sassywood

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English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

19th-century illustrations of the pod, leaves, and flower of the ordeal tree Erythrophleum suaveolens[n 1]

From sassy, of unknown (probably African) origin + wood.[1]

Pronunciation[edit]

Noun[edit]

sassywood (uncountable)

  1. A form of trial by ordeal in Liberia, typically involving a suspect drinking a poisonous concoction made from the bark of the ordeal tree Erythrophleum guineense, Erythrophleum ivorense, or Erythrophleum suaveolens[2] (called sassy bark); by extension, other forms of trial by ordeal such as applying a heated machete to the suspect's legs, or dipping the suspect's hand into hot oil.
    • 1850 September 14, [James M.] Connelly, “[Appendix G.] Report of the Kroo People”, in Report of the Secretary of State, Communicating the Report of the Rev. R[alph] R[andolph] Gurley, who was Recently Sent Out by the Government to Obtain Information in Respect to Liberia (United States Senate, 31st Congress, 1st session; ex. doc. no. 75), [Washington, D.C.]: [s.n.], OCLC 607374833, page 59:
      The person who is designated as guilty of the crime of witchcraft is arrested by the soldier king, and condemned to the ordeal of sassy-wood. The bark of the sassy-wood is powerfully narcotic, and a strong decoction of this the person condemned is forced to drink; and after he has drank it, he walks to and fro, exclaiming "Am I a witch," "am I a witch?" while one of his executioners walks behind him replying "You are a witch, you are a witch;" and this continues until he either throws off from his stomach the poison, when he is pronounced innocent, or it operates as a cathartic, when he is declared guilty, and compelled to take more of the decoction, and is subjected to other cruelties, which cause his speedy death. [] This ordeal by sassy-wood is one of the most prevalent and cruel of African superstitions, and is practised among nearly if not all the tribes of Africa.
    • 1859, George D[avid] Cummins, “Life at Cavalla”, in Life of Mrs. Virginia Hale Hoffman, Late of the Protestant Episcopal Mission to Western Africa, Philadelphia, Pa.: Lindsay & Blakiston, OCLC 771078829, pages 87–88:
      A man named Prince came into the parlor; he spoke broken English, and told Mrs. Payne that his people were going to give him ‘sasa-wood.’ A man had died among his people, and the men bearing the body to the grave ran against his house: they believe that the body influences them to go against the house of him who bewitched or killed the dead man. He (Prince) had gone to another town, and was trying sasa-wood in small quantities; if it does not injure him, he will go to his own town, and take it before his people.
    • 2000, James E. Christie, Juju, Lincoln, Neb.: Writers Club Press, iUniverse, →ISBN, part III (War), page 423:
      [] He wondered what sasswood was—Delah had sworn by sasswood that she was telling the truth when the coaxed those in the shadow village out of hiding. Delah explained that many years ago, before the Americos starting intefering in tribal business, trial by sasswood was a way of determining whether a person accused of a crime was innocent or guilty. The bark of a particular tree was mashed to make a "truth serum." If the accused died after drinking the concoction, he was guilty. Refusal to drink was also an indication of guilt, in which case the accused was executed.
    • 2007 November 1, “Trial by ordeal makes the guilty burn but ‘undermines justice’”, in IRIN[1], archived from the original on 6 May 2017:
      The man dipped a machete in a concoction of water, palm oil and kola nuts, held it in fire for several minutes, and then placed it on the right legs of the four suspects. None of the youths – ages 16 to 26 – appeared to flinch. They were deemed not guilty. This practice known as ‘sassywood’ is banned under national law, but is still regarded as a legitimate form of justice by many Liberians. A suspect is subjected to intense pain and judged on his or her reaction – if the hot metal burns the person’s leg, he or she is found guilty. [] According to a rights activist in Nimba County, the problem is that many people will submit to sassywood because they do not know it has been outlawed. “Sassywood is very common here and most people believe that it is the only means of knowing a guilty person,” said Dualo Lor of the church-based NGO Equip-Liberia in Nimba, 300km from Monrovia. “They are not even aware the practice is outlawed.”
  2. The ordeal tree itself, the bark of which is used in the sassywood procedure.
    • 1839 June, R. McD., “Specimen of African Criminal Jurisprudence”, in The African Repository and Colonial Journal, volume XV, number 11, Washington, D.C.: Published by James C. Dunn [by order of the managers of the American Colonization Society], OCLC 3678395, page 181:
      This man, being informed of his sentence, pleaded innocence, and said he himself would drink Sasswood water to prove it. His friends urged him to confess, as his brother, the king, said he had no ill will against him, and did not wish him to drink the Sasswood, unless it was his own pleasure to do so. He still, however, persisted in his wish to make the trial. Four pieces of the Sasswood tree, each about the size of a finger nail, were then prepared for him; []
    • 1843 August, “From Liberia. Treaty of Amity and Alliance, Entered into this 22d Day of February, A.D. 1843, between Joseph J[enkins] Roberts, Governor of the Commonwealth of Liberia, and Yando, Head King of the Golah Country, and Others, Kings and Headmen in the Same Country.”, in The African Repository, and Colonial Journal, volume XIX, number 8, Washington, D.C.: [Published by the American Colonization Society;] Alexander and Barnard, printers, Seventeenth Street, OCLC 3678395, page 246:
      The trial by drinking a decoction of sassy-wood and other poisons is one of the worst of the religious rites of that barbarous region. It is imposed at the pleasure of the chiefs, on those accused of crime, with the pretence that it will not injure the innocent; but is managed to as to kill all whom the chiefs wish to destroy.
    • 1850 September 14, [James M.] Connelly, “[Appendix G.] Report of the Kroo People”, in Report of the Secretary of State, Communicating the Report of the Rev. R[alph] R[andolph] Gurley, who was Recently Sent Out by the Government to Obtain Information in Respect to Liberia (United States Senate, 31st Congress, 1st session; ex. doc. no. 75), [Washington, D.C.]: [s.n.], OCLC 607374833, page 59:
      The bark of the sassy-wood is powerfully narcotic, and a strong decoction of this the person condemned is forced to drink; []

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Notes[edit]

  1. ^ From P[aul Hermann Wilhelm] Taubert (1891), Wilhelm Engelmann, editor, Leguminosae (Natürliche Pflanzenfamilien; vol. III, no. 3), Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann, OCLC 180040095, figure 75.

References[edit]

  1. ^ sassywood” in Merriam–Webster Online Dictionary.
  2. ^ Umberto Quattrocchi (2012) CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology, Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, ISBN 978-1-4200-8044-5, page 1645.

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