Jungle Ways



WHEN the praying mantis alighted on my
hammock as we swung along the forest trail
I said to Diamoko, “ It is taboo to me. Thou
seest, we will not kill it, and it will tell the great serpent
and the panther not to leap upon us.”

He, happy, answered, “ Also it will tell the tree not
to fall across our path, and the river to flow mildly for
our crossings.”

Thus it occurred on this particular journey that
Katie, who is fond of cats, and was always wanting
to see a panther in plain daylight, honestly never did
see one.

Mori explained it otherwise. He said the outlandish
uproar we made on our day-marches — ^the singing and
howling of our porters, the blaring bugle, the beating
of tomtoms and blowing of ivory trumpets — scared all
the animals, so that they fled for their lives across the
border into Liberia. It was, perhaps, an explanation,
for often troops of big black apes, angry, terrified, and
scolding, would go crashing westward overhead like
elevated trains through the high branches.

But when we marched by torchlight, with drums
and glory in the night, the wild beasts came despite the
singing, and sat silent, with staring eyes, to watch us

As for our mode of travel, it resembled a wandering
circus on a spree more than it did. a serious white man s
exploration party, but I was only following local
custom, for thus the forest chiefs themselves do usually
travel, and it was their own panoply they had given or
lent me, supplemented by a few fantastic additions of
my own.

We were in the thick of the Ivory Coast jungle,
following a southward trail that ran more or less
parallel with the Liberian hinterland. Motor roads, my
little Citroen truck, helpful, generous French adminis-
trators, the arteries of a wide-flung colonial civilization,
along which one can journey with ever-increasing ease,
were now left far behind. Here the blacks we en-
countered were still unspoiled in their unspoiled forest,
and walked proudly, every man carrying either a spear,
a bow and arrows, or a sword, surprised to see a white
man and woman travelling with such noisy native
circumstance; but always friendly, grinning so that
their filed, pointed teeth showed, sometimes laughing
outright, tossing jokes and compliments as we swung

We rode in hammock chairs, carried by naked
porters, who shouted and sang continually. We always
had from twenty-five to thirty of them (including head-
men and song-leaders), porters for hammock relays,
baggage, gifts, and bar salt, which is the best gift of
all. Katie’s hammock was usually kept decked with
bright jungle flowers, grass, and vines ; mine had a
scarlet-and-green plaid steamer rug draped over its
lattice hood. We had drummers, dancers, players on
elephant-tusk trumpets and antelope horns — and at the
head of the procession marched superbly always Klon,
my bugler. His name meant “ the big ape.” It was
his family animal, and on his head he always wore a
splendid wig of long black monkey fur. He went bare-
foot in tattered rags, but his rags clothed a tremendous
pride, for they were the scraps of the uniform he had
worn at Verdun, and through it showed shrapnel scars
on his great ape’s chest, and there was still a bit of
ribbon sewn there, and the same battered brass that
now echoed through the forest for our little travelling
circus had sounded the charge for the nth Tirailleurs
at Fleury. But when peace came he had wearied of
being a soldier and of the white man’s country. So
he had come back to his native forest and his native
village, donned the family wig, gorged himself at the
family pot, sacrificed to the old Fetishes, and married
a number of wives. But he had kept the bugle, and
had become bugler for his tribal chief, fat, pompous
old Batoi at Zouan-Hounien, who had lent him to me
for the trail.

I describe Klon first not merely because he marched
at the head of the procession, but because he was im-
portant. He had other uses in addition to the pleasure
we got out of seeing him inflate his chest and the grand
noises he made on the bugle. He was a good guide
and pace-maker, not averse to lending a heavy hand
in the camp chores at night, eager to serve Katie, and
proud to aid Mori Sidi, the queer, faithful black man
— ^it would be perhaps more accurate and gracious
to say the black gentleman — ^who was really my chief
lieutenant on this special journey. Mori was the only
black among us who wore European clothes, proper,
well-kept clothes of khaki, with shoes and leather
puttees. He spoke and wrote clear French as well as
pidgin, and had been a school-teacher. He was middle-
aged, dignified, serious. He was tall, lanky, with a
small, round, serious, intelligent head. Even his
slightly stooped shoulders were serious. I felt that I
never really learned to know him, though I trusted
him, and did well to trust him. I had a feeling fre-
quently that while he was fond of me he disapproved
of me. I am accustomed to this among civilized white
friends. It began with my own family in childhood.
But I have felt it more rarely among so-called savages.
Concerning Mori, I had suffered original misgivings
because of his white schooling, his clothes, his whole
association with whites, so often destructive of Negro
character. But my friend Maillier, administrator at the
last French post, an old colonial who knew Africa, had
assured me that Mori was good, an able forest man,
and staunch in case of trouble.

The only other Negro I had who had suffered
European contacts was Diamoko, a youth who com-
bined the functions of cook and personal ‘ boy.’ He
was plump, bland, lazy, sweet-natured enough, but a
terrible cook, and in petty ways not to be trusted.

As for the rest of our equipment, mostly porters,
they were proper good, howling savages — Yafoubas —
a superb, grand gang. They had their own headman,
a braided-haired husky named Daa, whose only garb
was a leather thong round his middle and a chain
diagonally across his shoulders, from which dangled
under his left armpit a large dead tree-rat, or rather
the natural skin of one, head, tail, paws, and all, which
served as a bag for his private grigris. He carried a whip,
and from time to time lashed a friend in ‘ harness ’ as
nonchalantly as if the friend had been a horse, and
the friend would accept the lash as nonchalantly.
When Katie protested they explained that it was not
to punish the porters, but to “ encourage ” them. The
porters liked their headman. He was their own man.
They also had a song-leader, and two or three other
extras who never seemed to do any work, or, in fact,
anything, but who were always confidently trotting
along. I came to the conclusion that they must be
there for social companionship, or because they loved
travelling. I gave them the same food and wages as
the others without ever asking why.

What we had, in brief, was no proper safari at all,
but an intimate, noisy family that grew more intimate
and noisy every mile. The porters had their traditional
songs, and also were continually inventing new ones.
They sang in a dialect of which I didn’t then under-
stand one syllable, but, jolting along for long hours in
the hammock, I began trying to scribble some of the
couplets phonetically, at the same time getting Mori
or Diamoko to explain what they meant. There was
one they often sang, accompanied by howls of laughter,
which sounded something like this :

Hai yo gtnga, douni yo !

Ta la tata^ douni po !

I shouted to Mori, who came to walk beside my
hammock, and asked him to translate. He gave ear,
seemed distressed, and said, “ Oh, it’s just a compli-
ment to you.” I said, “ Come on, Mori, what does it
mean exactly? ‘What do the words say? He said,
“ Well, if you insist on my translating, it means :

The white king is really too heavy ;

The bull’s back is broken ;

The bull can’t march any more ! ”

From then on I bedevilled them continually for more
translations, along the trail and also when we stopped
to camp at night. When the porters understood what
I sought they were at first reluctant and embarrassed,
like children, sometimes giggling and sometimes surly,
like children into whose secret games a grown-up
wants to poke his nose. But the results were finally
well worth the trouble.

The petty chiefs and people in the villages through
which we passed were welcoming us with dancing,
food, drink, shelter, and good counsels, caring nothing
mow for the accident that my face was white, but
treating me, rather, as one of their own — ^and for this
there was a special reason, quite apart from our brave,
noisy native pageantry and the gifts we distributed.

Although I had not yet joined or even seen the hand-
some and impudent young sorceress who was later to
take high-handed charge of my subsequent comings and
goings in this territory, I had nevertheless faithfully fol-
lowed the instructions of old Dia, the Diagbe of Loubli,
who had come to me like a John the Baptist, across the
fields at Dananae to give me commands and a leather
sack full of grigris, in the name of his jungle gods.

Those commands I had been obeying scrupulously,
offering the necessary roadside sacrifices as he had
taught me. Word of my doings had gone ahead on the
trail, and the name by which they named me in villages
which I had not yet ever entered was Mogo-Dieman,
“ the-black-man-who-has-a-white-face.” An impatient
fellow at Bounda said to a quarrelsome greybeard,
“ Shut up I He is older and blacker than you are.”

To them, however, this was not the statement of a
miracle or marvel. It was a simple fact, which gave
no special cause for admiration or astonishment, and
certainly none for regarding me awesomely as a wonder-
worker. To them no outward materialized shape is
ever definite, fixed, or real. Their mysticism teaches
that all outward material forms are apt to be deceptive,
frequently clothing a wholly dissimilar spiritual essence.
A seeming man may be a tree walking ; a stone may
contain the soul of one’s grandfather ; a child may be
a serpent. Any given incarnation (materialized bodily
appearance) is a transitory incident, and material forms
are continually in flux. To them, therefore, my case,
despite the white exterior, was commonplace and very
simple. They saw me doing as they did, and not at all
as other whites. I travelled in noisy pomp as a black
man would, drank from their calabashes, ate their food,
consulted their sorcerers, obeyed their oracles, and
walked softly before their gods. Therefore, very simply,
I was one of them. Who knows.? Perhaps Maman
Chile’s ^ sorcery was still potent in me. Perhaps these
blacks saw, with eyes such as saints and children have
for things invisible, the cross which she had traced upon
my forehead.

It was after leaving Zouan-Hounien, entering the
deep forest, that I began performing daily, almost
hourly, the various rites and duties (most of them quite
simple, naive almost in their outward simplicity) which
the Diagbe had prescribed, or, rather, which he had
told me the forest gods demanded. He had sat naked
on a mat in the twilight corner of an earth-floored hut
at Dananae, with skulls and masks gazing down benevo-
lently upon us from the shadowed walls. He had sat
staring like old Ezekiel into an iron warming-pan in
which there was red water, and spread round it four
antelope horns stuffed with herbs and blackened dung,
some brass rings, his little iron serpents and crocodiles,
a metal boat, and a quantity of cowrie-shells, shaped
and on one side blackened, so that when he tossed
them on the mat like dice they made continually varied
patterns. From time to time he tossed them, squeezing
the horns beneath his armpits, stirring the red water,
staring long into the pot. Then he would say, “ The
Fetish commands that you do so and so.”

It was those commands, thus given, that I had now
begun obe)nng on the trail.

At a designated village we traversed on the first
day’s march we halted, but refused rest and hospitality
(refusing even water, which the women brought for my
thirsty porters), standing in the trail at the highest
point among the huts. The chief and villagers gathered
about us with the customary c^ering of eggs, millet,
and chickens, which I also refused. Following minute
instructions, I seized from the forehead of a surprised
hammock porter his head-ring, a tight-wound wreath
of twisted leaves on which the hammock-pole rests. I
laid this in the path, took off my shoes, and stood with
both bare feet upon it. Diamoko brought the leather
bag, also a fat live chicken from our own store. From
the bag I took two kola-nuts and a strip of white clean
cotton cloth, with which we tied the nuts beneath the
chicken’s wings. I said to the local chief, who stood
watching, “ Bring me now the most miserable one in
your village.” He looked about in the crowd and
pointed to a stooped old woman. I shouted angrily,
“ No ! Here is not any charity. It concerns the Fetish.”
They held a hurried consultation and went away, to
come back presently with a twisted paralytic, whom
two men carried between them like an idol and set
down like an idol on his bent, shrivelled legs in front
of me. I said to him, “ You will take this chicken and
sacrifice it; you will give its heart, liver, comb, and
that which you find under its right wing to the Fetish.
The rest you will eat according to your custom. That
which you find under the left wing you will keep.”
I spoke in pidgin and Bambara, which Diamoko
repeated in Yafouba. The paralytic, more frightened
than grateful, screamed obedience. I stepped from the
porter’s wreath, took it up from the ground, walked
barefooted back along the trail which we had come,
tearing the wreath in pieces and scattering its leaves to
the wind. This was my offering to the nia of the air.

Klon sounded his bugle, and we resumed our march.
At the first branching of the trail, the first crossroads,
I had to descend from the hammock, take off my shoes
again, put on an old pair of sandals, and walk ahead of
the porters until we came to a kola-tree. At the foot
of the tree I deposited the sandals, picked up a handful
of earth where my bare foot had touched, wrapped it
in paper, and kept it to be sewn into a leather charm.
This was my pact and plea for protection with the nia
of the earth.

At the first stream we forded I tossed into a deep
pool a handsome carved bracelet which the Diagbe had
provided. This was my offering to the nia of the rivers.

My offering to the nia of the trees, most powerful of
all in the forest, required the mediation of a maiden.
This was accomplished in a village where we were rest-
ing for the night. A white new-laid egg was brought
to me, and in the presence of all, with Katie and myself
standing in their midst, I pressed it upon my forehead,
upon my genitals, and then upon Katie’s bared breasts,
after which it was confided to the cupped hands of a
naked virgin, who disappeared alone into the forest to
bury it secretly at the foot of a sacred tree.

I am aware that practices of this sort on the part of
a supposedly enlightened white man may offer an easy
butt for contemptuous smiles. I could reply with the
pragmatic, cynical fact that my engaging in them
inspired confidences and broke down barriers which
would have otherwise remained for ever closed to me,
if I had lived for twenty years in Africa. (I could reply
also by expressing my greater contempt, unsmiling,
toward ethnologists who have never seen a living primi-
tive ‘ savage,’ but who sit at home in their studies and
write about him as if he were a fossilized Etruscan or
an Aztec ; also toward travellers who treat him in his
own country and write about him afterward as if he
were a highly interesting but inferior zoological speci-
men, like a charity case, a baboon, or a penguin, and
who describe his picturesque superstitions with equal
condescension.) I prefer, however, to tell the truth
and be damned to ridicule. Superstitious? Of course
I am superstitious. I enjoyed, had pleasure and comfort,
doing these things, believed in their magical efficacy
(spiritual, if not supernatural), felt safer and more at
home in the forest, doing them. Tap on wood, you
others at home, walk under a ladder, light three cigar-
ettes with the same match, throw your handful of rice
at the bride, and tell me that I am crazy. . . .

These were the ways of the forest, and these were
the ways I followed as we went deeper and deeper into
a country which became more and more mysterious
with every mile. By mysterious I do not mean merely
nature-mystery, the mystery which those sensitive to
nature-beauty and nature-terror feel. I mean that we
and all things on this trail were now surrounded
by the visible signs of human sorcery, and that rules of
human conduct here were controlled by the invisible
forces for which these symbols stand.

Often, in bowers cut from the solid vines and foliage
at the trailside, like tiny chapels or sacred niches in the
vast crypt of a green cathedral, so close that we could
almost touch them without swerving from the trail,
were altars on which stood carven idols surrounded by
votive offerings, beads, magnificent brass bracelets,
sacred stones, bells, masks, objects that would enrich
a village, or a hungry stranger, or a thief. Yet no
guardian was there, nor any accusing htiman eye, to
stay a greedy outstretched hand.

On the banks of streams where the trail crossed
stakes were planted surmounted by skulls, witch-doctor
emblems, festooned with cowrie-shells and necklaces
more gaudy than any in my gift packs. Other votive
offerings, sometimes rich in value, sometimes mere
crossed twigs or twisted bits of cloth, were hung on
sacred trees.

And not even the Panther Men from Liberia, who
crossed sometimes along these trails to raid a compound
in the dead of night and carry off a child or woman
slain with their iron claws, would dream of daring to
touch a single bead.

Strangest of all were the curtained entrances to the
mysterious narrow ‘ barred trails,’ the forbidden trails
which we passed from time to time on either hand.
Usually the barrier is merely a frail curtain of dried
palm-fibre or leaves, stretched waist-high across the
simple footpath. But no man dares to pass these
barriers uninitiate. They lead to mysteries which the
passer-by will never solve. They lead to the forbidden
places. A twisted wisp of dried and rattling leaves
which a baby hand could scatter to the wind is as
potent as a triple-locked steel door.

Passing at twilight, we sometimes saw processionals
emerging from these paths, ranks of young girls in
smgle file, their faces painted with white clay, led by
an old woman, singing chants of coupling, fecundity,
and marriage. These were the classes of newly cir-
cumcized ones (both males and females are circumcized
among the Yafouba, usually after puberty) returning
from the hidden sacred enclosures to sleep in their
village. More rarely we encountered groups of young
male initiates, their faces painted variously like weird
masks, emerging with the witch-doctor from veiled
trails which led to grigris houses, where they had been
undergoing instruction.

It was too early yet — ^my relations and my know-
ledge were both still insufficient — ^to hope for a more
intimate contact with these special things. That would
come later, I hoped, with friendly patience and in-
creased understanding. Meanwhile our present objec-
tive touched on them only incidentally. Down in the
forest, near the edge of the GuerS (cannibal) territory,
in a village called Bin-Hounien, there was a big Yafouba
chief named San Dei, who lived in considerable state,
and who had invited us to visit him. We had been
told that we would see the so-called jongleurs d’enfants
(magician-jugglers reputed to have the power of pierc-
ing babies with their swords), masks and sculpture,
dancers, snake-charmers, and other marvels. They had
promised elaborate preparation, and we had sent
runners twenty-four hours ahead of us on the trail to
announce our approach.

Toward noon next day Mori said we would probably
reach Bin-Hounien in the night. We consulted the
porters and decided to go on.

When dusk came Bugler blew a resounding fanfa-
rade, and we all came to a halt, strung out along the
trail, while the relay porters lighted their torches,
strips of dry split cane bound together in bundles the
thickness of a wrist and twice as tall as the height of a
man. They crackled, gave black smoke and red leaping
flame. Bugler blared another blast, the porters shouted,
the drums began to boom, and we resumed our march.

Black solid forest darkness closed around us as we
passed. Only where the torchlight glared directly on
massed foliage the leaves became deep, shining vivid
green for an instant, then receded into total thick-
walled blackness. And so we marched for hours. It
was Bugler who, reaching a point where the trail
hummocked to a rise, first saw lights far distant, flicker-
ing on high tree-tops, seeming to be moving. Half
halting to give ear, we heard the drums and ivory
horns and shouting of another band. The chief San
Dei was on the trail to meet us. Bugler, howling with
excitement, like the great ape he was, came running
to my hammock-side, seized my shotgun, and fired
both barrels into the air. Grave, serious Mori fired his
gun too. Our porters, though wearied by a long day’s
march, shouting like mad, broke into a trot, and we
surged forward.

Soon high-leaping naked runners appeared, brandish-
ing their spears and torches. Their faces were blackened
with charcoal, and green vines were twined over their
shoulders. Five minutes later our two bands came
together in a pandemonium of wild confusion. The
chief San Del, whom I had never seen before, was in
a hammock like our own, but covered with a canopy
of multicoloured, dyed, embroidered leather, and his
hammock was held high at arm’s-length above the
heads of his porters. He was surrounded by surging
dancers, girls and men, dnunmers and trumpeters with
high-plumed hats, also hats of coloured leather, shaped
like a bishop’s mitre. Up now went our hammocks
likewise above our porters’ heads. I could see my
front men’s muscles ripple and strain and tremble. Our
hammocks were still twenty feet away from the chief’s,
separated by the crush. Our porters and his were
fighting and pushing like bulls to bring the hammocks
together, so that we jolted and swayed above the heads
of the crowd.

At this moment there emerged from the shadows
behind the chief’s hammock a sight so extraordinary
that I shouted, as excited now as any of the Negroes
were, “ Great God Almighty ! Katie ! Look ! ” There,
higher even than we were lifted up, seeming to be
walking on the mob’s shoulders as one would walk
miraculously on the waves in a dream, were two little
black princesses, gorgeous and beautiful as an Oriental
fairy-tale. Their slim, baby-girl bodies, standing, were
naked save for glittering bracelets, anklets, jewels, but
each wore a dazzling high coronet, aigrette-plumed.
And each, with a tiny hand, held high a gleaming
sword. As they came closer toward us above the crowd
we saw that they were standing on the shoulders of two
gigantic blacks, who held their ankles tight-gripped
as they swayed. The chief’s headmen and mine were
now laying about lustily with whips and restoring a
sort of order. The baby princesses swayed closer,
bowed to us solemnly; then, leaning still nearer, put
out their little hands to touch us on the foreheads. I
learned that these were the children supposed to be
pierced hy swords in the magic juggling. They were
treated with awe and never walked in processions or
on journeys from village to village, but rode like little
jockeys astride the necks and shoulders of their carriers.

The three hammocks had now been brought together
and lowered. Comparative quiet was restored. We
met the chief San Dei, who was to be our host. He
was a big, heavy man of fifty, unbearded, but with a
crinkly moustache, excited and perspiring, wearing
heavy robes of Dioula-woven cotton, wide-striped blue
and white, with shop-bought tan shoes, a hat of heavy
dark felt velour, also European (the furry sort, which
costs two or three pounds). He carried, though it was
night in the dry season, an umbrella. Welcomes were
exchanged, much handshaking and snapping of the
fingers, more disorder as the notables of his entourage^
ministers, court officials, minor dependent village chiefs,
pushed eagerly forward to see our faces and shake
hands too.

With Mori interpreting and explaining, we learned
from San Dei that (after consultation with his witch-
doctors, who knew the sanctions under which I
travelled) he had decided, instead of putting us in the
public guest-house in his village on the main trail, to
take us directly to his smaller private ancestral village,
which was situated at the end of a branch trail an
hour westward toward the Liberian border. And thus
it was agreed.

So we formed a noisy, disordered, merged proces-
sional, and with a mighty howling that finally became
rhythmic with the trumpets and the drums moved
forward in the red glare of waving torches and black
shadows. First went the chief’s naked, leaping runners ;
then Bugler, sounding now and then a blast that
shrilled golden above the rhythmic tumult; then the
baby princesses, astride their human horses, followed by
the tomtom-beaters and plumed trumpeters, by girls,
high-breasted, beautiful, and old hags dancing ; then
our swaying hammocks, followed by the crowd. . . ,
And suddenly it became too much for me. It was
too much glory for the ears, and too much glory for
the eyes, in the torchlight with the waving spears.

We had turned off the main trail into one so narrow
that it was like a dream-passage through solid green
rock cliffs, which opened, swaying away like branches,
and then closed in again impenetrable.

So presently, tired, and as if still in a dream, we came
to the ancestral village — peaked, thatched roofs rising
clustered from circular, low mud walls — and soon we
lay alone in our camp-beds beneath one of the roofs,
grateful for darkness and silence, too tired for anything
but sleep.


It was grave-faced Mori who came discreetly to
arouse us in the guest-house from a sleep so sound
that we blinked our eyes and only really awakened
when we heard Bugler, the Great Ape, just outside our
door, bugling God knows what with a blare that would
raise the dead. Free now from corporals and sergeants,
back in his own jungle, he was a child with a superb
toy, and sounded indiscriminately mess-calls, reveilles,
charges, taps, retreats, intermingled with fanfarades of
his own personal invention, whenever and wherever it
suited his own fine fancy free.

Mori announced that San Dei, our host, the tribal
chief, was coming to visit us as soon as we were ready
to receive him. Straw mats were laid outside our door
while we dressed and had coffee. Aided by Diamoko
and Bugler, Mori contrived a table and found chairs
for us. While awaiting the chief’s visit we sat, smoked
cigarettes, and looked about us on a new little world,
for, arriving tired late the night before, we had seen
almost nothing. We were in the midst of a small
village, tightly closed in by forest, some thirty houses
built in irregular concentric circles round a large central
clearing of bare, hard earth. In the middle of this
central clearing stood a single tree with wide-spreading
branches, under which were mats and benches. There
was a big .monkey free in the tree, now playing from
branch to branch in the morning sun — ^not sacred or
totemist I learned, but simply a village pet. Most
of the houses, like the one in which we lodged, were
circular and small, about twenty feet in diameter, mud
walls rising waist-high only, surmounted by peaked
roofs of grass. One had to crouch, almost on all-fours,
to enter by the single door, and there were no windows.
However, there were two very large rectangular houses,
facing the clearing as ours did, but with higher door-
ways and mat-curtained windows indicating a number
of chambers. One evidently was the chief’s. The other
apparently was closed up and empty. I wondered
casually why he hadn’t given us that to lodge in since
he was so hospitably planning to upset the whole
village for our pleasure.

Now he emerged from his own house and came
across the clearing, pompous, but cordial and friendly,
to offer us good morning. He was dressed as on the
night before, and still carried the umbrella, folded.
He was accompanied by his counsellors, followed by
servants, who brought the usual gifts of live chickens,
eggs, rice, fruit, kola-nuts, palm-wine in calabashes.
Another servant carried his chair, and another a horse ’s-
tail fly-swatter with a silver handle. We shook hands
in the Yafouba manner, which is like our own, except
that you break the grip with a smart jerk, snapping
your fingers at the instant of the break with the force
communicated by the sudden release. I had learned to
do it not too badly. San Dei sat down with us at table,
still pompous but cordial, a combination difficult to
sustain. The several notables of his entourage^ some
greybeards and some younger, some robed and some
naked save for their loin-cloths and leather grigris, sat
round us on the mats. Among the robed ones was a
nephew of the chief, a man of perhaps thirty, named
Yo. There seemed something special about him, some-
thing indefinitely but immediately sensed, which made
me vaguely feel that he was different from the others.
He had a kindly, intelligent, young, bearded face, and
as I watched him it seemed to me that there was a
sort of contained sadness in his eyes. Nor did I mis-
read his face or imagine this, though I learned the
reason for it only later. I was concerned just now in
making a proper impression on San Dei.

All African chiefs love ceremonies, and I had in-
vented a modest little ceremonial for such occasions.

I had bought in Paris, and had carefully packed singly
against breakage, a number of good Japanese porcelain
cups and saucers, decorated in bright colours with
figures of Japanese ladies, landscapes, and dragons.
Mori now brought one of these teacups with its saucer,
which he unpacked and placed on the table. Beside
it we put two ordinary white-enamelled mugs from the
camp kit; likewise a bottle of sweet sparkling wine,
which I opened, letting the cork pop into the air, and
I poured some of it bubbling into the teacup. I would
taste first from it, in conformity with forest etiquette,
then Katie would taste, then the chief, and after having
drunk he would keep it as a memento. So we did
solemnly, then finished the bottle, he drinking most of
it from the teacup, we drinking from the mugs. I had
not called his attention to the ladies, trees, and dragons.
He found them for himself, turning the fragile cup
not clumsily in his thick black hands. I showed him
how to hold it against the light so that the images
would appear through the translucent porcelain. Then
we all drank some of his banghi in a calabash bowl
brass-studded, but only a little for ceremony, since it
was early in the morning, and I presented him with a

While our breakfast was cooking we strolled with
San Dei, visiting the village. It was like any Yafouba
cluster, except that it had the two great houses instead
of one. I noticed now that the chief’s house was quite
new. They explained that the second great house,
closed and silent, was that of his dead elder brother,
Bou, the former tribal chief, deceased only five months
past. Bou’s tomb, which they would presently show
me, was in a garage-like shed beside the great house,
built lightly of bamboo poles and thatching. Close
behind it were grouped the houses of Bou’s former
wives, eight of them, young and old, who had become
the property of his son Yo (San Dei’s nephew), who
was walking with us. We paid the wives a visit. They
were working harmoniously at their household tasks,
helping each other like sisters in the common yard,
where iron pots were simmering and manioc was being
pounded in wooden mortars, with tall poles for pestles.
One wife was nursing a posthumous baby begotten
by the old dead chief, and two were pregnant by his
son, their present master. Thus family life went on.
Although still wives, as well as widows, their heads were
all close-shaven, young and old, and their faces smeared
with yellow clay. A pregnant one and two others wore
the handsome enormous brass anklets seen only in
this part of the forest, and worn here only by special
‘ favourite wives.’ Such anklets, worn always in pairs,
weigh frequently twelve to fifteen pounds each and
measure eight to ten inches in diameter. They are
forged on the young bride by the blacksmith, and worn
for life. She is exempt from the harder forms of labour,
like a Chinese lady with bound feet, and immensely
proud. She learns to walk freely, even to dance in
them. She is fettered heavily, yet free. The effect is
not without a certain barbarous, sadistic magnificence.

Our visit finished with the wives, San Dei took me
to see his brother’s tomb. It was a simple mound, but
stained with the black, dry blood of recent sacrifices ;
round it, on the walls, hung masks and images, leather
^igris bags ornamented with panther teeth and claws.
There was no secrecy here, nor about the silent great
house either, which we next visited. Its doors were
closed, but not locked or fastened. They merely asked
me not to touch or displace anything. The furniture
and intimate personal belongings of the old chief were
dust-covered, but otherwise as if he had left them only
yesterday for a short journey. One felt that he might
return at any moment* They told me that as a matter
of fact he often did. For a year, or perhaps longer,
everything would remain undisturbed, so that the
chiefs nia (a sort of disembodied personal essence,
more like ghost than soul) could come and go at will
and find his couch, his umbrella, his favourite belong-
ings, in their accustomed places. No human being
would ever dwell in the house again. Later, when the
witch-doctors decided, it would be burned, as the other
homes of ancestral chiefs had been burned before it.

When we emerged from this ghost-inhabited grey
silence into the sunshine we found the village seething
with preparations for the Jite. Bands of drummers,
dancers, jugglers, masked mummers, and musicians,
summoned from miles around, and followed by their
own village groups, were assembling in the big com-
pound. We pushed our way through them, returned
to our hut, ate hastily, and then rejoined San Dei
beneath the shade of the tree. We sat with him on
the benches, our entourage^ grouped, standing behind.
The entire compound was filled with excited spectators,
nearly an acre of them. Immediately in front of us
a space about twice the size of a prize-fight ring was
kept clear. The musicians and entertainers, many of
them masked or painted, were seated in a semicircle
waiting their turns, and behind them men with staves
and little whips held the crowd back.

First appeared the griots. These are a special class,
and divide further into two separate specialized func-
tions. One type of griot is like the subsidized poet or
minstrel who was attached to a European Court in the
Middle Ages. He is an improvising singer, shouter,
orator, whose duty is to flatter and to glorify his master.
The second type of griot corresponds even more
precisely to the medieval king’s jester. He is a comic
fellow to whom every outrageous licence is permitted.
Every important Ivory Coast chief has one or more of
each of these types attached to his train.
San Dei’s prize shouting-singer now stood before us,
an elderly man, robed, with shaven head. He bowed
profoundly and with dignity, then leaped high into the
air like a jumping-jack, emitting a series of wild yells
to gain the attention of the crowd. Pointing to San
Dei, he shouted at the top of his voice :

“ Behold the mountain is always in its place !

He is the man of men !

He is the husband [protector] of all the young men !

He is the Great Warrior, and when he goes to battle only one
man is left alive in the ruined village !

He is like his father and his grandfather ;

When people speak of him behind his back in whispers

He comes shouting and makes them all beg for mercy.

He is a bitter tree, well rooted ;

You can’t pull him up with your teeth.

He is Douma, the Great Thunder ! ”

The orator, who had been punctuating each of these
separate strophes with wild yells, in which the crowd
joined, now paused for breath, and well he might. In
this pause a divertissement occurred spontaneously which
gave me considerable delight. My erstwhile pompous
though friendly host, San Dei, had been getting more
and more excited, perspiring and puffing with his own
grandeur. Now, unable longer to contain himself on
the bench beside us, he arose ponderously, waving
his umbrella, and let out a wild howl all his own.
Brandishing the umbrella like a spear or war-club, he
began strutting before us, exciting himself still further,
until what had begun as a strut ended in unwieldy
caperings, while he shouted,

“ Yes ! Yes I It is true ! I am the great one ! I am
an elephant ! I am the strongest ! I am the man of
men ! I am the Great Warrior ! I am indeed a bitter
tree! Hoi Ho! Wow! Behold me 1 ”

He sat down puffing, and we all congratulated him
heartily. A second griot now turned his attention to me,
but he sang rather than shouted, and four others stood
behind him, who hummed a harmonious accompani-
ment, as when glee-club singers imitate guitars. It
was very nice. He first sang :

When the bird flies

It notifies nobody

And carries neither heavy baggage

Nor royal gifts.

But when a king comes,

Behold it is not the same.”

He then sang :

When I first beheld you

I was astonished

And said, What is this I ’

But when I looked more closely

It was as if I looked upon my father’s face.”

The song he sang which I liked best was this :

“ When you came along the hard trail
Through the forest
The panthers fled in fear.

But the little goats came down
Bleating from the rocks
To watch you pass.”

Then, turning to the crowd like a football cheer-
leader, he shouted,

“Who is here.?

“ He is here 1

“ The one who always conquers.”

The crowd assented, shouting it after him joyfully.
I was very proud, happy, and flattered. I gave him
two bars of salt and my pocket-knife.

Now a comic ^iot appeared, an old man grimacing,
naked but for a ridiculous feathered loin-cloth, who
seized San Dei’s umbrella, snatched the hat off his head,
then began mimicking him, strutting and shouting,
“lam indeed the loud noise ! Yow ! Wow ! Hoho !
B-r-r-oooom ! I am an elephant ! That is to say, I am the
hind parts of an elephant ! Hear the great thunder ! ”
After which he came and sat down in the chiefs
chair — ^that is, on top of the chief — ^bouncing up in
surprise like one who has sat down on a cat when San
Dei cuffed his ears.

Turning to me, he snatched my helmet as he had
the chiefs hat, put it on his own head, demanded my
thumb-ring, then began going through all my pockets
like a monkey, taking everything he found, even in-
cluding my wallet and handkerchief. Capering about,
he showed them to the crowd, and then restored them,
all but the helmet. He went over to Katie, pushing
her half off the bench to sit down beside her, putting
his arms round her, hugging her like a bear, panto-
miming, pretending to be me, her husband. He took
her necklace of turquoise beads, her handbag, even her
two diamond rings, running away and capering in the
crowd, as he had with my belongings. Then he rushed
back, patted us, fondled us, exhibited us, proud and
pleased that we had trusted him.

Next came two masked dancers. Their masks (good
Ivory Coast ¦wood-carving) were set in immense head-
dresses, ornamented with bells and plumes, fur, panther
teeth, and shells, which hooded their entire heads and
shoulders. Long sleeves of cloth, sewn up like bags,
covered their arms and hands. Their bodies, all but
the bare feet, were hidden by heavy, flaring skirts of
woven grass. Both were men, but one wore the mask
of a female witch, the other that of a devil-animal.
They danced a sexual dance, a sort of jungle witches’
Sabbath, in which the staff held by the latter served
the rtle of a monstrous phallus.

A snake-charmer followed. He had two cobras in a
wooden box. He made them coil, hiss, spread their
hoods, and strike, according to his will, singing and
talking to them. He had no flute or musical instrument,
but with his voice he could keep them swaying. He
made them follow him about, climb on his body, coil
round his neck, spread their hoods there, swaying, and
put their heads in his mouth. Their ugly fangs were
still intact. He also assured us, of course, that they
were still deadly, but whether or not he had removed
their poison glands we had no way of telling.

Various groups of dancers now succeeded. Men with
spears did the dance of killing a panther; others did
the stealthy dance of hunting apes with bow and arrow ;
girls loaded with clinking bracelets and belled anklets
did sexual dances until they fell panting, exhausted as
if from actual coupling ; a band of girls, highly stylized
in a ballet without stage-props, pantomimed village,
field, and household tasks, digging roots, picking
bananas, gathering wood, fetching water, lighting fires.
pounding millet. For the climax of this ballet one girl
became a chicken, and fled squawking, flapping wings.
The others chased it, shooed it, cornered it, and pre-
tended to wring its neck. Then it bounced and fluttered
and somersaulted in the dust as a wrung-necked
chicken does, while the crowd howled with laughter
and applause. Four handsome youths appeared,
braceleted, ankleted, loaded with beads, their elaborate
coiffures stuck through with long aluminium and wooden
hairpins. They were female impersonators. They pos-
tured, danced, and wriggled with a lascivious abandon
which made me wonder whether they were not actual
androgynes. I was told they were simple pantomime
artists like the rest.

All this, however, was but a preparation, a ‘ curtain-
raising ‘ for the principal event — the sword-jugglers
with their baby girls. They had been in seclusion at
the other end of the village, in the witch-doctors’ en-
closure. A lane was made for their triumphant entry
through the crowd. The girls rode astride the necks
of the same giants who had carried them to meet us
on the trail. But before them marched two gorilla-like
men whom I had never seen before — gorillas not in
the sense that they were bestial or repulsive, but by
the tremendous development of their chests, arms, and
shoulders, beautiful muscularly, but almost monstrous,
so that they seemed foreshortened, stocky, though of
normal height. These were the jugglers.

Before the performance began the baby girls were
‘ magically ’ immunized. A thick, dark, dryish paste
from a horn bottle was smeared lightly on their fore-
heads, palms, and breasts, while in the complete silence
which had now fallen the two jugglers muttered their
mumbo-jumbo. The babies, they said, were to be
pierced, impaled upon the swords, before our eyes.

A brilliant exhibition followed, transparent Coney
Island balderdash as magic — mere legerdemain and
optical illusion, but lifted high- above banality by such
daring jugglery as only a people holding life lightly
would risk with little children. The two gorilla-like
men, standing first ten, then nearly twenty, feet apart,
and using the babies as human projectiles, began
‘ warming up,’ like basket-ball champions. They hurled
them back and forth in parabola, now curled into balls
like sleeping porcupines, now cart-wheeling through
the air with arms and legs spread wide, now rigid,
straight, headlong, like torpedoes shot from a tube.
The two baby girls had become passive, like rag-dolls,
somnolent and relaxed as if hypnotized, and I wondered
if they were. In the pauses they stood with eyes wide
open which seemed to see nothing, and their faces were
as expressionless as if carved in wood. The jugglers
rested, breathing heavily, and then began the sword-
play. One held two swords straight out before him,
rigid at arm’s-length, aimed slightly upward, glittering,
sharp-edged and sharp-pointed. From a distance of
fifteen feet the other hurled a child upon the sword-
points. It flashed sidewise in an arc, directly, it seemed,
upon the points of the unlowered blades, which seemed
in that fraction of an instant to be piercing it through
and through. But a fraction of an instant later the
body lay unharmed, caught in the cupped elbows of
the juggler. This brilliant trick, almost convincing to
a credulous eye, was repeated in numerous variations
with both the little girls, who remained always wooden-
faced and passive. The exhibition was over. The
crowd applauded violently and I applauded too, but I
was a little disappointed.

It had been thrilling, but it wasn’t ‘ stage magic ’ of
this sort, even at its finest, that I had come seeking in
West Central Africa.

I said as much candidly afterward to Mori and San
Dei, and got something in return for my candour.
San Dei said, “ I was willing, but my witch-doctors
were not. They were afraid that evil might befall if it
were performed in the face of strangers.”

I said, “ If what were performed } ”

He replied, “There is real magic; children are
pierced and carried with the swords run through their
bodies, but it is very dangerous. The recovery does
not always take place. It is perhaps better that it was
not attempted.”

I am relating this conversation because a month later
I returned to Bin-Hounien and saw disturbing things
which I will describe when I tell of that return, but for
which I can offer no adequate explanation.

The sequel of the present exhibition, however, was
innocent and charming. Katie and I were in our hut
in the late afternoon, half napping, lying together on a
floor-mat, where it was cooler than in our camp-beds.
With eyes half closed I became conscious that some
one was entering the hut. Standing just inside the
doorway, hand in hand like any kids, were the two tiny
girls, washed and prettied, smiling. Squatting outside
the door were the two jugglers who had brought
them, and who grinned and beamed benevolently. The
children, fearless, friendly, full of curiosity, cuddled
down like kittens on the mat beside us, sucked lumps
of sugar which we gave them, played with Katie’s
beads, examined her hair and clothes with their fingers,
then spied a pair of her slippers. Each put on one of
them, laughing and hopping about. We gave them
each a pearl necklace and a strip of blue cloth, also a
little bottle of perfume, sprinkling a few drops on their
palms to show them its use. They were as sweet and
clean as any white baby girls fresh from a tub.

After they and the jugglers had gone away with their
gifts we dined in the twilight before our hut. Chicken
and omelets which Diamoko had prepared were sup-
plemented by a great bowl of goat .liver and rice sent
by the chief. Presently, after darkness had fallen,
Mori came to say that I was awaited to take part in the
banghi-dnn^itig of the notables on the thatch-canopied
porch of San Dei’s house, where torches had already
been planted.

Mori brought my chair, San Dei had his own, and
the others sat on grass mats. The banghi had already
been brought, in big calabash bottles holding a couple
of gallons each, wicker-wound and wicker-handled, like
Chianti flasks, with little tube-like spouts of changeable
fresh green palm-leaf. We drank from calabash bowls
filled brimming, which held almost a quart for a
draught. The pourers, who were servants, always drank
first from each newly broached bottle, and sipped also
from each poured bowl before it was offered. Soon
several bowls were circulating. It was good palm-wine,
milky opaque, well fermented, heady, and not too sweet.
When one has drunk a gallon or so of it one becomes
merry, exuberant, and slightly wobbly on the feet.
One pays extravagant mutual compliments, one boasts
in a friendly way, and one is easily induced to sing.
San Dei led presently a Yafouba war-song, which put
it into my head to sing John Brown’s Body. I tried,
through Mori, to explain the words. They understood
very well, for they all believe that when a man lies
mouldering his soul goes marching on. But this
seemed a bit too serious, and the bawdy urge came
upon me, as it often does when slightly in my cups,
to sing Columbo. San Dei patted me on the back and
said it was a fine song.

I was happy, full of friendliness, slightly sentimental,
and (in a vague sort of way which is difficult to put
into words) indifferent to the geographical fact that
this was so-called savage Africa. I was glad to be there.
It was a good place to be in. It was a good drinking-
party. It seemed as natural and simple to be there as
in the upstairs room of the Brasserie de I’Od^on in
Paris or in some friendly speakeasy in New York.

