Book 1, Chapter 9

Concerning the Singhili[1] priests and

Diviners in general   Chapter 9

Among the Jaga and also non-Jaga people of this Kingdom of Matamba and also of others, there are blacks who are called Singhili meaning diviners, an office greatly honored and esteemed among them and the most honored of all are like bishops and are honored by these people like Gods.  They are the oracles of this blind people, before them the powerful people of this black Ethiopia bend their knees and bow their heads and give them strict obedience and are faithful observers of their commands.  In their hands is the summation of all the laws, rites, customs and heathen ceremonies, they are people dedicated to the Devil and as such they fool the people.  In order that everyone should know, how to guard against them I will describe their qualities in general and then deal with each one in particular in order to satisfy the reader.  You therefore ought to know that the Singhi­los or Singhilo is a black man or woman into whose body the Devil enters and so that this should be done this with great solemnity and joy in the presence of him who has to be a Singhilla, I say, he into whose body the Devil has to enter, he seats himself in the middle of the square while all around the musicians make a circle round him each one playing his instrument, accompanying those present with dancing and shouting which is deafening therefore dazed by the sound of the instruments and the shouts, he rises to his feet like a fury and with various rollings of the eyes and gestures of the body shows that the evil spirit[2] is in him, he begins to speak calling himself one of the dead lords, his ancestors, like the Jaga Casa, Calanda, Colaximbo who were Jagas and captains of armies.  This feigned personality does whatever made-up thinks he pleases and which most reflect on his honor and use as one might say.  He begins to reprimand those present for their lack of gratitude for the benefits they received and because in past sacrifices they killed few people to serve him on his part and he has come now and requires to be served by many people [87]  Immediately the onlookers clap their hands and he is given by those responsible the people he wants in the quality and ? that he pleases.  This person possessed by the devil runs first to one side, then the other holding a sharp knife in his hand and when he pleases he raises his hand and unleashes in cruel blows, one to the head of one and on the chest of another poor wretch, separating the head from the body, he goes on sucking the blood of the miserable people and his disciples do similarly afterwards he divides the flesh of the dead victims among the onlookers to be eaten as a gift and reward for their prompt assistance at this horrible spectacle and even though some do not wish to eat they are forced to eat it.  This demonically possessed minister eats if raw and rubs his body with human blood and does other barbarous acts with great gusto and joy and the devil shows himself in the body of the Singhilla, who like a furious follower of Bacchos contorts himself in various ways as he wishes and with distorted actions shows that he has the evil spirit in him.  The audience, captivated and attentive, starts to simulate the dead person first in his voice which they imitate and then they make every attempt to represent the parents or in other ways pretending to adore him as their true dead lord and excuse themselves for the crimes they have committed, promising to make amends by carrying out the command or request which he says is necessary and thus he is rewarded with a good payment and the people are fooled into parting with goods and honor.  In the lands, cities, kingdoms or provinces where these ministers have to perform their diabolical ceremonies they go all together to the lord of the place, although on the days of their sacrifices they (the diviners) alone are esteemed as lords and they have for such feasts, cloths to wear which are their Episcopal vestments, seats on which to sit, knives for killing people and vases from which they drink human blood, and such is the foolishness and false credence which they give them in their necessity and wars, these are the chaplains of their armies which they bless or course as they please.?  They ask these diviners to know and to foretell not only victories over their enemies, but also the losses which they must suffer and they cleverly make use of that doctrine of some doctors little skilled in the art when by mischance someone dies, as a result of their treatment immediately they say he did some disorderly act, and did not follow the dietary regime; thus these doctors seeing that the opposite of their prognostiation? takes place [88] they say that the people have not observed the laws of the Jagas, that they have transgressed their kishila and for this they are losers, and these poor people have such faith in them as if they were oracles and not seeing or knowing that they are being fooled on the days when they perform their sacrifices they are like lords carried about on hammocks with music, singing, and dancing.  If the Singhilla is a man he goes in the company of men and if a woman she does not also lack a guard of men and all go dancing as if they were going before the Ark with great reverence and order.  They sit there for whole days on scabolli stools (scabelli?) like lords and the others, potentates themselves give them strict obedience and before them bend their knees and lower their heads and crowns and do whatever they order and give them what they request even if it is of great value, and for this they lack nothing and have all in abundance, which is not good as all is lacking.  So blind is this gullible people that they are given to believe the greatest lie they can possible here, It only suffices for one to assert it for it to be believed forever.

