Chapter VIII. A Visit to Banza Chisalla,
We returned via the gateway between the two islets. On the south- eastern flank of Chisalla is a dwarf precipice called Mbondo la Zumba and, according to the interpreters, it is the Lovers' Leap of Tuckey. But its office must not be confounded with that attributed to the sinister-looking scaur of Leucadia; here the erring wives of the Kings of Boma and their paramours found a Bosphorus. The Commander of the First Congo Expedition applies the name to a hanging rock on the northern shore, about eighteen miles higher up stream. A portentous current soon swept us past Pere la Chaise, and shortly after noon we were comfortably at breakfast with Sr. Pereira.
During the last night we had been kept awake by the drumming and fifing, singing and shouting, weeping and howling, pulling at accordions and striking the monotonous Shingungo. Merolla names this cymbal Longa, and describes it justly as two iron bells joined by an arched bar: I found it upon the Tanganyika Lake, and suffered severely from its monotonous horrors. Monteiro and Gamitto (p. 232) give an illustration of what is known in the Cazembe's country as "Gomati:" The Mchua or gong-gong of Ashanti has a wooden handle connecting the cones. Our palhabote had brought up the chief Mashel's bier, and to-day we have the satisfaction of seeing it landed. A kind of palanquin, covered with crimson cloth and tinsel gold like a Bombay "Tabut," it had three horns or prominences, two capped with empty black bottles, and the central bearing the deceased's helmet; it was a fancy article, which might have fitted him of Gath, with a terrific plume and the spoils of three horses in the sanguine hues of war. Although eight feet long by five broad, the coffin was said to be quite full. The immense respect which the Congoese bear to their rulers, dead as well as alive, prevented my verifying the accounts of the slave dealers. I knew that the chief who had died at Kinsembo, had been dried on a bamboo scaffolding over a slow fire, and lay in state for some weeks in flannel stockings and a bale of baize, but these regions abound in local variations of custom. Some declared, as we find in Proyart, that the corpse had been mummified by the rude process of smoking; others that it had been exposed for some days to the open air, the relatives sitting round to keep off the flies till preliminarily bandaged. According to Barbot (iii. 23), the people of Fetu on the Gold Coast and the men of Benin used to toast the corpse on a wooden gridiron; and the Vei tribe, like the Congoese, still fumigate their dead bodies till they become like dried hams. This rude form of the Egyptian rite is known to East as well as to West Africa: Kimera, late King of Uganda, was placed upon a board covering the mouth of a huge earthern pot heated from below.
Instances are known of bodies in the Congo region remaining a year or two above ground till the requisite quantity of fine stuffs has been procured - the larger the roll the greater the dignity, and sometimes the hut must be pulled down before it can be removed. Here, as on the Gold Coast, we find the Jewish practice recorded by Josephus of converting the tomb into a treasury; in the case of Mashel some L600 in gold and silver, besides cloth, beads, and ornaments, shared, they say, his fate. The missionaries vainly fought against these customs, which are evidently of sentimental origin -
"Now bring the last sad gifts, with these
The last lament be said;
Let all that pleased and still may please
Be buried with the dead."
The bier was borne by slaves, as the head men would not even look at it; at times the carriers circled round, as if to deprecate the idea that they were hurrying it to its bourne. The grave was a pit fifteen to twenty feet deep, cut like a well, covered with stones to keep out wild beasts, and planted round with the cylindrical euphorbia by way of immortelles.
I could not find out if the Congoese still practise the vivi- sepulture so common on the Western Coast - the "infernal sacrifices of man's flesh to the memory of relatives and ancestors," as the old missioners energetically expressed themselves. According to Battel, the "Giaghi" corpse was seated as if alive in a vault; in this "infernal and noisome dungeon" were placed two wives with their arms broken, and thus there was no danger of the Zumbi or ghost killing men by reapparition. When the king of Old Calabar died, a huge hole was dug, with an off chamber for two sofas, one of which supported the dressed and ornamented corpse. Personal attendants, such as the umbrella, sword, and snuff-box bearers, holding the insignia of their offices, together with sundry virgins, were either slaughtered or thrown in alive, a rude in pace. Quantities of food and trade goods, especially coppers, were heaped up; after which the pit was filled and the ground was levelled. The less wealthy sort of "gentlemen" here are placed in smaller graves near the villages; and the slaves are still "buried with the burial of an ass," - cast forth into the bush.