Fetichism in West Africa | Annotated Tale

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Queen Ngwe-Nkonde and Her Manja

A KING, by name Ra-Mborakinda, had many wives, but he had no children at all. He was dissatisfied, and was always saying that he wanted children. So he went to a certain great wizard, named Ra-Marânge, to get help for his trouble.

               Whenever any one went on any business to Ra-Marânge, before he had time to tell the wizard what he wanted, Ra-Marânge would say, "Have you come to have something wonderful done?" On the visitor saying, "Yes," Ra-Marânge, as the first step in his preparations and to obtain all needed power, would jump into fire or do some other astonishing act.

               So, this day, he sprang into the fire, and came out unharmed and strong. Then he told Ra-Mborakinda to tell his story of what he had come for.

               The king said, "Other people have children, but I have none. Make me a medicine that shall cause my women to bear children." Ra-Marânge replied, "Yes, I will fix you the medicine; and after I have made the mixture, you must require all of your women to eat of it." So the wizard fixed the medicine, and the king took it with him and went home.

               His queen's name was Ngwe-nkonde; and among his lesser wives and concubines were two quite young women who were friends, one of whom lived with the queen in her hut as her little manja, or handmaid.

               As soon as Ra-Mborakinda arrived, he announced his possession of the medicine, and ordered all his women to come and eat of it. But Ngwe-nkonde was jealous of her young maid, and did not wish her to become a mother. So, early in the morning, she purposely sent the manja away to their mpindi (plantation hut) on a made-up errand, so that she might not be present at the feast.

               At the appointed hour the king spread out the medicine, and called the women to come. They each came with a piece of plantain leaf as a plate, and assembled to eat, and Ramborakinda divided out the medicine among them. Then the other of the two young women remembered her friend the manja, and observed that she was absent. So she quickly tore off a piece of her plantain leaf, and divided on it a part of her own share of the medicine, and hid it by her, to keep it for the manja, so that she could have it on her return from the mpindi. In the afternoon, when the manja returned, her friend gave her the portion of the medicine, and she ate it. Soon after this, all these women told Ra-Mborakinda that they expected to become mothers.

               After a few months he announced to them that he was going away on a long trade-journey and that he would not return until a stated time. He gave them directions that in the meanwhile they should leave his town and go to their parents' homes and stay there until his return.

               Now it happened that all these women had homes except the little manja; her parents were dead, but she remembered the locality of their deserted village.

               So Ra-Mborakinda left to go on his journey, and all the expectant mothers scattered to the homes of their parents, except the manja, who had to follow with the queen to her people's village. But soon after their arrival at Ngwe-nkonde's home, the latter began to treat her maid cruelly; and finally, in her severity, she said, "Go away to your own home and sojourn there," the while that she knew very well that her manja had no home. Her thought and hope were that the manja would perish in the wilderness.

               As the maid knew the spot where her home had been, she left Ngwe-nkonde's village, and started into the forest to go to her deserted village. On arriving there, she found no houses nor any remains of human habitation. But there was a very large fallen tree, with a trunk so curved that it was not lying entirely flat on the ground. Under this enormous log she sat down to rest, and it gave her shade and shelter. She accepted it as her place at which to live and slept there that night. When she awoke in the morning, she saw lying near her food and other needed things; but she saw no one coming or going. A few days later on awaking in the morning she saw a nice little house with everything prepared of food and clothing and medicines and such articles as would be needed by a mother for her babe. She stayed there, and in a few days gave birth to a man-child. Each day in the morning she found, prepared for her hand, food and other needed things lying near.

               So she stayed there a long time till her baby was able to creep. When the baby had grown strong, she knew it was the time that Ra-Mborakinda had appointed for the return of his women to his town. She finally gathered together her things for the journey next day. That night, before she had gone to sleep, suddenly she saw a little girl standing near her, and she heard a voice which she remembered as her mother's saying, "I give you this little girl to carry the babe for you. But when you go back to Ra-Mborakinda, do not allow anyone but yourself and this girl to carry the child; if you do, the girl will disappear." So the next morning they started on their journey, the young mother and baby and the girl-nurse.

