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At the Back of the Black Man's Mind, by Richard Edward Dennett, [1906], at



Fetishism and Religion.-The Zinkici. -Putting Life into the Image.-The Mpumbu. -Rites.-Ximbuka and other Zinkici. -Amulets. -Nail Fetishes. - How they are made.

IT is commonly assumed by writers on Africa that fetishism (the worship of tutelary images) is the religion of the African. It is true that images (so-called gods of Africa) of this description are very common in the Kongo, and if religion be defined as the relation conceived to exist between man and an invisible world, the term religion may perhaps be applied without inaccuracy to this cult, which is essentially not unlike the occultism of more civilised regions with its familiar bottle imps and witches' sabbaths.

Whether this fetishism (or NDONGOISM) is, properly speaking, religion or not is of small importance. There is at any rate side by side with this cult what few observers appear to have noticed, a higher religion, which I call NKICI-ISM, connected with NZAMBI and the powers which as his attributes symbolise him under the name of BAKICI BACI.

The ZINKICI are of two classes, ZINKICI ZINZO or ZINKONDI (home-protecting figures, charms, and talismans), and ZINKICI ZIMBOWU (figures into which nails are driven). Specimens of both kinds are to be found in the British Museum and also in the Museum in Exeter, and illustrations of some of these can be seen in Plates V and VII from an article in the Quiver entitled "The Gods of Africa,"[1] by Mr. F. M. Holmes.

[1. Many people talk of the gods of the BAVILI, as they call the "powers" and fetishes, but the BAVILI themselves say NZAMBI U VANGA BANTU I U VANGA BAKICI BACI, or God made man and he made the "powers" on earth also.]

In this article there is an interesting passage referring to the late Rev. Thomas Comber, a missionary in the Congo, whom all loved very much, which, if correct, points to a difference in the way these fetishes are supposed to act in the Congo and in Luango.

"Could this image hurt me?" asked Mr. Comber.

"Oh, yes; it would strike you dead."

Mr. Comber took it in his hand, and turned it about and looked at it meditatively. It was a funny little object, an image of wood, with a large protuberance on its back and a similar protuberance on its chest, looking as though it were both hump-backed and pigeon-breasted at the same time.

"What would happen if I were to cut it?" asked Mr. Comber.

"Oh, it would strike you dead!" they exclaimed in alarm.

"May I try?" he asked.

"Oh, it will kill white man," they asserted.

But as he pressed for permission, they at last agreed.

So in breathless silence Mr. Comber drew his knife from his pocket and slowly cut off the pigeon-breast of the little figure. Scrap after scrap fell from the image, but still it made no sign. At length he desisted; the operation was complete.

"Behold," he exclaimed in triumph, "your god has no power. See what I have done, and yet I am not hurt. It is but a senseless piece of carved wood."

Then he proceeded to point the moral of his action by showing the difference between such "gods" and the God of the Christian.

From the description of the fetish given, it was one into which nails might be driven, and was perhaps the NKAWCI (two-hearted figure) NTIMA WALI and of the ZINKICI ZIMBOWU class; their names are legion.

Whatever its name, and if of the ZINKICI ZIMBOWU the figure had been named, it had cost the life of one person. When any injury has been done to one of these fetishes in Luango, its "KULU," or spirit, goes back to the owner of the fetish, and keeps on afflicting him until he has given it a new figure, but it has no power in itself to injure the person who has damaged it. If a native has done the damage he must pay for the renewal of the figure; if a white man-well, he is only a white man after all, and may be forgiven for his ignorance.

Many figures are sold to Europeans that are simply figures. A fetish that is sold has had its "KULU" withdrawn. The only genuine fetishes owned by strangers are those taken by force, but even in this case the "KULU" comes back to the NGANGA, or owner. The Luango boy might be very much alarmed and annoyed at such an action as that of Mr. Comber's, but he might, if he were a rich man, laugh and enjoy the joke, concluding that it was no use trying to frighten a white man by telling him that his fetish, as a figure, had powers which he knows it has not. Natives forgive much in a white man, especially if he chances to be beloved, as the late Mr. Comber certainly was, but if he wished to be revenged for the damage done, his course would be to have the figure renewed, and then to have a nail driven into it with the express purpose of injuring his enemy. Then the "KULU" would set about its duty.

On one occasion the Writer asked a native if the BAVILI made no images of NZAMBI. "Who would be such a fool?" the man promptly answered, and the writer said no more.

I will now proceed to deal with the Zinkici, and with some of the more important amulets of the Bavili. We have seen that one class of images is called ZINKICI ZINKONDI.

