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



The King as NKICI CI.-The Groves and their order.-Bakici Baci.-The Formula.-The Families of Groves. -Xikamaci and others. -Categories again.-Names of Groves.-The Devil.

WE have seen that the Bavili philosophy teaches that a sort of genetic connection exists between the seasons. This idea is fairly intelligible in its application to periods of time, which involve a process, and therefore a sequence of cause and effect. Though it may appear to us metaphorical to speak of months as male and female, we need only recall the names of some of the chemical elements to see that our own forefathers were prone to deal in ideas of this order, and we can hardly feel surprise that the African intellect follows in their wake.

The idea is less comprehensible when we try to apply it to the groves-less comprehensible, that is, to the European. just as in the seasons, we have one group as a primary cause, then two intermediate causes, and then the effect; so with the groves. It must not, however, be forgotten that when we speak of the groves we are really dealing with the powers which the native puts behind them. We have enough examples of cosmogonies embodied in a mythology to make the Bavili idea, if not comprehensible, at any rate no more remarkable than many another primitive fancy.

Just as the seasons, months, and products fall into groups of four, which are genetically related to one another, so the first grove is the primary cause, the second and third the operative male and female causes, and the fourth is the product.

In this connection it is worthy of note that the order of the groves within the groups, and of the groups themselves, is not one which I have evolved out of my inner consciousness; it was given me by the natives themselves. If, therefore, we find it possible to trace, even imperfectly, the same formula in its application to the groves which we have just applied to the seasons, I shall, I conceive, have gone far to establish the genuine native character of the ideas which I am putting before you.

The groves fall into six groups of four each, and just as Mawalala stands outside the formula of the seasons, so the Lungululubu group stands apart from the rest of the groves.

In the chapter on the Zinkici have been mentioned the Bakici Baci, and we must now proceed to explain in detail the ideas connected with these powers. The Zinkici are what are commonly termed fetishes; the Bakici Baci are unconnected with images of any sort, and are not subject to human control; at the same time they are addressed by the nati-ves, not perhaps as independent powers, but as intermediates. The Bakici Baci are conceived as spiritual; they are the offspring of Nzambi, some being male, others female. Each Nkici ci has its own grove of the same name as itself, and each has two priests consecrated to its service.

We have already seen that Maluango is called Nkici ci, as the Tepresentative of Nzambi on earth. In the same way the chiefs, who in this capacity are termed the " eyes of the people," are also known as Bakici Baci; they are the representatives of Maluango in the same way that Maluango is the representative of Nzambi.

The name Bakici Baci is applied by the natives to the powers connected with the groves, and with the groves are connected sacred lands and rivers and sacred trees, -the seasons, the omens, and the sacred animals. The Nkici ci of a grove is conceived as resident no less in the seasons and in the omens than in the rivers or lands connected with the respective groves.

It will be shown in the sequel that the sacred groves are grouped together in sets of four, which we denominate "families." The members of these families are conceived by the natives to be genetically related to each other; beyond this the families themselves are regarded as standing to each other in a similar relation.

The formula of these genetic relations must be clearly borne in mind by the reader who wishes to follow the ideas of the Bavili on the subject. It may be expressed in the following way:-


that is to say, we have outside the formula a cause, C, which produces (within the formula) a female cause; this, allied to a male cause, produces an intermediate female effect, which again being replaced by an intermediate male cause gives rise to the last two terms of the formula as a product, male and female; these two produce an effect, E, outside the formula again.

I now proceed to deal with the groves in detail. I may, perhaps, assume that the reader is now to some extent familiar with the idea of the categories. At any rate, I hope that the occasional digression on the subject of the beliefs and practices connected with the groves, will not obscure the important point of their position in the general scheme of the Bavili philosophy.

1. The Mpungu Group is especially associated with the category of liquids.

MPUNGU is used with the word ZAMBI when it is translated by the missionaries as almighty. They associate NZAMJBI MPUNGU with the sky, and therefore by a natural transition with rain.

SENZA is the west wind. The sea is to the west of Luango, and with the sea (MBU) the BAVILI connect ideas of fatherhood, spirit, and motion. This is readily understood when we remember that the general direction of the great rolling waves is from the west (SE= father).

