jump to navigation
  • Vivid African Execution May 19, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    There follows a particularly vivid description of an African execution/sacrifice of a witch. The witness, Paul B. Du Chaillu (obit 1903) was describing his travels in West Africa in the 1850s: Du Chaillu has gone down in history as the first westerner to see gorillas (though there is Hanno…) Here he instead he learns that a man in the Mbousha village where he is staying is to be killed. First Du Chaillu goes to visit ‘the witch’.

    [62] I heard one day, by accident, that a man had been apprehended on a charge of causing the death of one of the chief men of the village. I went to Dayoko and asked about it. He said yes, the man was to be killed; that he was a notorious wizard, and had done much harm. So I asked to see this terrible being. I was taken to a rough hut, within which sat an old, old man, with wool white as snow, wrinkled face, bowed form, and shrunken limbs. His hands were tied behind him, and his feet were placed in a rude kind of stocks. This was the great wizard. Several lazy negroes stood guard over him, and from time to time insulted him with opprobrious epithets and blows, to which the poor old wretch submitted in silence. He was evidently in his dotage. I asked him if he had no friends, no relations, no son, or daughter, or wife to take care of him. He said sadly, ‘No one.’ Now here was the secret of this persecution. They were tired of taking care of the helpless old man, who had lived too long, and a charge of witchcraft by the greegree man was a convenient pretext for putting him out of the way. I saw at once that it would be vain to try to save him.

    Du Chaillu is horrified and argues this out with the local ruler. He even tries to buy the wizard. But there is nothing to be done. His fate is in the hands now of the people.

    [64] During the night following I heard singing all over the town all night, and a great uproar. Evidently they were preparing themselves for the murder. Even these savages cannot kill in cold blood, but work themselves into a phrensy of excitement first, and then rush off to do the bloody deed. [63] Early in the morning the people gathered together, with the fetich-man — the infernal rascal who was at the bottom of the murder — in their midst His bloodshot eyes glared in savage excitement as he went around from man to man getting the votes to decide whether the old man should die. In his hands he held a bundle of herbs, with which he sprinkled three times those to whom he spoke. Meantime a man was stationed on the top of a high tree, whence he shouted from time to time, in a loud voice, ‘Jocou! Jocou!’ at the same time shaking the tree strongly. ‘Jocou’ is devil among the Mbousha, and the business of this man was to keep away the evil spirit, and to give notice to the fetich-man of his approach.

    Du Chaillu’s honesty is refreshing in what follows

    At last the sad vote was taken. It was declared that the old man was a most malignant wizard; that he had already killed a number of people; that he was minded to kill many more, and that he must die. No one would tell me how he was to be killed, and they proposed to defer the execution till my departure, which I was, to tell the truth, rather glad of. The whole scene had considerably agitated me, and I was willing to be spared the end. Tired and sick at heart, I lay down on my bed about noon to rest and compose my spirits a little. After a while I saw a man pass my window, almost like a flash, and after him a horde of silent but infuriated men. They ran toward the river.

    It is not clear why they do not respect this agreement to wait on the killing.

    Then, in a little while, I heard a couple of sharp, piercing cries, as of a man in great agony, and then all was still as death. I got up, guessing the rascals had killed the poor old man, and turning my steps toward the river, was met by the crowd returning, every man armed with axe, knife, cutlass, or spear, and these weapons and their own hands, and arms, and bodies, all sprinkled with the blood of their victim. In their frenzy they had tied the poor wizard to a log near the river bank, and then deliberately hacked him into many pieces. They finished by splitting open his skull and scattering the brains in the water. Then they returned, and to see their behavior, it would have seemed as though the country had just been delivered from a great curse.

    Next the return to normality

    By night the men – whose faces for two days had filled me with loathing and horror, so blood-thirsty and malignant were they – were again as mild as lambs, and as cheerful as though they had never heard of a witch tragedy.

    Other African execution or sacrifice accounts: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Source: Du Chaillu, Explorations and adventures in equatorial Africa (1861)