#21 The Ghost of a Suicide
     (John Roscoe, 1923)

Though there were certain spirits which were feared, there was no knowledge of a spirit-world or of any spirits created apart from this world: the people stood in constant awe only of disembodied spirits of men, the ghosts. When a man who possessed property died, his heir had to build him a shrine in the house near his own bed, and generally dedicated to him certain cows whose milk was daily offered at the shrine, this being the place where the ghost came to visit his family and to take his meal of the essence of the milk. The rest of the milk was then drunk by the owner of the house and those of his children who were unmarried and living at home. No outside person might partake, and even the man’s wife might not take any, for she was of a different clan. If the ghost was neglected or any member of the family did anything of which he did not approve, he would manifest his displeasure by causing illness or death among the people or the cattle. Powerful ghosts might also be persuaded by members of their families to cause illness to some person of another clan in revenge for some wrong. Sickness was always supposed to be caused either by ghosts or by magic; and a medicine-man had to be summoned to find out the cause by augury, for the treatment varied with the cause.

People who had no property and no power in this world were not generally feared when they became ghosts, for they were thought to have as little power then as before, and no steps were taken to keep their ghosts in good temper. The ghosts of some poor people, however, might be dangerous, owing to the circumstances of their death. For example, a sick man who came to beg for food and was refused might, should he die in the neighbourhood from want, cause some evil. If an epidemic broke out or someone fell ill shortly afterwards, the misfortune was attributed to this ghost and offerings were made to propitiate him.

The ghost of anyone who had been wrongfully accused and had committed suicide was very dangerous, even the ghost of a woman being feared under these circumstances. A woman who had been wrongfully accused of adultery would go and hang herself, and her ghost would then be a malignant influence. Her body was buried as near the place of her death as possible that the ghost might be destroyed or confined to that locality. If she hanged herself on a tree, the body was buried just clear of the roots, the tree was cut down and its roots were dug up; the whole was then burned to ashes and the relatives had to pay ample compensation to the chief on whose land the deed had been done.

[#21] Banyoro: “The Ghost of a Suicide,” from John Roscoe, The Bakitara or Banyoro, Cambridge:” At the University Press, 1923, pp. 41-42.

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