But an episode presently occurred (the blame entirely
mine) which destroyed my over-confident illusion that
all was sweetness and light and everybody simple and
happy as myself. Nothing is ever simple, anywhere.
Among us sat the young bearded nephew of San Dei,
the young robed chief named Yo, whose eyes had
seemed vaguely sad when we first met. He seemed
vaguely sad still, and I had begun to notice that he
was the only one who was not drinking. I am very
much ashamed of what I did, for it was stupid. It was
the kind of expansive, good-hearted effort to patronize
which I loathe in any man, and of which I am some-
times guilty. I had a sudden surge of brotherly love
for Yo and an idea that he was being neglected. So
I tried with friendly, insistent, blatant ostentation to
force a bowl on him. I tried to make a man drink who
politely didn’t want to, and who refused politely. Every
one was embarrassed but me. Finally Mori, grave-
faced, worried, almost angry, shook me by the shoulder
and whispered in my ear,

“ Please stop^ I beg you. You do not understand. This
man is to be poisoned.”

He said it as if he were explaining a fact static,
unhurried, yet inevitable — as if he were saying, “ You
mustn’t urge this man to drink because he has Bright’s
disease.” If Mori had said, “ This man is afraid of
being poisoned,” or, “He knows somebody is going
to try to poison him,” it would have been more natural
and easy of comprehension. But there was something
in what he actually said, and in the way he said it,
which took it outside and beyond white psychology,
just as there was something beyond white comprehen-
sion in the way Yo sat there, sad-faced and knowing,
yet talking, and even smiling from time to time, among
his friends and family. Here was an accepted futrure
fact. It would not occur that night, perhaps not for
many nights. But it would arrive in its destined time,
like the changing season or the waning of the moon.
There was Fate in it, as if from no primary human
volition. And there was no escape.

All this I sensed, and it sobered me and left me
wondering. I had, curiously, no precise feeling of pity
toward Yo, and certainly no silly, futile thought that
I might help him. It was all passing in a dark realm
where my pities and values held no meaning, and into
which I had blindly blundered. I felt that I should
have in some way begged humbly all their pardons.

When Mori took me home to the hut where Katie
lay already asleep we sat for a long time outside the
door, and he told me what he knew of the recent
tribal history, reproaching himself that he had not told
me sooner.

Here then briefly is the tale of San Dei’s family and
succession, the invisible drama with its last act written
but yet unplayed, which was moving to its climax in
this hidden forest village, where we two whites had
been received with generous hospitality and happy

More than a year before the old chief, Bou, San
Dei’s brother, whose body lay dead over there in its
bamboo mausoleum, and whose unrevengeful ghost
dwelt honoured in the darkened great house, had begun
to weaken and to lose his power. San Dei had already
become in reality the tribal leader, the power behind
the tottering throne. There had been a conference of
witch-doctors and ministers which had resulted in the
poisoning of the old chief. According to Mori’s under-
standing it had not been an act dictated by ambition
or jealousy on San Dei’s part, any more than the
projected poisoning of the old chieFs son would be.
It had been a measure for the collective tribal good, to
which the individual is always sacrificed when need be.
Circumstances now made it seem necessary to remove
Yo in the same way. It was not that he had been
making trouble or fomenting any secret plot to over-
throw San Dei. It was rather that as the old chieFs
son, and not a weakling, he might become the centre
of a movement to upset the balance under which the
tribe was prospering. No promise or goodwill or
present loyalty on his part could guarantee against this
possibility, for the blacks believe, as the classic Greeks
did, that a man may be driven to engage in such acts
by occult forces wholly outside his own intention or
volition. Up to this point one might find abundant
parallels, and worse, in the dubious history of our own
white royal houses. What seemed to me more curious,
and perhaps without exact parallel among us, was that
the intended victim, Yo, fully cognizant of what awaited
him, made no effort toward ultimate defence or escape,
but remained there with the tribe, and with the very
family who were to benefit by his death, apparently
unresentful, doing nothing to protect himself beyond
the futile temporary gesture of not drinking freely with
the others. He could easily have fled to another tribe,
or into Liberia, or even to a French administration
post. Mori explained his remaining as a sort of tribal
duty. It was his duty for the collective tribal good to
remain passively and be poisoned. It seemed to me a
duty which the noblest white altruist would scarcely
have regarded as imperative. True, we hold that it is
heroic and beautiful {duke et decorum esi) to die for
others. “ Greater love hath no man,” we repeat. But
I think our purest-hearted voluntary victims expect a
positive posthumous run of some sort for their spiritual
money. I doubt whether even a Socrates or Joan of
Arc would sit about placidly awaiting the hemlock or
stake for the purely negative reason that they might
be in the way later ; or whether any white group short
of Plato’s imaginary Utopian republic would inflict
death without a qualm for so negative a reason. I
caught myself wondering whether the Negro was
simply more indifferent to life, or whether he was going
one better in beautiful selflessness than both us and

At any rate, I felt myself totally incapable of forming
a gratuitous judgment on either the passively waiting
victim or those who were concocting his demise. It
seemed to be a family, village, and tribal matter,
settled in advance to everybody’s satisfaction. When
San Dei came to take me hunting next morning there
was Yo beside him, coming along too. Everything
was just as if I hadn’t stumbled the night before into
a dark room from which Mori had dragged me before
I went too far. San Dei was our hospitable host for
three more days. When we departed, returning toward
Dananae, he gave us a number of masks, and Yo gave
Katie an otter pelt softly tanned, pliable as a glove.
On the farewell morning they accompanied us to the
main trail and insisted on lending us additional porters
for our first day’s march.

Two weeks had elapsed since our first adventure
among the Yafouba. Katie I had seen comfort-
ably installed at Man, a French administration
post in the mountains, where she had house and servants,
car and chauffeur. Man was deep in the forest — a native
town with ever3^hing built of mud and thatching,
including the administration buildings — but connected
with the coast by motor road, post, and telegraph. It
was to be our base during the Ivory Coast sojourn.

As for me, I was back again at Dananae, seated again
on a mat in the Diagbe’s hut, with his masks and skulls
grinning down on us as we palavered far into the night,
Mori had rejoined me, and we were planning a longer
trail excursion, perhaps into Liberia. I was trying to
persuade the Diagbe himself to accompany us. He
was protesting that he was too old and feeble. I was
disappointed, for experience had convinced me that my
only hope of penetrating deeper beneath surface things
lay in travelling sponsored by the actual presence of
some one who had intimate, authoritative contact with
the depths. In short, I had conceived the presumptuous
but practical notion that, having acquired my own
bugler, beaters on tomtoms, and shouters, I must now
acquire a private witch-doctor. Mori thought (as he
often did) that I was crazy. But the old Diagbe was

After pondering awhile he said, “ No, I cannot do
it. But I have a cousin, younger, it is true, but known
and powerful, who travels widely and who may be
persuaded to make the journey if the Fetish is favour-
able. Come back to-morrow morning, and we shall

What we saw when we re-entered the Diagbe’s hut
next morning was by no means what I had bargained
for. There was no sign of a second witch-doctor, but
seated cross-legged beside the Diagbe was a hand-
some youngish female creature, scantily garbed, in a
red leather hat with feathers, who fanned herself non-
chalantly with a silver-handled cow’s tail and contem-
plated me with a bland, disturbing smile.

“But where is your cousin.’*” I demanded of the

“ But here is my cousin,” he replied. “ She is
willing to go with you — in a hammock — if the signs
are favourable, but the Fetish must be consulted
first ”

“ Nok” interrupted Mori hastily, in French, “pas
fa, monsieur, je vous en prie.”

“Why not? ” I said. “ If she is a real witch-doctor ”
— but this was partly bravado. If she had been old
and ugly, or at least wrinkled as a proper sorceress
ought to be, I should have felt on safer ground.

“ She is a real sorceress,” he said. “ The Diagbe has
trained her from childhood, and her power is known
in the forest. But it isn’t that. I have never seen her
before, but I know her reputation. As a woman, when
not concerned with her Fetish, she is as impudent as a
monkey, hard-headed as a goat, and a comedian on top
of it.”

This was not reassuring, but I found myself pushed
along without time for reflection, perhaps out of sheer
perversity to plague solemn Mori. I told him his
description fitted all females, whether white or black,
saints or sorceresses, and that I proposed to do whatever
the Fetish decided.

So the paraphernalia was made ready and the invoca-
tion began. The Diagbe, kneeling, placed a pierced
calabash-seed between his teeth, with which he made a
weird, whistling drone. It was rhythmic, and sounded
curiously like Lilliputian bagpipes far away. The
woman sat cross-legged before him, swaying. After a
time she began to breathe heavily. The swaying ceased,
and she sat shuddering, as if shaken by a galvanic
current. The expression of her face had changed. The
wide-awake, keen impudence was gone. She sat star-
ing, a black sibyl, rather beautiful. The shuddering
ceased, and even before I knew what form the test
would take I had the impression that her body had
become like a battery, tensioned, highly charged. In
her hands were two polished antelope horns. These
she now pressed against her shoulders, in the hollow
above the armpits, where they adhered. She shook
herself, and they still adhered. She put out her two
hands and seized mine in a tight grip. It may easily
have been my imagination which made it seem that a
sort of current flowed into my fingers. But when the
Diagbe laid two short, heavy ivory wands on my fore-
arms they adhered, like the horns on the woman’s



shoulders. She shook my arms violently, and the wands
did not fall. This, the Diagbe said, was a sign that the
Fetish was favourable. She let go my hands and the
wands dropped immediately to the ground. Tricks, of
course, or not, as you choose. But nothing so simple
as stickum or vacuum adhesion. My own opinion
concerning such phenomena, which primitive illumines
frequently produce, and do not themselves regard as
particularly extraordinary, is that they may possess
through strong emotion-concentration a practical con-
trol over physiological dynamic forces, perhaps merely
electro-chemical, which our own advanced science*
recognizes in theory but has not yet put into practice.

I have wondered sometimes — pure speculation —
whether primitive sorcery (and esoteric black magic)
may not possess also a control, more important to know
about, over certain aspects of the fourth-dimensional
world, equally recognized in our new time-space
theories since Einstein. If this were true, of course, it
could explain phenomena of a heavier and more baffling
category without the gratuitous blanket assumption of
trickery or the necessity of crying miracle.

While I was speculating the young sorceress had
emerged from her abnormal state, still serious. She
said that she had seen trouble on the trail, obstacles,
disappointments for me and trouble for her, but that
the Fetish had told her to go with me, and she would
go. She seemed a different sort of woman now, and I
wondered whether my first impression had been wrong.
I was to learn that this Wamba was, in fact, two sorts
of woman : spoiled and high-handed, an impudent



comedian, as Mori had said, a luxurious young she-
devil who would have been the better for a good
beating ; yet a true illuminee^ a true abnormal, a black
sorceress in very truth, whom the natives recognized
and feared.

However, meanwhile (since the Negroes had all been
treating me as a sort of friendly chief, if not a master)
I had fallen into the habit of commanding, and felt that,
in a sense, I was ‘ employing ’ a sorceress as I had em-
ployed my lieutenant Mori, Bugler, and other principals
of our travelling circus. So I said authoritatively, “ We
will start at dawn, then, to-morrow morning.”

“ Oh, no, we won’t,” said Wamba. “We will start
on to-morrow’s morrow, if I can get ready.”

It was clear who intended to be the important one
and give orders from then on, but though I am never
really much good at commanding I wasn’t ready to
establish precedent quite so easily for a whim. I knew
she could have got ready in ten minutes if she had
wished. I said a bit truculently, “ Did the Fetish tell
you you must wait ? She laughed and said, “ No.
But I have a circumcision class at Flambli which I
must visit to-morrow. . . .”

One plans, one studies, one works hard to make
things happen, one goes on long useless journeys to
find something, but it is almost always by the side-
issue of pure chance — luck — that one arrives any-
where. I said, “ Your cousin, the Diagbe here, knows
that I respect the forest ways and perform the rites. I
suppose he has already told you this. In his presence
now I ask you to let me go with you to-morrow, if it is



not forbidden. If you can let me go with you I will
give you something very pretty.” I had expected
hesitancy, probable refusal. Instead they agreed quite

So next morning it came to pass, by this good for-
tune’s casual hazard, that, sponsored by my sorceress,
we parted curtain barriers of dried grass and walked
the veiled, forbidden paths. We walked, indeed, for
several long kilometres in the morning’s forest cool-
ness, and came finally to a frail bamboo stockade,
whose entrance was barred only by another light grass
curtain. But at the right of the entrance stood a brave
little wooden man with an enormous phallus painted
red, and at its left a little wooden woman with an
equally emphasized vagina. Here in this forest sacred
college young maidens, brides-to-be, spared nonsense
of storks and cabbage-heads, were instructed in what
the Rev. Dr Sylvanus Stall calls in his quaint, mildly
pornographic volumes “ the sacred facts of life.”

Wamba shouted to announce us, and we entered
the enclosure. It was a pleasant fenced clearing, with
shade trees left standing and a thatched peristyle.
Pots, calabashes, and mortars for pounding grain were
scattered about; piles of coloured pebbles, dropped
hastily, with which forest children play a game like
jackstones, and wooden boards with scooped de-
pressions on which they play a game somewhat like
chequers. It was a rather lovely scene, not at all weird
or solemn. It was more like the interrupted picnic of
a girls’ boarding-school. The girls themselves — there
were nine of them, budding young females who would



soon become wives — stood In a dutiful row to receive
their mistress, then knelt with their foreheads pressed
against the ground. Their faces were painted chalk-
white, and they wore many bracelets of brass and
aluminium, gifts of their future husbands. One of the
girls, who was of the class but seemed to be a sort of
monitor, had a chain crosswise over her shoulders, from
which hung a horn bottle. I asked if it was grigris.
Not exactly, explained Wamba; it was medicament.
I could examine it if I wished. It was a grey,
pasty mess, with an odour that was strong but not
unpleasant. It contained ashes, she said, red pepper,
grease, and a number of healing herbs. It stung
sharply, but prevented infection. The circumcision
ceremony had been performed three weeks before,
and the class was now almost ready to be dismissed.
I began asking her questions about the mechanics of
the operation. What did she do it with ? She searched
in her leather bag to show me, and produced a Gillette
safety-razor blade to which a small wooden handle
had been added. Formerly they used an iron knife,
she said, but this was better. Where did she get it?
All the Dioulas (black Mohammedan pack-pedlars
from the Soudan) sold them.

There was another mechanical point on which I
wanted information. Ethnologists have denounced
this custom of female circumcision, asserting (on
hearsay) that in the operation among the West Coast
people the clitoris is excised — which seems a fine
example of learned ethnographic nonsense. Wamba
couldn’t at first even understand what I meant. Then,



with the utmost simplicity in the world, she selected
one of the girls at random and showed me. The opera-
tion was almost completely healed, and had consisted
solely of excising the surplus folds inside the lips of
the vagina — a measure which had become ritual, like
all things connected with the mating function, but
must certainly have had as its basic purpose common-
sense facility for cleanliness, just as in the case of male

I was a bit surprised to learn (not because they
were Negroes, but because they were primitives living
under somewhat difficult sanitary conditions) that their
sexual hygiene was admirable in other respects as well.
Wamba showed me a sort of syringe made from a long-
handled gourd, shaped like the ordinary glass retort
which one sees in a chemical laboratory. This syringe
is filled with warm water and medicament, and is
operated by blowing hard through a little round hole
in the top of the globe. Similar devices, with a piston
for obtaining air-pressure, were common in Europe
before the invention of the whirling spray. Every
decent Yafouba household, Wamba said, possessed

She told me I must now wait outside the enclosure
while some woman’s religious rite was performed that
males were forbidden to see. Without meaning to
eavesdrop I heard them droning their chants in unison,
and walked farther down the trail until I was out of

When Wamba rejoined me I asked what else the girls
did there all day for three mortal weeks, from dawn to



twilight. She laughed and said, “Mostly they make
nonsense. Most of the time they play their games,
frolic, and make up funny stories. They must learn
certain things of course, make their sacrifices, and
cook, but most of the time they make nonsense.”

I thought this was all splendid, even if it wasn’t as
weird and solemn as I had expected. Also I began to
be very glad that Wamba had agreed to accompany
us on the long trail.

We started the next morning. Bugler, notified in
advance, had collected porters and brought them to
Dananae. Wamba had her own hammock — not a
heavy chair swung between poles like mine, but a net
hammock with a single long pole, in which she lazed
like Cleopatra and lorded it reclining. I supplied her
porters. She travelled without any baggage save her
sack of grigris and her cow’s-tail sceptre. Whatever she
needed or fancied she demanded and took. Whether
on the trail or in camp she respected none of my pos-
sessions or my privacies. She even had the impudence
to insist on the gift of my thumb-ring, with its Gnostic
seal, which I wouldn’t part with for a wilderness of
witches. This was not cupidity. It was the little
intaglio god with a panther’s head that attracted her.
We compromised by my letting her wear it a part of
the time. She told the others I had given it to her.
It had never occurred to Mori, much less Bugler,
however friendly, to make common pot with me — not
because I was white, but because I was chief ; they
provided their own food, according to custom. Wamba
sat at table with me, was served by Diamoko, and beat



him as I would never have dared when she didn’t like
his cooking. On the very first night she had spread
her mat beside me, and before morning, naturally,
she was in my bed. Since the folding camp-bed was
too narrow (and a continual nuisance, anyway) we
dispensed with it, and slept thereafter together on the
mat in native fashion.

But Wamba’s presence in our caravan was not all
dalliance and comedy by any means. Villages through
which we passed knew her of old, recognized and
feared her. We had a prestige less noisy but more
serious than on the former journey.

The night before we started she had taken me alone
into a mud swamp near the river, where we had buried
a bottle containing oil, water, palm-wine, and the blood
of a cock which she killed there, and whose entrails
she examined with great care. Muttering her incanta-
tions in the moonlight, she was not funny. She was
on the job.

I have said that with Wamba I seemed to be dealing
with two women rather than one, but I think that in
reality, absurd as it may appear to present an African
jungle witch in such paradoxical guise, she was not
only a true sorceress, but a true Negress, true to type
and true to the genius of her race — light-minded,
sensual, a luxurious, pleasure-loving animal, comic
at times, gaily insolent, yet good-hearted — but with
another side, another soul, dark and primordial, in
continual unconscious deep communication with old,
nameless things, demoniac and holy.

Because I felt this about the woman, or perhaps



simply because I was beginning to enjoy her, I en-
dured Wamba’s whims and obeyed her as we journeyed
southward, unhurried, entertained in various villages.
I was rewarded well. We performed in a witch-doctor’s
house at Glangleu the somewhat unpleasant marassa
mystery, whose beginnings I had learned in Haiti;
we assisted at a hois rouge ordeal ; we visited the old
sorcerer of Globli, who spits kola-juice in the faces
of little wooden manikins ; we performed our own
various incantations. It was only when my cherished
project of crossing over into Liberia became acute
that we verged on serious disagreement. I had no
special business in Liberia, but an easy march west-
ward and a small river, the Cavally, separated us from
a part of the Liberian hinterland practically inaccessible
from the coast, and it seemed to me an excellent oppor-
tunity to explore it a bit, entering by this easy back
door. Wamba had thrown herself into trances, some-
times suffering like an epileptic, had examined various
omens — had even cut open a dog, as the Greeks did
their bulls and sacred doves — but every sign she could
discover was negative or unfavourable. We were in
a village called Golale, south-west of Bin-Hounien,
where Katie and I had been formerly entertained by
that hospitable fratricide San Dei. Wamba planned a
final test, which she declared must be conclusive. It
was in our own hut, brightly lighted with one of my
carbide lanterns. She placed a round-bottomed cala-
bash bowl on a flat stone tile. Across the top of the
bowl she laid a stout flat wand. One end of it pointed
west, toward Liberia, the other east. She called in a



young man, a random villager, who had been con-
voked outside the hut. She stripped him completely
naked, removing not only his loin-cloth, but even a
leather bracelet and the strings in his hair. After
a number of abortive efforts she managed to get him
balanced on the rocking calabash, crouched like an ape,
his toes gripping the wand, preserving his balance
by spreading out his arms and touching the ground
with his fingers. This arranged to her satisfaction,
she began to moan and sway, invoking the Fetish.
Presently the calabash spun suddenly clockwise and sent
the young man sprawling, not toward Liberia, but in
the opposite direction. Obviously the bowl had to
spin or rock. I am implying nothing supernatural.
But Wamba was sliding into one of her abnormal
states, and out of it when she stopped shuddering came
her sibyl’s voice, lost, far away, high-pitched,

“ There is only one thing to be done. Go take a
pure-white cock and three white hens, carry them at
night secretly across the river, set them free in Liberia,
and come away. Only when they have had many pro-
geny will it be safe for you to return there. The Fetish
has spoken.”

Good common sense is often hidden beneath seeming
nonsense of oracular -symbolism. Suppose she had
said, “ The Liberian hinterland ‘is dangerous for yoti
because there is neither any white control there nor
any respect or liking for the white stranger. Wait until-
other whites have settled there, and then you -can go
in safety.”

It was just this element of too intelligible prudent



common sense that inclined me to assert my independ-
ence, as if she had been Katie instead of Wamba.
Women were always telling you not to do something.
If Wamba had said in one of her trances, “ You will be
killed in Liberia. The Fetish has spoken,” I should
not have insisted. But I think she was playing fair
with her oracles. Much as she wanted to stop me, she
had said a number of times, on the contrary, that I
would not be killed, but that it was nevertheless a bad,
bad business. All this had naturally aroused in me
a vivid curiosity, partly superstitious and partly in
defiance of superstition, to see just what would happen.
I was tired of Wamba’s bossing. I had a puppy-dog’s
confidence that Liberians would be nice to me, like all
the other nice savages I had met.

So I told her I was going to go in spite of hell and
high water, and that she could come along or not as
she chose. I would take Bugler and the porters, and
go as far as I liked. Mori I couldn’t ask to cross the
border. Not that he lacked courage, but his future lay
with the French administration ; it was expressly for-
bidden politically, and if I should chance, after all, to
get. into serious trouble he would be badly raked over
the coals for it.

The upshot was that I was to try it with Bugler and
fen volunteer porters. Wamba wouldn’t go against the
orders of her Fetish. She was disgusted at my hard-
headedness, angry, and quarrelsome, but genuinely fond
of me by now. She agreed to see me all the way to
the river, where there was a village camp, and to await
my return there. And ifT was bent on engaging in



this stupidity we might as well get it over, she said.
To reassert her dominance she insisted that we set out
for the border camp and sleep there, so that I could
start into Liberia at least fresh in broad daylight.

The trail we took that night with torches was the
narrow but well-trodden main trail from Golale to the
river-camp, where there was a bridge of swinging vines
across the Cavally. It was used mostly by Dioula
pedlars, a privileged class of natives who come and go
all over West Africa unmolested. We marched un-
eventfully for a couple of hours, and had already heard
the distant murmur of the river, when things went
wrong. We came to a high curtain of raffia-grass, hung
directly across our main trail, barring it. The public
trail, against all reason, had become a forbidden trail.
I was angry, and suspected trickery on Wamba’s part.
The presence of the barrier — evidently hung there that
same afternoon — followed too pat on her warnings.
But I did her an injustice. She was as surprised as the
rest of us ; she was playing fair with me, and was far
more competent to deal with obstacles of this sort. It
was she, indeed, who insisted on going on. This was
not trivial, for to enter a forbidden trail without sanc-
tion is to court real danger. Wamba, however, was at
home in such matters. She carried her own sanctions.
She was opposed to my crossing into Liberia, but the
idea that any local witch-doctor business could bar her
in her own forest was another matter. She had no
theory of what might be occurring — probably some-
thing serious, since public trails are rarely barred — but
she proposed to go in immediately alone and find out.



No matter what it was she would return and take us
through, she assured us. She was really splendid. She
had got out of her hammock as we talked. Alone she
parted the grass curtain, which was lighted on our side
by the torches, and disappeared into the darkness and
silence beyond.

We waited, worried, for more than half an hour. The
porters were afraid. They were saying they would not
go on. Bugler said nothing, but I knew he would go any-
where. As for my own reactions, insatiable curiosity
is the finest substitute for courage that I know —
and the grass witch-doctor veil there, barring the trail
theatrically in the dead of night, lighted fitfully by the
glare of our torches, seemed a sinister dream-door to
mystery. I almost wished that we might never cross
its threshold, for I knew that whatever lay on the other
side could never measure up to my imaginings.

When others ask what it is that drives me away
from the asphalt, draws me toward deserts and jungles,
I answer so sensibly, with fine, fair, honest words,
which sound so well: love of travel, desire to see a
strange thing, to learn more, perhaps, of savage cus-
toms, a sincere liking for primitive people — and, if I
am pricked to be even more honest, the subsequent
vain pleasure of seeing my name spread about in book-
shops and on the tables of my friends. But all these
fine, fair words are empty when oneself is the ultimate
questioner and no satisfying answer comes. For I
have sought less consciously, but just as diligently,
whatever it may be in places more foolishly improbable
than the far places — familiar rows of street-lamps in



my own street, wallpaper patterns in an hotel bedroom,
faces in railway carriages, advertisement pages read
meaninglessly from end to end, long city streets of
shop-windows peered into mechanically one by one,
longer country roads, fences, and rows of trees stretch-
ing into the distance, always expecting to find and
never finding — I know not what. One thing is like
another, and in deepest truth I do not know what
drives me, or what it is I seek. I suspect sometimes
that it lies not over the hill, but under. I once met
a man whose surprised eyes seemed to say he had
found it, but he was unable to speak about it, or about
anything any more.

Howbeit, the grass veil parted, and Wamba returned,
blinking, out of the darkness into our torchlight. She
said we could go through with her to the river-camp,
and from what she said I gathered that if we were to
see no final thing we were at least to see a strange one.
The bridge of vines was down, was broken, fallen in
the water. The river-gods and demons, if propitious,
would aid the mending. We could come and see what
we should see, but we must follow her instructions
implicitly. The porters moaned, but Wamba com-
manded. They moaned even more when she made
them put out all the torches. We passed the barrier
and went forward in darkness, though it was not
completely dark when our eyes became accustomed to
it, for the sky, though moonless, was bright with
tropical starlight. Two men were waiting, and halted
us on the outskirts of the camp. They were hurried, not
friendly, but acting under instructions, and respectful



to Wamba. They had a tethered goat and a big
wooden bowl. They made two porters hold the goat
above the bowl and hurriedly, like butchers, cut its
throat with a machete. Taking a cup, they hurriedly
sprinkled a little blood on our hammocks and on each
piece of our baggage, seeing that no piece was over-
looked, checking and marking them with blood as
customs officers do with chalk. Wamba dipped her
fingers in the bowl, smeared a little on her own fore-
head, then on the foreheads of Bugler and the porters.
Then, dipping both hands wrist-deep and making me
lean over the bowl, she smeared my entire face and
neck, also my hands and arms, which were bare to the
elbows. She smeared also my throat where the shirt
opened, so that my white skin, I supposed, should
pass unnoticed. They took my helmet, saying they
would hide it by the trail and restore it next day. The
hammocks were left on the outskirts of the camp, but
the baggage was carried in. We entered the camp,
which seemed completely deserted, piled the baggage
in a hut, and went down toward the river.

On the river’s bank, beneath towering trees (to one of
which the swinging bridge of vines had been attached),
people were grouped, silent, watching, waiting for
something. There were several knots of them, but no
great crowd. They paid no heed to us as we joined
them. Wamba held me by the hand, kept me pressed
close to her as if I were a child. There was no sound,
no movement, save for occasional moans. There was
only tension. It was not like anything I had ever seen
except perhaps the pause before the liquefaction of the
E 65


blood in the cathedral at Naples. There were no tom-
toms, no wailmg, no mumbo-jumbo. There was only
the tension.

The tension was broken by death-bleating from dark-
ness under the trees close by. A witch-doctor in mask
and high headdress came to the water’s edge, bearing
a dreadful mass of entrails which glistened in the star-
light. With all his strength he lifted them above his
head and hurled them far out into the water. There
was more tense waiting, but nothing happened. The
sacrifice to the river-demons was repeated. There were
lighter splashes like fish jumping. Individuals were
throwing bracelets and other offerings into the stream.

And then whatever it was that happened began

Wamba clutched my hand tighter and pointed at the
faintly rippling water’s edge. At first I saw nothing.
Then I saw that two ends of twisted vines were poking
themselves up out of the water and crawling like
living serpents, moved by no apparent human agency,
up the steep bank toward the trees. They writhed like
headless serpents crawling upward, dragging their
long length out of the river depths, becoming thicker
in body as a great emerging snake does, until they were
vine cables as heavy as a man’s forearm.

Now the silent tension turned to shouts and action.
Men seized the cables, a long line of men straining,
some wading into the stream to get a hand-grip.
Tugging up the slope like a road-gang, they dragged
out the submerged end of the fallen bridge, which they
moored to a tree trunk.



Later, lying in our hut, I tried to persuade Wamba
to explain if she could just what had happened. Of
course we got nowhere. The river-demons, it seemed,
had restored the bridge. If it had been salvaged only
by human hands the river-demons would have ripped
it down again. I asked her candidly if she didn’t believe
the witch-doctors had a physical hand in it. My own
opinion (forced, since I have never seen any convincing
proof that magic black or white can endow inanimate
objects with action) was that we had witnessed a cere-
mony comparable to that of the Egyptian Memnon, in
which priestly mechanics produced the marvel. But
questioning Wamba, herself an initiate priestess, was
a bit like asking a Carmelite mother-superior whether
roses had really fallen from the sky at Lima. So I went
to sleep in Wamba’s arms, content that I had seen a
strange sight, but wishing that I could believe I had
seen a miracle.

Next morning, leaving my sorceress, who promised
to wait faithfully at the river-camp, but who exhausted
her Bambara to express how great a fool she thought
me, we crossed over into Liberia.




N o magic of Wamba’s and no merit of mine —
but only the accident of an old pair of boots,
and another man’s boots at that, though I hap-
pened to be wearing them — got me and my porters with
whole skins and baggage out of Liberia eventually.

Of course we had no business to be going in by this
back door — not even if Wamba’s oracles had been
favourable. Liberia down on the sea-coast is a diffe-
rent matter. American Negroes, descendants of freed
slaves, administer a black republic which goes not too
badly on its ocean fringes. But the extreme Liberian
hinterland has a bad name.

If I had possessed proper objective, equipment, and
authority, things might have gone differently, but I
was wandering off on a wild excursion with no better
motives than curiosity and a wish to get loose for a
while from Wamba’s apron-strings, with no -personnel
except Bugler and a dozen scared but loyal porters.
It hardly required sibylline prophecy or the ripped-out
insides of unhappy dogs and chickens to foretell that
we should very likely get into trouble of some sort.

Yet except for the novelty of traversing the Cavally
river on a swaying vine bridge, constructed by demons
and fit only for apes, our crossing from Ivory Coast
territory into Liberia was, at first impression, an un-
convincing displacement, like going from France into



Belgium, or from Cincinnati to Detroit. One says,
“Well, here I am in a different place,” but the saying
it doesn’t mean much, since everything is just the

The forest was identical, the trails likewise, and the
few people we met seemed in no way different from our
own amiable Yafouba savages. But this was only for
the first few miles. As we went deeper in we began to
sense vaguely, and then more definitely, that this was
not a friendly place. Nor was this a trick played by
imagination, conjured up by Wamba’s warnings and
forebodings. All wayfaring natives go armed, of
course, in the great forest. But such Ivory Coast way-
farers as we had been accustomed to encounter would
always stand in the trail, greet us and joke with us, and
ask questions as we passed. An assagai or a bow with
poisoned arrows is a delightful touch of local colour in
the hands of a black, naked forest-man who stands gay
and grinning. But it loses most of its charm when the
man darts silently into the bush fifty yards ahead of
you and lurks invisible behind the leaves until you
have passed by. The natives here were stealthy and
unfriendly. I didn’t like it, and my porters didn’t like
it at all. Bugler was too proud to show whether he
liked it or not. He marched straight ahead superbly,
and we followed. As a matter of fact, it was a bad
place, where frequently the casual passing stranger,
even the ‘ at home ’ Liberian going from village to
village, was stalked and taken like other game ; where
even the Dioula pedlars went only by day, in armed
companies. It was, by the way, the only territory of



this sort which I ever touched in my somewhat wide
wanderings over West Africa.

We were heading south-west, toward a village called
Zanbli, where there was supposed to be a small
Liberian Government post, with a sort of administrator
in charge. Our intention was to spend the night there,
get what help and information the administrator could
give us, and go deeper in, if all went well, on the
following day. We hurried along, a bit nervous and
jumpy, anxious to make Zanbli before sunset. I felt
sure that once in contact with an administration post,
however isolated in the bush, we would be well re-
ceived, for America and Liberia are notoriously friendly.
Quite likely they might lend us guides and guards for
our further excursioning.

Actually nothing whatever happened to us on the
trail to Zanbli. Never once were we menaced or halted.
On the contrary, we were avoided. We traversed
clusters of huts, seemingly deserted, without seeing a
human face. The fine mess that awaited us had no
saving cinema qualities. It was, in fact, disgustingly

We reached Zanbli about four o’clock in the after-
noon — some twenty mud -thatched huts scattered
outside a central stockade, which was evidently the
administration post, for a dirty little flag surmounted it.
A few villagers stared at us from a distance, but none
came near us, even to offer the customary water. The
stockade gate was ajar. I left my porters, hammock,
and baggage in front of it, with Bugler in charge, and
went inside alone. A Liberian corporal, barefooted



and trouserless, but wearing a shabby scarlet soldier’s
coat, and with a proper rifle, halted me .and asked in
pidgin what I wanted. Three or four other soldiers,
similarly garbed and armed, lolled about. There was
a big square mud house, with windows and a veranda,
evidently a sort of office, from which the flag flew;
also a dwelling, but no sign of life in either. I said
I was an American traveller and wanted to see the
administrator. “ Mister Harris,” said the guard, as one
would say it in plain, homely English. It was a comfort
to hear him say “Mister Harris.” Now everything
would be all right. Very likely it would turn out that
Mr Harris and I had mutual acquaintances in Harlem
or Tuskegee. At any rate, we could talk of Booker
Washington. I mounted the office veranda, asked the
guard for a drink of water, and lighted a cigarette, as
if I owned the place. I already felt welcome, and per-
haps just a little patronizing. America was a lot bigger
than Liberia, and I had read somewhere that they had
copied their constitution from ours. I thought of the
interesting conversation we might also have about
Haiti. I sat waiting for a quarter of an hour or so,
thinking smugly how well things always turned out
for me, and the delay seemed all right too, since
Mr Harris had probably been interrupted in his

Presently Mr Harris emerged from his house, and I
rose to meet him. His appearance was as comforting as
his homely name. He was a middle-aged dark Negro
in horn-rimmed spectacles, shop-bought stiff straw
hat, civilian khaki, celluloid collar, and stringy black



necktie. He might have just come out of the drugstore
at the corner of Seventh Avenue and One Hundred
and Thirty-sixth Street. He looked like a school-
teacher type, probably bored by his isolation here,
and hospitable. It was only after his soft, boneless
handshake that I realized that the eyes behind the
spectacles were not so reassuring. Not that they were
savage or hostile. But they were the shifty, uncandid
eyes of a man who has got something up his sleeve and
is not at ease. Also I realized that he hadn’t yet spoken.
I had addressed him in polite, colloquial American
English, sure that he would respond with the same.
But now when he opened his mouth it was clear that
he knew scarcely any English. It was gross pidgin he
talked, and Bambara. I was beginning to be a little
impatient and resentful, with a faint edge of aggres-
siveness in my resentment. For he hadn’t even asked
me to sit down, nor made any commonest offer of
refreshment. I sat down without being asked and said
in his own gross but adequate medium, measuring my

“Look here, I am neither a trader nor a political
agent, wanting any profit from you. I am a private
American traveller, a writer of books. Everywhere in
French Africa I have been well received by blacks and
whites. Now I am in your country, which as you must
surely know is friendly with America. Furthermore, I
have brought all my own food and supplies. I should
like to stay a few days if you can put me up to-night
in your village guest-house. If your tribal chiefs care
to visit me there will be generous gifts for them, and



I should like in turn to visit some of their villages.
What about it, Mr Harris ? ”

To which Mr Harris replied, in a queer, aggressive,
but embarrassed tone, “ Show me your papers.”

“What’s the matter with you? ” I said. “My pass-
port is out there in my tin trunk somewhere, and if
you insist I’ll go and get it.”

“ No,” he interrupted ; “ I mean your papers from
Monrovia, your papers from the Liberian Govern-

I said, “ But you know perfectly well that I have
come down from the north, not up from the coast, and
could have no papers from your capital or your Govern-
ment. You know that you are the first Liberian official
of any sort I’ve met.”

“ So you have no Liberian papers,” he said, and,
while he said it in a blaming tone, I knew that for some
reason not yet disclosed he was glad that I had no
Liberian papers, and was wanting to make sure. There
was something sour, and it was getting more sour
every minute. I stood up.

I said, “Well, here I am. What are you going to do
about it? You are the local authority, and if you don’t
want me in your territory tell me to get out, and I’ll go
back where I came from.”

And right there the cat poked a clawed paw out of
the bag where it had been hiding. “ You have invaded
our territory,” said Mr Harris ; “ it is grave.”

I said, “ It is pure God-damned nonsense, and you
know it. What are you up to, anyway? You are an
official. You can’t get away with anything like that.”



But I was far from sure just what he might get away
with. Any communication with Monrovia would take
more than a month. He was saying, “ I ask you, please,
to wait.” I was caught, and somewhat ignominiously.
It wasn’t the four armed guards, who had stopped
lolling and were on the alert. I could have walked out
of the stockade, or at least I believed I could. But it was
within an hour of sunset, and we wouldn’t have had a
gambling chance to get out of Mr Harris’s territory.
He went away, and I waited, lighting another cigarette.
I was more annoyed and angry than seriously worried,
but it wasn’t pleasant. Almost immediately he returned
with an elderly Kroumen (a forest tribe-man), robed,
goat-bearded, hookish-nosed, with a face that was
more savagely evil than his own, but less evasive, and
decidedly more intelligent. He spoke doubtful pidgin.
He was evidently not officially connected with the
post. He was Mr Harris’s personal familiar and adviser.
Mr Harris wanted me to repeat all I had previously said.
But if Mr Harris needed reinforcements I needed
them even more. I wished fervently for Mori. I could
only send one of the guards for Bugler, saying I would
need him to interpret. He came proudly in his tattered
coat and wig of monkey fur, bugle at ease in his left
hand, saluting so smartly that the guards snapped to
attention. When Bugler walked like that it was a
military parade. He stood gravely beside my chair.
The Kroumen looked at him intently and asked him
a question which sounded insulting, in a language
which I had never heard. Bugler’s face went blank,
and he replied in Bambara, “ Ti Jamou ” (“ I don’t



understand ”). The Kroumen tried again. Bugler’s
face went blanker still, apologetic. So that was that.
We did the best we could in pidgin. But presently the
Kroumen and Mr Harris, with a narrow eye at first
on Bugler, began holding side conferences in their own
language. . . .

That night, after they had put us in a guarded hut,
abandoning even the pretence that we were anything
but prisoners. Bugler gave me a graphic and complete,
though whispered, version of the conference thus
eavesdropped, and which had ended inconclusively,
something like this :

Mr Harris. You saw all that baggage out there?
He told us he has food and a lot of gifts. He probably
has a lot of rum too, and ammunition. And you saw
that shotgun ?

The Kroumen. I tell you to look at his trousers
there. I don’t like his trousers either. And I tell you
to look again at his boots.

Mr Harris. But he told us himself he was just
a private traveller. Besides, look at the way he
carries himself. Part of the time he was polite and
afraid of us. You could see it. He carries no way of

The Kroumen. It is not his face or his way, I tell
you. It is his clothes. I have been on boats that came
from England. His clothes are dirty, but I don’t like
them. And the boots are hateful. They are the boots
of a white man who commands. I have looked for
sewing on his coat-sleeves, and it is true that there
are no marks. But you will find his gold stripes put



away somewhere in his trunk, and you will be sorry.
It is not safe to do it. There will be trouble afterward.

So that was what it was all about ! With the best
goodwill in the world they wanted to rob us, but they
couldn’t quite make up their minds that it would be
safe. It was so simple that, except for the doubtful taste
of doing it under cover of Mr Harris’s officialdom,
one could understand, if not entirely sympathize
with, them in their embarrassing predicament. Yet
even academically as well as personally I disliked this
Mr Harris. For, according to Bugler’s further revela-
tions, it was not the keen-faced, savage Kroumen but
the, on the whole, rather dull, soft-handed, thick-faced
Mr Harris who had finally suggested a less pleasant
method of solving the problem. He had suggested, in
brief, that if it seemed unsafe to confiscate our belong-
ings and let us go free, to make trouble afterward, it
might be possible to send us away at an hour when
night would forcedly overtake us, and arrange to have
the whole matter concluded as quietly as possible on
the trail. But this suggestion the Kroumen had also
opposed violently, and Bugler, who had smelled real
trouble on the veranda, was of the opinion now that
there was less cause for worry. He strongly advised
against making a break. We risked no harm in the
hut there. And when morning came we would see,
forewarned, what could be done. I thought his advice
was sensible, and tried to go to sleep.

