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Plan of the Book
Toward a contextual reading of Kinga culture 1
Designing the book 4
Documentary sources 7
Structure and content 8
Situating a cultural portrait in time 10


Kinga are a special case
The culture as a lifestyle 15
Male sensitivities: when friendship fails 16
Dispersed families 19
Why marry? why beget? why bear? 23


Mists of time & glory
Kinga in their Region 31
Map talk: the political archipelago 38


Amity as an organizing principle 42
Two contexts of moral strategy 50


Gentle Warriors
Mask and face: the warrior role 57
Histrionic warfare 59


Imagination 65


Ambisexuality 72


Counterthemes to rank & seniority 79


Republican nurture, lordly dominion 86


Eros & Philia 91

Having a marriage
A long preserved virginity 95
The view from woman 107


Childhood and after
Motives in early life—infancy 114
Motives in early life—childhood 122
Gender in childhood: separate worlds 126
Men & maidens: courting 135
The style of courtship 140


Age & wisdom
Dominance & seniority 150
Pathfinding 156
Sharing a common fate 165
Case One: Iligala hamlet 169
Careers: the context of moral effort 173
Cases: How do people cope with adversity? 175
Cases: How do the people sanction reciprocity? 176
Cases: How do people count kith and kin? 178
The pursuit of happiness 182


Spontaneity and sanctions
Structure and spontaneity 186
Sanctions 189
Context of the documents 194
Women speak of themselves 196
Men speak of themselves 199
Events in the village 203
Insecurity 206


Intimacy and autonomy
Character & history 209
Character and psyche 217
The observable psyche 222
A question of style 230

A moral universe
Qualities of an extended youth 236
A phenomenology of values? 244


Sowetan cultures: social ties 247


Sowetan cultures: aggression 256


Sowetan cultures: arts 269


Sowetan cultures: libido 278


Sowetan cultures: status
Privilege and its rules 291
Men and women 301
Gender and its rules 302
Aristocrat and commoner 308


Sowetan cultures: freedom 313


Sowetan cultures: involvements
The presence of persons to persons 318
Nyakyusa 322
Kinga 324
Bena 326
Hehe 327


Deepstuff: the regional routine
A polymorphous culture? 329
The growth of styles in the Sowetan region 334

Psyche and Style
Noticing style 341
Self & ethos 343
Expressive & instrumental action (I) 348
The inner dialectics 353
Expressive and instrumental action (II) 358
Psyche & belief 365


Style and strategy
Reading a style 372
Style dualisms in three classic studies 376
Moral strategies 385


Twin shadows 389


Source Notes: Book One 399
Source Notes: The Folios 403
Source Notes: Book Two 406



Plan of the Book

Toward a contextual reading of Kinga culture

This volume is one of three I have prepared on the Kinga people
and the neighbours in Southwestern Tanzania. The pages of this
volume deal with character values, lifestyle, and the daily round,
placing Kinga traditions in a regional-historical context. The other
volumes are:

The Four Realms: Religion and Politics in the Making of an African

A Politics of Fear, a Religion of Blame: Kinga and their Neighbours
While each volume reports fieldwork in uKinga, each makes use of
archival documents and published monographs on neighbour peoples of
the Kinga. My effort is always to see Kinga history and culture as part
of a regional culture. The result is a reasonably credible account of the
way Kinga have diverged from their neighbours and what these peoples
severally have in common. The aim is always to use comparisons the
better to define Kinga traits. As my subtitles suggest, Twin Shadows
presents a ‘portrait’ or ‘ethical reading’ of Kinga manners. Four Realms
is a more straightforward report of field observation and retrospec-
tive interview on Kinga law and government in its precolonial context.
The third monograph defines the place of the Kinga and their region in
the comparative study of political and religious practice. As all three
volumes deal with Kinga and their regional neighbours, all do in this one
respect break with the common wisdom on reporting fieldwork.

The importance of ‘controlled comparison within a region’ would

not have escaped any student of Fred Eggan, though most will have
seen that it can put an extraordinary call not only on the writer’s but
the reader’s patience. A great regional study would demand a life’s
work to produce and would want a corresponding effort to take in.

What I attempt here is more modest. I select published material on
neighbour peoples to put pivotal Kinga characteristics each in a
pertinent ‘cultural array’. My methodological position (‘analytical
phenomenology’) was set out in my privately published Flying Armchair
and derives from the same common-sense premises an honest
policeman employs when choosing men of generally similar appearance
for a ‘line-up’ to confirm a witness’s ability to identify a particular
suspect of crime. Fine discrimination is essential in portaiture. Still,
small children can be relied on to know you with a baffling certainty
long before they could draw your face so well you could be recognized.
From two years in the field (in uKinga) I came to recognize many of the
features of their culture. But recognition is an intuitive form of knowl-
edge. Now I am in the position of the child wanting to draw the picture
which makes my intuitions available to others. I plan to do this by
showing what is un-Kinga as well as what is Kinga. The best way is to
compare them with long-term neighbours who are alike in some ways
while differing in others.<<[lit = see Source Notes]

The interpretive tradition in anthropology got its first big push

with Malinowski’s publications on the Trobrianders. His first publica-
tion on his soon-to-be-famous Melanesians was Argonauts. It did
indeed deal with the region, but of necessity through borrowed
Trobriand eyes. Independent studies of other peoples in the regional
trading and raiding circle had not been undertaken. The two ethnogra-
phies and the two interpretive studies which followed Argonauts
treated his islanders as self-inventors. The Malinowskian project was
always to discover how the native person thought and felt about
whatever he (or, rarely, she) might be doing. The contrast to standard
American monographs of the time—think of Swanton, Boas, or Lowie—
was like that between science and literature, data files and drama-
turgy. Malinowski, by the sheer persuasiveness of his descriptions,
freed us from the fear of trivial inaccuracies by plunging fearlessly
into the far more serious risks of interpretive error. His Trobrianders
at the time of study (1914-15) remained far less radically molested by
outsiders than the North American peoples Swanton, Boas, and Lowie
were trying to put on record. There was more to observe in Melanesia,
and the climate, setting, and protagonists conspired to inspire it. As
subsequent fieldwork has confirmed, the Trobrianders’ unusual
qualities of personal style (they are great showoffs, dedicated extra-
verts) were in fact sufficient to keep them on top of their own affairs
for generations to come. What the series of subsequent studies has
also shown to my satisfaction is that I could not possibly understand
how life works in the Trobriands (their ‘social structure’) without a
firm intuitive grasp of the islanders’ character. I took this under-

standing with me to Southwestern Tanganyika and wanted to apply it
in planning fieldwork. As this developed, the problem defined itself as
one of portraiture: not the seeing something for one’s self—intuition—
but the showing it to others.<<[lit]

I have set out here accordingly to use commonalities and differ-

ences among Kinga and their neighbours to discover for a reader what
Kinga character and culture were in the context of what they might
have been. Partly, I do this the better to control interpretive risk—
there is an unavoidable fictive element in any ethnographic study.
Partly, the reason is that I regard local and regional cultures as
equally systematic, and as comparably important for our under-
standing of the peoples we study. But I leave further pursuit of this
point to later chapters.

Both my volumes on the Kinga were written and rewritten over

several decades. Neither was intended to have priority as an introduc-
tion to Kinga culture, but for what is most distinctive about the Kinga
this one must be the volume to choose, as it deals with the private life.
It is doubtless also the more difficult volume for readers unfamiliar
with the region, as they will encounter Kinga and two or three non-
Kinga faces in each of my comparative arrays.

Fieldwork (1961-3) was commenced in the final months of

British colonial rule and continued into the second year of Tanganyikan
independence. Tanganyika became Tanzania some months after we
left. I was accompanied in the field for the first year by Alice Park and
our four young children. We set up housekeeping in the proverbial (but
really rather special) mud hut, and family contacts proved a source of
insights for which I am particularly grateful. Funding was through the
East African Institute of Social Research (as it was then called) in
Uganda; and in our second year Alice took a job there in Kampala, where
she could have the children in school, while I moved about to improve
my sense for differences within the four realms (or ‘chiefdoms’) of the
Kinga. My job-description was Senior Research Fellow at EAISR, and
the assignment had originally been to study all of what the British
called Kingaland.

This plan proved unwise, as I found it would have meant taking in

the Wanji people, whom the colonial authorities had tacked onto their
‘Kinga Native Authority’. My linguistic problem was a consideration.
After an eventful foot tour of Wanjiland I was able to ascertain that
the cultural distance between the two communities was as great as
the geographic—the Wanji were on the other side of an empty Elton
Plateau—and we narrowed the assignment slightly. Now I had only to

learn Swahili, for which a grammar was available, and kiKinga for which
there was (somewhere) a grammar in German. But cultural differ-
ences of some importance had remained in 1900—the approximate
date of colonial contact—within the territory I still had to cover.
Regional history was all question-marks then. Apart from the District
Books, then uncollected, the most useful source was Monica Wilson’s
stencilled survey, The Peoples of the Nyasa-Tanganyika Corridor (1958).
I was determined in any event to do what I could to understand the
Kinga in an historical context, and I gradually came around to a focus
on their political past. In the field this meant constant inquiries into
local lore. In the decades since, it has meant more and more of the
same. My partial up-dating of Wilson’s survey has been published in
Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika 9 (1988). It is an essay in ‘probabilistic
history’ for the region—a cross-over study between ethnography and
ethno-history—placing it within the scope of Eastern Bantu civiliza-

The present work is organized around two major projects: (i) I

use culture comparisons within the region to illuminate the special
character of the Kinga world—what is and what is not Kinga; and (ii) I
introduce the concept of ‘moral strategy’. We have all worked out our
own very private ways of handling ourselves and others in order to get
where we want to be with them. These are our moral strategies. We
are apt to persist with them even when they don’t seem to pay off—
they sometimes feed only more distant (fantasy?) expectations. This
notion allows me to portray the gender life-cycles of the Kinga as the
historically generative forces I believe they have always been. My
double interest has called for special thought on a suitable writing

Designing the book

All ethnography starts with direct observation. Information
moves through perception (by a quite particular and chronically
cluttered mind) toward word-pictures (rescued later from the
clutter) which somehow, in some degree can evoke what was seen,
heard, or sensed to be lurking behind the scene observed. All the best
ethnographies I know were written by the person who did most of the
observing. That consideration has prompted me to rely on the Kinga
culture of my field time, the early 1960s, for my best clues to what life
would have been in 1900, wherever I have had to interpret oral tradi-
tion. That means I have a ‘time problem’ to discuss, and I shall do so
shortly. Some excellent reports are written up quickly on leaving the

field, but other monographs are much mulled over—aged in the brain
before publication. This is one of those. It is not much like the book I
would have written thirty years ago, fresh from the field. Much of the
difference is owing to my learning a great deal about the regional
culture Kinga share with their neighbours; much more is owing to
rethinking what I knew about Kinga in light of my later comparative
study. The book is designed to record not only what I saw in the field
but what I have since managed to see from my ‘flying armchair’—the
actual revisit I hoped for has not proved possible, but I am rescued by
much relevant work which has by now been produced by others working
in the region.

It is not only my mind and its store of information which has

changed over thirty and more years of rumination. The scholarly
pursuit we call anthropology has broadened and deepened. Some
might want to add, it has suffered fragmentation. For those who
won’t read quite broadly and deeply, that is certainly so. But much
more is known about the big agrarian civilizations of Asia, seen at the
local community level, and about independent peoples there, in the
Pacific, and in subsaharan Africa. We have a vast ethnographic litera-
ture now against which any interpretive generalization can be
measured. Africanists have been especially important in this
expansion of knowledge, since the range in political sophistication and
scale is wider in Africa than elsewhere. Published ethnographic work on
peoples in Southwestern Tanzania includes three major studies. Our
sense for the ethnographic past has been enhanced by archaeology
and historical linguistics. We are even beginning to learn, I think, that
if one object of good anthropology is to produce good theory, the case
may equally well be put the other way around.

I confess to being a champion of direct observation as the real

ground of social knowledge. Probably half our understanding of the
world comes to us through living narrative: catching the story line of
events, from the briefest dramatic episode to the life history. I have
sometimes regretted I was less belligerent in the field than I might
have been. My genealogies and censuses languished as I preferred
observation to cataloguing. But as my language improved I was alive to
narrative and learned to trust not always the veracity of a tale but
the sharper sense I got for the teller. The design of this book flows
from a methodological position I’ve advertised before. It favours
undogmatic use of theory backed by a contextualist or phenomenolog-
ical approach to the exploration of facts. Theory is used heuris-
tically—it is a tool for seeing better, shifting perspectives, moving
closer. The thing to avoid is, as always, ‘reification’—confusing the real

world of your ideas with the real world other people inhabit, the
portrait with the subject.

The project here is to understand the culture of a hill people

living in Southwestern Tanzania. Historically, Kinga culture is a part of
the regional culture found there, and I use cultural comparison within
that region to tease out meaning from my observation of Kinga insti-
tutions. This is the first step in my design. Intuition tells me that the
most important stuff we can know about another culture comes from
careful empirical comparisons; that a simple way is to compare ‘them’
with ‘us’; and that a better way is to compare ‘them’ with the peoples
they have always compared themselves with. The vaunted ‘isolation’
of the Kinga, regularly assumed in British colonial records, so far as it
is real is far from complete. The deeper cultural differences within the
region derive not from lack of acquaintance with neighbours but a
(predictably) low intensity of social interaction with them. I suppose
the distinctive character of any people within a given culture area,
excepting obvious environmental adaptations, is no more a product of
true ‘isolation’ than is your distinctive personality or mine. The Kinga
and each of its neighbour cultures may be treated as a local variant of
a larger, regional culture. All the same, it is axiomatic that differences
will go deep. The deep stuff of a culture comes out of intensive inter-
action. I need to know the neighbours because unless I know what ways
Kinga might have taken and did not I won’t be able to say much about
the ways they took. History and culture, in this thinking, are one. The
‘deep stuff’ of any culture begins to come clear as you obtain a sense
for the personal moral strategies which yield deep rewards there.

The second step in my design for the book deals with organiza-
tion—how to present arguments for my findings. I move between
‘interpretive analysis’ or ‘analytical phenomenology’ of the culture
(Part One, returning in Part Three) and a more intuitive, descriptive
mode which I conceive as ‘close and middle-distance portraiture’
(Parts Two and Four). In this way the conceptual sequence (break-
down—redintegration) is repeated twice. Since this is the trick of
design which is most likely to go unnoted and unused by a reader, I’ll
explain my thinking further.<<[lit]

Since I am treating the individual moral career as the primary

instrument of integration in Kinga society, I do not have to find a
source of integration in the institutional complex, ‘adaptive needs’, or
‘personality’—I feel free to look separately at the various aspects of
the culture which interest me, without feeling obliged to show that
they comprise a single big ‘system’ of any kind. This is the ‘analytical’
project. It is balanced by a more holistic treatment which explores the

moral careers of men and women as they are pursued within the world
they are fashioning. The ideas of Robert Redfield which originally drew
me into anthropology doubtless lie back of this double approach. I
resist, like him, the idea that any one conceptual approach to human
nature and culture (one ‘paradigm’) should preoccupy anthropolo-
gists. I have found many or most of the novelties in recent anthropo-
logical writing fresh and fun—but I have also found them, in the end,
distracting. My enduring concern is to understand what I have seen in
the field. I find the best use for my armchair is for flying back there. I
am satisfied that methodological wheels do not really have to be rein-
vented by each new generation.

Using the long label for ‘the regional culture of Southwestern

Tanzania’ will prove awkward. Wanting a short form, and taking into
consideration that a small but important part of the region I want to
consider (Ungonde) happens to lie in what is now Malawi, I’ll call this
group of neighbouring and interestingly related peoples the Sowetan
region. It corresponds to what in American ethnology is called a
‘culture area’ and includes the “Corridor peoples” of Monica Wilson and
peoples of the Southern Highlands, with fuzzy edges all around. The
degree of unity the region deserves on linguistic, historical, and
comparative-institutional grounds has been discussed elsewhere,
learnedly and at some length.<<[lit]

Documentary sources
From the precolonial era I have consulted what accounts by early
European explorers are to be found with a bearing on the Sowetan
peoples. In the post-colonial period a certain amount of history and
archaeology has been produced, some of it directly touching the
region and more of it bearing on pertinent aspects of the still more
inclusive historical and cultural entity, Eastern Bantu civilization.
Supplementing these new sources there has been a development of
glottochronological studies of East Africa. My recent cooperation
with the linguist Derek Nurse has allowed me to make the earlier ‘qual-
itative dating’ scheme I had worked out for the Kinga into something
reasonably firm. But the main documentary sources for this volume
and my earlier diachronic survey of the region come from the two
colonial periods: the main German sources are detailed ethnographic
surveys and missionary publications; the main British sources are the
District and Provincial Books. While there is not a lot which is ‘news-
worthy’ today in these documents, reading them through has contrib-

uted immensely to my sense for the regional culture—its reality and its
special character.

Except where specific use was made of a particular source, I

don’t encumber the text with references. My deepest unspecified
debts are surely to the many British district officers whose regular
safari reports are compiled in District Books covering the score or
more peoples whose oral histories and political systems I was able to
consult and digest as background to the corresponding records
consulted (particularly in the Njombe district boma) on Kinga and their
immediate neighbours. But beyond the few specific references made
to sources like Fülleborn, Merensky, or Nigmann—and beyond the many
explicit references to works of Monica Wilson on Nyakyusa, Stirni-
mann on Pangwa, the two Culwicks on Bena, or Gulliver on Ndendeuli—I
must admit an imponderable debt to the perceptive minds and the
hard intellectual work of others whose names appear less often. While
the Kinga themselves were not studied before me, a host of profes-
sional colleagues and antecedents has made the regional dimension of
this study possible.

Structure and content

Since the project for this volume grew slowly from seeds, as
with many slow-growing things it developed a structure all its own.
Because the plan of exposition is unusual and may baffle an unsus-
pecting reader I take the trouble to outline it carefully here. There are
two things to note: the recurrence of a series of eight topical frames
in Books One and Two; the insertion of ‘folios’ after Book One. The main
aim of the book is to reconstruct the Kinga world as it had evolved in
its traditional period. The ‘folios’ speak to that aim by touching in
various ways on the persistence of Kinga tradition during the
fieldwork period.

Book One
A preliminary chapter is followed by seven more which are
devoted each to an essay on Kinga culture seen in a particular concep-
tual frame. The eight topics are in order: (1) general, (2) social
networks, (3) violent action, (4) creativity, (5) sexuality, (6) status
relations, (7) political ordering, and (8) emotional life. There is no
inherent reason why the very same episode could not be examined
within each of these frames, since their locus is in the mind of the
beholder, not in the social situation under scrutiny. Obviously, though,

each frame will tend to encompass special material. Each will comple-
ment the others rather than simply duplicating them. Any overlap, if
noticeable, ought to be interesting. The eight chapters taken
together will comprise one ‘scan’ of the Kinga world. Another such
scan, complementing this one, is the main project for Book Two.

The Folios
Five descriptive folios are inserted between the two more
analytical Books. The Folio section comprises an ethnographic
sampler of the Kinga community I observed directly in 1961-3. These
accounts, some in the form of brief ‘case reports’, are designed to
bring a reader closer to the people and their lives. The materials touch
marriage, growing up, and growing old. I consider ‘individuality’ and
‘intimacy vs. autonomy’. The general plan of this section will seem
more familiar to readers of earlier field studies situated in an ‘ethno-
graphic present’. But I have organized the third and fourth folios so as
to minimize my own presence in the act of observation. If I seem to
shift at various points from panorama to close-up, it is because I hand
the camera over to a young assistant (Soda) to capture moments in
the lives of his friends and neighbours. My assistants in the field were
partners not pawns. Soda worked as I normally did with a notebook not
a tape recorder, and provided texts in Swahili for my translations.
Names are altered, but the mind behind the ‘close-up’ texts is Soda’s.

Book Two—Chapters One through Eight

The eight chapters of this section exactly parallel the eight of
Part One. After a preliminary chapter I take up the same seven frames
as before. This time through, I rely on a reader’s understanding of the
seven aspects of Kinga culture discussed in Part One and assume
they have been given a certain context or depth by the descriptive
material of the Folio section. My new purpose here is, by moving inside
the semiotic circle of the broader culture area, to explore ‘family
resemblances and differences’ among the several peoples I can use as
keys to the ‘generic culture’ of the Sowetan region. Beyond providing
a useful portait of the region, Part Three again places the Kinga with
respect to neighbour peoples in seven distinct cultural arrays.

Book Two—Chapters Nine through Twelve

The final section of the book is concerned to explore the
personal sources of style and energy in Kinga lives. The master
concept is ‘moral strategy’ and my first assumption is that the
‘strong forces’ of politics, religion, and sexuality are less telling in

deciding the long-run drift of culture than the ‘weak force’ exerted by
individuals over the very long term in their efforts to protect and
improve their lots. A phrase like ‘the pursuit of happiness’ is more
descriptive here than simple ‘self-interest’. What I intend by ‘moral
strategy’ does touch ‘ethics’ but is nothing noble. As a weak force in
history, it is hard to observe and harder still to demonstrate effec-
tively. But in Kinga culture, with most of the stress taken off the
marital relationship and the family fairly atomized, I was faced with a
case which challenged common-sense notions about the importance
of family systems in the ‘stabilizing’ of society. In the field I was
struck by the structural importance of ‘the culture of women’, which
their unexpected measure of independence made clear. The argument
of these final chapters tries to bring closure to a line of thought which
started in the field. What can we learn about sources of individual

Situating a cultural portrait in time

Since in this book I explore aspects of Kinga culture which can
best be described as mind, my time dimension must somehow take
account of memory, if only because no one’s statement about ‘real
time’ experience can place it in the immediate present. And since my
inquiries fastened especially on times past, but all the time leaned
heavily on direct observation of Kinga life in the sixties, I’m obliged to
give some account of what precautions I’ve taken to keep recent
novelties out of the picture I give. It may be time to say at this point
that I am not attempting to do a historian’s work here, and have not
felt obliged to adopt the vaunted strictures of historiographic
method. An ethnography is a study of a culture, not a study of events
in sequence. Dating a culture is not done in the same way as dating an

Memories are long and clocks or calendars few in the communi-

ties I have to describe. Kinga tend to be closest with age-mates—
peers not kinsmen—and rarely seek serious discussion with others,
older or younger. One consequence is that older people tend (in
greater degree than in most human communities) to hold and find rein-
forcement for the cultural outlook prevailing when they came into
adulthood. I could in the sixties be fairly sure about the mind of pre-
British times, which means in effect about 1920. Getting at the mind
of 1895 entails coping with a good many more uncertainties.

The position I’ve taken is probably incautious as conventional
anthropology would judge it, but seems to me reasonable. Did Kinga
reinvent their culture in the sixty years between the Germans’ arrival
and my mine? They invented a good deal. I’ve written about one prize
example, new bridewealth customs. But their moral life, which is my
subject here, is source not object of this kind of change. Tactical
thinking (Max Weber’s Zweckrationalität) in that case only shifted the
better to serve strategic plans (Wertrationalität). It is the latter I’m
concerned with, and I have the advantage that lifetime strategies do
tend to be lasting. There are also some philosophical concerns.<<[lit]

Everything Kinga think or do is not ‘Kinga culture’. It isn’t today

and wasn’t a century ago, before the programmatic changes of the
colonial era began. Whatever is ‘culture’ is deep in time, refined by a
continuous, sedimentary process of communication so ubiquitous it is
hard to give it a single name: we talk of tradition, diffuse sanction,
instruction and schooling, normative example, the introjection of
values. It is through the winnowing out of the accidental and irrelevant
that a culture is endowed with the kind of meanings which give moral
substance to community life. The sources are at least as many as
there are persons involved, young or old, male or female, bold or not.
There are a hundred ways to designate the kind of optimizing
behaviour characteristic of individuals in any human community; I’m
interested in the long term and content to focus on the phenomenon I
call moral strategy. Two principles are important for assimilating this

(a) Enlightened self-interest means taking gracious account of

others’ wants, needs, and proclivities in the way one seeks to realize
one’s own. Wherever most people most of the time abandon this
strategy, ordinary community life becomes impossible. The ideal type
of the ‘folk society’ was constructed to explain how some small, self-
contained communities can achieve cultural stability even when main-
taining a fairly high, chronic level of internal conflict. Kinga comprised
such a community. But while the microcultures, as the classical
subjects of ethnographic study, have often been stereotyped as
‘stable’ or even ‘in equilibrium’ they range considerably with respect to
the kind of moral enlightenment their circumstances allow. Even where
every household pursues its livelihood in the same way, the level of
personal and intergroup stress may be high, and the good life hard to
get. Where that is the case, cultural continuity will suffer. Kinga know
all the usual kinds of stress, but cope relatively well with them.

(b) When you consider the consequence of this principle for well-
bounded human communities as a whole you will see in it the essence

of the winnowing process by which a cultural style is produced and
refined over time. Politically fragmented societies with high levels of
stress are unlikely to exhibit the kind of moral strategy it is easy to
label ‘enlightened’. A few anthropologists simply rejected Berndt’s
major monograph on some such communities in the Eastern Highlands
of New Guinea. They found some of the most lurid narrative evidence
incredible. When you read the monograph you wonder that ‘culture’ in
such conditions can persist at all—yet it obviously does under even
terribly stressful conditions, and I think the reason is that the ‘weak
force’ operates, and the winnowing proceeds, much more continuously
than the ‘strong forces’ in the social life, with their ever-gathering
storms and scattered episodic dramas of strife and rampage. In
relative terms, Kinga were isolated—one might say, electively so. They
developed a strong, low-bloodshed political system. The circum-
stances favoured lifestyle continuity at the deeper levels.<<[lit]

I present Kinga society as well-knit: its institutions all of a

piece, its gender relations in balance, lawfulness well understood and
honoured, violence sublimated through indirection even at the level of
warfare (Park 1994b). I try to show that this is best understood by
assuming men and women in any such society will engage perennially in
an intelligent search for the good life, identifying the main obstacles
they meet, and finding ways to minimize them. The working of this
‘weak force’ contrasts in two special ways with the working of the
‘strong forces’ of politics, cosmic fear, and sexuality: (i) It has no
institutional locus, no regulatory norms, and informs no power games;
it rides on the backs of individuals. (ii) However much it is alluded to in
conversation and public rhetoric, it remains private because no one
can accurately sense the inner sources of another individual’s
success or failure in his or her moral career.

To do anthropology of the reconstructive sort I think we have no

alternative but to learn what we can about the minds that carry a
tradition. My study is centred not in what the Kinga were doing when I
knew them but in what they were and had been for a century or so.
Since I initiated fieldwork before the close of colonial rule (in 1961) it is
convenient to set 1960 as the approximate date of the new begin-
nings which aren’t my subject here. Kinga society was reassuringly
intact when I left in 1963. For men, women, and children Kinga identity
wore a halo. If my work had offered me no other attractions I think
that would have been enough. I believe I may boast all the usual inepti-
tudes of anthropologists in the field, and I may have suffered more
than I realize from some of them. So there wasn’t a day when I wasn’t
grateful to be surrounded—predominantly—by cheerful people. I felt

my main obligation to them was to capture, in the kind of picture
ethnographers are wont to construct, as much as I could of their
culture. I have taken a few jabs from colleagues for seeming to devote
my work to the past. They are drawn to a search for solutions to the
Third World’s mounting problems. I defend my stance. I think it would be
useful to know what makes a people cheerful in face of quite consider-
able hardships.

In the century past all Kinga communities have endured a series

of radical changes affecting the pattern of daily life. Observers
entering the high court village of Ukwama in 1860, 1910, and 1960
would have had to describe quite different scenes: on the surface,
three different villages. But as my study is the mind which has met
the challenge of new circumstance I am particularly interested in what
the three villages would have had in common. This is Kinga court culture,
the centrepiece of this book and its companion volumes. Ukwama has
retained its identity as a capital village and princely domain through
centuries of broken/unbroken political history. The other court
centres were not copies of Ukwama but congruent structures, some
of them probably coeval, each expressing in its own way the ceremonial
patterns lacking in the simpler communities of Kinga bush culture.
These simpler communities were less distinctively Kinga than the court
centres, more congruent with bush communities elsewhere in the
Sowetan region.

To make one ‘definition’ explicit: The word culture in this book

refers primarily to the collective identity of a human community which
has continuously lived in its own past for its own future from times
long forgotten. It is in the nature of a culture to change, and particu-
larly in response to the massive kind of insult Kingaland suffered in the
first decade of this century, but to change as far as possible on its
own terms. A ‘human community’ is identified by the fact of its
members knowing a keen sense of sharing a common fate.

So my scholarly interest is less in the village of 1960, which I got

to see with my own blue eyes, than in the village of 1910, which I have
seen most clearly through the borrowed brown eyes of the late
Tunginiye Sanga and a few other thoughtful elders he took me to. The
village of 1860 is the one I should most like to have observed myself. I
can know the scene only at third hand through eyes Tunginiye last
looked into when he was young, perhaps even before he had begun to
love history.

There was a good deal of talk, up to a quarter-century ago, of

‘nation building’ in East Africa. It meant many worlds giving way to one.

The slogans of the independent government were insistently opti-
mistic. But a modern political system is no friend of free tradition,
and in retrospect it seems the colonial system was little more than a
prelude to ‘modernization’. The best-intentioned post-colonial
government in all Africa could not want to repeal that consequence of
European intervention and give power back to its several, separate
peoples. Wherever ‘tribalism’ has gained ground in independent African
nations the result has been catastrophe. Tanzania to date has been
spared, and the integration of all its ethnic groups into citizenship has
proceeded under an admirably stable political system. One conse-
quence, of course, is that the Kinga and their neighbours have
gradually lost many of their differences of style and perspective—the
very differences this book is about. It is not a book of advice or

None of the three volumes in this series is, in fact, about worlds
to come, all are about worlds we have lost. Their value is not as cata-
logues or inventories of the cultures dealt with, or as history in the
usual sense. A number of archival sources have been consulted, from
German times and the British period of indirect rule; but a reader
interested in an historical survey should consult an earlier work (Park
1988) and the sources listed there. The purpose of the present work
and its sequels is to propose a reconstructive ethnography of the
Kinga in their region as it was in the closing years of the nineteenth
century, and to elicit its most important lessons.


