Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/174

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150 The Fetish View of the Human Soul.

Then comes the great difficulty of there being no written authority to consult: hence you have to depend on oral testimony and the personal observation of customs. In doing this you have to exercise great care that it is pure Fetish you are dealing with. Fetish free from Semitic influence, either in a Christian or Mohammedan form; for the mind of the African has a wonderful power of assimilat- ing other forms of belief, and when he has had a foreign idea put into his mind it remains there, gradually taking on to itself a Fetish form, the Fetish idea overmastering it; not it the Fetish, if the foreign idea has been left without reinforce- ments. These foreign ideas w'ill remain in the mind of the African long after the missionaries who have put them there have passed away. You will find many of them in the folk- lore of the Fjort, of which Mr. R. E. Dennett has so pro- found a knowledge. For in the fifteenth century this part of Africa was under the dominion of missionaries of the Roman Catholic Church; they attained a power over the natives that has never been equalled by Christian missionaries else- where in Africa, and then, entirely from political motives, they were driven away from their work by Portugal, then the ascendant power in the Congo regions. There is, however, still left to us students of Fetish, an immense region uninfluenced by Semitic culture, namely the interior of the great equatorial forest-belt; and observations made in this region give one, I think, a certain power of recognising what is pure Fetish in a story, custom, or belief, from what is merely a very interesting fossil.

There is another thing I think should be carefully guarded against while studying Fetish; and that is the seeming like- ness between certain customs you w ill find in West Africa, and those you will find elsewhere, say in England, Eastern Europe, Polynesia, and so on. I am quite aware of the fascinations of comparative ethnology, and of the help the knowledge of the underlying facts of a custom in one re- gion can give you to the understanding of a similar custom