But it occurred to me, as I lay there, that this
somewhat dull Mr Harris, with his school-teacher air,



his Fourteenth Street stiff straw hat, horn-rimmed
spectacles, and little stringy black necktie askew in a
celluloid collar, was perhaps the only really dangerous
Negro I had ever encountered in the African jungle.

The old Kroumen was a savage, and if a man’s
physiognomy and eyes ever mean anything he was the
more ruthless, perhaps even the more rapacious, of
the two. But he was not stupid. It was his deterrent
imagination, stimulated by the hazard of the boots,
that saved us from the dull Mr Harris. Those boots,
in fact, had never been made for mine or any civilian
feet. They had been made by the best military
bootmaker in London, and were of the sort worn
by generals, colonels, and occasionally majors with
millionaire aunts or wives. They had been ordered by
my friend Major Russell Haven Davis in 1925, in
Haiti — and they had pinched his feet. So he had
swapped them to me for a tennis-racket and a German
camera. Now, after five years, though badly down-at-
heel, they still retained a vestige of their martial glory,
which the Kroumen had sensed and found not to his

Therefore next morning, since this Kroumen proved
to be the dominant rascal of the two, Mr Harris came
announcing that we were free to return whence we had
come, and added that his only reason for advising us
strongly neither to linger nor to go farther was that
the territory was not safe for strangers. On this point
I found myself quite heartily, and for the first time,
in accord with Mr Harris, Two of my porters had
skipped during the night, but the others gathered,



and we prepared to go. Mr Harris had the dull im-
pudence to hang round with a sick-crocodilish smile,
watching us distribute the loads and offering advice.
The Kroumen I never saw again. He was made of
different stuff. He was through. Presently a woman
brought eggs and a chicken, nodding to Mr Harris. I
said to her, ignoring him, “ Bring also the villager who
supplied them, that I may pay him.” Mr Harris said,
“ No, they are a gift.” I said, “ No, thank you, I am
not accepting any gifts in Liberia, and neither am I
giving any.” We were hurrying and ready to leave.
Mr jHarris drew Bugler aside. “He is hoping,” said
Bugler, “ that you will give him at least a bottle of
rum and some tins of sardines.” I was fed up. I said,
“ I’ll be damned if I will. I will give all the rum I’ve
got to you and my friends across the river.”

This restored a little of my self-respect, but not
much. It was an unprideful going away. That we
went with a whole shirt was due neither to ruse nor
to valour that could be bragged of later. I had lost
face with myself, and had lost face a little with my
porters. They knew I had been licked, and that we
had narrowly escaped worse, negatively.

Recrossing the Cavally — to a place where everybody
was friendly and people waited who were fond of me
— ^woul’d be a comfort of getting home, but Wamba
would know how to take most of the joy out of that
with her well-justified “ I-told-you-so’s.” I had run
away from Wamba, and I was coming back with my
tail between my legs.

She was waiting at the river-camp, where anxious



Mori had rejoined her with the rest of my porters.
They came down to the bank and shouted questions
as we recrossed the vine bridge, for we had hoped
to be gone perhaps a week. We had a sheep killed,
and while it was cooking Bugler and I told our story.
When we came to the part about the boots Wamba
made me repeat it and stopped her scolding. It seemed
to mean something to her that it hadn’t meant to me.
Her way of understanding it was a way quite different
from my white way of understanding. If I could re-
produce in white language her black conception of the
episode’s significance it would throw some light, I think,
on real Fetishist psychology. But it is going to be diffi-
cult, and if I can do it at all it will be by comparison
with certain of our more familiar white conceptions.

Forcedly I regarded the episode of the boots as
simply a lucky accident. Wamba, on the other hand,
believes that nothing is an accident. She believed,
therefore, in this case, that the whole Liberian incident
was written implicitly and foreordained in my acquir-
ing of the boots five years previously. She believed
that in acquiring them I unconsciously obeyed the
voice .of a Fetish (here something like our old con-
ception of a guardian angel), and that the boots them-
selves were consequently grigris-, that they contained
and controlled this future fate in embryo. For just
as the Harlem Negro believes that the clearing-house
lottery numbers to-morrow may be ‘ dreamed ’ in
advance, and therefore must exist already somewhere
in the embryonic future, Wamba believes that all pos-
sible future events exist in embryo. This sounds like



purest fatalism; but it is not. For she believes also
that the future, if foreseen, may be to some degree
controlled. And the real purpose of Fetish consulta-
tion and divination is to decipher and to control the
future. Those of us whites who are fatalists at all
usually believe in a predestination, or Providence, or
kismet, which cannot be changed or escaped from.
What is going to be will be, we say. But Wamba
believes differently. She believes that Fate, though
written, projects itself into the future not as a straight
line hut fan-shaped, in myriad alternate paths multiply-
ing to infinity. She conveyed this difficult concept of
fan-shaped destiny by an ingenious analogy.

I am walking in an unknown forest. There are as
many directions to walk as there are points of the
compass. I know nothing of what awaits me in any
direction, but in all directions Fate awaits me, things
already written in the sense that they exist already, and
are there inevitable, but alternate, depending on the
path I take. In one path there is a tree from which
I will pluck refreshing fruit. In another a panther
waits to leap upon me. Beside another path there is a
good spring of water. In another direction there is an
elephant trap into which I will fall and be impaled on
the stakes. In still another a friendly camp, where I
will be well treated. All these things are written fan-
shaped in the future. And all are true potentials. And
we must assume, as so often is the case in the actual
forest of human life, that no process of logic or reason
can disclose whether it is better for me to turn to right
or left. And since I am continually moving in some



path or other, from the womb to the grave, since even
stopping to stand still is a form of moving, no tiniest
choice in the most trivial matter, no event, however
trivial itself, is without its potentiality to change one’s
future life.

Therefore the Negro primitive consults the Fetish ;
therefore he devises charms and grists to protect him
in the labyrinth. If we have no faith in his methods
we can at least begin to understand why he deems it
necessary to try to do something. We whites often
recognize, and sometimes with a shock, that despite all
our processes of logical foresight we also walk in this
blind labyrinth, not knowing where any path will lead.
But our very logic seems to teach us that there is
nothing we can do about it. The gate clangs shut, and
you miss your train by a split second because you
fumbled for change when you bought a morning news-
paper ; and in the evening newspaper you read the list
of the dead. Usually the drama is less sudden, less
spectacular, less final, but if you look back you will
discover just as fatally a hundred cases in which seem-
ingly pointless hazards or decisions changed your life.
Will you come over and make a fourth at Bridge this
evening? No, I’ve got some work to do. . . . You are
hesitating, and your friend has almost hung up the
telephone-receiver. Just before it clicks you say, “ Oh,
well, I’ll come over anyway.” During the evening a
girl drops in whom you have never seen or heard of,
and six months afterward you find yourself married to
her. Fate, Providence, blind luck, or Wamba’s fan-
shaped future? A pair of boots in Haiti pinched Major




Davis’s feet. That was five years ago. To-morrow, for
all I know, I may do some pointless thing, like going
to the corner cafe for a packet of cigarettes, and set in
train another absurd sequence that will make me five
years hence a multimillionaire or put me in the gutter.

Now, the basic difference between Wamba’s mind
and mine or yours is that while we regard all such
sequences as unpredictable, and therefore uncontrol-
lable, she believes they form a mysterious pattern,- and
can be to some degree deciphered. This, I think, is one
of the fundamental elements of the black primitive
psychology. In the fan-shaped labyrinth of life, where
neither logic nor consciously directed will seems
adequate, the Negro seeks for supernatural guidance
in his Fetishes, somewhat as the old-time Christian
sought it on his knees in prayer. Most of us who are
more enlightened cross our fingers or flip a coin. ‘


I N the early course of our Ivory Coast wanderings,
after my misadventure in Liberia, we visited an old
witch-doctor who, Wamba said, was very powerful
in divination.

He was an unpretentious greybeard, who received
us on a mat before his hut, surrounded by no blatant or
horrific mumbo-jumbo. He sat staring for a while at
nothing visible, and then began to speak of forest birds.
He spoke presently of the toucan, which is a large
bird of brilliant, flame-jewelled plumage, with a weird,
far cry. It rests on highest tree-tops, is very difficult to
approach, and flies usually toward the evening.

He said, “ The toucan calls there close by, and you
follow. He flies farther, and you follow. You go on
and on. You see his bright plumage, but then he is
gone. You came here following a bright toucan. It
flies before you, and where it flies you follow.”

I said, “Yes, old wise black man; but tell me,
please, will I ever catch the toucan ? ”

“Eh, that who knows?” he said. “But you will
always follow.”

So we went away toward the evening, as the toucan
flies, but following what bright bird I know not. We
were ^planning to arrive back, circling, ten days later,
in the ancestral village of the chief San Dei, where we
had been invited to participate in sacrifices that would



be ojfFered on the tomb of his brother, Bou. But mean-
while we were wandering wide and free. And if we
caught no flaming chimera we had at least some curious
experiences which only the presence and friendship of
an amiable witch like Wamba could have made possible
for a roving white. Without her, indeed, one would
have been hospitably received, but completely ex-
cluded from the special things, unaware even that they
were occurring.

We arrived one afternoon in the central village of a
chief called Mabya, asking shelter for the night. This
Mabya had panther teeth braided in his hair, and
seemed at first impression a formidable personage. Our
welcome, though hospitable enough, was not exuberant.
His griot was a rather savage fellow who seemed to
be in a permanently bad hiunour, and not partial
to travelling strangers. When we met the chief for
the usual preliminary palaver the glared about
as if daring anyone to contradict him, and shouted,
“ When his father made him he made a panther.”

We agreed politely that this was true, but the griot
seemed unmollified. He continued :

At present it is time to talk,

But no one dares to talk roughly with him.

This is the great forest
Where all men must walk gently.

This is the great forest ;

Only the panther is at home here.”

The Panther himself proved to be, however, on closer
contact, a very benevolent and good-natured panther.
In addition to the profusion of teeth braided in his



hair he wore a felt hat cocked on one side, and had a
sympathetic face in which it seemed to me there was
a certain wily humour. One gathered that the griot’s
words were merely a manner of speaking. Panther
Teeth saw us comfortably installed in the guest-house,
and offered what immediate hospitality of palm-wine,
meats, and fruit the village afforded. Even the shouting
griot turned out to be in private life an amiable soul,
and brought us six fresh eggs that evening.

Before we settled down to feel at home, however, in
this village I had a serious quarrel, but it developed
quite aside, and from a wholly different quarter. It
arose late on that same night. I had already gone to
sleep when Mori came, with the porters’ headman,
saying that the porters had not eaten. There were
about twenty porters with me, including some of the
original ones from Dananae. Out of their own pay,
which was the equivalent of threepence a day, they
provided their own food for morning and noon, a bit
of cold cooked rice or manioc. Sometimes they elected
to go the whole day without eating, which was their
own affair, since they were well paid, and could get
what they needed for the value of less than a penny.
But at night they always had to be supplied with a belly-
bursting meal — and for this the cost and responsibility
rested wholly on me.

The price of this meal, its nature, its cost, and the
manner of providing it, are fairly standardized. As
soon as you enter a village, planning to spend the
night, you arrange with this or that private family,
which either volunteers or is ordered by the local chief,



to feed your porters. You pay the man of the family in
advance the equivalent of two cents per head, which
is the accepted price, fair and adequate. For this he
provides great bowls of rice and smaller bowls of hot
sauce, which must contain okra or some other vegetable,
salt, and red pepper, with meat or fish scrapped through
the sauce to give it body and flavour. The man’s wives
and family usually prepare this, which takes time, but
gives them a good profit.

In this village I had made the usual arrangement,
and now, supposing there had simply been a longer
delay than usual, sent Mori to see about it. He returned
after a little while and came inside the hut.

“ It is true that the porters have not eaten,” he said,
“ and there is something not right. I found the man,
but he was not in his own compound, and avoided me.
He told me it was because the sauce his wives had
made was not good, and that he was ashamed to give
it to the porters, and that they were preparing more.
But when I asked him to show me the cooked rice,
then, he could not show me any, and I do not believe
he has cooked any. I believe that he does not mean
to feed them.”

I lighted my carbide lantern, pulled on my boots,
and went with him in pyjamas down into the village,
which was dark. My porters were holding the man .
They were gathered in front of his dark compound,
and though usually patient and humble they would not
let him go until I had seen him.

He first repeated what he had said to Mori, “ The
sauce was not good, and I am already making other.”



I said, “ Where then is the cooked rice, and where are
the fires ? ” He said, “ In my sister’s compound ; not
here in the village.” Then, seeing me getting angry
and not believing him, he said, “Alas, my cousin to
whom I entrusted the money ”

I smashed him on the head with my cocomacaque
stick, and when he fell not completely stunned, crawling
and trying to take hold of my feet and whining, I
smashed him again and began kicking him with my
boots to do him an injury as he lay on the ground.
Mori made me stop, and I was glad that he made me
stop, but I was glad also for what I had done.

We aroused the man’s family and made them light
fires, and Mori remained to see that the porters were

Next morning the chief sent for me, and I went,
wondering if there would perhaps be trouble. But he
had already investigated the matter to his satisfaction.
He said that as soon as the man recovered he would
have him badly beaten again, in the presence of his
wives and of the village. He said that the village was
pleased, and that they all hoped we would prolong our
visit. For this invitation, however, it developed that
he had a special reason, which did not concern me so
directly. They had learned who Wamba was, and it
seemed that in Panther Teeth’s river-camp village, not
far distant, there was a little affair which she might be
just the person to help to straighten out. It would be
a great service to Panther Teeth if she could get to the
bottom of it, he said, because he was very fond of
fresh fish, and hadn’t had any for a number of weeks.



To be precise, his fisherman had been bewitched, and
the fish would no longer enter the wicker-basket traps,
though, as everybody knew, the river was still full of
them. And up to now his local Fetishers hadn’t been
able to do anything.

So Wamba went to the other village on that same day
to investigate, refusing to let me go with her for fear
that my presence would hamper her activities. Panther
Teeth, pleased at her promise to help him, sent for his
drummers and dancers to entertain us meanwhile, and
in the afternoon great quantities of hanghi flowed. The
^iot was there, no longer glaring, and deigned to make
a little song about me as “ the one who dealt heavy
blows justly.” I produced the usual gifts, including
a striped Dioula robe and a clasp-knife for Panther
Teeth, also a briquette, the dry-mesh sort, with which
he was delighted. But he didn’t care for my Amer
Picon. (I had opened a bottle, thinking to offer him a
special treat.) He spat it out on the ground, eyeing
me as if I had played a bad joke on him. He said it
tasted like medicament.

Here for the first time a man came with a carved
figure, which he offered to sell me. It was old and
rather good. I had been wary about asking to buy
masks or carvings, for the good ones are usually
religious or ancestral. And, besides, I had no wish to
be treated as a trader. But since the offer now came
spontaneously I was glad to benefit. So I bought the
figure at the man’s own price, and asked Panther Teeth
to have it announced that if there were any who had
masks, statuettes, or bracelets which they cared to sell



willingly I would buy without disputing the price.
He sent men to round up what could be found, and
presently there was a good-sized pile — no marvellous
museum pieces, but good Ivory Coast stuff, which one
almost never sees now in territory touched by motors.
I left the fixing of prices entirely to them and to
Panther Teeth, saying that each owner must tell me the
price which he and they all deemed proper among them-
selves. There was a lot of chattering, in which I took
no part. The prices they finally agreed on as just were
values ranging from the equivalent of tenpence to one-
and-threepence for a mask or carved figure, and from
fivepence to eightpence for a massive brass bracelet,
often beautifully carved. Not to be generous or patron-
izing, but to preserve some shred of a feeling of my
own decency, if ever so little, I compromised by paying
double the price asked for each. Most of them were
objects worth easily from five to ten pounds in London,
and even more in New York. People talk and write of
being cheated by rapacious natives — and so you cer-
tainly are if you don’t watch your step in big markets
and towns on the highways — but in the bush the
opposite is often embarrassingly true.

Two brothers of Panther Teeth had appeared early
in the afternoon, one in a squirrel-skin cap with tails
attached, like Daniel Boone, the other in a Derby hat.
They were minor chiefs, and sat beside us. They had
brought me a very big bowl of raw rice, piled high, on
which reposed a monstrous dried catfish, black and
hard as wood, curled round himself, with his tail in his
mouth. He looked as royal as a pafier-mSche peacock



in a festal Max Reinhardt banquet procession, but I
knew that he was full of little bones, and would out-
stink a nest of minks when he began cooking. So I
gave him surreptitiously to Mori, who put him away
in his baggage, and who still had him when we returned
to Dananae, weeks later. From time to time Panther
Teeth and I had been retiring to my hut, as if to a
speakeasy, for a drop of rum. After the two brothers
came it was polite to invite them also.

The dances, the buying of masks, and the giving
of gifts were now over. We notables sat in the public
square while the assembled villagers — men, x^amen,
babies, dogs, and goats — stood or squatted round in
a solid circle, watching us sit. I must explain that
sitting is a frequent pastime for notables ini the forest.
Life isn’t all excitement and beating on tomtoms. You
just sit, several of you, not even gossiping, not waiting
for anything, like an old woman and her shadows in a
rocking-chair on a farm veranda in Kansas. Except
that usually several hundred people, watch you sit, as
if you were the Prince of Wales. When one writes of
adventure there is a tendency to gloss the parts that
were not adventurous. But looking back, it seems to
me that a full third of the time I have spent intimately
among primitive groups, whether in jungle, mountain,
or desert, has been spent in sitting. Normally this
time we would have just sat until dark, or until we got

Toward five o’clock, however. Panther Teeth be-
stirred himself, contrary to all local social precedent.
He announced that he and Mori and I were going



for a little stroll. The two brothers .deemed this an
agreeable idea, and prepared to accompany us. Panther
Teeth explained again that it was he and I and Mori
who were going for the stroll. So we started, and
when we got to the outskirts of the village we found
not only the two brothers at our heels, but the entire
population following us. Panther Teeth demanded
loudly to know whether he was the big chief or whether
he wasn’t. They stood crestfallen, sadly watching our

All this struck me as a slightly mysterious if trivial
perforijiance. Ivory Coast chiefs do not habitually
invite their guests for casual strolls. “What do you
suppose he is up to? ” I asked Mori in French, as we
disappeared from sight of the village, along a little
side-trail. Mori replied that he hadn’t any idea.

It was a one-man trail, and we padded along in
single file, with Panther Teeth in the lead. Very soon
we came to a trail barrier, but not a Fetish barrier —
merely a sign of private domain. Then on we went,
saying nothing and seeing nothing for fully three kilo-
metres. Mori and I finally began to get hot and tired,
and to complain. Why hadn’t we taken hammocks
and porters if we were going so far, and was this a
joke, or what was it all about, anyway?

Panther Teeth, smiling like a baby, said, “ No ;
it’s just a little way farther. I want to show you my
ducks. . .

“ Is he making fun of us? ” I asked Mori.

“ No,” said Mori ; “ he’s got something to show us,
and we must humour him.”



So we went on for another kilometre, and arrived
ridiculously in the heart of the jungle at a prosperous
duck-farm. Why it seemed to me so ridiculously
incredible there, like a railway-buffet restaurant or an
ice factory, I don’t know, unless because it was so
completely commonplace. It surprised me more than
if it had been the mythical white goddess. Five hun-
dred miles into the heart of the black African jungle,
with the last long miles on foot, led by a savage chief
with panther teeth braided in his hair — to see a duck-

A proper poultry-yard, it was just that. True, it was
surrounded by bamboo instead of chicken-wire, and
the caretakers’ houses were mud-thatched, but when
you looked at the dozens of ducks waddling about and
quacking, dozens of little ducklings too, and Panther
Teeth clucked to them, and they came waddling round
you, and he gave you handfuls of corn to feed them
with, and asked you to see how fat they were — ^you
were out of Africa and back on Hal Smith’s farm in
Connecticut, and after you had fed and praised the
ducks and said how cunning the ducklings were, and
then there wasn’t anything much else to do about it,
you’d go back up to the house and mix cocktails and
turn on the gramophone.

We sat for a while and tossed the corn and praised
the ducks and said how cunning the ducklings were,
and then there didn’t seem to be anything much else
to do about it, and it was coming twilight; so we
started back to the house.

We dropped behind a little on the trail, and I said,



“ Now, Mori, you have seen it ; will you please tell me
what it was all about — why he took us there? ”

Mori said, “ Well, I have been thinking, and I think
I know. The chief here couldn’t send his two brothers
away, for they were guests. With us remaining they
also would have remained, and wherever we went in
the village they would have politely accompanied us.
But when we get back it will be after dark, and they
will be gone. You will see.”

(I offer this analytical gem of Mori’s to the learned
Dr Levy-Briihl for his next Sorbonne volume on the
soul and mentality of the primitive. I have a great
respect for Dr Ldvy-Briihl, and he is welcome to it.
There is certainly nothing I can do about it. For Mori
was right. We had walked five miles to look at some
God-damned ducks in order that Panther Teeth might
guzzle my bottle of rum without sharing it with his

When Bugler came with coffee next morning Wamba
was asleep on the mat beside me. She had returned
from the river-village late in the night, tired, and hadn’t
bothered to awaken me. However, she was full of
news. All that Panther Teeth had cared about, appar-
ently, was getting his fresh fish, but the bewitchment
of the fisherman, who was a popular young fellow,
involved more than his wicker traps, and the river-
village was in an angry turmoil. It was a double be-
witchment that had come upon the fisherman. His
wicker-basket fish-traps no longer caught fish. But
also he was unable to stand up and go in to his
wife. And it was this, even more than the other, that



distressed him and outraged the small community. All
primitive peoples, of course, regard the erect phallus
both in symbol and in flesh as the mainspring of all
things, the only link between yesterday and to-morrow,
the only bridge between chaos and eternity. They
recognize both mystically and at the same time in
its purest physical simplicity the obvious truth which
our church-spires, Easter lilies, new-born babes, and
obelisks attest, but which with our different sense of
propriety we face perhaps less frankly.

So that when Wamba had arrived, she told me,
the entire village had taken this most important of all
matters publicly in charge. There was to be a trial by
ordeal — no rare occurrence, but the commonest method
of solving such problems of guilt in the forest when
ordinary divination has failed. As for herself, she was
simply to be one of the umpires, a natural choice, since
she was a person of known magical prestige, yet com-
pletely outside personal motivations touching the village
group, and therefore acceptable to all factions. The
trial was to be completely public. She had to go back
that morning. Did I want to come along with her now,
or follow later? I could see it, then? But anybody
could. That’s what she was telling me. . . .

So we went down to the river-village, and thanks
entirely to Wamba, rather than to any foreknowledge
or initiative of my own, we saw the whole proceedings.

In my opinion (after having met and talked with the
young fisherman — his name was Koro — and after hav-
ing had a look at him and his fish-traps) we had before
us here a case of authentic, actual bewitchment — that



is to say, black sorcery in effectual operation, whatever
you may choose to suppose black sorcery to be. Its
elements had a quality of sharp definiteness which did
not pass the limits of what I knew that evilly directed
sorcery could do.

Koro’s double misfortune, his double impotence,
had come upon him about two weeks before. And
there was no reason for either of these misfortunes
— that is, really no normal, ordinary reason. This we
were invited, even urged, to verify. We went to the
river and inspected the fish-traps. He was an expert
fisherman. And the river was still full of fish. With
equal simplicity he stripped off his breech-clout, to
show himself strongly and manfully made. He was a
healthy young male animal. He had a young, desirable
wife, who was also presented for our inspection. Prior
to the misfortune he had caught all the fish he wanted,
and had known his wife as much as he wanted. All
the mechanics and all the opportunity were still there
unchanged. But suddenly Koro could no longer catch
any fish, and he could no longer stand up and go in to
his wife. The whole village believed that he was be-
witched, and I believed it too. I mean that I believed
it literally, without shifty materialistic-rational quali-
fication of any sort. Real magic is never materialistic.
And here were precisely the things which I know
witchcraft can do. Please understand the sharp limita-
tion of my assertion. I do not believe that witchcraft
can crack a skull or make a wall fall down. But witch-
craft can destroy a man and can destroy a house by
means more subtle, though just as deadly.



Concerning the means they planned to use for the
discovery of the guilty person I felt less certainty of
magical conviction. For when any group is put under
a prolonged and dangerous nervous strain the guilty
individual is quite likely to be the one who cracks.
But Wamba, who should know a great deal more about
it than I do, said my reasoning was beside the point,
that the Fetish really worked in the poison, and that to
prove it she — or I, if I chose — being totally innocent
and outside the affair, could drink a gallon of the
stuff, whereas, as I should see, the guilty one would be
writhing in agony.

Be that as it may, if the proceedings which followed
were typical they went to prove at least one thing —
that an extraordinary amount of nonsense has been
written about forest poison ordeals, particularly about
their crooked, faked control by the witch-doctors.

The poison had been brought in from the forest that
morning, a bushel at least of thick, freshly cut bark
from a tree called the Yri-ble (red-tree or blood-tree).
The whole village was gathered round, watching the
preparations for brewing it into a liquid. I picked
up and examined some pieces. They were big, rough
chunks, six or eight inches in diameter, about two
inches thick. The outside was black, rough, corru-
gated, like an elephant’s skin. The inside, where it had
peeled off from the wood, was an ugly, rich, fat fibrous
substance, with streaks of red serrated with white fat
streaks. The red streaks were slightly granulated, like
drying blood. It glistened wetly and exuded thick
drops. It was more like animal tissue than vegetable.



It looked like coloured pictures of tissue in anatomy-

The brewing was not a ritual or witch-doctor business
at all. What surprised me was that it was as matter-
of-fact as mixing a big bowl of punch — except for
the keen-eyed watchings of the three umpires, who
were the fisherman’s father, the local witch-doctor,
and Wamba — except also for the keen-eyed, close,
unofficial watching of the eighteen or twenty persons
who must undergo the ordeal. These the commands
of the Fetish had gradually weeded out from the small
community. The point here is difficult to explain. For
they were not all suspect in our police-court sense.
They were selected only, as nearly as Wamba could
make me understand, “as being the ones capable of
having done it.” Curiously enough, Fisherman himself,
as accuser, must also drink, as must the three umpires.

A big iron family cook-pot, the largest in the village,
had been brought, scrubbed with sand, and filled with
water. Holding a chunk of bark over the pot, a man
began scraping with a dull iron knife. As the scrapings
dropped into the water a woman stirred the mixture
with a stick. The effect on the surface of the water was
exactly as if they were adding soap. It lathered and
foamed pure white on top, but the water underneath
became gradually an opaque, dirty red. The man
scraped at least a dozen chunks into the water, while
the three umpires tasted from time to time, spitting it
out afterward. Finally they agreed it had the proper

Although it was late in the afternoon the sun was
G 97


still hot, and there was a discussion as to where the
drinking should take place — stupid, I thought, like
people arguing about where they should spread a
picnic. They decided on a stony platform, shaded, at
the river’s edge. Thither the bowl was carried, sloshing.

The witch-doctor, who had meanwhile put on his
headdress, came masked and ringing a bell, and made
mumbo-jumbo over it, calling on the Fetish to deal
justice. It was like opening a murder trial with prayer.
For the first time it began to seem serious and real — a
little shuddery, if you like. The casualness up to then
had prevented me from feeling any sense of reality,
almost disappointed me because it had not been more

What followed also, for a time at least, was matter-
of-fact rather than dramatic. The eighteen, whom I
now counted, ten women and eight men, of various
ages, all stripped of their personal grigris, to prevent
counter-magic, sat in a loose circle, with the pot in
the middle. Around the pot were the three umpires,
including Wamba, the accusing fisherman, and myself,
permitted to sit there as Wamba’s protege.

There was a calabash cup, gourd-handled, also
scraped with sand, about the size of an ordinary goblet.
The witch-doctor first filled and drained it in a single
draught, then the umpire who was Fisherman’s father,
then Wamba, then Fisherman himself. Then, one at
a time, each of the eighteen arose and came and drank,
returning to sit in the circle. The big bowl was still
three-fourths full, and I wondered why so much had
been brewed. Wamba said it was because one never



knew how much would be needed, that they would
presently drink again, and keep on drinking until
something manifested itself. Meanwhile they sat
quietly, with strained, waiting faces.

I felt myself getting vaguely uncomfortable, begin-
ning to be nervous — and then unpleasantly realized
why. The thing inside me which makes me some-
times do things against all rhyme or reason was stirring
and poking at me. It was an urgency not at all of
courage, and not exactly of curiosity, but the old,
almost stupid urge, the psychological or pathological
necessity to taste and experience everything possible.
(Perhaps also, no matter how silly it may sound,
there was a slight embarrassment akin to social self-
consciousness, due to the fact that all the others were
participating and I alone was left out.) But this is all
probably too finely spun to be the truth. It simply
came upon me that I had to drink some of the siuff,
as a child will deliberately hurt itself, or as Chekhov’s
man found it necessary to let a dog bite him. This last
is the nearest to what I felt, if you can understand it.

I said, “Wamba, don’t you think I ought to drink
some of it too ? ” She was not surprised, and not
worried. She said, “ You are a black white man, not
like another. You can do as you please about it. You
didn’t bewitch the fisherman ; so it can’t possibly hurt

She gave me a gobletful, and I tasted it. I was satis-
fied then and wished that they weren’t watching me,
but I drank it all. It was bitterish, but not very bitter.
It had a faint, unpleasant resinous flavour, and a flavour



of fetid, decaying vegetable matter. But none of these
was its chief characteristic. It was a violent astringent.
Without causing pain it puckered the inside of the
mouth and the mucous membrane of the throat, like
the worst of unripe persimmons. It tasted like stuff
that would certainly produce a sharp belly-ache, no
matter how guiltless one might be.

Presently, in fact, I began to have a sharp but not
agonizing belly-ache. The witch-doctor had watched
me curiously, nodding his head. I think he saw a
strain in my face. He said with kindly, plain intent
to reassure me, “You will feel it, but be not afraid.
In this matter your heart is pure, and it cannot harm

So that was what an ordeal by poison was. All those
eighteen people sitting round there, guilty or innocent,
had, each of them, a sharp belly-ache, just as I had, and
a strained face. Given their belief in the super-added
fatal magic element, increase the sharpness of the belly-
ache, and it seemed to me quite easy to understand
how guilty conscience could do the rest, even to the
point of causing death in agony — even without the
poison per se being toxically deadly. Some years ago —
it was in Massachusetts, I think — a nervous girl in a
boarding-school died during a mechanically harmless
ragging when she was blindfolded and an icicle drawn
across her throat.

It was something of this sort, inspired by an indi-
vidual’s guilty fear, which I supposed would now be
presently occurring. But at twilight, though they had
all drunk again, the strain remained static, and torches



were brought. Numbers of them were moaning, pray-
ing, invoking the Fetish to be done with it. The
witch-doctor and Wamba from time to time called
loudly on the Fetish.

And then, without warning, the climax came. It
came in the form of an agonized screech as a woman,
without rising from where she sat, threw herself for-
ward, wallowing and writhing, screaming incoherently,
upon the ground. And the woman screaming her guilt
there, wallowing, begging for mercy, was Fisherman’s
own wife. What followed quickly now was past my
understanding, and they were all too excited, even
including Wamba, to take time for explaining. The
witch-doctor and Fisherman’s angry father bent,
questioning the woman, and the father rushed up
toward the village, followed by the witch-doctor. They
were back in a few minutes, and Wamba said, “ It was
true. They have found it and destroyed it.” The
others who had drunk were wading meanwhile into
the river. Men picked up the writhing woman and
took her down into the water. I thought it was an
execution, that they were going to drown her. Wamba
pushed me toward the water. I saw that they had the
woman, holding her so that she could drink, then
pounding her on the stomach to make her vomit. They
were all drinking and vomiting. Wamba made me
drink and vomit too, interminably, until my stomach
was cleaned out.

They carried the woman back up into the village
and took her into Fisherman’s hut, her own hut. Men
went in with her. The rest stood outside. It wasn’t



finished. “What are they going to do with her? ” I
asked. “ You will see,” said Wamba. I felt I had
reached about the limit of seeing. I was sick at my
stomach from the vomiting. Men carried a small log
into the hut. Fisherman had gone inside too. The
whole village crowded outside with torches, waiting.
From inside the hut came the sound of hacking wood.
There was a shuffling, and then a silence. Then the
men came out. Only Fisherman and his wife were left
inside. From the woman there was not a sound.
Presently Fisherman shouted, and then came out naked
in front of his doorway and showed himself to the
crowd, triumphant as a phallic god. The crowd shouted
wildly, joyously, leaped dancing round him, as if he
were indeed a god. He re-entered the silent hut, and
we went away.

Next morning Wamba and I returned to the big
village. I have tried in recounting this affair of Fisher-
man’s bewitchment to suggest margins of possible
rationalization for those who have no patience with
belief in magic of any sort whatever. But in the late
afternoon there came a mild sequel, which you may
explain or not, as you like. There came, in short.
Fisherman, with a fine string of fish, newly caught
fresh from his fish-traps, for my friend Panther Teeth.


W E were back again in the Bin-Hounien terri-
tory, welcomed and lodged at Doa, ancestral
village of the Yafouba chief San Dei.

We had returned to participate in the sacrifices on
the tomb of his dead brother, the old chief Bou. Two
circumstances now made me more at home here. First,
of course, was the presence at my side of Wamba.
But second was the simple fact of my returning. I had
kept a promise. Few people come from far away to
these far places. And almost none return. Etiquette
requires the host to say, “You will come again,” and
you reply, “ Yes, I will come again.” But if they
like you they are sometimes a little saddened at the
parting. They say, dropping etiquette, “You will
never come again, but if you ever do you will be

And if you should return it is almost always to dis-
cover that, while you were made to feel at home on the
first hospitable occasion, there had been unsuspected
curious reticences and withholdings. For example, in
this territory there was reputed to be a very difEcult
and famous witch-doctor, a certain Nago-Ba, whom the
old Diagbe, Wamba’s cousin, had particularly recom-
mended me to meet and try to talk with. On the
first visit I had given San Dei the Diagbe’s message
and San Dei had promised to transmit it. But next



morning he had told me that the Nago-Ba was on a

Now, on the first evening of our present arrival, this
Nago-Ba came to our hut, carrying a long silver-headed
staff, with a bag of formidable grigris hung on his
shoulder, impressive, with a face full of wrinkled
wisdom, lighted by keen but not unfriendly eyes. He
was followed by masks and howlers, came with a pomp
as ceremonial as the chief himself. And I thought
there was a faint twinkle in his keen old eyes, for on
my former visit this Nago-Ba, the great witch-doctor,
instead of being absent on a journey, had been present
at my elbow all the time, introduced as a poor relation
of San Dei’s family, seated always humbly on the
ground, clothed only in a ragged breech-clout, never
once opening his mouth during the whole time I had
been in Doa.

Before this second sojourn ended he may have wished,
humanly enough, that he had still preserved his
incognito, for, persuaded by Wamba’s female flattery
and begged humbly by me, he consented to try to
teach me something more specific and satisfying than
I had yet learned concerning the inner significance of
the forest beliefs and the inner meaning of the rites
that would occur on the day after the morrow. It was
a hard task, and it led far afield, for I was trying to
get at something basic.

He was patient, but it was slow and difiicult, and
out of it as we talked late that night, and again for a
whole morning, there began to emerge a system of
metaphysics as idealistic and perhaps as pure, but also



just as complicated, as anything ever formulated by
Plato and the Greeks or by the Christian saints and
mystic theologians. For Nago-Ba here, strange as it
may sound, with his wooden idols, iron grigrisy and
devil-masks, believed that the material world was
nothing, and that the only ultimate reality was a
spiritual reality.

Furthermore, his conception of the nature of matter,
which he and his forbears had held from immemorial
jungle time, was so startlingly parallel with our own
newest revolutionary scientific conclusions that one
almost asks whether civilized metaphysical science
hasn’t been simply moving in a circle. Fifty years ago
we thought we knew that a stone wall was a stone wall.
Now we say that a stone has no material substance
whatsoever — in fact, that matter, as such, does not exist
— that the only basic unity is a kinetic unity of energy.
And just what energy may be in the last abstract we
do not know. Our half-dozen greatest chemists and
physicists have, in that non-religious sense, turned
completely mystic in their laboratories. With test-tubes
and alembics instead of abracadabra and divining-
wands, they find themselves knocking again at the
door of the infinite. And, crazy as it may sound to the
casual layman, the concepts held to-day by advanced
science in our greatest universities concerning the
ultimate nature of a stone, of life, of vital energy, of
time and spatial dimensions are closer to the concepts
of the black African witch-doctor than to those of our
own scientific leaders of twenty years ago.

To put down all that this particular witch-doctor



said would hopelessly disorganize and interrupt my
narrative. Briefly, however, very briefly, I should like
to outline his interesting beliefs on a subject with
which concrete science has no direct concern. Since
we were going to offer sacrifices to a dead man, I
sought to learn from him what doctrine the forest
Negro really holds concerning life after death and
the nature of the soul. Here, then, is Nago-Ba’s
profession of faith, as near as I can reproduce it in
white terminology.

He believes that everything which lives — man, beast,
insect, tree, and plant — has not only its kinetic vital
quality, its life-spark, but a soul quality as well, which
is independent of both the body and the vital spark,
and hence immortal.

(By ‘ soul ’ and ‘ soul quality ‘ I consider that Nago-
Ba means something like ‘personal essence,’ like
‘ sentient personality.’)

He believes also that every object which we call
inanimate, such as a mountain or a stone, likewise a
river or a ploughed field, though lacking any vital
spark, is also endowed with this sentient soul quality.
His doctrine becomes, therefore, an all-embracing

The soul is the essence and real nature of each thing
that exists. The vital spark which a man, beast, or
tree has, and a stone has not, is mechanical, soulless,
and impersonal. It is like an electric current, a non-
sentient blind agent, and the embodied soul’s chief
busy occupation is guiding it, so that it in turn will
operate the mechanism of the body. The soul, directing



this current, makes the body move and talk, but
the body is in reality only a mechanical doll. The
man himself is neither the mechanical body nor the
mechanical current, but an immortal spirit.

When the spark burns out the mechanical doll is
junk, and the soul goes free, a disembodied sentient
personality. While a man’s soul is in his body —
or at least so Nago-Ba conceives — he is not worthy of
worshipping, of altars or sacrifices, be the man ever so
good or seemingly powerful, for the most of his time
is taken up selfishly with his own busy mechanical-doll
job. When it goes free the soul has not only more
power, but also more time to occupy itself with the
affairs of others, for helping or harming. Therefore it
is wise to keep on favourable terms with such dis-
embodied spirits, and thus simply is derived the Cult
of the Dead, side by side with the nature-worship cult,
which all animist primitives practise.

“Why, then,” I asked him, “ if the soul must go
free from its living envelope to become a cult object,
do you worship a certain tree while it is still living.? ”

He answered as follows :

“A man’s embodied soul is in continual disorder,
looking after his disordered body.

“ A tree’s soul dwells in a more harmonious, better-
adjusted body, and has time already free to occupy
itself with larger matters.

“ The soul of a great stone or of a mountain is com-
pletely free, and has always been so, for the mountain
needs nothing and is always in its place.”

To this he added, “The souls of certain ancestors,



the souls of certain great chiefs long dead, sometimes
become as the soul of the mountain.”

I asked him one of those unfair, specific questions
so likely to annoy a man who is trying to impart an
abstract doctrine. I asked what he supposed the soul
of the old chief Bou (neither very long dead nor very
great, I judged, in his lifetime) might be busying itself
about just then, and what precise benefit the family or
tribe might derive from the morrow’s sacrifice.

He said that one thing Bou might be busying him-
self with was his own body lying there in the grave,
and with his own house, in which he doubtless often
slept — that it took a longer time than one might think
to get rid of old habits, even when one need no longer
be bound by them. He would be interested also, how-
ever, in whatever might be happening in the village,
and was capable of interfering in those happenings,
either benevolently or mischievously. Therefore it
was very necessary to keep on good terms with him.
He might even be listening to us at that moment.

As I was brought up on ghost-stories by a South
Carolina nurse, and am afraid to this very day of coffins
and graveyards, except in the sunshine, these last words
of Nago-Ba gave the old chiefs spectre more reality
than all the metaphysics, and lent the subsequent pro-
ceedings a certain spooky plausibility when the time
came for marching in procession to the tomb.

This occurred on the following morning. It was
neither so pomp-endowed, impressive, nor orgiastic
as some of the sacrificial ceremonies I had seen in
Haiti. It interested me as bearing on the thesis I



had presented in my Haitian book, that the gorgeous
chorals, processionals, robed priests, litanies, and
rituals which characterized and made beautiful the
Haitian Petro sacrifice were not of African jungle
origin at all, but taken directly from the Roman
Catholic Church. Now here, indeed, the chief differ-
ence was that there were neither priests nor formal
priestly ritual. Magic is as old as human life. But
ritual priestcraft came comparatively late. When
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob offered sacrifice they them-
selves or another member of the household built the
altar and wielded the knife. Blood and the pious odour
of burning flesh sufliced. It was the same for a long
while with Ulysses, Agamemnon, and the Greeks.
Whether the gods were Yahweh and Satan or Zeus
and Pan it was the same. They had their medicine-
men, their witch-doctors, long before they had their

Here among the Ivory Coast forest people the priest
had not yet made his appearance, and they still offered
sacrifice rudely, as did Abraham and Agamemnon.

