Thursday, October 7, 2010

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Native Characteristics, Customs, And Beliefs (Mainly Angoni)

  • Thursday, October 7, 2010
  • Samuel Kadyakale
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  • From the book, 'Wild Life In Central Africa' by Denis D. Lyell  published in 1913

    (From the moderator:  Please watch out for 18th and 19th century European biases and contempt of african traditions and lifestyle. )

    Most noticeable characteristics of the natives—Internecine war in olden days —Witchcraft and the things it can do—A strange custom with children —Boiling water ordeal—Charms against death—Dead returning in the shape of animals—Digging up corpses—Cooking children of enemies— Names given to commemorate events—Old name for the Angoni race— Distribution of the Angoni tribe—Marriage customs—Women workers Polygamy defended for natives—The " White Father's" Mission— Strange legend about the Angoni trek—Putting not-wanted people out of the way—Strange custom to get a case heard—Kindness of natives to others of same tribe—Superstitions about planting crops—Hardihood under painful wounds—Bible not suitable for natives—Untruthfulness of natives—Civilisation not beneficial to natives—Fondness of hunting and meat — Natives good servants — Patience with natives best — Atrocities practised by natives—Mild justice inadequate at times—Love of children — Natives as soldiers—Adaptability in learning quickly— Liking for music—Cruelty to animals—Splendid porters—Staunchness at times—Mission boys—Missions discussed—A strange custom with pigeons—A funny native woman—Old Mpseni—Peculiar ideas with regard to births—Child murder—Impossibility of natives reasoning as do Europeans.


    If a newcomer was asked what were the most noticeable characteristics of the natives, he would probably say their love of making a noise, their strong smell, and their liking for meat and native beer. He would be right, but there are also hundreds of other interesting traits which it takes a long time to discover, as to do so one has to live near them and understand their customs and manner of thought and action. In the old days before the whites went there, it was purely a " survival of the fittest," as they were constantly making war on other tribes ; and many people died by drinking the ordeal poison, and other poisons introduced into their food by enemies.

    The natives firmly believe that a person can cast a spell on, and kill, another person, and they believe absolutely in various compounds, which if enclosed in a small horn, can cause death or sickness. One case that was mentioned to me was that of a child who was found one morning with all the teeth of its upper jaw missing, and they assert that there are medicines which cause persons the loss of various organs of the body ; so that some fine morning a man or a woman can wake up without a nose, or with only one eye or one ear, and perhaps a toe may have departed in the night.

    The Angoni had a strange custom with regard to children who had the misfortune to cut the teeth of the upper, before the lower, jaw. If this happened, the mother would call a lot of old women to witness the occurrence, and then they would march down to the river with the child, when the mother would tie it tightly in a skin or piece of calico, and fling it into deep water, just like a puppy or kitten. This custom was called " kunameera."

    Their idea was that should the child grow up it would be able to cast a spell on anyone it was unfriendly with, so it was put beyond doing harm in a watery grave ; and the mother and her friends returned quite relieved that they had done the best to save future trouble.

    Infant mortality used to be very great, as the natives had a custom of throwing away babies that showed, in their estimation, the least blemish. For instance, if a child was born with dark skin round the nipples, or if the lips were very red, it was thrown into the bush.

    Even to-day the natives kill many infants for the same paltry reasons.

    A mother who gave birth to a child suffered from severe internal pains, doubtless caused by inflammation due to straining in deliverance. She affirmed that as soon as the cut navel of the child had healed that the pain would leave her.

    Another strange idea is that they will not break sticks of firewood in a hut near a newly born child, as if this is done they believe the child will get ill.

    Should a person be accused of a bad action and he or she feels guiltless of it, an instant offer is made to undergo the boiling water ordeal, which consists in heating a bowl or pot of water over a hot fire until it boils. Then a stone is thrown into the bowl and the accused picks it out and puts it in, several times, in the view of witnesses.

    If nothing happens the person is held to be guiltless, but if the flesh is burnt or scalded, this is considered a sign of guilt. My informant averred that no innocent person can possibly be burnt by the hot water ; and he asked me to accuse him of something he could not have done, and he would prove it. However, I did not feel quite heartless enough at the moment to experiment in this way. The effect of the ordeal is heightened if the accused undergoes the trial in a hot sunlight, it is usually performed after the sun has set. I said that the accused person put something on the hand which prevented scalding, but this my informant strenuously denied.

    Mfiti (witchcraft), or as a charm against danger in different shapes and forms. One will have a charm against illness, another against an enemy, another against lions, another against snakes, and so on.

