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repair of their quarters. As many as two thousand
victims have been offered on such occasions. These
are to the Lubare as the earth god, rather than to
the kings, for the Lubare is the genius of the
country, the object of universal worship. So general
is the worship of Lubare that no one leaves his hut
in the morning without lirst throwing out an offer-
ing, as a wisp of grass, saying, " Here, Lubare, take

To them Katonga, or Creator, and Lubare mean
the same, for every phenomenon is subject to
Lubare. Crops, famine, food, rain, thunder, storms
on the lake, day, night ; everything in nature has
its Lubare, and still Lubare is one and not many.
It is the spirit of Makusa, who is all and is every-
where — a kind of universal deification of nature as
animate. Wlien sacrifices are offered to the Lubare,

* Mackay, L'ganda.


as on the completion of repairs of the " house of
the king's ancestors " or the death of a great man,
the method of procuring victims is at once simple
and sufficient. If victims were selected by choice
from the sub-tribes and clans, difficulties of no
ordinary kind would be met with in the case of a
sudden demand for a parcel of five hundred or a
thousand ; if chosen by lot, expedients would be
adopted to avoid the ordeal. All these inconveni-
ences are avoided by the executioners, of which a
small army is kept, posting themselves on the great
highways approaching the capital and seizing
travellers on their way to the palace. At such
times the gods send the proper victims, and when a
sufficient number has been caught the sacrifices are
offered. These victims go as royal messengers,
or more properly pages, to attend on the king's

Turning to West Africa, where all religious in-
stitutions are modified by Fetish, the systems at
first seem distinct, not only in details, but in
original conception of what is due to divinity. A
closer examination shows that the conceptions of
Central and West Africa regarding the unseen
world are substantially the same, and that the
intention in sacrifice is the same. From killing the
god they passed to substitution, thence to propitia-
tory sacrifice and thank-offerings. Each kingdom
has its own particular customs and yearly festivals,
presenting an infinite variety of detail, but in their
general features the same ; marking the steady
advance of thought from the rude conceptions of


the days ^vheii the world was young, to a conception
of divniity akin to Pantheism, and passing over into
that system at various points.

In Gomba, when a sacrifice is offered, the victim
is paraded about the streets after the manner of the
Lord Mayor's show. He is decked out in finery,
adorned with jewels, and wearing a crown and other
insignia of royalty. From being a slave, he becomes
something more than a king ; he becomes a demi-
god. He may do whatever he pleases and have all
he fancies, should his tastes be like those of the
damsel who asked the Baptist's head. Nothing is
denied him, as long as it does not imply his escaping
his doom at the appointed hour. As he parades the
streets he receives and accepts the homage due to
a god, and when slain, men prostrate themselves
before the body. The body itself is taken up by
the women, decorated and honoured as divine, and
finallv treated more as cr-od than an offering- to a
god. The object seems to be, not so much an offer-
ing to the god as the killing of the god himself by
substitutionary sacrifice. The King of Ashantee,
when holding the great annual Fetish festival, calls
it the festival of his fathers,* and is himself for the
time regarded as the personification of the gods.
His actions are not so much that of their delef^-ate.
which he claims at all times to be, but their actions,
their words, and their very movements. If the kino-
rises, the gods stand ; if he rechnes, they sleep ;
should he dance, they too caper about with the
movements of his arms and legs. For the festival

* Ramsever and Kiihne.


he arrays himself with scrupulous care and with
extraordinary grandeur. Whatever of wealth and
splendour his palace holds is wrapped round his
person or attached to his garments. He is literally
loaded with precious gems and the most costly orna-
ments. The drums that are to accompany him in
procession are decorated with human skulls, while
soldiers, priests and executioners deck themselves
with what is acceptable to the gods and on which
they love to gaze. During the festival, sheep, goats,
and human beings are indiscriminately sacrificed. The
king, during the pageant procession, is carried by the
priests, and must on no account walk or even touch
the ofround. He receives homao-e on behalf of his
fathers, and it is impossible to determine how much
the intention is to sacrifice to them or to the king
himself. They reside in him as the god in the
Fetish, and in virtue of such possession he is divine.
But the o-reat festival of the vear is the yam
festival. Before the day appointed for the king to
eat fresh yams there are processions, reviews, dances,
and general rejoicing, in which the king takes an
active part. On the fifth day of the festival a
human sacrifice is oftered, or, to be correct, a
" messenger" is despatched by the king to the spirit
world. As this messenger is not designed for any
of his ancestors, nor charged with any commission
to them, the inference is that like the Khond sacri-
fices to Tari, the sacrifice is to the world of life and
reproduction. After the sacrifice is made, the king
eats fresh yams from a dish held by the chief cook^
who keeps stirring the contents with a gold fork.