The procession formed at an enclosure on the village
edge where the sacrificial bull had been penned up. It
was a young piebald bull, black and white. It was to be
led to the bamboo mausoleum and its throat cut there.
By whom ? Simply by the village butcher, which gives
an important key to the whole ceremony. Rather than
partaking in the qualities of a mysterious and holy rite
we were a band bearing gifts to a man who was dead,
but doing it very much as if he were a man alive. I,
for instance, after consultation with Wamba as to what



might be most suitable, carried my last bottle of spark-
ling Burgundy. She brought white kola-nuts wrapped
in a packet of green leaves.

The procession which we formed was noisy and not
solemn. It was preceded by the tomtom-beaters and
blowers on ivory trumpets. My bugler Klon, by the
chief San Dei’s request, was already stationed over
at the mausoleum’s entrance, sounding his military
fanfarades. If the dead chiefs soul were anywhere in
the vicinity, either above or under ground, it could
hardly fail to hear that brazen summons.

The bull, led by the butcher, was dragged along
behind the drums, its flanks slapped and prodded by
his assistants. The butcher had strips of green palm-
leaves tied like bracelets round each wrist. These made
his hands the hands of another person, of an unknown
man, so that the soul of the bull would not know who
had slain it.

San Dei strutted now at our head, sweating under
his thick cotton robes and European winter hat of
black velour; waving his folded umbrella, and sur-
rounded by his howling griots, who shouted the great-
ness of the two brothers — the older brother, yonder
in the tomb, and the other, who had poisoned him six
months before, and now came offering pious sacrifice.

I wondered if San Dei had a strip of green palm
twisted round his wrist when he had offered Bou the
fatal cup. I saw gloved fingers tampering with the
combination of a safe, then pressing the trigger of an
automatic pistol. Did you also protect yourself, San Dei,
against detection by some vague celestial Bertillon?



And is old Bou’s soul unaware, as the bull’s will be,
what hand hurried it across the mortal threshold?
And what about Bou’s son here, already marked for
the same exit?

What about him indeed? Nothing surely that any
white could hope to understand, for there he was, the
young chief Yo, who knew that he would soon be
sleeping in a smaller tomb beside his father, marching
dutifully beside us with the classic filial bowl of rice
— black Hamlet, unrevengeful. What a family ! The
wives came following, shaven-headed, their immense
brass anklets clanking, like captives from a Piranesi
nightmare prison . . . and then came the crowd.

Bou’s tomb, inside its Fetish-hung, enclosure, was a
simple mound. Arriving there, and holding back our
lesser offerings, the bull was dragged in without cere-
mony of any sort and thrown upon the mound. Its
throat was slashed wide and deep, the head almost
severed, and the blood gushed enormously. I was
surprised to see how much blood the earth could
drink up, and how quickly. The earth is always thirsty
for more blood. Hills of Verdun, abattoirs^ and altars.
There was even once a little hill outside Jerusalem.
But the earth is never satisfied.

The old dead chief, however, was well pleased, I
hoped, with the good gifts we brought him. The bowls
of rice, of fruit, of oil, the fine white kola-nuts, were
laid there piously, and seemed as likely to please a dead
man as flowers, ribbons, terracotta wreaths, and cast-
iron crosses. With Wamba’s help, holding a stone, I
knocked off the neck of my last wine-bottle and oflfered



its contents to the dead chief, as I had offered wine a
few weeks earlier to San Dei, his living brother.

We went outside the enclosure to where the crowd
was waiting, and San Dei made a speech. It was a
curious discourse, addressed partly to his people and
partly to the dead man. He puffed, strutted, and
became oratorical, pacing up and down as he spoke,
perspiring, and gesticulating with his umbrella, like
a United States Senator canvassing in rural districts.
First he reviewed ancestral family glories and tribal
prosperity ; then pronounced a long encomium on the
strength and virtues of the dead chief Bou, addressing
him in the first person. He assured Bou that he had
been a great chief, an elephant in war, and a mighty
voice in council. All had trembled before him, and he
had been first among men. He had been the husband
of all the younger men, who had been as women
compared with him. (Well, then, San Dei, my friend,
I wondered, if all that is true, how are you going to
explain why you put him under the ground.^ Or is
that a point on which to preserve a polite silence.?)
But there I did him an injustice. He was leading up
to it. Bou had been the strongest and the wisest, he
proclaimed, but being chief was a hard job, and Bou,
it seemed, had eventually begun to get old and tired.
Having ruled so well, and for so many years, he deserved
to be relieved of the burden. In short, he hoped that
Bou would understand — San Dei was still addressing
him directly — that they had really done him a loving
favour in poisoning him, and that he should be
grateful, and still help them in the spirit-world. Surely



he must realize that everything had been done for the

Of course it wasn’t quite so definitely expressed as
this, but since the whole tribe had been in a sense San
Dei’s accomplices every one understood what he was
talking about, and deemed it a wise discourse.

Yo also had been listening with a respectful and
profound attention, but it seemed to me that in applaud-
ing he was a shade less enthusiastic than the others.
He was not, however, during the time I knew him,
very enthusiastic about anything — a fact scarcely to be
wondered at in all the circumstances.

The bull was being butchered there in the sunshine,
and pieces distributed to notables and heads of families.
An old poor man whose family held the special privilege,
like a knighthood in payment for some ancestral act of
prowess, danced for the entrails, and carried them
away in a huge basket. Feasting and hanghi-drink-ing
lasted all the afternoon and long into the night. . . .

The evening of the day which followed brought
a strange experience, the most difficult and unsatis-
factory experience of this whole African adventure. I
dislike even to approach it. To a more open, credulous,
and believing mind it might easily have been the
climax, the great high spot. To a tight mind, anaes-
thetic a -priori toward all seeming marvels, it could
have been arbitrarily dismissed as a piece of amazing
trickery. But my mind had no pigeon-hole in which
it could be made to fit. I had wanted desperately to
see it, but I realized immediately after I had seen it
that it left me unsatisfied and at a loss, and although
H 113


many months have now elapsed it leaves me at a
complete loss still.

It involved, of course, the business of the children
pierced by swords. Wamba had been able to persuade
them where I had not. The two baby girls and the
jugglers had been summoned, and had been shut up
all day secretly in the witch-doctor’s enclosure. Night
came, and we gathered in the torch-lighted public
compound. The big village crowd, the natives them-
selves, were nervous, quiet, and almost as if terrorized.
There were old ones who said that it ought not
to be done. I remembered what San Dei had said on
the former occasion when they had refused to do it,
“ There is real magic . . . but it is very dangerous.
The recovery does not always take place.” The two
children, impassive as if drugged, but able to stand
and move about, open-eyed like somnambulists, were
brought out by the jugglers. And then whatever it
was that happened happened.

There is a personal problem involved here, and not a
new problem, but one which as a writer I have hitherto
consistently evaded. I feel that I should not evade it
any longer, but how to approach it is very difficult.

Epictetus points out that although a man is wiser’
than a sheep a decent sheep doesn’t eat a lot of grass
and then spit it out in the others’ faces to astonish them
by showing how much grass it has eaten, but digests
it internally, and in due season produces externally
milk and wool.

In this case I have only undigested grass to offer,
and it is not the first time I have fed on strange herbs

1 14


in indigestible pastures. But on former occasions I
have kept my mouth shut afterward, and I ask per-
sonally forgiveness now on the part of my readers for
approaching with this awkwardness and hesitation a
subject which worries me so greatly.

A good many years ago, tramping in an Italian
mountain district where peasants were steeped in the
elder traditions of pre-Christian sorcery, I saw a thing
happen which cannot happen. It was my first experi-
ence of the sort. It was a long time ago. But I hare
never written about it (though I have written freely
enough concerning other forms of magic), and I have
never told about it to more than three or four special
people. Something in the texture of my mind balks
not merely at telling the thing, but at the thing itself.
Similar problems, on a few rare occasions — personal
to me, and also involving what I ought to write —
arose in Arabia, in Kurdistan, and in Haiti. I could
arrive at no conclusion, and completely eliminated
every reference to them in the text. To me they present
an insoluble dilemma, because on the one hand I do
not believe in miracles., or that magic can produce physical
materialized phenomena of any sort whatever’, and on
the other hand I am convinced that in the face of certain
phenomena no hypothesis of charlatan trickery is any good

What, then, you ask, remains for me to offer as an
observer in the present case? Undigested grass, an
indecent offering, which I surely ask no other man
to accept as nourishment. I include it because of a
feeling that my former reticences may trace partly to



a contemptible prudence, and because it represents a
part of the composite picture of so-called black magic
in West Africa.

All the bad, fiction-traditional stage-props were there
— night, torchlight, superstition, crowds hysterical, and
mumbo-jumbo raised to its «th power. Anything like
scientific control would have been ridiculous. Yet the
ordinary hypotheses of trickery Cl know them all :
group hypnotism, substitution of simulacra, puppets
introduced by sleight of hand, etc., etc.) were simply
no good in the face of the close visual and tactile
evidence. For there were the two living children close
to me. I touched them with my hands. They were
three-dimensional, warm flesh. And there equally close,
to be touched and seen, were the two men with their
swords. The swords were iron, three-dimensional,
metal, cold and hard. And this is what I now saw
with my eyes, but you will understand why I am
reluctant to tell of it, and that I do not know what
seeing means.

Each man, holding his sword stiffly upward with his
left hand, tossed a child high in the air with his right,
then caught it full upon the point, impaling it like a
butterfly on a pin. No blood flowed, but the two
children were there, held aloft, pierced through and
through, impaled upon the swords. The crowd screamed
now, falling to its knees. Many veiled their eyes with
their hands, and others fell prostrate. Through the
crowd the jugglers marched, each bearing a child
aloft, impaled upon his sword, and disappeared into the
witch-doctor’s enclosure.



My first mental reaction, purely automatic, was that
I had seen jugglery turn suddenly to ritual murder.
But whatever had happened it was not that. I was
assured that in an hour or more, “ if things didn’t go
wrong,” we would see and touch the children, alive
and well. For once I said nothing at all to Wamba. I
knew there was nothing she could tell me that I could
believe or understand. I had no doubt that the chil-
dren might reappear alive, but my mind had reached
its old balking-point. I would reject the evidence of
my senses rather than accept literally a physical miracle,
and I believe I shall do so until I die. I believe that
if I had been the Apostle Thomas, and touched with
my own hands the wounds of Christ, I should have
remained a doubter still of miracles. And thus it was
— please understand I mean no silly blasphemy, but
am trying to make clear something which is very
difficult — that when these two children were brought
out presently, and I touched them, and they were still
warm flesh, it convinced me of nothing whatsoever,
except that there may perhaps be elements in this
unholy jungle sorcery, just as there were unknown ele-
ments perhaps in the recorded holier miracles of other
days, which transcend what science knows of natural
law, but not our possibility of ultimate knowledge.

Let me state this paradox and be done with it. I
may some day conceivably be forced to believe, if the
evidence is strong enough, that a man has walked
through a stone wall, or been wafted up into the clouds,
or that he has been changed into a fox, or even that
he has belatedly risen from the dead after he began



to rotj like Lazarus. But admitting the factual occur-
rence, I will still deny that a miracle has occurred. And
for this, of course, if I am wrong, I will be damned.

Wamba said I was wrong, but with all her wisdom
she could not help me further. She said that if I con-
sented to remain there always, and give up everything,
including even my white ways of asking, she might
eventually make me understand, but that it would be
a road from which there could be no returning.

Her words were painful to me, and familiar. But
they were the words which only saints or madmen, the
very wise or the very simple, have ever truly dared to

So we occupied ourselves with other matters, and
on a day there was leave-taking, and I went away into
the country of the Guere.

Part Two


E xcept that he wore a French fireman’s helmet
instead of the classic high silk hat, the cannibal
king Mon-Po, my first host among the Guer^,
was quite in the best tradition of the cannibal kings we
have all known and been fond of since childhood in
the comic weeklies.

That is to say, he was a somewhat funny fellow,
and sympathetic. He was on excellent terms with
the nearest French administrator — since there existed
a sort of gentleman’s agreement that he wouldn’t eat
wandering black corporals or casual white strangers.
No agreement was necessary concerning missionaries —
since in the Guere territory there are no longer any

But aside from these two things awanting — no mis-
sionaries and no opera-hats — the Guer^ measured up
to all my cherished expectations. Just why the cannibal
per se has, among other qualities, a certain pleasing,
humorous, and sympathetic aspect for the young folks
and old folks at home is a queer point in civilized
psychology. Even my darling little Grandmother
Buehler, who smelt of lavender and contributed regularly
to foreign missions, would smile back at the smiling
cannibal who stood beaming expansively on a clerical
gentleman with umbrella and hymn-book, in close
proximity to a large iron pot. Nearly all mild old



ladies in rocking-chairs, as well as children, including
sweet little girls, delight in these perennial whimseys,
in which the joke is that the plump bishop will presently
be had for dinner.

When I told Carl Helm of the New York Sun that
I had heard of a real cannibal tribe in Africa and was
hoping to live with them for a while he also broke
immediately into a broad grin, and wrote subsequently
a very funny sympathetic story about it. Returning
to Paris, the first question all my French friends asked
me, and always with smiles, was whether I had suc-
ceeded in living among the cannibals, and what recipes
I had brought back. Why this attitude exists I do not
know, but happily for me it does exist, so that I may
venture to hope that while people may think I carry
curiosity to crazy extremes they will not consider it
necessary to take steps toward having me locked up
in gaol or put in a lunatic asylum.

For the fact is that I have brought back, among other
things, a number of recipes of which I can speak with
substantial authority

It will be better, I think, to have this clear at the
start, before launching on the general tale of my ad-
venture in the Guerd country. One of my chief purposes
in going to Africa was to see and to meet and to live
with cannibals. Even aside from their delightful
humorous aspect they are a highly interesting and
wholly legitimate subject, whether for the adventurer
or the learned anthropologist. A great many books
have been written about cannibals by learned and
worthy people, and more recently a great many cannibal



films have been taken. They are all disappointing,
books and films alike, because in the end they invari-
ably evade the central issue, in the sense that they offer
no first-hand observation or experience on the one
essential dietetic point that makes the difference be-
tween a cannibal and my grandmother. And it seemed
impossible, furthermore, for me or anyone to offer
anything better unless one actually knew what one was
talking about with reference to the one precise thing
that makes a cannibal a cannibal.

I present the issue here fairly at the outset, because
in what will follow somewhat later I honestly do not
want to shock or distress anyone. I made up my mind
before leaving New York that when it came to the
subject of cannibals I would either write nothing what-
ever about them or I would know what I was writing
about. It is really too dull to sit through a long book
or film about cannibals only to learn at the end that
the guests after all did not remain for dinner. I think
it may be proper to add here that I posed the abstract
issue to a sincere priest, who, aside from his ecclesi-
astical functions, has made valuable contributions to
ethnology ; also to a well-known professor of pragmatic
philosophy ; also to a doctor of exceptional distinction
and integrity. They discussed it candidly, and were
all of the same opinion, that it would be of legitimate
physiological and ethnological interest if one could
learn, by actually dining off it, once at any rate, why
cannibals prefer the meat of homo sapiens to that of
other animals.

Arriving then finally among the Guer€, I broached



this subject at the earliest opportunity, and since they
were proud of being cannibals they were quite willing
to consider it with perfect freedom. But some time
necessarily elapsed before I had personal opportunity
to verify their statements.

Not only were they themselves proud of being
cannibals, as distinguished from weaker neighbouring
tribes, like the Ouabe and Yafouba, but the French
Ivory Coast officials, in a certain humorous and of
course unofficial way, were proud of them too — a pride
which did not prevent them, however, from imprison-
ing and condemning occasional individuals who, as they
would say, ¦* exaggerated ’ — that is, overstepped the
bounds of discretion in selecting their candidates for
the cook-pot, and let themselves get caught afterward.

This paradoxical pride in a thing which officially they
were doing their honest best to stamp out was of course
a light thing, own cousin to my grandmother’s smile.
But as far up as Timbuctoo later in the year officials
would grin and say, “ Oh, yes, Colbert and his can-
nibals ! ” And then, more than likely, they would ask,
“What about old Tei.? Is he still in the calaboose.? ”

This Colbert, though a youth, administered a forest
district larger than one of our average Eastern States
and inhabited exclusively by the Guer^ tribes. While
doing all in his power to maintain law and order, he
liked his cannibals, and they liked him — so well, in
fact, that they often voluntarily brought their troubles
to him for judgment. He lived alone, the only white
for nearly fifty miles around, at a village administration
post called Blengi.



As for Tei, he was a cannibal chief who had got him-
self imprisoned and famous because he had eaten his
young wife, a handsome, lazy wench called Blito, along
with a dozen of her girl friends, and had then enacted
such a roaring farce at the expense of the French
military detachment first sent to arrest him that some-
thing simply had to be done about it. He was in gaol
then not so much for cannibalism as for greediness and
for subsequently making monkeys of the authorities.

Since young Colbert and his cannibals were famous
in West Africa, where there are very few real cannibal
tribes left, the thing to do, everybody told me, was
to go to Blengi and see Colbert. The post’ itself could
be reached, it seemed, by motor road — that is, if no
recent herd of elephants had torn it up, for this was
also the heart of the big elephant country. We sent
Colbert word a week in advance, and after various
trivial vicissitudes arrived safely one afternoon —
Katie, my black chauffeur Yao, and our little Citroen
truck piled high with camp kit, bars of salt, and what

One never knows what one may find at the end of a
road in the forest. But this time, traversing a small
mud village, we drove into a superb compound garden
— flowers, orange- and lemon-trees, elephant skulls
immense, like monuments, at angles of the lawn, a
table with coloured umbrella that suggested tea in the
Bois de Boulogne, a great rambling thatched house
with luxurious veranda — and from the veranda, to
meet us, a grinning, clean-shaven young chap in sport
pyjamas and sun-helmet.



Ten minutes later we were sprawling in deck-chairs,
drinking lemonade with a dash of vermuth, listening
to Stravinsky’s Firebird, and liking Monsieur Colbert
very much indeed. He had Paris newspapers and
magazines two months old, with items concerning
people and things in which we were mutually interested.
There was a second house in a corner of the garden,
which he proposed to put at our disposal, and as
for my becoming later the guest of a cannibal king,
he announced, grinning, and with a certain pride, that
he had convoked four of his best ones for the following
morning, so that I could meet them and take my
choice. In fact, I could go and visit all of them in
the bush if I wanted to. He would put hammocks and
porters at my disposal for as long as I liked.

Next morning he sent coffee to our bedside, and when
we had dressed lazily and strolled out into the garden
there sat the four cannibal kings in chairs in a row on
the lawn, like bad little boys invited to a birthday-
party, wearing their best Sunday manners and their
best Sunday clothes. They had come from afar, from
four corners of the forest, where each ruled a separate
division of the Guere tribe.

Colbert, who treated them with a humorous friend-
liness not altogether lacking in respect — an attitude
toward petty native potentates which Anglo-Saxon
colonists seem neither capable nor desirous of achiev-
ing — introduced them as his “ dear colleagues,” paid
them compliments, and asked tenderly after the health
of their families.

The oldest was a fattish man named Tao (which



meant, they told me, “Welcome”). He wore a
mandarin-shaped hat, some clanking chains with bells
on them, and a piece of panther-skin, which kept
slipping from his shoulder.

The second was a powerful, rather brutal-looking
chief named Blia-Eddo (which meant “ Old Villager ”).
He wore a black cap of monkey fur and striped

The third, named Gedao (which meant “ the Torch,”
or “ the Flame ”), was a sinewy, serious-looking, old-
fashioned fellow, with a scraggly beard and teeth filed
to points, who made no compromises in favour of
modern styles. He wore bones and ivory sticks in his
braided hair and a leather thong round his middle, from
which two scanty strips of cloth hung down before and

The fourth — I am really saving him for the last
because he pleased me most and later became a friend
— was he of the shiny fireman’s helmet. His name was
Mon-Po (which meant “ the One who Must Not
Die ”). He was a muscular little man, past his prime,
with a wily, funny face, and for some reason he seemed
to think that Katie was just as funny as he was. She
was, incidentally, the first white woman he had ever
seen. They both laughed when they shook hands, as
if they had a secret. Mon-Po examined a wisp of her
hair with his fingers, and then patted her in several
places, combining a doggish friendliness with an
evident naive desire to estimate how plump she was
— not, one suspected, as a problematical candidate for
the cook-pot, but rather for his harem. This Mon-Po



was a notorious lady’s man, so Colbert told us, and
already had some forty wives.

Bottles and a table were brought by servants, as at a
garden-party in France, and we clinked glasses with
the four little cannibal kings, discussing with Colbert
which of them I might visit first, and how. He made
a pencil sketch of the surrounding country in which
he himself was the big king or overlord.

And what a kingdom ! Here we sat on a lawn, with
tables, bottles, a white-coated butler — not to mention
the veranda, where the night before over coffee and
liqueurs we had seen a first-edition Rimbaud, talked
of mutual acquaintances in Paris, discussed Joyce and
Gide, listened to modernist music. And now we might
have been on a garden terrace between Nice and Monte
Carlo. But it was crazy, like an American newspaper’s
comic page or a farcical operetta, because of the four
fantastic guests who sat there with us. It became even
more fantastic as Colbert talked. We were in the centre
of a jungle cut through by one single motor road, a
jungle territory larger than an average French depart-
ment or a state in New England, most of it entirely
unmapped, lying between great rivers, and with certain
sections, bigger than average counties, into which no
white man had ever yet penetrated. Five miles off the
road, in any direction, lay jungle mystery. From
where we sat we might — though it happened that we
did not — hear herds of elephants crashing through to
the river. Colbert brought a military map and showed
us totally blank spots big enough to make a minor
European principality. He told us how his guards one



day had brought in, wound round with a rope, a stark
naked black man with matted hair, who walked like
a gorilla, made animal noises, and spoke no known
language or dialect. He had come out of the bush and
frightened a woman on the edge of a village near the
big road. The villagers had taken him and turned
him over to Colbert’s guards. When led before Colbert
the man just laughed and shook his ropes and made
animal noises. “What could I do?” said Colbert.
“ There was no reason for putting him in gaol. And
I copldn’t very well keep him in a cage. There wasn’t
anything to do. I had them take him to the edge
of the forest and turn him loose, as you would a bird
or a wild animal.” He accompanied this with a
wide gesture, and added, “Every three months I get
colonial forms printed in Paris to be filled in with
detailed statistics on agriculture and population in
my territory — including white Emropean population,
deaths, births, etc. Eh Uen ! within a radius of fifty
miles from where we sit there are exactly four white
men and no white women. And as for the last European
who died here, so far as I know it was an American
commercial elephant-hunter named Anderson. That
was in 1917 , 1 think. At any rate, it was before I came.
Old Gedao, the Torch, there, can tell you more about
that story than I can. The American became unpopular
with his guides ; so they killed him and ate him. It
happened in Gedao’s territory ; so the administration
gave Gedao a rifle and put it up to him. Ten days
later he brought in the heads of the three principal
guides. He had stalked and got them himself, one by
I 129


one. That old fellow is not the chief of his tribe for
nothing. Look at him. He knows what we are talking
about, and he’s proud.”

I had taken a strong fancy to Mon-Po, he of the
fire-helmet, and Colbert recommended that after I had
visited him it might be well to go and stop a while also
with Gedao. He made them all an extravagant speech
about me, and they responded with extravagantly
polite invitations. They departed with gifts, including
a bushel of Colbert’s oranges, which the forest blacks
do not know how to cultivate, and a quantity of my
bar salt.

After luncheon Colbert sent for a young Guer^
gentleman named Diisi, whom he proposed generously
to lend me as guide and adviser. Diisi was a lucky
choice, despite the fact that he had been to school in
Senegal for three years and spoke both French and
English as well as a number of native dialects. He
looked like a university student, wore patent-leather
shoes, had a fountain-pen and ngtebook; but he was
all right. While Katie retired for a siesta, and Colbert
to work on his reports, I wandered off with Diisi into
the village to arrange about the porters, and also, if I
could persuade him, to consult his grandfather’s arm.

Colbert had told us about Diisi’s grandfather’s arm
at luncheon. Every local Guer^ who planned doing
anything important always consulted Diisi’s grand-
father’s arm, paying Diisi a price for the privilege, and
Diisi himself never made any vital decision without
first communing with it.

So I explained to him that I had always consulted



the Fetishes and sacrificed to them in Yafouba terri-
tory, and that I would feel much safer and happier
among the Guer^ if we first obtained his defunct
grandfather’s counsel and benediction. Diisi, doubt-
less quite sincere, but also knowing certainly that I
would not go empty-handed to the family shrine, was
as pleased as any village priest in Brittany when a
traveller pays for a special Mass in the local chapel.

This present chapel was a hut in Diisi’s family com-
pound. The arm and hand of his grandfather, dried,
hard, and as black as ebony, was no more repellent
than any other anatomical sacred relic such as one
may see by the hundred in similar shrines in Christian
Europe. It hung suspended like a pendulum by a long
cord from the peaked thatch roof. It hung above
a flat stone altar which was bare, but ex voto offerings
in profusion decked the walls of the hut — bracelets,
leather grigris^ wooden agricultural tools, articles of
clothing, bows and arrows, spears, an old rusty flint-
lock musket.

Diisi explained that when a man or woman con-
templated a dangerous or important act, such as going
to hunt the panther, elephant, or crocodile, planting
a new field, marrying, or going on a journey, he or
she would place upon the altar some object connected
with the enterprise, and after a while, if his grand-
father was favourable, the arm would sway above it,
impregnating the instrument with virtue, and would
sometimes give valuable indications or counsel. Some-
times also, he said, they laid sick babies on the stone.

I asked what he thought I had best deposit there,



and he reflected. Some article of clothing, he sug-
gested, and my shoes, since we were going on a journey,
and perhaps some object of intimate daily use. So I
took off my shoes and stripped oS my shirt and laid
them in a neat pile, and placed on top of them a pencil-
stub with some notes I had been making. The pencil-
stub seemed most in keeping, since it was my only
workman’s tool.

Diisi talked to his grandfather as if the old man were
present in the room with us, offering filial greeting,
introducing me respectfully, explaining that we were
going on a friendly visit to the remote villages. Then
we sat down on a mat, and to my slight surprise Diisi
lighted a cigarette. It always surprises me slightly
when people treat their gods and spooks familiarly.
He crossed his legs, spat on the floor, offered me a
light, made himself comfortable, and said one could
never tell about his grandfather — we might have to
wait a long time.

Considering the manner in which the arm was sus-
pended I was only mildly astonished, if at all, when,
after not too long a time, it began to sway gently, as if
in friendly benediction above my poor belongings. I
was as pleased as when one sees a lot of rabbits come
out of a hat, and Diisi was pleased perhaps more
piously, for he said that sometimes the arm jerked
and jiggled to express his grandpapa’s disapproval. A
friendly breeze stirring the thatch peak, or a friendly
ghost? Why insist? It was friendly, and Diisi and I
would both feel happier, more friendly toward each
other, and more confident on our journey.



I asked if I might hang some offering upon the wall.
He said no, not yet ; I should promise now, and do it
on our safe return. Grandpapa, it seemed, must earn
the reward before he got it. I thought of how when
Aubrey and I were lost at night in the Haitian
mountains we loudly promised twelve gilded candles
to St Christopher if he would bring us safe to shelter.
Candles might now be sent to me from Man. Katie
was returning to Man, and could arrange it.

So I said, “ O Grandfather of Diisi and Grandfather
of the Guer^, be good to us, watch over us, and on
our return you shall have a fine illumination, as well
as something nice to hang upon your wall.”

Behind the altar, on a sort of ledge under the roof,
in the shadows, I had observed a number of old human
skulls, and two smaller ones, which I had thought at
first were skulls of children, but which seemed on
looking closer to be the skulls of chimpanzees. I asked
Diisi to tell me about them if telling were not for-
bidden. He said no, that it was not forbidden, that it
was a family matter, but known to all. The ancestral
food taboo of his family, he explained, was the flesh of
man and the flesh of the chimpanzee, which no member
of his family must ever eat. Every family group in the
forest has a food taboo of some sort. One family may
never eat the flesh of goats; for another the buffalo
or hippo is taboo ; for still another family it may be a
certain grain or fruit. And for each family the tabooed
thing which must not be eaten is also protective and
Fetish. The family which may not eat rice, for instance,
will have dried sheaves of rice upon its altars, and the



family which may not eat a certain animal will piously
conserve its skull or bones and hold them in veneration.

In the days before the French came, Diisi told me,
when there was a special feast here in the village, and
the choice parts were distributed to notable families,
his family could not participate, but after the feasting
the skull was brought to them. Neither Diisi himself
nor any of his ancestors, though a family of chiefs and
Guer^s of pure blood, had ever tasted flesh of man or
great ape.

I asked him what he could tell me of cannibal
customs now in the Guer^ bush. He said that times had
greatly changed and become somewhat ‘ corrupt ’ since
the arrival of the white man’s government, because
the whites could not always understand the difference
between honest cannibals and criminals like the Panther
societies, for instance. There was less honest inter-
tribal raiding, he said, than there used to be — almost
no intertribal wars, and consequently honest meat
was rarer. The entire Guer^ group, it seemed, were
traditionally warrior-cannibals, but since the whites dis-
countenanced even honest fighting some of the group,
he candidly admitted, had degenerated. The proper
honest cannibals — that is, the fighting cannibals — I
gathered from Diisi’s talk, had a sort of code of honour
of their own, and also their ‘game laws,’ prescribed
by themselves before the whites ever came.

Men slain in battle or in village raids were legitimate
game, he said, and likewise the hostile or unfriendly
neighbour ambushed and taken on the trail. But to kill
one’s own for food, or to kill the wayfaring stranger



who came legitimately in peace or for a friendly purpose,
as, for instance, the black Dioula trader, was simply
murder as the white man understands murder, and had
been so regarded by the Guere and punished by them-
selves before the French ever entered the Ivory Coast.

To-day, said Diisi quaintly, a certain amount of
honest old-fashioned cannibalism still goes on, but
those cases are precisely the ones that never reach the
official ears of the administration. The only cases which
result in arrests and trials are the cases which the
Guer^ themselves, if honest men, regard as criminal
and themselves denounce — for instance, the case of Tei,
who slaughtered his own wife ; and the nine Panther
Men in prison at Guglio, convicted for murdering
people in their own villages, and denounced finally by
their own black neighbours.

I have heard certain travellers, both American and
French, assert roundly that African cannibal stories
of to-day are cock-and-bull stories — that there is no
cannibalism any longer in West Africa. It may interest
them to know that in the districts of Man, Dou^ku6,
and Guglio alone, a central forest section of the C6te
rivoire, Afrique Occidentale Frangaise, there have been
twenty-six formal convictions in the past five years
(accompanied in most cases by final complete con
fessions), of which seven occurred in the year of Our
Lord 1929. Unfortimately, being Panther Society and
criminal murder cases, in which the victim is eaten
incidentally, their records do not shed much light
on the customs or psychology of the self-respecting
cannibal who enjoys with a good appetite and healthy



conscience the enemy cut down in ambush or fair

I had access to the records of all these trials, reams
of red-tape documents, which would make a book in
themselves, but whatDiisi told me as we sat and smoked
cigarettes in his grandfather’s chapel on the eve of
going into the bush seemed much more important and



HE griot Sibley sang :

He has thirty-nine wives,

Their necks are like giraiFes*,

Their breasts are always full of milk.
And they are always pregnant/’

Pointing to Fire-helmet he paused, filled his lungs
with air, and shouted :

“ He is the great bull buffalo
Alone in the bush.

He is M’BIo, the joy of his wives
And the terror of elephants.

His horn is the mightiest,”

Sibley was a handsome man, with a head like the
statue of Augustus Caesar. He wore a plaid golf-cap
and nothing else whatever. The taste of cannibals in
headgear has always been spectacularly catholic.

As for my host Fire-helmet, in addition to his shin-
ing casque-de-pompier he had donned a superb leather
patchwork-quilt smock, painted and embroidered in
every colour of the rainbow, and he sat beside a mag-
nificently carved war-drum ten feet tall. It was the
morning of my arrival in his village. A long-cherished,
almost childhood project had been realized. I was a
guest of the cannibals, apparently on good terms with
them, with a hut in their village and permission to
remain as long as I liked. It was perfectly apparent,
too, that my excellent Yafouba friends were bush-



leaguers compared with these Guer6. Their thatched
houses were bigger and better built, there were more
evidences of prosperity in the village, and the king’s
entourage was more savagely elaborate. He was at-
tended by a group of young women, high-breasted,
naked Amazons, bearing long polished staves, old coun-
sellors with headdresses of green leaves, devil-dancers
whose monstrous masks were brilliantly painted and
surmounted with fur and feathers.

The entire village was crowded round, watching us.
The men were the huskiest and the women the most
beautiful I had thus far seen in Africa. They were,
in short, a traditionally fighting tribe, hospitable,
prosperous, and as proud as blazes. They had been
great slavers in their time, raiding their less warlike
neighbours, taking their captives down the Sassandra
in long wooden dug-outs, to where the white slave-
ships waited. They still had a wealth of ancient bells,
chains, beads, hand-wrought iron weapons, and utensils
centuries old from Europe that would have made the
fortune of an antique-shop in New York or Paris.

Fire-helmet jumped up frequently from his chair,
gesticulating, shouting orders. He was a wiry little
chap, smaller in stature than most of his warriors, but
as cocky as a bantam rooster, almost too cocky, like a
man acting a rUe^ overdoing self-confidence, a comedian,
and tyrannies,!. It pleased me that while he and the
rest of them were perfectly friendly, even gay, there
was no obsequiousness in their attitude. Even the
compliments of the ^iot Sibley were far from naive
and amiably ambiguous. After proclaiming, with many



flourishes and variations, that the Guere were the
greatest and the strongest infinitum he turned to
me and said, in parenthesis, as one intelligent man to
another, “ Of course we know that the whites are now
stronger than the blacks — but that is a wholly different

And the very first evening over the i5««^^-drinking
Fire-helmet, after some side-questions to my friend
Diisi, wanted to know why I hadn’t brought Katie along
and whether I would consider selling her, I wasn’t
sure, and I’m not sure yet, whether he was joshing me.
So I replied politely that the idea had never precisely
occurred to me.

The dinner we had that night was unquestionably
chicken and rice, and the late luncheon next day was
unquestionably excellent goat en hrochette^ garnished
with bananas and pepper-pods. Also there was palm-
wine in abundance. Differently from the Yafouba
custom, where by their own tacit wish I had eaten
apart, I was always Fire-helmet’s table guest, the table
consisting of a mat spread under a tree in his compound.
Sibley, Diisi, and two or three of his counsellors usually
ate with us, served by several of Fire-helmet’s wives.
The food was in iron pots and calabash bowls. We
used knives, big iron spoons, and our fingers.

As mealtime seemed a polite and appropriate time
for conversation touching their more special local menus
and cuisine, I approached the subject from an angle
one evening by asking Fire-helmet casually if he had
ever eaten white meat. He looked at me quizzically
and laughed, as if it were as good a joke as any. He



said he had eaten it rarely in his youth, and hadn’t
tasted it for nearly twenty years ; that it tasted exactly
like the meat of the black man, and was no better;
that since the French had established themselves and
made peace the white man was no longer an enemy.
Anyway, he added, with another grin, the whites had
always been too dilEcult to catch, and they made too
many bothersome histories about it afterward. So it
really wasn’t worth the bother. White man’s meat
tasted in no way different, he repeated, from the meat
of the black man.

So ! And how precisely did that taste.?

Here at last was a chance for preliminary talk with
a man who really knew what he was talking about, on a
subject concerning which I had never either heard or
read anything first-hand or convincing.

The ‘ long pig ’ stories repeated or published on
hearsay from anonymous shipwrecked South Sea sailors
and equally apocryphal African traders long since dead
have been the most persistent and consistent of these
tales at second hand. “ And he said,” or “ and he told
me,” that “ it looked and smelled and tasted exactly
like pork.” Such stories have always seemed to have a
strong a ‘priori likelihood of being true, because the
taste of any meat depends to a certain degree on the
sort of diet the animal itself eats, and the pig and man
are two of the rare mammals who notoriously eat more
or less anything and everything. Most mammals are
herbivores, eating only grass and grain, or carnivores,
eating only flesh. But man and the pig eat everything,
from dandelions and cornflour to tripe, green cheese,



and caviare. Therefore in theorizing academically it
would seem reasonable enough to guess that, eaten in
their turn, the meat of the animal man might closely
resemble the meat of the animal pig.

This academic likelihood was running through my
mind when I asked Fire-helmet how, precisely, did
human flesh taste.

His replies, alas ! were not very illuminating. They
were frank, but not instructive. He said with convic-
tion that it was “ very good meat,” and, seeing that I
was not satisfied, insisted with even stronger conviction
that “it is as good meat as any, and is considered by
some people to be the best meat of all.”

Decidedly that didn’t help any. It was even less in-
structive than the books and tales which I had scorned.
And since I didn’t entirely scorn them, but had in
mind their theoretical probability, I said, to help him
toward some possible comparison, “Have you ever
eaten pork? Does it taste anything like pork? ”

He said, “ But it tastes nothing like pork. It isn’t
like pork at all. It isn’t the same thing at all. We have
pigs here in the village. I have often eaten pork. It is
not anything like that.”

Alas, alas ! Hearsay contradicting hearsay. And
then what ? That would be a fine thing to take home
and put into a book. It would be even worse than the

“ But what flesh does it resemble most? ” I insisted.
“ Is it like goat, or sheep, or beef, or dog? ”

He puzzled over it, shaking his head. Obviously
there was only one thing to do, if I ever could, and I



didn’t know him well enough or trust Diisi’s discretion
sufficiently to broach my wish directly. But we still
talked on. Fire-helmet, shaking his head, and getting
perhaps a little bored by my interminable questions,
said finally that we would send for the old tribal chief
cook, who lived at some distance in another village,
and who could probably give me better answers. At
any rate, he could tell me something about the cuisine,
in which I was likewise interested.

So we let the matter drop for a number of days
while I settled down with them, lived and played,
drank banghi^ and got better acquainted. The early
explorers, whose books on Africa are now more or less
classic, have nearly all observed that the traditional
cannibal tribes were usually the most powerful and
prosperous, and incidentally the most hospitable. I
found this to be still true in general of the Guer^. They
seemed stronger and better proportioned physically
than their tamer forest neighbours. They wore fewer
clothes, the majority of both men and women going
naked except for ornaments and loin-cloths, although
most of the notables and a considerable minority of
the rest wore scanty garments and nondescript head-
gear of Sudanese or European origin. Their houses
consisted usually of one large circular living-room,
mud-walled, bamboo-ceilinged, with a notch-stick
ladder and trapdoor leading to an attic storeroom under
the peak-thatched roof. Their beds were sometimes
grass mats, sometimes cots made with bamboo poles
and leather thongs. Cooking and household utensils
combined native calabash and wooden objects with



iron pots, knives, spoons, sometimes even enamel-
ware bowls and cups from Europe. In clearings near
the village and farther away beside the river they
cultivated rice, millet, cooking-bananas, and potatoes.
They had goats, sheep, and chicken in abundance,
and a few pigs and cattle, which thrive poorly in the
forest. They took fish, crocodile, and hippo from the
Sassandra and game from the bush, usually with spears,
nets, traps, bows and arrows, but a few special hunters
had muzzle-loading muskets, wound round with raw-
hide to keep them from exploding under heavy charge.
They bought lead from Dioula traders, but made their
own gunpowder (a trick learned probably from the
old trade contacts with white slavers) from charcoal
and from saltpetre procured by boiling and rendering
earth impregnated with the urine of their sheep and
goats. In religion they were animist-Fetishers, like all
their neighbours. They were generally polygamous,
and wives represented chattel wealth.

Girls were bought and sold as one chose, but were
not slaves. Health, youth, and beauty determined
values, ranging upward from two or three sheep to a
number of cattle. A very high price would be a value
equivalent to three or four pounds. Virginity, except
as a concomitant of youth and health, was deemed of
no particular importance, but wives once bought must
be virtuous.

They offered me my choice of a number of pretty
girls, but I temporized. Old Fire-helmet couldn’t
understand this, for he had ladies on the brain. He
was never more cocky than when talking about them



or when the griot Sibley made up some extravagant
new song about his prowess as a great bull buffalo.
This seemed somewhat queer in a black man, for
usually, though they take their sex seriously, they take
it naturally and simply, and do not brag.

One night Fire-helmet sent word by Diisi that he
wanted to see me alone for a very private conference.
It was one of the most absurd, wholly unlikely, and
in a way amusing things that ever happened to me
in Africa. We went surreptitiously, almost like con-
spirators, to Fire-helmet’s rambling, rectangular mud-
thatched ‘ palace,’ and found him seated all alone on
some panther-skins in a windowless little inner cubby-
hole of a room. It was evidently a sort of ‘ den ’ or
private study into which he retired to contemplate
grave matters.

He seemed a bit embarrassed. He seemed also to be
talking at random. He asked if I were enjoying myself,
and said he hoped I would stay a long time. Did I
want to go and visit some panther traps with him next
day? The medicine I had given various sick ones in
the village (it had been mostly the simplest of remedies,
purgative pills, aspirin, and quinine) had worked
marvels, he said, and they were all delighted. The old
cook would be coming along soon, and would give me
all the information I wished, etc., etc. But what the
devil was he leading up to ? He returned again to the
subject of my medicines. The whites had powerful
me^caments for everything. At last he was coming
to the point. The truth of the matter was, he said,
that he was not so very young, and thirty-nine wives



were a great many, and he was sure that if I were as
well-wishing a friend of his as I seemed to be, with
my medicine-chest that contained everything, I ought
to be able to do something about that too.

