By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Among Congo cannibals
Author: Weeks, John H.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Among Congo cannibals" ***

                         AMONG CONGO CANNIBALS


  Notice the cicatrice on the man’s forehead and on the woman’s stomach.
    The brass ring round her neck in some cases weighs as much as 28
    lbs. In her hand she is holding a paddle.


                            CONGO CANNIBALS

                      WITH A DESCRIPTION OF THEIR
                        CURIOUS HABITS, CUSTOMS
                            RELIGION, & LAWS

                             JOHN H. WEEKS

                         THE FOLK-LORE SOCIETY

                     WITH 54 ILLUSTRATIONS & A MAP

                        J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
                   LONDON: SEELEY, SERVICE & CO. LTD.



The object of the author throughout these pages has been to give an
account of his experiences among the Boloki (or Bangala), and a
description of the manners, habits, customs, etc., of this interesting
people amidst whom he lived in closest intimacy as a missionary. The
author went to the Congo in 1881, hence his residence in what has been
aptly called “Darkest Africa” covers a period of thirty years—fifteen of
which were spent in other parts of the Congo, and fifteen amongst the
Boloki people. These pages, however, are not a record of missionary life
and work, but a description of primitive life and native organizations,
of African mythology, superstition, and witchcraft, and of barbarities
that are the natural outcome of the native’s view of life.

The writer, from the very first days of his life amongst the Boloki
folk, kept extensive and careful notes of all that he saw and heard
around him. The anthropology and folk-lore of the people have always
been interesting subjects to him; and while reducing the language to
writing, a task which demanded a clear understanding of the various
words in use and the customs which they often describe, he was gaining
an insight into the native life and mode of thought only vouchsafed to
those who have won the confidence of a savage people, and are living in
close and sympathetic touch with them.

The author has no particular anthropological axe to grind, but has tried
to give in plain language what he has seen and heard, leaving to the
reader the pleasure of forming his own theories. The reader of these
pages may rest assured that nothing is exaggerated or overcoloured. Had
the writer wished he could have described the appalling corruption of
native morals, the lack of innocency even among the very young, the
absence of virtue among the women, and the bestiality existing among the
men. One often felt the need of a moral bath to cleanse away the filth.
An intimate knowledge of the natives impresses one with this fact: that
the golden age has not yet dawned for them; and that the unsophisticated
savage living a _dolce far niente_ existence in happy surroundings has
not yet been discovered on the Congo.

Had this been a book dealing with missionary effort among the Boloki,
the author would have made due mention of the honoured colleagues who so
unstintingly shared his labours at Monsembe; but as it is an account of
the people themselves, their customs, habits, etc., this must be his
apology for an omission that is due not to forgetfulness of happy years
of comradeship, spent amid many perils and hardships, but simply to the
limited scope of the narrative.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The author is much indebted to the Royal Anthropological Institute of
Great Britain and Ireland for permission to use his articles printed by
them in their Journal; and for a similar kindness extended to him by the
Council of the Folk-Lore Society. His best thanks are also due to his
former colleagues, the Revs. C. J. Dodds and R. H. Kirkland, for their
ready permission to use the photographs bearing their names; to Prof. F.
Starr, of Chicago University, for permitting the cats’ cradles to be
reproduced from the Proceedings of the Davenport Academy of Sciences;
and to Baron Haulleville, Directeur du Musée du Congo Belge, for
permission to reproduce here the plates of some of the Congo Fish which
were made from specimens collected by the author. To A. R. Wright, Esq.,
Editor of _Folk-Lore_, and to the publishers’ Reader, the writer tenders
his hearty thanks for useful criticisms and helpful suggestions.

                                                          JOHN H. WEEKS.



                               CHAPTER I


          IN SEARCH OF A NEW SITE                           27

                               CHAPTER II

          SETTLING AT MONSEMBE                              38

                              CHAPTER III

          STRUGGLES WITH THE LANGUAGE                       48

                               CHAPTER IV

          EARLY DAYS AT MONSEMBE                            65

                               CHAPTER V

          ARTS AND CRAFTS AND NATIVE INDUSTRY               79

                               CHAPTER VI

          CUSTOMS: SOME CURIOUS AND SOME CRUEL              96

                              CHAPTER VII

          SOCIAL LIFE AND ORGANIZATION                     107

                              CHAPTER VIII

          MARRIAGE AND CHILD-BEARING                       122

                               CHAPTER IX

          NATIVE EDUCATION                                 140

                               CHAPTER X

          NATIVE GAMES AND PASTIMES                        149

                               CHAPTER XI

          A PAGE OF NATIVE HISTORY                         159

                              CHAPTER XII

          NATIVE GOVERNMENT AND THE NATIVES                169

                              CHAPTER XIII

          NATIVE LAWS, CRIMES, AND ORDEALS                 179

                              CHAPTER XIV

          MYTHOLOGY AND FOLK-LORE                          197

                               CHAPTER XV

          WAR                                              222

                              CHAPTER XVI

          HUNTING                                          229

                              CHAPTER XVII

          FISHING                                          235

                             CHAPTER XVIII

          RELIGIOUS BELIEFS                                246

                              CHAPTER XIX

          THE BOLOKI WORLD OF SPIRITS                      261

                               CHAPTER XX

          MEDICINE MEN AND THEIR MAGIC                     276

                              CHAPTER XXI

          TABOOS AND CURSES                                294

                              CHAPTER XXII

          NATIVE CHARMS AND THEIR USES                     302

                             CHAPTER XXIII

          DEATH AND BURIAL                                 314

                              CHAPTER XXIV

          NATIVE DISEASES AND THEIR TREATMENT              324




          NOTE 2.—ON THE BOLOKI VERB                       336

          NOTE 3.—ON THE BOLOKI METHOD OF COUNTING         339

          NOTE 4.—ON BOLOKI RELATIONS OR KINSHIP           342

          NOTE 5.—ON NATIVE DISEASES                       345

          NOTE 6.—ON THE HEALTH OF WHITE MEN ON THE        346

          INDEX                                            350


                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


          Boloki Man and his Wife                       _Frontispiece_

          A Meal “en route”                                 22

          A new type of Native House                        22

          A Village Street in Monsembe                      34

          Group of Mobeka Men                               42

          Looking up Lake Libinza from Bosisera             42

          Our Boat and its Crew                             76

          A Room in the Monsembe House                      76

          Pots and Saucepans for sale, Libinza Lake         88

          A Native Woman of Wealth                          90

          Burning Grass for making Salt                     92

          A Boloki Drinking-bout                           100

          A Boloki Woman and Child                         102

          A Memorial to a deceased Head-man                104

          Boloki Women preparing an Evening Meal           116

          Group of Boloki Women at Mobeka                  118

          Native Carpenter and his Workshop                150

          Model of a State Steamer                         150

          Group of Libinza Folk                            156

          Mangwende-a typical Boloki Head-man              160

          A Monitor                                        162

          A Native Hut                                     162

          White Ants’ Nest                                 190

          Boloki Boys with Wine Jar                        200

          Huts built for use during War time               222

          A Boloki Shield                                  224

          A Boloki Method of Beheading                     226

          Tetrodon Mbu                                     236

          Gnathonemus Numenius                             236

          Genyomyrus Donnyi                                242

          Protopterus Dolloi                               242

          A Mungala Creek Village                          264

          A Libinza Charm for protecting a Village         278

          A Charm for increasing the Birth-Rate            290

          A Bopoto Fetish for ensuring good health to      308

          A method of Beheading on the Upper Congo         316

          Head-man and his Wife                            320

          Method of Securing a Prisoner                    326

          A Boloki woman dressing her Husband’s Hair       326

          The Author doctoring a Crocodile-bitten Hand     332

          Map for "Among Congo Cannibals."                 353


                            CONGO CANNIBALS


When living at San Salvador, in what is now known as the Portuguese
Congo, in the early eighties of last century, the writer frequently
conversed with the natives about the inhabitants of the far interior who
occupied the banks of the Great Congo River and its tributaries. The San
Salvador folk assured him that the natives of the mysterious hinterland
were “half fish and half human”; that “from the navel upwards they were
human, and downwards they were fish.” No arguments would alter their
opinion, and no amount of good-natured raillery would shift them from
their position; and they generally clinched the matter by saying: “You
have never seen these people; but some of our grandfathers saw them, and
told our fathers about them.”

One night this general belief that up-river folk were “half fish and
half human,” received a severe shock from which, I think, it never
recovered. A caravan that had been trading towards Stanley Pool returned
to San Salvador bringing with it a slave woman from far up the river.
About midnight I was aroused to go and see this woman. No one understood
her language; but she was making vigorous signs, and her owner was not
sure whether the gestures indicated hunger, fatigue, or illness; so
there was nothing for it but to “call the white man to interpret the
signs,” or, perchance to talk with her, “for these white men know
everything, therefore let us send for one residing in our town.”

On arriving at the hut we saw, by the flickering blaze of the fire, a
fine, well-proportioned woman of splendid physique. Her hair was
arranged in a coiffure, coloured, stiffened, and kept in shape by being
plastered with palm-oil, and the powder of burnt pea-nuts, or soot. It
looked as though she wore a shining black fez on her head, slightly
tilted backwards. She was probably a Bambala, or a Kiteke woman of that
branch of the tribe that lived behind the riverine folk three hundred
miles above Stanley Pool.

The signs were interpreted as denoting some stomach trouble, and after a
little medicine had been given we heard no more about it. During the
short time she remained in the town she was the observed of all
observers—a curiosity from afar; but her appearance killed once for all
“the half human and half fish” theory the San Salvador natives had so
fondly held respecting the inhabitants of the Upper Congo.

When in later years I went to live among the Bangalas on the Upper
River, I found that they held as strange theories about the remoter
peoples higher up, or north and south of them. They would tell of
monsters down south whose chief was a woman[1] with a white skin that
shone so fiercely that the eyes of those who looked on her were
scorched; or of people away north who lived in trees and ate raw flesh,
etc., because they did not know how to make a fire; or of folk far away
in the watery west who lived half their time in the water and had webbed
feet like ducks. It would seem as though folk of all climes, of all
ages, and of all degrees of civilization have amused themselves by
peopling unknown regions with mythical monsters—Cyclops, men whose heads
do grow beneath their shoulders, centaurs, mermaids, etc., and that even
the savages of barbarous Africa beguiled the long evenings around their
fires by conjuring up freaks in nature, like the more learned ancients,
to inhabit the countries beyond their ken.

Footnote 1:

  Had the fact that some portions of South Africa were governed by a
  woman—Queen Victoria—filtered through the tribes in this distorted

There is another peculiarity of the natives, worthy, perhaps, of notice
in this connection: those who live on the coast always refer to the
hinterland folk in contemptuous terms as “bush-people,” i.e. ignorant,
dull, slow in the up-take, or as we say, country yokels, clod-hoppers.
When you arrive in the hinterland you find that dwellers in the large
towns speak of those who live in the villages and hamlets as
“bush-people,” and they put into their tones such contempt that one is
surprised to find that they belong to the same tribe and speak the same

Arriving on the Upper River you find also that all riverine peoples
speak of the interior folk—those living away from the river—as
“bush-people,” and utterly beneath their notice. There is no more
opprobrious phrase that can be flung at a native than to call him a
“bush-man” in a language that he understands. He will resent it, and if
there is the slightest chance of success he will fight over it.

In June, 1890, after having lived on the Lower Congo at San Salvador and
Matadi for nine years, I started for the Upper Congo for the purpose of
seeking out a new site for missionary effort amongst the natives of a
new tribe and language. Between the last navigable point on the Lower
Congo, Matadi, and the commencement of the navigable water on the Upper
Congo, Stanley Pool, there were 240 miles of very bad, rough road.

Since those days a Belgian company has built a narrow-gauge railway
running between Matadi and Stanley Pool. I cannot pay too high a tribute
to the splendid courage, persistency and engineering skill exhibited by
the Belgians who surveyed the land for the lines at the cost of many
lives; and built the railway, conquering immense difficulties, and thus
achieving for themselves a great and deserved financial success. If the
Congo Free State had sent men of the same kind and class to govern the
country that the railway company sent, and are sending, to build and
control the railway, we should never have heard about the terrible
atrocities that have taken place, nor should we have heard of
mal-administration, cruel oppression, and the mutilation of wretched,
unprotected natives.

The railway officials treat their native employees honourably and
honestly; and although hundreds of our native Christians work on the
railway as stokers, guards, brakesmen, storekeepers, and stationmasters,
I have never heard a single complaint from them against their white
masters. They have to work hard, but they are treated justly, and they
are sure of their pay; and our native Christians are always ready to
sign contracts with the railway authorities for one or more years.

In the early eighties the road from Matadi to Stanley Pool was thickly
populated, and every hour or two brought the traveller to a large,
decently-kept town; but in 1890 the people were mostly gone, and the few
villages left on that long stretch of road were small and neglected, and
the few remaining people had a wretched, poverty-stricken appearance.
Why this change?

In the meantime the country had become the possession of the African
International Association, which quickly changed into the Congo Free
State with King Leopold II of Belgium as its ruler. Zanzibaris were
imported during this period, armed with rifles, and sent up-country to
found and occupy the State stations on the Upper Congo. These soldiers
no doubt were liberally provided with brass rods to buy native food on
their march to Stanley Pool; but they found a people practically
unarmed, for what were flint-lock guns in the hands of natives—who
depended more on the magic of their “medicine men” for straight shooting
than on the accuracy of their aim—against weapons of precision in the
hands of a trained and unscrupulous soldiery such as were the
Zanzibaris? The results were constant raiding on the part of the
Zanzibaris; looting of unprotected native huts; taking twenty rods’
worth of food and throwing down only two or three rods in payment; and
often when there was a white officer in charge, and he was appealed to,
no redress was obtained by the defrauded native, nor punishment meted
out to the offender; but frequently the accuser was beaten from the
white man’s presence, thus adding physical suffering and insult to the
loss of goods.

There is a probability that the natives were turbulent and swaggering in
their attitude; but it was not until after the first outrages had been
committed by the Zanzibaris that the natives retaliated on every
favourable occasion. From what I know of the folk from thirty years’
experience of them, I feel sure they were not the first aggressors—they
had, and still have, too wholesome a fear of rifles to be that. It was
only when they had been treated like rats, having no rights in their own
country, that at last, like rats, they turned at bay with hearts
inflamed by hatred and revenge. But flint-lock guns could not compete
with rifles; and small, untrained bodies of men lacking leaders and
cohesion could not contend against drilled soldiers who fired bullets
that penetrated two or three men, so there was nothing for them but to
leave their towns on the road, and build away in the forests and valleys
at some distance from the main track running through the country.

Hence what was once a populous trade route, humming with life in the
early eighties, had become by 1890 a desolate track that by its lack of
people disappointed the new-comer, who in Europe had heard of the
teeming millions of the Congo, but could not now in 240 miles of road
find enough people to fill a decent-sized English village. “Where are
the people?” was the frequent question on his lips.

“They have left the trade route, and have rebuilt their towns and
villages in the woods, the valleys, and the bush-lands for peace and
security,” was the repeated answer.

“Why?” was invariably the next question.

“Because the land was cursed with a plague of rascally Zanzibaris, and
irresponsible white men who feared their soldiers more than they feared
God, and who acted unjustly in their dealings with the people.”

Lest some of my readers should think that I am unduly prejudiced in the
above statements of what took place on the Stanley Pool road, let me
give the history of another trade route in practically the same part of
the Congo along which people of the same tribe and language lived, and
for the same period of time, viz. 1878-1890.

The pioneers of our Mission in 1878 penetrated the interior from Musuku,
which is about fifteen miles below Matadi, and used that place as a base
for nearly five years. In 1883 a better site for their purpose was found
on the top of the hill at Tunduwa (about three miles below Matadi). Our
early pioneers[2] found the road between Musuku and San Salvador well
populated with hospitable people, with plenty of food, so that there was
no need to take rations for men, and very little provisions for
themselves, and towns were so numerous that a tent was unnecessary.

Footnote 2:

  Messrs. Comber, Bentley, Crudgington, Hartland, and Grenfell.

When we removed our base to Tunduwa the traveller to San Salvador
dropped down to Noki in a boat, and in two or three hours from Noki he
joined the Musuku to San Salvador route. It was generally a five-days’

When I left Musuku in January, 1882, for San Salvador, I found just what
my predecessors had found—plenty of villages, abundance of supplies
(fowls, eggs, goats, vegetables, native bread, etc.), and a hospitable
people ever ready to lend us a house in which to pass the night; and for
all the eight years I knew the road intimately, and traversed it, the
supply of food, the number of villages, and the kindliness of the people
remained the same. Yet during that time there was an increase of traffic
on the road, for our transport grew as our Mission extended; and in the
meantime two trading factories—one French and the other Portuguese—were
started and maintained in San Salvador, necessitating a greater number
of carriers on the road.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. A. Billington_
  The carriers, tired with a four hours’ journey, on coming to a
    resting-place, drop their loads and stretch themselves for a good
    rest. The personal lads prepare a meal, and as there is a white lady
    in the party a white table-cloth is spread over the rough table in
    her honour.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. C. F. Dodds_
  These large, airy wattle and daub houses are taking the place of the
    old-style grass huts that were formerly the usual structures
    throughout the district. They are more healthy, clean, and

What made the striking difference between the two routes—depopulation
and poverty on the one, continued prosperity on the other? I have
already given the causes for the wretchedness and desolation found on
the road to Stanley Pool in 1890 and the succeeding years; now let me
state, clearly and briefly, the reasons for the flourishing condition of
the San Salvador road. The men used for the transport service on the
latter route were natives of San Salvador and district, Kroo boys and
Loangos, they travelled unarmed, they bought their food, and so long as
they observed the well-known courtesies of the road they moved freely
and were unmolested. The carriers thus behaving themselves _en route_,
the natives treated them fairly, and often supplied them with water—a by
no means trifling kindness in a country where there are no water-taps in
the houses, and the refreshing drink has often to be carried a mile or

The inhabitants of the various villages knew that if they overcharged
the porters, were extortionate in their demands, and surly in their
conduct, the carriers would give them a wide berth and, by making a
detour, leave them severely alone; and thus a regular source of their
village’s wealth would be cut off. Besides, the natives are fond of
social intercourse, giving and receiving news, and these men who passed
constantly to and fro between the centre of native life at San Salvador
and the outside world as represented by the trading stations on the
river, were always full of interesting news, and to turn them aside from
a village by outrageous conduct was equal to cutting themselves off from
the world, stopping as it were the daily papers and the weekly budgets.
This was unthinkable, for natives are sociable folk and like to keep in
touch with their fellows.

When any serious cases of dispute arose between the carriers and the
natives on the road, they were brought to us at San Salvador, and we
settled them impartially, justly, and amicably to the satisfaction of
the parties concerned.

The natives who lived near the large rivers that were impassable by
fording during the rainy season, built bridges across them, and kept
them in repair. We white men at San Salvador acknowledged our
indebtedness for this service by paying an understood sum in barter
goods—the traders paying a much larger amount than the Missions[3]
because their transport was heavier—when we heard they had completed the
bridges. It was no easy task to make these bridges long and strong
enough, considering the materials and tools the workmen had at their
disposal; but it meant for us that the road for our cases, bales, and
mails was open all the year round, and also that our carriers and goods
ran no risks from swollen, swirling rivers.

Footnote 3:

  The Portuguese Roman Catholic Mission settled at San Salvador a year
  or more after we had begun our Mission.

It will be seen from the above that the natives on the San Salvador road
were treated very differently from those on the other trade route under
consideration, consequently the villagers of the former maintained the
food supply, retained their character for hospitality, and continued to
live and thrive on the transport line; while the people on the Stanley
Pool route left the track, and starvation, depopulation, and desolation
were the results. The Congo natives have a keen sense of justice, and
they appreciate straight and honest dealing.

It was my first intention to add a chapter on the results of the Congo
Free State’s régime. I refrain, however, from doing so, but desire to
touch upon the subject in a few short paragraphs. The charges brought
against the Congo Free State during recent years have, unfortunately for
the natives, been proved too true. More than that, they were worse than
could ever be published in the daily Press, for no self-respecting
editor could, or would, have printed in his paper the outrageous and
abominable details that were brought to light by those who were living
in the midst of them.

We hope, and we trust not in vain, that by the accession of King Albert
and his gracious consort, Queen Elizabeth, to the throne of Belgium a
better day is dawning for the poor, oppressed and downtrodden natives of
the Congo; and the news that has come to us from the reformed part of
the Congo indicates greatly improved conditions.

It is tacitly understood just now that we should give the Belgian State
an opportunity of carrying out its reforms; and although the agitation
is not being prosecuted with its former activity, that does not mean
that we are to relax our former vigilance, nor shall we do so until the
natives enjoy those rights which are their proper heritage in their own

We missionaries are neither ashamed nor repentant, and never will be, of
the humanitarian part we played in bringing to light the enormities that
came to our notice. We had given up home, the comforts of civilization
and, rightly or wrongly, we had devoted our lives to the amelioration of
the natives, and we could not as men, as Englishmen, as Christian men,
stand by and see those natives, for whom we had given up all, slowly
oppressed to death for the sake of a clique of men in Europe who were in
a hurry to get rich.

I was among the first to raise my voice against the horrible conditions
that prevailed until recently in many parts of the Congo, and my mode of
procedure was this: I sent my letter of protest, first to the
“Commissaire” of my district; if no investigation into the charges was
made, then I forwarded a copy of the letter to the Governor-General at
Boma, and then, if after waiting the necessary length of time there was
neither inquiry nor redress, the letter, with all particulars, was
posted to Mr. Morel for publication in the English Press as the last
resort. The State itself forced us to appeal to the public.

The Commission of Inquiry selected by King Leopold himself exonerated us
from all blame and thanked us for the part we had taken in the
agitation, for on investigation we were able to prove to the very hilt
every charge we had brought against the administration of the now
defunct Congo Free State. It is too late in the day for travellers to
deny that atrocities were committed because natives do not talk to them
about such things. Let such travellers thoroughly learn the language of
the people and gain their confidence and then listen to their story.

The native does not wear his heart on his sleeve for every crow to peck
at, and when he sees a white man, here to-day and gone to-morrow, who
knows little or nothing of his language, hob-nobbing with State
officials, he is not going to pour out his heart to such and tell what
he has suffered at the hands of the traveller’s white friends.

What the Congo needs is a Government not seeking to enrich itself
to-day, but with visions of a colony the inhabitants of which, in days
to come, shall rise up and call it blessed; it needs civil officers
swayed by honourable principles, and controlled by pure, conscientious
motives that shall administer impartially righteous laws; it needs
traders who shall deal fairly by the people (and some of them do that,
we are glad to say), who will exchange the wares, the civilized
conveniences (not fiery spirits) of Europe for the labour and produce of
the natives as a further incentive for them to work, travel, and trade;
it needs the agriculturist to introduce better methods of cultivating
the soil and fostering the resources of the country; it needs the
mechanic to teach various trades and industries; the educationalist and
the Christian teacher to cultivate the mental and spiritual side of the
natives—these all working harmoniously together, no one class sneering
at the other, no one arrogating to himself the work of another, but
respecting each other and co-operating for the uplifting, civilizing,
and Christianizing of the Congo people. We shall then see a people not
cursing the white man, but blessing him; not cringing before the white
master in grovelling fear and hearts bursting with hatred, but standing
erect as God intends men to stand; and not downtrodden and oppressed,
their lives a misery to them, but free and happy with the joy of life
pulsating through their veins.


                               CHAPTER I

                        IN SEARCH OF A NEW SITE

 _Peace_—Bangala tribe—Panic in Bungundu towns—People become
    friendly—Driven away from Bokomela—Fierce and revengeful
    natives—Revisit Bokomela—A cordial welcome—Reason for warlike
    attitude—Shooting a native for a wager—Monsembe district—Bumba
    people stand to defend their women and children—Quietness dispels
    their fears.

During the early days of July, 1890, we were busy at Bolobo station,
preparing for our long journey up-river in search of a new site for a
mission station. The steamer _Peace_, a vessel 70 feet long by 10 feet 6
inches wide, and of very shallow draught, was placed at our disposal.
The Rev. W. H. Stapleton, who had just arrived from England, was
appointed to be my colleague; and as Mr. Silas Field had charge of the
steamer and crew we were without responsibility respecting them, and
were free to land at every available place and investigate its
suitability as a centre for our work.

At this time the Baptist Missionary Society had three stations on the
Upper Congo—one at Bolobo, about 200 miles above Stanley Pool, another
at Lukolele, a little over 100 miles farther on, and the third at
Bopoto, more than 400 miles beyond Lukolele, or 700 miles from Stanley
Pool. It was thought desirable to plant a station among the Bangalas at
a point somewhere midway between Lukolele and Bopoto, and thus occupy a
part of that great unevangelized district inhabited by one of the finest
tribes on the Congo.

The Bangalas were reported to be a strong, warlike, cannibal tribe of
fierce habits, cruel customs, and independent spirit. They would demand
patience, tact, and the facing of many dangers from those who, without
arms and soldiers, went to live among them. Still, such splendid men
were worth winning to better ways, notwithstanding the many possible
risks to be encountered in the work. As savages they were feared by
surrounding tribes, and if won to Christianity their indomitable courage
warranted us in hoping they would become the intrepid heralds of their
new faith.

By July 11th we had packed on board our little steamer the nails,
provisions, tools, barter goods, and medicines that could be collected
for our new project. A better outfit would have been welcome; but we
thought it was wiser to start with what we could get together than to
wait an indefinite period for larger supplies.

Two days after leaving Bolobo we arrived at Lukolele, and in due time
Lulanga was reached. Lulanga was a large town at the mouth of the
Lulongo River, a fine tributary of the Congo. There our search began. It
took us fifty minutes to walk through the town, the houses of which were
built closely together. We estimated the population at 3000 people.
There was then less than a mile of bush, and another town of over 1000
inhabitants, and about an hour’s walk back from the river were other
clumps of villages containing, we were informed, more than 2000 persons.
It was a good centre for our purpose; but the Congo Bololo Mission had
established some stations up the Lulongo River, and after consulting
with their senior missionary at Bonginda (30 miles up the Lulongo), we
decided that the town at the mouth of the river they were working should
really be their base of operations, and as they promised to occupy it,
if we did not build there, we left it to them.

At Lulanga we left the south bank of the Congo, and after two hours’
steaming and winding among the numerous islands we had the large
district of Bungundu stretching before us on the north shore of the
river. Picking out the biggest town we could see from the deck of our
steamer, we steered our way towards it, and as we drew near we could see
the women seizing hold of their children and their fowls, and scurrying
away with them into the bush as fast as possible; the men also were
tugging at their goats and sheep to hide them in the bush and woods that
surrounded their town, for it was their unfortunate experience that the
white men who came on steamers took fowls, goats, and sheep without
paying for them.

When we landed we could not see a single person. We walked up and down
the roads calling upon the people to come out of hiding, to come and
talk with us, or sell us some fowls. After a considerable amount of
shouting an old man put his head round a corner of a house and said:
“White men, if you want to buy any fowls of us, sit down where you are,
and send your boys; we will sell to them, but not to you.”

We thereupon handed some looking-glasses, knives, bells, beads, and
cloth to our boys, and told them that after they had bartered for some
fowls they were to try to persuade the people to have some conversation
with us. After buying a few fowls our lads said: “Come and talk with our
white men. See, they are perfectly harmless, for they are sitting down
where you told them. They are not _bula matadi_ (= State officers). They
neither desire to fight you nor tie you up. They are _mindele mia
Njambi_ (= the white men of God, i.e. missionaries). Come and palaver
with them.”

After much hesitation on the part of the native, and much persuasion by
our lads, the old man drew near to us, and as he came closer he put out
his hand to greet us; but on seeing our white hands approaching his,
fear took possession of him, and he drew his hand quickly back. At last,
however, we heartily shook his hand and his courage returned. He then
went over to a large drum, and beating upon it the women quickly
returned from the bush with their children and their fowls, the men came
back with their goats and sheep, and the town resumed its usual lively

Directly they learned the purpose of our visit they begged us to live in
their town; they took us up and down the various streets, and pointed
out all the advantages we should enjoy if we would only build amongst
them. We had to allay their importunity by telling them that we could
not decide at once to live in their midst, as we wished to go higher up
the river and visit other towns and tribes; but if we found their town
the most central for our work, we would return to them. And we concluded
by saying: “We do not desire, wherever we go in this district, that the
people should run away from us as you did; cannot you therefore lend us
one or two of your young men to go with us to reassure the people? We
promise to return them safely in due time.”

It was astonishing to us that these nervous, fearful folk who had run
helter-skelter from us about two hours before should bring two of their
young men to us, and in their trustful simplicity place their hands in
ours, saying: “Here are two of our people to accompany you, and when you
have done with them bring them back again.”

After that, whenever we arrived opposite a town, these two men would go
into the bows of the steamer and, shouting loudly to the people ashore,
would tell them not to be afraid, not to run away, that we were good
sort of white men, that we were buying fowls at a very good price, and
if they only stayed they could make some profit out of us. For we were
giving the enormous sum of about threepence each in barter goods for the
fowls, instead of the usual price of twopence.

Throughout the rest of that district we received a hearty welcome from
the people, and many pressing invitations to settle in their midst. We
had no illusions about these invitations. We fully recognized that the
people desired us to live in their towns for reasons quite different
from those that actuated us: our presence would give prestige to their
district, and especially to the town in which we built; we should be,
more or less, a guarantee of security, and freedom from the lootings and
raids of State soldiers who were already beginning to trouble the people
on the Upper Congo; and it would be an immense advantage to them to be
able to exchange their food-stuffs, etc., for barter goods at a store in
their neighbourhood, rather than have such weary journeys to take in
their canoes, or go without the needed articles. We understood perfectly
well that we were not so boisterously invited because of our message,
for of that they knew absolutely nothing, and in their then savage and
ignorant state cared perhaps less than nothing for it.

Leaving the Bungundu district we steamed for many miles along a
monotonous stretch of forest, and then reached the thickly populated
line of Bokomela towns. Selecting the largest we could see, we turned
our steamer towards it; and, putting our pretty little vessel along the
beach in front of the chosen town, we prepared to go ashore. Through our
glasses we had seen the women and children running hurriedly away, and
the bustling activity of the men who lined the bank and stood on the
trees overhanging the river. Just as we were about to step ashore we
noticed that the men lining the bank above us had raised their spears in
a very threatening attitude, and the old men on the trees had fitted
their arrows to their bows ready to shoot at us. We recognized that we
were in a tight corner; we wondered where the spears and arrows would
strike us. A false movement would have been misunderstood, and a shower
of sharp weapons would have been the result. Our pulses raced
tumultuously, our hearts seemed to thump our ribs; but outwardly we were
calm and self-possessed. We did not know until months later how near we
were to a horrible catastrophe—to being, in fact, the principal dishes
at a cannibal feast.

In the best “trade language” we could muster we told the excited savages
who and what we were. “Go away,” they screamed, “or we will kill you. We
want nothing to do with you white men.”

We tried to explain the purpose of our visit, and asked them to let the
Bungundu men land and talk with them. And all the time we were standing
unarmed within twenty feet of their upraised spears. There was a deadly
silence on the little steamer, and the crew had taken refuge behind any
and every thing that offered protection from those murderous lances and

“Go away,” they shouted more fiercely; “we will kill the men if they
come ashore, and all of you afterwards. We’ll have nothing to do with
white men.” And in frantic unison the excited mob took up the cry of
their head-men.

There was nothing for it but to push off our steamer and leave the
place. It was not until we were beyond the reach of their arrows that we
breathed freely, and then fully realizing the whole meaning of the
incident, and its possibilities of death to us and disaster to our
plans, we bowed our heads in prayerful thanks to God for His protecting

Some months after our establishment at Monsembe, I went down to those
districts in a canoe paddled by a few lads; and those same Bokomela
people, hearing, from the song of the lads, that one of the Monsembe
white men was approaching, hurried out in their canoes with fowls in
their hands as tokens of their good-will, and begged me to go ashore.
What was the reason for this strange and pleasant change respecting us?
It was this: In the meantime they had heard of our peaceable lives and
intentions; of our straightforward and honest dealings with the natives
about us; that we neither stole things ourselves, nor allowed our people
to steal; but always bought what we wanted at a proper market value.
These facts coming to their knowledge had entirely altered their
attitude towards us, and had turned former enemies into would-be

On going ashore they gave me a most cordial welcome, and when quietness
had been restored, I said: “Some months ago we came to you on our little
steamer, and you drove us away with murderous threats of spearing us.
Why was that? We were quiet, peaceable men; why were you in such a

An oldish man, sitting quietly on a stool near by, arose and said:
“White man, just before you came to us on your steamer, the white men on
a passing steamer shot our chief and some of our people for no reason at
all. Shot them down while standing quietly on the bank, and for that
reason we swore to kill the next white men that came our way, and you
were the next to come.”

Undoubtedly they would have had their revenge upon us but that God
placed His hand over theirs, so that neither spear nor arrow was hurled
at us. More than once or twice have we seen the spears poised ready for
the throw; and every time we have found that some cowardly, dastardly
white men had been before us and, having shot down the natives for no
reason whatever, had gone off and left the next unsuspecting white men
who went that way to bear the brunt of the natives’ mad, but excusable,
desire for revenge. Legacies of hatred have been unfortunately left by
too many white men among savage peoples, who regard all white folk as
belonging to one tribe, and as one or more of their kinsmen have been
murdered by white men, then to retaliate by killing other white men
will, they think, balance the account.

As illustrative of the preceding remarks the following unvarnished story
is unfortunately too _à propos_: A State steamer in 1890 was proceeding
up a tributary of the Congo, and on its upper deck two white officers
were sitting holding a discussion on marksmanship, when they saw, at
some distance in front of them, a native standing in his canoe paddling
it from one side to the other of the river. The two officers instantly
made a bet as to which of them could knock the man over. Guns were
raised and fired, and Captain X. brought down the poor unsuspecting
wretch and pocketed the stakes;[4] but he left a heritage of hate that
has lasted to this day, if there are still alive in that district any
relatives of the murdered man, or witnesses of the foul murder.

Footnote 4:

  In 1890 this incident was common talk in that district. Besides the
  two men who laid the wager, there were two other white men on
  board—captain of the steamer and the engineer. This incident was more
  frequently related as a joke than otherwise.

It seemed to some of us a righteous retribution when a couple of years
later Captain X. himself was shot by his native attendant, whether
accidentally or purposely nobody knew. Let me say, once for all, that
among the State officers there were gentlemen of fine, sterling
character who acted fairly and honourably in all their dealings with the
natives; men whose ideals were high, whose motives were good, and who
desired nothing better than the amelioration of the tribes with which
they came into contact. If such men had been in the majority, and had
had a free hand, the pitiful, horrible story of Congo atrocities would
never have been written.

About twenty-five miles above Bokomela we came upon the Monsembe
district. There were three bays crowded with large towns, and only two
miles beyond Monsembe was a long creek teeming with people. We reckoned
also that Bungundu and Bokomela districts would come within the sphere
of our influence; but before fixing on Monsembe as our centre we went
still higher up-river to weigh the possibilities of other places. Town
after town we passed of prosperous, healthy, fierce, and barbarous
savages. Very often we were amongst them and shaking hands with them
before they had decided whether to welcome or fight us; then seeing two
friendly, unarmed white men in their midst they greeted us heartily and
were soon bartering fowls, plantain, and various food-stuffs for empty
bottles, old meat tins, and Manchester goods.

Diboko (or Nouvelles Anvers) was visited; and with our colleagues at
Bopoto we spent a pleasant time. At Bumba we came upon a continuous
stretch of villages for nearly two miles in length. As we steamed close
to the bank we observed that the villages were divided by gullies which
were bridged by old canoe planks. The folk were quiet, and as the place
looked well populated with apparently prosperous people, we decided to


  _Photo by_: _Rev. C. J. Dodds_
  This row of houses belongs to one man, and while he may have one for
    himself, he will also have a wife in each hut. Every marriage means
    an additional house, for the Congo native is too cute to put two
    women in one house.

Arriving at the extreme upper end of the series of Bumba villages, we
tied our steamer to a tree on the bank and went ashore. A few miserable,
half-starved dogs barked at us; but there was no one to greet us, or
object to our landing. We moved slowly forward, and then we noticed that
the virile, young men, armed with spears and shields, were keeping about
fifty yards ahead of us; that the old men and the sick were crouching
over their fires warming their hands and keeping up a constant chatter;
and that there was an absence of women and children in the villages. Now
when there is an absence of women and children in an African town or
village, you may be fairly certain that the men are up to mischief, or
think a fight is to the fore. We walked warily to keep ourselves out of
any possible ambush; and as we came to the gullies dividing the villages
we found the planks had been removed, this necessitated our going down
and up the sides of the gullies. Arriving at the last ditch we started
to cross it as we had done the others, when we observed a rustle in the
tall grass on the further side, and looking closely we saw that the bush
was alive with armed men with spears gripped threateningly. Just beyond
them in the forest were their women and children, and they were standing
between them and possible death or capture as represented, so they
thought, by the two white men on the opposite side of the gully.

To have run away would have meant a shower of spears hurtling through
the air after us from the excited people, so we sat down and parleyed
with them. “Did you ever know,” we asked, “white men coming to fight
without soldiers?”

“No,” was their ready though surly reply.

“Well, we have no soldiers with us,” was our quick rejoinder. That was
self-evident, for there were only a few of our personal lads about us.

With a little more hope in our heart of escaping from another difficult
fix, we began again. “Did you ever know white men to come and fight
without guns and swords?” was our next question.

“No,” again was their reply. This time a little more friendliness in
their tone, for their fears of a fight were, like ours, passing away.

“Well,” we argued, “we are two white men without guns or soldiers, but
with simply walking-sticks in our hands; and are all your men armed with
spears afraid of two white men with walking-sticks? Come and put up the
bridge and help us across.”

After a short consultation among themselves, some young men replaced the
plank and helped us over; and the discreet distribution of a few beads,
spoons, and penny looking-glasses won for us their eternal good-will.

Our return to the steamer was like a triumphal progress. The men shouted
and danced in very revulsion of feeling to find it was a friendly visit
and not a fight. Plank bridges were quickly rearranged, and
outstretched, willing hands steadied us as we crossed them. The old and
sick who had remained around the fires good humouredly chaffed those who
had armed themselves for a battle that never came off. All’s well that
ends well, and the people were as glad as we were that no blood had been
shed and no wrong committed. They begged us very earnestly to come and
live among them.

We went as far as Ngingiri on the River Luika, and then turned the nose
of our steamer down-stream. Monsembe was the best centre for our work
that we had seen in all the long stretch of river we had traversed above
Lulanga. There we should have ample room for expansion, itineration, and
out-posts along the north bank from Bungundu to Likunungu—a distance of
200 miles; we should also have the south bank in our parish from Bolombo
to Bokatalaka Creek—a stretch of 80 miles; and the creek just above our
proposed station site was said to communicate with the Mobangi River. We
estimated the population near to Monsembe, among whom we should be able
to itinerate on Sundays, at 7000, and throughout the district, lining
the river, at 50,000 at the very least. Then there were the hinterland
towns, whose populations were as yet unknown. It was a splendid sphere
of immense possibilities. It was therefore with high hopes and undaunted
hearts that my colleague and I entered upon our labours among the
cannibals of Monsembe.

We returned the men we had borrowed from Bungundu. What a welcome they
had on their arrival home! We had been absent so long that the folk had
almost given up all hope of ever setting eyes again on their townsmen.
They received a suitable reward, strutted about the town in their fine,
brightly-coloured new cloths, and I suppose ever afterwards posed as
widely travelled men whose words in future were to be taken on all
matters relating to riverine geography, tribal marks, and other
subjects. Leaving Bungundu we crossed to Lulanga and, picking up the
goods we had left there in charge of a Dutch trader who treated us with
much kindness and hospitality, we returned to our future home at
Monsembe, which for the next fifteen years was to be the centre of our
world and the scene of many joys and sorrows.


                               CHAPTER II

                          SETTLING AT MONSEMBE

Moral way of procuring land—Ground measured—Price asked—Amount
    accepted—Signing the agreement—Buying a house—An exorbitant price—A
    house for five shillings and a penny—Well-populated hut—Making
    ourselves comfortable—Cooking difficulties overcome—Present of two
    goats—Inveterate thieves—Afraid of our “books.”

The authorities of the Congo Free State had informed us that we could
take possession of any plot of land in the district that we cared to
select. We did not, however, believe in accepting from a State that
which they had no moral right to give, but in buying from the people the
ground _they only_ had a right to sell us for our station. A few hours
after our return to Monsembe we measured out a piece of land one hundred
paces along the river front by three hundred paces deep, and said that
in the morning we would buy it of them.

Next morning at six o’clock we found a large crowd gathered to witness
the novel transaction of buying and selling land. They formed a motley
assemblage. Most of the men had two or more spears gripped tightly in
their hands, and broad-bladed, ugly knives of various shapes were
strapped in sheaths around their chests with the handles level with the
breast-bone. Some wore gaudy cloths, while others had bark-cloth or rags
that scarcely covered their nakedness. The women were dressed in
petticoats made from palm fibres, and these fringes were so numerous and
short that the wearers had every appearance of black ballet girls. Their
faces were streaked with different coloured pigments, or dusted with
camwood powder; and their bodies were rubbed with palm-oil. Beneath the
paint, the powder, and the grease one found agreeable faces often lit up
with really pleasant smiles.

We asked them how much they wanted for the piece of land, and without
hesitation they replied, “Five thousand brass rods.”

“No,” we said, “we cannot pay you so large a sum as that, but we will
give you one thousand rods now, and another five hundred in six months’
time, if you behave yourselves.”

The head-men consulted apart for a time, and then their spokesman said:
“We will accept your offer of one thousand rods now and another five
hundred in six months’ time, if you will put on top some bottles, some
knives, spoons, tin plates, looking-glasses, forks, cowries, beads,
cloth, fish-hooks,” etc. etc., in fact samples of everything they had
either ever heard about or could recall to mind at so short a notice.

Unfortunately for them we had not such a variety of barter goods as they
demanded, and we frankly told them so; but we promised to add some of
the articles we did have with us. We cut and counted out the thousand
rods,[5] tied them up in bundles of one hundred each, and then raked out
two empty pickle bottles from our store and, putting some fathoms of
cloth, a packet of brass chair nails, a few iron spoons, some trade
knives, a dozen zinc-framed looking-glasses, a few empty meat tins, the
ground became the property of our Society for about 38s. worth of goods,
reckoning them at invoice price.

Footnote 5:

  _Brass rods._ A brass rod at Monsembe at that time was 15 inches long,
  and not quite so thick as a slate pencil. These rods were the currency
  of the district and, in fact, of the whole of the Upper Congo.
  Everything had its price in brass rods—one egg = one brass rod; a fowl
  = ten brass rods; two yards of cloth = twenty brass rods; a male slave
  = 600 brass rods; and a female slave = 2500 brass rods. The brass wire
  for these rods was originally melted down for their brass
  ornaments—anklets, necklaces, armlets, leg rings, hafts of spears,
  paddles, and handles of knives, etc. It was using the brass for this
  purpose that first gave it any real value to them; and then they
  exchanged certain lengths of the brass wire at a fixed price—so many
  fathoms for a goat, etc.; and gradually the lengths of brass wire
  became the medium of exchange, the unit of value, the currency of the
  country. In 1890 the brass rods still retained their value not so much
  as a medium of barter, although they were convenient for that purpose,
  but as the metal from which they made their most popular ornaments. It
  is quite possible that the rods changed hands in fathom lengths, and
  those who came into possession of these lengths, each cut off a little
  piece to procure a bit of brass for nothing, and hence the length was
  gradually shortened, until in 1890 it was 15 inches. The process of
  shortening continued, and in 1905 the standard length was only 11
  inches. In Bolobo it was about 9½ inches, and on the Lower Congo,
  where brass wire was used long before it filtered through to the
  tribes on the Upper Congo, it was from four to five inches only in
  1905. Of course, with the shortening of the rod, a larger number was
  given for the article to be purchased. Every white man imported his
  brass wire in coils, and cut the rod to the length used in the
  district where he resided. Brass rods are now almost a drug in the
  market, for not only have they been poured into the country in a
  steady stream for the last thirty years, but the custom of melting
  down brass for the manufacture of ornaments has been slowly dying out
  during the last ten years. They desire other things than simply
  ornaments now.

We then thought it wise to draw up a paper stating we had bought the
land of the people, the price we had given, and the amount we had
promised in six months’ time. The document was duly written out, and my
colleague and I signed it on behalf of the B.M.S. We then asked two of
their head-men to put their marks against their names on the paper as
witnesses to the fact that we had purchased the ground, so that there
could not be any future possible dispute about our possession of the

At first they demurred greatly to having anything to do with the white
man’s “book”; they were extremely superstitious about the matter; it was
something uncanny, and for all they knew some mysterious evil might be
the result of touching that “book.” It needed much persuasion, and it
was only when we pointed out to them that they would have no proof that
we owed them five hundred rods that their cupidity overcame their fears,
and they consented to put their marks.

Mata Bombo was the first head-man chosen for this onerous duty. He was
the oldest head-man in the town, and had been foremost in the
negotiations for the land, in counting the goods, and most clamorous for
his share of them. The people therefore rightly thought that he should
be the first to undertake the unpleasant duty of putting his mark on the
“book,” so they laughingly pushed him forward much against his will.
When he reached the table he was trembling all over from very fear of
that “book” lying there upon it. His hand shook so much that I had to
put my hand upon his and help him to make his mark. On finishing it he
put the pen down with a dab, drew himself to his full height, carefully
stretched out his arms, and finding that nothing had happened to him, he
went away apparently satisfied that it was possible to have contact with
that mysterious “book” of the white man’s and not suffer for it. The
next witness was a much younger man, who, seeing that nothing had
happened to the first, came forward without any urging, picked up the
pen, made his mark and went his way as though he were used to signing
contracts every day of his life. Thus the land became ours on behalf of
our Society.

Having settled about the site, our next requirement was a house into
which we could move our goods from the steamer, and in which we could
live, for it was necessary that the _Peace_ should return immediately to
Bolobo. Looking over the ground we had bought, we saw a native hut that
would suit us until we could build a larger and better one. We had
purchased the land and the trees upon it; but we had arranged with the
people that all the houses on our newly acquired site should be removed.
To them this was a trifling affair: they ran a knife along a few
strings, a dozen men got under the roof, and in a few minutes you would
see it walking down the road; a few more men shook the walls, uprooted
the posts, and in an hour or so the house was rebuilt on another site.

We called the owner of the house that we thought would temporarily
answer our purpose, and asked him how much he wanted for it. “Five
hundred brass rods,” was his quick reply. Natives generally ask about
two or three times the value of an article, and I fancy this custom is
not altogether peculiar to African people.

“That is too much,” was our answer to his extravagant demand. “We will
give you two hundred rods for the house, and then you will be well

He cogitated on our offer for a few minutes, and then lifting his head,
he said: “If you put a tin plate on top of the two hundred rods you can
have the house.” So we paid him two hundred brass rods, and a penny tin
plate; and for the first time in our lives became the owners of house

Directly we had paid the price the man called his wives (he was the
happy (?) possessor of six) to remove their belongings. They brought out
their saucepans, hoes, baskets, mats, drinking-pots, firewood, and the
rest of their miscellaneous effects; the man carried out his paddles,
spears, knives, shield, and a few precious glass bottles that had
contained pickles, lime-juice, and drinks of stronger brew, and then
told us the house was ready for us.

We really could not expect a mansion for the amount we had paid, viz.
5s. 1d.; and we found that in order to enter it we had to stoop low,
lift our feet high, and, being unfortunately stout, we had to turn
sideways to effect an entry. Arriving inside, by putting up the hand we
could touch the ridge-pole, by spreading out the arms and swaying
slightly we could touch both walls, a few paces took us from one end to
the other of the central room, and if we had gone against the wall and
wanted to stand upright we should have had to put our heads through the
roof, for the walls were only just four feet high.


  _Photo by_: _a Dutch Trader_
  Mobeka is situated at the mouth of the Mungala River, and the
    inhabitants of that and many other villages in the vicinity belong
    to the Boloki tribe.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. R. H. Kirkland_
  Lake Libinza is a large sheet of water in the hinterland of Nouvelles
    Anvers. It is studded with numerous islands, and is drained by the
    Ngiri River, which runs into the Mobangi tributary.

The house, however, had the advantage of two small rooms—one at either
end of the larger central room. In one of these small rooms we stored
our tools, nails, and various materials for building our station; into
the other small room we put our barter goods and our scanty stock of
provisions; and in the central room we arranged our two camp bedsteads,
a table, a trunk or two, our chairs, and when we went in ourselves there
was not very much room to spare. That night when we went to bed we
discovered that although the women had removed their pots, hoes, mats,
etc., they had left behind them a large population which we wished they
had also taken with them.

To make our hut more habitable was our first object. We cut away the
high door-sill of sticks, canes, and grass; then in the eaves above the
doorway we made a gap in the roof by shortening a few rafters and
removing the palm-frond thatch—this gave us an easy means of entrance
and exit. Then we placed two poles about eight feet from the front of
our hut, and six feet from each other; a small pole was tied to the
posts about six feet from the ground, and other thin poles were run from
the cross-piece to the roof, and on these we arranged and tied a large
number of fronds from a small species of palm tree—this gave us a fine
shady porch to our house, which we used as dining-room, study, pantry,
and reception-room. We routed out a good percentage of the surplus
population from our hut, and on fine days we were not so uncomfortable
as to have any real ground for complaint.

But alas on wet days! The discomfort of them has left a lasting
impression on my memory. With a tornado the temperature often dropped
from 90° down to 65° in less than two hours; the strong, stormy winds
whistled through the grass walls of our hut; and the rain that fell in
torrents percolated through our roof, and in some places, along the
ridge especially, it ran in gentle cascades, anything but pleasant to
the owners of such house property to behold. To have made a fire in the
house to warm ourselves, as the natives did, would have meant being more
than half choked and blinded by the smoke that would have filled the
chimneyless house. We eventually found that the best way to weather the
storms comfortably was to lie on our camp beds, pull a waterproof sheet
over us, light a candle, and putting it on a dry spot read until the
tornado had spent itself.

There was another difficulty that we had to meet, viz. cooking. It was
easy enough to boil and fry our food; but boiled meat and fowls after a
few weeks somewhat pall; and we had not sufficient fat or lard to fry
much. There was palm-oil in abundance to be bought for a few brass rods,
but we had too frequently watched the natives make it to relish food
fried in it. We therefore bought two native saucepans for a penny each;
these were about 10 inches in diameter, 6 inches deep, and semicircular
in shape. One we stood on three stones, placed an empty sardine tin in
the bottom, and, laying a fowl on a tin dish, arranged it on the sardine
tin, and then turned the second saucepan upside down on the first,
fitting their edges together. Our fowls baked beautifully in this
improvised oven; but the saucepan had a tendency to crack.

Later on we procured an empty paraffin-oil drum, cut out the top with a
hammer and chisel, laid the drum down, and put in a layer of clay along
the bottom side. This clay not only gave us a level surface on which to
stand our dishes, but also kept the food from burning, and retained the
heat. We then nailed some tin, procured by flattening out a few empty
meat tins, over some pieces of wood, and there we had an admirable door
for our new oven. It cooked fowls, puddings, and bread[6] splendidly. No
patent has yet been sought for these inventions, so all those placed in
a similar predicament are free to use them.

Footnote 6:

  See Appendix, Note 1, p. 335.

Fowls were plentiful, such as they were; but fresh meat (beef, mutton,
or goat) was a rarity. Consequently we were not at all sorry when two
head-men brought us, one day, a goat each as a present. Up to that time
we had not received a single present from them, not because the natives
had not brought any to us—they would have loaded us with their so-called
gifts—but we had persistently refused them on principle, knowing as we
did that the offerings were simply presented that the givers might
receive two or three times their value in return presents, and we had no
desire to foster such a spirit of selfishness, and no money to waste on
foolish amenities. We had refused so many “gifts” that when these two
head-men brought their goats and offered one to Mr. Stapleton and the
other to myself, we decided to accept them. We had, however, no
enclosure in which to keep goats, so putting a private mark on them we
sent them to herd with the other goats of the town.

We arranged that as the goats were of the same size, we would give
exactly the same return presents. We reckoned the goats at fifty brass
rods each—the market value of them; but we decided to give in barter
goods the equivalents of one hundred rods each, which we thought was
sufficiently generous for the occasion.

Mr. Stapleton called Dintela, the head-man who had presented him with
his goat, and spreading out the goods he made the usual speech of
good-will, etc., that the event demanded.

Dintela gave him to understand that the present was too small, that
white men who were so rich should give a much larger quantity of goods,
and that he could not accept such a paltry present. As Mr. Stapleton
would not increase the offering, Dintela demanded the return of the
goat, and tying a string round its neck he led it away, much disgusted
that he had not made so good a bargain out of his present to the white
man as he had anticipated.

A few days later as Bololi, the head-man who had given me the other
goat, was passing across the station I called him into the house, and
spreading out the goods identically the same as my colleague had offered
to his head-man, I asked him to accept them as a token of our
friendliness, etc., in return for his goat. He made some gestures
expressive of his depreciation of the gift, and after a haggling attempt
to procure an increase of goods, he, to my surprise in view of the
action of Dintela, collected the articles, put them in his shoulder
pouch, and went off apparently satisfied. The next day when we wanted to
kill the goat it had disappeared, and we never again set eyes upon it.
Dintela refused the goods and took his goat away; but evidently they had
talked over the matter with the other men in the town, and the result
was that Bololi accepted the articles and afterwards stole the goat,
which in the eyes of the natives was much the smarter action of the two.
After this, when head-men were too pressing in their offers of friendly
presents, we related the story of the two goats, and it never failed to
cure them of their fits of generosity.

We found them at that time, as the above incident of the goats
indicates, most inveterate thieves; but a few years later when three
young men of the town broke into our store and stole goods to the value
of sixteen thousand brass rods, the mass of the people arose in such
indignation on learning the facts that they tied up the thieves,
although they were free men and not slaves, and, bringing them to us
ignominiously bound, laid them at our feet. And public opinion was so
unmistakable in denouncing the act, that the young men and their
families disgorged the whole of what they had stolen from us to the last
brass rod.

At first they absolutely refused to trust us even with the value of an
egg—we had to put the price in their hands as we took the article; but
gradually they became less suspicious of us. During the early months at
Monsembe our steamer failed to arrive at the expected time, consequently
our small supply of barter goods became exhausted; and to be without
these articles of exchange in such a country was like being a foreigner
in a strange land without money. Food, however, was necessary, both for
ourselves and those dependent on us. We told the natives that our store
was practically empty, and that we could not pay them then, but would do
so when we received our goods from down-river. We offered them papers
stating what we had bought, the price agreed upon, the date, and the
seller’s name—a kind of promissory note which we promised to redeem on
the arrival of our steamer.

The natives said: “We will let you have the food supplies that you need,
but we will not accept your books.” They called any piece of paper at
that time a “book.”

“Why will you not take our books?” we inquired; “for we may forget how
much we owe, and to whom we owe it.”

“Oh, you will not forget your debts,” they replied; “and if there were
any fear of that we should not even then accept your books, but should
refuse to let you have the food without the money.”

“Why will you not take our books, then?” we again asked in amazement.

“Well,” they said, “if we were to accept your books, and put them in our
houses, no rain would fall on our farms, and we should all be starved to

Argue as we would, we could not move them from their superstitious
position in relation to our poor little pieces of paper. By that time
they knew our intentions towards them were good, or they would not have
trusted us with their fowls, eggs, plantain, and native bread without
receiving the barter goods at once, yet they were afraid of the evil
effects our “books” would have on their farms. They thought the magic
was in the “book,” and in spite of our good motives that that magic
would work against them directly the “books” had passed from us into
their possession. While the “books” were in our house we controlled or
nullified their evil magic, but when they had passed out of our hands we
had no further power over their wicked forces, and the natives were
afraid of not being able to counteract their _black art_, hence their
continued refusal to accept them. It was a curious belief that obsessed
them: that men who they firmly believed were kindly disposed towards
them should yet have in their possession such “books” as would work
mischief to those for whom they had nothing but friendly feelings. We
therefore entered their names in a notebook as we bought the food
supplies, and thus keeping an account of what money we owed, and to
whom, we were able to settle our accounts with them at a later date.


                              CHAPTER III

                      STRUGGLES WITH THE LANGUAGE

“Trade” and “Bangala” languages—Making a vocabulary—Housekeeper and
    master of works—Natives tell us words—Elements of difficulty—Glib
    translations—Natives deceive us—Head-men offer us wines—We are a
    conundrum to our neighbours—Confidence gained at last—Collect nearly
    seven thousand root words—A mode of making derivations—Native
    figures of speech.

On the main river there was a mixed language, commonly called among us
the “trade language”; by means of this _lingua franca_ we were able to
make ourselves understood at the various places at which we touched on
our search for a new site, and it stood us in good stead during our
early days among the Monsembe people. There was a large element of
Bobangi in it, some Kiswahili words, and a few Lower Congo words and
phrases. This “trade language” has now been supplanted by what is called
the “Bangala language,” which is a mixture of the languages already
mentioned, with a smattering of Bangala words thrown in.

For a considerable time Diboko (Nouvelles Anvers), or as it is most
frequently called by white men generally when speaking to natives,
Bangala, was the largest State station above Stanley Pool. A large
number of natives were imported there from all the tribes on the Upper
Congo, and this heterogeneous mass of humanity, often numbering over two
thousand soldiers, workmen, and women, held communication with each
other by means of the “trade language.” The smartest of the natives in
the towns adjacent to Diboko quickly learned this jargon, and used it
more or less fluently when communicating with the State soldiers and
workmen; and the white men hearing the natives of the neighbourhood
talking this lingo jumped to the conclusion that it was their own tongue
in which they were conversing, and thus called it the Bangala language,
and by that name it is now generally known on the Upper Congo.

As it was with the “trade language” so it is with the “Bangala”; it
varies considerably with the tribe using it. A Bobangi man when in
difficulty for a word or phrase while speaking “Bangala” will fill up
the hiatus with a word from his mother-tongue; the Bangalas, Bopoto, and
Bosoko peoples will fill up the gaps, each from their own language, so
that the “Bangala” spoken differs according to the district in which the
traveller may be sojourning. A crew running a steamer, or a gang of men
working on a station, though they may come from half a dozen different
tribes, will quickly arrange a lingo of their own, and the white man
running the steamer, or in charge of the station, will easily acquire
the resulting patter, and up to a certain point make himself fairly well
understood in all matters relating to the ordinary affairs of steamer or
station life. In the near future there will be, no doubt, a language
formed by a gradual selection of words and phrases from all the great
languages on the river from Stanley Pool to Stanley Falls. Such a means
of intercommunication will be a great boon to all concerned—black and
white alike—a better understanding will result, and, as a consequence, a
greater respect for each other.

Directly we settled at Monsembe we began to learn the language of the
people amongst whom we were living. The “trade language” was all that
was necessary to a passer-by; it answered the purpose of bartering for
food and dealing with the trivialities of life; but was absolutely
inadequate for conveying our message as missionaries, or for dealing
with the finer and deeper affairs of the minds, hearts, and souls of our
parishioners. We _had_ therefore to learn the language, and we had no
desire to shirk the drudgery, nor avoid the arduous, persistent effort
such a study demanded, for we regarded it as a part of our work, and not
the least interesting part either.

My colleague, Mr. Stapleton, and I arranged that one should take charge
of the house, buy the food brought for sale, and prepare the meals;
while the other should look after the workmen, clear the grass away,
mark out the ground, collect materials for building, and start the
erection of a larger and more comfortable house than our poor hut. We
were to alternate these duties—one was to be housekeeper one week, and
head of the works department the next week.

As I had been in the country nine years the heavier end of the stick
fell naturally to my lot. I had brought two men and a lad with me from
the Lower Congo, one Cameroons man capable of doing rough carpentry had
joined us at Bolobo, and we had hired two men at Lukolele, so we had
some help; but more was necessary, and we were able to engage a few
natives—as many as we required—at twenty rods per month as pay, five
rods per week rations, and one fathom of cloth per month to wear, which
came in all to about two shillings, invoice price. This seems very
small, but we were in the heart of Africa where brass rods and cloth
were worth, at that period, many times their invoice value, for their
buying power was very great, and food was so plentiful and cheap that 12
lbs. of native bread could be bought for a single brass rod, and a
large-size fish for another rod. The men often requested that we would
reduce their ration rods and proportionately increase their monthly pay,
which we did.

While we were digging the holes for the posts of our larger house, the
natives who were curiously watching us, said: “Oh, to do that sort of
thing,” imitating a scooping action with the words, “is _tima_.” So we
wrote down _tima_ = to dig; when we had finished the hole, they said it
was, “_lifoko_,” hence we put down _lifoko_ = hole; when we procured a
post, they told us its name was _mwete_, and that we recorded as _mwete_
= a post; on standing the post in the hole they informed us that that
was _suma mwete_, and we wrote that down as _suma mwete_ = to stand a
post in a hole. When we placed the wall-plate on they gave us a word for
that; when we brought hammer and nails out of our tool-house they
acquainted us with the names for those things; when we hammered a nail
to hold the wall-plate in position they gave us an expression for
nailing; and if by any accident we hit our finger instead of the nail,
they found a suitable expletive for that action also. Night by night my
colleague and I added the words together we had procured during the day
and counted them as eagerly as any miser might his gold, for we
recognized in them a means by which we should eventually be able to
deliver our message.

It was very difficult to acquire words for abstract ideas, as courage,
faith, love, recklessness, etc.; and it was not easy to procure words
for tangible objects—things that we could point to and touch. I remember
on one occasion wanting the word for table. There were five or six boys
standing around, and tapping the table with my forefinger I asked: “What
is this?” One boy said it was _dodela_, another that it was _etanda_, a
third stated it was _bokali_, a fourth that it was _elamba_, and the
fifth said it was _meza_. These various words we wrote in our notebook,
and congratulated ourselves that we were working among a people who
possessed so rich a language that they had five words for one article.

By and by we wanted a table brought to us, and selecting a word at
random from our list of five words, each one of which we supposed meant
table, we said: “_Benga bokali_” = fetch the table. The boys looked at
us with considerable astonishment, and, noticing their embarrassment, we
checked the list of words and found that one lad had thought we wanted
the word for tapping, so he told us _dodela_ = to tap; another
understood we were seeking the word for the material of which the table
was made, and he gave us _etanda_ = plank; another had an idea that we
required the word for hardness, that which caused the noise as we tapped
with our finger, and he told us _bokali_, and that is what we had told
them to bring: _benga bokali_ = fetch the hardness, a feat they could
not possibly accomplish; another thought we wished for a name for that
which covered the table, and his contribution was _elamba_ = cloth; and
the last lad, not being able, perhaps, to think of anything else, gave
us the word _meza_ = table—the very word we were seeking. We had to
scratch out the first four words, leave the word _meza_, and pass on,
having learned a good lesson on the evil results of jumping too quickly
to conclusions. If the reader knows no German, and should ever happen to
be in the company of some five or six Germans who do not understand a
single word of English, let him ask: “What is this?” in indifferent
German, and write down their several answers.

In learning and reducing to writing an unwritten language there are
always several elements that increase and complicate the difficulties.
There is what is in your own mind as the object for which you are
seeking a word, and there is what the native thinks is the object for
which you are wanting the word, which two things may be very different;
again, when you are searching for a word to embody an abstract quality
there is, on the one hand, the meaning you attach to the words you use
as illustrative of the idea for which you want the word; and there is,
on the other hand, the meaning which your native lad attaches to the
words you employ, and the two sets of meanings may widely vary. You may
unknowingly employ a wrong phrase in your description of the quality you
are wanting a word to express, and your teacher is either puzzled or
thrown entirely off the scent, and the result leads to a disastrous
mistake and, unless corrected later, to a false, misleading translation.
Suppose you want a word for healthiness; you say that a man walks well
every day, paddles for long distances without fatigue, eats his food
heartily, has no pains in his body, and never needs to go to a
medicine-man. “What do you call that?” Your helper will consider for a
moment, and then reply: “_Abe na bonganga._”

By and by you go over the description with another person, and he says
of such a man: “_Abe na nkonjo._” A few days later, in order to check
the former teachers, you try another young man, and he tells you: “_Abe
na nkasu._”

In due time, however, you discover that _abe na bonganga_ means: he has
a powerful charm; that _abe na nkonjo_ = he has good luck; and _abe na
nkasu_ = he is very strong; and that _nkuli_ is the proper word for

Your helpers have not purposely led you astray, for they have simply
stated from their point of view how they would regard such a fortunate
man who can walk, paddle, eat well, has no pains in his body, and never
needs medicine—he must possess a powerful charm, or have wonderful luck,
or be exceedingly strong. When you know the natives better you find they
rarely talk about their health, hence _abe na nkuli_ = he has
healthiness, would not come readily to their minds.

The difference between our point of view and that of our teachers
accounts for many of the difficulties we experience in learning a native
language; and I am afraid that a real appreciation of those difficulties
has rendered me somewhat suspicious of those travellers who, after a
very short acquaintance with the native language, translate glibly their
interviews with the people. Just recently I have been reading a book on
the Congo in which the following occurs: “_Bikei yonsono, malami be na
Mputu. Sola è koye._” This the author, who frequently takes credit to
himself for his knowledge of the native language, translates as follows:
“All I say is true, you say I lie. It is finished. I have seen those
things; you have not.” Whereas it should be: All things are very good in
Mputu (white man’s country). Truly friend! And the sentence in Bangala
should have been written: _Bike binso bilamu be na Mputu. Solo koye!_ No
Congo native would have been guilty of the grammatical blunders
perpetrated in the sentence as written by the author. I have frequently
noticed that the less a person knows about a native language the more
fluently and beautifully he will translate it, as he is bound only by
the limitations of his own imagination.

When we had been living at Monsembe a few months we were much vexed and
disgusted to find that the people had been deceiving us considerably
over their language. One day, while working with the men, I heard a
native workman shout out a request to another native labourer. From the
nature of the work being done I could easily guess what the phrase
really meant; but the wording of the sentence was entirely different
from that which they had given us to express the same idea. Going into
the house, I brought out my notebook and said: “Just now you called out
so and so,” repeating the short sentence that was still fresh in my
memory. “How is it we have another set of words in our book?”

A broad smile gradually spread over the native’s face as he replied:
“White man, when you came first to live amongst us we could not
understand the purpose of your coming. We brought you rubber and ivory;
but you said, ‘We do not trade in such things.’ We then brought you male
and female slaves, and asked you to buy them, and you replied, ‘We do
not trade in slaves.’ We then brought you a large jar of sugar-cane
wine, but you said that you did not drink wine, and we answered that we
would drink it for you, and even then you would not buy it. After that
we came to the conclusion that there was some wicked reason for your
presence in our town, some bad purpose we could not understand, and we
therefore arranged among ourselves not to teach you our language, but to
tell you as many words and phrases as we could belonging to other

We found they had kept their agreement far too well, and as a result we
discovered that a large percentage of the words that we counted as good
coin of the realm were nothing but base metal, and had to be thrown out
of our notebook as utterly useless. Undoubtedly our presence was a great
mystery to the natives. They could easily understand the reasons why
traders and State officers were living in the country; but why men who
neither traded nor governed should live in their midst was a problem
discussed repeatedly around their evening fires. They had asked us more
than once: “Were you bad men in your country that you had to leave it to
come and live here in this land?” Or: “Is there no food in your country
that you come here and buy only fowls and vegetables of us?” Fowls were
plentiful and very cheap, costing us often less than twopence each, and
as it was the only fresh meat we could procure regularly, scarcely a day
passed without our having a fowl for dinner, hence the point and purpose
of their question. These inquiries we answered as fully as we could;
but, notwithstanding our replies, we remained a puzzle to our neighbours
and the subjects of many a long and heated talk.