while the nobles stand before him uncovered.* At
this and the palm-wine festival the honours of
adoration are all done to the king, and the progress
of the festival is consecrated by any stray person
about the palace doors being seized and . slain as an
act of reverence to his majesty.t The treatment of
such victims after execution is thus described by
Klihne, who frequently witnessed such scenes.

" One took a finger, another an arm or foot, and
whoever obtained the head danced in crazy ecstasy,
painted its forehead red and white, kissed it on the
mouth, laughing, or with mocking words of pity,
and finally hung it round his neck or seized it with
his teeth. Another took out the heart and washed
it, carried it in one hand and a loaf of maize bread
in the other, and walked about as if he were eating
his breakfast.

" In the evening they brought the skulls of their
most important enemies from the mausoleum at
Bantama, and placed them, in the stillness of the
night, in front of the Fetish. Among them was the
skull of Sir Charles Macarthy, kept in a brass basin

and covered with a white cloth On the next

day all laws were abrogated, and every one drinking
freely was permitted to do what was good in his
own eyes. Even funerals were celebrated for those
who had suffered capital punishment."

Here we have, in the extreme west, the common
Pondo custom of the abrogation of all law at the
feast of firstfruits. From the last sentence, which
Klihne does not explain, it is to be inferred that

* Ramseyer and Kiihne. f Ihkl.


holding- funerals for persons executed is, according
to Ashantee notions, the farthest extreme of license
to which men can go.

The festival of Bantama affords the king an
opportunity of sending a messenger to his fathers.
He delivers his charge slowly and deliberately, as if
giving a diplomatic commission, and then the execu-
tioners cut off the victim's head, a knife having been
previously run through his cheek and left there.
Should the king remember anything he wished to
say after the victim is slain, he orders another to be
brought, and sends him with a hurried postscript
lest his ancestors should be offended at the matter
not beincr referred to in the oriofinal communication.

Bantama is the resting-place or mausoleum of
the departed kings, and when Kiihne was in Ashan-
tee there were fourteen of the king's predecessors
within its walls. It is a long l^uilding, divided into
small cells, each of which contains the skeleton of a
king ;^^ the coffins containing these, as well as the
skeletons themselves, being connected together with
gold wires. Each cell contains such articles as the
tenant loved best during his life. At the festival
of Bantama the skeletons are placed on chairs in
the audience hall to receive the royal visitor. This
they do in the order of seniority. The king on enter-
ing offers each skeleton food, and as he does so, pass-
ing from one to another, the victim selected for each
is decapitated in the approved manner by the exe-
cutioners. During the succeeding night, and after
the monarchs are returned to their cells and coffins,

* Kiihne.


victims are slain at intervals by beat of drum or
sound of horn. With the reofularitv of the minute-
gun, the horn sounds a double blast, which means
"death" ; then three rapid blasts, which signify an
order to cut oif a victim's head ; followed by one long
blast to tell that the head has dropped. When
the building needs repair, the king pays it a visit of
inspection, after which the same ritual as we saw
among the Wagogo is observed, the victims being
counted by hundreds. Should the king dance with
his wives, a messenger must be sent to his fathers
to explain why he is at that particular time engaged
in the light pastime.*

