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African Baskets [19th cent.] (Public Domain Image)

At the Back of the Black Man's Mind

by R. E. Dennett


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This book is by turns detailed, incoherent, and frustratingly colonialist. Nevertheless, it is written by an intelligent and sympathetic European observer who spent many years studying West African folklore, culture, and religion at the turn of the 19th century. It is useful because it goes into much greater detail than any other book from this period about Bantu and Yoruba spiritual practices and philosophy. The problem is that it presents some very half-baked theories as to the significance of this data, which should be treated with great caution.

By reading this book critically we can glimpse a system of nature worship, sacred kingship, and shamanism from before the colonial era, and get a hint of a very complex philosophy of esoteric corespondences which rival the better documented systems (e.g. the Upanishads, the I Ching and the Qabalah). - JBH.

Chapter 1. Luango and the Bavili
Chapter 2. Election of a King in the Kongo
Chapter 3. Coronation of a King in the Kongo
Chapter 4. Courts of Maluango and Mamboma
Chapter 5. Law
Chapter 6. Measures, Signs, and Symbols
Chapter 7. Bavili Psychology
Chapter 8. Ndongoism
Chapter 9. Nkici-ism
Chapter 10. Bavili Philosophy
Chapter 11. Bibila, the Philosophy of the Groves
Chapter 12. Sacred Lands and Rivers
Chapter 13. Sacred Trees
Chapter 14. The Omens
Chapter 15. Sacred Animals
Chapter 16. Nzambi (God), the Word Nkici, and the Bakici Baci
Chapter 17. The Bini
Chapter 18. Benin Districts
Chapter 19. Bini Customs
Chapter 20. More Customs
Chapter 21. Traces of Nkici-ism Among the Bini
Chapter 22. The Philosophy at the Back of the Black Man's Mind in Table Form
Chapter 23. Conclusion