious as they were that they should suc-
ceed, and succeed rapidly, for you know there are a nasty lot
of snakes and things in general, not to mention driver ants,
.about that Calabar bush, that do not make it at all pleasant
to go sitting about in. However, presently they got this
something into their box and rejoiced exceedingly, and



534 FETISH CHAP.

departed staggering under the weight. I gave them a good
start, and then made the best of my way home ; and all that
night Duke Town howled, and sang, and thumped its tom-toms
unceasingly ; for I w r as told Egbo had come into the town.
Egbo is very coy, even for a secret society spirit, and seems
to loathe publicity ; but when he is ensconced in this ark he
utters sententious observations on the subject of current politics,
and his word is law. The voice that comes out of the ark is
very strange, and unlike a human voice. I heard it shortly
after Egbo had been secured. I expect, from what I saw, that
there was some person in that ark all the time, but I do not
know. It is more than I can do to understand my ju-ju
details at present, let alone explain them on rational lines. I
hear that there is a tribe on the slave coast who have been
proved to keep a small child in the drum that is the residence
of their chief spirit, and that when the child grows too large to
go in it is killed, and another one that has in the meantime
been trained by the priests takes the place of the dead one, until
it, in its turn, grows too big arid is killed, and so on. I expect
this killing of the children is not sacrificial, but arises entirely
from the fact that as ex-kings are dangerous to the body
politic, therefore still more dangerous would ex-gods be.

Very little is known by outsiders regarding Egbo compared
to what there must be to be known, owing to a want of
interest or to a sense of inability on the part of most white
people to make head or tail out of what seems to them a
horrid pagan practice or a farrago of nonsense.

It is still a great power, although its officials in Duke or
Creek Town are no longer allowed to go chopping and
whipping promiscuous-like, because the Consul-General has a
prejudice against this sort of thing, and the Effik is learning
that it is nearly as unhealthy to go against his Consul-General
as against his ju-ju. So I do not believe you will ever get
the truth about it in Duke Town, or Creek Town. If you want
to get hold of the underlying idea of these societies you must
go round out-of-the-way corners where the natives are not
yet afraid of being laughed at or punished. I subjoin a
fragment from my Duke Town diaries to demonstrate that I
did endeavour to do what I could in the interests of science.



xxin YASI DANCES AND POORAH



535



"They are at it down in Duke Town to-night, not only
rubbing the drum, but singing one of the big tunes. I'll just
go down and see to it, though it's inky dark, and Calabar has
not risen to the cultured level of oil street-lamps ; still there's
lots of sheet lightning. Two and a half hours later. It's a
perfect scandal they do not keep those Duke Town paths in
a better state. They are nothing in this world but drains,
and precious bad at that. There ought to be one fixed
light at Mr. Fynn's Ditch, or by the bridge, and then you
would know which was which before you were waist-high in
water."

Of the South- West Coast secret societies the Ukuku seems
the most powerful. The Yasi belonging to those indolent
Igalwas, and M'pongwe is now little more than a play.
You pretty frequently come upon Yasi dances just round
Libreville. You will see stretched across the little street in a
cluster of houses, a line from which branches are suspended,
making a sort of screen. The women and children keep one
side of this screen, the men dancing on the other side to the
peculiar monotonous Yasi tune. Poorah I have spoken of
elsewhere, but one thing I may remark regarding it which
struck me as peculiar. I was in the forest at the back of
Victoria, Cameroons. I recognised in a piece of forest a
peculiar look about a portion of it. The branches were bent,
and the tendrils were tied together in a way I had seen
elsewhere, but which I had never noticed among Bantu tribes.
I was puzzled, and after having passed this place a couple of
hundred yards or so I turned back to look at it again, telling
the men to go on. I examined the place closely for some
minutes, and then rejoined my men, and said nothing.

Presently said one of my Wei Weis, " How you sabe them
thing, ma ? "

"What thing?" said I, not wishing to give him the lead.

" You look them thing, ma, when you pass him then you
go look him again, you sabe Poorah, ma?" in a tone of
' accusation.

