Human Animals Part 9

Another form of the belief is the wizard in the shape of a tiger, and the Thana tradition is that mediums are possessed by a tiger spirit. The Binuas of Johore think that every _pawang_ has an immortal tiger spirit.

The belief that lion form is assumed by wizards is found near the Luapula and on the Zambezi, where a certain drink is supposed to effect the transformation. Among the Tumbukas people smear themselves with white clay, which gives them a certain power of metempsychosis.

Not only can men take lions' shape but lions can change into men.


[39] "Mysteries of Magic," 1897, pp. 237-8.

[40] Thorpe, B., "Northern Mythology," 1851, Vol. II, pp. 168-9.

[41] Edited by W. W. Skeat, 1869.

[42] "Poesies de Marie de France," 1819, pp. 179-201.

[43] "History of the Goths, Swedes, and Vandals," 1658, pp. 193-4.

[44] _See_ Leubuscher, R., "Ueber die Wehrwolfe und Thierverwandlungen in Mittelalter," 1850, pp. 9-11.



The rooted idea in the savage mind that animals may be invested by human souls, and that men may at will transform themselves into animals, has been largely strengthened throughout the ages by the teachings of the "Medicine men" or wizards, who have no doubt found it profitable and conducive to their own acquisition of power to work on the superstitions and foster the weaknesses of the people to whom they minister.

Stories about lion- and tiger-men, hyaena-women, and other strange monsters gifted with human qualities are found in the Books of Travel in every part of the world.

The way the sorcerer sets to work on the imagination of primitive people has often been described. Firstly he declares that he is about to change himself into a tiger and tear the people to pieces, and he no sooner begins to roar than the frightened natives, acting under the spell of suggestion, take to their heels, but they dare not go beyond the reach of those terrible sounds. "Look," cry the fear-stricken women, who cannot really see what is going on, "his body is covered with spots like a tiger! Horrible! his nails are turning into claws."

All the time the sorcerer is hidden in his tent, carrying on a kind of magical performance which inspires the people with a dread of the unknown, so that they fall a prey to the imagination and almost lose their reason. When asked to explain this unholy dread, they declare that it arises from being unable to see and to kill the fearsome tiger-image which threatens them.

Africa is vastly rich in stories of wer-lions, wer-leopards, and wer-hyaenas, and the language of Bornu has a word "_bultungin_," which means "I change myself into a hyaena." It is even said that in the village of Kabutiloa every native possesses the faculty of transformation.

The wizards of Abyssinia are said to be able to become hyaenas at will, and in "The Life of Nathaniel Pearce"[45] the story is told of a man called Coffin who was asked by a servant for leave of absence. No sooner had he granted the request than one of the other servants called out, "Look, look, he has turned himself into a hyaena!" Coffin gazed in the direction in which the first servant had disappeared, and there he saw a large hyaena bounding across the open plain. The next morning the servant returned, and when asked about the matter asserted that such a transformation had actually taken place. Coffin brought himself to believe in these native stories, and quoted in evidence of their truth that he had often seen a certain kind of earring in the ears of hyaenas shot, trapped and speared by himself or his friends, identical with those which were commonly worn by the native servants.

A natural explanation has been sought in the suggestion that the sorcerers themselves adorned the hyaenas with the gems in order to encourage a superstition which they found profitable for their own purposes, but no proof of any such thing has been discovered.

Abyssinia is a hotbed of strange happenings of this character, some of which are quite beyond understanding.

The trade of blacksmith is hereditary there and is regarded with more or less suspicion, from the fact that blacksmiths are, with few exceptions, believed to be sorcerers and are opprobriously given the name of _Bouda_. They are said to have the power of turning themselves into various kinds of animals. "I remember," says Mansfield Parkyns in "Life in Abyssinia,"[46] "a story of some little girls, who, having been out in the forest to gather sticks, came running back breathless with fright; and on being asked what was the cause, they answered that a blacksmith of the neighbourhood had met them, and entering into conversation with him, they at length began to joke about whether, as had been asserted, he could turn himself into a hyaena. The man, they declared, made no reply, but taking some ashes, which he had with him tied up in the corner of his cloth, sprinkled them over his shoulders, and to their horror and alarm they began almost immediately to perceive that the metamorphosis was actually taking place, and that the blacksmith's skin was assuming the hair and colour of the animal in question. When the change was complete he grinned and laughed at them, and then retired into the neighbouring thickets. They stood rooted to the spot from sheer fright; but the moment the hideous creature withdrew, they made the best of their way home."

