Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/258

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the lake region, for, after all, is not the Earth the mother of us all, Mulunga himself included? In the more private devotions of the people of the Nyassa region Mulunga does not appear, but a man may not only pray and sacrifice to his own ancestors, but also to the old inhabitants who occupied the country before his forefathers took possession of it. The people are gone, all dead, but their spirits live, and dwell in the old place, and see all that goes on in which they take an interest. There do not seem to be family and tribal distinctions as such among spirits; in any case, they do not fight about territory as men do. No Milton has yet appeared in Central Africa to set the spirits by the ears.

The dead, however, may reappear in the form of animals, but only for pure mischief.[1] Widows are often held in bondage and terror by their lords returning in the guise of a serpent. This brute will enter the house, hide in the thatch, and look at its victim from between the rafters. It will coil itself by the fire and steal into the beds; it will glide over articles of food and explore the interior of cooking utensils. For this persistent persecution there is but one remedy, and that is to kill the serpent, when there is nothing left but "pure spirit," which can not appear in material form any more.

A Yao spirit appearing in material form is different from a spirit's messenger, which also appears in animal guise. The latter may be a bird, a form which a spirit can not assume, but which can be sent as a messenger, to make known the spirit's will, somewhat after the manner of those sacred chickens which the stout old Roman threw over the side when they refused to eat. The African, too, can deal somewhat summarily with bird messages when his interests and inclination lie in that way, but this implies a degree of courage which is phenomenal.

Among the Angoni and the people dwelling on the western side of Lake Nyassa there is a common belief that demons hover about the dying and dead before burial, to snatch away their souls to join their own evil order. By the beating of drums and firing of guns such evil spirits are driven away, but a more certain method of avoiding their machinations is to have a mock funeral, and so mislead and confound them. When it is determined to have such a funeral, an artificial body is manufactured of any convenient substance, and treated exactly as is done with the bodies of the dead. This lay figure is carried a considerable distance to a grave, followed by a great crowd, weeping and wailing as if their hearts would break. Drums are beaten, guns fired, and every species of noise made. Meantime the real corpse is interred near the dwelling as quietly and stealthily as possible. The evil

  1. Angoni, Manganga, Waomba, Anyasa, etc.