" Well," said I, " what is it doing here ? "

" Them Sa lone (Sierra Leone) boys done bring him, ma,"
was the answer.



536 FETISH CHAP.

Until this I did not know that secret societies were exported
from their own districts.

I believe that these secret societies are always distinct from
the leopard societies. I have pretty nearly enough evidence to
prove that it is so in some districts, but not in all. So far my
evidence only goes to prove the distinction of the two among
the negroes, not among the Bantu, and in all cases you will
find some men belonging to both. Some men, in fact, go in
for all the societies in their district, but not all the men ; and
in all districts, if you look close, you will find several societies
apart from the regular youth-initiating one.

These other societies are practically murder societies, and
their practices usually include cannibalism, which is not an
essential part of the rites of the great tribal societies, Yasi or
Egbo. In the Calabar district I was informed by natives that
there was a society of which the last entered member has to
provide, for the entertainment of the other members, the body
of a relative of his own, and sacrificial cannibalism is always
breaking out, or perhaps I should say being discovered, by the
white authorities in the Niger Delta. There was the great
outburst of it at Brass, early last year, and the one chronicled
in the Liverpool Mercury for August I3th, 1895, as occurring
at Sierra Leone. This account is worth quoting. It describes
the hanging by the authorities of three murderers, and states
the incidents, which took place in the Imperi country behind
Free Town.

One of the chief murderers was a man named Jowe, who
had formerly been a Sunday-school teacher in Sierra Leone.
He pleaded in extenuation of his offence that he had been
compelled to join the society. The others said they com-
mitted the murders in order to obtain certain parts of the
body for ju-ju purposes, the leg, the hand, the heart, &c.
The Mercury goes on to give the statement of the Reverend
Father Bomy of the Roman Catholic Mission. " He said he
was at Bromtu, where the St. Joseph Mission has a station,
when a man was brought down from the Imperi country in a
boat. The poor fellow was in a dreadful state, and was
brought to the station for medical treatment. He said he was
working on his farm, when he was suddenly pounced upon



xxin THE WORSHIP OF BOOFIMA 537

from behind. A number of sharp instruments were driven
into the back of his neck. He presented a fearful sight,
having wounds all over his body supposed to have been in-
flicted by the claws of the leopard, but in reality they were
stabs from sharp-pointed knives. The native, who was a
powerfully-built man, called out, and his cries attracting the
attention of his relations, the leopards made off. The poor
fellow died at Bromtu from the injuries. It was only his
splendid physique that kept him alive until his arrival at the
Mission." The Mercury goes on to quote from the Pall
Mall, and I too go on quoting to show that these things are
known and acknowledged to have taken place in a colony like
Sierra Leone, which has had unequalled opportunities of
becoming christianised for more than one hundred years,
and now has more than one hundred and thirty places of
Christian worship in it. " Some twenty years ago there
was a war between this tribe Taima and the Paramas. The
Paramas sent some of their war boys to be ambushed in
the intervening country, the Imperi, but the Imperi delivered*
these war boys to the enemy. In revenge, the Paramas
sent the Fetish Boofima into the Imperi country. This
Fetish had up to that time been kept active and working
by the sacrifice of goats, but the medicine men of the
Paramas who introduced it into the Imperi country decreed
at the same time that human sacrifices would be required
to keep it alive, thereby working their vengeance on
the Imperi by leading them to exterminate themselves in
sacrifice to the Fetish. The country for years has been
terrorised by this secret worship of Boofima and at one time
the Imperi started the Tonga dances, at which the medicine
men pointed out the supposed worshippers of Boofima the
so-called Human Leopards, because when seizing their victims
for sacrifice they covered themselves with leopard skins, and
imitating the roars of the leopard, they sprang upon their
victim, plunging at the same time two three-pronged forks
into each side of the throat. The Government some years ago
forbade the Tonga dances, and are now striving to suppress
the human leopards. There are also human alligators who,
disguised as alligators, swim in the creeks upon the canoes and



