The Fetish View of the Human Soul

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<ul><li><p>The Fetish View of the Human SoulAuthor(s): Mary H. KingsleySource: Folklore, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Jun., 1897), pp. 138-151Published by: Taylor &amp; Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.Stable URL: .Accessed: 12/06/2014 18:07</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>Folklore Enterprises, Ltd. and Taylor &amp; Francis, Ltd. are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve andextend access to Folklore.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 18:07:53 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>THE FETISH VIEW OF THE HUMAN SOUL. </p><p>BY MARY H. KINGSLEY. </p><p>I must first briefly express the pleasure it gives me to address a few words to you, a society of experts in the </p><p>subject I am deeply interested in-Fetish, and my gratitude for the honour you have done me in requesting me to do so. I am quite aware that the Folk-Lore Society has specialised in the direction of the folklore of the British Islands and their correlative folklores. I freely confess, from being acquainted, through the publications of the society and the independent ones of some of its leading members, with the exceeding beauty and poetic charm, particularly of the Celtic folklore, that I do not wonder that the society has followed this line of investigation, even apart from the greater interest to the general public that things concerning the beliefs and customs of their fatherland must have. Still, I most sincerely wish that this society could form a special committee for the consideration of African folklore, for I am certain it would do good work for the British Empire. When I had the pleasure of hearing the Presidential Address the other evening here, Mr. Nutt, if I remember right, stated that all poets should join the Folk-Lore Society. If it had an African committee I should have no hesitation in saying that all members of Parliament and officials at the Foreign and Colonial Offices should be compelled to join the Folk- Lore Society; for I am sure that the work it would do in the careful and unprejudiced study of African beliefs and customs would lead to a true knowledge of the Africans, whom we have now to deal with in thousands, and whom we shall soon have to deal with in hundreds of thousands; and there might be hope that by this true knowledge, hundreds of lives, both black and white, would be saved and a sound base estab- lished, from which the African could advance to an improved culture-condition. </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 18:07:53 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>The Fetish View of the Human Soul. I39 </p><p>It is impossible for me in the time at my disposal to speak with anything like fullness of this great form of religion- Fetish. But I must detain you a few minutes to explain what I mean by Fetish; for the word now-a-days is getting very loosely used in England, and I now and again come across it applied to cases of sympathetic magic. </p><p>When the Portuguese early navigators-under the patron- age of Henry the Navigator-re-discovered the West Coast of Africa in the early part of the fifteenth century, they found, as </p><p>you will find in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the natives using in their religious exercises numbers of material </p><p>objects. These the Portuguese called Feitifo; and from this word comes our word Fetish. There is another name for this </p><p>religion sometimes used in the place of Fetish, namely, yu Ju. The origin of this word is by no means so clear as that of Fetish, some authorities holding it comes from grou-grou, which they say is a native word, but which natives say is a "white-man-word," and so on. I believe it has a similar </p><p>history to Fetish, and that Ju Ju comes from the French word for a doll or toy--jou-jou. For the French claim to have visited the West African Coast before the Portuguese, namely, in the latter part of the fourteenth century; and, whether this claim can be sustained or no, the French were certainly on the West Coast pretty frequently in the fifteenth; and no doubt called the little objects they saw the natives valuing so strangely, jou-jou, as I have heard many a Frenchman do in my time. Now I merely beg to explain that when I say Fetish or Ju Ju, I mean the religion of the natives of West Africa. I am not a comparative ethnologist, so I do not pretend to express an opinion about Fetish being a universally diffused form of religion, and so on. It is not necessary for me as a student of Fetish to look up what people do in other parts of the world besides West Africa, in order to understand what they mean by what they do in West Africa, for there is all the material there at hand. All that is necessary is the ability to understand it. It is, I own, </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 18:07:53 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>140 The Fetish View of the Human Soul. </p><p>no easy thing to understand Fetish: probably it can only be </p><p>thoroughly done by a white whose mind is not a highly civilised one, and who is able to think black. I beg you will not think from my claiming this power I am making an idle boast; for I have risked my life for months at a time on this one chance of my being able to know the way people were thinking round me, and of my being able to speak to them in a way that they would recognise as just, true and </p><p>logical. Fetish is, when viewed from the outside, complex and strange; but I think I may say it is very simple in its underlying idea, very logically thought out, and very reasonable to the particular make of mind possessed by those who believe in it; and you will soon see, when studying it at close quarters, that, given an animistic view of nature and that logicalform of human mind possessed bythe African, all those seemingly weird forms and ceremonies of Fetish are but necessary consequences-that, in fact, the religion has made the Fetish-priest and the witch-doctor, not they the religion they serve under. </p><p>There is a point that will strike you early in your investi- gation of Fetish; and that is that the African does not divide up the world, as many European and Asiatics seem to, into three divisions, God, man, and nature. To him there is no sharp division between these things, they are parts of a great whole. Man is a very important part, he belongs to a very high order of spirits, but not to the highest; for there are above and beyond his absolute control two classes-there is a great class equal to him-and lower than him in power there are many classes. </p><p>During my first study of Fetish in Africa itself in I893, I recognised that, in order to gain a clear conception of Fetish, it would be necessary to gain a conception of the grades of the spirit-world of Fetish; and, so far as I have gone, I think, I may say fourteen classes of spirits are clearly