3 January 1889
Pall Mall Gazette
THE psychological and psychical portions of Rider! Haggard's "She'' strike me as being not so much the creation of a vivid imagination as the simple recital-or, perhaps one should say, the skilful adaptation-of facts well-known to those who penetrated the recesses of be West Coast of Africa a generation ago. Astounding, terrifying, and incredible as the powers of Ayesba appear to the casual. reader, yet to the men who laboriously threaded the jungles and swamps of the riverain portion of \Vest Africa, long before Stanley was thought of, they only seem like a well-known and familiar tale. The awful mysteries of Obeeyah (vulgň Obi) and the powers possessed by the Obeeyah women of those days, were sufficiently known to all the slave-traders of the West Coast to make the wonders worked by " She " seem tame by comparison. And, always excepting the idea of the revivifying and rejuvenating flame in the bowels of the earth in which " She " bathed, there is nothing but what any Obeeyah woman was in the habit of doing every day. And, the fact forces itself upon one that " She " is neither more nor less than a weak water-colour sketch of an Obeeyah woman, made white, beautiful, and young, instead of being, as she invariably is, or was, black, old, and hideous as a mummy of a monkey. This is not only my own opinion, but that of all the old comrades of " the coast " of thirty years ago to whom the subject bas been mentioned. Although the Obeeyah men were, without exception, clumsy and ignorant charlatans, and simply worshipped Mumbo Jumbo, the Obeeyah women were of a different creed : offered human sacrifices under the most awful conditions, to Satan himself, whom they believed to habit the body of a hideous man-eating spider; practised evocation of evil spirits ; and, beyond all dispute, possessed powers far exceeding anything ever yet imagined in the wildest pages of fiction. To even hint at some of these wonders would be to subject one to one of three alternatives-to be considered either menteur, farceur, or fou.
Well in the interests of occult science, I shall risk these kind imputations, and in a forthcoming work of professed fiction shall relate thewonders of Obeeyah. One who has witnessed them can easily believe in the fabled Medusa, and in many mythological transmutations of which he read in schooldays. There is nothing on record in the ancient myths of any religion that is not done by the Obeeyah of to-day. The human imagination-whatever philosophers may think-has not the power to create ; and whatever you have read of magical powers-especially those of necromancy mare absolutely possible; absolutely true; absolutely accomplished ! From Moses to Bulwer Lytton ; from Jannes and Jambres, of the Egyptians, to all the wonders of India, there is nothing-never has been anything-that cannot be done, and is not done, by the African Obeeyah.
I remember, more than thirty years ago, meeting an Obeeyah woman, some hundreds of miles up the Cameroons river, and who bad her residence in the caverns at the foot of the Cameroons Mountains. In parenthesis, I may remark that I could not have existed "there for one moment had I not been connected, in some form or other, with the slave trade. That by the way. Judge for yourselves, O my readers, whether " She " was not " evolved from Subč, the well-known Obeeyah woman of the Cameroons, or from one of a similar type. Subč stood close on 6 ft., and was supposed by the natives to be many hundred years of age. Erect as a dart, and with a stately walk, she yet looked 2,000 years old. Her wrinkled; mummified, gorilla-like face, full of all iniquity, bate, and uncleanness (moral and physicaI), might have existed since the Creation, while her superb form and full limbs might have teen those of a woman of twenty-four. " Pride in her port and venom in her eye," were her chief characteristics ; while her dress was very simple, consisting of a head-dress made of sharks' teeth, brass bosses, and tails of some species of lynx. Across her bare bosom was a wide scarf or baldric made of scarlet cloth, on which were fastened, four rows of what appeared like large Roman pearls, of the size of a large walnut. These apparent pearls, however, were actually human intestines, bleached to a pearly whiteness, inflated and constricted at short intervals, so as to make a series of little bladders. On the top of her bead appeared the head of a large spotted serpent-presumably some kind of boa constrictor-the cured skin of 'which hung down her back nearly to the ground. Round her neck she wore a solid brass quoit of some four pounds weight, too small to pass over her head, but which had no perceptible joint or place of union. Heavy bangles on wrists and ankles reminded one somewhat of the Hindoo woman's; but hers were heavier, and were evidently formed from the thick brass rods used in " the Coast trade," and hammered together in situ. Her skirt was simply a fringe of pendent tails of some animal-presumably the mountain lynx-intermingled with goats' tails. In her hand she carried what seemed to be the chief instrument of her power, and what we in Europe should call a " magic wand." But this was no wand; it was simply a hollow tube about four inches long, closed at one end, and appearing to be made of a highly glittering kind of carved ivory. Closer inspection, however, showed that it was some kind of reed about an ich in diameter, and encrusted with human molar teeth, in a splendid state of preservation, and set with the crowns outwards. When not borne in the right hand, this instrument was carried in a side pouch, or case, leaving the open end out.
