THAT stream of the Negro race which is known ethnologically as "Bantu," occupies all of the southern portion of the African continent below the fourth degree of north latitude. It is divided into a multitude of tribes, each with its own peculiar dialect. All these dialects are cognate in their grammar. Some of them vary only slightly in their vocabulary. In others the vocabulary is so distinctly different that it is not understood by tribes only one hundred miles apart, while that of others a thousand miles away may be intelligible.
In their migrations the tribes have been like a river, with its windings, currents swift or slow; there have been even, in places, back currents; and elsewhere quiet, almost stagnant pools. But they all--from the Divala at Kamerun on the West Coast across to the Kiswahile at Zanzibar on the East, and from Buganda by the Victoria Nyanza at the north down to Zulu in the south at the Cape--have a uniformity in language, tribal organization, family customs, judicial rules and regulations, marriage ceremonies, funeral rites, and religious beliefs and practice. Dissimilarities have crept in with mixture among themselves by intermarriage, the example of foreigners, with some forms of foreign civilization and education, degradation by foreign vice, elevation by Christianity, and compulsion by foreign governments.
As a description of Bantu sociology, I give the following outline which was offered. some years ago, in reply to inquiries sent to members of the Gabun and Corisco Mission living at Batanga, by the German Government, in its laudable effort to adapt, as far as consistent with justice and humanity, its Kamerun territorial government to the then existing tribal regulations and customs of the tribes living in the Batanga region. This information was obtained by various persons from several sources, but especially from prominent native chiefs, all of them men of intelligence.
In their general features these statements were largely true also for all the other tribes in the Equatorial Coast region, and for most of the interior Bantu tribes now pressing down to the Coast. They were more distinctly descriptive of Batanga and the entire interior at the time of their formulation. But in the ten years that have since passed, a stranger would find that some of them are no longer exact. Foreign authority has removed or changed or sapped the foundations of many native customs and regulations, while it has not fully brought in the civilization of Christianity. The result in some places, in this period of transition, has been almost anarchy,--making a despotism, as under Belgian misrule in the so-called Kongo "Free" State; or commercial ruin, as under French monopoly in their Kongo-Français; and general confusion, under German hands, due to the arbitrary acts of local officials and their brutal black soldiery.
The coast between 5° and 4° N. Lat. is called "Kamerun." This is not a native word: it was formerly spelled by ships' captains in their trade "Cameroons." Its origin is uncertain. It is thought that it came from the name of the Portuguese explorer Diego Cam. The tribes in that region are the Divala, Isubu, Balimba, and other lesser ones.
The coast from 4° to 3° N. Lat. has also a foreign name, "Batanga." I do not know its origin.
The coast from 3° to 2° N. Lat. is called, by both natives and foreigners,"Benita"; at 1° N., by foreigners,"Corisco," and-by natives, "Benga." The name "Corisco" was given by Spaniards to an island in the Bay of Benga because of the brilliant coruscations of lightning so persistent in that locality. The Benga dialect is taken as the type of all the many dialects used from Corisco north to Benita, Bata, Batanga, and Kamerun.
From 1° N. to 30° S. is known as the "Gabun country," with the Mpongwe dialect, typical of its many congeners, the Orungu, Nkâmi (miscalled "Camma"), Galwa, and others.
From 3° S. to the Kongo River, at 6° S., the Loango tribe and dialect called "Fyât" are typical; and the Kongo River represents still another current of tribe and dialect.
In the interior, subtending the entire coast-line as above mentioned, are the several clans of the great Fang tribe, making a fifth distinctly different type, known by the names "Osheba," "Bulu," "Mabeya," and others. The name "Fang" is spelled variously: by the traveller Du Chaillu, "Fañ" by the French traveller, Count de Brazza, "Pahouin" by their Benga neighbors, "Pangwe"; and by the Mpongwe, "Mpañwe." These tribes all have traditions of their having come from the far Northeast.
Before foreign slave-trade was introduced, and subsequently the ivory, rubber, palm-oil, and mahogany trades, the occupations of the natives were hunting, fishing, and agriculture. They subsisted on wild meats, fish, forest fruits and nuts, and the cultivated plantains, cassava, maize, ground-nuts, yams, eddoes, sweet potatoes, and a few other vegetables.
The family is the unit in native sociology. There is the narrow circle of relationship expressed by the word "ijawe," plural "majawe" (a derivative of the verb "jaka" = to beget), which includes those of the immediate family, both on the father's as well as on the mother's side (i.e., blood-relatives).. The wider circle expressed by the word "ikaka" (pl."makaka") includes those who are blood-relatives, together with those united to them by marriage.