    This reminds me of the witch doctor's charm against the white man's bullets in the Matabele Rebellion. His charm did not work, for he died ; but had he had time for an explanation he would doubtless have stated that he had brought the wrong charm out that day, and that he had another at home which was infallible.

    The Angoni believe that the spirits of wild animals can enter into human beings, and when a man-eating lion is killing the natives they will say that is So-and-so who died, and is now tormenting the people who are left by killing and eating them. An elephant I shot which fell in a kneeling position, like an Indian elephant kneeling for people to mount into the howdahs, was said to be an old chief who had turned into an elephant, and that he was kneeling to ask forgiveness or pity for past misdeeds to his fellow men. This was rather a quaint and interesting idea I thought.


    Hyaenas which came to feed on the elephant were the dead followers of the chief who had collected to bewail his loss ; so the natives imbue the most ordinary happenings with superstitious ideas.

    After an Angoni raid against an enemy, such as the Achewa tribe, the captured slaves, cattle, and other livestock, would be sent ahead, followed by the warriors chanting songs of victory. Many dances would take place, much native beer be consumed, and cattle, sheep, and goats be slaughtered for a big feast.

    But if a chief had been killed, a herald was sent in front to the village, where he placed the shield of the dead warrior near the door of his hut. He walked slowly and with his head bent on his chest, and the people knew their chief was dead, and the maliro, or wake, for the departed began, and lasted for many days, according to the importance of the chief. The widows would not marry again for, perhaps, five years, and all this time they would not wash their bodies, as by doing so it was believed that they were trying to make themselves clean and beautiful, and were anxious to marry again. Cattle and goats were killed, and the widows wore strips of skin or mat round their heads and waists ; and often bark string is used as a mourning band. I have not heard that within the last hundred years any chief has been accompanied to "The Happy Hunting Grounds" by an escort of slaughtered wives and slaves, as used to be customary in parts of West Africa.

    A chief's grave was often zealously watched for some months, so that body snatchers did not dig him up.

    Some madmen are said to dig up bodies to get certain organs with which to manufacture witchcraft medicines, and some races in Central Africa, mainly the Anyanja and Anguru, dig up bodies to use as food, which is a loathsome and disgusting habit, and very much worse than ordinary cannibalism, when the freshly killed victims are eaten. When the Angoni raided an Achewa village, all the full-grown men and women were speared ; but the young boys and girls who could walk were spared and taken back as slaves. The poor infants would have their brains dashed out with knobkerries, then goats and other livestock would be slaughtered and eaten, and often the victors would leave a big pot simmering on a fire in a hut, filled on the top with goat's flesh and underneath it a small baby.

    The people who had escaped into the bush would watch the raiders depart, then return tired and famished to their huts, and seeing the pot of good meat, would often eat most of it until they came to the bottom, where they saw the slaughtered infant—probably their own—and this was the so-called practical joke. I have spoken to natives who have done this, and they were often quiet, good-mannered men ; but when war was on they turned into bloodthirsty savages.

    Many of the older men's names were given to commemorate past events, such as M'meza (or Memeza). He happened to be born when the Angoni were collecting for a big raid, and the word M'meza means sending round. This man is one of the nicest and most gentlemanly natives I ever met, there is nothing savage or coarse in his features, and he has the reputation of being a kind-hearted man who disliked shedding blood. At present -he is the headman of the Angoni villages round Fort Manning, although his nephew, named Zulu, is the Boma (Government) capitao.

    Zulu's father (of the same name) was a son of old Mpseni (pronounced Impseni), the paramount Angoni chief, and Memeza is another son of the same old chief.

    An Angoni chief I know well, named Shauri, is also a son of old Mpseni, and a brother to Zulu, Memeza, and Mkumbi, all mentioned here. He got his name at the-time the Angoni were preparing for a raid, and the word Shauri means sending out a party to see if the enemy is about.

    Mkumbi, yet another son of Mpseni, means clouds, and he was brought into the world on a cloudy day.

    The old Angoni name among themselves, and other tribes, was Mazite, and it was a dreaded word long ago in this part of Africa, for the Angoni are descended from the Zulus of Natal, probably the finest race of savages in the world, as they are splendidly built men with plenty of pluck and fighting qualities.

    A part of the Zulu race split up and trekked north. Some stopped in Matabeleland and formed that nation,, which lost its paramount chief Lobengula when the whites occupied that country. Then others went farther on and crossed the Zambesi and settled in different parts of Central Africa under different chiefs.

