Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/March 1891/On Vodu-Worship


By Hon. Major A. B. ELLIS.

SIR SPENCER ST. JOHN'S book Hayti, or the Black Republic, brought prominently before the English-speaking peoples of the Old and New Worlds the subject of the so-called vaudoux or voodoo worship which prevails in the island of Hayti-Santo Domingo; and the numerous articles published from time to time by Mr. G. W. Cable in Harper's and the Century Magazines have shown us what the "voodoo-worship" in Louisiana is like; but, as neither of these two authors has, apparently, had any personal acquaintance with that part of the west coast of Africa from which võdu is derived, they have, very naturally, been unable to more than describe it as they found it on this side of the Atlantic. They have been unable to tell us to what language the word vodu belongs, what it means, and what the various practices which in Hayti and Louisiana are roughly grouped together under the designation of vaudoux-worship really are. I fancy I can recollect an article, but by whom written I can not remember, in which the writer derived the word vaudoux from Pays de Vaud; and, as some light seems to be required on the subject, it is here proposed, though now perhaps rather late in the day, to give it.

The word võdu[1] belongs to the Ewe language, which is spoken on the Slave Coast of West Africa, between the river Volta on the west and the kingdom of Porto Novo on the east, and extends inland, as far as is yet known, about one hundred miles. It is derived from the verb võ—to inspire fear—and is used in just the same way as English-speaking people use the word "fetich"—that is to say, it is used as a descriptive noun "god," and also as an adjective in the sense of sacred or belonging to a god. Thus any native god may be described as a võdu, and his image, paraphernalia, and sacred tract of bush called võdu. A priest is termed võdu-no—"He who stays with the võdu." The word is not an epithet of any particular god, it is a general term; and it is, therefore, incorrect to say that "it is the name of an imaginary being of vast supernatural powers residing in the form of a harmless snake." No doubt the python-god, worshiped by the inhabitants of the southeastern districts of Ewe territory, may very correctly be described as a võdu; but it is not more a võdu than Khebioso, So, Legba, Bo, Hunti, Wu, and the other gods of the Ewe pantheon. The expression "võdu-worship" means, then, "god-worship," which is a rather comprehensive term.

Võdu worship, in so far as it relates to the worship of a snake, was undoubtedly introduced into Hayti by slaves from Whydah and Ardra, or Allada. Moreau de St. Méry, an old author who described Hayti while it was still a French colony, and who is quoted by Sir S. St. John and Mr. Cable, distinctly says it was introduced by the "Aradas"; and it is only in the neighborhood of those two old kingdoms that python-worship is to be found on the Slave Coast at the present day. Whydah and Ardra were, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, two small states situated near the southeastern corner of Ewe territory. Whydah, which had a sea front of some thirty miles, extended inland about seven miles, its northern boundary being a lagoon which ran east and west just beyond the town of Savi, called Xavier by old writers. Ardra, or Allada, lay inland of Whydah, and extended as far northward as the marshy belt called the Ko—that is, to about thirty-five miles in a straight line from the sea. Its capital, Ardra or Allada, formerly a large and populous town, is now a miserable village, with a population of some three hundred souls.

The inhabitants of these two kingdoms were essentially commercial, and acted as middle-men between the inland tribes and the Europeans who frequented Whydah in their ships. Of these interior tribes, Dahomi, about 1625, became the most prominent. It gradually subjugated the surrounding peoples, and, in 1723, Guadja Trudo, the then King of Dahomi, was sufficiently powerful to demand of the Ardras a right of way and free traffic to the sea. The Ardras refused. The Dahomis invaded their territory in 1724, defeated them in a great battle, and the kingdom of Ardra was at an end. Three years later, in February, 1727, Guadja Trudo made a similar demand upon the Whydahs; the king of the latter also refused compliance: his territory was at once invaded and the kingdom overthrown. These two invasions fix for us the date at which snake-worship was introduced into Hayti; for thousands of Ardras and Whydahs, prisoners of war, were sold to the slave-traders and shipped across the Atlantic. For a good many years before the downfall of these kingdoms Whydah had been the chief, probably the only, slave emporium of the Slave Coast, and large numbers of slaves had thence been exported; but these earlier slaves had not been Ardras and Whydahs, among whom alone the python-worship prevailed; they were Mahis, and members of the various small tribes which had been defeated by Dahomi, and whom the people of the two seaboard kingdoms had bought from the latter to sell to the white men.