One day some of the head-men came to us, and after solemnly taking their
seats on the stools their wives had brought for the purpose, they said:
“White men, we have come to talk a palaver with you.”

Our minds quickly ran over our actions during the last few days, for we
wondered what offence we had committed to cause such a visit from so
many serious-looking head-men. We could not recall any action or any
words that were likely to have given umbrage to the natives, so we
waited to hear from their lips of some breach of etiquette of which, all
unknowingly, we had been guilty.

Old Mata Bombo, a tall, straight man of over sixty years, was spokesman
for the deputation. “We have noticed,” he said, “that you have no wives,
and we think it would be well for you two white men to marry two of our
women; and we have brought some from which you can make your selection.”
And as he finished speaking he pointed to a row of giggling girls and
women, who while he was talking had lined up a few yards away.

As seriously as we could, we expressed our thanks for their concern on
our behalf, and also for their generosity in giving us such a fine array
from which to choose our wives; but continuing, I said: “I have a wife
in Mputu (white man’s country); and my friend, Mr. Stapleton, has a lady
there waiting to become his wife as soon as he returns home. We cannot
therefore accept your offer.”

“That is no difficulty,” they all answered in chorus. “You can marry two
of these now, and when your white wives come you can send these back to
their families, and there will be no palaver.”

We, however, persisted in declining with thanks, and at last it dawned
upon them that we were quite serious in our refusal. The head-men went
off in a huff, as they expected to make some profit out of the alliance;
and the women moved away chagrined that their charms had had so little
effect on us, and, possibly, they were also vexed by the knowledge that
they would be, for many a day to come, the butts of much ridicule and
chaff from the other women of the town and district.

Doubtless this incident added much to the problem concerning us that was
exercising the native mind. Here are two strong, healthy white men, rich
like other white men (the poorest white man is a millionaire in the eyes
of the natives), building houses in our town, working hard from sunrise
to sunset, refusing our ivory, and rubber, our slaves, our women, and
our drink. What are they? They say they have “come to tell us about
God.” But would white men leave home, wives, family, and work in the sun
as they do just to tell us about God? They say they have “come to help
us, to teach us many things and to do us good”; and they offer us
medicine when we are sick. How can they help us? What can they teach us?
How will they do us good? And as for their medicine, who would be
foolish enough to drink it? It might bewitch us. Such were the questions
surging through their minds (as we learned later); and there was no one
sufficiently in their confidence to help to the proper solution of this
difficult conundrum. Is it any wonder that they came to the conclusion
that we were bad men living in their district for some ulterior motive;
and the best way to treat us was to humour us in building, keep their
eyes alert to thwart any wicked designs, avoid teaching us their
language, which we seemed particularly eager to learn, and in the
meantime make as much money out of us as they could, either by fair or
dishonest means, it did not matter which?

Many of these thoughts we surmised from their actions, but their whole
course of reasoning we did not fully learn until very many months had
passed away, in fact, not until we had gained their entire confidence.
In the meantime we tried, in our poor way, to live the life of our
Master, Jesus Christ, among our barbarous neighbours, and their
suspicions about us gradually melted away. They would come and chat
freely with us, and by and by it was no uncommon thing to have three or
four lads sitting with us teaching us their language and helping us to a
right understanding of the rules that govern it; and men passing by
would stop, and, listening to the lads for a time, aid in elucidating
some knotty point. Patience, love, and straight dealing won their
confidence, their disinterested assistance, and at last their love.

Eventually, by the help of the people—old and young, for all became
interested in the work—we were able to collect close upon seven thousand
root words which, with their derivatives, give us a vocabulary of nearly
forty thousand words.

These derivatives are produced by very regular rules, which when once
understood, the learner possesses the key to a large treasury of words,

            Verb.      _Tula._    To do smithing.

            Der. Noun. _Motuli._  A smith.

            Der. Noun. _Motuliji._ One who causes the
                                    smithing to be

                                    done, a master.

            Der. Noun. _Motuleliji._ One who causes smithing
                                    to be done  for
                                    another, a foreman.

            Der. Noun. _Ntula._   The smithing peculiar to
                                    one smith, as distinct
                                    from that of another
                                    smith—his mode of

            Der. Noun. _Lituli._  The kind of smithing
                                    needed by one article
                                    as distinct from that
                                    required by another.

            Der. Noun. _Botula._  Skill or ability in

            Der. Noun. _Etuli._   The article worked upon.

            Der. Noun. _Etulela._ Habit of smithing.

            Der. Noun. _Etuleli._ Instrument with which to
                                    do smithing.

            Der. Noun. _Motula._  A smithing, e.g. _Atuli
                                    motula_, literally, he
                                    smiths a smithing, i.e.
                                    he works at smithing.

            Der. Noun. _Litulele._ A place for smithing = a
                                    workshop, smithy.

            Der. Noun. _Motuleli._ One who does smithing for
                                    another, an employee at

Another set of derivatives is made from the reversive form of the word,
as _kanga_ = to tie, _mokangi_ = a tier, _kangola_ = to untie,
_mokangoli_ = an untier; and this reversive form can give us derivatives
built on its idea, as from _kangolela_ = to untie for another, comes
_mokangoleli_ = one who unties for another; and from the causative
_kangolija_ = to cause to untie, comes _mokangoliji_ = one who causes to
untie; and, again, from the causative of its prepositional form
_kangolelija_ = to cause to untie something for someone, comes
_mokangoleliji_ = one who causes a person to untie something for or on
behalf of another.

One could mention the stative and the passive forms of the verb with
their respective prepositional and causative suffixes, each supplying
their own series of derivatives; but I fear the reader would weary of
them, and the student of African languages has now at his disposal many
grammars of Bantu tongues that will fully satisfy his love for
comparative language study. My only desire in these few paragraphs is to
show that the natives of the Congo do not talk a gibberish like a lot of
monkeys, but have at their disposal a magnificent language that excites
the admiration of every student. And it will be seen that such complex
languages are not to be mastered in a few weeks or months by any
globe-trotter who has a fancy for African travel, for they demand time
and constant study to appreciate their finesse, and special linguistic
ability to master their details and accurately define the words
collected, and the various derivatives discovered.

It must not be thought that for every verb all the various derivatives
can be found, as for obvious reasons some derivatives are not required
from some verbs, and other derivatives are not required from other
verbs, e.g. the reversive verb _tulola_ = to undo smithing, can be built
on _tula_ = to do smithing; but as such an idea as to undo smithing is
ridiculous, hence no derivatives founded on the reversive form _tulola_
are to be met with in the language. Smithing can be spoilt, and for that
they have a word, but when once a knife is forged it cannot be unforged,
i.e. it cannot be returned to iron ore like a knot that can be untied
and the string resume its original form.

Neither do the natives add to _every_ verb all the prefixes and suffixes
that can grammatically be affixed to them. It is very apparent that some
verbs are complicated with causative, prepositional, tense, and other
forms, and it is necessary to know for what the polysyllabic word stands
as a phrase, as there is no time to dissect it while a speech is in
progress. This is what I think the native does. He has no words for the
parts of speech as we have in grammar, he does not know that
_bakamokangelela ntaba nxinga_ is made up of the nominative pronominal
prefix _ba_ = they, the present tense progressive _ka_ = ing, the
objective pronominal prefix _mo_ = him, the verb _kanga_ = tie, the two
prepositional suffixes _ela_ = for, and _ela_ = with (the “a” elides
before “e”), and two objective nouns _ntaba_ = goat, and _nxinga_ =
string; but he knows that _bakamokangelela ntaba nxinga_ means “they are
tying the goat for him with string.” And if you, as a white man, while
speaking and translating, try to make new polysyllabic words by a new
combination of prefixes and suffixes, then you confuse your hearers (or
readers) to such an extent that they do not readily follow you. You will
have to educate them to a proper understanding of your new phrases, as
English folk had to learn Carlyle’s picture-phrases a generation ago
before they could appreciate their force and beauty.

It seems that in the course of time the various dialects have become
more or less stereotyped in the use of certain verbal suffixes, and if a
speaker now creates new combinations the hearers do not at once follow
him; or it may be that at some period in the past when a dialect was in
the making the minds of the people were very active, and the
combinations they formed are fixed and remembered, and no new ones are
being made, as the minds of the present generation are less gymnastic;
or, again, it may be that a man with some pretensions to intellectual
power created new combinations of verbal suffixes, and impressed them on
his generation, and thus superseded other word-phrases as Chaucer’s
English has been succeeded by a later form, and that by a still later,
and the forms of speech used by his characters have given place to later
forms that would have been scarcely understood in his day. However, in
the Bantu languages there are such possibilities of infinite
combinations that as the natives are now being educated it is impossible
to foretell what subtleties of thought they will be able to express
accurately with so plastic and beautiful a language.

The Boloki dialect, like all the Bantu languages, is alliterative in
construction, i.e. the prefix of the nominative of the sentence becomes
the prefix of all the words dependent on it, e.g.:

_ma_toko _ma_na _ma_bale _ma_nene _mama_nsombela we _ma_laba,


    spoons those two large (which me/bought for) you  they are lost

= those two large spoons which you bought for me, they are lost. The
plural prefix _ma_ of the first word which is the nominative is prefixed
to all the other words because they are dependent on it. If it had been
in the singular it would have been _li_toko _li_na, etc. This
alliterative concord, as it is called, is very helpful to clearness of

In the Boloki language there are eight classes of alliterative
concord,[7] i.e. all the nouns in the language belong to one or other of
these eight classes, and directly the class of a noun is decided its
pronominal prefixes, its possessive and demonstrative pronouns, etc.,
are at once known also by the fixed rules of usage, or, as we should
say, by the grammar of the language, and its plural form is also easily

Footnote 7:

  On the Lower Congo there are fifteen classes.

          Class 1. _Motu_ = person. _Batu_ = persons, people.

          Class 2. _Ndaku_ = house. _Mandaku_ = houses.

          Class 3. _Loboko_ = arm.  _Maboko_ = arms.

          Class 4. _Linkeme_ =      _Mankeme_ = guinea fowls.
          guinea fowl.

          Class 5. _Bopepe_ = pipe  _Mapepe_ = pipe bowls.

          Class 6. _Lobeki_ =       _Mbeki_ = saucepans.

          Class 7. _Etanda_ =       _Bitanda_ = planks.

          Class 8. _Munke_ = eggs.  _Minke_ = eggs.

Collective noun, _nke_ = a lot of eggs, and this makes its plural in
_manke_ = lots, as _manke mabale_ = two lots of eggs, as a noun of Class

It took us a considerable time to work out this classification, as it
meant the collecting of a very large number of words and the writing
down of their singular and plural forms. It was easy enough to see that
all nouns beginning with “_e_” made their plurals by turning the “_e_”
into “_bi_”; but it was not so easy to decide about the “_lo_,” for we
found that some plurals were made by changing the “_lo_” into “_ma_,”
and others by turning “_lo_” into “_m_”; and when it is remembered that
there are sixteen ways of using every adjective, according as it is
singular or plural and belongs to one or other of the classes, it will
be recognized by the reader that an African language is something to
study and not despise as being “only a nigger’s language.” Of course, it
is easy to pick up a few words and phrases for ordinary daily use which,
when eked out with gestures, will carry the traveller a long way if he
has a factotum quick at sign and thought-reading; but for expressing the
finer shades of meaning, and also for receiving the same, an intimate
knowledge of the language is necessary. I have heard more than one white
man blame the missionary for “making a grammar for the nigger”; whereas
the missionary has simply found out the rules by which the “niggers”
talk, and written them down in such grammatical terms that others might
understand them.

I have inserted a short note on the verb[8] in the Appendix, and also a
note on the Boloki method of counting.[9] But before closing this
chapter I wish to write a few lines on the figurative mode of speaking
which is peculiar to all Bantu languages, and by no means confined to
the Boloki people. The phrases in italics are literal translations of
the native terms for expressing their emotions, etc.

Footnote 8:

  See Appendix, Note 2, p. 336.

Footnote 9:

  See Appendix, Note 3, p. 339.

When a native is worried his _heart is let down_, and should he have a
choice of two equally pleasant things his _heart is pulled in opposite
directions_; but when the heart has recovered its normal condition after
some violent outbreak it is said _to be stopped_, or after some
perturbing grief they say the _heart is stuck to the ribs_, as there are
no longer any flutterings.

A greedy, selfish person has a _heart of leaves_, and a person who is
recklessly indifferent to all the consequences of his action has _lost
his heart_, and one who is lying and treacherous in his ways has a
_heart that has broken loose_, over which the owner has no proper
control. Should you be kind enough to comfort a person in a great
sorrow, your action will be described as _sticking the heart to the
ribs_, and thus keeping it from moving about inside; or if you have
soothed a person in distress you are regarded as having _pushed his
heart down into its place_. When a person is irresolute in mind, and
undecided as to the best course to pursue, he describes his state by
saying, “_My heart is rolling from side to side_,” and the word used
describes a canoe rocking in a storm.

The moon, as its light begins to appear above the horizon, is said _to
be kicking out with its legs_, and when it shows itself above the
sky-line it is then _unstuck from the earth_. Sunset is called either
_the sun has become black_, or _the sun has entered_, or _when the fowls
go to roost_; and the Pleiades are spoken of as a _crowd of young
women_; and the bright star Venus as it draws near the moon is named
_the wife of the moon_.

When you desire to warn a person you tell him _to throw his eyes about_,
and a person who frowns is said _to tie his eyebrows_. A conceited
person who wants the whole path to himself is scornfully asked, “_Did
you plant the earth?_” (i.e. Did you create the world?), as though it
were a pumpkin over which he had sole rights of ownership. A lad who
gives an impertinent answer is described as having a _sharp mouth_,
while one who is not good at repartee is looked upon as having _no mouth
at all_.

A person who frequently reverts to the cause of a quarrel, or a woman
who is constantly nagging, has a word applied to her which means the
_bubbling up of boiling water_; and one who does not contribute his
share to the general talk around the evening fire is likened to the
useless _fibrous core of a cassava root_, only fit to be thrown away;
while a person who answers a question not addressed to him is _picking
up something before it is lost_.

The native word for an _umbrella_ means a _large bat_. When the eyes are
dimmed from any cause they are said to _be covered with cobwebs_; and a
man suffering from hunger says, “_My waist is stuck to my back_”; i.e. I
am so empty of food that there is nothing to keep the front of the
stomach from sticking to the backbone. A foolish, credulous person is
likened to _a squirrel constantly nodding its head in assent to
everything that is said_. To become conscious of someone behind looking
at you is expressed in the phrase: _to feel the back heavy_. The Congo
crow has a broad white band round its neck, and when the river is dark
with the reflection of the frowning storm-clouds above, and the wind is
blowing up-river, covering the water with white-crested waves, such
waves are called by the natives _a flock of crows_.


                               CHAPTER IV

                         EARLY DAYS AT MONSEMBE

Building our house—Armed natives—Their ruse to discover our
    strength—The reason of their proffered help—A tribal war—Cannibal
    feast—Taunt us with being cowards and women—We defend some
    visitors—Blood-brotherhood—Inquisitive Congo boys—Medicine and
    “books”—Mental powers of Congo lads—Native view of women.

We were about a fortnight erecting the framework of our house and
finishing the walls; and then it took us over two months to collect and
dry local materials for the roof; but in the meantime we made doors and
windows, and cut a large number of nine-inch blocks for paving the
floor. I thought that these blocks would raise us above the damp earth,
and would also help to keep away some of the insect and reptile pests
that invade a house built on the ground. We did not square the blocks,
but simply laid them evenly bedded in puddled clay; and with some native
mats spread over them they formed a fairly comfortable floor. The blocks
lasted for more than three years, by which time they began to rot at the
bottom and sink; but they served their purpose, and then became useful
as firewood.

The house that we ran up so quickly was 40 feet long by 18 feet wide.
This gave us each a bed-sitting-room 15 feet by 18 feet, a store-room 10
feet by 12 feet, and a six-foot passage communicating between the two
principal rooms, and into this passage the front doors opened. In the
front of the house we built a large open porch 14 feet by 14 feet, which
served the purpose of dining, drawing and reception-room. Thus we had a
large airy house, rain, wind, and sun-tight, which undoubtedly greatly
conduced to health and comfort during the building of more permanent
dwellings in anticipation of the coming of our wives.

At that time the natives never moved many yards from their houses
without three or four spears in their hands, ugly knives in their
sheaths, and shields on their arms. Armed in this manner they would
frequently congregate on the bank, and, shading their eyes with their
hands, they would look earnestly down the river; and then coming to us
they would say, “White men, the people in the lower towns are coming up
to fight you; get out your guns ready and we will help you.”

Looking down the river we could see in the distance many canoes darting
about, but as we had given the natives of those towns no reason for
attacking us, and as we were the guests of another town we knew they
would not assail us without collusion with our neighbours; and as our
neighbours had every opportunity of easily killing two unarmed men if
they desired so to do without calling in outsiders to share the loot, we
thought that the staring down-river, their statements regarding the evil
designs of the lower towns, and their offers of help were simply
attempts to fleece us of barter goods in payment for their proffered
aid; so we used to get out our binoculars, look down-river, and making
some laughing remark, go on with our work.

This laughter and brave show were more often forced than not, for we
were at times puzzled by the apparent earnestness of our neighbours, and
their repeated assurances that they would help us if we would only bring
out our guns and properly prepare to support them when the attack was
made. As a matter of fact, we had only one gun between us, and that was
in pieces at the bottom of one of my trunks. We had no cartridges, and
although we had cartridge cases, shots, balls, caps, and outfit for
making cartridges, yet we had not a grain of gunpowder; but all this we
kept to ourselves and refused to make preparations until we were certain
the enemy really intended to attack us.

It was not until some years later that I heard the reason for these
frequent demonstrations on our beach; there was a large party, composed
of the principal head-men in the town, who wanted to kill and rob us of
our goods, but they were not sure of our resources. “What have they in
those cases and trunks? Are they full of guns and cartridges?” These
were the questions discussed around their fires, hence they hit on the
ruse of pretending the other towns were coming to fight us that we might
make a show of such weapons of defence as were in our possession. They
were nonplussed by our apparent indifference and calmness, and were as
much puzzled by our quiet attitude as we were by their warlike

After their unsuccessful attempts to make us exhibit our force, other
questions were agitated: “Why are the white men so calm and quiet? Have
they some wonderful magic or powerful ‘medicine’ that will kill us all
directly we begin to fight them? What have they behind them that they
are not afraid when we tell them the people are coming to attack them?
Have they little guns (revolvers) concealed about their clothes?”
Doubtless our very calmness not only mystified them, but saved us from
an attack that would have been disastrous to us, and would have
frustrated our plans on behalf of the people. Some nine years before our
arrival at Monsembe I had been told by an old German missionary with
whom I was travelling, that a display of force often incited the natives
to try issues with the sojourner in their midst; and while the above
incident is a confirmation of the soundness of his advice, we have a
better example of it in Dr. Livingstone, who travelled among the wildest
tribes and won their confidence and friendship because he moved freely
amongst them unarmed, and unaccompanied by any exhibition of physical

One evening in November (1890), soon after we entered our new house, the
whole town was thrown into a state of confusion by the report that some
of the up-river towns were coming to attack Monsembe on the morrow.
Women hurried by with their children, their fowls, and their most
treasured belongings, and, putting them in canoes, they paddled away in
the darkness to hide them and themselves on the numerous islands
opposite and below Monsembe; men gathered their spears, knives, and
shields, and stood in groups near the various roads that connected their
town with the upper towns; the bigger lads sharpened sticks and hardened
the points in the fire so as to embarrass and annoy the enemy with them
even if they could not kill; and all through the long night they sounded
drums and gongs not only to keep up their own spirits, but to warn the
foe that they were on the alert.

As the sun next morning began to creep above the eastern line of trees
that bounded our horizon there was great activity in the town. Men ran
by with their faces daubed with a thick coating of oil and soot, or
painted with red, blue or white streaks, their heads adorned with
feather caps, and their waists bound tightly with closely woven cotton
belts; others had cuirasses of hippopotamus hide protecting their backs,
and all were in a greatly excited state, waving their spears, shields,
and knives, and boasting of what they would do to the enemy. The women
who had no children, and consequently had not left the town, gathered
near our mission house, feeling perhaps more secure there than anywhere

Soon we heard the shouts of the combatants, and the occasional bang of a
gun (there were only three or four flint-locks in the whole town); and
in came a man with a deep spear wound. He gave an account of the battle,
and the women screamed in anger, or shouted in derision as his narrative
either told of a friend wounded or an enemy killed. We dressed his
wound, and his wives led him away. For nearly two hours we were busy
dressing wounds to a chorus of screaming and shouting women; and then we
heard that the attackers had given way, and were in full retreat. By
this time the natives of the lower towns had arrived to support their
neighbours, and they too joined in the pursuit of the beaten foes, whom
they followed to their towns, where the fight was renewed until the
Monsembe people took possession of them.

For a time the only sounds heard in the town were the low wails of the
women mourning for the slain, or weeping over those who were badly
wounded; and the songs and shouts of the women whose husbands and
relatives had escaped death and wounds. Before sunset the victorious
party returned with their loot of goods and prisoners. Goats, sheep, and
fowls were led or carried by our house; men laden with bunches of
plantains and bananas, or carrying heavy baskets of peanuts, cassava,
and native bread; others were weighted down with fish-nets, animal nets,
doors, paddles, saucepans, and jars; for anything that would fetch a few
brass rods was stolen and formed a part of the procession of
miscellaneous oddments that streamed by our house. After raiding the
enemies’ towns they set fire to the houses, and some told us with glee
of old and sick folk who had hidden themselves in the dark corners of
their huts who were burnt to death, preferring, apparently, the tender
mercies of the fire to the cruel death that awaited them if they fell
into the savage hands of their ferocious victors.

While we were sitting at our tea the last party of returning warriors
filed past our house, carrying the limbs of those who had been slain in
the fight. Some had human legs over their shoulders, others had threaded
arms through slits in the stomachs of their dismembered foes, had tied
the ends of the arms together, thus forming loops, and through these
ghastly loops they had thrust their own living arms and were carrying
them thus with the gory trunks dangling to and fro. The horrible sight
was too much for us, and retching badly we had to abandon our meal, and
it was some days before we could again eat with any relish. The sight
worked on our nerves, and in the night we would start from our sleep,
having seen in our dreams exaggerated processions passing before us
burdened with sanguinary loads of slain and dismembered bodies.

That night Monsembe and the neighbouring towns were given up to cannibal
feasts, and the next morning they brought some of the cooked meat to the
station, and thinking they were doing us a favour, they offered to share
it with us—the meat looked like black boiled pork. We refused their
offering with disgust, and told them what we thought of their horrible
custom. Long before we settled amongst them we had heard rumours of
their cannibalism, but we regarded the tales as more or less mythical;
we could no longer now disbelieve the stories we had heard. And later
still there came to our ears a very circumstantial report that the folk
of the lower part of our district were procuring for their cannibal
orgies the natives of a tributary of the Congo. They gave ivory and
received human beings in exchange, who quickly found their way to the
saucepan; and a white trader was the intermediary. However, as soon as
the white folk of the district had gathered such evidence as was
irrefutable they brought such pressure to bear on that white trader and
his company (the company was not implicated) that the horrible traffic
was stopped. That an educated white man could sink so low as to become a
wholesale dealer in human flesh to a tribe of African savages is a
psychological mystery that I must leave others to solve.

After the fighting and feasting were over the Monsembe folk lived in
constant fear of reprisals. Night after night groups of men were posted
near the roads leading from the enemies’ towns, and frequently the gongs
and drums broke on the night’s silence with their rapid beats, awakening
the sleepers who, hastily picking up their spears, knives, and shields,
hurried by to the scene of the alarm only to find that the sentries
“thought they saw or heard something” in the adjacent bush. The women
sometimes came screaming in from the farms avowing they had been chased
by the enemy. Every rustle of the grass, leaves, or bush was interpreted
into a lurking foe; and the nerves of the victors became so jumpy that a
voice raised in angry conversation would set the whole town agog with
expectation that the enemy had come seeking revenge.

When these alarms took place during the day, the fighters would
demonstrate before our house, and ask us to bring out our guns and help
them to keep off the foe. “You are living in our town, and you are our
white men. We offered to help you against the lower towns if they came
to attack you, and now get out your guns and aid us. Why, if you were
only to show yourselves the people of the upper towns would run away.
Come on, our white men, and help us!”

We pointed out to them that all the people of the district were our
friends, and consequently we could not assist one town to fight against

Then, finding that arguments and persuasion failed to move us, they took
to taunting us. “You are not white men,” they shouted, “you are women!
You are cowards!” And with curled lips and gestures of scorn they
pointed their spears and knives at us.

Their taunts and gestures of contempt stung us, making the blood surge
through our veins and causing us to go hot and cold by turns. With pale
faces, compressed lips, and hands gripping tightly whatever came within
our grasp, we listened patiently to their sneers. How easy it would have
been to have taken our gun and made some display of helping them! To
have walked among them, and to have fired a shot into the bush would
probably have satisfied them and would have stopped their sneers; but we
were there on behalf of the “Prince of Peace.” How could we, then,
consistently help them in their fights? We were there professing that
all the peoples of the neighbouring towns and surrounding districts were
our friends; how could we then take up arms against any of them and
expect them to believe our professions of good-will or trust again in
our word? We were hoping to make our station a centre of peace, the
meeting-place for all factions; how could we, then, with our hopes and
prayers, embroil ourselves in their hatreds and wars, or join sides with
them even in pretending to shoot down our other parishioners? It was
very difficult, but strength was given to meet the emergency, to bear
calmly the taunts, the sneers, and the contempt; and from that time we
were regarded by all the towns of the district as belonging to no one
place, but to all of them, as impartial in our judgments, and just in
our dealings with all alike.

About three weeks after the first outbreak of war the natives of the
upper towns came to talk over the terms of peace. They landed at our
beach as the only neutral spot, and tied their canoes to our posts. The
deliberations were long, boisterous, and from the noise that came to our
ears we thought two or three times that they were on the point of
starting fresh hostilities. At last the palavering was over and the
visitors returned to our station, and bidding us good-bye, they entered
their canoes; but just as they were pushing off the Monsembe people
became excited and threatening in their attitude, and seeing that a
fight on our beach was imminent, my colleague and I picked up sticks and
drove the Monsembe people back from the river front. We insisted on the
neutrality of our station; we had bought and paid for the land,
consequently it was ours, and we would have no fighting on it; if they
wanted to fight they must go to another part of the beach.

This attitude of ours was a revelation to our Monsembe neighbours. Here
were two white men whom they had taunted with being cowards, women,
etc., standing with simply sticks in their hands to oppose a crowd armed
with spears and knives. Two white men with sticks only throwing
themselves between them and their enemies, and demanding that no blood
should be shed on their land. What power had these white men behind
them? So astonished were they that they halted in their treacherous
attack on their visitors, who, taking advantage of the lull, paddled
beyond reach of the uplifted spears, and arrived safely home.

After this failure to settle the terms of peace, a go-between
(_molekaleku_) was appointed and approved by both parties. He was an
outsider of importance and had the confidence of the clans concerned. He
arranged the terms of peace: all loot and slaves should be retained by
the conquerors; but all the free folk captured should be set at liberty.
This go-between selected a neutral place for the ceremony of
_blood-brotherhood_, and was pledged that the meeting should take place
without a renewal of hostilities by either party.

All the preliminaries having been settled the parties met at the place
and time appointed; and then a stick called _ndeko_ was procured and
carefully scraped, and these scrapings were mixed with salt. The
contracting parties—the head-man of each side—clasped each other’s right
hand with the _ndeko_ between the palms; some incisions were then made
on the arms and the mixture of _ndeko_ scrapings and salt was rubbed on
the cuts; each then put his mouth to the incisions on the other’s arm
and sucked for a few moments, after which one of the contracting parties
took the _ndeko_ stick and struck the wrists and knees of the other,
saying: “If ever I break this covenant may I be cursed by having my nose
rot off.”[10] Then the other took the _ndeko_ stick, and, performing the
same ceremony, he called down the same curse on himself should he ever
break the contract. These rites were accompanied by the drinking of much
sugar-cane wine, and the whole ceremony was called _tena ndeko_ = to cut
the _ndeko_ stick.

Footnote 10:

  Probably lupus. There were a few cases of this disease, and it was
  regarded as a punishment for faithlessness in observing the oath of

After making _blood-brotherhood_ between the head-men, there was enacted
another performance called _bakia lolelembe_: a medicine man took a palm
frond, split it and put one half of the frond across the path leading
from Monsembe to the upper towns—the towns of the contracting parties.
This was not only a sign that all that palaver was finished, but it was
a fetish having power, it was supposed, to punish anyone who broke the
treaty. It was firmly believed that the side that renewed that quarrel
would get the worst of it by wounds and death. Perhaps this is the
history of many a tribal fight in Africa—alarm, attack, defeat, pursuit,
cannibal feasts, and the making of peace by blood-brotherhood.

Congo boys are the most inquisitive animals that I have yet met in
Africa. Crocodiles, when boats were new to the Congo, would follow them
for hours in their attempts to investigate the strange object; goats and
sheep were always ready to poke their noses at new things that came
within their purview, but their curiosity was quickly satisfied. Congo
boys (and in a minor degree the girls also) were never wearied of
watching us at work, following us about to see what we would do next,
and asking about our tools, etc., and why we did this or that in such a
way, and did not accomplish the same result by some other mode of
procedure. They would stand about our table while we were at meals, and
pass critical remarks on our manner of eating, slyly imitating the
action of our jaws as we masticated our food, or mimic our gestures as
we conversed with one another. We seemed to live, move, and pass our
existence in the full glare of public gaze like fish in a glass tank.

One never-ending source of delight to them was to scan our countenances
as we read. They noticed every alteration of facial expression as the
“books talked to us.” If we burst out laughing at some witticism in our
reading they would laugh heartily in sympathy with us, and would poke
one another, saying: “The book is talking some funny thing to them.”
When their shyness had passed away they would ask: “What does the book
say to make you laugh?” Occasionally the bit of wit came within the
scope of their comprehension, and of our knowledge of the language, and
they would enjoy it as much as we did, showing they had a ready wit and
enjoyed a hearty laugh; and we felt encouraged, for there is some hope
for a people that can laugh joyously and boisterously.

At times they would creep behind us, and looking earnestly at the open
page, they would cock their ears to listen intently for any sound, and
seeing nothing but a blurred page, and hearing no sounds, they would
insinuatingly ask: “White man, how does the book talk to you? and can
you make it talk to us?” We would then explain the system of letters and
syllables, etc.; but would, at the same time, express a doubt as to
their ability to learn to read.

“Cannot you give us some ‘medicine’ to make us understand the ‘book’
talk?” they would pleadingly ask of us.

“No,” we replied; “there is no ‘medicine’ that can give you such wisdom.
You must learn letter by letter, and of course you have no brains for
such work. What is the use of wasting time in teaching you?”

If we had exhibited any special eagerness to teach them, they would have
held back; but chaffing them and pretending that they had not enough
brains to learn had the desired effect of putting them on their mettle,
and they begged us to start school right away. We showed no hurry to
fall in with their wishes, and this only piqued them and made them more
desirous of having a school. At last we acceded to their repeated
requests, and told them that on the day that followed the next
“rest-day” (i.e. on Monday next), we would begin school and hold it
every morning for five days a week.

The eventful morning dawned, and with it about twenty lads arrived to
enter upon the mysteries of the white man’s “book.” At that time I was
busy building a suitable house in anticipation of my wife’s arrival, so
my colleague, Mr. Stapleton, took charge of the new school. His room was
the school-house. We had written out the alphabet in large letters, and
had prepared some slips from which they might copy. We opened a box
containing some slates and pencils. The school-house and apparatus were
in keeping with the scholars, but the latter brought with them a large
amount of enthusiasm and determination, so what was lacking in school
furniture, and in the attire of our pupils, was made up in the
willingness and earnestness of the scholars.

The adults were almost as greatly excited as the boys. They watched
every movement of the teacher, and tried to imitate the sounds of the
various letters. As I passed to and fro at my work I could see the door
and windows crowded by the throng of onlookers, and could hear their
laughable attempts at learning. Two hours at this kind of teaching
thoroughly exhausted my colleague, for there were not only twenty
sprightly boys to look after, but a crowd of men and women who demanded
no little attention. In a week or two the newness of the school wore
away, fewer adults gathered around the doors and windows, and some of
the lads, finding that there really was no “medicine” to drink imparting
to them book knowledge, no royal road to learning, but that it entailed
continuous effort, gave up coming, and by the end of a fortnight only
about half the original class was left—but they were worth teaching, and
they persevered until they became good scholars and afterwards teachers
of others.

During nearly thirty years’ teaching of Congo youths, both on the Lower
and Upper River, I have noticed that up to the age of fourteen or
fifteen the boys and girls—especially the boys—are very receptive, and
are easily taught; but after that age comparatively few make real
advance in learning. By the age of fourteen they have arrived at
puberty, and after that they have to make a continuous effort to retain
any book knowledge they may have received. This may be due in some
measure to their thoughts being centred on other matters, as trade
journeys, fishing, and hunting on their own account, and later to
building their houses, looking about for a wife, and procuring the
necessary articles for paying the marriage money, and meeting the
expenses of the feasts, etc.


  _Photo by: the Author_
  This boat—the gift of a friend at Derby—was used in itinerating up and
    down our large parish with its two hundred miles of river frontage.

The following is probably a great factor in causing their mental growth
to stop practically at the above age: For generations boys on arriving
at the age of fourteen or fifteen had learned all their fathers had to
teach them respecting fishing, hunting, wood-craft, building, paddling,
etc. If they showed a special aptitude for fishing, hunting, etc., they
followed their “bent” in that particular, and became proficient simply
by practice, and their successes were generally put to the credit of
their charms. They never initiated new ways of building (until after the
arrival of the white man), or new ways of hunting or fishing, etc., but
only carried on those modes they had gained from their fathers, and
which were mastered by the time they were fifteen years old. Thus their
intelligence has attained, for generations, its fullest development by
the above age, and now we have to help them over that crucial stage. In
some cases it is very difficult, but in other cases we can do so; and in
such there is no limit to the intellectual progress they may make. In
many instances they have mastered a good working knowledge of French,
Portuguese, or English, both spoken and written, and as larger
opportunities are given, a large number of youths will make such mental
progress as will encourage their friends and teachers.


  _Photo by_: _the Author_
  The author’s study and his wife’s drawing and reception-room. The
    walls are made of bamboos, scraped and varnished, and all the
    furniture, except the chairs, was made on the spot.

The native in his raw state gained such an acquaintance with the
languages of neighbouring tribes as to be able to communicate freely
with them; and in many of their folk-lore stories there are sentences
taken from other languages and scattered through the tales like French
phrases in a fashionable novel. We have found, as a rule, that lads who
came to us at fourteen or fifteen made very slow progress in our
schools, and seldom reached the higher classes. They lost heart at their
difficulties, and left school—there were exceptions, but such as only go
to prove the rule. I think it would not be difficult to prove that
English lads at the age of fourteen or fifteen need constant spurring by
teacher, father, or guardian, or a much larger proportion of them would
lose the knowledge they had acquired in their schools.

When I had almost finished building the three-room bungalow in which I
hoped to spend many years with my devoted wife, I began to build a
kitchen, and the natives, seeing a smaller house being built in
proximity to the larger one, said: “That is where the white man is going
to put his wife, while he will, of course, live in the large house.”

“No,” we answered; “that is the cook-house. My wife will live here in
this house when she arrives.”

“You would not be so foolish, white man,” they inquired, “as to put a
woman in this fine house? You will send her to live in that small one,
will you not?” And there was a certain amount of anxiety in their tones
rather indicative of their fear that I was going to upset the proper
order of domestic life by allowing a woman to live on equality with

They would scarcely believe me until they saw the stove fixed in the
cook-house, and my wife installed with me on equal terms in what they
called my “fine house,” which was only a three-roomed cottage with a
verandah on two sides.

The Boloki’s regard for women was a strange contradiction. I have seen
them walking—man and wife—with their arms around each other’s waist, as
though they were a couple of English lovers crossing a common in the
twilight. I never saw natives exhibit so much fondling and affection for
each other as was shown among those erstwhile cannibals. Ninety per cent
of their quarrels were about women, for every man who had one or more
wives bitterly resented any interference with his sole proprietorship in
them. They would fondle their women, yet treat them contemptuously as
inferiors; they would fight to assert their rights of ownership in them,
yet regard them as so greatly beneath them as to send them to eat their
food by themselves out of sight; and they would slave to collect
sufficient goods to pay the marriage money for their free wives, or to
procure the price of their slave wives, yet the former they would thrash
unmercifully, and the latter, for a whim or in a fit of temper, they
would murder and fling the corpse into the river, or invite their
neighbours to feast with them on the body.


                               CHAPTER V


A Congo lad in England—People doing no work—Erroneous views—A
    condemnation of “niggers”—Its answer—White employers of black
    labour—Allowances to be made—Leather-work—String making—Bark
    cloth—Basket-work—Pottery—Dyeing and painting—Working in
    metal—Aptitude for learning handicrafts.

Many years ago I brought a native lad of quick intelligence from the
wilds of Congo to my home in London. He noticed the people crowding the
pavements, filling the tram-cars, omnibuses, and trains; and his
frequent question was: “How do all these people live, for they seem only
to ride and walk about and do no work?” Later he observed that all the
articles in the various windows of the different tradespeople had prices
marked on them, and that money was necessary with which to buy them. He
had tried to procure things himself from the shops, and had learned by
sad experience that not only was money needful for that purpose, but the
right amount was requisite before he could become the happy possessor of
the coveted article so luringly displayed in the window; and then his
question was: “How do the people get the money with which to buy all
those things?”

“They have to work for their money,” I replied. “Some have to work hard
for very little money, others earn more by less laborious work, and
others again are fortunate enough to have had fathers who worked hard
and have left their sons and daughters so rich that they have no need to

“Work hard!” he exclaimed incredulously. “Why, they only ride, or walk
about the streets, or sit in shops eating and drinking. I do not see
them at work.”

I fear that if that lad had returned to his country then, he would have
carried with him a very poor idea of white folk, and would have regarded
us as a lazy lot who only walked or rode about the streets, or sat
eating and drinking in shops. It took many a long talk to explain our
system, and when later I had the opportunity of taking him behind the
scenes into factories, and over buildings in the course of erection, he
modified his views and came to understand that the white man _works_. At
the back of his mind was the idea, very prevalent among some of the
Congo tribes, that all our articles of barter are manufactured by the
blacks, whose dead bodies we have bought in Africa and sent to Mputu
(countries of the white people), where by the wonderful magic of the
white men the bodies are resurrected, and they are now doing our work
for us so that we can walk and ride about with nothing whatever to do.
It is the ignorance of one people about another that causes such
misunderstandings, prejudices, and erroneous judgments. The lad would
never have thought of charging the traders, the missionaries, or
Government officials with laziness, for he saw and understood their
work; but these white folk who crowded the streets, filled the vehicles
and the shops, what work did they do? He could not see it, and his
superficial and mistaken opinion was that they were an indolent lot of

Sitting at tea with me one day at Monsembe was the captain of a State
steamer. _À propos_ of nothing in particular, he exclaimed: “What lazy
fellows these niggers are!”

“To whom are you specially referring?” I inquired of him.

“Well,” he said, “before coming to your house to tea this afternoon I
took a walk through the town and saw some men lounging about talking,
and others asleep under the shade of some plantain and fig trees.”

“Oh, yes,” I replied; “I know them very well. Some of them have been for
several weeks over on the islands, living in rough shanties, fishing all
day and smoke-drying their fish over their fires during the evenings.
They returned this morning after their long spell on the islands, and
they are resting for a few days before starting on another fishing
expedition. Another lot of men came in yesterday with that heavy canoe
in the rough that you saw on the beach. They were away some weeks
felling a huge tree, hollowing it out, and shaping it in the rough with
their little axes—a laborious job. Yesterday they floated it home, and
are now enjoying a well-earned rest before finishing the canoe and
selling it. What you saw was not an exhibition of laziness, but a
relaxation after prolonged arduous work.”

Just then a strongly-formed, well-built young man went past the house.
“There, do you see him?” asked my visitor; “I saw him asleep in his

“Yes, I know him,” was my reply; “he is one of the head-men of this
district. His father was wealthy as natives go in this part, and left
him enough to give him the equivalent of £300 a year in your money.
Would you work if you had £300 a year coming in?”

“By Jove, no!” he quickly replied, slapping his knee at the very idea of
possessing £300 a year without working for it. “I would have a nice
little house with a fine garden, and I would sit smoking all day in the
midst of my flowers.”

“Just so!!!” was my comment.

The natives of Africa live in an enervating climate, with a temperature
frequently nearer 95° in the shade than 70°. They dwell in the midst of
a prolific nature that supplies their vegetable foods with very little
exertion, and in such environments that their needs are few and easily
met. In their natural state there are both lazy and industrious folk as
in other countries.

When the white man arrives he engages his native workman, at so much per
month, for twelve, eighteen, or twenty-four months. For the first time
in his life the native has to work regular hours, starting and leaving
off to the deep notes of a bell, or the tap, tap of a drum. At first the
experience is novel, and he is most willing and hard-working; but
pay-day is a long way off, his enthusiasm cools as the novelty passes
away, and then the master will have to look vigilantly and constantly
after his hired workman. Give him piece-work and pay him by results and
you will see prodigies of labour, for every payment made on those lines
is an incentive to further effort. The native as keenly enjoys money and
what money brings in extra food, comforts, and prestige as the white
man, and is as willing to work for them.

The employer of labour in Africa is the white man, and he desires to get
as much work as he can for his money, and the employee tries to give as
little of his energy and strength as he can for the pay he is to receive
twelve, eighteen, or twenty-four months hence, consequently there is a
clash of interests; and while the white man has the opportunity, among
his friends, of talking loudly about the “lazy niggers,” let him sit
with the natives round the fire one evening, and he may be surprised to
learn that there is another point of view, and that not over-flattering
to his fairness as a master.

I have frequently asked employers of labour in England whether they were
satisfied with the work done for them by their day labourers, and while
they readily allowed for exceptions, yet they spoke strongly of such men
as “doing as little as possible for their pay.” Every branch of work
that it is possible to give out as piece-work is nowadays so arranged.
Why? The masters are satisfied, for they get done that for which they
pay; the men are better pleased, for they receive what they earn, and
the quickest and most industrious man gains the largest pay, and his
superior energy is not balanced against the laziest man in the shop. Let
us do justice to the black man. He is the only one who in such a climate
can work long hours at a time, and for months at a stretch. All the
evidences of civilization on the Congo are the results of his energy and
endurance directed by his white master. He is, however, no fonder of
work than the average white man; but like the latter he is willing to
labour to increase his comforts in the house, his prestige in the
village, and to meet his obligations as a man, a husband, and a father,
for each relationship makes its own demands on his resources.

In 1890 we opened our Mission station at Monsembe, but previous to our
arrival the natives had not had sufficient intercourse with white people
either to increase their arts and industries or even to modify them by
the introduction of new methods or new tools. The natives then were as
they had been for many a generation, and their manufactures were limited
by the materials at their disposal. In judging of the merits or demerits
of the manufactures of a tribe, it is necessary to take into
consideration the materials to be obtained in their district and the
tools with which they are compelled, by force of circumstances, to do
their work. Suppose the Lancashire people were restricted in their
manufactures to such material as they could obtain from the surface of
their county, and the small supplies that filtered through to them from
the adjacent counties by laborious and costly transport over the hills,
or by canoes on their rushing streams, we should hear nothing of the
cotton mills, the weaving, the iron works, etc., of that industrious and
hardy folk. It is what has been brought into the county, what has been
dug from the bowels of its land, and the machinery and tools that have
been imported into it that have given Lancashire the place it rightly
holds in the commercial and industrial world. And what has been written
of Lancashire can also be said of many another county in Great Britain,
and should be recognized when judging of the merits or demerits of the
arts and crafts of an African tribe.

Before the arrival of white men at Monsembe it was the practice of the
natives to ornament their saucepans with a herring-bone pattern and with
bands; their knives and spears with parallel incised lines, and with
herring-bone pattern; their shields being made of basket-work material
had often a border of lozenge pattern round the edge. The blades of
paddles had parallel incised lines, and their canoes had the same kind
of lines along the outer top edge. Handles of knives and hafts of spears
were made in various shapes, and studded with brass nails, or bound
round with brass ribbon. I never saw any drawings until I had been there
a considerable time, and then they took to sketching on the fronts of
their houses, and on letters they sent to each other. These sketches
were of steamers, houses, and people. The drawings were done in
charcoal, and when outlining a figure the cock’s-comb tattoo on the
forehead was usually much exaggerated. They had no idea of perspective,
but a sense of humour was often exhibited when “taking off” a person.

The hides and skins of animals were employed for various purposes. The
skin of the hippopotamus was used for cuirasses; that of the buffalo,
antelope, goat, and sheep for belts, basket-straps, and knife sheaths;
that of the monkey, sygale, monitor, mongoose and civet cat for hats,
belts, small sheaths, and ornamental aprons, or for containing charms;
that of the boa constrictor and other large snakes for belts, sheaths,
and drum heads. The skin was either stretched and pinned by wooden pegs
on the ground, or laced on a frame. The bits of flesh were cut off, some
wood ash rubbed on, and then it was left to dry in the sun. If a soft,
flexible skin was desired, oil was rubbed into the skin after it was
thoroughly dry. It was not the custom to take the hair off any of the
skins. Leopard skins were prepared by the above mode, and were usually
preserved whole as mats upon which chiefs and head-men sat.

If the owner of an animal wished to sell the flesh in open market the
skin was not taken off, but the animal was so cut up that a piece of
skin was left on each portion. The buyer could then see the kind of
animal flesh offered for sale, and would know for a certainty whether it
was tabooed to him or not. Goats, sheep, and dogs were thus cut up and
hawked for sale through the villages. This custom of cutting up the
animals so that the requirements of taboo might be met accounts for the
destruction of a large number of skins in Africa; but when a party of
hunters captured an antelope it was skinned, or when a family killed a
goat or sheep and did not wish to sell any of it, the animal was skinned
whole, and the hide was preserved and utilized. Although the skin of the
electric fish (_nina_) is more than half an inch thick, I never saw it
used for any purpose; in fact, the people would not even eat the flesh.
I once tried to dry the skin in the hot, strong sun, but it became
putrid before the sun had any effect on it.

There was a great demand for string, and it was met in the following
way: The bark of a water-plant, called by the natives _munkungi_, was
manufactured into rope and string. The withes were cut into lengths from
3 to 4 feet long and carried into the town, the bark was then peeled
off—it strips easily—carefully scraped on both sides by running it
between the edge of a knife and a board, and then spread in the sun to
dry. The strips were taken in the hand, length by length, and spun by
twisting them between the palm of the hand and the thigh of the
operator. The different threads were then plaited into a string, and
these were twisted together into cords three-eighths of an inch in
diameter. Sometimes the palm-frond fibres were employed for making the
finer strings and twine.

The strong cords were used for tying up their canoes and bundles; and
also plaited into mats about 3 feet long by 1 foot to 1 foot 6 inches
wide, for crushing the sugar-cane fibre when making sugar-cane wine. The
better-made strings and twines were made into shoulder-bags or satchels,
and also into fighting-belts. These belts were from 9 to 12 feet long,
and about 4 or 5 inches wide, and were generally well smeared with pipe
clay; they were wound round the abdomen just before a fight, and
afforded a good protection against spear-thrusts. The string was wound
on a wooden spool, and the fish-nets, of all sizes and shapes, were made
by the ordinary process of netting, the mesh varying according to the
size and purpose of the net.

For some years after we arrived at Monsembe the old folk wore bark
cloth. A strip of bark 18 inches long by 5 or 6 inches wide, and 1½
inches thick was taken from the tree—the wild fig tree, or from a tree
called _ngumbu_. The strip of bark was soaked in water for a time, and
then beaten with an ivory mallet as it lay across the palm of the hand.
The strip of bark gradually widened to 18 inches, and lengthened to 3 or
4 feet. Some cloths were very evenly beaten, so that no holes appeared;
others were not so well done, and holes and uneven places showed in the
finished cloth. _Likuta_ was the name given to the finished cloth. I
never saw any weaving among these Boloki folk, but they told me of an
ancient native-made cloth called _pelele_; but I never saw a specimen of
it, and cannot speak of its texture.


  This is one of about fifteen fringes that a woman wears tied round her
    waist. The more _chic_ the wearer the shorter the fringes are cut.
    They are made from scraped palm leaves.

Not many baskets were made by the Boloki folk, but the most common was a
wedge-shaped basket of medium texture, and with a capacity of about half
a bushel, used for carrying home farm produce. This was made of split
cane, of the same thickness and style as the seat of a cane chair. It
was a large oval at the mouth running down to a small oval at the
bottom, and was carried on the back either by a single strap across the
chest or forehead, or by two small loops through which the arms were
passed. For soaking their cassava roots long conical baskets were used
with lids to tie down. Occasionally I saw their large sugar-cane
wine-pots covered with stout basket-work, and strong handles plaited on
to them. Other kinds of baskets found amongst this tribe were made by
slaves captured or bought from neighbouring districts; and their shields
of basket-work were, I believe, bought ready-made from other tribes. I
never saw one in the making. A very large variety of fish-traps and
baskets were made by these folk. Some were over 6 feet in diameter and
long in proportion, while others were small enough for a child to
handle. They were very dexterous in twisting canes into various shapes
for their basket-work, and in making mats from papyrus.

The pottery made by the Boloki women divides itself easily into three
kinds: 1. Saucepans of various sizes but only one shape. 2. Wine-pots
from 6 inches high to 2 and 3 feet high and broad in proportion. 3.[11]
Firepans or hearths for carrying fire in their canoes when travelling.
These latter had three prongs overhanging the top of the saucepan, upon
which an ordinary cooking-pot could be placed, and allow of a free
passage of air to the fire.

Footnote 11:

  No. 1 was called _lobeki_. No. 2 _mobako_, or a small size _ndubu_.
  No. 3 was named _lokenge_. There were many other names, but they only
  differentiated the sizes, and also showed whether they were well or
  badly made, etc.

They had no knowledge of a wheel, but built up their pottery on a base
by rolling the clay between the palms of the hands into long pencils
about the size of a finger, and then welding the strip to the base and
flattening it out with the fingers as they worked round the pot. The
only decorations I have seen on their pottery are “chevrons” and

In baking their pottery no kilns were used, but firewood was laid
carefully on the ground, and the pots arranged on the top, and then
small firewood, twigs, etc., were thrown over the whole pile and the
fire lighted.

On the Mobangi River I saw some varnishing done. When the pots were
sufficiently baked, and while still very hot, they were rubbed over with
lumps of gum copal. Pots treated in this way were suitable for
drinking-vessels, or as dishes in which to place food; but they were
unsuitable for cooking purposes, for directly the pot got hot the gum
copal caught fire. Some, before being rubbed over with the gum copal,
were smeared with arnotto dye, and thus showed red through the glazing.

Iron ore was imported from the upper reaches of the Lulanga River, and
smelted in native crucibles. The furnace was a hole about 18 inches
deep, about 15 inches in diameter at the top, and 8 to 10 inches at the
bottom. Charcoal made from hard woods was the heating medium. The
smelting pot with the ore was put in the middle of the furnace, and the
blast was furnished by native bellows and conducted to the heart of the
furnace by a funnel-shaped tube of burnt clay. The bellows were cut out
of a solid block of wood. There were two holes, each from 8 to 12 inches
in diameter, which opened below into a common wooden tube which fitted
into the above-mentioned clay funnel. Over each of the holes a soft skin
was securely tied, and to the centre of each skin was fixed a stick
about 3 feet 6 inches long. The operator worked the sticks up and down
alternately, and the more vigorously he worked the more powerful the


  _Photo by_: _Rev. R. H. Kirkland_
  A wheel is unknown, but the pottery is generally very perfect in
    shape. The pots are baked, and sometimes glazed with gum copal.
    Those with three prongs are used for cooking while travelling in a
    canoe. The saucepan of food is supported on the three prongs, and
    small firewood is put in the openings.

The native blacksmith made hoes and axes; knives of various shapes and
sizes; spear-heads of different kinds, barbed for fishing-spears,
small-bladed ones for fighting, or broad-bladed fancy spears for
purposes of show when visiting friends and neighbours. He also fashioned
large hooks for catching crocodiles, the razors for shaving the head or
face, lances for killing hippopotami, knives for household use, gouges
and chisels for canoe-making, and piercers for matmaking. Unfortunately
the introduction of European knives, hoes, and axes has ruined this
native industry.

For some time after we settled at Monsembe the blacksmith would buy up
the iron bands from our bales and boxes, and work them up into hoes,
knives, axes, and spear-heads. The anvil was a block of hard wood, the
hammer was a bar of iron about 8 or 10 inches long, and 1¼ inches
square. They had no pincers, but when the piece of iron was too short to
hold while working it they made a wooden handle for it, which they
slipped on and off as required. They knew the process for making steel,
and could put a very fine edge on their razors, spears, and knives.

Large brass rings for the neck were made in the following way: The
potato-like substance of the plantain root was cut into shape of the
desired circumference and thickness; this model was surrounded with
well-kneaded clay, a funnel-shaped opening being made to let off steam,
to clear out the charred fibre of the plantain root, and to pour in the
molten metal. This mould, when completed, was baked in the fire, and as
it baked the plantain-root model inside was burnt; the ashes were
cleared out and the liquid brass poured in. When cool, the mould was
broken and the brass ring was well polished by scraping and rubbing, and
“herring-bone,” and “lozenge” patterns were cut on it.

Small rings were made for the legs and wrists. A ring was put on each
leg, resting on the ankles; a year or so later another pair of rings was
added to the first pair, and so on, until the rings almost reached the
knees. By gradually adding ring to ring the wearer became used to the
weight, and the ankles became corneous. I once took more than a dozen
rings from the legs of a woman, weighing 60 lbs. in all—30 lbs. of brass
on each leg. When these heavy rings had been removed the woman seemed
top-heavy; her legs were now so light that apparently she had no control
over them, and she crossed our enclosure like a drunken person. I have
seen solid brass necklets weighing from 20 to 28 lbs. each. On one
occasion, while chatting with a chief, I asked him if he buried the
brass rings when his wives died, and he at once replied: “No.”

“How do you remove such heavy, strong rings from the neck of a dead
woman?” was my next question.

He did not reply in words, but he ran his finger round his own neck,
indicating that under such circumstances they cut off the head in order
to remove the rings.

Long spiral leg rings were made in the following manner: A bamboo, from
12 to 15 feet long, was split (bamboo, _Raphia vinifera_, in which there
are no nodes). The pith, to the desired depth and width, was taken out
of one half and the molten brass[12] was poured along this channel. This
gave the operator a long brass rod about the thickness of the index
finger, and this rod was carefully beaten round, scraped, and polished;
and starting from the ankle it was wound round and round the leg nearly
up to the knee, each circumference of the spiral being made a little
larger than the one immediately below it. At the bottom the leglet
impinged on the ankle, which bore the whole weight; but at the top it
had 2 or 3 inches’ play about the calf of the leg. Brass ribbon was made
by beating out the brass rods to the required width, and this ribbon was
used for ornamenting spear and knife handles, the hafts of paddles, and
knife sheaths.

Footnote 12:

  Copper (_dikulu_) was known, but I never saw any of it worked, and
  only very little worn as ornaments.

The social position of a smith among the natives was very high, and he
was regarded with as much respect as a professional man is in Europe.
The natives thought that the smith was not only wise and skilful, but
that he practised witchcraft in order to perform his work properly. No
one was allowed to step over a smith’s furnace, nor blow it with his
mouth, nor spit into it, as either of these actions would pollute the
fire, and thus cause bad workmanship. Any person polluting the fire
would have to compensate the smith by the payment of a heavy fine. A
smith taught his son or his nephew the trade, but would not take an
apprentice on any consideration. He was always known by the name of his
trade, and was consequently called _motuli_ = the one who _tula_, or
works in iron.


  She has highly prized beads across her chest, a brass chain around her
    waist from which dangles a large brass bell, numerous brass rings
    round her arms, and brass rings on her big toes. On her legs she has
    spiral brass rings.

How did the smith procure his brass for the making of rings, etc.? The
currency of the country was the brass rod, and the rods were also used
for their brass-work. The brass-worker would collect as many rods as
possible, and cut from half an inch to one inch off each rod, and thus
get his material for nothing.

Before, and for some time after, the arrival of white men salt[13] was
made by the natives burning two different kinds of vegetation. (1) The
thick, succulent stems of a grass[14] that grew in the water along the
banks of the river. This was cut in large quantities and heaped along
the bank until dry, when it was carried to the town. (2) It was also
made from a small plant from 4 to 5 inches in diameter, with thickish
leaves, no stem, rootlets coming straight from the leaves, with the
leaves arranged like a rosette. This plant floats on the river in large
quantities, being torn from the banks by every storm that ruffles the
river. The process of manufacturing salt with either the plants or the
grass was the same. A large quantity, say of the succulent grass, or
grass and plants mixed, was collected on the bank, turned over from time
to time until thoroughly dry; then it was carried to the town, heaped
up, and burnt to ashes. A large funnel was made of leaves, folded and
plaited together, and suspended from a stick. Into this funnel some
ashes were put and water poured on them. The water dissolved the greater
part of the ashes and percolated gently through the leaves into a
shallow saucepan, where the moisture evaporated, leaving behind a dirty
white granulated substance which was used and sold as salt. About a
tablespoonful cost 1½d. I knew a semi-mad man who ate two tablespoonfuls
of this salt and died in a few hours from the effect of it.

Footnote 13:

  Native names for salt, _monana_ and _mokwa_.

Footnote 14:

  Called by the natives _monkoko mwa njoko_ = sugar-cane of the
  elephant, because it was so juicy.

The Boloki were very fond of music, and quickly acquired a new tune.
Their voices, as a rule, were loud, clear, steady, and flexible, and
they sang from the chest. There were harsh, strident voices among them,
but they were the exception, and at certain ages their voices broke and
became falsetto. Their singing was mixed, i.e. men and women sang
together, and was generally accompanied by an instrument, or by the
beating of a stick on a plank, or the clapping of hands to give the
time. In some ceremonies the women sang by themselves, at other times
the men by themselves, and very often the two sexes together, as when
travelling in their canoes. The companies sang in unison, and recitative
time. Many of their songs were a combination of solo and chorus.

When paddling their canoes, either a small drum was beaten or a stick
struck rhythmically on the edge of the canoe to give time to the stroke
of their paddles, and to the rhythm of their songs, solos, and choruses.
As a rule one sang a solo, and the others took up the chorus. Their
songs were generally topical, and as they paddled up- or down-river they
gave all the latest information of interest to the villages as they
passed them. I have often been amazed at the rapidity and accuracy with
which news was spread in this way. A canoe leaving Nouvelles Anvers
(Diboko), where the State had a large station, would carry up or down
river all the gossip about the doings and sayings of the white men of
the station, accounts of their punitive expeditions, judgments passed on
captives and prisoners, their treatment of the natives who had taken the
taxes there, what new white folk were expected and who was leaving for
Europe, etc. The white officers told their personal boys any item of
news, and they passed on the items to their friends; hence in the course
of an hour or two everybody on a station was acquainted with all the
special bits of information worth knowing.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. R. H. Kirkland_
  The proper kind of grass is collected, dried, and burnt. A funnel of
    large leaves is prepared, some of the ashes are put in the funnel
    and water poured over them. This percolates through the leaves, and
    when evaporated leaves a thin layer of salt.

This singing answered another purpose: it gave warning to the village
that a canoe was approaching, and that the folk in it were friendly. A
canoe of any size that approached a town without singing and drumming
was regarded as an enemy’s canoe, and was treated as such, i.e. spears,
stones, etc., would be thrown at the occupants of it.

Occasionally a professional singer would visit our town and teach the
young men a new tune. He charged two or three brass rods per person, but
would not teach the tune unless he had enough pupils to pay him, and
then he would stay a day or two until they had learned the tune
perfectly; and when once they had caught it they would set their own
words to it. A few years ago I wrote in my notebook as follows: “A
professional dancer and singer has recently visited the town, and, like
so many of his European brethren, he was marked by some eccentricity in
dress. He wore a belt of red and blue baize about 18 inches wide (the
usual width is 4 to 8 inches), which made him the observed of all
observers. Our professional in walking about the town put on a swagger
fully in keeping with his position and dignity—his bells tingled, and
his monkey and wild cat skins dangled to and fro. He received a large
fee from a mourning family that engaged him to dance and sing in honour
of their dead relatives.”

The native songs may be divided into three classes: (_a_) topical, as
sung in canoes while distributing news; (_b_) local songs, in which the
events of the daily life of the village are temporarily recorded, as the
bravery, cowardice, unsociability, generosity, meanness, thievishness,
etc., of the men and women of village or town. These local songs have a
great effect on the people, for they crystallize the public opinion
concerning an individual, and the African hates nothing so much as being
sung against or ridiculed in a song. (_c_) Songs at funeral festivities,
when the praises of the dead are sung.

They borrowed tunes freely from other tribes, and soon learned to sing
all the European tunes we cared to teach them; but I do not think that
any sounds affected them like the rhythmical beat of their own drums. To
that beat they would paddle vigorously for hours beneath the tropical
sun; dance perspiringly through a long afternoon, or through a long
night; fight recklessly, or drink their sugar-cane wine until their
stomachs were well distended.


  When the hair has been dressed, at the expense of much time and money,
    the dandy sleeps with his neck on a pillow of this kind to avoid
    disarranging the hair.

They were clever in making canoes, which were cut out of solid trees,
sometimes from soft woods, but generally from hard timber, such as
cedar, mahogany, and even camwood. These canoes were sometimes small
enough to be handled by a child, and carried by one person, and so
shallow of draught that they would run easily over a few inches of
water; but they were also made large enough to take from 60 to 70
paddlers, and more than half a ton of cargo. The tree was felled and
roughly shaped in the forest, and then floated to the town of the maker.
It was drawn up out of the river, and a rough shelter built over it to
shade the worker and keep the canoe from warping. A piece of _Euphorbia
candelabra_ was tied to it, and the maker was not to drink water while
working on it, otherwise it would leak; and the charm kept it from
cracking and warded off all evil influences from spoiling it.

They were also expert in making paddles, handles for axes and hoes, and
in carving out chairs from solid blocks of wood. These latter had four
legs and gracefully curving backs, but cost so much that only chiefs and
head-men could afford them; and when they went to a drinking-bout at a
neighbour’s it was no uncommon sight to see the women carrying the
chairs and stools to accommodate their lords and masters in comfort
while drinking. The natives, with teaching, made good carpenters, and
were always handy with tools. Our advent, with new ideas of building and
with many tools the like of which they had never seen before, opened to
them fresh channels of industry; and as they lost their fear of the
“witch-doctor” and were set free from his accusations of “witchcraft”
they gave vent to their skill by imitating our dwellings, our furniture,
and other conveniences that they saw about our houses, and had seen us
make out of the very materials that they had always had to their hand.
They eagerly exchanged fowls and other kinds of food for our tools, and
we were always ready to help them. Before our arrival the
“witch-doctor,” by threats of “witchcraft,” killed every aspiration of
the people and smothered every sign of inventive genius that exhibited
itself. To make anything out of the ordinary—any new article—was to be
regarded as a “witch,” and trouble was sure to follow any suspicion of
that kind. There was no hope for them until they burst the bonds that
held them in thraldom to their “witch-doctors”; but once released from
those miserable trammels, no limits can be set to their future progress.


                               CHAPTER VI


Stopping the rain—Causing the river to subside—Appeasing
    water-spirits—Saved by his wit—Debit and credit in killing—Methods
    of drinking—Purification by fire—Preventing spirits following their
    relatives—Burying women alive with their husband’s corpse—Killing a
    man for a feast—Honouring the dead—Ceremonies at a grave—A monument
    to a chief.

It was raining one day for about three hours when I noticed a
rain-doctor standing on our beach trying to stop the continuous
downpour. He was a tall, upright, old man of very kindly disposition,
and we had often had joking conversations on this very subject of his
power to stop the rain. He had frequently, with much emphasis, asserted
his possession of such a power, and assured me that one day he would
prove it to me. It was now raining one of those kinds of rain that seem
as if it had begun at the Creation and would continue to the crack of
doom. From the verandah of my house I saw the rain-doctor pluck a leaf,
and going to the bank of the river, he placed the leaf on the closed
fist of his left hand, and after extending the arm towards the quarter
from which the wind was blowing, he waved it to and fro in a semicircle,
and then struck the leaf with the open palm of his right hand. This
operation he repeated several times, and at the end of an hour or so the
rain began to abate and at last ceased. He then came smilingly up to my
house, and said, “You see, white man, I can stop the rain.”

Of course he could when there was no more rain to fall. I reminded him
of his many failures, and the frequency with which he himself had been
caught in the rain; but such reminders neither shook his own faith, nor
the people’s, in his power to stop the rain.

If a family were troubled with much sickness, and a witch-doctor said it
was due to the dissatisfaction of So-and-so’s spirit (mentioning the
name of an important and recently deceased member of the family),
because no offering had lately been made to him, then the family would
kill a slave and send him with a message to their troublesome deceased
relative, requesting that he would not cause them any further
misfortune. If the deceased belonged to a “bush” or inland tribe, the
slave would be killed and buried; but if the departed one was a member
of a riverine tribe, then the slave was tied up and thrown into the
river. We induced them to stop this custom, but the more timorous ones
for a time compromised the matter either by burying brass rods, equal to
the price of a slave, in the grave, or scattering them in the river.

The occasion was as follows: The river was rising rapidly and flooding
the low-lying town of Monsembe, and as the water rose higher and higher
the head-men met together to decide what was to be done to cause the
river to subside. Passing that way at the time and hearing the subject
of their discussion, I listened to the conference, which lasted about
three hours. They suggested one reason after another for the flood, but
at last they were unanimously of the opinion that the father of one of
the men present was angry with his family for slighting him so long, and
to show his disapprobation, he had caused the river (River Congo) thus
to rise, and the only method of securing its subsidence was to throw a
human sacrifice into the river.

When they arrived at this decision I asked for permission to speak,
which was readily granted. With my walking-stick I drew an outline of
the Congo River, and, putting in some of the larger tributaries, I told
them how the rain was falling incessantly in those parts, and that if
they wanted to keep the river from rising, the best way was to send
their rain-doctor to Stanley Falls to stop the rain, and thus end their
anxiety. And as I spoke I pointed to the old man who was sitting among
the other head-men.

“Oh,” they exclaimed in chorus, “our rain-doctor can stop the rain
falling in these parts; but his powers will not act in another district.
Our only remedy is to throw an old man into the river.” Old men were
cheaper than young ones.

“Well,” I replied, “old Mata Bwata (the old chief who was credited with
the rise of the river) was a little man, and I am a big man; but one day
I shall die and shall be buried here in Monsembe, and if so little a man
can cause the river to rise so much because he is angry with you about a
ceremony, how high do you think I shall cause the water to rise when I
shall be angry with you about murdering men and women in this manner?”

