Fear the Light: The African Adze.

When one thinks of the people of Africa, it’s easy to think of them much as one thinks of the continent itself-a large, singular entity whose variety of environments are ultimately united in a singular landmass. This is, however, not the case. Much like Europe is in fact home to several groups of culturally similar, but ultimately distinct, people, so Africa is also home to a great number of peoples, separated by language, culture, faith and space. Today’s monster comes specifically from the Ewe people, who’ve inhabited the west coast of Africa, around Togo and Ghana, since migrating there in the later half of the 15th century.

Although they were one of the first groups to convert to Christianity when large numbers of missionaries began entering in the 18th and 19th centuries, much of their original culture, and beliefs, were incorporated into, rather than expunged, from the new religion. This created a uniquely African breed of Christianity that placed great emphasis on the power of spirits, those who work with them, and the might they can wield against the hapless everyman who dared to rouse their ire. Malevolent spirits in particular could, or rather, can, work particular harm against the ordinary person. Amongst the Ewe, one of the worst of these evil wights are known as adze, deceptively small, shining monsters commonly considered a kind of vampire outside their culture of origin.

In terms of age, the adze (the name of the axe-like tool, also referred to as adze by English speakers, is etymologically unrelated, in spite of its identical spelling,) is honestly impossible to date. It is not an import of Christianity, and may not be indigenous only to the Ewe people. Somali Muslims have been known to hold a belief in “Jinns,” which they describe as small, deadly lights, capable of possessing living beings, associated with emotions of envy and hate, and can be protected against using palm oil, which is immune to them. This is a far cry from how many Arabic Muslims would describe Jinns. Popularly described as beings made from fire, much as humans were made from earth or clots of blood, but otherwise human enough to love, worship and even disagree amongst themselves. Rather than a Jinn, these spirits are far more similar to what Ewe people refer to as adze. This similarity in nature, which exists in spite of divergent tribes and religions, tilts the argument in favor of both a native African origin as well as a fairly old date of origin for the adze-almost certainly predating the entry of Christianity into Africa, and possibly Islam as well. Whether the Somali picked up the lore from the Ewe, the Ewe from the Somali, if other tribes hold similar folklore and beliefs, and from when these beliefs began to spread, however, I unfortunately cannot say. Indeed, I found Information concerning African folklore as a whole frustratingly sparse, especially when attempting to find out what information was particular to what group.

As the above paragraph may allude, adze are commonly described as a formless, shining light or glowing insect, which may be a fly, firefly, mosquito, or beetle. Regardless of species, an adze in this form is both invulnerable and intangible to physical objects, able to ignore any and all defenses between it and its victim. Once it reaches the residence of its target, one of two events are possible: Either the adze will remain as a ball of light or insect, or it will transform into a humanoid shape. If it remains an insect, it will proceed to bite and ingest the blood of its target, who will invariably be afflicted with illness, poor luck, financial woes, or academic failure within days thereafter, distinguished by mysterious insect bites somewhere on their body. when in its humanoid form, which may either be a vile, taloned hag, or an ordinary human, it may also wholly dispense with subtlety, and rip open the abdomen of its target, consume the heart and liver, and drain the entirety of their blood. Adze are especially fond of children, handsome ones in particular.

As intangible, spiritual entities, Adze can also posses other living things, which can be animals, usually goats, centipedes, and owls, or humans, whose shape they may take should they shift into humanoid form. Women in particular are thought to be prone to possession by the adze, especially if those women are barren, maternal aunts, who are believed to be especially given to the kind of hatred and jealousy that would attract an adze. Evil sorcerers, or witches, will sometimes deliberately invite an adze into themselves in the hopes of gaining even greater power. The elderly, who are sometimes accused of feeding off the blood of the young to maintain themselves, and the poor, in their envy of their more wealthy and successful neighbors, are also potential vessels for an adze. Once it enters a person, the adze will usually leave the host during the night, wreaking havoc and misery on those who’ve aroused the ill will of its host.

although technically impossible to touch, it is possible to “capture” a marauding adze, either through careful observation or divinatory practices, which will force it into its humanoid shape, which is conveniently tangible and susceptible to all ordinary forms of violence and restraint. While a purification ritual does exist to banish an adze from its host, this is an infrequent process, as those possessed by the adze are more often then not viewed as guilty of some manner of initial evil, and are instead punished for having invited an adze inside themselves.

While they prefer blood, the adze can also sustain itself on coconut milk, palm oil, and fruit juice. When these things are consumed in favor of blood, a few things may follow, depending on the teller. When given palm oil and coconut milk as a sacrifice, some say it can be staved off and prevented from attacking, even becoming passive. Alternatively, however, it could go into a feeding frenzy, brutally slaughtering everyone around it.

In spite of extensive searching, I found little to nothing on the folklore surrounding these foodstuffs, much less why they would stave off a monster like an adze. Coconut milk, fruit juice, and palm oil are certainly in common use amongst rural Africans, which the majority of Ewe still are, and palm oil in particular is popular as both a medicine and consumable. Coconut milk is likewise used on occasion as a poison antidote. Fruit juice, meanwhile, is simply tasty. I have no evidence to support this, but it is my own belief that adze are not effected so much by any inherent power within these common provisions, but the context in which they’re offered. The fact that they are explicitly a sacrifice to the monster, rather than any symbology or power, is what allows them to have the effect they do.

