All this of woman,—but what of black women?
The world that wills to worship womankind studiously forgets its darker sisters. They seem in a sense to typify that veiled Melancholy:
“Whose saintly visage
is too bright
To hit the sense of human sight,
And, therefore, to our weaker view
O’er-laid with black.”
Yet the world must heed these daughters of sorrow, from the primal black All-Mother of men down through the ghostly throng of mighty womanhood, who walked in the mysterious dawn of Asia and Africa; from Neith, the primal mother of all, whose feet rest on hell, and whose almighty hands uphold the heavens; all religion, from beauty to beast, lies on her eager breasts; her body bears the stars, while her shoulders are necklaced by the dragon; from black Neith down to
Ethiop queen who strove
To set her beauty’s praise above
through dusky Cleopatras, dark Candaces, and darker, fiercer Zinghas, to our own day and our own land,—in gentle Phillis; Harriet, the crude Moses; the sybil, Sojourner Truth; and the martyr, Louise De Mortie.
The father and his worship is Asia; Europe is the precocious, self-centered, forward-striving child; but the land of the mother is and was Africa. In subtle and mysterious way, despite her curious history, her slavery, polygamy, and toil, the spell of the African mother pervades her land. Isis, the mother, is still titular goddess, in thought if not in name, of the dark continent. Nor does this all seem to be solely a survival of the historic matriarchate through which all nations pass,—it appears to be more than this,—as if the great black race in passing up the steps of human culture gave the world, not only the Iron Age, the cultivation of the soil, and the domestication of animals, but also, in peculiar emphasis, the mother-idea.
“No mother can love more tenderly and none is more tenderly loved than the Negro mother,” writes Schneider. Robin tells of the slave who bought his mother’s freedom instead of his own. Mungo Park writes: “Everywhere in Africa, I have noticed that no greater affront can be offered a Negro than insulting his mother. ‘Strike me,’ cries a Mandingo to his enemy, ‘but revile not my mother!’” And the Krus and Fantis say the same. The peoples on the Zambezi and the great lakes cry in sudden fear or joy: “O, my mother!” And the Herero swears (endless oath) “By my mother’s tears!” “As the mist in the swamps,” cries the Angola Negro, “so lives the love of father and mother.”
A student of the present Gold Coast life describes the work of the village headman, and adds: “It is a difficult task that he is set to, but in this matter he has all-powerful helpers in the female members of the family, who will be either the aunts or the sisters or the cousins or the nieces of the headman, and as their interests are identical with his in every particular, the good women spontaneously train up their children to implicit obedience to the headman, whose rule in the family thus becomes a simple and an easy matter. ’The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.’ What a power for good in the native state system would the mothers of the Gold Coast and Ashanti become by judicious training upon native lines!”