               During this while each of the other women had also born her baby, and they were now preparing to return to Ra-Mborakinda's town. But of them all none had born real human beings, except the manja and her young friend. All the others had born monstrosities, like snakes, frogs, and other creatures. Ngwe-nkonde had born two snails, of the kind called "nkâla." (It is a very large snail.)

               So that day Ngwe-nkonde was coming along with her nyamba (a long scarf) hung over her right shoulder, and her two snails resting in the slack of the scarf, as in a hammock, over her left hip, and supported by her left arm. When the manja reached the cross-roads, she found the queen waiting there. Her object in waiting there was to know whether her maid was still in existence.

               On seeing the manja, Ngwe-nkonde pretended to be pleased and said, "Let me see the child you have born;" and she stepped forward to take the baby away from the little girl-nurse. Manja, in her fear of her mistress and accustomed to submit to her, forgot to resist. Ngwe-nkonde saw that the babe was healthy and attractive, and she coveted it. She exclaimed, "Oh, what a nice child you have born! Let me help you carry it!" The moment she took the baby, the girl-nurse disappeared. Ngwe-nkonde deposited the babe in her scarf, and gave the two snails to her manja, saying, "You carry this for me!" She did this, intending to cause Ra-Mborakinda to think that the baby was her own; she had no intention to return it to its real mother; and the manja did not dare to complain.

               So they went onward on their journey to the king's town.

               All the women, as they arrived there, saluted each other, "Mbolo!" "Ai! mbolo!" "Ai!" and each told her story and showed her baby. Then they all brought their babies to the King Ra-Mborakinda, that the father might see his children. In the king's presence Ngwe-nkonde took out the baby boy from her scarf and placed it at her breast to nurse. But the child turned its head away and would not nurse, and did nothing but cry and cry. Poor little manja did not dare to claim her own, and she took no interest in the snails to show them to the king. For a whole day there was confusion. The baby boy persisted in rejecting Ngwe-nkonde's breast and kept on crying, and the snails were moaning.

               Not knowing what to make of this trouble, Ra-Mborakinda went again to Ra-Marânge. The wizard laughed when he saw the king coming with this new trouble, for, by his magic power, he already knew all that had happened. "So!" he says, "you have come with another trouble, eh?" And at once he jumps into the fire, and emerges clean and strong.

               Then the king informed the wizard what his difficulty was. And Ra-Marânge told him, "This is a small thing. It does not need medicine. Go you and tell all your women each to cook some very nice food; then, sitting in a circle, each must put the nice food near her feet. All the babies must be put in a bunch together in the centre, and you will see what will happen."

               So Ra-Mborakinda went back to his town and told the women to follow these directions. They all did so, except the queen and her manja. The former did not put the baby boy in the bunch of the other babies, but retained him on her lap, and tried to make him eat of her nice food. But he only resisted, and kept on crying, and the manja, in her grief and hopelessness, had not prepared any nice food, only a pottage of greens, which she thought good enough for her present unhappiness.

               The king seeing that the wizard's directions were not fully followed by the queen, compelled her to put the baby down in the company of the other creatures, and then he and all the mothers sat around watching what would happen.

               Soon all the children began to creep, each to its own mother. The two snails went to Ngwe-nkonde, and began to eat of her nice food. The little baby boy crept rapidly toward the manja, and began with satisfaction to eat of the poor food at its mother's feet.

               That was a revelation to the king and to all the other mothers. They were surprised and indignant that Ngwe-nkonde had been trying to steal the baby from the manja; Ra-Mborakinda deposed her from being queen. And the other women shouted derision at her, "Ngwe-nkonde! O! o-o-o!" and drove her from the town. She went away in her shame, leaving the two snails behind, and never returned.

               And the king made the manja queen in her place. And the story ends.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Queen Ngwe-Nkonde and Her Manja
Tale Author/Editor: Nassau, Robert Hamill
Book Title: Fetichism in West Africa
Book Author/Editor: Nassau, Robert Hamill
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1904
Country of Origin: West Africa
Classification: unclassified

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