Kinga are a special case

The culture as a lifestyle

From the north shore of Lake Malawi, as you look eastward from
the Great Rift Valley, Tanzania’s highlands rise a vertical mile above
the lake. In the high valleys of their Livingstone Mountains older men of
the Kinga people told me about snow though they had no word for it—
it was “cold and white and might be up to our knees.” My two years with
Kinga bridged the transition from colonial to independent government,
half a lifetime ago as I write. It was then some years since they had
had snow, but nights were often frosty, and except in the bright
season there was rain enough for anyone. The Kinga people once had a
culture quite their own. No one from the outside was telling them how
to live. I’ll call it their free tradition. Though it began to change with
the coming of missionaries about 1895, this traditional culture is the
centrepiece of this monograph and of the others in the series. The ‘old
days’ were still very much with the elders I knew in the early 1960s.
Because of the people’s relative isolation in a high mountain area, a
fair reconstruction of those days was still possible.

Kinga of both genders are by custom ambisexual. Calling them

bisexual would be simpler but doesn’t say it all and doesn’t say it well.
For Kinga, sexual relations with a person of your own gender are not in
competition with heterosexual relations. Sexual intimacy with a
gender friend comes naturally to men and women. The reverse is
equally true—intimacy opens the way to friendship. Sex of the other
kind is hedged with more formality, being pretty well restricted to
marriage. In this way the two sexual orientations are subjectively
distinct, as if you could keep your libido in two separate compart-
ments. One kind of sex would never be thought of as a substitute for
the other. A person in the throes of a same-sex infatuation hardly
ever really tries to dissemble, and must take teasing in stride, but a

cross-gender attachment is more serious. The heterosexual tie is
meant to be permanent. One approaches mutual commitment with
care if not caution, wanting to keep one’s own counsel.

All of this helps to make Kinga a special case in the annals of

African anthropology. It is not that bisexuality as such is out of the
ordinary for Eastern Bantu, though some observers have wanted to
associate it with the license of civilization, a kind of urbanesque
corruption carried inland from the proletarianized Swahili/Arab coast.
Another case of the systematic arrangement of society explicitly
prescribing an ambisexual orientation has not been reported. Kinga do
not stand apart like the classic “hill tribe” of South Asia; they are
historically part of the mainstream of Eastern Bantu civilization, but
have gone their own way. Their institutions are superficially like those
of many neighbour peoples but at a deeper level can’t be properly
understood without taking account of the life cycles of men and
women, and the special moral strategies Kinga institutions impose on
the pursuit of happiness. It becomes apparent when they are seen at
close range that Kinga social institutions could not have evolved in a
rigidly heterosexual community. What I have to describe is a ‘free
tradition’—one which a people has made for itself, not one imposed
from without.

Because of its special interest, I’ll be describing Kinga life mainly

as it was before Christian missions came. Many communities had
already adopted new ways before I got to Kingaland (uKinga), yet even
in ‘modern’ settlements the changes were not as profound as
(knowing Lutheran and Catholic moral teachings) I expected. It is true
enough that in spite of the liberal application of ‘indirect rule’ by the
British, colonialism imposed restrictions which eroded the power of
local courts. But older men usually had clear ideas about the world
they were losing. It was a unique and coherent pattern of life which had
evolved slowly during East African medieval times, the half millennium
before 1900, and was not lightly to be blown away. To an unusual
degree for an Eastern Bantu people, sex, religion, and politics were
woven into a single fabric.

Male sensitivities: when friendship fails

It is a long journey from youth to age in Kingaland, though
measured in years it may be shorter there than in my own country. The
reason is not that age comes prematurely. Under the colonial pax
Kinga who survived the onslaught of introduced childhood diseases

could generally expect good health and a long lifespan—they could, at
least, before AIDS. But youth ends late. Traditionally, men might
remain bachelors well into their fourth decade, maintaining the free
lifestyle of youth all the while. The high callings of youth in the days of
the princely courts were those of warrior, minstrel, and dancer. Men
who were drawn to the life at court refrained long from marriage,
sleeping with their fellows in barracks, partaking in war games, raiding,
and warfare; collecting taxes; constructing and reconstructing the
houses of the court or princely harem and the stockade; doing male
work in the fields cultivated by the royal women on behalf of the court

It was after as much as two decades of this life that a man

would retire to marriage. Ideally this meant moving out to the bound-
aries of the realm, clearing land, and settling in as the court’s repre-
sentative in a bush community hitherto only loosely affiliated to the
court. Where there were no struggling bush settlements to colonize
on the court’s behalf a party of friends could move out together with
their new wives, with or without acknowledged leadership. Such new
settlements on the political periphery could in time develop into
satellite court centres, but more often they subsided into typical
bush communities, increasingly self-sufficient over time. The circula-
tion of young men into court centres, and their return to bush life
much later at marriage, meant that lineage continuity within a fixed
locality was broken. In the Kinga case this put kinship in a nebulous
condition, for local relations assumed more importance—a feature we
might easily associate with modernity.

A weak emphasis on lineage continuity meant that relationships

formed in youth, when men were wont to move about a lot and form
far-flung contacts, came to have paramount structural importance.
Friendship largely replaced kinship as the basis of a network of trust
and personal identity. Here I am concerned particularly with the
psychological difficulty this posed for men. The female life-style was
distinct and had different if related psychological consequences. For
men, who bore the political responsibilities of Kinga society and had to
deal in a wide yet shifting network of trust, always with the real possi-
bility of betrayal, the last decades of life could be hard. Their networks
shrinking, their stalwart friends proving every year less stalwart,
their credit dealings (as the chief basis of the respect they could
command of others) becoming at once more central to their concerns
and more difficult to bring off well, older men had many cares to add to
their physical infirmities. Often, a man who was strong-willed at
middle age would fade to ineffectuality as he grew older. The exception

to this would be a ruling lord or a prince with many wives and a cohort
of sons holding to the court for its perks and subject to its disci-
plines. A ruler enjoys a stabilizing structure of expectations denied
the common man.

A man could not really count very much on his offspring. Most
often he would have loyalty but no close ego support from his wife. The
gesture of sacrificing to his own ancestors might entail a long journey
into unfamiliar country; the idea was more often entertained than
taken up. But when friendship is called upon not just to supplement
kinship but to substitute for it, friendship can fail.

Psychologically, kin and friend networks are distinct. In their

logic both are open; but kin networks have structure and, for psycho-
logical purposes, closure. Ego has one true parent of each gender, a
fixed number of true siblings and close cousins, a fixed number of
kinsmen and kinswomen of the next ascending or descending genera-
tion toward whom he has practical duties and on whom he can lay legit-
imate claims. Persons occupying these fixed positions only abandon
them in death. The bonds of close kinship are maximal-claim ties (Park
1974). Friendships by contrast can be disaffirmed; new friends may
replace old, and friends-of-friends may also be friends of enemies.
There can be no clear and compelling structure to the network of
friends Ego forms in his day-to-day dealings with the world. Without
meaning to, Ego can fail a friend; without knowing it, Ego may be the
real cause of a friend’s dereliction as well. It is over time that deep
differences may be felt between kinship and friendship networks.
Friends beget friends in the sense that you may gradually extend your
network through friends-of-friends. But you are most apt to extend
it only laterally, within your own generation or age group. As a Kinga
man ages, so do his friends, and they become fewer. Kinship continues
through time begetting new generations of kin. Compared to kinship,
friendship is almost doomed to fail in the end, if only for these struc-
tural reasons. In youth, friends are easily made and almost as easily
lost to view. One is part of the big generation, demographically and
psychologically. But as you live on into the narrow tip of the population
pyramid your outlook changes. Men you know, but who are not your
friends, never will be; if they are not hostile to you they are likely to
believe you are hostile to them: otherwise why are you not already
friends? The psychological ease of youth wears gradually away. Confi-
dence, in others if not in yourself, wanes as your network fragments
and loses meaning.

Dispersed families
Kinga prefer not to live in conjugal families. While it is normal to
marry, it is not for husband and wife to cohabit with infants or
children. Babies are nursed three or four years, and a nursing woman
has no use at night for her husband. He is likely to sleep in the men’s
house or he may pass some time at court or on business elsewhere.
Kinga do not say nursing is a woman’s substitute for sex, but they
know a woman with an infant is fulfilled. There is no reason for her to
encourage a husband who wants to sleep with her. Only a prince or a
lord has risen by virtue of his office above sleeping with other men—he
has to be distrustful—and so needs women. That is why he will have
many wives. For the ordinary couple, intercourse during nursing would
endanger the child at breast—infancy is finished when a mother
conceives again. After weaning, a child is brought up by older children
living in a house they have built and which they keep for themselves. In
the smallest hamlets children of either sex might share house tempo-
rarily, leaving as puberty nears. Kinga say rules of modesty are
pointless before children begin to mature sexually. They will feel the
pangs of shame when their time comes. If there are only a few
maturing boys and girls in a small hamlet they may have to join a neigh-
bouring peer group away from home. For boys, especially, the distance
will not matter.

Boys are expected to defend themselves, nursing their own

illnesses and learning to sanction their own standards of cleanliness
and civility. Girls stay closer by because they daily co-operate with
their mothers in working the fields and preparing food, but a mother
would rarely butt into the affairs of a girls’ house even if she suspects
her daughter of (naughtily!) cooking food there. By the time she is
seven or eight a girl is prepared to cook and keep house for her father,
should her mother fall ill. Where boys are supposed to “act wild” and
“live in the bush,” and they clearly thrive on doing so, girls are drawn
with a passion to domesticity. One of my little friends was eleven and,
having no brother, spent most of her days herding goats instead of
gardening with her mother. But she was no tomboy, she was a leader
of her peers with all the bright, communicative style of the perfect
Kinga maiden. Boys in their “wild” stage hold away from the rest of
society. They rove about in little gangs once a day, in the evening,
picking up cooked food from all the women any of them can call
“mother”—usually, in short, from most of the kitchens around.

The non-equivalence of men and women in a Medieval East

African community is (was) almost obligatory on account of the war

pattern. Kinga courts are armed camps. In season, men do much of the
heavy work in the fields, but for most of the year they opt out of
drudgery, tending to odd jobs and, especially, attending court on days
when there are cases to be tried or when the beer may be flowing. The
high calling of a man is to be an effective Protector—of the realm, of
the fields and homestead, of women. Women carry no weapons and
rarely think of turning a bush-hook or hoe to that use. In time of war
the danger men have to confront may be human, but a properly staged
war will only last a day or two, and everyone knows about it in advance.
Most of the time no one has to fear human violence.

A more terrible enemy than man is the rogue leopard. Only an

occasional visitor from the warmer plains, it knows no season.
Sometimes people say leopards are instruments of evil, creatures of
witchcraft. Kinga find this credible but still treat leopards as
belonging to nature. When one is about, women look to men and lads
with their spears for protection, the sense of dependency suddenly
made vivid. Every generation in every community has its leopard tales,
tragedies and escapes. Every tale is a reminder to women and a confir-
mation to boys and men of their high calling.

Men did hold in 1960 that a maiden should live close to her
father so she could call for help in case of an aggressive suitor. I never
heard of an actual case of alarm of that kind, but in 1960 the Kinga
bridewealth was greatly inflated. A father stood to gain a fabulous
wealth with his daughter’s marriage, and suitors could well be frus-
trated by that—there were grounds for a father’s concern. Yet tradi-
tionally bachelor women lived in their own places with up to a dozen or
even a score of roommates and no sign of insecurity. Women do more
of the steady hard work of farming than men, and where a man may be
taller and more agile he’ll know women are very strong, especially in a
group. Anyway, men just don’t conceive the powerful lust for a woman
which would lead them to impose themselves on her. She only need say
no, and she is expected to. The world is not like that outside Kingaland,
but only a man is likely to have been there, and it’s not certain he would
have found out.

Marriage is (by cultural consensus not law) late as against

African or general world standards. The work of young boys, apart
from helping little brothers or cousins along, has always been herding
(goats and cattle), hunting and snaring (small forest creatures), and
what might be called adventurous foraging. “The work of a lad is to
make himself tough enough to last.” If you can steal a goat from a herd
around the mountain, you set it quickly to cook in a pit-oven, a buried
fire which won’t betray your position with smoke. Should you catch a

rival gang trying to steal your goat, you are instantly at war—but you
can’t expect a ruler or grown men to intervene. Boys have a world of
their own. When they are grown past youth all the best of them will
seek to the local ruler’s court. They’ll be his army and retainers, men of
all work, for a decade or two unless they should be drawn further to
the court of the prince of their realm. The court in its heyday was a
ceremonial centre and a school in the fullest sense.

Only when they tire of the bachelor life will men marry. Tradition-
ally the bridewealth was nominal—no bar to marrying. The delay is thus
technically optional but actually a matter of ‘structured choice’: a
pattern most people go along with for a whole host of reasons.
Normally, men until middle age prefer living and sleeping with their
peers. When age begins to slow them down they think more seriously
of marriage—moving away from the court to a smaller place where a
man can be his own boss, with a wife to garden and cook for him. The
court life is exciting, but you are a dependent of the lord, always
beholden. There is no need to ask why a man wants to marry—if he is to
go out on his own he will have to marry. Sometimes the lord himself
may notice that a man is ready and give him a wife. A quick man will be
sent out to a frontier place with a royal daughter as wife, there to rule
the march on his chief’s behalf; a slower man will be told to follow. From
the man’s point of view, delayed marriage is built into the political

Of course, the present tense in all my discussions of the old culture

refers well back in time. As the free tradition erodes away, and the
(Christian) conjugal family becomes common, the distinctive culture
which is my subject fades into Tanzanian history.

For women, biology is more prominent. The life of the bachelor

women’s house is treasured and prolonged, but after her youth a
woman will want time to bear and nurse four children, to fulfil her
destiny. Though Kinga don’t count their age in years, a maiden will know
by her body’s signs that her sprightly lesbian lifestyle can’t be
prolonged much past (say) twenty-five. She needs two decades more
to bear and properly nurse the four children she means to have.

All through their long quarter-century of bachelorhood, men will

have slept together and practised intercourse without forming
exclusive bonds. Men use the same word women and neighbouring
peoples use when they refer to a woman’s vagina, but Kinga men apply
the word to their own backsides as well. “Child of your father’s vagina!”
is a youthful taunt equivalent to little more than “You turd!” The ideal
relationship for boys, only occasionally realized, was life-long friend-

ship. A bond of love could be formed with a stranger, a sort of
honeymoon phenomenon which your friends would always look upon
with indulgent sympathy. But such a bond would not outlast the few
days of honeymoon. If love settled down into friendship, things were
going well. A deeper (but still not possessive) relationship was that a
young man might have with his next elder brother, who would make him
his protégé, even opening his own marital bed as a kind of school for

Young men are expected to court maidens and eventually

promise themselves, but they may let years go by before consumma-
tion. Kinga law allows a man may be away and out of touch for seven full
years before every claim on a wife will lapse, and some youths in 1960
were confident a maiden would wait that long, though none of them
was ready to put it to the test.

Courting relationships ought to be maintained with regular

gifts. When a young man is serious he’ll visit his girl by night as often
as every month. They won’t be alone, but he’ll spend the night with her
on her mat, hands always friendly and above the waist. Whenever
desire is properly consummated with a maiden he will know she is his
wife from that moment. She can never sleep with her peers again—
then and there if they ‘fear custom’ she must follow him. A man will
absolutely never try to consummate his passion for a maiden in her
house, though all the others may seem to be asleep. “If you can’t
contain yourself you just step outside and take care of it.”

Even the earliest missionaries remarked on the exuberant

morale of Kinga young women. They sang at their work and on their way
home at night, they were always together, almost always in high
spirits. What the missionaries didn’t know, or possibly chose to
ignore, was that they were observing the civic expression of a lesbian
lifestyle. Menarche didn’t occur until 15, usually later. Initiations
followed but not hurriedly. Where young men were almost never put
through a ceremony, maidens always were and always were lightly
circumcised. Proceedings were strictly controlled by married women
of the neighbourhood, who gave sometimes ribald advice on having sex
with men. A point of particular importance was that, whereas excision
of flesh from the labia minora would prove a boon in intercourse,
damage to the clitoris or its hood could only put at risk a woman’s
normal capacity for sexual enjoyment, curbing her fertility. A maiden
might pass as much as a decade after initiation before putting these
ceremonial instructions to the test. But marriage had acquired
religious weight, and its rationale had been defined in terms which
would direct her later moral career.

In spite of delayed mating, the evidence is that fertility
remained reasonably high throughout the Kinga medieval period.
Doubtless, the four-year nursing term protected the child as well as
the mother. A woman who has nursed four children is in Kinga law done
with reproduction. The marriage doesn’t end, but her husband will now
live permanently at the men’s house, where she’ll daily bring him his
supper. One old man I knew in 1960 had built a new house for his wife
with a fine prospect—it was a site well chosen, had the two of them
been ready to move. But now she was living alone and he in the men’s
house not far from her. When she found she had to turn down the new
place, the underlying reason was that it would have meant moving
away from women friends. Her disappointed husband had not had the
insight to predict that turn of events nor, evidently, had any of his
close peers. He hadn’t thought to consult his wife about her house
before building it; he was being ‘modern’. If he had thought to sleep
there sometimes himself, and keep effects there, that plan was
dashed when she decided she couldn’t move. Men don’t sleep alone in
closed houses the way women do.

Marriage for women usually meant a translocation and quite

gradually winning new friends. Women always want to keep a field or
two at their home place, allowing them to visit. This offers some
security before you are sure of yourself in the new life. A woman who
goes out to cultivate alone every morning is the very figure of failure.
But these are matters men don’t pretend to understand.

I began to feel I understood the underlying pattern of Kinga

sexuality as I came to see the place which reproduction occupied in the
separate moral strategies of men and women.

Why marry? why beget? why bear?

The strongest pull toward marriage and away from the compar-
atively carefree life of the men’s or women’s house is not a sexual but
a gender need. A man wants progeny because they transform him. He
stands to gain a new identity and the new self image to go with it. As
a now-aging bachelor he has been outclassed in martial skills and the
other manly arts (hunting, dancing, wit, minstrelsy) by younger men.
As a household head (granted that a traditionalist hardly shares an
actual house with his family) a man has property and standing on his
own. He eats at home independent of the court, its women, and their
gardens. Bachelors having no one to till for them can claim no fields. A
man of importance is one who has his own place, wife, animals, crops,

stores, cookhouse—and what justifies all this, children. A woman
wants marriage and progeny for much the same reasons a man does,
but with far more intensity. As a maiden she looks forward to hetero-
sexual relations not out of lust for the act but for the realization of
her own moral career—for being a woman with child, with a place of her
own, fields, family to feed. For both men and women these are gender
needs, deriving from Kinga ideas about autonomy and personal fulfil-

Kinga men don’t often worry that a man without sons may be
doomed to woe after death—ancestors are not often troubled or
troublesome in a society where friendship is more basic than kinship.
A man with four daughters in 1960 (when the sums entailed were going
up to the sky) would only be delighted at the prospect of four
bridewealths coming in and nought to go out. A son is traditionally no
companion to his father. A man is not apt to move back to his father’s
settlement before the old man dies. Kinga say one son, usually the
youngest, should be there to help his widowed mother—at least, he
should have a place there and keep in touch.

By contrast, Kinga women do desperately want to have babies

and are always close to their daughters in late childhood, when the
two will get along “like sisters.” But just as a woman would never try
to dominate a daughter who is staying near home, she never expects
to depend on her in old age, after the daughter has married away. As
for needing a son, a woman knows quite enough about the dependa-
bility of men long before she is widowed. For the most part, the two
genders live out separate careers, closely entwined during middle life
but never merged. Within their sphere, women do not have significantly
less autonomy, though they have less mobility, than men have in
theirs. A happy marriage is possible, just as a quarrelsome one is, but
doesn’t replace the need of a man or woman for friendly support from
gender peers.

Can this mean that for Kinga heterosexual relations are just
instrumental, good for reproduction and nought else? If so, the impli-
cation would be that only one deeply meaningful sexual orientation is
possible in the circumstances of their lives, and a second orientation
can never be more than a psychological add-on. That is the way I saw
the matter at first. Boy-girl relations seemed to be sibling-like,
friendly and informal but erotically neutral. Then I began to notice that
sexual excitement was running high in any open encounter between
groups of young men and maidens. In the traditional court culture
dancing was the most important form of display, and the form of the
dance was contrived so that men and women were aligned like two

Kinga armies opposing each other on a field of battle. Instead of
weapons and war paint they wore bells, monkey tails, and head
displays. The two sides displayed first as groups, swaying forward and
back but always carefully aligned and keeping an ample noman’s land
between. As the evening progressed individuals would stand forward
in the dance, now from the one side now the other. Just as in Kinga war,
the champion of either side stood to gain royal honours, fêted by the
whole community. The stories Kinga particularly like to retell are
about the minstrel-dancer who took the court by storm and was
rewarded with the royal princess of his choice. Here, I had to recog-
nize, was the stuff of fairy-tale romance.

Finally I began to hear that Kinga youths in their twenties come

to have a great belief in romantic love and think marriage ought to be
based on love alone. As with our older Hollywood plots, the road to
romance can be rocky. As with our newer soap operas, getting along in
marriage can be yet rockier. But Kinga have the advantage of us in
this, that marital ties after a honeymoon period never need be any
closer than both partners want them to be. Most often, a man will
genuinely respect his wife’s right and obligation to nurse her child until
she knows it is ready to live apart from her. The man must also
respect her right to his sexual services when a maturing child has been
weaned. It is easy to see that we are here dealing with rules, without
which the systematic dispersion of the nuclear family into four
separate parts would not work.

Since Kinga believe a woman needs sexual fulfilment to conceive,

they say a wife may demand seven copulations a night. Even if you read
that “seven” only as “many,” the legal point is that a husband unable to
perform to her satisfaction has no recourse if his wife should turn
elsewhere. (The best solution, it seems, may be to arrive home in top
condition and leave on a pressing errand the following day, trusting
your wife to have conceived.) A reasonable woman who wants her
husband around home will know she has to be easy on him. Though we
have no proper polls on marital happiness to turn to, my impression
after two years was that good relations have always been common.
Rates of adultery and divorce are very low by standards of the
broader region. Christian couples in 1960 might be found with small
children sleeping at home. Lutheran elders encouraged women to
favour cohabitation after child-bearing age, and if the result when
that did occur was not a loving couple nothing on the surface of their
lives betrayed it. In spite of changes in public attitudes toward what
we used to call “sexual deviance,” Westerners today may still find it
hard to picture a world in which inverse and transverse sexual orienta-

tions are not only equally legitimate but equally expected of all. Kinga,
for their part, had trouble with the notion that ‘homosexuality’ could
stand in the way of ‘heterosexuality’. I did what I could to explain those
two ideas, which we find it easy to treat as categories of natural
reality. Kinga understand a man can be impotent—they know it as a
rare pathology. But how could copulating with men make it harder to
copulate with a woman? Our way of looking at this is not reasonable to
the Kinga mind. Semantically, men and women both have ‘vaginas’ only
differently placed. When Kinga see a man neglecting his wife’s sexual
needs they just suppose he is intent on prolonging his own bachelor
youth. Perhaps he has come to feel he isn’t competent to set up on his
own. If she needs to, she will find another man.

A few men in 1960 seemed destined never to be more than wage-

workers on distant tea estates. A man may be a drifter, always
depending on friends. Kinga tolerate this but treat it as deviance of
the muddlehead type. Whatever the reason, a man can expect his wife
in the end to leave him if he neglects her. But ‘neglect’ by Kinga legal
and moral standards is behaviour which goes well beyond what some
other peoples would conceive as ‘abandonment’. A woman leaves a man
by moving out of the house he has built for her, usually to join another
man directly. The bereft husband can expect eventually to get his
bridewealth back through the court in order to settle down at last
with another wife, older now and a little wiser. The problem as Kinga
see it is one of lifestyle and readiness for a new stage of life, not
sexual orientation.

Kinga are puzzled to hear that a Westerner may let his whole
career be dictated by a gender preference in sex relations. Cases I
tended to perceive that way were differently understood by their own
communities. Only two cases of (self-dramatizing) masculine women
were known. A commoner woman in the 1930s took in several (female)
wives, living with them as a polygynist would, and was eventually sued
for adultery by one of the ‘cuckolded’ husbands. The native court,
always representing a masculine view of life, took the position that
unless a dildo could be found there was no case. When court inspec-
tors found no such incriminating instrument there was no further
intervention. The lesbian wives explained in court that they had
chosen this way of life for their own safety, after earlier troubles in
childbirth. I gather from this case that the official mind of the (male)
court finds it absurd to picture two women arousing and fulfilling their
amorous needs without coition.

The other case of female masculinity was less spontaneous. On

the premature death of the king (or High Prince, ruler of the Central

realm), as none of her brothers was old enough to take office, Kipole
was made ruler. She inherited all the queens except her own mother,
according to rule, and slept with them on a regular schedule, as a king
should do. She also did a good deal of courting in the maidens’ houses
around her royal village. She was eased out of office when a suitable
brother came of age—there was no real precedent for females ruling,
and the arrangement came to be regarded as a makeshift kind of
regency. War was not necessarily the business of a High Prince, but he
usually would have come to the office from doing heroic deeds in his

As for male transvestism, there are no cases of a spontaneous

type. At the highest royal court there was a traditional role for
eunuchs as guardians of the harem and ritual assistants. Eunuchs
wore their capes in the feminine fashion but were verbally referenced
as youths (bachelors) not as women. Kinga say eunuchs are born not

The contrast between Kinga and Western sexual cultures is rich

but can be conceived as stemming from a small number of differences
in their premises. The most obvious difference is in what is assumed
about human nature. Kinga define bestiality and oral-genital sex as
unnatural—the first they treat with amusement, the second with
fear and revulsion. The premise of a hetero-/homophilic dichotomy
inherent in nature, ever a popular alternative in the West, is nonsen-
sical to Kinga. Though they would grant differences of degree among
individuals with respect to preference for the opposite sex, Kinga do
not conceive of attraction to the other as an involuntary or “physical”
phenomenon in the sense that it could be a precondition of sexual
arousal. This allows them to be much less dyadic than Westerners
about intimacy.

Kinga do suppose that heterosexual relations may lead to pair-

bonding. Thus there is the usual Eastern Bantu assumption that a
polygynist will have a favourite among his wives even when he knows it
will sow discord. But polygyny is mainly for rulers not ordinary men;
the main evidence for pair-bonding in marriage would simply be its
stability in their communities. By contrast, pair-bonding in the sexual
relations of gender peers is unnatural. When it becomes dyadic with-
drawal, as may happen among bachelor youths or maidens, the group
will no longer sanction the tie. The salient exception is the close (and
naturally asymmetrical) association prescribed between an older and
a younger brother.

In their traditional setting and in isolation from our venereal
infections, Kinga didn’t seem to me to be making problems for them-
selves by the way they conceived human nature. But when your meta-
physical mindset is meant to match stable conditions of economy and
structure it can make you terribly vulnerable to change. Western
scholars have lately been becoming aware how deeply their own
psyches are produced by history, the chaos and the order of it all alike
overlaying and sometimes seeming even to overwhelm nature. But a
little rumination on other peoples’ mindsets can’t be amiss. The very
difference between the Kinga view and our own ought to help us see our
sexual orientations better for what they are—doctrinaire beliefs,
metaphysical persuasions which, once we have begun to live by them,
will be hard as chemical habits to shake.

Anthropologists have long noticed how the sexual orientation of

an exotic community has to be sanctioned by taboo. A mere touch by
the wrong kind of person on the right body part produces panic not
arousal. I see the same sorts of taboo operating in my culture as in the
Kinga, the difference being that my culture is pluralistic, accommo-
dating various codes. But we have to consider more than a difference
of rules. My Kinga friends resisted my culture’s persuasion about sex
because they couldn’t afford to accept it. Their premises discon-
firmed, they would have risked their moral careers collapsing. It is that
way in any human culture. The fact that in uKinga there was relatively
little choice of occupation should not confuse us. Men and women can
still be more or less successful in the worldly sense, more or less
respected, more or less appreciated in their personal networks. One is
dogged by fate, another blessed. There are losers and winners, fools
and philosophers and champions. Kinga pursue their moral careers
against a context of rules and semantic maps differing from our own.
They develop strategies for getting the results they want from their
relationships and casual or formal encounters with others, whether in
the fields, at home, at court, or in the weekly market. Inevitably, some
are more successful than most and some less.

Sex in a small, ambisexual society is a pervasive business.

Heterosexual links are few, as liaisons are only rarely made outside
marriage. But homosexual links, from what I can calculate, must
spread a wide web, especially for men. Most maidens and many of the
women singing or working together in the fields must be or have been
close—must have known intimate love before, and well may hope to
again. Yet they put no claims, wear no passions on their sleeves. Men
and women learn, whatever their momentary feelings for a particular
gender peer may be, to bracket them after the first rush of feeling is

gone in favour of smooth relations with all their friends. You can’t be
possessive without exposing yourself to envy, and envy is the surest
enemy of friendship.

Kinga moral strategies subordinate what we would call (and even

honour as) passion to the cultivation of friendships, good peer rela-
tions. Compared to friendship, kinship (with the license it gives to
privatizing human relations) is not important for Kinga. We may say
that homosexual relations are played openly warm but privately cool.
Marriage is played differently: it should be openly cool once the
romance of courtship is over, but may be privately warm. Kinga who
can’t read the signs and pursue their moral strategies successfully—
men exploding on their friends, women demanding ego support from a
husband who can’t understand their needs—are likely to lose their way
in life. There are cases enough in any community.

Kinga who want to have a good life have to share their deeper
moral premises with others, men and women mainly of their own gener-
ation, who command the passes along the way. A young man who
convinced himself his troubles with a lady love could be blamed on his
or her ‘homosexuality’ would be taking a long step on the wrong path
for a happy career in Kingaland. Suppose an older woman began
thinking all the hard work she’d done all her life in the fields to produce
a ‘surplus’ could amount to nothing but her sacrifice to a ‘ruling class’
of inverted ‘male chauvinists’. How could she judge herself anything
but a fool who had thrown her life away? In prospect or in retrospect,
if you pull the rug out from under me by changing the rules and
landmarks I have to set course by, I’m unlikely to prosper. It is not hard
to see why Kinga resisted what were to them radically devalorizing
Western ideas about sex and human destiny. It is only disinterested
persons in my culture who are likely to give more time to Kinga views.