Parkyns tells another _Bouda_ story[47] which is fully credited by the natives. In the neighbourhood of Adoua there was said to be a woman who had one human foot and in the place of the other the hoof of a donkey. Several persons assured Parkyns that they had seen this human monstrosity, and others firmly believed the following account of the affair:

The woman was said to have died, and was buried with ceremony in the churchyard. The following day a man came to one of the priests and offered him a sum of money for the body, pledging himself to strict secrecy. The bargain was concluded and the unscrupulous priest allowed the stranger, who was a blacksmith, to disinter and carry off the corpse. On the way to the market the blacksmith passed the house where the deceased lady's family lived, and he usually rode or drove a remarkably fine donkey which, strangely enough, on passing the house, or any of the old woman's children, brayed loudly and endeavoured to run towards them.

At first no notice was taken of this odd behaviour on the part of an ass, but at last one of the sons grew suspicious and exclaimed, "I am sure that ass is my mother!"

Accordingly _Bouda_, ass and all were seized and brought to the hut, much to the apparent satisfaction of the animal, which rubbed its nose against the young men and was even said to shed tears of joy on the occasion.

On being charged with the offence of sorcery the _Bouda_ tried to make light of it and denied the accusation, but at last by dint of threats and promises he was induced to confess that he had turned the old woman into a donkey, she having been not really dead but in a trance, into which he had purposely thrown her. His power, he asserted, was sufficient to change the external appearance, but not to alter the mind of his victim. Hence it was that the old woman, or rather donkey, possessed human feelings, which she had displayed in her endeavours to enter her former habitation and in her recognition of her children. The _Bouda_, moreover, agreed to restore her human appearance, and began his exorcism. As he proceeded she by degrees assumed her natural form, and the change was almost complete, when one of the sons, blinded by his rage, forgot the promises of pardon which the _Bouda_ had exacted, and drove his spear through his heart. The incantation not being entirely finished, one foot remained in the shape of the hoof of an ass and continued so until her death, which was not till many years afterwards.

Still another story belonging to the same class concerns two brothers who lived in Gojam. One of them having transformed himself into a horse, ass or cow, was sold in the market and driven out of town by his purchaser. Directly night had closed the eyes of his new master in sleep the _Bouda_ took on human form again and walked quietly home. The brothers were known to sell cattle in the market so frequently that people became suspicious, because they did not know where their stock was kept, and they often had no beasts in their yard even the very day before the sales. Besides, it soon leaked out that every animal sold make its escape the same night and was never heard of again. Then a purchaser who had been twice taken in by the brothers, determined to discover how the fraud was carried out. One market day he bought a fine horse from one of the brothers and rode off upon it, but no sooner had he left the market town behind him than he dismounted and drove a knife through the animal's heart. Then he walked back to the market-place and meeting the vendor told him that he had killed the beautiful animal he had just bought in a fit of passion. The _Bouda_ gave a start, but managed to conceal his grief till he entered his house, when he burst forth into lamentations and rubbed the skin off his forehead, as the custom is when a near relative dies. To his inquisitive neighbours he declared that his favourite brother had been robbed and murdered in the Galla country, whither he had travelled in order to purchase horses. It was said, however, that he afterwards sent no more animals to the market-place for sale.

According to Livingstone's account[48] the Makololo also believe that certain people can transform themselves into animals, and they call such persons "Pondoro." Livingstone came across a Pondoro in the Kebrasa hills, and heard that this gentleman was in the habit of assuming the shape of a lion which he retained for days and sometimes even for a month, during which time he wandered in the woods where his wife had built a den for him and took care that he was provided with food and drink. No one was allowed into the den except the Pondoro and his wife, and no strangers were permitted even to lay a gun against any of the trees in the neighbourhood of the den, or against any shanty owned by the Pondoro. The wer-lion used his gift to go hunting in the village.