I was once with one of these ministers trying to find out why the Zumbo of a deceased lord was slow in entering the Singhilla.  He answered that he was in possession eating and drinking and presenting himself and that these half wits pay him well, that is was not necessary to live and they would give the required amount gratitude? to have agreement on the cause of the Zumbo not coming, admire such great foolishness is not this unheard of?  Another case? not less curious than the first:  there were many Ethiopians congregated playing their instruments and drumming in order that the Devil might enter one of them; they kept up that function for three days at the end of which it entered one of the people present and announced that it was a famous Jaga and with much working said “I am Jaga such-and-such your lord.  When I left I invited you to go with me to;? when where I called (?) you answered that it would be necessary to drink; to eat that where you were there was much in abundance and that only I should go” and these half-wits gave such complete faith to this liar that not only did they clap their hands in negro fashion in gratitude for the action as if he were an oracle but when he demanded two people to serve him they immediately gave him two well disposed young men [89] of whom the separated the head from the body sucking the blood and splitting up the meat of those dead people with the onlookers and this made the feast not only curious but barbarous. the Jaga Casange they were occupied in such a diabolic function and it was already the third day without the Zumbo that they called arriving which was that of the dead Pando (219????) [3] to which end they beat the drums and played instruments on the night of my arrival they caused him to appear in the Singhilla and as if angry, he said “what do you want with all this calling?” and with imperial presence he ordered them to give him people and immediately he was obeyed.  One of them was from Gangella and the other from Matamba.  He also demanded fresh millet.  After killing these poor little people they had their meat cooked with it and the same night at it with the onlookers, even though some did so involuntarily and one of these involuntary caters? affirmed it to me and later many confirmed that they had eaten of it.

In the year 1657 the Jaga Gonga Caanga [Ngunga Ka Hanga] when he came to obey the Portuguese in the province of Selles, land of the powerful Catucchulo Cacariongo [Katukulo ka Kariongo],[4] told publicly the following lie of his Singhilla as if it were given by some oracle:  to the interrogation of the General about? he obedience he should give, he answered, “I with my vassals made a sacrifice to my dead brother in order to know from him if it was good that I should give obedience to the King of Portugal or not.  He answered to me that not only was it good but necessary that I and my vassals subject ourselves to the orders of the Portuguese and be faithful to them, that if they killed him, he had given them the occasion (to do so).  Admire the Devil’s cleverness and strategems? which he arranges to drag souls to the Infernal Abyss because it is very profitable for him which happened in effect as he has the many who died and in the hereafter their souls went to Hell and their bodies were buried in their (people’s) bellies, something which the wild beasts of the woods and wilderness do not do to those of their own species  And I was a spectator of this for the three continuous months that I lived with them.? [90]  When these Singhilas need to make their houses they go in person to cut the first stake which is to be placed serves as the foundation stone:?  accompanied by many people; and they go playing various instruments and also carrying their idols with having been prepared they build the houses in the night and they also cover them at night.  The following morning their wives, children and relatives must be present because the then Singhilla kills a goat before the door of the house and with the blood smears all those present;? after this they enter the house the and they adorn it with tapestries which are there (??) and there they place a casket which they call Missette? full of cloths, animal skins and belts to wear and drinks and for three days continuously they make a great feast eating, drinking playing music, dancing and leaping according to their custom and if the idol[5] which they put in the box is a man they put in a bow, arrows, knives and spears and on entering this house the all kneel as a sign of reverence while clapping and also revering with their body (bowing??) their idol which is in the box hidden in these cloths.  If anyone gives orders to steal the offerings to the idol, the box appears by work of the devil to be full of serpents who show themselves ready to eat the thief.  If Anyone enters humbly and with compassion to ask the idol to pardon them and when the idol, is adored, the snakes disappear, see (?) what a devil’s trick this is to cause himself to be adored in the idol, and if he wants to punish anyone, he causes his throat to swell, hernias and sores and other ailments to come.  If it (ie the idol) was a Jaga they kill a man with a beard and drink his blood mixed with wine, when they make the sacrifice and eat the flesh roasted and not cooked in any other way and it must be, cooked over a low fire.  There are various types of Singhillas and divinations because each quilundo[6] [Kilundo] and idol has its own.  Some are themselves lords of provinces, kingdoms and others are private people, for this I refer here briefly to the virtue and vice of each one without changing one for the other, but giving to each one its just share.


[1].  Singhili, plural of singhilla xingula, a diviner.  The religious figures described up to this point have made charms or assisted others in propitiating the dead.  The diviners’ princi­pal duty was to allow the dead to speak to the living through mediumship.

[2]. The spirit that might enter a xingula when possessed would be that of an ancestor or a territorial spirit.  Cavazzi’s statement that it would be an evil spirit is simply a reflection of his belief that only the Devil could possess such people.

[3].  Pando = Mpando.  The name is known in no other context.  See below, Book 3, pp. 16-20.

[4]. Catacchulo Cacariongo = Katakulo ka Kariongo, a title holder in Nsele (Selles).  This Jaga also served the Portuguese army in Lubolo in 1658–his home base seems to have been Rimba.  See note 153 above.

[5].  Idol.  Normal Angolan Portuguese term for shrines to territorial spirits, of which Cavazzi describes several below.  The term is of some antiquity, for Pero Tavares regularly mentions burning them in 1631, presumably the term preceded his trip, see Tavares to Rector, Brasio, Monumenta 8:       The proper Kimbundu term is kilundo (see note 223, below).  Cavazzi, in Istorica Descrizione, Book 2, nos. 58-60 uses the Italian term “Nume” (minor deity) which is probably more correct from a cosmological perspective, as the Kimbundu did not worship the shrine itself, but the spirit (or god) in whose honor it was raised.

[6].  quilundo Do Couto, Gentio, uses quiteque, iteque to mean “idols” pp. = kilundo, the spirit worshipped at a shrine.  Simoes Brandão, “Ritos gentilicos” (ed. Asumpção) p. 372,.