Despite having a remarkable place in global history, little is known of African folklore and myth. This is the page devoted to expanding upon this subject. Separate pages will be added for each nation as information continues to grow.
General Folklore and Myth:
• Obeah: This is a form of “sorcery” that comes from West Africa.
• Allmuseri: An African secret society of the Nineteenth Century. The society was similar to the Cabiric (Hephaestus cult) and Orphic (Orpheus cult) Mysteries.
• Obambo: Central African term for a ghost.
• Mbwiri: A possessing spirit that causes epilepsy.
• Ngembi: The healing midwife who first attempts to cure a sick patient. If she is unsuccessful, a “fetish-man,” then comes.
• Fetish-Man: The man responsible for healing and exorcising bad spirits.
• Stolen property can be recovered by consulting the Obi-man or -woman. If you pay the price, they will dance naked at midnight, backwards at the crossroad, and learn the name of the thief.
• If someone is suspected of stealing, they must fast for 12 hours. They must then drink a gallon of sassafras bark infusion. If they vomit or grow nauseous, they are innocent. If it goes through the body naturally, they are guilty.
• Babies wear teeth-like beads around their neck to ease teething pain.
• Quicksilver: Liquid mercury is believed to irritate ghosts.
• A path in the grass with no footprints indicates where ghosts travel.
• Witchcraft was practiced in secret, otherwise it was certain death.
• Witch-finders: A caste of natives also known as, “witch doctors.” Their purpose was to identify offenders, or “witches,” and punish them. They are most often women.
General Central Africa
The mythology of Central Africa was thought to have been influenced by Grecian mythology, particularly that of Charon and the Styx.
• Obambo: A ghost.
• When the dead tire of being out in the bush, they often return for their loved ones. If seen after death, the living gather around the grave of the person who “returned.” They fashioned a rude idol and begin the ritual to lay the spirit.
• Epilepsy is a sign of demonic possession. The individual has been overtaken by the Mbwiri, and will only be relieved with the help of the medicine man.
• The tribe of Africans along the Shari River blindfolded their corpses prior to burial. They believed it prevented the spirit from returning to haunt the family.
• Kosh: A wicked forest fiend.
• Nganga: People who survived the initiation rites of the Ndembo. They’re also called the “knowing ones.”
• The Ndembo: A secret society, also known as the Kita, that was concentrated around the lower Congo.
• Towards the end of August, the natives of Cape Coast Town would arm themselves with weapons. The held the ceremony to drive out the devil.
• Potters and iron workers were believed to have both the power of the evil eye and the werewolf.
• To pronounce a death sentence upon another, carry the individual to a table with an owl painted on it. They would commit suicide.
• Once a theft is reported, the news went to the “thief catcher.” This individual had a trusty servant to detect the culprit. He mixed an amount of black meal with milk and fed it to the servant. He then made the servant smoke as much tobacco as was called for. It was believed this treatment threw the servant into a trance, or fit, and he crawls through the community, from house to house, and sniffs out the thief. When he locates the culprit, he goes into their home and sleeps on their bed.
• Belli Paaro: This is a celebration of an obscure ghost cult that takes place every 20-25 years. Tribal men are conducted into a certain grove and do not reemerge until they have taken on another spirit. These individuals maintain a brotherhood with the dead, and are permitted to eat of the goods sacrificed. They re-emerge convinced they have been “possessed,” by another person’s spirit. Some rituals last for several years. Females are not permitted within the vicinity.
• The most notorious method for investigating a crime is the tangena poison ordeal. Poison was drawn from the highly toxic tangena shrub. The suspect had to eat the poison along with three pieces of chicken skin. If they vomited the materials back up, they were innocent. If they failed to vomit or died, they were guilty. The use of the poison ordeal was abolished in 1863, but its use was suspected for several decades further.
• If you shout, whistle, or carry mutton during the night, ghosts will follow you.
• Mamalol: An Igbo term for an obeah priestess.
• Alberigerius: A soothsayer discussed by St. Augustine. He fell into trances, or “ecstasies,” and claimed he engaged in astral projection. He could read minds.
• Legend says Hannibal saw the ghostly head of his brother. He then stated, “I forsee the doom of Carthage.”
• Isinyanga and Abangoma: The names of two female “witch-finders” among the Zulu, in the 19th Century. These women were well known for their abilities.
• Witch-finders are attended by a circle of girls and woman. They clap their hands and drone a low chant, sometimes stomping and swinging their arms.
• To start the process, the king summons a great gathering. The witch-finders seat themselves in the center of the circle. After four or five days, they have achieved the frenzied state resembling demonic possession. They grab whichever spectator they believe to be a witch and drag them away. The suspect was killed at that point. Oftentimes, all living things, including children, spouses, and pets, were slaughtered with them.