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

Chapter 7: Aptitudes of these heathen, and their superstitious rites and ceremonies,   pp. 1-14

Page 8


than Rebecca, of whom we are told in Genesis, chapter 14 [ 24:65J7, that
when she saw her husband Isaac, she took a veil and covered herself, are
so forgetful in their vulgar haste that they strike at the honour of
their head (, the man), desiring contrary to all idea of right that the
head should lie at their feet and, what is worse, that his self-respect
should lie under their feet. Yet the honour of man is so precious that
it cannot be compared with the most fine gold or the most valuable jewels
from the East.
Now let us discuss the houses (of the Banhus). They are of wattle
and clay, covered with thatch, in the shape of a pavilion. As has been
stated, each house has a wall around it, and each wife has her own house,
or nearly each. In their judicial ordeals, which are for the investi-
gation of crimes, these people make use of the abominable ordeal of 'red
water' q   This ordeal is as commonly employed among the heathen of
Ethiopia as testimony by multiple witnesses is with us. (But) Rings are
first given information this latter way, certain of their followers
acting as messengers in order to please kings and fulfil their role as
flattering courtiers, a role welcomed and very common at a court.
Everything is in excess (there), except for the man who deals in truths.
These carriers of news hold such a view of the covetousness of their lords
that they present as without doubt what in fact is full of doubt, or even
has no semblance of truth. (Confident assertion) on the part of these men
is rewarded among the Banhus where things are easily accepted. But if the
matter cannot be so clearly understood, it is common for them to make use
of this infernal water in their judicial processes - in place of our
witnesses, as I said. 'Red water' kills the wretch who drinks it if, as
generally happens the official who administers it %ants it so, or if the
accused is such a lonely individual that he lacks friends to save him with
(q) Red water. This appears to allude to the waters, mixed with other
things used by the Hebrews and called proof-waters : they drank these
to afford proof of certain occult offences. And they said that Moses
used them to learn about those guilty of worshipping idolatrously the
calf, when he broke it into powder and gave it to them to drink with
certain curses.  See Rabbis Sefardam in Coment.Sup.Exod. : "The guilty
had their lips coated with gold dust and died, the innocent drank it
without hurt". Exodus 32 [:20_7. Apart from this water, there is
another kind given to obtain proof of adultery which is given to women
suspected of this; and any woman who has fallen swells up. This was
zeal carried No extremes.


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