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Andrew Lang

Savage Supreme Beings

The Making of Religion: Chapter XII (1900)

Published on: Saturday 16 December 2006

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Andrew Lang, ’Savage Supreme Beings’, The Making of Religion, (Chapter XII), Longmans, Green, and C°, London, New York and Bombay, 1900, pp. 193-210.


It is among ’the lowest savages’ that the Supreme Beings are most regarded as eternal, moral (as the morality of the tribe goes, or above its habitual practice), and powerful. I have elsewhere described the Bushman god Cagn, as he was portrayed to Mr. Orpen by Qing, who ’had never before seen a white man except fighting.’ Mr. Orpen got the facts from Qing by inducing him to explain the natives’ pictures on the walls of caves. ’Cagn made all things, and we pray to him,’ thus: ’O Cagn, O Cagn, are we not thy children? Do you not see us hunger? Give us food.’ As to ethics, ’At first Cagn was very good, but he got spoilt through fighting so many things.’ ’How came he into the world?’ ’Perhaps with those who brought the Sun: only the initiated know these things.’ It appears that Qing was not yet initiated in the dance (answering to a high rite of the Australian Bora) in which the most esoteric myths were unfolded. [1]

In Mr. Spencer’s ’Descriptive Sociology’ the religion of the Bushmen is thus disposed of. ’Pray to an insect of the caterpillar kind for success in the chase.’ That is rather meagre. They make arrow-poison out of caterpillars, [2] though Dr. Bleek, perhaps correctly, identifies Cagn with i-kaggen, the insect.

The case of the Andaman Islanders may be especially recommended to believers in the anthropological science of religion. For long these natives were the joy of emancipated inquirers as the ’godless Andamanese.’ They only supply Mr. Spencer’s ’Ecclesiastical Institutions’ with a few instances of the ghost-belief. [3] Yet when the Andamanese are scientifically studied in situ by an educated Englishman, Mr. Man, who knows their language, has lived with them for eleven years, and presided over our benevolent efforts ’to reclaim them from their savage state,’ the Andamanese turn out to be quite embarrassingly rich in the higher elements of faith. They have not only a profoundly philosophical religion, but an excessively absurd mythology, like the Australian blacks, the Greeks, and other peoples. If, on the whole, the student of the Andamanese despairs of the possibility of an ethnological theory of religion, he is hardly to be blamed.

The people are probably Negritos, and probably ’the original inhabitants, whose occupation dates from prehistoric times.’ [4] They use the bow, they make pots, and are considerably above the Australian level. They have second-sighted men, who obtain status ’by relating an extraordinary dream, the details of which are declared to have been borne out subsequently by some unforeseen event, as, for instance, a sudden death or accident.’ They have to produce fresh evidential dreams from time to time. They see phantasms of the dead, and coincidental hallucinations. [5] All this is as we should expect it to be.

Their religion is probably not due to missionaries, as they always shot all foreigners, and have no traditions of the presence of aliens on the islands before our recent arrival. [6] Their God, Puluga, is ’like fire,’ but invisible. He was never born, and is immortal. By him were all things created, except the powers of evil. He knows even the thoughts of the heart. He is angered by yubda = sin, or wrong-doing, that is falsehood, theft, grave assault, murder, adultery, bad carving of meat, and (as a crime of witchcraft) by burning wax. [7] ’To those in pain or distress he is pitiful, and sometimes deigns to afford relief.’ He is Judge of Souls, and the dread of future punishment ’to some extent is said to affect their course of action in the present life.’ [8]

This Being could not be evolved out of the ordinary ghost of a second-sighted man, for I do not find that ancestral ghosts are worshipped, nor is there a trace of early missionary influence, while Mr. Man consulted elderly and, in native religion, well-instructed Andamanese for his facts.

Yet Puluga lives in a large stone house (clearly derived from ours at Port Blair), eats and drinks, foraging for himself, and is married to a green shrimp. [9] There is the usual story of a Deluge caused by the moral wrath of Puluga. The whole theology was scrupulously collected from natives unacquainted with other races.