“Why,” they answered, “you will be able to make the water come right
above our heads, and we shall all be drowned. All right, white man,”
they continued, “we know what you mean, and we promise not to throw
anyone into the river.”

We found afterwards that they compromised the matter, for when they held
a mimic “naval” battle (with canoes) in honour of Mata Bwata’s memory,
to appease his dissatisfied spirit, they scattered six hundred brass
rods in the river—the price of a slave—in lieu of a human sacrifice.

While on this subject of appeasing water-spirits I may relate a very
amusing incident that came to my knowledge, the chief actor in which was
well known to me. The folk in the Bombilinga district had been very
unsuccessful in their fishing, and putting the cause of their
non-success down to the wrath of the water-spirits who had turned aside
the fish from their traps and nets, they desired to conciliate them.
With this object they decided to buy a man and throw him into the river.
They bought a man with one eye, who, on account of that deformity, was
sold cheap, and, tying him, as they thought, securely, they hurled him
from a canoe into the river.

By some means, however, he got loose and swam ashore, and on his landing
the surprised people asked him why he had returned after being
sacrificed to the water-spirits. His smart reply was: “The water-spirits
did not want any one-eyed folk down there, so they loosened the ropes
and sent me ashore.” By his wit he saved his life, but another and more
perfectly formed person was bought and thrown into the river in his
stead. This happened some years before we went to live in the district,
but the one-eyed man I knew very well, and more than one person told me
of the incident.

Up to the early months of 1890 eight brothers lived at Bonjoko—a town
three miles below Monsembe. For some unknown reason their slaves beat to
death the chief of that town. Now slave-owners were held responsible for
the actions of their slaves, so the brothers had to flee for their
lives; but one of them was killed before he could escape, and the others
came to Monsembe and built a set of houses with a strong palisade round
them. They lived thus for nine months in apparent security. A chief,
however, is worth two ordinary men, and the family of the murdered
head-man did not forget that one more life was owing to them, but they
waited their time and opportunity.

Some nine months afterwards a Monsembe slave fell from a palm tree and
was picked up dead. All that day and the next the other slaves of the
town danced and sang at the funeral festivities of the dead man, and
during the noise of their crying and chanting dirges some Bonjoko people
entered the town, rushed into the stockade, and, killing one of the
brothers there, they cut open the head of another, and chased a third
one into the bush, where they speared him to death.

If only one brother had been killed the feud would have ended, and
reconciliation between the families would have followed; but in affairs
of this kind they have a credit and debit side, i.e. the chief of
Bonjoko was a great man, so it needed two deaths to expiate his. The
Bonjoko people had killed one brother before the family had escaped from
the town, and now they desired to kill one other only to square the
account; but being divided in their attack into two or three parties,
acting independently, neither knew what the other had done or was doing,
two brothers were killed, during the raid, instead of one. Thus the
Bonjoko family owed one life to the brothers, and according to custom
they should not have stopped hostilities until there was a clear
balance-sheet. The remnant of the brothers could move about freely, and
needed no longer to live enclosed in a stockade. It was now the turn of
the other family to go in fear of their lives. The brothers took the
bodies of their slain relatives to Bonjoko for burial; and a short time
afterwards made blood-brotherhood with the other family, and the blood
feud was thus finished.

It leaked out eventually that the Monsembe head-men, who had little or
no sympathy with the brothers, had received 1000 brass rods not to
oppose the Bonjoko family when they came for vengeance, although the
head-men had accepted large presents from the brothers on the promise of
protection and the right of asylum in their town. This treachery was
condemned by public opinion, but those who condemned it only did so
because they had had no share of the spoils.

The principal drink, apart from water, was _manga_ = sugar-cane wine.
The canes were cut into two-feet lengths and the outside skin peeled
off. The juicy pith was put into a long, strong, canoe-shaped trough,
where it was pounded into pulp with heavy pestles. By the side of the
trough was a strong cross-stick fixed to two stout uprights, and from
the cross-stick was suspended by many loops a cord-plaited mat about 16
inches wide and 2 feet 6 inches long. At the lower end of the mat was a
stout stick hanging from the bottom loops of the mat. The operator took
a large handful of crushed fibre from the trough, and placing it on the
mat he gave a twist to the lower stick, folding the mat over on to the
fibre, then with both hands he turned the lower stick again and again,
until no more juice could be pressed from the enclosed fibre. The juice
ran from the rope mat into a conduit below, and on into a large jar at
the bottom. This process was repeated until all the crushed fibre had
been pressed in the mat. This operation was generally begun about 4 a.m.
and completed by 8 or 9 a.m. A little old sugar-cane wine was added to
the new, and by 3 or 4 p.m. the whole jar, containing from eight to
twelve gallons, would be fizzing with fermentation. A jar of four
gallons could be bought for two yards of calico.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. C. D. Dodds_
  Sugar-cane wine is made early in the morning, and by the afternoon it
    is well fermented. A native bell, or drum, is sounded, and the folk
    gather for the carouse. When a drinking-bout lasts several days the
    men have leaves fastened in their hair.

A man would buy a jar of wine and beat his drum in a certain way to call
his friends, who, after a few minutes, began to gather from various
parts of the town, each followed by a wife carrying a stool and some
article out of which her husband was to drink. One had a bottle, another
a saucepan, another an old coffee-pot, another a jug, another a glass or
an enamel mug. A man was chosen to dole out the wine with a small wooden
bailer, and no matter how large the vessel offered, the recipient only
received so many dips of the bailer, and thus all shared alike.

During the sugar-cane season drinking-bouts were common and would last
from eight to ten days. Different head-men would buy on succeeding days
large jars of _manga_, and would beat their drums to call their cronies
and friends to the “drink.” They would sit in a circle round the jar of
sugar-cane wine, and one would solemnly ladle it out, but no one would
drink until all were served. Women, who sat behind their husbands at
these carousals, drank only what their husbands gave them, and I have
seen only three drunken women. This was not because the women had any
aversion to drinking or to drunkenness, but because they could not
procure the liquor. The making of the “wine” was a laborious process,
hence, while the women cultivated and prepared the canes, the men made
the wine and took care to drink it. Drinking-bouts were always followed
by a certain amount of sickness, as fever and diarrhœa, and a complete
loss of appetite for a time. I think the rough, sharp pieces of fibre
found in the unstrained wine irritated the bowels and brought on
dysentery; and the irregular lives they lived during these bouts induced

The majority drank in the ordinary way, but some in a manner peculiar to
themselves. One sucked his wine through a reed; another had a cloth
dropped over his head while drinking; another placed some fine-shredded
grass over the mouth of his bottle and quaffed his wine through that;
another took a piece of plantain leaf and, making a channel down the
middle, put one end into his mouth and poured the wine out of his bottle
on to the top end of his leaf, whence it ran down the groove into his
mouth. All these various modes of drinking are rigidly followed out of
regard to the strict injunctions of some “medicine man,” who has told
them that in order to prevent the return of a sickness from which they
have suffered, or to escape certain diseases, they must drink in such
and such a manner, or not at all. When a man was “on the booze” he stuck
a leaf in his hair to show it, and then no notice was taken of any
stupid or insulting remarks he might make, or of any business
transaction he might enter upon.

One day I saw an old woman whom I knew very well sitting in the centre
of a ring of fire, and upon inquiry I found that she had had much to do
with preparing a corpse for burial, and at the close of the ceremony she
had to be purified. A ring of fire made of small sticks encircled her;
she took a leaf, dried it, crunched it in her fist, and sprinkled it on
the fire, moving her hands, palms downwards, over the fire ring. When
the fire had died out a witch-doctor took hold of the little finger of
her left hand with the little finger of his right hand, and, lifting her
arm, he drew her out of the fire circle purified. She was now supposed
to be cleansed from all contamination with the dead.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. C. J. Dodds_
  The parallel lines of cicatrices running from the neck to the navel
    are for ornamentation. The ring of solid brass round the neck weighs
    about 12 lbs., but some weigh even 28 lbs.

Walking one day in Monsembe I saw an incident that recalled Burns’ “Tam
o’Shanter” to my mind. There had been a death in a family, and the
relatives had just performed all the necessary rites and ceremonies, and
were returning to their homes. A small trench some twenty feet long was
dug with a hoe. The relatives took up their position on the side of the
trench nearest to the grave, the medicine-man stood on the other side,
and his assistant was placed at the end of the trench with a large
calabash of water. At a signal the water was poured into the trench, and
while it was running the medicine-man took each person by the hand, and
mumbling an incantation he pulled him, or her, over the running water.
When all had been pulled over, one by one, the water was allowed to run
until the calabash was empty. I asked the reason of the ceremony, and
they told me it was to keep the spirit of their deceased, and buried,
relative from following them. It was very evident from the rites
observed that they thought the spirits could not cross running water.

One evening I heard a considerable amount of shouting and screaming, and
on going to the scene of the excitement I found two women strongly bound
who were weeping most bitterly, and begging to be set free. I asked them
the reason for being thus tied, and they replied, “You know our husband,
Mangwele, is dead. He is to be buried to-morrow morning, and we are to
be buried alive with his body. Untie us, white man, and save us from
such a death.”

I knew the custom of the district very well, but had never been brought
into contact so closely with it. In every family of importance there
were one or two women called _mwila ndaku_, which meant that when their
husband died they were to be buried alive with his corpse, unless in the
meantime they bore children, when other women took their place. Every
time they heard their name it was a reminder of the awful fate that
awaited them.

From my heart I pitied the women, and turning to the members of the
family I pleaded and remonstrated with them in such a way, and with such
God-given eloquence, that they at last said, “All right, white man, we
will give up this custom.” They untied the women, who at once began to
dance about us, relieved that they had been rescued from such a horrible

Next morning the men came and asked me to attend the funeral, to see for
myself that they really intended to keep their promise. I went, and for
the first time in the history of that district a man of importance was
buried without living women being inhumed with the corpse. Now I knew
all the wives, children, and slaves of that man, and whenever I asked
for them, they were able to show them—a proof that they had not secretly
buried any after I had left the grave; and as only members of the
family, or slaves owned by the deceased, would follow and attend upon
the spirit of the departed, I felt sure that no outsiders had been
surreptitiously substituted. From that time they used to request that
either I or one of my colleagues would attend important funerals, to see
that they kept their promise. We were exceedingly glad to stop such a
cruel custom.

We were not always successful in our efforts to save life, as the
following incident will show: The people at Bonjoko determined to have a
great feast. They bought as fat a slave as they could procure, broke his
legs and arms, and fed him for three days, while they made a great
quantity of sugar-cane wine. I made every possible endeavour to save
him, but utterly failed to do so, and on the third day he was killed and
the horrible orgy was held. That was in the early years of our Mission;
but in after years they became heartily ashamed of the whole affair.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. R. H. Kirkland_
  A shelter with an open front is erected, and lined with cloth. A rough
    table covered with a cloth is arranged, and on it are placed
    wash-hand basins, bottles, etc., and under it are put stools, large
    wine jars, etc. These things are all “killed,” that their spirits
    may go to the spirit-land and be the property of the chief thus
    honoured. See page 106.

When a man of any position died his wives would throw off their dresses
and wear old rags (sometimes they would go absolutely naked), pick up
anything belonging to him—his chair, spear, pipe, mug, knife, shield, or
blanket—anything that first came to hand, and having covered their
bodies with a coating of clay, they would parade the town in ones, or
twos, or threes, crying bitterly and calling upon him to return to them.
They would stop at times in their crying and say, “He is gone to
So-and-so, we will go and find him,” and away they would start off in a
business-like fashion in their pretended search for him. This parading
they would keep up for a day or two, and then women of the town would
bedeck themselves with climbing plants, vines, leaves, and bunches of
twigs, and forming themselves into a procession they would march through
the town chanting the praises of the deceased. Men would paint and arm
themselves as for a fight, and would imitate the daring acts of the
departed as a warrior; and if he had been remarkable for fighting on the
river, they would arrange a sham canoe fight in his honour. Fifteen or
twenty canoes, filled with men armed with spears, shields, and guns,
would go through all the manœuvres of a mimic river fight, firing their
guns, pretending to throw their spears, or deflect them with their
shields, circling round each other amid shouts of their prowess, or
laughter at those who, losing their balance, fell into the river. Those
ashore would crowd along the bank and yell out directions, approbation,
and encouragement to their friends in the canoes. It was an amusing and
interesting sight, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoyed both by actors
and spectators alike. They called this praising or honouring the dead.

I was asked on one occasion to attend the burial of a prominent man of
the district, and was interested in seeing the following rites
performed: After the coffin had been lowered into the grave, men came
forward, and, taking a spear, they called upon the spirits of those whom
the deceased had killed in times of war to attend their conqueror in the
spirit-world, and every time a name was mentioned or an order given a
thrust was made with a spear. The deceased had killed seven persons, and
their skulls were arranged round the base of the wild fig tree just in
front of his house. Different men called on the different spirits, and
so far as I could ascertain it was those who knew all the particulars of
the slain, and the circumstances attending their death, that had to call
on them to attend and obey the deceased. It seemed to me that he gave
details of the person killed in order that the spirits should make no
mistake as to who was meant, and described the manner of death that
there might be no misapprehension about a claim on their service being
established. Some spears and knives were put in the coffin, and some
brass rods (the currency) were laid in the grave for the use of the

Some months later a shelter was built over the grave, with a rough table
under it. On this table mugs, bottles, saucepans, plates, etc., were
arranged; and at the sides, and under the table, stools, chairs, large
wine-jars were put; but everything was “killed,” i.e. broken. All the
natives told me that the articles were “killed” to keep people from
stealing them, yet they had an idea that the things thus displayed not
only served as a memorial to the deceased, but helped him in some
indefinable way in the spirit-land. Undoubtedly they had forgotten the
reason for “killing” the articles. The stealing reason was not
sufficient to meet the case, for there was too wholesome a fear of the
revenge the spirits could inflict, and detection was too easy for anyone
to be so foolhardy as to rob a grave. No, this display of useful goods
served three purposes: it was a “monument” to the important man buried
beneath it; it was a proof of his own, and his family’s, wealth; and
lastly, and probably the original object of the articles being placed on
the grave, they were conveniences to increase his comfort and prestige
in the spirit world to which he had gone.


                              CHAPTER VII

                      SOCIAL LIFE AND ORGANIZATION

Salutations—Sneezing—Land is communal—River rights—Slaves and their
    position—Laws of inheritance—Sons given as pawns—Masters’
    responsibility—Debtor and creditor—Rules for collecting debts—Rules
    for fighting—The evening meal—Dividing food—Greediness condemned—The
    village dance—The impromptu song—Its effect on various people.

Rudeness, discourtesy, and lack of sociality are greatly condemned by
the Boloki, and will be punished in _longa_, or the nether regions to
which their spirits go after death; hence they are very punctilious
about saluting each other whenever they meet, visit, or pass one
another. The following are their principal salutations.


_Olongo O!_ You are awake. Answer: _Nalongoi O!_ I am awake.

_Obimi O!_ You are out. Answer: _Nabimi O!_ I am out.

Later in the day, when a man is passing a neighbour’s house, he will say
to the one sitting inside or outside his house:

_Ojali O!_ or _Ol’ o moi O!_ You are alive (exist or sit), or, You are
there. Answer: _Najali O!_ or _Nal’ oni O!_ I am alive, or I am here.

If the resident sees the visitor first he says:

_Oy’ oni O!_ You have come here. Answer: _Nay’ oni O!_ I have come here.

If the visitor stays chatting for a little time, he says on leaving:

_Nake O!_ I go. And the other responds: _Oke O!_ You go.

If a man is ill he is greeted thus:

_Okeli boti O!_ You are a little better (_bolau_ is understood).

After his illness the greeting is: _Okeli bolau O!_ You are good, i.e.
You are better. And the answer to the first is: _Nakeli boti O!_ I am a
little better; and to the second: _Nakeli bolau O!_ I am well.

To leave out the _O!_ is for the greeting and response to lack
cordiality, and the emphasis on the _O!_ and the tone in which it is
uttered are indicative of the feeling those greeting one another have
for each other. _Bwanda_ is the word used in greeting a superior, and
the answer is _Bika_ (these words have lost their meaning); but a
superior greets an equal with the same salutations as an inferior does
an equal, i.e.: _Ojali O!_ _Obimi O!_ _Oy’ oni O!_ etc.

There is another salutation used by a person to an equal, the answer to
which is very various; and, in fact, every person has his own reply
according to his circumstances and the way in which he thinks his
neighbours regard him at the time. One man greets another by saying,
_Losako_, Blessing on you; and he replies, _Ngai nkumbaku_, I am one who
is cursed, i.e. the people in the town are always cursing him, or he
fancies they are. Or the reply may be, _Bansina_, They hate me, i.e. the
folk in the town do not like him; or _Ngai nsu ya mai_, I am a fish,
i.e. Everybody likes me just as everybody likes fish; or, _Nakalela bana
ba ngai_, I am weeping for my children, said by one mourning over some
great misfortune or bereavement. A vain person arrogates to himself a
phrase indicative of his egotism, while a despondent one uses a sentence
that does not truly reflect the attitude of his neighbours towards him,
although in his humility he may think so.

There is a curious saying after one has sneezed, viz. _Ngai nya, motu
mosusu_, “It is not I, but someone else,” and this is accompanied by a
vigorous clapping of the hands and snapping of the fingers, expressive
of great astonishment. It means: I am surprised that you want to call
away my spirit (the spirit is supposed to escape through the nostrils),
I really am not the person you think I am, but somebody else.

The natives are fond of water, and bath frequently during a hot day; and
children are bathed regularly twice a day. A mother takes her infant to
the river, and, gripping it tightly just under the right armpit, she
dips it beneath the water. And after holding it there many moments, she
will lift it out, and just as it regains its breath to start crying,
down it will go again. This is repeated about a dozen times, and then
rubbing the superfluous water off with the palm of her hand, she holds
it out in the sun for a few moments to dry. Riverine people can remain
under the water for a long time while attending their fish-nets, and
this habit they have gained from those infantile experiences, when it
was either holding the breath, or drinking a quantity of dirty river

They wash their mouths both before and after meals, and generally carry
a native tooth-brush (a piece of cane three inches long and frayed at
one end) about with them, and use it frequently during the day. To this
habit they probably owe the beautiful white teeth so usually found among
the natives. Both men and women occasionally pay a hairdresser to comb
out their hair nicely, and plait it into three plaits—two standing out
at right angles to the temples and one standing out above the forehead.
They also frequently rub their bodies with palm-oil and camwood powder,
and will sometimes blacken their eyebrows.

The land surrounding a town belongs to the people who live in the town.
Certain landmarks, as streams, forests, etc., are agreed upon as
boundaries. If there is a town near the boundary the land reaches right
up to the boundary of the next town, but if the town is some distance
from the forest boundary, then the ground between the boundaries is
neutral land in which the folk of both towns can hunt, cut timber, etc.,
as they please. Within the boundary the people of the town are free to
make their farms and build their houses where they like, provided the
land is not already occupied by someone else. Priority of occupation is
the only title recognized. There is no such thing as unclaimed land. It
is either within the boundary and is claimed by the town living on it,
or it is between the boundaries and is for the benefit of the near towns
as neutral hunting, etc., but no one can sell that land without the
consent of those towns that are mutually benefited by it.

If a slave belonging to a man of the town cultivated a piece of land
owned by her master’s town, she had full rights over it, and her master
is careful to see that those rights are not infringed. Of course, she
cannot sell the ground, but she can sell the farm as a farm and the
stuff growing on it, and the person who buys the “stuff” can continue to
cultivate it, if she is an inhabitant of the town owning the land, if
not, she can let the produce mature there, and when she has removed the
said produce the land will revert again to the town.

Men, women, and children can own, for the time being, the land that they
have cleared for farming purposes; and can own slaves whom they have
bought or inherited. I have known a case in which a slave owned a slave,
and that slave—the property of another slave—owned a slave also. When we
bought a piece of land in 1890, the price given was divided among the
head-men in the town according to their importance, and they gave a part
of their shares to their followers—members of their family, but not to
their slaves. The State told us we could take the plot of land we wanted
for nothing; but we recognized the natives’ rights in their land, and
thus paid them compensation for relinquishing those rights to us. If we
had not done so, the natives would have regarded us as interlopers who
had stolen their land, and I think their view would have been the right

The river running by the land belonging to a town is the joint property
of the townsfolk for fishing purposes. People of other towns are not
allowed to fish there. There are, however, large tracts of neutral water
where anyone can fish with trap or net, provided no one else is fishing
in that spot. These fishing rights are so well recognized that men never
think of fishing along our bank without first seeking our permission.

Slaves can be sold by their owner; and they can also be killed by their
master, and no one can prosecute him for murder—he has simply destroyed
his own property, and “surely a man can do what he likes with his own
goods.” Slaves are, as a rule, treated well, for they can easily run
away, and their owner will then lose the money invested in them. It is
to the owner’s interest to look properly after them—to house them, to
provide them with wives or husbands, and maintain their rights as
members of the community. I have known some few slaves run away; but I
have known more than a few to be treated like members of the family. The
better the slaves are treated, the more secure are their masters of
their services and value.

The eldest son takes his father’s title, and also inherits a larger
proportion of the property than his brothers. The amount depends on the
number of sons—if there are three sons, the eldest takes a half, the
second son two-thirds of the remaining half, and the last son the rest.
The property of a woman goes to her husband, and, failing him, to her
own sons, or daughters. The sons of a free woman take priority over
those by a slave wife. On the Upper Congo father-right is the rule,
whereas on the Lower Congo mother-right is the recognized native law.

Sons inherit their father’s widows, and in sharing them out it is
arranged for a man not to have his own mother as a part of his share of
the women. The son, on becoming possessed of his father’s widows, can
either keep them as his wives, or, if they are slave women, he can sell
them; and if they are free women he can arrange for them to marry
someone else, and keep the marriage money paid for them.

Failing direct male heirs, the daughter (or daughters) takes the estate;
but she gives the wives to some of her near of kin, such as male
cousins, etc., but should there be no direct male or female heirs, the
family clan takes possession of the estate and divides it among

When there are male heirs, and the estate is divided up, the daughter
(or daughters) takes as her portion the women who were given to her
father as her marriage money by her husband; and these she gives to her
brother by the same mother as herself, so that that brother receives his
share of the estate as a son, and also the women (if still alive) given
as a marriage portion for his sister. In recognition of this gift the
fortunate brother will make frequent presents of sugar-cane wine and
meat to his sister’s husband, as this increment to his wealth has come
indirectly from him.

Slaves number about 25 per cent of the population. Some were born
slaves, others were seized for debt, a few were captured in war, and
some had sold themselves to pay their debts, incurred by adultery, or by
the loss of a lawsuit, the expenses of which they could not meet. Some
were sold to pay the family debts. It is also the custom for a father to
give a son in pawn as security for a loan. The status of a pawn is
somewhat higher than that of a slave, for he may be redeemed at any
moment, and thus again become a free person. The one who holds such a
pawn cannot sell him, nor pass him on to anyone without the consent of
the pawner, for the family may arrive with the redemption money, and if
the pawn cannot be produced the pawnee will have to pay the family three
or four times the value of the pawn.

There are no absolutely independent men and women apart from head-men
and chiefs. All the rest are attached to head-men as relatives, slaves,
pawns, or by a voluntary surrender of themselves to a chief. If the
family of a free man dies off, or becomes very weak—too weak to defend
itself against the aggressiveness of the other families in the town,
such a free man attaches himself (and any relatives dependent on him) to
the head-man of any one of the stronger families he may select. He then
practically becomes a member of that family. Their quarrels are his, and
his quarrels are theirs. His position is that of a free man owning
fealty to the head of his adopted family, and he is never treated as a
slave. If he had tried to stand alone in his weakness some quarrel would
have been picked with him by one of the more powerful families, and
eventually he and his would have become slaves. A slave is called
_mombo_, from _omba_, to buy; a pawn is _ndanga_ = a token; but a free
man who attaches himself to a chief is called _ejalinya_, probably from
_jala_ = to live with.

A slave boy is not permitted to use either camwood powder or oil on his
body; but should he please his master one day by bringing him a present
of a fine fish, or a large piece of meat, or some cloth and brass rods
worthy of his master’s acceptance, his owner on receiving the offering
will rub his hands over his slave’s face, and say, “Your skin is very
bad. Why don’t you rub it with camwood powder and oil?” and from that
time he is allowed to use the cosmetic so prized by all the natives.

As a rule the best dressed men in a town are the slaves, and the worst
dressed men the masters. They are afraid to parade their wealth for fear
of charges of witchcraft on account of deflecting other folk’s goods to
their own store; and also a man can more consistently and more easily
refuse a loan on the plea of poverty, in old clothes, than he can if he
is gorgeously arrayed. Of course, on special occasions, the masters will
wear plenty of good cloth, and decorate their bodies with powdered
camwood and oil. A slave can dress his hair like a free man; but if he
has a beard he must leave it loose, for only free men are permitted to
plait their beards.

The master is responsible for the actions of his slaves. I remember a
case in 1892 when a slave attempted the life of the head-man of his
master’s town. His attempt failed, and he escaped to a distant town; but
the master was tied up, killed, and eaten. It is not at all improbable
that if the master had been a more influential man some other way would
have been found to meet the case—a heavy fine—as the attempt was
unsuccessful. While theoretically a master is liable for his slave’s
debts, yet he will repudiate them on the ground that the lender had no
right to advance goods to a slave without first ascertaining whether the
master will be responsible for the payment for them or not. A slave
badly treated by his master breaks the _eboko_, or fetish saucepan,
belonging to a witch-doctor. Then the witch-doctor demands such a heavy
price from the master, as he is responsible for his slave’s action, that
he prefers to leave the slave as compensation in the witch-doctor’s
hands to paying such heavy redemption money. The sum demanded is usually
more than the price of a slave; but public opinion is very pronounced
against a slave who breaks the _eboko_ for insufficient reasons. The
fear of this has a strong deterrent effect on bad, passionate-tempered
masters in restraining them from ill-treating their slaves.

Labour is not regarded as a degradation, and those who are skilled in
smithing, canoe-making, etc., not only become comparatively wealthy, but
are regarded with great respect on account of their skill. Boys like to
accompany their fathers on fishing and trading expeditions; and girls go
with their mothers to the farms as soon as they can walk, and toy hoes
are given them to play with while on the farm. These journeys to the
farms or to the fishing camps are a change to the young folk, and are
much enjoyed by them.

Among the Boloki there are neither markets nor market-places. If a
person has anything for sale he walks through the town calling out its
name like a London hawker. Sometimes a person catches a fish that is
taboo to him, and he will hawk it through the town to try to exchange it
for another that he can eat.

In their business transactions credit is frequently given, and for such
credit no interest is expected. To recover a debt a creditor first duns
the debtor until he is tired, then he breaks the pots and saucepans, and
anything he finds outside the debtor’s house, and finishes by telling
him that on a certain day he will call again for the money. If the
debtor then fails to pay, the creditor will collect a few of his
friends, and together they will go and lie in ambush near the farms
until a wife of the debtor comes along, when they will pounce upon her
and take her to their town. The woman will kick, struggle, and scream
for the sake of appearances; but she knows that she will be lightly tied
and well treated.

The debtor will hear of the capture of his wife, and, supposing he owes
1000 brass rods, he will collect the money as quickly as possible, and
take it with 500 extra rods, which he will now have to pay to his
creditor to compensate him and his friends for the trouble of tying up
the woman and the cost of feeding her. As a woman is worth nearly 3000
rods, it pays the debtor to redeem his property by paying his debt and
the sum demanded for expenses.

If the debt is for 1000 rods the creditor may tie up one woman, but if
he ties up two women he puts himself in the wrong, for the value of one
woman more than covers the debt and expenses. If the debt is for 3000 or
4000 rods, the creditor may capture two women, and so in proportion to
the debt. It is very seldom that a woman is seized for any sum less than
500 rods. If the debt is not paid within a reasonable time, the creditor
can keep the woman as his wife, or if she happens to be a slave, he can
sell her. If the debtor has no wives, then a member, or members, of his
family can be seized on the same principle as shown above. Sometimes a
creditor will tie up a person belonging to the town of his debtor; but
this is rarely done except in cases of hostility between the towns.
These debts are generally incurred either in buying a large canoe, or a
wife, or in losing a lawsuit.

A village may have from twenty to five hundred huts in it, and even
more. The rows of houses are generally built in parallel lines to the
river; and a head-man possesses one or more lines, according to the size
of his family or clan. He may have many wives, slaves and their wives,
“pawns,” and dependents, and consequently own several rows of houses; or
he may be the eldest of several brothers who with their wives, slaves,
etc., jointly own several rows of dwellings. The former head-man is a
greater man than the latter, he has more prestige in the town, and has
greater influence in its palavers, for such a man is the head of a
powerful family, each unit of which may number more than the brothers,
their wives, and slaves put together.

The _mboka_ = village, town, locality, may consist of from 20 to 150
families, numbering anything up to 2000 or 3000 people, or it may mean
only one or two families not numbering more than 50 or 60 people; but it
does not matter how large or how small the _mboka_ is, it is
independent, self-governing, and recognizes no over-lord. There is the
head of the family, whose word is law to his own relatives and immediate
dependents living in his section of the town. Then there are the heads
of the families who meet together to arrange the affairs of the town,
and to decide on any course of action in relation to the neighbouring
towns. Some are heads of larger and richer families than others; and
such men necessarily have more influence, and their words carry greater
weight than the utterances of poorer and smaller men. The lives of the
people are rendered pleasant, or otherwise, according to the temper and
ambitions of these head-men.

The various families forming a town live, as a rule, at peace with each
other; and if there is a dispute they try to settle it by “holding a
palaver.” But if the quarrel develops into a fight, then sticks are the
weapons used, as guns and spears are rarely, if ever, brought out in
these miniature “civil wars.” They combine as a whole against a common

The family that causes the quarrel leads the van in a war, and if only
the offended family attacks the offending family, the other families of
the offender’s town stand armed ready to defend their dependents and
property, should the offenders prove unable to repulse the attack. But
if the offended family brings the several families of its town to attack
the offenders, then the other head-men and their followers will join to
repel the attack, for it is no longer a quarrel between two families of
different towns, but a fight between town and town. Thus a family
combines to fight a family, and a town to fight a town, and I have known
one case in which a district joined its forces to fight a district.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. C. J.Dodds_
  The woman on the right has a mortar and pestle for pounding boiled
    plantain. She has a broad band of hair shaved off in the style of
    the day. The walls show the split bamboos used at the outer lining
    of the hut, then there are an inch or two of grass and another
    lining of bamboos inside, and the whole is tightly laced to the
    uprights of the wall.

The evening meal is practically the only meal of the day, and every
effort is made to render it as tasty as possible with the limited
ingredients at the disposal of the woman cook. Cassava figures as the
principal article in every _menu_; and for this meal it is commonly
prepared by soaking it for three days, and then after peeling, coring,
and dividing it into quarters, it is steamed, and comes out looking
white and appetizing. Either fish, or meat when procurable, is stewed in
a small saucepan or roasted over the fire, or wrapped in leaves and
covered with red-hot embers; but if there is neither fish nor meat, then
a sauce of pounded leaves, red peppers, and palm-oil is concocted, and
the whole is washed down with gulps of water. They prefer to keep
sugar-cane wine for their drinking-bouts and for their cannibal feasts,
the latter, in their view, demanding something better than water.

The food is served first to the elders (male), and if visitors are
present they take precedence according to their age. As a rule the
members of a family are polite to one another, and any departure from
the usual forms of courtesy is regarded with disapprobation by the other
members of the family. Guests are treated with hospitality, and are
protected by the family they are visiting; and I never knew a guest come
to harm during a visit. Men and women do not eat together, as it is
accounted immodest and indecent for a woman to eat with a man; and it is
_infra dig._ for a man to partake of his food with a woman. They eat by
themselves at some little distance, and usually out of sight and hearing
of the men.

In dividing food, such as meat or fish, the one who divides it takes the
portion left after all the others have selected their shares, and in
this way they have a guarantee that all the portions are equal in size
and quality. If a saucepan of fish and another of cassava are put before
five or six persons for them to eat, no division is made, but all help
themselves from the same saucepans, yet each will be very careful not to
eat more than his fair share. But when a fish, or a lump of meat, is
given to half a dozen men, or women, they appoint one to divide it into
six lots, and the one to whom this very doubtful honour is given is
careful to make all the lots equal—in bone, flesh, and fat—for he knows
that the others will choose their portions before himself. Any
greediness is condemned, and if persisted in others will refuse to eat
with the offender, and he becomes an object of ridicule to the rest of
the family and in the village.

The following story, which I often heard related around their evening
fires, will well illustrate how the natives regarded any greediness
about food:

“Mokwete possessed a large number of wives; and one day he made a trap
and eventually snared an animal which he carried to his town and told
his wives to cook. When they had cooked the meat they took him his
share, and reserved a portion for themselves. Mokwete ate his meat
alone, but it did not satisfy him, for having so many wives the portion
of meat that fell to him was rather small.

“By and by he killed another animal, and he said to himself: ‘I kill
plenty of animals, but get very little meat for myself, because my wives
are so numerous.’ When he reached the forest near his town he disguised
his voice and shouted: ‘Wives of Mokwete, wives of Mokwete.’

“They answered, ‘E!’ thinking it was a spirit calling them from the

“Then he said: ‘When your husband comes with meat, you must not eat any
of it; if you do, you will die.’

“In a little time he picked up the animal and went on to the town. The
women cooked the meat and brought it all to him. He asked them why they
had not taken any of it, and they told him what they had heard from one
of the bush spirits. Mokwete ate all the meat, was well filled, and
congratulated himself on the success of the ruse. He repeated this trick
again and again.


  _Photo by_: _a Dutch Trader_
  The women are wearing skirts of palm-frond fibre. When “dressed” a
    young woman has fifteen of these skirts on, and then they stand out
    like a ballet-girl’s dress. Some of the older ones have the
    cock’s-comb tribal mark. Those without the tribal marking are
    slaves. The collar on the older woman is of solid brass and weighs
    about 15 lbs.

“One day Mokwete’s son went into the bush, and while there he heard the
sound of someone coming, so he hid himself. In a little time a man
arrived and threw something with a thud to the ground, and then he heard
a voice say: ‘Wives of Mokwete, wives of Mokwete, when your husband
comes with meat you must not eat it; if you do, you will die.’

“The lad, on looking out, saw that it was his father who was deceiving
his mothers, and keeping him and the other children from having their
proper share of the meat. He hurried home and told his mothers all that
he had seen and heard, but they disputed his word. However, one of them
went to look, and saw that it was really the husband who had been
telling them not to eat the meat. She went and told the others, and they
decided to run away.

“While Mokwete was out hunting one day, his wives broke their saucepans,
put out their fires and fled; and upon reaching their various towns they
told their families why they had left their husband—on account of his
greediness—and everybody justified them.”

Now Mokwete would return to a fireless hearth, an empty village, and no
one to cook for him and wait on him. And I have heard the folk snap
their fingers, and say: “Mokwete was well punished,” and there was no
one to pity him. “When a man buys a fish or a piece of meat he should
share it with the wife who cooks it for him; and when he kills an animal
he should share it with all his wives.” The children received their
share of meat or fish through their mothers.

While the hearth is the centre of a woman’s family life, for her
children (if she is fortunate enough to have any) will gather around it
at sundown to watch the bubbling saucepans on the fire, and her husband
may occasionally be found there playing with his youngsters, or chatting
to his wife, yet the dance is the real centre and expression of the
social life of the village. Is there a death? Then relatives and friends
will show their sympathy, not by sitting around talking over the good
qualities of the departed, but by dancing their best and chanting the
praises of him who has so lately gone to that mysterious _longa_, or
nether regions, where all spirits find their home for a time. And
standing round the funeral dances will be the whole village, applauding
the agile or chaffing the awkward. Is there a marriage? Then relatives
and boon companions of the old bachelor days are invited, and after the
feast a dance is arranged, and although some of the legs will be
unsteady, through too much sugar-cane wine, yet all present, both
dancers and spectators, will be in a jovial mood.

On moonlight nights the drums will be brought out, reed rattles, ferret
bells, and anything else that will tinkle, will be tied around the
ankles, the men and women will form lines opposite each other, and for
hours the dancers will jump, twist, and wriggle to and fro in the most
approved fashion to the tap, tap, or boom, boom of the rhythmic drum.
All distinctions are forgotten for the time being. The skilled and the
unskilled, the poor and the rich, the slave and the free, are all mixed
in indistinguishable confusion. It is the best dancer, be he poor and a
slave, who is the cynosure of all eyes and the object of all their
praises. And as the dance proceeds the dancers sing in unison some
recitative song, while the onlookers keep time to song and dance by
clapping their hands and swaying their bodies to and fro.

The greedy man, the coward, the thief, the scamp who disregards the
feelings of others and rides rough-shod over the social and communal
customs, the man who is accused of witchcraft and refuses to take the
ordeal, and the incestuous, are all put into the songs which are sung at
these village dances; and there is no more powerful factor in
influencing the native to good and evil, inciting him to reckless
bravery, or deterring him from committing some foolish deed, than to put
his name into an impromptu song at a village dance. The paragraph in our
newspaper is read by comparatively few people, and only a small
percentage of those who read it know the person mentioned; but the song
is sung, night after night, by all the village—the very neighbours of
the one thus held up to ridicule or honour. The village song inspires
the daring deeds in time of war, it brands and shames the cowards, it
considerably restrains the rascals, and maddens to the verge of suicide
the fool who so badly treats his wives that they run away and leave him
a cold hearth by which to sit.


                              CHAPTER VIII

                       MARRIAGE AND CHILD BEARING

Young girls betrothed—The bespoke money—Marriage money—Dressing the new
    wife—A large looking-glass—A woman can choose her husband—Divorce—No
    great desire for children—Storage for baby spirits—Treatment of
    twins—Snake omen—Woman’s totem—The mother-in-law—Polygamy and its
    results—Monogamy and its results—Better morality—More children—Purer
    women—Better home-life.

Young girls and even babies are betrothed in marriage, and payments made
for them long before they are old enough either to understand the
contract or give their consent. On the marriage money being completed
the man takes a brass bracelet, and in the presence of witnesses he puts
it on the child’s arm, saying, “This is my wife.” When the girl arrives
at a suitable age, and sometimes even before puberty, she is taken by
her parents, together with some sugar-cane wine, to her husband, and
handed over to him; and on the man giving the parents a present the
transaction is completed. Should, however, the child die, another is put
in her place; but if that is impossible, the money is returned.
Sometimes a girl objects to being handed over in this way to a man whom
she dislikes, and if her protests are disregarded she will run away to a
neighbouring town and select her own husband, if she has not already
done so, and the parents will have to make the best bargain they can in
the way of marriage money with their new son-in-law. They would be at an
obvious disadvantage, as their customer would already be in possession
of the “goods.”

If a man in search of a wife sees an unattached young woman whom he
likes he may speak to the girl or to her father first, and if they—the
girl and her parents—are agreeable, he will call his friends as
witnesses and go to the father’s house. The girl will then be called
out, and the man will take his spear, and going into the centre of the
crowd he will stick the spear in the ground, and say: “If the girl loves
me, let her pull up the spear.” Thereupon the girl will step forward,
and pulling up the spear she will carry it to her father, saying,
“_Namojinga_” = I love him.

When the girl has pulled up the spear, the man has to pay the “bespoke”
money—a hoe, an axe, a blanket, a looking-glass, a matchet, and a few
other odds and ends—to the head of the girl’s family. The girl is then
reserved for him until such time as he can pay the whole, or the larger
part of the marriage money—equal to about £10, which is approximately
the cost of two male and two female slaves. In the meantime he can give
the girl small presents, and she may cook and send him an occasional
dish of food, and often there is cohabitation before marriage, for the
young man regards the girl, and speaks of her, as his wife.

A free man marrying a free woman will have to give her father or family
two male and two female slaves, and neither brass rods nor barter goods
will be taken in lieu of them; but as there are so many debts among them
a person will sometimes (and it is not uncommon) pay this “marriage
money” and marry without a single slave actually passing between them;
i.e. B wants to marry A’s daughter, so he will go to C and D, who each
owe him a slave, and will take them to A, who accepts them as his
debtors; then B will go to E and F, who each owe him a female slave, and
these debtors of B will be taken to A, who accepts them as his own
debtors; now C, D, E, and F have no slaves they want to part with, so
they, in their turn, will look up some debtors and take them to A, who
will again accept these new parties as his own debtors. This was called
_bwaka nyungu_ = to pass on or throw over a debt (or credit as the case
may be) from one to another. I have known more than one case in which
the father of the girl has had the debt worked gradually back to
himself, and in giving his daughter in marriage he has received nothing,
but has paid some of his creditors.

When the time arrives for the marriage the parents take some plantain,
cassava, fish, with various other kinds of food, and a calabash or jar
of sugar-cane wine, and together with their daughter they go to the
house of the bridegroom and hand over the girl by putting her hand in
the man’s hand in the presence of witnesses. These latter, after
drinking the wine and sharing in the feast, will dance in honour of the
occasion, and the ceremony is completed. The food and wine, given by the
parents, are a proof that the girl is not sold as a slave, but is given
in marriage as a free woman.

During the time the man is collecting the marriage money he will build a
house, if he does not already possess one, and the girl, under the
supervision of her mother, will prepare a farm. After the ceremony
described above is over, the girl borrows all the finery she can of her
female friends, decorates herself with palm-oil and camwood powder, and
for two or three weeks walks about the town with her husband—a sign to
all that she is now his wife. If the man has already a few wives, they
will help to “dress her” by the loan of their own trinkets, and will
lead her about the town as a proof that she is now a fellow-wife and
belongs to their husband.

Hanging on the wall in my dining-room was a looking-glass 15 inches wide
by 18 inches high; it was probably the largest looking-glass in that
part of Africa, and it was one of the “sights” of the district.
Frequently while sitting in my study I would hear the shuffling of many
feet and much giggling. On going into the dining-room I would see
perhaps eight or ten women all laughing and nudging one another, and
there in the centre right before the glass would be a well-decorated
woman wriggling about in her vain attempt to see both sides of herself
at once. It was a new wife whom the older wives had brought to view
herself in the white man’s looking-glass. In the “trade looking-glass”
she could only see small sections of herself, but in this large one she
had an expansive view of the whole “landscape,” and her remarks of
wonder and surprise were causing the onlookers to giggle and to excite
her to greater efforts to procure broader views of herself. They
exhibited no jealousy, but regarded her as an acquisition—the new wife
being one more to help keep the husband.

During this period the man buys all the food, but when the “honeymoon”
is over the girl takes up her farm-work and settles down to ordinary
life. From that time she brings home each afternoon some of her farm
produce to prepare for her own and her husband’s evening meal. The
husband, however, must find her the fish for such meals as he partakes
with her, and should he have a quantity of meat he must be willing to
share it with his wives.

For the poor slave woman there are no preliminary gifts, no “bespoke”
money, no wedding feast and dance, and no “honeymoon.” The sum agreed
upon is paid, and the slave woman is taken to her new owner’s house, or
given as a farm help to his favourite wife. The children of such a
marriage are called _mbotela_ = semi-slave, indicating that one of the
parents is a slave. If a man cannot afford to pay the marriage money for
a free wife, or even to buy a slave, he can hire a slave as his wife,
and any children born to them belong to the owner of the slave woman and
not to the father and mother. Or a man will sometimes borrow a wife of
another man for three or six months, and will pay a fixed sum according
to the length of time he has her; but any children born of such an
arrangement belong to the real husband of the woman.

A man can marry as many women as he can find the marriage money for, but
to each he must give a house, and all his free wives have equal rights.
His slave wives are simply slaves, and he can sell or kill them just as
he pleases. Polygamy is very general, and monogamy is the result of
poverty. Free men, as a rule, do not marry slaves; but the slave woman
is given in marriage to the slave man, and she thus helps to make him
contented with his lot in the town and tribe; she keeps him in food and
increases the wealth of her master by bearing children, who are slaves
and the property of her owner.

When a free woman does not want to marry the man who is trying to
arrange for her, she will tell him frankly that if he persists in
marrying her, she will run away from him. But if, in spite of this
threat, he completes the arrangements, then a few days after the
marriage she will escape to a neighbouring town and put herself under
the protection of the chief by tearing his cloth. The chief then gives
the husband notice of what has happened, and before he can claim his
wife he has to pay the chief 600 brass rods = 39s. as compensation for
his torn cloth. If the husband does not then permit her to marry the man
she wants, she runs away again and again, and every time she runs it
will cost her husband 600 brass rods. A sensible man will take warning
by the first threat, and will not complete the marriage.

If a free woman is badly treated by her husband, she will resort to the
above method of making him pay for his ill-treatment of her, and will
thus force him to use her more kindly. There is also a more drastic way
of punishing a husband for outrageous conduct towards his wife. After
repeated complaints of his ill-usage she will run to the witch-doctor
and smash his _eboko_, or saucepan of “medicine,” and in so doing she
will commit a great offence. The witch-doctor will hold her until the
husband redeems her by the gift of a slave, and the payment of a large
sum to replace the _eboko_ and make fresh “medicine.” Having paid the
money—for she is worth more than the total value of the slave and the
brass rods—he will treat his wife better in future, or she will again
break the _eboko_. A slave woman who runs away to a chief will be
brought back, and her master will beat, kill her, or sell her right out
of the district, so it is wiser for her to run right beyond his reach in
the first instance. I have known women who successfully carried out
these various modes of punishing their abusive, bad-tempered husbands;
and undoubtedly the fact that the women can and will make their husbands
pay in this way renders life more tolerable for them. Without some such
system the wife’s lot would be terrible and impossible.

Breaking the _eboko_, or “medicine” saucepan, answers another purpose: a
man’s wife has been stolen from him, and all other means having failed
to regain her, he goes to the witch-doctor, tears his cloth and breaks
the _eboko_. This action calls attention to the case and arouses
widespread interest. The witch-doctor must now take up the case, or he
will lose his dignity as a witch-doctor, and folk will lose their
respect and fear for his _eboko_. So he places himself at the head of a
movement to punish the wife-stealer, and the men who would not help the
husband volunteer to fight under the witch-doctor; and when the woman is
captured the husband has to pay heavy damages for tearing the cloth,
breaking the _eboko_, and for the help of the witch-doctor in the fight.
The husband will then try to recover all the damages from the stealer of
his wife. It is interesting to note that, both to the husband and to the
wife, there is such a force available in their utter need. Here and
there a man treats his wife with kindness and consideration, and he
sometimes displays an affection for her that is pleasing to the onlooker
and an encouragement to those who are working for the uplifting of the
race, for it shows of what the men are capable; but to the majority of
the men the wife is a passing fancy, a brief passion which is quickly
extinguished, and all that remains to warm their hearts, and keep them
faithful to each other, are the cold, charred embers of a bare
toleration for one another.

Above the age of five years it is impossible to find a girl who is a
virgin, and it has been difficult to find a word for virgin in the Congo
languages. The only thing a man can do is to see that his wife does not
commit adultery after he has married her, without his consent and
receiving due compensation for it. Should she do so, then the adulterer
is punished, but the woman goes free. If she were punished she would not
confess, and without her confession the husband is not able to enforce
the fine on the lover. A woman’s word is always taken against the man’s
most solemn oath. I have a very strong suspicion that this power is
often abused, (_a_) by the woman to pay off a grudge against someone who
has slighted her, and also to be regarded by the other women of the town
as one after whom the men run; (_b_) by the husband as a means of
replenishing an empty purse—the fine being shared by the husband and
wife. There are undoubtedly women who remain faithful to their husbands;
and there are men who treat their wives with kindness and consideration,
but from what I observed they are very few indeed. Sometimes in anger
two men will exchange their wives, especially if one man’s wife is
continually running after the other man.

If a woman does not know, or will not perform, her duties properly as a
wife, i.e. will not farm, cook, etc., the man can take her back to her
family and receive in return the marriage money he gave for her to her
family; but not the “bespoke” money. Should she die within a few years
of her marriage the husband can claim another woman, or the return of
the marriage money, for his view is that a faulty article has been
supplied to him.

When a free woman wants to leave her husband, or have a divorce from
him, she sends a “token” to the man of her choice, who, if desirous of
possessing her, goes to the husband and tries to arrange the matter. If
the husband acts unreasonably in his demands—wants too much marriage
money, or desires the whole sum down at once—then she resorts to the
expedient of escaping to a neighbouring chief (as mentioned above), and
the husband is quickly brought to his senses. Should the “token” sent be
returned, she knows that the man does not want her, and if her family
are unwilling, or unable through poverty, to return the marriage money,
or think she is unreasonable in seeking a divorce, she has to remain
with her husband. To run away, without just cause, to another town, is
to make her name a byword among her acquaintances, and the native is
very sensitive to public opinion, as we tried to show in the chapter on
Social Life.

We have not found the same desire for children, on the part of the
women, as we observed on the Lower Congo. This may be accounted for by
the fact that on the Lower Congo the law of mother-right is in full
force, and consequently all the children belong to the mother and her
family; while on the Upper Congo father-right is the general custom, and
the children belonging to the father, the mother has no particular
interest in them.

The beliefs of a tribe considerably affect their point of view, and this
is seen in nothing more emphatically than in their beliefs about
child-bearing. On the Lower Congo a non-child-bearing woman is the butt
of the town’s ridicule, she is sneered at, pointed at by all the other
women, and is the object of their scorn. She feels degraded in the eyes
of all, and however much she may blame her husband, or may try to prove
that she is bewitched, yet her shame is bitterly felt and resented. She
has failed ignominiously in her one paramount duty to her family. Her
sterility is the constant theme of her husband’s bickerings; and when
everything else fails to quicken her or stop her nagging tongue, he has
only to hint at this abnormal disability and she is choked with chagrin
and almost ready to commit suicide.

Now on the Upper Congo among the Boloki it appears that every family
has what is called a _liboma_, it may be a pool in the bush, or in the
forest, or on an island; it may be a creek, or it may be a Bombax
cotton tree; but wherever the _liboma_ may be it is regarded as the
preserve of the unborn children of the family. The disembodied spirits
(_mingoli_) of the deceased members of the family performed the duty
of supplying these preserves with spirit-children to keep their
families strong and numerous. They have very misty ideas as to how
these _liboma_ are supplied with the spirit-children (or
_bingbongbo_), but I have a suspicion that underlying the _liboma_ is
some idea of reincarnation—some thought there was a rebirth of certain
deceased members of the family, and others thought that the
disembodied spirits had spirit-children, and these were sent to the
_liboma_ to be endowed in due time with bodies.

Now if a man does not have a child by his wife, then she is simply
barren (they always think it is the fault of the woman), but there are
no sneers, and no shame. The woman takes her sister to her husband, that
he may have a child by her. But if a man has one child by a wife, and no
more, he thinks someone has bewitched his _liboma_ by taking the
family’s stock of children from it and hiding them; or, it may be that
the other members of the family have bewitched her so that she may not
be able to procure another child from the _liboma_, that there might be
more for themselves; if, however, none of the family have more than one
child by their wives, then some other family, through hatred or
jealousy, has taken by witchcraft the children from their _liboma_ and
concealed them, for only the family to which the _liboma_ belongs can
give birth to the unborn infant spirits there.

Twins are not frequent, but when they do arrive they demand proper
treatment and entail more than ordinary care in the observance of
certain duties. Three days after the birth of twins (_masa_) the mother
takes them in her arms and dances in front of her house before her
neighbours, who join in a chorus in which they sing over and over again:
“_Masa e maolela_” = the twins cry for you. The mother is decorated with
leaves, sprays, and twigs, the same as for an ordinary birth. These are
made into garlands for her head, stuck into her waist-belt, and fixed on
her wherever it is possible. At this ceremony the names are given, which
are the same for every pair of twins, and these names are retained
through life. Other folk may change their names according to fancy, but
twins never. The first-born is always known as _Nkumu_, and the second
as _Mpeya_, and whenever you hear either of these names you know at once
that the bearer is one of twins.

The first-born of twins is always carried on the right arm, and the
second on the left arm. Whenever the mother replies to a salutation she
must give two answers, one for each child; and should she greet anyone
she must duplicate her greeting, that each child may be recognized. She
carries the dual idea further than that, for she must eat, not with one
hand, but with both, that each child may be properly nourished. Presents
are given in duplicate, or the child not receiving a present will fret,
become ill, and die; and the sickness or death of either child is
supposed to arise from carelessness in the observance of these rules.
The twins are expected to cry together, rejoice together, and should
they lack unanimity in either of these functions of rejoicing or
sorrowing together, it is because one is sulky on account of one or
other of the above rules having been broken. When one of the twins dies
the mother borrows a baby of the same age, and puts it with the living
twin that it may not fret.

When a man finds a snake (called _Mwaladi_, a snake with red marks on
it) lying by his side when he awakes, he regards it as a sign that he
will have a child by his wife; and if a woman lying or sitting observes
the same snake approaching her, she remains quietly in her position, and
if it passes near her she sprinkles a little camwood powder over it, and
regards it as an omen that she will soon become a mother. The child born
after such an augury is not treated with any special respect or
interest, and no special name is given to it as on the Lower Congo.

I found that when a woman married she brought her totem with her, and
then not only observed her own totem but her husband’s also; and the
child born to them took the totems of both parents until there was a
council of both families—the paternal and maternal branches—and then it
was generally arranged that the child should observe the father’s totem.

One day I was interested in watching the following ceremony: The women
of the village had rubbed themselves well with camwood powder, they had
also decorated their bodies with leaves, and tied on sashes of a creeper
with small leaves (_nkokolemba_), and danced for a considerable time to
the sound of drums, then the lobe of the right ear of the child was
pierced. It was a boy, for if it had been a girl the left lobe would
have been pierced (the left is always a token of inferiority). This
ceremony took place during the morning, and was a sign to the _boweya_
spirit that that child belonged to a family in whose totem the spirit
was specially interested. The pierced ear indicated to the spirit that
the owner had a claim on its help and protection. These rites were only
observed when the family possessed a totem that had a _boweya_ spirit to
preside over its interests and health, and always took place on the
fifth day after the birth of the child.

The father during the pregnancy of his wife is prohibited certain foods,
and he is neither to hunt nor fish during the pregnancy and confinement
of his wife, unless she goes to a medicine man and is marked with
different coloured pigments on the breast, abdomen, shoulders, temple,
and forehead, and wears two or three charms; these ensure for her a good
delivery and a healthy child, and also allow her husband to go hunting
and fishing. The food prohibitions vary considerably, and while the man
is observing these taboos he is said to be in a state of _liboi_, a noun
derived from the verb _bwa_ = to be confined, to deliver of a child. It
is very probably a remnant of _la couvade_. They have, however, no
tradition of the man ever having taken the place of the woman by lying
in bed during confinement.

There is no adoption into a family, but there is milk-brotherhood, and
the milk-brother often receives a portion of the estate; and there is
also milk-sisterhood, and when a woman is a milk-sister it is
permissible, but is regarded as very irregular, for her milk-brother to
marry her.

There are two names given to illegitimate children—_mwana wa ngangi_ =
child of a mistress, i.e. a woman who has been hired from her husband or
family for a fixed period at a certain price; and _mpampoka_ = a child
whose father is not known. In the former case the child will eventually
be owned by the proper husband or guardian of the woman, unless the
lover made other arrangements, that is, paid a larger fee, at the time
of hiring his mistress; in the latter case the child will belong to the
woman, and hence to her family, and in both cases the child will remain
with its mother until it is ten or twelve years of age.

Abortion is produced by the drinking of a decoction made by boiling
_kungubololo_ leaves, which is said to be very bitter, like quinine.
Abortion is practised to avoid the trouble incurred by having children,
or from hatred towards the husband, whom the woman may desire to
divorce; for if she has any children by him, her relationship to her
husband is so complicated thereby that she cannot easily leave him for
another man.

When a man divorces a wife who has a child of tender years, the child is
allowed to remain with her until he or she is about ten or twelve years
of age, and then is given up to the father, but is permitted to visit
the mother should she be living in a neighbouring town or district. The
father has the right to kill his own child, and although the act may be
strongly condemned by his neighbours and his family, yet they have no
power to punish him, though it may be a clear case of murder. I may say
that I never heard of a father killing his child while I lived amongst
them; but the natives assured me that there had been such cases. A
father, however, would not hesitate to pawn his children, or even to
sell them into slavery, if he were in dire straits. As a rule they are
fairly kind to their children, even to over-indulgence, for it is rarely
that they punish them.

Perhaps this will be the best place in which to make a few remarks on
the mother-in-law. She and her son-in-law may never look on each other’s
face. I have often heard a man say, “So-and-so, your mother-in-law is
coming,” and the person addressed would run into my house and hide
himself until his wife’s mother had gone by. They can sit at a little
distance from each other, with their backs to one another, and talk over
affairs when necessary. _Bokilo_ means mother-in-law, daughter-in-law,
brother-in-law, father-in-law, sister of mother-in-law, brother of
father-in-law, wife of wife’s brother, and in fact any relation-in-law.
_Bokilo_, the noun, is derived from _kila_ = to forbid, prohibit, taboo,
and indicates that all bearing the relationship of _bokilo_ can have no
intimate relationship with one another, for it is regarded as
incestuous; and it is according to native ideas just as wrong for a
daughter-in-law to speak or look at her husband’s father, as for the
son-in-law to speak or look at his wife’s mother. Some have told me that
this was to guard against all possibility of cohabitation, “For a person
you never look at you never desire.” Others have said, “Well, don’t you
see, my wife came from her womb.” I am strongly inclined to the opinion
that the former is the real reason.

I knew a case in which a man married his mother-in-law by marriage. The
woman was not his wife’s mother, but his wife’s father’s wife, and as
such was his mother-in-law. I had seen him avoid her many times, and it
was thus evident that all the wives of the wife’s father are regarded as
joint-mothers of the children, and hence mothers-in-law. His wife’s
father died, and the man wanted to have one of the wives (i.e. one of
his mothers-in-law) as his own wife, so he arranged with a friend to pay
the marriage money and take her as his wife, then she, by that marriage,
being no longer his mother-in-law, he was able to take her as his own
wife. He thereupon paid the money for her and took her to his house.

I cannot close this chapter on marriage and child-birth without putting
on record my observations regarding polygamy and its effects on the
Congo. Polygamy means monopoly in women, and causes great immorality
among the natives practising it; and it is now fast dying out within the
sphere of our influence upon the Lower Congo, and in the neighbourhood
of our stations upon the Upper. The effect of polygamy was to tie up the
women to a comparatively small number of men who were fortunate (?)
enough to inherit them, or had procured the wealth with which to pay
their marriage money. There was a constant complaint amongst the young
and vigorous men of the middle and lower orders that it was almost
impossible for them to procure wives. Thus we found a small number of
men possessing nearly all the women in a town, having from four or five
up to twenty-five and thirty each, and a large number of young men who
could not secure wives. Moreover, these wealthy men, besides having all
these wives, had bespoken most of the young girls, many almost infants;
for it was no uncommon thing for girls of three or four years to be
betrothed to men of forty and fifty years of age; and as soon as they
reached puberty the marriage money was completed, and they were passed
over to their already very much married husbands.

Now my observations of polygamy, both on the Lower and Upper Congo, have
led me to form a decided opinion that it does not conduce to
productivity, but the contrary. Under this system I have never known a
large family. One man had eight wives, and he had five children by one
and none by the others; another had ten wives and no children; another
had twenty-three wives and only one child; another twenty-five wives and
three children only; another who had eight wives had three children.
Mapwata, chief of Ntenta in French Congo, had forty wives, but only five
children. In Mfumu Ngoma’s village there were 87 men, 67 married women,
and only 37 children. In the village of Mbela there were about 60
married women, as shown by the number of houses, and only 28 children,
and so on _ad lib._

If you ask a native chief, husband of many wives, how many children he
has, he will state an absurd number, not because he desires to deceive
you, but for the following reasons: All the children, of his brothers
and sisters, and all their children’s children, are spoken of as the
chief’s children, as he is the head of the family, i.e. all the nephews
and nieces, the grand-nephews and grand-nieces are regarded as a man’s
own off-spring, besides his own children and grandchildren; many of us
could make up large families in this way. And again, the native has a
very strong superstition and prejudice against counting his children,
for he believes that if he does so, or if he states the proper number,
the evil spirits will hear it and some of his children will die; hence
when you ask him such a simple question as, “How many children have
you?” you stir up his superstitious fears, and he will answer: “I don’t
know.” If you press him, he will tell you sixty, or one hundred
children, or any other number that jumps to his tongue; and even then he
is thinking of those who, from the native view of kinship, are regarded
as his children, and desiring to deceive, not you, but those ubiquitous
and prowling evil spirits, he states a large number that leaves a wide
margin. I have been introduced by young men to men, much older than
themselves, as “my children,” and there was a twinkle in their eyes,
showing that they appreciated the humorous absurdity of the situation.

Among the Congo languages there is no proper word for virgin, for there
was not in the old days a pure girl above the age of five. I would,
therefore, most emphatically dissent from the oft-repeated fallacious
statement that polygamy promotes morality among native tribes; that it
has caused widespread immorality on the Congo is truer to the facts.

After carefully reviewing all the data I am forced to the conclusion
that polygamy is not necessitated by the climate, but is the natural
outcome of their customs, mode of thought, and view of life. A Congo man
will fight, trade, carry heavy loads for long distances, and work, but
he will not hoe the ground, that is _infra dig._ to him. He will dig the
white man’s farm, but he will not work land in his own village, so, to
use his own words, he “hires” or “borrows” a woman to do this for him,
and the more women he has the less likely is he to go hungry. Again, the
more women he has the more important he is, the greater his influence
and social standing; when a native wants to impress you with the
greatness of his chief or the importance of the head of his family, he
tells you the number of his wives, and he does not mind adding a dozen
to the sum total.

Again, chiefs in receiving visits from other chiefs and their retinues
had to give free hospitality for long periods. This required a large
amount of food and several women to prepare it daily. Then again, for
generations the women have believed that if they allowed their husbands
to have intercourse with them between the time of pregnancy and the
weaning of their children, those children would die. This superstitious
belief has been a potent factor in keeping polygamy alive, if it did not
originate it. Remember how they procure their wives, and that the
woman’s family must replace her in the event of death, consequently the
family has been careful to see that she has not been weakened by
frequent child-bearing, lest they should have to give another woman in
her place. Among some tribes the man had to wait until his wife’s family
took him a calabash of palm-wine, and renewed their permission to him.

Some writers think, judging by the tone of their articles, that we
missionaries rush pell-mell into a country, and delight in upsetting the
institutions and customs of a place whether they are good, bad, or
indifferent. This, however, is not true to the facts as I know them.

Our Mission on the Congo commenced its operations in 1878, and it was
well on in the eighties before churches were formed, with rules and
regulations for the guidance of converts. In the meantime a language had
been reduced to writing, much translation work had been done, and a mass
of information collected about the habits, customs, and view of life
taken by the native. “Many men, many minds” is an old saying, and we
found it a true one when the time came to deal with native marriage
customs and polygamy in relation to church membership. There was not a
single aspect of this great question but had its exponents; and it was
not until after mature consideration, and a careful study of all the
pros and cons, that we came to the conclusion that monogamy was the only
wise rule to adopt, and we therefore laid it down as a condition of
church membership that one man should have one wife only.

It is also a rule of the church that no Christian shall receive marriage
money for his daughter, niece, or ward; and no Christian is permitted to
give marriage money for his wife, except to a heathen if he asks for it.
The reasons for this exception are obvious. We also insist that all
Christians shall marry either by civil law or “holy matrimony.” We are
interested in the natives and, rightly or wrongly, we devote our lives
to them; and if we had desired numbers on the church roll to quote in
reports rather than the moral and physical well-being of our
parishioners, we should have made these restrictions less rigorous, and
entrance to church membership more easy and pleasant for them. Our
Society gives us a free hand in dealing with these great problems.

Now we find that Christian teaching and monogamy have conduced to
stricter morality among the people, and also to an increase in the
birth-rate. In the old days there was in every village on the Lower
Congo a house called _Mbongi_, or _Nzo-a-matoko_ (house for young men),
where the lads and unmarried men slept. Girls from an early age had free
ingress to these houses, and their mothers encouraged them to go. These
houses have been cleared out of all the villages where there is any
Christian influence at work, and even from heathen villages also, for
they have been greatly influenced by the purer public opinion of recent
years. Now that monogamy is practised by so many, the young men know
that in due time they will be able to secure a wife, and they desire to
receive her as pure as possible, hence the closing of these village
bachelor houses even in the heathen towns. Christian parents also use
their best endeavour to preserve their daughters in innocency.

We have within a stone’s-throw of Wathen Station a Christian village
where monogamy is the rule without exception. There are twenty-four
married women living there with their husbands, and they have between
them fifty-seven children now living (noted in 1908), and five have
died, making in all sixty-two births. Some of these have only been
married eighteen months or two years, and there is no doubt that as the
years go by there will be many more children born to these twenty-four
wives. Now the same number of women tied to one man would not have had a
tenth of the children. Again, we have throughout our districts a large
number of teachers, many of whom are married, and most of them have
children—one, two, or three, according to the length of time they have
been married. There is another noticeable thing, that in the Christian
villages, i.e. the monogamous villages, there are plenty of children,
while the same cannot be said of the heathen in polygamous villages.
Some seem to think that polygamy spells large families and a fair state
of morality; but on the Congo, and I speak of what I know, polygamy
means a very low birth-rate and an absolute lack of morality and common
decency. Polygamy is giving place to monogamy, and that means a higher
morality, a purer and more self-respecting womanhood, and the
introduction of a truer affection between the husband and the wife which
will result in a better and more healthy home-life for the children, and
will lead to the coming of a brighter day on dark, oppressed Africa.


                               CHAPTER IX

                            NATIVE EDUCATION

Precociousness of the children—Teaching the tribal mark—Knowledge of
    astronomy—Divisions of night and day—Education—Paddling and
    canoeing—Swimming—Fishing—Hunting—Blacksmithing—The girls
    learned farming—Cooking—Hair-dressing—Mat and saucepan
    making—Charms—Taboos—First-fruits—First teeth—No moral
    training—Great liars and thieves—Capable of truth and honesty.

There were no schools to attend until the white men went to live in
their district; but the lads accompanied their fathers and elders and
learned by imitation, by listening to the talk on the road, in the canoe
and around the camp fire, and by special instruction. Most lads of 14 or
15 knew the names of the innumerable fish in their river and creeks,
their habits, and the best mode of catching them. They also knew the
names and habitat of most bush animals, either by experience or repute;
the names of the birds, insects, trees, plants, etc., were all well
known to them and easily distinguished. The village life was so open, so
lacking in privacy, that almost every function of the body was performed
without any attempts at secrecy, hence observant young eyes drank in all
that came within the purview of their vision, and boys and girls of a
tender age were precocious in their knowledge of those matters which are
left to a much later period in civilized countries.

Tattooing was begun in earliest childhood by the parents, but not more
than sufficient to show that the child belonged to the tribe. Later on
the boys and girls were urged to cut their own tattoos, and were taught
to bear the pain unwhimperingly. I have seen boys and girls sitting by
the river’s edge summoning up the necessary courage to make the
incisions, and when they failed to do so they were ridiculed by the
others until at last they would run the knife, by the aid of a bit of
looking-glass or the reflection in the river, along the old lines in the
forehead. At the age of 18 or 20 the person—man or woman—who wished to
be thought fashionable would work away every week or so, cutting the
flesh deeper and putting wads in the cuts to cause the flesh to stand
up, until they had a veritable _likwala_, or cock’s comb, which would be
the envy of those who had not attained to such a fine decoration.

