Fetichism in West Africa | Annotated Tale

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Jĕki and His Ozâzi

RA-MBORAKINDA had his town where he lived with his wives, his sons, his daughters, and his glory.

               Lord Mborakinda had his loved head-wife, Ngwe-nkonde, and the unloved one, Ngwe-lěgě. Both of these, with other of his wives, had sons and daughters. Ngwe-nkonde's first son was Nkombe, and she had two others. Ngwe-lěgě also had three sons, but the eldest of these, Jěki, was a thief. He stole everything he came across,--food, fish, and all. This became so notorious that when people saw him approach their houses they would begin to hide their food and goods, saying, "There comes that thief!"

               Jěki's grandfather, the father of his mother, was dead. One night, in a dream, that grandfather came to him, and said to him, "Jěki, my son, when will you leave off that stealing, and try to work and do other things as others do? To-morrow morning come to me early; I have a word to say to you." Jěki replied, "But where do you live, and how can I know the way to that town?" He answered, "You just start at your town entrance, and go on, and you will see the way to my place before you reach it."

               So the next morning Jěki, remembering his dream, said to his mother, "Please fix me up some food." [He did not tell her that the purpose of the food was not simply for his breakfast, but as an extra supply for a journey.] The food that was prepared for him was five rolls made of boiled plantains mashed into a kind of pudding called "nkima," and tied up with dried fish. When these were ready, he put them inside his travelling-bag. Then he dressed himself for his journey.

               His mother said, "Where are you going?" He evaded, and said, "I will be back again." So he went away.

               After he had been gone a little while, he came to a fork of the road, and without hesitation his feet took the one leading to the right. After going on for a while he met two people named Isakiliya, fighting, whose forms were like sticks. [These sticks were abambo, or ghosts. In all native folk-lore, where spirits embody themselves, they take an absurd or singular form, that they may test the amiability or severity, as the case may be, of human beings with whom they may meet. They bless the kind, and curse the unkind.] He went to them to make peace, and parted them; took out one of his rolls of nkima and fish, gave to them, and passed on. They thanked him, and gave him a blessing, "Peace be on you, both going and coming!" He went on and on, and then he met two Antyâ (eyes) fighting. In the same way as with the Isakiliya, he went to them, separated them, gave them food, was blessed, and went on his way.

               Again he met in the same way two Kumu (stumps) fighting, and in the same way he interfered between them, made peace, gave food, was blessed, and went on his journey. He went on and on, and met with a fourth fight. This time it was between two Poti (heads), and in the same way he made peace between them, gave a gift, was blessed, and went on.

               He journeyed and journeyed. And he came to a dividing of the way, and was puzzled which to take. Suddenly an old woman appeared. He saluted her, "Mbolo!" took out his last roll of nkima, and gave it to her. The old woman thanked him, and asked him, "Where are you going?" He replied, "I'm on my way to an old man, but am a little uncertain as to my way." She said, "Oh, joy! I know him. I know the way. His name is Rě-vě-nla-gâ-li." She showed him the way, pronounced a blessing on him, and he passed on. He had not gone much farther when he came to the place.

               When the old grandfather saw him, he greeted him, "Have you come, son?" He answered, "Yes."

               "Well," said the grandfather, "I just live here by myself, and do my work myself." And the old man made food for him. Then next day this grandfather began to have a talk with Jěki. He rebuked him for his habit of stealing. Jěki replied, "But, grandfather, what can I do? I have no work nor any money. Even if I try to leave off stealing, I cannot. I do not know what medicine will cause me to leave it off." Then said the grandfather, "Well, child, I will make the medicine for you before you go back to your mother." So Jěki remained a few days with his grandfather, and then said, "I wish to go back." The grandfather said, "Yes, but I have some little work for you to do before you leave." So Jěki said, "Good! let me have the work."

               The grandfather gave him an axe, and told him to go and cut firewood sufficient to fill the small woodshed. Jěki did so, filling the shed in that one day. The regular occupation of the old man was the twisting of ropes for the lines of seines. So the next day he told Jěki to go and get the inner barks, whose fibre was used in his rope-making. Jěki went to the forest, gathered this material, and returned with it to the old man.

               The next day the grandfather said to Jěki, "Now I am ready to start you off on your journey." And he added, "As you gave as reasons for stealing that you had neither money nor the means of getting it, I will provide that." Then the old man called him, took him to a brook-side, and reminded him that he had promised that he could make a medicine to cure him of his desire to steal.