The account of Andamanese religion does not tally with the anthropological hypothesis. Foreign influence seems to be more than usually excluded by insular conditions and the jealousy of the ’original inhabitants.’ The evidence ought to make us reflect on the extreme obscurity of the whole problem.

Anthropological study of religion has hitherto almost entirely overlooked the mysteries of various races, except in so far as they confirm the entry of the young people into the ranks of the adult. Their esoteric moral and religious teaching is nearly unknown to us, save in a few instances. It is certain that the mysteries of Greece were survivals of savage ceremonies, because we know that they included specific savage rites, such as the use of the rhombos to make a whirring noise, and the custom of ritual daubing with dirt; and the sacred ballets d’action, in which, as Lucian and Qing say, mystic facts are ’danced out.’ [10] But, while Greece retained these relics of savagery, there was something taught at Eleusis which filled minds like Plato’s and Pindar’s with a happy religious awe. Now, similar ’softening of the heart’ was the result of the teaching in the Australian Bora: the Yao mysteries inculcate the victory over self; and, till we are admitted to the secrets of all other savage mysteries throughout the world, we cannot tell whether, among mummeries, frivolities, and even license, high ethical doctrines are not presented under the sanction of religion. The New Life, and perhaps the future life, are undeniably indicated in the Australian mysteries by the simulated Resurrection.

I would therefore no longer say, as in 1887, that the Hellenic genius must have added to ’an old medicine dance’ all that the Eleusinian mysteries possessed of beauty, counsel, and consolation [11]. These elements, as well as the barbaric factors in the rites, may have been developed out of such savage doctrine as softens the hearts of Australians and Yaos. That this kind of doctrine receives religious sanction is certain, where we know the secret of savage mysteries. It is therefore quite incorrect, and strangely presumptuous, to deny, with almost all anthropologists, the alliance of ethics with religion among the most backward races. We must always remember their secrecy about their inner religion, their frankness about their mythological tales. These we know: the inner religion we ought to begin to recognise that we do not know.

The case of the Andamanese has taught us how vague, even now, is our knowledge, and how obscure is our problem. The example of the Melanesians enforces these lessons. It is hard to bring the Melanesians within any theory. Dr. Codrington has made them the subject of a careful study, and reports that while the European inquirer can communicate pretty freely on common subjects ’the vocabulary of ordinary life in almost useless when the region of mysteries and superstitions is approached.’ [12] The Banks Islanders are most free from an Asiatic element of population on one side, and a Polynesian element on the other.

The Banks Islanders ’believe in two orders of intelligent beings different from living men.’ (1) Ghosts of the dead, (2) ’Beings who were not, and never had been, human.’ This, as we have shown, and will continue to show, is the usual savage doctrine. On the one hand are separable souls of men, surviving the death of the body. On the other are beings, creators, who were before men were, and before death entered the world. It is impossible, logically, to argue that these beings are only ghosts of real remote ancestors, or of ideal ancestors. These higher beings are not safely to be defined as ’spirits,’ their essence is vague, and, we repeat, the idea of their existence might have been evolved before the ghost theory was attained by men. Dr. Codrington says, ’the conception can hardly be that of a purely spiritual being, yet, by whatever name the natives call them, they are such as in English must be called spirits.’

That is our point. ’God is a spirit,’ these beings are Gods, therefore ’these are spirits.’ But to their initial conception our idea of ’spirit’ is lacking. They are beings who existed before death, and still exist.

The beings which never were human, never died, are Vui, the ghosts are Tamate. Dr. Codrington uses ’ghosts’ for Tamate, ’spirits’ for Vui. But as to render Vui ’spirits’ is to yield the essential point, we shall call Vui ’beings,’ or, simply, Vui. A Vui is not a spirit that has been a ghost; the story may represent him as if a man, ’but the native will always maintain that he was something different, and deny to him the fleshly body of a man.’ [13]

This distinction, ghost on one side—original being, not a man, not a ghost of a man, on the other—is radical and nearly universal in savage religion. Anthropology, neglecting the essential distinction insisted on, in this case, by Dr. Codrington, confuses both kinds under the style of ’spirits,’ and derives both from ghosts of the dead. Dr. Codrington, it should be said, does not generalise, but confines himself to the savages of whom he has made a special study. But, from the other examples of the same distinction which we have offered, and the rest which we shall offer, we think ourselves justified in regarding the distinction between a primeval, eternal, being or beings, on one hand, and ghosts or spirits exalted from ghost’s estate, on the other, as common, if not universal.