    One lot is found round Dedza, in the southern part of Central Angoniland, and they are called Ngabi's section. Another big detachment settled in the country round Fort Manning, in Nyasaland, and Fort Jameson in North-Eastern Rhodesia. This is known as Mpseni's section. Then another went farther north still, and formed Mombera's section ; and, strange to say, internecine war often was carried on between all these people who belonged to the same tribe. It is said that the Awemba in the northern parts of North-Eastern Rhodesia and the Masai, of British East Africa, are of Zulu blood, but I have not sufficient knowledge of ethnology to state whether this is so or not.

    The tribal customs of the Angoni are most interesting, and these have often a great amount of common-sense intermingled with superstitions and old myths.

    When the young boys and girls reach a marriageable age they marry, as do most savage races. A young girl is called a bhuto, and at the age of puberty she is known as a namwali. Long ago the men did not marry at such an early age as they do now, as their thoughts were more bent on war and a "free lance " existence. Now, as wives are sometimes scarce, they take them young.
    M'Cumbi.
    M'cumbi. (An Old Angoni chief, son of Mpeseni. the former Angoni Paramount Chief.)
    When the Angoni had plenty of cattle, as many as twenty cows would be paid to a father for his daughter, although the usual number was from five to ten beasts.

    Now all the youth does is to arrange with the parents and the girl, and then hand over a few shillings, or some cloth or beads, and the girl is his. Then a beer drink usually takes place, and the youth, who has probably got a hut ready for his bride, takes her off and they cohabit.

    The missionaries are trying to instil into the minds of the natives that a single wife is much preferable to a number, and they are teaching the natives to read and write and relinquish their polygamistic habits, and many of the younger men have done so.

    This is a big question, but, so far as I can see, this system does not work well with natives, particularly with the older men who have from three to ten or more wives ; if these are cast off they either lead immoral lives or they hold an inferior position for being unattached. A man's wealth and food supply depends largely on the extent of his household, or households I should write it, as each wife has her own hut.

    The women do the greater part of the hard work, as they perform most of the hoeing in the gardens, and they cook their husband's and children's food, get water and firewood, and do a lot more ; so if a man has only one wife he will find that his garden will be small, and often, if she is ill, there will be no food to eat, as it is hard work for her to pound grain, and do the other necessary daily tasks. Therefore many of the old men have refused to give up any of their wives, and as they are too old to bother about learning to read and write they lead their old lives, except that fighting and raiding play no exciting part.

    The man usually does the heavy work of timber felling and making a garden, and he hunts pig and small buck with his dogs and a spear. The old men always have a great craving to imbibe native beer ; and they often travel long distances in search of it. I know several old native chiefs like this, and they are happy souls with little to worry them, except the difficulty of finding enough silver to pay the annual hut tax for all their huts. The younger generation are also pretty fond of beer, and they often waste a great amount of maize in making it, and consequently suffer from hunger at the end of the hot season, before the new crops, which are planted as soon as the rains break, have had time to bear.

    The " White Fathers" Mission do a considerable amount of good work among the Angoni, and they have mission schools in most of the more important villages, in charge of educated native teachers, who get a small wage. If a youth or maiden wishes to attend such a school they are welcome, and after being able to repeat " the Lord's Prayer," they are presented with a chain and crucifix, and they are very proud of this symbol; but I question if they fully understand its meaning, and I think it is rather absurd to give it to them. They simply look at it as a pretty ornament, and I have had boys who wore them who were just as liable to lie and steal as others who lacked this symbol of Christianity.

    Most of the " White Fathers " are Frenchmen, and they are broad-minded and intelligent men ; but I consider that they are going a " bit too fast," and no native should be given a crucifix until it is proved that he is wholly converted. The missionaries live in good brick houses, and usually have livestock, such as cattle, pigs, and sheep, and a fine vegetable garden. I think they are very wise in making themselves comfortable, as without good health they would be unable to perform their duties of attending to the sick and holding services throughout their district.

    All of them, both the priests and the laymen, come out for the term of their natural lives, and they do not go home unless they are seized with severe illness which needs medical attention that cannot be got in this country. This Catholic mission is much more broad-minded than the Scotch and English missions in the country, and, personally, I have found them most friendly and hospitable. Any fault that may be found does not apply to any of them individually, and it is the result of a system which they have to follow. Although I have stated that certain of the natives who have been given a crucifix may be dishonest or untruthful, I think that many are influenced for good by the teaching they receive. If a native has more than one wife he cannot get a "mtanda" (crucifix), but it is only the younger natives who seem to care to possess one. To teach natives to read and write, and also to work at various trades, is most admirable, but to teach them merely to sing and chant hymns, and repeat the Lord's Prayer, is rather futile, as they have not the slightest idea of the true meaning, and simply do so because it is an excuse for making a noise, and a native is very fond of hearing his own voice. Natives, in their habits, are most gregarious, they like to collect together, and the way they have formed themselves into communities shows that they believe there is safety in numbers. This habit was doubtless caused in the old days, when they found it advisable to build their huts close together and live near one another. A negro is always inclined to show more bravery in front of his fellows than he is when by himself, as he does not possess that strength of mind and self-reliant spirit which enables him to depend on himself.