In giving illustrative native words I shall use the Benga dialect as typical. All the tribes have words indicating the relationships of father, mother, brother, sister. A nephew, while calling his own father "paia," calls an uncle who is older than himself "paia-utodu"; one younger than himself he calls "paia-ndembe." His own mother be calls "ina," and his aunts "ina-utodu" and "ina-ndembe," respectively, for one who is older or younger than himself.
A cousin is called "mwana-paia-utodu," or "-ndembe," as the case may be, according to age. These same designations are used for both the father's and the mother's side. A cousin's consanguinity is considered almost the same as that of brother or sister. They cannot marry. Indeed, all lines of consanguinity are carried farther, in prohibition of marriage, than in civilized countries.
1. Family Responsibility. Each family is held by the community responsible for the misdeeds of its members. However unworthy a man may be, his "people" are to stand by him, defend him, and even claim as right his acts, however unjust. He may demand their help, however guilty he may be. Even if his offence be so great that his own people have to acknowledge his guilt, they cannot abjure their responsibility. Even if he be worthy of death, and a ransom is called for, they must pay it: not only his rich relatives, but all who are at all able must help.
There is a narrower family relationship, that of the household, or "diyâ" (the hearth, or fireplace; derivative of the verb "diyaka" to live). There are a great many of these. Their habitations are built in one street, long or short, according to the size of the man's family.
In polygainy each wife has a separate house, or at least a separate room. Her children's home is in that house. Each woman rules her own house and children.
One of these women is called the "head-wife" ("konde"=queen). Usually she is the first wife. But the man is at liberty to displace her and put a younger one in her place.
The position of head-wife carries with it no special privileges except that she superintends; but she is not herself excused from work. In the community she is given more respect if the husband happens to be among the "headmen" or chiefs.
Each wife is supplied by the husband, but does not personally own her own house, kitchen utensils, and garden tools. She makes her own garden or "plantation" ("mwanga").
There is no community in ownership of a plantation. Each one chooses a spot for himself. Nor is there land tenure. Any man can go to any place not already occupied, and choose a site on which to build, or to make a garden; and he keeps it as long as be or some member of his family occupies it.
2. Family Headship. It descends to a son; if there be none, to a brother; or, if he be dead, to that brother's son; in default of these, to a sister's son. This headship carries with it, for a man, such authority that, should he kill his wife, be may not be killed; though her relatives, if they be influential, may demand some restitution.
If an ordinary man kills another man, he may himself be killed. For a debt he may give away a daughter or wife, but he may not give away a son or a brother. A father rules all his children, male and female, until his death.
If adult members of a family are dissatisfied with family arrangements, they can remove and build elsewhere; but they cannot thereby entirely separate themselves from rule by, and responsibility to and for the family.
A troublesome man cannot be expelled from the family village. A woman can be, but only by her husband, for such offences as stealing, adultery, quarrelling; in which case the dowry money paid by him to her relatives must be returned to him, or another woman given in her place.
3. Marital Relations. Marriages are made not only between members of the same tribe but between different tribes. Formerly it was not considered proper that a man of a coast tribe should marry a woman from an interior tribe. The coast tribes regarded themselves as more enlightened than those of the interior, and were disposed to look down upon them. But now men marry women not only of their own tribe but of all inferior tribes.
Polygamy is common, almost universal. A man's addition to the number of his wives is limited only by his ability to pay their dowry price.
He may cohabit with a woman without--paying dowry for her; but their relation is not regarded as a marriage ("diba"), and this woman is disrespected as a harlot ("evove").
There are few men with only one wife. In some cases their monogamy is their voluntary choice; in most cases (where there is not Christian principle) it is due to poverty. A polygamist arranges his marital duties to his several wives according to his choice; but the division having been made, each wife jealously guards her own claim on his attentions. A disregard of them leads to many a family quarrel.
If a man die, his brothers may marry any or all of the widows; or, if therp be no brothers, a son inherits, and may marry any or all of the widows except his own mother.
It is preferred that widows shall be retained in the family circle because of the dowry money that was paid for them, which is considered as a permanent investment.
Ante-ceremonial sexual trials (the ancient German "bundling") are not recognized as according to rule; but the custom is very common. If not followed by regular marriage ceremony, it is judged as adultery.
While a man may go to any tribe to seek a wife, he does not settle in the woman's tribe; she comes to him, and enters into his family.