538 FETISH CHAP.

carry off the crew. Some of them have been brought for trial
but no complete case has been made out against them ! " In
comment upon this account, which is evidently written. by
some one well versed in the affair, I will only remark that
sometimes, instead of the three-pronged forks, there are fixed
in the paws of the leopard skin sharp-pointed cutting knives,,
the skin being made into a sort of glove into which the
hand of the human leopard fits. In one skin I saw down
south this was most ingeniously done. The knives were
shaped like the leopard's claws, curved, sharp-pointed, and
with cutting edges underneath, and I am told the American
Mendi Mission, which works in the Sierra Leone districts, have
got a similar skin in their possession. In Calabar and
Libreville, these murders used to be very common right in
close to the white settlements ; but in Calabar white jurisdiction
is now too much feared for them to be carried on near it, and
in Libreville the making of the " Boulevard " between that
town and Glass has cleared the custom out from its great
haunt along by the swamp path that was formerly there.
But before the existence of the Boulevard, \vhen the narrow
track was intercepted by patches of swamp, and ran between
dense bush, it was notoriously unsafe even for a white man
to go along it after dark. In the districts I know where
human leopardism occurs (from Bonny to Congo Beige) the
victims are killed to provide human flesh for certain secret
societies who eat it as one of their rites. Sometimes it is.
used by a man playing a lone hand to kill an enemy.

The human alligator mentioned, is our old friend the witch
crocodile the spirit of the man in the crocodile. I never
myself came across a case of a man in his corporeal body
swimming about in a crocodile skin, and I doubt whether any
native would chance himself inside a crocodile skin and swim
about in the river among the genuine articles for fear of their
penetrating his disguise mentally and physically.

In Calabar witch crocodiles are still flourishing. There
is an immense old brute that sporting Vice-Consuls periodi-
cally go after, which is known to contain the spirit of a
Duke Town chief who shall be nameless, because they are
getting on at such a pace just round Duke Town that haply I



xxin A GIANT JU-JU 539

might be had up for libel. When I was in Calabar once,
a peculiarly energetic officer had hit that crocodile and the
chief was forthwith laid up by a wound in his leg. He said
a dog had bit him. They, the chief and the crocodile, are
quite well again now, and I will say this in favour of that
chief, that nothing on earth would persuade me to believe
that he went fooling about in the Calabar River in his
corporeal body, either in his own skin or a crocodile's.

The introduction of the Fetish Boofima into the country
of the Imperi is an interesting point as it shows that these
different tribes have the same big ju-ju. Similarly, Calabar
Egbo can go into Okyon, and will be respected in some of
the New Calabar districts, but not at Brass, where the secret
society is a distinct cult. Often a neighbouring district
will send into Calabar, or Brass, where the big ju-ju is, and
ask to have one sent up into their district to keep order, but
Egbo will occasionally be sent into a district without that
district in the least wanting it ; but, as in the Imperi case,
when it is there it is supreme. But say, for example, you
were to send Egbo round from Calabar to Cameroon.
Cameroon might be barely civil to it, but would pay it no
homage, for Cameroon has got no end of a ju-ju of its own.
It can rise up as high as the Peak, 13,760 feet. I never saw
the Cameroon ju-ju do this, but I saw it start up from four
feet to quite twelve feet in the twinkling of an eye, and I was
assured that it was only modest reticence on its part that
made it leave the other 13,748 feet out of the performance.

Cameroon also has its murder societies, but I have never
been resident sufficiently long in Cameroon River to speak
with any authority regarding them, but when I was in there
in May, 1895, the natives of Bell Town were in a state of great
anxiety about their children. A week before, two little girls
and a boy belonging to one family had gone down among
a host of other children to the river-beach by Bell Town, to
fill the pots and calabashes for the evening. It was broad
daylight at the time, and the place they went to is not a
lonely place but right on the beach before the town and
plenty of people about in all directions. The children filled
the pots and then, after playing about as .is usual, the little