There are corporeal and incorporeal Vuis, but the body of the corporeal Vui is ’not a human body.’ [14] The chief is Qat, ’still at hand to help and invoked in prayers.’ ’Qat, Marawa, look down upon me, smooth the sea for us two, that I may go safely over the sea!’ Qat ’created men and animals,’ though, in a certain district, he is claimed as an ancestor (p. 268). Two strata of belief have here been confused.

The myth of Qat is a jungle of facetiae and frolic, with one or two serious incidents, such as the beginning of Death and the coming of Night. His mother was, or became, a stone; stones playing a considerable part in the superstitions.

The incorporeal Vuis, ’with nothing like a human life, have a much higher place than Qat and his brothers in the religious system.’ They have neither names, nor shapes, nor legends, they receive sacrifice, and are in some uncertain way connected with stones; these stones usually bear a fanciful resemblance to fruits or animals (p. 275). The only sacrifice, in Banks Islands, is that of shell-money. The mischievous spirits are Tamate, ghosts of men. There is a belief in mana (magical rapport). Dr. Codrington cannot determine the connection of this belief with that in spirits. Mana is the uncanny, is X, the unknown. A revived impression of sense is nunuai, as when a tired fisher, half asleep at night, feels the ’draw’ of a salmon, and automatically strikes. [15] The common ghost is a bag of nunuai, as living man, in the opinion of some philosophers, is a bag of ’sensations.’ Ghosts are only seen as spiritual lights, which so commonly attend hallucinations among the civilised. Except in the prayers to Qat and Marawa, prayer only invokes the dead (p. 285). ’In the western islands the offerings are made to ghosts, and consumed by fire; in the eastern (Banks) isles they are made to spirits (beings, Vui), and there is no sacrificial fire.’ Now, the worship of ghosts goes, in these isles, with the higher culture, ’a more considerable advance in the arts of life;’ the worship of non-ghosts, Vui, goes with the lower material culture. [16] This is rather the reverse of what we should expect, in accordance with the anthropological theory. According, however, to our theory, Animism and ghost-worship may be of later development, and belong to a higher level of culture, than worship of a being, or beings, that never were ghosts. In Leper’s Isle, ’ghosts do not appear to have prayers or sacrifices offered to them,’ but cause disease, and work magic. [17]

The belief in the soul, in Melanesia, does not appear to proceed ’from their dreams or visions in which deceased or absent persons are presented to them, for they do not appear to believe that the soul goes out from the dreamer, or presents itself as an object in his dreams,’ nor does belief in other spirits seem to be founded on ’the appearance of life or motion in inanimate things.’ [18]

To myself it rather looks as if all impressions had their nunuai, real, bodiless, persistent, after-images; that the soul is the complex of all of these nunuai; that there is in the universe a kind of magical other, called mana, possessed, in different proportions, by different men, Vui, tamate, and material objects, and that the atai or ataro of a man dead, his ghost, retains its old, and acquires new mana. [19] It is an odd kind of metaphysic to find among very backward and isolated savages. But the lesson of Melanesia teaches us how very little we really know of the religion of low races, how complex it is, how hardly it can be forced into our theories, if we take it as given in our knowledge, allow for our ignorance, and are not content to select facts which suit our hypothesis, while ignoring the rest. On a higher level of material culture than the Melanesians are the Fijians.

