Gateway to the Classics: Lost in the Jungle by Paul du Chaillu
Lost in the Jungle by  Paul du Chaillu

Ilogo, the Moon Spirit

Quengueza orders Ilogo to be consulted about his illness.—What the people think of Ilogo.—A nocturnal sťance.—A female medium.—What Ilogo said.

What a strange village Goumbi is! It is well that I am the friend of King Quengueza. The people are so superstitious. We had hardly got over the affair of witchcraft when the people declared they must find some means of ascertaining the cause of the king's sufferings. Quengueza had sent word himself that his people must try to find out from Ilogo why he was sick, and what he must do for his recovery.

Ilogo is believed by the people to be a spirit living in the moon—a mighty spirit, who looks down upon the inhabitants of the earth—a spirit to whom the black man can talk. "Yes," they said, "Ilogo's face can be seen; look at it." Then they pointed out to me the spots on the moon which we can see with our naked eye. These spots were the indistinct features of the spirit.

One fine evening, at full moon (for, to consult Ilogo, the moon must be full, or nearly so), the women of the village assembled in front of the king's house. Clustered close together, and seated on the ground, with their faces turned toward the moon, they sang songs. They were surrounded by the men of the village. I shall not soon forget that wild scene. The sky was clear and beautiful; the moon shone in its brightness, eclipsing by its light that of the stars, except those of the first magnitude; the air was calm and serene, and the shadows of the tall trees upon the earth appeared like queer phantoms.


The songs to Ilogo.

The songs of the women were to and in praise of Ilogo, the spirit that lived in ogouayli (the moon). Presently a woman seated herself in the centre of the circle of singers and began a solo, gazing steadfastly at the moon, the people every now and then singing in chorus with her. She was to be inspired by the spirit Ilogo to utter prophecies.

At last she gave up singing, for she could not get into a trance. Then another woman took her place, in the midst of the most vociferous singing that could be done by human lips. After a while the second woman gave place to a third—a little woman, wiry and nervous. She seated herself like the others, and looked steadily at the moon, crying out that she could see Ilogo, and then the singing redoubled in fury. The excitement of the people had at that time become very great; the drums beat furiously, the drummers using all their strength, until covered with perspiration; the outsiders shouted madly, and seemed to be almost out of their senses, for their faces were wrinkled in nervous excitement, their eyes perfectly wild, and the contortions they made with their bodies indescribable.

The excitement was now intense, and the noise horrible. The songs to Ilogo were not for a moment discontinued, but the pitch of their voices was so great and so hoarse that the words at last seemed to come with difficulty. The medium, the women, and the men all sang with one accord:

"Ilogo, we ask thee,

Tell who has bewitched the king!

Ilogo, we ask thee,

What shall we do to cure the king?

The forests are thine, Ilogo!

The rivers are thine, Ilogo!

The moon is thine!

O moon! O moon! O moon!

Thou art the home of Ilogo!

Shall the king die? O Ilogo!

O Ilogo! O moon! O moon!"

These words were repeated over and over, the people getting more terribly excited as they went on. The woman who was the medium, and who had been singing violently, looked toward the moon, and began to tremble. Her nerves twitched, her face was contorted, her muscles swelled, and at last her limbs straightened out. At this time the wildest of all wild excitement possessed the people. I myself looked on with intense curiosity. She fell on her back on the ground, insensible, her face turned up to the moon. She looked as if she had died in a fit.

The song to Ilogo continued with more noise than ever; but at last comparative quiet followed, compelled, I believe, by sheer exhaustion from excitement. But the people were all gazing intently on the woman's face.

I shall not forget that scene by moonlight, nor the corpse-like face of that woman, so still and calm. How wild it all looked! The woman, who lay apparently dead before the savages, was expected at this time to see things in the world of Ilogo—that is to say, the moon—to see the great spirit Ilogo himself; and, as she lay insensible, she was supposed to be holding intercourse with him. Then, after she had conversed with the great spirit Ilogo, she would awake, and tell the people all she saw and all that Ilogo had said to her.

For my part, I thought she really was dead. I approached her, and touched her pulse. It was weak, but there was life. After about half an hour of insensibility she came to her senses, but she was much prostrated. She seated herself without rising, looking round as if stupefied. She remained quite silent for a while, and then began to speak.

"I have seen Ilogo, I have spoken to Ilogo. Ilogo has told me that Quengueza, our king, shall not die; that Quengueza is going to live a long time; that Quengueza was not bewitched, and that a remedy prepared from such a plant (I forget the name) would cure him. Then," she added, "I went to sleep, and when I awoke Ilogo was gone, and now I find myself in the midst of you."

The people then quietly separated, as by that time it was late, and all retired to their huts, I myself going to mine, thinking of the wild scene I had just witnessed, and feeling that, the longer I remained in that strange country, the more strange the customs of the people appeared to me. Soon all became silent, and nothing but the barking of the watchful little native dogs broke the stillness of the night. The moon continued to shine over that village, the inhabitants of which had run so wild with superstition.

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