NGONZOLA=the S.W. wind; it is also, in connection with XAMA, looked upon as the evil rainbow (see under Omens), when it is said to enter rivers and cause floods, and carry everything it meets with it to the sea. The word carries with it a meaning of love and maternity. (Ngo is the leopard, ZOLA is to love.)

MVULA means rain.

2. The group of Xibwinji is associated with the earth.

XIBWINJI is known as the mother of XIKAMACI, the north wind. XIKAMACI = the earth divided from the sea. When a person seeks her help to overcome one of his enemies, he goes to her sacred grove, and with the help of the NGANGA buries a nail or bead or other article in the earth at the same moment as he demands the favour. And when for some reason or other he, or one of his descendants, wishes to withdraw the curse XIKAMACI has blighted his enemy's happiness with, he must seek out the NGANGA again and present him with an offering. The Nganga then prepares some medicine which he wraps up in leaves and places in a dish of palm wine. With this lotion the Nganga proceeds to sprinkle the ground. The petitioner informs the Nganga what particular thing he buried. Then it is said the earth "bubbles" up and throws out the article mentioned.

This act of bubbling up and throwing out that is common to this earth in XIKAMACI'S grove and the whirlpool in rivers is called XIZUKA.

SAMONA or SAMUNA. Here the petitioner whips the earth with a stick or throws a stone or other article on to it with great force as he asks his favour. As XIKAMACI'S opposite, this is supposed to represent the gathering-in action of the whirlpool, or XISEKU as the movement is called. As "powers," then, XIKAMACI and SAMONA may be said to represent "dispersion and concentration."

KUNZI means the North-West wind. Konkwati is the home of the above "powers" or groves, and they are not far from XILUNGA the home of the MAMBOMA of the province of XIBANGA. Here the connection of the family with the category earth is indisputable.

LUNGA means to blow, also the triumph of might over right. And it is said that there is always a pretender to the throne of Luango, to be found in XIBANGA.

Now XIKAMACI, the North wind, is the great enemy of LUNGULULUBU, the protecting power of the BAVILI. The story goes that she was a very hard-working woman who had large plantations of manioc. The children of the king of the land used to come and rob the produce of her labour, and so she complained to her mother, XIBWINJI, and said she meant to punish them if they did not desist from robbing. The mother advised her not to do so but to complain of the children to their father who would, she was sure, chastise his offspring himself. Contrary to her mother's advice, XIKAMACI caught these children and taking the law into her own hands punished them. Then the king, their father, became very wrath and caused rains to flood her plantations, water coming up also out of the earth through the ant hills. In this flood XIKAMACI was washed (poor dear! say the Bavili) into the sea, where she is generally said to remain, save when she comes ashore to get red wood and other articles for her toilet. She is said also to demand one of all twins born in the country. And when boat, boys or fishermen are about to take a drink, they first pour a little out of the bottle into the sea. XIKAMACI is said to be the mother of the double grove X1KANGA NXILUKA, situated between the KWILu river and Luango at a place called XISSANGA. And NxILUKA is said to have brought forth an animal and a wooden figure (NKAWCI) and a stone.

Thus XIKAMACI (the North wind) coming from near XILUNGA in the province of XIBANGA may be said to be the grandmother of NDONGOISM or, as some would call it fetishism.

3. The group of Bukulu is associated with fire.

BUKULU means a ray of light, which the natives connect with the idea of chasing as bubbles seem to chase one another in boiling water.

KANGA is another word for FUNZI both meaning the guinea fowl. The word KANGA means to tie, to fry-KANJI = he who ties. A man who is tied up or made a prisoner becomes according to native law one of the family of the man who ties. So that KANGA as a power may mean conjunction or assimilation.

BUNZI is the South wind and has its home in the province of MUANDA between Cabinda and Banana. Its full designation is BUNZI BU BAMBA, and I notice on Mr. Ravenstein's map MBAMBA is marked as being close to Banana. MBAMBA is also the most south-westerly province of the composite kingdom [1] of SONIO. It is to this "power" that Maluango after consultation with NGANGA MPUKU NYAMBI sends offerings of chalk, cloth and skins. As it is from BUNZI that rains and life and apparently all good things come as a power, it may stand for propagation or semination.

MBAMBA is the tiny kernel where all the virtues of the future palm tree exist (it is also the coronella snake). MBAZU =fire. As a power then it may mean fusion (or the offspring of marriage). All these come under the category of fire in one sense or the other.

