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a-drinking their ale, and spent the remainder of the


night in dancing, singing, &c."'^ One would very
much hke to know what the worthy chronicler
meant to convey by " &c.," and whether here, as in
savagedom generally, the worship of Venus formed
an essential part of the ceremony as performed at
that time. He does tell us that the reformed
pastors had spent years trying to su|)press the prac-
tice, but with indifferent success. Corresponding
acts of devotion, now represented by ceremonial
usages, were performed by the Celts in early spring
and at Midsummer.

Similar customs are common in every country
in Europe. For example. In Bohemia the Spring
Queen is dressed with garlands and crowned with
flowers. She then, accompanied by a band of girls,
who whirl round her continually, singing as they go,
proceeds from house to house announcing that spring
has come, and wishing them the blessings of the
year. " In Iluhea, as soon as the trees begin to
grow green in spring, the children assemble on
Sunday and go out into the woods, where they
choose one of their playmates to be the Little Leaf
Man. They break branches from the trees and
twine them about the child till only his shoes pee})
out from the leafy mantle. Singing and dancing,
they take him from house to house asking for gifts
of food. Lastly, they sprinkle the Leaf Man with
water, after which they feast on the food they have
collected." t A somewhat similar custom is observed
in England, where a chimney-sweep walks about
encased in holly and ivy, and accompanied by his

* Martin. t J. G. Frazer, quoting Mannhardt.


fellow-craftsmen, who collect money with which to
have a carouse.

These customs, which might be illustrated indefi-
nitely, are all analot-'ous to the settino- up and



decoration of the village May-pole. Formerly it
had to be renewed from year to year, the carrying
of the new pole into the town being accompanied by
crowds in holiday attire, who kept up a continual
singing and clapj^ing of hands with whirling and
dancing. The object of t-he custom undoubtedly was
to bring in the fructifying spirit of vegetation newly
awakened, and for this purpose a newly cut pole and
freshly gathered flowers were necessary. As the
ancient Druidical sacrifices were abolished under the
influence of an advancing conception of divinity, the
festivals remained, merely changing their outAvard
form and expression. What was stern reality
became a pleasant pastime, and so came to be
continued through the centuries, after men had
forgotten the object served by them in a ruder age.
And this affords an illustration of how amono- a
savage people customs change so slowly. Two or
three generations of literature do more to change
thought and obliterate myth than thousands of
years of tradition. Hence it is that in Africa,
Australia, parts of India, and the South Sea Islands,
we have at present time conditions similar to what
obtained in Europe long before the rise of the Greek
Kepublic. From this long digression we must now
return to the consideration of African sacrifices,
substitutionary and propitiatory.



We have already seen that the earHest form of
human sacrifice was associated in the minds of men
with kiUing the god himself The divine King of
Congo was put to death bv his successor. In the
Fiji Islands old people are l^urned alive. When a
kino- of Kabono-a is near his end the maoicians
quietly strangle him. Certain tribes of East Africa
put their kings to death as soon as wrinkles or grey
hairs appear.* A modification of the custom of king-
killing was introduced when the expedient of tem-
porary kings was reached. These could be put to
death at stated intervals. We have met with
examples of this in Sofala and Calicut. Ancient
Babvlonia affords another illustration. There, when
the time drew near that the king should be put to
death, he abdicated for a few days, during which a
temporary monarch reigned and suffered in his
stead. " A prisoner condemned to death was
dressed in the king's robes, seated on the king's
throne, allowed to issue whatever commands he
pleased, to eat, drink, and enjoy himself, and to lie
with the kinof's concubines. But at the end of the

* Isaacs, Travels and Adventures in East Africa.


five days he was stripped of liis royal robes, scourged
and crucified." * This same custom, softened down,
is observed in Cambodia, where the king abdicates
annually for a few days. The substitute performs
all functions of State, and receives the revenues for
the time he reigns. At the close of his brief term of
office he goes and does homage to the king, and
then, as his last act, orders the elephants to trample
the "mountain of rice." This is a large scaiFold hung
round with rice-sheaves. When they are trampled
down the people gather up the rice, each man taking-
home a portion to mix with his seed-corn and so
secure a gfood harvest, t