4. Arrangements for Marriage. On entering into marriage a man depends on only the male members of his family to assist him. If the woman is of adult age, he is first to try obtain her consent. But that is not final; it may be
[1. Gen. xxx. 15-16.]
either overridden or compelled by her father. The fathers of the two parties are the ultimate judges; the marriage cannot take place without their consent, after the preliminary wooing. The final compact is by dowry money, the most of which must be paid in ad-vance. It is the custom which has come down from old time. It is now slightly changing under education, enlightemment, and foreign law., The amount of the dowry is not prescribed by any law. Custom alters the amount, according to the social status of the two families and the pecuniary ability of the bridegroom.
The highest price is paid for a virgin; the next, for a woman who has been put away by some other man; the lowest price for widows. It is paid in instalments, but is supposed to be completed in one or two years after the marriage.
But the purchase of the woman by dowry does not extinguish all claim on her by her family. If she is maltreated, she may be taken back by them, in which case the man's dowry money is to be returned to him. Not only the woman's father, but her other relatives, have a claim to a share in the dowry paid for her. Her brothers, sisters, and cousins may ask gifts from the would-be husband.
If a husband die, the widow becomes the property of his family; she does not inherit, by right, any of his goods because she herself, as a widow, is property. Sometimes she is given something, but only as a favor.
If she runs away or escapes, her father or her family must return either her or the dowry paid for her.
On the death of a woman after heir marriage, a part of the money received for her is returned to, the husband as compensation for his loss on his investment. If she has borne no children, nothing is given or restored to the husband.
If a woman deserts her husband, her family is required to pay back the dowry. If the man himself sends her away, the dowry may be repaid on his demand and after a public discussion.
There is no escape from marriage for a woman during her life except by repayment of the money received for her.
Two men may exchange wives thus: each puts away his wife, sending her back to her people and receiving in return the money paid for her. With this money in hand each buys again the wife the other has put away; and all parties are satisfied.
A father can force his daughter to marry against her will; but such marriages are troublesome, and generally end in the man putting the woman away.
A daughter may be betrothed by her parents at any time, even at birth. The marriage formerly did not take place until she was a woman grown of twenty years; now they are married at fifteen or sixteen, or earlier.
Marriage within any degree of consanguinity is forbidden. Marriage of cousins is impossible. Disparity of age is no hindrance to marriage: an old man may take a young virgin, and a young man may take an old woman.
There are no bars of caste nor rank, except the social eminence derived from wealth or free birth.
Only women are barred from marrying an inferior. That inferiority is not a personal one. No personal worth can make a man of an inferior tribe equal to the meanest member of a superior tribe.
All coast tribes reckon themselves superior to any interior tribe; and, of the coast tribes, a superiority is claimed for those who have the largest foreign commerce and the greatest number of white residents.
A man may marry any woman of any inferior tribe, the idea being that be thus elevates her; but it is almost unheard of that a woman shall marry beneath her.
As a result of this iron rule, women of the Mpongwe and a few other small "superior" coast tribes being barred from many men, of their o wn tribe by lines of consanguinity, and unable to marry beneath themselves, expect to and do make their marriage alliances with the white traders and foreign government officials. Their civilization has made them attractive, and they are sought for by white men from far distant points.
Younger sons and daughters must not be married before the older ones.
5. Courtship and Wedding. The routine varies greatly according to tribe; and in any tribe, according to the man's self-respect and regard for conventionalities. A proper outline is: First, the man goes to the father empty-handed to ask his consent. The second visit he goes with gifts, and the father calls in the other members of the family to witness the gifts. On the third visit he goes with liquor (formerly the native palm wine, now the foreign trade gin or rum), and pays an instalment on the dowry; on the fourth visit with his parents, and gives presents to the woman herself. On a fifth occasion the mother of the woman makes a feast for the mother and friends of the groom. At this feast the host and hostess do not eat, but they join in the drinking. Finally, the man goes with gifts and takes the woman. Her father makes return gifts as a farewell to his daughter.
On her arrival at the man's village they are met with rejoicing, and a dance called "nkanjo"; but there is no further ceremony, and she is his wife.
For three months she should not be required to do any hard work, the man providing her with food and dress. Then she will begin the usual woman's work, in the making of a garden and carrying of burdens.
Weddings may be made in any season of the year. Formerly the dry season, or the latter part of the rainy, was preferred because of the plentifulness of fish at these periods, and the weather being better for outdoor sports and plays.
The man is expected to visit his wife's family often, and to eat with them. Her mother feasts him, and he calls her parents to eat at his house.
6. Dissolution of Marriage. By death of the husband. Formerly, in many tribes one or more of the widows were put to death, either that the dead might not be without compamonship in the spirit world, or as a punishment for not having cared better for him in the preservation of his life.
[1. Gen. xxix. 26.]
Formerly the women mourned for six months; now the mourning (i.e., the public wailing) is reduced to one month. But signs of mourning are retained for many months in dark, old, or scanty dress, and an absence of ornament.
