THE Leza and Nyambe of the Upper and Middle Zambezi tribes exhibit the same confusion between the High God and the first man which we noticed in the case of the Zulu Unkulunkulu; and, further, they appear to be more or less identified with the sky and the rain. The Basubiya say that Leza once lived on earth. He was a very strong man, a great chief; when he was seated in his khotla (place of the chief's council) "it was as though the sun were sitting there." It was he who sent out the chameleon with the message that men should live again after death. Leza is said to send rain; the Baila use such expressions as "Leza will fall much water, Leza throws down water."
The Rev. E. W. Smith obtained from these people a curious story, the conclusion of which recalls the only comfort Gautama Buddha could give to the bereaved mother. It also indicates the belief that Leza causes death-at any rate, premature death.
An old woman, whose parents had died when she was a child, lost all her sons and daughters, one after another, and was left with no one belonging to her. When she was very old and weary she thought she must be about to follow them; but instead of that she found herself growing younger, and was seized with a strong desire to find Leza and ask him the meaning of it all. Thinking that he had his abode in the sky, she began to cut down trees and make a scaffolding by which she could climb up. A similar device is said to have been tried by the Baluyi, by the Wasu of Pare (East Africa), and by the ancestors of the Ashanti.
But when she had built it up to a considerable height the lower poles rotted away, and the whole fell down, she falling with it. She was not hurt, and tried again, but with no better success. At last she gave up in despair, and set out
[1 Smith and Dale, The Ila-speaking Peoples, vol. ii, p. 197.]
to reach the place where, as she believed, the sky joins the earth. So she wandered through one country after another, and when the people asked her what she wanted she said, "I am seeking Leza." "What do you want of him?" "My brothers, you ask me? Here in the nations is there one who has suffered as I have suffered? . . . I am alone. As you see me, a solitary old woman, that is how I am!"
The people answered, "Yes, we see! That is how you are! Bereaved of friends and kindred? In what do you differ from others? Shikakunamo sits on the back of every one of us, and we cannot shake him off!"
It is often stated that Africans in general neither pray to the High God nor offer sacrifices to him, nor, in fact, notice him at all, beyond recognizing his existence. This is certainly not true in the case of the Baila, and we have evidence to the same effect from various quarters. The Bapedi (a branch of the Basuto living in the Transvaal) say that their High God (Modimo o mogolo) is called Huveane, and they pray to him for rain. He made the sky and the earth, and when he had finished them he climbed up into the sky (conceived, of course, as a solid vault) by driving in pegs on which he set his feet, taking out each one as soon as he had stepped on the next, so that people should not be able to follow him. And in the sky he has lived ever since. This seems to be the original form of the incident, which, when the myth had degenerated into a comic folk-tale, appears as a trick played by the graceless Huveane on his father.
Mr Hobley distinctly states that the Akamba tribe, in Kenya Colony, pray to the God whom they call Engai,
[1. Shikakunamo is one of the names sometimes used by the Baila for Leza; it means 'the besetting one,' the one who will never let you alone-in this case sending one affliction after another. But in general he is described as compassionate and merciful, despite the unreasonableness of mankind, who beg him for, boons, and then complain of what they get.
2. We shall meet with a different Huveane-or with a very different conception of the same being-in a later chapter.]
especially in seasons of distress. When sickness is rife among the people the headman prays first to Engai and then to the spirit (imu) supposed to have caused the sickness." They first pray to Engai, because they believe the spirit has gone to Engai."
Gutmann speaks of sacrifices offered to God (Iruwa) by the Wachaga, which are clearly distinguished from offerings made to the ancestral spirits, and quotes old forms of prayer used on such occasions. The Ngonde (Konde) people, at the north end of Lake Nyasa, pray to Kyala (also known as Ndorombwike), and other instances might be cited. Thus the High God cannot in all cases be described as 'otiose, dwelling apart and not concerning himself with mankind or his affairs.