Fijian religion, as far as we understand, resembles the others in drawing an impassable line between ghosts and eternal gods. The word Kalou is applied to all supernal beings, and mystic or magical things alike. It seems to answer to mana in New Zealand and Melanesia, to wakan in North America, and to fée in old French, as when Perrault says, about Bluebeard’s key, ’now the key was fée.’ All Gods are Kalou, but all things that are Kalou are not Gods. Gods are Kalou vu; deified ghosts are Kalou yalo. The former are eternal, without beginning of days or end of years; the latter are subject to infirmity and even to death. [20]

The Supreme Being, if we can apply the term to him, is Ndengei, or Degei, ’who seems to be an impersonation of the abstract idea of eternal existence.’ This idea is not easily developed out of the conception of a human soul which has died into a ghost and may die again. His myth represents him as a serpent, emblem of eternity, or a body of stone with a serpent’s head. His one manifestation is given by eating. So neglected is he that a song exists about his lack of worshippers and gifts. ’We made men,’ says Ndengei, ’placed them on earth, and yet they share to us only the under shell.’ [21] Here is an extreme case of the self-existent creative Eternal, mythically lodged in a serpent’s body, and reduced to a jest.

It is not easy to see any explanation, if we reject the hypothesis that this is an old, fallen form of faith, ’with scarcely a temple.’ The other unborn immortals are mythical warriors and adulterers, like the popular deities of Greece. Yet Ndengei receives prayers through two sons of his, mediating deities. The priests are possessed, or inspired, by spirits and gods. One is not quite clear as to whether Ndengei is an inspiring god or not; but that prayers are made to him is inconsistent with the belief in his eternal inaction. A priest is represented as speaking for Ndengei, probably by inspiration. ’My own mind departs from me, and then, when it is truly gone, my god speaks by me,’ is the account of this ’alternating personality’ given by a priest. [22]

After informing us that Ndengei is starved, Mr. Williams next tells about offerings to him, in earlier days, of hundreds of hogs. [23] He sends rain on earth. Animals, men, stones, may all be Kalou. There is a Hades as fantastic as that in the Egyptian ’Book of the Dead,’ and second sight flourishes.

The mysteries include the sham raising of the dead, and appear to be directed at propitiatory ghosts rather than at Ndengei. There are scenes of license; ’particulars of almost incredible indecency have been privately forwarded to Dr. Tylor.’ [24]

Suppose a religious reformer were to arise in one of the many savage tribes who, as we shall show, possess, but neglect, an Eternal Creator. He would do what, in the secular sphere, was done by the Mikado of Japan. The Mikado was a political Dendid or Ndengei—an awful, withdrawn, impotent potentate. Power was wielded by the Tycoon. A Mikado of genius asserted himself; hence arose modern Japan. In the same way, a religious reformer like Khuen Ahten in Egypt would preach down minor gods, ghosts and sacred beasts, and proclaim the primal Maker, Ndengei, Dendid, Mtanga. ’The king shall hae his ain again.’ Had it not been for the Prophets, Israel, by the time that Greece and Rome knew Israel, would have been worshipping a horde of little gods, and even beasts and ghosts, while the Eternal would have become a mere name—perhaps, like Ndengei and Atahocan and Unkulunkulu, a jest. The Old Testament is the story of the prolonged effort to keep Jehovah in His supreme place. To make and to succeed in that effort was the differentia, of Israel. Other peoples, even the lowest, had, as we prove, the germinal conception of a God—assuredly not demonstrated to be derived from the ghost theory, logically in no need of the ghost theory, everywhere explicitly contrasted with the ghost theory. ’But their foolish heart was darkened.’

It is impossible to prove, historically, which of the two main elements in belief—the idea of an Eternal Being or Beings, or the idea of surviving ghosts—came first into the minds of men. The idea of primeval Eternal Beings, as understood by savages, does not depend on, or require, the ghost theory. But, as we almost always find ghosts and a Supreme Being together, where we find either, among the lowest savages, we have no historical ground for asserting that either is prior to the other. Where we have no evidence to the belief in the Maker, we must not conclude that no such belief exists. Our knowledge is confused and scanty; often it is derived from men who do not know the native language, or the native sacred language, or have not been trusted with what the savage treasures as his secret. Moreover, if anywhere ghosts are found without gods, it is an inference from the argument that an idea familiar to very low savage tribes, like the Australians, and falling more and more into the background elsewhere, though still extant and traceable, might, in certain cases, be lost and forgotten altogether.