The mourning of both men and women begins before the sick have actually died. The men cease after the burial, but the women continue.
All the dead man's property goes to his male relatives. On the death of a wife the husband is expected to make a gift to pacify her relatives. Formerly the corpse was not allowed to be buried until this gift was made. The demand was made by the father, saying, "Our child died in your hands; give us!" Now they make a more quiet request, and wait a week before doing so. Something must be given, even if the husband bad already paid her dowry in full.
Marriage can be dissolved by divorce at almost any time, and for almost any reason, by the man,--by a woman rarely. The usual reasons for divorce are unfaithfulness, quarrelling, disobedience, and sometimes chronic sickness. There are many other more private reasons. In being thus put away the woman has no property rights; she is given nothing more than what the man may allow as a favor. If the woman has children, she has no claim on them; they belong to the father. But if she has daughters who are married, she can ask for part of the money which the husband received for them. The man and the divorced woman are then each free to marry any other parties.
7. Illegitimate Marital Relations. These are very common, but they are not sanctioned as proper. The husband demands a fine for his wife's infidelity from the co-respondent. Cohabitation with the expected husband previous to the marriage ceremonies is common; but it is not sanctioned, and therefore is secret.
The husband of a woman who is mother of a child begotten by another man takes it as his own. If it be a girl, he (and not the real father) is the person who gives her in marriage and retains the dowry.
8. Domestic Life. No special feast is made for the birth of either a son or a daughter, but there is rejoicing. During the woman's pregnancy both she and her husband have to observe a variety of prohibitions as to what they may eat or what they may do. They cohabit up to the time of the child's birth; but after that not for a long period, formerly three years. Now it is reduced to one and a half years, or less. This custom is one of the reasons assigned by men for the alleged necessity of a plurality of wives.
During the confinement and for a short time after the birth, the wife remains in the husband's house, and is then taken by her parents to their house.
Deformed and defective children are kept with kindness as others; but monstrosities are destroyed. Formerly in all tribes twins were regarded as monstrosities and were therefore killed,--still the custom in some tribes. In the more civilized tribes they are now valued, but special fetich ceremonies for them are considered necessary.
In the former destruction of twins there were tribes that killed only one of them. If they were male and female, the father would wish to save the boy and the mother the girl; but the father ruled. A motherless new-born infant is not deserted; it is suckled by some other woman.
A portion of the wearing apparel and other goods are placed in the coffin with the corpse. The greater part of a man's goods are taken by his male relatives. Formerly nothing was given to his widow; now she receives a small part. And the paternal relatives of the dead man give something to his maternal relatives.
The corpse is buried in various ways,--on an elevated scaffold, on the surface of the ground, or in a shallow grave, rarely cremated. Formerly the burial could be delayed by a claim for settlement of a debt, but this does not now occur.
No coast tribe eats human flesh. The Fang and other interior tribes eat any corpse, regardless of the cause of death. Families hesitate to eat their own dead, but they sell or exchange them for the dead of other families.
The name given a child is according to family wish. There is no law. Parents like to have their own names transmitted; but all sorts of reasons prevail for giving common names, or for making a new one, or for selecting the name of a great person or of some natural object. A child born at midday may be called "Joba" (sun), or, at the full moon, "Ngânê" (moon). A mother who had borne nine children, all of whom had died, on bearing a tenth, and hopeless of its surviving, named it "Botombaka" (passing away).
Circumcision is practised universally by all these tribes. An uncircumcised native is not considered to be a man in the full sense of the word,--fit for fighting, working, marrying, and inheriting. He is regarded as nothing by both men and women, is slandered, abused, insulted, ostracized, and not allowed to marry.
The operation is not performed in infancy, but is delayed till the tenth year, or even later. The native doctor holds cayenne pepper in his mouth, and, on completing the operation, spits the pepper upon the wound. Then seizing a sword, he brandishes it with a sbout as a signal to the spectators that the act is completed. Then the crowd of men and women join in singing and dancing, and compliment the lad on being now "a real man."
As natives have no records of births, they cannot exactly tell the ages of their children, or the time when a youth is fit to marry or assume other manly rights; but by the eighteenth or nineteenth year he is regarded with the respect due a man. He can marry even as early as fifteen or sixteen.
There are no tests to which be is subjected as proof of his manhood.
A woman may speak in a court of trial, for defence of herself or friends. She may also be summoned as a witness, but she has no political rights.
Aged persons are not put to death, to escape the care of them; they are reasonably well provided for.
Only men inherit. The children of sisters do not inherit unless all the children of the brothers are dead.