The Ngonde, just mentioned, say as a rule that they do not pray directly to Kyala, but ask the spirits of their forefathers to intercede for them with him. Yet sometimes they pray directly: "Be gracious to us, O God, and hear the prayers of those whom we have named"-i.e., the ancestral spirits. Mr Mackenzie tells of a chief called Chungu, known to his people as "the man who speaks with God," and relates a remarkable story of this Chungu having been called in when the Domira steamer had run aground (near Karonga's, on Lake Nyasa) and could not be got off. Chungu came down to the shore and prayed, after sacrificing a white cock, and immediately the vessel floated. It is a pity that this incident does not seem to have been reported by any of the Europeans who must have been on board.
These same Ngonde people have a strange legend about one Ngeketo, once a god of theirs, but now, as they say, worshipped only by the white men. He was the youngest of three, the others being Lyambilo (still worshipped by the Wakinga) and Mbasi, by some writers called 'the Devil,'
[1. The Spirit-ridden Konde, p. 23.]
though that notion is wholly foreign to Bantu thought. These two became jealous of Ngeketo, because he was the first to plant maize in the country-the old home of the Ngonde, near what is now Mahenge. Together with "the elders of the people" (who usually, on principle, dislike innovations), they conspired to kill Ngeketo; but after three days he came back to life in the form of a serpent. Thereupon they cut him in pieces, but the pieces joined together, and he revived once more. Again they killed him, and again he arose. Some people saw him, but he disappeared and went away to the coast, "where he became the god of the white men."
We are assured that this story cannot be due to missionary influence: it was known to the old men before the white men came, and they told Mr Mackenzie that it had not been changed in any way. It seems most likely that Ngeketo was not really a High God, but a human ancestor, though not honoured as such in the ordinary way, either because his family had died out or because the tribe had moved away from the place where he was buried and where only offerings could be made to his spirit. If he really introduced the maize plant (which, as we know, was brought from Brazil by the Portuguese) his legend must certainly be later than the sixteenth century; but the mention of that grain may be a modernizing touch, in the usual manner of story-tellers, and, originally, he may have planted millet or beans, both of which seem to have been known from very early times. It is interesting to note, in passing, that where there is a tradition about millet the discovery is attributed to a woman, and, strangely enough, is usually associated with a discreditable motive.
The people of Ruanda recognize a Supreme Being called Imana, clearly distinguished from the deified hero Ryang'ombe, whose legend will be given in another chapter, and from the imandwa, or ghosts. He is often spoken of as a helper in difficulty and distress, but is never prayed to direct: appeals to him are always expressed, one might say, as conditional wishes. Thus: "If Imana were with me he would help me." Imana is frequently referred to in Ruanda proverbs, such as: "Imana gives you-it is not a thing bought" (i.e., his gifts are free); "He who has received a gift from Imana is not stripped of it by the wind"; "Imana has long arms"; "There is none equal to Imana"; "A cultivator who has not Imana on his side has [at any rate] his two arms." This last seems to mean that a man must depend on his own exertions, instead of waiting on Providence, and so might be held to run counter to the general trend of thought as expressed in the others. But it may be merely a counsel of despair; in any case, one has not sufficient information to see what lies at the back of this utterance.
Imana figures in various legends, which show him distinctly acting and speaking as a person, though, strangely enough, his name is not, grammatically, placed in the personal class, but in that containing the names of animals-a point which opens up avenues of speculation not to be entered on here.
One of these legends suggests marked Hamitic influence, in the mention of the serpent. Imana, once upon a time, used to talk with men. One day he said to a man (whether this was the first man on earth does not appear), " Do not go to sleep to-night; I am coming to give you some good news." There was a serpent hidden in the hut, who overheard these words. The man kept awake till cockcrow, after which he was overpowered by sleep, and did not hear when Imana came and called him. The serpent was on the watch and answered the call. Imana (who is never assumed to be omniscient) thought the man was speaking, and said,
[1. Spirits, as a rule, are not placed in the personal class of nouns, but yet not in the same class as Imana. Mulungu would have the plural milungu (not Walungu, as if personal), but I must say I have never come across it in the plural, except where there was reason to suspect European influence.
