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IN the previous pages we meet with frequent allusions to a lord above or heavenly lord. Thunder and lightning and aerial changes appear to be the only natural phenomena which have attracted the notice of the natives of this part of Africa, and led them to believe in a personal power above nature. Struck with terror by a thunder storm, they encourage each other by asserting that they have committed no crime against the powerful being in heaven who wields the lightning, and that he is not angry, but merely playing. But we shall be much mistaken if we hasten to conclude from this that because they speak of a heavenly lord, they have any conception of him which identifies him with God.
In almost every country there is some such notion of a heavenly being,—a relic possibly of heaven-worship; or it may be merely a natural suggestion of the human mind, springing up spontaneously among different peoples, and every where leading to a similar conclusion, that where there are such manifestations of power, there is also a personal cause.
There is the Indian Indra, called also "the lord of heaven;" the Zeus and Jupiter of the Greeks and Romans; the Esquimaux Pirksoma; the Mau or Ye-whe of Whydah; the So or Khevioso of Dahome; the Kaang or chief in the sky of the Bushmen; and the Thor of our own ancestors.
We have already seen that the Dahomans speak of thunder in the same way as the natives of these parts; they do not say it is the sign of an angry chief, but of a chief who is rejoicing or playing. Arbousset says that among the Bechuanas, "when it thunders every one trembles; if there are several together, one asks the other with uneasiness, 'Is there any one amongst us that devours the wealth of others?' All then spit on the ground, saying, 'We do not devour the wealth of others.' If a thunderbolt strikes and kills one of them, no one complains, none weep; instead of being grieved, all unite in saying p. 118 that the lord is delighted, (that is to say, he has done right,) with killing that man." (Op. cit., p. 323.) In like manner among the natives of Natal, if the lightning kills their cattle, they neither complain nor mourn, but say, "The lord has taken his own." Neither do they cry the funeral wail over those who have been killed in this manner, lest, as they say, they should summon the lightning to kill them too. It is not lawful for them to touch the body of a person killed with lightning, until the doctor has come and applied medicines to the dead, and to the living of the village to which he belonged.—Among the Romans those struck with lightning were not buried, neither are they among the Dahomans; but they cut from the corpse lumps of flesh, which they chew without eating, crying to the passers by, "We sell you meat!—fine meat!—Come and buy!" (Burton, Mission to the King of Dahome. Vol. II., p. 142.)
The following statement by an intelligent, educated Christian native will show how utterly indistinct and undeveloped is their notion respecting a heavenly lord:—
It is by no means clear what is really said about the lord of heaven. For when the heaven [lightning] has struck any place, it is said, "The lord is angry." This is said because of the lightning stroke. It is not very clear which is the lord that strikes—whether it is the lightning, or whether the lightning is the lord's power. It is said of the lightning, "The lord has struck." But there are many who are called lords by men, and even beasts, as the boa and the lion; but althongh they are thus named, they are notwithstanding killed, that is, their being called lords is not the same as giving the name lord to the lord of heaven.
There is a bird of heaven;30 it too is killed; it comes down when the lightning strikes the earth, and remains on the ground; but neither is it said to be the lord; it is not very clear which is meant by lord, the lightning, or the lord which is in heaven. We hear it said there are men in heaven and under the earth. But it is hard to understand what is the condition of these underground men; neither do we know what is the condition of those who are above. All we know is that it is said they are there.
Among the Amazulu, when there is a thunder storm, they say:
The heaven of Umjokwane is thundering and raining, the heaven of Upunga and of Umageba; the heaven of Ugukqabadele.
The first three of these names are izibongo of the Amazulu, that is, of the royal family, the names of ancient chiefs. But Ugukqabadele p. 120 is said to be a new name, invented for that Lord of heaven of whom the white man speaks to them. It means the Unconquerable (see p. 114). This is explained in the following account:—
As regards the saying, "The heaven of Upunga and of Umageba and Umjokwane, it is not permitted that there should be any thing greater than the chief. The greatness of the heaven was said to belong to Upunga, who was a great Zulu chief; for you can see by this that it is merely something done for the purpose of exalting a man when it is said that the heaven too belongs to him.