Once the idea of substitution was reached, sacri-
fice as an institution would develop rapidly, and the
curious thing is, that a trace of the original system of
killino- the o-od has remained to tell the world of an
older and ruder conception of divinity. To the
ancient man-god it was so convenient to have
another take his place, that we can fancy the inno-
vation being hailed with joy by the ruling castes,
■who by it were freed from the uncertainties of
popular discontent and the accidental advent of
signs of decay. But the doctrine of substitution
had its disadvantages, and these in course of time
w^ould be felt and have far-reaching effects. Under
tlie old order men were accustomed to offer homage
to the living king ; and their supreme and final act
of worship was when he was put to death that his
S[)irit might enter his successor as the creative,
fructifying and preserving power of the world.

* J. G. Frazer, quoting Atheiiicus. f Ajmonier.


Worshippers who associated such ideas with sacrifice
could not be prevented from viewing the real victim
offered, even as a substitute, as in some sort divine
by inherent right. If divine by inherent right, the
question of the spirit's return to the real king might
be raised. Advanced thinkers would ask whether
the spirit of the god, or the god-life, left the king to
enter the substitute, slave or criminal, when the
former abdicated, and if so, whether other causes
mio-ht not lead to the same result ? Could a sue-
cessful revolt, headed by a bold and fearless man,
secure to the usurper the god-life the moment the king
was deposed or slain ? If so, revolt and revolution
might be, if not lawful, at all events possible, with-
out the collapse of the world. Again, was there a
true transference of divinity to the temporary king,
his mean and common spirit taking the place of the
god in the hereditary monarch ? If so, might not
men of ambition become substitutes, and at the last
act rally their friends in order to retain the divine
spirit permanently ? Would the substitute's spirit,
which dwelt in the king, give place to the returning
god-spirit, " poor fluttering thing," after the victim
was slain ? With such questions pressing for solu-
tion — and for a question to be raised among savage
men is to find an answer — kings and their advisers
would naturally seek to foster faith in an hereditary
principle of divinity apart from the actual sacrifice
of the god himself We call this the divine right of
kings. When this conception of hereditary divinity
was reached, men would sacrifice to the king-god as
a personal and hereditary spirit— a spirit dwelling


ill the king in virtue of his office, or whom he repre-
sented to men — rather than to the spirit of creative
and reproductive energy and vegetation which, in
an earlier and ruder age was undoubtedly the
savage's conception of his divine king. He was
divine, not because he was a personal immortal
spirit, but because in him was contained that spirit
or power which ensured the orderly continuance of
the course of nature.

The sacrifice made in former days of the king
himself by the priests, would, under the advance of
thought, be made in the first instance to the king,
and the more costly the sacrifices, and the more
elaborate the ritual, the greater would be the virtue,
and by consequence his influence and power. Kings
attaining to great eminence as conquerors and
administrators would be greatly honoured with
sacrificial ofiierings during their lives, and revered
after their death. Their successors, especially if
weaker men, would, in order to secure the continued
allegiance of their people, pay respect to their
memory. This, without any revolution of thought,
would take the form of offerings, prayer, and sacri-
fice. Then the spirit of the departed king visited
his successor in dreams and visions. At such times
he entered his person ; hence the common saying,
" He got the spirit of his father." By such means
he kept his successor informed of his wishes, which
were respected and obeyed ; thus enabling a weak-
ling to retain power which otherwise would have
dro})ped from his nerveless grasp. That this is no
pliantasv is clearlv ]:)roved bv beliefs common among-


Africans at the present day. A Kaffir who has a
remarkable dream will begin to tell it next day by
saying : " My father's soul was Avithin me last
night." Prophets claim to be god-possessed, or,
in other words, to have within them the souls of
departed priests or chiefs. In this case they work
themselves into, or through long practice assume, a
state of semi-coma. During their paroxysms and
the succeeding unconsciousness they are treated as
objects of worship ; in other words, they are truly
divine for the time beincr.