In a word — or, rather, in a good many roundabout
words — the Great Bull Buffalo, the Terror of Elephants,
the Joy of his Wives, was confiding to me that he was
not the man he once had been. No one had cast a spell
on him, he said. He was simply tired and getting old.

I was flattered to be taken into his confidence. I
was also amused and shamelessly well disposed to do
anything I could to please or to help him, but some-
what embarrassed, because so far as I am aware —
outside of cantharides, which is merely a local irritant,
and of which I naturally had none, anyway — there is
no such thing as an actual aphrodisiac.

But I couldn’t tell old Fire-helmet that. He wouldn’t
have believed it. There he sat, leaning forward, peer-
ing confidently at me, almost beseechingly, naively
frank at last, and really, or so I felt, for a Great Bull
Buffalo, a little touching in his predicament.

I had to do something, and under stress I had a
makeshift inspiration of sorts. My black friends in
Haiti were accustomed to concoct a potent and un-
godly brew called red-cat, to which they attributed,
probably wrongly, a tremendous efficacy in such
matters. I had seen it concocted, and had also drunk
some of it, with no memorable effect other than burn-
ing my gizzard. But it occurred to me that it couldn’t
do old Fire-helmet any harm, and might conceivably,
with the aid of his imagination, help him.




We had a lot of fun next day procuring and pre-
paring the ingredients. The meat of the big conch-
shell which the Haitians use was impossible to get in
the inland forest, but fresh-water shellfish from the
near-by Sassandra were common, and we found some
in the village, already dried, which I pounded to
powder in a wooden mortar. Then, following the
Haitian formula, I pounded up some dry pods of red
pepper. We did all this with a certain infantile secrecy
in my hut, with only Diisi and Fire-helmet present,
wide-eyed and curious. By the Haitian recipe you take
a bottle of rum two-thirds full, add a large handful of
powdered dried shellfish, another generous handful of
powdered red pepper, cork it, put it in the sun for a
day or two, and then, if it hasn’t exploded, you drink
it and hope for the best.

In this case, however, if only to stimulate confi-
dence, it seemed necessary to add something mysterious
from my medicine-box. I thought of permanganate
crystals, which make a fine effect, but was afraid they
might poison him. I compromised by adding a pinch
of effervescent fruit salts, a little cocaine, and two
pyramidon tablets.

We hung the bottle by a string in the sun all day,
and that evening we tasted it. It was all right. In
addition to burning like liquefied brimstone and set-
ting the guts afire it tasted something awful. Fire-
helmet blinked his eyes, and hurriedly took a long,
deep breath. He slapped me on the shoulder, and said
that it was certainly the stuff he needed. His wrinkled
and slightly comical old face beamed with a gratitude



which I feared might be somewhat premature. I
didn’t know whether to feel ashamed of myself or to
hope that it might really help him. I had a sort of
hope, however, for faith is alw^ays a beautiful thing,
and a stiff slug of rum alone has been known to put
new life into old bones.

Confident and optimistic, Fire-helmet asked for
definite directions. I told him to send for a couple of
his favourite wives and to take the bottle to bed with
them, but for God’s sake not to drink more than half
of it, whatever happened — that it w’as an excellent
medicament when taken in moderation, but that if
he drank all of it in one evening it might kill him.
Having already tasted it, he said, he believed me.

Night fell, and I was in the hut with the carbide
lantern lighted, trying to read Guillaume Apollinaire,
but Fire-helmet was on my conscience, and I couldn’t
keep my attention fixed. Presently I turned off the
light, but neither could I go to sleep. Finally, toward
ten o’clock I went out. The whole village was silent
beneath the bright African stars. Fire-helmet’s big
house across the compound was dark and silent as the
grave. I am ashamed to relate that I strolled over to
an indiscreet proximity, but heard nothing.

So, praying for the best, I went to bed again. A
little later, as I was finally dropping off to sleep, I
heard, “ Psst ! Monsieur 1 ” — somebody arousing me.
It was Diisi and Fire-helmet, without his fire-helmet.
The king was slightly tight, and so happy that he
couldn’t wait until morning to tell me the news. I
lighted a candle. Fie was waving his arms and



shouting. He was the happiest cannibal king in Africa,
and when he had finished bragging and thanking me
I went to sleep in earnest, with a considerable weight
off my conscience.

Next morning Diisi came to tell me that the chief
cook of the tribe had arrived and was over in the yard
of Fire-helmet’s house, and that he was an old man,
and that he was a sorehead, and that he was in a bad
humour. Fire-helmet was still asleep. Diisi took me
over to introduce us. The cook’s name was N’lo. He
was a big, flabby, ugly fellow, side-whiskered and
short-bearded, like an old-fashioned Irishman, partly
bald, with a tuft above his forehead. His face was
daubed with grey chalk. He wore brass anklets, and
suspended from his neck was a big sack made of
monkey fur, which Diisi said contained his knives
and other cxilinary tools. He merely grunted that he
had come a long, hot distance for nothing, wouldn’t
talk, seemed definitely to dislike me on first sight, and
though he became less surly later I don’t think he ever
liked me much. I think he kept a special personal
dislike for me, but I imagine also that he disliked
whites in general, and was sorry to see them in his

Just now it was useless to question him, for he
refused to respond politely even to ordinary questions
about his health and family and the weather. Fire-
helmet gave him a talking to later, scolding him and
explaining me as best he could, and in the late after-
noon there was a palaver with a number of other tribal
dignitaries present, who flattered the sour old man,



made much of him, and persuaded him to promise to
answer any questions I cared to ask.

I thought it might be sensible to begin with purely
culinary questions which touched directly on his
functions as a chef. If N’lo was still somewhat surly
he was interested in his trade ; so it went not too badly.
Furthermore, he was prodded and encouraged by the
others, who frequently interpolated comments.

I thus finally obtained a number of specific recipes
and other interesting kitchen data from an Ivory
Gaast cannibal cook who has been practising his
trade for fifty years and occasionally still practises it

Here is the Guere recipe for roast en brochette. Cut
the meat in good-sized chunks, but let none of the
chunks be larger than a leg of sheep. Wash them, and
sprinkle them with salt. If they are to be put aside
before roasting wrap them in fresh leaves. Remove
the leaves, and fix the meat on iron spits or iron hooks
above wood embers. Roast very slowly, turning fre-
quently and basting with fresh palm oil, to which you
begin adding the ordinary condiments, a little more
salt and red pepper only after the meat has roasted for
a time. Roast slowly “ from late at night until early
morning,” or “ from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.”
When ready, garnish with ignames, manioc, potatoes,
rice, breadfruit, or bananas (the unsweetened sort for
cooking, which are edible only when boiled or baked).

The barbecue method — that is, roasting the carcass
whole over a pit of coals, as the Pacific Island cannibals
are said to do, and as farmers in Georgia roast pigs



and sheep — is not practised, according to N’lo, among
his people.

Here is the common recipe for Guere stew. Cut the
meat into pieces the size of your fist and boil in not too
much water, with seasoning of salt and whole red-pepper
pods, “ from middle morning until late afternoon.”
When the stew has simmered down add quantities of
rice boiled separately. N’lo and the others, nodding
vigorous assent, insisted that for the stew you must
always have rice, that it was not so delicious with
bananas or other vegetables, whereas for the roast any
vegetable was good.

A dish for royal, rare occasions was a variation of
the foutou, an Ivory Coast speciality which may be
prepared with any sort of meat, and which is as famous
in the forest as chop-suey in Chinatown. It has certain
similarities to chop-suey. The meat is cut into quite
small pieces, parboiled, braised, served on top of rice
cooked separately, and over it is poured profusely a
highly seasoned hot sauce, in which palm oil and peanut
oil, thickened with finely pounded roasted peanuts, are
mixed in equal quantities. To eat chicken foutou even
in white surroundings at Dakar, Konakry, or Grand
Bassam is a real gastronomic experience if the black
cook sticks to his tradition. It is equally good with
pork. It is a dish which, barring the particular sort of
meat recommended by N’lo, could make the fortune
of a Harlem restaurant. Monkey chitterlings and rice
can’t touch it.

Another method of preparation, perfectly natural, yet
surprising to me, since I had never thought of it in



connexion with cannibals, was smoked meat. N’lo
said that in the old days when there was more freedom,
more fighting, and consequently sometimes more good
fresh meat than they knew what to do with, it was
salted, smoked, and kept, as they do antelope haunches
and the big dried catfish.

Returning to the other recipes, I asked what parts
of the meat were considered the best. He replied that
for solid meat the loin cuts, the ribs, and rump steak
were the best. The liver, heart, and brains were titbits,
but tasted identically the same as those of all other
animals. Fire-helmet interpolated that as a matter of
personal choice the palm of the hand was the most
tender and delicious morsel of all.

There was one point in these recipes which seemed
to me somewhat strange — ^to wit, the unusual length
of time they took for cooking. They were all in agree-
ment on the explanation. They said that the meat was
the best you could imagine when sufficiently well
cooked, but that it was tougher than most, and there-
fore required to be cooked longer and more slowly.

“But what about young, tender meat?” I asked.
“ For instance, a fine plump young girl roasted with
bananas. That ought to be as tender as any Iamb.”

They looked at me in some surprise. They all began
talking at once, some of them laughing and others
indignant. “ But we don’t eat children and babies,’
they said, “We are Guer6 warriors. Such things have
certainly happened, but if you want to know about
things like that go find some woman who was starving,
or’go and ask somePantherMan in the French prisons.”



One of the old counsellors looked at me gravely and
added a simple saying, full of self-respect, and which
might stand, I thought, as a motto for their tribe,
“We are men, and eaters of men.”

These Guere, then, as nearly as I could understand,
were in the traditional anthropological and ethnological
sense true cannibals.

I must try to explain carefully what I mean by this
distinction. Four wholly different sorts of cannibalism
are known to exist, and merging them indiscriminately,
as casual commentators have so often done, leads to
confusion. They must be clearly separated, for in both
motive and practice they are highly differentiated.

1. Religious Cannibalism. In a group or tribe or
nation which does not normally or habitually eat human
flesh there is performed from time to time a human
sacrifice, sometimes a man, but frequently a young
child or virgin, usually about the time of our Easter,
which is followed by a ritual partaking of the body and
blood of the victim.

2. Magical Cannibalism. In a group which does not
normally eat human flesh certain of its members, usually
those initiated in sorcery, will sometimes eat the brains
or heart of one who has been particularly intelligent or
particularly brave, with the imitative-magical idea that
eating will endow them with similar qualities.

(These religious and magical practices, of course,
are as widespread and old as humanity, and have by no
means been confined exclusively to savages or blacks.
Our Christian partaking of the body and blood of the
man-god Christ— symbolically among Protestants and



literally, it is taught, among Catholics, who believe in
transubstantiation — is an interesting civilized survival
of more ancient sacrificial rites.)

3. Cannibalism resorted to by isolated starving in-
dividuals or groups for the sole sad reason that they
cannot procure other food, and cannibalism practised
by individual criminals and monsters as a degenerate
by-product of murder.

4. Natural Cannibalism. By this I mean the tribe or
group which eats human flesh habitually, not from
ritual, religious, or magic motives, not because they
cannot find other food, and not as a degenerate by-
product of crime, but simply because they consider it
good meat.

Such I do believe were these Guer^, and how they
became traditionally cannibal is a point on which,
instead of theorizing, I mean to let them speak here
for themselves.

When I said to them, “ How is it that you are cannibal
while neighbouring tribes are not.? ” their first useless
answer, of course, was, “ The Guere have always been
cannibal.” It was like asking a Georgia farmer why he
eats corn-bread or a New Englander why he eats white.

But presently, in the course of general talk, an old
counsellor hushed the others and said, “We have
attacked and fought a certain village. We have slain
some men there with our spears. We have marched a
long way, we have fought well, we are hungry, and we
want to feast. Perhaps there are sheep and goats and
chickens in the conquered village, perhaps not, but
why slay them when there is already slain provision of


good meat? Is it reasonable to let it spoil and taste-
fully to kill other which is no better? You have asked
us many questions, and we have answered.”

They waited now to hear what I had to say. De-
cidedly this black old Socrates had passed the buck.
As he had framed his query, no criminal element of
murder was involved. True, they had killed some
human neighbours in a fight. But who was I, or any
white man, in the name of Julius Cassar, Charlemagne,
St Louis and the Crusaders of the Lord, U. S. Grant
and Sherman, Ludendorff and Papa Jofire and Sergeant
York, to tell black Socrates that it was all right for us
to do it with machine-guns, poison-gas, and bombs,
but naughty-naughty and uncivilized for him to do it
with a spear?

“ The reason, my dear unenlightened friends, why
you shouldn’t eat your neighbours is because you
shouldn’t have killed them in the first place ! ”

If one isn’t a Methodist missionary one must preserve
a shred of intellectual decency at least, even in a dis-
cussion with cannibals. Decidedly that answer was out.
And being out, just what did it leave for our further
philosophic and moral consideration? It left the flesh
of the mammal homo sapiens, not criminally murdered,
no longer sapiens, since he was dead, freshly, cleanly
killed, and according to their statement, yet to be
verified, excellent meat. To my asking why they ate it
they had turned the question back against me, saying,
“Why shouldn’t we eat it? ”

I ask my gentle readers not to become impatient at
this point for fear I am going to advocate roast German



with sauerkraut a la Bernard Shaw or grilled Japanese
on toast as a supplement to our next Hooverized war
menus — though the rice-fed Japanese might be more
tender and tasty than most.

There is a very special and sufficient reason, I think,
why cannibalism is not for us. But the point here
involved with my black Socrates was why, if for any
reason, cannibalism was not for him.

Biologically cannibalism is a widely general though
not universal practice, and consequently ‘ natural ’ in
the purely scientific sense. Insects devour insects, fish
devour fish, mammals devour mammals. We civilized
human mammals devour our four-footed cousins large
and small. But we do not eat the biped Arthur Jones.
The reason we refrain from eating him is partly, of
course, simply that we are unaccustomed to the idea.
But we have also, I think, a deeper, more honest, and
more defensible reason. We believe that in the essence
of a man there is something holy which other animals
have not — to wit, a soul. The body is its temple, we
say, and even after the soul has fled we feel, senti-
mentally at least, that the carcass is still sacred. This
feeling, even if founded ultimately on pure sentiment
alone, is a sound and sufficient reason for refraining.
A sentimental qualm is as logical and defensible a
reason as any for not doing a thing.

But this reason — good and sufficient for us — would
have made no sense whatever in a discussion with the
Guer^. They too believe that man has a soul. But
they believe with equal conviction that everything has
a soul (not only all other animals, but also the banana-



plant, the potato-vine, the vegetable, the grain of rice),
so that if they considered that the anterior possession
of a soul made a material body subsequently inedible
they would immediately starve to death. They believe,
like the saintly poet William Blake, that “ everything
that lives is holy.” But when the vital spark goes out
they deem that the holiness has betaken itself else-
where, and that if what remains is good to eat it may
be eaten with clear conscience and healthy appetite.

So it was, therefore, that, caught socratically in this

interesting discussion with Fire-helmet, his counsellors

and cook, I was compelled to say finally, “ I can’t

seem to think of any reason why you others shouldn’t

eat it if you like it.” And I added, “ As a matter of

fact, I should like very much to try it myself, just



O NE morning runners, guides, and porters —
savage fellows, bristling with spears — came
down from the north with gifts and an in-
vitation from the old king Gedao, whose name meant
“ the Torch,” and whom I had promised to visit in
his village on some fine future day.

The gifts were royal — haunches of dried meat and
great packets of pink kola in palm-leaves bound with
withes. The invitation was equally generous and
pressing. Gedao, I suspected, having heard rumours
of high jinks, feasting and dancing, tin trunks full of
handsome necklaces, mirrors, good steel horn-handled
knives and what not, bottles of wine that bubbled — I
can never thank Paul Morand enough for having said,
“ Don’t go into Africa, my friend, with empty hands,
and don’t carry only ten-cent-store trash unless you
expect to bring out trashy impressions in return” —
Gedao, I was amiably inclined to think, had become
perhaps a little worried over my prolonged stay in a
friendly rival’s territory, and wanted to share in the

This seemed reasonable enough, and the messengers
said that if I did come Gedao was planning to put on
a series of war-games for my entertainment. It was a
three days’ journey, and wouldn’t be easy, but I de-
cided to make it. Fire-helmet even considered coming



along, but was dissuaded on my promise that I would
visit him again before leaving the country.

The runners had gone before us, and Gedao met us
on the outskirts of Blo-di, his capital, his braided hair
still porcupined with polished bone and ivory sticks,
accompanied by a knot of notables. But his greeting,
though effusive, was embarrassed, and as we entered
the big village it was evident that something unusual
was going on, for all the hut doors were closed, and
not a woman, child, or baby was in sight, nor any of
the usual dancers and shouters of welcome.

He explained apologetically that one of the devil-
maskers, accoutred precisely to take part in the wel-
coming ceremonies, had gone on a rampage of his
own, had torn down a house, had broken the arm of
one of his acolytes, had cracked a number of heads,
though not fatally, and was still loose. He couldn’t
be interfered with, they told me, for when a masker of
this category runs amuck it is a sign that a real devil,
a real Ghy has incarnated itself in the body which
wears the mask, and is out to inflict ritual chastise-
ment. One must placate him, or keep out of his way,
or accept his buffeting without retaliation, until the
frenzy has passed.

From a distant part of the village we heard shouting,
but could see nothing of what was occurring. Gedao
led us through the deserted streets and into the private
fenced compound of the hut which had been reserved
for me. With a demon running wild, he said, there
was notlung to do but make the best of it and postpone
the dances, pantomimes, and griot songs for the morrow.



Meanwhile he helped to superintend my installation.
There were clean straw mats and panther-skins to loll
and sleep on, big earthen pots of water, a calabash
of hanghi^ a thick, polished hand-hewn board set on
stakes for a table, mortars for pounding grain up-
turned to serve as chairs. After the simplifications
Wamba had taught me in ambulant housekeeping
most of my elaborate and expensive ‘ explorer’s ’ equip-
ment, except for a filter, a mosquito-net, and a carbide
lantern, had been left, thank God ! behind.

Gedao advised both Diisi and me to rest indoors
until the hullabaloo grew calmer. He couldn’t under-
stand that a fortuitous event like the presence of a
demon might interest me more — at a safe distance
— than any of the planned formal entertainment. In
Haiti I had once seen a god incarnate, but I had never
met a devil face to face in flesh and blood, not even a
masked one, and I was all for having a respectful look,
if possible, at this fellow.

So, led by Gedao, we cautiously approached the
part of the village where Gla was still rampaging.
There were crowds there, men only, but a good many
of them, ready to scatter and run, keeping their dis-
tance, yet pushing forward as much as they dared,
like a crowd at home attracted by an interesting but
dangerous wild beast that has escaped from a menagerie
cage, each individual hoping perhaps that somebody
else might get bitten, but prepared to take to his heels
if the beast singled him out to chase.

It was almost, indeed, as if they were baiting the
devil and encouraging him. He wore a hideous mask,



gorilla-featured, three times larger than a human face,
festooned with bones and teeth and bells, and in the
gaping mouth were set ugly, shining metal fangs,
which increased the expression of grotesque ferocity.
The mask formed part of a heavy hood covering com-
pletely head and shoulders, with metal-clawed mittens
covering his hands, and he wore also a flaring long
grass skirt. Hampered by all that weight, he didn’t
seem to me really very dangerous, rushing awkwardly
this way and that, as if he were getting tired and
couldn’t see very well through the eye-slits in the mask.
But he brandished a heavy staff, and from time
to time hurled it savagely into the dodging crowd.
Scared acolytes had to retrieve it and return it to him,
and if they didn’t dodge away sharply enough risked
a whack over their shoulders for their pains. It was
thus, they said, he had broken a young man’s arm in
his first frenzy, and they insisted impressively that
Gla was the Great Chastiser, but it was evident that
I had come too late for any real excitement. What I
actually saw was not much more impressive than any
rough, awkward game. He staggered over toward a
hut and tore at the thatching, and then, as if unable
to keep his attention fixed on any one attack, rushed
into the crowd, raining harmless awkward blows at
random. With each new rush he staggered more, and
presently flopped down like a mechanical doll in a

We gathered close, waiting to see whether the par-
oxysm was really over, and soon from inside the mask
came a very tired human voice, grumbling and com-



plaining. It must have been extremely wearing to be
possessed by so rampageous a devil, and it must have
been terribly hot inside all that heavy costume. They
lifted him up like a sick man, holding him by the
arms, and led him stumbling away.

Next morning occurred the formal reception, which
this devil business had delayed. There is a certain
social etiquette and formality in the forest, just as in
the salons of Paris and the drawing-rooms of Mayfair.
So I was presented now to Gedao somewhat as another
visiting chief might have been, and as if we had not
intimately met before.

I sat in front of my hut with Diisi, and Gedao came
in procession with his counsellors and entertainers,
while the whole village gathered round to watch the
ceremonial. After the presentation Gedao and I sat
side by side, holding hands like a couple of sweet-
hearts. His chief griot pointed to us both, shouting,
gesticulating, shaking his finger in our faces, pointing
us out to the crowd, and demanding silence. Then,
addressing Gedao, he sang :

“ The Guere are always the strongest.

But he is the strongest of all.

Among the warriors he is king ;

He leads and gives good counsel.

If he is killed we are all lost.”

Gedao arose and responded :

“Yes, what he says is true. If I am killed you are
all lost. I am a hawk in the eye of the sun.”

When the tumtilt of hurrahs had ceased the griot
turned to me and sang :

L i6i


“ He is a great chief who comes alone,

Without white followers

And company of men in uniform.

Behold how he has come !

He has come in friendship as a brother.

And he has come bearing gifts.”

They were frankly keen, like children, about the
gifts, and kept pointing to the tin trunk with eager
curiosity. It is nice to be welcomed for oneself alone,
but when people come from far away we all enjoy
seeing them fish out little surprises from their baggage.
However, among these generous people I was to
receive gifts as well as give them. Gedao presented
me with a handsome crocodile-hide amulet and a pair
of hippo teeth as beautiful as ivory, leather-mounted,
hung on a braided necklace. I gave him a hunting-
knife with belt and sheath, a brightly coloured
smock, and some bottles of sweet sparkling wine. For
the griot there was a large pair of scissors, which he
promptly hung round his neck from a leather string.
A procession of servants brought food in calabashes —
a sheep’s liver, live chickens, kola-nuts, rice, eggs,
dried fish, etc. I must examine each dish as it passed
and exclaim how good it looked. In turn I presented
Gedao, for the village, with thirty pounds of bar salt,
and there was glad shouting.

My tin treasure-chest, which contained trivial minor
gifts for all the entertainers, was opened, and the fun
began in earnest. Since the men were to do the big
war-^ame later, the present stars were mostly girls and
women, singly or in groups, who sang, danced, and
pantomimed. It was like a Sunday-school Christmas-



tree night at a Salvation Army celebration in the
Bowery. Each received a necklace or a box of beads,
a bottle of perfumery, a tin of talcum powder, a mirror,
or some other shining trifle.

Most of them were delighted, but every so often
toward the end of it a girl’s face would fall when she
received her little gift, and she would seem on the
verge of bursting into tears. Her sister, perhaps, had
received a mirror, and she wanted a mirror too, instead
of the necklace or beads I offered. Where possible
I rectified these errors, and thought how human we
all are, even the dancing daughters of the unspoiled

The best of them all was a muscular young woman,
with a cloth draped round her loins, who leaped into
the ring on all-fours, growling, grimacing, chattering,
and pretending to bite at the legs of the crowd, which
drew back with mock fear and cried, “What is it? Is
it a woman, or is it a big ape? ” Some said, “ Don’t
be afraid ; it’s only a woman.” Others cried, “ No,
take care ! ” Other dancing-girls now began to bait
her, prodding her with sticks, and running back into
the crowd, shrieking and laughing as she chased them
on all-fours, biting the legs of some, still growling and
chattering. Finally they tore her skirt off and shouted,
“ See ! See ! ” She had a long monkey tail, a real
monkey tail, fur tuft and all, fastened in its proper
place with leather strings. As she grimaced and leaped
in marvellous pantomime, pretending now to try to
escape, they all shouted, “ Yes, it is indeed a big ape ! ”
This was the measure of her artistic triumph ; Diisi



explained that when the crowd is dissatisfied with this
particular pantomime they point to the strings after
the skirt has been torn off and cry, “ Bah, look ! It’s
only a woman masquerading.” Jungle cabaret. Source
stuff for Blackbirds and Josephine Baker.

In the war-games which were to take place in the
afternoon Gedao explained that they would proceed as
if going forth to actual battle, and that he himself
would lead the warriors. Toward two o’clock the war-
drums were set booming. All the men and initiated
youths of the village came, more than a hundred of
them, augmented soon by arriving groups from other
villages. They congregated quietly. The only noise
just now was the booming of the drums. They came
armed with spears, assagais, swords, machetes, war-
clubs. When they had congregated to the number of
about two hundred they left the village, still quietly,
disappearing into the forest. I would have given a
great deal to witness the preparation they were under-
going, since part of it was secret-society ritual, but
in these matters one had to be locally initiated — a
long process, beginning with, puberty, and in certain
matters even before birth. There are many things in
the forest which no white, however intimate, or how-
ever willing to obey the Fetish code, will ever see.
Thanks partly to preliminary initiations undergone in
Haiti, and partly to the opening of certain barriers in
Africa by Wamba and her associates, I have seen more
than the casual traveller, but the more one learns the
more one realizes how little one has learned, and I
know that all that I have ever seen is nothing, for



that which is hidden is hidden, and will never be

So Diisi and I, with a few feeble old grandfathers,
sat twiddling our thumbs in the deserted village. The
women and children had all been sent indoors. The
drums had ceased, and everything was silence.

Then finally out of the silent greenness of the thick
forest edge they came. It was as if a gigantic legendary
serpent were emerging, for they came in single file,
bent forward at the waist, their painted bodies touching.
The serpent’s head was Gedao, his body painted a dull
red, his face smeared black with charcoal grease, a sword
in his right hand, a club in his left, and a piece of
panther-skin fastened with a chain across his shoulders.
They came stealthily, without a sound, and wound
stealthily into the village, a long, living, gigantic, multi-
coloured serpent, bristling with spears. Their bodies
were painted with pigmented clay of various colours
in swirls, Picasso-like, monstrous, python-like, but all
their faces were smeared dead-black, and each man
held between his teeth a green leaf.

Arriving in the central clearing, they wound spirally,
bending low to earth with lowered spears — all this in
silence still. A shrill whistle sounded, and pande-
monium broke loose. The serpent broke up into a wild
disorder of leaping, howling warriors, grimacing madly,
brandishing their weapons, crouching and leaping,
imitating all the gesture of actual battle. The women
now appeared at the hut doors, shrieking encourage-
ment. Out of the disorder emerged presently an
almost equally wild formalized dance, done in circling



procession, as the American redskins used to do to the
sound of the drums, which had again begun booming.

There was a somewhat terrifying reality about it, as
if they were being carried away by the game and doing
it now in deadly earnest. The women shrieked and
wept, and an old blind man, grovelling on his knees,
screaming, seizing hold of people’s feet, and pointing
to his sightless eyes, begged to be protected from the

But it was, after all, only a superb wild mimicry. A
new era had come with the French, and not even the
Guere dared any longer make war openly on their
neighbours. There were still occasional small raids,
usually in remote territory, plotted and carried out with
utmost secrecy, and always with the risk of afterward
being punished. And each year they were becoming
more and more rare.

All this was reflected in certain of the songs, which
Diisi translated for me. I was in the presence, for
good or bad as one may choose to see it, of a dying
tradition — a thing always tinged, apart from the most
reasonable moral and utilitarian considerations, with a
certain underlying sadness. For these changes, however
necessary, are taking a certain brave, kaleidoscopic
colour out of life. In another hundred or another
thousand years we may all work in offices and factories,
eat and dress and think alike, love our neighbours as
ourselves (since we will have no neighbours anywhere
on the globe who have not been either exterminated
or transformed into our own image), ride in Fords,
and be at peace. It will be a good thing for the sheep,



for the flock, but the tiger burning bright needs no
millennium. The world will perhaps be better and
safer, but it will be less beautiful when all the bright
tigers are dead or shut up in cages. I am not decrying
‘ world betterment ’ or the ‘ march of civilization ’ on
any intelligent or logical grounds. I am just begging
leave to be a little sad about it, reflecting for a moment
the sadness of this tiny, unimportant, doomed savage
tribe, which came out so poignantly and curiously in
their songs.

This is the song that the Guerd youths sang, those
who had been recently initiated into the war-dances :

Our fathers were men.

Now we do as they taught us.

We follow their steps
And shout as they do —

So as not to forget.”

And this is the song made by a nameless warrior who
was growing old :

‘‘To be a chief in battle
You must be proud and brave.

My body bears inany scars,

For I was both.

Once I was proud and brave among the spears.

Now they say I must do what the white man
tells me.”

In the twilight, when it was all over, after quiet
had been restored in the village, I sat talking with
Gedao about these and many things. It was a time for
confidences, and for true words.

He said, “Alas, this has been a good day, but not like
the old days. We have danced the dance of warriors,



we have shouted bravely, but I know that I will never
again lead my tribe in force to battle. It is too strong
for us. We all know it. We are slowly becoming
women. But we can never forget that we once were

Indeed, they were still men, these Guere, and I told
him so, the finest I had met in the forest. And I was
glad that I had come among them before the old
tradition had completely died.


T he occasion was one which would probably
never be repeated, so that I felt in duty bound
to make the most of it. In addition, therefore,
to a portion of stew with rice — sure to be so highly
seasoned with red pepper that fine shades of flavour
might be lost to an unaccustomed palate — I had re-
quested and been given a sizable rump steak, also a
small loin roast to cook or have cooked in whatever
manner I pleased.

It was the meat of a freshly killed man, who seemed
to be about thirty years old — and who had not been

Neither then nor at any time since have I had any
serious personal qualms, either of digestion or con-
science, but despite time, distance, and locale I feel
that it would be unfair, unsporting, and ungrateful to
involve and identify too closely the individual friends
who made my experience possible.

Fortunately such identification will not be necessary
to establish authenticity. When a man has actually
done a special thing of this sort he need never worry
about whether it will be accepted as authentic. Some
millions of people will sooner or later read these lines
in one language or another. No matter what phrases
I choose, whether I write well or awkwardly, the
authenticity will take care of itself, for I propose to set



down details as full, objective, and complete as if I
were recounting a first experience with reindeer meat,
shark meat, or any other unfamiliar meat experimented
with for the first time.

The raw meat, in appearance, was firm, slightly
coarse-textured rather than smooth. In raw texture,
both to the eye and to the touch, it resembled good beef.
In colour, however, it was slightly less red than beef.
But it was reddish. It was not pinkish or greyish,
like mutton or pork. Through the red lean ran fine
whitish fibres, interlacing, seeming to be stringy rather
than fatty, suggesting that it might be tough. The
solid fat was faintly yellow, as the fat of beef and mutton
is. This yellow tinge was very faint, but it was not
clear white, as pork fat is.

In smell it had what I can only describe as the
familiar, characteristic smell of any good fresh meat
of the larger domestic animals. I am not expert in
the finest shades of odour. When various meats begin
cooking there are special odours, easily distinguishable
once they begin sizzling, as, for instance, beef, mutton,
and pork. But in the raw state meats even so different
as the three I have mentioned smell exactly alike to
me, and this present meat smelled the same.

Having at hand my portion of highly seasoned stew,
prepared in the classic manner (and not yet tasted,
because I was anxious to get the clearest first impression
possible of the natural meat, and feared that excessive
condiments would render it inconclusive), I had deter-
mined to prepare the steak and roast in the simplest
manner, as nearly as possible as we prepare meat at



home. The small roast was spitted, since an oven was
out of the question, and after it had been cooking for
a while I set about grilling the steak. I tried to do it
exactly as we do at home. It took longer, but that
may have been partly because of the difference between
gas-flame and wood-fire.

The cooking odours, wholly pleasant, were like those
of beefsteak and roast beef, with no other special dis-
tinguishing odour. By “ other distinguishing odour ”
I mean that if you go into a kitchen where they are
cooking game or mutton or fish or chicken there is
in each case something quite special, which you can
distinguish with the nose alone.

When the roast began to brown and the steak to turn
blackish on the outside I cut into them, to have a look
at the partially cooked interior. It had turned quite
definitely paler than beef would turn. It was turning
greyish, as veal or lamb would, rather than dark reddish,
as a beefsteak turns. The fat was sizzling, becoming
tender and yellower. Beyond what I have told there
was nothing special or imusual. It was nearly done,
and it looked and smelled good to eat.

It would have been obviously stupid to go to all
this trouble and then to taste too meticulously and with
too much experimental nervousness only tiny morsels.
I had cooked it as one would any other meat for my
regular evening dinner, and I proposed to make a meal
of it as one would of any other meat, with rice and a
bottle of wine. That seemed to be the way to do it.

I wanted to be absolutely sure of my impressions.

I sat down to it with my bottle of wine, a bowl of



rice, salt and pepper at hand. I had thought about
this and planned it for a long time, and now I was
going to do it. I was going to do it, furthermore — I
had promised and told myself — with a completely
casual, open, and objective mind. But I was soon to
discover that I had bluffed and deceived myself a little
in pretending so detached an attitude. It was with, or
rather after, the first mouthful that I discovered there
had been unconscious bravado in me, a small, bluff-
hidden, unconscious dread. For my first despicable
reaction — so strong that it took complete precedence
over any satisfaction or any fine points of gastronomic
shading — ^was simply a feeling of thankful and immense
relief. At any rate, it was perfectly good to eat ! At
any rate, it had no weird, startling, or unholy special
flavour. It was good to eat, and despite all the intelli-
gent, academic detachment with which I had thought
I was approaching the experience, my poor little
cowardly and prejudiced, subconscious real self sighed
with relief and patted itself on the back.

I took a good big swallow of wine, a helping of rice,
and thoughtfully ate half the steak. And as I ate I
knew with increasing conviction and certainty exactly
what it was like. It was like good, fully developed
veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely
like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever
tasted. It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal
that I think no person with a palate of ordinary,
normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal. It
was a mild, good meat, with no other sharply defined
or highly characteristic taste, such as, for instance, goat,



high game, and pork have. The steak was slightly
tougher than prime veal, a little stringy, but not too
tough or too stringy to be agreeably edible. The roast,
from which I cut and ate a central slice, was tender, and
in colour, texture, smell, as well as taste, strengthened
my certainty that of all the meats we habitually know
veal is the one meat to which this meat is accu-
rately comparable. As for any other special taste or
odour, of a sort which would be surprising and make
a person who had tasted it not knowing exclaim,
“What is this.^ ” it had absolutely none. And as for
the ‘ long pig ’ legend, repeated in a thousand stories
and recopied in a hundred books, it was totally, com-
pletely false. It gives me great comfort here to be able
to write thus categorically. A small helping of the
stew might likewise have been veal stew, but the over-
abundance of red pepper was such that it conveyed
no fine shade of flavour to a white palate ; so I was
glad I had tried it first in the simpler ways.

If I had begun, despite my objective intentions,
with a certain unconscious trepidation, I finished well
enough, able after the first sensation of relief had passed
to consider the meat as meat, and to be absolutely sure
of the correctness of my impressions. And I felt a
great satisfaction in having learned the empiric truth
on a subject concerning which far too many books
and pieces have been written and rewritten, filled with
almost nothing but speculation, hearsay, legend, and
hot air. A sense of pride also in having carried some-
thing through to its finish. And a long-standing
personal curiosity satisfied at last.


Part Three


T he Moro Naba, King of all the Mossi, the
one great black potentate still ruling in West
Central Africa, whom we had detoured some
hundred miles to see, having said good-bye to our
friends on the Ivory Coast and now motor-trucking
up toward Timbuctoo, sat on his throne in robes of
purple and gold at Ouagadougou, in the High Volta,
and was politely bored.

Katie and I sat on two small wooden chairs placed
facing the throne about ten feet back from it, with our
eyes on a level with his enormous stomach, and were
also beginning to be politely bored.

So finally, to give the interview some point, if only
that of being thrown out of the palace, I asked as
innocently as possible, “ Is it true, your Majesty, what
they say, that if you ever look upon the face of your
cousin, the Yatanga Naba, one of you will die before
the coming of the new moon? ”

He grunted, startled, astonished rather than angry,
leaned forward, and demanded, “ Who told you that ? ”
From this point on the audience was not boring.
The trouble had been that the French Governor who
had arranged it had instructed us too carefully how to
comport ourselves, what compliments to offer, what
questions were polite and safe. So I had been saying
how honoured we were to be there, or something just




as absurd, and up to now the increasing mutual
boredom had been relieved only by the fact that every
time the king replied how honoured he was that we
should be there, or something even more absurd, his
thirty male concubines, who lay or crouched round the
foot of his throne in lascivious motion-picture attitudes,
naked and covered with bracelets and jewels like
women, would snap their fingers in unison, strike up
their lutes, shiver, buzz cooingly like wounded doves for
an instant, and then resume their sculptural silence.

It was the same when the king broke wind, which
he did rather loudly and frequently. The Moro Naba
rules in a direct dynastic line from the early sixteenth
century, and dynastic kings enjoy social prerogatives
denied to upstart presidents and Mussolini. For that
matter, these rumbling interruptions were no more
empty than the words we had been speaking. If I
could have replied at will in kind the audience would
have been perfect. It was only the talk which had been
boring. What we were seeing would have caused the
average Hollywood director to commit suicide.

The Moro Naba, black as ink, with heavy tattooed
jowls and almost as wide at the girth as he was tall, sat
among his concubmes cloaked in robes of purple velvet
elaborately embroidered in gold, with velvet boots,
also gold-embroidered, and a gold-encrusted skull-cap.
He lived in luxury on generous French appointments,
in this Moorish-looking palace on the edge of Ouaga-
dougou, finer than the Governor’s, and was allowed to
keep all the gilded and savage state of the Moro Nabas
who had ruled before him — on condition, naturally,



that he would ‘ co-operate ’ with his French advisers
in matters which were economic or political. The most
extraordinar}* of these traditional survivals was the male
harem posturing there, flung round on the throne’s
platform, at his feet. It is the only harem of its special
kind, I think, which exists openly anywhere in the
world to-day. They were black youths ranging in age
from about sixteen to twenty-one, whose hair, allowed
to grow long, was arranged fantastically in female
fashion, whose eyes w’ere painted, whose gestures were
effeminate, and who conducted themselves exactly as
would the slaves of a female seraglio. From time to
time, with hand or cheek, they would fawn against the
feet of the Moro Naba, looking impudently with their
made-up eyes at Katie and me the while. Some of them
were rather beautiful in their perverse, hermaphroditic

Even in the heart of Africa, or perhaps because it
was in Africa, this harem seemed a strange anomaly,
for homosexuality is extremely rare among primitive
Negroes, and the Mossi were a savage, primitive,
Fetish-worshipping warrior people, pure-blood black.
But there was a special explanation for it. In surround-
ing himself with boys the Moro Naba was following an
hereditary and obligatory tradition of the Mossi kings,
independent perhaps of any original natural personal
inclination, for he also had wives and begot children
by them as his forbears necessarily had likewise done.

The tradition of this custom in the royal family dates
from the early seventeenth century, when one of the
great warrior Moro Nabas was gone six months to the



wars against the Moslems, who had come down from
the north, in a rapidly moving cavalry campaign,
where neither wife nor woman could follow. He had,
however, among his personal attendants a devoted
young boy slave who was his body-servant. This boy
cooked for him, helped him dress, mended his clothes
— in fact, performed every domestic service that women
had performed for him at home. So that one day the
Moro Naba said to himself, “He already does every-
thing for me that a woman can, except one thing — why
not that also ? ” And, according to the history, which
involved a triumphal campaign, every succeeding Moro
Naba, in unbroken royal line from that time on, has
had youths in his harem.

There was another curious custom which dated from
those martial days of Mossi glory. The only time the
present Moro Naba ever went actually to war was in
1914, when he raised and led four thousand mounted
Mossi volunteers for African duty under French colours
— but every morning toward eight o’clock, every day
in the year, now as in the old days, the Moro Naba
must rush out on the terrace of his palace shouting,
“ Bring me my horse ! ” as Porgy shouts in the theatre,
“ Bring me my goat ! ”

Amid tumult and shouting the war-horse is brought,
magnificently caparisoned, and the Moro Naba, who
weighs nigh three hundred pounds, demands a ladder
in order to mount it and ride out to war and slaughter.
At this moment his ministers rush about him to dis-
suade him. He berates them for their cowardice, but
finally, unlike Porgy, allows himself to be persuaded



to start only on the morrow. He re-enters the palace
exhausted, still berating his cowardly ministers, and if
there are no audiences solaces himself with vermuth,
his favourite mild intoxicant. I am told that he can
drink twelve bottles at a sitting without wobbling or
losing his royal dignity. Gossip in Ouagadougou says
that the Moro Naba is mildly drunk all the time, like
the squire in Tom Jones, and has been so without inter-
ruption for the past twenty years, that he has become
lazy, fat, and spoiled, a puppet sunken in debauchery.