Strange to say-this mystery I never could fathom-there was always a faint blue smoke proceeding from the mouth of this tube, like this smoke of a cigarette, though it was perfectly cold and apparently empty. I shall never forget the first day on which I asked her to give me a specimen of her powers. I had previously witnessed all the marvels of the Indian conjurers, as well as the ink mirror of the Arab dervishes. Therefore I quietly settled down to enjoy the performance without expecting to be astonished, but only amused. I was astonished, though, to find this six feet of humanity, weighing at least eleven stone, standing on my outstretched hand when I opened my eyes (previously closed by her command), and when I could feel not the slightest weight thereon. I was still more so when, still standing on my outstretched palm, she told me to shut my eyes again and reopen them instantaneously. I did so, and she was gone. But that was not all ; while I looked round for her, a stone fell near me, and, looking upwards, I saw her calmly standing on the top of a cliff nearly 500 ft. in height. I naturally thought it was a "double"-that is, another woman dressed like her, and said so to the bystanding natives, who shouted something in the Ephic language to her. Without more ado she walked-not jumped-over the side of the cliff, and with a gentle motion, as though suspended by Mr. Baldwin's parchute, gradually dropped downwards till she alighted at my feet. My idea always was that this tube of hers was charged with some (to us) unknown fluid, or gas, which controlled the forces of nature ; she seemed powerless without it.
Further, none of her " miracles " was, strictly speaking, non-natural. That is, she seemed able to control natural forces in most astounding ways, even to suspend and overcome them, as in the previous instance of the suspension of the laws of gravitation ; but in no case could she violate them. For instance, although she could take an arm lopped off by a low of a cutlass, and, holding it to the stump, pretend to mutter some gibberish while she carefully passed her reed round the place of union (in a second of time complete union was effected, without a tract of previous injury), yet, when I challenged her to make an arm sprout from the stump of our quartermaster, who had lost his left forearm in action some years before, she was unable to do so, and candidly declared her inability. She Said, " It is dead : I have no power. " And over nothing dead had she any power. After seeing her change toads into tic polongas (the most deadly serpent on the coast), I told her to change a stone into a trade- dollar. But no, the answer was the same-" it was dead." Her power over life was striking, instantaneous, terrible. The incident in " She " of the three blanched finger-marks on the hair of the girl who loved Kallikrates, and the manner of her death, would have been child's play to Subč. When she pointed her little reed at a powerful warrior, in my presence a man of vast thews and sinews-with a bitter, hissing curse, he simply faded away. The muscles began to shrink visibly, and within three minutes' space he was actually an almost fleshless skeleton. Again, in her towering rage against a woman, the same action was followed by instantaneous results. But instead of withering, the woman absolutely petrified there and then ; and, standing erect; motionless, her whole body actually froze as hard as stone, as we see the carcasses of beasts in Canada. A blow from my revolver on the hand (and, afterwards, all over the body) rang as if I were striking marble. Until I saw this actually done I must confess that I never really believed in Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of rock salt. After it, I was disposed to believe a good deal.
One of the things which most impressed me was when she poured water from a calabash into a little cavity scooped by her hands in the soft earth. That this was nothing but water I satisfied myself by the taste. Telling me to kneel down and gaze steadfastly on the surface of the water, she told' me to call for any person whom I might wish to see. And here a rather curious point arose. She insisted on having the name first. I gave her the name of a relative, Lewis, which she repeated after me three times to get it fixed correctly on her memory. In repeating her incantation, a few minutes afterwards she pronounced the word " Louise, " though I did not pay much attention to it at the time. When, however, her wand was waved over the water, evolving clouds of luminous smoke, and I saw distinctly reflected in it, after those clouds had passed away, the face and form of a relative of mine standing in front of an audience, evidently reciting some composition, I told her she bad made a mistake. I did not acknowledge to having seen anything for some time, but at last I told her that it was the wrong person. Then, naturally, argument followed. She insisted that I said " Louise. " However, at last, I taught her the correct pronunciation of Lewis, and I saw the man I wanted, sitting with his feet elevated above his head, more Americano, and calmly puffing his pipe while reading a letter. I need scarcely say that I verified the time at which these things occurred ; and in both instances I found them; allowing for the difference in longitude, absolutely and exactly correct.
Space will not allow, or I could go on for hours relating the wonders that I have seen Subč perform. And the most wonderful all I have left untold, because they seem, even to myself, utterly incredible. Yet they are there, burned into my brain ever since that awful night when I was a concealed and unsuspected witness of the awful rites and mysteries of the Obeeyah in the caverns of the Cameroons.