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At the Back of the Black Man's Mind, by Richard Edward Dennett, [1906], at



The Bacilongo Ceremony. -Festival. -The Dancers.-Effigy of the Deceased King.-The Dance. -Processions.


WHEN the time came for Maluango to be crowned he appealed to the French Government for funds. How, said he, can I entertain the hundreds of people that will be obliged to come to subject themselves to me, many of whom coming from long distances I shall have to support for many days. The French Government did not see its way to stand this trivial expenditure, and so Maniluemba remained simply NGANGA NVUMBA. A drought and famine succeeding his election, the people cried out that it was owing to his coming to Buali, and Maniluemba, bereft of the power wielded by the ancient NGANGA NVUMBAs, retired once more to his secluded home at NDEMBUANO, to the delight of the degenerate BAVILI.

As I was a witness some years ago (1891) of the ceremony attending the coronation of the present NEAMLAU of the BACILONGO, some extracts of a letter written at the time to the "Manchester Geographical Society" may be of interest. But I shall ever regret the non-coronation of MANILUEMBA, for the reason that the BAVILI, unlike the BACILONGO (singular Mucilongo), I have never, until quite lately, been really under the influence of Christianity. I feel that we

[1. Commonly but incorrectly written Musserongo; the word means "man of Cilongo."]

should have had something to learn from the uncontaminated heathen ceremony.

NEAMLAU, the chief of the BACILONGO on the northern bank of the Kongo, in the kingdom of KAKONGO, near to BANANA, built his towns on the hills facing the sea. They are prettily situated, nestled, as it were, beneath the shade of huge Baobabs and groves of Cachew trees.

In the latter part of 1887 the late NEAMLAU (Pl. IVa) died, I should say of old age. A veritable prince, full of dignity and fire, he lived to see his country taken from him. Accustomed in the olden days, when the slave trade was in full swing, to receive handsome presents from the captains of men-of-war or slave-trading vessels with perfect impartiality, besides "customs" from the traders and natives living in his territory, NEAMLAU then lived in clover. He was much feared by the milder KAKONGOs round about, and known as the chief of a great family of pirates. Deprived of ways and means whereby to fill his exchequer he passed his latter days in comparative poverty.

His family had, with other BACILONGO, migrated from the south bank of the Congo and taken up its residence in the islands and on the banks on the northern side of this river.

This may have occurred at the time mentioned by Proyart, when MAMBUKU of KAKONGO, aided by the BACILONGO, dethroned MAKONGO; or the origin of NEAMLAU's right to be on the north bank may have come from a far more early date, i.e., from the time when the first king of the united kingdom of Kongo organised his government and placed the ancestor of NEAMLAU there as MAFUKA MACI or ferryman, and then as NGENO, still a title of Neamlau, a kind of ambassador through whom messages were sent to KAKONGO and LUANGO.

It must be remembered that the history of the Kongo, as we have it, commenced only at that period when anarchy was already breaking it up. NEAMLAU, at any rate, owed allegiance to the chief of SONIO,[1] and received his wives from there (now Portuguese territory), and when he died had to be buried in the cemetery set apart for princes in Sonio.

[1. The King of Kongo's province south of the Kongo.]

Thus, when the late NEAMLAU died, preparations were made for his burial in that place. A year passed and all was ready. The Congo State, naturally anxious that so influential a prince should be buried in State territory, promised that a steam launch should tow the funeral flotilla to BOMA, where the State proposed to bury him with all the honours due to his rank. Family ties and ancient usage, however, gained the day, and one dark night the canoes carrying the coffin and the mourners threaded their way through the maze of creeks, and at peep of day, ere yet the sea breeze ruffled the waters of the fast flowing river, were manfully paddled across to San Antonio, in the province of SONIO.