At the beginning of our audience he had seemed,
indeed, a bit vague and lethargic, but when I fired the
innocently indiscreet and point-blank question about
his cousin, the Yatanga Naba, he awoke with a grunt
and displayed what seemed to me a suspiciously alert
intelligence. The Yatanga Naba was by way of being
a bit of a thorn in the flesh of the Moro Naba. While
the Moro was king of all the Mossi, the Yatanga was
a sort of Pope, who lived in another palace on equally
generous French appointments, in Ouiagouia, not very
far away, and who exercised also temporal powers in a
limited district. The Mossi themselves say that, while
the Mori is legitimately king, the old Yatanga possesses,
hidden somewhere in his palace, the ancient Fetish of
the Mossi tribes, and that through possessing it he
remains the spiritual leader of the kingdom. The
superstition, or whatever it might be, that if the two
ever looked on each other’s faces one of them would
die was a general Mossi belief that I had picked up in
the Yatanga’s territory.

So when the Moro now grunted, “Who told you



that? Why do you ask me that? ” I replied truthfully
that it was a thing said by all the Mossi, that if I under-
stood correctly it seemed to be a matter of magic
rather than of politics or plotting, and that since I was
interested in matters concerning magic, and totally
innocent of any purpose or knowledge that touched
political or Government affairs, I had ventured to ask
him about it.

He said, “ But who exactly told you ? Did anybody
pay you to ask me? ”

I said, “ On my word of honour, no. And if asking
you was wrong I will forget that I have asked it. I
asked the Yatanga, you know. . . .”

“ So you saw the Yatanga? ” he demanded sus-
piciously. “ You have been at Ouiagouia? You asked
him that? What did he say? ”

“He said respectfully, your Majesty, that he had
never looked upon your face, and that he surely never
would look upon it, and that therefore he would never
know whether it was true or not, and consequently
couldn’t tell me.”

I don’t know what answer the Moro might have
been expecting, but at this his suspicious face gradually
relaxed, he broke into a guffaw of unroyal Negro
laughter, and said, “ Bring your chair a little closer.”

He began by asking me all sorts of questions about
the Yatanga Naba, boastful, little-boy questions — ^what
sort of palace he lived in, and whether it wasn’t true
that it was much less splendid than his own, how many
ministers he had, what his horse was like, whether he
used a ladder to get on it, what sort of robes he wore.



I answered as honestly and with as much detail
as I could, but watching myself carefully not to say
anything that would offend the Moro’s vanity, for as
a matter of fact the Yatanga in his different way had
impressed me as being more of a man than the Moro.
The Yatanga, whom I had visited hurriedly, but less
formally, with Monsieur Courtot, the French adminis-
trator at Ouiagouia, was a giant who topped my six feet
by a full head in height, in a bright red cap and pure
white robes, a man of bearded and dignified visage,
and who, whereas the Moro in his gold and purple
wore no savage tribal amulets, had round his neck an
amulet of lion claws, a number of ancient leather
sorcerer’s bags, and on his fingers thick, enormous
silver rings that must have weighed at least half a
pound each. He was a giant who could wear them.
Among the lion claws and tribal grigris which adorned
his breast the red ribbon and enamelled cross of
the Legion of Honour seemed gratuitous and almost

The Yatanga’s palace, in the open courtyard of which
he had received us, was a big mud structure, in truth
not nearly so fine as the Moro’s, but the phallic cones
which topped its fagade were streaked with the dry
blood of beasts recently sacrificed, and instead of an
androgyne harem he was surrounded by shaven-headed
ministers, also white-robed, who looked like Tibetan
priests., The Yatanga, Courtot told me, was an enor-
mous drinker, like the king his cousin, but the actual
impression I had of him was that of being received by
the high-priest of a monastery with mysteries within



its walls which neither I nor Monsieur Courtot would
ever penetrate.

I told the Moro all I could of this, in mitigated form,
of how his cousin sat on a big leather cushion instead of
a throne, wore no gold embroidery, but seemed occupied
with spiritual rather than temporal affairs, and agreed
that the palace could in no way be compared to his
own magnificent edifice. I added that the Yatanga’s
only music was a single one-stringed instrument and a
man who went before him beating a drum. In short,
I gave him all the intimate details I could, but took
care contemptibly to twist them, so that they would
flatter the Moro. When the audience ended he thanked
us and said he was glad we had come.

During our whole visit, and including all this latter
talk, at each pause after a question of the Moro’s — and
before I was supposed to reply — the dove-like reclining
youths snapped their fingers, twanged their lutes,
moaned, and writhed like dying birds or female cats
in heat. Katie, who has been to Harlem drags and
every dive in the Rue de Lappe — as who has not ? — ^was
for once absolutely amazed. We agreed that it was well
worth having turned aside a hundred miles to see.


W ITH two vague black boys, one to guide us
and one to beat the donkeys, we seemed to
be lost in an orchard of thorn-trees, planted
in the sand and inhabited exclusively by howling
jackals. It was about ten o’clock on a black, dinner-
less Christmas night, and somewhere, probably only a
couple of hundred yards away, was Timbuctoo.

Yao, alias “ the Colonel,” my usually resourceful
chauffeur, who in most emergencies took command of
us and everything, knew all about cars and the forest,
but nothing about deserts and donkeys. He looked
upon both with disfavour, and refused even to offer
advice. He was sore because we had left the truck at
Mopti, sore because he had caught lice on the river-
boat, and sorest of all because I had refused to let him
shoot a camel. Katie was sore for reasons of her own,
and we were all sore because we were hungry.

Our guides, village boys from the Niger river-
landing which we had left only that same afternoon,
were afraid to go on in the darkness for fear we might
leave Timbuctoo too far on the right or left and go
wandering out into the real Sahara. They were all
for our waiting ignominiously and supperless until the

A bored French corporal in slippers and dirty flannel
pyjamas, with moustaches like a walrus and an American



farm-lantern, came and rescued us. He had heard our
argiiments and the braying of our miserable beasts.
We were as close as that, and felt very foolish. He led
us over a sand-dune, skirting dark low walls which
had looked to us like nothing but further sand-dunes,
to an enormous, dark, rectangular building, which
might have been an abandoned barracks or palace. It
was the ancient caravanserai — on the outskirts of the
dead-black city, in which not a single light was showing
anywhere — ^with empty rooms to house a hundred
guests. Its sole caretaker, an old black Mohammedan
named Boubekar, was aroused with difficulty, grum-
bling, rubbing his sleepy eyes, but once awake, and
seeing that Katie was tired, he turned fatherly, kicked
his yapping dog, found candles, led us through corridors
swarming with bats to a vast clay-walled chamber, also
bat-infested, but otherwise clean, in which there were
beds and a table. In a few minutes he returned with
bread and milk and a chicken ; so we had a sort of
belated Christmas dinner after all, and flung ourselves
on the bed and went to sleep without undressing. . . .

We awoke late next morning, to look out from our
window on what remained of Timbuctoo the mys-
terious, capital of a once great Negro empire, sprawling
there over the sand-dunes, jximbled walls of sun-baked
clay, yellow and seemingly desolate in the glaring

Our caravanserai, dating from the days when no
wayfaring stranger could enter the city after dark, was
isolated, set back a good two hundred yards from the
agglomeration before us, so that our view had the ad-



vantage of perspective. It seemed to be a much bigger
place than accounts of recent travellers had led us to
expect, for writers generally in recent years have fallen
somewhat into the habit of enlarging on the ancient
glories of the once great caravan metropolis, and of
describing what remains to-day, perhaps for literary
contrast’s sake, as desolate and disappointing.

It looked indeed desolate, almost forbidding in the
harsh morning glare, for here and there clay roofs had
fallen in, clay walls crumbled, and there were no signs
of animation ; but what remained architecturally seemed
a compact, big city, many thousands of flat-roofed
houses, crowded together, heavy-walled, most of them
one-storeyed, with roof terraces, but many of them two
storeys and some of them even three storeys high.

In our foreground at the left, on the old city’s edge,
was a French fort, also of clay, and a small parade-
ground, round which were pink-washed buildings which
would doubtless be Government houses, for the entire
administration at Timbuctoo was military. As the
caravanserai in which we lodged belonged to the ad-
ministration I sent Boubekar across to the Government
house after breakfast with a card, presenting our thanks
for shelter, etc., to the adjutant in charge, or whatever
he might find there. An orderly came presently, and
escorted me to the office of the Commandant, a spruce,
clean-shaven, easy-mannered Parisian, seated at a big
flat-topped desk, wearing a civilian sports shirt, flannel
trousers, and sandals. His name was Fourre, his
family lived in an old house in the Rue de Renne, near
the Luxembourg Gardens, and he seemed a suave and



charming gentleman, as he indeed turned out to be;
but I had some slight difficulty in getting my attention
focused, for on entering the door of the office I had
observed nailed to it conspicuously a pair of human
ears which had evidently been quite recently removed
from the head of their owner. Since the ears were
obviously nailed there to be seen by all, like an office
sign or a letter-box, I mentioned them. Colonel Fourr^
said they belonged, or had belonged until the last
week, to a particularly unregenerate Tuareg bandit chief,
who had been robbing and murdering people on the
caravan route from Araouan, making trouble for a long
time, boasting that he could never be caught, and
inciting others to make trouble. To have killed him
would have left him a hero in the eyes of his followers ;
so they had caught him .and cut off his ears — a lesson
which, the Colonel sententiously remarked, he and all
his tribesmen would remember longer than if they had
hanged him. Most of the Tuaregs round Timbuctoo,
he said, naturally a wicked and troublesome lot, had
been gradually tamed, and now cultivated their flocks
like any other nomads, coming and going freely in the
city, trading in the markets and bazaars. There was
still a great deal of general trading, he said, despite
the fact that the immense caravans of former years no
longer came. The average caravan before the War
often arrived with as many as 20,000 camels. There
was nothing like that any more, but caravans of what
he called ‘ average size ’ still arrived from time to time.
He looked for his notes on the last one. It had been a
caravan of 2534 camels from Araouan, bringing 10,356



bars of salt, weighing sixty kilogrammes (about 130
pounds) each.

The Commandant was amiably disposed, and ap-
parently not busy for the moment ; so I asked him a
number of other questions. It had occurred to me that
since Timbuctoo remains in poetry and romance —
despite the conquest of the Sahara by motor-cars and
aeroplanes — one of the few far, remote dream-cities of
the world, like Bagdad of old and Samarkand the
Golden, it might be interesting to bring back some
specific facts about it in addition to personal comments
and impressions.

He averaged the present population of Timbuctoo
at 85,000, of which, he said, only about 15,000 were
permanent hereditary householders, lifelong Negro
Moslem residents who have owned the old city from
generation to generation. The remaining population,
he said, might be designated by the paradoxical term of
‘ resident nomad,’ since they were a floating mixture
of all the North African races, both Negro and Arab,
who came to the metropolis, which linked the desert and
the sown, to remain buying and selling or plying their
trades for a month, or a season, or a year, or five years,
either renting houses in the city proper or building
reed wigwam settlements like gipsies in its suburbs.
The average rent in Timbuctoo was the equivalent of
fivepence per month for a large unfurnished room
and half a crown per month for an entire house. For
eight shillings a month one could rent a palace, with
stables, courts, and terraces.

I asked how many white European residents there



were, and of what nationalities. He counted them on
his fingers, and here is the little table I made out with
his help :

White Male Population of Timbuctoo
Military and administrative, including one school-

teacher and one doctor (French) . . 79

French shopkeepers or traders . . .7

Syrian shopkeepers or traders . . .2

Greek shopkeepers or traders . . .1

Total white males . . . .89

White Female Population of Timbuctoo

Sergeant’s wife …. .1

French shopkeeper’s wife . . . . i

. Doctor’s wife ….. i
School-teacher’s wife … .1

Total white females . . . .4

I wondered if there was another city in the world
to-day of nearly 100,000 population, however remote,
which hadn’t a single American, English, or German
resident in it — no ‘ Nordics.’ And not one single
Christian prostitute or missionary.

The only American resident Commandant Fourre
could recall having heard of, even before his time, was
Leland Hall, who had lived a year there modestly, in
native style, and had written a charming book, a copy
of which he had in the post’s library.

As we were looking over these figures I had jotted
down he. said, “Mo» T)ieu ! I had forgotten the post-
mistress ! That explains itself, because she’s always



there.” I said, “ That’s all right, sir. Statistical tables
are always wrong.”

He said, “ Yes, but I’ve also left out our leading
citizen, the famous Pere Yakouba, who was here before
some of us were born and will still be here when most
of us are gone away or dead. He’s a great old man.
You will be wanting to meet him first of ail.”

Indeed I was wanting to meet him, for it isn’t often,
whether in Timbuctoo, Teheran, or Jersey City, that
one may meet a man who has become a mysterious
world-wide legend — and this was the Pere Yakouba
who went into Africa a long generation ago as a young
missionary monk of the Augustinian Pdres Blancs (the
White Fathers), forsook his robes and the priesthood
to go magnificently and completely ‘ native,’ adopt the
native ways of living, marry a black woman, beget pro-
geny as fabulous and wide-flung as the children of Noah
— and, contrary to all so-called ‘ moral probability,’
to become, instead of the ridiculous renegade out-
cast of fiction, the greatest official political adviser
and authority on native languages in the entire history
of Franco-African colonization. Now an old man, he
still lived with the black wife of his youth in the old
Negro city, but Governors, generals, and high com-
missioners came seeking his advice and wisdom from
as far as Dakar, on the coast, and the interior borders
of Lake Tchad.

A thousand mysterious tales had been told and
written of his life, and I imagined him, as one so often
does in the case of such legendary figures, a mysterious,
eccentric patriarch who might have stepped out of the



less respectable pages of the Old Testament — a man
perhaps something like Moses, who also married an
African Negress, and had a dreadful quarrel with his
family and snobbish sister Miriam. The Bible says
that the Lord God of Hosts approved the union, but
the chapter which recounts it is seldom read or preached
from in Anglo-Saxon churches.

At any rate, I stood somewhat in holy awe of Pfere
Yakouba. I asked Commandant Fourre how and at
what hour it was best to approach him. He said that
morning was the best time, that just now I would
probably find him in Daviot’s grocery-shop, opposite the
post-office, and that if I didn’t I could pick up a boy
there who would take me to his house in the old city.

I thanked the Conxmandant, took my leave, and
wandered across the parade-ground, peeping in at the
post-office for a look at the postmistress who was
“ always there,” and there she was, a plump, motherly
young woman, at the stamp window. There was a big
sign which said in French, Arabic, Tuareg, and various
dialects :


A French corporal and several white-robed black men
were posting letters, or asking for them, and not spitting
on the walls, which were whitewashed.

The grocery-shop, with its shelves of cotton prints,
novelties, tinned goods, hardware, and tinware sus-
pended from the ceiling, hoes, shovels, and iron pots,
resembled the general store of a ranch crossroads in
Wyoming, except that in place of the stove, apple-barrel,



and upturned biscuit-boxes there was a central table
with chairs, for gossip and refreshment. Robed Negro
clerks lolled behind the counters, but no trade was
going on, and the four whites who sat there talking
and drinking bottled lemonade pushed me a glass and
a chair casually, as cowboys do, without introductions,
as if I had been dropping in every morning at that hour
for the past ten years. There was a round-headed,
hospitable little man, who seemed to be Daviot the
proprietor, a sergeant in shirt-sleeves from the fort, a
cropped-bearded young civilian who looked like Arthur
Livingston or an English archaeologist, but turned out
to be just an extraordinarily nice young Frenchman,
who subsequently took a fancy to Katie, and a robust,
red-cheeked old man in raw-hide sandals, flowing Arab
trousers, an old khaki coat, stocky and powerful, with
twinkling blue eyes and a great white beard, a benevo-
lent patriarchal bull disguised as Santa Claus — in short,
the legendary Pere Yakouba in flesh and blood.

“ So you are from New York,” he said, interrupting
my timid self-introduction. “ Then you must know
my friend G. Bong, that crazy one who came here on
a camel.”

“Bong? G. Bong?” I asked, embarrassed. New
York is a large place, and I had been away from it for
quite a long time. . . . Again the P^re Yakouba inter-
rupted. “ But yes, you must know him, G. Bong, the
one-eyed strong one with curly hair who laughs and
writes for all the journals.”

So that was it? The PSre Yakouba, for all his
prodigious scholarship, pronounced American names
N 193


as they do on the boulevards. Pair-shang — Veal-song —
G. Bong — alors^ Floyd Gibbons. Yes, I knew him. I
had seen him last with Spike Hunt at Red Lewis’s.
Red had preached a sermon, and we had sung Methodist

“ Ah,” said Pere Yakouba, “ he didn’t tell me that
he was religious. He came knocking at my door one
night at nine o’clock, and though I was asleep I liked
his face with the patch on it, and I said, ‘ How nice it
is that you have dropped in just at our cocktail hour in
Timbuctoo ! ’ and I brought out all the bottles, but
set out only one glass, and said, ‘ Of course, I mustn’t
ask you to join me in the drinking because you are an
American and a dry.’ And he said, ‘ Hell ! I’m doubly
dry, because I have just come across the Sahara.’ He
had come, that crazy one, all the way from Morocco
on a camel, and not with any caravan, mind you, and
he said he was going to Dahomey on a bicycle. Are
you all crazy, you Americans, or just those of you
who write and travel? By what strange means of
locomotion, for instance, have you arrived? ”

I confessed that I had arrived actually on a donkey,
but only from the river-landing, having come unadven-
turously up from the south on the Niger, so that it
wasn’t worth talking about.

“ I suppose you will want to see my household too,”
he said. “Everybody does who comes here. When
we were inundated with the first CitroSn convoys I
painted a sign and put it up over my door :

“ OUI, c’esT ICI. entree, 2 FRANCS. JO CENTIMES



TERRASSE, (Ycs, Pcrc Yakouba lives here. Admission
sixpence. Threepence extra to see the animal at large
on the roof.)

“ But I had to take it down,” he continued. “ The
Commandant insisted that it wasn’t dignified; so
when you and Madame come the admission will be free.
Of course, you are a dry like G. Bong, even though
you didn’t arrive on a camel. So come both of you this
afternoon at the hour for the aperitifs a little before
sunset. Pick up a boy to guide you, for otherwise
you’ll never find the house. But no, come to the shop
here with your wife at five o’clock — that will be simpler
— and I’ll meet you and we’ll take a little walk first in
the town.”

So on the afternoon of our first day it was the Pere
Yakouba himself who led us into the old mysterious
city, padding through the streets of sand. Some were
narrow and some were wide, but all wound in a crazy
fashion, in a labyrinth of clay-built houses and palaces,
strong, rectangular like forts, all flat-roofed, with ter-
races, their pylon-buttressed facades, usually without
windows, sloping slightly backward, like Egyptian
tombs. The doors were tomb-like, of heavy timber,
sometimes brass-studded, sometimes burned or painted
in arabesques. The rare small windows were of latticed
wood. Open doorways of humbler houses were some-
times screened with mats or with curtains made of hide.
Immediately on quitting the grocery-shop and parade-
ground we had left behind everything modern or
European. There are no glass windows in Timbuctoo,
nor any electric lights or gas, nor any hotels or European



houses, nor any street-names or numbers, nor traffic
policemen, nor cinemas, nor motor-cars, nor advertising
signs of any sort, even in Arabic.

Cars can come to Timbuctoo across the desert, but
the only means of locomotion in its actual streets is on
donkey-back, on horseback or camel-back, or afoot —
as we were going. There was little traffic of any sort in
the streets through which we now were winding, occa-
sional robed figures afoot or on donkeys, mostly black
men and women, all barefooted, the women with
enormous earrings of amber and gold, and occasionally
we passed desert nomads of paler face.

We saw the principal mosque — there are three of
them, all more or less alike — a rambling, shabby walled
enclosure, also of clay and without domes, with a squat
pyramid-like minaret, queerly decorated with wooden
spikes stuck in the day, like a porcupine’s quills, and
surmounted by a gleaming ostrich egg.

Finally we emerged into the principal market-place,
the great bazaar on the northern edge of the city, and
here for the first time found crowds and animation.
There were long galleries with arched open booths in
which the merchants and traders sat, and others who
squatted with their wares spread out in the sand. The
wares themselves were disappointing, merely foodstuff
and the commonplace objects of daily utility. There
were no goldsmiths’ or silversmiths’ booths, no vendors
of fine rugs or curios such as lend colour to the great
bazaars of Stamboul and Damascus, no “ turbaned mer-
chants of the East ” with rare incense, amber, jewels,
or ivory. P^:re Yakouba explained that in Timbuctoo



the merchants of precious things had neither booths in
the bazaar nor shops anj^where, but trafficked privately,
either by appointment in their own houses or, more
often, bringing their wares to the home of the prospec-
tive buyer. This custom had continued traditionally
from the days, less than thirty years past, when the
Tuaregs used to raid the city so frequently that no man
dared to display real wealth in public.

But the market with its booths and crowds was now
beginning to be flooded by a strange sunset-glow that
invested even the most common things with a queer,
luminous, almost unearthly glory. Faces and robed men
and women moving in it became glorified, apocalyptic,
like dream-figures in Jerusalem the Blest.

We had had a first experience of this unreal
sunset-glow approaching Timbuctoo late on Christmas
afternoon, when we had come to a little river, deep,
swift-flowing through the sand, with thorn-trees on its
banks, which our pack-donkeys had to swim.

There had been no one at the ford when we arrived
there, but a leaky old canoe of hides stretched on
wooden ribs lay opportune on the near bank for our
crossing. This same unnatural glow had filled the
atmosphere, shimmering on the crystal waves and
golden sand. There had been no soul at the river ford,
but when we reached its farther bank a silent black
man, naked to the waist and skirted, was standing
there, who seemed unreal as the sunset, for a great
two-handed battle-sword, Crusader-hilted, hung at his
side, and he was holding on a double leash two young
gazelles, their necks encircled with wide bright red-



leather collars. He was as unreal as a dream in the
imreal light, and I had an uncanny feeling that he and
the two human-eyed gazelles were going to vanish in
thin air, when three tall women appeared, who seemed
also of another world, for they were robed in flowing
black, like mourners in an ancient tragedy of kings,
and their faces were the colour of pale ivory, and all
three were beautiful, but only one was yoimg, and she
was, so help me God ! the most beautiful woman I had
ever seen on earth except the dead Joan Martindale.

These things we had seen like a Biblical vision, in sun-
set at the river ford, approaching Timbuctoo. Katie
had seen them as I saw them, and as we rode on in
the quick-falling darkness, talking very quietly of what
we had seen, we asked oixrselves if it woiild not be
better to turn our little caravan about and never enter
the mysterious city.

It is not always wise to follow dreams. Twice in our
lives we had set out for Samarkand, and each time we
had failed, but kept our dreams. Bagdad, which we
had reached, had disappointed us both miserably, and
we were wondering if Timbuctoo would be the same
— ^if it could contain anything that would not efface this
golden vision at the ford and leave shabby disappoint-
ment in its stead. But we had come some thousand
miles by motor-truck up from the Ivory Coast, across
the High Volta and part of the Sudan, then some
himdred miles by boat up the Niger, and finally this
last few miles on donkeys from Khabara, and it seemed
a little bit late to be turning back because we had seen a
vision. …



And we had done well to continue on, for now with
Pere Yakouba, who had wisely chosen the same sunset
hour to lead us into the old city, the same mysterious
light had come again — and other women walked in
groups, with long black robes and faces of pale ivory,
cameo-cut; and there were other giants, half naked,
black, with great Crusaders’ swords, and again they
seemed unearthly. P^re Yakouba told us that these
special women, notoriously beautiful as a race, and con-
trasting with the negroids as much in feature as pallor,
were Peuhls, a people believed to be the scattered
descendants of the ancient Egypt of the Pharaohs ; that
the black giants with the swords were Bellah slaves
about the business of their Tuareg masters. There
were Tuaregs also in the market, with their chins and
mouths veiled, but their upper faces free, reddish-
skinned like American Indians, with wicked noses and
cruel eyes.

Contrasting with all these, and with the predomi-
nating naive, coarser, kindly faces of the blacks, two
beautiful young Arabs passed, young men, white-
robed, with long hair flowing on their shoulders.
Their arms were entwined, and they walked whisper-
ing alone in the crowd, like Christ and the beloved
disciple John at twilight by the Sea of Galilee. They
walked in mystery and beauty, with a troubled light
in their soft eyes. Judas watched them, jealous, with
a little black goatee beard, and a leather bag at his
waist. And Simon Peter passed with his baskets and

Close by otir own side stood one older and more



patriarchal than them all. Was it Ezekiel, that old
prophet, conjuring these visions for us? Or was it
Pere Yakouba changing again into a legendary figure,
although he had invited us for cocktails ?

We had forgotten all about the visit and the cocktails.
I think he had forgotten too. I tried to tell him of
the tricks the changing magic light had been playing
on a susceptible, newly arrived stranger. T h i s queer
glow in the atmosphere of Timbuctoo, he said, with its
amazing range of luminosity and colour, was due, he
thought, to the fact that the city, while set on the edge
of the great desert, was yet skirted on its western side
by wide lagoons and backwater creeks which washed
southward into the near immense swamps and lakes of
the Niger. Later we watched and studied the changing
lights of dawn and sunset, sometimes from P^re
Yakouba’s roof in the old city, sometimes from the
terrace of our own caravanserai. If one arises very
early to go upon the roof under the stars there comes
a faint rose glow before the dawn. It fades, for it is
the false dawn of which Omar Khayydm sang, and is
succeeded by a deathly pale white greyness on the city
walls, like the half-light of the Elysian Fields, which
is followed by no dawn for ever. One shivers, waiting,
for the nights are cold in Timbuctoo, dogs bark, the
pigeons and muezzins call, and the sun rises in its fiery
heat. Toward sunset in the low, slanting rays there is
no heat or fire, but a long hour of soft, luminous golden
glory, after which the walls of the city turn lavender
and deepest glowing purple.

It is a little late for cocktails now,” said Pere


Yakouba as he led us back through the darkening maze
of streets. “ Boubekar will have your dinner waiting,
and will come thinking you are lost. Everybody gets
lost after dark in Timbuctoo. Come both of you



1 HAVE been meaning to mend this stairway for
twenty years,” said Pere Yakouba, “but I have
never dared to undertake it. If I once begin doing
things like that I’ll mend the roof, put in glass windows,
buy a bathtub and a bed, and die in one of them, as I
should well deserve, of rheumatism. The human mind
is perhaps the only thing that doesn’t risk being spoiled
by improvement, and even that has its risks.”

P^re Yakouba’s house, with this dark earthen stair-
way, was a robbers’ cave, and yet a palace, large and two-
storeyed, with its heavy walls of clay, with unlighted
passages, ladders, mysterious inner courtyards where
donkeys might be stabled and Ali Baba’s jars of oil
concealed. Transported to Central Park or Coney Island
children would go mad about it. Grown-ups dependent
on steam heat, electric buttons, and modern plumbing
might have wondered how even the donkeys could
inhabit such a place in comfort, but happy people lived
in it, which is not always true of palaces on Long
Island and in Cincinnati.

In the lower court we had met Salama,^the cherished
wife of P^re Yakouba’s youth, now a big motherly black
woman radiating competence and goodness, surrounded
by female children and grandchildren, including a
daughter suckling a new-born baby, other grown
daughters sewing, while their naked brats played on



the earthen floor. Still other married children, with
children of their own who might never see the patriarchal
hearth in Timbuctoo, were scattered like the tribes of
Israel — a daughter married to a Scottish engineer in
Australia, another teaching in a school in Madagascar,
various sons in the service of the French-African
Government, another at the University of Paris, others
engaged in commerce or professions in Europe.
Salama herself, married to Pere Yakouba in girlhood by
both the Christian and the Moslem rites, had given him
thirty sons and daughters. And here she sat, the great
black mother, honoured by her children, mistress of the
household, robed like a fat old empress, with amber
balls set in silver, big as walnuts, dangling from her
ears, and golden anklets on her fat bare feet.

Life downstairs where Salama ruled went on in the
purely classic way, untouched by Europe or by the
frantic advertisements in the Saturday Evening Post —
mats and rugs on the earthen floor, aged slaves potter-
ing, cooking in the open courtyard, where small beasts
were stabled.

Upstairs on the second floor life was also classic,
for most of it was lived on the terrace roof, but it was
classic in a double sense, for opening on to the terrace
was Pere Yakouba’s study and library, with chairs,
tables, piperacks, and books, the lair of an old scholar,
into which he had led us up by an earthen staircase
which hadn’t been repaired for twenty years, but which
contained volumes that would have been the despair of
people who had acquired their automatic culture as well
as their automatic ice-boxes by answering the frantic



advertisements. I had known that Pere Yakouba was
a leading authority on Arab literature and African
dialects — his speciality — but other shelves of old
thumbed books attested a prodigious groundwork
knowledge : Aristotle, Plato, and the Greeks were
there, in Greek ; the Latin poets and Church Fathers,
in their Latin ; the Old Testament in Hebrew and the
New in Greek ; German and Italian classics too, in
German and Italian — and in English, among great
older names. Huckleberry Finn^ Gulliver’s Travels, Uncle
Tom’s Cabin.) Robinson Crusoe.

On a small separate shelf were a dozen volumes,
published in Paris, which he himself had written, the
latest a technical work on the arts and industries of
Timbuctoo which he had illustrated with his own
sketches in pen and ink. I noticed that these books
were all signed “Dupuis-Yakouba,” and when he had
taken us out on the terrace and had produced an array
of bottles as formidable as his library, and we sat
drinking Berger and looking out over the roofs of the
city, I asked him about the double name.

“ Dupuis,” he said, “ is my family name, and I’ll
tell you how I got the name of Yakouba — ^and how I
didn’t like it. The vicar-general had taken out a nximber
of us raw young monklings, still unaccustomed to our
skirts, to introduce us to some Moslem dignitaries in
the north. I was among the youngest and least of them.
An old Cadi pointed to me and said, ‘Who is that
one ? ’ We were speaking Arabic, and the vicar-general,
who scarcely knew me, and who I am sure had never
given the slightest thought to the name under which I



should be ordained, replied, ‘ That is Pere Yakouba.’
You understand that Yakouba is Arabic for Jacob, and
is a name never given in Arabic to any except a Jew.

“When we got back to the monastery college I said,
‘ The Jews are God’s chosen people, and Jacob was a
great man, but since I happen to be born a French
Christian I don’t see why you want to make a Jewish
monk out of me.’ The vicar-general laughed and said,
‘The truth is I have no idea why that name popped
out of my mouth, but I called you Pere Yakouba and
Pere Yakouba you will be.’ So Pfere Yakouba I was,
and Pere Yakouba I have remained, despite the fact
that long ago I left the robes behind.”

It occurred to me, though I didn’t venture to say
so, that perhaps the vicar-general had chosen more
prophetically than he knew, for Jacob, as all pious
Bible students will recall, was a very great begetter.
With the co-operation of not only his two wives, the
sisters Leah and Rachel, but that of both their young
handmaidens as well, he begat most of the tribes of

And Pere Yakouba was no priest apostate who had
left the Church on account of doubts or doctrines, but
one who had left it honourably when he discovered
that he was a man first and a monk afterward, and if
he had become in turn as great a begetter as Jacob he
lived full of honours and still communed with God.

It occurred to me also, with no stress on this one
particular point, that Pere Yakouba, the whole of him,
as he sat there and I was beginning to know him, was
that rarest of all white phenomena, whether among the



advertisements. I had known that Pere Yakouba was
a leading authority on Arab literature and African
dialects — his speciality — but other shelves of old
thumbed books attested a prodigious groundwork
knowledge : Aristotle, Plato, and the Greeks were
there, in Greek ; the Latin poets and Church Fathers,
in their Latin ; the Old Testament in Hebrew and the
New in Greek ; German and Italian classics too, in
German and Italian — and in English, among great
older names. Huckleberry Finn^ Gulliver s Travels, Uncle
Tom’s Cabin, Robinson Crusoe.

On a small separate shelf were a dozen volumes,
published in Paris, which he himself had written, the
latest a technical work on the arts and industries of
Timbuctoo which he had illustrated with his own
sketches in pen and ink. I noticed that these books
were all signed “ Dupuis-Yakouba,” and when he had
taken us out on the terrace and had produced an array
of bottles as formidable as his library, and we sat
drinking Berger and looking out over the roofs of the
city, I asked him about the double name.

“Dupuis,” he said, “is my family name, and I’ll
tell you how I got the name of Yakouba — ^and how I
didn’t like it. The vicar-general had taken out a number
of us raw young monklings, still unaccustomed to our
skirts, to introduce us to some Moslem dignitaries in
the north. I was among the youngest and least of them.
An old Cadi pointed to me and said, ‘Who is that
one? ’ We were speaking Arabic, and the vicar-general,
who scarcely knew me, and who I am sure had never
given the slightest thought to the name under which I

204 ”


should be ordained, replied, ‘ That is Pere Yakouba.’
You understand that Yakouba is Arabic for Jacob, and
is a name never given in Arabic to any except a Jew.

“When we got back to the monastery college I said,
‘ The Jews are God’s chosen people, and Jacob was a
great man, but since I happen to be born a French
Christian I don’t see why you want to make a Jewish
monk out of me.’ The vicar-general laughed and said,

‘ The truth is I have no idea why that name popped
out of my mouth, but I called you Pere Yakouba and
Pere Yakouba you will be.’ So P^re Yakouba I was,
and Pere Yakouba I have remained, despite the fact
that long ago I left the robes behind.”

It occurred to me, though I didn’t venture to say
so, that perhaps the vicar-general had chosen more
prophetically than he knew, for Jacob, as all pious
Bible students will recall, was a very great begetter.
With the co-operation of not only his two wives, the
sisters Leah and Rachel, but that of both their young
handmaidens as well, he begat most of the tribes of

And Pere Yakouba was no priest apostate who had
left the Church on account of doubts or doctrines, but
one who had left it honourably when he discovered
that he was a man first and a monk afterward, and if
he had become in turn as great a begetter as Jacob he
lived full of honours and still communed with God.

It occurred to me also, with no stress on this one
particular point, that Pere Yakouba, the whole of him,
as he sat there and I was beginning to know him, was
that rarest of all white phenomena, whether among the



humble or the great— a happy man. His great kindness
— he was kind, it seemed, to every one, and was cer-
tainly being wonderfully kind to us — a kindness saved
from being maudlin by a sense of humour that was
sometimes whimsical and sometimes as boisterous as a
Rabelaisian bull, was perhaps one secret of his happi-
ness. “ Be good and you’ll be happy.” Lots of the silly
copy-book platitudes prove true if carried to extremes
deplored by teacher.

At any rate, there he was. And he told us, among
other things, that he was never going anywhere else.
Once in thirty years he had returned to Europe, to
Paris and his own native village, near Chiteau-Thierry,’
but had grown homesick for Timbuctoo and had cut
short his visit. Persuaded to undertake’ a second one,
he had gone a thousand miles down the Niger, thence
to the port of Dakar, put his baggage on the steamer
— and then fled back to Timbuctoo” without even
reclaiming the money for his ticket,*

Only in Timbuctoo was he at home, but here he was
completely so, and because he loved* it, and was kind
to us, we began to love it, and even to understand it,
if only ever so little, through him. On the afternoon
following our visit to his house he took me to call on
his old friend the Cadi Achmed Baba Ben Sidi Labas,
who, combining functions vaguely similar to those of
mayor and judge, was the chief Negro personage of the
city. He was a fat old man, very black and six feet tall,
tjirbaned and swathed in robes of flne white linen, his
breast covered with French medals. He spoke no
French, and had never seen Paris, but he was a Chevalier



of the Legion of ifonour and an officer of the Acad^mie
as well. He and P^re Yakouba — ^who never knew
exactly what medals he had or hadn’t received, and
never wore them — ^were like two old brothers. The
Cadi insisted on my sitting on the huge, low, rug-
covered divan, which was too much of an honour, seated
himself on a common three-legged stool, while Yakouba
squatted on the divan’s edge. Then, promptly and
rightly, they forgot all about me. Hac olim meminisse
jievahit. They were old men gossiping of the old great
days, and I was nothing. They became aware again
of my presence only when a servant brought in sweet
drinks and honey-cakes. Then Pere Yakouba told me
something of his old friend’s history, which touched
the final conquest by the French of Timbuctoo a
generation earlier, and in which he also had played his
rSle. Timbuctoo was then a free Moslem Negro city,
but completely at the mercy of the Tuaregs, who raided
and pillaged. These raids had become so frequent that
the rich Timbuctooans disguised themselves and lived
in the straw huts in the suburbs, while the Tuaregs
stabled their horses in the palaces. A Dervish had told
this Sidi Labas of a dream in which he had seen white
men come up the river with purifying fire, after which
the lion, and the sheep lived peacefully in Timbuctoo
together, Ben Sidi Labas went down the river and
helped to bring up the French. So they came not
conquering black Timbuctoo, but rather delivering it
from the Tuaregs. Ben Sidi Labas, now the Cadi and
God’s servant, had helped both the French and his
own black people, and had lived to reap rich rewards



and honours. If Pere Yakouba was Timbuctoo’s lead-
ing white citizen, the Cadi was undoubtedly its leading

The Immam of the mosque whom we next visited
— but who served only God, and had no medals for it —
took in sewing to eke out his livelihood. His house
was humble, and the mosque itself was shabby and
in disrepair, though worshippers still came, content as
desert people are to say their prayers on any worn-out
rug or mat. The richest house we visited, after the
Cadi’s palace, was that of the blacksmith, a skinny little
Arab with a scraggly beard, who, in addition to being
what we others call a blacksmith, was a worker in all
metals, including gold and silver. Katie had broken
a pair of horn-rimmed, or rather celluloid-rimmed,
reading-glasses, and in the whole of French West
Africa there is not a single optician. The blacksmith
mended them in an hour by drilling microscopic holes
through which he ran silver wire. There was no sign
on the blacksmith’s door, and the lower part of his
house was bare save for his tools in the interior court,
but when we ascended to the upper storey and the
terrace we found him sumptuously installed. He
brought out leather sacks and treasure-chests from
which he drew bracelets, rings, earrings, daggers,
amulets, Tuareg padlocks, necklaces, and what not,
mostly of his own fabrication, in silver, gold, and brass.
We bought some of them at prices that were reasonable,
but not cheap.

All native buying and selling, except that of common
objects in the bazaar and streets, and such as went on



in the European general shops, was thus carried on in
private, as Pere Yakouba had already explained to us.
The whole of Timbuctoo, he said, was a “ vast covered
market,” but no visitor would guess it by walking
through the streets. With the trades and industries it
was the same. No signs, no workshops, no industrial
quarters, no ateliers^ were visible anywhere.

“ People come,” said P^re Yakouba, “ and go away
saying we are a lazy lot who live in mud houses doing
nothing all day long. They reproach us with it, but
what a Paradise if it were only true ! Think of living
without ever having to work. In Timbuctoo, as else-
where, we must work for our living, but we work in
the interior courtyards of our own houses, and never
hang out signboards. We have carders and spinners and
weavers of cotton and wool, dyers and embroiderers,
tanners and cobblers and workers in fine leather, car-
penters, masons, potters, and basket-makers. During
the hours when Timbuctoo seems deserted and the
streets seem, as you said, like an Egyptian cemetery all
this is going on in the interior courtyards.”

During succeeding days he took us to see various
of these individual craftsmen, all working by hand and
with primitive or medieval tools. Sometimes we found
them loafing, even napping shamelessly, always un-
hurried, seeming well contented with their work, taking
a month if they chose to finish and polish and beautify
an object that could be made — less beautifully — by
machinery in a minute.

Thus Timbuctoo, which had seemed so mysterious and
desolate on our arrival, became under Pfere Yakouba’s


guidance a living city of living people. As we some-
times rambled with him in the early mornings and late
afternoons he began interpreting the various street-cries
of the women pedlars and encouraging us to taste their
wares. Everywhere from house to house women pass
in the morning with baskets of takula, the bread of
Timbuctooj which has been baked in dome-like clay
ovens, of leavened whole wheat, in the form of round
disks about six inches in diameter and an inch or more
thick. They cry in the dialect :

“ Kara ha ! NdaTerkoy ! Kara lyi alawa J ” (“Yellow
bread ! Ho, by God ! Yellow bread is the desire of all ! ”

The loaf costs two sous, the equivalent of about a
farthing, and is delicious when warm from the oven,
with melted butter or honey.

The women who sell furme, balls of bean flour
browned in boiling grease like fried potatoes, cry ;

“ Fume ! Ha ! Nda salaman. Gotnni go banda !
Ta ! ” (“ Bean balls ! Ha ! Peace and good health
follow after.”)

The pedlars of alfinta, little fried rice-cakes, do not
mention their wares by name. They cry simply :

“ Dyi-dyi dungo ! ” (“ They are hot and greasy ! ”)

Likewise do the women who sell me-korbo, doughnuts
dipped in honey, who cry :

“ Idye meyrayo ! ” (“ Hey, kids ! Come and get it ! ”)

There are also alkatyi, doughnuts in the form of the
figure 8, cooked in butter and sugared, whose sellers
cry, no matter what the season of the year :

“ Alkatyi ! Ha ! Me-Jerkoy oy ! ” (“ Doughnuts !

Eat ’em and break the vows of Ramadan.”)