2 Johanssen, Ruanda, p. 119.]
You will die, but you will rise again; you will grow old, but you will get a new skin, you, your children, and your grandchildren." Next morning the man went to see Imana, and complained that he had not received any message. Imana asked, It was not you, then, to whom I spoke in the night?" "No." "Then it must have been the snake, who is for ever accursed. If a Tusi ever comes across that snake let him kill it-likewise the Hutu and the Twa. Let them kill one wherever they find it. But as for you, you will die, you and your children and your children's children."
Abarea, a local headman of the Galla, in the north-east of Kenya Colony, told me a somewhat similar story current among his people. In some respects it has a closer resemblance to the chameleon legend: here the messenger is a bird (as far as I could make out, a sort of hornbill) who is beguiled by the snake into reversing his message. As Abarea remarked in Swahili, "Nyoka ni adui-the snake is the enemy."
It seems to be assumed that Imana is unable to reverse the doom incurred through the serpent's treachery. Batusi, Bahutu, and Batwa are the three tribes who make up the population of Ruanda: the shepherd aristocracy, the Bantu cultivators, and the potter serfs, probably descended from the forest Pygmies.
Then we have the tale of Sebgugugu, the Greedy Man, enforcing the homely old moral of the Goose who laid the Golden Eggs, through a quite extraordinary case of stupid and obstinate selfishness. Sebgugugu was a poor man whose sole wealth was a white cow with her calf. One day, while his wife was away, hoeing her garden-plot in the jungle, and he was sitting in the sun outside his hut, a bird came and perched on the gate-post. It began to sing, and as he listened he seemed to hear these words: "Sebgugugu, kill the White One (Gitale); kill the White One and get a
[1. Père Hurel, La Poésie chez les primitifs, p. 174 . The story is also told, with variations, by Johanssen, Ruanda, p. 120.]
hundred!" When his wife came home the bird was still singing, and he said, " Look here, wife! Do you hear what this bird says? " She answered, "Nonsense! It's only a bird singing." Again it sang the same words, and Sebgugugu said," Don't you understand? Imana is telling me that if I kill Whitey I shall get a hundred cows. Isn't it so?" "What do you mean? I have to feed our children on her milk, and if you kill her they will die. Do you mean to say you are going to believe what a bird tells you?" But he would not listen; he took his axe and went and killed the cow. The family had beef for dinner, and lived for some time on the rest of the meat, but no cows appeared in place of the White One. Then the bird came again, and this time advised him to kill the calf, which he did, in spite of his wife's opposition. When the meat was finished and no cows were forthcoming they all began to be very hungry. (An African might ask, "What about the garden produce?" -but no doubt it was the wrong time of year for that.) Sebgugugu said to his wife, " Now the children are starving! " She answered, " Did I not tell you what would happen when you would kill Whitey? " Then, in despair, they decided to tramp in search of food.
He tied up some of the children in mats, and put the rest into a basket, which his wife carried on her head; he took up the bundles, and so they started. They went on till they were quite tired out, and sat down by the wayside, and Sebgugugu cried out in his despair, "What shall I do with my children?" Then Imana, who is the creator, came along and said, "Sebgugugu, what is your trouble?" The man told him, and Imana pointed to a distant hill, saying, "See, yonder is a cattle-kraal. Go there and drink the milk of the cows. They are being herded for me by a crow. You must always give him some of the milk, and be sure never to strike him or use bad words to him." So they went to the kraal. There was no one there, but they found vessels full of milk. When Sebgugugu had drunk as much as he wanted he gave his wife some, and she fed the children. Then they all sat down and waited to see what would happen.
