Sacred Texts  Africa  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book on Kindle

Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort, by Richard Edward Dennett, [1898], at


The Fjort, as we have seen, is quick to give a subtle meaning to words that may have no evil significance. The following may help to bring this force of words before you.

Kingolla one day went to Banana and came back to his town in rather a happy state, and thus influenced he called upon his sister Cha and said: "Keep up your health and strength and look well after your children, they are of a great family, and must live to prolong the race."

"What can he mean?" thought the sister. "We are all in good health!"

Next day one of the children fell sick and died. And Cha told her father all that Kingolla had said, and how she feared that he had bewitched her little one.

The father accused Kingolla of having poisoned the little one.

Kingolla denied the charge.

"Take casca[1] then," said the father, "and let God judge between us."

Kingolla took casca and vomited, thus proving his innocence.

I watched Kingolla's career, and as it may interest you to know more about him, I give you the following as a sequel to the above.

Some time after this, Kingolla committed adultery with the wife of a man named Lallu. Lallu caught him in the act,

[1. Casea, or cassia, or NKasa, the powdered bark of a tree.]

and fell upon his wife, and stabbed her to death. Then the father of the woman was very wroth with Lallu for spilling the blood of his daughter, when by the laws of the land he (the father) was willing to take his daughter back again and to pay Lallu, not only what he had received for her, but also a sum equal to the value of the food and clothing Lallu had given her during the time she had been with him. Thus the father declared war against Lallu and his family, and they fought. Now Kingolla joined the side of the father, and was the only man killed in that war.

Since the foregoing was in type I have received Mr. Dennett's notes on certain points raised in the Introduction. Such of them as relate to Nkissism and the allied subject of Kazila, or Xina, are here inserted, at the risk of some repetition, since they help us to form a clearer conception of those matters.

Nkissism is divided into four parts: 1. Nkissi'nsi (or Nkissi anci) Earth or Nature; Nkissi, with the king as high priest. 2. Nkissi, the wooden images into which nails are driven, with their priests or Ngangas. This division may be termed Nganga Nkissi. 3. Nkissi kissi, little fetishes, or family fetishes, with a family Nganga. 4. Medicines, with their Nganga bilongo, or medicine man.

The division here made by Mr. Dennett is interesting, because, under the four fairly distinct schools of Fetish existent in West Africa, you will find these four divisions in the religion. I would prefer to use the word departments, for the form of religion each of these departments deals with is the same in essence. The king deals with one class of affairs, the medicine-man with another, and the private individual sees to his home-fetish for himself. Mr. Dennett has called the Nganga bilongo "the medicine-man," but this term, I think, belongs more correctly to the Nganga Nkissi. For the Nganga bilongo is the Fjort representative of our apothecary, and is quite a reasonable person in his way, and it is Nganga Nkissi who represents that class to which the name "medicineman" has been applied by European writers. Nganga in Fjort, Mr. Dennett says, means Repeater, i.e. he who repeats the secrets of native religion, family affairs, or medicine, or, as I should say, those parts of religion appertaining to these several things; for no Nganga tackles all of them, but takes a department.

Mr. Dennett's most important statement is on Kazila, he says:

As it is pronounced to-day it might mean "no road," and we must remember that in old Portuguese ch had the force of k, and g had a sound between j and z. So Merolla's "Chegilla" is evidently the same thing as the Kazila. But there is something uncanny about this word; for some natives say it was given them by the Portuguese, and if so, ka or ke is simply a prefix, and the word was gira, which means gibberish or cant. The Fjort cannot roll his r or put l in its place.

The native word (about which there is no doubt) for these things forbidden is (s.) xina (for) Bina. It is xina to steal, to murder, to sleep with a woman on the bare earth, and to eat a certain number of food-stuffs. The punishment is not always death. Sometimes the punishment for eating a forbidden food shows itself in the culprit's coming out in spots and blotches. I know one family that will not eat pigeons, because that bird, by scratching, let light into a cave in which one of the family's ancestors had been made a prisoner. Death is certainly not necessarily the punishment for breaking one's xina.

Merolla's tale, which Miss Kingsley quotes in the Introduction (p. xxv.), proves that so long as the young Negro knew nothing about it, he was "as right as a trivet," and that it was only when he was roughly told the truth that his fear and power of imagination got the better of him and killed him. That tale is incomplete, for, according to native law, the host was the cause of the young Negro's death, and it should end up with: "and the relations of the young Negro fell upon the host, and killed him, and the people said they had done well." Once the man knew that, even by accident, he had eaten his xina, he would notice something was wrong, and he would go to the Nganga of the fetish set apart for that particular crime, and get the thing righted, or suffer sickness or death, as the case might be. I grant Miss Kingsley that if a native gave another his xina to eat, and that person died within a decent period, he would feel he had murdered him; so that when casca, was given to him to eat as an ordeal, he would die in almost the exactly same way as that in which the young Negro in the story did. All of which proves the terrible hold fear mixed with imagination has over the Fjort's mind and stomach. A pot in which any xina has been cooked is unclean for ever, as far as that person is concerned, and no amount of washing will do. As I have said, xina are general and particular. The pig is xina to all royal blood; the Ampa kala, or buffalo, to the Bakutu, as a punishment to them for not listening to the words of Maloango; the antelope to a family round about Fahi, for refusing to give water to a voice in the bush when asked for it; fish of certain inland waters to certain people, near Cabinda, for not giving water to Nzambi and her child; and so on. The Fjort believes in the "voice that speaks," and this voice (as the very soul of man) is taken from the dead father and placed in the bead of a living relation, and it speaks to the dead man's offspring, and thus what was his xina becomes the xina of his offspring. This is what the reverend fathers would call "conversing with the devil."

Next: Appendix II: Fjort Songs.