It was, then, the war captives taken at the conquest of Ardra and Whydah who brought both the word võdu and the snake-worship into Hayti; and if it be asked how it is that the other West Indian Islands are at the present day free from every trace of the cult, the explanation is ready. The English supplied their colonies with slaves from their forts on the Gold Coast, and the great majority, so great as to comprise almost all the slaves imported into the British West Indies, were what were called, in the jargon of the slave trade, Coromantees, a designation which was a corruption of the name of a town called Acromanti, situated some fifteen miles to the east of Cape Coast Castle, and where the first English fort on the Gold Coast was built. These Coromantees, all members of the Tshi-speaking tribes—the Ashantis, Denkeras, Akims, Assins, Fantis, etc.—were noted for their superior physical strength, and for their ferocity and rebellious disposition. Every slave rebellion in the British West Indies, from the first in Jamaica in 1690 to the last in 1831 in the same island, was a rebellion of Coromantees; and their dangerous character was so well known that other nations did not care to purchase them. The Royal African Company had a treaty with Spain by which it undertook to supply the Spanish colonies with Eboe or Ibo slaves from the delta of the Niger, who, though of inferior physique, were preferred on account of their docility; and the French obtained their slaves principally from Whydah, though partly also from Senegal. Hence the great mass of Ardras and Whydahs were shipped to the French West India Islands, and no doubt the snake cult was introduced into Martinique and Guadeloupe as well as into Hayti. All such võdu or "fetich" practices were, however, sternly suppressed by the planters, partly because they themselves feared them and had a superstitious belief in their power for evil, but principally because it was by their means that the more restless and uncontrollable slaves instigated their more docile brethren to rebel. There was the religious element at the bottom of every outbreak, and consequently all võdu practices were forbidden under heavy penalties. But such superstitions die hard; and though we do not now hear of any võdu-worship in Martinique and Guadeloupe, yet it is probable that, if the negroes of those islands had succeeded in achieving their independence, we should find it in as full vigor there as we do now in Hayti.

At the date of the overthrow of Ardra and Whydah, Louisiana was also a French possession, colonized by the French Mississippi Company; so we might reasonably suppose that some Ewe-speaking slaves were introduced there also, though it seems that the colonists obtained a great many from English slavetraders. But in 1809 a large number of French planters with their slaves, who in consequence of the insurrection in Hayti had sought refuge in Cuba, were compelled by the outbreak of war between France and Spain to quit their asylum, and landed in New Orleans. There were about five thousand eight hundred in all, whites, mulattoes, and slaves, and the latter, no doubt, Drought into Louisiana the word võdu and the snake-worship.

That the Ardra and Whydah slaves should have clung more tenaciously to the worship of their snake-god than to that of the other deities of their native country is explained by the fact that the python-god was the national god. According to existing tradition, the people of Whydah advanced the python to the dignity of their chief tutelary deity on account of the signal services it rendered when they were attacked by some powerful foe. Overwhelmed by superior numbers, they were giving way in every direction, when all at once the python-god appeared in the broken ranks, caressed the warriors with his head and tail, and inspired them with new courage; so that, when the chief priest raised the god on high at arms' length, and showed him as a guarantee of victory, the Whydahs rushed forward in a frenzy of enthusiasm, swept back the foe and utterly routed him. It was on account of this service, says the tradition, that the Whydahs built at Savi an elaborate temple, in which the priests professed to keep the very snake who had brought them victory. So confident were the Whydahs in the power of their god that, on the approach of the invading Dahomi army in 1727, instead of concentrating their forces at the lagoon to the north of Savi, which was only fordable at one point and on a narrow front, and so might easily have been held against superior numbers, they remained quietly at home and confided the defense to a python, which they placed on the southern bank. The Dahomis soon discovered this, crossed the lagoon without opposition, killed the python, and captured Savi.

