The Magicality of Cuisine 2: A Recipe for a complicated Love Filtre for Men. 19th Century Gabon

Continuing our survey of pre-modern dishes with examples from the Gabon area of West Africa, I want to give a recipe for a love filtre for men as detailed by Dr. Robert Nassau, who served as missionary, doctor and ethnologist throughout the Ogowe watershed and surrounding areas of west Africa in the late 19th century

This blog complements The Magicality of Cuisine 1: Meat Cooked in Plantain Leaves as a Love Philtre, 19th Century Liberia, West Africa, which is specifically for women.  While the following recipe is not a dish to be consumed, it is a recipe requiring exactitude in its production and which is ‘cooked’ in the smoke of the kitchen.

Dr. Nassau states:

… the Bantu fetich worshipper depends on himself and his regular fetich charms, which, indeed, were made either at his request by a doctor (as we would order a suit of clothes from a tailor), or by himself on fetich rule obtained from a doctor; and when paid for, the doctor is no longer needed or considered. The worshipper keeps these amulets and mixed medicines hanging on the wall of his room or hidden in one of his boxes…

Fetich doctor, who may be employed to make a charm .

A fetich doctor, who may be employed to make a charm .  The patch of hair is a professional tonsure *.  Source – Nassau.

* Tonsure –  Tonsure is the practice of cutting or shaving some or all of the hair on the scalp, as a sign of religious devotion or humility. The term originates from the Latin word tonsūra (to clip, or cut) and referred to a specific practice in medieval Catholicism, abandoned by papal order in 1972. Wikipedia
 

 The process of making a love charm by a man is more elaborate [than a love charm for a woman]. The ingredients are more numerous and require more time in their collection. Having fixed his desire on some woman, he decides in his heart, “I am going to marry such and such a woman in such and such a village!” But he keeps his intention entirely secret. He proceeds to make the male charm called “Ebâbi.”…

The first ingredient is coconut oil, which is poured into a flask made of a small gourd or calabash.

    • Then, going to the forest, he gathers leaves of the bongâm tree.
    •  Another day he will go again to the forest, and find leaves of the bokadi tree.
    • Then he plucks some hairs from his arm-pits, and puts them and the bruised leaves, with some of his own urine, into the flask.
    • This flask he then suspends from his kitchen roof above the itaka frame or hanging-shelf that in almost all kitchens is placed above the fire-hearth.
    •  It remains there in the smoke for ten days.
    • Then taking it down, he inserts into it, tip downward, a long tail-feather of a large bird called “koka.

He is ready then for his experiment.

Any day that he chooses to go to seek the woman, he first draws out the feather, with whatever of the mixture clings to it, and wipes it on his hands.

    • His hands he then rubs over his face rapidly and vigorously, saying,
      • “So will I do to that woman!”
    • He must immediately then start on his journey.

This act of anointing his hands and face must have been his very last act before starting. And there are several prohibitions:

He must have thought beforehand of all things needed to be done or handled, for after the anointing.

    • He must not touch any other thing. In taking the gourd-flask from above the hanging-shelf.
    • He must not touch the shelf.
    • He must not rub or scratch his head.
    • He must not handle a broom.
    • He must not shake hands with any one on the path to the woman’s village.

All these prohibitions are in order that the anointed mixture may not be rubbed off, or its effect counteracted by contact with anything else.

  •  When he reaches the woman’s village, he goes directly to her, and clasping her on the shoulder, he rubs his hands downward on her arm, saying,
    • “You! you woman! I love you!”
  • Instantly the medicine is operative, and she is willing to go with him.
  • If it is only a love affair, she goes secretly.
  • If he offers her marriage, there is first the amicable settlement by the council that is then held by the woman’s family as to the amount of the dowry to be paid for her.
  • Presents having been given to her by him, the woman goes with the man without further objection.
  • On reaching his house, he points out to her the gourd-flask hanging in the kitchen, and tells her,
    • “Let that thing alone.”
  • But he does not inform her what it is; nor does she know or suspect that it is anything more than an ordinary fetich.
  • Nor does any one else know; for no one had been allowed to see him perform any part of the several processes of the ritual in compounding the charm.
Region of the Ogowe watershed and surrounding areas in which Dr. Nassau worked.  Source -

Region of the Ogowe watershed and surrounding areas in which Dr. Nassau lived and worked. Source – africanhistory.about

Source – Fetichism in West Africa; Forty Years’ Observation of Native Customs and Superstitions, by the Rev. Robert Hamill Nassau.  University Press, Cambridge, U.S.A.  1904.

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About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
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5 Responses to The Magicality of Cuisine 2: A Recipe for a complicated Love Filtre for Men. 19th Century Gabon

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