Still I think some of us can afford to look seriously at this small

world, built as it is on a ‘different’ view of human nature. Lusty
academic voices today are once again thumping the drums of Nature
over Nurture. This is partly just the old law of the jungle called
Academia—when you can’t find anything new under the sun, look for
something that has been buried for a while. But there is a bit of a
Zeitgeist too. There is profound disillusionment with respect to the
uses of history, even for the many among us who recognize how much
we know of it today, compared to our fathers and mothers. The major
decision-makers seem to care little for the kind of knowledge which
complicates the pictures in their crystal balls. We have been remark-
ably content, for one thing, as a civilization predicated on hard science

to cloak our sexual worlds in myth. Two of the main myths, left and
right, about homosexuality are:

It’s natural—there are no more today than there ever were,

they’ve just come out of the closet.

It’s a sign you are very sick. This view has so far found unimpres-
sive support from science.

Whatever threads of truth there may be in either myth, men and

women working at the loom of truth have not been able to weave them
into anything substantial in a scientific way. Between the left-myth
and the right-myth are a thousand others men and women somewhere
live by. You can’t really put a practical philosophy to test with the
tools of science, though I think we can glimpse the eventual form of a
genuine social science in the comparative study of independent tradi-
tions like that of the Kinga and their neighbours.


Mists of time & glory

Kinga in their Region

The population of Kingaland at midcentury was 60,000
according to the Handbook of Tanganyika. By this measure the Kinga
are a marginally larger people than the Masai, Tanganyika’s photogenic
pastoralists; but the Kinga are dirt farmers and, though surely
handsome enough, seldom photographed. All I know of Kinga tradition-
al dress I’ve learned from old photos, by word of mouth, or by observing
the occasional ritual procedure which still required it during my years
in the field. Though the men are prone to wandering they aren’t
nomads. The ancestors of the Kinga settled, some on current
evidence as many as sixty, some as recently as five or ten generations
ago, in a mountainous country at the northern end of Malawi, south-
ernmost of the great lakes. The geography, the tenacity of the people,
and the growing efficiency of their political organization served even
through the turbulence of the nineteenth century to insulate their
mountain realms in some degree from troubles in Bena-Hehe country
to the east, Sangu in the north, and Nyakyusa to the west. Still, the
peoples of the whole region share common traditions and have known
ritual co-operation.

While in the Handbook some of the neighbour lands seem to

dwarf the Kinga—Nyakyusa with a population three times as large,
Bena-Hehe with still more and a vast territory to boot—the dispro-
portion would not have been so apparent in pre-colonial times, when
what we now regard as (linguistically) single groups were not
supposed to be (politically) integral. A walk-through in 1800 would
have impressed a traveller with the absence of any but local bound-
aries, with an uneven but generally small-scaled development of chiefly
authority, and the familiarity of all the peoples of the region with one
another’s customs. Despite the rise after 1840 of ‘overnight empires’

like those of the Sangu (under the Merere dynasty) and Hehe (under
Munyigumba and later Mkwawa), the really solidary political groupings
throughout the region were personal chiefdoms seldom encompassing
more than a thousand huts. Contact was normally experienced not
between ‘peoples’ or ‘tribes’ but between much smaller, face-to-face
polities—at least, this remained so for Nyakyusa, Kinga, and many
Bena. Probably in 1800 the traveller would have encountered many
more ‘peoples’ (named ethnic groups) than were recorded a century
later. In 1700 there would have been even more, the typical size being
smaller still. Nevertheless, the beginnings of chiefly political develop-
ment were present in islands of intensive cultivation comprising a ‘po-
litical archipelago’ running in crescent form from Hehe in the
northeast of the highlands region to the lower-lying Nyakyusa in the

It was owing to contact with the now-infamous slave and ivory

trades, and threatening population movements, that wars of amalga-
mation transformed the political condition of the Sangu and Hehe
peoples (as they came to be called) at an accelerating rate. War was
the theme, often replacing the older pattern of stationary feuding,
throughout the region in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
The Hehe were particularly successful in war, bringing together
diverse peoples under a centralized rule; but even in their case, when
the first tyrant-conqueror died the whole task of welding separate
peoples together under a Hehe identity had to be done over again. The
true temper of the region is probably best seen in Nyakyusaland,
where autonomous chiefdoms were formed, flourished, and perished in
the manner of personal enterprises under capitalism—and where
some few chiefdoms or princedoms did become large and powerful, only
never threatening neighbours with true territorial conquest and amal-
gamation. While Kinga are closer linguistically to Hehe, they have much
in common institutionally with Nyakyusa.

All that the Handbook says of the Kinga is given in four sentenc-

The Kinga are believed to have come from [Hehe country] many
generations ago. The chieftainship passes to the eldest son. Ukinga
is a deeply dissected mountainous country where the headmen are
almost autonomous, obedience to the chief being more religious than
political. The Kinga used to dig underground houses in which they hid
from their enemies (Moffett 1958:237).
There was not much information available to the colonial power
even in its final years. Notes in Moffat’s compendium are a bit meatier
in reference to other peoples in the same region, but not much better

informed. In fact the underground houses he alludes to had the more
practical purpose of providing cosiness for young women on a frosty
night. In war such places would have been traps, since any human set-
tlement puts scars on the land, which a practised stranger might
follow to source. The Handbook’s notes on fragmentation are correct
so far as they go; and the writer’s failure to learn and say more is also
a reliable index of the attention which his government, even in the Ter-
ritory’s last decade, had managed to devote to sociological informa-

The Germans before being forced out in the 1914 war had
managed a good deal more. They established the Lutheran church at
several centres, where they also planted apples and peaches which
have survived, and introduced wheat which has become a Kinga staple.
German missionaries and scholars left a legacy of descriptive
material of a rather more scholarly sort than the District Books of
the British period afford.

Kinga at national Independence (1961) as at colonial Contact

(the earliest in 1894) lived mainly from their gardens, which supplied
them amply with grains, pulses, and root crops in a normal year, sup-
plemented more often by the flesh of goats than by mutton or, what
was prized, beef. Kinga for all their wealth of goats knew no cheese and
made limited use of skins. Basket-making might be taken up by an
older person of either sex. Most men would in their youths have ap-
prenticed themselves to a smith, for ironwork was the community’s
main manufacture and accounted for all its significant external trade
offerings. The only constant and quite pacific trade relationship was
with those Kisi potmakers on the shores of Lake Malawi who were
under Kinga domination. A trader to Kisiland would carry hoes and
grain down, pots and dried fish up the following day.

What is most important to know about a system of subsistence

agriculture is almost always hard to find out and evaluate: how reliable
were the crops? What is certain is that a surplus was normal, though
always the product of great industry and the focus of shared
anxiety—subjectively the Kinga enjoyed no economy of surfeit. The
major real threat was an infestation, whether of locusts or of army
worms, which could take out one entire crop or severely damage all of
the crops at one place, and which always came without warning or any
hope of defensive action on the practical plane. The chronic concerns
of Kinga with weather—with signs of too much or too little rain or the
onset of rains before gardens were ready—were generally marginal to
the deeper fears of plague against which the best garden-sense could
not prevail; and this may be taken to explain the inflated trust Kinga

put in the ritual undertakings of their priests, designed to placate the
gods of pestilence. The clearest evidence for the regularity of surplus
is the traditional division of labour, which put women in charge of the
gardens almost to the exclusion of men in all but the preliminary soil-
turning parties [imigowi] (which prepared a field as well and as quickly
as the European’s plough) or in the original clearing of brush and
forest. During the long season of growth and cultivation the work of
the fields was mostly for women. Half the population was freed in this
way for less productive if no less honourable pursuits: for a little
hunting, for the barracks life at court, and for discussing low deeds at
a moot or high deeds over beer.<<[lit]

Politically, the Kinga were a self-consciously expansive people

who conceived their success as a function of class division and
dynamics. The rulers—“five great and innumerable minor chieftains” as
an early missionary put it—were all supposed to be of royal lineage,
but this was a palpable fiction. What they did hold in common was the
surname Sanga. Whereas in a true lineage society the adoption of
surnames in adulthood would never do, the major court villages
comprised veritable Sanga factories, tending to flood the land with
upward mobile ‘rulers’. I give here one way of sorting them out, but with
the warning these are social categories not social classes: <<[lit]

The Prince must have a grand harem, and all his wives produce
offspring—the royal Sanga.

After a period of service, royal men must be rewarded with wives

of other lineage and sent out to settle frontier communities owing
allegiance to the Prince and producing for him a population of frontier

After a period of service, royal daughters must be awarded to

men not of their own lineage, mainly commoners completing their
period of service to the Prince; and they in turn should move on to
settle under the frontier royals, siring offspring in the royal name—
the matrifilial Sanga.

Captive women must bear children to the Prince and wean them
before being released; such children would grow up at court bearing
the royal surname—we may call them booty Sanga.
Sanga princes (no relation to the Sangu people living with their
cattle on the plains below the northern escarpment) had devised for
themselves an open class system tied (as such a system has to be)
to territorial expansion and improved productivity. Sanga courts

promoted the smithy and trade in its products, as well as fostering a
grain surplus to meet ceremonial needs.

In the ruler’s ideology his mandate came from the east and was
destined to extend the Sanga dominion westward. When European
Contact broke the spell there were in each realm fertile slopes still to
be won from the forest, and Sanga rule was yet unconsolidated on the
southern and western frontiers. Two of the five princes mentioned by
Wolff were rivals for dominion in the Western Realm, and a less
flagrant rivalry, brewing in the East, appears to have escaped the mis-
sionary’s notice. These were not the conflicts of breakdown. Princely
struggles, schism and alliance, were the stuff of a slow pattern of
political growth measured in generations not years.

The political system of the pre-Contact Kinga world (“where

headmen are almost autonomous”) did produce a standard set of in-
stitutions for a large population—by one important measure Kinga
had achieved a ‘civilizing’ politics. But their form of the state was seg-
mentary, close in essentials to Aidan Southall’s ideal type, reflecting
his study of the Alur of Uganda (1954). Centralization in this kind of
state is nominal, though it must be realizable at need through the
military leadership of the central chiefdom. To emphasize that the
Kinga ‘state’ was very much in-progress, I refer to it as a ‘protostate’.

We can’t know how far this kind of rule ever was actively demon-
strated for all Kingaland. Their own military history deals only with the
nineteenth century and affords no clear instances. Most likely, the
co-operation of even two princes in war would have been rare. Kinga
rulers, though they may rightly have called themselves “sultans,”
owned no impersonal authority. It is the essence of such segmentary
states that a hierarchy of rule cannot exist since no citizen will
accept the authority of a ruler he has not chosen to side with in war,
and the choice is direct not mediated. Since in principle any ruler may
eventually quarrel with any other, alliances are temporary and don’t
have the effect of merging citizenries. A prince as headman of his own
village has absentee prestige but no command in the other domains
comprising his realm: from their point of view he is always on proba-

If an index is wanted of the continuity of Kinga political culture

after a half century of subjection to two power systems, German and
British, as thoroughly hierarchical as any the world has known, we have
Moffett’s admission that headmen remained at his writing (in the
1950s) practically independent. Without supposing that all the
change in the twentieth century was superficial, I have tried to accom-

modate my analysis to a culture which at a deep level of structure has
remained the product of its own free tradition. This is anthropology of
the eleventh hour—in the years I worked among Kinga only a few men
and women survived who had known that freedom—and anthropology
worth doing.

Without an explicit ‘ethnographic present’ a reader will want a

way of assessing the time relevance of statements not obviously
dated. Place is another factor, since some enduring features of Kinga
culture were not practised everywhere. With the loss of those
features—warfare and a vigorously promoted ritual legacy—of the Old
Culture which tended to bridge barriers between major localities,
internal diversity has continued. A Kinga betrays his origins narrowly
by his dialect, and change long taken for granted at one place is
stormily resisted at another—cultural space and time are correla-
tives. I rely on the occasional dating-and-placing phrase, wherever I
can quickly cut away ambiguity, and on the reader’s sensitivities.
Whatever claims I might have made to describing the Kinga in a single
‘present’, most informants would have had to delve deeply into their
own past and even future expectations when we were conversing
about things Kinga. Minds everywhere are long in time, and Kinga men
are travellers in social space as well.

Wherever discontinuities are discussed, time-referencing can

be clear and simple. To that end I offer (for convenient reference, at
the close of the chapter) a chart of the main cultural periods with ap-
proximate terminal dates. These are the periods Kinga think about
historically—periods of post-mythical time. The rounded terminal
dates will function as convenient tags for placing institutions or
structural changes in their period. Thus to say the bridewealth, which
in 1890 and 1915 had been nominal, was in 1960 a substantial expense
is a statement about three periods not three individual years. In
addition to the chart of cultural periods I offer one intended to
summarize main characteristics of the culture in the two epochs,
before and after Contact, so far as they show contrast. For each his-
torical phase the terminal year indicates the beginning of a fade-out
not a sudden transformation of the culture.

Kinga know many heroic tales of princely exploits in the period of

warring camps. Only the time before is truly legendary, foreshortened
by lapsing memory. Kinga identity for most men in 1960 was focused
in past glory; for women it was focused in present pride of workman-
ship and productivity. The regularity of a woman’s life contrasts to
the variable pattern of a man’s days; gender works a difference in per-
ceptions of time. Men in 1960 were keenly aware of change, most being

fluent in Swahili, the language of news. Only a few women travelled to
work abroad, so getting the chance to learn Swahili in the usual way;
and only a few school-educated women had resumed the rural calling,
though that was becoming common for literate young men. A direct
effect of the colonial pax had been to enhance the status of women
(the influence, especially, of the Lutheran church) and demythologize
that of men. A man could counter this by keeping past glories alive and
by earning money which could be used to assert control over clothing
and other luxuries valued by women and children. As pragmatists men
devoted themselves to money; but as visionaries they ranked high
deeds over wealth. The age of the warring camps entered into their
traditions as a world of triumphant masculinity, confirming the
dominance men continued to claim in political, jural, and (though much
less fully) religious affairs.

The final (and first radical) break with the past in 1960 awaited
a new rationale for male careers, able to compete with the warrior
mystique. The interim solution of the Pax culture was migrant labour—
a transfer of the barracks life from the court village to the sisal or tea
estate some days’ journey away. By setting themselves to accumu-
late far more than the tax money needed to meet the colonial poll tax,
Kinga men were able to escape the demands of domesticity from which
the barracks life had protected them in the Old culture. By tying
wealth to prestations for women (for wife or mother) and by saving
for or paying off a prodigiously inflated bridewealth, migrant men
maintained a perennial absence without breaking their ties to home.
Census figures for 1948 showed that more than half the male adult
population of Kingaland was living elsewhere, leaving their families to
be reared at home. The independent Tanganyikan régime took strong
measures to repatriate migrants, and toward the end of my tour
some Kinga men were becoming cash farmers, growing pyrethrum.
Either they must find an accommodation to domesticity at last, or
the mystique of the warrior role must be kept alive.

My first field assistant, a brilliant if erratic sixteen in 1961, was

all but hanged for his part in a cattle raid on a neighbouring tribe a few
years later (in an episode of defiance of what one may call the “nation-
alist pax”). He’d a paying job close to home and hundreds of friends,
but many of them were as restless as himself. I had to ask what could
account for this domestic malaise. Kinga men may fight with their
spouses but aren’t prone to doing so. For the most part Kinga are civil
and considerate men and women, usually monogamous by choice. Their
cheerfulness never seems forced. A lot of the stress of parent-child
bonding is relieved by the daily care arrangements—separate houses

and peer discipline for the young of either gender. But the lurking
malaise one observes in men can be shown to have deep roots. Oddly,
the Christian missionaries I knew, apparently judging Kinga values by
those their Christian converts espoused, had little to tell me about
male wanderlust and its meaning for domesticity.

Map talk: the political archipelago

The Sowetan is a cultural not a natural region. The borders as I
have drawn them comprehend a loose string of politically developed
societies, each rising above its immediate neighbours, but with telling
traits in common. These protostates were still in-process in the final
decades of the nineteenth century; it is reasonable on present
evidence to suppose that they had been developing for ten or more
generations. For the purpose of understanding the political cultures
which the European powers found in the territories they claimed as
colonies toward the turn of the century, it is sufficient to say that
local folk memory extended only backward within the protostate era—
folklore about an earlier age was legendary not historical.

The maps show the terrain (Map 1) and the approximate

locations (Map 2) of the polities mentioned in the text. The base map
in each case is the same, allowing easy juxtaposition by eye. The
political information on Map 1 is meant to differentiate an ‘inner
crescent’ and ‘outer crescent’ which have particular relevance to pre-
colonial military history. The specific village locations on Map 2 are
those relevant toward the end of the colonial era. They may prove
useful in placing the Kinga scene on published reference maps, and
more immediately in showing the approximate locations of the old
court centres.

The ‘Sowetan political archipelago’ comprises the four proto-

states on which we have relatively full information—those associated
with the tags Hehe, Bena, Kinga, and Nyakyusa-Ngonde—and one, the
Sangu, about which our information is mainly from older records. Two
other peoples, the Pangwa and Ndendeuli, will be much cited. They are
well described but were less well developed politically; they suggest
what the Kinga were like before the Sanga political development
began. Finally there are peoples for whom we have little information
beyond knowing that they were politically marginal and interstitial to
the protostates.

Periodizing: Discontinuities from Old to Pax cultures

Sector The old culture The pax culture

Tradition............. Free Eclipsed

Rule...................... Segmentary state Native Authority
Rulers................. High Prince Paramount chief
Prince Subchief
Local lord Headman, Jumbe
Jurisdictions........ all Sanga realms Tribal Area
Realm Subchiefdom
Domain Jumbeate
Jural agencies..... Ordeals Government courts
Ruler’s court Native court
Moot Moot
Public coffers...... Tribute Tax funds
Bridewealth levies Court fines
Men’s sphere....... Raiding & warfare Migrant labour
Court games Cash cropping
Specialties........... Smelting, smithing Smithing
Woodworking Building
Priesthood Teacher, preacher
Healing arts Rural medic
............... Tailor
............... Shopkeeper
............... Court Clerk
Boys’ sphere........ Herding Herding
Petty raiding School
Marriage age....... After bachelorhood After bachelorhood
(Women) a decade .... a half decade
(Men) two decades .... a decade
Religion................. Princely court cults Mission churches
Ancestral cults Eclectic paganism
Witch ridding Witch purging
Chthonic cults Travellers’ lore

Since the ‘least political’ people in the region are the Ndendeuli,
and since the Mawemba, Wanji, Magoma, and a few others named on
the German maps but not in the Handbooks of the British period were
on about the same level with respect to political development, the
best model I have for their collective lifestyle must be the one Gulliver

gives us in Neighbours and Networks (1971). It is most important to have
in mind that the protostates had centres of power which, though
sometimes shifting, always could be located; but that the horizon of
influence of any political centre was never either quite definite or per-
manent. Any ‘protostate’ will have a developed system of law and law
enforcement, but if this suggests nascent bureaucracy it should not
be taken to suggest a fully fledged one. You can have all the law you
need in a pedestrian community without record-keepers.

Every centre of political power was a local, self-supporting,

face-to-face community. This settled land-holding and land-exploiting
community was the primary source of political coherence. Statelike
institutions and laws, applying as they must to the coordination of a
plurality of such local communities, had to be built on top of such local
foundations. These institutions evolved in each case with a hegemonic
system for extending power beyond its ‘natural’ borders. This entailed
a central court and chiefdom receiving tribute and/or service from a
grouping of lesser courts. The rationale for the limited cession of
power which made this modicum of central direction possible was
always military security. Typically, the rhetoric of hegemony used the
metaphor of siblingship, with rank order, as between the central and
several peripheral courts. Arguments about ancestry were thus
arguments about rank, and a weak chief could lose even the claim of his
domain to the realm’s central position. The problem of stabilizing
power was resolved in a distinct way in each of the protostates.

While the subject of this book is Kinga culture, a glance through

these pages will betray an authorial purpose going rather beyond the
ethnography of one protostate. I use a series of detailed comparisons
to show my subject culture in its regional and historical context. The
aim in the first instance is to gain descriptive control: describing any
complex thing has to profit from comparison and contrast showing
what it nearly is but clearly isn’t. A different sort of aim is making a
small contribution to African and human history.

The main comparative analysis I shall be using in this monograph

will be based on the Hehe, Bena, Kinga, and Nyakyusa. I find the Kinga
have to be understood as participants in their common regional
culture. I suggest that the ‘culture of rules’ which is the matrix of law
in each of these four protostates has been drawn from a regional po-
litical, jural, and ritual heritage. Each local culture has drawn different-
ly from the regional reservoir of possibilities, and the reason for this
is a matter of some historical and theoretical interest. As it happens
the Kinga lie both geographically and ethnographically between Hehe-
Bena and Nyakyusa cultures, and this makes these communities espe-

cially pertinent. It also happens, I am thankful to say, that Hehe-Bena
and Nyakyusa ethnographic information is of a high order for my

The two other local cultures especially featured on the Maps,

the Pangwa and Ndendeuli, also serve me a crucial purpose. They are
culturally but not politically comparable to the Kinga. The Pangwa, it
might be argued, are Kinga as regards their ‘culture of rules’ but
without the political overlay brought in by the Sanga ‘aristocracy’. The
Ndendeuli (pursuing now the same logic) might be called politically still
less developed cousins of the Pangwa; and from the point of view of
the analysis I pursue here, which always concerns what moral strate-
gies account for major life-decisions, the Ndendeuli are supremely well



Amity as an organizing principle

Kinga are distinguished by a structural reliance on friendship.
Within the region they share this culture pattern only with the
Nyakyusa, their western neighbours below a rugged escarpment which
runs like a sterile suture between the fertile highlands and the lush
Great Rift valley. Monica Wilson, wanting a central theme for her
initial monograph on the Nyakyusa, called it Good Company (1951). In
summarizing the distinctiveness of Nyakyusa-speaking peoples she

The Nyakyusa and the Ngonde reckon descent in the male line and
agnatic lineages of three or four generations’ depth were tradition-
ally held together by common interest in a herd of cattle and partici-
pation in common rituals... Lineages were not named or associated
with any special taboo or praise-name, nor were they grouped in
clans of any sort, and in this, as in their system of age-villages, the
Nyakyusa-Ngonde differed from their neighbours. Kinsmen did not
live together... (1958: 10).
The Kinga fit more closely to the pattern Wilson described than
at the time she could have known.

The structural importance of herds for Nyakyusa had no real

counterpart in Kingaland, and the reason for this (setting aside the
obvious bearing of environment) is a substantial difference between
the two cultures. It’s a difference which sets Kinga even farther apart
from the larger region, by the criteria Wilson has employed, than the
Nyakyusa-speaking peoples she and her husband studied in the 1930s.
I think we should recognize a positive association, hardly restricted to
Bantu Africa but particularly pertinent there, between the emphases
of wealth and domesticity. The association of cattle with polygyny,
wealth in herds with wealth in wives, unites the Nyakyusa in spite of

their peculiar age-village pattern with hosts of their Bantu-speaking
brethren. Kinga, placing little emphasis on domestic achievements and
relegating their few oxen mainly to the political realm, made little of
competition among men for reputation through wealth in herds and
wives. The Bantu trait the Kinga have relinquished might be called
heterosexual careerism. Ethnographers have tended to see this trait,
in its worldwide distribution, as structure: a sort of peasant patrimo-
nialism, so common as to be taken for granted. But like other ‘isms’
this one is an ideology and—seen from a Kinga vantage-point—is
neither ‘natural’ nor the mere creature of rules.

The main environmental feature to have considered is the

apparent fact that cattle do not thrive in the higher mountain slope
areas Kinga occupy. An armchair socio-logician might think their goats
could have substituted for oxen. Boys slept with their goats after
spending the day herding them, and though there was no regular
milking in Kingaland, neither were dairy arts particularly advanced
below the escarpment. One may scoff at the lowly goat—she inspires
no hymn, no devotion. But she will find her defenders as well. I think
that for material wealth to have had great meaning for Kinga men,
family and lineage must have had more substance. Where wealth is
important so is inheritance. The ordinary household must have had
some guarantee of continuity beyond the premature death of a
wealth-holder. Kinga culture in contrast to the Nyakyusa made no
such provisions.

Kinship should be understood as man’s first great legal fiction,

as important to the organization of the primitive world as limited
corporate liability to the modern. In the absence of political tech-
niques for forging consensus, kinship establishes the belief that
consensus follows from family membership. Identity overcomes
dissent. Kinship finesses the politics of right by assigning it to
immutable corporate groups. Families, in turn, have relativistic bound-
aries outward in society and backward in time—family networks sanc-
tioned by common descent. Putting the point in terms of action not
thought, kinship constitutes a social universe of distinct bodies of
kinsmen, each body capable of concerted action on a unilateral basis
but recognizing mutual individual obligations within. A kinship system
comes to be sanctioned within the territorial boundaries of such a
social universe, comprising all its segments, when the regulation of
affinal relations has become critical to the maintenance of centrip-
etal kinship hierarchies.

African lineage systems are typically quite complex and can

branch with only minor variations over vast areas. They do not always

produce large political units but do extend the lateral reach of the
component political units in a region. They make organized social life
possible on a grander scale than bare face-to-face politics can do. As
an Eastern Bantu people, the Kinga ought to have a strong unilineal
kinship system, and the fact that they don’t makes them the kind of
exception to a general rule that can throw light on it. Anyone who
argued that the evolution of the limited liability company wasn’t
guided by an active political intelligence would be laughed out of an
economics seminar. The like should happen to an anthropologist who
sees no evidence of political intelligence in a complex kinship system
such as those one may find so widespread among the Eastern Bantu
peoples from Kenya to Zululand.<<[lit]

But if kinship itself is a fiction, its higher levels of organization

are fictions on fictions. Superstructures are political phenomena,
whether their rhetoric plays on the themes of alliance and advantage
or loyalty, affairs of state or kinship. So the clan heads of a tribe will
not be found meeting in a council of war unless political authority
exists in its own right, kinship/clanship being retained as an effective
rhetorical convention. In the kinship society rightly so called the scale
on which concerted action is realized in practice will be only a fraction
of what, in kinship theory, it ought to be. The kinship society has found
its surest political form in an ideal-typical construct first nursed into
being in 1940:

There are societies in which a lineage structure is the framework

of the political system, there being a precise co-ordination between
the two, so that they are consistent with each other, though each
remains distinct and autonomous in its own sphere. (Fortes &
Evans-Pritchard 1940: 7)
A good deal of subsequent confusion in the literature of social
anthropology (British style) could have been avoided if no one had been
inspired by this passage to go hunting the ethnographic unicorn so
elegantly described. The question is not whether segmentary lineage
systems, ideal fusions of kinship with politics, are real, the question is
in any immediate case how real.

It should follow that on a practical plane the de-emphasis of

kinship by Nyakyusa-Ngonde and Kinga peoples may be rated less
radical than categorical thought would have it. Political fictions had in
each culture displaced kinship in the rhetoric of higher councils (super-
structure) while the cement of kinship remained in liberal use in the
politics of ordinary personal interaction. Nyakyusa explicitly
emphasize ukwangala [enjoying social communion, good company] as a
distinct kind of social ethic. Kinga hold the same ethic but find no need

to sanction it directly—their attitude toward friendship is at least
less explicitly political. They generalize their concept of kinship/
kin-group [ulukolo/ikikolo] to mean friendship and community. The
values of kinship and friendship flow readily into one another.

Is the friendship ethic a Sanga artifact, part of the court

culture of the Kinga rulers, imported and imposed on an autoch-
thonous bush culture—in short, an overlay without endogenous
roots? I think not, for three reasons:

(a) There seems to be no empirical argument for the existence of

a strong, patrilineal ‘kinship order’ here in the past, and I am skeptical
of any merely theoretical principle calling for an ‘original’ condition of
local descent-group organization.

(b) Without having to endorse a holistic model of cultural evolu-

tion, I think we know enough of the past of Eastern Bantu civilization
to equate the Sanga era in Kingaland with the more general
phenomena of ‘medievalism’—a period beginning for some regions five
centuries before Contact, and for the Sowetan almost surely three or
more. This period is generally taken to represent a new level of
socio-cultural integration. There is no need to suppose the Sanga
rulers had to destroy a sophisticated non-chiefly political system in
order to establish a chiefly one. I find it more reasonable to assume an
evolutionary transition, Sanga organizers finding a hill culture on a par
with the bush communities we know. That is what oral history
testifies and what the spread of Sanga influence at Contact

(c) Though the time-depth of chiefly cultures in Kinga country

may have been anywhere from ten to twenty generations (and on
current evidence can have been less or more) we are not considering
the primeval social evolution of the state but the use of ready-made
institutional formulae, ideally available to any East African people, in
building up systems of local authority. The peripheries of the four
Sanga realms (not including in 1890 fought-over lands between the
realms) were even in 1960 characteristically peopled by self-isolating
bush communities. They were disinclined to participate in the main-
stream life of the court (after 1927 the Native Authority Baraza).
They preferred to settle cases informally in the home village, a
practice amounting to a mute declaration of independence. But this
meant they had resort at need to violent forms of self-help. This
practice for obvious reasons was unlikely to be reported by a headman
or subchief to the office of the District Commissioner, but for the
same reasons a local ruler would do what he could to suppress it. (I

never got the news either, unless I happened to notice the newly burnt
remains of a country hut and carefully inquire.) Self-help as a response
to the breakdown of fiduciary relations is transactional sanctioning
not authority. Supposing a politicized kinship organization, with a
constituted lineage authority for mobilizing force, had once existed
among these communities, it would have persisted under such condi-
tions. Efforts of the Sangas to control it would have been famous in
barracks histories. I take the message of their silence along with the
absence of local descent groups in recent times.<<[lit]

The rubric I use for the major cultural schism in Kinga society (to
which I have just alluded) is court-bush dualism. Kinga support two fairly
coherent value systems or subcultures, roughly comparable to those
so interestingly explored in Highland Burma by the British social
anthropologist, Edmund Leach (1954). I positively don’t want to
suggest by this comparison that Kinga communities ‘oscillate’ in any
sense between two polar ethical schemes (about which more much
later); but individuals circulate between the two kinds of community,
learning how to be comfortable within either system, and on the
ground every settlement has to find its place in the range between
the two ideal poles.