The Dahomis treated the snake-gods with contempt, and destroyed the temple at Savi, but they did not prohibit the worship; and the remnant of the Whydahs who escaped the slaughter of the conquest continued it, with the result that after a quarter of a century or so the more southern Dahomis adopted the worship themselves. Some fugitives from Ardra, who fled to the eastward and founded the kingdom of Porto rTovo, a new Ardra as it was then called, established the worship there; and these places, with Agweh and Little Popo to the west, to which the cult has within the last half-century spread from Whydah, are the only ones in which python-worship prevails.

The name of the python-god is Dañh-gbi (dañh, snake, and agbi, life). He is the god of wisdom, to whom all things are known, and, as he opened the eyes of the first man and the first woman, who were blind, he is the benefactor of mankind. He must not be confounded with the Great Snake of the Heavens, Anyiewo, sometimes called simply Dañh, who is the Rainbowgod. Dañh-gbi has his own order of priests, and, like all the chief gods of the Ewe-speaking peoples, numerous "wives," kosio—that is, women dedicated to his service, who tend the temples, and on holy days and festivals give themselves indiscriminately to the worshipers of the god. The ranks of the kosio are recruited by the affiliation of young girls, who are received in a kind of seminary, where they remain for three years, learning the sacred songs and dances and other matters appertaining to the worship. During this novitiate they may only be visited by the priests, but at its termination they practice openly as kosio. This is the ordinary mode of becoming a kosi; but any woman whatever, married or single, can, by publicly simulating possession by the god, by uttering the conventional cries recognized as indicative of possession, at once join the body. In this case she likewise undergoes a three years' novitiate, during which she is forbidden, if single, to enter the house of her parents, and, if married, that of her husband. The kosio of Dañh-gbi usually appear with the bosom smeared with palm oil, but their distinguishing mark is a necklet, called adunka, made of the twisted filaments of a sprouting palm leaf. On ceremonial occasions they wear a fillet of the same material, with anklets, armlets, and neck-strings of cowries. The remainder of their costume consists of a strip of cotton print hanging from the waist and barely reaching to the knee. They are most licentious; and the festivals, which are usually kept up all night, present a horrible scene of drunkenness and debauchery. As is the case with the women attached to temples in India, this life of prostitution is not considered dishonorable, because it is regarded as part of the service of the religion. The kosio are, indeed, not considered as responsible for their actions. It is the god, say the people, who inspires them at such times.

When a follower of the python-god wishes to have the advantage of his advice and assistance, he has recourse to a priest, who fixes and receives the fees and appoints a day for the ceremony. Such consultations of the oracle, so to speak, are always public. The person seeking the aid or counsel of the god comes with all his relatives and friends; the priest and kosio turn out in force and parade the sacred drums and temple paraphernalia; and then, in the open space in front of the temple, the priest becomes inspired and gives vent to the oracular utterances. The indwelling spirit of the python enters the body of the priest and speaks through his mouth, in a strange, unnatural voice. Some honest, though perhaps hysterical, priests really do work themselves up into a condition of frenzy, by means of the violent and extraordinary dance which is always the main feature of such exhibitions; and the dishonest ones, who form the great majority, foam at the mouth and simulate as well as they can the symptoms of an epileptic seizure, which here, as among most other uncivilized communities throughout the world, is regarded as the effect of a god, or devil, having entered the body. It is perhaps needless to say that the oracle is nearly always ambiguous. "If Dañh-gbi be propitious, you will attain your object" is a reply commonly heard. If the applicant should fail, then the priest naturally explains that Dañh-gbi was not propitious; perhaps he had been offended by something, or perhaps the offerings were insufficient; and if he should succeed, then the priest claims the result as being entirely due to the intervention of the god. In this respect, it will be observed, the practice of the Ewe priest does not materially differ from that of the expounders of higher religions. The sacred dance is always performed to the sound of the sacred drums, on which is played a rhythm peculiar to the god. The whole ceremony of "possession" is exceedingly curious, but for further details I must refer the reader to Chapter X of my Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast, where will be found a description which applies in all essential particulars, equally well to the Ewe-speaking peoples.