But it is not necessary to go so far afield as
Ashantee to find illustration of messag-es beincr sent
to the spirit world. My father, Avho over seventy
years ago resided for some years in the Highlands
of Perthshire, used to tell how at that time the
people of Glenlyon and Glendochart charged their
dying relatives with messages beyond the grave,
and that people came long distances to ask, as an
extreme favour, that their wishes should be made
known " beyond " about certain particulars, one of
the most common requests being to explain away
shady transactions : "If you meet such an one, tell
him how we are, and all that is going on. I
gave every penny he left to his daughter. Mind
you tell him the dun horse, which I kept to get a
better price for, died." Such were the commis-
sions entrusted to the dying by pious Calvinists as
late as the second decade of the present century ;

* Kiihne.


commissions from which even elders of the kirk were
not exempt. If this may happen in the green tree
of Puritanism, what may not be done in the dry
tree of Pag-anism.

In Dahomey the customs observed are in their
main characteristics identical with those of Ashan-
tee and other West African kingdoms. One pecu-
liarity of Dahomeyan religion is — and in this, so far
as I know, it is singular — that the Fetish priest is
supposed to be able to visit the regions of the dead
in jyropria iJer.^ona, as the substitute or representa-
tive of the living, and there act for them as if they
were themselves present in the land of shades."*
For example, a man falls ill and believes that he is
l:)eing warned by some ancestral spirit that his pre-
sence is required beyond the bourne. He consults
the priest, who on receipt of a suitable fee agrees
to descend and make reconciliation on his behalf, so
that he may continue to enjoy the upper air for a
further period. When this is done the patient
recovers ; if not, he is killed by evil persons ; the
spirits never called at all, for the intervention of the
priest is, within limits, effectual in all cases when
the matter is in the hands of the gods. But this
leads us to the verge of the doctrine of devils, which
is an advanced form of savag-e religious thought ;
the worship of devils being a late development as
compared with that of the beneficent gods. After
spirits were multiplied, men, in seasons of drought
and times of disaster and stress of circumstances,
would endeavour to conciliate the demon that

* Winterbotham, Kowley.


brought calamity. Hence it is that demon worship
is always propitiatory, while the worship of the
gods is devotional and sympathetic, as in thank-
ojBPerings and tokens of goodwill and fellowship
towards the unseen, whether regarded as personal or
as the earth-god, nature, the mother of all. When
a king of Dahomey dies he must enter the lower
world in such regal state as became his dignity
while he lived. The number of victims is almost
incredible in order to make a grand procession,
Durino- his life he sends substitutes and messeno-ers
to spirit-land on the most slender pretext, or on no
pretext at all.

Similar illustrations of the doctrine of substitu-
tion by sacrifice might be given from the observ-
ances of American Indians, South Sea Islanders,
ancient Mexicans, and the Teutonic peoples of
Europe. In tracing the system we have seen how
the original practice of killing the god, as the spirit
of vegetation and creative energy, passed into the
form of substitution. Even in propitiatory sacrifice
we see the same idea of the earth sjjirit reappearing
whenever we can catch a glimpse of society under
primitive conditions. Sacrifices to kings or Fetish
are more to the earth-goddess than to the object to
which they are immediately presented ; that is, to
the powers of nature as in vegetation and repro-
duction generally. This points back to the time
when the divine element of natural force resided in
kings, and was sacrificed to ensure a new resurrec-
tion with the opening year. Our inquiry has led us
away from that original conception of primitive


man to a more elaborate system of thought, which,
grackially expanding, inchided within its range
factors and forces, spirits personal and impersonal,
and conceptions of man himself, of which the earlier
philosophy took no account. To understand the
further development of human thought, and how
spirits came to be classified as good and bad, we
must consider the restrictions under which divine
and sacred persons were placed, and the reasons
for such restrictions so far as these may be dis-



We have already seen how the Mikado of Japan
and the divine King of Laondo hved surrounded
with safeguards and restrictions. The dangers to
which souls are exposed have also been touched
upon. We shall now consider how these were
guarded, and the fresh dangers to which taboos
gave rise as restrictions were multiplied.