There was another pain they were taught to bear patiently, and that was
the chiselling of the upper incisors to V-shaped points. Some only had
two cut, while others had all the upper incisors done. This operation
was supposed to improve their appearance. I said once to a native, “Your
teeth are like a dog’s,” and his quick retort was, “Well, your teeth are
like a bat’s.” I suppose he preferred being like a dog, to having teeth
like a bat. They paid two brass rods for cutting the teeth, and two
brass rods every time they bit the operator. The eyelashes also were
pulled out as an aid to beauty.

They picked up a little astronomy from their elders. Venus was called
“wife of the moon”; a shooting star was “fetish fire”; a cluster of
stars (Pleiades) was a “crowd of young women”; the “Milky Way” was “the
road of floods and drought.” Both on the Lower and Upper River the
natives connect the “Milky Way” with the abundance and scarcity of
rains; they say that when the “Milky Way” is bright, clear, and well
seen there will be plenty of rain. Three bright stars in Orion’s belt
were named the “three paddlers”; and the five stars near each other in
Orion were regarded as the “bundle of thunder or lightning.” In the
constellation Lepus there is a set of five stars thus :*:, and these
were said to resemble a man—the top star being the head, the two lower
stars the hands, and the two bottom stars the feet. When this set of
stars, called _kole_, reached the meridian the natives did more planting
than at any other season. This _kole_ was so well recognized by the
natives that we used the word as an equivalent for our word year.

There is a legend that the moon was once a python and made a road for
itself on the earth. Some adventurous trappers, however, snared it, but
on noticing there was no more moonlight they let it go, whereupon it
sprang into the sky and never again returned to earth. When there is no
moon, some say that the python has gone on a long journey, and others
that it dies every month. There is much shouting and gesticulating on
the appearance of a new moon; and those who have enjoyed good health ask
that it may be continued, and those who have been sick ascribe their
complaint to the coming of the new moon, and ask it to take away bad
health and give them good health in its place.

Here, as on the Lower Congo, many believe that the sun returns from the
west to the east during the night to be ready to rise in the morning.
They were taught that the stars were a species of large fire-flies that
formerly existed on the earth, but have now gone into space, and that
the comets are signs that a great chief has recently died.

Another thing necessary to the young Congo boy was to teach him, not the
movements of the clock’s hands, but the crowing of the cocks, the notes
of the _nkuku-mpembe_ (name of a bird), and the movements of the sun: 2
a.m. was “the lying fowl”; 3 a.m. “the lying bird”—because they falsely
heralded the dawn which was not due until later; 4 a.m. was “the first
fowl”; 4 to 5 a.m. “the sun is near”; 5.30 to 6 a.m. “the dawning”; 6
a.m. “the sun is come”; 6.15 to 7 a.m. “the first sun”; 12 noon “the
meridian”; 6 p.m. “when the fowls go in,” or “the sun enters”; 11 to 12
p.m. “one set of ribs,” or “one side of a person,” and means that about
that time a person turns from lying on one side over on to the other.
For all these and many other divisions of the day there were special
names or phrases. Then there was a system of counting, and an elaborate
mode of stating numbers with the fingers[15] which I must enter into
more fully under another heading; suffice it to say that he had to learn
to count from one up to ten thousand, and any amount beyond that up to
one hundred thousand he had no difficulty in expressing after he had
once mastered the system.

Footnote 15:

  See Appendix, Note 3, on Boloki method of counting.

The length of time that a child remained under the tutelage of his
father depended largely on the character of both, and the strength of
will each possessed. There were no bachelor houses in the villages,
consequently male and female children belonging to the same mother were
brought up together in her house until such times as the boys were old
enough to build a house for themselves, if they cared so to do. There
was no age limit. I have known big lads sleep in their mothers’ houses;
and I have know smallish lads of energy and initiative combine to build
a hut for themselves of which they were very proud.

From his very boyhood the Boloki was a keen trader. He accompanied his
father on all trading journeys as soon as he was able to beat time with
a stick in the bows of the canoe, or handle a paddle. In the village he
learned the value of different articles, and nothing delighted him more
than exchanging what he did not want for something that he needed. While
his father was bartering he would eagerly listen, and thus learn how to
praise his own goods, and disparage in depreciatory terms the articles
which he desired to purchase, so as to lower their prices. Before an
article could be exchanged with profit to himself he had many things to
learn—the first cost of the article, the time spent in hawking it, the
payment and keep of those who helped to paddle him from place to place
in search of a buyer—or he would find himself poorer at the end of his
trading expedition than he was at the beginning. This was no small part
of the lad’s education.

The boy, as a part of his training, had to learn to handle his paddle
with agility, gracefulness, and accuracy. There were clumsy paddlers who
were the butt of their companions’ ridicule, but there were others who
so swung their paddles as to excite the admiration of the onlookers. As
a child his father gave him a toy paddle and taught him how to
back-water, to steer, and to move his paddle in unison with others. Nor
was this all, for there were over fifty words and phrases he had to
learn dealing with canoeing. There were the words for canoes of
different sizes and shapes, from the large canoe that would take fifty
paddles and a heavy cargo to the shallow marsh canoe that would skim
over the surface of a six-inch pool. There were the names for the
various parts of the canoe—stern, bows, middle, sides, etc.; for
beaching, launching, steering, turning sharp round corners, or guiding
the canoe to a landing-place. There were names for a patch on a canoe,
for the usable part of a broken canoe, for the haft and blade of his
paddle, and for their various sizes. These and many other things about
canoes he had to know before his education was completed.

The Boloki boys, living near the river as they did, learned to be good
swimmers. They started swimming at so early an age that they regarded it
as a natural action as much as walking. Canoes were often upset in the
storms or turned over by a hippopotamus, therefore it was necessary for
a lad to know how to save himself. The hand-over-hand stroke was most
common, and they kicked out with the legs. They trod the water very
well; but they always dived feet first, never head first. When a canoe
was upset they were very dexterous in turning it over, bailing it out,
putting their possessions (such as were floating) back into the canoe,
catching their paddles, and then climbing into their frail canoe again
without upsetting it. This I have seen them do repeatedly, and often
sent out a canoe to help them, but before it arrived they would be
sitting in their canoe smiling. The girls learned both to swim and
paddle; but the same skill in either accomplishment was not expected of
them as of the boys.

The boys went with their fathers on fishing and hunting expeditions.
They were taught how to make the various fish-traps and nets, and the
best places to put them in the river, creeks, or pools, and also how to
bait and cast the hook. There were curious kinds of traps to make that
would allow the fish to enter, but rigidly bar their exit; long
fish-fences for closing up the mouths of creeks, or run for forty yards
by the river bank; nets to be woven, which when cast with the right sort
of twist would entangle the unwary fish. They had to learn to watch the
river for the best time for setting the traps and fixing the fences.
They had to remember to address their father and the other fishermen as
_Mwele_,[16] for if the water-spirits heard their proper names they
would turn aside the fish from the nets, and they would have ill-luck in
their expedition. There were the names of a score of traps, nets, and
modes of fishing to keep in mind.

Footnote 16:

  This name is given to all fishermen while fishing, and just as they
  leave the river with their catch, or bad luck will follow.

In hunting there was much knowledge to be gained, for not only were the
habits of the different animals to be thoroughly understood, but also
the proper charms to be used, and the necessary ceremonies to be
observed to counteract the adverse influences of the bush-spirits who
were always on the prowl to render their hunting futile. For
hippopotami, elephants, and antelopes, spring-traps were made and placed
in the proper tracks. Occasionally holes were dug and sharpened sticks
and iron prongs were fixed upright in them, and then the holes were
covered very lightly with sticks, leaves, etc. (I often shudder, even
now after many years, at the narrow escape I once had while hunting from
falling into one of these traps.) For hunting crocodiles and bush-pigs
spears were most commonly used, and the lads learned to throw them with
force and accuracy. I have seen lads stand at a distance of from 60 to
80 feet and put spear after spear, with great precision, into an upright
plantain stalk not more than 5 inches in diameter.

If the lad had a blacksmith or a witch-doctor as a relative, then these
professions were opened to him. The former commanded respect because of
his skill and usefulness; but the profession of the latter was not only
very lucrative, but gained the respectful fear of the people, for did he
not control those evil spirits that were always troubling the folk? And
again, a witch-doctor was never charged with witchcraft, hence the lad
would know in learning the tricks of that trade he would never have to
undergo the ordeal, and might, if he were cunning enough, live on the
best of the land.

The girl in the course of her education went as a child with her mother
to the farm, and with her small hoe helped her mother to weed, and as
she grew older she would hoe and plant. There were the various kinds of
cassava to learn, and their characteristics and appearances; the best
time of the year for planting according to the position of the _kole_ in
the sky, and the best sort of soil, and when it was unprofitable to
plant an old farm, and better to start a new one.

The girl had also to learn the sundry ways of cooking cassava—for there
were several—all entailing much time and thought. The modes of boiling,
steaming, grilling, smoking, or baking fish and meats. She had to become
expert in making up tasty messes with leaves and palm-oil, caterpillars,
palm maggots, etc. She should know how to shave the head, comb out and
plait hair, massage the skin, and decorate the face and body with
various pigments and camwood powder, for these would be expected of her
by her future husband. She had to learn to make her own dresses from
palm-frond fibre, and if she desired to be “chic,” then she must dye
them to the fashionable colour. If she wanted extra pocket-money, then
she might master the mysteries of papyrus mat, and saucepan making, or
even turn her hand to the art of basket-making. The more she knew of
these various accomplishments the better chance she had of securing the
man she wanted for a husband.

What a mass of information the girl collected about fetishes, charms,
and medicine men! The proper charms to protect her farm produce, to ward
off the evil eye from casting bad luck on her farming; the right charms
to keep her in good health, and render her attractive to the village
lads. She had to store her mind with a knowledge of the best charms to
use to allure her lover to her side, to preserve her during pregnancy,
to ward off sickness from her child, to retain her position as the
favourite wife, and to keep away those many evil spirits that seemed to
hem her in on every side. Both boys and girls had to remember the family
totems, and the family and personal taboos; what they should do and eat,
and what it was necessary for them to avoid doing and eating. Then there
were the first-fruits of the fish they caught, the animals they killed,
the foods they planted, and the various articles they made which had to
be given to their parents or nearest relatives, otherwise bad luck would
follow them. The first teeth that came out had to be carefully hidden,
for if they were found by anyone no other teeth would come in their

Although there was much physical training to make them efficient in
hunting, fishing, farming, etc., and much mental training to gain a full
knowledge of all that boys and girls should know, yet there was no moral
training. From early age to puberty boys and girls had free access to
each other. Public reprobation was only visited upon those who committed
a wrong so clumsily as to be found out. I have heard them speak
admiringly of one who, while working for a white man, robbed him so
cleverly as not to be discovered, and such a one would bring back to his
town the proceeds of his robbery and boastfully describe how he
committed it; on the other hand, I have heard them call the unsuccessful
thief a “fool,” not bad nor wicked, but _elema_ = stupid, fool, etc. We
could not discover any words for virtuous or vicious; a person either
had “good ways” or “bad ways,” but these referred more to the presence
or absence of rudeness, disrespect to superiors, or greediness, than to
any moral or immoral qualities. For lying and stealing a child was not
punished unless the lie or the theft inconvenienced the parent in some
way. As a result of the lack of any moral training while young we found
both men and women most unblushing liars and thieves. I have seen the
tail of a fish sticking out of a man’s cloth, and he asseverating with
many oaths that he had neither touched nor seen the fish, until the
fisherman who had been robbed pointed to the fish-tail sticking out well
in view beyond the thief’s cloth; and when convicted he laughingly said,
“I don’t know how the fish got there.” Yet they were capable of telling
the truth and being honest, as I discovered later.


                               CHAPTER X

                       NATIVE GAMES AND PASTIMES

Dolls—Make-believe games—Mimic war—Model of steamers—Game of
    hand-thrusting—Hockey—Wheel game—Flipping arrows—Lip-sucking
    game—Ball game—“Tip-it”—Game with palm nuts—African
    backgammon—Gambling game—Teetotums—Hoop game—Cat’s cradle—Water
    games—Spear-throwing—Bull-roarers—Imitating movements of animals.

There are not many games, but such as there are train the eye in
quickness, the hand in precision, and the body in agility.

Some little girls take pieces of stick or cassava roots to represent
dolls, or, as they call them, _bana_ = babies, and tying them on their
backs with an old rag they play with them as such. An English doll is
too uncanny, too much like a human, for them to play with; they do not
understand it, and put it away, or their elders take it away and sell it
as a powerful fetish. Parents fond of their children make small paddles,
baskets, and hoes in imitation of their own, and the youngsters play
with them when they accompany their mothers to the farms, or their
fathers in the canoes. Toy hoes and baskets are given to girls only, toy
fish-traps to boys; but toy paddles to both boys and girls.

The boys of the village plait basket-work shields about 3 feet long and
8 inches wide, and with stout water-grass and young plantain stalks as
spears and clubs, and imitation wooden knives in their belts, they take
sides in a great sham fight, and amid much laughter and good humour a
mimic battle is waged until one side is driven from the field—the
village street. Such “fights” are interesting to watch, for the
movements of the more than half-naked bodies are swift, precise, and
graceful, and undoubtedly help to keep them in good form; and the
accuracy with which they hurl their imitation spears is a fine display
of dexterity.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. C. J. Dodds_
  This young man is only one of several expert carpenters trained on our
    Monsembe stations.

Besides mimic war, the youngsters have their make-believe games of
marketing, cooking, feasting, and housekeeping. The more expert among
the lads make toy steamers in imitation of those running on the river;
and it is interesting to see two lads approaching from opposite
directions pulling their “steamers” behind them. As they pass each other
they whistle three times as a salute to one another, then comes a long
whistle as a sign to stop, and the “steamers” are supposed to stop at a
beach, and the two boys, who are acting as captains and wearing any old
hat they can find for the occasion, approach each other, raise their
hats, bow, shake hands, and then jabber for a few moments in bits of
French and any of their own syllables that sound to them like French;
then come the ceremonies of parting, and the whistling of a pretended
farewell from the “steamers,” and the _shu! shu! shu!_ of the working
engines. The lad pulling the steamer is engine, whistle, pilot,
steersman, and captain all combined, and seems to enjoy it. The best
model has the largest crowd of followers after it. These boys are
splendid actors, and the whole scene just enacted is a fine, humorous
imitation of the actions of State steamers and captains meeting on our
beach. A hat is as necessary almost as the “steamer,” for it has to be
taken off when the bow is made, and if a boy does not possess a hat, or
cannot borrow one, he will make a good imitation of a helmet or a straw
hat out of papyrus pith and plantain leaves.

The following is a list of the games[17] played among the Boloki boys
and girls:

Footnote 17:

  For Lower Congo games I would refer the reader to _Folk Lore_, Vol.
  XX, 1909, p. 457, where the writer has given a full description of

1. _Ndangu_, hand-matching game. (Lower Congo _ta mbele_ is slightly
different.) The players form two lines (_mabenge_) facing each other.
The first player A faces the first of the opposition line B; A throws up
both hands and brings them down with a clap (_esaku_), and then darts
out one hand. B does the same—claps his answers (_tambola_), and if B’s
hand meets A’s hand, A is wounded (_ajwe mpota_), and if A receives
three wounds (_mpota iatu_) he dies (_awe_). That is to say that if B is
quick enough, or lucky enough, to throw out a hand to meet A’s thrust,
then instead of being wounded he wounds A, and three wounds count a
death—A goes to the bottom of his own line. If, however, the hands do
not meet, then B is wounded and A passes on to the next, and the next,
until he wounds all in B’s line or is himself killed; if he is killed,
then the next boy to A tries until he is either “killed” or has been
down B’s line. Those who are “dead” stand at the bottom of their line.
After all the “men” in A’s line have played, B’s line starts, and should
he lose any “men” they are redeemed in the following way: A’s line lost,
say, five, and B’s line lost, say, four, A counts four of his five as
redeemed, and B counts his four as redeemed, thus over the first bout B
has lost none, and A has lost one “man.” The game proceeds until all on
one side are killed. The sharpest players stand at the top of the line,
and are much admired for their prowess.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. C. J. Dodds_
  The lads holding the model made it out of bamboo, papyrus pith, and
    the potato-like substance of the plantain root. The lads delight to
    pull these toy steamers through the villages and imitate the white
    captains, with their make-believe salutes, etc.

2. _Ta mbali_, or hockey (Lower Congo _ta mbadi_), is probably a recent
introduction by steamer lads from the Lower Congo, as the Monsembe boys
had no open spaces for such a game until they played on the cleared
opening in front of our station. I found hockey played most vigorously
at San Salvador du Congo when I arrived there in the early part of 1882.

3. _Nkeka_, or wheel. The potato-like substance of the plantain root is
cut into a wheel, and the players arm themselves with long, sharpened
splinters (_mbenge_) of bamboos; they divide themselves into two
parties, which place themselves at about 30 or 40 yards from each other.
Party A throws the wheel (_kula nkeka_) along the ground towards party B
at the other end (_nsuku_), and as the wheel rolls towards them the boys
of B throw their splinters at it, and if all miss, side A chants: “Thud,
thud, thud, bad marksmen, die like a gazelle” (_Ju, ju, ju, bamai babi,
bawa na npambi_); if some miss and some hit, those who hit sing: “We
have hit the wheel right through the rim”—the most fatal part (_Yeke,
yeke, nakeke na ndende na mimpesa_); if two hit they say, “Brothers
truly” (_Jimi be_); if they all hit they sing, “It is absolutely lost
and done for,” i.e. It is no good looking for slaves from this side
(_Mampasa malambasana_). To win: Should B party hit the wheel with three
splinters, then three of A party become slaves, i.e. they stand out of
the game until they are redeemed; but if on the return of the wheel to A
party that party hits it with four splinters, they thereby redeem their
three slaves and place one of the other side in slavery. This continues
until one side is in total slavery. The game excites great enthusiasm,
and encourages precision in throwing.

4. _Ngenza._ A game in which small bamboo arrows are flipped at the
fleshy mid-rib of the plantain leaf. Sides are taken, and the side with
the best marksmen wins.

5. _Epapunga._ They make a sucking noise with the lower lip inside the
upper, and the one not able to do it in unison with the others
(_lembwaka lokela_) is “killed,” i.e. drops out until all are killed
except the last, who becomes the winner.

6. _Ntamba._ A kind of ball game. A ball (_lingendu_) of leaves is made
and thrown up, and is kept in the air by beating it with the palms of
the hands.

7. _Nkulu-nkulu._ Two lines of boys sit on the ground opposite each
other; the first lad of each line is called _moloi_ (husband), the rest
are called _bali_ (wives). Each wife on the playing side interlaces her
fingers, thus forming a hollow with the palms of her hands. The
“husband” takes a small article and, passing his hand rapidly up and
down the line of hands, he drops the article into one of the arched
hands. The opposition has now to discover who has the article, and the
following conversation takes place.

Opposition says:

“_Baninga-baninga_” (You players).

Players: “_Eh!_”

Opp.: “_Bankutu bengi_” (name of some leaves).

Pls.: “_Eh!_”

Opp.: “_Ba nyango ya bilulu_” (They are bitter leaves).

Pls.: “_Eh!_”

Opp.: “_Obe na nkulu, abete mungita_” (He who has the article make the
sound of thunder).

Pls.: “_Kililī!_” (imitation of rolling thunder).

Opp.: “_Bakunguika_” (Make it again).

Pls.: “_Kililī!_”

Opp.: “_Motu yona_” (That person).

If the person thus pointed out is the hider of the article, he shows it,
and his side loses, and the opposition side takes its turn; if, however,
he has not the article, then the one who has it says, “_Eh! nabuti
mwana_” (Oh! I have given birth to a child), and shows the article. It
then counts one game to them, and is called _mwana wawi_ = one child.

8. _Liba._ A game with palm nuts (and this very often precedes _peke_,
or backgammon). In _liba_ they throw up a palm nut, and then before it
falls they swoop up with the right hand as many palm nuts as they can,
and put them down to catch the descending nut before it touches the
ground. The one who picks up most in an agreed number of throws wins the

9. _Peke_ (kind of _mancala_, or African backgammon). A number of holes
are made in a circle on the ground, and the players either take as many
palm nuts as they can in so many handfuls, or procure them as in _liba_
(see game 8); then they put one nut into each hole, and the one whose
nuts pass the holes of the other’s, wins; if his nuts fall short of the
other’s, he loses. The game is very complicated, and its rules little
understood by any European.

10. _Lobesi_, or the game of pitch-and-toss with six counters. The
counters are called _mbesi_; the light side of the counter is _nke_, the
dark side is _mpili_. The stakes (_libeta_) are taken up when the
counters in three throws either fall dark side up (_mpili_), or light
side up (_nke_), or three of each (_miu matu_ = three eyes). The person
putting down the stakes is _mobeti wa libeta_, the place of playing is
_ekali_, and the turn to play is _ngala_, and _pula_ is to demand a
second set of throws with the _mbesi_. In this game there is always a
large amount of gambling for brass rods and anything else of value, in
fact, slaves are sometimes staked on the throw. I never knew it to be
played except for gambling purposes.

11. _Nsoko._ In this game it is necessary to make a table (_juku_) of
four lengths of plantain stalks, two 3 feet long, and two 2 feet long,
and these are so placed as to make an oblong, and the space is filled
with earth or sand in a concave shape, and on this concave bed some
pieces of plantain leaves are smoothly spread. The teetotums are made
from the large Calabar (_nsoko_, hence the name of the game) beans. A
hole is bored through the middle of each bean, and through the hole is
pushed a splinter of wood to form a peg ¾ in. long on the under side,
and about 3½ inches on the upper. This is called the _mundindi_. The
_juku_ and the _nsoko_ being prepared, the players, as many as can sit
at the table, take their places, and one having taken the _mundindi_
between the extended palms of his hands, he rubs it to and fro to give
it momentum, and then he drops the teetotum on the table, where it spins
rapidly. In the meantime another has done the same, and on the two
revolving tops colliding, one is knocked out and becomes the property of
the one whose teetotum is left on the “board.” If both are knocked out
they begin again. If one teetotum holds the “board” for a round, the
owner of it is _monzo_ (the best spinner). He who procures the most tops
belonging to the others is the winner.

12. _Molangu_ (hoop). The lads take sides, each side having a town
(_mboka_) about 30 yards apart; and each lad has a piece of string from
6 to 8 feet long weighted at the ends. All being ready the hoop is
rolled along from town A towards town B, and as it approaches a lad
steps out and throws one end of his string at the hoop, and lets the
string run freely from his hand. His object is to entangle his string
about the hoop. When the hoop stops and falls, he goes and picks up one
end of his string and swings the hoop round his head as he takes it back
to the throwing side A. If he succeeds he has repulsed the enemy, and it
counts as one game to his side. If he misses the hoop, then the enemy
has entered his town, and it is reckoned as one game to the town A, and
the town B has to roll the hoop towards their opponents. If the hoop
happens to come off the string while being twirled, then the side of the
twirler loses, and he has to take the hoop back to his own town and
throw it to the town of the enemy. Each lad steps out in turn for a
throw of the hoop, and for a throw at the hoop.


  By permission of - Prof. F. STARR.
  This Design is called Sanduku, or Box.

13. _Nka_, or cat’s cradle, is well known to the lads and lasses, and
many an hour is spent in working out the different designs on their
fingers and toes. The following are the names of a few patterns: (1)
_Moleki na nkusu_, snare for a parrot, because of its similarity to a
snare; (2) _Mwana muntaka_, girl, because of its large, oval shape; (3)
_Mwana lele_, boy, because it has a small waist; (4) _Julututu_, spider;
(5) _Nkungu_, a triangular pattern. There is a very large number of
designs, but some children are more expert than others in forming them
accurately and easily.


  By permission of - Prof. F. STARR.
  This Design is named Ndako, or House. If the picture is turned upside
    down the Pitch of the Roof will be clearly seen, the Ridge-pole and


  By permission of Prof. F. STARR.
  Called by the Natives: Narrow Roads through the Farms.

14. _Nsau ya mai_, or water games, of which the following three are
specimens: (1) _Nkoli_ (crocodile). An active boy represents a
crocodile, and diving beneath the water tries to catch the feet of his
comrades, and others try to capture him. If they succeed in so doing
they thereupon pretend to kill him and cut him up; but if he catches a
playmate they exchange places. (2) _Tasana_ (to find one another). One
dives and remains quiet under the water, while another searches for him.
(3) _Munteko_ (game of touch in the water). If one lad fails to catch or
touch another, the others sing, “_Otenda tendaka yau nzala ya nkabu_”
(You will not grow, you eat greedily, but are always hungry). The boy
becomes angry at this taunt, and renews his efforts to catch one of
them. The Boloki are good swimmers, great divers, and can remain under
the water for a long time; and undoubtedly these water games help them
to become so much at home in the river.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. R. H. Kirkland_
  These men are having a small drinking-bout and a little music. The
  band consists of one drum, one trumpet, and one iron gong played by
  the man at the end of the row.

The elder lads often brought out their thin, well-balanced fighting
spears, and having selected a growing plantain with a stalk about 5
inches in diameter, they would stand from 60 to 80 feet away and launch
their spears in turn at the stalk. I have seen them pierce the stalk
right through again and again. I have tried spear-throwing, and it is
not so easy as it looks. There is a knack in holding the spear-haft well
down across the palm of the hand, so that the whole force of the arm is
conveyed to the spear. The lads, when they saw my poor attempts at
spear-throwing, used to say laughingly to me, “Ah, white man, if you
would fight us with spears, and not with guns, we would soon wipe you

_Bull-roarers_ are known and made; but the elders do not like the lads
to play with them, and give as their reason: “You are calling the
leopards.” This is because the whirl of the bamboo makes a sound like
the growling of a leopard.

The young girls have an interesting little dance in which they form a
circle around one of their number, who is on all fours in the centre. As
the girls in the ring sing about the different animals, as the leopard,
the hippopotamus, the crocodile, the elephant, etc., the girl in the
middle imitates the movements of the animal, and she receives praise or
ridicule according to her ability to imitate the movements accurately.

The men and women take very little part in any of these games (except
the men at _lobesi_), but they monopolize a large share in all the
dances, and in most of the dances the sexes are mixed. Wrestling of a
rough-and-ready kind is indulged in by the lads; and round the fires of
an evening stories are told with dramatic power, and conundrums are
propounded and answered. Although Congo is practically a toyless land,
and so far as the adults are concerned the children are not catered for,
yet from their loud laughter the young folk seem to extract a great
amount of pleasure out of life. The boys delight in talking a slang
language of their own manufacture, which is called _jimu_. They select a
syllable, say “_sa_,” and insert it between the syllables of the words
they use, so _mboka_ = village becomes _mbo-sa-ka_ = _vil-sa-lage_. They
acquire great glibness in this kind of talk, and enjoy the fun that it
brings in mystifying others.


                               CHAPTER XI

                        A PAGE OF NATIVE HISTORY

A great inland sea—The Boloki and Bantus—The Boloki man—A native
    retort—Meaning of Bangala—Movements of tribes—Murder of Boloki
    chief—Refuge in a tree—Boloki raiding—A famous chief—Comets an
    evidence of greatness—Tribal marks and meaning.

There is much evidence in favour of the theory that the low-lying
country of the Congo basin was once the bottom of a great inland sea,
with here and there the highest points of land rearing their heads above
the water, and thus forming numerous islands. The pressure and rush of
water gradually wore down the barriers made by the ridge of rocks
running across the river at _Kintamo_, and now forming the Kintamo
Falls, thus draining the country and rendering it habitable. Then came
another silting up, and the lower levels of the country, that had been
covered in the meantime by trees and grass, were again flooded, and
heavy deposits of clay were dropped on to and pressed down the vegetable
growth. When the river was extremely low one year in the Monsembe
district, I noticed for many miles a stratum of vegetable matter, about
three inches thick, with here and there a tree of six inches diameter, a
good eleven feet below the top of the bank. This vegetable layer was not
fossilized, but was extremely hard, and though of a blackish brown
colour, every vein in the leaves, and every line in the grass, was clear
and perfect.

It is highly probable that as the Congo basin was drained the Bantus
pressed down from their northern homes; and the Boloki tribe for greater
security, perhaps, took possession of the Libinza Lake, and enlarged the
islets they found there into places large enough to hold one, two, or
more families.

The Boloki tribe belongs to the great Bantu race that stretches from 6°
north of the Equator to Cape Town, and from the east to the west coast.
The Bantus reach a higher latitude on the western than on the eastern
side of the African continent, and here and there we find dotted over
this vast tract of country small tribes—like the Hottentots, the
Bushmen, the Pigmies, etc.—that are remnants probably of the aborigines
of the country. These portions of tribes, speaking other than Bantu
dialects, have not been absorbed, for geographical and other reasons, by
their more civilized Bantu neighbours during the progress of many
generations; but are there to-day like so many isolated pages of
primitive history.

The Boloki man is above the average height, of sturdy frame,
well-developed limbs, and splendidly proportioned body. When necessity
has demanded it, he has paddled me for fifteen hours with only one short
interval for food; but “on the road” he is not a good walker, for he
finds his rations too heavy a burden, much more a 70-lb. load such as
the Lower Congo man carries with a light heart and step for many days.
In the canoe the Boloki swings his paddle with much grace, and if a drum
is beaten, or a song is sung, the line of twenty paddlers will dip,
bend, and raise their paddles in perfect time to the rhythm of the drum,
or the lilt of the song.

The Boloki man is sociable and of a kindly disposition, but liable to
fits of uncontrollable passion, and is then capable of great cruelty. He
is fond of a laugh, enjoys a good joke, and appreciates a repartee,
which he gives and takes in good humour.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. G. E. Moore_
  Running up the forehead will be seen the cock’s-comb tribal mark,
    above which is the plait of hair worn by the better-class men, and
    on the temple the palm-leaf mark.

We make more than three hundred dinners a year off fowls—they are very
cheap, and are the most regular form of fresh meat that we can procure.
Speaking with a native one day, I laughingly twitted him with the
scarcity of fowls and the difficulty of buying any in his village.

He at once retorted: “White man, if all the fowls you have eaten from
our village were to cackle and crow simultaneously in your stomach,
there would be a tremendous noise.” And as he spoke there was a good
humoured twinkle in his eye as he conjured up the noisy scene.

Formerly the term Bangala was applied only to those natives who lived at
Diboko (Nouvelles Anvers), and for forty or fifty miles up and down the
river on either side of them; but in a work published in Brussels called
_Les Bangalas_,[18] the term Bangala is made to cover an area reaching
far east of Bopoto, west of Equatorville, north of the Welle, and south
of the Congo River for some distance. This includes a dozen or more
different tribes, talking as many distinct languages, having various
tribal marks, possessing in many instances very different customs, etc.,
and among whom there is nothing in common except their black skins and
backwardness in civilization. Since seeing the above-mentioned book, I
have preferred using Boloki as a more definite term for denoting the
inhabitants of certain towns on the main river, on the Mobangi River,
and the Libinza Lake. Intermixed with the Boloki towns on the Congo
River are other towns belonging to a hinterland people well known to us
as the Bomuna.

Footnote 18:

  By M. Cyr. van Overbergh and M. de Jonghe.

The Boloki folk have very hazy ideas about relationship, and scarcely
any two will give the same name to all the relatives, and, moreover, if
you take a list of the names of relations from a young man and put it
away for six months, and then ask the same lad about the same relations
in the same order as before, with your list in front of you, he will
give you another set of names that will not tally with your first one in
several points. I have made many attempts to draw up a complete
list,[19] and if I had been satisfied to take one man and examine him
once only, I might have procured a list of the names of relations that
would have been full, but it would have been inaccurate, i.e. it would
have been that man’s list then, but it would not have been his six or
eight months later, and it would not have been anyone else’s list even
at the time he gave it to me. In this there was no desire to deceive us,
for we found the same difficulty on the Lower Congo.

Footnote 19:

  See Appendix, Note 4, page 342.

Among the Boloki there is no historical literature, for not a single
member of the tribe could write until we taught them; but although there
is no written history there has been much oral communication dealing
with the origin of the tribe, the place from whence it came, the
approximate time of the migration, and the reason for it. Their
communications have been handed from father to son, and the facts have
been the constant theme of fireside conversations.

The following incidents connected with the migrations of a large portion
of the tribe from the low-lying Libinza Lake district to the main river
I gathered from a man of about 35 years of age, of good intelligence,
and I have every reason to believe that they are the putting together of
what he frequently heard around the evening fires, as well as what he
learned from his father. Besides, in chatting with other folk, I have
gathered various particulars that confirm his statements, and the
constant antagonism shown by the Bomuna people to the Boloki, and the
geographical distribution of these two tribes, all go to prove the
truthfulness the main facts of this page from native history.


  _Photo by: the Author_A MONITOR
  These creatures are very scarce; but our lads killed this one, and
    brought it to me before cutting it up for the saucepan. It was 8
    feet 7 inches long.


  A native house of the size and shape that we bought for 5s. 1d. The
    old man on the right illustrates a method of hair dressing—shaving
    the hair so as to show a very round face and high forehead.

The Bomuna people, about the middle of the nineteenth century, came from
the bush towns lying in the forest between the Mobangi and the Congo
Rivers, and settled on the bank of the main river. Not being a riverine
people, they had no knowledge of swimming, and possessed no canoes. They
worked their way along the river’s bank from the Monsembe district
up-river until they came to the Ejeba stream, near the village of Nyoi,
which deep stream they passed by means of a stout cane-creeper that
happened to stretch across the water from the overhanging trees. Many
passed, and while others were working their way hand over hand along the
cane creeper it broke, and thus severed the only means of communication
between those on the opposite sides of the stream. Those who found
themselves on the eastern side continued their journey, and founded the
settlements of Diboko (sometimes called Iboko), now Nouvelles Anvers.
Thus the ancient people of Diboko were Bomuna of the tribe of Bobanga,
of whom the chief, Mata Bwiki, is the best known to fame, being the
head-man who encountered Stanley, and on whose land the Congo Free State
built their station of Nouvelles Anvers.

The Bomuna folk left on the western side of the stream settled on
suitable town sites in the Mungala Creek above Monsembe, and along the
banks of the main river below Monsembe. I knew this branch of the tribe
well as being both ignorant and timid in all matters relating to water
and canoes.

Between forty and fifty years ago some Libinza Lake people of the tribe
of Boloki left their swampy island homes under the leadership of
Munyata, and working their way in shallow canoes through the creeks,
they came out on the main river near to Moboko. They paddled down the
river to the Mungala Creek, which at that time was inhabited by Bomuna
people. There Munyata made blood-brotherhood with Munkua, the chief of
the Bomuna, and settled there with his people. The Bomuna at that time
possessed no spears, but did their hunting and fighting with sharpened
sticks, the points of which were hardened in the fire. Munyata presented
Munkua with a spear, and received a fine young woman as a return

Munyata, the Boloki chief, was apparently a very grasping man, for
although he had several wives he coveted more, and was always asking
Munkua for one of his. For a time Munkua occasionally gave one; but
Munyata let it be known that any woman who ran to him would be retained,
and so much was the Boloki chief admired and feared, that one after
another of the wives of Munkua escaped to him, until at last only one,
his favourite, or principal (_nkundi_) wife was left, and she was
eventually stolen from him by Munyata. So exasperated was Munkua by this
treatment that, taking advantage of the first opportunity that offered,
he speared Munyata to death.

On the murder of Munyata the Boloki folk came out in crowds from the
Libinza Lake to avenge the death of their head-man, and so successful
were they with their iron spears against the sharpened sticks of the
Bomuna that, although more numerous, the latter gave way before their
fierce onslaught. Many escaped, but some took refuge in a high bombax
tree. The tree was surrounded by the Boloki, who threatened to starve
their enemies to death unless they submitted; and apparently after some
palavering the entrapped people had the privilege accorded to them of
selecting their own future owners. Thus one would say, “I will take
So-and-so as my master,” and on his request being agreed to he would
climb down the tree and take his place among the followers of his new
master. In this way they divided themselves among their conquerors, and
it seems from all accounts they were well treated by the Boloki.

Other contingents of the Boloki came out on to the main river and
wrested sites from the Bomuna at Monsembe, Lobengu, Maleli, and
Bokomela, and up-river at Bombilinga. In the meantime the Diboko Bomuna
had increased in numbers, had become possessed of canoes, and had
learned the way to manage them. Their numbers also had been greatly
augmented, and their passions inflamed by those who had escaped from the
Mungala Creek before, and during, the fight caused by the death of
Munyata. These Diboko Bomuna so harassed and fought the Mungala Creek
Boloki that numbers of them fled up-river (undoubtedly passing behind
the islands to avoid their enemies at Diboko), and established
themselves at Mobeka, at the mouth of the Mungala River many miles above
Diboko. When first we went to live at Monsembe a very high tree that
stood on the bank at the bend of the river was pointed out to me as
their post of observation when watching for the Diboko Bomuna.

The Boloki tribe in 1890 possessed the following districts on the north
bank of the Congo: Mobeka, at the mouth of the Mungala River,
Bombilinga, the Mungala Creek towns, Monsembe, Lobengu, situated in the
Mangala Creek, Moleli, Bokomela, and Bungundu. On the south bank they
owned Bokumbi, Libulula, and Bolombo. At some time or other the people
of Bungundu, Bokomela, Moleli, and Lobengu were called Mangala, and gave
their name to the creek in which their principal town was built. Perhaps
there was a powerful family called Mangala, and this has been corrupted
into Bangala; or the Mungala River was supposed to be the original home
of these people, and as _mu_ means place, locality, and _ba_ means
people, it was easy to call the people the Bangala. I am rather inclined
to the latter reason for the origin of the term among white people, but
the natives themselves never used the name Bangala.

Near to Mobeka are the Ngombe people, who are also called Bokumbi, and
this tribe in 1908 was becoming mixed with the neighbouring tribes; and
as they are being absorbed into them they no longer call themselves
Ngombe or Bokumbi, but appropriate the names of the peoples whose
language they learn and whose tribal mark they imitate. The hinterland
folk of Diboko belong to the Mokulu tribe, and the Bomuna of Diboko to
the Bobanga tribe; others in between the Boloki towns down to Bokomela
retain their old name of Bomuna. Below Bokomela is the Mbonji tribe that
came originally from the bush. The Baloi on the Mobangi River are Boloki
from Lake Libinza.

The Libinza Lake is a large sheet of shallow water that drains itself,
by the Ngiri River, into the Mobangi, and retains its distinctive colour
for many miles. Islands have been slowly made with great labour, and
they need constant watching or they will be washed away by the annual
floods. The folk drove stakes around any slight elevations shown at low
water, and then dug up clay and mud from the bottom of the lake and put
inside the stakes, and thus formed an island. These islands are small,
but they are numerous, and are often linked together by bridges. There
are some large islands, but most of them are small. The lake was thickly
populated in the nineties with expert fishermen and saucepan-makers; and
they often came out in parties of twenty and thirty to fish with their
peculiar box-shaped nets, and to sell their fish, their saucepans, and
“fire-pots” to the riverine people for cassava roots. They frequently
camped on our beach, and thus we saw much of them. The Libinza folk
lived chiefly on plantains, as cassava would not grow in their swampy
soil, hence they always exchanged their wares for cassava; and this may
have been one of the reasons why Munyata came out from the lake, to
establish a centre of exchange for cassava roots.

The tribe near the river always ridicules the tribe behind in the bush,
as the Boloki laugh at the Bomuna, and the Bomuna at the Ndobo people
further behind. The Boloki are proud of their name and their origin; and
the neighbouring tribes acknowledge their courage and endurance, and
prefer their friendship to their enmity. The following is an instance of
their bravery and the long distances the Boloki men paddled on their
raiding expeditions: In the beginning of 1891 there was a big fight in
our vicinity, and on inquiring the cause we learned that the reason for
the fight between these Boloki towns was this: A year or two before our
arrival the Boloki of the Monsembe district paddled over 300 miles
up-river and raided the Bopoto riverine towns, carrying off a quantity
of loot and a number of captives; and the unsatisfactory division of the
spoils culminated in the fight that cost some few lives.

About 1870 there lived at Mobeka (one of the Boloki towns) a chief who
styled himself _Monoko mwa Nkoi_, or Mouth of a Leopard, for he boasted
that, like that animal, he never let go any person unfortunate enough to
fall into his clutches. He was the terror of the district, and a message
from him made a whole town quake with fear; and a demand from him was
instantly obeyed from apprehension of the consequences. He was a man of
war, a cruel warrior who held life cheap; and he burnt down many a town,
scattered the people, or took them as slaves. On one of his raids among
the Bopoto towns (which district is about 130 miles above Mobeka) he was
mortally wounded and carried back to his town, where he died. About the
time of his death a large comet appeared, which was described by my
informant as being “like a large star with a hat on it.” It was seen for
three nights in succession, and was regarded as a sign of the greatness
of Monoko mwa Nkoi.

Abnormal appearances in the sky are either the evidences of the death of
some great chief whom they do not know, because he lived and died among
a distant tribe, or are a proof of the greatness of a chief who has died
within the limits of their own district. I have also known them to blame
a lad, recently buried, for the tornado that was rushing across their
village, shaking their huts and uprooting their plantains and bananas.
They abused him in unmeasured language, and expressed the hope that he
would be “humbugged” in the nether regions. Emanya of Diboko is the name
of another fighter whose cruel exploits are the subject of conversations
around the evening fires.

The tattoo marks give indications of tribal movements, and also some
idea of the various component parts that go to the making of a village
community. I have noticed three kinds of tattooing among the Boloki. (1)
A single line of elliptical punch-marks running from temple to temple
just above the eyebrows. (2) A cock’s comb (called _likwala_) running
from the tip of the nose in some, and from between the eyebrows in
others, to the crown of the head. (3) A cock’s comb plus a palm leaf on
each temple, or some other marking. When you look at the profile of a
man his tattoo stands out like a cock’s comb, hence the name.

The first kind of tattooing—line of elliptical punch-marks—is to be
found only on the old men and women, indicating that they are probably
some of the original contingent of Libinza Lake people who forced a
footing on the main river. They cling to the Libinza tribal mark, being
proud of their kinsfolk and their origin. The second tattoo is seen on
boys and girls, and on men and women from 35 downwards, and shows that
the new marking had come into fashion when they were young, and was
sufficiently in favour to supplant the old Libinza marking. On men and
women from 35 to 45 there were (in 1900) slight traces of the Libinza
marks, but the cock’s comb was the more prominent tattoo. Whence did
they borrow the cock’s-comb tattoo? is a question I have often asked
myself; or did they originate it as a distinctive mark of their own as
they became a separate tribe and the ties binding them to the Libinza
people gradually faded? The third set of marks is to be found on the
slaves, who imitate the tattoo of their masters. Hence the Mongo tribal
marks—lumps the size of a bean on the nose and across the forehead—will
be seen on a man in conjunction with the cock’s comb; or the palm leaf
on the temples—mark of a tribe on the upper Lulanga River—and the cock’s
comb. Slaves captured or bought young allow their distinctive tribal
mark to disappear, and try to work up a good-sized cock’s comb like
their owners, so as to be regarded as belonging to the same tribe as
their masters.


                              CHAPTER XII


No paramount chiefs—Head-man rules his own family—Stanley’s “Lord of
    many guns”—_Monanga_, a term of respect—The alien is robbed—The
    guest protected—Arrival of canoes—Estimation of native
    character—Good memories—Learning to read pictures—Timid and
    superstitious—Lack of reverence—Pride—Greedy and mean.

Among the Boloki there are no paramount chiefs. Each town has its set of
families that prefer living together, and each family has its head
called _mata_, who is the eldest son, and who as eldest takes the title
and the largest share of the estate. At any time a family is at liberty
to break away from the rest and live by itself on a new site. The _mata_
may be a man with wives, slaves, and followers numbering from 200 to 300
and even more, or the _mata_ may not be able to muster more than fifteen
or twenty people; yet as head of his family he possesses the same title
(_mata_) as the more powerful ones.

Stanley in his books on the Congo uses many phrases about Mata Bwiki of
Diboko (now Nouvelles Anvers) that favour the idea that he was an
overlord, or lord paramount of the district; but that was not so. _Mata
bwiki_ simply means Head-man Plenty, or Plentifulness. Stanley, I think,
gives as its meaning, “Lord of Many Guns,” but his name then should have
been, _Monanga wa bibau biki_ = lord of guns many. Stanley on his
memorable journey happened to go ashore at the landing-place belonging
to Bwiki’s family, and he as head of his family took the lead in
Stanley’s reception. If Stanley had landed half a mile above or half a
mile below that particular spot he might never have heard of Mata Bwiki.

The word _monanga_ is used in a restricted way as meaning a free-born
person, either male or female. It also is employed as a term of respect
and means “lord,” and frequently is equivalent to Mr., Monsieur, etc. It
is attached to the name of any man to whom or of whom you wish to speak
with deference and respect. We are always addressed as _monanga_, but
never as _mata_; and many of the more wealthy natives who are not _mata_
are spoken of as _monanga_, and all who are entitled to be called _mata_
have a right to be addressed as _monanga_, but they prefer the former
title. _Mata_ is distinctly the hereditary designation of the eldest son
and points to him as the head of his family, and _monanga_ a courtesy
title of respect.

The _mata_ then governs all matters relating to his own family, and from
his decisions there is no appeal. Undoubtedly he calls together the
elder folk of his family to counsel him on important affairs; and these
head-men of the village meet under the wild fig tree, or in the palaver
house, and decide village matters as between family and family, and also
their policy towards other villages in the district. There is an
unwritten code of laws dealing with most offences, and by these the
heads of the families judge each other and the members of their own

The status of a person in the family and town council depends on whether
he is entirely free-born, or slave-born, or partly so. A child of slaves
is a slave, and as such his advice is never sought; a child of a slave
father by a free woman, or of a slave woman by a free father, is a
semi-slave (_mbotela_), but the position of the latter in the family
life is much higher than that of the slave, yet of course he does not
rank so high as the child born of free parents. Birth alone constitutes
membership of the family and tribe. A slave who redeems himself (a very
rare occurrence, for all that a slave earns belongs to his master) will
be tolerated in his attempts to pass himself off as a member of the
tribe; he may affect the tribal mark, and also plait his beard, etc.,
and his wealth may win respect, but being of no family he will have no
influence in the palavers of the village.

In dealing with an alien it is not considered wrong to rob, beat, abuse,
or even murder him, unless he has come on a visit, for trade or other
purposes, to someone in the town. He will then be under the protection
of his host, and receiving the hospitality of his host he will also
receive the hospitality of the town and neighbourhood. The host will
have a _casus belli_ against anyone who molests his guest; and a
village, on the other hand, will hold a host responsible for the
offensive actions of his guest. Men and women travelling alone, or in
twos and threes in places where they are not known, run the risk of
being captured. Such defenceless travellers hide by day and travel by
night to their destinations.

Green, in his _Shorter History of England_, says that “in ancient times
the painted British savage on approaching a village sounded a horn to
warn the villagers of his coming, otherwise he would have been treated
as an enemy who tried to surprise them by stealth.” Among the Boloki it
is the custom that when a canoe containing six or more men approaches a
town they have to beat a drum and sing to notify the folk of their
coming, otherwise they are treated as enemies and lay themselves open to
an attack. For a canoe of strangers from other towns and districts to
approach a town unannounced by drum and song is regarded as an act of
war. If their coming is peaceful, why are they afraid to drum and sing?
I have seen the crew of such a canoe badly handled for omitting these
courtesies, and but for our presence some of the travellers would have
been speared.

The _mata_ in the performance of his duties as head-man has to guard, in
the interests of his family, all those palm trees and _nsafu_
(_canuarensis_) trees that have been planted by his forebears. The
proprietary rights in these trees are by inheritance, or by planting
them, and the rights in them are handed on from father to son in the
proper line of heirship. They are sources of wealth to a family, and the
members of a family support their chief man when those rights are

The head-man in the government of his family holds a very difficult
position when sitting in judgment on a relative, for such is the
character of the family life that if he fines the delinquent he will be
punishing himself indirectly—the family stands or falls together.
Robbery, adultery, wounding, and murder when committed within the limits
of one’s own family will receive the strong disapprobation of the other
members, but there is no punishment that the _mata_ can inflict unless
the offender is a boy, and then a sound thrashing will be administered;
for will they not be punishing themselves if they insist on the
infliction of a fine and to whom can the fine be paid? The fine imposed
would have to be paid by the family to itself. The _mata_, therefore, in
ruling his family exercises his greatest tact in maintaining the various
units of which it is composed in the friendliest relation to each other
and to himself. Then he has to keep a strong hand on the family slaves,
for he and his family will be held responsible for whatever offences
they commit against other families; and if they fight and quarrel
amongst themselves, his only wise course is to sell them and buy others
who may not be so contentious.

I never came across a more democratic form of government on the Congo
than that of the Boloki tribe. There is no prestige of birth to help, as
among the Lower Congo chiefs, for his subjects are of the same blood as
himself—except his slaves, and they are his property and not his
subjects. He has no position of priesthood (as the family “medicine
man”) to inspire with awe those who owe fealty to him as head-man; and
there is no position he can gain in any secret society that will inspire
with fear of him the other members of his family. His position is no
sinecure, and while his trouble is great his perquisites are few.

Perhaps this will be the best place to attempt an estimate of the Boloki
folk who thus live in families each under the rule of a head-man, and in
village communities governed by elders or head-men. Their memories are
exceedingly good respecting the debts owing to them, but with regard to
the debts they owe they have, or pretend to have, very bad memories—it
is for the creditor to keep in mind the debts owing to him, and to bring
the proofs at the proper time.

There are occasionally cases of insanity among them, some caused by
uterine trouble, and others are the results of sleeping-sickness. If
insanity is of long duration and the patients are destructive or
troublesome, they are quietly put out of the way. I only met with one
man who ran amok. He had had a very serious illness, and either the
illness or the decoctions given to him to effect his cure made him
temporarily mad. He cut down all the plantain trees in his path, and
destroyed everything he came near; the people cleared out of his way,
but being a man of importance he got off without any payment of damages.

When I went first to live among the people of Monsembe I had with me a
roughly bound volume of the _Illustrated London News_. It was very
interesting to watch the development of their artistic faculties. At
first they looked at a picture and asked what the marks were; they held
the picture anyhow, and looked at it from any point that might be
convenient to them without any regard to the picture being right side
up, or upside down, or any other way. By and by they began to pick out
the features, one by one, and say, “Why, it is a man!” They would pick
out the doors, windows, walls, etc., and remark, “Why, it is a house!”
After a time they would drop this spelling out, as it were, of the
picture and say, “A man, a woman, a house,” etc., at once. Later on,
they would take in the whole of a picture at a glance. I suppose it is
in this way we learn pictures in our childhood—spell them out. It was
interesting to watch the same process in young men, women, and adults.

I remember one day a man was looking at a picture of the members of the
L.C.C. gathered in their council chamber. He asked what it meant, and I
explained the significance of the assembly. He could only see well with
one eye, and with that one he very carefully scanned the whole of the
picture for two or three minutes, and then he asked in an incredulous
tone of voice: “This is a picture of men met to talk palavers, but where
are their spears and knives?” The natives never talked palavers without
having their spears and knives ready to hand, hence the doubt expressed
in his question and voice.

The native has immense respect for force, but totally despises
gentleness. He likes to be treated with kindness and consideration, but
instead of regarding such treatment as an expression of your goodness he
considers it a sign of your weakness, and will behave accordingly. If
you point out to him that you treat him with kindness and expect some
consideration in return, he will acknowledge that that is fair and
right, and will for a time try to act more thoughtfully, but soon the
better feeling will pass away unless you constantly remind him of his
many deficiencies—of all that he has to learn and all that he needs to

To teach a native that he is your equal in all things is not to incite a
desire on his part to emulate you, but rather tends to cause him to
regard you with disrespect and contempt. The native knows he is not your
equal, and he thinks you must have a despicable twist in your vision,
and some bad, ulterior motive, if you think that he is your equal and
wish him also to believe the same. I teach him that he is a creature of
God as I am, that the Redeemer died as much for him as for me, and that
God will judge him righteously, and will show neither of us favour or
disfavour on account of the colour of our skins. At the same time, the
relation between teacher and taught must be maintained, and he must be
made to understand in how many ways he must be changed—morally,
intellectually, and socially; and that before he can take his place
among civilized and Christian men he must rise out of his degrading
superstitions, control his lusts, govern his passions, and strive after
all that is good, noble, and beautiful. He will admit that you are his
superior in every way, but unless you firmly insist on his taking his
right position as a learner he will conduct himself towards you with
less respect than he pays to the smallest and poorest chief in his
district, and in a short time your influence will be gone and you will
wonder why.

Treat the native with respect, and insist on receiving the same from
him; treat him with firmness, decision, masterfulness, and he will go as
a rule as far as you want him to go. Faithfully keep all your promises
and fulfil all your threats, therefore never make a promise you do not
intend to redeem, and never threaten a thing you are not able, on the
face of it, to perform, i.e. treat the native with gentle firmness,
persuasive force, and masterful consideration, and you will get the best
out of him, and cause him to respect himself while respecting you.

The native can love and he can hate; but he is neither a good lover nor
a strong hater. His affections are neither steady nor permanent. He
will, however, remember a wrong committed against him much longer than a
good deed done to help him. He is moved more by fear of pain, by loss of
material profit, and by public opinion than swayed by principles and
arguments. He will float with the stream rather than continually
struggle against it; but at the same time he can obstinately and
doggedly follow a course that will result in physical pain, financial
loss, and ridicule if he is once persuaded that his ultimate interests
lie in that direction.

He is not lacking in gratitude, but he is afraid of displaying it lest a
favour be asked of him in return. When you visit him he will remind you
of the fact that you mended his broken leg or cured his disease, not to
make it the basis of a generous act towards you, but rather as a plea to
procure something extra out of you by awakening your further interest in

In some districts you will find he is more a liar than a thief, and if
you investigate you will discover that the fines imposed for thieving
are such as to deter him from following his inclination to steal. In
other districts, where the native laws are more lax, he will excel both
in thieving and lying, but he will readily admit they are vices worthy
of stringent punishment, and will express his regret that the thief
stole either from you or from himself, and at the same time he will be
doing his best to rob you.

Before the unknown and mysterious he is timid and very superstitious. He
will regard you as a _god_, and yet try to fight you; he will
superstitiously believe that you have wonderful occult powers that can
stop the rain, cause pestilence and plagues, and yet he will not attempt
to conciliate you, but will savagely shout at you to clear out of his
town and take your witchcraft elsewhere. When fighting with a gun he is
timid, nervous, and apparently very cowardly, because he does not
understand the mysteries of gunpowder; but give him a shield and a spear
and his bravery is evidenced by his boldness in a fight, and his utter
indifference to wounds and death. The mysterious overawes, paralyses
him, but superstitious fears will often arouse the very demon of cruelty
and vindictiveness, and incite to boldness and recklessness.

He lacks reverence, but is easily filled with awe and overcome by
wonder. The stars in their courses make for him no song around the
eternal throne; but the smoke ascending from his great bush-fires
forming a halo round the sun will make him quake with fear because it is
an omen of evil. The movements of the sun and the moon awaken no
admiration in him; but exhibit some poor conjuring trick, or a shilling
mechanical toy, and his eyes and mouth are not big enough to express his

He is prouder than Lucifer is reputed to be, and will resent the
smallest slight put upon his so-called dignity. In a fit of overweening
vanity he will sacrifice everything he possesses, and destroy all his
future prospects to satisfy the pride of the moment. His family may be
insignificant, his town paltry, himself small and dirty, but touch his
pride and he will act as though he were _un grand seigneur_. He himself
must be the judge of what hurts his pride, not you. He has his own code
of honour and etiquette, difficult at times for you to understand, hence
you wonder at some of the exhibitions of his pride.

His memory is well trained, and his powers of observation keen and
minute; his ability to adapt himself to his surroundings is wonderful,
and his imitative faculties are remarkable; but he lacks power of mental
concentration and logical thought. His physical powers are highly
developed—he will carry a heavy load, from 70 lbs. to 80 lbs., up and
down hill and across broken country, or paddle a heavy canoe hour after
hour, without exhibiting much fatigue; but he cannot, or will not,
follow a line of thought, metaphorically speaking, for twenty yards. His
reasoning and reflective faculties are stunted, undeveloped, for they
have been exercised upon nothing more profound than the very alphabet of
existence. He knows that two and two make four—that certain results
follow certain causes, but that a series of causes will produce a series
of results complicated and wide-spreading in their effect he cannot
grasp. He has no power of deduction, and little or no faculty for
producing a well-developed plot or involved plan.

With those who have a right to a share of meat or cloth, etc., he will
be most scrupulous in dividing the article into equal portions,
forgetting no one; but to those who have no right to a share he will be
niggardly, mean, selfish, and grasping. His apparent generosity is
innate selfishness, for he only gives that he may receive more in
return, and be the giver black or white he will complain bitterly if the
return present is not so large as his greed imagined it should be.
Perhaps this trait in his character may be accounted for by his desire
to have a grand funeral—the talk of the village or the countryside. For
this he will save and scheme, lie and steal, rob his neighbours, his
wives, and his children to hoard up cloth, etc., for his own burial,
that he may have a good start in the spirit-land.

He has a wonderful power of imitation, but he lacks invention and
initiative; but this lack is undoubtedly due to suppression of the
inventive faculty. For generations it has been the custom to charge with
witchcraft anyone who has commenced a new industry or discovered a new
article of barter. The making of anything out of the ordinary has
brought on the maker a charge of witchcraft that again and again has
resulted in death by the ordeal. To know more than others, to be more
skilful than others, more energetic, more acute in business, more smart
in dress, has often caused a charge of witchcraft and death. Therefore
the native to save his life and live in peace has smothered his
inventive faculty, and all spirit of enterprise has been driven out of

In the foregoing sketch I have generalized, and have not allowed for the
exceptions that are always to be found to every rule. Anyone who has
lived among the natives, and has known them intimately, will supply
examples of those who were kind, generous, grateful, of others who were
affectionate, devoted, unselfish, and again of others who were patient,
brave, faithful, and persevering; but these exceptions show that they
are capable of being possessed by the noblest virtues and swayed by the
highest and purest motives. Generations of superstition and moral
degradation have not entirely obliterated from among them examples of
kindness of heart and generosity of feeling, and these examples assure
us that with proper care and cultivation such virtues and graces may
become more widespread.

Those of us who teach the native in the workshop and the school find
through stirring up his moral and mental depths many undesirable
qualities coming to the top, and these we repress; but, on the other
hand, pleasant traits also exhibit themselves, and these we try to
cultivate. The beneficial results may not be obvious to the unseeing eye
in the first generation, and perhaps not in the second, but they will
manifest themselves in due course. The civilization of England is the
outcome of a thousand years’ teaching and training, and you cannot
expect us to attain the same results in a generation or two. It is, at
least, unfair of those who boast of their “superiority” to criticize us
for not accomplishing in a generation with “inferior” material what it
has taken a score of generations to accomplish in their own case.


                              CHAPTER XIII

                    NATIVE LAWS, CRIMES, AND ORDEALS

The family judge—The chief judge—Stolen property—Punishment for
    murder—Adultery—The Court—Native advocates—No oaths
    administered—Giving the ordeal—Various ordeals—An impartial judge
    needed—White man as judge—A selection of cases.

It has already been stated in a previous chapter that the _mata_ or
head-man of the family dealt with all matters relating to his own
family, and against his verdict there was no appeal; and also that the
heads of the several families forming a town would meet together and
arrange the affairs of their various families; but it sometimes happened
that these “heads” disagreed, and there was a need to call in some
outsider to settle the case.

In every district there is a chief who is appointed by the towns of the
district to act as chief judge in all important matters—at palavers
between family and family, and town and town. At the time of his
appointment the “heads” of all the families living in the district who
desired to come under his jurisdiction cut down his plantain and banana
trees. This action gave him a _casus belli_ against all the towns that
acknowledged him as a judge. By cutting down his plantains he became the
offended party, and as such had the right of aggressive action against
the offenders. Now, it was the custom that the people of the offending
town must not go to fight the offended town, but must wait for the
offended ones to attack them—the offenders. No subsequent quarrel could
be taken up until the first was settled. Hence the chief appointed as
judge might enrage a town by his decision, and might call on the other
towns to help him in enforcing his verdict, yet the said town could not
attack the chief judge’s town because of the old-standing and unsettled
palaver of cutting down his plantains and bananas. This ensured to the
chief judge immunity from quarrels with the people who did not like his
decisions, and his immunity from all such quarrels was a guarantee that
there would be a certain amount of justice and impartiality in the
verdicts given. He was paid to act as judge by those who sought his
services, and the fees remunerated him for his temporary loss from his
destroyed plantains and bananas.

There is an unwritten code of rough-and-ready laws to guide the head-men
and chief judge in deciding cases. Stolen property found on anyone can
be claimed by the owner, and the possessor made to pay a fine unless he
can prove by witnesses that the article was either given to him or he
had bought it. The giver or seller then paid the fine, and in addition
returned the money he received of the buyer. The thief, besides
returning the stolen article or replacing it, pays, as a fine, an amount
equal to the value of the goods stolen, and the robbed person will
retain a part of the fine and give the rest to those who helped him to
enforce the verdict.

When an article is stolen the owner walks through the town calling out a
description of it, and invoking on the thief all the fetish curses that
come to his mind. These curses are often so frightful as to intimidate
the thief, and frequently the stolen goods are secretly replaced. When
it is farm produce that has been purloined, say some cassava, the robbed
woman ties a piece of cassava in the cleft end of a stick, and fixes
just below it a piece of _Euphorbia candelabra_, a powerful charm. This
she carries through the town, calling out her loss and invoking horrible
curses on the thief, and as she shouts she whacks her fetish stick, with
another piece of wood, to arouse it to action against the robber.

When something valuable, such as a piece of cloth or a large knife or an
axe, is lost, and the owner has a shrewd suspicion that a certain man is
the thief, he can accuse that man, and if the man denies the theft his
accuser can demand that he shall take the ordeal and thus definitely
settle the matter. To refuse to take the ordeal is an admission of
guilt. Should the test go against the accused he will have to replace
the stolen article, pay a fine, and all the expenses of the ordeal
drinking. But should the test establish his innocence, the accuser then
has to compensate the accused and pay the fees of those who administer
the ordeal. As a rule, there are not many accusations brought on mere
suspicion; they prefer to discover the stolen property on the thief, or
trace it back to him through those who have received it or bought it of

If a slave kills a slave, the owner of the murdered slave can demand two
and even three slaves in place of the one killed; and he can then slay
them all in revenge or retain them as his own slaves, just as he likes.
For the murder of a free man the blood of a free man, or men, has to be
shed. There is no distinction between premeditated and accidental
homicide. Life has been taken, and it is regarded and dealt with as
murder. Drunkenness and madness are no excuse for committing crimes.

Adultery is a personal injury, for the offender has used something that
does not belong to him without the consent of the owner. The fine for
adultery is from 100 to 300 brass rods—from three to nine months’
ordinary wages—according to the position of the husband and the
offending party. I have never heard of mutilation as a punishment for
adultery among the Boloki. I have seen it stated that an ear is cut off
as a punishment for this offence. I travelled constantly among them for
fifteen years, and only occasionally saw either a part or the whole of
an ear cut off, but I was always told on inquiry that that was a
punishment for _repeated thefts_, and those thus mutilated _were
slaves_. Free men were fined for thefts and adultery, not mutilated. I
have known men to be financially ruined through having to pay fines for
repeated acts of adultery; but if the ear-cutting were the punishment
there would not be a single man with both ears, for there is not a
morally pure one among them.

The family avenges all cases of assault on any of its members, no matter
whether it is physical violence, abduction, rape, adultery, theft, or
anything else; and no one has a right to pardon the offender except the
injured person or family. Retaliation in kind, when possible, is the
essence of justice among the natives—an eye for an eye, a cut for a cut,
a bump for a bump, and a life for a life. When retaliation is
impossible, compensation by fines is enforced. I have seen a lad
carefully measure a cut that he might inflict one of a like size on his

Guardians can use the women left to their wards as their own wives, and
may trade with their ward’s goods without paying any interest; but when
the ward reaches his majority he can demand the right number of women
from his guardian, and the exact amount of goods left in his charge. If
the guardian dies in the meantime, then his heir will take the
privileges and obligations of the guardianship, and reserve out of his
inherited estate the amount due to the ward. Uncles and heads of
families will act as guardians for minors left with property, and they
will have to render a proper account of the amount received when the
minor becomes old enough to look after his own affairs. If a minor
inherits a “palaver” from his father, the guardian cannot “talk” it, but
the case has to wait until the minor is old enough to conduct the affair
himself. I have known cases to be postponed for this reason for fifteen
and twenty years.

Some years before we went to live at Monsembe, a free man and head of
his family was accused of witchcraft. He agreed to take the ordeal, but
as all the members of his family were absent from the town, he wished
the trial to be postponed until their return. This the accuser would not
sanction, and pressed and taunted him so that at last he took the ordeal
and died from its effects. The deceased’s family returned, and were
astonished to learn of the death of their “head.” They threatened to
kill the accuser, as they contended that their “father” had not had a
fair trial, and that he had a right to demand the postponement of the
ordeal until their return. It resulted in a big palaver being talked,
and the accuser and his family were compelled to promise fifteen slaves
to the family of the murdered man as compensation. The last of the
slaves was paid some eighteen years after the affair occurred, and I saw
him taken by my house in 1904 to be handed over in completion of the
imposed fine.

The court is generally held beneath the shade of a spreading wild fig
tree. The head-men who act as jury sit at the top of the square; the
plaintiff, his witnesses and followers sit on one side; the defendant,
his witnesses and followers sit on the opposite side; and the bottom of
the square is left open for neutrals, onlookers, and for those coming
and going.

Before the proceedings begin the plaintiff and defendant will each take
their party of followers on one side, but in different parts of the
town, and state tersely their case to them, and then distribute from 200
to 600 brass rods among them according to the importance of the case. It
is their duty to clap their hands and applaud every point made by the
one who hires them, and to laugh ironically at the arguments of the
other side. These followers will be gathered from any of the men
belonging to the neighbouring towns who happen to be drawn together to
hear a “big palaver” and pick up a few brass rods. They are in honour
bound to applaud their own side, and to remain as long as the case lasts
that day. If the case goes into the second and third days, then
“refreshers” have to be given to the crowd of followers each day. Some
who have urgent business cannot attend the second day, but there are
others to take their places who were not able to be present on the first
day. I have seen from 150 to 200 followers on each side, most of whom
had no interest in the case beyond the three or four rods they received
for shouting on one side or the other. There was a fiction that they
were genuinely interested supporters of the side they took; but I have
often been present when the rods were divided among them, and know for a
fact that the majority did not care which side won. They always made
sure of their rods before they shouted and clapped.

If the man who has a case is not a good speaker he can engage an
advocate (_ntendeko_ = go-between) to speak on his behalf for a fee of
from 200 to 300 brass rods a day. Such men are natural orators, and it
is a pleasure to hear them speak and see their graceful actions.

When all is ready the parties take up their positions opposite each
other, and the plaintiff will open the proceedings by stating his case,
and calling on witnesses, if he has any, to confirm his statements. The
speaker holds in his hand a small bunch of palm-frond leaves, and as
each point is rounded off he lays a leaflet on the ground in front of
him. When he makes a telling point against his opponent his followers
clap their hands, shout, laugh, and snap their fingers at each other,
and the wits of the party hurl quips, jokes, gibes, and proverbs at the
opposite side, and try to look as though it were impossible to lose such
a strong case so lucidly stated. These breaks give the speaker a
breathing time in which to collect his thoughts and gain strength for
the next point. So the speaker will go on stating point after point
until there are twelve or fifteen leaflets on the ground, all lying in
the order of his arguments. Before sitting down he will briefly state
the argument that each leaflet represents, and it is rarely that he
makes a mistake in the order, and if he does those sitting close by will
instantly correct him.

