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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 6: The idol and oracle of Benle and Togma, and the nature of this superstition,   pp. 1-4

Page 2

In order to become a member of this false society and to be called a,
Togma, circumcision is necessary, for all members, women as well as men.
In order to join the brotherhood, they bring puppies or hens. The Benle
takes infant boys in his arms and makes a sacrifice. Normally he spills
the blood of the sacrifice as he holds the child, sometimes he does this
before he holds it. Once this has been done, the child has gained
admittance. Females gain admittance in the same way, after which they
servants of the Benles.   But this (ceremony) is not strictly necessary,
/f.67v/, since they can become Togmas without it. These societies have
no officer deputed to admit to the society new recruits and novices, since
any Benle can do this. He may undertake the task of admitting newcomers
to this form of superstition, provided he first has permission from the
chief priest, who is called Benle Bana, that is, Grand Benle, the Superior
of both societies. Those who follow the rule of this society must not eat
hens unless they have been cooked by a member. Once when one of these
false monks entered my house, I offered him some chicken, but he absolutely
refused to accept it. However, if we offer them any other sort of meat,
or any other kind of food, they do not refuse it. They refuse chicken
because it is a special rule of their superstitious code.    Yet if one kills
a hen and gives part of it to the Togma to cook, they will not in this case
refuse it. On the other hand, if they have not cooked the fowl themselves,
they will not even eat rice or anything else which has touched the broth
from the fowl, so punctilious are they in the observance of their rule.
Now let us discuss the Benles in more detail.    All the members of
that family are circumcised. More worthy of note is what happens when they
are ill. A Benle may fall ill, just like a devotee of any other religion.
When this happens they carry him off into the forest, and the priests
immediately consult the devil about their brother, wholly by way of
divination which, as already stated, is commonly done in cases of illness.
If they believe that he is being eaten up by witches, they discover by
divination the person responsible, and they leave no stone of his house
standing. If the accursed consultation with the devil indicates that the
illness is mortal, they call together the brothers or any other relatives
of the sick person who are members of the same society, or if these are
lacking, other (unrelated) members; and they kill the sick person with
blows, the members driving sharp pieces of iron into the head of the victim.
They do this whether the sick person is a man or a woman. When this does
not kill the victim, they redouble the blows. They consider it improper
to nurse him or help him with restorative medicines or remedies. In fact,
the reins of life of the poor man can only be slackened or tightened by
the Lord who gave him life; but this they do not care to believe,


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