               The grandfather began to cut open Jěki's chest, and took out his heart, washed it all clean, and put it back again. Then they went back to the grandfather's house. There he gave Jěki an ozâzi (wooden pestle), and said, "Now, son, take this. This is your wealth. Everything that you wish, this will bring to you. Hold it up, express your wish, and you will get it. But there is one orunda (taboo) connected with it: no one must pronounce the word 'salt' in your hearing. You may see and use salt, but may not speak its name nor hear it spoken, for if you do things will turn out bad for you." "But," the old man added, "if that happens, I will now tell you what to do." And he revealed to him a secret, and gave him full directions. When the grandfather had finished, he led him a short distance on the way, and returned to his house. He had not prepared any food for Jěki for the journey, for he with the ozâzi would himself be able to supply all his own wishes.

               Jěki goes on and on, and then exclaims doubtfully, "Ah, only this ozâzi is to furnish me with everything! I'm getting hungry; so, soon I'll try its power." He went on a little farther, and then decided that he would try whether he could get anything by means of the ozâzi. So he held it up, and said, "I wish a table of food to be spread for me, with two white men to eat with me." Instantly there was seen a tent, and table covered with food, and two white men sitting. He sat down with these two companions. After they had eaten, he spoke to the ozâzi to cause the tent and its contents to disappear. They did so. This proved for him the power of his ozâzi, and he was glad, and went on his way satisfied.

               Finally he reached his father's town, whose people saw him coming, but gave him no welcome, except his mother, who was glad to see him. But most of the people only said, "There! there is that thief coming again. We must begin to hide our things." After Jěki's arrival, in a few days, the townspeople noticed a change in him, and inquired of each other, "Has he been stealing, or has he really changed?" for shortly after his return he had told his mother and brothers all the news, and had warned the people of the town about the orunda of "salt." In the course of a few days Jěki did many wonderful things with his ozâzi. He wished for nice little premises of his own with houses and conveniences, near his father's town, supplied with servants and clothing and furniture. These appeared. Soon, by the wealth that he possessed, he became master of the town, and ruled over the other children of his father. He obtained from that same ozâzi, created by its power, two wives,--Ngwanga and Ilâmbe, who were loving and obedient. He also bought three other wives from the village, who were like servants to the two chief ones. He confided his plans and everything to the two favored ones who had come out of the ozâzi.

               In the course of time he thought he would display his power before the people, and for their benefit, by causing ships to come with wealth. So he held up the ozâzi, and said, "I want to see a ship come full of merchandise!"

               Presently the townspeople began to shout, "A ship! a ship!" It anchored. Jěki called his own brothers and half-brothers, and directed, "You all get ready and go out to the ship, and tell the captain that I will follow you." They made ready, and went on board, and asked, "What goods have you brought?" The captain told them, "Mostly cloth, and a few other things." They informed him, "Soon the chief of the town will come." And they returned ashore, and reported to Jěki what was on board. He made himself ready and went, leaving word for them to follow soon and discharge the cargo. The ship lay there a few days, and then sailed away. Then Jěki divided the goods among his brothers and parents, keeping only a small share for himself.

               Thus it went on: every few months Jěki ordering a ship to come with goods. As usual, he would send his brothers first, they would bring a report, and then he would go on board. Sometimes he would eat with the ship's company, sometimes he would invite them ashore to eat in his own house.

               All this time no one had broken the orunda of "salt." But, to prove things, Jěki thought he would try his half-brothers, and see what were their real feelings toward him. So the next time he caused ships to come with a cargo of salt only. At sight of the ships there was the usual shout of "A ship! a ship!" The brothers went aboard as usual, and found what the cargo was. The half-brothers returned ashore immediately, and began to shout when they neared Jěki's house, "The ships are full of salt!" He heard the word, and said to his mother and to his two chief wives, "Do you hear that?"

               The half-brothers came close to him, and exclaimed, "Dâgula [Sir], the ships are loaded with nothing but salt, salt, salt, and the captain is waiting for you." Jěki asked again, as if he had not heard, "What is it the captains have brought?" And they said, "Salt." So he said, "Let it be so. To-day is the day. Good! You go and get ready, and I will get ready, and we shall all go together."

               Then the two chief wives looked very sorrowful, for they felt sure by his look and tone that something bad was about to happen.

               First he ordered a bath to be prepared for himself. It was made ready, and he bathed, and went to dress himself in the other room, where his goods were stored. When he had entered, he called his own two brothers and the two wives, and closed the door. He began to examine a few of his boxes. Opening a certain one, he said, "Of all my wealth, this was one of the first. Now I am going to die. But as it is always the custom, a few days after the funeral, to decide who shall be the successor and inheritor, when that day arrives, come and open this particular box. Do not forget to take the cloth for covering the throne of my successor from this box."

