Book 1, Chapter 6

Of the Instability and lack of firmness of the black people of this miserable inner Ethiopia  Cap. VI

The cane is assigned among all the plants to be a true hieroglyph of inconstancy, which shows itself on the outside to have a strong bark, outer skin and the appearance of great strength and constancy, but as it lacks a core, being empty on the inside it is very weak and debilitated and obedient to the puff of whatever wind blows, however small  So also are the blacks of this Ethiopia who have no stability in good and in evil, however, show themselves unchangeable, on the outside they show a good outer skin and the appearance of stability but the truth is they lack an inner core if not entirely at least in part because they have more irrational than human nature and in their actions they make it obvious that they have that lack because they are very inconstant [with] no firmness of soul, they show reliability in good will, but only show a firm inconstancy of understanding, a great weakness of heart, a variable spirit, an inconstant nature, in short (dear reader) they are of a change­able condition and with this they accompany all their actions, but miserable people, what punishment will come to them?  God threatened to have to punish the king Pharaoh for no other [65] reason,[1] giving the reason that he was inconstant.  He threat­ened Salmanazer, king of the Assyrians and the King of Israel, Hezekiah for no other [reason] than for having attached himself to that of Egypt who was inconstant like a cane.[2] You know well that the cane has such characteristics that it brings two evils at a time to him who trusts in it, that is to make him fall down to the ground breaking it [the cane] and also to wound the hands of him who has trusted it and if he complains afterwards therefore he does not know[3] where to place the blame, if not to a puff of wind which moves inconstantly and will there not truly (without a lie) be found inconstancy in those [people]?  In a quintessence you will find it, because they are so accustomed to lying that when they tell the truth it is by accident, nor can they say “yes” twice in succession for the first is affirmative and the second negative, so that it is necessary to use a lot of caution[4] in speaking with them to know the intention of what they say and not be fooled.[5] Believe me (dear reader) that if these Ethiopians had to observe that law of the Persians that ordered that he who was known to have lied three times not only would be required to keep perpetual silence, but would also be deprived of all offices and honors, it is certain that there would be few with whom one could converse, and if then they had that law of Artaxerxes which ordered that those convicted of lying must have the tongue pierced with three nails, few could be found who were not guilty of that crime and it would be an easy thing to enumerate the non-guilty if one could find any; in evil they run like Cupid whom they painted with wings, because they incorporate the quintessence of every evil and are quick and dexterous in doing it, nor is there found any sickness that hampers them, in doing good however they are like Venus with a tortoise at her feet, for they can not find the road to good and all is impossible for them and renders them incapable of good and they have sicknesses, incurable sores, excessive pains and are without natural capacity to fulfil major necessities or minor ones;[6] at the name of good health sickens, sickness gets worse and to give them remedies is to confirm them in death, such is the condition of this unstable people.  It was asked of Miletius, wise man of Greece what was the distance between a lie and the truth, and not knowing this black people, he replied that it was as far as from the eye to the ear; as a person ordinarily governs himself with one of the two, affirming and negating either from what he sees or what he hears; [66] but it is my belief that if he had known these descendents of Ham he would have said it is as far as from the nose to the mouth because they lie so easily it is to them as a virtue and what will become of them?  If God threated through his royal prophet to destroy the liars and prevaricators?  And hence we see that God in his castigation is not so rigorous that he does not temper his justice for them with mercy and it can be clearly seen that when he wanted to punish the world he sent the Deluge but spared Noah.  From Sodom he freed Seth.  From the destruction of Jericho he saved Rabaa and from the Babylonian captivity Jeremiah; but with liars he swears and swears again to pardon nobody; but he orders all be put to the sword, what therefore will happen to the poor Ethiopian descendants of Ham who know nothing but lies?  And if Seneca says that there is no viture that the Gods reward more willingly than the truth, what reward will these people have?  And if no vice, he says is punished so severely as the lie what will be their punishment?  It was asked of the philosopher Epimemides what is the truth:  it is that which light up the earth rules the heavens, sustains justice, governs the republic, that which confirms what is clear, and clarifies what is doubtful.  And if among these Ethiopians there is no truth how will their horrid land be illuminated? and without truth how will there be justice and government of the republic?  Chillo the philosopher speaking said the truth is a omenagio which never falls, a shield which cannot be pierced, a weather which is never troubled, a convoy which is never lost and a port safe from shipwreck.  And who will not fear that omenagio will not fall? that the shield not be pierced? the weather not be troubled? the convoy not be lost?  Where not only their cities, called their libattas,[7] but the fields also are full of thieves not only of their eatable and drinkable things but also of human beings[8] and it is an even stormier port and more dangerous sea.  Curious was the question put to Anasarchos, “tell me please o Anasarchos what does the truth seem to be to you?  He replied that it is health which never grows sick, life which never dies, a remedy which makes everyone well and a sun which never sets, a moon which is never eclipsed and a door which is never closed.  How can there be bodily health [67] if it grows sick and twists? and how can there be lasting life in regions where one sells the other? where the mother kills her child and the Father does not care for it as his own?  What remedy can cure all if they lack the antidote of truth?  How can the sun ever rise if all is dark and black?  When Blacks are the beings and horrid is the land of Ethiopia with barbarous customs, heathen the rites and ceremonies?  How can there be an open door of truth if the locks are of lies?  O miserable people where the sun of Truth does not shine, the moon is eclipsed and all that shines is the horror of barbarities and cruelties of the inhuman Giaga people who are moreover the capital enemies of human propagation.  “And If you want to know, o Athenians” said Plato, “what is the truth, it is a center where all things dwell, the north by which the world governs itself by, and antidote by which all can be cured, the market which all come to and the bank from which few can determine the withdrawals.  How can there be a dwelling place for all things in this black Ethiopia if there is no center of truth, stability and firmness?  And if they lack a north how is this Ethiopic land to govern itself, so full of snakes of unmeasurable size, of ferocious lions, of cruel tigers and poisonous animals?  And how can they cure themselves without the antidote of Truth, remedy for all ills? and if, if that which their priests teach them who teach other liars is not lies, are they not following the signpost to a noble square, but from the horrible fields, they do not draw on the bank of truth but the massiveness of a lie and thus one kills the other and if he eats him so that he may not be corrupted by the earth and sooner than speak the truth and confess the truth they allow their hands full of robbery to be cut off and beaten until the blood flowed freely as often happened to the lords and their slaves; one kept a slave and needed his services sent for him and he did not seem to hear and it appeared he was sleeping, when called many times he did not respond as he was sleeping zealously, the lord was obliged to go in person and shout loudly in his ear and also shake his body and when this woke him and he was asked if he was sleeping, he replied that he was not sleeping and at this manifest lie his [lord’s] anger grew.  He ordered [68] him to be beaten strongly and while hitting him continued asking him and he always denied sleeping, and he asked him at last what he was doing if not sleeping; he replied that he was guarding the wall; You can see how foolish and many taken with a stolen object in their hands deny it as if the hand were not theirs.  But what will you say when seeing an Ethiopian with all appearances of devotion frequently speaking the most holy name of Jesus and Mary, beating his breast and doing various devout actions?  You will feel a desire to see him always and to speak with him, but he will reveal himself as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a saint in the evening and a devil in the morning.  It is something to make one cry rivers of blood to see their instability, one might be the possessor of a thousand slaves in the evening and find himself without anyone to serve him in the morning, all having run away during the night, trusting in these people is like putting the sheep before the hungry wolf because he who shows the most fidelity is the biggest traitor, distrust therefore means always keeping watch and observation over the slaves who all had a habit of running away, often causing loss not only of goods but also of life, so that the masters are more slaves than the slaves themselves.[9] It would dear reader be something never ending and always beginning again; it is enough to say that there is no stability of mind nor firmness of will nor strength of heart, but all is changeable, all inconstancy and instability, they are buildings founded on sand for there can be no good Christianity where there is no stability and firmness, but one must not leave the enterprise because of this but go forward persevering with a fervent spirit and zeal for their salvation for it will please Our Loving Lord to give them firmness and stability as no one is lacking in opportune remedies and necessities for saving themselves.  This little portion of what I could say of these barbaric people is what I present you and I will pass on to show you in the following chapter the insanity of their priests and ministers of their sacrifices.