Let us now proceed to illustrate these general
statements by an examination of the sacrificial system
common throughout the continent, and in doing so
it will be well to select a few places, widely apart, as
typical illustrations. The natives of South Africa
discontinued human sacrifices before they had much
contact with Europeans, and, being of mixed origin,
we study their religious institutions at a disad-
vantage. But an examination of their system of
thought leads us up to a time when their rites and
sacrifices differed in no essential from what is com-
mon to the vast majority of the tribes inhabiting
the continent, from 10° of north latitude to the
farthest promontory of the south.

When the course of nature is not to a Kaffir's
mind, as during drought, floods, sickness among
men or cattle, misfortune in war, failure in hunting
or a visitation of locusts, he oflers propitiatory sacri-
fices to the offended deities. Each man sacrifices to
his own ancestors ; each clan, through the magician,
to the heads of the clan ; the tribe to the ancestors


of its chief ; l3iit in the latter case the sacrifice can
only be oftered by the tribal priest, or by the chief
in those rare instances in which he is not only the
ruler but the high priest also. I am not aware of
any ruler at present in South Africa being his own
high priest, but the combination is not unknown.
The chief Makoma used to offer the sacrifices on
important occasions himself.

Here we have the curious anomaly of sacrifices to
minor divinities made by ordinary householders,
while those to superior deities can only be ofiered by
the high priest if they are to be acceptable to the
ofod. Those whose function it is to stand between
men and the unseen, approach divinity with an
offering for men's sins. They stand there as repre-
sentatives or substitutes, taking the place of the
worshippers. For a tribal offering may be made by
the priest without a muster of the tribe or even the
army. The sacred functions belong to sacred per-
sons, and they determine how and when these are
to be performed, and only obey certain general prin-
ciples, without which no sacrifice is a genuine
offering. One of these is that all sacrifices must
be made by fire. Unless portions of the animal
slain are burned, there has been no true offering,
and the gods view the whole ceremony in grief and
anger. Another is, that the animal must be honestly
come by. A man may purchase a sacrifice, but this
is rare, and, I think, regarded as irregular ; but no
man would sacrifice a beast that had been stolen.
The most acceptable sacrifice is that which is a
man's very own. There is also one phrase in the


dedicatory prayer which is never omitted. It is
this : " We do not ofter the dead ; it is blood. We
offer Kfe. Behold, O ye hosts." During the time
when the sacrifice is offered the priest stands as
intercessor for the people in room of the chief His
orders are obeyed as the chief's, and his deliverances
accepted as the very oracles of God.

It may at first sight be difficult to connect this
doctrine of propitiatory sacrifice with that of substi-
tution, as we have seen that in the case of the
killing of the temporary king. And if this pro-
pitiary system of sacrifice were our only guide, it
would be impossible to do so. But there is another
system, complete in all its parts and distinct from
the idea of propitiation, observed by the same people
alongside of this doctrine. It is that of thank-
offering and sacrificial thanksgiving. For every
supposed benefit a man makes a thank-offering. It
may be but a single grain of corn, or even an article
of no value, as a tuft of grass, but it is never
omitted. When a father ofters a sheep as a thank-
offering for the birth of a child, his idea is not only
to recompense the soul of his father for good offices
by so much burning fat, but to " give to those who
were before " the keeping of the child's soul ; giving
the soul to them in homage and thankfulness. This
is undoubtedly the dedicatory offering of the soul
by the sacrifice of a sheep as a substitute for the
firstborn, a custom with which we are only too
familiar elsewhere. Besides, the first child of a
widow who re -marries, should her husband liave
fallen in war, is put to death : offered to the gods


as " the child of the assegai." ^ In making thank-
offerings for good offices a man adds to the portion
of the sacrifice that is burned something from his
own person, and men have been known to cut oif a
finger or toe for this purpose, to enhance the value
of the offering. The Israelitish practice of shaving,
as a sio-n of havino- made a vow or formed a resolve,
is not unknown.t Adopting peculiar garments as a
head-dress, in token of anything remarkable having
happened to a man, is common.