The ZINKONDI or fetishes brought by the winds, are also known as BANKONDI in LUANGO. The only images of this class seem to be the MPUMBU. These are wooden figures of a man and a woman standing about eighteen inches in height. When these figures have been carved, it is necessary to enroll them among the ZINKICI of the BAVILI. They must be set apart from common figures (NKAWCI), and dedicated to their sacred use as Nxici. This is done by the NGANGA in the following way:-

A small shed having been built, he encloses it with the fronds of the palm tree. He goes into the bush to gather the leaves of certain trees and herbs to make the necessary medicines. He picks out a man from the family for whom the Bankondi is made, who shall act as the spokesman of the figure, and then proceeds to put the spirit into him by pouring a decoction or infusion of herbs he has gathered into his nostrils and eyes. The man thus treated lies down upon an empty box within the shed, surrounded by the fronds of the palm-tree, until the spirit enters his head. He gives evidence of this by beginning to shake violently, so that his body makes a noise on the box like the beating of a drum. He then gets up and tries to run away, but he is forced back into the hut until the attack has passed, when he is given the name of "NGULI BWANGA."

The wooden figures are charged with the proper medicines, and as "Mpumbu" are then given into the custody of their spokesman, NGULI BWANGA.[1] And when NGULI BWANGA has received the MPUMBU, he buries medicines in the ground and plants a MBOTA-tree.

When a native is sick and has gone through all the necessary formalities in connection with the rites of Mpumbu (rites in which the plant MSAKASAKA plays an important part), a pig is killed, and its blood is poured over the wooden figures of Mpumbu, as if they were supposed to glory in that which the ZIFUMU ZINDONDI (kings) abhor.

The MPUMBU are said to have been brought by the EAST WIND (MABILI).

Other Zinkici are not in human form. Ximbuka has the form of a round native basket made of the Mfubu leaves, and is used as the deposit of the household remedies.

Its guardian does not throw kernels at this basket, but he shakes a small gourd (filled with hard seeds that rattle) at it, as he requests it to cure one of the family or to slay an enemy of the petitioner. It has two guardians and voices that speak for it, Nguli Bwanga, a woman, and Ngulu Bwite, a man. They are not a married couple, and are not necessarily

[1. See "Burial of the Fjort." My cook MAKAWSO was NGUM BWANGA Of the Mpumbu.

2. This guardian does not drive nails into the Mpumbu. He simply throws palm-kernels and dust at them, as he asks them to kill the hidden enemy who is secretly destroying the petitioner. And NGULI BWANGA causes the MPUMBU to kiss mother-earth as a sign that the petition is heard, by taking it in his hand and making its head touch the earth.]

associated with one another. The ceremony of putting the voices into them is the same as that connected with Mpumbu, but each personage has a hut apart, in which he or she has to live two months.

NZACI is also a basket, and the same ceremonies are gone through in putting the voices into its guardians. Both take the name of Suami until the ceremony is over, when the woman takes a small fetish, NKUTU (a small net), which she wears between her arm and body near the armpit, and becomes Xicimbo, while the man takes the name of Xitembo. The above two ZINKICI are said to have been brought by BUNZI, the south wind.

NGOFO. The ceremonies connected with this basket, which is round and open like a coaling basket, are the same, but the maiden only is placed in the hut. After this, which in this case is a marriage ceremony, both man and woman wear a certain kind of iron bracelet. The maiden when first she enters the hut is called Kayi's wife, or Nkaci Kayi; afterwards she is known as Nkaci Ngofo.

LEMBE is a bracelet connected with a marriage-rite. The wife married in this way is called Nkaci Lembe, and is the one who acts as the guardian of all her husband's Zinkici, and should she commit adultery, the husband, on his return home, upon opening the basket containing the medicines connected with the marriage would find them wet. A Nkaci Lembe is kept very strictly within her hut and the fence, LUMBU (Pl. IV, b), surrounding it. LIBUKU, a large kind of rat, is said by Tati to be XINA to NKACI LEMBE.

NGOFO and LEMBE are said to have been brought by the south-west wind, NGONZOLA.

The following are some of the principal NKICIKICI, or personal protective charms:-

CIBA, a charm worn by women to ensure safety in childbirth, consisting of a horn of the little antelope (sese) filled with "medicines."

TANTA, a string bearing a strip of the skin of the Xinkanda (lemur), tied tightly round the head as a charm to protect the wearer from harm and pain. Tanta is also worn as a sign of mourning, and is then supposed to have the effect of helping the wearer to bear his troubles.

(The sese and xinkanda are two of the most difficult animals to catch; hence the charms are proportionately valuable.)

NTEO, a charm for a woman.

NDUDA, a charm for a man (Pl. V, viii).

