Sunday, September 26, 2010


Note on the Tribes in the Neighbourhood of Fort Manning, Nyasaland1

  • Sunday, September 26, 2010
  • Samuel Albert
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  • Source: The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol.39 (Jan. - Jun., 1909), pp. 35-43
    Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
    THE chief tribes in the neighbourhood are:-(a) Angoni, (b) Achewa, (c) Achipeta, (d) Achikunda, (e) Asenga; and more distant:-(f) Akunda, (g) Awemba, (h) Awisa, (i) Swahili, (j) Ayao, (k) Atonga.

    There is one Swahili village, the chief being an ex-Askari,2 and some Swahili among the Askari from the lake shore at Kota Kota. Since the arrival of the Angoni and the consequent wars, the tribes have become rather mixed. The section of Angoni who settled here under Mpeseni have occupied chiefly Asenga and Achipeta country. For instance, Mponda, an Achewa chief, used to have his village under the west side of Mchenje, and held out in a fortified village against the Angonii for some time, but was finally worsted and had to run away. When things had quieted he built his village near the Rusa, about fifteen miles to the east of Mchenje.
    Katungwe, another Chipeta chief, used to have his village near where the White Fathers now are. A tree, in the gap between Chilembbwi and Kalulu Hills, is called Kuvakutira by the Angoni (from Kuvakuta-Bellows), as, when attacked, Katungwe at that place made the points of his arrows red hot with a lnative skin bellows before shooting them. He afterwards built his village twenty-five miles to the east. When the Angoni began to beat everybody the Achipeta concentrated in several places, many joined Mwasi, the Achewa chief, at Kasungu to the north, whilst others collected near Dowa. When peace was restored the Achipeta who had been with Mwasi had got mixed with Achewa, and there are many who still don't know whether they were Achewa or Chipeta originally. The Angoni raided and made slaves in every direction, marrying the women captured, and keeping the men to help them fight. There are numbers of Asenga, Achewa, Achikunda and Chipeta among the Angoni, who now call themselves Angoni, also a few Atambuka, but the latter are chiefly the slaves of the Mombera sectioni of Angoni to the north. There are also Akunda among the Angoni.

    This tribe lives chiefly to the west of the Fort, but there are a few villages to the south and west.
    General characteristies.-A warlike tribe of Zulu origirn, of great stamina and endurance, and of larger physique than the neighbouring tribes, who settled in this neighbourhood under Mpeseni (son of Zongandowa and brother of Mombera). Owing to intermnarriage with and absorption by other tribes they are rapidly losing their physique and language. Since the death of Mpeseni they have had no big chief, and are now under a lot of small chiefs, each with but a few villages. They are honest, straightforward and obedient. An order has only to be conveyed to a chief, and what is required is invariably done. They are inclined to be lawless, however, with neighbouring tribes, looking on the Achipeta, especially, as their lawful property, to loot if occasion offers.
    Although some of them are excellent trackers they do not seem to go in for hunting. All captured people and their offspring are admitted into the tribe and called Angoni, and now only the chiefs remain of pure Angoni blood, and only the old men can talk the language. On the death of a chief it is the custom for the son to succeed, unlike Ayao and Atonga. They do not make such good porters as the Ayao.
    The head chiefs of the Angoni in the Protectorate are:-Mlanyeni, son of Mlanyeni, son of Mpeseni, name of household, Akwajiri; Kangwere, Akwankua; Nyoka, Akwatori; Mgubu, Akwantano; Zuru, Chimbilu, Msechi, Namawendi, Mphete, wife of old Mlanyeni. The latter is now in Mombera's country.
    This tribe lives chiefly to the east of the Fort. It is a race of poor physique, timid and unreliable. The chiefs' have no real hold over the people, and hence the people are not accustomed to obey orders. They generally take the line of least resistaDce; they will readily assent to anything they are told and not do it. They hunt, or used to hunt, considerably, with dogs and guns, traps and game pits. Their villages are often stockaded to keep out lions. Like the Angoni, they cultivate very largely. They go in for rough iron smelting.
    In a big war, they protect their villages with earthworks, and the remains of those used against the Angoni are to be seen in many places. Kabadala's village is a notable example, consisting of a group of -earthwork-enclosed villages, with high walls of red clay, now considerably broken up.
    The biggest chiefs of the neighbourhood are:-Kamwendo, Kiesa, Mzama, Kongoni, Kalulu, Kabadula, Kampauga; also:-Chimteka, Chimbwe, Nsawmbe.
    This tribe lives to the north-east of the Fort, with an isolated detachment in the Mangazi valley, which was perhaps cut off when the Angoni wedged themselves in. They live chiefly in the neighbourhood of Kasungu (Fort Alston) where their chief Mwasi used to live. Now they are split up under lesser chiefs.
