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Alvares, Manuel, 1526-1583, et al. / Ethiopia Minor and a geographical account of the Province of Sierra Leone : (c. 1615)
(1990)

Chapter 10: The way of life of these heathen and their customs, also a discussion of their superstitions and idolatry,   pp. [unnumbered]-3


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Chapter 10
The way of life of these heathen and their customs, also a discussion
of their superstitions and idolatry
As I said above, these heathen are more devoted to the art of war than
to anything else. The men have no interest in life other than the amount
of plunder which arises from the success or otherwise of their wars, as we
shall continue explaining below. (In other respects) their way of life is
the same as that of the other heathen. It is on the women that everything
depends. They are the ones who work the land, after cutting down and
burning the bush; and they build the houses. In general, in the same way
as slaves do for us, the women look after the men, and when the latter are
on land they have nothing to do except tap wine and have a good time. The
Bijagos are thoroughly untrustworthy. They have a common trick involving
slaves. They pretend they wish to sell them, but when they put them aboard
(Portuguese launches) they do so in such numbers that it enables them to
kill the crew and seize the launch. On land they act in a disorderly
fashion, and for no good reason they treacherously kill each other. If
guests come to visit them, before the guests can make their farewells the
Bijagos are sending out canoes to lie in wait for them along their route,
to capture them. On land the Bijagos never steal from each other. They
have no kings: the most powerful among them acts the king. Adultery,
witchcraft and murder are punished by enslavement, and they sell their own
people (for these crimes). They do the same with those captured in the
wars which take place within the islands, and they spare no-one. Among
thi men of power, if a husband finds his wife with another man he kills them
both and puts their heads on stakes near the entrance to his house. When
men are young and have little wealth, in order to get a wife they give their
(future) father-in-law two black slaves in exchange for a girl; and if it
comes about that she commits adultery or leaves her husband, he can sell
her.
Women whose husbands die marry warriors renowned for their daring, and such
men acquire marny wives and a large number of war-canoes, and so become
important and powerful. Apart from what has already been said about these
canoes, it should be noted that they are extraordinarily light, because they
are made of such /f.36v/ small amounts of wood. The sides are about the
thickness of a thumb, and the bottom about that of two fingers.
The men all wear goatskins. The women, although their only upper
garment is a dressing of ochre, powdered or dissolved in palm oil, remain
decent with a grass-skirt which hangs from the waist to near the knees. All
of the Bijagos eat in a disgusting manner. Instead of eating in the house


 


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