To the savage, as we know him, the great danger
of existence is witchcraft and the action of charms
and spells ; and to secure himself against these he
adopts such precautions as the nature of the case
suggests. But witchcraft itself is a system which
must have had an origin, and developed, from one
or more simple conceptions, to be an art practised
by persons who claimed to have communication with
the iniseen world. With the art we generally
associate the ideas of pure mischief, l)ut it was
capable of being turned to good account, and the
Scotch witches who l^anned rats from farmers' Ijarns
were thought worthv of a night's quarters and a
substantial honorarium for their service. It has
l^een hastily inferred that they learned the art from
ecclesiastics, who, with bell, book and candle could
ban the devil himself; but it is far more likelv that


priests learned the art of banning from an older
cult coming down from the ages before the Flood.

With great persuasion I once induced an old
woman to repeat to me a form of words for the
banning- of rats, which she had learned from " a
woman that had the second sight and could do
things." It is many years since I heard the dog-
o-erel, and can remember but one sentence of it,
which, wedged in between imprecations and curses,
was, that they should " shed the hair off their
skulls " if they did not betake themselves to other
quarters. This freed the farmer of the pest, but
unfortunately the same power could be turned
against any one who offended the witch. She in
that case brought an army of rats down upon him,
" to eat his corn and cut his sacks, and teach him to
rue the day that he shut his door on Shoanad."
This I heard from a Morven woman nearly thirty
years ago, when quite a boy. If Andrew Lang,
who in those days was a frequent visitor at Ard-
tornish, had but known Gaelic, we should have had
a store of legends, rhymes and charms preserved to
us which are now finally lost. I have travelled in
all parts 01 the Highlands of Scotland, but no-
where have I met w4th such variety and richness
of legend and myth as along the shores of the
Sound of Mull.

If men need to miard ao-ainst witchcraft in Scot-
land, how much more necessary must it be to do so
in savagedom. Lives of great importance to the
community we may expect to find guarded with
special care, in the same way as w^e guard royalty


ill Europe, from attack by evil-disposed persons,
sane and insane. There are not only the dangers
which may lurk unseen near at hand, but also
unknown dangers from a distance, and w^hich are
associated with the arrival of foreigners. Besides,
there are districts specially charged with such
malign influences, and any one visiting these must
be purged and purified before he has any communi-
cation with others. Thus the missionary New and
his party were, on their return from Killimanjaro,
sprinkled by a " professionally prepared liquor " on
arriviiiof on the borders of the inhabited countrv.
This was done by the priest, and before they had
had any communication with the tribe. In the
Yoruba country there is a custom of keeping
strangers standing outside the gate of the town till
sundown, lest evil spirits should enter Avith them if
admitted during the day.* In South Africa the
traveller must halt at a distance from the " crreat
place," and is invited to the chief's presence only
after the magician has performed the necessary
incantations. Dinka and Bong-o tribes on the Nile,
take the like precautions against the advent of evil
spirits when visited by strangers, t The South Sea
Islanders subject those landing on their shores to a
process of purgation to expel any evil which may
hang about them. These are all general precau-
tions taken for the benefit of the comnjunity. But
do what he may, the savage cannot absolutely ex-
clude evil from the tribe. Spirits do enter in the
most unexpected manner, and witches will prowl

* Hinderer. t Schweinfurth.


about and follow their unlawful calling^ while men
sleep. So he takes special precautions to guard
those whose lives are of great value ; precautions
which, in their own language, " cannot be taken for

The arts of witchcraft are so subtle that those
marked for its victims can be aflPected throuMi the


food they eat, if the wizard can but get his fingers
into it, or even see it ; throuofh articles taken from
their persons, as cut nails, hair, arms, ornaments,
saliva, and also through all those articles which
sacred persons may not see or touch. Thus it
happens that those whose lives are so guarded may
not eat in public, nor must their food be seen except
by trusted personal attendants. In Gondokoro a
guest asked to a marriage sends a present of food,
liut it must be carefully covered with a napkin to
protect it from the influence of wizards and witches,*
through whom the whole bridal party might be
affected. A Wanyoro will not return by the way
he went ; his very footprints may in the interval be
bewitched. The King of Loango may not be seen
eating or drinking, on pain of death. In Dahomey
the same law exists, and Cameron in his walk across
Africa paid men to let him see them eat or drink.