This is not especially mysterious or rare—the court-bush axis is

something Kinga presumably have in common with most other East
African Bantu-speaking peoples, though it may be a more prominent
feature for Kinga than some other societies. The most apt compar-
ison is our own (fading) distinction between town and country, and I
suppose that is part of the reason ethnographers of East Africa have
not noticed this gradient—to good modern townsmen, all ‘tribal’
peoples (prince and priest included) may seem to be ‘rural’.

What is noteworthy here is that, setting the mission communi-

ties aside, both court and bush cultures in 1960 shared a fragmented
pattern of domestic life. A Kinga child lived with its mother just until
weaned; actual cohabitation of husband and wife was usually discon-
tinuous except for a period after a weaning and until a new pregnancy
had been clearly established. At other times men (at home or away)
would sleep in the men’s house [ikivaga] or quarters. Children lived in
separate huts, usually with peers of their own sex, and this sexual
segregation (as opposed to the grouping of siblings of both sexes
within a nuclear family) was universal for later childhood, youth, and an
extended period of bachelorhood.

Exceptional patterns could be found in the case of some

Christian families where a two-room house had been built, the second

room being intended for small children of mixed sex or for an adoles-
cent girl; in acculturated (Christian) communities where the use of a
men’s house was dying away; and commonly where a bachelor male was
content to keep house alone, accommodating to the absence of his
friends at migrant labour. But a second room for a girl must always be
a separate apartment with its own entrance, and a solid barrier
should segregate children from the parents’ sleeping room; a man who
didn’t frequent a men’s house was often away from home, earning,
visiting, or accomplishing an errand; nor did I see any bachelor house
with bedplace for only one. In my outsider’s view, these domestic
arrangements tend to atomize the nuclear family in favour of
extended peer relations, whether with cousins or friends, for each sex.
But mutatis mutandi typical nuclear family arrangements elsewhere,
seen from a Kinga point of view, mix sexes and generations together in
a heedless manner, de-emphasizing community in favour of familistic

Does this (putatively) atomistic pattern antedate the rise of

court culture? Since oral tradition pictures the pre-Sanga culture as
a vague and legendary one lacking even knowledge of civilizing fire,
evidence must be inferential. If familism and/or lineage organization
were pronounced in bush communities of the same ecological zone,
wherever untouched by Sanga influence, my inference would be
negative. That the opposite is the case shifts me to the positive side.

Perhaps the clearest example of a major subregion retaining a

good measure of autonomy and ‘ordered anarchy’ through the colonial
period is that of eastern Wanjiland. The Wanji are highland neighbours
of the Kinga, and (though separated from them by the miles of high
barrenland called the Elton Plateau) were treated as Kinga by British.
The Wanji tongue is distinct from but cousin to Kinga (Nurse 1988:
92), and the people has never been politically united under rulers of its

In the far eastern part of Wanjiland are a few small communities

which escaped the full press of Plains Sangu domination during the
Ngoni and Slave Trade wars of the middle and later nineteenth
century, mainly by reason of geographic isolation and obvious indi-
gence. They also escaped Sanga domination in any form, for the same
reasons and because they couldn’t be drawn into the Kinga trading
sphere. Through the colonial era their remoteness all but saved them
even from the regular contact other Wanji had with the District
Office—whose authority (though flouted in the observation of
forbidden ritual traditions) was never directly challenged. By
contrast to the other Wanji communities, these struck me on my brief

treks there as lying outside recent history. In times of trouble, I was
told, village elders themselves would take gifts to an Earth Shrine (in
Sanguland) without the mediation of any local political-ritual offices.
The remembered past in 1960 was not one of lost glories: as cultiva-
tors they were pursuing, with the modifications introduced by govern-
ment taxes and the need for migrant labour to pay them, their full
tradition. So this pocket region deserves to be taken, cautiously, as a
suggestive model of pre-Sanga bush culture in the Livingstone moun-
tains. It is at least one secure enough from tax collectors that the
inhabitants didn’t all vanish off the earth at the approach of a
pink-eared Mzungu.

The bush pattern is that of a village-organized society.

Headmen controlled the allocation of land and were positively,
competitively oriented to the recruitment of able-bodied settlers.
Hamlet or ward organization within the village would normally reflect
agnatic ties but not to the point of excluding new settlers from the
same close neighbourly relations which kinship could sponsor. Peer
socialization and fiduciary networks took the place of familism. This is
much the same pattern which was to be observed on the eve of
national independence in the heart of Kingaland, in post-Sanga areas.
With the eclipse of the lavish court culture and its barracks life, and
with the partial adoption of Christianity, some Kinga were beginning at
the close of the colonial period to live in keeping with a domestic village
pattern, betraying on its surface little of the Sanga influence. In close
parallel, I am told by Ray Abrahams that some Nyakyusa youths born
after mid-century have claimed to know nothing of the age-village.
Still, in the years when those Cambridge students were growing up
below the escarpment I found no Kinga communities whose bachelor
lads or maidens had not built separate sleeping houses for them-
selves; and since the Kinga-style, atomized domestic group is shared
by the Wanji though not by the lowland Sangu people who most
recently dominated them, the premise seems to me reasonable that
the Sanga would have found that pattern established throughout the
highlands when they began building their courts. It is something the
first rulers-on-the-make hardly could have done in the way they did
without a clear field for attracting young men to them.

Still the evidence currently in hand is inconclusive, especially

with respect to dating. In the main, I have been guided by oral tradition
not concerning history but lifestyle—in particular, what was the
“original Kinga” domicile. This was a tiny beehive hut not tall enough for
standing and only large enough for husband and wife. Cooking is
supposed to have been done in the open or in another slight shelter,

and children are understood to have lived apart from adults—all from
time immemorial. Except for their use as temporary huts for guarding
fields from night-marauding animals only a few old men, in remote bush
hamlets, built such dwellings in 1960. They are much less substantial
as shelters than even the ‘gingerbread’ huts (as my children knew
them) of bachelor boys today; and the maidens’ huts of course are
finer yet.<<[lit]

The Germans report villages with a more substantial architec-

ture, sponsored by a thriving court culture. By 1890 a stout rondavel,
with cooking fire at its centre, was the standard Kinga domicile within
court settlements. But avoidances prevented children past weaning
from enjoying the freedom of such a house, nor were they in any way
inclined to abandon their own places and the company of their friends.
It is this basic attitude toward family and friendship which I believe we
can project indefinitely backward although, to say it again, we are left
to speculate how far.

What is at stake is our sense for the depth of moral acceptance

which the pattern commands. The private experience of being Kinga is
profoundly affected by the absence of a solidary family group and
hence of a retreat from peer intimacy during the years of childhood
and adolescence. There is idealization of brother love by Kinga, which
might even be taken to indicate a felt need among boys for such a
retreat: siblings in this non-family system are not rivals. The hypoth-
esis of need would be particularly credible if the pattern of atomiza-
tion could be shown to be recent, imposed by the court culture
contrary to bush values, and still faced with resistance. But the
opposite seems to be the case. Whether we take the culture of 1960
which I observed or that of 1890 about which I made most of my
scheduled inquiries, the pattern of early weaning from family life was
deeply established in the local sense for moral proprieties, whether at
court or out in the hidden hamlets where bush culture has its roots.

Seeking an explanation for the age-village pattern among

Nyakyusa, Monica Wilson (1951) makes much of remarks concerning
the danger of group-wife adultery (“incest” with a mother’s co-wife),
should young men grow up in intimate association with the new young
wives of their polygynous father. The only Kinga polygynist with whose
compound I was familiar did have that trouble but seemed little put
out by it; and Monica Wilson’s own ethnography of the Nyakyusa
emphasizes as a running theme the frequency of young wives’ adul-
terous affairs. Do we assume the interloper is never an agnate of the
cuckold? To the contrary, we learn that an old man might arrange for
the needs of a young wife to be met by a grown son . Nyakyusa pieties

about “incest” are just that, but serve as explanatory myths. Perhaps
any society aware of the comparative peculiarity of its own struc-
tural patterns will find convincing moral principles to explain them. But
when you have grown up knowing your culture as the ground of all moral
being you do not crave an explanation of it which would appease the
comparativist. Any child growing up in the bosom of a well established
family system may be expected to accept the natural basis of kin soli-
darity. Likewise the Kinga child may be expected to accept the natural
bases of friendships reinforced by sexual intimacy.<<[lit]

Two contexts of moral strategy

Though oral tradition links the Kinga-Nyakyusa royal lines to
Bena-Hehe country, and some commoner descent lines in the
highlands evidently stem from the same subregion, I think it likely the
autochthonous communities found (in the long-ago) by west-
ward-moving migrants to and through Kingaland stood apart cultur-
ally from those they had left. There is a Boolean overlap between
Kinga-Nyakyusa and Bena-Hehe-Sangu. Together, these two
groupings comprise the Sowetan ‘political archipelago’—the arc of
developed protostates within the region—with Kinga linking the two.
Linguistically Kinga are closer to Bena-Hehe than to Nyakyusa. But at
a deep organizational level the divide is at the Kinga-Bena border. The
regional culture has two distinct sorts of moral nexus, and they
probably have a long history. They can be epitomized as a Friendship
type on the one hand and a Kinship type on the other. As always, using
ideal types entails overstatement, and that will have to be softened
later; but for now I want to make the point that two quite different
patterns of moral strategy are sponsored within the region.

The settings of Kingaland’s neighbours are distinct enough to

warrant mention. Though Sowetan peoples are for the most part
reckoned as settlers of Tanzania’s southern highlands, that nominally
geographic term is loosely used. The Kinga (with Wanji, Mahanzi,
Magoma, and some Mawemba communities) occupy an elevated area
with altitudes generally over 2000 meters and the whole naturally
broken into many separate living spaces. In their high valleys,
geography might be said to reinforce a tendency to local separatism
which only an effective politics (for the Kinga, built around the rivalry
of princes) can hold in check. But Nyakyusa show just as strong a
localism without the help of rugged country, even resembling Hehe (or
Bena/Sangu) in their commitment to cattle. Kinga raiders, looking out
over Sanguland from atop the escarpment, saw a flat and rather

featureless plain, supporting impressive herds. Hehe country as well,
though more varied, would have seemed open.

Hehe, Bena, and Kinga shared roughly the same set of political
offices and ritual orientations, though the emphases differed charac-
teristically, and in respect of these institutions belonged together,
with the Nyakyusa standing apart. But Hehe went far enough beyond
nominal recognition of agnatic principles, that their local settlement
could realistically be classed as a sort of descent group. By contrast
to the Kinga they emphasized domesticity, polygyny, and the accumu-
lation of wealth. Symptomatically, the traditional Hehe house was the
massive tembe, a structure into which you feel a dozen of the “original”
Kinga huts could easily fit, perhaps even a half-dozen of the more
substantial rondavels the Germans found in the Western Sanga

Are Kinga the lone representatives in East Africa of a princely

politics carried on the back of the goat? This creature is not only the
patron of all capricious natures but a perfect bafflement to rustlers,
who might approach a strange herd in full force and fare well to come
away with a single animal. That gave the Kinga some immunity from
counter-raiding by their neighbours—one of those privileges of place a
marginal people may enjoy. That Hehe, though short of cattle by
reason of their ceaseless warfare, had adopted the typical pastoral
reverence for big animals is attested by Nigmann, who describes the
ordinary Hehe as a masterly herdsman dedicated to the preservation
of his cattle even in times of drought—and so disdainful of the goat
that he wouldn’t sacrifice one if he had a sheep or even a hen he could
possibly put his hand on. While Kinga of the same period afforded the
ox due prestige, the animal didn’t thrive in their country. If you found
a herd of any size you’d know it must belong to a prince or a major local
ruler. Animals were best eaten while young and healthy. Breeding them
wasn’t impossible, just hard to manage.<<[lit]

Sanga political authority couldn’t well have been based on

lineage solidarity even to the limited extent the Hehe system exem-
plifies. A Sanga prince depended on the creation at court of a compact
barracks community: bachelor warriors recruited as individuals to the
attractions of court life, and so away from home and lineage, where
younger boys could safely be left to tend the family goats.

The age-village system of the Nyakyusa, as described by

Godfrey Wilson (1936) and Monica Wilson (1951, 1959), may be
deemed a neat solution to the problem of combining polygyny and the
agnatic kinship ethos with the type of peer solidarity Kinga stress.

Because Nyakyusa villages, though independent, tend to remain
tightly clustered in space, the fact of their being composed of male
householders who are peers not kin is no impediment to the expres-
sion of solidarity with agnates within the same chiefdom or princely
realm. As Monica Wilson details at length (1957, 1959), Nyakyusa
have elaborated two complete sets of rituals—of kinship and of
political community—which may be said to run in parallel rather than
intersect. Without them I think the maintenance of two such distinct
principles of association wouldn’t have been feasible. As it is, their
distinctness remains one “in principle” since in practice they are bound
to intersect.<<[lit]

Kinship, except as it may be modified by outcasting and

adoption, or by erosion in less intentional forms, calls for association
in a prescribed degree of intimacy within a prescribed social network.
Peer friendship is more compatible with a man’s direct expression of
allegiance to a ritually established political leader, since the peer
network imposes no internal hierarchy and leaves to chance the
question of degrees of intimacy and permanence. Kinship, even where
in practice it has to bear little structural weight, remains axiomatic—
an unchallengeable premise of existence—where friendship can never
be that. To persist, a friendship must be affirmed at any obvious
opportunity or it will have been disaffirmed. That accounts for a turn
of the plot in every known romance. It explains why the possibility of
witchcraft so preoccupies Nyakyusa in their village councils, and why
(as quite generally among Bantu peoples) accusations often fall upon
a spouse: the tie of marriage is contractual, loyalty within it easily
found wanting. Nyakyusa men preponderantly accuse village neigh-
bours but are also likely to accuse their wives. For Kinga men the
archetypal witch-attack is the treacherous work of a friend.

Hehe, when asked where a man should place his reliance as a

hedge against poverty, answered with one voice: cattle—and this
despite the fact that half the respondents were not pastoralists but
cultivators. When asked whether there was one person to be trusted
beyond all others (e.g., father, mother, brother, friend), Hehe
answered with the same unanimity: no. When asked simply, Whom can a
person trust? there was almost no pattern in the Hehe responses.
Where non-Hehe would most often name a kinsman (father, brother),
the only two answers given by more than ten percent of Hehe were
chief (leader) and friend. Thus while the outward settlement pattern
of the Hehe is that of a kinship society, a candid, psychological look
shows kin loyalty among them to be deeply flawed.<<[lit]

How Bena and Sangu would have fared on the same question-
naires we can’t know—impressionistically from the evidence of the
Culwicks (1935) I would expect the riverine Bena to place their trust
more freely and, likely enough, about evenly with kinsmen or friends. I
should be more hesitant about guessing the Nyakyusa response—with
so strong an ethic of trust they could hardly escape self-conscious-
ness in this, and it is in such circumstance the ethnographer is least
sure of the difference between what someone “thinks” and what the
same person “thinks one ought to think.” Still, the balance of kinship
and friendship would presumably find expression in Nyakyusaland.

I have less hesitation in predicting Kinga responses to such a

hypothetical questionnaire. Where is the best hedge against poverty?
In a good wife. Who can be trusted before all others? A brother, a
friend. Whom can a person trust? The same. Edgerton found the
gender of the respondent made little difference to the answers
obtained in any of the four societies sampled. But if questions were
asked Kinga women directly about their own kinship and friendship
involvements I should expect their responses to reflect their deep
dependency on neighbourly companionship with other women. Though
no Hehe men named a wife as trustworthy, some Hehe women named
their husbands. I found it rare for Kinga men, married or bachelor, to
express distrust toward women or to expect it from them, though
close affective dependency upon a spouse is usually short-lived.<<[lit]

None of the Sowetan peoples for whom we have the wanted

information can be unambiguously identified with the ideal-typical
Kinship society—the region may be atypical in this for East Africa.
But kinship is the key to the settlement pattern for Hehe and Bena,
while kinship crossed with friendship is the key for Nyakyusa. For
Kinga, though the principles are not sharply distinguished, mere
kinship would be a poor clue to a person’s identity.

Though the Kinga court village had disappeared as a ceremonial

centre by 1960, the less-colorful administrative centres which served
an equivalent function were still in no sense communities organized by
kin groups. It was the same for the outlying hamlet. Though there was
much talk of kin groups [isikolo], no one was held in second-class
standing by reason of a descent name. Friendships remained the
all-important foci of positive affect and ego-involvement from
earliest childhood. The moral world was built around friendship not
kinship; and this, even within a region where kinship as a principle has a
low profile, set the Kinga apart.

Like men and women everywhere, in associating with intimates
Kinga operate within a framework of moral reciprocity, avoiding shame
and disgrace. They seek approbation and, behind it, transcendent
merit: they want to be worthy, as such things are judged, according to
mystically validated standards. The kinship-friendship dimension illu-
minates especially three facets of Kinga concern with the mainte-
nance of moral reciprocity: facets tangent to the questions of
boundaries, residential alliance, and solidarity/authority. In contrast
to kinship rules, a friendship ethic generates impermanent boundaries.
In principle, since conciliation or realignment from strength is always
possible, any boundary may be annulled or re-predicated. In practice,
individual networks tended in 1960 to show a remarkable independ-
ence of political boundaries as such.

Loyalty to the central court of a domain had always been an

inverse function of residential distance from it, since place of
residence had always been a sensitive expression of individual choice.
An exception must be made—because we are dealing with two Kinga
cultures—for the Sanga emissary [untsagila] sent from the court to
colonize a bush area. Initially he would depend on a show of close royal
backing. The norms of bush culture favoured a kind of anarchic localism
upon which Sanga political morality would always be an imposition.
Since it takes about a thousand people to support a local court, it
follows that the political success rate of a first-generation untsagila
could not have been high. The Sanga name does geographically cluster
about the courts but isn’t absent from bush hamlets.

For men who chose the court career, marriage was especially
late. The ties of continuity from which the practical strength of
kinship claims must grow had been broken before a man committed
himself to a permanent residence. The choice of a place was accord-
ingly the choice of a group of companions, and this meant the main
guarantee of local solidarity at the hamlet level was friendship—a tie
not of the axiomatic sort (ethically not like kinship) but one contin-
gent on regular affirmation. Belonging to this pattern of voluntary
residential alliance is the old system of social sanctions of the self-
help variety: reciprocal (as between individuals) or transactional (as
between relatively autonomous factions or groups) retaliation for
wrongs, a system which if it does well does very well without hierarchy.
It was always sanctioned in Kingaland by the bush culture and only
suppressed where intervention was feasible by the courts. They would
have any internal dispute referred to authority and any external
dispute sublimated into militarism. Not only kinship but innocent
friendship itself may be cooked in a fashion to feed the military mind.

In kinship societies patterning co-residence of small descent
groups (minimal lineages), a respect hierarchy is usually found coded
into the structure by rules about age, genealogical position, and the
inheritance of wealth. Dissensus is absorbed within the group without
affecting the strength of the alliance it represents, until actual
schism or formal segmentation should occur. The moral strategies of
individuals then have a fixed dimension, the overriding commitment to
a kin-group and its fortunes. Alternative residential options exist but
only as a concession of doxy to praxis. By comparison, the moral
universe of the Kinga is an open and unbounded network whose resi-
dential centre is fixed rather late in life, after an extended period of
shifting between natal hamlet and local and/or royal courts.

Settled men in Kingaland as among Nyakyusa were apt to

decamp overnight from one jurisdiction to another for reasons of
personal security. Yet the extended bachelor phase which the Sanga
court culture in its heyday entailed for both men and women subjected
them to vigorous collective discipline, sanctioned by princely and
priestly authorities. For persons of either sex, early adulthood saw
the conversion of informal peer-group intimacy into the communal
solidarity of barracks [ikivaga] or bachelor women’s house [isaka]. An
equivalent context was to be found in the colonialism of 1960: Kinga
living in barracks at migrant labour sites enjoyed good morale and a
reputation for orderliness which some of their neighbours didn’t, while
the morale of bachelor young women at home was especially high where
the Christian churches had organized sodalities.<<[lit]

Kinship and friendship generate different moral contexts and

careers. Where the rule of agnatic kinship is carried to its logical limit,
the self-enhancing moral strategy for ego lies in advancing his private
standing within the group which co-opted him at birth. His
world-enhancing strategy will be to advance the competitive standing
of that group, broadly or narrowly defined, against others. But where
the rule of friendship dominates the social life, ego will find his private
advantage a function of popularity among peers. The same strategy
will extend to his world, which he may seek to enhance in a fashion
attractive to outsiders. Nyakyusa villages were much praised by early
German visitors. They were clean and pleasing to the eye. On a holiday
the princely court of a Kinga realm was given to the production of
magnetic spectacle.

Sowetan social organization ranges along a shift-dimension

from Kinship to Friendship. No culture falls close to the extreme of the
Kinship type, though Bena and Hehe norms place them within range.
Nyakyusa, representing a balance, may be placed centrally. But Kinga

so favour Friendship as a principle of association that, while they give
nominal weight to kinship principles, their social system falls within
the opposite range. It is not quite true to say a Kinga man who has
lost his friends has no one to extend him personal support, for some
Kinga (especially rulers) do build big polygynous families and rely on
them for a firm identity in their communities and for personal support;
but it is true that the typical Kinga man or woman would be bereft
without friends. Even a close kinsman who is not within that category
will hardly honour a serious claim. The cardinal moral strategies of
Kinga take their orientation from the need to keep faith with peers.


Gentle Warriors

Mask and face: the warrior role

It is no deep puzzle that the fiercest of warriors may be gentle
with friends, his children, and the women he trusts. Attitudes are as
often struck as they are spontaneous; moods are by definition self-
conscious. To be fierce, to be gentle—these are acts within the
standard human repertoire, displays which can be evoked in children
everywhere. What distinguishes the acts of ‘real life’ from those of
‘drama’ is hardly more than the presence or absence of theatrical con-
spiracy—the intersubjective situation. The dramaturgical dimension
of experience is stronger in one person than another, stronger in the
same person at one age or in one kind of predicament than another—
and, being contagious, may be hard to predict. Critical clues can be left
out of account when the problem is approached through individual psy-
chology alone. Our puzzlement about human cruelty begins with a
premise about our own natures. The puzzle fades away when the
premise is brought in line with worldwide evidence.

Usually a person responding to a manifest situation—one whose

audience is contained within it—will not be aware of ‘putting on’ a mood
and may rightly deny doing so. Yet a mood must about-face when a
situation does, and in that moment of shifting ground we are apt to
glimpse ourselves as actors: the moment when Officer goes off duty,
Cook reappears as Siren, or Tycoon-head starts playing Daddy. In
Good Company Monica Wilson described the Nyakyusa in predominantly
gentle mood, and I shall so describe the Kinga. As ethnographers we
saw some but not much quarreling, arrogance, or cruelty, and we have
to trust our first-hand experience. It is simply foolish to suppose the
presence in the field of one alien observer can turn a whole lifestyle
into a charade for years on end. Invisible ethnographers would have
found more but only more of the same. In any event, in traditional

times the age-village with its ethic of civility among males had a hard-
core rationale. In the absence of politically accessible kinship solidari-
ty, these compact bachelor cohorts, closely grouped about the court
village, gave a Nyakyusa chief his fighting strength. The centrepiece of
the communal rituals, the celebrated though puzzling Coming Out
[ubusoka], is best understood as a renewal ceremony dedicated to the
same ends. The Kinga equivalent to this was an elaborate succession
drama which I describe elsewhere. Nyakyusa also showed Monica
Wilson their truculence in armed fighting at funerals, where the
parties were kinship factions; they seem to have lacked the regular
war games Kinga courts put on.<<[lit]

A paradox in early accounts of Nyakyusaland by the German mis-

sionaries is the ease with which a peaceful traveller crossed bounda-
ries, despite frequent warfare between chiefs. The most likely
explanation is that warfare was properly taken up or ‘staged’ as
action within a special frame, ritually sanctioned and set apart from
ordinary affairs. It was not simply ‘declared’ but set to a given place
and time. This was the case with Kinga warfare, even to the extent
that we may describe their civilization as centred in armed camps but
predominantly peaceful. The ‘switchable’ alternation of mood is graph-
ically described by missionaries in accounts of their early contacts.
Meeting first with a belligerent stance, the Germans watched it give
way to confident hospitality once the peaceful intention of their visit
was understood.

But war is played for high stakes. When competition is strong, it

is a people with a chronically high level of pugnacity which will survive.
In social anthropology the celebrated case is that of the Nuer and
Dinka in the Sudan: one lesson seems to be that bold and braggart
warriors will always outnumber and outfight more serene pastoralists
in any actual engagement, whatever the reserve numbers of the two
sides might suggest.>>[lit]

Until a proper phenomenology of primitive war has been written

we are left to form our ideas from less systematic impressions as to
the variety of war cultures men have devised. The contribution of a
single case is small, but in the limited state of our knowledge I think
each new one should be carefully presented. In what sense are the Nuer
a truculent people (for they are so described) and the Nyakyusa not?
When does the mask, chronically worn in the doing of savage deeds,
become the face? We look to deep ethnographies to validate
judgement on such questions; but though the Nuer and Nyakyusa are
among the best-reported peoples of Eastern Africa we know less of
them than would be wanted. This argues for psychological fieldwork, of

course, but not of the kind that doesn’t know a face from a mask,
person from persona.

The studies of the Kinga I mean to report here do not deal

directly and extensively with war, its institutional structures and its
event-history, but are concerned with character. The portrait I can
give of warfare before the Germans is meant to sensitize a reader to
the hard (and perhaps some softer) facets of Kinga male existence—
it is mainly male character values the military dimension will expose.
How far do litigants really demand justice and how far satisfaction?
How far does ego want his own moves to be affected by sympathetic
understanding of a fellow creature’s plight? and if that creature be a
peer, a child, a woman? How far in this or that situation will ego feel his
human condition enhanced or degraded by showing explicit considera-
tion for others? If we knew how effectively the ritual-ceremonial
trappings of war protected the man’s face from the mask he wore in
games of war and in war itself...? Questions of that order are
essential to any full study of Kinga character and culture. They relate
to that psychological study of institutions without which the study
of Motivation and the study of Society will forever remain two
academic islands. In this chapter I offer a review of the ethnography a
reader should have in hand before attacking the problem of bellicosity
as a feature of protostate politics in the Livingstone mountains.

In a recent article (Park 1994b) I’ve offered an extended discus-

sion of Kinga warfare considered as high theatre. Elsewhere (Park
1990a) I have reported an episode of shattering violence which
occurred in German times in connection with the so-called Maji-Maji
Uprising, when the princely courts were suddenly in eclipse, and all the
theatrical framing of the Kinga medieval dispensation dropped away.
In the present discussion I simply ask the reader to consider as a
matter of fact that Kinga could massacre Kinga in quite brutal fashion
but in the times of their free tradition didn’t do so. That is what makes
the metaphor of ‘theatre’ essential here.<<[lit]

Histrionic warfare
One point which emerges from a comparison of Nyakyusa or
Kinga with the faraway but especially interesting Nuer of the Sudan
concerns the subjective test of heroism. For each of these peoples
the preferred arena was battle with one’s close neighbours not a
distant enemy or alien people. But Nuer were expanding at the
expense of a (perceived) alien people with equivalent or even superior

technology. If facts sometimes speak for themselves this seems to
say the Nuer get higher marks for pugnacity than Hehe, the Sowetan
contenders. Kinga and Nyakyusa expansions by contrast to Hehe were
hegemonic invasions, intrusive colonizations, backed by a show of su-
periority at arms but culminating in co-optation. Aidan Southall
(1954) reported in detail on such a process of political expansion by
Nilotic speakers, the Alur, which continued unabated during his field-
work. Ideally, whole settlements would be taken under the wing of a po-
litically talented man styling himself as chief or prince, and in short
order take on the cultural identity of their new host.<<[lit]

The structure of a Nyakyusa realm bears witness to the pow-

er-building process: only the royal village is ruled by hereditary right,
the other villages of a princely realm being ruled by commoners who
must be able to claim no hereditary privilege. Kinga realms had a similar
structure except that all local rulers were or claimed to be ex-royal
Sanga “sent out to rule” some generations ago by the prince of the
realm. In both cases fighting could well occur within the princedom as
local rulers vied for influence. But blood-feuds were not a feature, and
an appellate system existed to mediate dispute settlement.

The summit of the war pattern was the armed rivalry of princes.
The prize was not usually territory so much as cattle or women in
token numbers. Nyakyusa commoners explicitly call their rulers an
intrusive set of lineages who brought the first cattle and fire, symbol
of authority, from Kingaland. Cattle and the transforming fire of the
smith are presumably as old as the Iron Age in this part of the Rift
Valley (early in the Christian era) but the transition this myth is likely
to concern is the onset of the Later Iron Age (say, 1400 a.d.). Kinga
legends make an equally explicit distinction between the intrusive
Sanga ruler and autochthonous lineages, cowed by the superior
culture and technical mastery of the newcomers. Part of the cultural
baggage which the intruders brought was evidently a war pattern with
which they were able to set themselves up in business.<<[lit]

Following is an account of the Nyakyusa-Ngonde style of battle,

as witnessed by Rev. D. R. MacKenzie probably around 1900 in the
Ngonde area. The account conforms in essentials to the retrospec-
tive accounts I was given by Kinga elders, making allowances for the
British missionary’s special narrative style. Obviously, war patterns
will tend to be standard for a region, since they won’t stabilize until
they are.