If not too late in the day the defendant states his case, combating his
opponent’s arguments, calls his witnesses, puts down his leaflets one by
one, and rests while his followers indulge in bantering the other side.
Interruptions are frequent, noisy, and often come to the verge of
violence. At a biting sarcasm, or a bitter retort, spears and knives
will shake (for all the men present are well armed), and more than once
I have been sent for to intervene at a critical moment and to stop
bloodshed or a general _mêlée_. Many a time has an old chief come to my
door and said: “White man, they are fighting; come and stop them.” And
my wife has often thought I was badly wounded in the scuffle, for in
pushing my way among them the red camwood powder would be transferred
from their bodies to my coat, and would show up like blood on my white

The jury of head-men, after the defendant has finished, withdraw to go
over the evidence pro and con, and to consider their verdict; and on
their return a couple of men with fine wood-ashes, or powdered camwood
on leaves, take up positions—one near the plaintiff and the other near
the defendant. The appointed chief judge will sum up the case and give
the verdict, say, in favour of the defendant, and instantly the man
sitting near him will rub, with more vigour than gentleness, the
wood-ashes or camwood powder over the face of the winner as a sign to
all that he is acquitted of the charge brought against him. He will
leave the mess on his face for days as a proof, to all and sundry, of
his acquittal. The loser of the case refunds the winner all his
expenses, pays the judge and jury of chiefs, and is a poorer if not
sadder and wiser man.

There appears to be no cross-examination of witnesses, no guarantee of
truthfulness, and no punishment for perjury. Each side starts away in
the far-distant past, and drags in as much irrelevant matter as
possible, and thus fogs, confuses and entangles the case to the best of
his abilities. The ordeal is at times resorted to in order to decide
involved cases, and from the results of the ordeal there is no appeal.
Sometimes, after one or two days’ hearing, the jury is not able (or is
afraid) to decide a case satisfactorily in favour of either side, and
then it is dismissed—each side bearing its own expenses.

There is nothing resembling an oath administered to witnesses, and there
are no modes of punishing perjury, hence witnesses are seldom called
upon to give evidence in a case, and when they are put forward no one on
the opposite side and no judge accepts their statements as true. In
ordinary cases the judge and jury of head-men decide the case on their
own knowledge of the affair (and the arguments of the plaintiffs and
defendants), for they are fully in touch with all local matters, and
only local cases are laid before them. In complicated palavers they
resort to the ordeals, which are as follows: (1) _Nka_ (Lower Congo
_nkasa_), which among the Boloki was the outer reddish skin of the
rootlet of a certain tree carefully scraped off.

A few years ago I had the opportunity of witnessing a rather complicated
discussion and cross-accusation settled, to the satisfaction of all the
natives present, by the parties concerned drinking, or rather eating,
the ordeal. The trial took place on neutral ground, i.e. in a section of
the town midway between the sections in which lived the parties who were
concerned. The court-house was a wide-spreading wild fig tree that threw
a shade over the whole of the gathered crowd, which formed an oblong
figure. The plaintiff stood at one end with his supporters, the
defendant at the other with his, and the two sides were occupied by
neutral spectators and sympathizers.

The case was as follows: The plaintiff had two slaves run away, and
after some days he heard that these slaves had escaped in a canoe
belonging to the defendant, so he accused the latter of aiding and
abetting their escape, and wanted him to pay the price of the slaves.
The defendant, on the other hand, desired the plaintiff to pay him back
a canoe, or the price of it, as he said it had been stolen by the
plaintiff’s slaves. For three hours they discussed the matter and tried
to arrange an amicable compromise; this, however, was impossible, as
each wished to get the best of the bargain. From the very nature of the
case it was impossible to call witnesses, although many persons spoke on
either side. At last it was decided that the parties should take the
ordeal (_nka_). Each was so confident of the righteousness of his claims
that he was willing and eager to eat his portion of the poisonous drug
to support them. The plaintiff was a short, thick-set young man troubled
with elephantiasis, and from that and his apparent nervousness he was
greatly handicapped in the trial. The defendant was a tall, thin, wiry
man about fifty years of age, who had, I think, often taken the _nka_
before, and was inured to it.

The ordeal drug used was the outer skin of the rootlets of a tree that
was to be found up the Lulanga River—a tributary that enters the Congo
River on the south some forty miles below the Monsembe district. When
scraped off the rootlets it is very fluffy and of a deep scarlet colour.
Two “medicine men” prepared equal portions of the _nka_. There was about
a tablespoonful in each portion. The accused had first choice, after
which each “medicine man” with a portion of the _nka_ in the palm of his
hand took up his position by the side of his client, and at a given
signal the portions of the ordeal were simultaneously held to the mouth
of the two opponents, and at the same moment they began to chew the
drug. After chewing for a few moments each washed it down with gulps of
sugar-cane wine.

After taking the ordeal the men were not allowed to sit down, nor to
lean against anything, nor even to touch anything with their hands. The
ordeal given in the above quantity blurs the vision, distorting and
enlarging all objects, makes the legs tremble, the head giddy, and gives
a choking sensation in the throat and chest. In fact, it gives all the
symptoms of intoxication, and a few more besides. The one who first
becomes intoxicated and falls down loses his case, and the one who
resists the effects of the drug and controls himself the longest wins.

About five minutes after they had taken the ordeal one of the “medicine
men” stepped into the centre with a plantain stalk in his hand, about 2
feet 6 inches long and from 3 to 4 inches in diameter. He flourished the
stalk about a little and then placed it in front of the plaintiff for
him to step over. The plaintiff went forward boldly, stepped over the
stalk, and returned to his place. This he repeated six times without his
feet once touching the stalk. The defendant had then to go through the
same test, which he did laughingly, throwing his legs and arms about in
all directions. This was done occasionally for the next thirty minutes,
and by that time the plaintiff began to show signs of intoxication. His
steps faltered, his eyes brightened and glared, and it was with
difficulty that he raised his feet over the stalk. Then the “medicine
man” began to mock him by pretending to put the stalk close to his feet
and tantalizingly drawing it back. Forty minutes after taking the _nka_
the climax came. The “medicine man” threw the stalk to the defendant,
who caught it in his hands and carried it to the centre of the crowd,
where, firmly fixing his feet on the ground, he carefully stooped
forward and placed the stalk with both hands in a straight line, then
slowly raising himself he returned to his place. The plaintiff then went
to pick up the stalk, but no sooner did he lean forward than a spasm of
pain seemed to seize him, and he would have fallen in a heap on the
ground had not a man who for the last twenty minutes had followed him
closely caught him in his arms and quickly carried him to his house.

No sooner did the crowd of neutrals see the fall of one of the opponents
than with a bound they jumped to their feet, and with spears and knives
raised in the air they danced, shouted, and sang around the winner. Some
rubbed dirt, others ashes, and others red camwood powder on the fellow’s
face—a sign that he had won the case. They hoisted him on the back of a
friend and accompanied him to his hut, and there he distributed 400
brass rods among the throng of his admirers who swore they had helped
him to win his cause. He sat outside his house all the rest of the day
with his face smeared, so that all could see that he had won, and could
congratulate him. The plaintiff had to pay him two slaves and a canoe as

The next day both the plaintiff and the defendant were walking about the
town, and seemed none the worse for swallowing so powerful and dangerous
a drug. They apparently had no enmity towards each other, but chatted
freely and laughingly over the events of the previous day.[20]

Footnote 20:

  On the Lower Congo the ordeal is given only to the accused, and if he
  does not vomit it, then it is fatal, and the man falling is beaten and
  stabbed to death as guilty of witchcraft.

When one remembers the amount of corruption and bribery among these
people—that the most familiar words on their lips are “lie” and “liar,”
and the most frequent question is, “Is it true?” and the answer, “It is
true, or cut my throat”—the wonder is that they can settle a palaver in
any way.

To drink the ordeal and be either right or wrong according to its action
settles the affair once for all, ends all possible deadly feuds and
bloodshed, and saves many a man from what is worse than death, viz. an
ever-present, anxious fear of what his enemy or enemies will do to him.
If a man accuses another of giving him a disease, or of causing the
death of his wife by witchcraft, how can the accused disprove such a
charge? Not by talking, no matter how much he may swear that he is
innocent. If he calls the head-men together, he knows the verdict will
be given in favour of the one who pays the most; if he runs away he will
soon be captured by some other town and probably sold to furnish a
cannibal feast; if he runs to a friendly town he will lose caste, he
will be treated with contempt as a coward, and his life rendered
miserable. So he boldly steps forth and takes the ordeal and the affair
is settled. Is the ordeal in his favour? Then he claims and receives
heavy damages. Does the ordeal go against him? Then he pays the damages,
if wealthy enough, or, if poor, he sells himself, or if he is already a
slave then his master pays for him; but whatever be the result, that
palaver is decided once for all. No stigma attaches to the man who is
proved guilty by the ordeal, for “one can have witchcraft without
knowing it.” Moreover, no one lightly brings a charge of witchcraft
against another, for, if the ordeal test goes against the accuser, the
damages for compensation are so very heavy as to deter frivolous

The administration of the _nka_ is reserved for very complicated civil
cases and for serious charges of witchcraft; but there are other ordeals
used for minor charges of witchcraft and for various other offences.
They are as follows:

_Epomi_ and _mokungu_ are both trees. The juice from the bark of these
trees is pressed out and dropped into the eye of the accused, and if the
sight is destroyed the accused is guilty. The _epomi_ juice is more
powerful than the _mokungu_. The _nka_ and _epomi_ are for witchcraft
and serious charges of theft and adultery, but the _mokungu_ is used
only in the more trivial charges. In each case the accused can refuse to
submit to the ordeal unless the accuser takes it with him, hence the
juices of these trees are rarely employed. When a “medicine man” charges
a person with being a witch, the accused cannot demand that the
“medicine man” shall take the ordeal with him.

Another test is as follows: Three boys are accused of thieving, which
charge they indignantly repudiate; three young plantains are then
cut—one to represent each boy—and the juice of the _mokungu_ bark is
pressed into the centre of each plantain stump left in the ground. Now
it is usual that when a plantain is cut it will, in a few hours, send up
from its centre the beginnings of a fresh growth; but if one of the
three plantain stumps does not begin to sprout afresh by the next
morning, the lad represented by that plantain is the guilty one; if two
do not sprout, then there are two thieves, and if none sprout, then all
the three lads are regarded as guilty. On the other hand, if all three
sprout as usual, then the lads are proved to be innocent of the
accusation. The _mokungu_ juice destroys the eye, so in mercy the “eyes”
of the plantain are used as substitutes for the eyes of the lads, and it
is probable that the juice when well pressed in retards for a short time
the sprouting of the plantain.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. C. J. Dodds_
  White ants are a constant menace to the woodwork in houses, to stores,
    and to books. At one of our stations sufficient clay was procured
    from a white ants’ nest to make 250,000 bricks. It is splendid
    material for that purpose.

_Lingola_ is a word denoting the giving of the ordeal to a medium
(_moyengwa_), and after a certain time, when the ordeal begins to work,
the name of a man who is supposed to be the witch is called out, and if
the medium stumbles over the plantain stalk put in his path while this
name is “on the card” the owner of the name is regarded as guilty; but
if the medium does not stumble the man is innocent, and another name is
called, and the process is repeated until the witch is found or the
effects of the drug have passed away from the medium.

_Mai ma mungunga_ = water of the bell. This is used by the “medicine man
of the bell.” A person is very ill and charges some members of his
family with bewitching him. They deny the accusation, and he thereupon
challenges them to drink water that has been dipped up in the “medicine
man’s” bell, which will not hurt them if they are innocent, but will
kill them if they are guilty of the charge. Anyone who refuses to drink
from the bell is regarded as guilty. What constitutes guilt in such
cases? Simply a strong desire that a person might die; and how often in
their uncontrollable anger have they wished for one another’s death;
hence occasionally an over-sensitive person will refuse to drink out of
the bell for fear of the consequences.

By frequently drinking the ordeal drug one becomes immune from its
effects, and I have noticed that old people who have taken it many times
never feel intoxicated by it; but young people, who were not used to it,
fell quickly from its narcotic effects on their system. I have no doubt
that the administrators of the various ordeals were open to bribery and
other influences, and could, and would, dilute the ordeal for one in
whom they were interested.

The natives were dissatisfied with the way their “palavers” were
settled. Their cost, the long time it took to talk them, and the unfair
favouritism of the head-men made them wish for some better mode of
dealing with their affairs. About 1897 and 1898 they frequently asked me
to act as judge, as they felt that I should be absolutely impartial in
my verdicts, but I objected to do so, because I had no power to compel a
man to appear before me; and, again, I had no soldiers to enforce any
verdict I might give, and thus I should waste my time in listening and
trying to settle their palavers.

After some time it was arranged that the two persons wishing me to
arbitrate on their case should each bring me a fowl as a token that they
desired me to settle their dispute, and were willing to abide by my
decision. This giving of a fowl weeded out the trivial cases that would
have wasted my time, and yet was not prohibitive, for whereas a fowl
cost only from 10 to 20 brass rods each, the payments under the old
method ran into 500 rods or more. Moreover, I gave them to understand
that directly I heard that a verdict had been defied, not another case
would I judge until the said verdict had been honoured. I must in all
fairness say that although I judged many scores of cases not a single
verdict was disregarded.

The court-house was the verandah of my house, about 8 feet wide and 50
feet long. Neither knives nor spears were allowed on it or near it. I
generally sat on a chair in the middle of the verandah—on either side
were the opposing factions, and many onlookers were on the ground below.
There was generally sitting near by a man with some wood-ashes or red
camwood powder in a leaf, ready to rub it on the face of the winner.

Only one was allowed to speak at a time, and the talking was confined to
the points at issue. A few questions well put would often throw such a
light on the matter under consideration that the plaintiff himself would
feel that his claim was preposterous. As a result of this plan very few
cases took more than half an hour. When cases were talked in the town
everybody was permitted to speak, and often they spoke all together. A
thousand extraneous things were dragged in to the hiding and confusing
of the real point, and sometimes they would be all day over a very small
matter, and then not settle it. I have known them to fight over the
irritating gibes they threw at each other, and I often had to separate
the combatants—a little stern authority and a few jokes have quieted
them down; but it was much easier and better to act as arbitrator and
settle the palaver than to have frequent quarrels and rows.

I kept a record of many cases, and I herewith transcribe a few for the
benefit of my readers, as they throw considerable light on the native
life and mode of thought.

Case I. The plaintiff said that many years ago his brother was very ill,
and went to the defendant’s father’s town for medicine. When he was
dying the sick man took a long flat pod and struck his friend, the
“medicine man,” across the ankle. For this the “doctor” demanded from
the family of his deceased patient a slave, three pots of sugar-cane
wine, two spears, and some brass rods. The plaintiff paid the goods at
the time, but now he wished to have them returned on the ground that:
(1) No medicine was made and given to his brother, i.e. the patient died
before he could be treated; and (2) That since white people had come he
could see that it was stupid to follow such customs.

The defendant acknowledged the debt on behalf of his father (the
“doctor”), who was dead. He admitted that the above statement was
correct, and that the custom was quite general in this part of Congo,
and was recognized by all. It seemed to be one way of making a codicil
to a will, or a mode of leaving property to an outsider who legally did
not inherit anything, but who, on account of his technical assault, had
a legal claim for compensation to be paid out of the deceased’s estate.

I told them that I could not interfere with palavers that had happened
so long ago; but in future when a man was dying and wanted to leave an
outsider any of his property, he was to call some of his family and
direct them to give So-and-so certain goods after his death. Only such a
bequest would be recognized. Their own custom was a good one, viz.: A
token was given in the presence of witnesses, and the article or
articles named. The eldest son was then informed of the token, the
person to whom it was given, and the nature of the goods bequeathed.
After the testator’s death the token was taken to the eldest son, and
the property handed over in the presence of witnesses.

Case II. A man of about 45 years of age complained that a young fellow,
then present, had a woman belonging to him and would not give her up. By
a series of questions the following facts were elicited: The plaintiff’s
mother was living in a bush town; goods were being continually stolen
from her house, until at last she went and consulted a “witch-doctor”
who resided in a river-side town. She desired to take the ordeal (_nka_)
to discover whether she had unwittingly stolen and hidden her own
property, or someone else had been the thief.

When the “witch-doctor” was about to administer the _nka_ the woman was
dissuaded by her friends from taking it. The “witch-doctor” thereupon
went to the woman’s husband and demanded a slave on the ground that he
had prepared the ordeal which the wife had not taken, and by her refusal
to take it she was bringing contempt on his fetish. The husband
acknowledged the justice of the claim and paid a female slave as
compensation. The plaintiff now wanted that slave or another returned.

The defendant admitted the facts as stated, but said it all happened
long before he was born. The plaintiff said it took place before they
had ever heard of white people, and when he was a little boy (or about
1868). I dismissed the case with costs—one fowl from each party.

Case III. Lokangi was a lad of about 14 years. He went one day in a
canoe with some young men to take the monthly tax to Diboko (Nouvelles
Anvers). While on the way a crocodile attacked the canoe, which was
upset, and the whole party of six paddlers was thrown into the river.
The crocodile caught Lokangi, and he was seen no more.

Lokangi’s family, the plaintiffs in this case, accused the leader of the
canoe party of bewitching the crocodile to take Lokangi and leave all
the others; they argued that he must have bewitched the crocodile to do
so, for why were none of the others seized? The defendant admitted that
Lokangi had been killed in the manner stated, but strenuously denied
having bewitched the beast to take the lad.

I went carefully and patiently into the whole palaver of such
superstitions, and at the close gave the verdict in favour of the

Case IV. Plaintiff said the defendant owed him one woman, some spears,
and 3000 brass rods. The defendant denied the debt. On examination it
was proved that the defendant’s father owed the above-stated amount to
the plaintiff, but the father was dead, and the defendant (an only son)
had inherited his father’s goods.

I laid it down as a principle that the inheritor should pay the debts
owing by the person whose estate he inherited, and if the amount of the
debts exceeded the sum inherited he should not be responsible for the
whole of the debts, but should divide the property received among the
creditors; but if the property exceeded the debts, he should pay the
debts and keep the surplus for himself. The case was thus settled, in
favour of the plaintiff, to everybody’s satisfaction.

Case V. Plaintiff said he owed the defendant 1000 brass rods, but as he
did not pay up quickly the defendant lay in wait and caught his two
wives who had gone together to fish among the islands; that by right of
custom he should have taken only one and let the other go.

Defendant admitted the statement made as correct, but said that he had
gone so often to the plaintiff’s town to collect his debt, and had been
put off with such unreasonable excuses, that he was angry and took the
two women instead of one.

I pointed out: (1) That the price of a woman was 2500 rods, but the debt
was only 1000, and the expenses (fees to the men who helped him) only
500, making in all 1500, and the value of one woman more than covered
this amount. (2) In tying up two women he had greatly exceeded the debt,
and had thus put himself in the wrong.

Verdict for the plaintiff. One woman to be returned at once, and the
other to be delivered up on payment by the plaintiff of 1800 rods; the
defendant to lose thus 200 rods for tying up two women when one well
covered the debt and expenses.

Case VI. Motuli, the plaintiff, said he owed the defendant a woman, and
in payment of the debt he handed over a woman large with child, of which
he, Motuli, was the father. The child was now two years old, and he
wanted the child to be handed over to him.

The defendant allowed that all the above was true, but said that as the
child was born after the woman came into his possession, the child was

I pointed out to Motuli: (1) That he was wrong to give his wife, by whom
he was expecting a child, in payment of a debt. (2) He should have made
an agreement at the time with his creditor respecting the ownership of
the child. (3) That if the woman had died in child-birth he would have
refused to pay another in her place, so as the creditor took her and the
risks with her the child should remain with its mother. Motuli thus lost
the case and was very angry.

Case VII. Bodia, the plaintiff, said he bought a wife of the defendant
and had one child by her, which was now three years old; that when his
wife had a second child she died in delivery, and now the mother and
second child were dead. He wanted either the money returned, or that the
defendant should pay him another woman.

Defendant admitted that all the statements were true, but said that
Bodia had had the woman a long time and he could not see that he was
responsible for her death.

I explained to Bodia: (1) That every woman who had a child had it at
some risk to her life. (2) That he had owned the woman for four years,
and she had farmed, cooked, and borne him one child; and as he had
brought her into the position that caused her death, he himself must
accept the loss. (3) His first child was properly born and grown up
healthy, so there was no malformation of the womb. Verdict for the


                              CHAPTER XIV

                        MYTHOLOGY AND FOLK LORE

Ideas concerning rebirth—Ideas concerning white men—A hippopotamus
    spirit—A prediction—Reticence of natives—Recited round the fire—The
    origin of man—The sun—A deluge—The destruction of the world—Fifteen
    folk-lore stories.

There were misty ideas, but no definite belief, concerning the rebirth
of their deceased ancestors. A few years before Stanley descended the
Congo there was a general belief extant among the Boloki that many of
their ancestors would appear in another form, and yet would be
recognizable by similarity of features to those whose _appearances_ the
spirits took. When the white men arrived this belief seemed to be
confirmed by the fact that the natives often thought they saw a likeness
in the features, walk, or gestures of some of the white men to dead men
whom they knew. I myself have often been surprised and amused when a
motion, a glance, or some little peculiarity among these folk has called
vividly to mind some person I knew at home. There was one man I never
met without having a certain uncle of mine recalled to mind, and another
person—a girl—always by an indescribable something reminded me of a girl
I knew in England.

When we came here in 1890 my colleague was thought to resemble a chief
who had died some time before, and I was thought to be like another
deceased chief belonging to a family that had a hippopotamus for its
omen (not totem, that is another word); and this view was confirmed by
my firing on two successive nights at a hippopotamus that came prowling
about our beach, for the animal sent me a message.[21]

Footnote 21:

  See Chapter XIX, p. 266, for full details.

We found a prediction extant that white men would come, and some of them
would be like chiefs who had died; but this slight suspicion of a belief
in reincarnation may, I think, be accounted for by rumours of the white
men having filtered through from the coasts. The Boloki thirty-five
years ago were a strong, war-loving people who travelled far and wide on
the river; and slaves were bought and exchanged from widely different
parts, and, of course, carried with them the news and rumours, true and
false, of their last residences. This factor in the disseminating of
religious belief, and the interweaving of those beliefs into what is
often a patchwork system of belief, has not always been properly allowed
for in dealing with the superstitions of African races.

Soon after we opened our station in August, 1890, I tried to procure
some native stories from the boys, but failed in every attempt. I felt
sure, however, that they had folk tales, and therefore persevered,
though nearly two years passed before I was successful. One evening, in
the early months of 1892, some boys sat on the floor of my house talking
while I was busy writing. After a time I noticed that one was talking
and the others listening intently. I made a mental note of the
circumstance, and the next day I asked the lad to write out on a slate
(for in the meantime we had taught them to read and write) the palaver
he had told the boys on the previous evening. He did so, and I found it
was a native story. I gave him a few brass rods, asked him to write some
more, which he did; and in a short time I had four or five boys writing
stories on my verandah, and very often one boy who knew a story, but
could not write, sat and told it to one who could, and then shared the
spoil. We have between sixty and seventy native stories, and most of
them were handed down by one chief who, although he died long before we
came here, was spoken of to us with respect on account of his wide
knowledge of the ancient myths[22] and customs. Most of the stories we
printed in a book and used it as a reading-book in the classes. There
were many stories about men, women, and animals, and to each story a
moral was attached.

Footnote 22:

  In the chapter on Religious Beliefs will be found some information on
  their ideas of a Supreme Being; and in Chapter XIX, on spirits and
  mythical monsters that inhabit the islands and forests.

The stories were told on moonless nights around the village fires when
it was too dark to dance and play, or around the camp fires when
travelling and fishing. The stories relate the cunning way in which some
animals outwit others—generally the smaller ones outwitting the larger
and more cumbersome; that the biter is himself bit, and the bully
overwhelmed with ridicule. Many of the stories try to account for the
peculiarities observed in nature, as why birds build nests in certain
ways, or have no nests at all; the enmity among the various animals; the
presence of dogs and fowls in the towns; the cause of death and the
origin of fire. Some stories would well illustrate the text: “Be sure
your sin will find you out”; while others are absurdly comic, and many
of them dirty.

A line from some of the stories was often used as a proverb, or to call
up the situation described in the story as a warning to a person not to
overreach another, or he himself may fall. No European elements were to
be found in them, as they were procured before we could talk freely with
the natives, and certainly before our teaching had in any way influenced
their thoughts and modes of expression.

Many of the stories were recited for amusement, but most of them were
told as true, even the amusing ones; and they undoubtedly embody the
wit, wisdom, and philosophy of life. Some are only remarkable for the
way in which they account for the present state of affairs in the
physical and moral worlds; others give a clear insight into the mind of
the native, and his view of the spirit-world; and these stories were at
times narrated in their “palavers” to enforce a point and drive home a

I did not meet, among the Boloki, with any stories or legends regarding
the origin of man, of the sun, of a deluge, or of the destruction of the
world. There were stories of folk with tails, but not of animal
ancestors; of dwarfs and frightful monstrosities—all heads and no
body—but not of giants. When the end of a rainbow touches a town a death
is sure to occur there, and the bright red after-glow occasionally seen
at sunset indicates the death of a chief. I have already given the
legend about the moon having once been a python.

The following are a few typical stories,[23] and in translating them I
have kept as near the original as possible. No ideas have been added,
and no plot has been altered, but the translator has tried to give in
easy English a true representation of the stories.

Footnote 23:

  The stories given are of course Boloki stories; but the writer has
  published some forty Lower Congo stories in _Congo Life and
  Folk-Lore_, R.T.S. 5s. net.

It must be remembered that the morals appended to the stories were put
there by the natives when they wrote them down for me; and when I was
sitting with them around their fires and hearing them relate the stories
I noticed that the moral was always given, and frequently formed the
subject of comment, and of angry curses being called down on the one who
was credited with starting such bad customs.


  _Photo by: Rev. C. J. Dodds_
  This well illustrates the methods of wearing a cloth by the male folk.
    Either a string is tied round the waist and the cloth hung—back and
    front—over it, or the corners are tied at the side. The wine jar has
    a capacity of several gallons. There are not more than two or three
    in a large village; but they are freely lent.

                                STORY I

          _The Adventures of Libanza; or, a Boloki version of
                        Jack and the Beanstalk_

Libanza and his sister, Nsongo, started on their travels in the long
ago, and as they journeyed Libanza changed himself into a boy covered
with yaws. A man out hunting turned aside from his party of hunters, and
meeting Libanza and his sister, he exclaimed: “I have found some
slaves!” He thereupon took possession of them and led them to the
hunting camp.

Their new master and the other hunters were there for the purpose of
snaring monkeys, and although their master caught some, yet he was not
very successful. So one day Libanza said to him: “Give me the snares,
and let me try to catch some monkeys.”

But as he appeared to be such a poor, weak boy covered with yaws, the
master laughed at him, and twitted him with his smallness. However, on
being repeatedly asked, the master gave the boy the snares, and he
caught thirty monkeys in a very little time, and brought them back to
the camp to be divided among the hunters.

While the hunters were busy dividing the monkeys, Libanza and his sister
took some meat and ran away. After journeying for a long distance they
came near to a large town, and again Libanza turned himself into a boy
covered with yaws.

The people of the town were pounding sugar-canes for making sugar-cane
wine; but a man seeing them claimed them as his slaves, and brought them
and sat them on the end of the large wooden mortar in which the other
men were pounding up the canes.

After a time Libanza said: “Give me a pestle,[24] so that I may crush
the canes.” But the people laughed that so small a lad should make such
a request.

Footnote 24:

  The pestles for crushing sugar-canes are like heavy clubs, made of
  hard wood, and weigh from 20 lbs. to 30 lbs. each.

However, after he had repeatedly asked, they gave him a pestle, and
Libanza used it with such vigour that it snapped in two. They brought
him two others, and taking one in each hand he pounded so strongly that
they also broke; and thus he broke all they had in the town except the
last one, and with that he ran away, and the people feared to follow

As they travelled, Nsongo caught sight of a person in the distance and
wanted to marry him; but on being called the person would not come to
her. So Libanza changed himself, first into a shell and then into a
saucepan, and followed the man; but in these disguises Libanza was not
able to catch the man for his sister because he ran away filled with

Libanza then turned himself into the handle of an axe, and when the man
came to pick up the handle, Libanza caught him and led him to his
sister. Now this person had only one leg and simple stumps for fingers;
and Nsongo, on a closer view observing these deformities, refused to
have him for a husband.

Libanza and his sister, Nsongo, resumed their wanderings, and on passing
a palm tree Nsongo saw a bunch of ripe palm nuts, and she implored her
brother to ascend the tree and cut down the nuts. Libanza climbed the
palm tree, and as he ascended it the palm tree grew higher and higher
and higher, until the top was hid in the heavens,[25] and there Libanza
alighted, leaving his sister down below on the earth.

Footnote 25:

  The word used here is _bolobo_ = the upper regions, of which place
  they had very hazy ideas. About the lower regions—_longa_—they always
  spoke more definitely, and would describe what took place there.

When Nsongo was left on the earth she heard a rumbling noise, which she
thought was her brother, Libanza, scolding up above. She called a
“wizard,” and asked him how she could rejoin her brother.

The “wizard” said: “You must call a Hawk, and tell him you want to send
a packet to your brother, Libanza; and then tie yourself up into a
packet and put yourself on the roof of a house, and when the Hawk sees
it he will say, ‘That is surely the parcel I am to take,’ and the Hawk
will carry you up above.”

Nsongo did as she was told by the “wizard,” and the Hawk saw the bundle
and picked it up; but twice on the way the Hawk rested and tried to open
the parcel, and would have done so, but at each attempt he heard a deep
sigh proceed from the interior of the bundle, and desisted.

At last the Hawk reached the place where Libanza was, and said to him,
“Here is a packet which your sister has sent to you.” Now when Libanza
essayed to undo the parcel, out came his sister.

Libanza became a blacksmith, and there was in that country a person
whose name was Ngombe, and because he swallowed people every day he was
also called Emele Ngombe (Ngombe the Swallower).

When Libanza heard about this Swallower of people, he called his bellows
blower, Nkumba (Tortoise), and they heated an ingot of iron. Now as the
Swallower was passing the smithy he made the sound “Kililili,” and
Libanza mocked him by saying, “Alalalala.” Ngombe the Swallower then
asked: “Who dares to ridicule me?” And again he murmured, “Kililili.”
And Libanza answered him by saying: “Ngalalala,[26] I am anjaka-njaka
lokwala la lotungi, Libanza, the brother of Nsongo.”

Footnote 26:

  This is the full name of Libanza. It means: The one who makes things
  with force and noise and runs off with them, whose scraped
  finger-nails are tied with cane, he who is Libanza the brother of

The Swallower went at Libanza with his mouth wide-stretched to gulp him
down, and as he went his lower jaw dragged along the ground. Libanza
stirred the molten metal, the Tortoise blew the bellows, and as the
Swallower rushed forward with his mouth wide open Libanza threw the
liquid metal right into the gaping jaws, and the Swallower of people
fell dead.

There are several folk-lore stories that have crystallized for us their
ideas concerning Libanza, and it is interesting to note that such
stories are called _Mabanza_ (plural form of Libanza), and these contain
a statement of some of the doings of Libanza, whereas their word for
fable, parable, story is _mokulu_. The common opinion was that Libanza
lived on the earth, and was the first to go into heaven. His origin,
life, and adventures as told in their folk stories are briefly as

Libanza’s mother (names of father and mother were never given) gave
birth first to elephants, the various kinds of bush animals, the
different varieties of flies and insects, and to the amphibia; then his
mother told him to come out, but before Libanza would do so he ordered
his mother to scrape her finger-nails; when she had done this he threw
out spears, shield, a chair covered with brass nails, and finally came
out himself.

Libanza’s father, according to another folk story, was trapped and
killed while stealing some _nsafu_ fruit for his wife. And he acquainted
his wife of his death by causing a fetish horn he had left with her to
overflow with blood. As soon as Libanza was born he inquired about his
father and the manner of his death, and set himself to punish the one
who had killed him, which after a series of futile attempts he finally
accomplished by slaying the murderer of his father. Then comes the story
of his own adventures, which reach their climax in the destruction of
the Swallower of people.

It is not at all improbable that Libanza is the name of some great chief
who by his resource and courage delivered the people from great peril
and oppression, and around whose name have gathered many myths, and to
him is ascribed great magical power. In the original story much magic is
performed to meet the various difficulties that arise, as changing
himself into different shapes, making horns and saucepans move and
speak, and resurrecting broken and dead animals. No moral qualities were
ascribed to Libanza, but he was regarded as being very strong, and rich.
When our steamer, the _Peace_, made her first journey up-river, the
Boloki of Monsembe told me that they thought it was “Libanza going to
Singitingi (Stanley Falls) to visit his sister Nsongo.” They could hear
the noise of the engines, but as they could see no paddles they thought
that “the river _mingoli_ (water-spirits) were pushing the steamer

                                STORY II

                  _The Fowl and the Hippopotamus; or,
           the Cause of the Enmity among Birds and Animals._

A Fowl, on returning from a trading journey, hid one of his legs under
his wing and said: “I sold my leg for two thousand brass rods in the
towns I have been visiting.”

A greedy hippopotamus, hearing this, said: “If the Fowl could receive
two thousand brass rods for his small leg, how much shall I receive for
mine?” So calling some of his friends they entered a canoe and paddled
down-river to the towns. On arriving, the leg of the Hippopotamus was
cut off, carried ashore, and sold for a large number of brass rods.

When the Hippopotami returned to the canoe, after selling the leg, they
discovered that their friend had bled to death, so they picked up their
paddles in great anger and returned to their town.

On arriving at their town they sought out the Fowl and charged him with
the death of their friend, for they said, “Because of your lying
deception he went and sold his leg.”

In their anger they called on the Hawks and Kites to swoop down and
carry off the chickens belonging to the Fowls; and they told the wild
bush-cat that whenever he found the door of the Fowl-house open he was
to creep in and kill the Fowls.

In this way so many Fowls were killed, that in defence the Fowls called
on the Crocodiles to bite the Hippopotami and wound them to death; and
they asked Man whenever he saw a Hippopotamus to hurl his spear at it
and kill it. Thus, through the Fowl’s one deception, enmity, quarrels,
and death were first introduced among the birds and animals.

                               STORY III

                _The Punishment of the Inquisitive Man_

Motu made a large garden, and planted it with many bananas and plantain.
The garden was in a good position, so the fruit ripened quickly and
well. Arriving one day at his garden he found the ripe bunches of
bananas and plantain had been cut off and carried away.

After that he did not go once to his garden without finding that some of
the fruit had been stolen, so at last he made up his mind to watch the
place carefully, and hiding himself he lay in ambush for the thief.

Motu had not been in hiding very long before he saw a number of
Cloud-folk descending, who cut down his bananas, and what they could not
eat they tied into bundles to carry away. Motu rushed out, and, chasing
them, caught one woman whom he took to his house, and after a short time
he married her, and gave her a name which meant Favourite.

Although Favourite had come from the Cloud-land she was very
intelligent, and went about her housework and farming just like an
ordinary woman of the earth. Up to that time neither Motu nor the people
of his village had ever seen a fire. They had always eaten their food
raw, and on cold, windy, rainy days had sat shivering in their houses
because they did not know anything about fire and warmth.

Favourite, however, told some of the Cloud-folk to bring some fire with
them next time they came to visit her, which they did. And then she
taught the people how to cook food, and how to sit round a fire on cold

Motu was very happy with his wife, and the villagers were very glad to
have her among them, and, moreover, Favourite persuaded many of the
Cloud-folk to settle in her husband’s village.

One day Favourite received a covered basket, and putting it on a shelf
in the house she said to her husband, “We are now living with much
friendship together; but while I am away at the farm you must not open
that basket, if you do we shall all leave you.”

“All right,” replied the husband, “I will never undo it.”

Motu was now very glad in his heart, for he had plenty of people, a
clever wife, and the villagers treated him as a great man. But he had
one trouble: Why did his wife warn him every day not to open the basket?
What was in that basket? What was she hiding from him? And foolish-like
he decided to open it. Waiting therefore until his wife had gone as
usual to the farm he opened the basket, and—there was nothing in it, so
laughingly he shut it up and put it in its place.

By and by Favourite returned, and, looking at her husband, she asked
him: Why did you open that basket?” And he was speechless at her

On the first opportunity, while Motu was away hunting, Favourite
gathered her people, and ascended with them to Cloud-land, and never
again returned to the earth.

That is how the earth-folk received their fire and a knowledge of
cooking; and that is also how Motu through being too inquisitive lost
his wife, his people, and his importance as a big man in the village.

                                STORY IV

                      _Mbungi and his Punishment_

Mbungi one day said to his wife: “Dig up some cassava, prepare it, and
cut down some plantain, for we will go hunting and fishing.”

The wife did as she was told, and in a short time everything was ready
for the journey. They put their goods into a canoe and paddled away to
their hunting and fishing camp.

After resting, the man went and dug a hole and set his traps; and the
next morning he found an antelope and a bush-pig in the hole. These he
took to the camp, cut up, and gave to his wife to cook. By and by when
all was cooked she brought the meat to her husband, and as she was
taking her portion he said: “Wait, I will ask the forest-folk (or
spirits) if you may eat it.”

He went and pretended to ask the forest-folk, and brought back a message
that if she ate the meat the traps would lose their luck and catch no
more animals. In this way the selfish husband had all the meat for
himself and his wife went hungry.[27] Mbungi found many animals in his
traps, and the woman, because of the prohibition, did not have her share
of them.

Footnote 27:

  A person considered he had not made a meal if he had no meat or fish
  to eat with his cassava.

One day the woman made some fish-traps and set them, and on her return
to the camp the husband wanted to know where she had been, but she
refused to tell him. Next day she went to look at her traps and found
many fish in them, which she brought to the camp and cooked. Mbungi,
however, returned unsuccessful from his traps; but when he saw his
wife’s fish he laughed and said: “Bring the fish here for me to eat.”

“Wait,” answered the woman, “I will ask the forest-folk if you may eat
the fish.” And she brought back a reply that he was not to eat the fish,
for if he did so the fish-traps would lose their luck.

It was now Mbungi’s turn to be hungry. Days and days passed and he
caught no more animals; but his wife always had plenty of fish. He
became very thin and angry. One day he drew his large knife, and cutting
off the head of his wife he buried the head and the trunk together in
the ground, and departed for his town.

Mbungi had not gone very far on his way when he heard a voice shouting:
“Mbungi, wait for me, we will go together!” He wondered who was calling
him, so he hid himself, and in a little time he saw the head of his wife
coming along the road calling after him.

He went, and catching the head he cut it into small pieces and buried it
again; but before he had gone far he heard it shouting: “Mbungi, wait
for me, we will go together!” He cut and buried it again and again, but
it was no use, it continued to follow and call after him.

Mbungi reached his town, and his wife’s family asked him: “Where is your
wife?” “Oh, she is coming on behind,” he replied. They accused him of
killing her, but this he strongly denied. While he was denying the
charge of murder the head came right into the town; and when the family
saw it they immediately tied up Mbungi and killed him.

This was how murder was first introduced into the world.

                                STORY V

             _Why the Fowl and Dog are abused by the Birds_

There was a time when all the birds and animals lived in the sky. One
day it was very rainy and cold—so cold that they were all shivering. The
birds said to the Dog: “Go down and fetch us some fire to warm

The Dog descended, but seeing plenty of bones and pieces of fish lying
about on the ground he forgot to take the fire to the shivering birds.

The birds and animals waited, and the Dog not returning they sent the
Fowl to hasten him with the fire.

The Fowl, however, on arriving below, beheld plenty of palm nuts, pea
nuts, maize, and other good things, so he did not tell the Dog to take
up the fire, and did not take any himself.

This is the reason why you can hear of an evening a bird that sings with
notes like this, “_Nsusu akende bombo! nsusu akende bombo!_” which
means, The Fowl has become a slave! the Fowl has become a slave!

And the Heron sometimes sits on a tree near a village and cries, “_Mbwa
owa! mbwa owa!_” = Dog, you die! dog, you die![28]

Footnote 28:

  I have often heard these birds, and their notes quickly suggested the
  phrases quoted above, and undoubtedly gave rise to the story.

This is why you hear these birds jeer at and abuse the Fowl and Dog,
because they left their friends to shiver in the cold while they enjoyed
themselves in warmth and plenty.

                                STORY VI

              _The Eagle leaves the Tortoise in the lurch_

A Leopard had three young children, and she asked the Tortoise to take
care of them while she was away hunting.

“Very well,” said the Tortoise, “I will nurse them for you.”

So the Leopard went hunting, and after a time she returned with some
meat which she wished to give to her children.

“No, no, do not open the door,” whispered the Tortoise, “your children
are asleep. Throw the meat in at the window.” The meat was passed
through the window, and the Leopard went off hunting again.

While the Leopard was gone the second time, an Eagle came to the
Tortoise and said: “Friend Tortoise, let us make blood-brotherhood.”

The Tortoise agreed, and the friendship was properly made. After a short
time the Eagle asked the Tortoise for one of the children to eat, and
one was taken, and they ate it between them.

By and by the Leopard returned again from the hunt with some more meat;
but the Tortoise pretended that the children were asleep; so the meat
was again put through the window, and off went the Leopard to hunt in
the forest.

The Eagle then came and begged for another child, and receiving it he
went and ate it on a high tree.

When the Leopard returned next time, she insisted on seeing the
children, but the Tortoise said: “You stop there and I will show them to
you at the window.”

The Tortoise then took up the only child left, and holding it at the
window he said, “That is one.” He put it down and held it up again, and
said, “That is two.” Then he showed it again at the window for the third
time, and said, “That is three.” The Leopard, thereupon, went away

The Eagle came again and asked for the “other child to eat.”

“What shall I do,” asked the Tortoise, “when the Leopard returns and
finds all her children are gone?”

“Oh, I will take care of you,” said the Eagle reassuringly; “I will fly
with you to a high tree.” The last child was given and eaten, and then
the Eagle took the Tortoise to the branch of a very high tree.

Shortly after the Eagle had carried off the Tortoise the Leopard
returned, and finding all her children gone she wept very loudly for
some time; then looking about her she saw the Tortoise on the top of a

The Leopard gnawed at the tree, and just as it was going to fall the
Tortoise called out to his friend, the Eagle, to help him. The Eagle
carried him to another tree. The Leopard gnawed that one; so the Eagle
removed the Tortoise to another high tree; but the Leopard gnawed that

The Tortoise called for his friend, the Eagle; but the Eagle replied: “I
am tired of helping you, take care of yourself,” and off he flew,
leaving his friend in the lurch, and never returned again. The tree
fell, and the Leopard killed the Tortoise. That is why the bush animals
are afraid to hurt the Leopard’s children.

                               STORY VII

             _The Kite breaks his promise to the Tortoise_

When the Tortoise and the Kite made blood-brotherhood the Kite said:
“Friend Tortoise, now that we have become brothers, catch an electric
fish for me.”

“Friend Kite,” replied the Tortoise, “when you see a skin floating on
the river you will know that I have caught the fish you desire. Swoop
down and take it; and, friend Kite, thou art one who lives in the air,
tie up the wind and bring it to me.”

By and by the Tortoise killed an electric fish (_nina_), and set it
floating on the river. When the Kite saw it he said: “Ah, there is the
fish my friend Tortoise has sent me.” He thereupon dropped to the river,
picked up the fish, and carried it away to a high tree, where he ate it.

The Tortoise waited a long time, but the Kite never brought him the
wind; so seeing the Eagle one day fishing by the river bank he said to
him, “Come here, friend Eagle,” and when the Eagle had alighted on a
branch near by, the Tortoise continued: “Well, my friend the Kite and I
made blood-brotherhood, and he asked me to send him an electric fish,
and I asked him to bring me the wind, and he agreed to this bargain. I
have sent him his fish, but he has not brought me the wind. When you see
the Kite remind him of his promise.”

The Eagle met the Kite next day on the top of a tree and said to him:
“When you make blood-brotherhood with a person you should keep your
promise to him. Why don’t you take the wind to the Tortoise?”

“I have not yet tied it up,” said the Kite as he flew off.

The Tortoise waited, but the Kite not coming he went ashore, climbed to
the roof of a house, and tied himself into a bundle like a parcel of

The Kite, seeing the bundle and thinking it was some fish, he swooped
down on it and carried it away to a tree, and while he was undoing the
bundle the Tortoise said: “Friend Kite, you have deceived me, and you
have broken your promise. Where is the wind you agreed to bring to me?”

The Kite was so alarmed that he dropped the Tortoise and flew away. And
because of his broken promise to his friend he has lost the power to
sail on the wind like the Eagle; but has to constantly flutter and flap
his wings.[29]

Footnote 29:

  To break a promise made at the time of making blood-brotherhood is
  considered very bad, and is regarded as certain to bring punishment.

                               STORY VIII

             _Why the Plantain-eater did not build a Nest_

The Plantain-eater is a gaudy-plumaged bird, not quite so large as a
Cockatoo. It is called by the natives _Lukulukoko_. Its notes are,
_Kulu!_ _kulu!_ _kulukoko!_ hence the natives say, “It is always talking
about itself.”

All the birds built nests so that when it rained they could enter them
and remain dry. The Plantain-eater, however, never troubled to build a
nest, but when the rain fell in torrents he went to a neighbour and
said: “Let me come into your nest out of the rain.”

But his neighbour answered him: “No, go and cut some palm fronds and
build your own nest.”

The Plantain-eater, at this reply, went off crying: “_Kulu!_ _kulu!_
_kulukoko!_ Wait until the rain stops, and then I will fetch fronds to
build my nest.”

By and by the rain ceased and the neighbours called out:
“Plantain-eater, the rain is finished, now get your fronds for nest

But the Plantain-eater said: “I will stop where I am, and when it rains
I will raise my shoulders and put my head under my feathers, and the
rain will not hurt me.”

The next time it rained, however, he found it was very unpleasant to be
out in it; and again he asked to be allowed to enter a neighbour’s nest,
but he was driven off. Thus it always happened that when it rained he
intended to build a house; and when it was fine he said he did not need
a house, but would put his head under his feathers.

And that is why the Plantain-eater is seen jumping from branch to branch
in the rain, trying to enter other people’s nests, making all kinds of
promises in the rain, and only talking loudly and boasting in the fine
weather of what he will do.

                                STORY IX

                  _Why the Water-snake has no Poison_

When the Python had given birth to all the snakes she said to them: “You
have no poison now, but another day I will call you, and give to each of
you a proper share of poison.”

After a time the day arrived, and the Python called all her children to
receive the promised gift. The green snake, the viper, the whip-snake,
the diamond-headed snake all arrived, and each received his share of the
poison so as to defend himself from his enemies. Wherever these snakes
went on a journey everybody jumped out of their way, for if they did not
they were bitten and suffered much pain.

The Water-snake, however, instead of obeying his mother’s call, went off
to the river to fish. By and by he became tired of fishing, and thought
he would go and hear what his mother the Python wanted.

As he went he met the other snakes returning, and heard that they had
received their gifts from their mother. On his arrival he asked her for
his share of the poison.

But the Python said: “No, I called you, and instead of coming you went
fishing, so now you have lost your share of the poison through

That is why the Water-snake is only laughed at when he bites, and no one
thinks of moving out of his way, for he has no poison through
disregarding his mother’s call.

                                STORY X

               _How the Squirrel outwitted the Elephant_

The Squirrel and the Elephant met one day in the forest and had a big
discussion about forest matters. At last the Elephant sneeringly said:
“You are a Squirrel, you are only a little bit of a thing. Can you hold
either my foot or my leg? No, you are too small to touch even one of my

“You may be a big thing,” retorted the Squirrel, “but can you keep on
eating palm nuts as long as I can?”

After much talk they decided to collect bunches of palm nuts, and when
all was ready they sat down to the eating contest. Before beginning,
however, the Squirrel had secreted a number of his friends in the forest
near by.

The Elephant began the contest by putting a bunch of palm nuts into his
mouth; but the Squirrel took the nuts one by one and ate them. And when
the Squirrel was full he made some excuse and slipped away, and another
squirrel took his place. In this way Squirrel after Squirrel exchanged
places with each other unnoticed by the Elephant, who continued to eat
all the morning, and the big pile of palm nuts grew smaller and smaller.

At last the Elephant asked: “Are you full, friend Squirrel?”

“No,” answered the last Squirrel, “I feel as though I had only just

“Is that so?” grunted the Elephant. “Well, you are a wonderful little
thing. Why, I am getting fuller and fuller.”

After that they went on eating again.

In the afternoon the Elephant asked again: “Friend Squirrel, are you
full yet?”

“No,” replied the last Squirrel, “I have not eaten half enough yet.” And
he took up some more nuts to eat.

The Elephant had not room for more than a sigh; and towards sunset he
said: “I am full, and cannot eat any more palm nuts.”

Thus the Elephant confessed he was beaten, and ever after that he
refrained from annoying and ridiculing his friends and neighbours
because they were smaller than himself.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The natives are very careful not to taunt slaves about their condition,
or to twit a person about poverty or lowly birth. It is considered to be
the acme of rudeness to remind another that he is not so fine a fellow
as you are, or as he thinks he is. Of course, folk often lost their
temper and said bitter things to each other. The following story shows
the punishment that fell to a man because in his anger he was rude to
his slave wife.

                                STORY XI

                     _Rudeness and its Punishment_

There was a man once who built a house on an island and went fishing in
its creeks and pools. He plaited a large number of fish-traps, and set
them in good places for catching fish.

One morning he went to look at the traps and found one full of fish, and
among the fish was a Lolembe.[30] He took them to his house, and then
went to another part of the island to visit some other traps; but on his
return he found some food cooked and placed in a saucepan by the fire.
In his surprise he called out, “Who has cooked this food?” but there was
no answer. All night he pondered this wonder in his heart, for he knew
he was alone on the island.

Footnote 30:

  _Notopterus afer._

The next morning he pretended to go to his traps, but turning back
quickly he hid himself behind his house and watched through an opening
in the wall. By and by he was amazed to see the Lolembe turn into a
woman, who at once began to cook the food, whereupon the man showed
himself to her and said: “Oh, you are the one who cooked my food

“Yes,” she replied. They were married, and in due time the woman gave
birth to two boys and a girl; and they lived with much contentment on
the island.

One day the man said to one of his sons: “You come and help me with the
fish-traps,” and away they went together to look at the various traps.

The lad was a lazy, disobedient boy who would not listen properly to
what was told him, so when the father wanted to empty the water out of
the canoe and told him to go to the right side, the boy went straight to
the left side, because it was nearer to him than the other side. The
father became very vexed, and beating him in his anger, he said: “You
are too lazy and too proud to do what you are told. Do you know that
your mother came out of one of these fish-traps, for she was only a

The boy on hearing this went crying to his mother, and told her all his
father had said. The mother soothed him, but in her heart she said: “My
husband jeers at me because I am only a Lolembe, yet I have been a good
wife to him; perhaps some other day he will call me worse names, and
when we return to the town everybody will know that I came out of one of
his fish-traps. I will return to my own place in the river.”

She thereupon fell into the river, and changing into a Lolembe she swam
away. “Therefore,” says the native storyteller, “never taunt a person
with being a slave.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

The next two stories are illustrative of the native reason for the loss
of eternal life, or why people die, instead of continuing to live for
ever on the earth.

                               STORY XII

                 _Nkengo fails to obtain lasting life_

Nkengo was the son of Libuta, and he noticed that the people were dying
daily in great numbers. So one day he called out loudly: “You
Cloud-folk, throw me down a rope!”

The Cloud-folk heard and threw him a rope. Nkengo held on to it and was
pulled up to the Cloud-land.

When he arrived there Nkengo had to wait one day, and in the morning the
Cloud-folk said to him: “You have come here to receive lasting life
(_lobiku_) and escape from death. You cannot make your request for seven
days, and in the meantime you must not go to sleep.”

Nkengo was able to keep awake for six days, but on the seventh day he
nodded and went to sleep. The Cloud-folk woke him up, saying: “You came
here to receive lasting life and escape from death. You were able to
keep awake six days. Why did you abandon your purpose on the seventh
day?” They were so angry with him that they drove him out of Cloud-land
and lowered him to the earth.

The people on the earth asked him what had happened up above, and Nkengo
replied: “When I reached Cloud-land they told me that in order to gain
lasting life I must keep awake for seven days. I did not sleep for six
days and six nights; but on the seventh day I nodded in sleep; whereupon
they drove me out, saying: “Get away with your dying; you shall not
receive lasting life, for every day there shall be death among you!”

His friends laughed at him because he went to receive lasting life and
lost it through sleeping. That is the reason why death continues in the

                  *       *       *       *       *

The following story also gives the reason for the continuance of death
in the world. It was told me by a friend who lived for many years among
the Balolo tribe at Bolengi (Equatorville district), about fifty or
sixty miles below Monsembe.

                               STORY XIII

                           _The Two Bundles_

While a man was working one day in the forest a little man with two
bundles—one large and one small—went to him and asked: “Which of these
two bundles will you have? This one” (taking up the large bundle)
“contains looking-glasses, knives, beads, cloth, etc.; and this one”
(taking up the little bundle) “contains lasting life.”

“I cannot choose by myself,” answered the man; “I must go and ask the
other people in the town.”

While he was gone to ask the other people some women arrived, and the
choice was put to them. The women tried the edges of the knives,
bedecked themselves in the cloth, admired themselves in the
looking-glasses, and without more ado they selected the big bundle and
took it away. The little man, picking up the small bundle, vanished.

On the return of the man from the town both the little man and his
bundles had disappeared. The women exhibited and shared the things, but
death continued on the earth. Hence the people say: “Oh, if those women
had only chosen the small bundle, we folk would not be dying like this!”

                               STORY XIV

                   _The Spider regrets her Marriage_

There was a Spider who lived with her parents in their town. She was
unmarried, and it was very difficult to find a husband for her as she
was so hard to please.

One young man asked her father for her in marriage, but he said: “You
must ask her yourself.” And when he said to her: “I love you. Will you
be my wife?” she replied, “No,” in such a way that he went back to his
house very angry.

Another young man came, and she said: “I refuse all husbands, for I am
going to remain as I am.”

After a time another suitor came, and when the Spider declined him he
said: “You refuse all offers of marriage from us; but a person will come
who will not be a proper person at all, for he will have changed himself
to look like a nice man. You will marry him, and you will have much
trouble on going with him, for he will take you to his country, which
will be far away, and you will regret that you have refused all of us.”

“Be quiet!” she shouted; “you are angry because I will not marry you,
and that is why you threaten me.”

“Very well,” said he, “you think I am telling you a lie,” and away he
went to his town. Now this was the Python who spoke to the girl.

The Python waited in his town for some time, and then he changed himself
into another and nicer form and paid a visit to the Spider, and said to
her: “Spider, I have come to marry you.”

The Spider asked him: “Do you love me or not?”

He answered her: “I love you,” and they were married.

After a time he said: “Spider, we must return to my town.” And he
deceitfully told her that he lived in a fine town, and was very rich. He
also promised his father-in-law that he would return in six months—a
promise he never intended to keep.

The Spider and her husband started on their journey, and went on and on
and on for two months, and the wife became very tired with the long

As they were nearing their town a person said to her: “The one who is
travelling with you is not a real person, but a snake that has changed
itself to look like a person. Do not believe in him.”

They reached the husband’s town, which she found was simply a tree with
a large hole in it. The husband changed back to his snake form, and
coiling himself up in the hole he left his wife to do the best she could

The Spider was very angry, and repented having been so stupid as to
refuse all the nice young men of her own town to be deceived by this
snake from a distance. The poor Spider became very thin and would have
died, only someone helped her back to her father.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The custom of making blood-brotherhood was very common on the Upper
Congo. The ceremony has already been described in a previous chapter,
and therefore it is not necessary to go again into detail. During the
performance of the rite the contracting parties who exhibited any doubt
of each other’s faithfulness in properly observing the bond would put
one another under a prohibition or taboo, and so long as they carefully
obeyed the prohibition the blood bond remained in force.

In the following story the birds enter into this blood bond, and the
peculiarities of each are regarded as prohibitions placed on them during
the ceremony. There are many such stories accounting for the physical
idiosyncrasies of various birds and animals.

                                STORY XV

               _The Heron and the Parrot are unbelieving_

When the Heron and the Parrot entered into the bonds of
blood-brotherhood the Heron put the Parrot under a ban, saying: “Friend
Parrot, you must always remain in the tree-tops, and never alight on the
ground. If you do so you will not be able to fly again, for you will be
caught, killed, and eaten; and even if you are not killed the folk who
catch you will tame you, and you will lose your power to fly again in
the air.”

The Parrot said: “Friend Heron, you must never build a house to sleep in
it; if you do you will die.”

After some time the Heron began to doubt the words of the Parrot, and he
said to himself: “Perhaps my friend told me a lie about sleeping in a
house. I will test his words, and if I die my family will know that the
words of the Parrot are true, and they will never sleep in a house.”

That evening the Heron entered a house (nest), and next morning his
family found him lying dead. Ever since that time the Herons have always
slept on the branches of the trees.

The Parrot also doubted the power of the Heron’s prohibition, and said
to himself: “I will alight on the ground, and if I am unable to fly
again my family will know the Heron’s words are true ones.”

So down the Parrot flew, and alighting on the ground he found there
plenty to eat, but when he tried to rise again he was not able to use
his wings. Some people caught him and tamed him, and he remained a slave
in their town.

That is the reason why the Parrots always fly high above the tree-tops
and never alight on the earth, because of the prohibition of their
friend the Heron.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The writer has many more of these stories, but the above are fairly
typical of the lines upon which they run, although every story has its
own little plot and exhibits some characteristic trait of native mind
and habit.


                               CHAPTER XV


No army—The family fight—The town fight—The district fight—Procuring
    volunteers—“Medicine” put on spears—Poison used—No night
    attacks—Lips of the slain worn by the slayer—Spirit of the
    slain—Mode of attack—Prisoners—Women a cause of quarrels—War
    omens—War dance—Spears and flint-lock guns.

One can hardly dignify the quarrels and fights that occur among the
Boloki and their neighbours by the name of war. There is no army and no
organization, but all the men and lads take part in the fight that
affects their family or their town. Their fights may be divided into
three classes—the family fight, the town fight, and the district fight.
The second and third generally arise out of the first.

The family fight. If a family has a quarrel with another family in the
town neither guns, spears, nor knives are used in the fight that
follows, but always sticks. I do not mean to say that no man ever draws
his knife on another in a town quarrel; but that when two families in
the same town deliberately fight each other they use only sticks as
their weapons. They have talked until they are tired; it is not a case
for the ordeal; and the ordinary methods of judging a case have failed,
so they resort to sticks, and the party driven off the “field” by sheer
weight of blows is the loser. The losing side then pays up and the
affair is ended. The other families in the town scarcely ever take
sides, but look on and enjoy the performance.


  The Monsembe people for several weeks were threatened by some
    neighbouring villages with an attack, so they abandoned their
    houses, and built a number of these huts on the beach, and on the
    land side erected a strong palisade to protect themselves.

When a family in one town has a fight with the family of another town,
then spears, knives, and guns are freely used. If family A of X town
goes to fight family B of Z town, then the other families in Z will
stand ready armed to assist their neighbours should they not be able to
repulse the enemy; and should the other families in Z town help the B
family to drive out A family, then the other families in X town will
help A family on its next venture into the enemy’s town, and what was
originally a family feud becomes a fight between two towns. It may
happen that B family has not the sympathy of the other families in Z
town, and they will stand by and see that family driven out and their
houses raided; or it may also happen that the A family has not the
sympathy of the other families in X town, and they will not join forces
with it to fight the folk who have repulsed them.

This is put to the test in the following way: The head of the defeated
family puts a plantain leaf over his shoulder one evening and walks
through the town calling out the reason for the fight, the family
against whom he is fighting, and asking that volunteers who are willing
to help him will meet next morning outside his house ready armed to
accompany him. Very often no one turns up, and the man has to consider
whether his own family has any chance of success if it prosecutes the
fight alone, or whether some other way cannot be found of settling the

If, however, the head of the family is an important man of known bravery
who can command a large following of slaves and relatives, and there is
every prospect of success, then a large number of volunteers will turn
up the next morning. I have often seen a man going through the town with
a plantain leaf across his shoulder calling for supporters. Sometimes
they were such unimportant men that they were laughed at for their

When the families in Z town see A family returning to the assault with
so many volunteers they will at once go to the assistance of their
hard-pressed neighbour, for the honour and safety of the town are now at
stake, and the affair now becomes a town fight.

A town fight. The X town goes _en masse_ to fight the enemy, leaving
behind only the women, the children, the aged, and the sick. If X town
is driven back by Z town and is unable to defend its position, then the
women and children are carried off, the aged and sick are killed, the
town raided, everything portable is removed, and the houses burnt to the
ground; but if the X folk, although driven back, are able to defend
their town they will set sentries for the night; and next day they will
send their biggest head-man with a plantain leaf over his shoulder to
call up volunteers from the other towns with whom they are friendly, and
then it becomes a war between district and district.

When men go to fight distant towns their wives are expected not to
commit adultery with such men as are left in the town, or their husbands
will receive spear wounds from the enemy. The sisters of the fighters
will take every precaution to guard against the unfaithfulness of their
brothers’ wives while they are on the expedition.

Some fighters put fetish “medicine” on their spears to give precision of
aim; others rub them with a vegetable poison made from the burnt ashes
of _munsansangu_ leaves; and others go to the medicine man of the
_ndemo_ to render them invisible to the enemy.

It is impossible to keep the arrangements for an attack secret. There
are always friends and relatives who will inform their friends, etc., on
the other side, and the drums are beaten and the fighters prepare for
the attack. The head of the family whose quarrel it is arranges the
fight and leads the van with his own slaves, family, etc. If necessary
he takes counsel with the heads of the other families helping him.


  _Photo by_: _Rev. W. H. Stapleton_
  The man is a Monsembe slave of the Mongo tribe. The shield is strongly
    plaited of dyed grasses and ornamented round the edge with skins. It
    is used more for deflecting spears than for receiving them. At the
    back is a wooden plate about half the length and width of the
    shield, to which the basket-work is laced.

I never knew them to make a night attack. They would often lie in ambush
and capture, if possible, those who fell into the trap, and kill those
who tried to escape. Attacks were often made in the early morning, soon
after three o’clock. No scouts were employed, but when necessary
sentries were placed, and when they became sleepy they aroused two of
their comrades to take their places. The fighting was not worthy of the
name of a battle, but was simply an affray, a _mêlée_, in which there
was no order and no words of command. No truce was allowed, but when one
side was tired of the fight, or was getting the worst of it, they sent
for a go-between (_molekaleku_) to arrange a meeting and the terms upon
which blood-brotherhood could be made.

A man of conspicuous bravery who kills a man in a fight receives
congratulatory presents, and at drinking-bouts the first mug of
sugar-cane wine is served to him as long as he retains such
pre-eminence, and he has no difficulty in procuring volunteers to aid
him in any of his personal quarrels. When a man kills his opponent in a
fight he cuts off his head and removes his lips, which latter he
thoroughly dries in the sun, and then sticks them over with brass chair
nails and wears them as an ornament with as much pride as a decoration
is worn by the civilized soldier—it is the man’s medal for bravery. The
skull of the slain man is put at the base of a palm, or other tree just
outside the victor’s house, and when the victor dies the spirit of the
conquered and slain man is called upon to do service to the spirit of
the conqueror in _longa_, or the spirit-world.

The Boloki when attacking a town will often divide into two parties, and
while one division attacks the place in front by water, the other makes
a detour over land and attacks the rear. When chasing the enemy they
throw their light, thin, fighting spears in the air, and these, turning,
come down head first and pierce the shoulders, and I have known some to
enter the top of the arm and come out at the elbow. For warding off
spears they use grass-plaited shields, fine-woven cotton belts wound
round and round the waist, and some have cuirasses of hippopotamus hide
to cover the back. The cuirass fastens in front, and at the fastening
there is generally a dagger in a sheath, which is easily drawn. There
are a few flint-lock trade guns among them, but they rely on their
light, thin spears and knives of various lengths and shapes. Lads who
cannot obtain spears use sticks with sharpened points that have been
hardened in the fire, and with these they harass the enemy. When
fighting they wear skin hats, more as a protection against cuts than for
ornament; and the whole face is blackened with a thick paste of oil and
soot, or oil and burnt ground nuts, and the eyes are surrounded with
circles of chalk or white clay. This is to disguise them from their
enemies. The Boloki, among the Congo people, are acknowledged to be the
fiercest and the bravest in a fight, and are greatly feared by the other

Prisoners taken are held to ransom, and if not ransomed they are
retained, sold, or killed, according to the whim of the captor. The
first prisoner taken by a man is given, as a first-fruit, to the man’s
father, or, failing him, to his nearest relative. Women very often
become the wives of their captors. Prisoners captured in war belong to
their captors, and the same applies to all kinds of spoils. The bodies
of enemies are carried when possible from the “field” and eaten at a
general feast. If the prisoners are not redeemed they become slaves, and
while the young ones amalgamate with their conquerors, and often become
a part of the families of their owners, the elder ones who have their
own tribal marks well defined never take other than a servile position
in the towns of their masters.

The chief cause of quarrels and fights on the Congo is about women, and
although the ostensible reason may be a drunken row or a debt, yet if
you push the matter to its real origin you will in nine cases out of ten
find a woman at the bottom of it. Directly after blood-brotherhood is
made all is friendly so far as seeming outward appearances may show; but
I know from experience that the conquered are only awaiting their
opportunity of revenge.


  The victim here lies on the ground with a plantain stem under the
    neck. This plantain stem supports the neck for a clean cut through,
    but does not damage the edge of the knife.

There are certain omens that demand careful attention during war time.
To some, if a snake during war goes in front towards the enemy it is a
sign that success will attend their undertaking, but if the snake comes
towards them the omen is against them. To others, if the _muntontwa_ (a
small active bird with a long beak) flies towards the enemy the omen is
in their favour, but if it comes from the direction of the enemy it is
not to be disregarded or some calamity will surely overtake them. To
most natives it will be a bad sign if a man kicks his foot against
anything in the road. Sometimes the stronger-minded ones laugh away the
fears of those who are inclined to turn back if the omens are against
them; but it more frequently happens that they turn _en masse_, probably
glad to postpone the fight.

After a fight, in which some of the enemy are killed, only the _men_
meet to engage in the _bonkani_ dance. The men dance with their spears
and knives, and any goats, sheep, dogs, or fowls that approach the
dancers are instantly speared, cooked, and eaten. As a man beats the
drum one after another of the dancers advances, and in a solo tells of
his exploits during the late fight, which exploits are more often in the
imagination than on the field of battle; but they vie with one another
in “drawing the long bow” on such occasions.

At times they use the following divination to ascertain the results of a
proposed fight: A saucepan of marsh or forest water is procured and some
“medicine” is put into it. The saucepan is placed on the fire, to which
none but the operators have access, and then, after due time, they say
to this _likato_ (saucepan of water with “medicine” in it), “Will they
kill us in the fight?” If the water boils up and fills the saucepan,
then it is an omen that some of them will be killed, so they abandon the
war; but if the water keeps low they ask, “Shall we kill some of them in
the fight?” Then if the water rises in the saucepan it is an omen that
some of the enemy will be killed, and the war is prosecuted; but if the
water does not boil over it indicates that they will not kill any of the
enemy, consequently the proposed fight is dropped. This test is applied
several times before it is considered satisfactory.

