At the Back of the Black Man's Mind
ELECTION OF A KING IN THE KONGO
My Residence in West Africa. -journey to Lubu.-The numbu- tree. -Meeting with Maniluemba.-His fetishes. -Return journey. -Election of Maluango.
IT is now necessary for me to say something about myself, which may serve as an excuse for my venturing to write at all on the rather complicated problems which in the following chapters I shall endeavour to elucidate.
I commenced studying the natives' habits and custom in the year 1879, and, after some eleven or twelve years, had progressed so far as to perceive, first, that there was still much to learn, and, secondly, that I should only be able to learn that if I could confine my studies to a definite section of the Bantu people and become very intimate with them. Thus far I had picked up scraps of information about the people in the Kongo and south of it; for the future it seemed as if the rest of my life were to be spent in Luango among the Bavili people. I restarted my studies then about the year 1892, and in the year 1897, by the help of the Folklore Society, published Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort. Then I was fortunate enough to meet with some very intelligent natives who were willing to help me in these studies on the Bavili, among whom was Maniluemba, the King-elect of Luango, and the following pages are the result.
At the time of his election I was in Luango; and to see him I had to proceed to Ndembuano. Turning my back on the sea I first made my way to Lubu, or Mamboma's town. Here on a hill facing the Roman Catholic Sisters' Mission, stand two mighty baobab trees (nkondo). When the people of Buali (Maluango's capital) have brought the coffin containing the body of the defunct Maluango to XIENJI the people of Lubu throw shells at them and chase them away. Then taking charge of the body, they and Mamboma bury it near to the above two trees.
As we passed through the village of Zulu, we cast a last look at the sea and the pretty Bay of Luango, with its lighthouse at Point Indienne. Just beyond the point, on the way to Black Point, one can see the wood that contains the sacred grove of Nymina; and nearer to Luango may be noticed the tall mangrove trees that mark the grove sacred to Lungululubu. We next crossed the Xibanda valley, and came to a place where once a town stood, called Ximpuku. Looking north from this place we noted upon the crest of the opposite hill the grove sacred to Mpuku Nyambi, while to the south, and not far from our standpoint, a minor grove, spoken of as the offspring of Mpuku Nyambi, topped the hill. This grove is called Xilu Xinkukuba, and is near the linguister Juan's town. Then 14 or 15 miles south, behind Black Point, near to the River Ximani and the town of NVUxi, stands the grove of Xivuma, and as many miles north, at Xissanga upon the sea coast, is situated the grove sacred to the double personages Nxiluka and Xikanga; while far away to the north, on the ruddy cliffs behind Konkwati, 60 miles from here, is the grove called Xinjili.
We made next for the huge numbu-tree situated at the village of Bitoko. Bitoko must be more than twenty miles from the sea, yet the huge numbu-tree can be distinctly seen from the deck of a passing ship as a dark spot in the horizon. We dived down into the valley of the Lubendi river, climbed over the hill and plain of Monga Matondi, where once a robberchief of that name had his town, and soon afterwards arrived at the town belonging to the Prince Mabukenia, called Luvwiti. Here we learnt that Mamboma and the othe, princes had just returned from a visit to Maniluemba, and that the latter had accepted their invitation to fill the vacant throne of Maluango Prati.
Maniluemba, they told us, had left Bitoko for Ndembuano, a town still further east, just at the time when the French Government was busy requisitioning carriers for the famous Marchand Nile expedition. They naïvely said that he was a man of peace and did not wish to have any question with the white man.