The fighting began when the opposing forces came within a

spear’s throw of one another. Here and there a great hero stood out

to hurl insulting language at the enemy, challenging them to “come
on,” and be scattered by his single arm. When the fighting became
close, stabbing took the place of throwing, and if a very few were
killed on either side, the losing side retired. But only for a short
distance; for a hero stood out, and called the others to rally round
him, and a few desperate men would drive back the enemy. And so the
battle swayed to and fro, until one chief considered that his men had
had enough, and made his submission; or perhaps the fight was
renewed the next day when the tired men had rested. (MacKenzie
1925: 171-2.)
War horns and whistles were being sounded all the while on both
sides, and medicine vessels advanced and retired, whose relative
powers were thought to control the bravery with which men found
they could fight. MacKenzie found his people shocked by reports of the
casualty rate in European wars, and their fathers must have been
equally shocked by news of the mutual slaughter of Hehe and Sangu
warriors in confrontations like the one Elton happened to witness in
1877, only a day’s walk to the north.

The moral strategy behind the histrionic style of battle

favoured by Nyakyusa-Ngonde and Kinga princes was the pressing of
claims to precedence among royal siblings. A prince’s subjects shared
in his prestige and to some degree his motives, as well as in the royal
largesse which must follow a victory. Princely rivalry is confirmed for
Nyakyusaland by at least one early observer (Merensky 1894: 264),
although we don’t know just how overlordship was expressed as
between ‘brother’ princes, or whether a pyramidal order of any sort
might emerge and stand for a time against the radically decentraliz-
ing tendencies of the political system. We know that in late precon-
tact times what we call Nyakyusaland fell into various ethnic spheres,
each internally segmented into large or small princedoms. The war
pattern centred in political rivalries internal to a given ethnic sphere;
but we know very little about the natural history of the military arena
so formed. In Kinga political theory there should be four realms only;
and war within a realm was understood to constitute rebellion if the
prince was involved. The purpose of a petty ruler in leading a rebellion
would not be apprehended as separation but assumption of the
princely mantle. Kinga realms, as territorial realities, had to this
extent been sacralized. It is not clear the Nyakyusa constitution had
evolved so far; and I have elsewhere argued that Kinga had constitu-
tions for all seasons—all the players weren’t always going by the
latest rules.

Since the Western realm was openly, and the Eastern covertly,
in schism at Contact, we have to suppose Kinga theory would have

been adapted to new circumstance if either schism were eventually
conceded as permanent. This is what the theory of just four realms,
promulgated by the High Prince at Ukwama, served to resist. The act
of legitimation would have been taking a new prince into the summit
group and reconstructing a genealogy of some fourteen generations
showing him to be a collateral descendant of the Founder. As between
princes, rank order was expressed in ritual procedures and through
nominal tribute—a few goats sent “from time to time”—rendered
through priestly officials. As to the priests, their protean calling
made them free of boundaries, unless in the very heart of battle, even
while their local loyalties were the firmest of any men’s. While in the
nature of the case we can’t know how stable the rank-ordering of
princely offices may have been, we have abundant evidence that gene-
alogical right was supposed to establish military might, not the other
way round. However independent the actual behaviour of local rulers,
the constitution they operated within afforded a more coherent ideal
structure than the one Nyakyusa knew.

How much real time was devoted to war? Tunginiye, the Kinga
historian, was sure that war had been restricted to the dry season,
the half-year beginning in May. The rituals associated with sacrifice at
Lubaga would likely occupy six weeks or more of this time, during which
any hostilities must be suspended. A preparatory rallying of forces
through war-games at the courts, combined with the launching of
young men’s cattle raids on distant (culturally alien) targets, would
presumably fill the time to midsummer. Wars were not fought to any
calendrical schedule, of course—even major ritual occasions were
unfixed, following only the perennial rhythms of weather, vegetable
growth or decay, and presentiments of doom.

Intermittently throughout the nineteenth century there were

serious incursions of marauders (Ngoni and Hehe) resorting to
barbarous techniques of warfare; and there were punitive raids by
Sangu, who would follow the ridges into highland strongholds by night
and attack in the morning—an un-Kinga practice. These conditions of
external threat evidently would have strengthened the hand of a
Sanga prince as warlord, collector of revenue, and promissory protec-
tor. When the pax arrived about 1900 the Sanga expansion hadn’t
quite reached the Magoma settlements on the western marches,
where a handful of Sangu visitors were in fact in process of setting
themselves up in chiefly style, while far to the south the native popu-
lation of a promising new Sanga province weren’t quite ready to
identify as Kinga. Under the Native Authority set up in 1926-7, Kinga
acquired the one and lost the other. Many are the hero tales of men

and events on both these fronts. But the borders of Kingaland in its
final period (1926-1961) served the convenience of the District Office
well. Local ethnic alignments were served less well, but the pax had
brought in a new game.

Not every Kinga prince was prepared to do battle in person. The

commander’s regalia could be worn by a distinguished commoner
hero—a general officer. The heroes who stood forth in battle could be
ambitious commoners, princelings, or even mercenary adventurers
whose reputations were calculated to shake an enemy’s courage. The
ritual preparations for fighting were intricate, and projects were
always subject to being muffled by unfavourable divination, whether
the enterprise at hand was an anonymous raid on a distant communi-
ty, aimed at taking cattle without bloodshed, or formal battle. In the
latter case the real issue was usually princely rivalry—the need to
exact a concession of rank, or to establish one’s power to refuse—
although the manifest quarrel might be over possession of boundary

In any case the engagement was unlikely to be more than a one-

or two-day affair, long and carefully prepared but quickly disengaged
once blood was shed. Battle was in effect a form of divination on the
grand scale: whereas on the surface the issue must be decided by the
superior dash, skill with shield and spear, and endurance of the one
side, still the blame for defeat would be laid in the end to the power of
the victor’s medicines, and a sign of such disequilibrating power—an
adverse turn—was quick to be read even in the thick of battle. It would
be hard to design a better system for cutting losses. But at the same
time, since everyone didn’t always play by the same rules, the
dramatic element was high.

The style of warfare was not cautious. Kinga courage leaned

toward the foolhardy, as though men required the histrionics of
boasting and bravado to put them on their mettle. The lifestyle of
boys and youths was such as to generate admiration for the hero
figure we glimpse in Mackenzie’s account. Games and adventures
among the goatherds were patterned on the battle-games and raiding
sorties of older brothers at court. In the stick fights boys would
arrange in the bush, cudgeling was forbidden. The sticks were thrown
spinning, aimed at most to break a leg. From accounts, I surmise that
the aim was generally wild enough that a bad wound or death need not
seriously inculpate the flinger; and that supposition suits the picture
I was given of relations among boys from neighbouring hamlets: all
were on a first-name basis, and the level of ambivalence was generally
under control.

The continued bachelor status of actual warriors would have
contributed to their reckless bent both in the formal war games and
in battle; and a special feature of barracks life for the Kinga (as with
age-village life for the Nyakyusa-Ngonde) was the personal intimacy
enjoyed by fighting mates as individuals. Particularly in the British
version of current-and-recent Western culture, we know a parallel in
boarding schools and university men’s residences. But there can be
only limited comparison to Western barracks life as such—Kinga and
Nyakyusa youth culture stressed self-government and generated its
own lively ceremonial life. The Bena court school differed in respect to
sexual orientation and achieved its integrative ends in its own way
(Culwicks 1935) but shared the regional pattern of educating and
resocializing youth to the political culture of a court claiming
more-than-local authority. Each of these systems of schooling is
matched to its own gender and career patterns. For Kinga this
dimension of the culture informs in a special way the absence of close
family living for children, and the substitution of peer intimacy.



Creativity is infectious. Art begets art. The springs of our crea-

tivity are deeply personal, individual, close to the springs of vision
itself. But the sound of catgut stretched between the nocks of an
archer’s bow is not the sound of the ’cello, though their source in a
narrow sense may be the same. To pursue the metaphor: any
resonator which produces a pleasing sound through a fair musical
register will be an intricate structure of coupled vibrating systems,
having many degrees of freedom but operating nonetheless severely
as an acoustical filter. The expressive culture a child finds in the world
acts like a filtering resonator, selectively deadening or giving life to
elements of a raw or natural style of action, so that the persona
which eventually forms will belong to an individual in a cultural setting—
you are alone among your fellows, perhaps, but always a compound of
ego and experience.

In a special way and in an important degree, Kinga culture evoked

a style and demeanour we don’t usually associate with folk society: in-
dividualistic expression, creativity, spontaneity, reflexive awareness.
Kinga have their conformists, conservatives, rigid keepers of routine,
witch-finders, authoritarians. But such persons would not often or
for long dominate the mood of a typical community—or so I felt in
most groups I got to know. The people who became my special friends
were open, communicative men of different ages, all of them imagina-
tive and entertaining. Looking back, I recognize I sought out such indi-
viduals as friends and felt most comfortable with them. Granted that
I must be at pains not to make my friends stand for everyone, they
were not eccentrics. Through an unmatched set of individuals who par-
ticipate in it, even a stranger can gain a fair sense for the mainstream.
Personal differences over a considerable range are to be taken for
granted in any society and don’t detract from the characteristic dif-
ferences between one culture and another.

Cultures weren’t well conceived in the culture-and-personality
literature of a generation ago. They were pictured as expressions of
the typical or modal personality found in a defined population. That
idea derived from the notion that cultures were ‘internalized’
phenomena located inside their exemplars. This is rather like saying
that its special timbre is ‘internalized’ in a cello: the statement is not
so much wrong as out of focus. Culture like music is sui generis. As the
body of the cello forms a hard surround for the air set in vibration by
bow and string, and the broader surround of a still room is wanted to
translate the vibrations into music; and as in fact there must be a
sense of change, sequence, and aesthetic expectation created in an
audience before music is realized; so it is with culture and the individ-
ual mind. Only those personal vibrations to which your particular
culture can give resonance are truly expressible. A culture, being inter-
subjective, is identical with no mental phenomenon, though it may
partly lend itself to description in psychological terms.

The reason for looking to art in the study of a microculture is not

simply that the art is there and may interest readers who especially
value aesthetic productions but that art provides that ‘hard
surround’ by which the vibration of a style can be amplified and estab-
lished as an element of the air a people shares.

Consider the centrepiece and prime vehicle of Kinga expressive

culture, dance. Before a dance can have its occasion at court, and so
come to exist as more than mental imagery, a vast social enthusiasm
must be generated. Preparations will be under way for days in advance.
Beer will be brewed, pigment processed and brought in, regalia readied,
hair fancy-dressed, instruments repaired and tuned, expectations
raised above the humdrum. Individual projects of quite varied kinds will
be adjusted to dovetail with the collective plan. Unless there are
moments of high aesthetic achievement—star minstrels emerging
bigger than life, putting new and memorable verses to old tunes—when
the dance does get under way it won’t come together as an integral
phenomenon, something in the realm of art worth the heightened ex-
pectations under which it was prepared. During the long generation of
the colonial hegemony the “pagan” dance, condemned out of hand by
missions and churches, finally even dismissed by Kinga sophisticates
as frivolity, languished away. The institution lost resonance.

All that did remain of dance in 1960 to give cultural reality to

the old ideal were the seeds from which the court institution can be
supposed to have sprung: the dance traditions of children, surviving
everywhere, and of the adult bush culture where it stood free of
mission influence. The spirit of dance was distinctly alive, I can report,

at such occasions: exuberant, joyous, and gender-equal. The energy
level was a cut and more above the simpler drum-dancing I observed
elsewhere in East Africa: the occasion seemed to have more special
meaning—a true celebration not mere entertainment. More than
these impressions I can’t report from observation, but I’d cherish the
chance to be back there, dancing with ankle bells by torch and
moonlight in a high valley transformed by night. I had to depend on the
memories of informants and their readiness to paint word-pictures
for me—these supplemented by a few documentary references—for a
reconstruction of courtly dancing as it was done in its proper time. We
do know that excellence in the dance was honoured only less than con-
spicuous proficiency in war. These two were the cardinal arts.

The psychological impact of Kinga expressive culture can be

brought under the rubric of primary creativity, which with Abraham
Maslow we may relate rather to cognitive than conative processes. In
common-sense terms this means intuitively creative responses to
life situations, falling into an episodic rather than a programmatic
pattern over time. Concretely, “primary” just indicates a tendency
toward a transitory and fragmentary product. For Kinga we have to
deal with music and verbal art almost exclusively, and to-us
anonymous artists. It would take a systematic project to collect a
corpus of Kinga songs, tales, and skits; the examples I was able to
record were, except for the tales, improvisations, since that is the
usual style of a Kinga performance. Within the frame of its genre, any
Kinga performance or composition would be measured by its audience
against an established aesthetic standard, as are works of art in any
society: we have only to think of the rather debased form of tale-
telling which does survive in our own culture—passing on jokes. Some
have and some lack the talent.

The Kinga material I have strikes me as being of high quality—it

is high enough that I predicate creativity as a major attribute of the
culture. Still I think ‘primary creativity’ is most apt, since the Kinga
artist did not tend to make a cultural object of his own work or of an-
other’s. A good tune is quickly picked up and adapted to new verbal
uses; ideas and phrases also soon become public property—the
standard conditions for the emergence of folksong are there. But
works as such do not become frozen in the way, for example, that a
memorable Toda song will do. Perhaps the art of creation has more
value to Kinga than the art created. That would help to explain the
absence of notable graphic art or sculpture in their inventory, though
I hasten to say they are not ‘performance artists’ in our just-now
fashionable sense.<<[lit]

Much of Kinga verbal art had its proper setting in the evening,
whether indoors or by an open fire, among intimates. That universal
setting of the myth or folktale, the family hearth, did exist, since
children from time to time would gather in the house of a grandmother
for a night, though a parents’ house was never open to such slumber
parties. But the quintessentially Kinga setting was the bachelor
house where young maidens or young men entertained one another
with their wits and with games of veiled meanings. If the minstrel-
dancer at court was virtually a professional entertainer, apt to be
loved and rewarded by royal decree like a hero in war after a fine per-
formance, the minstrel’s formative training in wit and the art of
holding an audience would have been at home with his special friends.
That being at home was being with friends not family is an essential
clue for understanding the culture.

The same spontaneity fostered by young men was flourishing in

1960 among the gregarious maidens of the several Christian sodali-
ties, and the pattern was evidently no recent borrowing. The ebullient
good humour of these clubs bespeaks a bachelor lifestyle in which peer
network participation is featured in mixing work and play. Conduct is
intuitively sanctioned on the level of manners and symbolic reciprocity
rather than being held to the hard standards of right and obligation
which characterize the producing-and-consuming domestic unit of
most societies. The longer bachelorhood of men (more than two
decades past puberty as compared to about one for women) presum-
ably accounts in some measure for their dominant part in the verbal
and musical arts in public fora; but the revolution of male fantasies
around hunting, games of conflict, and the exploits of raiding and
warfare must have the most credit.

The masculine is the bolder gender in such a society if not the

braver; but I found girls more apt to be intellectually precocious. My
personal candidate for a prize in the art of storytelling was an eleven-
year-old girl who, for lack of brothers, was a goatherd and lived the
tomboy’s life. The spaces over which a herd of Kinga goats will range
are wide. The dangers there are real. But the experience, now alone and
now with a few friends, can give wings to a child’s imagination. What
the extended bachelor phase of the life-cycle seems to allow for Kinga
is that an expressive freedom, at home in a largely unrepressed child-
hood, will survive into later stages of life.

Compared to the Nyakyusa, Kinga men enjoy loose networks of

peer intimacy. Nyakyusa age-villages recruit young boys prescriptive-
ly from all over a realm (chiefdom), the criteria being simply physical
maturity and accomplishment. But having been recruited in that

virtually random fashion, the same group will remain together, barring
defections and replacements, a steadfast fraternity to death. Kinga
residential patterns were always more shifting. Even for those who
took up a full career at the princely court of their realm, the solidary
barracks group would be seasonally dispersed when men’s work was
wanted in the fields. Recruitment and attrition were continuous proc-
esses, and the peer group’s exclusiveness was compromised in a host
of ways. No man was tethered. Only small contingents normally
stayed together when it was time to marry and settle down to
farming. Hence Kinga peer relations can be said to have a comparative-
ly transitory and apolitical (non-communal) basis. Is unpredictability a
spur to the human imagination? That is a vague formulation but
probably sound. One connection particularly worth exploring with
Kinga materials is that between stress-seeking—courting danger—
and creativity.

There is a firm association of youth with conviviality, elderhood

with conservatism, self-containment, and querulousness. All elders
are not hide-bound. Tunginiye was a veritable sprite at sixty. Not all
youths are extraverted. But in principle the association holds, and a
corollary is that a man’s marriage is a major turning-point, marking the
start of his withdrawal from male conviviality for increasing devotion
to heterosexual duties and heavy economic responsibility. The deep
associations which seem to fit the surface facts are these:

Youth: Peer sexuality ~ Creativity ~ Transitory ties

Age: Cross sexuality ~ Accountability ~ Permanent ties
With appropriate allowances, particularly for the greater
constancy of maidens living together before marriage, the same
equations apply for women. Marriage will ordinarily mean a slow suc-
cession of childbirths and absorption in the care of infants, in garden-
ing, and in food preparation. Withdrawal from the particular friends
and haunts of bachelor days may be virtually complete, whereas for
men it will usually not be so. Once a pregnancy is established, a man is
not expected to require sexual congress with his wife, nor she with
him, until the child is weaned some four years later. He will take most
of his food at home but spend a good deal of time at one of the men’s
houses where he has entrée. What he has withdrawn from, with his
passage into the married state, is not the recreational company of
his peers or even the pleasure of sensual contact with them but the
calling of adventurer: the stress-seeking lifestyle of youth and its
extension in the bachelor phase of adulthood.

In my model life-cycle for Kinga men there is a ‘post-creative’
phase. It comes after withdrawal to marriage and the initial establish-
ment of a household, which is likely to evoke a burst of constructive
energy. I suppose the end of youth, its style and its mood, used to
come gradually in the old culture, so that the mature style of the
householder would be prefigured in the more settled habits of the
aging bachelor-warrior. This was so in 1960, when marriages were
entered earlier but migrant labour continued, with only short visits
home, up to the same age at which a man in the old culture would have
married—what we regard as middle age and they as maturity. This is
the time of life when physical ailments begin to feature increasingly in
a man’s experience as well. His perspective darkens: how can he trust
his friends when they seem envious of him? Men notice his absence
from the convivial life of the men’s house and the occasional beer
parties at places he used to frequent; it is known that attempts have
been made to poison him.

This picture of the paranoid elder is a prime target of lampoon-

ing by youths who have not yet felt the touch of suspicion; and it is in-
stitutionalized in “the Kinga method of drinking beer” (which young
men will proudly display)—a supposed technique for filtering out
poisons. The beer must be poured by a companion in a thin stream from
a height and received directly in the hands, cupped to the mouth. Any
suspicious lump can then be splashed to the ground. You would think,
from the good spirits with which the “Kinga method” is demonstrated,
that it never could be used in earnest. It is in fact a typical, double-
edged Kinga joke.

Youth and age will present a phase contrast in any human

society. Human social life produces an accumulation of unrequited
emotional claims, dimly glossed affronts, and rankling disappoint-
ments. We may call this accumulation the neurotic load of the commu-
nity. Freud in Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (1930) has perhaps led us into
thinking only of a sort of anticulture rooted in a universal human pre-
dicament. But the idea of the neurotic load belongs to a cultural
rather than an individual psychology. Discontent is recessive, unfor-
mulated, intersubjective; it is precisely correlative to local values—it
is the small print in the social contract of one human community.
Creative arts, particularly the satirical wit Kinga artists make their
specialty, can provide a refractive awareness of the fallibility of
human ideals, dissipating neurotic load. In the Kinga life-cycle creativ-
ity and the psychic freedom which stress-seeking and art help to
provide are characteristics of an extended youth. Neurotic load accu-
mulates almost unfelt in the culture of youth but weighs upon the

community of older men, leading to individual phantasies of witchcraft
or murderous intent which are beyond the exorcism of art. A dour
judgement seems to emerge: the deepest intention of the arts among
Kinga is holding back the knives of time. I can’t fault that intention,
though. It is the Kinga maiden not the older woman with a child on her
back whom I and the German missionaries before me heard singing for
joy through the fields at harvest time. In the theatre of everyday life,
I suppose the art of song is spontaneous and belongs to youth.

The mirrors of art and fame are distinct and possibly of

opposite nature. In the satirical skit or song men see their folly for
what it is: art holds a mirror to life. But in the bravado of the hero men
see not what they are, only what in the abeyance of worldly consider-
ations they would be: they see their folly proved virtue. Aesthetic
distance is still there, since they admire the hero with a love com-
pounded of envy, what in its sociological aspect is charisma. But
instead of being the more content with themselves and their failings,
under the spell of fame men are prone to renounce the real as mundane
and to lust for a transcendent style of being which may have little cor-
respondence with the persona an observer would call theirs. As the
mirror of art makes ideal forms of being seem attainable, so does the
mirror of fame; but where the one will produce contentment the other
breeds restlessness. The prince who first made an artist a hero by
awarding a minstrel the hand of a royal princess was a canny judge of
his options.

In a careful study of contemporary, stratified society Stanley

Coopersmith found an “independent and creative” personality associ-
ated with high self-esteem. Owning lower anxiety and higher skills than
their fellows, creative persons (as he uses the term) would “gravitate
to positions of influence and authority.” More than most small, prelit-
erate peoples, the Kinga had created a society favouring social
mobility. The social structure itself favoured an individualistic ethic,
and internal turbulence leavened the mix of meanings against which
any actor would have to project his own deeds. Art conspires to enrich
an ethic of individualism insofar as art creates an authentic illusion
(as Sartre might have it?) of a world that can be based in human
freedom. I can’t be sure how effective this illusion remained the
morning after an all-night dance, or how the aging casualties of war
might have looked back on its heroics, but it is not incorrect to say
that wars were staged in the same sense dances were, and that the
illusion of freedom—sensing no drag on self by others even in the thick
of action—was never long left to languish for want of an impresario.



Kinga erotic orientations are better described as ambisexual

than bisexual, as the more usual term can imply that the two sexes
enjoy parity as objects of a male or female subject’s desire. The
situation for Kinga is rather that two distinct styles of erotic life are
open to a person of either gender and are appropriate to different
situations, not always elective. Though some allusions to the pattern
have been made, here are the main features in brief: Men enjoy norma-
tively non-possessive relations with peers, steadily before marriage
and situationally afterward. Women enjoy normatively loyal but non-
exclusive or at least non-possessive relations with peers, on a steady
basis, before marriage but turn then to a heterosexual adjustment in
which the mother-infant relation rather than the wife-husband tie is
thought to offer fulfilment.

A woman’s heterosexual adjustment, in the narrow erotic sense,

was ethically coloured by labiotomy and the teachings which accompa-
nied the operation. This was at least in the literal sense traumatic,
the centrepiece of a fairly elaborate set of initiation ceremonies
staged by the women of a community to honour a girl’s adolescence.
The Kinga operation was always done well after menarche, most often
in a girl’s late teens. Labiotomies were formerly widespread in the
Sowetan region and associated (as elsewhere male circumcision
generally is) with belief in the special dignity of mature members of
the sex. The second-hand information I have on Kinga practice
suggests it was very like that of the riverine Bena, reported in detail
by the Culwicks in Ubena, except in respect of the subject’s age.
Removing the labia minora was supposed to facilitate male penetra-
tion. Whether it was expected to facilitate male arousal as well, by
beautifying the vulva, I don’t know; but since maidenly notions of
beauty prompt girls to keep their pubes plucked, I take it that a
paedophilic thema runs below this surface—what, if Dr. Freud had been

an Englishman, I suppose we should be calling a Peter Pan complex. At
the psychological level the most probable immediate meaning of the
rite is, “It is good that I sacrifice (a vital part of) myself for my (yet
unknown) partner in procreation.” The operation has no direct meaning
for men, who know little or nothing of it.<<[lit]

For the Bena, who performed the operation on little girls, the
meaning would presumably have been stronger on submissiveness; and
that of course was also a theme of the Kinga. All considered, we can
still say for the Kinga that the rite was practised by women on girls,
not by women on women, since the rite itself marked the passage from
girlhood to bachelor adult status and was administered by parous
women. The difference is that for Bena the subject was a child—for
Kinga she must be physically full-grown only socially still in her

How deeply cut is the female psyche? Here is a custom the Kinga
share with peoples of the larger region who haven’t institutionalized
ambisexuality. (But it is true for the riverine Bena, the one case where
we have an adequate account, that children approaching adolescence
move away from the parental home to peer residences.) In the absence
of proper eye-witness accounts it is difficult to know how Kinga
teachings were suited to their special context. A girl learned well that
women generally discount the erotic potential of the organs they cut
away, and that (with compensating energy) they prize the clitoris
instead. Girls’ initiations were manifestly women’s affairs—a good
part of the point seems to have been the mystification of men, and
the anthropologist fell unhappily into that category. Any search for
meaning should be guided by the mood of the institution, which
throughout the region is one of celebration not sexual alienation.
Kinga initiations (virtually lacking for males) were not tunnels to
marriage. They were schools more than they were rites of passage.
The bachelor life might continue, at least for women in the court
culture, as long again as the years of girlhood which were past.

A second powerful normative influence on a woman’s hetero-

sexual adjustment was a perceptual set or preconception as to the
nature of coital relations which must be rare if not unprecedented in
ethnographic annals. Kinga men profess to believe that a woman needs
a great number of successive acts of copulation to be sensually
satisfied and so to conceive. Consistent with this, my older inform-
ants insisted that only a man who could mount a wife on demand seven
times in a single night could claim exclusive rights to her sexual
favours. I couldn’t joke my interlocutors out of their statements. A
woman who demanded and didn’t get her full measure might claim dire

frustration and must be morally free to take a lover should her
husband continue to stint her. I’m disinclined to be puzzled about the
sexual gymnastics entailed. I assume the rule is used by a woman only
at need, and the need would be for a pregnancy. So an infertile or
impotent man may be obliged to tolerate his wife taking a lover, but
can do so without losing face, citing the fanciful number seven. But
women do teach that only multiple acts of coition will produce preg-
nancy; and after the loss or weaning of a child, especially where her
situation is aggravated by the husband’s prolonged absence (in 1960
at migrant labour), a woman craving a child might bend other rules
using this one.

The Myth of Seven Mountings does have a special fit to social

reality. The sexual arithmetic is only unbelievable if you make the
assumptions I do about ovulation and the prostate gland. But psycho-
logically the beliefs Kinga claim to hold about coital gratification in
women and potency in men translate into limiting values. By holding up
an expansio ad absurdum as an attractive model for both man and
woman, you leave the typical couple to negotiate their contract on a
basis of intuitive reciprocity. In effect, when that fails they have
sanction for disengagement. Setting aside physical handicaps, the
limiting case is that of a wife happy only when carrying or nursing an
infant, but with a husband emotionally unable to extend his repertoire
to include regular heterosexual relations. Sex in such a marriage could
be reduced to a frantic month or two of intensive sex relations
earnestly devoted to conceiving a child, followed by a five-year hiatus.
At the marriage bed the woman has been dealt the better cards.
However, there follows an extended period of sexual neutralization of
the marriage, and here the man’s lot is by far the freer. A woman
carries the main burden of steady work in the fields and the whole
burden of infant care while her husband returns to the world of men.
But how many actual marriages would closely approach this limiting

I think some of the logic of the extreme case is felt within the
typical marriage, however independently couples may make their
intuitive contracts. But it is also true that in 1960 many established
couples seemed devoted, spent idle hours together without friction,
and had found (Christian) norms of monogamous householding not
just acceptable but quite to their liking. Men were marrying earlier in
1960 than they had done in the old court culture, but as they typically
would spend most of their first decade and a good part of their
second at labour outside Kingaland, the transition to housekeeping
norms was gradual for them. Their perspectives on moral values were

affected by the cosmopolitan experience of wage labour. In the bush
culture of 1890, which had not quite disappeared in 1960, the tiny
marital domicile had contained no public space at all—it was a place for
dyadic withdrawal. Informants always mentioned a quaint custom, at
which they would smile: the little doorway required crawling in, and this
a man would always do backward, not for fear of attack but to keep
from exposing himself provocatively. For women, who wore back-
aprons, the problem didn’t appear, but a man ought to care enough to
demonstrate his commitment to marriage. I take the evidence to
show that couples have always found their own balance in sexual
matters, including the degree of their involvement with family and
with peers. The step from pagan to Christian was never a wrenching
one for Kinga, and seemed not to call for a radical change in self-image.
Kinga are partial to lore about themselves as rather special among
their neighbours but prize their adaptability as well.

Is there an ambisexual ethos? I mean by this a style of civility

and sociality which owes its quality to the heightened probability that
random same-sex encounters might generate mutual attraction.
Kinga studies bear upon the question in a special way. It is true that
both older men and older women greet peers at a chance meeting with
elaborate respect; and discretion is characteristic of Kinga at any
age. But the ethical principles that seem to me fundamental are most
evident in the homophilic peer relations of maidens and of young men:
they are easy-going, episodic though communicative, and non-posses-
sive. Oblique jealousy (a young man resenting his friend’s visiting a
maiden, or the like) seems not to be part of the Kinga way. That is one
reason for my setting aside the idea of “bisexuality” in this discus-
sion—the two modalities of sexual love do not merge in envy. For an
observer who may have come to expect that human sexuality, building
on its own insecurities, is bound to be possessive, Kinga evidence is

Hehe, reckoning pederasty as a major crime, seem to have

betrayed repressed sexual feelings for the male victims of their
marauding wars, whom they would impale like scarecrows on stakes
rammed up the anus. Methinks they protested much too much. Kinga
were horrified and thought worse of the Hehe [Avajinga] than of the
sheerly opportunistic Ngoni [Avapoma]. Colonel Nigmann’s frank and
reasoned admiration for the Hehe is important evidence. But it was
that of a soldier, formulated after the pax was well established. In
Edgerton’s comparative psychological studies Hehe men emerge as
impulsively aggressive, hypersensitive to insult and argumentative,
relatively constrained in sexual matters, and prone to secretiveness.