Merchants who sell bonbons of coarse flour and
honey in which hashish is mixed cry honestly :

“ Har her dobu, idye kayne ollondi” (“ It is good for
strong men, but folly for children.”)

Toward sunset and through twilight, with these
and other pedlars crying and selling their small wares,
Timbuctoo reaches its greatest animation, but almost
immediately after night has fallen the entire city be-
comes a tomb. There are never any street-lights, and
usually by nine o’clock there is not a single light
burning anywhere. It was this that had made us seem
lost on the night of our arrival, with the city actually
under our noses. The same thing often happened, of
course always as now, in the dark of the moon, Pere
Yakouba told us, to people who had lived there for

We were talking on his roof as the darkness fell.
The young man who wasn’t Arthur Livingston said
it had happened to him once when he had gone hunt-
ing at night with three Negro guards of the garrison
who had been born in Timbuctoo, and who thought
they knew every stick and bush and hummock within
a radius of miles. Night hunting round Timbuctoo,
he explained, was engaged in with a tiny acetylene
lamp, like a bicycle-lamp, the reflector strapped to
the forehead, above the eyes, and the tube running
to a battery in the pocket. The rays attracted beasts,
and you saw just the glitter of their eyes without being
able to distinguish the bodies. It was rather sporting,
for you fired between the eyes, not knowing whether it
was a rabbit or a lion, and sometimes, though rarely



enough in recent years, it might turn out to be a lion.
Usually it was a jackal. At any rate, the young man
said, they had wandered five or six miles in the dark
as they had often done before, but this time got lost
on the way back, with their light used up, and couldn’t
find Timbuctoo. They were so completely lost that
they lay down to wait for morning, and when dawn
came they were on the edge of the Commandant’s
vegetable garden.

“ And not only that,” interrupted Pere Yakouba ;
‘‘ you can get lost here inside the town as easily. I will
wager that without a lantern, and maybe even with
one, you, for instance, can’t find your way back from
my house to the caravanserai after all the lights are

This seemed to me inconceivable. I had been back
and forth a number of times by now, though never in
darkness without a lantern, and I thought I knew the
streets, and even if I should miss a turning it seemed
that I ought to be able to guide my way out by the
stars. We argued about it, and finally wagered a bottle
of champagne, and it was agreed that we would all
four dine on Pere Yakouba’s roof the following evening,
that the young man would see Katie back to the
caravanserai with the lantern, and that I would try to
get back on my own.

With the stars to help me I was completely confident.
In daylight it took usually about a quarter of an hour,
not more. They teased me and said, “ Good-bye, we’ll
see you in the morning,” and P^e Yakouba oflFered me
a blanket to keep me warm, sleeping in the sand. We



waited the time for Katie to get back and put out the
lights in the caravanserai, as had been agreed. I
started confidently, took a wrong turning somewhere,
and was in narrow black passages between walls which
all looked perfectly alike, and which I had never seen
before. I gave up looking for houses or familiar
turnings, and wound my way by the stars, as nearly as
I could in the general direction of the parade-ground
and the caravanserai. But I was in a labyrinth, and
had to go at zigzag angles. At last I got out of the
maze into clear ^nd, and there was the desert, and
there, low-lying, dark, across a couple of hummocks,
loomed what I took to be the caravanserai. But it
seemed farther away than it ought to be, and when I
reached it it was only another big sand hummock.
I turned round and looked back. But where was
Timbuctoo ? Sand hummocks and black shadows every-
where, and all alike. The aggravating thing was that
it was not perfectly pitch-dark. I could see my hand
before my face, and see things vaguely at a distance, for
there was the desert starlight. But they looked all alike.
I managed, by reversing my star route, to get back to
the city’s outskirts, but the outskirts I reached were
not those I had left. I had started at nine o’clock for
a fifteen minutes’ walk. It was now past eleven, a
match showed me on my watch-dial, and I had learned
my lesson. There was no sense in going back into the
labyrinth, and still less sense in wandering off into the
desert and losing even Timbuctoo. I sat down against
a wall, and lighted a cigarette. The night was cold,
but the dawn was beautiful. . . .



The champagne was too sweet for my taste, but Pfere
Yakouba said it was excellent, and that if I wanted my
ren:a7iche I could try it again and that he would wager
a dozen bottles for encouragement — only he insisted
that I take a pillow and a blanket.


W E might have been in Timbuctoo for another
month — or until now — despite the bats in
the caravanserai, if Katie hadn’t somewhat
suddenly decided otherwise.

She decided, on what seemed to be the morning
after New Year’s Day, having plotted in the night
with Yao, that we were seeing too much of city life
and had better be starting back to the bush, where
I belonged.

She said, “ William, I love Pere Yakouba very much,
and you know I like to see you enjoy yourself. You are
both charming, up to certain limits, but the truth of
the matter is that I think you are having a very bad
influence on each other, and that we ought to go away.
And if you want to know the whole truth Salama thinks
so too. She says she hasn’t seen him in such a state
since the last Fourteenth of July.”

The day before had been New Year’s Day, so far as
I could remember, and we had planned to make a series
of fashionable New Year calls — ^Katie, PSre Yakouba,
and I, and the young man who was neither Arthur
Livingston nor an English archaeologist — on the notables
of Timbuctoo. The first call, about ten o’clock in the
morning, was to have been on Colonel Fourrd, the
post commander, who had shown us various attentions,
including sending us lettuce and lending us some



camels, and who would be receiving formally at that
hour. I was to go and get Pere Yakouba and we were
to join Katie and the young man in the grocery-shop
at nine-thirty. After calling on the Commandant we
were to call on the High Cadi, on the Immam, on the
blacksmith who had mended Katie’s eyeglasses, the
doctor’s white wife, etc., etc. For the late afternoon
we were invited to tea at the school-teacher’s, with
the promise of tennis.

Katie, with Boubekar’s assistance, had pressed her
nicest dress, and I had had a new pair of trousers made
of which I was extremely proud, for they were just like
PSre Yakouba’s, the loose Arab kind, very swanky, and
had been made by Mamadou Machine, the leading
tailor of the city, in exact replica of P^re Yakouba’s
own. Mamadou, a fat black man, had his shop in a
mud house that looked like a stable, but he had three
sewing-machines— a Singer (pronounced San-jaire), a
Vesta, and one of a German brand named Titan — and
three grown sons, who pedalled them barefoot. One of
the sons had accompanied me to Daviot’s shop, where
we bought and I paid for the cloth, buttons, findings,
even the thread. Then, returning to the tailor’s shop,
we discussed the price for the work, with Pere Yakouba
as judge, and it was finally agreed that I should pay
nine francs, equal to eighteenpence. The trousers were
ready for the New Year, and were a superb success.

So about nine o’clock on the morning of New Year’s
Day, having also put on a necktie, for the second time
I wandered out into the sunshine to go to get
Pfere Yakouba and bring him back to the rendezous.



The young man was to call for Katie. Passing the
grocery-shop on my way, I thought it would be nice
to take Pere Yakouba a little New Year present, and
consulted Daviot, who said that a bottle of Amer
Picon would be just the thing for New Year.

Salama, as always radiating smiles and goodness, said
Pdre Yakouba was on the roof awaiting me, and I was
to go on up. This roof terrace was a delightful place
in the morning, for it was protected by a high wall on
the east for shade, and looked westward out over other
roofs and terraces. But the school-teacher had also
bethought him to send Pere Yakouba a little New Year
present, which chanced to be a bottle of Pernod, and
which stood unopened on the table with two glasses
and a jug of water, awaiting my arrival. So that now
there were two unopened bottles. They presented a
problem. P6re Yakouba pointed out that there would
be a slight discourtesy to the absent school-teacher if
we didn’t open the Pernod and a definite discourtesy
to me if the Picon were left corked. So we decided to
open them both and to have a sip from each before
going to join Katie and the young man at the grocery-

Shortly afterward a little black boy came up on the
roof with a note from Katie saying that she was at the
grocery-shop with the young man, and that it was
already past ten o’clock, and that since we were going
to the Commandant’s reception at ten o’clock, etc.

The little boy arrived inopportunely, for P^;re Y akouba
had brought out the Latin text of St Augustine’s
Confessions and was expounding the curious chapter in



which the saint tells of how he had only been saved
from becoming a Pantheist in Rome by worrying over
how a sparrow could contain as much God as an
elephant. So we sent Katie profound apologies for our
tardiness, and said that she and the young man were
to go ahead to the Commandant’s reception, and that
we would join them there.

We had invented, meanwhile, incidentally, a refresh-
ing beverage, which, so far as I am aware, though
fairly obvious, has never been experimented with in
other non-prohibition centres. It consisted of Amer
Picon and Pernod in equal parts, with a dash of water
added. It is pleasing, because the Picon is bitter,
while the Pernod alone is much sweeter than old-time
absinthe was, and hence slightly cloying.

A short time later another little black boy appeared,
accompanied by Yao, who was dressed for New Year in
a suit of white ducks which I had given him, and who
also was wearing a necktie. He said that Madame
had got tired of waiting and had gone with the young
man to the Commandant’s reception, and that she was

fS,cMe mime ieaucoup^’ and that what I was doing
was “ -pas hon.”

Yao’s arrival was likewise inopportune, for we had
progressed from St Augustine to other mystic Church
Fathers, including St Thomas Aquinas, and had been
discussing his learned speculations concerning the
anatomy of the more intimate physical parts of angels,
involving the problem of whether angels are able to
couple with each other, as the devils do, or only with
the daughters of men. So we told Yao to go to the



Commandant’s reception himself, at least as far as
the door, and find Madame Katie and explain to her
nicely that it would be impolite for us to come to the
Commandant’s reception so late, but that we would
meet her and the young man at the grocery-shop
afterward and all go together to call on the Cadi,
the Immam, and the blacksmith who had mended her

A very short while later another little black boy
came, and this time brought the young man who wasn’t
an English archseologist, but who spoke rather good
English in spite of it, and who said that it was now
noon of New Year’s Day, too late to call on anybody
else, and that Katie had gone back to the caravanserai
for lunch and had said for me and P^re Yakouba to go
to hell.

We had eaten a snack of goat-cheese and some bread
flaps on the roof, but the mention of lunch made us
hungry again, and the sun was straight up in the air ;
so we decided to go into the library, and Salama sent
us up a bowl of stew from downstairs, and we ate some
of it, and decided that it would be nice to take a little
nap before going to get Katie and the young man and
paying the rest of the calls in the afternoon. So we lay
down on some nice mats on the library floor to t ake
a nap.

After a while another little black boy came, and woke
us up, and he had brought Katie, the young man, and
Yao — and also Salama, Salama and Katie had evi-
dently been talking about us behind our backs, which
is not a nice thing for wives to do, and always leads to



unpleasantness. Salama said some things to Pere
Yakouba which I couldn’t understand, but I think they
were somewhat the same things Katie was saying to me :
that it was now half-past five and that New Year’s Day
was over, and that we had promised to call on a lot of
people, and there we lay on the floor. We were not
lying on the floor like that, we were lying on nice mats,
having taken a nice nap. We weren’t just lying there
the way it sounded when Katie and Salama said we
were lying there. But they were unreasonable, and
made more of it than it really was.

Fortunately some other people came to call on Pere
Yakouba, and we all went out on the terrace, which
was now cool and lovely again. Pfere Yakouba was
sweet to every one, and asked Katie and Salama please
not to scold us, and we all had some vermuth, and it
was beautiful on the roof, and there were people singing
Arab songs and playing the lute on other roofs, and
presently the muezzins began calling from the minarets,
and Katie smiled and drank some more vermuth
herself, and was as sweet as I have ever known her in
my life. And when it got dark and Yao lighted the
lanterns and we went back to the caravanserai she was
still just as sweet to me as she had been with the other
people present, and didn’t say anything more to me
about the calls at all.

It was only next morning, after letting me sleep
as late as I liked, and after our breakfast coffee and
cigarettes, that I noticed Yao was beginning to pack
up things.

Another donkey caravan, more water-travel on the



Niger, our motor-truck rejoined at Mopti, and before
the week was ended we were chugging south-eastward
toward the mountains, past the palisades of Bandiagara,
toward the heights where dwelt — or so we had been
told — the legendary Habbe, cliff-dwellers and phallic
worshippers, least-known and strangest race in Western
Central Africa.


Part Four


I T was the enq^clopsedic Dr Johnson who once
wrote a book describing a country in which the
wives rode out to war while the husbands stayed
at home in bed giving birth to and suckling the babies.
Since this, however, was contrary to respectable British
precedent — and since, furthermore, the country could
never be located — it was reasonably concluded that he
was pulling people’s legs.

I hasten, therefore, to set down that the mountains
and cliffs of the Habbe — a people certain of whose
customs may seem as topsy-turvy as those described
in Rasselas — can be easily located on any large map
of Africa by drawing a pencil line straight east from
Bandiagara and another pencil line straight south from
Timbuctoo ; the Habbe inhabit the territory at the
point where the pencil lines cross. Furthermore, if
you decide to go there, you can go almost the whole way
up from the West Coast by motor-truck, thanks to the
heroic road-building mania which the French colonials
have inherited from Julius Cassar, who built roads to just
as incredible places when Gaul was as savage as Africa.

But, arriving there, you will be, for once, at the end
of the road and at the end of the world, the ‘ jumping-
off place,’ so far as modern vehicles are concerned, for
the landscape suddenly drops off into space and becomes
perpendicular. You can drop a pebble that will fall a




mile. And it will drop past thickly inhabited towns,
clinging to the cliff like nests of barn-swallows.

It is a mad landscape, with these towns built on the
perpendicular, with its cliffs, palisades, and gorges,
subterranean tunnels, honeycombed caves, ropes, and
endless steep stone staircases as miraculous as Jacob’s
ladder to the sky.

But it is not merely this landscape that will make
you doubt your wits and suspect that you have been
transported by a violent fourth-dimensional Einstein
trick to another planet. It is that the people who
inhabit this topsy-turvy land are also topsy-turvy mad
in certain fundamental attitudes toward life — that is,
if we are sane.

You will discover this only gradually, but from the
very first you will begin to see things, as we did, that
will set you wondering.

Climbing up through rocks and badlands by a serpen-
tine road approaching Sangha, a city which though
built by primitive African Negroes looked weirdly like
an old Crusaders’ stronghold, with its walls and turrets,
we passed a great stone altar from which rose a some-
what startling clay-sculptured object ten feet tall, which
not even the most learned professor or the most innocent
elderly spinster could by any chance have mistaken
for a maypole, obelisk, or Cleopatra’s Needle. And
installed an hour later on the terrace of the house that
had been prepared for us we faced another pedestal
there in the sunshine, as public as a statue of Gustavus
Adolphus, and this one, considerably taller than a
man, was even more surprising, for it was sculptured



physiologically complete, with its two natural spherical
appurtenances large as bushel baskets. Its proud point
was decorated tastefully with grass and wildflowers ; and
young Endyali Doli, who had escorted us to the house
and sat with us on the terrace, explained that it was
the “ children’s altar,” and that children of the town
had carried the flowers there in celebration of a recent
religious ceremony. He himself had taken flowers
there, he said, when he was circumcised.

Endyali was the twenty-one-year-old son of old Dou-
nairon Doli, master of Sangha and chief of the Sangha
clan, to whom we had brought letters and recommenda-
tions, and who had been expecting us. The arrival of
our motor-truck on the edge of Sangha had caused a
friendly commotion, and a shouting crowd had escorted
us directly to Dounairon’s house, which was a two-
storeyed castle built of stone and clay, with high-walled
courtyards and stables within the court. The old man,
who had been sick, and was still temporarily bedridden
on a fine fur-covered couch, was glad to see us, for in
addition to the letters we had brought medicine, a
hundredweight of salt, a bolt of cloth, and a large
porcelain soup-tureen which we had learned at Bandi-
agara he had been wanting for a year or more, having
broken one which a travelling German ethnologist had
given him in 1911. The letters as well as the soup-
tureen came from Monsieur Maugin, French adminis-
trator at Bandiagara, who had long been friends with
the Doli family, though they hadn’t seen each other for.

It was really for Maugin’s sake that we were welcome.



And Dounairon’s notions of hospitality were as large
and as medieval as his castle. These were true African
Negroes, so-called primitives, more isolated from civi-
lization and white colonial influence than even the
forest blacks of the thickest jungle, but they were not
like any blacks or primitives I had ever known or read
about. The interior of Dounairon’s house — the mode
of living they had independently evolved, as well as
their castle-like exterior architecture — suggested the
rude, copious feudal life of Europe in early medieval
times. Dounairon had flne horses stabled in his court ;
bright-coloured brass-studded saddles and bridles hung
from wooden pegs in the eaves ; heavy wooden tables
and heavy stools ; beds covered with the skins of furry
beasts; serfs, granaries, elaborately irrigated gardens
and fields in green places among the rocks. The
notables here wore robes, and the peasants belted
smocks. I repeat that they were like primitive Negroes
displaced in time and space to a mountain stronghold
district in early Europe.

Dounairon was saying, “ A house has been prepared
for you in Sangha and a cook has already been installed.
I am sick, as you can see, and cannot do personally for
you all that I would wish, but I give you my horses
and my son to be completely at your disposal so long
as you remain in the Habbe country. Whatever you
need you will tell him, and all that you wish to see he
will show you.”

Endyali was a smiling, black, plump-cheeked young
man with the tiniest wisp of a little beard in the middle
of his chin, a tight-fitting embroidered cap, white robe,



and shoes of coloured leather. He was very intelligent,
exquisitely polite, particularly to Katie, and spoke not
only perfect Bambara, but an excellent pidgin. It was
he who led us to our house and superintended our
installation. He had a nice manner, and Yao, “ the
Colonel,” my badly spoiled Ivory Coast chauffeur,
who usually sulked when he had to take orders from a
man black like himself, hustled about, whistling and
approving, helping to fix the beds, filling the carbide
lanterns, joking with Katie, making friends with the
cook, and telling me that we had “ hen tumhe^’ that it
was “ Ion — beaucouf mtmey
The house was one that had been built in anticipation
that Sangha might one day have a white resident from
the High Volta administration. As a matter of fact,
there were no whites in Sangha, or anywhere in the
cliffs east of Bandiagara, nor had there been any except
rare visitors for years. We were on the northern edge
of the town, our house surmounting a small rocky
promontory with a splendid view from the terrace out
over the sloping, rocky badlands up which our truck
had climbed. Endyali explained that while we had
come up this long gradual slope to Sangha, the othe^
side of the city overhung the sheer cliffs. To go down
to the foot of the cliffs on horseback, he said, required
an all-day journey, a detour of twenty miles. But by
the tunnel and staircase, or by the ropes and notched
ladders, one could descend on foot in a couple of hours.
We hadn’t seen anything yet of the real Habbe country,
he kept assuring us. He would begin showing us
to-morrow. He advised that we make the first trip on



foot by the staircase. Later we could make as many
longer journeys as we liked on horseback.

The cliff edge to which Endyali led us next morning
disclosed a landscape which seemed like a distorted yet
beautiful stage-piece erected by giants who had dreamed
about The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari^ the paintings of
Picasso, the ramparts of Carcassonne, and had jumbled
them all together in some secret place of their own
hidden among the mountains on the other side of the
moon. I am no good at describing landscapes, and
nowhere else on earth is there anything like this Habbe
landscape, or anything to which it can be sensibly
compared. It seemed an incredible accident that these
blacks in the interior of Africa had evolved by pure
utilitarian chance this fantastic style of architecture,
with its fictitious resemblance to the romantic feudal
style as depicted in books of fairy-tales — ramparts,
towers, bastions, and fortress walls, but clinging to
ledges on the sheer cliffs, like nests built by wasps or
birds, and looking like Howard Pyle drawings tilted
out of perspective, like Maxfield Parrish castles in the
clouds, like bad romantic woodcuts made by incom-
petent and drunken English engravers a generation
ago for Idylls of the King. The buttressed towers in
which might dwell Merlin or Guinevere or the Lady
of Shalott were really granaries, the culverins which
projected from the embattled walls were merely wooden
drains, the blunt-pointed towers were thatched with
straw, the resemblance was all pure hazard, but it was
astounding. And this whole topsy-turvy tilted landscape
was thickly populated. At one point, descending the



staircase, we came out from a narrow defile, tunnel-Iike,
to an open ledge, half-way down the Sangha cliif, which
gave a view of the curving face of the palisades for
miles, and Endyali pointed out towns clinging there,
some near, some distant, telling us the names of the
largest, which we would later visit : Ireli, Ibi, Am.

I kept repeating amazedly to him and to Katie,
“ But, by God, there’s nothing like this on earth any-
where ! ” And Yao, “ the Colonel,” who had trailed
with us (he had been totally unimpressed and scornful
in Timbuctoo), kept muttering now to himself in his
own Baouli tongue, like a man who was scared, and
saying to Katie or me from time to time, “ Bon Dieu !
Bon Dieu ! Bon Dieu 1 ”

I might as well leave it at that, leave the word to
Yao, for that was the way it was.

Who were they, these strange Negroes, these Habbe,
living among all these strange anachronisms, visible and
invisible — still clinging to old Fetishes, I had been
told, yet building altars of a formalized and fully
developed cult like that of the ancient Egyptian and
Syrian Priapic sects — living in honeycombed cliff caves
like Pueblo Indians, yet building robber-baron castles
that were like a distorted dream of chivalry?

The Habbe have no written history, but they have
a fixed tradition similar to that of the Old Testament
Hebrew Exodus in the sense that it recounts a prob-
able actual historical hegira, embellished with purely
legendary miracles and marvels. We had arrived among
them late in January, having been informed of the com-
memorative date beforehand, at the season approaching



the annual dances which pantomime the ancient history
of their forest origin and their wanderings from the
lowlands to these mountains. This story, which they
outlined to us in order that we might understand the
meaning of the dances, was that the Habbe were
originally a forest people, defeated and driven out of
their country in the ancient wars by the invading black
conqueror Samori. With their women and children,
bag and baggage, and with their ancestral Fetishes, they
had wandered until they came to the banks of the wide-
flowing Niger, where a band of cj:ocodiles came out of
the water miraculously and transported them to the
other side on their backs. Resuming their wanderings,
guided and forced to go on by their Fetishes and
witch-doctors, saved from their pursuers, but soon in
a barren land, where they underwent terrible hardships
of hunger and thirst, they arrived at last at the foot of
these cliffs and mountains. The tribe camped on the
slope, while Nangaban, the great tribal hunter, accom-
panied by his two dogs, went up ahead. He and his
dogs wandered among the rocks, were lost for days,
and on the point of dying from thirst when they
reached a great pool from which a spring gushed, the
pool swarming with crocodiles. Despite the fact that
the crocodiles of the Niger had saved the Habbe
Nangaban was on the point of doing battle with these
in order that he and his dogs might drink and after-
ward have meat for the tribe. But the dogs rushed into
the water and began lapping it, and Nangaban with-
held his spear when he saw that the crocodiles did not
harm the dogs, but let them drink peacefully. He also



drank, and presently bustards and baboons came to
drink. These he killed, returned to the tribe, recounting
the miracle, and led them up into the mountain, for
the Habbe had reached the end of their wanderings
and had come to their promised land.

Establishing themselves there, and beginning to
explore the neighbouring cliffs, they had found them
inhabited by friendly cave-dwellers, a people of super-
human origin, whose ancestors had had wings, and
whose religion was this phallic cult with its great
Priapic altars. The Habbe settled and intermarried
among them, adopted the new religion without entirely
relinquishing their old Fetishes, built houses on the
cliff tops and ledges, made common community and
common cause with the cave-dwellers against invading
Peuhls (a nomad race of legendary Egyptian origin,
who may possibly form the connecting link with the
Eastern Priapic cults), and finally became one people.

The dances which we saw at Sangha represented with
costumes and pantomime these legendary, and possibly
historical, events. They were totally different from
anything I had ever seen among Fetishist or Voodoo
blacks, and the masks were likewise radically different
from anything I had ever seen in the forest. They were
not carved ‘ false faces,’ as the Congo and Ivory Coast
masks are, but highly stylized tall headpieces, some-
times only incidentally covering the face, painted in
brilliant colours. The forms were symbolic rather
than literal. Some of them might have been designed
by the Cubists and Surr^alistes for an ultra-modern
ballet. The dancers, for instance, who represented



crocodiles wore wooden helmets surmounted by tall,
swastika-like double crosses, several feet tall, and nearly
as wide, which at first glance suggested mechanical
signals on railway towers, and which one only realized
gradually might represent the essence of ‘ crocodile ’ in
the same abstract way that certain Brancusi woods and
marbles may represent the essence of ‘ bird.’ Other
masks represented, but always more or less abstractly
and symbolically, ancestors, enemies, antelopes, hyenas,
bustards, rabbits, peoples and animals of various sorts.
As weird as any, in a difiFerent way, were the masks
that represented the enemy Peuhls. They were hoods
of brown close-woven netting which covered the entire
head and neck, like the hoods of the Penitentes and the
old Florentine religious companies, with the eyeholes
outlined in white cowrie-shells.

The dancing itself, which took place in broad daylight
with firing of muskets and great crowds in the big
public square of Sangha, was not frenzied or orgiastic,
but as abstract and highly stylized as the costumes.
These dances were not being done to please or instruct
us. The Habbe were about their own business. We
would have understood nothing of what the formalized
gyrations and processions symbolized had it not been
for the previous explanations, which made us under-
stand a little. We were welcome, and were being
treated with the most generous kindness, but we found
a great deal of it bewildering. We were strangers, and
in a very strange land.



B ut look here,” said Endyali patiently, but
eyeing me as if he thought I was very dull of
comprehension, “ nobody wants to marry a
girl until she has shown that she can have a baby.
Everybody knows that. She might be no good, and
how can anybody tell until she has tried.? If a girl
refuses to lie naturally with the youths when she reaches
the proper age for it, or fails to get big, having lain
with them, it is a public shame on her and a shame on
her family. Her mother can scold her all she likes,
but a girl of that sort will never make a good wife
or be good for an)^hing. Besides, if you haven’t lain
with the girl yourself, how can you tell she is the one
you want to marry.? Besides, your father and mother
wouldn’t let you marry a girl who might be barren.
They have the family to think about. Isn’t it the same
where you came from.? ”

I gasped a little, and told him that where I came
from it wasn’t quite the same. We were sitting in the
Boys’ Club of Sangha — both guests there through an
invitation we had procured from a boy named Dano,
one of Endyali’s fourteen-year-old cousins. Dano and
a number of other boys, ranging in age from fourteen
to fifteen or so, had opened the clubhouse for us and
had been showing us round. Endyali, who had been
a member of the club, but had been dropped from



membership automatically when he reached full man-
hood, had been explaining to me its nature and func-
tions. I had been having some difficulty in following
him, particularly with reference to the status of young
lady visitors, and was wondering whether I hadn’t mis-
understood him. He had begun by telling me from
his own personal experience how the Habbe boys were
initiated into the social group of ‘ small grown-ups ’
and inducted into the club from which they were
later dropped, as he had been, when they became
‘ big grown-ups ’ and married. It had happened when
Endyali was about fourteen. The Habbe, though
Negro, are a tough, sturdy highland people, and it
was at about that age that he with a dozen or more
other Sangha boys had attained full puberty and gone
through the initiation.

“ It is always the same way,” he said. “ It begins
with circumcision, called sendi-you. We are first washed,
purified, and instructed by the Hogoun, the high-
priest, given each a clean new smock, and then sent,
the whole crowd of us, to a new straw house which
has been built out on the rocks there, away from the
town. In Sangha the drums beat all night for us,
and we feel proud and important. Next morning the
kekenendou, the blacksmith, comes and circumcises us
all with an iron razor. Women and girls can’t come
near the straw house or even look at it. When they
go past they must turn their faces away. But our
fathers or older brothers come, and bring us all sorts
of good things to eat, chicken, honey-cakes, milk, and
millet. There is a fence built round the straw house,



so that we can go out and sit on the rocks, but we
can’t leave the enclosure in the daytime until after we
are completely cured. When it gets dark the drums
come, beating so that all the women will go indoors,
and take us back into town each night in procession,
marching past the houses, where each boy is dropped
at his own house, and sleeps there. But before dawn
the drums come again and take us back to the straw

“ When we are cured we run wild and free, rejoicing
for three days and nights, shouting, doing anything we
like, and no one has the right to interfere with us or
scold us. Everybody shuts up his chickens then, for
we make wooden spears and have the right to chase
and kill any chickens we can find. At night we build
a bonfire out on the rocks and roast them. And we
can come back and shout through the town and keep
everybody awake, and people must give us presents.
For those three days and nights we can do everything
that we used to get scolded and beaten for when we
were smaller.”

Endyali laughed out loud as he told me about it, and
I thought what a grand gang of little hooligans they
must have been during those three days of freedom, and
of what would happen to grocers’ carts and delicatessen
shops if we adopted Habbe customs in New York.

“ At the end of three days,” Endyali continued, “ we
must stop running wild and walk about gravely, with
dignity, saluting our elders decently, to show that we
have become ‘ small grown-ups.’ The drums beat
again, and we must go in company to make the sacrifices



which complete our initiation. We are not permitted
to have any help in this from the ‘ big grown-ups.’
We must pound millet in a mortar, mix the flour with
warm water, make a cream of it, put it in calabashes,
and carry it in procession to the children’s altar, which
you saw out yonder, and pour it on the toro [the ten-
foot erect phallus sculptured in clay]. After that we
must make another sacrifice which is not so easy, and
with bad luck may take several days to finish. Each
of us must go out with a weapon which we have made
ourselves, so that it is usually a wooden spear or a
little bow and arrow, and each of us must kill some
wild thing and bring it back and pour its blood upon
the toro. It makes no difference whether it is a baboon
or a big animal, or just a little ground-squirrel or a
pigeon. But it must be some wild thing which we
have killed ourselves.

“When this is finished we go hunting wildflowers,
make a wreath of them for the toro — and after that we
are admitted here at the club into the ranks of the
‘ small grown-ups,’ and can sleep here when we like,
and can invite the girls we like best to come and sleep
with us. We have first to ask their mothers. We still
live at home and work for our parents and are nourished
by them, but we can live in the clubhouse too when-
ever we choose, and often make our own feasts here.
The girls who are invited cook for us, and wash the
dishes, and afterward we tell stories and sing songs,
and we pretend that we are really grown up now instead
of just ‘ little grown-ups.’ In the morning the girls
must go home to their mothers.”



The club quarters through which Endyali and his
cousin and the other boys had been showing me
consisted of a big house with walled courtyard, and con-
tained a big dining-room with little tables and stools,
a sort of community kitchen with a hearth and cooking-
utensils, and numbers of individual rooms, including
little bedrooms, like the cells of a monastery, with
wooden couches covered with skins and blankets. But
though equipped as well as any house for real grown-
ups it remained a playhouse for children, and they
were free there. They had scratched their drawings
all over the walls ; they had their own secrets ; there
was a room they wouldn’t let Endyali enter, since he
was now grown up ; there were musical instruments
scattered about, made by themselves, not unlike the
cigar-box ‘ guitars ’ we used to make when I was a
boy ; there were little chests which they wouldn’t let
us look into, but which I felt sure must contain jack-
knives, marbles, kites, and tops, or whatever their
Habbe equivalent might be. It was, in fact, a good deal
like the ‘ club ’ which a gang we called Bob Conrad’s
Army had installed in an abandoned ice-house which
belonged to Bob’s father in Winchester, Virginia.
We wouldn’t let any grown-ups enter it. We had
secrets, passwords, signs and conclaves, and an old
stove on which we used to roast potatoes and sausages.
We used even sometimes to invite our pigtailed sweet-
hearts to these feasts, and they were properly awed
and grateful, and crossed their hearts never to tell.
But if one of them had stayed out all night, or gone
home with her dress or pigtail seriously mussed — well,



there’d have been lanterns and bloodhounds and steam-
whistles, and fire and brimstone from heaven.

Here, on the contrary, as Endyali was patiently
explaining to me, young sweethearts were encouraged
to lie together, and when the natural consequence
followed for the girl it was a cause for family pride
and congratulation. When the baby itself arrived it
was welcomed with even more pride and rejoicing.

If the girl had been popular, Endyali said, and a
virtuous girl byHabbe standards, she had probably lain
with various youths, so that the baby was considered
to be all her own and to belong to her and to her
family. She would nurse it and care for it in her
parents’ house, and it would have her family name.
When she married later she could take it with her to
her new home or leave it in her parents’ household, as
she chose. But in either event it remained in name
and fact a member and part of the parental household
group, and when grown up in its turn it would inherit
from its mother’s family.

Having shown that she can have a healthy baby, the
girl is now eligible for marriage, and is usually asked
in marriage by the favourite youth among those with
whom she has lain, so that in choosing each other they
know what they are about. They marry because they
have found that they are suited to each other and like
each other best. But once married, Endyali said, they
must be faithful to each other — so long as they remain
married. I asked him what he meant by remaining
married, whether there was divorce among the Habbe.
He said that either husband or wife had the right to



divorce at any time, either for a reason or a whim, but
that, having experimented and chosen the mates they pre-
ferred, divorce was very rare. He had been explaining
patiently and as best he could things which he found
difficult to explain because they seemed to him so
obvious, natural, and right as to require no explanation.
It was impossible to discuss comparative social-sexual
systems with Endyali because he didn’t know about
other systems, and he was such a nice young man
that I felt it would not be right to shock him by
telling him of ours.

I learned also somewhat later, quite by accident, that
certain other Habbe social laws, those relating, for
instance, to theft and murder, were mad and topsy-
turvy too — that is, if we are sane.

In looking for a shiny dangling box of Katie’s that
contained face-powder, mirror, and make-up, and that
had been misplaced or had disappeared, we discovered
that a number of other objects, curiously assorted, had
also disappeared — in fact, almost surely had been stolen
— two red-labelled tins of tomatoes, a belt, a bottle of
Worcestershire sauce, the coat of a bright-coloured pair
of pyjamas. One never locks up things. They just lie
about. Doors and windows are always open, day and
night. One never thinks about it. ^/V^e hesitated to
say anything about it— the value of the things was
trivial— but we were going to be there for a number
of weeks, and it gave us an uncomfortable feeling. So
I decided to mention it to Endyali. He was vexed,
and said, “Ah, it’s disgusting ! The little children, the
little ones, they are worse than monkeys. You must
Q 241


tell your cook to drive them away and keep them

I said, “But how can you be so sure it was
children? ”

He looked at me, puzzled, and said, “ But grown-up
people don’t steal.”

I found this a bit difficult to swallow even in his
topsy-turvy land. I said, “Heh, Endyali, there are
thieves everywhere in the world. You don’t mean to
tell me that all the Habbe are honest? It couldn’t be
possible. What do you mean ? ”

He said, “ Oh, there are bad people, of course, bad
Habbe, some bad people everywhere. But they wouldn’t
risk doing a thing like stealing those objects from your
house. It’s too dangerous, not worth it ; the punishment
for theft is death.”

“ Not for stealing a tin of tomatoes ? ”

“ But yes, for stealing anything. It has to be that
way. All our wealth is open. Even our granaries have
only wooden locks; we leave our tools in the fields,
our saddles and bridles on the limbs of trees. If people
stole from each other life would be impossible. Besides,
a man who steals once will steal always. A thief is
better out of the way. So when a thief is caught he is
taken before theHogoun and hanged the next morning.
It’s a very good law. It is only once in a long time
that anybody is foolish enough to break it. No man
in his senses would risk his life, for instance, to steal
your belt or a tin of tomatoes. That’s why I am sure
it was the little children.”

“ So really,” I repeated, “ the Habbe law punishes a



man with death for stealing even a tin of tomatoes, or
a shirt, or a bridle, or a tool left in the fields? ”

“ Yes,” he repeated again, “ for stealing anything.”
“Well, if you hang a man for petty theft, how in
the name of God do you punish a murderer? ” I
demanded. “ Do you boil him in oil or burn him alive
or cut him up into little pieces ? ”

“ Oh, that is altogether difiFerent,” Endyali said.
“ A thief is no good, never any good. But any man,
the most honest, may have the misfortune to be carried
away by anger and kill another. My father might. Or
you and I might get into a quarrel and one of us kill
the other; yet we are honest men. So when a man
has the misfortune to do murder he is not exactly
punished at all. He has to do penance, and is purified.
How? Well, some of the older ones who have seen it
can tell you about it better than I can.”

Old Dounairon, still in bed, glad to be diverted by
our visit, pleased to see that Endyali and I had become
inseparable and were getting along so well together,
said, “ I will tell you, then, what happened in the
case of the gardener Yaro, for that was a case I knew
all about. He killed a man named Kogu Endou, who
was a cousin of our family, so that I remember it well.
One evening after the sunamer rains had ended, and
during the period when we were all busied with the
cisterns and ponds in the rocks from which we irrigate
in the later dry season, people came running here to
the house to tell me that Yaro had just come in from
the fields, waving his arms, crying and shouting that
he had murdered his neighbour Kogu Endou — it had



been a quarrel about an irrigation channel — and that
he was on his way to the Hogoun. To understand our
customs in such matters you must know that they came
to me not as mayor or chief of Sangha, but simply
because Kogu was a man of our family and I was the
family’s head. My powers concern the material affairs
of the clan, but the Hogoun, as high-priest, is master
of all matters which concern life and death, the spirit
and the soul; so naturally it was to him that Yaro
must go.

“ My duty in the matter was only a family one, to
go first and condole with the family of Kogu, who had
been killed, and then to condole with the family of
Yaro, who had killed him. The women of the two
families, including Kogu’s mother and Yaro’s mother,
joined together and bemoaned the whole night long,
consoling each other, bemoaning Kogu and bemoaning

“ The next day Yaro, the murderer, who had been
praying all night with the Hogoun, appeared before
the assemblage of both families, and we cried with him
and condoled with him, and mourned for him and for
Kogu, saying, ‘ Alas, an ill thing has befallen Yaro and
an ill thing has befallen Kogu.’

“The mother of Yaro and the mother of Kogu then
prepared food for Yaro, and we all embraced him and
wept with him, for his misfortune was very great, and
bade him a long farewell, for Yaro must go on a long
journey, leaving our mountains, and must remain
wandering in exile for three years, and whenever people
might say to him, ‘ Who art thou ? ’ he must weep and



reply, ‘ Alas ! I am that Yaro who murdered Kogu in
the fields at Sangha, and I am also as one dead.’

“ For during the three years that Yaro was wandering
in exile we all said in Sangha that Yaro was dead.
But at the end of the three years, and on the day when
he had committed the murder, our families again re-
assembled, for on that day we knew that, unless some
other fate had overtaken him, Yaro would return from
the dead to be purified. On the afternoon of that
day, toward the evening, the Hogoun sent drummers
through Sangha, announcing that the needful had been
done, and that Yaro was returning from the dead.

“ This is how he returned, as all men must who
have done a murder. He returned wearing a shroud,
a burial garment of fine white cloth with blue stripes,
holding with one hand to the tail of a black bull which
was led through the crowd by servants of the Hogoim,
and holding in his other hand a piece of salt, while the
crowd cried, ‘ Behold, it is Yaro returning from the
dead. When Kogu returns also everything will be as
it was before.’

“Arriving where our two families were assembled,
Yaro was welcomed and embraced, and presented the
piece of salt and the shroud to Kogu’s mother. The bull
was sacrificed, and the two families feasted together,
saying, ‘ Kogu also must return, and then everything
will be as it was before.’

“ For Yaro it was now all finished. He was purified,
his brothers gave back to him the house and the fields
which they had tended for him in his absence, and
people embraced him and said, ‘Ah, what you have



suifered 1 ’ For it is a terrible misfortune to have killed
one’s neighbour, and now the misfortune had been
lifted from him by purification.

“ For Kogu, however, there was much yet that had
to be done. Kogu must be restored to life by blood of
Yaro’s family, since it was Yaro who took the life, but
in Kogu there must also be blood of his own family ;
else he would not be Kogu. In the family of Kogu the
Hogoun chose Kogu’s brother, Bomo Endou, and since
Yaro had no unmarried sister the Hogoun selected the
young girl of his nearest blood, a niece named Sada.
These two lay together until a child was conceived,
and into this child, as it was being born, the Hogoun
invoked the soul of Kogu, so that the soul of Kogu
might enter into its new body and thus be restored to
us again and to life in Sangha. It was named Kogu,
and in growing up would inherit all that was Kogu’s.
Thus the murder is wiped out, there is forgiveness,
and everything is as it was before.”