For miles and miles had we seen that numbu-tree. When we were on the top of Monga Matondi it looked as if it were just on the hill where Xiswami, the ivory-carver, has his village, and when we arrived there we found it was still two hours from us, on the summit of the Bitoko hill. We slept at Bitoko, and I do not think I shall ever forget the place, which is stamped upon my memory by the recollection of the wondrous sunrise I witnessed there. The neat little village rests on the top of the hill a little to the south-west of the wood in which the numbu-tree towers above the palms and other trees. The morning mist seemed to hang heavily over the wood, while the great sun, twice magnified, shot up behind it, and the tall grass, covered with a sea of spiders' webs loaded with dew, which, rocked in the morning breeze, quickly lost its glistening pearl-like beauty. But as we marched down into the valley of the River Xisabu the grass was still wet enough to soak us through and through before we reached the swamps and shady waters which it took us fifteen minutes to cross. At length we gained the high land again where Ndembuano's scattered shimbecs lie hidden among palm and mango-trees.
We found Maniluemba (Pl. II) wandering about, with his little fetishes, Ntéu and Nkubi, in his hand; and wearing his Bicimbo (a kind of sash of iron boat-chain) over his right shoulder and fastened under his left arm. Protected in this way, whoever dared to wish him harm would have been killed by these fetishes, who would divine their very thoughts. When Maniluemba had greeted me, he went within the fence of rushes (called Lumbu) that guards the privacy of his wives, to put his coat on. Coming out again, he caught me examining a little hut close by, which he called nzo ngofo (house sacred to the marriage fetish ngofo). The copper bracelet Lembe hung heavily upon his wrist. Maniluemba is humpbacked and short in stature, but he possesses a rather fine Jewish cast of face; and he is a bit of a dandy evidently, for the ends of his moustaches were strung through the hollow centres of two amber beads. In the middle of his forehead, from his hair to his nose, ran a line in red chalk, flanked on each side by a white one; while from his ears to his eyes similar marks nearly completed his fetish toilet. On either car he had placed a white chalk mark, while a string with a charm attached to it was worn as a kind of necklace. He wore a waistcoat and an overcoat with a velvet collar, while a fancy cloth hung on his belt around his waist, and in front of this his nkanda ndéci (a skin).
I placed my offerings before him and congratulated him upon his election, and (while his people chased fowls) we had a long and interesting talk, and I took his photograph. Then he gave me his pipe to smoke, and shook me by the hand, until his heavy marriage bracelet fairly rattled against his bony wrist; and as I was leaving he presented me with the result of his people's hunt, namely, three fowls, and bade me go in peace. Upon my return journey, after passing the town of Ximoko, I came to a place in the grassy plain marked by
[1. Lembe is a bracelet showing that the wearers have been married according to a certain marriage rite. The wife married in this way is the one who acts as guardian of all her husband's zinkici, and should she commit adultery the husband upon opening the basket containing the charms connected with the marriage will find them wet. Nkaci Lembe (the lembe wife) is kept very strictly within her hut and the fence surrounding it (lumbu). Women married in this way may not eat the fish xala (the bream?), which is noted for the efforts it makes to escape from the net when caught.
("Lemba means, to cease. The rites of Lembe are those which refer to the marriage of - woman who swears to die with her husband, or rather to cease to live at the same time that he does."-Letter of the author's to Miss Kingsley, quoted in West African Studies, p. 193.)
2. There are two kinds of skins worn in this way by the Bavili: nkanda ndéci, a wild cat-skin, and xingola xinyundu, the otter-skin. Those who wear these skins are considered to-day very well to do people; there is one thing about them that they must always bear in mind, and that is, when they take them off not to pull them downwards, but to take care to pull them upwards between the belt and the cloth; otherwise they will have no children.]
the sacred tree Nkumbi (Pl. II). Here the Maluango elect is received by the princes upon his first official entrance upon the sacred ground (Xibila) set apart as the residence of the Kings of Luango.