When a tribe is at war, or preferably before
entering upon hostilities, if an enemy can be caught
he is put to death. The warriors eat his heart
raw. J Various parts of his body, supposed to be the
seat of particular virtues, are used in the prepara-
tion of the compound known as war medicine^
while shreds of fat from his kidneys are burned in
the fire. Much the same is done in the case of a
slain enemy who has distinguished himself for
bravery and feats of strength. § This, though the
people do not say so, is undoubtedly an oftering
made to the gods. The explanation given is, " Our
people always did so," and that war medicine, with-
out the fat burning in the fire while it is being
prepared, would not act.|| For the true significance
of such acts we must seek an explanation, not from
the people, who can give none, but from analogy,
and their resemblance to other acts performed by
the same people, or by others having customs in
common with them. The fat burned in the fire

* J. Sutton, MS. notes. t Ibid, X G. M. Theal, Boers and Bantu.

§ Ibid. 11 J. Sutton, MS. notes.


when oxen are sacrificed in time of war, drought, or
the great annual festival of firstfruits, is avowedly
a gift to the gods,* the odour of which they inhale ; t
and when we find the burning- of human fat in
almost identical circumstances — i.e., war — and the
preparation of a magic decoction into which calcined
human flesh largely enters, and on which depends
its efficacy, the conclusion is forced upon us that
here we have the last lingering traces of human
sacrifice. Nor is this the only use made of portions
of the human body in connection with the religious
ritual of the people. The dried fingers of a man's
hand is an essential portion of a magician's outfit
when he goes to curse his chief's enemies. j Wizards
deal laro-elv in human flesh. §

The multiplication of sacrifices is acceptable to all
the gods II of heathendom, and one case is on record
in which tribes killed every hoof of cattle and
destroyed every peck of corn to secure the favour of
their ancestors. True, the priest who ordered this
to be done promised that there should be a general
resurrection of both ancestors and cattle on a given
day, that of full moon ; but this only adds to the
completeness of the faith reposed in his predictions
as the oracles of God. On the appointed day
thousands of men and women gathered for a moon
dance ; folds had been erected for the cattle that
were to rise ; stores for the corn which men were
to pfather ; houses for the ancestors who were to
come clad in armour. In honour of the great event

* Chalmers, J. Sutton, Hon. C. Brownlee. t Chalmers.

X Hon. C. Brownlee, Christian Mej^^^^^- § Dr. Elmslie, MS. notes.

II J. Sutton, MS. notes.


the sun was to rise double on the resurrection morn-
ing. During that night sounds of revehy were
heard far and near, but when day came the sun rose
alone while his companion lagged behind. Black
fear entered every heart. Starvation stared men in
the face. Umlanjeni declared they had mistaken
the day of full moon, and urged a resumption of the
dance with assured triumph on the morrow. But
men had no heart left, and the next twenty-four
hours were but a sorry time. Once more the sun
rose in lonely majesty, and men's worst fears were
realised ; the gods had betrayed them. By such
experiences did men learn to differentiate the natural
and supernatural.

When a chief dies, one at least, or it may be
many persons are put to death for having killed
the king by the exercise of the unlawful art of
witchcraft ; but this falls rather under maofic and
divination than under sacrifice. The only connec-
tion it has with the latter is, that amono- most
tribes the chief is never allowed "to go alone." A
few of his wives, servants and slaves must be killed
to accompany him and attend to his wants. It
may also be noted that the ruling chief may order,
even in the case of accusations of having caused his
father's death, the substitution of an ox for the
condemned person.^' The ox is sacrificed, not killed,
as a criminal substitute for the wizard, who is set at
liberty. This seems to point to the victims of
witchcraft, whom we generally regard as criminals
under native law, being in reality a sacrifice to the

* Hon. C. Brownlee, MS. notes.


gods. The substitution of an animal, which is killed
as a sacrifice, is common in cases where the patient
has recovered, though causing sickness with intent
to kill is a capital crime.

