Wild Life Under the Equator - Paul du Chaillu

A Witchcraft Trial


War is looming on the banks of the Ovenga. Witchcraft is at the bottom of the trouble. The Bakalais have met from every vale and from every hill, and chiefs and elders and warriors have come to ask for the head of Pendé. I am alone of all my race in this turmoil.

Pendé was a younger brother of King Obindji, and was himself the chief of a village. Pendé was disliked by every body. The fearful accusation which the Bakalais brought against him was this. Pendé was said to have stolen the bones of dead persons in the forest and to have made a fetich with them, which fetich was to keep trade away from a particular village. Pendé was an aniemba  (a wizard); for who ever heard of men who went and stole human bones and kept them, that were not sorcerers? Pendé's ways were strange and mysterious. People could not understand them, and he must be killed. Obindji being the eldest brother, they called on him to issue an order for the killing of Pendé.

Obindji must give up his brother. Quengueza being in the country, the discussion took place before him. I and Quengueza stood on two stools in the midst of the two opposite camps. One camp demanded Pendé's life, while the people of the other said Pendé was not guilty of what he had been accused. Hence these latter were unwilling to deliver him to be killed.

With the exception of Quengueza, every man there was armed to the teeth. They were all covered with fetiches and war-charms; they were painted in all sorts of fantastic colors. How ugly many of them looked! how devilish, how blood-thirsty many of them seemed to be! O God, how kind thou art! Thou makest the rain fall on the evil, and on the good; thou makest the dew of heaven fall on the poisonous plant, and on the plant that feedeth man. Still, in despite of the blood-thirstiness of these people; in despite of their superstitions and horrid customs, now and then the better nature of man would get possession of them, and their hearts were susceptible of better feelings.

Witchcraft trial


So a man of the name of Mashamamai came forward; he was thin and wiry, tall and slender; his features were sharp, his eyes sunken, his cheeks somewhat prominent, and his filed teeth showed themselves every time he opened his mouth to speak. His body was tattooed all over; he wore round the waist a leopard's belt, which he himself had entrapped and killed, a necklace of leopard's and gorilla's teeth; on his side hung a huge war-knife. His eyebrows were painted yellow; on his forehead there was a broad white mark, while one of his cheeks was painted red, and the other yellow. He certainly had succeeded in his attempt to look horrid.

He began in a hollow, sonorous voice, and said—

"Bakali, people among us have been dying. Where is Aqualai? He is gone. Where is Anguilai? He is gone. Where are Djali and Ratenou, our great hunters? They are gone. Where is Olenda? Where are the people of our once large clan? They have all gone, to come no more to us. How is this? For they were well before death got hold of them, and they could not have died unless people had bewitched them. Where are our women who once danced and sang for us, who went on our plantations, who gave us food, who went fishing and gave us fish, and who bore children to us? They, too, have gone. The forest is full of dead men's bones. How could this be, unless we have sorcerers among us?"

The whole crowd of the two camps shouted with one accord, "How could men die unless they are bewitched?" The dread of death was on the face of all; their eyes became wild, and they sought revenge, for none of them wanted to die. "There would be no death without aniemba," they all shouted; "Without aniemba  there would be no sickness?" A little more, and the frenzied crowd of the two camps would have rushed forward and cut poor Pendé to pieces. The speaker who was speaking, was considered one of their most powerful orators. He went on to say that he had had a dream—many others had the same dream—it was that Pendé had gone into the woods and stolen men's bones. Yes, he was sure of it, for his dreams could not lie. They all shouted on the accuser's side, "Our dreams can not lie! They must be true. It must be so. Pendé has gone into the forest, and stolen men's bones to make a monda  fetich to kill us, and to prevent trade from coming to us." Then a dead silence followed. Pendé came forward, and in a loud voice said, "No, I have never done such a thing—I am not a wizard. I will drink the mboundou  if I am accused of being one." He was sure he was not one—he would not die, and he would make them give him plenty of slaves for having insulted him. He had never taken in his hands any human bones. There were wizards, but he was not one of them. He wanted them to live long—he wanted them to kill plenty of elephants, to marry plenty of wives, to have plenty of children, and a great number of slaves; he was not jealous of them. Their dreams were false. He could never wish such evil things upon them. On the contrary, somebody was jealous of him, and wanted the people to kill him, so that they might divide his wives and slaves, and take his spear and his gun.

Pendé's speech produced a good effect, especially as he was backed by a strong force. All the time he addressed himself to King Quengueza, who was seated, sedate and stately, and at whose side stood his (organa) idol. I was listening in wonder, astonished at this strange spectacle. Quengueza got up, and in a short time the palaver was over, and, in order to have peace, Pendé had to give away three slaves to the three chief accusers. But Pendé was suspected of being a wizard, and when once the suspicion of being such an awful evil being  takes possession of the people, it never wears out of their minds. So, a short time after, poor Pendé was again accused of witchcraft—of having bewitched a man who had died. Obindji himself got afraid of his brother, and Pendé was killed, and his body was thrown in the river, after having been cut into more than a hundred pieces.