I have seen natives fight both on the Lower and Upper Congo. On the
Lower Congo flint-lock guns are used, and do almost as much harm to the
firer as to the one fired at. Through being so flimsily made a heavy
charge of gunpowder will often cause the old gas-pipe barrels to
explode, and a large number of our hospital accidents are from guns
bursting in hunting and fighting. The firer holds the butt of his gun
against the palm of his right hand, consequently when the gun jerks in
firing, the bullet goes anywhere but at the object aimed at unless that
object is very near. I have known over two hundred men fire at about
thirty for a whole day and only one man was wounded in the ankle by a
spent slug. Their guns will not carry far, and they stand at long
distances from one another and fire.

On the other hand, the Boloki, relying as he does on his fighting spear,
runs in to throw it, and many wounds are inflicted in a very short time.
On the Lower Congo a person is seldom killed in a fight with guns; but
among the Boloki there is never a fight between town and town without
several deaths.


                              CHAPTER XVI


Scarcity of animal life—Bush-burning—Game in ancient times—No
    bush-burning on Upper Congo—Scarcity of game—Absence of prairie
    lands—Large forests—Division of an animal—Mode of preserving
    meat—Omen of success or failure—Taboo on trap makers—Fetishing
    hunting-dog—Spears used for some animals—String nets for others.

Those parts of the Congo with which I am acquainted are not teeming with
animal life, so far as my experience goes. I cannot claim the rôle of an
ardent sportsman, yet I carried my gun many a weary mile in search of
supplies for my table, nor did I often return unsuccessful.

The natives, both on the Upper and Lower Congo, give much time to
hunting, and are fairly successful when there is game about. Undoubtedly
the annual grass-burning on the Lower Congo has gradually and surely
reduced the game, so that a party of hunters does not now bring home an
antelope once in two months, although they might be out almost every
day. In August, September, and early October hundreds of miles of bush
are burnt to the ground. Every town has its own “bush,” and after
burning a circle round their town to secure it against fire when the
“bush” is blazing before a rushing wind, the town-folk arrange to fire
one “patch of bush” after another, until the whole country is black with
charred grass stumps. When a patch is burnt it is surrounded by the
chief and his men owning it, and they shoot down the antelopes,
bush-pigs, palm-rats, gazelles, etc., as they rush by in terror from the
oncoming flames. This annual bush-burning has been going on for
generations, and accounts for the scarcity of animal life on the Lower

In a book[31] I have before me there are evidences that animal life was
very prolific at the time of the narrator’s visit to the Kingdom of
Congo. He gives various accounts of the mode of hunting then followed on
the Lower Congo, but does not mention any bush-burning, so apparently
this mode of hunting came into vogue at a later date. He also speaks of
the lion and zebra as being plentiful; these now, however, are never
seen on the Lower Congo. He mentions the tiger (?) as being very
numerous and fierce; but as he gives the native name—_engoi_—we know
that he is speaking of the leopard, which is regarded still as a royal
beast, and is always spoken of as _mfumu_ (lord).

Footnote 31:

  “A Report of the Kingdom of Congo from the writings etc. of Duarte
  Lopez by Filippo Pigafetta, in Rome 1591.”

On the Upper Congo are many hippopotami—in a quiet side channel in 1890
we counted over one hundred of these huge beasts on a single sandbank;
and as we passed the noise of our steamer frightened them. They took to
the water, churned it in their alarm, and thumped the bottom of our
steamer repeatedly. Crocodiles are very numerous, and are frequently
killed from the decks of steamers passing up and down the river. They
are more cautious than formerly, and make for the river on the slightest
alarm. Many water-birds are to be seen along the banks, and in the
quieter creeks and channels monkeys of various species sit chattering in
the trees. The numerous steamers that now run up and down the river and
its larger tributaries have frightened the hippo, the crocodile, and
monkeys from the main channels to the smaller ones, and the hunter must
now go by canoe, boat, or small launch up these unfrequented water
bypaths if he is in search of sport.

There is no bush-burning on the Upper Congo, for the greater part of it
is forest land, with here and there an open glade of forty or fifty
acres in extent. Animal life, however, is not prolific, and this may be
accounted for, perhaps, by these reasons: There are no great prairie or
bush-lands where animals can breed in comparative security, and the
Equatorial district for hundreds of miles is periodically flooded. About
every ten or eleven years the banks are under water. I have had to go
about my own station in a boat, and I have eaten antelopes and bush-pigs
that were caught and killed just off our station in the over-swollen
river. In August, 1890, the river at Monsembe was eleven feet below the
bank, but every year its highest rise was higher than the previous year,
until in November, 1896, and again in 1897, the river was running under
our houses. Then for a few years its highest watermark was lower than
the preceding year; and in 1903 it took the turn, and the country was
flooded again in 1908. During the 1896 flood we learned from the natives
that the river “was flooded like this when So-and-so was a boy that
height.” We judged that to be about ten years before.

These floods have undoubtedly helped to keep down the animal life of the
Equatorial district, and, in addition, it is probable that forest lands
are not such good breeding-places as the open veldt lands of South
Africa, where the enemy cannot so easily take an animal by surprise.

There are in every Boloki town two or three men who are the recognized
hunters, either because of their success, their swiftness of movement,
their accuracy of aim, or their daring courage. These men are the
leaders in the hunt, and always receive a larger share of the spoil than
the ordinary man.

The owner of the slain animal is he whose spear first enters a vital
part, and though the others have a share according to their importance,
yet he takes the largest portion for himself. Various relatives,
head-men, and chiefs have rights over certain parts of an animal killed
by a relative or a member of the town. These portions vary considerably
with the different families and towns. A child takes a leg or a shoulder
of the animal slain by his father, a mother receives the belly-piece or
the neck from her successful son. These bespoke portions that belong to
the family are called _bilelo_. The head-man of the town receives the
head or a leg, and his portion is called _motando_. After the fortunate
hunter has met these claims, and has given his companions in the hunt a
piece each, there is often not much left for himself. There is no close
season for hunting.

The boundaries of the town are well defined, and the islands belonging
to a town are well known to all the other towns in the neighbourhood. If
an animal is killed on ground owned by a town other than that to which
the huntsman belongs, he has to send a portion of it—generally the
head—to the chief who claims the land.

The only mode I observed among them for preserving the meat is that of
thoroughly drying it, or smoking it, over a fire. As a rule not much
meat is preserved in this way, as the animal is usually eaten all up in
three or four days. Those who have more than they can eat are always
willing to sell some of it to the less fortunate, and buyers are

Men going to hunt carry their special charms with them, either on their
person or on their spears. These charms are almost as numerous as there
are huntsmen; you will scarcely find two men in a party who have faith
in the same kind of charm. But there are certain ceremonies performed in
which all the huntsmen take part.

In the case of a special hunt, say for killing elephants, a medicine man
was called who took two or three days to perform an elaborate ritual and
“make medicine.” This only occurred once during my residence at
Monsembe, and then the hunt was not successful. Although I inquired
about what the medicine man did, the people were too suspicious of me to
inform me about his proceedings. I found later that the natives thought
that the spirits of the deceased who inhabited the forests had power to
turn the animals aside from the traps and thus render them ineffective,
so the first thing to be done when arranging a hunt was to call the
medicine man of the mat. This medicine man brought his mats, charms,
some saucepans and calabashes. He set up his mat, and entering the
enclosed space he went through secret rites that lasted from one to
three days. During these secret ceremonies he caught the spirits of the
locality where the trap was set (or was to be set), and shut them up in
a saucepan, or secured them safely in a calabash.

Again, all those concerned in the hunt had to chew red pepper and the
pulp of the _nsafu_ fruit, and if anyone refused to eat this mixture or
could not spit it out properly it was taken as an adverse omen and the
hunt abandoned. When the medicine man had secured the spirits in his
saucepan or calabash, and the omen was satisfactory, the man who started
the proceedings and two or three friends went and put up the spear-trap.
From the time of setting the trap until an animal was killed in it and
eaten, these men abstained from all intercourse with women, otherwise
the luck would be bad and their trap unsuccessful. The same prohibition
was enforced on hunters who made traps (_motambu_ = noose-traps) for
bush-pigs and burrowing animals.

The natives are not good trackers. I very often hunted with them, and
after a short time I was able to track the game as quickly as they. They
relied more on the animal running into a trap, or into a noose, than
tracking them down and spearing them. They never went tracking for long
distances like the North American Indians, but simply for a mile or two
round their own towns. Undoubtedly the various chiefs owning the ground
and demanding certain parts of the animals killed on their land
restricted the tracking and hunting to small areas for setting traps
only, and consequently their tracking instincts were not developed.

The medicine man of the mat takes the dog selected for hunting purposes
and puts into its mouth and nose the juice pressed from a crushed shrub
called _mumpongo_, and this makes the dog keen of scent and courageous
in the hunt. When such a dog dies it is not eaten like other dogs, but
is buried in a mat like a child, for it is a fetish dog, and hence it is
supposed to have a kind of spirit which, if not properly treated, can
bring bad luck on its former owner.

For hippopotami, elephants, and antelopes spring traps were placed
across their tracks. These traps are made by putting two stout uprights
about four feet apart, one on either side of the track; then a stout
cross-piece is tied at about twelve feet from the ground. To the middle
of this cross-piece and right over the track is fixed a heavy log of
wood; and into the downward end of the log is placed a strong, sharp,
heavy spear or prong. The log is so arranged that when the string which
stretches across the path is touched by the passing animal, down comes
the log, and four times out of six the spear enters the body of the
beast. I once saw the body of a man who, while running in the forest,
had inadvertently touched the spring of one of these traps. The spear
caught him in the back of the neck, passed through his body, and came
out between his legs. Such traps were called _mbonga_. Occasionally
pit-traps are made, but it is seldom that anything is found in them.

In hunting the larger bush animals, and also crocodiles, the spear is
the most common weapon, and this is hurled with great precision and
swiftness. But in hunting smaller game, as the small antelopes, coypus,
or palm-rats, bush-pigs, and gazelle-like animals, long string nets are
employed. These nets are placed in a semicircle near where the animal is
supposed to be, and then the hunters carefully beat the bush, driving
the game before them into the net. Most of the hunting-spears are light,
with a small blade and thin shaft, and some have barbs along either side
of the blade.


                              CHAPTER XVII


Collecting fish for the Museum—Modes of fishing—By
    torchlight—Fish-fences—Traps and spoon-nets—Floating buoys and
    hooks—Fish-spears—Fish poisons—Prohibition with fish
    traps—Addressing the fisherman—Penalties—First-fruits—Portion given
    to head chief.

Fish is very plentiful in the Congo and its tributaries. The writer was
asked a few years ago by the authorities of the Natural History Museum,
London, if he would undertake to collect Congo fish for them. This he
readily consented to do, and was glad of the opportunity of rendering
them any assistance in his power on the understanding that it should be
no expense, for transport, etc., to his Society. The Museum authorities
sent him the necessary preserving spirits and the tanks. The latter he
filled with fish, labelled them and forwarded them to M. G. A.
Boulenger, who has charge of the Ichthyological Department at the
Natural History Museum. The natives themselves became interested in
collecting fish, and brought me their catches to see if there was a fish
among them that I had not put into the “box”; and when later the Museum
authorities sent me about fifty plates, beautifully engraved, of the
Congo fish that I and others had sent to them, nothing delighted the
native lads more than looking over those plates and talking about the
fish represented by them.

I started collecting in the following simple way: In 1893 we had no
fish-hooks on the station, but the boys asked my wife to give them some
pins with which to make hooks. This we did, on the condition that the
young fishermen brought their catches to us and allowed us to take one
or two fish for my bottle. The fish they caught by such primitive means
were, of course, rather small, about the size of one’s fingers; but I
soon had two pickle bottles full of various kinds of fish. These bottles
I brought home in 1895 and gave to the Natural History Museum, and
several new species were found in that small, unpretentious collection.
This led the Museum authorities to ask me to collect larger fish, which
I gladly did.

I was much interested in noticing the various modes of fishing pursued
by the different tribes on the Congo, and will here give the results of
my observations: (1) Fishing by torches at night. Fishermen in twos and
threes would light a bunch of grass, or an old mat, on a dark night and
would walk quietly along the river’s bank, holding the light well up
with one hand so as to attract the fish, and having in the other hand a
long knife or spear well poised, ready to strike any fish that was
attracted by the bright light. I never saw them catch a fish in this
way, but they must kill one occasionally, or they would not trouble to
spend their time in this manner. This mode of fishing was common to all
the peoples right along the river. (2) During certain seasons of the
year—May and November—the Congo itself and its numerous tributaries,
inlets, and creeks are flooded with heavy rains. The watershed of the
Congo River is extensive enough to benefit by the rainy seasons both
north and south of the Equator; hence the two rises in the year—May and


  _By permission: Musée du Congo Belge_
  This fish has the power, when irritated, of distending itself
    enormously, and becomes covered with small spines. This is its mode
    of defence, for when swallowed by a larger fish it at once inflates
    itself in its enemy’s throat, who has either to expel it or choke.

At flood times fences are built across the smaller creeks and streams.
These fences are so closely woven that none but the smallest fish can
pass. As soon as the water falls, which it generally does in six or
eight weeks, those who built the fences go and search the shallow water
and mud for any fish that may have been shut in the trap. In this way
large quantities of various kinds of fish are caught, which, being
cleaned and thoroughly dried in the smoke over a slow fire, help them
much by rendering their sour cassava more palatable. During the time
that the river is subsiding the people catch snails, and cut them up to
feed the fish in these creek traps, and also in any ponds and pools left
on the islands by the receding river. At flood time many of the islands
are one and two feet under water, and as the river goes down large pools
are left in the hollows. These are claimed by those people who, as the
water shallows, fatten the fish with snails and cassava parings, and in
due time they bail the remaining water out of these pools and catch the
gasping fish left on the muddy bottom. The mud-fish and siluroids are
caught in large quantities in these pools and ponds. Both these modes of
fishing are common to the whole river above Stanley Pool.


  _By permission: Musée du Congo Belge_
  This curious fish, with a proboscis like an elephant’s, is to be found
    on the Upper Congo. The long snout is used for searching for snails,
    worms, and insects in the mud. The eyes are protected by a
    transparent covering.


  The mouth is put up-river, and partitions in it are so arranged that
    fish can enter, but cannot get out. See page 241.

(3) On the Upper Congo, where the water is shallow and the banks slope
gradually and regularly, the natives select a suitable place and drive
in a number of wooden stakes forming a large semicircle, the ends of
which touch the bank at from 15 to 20 yards from each other. They then
fasten long bamboo nets to the stakes, thus enclosing a large sheet of
water. A large number of light branches and leaves are loosely thrown
over the surface of the enclosed water; the up-river end of this
fish-trap is left open for the fish to pass in where they find shade.
Snails and cassava parings are cut up and thrown in to fatten the fish
and induce them to stay. As the river rises more branches are thrown on
the enclosed water, and the fish gliding along the bank enter, and are
charmed by the cool shade and food they find there.

As soon as the river begins to fall below the top of the net the opening
is shut. At this stage the natives frequently spear fish by probing with
their fish-spears among the branches and grass inside the trap. In a few
weeks the river falls, and the branches are carefully removed, and a
number of women and boys and girls enter the water with cone-shaped
baskets about 2 feet high, 18 inches in diameter at the mouth, and an
8-inch opening at the top. These baskets they lift up and down in the
water, placing the bottom firmly each time on the river-bed, and from
the feel they can tell whether a fish is enclosed or not. They catch
fish frequently in this way, and then they put their hand through the
top opening and grip it. If the fish is too large for that, then a spear
is passed through and the fish pinned to the ground. See page 239.

Around the outside of the fence will be a number of canoes, occupied by
men and lads fishing with large string nets fastened to stout canes of
calamus palms. With these they spoon the water and often bring up a
fish. After a time the large bamboo-net fence is slowly pulled up the
sloping bank, sweeping before it and enclosing in its narrowing space
any fish that may have escaped the spears, nets, and traps, until it is
drawn right up the bank. The whole scene is very animated, men and
women, boys and girls—a score or more of them—laughing, jesting, joking
most noisily, splashing each other, scrambling, swimming, kicking,
fighting, and diving in their efforts to catch the fish they feel
gliding between their legs or slipping through their fingers. Many go as
much for the fun as for the fish.


  See page 241.


  See page 238.

(4) Fish-hooks, probably first introduced by white men, are in general
use all along the river. The hook is baited with cassava, or earth
worms, or the entrails of fowls. It is thrown into the river to lie on
the bottom until it is found and swallowed by a hungry fish. I have seen
a fish weighing 20 pounds caught in this way. The end of the line is a
running noose placed round the angler’s wrist. I once saw a boy about 14
years old jerked off the bank into the river by a fish that had
swallowed his hook, and then in fright had suddenly started off. The
boy, taken by surprise, lost his balance and toppled into the river; he
and his fish, however, were soon pulled out.



The following is another mode of using the fish-hook: A crescent-shaped
float of light wood (generally ambash) is prepared, and a cord is fixed
across from horn to horn; from this cord hangs a string with the baited
hook at the end. This float has a heavy stone fastened to it at the end
of a long cord. The fisherman goes into the middle of the river, drops
the stone anchor (to keep the float from being carried away by the
current), arranges the float and hook, and returns to land in his canoe.
As long as he sees the horns of his float above water he knows that no
fish is on the hook. When a fish takes the bait and swallows the hook,
it overturns the float in its attempts to escape, and when the fisherman
sees the rounded bottom of his float above water he knows that a fish is
caught on the hook. I have seen fish weighing close on 40 pounds caught
by this ingenious method.


  See pages 241-2



Throughout the whole length of the river the natives use large
cone-shaped traps made of split canes and bamboos. These traps vary in
size from 6 feet to 12 feet in length, and from 2 feet to 7 feet in
diameter at the mouth. The sides run straight for two-thirds of the
length, and then taper off to a point. Inside are several partitions
running in semicircles and at an obtuse angle to the sides, so that it
is easy for the fish to enter; but if they try to escape, the sharp,
irregular ends of the canes forming the partitions probe them, and
effectually turn them back. These large basket-like traps are weighted
and dropped into deep water with their mouths upstream. Some have only
one smaller circle of canes arranged inside a larger. There is also
another trap having the same diameter for its whole length, and a mouth
at each end with a smaller cone-shaped partition arranged in each
opening, so that fish coming from opposite directions can enter.

Fish-spears are of different shapes, but their hafts are always
long—from 10 to 12 feet—and tapered towards the end. Sometimes the
handles are of sticks, and sometimes of bamboos. The fish-spear is often
a simple prong, sometimes an ordinary spear shape, but the commonest
form is the barbed—single, or double, or triple. The two former are
always tightly fixed in their handles, but the barbed kind is always
detachable, having two or three yards of string loosely wound round the
handle near to the spear-head. This allows the barbed head of the spear
to remain in the fish, and the handle to float and show its whereabouts.
I think the only reason for this difference is that the barbed
spear-heads are scarce and costly, and on account of the detachable
handles they are not so likely to lose them.

Fish poisons are used. One was the milky juice of a leguminous, hairy
plant, called _botoko_ (probably _Tephrosia toxifera_), which was
crushed and thrown into the streamlets and creeks and has the effect of
partially stupefying the fish. The other was the juice of the Euphorbia,
named by the natives _kokotulu_.


  _By permission: Musée du Congo Belge_
  This remarkable fish is to be seen in different parts of the Upper
    Congo. It feeds on molluscs, worms, and maggots. Its eyes are
    protected by a transparent covering which permits it to probe among
    heaps of river refuse.

(5) The Libinza people, to whom I have referred several times, make the
largest nets, and fish in a more business-like way than any tribe I have
seen on the Upper Congo. These nets are of a large mesh, and are made
entirely of native string. In shape the net is like a box without a lid.
It is 15 feet long, about 8 feet wide, and from 3 to 4 feet deep.


  _By permission: Musée du Congo Belge_
  The mud-fish—partly fish, partly reptile, with its rudimentary fins,
    breathes by gills and lives like a fish when there is plenty of
    water in the creeks and river; but when the river subsides it
    burrows in the mud, which soon bakes into a hard cake, and there the
    mud-fish passes the dry season rolled up and in a torpid condition.

This is a fair average size; there are many larger than this, and some

Soon after dark the Libinza fishermen select a suitable place—a sandbank
with three or four feet of water on it. The net is fixed by one end and
the two sides, being tied to stakes driven in the sand; the other end
was allowed to lie on the bottom of the river. Having fastened the net,
they form a wide semicircle at some distance from the loose end of their
net, and at a signal they begin to beat the water with their hands and
feet, gradually working up to the open end and driving the startled fish
before them. This operation is frequently repeated through the night,
and as a result large quantities of all kinds of fish are brought to the
town next morning. For this kind of fishing the river must be fairly

(6) The Basoko people have another mode of fishing by means of a string
net 30 feet long and 5 feet high. The two ends are fixed to sticks;
along the upper edge of the net were floats of pith-wood, and along the
bottom edge were weights of burnt fire-clay. The men go out in a canoe,
and at a likely place the net is unrolled, and one man slips over the
side of the canoe with one end of the net which, by means of the stick,
he fastens upright in the bed of the river; the other man then jumps
into the river with his end of the net and makes a wide detour—the
floats buoying up one edge and the weights sinking the other. The second
man having made as wide a detour as the length of the net permits,
sweeps round the fixed end and winds the net closely round and round,
entangling in its meshes any fish caught inside the circle of its sweep.
I have seen many fish caught in this manner.

(7) The Bopoto people have another mode, which appears more clumsy than
it really is. A light frame of poles about 8 or 9 feet square is covered
with a fine mat of bamboo laths closely woven together. One side of this
frame is hinged to the side of the canoe so that it moves freely. The
two upper corners of the frame have ropes attached to them. The two
fishermen hold the frame upright while a third paddles them into
mid-stream; then the frame is lowered by the ropes until the top end is
12 or 14 inches under the water, and the canoe is then allowed to drift
with the current. By and by a fish swims over the submerged net, and the
men, who are watching, pull quickly at their ropes, up comes the net,
and down tumbles the fish into the canoe.

It is a curious fact that one tribe never imitates another in its
principal mode of fishing. I have seen an Upper River native make and
use a cast net such as he had seen the Accra carpenters use; but I never
saw a man of one tribe imitate a man of a neighbouring tribe in his
peculiar mode of fishing. They have traps common to all, but each tribe
has its own principal mode peculiar to itself. I have twitted a native
of Monsembe about not following, or even trying, the successful mode of
fishing pursued by the Libinza people, and he has replied: “We could not
catch fish like them even if we tried; that is their way, and we have

Fishermen while making their traps (_moleke_) are prohibited from all
intercourse with women, and this prohibition continues until the trap
has caught some fish and the said fish has been eaten, otherwise they
will have no luck in fishing. This abstinence may last some few weeks,
or only a few days. The Boloki folk in the old days often threw old men
or women into the river to appease the water-spirits (_mingoli_), that
they might be more successful in fishing.

While a man is fishing, and immediately on his return from fishing, he
is called _mwele_, no matter who he may be. The river is supposed to be
full of spirits, and if these hear the proper names of the fishermen
they can so work against them that they will catch little or no fish,
consequently the fishermen desire to hide their identity under the
general name of _mwele_.

Again, when a man lands with his fish the buyer must not address him by
his proper name, but as _mwele_, or the spirits will hear it, and either
mark him as one against whom they will exercise their influence another
time, or they will impoverish the fish just caught, so that the man’s
chances of a good price will be lost. Hence the fisherman can make the
person who breaks this rule either pay him heavy damages, or compel him
to sell the fish in the village at a good price and thus restore his

The first-fruits of a lad’s fishing are given to his nearest relatives.
When this is not possible, then other fish are given later on. Very
often a share of the first catch of every season is similarly given to
the parents or nearest relatives. A part of the fish caught is given to
the head-man of the town to which the fisherman belongs. This was
regarded as one of the perquisites of his position, and the
non-observance of custom is bitterly resented.


                             CHAPTER XVIII

                           RELIGIOUS BELIEFS

Ideas of a Supreme Being—His various names—Views of the spirit
    life—Fetishism—Medicine men and spirits—Black and white magic—Origin
    of the term fetish—Native crusade against fetishes—Bundle of
    charms—Its contents—Sacrifices to fetishes—Rise and fall of
    witch-doctors—An attempt to define fetishism—Natives very religious.

We have found a vague knowledge of a Supreme Being, and a belief in Him,
very general among those tribes on the Congo with which we have come
into contact. In each case the natives’ ideas of the Supreme Being were
gathered and noted long before our teaching had influenced their views
or increased their knowledge concerning Him. Before we could preach our
views we had to learn their language, and while learning their language
we necessarily received—in the definitions of the words we were learning
from them—their ideas of that great Being who created the world. We
found their knowledge of Him was scarcely more than nominal, and no
worship was ever paid to Him.

On the Lower Congo He is called _Nzambi_, or by His fuller title _Nzambi
a mpungu_; no satisfactory root word has yet been found for _Nzambi_,
but for _mpungu_ there are sayings and proverbs that clearly indicate
its meaning as, most of all, supreme, highest, and _Nzambi a mpungu_ as
the Being most High, or Supreme.

On the Upper Congo among the Bobangi folk the word used for the Supreme
Being is _Nyambe_; among the Lulanga people, _Nzakomba_; among the
Boloki, _Njambe_; among the Bopoto people it is _Libanza_, which word is
also well known among the Boloki people, and was probably introduced by
slaves from Bopoto. At Yakusu, near Stanley Falls, the word used is
_Mungu_, which is a shortened form of the Swahili word _muungu_, and
this may contain the root of the Lower Congo word _mpungu_. It is
interesting to note that the most common name for the Supreme Being on
the Congo is also known, in one form or another, over an extensive area
of Africa reaching from 6° north of the Equator away to extreme South
Africa; as, for example, among the Ashanti it is _Onyame_, at Gaboon it
is _Anyambie_, and two thousand miles away among the Barotse folk it is

These are the names that stand for a Being who is endowed with strength,
wealth, and wisdom by the natives; and He is also regarded and spoken of
by them as the principal Creator of the world, and the Maker of all
things. Some think Him so perfect in all His works that semi-sane
people, crooked sticks, and deformed persons and animals are placed to
the credit of a subordinate divinity—a demiurge called _Kombu_.

But the Supreme Being is believed by the natives to have withdrawn
Himself to a great distance after performing His creative works; that He
has now little or no concern in mundane affairs; and apparently no power
over spirits and no control over the lives of men, either to protect
them from malignant spirits or to help them by averting danger. They
also consider the Supreme Being (_Nzambi_) as being so good and kind
that there is no need to appease Him by rites, ceremonies, or
sacrifices. Hence they never pray to this Supreme One, they never
worship Him, or think of Him as being interested in the doings of the
world and its peoples.

During the whole thirty years of my life in various parts of the Congo I
have heard the name of the Deity used in the following four ways only:
Among the Lower Congo people, when they desire to emphasize a statement
or vouch for the truthfulness of their words, they use the name in an
oath. When in extreme trouble they cry out: “I wish _Nzambi_ had never
made me!” or when in great distress: “_Nzambi_, pity me!” Also on the
Lower Congo there is the phrase _lufwa lua Nzambi_ = death by God, i.e.
a natural death as distinctive from death by witchcraft; but this view
of death is not so frequently heard on the Lower Congo as among the
Boloki people, where _awi na Njambe_ = he died by God, i.e. there is no
witchcraft about the death of the deceased, nor anything pointing to
witchcraft about the accident that caused the death, is often heard.
These are the only phrases which suppose that the Supreme Being has
anything to do with the world. They are generally employed in the case
of poor folk when they die, as no one wants the trouble and expense of
engaging a witch-doctor to seek out the witch.

About four years ago I asked a most intelligent native, whose age was
about 45, if he could recall any prayer that was offered to the Supreme
Being (_Nzambi_) by his family or any natives before the coming of the
missionaries. He sat quietly for a few minutes and then answered: “No,
but a woman in great distress would say, ‘_Nzambi_, pity me,’ not
because she thought she would receive pity, for we all believed _Nzambi_
was too far away to hear us or think of us, but because it was a saying
amongst us for such times of distress.”

Among the Lower Congo people the belief exists that when there is a halo
round the moon it is a sign that the Supreme Being is there confirming
the residence in that cool place—hence state of happiness of some
spirits which have just arrived; and when the halo is round the sun,
then those who have recently lost relatives or friends by death will
tremble and wail, because that halo round the sun is an indication to
them that the Supreme Being (_Nzambi_) is there confirming the
punishment that has consigned the late departed to the hot place—hence
state of unhappiness. There is a proverb that shows the lastingness of
this punishment: “The bad people are tortured like a locust on the
burning grass; it wants to die, but is kept alive.” These comprise the
only ideas concerning the Supreme Being that I have ever heard
expressed, either on the Lower Congo or among the Boloki natives.

On the other hand, there is a seeming contradiction of the moon and sun
theory, as stated in the preceding paragraph, by another belief extant
among the Lower Congo people, viz. that all the souls of the departed go
to a great spirit-town in the forest, and that is the reason why burials
take place at sunset. The natives argue thus: During the day folk go to
farms, to market, to work in the forests, etc., and the town is left
empty; in the evening the inhabitants have returned from their different
occupations, and are ready to accord a welcome to any visitor; thus also
the spirit-town: all the spirits are away at their different employments
and do not return until the evening, and if the deceased were buried
during the morning or early afternoon there would be no one in the town
to welcome him. These differing beliefs appear to be co-existent, and
the natives, if they perceive their inconsistency, have not offered any
explanation. I once pointed out the contradictory nature of these
beliefs to a smart native with whom I was conversing on the subject, and
his reply was: “Some believe one thing, some believe the other, and some
people believe both.”

Among the Boloki people there is a general and firm belief in a
spirit-world, or nether region (called _longa_). It is supposed to be
somewhere down below. From many natives I have received the same
direction, always accompanied by the same action and words, viz. they
have pointed with their fingers to the ground, saying, “It is down
underneath there.” In the nether regions the conditions of existence
appear to be similar to those in the villages and town, with this
exception, that a man may be too high in the social scale to be punished
on earth, but he cannot escape punishment in the nether regions for the
disagreeable qualities he has exhibited on earth. Within a few hours of
an unpopular head-man’s death, I have heard the ordinary natives
laughingly say to one another as they have snapped their fingers in
glee: “He is being punished now.” Who allotted the punishment and saw to
its infliction I could never ascertain. Juries of head-men on earth sat
to decide difficult cases; and it may be that they thought juries in the
nether region sat on cases and allotted the necessary punishment.

The firing of guns, shouting, wailing, beating of drums and such noises
are heard in the nether regions, and give notice to the inhabitants
there of the approach of another disembodied spirit. The louder the
noise the greater is the expectation of those in the spirit-land of
seeing a great man arrive. The spirits of the departed wait about the
entrance to the nether regions to greet the one about whose departure
for their abode so much fuss is being made.

The soul of a living person is called _elimo_, but on the person’s death
his soul becomes a disembodied spirit named _mongoli_; and the Boloki
spirits after sojourning for a time in the nether regions leave that
place and wander about the rivers and creeks, doing all the harm they
can to the living by flooding their villages and keeping the fish from
entering the nets and traps. The spirits of the Bomuna people, and of
the bush-people generally, are supposed to roam about the forests,
turning the animals from the traps and nets set to snare them, not to
save them from death, but to show their hatred of the folk living in the

Are these disembodied spirits turned out of the spirit-land as a
punishment? Natives believe that the spirits of bad men are punished in
the nether region—by bad they mean a disagreeable, unsociable,
disobliging, greedy, rude, discourteous person. The ghost of such a one
will return to trouble his whilom neighbours, and it is against his
disagreeable qualities as a man that they have to guard now that he is a
spirit. There are many stories about the doings of the disembodied
spirits—their tricks and their mode of revenge—which will be related in
subsequent chapters. The foregoing paragraphs give, I trust, a clear
statement of the natives’ ideas of the Supreme Being and their views of
existence after death, so far as I have been able to collect their
thoughts and beliefs during a long and intimate intercourse with the

We now come to a larger subject—larger because it holds a more important
place in the life and thought of the native—I refer to fetishism. If
fetishism is a form of religion, then the Boloki people, like all other
tribes on the Congo, are a very religious folk. In obedience to fetish
taboo and custom they exhibit a devotion and persistency worthy of a
better cause; in subjection to the demands of their witch-doctors they
cut themselves, deny themselves many kinds of pleasant food, and pay
heavy fees, even to the impoverishment of themselves and families. But
all this is done through their abject fear of the various malignant
spirits who, so their medicine men inform them, have power over them for
the time being. It may be one spirit to-day and an entirely different
one next month, according to the sickness, misfortune, or particular
kind of bad luck from which the man is suffering; or a man may for
twenty years possess good health and good fortune, and consequently he
will need neither the medicine man nor his rites and ceremonies; or it
may be that a man thinks “prevention is better than cure,” and in such a
case he will fee the medicine men to appease on his behalf such evil
spirits over whom they profess to exercise control, or to prepare for
him certain charms to destroy their wicked designs.

No single witch-doctor pretends to control all the evil spirits, or
confer immunity from all diseases, or remove all misfortunes, or impart
every kind of good luck. Hence on the Lower Congo there are about fifty
different kinds of medicine men,[32] and among the Boloki some eighteen
varieties of them, each supreme in his own particular branch. The order
is not confined to men only, for many women are to be found in its
ranks. Some medicine men are supposed to be stronger than others, and,
controlling more powerful spirits, they either avert greater evils or
confer larger benefits, and consequently receive more respect and richer
fees for their services.

Footnote 32:

  See _Folk-Lore_ for Dec. 31st, 1910, p. 447, for a complete list of
  Lower Congo medicine men and their various functions written by the

It is a misrepresentation to depict the Congo native as “bowing down to
wood and stone.” He never worships his fetishes; he exhorts them to do
his bidding; he commands them to do that for which they were made, and
he is not backward in arousing them to alertness by whistles and
explosions of gunpowder, or to activity by whacking them with a stick.

No native of any tribe I have met ever assigned creative powers to his
fetishes, or respected them as the representatives of a deity. The
fetishes were made yesterday at his bidding and expense by the
witch-doctor, and to-morrow, if they fail in their purpose, they will be
consigned to the rubbish heap, or left neglected on some shelf in his
house. The native lives and moves, so he believes, surrounded by evil
spirits which, on account of their own malignant natures or at the
instigation of his enemies, are constantly trying to work him harm, and
the only means known to him of counteracting the evil, or of appeasing
the malignant power, is the medicine man with his powerful fetishes,
charms, and ceremonies.

There are two phrases that contain the whole theory and practice of the
Congo medicine man’s black and white magic. By the black magic he
professes to incite an evil spirit by means of a fetish to inflict a
sickness or some other misfortune on an enemy; and by white magic, to
appease the evil spirit through the medium of the fetish, so that the
sickness or bad luck shall be removed from one’s self or one’s family
and friends. The same medicine man uses the same fetish to curse a man
with disease, or to cure the man so cursed, hence he often draws fees
from both parties.

To curse a person by the aid of a fetish is called _loka e nkisi_. The
fetish is beaten with a stick, informed what it is to do, and then hung
up outside the invoker’s house, and the spirit of the fetish flies off
to obey its orders. This is the simple _modus operandi_ followed by all
the witch-doctors on the Lower Congo, who invoke their fetishes to
employ their various powers against the enemies of their clients.

To soothe and appease the spirit of the fetish so that it will remove
the curse from working by so conciliating the fetish power, or the
spirit the fetish is supposed to control, that it will work for the
medicine man’s client and not against him, is called _lembola e nkisi_
(= to soften, tame a fetish), and the ceremony is as varied as there are
medicine men, for each branch of the profession has its own special
rites to observe.

Now fetishes on the Lower Congo are either images, bundles, or large
horns, and these as a rule are owned by the medicine men. Smaller
fetishes and charms are made by them for various purposes and sold to
the natives. Sometimes a wealthy man will buy a powerful fetish and use
its power entirely for himself; at times a poorer man will pay a good
fee to a medicine man to borrow his fetish, or the rich man’s fetish for
one or two days, so that he may have the entire attention of the spirit
it controls. A rich man will sometimes buy a powerful fetish as a
speculation, and make a good profit by hiring it out for a fee, and the
poorer man will pay the fee, hoping to reap good results to his bodily
health or to his prosperity by having the undivided interest of the
fetish at his service.

The term fetish comes from the Portuguese word _feitiço_, and the early
navigators of the West African Coast were Portuguese, who carried with
them amulets and charms, i.e. _feitiços_, in the form of crosses, beads,
images, etc., that had been blessed by their priests. And when these
ancient navigators saw the natives wearing shells filled with some
mixture, or displaying on their persons some articles with which they
were unwilling to part even for costly gifts, what was more natural for
them than to regard such objects as something akin to their own
_feitiços_? And “as they discovered no other traces of religious worship
they concluded that this outward show of regard for these _feitiços_
constituted the whole of the negro worship.”[33]

Footnote 33:

  I am indebted to F. Max Müller for much in this paragraph. See
  _Hibbert Lectures_, p. 61. 1878.

The native word on the Lower Congo for fetish (_nkisi_), and among the
Boloki (_bonganga_), means an image, a horn, a shell, a saucepan, etc.,
and, in fact, anything into which a medicine man has put a part of his
“medicine” from his store bundle; and it is not an effective fetish
until it has been through the hands of the medicine man and received its
power from him. No one witch-doctor makes all the fetishes, but every
one has his own speciality, in the making of which he is accounted an

On the Lower Congo the native offers periodic sacrifices to his fetish
to keep it in a good humour, otherwise through sulkiness it may refuse
to help him; or he returns it to a medicine man to renew its energies
when it proves too weak for his purpose; he explodes gunpowder around it
to arouse it to proper alertness that it may attend to its owner’s
affairs; or he beats it to make it subservient to his wishes, but he
never worships it, nor does he ever pay homage to it. Among the Boloki
sugar-cane wine is poured over the fetish to render it amenable to its
owner’s wishes, and it is threatened if it does not act quickly on its
owner’s behalf; and while the Boloki fears his fetish in a way, yet he
never worships it.

“About 1872 some natives of Loanda came through the country preaching a
crusade against fetishes of all kinds, inducing the natives in town
after town to destroy all their fetishes, assuring them that since death
and sickness came by the exercise of the black art, which everyone fully
believes, if then every fetish were destroyed and no more made there
would be no more suffering and death. Far and wide the most strenuous
efforts were made to accomplish the destruction of _all_ fetishes to
that happy end.”[34] In 1909 a man with whom I was conversing told me
that he as a child was shaken over the fire during this campaign to
destroy any fetishes he had about his person. He well remembered this
crusade against fetishes, and said that when the people became ill and
died as usual, the originators of it said: “It is because some of the
people have not destroyed all their fetishes.”

Footnote 34:

  See Dr. Bentley’s Appendix to the _Dictionary and Grammar of the Congo
  Language_, 1895, on p. 849, under the word _Kiyoka_.

On the Lower Congo every witch-doctor has a bundle of medicines or
charms (called _ebunda dia mfula_) which is the source of his power and
the spring from which he draws his supplies for making his own great
fetish, and the charms, amulets, and minor fetishes for his clients.
This bundle is a conglomeration of powdered chalk, crushed red pepper,
wood ashes, bits of the skins of strong animals, claws and beaks of
strong birds, heads of snakes, poisonous plants and beans, various
herbs, and any other mess the medicine man can collect together. A
portion of this bundle is put into the head of the fetish image (and
sometimes into the stomach), and becomes the brains, intelligence
(_nkinda_) of the fetish.

When a medicine man uses his fetish on behalf of a client, he takes a
little of the bundle and puts it into a horn or shell and ties it round
his patient’s neck, telling him that while wearing it he must not eat
this or that article of diet, or he must not do certain things. In due
time the medicine man goes to receive his fee, and on receipt of it he
removes the special charm from the neck of his patient, and at the same
time takes off the taboo. If the person does not pay, then the medicine
man leaves him under the taboo, and perhaps adds others. The Congo
medicine man never has any bad debts.

No native thinks the fetish he uses is possessed of divine power, nor
does it represent a deity to him, and he uses no language about it that
would lead one to suppose that for a moment he in his own mind invests
it with divinity. What is the fetish to him? It is something in which a
portion of the _mfula_ bundle has been put which has imparted to it its
own mysterious power—to him any portion of the bundle contains the power
of the whole.

What then is the bundle? It is composed of the skins of strong animals
which are thereby represented, and their combined strength is conserved
in it; there are pieces of the skins of cunning animals, and their
united craftiness and cuteness are imparted to it; there are portions of
strong, swift birds that sail on tireless wings through the air, and
they give to it their power of flight; there are various poisonous
plants and beans that lend their qualities of harming the human body
when used against the enemy of a client; there are beneficial herbs and
powders that are supposed to cure the person who uses it for his
recovery from a disease; and there is generally powdered chalk,
symbolical of brain matter, that gives intelligence to the whole mass. I
do not think the native mind goes farther back than the _bundle_, which
contains for him representations of all those qualities that he fears
and admires, and whose combined forces overawe him. And should he go
beyond that bundle it is only to the animals—the lion, the leopard,
etc., whom he fears; the eagle, the hawk, and the falcon whom he admires
and wonders at for their flight through space; and to those plants and
herbs whose mysterious powers he dreads.

The native supposes that the medicine men have some occult method of so
mixing these qualities and forces together in the bundle that they
become active agents in flying through the air and seeking out the
enemies of their clients, or of destroying those who are bewitching
them, or of curing those who seek their aid. All the medicine men do not
have all the skins, powders, herbs, etc., in their charm bundles, but
each procures what he thinks will make the desired combination for his
purpose. It is quite probable that the medicine men and the more
intelligent natives believe that by mixing the skins, plants, chalk,
etc., in different ways they induce different spirits to take up their
abode in the various fetishes, because they like the mixture prepared
for them, and in thus taking up their residence in them, or being
influenced by them, the medicine men gain power over them.

This view is supported by the following considerations: The fetish when
first made is only a piece of wood and can be bought for a few pence;
but after the witch-doctor has put a portion of the charm bundle into it
the price for it is considerable—from a few shillings to a few
pounds—according to what it is expected to do. Sacrifices are offered,
not to the piece of wood, but to the spirit now dwelling in it, or over
which the charms in it have some influence. These sacrifices range from
an occasional drop of blood from a frog’s foot to a goat every new moon,
the blood of which is poured over the fetish, and the flesh of the
sacrificial goat must not be sold, but eaten by the sacrificer and his
family and friends—the larger the benefits expected, the more costly and
regular the sacrifice. The sacrifices are to keep the spirits in good
humour. The portion of the bundle put into the fetish is after a time
played out, becomes stale, and loses its power of attracting the spirit
to it, i.e. the fetish becomes ineffective, so the owner of it takes it
to a medicine man to have it refreshed by renewing the charms from the
bundle; and then if it is still inactive, i.e., if the owner’s luck is
still bad, or his health continues unsatisfactory, he throws the fetish
on one side and tries the fetish of another branch of the profession,
thinking that the former’s mixture of ingredients has no further power
to attract the spirit to his fetish, or the fetish does not influence
the particular spirit that is able to help him.

The Boloki medicine men have a “bag of tricks” made of very similar
ingredients to the charm bundle, and regarded in much the same way. The
only difference being that on the Lower Congo the witch-doctors largely
use images (called _teke_[35]) into which they put the portions of the
bundle, while among the Boloki the fetish power is imparted to any
article that comes conveniently to hand. During fifteen years’ residence
among the Boloki people I saw only two very crudely made images in use
(they are now in Horniman’s Museum), and those I bought easily for a few
brass rods, showing that they valued them very lightly as receptacles
for fetish power.

Footnote 35:

  The Kiteke people are experts in carving figures of men and women, and
  many of the images so frequently found years ago on the Lower Congo
  received the name _teke_ for that reason. The Bakongo also make their
  own images, but they are cruder than the Kiteke ones.

As already stated, there are nearly fifty different kinds of medicine
men on the Lower Congo, and about eighteen among the Boloki. It is not
to be thought for a moment that all these medicine men sprang
simultaneously into existence, or that they are the product of only one
tribe; they are undoubtedly the evolution of many generations, and a
free appropriation from neighbouring tribes of fetish ceremonies, etc.,
that appealed to them through being made widely known by some famous
medicine man of the time. The Congo native has always been ready to try
a new fetish, hoping thereby to gain some advantage to his fortune and

The following is probably the rise of many branches of the medicine
man’s profession now, or recently, in vogue: A quick-witted, observant
man noticed that a certain herb, or a certain mode of procedure, such as
massage or inducing perspiration by steaming, was beneficial to a
patient suffering from a certain disease. If he had given the herb in a
simple way without any hanky-panky, or had done a little medical rubbing
without any ceremonies, or had given a vapour bath without ostentatious
and mysterious rites, the natives would not have regarded him as a _bona
fide_ medicine man, and he would have procured very little business. In
order to protect his discovery and to draw patients he surrounded it
with the hocus-pocus of fetish rites and ceremonies, and thus started a
new class of “doctors” that had its day. It is more than probable that
many medicine men and their fetishes have risen in power, have had wide
fame and much popular support, have then fallen into disrepute and have
been abandoned in favour of new ones; and, if the truth were known, as
many if not more kinds of medicine men have been forgotten than are now

The following is an account of the rise and fall of one fetish order in
very recent years: A few years ago a medicine man appeared in Portuguese
Congo with a new fetish called _nkisi a kiniambe_ = the divine fetish.
The witch-doctor and his fetish with its high-sounding name visited all
the towns round about San Salvador. The ceremony was a form of communion
prepared with small slices of cassava, pea nuts, and palm-wine. The
recipient had first to pay one string of beads for a child and five
strings for an adult, and he or she confessed all their witchcraft
palavers, i.e. all the evil desires they had in their hearts, for the
sickness or death of anyone. After this confession the medicine man gave
them a piece of cassava, a pea nut, and drop of palm-wine, and he also
gave them a promise that they should never die. When, however, the
recipients died the witch-doctor said it was because they had not made a
full confession of their witchcraft. He and his accomplices reaped a
large sum of money from the natives’ fear of death and the promise of
immunity from it; but the medicine man promised too much, and
consequently his fetish was soon in disrepute and quickly neglected.

While we find a dim knowledge of a Supreme Being among all the Congo
tribes, we also find co-extensive with it an elaborate system of
fetishism, which I would define as those means employed by the Congo
natives for influencing the various spirits by which they believe
themselves to be surrounded, either to act on their own behalf by giving
them good luck and good health, or to act against their enemies by
sending them misfortune, sickness, or death. Their system of belief has
its basis in their fear of those numerous invisible spirits—invisible to
the ordinary man, but not to the medicine man—which are constantly
trying to compass their sickness, misfortune, and death; and the
Boloki’s sole object—and the same may be written of his near and distant
neighbours on the Congo—is to cajole or appease, to cheat or conquer,
and even destroy the troublesome spirits, hence their witch-doctors with
their fetishes, their rites, and ceremonies. If there were no spirits to
be circumvented there would be no need of medicine men as middlemen, and
no need of fetishes as mediums for getting into touch with the spirits.

Theologically speaking, the Congo natives are utterly void of religion,
for they neither worship the Supreme Being nor their fetishes as
representing a deity; but if “the belief in and a measure of obedience
to a potent being or beings not ourselves is an early minimum of
religion,”[36] then the Congo folk are very religious, for they
carefully obey the taboos put on them by their witch-doctors in the name
of their fetishes; they invoke the power of the spirits by exploding
gunpowder around their fetishes, and by whistling to them and beating
them; they try to appease them by frequent sacrifices; and they have
dances about some of the fetishes, during which they call upon them, or
the spirits they influence, to protect their fighting-men and destroy
their enemies.

Footnote 36:

  See Mr. Andrew Lang in _Folk-Lore_ for December, 1911, p. 412.


                              CHAPTER XIX

                      THE BOLOKI WORLD OF SPIRITS

Surrounded by spirits—The soul leaves the body—Dreams—Bewitching
    folk—Losing one’s shadow—Disembodied spirits or ghosts—Ghosts enter
    animals—Deceiving the ghosts—Spirits of disease—Spirit of
    wealth—Spirits of crocodiles—Leopards—Spirits of unborn
    babes—Monsters on the islands—Forest sprites—Cloud-land folk—Spirits
    in spears—In canoes—In trees.

The Boloki folk believe they are surrounded by spirits which try to
thwart them at every twist and turn, and to harm them every hour of the
day and night. The rivers and creeks are crowded with the spirits of
their ancestors, and the forests and bush are full also of spirits, ever
seeking to injure the living who are overtaken by night when travelling
by road or canoe. I never met among them a man daring enough to go at
night through the forest that divided Monsembe from the upper villages,
even though a large reward was offered. Their invariable reply was:
“There are too many spirits in the bush and forest.”

In the following pages I shall attempt to give, as succinctly as
possible, an account of the various spirits that trouble the Boloki
world, their powers and their limitations. The information has been
gathered from various natives in conversation around their fires, or
from talks when travelling with them by canoe and boat; and may be
accepted as reflecting the native opinion respecting those spirits by
which they suppose themselves to be surrounded.

The embodied spirit or soul (_elimo_) is dreaded almost as much as the
other spirits. In dreams the soul visits various scenes, and no matter
how quickly the dreamer is aroused the soul can always return in time to
take its place in the awakened person. With regard to dreams, some of
the natives believe in them, and bad dreams are often accepted as omens
to warn them against going on journeys, and fishing and hunting
expeditions that would be either fruitless or disastrous.

When a person faints, or becomes unconscious, massage with water is
used, and on the patient reviving it is said that the soul has returned.
The soul travels about to bewitch people, and some of their charms are
made on purpose to destroy such wandering spirits. These wicked souls
travelling about with such sinister motives are regarded as witches
worthy only of death, and some of their witch-doctors reap a rich
harvest in trying to kill them. A seriously sick person fancies he sees
a relative or neighbour in a dream, and at once believes that the
witch-soul of his relative has come to throttle the life out of him, so
he pays a witch-doctor a goodly fee to kill the prowling spirit, or
protect him from its malignant assaults.

I noticed that the mouths and nostrils of the recently dead were always
plugged and tied, and to my questions on the subject I always received
the same reply: “The soul of a dying man escapes by his mouth and nose,
so we always tie them in that fashion to keep the spirit, as long as
possible, in the body.”

The shadow of a person, his reflection in water, or in a looking-glass,
and more recently a photograph, is called by a word (_elilingi_) that is
often used interchangeably with the word for soul (_elimo_). They
repeatedly informed me that a “dead person casts no shadow,” and that
therefore he has no soul, hence to say that So-and-so has no shadow is,
with them, equivalent to saying that he has no soul, i.e. that he is
dead. These two words were frequently employed when speaking of the
soul, and also of the shadow of a person; but the word for soul
(_elimo_) is never used for the shadow of a tree, house, animal, etc.,
but they speak of a fallen house or a fallen tree as having no shadow,
i.e. they cast no shadows—a sign that they are dead.

If for some reason a man does not see his shadow reflected when he looks
into some water, he thinks someone has taken his spirit away, and that
he will soon die. Even if at midday he does not see his shadow, because
he is standing on it—the sun being absolutely vertical at noon so near
the Equator—he will go to a witch-doctor, who will make medicine that he
may recover his shadow or soul. I once asked a chief to sit for his
photograph a second time, and he laughingly refused, on the ground that
I had sent his soul once to the white man’s country, and he could not
let me have it again. And it was a considerable time before he consented
to sit again.

The most troublesome spirit, however, with which the native has to
contend is the disembodied spirit (_mongoli_). Directly the soul
(_elimo_) leaves the body it becomes a disembodied spirit (a _mongoli_),
and this distinction should be carefully borne in mind.

It is generally believed that the disembodied spirit of a good man—good
according to the native code of morals—remains in the nether world
(_longa_); but that of a bad man is punished in the nether regions and
driven out. Then if the spirit belongs to a member of a bush-tribe (or
to one whose family originally came from the bush), it will inhabit the
forests or bush-lands, and unless properly appeased by gifts or
conquered by charms it will turn aside animals from the hunting-traps
and try to spoil all hunting operations. If the spirit belongs to a
member of a riverine tribe, then, after being turned out of the nether
world, it haunts the river and creeks and endeavours to hinder
successful fishing. Hence it is no uncommon thing, when a village fails
in its fishing, for the inhabitants to join their brass rods together to
buy an old man or old woman—old and therefore cheap—and throw him (or
her) into the river to conciliate the water-spirits. Hence, also, all
the care taken by a fisherman to conceal his name while fishing under
the general term _mwele_,[37] lest the disembodied spirit of an enemy
should hear it and, recognizing him, keep all the fish from his traps
and nets.

Footnote 37:

  The natives can give no meaning to this word, and from their use of it
  to hide a name it is something like our phrase: Mr. So-and-so.

Sometimes these spirits can be heard walking through the forests, and
the noise they make is called _bie-bie_; and at times they visit the
town and cause “a rustling in the grass roofs, as though searching for a
place through which to drive their spears.” The land and water are full
of these disembodied spirits, hence the timorous folk are afraid to
travel by night. Certain witch-doctors can see these spirits, and when
they are mischievous they pretend to capture them and secure them in
saucepans and calabashes.

Men may become the mediums by which these spirits hold communication
with the living, generally to the advantage of the medium, as the
following incident will illustrate: Baloli, the head-man of his family,
died, and was buried in the usual way. Some time afterwards his younger
brother, Mangumbe, became subject to frenzies, during which his brother
Bololi spoke his oracles through him. Mangumbe admired and coveted the
wives of a certain man in his town and tried to buy them, and failing in
that he desired to exchange others for them, but their husband refused
all offers.

One day Mangumbe worked himself into a frenzy, and when he was supposed
to be under the influence of his brother’s spirit he said that a certain
man (giving the name of the man whose wives he coveted) must get rid of
his wives or they would cause his death by a serious and fatal illness.
Then Mangumbe went to a friend and told him to treat with the husband
for the wives. The husband, now thoroughly afraid of his wives, was
quite willing to sell them at a cheaper price than Mangumbe had
previously offered for them. By this cunning trick he became the owner
of the women he wanted.


  _Photo by: Rev. C. J. Dodds_
  At the time the picture was taken the folk were dispirited by heavy
    taxes and many deaths, hence the neglected appearance of the houses.
    Meeting the demands of the taxes in food, etc., left them little or
    no time to look after their own affairs. These taxes are better
    adjusted now to the number and condition of the people.

On one occasion Mangumbe wanted to buy my arm-chair. I told him the
price as a bit of information, as I had no intention of selling the
chair. He doubted my word. I told him that I had heard that he held
communication with his brother’s spirit, and if he wanted to know the
price of goods in England he had better ask his brother’s spirit to go
there, learn all it could, and come back and inform him of the prices of
the various articles. Mangumbe shook his head sadly and said: “His
spirit cannot travel so far, it keeps just around this district only.”

The people firmly believed that Mangumbe held counsel with his brother’s
spirit, and when he acted as a medium they were quite willing to accept
all that he said. Ordinarily he was little respected by the people; he
was of mean appearance and of petty, shabby ways, and had no command
even over his own people, and yet when acting as a medium in a _séance_
he was feared, obeyed, and his word received without the slightest

When a spirit is speaking through a person, who is usually a member of
the disembodied spirit’s family, the medium does not always talk in the
language of the present day, but in the archaic language known only to
the old people. When the medium is a youngish man, i.e. one not familiar
with the ancient language, he then expresses his oracles in the ordinary
speech, but with sufficient of the archaic forms to lend mystery to the

I have seen the medium work himself into a frenzy, shout, tremble all
over, his muscles quiver, his body undulates, perspiration breaks out on
his forehead, and foam gathers about his mouth, and his eyes roll; and
when thoroughly under the spell of the spirit he gives utterance to
oracles that are implicitly believed by the people. All these _séances_
are performed in the open and in broad daylight, the medium sometimes
sitting alone in the centre of a crowd; but when much agitated and
swaying considerably, he has one or two of his wives near to catch him
should he fall.

Sometimes one of these spirits takes possession of a hippopotamus and
visits the towns on the river-banks, and when that occurs the family to
whom the spirit is supposed to belong puts a small saucepan of
sugar-cane wine and a little food for its refreshment on its nightly
visit; and as the food and wine are both gone in the morning (there are
plenty of dogs about), the natives assured me that the spirit in the
animal had partaken of them. The spirit also, at times, enters a
crocodile and visits a town; but the hippopotamus is the more common

On one occasion a hippopotamus came off our beach for a few nights. I
could only hear it, as it was too dark to see it; but on the chance of
wounding it fatally I fired in the direction of the sound. I fired on
two successive nights, and during the next day some natives came and
told me that that particular hippopotamus was possessed by the spirit of
a member of such and such a family, and that the said spirit had sent a
message to the head of the family, telling him that he was to inform me
that I should only waste my bullets as it was impossible to kill a
spirit-possessed hippopotamus, and asking him to request me not to fire
again, as he (the hippopotamus) only wanted to visit the town peaceably
for his offering of sugar-cane wine and food.

I told them that I would have another shot or two; but they assured me
that I should not hit it. They did not doubt my marksmanship, as they
had seen me bring down many birds on the wing, and they knew that I
scarcely ever went to shoot monkeys and guinea-fowls without bringing
one or more back with me. They did not doubt my skill with the gun, but
they doubted the power of a bullet to kill a spirit-possessed animal.

The hippopotamus, however, never came again, consequently I had no
further opportunity of testing the point at issue. I was much interested
in learning from this incident that spirits not only took possession of
hippopotami, but could thus communicate with their living relatives.

According to the native idea these spirits (_mingoli_) are everywhere,
and are ever ready to pounce on any living person, and either carry him
away captive or inflict a disease on him, or kill him; consequently his
life is one long drawn-out fear of what the spirits may next do to him;
and his many witch-doctors, fetishes, and ceremonies are to control,
appease, circumvent, and perhaps conquer the spirits. The spirit of a
deceased enemy can inflict an illness on a family, a member of which had
wronged him when in the body. Fortunately, these spirits are limited in
the area of their operations and can be deceived. The witch-doctor can
cork them up in calabashes, can cover them with saucepans, and when
necessary, if the fee is large enough, he can destroy them.

A man I knew well was sick for a long time with some internal complaint,
and after other means had failed to cure him he was told by a
witch-doctor that he was troubled by a bad spirit, and he advised him to
go right out of the district beyond the sphere of its operations and
remain there until he was better. The man had no friends to whom he
might have safely gone, so he left his house at dead of night, taking
only two of his wives with him, and telling no one of his destination
lest the spirit should hear it. He went as far as he safely could from
his own town and donned a woman’s dress, and assuming a woman’s voice he
pretended to be other than he was, in order to deceive the spirit should
it search for him.

This also failed to cure him, and in time he returned to his town, but
continued to dress and speak as a woman, and every time he ate or drank
he first scattered a portion of his food and drink behind him for the
spirit to eat, and eating be appeased. The food best liked by these
spirits is the heart of any animal, but it must be boiled, minced, and
mixed with cassava.

The witch-doctor can see the disembodied spirits, and those persons who
have the occult power (called _likundu_) can also see them. The natives
tell me that these spirits are like people in appearance—they come into
view, pass, and are lost to sight like ordinary beings. They have quiet
voices, and eat monkey peppers (_amomum_), and drink sugar-cane wine;
but if the stems of the monkey pepper are put across a path the spirits
cannot pass over them. It is a curious belief that these spirits may eat
the fruit of the monkey pepper, and yet cannot step over the stalks of
the same plant. On the Lower Congo red peppers are used for the same
purpose of blocking a road to spirits; and in ancient Britain the red
holly berries were used for keeping evil spirits out of the huts and
houses of those who feared them.

There are indications that the sight of the spirit is very defective,
but its hearing is very keen, consequently a man’s name is never
mentioned while he is fishing, for fear the spirits will hear and turn
the fish from his traps. One would think that if the spirits can see and
recognize a fish they could also recognize a fisherman; but there are
many gaps in native logic.

As the spirit of a bush-man is supposed to wander in the bush after
leaving the nether world, any human offering made to appease it is
buried on the edge of the forest; but an offering to the spirit of a
riverine man is thrown into the water.

These offerings are made with the object of gaining the good-will of a
father or grandfather; but there is no ancestral worship, as beyond the
fourth generation the ancestors are forgotten, or are regarded as being
ineffective in their anger. There is no regularity in these offerings,
but they are made when other means have failed to avert a calamity, such
as the flooding of a river, or to ensure a positive good, such as a
large catch of fish.

A homicide is not afraid of the spirit of the man he has killed when the
slain man belongs to any of the neighbouring towns, as disembodied
spirits travel in a very limited area only; but when he kills a man
belonging to his own town he is filled with fear lest the spirit shall
do him some harm. There are no special rites that he can observe to free
himself from these fears, but he mourns for the slain man as though he
were a member of his own family. He neglects his personal appearance,
shaves his head, fasts for a certain period, and laments with much

Abnormal events are often placed to the credit of the spirit of a man
recently deceased. A few hours after the death of a young man whom I
knew a furious storm broke on the town, blowing down plantain trees and
working great havoc in the farms. It was stated in all seriousness by
the folk that the storm had been sent by Mopembe, the lad’s name. We had
for dinner one day the shoulder of an antelope, the history of which
will further illustrate the above statement: Three days before we had
that piece of antelope on our table, Mumbamba, an old head-man, died.
After his death his relatives came from various towns to mourn at his
grave. On the morning of our antelope dinner three canoes of men and
women were coming up-river, with the object of expressing their grief at
the grave, when they happened upon a large antelope caught in the grass
of an islet that had lodged against a fallen tree in the river. The
mourners killed the antelope, dragged it into the canoe, and gave
Mumbamba the credit of sending them an antelope to eat as an expression
of his favour; thus spirits can send good as well as evil upon those who
are left on the earth.

We find, then, among the Boloki three words for soul, spirit, and ghost.
The first, _elimo_, is the embodied soul that is able to leave the body
during sleep, it visits people and places in dreams, travels about, and
performs actions, as throttling an enemy. This, I believe, is the only
word they have for soul. There is then the _elilingi_, a shadow, shade,
reflection that a dead man, or dead thing, does not possess, and a
living man can lose and have restored by a witch-doctor, and this word
is also used in a restricted sense as being synonymous with _elimo_.
And, lastly, there is _mongoli_, a disembodied soul, a spirit, a ghost
of the bush, forest, and water that sends evil and good upon the
living—more often evil than good—which it is necessary to appease with
offerings of food, of trade goods, and of human beings.

The natives are subject to various serious sicknesses which they think
are caused by spirits, and each sickness has its own spirit (or _bwete_,
plural, _mēte_), hence the native names[38] for debility, anæmia,
rheumatism, sciatica, ague fevers, and sleeping-sickness are not only
the names of diseases, but really denote the names of those spirits
responsible for sending them. They cannot tell me from whence these
spirits emanate, but the only means of luring them out of the body of
the patient is to set up for some of them specially prepared posts, for
others a saucepan of small sticks, and again for others a saucepan of
medicine water.

Footnote 38:

  See Appendix, Note 5, p. 345, for the native names of the diseases.

For debility, rheumatism, sciatica, and ague they erect a post (called
_etoli_) about 4 feet long, peeled of its bark, shaped to a point at one
end, and daubed with yellow pigment; this is marked with red and blue
spots, and stuck upright in the ground with about 2 feet 6 inches
showing. For the spirit of sleeping-sickness they prepare a saucepan in
which they put small sticks, and the whole is decorated with yellow,
red, and blue spots and stripes. For the spirit of another form of
sleeping-sickness a saucepan of bush-water is prepared, and the pot
ornamented with various colours. The saucepan of sticks is called
_muntoka_, and that of the bush-water is called _eboko_. The latter is
broken, as described in another chapter, by a badly treated slave, or an
ill-used wife, to obtain redress for his or her wrongs.

These decorated fetish posts and saucepans often have little shelters
built over them which are coloured with various paints, and every time
the owner takes a meal he throws some of his food on the roof of his
house for the spirits to eat. From time to time he pours sugar-cane wine
over the posts, or into the saucepans. There is no ancestral worship in
this, but an appeasing of the spirits of the diseases. Not to make these
offerings is to invite a return of the spirit or spirits to the body of
the owner, i.e. to have a relapse. I have known a man to have four of
these posts and saucepans. This indicated that he had had several
complaints, or had had his one and only complaint wrongly diagnosed.
Persons who have never suffered from these serious illnesses, and they
are numerous, never trouble to prepare either a saucepan or a post.

When there is much sickness in a family, not confined to one or two
members only, but a kind of family epidemic, it is said to be caused by
a spirit (named _mweta_) left, or sent, by a deceased relative as a
punishment for failing to observe some fetish taboo, or for not having
shown due respect for the deceased when he was buried by having a proper
ceremony, or for not keeping his memory alive by occasional mimic fights
on land or water, or by the gifts of brass rods and slaves. Sometimes
the family is conscious that they have properly observed all these
things, and then they know that their deceased relative has sent the
spirit of family sickness maliciously, or through jealousy of their
apparent prosperity.

These spirits, when they are troubling a family, can be driven into
animals by the witch-doctor and killed by him; and as a proof of his
prowess he will exhibit a bleeding head, and assure the family that they
need no longer worry as he has killed the animal which was possessed by
the spirit, and it is therefore punished, killed, and will not bother
them again. Sometimes the witch-doctor will drive the spirit into a
saucepan, or calabash, and either kill it or imprison it.

The Boloki man, like folk of other climes and colour, is not averse to
wealth, so he has his spirit for giving wealth (called _ejo_). Now a man
who desires to become rich pays a large fee to a certain kind of
witch-doctor, who then uses his influence with the spirit on behalf of
his client, who must in all future gains set apart a portion for it; but
should he fail to do so, the spirit has power to punish him. The goods
are given to the witch-doctor to pass on to the spirit.

This spirit can assume any shape it pleases, and entice a person down to
the river, where it returns suddenly to its proper form and jumps into
the river with the enticed person. This person is then either killed by
the spirit, or held at ransom for a slave or his equivalent. How the
ransom is paid no one could tell me, although I put the question to
various natives at different times. The person thus enticed is he who
has not paid his proper dues to the spirit.

When a person has received the medicine or charm of this spirit, and has
become wealthy by its luck-giving power, he takes the nail-parings and
hair-cuttings[39] of a woman and makes medicine with them; the woman
then quickly dies, and her spirit goes to the wealth-giving spirit as an
offering for its help. He is said to pass her on as a gift to the spirit
of wealth. If a man is saved, when a canoe is swamped and his companions
are all drowned, he is regarded as having given them to the spirit
(_ejo_) to save his own life. Should a man be successful in fishing or
trading without any apparent reason, and shortly after his success his
wife falls ill and dies, he is said to have given his wife to this
spirit as an acknowledgment of his increased wealth. The ordeal is often
administered to prove or disprove these accusations; but marvellous
stories are told about the wealth-giving power of this spirit, and as
only rich men can afford to pay the fee to the witch-doctor in the first
instance, the fact of their wealth fosters the superstition.

Footnote 39:

  This is one of the reasons why a person always hides his, or her,
  nail-parings and hair-cuttings, as “powerful medicine” can be made
  with them to the disadvantage of the owner.