By judiciously extending these taboos life may be
made a burden too grievous to be borne by the
persons so guarded, and a day comes when, utterly
wearied and goaded to madness, the king defies the
gods and asserts his own independence. Such defi-
ance is the herald of reform and a further advance

* Felkin.


of thought. Those having charge of sacred mys-
teries must adapt their teaching to the stern facts
of Hfe, and adopt such ritual as will be submitted
to by those who have the civil power in their hands.
And this illustrates a curious trait of religious life
the world over, viz. , that reforms are forced on sacred
persons from without. From within it does not
come. They cling to tradition and usage, and
when a custom or dogma has outlasted its time,
instead of boldly throwing it aside, an attempt is
made to prop and buttress it up by fresh legislation
and more extended ritual, till some one comes and
shivers the structure, and it falls crumbling to dust
and nothingness by its own weight.

But there is another side to this mystery of
taboos, for if the sacred person must be guarded
from harm from without, so must others be pro-
tected from receiving hurt from him. He is neither
in heaven nor on earth, and it is men's interests
that he should be suspended as evenly as may iDe
between the two. His divinity will be injured by
too much contact with earth and with men ; but
then this very divinity is a source of danger should
men be brought, in the ordinary relations of life,
into too close contact with him. He is a source of
blessing under proper conditions, but let these be
violated, and his divinity becomes a source of
greatest danger ; a lire which, if touched, Avill burst
forth to scorch and burn. Should any one wear
the Mikado's clothes without his leave, he would
have swellings all over his body.* Nor is this

* Kaempfer.


confined to Japan. The following quotation from
J. G. Frazer, quoting the authority of W. Brown
and a Paheka Madri, illustrates the leno-ths to
which taboos were carried in New Zealand.

" It happened that a New Zealand chief of high
rank and great sanctity had left the remains of his
dinner by the wayside. A slave, a stout hungry
felloM^, coming up, saw the unfinished dinner, and
eat it up without asking any questions. Hardly
had he finished when he was informed by a horror-
stricken sjjectator that the food of which he had

eaten was the chief's ' No sooner did he

hear the fatal news than he was seized by the most
extraordinary convulsions and cramp in the stomach,
which never ceased till he died about sundown the
same day. He was a strong man, in the prime of
life, and should any one have said he was not killed
by the taboo of the chief, he would have been
listened to with feelings of contempt for his ignor-
ance and inability to understand plain and direct
evidence.' " This is not a solitary case. Mr. Frazer
quotes several others, and in each case it is plain
the persons died of sheer fright, so all-powerful can
a fixed belief become among an ignorant and super-
stitious people.

With such results before his eyes, it is not to be
wondered at if we find the savage placing sacred
persons among the dangerous classes, and that he
should extend taboos to persons and things supposed
to be danoferous. Those who touch the dead are, in
New Zealand and Africa, unclean till purified by
magicians. Indeed, the rules of ceremonial purity


are so strict amon^ some tribes that cases are on
record where men have killed their wives for
lying down on their mats at forbidden jjeriods,*
Hence it is that at such times women are secluded,
as also after child-birth. In the former case they
may be even rolled up in mats and suspended as in
a hammock for a period of six or seven days, to be
unstrap2:)ed and conveyed to a stream of water for
necessary sanitary purposes.

" The rules of ceremonial purity observed by
divine kings, chiefs, and priests ; by homicides,
women at child-birth, and so on, are in some
respects alike. To us these classes of persons appear
to differ totally in character and condition. Some
of them we should call holy, others unclean and
polluted. But the savage makes no such moral
distinction between them. .... To him they are
dangerous and in danger, and the danger in which
they stand and to which they expose others is what
w^e should call spiritual or supernatural — that is,
imaginary." + One of the substances most com-
monly tabooed by savages is iron. No iron may
touch a sacred person's body. He may die when
a simple incision might save his life, but the incision
must not be made. A Hottentot priest never uses
a knife in performing the operation of circumcision ;
he uses a sharp bit of quartz instead. Gold Coast
natives remove all iron from their persons when

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Online LibraryJames MacDonaldReligion and myth → online text (page 6 of 18)