I thanked Dounairon, and thought that of all the
methods devised by humanity, civilized or uncivilized,
to deal with homicide this one was the strangest. I
thought of the customs of certain other mountain
people who made their own laws — for instance, the
mountain people of Corsica, of Sicily, of Kentucky, of
the Carolinas, where whole feudist families are wiped
out to avenge one original killing, and murder breeds
murder for generations. I thought also of our statute
laws, our lethal-chambers, gallows, guillotines, electric-
chairs. I began wondering what fantastic things might
happen if we changed our statutes and tried to apply



the Habbe law in New York or Chicago. A worse orgy
of murders, doubtless, than we now have.? Probably
yes, because we have developed a professional criminal
class, professional killers. But I wonder exactly what
a tough gorilla or a hired gangster who contemplated
putting somebody on the spot would do if the law said
to him, “ Look here, we won’t hang you or burn you,
or even lock you up, but if you kill that fellow you’ve
got to go and find his mother and tell her how sorry
you are, and she will cry and tell you how sorry she is
for both of you, for her dead son and for you too, and
then she’ll cook you a nice dinner and you’ll have to
eat it, and she’ll make you some sandwiches to take in
your pocket when you go away. …”

What a fine lot of sloppy piffle that is ! Hats off !
Mother ! It’s sickening slop. How much better to do
as all decent civilized people do. Catch the guilty
scoundrel and murder him too. He had no mercy.
Do it legally, of course, and with a fair trial, but give
him the same as he gave the other fellow. That makes
two corpses, and that’ll teach ’em that “ you can’t get
away with it.” The two corpses sort of balance, keep
the scales of justice even, and make us all respect the
law. That’s the intelligent way to do it, of course. But
if you live among crazy people like the Habbe even
only for a few weeks, and hear crazy people talk, like
old Dounairon, your mind gets all tangled, and you
begin to have crazy ideas too, and to write crazy things

I thought a good many crazy things while I was
living among the Habbe, who are so topsy-turvy and



crazy themselves. Take, for instance, all that sex
business. I was brought up in Christian communities
— in Westminster, Maryland ; Abilene, Kansas ; New-
berry, South Carolina — places like that. If a girl was
‘ ruined ’ she was ruined, and that was an end of it for
her — ^and often for her family, so far as decent people
were concerned, if they didn’t move away. As for the
girl herself, she had to go away, and all decent people
had the satisfaction of knowing that she was rotten
from the start, for usually you’d hear afterward that
she was in a whore-house in Baltimore or St Louis
or Atlanta. Sometimes, instead, she tried to have an
abortion, or killed her baby and tried to hide it, or
didn’t try to hide it, but just jumped into the creek and
drowned herself. At any rate, the community was well
rid of her. Of course, for the boys and young men it
was dilferent. We had our own whore-houses too,
down by the railway, so that nobody but a travelling
salesman or a completely low-down skunk would think
of seducing anybody’s sister — besides, if he did, her
brothers or father would fill him full of lead if he
was white, and if he was black it was always rape, of
course, and we knew what to do about that. It wasn’t a
perfect system. There were disadvantages which even
the ministers recognized, especially when the ministers’
sons caught gonorrhoea or syphilis, as nearly every-
body’s sons did at one time or another. It wasn’t
exactly perfect. But, by God ! we kept our own sisters

And here I was now in a town where the son of the
mayor was telling me that when his young unmarried



sister got in the family way the neighbours all came
and congratulated them, and his mother gave her a
party 1

People always say that if you spend a little time in
a lunatic asylum, associating with the inmates, even as
a visitor, you soon end by getting mixed up and not
knowing which are the crazy people and which are the
sane ones. Perhaps it was something like this that
began to happen to me among the Habbe, for over
and over again I kept asking myself ridiculously
whether it was they who were really crazy, or whether
perhaps we were.



S INCE the social and moral customs of any race
or group are usually closely interwoven with its
religious beliefs and superstitions — and since the
customs of these Habbe were so strange — I was anxious
above all, if I could, to get at some understanding of
precisely what it was that they believed. It was easy
to see, and to say, that they had become formal
phallic worshippers, relegating their forest Fetishism
to a debased and minor rSle. But just what in this case
— beyond being, of course, a fertility cult — did phallic
worship mean That wasn’t by any means so easy. I
had seen their great toro altars reared publicly in the
sunshine, had learned that the name they called their
phallic god was Amma, had even seen libations, flowers,
sacrifices, on the altars ; but as to any real knowledge
of the inner meaning of their faith, all this had left me
none the wiser.

Endyali said that only a Hogoun — if one could be
found who was willing — could explain these matters to
me, and that his father was arranging for a visit which
we might shortly make to the one most easily available,
the Hogoun here at Sangha. He was a dignified old
man, who received us in his courtyard in some state,
holding a staff surmounted by a carved crocodile’s head,
white-robed, wearing a tall red hat and high embroidered
boots. He was courteous and kindly, but remained



wrapped completely in his dignity. I had hoped that
he would speak of his god, or gods, but he gave me
no real confidence, and in answer to my questionings
talked only of the outward forms, the ceremonies, the
organization of the priestcraft — the letter but not the
spirit of their faith. Whatever I learned eventually, and
never completely, of the inner meaning of their religion
came later, from a different and higher source. But my
contact with the Hogoun of Sangha was not wasted,
for I learned at least some curious details concerning
the nature of the priestly office and the manner of
election to it.

Each separate clan among the Habbe, usually centred
in a town, has its own Hogoun, who combines functions
somewhat like those of a bishop in religious matters
with functions somewhat like those of a High Court
judge in matters concerning the moral conduct and
moral welfare of the people. The Hogoun is chosen
by a clan council, and remains in office for life, but the
office is not hereditary. To prepare himself for his
functions he must go through three years of seclusion
and mystic contemplation. During this time he can
never leave his house, and the only person he can see
is a child, a virgin, who brings him food. At the end
of the three years he loses his family identity and his
family name and becomes simply the Hogoun of (for
instance) Sangha, as we say the Bishop of Toledo, or
the Bishop of San Sebastian. He is invested with his
robes, bonnet, and staff of office, and thereafter lives in a
fine house, surroimded by considerable pomp, mystery,
and ceremony. He marries, has a family and numerous



servants. In theory, like the Pope of Rome, he may
never set foot on ground or territory that is not his
own or ever enter the house of another; but in fact
he may go where he likes by the simple process of
always wearing special boots when he walks abroad,
and may visit the houses of others preceded by his
servants, who dispose his own rugs, mats, and cushions
in the house which he is planning to honour by his
presence, so that wherever he goes he is considered to
be in his own house. In religious ceremonies the
Hogoun presides, but never himself wields the knife.
For this there is a lower hierarchy, the blood-priests,
who come into their priesthood in a much stranger way.
Their initiation also involves a three-year retirement
— everything goes by three with the Habbe — but of a
ruder and more savage sort than that undergone by the

By luck I saw for myself something of what this
was like, since it happened that just at the period of
my stay in Sangha there were somewhere out among
the rocks, living in secret caves like savage beasts, or,
rather, as did ancient Christian anchorites and hermit
monks in the desert of the Thebaid, two men of
Sangha who had been touched by the hand of Amma
and who were undergoing this probation for the sacri-
ficial priesthood. Endyali had promised that if ever
they approached the town, as they sometimes did, he
would let me know, and if possible arrange for me
to have a glimpse of them. They might run away,
he said, on our approach, but at any rate we could try.

One morning he came, saying that they had been



seen cultivating an onion-patch belonging to the mother
of one of them. The onion-patch was in a green,
irrigated hollow about a quarter of a mile from the
edge of the town, and as we clambered down over the
rocks he told me what he knew of how the hand of
Amma descended on such chosen ones. It was even
more violent, it appeared, than what had happened to
Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road. Furthermore,
he said, it could happen to any man, at any time, with-
out warning. A man might be rich or poor, he said,
he might be working in the fields or mending a saddle
or sitting in a doorway talking with his neighbours.
When the ‘ call ’ came the man would first begin to
shiver and moan, cover his head with his hands, as if
to hid? or protect himself, then leap up shrieking and
howling, tear off his clothes, and rush through the town,
out into the wastelands. For three years, he said, the
man would live in a cave or in a cleft in the rocks,
and during that period could let no razor touch his
face. He could not cut his hair, could eat no cooked
food, could not sleep in a bed or on a mat or under
any roof. However, he could return sometimes to
the edge of the town if he wished, and could help to
cultivate the gardens of relatives, and could take away
with him a handful of onions or a sheaf of grain, which
he would chew raw — ^for otherwise, said Endyali, he
might completely starve. Great care must be taken,
however, when a man of this sort was seen near the
town not to beat any drums, for if he heard drums
beating the frenzy might come on him, and he would
run away howling. The two we were hoping to see,



he told me, were finishing the second year of their
probation. We would stop at the spring and take
them a calabash of water, and in that way he hoped
they would let us approach.

They were bent over, digging peaceably in the onion-
patch with short wooden hoes, and paid no attention as
we came near them. They were naked and emaciated,
with long, matted hair and beards. But they seemed
as peaceful and normal as any ordinary workers in
a garden, and when they looked up and saw us and
Endyali saluted them and offered the water they smiled,
returned the salutation and stopped their work to drink
deep. They seemed, indeed, perfectly normal, and when
we went away after a moment — Endyali was afraid we
might excite them and be criticized for it afterward in
the town — they went tranquilly back to work.

I saw also in Sangha a number of these blood-priests
who had finished their initiation and who had been for
years engaged in the exercise of their functions. They
remained bearded and with long hair, and wore only a
coarse short smock belted at the waist with a raw-hide
leather thong, but were not dirty or dishevelled. They
were married, lived as other Habbe did, and cultivated
their fields.

In early spring, before the rains, at the time of the
principal sacrifices to Amma, it was they who cut
the throats of the sheep, goats, bulls, and deluged the
Priapic obelisks with blood. During other periods of
the year they sometimes also, for a small fee, served
the Fetishers in the sacrifices to the old idols from the



Endyali knew that while what I wanted chiefly now
was to arrive at some sort of clearer comprehension
of their great public cult, I was also interested to see
what transformations their Fetishism had undergone in
being displaced geographically and relegated to a minor
role. He learned that on a certain day there was to be
a Fetish ceremonial at Ireli, a neighbouring cliff town,
and suggested taking me to see it. Sangha, as I have
badly explained, was on the top of a great palisade.
Ireli could be reached by a short walk, a half-hour
south, and an hour or two clambering down the cliff
on foot, he said, but there were ledges and notched
ladders which would be difScult unless one was accus-
tomed; so he suggested that we go the roundabout
way on horseback, through a tunnel, descending to
the plain, and then climbing up to Ireli, which would
be easier.

We decided to go a day earlier and to spend the
night there. Endyali’s father gave us horses, and taking
no food, because he felt sure we would be welcomed
and well treated, we set out confidently, descended into
the plain, cantered along for three hours through fields
at the foot of the palisades, and came in sight of Ireli.
When I first saw it it seemed from a little distance
that the whole of the town, with its walls, turrets, and
terraces, clung magically to the sheer cliff, but arriving
closer, and as the angle changed, I could see that it
began among the steep rocks at the cliff’s foot, went
up gradually from ledge to ledge, steeper and steeper
until finally it did reach the perpendicular, with terraces,
caves, and windows accessible only by ladders and



ropes. Drums were beating somewhere, high up, but
soon after we entered the lower part of the town they
ceased, and the few people we met in the narrow alleys
between the walls and courtyards of the houses seemed
embarrassed, not looking at us frankly. Some of them
recognized Endyali and responded to his salutations,
but almost as if unwillingly. And when we got to the
chip’s house, where we had expected to be welcomed,
entertained, and put up for the night, we were not even
invited inside. He had evidently heard of our coming,
this chief of Ireli, and it was more than plain to see
that we were not welcome. He shook hands and asked
after the health of Endyali’s father, but he resented me
and resented the fact that Endyali had brought me.
When asked about the ceremony he said that it had
taken place the week before. He said that his house
was being repaired — which made no sense at all — and
that that was why he couldn’t ask us in. The whole
trouble, I thought, was my presence. If Endyali had
gone alone he would have been well received. Among
blacks in Africa, on their own ground, where there
are neither European administrators nor neighbouring
garrisons, either a white stranger is welcome or he is
not. And if he is not welcome they have ways,
sometimes evasive and sometimes direct, of making
him unhappy and getting rid of him, just as painful
and efficient as those which white natives employ in
America when a Negro wanders into a white restaurant
or a white church, or tries to find a place to sleep in
outside the black belt. The chief of Ireli was suavely
insulting. When I tried to be conciliating he was



contemptuous, and mocked me for my pains. Endyali
was getting angry, which was perhaps his right. My
resentment was the more painful because, aside from
being Endyali’s friend, I had no rights there. If they
didn’t like my white face or didn’t want a stranger
present at a local religious ceremony it was, after all,
their own affair, even though he might have been
a little more polite about it. But when Endyali said
that at any rate before leaving he wanted to show me
the upper part of the town, and the chief responded
bluntly that he couldn’t, Endyali became angry enough
to fight. He was a free Habbe in a free Habbe town,
whose ladders and staircases formed free rights of way,
as our streets do at home. But he was young and in-
decisive, and there didn’t seem to be much that could
be done about it. He was ashamed, he said, to have
brought me all this way only to be insulted by people
of his own tribe, but he didn’t have sufficient age or
authority to insist against a chief, which was true. In
the meantime some villagers, acting, I am sure, under
the chief’s instructions, because they seemed shame-
faced about it, had brought us a scrawny, sickly, starved
chicken, not fit for a dog’s breakfast, and some dirty
eggs, evidently old and surely rotten, saying it was all
the food the village had to offer us.

There was nothing to do but to go back to Sangha,
humiliated and angry. It was a very unpleasant ex-
perience, and highly illustrative of what can happen to
travellers who fall among natives who, for reasons often
never completely disclosed, resent their presence.

There was, however, a sequel to this humiliating




Ireli adventure, and a partial explanation of it in that
some of the older ones in Sangha — everybody heard of
what had happened to us, and there was a good deal
of talk about it — affected to remember now that this
chief of Ireli had an old and personal long-standing
spite against whites, dating from some vague injury or
injustice he had suffered years before. Be that as it
may, when Dounairon Doli learned what had happened
he stormed not only at the chief of Ireli, but at Endyali
and me as well, and kept saying to Endyali, “ You’ll
have to go back. You’ll have to go back, the both of
you. If I weren’t bedridden we’d take fresh horses
and go immediately. The matter of the ceremony is
nothing, but all Ireli people come here freely, and all
Sangha people must be free to go where they please in
Ireli. We will see what can be done. But you must go
back, both of you.”

We were ashamed before Endyali’s father.

After consulting others Dounairon decided that the
way for us to do it was quietly, and in such a manner
that if any real quarrel resulted Ireli would be put in
the wrong, as the aggressor. The point involved was
simply the right of a Sangha man and the guest of a
Sangha man to walk and climb about freely in Ireli. If
we returned on horseback to lower Ireli, approaching
from the plain, we might be stopped again in the lower
town and told that we couldn’t climb higher, and if a
quarrel started it would be we who had to force it.
Dounairon ’s plan was that we should go on foot instead,
descending the cliff by the regular ledges and ladders —
and thus we would be directly in upper Ireli. He felt



sure, he said, that once there the chief wouldn’t dare to
order us to be driven out. But we were to be accom-
panied by an uncle of Endyali, an older man of force
and dignity, who would know what to say if there
was a quarrel. All this was not quite so childish and
trivial, or so personal to me either as a white man, as
it reads on paper. There was, rather, a question of
precedent involved, and of town and family dignity,
which Endyali and I, alas ! had placed in a feeble, if
not actually cowardly, light.

The original trip had taken half a day on horseback,
but going down over the edge of the cliff, while difficult,
was much quicker. The last half-hour of it was goat’s
work — sometimes notched ladders, sometimes ladder-
like steps cut in the rock, in one or two places just
foot- and hand-holds along ledges worn smooth as
marble. For the Habbe it was nothing. Children, old
women even, climbed up and down. It wouldn’t have
been anything, either, for an Alpinist. But, having
never had any technical experience even as an amateur
in real mountain work, there were several moments
when I was more afraid of slipping than of any quarrel
that might develop on arrival. The uncle helped me,
however, carried my shoes strung round his neck, and
barefooted I felt safer.

When we got down actually into the inhabited part
of the cliff I was so fascinated that I forgot all about
being afraid, and about the quarrel too. It was honey-
combed with caves, dating evidently from the original
troglodytes, which had been improved by the later
Habbe, who had built their clay walls and terraces on



the ledges. The whole face of the cliff was inhabited
like a beehive. On almost every terrace, and poking
their heads from time to time out of cave entrances or
little square windows, were men, women, children, even
dogs. Stopping to rest on a terrace where there were
several men sitting and a woman chopping wood,
Endyali’s uncle sent a man down to tell the chief of
Ireli that we were paying a friendly visit to the upper
town, and that if by any chance he didn’t like it he
could come up and tell him why. Some of the Ireli
men who were sitting on the terrace heard the message
and laughed. Presently one brought us a jug of water.
The uncle explained that I was living in Sangha as
a guest of Dounairon’s family. They looked at me
curiously and talked a great deal, but they were not
unfriendly. They were evidently indifferent to their
chiefs personal grudges and quarrels. Endyali’s uncle
was known to them, and he knew what to do and say.
It was getting hot on the ledge in the sunshine, and
presently one of the men invited us to follow him.
The ledge we were on was unsheltered, a sort of public
place. We climbed some ladders and came to the
private terrace of his ‘ house.’ This terrace was at the
wide mouth of a natural cave in the cliffside, with rock
overhanging for its roof, and around it had been built
a low clay wall, knee-high, so that it made a fine,
comfortable, open veranda, looking out suspended in
the air a thousand feet above the immense valley. It
seemed a grand way to live — like having a penthouse
on a New York skycraper. This natural porch, opening
out toward the valley, but protected by its low clay



wall and overhanging roof, was the main living-room
of the family in good weather. There were couches
covered with skins, a big clay oven, jugs, calabashes,
low wooden stools. Carved back artificially into the cliff
from this ledge-cave were a number of square chambers,
dating evidently from pure troglodyte days. Six people
lived there, the man told us, but his women and
children were down below just now, in the gardens.

On this terrace, for the first time, I saw a Habbe
household altar. The altar itself was a low, flat rect-
angular stone about two feet wide, not larger. In its
centre was a phallus moulded in clay, standing up like
a little post. At the right of it, in a sort of box, so
that they wouldn’t topple over, stood three ugly little
wooden dolls, not more than six or seven inches tall,
little doll-like marionettes, their organs rudely sculp-
tured, but not exaggerated in size, one male, one
female, and one hermaphrodite. At the left of the post
was an open bowl containing a blackish liquid, partly
coagulated blood, with which the post and the three
little idols were smeared. It wasn’t pretty, but it was
intensely interesting. I asked what sort of ceremonies
took place before these family altars. They said no
ceremony at all, properly speaking, but that it was the
duty of the head of the family to kill a cock from time
to time and to sprinkle them with the blood that was
kept in the bowl. I asked Endyali if families in Sangha
had similar altars, and he said no, that it wasn’t exactly
the same, that many families had given up Fetishism
entirely and now worshipped only Amma at the public
altars. His own family, for instance, he said, had no



altar of this sort, but there was preserved at Sangha
the ancient Fetish of the Sangha clan, and his family,
he said, sometimes sacrificed to it as well as to Amma.
Our host, not at all annoyed, but rather pleased at our
interest in his bloody little gods, took a small cup and
sprinkled them with some of the mixture from the
bowl, to show how it was done.

Decidedly this second visit to Ireli was more friendly
than the first. On that first visit I had noticed on a
terrace high up and farther to the left than we now
were an object which had seemed to be a big wooden
box or ark, brightly painted in striped colours. Before
it stood the principal Amma altar of Ireli, and as a
matter of cantankerous pride we decided to go there.
I felt no embarrassment or compunctions, since
Endyali’s uncle knew so well what he was about. So
we climbed up, no one this time objecting. The chief
had never sent back any word at all, nor had he done
anything to hinder us. Arriving, we found that the
brightly painted ark, which had seemed from down
below no larger than a packing-box, was really a square
house, as large as a family mausoleum or vault in a
cemetery, with a big double wooden door, garage-like,
closed, but not locked or fastened. There was a sort
of caretaker on the ledge, and, far from being resentful,
he asked — without much interest, but expecting a gift,
I think — ^whether we wanted him to open the doors
and let us see insidr He was like a sacristan offering
to open the door of a ciypt c ‘hapel for strangers in
Europe. But Endyali’s uncle, deciding, I think, that
it was Sangha’s turn to be contemptuous, said, “ No,



there’s nothing in there worth seeing. We just came
up here for a walk along the ledges and to look at the

As a matter of fact we had come for no reason at all,
except with a chip on our shoulders, to show that we
could. I saw the inside of a similar ark later at Aru.
It was not a temple, but merely a storehouse for the
sacred objects, knives, bowls, etc., used in the sacrifices
which took place outside on the altar. Needless to say,
I never saw any sacrifices at Ireli. When I finally saw
a Fetish sacrifice among the Habbe — the Amma sacri-
fices are as casual, free, and open as our churches are
— it came about some weeks later, as such things
always come about if they are real, simply by the
accident of being present at a family affair among
friends in Sangha.


I T was a bright, sunshiny morning, and we were in
the walled backyard of Ogatembili’s house. Oga-
tembili was the chief sorcerer of Sangha, a man I
scarcely knew, custodian of Sangha’s ancient Fetish.

Endyali’s father, Dounairon Doli, head of the Sangha
clan, himself continuing sick and unable to be present,
had provided a goat and a cock for sacrifice, instructing
that prayers be offered for his recovery. There had
been some friendly argument the day before with
Ogatembili, who saw no special reason for permitting
a white person to see the ceremony, but Dounairon
had insisted that since the Doli family was paying for
the sacrifice, and since Endyali and I went everywhere
together, I might as well see it as not. Ogatembili
didn’t really care. By this time everybody knew that
I meant no harm, and everybody was either friendly
or indifferent to whatever I might do.

It was to be a private, family ceremony, anyway, and
there were only a handful of us present. There was
no religious or solemn atmosphere in the preliminary
preparations. The yard was inside mud walls ten feet
high, but it was nothing more than an ordinary back-
yard adjoining the house — wood-pile, cowshed, out-
houses, the wife and daughter of the sorcerer pounding
millet that would be made into a sort of cream to
be used in the sacrifice. The goat had been selected



the night before from Dounairon’s flocks, and stood
tethered. A man named Seru, the throat-cutter, a
long-haired member of the sacrificial priesthood, in
a short brown belted smock, was squatted beside the
goat, braiding a new cord. Endyali and I sat on the
wood-pile, smoking cigarettes, while he explained from
time to time why they were doing this or that. The
sorcerer was crouched in a corner of the yard with
his back to us, holding a red cock between his knees,
stroking it and talking to it. Every little while he
would toss it free, watch it ruflle its feathers and strut
for a moment, then catch it again by a string fastened
to one of its feet. Sitting in a backyard on a wood-pile
and thinking of the magnificent orgiastic chorals and
processions by torchlight in the Haitian jungle, with
tomtoms booming, and of things I had more recently
seen in the Ivory Coast forest, it seemed to me that
Fetishism here had fallen into a shabby and sad state.
I had slept badly the night before, for fear they might
finally decide not to let me see it after all, but now I
didn’t care. It is a stupid and self-contradictory fault
which I have always had, this wanting to see things as
they really are, and then being disappointed. It often
crops up in me.

The monotonous preparations went on for nearly
half an hour, during which the only thing that happened
was that once when the sorcerer tossed the cock from
him it flapped its wings and crowed lustily. Endyali
said this was a good omen. At last the women finished
preparing the cream of millet, went into the house,
and shut the door.

. 265


The ceremony, whatever it might be, was about to
begin. Still no sign of any altar or of the mysterious
Fetish which, Endyali told me, no woman’s eye was ever
permitted to look upon. That was why we had had to
wait until they had finished their task and gone indoors.

At exactly what moment, or why, my boredom gave
place to a nervous, unpleasant, half-spooky feeling,
despite the sunshine and the banal backyard setting, I
do not know. Very likely it was nothing more than a
nervousness communicated by Endyali, whose explana-
tions were beginning to be whispered and staccato.
“ They are coming,” he said. “ They will enter by
the gate. You will not be able to see them, but they
will be here.” “Who will be here? ” I asked.

“ The old ones who are dead, the ancient guardians
of the Fetish.” So this was that sort of spirit stuff,
ghost stuff! Shades of dubious, shabby apartments in
Central Park West, where also I had been slightly dis-
gusted and nervous rather than impressed, feeling that
if there was really anything supernatural behind the
curtains it was something unpleasant and unclean 1
A prejudgment here, but instinctive, and so not to be

Ogatembili had opened the gate — a little wooden
door it was, in the high wall — and was kneeling just
inside the opening with his arms spread wide. The
attitude, the gesture, the long white nightgown-robe
he wore, the tenseness of his face and voice, his heavy
breathing, made him seem different from what he had
been a little while before.

“ Come in,” he chanted, “ for the moment is now



approaching. We are going to offer sacrifice in the
old way as you taught us long ago to do, and the
reviving blood will flow again for the old forest gods
and devils.”

When the doubtful ghostly company had trooped in
Ogatembili fastened the gate, and, aided by Seru, the
throat-cutter, opened a small outhouse and dragged
from it an immense earthen pot. Then they set up
a wooden board, platform-like, on stones set back in a
narrow angle between two outhouses. From the big
earthen pot they lifted out the ancient Fetish of the
Sangha clan and deposited it on this improvised altar.
Endyali had not told me exactly what the Fetish was
— the physical, material form of a Fetish may be any-
thing — saying that when the time came I would see
for myself. This Fetish was a very old, worm-eaten idol,
the carven image of a little man, seated. He wore a
crown of shells and snake vertebrae. He had big ears,
a long, almost animal-like muzzle, rather than a nose ;
but the face was human. Tiny ^igris bags were strung
round his neck. He was seated with his hands on his
knees. He was barefooted, and though not cross-
legged there was something about the feet and hands
and the posture that suggested Buddha. But the face
was bestial, and he was entirely covered with old clotted
blood, streaks black and rotten-reddish, shiny like
varnish, and gummy-thick, so that you wouldn’t want
to touch it. I suppose he had been covered with blood
like that for generations and centuries. This was his
serum ‘ culture,’ this was what he lived in. He had a
tiny bell in his lap. Lying on the board were two iron



rings, a sausage-like bag, and an iron knife. These
had also come out of the earthen pot, and were likewise
soaked in old clotted blood.

Ogatembili, kneeling before the Fetish, but lifting
his eyes up toward the sky, began a sing-song chant,
first prudently making his peace with the high, clean
God, before devoting his attention to this one. Endyali
translated for me in whispers, and I also jotted down
phonetically a few of the Habbe phrases.

“ Amma, aganai yaha ! ” he repeated. “ We salute
Thee, Amma, the one, the universal ! ”

Then with sweeping gestures, bowing forward, right,
left, backward, and toward the earth, he continued :

“ But we salute also those below and those who are
round about. We salute you all, gods and devils.
There are seven sorts of other gods, and we cannot
be sure ; so we salute you all.”

Only after these precautionary invocations did he
address directly the little manikin. He said to it :

“ We come before you now who protect our family
and protect our clan, and who stand between us and
those we cannot see. Our business is with you now,
and it is you whom we salute.

“ I am an orphan, but I bring you salutations from
my father and mother. The chief who lies sick offers
you a goat and a cock to raise him up and protect him.
Behold his son here. Behold also the stranger, but
he comes as another son of the chief who lies sick;
so protect him also, for he has brought you a bag of
cowrie-shells. Let him be one who will always march
at the head of a procession.



“ Behold now, and everything will be done as the
ancestors taught us. Behold first the cream of millet.”

At this point he arose, sprinkled the idol with the
creamy liquid, and poured the rest in libation upon the
board. In the meantime Seru, the throat-cutter, had
led the goat before the altar with the newly braided

“ Behold now the blood ! ” chanted Ogatembili,
kneeling while the goat was lifted by two assistants
and held so that its throat was immediately above the
idol. While Ogatembili chanted Seru slashed the
throat, so that the idol and other objects upon the altar
were deluged with wet crimson.

“ Behold now the red cock ! ” chanted Ogatembili,
and why it was that what subsequently followed seemed
to me so horrid and obscene — particularly since I have
never had any clear understanding of what the word
‘ obscene ’ means — is a minor personal mystery, not
solvable by reason. For what actually happened was
trivial in a material, physical sense, and no more horrid
physically than what one might see in a Vermont back-
yard when the cook is killing and cleaning a chicken
for dinner. Yet it sent sickening shudders through
me. I have seen many blood-sacrifices among primitive
peoples, some beautiful and some with their large
element of mystery-horror ; have willingly participated
in some of them, have drunk the blood and been
marked with it, and with no feeling of uncleanness or
repulsion. I have seen goats, bulls, and doves slain,
fountains of blood flowing while crowds shrieked and
tomtoms boomed, and have liked it on the whole better



than an arid Protestant church service where they
merely sing in nasal voices of fountains filled with
blood, and I have even reflected that perhaps God
might like it better too.

What, then, was happening in this present case?

If anyone should ask me whether in my entire life,
in all my prying about in far or forbidden places, I bad
ever seen anything really horrihle, anything that could
send actual shivers down your spine and make your
hair stand on end, I think if I replied truly I should
say, “ Only once, and that was when I saw a chicken
sacrificed to a little wooden idol, in broad daylight, in
a backyard at Sangha.” But if they asked me why it
was horrible I should not be able to explain, and they
would think I was very silly, for all I could tell about
it would be something like this :

“Well, they just cut a chicken’s head oif and poured
the blood on a wooden doll, and then they skinned the
chicken’s neck, and took the skin from its neck with
the feathers on it, and with it made a little cap shaped
like a wig which they set askew on the doll’s head in
place of the little crown of vertebrae which it had been
wearing. Then they cut off the chicken’s comb from
the chicken’s head, and cut ofF one of its claws, and
took some of the feathers and made a little bouquet,
which they fastened with string like a little bouquet
of flowers for a doll, and they put this in one of the
little doll’s hands, and then they bowed and capered
before it.”

“ Yes, but what then ? What about the horrible
thing you were going to tell us ? ”

270 <7.


“ But that was all there was to it — what I have told.
That was the end of it. They didn’t do anything else.
That was the end of the ceremony. They put the doll
back in the big earthen jar and put the jar away in the
outhouse. And we went away.”


W E would be leaving the mountains of the
Habbe soon, almost surely never to return,
and I was unhappy, because it seemed to me
that I was going away still baffled, still as bewildered
as I had been during my first days among them.

Concerning their Fetishism, I believed that I now
understood at least as much as it is possible to
understand with the exterior mind, barring my own
emotionally exaggerated inner reactions, which I will
not try to analyse. This Fetishism, transplanted from
the forest, I thought, and divorced from the mystic
conceptions which gave it there a sombre power and
beauty, divorced also from the animistic beliefs that
made it spiritual even in its grossest forms, had here
become out of place, a mere degenerate backyard traffic
with ugly little minor larvas, hobgoblins, and demons.
The Habbe, it seemed to me, played with them and
invoked them as civilized Christians play with their
indecent dubious mediums, ectoplasms, table-tippings,
and ‘ Indian guides ’ — the same sort of indecent back-
yard stuff in most cases, if not always.

What I did not understand was the true nature of
this public Amma cult which had completely supplanted
Fetishism, properly speaking, as a religion. Endyali
hadn’t been able to make me understand, nor could his
father. Outwardly, of course, it was the worship of



Priapus. Its symbol was the phallic rod. But it was
evidently not merely a sex cult, and I was seeking to
apprehend, if I could, what spiritual essence or spiritual
concept lay behind the symbol. A Habbe, for instance,
coming among us and visiting our public altars.
Catholic or Protestant, would see us seeming to worship
a cross, a man being tortured, a shiny metal box
containing grigris^ a little white sheep, and a plaster-of-
Paris lady dressed up in tinsel and beads, like a Spanish
grand opera singer in The Barber of Seville. But if he
returned home without learning what spiritual essences
these symbols stood for he would be as ignorant as
when he came. He might have seen, as I had seen
here, people visiting the altars, offering their oblations,
but it would have left him none the wiser.

“ The only person who might give you satisfaction,”
said old Dounairon Doli, “ is the Hogoun of Aru, but
he lives far up on another mountain. He never de-
scends, and his house can be reached only by a path
which neither horses nor goats can climb. He is the
wisest and holiest of all the Habbe. He is, in fact, the
wisest man in the world. Perhaps if you go there he
will talk to you, for he receives all who go seeking
knowledge of difficult things. I myself have never
seen him, but I have a cousin in the town of Aru, and
my son can take you to his house with the horses, and
afterward my cousin can guide you.”

We slept the following night in the cousin’s house at
Aru. We had been received as members of the family,
dining with them at table, sitting on wooden stools;
chicken, rabbit, fresh green onions, boiled millet, honey,




and millet beer. M7 bedroom was a warm, dry inner
cave carved from the sloping cliffside against which
the house was built, and my bed was a carved niche
made comfortable with heavy skins laid on straw.

At dawn they awakened me, and, led by the cousin,
we began our climbing pilgrimage, down across a
gorge, then up the tangle of cliffs that piled up into
the sky beyond. In ten minutes we were out of sight
of Aru among the steep rocks. There were no ladders,
no ropes, no path, no sign of any human habitation.
We went barefooted, not, as Moses did, because the
ground was holy, but because with shoes or boots we’d
have slipped off the ledges and broken our necks.

I had been supposing, rather, that the Hogoun of
Aru would be a hermit in a cave. But when we came,
after climbing half the morning, to an enormous ledge
near the top of the cliff we found it covered with a
considerable agglomeration of walls and buildings.
Inside the walls was a stony garden, with a semicircular
sunken court and a big stone chair almost like a throne.
Stone benches facing it were carved in the cliffside,
and facing the garden and the cliff, with its back to
the outer walls and the precipice, stood the Hogoun’s
house, built of clay, but the fagade two-storeyed and
pillared like an Egyptian temple, surmounted by a row
of phallic cones, and the whole painted in fading
polychrome colours with a weather-worn soft pink
predominating. In appearance it was more like a
temple than a human dwelling, but in actuality it was
a sort of episcopal palace rather than either temple or
monastery, for, however holy the Hogoun of Aru might



be, he was not a hermit or a monk, and was very
comfortably established and served in his isolation. He
had servants who tended his person and cultivated his
gardens, a wife, and two young, rather pretty daughters,
who were not twins, but seemed to be about the same
age. The Hogoun himself was not visible. Servants
had conducted us through the gate in the outer wall,
and now the daughters came out of the house into the
garden, full of curiosity, to greet us and to offer us
water sweetened with honey. The lobes of their ears
were bristling with little straws, and they explained
that their mamma had just recently pierced them. They
laughed about it and said it had hurt, and that all
the straws had to be twisted every day. Habbe girls
frequently wear as many as a dozen small rings of gold
or silver in each ear, and also sometimes wear a jewel
in the pierced nostril, as Hindu ladies do. These two
girls had nice necklaces, and the tunics they wore were
of fine woven material. Evidently the Hogoun of Aru
did not regard poverty as a necessary concomitant of

But when at last he emerged from the house he him-
self came bareheaded and barefooted, in an old brown
smock such as Count Tolstoy might have worn, and
wearing no charms, amulets, or insignia of priesthood
or office. He was pure black, tall, of fine and dignified
countenance, casual and completely simple in his greet-
ings, but with a far-away look in his eyes, which were
also lighted, I thought, with a gentle, kindly humour.
He was elderly, strong, slightly patriarchal, though
his white beard was only a tiny wisp. He was, so the



Habbe believed and had told me, a very wise and
holy man, the wisest and holiest in all the mountains
and all the world — but he was certainly a simple and
kindly one.

He sent his daughters to find us food, and invited
the three of us, Endyali, the cousin from Aru, and
myself, to sit on the most comfortable of the stone
benches, in the shade. The cousin refused to sit while
the Hogoun was yet standing, and with a smile the
Hogoun sat himself down on the bare ground beside
the bench. I think possibly he took a sort of saint’s
pride and simple vanity in sitting on the ground there.
Or perhaps it was just his way of making himself
perfectly comfortable. He seemed to like to touch the
earth with his hands, and sometimes fingered his bare
feet as a baby does, while he mused and pondered
during pauses in the conversation.

In response to my slowly developed, respectful, and
cautious questions, seeking for whatever esoteric inner
truth and meaning he might be willing to impart con-
cerning the spiritual essence of the Amma cult, he had
said that Anuna was not Priapus, nor anything that
could be symbolized materially ; Amma, he had said,
was God, the one true imiversal God.

“ But to understand the mystery,” he had then con-
tinued, “ you must understand that Amma is also Three^
that Amma, unique and indivisible, is yet Three in One.”

On an almost inaccessible mountain-top in the in-
terior of Africa, among a people who had never heard
of Christianity, and where missionaries had never
penetrated, a black priest of Phallic Amma was pro-



nouncing, or seemed to be pronouncing, the formula
of the Holy Trinity. I wondered if I had come upon
an insoluble mystery, like that of the seeming Christian
and Masonic emblems and formulas found in Tibetan
monasteries, antedating Christianity itself.

I was to learn from the Hogoun of Aru, however,
that despite certain amazing parallels which specialists
in the esoteric and occult may care to draw — and they
can perhaps do so legitimately, as will be seen — the
Holy Trinity of the Habbe was not connected in any
outward, literal sense, either theological or historical,
with the Christian conception of Father, Son, and Holy

Before the Hogoun had pronounced his formula of
the Trinity we had been engaging in a slow conversa-
tion, which I think can best be made clear and kept
exact by setting down the questions I asked and the
answers he made, exactly as I noted them with pencil
immediately after our interview.

My Question. It is not then the object sculptured in
clay upon your altars which you worship }

The Hogoun. Our altars are a symbol of a mani-
festation of Amma, but we worship only the one true

Question. That one universal God is Amma himself.?

The Hogoun. There is no other.

Question. In our land we say that we believe also in
one universal God, and there are those who claim to
have special knowledge of him and to describe him
sitting on a great white throne with a great shining
countenance, and we say that he made us in his image.



Is your Amma anything like our God, or like a man?
Has he a body, hands, a face?

The Hogoun {after considerable -pondering). No man has
ever looked upon the face of Amma. Our ancestors
were wiser than we ; yet none of them has ever dared
to say that he looked upon the face of God. So who
can tell whether God has a face or not?

Question. We likewise teach that no man may look
upon the face of God and live, but there are those of
us who claim that we can talk with him and even hear
his voice. Is it thus with Amma?

The Hogoun. We can also speak to Amma, and we
believe that he can hear our voices ; but no man has
ever heard the voice of Amma.

Question. And the dwelling-place of Amma? We
say that God dwells on high, and when we pray we
begin by saying, “ Our Father which art in Heaven.”

The Hogoun. We lift up our arms and our eyes, but
we begin our prayer by saying, “ Amma above, below,
and round about,” for Amma is everywhere. He
manifests himself in everything, but he himself remains

It was at this point in the conversation that the
Hogoun pronounced his startling formula of a Trinity
and began explaining it. It was precisely in order to
manifest himself, precisely for the purpose of manifest-
ing himself, that Amma, invisible and indivisible, yet
made himself Three.

“ There was first of all Amma,” said the Hogoim.
“ Nothing existed except himself. In order to create
the material world, people, animals, trees, plants, grass,



and all that lives, he divided himself into two prin-
ciples : the male principle, the fructifier, and the female
principle, the bearer. From the combination of these
male and female principles, which are opposite, yet one,
all life is born. And this is our trinity: Amma the
One, Amma the Father, and Amma the Mother. For
the oneness of Amma there can be no symbol. For the
maleness of Amma we have chosen the natural emblem
and planted it on our altars. The whole earth and all
that it bears is the true symbol of Amma the Mother,
the bearer, but when we wish to symbolize this third
part of the trinity on an altar we do so with a bowl
or cup.

“ Rain and sun fertilize the earth, seeds fall and are
fertilized in the earth’s womb, just as the seed of the
man fertilizes the woman. It is all the manifestation
of Amma, the giver of life. There is only one good,
for a field or for a tree or for a man or for a woman :
fertility, fruitfulness, fecundity, life. There is only one
evil, for a field or for a tree or for a man or for a
woman : sterility, barrenness, death. So Amma is life,
and the religion of Amma is the religion of life. It is
this which we believe, this which we teach our children
— and to this we raise our altars.”

We came down from the mountain. . . . Sea-level
at Grand Bassam . . . sea-level in Marseilles . . . sea-
level in Paris . . . sea-level in New York. . . . Rising
from sea-level, Eiffel towers. Paramount and Chrysler
towers, strangely like proud gigantic replicas of Habbe
altars, and at their base a people as fantastic and be-
wildering, even to a man who was born among them,



as ever were the Habbe — a people who also seem mad,
but who, despite their seeming madness, and despite
backyard horrors as hideous in their different way as
those of Sangha, yet believe too in a religion of life,
and worship life after their fashion.

i3dap of the %pute
& ’Photographs


Arrow indicate roughly^ S^^^g returning^ the general territory
covered by the author.








Note the superb muscular development of the arms and torso.





At light a shouting grtot, who is iutrocluciiig the masked figure


The’make-up on her face is white pamt. 293


The Guere are described by the authoi as the handsomest and finest among
the Ivory Coast tribes.

When he appeals all the women and children are diiven indoors He has the li^jlit to smite, and even to ki
\et he amiably posed for this photo, and afteiward asked ft>r a 41ft

Che^\ecl leaves have been spif upon his body, and he holds a leaf between his teeth


She sometimes is forced to remain kncclir'” for an entire da\ and night


It IS said that if he ever looks upon the face of his cousin, the Moro Xaba, temporal ruler,
one of them will die.


The exterior is like an Eg^^itian cemeterj^ but inside the houses and on their roofs
a rich and interesting life goes on

He IS Timbuctoo’s leading citizen.


A corner of Ireli, a town built partiv among the rocks and partly on the
perpendicular chft.


The icsemblaiice to ,i foiulal iui*<Ii<-val Itiircipoau t itv, fir.litioiis, iiu’«l iu\ -.ifi ion<^ly faiit.istu .unl b( aiilifiil to thi
said) in west CENTRAI AFRICA

IN HIS courtyard

as seen only three white f^ces.