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



Xibila. -Drought. -Inside the Grove.-The Nganga.-Visit to a Grove.

NKICI-ISM as opposed to Ndongoism is connected with sacred groves and the Kingly office. The sacred grove is called XIBILA the plural of which is BIBILA.

The sacred land where MALUANGO has to build his official residence is, as we have already noted, also called his XIBILA.

It is here that as NKICI CI he may be said to join mankind to ZAMBI through the BAKICI BACI. Here he greets his people. Here he asks the plaintiff Xibila Mbixi? (Of what crime do you accuse this person? Short for Xibila Mbixi naka Nlilila, What greeting, why do you keep on crying?) And here it is where all the people come together to talk out their great palavers.

When matters go wrong with the BAVILI (say for instance when there are no rains) they cry out to their King, and he summons his court to advise him on the affair. It then may be decided that the question is one that man cannot settle, and NGANGA MPUKU NYAMBI is called in and asked to consult his magic mirror and so divine the cause of the evil weighing so heavily upon the people. This NGANGA May answer that the cause of the want of rains is the immorality of some people unknown or he may say that it is the pleasure of God to visit them with this misfortune, and they had better send offerings to "BUNZI" to beseech him to send them. the necessary rain. Now NGANGA MPUKu NYAMBI is the NGANGA or priest connected with the sacred grove MPUKU NYAMBI. So that we can see the relationship between the XIBILA of the king and that of one of the BAKICIBACI.

There are apparently two great classes of sacred groves (I) those connected with the sea, salt water, fish, and spiritual ideas, and (2) those connected with the rains, plantations, births or ideas of nature.


Each XIBILA, as we have said, has a name, i.e., that of the "power" it is called after.

And each rainwater XIBILA has its seawater mate, and each XIBILA contains a spring or a lagoon or swamp or well of some kind containing or connected with perhaps the home of its snake or XAMA. I regret to say that my studies in this subject of wells are so incomplete that the reader will have to be satisfied with any chance remarks that in the course of these papers I may have to make about them.

Each XIBILA contains (generally in the centre) a small native shimbec, where the NGANGA keeps his basket of seeds and shells, such as MBIALA MIOKO, a fruit from the interior, MASEVI crusader's shell, ZELECE, a shell, NTUMPU, a fruit, and MANKANAKANA, a fruit which grows underground in the Mayombe district.

Heaps of oyster and cockle shells are found in the grove, while in and about the hut
The skin of a snake, the MBOMA.
The skin of the snake XAMA.
The vertebra of the whale.
The feathers of the fowl and parrot.
The heads and horns of animals such as the LUNGU, antelope, MPAKASA, the ox, and NGULUNGU, smaller antelope, etc.

The heads of beasts (see under animals), and of course the NGANGA, the diviner, or priest and man.

Such is the general description of the contents of the XIBILA or place of coming together and greeting of the BAVILL

I will now describe how I first discovered one of these groves, from which you will gather some idea of its appearance.

One day, walking about the woods on the hills behind Landana, in 1883, after winding our way through many over-branched pathways, we suddenly came in upon a circular clearing, in the centre of which grew an old tree, around which the jaws of two or three whales had been placed and become overgrown by the roots of the tree on which they once rested, so long must they have been there. The space around the tree was carefully swept, and on one side we noticed a beautiful new shimbec, or hut. My companions said they did not know who swept the clearing or who built the shimbec. Some feiticeiro or wizard, or perhaps a thief. A native story they told us runs:-"Once upon a time there was a wizard who was anxiously looking about in the woods for a place to build a shimbec, wherein he might rest in peace and hide the bodies of his many victims. After many days' search he at last found a likely spot, marked it, and returned to town to buy some luangos or rushes, with which to build himself a hut.

"Now, there happened to be a thief who was puzzlect to know where he could place goats and sheep he had robbed in safety.

"He travelled many days through the woods, and at last hit upon the same spot as that selected by the wizard. 'Just the place!' he cried, and off he set to town to arrange for some bamboos. The wizard returned with his rushes, rested awhile, and then went back to town for some more. The thief returned, and declared the fetishes had been wondrously favourable to him in sending him the luangos (rushes). The wizard reappeared, and thanked the NKICI that had been so kind in sending him the bamboos.

"Between them the wizard and the thief soon raised the shimbec, and wondered at the progress made in its construction during each other's absence. The wizard finally rigged up a broad shelf against one of the walls, and went away to seek someone whom he might poison. The thief in the meanwhile brought his goat, and, having killed it, cooked some and ate it, climbed upon the shelf, and fell asleep. The wizard returned, dragging the body of his victim after him. He partook of the goat so kindly provided for him, and then flung the body of his victim upon the shelf. The thief, without waking, pushed the body down again. 'What, not dead yet?' muttered the wizard; 'then I'll soon settle you,' and then he smashed in the skull of the dead man with a club, and heaved him on the shelf again. The thief rolled over, and down came the body again. The wizard once more punished the body, and carefully placed it on the shelf again. The thief threw the body down again, and this so frightened the wizard that he ran off to town and shut himself up in his hut. The thief awoke, rubbed his eyes, saw the dead body, and concluded at once he was in a wizard's shimbec. He followed the wizard to town, and knocked at his door. 'O corpse,' cried the wizard, 'is it you?' 'Yes,' said the thief, and he knocked again. 'O corpse, is it you?' cried the wizard. 'Yes,' said the thief, who now summoned all the townfolk, who dragged the wizard out of his hut and gave him NKASA, cast him into the fire, and burnt him. Moral-Better be a thief than a wizard."

As I afterwards found out, the grove I had discovered was not the home of a wizard or a thief, but one of the Kakongo sacred groves, but this my companions had evidently concealed from me.

Next: Chapter 10. Bavili Philosophy