NENIMI, his nephew, was elected by the MAMBOMA to reign in his stead, but to complete his coronation it was necessary that he should give a dance and festival in honour of the deceased. There having been no rains that year (1890-1891), NENIMI would fain have put off this ceremony until he could have given his guests a truly royal feast, but he was pressed by the "State" to give a dance at once, and on the condition that the Government should help to feed his guests NENIMI agreed to proceed with the ceremony.

Princes from far and near were summoned to the feast, and the date for the commencement of the dance was fixed for the 24th January, 1891.

Soon I descried the figure of the old man (NENIMI) on his way to welcome me, and as he waddled towards me (for he suffered greatly from Elephantiasis) let me describe his appearance to you. About fifty-five years of age, of spare habit, medium height, grey hair, with a pointed beard almost white; rather fine features, quite unlike those of the negro; quiet, dignified, meeting one generally cordially and pleasantly. On this occasion he wore an old black leather military helmet, with a white plume, marked "10th Prince Albert's Own." His coat was the frock coat of a lieutenant in H.B.M. navy. About eight yards of cloth known as blue haft, forty-two inches in width, begirt his loins and flowed in graceful folds behind him, he also carried in one hand a blue and yellow shawl as a handkerchief, in his other a kind of wooden sceptre surmounted by a figure carved in ivory.

The space cleared for the dance and meeting was in the form of a square perhaps 200 by 250 yards. In the northeast corner was a mighty Banyan tree with most of its down-growing shoots lopped off. A Baobab and Acachew tree at a distance from each other of some thirty yards occupied the centre. At the south-cast corner an Acachew tree stood and at the south-west a Baobab.

Each tree was destined to lend its shade to a happy crowd of dancers, or to form a kind of canopy over NENIMI as he sat on a mat beneath its shade to receive his many guests.

Partitions (of papyrus) forming stalls something like horse-boxes rested against the outside fence that formed the eastern side of a great enclosure, within which the riches of the late NEAMLAU were exposed to view. This fence, which also formed the western boundary of the cleared space, was decorated with flags.

"Hullo! 'Gabba!' what is the matter? Have you only just turned out of bed? What means this hideous costume?" Gabba, a very old servant of the successive English houses in Banana, salaamed me. He was dressed in a red skull-cap, a short white surplice, and a yellow cloth which acted as a kind of skirt. In his ears hung two ugly looking large crosses formed of blue beads . . . . (He was a curious old stick was Gabba, and deserves to have his life written by anyone who has the patience to get his story out of him.) On this occasion I made use of him as a pilot.

Up to the present all those anxious to enter the enclosure to see the late NEAMLAU's relics had had to pay two bottles of rum entrance fee, but now NENIMI and I were to open the show to the public. He led me through the maze-like entrance into the square beyond. The fence was made of strips of bamboo neatly tied together and supported by sticks firmly planted in the ground. There were two shimbecs or huts in this enclosure, the smaller one containing the relics of NEAMLAU, the greater one his bed and hammock. The roof of each shimbec was covered with white cloth, while a gay coloured (red, white, and yellow striped) cloth covered the ridge pole, and planks of the NVUKU tree kept this cloth in its place. The roofs in the distance had the appearance of the white-washed roofs of the white man's houses in Banana. The open front of the smaller shimbec was curtained off by a red and white blanket. This NENIMI now threw over the roof, and displayed to our view its interior. The walls of the interior were draped with cloth and white blankets. At the back under an umbrella sat an effigy of the late NEAMLAU. He wore the uniform coat of a British naval officer, over which round about his shoulders hung a native cape made of cotton, called NSENDA.[1] Tell beads and crucifixes, charms, amulets, and fetishes hung from his neck. He wore a blue cloth and boots. To his right on a wall hung a small oleograph, on his left a large oil painting of a lady, while the walls were covered with advertisement cards that had been thrown away by the importers of the goods. In front of this effigy sat what was left of old NEAMLAU'S family, one of his wives playing the accordion, not well, but at least noisily. In the immediate foreground of the figure stood a table covered with black and red speckled shawls, and on this lay the relics of the prince who had gone to his rest, a cottage clock, a brass lamp, three ewers and basins, a duck box, and other earthenware figure ornaments, old red and white glass ware, table glasses and pint mugs. And while I had been taking all this in, two men without had been trying to deafen me with their music on drum and native bells.