It used to be said if any omen happened in a village, that it was occasioned by the chief. For instance, Utshaka once sprinkled the blood of a bullock in the royal house during the night, saying by that means he should know if the diviners were true when they pointed out offenders. But they did not divine rightly, and he killed them all but one, who said, "It was done by the heaven," and asked, if he could point out the heaven as the offender? That was all he said; and the people understood that by the heaven he meant Utshaka; for the heaven too was said to be his. This is not true; it is a mere exaltation of the chief. For they say he is as big as the mountains, meaning great mountains. But it is not so; for if he is standing or sitting at the foot of p. 121 the mountain it would hide him, and he could not be seen. It is the mere exaltation of a human being.
Further, the word Ugukqabadele is not a name of Utshaka or Usenzangakona. It is a name which has arisen here among the English, as a name for the lord of heaven. For at first when the Dutch came, the white men used to make us swear to the truth of what we said; for they did not understand what a man said when he swore by our chiefs; so the oath was, "Utikxo o pezulu," God of heaven; or, "I swear by the Lord of heaven," and one spat on his finger and pointed towards heaven and said, "May He take me if I know this thing." The word Ugukqabadele means the Lord of heaven. And kneeling is a sign of strength; for it is said, if a man wish to make himself very firm, and avail himself of all his strength, he kneels, that he may not be moved from his place; and the man who is fighting with him will go away. That, then, is what is meant by "ba-dele," They pass on or have enough, that is, they leave him when he has knelt.
AN old native, in expressing his gratitude for some act of kindness, said, pointing towards heaven, "Nkosi, elako ilanga," Sir, the sun is yours. On asking the meaning of this, I received the following explanation:—
Among the Amazulu they use the name of heaven; and when it thunders they say, "The heaven of the chief thundered." They do not mean the owner of the heaven who made it, but a mere man who is a chief; he is exalted by saying the heaven is his. And many are now in the habit of making obeisance to others, saying, "Thou of the inner circle of greatness, the heaven is thine; all things are thine."
They say thus because they see no one else but the chief himself, who if he choose can command any particular person to die, and he will die at once. And so they say, "That man is the owner of heaven; and every thing is his." It does not suffice them to honour a great man, unless they place the heaven on his shoulders; they do not believe what they say; they merely wish to ascribe all greatness to him.
Such, then, is the reverence of black men; for the chief did not say, "No; you are ascribing to me what does not belong to me; the heaven and the sun are not mine; they have their own owner; for my part I am insignificant." He expected to have it said always p. 123 that the heaven was his; and now our people address white men in the same way.
It happens among black men when the chief calls out an army and he has collected all his bands, he addresses them, and then they sing a song which excites their passions, that their hearts burn with the desire of seeing their enemy; and though the heaven is clear, it becomes clouded by a great wind which arises. And the people say, "The heaven of the chief feels that the chief is suffering." Therefore it was affirmed among great chiefs, that the heaven is the chief's; for when he assembles his troops the heaven clouds over, although it had been quite bright.
ANOTHER native, named Ududula, who was a great courtier, whose highest notion of politeness was the highest hyperbole of praise, wished to borrow half-a-crown, which I had no wish to lend. At length he said, "Mfundisi, u ng' ubaba," Teacher, you are my father. I asked, "How?" He replied, "Wa dabuka emhlabeni, wa kula, wa ba ngaka; mina be ngi ngaka nje," You broke off from the earth, and grew as big as this, (placing his hand six feet above the ground;) but for my part I only grew as high as this, (placing his hand about a foot and a half from it.) By this he meant to say that I was not born like other men, but came out of the ground, like Unkulunkulu.31
It appears, therefore, that in the native mind there is scarcely any notion of Deity, if any at all, wrapt up in their sayings about a heavenly chief. When it is applied to God, it is simply the result of teaching. Among themselves he is not regarded as the Creator, nor as the Preserver of men; but as a power, it may be nothing more than an earthly chief, still celebrated by name,—a relic of the king-worship of the Egyptians; another form merely of ancestor-worship.
A lad of the Waiau or Ajawa tribe, living on the Eastern coast of Lake Nyassa, informs me that among them the Rainbow is called Umlungu, that is, God; for Umlungu is the word they there use for the Supreme Being and supernatural powers. They also call the Supreme Being Lisoka, the Invisible, when they wish to distinguish him from the Rainbow.32—Among the Dahomans, the Rainbow is worshipped p. 125 under the name of Danh, the heavenly snake. (Burton, Op. cit., p. 148.)