540 FETISH CHAP.

girls went home with their vessels of water, with a nice piece
of palm leaf put on the top of the water to prevent it
splashing as they went up the hill side of the bluff on which
the town stands. " Where is your brother ? " said the mother,
and they said they did not know ; they thought he was
playing with the other children. As the dusk came down
and he did not return, the mother went down to the riverside
and found all the other children had gone home. She made
inquiries but no one knew of him save that he had been
playing on the beach. A thorough search was started, but
it was five long days before the boy was found, and then
his body, decorated with palm leaves, suddenly appeared
lying on the beach. It was slit all over longitudinally with
long cuts on the face, head, legs, and arms. The crime could
not be traced by means convincing to white man's law, but
had the witch doctors had the affair in their hands a near
relative of the dead boy would have been killed. Those
natives who did not share the opinion of this man's guilt
said it was the people in the water who had done the thing.
These people in the water are much thought of in Cameroon.
" They are just the same as people on land, only they live in
water."

Doctor Nassau seems to think that the tribal society of
the Corisco regions is identical with the leopard societies.
He has had considerable experience of the workings of
the Ukuku, particularly when he was pioneering in the
Benito regions, when it came very near killing him. I will
not quote the grand account he gave me of his adventures
with it, because I should wish every one to read for themselves
the biography he wrote of his first wife, Crowned in Palm
Land, for they will find there a series of graphic descriptions of
what life really is in the Corisco region, and certainly one of
the most powerful and tragic bits of writing in any literature
the description of his wife's death in an open boat out at sea,
when he was trying to take her to Gaboon for medical aid.

In reference to Ukuku, he says the name signifies a departed
spirit. "It is a secret society into which all the males are
initiated at puberty, whose procedure may not be seen by
females, nor its laws disobeyed by any one under pain of death,



xxin A TIMELY WARNING 54 r

a penalty which is sometimes commuted to a fine, a heavy
fine. Its discussions are uttered as an oracle from any secluded
spot by some man appointed for the purpose.

" On trivial occasions any initiated man may personate
Ukuku or issue commands for the family. On other occasions,
as in Shiku, to raise prices, the society lays its commands on
foreign traders."

Some cases of Ukuku proceedings against white traders
have come under my own observation. A friend of mine, a
trader in the Batanga district, in some way incurred the
animosity of the society's local branch. He had, as is usual
in the South- West Coast trade, several sub-factories in the
bush. He found himself under taboo ; no native came in to
his yard to buy or sell at the store, not even to sell food. He
took no notice and awaited developments. One evening when
he was sitting on his verandah, smoking and reading, he
thought he heard some one singing softly under the house,
this, like most European buildings hereabouts, being
elevated just above the earth. He \vas attracted to the song
and listened : it was evidently one of the natives singing,
not one of his own Kruboys, and so, knowing the language,
and having nothing else particular to do, he attended to the
affair.

It was the same thing sung softly over and over again, so
softly that he could hardly make out the words. But at last,
catching his native name among them, he listened more
intently than ever, down at a knot-hole in the wooden
floor. The song was " They are going to attack your factory
at ... to-morrow. They are going to attack your factory
at ... to-morrow," over and over again, until it ceased ; and
then he thought he saw something darker than the darkness
round it creep across the yard and disappear in the bush.
Very early in the morning he, with his Kruboys and some
guns, went and established themselves in that threatened
factory in force. The Ukuku Society turned up in the evening,
and reconnoitred the situation, and finding there was more in
it than they had expected, withdrew.

In the course of the next twenty- four hours he succeeded in
talking the palaver successfully with them. He never knew



542 FETISH CHAP.

who his singing friend was, but suspected it was a man whom
he had known to be grateful for some kindness he had done
him. Indeed there were, and are, many natives who have
cause to be grateful to him, for he is deservedly popular among
his local tribes, but the man who sang to him that night
deserves much honour, for he did it at a terrific risk.

Sometimes representatives of the Ukuku fraternity from
several tribes meet together and discuss intertribal difficulties,
thereby avoiding war.

Dr. Nassau distinctly says that the Bantu region leopard
society is identical with the Ukuku, and he says that although
the eopards are not very numerous here they are very daring,
made so by immunity from punishment by man. " The
superstition is that on any man who kills a leopard will fall a



Online LibraryMary Henrietta KingsleyTravels in West Africa, Congo Français, Corisco and Cameroons → online text (page 48 of 67)