Uncontrolled furies and intense suspicions characterized one of his
communities, a less constrained form of truculence the other. In the
traits which Edgerton finds pronounced and distinctive for Hehe, their
profile stands directly in contrast to Kinga character norms, and I
believe also to Nyakyusa norms, as these are to be judged from
missionary and ethnographic accounts. The general similarity of Kinga
and Nyakyusa erotic orientations, and their contrast to Hehe sexu-
ality, which is notable for an almost compulsive emphasis on self-
control, sexual sin, and concealment, might be thought to call for a
depth-psychological diagnosis. Sexual repression and heightened
aggressiveness are linked, while permissiveness (the provision of
ready and legitimate sexual outlets through peer relations) appears
to leave the capacity for aggressive performance intact but less
powerfully driven.<<[lit]

Alternatively, the difference in levels of aggression may be

conceptualized in terms of neurotic load. I use this phrase to make the
point that cultures differ in respect to the anxiety load (or overload)
the ordinary ego has to bear in the pursuit of an ordinary career. The
relatively casual quality and openness of Kinga-Nyakyusa erotic orien-
tations facilitates dissipation of the load, where the sexual
constraints characteristic of Hehe culture favour accumulation.
Taken in a strictly Freudian frame, this has the tail (institutions)
wagging the dog (deep personality). I’m not sure any deterministic
frame is appropriate, but it’s worth noting that Durkheim always
faced his dog the other way.

Hehe, Kinga, and Nyakyusa ego structures can as well be taken

for creatures as sources of the distinct levels and forms of aggres-
sion these peoples display. Sex in Creation’s most versatile animal
has such protean potential that no imaginable society could be both
liveable and unrepressive. Our otherwise notable drives and proclivi-
ties have to be ranked well behind sex in this. But your sexuality is not
hermetically sealed in your ego, what you know about it except from
experience itself is little indeed. How often does the association of
sex and aggression not derive in fact from experience? Kinga are apt to
learn an easy, unaggressive approach to sex in relations with their
peers. Their quiet approach to women in courtship can be seen to
derive from this. For males, especially, this sexual style sets them
apart from most of their neighbours.

Does permissiveness in sex lower aggression levels? In my book,

character—defined and sanctioned in a thousand ways in any human
society—always represents a massive buffer between ego and experi-
ence. The typical level of overt aggression in everyday life must be a

function of the interplay of ego-generated with evolved, institutional
forces. And when an individual’s tentative persona confronts estab-
lished character norms, the latter are likely to dominate. For an
understanding of the Kinga case I think the point would be that the
frequency of such confrontations in the course of everyday sexual
traffic is low. Kinga culture calls for a good deal of formality in social
relationships, but offers flexible, not hardened character norms. It is
particularly through this fact that I would link sex and aggression in
the traditional culture. If Kinga men appear, by comparison with other
Sowetan peoples, to favour a laid-back character, I’d point not to high
frequencies but low hassle in their sex lives.

At the same time, any study of character which ignores the

sexual dimension of life—the way the two main gender roles are turned
toward and from one another, and the semantic worlds which inform
the doing of sex—is incomplete. The two poles of Kinga culture, court
and bush, teach separate principles for the organization of the
intimate life. At the court the exaggerated heterosexuality of the
prince stands apart from the norm, which is peer solidarity for
bachelor men and bachelor maidens. In the bush, far from the men’s
house of the nearest petty lord, the bachelors are youths not men, or
they are daughters directly assisting their mothers not privileged
maidens of the royal class, treated with avoidance and respect by
men and youths. So in the bush, homophilia is assimilated to an
extended childhood, in which one’s work responsibilities are to parents
and only one’s play life is one’s own, but at court homophilia has the
normative standing of an initial phase of adulthood.

The deepest sanctioning force any human society possesses is

its power to assign and position the red and green lights that control
sexual traffic among its members. In microcultures like those of the
Kinga and their neighbours everyone is pretty well agreed about what
kinds of sexual act are strong or weak, praiseworthy or ridiculous,
healthy or dangerous. That doesn’t mean Kinga all stay on track, it
only means that they have a consensual cognitive map. Sex without
ego-involvement is probably easy for shellfish. For humans sex almost
always leads into intimate involvements with others, and so into some
degree of dyadic withdrawal into a world with its own rules. In urban
societies this usually means that a complex pattern of alternative
sexual paths will evolve to supplement the highroad traffic.

In the microcultures this kind of complexity is not to be

expected. The Hehe taboo of homophilia effectively discourages its
outward practice, even while attraction to peers no doubt remains a
feature of the inner worlds of men or women. By giving a green light to

homophilia, the Kinga might be thought to have run the danger of side-
tracking heterosexual relations and the reproductive potential of
their society. But when the evidence is weighed, that fear seems
unfounded. Moral careers without marriage are no more popular with
them than with their neighbours, only that a fulfilling period of bach-
elorhood comes first for both genders. Women effectively have the
right to a pregnancy when they are ready, and the right to make alter-
native arrangements to conceive where husband is absent or unable.
Before the pax and the lethal childhood diseases introduced by Euro-
peans, prolonged and successful nursing of Kinga infants, uninter-
rupted by new pregnancies, appear to have compensated the putative
population loss entailed in delaying a maiden’s marriage.


Counterthemes to rank &


There was more than one way a Kinga man of rank might be
reminded of his insecurity. Legitimacy has psychological depths, it is
not a mere matter of rules but a function of political culture. Kinga
have tales of the exercise of genuine countervailing power when an
unpopular succession was prevented, but the main safeguards
against overweaning power are not specifically political.

The manifest cause for disquiet if you were a prince or local ruler
was the knowledge of a secret rival among near kinsmen. It seems to
have been rare that a prince’s right to rule was not challenged in some
quarter. The commonest cause of irregularity in the line of succession
was a regency, and this is because an effective regent was ruler for
life, not just until the proper heir had reached his majority. There were
no precedents for dethroning a strong ruler, though a weak one might
be persuaded to step down. So long as he were not himself too weak
to hold the throne, a regent’s own heir could soon be entrenched. Still,
memories were long for by-passed lines, not only within the family of a
potential claimant but among men with quiet grievances against the
régime in power.

There were three reasons why there were no ‘Shakespearian’

tyrants prepared to kill off such claimants: In the absence of a visible
aristocratic class the possible claimants were legion. The anointing of
a successor by an independent hieratic élite had to occur some weeks
after the death of an incumbent, and this was an élite with an ear to
public opinion. A pretender, in short, would have to prove himself the
right successor not simply the heir under law. The only accepted way
to kill off internal enemies was by witchcraft, which isn’t practical—
the main vehicle is the random phenomenon we call disease, which
nightflights and fiery projectiles can’t control. Kinga know poisons,

but these are also impractical in politics. This is because, whereas a
man who was seen to take power by witchcraft would be showing he
had the right stuff, a man who resorted to poison would certainly not.

It was standard practice at court that a royal taster try all the
food and drink put before the prince, and only trusted persons had
access to his kitchen. Such precautions, though pressed upon him by
the priestly group, avanyivaha [great men, court élite], could be
brushed aside by a strong young prince inclined to take a personal lead
in warfare: risking his life directly, he would lean less to fantastic
fears. But the same prince, aged a decade and grown soft to the manly
arts through fitting devotion to beer and the needs of his harem,
would find clouds of anxiety and suspicion settling upon him. Deaths
among his offspring would be read as the depradations of a rival.
Secret enemies were forever finding foreign medicines—even the
priests’ best protective potion [ikivyoka] might be ineffective. Loss of
a favourite wife or daughter could be doubly traumatic, suggesting
hidden lines of conflict even within the royal enclosure. Little by little
the princely establishment would become a stockaded sanctuary [ul-
ulindo], the business of government being carried on outside it by the
group of great men.

They, the avanyivaha, merited special trust for being commoners

and ineligible for royal office. As the prince more and more secluded
himself with his women, it was the great men, priests and commoner
heroes with entrée to the royal enclosure, who expressed to the court
and the realm the will of a kept ruler. In high office the pattern of with-
drawing from the world with advancing age is dramatic; in the lives of
ordinary men it is writ smaller but slave to the same logic. The very
system of values which seems to have given youth an almost measure-
less stake in the world could produce alienation in later life.<<[lit]

How far should this Kinga paradigm be considered a consequence

of late marriage, particularly for men, in the court culture? There
would be new forms of stress, partly from the need for a radical
change in lifestyle, temporally in association with physical symptoms
of failing health in later middle age. Beyond this there are technical
and medical questions without answers. What is the effect of chronic
drinking in this setting? (Millet beer seemed to me nutritious—the
Kinga brew is rich in solids. But seasonal use of the fermented liquor
or “cider” of bamboo may be a less wholesome, possibly pernicious sub-
stitute.) What disorders of the alimentary tract are common among
older men, and what are the likely reasons? The information we’d need
about alcohol and diet is not to be had, and the same holds for the
whole subject of aging in such a setting under precontact conditions.

What we have is the mute evidence of stress—unquantified but clearly
not negligible—in the symptoms.

In the cold light of common experience it is likely men were

pushed to their physical limits in being kept at soldiering past forty,
then sent out to a rigorous life in uncleared, socially untamed home-
steading areas. The economics of maintaining such a bachelor soldiery
can’t be worked out in technical detail, but a subsistence agricultural
base can be strong only where the morale of the cultivators is the
same. Kinga mounted small raids intermittently with rapine as object
but they sent out no marauding armies across rich lands in the fashion
of Ngoni, Hehe, or Sangu. Plunder was not a substitute for productive

The Kinga war pattern was self-contained and expensive,

requiring meat, relishes, and grain-based beers in lavish quantities in
spite of the male population’s strongest element being (largely)
withheld from the labour force. Here is a political economy which must
have been hard pressed to maintain the community in the style to
which it was committed. Much depended on the success of frontier
colonizing settlements, which provided the external (bush) base of
the court’s affluence. The new beginning which marriage and the grant
of land and patronage would launch must have been the start of a
rewarding as well as a stressful life. But Kinga could claim no
exemption from the general rule that stress-seeking is easier on the
young than the old.

It would be misleading to describe the passage from youth to

age as a radical revision of cognitive maps. At the centre is witch-
belief, and in this the difference between young and old is in self-confi-
dence not cosmology. Many older men shrug off cares as easily as
ever; it is men who have lost that ability who are most inclined to talk
with a paranoid tinge. Even then the manifest deviance from the
robust norms of self-confidence and mutual trust among peers is not
extreme. One might call the syndrome ‘extraversion betrayed’ (I
haven’t as many friends as I thought).

None of my informants offered wholesale accusations or

showed comparable symptoms of irrationality. Given their universal
etiology for illness they were prone to responding rationally to what
they took to be clear evidence that some friend—some one friend—
wanted them dead. After a good evening with friends of long standing,
a man nearing home at night feels a sudden stab in the gut. For some
days he undergoes periods of intense pain, which he survives. His world
has grown more cramped. The witchcraft beliefs common to most of

East Africa give the experience of such an attack a special story line.
Where formal accusation is made, after divination, the victim’s initial
crisis of self-confidence is narrowed from fear to focussed hostility.
There is acting-out of a search for justice and signs of supernatural
favour. Kinga of all ages shared this worldview before Christian
ideology was brought in, and almost all continued to accept the same
view afterward, at least where they or theirs were under stress. That
princes themselves were not immune to the depradations of witches,
having to fight off malice with malice, told everyone that mundane
achievement was never secure, as even the powerful, the mystically
armed, have their rivals and will finally be brought down.

It is against this ethical background—the legitimation of

projected blame—that we should view systems of authority under the
princes. The most striking power conceded to a prince was that of
ordering an execution. We have no roster of cases from the decades
leading to 1890. Probably capital punishment was occasionally
invoked for any of several types of offense. But in folk memory the
main occasion for a public execution was the conviction of a witch, and
one of the strongest claims a Sanga ruler had to acceptance by a bush
community was the power of witch-finding—his readiness to confront
mystical aggression in kind. So princely authority was in part a reflex
of the currents of self-doubt and suspicion within the bush culture
itself. A bush community’s concession of rank to a Sanga ruler getting
established in the locality bears analogy to the picking of a scapegoat,
though on the surface the two phenomena are contraries. Rank-con-
cession in one aspect is recognition that the community, being unable
to resolve its problems of internal conflict, requires the ritual inter-
vention of outside agency. Henceforward the prince can be blamed for
what goes wrong: he has claimed the power to prevent it.

For Nyakyusa, Monica Wilson describes the countervailing power

of the chief’s entourage, a power representing public opinion objec-
tified in the mystical “breath of men” able to bring fever or paralysis
on a chief who ignores current feeling. She cites testimony that
before Europeans came (and buttressed chiefly authority) the people
had more power than since. The priests at Lubaga, normally subject to
the living Lwembe, had “the right and duty of admonishing” their Divine
King if they found him in the wrong, and village headmen enjoyed the
same relation to their chief.<<[lit]

Kinga great men making up the entourage of a prince or local

ruler were particularly apt to admonish him for stinginess but had the
duty of correcting errant ways whenever popular discontent threat-
ened to reduce his following in favour of a rival court. A ruler was taken

from his own turf (the court) to the priests’ (the sacred grove) where
he faced them alone, quite in the manner of a lone initiate in the bush
school, perhaps even of the accused witch before his inquisition. In
priestly memory, such sessions achieved high seriousness and never
needed repetition. I could learn nothing from the rulers themselves.

Where a prince’s following at court was secure his power over

home domain and (less directly) realm was assured by a formidable
policing arm. Internal sources of revenue included a marriage tax
(about half the small traditional bridewealth), court fees and presta-
tions, and ritual dues; revenue from subject domains included tribute
and ritual dues from the royal garden, set apart and communally
worked, which would be located at each lesser capital village; exterior
sources of revenue were the irregular gains of raiding and warfare. To
collect taxes and keep the peace in his home domain a prince would
send a task force on tour from time to time, headed by great men of
the court—conspicuously, priests. Such a force could settle land
claims and other local disputes, provide ritual services including trials
of innocence, and operate as information broker. For their services,
the great men could expect good meat. Sanga politics was confronta-
tional, gemeinschaftlich, and ceremonial.

One function of the touring task force was the recruitment of

ambitious youths from the peripheries to the barracks life at court.
We are told that a young man must present himself ready to demon-
strate battle skills and manly courage in a duel with an experienced
fighter chosen by the prince. I have no close accounts of cases. A
youth was attracted not drafted to service: there was no parental
authority at home to have sent the young man, and no such authority
was vested in his peers. A lad sought his fortune where he could best
hope to find it, and unless the Sanga governor [untsagila] of his own
area were ready to set up a bachelor house [ikivaga] and claim a domain
of his own, the action would be elsewhere. Though population
estimates from German times are fragmentary, they show that a
charismatic kind of recruiting power could be achieved by a belligerent
ruler with a flair for hospitality. The other side of this coin was that a
prince without victories and feasts, unable to offer the resources of
patronage to which his court was accustomed, could find half his
people prepared to move on. This is an aspect of what I have elsewhere
called the antipolitan ethos of the region:

The antipolitan persuasion treats political loyalty as a suspen-

sion of disbelief, expressing dissent with an exit (1988: 161).

The operation of a thriving military-ceremonial centre where, in
strict economic terms, only a modest village ought to be must have
put a strain on resources and organizing skills. Each of the courts
seems to have depended on two effective élites, the great men
[avanyivaha] and the royal women [avehe, ing’engele]—the wives,
unmarried sisters, and daughters of the prince. Such women enjoyed
a protective rank vis-à-vis ordinary men. Since the major economic
tasks—food production and processing, brewing, the gathering of fuel
and thatch, and housekeeping—for the court were left to women, the
prima facie evidence is that their organization as a group matched
that of the priestly élite. But if there were any feminist historians
among the Kinga in 1960 I didn’t find them.

What was the influence of the royal women on style and policy at
a Sanga court? To listen to male lore you would think they fulfilled
themselves by tilling the fields, brewing beer, grinding corn, bearing
children, and submitting cheerfully to marriage by royal fiat. In cold
fact this picture probably bears about the same resemblance to
village realities that the scene on a typical Christmas card does to
Christian lifestyles. We know little about women’s power. The virgin
queen Kipole, who ruled the Central realm in early German times and is
said (in current official retrospect) to have poisoned her father to
please her mother and take the throne, remains a shadowy figure
ignored or unrecognized by missionaries, administrators, and princely
genealogists alike. I heard of her only through some lucky questioning.
She was successfully deposed (on a retrospective charge of having
resorted to poison) by the priests when her younger brother had come
of age, but I don’t know what subsequently became of her and her peer-
wives. They would have stayed, I suppose, as harem to the young
prince. Was Kipole’s truly a palace revolution or an ordinary regency?
How many others, quite forgotten now, might such a figure stand for?
As with men, women who were healthy and strong had a good chance
at the good life. But an older or disabled widow unable to grow her own
food could find herself thrown back on a fallible personal network. A
man in similar conditions had, so to speak, his men’s club to support
him. Was the sisterhood in fact its equal? It likely was, judging from
the solidarity of women two generations after Contact. But in the full
bush culture kinship not sisterhood was the widow’s safety net, and
the best net anywhere was self-reliance.

Looking beyond problems of government and its role-structure,

the Kinga paradigm of age and alienation may be read as one more way
the culture favoured youth. The extension of bachelorhood for both
genders was not just an extension of youth but a kind of glorification

of being young and sexually unattached. But for that what must a
human community be willing to pay? I was moved to find Prince
Mwalukisa himself, who had reigned in the Northern realm during
German times, surviving in 1960 as a destitute old man without
manifest tokens of rank. It is true that a more popular ruler might
have fared better, but Mwalukisa by outliving most of his generation
outlived his royal standing as well. I first saw him half naked, only his
loins covered, carrying a great length of firewood on his head, woman-
fashion. He’d survived all his wives and had to care for himself at an age
few men of the West, with all their advantages, ever reach. Historian
Tunginiye in his sixties, having buried two wives and taken a third still
young in her thirties, was keeping up with her in bodily energy and
spirit; but not every September can put on May weather, and my
spritely barefoot scholar wasn’t to live through his own October.
Kinga have no secret formula for extending youth on the physical plane
to match the scheme of values by which they try to live. Some old men
were strikingly young for their years, but none took that for granted.
The strongest counter-theme to respect for rank and seniority is
probably the solid awareness that to be young and free of encumber-
ment is to have a prize great men have lost. Most Kinga men in 1960
clung to the style and demeanour of youth [undume] for at least a
decade longer than the males of other Sowetan cultures. It would be
hard to argue that peer-anchored narcissism could have no bearing on

Narcissus is at home in two seemingly opposite roles, which we

may call Victim and Showoff. Kinga in the bachelor phase can usually
balance the two masks, as it were, in one hand. When, rarely, the game
of balance is lost, it may be because an individual has asked too much,
whether of sympathy or patience, of peers. For a man the way out is
wandering off, touching in at a far point in his network, or extending it.
For women, in the bachelor phase or later, the network is more firmly
bounded, and the winning strategy is always keeping the balance which
signs her eventual accommodation. It is the men, after all, who need a
political system.


Republican nurture, lordly


If Kinga in 1960 were usually polite and submissive to constitut-

ed authority, they were not conspicuously so. It amused them to
recall the elaborate protocols of subservience required of a (rustic)
supplicant at court. A man who would bring his case before the Prince
had to prostrate himself, uttering the placative greetings to
greatness in a woman’s voice and running a gauntlet of humiliation at
the hands of the court faithfuls. Kinga often use the Swahili word
sultani for their princes, and German accounts show that the small
local courts had equally adopted a military model of organization. In
the widely accepted terms Morton Fried has defined, Kinga was an un-
stratified rank society, its “positions of valued status” being
numbered. But just as surely, the Kinga ethos was egalitarian.<<[lit]

How far is rank-concession a phenomenon of the psyche and how

far is it of culture—a plain and simple rule of social grammar? Armed
only with the conventional wisdom of learning theory we’d find it para-
doxical that Kinga boys, growing up with their peers from the earliest
years and circumventing parental authority with increasing success
as adolescence approaches, would embrace a rank-ordering of their
lives in adulthood. In 1890 the context was the barracks life at court,
in 1960 the equally authoritarian tea, sisal, or wattle plantations. Are
we to suppose that boys could be so glutted with freedom in growing
up that they are glad to compromise it when they reach adulthood?
The trouble is that our favoured models of socialization emphasize
the internalization of values, directly laying down (unless in quite
disturbed individuals) a permanent pattern of social attitudes and

The sociologist might argue that such phenomena as rank-con-

cession have no real psychological depth and may be regarded as land-

scape. The metaphor is social space: as we adjust to the constraining
features of natural topography we can adjust to the partitioning of
social space through rank, class, and vertical division. In a society
where everyone treats such features as immutable they never
become problematic. It is unsurprising that Kinga children accept age-
and size ranking among their peers and accommodate to it. Wouldn’t
Kinga adults view the court or colonial plantation scene in about the
same light?

Even conceding the justice of this argument, my sense of

anomaly is not dispelled. The rules Kinga youths live by are anti-au-
thoritarian. Kinga manners are egalitarian: supercilious or arrogant
postures don’t pay off as they do in some East African societies. Men
of rank are admired for their feasts not their kept wealth. Favourite
tales tell of by-passing an expectant heir to high office for the
offense of snubbing a commoner. In the barracks life no pattern of seg-
regation discriminated between men of royal and common birth—they
made their own friends and resided accordingly. Yet rank remained.
The glorification in folk legend of a cruel prince and his arbitrary
manner of rule betrays an inconsistency in Kinga values which can’t be
dismissed as part of the landscape.

We sometimes assume that in folk societies there is room for

only one coherent ethos informing the full range of social institutions.
But long before Contact the Kinga had left behind that way of ordering
community life. Their world was not homogeneous and was politically
organized under a régime dedicated to programmatic expansion
through persuasion and force. Other ideal types we might draw from
comparative study—the primitive state, chiefdom, or segmentary
state—offer insight into Kinga social organization; but what especial-
ly characterized Kingaland was the dualism I’ve noted as the court and
bush phases of their culture. These two phases represented partly-
contrary models of right behaviour. On the whole, nurture was
according to bush values because most children were not reared at
court, and youth in any event had a kingdom of its own. On the whole,
too, the frontier life was not rank- but achievement oriented. It is life
at the court which was special and commanded a special code of be-
haviour, the more elaborate the greater the ceremonial importance of
the court. On the sociological plane this account seems adequate to

But there is more to be thought through on the plane of psychol-

ogy. I see two options: accept that rank concession doesn’t go deep
(which contradicts experience for me) or accept that socialization
does—socialization occurs as much below as on the surface of a child’s

behaviour. According to this premise, a person can learn ‘packaged’
behaviour which, lying in wait for its occasion, in its abeyance need
never be unwrapped—and yet may undergo radical change. If you reject
the notion that manifest behaviour is all there is to culture, your
sense for the processes of socialization must allow for deep levels of
learning. More correctly: since talk of ‘levels’ suggests a mechanical
stratification of culture, say simply that the longer an institution has
been around the thicker its textures of meaning will be. To borrow a
musical analogy, socialization normally exposes an individual to the
polyphonic texture of a culture, not just its melodic themes. A boy
comes to know other parts than his own. He learns a good deal about
authority by resenting and resisting it as an intrusion on his peer
world. Eventually he is ready to come to terms with authority in order
to move beyond that world. Through all this time, a vast series of
‘items learnt’ have been put down with others learnt before, and the
melange matured a bit in the deep well of experience.<<[lit]

To accept authority in practice doesn’t require blind devotion:

Kinga had at least five words for tyrant. What is socialization? Where
it is not quite superficial it is becoming worldly wise. This happens
through intense emotional involvement in scenes much bigger than the
one part a child plays in them. If authority figures are off-stage for
most Kinga children—particularly boys—most of the time, they are all
the same figures of substance.

A nice expression of the way egalitarian and subservient styles

can thrive in the same person is the seven- or eight-year-old girl who
(quite typically) has become a miniature co-wife to her mother. In
choosing that expression I don’t mean to imply rivalry but reciprocity.
The housekeeping competence of Kinga girls is phenomenal at a stage
when their brothers are veritable strangers to civil society. Still, the
girl will not be imagining she is her mother’s equal. She doesn’t mistake
style for structure and overplay her role: to avoid conflict she just
nullifies authority by ‘anticipating its every command’. I surmise that
by putting a firm aesthetic distance between herself and her
daughter, as a mother does by expecting the girl to reside with peers
not parents, yet co-opting a lot of her time during working hours, a
Kinga woman secures a kind of socialization which, by and large, has
eluded the rest of the world. That may be too neat a formulation but
it points to a dimension of the culture especially interesting to psy-
chology. Some Kinga subservience is achieved without repressive ego
involvement for the reason that an individual’s home base (where
affective self-expression is unconstrained by an audience of alien

mind) is a primary group without the repressive structure parents,
being giants however indulgent, can’t avoid introducing.

Close identification with an adult of the same sex is absent in a

boy’s socialization. He is expected to lead a wild life tied to the adult
world only by responsibility for keeping the goats and by the daily
exercise of rights to food at virtually any kitchen in the neighbour-
hood. But boys’ games were mainly competitive if not sharply individ-
ualistic; and since a few (older) boys in any group could be expected to
excel in most activities, the idea of a rank-ordered society had a
coded presence. The difference between bush and court was a matter
of which structure or style was to be submerged and which manifest.
The distinction Fried sagaciously makes between egalitarian and rank
societies is not one of attitude or demeanour but rules: in the rank
society élite positions are scarce. The power and prestige attached
to them may be no different from what is usual in (non-restrictive)
egalitarian communities. For practical purposes, you make the
simplest rank society by creating some privileged offices, and this the
Sanga did.<<[lit]

The transformation of the ruggedly independent goatherd into

a manageable member of the court community was a self-transforma-
tion which occurred when the boy (undîmi [herd, guard]) decided he
would become a young man (undimi [cultivator, worker, bachelor male]).
The same distinction as to age-status can be made without reference
to the work role, e.g. undume [boy] and unsala [bachelor male]. Again,
ulugosi means a pre-adult youth, being a sort of diminutive of the
common word ungosi [man]—but has the connotation “admirable
youth” and thus refers us to his emergence before (and transforma-
tion by) the full community as audience.

Morally, court culture introduced a two-tiered world in which

prince, priest, hero, and minstrel [unyalwotsi] (=artist) transcended
the mundane. These men were attributed peculiar endowments
(mystical qualities of the same kind my community attributes to
famous musical artists) setting them apart. Avanyivaha [great men]
wore insignia of rank. The right to wear particular tokens of royal
favour was awarded to individuals from time to time to commemorate
deeds of distinction. Early German photographs always show the
Kinga youth in his red-ochred ‘dancer’ hairstyle. The meticulously
crafted transformation put him in a world apart from the uncouth
bush youth he would have been only a few years before. Such diacritical
marks were signs of transcendent status, mute claims to sharing
some of the élite condition of prince [unkuludeva] or priest [unteketsi].
The same moral dichotomy is engraved in formal ritual practice. The in-

stallation of a prince was a rite of passage which set the chosen heir
forever apart from his former comrades, with whom he wouldn’t again
share the barracks life. Once installed, a prince must regularly submit
himself to re-anointment with medicines reserved to his unkuludeva
status, calculated to put a magical wall between him and the conspir-
ing world outside his enclosure.

There is at least the suggestion in the figure of the prince, who

is the perpetual elder brother to Lwembe the wizard-and-trickster
god of the Kinga, that heterosexuality is linked to a special knowledge
of good and evil which gives some men the right to rule. If that sugges-
tion may be projected also upon the life-cycle of the ordinary man, the
meaning would be that marriage as a final step into maturity confers
rank as well as responsibility. Married men are elders [avagogolo] with
the right, and perhaps an obligation, to sit in judgement in the moot.
An egalitarian ethos does not produce a flattened social structure,
rather a set of rules for keeping the ethos in healthy working order
while routinely conceding (scaling) rank and privilege.


Eros & Philia

The final dimension of Kinga culture I want to consider is sexual

morality. I found it a wonder that Kinga approved of sexual love
between brothers. It is possibly a still deeper wonder that love, sexual
or otherwise, should be so explicit a feature of the moral order of a
microculture. We are used to assuming that small, face-to-face
communities adhering to a settled tradition will set up a prescriptive
‘structure’ for the sibling relationship, yet here is a tradition setting
up and intensifying a dyadic involvement within a structured sibling
bond. Our usual idea of social structure seems to be challenged:
shouldn’t close kinship, as a maximal-claim tie, be exempted from the
play of individual passions, so dangerous to social order? A kinship
society may provide a framework within which love can flourish
without a name; but the moral bastion of kinship is demand-right and
duty, not affection.<<[lit]

Perhaps we must think of this one Eastern Bantu people as

marginal to the type of the kinship society. In Gesellschaft with its
fine-grained division of labour, its market nexus, and overlapping power
pyramids we have taken a different way out of kinship. In Gemeinschaft
we have learned to expect a great variety of family systems. What we
don’t expect is a weak one. But friendship societies are special in
reducing the structural importance of axiomatic ties (kinship and
affinity) in favour of more frangible bonds. It isn’t surprising, when the
matter is framed this way, that a friendship society should seek to
strengthen social bonds by somehow idealizing constancy. For Kinga,
the obverse of the ideal of brother-love is suspicion of witchcraft.
(That begins with intimations of hypocritical betrayal by a friend,
leading quickly to fantasies of a fearful sort of intimacy, usually
cannibal.) Constancy as a virtue is not the same as devotion and isn’t
linked to possessiveness. Young men’s affairs of the heart may

flourish in expressive fashion for a few days, fired by new-found enthu-
siasms, but are expected to be brief and subside into lasting friend-
ships. I observe a young married man who brings his new friend home.
Whatever the gymnastics entailed, three young persons are seen to
emerge happily refreshed in the morning. Can a triangle, instead of
strangling love, be made to strengthen it?

The relation of sex to love is often discussed in light of the

Greek distinction eros~agape. One or the other must dominate (so it is
held) wherever they meet. Though it seems to me philia is a better
Graecism for the Kinga case than agape—friendship is not necessarily
a form of selfless love—it will be worth quickly reviewing the issue in
the terms in which it has usually been discussed. The reason for
turning round to look for a moment at Western culture is that
doctrine on these subjects has been long and convincingly cultivated
within that culture—it is hard to consider them without a Western
bias. I only want to touch lightly on the nature of that bias, the better
to get at implications of the Kinga construction of sex and love in
relation to a Western reader’s ideas about ‘family’.