To take an example of half-forgotten deity. Mr. Im Thurn, a good observer, has written on ’The Animism of the Indians of British Guiana.’ Mr. Im Thurn justly says: ’The man who above all others has made this study possible is Mr. Tylor.’ But it is not unfair to remark that Mr. Im Thurn naturally sees most distinctly that which Mr. Tylor has taught him to see—namely, Animism. He has also been persuaded, by Mr. Dorman, that the Great Spirit of North American tribes is ’almost certainly nothing more than a figure of European origin, reflected and transmitted almost beyond recognition on the mirror of the Indian mind,’ That is not my opinion: I conceive that the Red Indians had their native Eternal, like the Australians, Fijians, Andamanese, Dinkas, Yao, and so forth, as will be shown later.

Mr. Im Thurn, however, dilates on the dream origin of the ghost theory, giving examples from his own knowledge of the difficulty with which Guiana Indians discern the hallucinations of dreams from the facts of waking life. Their waking hallucinations are also so vivid as to be taken for realities. [25] Mr. Im Thurn adopts the hypothesis that, from ghosts, ’a belief has arisen, but very gradually, in higher spirits, and, eventually, in a Highest Spirit; and, keeping pace with the growth of these beliefs, a habit of reverence for and worship of spirits.’ On this hypothesis, the spirit latest evolved, and most worshipful, ought, of course, to be the ’Highest Spirit.’ But the reverse, as usual, is the case. The Guiana Indians believe in the continued, but not in the everlasting, existence of a man’s ghost. [26] They believe in no spirits which were not once tenants of material bodies. [27]

The belief in a Supreme Spirit is only attained ’in the highest form of religion’—Andamanese, for instance—as Mr. Im Thurn uses ’spirit’ where we should say ’being.’ ’The Indians of Guiana know no god.’ [28]

’But it is true that various words have been found in all, or nearly all, the languages of Guiana which have been supposed to be names of a Supreme Being, God, a Great Spirit, in the sense which those phrases bear in the language of the higher religions.’

Being interpreted, these Guiana names mean—

The Ancient One,
The Ancient One in Sky-land,
Our Maker,
Our Father,
Our Great Father.

’None of those in any way involves the attributes of a god.’

The Ancient of Days, Our Father in Sky-land, Our Maker, do rather convoy the sense of God to a European mind. Mr. Im Thurn, however, decides that the beings thus designated were supposed ancestors who came into Guiana from some other country, ’sometimes said to have been that entirely natural country (?) which is separated from Guiana by the ocean of the air.’ [29]

Mr. Im Thurn casually observed (having said nothing about morals in alliance with Animism):

’The fear of unwittingly offending the countless visible and invisible beings ... kept the Indians very strictly within their own rights and from offending against the rights of others.’

This remark dropped out at a discussion of Mr. Im Thurn’s paper, and clearly demonstrated that even a very low creed ’makes for righteousness.’ [30]

Probably few who have followed the facts given here will agree with Mr. Im Thurn’s theory that ’Our Maker,’ ’Our Father,’ ’The Ancient One of the Heaven,’ is merely an idealised human ancestor. He falls naturally into his place with the other high gods of low savages. But we need much more information on the subject than Mr. Im Thurn was able to give.

His evidence is all the better, because he is a loyal follower of Mr. Tylor. And Mr. Tylor says: ’Savage Animism is almost devoid of that ethical element which to the educated modern mind is the very mainspring of practical religion.’ [31] ’Yet it keeps the Indians very strictly within their own rights and from offending the rights of others.’ Our own religion is rarely so successful. [32]

In the Indians of Guiana we have an alleged case of a people still deep in the animistic or ghost-worshipping case, who, by the hypothesis, have not yet evolved the idea of a god at all.

When the familiar names for God, such as Maker, Father, Ancient of Days, occur in the Indian language, Mr. Im Thurn explains the neglected Being who bears these titles as a remote deified ancestor. Of course, when a Being with similar titles occurs where ancestors are not worshipped, as in Australia and the Andaman Islands, the explanation suggested by Mr. Im Thurn for the problem of religion in Guiana, will not fit the facts.

