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dwell in the object, or that, if it does, it is indisposed to serve him: “in either case be throws away the receptacle he had prepared for the spirit, and recommences de novo. But, so great is the fear of giving possible offence to any superhuman agent, that before discarding it he invariably makes some offering to it to avert its anger.”
Here I interrupt the summary of Colonel Ellis's account to make some remarks. As we have seen, Colonel Ellis finds a difficulty in saying what class of god Sasabonsum belongs to. I would suggest that the source of the difficulty is that Sasabonsum is not a god at all; and I would point to several differences between Sasabonsum on the one hand, and general deities, local deities, and tutelary deities of sections of the community on the other hand. The latter have each a definite circle of worshippers ; Sasabonsum, none. They have priests of their own ; Sasabonsum has not. Further, their worship is public and approved ; Sasabonsum's is secret and illicit. They do good, more or less, to their worshippers ; Sasabonsum (“malignant”) is implacable and does good to nobody. In fine, Sasabonsum is a spirit with whom no body of worshippers has established permanent friendly relations, and is not, therefore, a god at all. The worship of the general deities, the local deities, and the tutelary deities of particular sections of the community is religious worship, for they are gods of the or a community ; but dealings with Sasabonsum and the manufacture of suhmans are in the nature of “ black art," as Sasabonsum is not one of the community's gods.
Now, let us listen to Colonel Ellis again. The Portuguese discoverers of West Africa (1441-1500) were familiar in Europe with relics of saints, charmed rosaries, amulets, and charms generally, for which the Portuguese term was feitiços. When, then, they found the Tshi-speaking negroes worshipping pieces of stone and other tangible, inanimate objects such as the tutelary deities (whether of individuals or of sections of the community) dwelt in, they naturally regarded these small objects as charms, and called them feitiços. They could not have applied the term to a natural feature of the landscape, such as a river, valley, rock, etc., in which a general or local deity dwelt and where he was worshipped. Now the term
feitiço or fetish is not strictly applicable even to a suhman, much less to the tutelary deity of a family or town-company, because the feitiços of Europe at the end of the fifteenth century were genuine charms, i.e. tangible and inanimate objects believed to possess inherent supernatural powers of their own; whereas even the suhman was, and is, conceived to be a spirit dwelling in the inanimate object. This error, sufficiently misleading if it had only involved a false conception of the nature of tutelary deities of individuals and sections of the community, unfortunately has grown still further, for the term fetish has come to be applied to all the objects of negro-worship, even to local and general deities. For this error we have principally to thank De Brosses, who thought he had discovered in fetishism the origin of religion, and was led to define a fetish (in his Du Culte des Dieux Fétiches, 1760) in this misleading manner: "Anything which people like to select for adoration,” for examples, “a tree, a mountain, the sea, a piece of wood, the tail of a lion, a pebble, a shell, salt, a fish, a plant, a flower, certain animals, such as cows, goats, elephants, sheep, or anything like these.” Hence the mistaken belief, widespread once in the learned world, that the negro worships an inanimate object, a stock or a stone, knowing it to be inanimate. For another, if possible, more misleading error Bosman (through De Brosses) is ultimately responsible. He gives the following as a statement made to him by a native: “If any of us is resolved to undertake anything of importance, we first of all search out a god to prosper us in our designed undertaking; and, going out of doors with this design, take the first creature that presents itself to our eyes, whether dog, cat, or the most contemptible animal in the world, for our god, or, perhaps, instead of that, any inanimate object that falls in our way, whether a stone, a piece of wood, or anything else of the same nature. This new-chosen god is immediately presented with an offering, which is accompanied by a solemn vow, that if he pleaseth to prosper our undertakings, for the future we will always worship and esteem him as a god. If our design prove successful, we have discovered a new and assisting god, which is daily presented with fresh offerings; but if the contrary happen, the new god is rejected as a useless tool, and consequently returns to his primitive estate. We make and break our gods daily, and consequently are the masters and inventors of what we sacrifice to.” The contemptuous tone of this description must strike the reader. The explanation is that the native informant of Bosman “ in his youth lived among the French, whose language he perfectly understood and spoke," and as a consequence he “ridiculed his own country gods.” Doubtless he was, as Colonel Ellis suggests, "anxious to appear superior to his more superstitious fellow-countrymen, and to greater advantage to his European acquaintance," and so he stated the native practices, but suppressed everything that would make them intelligible and rational. The idea of coercion, as applied to a deity, appears to Colonel Ellis, after making inquiries in all directions, and after an experience of the Gold Coast extending over thirteen years, “to be quite foreign to the mind of the negro ... the negroes so implicitly believe in the superhuman power of the gods, and hold them generally in such awe, that I am convinced no coercion is ever there attempted or even thought of. The testimony of all the natives I have consulted on this point seems to me conclusive.”
