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The Mafulu eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 290 pages of information about The Mafulu.

Abortion is induced by taking the heavy stone mallet used for bark cloth beating, and striking the woman on the front of the body over the womb.  It is also assisted by the wearing of the tight cane belt already mentioned.  I could not hear of any system of using drugs or herbs to procure abortion; but herbs are used to produce general sterility, which they are believed to be effective in doing.

Married women also often kill their children as the result of a sort of superstitious ceremony.  The child being born, the mother, in accordance with the custom of the country, goes down to the river, and throws the placenta into it.  She then, however, often takes a little water from the river, and gives it to the babe.  If the latter seems by the movements of its lips and tongue to accept and take the water into its mouth, it is a sign that it is to live, and it is allowed to do so.  If not, it is a sign that it is to die, and she throws it into the river.  This custom, which is quite common, has presumably had a superstitious origin, and it seems to be practised with superstitious intent now.  There appears, however, to be no doubt that it is also followed for the purpose of keeping or killing the child, according to the wish of the mother.  There is further, confirming the last statement, a well-known practice, when the mother goes down to the river with her baby, for some other woman, who is childless and desires a child, to accompany the mother, and take from her and adopt the baby; and as to this, there is no doubt that, before doing so, the woman ascertains from the mother whether or not she intends to keep her child, and only goes with her to the river if she does not intend to keep it.  This is done quite openly, with the full knowledge of the second woman’s husband and friends; and everyone knows that the child is not really hers, and how she acquired it. [81]

Cannibalism.

There is no doubt that the Mafulu people have always been cannibals, and are so still, subject now to the fear in which they hold the controlling authority of the white man, and which impels such of them as are in close touch with the latter to indulge in their practice only in secrecy.  Their cannibalism has been, and is, however, of a restricted character.  They do not kill for the purpose of eating; and they only eat bodies of people who have been intentionally killed, not the bodies of those who have been killed by accident, or died a natural death.  Also the victim eaten is always a member of another community.  The killing which is followed by eating is always a hostile killing in fight; but this fight may be either a personal and individual one, or it may be a community battle.  The idea of eating the body appears to be a continued act of hostility, rather than one of gastronomic enjoyment; and I could learn nothing of any belief as to acquiring the valour and power of the deceased by eating him.  I was informed that the man who has killed the victim will never himself share in the eating of him, this being the case both as regards people killed in private personal fighting and those killed in war. [82] I tried to find out if there were any ceremonies connected with the eating of human flesh; but could learn nothing upon the subject, the natives being naturally not readily communicative with white men on the matter.

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