It is plain that, a priori, another explanation is conceivable. If a people like the Andamanese, or the Australian tribes whom we have studied, had such a conception as that of Puluga, or Baiame, or Mungan-ngaur and then, later, developed ancestor-worship with its propitiatory sacrifices and ceremonies, ancestor-worship, as the newest evolved and infinitely the most practical form of cult, would gradually thrust the belief in a Puluga, or Mungan-ngaur, or Cagn into the shade. The ancestral spirit, to speak quite plainly, can be ’squared’ by the people in whom he takes a special interest for family reasons. The equal Father of all men cannot be ’squared,’ and declines (till corrupted by the bad example of ancestral ghosts) to make himself useful to one man rather than to another. For these very intelligible, simple, and practical reasons, if the belief in a Mungan-ngaur came first in evolution, and the belief in a practicable bribable family ghost came second, the ghost-cult would inevitably crowd out the God-cult. [33] The name of the Father and Maker would become a mere survival, nominis umbra, worship and sacrifice going to the ancestral ghost. That explanation would fit the state of religion which Mr. Im Thurn has found, rightly or wrongly, in British Guiana.

But, if the idea of a universal Father and Maker came last in evolution, as a refinement, then, of course, it ought to be the newest, and therefore the most fashionable and potent of Guianese cults. Precisely the reverse is said to be the case. Nor can the belief indicated in such names as Father and Maker be satisfactorily explained as a refinement of ancestor-worship, because, we repeat, it occurs where ancestors are not worshipped.

These considerations, however unpleasant to the devotees of Animism, or the ghost theory, are not, in themselves, illogical, nor contradictory of the theory of evolution, which, on the other hand, fits them perfectly well. That god thrives best who is most suited to his environment. Whether an easy-going, hungry ghost-god with a liking for his family, or a moral Creator not to be bribed, is better suited to an environment of not especially scrupulous savages, any man can decide. Whether a set of not particularly scrupulous savages will readily evolve a moral unbribable Creator, when they have a serviceable family ghost-god eager to oblige, is a question as easily resolved.

Beyond all doubt, savages who find themselves under the watchful eye of a moral deity whom they cannot ’square’ will desert him as soon as they have evolved a practicable ghost-god, useful for family purposes, whom they can square. No less manifestly, savages, who already possess a throng of serviceable ghost-gods, will not enthusiastically evolve a moral Being who despises gifts, and only cares for obedience. ’There is a great deal of human nature in man,’ and, if Mr. Im Thurn’s description of the Guianese be correct, everything we know of human nature, and of evolution, assures us that the Father, or Maker, or Ancient of Days came first; the ghost-gods, last. What has here been said about the Indians of Guiana (namely, that they are now more ghost and spirit worshippers, with only a name surviving to attest a knowledge of a Father and Maker in Heaven) applies equally well to the Zulus. The Zulus are the great standing type of an animistic or ghost-worshipping race without a God. But, had they a God (on the Australian pattern) whom they have forgotten, or have they not yet evolved a God out of Animism?

The evidence, collected by Dr. Callaway, is honest, but confused. One native, among others, put forward the very theory here proposed by us as an alternative to that of Mr. Im Thurn. ’Unkulunkulu’ (the idealised but despised First Ancestor) ’was not worshipped [by men]. For it is not worship when people see things, as rain, or food, or corn, and say, "Yes, these things were made by Unkulunkulu.... Afterwards they [men] had power to change those things, that they might become the Amatongos" [might belong to the ancestral spirits]. They took them away from Unkulunkulu.’ [34]