Slaves do not inherit.
"Chieftains" (those chosen to rule) and "kings" (those chosen to the office) inherit more than their brothers, even though the ruling one be the younger.
A woman does not inherit at any time or under any circumstances, nor hold property in her own right, even if she has produced it by her own labor.
There is no supremacy in regard to age in the division of property. The things to be inherited are women (the widows), goods, house, and slaves. An equal division, as far as it is possible, is made of all these.
The dead man's debts are to be paid by the heirs out of their inheritance, each one paying his part. There is no written will, but it is common for a man to announce his intention as to the division while still living.
The coast tribes and some of the interior have so-called "kings," who are chosen by their tribe to that office.
There are family cliques for the accomplishment of a desired end, but these are overruled by the tribal king.
There are headmen in each village with local authority; but they too are subject to the king, they having authority only in their own village.
Quarrels and discussions, called "palavers," are very common. (A palaver need not necessarily be a quarrel; the word is derived from a Portuguese verb = "to speak." It comes from the old days of slavery; it was the "council" held between native chiefs and white slave traders, in the purchase of a cargo of slaves.)
The headmen settle disputes about marriage, property rights, murders, war, thefts, and so forth. Their decisions may be appealed from to a chief, or carried further to the king, whose decision is final. Any one, young and old, male and female, may be present during a discussion. Usually only chosen persons do the speaking.
Instead of a question being referred to a chief or king, a committee of wise men is sometimes chosen for the occasion. Public assemblages are gathered by messengers sent out to summon the people. The meeting is presided over by the king.
The domestic servants are slaves. Prisoners of war are also made to do service; but on the making of peace male prisoners are returned to their tribe; the female prisoners are retained and married. Slaves were bought from interior tribes. If a male child was born to slave parents, be was considered free and could marry into the tribe. If the slave mother died, the widower could marry into the tribe. If the slave father died, the widow was married by some man of the family who owned him. There are--no slaves bought or sold now, but there is a system of "pawns,"--children or women given as a pledge for a debt and never redeemed. Their position is inferior, and they are servants, but not slaves.
Also, if a prominent person (e.g., a headman) is killed in war, the people who killed him are to give a daughter to his family, who may marry her to any one they please.
A pawn may be sent away by the bolder to some other place, but he cannot be sold or killed; but the holder may beat him if he be obstreperous.
During slavery days anything earned by a slave was taken to his master, who would allow him a share; also, at other times, the master would give the slave gifts. The slave could do paid labor for foreigners or other strangers, and was not necessarily punished if he did not share his wages with the master, but he would at least be rebuked for the omission. Women ruled their female slaves. For a slave's minor offences, such as stealing, the master was held responsible; for grave offences, such as murder, the slave himself was killed.
Certain liberty was allowed a slave; be could attend the village or tribal, palavers and take part in the discussion. If a slave was unjustly treated by some other person, his owner could call a council and have the matter talked over, and the slave could be allowed to plead his case.
A slave man could hold property of his own; and if be were a worthy, sensible person, he could inherit.
In a slave's marriage of a woman the custom of gifts, feasts, and so forth was the same as for a free man.
If ill treated, he could run away to another tribe (not to any one of his own tribe), and would there be harbored, but still as a slave, and would not be given up to his former owner. A slave could become free only by his master setting him free; be could not redeem himself.
Kingship has connected with it the great honor that a son may inherit it if he is the right kind of man; but it is possible for him to be set aside and another chosen. A son may lose his place by foolishness and incompetency.
Attempts to rule independently of the king are sometimes made by cliques composed of three or four young persons of the same age, who make laws or customs peculiar to themselves. There is no national recognition of them, nor are they given any special privilege.
Kings have very little power over the fines or property of others. These are held, each man for himself; nor have they the right of 'taxation; but they. have power to declare war, acting in concert with their people in declaring it and waging it. They administer justice as magistrates, decide palavers according to the unwritten law of custom, summon offenders, and inflict the punishment due.
Their dwellings differ but little from those of other persons of like wealth and personal ability.
When a palaver is called, the king sits as ruler of the meeting and does most of the talking. He provides food for those who come from a distance.
A king may be blamed if a war he has declared ends disastrously. While a king's son expects to inherit the title and power, there is no invariable rule of succession; he cannot take the position by force. He must be chosen; but the choice is limited to the members of one family, in which it is hereditary.
If the chosen person be a minor, another is selected (but of the same family) to act as regent. The "incompetency" which could bar a man from kingship, even though in regular succession, would be lack of stamina in his character. The king-elect must make a feast, to which he is to call all the people to eat, drink, and play for twenty days.