    A strange story was told me with regard to the invasion of this country by the Angoni (Zulus).

    They firmly believe that Zonandowa, the father of old Mpseni, when he came to the Zambesi River, made the waters go apart and leave a path for the army to cross safely to the other side. They say the place is not far from Nungwi (Tete), and some of the older men can point it out at the present day. Considering the old Scriptural story of the same kind, I think it most interesting that they should have such a belief.

    When a man is fierce or bad-tempered, the Angoni say that the spirits of wild animals have entered into him ; and this is particularly the case when the " peppery " individual has killed a lot of big game, as they assert that he cannot help it, as the elephants', buffalos', and lions' spirits have found a place in his heart, and that they are responsible for his irascibility.

    Old Mpseni seems to have been a rather fiery personage, for he ruled his people with an ft iron " hand. An Angoni tells me he remembers often seeing adulterers killed, and this was done by either dashing out their brains with knob-kerries or, more usually, taking them to a big tree and binding them to it with bark-string, placed round the neck and round the trunk. This quickly killed by strangulation, and then the bodies were thrown to the hyaenas. At that time the indunas had great power, as " they had the ear," so to speak, of Mpseni, as the ordinary people were afraid to go near him. Some of these indunas are still alive, and they always struck me as cunning old men, and they were, probably, the most expert liars in existence in getting up false cases against people who were in their way.

    In a thunderstorm, when the lightning is bad, the Angoni object to having black dogs, sheep, goats, or pigs in their huts, as they believe their presence will cause the lightning to strike the huts. Further, they keep the fire low, and they believe that should a black sheep look up to the roof the lightning will immediately strike the hut and kill the occupants.

    The eldest son of old Mpseni (I write " old" Mpseni because the present chief of the Angoni here is young Mpseni, son of Singo, who was the eldest son of Mpseni), by name Singo, was killed when the whites occupied this country. He was sentenced to death, and a native tells me the soldiers fired twice at him, and hit him, but he did not die, so a white man took a big knife and cut his throat. This I do not believe, but it is what the natives believe, and, once they get anything into their heads, it is difficult to get it out, as they have that dull, stubborn nature which it is difficult to enlighten.

    The death of Chibisa, son of Patamoyo, a son of Mpseni, seems to have been simply a murder. One day some Achewa police were out raiding, when they heard the cries of a child in some reeds, and they called out, when Chibisa who was herding some goats, and had taken his young brother with him, came out of the reeds holding the child. The murderous Achewa then told Chibisi, who was only a youth about fifteen years of age, that they intended to kill him, so he asked permission to place the child to one side in a safe place. He then walked back, and the scoundrels shot and killed him. This murder greatly impressed the Angoni and they still talk of Chibisa, who was said to be a good-looking, kind-hearted youth. Singo they considered a grand fellow and he seems to have been the beau-ideal of a Zulu warrior, for he was tall and good-looking and in their various fighting and raids he was always the " bravest of the brave."

    Some tribes, including the Angoni, have a peculiar idea with regard to having a case heard by their chief. If the chief refuses to listen, considering that the case is small and petty, the man will go out and kill an innocent person, whereby attention is drawn to the previous case. An occurrence lately took place in this country when a man, who was refused a hearing in the first instance by his native headman, took a spear and went out and killed a young woman he met in her maize garden. The European magistrate heard of it and he was caught, tried, and hanged. So much for native reasoning !

    Natives often make friends with another person, forming a kind of blood brothership, or blood sistership, and then they are always presenting each other with presents, which it is considered courtesy to return.

    Natives can be very kind-hearted and generous at times, especially to those of the same tribe and family, and if a person is sick, a man will take quite a lot of trouble in getting the sufferer medicine from the bush; or if he expresses a wish for meat it will be got.

    There are many quaint ideas with reference to planting the crops; for instance, they do not plant ground-nuts without scattering some reddish looking powder made from the roots of a plant, named " kula," over them. If this is not done and a woman who is unwell with her usual sexual complaint visits the patch of ground-nuts, they affirm that they will not be fruitful. If, after visiting such a patch, the woman then goes to a plot of pumpkins, they will also be rendered unfertile.