The Dañh-gbi we—"House of Dañh-gbi" or Python Temple at Whydah, which is the most important of its kind, is a circular structure with walls of "swish" or kneaded mud, and a conical roof thatched with grass, a privilege accorded to shrines and temples only, all other buildings being required to be roofed with palm thatch. It stands in a small rectangular inclosure near the center of the town, and around it are the calabashes and shallow earthen vessels containing water, palm wine, palm oil, cowries, fowls, and other offerings. A few sacred trees stand in the inclosure, and long strips of white cotton fluttering from bamboo poles indicate the sacred character of the spot, for white is the color belonging to the võdu. The pythons, usually from fifty to eighty in number, live in the temple, but have free exit, holes being made in the mud walls to enable them to pass in and out. They are allowed to wander anywhere about the town, and are only carried back to the temple when they happen to enter some profane locality, such as the yard of a European trader. In such a case a priest goes to fetch the god, prostrates himself before it, apologizes for the liberty he is about to take, and then, raising it gently in his arms, carries it home. When a lay native meets one of these snake deities in his path, he prostrates himself in front of it, rubs his forehead on the earth, and covers himself with dust which he throws on his head and shoulders with both hands. "You are my father—you are my mother!" he cries. "My head belongs to you. Be propitious to me."

Opposite to the Dañh-gbi we are the schools or seminaries where the Kosio live, and where any child who may chance to touch, or be touched by, a python has to be kept for an entire year, at the expense of the parents, and learn the songs and dances proper to the worship. In former days adults were similarly liable, especially women; and not even the daughters of influential chiefs were exempt. The scandals that resulted from this—for the kosio seminaries are chiefly schools of debauchery—and the decline of the priestly power during the last thirty years, have now, however, led to the penalty being restricted to children.

Fifty years ago any native who killed a python, even by accident, was burned to death; and even Europeans have been killed for having thus offended the religious prejudices of the Whydahs. At the present day, though the appearance of carrying out the old sentence is preserved, the culprit is allowed to escape with life. To keep up the form, he is confined in a small hut made of dried grass, which at a given signal is fired on all sides. The man bursts forth, and is then attacked with sticks by the worshipers of Dañh-gbi, who rain blows on his head and shoulders, until he succeeds in reaching water, which bars him from further attack.

There are days consecrated to Dañh-gbi, when great processions are held, and which are remarkable for many curious ceremonies, too lengthy, however, to be described here. During one procession every house is closed, and the people are forbidden to be abroad in the streets or to peep from their windows; and all processions are ushered in by a general slaughter of all hogs found at large, which are pursued and beaten to death by bands of priests armed with clubs, for the hog is a sacrilegious animal, even capable of devouring a python-god, should he find an opportunity. White ants are the messengers of Dañh-gbi, and their nests may often be seen encircled with palm leaves, to indicate that the inhabitants are in his service. Many people still believe that the traditional python, which turned the tide of victory in favor of the Whydahs, still lives. It is believed to inhabit a gigantic tree hidden in the depths of a vast forest, and to climb every morning to the topmost branch, coil its tail round it, and hang head downward toward the earth. When it is sufficiently long to reach the earth with its head, it will, say the natives, be able to reach the sky and climb up into it.

Such, briefly sketched, is snake-worship, as it exists on the Slave Coast at the present day; and, if we may judge from the descriptions given by old voyagers, it has not changed in any important particular since the downfall of the kingdoms of Ardra and Whydah. Let us now turn to the worship as it is found in Hayti and Louisiana. It will be perhaps more convenient to examine it in detail.

Sir Spencer St. John, apparently following St. Méry, says (p. 186 et seq.) that the "Arada" negroes are the true sectaries of "vaudoux" in Hayti, and that the word "vaudoux" signifies an all-powerful and supernatural being, on whom depend all the events that take place in the world. This being only consents to communicate with his worshipers through a high priest, and still more through "the negress whom the love of the latter has raised to the rank of high priestess." These two are called the king and queen. They are the chiefs of the sect, decide who shall be admitted to the society, receive the gifts offered to the god, and, being the interpreters of his will, naturally have great power.