BETUNGA, the charm which women wear to guard the life of the baby yet unborn. It is made of a piece of the skin of the Xicimu, a kind of lemur which is a very fast breeder.

NZAU, a charm which enables a man to procreate children. It is made of the skin of the elephant.

XIKUNDA, a double-headed rattle having fetish powers, carried by the BADUNGU or police society.

Mabili (Pl. VI) as NKICi NKONDI is found at the entrance of each village and XIBILA, even as it is found at the gates of the old kingdom of Luango on its eastern frontier. It takes the form of a string of grass and feathers stretched across a road from two stakes or uprights of Nkala wood planted on each side of it.

MBUMBA is the copper bracelet worn by the NGANGA MBUMBA, who grants to those unfortunate in health the bracelet made of the fibre of the Baobab tree called SUNGA MBUMBA, not to be confounded with the iron bracelet or charm given by NGANGA MBUMBA XICIMBU.

Of the same class of charms are the bracelets (not marriage bracelets):-

NGOVQ, iron.

SUNGA NSACI, SUNGA XIMBUKA, SUNGA MABILI, SUNGA XINBINGO, plaited leaves of palm tree or cloth.

NGANGA MBUMBA XICIMBU is the full title of the NGANGA MBUMBA or medicine man attached to Maluango's court. He it is who accompanies and encourages the NGANGA NVUMBA elect to proceed on his way to BUALI to be crowned. He tells him that he will overcome all his enemies, or that he has nothing to fear, as he has no enemies, &c.

He owns the fetishes XISONGO and XISIKA.

XISONGO is a piece of iron to be found near TERO, buried in the earth near to the sacred ground. "Is it true," says the petitioner, "that I am to have no children?" as he tries to pull up this buried piece of iron.

XISIKA is a piece of heavy wood buried in the same way in different parts of the country for the same purpose, i.e., a test of virility. A plain iron bracelet is given to patients by NGANGA MBUMBA XICIMBU, and worn by them as a bracelet.

BINKAWCI NKAWC1 BI MWAKUNU (the little figures that are apart looking in different directions) are two figures on stakes driven into the ground, which are said to turn round as the seasons follow one another. At the beginning of the rainy season one faces Kayi, or the EAST, the other the lake LULEBA-that is, their backs are more or less turned to the sea. In the dry season they face west towards the sea.

NGOFO, iron marriage bracelet (originally ivory (LUVOSE) for real princesses). NGOFO and FUNZI are the Luango and Kakongo names for the same marriage rite and bracelet.

LEMBE, a heavy copper marriage bracelet common to Luango and Kakongo.

XIBUTU XILONGO, a small copper bracelet connected with the medicine given by XIGANGA XIBUTU to protect one from evil. When a man wearing this bracelet marries, his wife also takes and wears one as a charm and sign of marriage.


MAKWAM and XIMPUNGU are names also of figures of this class. BISONGO (like forks) are also known here (see Pi. V).

LUSAWNZI and NKUTU are numbered 1 and 2 on page 258, Pioneering on the Congo.

NDIBU, page 247 in the same book.

We now turn to the other class of images, the NKICI MBOWU, or nail fetishes, also termed ZINKAWC1 ZI BAKICI.

By far the most comprehensive picture of fetishism that we have yet received from any of the great travellers who have from time to time visited the West Coast of Africa is the chapter on Fetish in Miss Kingsley's West African Studies.

We call shops, or stores, "Fetishes" on this S.W. coast, and (as Miss Kingsley rightly says) the word is derived from the Portuguese word "Feitico," meaning charm. "Feiticeiro" is the word the old Portuguese sailors and missionaries gave to the BAVILI'S Zinganga zinkici.

The BAVILI divide all people into two great classes

1. Muntu nzambi (man of god).

2. Muntu a Ndongo (man of black arts).

Ndongo signifies the evil spirit that is said to live in the stomach of all witches (ZINDOXI).

Now the Zinganga zinkici (or the repeaters of the lore connected with the wooden images into which nails are driven) are not priests in the sense that the Zinganga Bakici Baci are. The latter are Bantu Nzambi, the former Bantu a Ndongo. It will be seen from this that the religion of the Bavili is divided into two great divisions, and that the old Portuguese sailors and missionaries were most taken by the Ndongoistic pranks of the Zinganga zinkici, and that they looked upon this part of the religion of the Kongo people as the whole.[1] This error has been the cause of much misjudgment of the native religion, and is perhaps one of the causes of Miss Kingsley's taking Professor Tylor's definition of fetishism as serving to describe the complete religion of these people. As Professor Tylor says, fetishism is the doctrine of spirits embodied in or attached to, or conveying influence through, certain material objects. In the next chapter I show that the Bavili religion goes very far beyond mere fetishism. Their ideas, it is true, are expressed in symbolic language, but fetishism bears about as much relation to this portion of their religion as popular Buddhism does to Buddhistic philosophy.