    Again, among the Achewa tribe, if a woman in pregnancy should go into the growing maize fields, this will cause the maize to wither, and they often do not wash until the crops are gathered. The Achewa when the crops are growing lead celibate lives; but when they are safely gathered and stored in the big bins, they resume their married state.
    Black races of mankind are wonderfully tenacious of all wounds, and little children will often get severe cuts and burns, which through bad and dirty treatment may gradually develop into large ulcers, which may trouble them for the remainder of their lives. The usual treatment for a bad cut or burn is to plaster it with cow dung, or put certain leaves and herbs on it, which instead of curing makes the wound worse.

    Their commonest cure for sickness is to bleed a person, using a piece of cow, or antelope horn, as a cup. The small hole is sucked after placing the larger aperture on a small incision made.

    They do not care to ask medicine or treatment from a white man unless they know him well, and then only if they know he has cured someone else of some injury or malady. Being suspicious, and full of superstitions, they are always ready to put down any natural event to some occult influence.

    It is, therefore, a mistake for a white man to give medicine to a man he has had a disagreement with in the past. He may be close to death's door with some malignant complaint, and the best Harley-street doctor would be unable to save his life ; so if, out of the kindness of his heart, a white man gave the sufferer a grain of opium to soothe his pain, and he died, as die he must, the relatives would all say that the white man had killed him. For this reason one has often to see men in agony and, because of the senseless beliefs of the people, be unable to alleviate pain.

    A person never dies from a purely natural cause in the opinion of the natives. Some enemy has cast a spell on the deceased and caused his or her death. Even if an able-bodied, sound man be killed by an elephant or buffalo, some person has caused the accident.

    It will take a very long time for the missionary teachers to eradicate these superstitions and beliefs, so it car easily be seen that as long as the minds of the natives are full of such fantastical ideas, their intellects are quite unable to assimilate the truths of the Christian religion. What we look on as fancy and superstition, they consider well-grounded facts, and it will take many years of sound education to cause their enlightenment. Without any desire to be considered sacrilegious, I consider the Bible an unsuitable book for them, as many of its stories are too much akin to their own beliefs. The miracles described in that book are only extra nourishment for their minds in the shape of the supernatural.

    A native is quite unable to " read between the lines," and he always looks at bare facts, and anything that happens to be on paper can seem nothing but the truth to him.

    As many natives are notorious liars, and some are dishonest, it would be better to teach them to try and be truthful and honest, and also to stop practising senseless cruelty on human beings and animals.

    Before they ever saw a white man they had a belief in a supreme being who was able to influence men for good or bad, and they call this being " Mlungo" (God).

    If it rains too hard or too little, this is the work of Mlungo. If a man dies, the Mlungo has made another man kill him, and so on. Therefore, they are not altogether Pagans.

    Contact with the more highly developed kind of civilisation cannot be said to benefit the natives; indeed, it does them harm, for they do not copy the best of the Europeans they come across, as they have less to do with them than the lower class whites, who assume friendliness so as to get their money.

    The natives who go to the South African mines are highly paid in comparison to the moderate wages they earn in this country for their labour. Thus, they learn extravagance and wants that are useless to them in their natural lives. They learn to imitate the whites in dress, and thus appear most grotesque, although they do not know it. This sale of inferior European clothing is said to be good for trade ; but, if fine races of savages are to be ruined because this trade benefits a few low-class white traders, it is time it was stopped. Again, natives love strong drink, and we know how this has ruined and practically exterminated fine races of savages throughout the world. White men, with all their higher qualities of self-denial and self-restraint, have often a great struggle to resist the drink demon, so what can be expected of weak-minded natives ?

    The native is quite happy in his own country, and he can, if he wishes, make more than enough to be comfortable. The Government hut tax is moderate, a single month's work will pay it, and a remission is allowed if a native works for a white man for a month. In fact, I think it would be a good thing if the tax were raised, as this would prove an incentive to the natives to do more work.

    For three months they are pretty busy in their gardens, but for the rest of the year they can idle and loaf about, and they spend their time chiefly in drinking beer and holding dances.

    A native is an expert in killing time, yet on occasions he can work, hard, and his good qualities in this respect are never more apparent than when he accompanies a white man on a shooting trip. Then he gets heaps of meat, and he enjoys the hunting and cutting up of the game, and there is nothing he enjoys better than plenty of fat.

    The Angoni have that arrogance of race seen in all fighting tribes which at one time were rulers of a great extent of country. All dominant races show this in their bearing and the way they walk, and it is noticeable in animals also. A lion by day, when he is disturbed, has a furtive, slouching look; but when he has fed and drunk, I expect he looks round with an air of command and contentment, as he feels dominant.