Animism supplanted Theism. Nothing could be more explicit. But, though we have found an authentic Zulu text to suit our provisional theory, the most eminent philosophical example must not reduce us into supposing that this text settles the question. Dr. Callaway collected great masses of Zulu answers to his inquiries, and it is plain that a respondent, like the native theologian whom we have cited, may have adapted his reply to what he had learned of Christian doctrine. Having now the Christian notion of a Divine Creator, and knowing, too, that the unworshipped Unkulunkulu is said to have ’made things,’ while only ancestral spirits, are worshipped, the native may have inferred that worship (by Christians given to the Creator) was at some time transferred by the Zulus from Unkulunkulu to the Amatongo. The truth is that both the anthropological theory (spirits first, Gods last), and our theory (Supreme Being first, spirits next) can find warrant in Dr. Callaway’s valuable collections. For that reason, the problem must be solved after a survey of the whole field of savage and barbaric religion; it cannot be settled by the ambiguous case of the Zulus alone.

Unkulunkulu is represented as ’the First Man, who broke off in the beginning.’ ’They are ancestor-worshippers,’ says Dr. Callaway, ’and believe that their first ancestor, the First Man, was the Creator.’ [35] But they may, like many other peoples, have had a different original tradition, and have altered it, just because they are now such fervent ancestor-worshippers. Unkulunkulu was prior to Death, which came among men in the usual mythical way. [36] Whether Unkulunkulu still exists, is rather a moot question: Dr. Callaway thinks that he does not. [37] If not, he is an exception to the rule in Australia, Andaman, among the Bushmen, the Fuegians, and savages in general, who are less advanced in culture than the Zulus. The idea, then, of a Maker of things who has ceased to exist occurs, if at all, not in a relatively primitive, but in a relatively late religion. On the analogy of pottery, agriculture, the use of iron, villages, hereditary kings, and so on, the notion of a dead Maker is late, not early. It occurs where men have iron, cattle, agriculture, kings, houses, a disciplined army, not where men have none of these things. The Zulu godless ancestor-worship, then, by parity of reasoning, is, like their material culture, not an early but a late development. The Zulus ’hear of a King which is above’—’the heavenly King.’ [38] ’We did not hear of him first from white men.... But he is not like Unkulunkulu, who, we say, made all things.’

Here may be dimly descried the ideas of a God, and a subordinate demiurge. ’The King is above, Unkulunkulu is beneath.’ The King above punishes sin, striking the sinner by lightning. Nor do the Zulus know how they have sinned. ’There remained only that word about the heaven,’ ’which,’ says Dr. Callaway, ’implies that there might have been other words which are now lost.’ There is great confusion of thought. Unkulunkulu made the heaven, where the unknown King reigns, a hard task for a First Man. [39]

’In process of time we have come to worship the Amadhlozi (spirits) only, because we know not what to say about Unkulunkulu.’ [40] ’It is on that account, then, that we seek out for ourselves the Amadhlozi (spirits), that we may not always be thinking about Unkulunkulu.’

All this attests a faint lingering shadow of a belief too ethereal, too remote, for a practical conquering race, which prefers intelligible serviceable ghosts, with a special regard for their own families.

Ukoto, a very old Zulu, said: ’When we were children it was said "The Lord is in heaven." ... They used to point to the Lord on high; we did not hear his name.’ Unkulunkulu was understood, by this patriarch, to refer to immediate ancestors, whose mimes and genealogies he gave. [41] ’We heard it said that the Creator of the world was the Lord who is above; people used always, when I was growing up, to point towards heaven.’

A very old woman was most reluctant to speak of Unkulunkulu; at last she said, ’Ah, it is he in fact who is the Creator, who is in heaven, of whom the ancients spoke.’ Then the old woman began to babble humorously of how the white men made all things. Again, Unkulunkulu is said to have been created by Utilexo. Utilexo was invisible, Unkulunkulu was visible, and so got credit not really his due. [42] When the heaven is said to be the Chief’s (the chief being a living Zulu) ’they do not believe what they say,’ the phrase is a mere hyperbolical compliment. [43]