There are no higher state forms among the coast tribes, as in civilized lands; no union among tribes; no feudal power nor vassals; no monarchy, nothing absolute; no taxation, no monopoly. Some of the interior tribes formerly had tributes and kingly monopoly of certain products.
They still exist, but it can scarcely be said that they are a class. They have no organization; they have honor only in their own districts, unless they be called specially to minister in another place. They have power to condemn to death on charge of causing sickness. In their ceremonies they send the people to sing, dance, play, and beat drums, and they spot their bodies with their "medicines." Any one may choose the profession for himself; fetich doctors demand large pay for their services.
A stranger is entertained hospitably. He is provided with a house and food for two weeks, or as much longer as he may wish to stay. On departing be is given a present. His host and the village headman are bound to protect him from any prosecution while he is their guest, even if he be really guilty.
Such a system does not exist. Whatever rules there are are handed down as tradition, by word of mouth. There are persons who are familiar with these old sayings, proverbs, examples, and customs, and these are asked to be present in the trial of disputed matters.
1. Courts. In the righting of any wrong the head of the family is to take the first step. If the offenders fail to satisfy him, he appeals to the king, who then calls all the people, rehearses the matter to them, and the majority of their votes is accepted by the king as the decision. The offenders will not dare to resist.
There is no regular court-house. In almost all villages there is a public shed, or "palaver-house," which is the town-ball, or public reception room. But a council may be held anywhere,--in the king's house, in the house of one of the litigants, on the beach, or under a large shady tree.
The council is held at any time of day,--not at night. There are no regular advocates; any litigant may state his own case, or have any one else do it for him. There are no fees, except to the king for his summoning of the case. There is sometimes betting on the result; though no stakes are deposited, the bets are paid. There is not much form of court procedure. All the people of a village or district, even women and children, according to the importance of the case, assemble. While women are generally not allowed to argue in the case, yet their shouts of approval or protest have influence in the decision, and encourage the parties by outspoken sympathy.
If an accused. person does not come voluntarily to court, the king's servants are sent to bring him. In the court the accused does not need to have some one plead for him, he speaks for himself. Accusers speak first, then the accused; the accusers reply, the accused answers; and the king and his aged counsellors decide. Witnesses are called from other places. As theie is no writing among untaught tribes, the depositions are by word of mouth.
Formerly the accused was subjected to the poison ordeal; indeed, the accuser also had to take the poison draught as a proof of his sincerity, and that his charge was not a libel. But this custom is no longer practised on the coast.
There is no substitution of any kind, except in rare cases. A guilty person must bear his own punishment in some way.
Oaths are common, and are used freely and voluntarily in the course of the discussion. A man who utters false testimony or bears false witness is expected to be thrust out of the assembly, but it is not always done.
When an oath is required, there is no escape from it; he who refuses to swear is considered guilty. Sometimes, under bravado, he will demand to be given "mbwaye" (the poison test), hoping that his demand will not be complied with. When the test is produced, be may seek to escape it by refusing that particular kind and demanding another not readily obtainable. But his attempt at evasion is generally regarded as a sign of guilt.
In court, parties are not obstinate in their opinion; they ask for and take advice from others.
2. Punishment. If it be capital, the accusers are the executioners. Death is by various modes,--formerly very cruel, e.g., burning, roasting, torturing, amputation by piecemeal; now it is generally by gun, dagger, club, or drowning. For a debt that a creditor is seeking to recover, securities may be accepted. But if the accused then runs away, the person giving the security is tried and punished.
A creditor does not usually attach the property of the debtor, though often, in the interior tribes, a woman is seized as hostage. If a long time elapses in deciding the matter, the debtor may be held as prisoner until the debt is paid. Formerly it was very common for the debtor's family's property, or even their persons, to be seized as security; and it still is common for a person of the debtor's tribe to be caught by the creditor's tribe, and detained until he is redeemed by his own people.
The king of the prisoner's tribe is called to help release him. If the king himself become a captive, his people combine to collect goods for the payment, and meanwhile give other persons in his place to secure his immediate release. Sometimes differences are settled in a fight, by a hand-to-hand encounter.
3. Blood Atonement and Fines. Revenge, especially for bloodshed, is everywhere practised. It is a duty belonging first to the "ijawe" (blood-relative), next to the "ikaka" (family), next to the "etomba" (tribe).
The murdered man's own family take the lead,--in case of a wife, her husband and his family, and the wife's family; sometimes the whole "ikaka"; finally, the "etomba."