    The elephant, with his easy, dignified manner, when he has not been frightened or hurt, seems quite oblivious of anything else on earth, and, among animals, he is king, for nothing can harm him except puny man ; and it is only by man's ingenuity in making weapons of destruction that he is able to assert his superiority.

    The Angoni make good personal servants, and the younger lads are intelligent wrhen they are taught. It cannot be expected that they can accustom themselves to the white man's ways all at once, so, although they may at first be aggravating and stupid, it is best to be patient with them.

    Some years ago I was rather inclined to be hasty with them, for during a residence of some seven years in India I had become accustomed to the intelligent Indian servants, and I found it very difficult to put up with the stupid, procrastinating ways of the Africans.

    Central Africa is a land where patience and forbearance has to be exercised if one is to be tolerably happy. It is one of the most isolated countries in the world, for mails take six weeks to come from home, and nothing is done in a hurry.

    The white man who possesses a slow, phlegmatic nature is likely to be more popular with the natives than an energetic man who likes things done quickly ; and who also likes to live like a civilised being, and not among dirty surroundings.

    Above all things natives like honesty of purpose in the white man, although they do not always practise this themselves, so one should never break a promise given or attempt to cheat the natives, as I am afraid many low-class Europeans do.

    Natives are very sensitive to ridicule or sarcasm, and a little of this will often act better than a good beating. I do not believe in the use of the hippo whip called "chikoti," for it is a most cruel implement when used severely, and it should only be used in extreme cases. There is no comparison between a few punches with the fists and a dose of the "chikoti," which will cut a man fearfully, and in some cases kill him if he happens to be unwell. The use of a light boot occasionally or a smack on the head is usually quite sufficient; and if a boy deserves beating often for lying or theft, he can be dismissed, as there are generally plenty of others to take his place. Of course, as in Europe, there are scoundrels that deserve the whip, and there is no doubt that the natives have been accustomed in the past to much more severe treatment than they ever get from white men.

    There are two men living near me at present who lost their ears in the old days, for theft ; and it was a common thing to treat " kapolo " (slaves) in this way if they stole from their masters. Other atrocities were common, and the Awemba, in the northern parts of North-Eastern Rhodesia, suffered much cruelty from their chiefs, but it must be remembered that such treatment was the only one the chiefs could exercise to keep their unruly followers in hand.

    The milder and more civilised justice of the whites is often laughed at by the natives, as what were considered serious crimes long ago, such as theft, are hardly punished at all. A man may steal pounds of sugar in a month for which he may get a month's imprisonment, where he enjoys better and more plentiful food than he usually gets in his own home. Imprisonment is little punishment to a native, as he does not feel it any disgrace; in fact, he has a good rest and plenty of food. Incarceration for a long period, however, must be very irksome to a native, for being a savage he likes freedom, and the separation from his wives and children he must feel dreadfully, as all natives are domestic creatures.

    A Son of Africa - Central Angoniland

    I think one of the best points about the natives is their love for their children, and nothing interests them more than handling and fondling them. They do not kiss them, but they play with them and amuse them. On the other hand the wives are simply domestic drudges, and certain bad-tempered men are constantly thrashing them. When a man possesses a plurality of wives, there are naturally many squabbles caused by jealousy, and the women of Africa are just as prone to suffer from this complaint as are those of more civilised races of mankind.

    The Central African natives make good soldiers and police, as they seem to like military drills and duties. That fine body of men, the King's African Rifles, has battalions raised in different protectorates, and I think those recruited in Nyasaland take a leading place for intelligence and smartness. In various African campaigns these men have proved staunch and reliable, and they are wonderfully quick in learning their duties. While residing in Zomba, in 1903, an officer taught several men signalling, and before they were able to take down messages they had to be taught the alphabet. A number of them were proficient in three months, and I think this is a wonderful example of intelligence, as these were grown men of from eighteen to twenty-five years of age, and not youths, who are usually more easily taught.

    Again, the King's African Rifles' band in Zomba was taught by an Indian bandmaster to play all kinds of tunes, and certain of the officers, who took an interest in the matter, introduced new tunes, which the natives would master in less than a week, and play almost as well as some regimental bands at home.

    Natives naturally have a liking for music, and when their interest is aroused they take great pains over learning anything ; and this shows that they have intellect, if it is only awakened and led into interesting channels.