I forgot to mention the most important part of all, and that is, that the effigy was wearing his native cap[2] (made of the fibre of the pineapple) with the name NEAMLAU marked on it. This accounted for the curious non-native head gear

[1. Or XISEMBA. See object in Exeter Museum or illustration in Seven Years among the Fjort, See also Laws of the Bavili.

2. MPU NTANDA, see Laws of the Bavili, also illustrations in Seven Years among the Fjort, p. 49.]

of NENIMI, for his "cap" was worn by the effigy and would only become legally his at the end of all these ceremonies.

I just took a look into the larger hut and saw the bed and hammock of the late NEAMLAU. NPAKA the son of the late king was seated there by himself, to receive any visitors that might come to condole with him. I asked him why they had made the entrance to this enclosure so difficult, and he said it was to prevent drunkards from finding their way in.

When I came out of the enclosure many princes were already seated under the shade of the Cachew tree, and dancing had commenced beneath the Banyan tree.

And now a procession of perhaps twenty men and women wended their way from the north-west in Indian file to the tree under which NENIMI was seated. They were all dressed in cloths, dyed red, and each wore a heavy silver leg ring about his ankle[1]; the contrast between the dull red cloth and the bright metal was very striking. The chiefs of this party knelt before NEAMLAU, and after a few words received his blessing, after which the followers sang a song of praise and then adjourned to the Baobab tree to dance.

Then from the N.E. a long line of white clothed natives marched solemnly forward. The MANKAKA (captain and executioner) accompanying this crowd beat the earth with his stick and then rushed excitedly along the line trailing his long cloth behind him. The NGANGA, with his wooden plate of medicine water in one hand and a bunch of herbs in the other, followed after him and sprinkled the people. The bugler and the drummer supplied the music. The chiefs knelt down before NENIMI and were blessed, and then the followers waved their sticks and cloths on high, shouting their song with great enthusiasm, which, however, was soon checked by the NGANGA, who sprinkled them once more with his medicine water. Now, as if in answer to this song

[1. The Bacilongo are famed for their blacksmiths, who turn English shillings bearing the late Queen's head into their anklets. Ornaments made from this silver is called KWINIKIMBOTA (queenly good), which words now signify anything of pure metal. Even a wife that has born her husband children and is faithful to him is so called.]

up jumped the followers of XIMAWNGO AWLO followed by those of MBUKU and sang very loudly.

Then NEFUKU formed his people under a Cachew tree, the men near the trunk of the tree, the women to the left, and the children to the right, the drummers opposite to the men. A man began a song and dance by wriggling, rubbing his stomach with one hand and beating his chest with the other and emitting a great shout. He sang, and as he danced round the circle (inside) he bowed from time to time to those just in his vicinity, and as he did so they clapped their hands. Then they all sang and wriggled. Other men joined this singer and danced round with him. They became quiet, and then the singer treated them to a trill that Adelina Patti might be proud of. He beat his throat with the side of his hand and brought the effect out that way. Then as he came down to the level of an ordinary singer, the crowd once more joined in with its lala, lala, lala. Then a stranger (a servant of the Congo State), took his place and as he wriggled round and with a graceful curve bowed to his neighbour he found that the latter was looking the other way and did not give him the welcome clap-clap of hands, so he retired. Two ladies, good looking in their way, now modestly stepped into the circle. Dressed in red with silver anklets, and about thirty pounds of china olive beads about their waists, they appeared to await the orders of the singer or master of the ceremonies. He sprinkled some rum upon their heads to give them courage. They looked as if they would rather not be there, and I have no doubt wished themselves among their cooking-pots. They made two or three attempts to dance, but finally their shyness overcame them and they ran away back to their places. An old lady, very heavily weighted with beads, took their places and, wriggling, seemed to defy the world.