That some men are stronger than others in wrestling, and able to
overcome those who try to hold them, is well recognized by the natives,
but instead of its being an indication of greater strength and fitness
it is placed to the credit of a spirit (called _embanda_). When this
spirit takes possession of a man it enables him to throw his enemy; it
strengthens the legs of its possessor, and weakens by pain the legs of
its owner’s opponent. He who possesses this spirit is always successful
in capturing one or more prisoners in a fight, and can cause the death
of many members of any family he hates.

The word _jando_ stands for the peculiar characteristics of the animal
to which it is prefixed, i.e. a man successful in fishing is said to
have the peculiarities of a crocodile, for this creature is regarded as
being quick in catching fish; and a person swift and cunning in fight
and flight has the qualities of a leopard. These qualities or spirits
are not gained by eating either of these creatures, but are procured,
for a few, from the witch-doctor by some occult intercourse with the
crocodile and leopard. It is also affirmed by the natives that a person
can become so possessed by the spirit (_jando_) of a crocodile or of a
leopard that he will let himself loose occasionally on his neighbours,
and thus preying in spirit on them many will die.

One of the functions of the disembodied spirits is to supply certain
places in the forests, or trees, or creeks with the spirits that are to
enter unborn children. These spirits of unborn children (called
_bingbongbo_) can make boys and girls thin and weak, but are to be
appeased by the proper kind of medicine man preparing a suitable feast
for them. These spirits are supposed to crowd the pools in the forests,
the shallow ponds on the islands, the many creeks of the river, and even
to people the great bombax trees to be found here and there along the
river’s bank. Every family has its own special preserves (called
_liboma_) where the spirits are waiting for bodies in which to appear as

Next to the spirits in the terror they cause to the natives is a
mythical monster (_engenenge_) inhabiting the islands. He is represented
as having many heads and no body, and is greatly dreaded by those who
have to camp on the islands during fishing and travelling; and the
natives tell many stories of visits they have received from him. Next to
this many-headed monster is a mythical person or spirit (named
_nyandembe_) who is mentioned in the folk-lore stories as having caused
the death of Libanza’s father, but was eventually killed by him as a
punishment. He is thought by the natives to have been very strong and
rich; but being dead he is no longer feared.

There is a race of folk who live somewhere above, as the word indicates
(_ba_ = people, and _likolo_ = above), but up-river and all the country
east of them is also called _likolo_; and it is most probable that the
word _likolo_ in the above phrase had originally that meaning, but as
the natives pushed their journeys higher and higher up the river and
heard of peoples like themselves still higher up, they removed the
_balikolo_ from a locality beyond their district to a place _above them_
in the sky.

These Cloud-folk are said to have tails, and are very fond of ripe
plantains, and in the folk-lore stories they descend on the banana farms
solely to eat and carry off the ripe fruit. There is a legend that the
Boloki people bought their first fire[40] from the Cloud-folk in
exchange for a young woman. Previously to that “we cooked our food in
the sun, or ate it quite raw.” These Cloud-land folk are not regarded as
spirits, but the natives always speak of them as a great nuisance, and
as something uncanny and in possession of supernatural power.

Footnote 40:

  See also the folk-lore story, “The punishment of the inquisitive man,”
  page 205.

There is a class of supernatural beings that inhabits the forest and
bush (named _baijamba_ = people of the bush). They are often appealed to
in the folk stories to decide what a person should or should not eat;
and also to judge on a point of etiquette or custom. They are not looked
upon with much dread, and no one speaks of them as having done any harm
to the folk who visit the forests. They seem to be friendly spirits, or
sprites, that are always at hand when wanted, and they just as readily
give their verdict in favour of a mean trick as support a ruse to outwit
the meanness.

When a man is under the sway of the disembodied spirit he takes his
spear and, tying some dried plantain leaves to it, he holds it before
him with his left hand; and as he trembles with the excitement of the
spirits in him the spear shakes and rustles the leaves until the spirits
go out of him into the spear, and it then becomes a fetish spear and his
luck is bound up in it. This spear, henceforth, may not be touched by
anyone but himself, and it is carefully guarded by its owner, for to
lose it is to fail in all his undertakings. These spirits are passed
into hunting-spears, fighting-spears, and fish-spears, and although they
are especially effectual in their own particular line, they also have a
general influence on the man’s luck. It is also asserted that a rich man
who has the spirit of wealth (_ejo_) passes that spirit into his canoe,
and this enables him to make successful trading expeditions and other
journeys to his own advantage.

I found only one tree that is supposed to have a spirit, and that is the
tree used for ordeal purposes. When a person wants to take the rootlets
of the ordeal tree (_nka_), he first selects the tree, then spreads a
leaf on the closed fist of his left hand, and strikes it with the palm
of his right hand. If the leaves on the tree tremble in response, he
knows the tree is strong and fit to use; but if they remain quiescent,
it is a sign that the ordeal property (_nka_) is weak and unfit for its
purpose, so another tree is sought, until he finds one that responds in
sympathy to the striking of the leaf.

The life of the native, surrounded as he is by all these various
spirits, would be intolerable, unthinkably so, were it not for his many
witch-doctors, who have power to control the spirits, and even kill
them, and his many charms that protect him from their many malignant
designs, or enlist their power on behalf of the wearers and users of
them. Which came first—a belief in the spirits, or the witch-doctors to
circumvent them? I am disposed to think that the witch-doctors are
largely responsible for the creation of these various spirits to account
for their numerous failures in warding off sickness and death. With
these witch-doctors, however, we must deal in another chapter.


                               CHAPTER XX

                      MEDICINE MEN AND THEIR MAGIC

Number of medicine men—How to become a witch-doctor—Mayeya and his long
    dive—Makwata and his talking spear—A simple trick—Female
    witch-doctors—Three kinds of witchcraft—Discredited
    witch-doctors—Fear of the witch-doctors.

There is not so great a variety of medicine men (_nganga_)[41] among the
Boloki as among the Bakongo of the Lower Congo, nor is the _modus
operandi_ of bewitching people and of removing the witchcraft so well
defined. Among the Boloki the medicine man is much in evidence, but he
is not regarded with much awe or respect. The office is hereditary, and
it is difficult for a person to become a medicine man who has not
already a near relative in the profession. The old medicine man teaches
his son the tricks of his trade free of all charges; and when a novice
is considered efficient he undergoes the following test: Something is
hidden and he has to find it, and having discovered the secreted article
he must then perform a magic ceremony, such as killing an animal
possessed by a spirit—a trick he has easily learned from his father, and
after that he blossoms out as a fully qualified medicine man.

Footnote 41:

  _Nganga_ means medicine man, witch-doctor, doctor, wizard, soothsayer,
  sorcerer, magician, etc.

If a person in whose family there has been a medicine man desires to
join the profession he goes to an old witch-doctor, and on paying a
heavy fee he is taught as though he were a son, but he must pass the
usual tests as above; if, however, a person in whose family there has
never been a medicine man wishes to join the profession, he is deterred
from so doing by being told that he must first kill all the members of
his family by witchcraft, as offerings to that spirit (_mweta_) of the
particular branch he desires to join. This results in the man refusing
to become a witch-doctor, and even if he were so callous as to still
wish it, his family would not allow him to proceed, as they believe they
would fall victims to his witchcraft. Thus the secrets of the profession
are retained in a very few families. Still, I have known a slave
belonging to a Boloki man become a great medicine man by pretending to
perform a wonderful feat, which was as follows:

Mayeya, for that was the man’s name, went one day with a lad in a canoe
across the river. By and by the lad returned without Mayeya, and on
being asked where he was, the lad replied: “Mayeya fell from the canoe
into the river, and since then I have not seen him.”

Seven days after this Mayeya walked up from the river into the town
dressed in his best cloth, etc. The people gathered around him asking
him where he had been, and he solemnly informed them that he had been
under the river for the whole of the seven days, consulting with the
water-spirits, and that now he was a witch-doctor. The people believed
in him, and flocked to him with cases from all the neighbouring
villages, towns, and districts, and by his many and large fees he became
so wealthy that he was able to pay ten men and two women—one woman is
equal in price to four men—for his ransom, and then became a slave-owner
himself and a man of wealth.

One day I heard Mayeya boasting outside my house of the seven days he
had spent under the water in company with the water-spirits; so going to
him I said: “Mayeya, I hear you have lived under the river for seven

“Yes,” he said, “I have.”

“Well,” I replied, “I will give you five thousand brass rods”—the
currency of that district—“if you will remain under the water here in
front of my house while I count them.”

He answered: “I cannot do it just now, but I will return on another day
and do it for you.” Whenever I met Mayeya after that I always reminded
him of his promise to stop under the river while I counted the rods.

The people at last used to urge him to accept my challenge and offer of
5000 brass rods. They argued with him, saying: “You have remained under
the water for seven days, surely you can stay under it while the white
man counts five thousand, for you know he counts very quickly. Go and
get your five thousand rods, and then you will be able to buy two more

Mayeya, however, put them off with first one excuse and then another,
until at last they chaffed him about it, laughed at him, and expressed
the doubt as to whether he had stayed under the water half a day, much
less seven whole days and nights.

As he still continued to make excuses the natives lost faith in him, his
practice fell off, and the last I saw of Mayeya was his coming to borrow
of me 100 brass rods, for he was in difficulties. To his request I
replied: “No, you have cheated many people out of their money, and done
to death many a person by your false accusations of witchcraft; I will
not lend you a single brass rod, but there are five thousand waiting for
you if you will only remain under the water while I count them.”

I was seated one day among some natives when they began to talk of the
wonderful things Makwata (who was present) could do in making his spear
shake and talk.

Now I never laughed at the pretensions of the natives, no matter how
absurd they might be, nor did I ridicule their views, thoughts, and
expressions. Perhaps that was the reason why they spoke so frankly to
me, and tried to explain their ideas about things in general. I always
dealt with them seriously and sympathetically.

I turned to Makwata and asked him whether he could do the wonderful
things his companions were talking about or not. He very emphatically
asserted that he could “make his spear shake and talk.”


  _Photo by_: _Rev. R. H. Kirkland_
  Spirits causing sickness have been driven out of the patients into
    this hut, where food is thrown to them. The sticks forming the walls
    are dyed red, and ornamented with yellow spots. The elegance of the
    hut and the daily sprinkling of food help to make the spirits
    contented with the place.

“I suppose,” I said, “you will stand near the spear, or put the spear in
a lot of grass.”

“No,” he replied, “I will stick my spear on the bank by the river, and I
will sit here.”

“Very good,” I answered; “I will give you five hundred rods if you do

“I can do it in my town,” he asserted, “but not here.”

“All right,” I said; “I am coming to visit your town next Sunday, and
will bring the rods with me.” But when I went to the town at the
appointed time, Makwata was not there; he had, however, left me a
message to say that he would bring his spear up to Monsembe and do the
wonderful performance there.

Several weeks passed away, and while talking to some natives on the
verandah of my house I saw Makwata pass, so I called to him and asked if
he had brought his talking spear, for the 500 rods were ready.

“No,” he replied, “I have not brought my spear.”

Turning to my native companions I said: “Your witch-doctors will never
do their tricks before me, although I offer them many brass rods; but my
wife and I will do a trick before you without payment. I will put three
articles on the verandah, my wife shall go into her bedroom, and when
she comes out she will tell you which article you touched.”

“Oh, no!” they said in chorus; “she is not able to do that.”

The articles were arranged in a line, my wife went to her room, one of
the things was touched, and she came and pointed out which they had
touched. “Let her do it again,” they requested. It was done again and
again, until one young man thought he had fathomed the trick, and he,
with much excitement, said: “Mama looks through the window. Let someone
go into the room with her.”

“Certainly,” I at once acceded to their request, and two native women
accompanied my wife, and on their return the natives asked: “Did Mama
look through the window?”

“Oh, no,” the women replied; “she went right to the other side of the

My friends were nonplussed. They could not see through the trick, and
many came in ones and twos afterwards and asked me how many fowls or
goats did I want to teach them the trick. They never again boasted in my
presence of what their witch-doctors could do.

There are some quasi “doctors.” Men and women who have recovered from a
serious complaint set up to cure that particular sickness. They use
massage with hot or cold water, or no water at all, and simple herbs,
and there is no doubt that they do a considerable amount of good.

There are female witch-doctors who perform the same rites as the male
ones, such as the witch-doctors who conduct their ceremonies either
enclosed in a mat or out in the open; but the one who cures anæmia and
debility, makes the necessary “medicine” for pregnant women, attends
confinements, and takes certain cases of sickness among men is always a
female. Each is more or less famous in his own line, and with one or two
exceptions rarely goes beyond his own limits.

There is the general practitioner, who is not a specialist as the other
medicine men are. He is regarded, however, as knowing more than the
others, with the exception of the one who performs in a mat. He uses all
kinds of herbs, prepares the different charms for warding off diseases,
and cures divers complaints; but he never attempts to exorcise spirits
or to find witches. He is called by the natives _nganga ya mono_, i.e.
the medicine man who uses medicines, herbs, or charms. His fees are
comparatively small, and he is consulted in the first stages of an
illness in the hope that he will be able to effect a cure, and thus save
the larger fees demanded by other branches of the profession.

When rain is falling, and for some reason or other it is not desirable,
the rain-doctor takes a small leaf and puts it on the closed fist of his
left hand, and extending the arm in the direction from which the rain is
coming he waves it to and fro in a semicircle; he then strikes the leaf
with the open palm of the right hand, and should the leaf burst at the
first smack the rain will stop in “one paddling,” i.e. the time paddlers
paddle on one side of a large canoe before changing to the other
side—this is about twenty minutes; if the leaf does not burst at the
first smack but at the second, then the rain will not stop for “two
paddlings,” i.e. forty minutes, and so on; but if the leaf does not
burst at all after repeated slaps, then the rain will not stop for a
very long time. When rain is threatening, this ceremony is performed in
order to ascertain how long it will be before the rain will fall. If the
leaf breaks at the first blow the rain will begin to fall in twenty
minutes, and so on to two blows and three blows. They will start a
journey or remain at home according to the indications of this
performance. The lads have often asked me to postpone a journey because
the divination of the leaf predicted rain.

When a storm threatens to break during the funeral festivities of a man
the people present will call the beloved child of the deceased, and
giving him (or her) a lighted ember from the hearth with a vine twined
round it, they will ask him to stop the rain. The lad steps forward and
waves the vine-encircled ember towards the horizon where the storm is
rising, and says: “Father, let us have fine weather during your funeral
ceremonies.” The son after this rite must not drink water—he may drink
sugar-cane wine—nor put his feet in water for one day. Should he not
observe these prohibitions the rain will fall at once.

When it is desirable to have rain the native takes down from the shelf
some sticks which have “medicine” bound round them and plunges them into
water mixed with arrowroot leaves, and then the rain will soon begin to
fall. It is rarely that they have to resort to the rain-doctor to bring
rain, as the rains fall with great regularity all the year round; they
employ him more frequently to predict when the rain will stop, or to
stop it with his charms. On the Upper Congo throwing salt on the fire
will cause a superabundance of rain to fall, but on the Lower Congo salt
is a charm for stopping the rain.

When a family is troubled with much sickness or frequent deaths the
medicine man of the mat (_nganga ya bwaka_) is engaged, who, on his
arrival, puts some stakes in the ground and ties a mat round them, thus
making an enclosure in which he sits while performing his ceremonies. A
string is stretched from the roof of his client’s house to one of the
stakes of this mat enclosure, and the end of the string drops inside;
dried plantain leaves, twigs, etc., dangle from the string, and outside
the mat sit some young men and lads with drums and horns, and the
various folk interested in the rites stand or sit around.

When all is ready the medicine man enters his enclosure and pulling the
string, he shakes the leaves and the lads beat their drums and blow
their horns, and the men and women sitting around chant a chorus in
admirable time. Directly the leaves stop shaking the drummers and
singers understand it as a sign for them to remain quiet. The medicine
man then begins to speak to the various spirits, and answers himself in
assumed voices, thus pretending to hold conversations with them. As
often as he feels tired with his efforts he shakes the leaves, and the
drums are beaten, and the folk chant until he has recovered his breath,
whereupon he starts the pseudo-conversations again. These conversations
he maintains through the whole day (sometimes for two or three days),
but generally towards the afternoon of the second day he comes out of
the enclosure holding a bleeding head in his hand, and assures the
family that he has killed the animal in which the troublesome spirit was
residing, and now the family will no more be afflicted with sickness and
death. To vary the ceremony the medicine man sometimes rushes out of the
enclosure into a house, or behind a house, or into the adjacent bush as
though in chase of something, and he returns with a bleeding head, and
says that he has slain the spirit-possessed animal.

It is this medicine man who searches for the witch (_moloki_) in the
family of the sick one. If a layman charges another with witchcraft the
accused can demand that the accuser shall drink the ordeal with him; but
if this witch-doctor charges a person with witchcraft he himself will
not take the ordeal, and no one expects him to do so. The accused must
take the ordeal alone, and should he (or she) fall repeatedly he is
condemned, and is left either to die as the result of the large doses of
ordeal or is hung on a tree. The corpse is left unburied—it is the body
of a witch, the most hated being in all Congoland.

This medicine man of the mat in killing a spirit troubling a family
works hard and earns his money. After spending several hours a day in
the mat discussing with the spirits and trying to discover which is
menacing the family, he at last decides on one, and when the right
moment arrives the medicine man makes a terrific noise inside the mat,
as though he were fighting for his life. Shouts, screams, derisive
laughter, whacks, thuds, and smacks proceed from the interior of the
mat, and at last the witch-doctor rushes out panting and sweating
profusely, holding in his hand a bleeding head, and declaring that he
has killed the animal possessed by the particular spirit that was
troubling the family. With the bleeding head he rushes to the river and
throws it far out into the running water. The family is supposed now to
recover its health, the medicine man pulls down his mats, receives his
fee, and departs.

What is the bleeding head? On one occasion some of our school lads
chased one of these medicine men who came from his mat with a bleeding
head. He ran for the river, but they headed him off, and in desperation
he ran to a pool of water and threw the head into it. The boys entered
the water, and bringing it out they found it was a lizard’s head. On
another occasion it was a rat’s head. Thus the family had paid a big fee
to have a rat or lizard killed, and the bleeding neck shown to them. Up
to that time the folk had always believed that it was some mysterious
animal which the medicine man dug up from the ground inside his mat,
killed by his occult power and threw into the river so that it could
never more harm his clients.

This medicine man who operates in a mat is the most feared and respected
of all the witch-doctors. It is believed that he can see the disembodied
spirits, i.e. ghosts, also the souls of people, and the different
spirits of disease, and hold communication with them. He bottles in
calabashes or imprisons in saucepans the local spirits that will
otherwise hinder the hunters trapping the wild animals; he makes the
dogs keen hunters with his charms and medicines; he gives the reasons
for the floods, and indicates the best way to cause them to subside; and
he also has very close dealings with the spirit of wealth.

There is another class of medicine men that scorns to perform its
ceremonies inside a mat, but practises its craft in the open before all
the people. These are called (_nganga ya libanda_) medicine men of the
open, outside. A family suffering from much sickness has called in one
medicine man after another without experiencing relief, and they may
have had even the “mat witch-doctor” and felt no better after having
paid him his large fee, so now they try again with this one who works in
the open.

He arrives dressed in monkey skins, bush-cat skins, etc., and well
decorated with charms. Men beat drums, sing chants and choruses; the
medicine man dances about, working himself into a frenzy. He peers here,
there, everywhere, looking for the spirit that is troubling the family.
He sees it in a plantain tree, hurls his spear at it, but no, he misses
it; he sees it on the roof of a house and away darts the spear, only to
miss it again. He prods his spear into the different parts of the
outside of the house, but he misses the elusive spirit every time; he
is, however, working it towards the doorway. At last the spirit takes
refuge in the house, the medicine man springs forward with alacrity,
enters the house, darts his spear in all directions, yelling loudly and
screaming terrifically; then a frightful cry is heard, and in a few
moments the medicine man comes out with the blade of his spear well
smeared with blood. He has killed the spirit, or rather the animal
possessed by the spirit.

I have often watched this performance, and they always killed these
animals possessed by spirits _in_ the house. I often wondered why, and
from whence came the blood on the spear. The son of one of these
medicine men told us that when his father wanted blood to smear over his
spear-head, he dug his finger-nail into his gum and procured from thence
the blood for the purposes of this trick. On showing the spear thus
stained with blood he asserted that he had destroyed the spirit that was
troubling the family, he received his fee, and went. The semi-darkness
of the native hut rendered a trick of this kind quite possible.

We have seen in the preceding chapter on spirits that certain spirits
cause certain diseases, and that the names of many diseases are really
the names of those spirits that are supposed to cause them. To deal with
the spirit of extreme debility there are “doctors,” who are always
women, and these are engaged to treat both men and women suffering from
this complaint. The “doctor” in dealing with this spirit dances, chants,
and shakes a rattle, until the patient says he has the spirit (_bwete_)
of debility stirring in him; he knows it by the way it jerks and sways
his body. The medicine woman prepares the post (_etoli_) and invites the
spirit to go and reside in it and not trouble the patient any more.

These female “doctors” attend the women of certain totem families, whose
children five days after birth have their ears pierced; such families
are supposed to be patronized by a parturition spirit (_bwete bwa
boweya_) that will help the child to grow strong, fat, and healthy if
its ears are pierced on the fifth day with the proper dance and
ceremony; but will cause the child’s death if the mother when _enceinte_
does not use the proper medicines under the guidance of this female
“doctor,” or does not have its ears pierced in the proper way.

When a man is troubled with a sickness which has failed to yield to
other means, or one in whose family there has been a death and he cannot
afford to hire a witch-finder, he goes to a medicine man whose fee is
comparatively small, for his operations are simple and his paraphernalia
small. He, on being hired, brings out his fetish saucepan of water, and
placing it in a good position he pours some sugar-cane wine by its side,
for souls or embodied spirits are very fond of this drink. He then calls
the spirits by putting a leaf on the closed fist of the left hand and
striking it with the palm of the right hand; thereupon they show
themselves one by one in the fetish saucepan (_likenge_), into which
only the witch-doctor is allowed to look.

A spirit appears, turns, and shows its face when challenged to do so,
and shakes its head negatively, and as the showing of the face is
regarded as a proof that it belongs to an innocent person, it is told to
pass. By and by a spirit appears in the saucepan that persistently
refuses to show its face after being repeatedly ordered to do so by the
medicine man, therefore he stabs it with a splinter of bamboo, and the
owner of that spirit, who is the witch, is now supposed to die very
soon, and thus release this medicine man’s client from its malign
influence. It is interesting to note that a person’s soul can be called
from him by a witch-doctor, for the word used in this connection is
_elimo_, and that means the _soul_ of a living person. It is also
noteworthy that they expect more truthfulness in the soul of a person
than in the person himself.

The Boloki folk, like others more advanced in civilization, are very
anxious to know about the future, so they have a soothsayer whose
special function it is to predict coming events. This diviner dances to
the beat of drums and chants, the chorus being taken up by all who are
present. When he has worked himself and his audience up to a certain
pitch of excitement he looks into his fetish bag of medicines, and from
what he sees there he foretells war, or the reverse, its success or
failure, and other events, such as the success or non-success of a
trading expedition, fishing and hunting parties, etc.

The natives, both male and female, are not always successful in their
love affairs, hence they have a special medicine man who makes their
love philtres. A woman takes the nail-parings, hair-cuttings, and chewed
pith of the sugar-cane of the person whose love she desires, to this
particular “doctor.” He makes them into a medicine which, after well
drying, he pounds into a powder. This powder the woman takes and blows
over the object of her love while he is asleep.

The man procures the nail-parings and hair-cuttings of the woman he
loves, and carries them to this maker of love philtres; but instead of
the powder being blown over the sleeping object of his passion, he mixes
it with sugar-cane wine and gives it to her to drink. A slave will use
the same method to gain an easier time from his master or mistress; and
this philtre is also used on people to cause them to forget a wrong or
grant a request.

There are to be found among them witch-doctors to help them in every
emergency of life, and not the least curious is the one who aids them to
vanish in the midst of danger. The medicine man who thus serves them
takes his name from the charm he makes, which is rubbed on the body, or
tied on the wrist or leg of his client, who, when thus protected, can
walk right among his enemies, and if they catch him they find only his
cloth in their hands, for the person in the cloth has vanished. This
charm (called _ndemo_) is largely used in times of war, as the possessor
of it can fight and kill without being seen by the enemy, and it is also
in great favour with thieves. The charm consists of a yellow pigment
rubbed on the temples, or “medicine” mixed with the pigment and fixed to
brass wire and tied round the wrist, the leg, or the waist.

They frequently told me of the wonderful power of this charm in
rendering a thief invisible; but they never accepted my challenge to put
the matter to the test. I offered to allow any one of them to keep any
article he could steal in my rooms; the conditions were that I was to be
in the room and the thief was to take the article while I was present
and yet be invisible to me—I should simply see the thing move,
apparently of itself, out of the room. They said it could be done, but
they never proved it.

When there is smallpox in a district the nervous go to a medicine man,
who makes small cuts on his client’s body and sucks out some blood,
which he spits on to a leaf and examines very carefully. If some small
threads are seen in the blood, the “doctor” points them out to the
others present, and says that “as I have sucked out the witchcraft
(_likundu_) the person will not die, although he may become infected
with smallpox.” Should no threads be seen and by and by the person
catches smallpox, his relatives will tell him that he cannot recover
unless he confesses to having bewitched one or more persons. Under
pressure of constant nagging the patient will confess (and who among
them has not desired the death of one or more enemies and
acquaintances?) to his mother, or father, or to an intimate friend, that
he has bewitched several persons, and will even mention them by name;
and after this confession he may become better.

It is a very crafty performance. The person’s blood is sucked, and the
threads are shown, and if he does not have smallpox, then the “doctor”
has the credit of having drawn all the witchcraft out of him. If,
however, he has smallpox, then he has his own witchcraft in him and that
has caused the illness, and the only way to ensure recovery is to
confess his guilt—this exonerates the “doctor.” If no threads are seen
in the blood and the person has smallpox, then his own witchcraft has
given it, and he must confess; and here again the “doctor” is cleared.
Now if a person has not been operated upon by the “doctor” and gets
smallpox, he must confess to bewitching others, and should he recover,
well, his confession has cured him; should he die, then either he has
not fully confessed, or someone else has bewitched him to death. If a
person does not catch smallpox, then he is not bewitched by anyone, and
he himself has no witchcraft.

During an epidemic of smallpox at Monsembe in 1893 it was absolutely
impossible to isolate patients, for, according to their belief regarding
infectious diseases—that no one would have it unless he were bewitched
to have it—there was no need for isolation. I have seen the hut of a
patient literally crowded with women, lads, and girls, giving advice and
showing sympathy with the sick. Many died from the loathsome disease.

This particular “doctor” also looks at the arteries in the stomach of a
dead person to discover whether the person died by his or her own
witchcraft, or by the witchcraft of another. For full details see the
chapter on “Death and Burial,” where it deals with death by witchcraft.

A person suffering from sleeping-sickness has his own special “doctor”
to look after him. He scarifies the body of the patient with numerous
cuts, and then sprinkles hot water over him, rubs pepper paste into the
cuts, and puts a drop or two of pepper juice in each eye. This
practitioner is called by the natives _nganga ya luwa_—the medicine man
of sleeping-sickness, or of the spirit that causes that complaint.

There are many cases of debility, lack of energy, and anæmia in which
the symptoms are somewhat similar to sleeping-sickness, such as
drowsiness, no desire to move about, loss of appetite, etc. Such cases
are greatly benefited by the massage of warm water and pepper paste, and
by the change of scene and life necessitated by the visit to the
“doctor’s” village; and when the patients return to their own towns
after four or five weeks’ treatment, much better and sometimes quite
well, they are regarded by the natives as cured cases of
sleeping-sickness. The pepper juice in the eyes causes great agony, but
it keeps the patient awake and moving about. The “doctor” puts various
taboos on his patients, both as to what they shall eat and how their
food shall be cooked.

My wife had a girl about fifteen years of age who fell a victim to
sleeping-sickness. She was smart in her house-work, intelligent and
quick in school, and neat and clean in her person. She gradually lost
her smartness, forgot all she gained in school, and became dirty and
slovenly in her dress, etc. She also had a temperature every morning of
about 100 degrees that yielded to no treatment. It was an undoubted case
of sleeping-sickness, but as it occurred in 1894 not much was known of
the complaint, and there were very few suggestions as to treatment.
Those suggestions, however, we followed, and the patient became no
better for tonics, bromide of potassium, etc. I was then told about this
kind of “doctor,” and finding there was nothing really objectionable in
his mode of procedure I asked the girl if she would like to undergo his
treatment. She readily expressed her wish to be put under him, and
seemed to have great faith in him. The girl went, and I watched the
treatment with much interest. At first she brightened up under the
pepper massage, but at last she died in our house, for finding the
treatment failed we brought her, at her own desire, back to our house.

It is needless to say that I never came across a single case of true
sleeping-sickness cured by this class of “doctors.” There are some
curious contradictions about this complaint. In some cases there is loss
of appetite, and in others a ravenous hunger; in some great drowsiness,
and it is almost impossible to keep the patient awake, in others entire
insomnia; in some saneness to the last, but others exhibit insanity and
even violent madness.

When a boy or girl is very thin and weakly, his father kills a monkey,
or buys a large piece of meat or a big fish and sends for the medicine
man, who has a reputation for conversing with the spirits of unborn
children (called _bingbongbo_), and interpreting their demands. On his
arrival he shuts himself up in one of his client’s houses and is heard
to speak with these spirits. After a time he comes out and tells his
client that the spirits complain because he has never given them a
feast, and that if he desires to see his son improve in health he must
at once prepare one for them.


  _Photo by: Rev. R. H. Kirkland_
  The scarcity of children in the Libinza Lake villages alarmed the
    inhabitants considerably, so they paid a large sum to a witch-doctor
    to set up this fetish that their progeny might be increased.

The father gives the monkey, meat, or fish he has procured ready for
this demand. It is cooked and the medicine man takes the food on a plate
into the house, puts it down on the floor and, coming out, shuts the
door. After a time he again enters the house, brings out the plate and
shows that the food has partly disappeared, and that the edge of the
plate is smeared with the food (there are always plenty of rats and mice
in a native hut). This is accepted as evidence that the spirits have
partaken of the feast, and the patient will get better as the offering
has been accepted. The medicine man gives the patient a new name—if a
girl, Bolumbu, and if a boy, Loleka.

The spirits of unborn babies are supposed to be supplied to the family
preserves (called _liboma_) by the disembodied spirits of the deceased
members of the family. These are responsible for keeping the preserves
well filled with spirits awaiting birth. The preserves may be a pool on
an island, a pond in the bush or forest, or a great bombax tree.

The “doctor” who deals with madness has simply a saucepan of water in
which he mixes some medicines, and the patient immerses his face every
day in it, and then he drops some juices from plants into his eyes until
the person is cured of his madness. Madness is called _mokalala_, and
the “doctor” who treats it is named by that title also—the “doctor for

When the death of a prominent man has occurred, and the “doctor for
witchcraft” has inspected the entrails of the deceased and has stated
that the departed one was bewitched to death, the family then calls in
the witch-finder to point out the person guilty of that detestable thing
called witchcraft. The usual fee is one slave, but if the witch-finder
is a very famous one he will demand and receive two slaves. He insists
on receiving his fee before he begins operations, as he may have to rush
off with undignified haste directly he has pointed out the witch, for
the accused person does not always take the charge quietly, but
sometimes rushes off for spear or gun to kill his accuser, hence the
demand for the fee first.

The people gather on the appointed day in a large circle, and the
medicine man, dressed as a woman in skins and cloths fantastically
arranged, his face, legs, and arms decorated with pigments of various
colours, takes his place in the centre and dances throughout the whole
of the first day to the beat of drums. Towards the end of afternoon of
the second day he points out the witch, and then hurries at once to his
waiting canoe. The accused must take the ordeal and abide by the result.
The “doctor of the mat” very often performs this ceremony of discovering
the witch.

There is another class of medicine men who scrape their eyes with the
sharp edge of the sugar-cane grass, which operation clears the vision
and enables them to see spirit witches afar off and frustrate their evil
designs. He pretends to see the witch at night running off with the soul
of a person, and this soul he rescues and restores to its owner. The
next day the medicine man will go to the owner of the soul he rescued
and say: “Last night I saw a witch spirit running away with your soul,
and I stopped it or you would be dead by now.” And then he demands a
present, which is at once given through fear; for if they refuse to
satisfy this medicine man he will allow the witch spirit to escape
another time with the soul, and death will be the result.

Now a man who has many and powerful enemies needs someone to help him,
and there is a special branch of the profession created on purpose to
render him assistance. Such a man goes to a proper medicine man, who
will give him a medicine that will overawe or soothe his enemies so that
they will no longer desire to work him any harm. They will become
subject to his will and influence. This medicine man (he goes by the
name of _nganga y’ elembia_ = overawe, subdue, soothe) also initiates
his clients into various tricks for striking awe into the onlookers that
they may fear their power, and respect them accordingly.

When a man is ill, or has lost a relative by death, he may in his
vexation accuse the other members of his family of witchcraft. They of
course indignantly deny the charge, so the accuser challenges them to
drink the water from a fetish bell. Should anyone refuse to drink from
the fetish bell he is regarded as guilty of witchcraft. If, however,
they agree to accept the challenge the particular kind of medicine man
who operates with the fetish bell is called, and on his arrival he gives
to each person a draught to drink from his fetish bell. And it is firmly
believed that the one guilty of witchcraft will soon die from the
effects of the bell medicine, whereas the innocent will suffer no
inconvenience from it.

It will be seen from the above-mentioned medicine men that the natives
have a medicine man to help them in every emergency of life, and also
one to control, soothe, or destroy every kind of spirit that is likely
to do them any harm personally, and bring any sort of misfortune or
ill-luck upon them. However, witchcraft is at the bottom of all their
fears, and it will be noticed that the majority of the different
branches of medicine men deal with, or pretend to avert, that most
dreaded and hated thing witchcraft.

There are three kinds of witches among the Boloki people, viz. the
_active_, that is the person who fees a medicine man to kill his enemy
or procures some medicine to do him to death. The _passive_, that is the
person who in a temper, or because of some grievance, wishes So-and-so
were dead, or in a curse shouts at his tormentor and oppressor: “May you
die quickly”; but takes no active measures to procure the death of the
said person. There is scarcely a person who has not wished for the death
of one or more persons; and when the ordeal of the fetish bell is
administered and the drinker of the “bell water” has not desired the
death or illness of that particular person he feels secure; but if he
has desired the death of that person he feels nervous, doubtful, refuses
to drink the ordeal and is accused of witchcraft or drinks it and
perhaps dies from sheer fear. The third kind of witch might be called
the _self-inflicted_ one, that is, a person in utter misery desires to
die, and the witchcraft works in him and he dies; the natives think that
many people die by their own witchcraft. On the Lower Congo I found no
idea of suicidal witchcraft among the people.

I think many of the medicine men thoroughly believe in themselves; and
even those who assert that they see spirits or have performed such
wonders as living under the water for seven days, or making their spear
shake and talk relate the incident so often that they come to believe
that they really did it. Many of the people before we went there had no
faith in the medicine men; but they were afraid to oppose or ridicule
them for fear of being charged with witchcraft, so they pretended to
accept all that was said and done by them. Our presence inspired many
with the courage to test the witch-doctors, and finding them frauds they
turned from them with contempt.


                              CHAPTER XXI

                           TABOOS AND CURSES

Variety of taboos—The totem taboo—The permanent taboo—The inherited
    taboo—The temporary taboo—Circumcision taboo—Canoe-maker’s
    taboo—Mourner’s taboo—Cursing a wife—Taboo of sympathy—Father’s
    curse on a child—Kicking a person’s foot—Various curses—Different
    oaths—Giving tokens.

Taboos are the prohibitions and restrictions put on things and actions
by the witch-doctor during and after an illness, by the family totems,
and temporarily by the individual himself. They are the “thou shalt
nots” of fetishism. To disobey them is to risk dire consequences to
health of body, to success in expeditions, and to one’s luck. Among the
Boloki the outraged spiritual powers are supposed to avenge themselves
on the breakers of the taboo. The taboos send their ramifications into
every part of native life, thought, and action. There is not a single
article of food that is not taboo to someone, there is not a place that
has not been tabooed at some time or other, and there is not a possible
action that has not been, or is not, affected by taboo. When a
witch-doctor tells his patient that he is not to eat goat’s meat, then
goat’s meat to that man is tabooed, forbidden, unlawful for that man to
eat; and should he break the taboo by eating goat’s meat, then he
believes that a serious relapse will follow and probably death.

The taboos are many and various, but most of them fall under the
following heads: The _totem taboo_ (called _mokumbu_) is not so evident
to the casual observer among the Bololi people, and I might say among
Congo people generally, as it is in other parts of the world. One family
that I know may not eat a certain snake, and another may not eat fowls.
If the men of these families kill and eat their totems they will become
thin and weak; the women will not only become thin but sterile; and the
pregnant woman who breaks her totem taboo will be delivered of a weak
child, who will remain thin and undersized all his life.

To another family a tree with small edible fruit (named _mwenge_) is a
totem. The tree must not be cut down, nor its fruit eaten, and if by any
mistake a woman of this family burns it while pregnant she carefully
saves the ashes, i.e. instead of throwing them away she puts them in a
special place apart from the usual heap of refuse, otherwise her child
will be born emaciated and weakly. Strange to say, the boys and girls of
the family before puberty may eat the fruit of this tree without any
evil consequences.

Another family has a plant with red leaves (called _nkungu_) as a totem.
When a woman of this family becomes _enceinte_ for the first time a
_nkungu_ is planted near the hearth outside the house, and it is never
destroyed, or the child will be born thin and weak and remain very small
and sickly. The healthy life of the children and family is bound up with
the healthiness and life of the totem tree as respected and preserved by
the family. The killing of a fowl by a member of the snake family, and
vice versa, does not affect the family whose totem it is.

When a free woman marries she takes her totem with her and observes not
only her own, but also her husband’s totem. And any child born to them
takes the totem of both parents until there is a family council of the
paternal and maternal branches, when it is generally arranged that the
child shall in future observe its father’s totem.

These notes contain all the information I could gather relating to their
totems; and I received the impression that the totem taboo is gradually
dying out. This is also the impression I have about the totems on the
Lower Congo, where one finds only a vestige of what was once probably a
potent factor in their family life.

Then there is the _permanent taboo_ (called _ngili_). This taboo is put
on any kind of food, as, “You must not eat goat’s meat”; or, on going to
a certain place, as, “You must not go across the river to a particular
island”; or, on performing a particular action, as, “You must always
drink sugar-cane wine through a reed, never straight out of a vessel of
any kind.” This taboo must be carefully observed by the person under it
as long as he lives or serious consequences will follow the breaking of
it, such as a return of the sickness from which the person was suffering
when placed under this taboo, or a loss of property and life, or the
sickness and death of a child.

Every kind of food is _ngili_ to someone, and it is no uncommon sound to
hear a person going through the town crying out: “Exchange for piece of
antelope.” That means that someone has come into possession of a portion
of antelope to whom it is taboo, so he (or she) is trying to exchange it
for fish or something else that is not taboo to him with someone to whom
antelope is not taboo.

This permanent taboo (_ngili_) is very frequently an inherited one. A
man has, say, elephantiasis and the “medicine man” says he is not to eat
either elephant or hippopotamus flesh (both these animals have stout
legs), and the man will pass on this taboo to his sons, who will
carefully observe it lest their legs become “swollen like an

Milk is tabooed by all and regarded with great abhorrence. Anyone
drinking it is considered unclean (_bosoto_) for several days, and is
not allowed to eat with his family. They may touch milk, for they milk
our goats and sheep and carry it to us without suffering any defilement,
but it must not touch their lips. A house boy of mine was known to have
drunk some water out of a milky glass, and he was not permitted to eat
with his family for five days. The natives could give no reason for
this, but only stated that it was their custom. The eating of raw eggs
is also tabooed by all, and the breaker of this taboo is not allowed to
eat with his family for a few days. They eat well-cooked eggs no matter
how unsavoury they may be through age. I may say in passing that the
more ancient an egg is the better it is liked by the native, and they do
not appreciate our preference for fresh eggs. If a native gives an aged
egg to a white man as an expression of gratitude it does not mean that
he is giving it because it is bad and worthless to himself, but because
it is to him better than a fresh egg, and he thinks it is so to you
until he learns better, and then he will bring fresh ones.

The _temporary taboo_ (_mungilu_) covers a large number of different
circumstances that, according to the native view of life, call for a
taboo. During pregnancy a woman is placed under a taboo, generally that
she is not to eat a certain kind of food—not the same article of food to
every woman, but according to the momentary whim of the “doctor”—and
this she observes until the medicine man removes it either on the birth
of the child or when it is weaned, or the first time the child has its
hair cut.

Some pregnant women are told not to throw the ashes of their fires away
until their children reach the age of twelve or fourteen. The ashes are
therefore carefully gathered and put into a special place. These women,
however, belong to families which have trees and shrubs for totems, and
for fear of scattering the ashes of their totem trees inadvertently
burnt they have to put all the ashes of their fires in a particular
place, thus honouring all ashes to avert the possibility of being
disrespectful to the ashes of their totem trees.

A witch-doctor may say that on account of a certain sickness the patient
must not eat a particular kind of food, and the food he may eat must be
prepared in a special way, say, cooked in forest water and not in water
taken from the river. When, however, the man is better a feast is
prepared, and then all kinds of food are cooked in the ordinary way,
including the interdicted articles, and the patient partakes of them and
the prohibitions are removed.

Lads who have been circumcised must remain indoors until the wounds are
healed, and during that time they are not to eat the heads and tails of
fish. When a man is making a canoe he ties a piece of a cactus-like
plant to the log he is working, and while working on it he must not
drink any water, otherwise the canoe will leak. The charm also wards off
evil influences and keeps the canoe from warping. Members of a deceased
person’s family are forbidden to sleep for two or three weeks on their
ordinary beds, and must sleep on leaves spread on the ground. After the
mourning they have a drinking-bout of sugar-cane wine, to which all the
town is invited, after which they return to their ordinary sleeping-mats
on the raised frame. The prohibitions on fishermen and hunters have
already been mentioned.

Sometimes a man in a rage will put himself under a taboo. A wife by her
conduct has irritated him beyond all endurance, and at last in anger he
strikes on the ground with a stick, and says: “May I be cursed if ever I
eat food cooked by you.” He is now under a taboo (_mungilu_) not to eat
food from that woman’s hands. Such a mode of procedure will bring the
woman to her senses, for undoubtedly the taboo and curse go further than
the mere non-eating of food cooked by her. It means that he has put a
taboo on her and will have nothing more to do with her, or the curse
will come on him in the form of a severe disease.

By and by the woman is sorry for her conduct, and begs the husband to
remove himself from under the curse by removing the taboo of having
nothing more to do with her. Should he after a time relent, the curse is
removed by the following ceremony, which is called reversing, or
undoing, of the beating of the ground: A trench is dug while some women
sing: “Remove the curse, the curse of beating on the ground” (_Bondola
bondo mobondo bondo_). A spot of red camwood powder is rubbed on the
woman’s chest, or as they say, “over the heart,” the taboo and curse are
removed and the pair are reconciled.

Men and women to express their sympathy with a sick parent or relative
will make a vow, saying: “I will not eat fowls,” or, “I will not go to
_Lulanga_ until my father is better.” Should the father die, then the
person who made the self-imposed taboo must not eat any more fowls, or
must never go again to _Lulanga_. These vows are very carefully
observed, or a disease will result from breaking them.

A person therefore can be under four taboos, viz.: (1) The totem taboo
(_mokumbu_) of his family. (2) The taboo (_ngili_), because of a serious
illness and the desire to avert a relapse. (3) The inherited taboo (also
_ngili_), to avoid a complaint from which the father suffered. (4) The
temporary taboo (_mungilu_) of anger and sympathy.

This may be the best place in which to mention their curses, for they
are often interwoven with their taboos. A very common curse employed on
most occasions is to strike on the ground with a stick, and at the same
time mention the name of the person cursed; and the person thus cursed
will have a very bad form of dysentery, and the curser may say: “May I
be cursed if ever I do such and such a thing”; thus the curser will
become subject to the disease should he break his word.

A person curses an adult relative in the following manner: He rubs his
thighs, bends down, and turns his back towards the one to be cursed and
shouts: “Be accursed.” This is also done in the face of an enemy as an
insolent curse on them. Early morning is said to be the best time for
making it effective. I have seen this performed several times, and the
person so cursed has hurled his knife or spear at the curser.

A father, or guardian, curses his child by words, and then the child
will neither grow properly nor become wise or rich; but this is only
resorted to on great provocation. Should the child become penitent and
apologize for his evil ways, he takes a large fish or monkey or a goat
to his father and begs him to remove the curse. The father accepts the
present, and then chewing the stem of a certain shrub (called
_munsangasanga_), he expectorates the pieces out on to the palm of his
child’s hand, saying; “What I said I said in anger, and I now remove the
curse.” The child is comforted and the two are reconciled.

To kick or touch a person accidentally, while passing him, with the foot
is equivalent to cursing him. The person must turn round and slightly
kick again the person whom he touched with his foot, otherwise bad luck,
etc., will come upon the person kicked. Where we apologize they kick
again, and the phrase used for the second kick means, “to reverse the
effects of the first kick.” They are exceedingly careful not to touch a
person with the foot in passing—that brings bad luck, and not to step
over a person—that is an insult. A person moving out of a sitting crowd
of folk shuffles his feet along the ground so as to avoid stepping over
anyone, and will tell those squatting around to draw their feet up out
of the way so as not to touch them.

There are other curses used by old and young alike during fits of
passionate anger, as, “May you die by witchcraft”; or, “May you die by
euphorbia poison”; or, “Cry for your mother,” i.e. May your mother die.
The last is a curse bitterly resented, and is only uttered when a person
is greatly exasperated. When a person is undergoing any ordeal test he
repeatedly uses the word _ngambu_, which means: “If I am guilty, let the
ordeal work against me; but if I am innocent, then let my accuser be
accursed and die.” The _ngambu_ curse is greatly dreaded by all natives.

Promises and oaths are ratified by each contracting party putting a
curse on the other should he break his oath; and illness and bad luck
are often regarded as due to unfaithfulness to one’s oath. Sometimes
taboos are put on one another by the contracting parties, and so long as
the taboos are carefully observed they are reckoned as faithful to their
promises and oaths. This is specially so in the covenant of
blood-brotherhood, and to disregard the taboo is to court either death
or some great disaster. Many of their folk-lore stories are illustrative
of the evil consequences resulting from the breaking of
blood-brotherhood taboos.

Oaths are freely used by the Boloki in their conversation, and such
liars are they that they feel it necessary to back their statements
with, “I swear it” (_ndai_). The commonest form of oath is, “Cut my
throat” (_tena nkingu_), and is always accompanied by the speaker
wetting his finger and drawing it across his throat. “By my mother”
(_nta mama_), and “By my father” (_nta tata_) are very strong oaths and
are felt to be binding on the user of them, otherwise disaster will
follow if the statements to which they are affixed are not true, or the
promises to which they are attached are not fulfilled. “Truly so, by my
mother” (_bwele unko mama_), and “Truly so, by my father” (_bwele unko
tata_), are not regarded as being so strong as the former two, but they
infer that the speaker pledges himself that his words are true,
otherwise his mother or father will suffer.

A piece of stick, tin, or anything handy is cut into pieces, and each
combatant or disputant takes a portion as a token that all matters of
dispute are finished, and he who again starts one of the old quarrels
calls down a curse upon himself. This cutting of a token (_tena ndanga_)
is also done by the party who loses a case. He gives a portion of the
cut token as an earnest of the payment of expenses, and of the fine
imposed by those who judged the case, and if he does not redeem it he is
under a curse and will suffer accordingly.


                              CHAPTER XXII

                      NATIVE CHARMS AND THEIR USES

A general name—No sacrifices to them—Preventive charms—Thief’s charm and
    antidote—Charm for rendering the owner attractive—Helpful charms in
    war—Modes of dealing with witchcraft—Certain charms for certain
    spirits—For success in fishing—To detect a murderer—To preserve
    goats in health—Giving ordeal to a son.

The general name for fetish, charm, amulet, talisman, mascot, etc., is
_bonganga_; and this is also the word for the skill or art of the
medicine man—that which constitutes him a member of the profession. It
is, however, difficult to decide whether this skill arises from his own
inherent intuitions or is imparted to him by his own powerful fetish—the
word _bonganga_ favours both views. The prefix “_bo_” can indicate the
thing into which a medicine man has put his power, hence a charm,
fetish, etc.; and it also denotes a noun of quality, and thus points to
the skilfulness, art, etc., or that quality by which the witch-doctor is
able to perform his magic. It is very probable that both views are
necessary for a complete understanding of the word—it is a thing into
which the medicine man has put his power, and it is also the skill, art,
power, etc., by which he imparts it and by which he works as a

No offerings are presented to charms, and there is no mode of
_refreshing_ them as on the Lower Congo; but when a charm does not act
as it should the owner takes it back to the medicine man to have some
more “medicine” put into it, as it is thought that the old has become
ineffective through being played out. Images are not used among the
Boloki, but various articles are employed to conserve the fetish power
imparted to them.

The charms belonging to the witch-doctors have been handed down from
time immemorial and the various “doctors” make the amulets, charms,
etc., for the people. The larger the fee the more powerful the charm.

In writing about the Boloki charms it is very difficult to classify
them, for they so frequently overlap each other in their operations. I
have collected the names of a large number of their charms, etc., and
when describing some of them I shall have to repeat a little of the
information given under the heading of “Medicine Men and their Magic”;
but I will avoid more repetition than is necessary to put the reader in
touch with the supposed powers of the charm.

There are those charms that _help them in dire distress_, and among the
most potent of them is the _ekando_, which really means a snag hidden
under the water. The owner of this charm can cause a snag to break the
canoe of his pursuing enemies. In the excitement of a chase the paddlers
do not always look where they are going and will run on a hidden snag,
and the impact will split the canoe and the charm has the credit for it.
Many trees topple from the bank into the river, and by and by the jagged
end of a large branch will be just under water as the river rises and
falls, and this favours the belief in the powers of the _ekando_ charm.
I have been nearly thrown out of my canoe two or three times from
running on a covered snag, and they are a source of considerable danger
to river steamers.

The owner of this charm has the power also to call on the hippopotami
and crocodiles to help him when hard pressed by his foes. Hippopotami
quite unintentionally, in coming up to breathe, overturn a canoe; and
crocodiles have the trick of coming up suddenly by the side of a canoe
and causing the paddlers to start so violently that they upset the
canoe. The crocodile takes a man and goes off.

Another charm with curious power is the “fetish axe” (_ekoko_). The
possessor when desirous of eluding his enemies takes the “axe” in his
hand and beats an island with it, whereupon the island splits and he
passes through the opening, which at once closes behind him, and he is
safe. The numerous creeks and inlets favour this superstition.

Another charm on much the same lines as the two already mentioned, is
the _jelo_ or sandbank. The lucky owner of this charm, when escape from
the enemy is otherwise impossible, will take a handful of sand and throw
it towards his pursuers, and a sandbank will immediately form and stop
their progress until the owner of the _jelo_ charm is far beyond their
reach. The innumerable and ever-changing sandbanks in the river favour
this belief.

On one occasion the folk were much troubled by steamers calling at
Monsembe, the crews of which took every opportunity of robbing the
people. The natives therefore decided to employ this charm by making a
series of sandbanks across the channels, thus preventing the approach of
steamers. I informed them that we were expecting our steamer the
_Peace_, and they must not shut her out or we should run short of
provision and barter goods.

“We will leave an opening for your steamer,” they assured me as they
continued the ceremony.

A couple of days afterwards a State steamer came in sight, the very kind
of steamer they wanted to keep out. “How did that steamer pass your
sandbanks?” I quietly asked.

“Oh,” they replied nonchalantly, “some mischievous boy must have
bewitched our line of sandbanks and caused several openings.” I have
never found them lacking a loophole out of difficulties of this kind.

There are various preventive charms to maintain them in good health, to
ward off the return of a sickness, preserve them from wounds, and to
protect their property. A cross-stick on uprights (called _mokando_),
rubbed with red camwood powder and arranged with a noose to catch
witches that try to enter a house or village, is regarded as a
health-preserver to a household and to a community. Or a medicine man
can take certain stalks, or anything else to hand, and after putting a
charm into it he can lay it along or across any path, and neither witch
nor disembodied spirit desiring to commit evil in the village will be
able to cross this charm (_jeko_) into the village.

A forked stick (_mutumu_) is carried by a man who has had rheumatism as
a charm against the return of the complaint; but if the stick is touched
by anyone else, or broken, the man will have a serious relapse. A brass
ring with a few wood knots threaded on it, or a piece of string with
knots tied in it, are both used for curing and for preventing diarrhœa,
especially in children.

The _mpete_ is a charm to preserve the owner from being wounded in a
fight, but for it to be effective the owner’s wives must remain faithful
while he is at the war. This name is also given to the brass ornaments
on a State officer’s helmet and uniform, as the natives when first they
saw them thought they were charms worn by the white men to preserve them
from wounds, and not as decorations or insignia of rank. There is also a
charm that is supposed to render the owner invulnerable to all weapons
used in fights and quarrels.

A native does not own very much property, but what little he has he
desires to keep, so there are charms for that purpose. A plantain stalk
bound with the proper medicine is a charm to preserve its owner’s canoe
from being swamped in a storm. It is not necessary to have it (the
_mokombe_) in the canoe at the time, for it can act through any
reasonable distance of space. The python charm (_nguma_) is regarded as
a powerful charm for protecting wealth and slaves; and should either be
lost it has the reputation of restoring them quickly to their owner.

There is a general charm (_nseka_) for preserving property from robbery
and destruction. It is made of anything according to the preference of
its user, as shells, leaves, skins, etc. Such a charm is frequently
carried through the town to notify that something has been stolen and to
bring a curse on the thief, and then it is partly made of the same
material as the thing stolen. Charms are placed round the farms to mark
the boundaries of a field belonging to one woman from that of another,
and also to protect the produce from thieves. The charms then employed
seem to be almost anything; but those most frequently seen are large
univalve snail shells, bivalve shells like mussels, pieces of cactus,
bits of rags, old calabashes, etc., these are all tied on sticks stuck
in the ground and the charms dangle to and fro in the breeze.

When a woman runs away, her husband takes her nail-parings and
hair-cuttings, which he has gathered for this and other purposes, to a
medicine man, who puts them into a skin with medicine and returns them
to him. The husband with this charm in his possession takes a leaf,
spreads it on the closed fist of his left hand and strikes it with the
palm of his right hand, and says: “If my wife stops to eat at the place
to which she has run, let her die quickly.” The same ceremony is
performed to ensure the return of a runaway slave, or to inflict harm on
anyone with whom the owner of this special charm (named _likunda_) has
quarrelled; consequently natives carefully destroy all their
hair-cuttings and nail-parings so that no one may gain power over them.

The thief has a charm—a simple yellow pigment—to rub on his temples to
help him steal cunningly and successfully; but if a man desires to
protect his property from this kind of thief he procures a very long,
broad-bladed knife with curved points, and on this he smears stripes of
yellow pigment, and then a serious sickness will come upon the robber
who steals from the owner of such a powerful charm (named _lingundu_).
This charm is also used for two other purposes: when it is put near the
door of a sick man it will kill the witch that tries to enter; and a
medicine man also uses it to cut the soul (_elimo_) in half to cause the
death of his client’s enemy. As the yellow pigment renders the thief
invisible, so it also renders the knife invisible, so that the witch not
seeing it blunders on it and fatally cuts itself; and the soul cannot
see it, and can be executed by it when in the hands of the witch-doctor.

How does a native account for a man (or woman) being successful in his
undertakings, fortunate in his circumstances, and acceptable and popular
with folk generally? Well, the secret of it is that he has a charm
(named _montala_) which operates powerfully in his favour. It is a
bundle, a horn, or a hollow piece of bamboo with medicine in it. It
renders its owner very attractive to women, to slaves, and to the
people, and thus he is successful. Handsome, healthy, prosperous men are
supposed to be what they are on account of the benefits bestowed by this

When a son or daughter is about to leave home for another town, or to
travel and trade, the father or near relative chews the leaves of a
certain shrub, spits them out on to another leaf and mixes some camwood
powder with the mess, and the son, or daughter, has to rub a little of
this mixture (_makako_) on his body every day, otherwise he will not
find favour with those among whom he may live or travel. Neither a son,
nor a daughter, will travel without his charm. The ingredients of the
love-charm, or philtre, have already been given (see the chapter on
Medicine Men), and also the methods of effectively employing them.

It is also necessary, according to the native view of life, to have
charms to help them in war, in rows, and among their enemies. There is a
class of charms that enables them to go into the midst of their foes and
yet escape, although they wish to capture them. By one charm the native
bewitches the enemy; by another he excels the enemy in craftiness and
cunning; by another he overawes and fascinates them so that they forget
their hatred; and by another he becomes invisible to them. Each man
patronizes his own particular charm, some having more faith in one than
in another. There is also a charm, specially procured from a spirit and
costing a goodly fee, that always enables its owner to capture one or
more prisoners in a fight, and then helps him to disappear with his
captives if too closely pursued by the enemy. The mud-fish is called
_njombo_, and this name is given to a charm that imports the slippery
characteristics of the eel-like mud-fish. The owner of this useful charm
is as difficult to hold as an eel, and consequently it is much in demand
by fighters and thieves, as it enables them to slip out of the hands of
their captors.

Witchcraft plays a large part in native life, therefore we find among
them various means of finding witches and counteracting their malignant
powers. The simplest and cheapest method is to give a drink of water
from the fetish bell to the suspected persons—the innocent are not hurt
and the guilty one dies. Then there are the fetish saucepans of water
used by the medicine men, in which the witches and evil spirits are
supposed to appear and those proved guilty of witchcraft are destroyed.
In each case the different spirits are called to the ordeal of the
saucepan by the witch-doctor putting a leaf on the closed fist of his
left hand and striking it with the palm of his right hand. If the leaf
bursts, the spirits have heard and come at his bidding; but if the leaf
does not break after three smacks, he desists, as the spirits are
recalcitrant. When he wants a particular spirit he calls its name as he
strikes the leaf.

When there is much sickness in a family the medicine man of the mat is
sent for and he, after studying the matter, says: “There is a charm
working against the family.” He erects his mat to form an enclosure and
goes through a ceremony of much drumming and chanting, and by and by
digs a hole inside his mat and gets out the charm (named _ekundu_),
which is a saucepan containing animal and fish bones and brass links.

The pot and contents are said to belong to the evil spirit of a deceased
relative who desires to trouble the family. The brass links, one or
more, represent those members of the family who have been done to death
by the evil spirit (_mweta_) since the decease of the wicked relative.
(The medicine man knows how many have died in the family since the death
of the said relative.) After removing the malignant charm from the
ground, the evil spirit of the departed one has no more power over the
family. Sometimes this ceremony is performed in the open, but it needs
more cunning to deceive the spectators.


  _Photo by: Rev. R. H. Kirkland_
  When twins are born the placentæ are put into two old saucepans that
    are then raised on forked sticks and placed on either side of the
    road leading to the village. This is a sign to passers-by that twins
    have been born, and to destroy any evil influences entering the town
    that might harm the twins.

There are three charms that are regarded as being very acceptable and
pleasing to the spirits of disease, so much so, that by a little
persuasion the medicine man can coerce them to leave their patients and
take up their residence in the charms provided for the purpose. The
medicine man procures a four-foot post, removes its bark, shapes it
bluntly at one end, and paints it yellow with spots of red and blue.
This charm (_etoli_) is erected near the house of the person who is
suffering from either debility, or rheumatism, or lumbago, or ague
fever, and the spirit of the complaint goes into the post, and in order
to keep it there, i.e. to avoid a relapse, the man throws some food on
the roof, protecting the post from the weather, for the spirit to eat,
and pours some sugar-cane wine over the post for the spirit to drink,
and occasionally a little camwood powder is rubbed on the post to keep
the spirit in a good humour. As these charm-sticks are the
resting-places of spirits, the nicer they are made the better satisfied
will the spirits be to reside in them instead of troubling the patient.

Besides the charm-post there are two charms made of saucepans for
receiving the spirits of disease and holding them in pleasant captivity.
They are both decorated with spots of yellow, blue, and red. One (the
_eboko_) is simply filled with water from the bush, and the other
(_muntoka_) has a number of small sticks in it. The former is used for
retaining the spirit of a virulent form of sleeping-sickness, and the
latter for that of a milder type. In both cases food, drink, and camwood
are supplied to the spirits residing in them; and small roofs of grass
are built over them to protect them from the weather. Especially in the
case of the coverings for the saucepan charms, the protecting shelters
look like miniature huts, and a casual observer could easily believe
that they have something to do with ancestral worship, whereas they are
simply the dwelling-places of disease-giving spirits, and are charms to
protect their owners from having serious relapses.

When a man is very unsuccessful in spearing fish, although his
opportunities have been good, he thinks that this lack of success is due
to a pregnant woman in his family who has not performed the rites called
_mumbamba_, in which small cuts are made on certain parts of the body
and camwood powder and medicine are rubbed into them. When this ceremony
is observed his luck will change, so he thinks. If, however, he cannot
discover such a woman in his family, he believes that there is one who
is hiding the fact, and consequently the charm is against him. This is
often a way of covering one’s ill-success.

Murder is a very rare occurrence among the Boloki, i.e. secret murder. I
never heard of a case during the fifteen years I was with them. Open
fights and murder were not at all infrequent, but I suppose that there
must have been cases of secret murder, or they would not have a ceremony
(called _moselo_) for detecting the murderer. This fetish ceremony is
performed in two ways: (_a_) A relative takes the nail-parings and
hair-cuttings of the murdered man to the witch-doctor, who makes some
medicine with them, after which he says that the man was murdered by
someone in the village. A saucepan of water is taken and placed on the
ground in the said village, and each inhabitant holds his or her hand
over it, and the one whose shadow is seen at the bottom of the saucepan
is the murderer. (_b_) The nail-parings and hair-cuttings of the
murdered man are rolled in palm gossamer, tied and laid on the ground,
as representing the unknown murderer, in front of the witch-doctor, who
says: “If this man eats, or drinks, or walks in this country again, let
him be cursed by this ceremony.” Then the witch-doctor brings his knife
down and cuts the bundle (_moselo_) in half. If shortly after this a
person becomes suddenly ill of a serious complaint and dies, he is
regarded as guilty of the murder, and his death is taken as a proof that
the spell has worked.

When cassava roots are dug up from the farm they are put into a
water-hole to soak for a few days until they become soft. Should a woman
find that her roots are being stolen from the hole she takes a piece of
gum copal, and fixing it in the cleft of a split stick she puts it on
the side of her cassava hole, and at the same time calls down a curse on
the thief. Should the thief be a man he will henceforth have no luck in
fishing, and should it be a woman she will have no more success in

Every canoe before being launched for the first time is struck on the
stern by the maker or owner with his axe, “to take away the weight.” It
will then be light to paddle, easy to beach or to launch, for its dead
weight has been removed by the blow with the axe.

There is no distinct word for evil eye, but one person is able to
bewitch (_loka_) the farm of another so that the produce, maize,
cassava, sugar-cane, etc., will not grow. To counteract the effects of
this bewitchment the owner of the farm calls a witch-doctor, who knocks
a stake into the farm, and if a person is bewitching the farm the stake
is supposed to enter that person, and she or he will soon die unless
they abandon their wicked designs.

When through this same form of witchcraft goats die off, or will not
breed, the owner seeks someone who for a consideration will look after
them, and the owner will then _pretend_ to sell them to him, so that the
one who is bewitching them will stop his evil practices, as they now
belong to someone else. It often happens that the goats being removed to
new pastures become more healthy and breed, and this is sufficient proof
that someone was formerly bewitching them. If, however, the owner cannot
find anyone whom he can trust to look after his goats he calls a
medicine man, who takes a young palm, splits it into two equal parts,
and places one on each side of the road; and then when the witch spirit
comes that way and passes between the pieces of palm it will become sick
and die.

The general belief is that only one in the family can bewitch a member
of the family; and who will go to the trouble of bewitching one of his
own family unless he is to benefit by the death of the bewitched person?
And who benefits by the death of a father or a brother? Why, the son or
a brother. Consequently, when father is very ill, the son is regarded
with suspicion, and after trying all other means, such as calling in the
various medicine men to drive out the sickness, the patient will, as a
last resort, give his son the ordeal, but not enough to kill him. Should
he vomit it he is innocent, that is proved beyond doubt and no harm is
done; but if he does not vomit the ordeal, and becomes dazed and
stupid—well, he is simply the medium by which the occult powers are
working on his relative, and the ordeal will clear such dangerous powers
out of his system, and being no longer able to work through him as a
medium the father or brother will recover. The lad is tended until the
effects of the ordeal drug have passed away, then he is warned not to
allow his body to be used again for such purposes and he is set free;
and he is looked upon by his playmates in the village with as much
curiosity as a boy just out of hospital with a broken leg. The boy’s
excuse is, and it is readily accepted by all, that he was full of
witchcraft and did not know it.

I know a case of a cheeky urchin who received a box on the ears from his
uncle, and the youngster turned round and said: “I will bewitch you.”

Shortly afterwards the uncle fell sick, and in spite of remedies and
“doctors” he continued ill; but at last he made the boy take the ordeal,
and not vomiting it he was considered guilty of bewitching his uncle.
The boy was well thrashed, and his father had to pay 200 brass rods to
the medicine man for administering the ordeal. This punishment was
inflicted not because the ordeal proved that the lad was guilty, but
because of his insolent threat, and to teach him to let other folk
alone. The uncle pulled up his houses and went to live at the other end
of the town beyond the lad’s influence.

This uncle soon after married another wife, who had a young brother who
was a scholar in my school. One day the uncle came asking me for this
lad that he might give him the ordeal. I refused to hand him over for
such a purpose, and “Besides,” I said, “he does not belong to your
family,” for I had not heard of the marriage.

“Yes, he does,” the man replied; “I have married his sister, and he is
bewitching me through his sister, who is now my wife. My nephew, who
took the ordeal some time ago, says that he has passed on the witchcraft
to my young brother-in-law.” It thus appears that a mischievous boy can
say that he has passed on his witchcraft to another lad and so bring
trouble on that youngster. This uncle was continually bothering me about
these lads, and at last, to avoid further trouble, I sent them, with
their full consent, to work on one of our other stations many miles
down-river, and the uncle was much relieved.

The uncle in his new locality surrounded himself with many charms, but
he did not live many years. He was not physically strong, and every
charm he possessed was to guard him from a complaint, or to preserve him
from witchcraft.


                             CHAPTER XXIII

                            DEATH AND BURIAL

Three causes of death—By act of God—By another’s witchcraft—By one’s own
    witchcraft—An explosion—Decorating the corpse—fee to view the
    body—Smoking the body—Making coffins—Three kinds of graves—Killing
    slaves—Burying women alive—Signs of mourning—The nether
    world—Suicides—Funeral dance for a man—Dance for a woman.

There are three causes of death well recognized among the Boloki: To die
by an act of God; to die by another’s witchcraft; and to die by one’s
own witchcraft. On the Lower Congo the first and second causes of death
are acknowledged, but I never heard there of a person dying by his, or
her, own witchcraft.

