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Those who have only two names the supposition is that they have not entered the beri or they have not accepted Muhammudanism.
Perhaps the first social ceremony in the life of the Vai individual is experienced on entering the sande and beri institutions. The boys receive on their backs the national mark and the second name, and are circumcised if they have not been when quite small, according to custom. The above is known as the beri-rite, in connection with which is prepared a large feast called the gbánu. Very often the dishes for this feast are prepared in town and not in the beri as formerly; so that you will more often hear this feast called the gbána-bo. Bo is a verb meaning to bring out, and is added to indicate the change in the place where the food is prepared. In both the beri and sande institutions they have a cleaned place in the forest known as fari, and in which all the beri and sande ceremonies are held. After the beri-rite and feast a great dance is held in the fari, accompanied by singing and the beating of drums.
The head of the sande is called Zo-sande, and of the beri, Zo-beri. When these institutions come to a close, for weeks the beri-moenu are the occasions of many social gatherings. Moenu is the plural of beri-mo and means one who has gone through the beri-rite. The first one begins when the Zo-ba brings them to the nearest town. All who have finished the beri and sande rites are held in the highest esteem, and many functions are given in their honor. They are dressed in the best attire their people can afford, and march through the streets of the town as though each one was walking for a prize. This is the great Vai commencement. To witness this brilliant and grand display people come in from all neighboring towns. Parents gather with their friends to see the evidences of what their children have learned.
Some come to eat, drink and be merry, while others yet to judge of the utility and efficiency of the greatest institutions of the tribe. Chickens, goats, bullocks, and African products combine for a large and sumptuous feast. After the dinner the dancing begins, and late at night one can hear the singing and the dull sound of drums keeping time for those still
held by the charms of the dance. When this "Big Play" is over the beri-moenu go to their home towns, and there they are received with great rejoicing and social functions, with all the native concomitants of eating and drinking and dancing.
Before these can get married, who have had the beri and sande rites, they must have a ceremony commonly called "Washing from the Devil and Greegree Bushes." Certain instructions are given in these institutions regarding the sexes, and it is believed that if they are violated by those trained in them, the violations will be attended by severe punishments. So in washing it is thought that the effect and force of the instructions are emphasized. After the washing a dinner is prepared, after which comes the dance with its music and singing. The washing and dinner are attended by the friends of the family whose entertainment and pleasure make up the social feature of the ceremony.
Whenever a death occurs among the important men and women of the tribe it is always followed by a "Big Play." And for more than a week relatives and friends come with presents to the bereaved family. The women shave their heads and weep in sackcloth and ashes, assisted by professional mourners. In the event that relatives required for the final burial are absent, a temporary grave is made in the house, usually in the kitchen, for from two weeks to a year. When all required have arrived, the body of the deceased is buried before the house, generally in the yard. A large feast is spread. The maidens dress and march through the streets. The singers sing, and the drums announce the merriment of the day. It is a social function in which everybody is supposed to participate. They dance until a late hour at night. From appearances no one, unfamiliar with African life, would think that a funeral ceremony was still being performed; and it continues for days and weeks in accord with the importance of the deceased.
The writer learned that this strange custom is founded on the belief that the dead are where they can behold the conduct of the living. The latter believe if they do not honor he dead with a "Big Play" as they honor the living, the
dead will be disappointed and visit upon them sickness, death, and other misfortunes. The influence of the feast and play varies with the wealth and distinction of the interested family.
The male relatives of the deceased as a mark of mourning wear a bana, a small ring of bamboo bark around their heads, while the females wear it about their necks. The death of a man of high standing generally leaves a number of widows. If a relative desires to marry one he may propose by sending her what they call a fara sunda, a bamboo-band. If she accepts the proposal she keeps the band; if she declines she returns it.
Doubtless the most distinguished gathering among the native Africans is at the coronation of their king. Many Vai men of importance and letters have tried to tell the writer of the magnificence of such occasions when in the past the Vais have crowned their real great kings. From them all it was gathered that it was the custom for the king to be attired in robes of scarlet or some brilliant color, adorned with tiger skins and especially made for this occasion. By the most skillful hands his robes are figured with the forms of various animals. Of silver and gold he wore the rarest designs of the most expensive native jewelry. His carved breastplate hung on his neck, and on his wrists were a number of leopard teeth. On his head he wore a hat or king's hat, ornamented with shells and the fur of animals. Attended with all his chiefs and warriors he appeared amid the music and beating of drums for the coronation.
The head medicine man sprinkles the king with powder and greases his face with oil and ointments. The king kneels before the medicine man. Volleys of shot are fired by the soldiers near by, and in a little while he is declared king. The king is then given a reception. A general dance is commenced, forming a circle about him; the music starts, the drums and clappers sound, and the dance continues. Expressive of admiration, now and then, a dancer or musician prostrates himself at the king's feet. And the ceremony is concluded for a while by serving drinks. Again he joins his subjects in partaking of the various native dishes, after which
he is ready for the final act of the ceremony. The king is seated on his stool or chair, ready for the sacrifice, when the poor victims were brought forward for their fate.
A sham battle follows in which the generals and warriors vie with each other in the exhibition of their military tactics and skill. From all the towns come the best singers, clappers, drummers, and other musicians, to make the music for a grand dance in the square which is usually in the center of the town. The Zo-bas or "Country Devils" lead the way for the best dancers of the country. From the circle to the square, from 1 to 300 women, trained in the art of the native dance, make many figures, and some of whom are so zealous and fantastic in their movements that they are borne exhausted from the dance.
It is hardly necessary to mention the dance as a social function. It is one of the principal features of all native gatherings of whatever nature. In all the ceremonies of the beri and sande institutions, the naming of children, of marriage and death, and the functions in honor of the king, the dance ranks with the feast. And these two together constitute the essence and are the chief forms of social expression among the West African Blacks. During suitable weather in almost every town there is a dance every evening. It is a common expression that "When the sun goes down all Africa dances.'
But there are various kinds of dances. Besides the common dance, the timbo, there is ziawa, a dance accompanied by a peculiar kind of song; the ngere, another dance with a special song; and the mazu, a dance accompanied by wild gestures of the arms. In the beri and sande societies special instruction is given in all forms of the native dance, and many Vai women are graceful as well as highly proficient in this native art. For the customary "dashes," on lovely evenings, professional singers and dancers go from house to house, singing and dancing for the rich.
A COMPARISON OF SOME CONDITIONS IN
By Charles K. Needham
The present writer, a native of Kentucky and born in 1848, can look back upon the conditions of slavery as they once existed. His business life as a civil engineer has been passed in his own state, in Tennessee, Georgia and all the Gulf States east of the Mississippi River; he is therefore somewhat familiar with the present social condition of the descendants of former slaves. During the past three winters he has spent a portion of his time in the West Indies and on the Isthmus of Panama; his second winter in Jamaica terminated in March, 1913.
If any one interested in Jamaica will turn to an index of periodical literature he will find a variety of articles mentioned, some of which relate to its scenery and others to its social life. On reading farther under this latter class he will notice that nearly all the writers say directly or by implication that English methods of government, as applied in Jamaica, have been more successful in managing the colored people than American methods in the southern part of the United States. It is not the purpose of this article to deny such a statement, but rather to explain the difference as due to some other cause than hatred or opposition on the part of white men in the South. The goal toward which Jamaica seems to be tending is so different from that which lies before the southern part of the United States— to say nothing of Jamaica's climatic and insular situation— that there is really little or nothing which could be copied by the people of the southern states to the practical advantage of the colored people around them. To make this more apparent than by a mere statement is the design of the present writer.