30 "The bird of heaven" is a bird which is said to descend from the sky when it thunders, and to be found in the neighbourhood of the place where the lightning has struck. The heaven-doctors place a large vessel of amasi mixed with various medicines near a pool such as is frequently met with on the tops of hills; this is done to attract the lightning, that it may strike in that place. The doctor remains at hand watching, and when the lightning strikes the bird descends, and he rushes forward and kills it. It is said to have a red bill, red legs, and a short red tail like fire; its feathers are bright and dazzling, and it is very fat. The bird is boiled for the sake of the fat, which is mixed with other medicines and used by the heaven-doctors to puff on their bodies (pepeta) and to anoint their lightning-rods, that they may be able to act on the heavens without injury to themselves. The body is used for other purposes as medicine. A few years ago some peacocks' feathers were sold at a great price among the natives of Natal, being supposed to be the feathers of this bird.
31 Arbousset appears to have noticed a similar custom. Yet his statement may have been made from not understanding the meaning of such phrases as "Inkosi yohlanga " (see Note 30, p. 14):—"They p. 124 have no idol but he; it is before him, literally, that they prostrate themselves. He grants them permission to live, or he slaughters them according to his caprice. Can the devil really have whispered to the Zula (the celestial) that he is a god? Be this as it may, many of the Matebeles, of the same people, believe, on the word of their princes, that the ancestors of these have sprung from the reeds of a fountain, instead of being born of a woman, as other men are." (Op. cit., p. 231.)—But the Amazulu are so called, not because they have arrogated to themselves the title of "Celestials," but from Uzulu, an ancient chief. He, however, may have obtained that name from the ascription to him of heavenly power. U-izulu, Thou art the heaven, became soon converted into the proper name, Uzulu.
32 In Rowley's Story of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa we find the following account of the religion of the people in the neighbourhood of Lake Nyassa:—
"Both Manganja and Ajawa seemed to have a better idea of the Deity than most savage tribes. The Manganja called God, Pambi, or Mpambi; the Ajawa, Mulungu. Neither, as I have elsewhere said, looked upon Him as a God of wrath; indeed, they did not appear to assign any wrathful attribute to Him, nor did they in any way make Him the author of evil; they supposed evil to proceed from malevolent spirits—the Mfiti. We never, therefore, found them offering up human sacrifices in order to avert God's anger. If great danger, either famine or war, threatened them, they would assemble at an appointed place, and in an appointed way, offer up prayer to God to deliver them from the famine, or to give them the victory in the war. We saw instances of this. At Magomero, soon after the commencement of the first rainy season after we were in the land, there was a solemn assemblage p. 125 for prayer. The ground had been prepared, the seed sown; the rains came, the corn sprang up—all seemed as we desired it; and then the rains ceased: day by day, week by week, and no rain; the fierce sun seemed withering the young corn, famine appeared imminent. Chigunda assembled his people in the bush ontside the village, then marched with them in procession to the appointed place for prayer, a plot of ground cleared and fenced in, and in the middle of which was a hut, called the prayer hut. The women attended as well as the men, and in the procession the women preceded the men. All entered the enclosure, the women sitting on one side of the hut, the men on the other; Chigunda sat some distance apart by himself. Then a woman named Mbudzi, the sister of Chigunda it was said, stood forth, and she acted as priestess. In one hand she had a small basket containing Indian corn meal, in the other a small earthen pot containing the native beer, pombi—the equivalent, doubtless, to the ancient offering of corn and wine. She went just into the hut, not so far but what she could be seen and heard. She put the basket and the pot down on either side of her. Then she took up a handful of the meal and dropped it on the floor, and in doing this called out in a high-pitched voice, 'Imva Mpambi! Adza mvula!' (Hear thou, O God, and send rain!) and the assembled people responded, clapping their hands softly, and intoning—they always intone their prayers—'Imva Mpambi!' (Hear thou, O God!) This was done again and again until the meal was expended, and then, after arranging it in the form of a sugar loaf, the beer was poured, as a libation, round about it, The supplications ceased, Mbudzi came out of the hut, fastened up the door, sat on the ground, threw herself on her back; all the people followed her example, and while in this position they clapped their hands and repeated their supplication for several minutes. This over, they stood up, clapped hands again, bowing themselves to the earth repeatedly while doing so; then marched to where Chigunda was sitting, and danced round about him like mad things. When the dance ceased, a large jar of water was brought and placed before the chief; first Mbudzi washed her hands, arms, and face; then water was poured over her by another woman; then all the women rushed forward with calabashes in their hands, and dipping them into the jar threw the water into the air with loud cries and wild gesticulations. And so the ceremonies ended."