Fetichism in West Africa: Forty Years' Observations of Native Customs and Superstitionsby Robert Hamill Nassau
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On the 2d of July, 1861, I sailed from New York City on a little brig, the "Ocean Eagle," with destination to the island of Corisco, near the equator, on the West Coast of Africa. My first introduction to the natives of Africa was a month later, when the vessel stopped at Monrovia, the capital of the Liberian Republic, to land a portion of its trade goods, and at other ports of Liberia, Sinoe, and Cape Palmas; thence to Corisco on September 12.
Corisco is a microcosm, only five miles long by three miles wide; its surface diversified with every variety of landscape, proportioned to its size, of hill, prairie, stream, and lake. It is located in the eye of the elephant-head shaped Bay of Corisco, and from twelve to twenty miles distant from the mainland. Into the bay flow two large rivers,--the Muni (the Rio D'Angra of commerce) and the Munda (this latter representing the elephant's proboscis).
The island, with adjacent mainland, was inhabited by the Benga tribe. It was the headquarters of the American Presbyterian Mission. On the voyage I had studied the Benga dialect with my fellow-passenger, the senior member of the Mission, Rev. James L. Mackey; and was able, on my landing, to converse so well with the natives that they at once enthusiastically accepted me as an interested friend. This has ever since been my status among all other tribes.
I lived four years on the island, as preacher, teacher, and itinerant to the adjacent mainland, south to the Gabun River and its Mpongwe tribe, east up the Muni and Munda rivers, and north to the Benito River.
In my study of the natives' language my attention was drawn closely to their customs; and in my inquiry into their religion I at once saw how it was bound up in these customs. I met with other white men--traders, government officials, and even some missionaries--whose interest in Africa, however deep, was circumscribed by their special work for, respectively, wealth, power, and Gospel proclamation. They could see in those customs only "folly," and in the religion only "superstition."
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