Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/259

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247
EAST CENTRAL AFRICAN CUSTOMS.

spirits are effectually deceived; when the mourners retire, there is nothing in the mock grave but a bundle of rushes, while the true grave they do not know and can not find. Traces of this still linger in the South.

As the African must account for the origin of death, so, too, he has a theory regarding the first appearance of man on the earth. Both he and all other animals came out of a hole in the ground, after which Mulunga—the great ancestor—closed up the opening. The place is now desert, no man dwells there, and the spot is Known to none. The gods refuse to reveal it. Whether this is that it may not be opened, and other creatures be allowed to escape from it, their philosophy does not very clearly explain, but what is very certain is, that monkeys were men at the time of their exit from the earth,[1] but having quarreled with their friends, went to "dwell in the bush." To vex and harass those whom they left, they began to pick the seed from the ground after it was sown, and this habit having grown to be hereditary, monkeys can not grow corn, as they "could not leave their own seed in the ground," which is perhaps as good a definition of the difference between men and monkeys as any given by scientists.

Reference to monkeys reminds one of that wonderful procession seen by the pasha, where each carried a torch to light him in his depredations among the corn-fields—a story which one man explains by referring it to Emin's defective eyesight, another to a possibility of monkeys being able to produce fire by friction. Without giving any opinion regarding the accuracy of the observer, a statement made to me by a South African native, a Pondonusi, may throw as much light upon it as all our science. At the time I paid little attention to it, and indeed it passed quite from my mind till I came across the pasha's story in Mr. Stanley's book. It was, so far as I can recollect, in the following words—the connection in which it was told is of no importance: "The master is surprised. There are monkeys in the mountains" (the gorges of the Drakensberg) "that go to the fires men leave in the bush, and carry away burning sticks; they even go up the trees with them, and then throw them down. I have not seen it myself, but I have heard say that when women leave a fire near the edge of the bush, they come out to the grass openly with burning pieces of wood, and play with them—some say they carry them back to the fire to make them burn better." If this is a true and sober version of what is not uncommon, a little less science and a little more ordinary intercourse might have saved the eminent if erratic German a good deal of idle speculation. One can quite fancy monkeys playing with fire-brands found near the edge of


  1. This tradition Mr. Macdonald found common in the Shirwa and Nyassa regions.