So much my husband had learned, and, as the matter seemed likely to prove of interest, I undertook further investigations, since it was probable that information denied him by ancient law might be given to me. Frazer's convinced belief that the Central Australian women do not know anything of the part played by the father. In the sacred fish, too, with which all holy pools and streams abound, the souls of dead ancestors are thought to dwell, waiting for reincarnation. For Eka Abassi is at. On thinking the matter over, however, it really appeared that, since the women of these regions had never yet been studied by a white woman, a paper dealing with the question from this side might have a certain interest. I venture to think it is not improbable a woman would have discovered something more from the female members of these Central Australian tribes. As is usual in such cases, once the study had been begun, difficulties, which at first loomed so large as to appear almost in the light of impossibilities, faded away of themselves.
Only a few weeks before this letter was sent, Mr. At the place of sacrifice they give offerings to the priest. Each of these is thought to symbolise a different phase of motherhood. Fragments of legend and half-forgotten ritual still survive to tell of times shrouded in the mists of antiquity, when the despised Ibibio of to-day was a different being, dwelling not amid the fog and swamp of fetishism, but upon the sunlit heights or a religious culture hardly less highly evolved perhaps than that of Ancient Egypt. That all this came into our lives, a golden gift from the gods, without hardship worth the name, is due to the fact that, unlike Mary Kingsley and the small band of women travellers who followed in her footsteps, my sister and I were not alone. For when you look up into the sky on a clear night, many or few, but plain to be seen, are the little star eggs--and how could these get there, if it were not that the great white Moonbird had laid them? She it is who, more than all other manifestations of Eka Abassi, is thought to have the power to remove the curse of sterility from barren women, or send new babes to desolate hearths. In this case, the likeness in ritual or legend still occasionally to be traced between those of present-day West Coast tribes and of ancient Egypt would not appear to have been borrowed from the latter and borne across the Continent from east to west, but rather, contrariwise, from the Niger to the Nile.
In any case, the Ibibios would seem to be a people of hoar antiquity, and so long have they dwelt in this region, that no legend of an earlier home can be traced among them. So great is the latter, that no husband was needed for the birth of her babes. By one of those strange coincidences which are always happening, it had come to our knowledge, some little time before the arrival of the letter asking us to undertake an independent study of the women, that here, at least, many customs of great ethnological interest still obtain which are not only unknown to men, but must always remain beyond the ken of male inquirers. Only a few weeks before this letter was sent, Mr. Possibly only to a small band of initiates was it ever revealed, in accordance with the old belief that the names of supreme gods may only be confided to a chosen few, lest, by means of these dread names, men, and even lesser gods, might be tempted to conjure. One such story is told of a family in Kwa Town, near to Calabar, who claim to be descendants of no earthly forbears. Half way, the rope broke, and I fell.
Among the Ibibios, surely, if anywhere, there is a chance to study primitive woman living to-day in all essentials as she lived, moved and had her being while Greece and Rome lay in the womb of Time. In this case, the likeness in ritual or legend still occasionally to be traced between those of present-day West Coast tribes and of ancient Egypt would not appear to have been borrowed from the latter and borne across the Continent from east to west, but rather, contrariwise, from the Niger to the Nile. She it is who dwells on the other side of the wall. Indeed, if, as is held by so great an authority as Dr. Now I can never go home any more, since there is no other way by which to climb thither--and I fear! Beyond this only the head priest had been permitted to penetrate, in order to lay offerings within a hole in the sacred rock which faces the entrance and is the outward visible sign of the Great Mother herself. Nor may an expectant mother eat pig, lest the skin of her child should become spotted in consequence, nor of the fat white maggots to be found in palm trees, lest its breathing powers should be affected. To none now living would the true name of the goddess appear to have been entrusted.
