Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/253

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241
EAST CENTRAL AFRICAN CUSTOMS.

farther south, animals sacrificed are cooked and eaten, with the exception of the sacred portions, which are burned with fire.

As a detective of wizards and witches, the prophetess is in constant demand. When traveling on official duty in this capacity, she goes accompanied by a strong guard, and when she orders a meeting of a clan or tribe, attendance is compulsory on pain of confessed guilt. When all are assembled, our friend, who is clad with a scanty loin-cloth of leopard skin, and literally covered from head to foot with rattles and fantasies, rushes about among the crowd. She shouts and rants and raves in the most frantic manner, after which, assuming a calm, judicial aspect, she goes from one to another, touching each person's hand. As she touches the hand of the bewitcher she starts back with a loud shriek, and yells: "This is he, the murderer; blood is in his hand!" I am not certain if the accused has a right to demand the mwai, but it appears this may be allowed. My impression is that the law does not require it, and that the prophetess's verdict is absolute and final. The condemned man is put to death, witchcraft being a capital crime in all parts of Africa. But the accuser is not content with simply discovering the culprit. She proves his guilt. This she does by "smelling out"—finding—the "horns" he used in the prosecution of the unlawful art. These are generally the horns of a small species of antelope, and which are par excellence "witch's horns." The prophetess "smells out" the horns by going along the bank of a stream, carrying a water vessel and an ordinary hoe. At intervals she lifts water from the stream, which she pours upon the ground, and then stoops to listen. She hears subterranean voices directing her to the wizard's hiding place, at which, when she arrives, she begins to dig with her hoe, muttering incantations the while, and there she finds the horns deposited near the stream to poison the water drunk by the person to be bewitched. As they are dug from the ground, should any one, not a magician, touch them, even accidentally, the result would be instant death.

Now, how does the detective find the horns? By what devil's art does she hit upon the spot where they are concealed? The explanation is very simple. Wherever she is employed she must spend a night in the village before commencing operations. She does not retire to rest like the other villagers, but wanders about the live-long night, listening to spirit voices. If she sees a poor wight outside his house after the usual hour for retiring, she brings that up against him next day as evidence of guilty intention, and that, either on his own account, or on account of his friend the wizard, he meant to steal away to dig up the horns. The dread of such dire consequences keeps the villagers within doors, leaving the sorceress the whole night to arrange for the tableau of the following day.