    Formerly they possessed many rifles, and under Mwasi kept the Angoni off. Now they have practically no rifles.
    The true Achewa, coming from Kasungu, appear to be of better physique than the Achipeta, and tall, strong men are often seen, but, as before stated, they are now so merged into the Achipeta that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to tell where the one tribe begins and the other ends.
    Many villages, calling themselves Achewa, are of more Achipeta-like aspect, and were probably Achipeta before joining Mwasi, when driven out by the Angoni, but have called themselves Achewa siince.
    In customis, habits, language, etc., they are very similar to the Achipeta, and so will not be described in detail.
    The biggest chiefs are :-Mponda, Kapilama, British South Africa Co., south of Boma.
    This tribe lives to the south and south-west of the Fort, in Portuguese territory chiefly, with a few on the border. They are great hunters and have many rifles among them. They (or the part of them in the neighbourhood, for they are a very large tribe), have not been brought into contact with Europeans much, their country not being occupied by Portuguese officials in the manner that British territory is by British.
    Occasionally the owner of the Prazo3 may appear to beat up taxes or recruits for labour, but more generally his Askari or Kapitaos4 do this. Their visits do not seem to be especially appreciated, as on the approach of a white man the villages are usually deserted, and the inhabitants cannot be induced to return till his departure.
    They hunt5 largely, elephant and buffalo with rifles, and smaller game with dogs, bows and traps. Every little village of a few huts seems to possess two or three rifles. The prevailing types are Tower muskets and flint locks. They buy these from the Portuguese, as also powder-Onga; in Swahili-Baruti. The bullets they make themselves out of iron or solder.
    There is no native method of preparing powder. Flasks are made out of buffalo horns; the thick end is stopped up with wood (ebony). Powder flask- Palavalenyo. The tip of the horn is cut off to pour the powder through and closed with a bit of wood or cloth. It is worn in front of the waist.6
    They do not seem to have been worried particularly by the Angoni. During the Angoni wars they used to buy slaves from the Alngoni with ivory, etc.
    A very numerous and powerful tribe living towards Bangweolo and Lake Mweru. They hunt with spear, arrow, game-nets and traps, but do not appear to be in possession of rifles.
    Awisa or Abisa.
    These people live on Loangwa River,, about Kambwire's Village, and towards Bangweolo. They hunt considerably and also fish to a great extent.
    Their language is very' similar to that of the Awemba as are also their habits; the latter tribe, however, are more of a river and water people. They will eat crocodile flesh which the Awemba will not.
    This tribe seems to have suffered most from the coming of the Mpeseni section of Angoni, as the latter live chiefly in what used formerly to be Asenga country. There are many of them now living among the Angoni, having been made slave by them formerly; the present language of this section of Angoni is rapidly merging itself with that of the Asenga.
    This can hardly be called an independent tribe now, having been merged into the Mombera section of Angoni. Their language, like that of the former tribe, is having a great influence on that of their former captors. The Angoni have freely intermarried with the women of conquered tribes, and the offspring naturally learn to a great extent when young the language of the mother.
    Ayao and Atonga.
    These tribes have been often described, so will not be discussed. They both furnish excellent soldiers, although the latter has never been a particularly warlike tribe.
    Tribal Marks.
    Tribal marks are made when a man wishes, generally after puberty has been attained, but no compulsion is used. A man sometimes has himself marked with the marks of another tribe in addition. That is to say, a man belonging to a slave tribe may have himself marked with the marks of a superior tribe and may often try to pass himself off as one of this tribe.
    Achewa and Achipeta.-Long vertical gashes on face, shoulder and back. Women the same. Women wear Mpeti in centre of the lip like the Atonga.
    Achewa and Achipeta call this Ntona. It is made sometimes of solder and sometimes of bone. In an old wonan the hole is often large enough to reveal her teeth.
    Angoni-Have no tribal marks. Both men and women slit their ears, towards the bottom of the lobe, a slit being from about one-eighth to one inch long.
    Akunda.-Two vertical gashes on forehead.
    Asenga.- on forehead, temple and stomach.
    Ayao.-Two perpendicular gashes fromn behind the eye downwards, on either side of the head. Women wear Chipini (a large stud made of solder, sometimes of bone when solder cannot be procured), in left side of nostril like Swahili women. Yao women have no tribal marks, but are generally covered with gashes on legs, stomach and buttocks.
    Atonga.-Four gashes on either side of the head, behind the eye, in the form of a cross + Women wear Mpeti in centre of lip.
    Awemba.-Blue line down centre of forehead.
    Atumbuka.-Three lumps like warts on the centre of the forehead, and vertically above one another and the nose.
    Value of different Tribes as Soldiers.
    The different tribes may be divided into three different divisions.
    (1) Dominant tribes, who have expanded at the expense of other tribes.