After a few days had passed his faithful spouse scented her returning husband and provided him with a certain kind of medicine or ointment by which it became possible for him to change into a man again. But she had to hurry over this duty, so that the lion might not catch sight of her and, falling upon her, devour even her.

After the Pondoro was once more human he returned to the village and asked the inhabitants to help him carry home his prey. One of the odd things about this wer-lion was that he always trembled if he smelt gunpowder, and he sometimes overacted his part. Livingstone asked the natives to make him show off while he was watching, offering a reward for the performance, but they refused, saying, "If we ask him to do so, he may change while we are asleep and kill us." It was owing to his distaste for the smell of gunpowder that it was made punishable to rest muskets against his den.

In the same district the belief is also current that the souls of departed chiefs enter into lions "and render them sacred." Thus when a hungry lion prowled round the camp where a freshly killed buffalo lay, a native servant harangued him loudly in between his roars, saying, "What sort of a chief do you call yourself, sneaking round here in the dark trying to steal our buffalo meat? You're a pretty chief, you are!

You've no more courage than a scavenger beetle. Why don't you kill your own dinner?" The Pondoro took no notice except to roar the louder, so a second native took the matter up and expostulated in more dignified terms as to the impropriety of the conduct of "a great chief like him" prowling round in the dark, "trying like a hyaena to steal the food of strangers."

A piece of meat dipped in strychnine brought the lion-chief to his senses and he took his departure. It is not to be wondered at that such things occur in a country where the natives regard their chiefs as almighty and infallible. The extent of their faith in him appears from the story of one Chief Chibisa, who placed a powerful "medicine"

in the river and told his people they might safely enter the water as it was a protection against the bite of crocodiles. Thereupon the people bathed there without fear of these dangerous reptiles.

Du Chaillu, in "Ashango Land,"[49] tells the story of a young lad, Akosho, who declared that he had been turned into a leopard, and feeling a craving for blood had gone forth into the forest where he had killed two men. After each murder he said he had taken on human shape. His chief Akondogo could not believe the story, but Akosho led him to the scene where lay the mangled bodies of the victims. It appears that the boy suffered from lycanthropia, and he was burnt to death in full view of the tribe.

Theophilus Waldmeier mentions a similar case of possession in which the patient thought herself to be a hyaena.[50] One evening when he was in his house at Gaffat a woman began to cry fearfully and run up and down the road on her hands and feet like a wild beast, quite unconscious of what she was doing. The natives said to him, "This is the _Bouda_, and if it is not driven out of her she will die." A crowd gathered round and everything possible was done to relieve her condition, but without avail. She howled and roared in an unnatural manner and most powerful voice. At last a blacksmith, who was said to have secret connection with the evil one, was called in to see what he could do. The woman obeyed his orders at once. He took hold of her hand and dropped the juice of a white onion or garlic into her nostril, and then he questioned the evil spirit, by whom she was supposed to be possessed, as follows:

"Why did you possess this poor woman?"

"I was allowed to do so," came the answer through her lips.

"What is your name?"


"And your country?"


"How many people have you already taken possession of?"

"Forty people--men and women."

"You must now leave this woman's body."

"I will do so on one condition."

"What is it?"

"I want to eat the flesh of a donkey."

The long cross-examination being concluded the evil spirit was granted his strange request. A donkey was brought and the possessed woman ran hastily upon the animal and bit the flesh out of the creature's back, and though the donkey kicked and started off, she clung to it as though fastened by leather thongs.

After the performance had continued for some time the man recalled the woman, and a jar of prepared liquid with which much filth had been mixed was set down in a hidden spot where she could not see it. When, however, the exorcist exclaimed, "Go and look for your drink," she started off on all fours to the place where the jar stood and drank the whole of its contents.

When she returned, the blacksmith said, "Take up this stone." Although the stone in question was too large for her to move under natural conditions, she placed it on her head with ease and began spinning round, until the stone flew off on one side and she fell on to the ground. Then the exorcist said to the people round, "Take her away to bed, the _Bouda_ has left her."

Chapter end

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