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


It has been a very difficult matter to get the song together. One cannot pick it up while they are singing it, for many of the words are new to one; and to sit out of sight, perhaps in a cramped position, from 7 p.m. until 4 a.m. is no joke, and not an aid to one's work. To go openly to such a meeting means either a disturbance of the peace or a change in the programme. Then when one has got the rough part done and begins to ask questions about the song, the native "fights shy." He is sufficiently accustomed to the white man's ways to know that he will not give him credit for being serious, and he does not like his ways laughed at. It needs a native (if he is a good man) of great moral courage to tell a white man these things; and if he is a bad one he must be a great villain, without any sense of respect for the white man he is conversing with, to speak upon such a subject. It is greatly to the Fjort's credit that he is not worse and more degraded than he is, for he has forgotten the deep meaning of the words he uses, which perhaps would keep him pure in thought in the midst of his "worship " (?) of maternity, or earth as the mother and bearer of all things. Watching the Fjort at his burial ceremonies, and not knowing the meaning of the words of his song, no one could possibly detect the slightest sign of indecency. Some who, as Chicaia said, had shame, wore the leaves of the mandioca before their persons, and these were under the influence of Christianity. Personally, the pure and unadulterated heathen seemed to me the more decent of the two, naked as he was, for he, like the half-naked stoker on board a steamer, struck me as a man who had a certain work to do, and was not afraid to do it.

The Fjort either destroys the house in which his late relative dwelt after burial, or else dismantles it and sells the material to some other family. He plants mandioca in the ground where the deceased's bed rested, so that people shall not build there again. The wives sleep in the shimbec with the corpse, but none of the family dare sleep in it after the burial of the deceased, for fear of being considered his poisoner or bewitcher. They fear a meeting with the ghost, or chimbindi, of the deceased, for no one has been known to live more than two days after having been beaten by one.

I took instantaneous photographs of the shimbec and coffin of my cook's father, whose death and burial I have related.

In my walks through KaCongo it was by no means a rare occurrence to come across a place where orange, lime, and mango-trees were found growing in a half-wild state; levelled terraces, raised foundations, and neglected mandioca plantations clearly pointed to the fact that a village had once existed there. Upon enquiry I found that these places had been deserted, owing to the number of deaths from small-pox. This is one of the reasons why a prince, although he may have a fine house, generally lives in a small shimbec by the side of it. This custom may also be one of the reasons why the Fjort is, as a rule, so poorly housed, apart from the fear he has of being considered a witch if he builds himself a substantial dwelling. If millionaires at home were as easily frightened by the Socialists, where should we all be?

Now for the song. It is past sundown, and the relations and friends about to bury their chief are seated around the coffin, that as yet does not contain the corpse. That relation who has undertaken the burial now arises, and beating the coffin with his hand, cries out:

1. "Mpolo ku fu." (Bene est mori et quiescere.)

Again he hits the coffin, and cries:

2. "Mpola makata." (Testiculi bene quiescunt.)

Again he beats the case, and shouts:

3. "Mpolo xikolo." (Cunnus bene quiescit.)
4. "Mpolo msutu." (Penis bene quiescit.)
5. "Ku fua nkulu u tuba bu ao." (Et spiritus mortuus est et dicendi facultas.)

Then the people there assembled take off their clothes, and, after the chief mourner has sung the following verse, burst forth in song, repeating the same words and tune time after time.

1. "Ku aba si tuli monanga." (In olden days of the earth [these good things] were often seen.)

The song is now changed to:

2. "Basi uanda liboili banonga mpakala bikolo." (Basi [the Basi, or secret society] illius oppidi saccum virginitatum habent.)

This song is sung by all until they are tired of it, when another one is given out, and so on.

3. "Bakakata boili umquenda o." (The old folk of the town are all dying.)
4. "Aujéi ko u rata mikala abu uaka mkuta 'mpinda" (You did not plant nor hoe, and now you have a basket of peanuts; [where did you get it?].)
5. "Néno uak'ili bulu msutu nako uvanga li bulu." (Vulva cavea est, quam fecit penis.)
6. "Beno ni kufulanga nkossa ubilo nkéia kubenga nkossa kubengila nyamu milénji." (You are always asking about the lobster; don't you know that its teeth [mouth] are misplaced, and that when you boil it, it becomes red tip to its hair?)
7. "Xilumbu xina xinquenda yaia masuella kwitekanga." (The day that my brother goes [dies] I keep on shedding tears.)
8. "Ma mbamba [1] songa, nèno uvisia munu uaka enxienzo." (Mambamba, utere cunno bene, donec os ejus doleat.)
9. "Abu lélé makata mavia mbazu." (Dum dormis, testiculi ardent).
10. "Abu lélé msutu mavia mbazu." (Dum dormis, ardet penis.)
11. "Abu lélé xikoalo xavia mbazu." (Dum dormis, ardet cunnus.)

Then comes the final part of this song:

12. "Una uku vena uli ku linda mayaka ma mona u lili obua." (One gives without being asked. The new mandioca one plants, another eats.)

Then the people sing ordinary songs until the cock crows; then they put the corpse into the coffin. The wife of the dead prince then places a small gourd into a "matet," or basket, and goes to the place she has been in the habit of going to fetch water. On arriving there, she falls into the water once, twice, three times, and her part in the ceremony of the burial of the Fjort is at an end, and she is free.

When the wife has left the coffin, the chief mourner again sings:

13. "Mingenza monami kuluma tuenda Kamangot [2] fua." (Young man, my son, push and go; Kamango is dead.)
14. "Mueniyambi [3] ngulubu xina xikoada ku lia." (Mueniyambi, they

[1. Ma mbamba is said by the Fjort to be the name of a man of old, and to-day he attaches no meaning to the name.

2. Kamango, they say, is the name of an old prince.

3. Mueniyambi, another prince of old.]

said, did not eat pig [but one day he asked them what it was he was eating, and they had to admit that] he was eating the foot of a pig.)

Then the coffin is placed in the hole dug for it, and the earth is heaped up over it by willing hands; and as the Fjort throws the earth upon the coffin, he murmurs:

"Bakulu [1] vandu vandu." (People of spirit-land, be at rest, be at rest [and don't bother the people of this world].)

Next: The Song Of The Snake.