    (2) Tribes who have not in the past shown any strong warlike tendency, but have managed to hold their own.
    (3) Slave tribes.
    In the first division we might place the-Ayao, Angoni, Awemba, and perhaps Swahili.
    The Ayao are essentially the best fighting men to be had in Central Africa, and perhaps the best to be had in the whole continent. Strong, hard, obedient and amenable to discipline, brave and cheerful, they will never desert their officers in danger and suffer from no caste prejudices, religious scruples or waves of fanaticism, which make so many native troops difficult to deal with. Many of them profess Mohammedanism, it is true, but they do not worry themselves with many of its observances.
    The Angoni and Awemba should prove themselves good fighting men, coming as they do from a warlike and disciplined stock, but the former, as we have stated, are fast degenerating from intermarriage and should be carefully picked.
    Angoni, originally strong, have broken themselves up into sections as they have accumulated wives and slaves, and in these sections almost every household has with its captives and other people (enticed to bring up the fighting strength) founded a village of its own, so only the chief of the village is of anything like pure stock, and most of the remainder who call themselves Angoni have no pretensions whatever to Angoni blood. This was strikingly exemplified when enlisting an Angoni Coy., in 1904-5, from among the Mpeseni section. On calling for recruits, about one hundred so-called Angoni presented themselves, of whom I rejected about seventy-five as worthless, and on writing down the rernainder found that they were all the sons of local chiefs or their Indunas.
    The Swahili have not been found successful. They have probably gained their present position (coming from Zanzibar) by their skill in trading and the superiority of their firearms.
    To the second division we might assign:-Atonga, Alolo, Awisa, Achikunda, Achewa, and perhaps Akunda.
    The Atonga, although not of a warlike tribe, as soldiers can be ranked only second to the Ayao.
    The Alolo have proved themselves fairish soldiers.
    A few carefully picked Achewa and Akunda have proved themselves excellent men, but they must be very carefully chosen, and these tribes would not afford any bulk of suitable men.
    I do not know of what the Awisa and Achikunda are capable, but, judging from appearances, the former tribe appears to hold some good men.
    In the last division, viz., slave tribes, we might place the-Achipeta, Atambuka, Asenga, and perhaps Manganja. Among the Manganja a good man is occasionally found, but the three remiaining tribes may be dismissed as worthless.
    The Achipeta largely use bows (Uta, pl. Mauta) and arrows (Mubvi, pl. Mibvi). The arrows are poisoned in various ways. They are made with a poinlt of rough smelted soft iron inserted into a shaft of reed (Bango), and bound on with string. The notch to take the bow. string is also bound, to prevent the reed splitting. They do not feather their arrows, but tle Achikunda use vultures' feathers for this purpose. The bow is made of a tree called Tenza, is about 5 feet long, nearly straight in the middle, and curving at the tips.
    The string (Nsinga,) is made from prepared tendons to be found on either side of the spine of the Kudu (males only), eland (females only) aild hartebeest (male and female). The method of stringing the bow is curious. There is a hole bored at either end through the wood, through which the tendon or string is passed, and then, after being wrapped some twenty times round the bow, is made fast on itself.
    To tighten the bow one end is placed on the ground, and the weight of the body brought to bear on the other end. This bringing the two ends lnearer each other slackens the string, which is taken up through the hole and the slack disposed of by twisting all the turns round and rounid till the slack is taken up. The end is then released and the bow is taut.
    Arrow Poison
    The preparation of arrow poison is not generally known, the secret being confined to a very few. Thus among the many villages between Fort Manning and the Bua where the road crosses it, there is only one man known to be able to make it. Those who are skilled in these things are not ready to divulge their knowledge, and the old men are always afraid of the young men making improper use of such knowledge.
    Arrow Poison.-Chaola, as distinguished from other kinds of poison.
    Achipeta Tribe.-Methods of preparation.
    (1) Roots are obtained of: (a) A plant called Chula-Nyunga.
    (b)A plant called Chuuyu Ndazi.
    (c) A plant called Ka-Udzu.
    (The two foremost have roots the shape of potatoes, the latter, signifying little grass," is a flower.)
    (d) The fruit of Ntula.
    The nostrils are closed by stuffing up a small piece of cloth or calico while digging the roots up and during preparation. The three roots are then taken to a spot some way from the village, and are chopped up fine while the Ntula is sliced; the whole is then put in an earthenware pot and water poured in to just cover it. If a snake called Kalikwikwiti can now be obtained it is put in whole, otherwise it is omitted.
    A hole is made in the ground to rest the pot in, and it is covered over and left. It is examined from time to time, and if it has dried up, more water is added. It is kept like this till it is required for use. If the village is threatened with war, the pot is brought in and placed ready for use in the place to be defended. Before firing, their arrows are dipped in it. If they are going out to fight all the arrows are dipped in, taken out, and the poison allowed to dry on them, before they are inserted point downwards in the hide quiver.
