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Metaphysical and religious ideas of the negroes. -Funerals-Music. Thoughts on converting them to Christianity.-Obeah.-Ideas and practice of justice.
THE ideas of the negroes cannot be expected to extend to abstract and metaphysical subjects. Of the existence and attributes of a Deity, of a future state, and of duration and space, they have but imperfect notions. They cannot dilate and subdivide their conceptions into minuter distinctions and more abstract combinations yet they will often express, in their own way, a wonderfully acute conception of things. These conceptions they sometimes compress into short and pithy sentences, something like the sen tentious proverbs of the Europeans, to which many of them bear an exact analogy. These sayings often convey an astonishing force and meaning; and would, if clothed in a more courtly dress, make no despicable figure even among those precepts of wisdom which are ascribed to the wisest of men. When they wish to imply, that a peaceable man is often wise and provident in his conduct, they say, "Softly water run deep" when they would express the oblivion and disregard which follows us after death, they say,
when man dead grass grow in him door;" and when they would express the humility which is the usual accompaniment of poverty, they say, "Poor man never ver." Instead of short familiar names, they give sometimes whole sentences as names to their dogs, and other domestic animals, as, 66 Keep what you have; take care of yourself, &c. and those who have been baptized, give a sort of pious appellation to these animals, as God give, God send, bless the Lord, tell God tankee." These latter names are exactly of a piece with the epithets assumed by the puritans in Oliver Cromwell's day-some of which were as follows: "Be faithful;" "Be faithful," "Fly debate;' Fly debate," "Stand fast on high;" "God reward;" "Faint not;" "Fight the good fight of faith," &c.
Although the proverbial sayings of the negroes have often much point and meaning, they, however, no sooner begin to expatiate, and enter more minutely into particulars, than they become tedious, verbose, and circumlocutive, beginning their speeches with a tiresome exordium, mingling with them much extraneous matter, and frequently traversing over and over the same ground, and cautioning the hearer to be attentive, as if fearful that some of the particulars and points on which their meaning and argument hinged, should escape his attention. So that by the time they arrive at the peroration of their harangue, the listener is heartily fatigued with it, and perceives
that the whole which has been said, though it may have taken up half an hour, could have been comprised in a dozen of words.
The African negroes, whatever theological notions they may bring with them from Africa, generally agree in believing in the existence of a Supreme Being, whom they also consider as the distributer of rewards and punishments, for good or evil actions, in a future life. But their ideas in other respects are peculiar and fanciful. They think, that for some unexpiated guilt, or through some unaccountable folly of the primitive black pair to whom they owe their origin, servitude was the unfortunate lot assigned to them; while do- · minion was given to the more favoured whites. The poor creatures cherish the hope, that after death they shall first return to their native country, and enjoy again the loved society of kindred and friends, from whom they have been torn away in a luckless hour, and who would be so hard-hearted as to deprive them of the sweet consolation! It is true, this idea is, on their first arrival, sometimes carried to such a length, as, combined with their terrors, to produce acts of suicide. As an example, to deter others from this crime, the head of the unhappy wretch, who thus, from a mistaken hope and principle, lays violent hands on his own life, used to be cut off and fixed on a pole by the side of some public
road, a melancholy and disgusting spectacle !
while the rest of the body was perhaps consumed by fire;-this, it was thought by some, would induce a belief in the survivors, that the body, thus annihilated, could not again be restored to life, liberty, and happiness, as the wretched victims fondly imagined. This horrible operation is now hardly ever heard of. After a term of years the Africans become, however, more reconciled to their new situation, particularly if they are industrious, and get families, in which case they retain little of their primitive superstition, and experience no wish to return, had they it even in their power, to their original wild life, and savage state of independence. As to the Creole slaves, they have no particular superstition different from their African forefathers, and do not in general adopt the whole of that.
At their funerals they use various ceremonies; among which is the practice of pouring libations, and sacrificing a fowl on the grave of the deceas ed; a tribute of respect they afterwards occasionally repeat. During the whole of the ceremony, many fantastic motions and wild gesticulations are practised, accompanied with a suitable beat of their drums, and other rude instruments, while a melancholy dirge is sung by a female, the chorus of which is performed by the whole of the other females with admirable precision, and full toned, and not unmelodious voices. This species of barbarous music is indeed more en
chanting to their ears than all the most exquisite notes of a Purcell or a Pleyel; and however delighted they might appear to be with the finest melody of our bands, let them but hear at a distance the uncouth sounds of their own native instruments, and they would instantly fly from the one to enjoy the other. When taught to sing in the European style, the negro girls have an expression and melody little inferior to the finest voice of a white female.
When the deceased is interred, the plaintive notes of sympathy and regret are no longer heard; the drums resound with a livelier beat, the song grows animated and cheerful; dancing and apparent merriment commences, and the remainder of the night is spent in feasting and riotous debauchery. Previous to the interment of the corpse, it is pretended that it is endowed with the gift of speech, and the friends and relatives alternately place their ears to the lid of the coffin to hear what the deceased has to say. This generally consists of complaints and upbraidings for various injuries, treachery, ingratitude, injustice, slander, and, in particular, the non-payment of debts due to the deceased: this latter complaint is sometimes shewn by the deceased in a more cogent way than by mere words; for on coming opposite to the door of the negro debtor, the coffin makes a full stop, and no persuasion nor strength can induce the deceased to go for