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The Everliving Child December 9, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

Exams are pressing and so a short African post from an early nineteenth-century British adventurer:

In Cromantine [Ghana?] there exists a tradition, or rather a tale, to deceive strangers, that they have still in their possession a male child, who has existed ever since the beginning of the world. This child, they declare, neither eats, drinks, nor partakes of any nourishment, yet still continues in a state of childhood. When I laughed at this absurd tale, it somewhat offended my friend Mr. Brewe, who declared that he himself and his father had actually seen this Infant. I therefore expressed a wish to see this extraordinary child ; and during the half hour which was required to prepare him for the visit, we were admitted into their fetishhouse, or temple, in the corner of which was seated in a chair a little clay figure of the god whom they invoke or threaten, according to circumstances.

Our hero decides to go and see this strange infant Wandering Jew and Flashman that he is he has no hesitation in forcing the issue.

Such is the abject superstition prevalent on this coast. At length I became impatient to see this wonderful dwarf, or child of other days, but was still desired to wait a little longer. However, as we were anxious to proceed on our journey, we set off. Fortunately, our road onwards passed close to the residence of this wonderful child, so that we halted, in the hope of having a peep at him. Being again delayed, I lost all patience, and resolved to enter his dwelling. My African friends and the multitude assembled from all parts of the town, warned me of the destruction that would certainly overtake me, if I ventured to go in without leave. But I showed them my doubled barrelled gun as my fetish, and forced my way through the crowd.

On entering through a very narrow door or gateway, into a circle of about twenty yards diameter, fenced round by a close paling, and covered outside with long grass, about nine feet high, (so that nothing within could be seen,) the first and only thing I saw was an old woman, whom, but for her size and sex, I should have taken for the mysterious being, resident there from the time of the Creation. She certainly was the most disgusting and loathsome being I ever beheld. She had no covering on her person (like all the other natives of this place), with the exception of a small piece of dirty cloth round her loins. Her skin was deeply wrinkled and extremely dirty, with scarcely any flesh on her bones. Her breasts hung half way down her body, and she had all the appearance of extreme old age. This ancient woman was the supposed nurse of the everlasting child. On my entering the yard, this old fetish-woman (for such was her high style and title) stepped before me, making the most hideous gestures ever witnessed, and endeavouring to drive me out, that I might be prevented from entering into the god’s house; but in spite of all her movements I pushed her aside, and forced my way into the house.

Its outward appearance was that of a cone, or extinguisher, standing in the centre of the enclosure. It was formed by long poles placed triangularly, and thatched with long grass. Inside of it I found a clay bench, in the form of a chair. Its tenant was absent, and the old woman pretended that she had, by her magic, caused him to disappear.

Then comes the moral of the story. The wise and courageous sahib returns and discourses to the crowd and teaches them his wisdom.

On my return, I found my friends anxiously waiting for me, dreading lest something awful might have happened to me ; and the townspeople seemed quite in a fury. They did not, however, dare to attack me, for they are great cowards when the lest determination or spirit of resistance is shown. They are so superstitious, that not one individual would venture over the threshold of the holy house, without the permission of the old nurse. When I explained to the multitude the nature of the trick practised by the old woman, they were greatly incensed. There can be no doubt that some neighbour’s child is borrowed whenever strangers wish to see this wonderful infant; and when dressed up and disguised by various colours of clay, it is exhibited as the divine and wonderful child. The natives are so credulous, that a fetish-man or woman has no difficulty in making them believe any thing, however extravagant.

Any other descriptions of this fetish child? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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11 Dec 2011: First up is James M who writes: ‘I do not know anything further about the African child, but it isn’t just uncultured Africans who think such a being exists. Jesus himself may have predicted something of the sort: Luke 9:27, Mark 9:1, Matthew 16:28’. Southern Man also knows nothing but reminds us of the tradition of the Wandering Jew (see above) and also of Taliesin (of British Celtic myth) who existed from the beginning of the world. Thanks James and SM!

It’s been a while: updated bh links with thanks to contributors!