It was the argument of Denis de Rougemont (1957) that eros

and agape (treated now as social phenomena and now, capitalized, as
virtual “religions”) were antithetical forms of love. The one was
possessive, the other bathed in grace. He argued that Western
culture has “amplified” eros to create a driving passion which, far from
being natural to humankind, ought to be seen as a strange, even
perverse invention. Setting aside his arguments concerning the
mythic sources of strength for his two principles (in what may be
deemed, as one looks about, a rather uneven battle between carnal
and ethical forms of love in the West), what sort of ‘amplification’ can
we observe and what is its cause?

Freudians offer the Oedipus complex. They predicate an infantile

struggle on the part of male infants to free the self from an intran-
sigeant mother-fixation. This can be so traumatic as to leave the
resulting adult male forever restless in love. Others, on evidence no
less plentiful, blame print or the electronic media for amplifying erotic
egotism, blending sex with violence and material success, and glamor-
izing the courtesan type. A more sober and simple account is the soci-
ological. The bundle of functional competences which used to
characterize the family have been stripped away as the organizational
complexity of modern society has grown. With the family reduced to a
lean, nuclear form, the individual may experience a need for escape.
After adolescence this often takes the form of escape into intimacy
with strangers, and in the process love takes on a tinge of madness it

will probably never shake. While it may become fashionable to wear a
“cool” mask into scenes of passion, if the passion were thereby
quenched the mask would have missed its purpose.<<[lit]

I find most credible those critics who search for the roots of
trouble in dominance struggles within the family, in which a child finds
itself reduced to an instrumentality of adult emotional needs. For
their part, adults being frustrated at home turn away for love, but the
bad faith at home only carries over with them into the marketplace-
of-love to which they must turn. Older bourgeois societies than mine
are sometimes pictured as having stabilized that marketplace by the
routinization of prostitution in higher and lower forms—but I think we
are entitled to be skeptical. Current trends are toward a sort of
decontamination of the family through therapy, rationalized divorce,
and serial monogamy; but in spite of prophets foretelling its doom no
successor-institution to family, able to sanction personal responsi-
bility as effectively, has appeared. Kinga living arrangements speak to
us at this point, since the Kinga family minimizes pressure on the egos
of its members, and the auxiliary ‘marketplace’ is for a very large part
of their lives where they live.

A major premiss of European thought is that Eros disennobles.

Lust is not only self-serving but basely so. Man should stand apart
from other creatures of the barnyard. The notion of ‘Platonic’ love in
modern European languages is not one the philosopher himself would
easily recognize, the sexual element having been surgically removed.
The idea of ‘brotherly’ love in the same languages refers to an even
more sublimated phenomenon, dedication to strangers on a categor-
ical basis, fictionally adopting them as brothers in a grand, universal-
istic gesture which I believe has never been rendered operational.
Rhetoric here reflects the fact that love between actual brothers is
axiomatic: whatever you may say to the contrary, the world expects
you to realize when you come to your senses that you may not want to
be estranged from your own brother. But the rhetorical notion of
‘brotherly love’ refers to categorical friendship quite unlike a true
sibling tie. It would be improper to suggest that true brothers ought
to have a dry ‘Platonic’ relationship, because one’s duty to the other
within the frame of an axiomatic tie shouldn’t have to wait on sponta-
neous assent or even on good will—one has a claim.<<[lit]

A major premise of Kinga thought is that Eros has a civil

function. Tunginiye was proud that whenever he visited a certain ruler,
his age mate, they shared one bed. In Malanduku there is the tale of a
man who, in a desperate incident, grabbed a rogue leopard by the tail
and found himself unable either to proceed or let go. His friends could

keep the angry animal distracted but none was brave enough to move
in for the kill. They must send for his full brother. Though it meant a
perilous delay, it was perfectly understood that a full brother would
find the courage required; and so, indeed, the rescue was accom-
plished. As in Western or whatever other culture, this tie is axiomatic
and mutually sanctions maximal claims on loyalty, but the Kinga tie
lacks the depth of emotional meaning which must come from common
socialization within the frame of close family life.

Kinga feel the bonding of brothers should be affirmed before

Eros. I did once see a man bring his younger brother to court for
adultery, but the court wouldn’t hear the case. The proceedings
devolved to a moot, which was held a few days later on the man’s home
ground. The case was considered a family affair, and the elders
insisted on reconciliation. The plaintiff had been long absent at labour,
his wife had needed a new pregnancy. The younger man had done the
right thing: “This is the Kinga custom.” The moot, which is to say the
court in other guise, was paternalistic not authoritarian, being at
pains to re-socialize a man who’d spent five years or more among alien
Southern Bantu. The staging was ‘modern’ but the plot was very old.
Kinga have had to be culturally self-aware in this manner from tradi-
tional times.

The suspension of taboos on taking a ‘group wife’ to bed is

atypical for all of Africa and much the greater part of mankind. It is
possible for Kinga because the family is not and the larger kin group
can’t be for them the prime locus of emotional self-expression and
moral reciprocity. But a dire consequence could be loss of the axiom of
kinship itself. This possibility is so drastic that its implications can
scarcely be known: can human society exist without unambiguous
birth-identities? So if it had not been assimilated during socialization
to the ideal model of friendship—Platonic love in the presurgical
sense—the tie of brotherhood might have had too little weight to
stand up better under stress than ordinary friendship, the open
colleagueship of peers. It is not everyone in every human situation who
needs no recourse from the judgement of friends.


Having a marriage

A long preserved virginity

I was doubtful at first of informants who claimed that men and
women in the old days waited for youth truly to end before they would
marry. They meant that period of youthful intensity which may last a
decade or two after physical maturation. I knew their life had been
perilous and yet their society was expansive. That should mean they
had placed a high value on fertility. In many warlike societies men marry
late. Population fertility is not affected in a polygynous culture so
long as women begin to procreate about the time nature has them
ready. But how could an expanding society, organized around warring
camps, allow the late marriage of women?

Did Kinga women perhaps bear children in their bachelor stage

and only marry late in a nominal sense? I was assured that never
happened, though my doubts were understandable. A woman’s
chastity was firmly sanctioned. First copulation constituted marriage
to one’s partner. Quite apart from bearing a child in the isaka [women’s
bachelor house] even risking a pregnancy while living there was strictly

How to find out how long they meant a woman would have
guarded her virginity?

In a civilization which doesn’t make a point of counting years,

estimates of age are approximate by our standards but not therefore
the less accurate as judged by theirs. A woman was not expected to
marry before her breasts had fallen “as if she already had nursed a
child.” At a minimum this meant more time would have passed since
her menarche than she would have needed to bear, nurse, and wean a
first child. Hence: owing to her prolonged bachelorhood the number of

children a woman could be expected to bear would be reduced by one.
We have a minimal position here.

But probably the best Kinga estimates of the actual marriage

age of women before 1890 are not greatly misleading: they are trans-
lations from an ‘analogue’ apprehension of age to our preferred ‘digital’
reckoning. Kinga elders in 1960 were perfectly competent to make
such translations. They say a woman was usually between 25 and 30
when she quit the isaka. If we assume fertility begins at 15 and accept
testimony that the spacing of pregnancies was normally about four
years, we are left with the implication that the real loss of potential
group fertility may have been heavier than our minimal figure
suggests. A woman seems to be forfeiting two or three children.

Against this I think we must reckon that the rate of survival of

Kinga children before 1890 may have been high, owing to the maturity
of the mothers, their high morale, and the effective spacing of births
allowing for prolonged breast feeding. The critical question is what
proportion of her hypothetical brood, given early marriage, must be
discounted to fit the actual conditions of Kinga court culture. There
is a suggestive answer. Kinga customary law has it that a woman who
has nursed four children to weaning, having done full service, is
justified in withdrawing from the sexual union entailed in her marriage,
as she normally does on reaching menopause. Under such rules the age
of marriage would not have been a critical determinant of group
fertility so long as that age for women was under 30, supposing
health and survival among adult young women were not a problem. But
without such a limiting rule, which is not found elsewhere in the region,
the Sanga court system would not have worked. The moral orientation
to bachelorhood for both genders would not hold, and the protostate
apparatus must have been erected on a more conventional Eastern
Bantu model. It might or might not be as fertile.<<[lit]

Infant mortality throughout the Colonial era was forbiddingly

high, and in 1960 young women were marrying in their early twenties,
men still a decade later. Probably before Contact the highest death
rates were among children, but it is unlikely that before the advent of
‘European’ diseases the rates were so high that a woman could not
reasonably expect her four children to grow up. Kinga marriage thus
didn’t violate community interests but served them well enough. Men
and women were most often free to decide for themselves when
they’d marry, and their decisions were not made in the light of fancied
community interest but of private moral strategies. We should look at
what people were saying for themselves and their culture about 1960.

The testimony I recorded isn’t altogether uniform. At first I was
bewildered by the variety and seeming contradictions. Some women,
agèd in 1960, had married as soon as two years after menarche (which
means under twenty) in communities they called Kinga. Since the
cases are few and the places marginal to Pangwa country (to the
south) the implications for us are not clear and cogent. Though I know
this was not the pattern for all bush communities I could make no
systematic survey. There is no reason to suppose social organization
was any more standard than dialect outside the court culture. One
variant pattern occasionally described was child betrothal. It is
present among some neighbours and was countenanced by Sanga
rulers. It occurred sporadically among ordinary Kinga in 1960. Possibly
it always had. But it was generally mentioned as an odd or alien
custom undertaken by a few men in the interest of speculative advan-
tage. One Kinga man, who had lived more among Bena than Kinga since
adolescence, thought the ideal marriage pattern was the same for
both peoples—the boy should be about five years older, and the young
couple should have tilled fields for both sets of parents for some
years before marrying at the girl’s menarche. It wanted a lot of talk
with his friends before we got things sorted out.

All of this suggests that what system there was in 1960 was
impressionistic at best. We can make sense of the situation by noting
two things:

(a) Actual ages of marriage had not dropped far. The major
change in train was a shift toward domesticity. But the high
bridewealth was delaying marriage effectively, and migrant labour
(before Independence) militated against young couples adopting
‘Christian’ patterns of cohabitation.

(b) Decisions about marriage were, in spite of growing efforts by

fathers to maximize their profits from bridewealths, negotiated in
the light of personal moral strategies in a community where love talk
was endemic. This was not something new but a feature of Kinga
culture. The people making decisions which hastened or delayed a
particular marriage were many, and none were trying to follow a rule or
fit a fancied pattern. This is the way it had always been.

No one in 1960 felt strictly bound by any custom except the

requirement of time to amass bridewealth, which had become monu-
mental and now dominated all marriage strategies. A rich pagan in the
Western realm had married off his son at 15, and it was usual to hear
high bridewealths blamed for the number of bachelor males over 30. In
one Lutheran area the elders discouraged marriage for either sex

before 20, and this was felt by some to be a strict rule; but in one
Roman Catholic area girls might marry two or three years earlier. In
both those Christian communities some young men married before 25
and did so because of a strong personal commitment in spite of all
difficulties. What is particularly interesting is that young women were
remaining chaste as they had in the Old Culture. Underlying moral
strategies remained much the same. All indications are that until
British times (effectively, 1926) the amount of the bridewealth was
slight and couldn’t have been a hindrance to a young man otherwise
determined upon a course of marrying his sweetheart. The reason for
her long-preserved virginity lay not in any simple material circum-

I judge the context of court culture in 1900 was such that

neither young men nor their sweethearts were greatly attracted to
marriage. Whatever the precise mean age of marriages may have been
then, this is what elders like Tunginiye and the folk he consulted on my
behalf were saying. Only the rare man or woman would be in a rush to
marry. The court culture didn’t fail to generate a desire for the heter-
osexual life but gave it a long sleep before the final awakening. The
community attached reward and dignity to the homophilic life.

In the case of men the prestige to be won at the ceremonial

centres belonged primarily to the bachelor; and as to the marriage age
of men, there are plenty of precedents in Eastern Bantu civilization.
Many peoples require men to wait for their fathers’ generation to
falter, before they may take wives of their own. But the solidarity of
young women is unique to the Kinga and seems to belie our ideas about
the position of women in the Bantu world or marriage as a game of
exchange in which women are pawns. We’ll do well to examine the
rationale of Kinga marriage in the worldviews of both genders.

Here is the way a woman’s sex education was explained to me by

a sister of the first Paramount chief in colonial times. He was Mlam-
bakyuma Mwemutsi, known as a boy by the name Dembademba. He’d
been too young to rule at the start of the German period but had
assumed office before the turn of the century. His sister was in 1960
one of the eldest of the women at Ukwama, the capital village. We were
clear that my interest was in traditional institutions, as they were
before the Germans. Her interest was the same.
A young woman should remain at least four years past menarche, living
in the isaka under its rules. Usually she would remain up to about eight
years. Menarche came no earlier then than now [16-18] but a girl would have
lived with the same group of friends all her life, since infancy, and so when
she married would be leaving companions of two decades. Her man to be

ready for marriage ought to be over thirty. Often he would be mtu wa
makama makubwa [Sw: a man past his youth but not yet in old age], agosipe
[K: he has had all his growth, he is in middle age].
A young man got instruction only at the time of marriage—it could be
on the day of marriage itself, and the teachers were not only old men but
women as well, past child-bearing. [But my unmarried assistant was with
me, and we didn’t hear the content of these instructions on that account.]
Instruction for a maiden was more thorough. There would normally be three
sessions before marriage. The first would be in a small group where she was
together with a few other girls who had just reached the menarche. At the
second instruction, about a year later, each girl will be sole pupil at a
gathering to which her mother or guardian will be hostess. Old women and
unwed girls who have completed the course will be there, and even very old
men. Several years later the girl’s mother would usually want to brew beer
again for another private schooling on the same scale, and this would
suffice to prepare the girl for marriage. Later, after marriage and the birth
of her first male child, the girl become woman would be subject for the last
time to schooling. [This would be at the place in the wild where the baby
would be born and sheltered for its first weeks.] On her return home she and
the child would be painted across the forehead with the white clay isyogo.
When menarche has come a girl will be put in isolation for the full month
until her second period is over. She is dressed in rags and mustn’t answer
any boy’s greeting. She can’t leave to till fields or do any work with others. If
she is disobedient she will be starved for two days, for others are feeding
her and she will find no way of getting food alone. Thus she is taught her
dependency. At the school which follows the isolation her older brothers
are asked if she has been dutiful. Unless they will affirm that she has been,
each is given a stick to beat her where she stands naked; and this still
happens today.
The taboos which pertain to ordinary menstruation are these: a
menstruating woman mustn’t feed men. Her husband or her male children
past nursing must eat elsewhere. She should have a menstrual hut or
trench-bed made by the husband. She mustn’t pass behind the backsides
of men and should announce her coming by clapping hands while calling tupau
[K: I’m menstruating]. Though she could feed a dog she mustn’t touch it or
any other animal, even with a stick [evidently a special taboo of the royal
line]. She could till fields without constraint. She must live alone, as each
wife of Mwemutsi does today, in her own menstrual hut [i.e., no other woman
was to use or share her hut or her trench-bed].
Girls lived in larger groups than they do today. Though the pit house
would belong to one girl, many would crowd in, the floor being spread with
mats and covered with girls at night, sleeping naked. Fire was used to bake
the dugout dry and only removed at dusk. The roof might be flat or slightly
peaked, with an entry hatch at one end. Boys might come at night and be
taken in as a group—they didn’t have to come alone, and there was no fear
that any boy would try to force intercourse on a girl, they were guests on
good behaviour.

There were three routes to marriage for a girl, only one of which would
begin with night courtship, but that was the most usual. The prince might
award a girl to a man who was ready to leave the barracks life. Sometimes a
girl’s father might engage her on a long-term basis to a boy, by approaching
his father and arranging to “borrow” against the expected bridewealth; or
sometimes the girl’s father might give her to a talented young dancer or
minstrel. [IV 18-19]<<[lit]

These words reflect a life lived out in the place where we talked
in the Central realm, and some information pertains particularly to
local custom.

An informant with greater scope and equal authority was

Mwanadyo of the North. He was Chief Councillor to the Northern
prince in German times and acted for him in dealings with the military
government. Though likely in his tenth decade (or past it) when we
talked, he was impressively erect, a tall and grand-mannered person,
readily recognizable from German photographs dating from his prime.
His account represents the view from a man’s vantage point and bears
the imprint of a life spent hearing cases, but the life-cycle he is viewing
isn’t markedly different to that of the Central realm. He was one of
many who perceived the timing of marriage even in the old culture as a
function of economics: a shortage of goats and/or hoes for
bridewealth. As theory his point may be weak, but he expands our
sense of context.
A man would be past middle life when he married, and women also
remained many years after their puberty before marrying. A good many
men could be expected to die unmarried, but few women. The difficulty was
getting bridewealth. I, Mwanadyo, married early in this century for one cow
and three goats, which in Kinga money could be expressed as 16 hoeblades.
In the British money which came in by 1916 this would have been 32 shillings,
a richman’s bridewealth then.
Here is the procedure which was followed. A go-between [untuni]
approached the father of the girl, speaking in the honorific plural, “We would
marry your daughter.” The father named his price by asking the man to
sharpen so many stakes for tying goats right there at the girl’s natal place.
In addition it was understood that if the suitor were rich he would bring a
cow or a bull and two hoeblades. Even a poor man would bring the hoes. Any
man could earn them by apprenticing himself to a smith—there would
always be one nearby who required a helper. With two hoes you could buy a
goat, with three you could buy a bull from the Sangu. Eventually when the
daughter of this woman is grown and marries, this father (now a grandfa-
ther) will receive two goats from his son-in-law: a virgin kid and a castrated
male for the two men to feast on.
Girls always lived together in a large group, sharing a modest house. In
similar quarters, the boys and young men of a community would live
together, though their parents lived far away. A youth could leave his house

by night to visit with the girls of another community. Men here, in the group
taking part in this conversation, have courted grown women in this manner
in both the East and the West.
After first menstruation a girl is taken by some older women to bathe in
the river, but not at a place where water is drawn. Another day her father
will call the ceremonial gathering, after [his wife’s] fixing beer or [in the wet
season] hard bamboo cider. The men will gather to drink while the women go
off in the bush to teach the girl. The men will dance and make merry—they
may occasionally visit the school to make a contribution but can’t stay to
see and hear the teaching of women. At this school there may be several
girls, but it is a family affair, and this is also true of the schooling of a young
man, which his father may decide to do in similar fashion, so that his son will
be respected as one who knows. Husband and wife together must be
taught when the woman first becomes pregnant—men and women of the
kin group take part, so the couple will know what taboos they must keep for
the child to stay well.
The life of a girl can’t be compared to that of a boy. A boy eats at many
houses, a girl only at one. While a girl may be given bits of food where she has
legitimately come on a visit to kin, she can’t be regularly fed from any
hearth but her own mother’s. A boy should, when his own mother is there,
take food from her hearth in preference to that of her co-wife; but he is free
to get food where he will among other kin of the parental generation and
also from a brother’s wife. He may go off for two weeks without any notice
to visit his pals at the place of his father’s sister, living there in the boys’
house and eating from her. Of old, no boy would dare enter the house where
he came for food, but would beg outside. But a girl wouldn’t beg like a boy:
she is a mother, isn’t she? She provides her own food, she won’t take it from
Sisters would be close. Again and again it would happen that a young girl
would choose to follow her elder sister in marriage, first visiting her sister’s
new community, then becoming lover to the husband and following in
marriage. Everyone considered it happy.
The significance of this is that close kin—siblings—are a person’s best
protection. Within one princely realm you could move about and still have
this protection of family ties, for trouble travels quickly. If your sister were
chased for cause, or if she should leave her husband without cause, and if
there were no other sister there to make peace, the case would soon come
to you, the brother. Brothers will hear the matter out and perhaps make a
peace offering to the wronged husband, so that he will agree to have the
woman back.
Oh, perhaps a woman who had left her man for cause might be allowed to
pass a night or two at the isaka where she had lived before, but her business
is to find some new man and cleave to him. She couldn’t join the maidens’
life—isn’t she a woman now? [III 20-1]

Andoliye Mahenge was a deputy magistrate of the Western

realm, at 50 a young informant on questions about the old culture.
The value of his opinion comes of his special insight into pagan/

Christian differences, his psychological bent, and a long-standing
interest in the process of institutional change he had observed since
his childhood in the last German years. He is accustomed, by habit of
mind and in connection with his work as a magistrate, to sifting
evidence for its meaning. He views the age of marriage as a function of
jural norms and Kinga values.
They married very late as compared with today. A young woman might
attain the age of thirty without having married. As for the young man—for
example, I myself would have no more than two children now [though in fact
he has a grandchild]. You must understand they grew old, as compared with
today. After getting two children you became an elder [ungogolo]. A woman
over 25 could be married, but I suppose you would say that in the old days
they didn’t marry carelessly, as they do now. All the same, if a man had
intercourse with a girl, that very day she would go off with him, the very
hour they put their bodies together they must leave—she couldn’t possibly
return home. Mwiko! [Sw: mystically dangerous].
A grown person was not, let us say, twenty—it was not as today. For
instance today a young person only has to be 18 to have the right to marry,
but in the old days that was tabooed, mwiko. He would be sleeping with the
Children after they were weaned, until they were about eight, might
sleep both sexes together in the original kind of Kinga house, ikigwiba, just
like the houses of their parents. A small one would be four or five feet high
[an arched cone], built small to keep in the heat of the fire and body heat.
But a boy of nine or ten would move to a cattle house, to sleep with the
older boys and the animals [cows and especially goats]. The work of the
boys was to guard the animals at night from leopards or thieves, and keep
smoke against the flies. We built our house where the lineage hamlet [ikikolo]
was, and there would always be others not of the lineage who wanted to join
us—we must all agree, otherwise they couldn’t come in. It was felt a lineage
boy couldn’t leave, as the parents would say he had been chased—he had a
right. Still, there was moving and visiting about.
The girls of nine or ten also lived on their own, each little group [Sw:
kikundi] to itself with a hut and their own fire, like the boys. The girls in the
old days, I have heard, dug down so deep [about four feet], a large pit with
the earth thrown up around it and covered with boughs and grass, with a
hatch door. Here we called that house ilisumbu [elsewhere ingumbwe]. Boys
only dug so [about 28”], using sticks for the walls, and that is the way they
slept, uncovered. They didn’t use bamboo as they do today, or smear
mudplaster [to make a tight house]. Or a group of boys might sleep out in a
trench, putting down grass, then a mat, and a mat above them covered with
grass again, the last boy piles on the grass and they save a place for him to
slip in.
Women of the lineage area had charge of the puberty school for the girls,
and its teaching was completely effective. Every girl knew that as soon as
she let a man join her, she must follow him. No woman was ever known, until
recently, to bear a child before marriage. [VI 52-3,56-7]

In another Western community less affected by mission
influence I was told by a lively old man that until about eight years of
age children used to be allowed to enter their parents’ houses and
sleep there, but young children would soon learn to prefer their (clas-
sificatory) grandparents ukuku (m.) and upapa (f.). In later childhood
and youth they still could enter the houses of these grandparents,
but otherwise they would be sleeping here and there as they chose,
with friends of their own sex. Most hamlets were a mixture of lineages,
and most lineages were spread all about. Kinship ties were easily
broken. A man or woman had only to fail to assemble with the lineage
at a funeral to be counted as stranger from that time forward. [VI 65]

Lusayano, also a Westerner, had worked as a young man for the

Germans. He thought the main change today was among boys, wanting
to live in smaller groups. Formerly they had preferred the larger,
communal boys’ house to smaller, “lineage” houses which also could be
found. He estimated the age of the typical child joining his or her peers
at five or six. He also held that the standard house was a rondavel, the
inverted, arched cone ikigwiba over an excavated floor a foot deep—
this was the house a man must enter backward. Visitors could sleep
only in a kitchen house. The sleeping house would be too small even for
a fire. [VI 24-6]

The impression of inadequate housing wants to be corrected on

two counts: the unspoken identification of “old” things with the bush
culture, and the tendency for retrospect to leap to the legendary,
pre-Sanga epoch. Like good evolutionists, Kinga have a myth of
Original Poverty. So far as court-village housing is concerned we have
the evidence of early German records, including some photographs
too early to represent any post-Contact changes and showing neat,
substantial houses set on carefully-prepared sites. Fülleborn (1906:
452-3) estimated the houses of this type to range in height or
diameter up to six meters from a minimum of two to three meters.
This estimate would have included houses put to various uses,
including children’s houses. He reports and displays rondavels with
mudplastered walls and conventional eaves. I think the most signifi-
cant conclusion we can draw from the architectural evidence is that
Kinga women were the beneficiaries of a double standard of comfort—
their houses were designed to be warm while those of men were not.

Males shared this womanly warmth in infancy, in courting, and in

the active phases of a marriage. But the male life-cycle normally
ended in the communal men’s/boys’ house [ikivaga] where self-
conscious maleness had begun. The marital household normally came
to an end when the woman was past bearing children. That the man

would have built the house counted for little, since a man wouldn’t live
on his own in such a house, belonging as it did to the woman’s life. The
man whose procreative life was at an end moved back to a house whose
openwork walls would not enclose a narrow or private world.

A woman’s life remains firmly domestic to the end. Her

existence is stabilized particularly by ties and obligations maintained
in connection with her work as cultivator. If men generally admit the
great strength of women, it may be they see a spiritual connection
between womanhood and growth of the soil. There is an elemental
quality of constancy in a woman’s devotion to her fields. I think it must
affect men who, with the passage of time, begin to feel less secure on
their own ground. Women’s companionships, and the affinal and
agnatic ties women maintain with men over the years, are always
associated with cultivation rights and enhanced by a successful
harvest. Once a married woman has established virilocal residence
(the likely choice) and has children there coming to her for food, it
becomes unlikely she would move away even in the event of being
widowed, if her fields are prospering. In this way, the very dispersion of
her “mothering” role to include any of her own boys’ peers can be said
to give her roots. The ideal rule for a widow who hasn’t finished with
child-bearing is that she accept leviratic inheritance, preferably to her
late husband’s next-elder brother, as the two men will have been close.
But in practice if any man qualifying as husband’s brother lives in or will
move to the area she is likely to accept him. She retains field-rights
from her youth in another community but will probably have developed
more substantial rights where she was married—commonly there is an
hour’s distance or more between.

The companions of her youth will usually be dispersed but not

out of touch. After some years, if things go well, her original
community is sentimentally less important than it was in the early
years of her exile-in-marriage. She is at home in her new place. Through
the constant companionship of other married women, many of them
age-peers if not actually roommates from childhood, and through
taking pride in her offspring and fields, she will have got roots. A widow
whose children are grown can often expect a son to move back and
build near her when his father dies, so that the son with his wife
gradually succeeds to the place in the community—its fields and its
working groups—which his parents had. A woman who is widowed after
menopause will not remarry, and it is the duty then of sons to see
that one takes responsibility (of the male-task sort) for her welfare.
They are bound at a minimum to put up a house near hers, which some
of them will use from time to time while seeing to fields there. But as

long as she is physically able she will persist with her independent
ways, keeping her own house and tilling her own fields as she has
always done. It is rare and only a function of illness that a woman
would become dependent on another person to feed her. If it does
happen, it must be to another woman she turns, for men are not the
economic mainstays of Kinga society. This was as true, as concerns
subsistence, in 1960 as it had been in 1890.

But why do Kinga put it that a son must “move back” when his
father dies—are the sons expected to move away as they mature? In
practice they are, though it needn’t be very far. On the whole, Kinga
adopt the moral strategy characteristic of more nomadic peoples—
moving away from trouble. Reflected here are deep motifs in the
father-son relationship, but also the special logic of late marriage,
since men who married at forty can rarely have lived to see their sons
in turn married and settled down. The father would quite probably die
while all of his sons (and there would not be very many in any case) were
still bachelors and, in Kinga fashion, homeless. But if men marry women
ten to fifteen years their juniors the women can expect to survive into
this grandparental stage of the life-cycle. A woman still fertile and
still wanting children would probably choose a leviratic marriage and
not require a son’s return.

But another side to this is that while women are the real culti-
vators, the main jural claims to land are agnatic rights. A man who fails
to show an interest in his father’s land-claims when they are vacated
will be handicapped later on in pressing claims against rival interests:
as her needs and energies wane the mother’s de facto control of the
land will dwindle away. So the quality of that land can be a major

No doubt there are sentimental ties between mother and son,

but it would be hard to prove they are crucial for typical individuals,
though they clearly have been for some. Kinga lads grow up calling
many women mother and begging food from them all. What is demon-
strable is that sons are likely to feel the pull of sentiment when their
return might prevent family fields from reverting to communal owner-

Do the facts warrant judging that father-son tensions are so

high as to hold a young man away from home so long as his father is
alive? I think the relationship is seldom so intense: father-son ambiv-
alence is real enough but in the absence of a tightly-knit nuclear family
is not likely to be so powerful. If the value which dominates a young
man’s life is the glory of emotional freedom, it is strategic for him to

move away from the maximal-claim ties of family even where they have
a low intensity. The movement Kinga see is not that of sons away from
fathers but of young men to new friends and circumstance.

Women in 1960 were apt to show contempt for the work of men,
even when it was well remunerated, on the ground that it didn’t
produce food. Ebias was a young tailor in the East who said he would
be slow to marry as it would mean cutting back his trade in favour of
cultivating—a wife would harass him, “Go and eat your money if you
can!” This wariness in Ebias derived from his father’s being a busy,
sometimes harassed polygynist, whose wives had demonstrated a
hundred ways of threatening the withdrawal of their sexual and
gastronomic support. The usual division-and-submission among co-
wives has no strong place in Kinga culture, though it is known well
enough. “They’ll lend you money to start a little shop, then quarrel and
demand it back, and you are left in financial ruin. It means nothing to
them!” The line Ebias was drawing between women and men was that
between one party espousing the labour theory of value (and recog-
nizing no labour as valid but that in the fields) and another party with
a market model. While the situation is that of 1960 the pattern is
presumably older: the two sexes foster separate spheres of value,
and translation from one to the other can never be complete. The inde-
pendent spirit of women is certainly old.[V 19-20]

And is the wariness of an Ebias justified? Is a Kinga marriage

probably doomed, on a sentimental plane, to failure? Ebias carried the
bias of one who has grown up in (what is rare for Kinga commoners) a
polygynous compound. My own casual observations in 1960 would
have an opposite bias, affecting backward extrapolation, since most
of the couples I came to know as such were Christians accepting the
ideal of a permanent marriage. As a passer-by and passer-through I
should have to report that Kinga men and women in 1960 were
generally cheerful and likable, if a little less so in middle age than in the
early years of marriage; and this is consistent with the impressions of
early visitors. Of course, as a guest I tended to see people on their
good behaviour, but I came to realize that Kinga is not a society in
which people are accustomed to wearing two faces.

