Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Luck Superstitions

There exists a custom, even among the civilized, for the seller of an article to hold back a small portion after his price has been paid. When I first met with this custom, I was indignant at what seemed like stealing; and yet it was so open, and without any attempt at concealment, that I was amazed. One who brought for sale a bunch of plantains twisted off and took away one of its "fingers." Another who had just been paid for a peck of sweet potatoes deliberately picks off one tuber. Another who brought a gazelle for sale would not complete the bargain till I had consented that be might remove the gall-bladder and a portion of the liver. I learned that all these were for "luck": in order that the garden whence came that plantain bunch or potato

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should be blessed with abundance; and the hunter, that be might be successful in his next hunt. The gazelle is credited with being a very artful animal, the cunning being located especially in the liver.

One might ask why, if those pieces are so needed for luck, the owner did not take them before selling, and while they were still his own and under his entire control. I do not know their exact thought; but the statement was that the chances of good luck were greater if the pieces of plantain, potato, meat, etc. were abstracted after the article had actually passed out of the seller's possession.

On the Ogowe, at Lake Azyingo, in 1874, I was present at the cutting up of a fernale hippopotamus which a hunter had killed the night before. By favor of the native Ajumba, chief, Anege, I was allowed to see the ceremonies. They were many; of most of them I did not understand the significance; and the people were loath to tell me, lest I should in some way counteract them. Even my presence was objected to by the mother of the hunter (he, however, was willing).

After the animal had been decapitated, and its quarters and bowels removed, the hunter, naked, stepped into the hollow of the ribs, and kneeling in the bloody pool contained in that hollow, bathed his entire body with that mixture of blood and excreta, at the same time praying the life-spirit of the hippo that it would bear him no ill-will for having killed it, and thus cut it off from future maternity; and not to incense other hippopotami that they should attack his canoe in revenge. (Hippos are amphibians, but are generally killed in the water.) He kept choice parts of the flesh to incorporate into his luck fetich.

Mr. Arnot mentions the same custom in Garenganze:

One morning I shot a hyena in my yard. The chief sent up one of his executioners to cut off its nose and the tip of its tail, and to extract a little bit of brain from the skull. The man informed me that these parts are very serviceable to elephant hunters, as securing for them the cunning, tact, and power to become invisible, which the hyena is supposed to possess. I suppose that the brain would represent the cunning, the nose the tact, and the tip of the tail the vanishing quality." The stomach of the hyena is valued by the Ovimbundu (of Southwest Africa) as a cure for apoplexy.

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