               Inside of that box was a small casket, holding a large black silk handkerchief. He kept the secret received from his grandfather, and did not tell them what would happen when they should come to get cloth from the box. They understood only that on the throne-day they were to open the big box and the little casket it contained. Then he told them, "Now you may go out." They went out. Jěki shut the door, and began to dress for the ships. But, before dressing, he took out the black silk handkerchief from the small box, and rubbed it over his entire body; and, carefully folding it, put it back again in the casket and closed it. Then he was ready to start. And they all went off to the ships, he with the ozâzi in hand. He, with his own brothers, was in a boat following the boat of his half-brothers.

               He raised a death-song, "Ilendo! Ilendo! give me skill for a dance! Ilendo! Ilendo! give me skill for a play!" This he sang on the way, jumping from boat to boat. He said he would go on board the ships, but ordered all his brothers not to come. His plan was that they were to be only witnesses of his death. He boarded one of the ships, and went over the deck singing and dancing with that same Ilendo song. Then he jumped to the deck of the next vessel.

               As he did so, the first one sank instantly. On the second ship he sang and danced, and jumped thence to the third, the second sinking as the first. On the third ship he continued the song and dance; he remained on it a long while, for he caused it to sink slowly. When the water reached the vessel's deck, the brothers in the boats were looking on with fear. His own brothers began to cry, seeing the ship sinking, for they knew that Jěki would die with it. When it sank, the boats went ashore wailing, and took the news to the town.

               But the half-brothers were not really mourning; they were planning the division of Jěki's property. All the town held the kwedi (mourning); but after the fifth day the half-brothers told their father that it was time for the exaltation of a successor to Jěki, the ceremony of ampenda (glories). Ngwe-nkonde's first-born son, Nkombe, said, "I will be the first to stand on the throne, and my two brothers will be next." Jěki's two brothers refused to have anything to say about the division. They determined they would remain quiet and see what would be done. And the two wives of Jěki said the same.

               When the half-brothers came to the house of mourning, they began to discuss which of these two women they would inherit. Then one of the two wives said, "Oh, Ngwanga, we must not forget what Jěki told us about the box, now that the people are fixing for the ampenda!"

               So the two brothers of Jěki and the two women went inside the room, shut the door, and began to open the big box to take out the little casket. By this time the people outside had everything ready for the ceremony of the ampenda. The two women now opened the casket, took out the black handkerchief, and unfolded it. And Jěki stood in the middle of the room, with his ozâzi in his hand. Their surprise was great; their joy extreme. In their joy they ran to embrace him.

               The people outside were very busy with their arrangements. Nkombe already had taken the throne, having painted his face with the little white mark of rule, and given orders to have the signal-drum beaten; and the crowd began to dance and sing to his praise.

               Jěki sent his youngest brother, Oraniga (last-born), saying, "Just go privately and tell my father about me, that I have come to life. And I want him to have the whole town swept, and to lay bars of iron along the streets for me to step on from this house to his. Say also that Ntyěgě (monkey) must continue his firing of guns and cannon; then I will come and meet my father."

               Oraniga did so; and the father said, "Good!" and Oraniga returned. The father gave the desired orders about the sweeping and the iron bars and the firing of cannon; but the people at the throne-house did not know of all this.

               Then Jěki and his two wives and two brothers dressed themselves finely to walk to the father's house, and marched in procession through the street. A few of the people saw them, wondered, and asked the drums to stop, exclaiming, "Where did they come from?" The procession went on to the father's house, and Ntyěgě kept on with the cannon firing.

               On reaching his father's house, Jěki told him he had something to say, and the father ordered the drum to cease. All the people were summoned to the father's house to hear Jěki's words. He said, "Father, I know that I am your son, and Nkombe is your son. You all know what Nkombe has done, for he was at the bottom of this matter; so now choose between him and me. If you love him more, I will go far away and stay by myself; but if you love me, Nkombe must be removed from this town."

               So the father asked the opinion of others. (For himself, he wanted to have Jěki.) Nkombe's own brothers said he ought to be killed, "for he is not so good to us as Jěki was." So they bound Nkombe, and tied a stone about his neck, and drowned him in the sea.

               And everything went on well, Jěki governing, and providing for the town.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Jĕki and His Ozâzi
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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