discernible. I will not weary you with this matter. Dr. Nassau, of Gaboon, thinks the spirits commonly affect- </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 18:07:53 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>The Fetish View of the Human Soul. 141 </p><p>ing human affairs can be classified fairly completely into six classes, details of which I have published; and we will pass on, first, to the conception of the nature of spirit and matter; then to those of the human soul held by the African. Every- thing that he knows of by means of his senses he regards as a twofold entity, part spirit, part not-spirit, or, as we should say, matter; the connection of a certain spirit with a certain mass of matter, he holds, is not permanent. He will point out to you a lightning-stricken tree and tell you its spirit has been killed; he will tell you, when the cooking- pot is broken, that it has lost its spirit; if his weapon fails, it is because someone has stolen, or made its spirit sick by witchcraft. In every action of his life he shows you how much he lives with a great, powerful, spirit-world around him. You will see him, before starting out to hunt or fight, rubbing medicine into his weapons to strengthen the spirit that is in them, talking to them the while, telling them what care he has taken of them, what he has given them before, though it was hard to give, and begging them in the hour of his dire necessity not to fail him; you will see him bend- ing over the face of the river, talking to its spirit with proper incantations, asking it when it meets with an enemy of his to upset his canoe and destroy him; and in a thousand other ways he shows you what he believes in, if you watch him patiently. </p><p>In every Negro and Bantu tribe I am personally acquainted with there has been a Great God above all gods believed in; and I find the belief in this god mentioned by all travellers who have given any attention to African religion, in those parts of Africa which I have not the pleasure of knowing. I know some of the greatest of our ethnologists doubt the existence of the idea of this God, and think he has been suggested into the African's mind. I think this is going too far, though I fully agree with them that he is not Jehovah, nor a reminiscence of Jehovah. But the study of this deity is exceedingly difficult, because the missionaries have identi- </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 18:07:53 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>142 The Fetish View of the Human Soul. </p><p>fied him with Jehovah, and worked on the mind of the natives from this point, causing frequently a very strange confusion of ideas therein. The names under which you meet with this great Overlord of gods are many; among the Kru </p><p>men, Nyiswa; among the Effeks, Abasibum; among the Ashantees and Fantees, Y'ankumpon; Nzam, Nzambi, An- </p><p>zam, &amp;c. among the Bantu tribes. But neither among Negroes nor Bantu will you anywhere find a cult of this god. He is held to be the god that created men and all things material and many spirits, but not all, for you always find certain spirits regarded as being coeval with him and self- existent. This Nzam-to take the Fann's name for him- is regarded as taking no interest in those things he has </p><p>created, leaving them to the dominion of lower spirits, over whom, however, he has power, if he choose to exert it; and to the management of these spirits, whom he is in immediate touch with, the African turns his attention. It is only when he fails with them, when things go very badly, when the river rises higher than usual and sweeps away his home and his plantations, when the Spotted Death comes into the land, and day and night the corpses float down the river and he finds them jammed among his canoes and choking up his </p><p>fish-traps, and when the death-wail goes up night and day from his own village, then will the chief rise up and call </p><p>upon this great Over-God to restrain the evil working of the great Nature-spirits, in a terror maddened by despair; for he feels it will be in vain. </p><p>Regarding the Fetish view of the state and condition of the human soul, there are certain ideas which I think I may safely say are common to all the various cults of Fetish, both Negro and Bantu, in West Africa. Firstly, the class of spirits that are human souls always remain human souls; they do not become deified, nor do they sink in grade permanently. I am aware I am now on dangerous ground and I stand to correction, for I have been mainly led to this conclusion from my own study of the subject. You will find in almost </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 18:07:53 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>The Fetzsh View of the Human Soul. 143 </p><p>all West African districts (not all, for it does not hold naturally in those where re-incarnation is believed to be the common lot of all human spirits), a class of spirits called the "well-disposed ones,"and they are ancestors. Things are given to them-I do not say sacrificed, because sacrifice is quite another matter, but things are given to them-for their consolation and support; and they do what they can to benefit their own village and families. Then comes another point, which I am much interested in, but on which I do not feel at present justified in stating an opinion, namely, the </p><p>question of the immortality of the human soul. I have no evidence to lay before you to prove that this is believed in. That the soul survives the death of the body for a considerable period, whether any rites and functions are performed by the family or priests, or not, is quite certain; but I think there is reason to believe that it does not live on for ever. I did my best to find out what had become of the souls of tribes remembered to have occupied districts I have been in, but which are now extinct, and found always it was taken as a matter of course that as the tribe was no more, so were the souls of it no more. And the anxiety to provide offerings for souls in the Tschwi, Srahmandazi, and the Gboniadse of the Oji points to there being a fear that, if neglected, these souls might suffer and in revenge inflict punishments on the living, or that they might perish and no longer be able to afford help. All human souls are not held to be of equal value, whether general re-incarna- tion is believed in or not. Among the Effek, for example, the greatest care is taken on the death of a person known to have possessed a really great soul. He may have been a great Fetish proficient, demonstrating he had the power to influence great spirits, or he may have been what we should call a successful man of the world, a good trader. To secure that soul coming back to (i.e., keeping in) the house, is a matter of importance, and when the next baby is born to the house, means are taken to see which of </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 18:07:53 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>I44 The Fetish Vie...</p></li></ul>