Let us look into this first. As has already been stated, the word vodu should not properly be limited to the snake deity, and in Africa Dañh-gbi is not supposed to control the affairs of the world. He is simply the god of wisdom and the benefactor of man, the natural phenomena being under the control of other gods. There is on the Slave Coast nothing answering to the king and queen found in Hayti, but some such change might be expected, for it is improbable that any of the regular priesthood were shipped across the Atlantic as slaves. In the intertribal wars of the present day it seems to be the invariable rule to enslave the masses and to strike off the heads of all chiefs, priests, and men of eminence, whose skulls are carefully preserved, partly as trophies and partly in order that the victory may not be forgotten. From all the evidence now obtainable this seems to have always been the custom; and, as Captain Suelgrave tells us that four thousand prisoners of war were sacrificed at the conquest of Whydah, it is probable that the "classes" were used up in this manner. In Hayti the king takes the place of the Slave Coast priest, and the queen is seemingly the result of a confused recollection of the institution of the kosio. In both places the priests are the mouth-pieces of the god, who can only be consulted through them. Of course, this must necessarily be the case wherever there is a priesthood which depends upon the people for a livelihood; for, if any and every individual could consult the gods himself, the office of priest, or mediator between god and man, would be superfluous.

To epitomize further from St. John: In Hayti the reunion of worshipers never takes place except secretly, in the dead of night, and in a place safe from any profane eye. There is an oath of secrecy, which is the foundation of the association. Red seems to be the favorite color, the king and queen wearing handkerchiefs in which it predominates. The snake is present, confined in a box. The meeting commences by adoration of the snake, by protestations of being faithful to its worship and submissive to its commands. Then, those who wish to consult the god, and ask his aid and assistance in any matter they may have at heart, come forward in turn. The king takes the hox containing the snake, and commands the queen to stand on it. "She trembles, all her body is in a state of convulsion, and the oracle speaks by her mouth." Sometimes she promises success, sometimes the reverse; at others she dictates a certain procedure to be followed; generally there is a certain amount of ambiguity in her utterances. After the consultations comes the "vaudoux" dance—that is, the dance proper to the worship. It is performed by the worshipers generally, who imbibe copious draughts of spirituous liquors; and the night terminates in a scene of disgusting debauchery. Those who consult the god bring offerings, and the proper sacrifice is a white fowl or a white goat.

This very closely resembles the proceedings on the Slave Coast. The simulation of possession or inspiration by a god always commences with a violent trembling of the whole body, followed by convulsive movements, during which the "oracle" speaks. White fowls and white goats are to this day the proper offerings to Dañh-gbi at Whydah; and the sacred dance, with its accompanying drunkenness and final midnight debauchery, is what may be seen during any festival. The secrecy which attends the ceremony in Hayti is of course the natural result of the French laws for the repression of the cult. Bosman (a. d. 1705) says that red was the royal color at Ardra, which is the probable reason of its being the favorite võdu color in Hayti.

The description given by St. John (p. 191) of the ceremony observed for the admission of a new member to the sect hardly differs at all from what may be seen at the present day on the Slave Coast when a man joins the priesthood. A candidate for the priestly office undergoes a three years' novitiate like the kosio, at the end of which time he is required to show, by being publicly inspired or possessed, that some god accepts him and considers him worthy of his service. For this test a circle is traced on the ground, images of the different gods are set at regular intervals round the circumference, and the would-be priest is set in the middle. The drums strike up the rhythm of the sacred dance, and the candidate commences his performance, dances wildly and violently, and then goes through the form of possession, foaming at the mouth and trembling from head to foot. While in this condition he comes in contact with one of the images which surround him, and this indicates the god who has found him worthy. The idea, of course, is that the possessing god causes the candidate to touch the image; and to cross the circumference of the circle without coming into contact with one is a very bad omen. In Hayti the circle is traced, but no images or emblems of the gods are placed round it, because only one god is concerned; there is no question as to which god the candidate is to serve. Then, too, to leave the circle during possession is equally considered a bad omen.