    One of the worst features of the natives is that they are brutally cruel, as they have little sympathy for others or for animal life. A boy will take a blunt knife to cut an antelope's throat, and saw away for some minutes without getting through the skin, and they will treat domestic creatures in the same way. I got so disgusted with the time they usually took to kill the fowls used for daily food that I made them use a small American axe with which to decapitate them.

    I showed them how to do it with one chop on a block of wood, and I remarked to my cook, who is a mission boy with a crucifix round his neck, that the fowl died quickly, and did not suffer pain. He replied " Yes master, but it is only a fowl," evidently meaning that it did not much matter whether it suffered pain or not.

    I think that instead of teaching natives to recite the Lord's Prayer and sing hymns, it would be much better to try and instil into their minds the crime of senseless and thoughtless cruelty to man and beast.

    That they feel sorry for persons suffering I do not doubt, more especially close relatives; but I have seen them mimic the contortions of a dying man, wdiich so disgusted me that I seized a stick and went for them. Afterwards, I heard them laughing at the white man's strange ways, and I have no doubt they mimicked me as I went for them with that stick.

    Should a white man be ill, they often seem quite distressed and sympathetic; but this is not usually true sympathy, for they are simply afraid that, if their master dies, they will be blamed, and their sympathy is for themselves, and not for their master.

    They are most patient when suffering from hunger, over-exertion, or sickness; in fact, they are more like animals in this respect than human beings.

    In carrying heavy loads for long distances day after day they are unsurpassed by any savages I have ever seen. A white man could not do it, as he would chafe and fret under the constant fatigue and monotony; and I think their brains get so dulled at times that they walk mechanically.

    Previously I have mentioned how staunch they can be in times of danger, and many Africans have saved their masters' lives from wild animals, and in other ways. Certain races, such as the Yaos, Awemba, and Angoni, are ahead of others in showing personal bravery; and, with regard to them accompanying their master on dangerous enterprises, a good deal depends on their trust in their master. If they know a man is a good game shot, they will probably be willing to take risks that they would not do with a white man whom they had seen betray fear, or one who was a poor hand at killing game. Natives are not prone to trust much to first impressions, and it takes them some time to get to know a man. Therefore, it is important that the magistrates, residents, or native commissioners in charge of districts should be kept there, and not often changed to other districts where the conditions are new to them, and where it will take them a long time to obtain the full trust and confidence of the inhabitants.


    As a whole, the officials of all the British protectorates and colonies of Africa are a good lot of men, although some of the younger of them are inclined to impress on the natives that they are the "big" masters, and that the non-officials are nobodies.

    To properly understand this, it is necessary that a European should have been an official, and then, when he becomes a non-official, he is able to see the difference with which many natives treat him. This shows clearly that in many instances the natives only respect power, and, when official power is wanting, they at once take advantage. It depends greatly on the temperament of the non-official whether he is treated badly by the natives or not, and he has to assert himself with certain natives and prove that he is quite able to safeguard his own interests. They soon get to know whether a man can be browbeaten or otherwise, and they are just like children in taking advantage of patience and kindness.

    The natives living near civilisation are much worse in this respect than the raw savages. Personally I much prefer the latter, and I cannot bear the swaggering Blantyre mission boy in European clothing, hat, and boots; who in many cases is most insolent to white men. These mission boys are frequently scroundrels and past masters in lying and thieving ; but they are cunning to such a degree that the missionaries are often quite hoodwinked by them, and think them paragons of virtue and integrity. This is not a singular opinion ; but is that of most men who have had a good experience of this country. I do not wish for a moment to insinuate that all mission boys are of the type I have portrayed, but that the majority are is a fact that cannot be gainsaid by all honest men.

    On the other hand, the mission teachers (natives) of the White Fathers' missions throughout this country are a much better type of native, as they are taught to be respectful and honest; and my former remarks apply to the native so-called converts of the Scotch mission in Blantyre. The whole matter is one of education, and the White Fathers are a much better type of men in their own country than are most of the missionaries of the Scotch mission. There is a very strong feeling in the country about the missions, and they have only themselves to blame for this feeling, as they go about their work in the wrong way, for they try to go too fast, with the result, to use a slang term, that they " botch" it, and instead of improving the natives, as is probably their earnest desire, they unfortunately end by spoiling most of them. The medical part of the Scotch mission is a most worthy one, and so are all industrial missions.

    To get back to the Angoni, I saw a strange custom the other day. A man had bought some pigeons, and in putting them into the cote the man put in the hen birds and his wife the cocks. I asked the reason and was told that if this was not done the birds would prove unfertile.

