Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/821

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WHILE I was living, in 1884, on the shore of the Kuilu-Niadi River, a fetich-tree was shown me during a walk on the left bank of the stream. It was a Hyphæne-palm, the trunk of which was bent down from a height of about sixteen feet till it touched the ground. It had also grown in a circle around another tree of the same species that stood straight in such a way as to form a crown around it at a height of about ten feet. Within the circle inclosed by the tree-stem lay an old, weathered elephant-tusk. I thought at first that I would send a report of this curious phenomenon to Europe, but afterward concluded to make a more thorough study of fetiches and the belief in them, and obtain a little clearer light on the subject. I was greatly assisted in my efforts by Hübbe-Schleiden's excellent work on "Ethiopia," which I made my guide in my researches. I propose to communicate in this paper what I have learned concerning the fetiches of West Africa.

The word fetich is derived from the Portuguese, in which feitigo means a witch. The use of the word is confined to the coast, and its meaning is unknown to the negroes of the interior. Various expressions are in use on the lower Congo—for example, M'kissi for fetich; N'gille-N'gille for the means by which magic power is given to the fetich; M'lungo is a doctor; and N'doshi are beings of a character similar to that of the were-wolves of European popular mythology. It is much harder to explain the nature of the fetich, for the negro himself is not clear on that subject. I therefore fall back on my authorities, Hübbe-Schleiden and Max Müller. The former says that fetichism is not a proper designation for a religion, for Judaism and Christianity have their fetiches as well as the Nature-religions; the word should be used as analogous with a word-symbol or emblem, as Max Müller has shown. If we should say that the cross is the fetich of Christianity, some persons would think we were guilty of blasphemy, but they would be only those who have no real conception of what a fetich is. The phrase is really as far from blasphemy as science is from idle chattering. The confusion of the emblem with the thought represented, of the material with the spiritual, of the visible with the invisible, is not religion, but superstition, whether it be the worship of fetiches or of relics, idolatry or the adoration of saints. Max Müller says: "We may fancy ourselves secure against the fetich-worship of the poor negro, but there are few if any among us who have not their fetich or idol, either in their church or their heart. The negro's religion is not belief in the power of the fetich, but belief in the power of the spirit through which the fetich is of effect."