For when you look up into the sky on a clear night, many or few, but plain to be seen, are the little star eggs--and how could these get there, if it were not that the great white Moon-bird had laid them? During this time we were naturally anxious to do something in return for all that was done for us, and soon discovered that the chief way in which we could be of use was by making clear copies of rough notes jotted down in spare moments by my husband, and by writing out information which there was no time to collect save orally, thus putting upon paper page after page of description, incident or legend, which pressure of official work must otherwise have kept unrecorded. For, by the unwritten law bequeathed to Ibibios from times so remote as to be almost forgotten, it is forbidden for any man to be allowed even a glimmering of mysteries which custom has decreed should be confided to women alone. A case was related of a jealous wife, who, on the advice of a witch doctor versed in the mysteries of her sex, hid a selection of padlocks beneath her garments, then went and sat down near the sick woman's door and surreptitiously turned the key in each. He was very tall and splendid, but answered no word when questioned as to whence he came. For, by the unwritten law bequeathed to Ibibios from times so remote as to be almost forgotten, it is forbidden for any man to be allowed even a glimmering of mysteries which custom has decreed should be confided to women alone. The under sides of the leaves, too, are often blue veined, and, from a distance, stretches of this plant, which springs up upon old farm-land or any cleared space, look like a splash of summer sky caught in the green of the bush. Unlike Central Australians, however, as reported by Sir James Frazer, Ibibio women--like their far-off sisters of Banks Island--are well aware that without mortal father no earth-child can be born.
After some difficulty, and on the promise that the name of my informant should never be given, an ancient woman consented to reveal to me rites surely as strange as any on earth. This shows the original conception at the root of the word. Although during the ten months of our sojourn among the Ibibios of Southern Nigeria, my sister and I were able to pick up but the merest fragment of the language, yet careful inquiry brought out the fact that a few native women in the district were capable of speaking intelligible English, and were willing, for a certain compensation, to act as interpreters. Time and again our little party has been so fortunate as to happen upon peoples never studied before, who have been induced to confide to us traditions, beliefs, and legends of unexpected charm. Mortals call her 'Moon' and sometimes, when people are sleeping, the Moon-bird floats down from her place in the sky and pecks up grains or other food, which she finds lying about. That all this came into our lives, a golden gift from the gods, without hardship worth the name, is due to the fact that, unlike Mary Kingsley and the small band of women travellers who followed in her footsteps, my sister and I were not alone. So soon, however, as they understood that she was no longer alone, but accompanied by one whose word they had long since learned it was best to obey, a great clatter arose.
Among those few, however, who still keep in their hearts, jealously guarded, the secret which has come down from times when woman, not man, was the dominant sex--that not Obumo, but Eka Abassi herself, is the great First Cause--one ancient crone was persuaded to explain to me, after considerable hesitation and obvious nervousness at the thought of confiding so intimate and sacred a matter to a stranger, that the laws which bind mortal women could not apply to the Great Mother of All. This strange race, consisting of some three-quarters of a million souls, inhabits the south-eastern part of Southern Nigeria. Now I can never go home any more, since there is no other way by which to climb thither--and I fear! Indeed, if, as is held by so great an authority as Dr. Of late years this cruel custom has been modified to the extent that, after bringing about, or at least consenting to, the death of her babes, the woman is allowed to seek refuge in a town set apart for twin mothers. One evening my husband was seeking information as to the existence of sacrificial altars from a man belonging to the household of Chief Daniel Henshaw, who is head of one of the seven ruling families of Calabar and Native Political Agent for the Eket District. All night long the festival lasted, and at dawn a strange woman was seen to have joined the guests.
As is usual in such cases, once the study had been begun, difficulties, which at first loomed so large as to appear almost in the light of impossibilities, faded away of themselves. The custom is either to fling both little ones into the bush to be devoured by leopards or other fierce wood-folk, to offer them up on the beach to be eaten by vultures, or to kill one of them outright and starve the other, the bodies being then flung into bush or river. All the people were dancing and singing, when suddenly they noticed a stranger going up and down among them. True it is that her fame and glory have--save to a few initiates--long since been eclipsed by his. These vary in importance from elementals so powerful as to hold almost the position of demi-gods, to the 'mana'--to use a Melanesian term--of herb, stone, or metal.