A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World


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When they drink the oath draught, it is usually accompanied by an imprecation, that the fetishe may kill them if they do not perform the contents of their obligation. Every person entering into any obligation is obliged to drink this swearing liquor. When any nation is hired to the assistance of another, all the chief ones are obliged to drink this liquor, with an imprecation, that their fetishe may punish them with death, if they do not assist them with utmost vigor to extirpate their enemy. . . . If you ask what opinion the negroes have of those who falsify their obligations confirmed by the oath drink, they believe the perjured person shall be swelled by that liquor till he bursts; or if that doth not happen, that he shall shortly die of a languishing sickness: the first punishment they imagine more peculiar to women, who take this draught to acquit themselves of any accusation of adultery; and if I may be allowed to make a comparison, this drink seems very like the bitter water administered to the women in the Old Testament by way of purgation from the charge of adultery.1

When any man is suspected for an offense [in Loango] he is carried before the king, or before Mani Bomma, who is a judge under the king. And if he denies matters, not to be proved except by their oath, then this suspected person swears thus: They have a kind of root which they call imbando; this root is very strong, and is scraped into water. The virtue of this root is, that if they put too much into the water, the person that drinketh it cannot avoid urine; and so it strikes up into the brain, as if he was drunk, and he falls down as if he was dead. And those that fall are counted guilty, and are punished.

In this country none on any account dieth, but they kill another for him; for they believe they die not their own natural death, but that some other has bewitched them to death. And all those are brought in by the friends of the dead whom they suspect; so that there many times come five hundred men and women to take the drink, made of the foresaid root imbando. They are brought all to the high street or market place, and there the master of the imbando sits with his water, and gives everyone a cup of water by one measure; and they are commanded to walk in a certain place till they make water, and then they are free. But he that cannot urine presently falls down, and all the people, great and small, fall upon him with their knives, and beat and cut him into pieces. But I think the witch that gives the water is partial, and gives to him whose death is desired the strongest water, but no man of the bystanders can perceive it. This is done in the town of Longo, almost every week throughout the year.2

The ordeal [says Rattray] was a recognized form of judicial procedure in Ashanti for the determination of guilt. In this chapter I propose to give an account, by an eyewitness, of the "chewing" of odom, at once the most deadly and the best known of the ordeals practiced in Ashanti, in olden days.

The ordeal, as a means of reaching a decision in difficult cases, was not ordained to be carried out by the chief; it was the accused himself who might demand it in order to prove the innocence which he affirmed, but which others refused to believe. Men and women accused of witchcraft often demanded the odom ordeal in an endeavor to clear themselves of the charge, and it was also resorted to in adultery cases, in which as a matter of course a witness was not likely to be forthcoming.

The following is an account of the chewing of odom, as witnessed (and described) by K.S. in the reign of the Mampon chief, Kobina Dwumo:

"The Chief’s stool carrier, one Bonenwen, accused a man called Kwaku Wusu, who was my brother, of having committed adultery with his (Bonenwen’s) wife, who was Kwaku Wusu’s own half sister by a different mother. Kwaku Wusu denied the charge, declaring that the woman was his ’sister.’ An ’oath’ was ’sworn’ and ’responded to’ (bo so); the case came before the chief, and eventually Kwaku Wusu swore the ’oath’ that he should be tried by ordeal (literally, given odom to chew). The okyeame repeated this request to the chief, who inquired, ’Does he really wish to chew odom?’ to which the accused replied, Nana me tumi awe amu (’Grandsire, I am able to chew amu’). The okyeame then turned to Bonenwen (the plaintiff) and said, Se osie no no, nti to ma no (’Let it be as he says, so buy it for him’). Bonenwen brought 10s. and gave it to the okyeame, who gave it to one of the treasurers. A day was chosen for the ceremony, a ’male’ day. Meanwhile, the treasurer had to procure two new ahena (water pots) and another smaller pot for the odom (the odomkuruwa). The chief nominated the officers who were to take an official part in the ceremony, i.e., the okyeame (the prosecutor), who in this case was known as die obo babadua (literally, ’he who knocks the baba stick’); the fotuosafo (treasurer), who would carry the odom adaka (the poison-barkbox); another treasurer, who would hold the "little odom pot’ (odumkuruwa). Neither these persons nor the accused might sleep with their wives the night before the ordeal; the accused had in such cases to be specially careful not to be impure in this sense.