Võdu-worship in Louisiana does not seem to differ much from the above, except that the office of king has almost disappeared, and that the queen is paramount. In both places it is the worship of the Whydah Dañh-gbi in a disintegrated condition, the disintegration being caused by the disruption of the cult from its proper habitat and surroundings, by the repressive measures enacted by the French, which caused new features to appear, "By the altered condition of the worshipers, and especially by the disappearance of the established and regular priesthood. Hence a confusion of ideas, which has caused the Haytians to drift somewhat from the true cult; but that they know whence they obtained it seems certain, for St. John found in a vodu temple a flag of red silk, on which was embroidered, "Société des Fleurs za Dahomïan." This flag was said to have been the gift of the consort of Soulouque, the Haytian "emperor"; and the fact that such a statement could be openly made and generally believed is significant of the extent to which Haytian society is permeated by this barbarous religion.

One of the most striking results of the confusion of ideas is the grafting of human sacrifices and cannibalism upon the worship of the snake-god, which, in Africa, has no connection with either of these practices. This innovation is, it seems, not universally accepted, for St. John says that there are in Hayti two sects of "vaudoux" worshipers, one of which, perhaps the least numerous, offers human victims and indulges in cannibal feasts; while the other holds such practices in abhorrence, and is content with the white goat and the white fowl, the proper sacrifices of the African cult. The Haytians term the sacrifice of a human victim the offering of "the goat without horns," a euphemism for which we can find many parallels. Louisiana is, fortunately, free from this horrible taint, but, from the numerous instances given by St. John, there can be no doubt that the immolation of young people, generally girls, is not uncommon in Hayti. At page 193 he tells us of a scene witnessed by a French priest in the district of Arcahaye in 1869. This man had persuaded some of his parishioners to disguise him as a negro, and to take him to witness the võdu ceremonies All went on in the manner that has already been described till after the sacrifice of a white goat and fowl, when a young man came and knelt before the queen and said: "O maman, I have a favor to ask. Give us, to complete the sacrifice, the goat without horns." The queen gave a sign of assent, the crowd in the shed separated, and there was a child sitting with its feet bound. In an instant a rope, already passed through a block, was tightened, the child's feet flew up toward the roof, and the king approached it with a knife. The loud shriek given by the victim aroused the Frenchman to the truth of what was really going on. He shouted, "Oh, spare the child!" and would have rushed forward, but he was seized and hurried from the spot by his friends. There was a short pursuit, but he escaped, and, on reaching the town, strove to induce the police to hasten to the place. They would, however, do nothing till the morning, when they accompanied him to the scene of sacrifice, and found the remains of the feast and the boiled skull of the child.

During the government of President Geffrard, a determined opponent of võdu practices, four men and four women were tried and convicted of the sacrifice of a young girl, whose body was afterward eaten by the worshipers. The overthrow of Geffrard was said to have been the result of the measures he took to stamp out these atrocities, and since his time no President, except Boisrond Canal, appears to have had the courage to attack them. According to St. John, these practices are rapidly gaining ground, and are now scarcely even concealed.

The only native god of the Slave Coast whose worship is in any way connected with cannibalism is Khebioso, the lightninggod, who in the eastern districts, abutting upon the Yomba country, is commonly known by his Yomba name, Shango. In bygone days it used to be the duty of the priests and kosio of Shango to cut up and eat the bodies of all persons killed by lightning, but at the present day the practice has fallen into desuetude. If the person killed be a freeman, the priests place the corpse on a raised scaffolding of sticks, and, after making all preparations for cutting it up, suffer the relations to ransom it; but where the deceased is a slave, whose body no one would care to ransom, the kosio cut from the corpse large lumps of flesh, and chew them, without swallowing, crying to the passers-by, "We sell you meat—good meat." As human sacrifices are frequently offered to Shango, it seems probable that the sacrifice of "the goat without horns," and the subsequent cannibal feast, are really derived from the worship of the lightning-god; and that, owing to the absence of distinct orders of priests in Hayti, the two practices became grafted, by one sect of võdu-worshipers, upon the worship of the snake deity. This view is supported by what St. John says (p. 195) of some curious polished stones, which were shown to him by a French priest, and which formed part of the relics worshiped by the võdu sect. One of these was a stone axe in the form of a crescent, and all implements of the stone age are, on the Slave Coast, sacred to Shango, whose thunderbolts (sokpe, "fire-stone") they are believed to be. In fact, whenever a house is struck by lightning, a mob of priests, kosio, and worshipers of Shango rush into it and plunder it, while pretending to search for the sacred stone. When the house is stripped the priests produce a stone implement, generally an axe, which they pretend to have found, and which justifies their pillage. Blood, mixed with rum, is commonly drunk by the votaries of Shango on days of festival; and this is the drink used in the secret ceremonies of the cannibal "vaudoux" worshipers of Hayti.

