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Custom and Myth

Page: 72

Tsui Goab his name is, meaning Wounded Knee, a not unlikely name for a savage. Dr. Hahn, on the other hand, labours to show that the Hottentots originally worshipped no dead chief, but (as a symbol of the Infinite) the Red Dawn. The meaning of the name Red Dawn, he says, was lost; the words which meant Red Dawn were erroneously supposed to mean Wounded Knee, and thus arose the adoration and the myths of a dead chief, or wizard, Tsui Goab, Wounded Knee. Clearly, if this can be proved, it is an excellent case for the philological school, an admirable example of a myth produced by forgetfulness of the meaning of words. Our own opinion is that, even if Tsui Goab originally meant Red Dawn, the being, as now conceived of by his adorers, is bedizened in the trappings of the dead medicine-man, and is worshipped just as ghosts of the dead are worshipped. Thus, whatever his origin, his myth is freely coloured by the savage fancy and by savage ideas, and we ask no more than this colouring to explain the wildest Greek myths. What truly ‘primitive’ religion was, we make no pretence to know. We only say that, whether Greek religion arose from a pure fountain or not, its stream had flowed through and been tinged by the soil of savage thought, before it widens into our view in historical times. But it will be shown that the logic which connects Tsui Goab with the Red Dawn is far indeed from being cogent.

Tsui Goab is thought by the Hottentots themselves to be a dead man, and it is admitted that among the Hottentots dead men are adored. ‘Cairns are still objects of worship,’ {203a} and Tsui Goab lies beneath several cairns. Again, soothsayers are believed in (p. 24), and Tsui Goab is regarded as a deceased soothsayer. As early as 1655, a witness quoted by Hahn saw women worshipping at one of the cairns of Heitsi Eibib, another supposed ancestral being. Kolb, the old Dutch traveller, found that the Hottentots, like the Bushmen, revered the mantis insect. This creature they called Gaunab. They also had some moon myths, practised adoration of the moon, and danced at dawn. Thunberg (1792) saw the cairn-worship, and, on asking its meaning, was told that a Hottentot lay buried there. {203b} Thunberg also heard of the worship of the mantis, or grey grasshopper. In 1803 Liechtenstein noted the cairn-worship, and was told that a renowned Hottentot doctor of old times rested under the cairn. Appleyard’s account of ‘the name God in Khoi Khoi, or Hottentot,’ deserves quoting in full:—

Hottentot: Tsoei’koap.
Namaqua: Tsoei’koap.
Koranna: Tshu’koab, and the author adds: ‘This is the word from which the Kafirs have probably derived their u-Tixo, a term which they have universally applied, like the Hottentots, to designate the Divine Being, since the introduction of Christianity. Its derivation is curious. It consists of two words, which together mean the “wounded knee.” It is said to have been originally applied to a doctor or sorcerer of considerable notoriety and skill amongst the Hottentots or Namaquas some generations back, in consequence of his having received some injury in his knee. Having been held in high repute for extraordinary powers during life, he appeared to be invoked even after death, as one who could still relieve and protect; and hence, in process of time, he became nearest in idea to their first conceptions of God.’

Other missionaries make old Wounded Knee a good sort of being on the whole, who fights Gaunab, a bad being. Dr. Moffat heard that ‘Tsui Kuap’ was ‘a notable warrior,’ who once received a wound in the knee. Sir James Alexander {204} found that the Namaquas believed their ‘great father’ lay below the cairns on which they flung boughs. This great father was Heitsi Eibib, and, like other medicine-men, ‘he could take many forms.’ Like Tsui Goab, he died several times and rose again. Hahn gives (p. 61) a long account of the Wounded Knee from an old chief, and a story of the battle between Tsui Goab, who ‘lives in a beautiful heaven,’ and Gaunab, who ‘lives in a dark heaven.’ As this chief had dwelt among missionaries very long, we may perhaps discount his remarks on ‘heaven’ as borrowed. Hahn thinks they refer to the red sky in which Tsui Goab lived, and to the black sky which was the home of Gaunab. The two characters in this crude religious dualism thus inhabit light and darkness respectively.


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