[1].  In margin: Ezekiel 29.  The reference is to Ezekiel 29: 6-9, where God threatens the Egyptians for being weak when the Israel­ites were relying on them.

[2].  In margin: “Isa. 36 a 6.”  In Isaiah 36: 6, an Assyrian offical compares the Egyptians to a reed.

[3].  Cavazzi writes “non sabe”, the Portuguese form of the verb.

[4].  In the MS “adventitia”.

[5]. Quite apart from Cavazzi’s own perceptions of the Imbangala love of lying, speakers of European languages often find difficulty in obtaining a comprehensible answer to a negative question in Bantu languages.  Speakers of Kimbundu and related Bantu languages respond to the truth of the question, rather than assent to its falsity.  Thus, if asked “Did you not come here?” a person who did not indeed come, will answer “yes” (I did not come), while a speaker of a European language will expect a “no” answer to the same question.

[6]. “& senza la retentiua naturale tanto delle necessita maggionri, come minori, al nome del bene…”

[7].  Libatte = Italian plural of libata, the normal Angolan Portuguese term for a village, originally from the sixteenth century coastal Kikongo term for a village.

[8].  A reference, apparently, to the practice of small bands hiding in wilderness areas and kidnapping people for sale in the slave trade.

[9].  Slave flight was common throughout Angola, and haboring of refugees was often a pretext for wars, see David Birmingham, Trade and Conflict in Angola (London, 1966), pp. 93, 118, 125.