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Ngewo


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Africa

God of the Mende tribesmen in Sierra Leone. He is also known by what appears to be a much older name—Leve, ‘the high-up one’. The Mende say of traditional usage ‘this is what Leve brought down to us long ago’. As Ngewo, the sky god is remote from the affairs of men, though they believe that it is the deity's power which manifests itself indirectly in natural phenomena. Thus he sends rain to fall on his ‘wife’, the earth. Between Ngewo and mankind are the spirits—ancestral spirits and genii, dyinyinga. The latter are associated with rivers, forests, and rocks; the former have cults designed to facilitate communication between men and the sky god.

After the rites of tindyamei, ‘crossing the water’, departed soul reaches the land of the dead. On his journey the deceased is assisted by the objects deposited in the grave, which is called ‘a house’, because ‘on the other side’ the spirits expect to receive presents from the newcomer. To deny a person the burial rites is tantamount to condemning his spirit to remain on earth and, in consequence, to be haunted by it. The land of the dead, according to the Mende, is rather like the world of the living. Ancestors are not feared, and often appear in dreams as messengers, bringing words of warning or advice. Illness in a family, for instance, may be discovered to have resulted from a failure ‘to feed’ a certain ancestor. Offerings include rice, chicken, and tobacco. At important points in the calendar, such as sowing, the Mende sacrifice to the ancestral spirits, whose aid is necessary to ensure a good crop.

The propitiation of dyinyinga follows a settled pattern, too. An example would be the sacrifice made to the ‘angered’ spirit of a river which regularly overflows its banks during the autumn rains. Genii take various physical forms: tingoi appear as beautiful women with soft white skins, and they are usually benign: ndogbojusui, white men with long white beards, are bent on mischief, but a subtle man can outwit them and obtain substantial gifts. The Mende believe that boldness is required when handling dyinyinga. Either one takes control of the genii, or the genii takes control of oneself.

Mende magic, hale, invokes the aid of dyinyinga as well as Nwego. But there is an interesting myth to explain the remoteness of the sky god. In the beginning Nwego told men to go to him for everything they needed. They went, however, so frequently that he said to himself, ‘If I stay near these people, they will wear me out with their requests.’ So he made for himself another place far away, and while they slept, he went off there. Since that time Nwego has not deserted his creatures, but has forced mankind to be less dependent on him.

Subjects: Religion.


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