Tome Africa's Dark Sects

Green cloth over paperboard, 6” by 8 ¼”; 328 pages, with the title stamped on the spine. Though the date of publication is listed as being only four years previous (1921), this book is in very poor condition. The spine is broken, the back cover is cracked, and multiple pages are dog-eared. There are also some marginal notes in pencil. The author is given as one Nigel Blackwell; no publisher is listed. The end paper inside the cover bears a bookplate indicating it belongs to Harvard University’s Widener Library.

Skimmed by Sean O’Malley

This book collects the papers of Nigel Blackwell, a minor self-funded African explorer. No attempt seems to have been made to organize Blackwell’s work (there is no index for example) and the topics vary widely. The focus of the work is on African cults and esoteric religious practices – the more gruesome or vile the better. Cannibalism and bestiality are some of the more comparatively tame practices discussed. The author treats the blasphemous religious claims of the various African tribesmen he discusses with an undue and unexpected degree of credence. Regions discussed include East Africa (the Kenya Crown colony and German East Africa in particular), the Belgian Congo, and West Africa (especially the Niger River basin).

Read by Sean O’Malley

Africa’s Dark Sects is a collection of the writings of the late Nigel Blackwell (1872-1919?), an erstwhile African explorer and an epicure of the bizarre. The contents are primarily drawn from a series of safaris that Blackwell undertook between 1902 and 1916, visiting French West Africa, the Congo, and the Kenya crown colony, as well as shorter forays into other regions. Blackwell’s interests focus on marginal or secretive tribal religions, particularly those involved in blood sacrifice and other outré rites. Generally clinical in its presentation and style, the work outlines the rites and practices (sometimes from pre-colonial days but more often focused on the modern era) of numerous African groups and traces links between these African religions and cults in the Americas. Blackwell’s writing style is dense and frequently refers to other authors’ works without clarifying commentary or explanatory discussion of the cited work’s connection to his topic. These cryptic references reduce the clarity of the book and reinforce the impression that this is a raw and unfinished work that would have been well served by an editor. Blackwell’s frequently stated fixation was the notion that Africa, being relatively untouched by Christianity and Islam, held the keys to the “truth” about human religion and history grates on the educated reader as well. The text is gruesome, unwholesome, and deeply shocking. Of particular interest to investigators is a short segment about Kenya’s “Bloody Tongue” cult, as the paraphernalia and symbols of the Kenyan cult are identical to the New York City group of the same name. The Mountain of the Black Wind is discussed, though no location is given. A marginal note mocks Blackwell’s limited knowledge of the group. Also of interest is that the book’s spine has been broken open to a section about a Niger River delta cult’s grisly necromantic rites designed to raise the dead and make them into slaves called “zambi.”


Beyond the reach of the great Abrahamic faiths, Africa retains the primal truths of human society and religion; society is as raw and unformed as the landscape. The Gods are known by their old names and not prettied up by hymns and incense. It is here in this great continent of the Id that Man may truly know himself. That Man, as a whole, is so brutal and untamed at his heart, only shocks the unlettered or those blinded by the false trapping of the prison we have built for ourselves in our so-called civilization.
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The cult, named in whispers by the natives ‘The Bloody Tongue,’ is supposedly based far in the interior, but has followers in Mombassa, Nairobi, and even Muslim Zanzibar. Their idols are human shaped though surmounted with a long red trunk instead of a head, and it is rumoured that more than one missionary has discovered that when the whites leave, the natives swap a head topped by a crown of thorns for one with a bloody ‘tongue’.
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The sorcerer would then rend flesh from his own body, usually the arm, and spit the bloody offering into the mouth of the body supposed to be raised. A great chanting would be then undertaken by both sorcerer and his audience. The words are not in the native Yoruban. I have attempted to capture them phonetically: “Hu ning lui mugluwal naf wugah nagal atzu tuti yok sog tok foo takun. Atzu tuti fu takun! Hu ning lui. (Compare viz. Waite and Zimmerman)”


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Tome Africa's Dark Sects

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