AT THE BACK OF THE BLACK MAN'S MIND
NOTES ON THE KINGLY OFFICE IN WEST AFRICA
R. E. DENNETT
THE object of this little work is twofold. In the first place I wish to show that, concurrent with fetishism or Jujuism, there is in Africa a religion giving us a much higher conception of God than is generally acknowledged by writers on African modes of thought. And, in the second place, I am anxious to make clear the vital importance of the kingly office to the African communities.
This concurrence of fetishism and a higher religion is nothing new, and as our knowledge of primitive and degenerate people increases it will probably be found to be quite common, if not the rule. "Traces of ancestor worship and fetishism have in all ages been found among the Israelites, especially among those of the northern kingdom; this is abundantly proved," writes Professor Fr. Hommel in his Ancient Hebrew Tradition Illustrated by the Monuments, by various passages in the Old Testament literature, but it is no more an argument against the concurrent existence of a higher conception of the Deity than the numerous superstitious customs and ideas still prevalent among the lower orders of almost every civilised country of the present day are arguments against the existence and practical results of Christianity."
The lasting effect of missionary effort in Africa must depend to a very great extent on the grasp the missionaries are capable of obtaining of this higher conception of God which the natives of Africa in my opinion undoubtedly have, and the use they may make of it in manifesting God to them as the one and only true God, and not merely the white man's God.
The work of the government of the natives must also be greatly simplified if once the importance of the kingly office is recognised. Their higher conception of God cannot be separated from the kingly office, for the king is priest as well. Rotten and degenerate as an African kingdom may have become, its only hope of regeneration rests in the purification of the kingly office and of the ancient system of government attached to it. I say ancient advisedly, because it seems to me that during the last few centuries Africa has been having a very bad time of it, and anarchy and usurpation have been busy upsetting older and purer customs. The disorganisation of the indigenous political fabric gives so great an opening for political adventurers of a cunning type to step in that the government of the country through the natives., on
so-called native lines, becomes almost an impossibility for a foreign government.
However humble this contribution to the better understanding of the working of the African mind may be, it is hoped that it may be accepted as an attempt to uplift those who are not already above personal and petty prejudices to the possibility of crediting the Africans with thoughts, concerning their religious and political system, comparable to any that may have been handed down to themselves by their own ancestors.
In giving to this work the title of At the Back of the Black Man's Mind, I rather wish to imply that I should like to get there than to assert that I have actually solved all the problems that lie concealed there. If I have not succeeded, at any rate this study of the kingly office in West Africa will at least, I hope, draw attention to this matter and throw so much light upon it as may guide others to more complete success in the near hereafter.
Things are moving now in West Africa, and a greater number of people are taking an intelligent interest in the country since the late Miss M. H. Kingsley's great books first drew crowds of her admirers to study African problems. Miss Kingsley used to say that West Africa wanted advertising, and she advertised it, and created a public for us. And this should be remembered by those who, coming after her, when our knowledge of the country has ripened, are apt to lay stress upon trivial errors in detail, forgetting the vast amount of general information she gave to the world about the country. How tireless she was in encouraging others less gifted than herself to add their
mites of knowledge to her large collection of facts many can testify, the writer among the rest. It is only right and natural, therefore, that he should in the first place wish
to record his sense of gratitude to her and her memory.
In the second place he desires to place on record his sense of obligation and thanks to the African Society, the Anthropological Institute, and the Folklore Society for
having in the first place published in their journals parts of the following notes, and for now giving him permission to reprint them in book form.
He is also grateful to Mr. Cowan, of the firm of Messrs. A. Miller Brother and Co., and to Dr. A. G. Christian and Mr. M. H. Hughes for allowing him to reproduce many
photographs of Benin City and people taken in the first place by them.
Finally, he thanks Mr. N. W. Thomas, the anthropologist (and here his readers will possibly also join him), for having cut out a lot of irrelevant matter and so reduced the
present volume to a handy and readable size. When the writer thinks of his patience in wading through the MS., and his forbearance in leaving what remains of it, he feels
that nothing that he can say or write will adequately express his gratitude.
TO MY FATHER
THE REV. R. DENNETT, D.C.L.
CHAPTER XVI NZAMBI (GOD), THE WORD NKICI, AND THE BAKICI BACI CHAPTER XXII THE PHILOSOPHY AT THE BACK OF THE BLACK MAN'S MIND IN TABLE FORM
It may happen that we shall have to revise entirely our view of the Black races, and regard those who now exist as the decadent representatives of an almost forgotten era, rather than as the embryonic possibility of an era yet to come.