As a general aside, it is important to note that the Christianity of the Ewe, and indeed, of most Africans, does not perfectly align with the Christianity practiced in Europe and the United States. This is no doubt in part due to the natural human tendency to approach new concepts through the lens of what is already known, which in turn leads to a tendency to conflate beliefs. Ewe Christians may believe that there is one God and that Jesus is the son of God, but they also believe in powerful ancestral spirits, magical talismans, and the ability of persons able to channel these supernatural powers for worldy purposes. This conflation between traditional, pagan beliefs, and Christian faith was further compounded by an issue of communication. Incoming missionaries from Europe and America often attempted to ease conversion and enhance understanding by deliberately equating older traditions and beliefs with their own. Thus, a native sky deity, Mawu, would not merely be described as similar to God, but was in fact, the missionaries claimed, completely identical. Conversion techniques like this made it easy for Africans and other pagan peoples to accept the new creed, but also greatly distorted both belief systems, forming a melange of new and old traditions, folklore, and faith distinct from both of its primary influences.

This relation between new and old religions is especially important for a complete understanding of the adze, which is itself an excellent example of how this mixing of traditional and imported belief systems actually plays out in folklore. You see, just as Mawu was associated with God, the Devil was likewise taken into Africa through the lens of native belief. In this case, he was conflated with abosom, a term likely related more to witches and evil mages than anything, and the term abosom, in turn, was associated with another evil force commonly associated with witches: Adze. In other words, the Christian Devil, the native witch, and the evil spirit he used to aid his craft, have developed into something viewed as more or less identical. It is for this reason that I have been reluctant to describe the adze as a kind of vampire, as many other sites do, because, when looked at closely, it is really more demon than undead. Viewing adze as demonic, rather than vampiric, also provides a clearer understanding of just how evil, how utterly terrifying the adze really is. It favors the wicked and jealous, but could just as easily be anyone-a friend, a family member, a loved one, creeping out of their flesh in the dead of night, to rain illness and sorrow in the silence of your sleep.

Like this? Want more? Check out the links below!

1) http://fantasy-faction.com/2013/the-creatures-in-the-shadows-west-africa

2) http://vampiresathruz.com/category/vampires-a-b

3) http://www.mythicalcreatureslist.com/mythical-creature/Adze

4) Matthew Bunson’s Vampire Encyclopedia

5) Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity Among the Ewe in Ghana By Birgit Meyer

6) Vampire Universe: The Dark World of Supernatural Beings That Haunt Us, Hunt Us, and Hunger for Us

7) http://www.vampirerave.com/member_articles2.php?entry=180

8) http://docslide.us/documents/encyclopedia-of-vampire-mythology.html

9) http://theillustrationist.com/2013/03/15/african-mythological-creatures-adze-the-vampire/

10) https://www.academia.edu/5726481/If_You_Are_a_Devil_You_Are_a_Witch_and_If_You_Are_a_Witch_You_Are_a_Devil._The_Integration_of_Pagan_Ideas_into_the_Conceptual_Universe_of_Ewe_Christians_in_Southeastern_Ghana

11) https://prezi.com/pn7mhgbybet6/the-ewe-of-africa/

12) http://www.kganu.net/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/ewesandafadivination.htm

13) http://www.nobleworld.biz/images/Harries_Witchcraft.pdf

14) http://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/yor/yor07.htm

15) https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=UAOQBAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR15&dq=ewe+african&ots=RoGkVlKJ_A&sig=ccDo6E_ZMtXqMlwE9V2wts_hvJw#v=snippet&q=ewe&f=false

16) https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=UiFtWXSkuwwC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=ewe+african&ots=JZSVN0YMFG&sig=hzrWpENjOAgSpYWgRLW7v-cZXKI#v=onepage&q=ewe&f=false

17) https://books.google.com/books?id=P5AZyEhMtbkC&pg=PA1&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q=devil&f=false

https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/9601/ASC_1267364_026.pdf?sequence=1

https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=eTUpo9lH-fYC&oi=fnd&pg=PR10&dq=ewe+african&ots=Mfo3QkBum_&sig=evhFOlznqPI4SfmwJ5_46UE-jGk#v=onepage&q=witch&f=false

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4222890/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2711054/

https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=GictAgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=ewe+african&ots=3Q61Jlf8y7&sig=s6AySfwB3rTZhGb2ycz4ijGkoXQ#v=snippet&q=milk&f=false

One thought on “Fear the Light: The African Adze.

  1. I wasn’t quiet able to fit this in what ended up balooning into a rather large post, but some of my sources indicated a rather interesting meaning for the word adze: Either “the power of spirits” or “witch,” this is one of those instances where my sources disagreed.

    If only I could, I’d fly over to Africa, learn the language, and figure out for myself what it means. Instead, I urge all wealthy folklorists to maybe write a thesis or something on adze, or perhaps some other African monster, all of which seem chronically under-researched.

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