Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort
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Pages (PDF): 163
Publication Date: 1898
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Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort contains more than 30 traditional stories from French Congo which were collected by the Folklore Society of London.
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By the Fjort I mean the tribes that once formed the great kingdom of Congo. From the Quillo river, north of Loango, to the River Loge, south of Kinsembo, on the south-west coast of Africa, and as far almost as Stanley Pool in the interior, this kingdom is said to have extended. My remarks refer chiefly to the KaCongo and Loango provinces: that is to say, to the two coast provinces north of the great river Congo or Zaire.
The religion or superstition of the Fjort, as well as their laws, can easily be traced to their source, namely, to San Salvador, the headquarters or capital of the great Fumu Kongo. Their legends describe how Fumu Kongo sent his sons KaCongo and Loango to govern these provinces; and their route can be traced by their having left what you call fetishes at each place where they slept. These fetishes are called Nkissi nsi, the spirit or mystery of the earth, just as the ruler or nFumu is called Fumu nsi, the prince of the land or earth. Together with these two sons of Kongo (called Muene nFumu) or, as we should write it, Manifumu), the king sent a priest or raindoctor, called Ngoio. Even to this day, when the rains do not come in their proper season, the princes of KaCongo and Loango send ambassadors to Cabinda or Ngoio with presents to the rain-doctor, or, as they call him, Nganga. Loango, KaCongo, and Ngoio are now all spoken of as nFumu nsi; and their existence is admitted, although, as a matter of fact, their thrones are vacant, and each petty prince, or head of a family, governs his own little town or towns. Each little town or collection of towns or better perhaps each family, has now its patch of ground sacred to the spirit of the earth (Nkissi nsi), its Nganga nsi, the head of the family, and its Nganga Nkissi (charm or fetish doctor), and its Nganga bilongo (medicine-doctor or surgeon). Nzambi-Mpungu. is what we should call the Creator. Nzambi (wrongly called God) is Mother Earth, literally Terrible Earth. In all the Fjort legends that treat of Nzambi she is spoken of as the "mother," generally of a beautiful daughter, or as a great princess calling all the animals about her to some great meeting, or palaver; or as a poor woman carrying a thirsty or hungry infant on her back, begging for food, who then reveals herself and punishes those who refused her drink or food by drowning them, or by rewarding with great and rich presents those who have given her child drink. Animals and people refer their palavers to her as judge. Her name also is used as an ejaculation.
Nkissi nsi is the mysterious spirit that dwells in the earth. Nkissi is the mysterious power in herbs, medicines, fetishes.
The missionary is called a Nganga Nzambi. This alone proves, I think, that the natives consider Nzambi, the earth, as their deity; and when once the missionaries are convinced of this fact it should be their duty to protest against the use of the word Nzambi as the equivalent to the white man's God. The word they must use is Nzambi Mpungu, or perhaps they had better make a new word. Mpungu, or mpoungou, is the word used by the Fjort to mean gorilla. This should delight the heart of the evolutionist. But mpounga has the signification of something that covers. There are, however, no gorillas south of the Congo, and in the Ntandu dialect mpoungou has the signification of creator or father. And we must remember that this religion came from the south of the Congo.
Upon the sacred earth in each village or family a small hut or shimbec is usually built, where the family fetish is kept. A tree is also usually planted there, and holes are made in it, where medicines are placed. Each hole is then covered by a piece of looking glass, which is kept in its place by a rim of clay, which again is spluttered over with white and red earth or chalk, moistened in the mouth of the prince. Here the prince summons his family to what they call a "washing-up." That is, after having made their offerings (generally of white fowls) the people cut the grass and clean up the sacred ground and dance and sing. The prince also on certain occasions admits the young men who have been circumcised to the rights of manhood, and teaches them the secret words which act as passwords throughout the tribe. The prince is crowned here; and it is this fetish that he consults whenever he is in trouble.
The Nganga Nkissi has his hut apart from his holy ground; and there he keeps his image, into which nails, spear-points knives, etc., are driven by the suppliant who seeks the help of the mysterious spirit to kill his enemies or to protect him against any evil. The Nganga Nkissi also sells charms, such as little wooden images charged with medicines, bracelets, armlets, bead-bands, waistbands, little bits of tiger's skin to keep the small-pox away, the little horns of kids, and other pendants for the necklace.
The Nganga bilongo is the doctor and surgeon. Each surgeon or doctor keeps the secret of his cure in the family, so that the sick have sometimes to travel great distances to be cured of certain diseases. After most sicknesses or misfortunes the native undergoes a kind of thanksgiving and purification according to the rites of Bingo, who has a Nganga in almost every family. This is not the same as the form of going through the "paint-house."
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