The place where this tree rears its stately head in lonely glory is called Xibindu bindu Xibukulu lu mpilo. Xinkumba means a maiden, and the natives tell me the place, and the tree Nkumbi, takes its name from the fact of some royal maiden having arrived at womanhood there. Man and woman together may not cross this Xibindu (valley); the man must go first, and when he is well across the woman may follow him. At Boa Vista there is another such Xibindu, and should a man and a woman cross these places together, they will be punished by having no children. So much for the tree at the entrance of the sacred ground. As we leave it upon the road to Lubu (Maluango's burial-place) there stands a Nsexi tree, once a market tree, beneath whose scanty shade the corpse of the defunct Maluango is placed, awaiting the meeting of the people, whose duty it is to carry it to Lubu for burial. Here the little valley is called Xibindu bindu ku Ximonika na Buali, the valley of the last look at Buali (Maluango's town). As we neared Luango we were struck by the great beauty of a deep valley that runs from the foot of the steep cliff upon which we stood, away to the sea. This valley is called Bulu Nzimbu Xikoko (the valley of the fly and the mosquito hand in hand), and from out its depths Xama Ngonzola, the evil rainbow-snake, rises, as I shall describe in the chapter on OMENS. The numbu tree is this valley's sacred tree. In a very few years all traces of these trees and places may be lost, so that we have been fortunate in visiting them while they still remain intact.
On another occasion after trying very hard to get a photograph of a muamba-trce, and finding it impossible on account of the density of the bush, we left Mambuku's town about ten o'clock in the morning, and found our way to Buali, expecting to find MANILUEMBA installed in state. We found
[1. Xi=ci, quality of, or earth; bila, to meet or to heap up. I could not find any lombi in Maluango's xibila, but the meaning of the word XIBILA is very suggestive, i.e., sacred grove.]
him dressed in a loose cloth hung around his waist, the iron chain BICIMBO slung over his shoulder; he was sitting on a very shaky chair in front of a crowd of men and women, all seated on the ground and wearing wreaths of palm-leaves over their shoulders. These were Nganga Mpunzi and his people, who were "jamming" about the pay they were to receive for clearing the sacred ground. This is the office of the priest Mpunzi (Mpu=hat or crown, Nzi=he that produces); he is the crowner, or, as it were, the creator of kings.
It seemed that having arrived and been received by the princes at the nkumbi-tree, Maluango had now to await the visits of the Bakici baci; i.e., the representatives of all the different families owning sacred ground within his kingdom. These people were described to me as the "eyes" of the people. Each one of these had to visit Maniluemba and receive a present from him, before NGANGA MPUNZI and his people could come and cut the grass and prepare a place where NGANGA NVUMBA, the king-elect, could erect his dwelling (shimbec). Until all these ceremonies were over Maniluemba was not allowed to live within a shimbec. Thus the sacrifice the old man was making was no imaginary one, for, as will be remembered, he was very comfortably housed and surrounded in his village NDEMBUANO.
The place about to be cleared was pointed out to us, and we were told that it was there that the late Maluango Prati had lived. I noticed two Baobabs, a NUMBU and an NFUMA (silk cotton tree) upon this ground.
As soon as Maluango caught sight of me he left the palaver and came to offer me his chair. Then he sat beside me and asked me if I had lunched. I answered, No; so he gracefully offered me all he could, namely, four pieces of miaka or prepared mandioca. While this was being roasted he told me that this was the last ceremony in connection with his accession, except that of receiving the congratulations
[1. The lembekmbe, wreath or rather sash of palm-leaves, also worn by the king elect, gives us the idea of the coming marriage of MANILUEMBA to his new duties as king. The plant or bush-string with which the two ends of the lembelembe are tied together is called mobula. Nganga Mpunzi's sacred plant is the mobula; his fetish lembelembe; his xina, that he must not eat together with other people, and that his food must not be cooked by an unmarried person.]
and submission of all his petty princes. These, he said, he would send for as soon as he was settled. On that occasion he would declare that Maluango Prati had been buried, and crown himself as Maluango, and reinvest his chiefs with their caps of office.
He said he was a little worried about the chiefs of those provinces which he understood were now under the dominion of the King of Portugal; "but," he added, "as Maluango, I am FUMU (=chief) of all the country from Mayumba to the river Xiluango." He also said that he had spent a great deal of money in all these preliminary ceremonies, and did not exactly know where more money was to come from, as he could no longer receive customs from the traders, and was in fact only king in name.