When the sun was low they saw the cattle coming home; there was no man or boy with them, but a great white-necked. crow kept flying to and fro above them, calling them and keeping them together. When they arrived Sebgugugu lit a fire at the kraal gate to drive away the mosquitoes, fetched a pail, and milked the cows, doing as he had been told and giving a bowl full of milk to the crow herdsman, before they all had their supper.
In this way all went well for some time, and then Sebgugugu began to be discontented. It is not clear what he had to complain of; but evidently he was "that sort of man." He said to his wife, "Now the children are old enough to herd the cattle for me I don't see what we want with that crow. I shall kill him." The wife protested in vain, and Sebgugugu, taking his bow and arrows, lay in wait for the return of the cattle when evening fell. When the crow came near enough he shot an arrow at him, missed, shot again-the crow flew away, and when he looked round there were no cattle to be seen-not so much as a stray calf! The family were once more reduced to destitution. Sebgugugu said, "What shall I do?" His wife, of course, could give him no comfort, so they picked up the children and set out on their travels. Worn out, as they sat by the wayside resting, he cried once more to Imana, and the long-suffering Imana directed him to a wonderful melon-vine growing in the bush, from which he could gather not only melons and gourds, but a variety of other fruits. Only he must not attempt to cultivate or prune the vine, or do anything but gather daily supplies from it. He found the vine, gathered gourds, and his wife cooked them. So again for a time all -went well, till the man took it into his head that the vine would be more productive if its branches were cut, and it immediately withered away, like Jonah's gourd. Again he was in despair, but Imana gave him one more chance. Going into the bush to cut firewood, he came across a rock with several small clefts, from which oozed forth Guinea corn, milk, beans, and other kinds of food. He gathered up what he could carry and returned to his wife.
Next day he went back to the rock, taking with him a basket and ajar; but he grew impatient, because the corn, and so on, trickled out slowly, and he took a long time in filling his basket. He complained of this to his wife, but persevered for some days, and then told her that he was going to widen the cracks in the rock, so that they could get more abundant supplies. She tried to dissuade him, with the usual result: he went and cut some stout poles and hardened them in the fire. He went to the rock and tried to enlarge the clefts, using his poles as levers, but, with a crash like thunder, they closed up, and no more corn or milk -came forth. He went back to the camping-place and found no one there; his wife and children had disappeared without leaving a trace, and he was alone in the forest. We are left to suppose that this was the end of him.
Another version gives one more incident, perhaps less dramatically effective, in which he is guilty of wilful disobedience, and is devoured by a monstrous wild beast. Both agree in showing that Imana's patience had its limits.
One more legend about Imana suggests the idea of a wise and loving providence. A childless woman came to him with the petition made by such women in all ages. Imana, reader of hearts, said to her, "Go home, and if you find a little creature in your path take it up and be kind to it." She set out, pondering over these words, of which she could not see the sense, and as she drew near her sister's house she saw the latter's little children playing in the dirt. One of them getting in her way, she pushed it back, saying angrily, "Be off! You're all over mud!" The child's mother came out, picked it up, and washed it clean. Her sister went home and waited a year: nothing happened. She went again to Imana, who asked if she had not seen the little creature he told her of. She answered, No." He said, "You saw it, but you would not touch it with your hands." She still denied it, and he explained, telling her
[1. Johanssen, Ruanda, p. 124.]
that she was not fit to be a mother and should have no children.
Another story, in which Imana appears in a very human aspect, will be given in the next chapter.
It has been suggested that Imana may be the same as Kihanga, supposing this last name to be derived from kuhanga (in some languages kupanga), 'to form, construct, create.' But Kihanga is a different person, an ancient king of Ruanda, who, legend says, was the first to introduce cattle to that country. (Or, rather, it was his injured daughter Nyiraruchaba who was responsible, but "that's another story.")
Imana must also be distinguished from Ryang'ombe, who is supposed to be the chief of the imandwa (ghosts). His roper lace is among the heroes, and we shall come to his legend later on, in Chapter VIII.