The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion
Page: 402The negroes of Guinea annually banish the devil from all their towns with much ceremony at a time set apart for the purpose. At Axim, on the Gold Coast, this annual expulsion is preceded by a feast of eight days, during which mirth and jollity, skipping, dancing, and singing prevail, and “a perfect lampooning liberty is allowed, and scandal so highly exalted, that they may freely sing of all the faults, villanies, and frauds of their superiors as well as inferiors, without punishment, or so much as the least interruption.” On the eighth day they hunt out the devil with a dismal cry, running after him and pelting him with sticks, stones, and whatever comes to hand. When they have driven him far enough out of the town, they all return. In this way he is expelled from more than a hundred towns at the same time. To make sure that he does not return to their houses, the women wash and scour all their wooden and earthen vessels, “to free them from all uncleanness and the devil.”
At Cape Coast Castle, on the Gold Coast, the ceremony was witnessed on the ninth of October, 1844, by an Englishman, who has described it as follows: “To-night the annual custom of driving the evil spirit, Abonsam, out of the town has taken place. As soon as the eight o’clock gun fired in the fort the people began firing muskets in their houses, turning all their furniture out of doors, beating about in every corner of the rooms with sticks, etc., and screaming as loudly as possible, in order to frighten the devil. Being driven out of the houses, as they imagine, they sallied forth into the streets, throwing lighted torches about, shouting, screaming, beating sticks together, rattling old pans, making the most horrid noise, in order to drive him out of the town into the sea. The custom is preceded by four weeks’ dead silence; no gun is allowed to be fired, no drum to be beaten, no palaver to be made between man and man. If, during these weeks, two natives should disagree and make a noise in the town, they are immediately taken before the king and fined heavily. If a dog or pig, sheep or goat be found at large in the street, it may be killed, or taken by anyone, the former owner not being allowed to demand any compensation. This silence is designed to deceive Abonsam, that, being off his guard, he may be taken by surprise, and frightened out of the place. If anyone die during the silence, his relatives are not allowed to weep until the four weeks have been completed.”
Sometimes the date of the annual expulsion of devils is fixed with reference to the agricultural seasons. Thus among the Hos of Togoland, in West Africa, the expulsion is performed annually before the people partake of the new yams. The chiefs summon the priests and magicians and tell them that the people are now to eat the new yams and be merry, therefore they must cleanse the town and remove the evils. Accordingly the evil spirits, witches, and all the ills that infest the people are conjured into bundles of leaves and creepers, fastened to poles, which are carried away and set up in the earth on various roads outside the town. During the following night no fire may be lit and no food eaten. Next morning the women sweep out their hearths and houses, and deposit the sweepings on broken wooden plates. Then the people pray, saying, “All ye sicknesses that are in our body and plague us, we are come to-day to throw you out.” Thereupon they run as fast as they can in the direction of Mount Adaklu, smiting their mouths and screaming, “Out to-day! Out to-day! That which kills anybody, out to-day! Ye evil spirits, out to-day! and all that causes our heads to ache, out to-day! Anlo and Adaklu are the places whither all ill shall betake itself!” When they have come to a certain tree on Mount Adaklu, they throw everything away and return home.