When we leave South Africa and pass into the
Lake region all doubt about substitutionary human
sacrifice is set at rest. If a Wayao murderer is
caught he may make compensation by giving a few
slaves to be put to death, so that they may accom-
pany the murdered man, taking his place to attend
upon him,* Should the murderer escape, one of his
relatives is caug-ht and treated as if he were the
murderer. The object here is not so much the
punishment of crime as an offering to the deceased,
whose spirit would naturally be enraged at his own
relatives were they not to pay due honour to it by
sending, either the murderer to be his slave, or such
of his relatives or slaves as may make amends for
his absence. Of departed spirits some have con-
siderable influence amonsf the g-ods. Matang-a of
the Wayao has many powerful servants, and ar-
ranges most of the details of the spirit world in
that region. ■*' He is capricious and easily offended,
but can be coaxed by judicious flattery. Men having
ghostly relations with him, or with lesser divinities
through him, can compound for personal service by
substitution. So, instead of betaking themselves to
the land of shades, as in duty bound, when a rela-
tive to whom they owe allegiance dies, they send a
number of slaves as their representatives to do duty
by proxy.

* Rev. Duff MacDonald. t /'''''"'•


But it is when we enter the territories of power-
ful kings, like Mr. Stanley's friend Mtesa, that we
can study primitive sacrificial institutions to best
advantacre. Broken and scattered tribes like those
round Lake Nyassa, or bands of marauding warriors
like the ancestors of the tribes inhabitinof South
Africa, do not retain the institutions of their fore-
fathers in their unblemished splendour. In the one
case, poverty, oppression, and the constant fear of
death or captivity, slowly but surely undermine and
modify original institutions. In the latter, daring
warriors learn by degrees to defy even the gods, or
at least neglect them. That stout old Roman who
threw the sacred chickens into the sea was not a
bolder reformer than the Zulu monarch who srave
battle to the army of Moselekatse when all the
omens of heaven and earth warned him of defeat.
More fortunate than the Ptoman, a decisive victory
saved both his own head and his country's freedom.

Among the Wagogo the simplest form of human
sacrifice is when the magician comes to the palace
with two bunches of grass dipped in the blood
of a victim slain quietly and without ostentation.*
These he lays on the lintel or threshold, where they
are touched bv the kino-, and so offered to the g-ods.
Of these gods the principal is Makusa, who, as we
have seen, claims a right highei- than the king over
the Lake, as the embodiment of the powers of
nature. He it is that is personified by the Lubare,
who is the real object of worship. Makusa as a
sort of Neptune is but a chief Lubare. t He enters

* Mackay, of I'ganda. t Felkin.


a person ; that person is god, and to him sacrifices
are offered. Closely bound up with the worship of
the Lubare is the care of the place where the king's
predecessors are kept, or rather of these predecessors
themselves, for the Lubare holds converse with the
dead as with the living. "^^

Associated with, or subordinate to the Lubare
are Nende, Kajangeyewe, and Kubuka, who are a
kind of national guardian spirits. These appear in
persons who are god-possessed, and such persons are
always accompanied by magicians, priests, and exe-
cutioners ; t that is to say, those who slay victims for
the sacrifices. The god -possessed person has but to
demand a victim, when a wayfarer is caught, bound,
beheaded, and offered in sacrifice. Every person
holding the sacred office of priest or magician claims
to have the spirit of the king dwelling in him, or at
least visiting him at intervals.;}: The head wife
of every great man's harem is called " Kuda
Lubare "§ — i.e., slave of the spirit, meaning one in
whom the god dwells. The same terms are apjDlied
to the child of a woman long barren, and who
offered sacrifice and prayed to the Lubare for off-
spring. This is a true dedication of issue at the
shrine when the offering is made. Of this we have
an illustration, in widely different circumstances,
when Hannah said : " O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt
indeed look on the affiiction of thine handmaid, and
give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will
give him unto the Lord all the days of his life," ||

* Felkin. t Mackay, of Uganda. + Ihid.

§ Ihkl. 1! I Samuel.


which vow Eli, worthy man, thougfht to be but the
ravings of a drunken votary.

Mention has been made of the tombs of the king's
predecessors. This is a large hut, of comparatively
slight construction, and needing frequent repair or
renewal. Connected with it is a laro-e colleg-e of
sorceresses, whose chief duty it is to tend the spirits
of the departed and guard the sacred place. When
the king decides that it must be repaired, he issues
his orders to the members of this colleo-e, who see
the work done, and report when it is completed.
OfiPerings must now be made to their majesties as a
kind of solatium for the trouble they were put to,
owing to the disturbance in connection with the

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Online LibraryJames MacDonaldReligion and myth → online text (page 5 of 18)