The best proof of the accuracy of Colonel Ellis's observations is that they are, as we shall shortly see, confirmed, unintentionally, by the parallels afforded by observers of other widely remote races and religions. As a preliminary to resuming our argument where we dropped it at the end of the last chapter, however, let us ask, What now is the meaning of “fetishism”? Colonel Ellis has classified for us the general, local, and sectional deities of the Gold and Slave Coasts, together with the guardian spirits of individuals and the charms to which a guardian spirit or suhman has communicated its own powers. We may, if we like, call all these things fetishes, as De Brosses and Comte did and Bastian does. The only objection to this is that then the word has no meaning, or a meaning so nebulous as to be useless for scientific purposes. Thus, if we included under the term all the objects enumerated except the suhman charms, we might put a meaning on the word, for then all the things designated by it would be things worshipped. But the suhman charms are not worshipped. Nor can we, if we apply the name to all the objects enumerated above, define a fetish as everything connected with religion; for the feeling with which the suhman charm is viewed by its owner is not religious. But, without pressing these objections, we may observe that the very business of a history of religion is to ascertain in what relation the classes of things enumerated above stand to one another; and to lump them all together as fetishes does not help forward the work of distinction and arrangement, but rather retards and confounds it; for what does it help us to be told that all religion originates in fetishism, if fetishism means everything that has to do with religion? or that Zeus was a fetish, if a fetish only means anything that is worshipped ?
On the other hand, we may, if we like, consider that fetishism must be something very low and degraded, and that therefore the term had better be confined to the suhman and the charms derived from it, the lowest of Colonel Ellis's classes. But in that case, so far from the idol's being “an elaborated fetish,”1 the suhman or fetish is itself but an imitation idol, made after the fashion and on the pattern of the genuine idol of a local or general deity. And if we confine the term fetish to the charm made from the suhman, then it is not the idol that is an elaborated fetish, but the fetish that is the remnant or survival of an imitation idol.
Finally, whatever the meaning we choose to put upon the term “ fetish,” no harm can be done, if when we mean “ local deity" or "guardian spirit,” etc.—terms fairly plain—we say “ local deity” or “ guardian spirit,” etc., as the case may be, instead of calling them “fetishes,” which may mean one thing to one person and another to another, because it has no generally accepted scientific definition. Let us now pick up the thread of our argument from the end of the last chapter.
A god, we will repeat, is not a supernatural being as such, but one having stated, friendly relations with a definite circle of worshippers, originally blood-relations of one another. It is with the clan that his alliance is made, and it is the fortunes of the clan, rather than of any individual member thereof, that are under his protection. Consequently, if
1 Supra, p. 137.
things go ill with the individual clansman, he must do one of two things : he must either commend himself specially to the protection of the god of the community, or he must seek the aid of some other supernatural power. The latter course, however, is disloyal to the community, and if the community is vigorous and strong enough to suppress disloyalty, such infidelity is punished by outlawry. It was therefore the former course which was first attempted, and we will begin with it accordingly.
The answer to the question, how to commend oneself to the protection of the deity, could not have been difficult to find, it was hit on by so many different races in exactly the same form. The alliance between the community and the god took the shape of a blood - covenant. Even private individuals can, as we have already seen, at a certain stage in the development of society, form a blood-covenant between themselves, which only binds themselves, and does not include their clansmen in the benefits to be derived from it. Obviously, therefore, a covenant between the god and the individual worshipper could be sealed in the same way; and the individual accordingly offers his own blood on the altar or to the idol. The occasions on which the worshipper requires the god's special favour are various. It may be that the god's favour has been lost and must be regained; thus amongst the Quissamas an offering of the worshipper's own blood appeases the offended “ fetish.”? Sickness may be the mark of his anger, so on the Loango Coast whoever wishes to be healed by the “fetish ” Bingu, must shave his head and paint himself red, which is equivalent to covering himself with his own blood. In the Tonga Islands equivalents are not accepted; a finger joint must be cut off to procure the recovery of a sick relation. 4 The Australian aborigines and the Tscherkess also cut off a finger in sickness. Wealthy women of the Sudra caste offer a golden finger in place of the real flesh and blood. The Abipones substituted an offering
Supra, p. 101. in ii 2 As he is called in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute, i. 192. What kind of god he really was, I cannot make out.
? Bastian, Loango Küste, i. 270. Here, too, I cannot make out whether this "fetish ” is a general or a local god, or even whether he is a god at all.
+ Mariner, Tonga Islands, ii. 210.