    (2) An animal poison made of the gall bladder of the crocodile and certain parts of toads and snakes, mixed in a pot and kept ready for use as above.
    A quiver (Podo) is made of rough hide and the arrows placed in it point downwards. It is hung on the back with two strings, the top behind the right shoulder. The arrows are taken from behind the shoulder as required.
    As is generally the case, the natives do not seem to practise shooting with bows or spear-throwing of their own accord. Spears and arrowheads are made of soft rough smelted iron.
    The Achipeta used to fortify their villages by building thick mud walls round them, and by planting in front of this a maze of Mkadze (a kind of euphorbia tree), through which the path wound. In the centre of the village would generally be a well. The earthworks are banked up on the inside-sloping to the rear-presumably for drainage. They were made by hand only, the wet clay being trodden in a. hole, and then slapped on and allowed to bake in the sun. I have not been able to discover or hear of any case in which pits have been dug in the pathways or entrances to the village, although it is a common practice to dig them for game. Loopholes about 1 foot by 3 inches, through which to shoot arrows, are made. Outside the walls is a ditch, and over this an impromptu drawbridge, made of long poles.
    The defenders await the attackers, crouching in the Mkadze hedge, from which cover they shoot their arrows and then retire to the work, clambering across the bridge of poles, and pulling them in after them.
    Examples of earthworks are Kabadula's Village, Mabwera's Village, and many others.
    The Angoni use neither firearms nor bows, although men captured by them from other tribes might be seen with bows. Their weapons are a bundle of spears (Mkondo, pl. Mikondo), carried in the left hand behind the shield (Chishkhliango), and a knobkerry (Nthonga) generally carried in the right hand. The spears are used for either throwing or stabbing, and are taken from the left hand as required. A dart called Ruti is often carried also, being an iron head attached to a short stick, feathered with hair and strips of calico, in all about 2 1/2 feet long.
    The shields are made of bullock hide, about 4 feet long and 2 feet broad. At the back is fastened a stick, about a feet long, surmounted with the tail of a spotted cennet (Simba) bound round it. The centre of the shield is strengthened with two strips of goat hide, passing from top to bottorrm through slits in the hide. At the back in the centre is a leather loop to hold with the finoers of the left hand. Arrows Will not penetrate. The knobkerry is from 2 1/2 feet to 3 feet long.
    War Dress.
    Feathers in the head. Simba skins over the chest with an arrangement of long goat hairs over it-Machoa. A goat-skin hung from the waist in front. Simba skins on either side and a monkey's skin behind. Ear-rings of solder (Mtovu). Men who have been conspicuous for bravery wear horn charms on the chest.
    War Dance--Mgubu.
    A dance is held before going to war. A message is sent round to all the villages to call men to war. At the dance an ox is generally killed, after which beer is drunk, and the warriors set out. Scouts proceed in front of them and bring back news to the column behind. If they are few and their enemies many, they creep up to surprise their enemies, but if they are many they make their attack in daylight and make no attempt at concealment.
    On-attacking a village or fortified place, it is everyone's desire to " break the boma," i.e., to be the first man inside the stronghold. It used to be a common practice with them to attack at dawn or "first cockerow." That with spears only they were constantly attacking and often beating tribes armed with Tower muskets, flint locks and poisoned arrows, testifies to their courage. The spears must have been chiefly used for thrusting, as their throwing, with spears is painfully weak and inaccurate. At 20 yards they are unable to hit a man with certainty, and at 50 they will not be able to reach him.
    On return from the war a meeting is held and a bull brought into the midst. The men that broke the Boma then stab it in the neck with their spears, the man who was first in the Boma, first, then the second, aiid so on till it falls down dead.
    Axes and hoes are sometimes used as money. Their values are:-
    Large hoes (Khasu), 4 yards calico or Is.
    Small hoes (khasu), 2 yards calico or 6d.
    Axes (Nkwanywa), 2 yards calico or 6d.
    There are no native markets for the exchange of provisions, etc., as on the West Coast.
    1. This paper deals specially with the neighbourhood of Fort Manning, British Central Africa, and more generally with the whole of British Central Africa, North-Eastern Rhodesia, and Portuguese East Africa. The language of the Angoni has been described as Zulu (Ngoni) for want of a better name. The language is evidelntly of Zulu origin (as are also the people) and possesses the two clicks c and q which none of the surrounding languages do.
    2. Native soldier.
    3. Land or estate leased to Portuguese officials, which they virtually govern, lit.== lease.
    4. Native overseer or headmani.
    5. See Hunting; in Report 20.2.06. J.R.A.L, xxxvii, p. 127.
    6. Ruga-Ruga (north of Nyassa) wear theirs at the side.

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