NENIMI was still seated under the Cachew tree receiving his guests, when a small procession was noticed coming from the S.W. It consisted of a man (dressed in a light blue coat and a cloth of blue and white checks, who also wore a white helmet), and his wife and two children in European clothes, and two or three other women. An opening was made for them in the crowd surrounding NENIMI, and the man, whose name was MARFINI, knelt down in front of his prince placing one of his children on either side of him. He spoke for some time in the usual flowery strain, and then turning his eyes upwards prayed NZAMBI to look down upon them and bless the great NEAMLAU to be. His little children, his wife and the women, when he commenced to pray, bowed their heads and buried their faces in their hands. All around listened patiently and respectfully, and when he had finished by saying AMEN, AMEN, NENIMI rubbed his hands in the earth and made the sign of the cross upon MARFINI'S forehead, and then blessed and dismissed them.

Yet one more procession, this time led by the gallant Gabba, and it was the longest of them all. A man carrying a basin of food headed it, then came the old man. And now a man carrying a girl, just out of the paint house,[1] upon his shoulders. She carried a looking-glass in her hand, and continued to admire herself in it; then came women carrying bottles on their heads, old blue glass ware, the lid of a cigar box with a picture on it, a small box, old books and plates; the bugler and drummer bringing up the rear.

NENIMI came to me to tell me that the other white men were going to take their breakfast at the Mission, but asked me not to go as he had prepared a meal for me. I thanked him and then went to watch him give out the food to his visitors.

He and his wife Maria [2] sat beneath a Cachew tree at the South-east corner of the cleared space near to his own shimbec, while certain of his people brought a low table and placed it before them. On this table were nine huge masses of FUNDI (tapioca) for the nine chiefs present. Out of a twenty-gallon (three-legged) iron pot boiled pig[3] was produced, and with the gravy this was put into nine basins. Nine men then took away the dishes to the princes for whom

[1. See p. 69; also West Africa, March 21, 1903, P. 293, and Laws of the Bavili.

2 After the great Donna Maria Segunda.

3 The flesh of the pig is XINA to FUMU ZINKONDI or ZINKATA, Royal princes, but not to FUMU LIVANTI ordinary chiefs.]

they were intended. Near to NENIMI was the twenty-five gallon barrel of rum, the pig, and the two-hundredweight bag of rice given to him by the State.

The State Doctor thought this a good opportunity to photograph NENIMI and his wife, but he was sorely interrupted. First of all a man came and asked NENIMI if the soldiers of the Congo State were not to drink? If they were, where was the water? "Call dem women," cried Queen Maria. Then two men came bringing the food they had received back, complaining that it was not sufficient for so many people. "Give them a pig," growled king NENIMI, while the impatient Doctor told him not to move. And now two princes with their long sticks came and knelt before NENIMI "Don't move," cried the Doctor, and he would take the picture thus. And yet another complaint reached the king before his photo had been taken. The people of MPANGALA being strong had taken all the food away from the complainant and had left him and his people with a hungry belly.

After this I "chopped" part of a very tough fowl and some rice mixed with palm oil and a liberal allowance of sand. Water was scarce, and that which there was, was very dirty, so that I was glad when my meal was over and I could rest and smoke for a while. Queen Maria, who was telling me a story, was evidently minded not to let me smoke too much, for she pounced upon my tin of tobacco and having taken what she wanted, passed it round to her friends. And the "last man" showed me what was left and took the tin. Thus, you see, it is not only in civilised countries that one has to pay for seeing a coronation.

Such was the Bacilongo coronation, and from this account the reader may form some idea of the ceremony on the Lower Kongo. It must be remembered that the Bavili ceremony would have been, in all probability of a more truly native cast; but as I have explained, circumstances did not permit me to witness the crowning of Maniluemba.

Next: Chapter 4. Courts of Maluango and Mamboma