On this examination of the evidence, it certainly seems as logical to conjecture that the Zulus had once such an idea of a Supreme Being as lower races entertain, and then nearly lost it; as to say that Zulus, though a monarchical race, have not yet developed a King-God out of the throng of spirits (Amatongo). The Zulus, the Norsemen of the South, so to speak, are a highly practical military race. A Deity at all abstract was not to their liking. Serviceable family spirits, who continually provided an excuse for a dinner of roast beef, were to their liking. The less developed races do not kill their flocks commonly for food. A sacrifice is needed as a pretext. To the gods of Andamanese, Bushmen, Australians, no sacrifice is offered. To the Supreme Being of most African peoples no sacrifice is offered. There is no festivity in the worship of these Supreme Beings, no feasting, at all events. They are not to be ’got at’ by gifts or sacrifices. The Amatongo are to be ’got at,’ are bribable, supply an excuse for a good dinner, and thus the practical Amatongo are honoured, while, in the present generation of Zulus, Unkulunkulu is a joke, and the Lord in Heaven is the shadow of a name. Clearly this does not point to the recent but to the remote development of the higher ideas, now superseded by spirit-worship.

We shall next see how this view, the opposite of the anthropological theory, works when applied to other races, especially to other African races.


[1When I wrote Myth, Ritual, and Religion (ii. 11-13) I regarded Cagn as ’only a successful and idealised medicine man.’ But I now think that I confused in my mind the religious and the mythological aspects of Cagn. One of unknown origin, existing before the sun, a Maker of all things, prayed to, but not in receipt of sacrifice, is no medicine man, except in his myth.

[2The omissions in Mr. Spencer’s system may possibly be explained by the circumstance that, as he tells us, he collected his facts ’by proxy.’ While we find Waitz much interested in and amazed by the benevolent Supreme Being of many African tribes, that personage is only alluded to as ’Alleged Benevolent Supreme Being’ in Mr. Spencer’s Descriptive Sociology, and is usually left out of sight altogether in his Principles of Sociology and Ecclesiastical Institutions. Yet we have precisely the same kind of evidence of observers for this ’alleged’ benevolent Supreme Being as we have for the canaille of ghosts and fetishes. If he is a deity of a rather lofty moral conception, of course he need not be propitiated by human sacrifices or cold chickens. That kind of material evidence to the faith in him must be absent by the nature of the case; but the coincident testimony of travellers to belief in a Supreme Being cannot be dismissed as ’alleged.’

[3Pp. 676, 677.

[4Man, J.A.I. xii. 70.

[5Man, J.A.I. xii. 96-98.

[6xii. 156, 157.

[7xii. 112.

[8xii. 158.

[9xii. 158.

[10Myth, Ritual, and Religion, i. 281-288.

[11Lobeck, Aglaophamus, 133.

[12J.A.I. x. 263.

[13J.A.I. 267.

[14J.A.I. x. 267.

[15P. 281. This is a nunuai with which I am familiar. Flying fish, in Banks Island, take the rôle of salmon. The natives think it real, but without form or substance.

[16Codrington, Melanesia, p. 122.

[17J.A.I. x. 294.

[18Op. cit. x. 313.

[19J.A.I. x. 300.

[20Williams’s Fiji, p. 218. See Mr. Thomson’s remarks cited later.

[21Fiji, p. 217.

[22Ibid. p. 228.

[23Ibid. p. 230.

[24J.A.I. xiv. 30.

[25J.A.I. xi. 361-366.

[26Ibid. xi. 374.

[27Ibid. xi. 376.

[28Ibid. xi. 376

[29J.A.I. xi. 378.

[30Ibid. 382.

[31Prim. Cult. ii. 360.

[32Conceivably, however, the Guiana spirits who have so much moral influence, exert it by magical charms. ’The belief in the power of charms for good or evil produces not only honesty, but a great amount of gentle dealing,’ says Livingstone, of the Africans. However they work, the spirits work for righteousness.

[33Obviously there could be no Family God before there was the institution of the Family.

[34Callaway, Rel. of Amazulu, p. 17.

[35Callaway, p. 1.

[36Op. cit. p. 8.

[37Op. cit. p. 7.

[38Op. cit. p. 19.

[39Callaway, pp. 20, 21.

[40Pp. 26, 27.

[41Pp. 49, 50.

[42P. 67.

[43P. 122.

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