A master seeks revenge for his slave or other servants. Formerly it was indifferent who was killed in revenge, so that it be some member of the murderer's tribe. Naturally that tribe sought to retaliate, and the feud was carried back and forth, and would be finally settled only when an equal number had been killed on each side,--a person for a person: a woman for a man, or vice versa; a child for a man or woman, or vice versa. A woman (wife of the man killed) does not take the lead in the revenge; his family must take the lead, her family must join in. They would be despised and cursed if they did not do so. The woman herself does not take part in this killing for revenge.
The avenger of blood may not demit his duty until some member of the other tribe has been killed. If a thief has been killed for his theft, blood may be taken for his death.
But when that one other life is taken, the matter is considered settled; it is not carried on as a feud.
For a life taken by accident, a life is not required; but some penalty must be paid, e.g., a woman may be given as a wife. But, practically, in former times it was not admitted that "accidents" occurred; any misfortune was adjudged a fault.
Formerly even the plea of self-defence was not accepted. Even idiotic or otherwise irresponsible persons were held responsible, though sometimes they were ransomed by payment of a woman and goods.
At present blood is not always required, but formerly no money would have been accepted as a sufficient penalty. A man would have been despised for accepting it. There was no way of settlement except by bloodshed,--a life for a life,--except that, for the life of a woman, a woman and goods of a certain amount and kind might be accepted. When a woman was thus given for a murdered one, the living woman must not be old, but one capable of bearing children. Among the acceptable goods were sheep, goats, and pottery.
A wound or a broken limb is paid for in goods. These must come not solely from him who caused the injury; his family, as fellow offenders, must assist in paying.
The man who obtains the woman who is given for a woman killed, retains with her also part of the goods given with her, and part he shares with the family of the murdered one. If, in giving a woman for a murdered one, the offending family is unable to furnish also the required goods, they must sell another of their women in order to obtain those goods. The point is that they must give a woman and goods; two women will not suffice.
The ceremonies in settlement of a blood-feud are as follows: The woman is paid in presence of both parties; then the goods are given, counted, and received. Then both parties retire. In the course of a week the parties receiving the woman and the goods call the other party, and produce a goat and kill it in their presence. It is divided equally, and given half to each party; and the feud is settled, as by a covenant of peace, over the divided goat (Gen. xv. 10). The woman thus given in settlement will be married to some one.
The customs in her marriage are the same as for any other woman. Subsequently those whp paid her as a fine may come and ask a portion of goods for her as a wife. Not that they have any claim on her as their daughter; but the man who has married her will give the goods they ask for, under the common belief that, unless he does so, the children born by her will die early, or at least will not come to years of maturity.
All misdeeds and offences, even capital ones, may be condoned by a fine in goods, excepting only the murder of a man. This murderer must forfeit his life. These fines are paid with foreign goods, each offence having its own regulation price as a punishment.
In general, the punishment for an injury is the same, whether the injured one be rich or poor. A man's "majawe" are held responsible if he refuses to make restitution. If they also refuse, the offended party await a suitable opportunity, and then seize some one and hold him as a hostage until he is redeemed, for the price of the original offence, every mite of it being then exacted.
There is no right of asylum to any offender within the limit of his own tribe. In case of a man visiting, for any reason whatever, in the limits of another tribe one of whose members is a fugitive from justice into the limits of the visitor's tribe, this visitor may be seized, and his countrymen asked to extradite the criminal staying in their midst.
Corporal punishment is administered publicly, the townspeople being called to witness it, so as to operate on their fears and cause them to dread the doing of deeds which may bring on them such a penalty.
4. Punishable Acts. A person is punishable only for an iujury committed intentionally, not by accident.
For damages by cattle, the animal may be killed if the damage be considerable. The injured party may keep and eat the carcass, and the owner cannot recover for it. In this respect animals are treated as human beings, their lives being forfeit; and the owner's majawe are held responsible along with him.
Punishments are rated according to the degree of the crime, in the order theft, adultery, rape, murder. Insults are not punishable by law; the insulted insults in return. If a fight results, and wounds are made during the fight, no fine is required.
Kidnapping, incest, and abortion are not known.
Under the slight duty owed to kings, treason can scarcely be said to exist. Its equivalent, the betrayal of tribal interests, is publicly rebuked, and a curse laid on the offender. If he be a servant, he is beaten and sent away.
The disturber of the peace of a wedding is expected to express regret, but no calamity will follow because of the disturbance. The offence is not common.
The tribes have fixed settlements wherever foreign governments have not taken possession. Each man may choose for a garden a place that has not been already occupied. The land is common property for the tribe. But each ijawe may choose a separate place for itself.
No man of a tribe has any claim on the soil other than is common to any other man of that tribe. He has, however, a claim greater than any stranger.