4. The Hbawmbo group is associated with the category of motion.

Mbawmbo they say has its grove to the East of Maluango's composite kingdom in a town called NKANDA NGO (the leopard's relation) in the SUNDI country. The word BAWMBOKA means to move slowly, MBAWMBO therefore may mean "motion." It must be remembered that thunder and lightning are connected with omens which the Bavili associate with the nervous system and ideas of procreation.

LUABI=the persistent (evil) light and so perhaps may as a "power" (connected with motion) signify lightning as the female of

SOLOKOTO, which means the power of growling in the father or (as a motion perhaps) Thunder.

MABILI, i.e.," the prince who greets " is the East wind. This wind brings with it great tornadoes, and this is thus connected with movement. BILA means reason, cause, purpose, as well as to greet, and we have already noted that it is connected with the word XIBILA, the sacred grove or

[1. By composite I mean formed of six provinces as that part of Kongo's kingdom which lies south of the river Kongo, and those of KAKONGO or LUANGO.]

meeting place. In this way we catch a glimpse of the foundation of the saying of the Bavili that all religion comes from the East. Here, however, MABILI is the offspring of motion.

5. The group of Kungu is associated with fruitfulness.

KUNGU is a grove within the sacred province of Luango called BUALI where the dead who die with their eyes open are said to be placed under its LOMBA tree. The word KUNGU is derived from KUNGA, to amass, so that it means an amassing or heaping together.

MBUMBA = mystery. The idea may also be associated with ripe fruit falling from the trees. BUA =to fall.

NTAWMBO = seedling, sprout, shoot. It is the name of a river that keeps on rising out of the ground. This may be translated into European language as another kind of energy.

XIVOLA means attraction.

6. The group of Nyambi is associated with ideas of life.

NYAMBI = Ruler (literally the spirit or personality of the four). NYAMBI is said to be the nephew of BUNZI. Some people call God NYAMBI instead of NZAMBI, but the word rather means Life in the sense of VIS VITÆ. IA= to be.

LUAYI = the umbilical cord. As XAMA LUAYI it is the protecting beneficent rainbow, so that as a power it may mean Protection, Maternal Love, Sustenance.

NYIMINA, YIMA is to bear fruit, while YIMINA is to know how to bear fruit with; NYIMINA then is the one who knows how to bear fruit with, or as a "power" paternal love.

MPUKUNYAMBI is the bursting or birth giving power in Nyambi or perhaps what we may term "Birth." To this grove a man takes his pregnant wife and asks with her for a safe delivery. As there is no life without food we can understand how it is that the people first appeal for the reason of a famine caused by want of rains to the Nganga Nyambi, the great diviner attached to this grove. It is evident that these powers are connected with ideas of life.

The Nkungu and Nyambi groups are looked upon as the descendants of the four [1] previous great families which as we have seen, include the winds.

Of these 24 sacred groves of which the order was given me by the Bavili, no less than ig can, as it seems to me, without undue forcing, be brought into connection with the categories which we have already applied with success to the Seasons. This parallelism seems to me to be too striking for it to be possible to explain it as the result of coincidence. When I add that this formula may be applied with more or less success to the groups of sacred lands and rivers, to the sacred trees, to the omens and animals, I think you will agree that a good primâ facie case is made out for attributing to the Bavili something better than the fetishism (NDONGOISM) which is commonly regarded as the expression of their highest thought.

There are many other groves, but although the writer has discovered the names of many he has not yet found a native capable of placing them in groups as the above have been. It is possible that there are 144 (i.e. 6 groups Of 24) or more 2 of these groves in the kingdom, or rather connected with the kingdom of Luango, but to undertake the discovery of them all would mean the appointing of a properly constituted mission and some years of labour.

The names of the other groves discovered by the writer and the meaning of their names are as follows:-

Name of Grove.

Literal meaning.


= a grove connected in some way with the MPUNGU group, the name of a district in Kakongo. Mu is a prefix, and BA is to be.


= side of a house.


= connected with XIVUMA FUSA is to bore.


= to add to.


= the very deep of motherhood.


= of the stomach.


= to guard the ascent.




= the north-east wind.


= the upper part of the legs of an animal.


= of the quality of a drinking mug.


= a bringing forth.


= that holds himself apart.


= a tying up. offspring of XIKAMACI.


