A fetich, then, is any material object consecrated by the “oganga,” or magic doctor, with a variety of ceremonies and processes, by virtue of which some spirit becomes localized in that object, and subject to the will of the possessor.
Anything that can be conveniently carried on the person may thus be consecrated, – a stone, chip, rag, string, or bead. Articles most firequently used are snail-shells, nut-shells, and small horns of gazelles or goats. These are used probably because of their convenient cavities; for they are to be filled by the oganga with a variety of substances depending, in their selection, on the special work to be accomplished by the fetich. Its value, however, depends not on itself, nor solely on the character of these substances, but on the skill of the oganga in dealing with spirits.
There is a relation between these selected substances and the object to be obtained by the fetich which is to be prepared of them, – for example, to give the possessor bravery or strength, some part of a leopard or an elephant; to give cunning, some part of a gazelle; to give wisdom, some part of a human brain; to give courage, some part of a heart; to give influence, some part of an eye; and so on for a multitude of qualities. These substances are supposed to lure some spirit (being in some way pleasing to it), which thenceforward is satisfied to reside in them and to aid the possessor in the accomplishment of some one specific wish.
In preparing a fetich the oganga selects substances such as he deems appropriate to the end in view, – the ashes of certain medicinal plants, pieces of calcined bones, gums, spices, resins, and even filth, portions of organs of the bodies of animals, and especially of human beings (preferably eyes, brain, heart, and gall-bladder), particularly of ancestors, or men strong or renowned in any way, and very especially of enemies and of white men. Human eyeballs (particularly of a white person) are a great prize. New-made graves have been rifled for them.
These are compounded in secret, with the accompaniment of drums, dancing, invocations, looking into mirrors or limpid water to see faces (human or spiritual, as may be desired), and are stuffed into the hollow of the shell or bone, or smeared over the stick or stone.
If it be desired to obtain power over some one else, the oganga must be given by the applicant, to be mixed in the sacred compound, either crumbs from the food, or clippings of finger nails or hair, or (most powerful!) even a drop of blood of the person over whom influence is sought. These represent the life or body of that person. So fearful are natives of power being thus obtained over them, that they have their hair cut only by a friend; and even then they carefully burn it or cast it into a river. If one accidentally cuts himself, he stamps out what blood has dropped on the ground, or cuts out from wood the part saturated with blood.
FETICHISM IN WEST AFRICA, by REV. ROBERT HAMILL NASSAU, 1904