In the Century Magazine for April, 1886, Mr. George W. Cable mentions some "voodoo" charms; but these have no connection at all with python-worship. They are superstitious practices, such as are found everywhere; survivals of the religions which gave birth to them, and in which each had a definite meaning and intention. Thus, on the Slave Coast, each god has his own distinguishing badge or amulet, made by his priests and sold to his worshipers, who wear them so that the god may be reminded that they are under his protection. From the priests of malevolent gods people can also obtain charms to work evil; and these are either harmless rubbish, such as parrots' feathers tied together, small bunches of human hair, etc., or powders which are reputed to possess magic properties. To keep up the reputation of the efficacy of such preparations, the priests occasionally secretly supplement them with poison, which they contrive to have placed in the food of the person against whom the spell was directed; and the purchaser, finding that his enemy has died, attributes it to the action of what he obtained from the priest, and consequently regards all such preparations with great dread. The hollowed-out acorn, mentioned by Mr. Cable, seems a copy of the cutch-nut charm of the Gold Coast, whose chief use there however, is to restrain the slanderous tongue; the dough or waxen heart, stuck full of pins, is evidently an idea borrowed from mediæval witchcraft; and the pouring of champagne on a moonless night at the four corners of a square seems a corruption of the form of invocation of Shugudu, a malignant god, who will lend his aid to any one who on a dark night will pour a libation of rum into a hole dug in the ground, or bury a fowl alive.

The different words given by Mr. Cable, as used in connection with võdu-worship, are difficult to identify; they have, no doubt, changed at least as much from the original as the Creole French has from European French. As the word võdu and the snake-worship are both peculiarly Ewe, one might expect to find words belonging to that language predominating; so, at a guess, one might suppose the words tigui li, in the võdu song, given at the foot of page 820, to be tigewola, "a maker of charms" or "medicine-man"; and the concluding sentence, Do sé dan go-do, to be Do dsi dañh godo, "O curved snake, may you be fat," i. e., "have a good meal." This, however, is mere conjecture, for the word papa in the same song, if not French, is the Tshi adjective "good," and not Ewe at all; while the words Héron mande defy solution. Maignan, or magnan, an epithet of the võdu, may be a corruption of amãga, "the old, the venerated," or even of Dãnh-gbi itself. I have seen a corruption nearly as bad; that of the Tshi nyan-kupoñ, to accompong, in Jamaica, for instance. These are, however, evidently words belonging to other languages now mixed up with the võdu cult in Louisiana. One such is wongah, used in Louisiana to mean a võdu charm, and which is most probably the Gã term wong, "a charm." The words in the song Dé-zab, at page 827, appear to be Tshi, but I should never have been able to identify them without the translation, "Out from under the trees our boat moves into the open water." By its means, however, "Day zab, day zab, day koo-noo wi wi. Koonoo wi wi momzah," may be taken to be really Des arbres, des arbres, de canoe wiwi. Canoe iviwi miombah—"From the trees, from the trees, the canoe, stealthily. (In the) canoe, stealthily, let us come." The word rozah is unintelligible; in the Tshi language there are no words commencing with r, or with that letter with which r is so frequently interchangeable, l. It would be, however, mere waste of time to look further into this jargon, in which French, Ewe, Effon, Tshi, and Ga words are certainly—and Yomba, Ibo, and Congoese words most probably—indiscriminately mixed together, and so distorted as to render positive recognition almost hopeless.

  1. The Greek circumflex here indicates a highly nasal intonation. The u, as in all West African languages, is pronounced like oo in English.