1. Tenure. Land is held as common property; it is not bought or sold, to a fellow-tribeman. It may be bought from the confines of another tribe, and it is sold to foreigners. A hunter is free to go anywhere, even into the territory of an adjacent tribe. If he kills game there, he does not have to divide. Bee trees and honey are free to any one. The sea is free for fishing only to the coast tribes.
Every woman has a separate garden; even the wives of polygamists do not have gardens in common.
Soil is free. A family, however, may settle in a limited district, and claim it as theirs as long as they live there; or, leaving it temporarily, if they return after a reasonable time, they may still claim it. They temporarily mark their places by trees or stones, as boundary lines. But there is nothing permanent. They prove their right to it by residing on it or making a garden from time to time. But their claim may be lost if the entire family leave it and go elsewhere. Such a place being vacated, and some one else wishing to occupy it, permission may be granted on formal application to the king. But if an occupant has deserted a place, and no one else has applied for it, he can resume it as his even after the lapse of years.
Dwellers on any ground have right to all the trees of fruitage on it, e.g., palm-nuts, and other natural wild edible nuts. Wells are never dug. People depend on springs and streams. Springs are free, even though they be on land claimed by others.
A man assists his wife in the clearing of the forest for a garden plot; but she and her servants attend to the planting, weeding, and other working of the garden itself.
2. Rights in Movables. The tenant dweller on any particular lot of ground owns everything on it, except the ground itself. If a foreigner buy a piece of ground, he may or may not buy the houses, and so forth, according to agreement. The movables on any ground are houses, trees, and any vegetables planted.
There is no coin or metal currency, except among the coast tribes, where foreign governments have introduced it. Foreign trade-goods are everywhere the medium of purchase and exohange. But there is a sort of currency, in the shape of iron spear-heads and other forms resembling miniature hatchets, a certain number of which are given by interior tribes in the purchase of a wife. They are used only for this purpose, and are exchanged by the parties themselves for the foreign goods required in the dowry.
They are manufactured by any village blacksmith from imported iron. They are not received or recognized by white traders.
Formerly cowry shells were used, even by foreign traders, as a currency; and they are still so used in the Sudan. But in all coast tribes purchase and sale are effected by foreign-made calico prints, pottery, cutlery, guns, powder, rum, and a great variety of other goods.
The natural products of the country--ivory, rubber, palm-oil, dyewoods--and many other native unmanufactured articles are exchanged for these goods. The natural products belong to the men. If a woman should find ivory, she cannot sell it; it belongs to her husband to barter it.
Contracts are confirmed in various ways in different tribes. A common mode is to eat and drink together, as a sign that the bargain is closed; and it will not be broken. A contract cannot be broken after the price is agreed upon, even if only a part of the price is paid; the remainder is to be paid in instalments.
If one overreaches another in a trade, he must take back the imperfect article or add to it. This is true, according to native law, among themselves. Any amount of overreaching and deception is practised toward foreigners in a trade, or to members of another tribe; and many foreigners are just as guilty in their dealings with the natives.
Loans of trade-goods are constantly made, but the taking of interest therefor is not known. If a borrowed article, such as a canoe, is broken or lost, a new canoe must be given in its place. If the canoe is only injured and had been in want of repair, the borrower, on returning it, must repair it and also pay some goods. One going as surety for goods is held responsible.
Pawning of goods is commonly practised everywhere.
People are generous in making gifts to friends, or donations to the needy; but if a man who has been helped in time of distress subsequently increases in wealth, the one who helped him may demand a return of the original gift.
Religion is intimately mixed with every one of these aforementioned sociological aspects of family, rights of property, authority, tribal organization, judicial trials, punishments, intertribal relations, and commerce.
Mr. R. E. Dennett, residing in Loango, has made a careful and philosophic investigation into the religious ideas of the Ba-Vili or Fyât nation and adjacent tribes bordering on the Kongo. The result of his research shows that the native tribal government and religious and social life are inseparably united. He claims to have discovered a complex system of "numbers" and "powers" showing the Loango people to be more highly organized politically than are the equatorial tribes, and revealing a very curious co-relation of those "numbers," governing the physical, rational, and moral natures, with conscience and with God.
Some traces of the"numbers with meanings" are found in Yoruba, where, as described by Mr. Dennett, the division of the months of the year, the names of lower animals typical of the senses, and the powers of earth that speak to us represent religious ideas and relations. They err, therefore, who, as superficial observers, would brush away all these native views as mere superstition. They are more than mere superstition; though indeed very superstitious, they point to God.
The particular exponent of religious worship, the fetich, governs the arrangements of all such relations. It will be discussed as to its origin and the details of its use in the subsequent chapters.