In cases of accidental death, as caused by the swamping of a canoe in a
storm, they say that God has caused the death. There is a certain amount
of fatalism in this statement; but other accidents in which they observe
what they consider exceptional circumstances, as the upsetting of a
canoe by a hippopotamus or by a crocodile, they place to the account of
witchcraft. Thus a canoe swamped in a storm is “an act of God,” but a
canoe upset by a crocodile is “an act of witchcraft,” as no crocodile
will upset a canoe unless it is told to do so by a witch, or unless a
witch has gone into the creature and compels it to commit the outrage;
therefore it is necessary to discover the witch and punish the person
who harbours such an evil spirit. The word for sorrow is _nkele_, which
really means anger, indignation, and the idea is that they are “angry”
that their relative has been done to death by the witch. I tried very
hard, but I found no other word for grief, sorrow, etc., at the death of
anyone than this word _nkele_ or anger—a very suggestive sidelight on
the native view of death.

On the death of a sick man the body is opened, and the arteries
connected with the liver are examined by a witch-doctor, and if they are
full, or only one is empty, then the deceased was bewitched to death,
i.e. he died by witchcraft (_awi moyengwa_); and consequently someone is
accused, and the ordeal is administered to one person after another
until the guilty party is discovered, i.e. until someone succumbs to the
ordeal, and falls intoxicated by it to the ground.

There is another view of death held by the Boloki folk, and expressed in
the phrase _awi na likundu_, which means that the person died by his own
witchcraft, or he (or she) tried to kill someone else by witchcraft, and
the other person’s protective charms, etc., were too strong, and it has
resulted in the bewitcher’s own death. The word _likundu_ literally
means smartness, craftiness, skill, occult power, being too clever.

The witch-doctor decides the matter, for he holds a kind of post-mortem
on the corpse, and if the arteries near the liver are empty, then the
man died as a result of his own witchcraft. If one artery only is empty,
that counts for nothing and is disregarded, but if four or five are
empty the witch-doctor says: “That,” pointing to one, “is the secret
power by which he so skilfully made canoes, or worked at his smithing”
(according as the man was a canoe maker or blacksmith); “that one is the
power by which he was successful in fishing” (or hunting, and so on);
“and that other one is the power by which he bewitched people, hence
someone with stronger occult power has overcome and killed him, or he
has died by his own witchcraft.”

If only one artery is empty, that is allowable, as a man must have skill
to do ordinary things like other folk, but if several are empty, then he
had more than his share of cleverness, or occult power, and no one
pities him in his death.

The following is an illustration of the wide-reaching effects of
witchcraft among the natives of Africa: Some years ago the steamer
_Matadi_ was lying off the English Trading House at Boma, and one night
the whole town was aroused by a terrific explosion. It was found on
investigation that the gunpowder on board the s.s. _Matadi_ had
exploded, and two or three white people and forty “Kroo boys” (men
engaged on the Kroo coast to work the cargo) were killed. During the
inquiry that followed it came out that the “Kroo boys,” while searching
the hold with a naked light, had accidentally set fire to the powder.
Many months afterwards we heard incidentally from other “Kroo boys” that
a big witch palaver had been held in the Kroo country and over fifty
people had been done to death for bewitching the “Kroo boys” to death on
the s.s. _Matadi_ by causing the explosion of the gunpowder by their
witchcraft. The Kroo coast is many hundreds of miles from the Congo, and
the probability is that not one of those who died by the ordeal in the
Kroo country had ever been in Congoland.

Relatives attend the sick and nurse them faithfully; and it is a sign of
true friendship to visit a sick acquaintance, or to send regularly and
inquire after his health. The women are so fond of attending the sick,
i.e. sitting in the house, suggesting charms, remedies, etc., and giving
advice, that they often neglect their farm work and various duties.

When a man of any importance dies, those who are expert in the art of
decorating corpses attend and decorate the body with coloured pigments,
beads, cowry shells, and fine cloth; and the artists charge two brass
rods per person to view the body. The family supply the cloths,
pigments—arnotta dye, chalk, red camwood powder, blue and yellow earths,
beads, shells, bottles, and looking-glasses. The figure is often fixed
in a sitting position with a bottle in one hand, as though drinking, and
a looking-glass in the other, as though he were admiring his
decorations. They aim at posing the figure in as natural a position as
possible, but the effect is ghastly on a civilized mind.

The artists give their time and skill to the family for a small fee, and
take as their perquisites the brass rods paid to view the picturesque
(?) corpse. The side of the house is removed


  This scene was arranged for the photo. In the real thing a sapling is
    pulled over and the rope tied, so that when the sapling is released
    it springs up and draws the neck of the victim taut.

to give more light on the body, and the wall removed forms, with several
mats, the screen enclosing the decorated corpse. People come from miles
around to view the sight, and the more original the pose the richer the
harvest of brass rods gathered by the lucky artists. The pigments and
barter goods on a decorated body cost approximately 1000 brass rods, or
about £3, a very large sum for these people, but from their point of
view it is worth the expenditure, for by giving the deceased such a fine
send-off to the nether regions they give no excuse to his spirit to
trouble them later with diseases and misfortune.

As a rule the body is buried within three days after death, and by that
time it is very necessary. When, however, for various reasons—as lack of
means to provide a good funeral—it is not convenient to bury the
deceased so soon, they take out the entrails and bury them, place the
corpse on a frame, light a fire under it, and thoroughly smoke-dry it;
and in this way they are able to keep it for a more convenient time—this
may be a matter of weeks, and even months. The dried body is tied in
mats, put in a roughly-made hut, and a fire is occasionally made under
it. Another mode is as follows: The body is tied in mats and buried in
an ordinary but shallow grave, a big fire is made on the top of the
grave to dry up the moisture in the body, and to preserve it. At a more
suitable time a coffin is made and the corpse buried properly; this is
called _likaku_.

Coffins are often made out of old canoes by men who go about the
district for that purpose. Considering the material and tools they are
well made, the various pieces fitting closely together.

These native “undertakers,” on arriving at the place where their
services are required, put up a fence of mats so as to make a private
workshop. They charge so much for the job and are kept in food and
drink, and any dogs, goats, etc., that push open the mats and enter the
workshop are liable to confiscation if their inquisitiveness causes them
to persist in entering after they have been driven away twice.

The coffins are sometimes lined and covered with cheap cloth, but more
often they are stained with arnotta dye and ornamented with yellow and
blue pigments. All the materials are supplied by the family.
Clumsily-made native nails, or wooden pins, are used, unless they can
procure nails from the nearest white man. Sometimes the parts are laced
together. Poorer folk are rubbed with oil, and red camwood powder, bound
round with cloth, and tied up in a mat; and those who are very poor are
simply tied in their sleeping-mats; a corpse is rarely thrown into the
river or bush.

When the time for burial arrives the coffin is carried round the town on
exhibition, then the corpse is placed in it, and men convey it to the
place of interment, followed by relatives, male and female—not
wives—friends and townsfolk generally; the wives remain behind to
continue the mourning. A person often dies away from his house, and
sometimes away from his town. The body is brought home and buried—if a
free man or woman—in his or her house; but a slave is buried on the edge
of the bush, or in any convenient place.



The graves are of three kinds: (1) When the grave is dug deep enough a
cutting is made at the side in which to lay the corpse so that the earth
does not press on the body, thus:

(2) A notch is cut in the earth along the two sides about two feet from
the bottom of the grave, and planks or sticks are laid across after the
body is put in position, and the earth is thrown on the sticks. (A and B
are notches or ledges to take planks or sticks.) By this means also the
earth is kept from contact with the coffin.

(3) An ordinary straight-sided hole, and the earth put on the body. 1
and 2 are for important men—those whose families can afford to pay for a
coffin, and they do not want it spoiled at once by having the
clay—generally very wet—thrown on it; and No. 3 is for the common



There is no special time for burying, and no particular position for the
grave and corpse. I have known them to bury their dead at different
times, in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Mostly bodies are buried
in one or other of the houses (or very near to them) belonging to the
deceased, consequently the position of the grave depends on whether the
house runs east and west, or north and south, or whether the row of
houses owned by the deceased is parallel or at right angles to the

In the old days it was the custom to kill two slaves and put one under
the head as a pillow and one under the feet of the corpse. In every
family of importance there was a slave wife who went by the name of
_mwila ndako_, and it indicated that she was to be buried alive with her
dead husband. If, however, this wife had a child before her husband
died, then another woman took her place—a young woman was generally
selected for this doubtful honour. The number of wives buried in the
grave was in proportion to the man’s wealth and importance, but he
always made certain of one—the _mwila ndako_. We were able eventually to
persuade them to abandon this custom, but it was not until we had gained
their confidence and good-will by long residence among them.

A man while mourning for a relative or a wife wears rags, or an old
string fish-net, and allows his body to go unrubbed with oil and camwood
powder. Utter disregard of one’s personal appearance is a sign of great
grief for the departed. At times men wear women’s dresses instead of
their own in token of their sorrow, and they shave off only half the
hair of the head, or tie the hair up in little bunches or knots and
shave the hair off the spaces between the knots; and some rub their
bodies with clay. The modes are many and various, according to the
nearness or remoteness of the relationship. In some cases they exhibit
real sorrow, but in the majority of cases there is more noise and show
than true grief.

Rarely does a man give way to crying; and if his dearest friend dies
(not his relative) he exhibits no sign of mourning, not because he does
not feel sorry, but because he does not desire to attract attention to
himself as a person who mourns for one who is not his relative. It would
be most unusual, and besides, if he has signs of mourning about him, the
folk will be constantly stopping him and inquiring of him which of his
family is dead.


  _Photo by: Rev. R. H. Kirkland_
  This man was, to some extent, responsible for the transport of State
    goods and messages between Nouvelles Anvers on the Congo and
    Bosisera on the Lake. The woman has the spiral rings on her legs,
    and her feet are greatly swollen by reason of the heavy rings.

During the first few hours after a woman’s death nearly all her female
relatives and neighbours cry as though their hearts are broken; but the
next day they commence dancing, and continue to do so at short intervals
for five or six days. The husband hires a professional dancer to act as
master of the ceremonies.

Upon the death of a man his widows cry and drink water mixed with clay,
either dress themselves in a few leaves or strip themselves absolutely
nude and rub dirt on the body (sometimes only half the body is covered
with clay and the other half left its natural colour, giving a very
grotesque appearance to the mourner), then taking something belonging to
their late husband they parade the town in pretended search for him.

After the funeral they sit in their houses, or inside a rough grass
screen, for five or six days, until the sister of the deceased man gives
them permission to leave their houses, and then for about six weeks or
two months they walk only in the “bush,” and if they hear anyone coming
they hide, and during this time they may not walk about the town. Then
for another three months they wear long, untidy-looking grass cloths. If
their late husband was a great hunter, then the widows will not eat meat
during the period of mourning; but should they during this period “live
well,” the deceased man’s sister or daughter will upbraid them for not
mourning properly, and the folk in the town will regard them as callous,
hard-hearted women, and the public opinion of the district will condemn
them. The new widows are not supposed to go to the farms or engage in
any of their former occupations, and as their visits to the farms are
very irregular their supply of food is meagre, so they are said “to
fast” during the period of mourning. At the end of the mourning and
fasting they wash, don their better dresses, and are distributed among
the heirs of their deceased husband, i.e. among his sons.

At the funeral of a man there is more or less firing of guns, according
to the importance of the deceased. This they say is to ensure for him a
good entrance into the nether world, a place situated somewhere below.
The departed spirits in the nether world, hearing the firing, gather
about the entrance to welcome the new arrival. Some say that the spirit
of the deceased “hovers near the entrance” (others say “near to the
body,”) while they decorate the body, dig the grave, kill the slaves,
prepare the wife who is to accompany him; then comes the firing, the
entrance to the nether world, and the welcome. If the deceased was a
great fighter the family arranges a sham fight in his honour, and these
sham fights occasionally take place for two or three years.

The names of the dead are freely mentioned for a few weeks after death,
and such names are even passed on to children if there is any likeness
of the child to the deceased; and some natives have a misty idea of the
possibility of the rebirth of the deceased in the child who bears the

If a slave commits suicide his master will throw his body into the
river; but a free man who commits suicide is buried in a shallow grave
with little or no ceremony, because he has died by his own hand.
Suicide, however, is extremely rare among the Boloki. Women are buried
with the same ceremony as a man, and in accordance with their position
in the town.

There are two dances that should be mentioned in connection with their
funeral rites: The first is named _ebala_. Directly a man of any
position dies the family orders sugar-cane wine, which takes a few days
to prepare in any large quantity. As soon as the wine is ready a large
hardwood drum is beaten, and the men and women dance for three days and
nights, or as long as the wine lasts. Lines are formed and a man leaves
the line and advances, and a woman leaves the line opposite and advances
to within a yard of the man, there they wriggle, shuffle their feet,
shake their bodies for a few moments, and return to their places, and
another couple advance, and thus all down the line over and over again.
It is a regular wake, accompanied by much drunkenness and immorality—the
former openly, the latter under cover.

The second dance is _muntembe_, from _ntembe_ = stems of cassava plants.
When a woman dies who is held in much honour by the other women in the
town as a good farmer, one who has taught them much and frequently about
farming, and under whose leadership they have been successful in their
operations, the other women will, a few days after such a one’s death,
form a procession, decorate themselves with leaves, twigs, and creepers,
and dance and chant her praises through the town. At the close of the
dance they go in a body to the farm of the deceased woman and hoe and
plant a large patch of cassava for the use of her family. The family
supplies the dancers with sugar-cane wine for this festivity.

In 1890 I saw in Bonjoko—a town just below Monsembe—the entrance, 6 feet
by 8 feet, to a house paved with skulls; and it was customary not only
to use skulls in this way, but also to put the skulls of enemies at the
base of palm trees and to use them as foot-stools. The desire was, by
these indignities, to insult the fallen enemy and to maintain some hold
on the spirits of those slain in war that they might attend their
conqueror in the spirit-land.


                              CHAPTER XXIV


White and black magic—Albinos—Causes of disease—Those easy to
    diagnose—Non-professional healers—Discovering a troublesome
    spirit—Various remedies—Cupping—The clyster—Ligatures for
    snake-bites—Snake-men—Rubbing things out of a patient—Ignorance of
    physiology—White man’s difficulty—Dangers of buffalo-hunting—Ravages
    of crocodiles—Escaping crocodiles.

The medicine man’s white magic, i.e. those means employed for curing the
people of their mental and bodily ailments, may, to us, seem foolish and
inadequate, but there is nothing to condemn in its practice except that
it often deceives the people. Whether the medicine man deceives
himself—believes in himself or not—is another matter.

Undoubtedly, through generations of inherited knowledge concerning
herbs, etc., they possess some remedies that do their patients good; and
there are many faith cures—the results of an implicit belief in the
medicine man and the means he uses. I have noticed that the Congo
medicine man cures just that class of ailments that the different
branches of “faith healers” cure in Europe and America.

The Congo system of _white magic_ is founded on quackery, but like
quackery in other parts of the world the remedy sometimes meets the
disease, and such successes are remembered and talked about, while the
many failures are forgotten. _Black magic_, i.e. those means employed
for inflicting pain, misfortune, and death on an enemy, is to be found
in all parts of the Congo. Although _black magic_ is so widely
practised, yet it is condemned by the natives in as strong language as
that used by the white man. Every native condemns it in everybody else,
and excuses it in himself. Those who practise it must do so in secret,
or the hatred of the village and the district will fall upon them.

In the Appendix will be found a fairly complete list[42] of the diseases
from which the people suffer. In addition to the complaints there
mentioned, the natives suffer from stomachache, toothache, soreness of
gums, sympathetic buboes, ulcers caused by jiggers (chigoes), etc., the
children from wind, teething, convulsions, etc.

Footnote 42:

  See Appendix, Note 5, page 345.

There are rare cases of albinos (_yeme_), and they are regarded with
respect, and although they marry, yet there are many women who, through
fear, refuse to have them. The skin is a dirty white with a distinct
tint of pink in it. The hair is curly and very light, with a glint of
red, and the eyes are red and intolerant of light. Albinos are somewhat
repulsive looking, and one is glad to turn the eyes quickly in another
direction. Those I have seen were men, well-developed and healthy
looking, except that the skin had a pimply rash on it, which may have
been due to the strong rays of the sun on a delicate skin. They suffer
considerably from the direct rays of the sun on their skin, probably as
much as a white man would suffer who had to go about in tropical Africa
in a nude condition.

Among the people there are cases of auburn hair, but the eyes are not
different from those of other people. With the exception of
supernumerary toes and fingers, the deformities I have seen have been
due to disease. People with a sore on the under part of the heel often
walk on the toes, or side of the foot, so long that at last they are
unable to walk properly.

The Boloki attribute diseases to several causes, such as broken taboos,
curses, witchcraft, to disembodied spirits (_mingoli_), to the spirits
of disease (_mēte_), i.e. those spirits that give individual complaints,
to those spirits (_mieta_) that give family complaints or epidemics, and
to the spirit (_ejo_) of wealth, which inflicts severe diseases, and
when the sufferer dies he (or she) is regarded as taken by this spirit,
or, as sacrificed to the spirit of wealth.

The general name for medicine is _mono_, and it may mean a daub of
simple pigment on the affected part, a poultice of leaves, or a
complicated concoction that has taken a long time to prepare and some
thought to arrange.

It will be seen from a study of their diseases that they fall into
two classes: (1) Those of which the symptoms are observable and
easily diagnosed, as diarrhœa, insanity, etc.; and (2) Those of
which the symptoms are difficult to diagnose, as great debility,
sleeping-sickness, etc. The former are regarded as simple
sicknesses, called _bokono_; but the latter are put to the credit of
the various spirits, or to the malignant influence of witchcraft.
When the sickness is simple (_bokono_), herbs are employed,
medicines prepared, and taboos imposed on the patient; when,
however, the illness is caused by one or other of the spirits, then
a medicine man whose work it is to deal with that particular spirit
is called. The functions of the various witch-doctors have already
been described, and also of the spirits that either send or impart
diseases. Some sicknesses are especially regarded as the result of
breaking a covenant and falling under the curse that follows, as
dysentery; or as the result of a broken treaty, as wounds and death
in a fight; or as the consequences of a wife’s unfaithfulness while
the husband is away at a fight, as severe wounds.


  _Photo by_: _the Author_
  The taller lad tried to escape from his master, but was captured and
    handcuffed. The smaller lad, whose loyalty was undoubted, was a
    slave of the same master. For several weeks they were fastened to
    each other.

During my residence among the Boloki, although many folk submitted to
the ordeal for various reasons, and among others for bewitching people,
yet I heard of only one or two taking it for bewitching a person to
death. The verdict generally given by the witch-doctor is: He died by
his own witchcraft while trying to bewitch someone else. And many a time
I have heard the friends of the deceased protest against this charge—for
they considered it an insult to the memory of their departed friend—and
insist that he died “by an act of God.”


  It it one of the duties of a wife to comb out and plait her husband’s
    hair. Sometimes she shaves the head, forming crescents, squares,
    diamonds, etc., according to the pattern in fashion at the time.

In simple complaints medicines are prepared from herbs for inward and
outward applications, fomentations are applied, and massage is employed,
and in many cases charms and amulets are supplied to the patient. In the
more serious kinds of illness, as smallpox, dropsy, etc., a person who
has recovered from the sickness very often sets up as a healer of the
same—for who knows better how to cure an illness than he (or she) who
has had it?

These healers of specific diseases are not witch-doctors, nor are they,
by the natives, respected as such; and if they fail to cure, the patient
is removed to a medicine man as the last resort. The fees of the former
are as moderate as a quack doctor’s compared with the fees of a
professional man. Of these healers there is a large number, and it is
impossible to give an outline of their practices, for each follows his
(or her) own method, and tries to keep that method a secret; and even
when fomentations or herb decoctions are used, the ingredients are known
only to the compounder. Simple massage is a favourite operation, and
seems to be much enjoyed by the patients; and its curative qualities are
not placed to the credit of friction, warmth, or magnetism, but to the
fetish power of the rubber.

As stated above, most of the diseases in the list are regarded as
_bokono_ = simple sickness, illness, complaint; and it is only when they
do not yield to ordinary, simple treatment that they are viewed more
seriously as the result of witchcraft, or possession by one or other of
the spirits, e.g. an ulcer shows itself, and is treated with
fomentations, etc., but it happens that the ulcer spreads and drains the
strength of the patient; a medicine man is called in, and the cause
sought for either in witchcraft, the breaking of a taboo, the operation
of a curse, or in the malignant action of a spirit. The complaints
called debility, sleeping-sickness, very bad rheumatism, ague fever, or
boils, are supposed to originate in one of these ways, and it is the
object of the medicine man to discover in which way, in order to use the
right means.

The witch-doctor beats his drum near the patient, talks excitedly,
chants various phrases, the sense of which the people often do not
understand, but the lilt of the metre, together with the rhythm of the
drum, causes the patient to sway to and fro and has an hypnotic effect
on him.

When he is worked up to the right pitch the medicine man asks him: “Have
you eaten anything?” i.e. Have you broken a taboo? The patient takes no

“Have you done anything?” i.e. Have you broken a covenant and so come
under a curse? is the next question, but the man takes no notice.

“Are you bewitched?” or, “Are you bewitching anybody?” To these
questions no answer is given.

“Have you a spirit (_bwete_)?” The patient jerks and twitches his body,
beats his arms, and sways more vigorously, and thus it is known that the
sufferer is possessed by a certain kind of spirit.

The next thing is to discover whether the spirit is that of debility,
sleeping-sickness, etc., and that point being decided by the jerking of
the patient’s body as the questions are put to him, the medicine man
proceeds to make the necessary charms and put the man under the proper
taboos. The whole of this ceremony of diagnosing a patient’s case is
called _mobalu_.

There are modifications of this ceremony in which only rattles are used,
and not drums, and many women sing and shake rattles round the patient,
who lies in the middle of the ring, well anointed with oil; or there may
be only a few present, and the drum is beaten and the patient taken
inside a mat enclosure with the medicine man, but the principle is the

The following are some of the remedies employed: _Kuta_ is to heal
quickly the cuts of a badly wounded man by placing him on a shelf and
lighting a fire under him, so that the smoke enters the wounds. _Ngele_
are leaves for drawing boils and abscesses to a head. _Moteba_ leaves
are boiled and rubbed on a person suffering from sleeping-sickness.
_Longele_ = a brass rod; some medicine is tied to a brass rod, and it is
then worn to strengthen the arm or the leg—some wear it for rheumatism.
_Makulu matuki_ leaves are good for sores and wounds, and the juice of
the leaves is dropped into sore eyes to heal them; and some eat the
leaves to induce pregnancy. _Makalala_ are small sticks of powerful
“medicine” for soothing the violently mad. There is a word, _yengola_,
which means to kill or drown a person who is too ill to recover.

Cupping (_nyunya_) is often practised. Sometimes it is simple bleeding
by snicking the part affected, and at other times it is cupping proper
with horn and suction. The part to be benefited is cut with a knife, and
the large bottom end of a horn, which has a hole at the small upper end,
is put over the cuts. The operator puts a pill of clay or soft wax into
his mouth, sucks at the hole, and with his tongue puts the wax pellet
over it. This he repeats until the air in the horn is exhausted, and
then the blood will run freely from the cuts.

The clyster (called _njango_) is used for relieving pains in the
stomach. A calabash is filled with water in which some herbs have been
boiled. The patient lies on his stomach and a reed is inserted, and the
liquid in the calabash is poured into the reed; but sometimes they use a
calabash with a very long neck, and this is inserted, and the liquid
allowed to gravitate into the bowels.

Ligatures are tied—one above and the other below the wound—for a
snake-bite, some bitter plant (_bololo_) is given to the bitten person
to chew. A medicine man also “scrapes the wound to remove the teeth left
by the snake.” There are persons, and even families, who handle snakes
with impunity, and these are supposed to possess snake medicine. Such a
person is called if the patient is suffering severely from a snake’s
bite, and on his arrival he and the bitten person clasp each other’s
right wrist, and the snake-man will beat the other’s arm to drive the
poison (_ngenge_) from him into himself. I have never heard of a death
from a snake-bite, but I have seen nervous people very much scared after
being bitten by a snake.

There is another mode of curing a sick person called _bowa_. The patient
lies on his back and the medicine man, taking a saucepan of boiling
water, kneels by the side of his patient. He shakes some leaves over
him, dips his hand into the water, rubs the stomach of the sick one, and
in a short time shows a palm nut, as having come from the patient. This
performance is repeated again and again, and each time a palm nut, or a
stone, or a piece of iron is shown as coming from the patient, and is
taken as evidence that the sickness is being expelled.

Natives endure the heat much better than the cold. The palm-oil and red
camwood powder used so freely as a cosmetic protect their bodies from
the direct rays of the sun, and are also, I believe, a protection from
the cold air and light showers of rain; but a really cold, sunless day
seems to crumple them up, and they lose all energy. Blood-poisoning is
very rare, and wounds from knives and spears heal rapidly.

The natives are practically ignorant of physiology, and their firm
belief for generations that diseases are due to witchcraft and evil
spirits has kept them from making any progress in the study of that
science. I remember many years ago a man coming to me complaining of an
acute pain in his side, which he regarded as the presence of an evil
spirit in him. After due consideration I thought it was probably due to
a touch of pleurisy, and administered a flying blister (a lotion applied
with a feather) to the place, and told him to go to bed. Early next
morning the man came hurrying to me, and pointing to the blister that
had come up in the night, he said: “White man, look where the evil
spirit has come out.” He thought that as all pain had gone, and there
was a blister over the place where it had been, the evil spirit had come
out there, and the blister was the result of its exit.

One of the greatest difficulties we encounter on the Congo is that of
diagnosing a disease. The natives have never been in the habit of
describing their symptoms, consequently when we commence medical work in
any new district we are at a great disadvantage, and it takes long
training before the people will clearly state the nature of their pains,
or anything that will really help us to diagnose their complaints. While
in the language we find the names of a large number of diseases, yet it
is very poor in words describing symptoms, and this paucity of
symptom-words arises from the fact that for centuries the witch-doctors,
in their own interests, have fostered the belief that complaints are
caused by evil spirits which they alone can drive out of them. Not only
is there this lack of words describing symptoms, but there is a
reticence on the part of the patient to explain his pain, etc., as he
thinks that the “doctor” who has any pretension to healing a person
should certainly be able to discover what is wrong. Their witch-doctors
do not closely question their patients, but at once proceed to the cure;
why, therefore, should the white man make so many inquiries?

On the Lower Congo we have a large number of gun accidents. The cheap,
common guns, the barrels of which are usually made out of old gas-pipes,
frequently explode and do much damage to the firer. Occasionally during
the hunting season one hunter mistakes the rustling in the grass made by
another hunter as the movements of an animal, and fires in the direction
of the noise, only to find, when too late, that he has wounded a
fellow-hunter. Very often when crawling through the grass after game the
hammer of the gun catches in the grass, and in pulling it free the gun
goes off, and the man behind receives the full charge into his body, and
the lifeless corpse is carried back to the town; or, if severely wounded
and not dead, the man is brought to us for treatment.

Both on the Lower Congo and the Upper there are serious accidents from
buffalo-hunting—more to be dreaded than leopard-hunting. One case
brought to us on the Upper Congo was that of a man who had fired at a
buffalo which took refuge in a clump of trees. He thought, after waiting
a time, that he had killed it, but on venturing to investigate too
closely the infuriated, wounded animal came out at him and tossed and
tumbled him about in its rage as a cat does a mouse. It was at last
frightened away by the hunter’s companions, and when they brought him to
us it took me nearly an hour and a half to sew him up and bandage his
many wounds—he querulous and abusive all the time, complaining that I
was giving him more pain than the buffalo did. He, however, made a good
recovery and was duly grateful.

On the Upper Congo the crocodiles inflict the greatest damage on the
natives. Here is a canoe with a few folk paddling quietly along, when a
crocodile shoots up by its side so suddenly that the occupants are
startled, and leaning too much to one side to get as far as possible
from the ravenous jaws, they upset the canoe, the brute takes one and
goes off. There is much wailing, a charge of witchcraft, and perhaps
another death is the result.

A considerable amount of fishing is done by the women in the shallow
waters, and while they are thus busily occupied the crocodile has its
opportunity. I have often met women who have asked me for medicine for
wounds on their legs, and on looking at them I frequently found that the
wounds were teeth marks. On inquiring how they came by them, their
answers, generally given nonchalantly, were always the same: “A
crocodile caught me by the leg while I was fishing.”

“How did you escape from the creature?” would be my next question.

“Oh, I rammed my thumbs into its eyes,” was the invariable reply, “and
it let me go, and I was able to escape.” And suiting the action to her
words the woman would turn round and show me how it was done. It needed
great presence of mind, and undoubtedly those who did not possess it
were carried off; and those also who were caught in such a way that it
was impossible for them to turn, were dragged under water, drowned, and
eaten at leisure.


  _Photo by: Rev. C. J. Dodds_
  The native was working at a log in the river running by his village
    when a crocodile came up by the side of the log and caught his hand.

One morning a woman left Monsembe in a small canoe to fish on the
shallow bank of a neighbouring island. As she had not returned by sunset
about twenty men came to borrow our large canoe that they might go in
search of her. About 9 p.m. they returned, and by their shouts in the
distance we learned that they had found the missing woman. On landing
her we discovered that she was severely wounded with crocodile bites—the
worst case I had ever seen. We set to work to clean the wounds, and
sewing up some we bandaged her and left her as comfortable as we could
for the night. We afterwards heard the story of her adventures.

It appears that while fishing she saw a crocodile coming for her, so she
ran for a tree, and as she climbed the brute raised itself and snapped
at her, tearing her fingers, her thighs, and legs, but not getting a
sufficient grip of her to pull her down. There she sat, wounded,
bleeding, and faint with hunger and loss of blood, through the long day,
with the crocodile lying in wait at the foot of the tree. Occasionally
she cried out, but there was no one near enough to hear her shouts. She
at last heard the paddles of the canoe and the calls of the men, and,
responding to them, she guided them to the tree where she was sitting.
As the men neared the tree they heard the splashing of the water as the
brute made off in the darkness. She fully recovered, and after a time
seemed none the worse for her painful experience.

At Boma I saw the skin of a crocodile that measured 25 feet long. The
trader who killed it showed me twenty-two brass armlets and anklets,
weighing 11½ lbs., that had been taken from its stomach, a proof that in
the course of its life it had killed and eaten several people. But there
are times when the laugh is on the other side. A colleague of mine fired
from a steamer at a crocodile that apparently was asleep on the sandy
bank of the river. The bullet struck the head, and as the beast did not
move everybody thought it was killed. Some of the steamer’s crew jumped
into the water, swam ashore, and just as they caught hold of the tail to
turn the creature over preparatory to cutting it up, the crocodile
regained consciousness (for it had only been stunned by the bullet
grazing the top of the head) and started for the river. Such a
tug-of-war was never witnessed before—there was the crocodile struggling
to gain the water and some men hauling it back by the tail, while
others, quickly procuring some chunks of wood, were beating the
reptile’s back to break it. The men won the contest, and that night
feasted on their enemy the crocodile.

At all our stations we have good dispensaries, and at some,
well-equipped hospitals; and we do our best to alleviate suffering and
save life. As non-medical missionaries we can always comfort ourselves
with the thought that what we do medically for the natives is far better
than they can do for themselves, or have done for them by their medicine
men. We are glad, however, to say that we have now three fully qualified
doctors in our Mission, whose up-to-date scientific knowledge, joined to
their kindly sympathy with the natives, is doing much to relieve pain
and save life. Our only regret is that we have not a doctor on every

Footnote 43:

  See Appendix, Note 6, page 346, for statistics of white people’s



                     NOTE 1.—ON YEASTS OR FERMENTS


On the Lower Congo, where palm-wine was easily procurable, I have often
made bread by using one tumbler of palm-wine to one of lukewarm water,
with some sugar to counteract the sourness or acidity of the wine, and
salt to taste. This was mixed with flour into a dough about 8 a.m.,
divided into two lumps, put into two well-floured or greased tins, and
placed out in the sun to rise, with a cloth over them to keep away dust
and dirt. About 11 or 12 o’clock the loaves would have risen well, and
were ready for baking.

If palm-wine can be bought regularly, then it can be used for every
batch of bread; but if the supply is doubtful, or very irregular, then a
knob of the dough—about the size of an egg—should be taken from the
dough before it is divided into loaves, put into a mug, covered and
placed on one side. This lump of dough will rise, and in two or three
days, when the next batch of bread is required, it can be thoroughly
mixed with a pint of warm water, a tablespoonful of sugar, some salt
(and, if you have it, a pinch of bicarbonate of soda), and the process
is completed, and with this yeast you can make the bread as though using
fresh palm-wine.

At Monsembe, however, there was no palm-wine, but plenty of sugar-cane
wine, so we used that with very good results. Sugar-cane wine should be
strained through a fine cloth before using, otherwise the fibres left in
the wine will irritate the stomach and give rise to serious

The following, however, is the most satisfactory leaven that has yet
been discovered on the Congo, where it is becoming a general favourite,
and is fast ousting palm-wine as a leaven: Take a pint bottle and put
into it two tablespoonfuls of flour, one tablespoonful of castor sugar
(or its equivalent in lump sugar), a teaspoonful of salt, nearly fill
the bottle with warm water, thoroughly shake until well mixed, lightly
cork, and stand it in a warm corner of the house. Occasionally stir the
mixture, and on the fourth or fifth day it will sing with fermentation.

I found the following the best method for making bread with this leaven:
When the contents of the bottle were singing with fermentation I took
the bottle in the evening (about 5 or 6 o’clock), and, well stirring the
fermenting mixture, poured it into a wash-hand basin, leaving at the
bottom of the bottle some of the liquid—about two fingers deep. Into the
basin was then put a half-pint of lukewarm water, a small teaspoonful of
salt, and two lumps of sugar; the cook boy thoroughly stirred into this
mixture some flour to the consistency of a batter. He generally beat the
batter for ten or fifteen minutes—the more it is beaten the lighter will
be the bread. A towel was spread over the basin, and it was put away in
the cupboard.

I then took the bottle, measured into it flour, sugar, salt, and warm
water as before, shook it well, and put it back in its place. On account
of having left in the bottle a little of the old leaven the new
preparation would be ready in two days, and it should be used then, or
not later than the third day. A family of two or three persons will soon
find how much bread they need for two days and can add more or less
water to the leaven poured into the basin.

It will be found next morning that the batter or sponge put away in the
cupboard has almost filled the basin with a fine dough. To this sponge
add flour, well knead it into a medium stiff dough, put in two tins,
place out in the sun (or if a cloudy day stand near the kitchen fire),
drop a thin cloth over the tins to keep dust away, and in three or four
hours the dough will be well risen, and then bake. This always gave us
splendidly light bread. An occasional pinch of bicarbonate of soda
dropped into the bottle will neutralize acidity. A good, neutral bread
is a great boon, and helps to keep one in good health.

                         NOTE 2.—ON BOLOKI VERB

The verb in the Boloki language has the eight following forms: Active,
Passive, Stative, Causative, Prepositional, Reciprocal, Reflexive, and

              Active       kanga = to tie.

              Passive      kangama = to be tied.

              Stative      kangwa = to be in a tied

              Causative    kangija = to cause to tie.

              Prepositional kangela = to tie for or with.

              Reciprocal   kangana = to tie one another.

              Reflexive    _mikanga_ = to tie oneself.

              Repetitive   _kangelela_ = to tie again and

The moods of the verb are: Infinitive, Imperative, Indicative,
Subjunctive, and Purportive.

Infinitive mood is made by prefixing _lo_ to the verb: _najingi lokanga_
= I desire to tie.

The imperative is _kanga_, and a more emphatic form _kangaka_ = tie. The
imperative hortative is formed by _leme_ = let, followed by the present
subjunctive, as _leme nakanga_ = let me tie.

The indicative is _nakanga_ = I tie.

The subjunctive, (_te_) _nakanga_ = (that) I may tie.

The purportive, _naye nokakanga_ = I am come to tie.

The tenses are as follows:

          Indicative pres.          _nakanga_ = I tie

          Indicative pres.          _nakakanga_ = I am tying.
            indefinitive continuous

          Indicative pres. perfect  _nakangi_ = I have tied.

          Indicative pres. perfect  _nakakangi_ = I have been
            continuous                tying.

          Indicative past           _nakangiki_ = I tied.

          Indicative past           _nakakangiki_ = I was
            indefinite continuous     tying.

          Indicative past perfect   _nakangaka_ = I had tied.

          Indicative past perfect   _nakakangaka_ = I had
            continuous                been tying.

The past imperfect and progressive tenses made with the aid of the verb
“to be” are as follows:

        _Nabeki nakangi_   =      I tied in time near past.
        _Nabeki nakakangi_ =      I was tying in time near past.
        _Nabaka nakangi_   =      I tied in time far past.
        _Nabaka nakakangi_ =      I was tying in time far past.

           Indicative future       _naakakangi_ = I shall
             indefinite              tie.

           Indicative future       _naakakanga_ = I shall be
             indefinite continuous   tying.

           Indicative future       _naakakangaka_ = I shall
             perfect                 have been tying.

           Indicative future       _naikakanga_ = I am just
             immediate               about to tie.

           Narrative tense         _ekangele_ = I tied.

           Narrative tense         _ekakangele_ = I was
             continuous              tying.

There are only three conjugations to be found, and these are formed on
the final vowel of the root:

             SIMPLE VERB.   PERFECT.        PASSIVE.
                _kanga_     _kangaka_       _kangama_
                _bete_      _beteke_        _beteme_
                _kolo_      _koloko_        _kolomo_

It will be interesting to the reader, before closing this very short
note on the verb, for me to give an idea of the number of verbs that can
be built up on a single verb by the aid of affixes which can all run
through the various tenses already mentioned. The seven given in the
first paragraph of this note are not repeated here:

Active transitive. _Kanga_ = to tie.

Passive and prepositional. _Kangemela_ = to be tied for (a purpose).

Passive and causative. _Kangimija_ = to cause to be tied.

Passive, prepositional, and causative. _Kangemelija_ = to cause to be
tied for (a purpose).

Active, reciprocal, and prepositional. _Kangenela_ = to tie one another
for (a purpose).

Active, reciprocal, prepositional, and causative. _Kangenelija_ = to
cause to tie one another for (a purpose).

There are many other combinations in use, but these twelve will give
some idea of the possibilities of the verb and its prefixes and
suffixes. It will be noted that although the passive of _kanga_ is
_kangama_, yet in the above examples the vowels sometimes become _e_ and
sometimes _i_, this is because the vowel _e_ in _ela_ (see first
example, the passive and prepositional form given in the preceding
paragraph) changes the final _a_ of _kangama_ into _e_ as _kangamela_,
and has a retro-active force in turning the initial _a_ of the passive
suffix also into _e_; _kangama_ is really _kangaama_, but as one _a_
elides another it becomes _kangama_, and _kangemela_ is really
_kangamaela_, but _a_ elides before _e_, so it becomes _kangamela_, and
the _e_ in the penultimate demands that the other _a_ of the suffix
should become _e_ also, hence we have _kangemela_. The same euphonic law
demands that _kanga-ama-ija_ should become _kangimija_, and
_kanga-ana-ela_ should become _kangenela_.

There is also an intensive form of the verb that is best expressed in
English by a suitable adverb:

_Kata_ = to hold; _katatala_ = to hold tightly; and this has a causative
_Katitija_ = to cause to hold tightly.

_Kana_ = to push in; _kanalala_ = to be pushed in too much, _kaninija_ =
to cause to go in too far.

_Ama_ = to press; _amamala_ = to be pressed too far: _amimija_ = to
cause to be pressed too much.

_Tamba_ = to stand out; _tambambala_ = to be standing out conspicuously,
and the causative _tambimbija_ = to cause to stand out well in sight.

In the above are very good examples of what I call, for the lack of a
better word, the retro-active power of their euphonic laws for
harmonizing the vowels.

By the aid of so plastic a verb we had no difficulty in expressing the
finest shades of meaning in the New Testament—a part of which is
translated into the Boloki language—and in translating other books for
the benefit of the natives.


The numerals from 1 to 5 are declinable. The letter in brackets is the
particle that changes according to the class of the noun used, e.g. two
persons would be _batu_ (_ba_) _bale_ = persons two but two cloths would
be _bilamba_ (_bi_) _bale_ = cloths two.

The numerals are: 1, (_y_) _awi_; 2, (_i_) _bale_; 3, (_i_) _atu_; 4,
(_i_) _ne_; 5, (_i_) _tanu_; 6, _motoba_; 7, _nsambu_; 8, _mwambi_; 9,
_libwa_; 10, _jumu_ or _mokangu mwawi_ = one tying; 11, _jumu_ _na_
(_y_) _awi_; 12, _jumu na_ (_i_) _bale_; 20, _mikangu mibale_; 30,
_mikangu miatu_; 40, _mikangu mine_; 50, _mikangu mitanu_; 60, _mikangu
motoba_; 70, _mikangu nsambu_; 80, _mikangu mwambi_; 90, _mikangu
libwa_; 100, _nkama_ or _munkama_; 200, _minkama mibale_; 1000, _nkutu
yawi_; 2000, _nkutu ibale_; 10,000, _mokoko_; 20,000, _mikoko mibale_.

The meaning of _mikangu mibale_ (20) is, two tyings. 10 is often called
_mokangu mwawi_ = one tying, from _kanga_ = to tie. It is the custom of
the natives to roll their 15-inch brass rods (the currency) into a
series of rings about 1½ inches in diameter, and these they run one on
another, like split rings, until there are ten linked together, and they
call that _mokangu mwawi_ = one tying = 10.

The ordinal numerals are:

 _Motu wa bo_       =                The person who is first, or the
                                       first person.

 _Motu wa bane_     =                The person who is four, or the
                                       fourth person.

 _Motu wa motoba_   =                The person who is six, or the sixth

 _Motu wa libwa_    =                the person who is nine, or the
                                       ninth person.

 _Motu wa mikangu mibale na wawi_ =  twenty-first person.

To use a word of another class we will take _elamba_ = cloth.

 _Elamba ya bo_     =                the cloth that is one, or the first

 _Elamba ya bine_   =                the cloth that is four or the
                                       fourth cloth.

 _Elamba ya motoba_ =                the cloth that is  six or the sixth

 _Elamba ya mikangu miatu na bibale_ the cloth that is thirty and two,
   =                                   or the 32nd cloth.

The fingers are constantly used in counting. If a man wants to say
thirty-four he will say _mikangu_ (= tyings = tens) and hold up three
fingers for those to whom he is speaking to say _miatu_ (= three), _na_
= and, hold up four fingers for them to say (_i_) _ne_ (= four). The
letter in brackets changes according to the class of the noun
understood. By this means they ensure their hearers following and
understanding them, and no one can afterwards plead that they did not
hear the price properly, as any discrepancy between the number mentioned
by the hearers and the number of fingers held up would be corrected at
the time.

The way in which the Boloki folk use their fingers is somewhat
irregular, and for the sake of clearness I draw two hands and number the
fingers 1 to 10—1 to 5 left hand, and 6 to 10 right hand. 1 and 10 are
the thumbs. The right hand is used more than the left.

_One_ is expressed by doubling 6, 7, 8, and putting 10 over them, thus
leaving 9, the index finger, standing alone.

_Two_, by doubling down 6 and 7 and putting 10 over them, thus leaving 8
and 9 standing.

_Three_, by doubling down 9 and putting 10 over it, leaving 6, 7, and 8

_Four_, by putting 10 at the bottom of the division between 7 and 8,
that causes 6 and 7 to come forward a little, so the hand is turned
about that the two sets of two fingers may be clearly seen.

_Five_, the whole of the fingers of the right hand are left standing
with the palm turned towards the person to whom you are speaking.

_Six_, by doubling down 2 on the left hand and putting 1 over it, so
leaving 3, 4, and 5 standing, and doubling down 9 on the right hand and
putting 10 over it, so leaving 6, 7, and 8 standing, thus making two
sets of three fingers.



_Seven_, the same as 4 with the right hand and doubling down 2 on the
left hand and putting 1 over it, thus making a 4 and a 3.

_Eight_, by working the right hand as under 4 and putting 1 at the
bottom of the division between 3 and 4, and twisting the hands about so
that the four sets of two fingers may be clearly seen.

_Nine_, by holding up the fingers of the right hand as under 5 and
putting 1 at the division between 3 and 4, and twisting the left hand
about to show the two sets of two fingers.

_Ten_, by holding all the fingers of the two hands with the palms
towards the auditors, and every folding down of the fingers and
re-spreading of them means another 10. _Second way_—by clapping the
hands together, and every clap stands for 10. _Third_, and more frequent
method—by holding out the fist of the right hand, and every decided
shake of the fist stands for ten.

_Eleven_, by shaking the right fist and holding up one finger as
described under one.

_Twelve_, by shaking the right fist and holding up two fingers as
described under two; and so on.

The toes are very rarely used in counting. I have only seen them used
when counting 20,000, and then the man stretched down and put the
fingers of both hands on the toes of both of his feet and said: _mikoko
mibale_ = 20,000. Sometimes, when trying to give me an idea of vast
numbers, they would say: “It will take all our fingers and toes to tell
you,” i.e. tens of thousands.

For addition and subtraction under 10 they use their fingers, but for
higher numbers they use palm nuts, or anything suitable to hand. This is
not because they are incapable of adding and subtracting mentally, but
because they are so suspicious of each other that they want an ocular
proof that the sum is right, and that neither one is getting the better
of the other. Those who know figures and can run through their
arithmetical tables accept each other’s sums, but in transactions with
the untaught they resort to the fingers and palm nuts for counting.

They always count by fives and tens, e.g. if a person wants to make up
26 brass rods he will take 3 rods and then put 2 with the 3 and push
that 5 on one side, he will make another 5 in the same way, and then put
the two fives together, making 10, and then make two more fives and put
those together, keeping, however, the tens separate, then another 5 is
made by the 3 and 2 process, and at last 1 put down. Then the two tens
are counted, and the 5, and lastly the 1.


The accompanying lists I received about the same time from two different
young men of fair intelligence, and after I had written the two lists
down I called both the young men and read over to them their different
names for the same relative. They each argued that what they had given
was the right one, and the other was wrong. I have found the same
difficulty on the Lower Congo. It is impossible to procure a list of any
real value. My colleagues find it much the same among other tribes.

The natives of Monsembe are unanimous respecting the terms for mother =
_nyongo_; father = _ango_ and _tata_ (_ango_ is only used by a son to
the one who begot him, _tata_ is used by a slave to his master, by a son
to his father, and I have heard it used by a mother to her son. It seems
to be a term of respect in its wider use); brother = _nkaja_; sister is
also _nkaja_ (a sister calls her brother _nkaja_, and a brother calls
his sister _nkaja_; but if a girl speaks of her younger sister, or elder
sister, she uses the words _mojimi_ for the younger one and _motomolo_
for the elder only; the boy uses the same words for younger or elder
brother); younger sister or younger brother, _nkaja mojimi_; elder
sister or elder brother, _nkaja motomolo_ (_nkaja_ is never used in
speaking of the same sex as the speaker, i.e. by a sister of a sister,
or a brother of a brother); wife = _mwali_; husband = _moloi_; child =
_mwana_; male child = _mwana lele_, i.e. son; female child = _mwana
muntaka_, i.e. daughter; grandparent = _nkoko_; great grandparent =
_nkokolele_; great great grandparent = _ndalola_; but a grandchild is
_nkoko_, and so with a great grandchild = _nkokolele_, and great great
grandchild = _ndalola_.

All agree in the above names for the relationships indicated, but the
farther you get away from those degrees of relationship the more
confused the native becomes, and the more contradictory will be his
statements. The terms of relationship are employed in addressing each
other, but personal names are also used without any hesitation. The only
exception is this: When two persons of the same name speak to or of one
another they never mention the name, but say, _ndoi_ = namesake. The
names of the dead are freely mentioned, and even passed on to children.
No genealogies are kept, and in two or three generations all ties of
near relationship are lost; and if, here and there, remembered, are
non-effective except where a man can get a drink of sugar-cane wine, or
a feed by recalling kinship.


                      LIST OF WORDS FOR RELATIVES

            ENGLISH         │ WORDS GIVEN BY  │    WORDS GIVEN BY
                            │     LUTOBA      │       INTONGI
   Mother’s brother         │_mojika_         │_mojika_ and _nso
                            │                 │  mama_[44]
   Mother’s brother’s son   │_nso nyango_[45] │No name, but takes
                            │                 │  name of _mojika_ on
                            │                 │  his father’s death
   Mother’s brother’s son’s │_nso nyango_     │Called by personal
     son                    │                 │  name until death of
                            │                 │  father and then
                            │                 │  _mojika_
   Mother’s brother’s son’s │_nkaja_          │No distinctive name
     daughter               │                 │
   Mother’s sister          │_mama_           │_mama moti_[46]
   Mother’s sister’s son or │_mojimi_ or      │No distinctive name
     daughter               │  _nkaja_        │
   Mother’s sister’s son’s  │_mojimi_ or      │No distinctive name
     son                    │  _nkaja_        │
   Mother’s sister’s son’s  │_mojimi_ or      │No distinctive name
     daughter               │  _nkaja_        │
   Father’s sister          │_tamwalimoto_    │_tamwalimoto_
   Father’s sister’s son    │_bola_           │_mwana wa
                            │                 │  tamwalimoto_[47]
   Father’s sister’s        │_nkaja_          │_mwana wa tamwalimoto_
     daughter               │                 │
   Father’s sister’s son’s  │_wa mwa          │No distinctive name
     son                    │  nyango_[48]    │
   Father’s sister’s son’s  │_nkaja_          │No distinctive name
     daughter               │                 │
   Father’s brother         │_tata_           │[49]_ta mungwende_, or
                            │                 │  on his father’s
                            │                 │  death he is called
                            │                 │  _tata_ or _tata
                            │                 │  elenge_[50]
   Father’s brother’s son   │_mojimi_         │No distinctive name
   Father’s brother’s       │_nkaja_          │No distinctive name
     daughter               │                 │
   Father’s brother’s son’s │_mojimi_         │No distinctive name
     son                    │                 │
   Father’s brother’s son’s │_nkaja_          │No distinctive name
     daughter               │                 │
   Brother’s child          │_mwana_          │_mwana_
   Brother’s child’s child  │_mwana_          │_mwana_
   Grandfather, grandmother,│_nkoko_          │_nkoko_
     grandchild             │                 │
   Great grandfather, great │_nkokolele_      │_nkokolele_
     grandmother, great     │                 │
     grandchild             │                 │
   Great great grandfather, │_ndalola_        │_ndalola_
     great great            │                 │
     grandmother, great     │                 │
     great grandchild       │                 │

Footnote 44:

  _nso mama_ and

Footnote 45:

  _nso nyango_ are practically the same, as the second word in each
  phrase means mother, and _nso_ = bowels; and the idea is: the one who
  comes from the same womb as my mother; the word _nso_ is only used of
  maternal relatives.

Footnote 46:

  _mama moti_ = the little mother.

Footnote 47:

  _mwana wa tamwalimoto_ = child of _tamwalimoto_.

Footnote 48:

  _wa mwa nyango_ = of or from the little mother; _mwa_ is the
  diminutive particle.

Footnote 49:

  _ta mungwende_ = one who stands in place of another.

Footnote 50:

  _tata elenge_ = young or boy father.

_Mama_ is not an introduced word, as we found it in full use on our
arrival; and although it was often used about one’s own mother, yet it
had the same meaning, as applied to a female relative, mistress, or
mother, that _tata_ has to a male relative, master or father.

By “no distinctive name,” I mean no term indicative of relationship.
They were known by their personal name only.

                       NOTE 5.—ON NATIVE DISEASES

            _List of Native Diseases and their Native Names_

1. Scrotal hernia, _liboke_ denotes an early stage, and the word also
means a parcel, bundle; _benda_ is a later stage when the hernia is
large; and _likuku_ the last stage when the hernia reaches the knees. I
have seen two or three examples of the last stage.

2. Paralysis from sickness, _boboku_. I never saw a case of this.

3. Smallpox, _kokotu_. We had an epidemic of this disease in 1893. Some
people died, and others carry the marks to this day.

4. Bad diarrhœa, _bolete_, is supposed to be the result of a curse.

5. Bleeding at the nose from any cause, _bolongo_.

6. Insanity, _bomwa_; mild insanity in which there is extreme
foolishness, _lemana_.

7. Madness of a violent character, _mokalala_.

8. Idiocy, _bowewe_ and _ewelewete_.

9. Asthmatical wheezing, _yoko_ and _likoko_.

10. Cough, _ekokótu_. Coughs and colds are very common.

11. Crack in skin, _etena_. This is common and very troublesome,
especially when on the sole of the foot, as the hard skin takes months
to heal.

12. Crippled limb, _etengumwi_. This is very rare and results from a
wound received in a fight, or from a burn, or from walking on the toes,
heel, or side of the foot when there is a crack in the sole.

13. Nervous condition, _jita-jita-jita_, i.e. twitching.

14. Bad fever, _molungi juku-juku_ = heat, or fire plenty plenty. Fevers
are common among the natives and yield to simple treatment. The
temperature often goes very high.

15. Great debility, _lela_.

16. Poor state of health, indicated by frequent crops of boils breaking
out on various parts of the body, _libembe_.

17. Patches of pustular sores, _lifwanja_.

18. Sore throat, _lilele_.

19. Yaws, _lingala_, mostly used in the plural, _mangala_.

20. Puffy condition of the body, probably a form of dropsy, _lontutu_.

21. Blindness, _lulanda_; not common.

22. Sleeping-sickness, _luwa_, _yobi_, and _makwata_.

23. Form of non-infectious leprosy in which the skin becomes a sickly
white, indurated, cracked, and peeling. It is found generally on the
hand and the arm below the elbow, _munkana_.

24. Very bad rheumatism, _yambaka_. Persons suffering from this
complaint must not burn the wood of a certain tree called _lobaka_, or
the pain will become more acute.

25. Intestinal worms, _munsobi_, and _munsembe_.

26. Dysentery with much blood, _mwajakongo_.

27. Ague fever, _nyankili_.

28. Chest complaints of all kinds, as pleurisy, pneumonia, etc., are
called _ntulu_ = chest; to feel or suffer from such is _oka ntulu_ =
hear, i.e. feel the chest. It is also called _mobanji_ = side, ribs.

29. Elephantiasis, _mungita_; not very common.

30. Abscesses and severe boils, _litunganaka_.

31. Umbilical hernia, _muntolu_; very common.

32. Scabies, _mputu_.

33. Fits and convulsions, _bonsinga_.

34. Sciatica, and extreme debility, _yombi_.

35. Boil, _ndala_; very frequently found.

36. Mild form of rheumatism, _mokoko_.

37. Cataract of the eye, _elalei_ and _molondo_; common.

38. Blindness in one eye, _muntelele_; occasionally found.

39. Ganglion on back of hand and wrist, _etai_.

40. Deafness, _lōko_; very seldom noticed.

41. Dumbness, _mbubu_. I never met with a case, but the fact that a word
is known for it shows that the complaint is occasionally to be found
among the people.

42. Venereal diseases, _lisabu_.


Perhaps the following statistics respecting the health of white people
on the Congo will interest the reader. I have kept careful notes during
the last thirty years, and the figures may be accepted as accurate. The
figures refer only to Missionaries of the Baptist Missionary Society.

One hundred and ten men have joined the Mission since its inception in
1878 until December 31st, 1911.

                    Of these: died                38

                    Left for various reasons       8
                    (not through health)

                    Left through personal         15

                    Left through wife’s health     6



                    Still in active service.      43


                    Total                        110

                    Died during first year on     13
                    the Congo

                    Died during second  year on    3
                    the Congo

                    Died during third year on      7
                    the Congo

                    Died during fourth year on     3
                    the Congo

                    Died during fifth year on      1
                    the Congo

                    Died during sixth year on      2
                    the Congo

                    Died during seventh year on    2
                    the Congo

                    Died during eighth year on     1
                    the Congo

                    Died during ninth year on      1
                    the Congo

                    Died during tenth year on      1
                    the Congo

                    Died during twelfth year on    1
                    the Congo

                    Died during sixteenth year     1
                    on the Congo

                    Died during twenty-sixth       2
                    year on the Congo



                Of the above men, died of hæmaturic    9

                Of the above men, died of malarial    19

                Of the above men, died of dysentery    2

                Of the above men, died of other        6

                Died in a London Hospital from         1
                cancerous growth in the stomach

                Died in England from embolism (clot    1
                in the blood-vessels of the brain)


                Total                                 38

During recent years we have found it advisable for men to remain out
only for a first term of two years instead of three years, and
afterwards four years instead of five years as formerly.

During the same period 79 ladies have joined the Mission. Of these:

                     Died                        19
                     Left as widows              11
                     Left for personal health    11
                     Left for husband’s health    4

                     Still in active service     34
                     Total                       79

                Died during the first year on the      5

                Died during the second year on the     1

                Died during the third  year on the     2

                Died during the fourth year on the     5

                Died during the sixth  year on the     1

                Died during the eighth year on the     2

                Died during the eleventh year on       1
                the Congo

                Died during the fourteenth year on     1
                the Congo

                Died during the twenty-sixth year      1
                on the Congo



                Of the above ladies, died of           5
                  hæmaturic fever

                Of the above ladies, died of           7
                  malarial fever

                Of the above ladies, died of           3
                  puerperal fever

                Of the above ladies, died of           1

                Of the above ladies, died of           1
                  abscess on the liver

                Died from typhoid fever at             1

                Died from some brain trouble in        1



During the first years of our Mission we lost the most of our men
through bad houses, poor food, and ignorance of the proper treatment of
fevers, etc. From 1878 to 1890 we lost in _twelve years_ 20 men by
death; but during the _twenty years_ from 1891 to 1911 we have lost 18
men, although we have had in the field on active service twice, and
sometimes thrice, as many men as in the earlier twelve years. The first
years cost us most dearly while we were buying our experience. I might
say that we are total abstainers, but are willing to take alcohol
medicinally; and the smokers and non-smokers are about equally divided.
Every man and woman must undergo a very strict and careful medical
examination before being accepted by the Committee of the Society.

It will be seen that the first year of a man’s life on the Congo is the
most crucial one, and the next trying year is the third, i.e. at the
beginning and end of a man’s first term of service. We have altered the
first term to two years. In the case of the ladies the first year and
the fourth are the crucial ones. The ladies’ first term of service has
always been two years, then one year at home. The figures point to the
early months of the first and second terms as being most fatal. It will
be noticed that the ladies have stood the climate better than the men;
but they have never roughed it as the men, nor do they ever have to
expose themselves in doing the kind of work that necessarily falls to
the men—looking after building, transport, etc.



 Accidents, 331, 333

 Adultery, 128, 161

 African International Association, 20

 Albinos, 325

 Ancestors, 268

 Arts and crafts, 83;
   leather-work, 84;
   string-making, 85;
   bark-cloth, 86;
   pottery, 87;
   metal-work, 89, 90;
   salt-making, 91;
   songs, 93;
   carpentering, 95

 Astronomy, knowledge of, 141;
   beliefs _re_ sun, moon, and stars, 142

 Bangala tribe, the, 18, 27, 161;
   language, 48;
   station, 48;
   district, 161

 Bantu tribe, the, 159, 160

 Bark-cloth, 86

 Barter, system of, 143;
   and currency, 39

 Belgian mal-administration, 20;
   atrocities, 24, 25

 “Bespoke” money, 123

 _Blood-brotherhood_, 72, 73, 100, 226

 Blood-feuds, 99, 181

 Bokomela tribe, the, 31, 32

 _Bolobo_, 202

 Bomuna tribe, the, 161, 162, 163, 250

 Bonjoko, 99

 “Books,” superstitions concerning, 40, 46, 47, 74

 Boys, training of, 143, 145

 Brass rods, 39 n.

 Bread-making, 335

 Bride-price, the, 123

 Building, methods of, 65

 Bumba, 34, 35

 Bungundu Tribe, the, 28, 29, 30

 Burial alive, 103, 320, 319;
   burial customs, 104, 105

 Bush-burning, 229, 230

 “Bush-people,” the, 19

 Cannibalism, 31, 69, 70, 78, 104

 Charms, 145, 146, 147, 232, 255, 280, 287, 302

 Child-bearing, beliefs concerning, 129, 130, 131

 Children, twins, 130, 132, 133, 141, 273, 290

 Circumcision, 298

 Cloud-folk, 274

 Coffins, 317

 Congo boy in England, 79

 Congo Free State, the, 20

 Congo, reforms in the, 25;
   Bolobo Mission, 28;
   Basin, 159;
   River, 161, 236

 Cookery, difficulties of, 44;
   native, 117

 Corpses, decoration of, 316;
   smoking of, 317

 Counting, Boloki method of, 142, 339-348

 Court of justice, 183

 Crimes, native, 179

 Curiosity, native, 74

 Curses, native, 299-301

 Customs, 26, 102, 103;
   marriage, 122, 171, 179;
   burial, 314

 Crocodiles, 332

 Dancing, 119, 120, 227, 321

 Death, three causes of, 314;
   life after, 321

 Diboko (_Nouvelles Anvers_), 48, 161, 163

 Diseases, 269, 325, 344, 345;
   diagnosis of, 330

 Disembodied spirits, 250, 263, 267

 Divorce, 128

 Dogs, hunting, 233

 Dreams, 262

 Drunkenness, 101

 _Eboko_, 114, 126

 Education, 75, 140, 143

 Explosion, an, 316

 Families, social status of, 170

 Feasts, 104

 Fetishes, 252-256;
   fetish bell, 292, 302

 Fish collecting for the Museum, 235;
   traps, 236-244

 Floods, 231

 Folk-lore, 197-221

 Food, 117, 160

 Funeral ceremonies, 322

 Game, 230, 231

 Games, 149-158

 Goats, present of two, 44

 Government, democratic, of Boloki tribe, 172

 Government, ideal of European, 26;
   native, 169

 Graves, 318

 Healers of special diseases, 327

 Hospitality, 117, 137

 Hospitals, 334

 Houses, native, 43

 Human sacrifices, 97, 263

 Hunting, 145, 229-234

 Immorality, 147

 Inheritance, laws of, 111, 182

 Insanity, 173, 291

 Islands, 165

 _Jando_, 272

 Judge, the chief, 179

 Justice, native ideas of, 182;
   court of, 183-186;
   author as judge, 192;
   typical cases, 193-196

 Kiteke tribe, the, 257 n.

 Labour, 114

 Libinza Lake, 161, 162, 163, 165

 Land, communal rights of, 109

 Language, “trade,” 48;
   Bangala, 48, 50-54, 57-64, 336, 339

 Laws, native, 170, 179

 Leather-work, 84

 Leopold II, King of Belgium, 20, 25

 _Longa_, 107, 202, 249

 Love philtres, 286

 Lower Congo, the men of, 160, 162, 230, 246, 251, 254, 257, 267, 276,
    230, 314, 335

 Lupus in the Congo, 73 n.

 Makwata and his talking spear, 278

 _Manga_, 100, 101

 Mangumbe, 264

 Massage, 327

 _Mata_, 122, 170, 171;
   Bwiki, 163, 169

 Matadi, 19

 Mayeya’s long dive, 277

 Meat, mode of preserving, 232

 Medicine men, and witch-doctors and magic, 95, 97, 102, 103, 232, 251,

 Medicine, native, 327, 276, 280, 284, 293, 311, 324

 Metal-work, 89, 90

 Migration of native tribes, 162

 Milk-brotherhood, 132

 Mission on the Congo, 137

 Mokwete, story of, 118

 _Monanga_, 170

 Monogamy, 138, 139

 Monoka mwa Nkoi, 166

 Monsembe District, the, 34, 36, 159, 163, 231

 Monsters, mythical, 273

 Mourning, signs of, 320, 321

 Moon, beliefs concerning, 142, 248

 Mother-in-law, the, 133, 134

 Mungala Creek, the, 163, 164;
   river, 164

 Munyata, murder of, 164

 Murder, punishment for, 181;
   detection of murderer, 310

 Musuku, 22

 Natives, characteristics of, 17, 23, 24, 25, 117, 174, 176, 177

 Nether world, the, 321

 Nouvelles Anvers Station, 48, 161, 163

 Nursing the sick, 316

 _Nzambi_, 247

 Omens, 131, 226, 227, 233, 262

 Ordeals, poison, 182, 185-189;
   various, 190, 191

 Palavers, 191

 _Peace_, the steamer, 27

 Pictures, learning to read, 173

 Pioneers, early Christian, 22 n.

 Polygamy, 125, 134, 135, 136, 139

 Portuguese Roman Catholic Mission, 24 n.

 Pottery, 87

 Purification, rite of, 102

 Raiding expeditions, 166

 Railways, the narrow-gauge, 19

 Rain-doctors, 96, 280

 Religious beliefs, 246, 249, 250, 251, 252, 254, 255, 257, 258, 263

 Reincarnation, belief in, 130, 198

 River rights, 110

 Rivers: Congo, 161, 237;
   Mobangi, 161;
   Welle, 161;
   Nrgiri, 165;
   Mungala, 164

 San Salvador, 17, 22, 258

 Salt-making, 91

 Salutations, 107

 Skulls, use of, 323

 Slaves, 110, 111, 113, 125, 170

 Sleeping-sickness, treatment, 289

 Smallpox, native cure for, 288

 Smith, a native, 90

 Snake omen, the, 131, 226

 Songs, native, 92, 93, 120

 Spirits: belief in, 98, 250, 261;
   disembodied, 263;
   fear of, 266;
   deception of, 267;
   effect of, 268;
   of disease, 269, 325;
   transference into criminals, 271, 282;
   of wealth, 271;
   of the bush, 274;
   transference into spears, 274;
   in trees, 275;
   of the saucepan, 286;
   possession, 328

 Sport, native, 144, 239

 Stanley Pool, 19

 String-making, 85

 Suicide, 322

 Superstitions, 40, 46, 131, 167, 176, 197, 227, 232, 248, 323

 Swimming, 144

 Taboos, 84, 114, 294;
   permanent, 196;
   temporary, 297;
   removal of, 298, 326

 Tattooing, 140, 141, 167

 Teeth, chiselling of, 141

 Theft, 147, 175, 180;
   detection of thief, 310

 Time, system of reckoning, 142

 Trade and currency, 114, 115, 143

 Trade routes, 21, 22

 Trading factories, 22

 Transmigration, 197

 Traps, game, 145, 233, 234, 236

 Tribal marks, 167

 Totems, 131, 132, 147, 294

 Twins, treatment of, 130

 “Undertakers,” native, 317

 Upper Congo, 17, 49, 129, 230, 237, 246, 280, 332

 Villages, 115

 Virgins, 136

 Vocabulary, collecting a, 50-54, 57-61

 War, tribal, 68, 116;
   the family fight, 222;
   the town fight, 224

 Weapons, 227, 228

 Wine: sugar-cane, 100, 254, 322, 335;
   palm, 335

 Women: native treatment of, 77, 78, 95;
   widows, 111, 117;
   family life, 119;
   marriage, 122-126;
   divorce, 128;
   quarrels about, 226;
   disposal of widows, 111, 321;
   mourning of widows, 321;
   rights of wives, 125;
   loan of wives, 125;
   self-defence of wives, 126;
   exchange of wives, 128, 264;
   inherited wives, 182;
   white, 347

 Workmen, native, 81, 82

 Zanzibaris, the, 20, 21




  (Click on map for larger version.)


 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that:
      was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_);
      was in bold by is enclosed by “equal” signs (=bold=).

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Among Congo cannibals" ***