[1. Talking Of NDONGO-ism or the religion of slaves connected with witchcraft, &c., or natural religion, they say that "Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the chicken."]

Now let me tell you how a fetish of this kind is made, and describe some of their names and uses (see frontispiece).

When a party enters the wood with the Nganga (or the Doctor) attached to the service of the fetishes ZINKICI MBOWU, into which nails are driven, for the purpose of cutting the "Muamba" tree, with the intention of making a fetish, it is forbidden for anyone to call another by his name. If he does so, that man will die, and his KULU will enter into the tree and become the presiding spirit of the fetish when made; and the caller will of course have to answer with his life to the relations of the man whose life has been thus wantonly thrown away. So, generally speaking, a palaver is held, and it is there decided whose KULU it is that is to enter into the Muamba tree and to preside over the fetish to be made. A boy of great spirit, or else, above all, a great and daring hunter, is chosen. Then they go into the bush and call his name. The Nganga cuts down the tree, and blood is said to gush forth. A fowl is killed and its blood mingled with the blood that they say comes from the tree. The named one then dies, certainly within ten days. His life has been sacrificed for what the Zinganga consider the welfare of the people. They say that the named one never fails to die-and they repudiate all idea of his being poisoned or that his death is hurried on in any material way by the Nganga, who, they say, may be miles away. The difference between the spirit of "Mpumbu" brought by the East Wind and the Kulu of the known individual that is to preside over this fetish is evident.

People pass before these fetishes (ZINKICI MBOWU), calling on them to kill them if they do, or have done, such and such a thing. Others go to them and insist upon their killing so and so who has done or is about to do them some fearful injury. And as they swear or make their demand, a nail is driven into the fetish, and the palaver is settled so far as they are concerned. The KULU of the man whose life was sacrificed upon the cutting of the tree sees to the rest.

These fetishes attended big palavers and were knocked[1] by the parties engaged, so that he who spoke falsely or bore

[1. See Ante, P. 56.]

false witness should die. These are the class of fetishes most in evidence, and as such are apparently the bitter enemies of European Governments, who seem to take a delight in clearing the country of them. I wonder if they are right?-at any rate before they have got the country properly in hand and can give the inhabitants that security they are so fond of talking about. Brute force is no doubt a great power for a European Power to wield over such a race as the BANTU, and will make them do much; but is it not curious that civilised countries in the twentieth century should resort to so barbarous a form of governing a people supposed to be so much their moral inferiors? And by taking away a fetish of this kind they do not prevent the native from making another one to take its place. It merely makes the native more cautious, and forces him to guard his fetish in some secret place outside the small sphere of official influence.'

The wooden figures in this class of NKICI MBOWU are legion, and their multiplication comes (1) from the desire of each district to have its own nkici, and (2) from the importation from foreign districts of those who have gained fame for their slaying powers or as deterrents. Thus in Luango we hear of Mangarka,[2] Mbiali Mundunbi, EKAWSO,[3] Selo Xingululu, Mani Mavungu, Fulula, Xiela, MBWAKA, all of whom are known to be imported from Kakongo. It has therefore been hard work to distinguish those which were originally consecrated to the use solely of this district. For some time I had seventeen on my list, but I find that Maquarsia, Ngoio, and Kondi Mamba are not Zinkici Mbowu, so that I am left with the fourteen whose names I give you under all reserve, as, after all, I may not have got at the true and original Bavili ones:-

1. Mambili, a figure of a man with nails driven into it, now a wreck at Ximoko.

2. Mamboni Pwati, figure of a man.

3. Mambika, a figure of a man.

[1. MANGARKA, see Manchester Museum, Mani mavungu, see African Society's Journal, July, 1902.

2. MBWAKA, see Bentley, Pioneering in the Congo, p. 260.

3. EKAWSO, see Seven Years among the Fjort, or Exeter Museum.]

4. Maleka,[1] a figure of a man (Pl. VIII).

5. Bixibula Xibula, a figure of a man, at Mpili.

6. Xilinga (?).

7. Lenga lenga, a man with knife.

8. Zambi inyona (?).

9. Ngembe,[1] a figure of a man.

10. Mvumvu Xioxilo,[1] a figure of a dog.

11. Pansu muinda, a figure of a man.

12. Boka miemvu, a figure of a man.

13. Lu siemu, a figure of a dog.

14. Mavungu Mambuembo, a figure of a man.

[1. These are now in Europe and doing no good there, you may be sure, but certainly no harm.]

Next: Chapter 9. Nkici-ism