= a vomiting. offspring of XIKAMACI.


= of the nature of cattle.


= stones that absorb.


= the fly and mosquito hand in hand.


= chalk.


= to think. connected with XIBWINJI.


= conglomerate rock. connected with XIBWINJI.


= stones throwing out heat.


= the blot of life.


= the spreading nerve.


= of the penis.


= fish rock.


= the waters of the offspring.


= the house of another.


= feather.


= to forget.


= the almighty primeval speaker.


= of the leader, in the end of a fishing rope.


= pottery.


= mandioca (the river of giving).


= abundant reciprocal giving.


= division.


= concerning the primeval being.


= of the weaving of heaven connected with MPUKU NYAMBI.

[1. Note the complete divining board and how OPELE (representing the eight discs) is the offspring of IFA as represented by his 16+ 1 palm kernels, Pl. XXI.

2 See chapter on Philosophy at the back of the black man's mind, and the Bini story about EWARE, pp. 234.]

As the mind's eye of the writer wanders over this beautiful land of the BAVILI and rests on these sacred groves dotted about the country, and lingers on woods and rivers, the names of which represent some spirit, teaching the people some lesson, and hovers over every town, the name of which for some good reason has been given to it by its founder, he wonders how such a people can have fallen to so low a moral level. And yet the answer is not far to seek, for the wars waged by ambitious princes causing disruption and anarchy in the Kongo, the wars waged by M'Buku and the BACILONGO against Makongo whom they dethroned, causing anarchy in KAKONGA, and the slave trade have affected LUANGO-where children refuse to submit to their parents, the young to the wisdom of the old, the people to the inspired voice of their NKICINI. Tradition and religion are lost in the rotten sea of NDONGOISM and vice, and all the higher teaching of NKICI-ISM swamped and nearly lost. And yet in trouble the BAVILI still look to their NKICIci, and after having placed their petition before him, on leaving his presence clap their hands three times and exhort him to "hold the seven [1] well in hand."

See XILUNGA, on p. 113. Pére Visseg in his interesting dictionary Fiot-Français, 1890, gives the word "nkadia-mpemba" (and so does Mr. Bentley) for the Devil; and Pére Dèrouet in his very complete dictionary Français -Fiote tells us that "Bulunji" stands for Hell among the Bavili, which Mr. Bentley spells BILUNJI.

As to "nkadimpemba," the word strikes me as unsatisfactory; not that I mean to say the word is not used to translate the Christians' Devil in the Kongo, but because it seems to me to have been coined exactly for that purpose by the Fjort of some four hundred years ago.

I can imagine the missionaries of old impressing upon Fjort their ideas of that prong-tailed fire-loving monster they called the Devil; and I can picture the Fjort (as their wont is) discussing the proper position of this personage in their mythology. Fire and evil the Fjort connected at once with the burning of witches, and then with lightning. But the fire burnt the witch entirely, and his ashes were cast to the wind; his nkulu nobody desired, so that the Devil could hardly be said to be a witch. The white man's Devil, then, not being a witch who perishes, could only be a personage attached to the white man's lightning. He was not Nzambi Mpungu, the owner of the fire of heaven; what then was he?

Nkadi is an attendant on the nkici NZACI. It is the word which the guardian of "Nzaci" uses when addressing the people about her. "Nguli nkadi tambula malavu" means, as we should say "Companion, have a drink." But NKADI is a black personage, and the white man's Devil was not black, for he was a personage the white man feared, whereas white men do not fear black men; so they called him "NKadi ampembe," the white companion of the guardian of the lightning.

As to the word BILUNJI it is in XIVILI the plural of XILUNJI or intelligence, spirit; while BULUNJI, the deep of the spirit, is the word the natives use for grave Both words are derived from LUNGA to blow. It is true that when one man is vexed with another he may remind him they will both meet in the grave, this being a nasty reminder of the general fate of mankind. But when a native wishes to send his "best friend" to a very nasty place he says YENDA KU BUMBA, go to Bumba, and this certainly is a very hot place indeed, for it is the spot upon which an NDOXI is burnt. Note that the family of Maluango may not intermarry with that of XIBANGA. See Page 38.

Personally I should say NDONGO is nearest in meaning to our word devil.]

[1. Himself and the six.]

Next: Chapter 12. Sacred Lands and Rivers