    Not very long ago I shot a hippo in the Bua River. The men had disrobed to get it out of the deep pool, and were in a state of nature—in other words stark naked. An old woman who had smelt the meat appeared and was a keen witness of the proceedings. Some of the men shouted to her to go away, and I was greatly amused at her reply, for she said that she was too old to be interested at the sight of naked men. As her presence interfered with the operations, I told her to leave for the present and come back later, when she would get plenty of meat, and she departed smiling.

    Some of the natives are quite as sensitive as white people in exposing their persons, especially to members of the opposite sex, and it is a mistake to think that all tribes are lax in this respect. Even the Angoni youngsters wear a certain amount of clothing round the waist, it is only the babies that are unclothed, and even they are covered at times.

    In moments of distress both adults and children use the word mai (mother), and they will cry " A-Mai," " A-Mai" when they are hurt, meaning " oh, mother," " oh, mother." I have mentioned that the Angoni believe in a " Mlungo" (God, or supreme being) and they have a very good idea of the meaning of right and wrong, and long ago they had a stern code of laws. Most native tribes live in communities under different headmen, who are sometimes the sons of old chiefs, or men who by their own intelligence and strength of body and will have been elected chiefs. In old Mpseni's time he acted as an autocrat, and the power of life and death rested in his hands, although he granted great powers to his sons and indunas. Like Lobengula, the former chief of the Matebele nation, he soon squashed any chief who was getting too strong, and these old savage potentates doubtless thought the proverb "A stitch in time saves nine," a good one. It was the survival of the fittest, and the word " fittest " not only meant a strong following of warriors, but also quickness of perception. Mpseni's big hut has been described to me by some of his sons. It was a large round affair, full of lion and leopard skins ; on the floor was laid a great pile of elephant ivory, which was covered with skins and mats, on which Mpseni spent most of his time, swilling large quantities of native beer and hearing reports brought to him by his principal indunas.

    When the natives wished to have a " Mlandu " (or case) they first approached the induna, who then carried the story on to the head induna, who likewise informed Mpseni. Naturally a good deal depended on the integrity of the indunas, and I have no doubt that many cases were distorted considerably before they reached the "fountain of justice."

    A son of Mpseni told me he had often a vile temper, so at such times his wives, children, and indunas gave him as wide a berth as possible until he cooled down a bit. At certain times the practice of witch smelling took place, and many innocent persons were murdered. The young unmarried people live free lives, and Mpseni did not let his warriors marry until they were well on in life, so great licentiousness was common ; but when once married, if a man or woman committed adultery, they were knocked on the head or strangled to death.

    A strange belief is still prevalent among most of the tribes in this country. Should a woman in a weak moment have mistaken another man for her husband, she will betray nervousness in putting salt in his food, and on seeing her fear, he at once accuses her of wrong. Nowadays, people are not killed for crimes such as this, although the injured husband will doubtless thrash the woman unmercifully. Child murder, under exceptional circumstances, still takes place, notwithstanding their love for children, and an Angoni told me that a year or two ago a woman gave birth to three crows and a large stone, the crows appearing first. I expect this was the woman's statement for disposing of a malformed child. The same person told me that another woman had a child with a human body, but its head and hair was just like a warthog's.

    I have not much more to write about the Angoni, except that they are a fine race of savages, and it will be a lasting pity if the tide of civilisation brings harm to them. The white man's civilisation and religion is not suited for savage peoples, and they should be left alone to work out their own ends.

    It would be a wise provision to prevent them leaving the country for the South African mines, where they can only learn evil, and the only exception to this should be when they are serving as disciplined soldiers under good officers.

    More attention should also be paid by the Government to the methods of the missions, which in many cases do them harm instead of good.

    They cannot look at matters from our standpoint, and a native told me that in a native church in Fort Jameson the missionary handed round a small basket for the collection, and that he (the native) thought it strange that the white man should take the money of the natives for himself. I, of course, explained that it was for the upkeep of the church and the payment of the native teachers ; but the native would not see this, and went away unconvinced.

    As a whole, the natives live far happier lives than do the poorer classes at home. They have only to scratch the soil to reap abundance, and at present their wants are few and easily supplied ; so why try to bring them up to our level, which for them can only result in unhappiness and discontent ?

    Since writing the foregoing, I met with a very interesting case of perception on the part of a native, which shows thought and reasoning much above the ordinary. A native said to me in the native language : " God must be very clever, for if I plant three grains of maize, the stalks bear many cobs, which have very many grains ; and if I plant one ground nut, many grow from this. God sends the rain, too, to make things grow, and what would be the end of people without rain, for we would all starve to death ?"

    This shows a power of thought and an admiration for natural laws very much above the average intelligence of the natives, who generally take things as they are, and do no inquire into causes.

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