Page images

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 å 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 occa. sionally 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

[merged small][ocr errors]

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 forward peaceably to his grave, till the money is paid ; so that the unhappy debtor has no alternative but to comply with this demand, or have his creditor palmed on him as a lodger for some tiine. Sometimes, however, the deceased is a little unconscionable, by claiming a fictitious debt. In short, this superstition is often made subservient to fraudulent extortion. A negro, who was to be interred in one of the towns here, it was pretended by some of his friends, had a claim on another negro for a sum of money. The latter denied any such claim; and accordingly, at the funeral of the deceased, the accustomed ceremonies took place opposite to the door of his supposed debtor; and this mummery was continued for hours, till the magistrates thought proper to interfere, and compelled the defunct to forego his claim, and proceed quietly on to his place of rest.

Frequent attempts have been made to convert the negroes to Christianity, but generally by such contemptible missionaries as were very unfit and very inadequate to fulfil so solemn and important a duty. Not that the author would wish to insinuate, that some of these men are not very exemplary decent characters; and, however mistaken they may be in their religious tenets and opinions, still they deserve respect, and even reverence, instead of hatred and persecution, for the laborious and disinterested zeal

with which they perform a most fatiguing, hazardous, and often ill-requited duty, in various parts of the globe. But it has not often happened, that men of this character have visited this island, in order to exercise their apostolic functions; and perhaps if they had, they would have met with little encouragement; for the truth is, the planters. in general do not wish to have that portion of the time of their slaves occupied in religious exercises and attendance, which they think should be deyoted to the more substantial and indispensable purpose of providing for their support and that of their families. They are of opinion too, that the slaves do not reap any considerable mental benefit by such attendance. The fact is, if the sabbath day was devoted to the instructing and converting of the negroes, another day must necessarily be allowed them, in lieu thereof, to attend to their temporal concerns; and this would be considered by many as a hardship and inconvenience. A law of the island now exists against " itinerant preachers"; and as for : the regular clergy of the island, there are few of them who are so solicitous about making proselytes as about making money. It has been said, that the mind of the negro is too rude and barbarous to receive, with its desired effect, the principles and maxims of Christianity. Perhaps the experiment was never yet properly tried; at least most of the itinerant preachers who have worked in this yineyard, have not, as before observed,

[ocr errors]

been the most respectable or judicious characters. One of these, it is said, instead of inculcating the Christian virtues, directed a long dissertation, to his sable congregation, on slavery, and assimilated their condition to that of the oppressed Israelites, who at length escaped from the bondage of their unjust task-masters. A few such preachers as this in the island, would soon light up a flame, which neither their eloquence nor their sanctity could extinguish! Another, whom the author knew, was a low, ignorant, and avaricious character, who, while he exacted from the poor negroes the fruits of their labour, which he called a pious offering, consoled them with the assurance, that “the Lord would always provide for them.” Many of them took up this in a literal sense, and were surprized, when inattention to their provision grounds had reduced them to want, that the Lord did not come to their assistance! In short, the negroes who attended this pastor were only Christians by halves; or rather they were reduced to a worse condition than that in which they were found, both with respect to mental happiness, and a true sense of the proper duties of religion and morality. They became, in consequence of the methodistical cant of this pretended teacher, more hypocritical, more cunning, and cautious in their actions, more regardful of outward appearances, and observances of religion, without improvement in its genuine duties ; less cheerful and lively, full of a religious

« PreviousContinue »