"Very early in the morning of the trial the okyeame came to the treasury official who was in charge of the odom poison, and received from his hands three pieces of the bark, wrapped up in edwino leaves. These had to be carried in the right hand until the odom we (the odom chewing place) had been reached. It was not customary for the chief, queen mother, or mpanyimfo to be present on such occasions, but the okyeame’s presence was essential.

"The man who was to drink odom was always naked. In the case of a woman, she would not have worn either beads or loincloth (etam), but would have been allowed to wear a short skirt round her waist. The prisoner who was about to drink odom was not allowed to clean his teeth, wash his face, or have a bath on the morning of the ordeal. When all had arrived at the spot where the ordeal was to take place, the accused was sent to draw water in the new water pots. A person on such an occasion might break as many as three pots before he would finally bring the water. To do so is a sign that you are innocent. Kwaku Wusu was now set on the ground, in a sitting posture, with his legs straight in front of him. A pot of water was set by his right side; the okyeame sat upon his Stool, facing him, holding a baba stick in his right hand. A kinswoman of Kwaku Wusu stood behind him, holding a fowl in each hand by the legs. She then began to brush the ears and shoulders of the sitting man with these fowls, saying all the while: . . . ’Bosomtwe (ntoro) sit aside, spirit (soul) Yao sit aside. If any of your blood or any of your wives have done you wrong, then accept (the fowls) and bless your mouth. Soul and totemic spirit, sit ye down and let him chew this odom and let him vomit.’

"While this was being said the three pieces of odom were placed by the okyeame in the small water pot. As soon as the prayer was ended, an afonasoafo (sword bearer) took the bark out of the water and gave it to the man to chew, at the same time giving him the water to drink. All the while he was doing so the okyeame kept tapping the ground and saying: . . . ’If you have committed this deed and are merely denying it, then let this odom stand within you, but if you have not done it and they are bringing a false charge upon you, then vomit.’

"The man kept drinking potful after potful of water. His blood relation (abusua) kept exhorting him, Mia wani (literally, press your eyes), and the okyeame kept repeating the words already given.

"A man who was drinking odom after swallowing about three pots of water would either begin to vomit or he would die. No sooner did people see that the odom drinker was about to die, than they shouted Owuo! Owuo! (Death! Death!). The okyeame would immediately begin to recite the usual formula, and as soon as he had finished the abrafo (executioners) would rush forward and cut off the head of the dying man. The heralds sprinkled white clay on the litigant who had won his case.

"Should the odom drinker vomit, the okyeame would immediately recite the same formula, ending in this case with Wu di bim (’You are innocent’). The abusua (blood relations) of the man who had successfully undergone the ordeal would lift their kinsman on their shoulders (si akonkon) and sing the abose:

Osee ye, Osee ye Otweaduampon e Ye da se o Ye da se amen.

"To this Ashanti national hymn they will add a line, Opeyen, wunya yen (He who wished to catch us has not caught us). The person who had ’bought’ the odom (i.e., who had brought the charge which had resulted in the accused man demanding the ordeal) was now arrested and fastened to a log, and unless his abusua "bought his head" would be killed, any further trial not being necessary.

"In this particular case Kwaku Wusu vomited, and the Stool carrier who had brought the charge would have been killed, but during that same night the okomfo (priest) of the god Apia, one Kwaku Ketewa, became possessed and rushed before the chief, saying: . . . ’the man whom you have taken and fastened to a log, let us release him at once.’ The chief did so, but he had to pay ntansa (£24)."

In some cases of odom chewing, when the person’s relatives thought that their kinsman looked as if he were going to die, they would quickly offer to "buy his head"; if the okyeame agreed, the drinker was immediately treated with an antidote in the form of an emetic, and an injection of red peppers up the anus. Even when a man came successfully out of this ordeal he had always to give the customary aseda to the chief.1

1Bosman, W.n/an/an/an/an/a, "A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea," in Pinkerton, J., , 16: 398.

2 Battel, A., "The Strange Adventures of Andrew Battel," in Pinkerton, op. cit., 334.

1 Rattray, R. S., Ashanti Law and Constitution, 392–395 (Clarendon Press. By permission).

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Chicago: Pinkerton, J., ed., A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed July 21, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KXRM1JTXNNTSWZD.

MLA: . A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World, edited by Pinkerton, J., Vol. 16, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 21 Jul. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KXRM1JTXNNTSWZD.

Harvard: (ed.), A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 21 July 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KXRM1JTXNNTSWZD.