Men did tend to portray women, not only co-wives, as preternat-

urally jealous. “You have only to be a bit inattentive to draw scorn—Go
to your wife So-and-so! referring to some other woman you have
scarcely stopped to chat with on the path.” A woman might trade in
this way on the legitimacy of sexual jealousy, just to gain a bit of
leverage on her man, but she is probably not often deeply moved by
envy. It was clear enough in several communities, as anyone might

learn by attending court cases, that a woman who pressed too hard
with the rhetoric of envy could risk a beating—pushing her man to
exasperation rather than gaining control.

Was the root issue sexual frustration on the woman’s side—or

was the implied claim only smart rhetoric? I don’t know. I can see that
a man who approached marriage with the scruples of an Ebias would be
vulnerable to any sign of the woman gaining an upper hand, and that
the mingling of status- with sexual uncertainties in such a case could
be explosive. When violence did arise the man seems to have had a
psychological if not a physical advantage—I found women, weight for
weight, actually the brawnier sex but they were from childhood unac-
customed to fighting, whereas men were adepts.

Kinga marriages seem easily enough to survive an episode of

violence without building up chronic strains. In part this follows from
the popular legal fiction of Kinga that drunken persons don’t know
what they are doing. But part of the reason would be that Kinga
women are strong in the non-combative sense. A man can’t keep a wife
by intimidation. She will have more effective support from her peers
than he from his—the solidarity of women doesn’t abruptly end with
marriage and withdrawal from the nightly contact of the isaka. If only
by admiring feminine solidarity so often, men recognized they were its
main beneficiaries. Where else could women be found so constant and
so self-contained?

The view from woman

Understanding Kinga marriage calls for special attention to
women’s experience and the meanings which commit them to their
work. They till fields with wonderful zeal and few complaints. Kinga
women have a double dose of the work ethic Kinga men have in half-

For about a decade (more or less depending on place and date)

after she has attained adult weight and stature a young woman will
continue to work her own home fields. She will be producing food for
herself, her family of orientation, a handful of agnatically related male
bachelors who are able to call her ujuva [mother], and their special
friends. Her pattern of work will be, so far as is locally feasible, co-
operative and not competitively individualistic. Her constant
company will be close friends of her own sex, companions of the isaka.
From time to time this group will be joined in the fields by a comparable
group of youths and sometimes by elders of both sexes. By the time

a girl is physically of adult strength she will have left off her original
pattern of gardening most days with her mother (something she will
have done daily in later childhood). She will have fields of her own,
serving her mother’s kitchen, and in helping to work her mother’s fields
she will arrange to till together with a friend or two if not with a larger
group of young people.

When co-operation is formally organized on a large scale (a

dozen participants or more) there will be beer specially brewed, and
the institution is called ungovi [a work party]. It isn’t feasible to brew
beer for a festive group so regularly as would keep the whole
community (whether of youths or adults or both) engaged in a
perpetual round of work parties, nor is it every sort of work which
lends itself to spirited attack by twenty or thirty hoes in unison. Still,
there are days when a husband and wife must split their obligations in
order to meet the demands of their network, while early missionaries
could record the impression that no one came home sober from the
fields, and “merry songs ring out everywhere from the hillsides.” <<[lit]

In 1960 you would have noticed work parties in the fields

through most seasons of the year, if only the small-calabash gather-
ings of young people (which sometimes seemed to be rendered rather
less efficient by the presence of middle-school boys on holiday,
suddenly responding to the aphrodisiac qualities of Kinga beer). The
party makes work festive, and that adds a good deal to the enjoyment
of life for everyone, as well as their enjoyment of each other. A special
aspect of the work party is that the four kinds of active cultivator
take part as four distinct groups: married men, married women,
bachelor men, bachelor women. Enthusiasm is generated as rivalry
first within each group, individuals trying to set the pace of their
peers ever higher; then among groups, principally between masculine
and feminine contingents of the same generation, but finally between
the generations. Rivalry is converted to co-operation in a practical
way by this institution, and ecstasy becomes accomplishment.

Can women be said to have property rights in the fields they till,
though they most frequently live where their men have land? Do
women themselves reap the rewards and bear the risks of their
labour? On 1960 data the answer is unambiguous. There was such a
skewing of the men’s work sphere, with migrant labour very common
until later middle age, that comparatively few men were there to eat
the fruit of their fields. This enabled the women in turn to market
some produce for money. But this situation was an outgrowth of
traditional conditions. Men’s ‘ownership’ of land was an adumbration
of their prerogatives in the field of law, not strictly economic domi-

nance, since land was never used as a bludgeon. Women were always in
rightful possession of the fields to which they had undisputed access
through their husbands, and women were acknowledged to have
sounder judgement about gardens and crops than men. In her own
right a woman would have fields at home which she had worked as a
bachelor, and she would continue to make full use of them.

When land disputes did arise women were often little concerned.
Men would be presenting the claims on either side and men would be
the arbiters, women’s evidence being restricted to the facts of actual
use—no judgement of land rights could affect a woman’s right to the
crops she had grown, only where she might grow them in another
season. Within the purview of men, women “owned” fields only back at
home; but since women commonly disposed over ‘affinal’ fields no less
authoritatively than ‘agnatic’ fields, the matter of legal ownership
may be said to border on fiction.

That is not to say that, as observers, we can afford to ignore

legal fictions. The position of a woman in relation to a land-claim case
(Sw: shauri la mashamba) may well stand for her position before the law
generally. Whatever the men decide, her crops won’t be harvested by
someone else—her identity is not profoundly touched. At the moot,
concerned women sit as attendants not principals. Consensus is
wanted of the men to settle the case, only acquiescence of the
women. In the social situation of the court or moot, even where the
case turns on family relations (Sw: shauri la ukoo), the superior impor-
tance of the men’s sphere over the women’s is acted out through
many of the same techniques a group of adults will use to keep children
from interfering (in the serious business at hand) with their typical
irrelevancies. The boast you will hear from men that “women vomit
words” and so needn’t be heeded on matters of law largely reflects,
apart from masculine vainglory, two facts of life for women: the diffi-
culty of mastering Swahili (the main language of the law in 1960) when
you are not often away from home and your fields, and at a deeper level
the enforced pre-occupation with practical rather than political
concerns. In agrarian society the philosophers are seldom females.

While the myth of the special dignity of politics is as widely

spread among the world’s peoples as the masculine mystique itself, it
isn’t all societies that give women primacy in the economic realm,
which has its own heroics. Within their own sphere of concerns Kinga
women may be as contemptuous of masculine failings as men of
women’s juridical sagacity. Practically, women know more about the
ownership and relative value of fields than the men who argue the
cases, and they may more often than not come away from a moot with

a sense of their own superiority confirmed. The comparative ignorance
of men in 1960 must have been partly an artifact of their absence
from the local scene during their intellectually formative years, but I
think men’s abstraction from practical detail has a long history. So
far as I can tell, the court-military, political-jural, land-clearing, and
hunting activities of men in 1860 would have occupied about as much
of their time and concern as migrant labour and politics (in the broad
sense) a century later. While there wasn’t much game there was
plenty of scope for defensive hunting, as marauding animals were
everywhere when forest predominated in the highlands; and there is no
evidence that Kinga were less litigious a century ago than now.

Fülleborn says, “The position of woman seems not bad at all in

Ukinga, seen comparatively, although more of the heavy work of the
fields falls to her lot than among the Nyakyusa.” I think we must
attribute a portion of the well-being of Kinga women in traditional
times to their sense of a creative participation in the productive
processes of nature. This is an obverse to the negative qualities of
envy and belittlement which have been so aptly emphasized by George
Foster in the study of peasantries. Envy and an image of Limited Good
plague those latter-day peasantries subject, as the free Kinga were
not, to the degrading population and class pressures of urbanized
nation states. Envy has its proper niche—witchcraft suspicion—in the
Kinga world but doesn’t dominate where misfortune is in abeyance.
Much of the time the Kinga did know prosperity by their standards,
and it emanated from the dedication of women to the growth of the
soil, in which they could afford to take a generous delight. The atomi-
zation of the Kinga family and the random feeding patterns of youths
mean a woman’s surplus product can’t further any kind of domestic
empire-building. If she works hard and takes pride in feeding many
mouths, it is not a ‘breadwinner’ mentality which makes her do

Since 1900 there have been three basic changes affecting the
status of women: (a) The advent of a money sphere of the economy, in
which men have the advantage, has given men a new arena comparable
in scope to that of the barracks life before the ceremonial centres
decayed. (b) The incorporation of bridewealth into the new money-
management arena has made the marriage of a daughter a matter of
great political importance to men. (c) Women have begun to marry
somewhat earlier and turn more toward the values of domesticity.
The three changes are obviously not unconnected, and we can expect
that with time a less distinctive culture pattern will evolve. But the
lessons of the free tradition are worth trying to grasp, both for the

light they throw on newer versions of the same lifestyle and on
account of broader implications.

In the model kinship society either women or men will enjoy the
advantage of continuity of social space through the transformations
of the life-cycle. In patrilateral societies women generally suffer dislo-
cation and a sort of ‘nuclearization’. That is, they are pulled away from
a world where they are only beginning to enjoy the social scope of an
adult, and pushed into child-bearing among strangers, where they are
pulled inward toward identification with a nuclear family of procrea-
tion. Often their domestic nucleus is part of a compound family and
even openly opposed to the rival nuclei of their co-wives. A woman in
the child-bearing years works and carries for her children and their
father, perceiving a world centred in domesticity. Kinga society in
1860 seems to have allowed its women a generous period of years in
which adulthood was achieved but domesticity—nuclearization—
remained pending. A woman in those years worked for a wider
community than a household. The food she produced was served
through her mother’s kitchen but not narrowly to one group, since the
rights of bachelor men to take food from kin (and friends’ kin) were
extensive, and the productive orientation of society wasn’t coloured
by the usual pattern of economically self-sufficient domestic islands.
By withholding herself from marriage and reproduction she was able to
develop a network orientation to her social world rather than moving
directly from minor member of one domestic island to stranger
member of another. A network orientation in this sense is one which
doesn’t order the world of persons by groupings but individually.

A Kinga woman after marriage encounters a new, nuclearized

world. In traditional times in court culture she must, once she has a
baby on her back, emphatically crouch or cringe in greeting a Kinga man
she meets on the path. Men say she must show herself ‘very shy’. As
she will normally have moved in marriage to a new community, her
approved moral strategy is to display that (new) character, so to
achieve acceptance among the married women she is joining. It is of
special interest that bachelor men of her acquaintance will continue
making free to joke with her (in the easy ‘courtship’ manner) after the
marriage, but cease teasing as soon as her pregnancy is obvious. From
that time (men say) she will be carrying a child until she is too old, and
after the excitement of the first child the fun is gone out of her life.

Fülleborn asserts she should (traditionally) avoid her father-in-

law “so that her marriage may not be infertile” and is banished from
the isaka. But nuclearization doesn’t take so profound a hold on her as
it would have, had she married immediately on gaining sexual majority.

By the standards of many other societies she will neglect her child,
sending it off to live with other children and to depend on them for
loving care from the time it is weaned. The system works. Children
grow up with the capacity to care for one another and to live as happily
as children elsewhere. If the child is a girl, she will be emotionally re-
accepted by her mother as a tiny adult: this happens as soon as the
child is old enough and inclined to work beside her mother in the fields—
something she will eagerly learn. When you ask a Kinga man about the
nature of boys and girls he will have little to say in praise of his own
sex. But he will tell you that he wouldn’t fear being widowed if he only
had a daughter of seven years for, indeed, “she can do all that a woman
can do.” We may find this, with our post-Freudian consciousness,
ironic. The Kinga, who are not travelling the same sort of sexual ridge-
path we do, don’t.<<[lit]

As an artifact of the establishment of heterosexuality in most

cultures, the primary interdependency between adult men and women
seems to be generated by erotic needs. Kinga don’t share this
syndrome to the exclusion of erotically-deepened friendships outside
the marital relation, though since these friendships are normally
homophilic they don’t threaten it.

In their world the love of one woman for another is as genuinely

charitable as love anywhere is likely to be, and a Kinga girl as a tiny
adult has the advantage over her brother of being favoured: her
mother won’t have acquired the same prejudice against her sex which
prevails in many or most neighbouring societies, where domestic
groups not networks dominate the scene, and a woman has her best
insurance as the mother of males. The universal asymmetry of domes-
ticity is rooted in the special intimacy between a woman and her
children. In many East African societies the heterosexual bias of the
mother is reinforced by a jural system which favours the male child—
men want sons for what we may loosely term political reasons while
women favour sons personally, with the result that male solidarity
and the moral strength it nourishes are signal features, often
expressed in unilineal organization and “exchange of women.” Kinga
society evolved a different balance, still fairly intact in 1960.

The extended bachelor phase of women presumably will shrink to

insignificance as the effects of other conventions are felt in modern
Tanzania. As women cease to enjoy the extended years of comrade-
ship into adulthood, and absorb the values of domesticity requiring a
diminution of woman’s economic productiveness, there may well be a
progressive demotion and remotivation of the sex. But until then the
early identification of a girl will be with a mother who is not constantly

made subject to a stronger partner—not, that is, in the inner domain
of social experience. Kinga women in the public arena are elaborately
“inferior.” But the outward exhibition of impotence (as so often)
functions as protective coloration, and Kinga women are reasonably
free behind the mimed veils they take on with motherhood. As long as
women have access to strength—to honoured sources of moral
energy which aren’t simply at the pleasure of a man, I expect their
daughters will continue to respond to them, and this identification will
continue to reinforce the solidarity and moral self-containment of

Given traditional Kinga arrangements, late marriage of a

daughter is in the interest of both parents, since while she remains at
home she will be in the most generously productive phase of her life
and all the while producing food for the home kitchen. The little food
that she cooks and distributes from her own house will be thought of
as “stolen” from her mother’s stores. Though by 1960 the bridewealth
had become a significant prestation, this wouldn’t have been the case
had not the young men taken gladly to migrant labour and to saving
their earnings from it. When these were eventually transferred to
another family as bridewealth, the reward would accrue to the father
and his agnates—secondarily to the mother’s brother but only
marginally to the mother herself. Her interest was still served by
maintaining the custom of late marriage and, ancillary to this, the
love-attachments of maidens for one another. The buttressing of an
institution by deep motivational patterns built into the component
roles is universal (Park 1972). But for the non-Kinga observer the fact
stands out particularly in this case because the reinforcing motives
are unusual. It would be hard to attribute Kinga sexual orientations to
‘universal human needs’ as such. At the same time no one should doubt
that Kinga have always found their style natural and have developed
their moral sense accordingly. To them the standard domestic
morality of other societies, with its deep motive patterns, seems


Childhood and after

Motives in early life—infancy

A crucial difference was recognized between a boy’s prospects
and a girl’s. Where she is re-absorbed into the mother’s sphere,
returning to some of the security of early infancy, the boy is not. At
the same age as a girl who “can do all that a woman can do” a boy is
scarcely seen about the village except when he comes round in the
evening to beg his daily bellyful. Anything he gets to eat in the morning
or during the day won’t be kitchen food—that is his own affair. He is a
goatherd whose chief concern is to keep himself and a few animals
away from the plantations and settled places of any adult community.
Defending the herd against predation is necessary but not arduous.
“His only work is to toughen up. He should live by his snare and learn to
be a fighter.” Out on the hillside a group of herdboys can remind you of
the goats they are charged with, now spread about in all directions,
now gathered again, holding to one slope for some hours, then all at
once out of sight and, as like as not, into mischief. Though a boy is
often in trouble with his elders, he has only to hide out with friends
elsewhere and the affair will blow over. Volatility is his chief tactic of
accommodation to the overworld.

Boys are ‘wild’ only in the sense of ‘untamed’—they aren’t anti-

domestic, having their own level of domesticity which they share with
the goats. Both genders try to keep clean, but girls are generally
successful. Unless for lack of a brother she must play the herdboy
herself, a girl is born to a domesticated life, playing with and caring for
small children around home or hoeing in the gardens. The formula for
childhood until puberty is:

Boy: wild bush taker

Girl: tame garden giver

The same formula, though it ceases to describe surface
behaviour so well in later years, will have detectable relevance through
life. Infancy prepares boys and girls for separate moral careers.

So far as I could ascertain there is symbolic but no practical

discrimination between boys and girls in infancy—a baby of either sex
was always taken as a blessing and treated without gender. The
symbolic recognition of sex amounts to giving men the prerogative of
declaring a boy fit to join the human community—he had to pass a test
of his “warlike” disposition before he could be moved into his mother’s
house. The following account is based mainly on Elder Lumanyano’s
information and refers to the Western realm but is adequate for most
other parts as well. It is valid as a statement of Kinga proprieties as
they were still understood and in large part practised in 1960.

Birth is never in the house but in a sheltered glade amakoko. The

place is strewn and a tiny grass hut ikyale is put up, all males and
children being warned well away because of the mystical danger. The
mother is attended by women who are experienced. Ideally, the first
responsibility falls on women married into the husband’s lineage, if the
settlement has a true lineage core, but in effect this extends to all
experienced women on neighbourly terms with the new mother. They
undertake the responsibilities of midwifery, bathe the baby and the
mother after birth, and move them into the hut ikyale (whenever the
weather has allowed delivery to be accomplished in the preferred way,
outside). For the first few weeks the women will bring prepared food,
then they will set up a hearth for the mother, supplying fresh firewood
and foodstuffs each day. They are generous and often stop to chat
and take food—it can be a pleasant interlude in a woman’s life to give
birth in a season of fair weather. [Although the early German mission-
aries thought the hut ikyale woefully inadequate, Kinga found British
tents a good deal worse.] Until the mother’s bleeding stops, she and
the baby will remain withdrawn from normal routines, visited only by
women. If the baby is the mother’s first male child the women may hold
the final school for her before she comes home. [But as males, neither
Lumanyano nor I qualified to hear what wisdom about boys is

When the mother has been declared clean there will be an assem-
blage of all members of the lineage neighbourhood who are of the
baby’s sex. If the child is a boy, the men will take a small stick or a real
arrow and pass it before his eyes. If he is ready to join his father’s
household the baby should evince a masculine interest in the weapon
shown him, following it knowingly with his eyes. Otherwise the men will
decide he should stay a while longer with his mother in the bush hut

ikyale. The men put on episodes of spear-play to frighten the child, and
interpret any promising reaction as a sign of proper masculinity. A girl
isn’t subject to a test but is accepted on the mother’s sponsorship.
Back at the house a mother assumes normal duties forthwith—she
returns to work in the gardens and feeds her older children again, who
will have been going elsewhere.

A woman’s expectations for her infant will be imbued with some

of the lore and experience of pregnancy. Morning sickness is “very
frequent” and later there is often stomach trouble and swollen ankles.
Knowing no traditional remedies, a woman could only “bide with the
pain.” On the other hand, abortifacients were well known. The potion
must be taken right away in the second month, as by the fourth it
could be lethal. While male informants said such medicine would only
appeal to an adulteress fearing discovery, I hear the special condi-
tions of 1960 in that: labour migration was heavy, husbands were in
the habit of staying abroad for years on end, and generic lore about
women passed freely throughout the Swahili-speaking world. The
medicines used by Kinga women were not new. Under traditional condi-
tions adultery could occasionally have been a problem in the case of an
older polygynist’s young wife—the generational triangle so prominent
in Monica Wilson’s account of Nyakyusa women (1977)—but there
weren’t many such in Kingaland, and they would scarcely have needed
to conceal pregnancies. It’s more likely the main currency for abortifa-
cients was for spacing births. This accords with women’s doctrines
and may have featured in the puberty school. Pressure to resume
intercourse in spite of a child still nursing seems to have been a
regular feature of the domestic scene (discouraged only by the weak
belief it could harm the child) while adultery by all accounts was not.

At the same time it’s clear enough that abortions wouldn’t have
been undertaken in a socially bare, pragmatic mood. We are dealing
with one of the secrets of women iviswalitumbu [little matters that
die in your belly] about which there would have been extensive confer-
encing within the subject’s trusted circles. Medicines, perhaps the
same ones, were often supplied the youngwife by women of her
mother’s circle or by the mother herself, “to prevent the sickness of
the baby if the husband is insisting on intercourse while it is still
nursing.” Here the young wife’s neighbour circle will be holding to an
official line, teaching abstinence, while her people at home, making
allowance for human frailty, unofficially provide her with secret
remedies. This separation of function goes back to the rule excluding
a mother or elder sister from the subject’s gynaecological schooling.
The balancing value is the propriety of a woman’s dedication to a

particular baby, as distinct from the espousal of fruitfulness as an
end in itself.

A baby shouldn’t be weaned until well into its fourth year, and
often is weaned later; but only the last child is usually left to “wean
itself” by leaving the breast spontaneously. “The last child knows the
mother well indeed.” If a woman becomes pregnant while still nursing at
night, she will wean in the third month of the new pregnancy, as soon
as she is certain, but just the same she may keep her baby with her at
night until the new one comes. Babyhood ends with a series of
weanings, first from the breast during the day, then from the breast
at night, and at last from the mother’s body contact. Even in the case
of a little girl, who will be living close by, taking the last separation is
not an easy matter for the mother, whose outward status and inner
world transform.

The conscious norm for spacing births was four years or more,
and the norm of abstinence from full intercourse was generally
respected, with its implications of a peculiarly Kinga double standard.
The woman’s attachment to her nursing baby having no counterpart
for the man, he was expected to revert to the company of peers,
comfortable in this open sexual orientation. While the same reversion
was not unheard of among women, particularly in cases where there
was ground to fear an abnormal pregnancy, it wasn’t expected. A
husband wasn’t barred from sleeping with his wife and baby but would
have to revert to the sexual patterns of courtship, finding satisfac-
tion in some way short of intercourse. She, the well-instructed one,
knew she must neither demand nor tolerate full consummation.

In 1960 few communities close to the road still had a flourishing

ikivaga [bachelor house] where married men might stay—it was the
practice of men to go abroad as soon as all had been done to see that
the mother and child were well established. “A man has no interest in
his child until it is old enough to run errands and will be responsible.”
Old men were apt to attribute a husband’s easy detachment from
domesticity to this distaste for living with infants rather than the
strict rule of abstinence, which was taken as unproblematic in itself.
The infant belongs unequivocally to the mother. Father-identification
by a male child is unlikely to go deep, at least in early years. Perhaps it
has been a result that when a boy has grown he hasn’t identified
readily with fatherhood himself. A herdboy son, with his seeming
carefree attitudes to life, must often remind a father of what he has

I learned only a little about the cognitive context of birth from
terminology. There is no foolproof way of probing a foreign vocabulary
in the dark, however helpful a group of native speakers may wish to be.
Wolff (1906), who worked for long years in the Tandala area of the
North, has two entries in his vocabulary, ikyale for the lying-in hut [G:
Wochenhaus] and ilyeve for the parturition hut [Geburtshaus]. The
common term for a lying-in hut in some regions is ikisulutsi, which I
recorded merely as nyumba ya kuzalia [Sw: house for giving birth]. It
was owing to deficiencies in my own cognitive map that I failed to make
the same distinction German does, but there is a clear implication
that when the season forbade giving birth like a wild creature in the
open, the midwives of Tandala would have insisted on a separate hut
for the purpose. Perhaps in other areas, where ikisulutsi is the term in
use, the procedures have never been so strict. I hardly need list the
reasons why local differences are more pronounced for women’s than
men’s worlds.<<[lit]

It is the water of the ilivangalala, a plaintain-like weed, which

midwives use to wash mother and child, and this is the same that is
used after ordinary menstruation. The word ilimali distinguishes
menstrual blood from other kinds: unkisa [gwamunu] blood [of a human
being] (as from a cut) and unnoge [gwihuma mumeno] blood [running from
the nose] or ugwalonda [gwasenga] blood [of a cow]. After the washing
with ilivangalala the rationale for the woman’s continued seclusion
rests on the continued bleeding [ilimali], which must be concluded, as
ordinary menstruation must, before she resumes the marital bed.
Although Wolff gives two terms for afterbirth, ilivaho and ilipapelo, I
have no satisfactory explanation of their distinct meanings. In the
interval between birth and naming by the mother, an infant is a
stranger [umenza], and I think for men, including the several elders I
found with a nose for female lore, it is the whole world of women’s
seclusion which is strange. It is a more spacious world, anyhow, than I
am fit to give a full account of.

Janeth Luvanda, a young social worker who had grown up as a

Lutheran in the Western realm, was willing to help with my study of
women’s culture. Though fluent in what we might call exoteric kiKinga,
she was unfamiliar with certain expressions relating to rites she
hadn’t encountered herself. In short, she was qualified by her sex and
Kinga culture but hampered in these inquiries by her status as a
Western-educated Christian. My account in the condensed para-
graphs which follow is based on her information, supplemented on
most points by confirming details from men who were willing to ask
their wives or women friends particular questions on my behalf. Bi.

Luvanda put 109 questions, which I had composed and typed for her in
Swahili, to a small group of older women in the Northern realm,
speaking in Kikinga and recording consensual answers in Swahili. Here
and there her own bookish hygienic lore was blended into her answers,
and I have not included that. But on a number of crucial points she was
able to overcome the interventionist bias of her profession, to
represent mine. The result is at least a tentative exploration of the
cognitive map women use in bearing and nursing their infants.

There is spontaneous recognition in any community of women as to who

shall take charge of midwifery and how tasks shall be assigned. This is
regarded as a communal not a kin-bound affair. A stranger who felt labour
pains while working nearby or passing through would be helped as readily as
another woman, and messages would be rushed to her kin. Usually the
husband’s mother will be living nearby or will come to stay with her
daughter-in-law when the delivery is expected. Women say that the
methods of handling parturition aren’t standard from one place to another,
depending on local teachings and individual experience and judgement. But
everywhere a woman without experience of giving birth is excluded, and any
woman who might try to block the birth by witchcraft is kept away.

The husband should build the lying-in hut [ikisulutsi] if there is no little
hut nearby which is appropriate and available. It should be out of sight,
within the border of a nearby wood. The husband should stand by at home, if
only so that if the midwives call for a special medicine he can fly to collect it
from the bush or purchase it from a herbal doctor.

Should a woman fail to deliver for some time after the onset of labour, it
is because an invisible rope or chain has been bound round her body beneath
the skin. To break this rope placed by witchcraft, the woman’s attendants
will seek to obtain a special potion from a doctor of good reputation.
Otherwise one of the midwives may have the requisite powers. She will call
for green twigs from a special tree, break them in short lengths, and tie
them with grass to her patient’s hands, wrists, upper arms, and other
limbs. From green reed-grass (of the sort used for ordinary mats) she will
fashion a band to be wrapped about the subject’s body at the chest and
lower abdomen: and into this band are inserted more of the medicinal twigs
at hand’s breadth intervals. Then there is a special smear which is rubbed
from the top of the head over the nose straight to the vulva. At the
setting of the sun the outer ropes should break and the inner ropes are felt
at that moment to loosen and give way so that delivery begins. [This infor-
mation is from the Central realm.]

News of a successful delivery is announced by the triumphal trilling of

women, which will be heard from the woods, and by handclapping as soon as
the infant is held in her arms by one of the attendants. Hearing the
announcement from the woods, in 1960 a Christian father was expected to
fall on his knees to give thanks. After the delivery, as soon as the bathing

and settling of the mother is accomplished, the women will feed the baby a
little porridge, traditionally uvuletsi [finger millet]. Like its Swahili equiva-
lent ulezi this word means both “child rearing” and “finger millet.” The grain
has mystical status among the Kinga, who say it was the staff of life in the
earliest epoch of man’s life on earth.<<[lit]

The name of the ritual feeding is ukutsilula [counteracting the

refusal of food]. “Behold the child is hungry,” say the women, consid-
ering that it has been so long without food in its mother’s womb. As
lela means nourish, I hear uvuletsi as a noun formed on the causative—
“nourishment”—but my skills in eliciting such linguistic information
were pretty raw, and I can’t confirm the name of this little porridge is
also a noun used in that more general abstract sense. In 1960 some
infants were being given ukutsilula in form of a potato pablum, sweet or
white, since finger millet was no longer plentiful despite its special
place in ritual. The tiny grain has great food value but represents a
relatively meagre return on labour.

Do we know enough to judge the larger meaning of the feeding

ukutsilula which so outraged the Germans (and Janeth) but which
survived all their efforts to change it? My premise would be that the
act is a presaging of the end of nursing in its beginning, a countering of
the totalitarian tendency of the bond between the woman and her
nursing infant, a warning from Society as well as a blessing meant to
help the little stranger survive its infancy.

A stillborn child is buried there in the forest where it was deliv-

ered, and a neonate who dies before the homecoming is treated
likewise. The jural implications of this are manifest. When you ask a
woman about her fecundity she will normally not count such children.
The verbal form which refers to such deaths is not the same as the
form for children who have died after being brought home: avijangike ~

Baby names tell us something of the state of mind of the

mother at delivery. Ordinarily there is no indication of the baby’s sex
or its own supposed character. The name expresses a mother’s
private experience of bearing and delivery. There is no attempt to form
the infant’s soul or spy into its future. It comes as a stranger. Some
birth names will clarify this:

Vutsange ~ Birth-giver. “The mother was anxious about her ability to

produce a child.”

Heg’a ~ Take leave. “The mother had been preparing to leave the
community because of bad feeling but the baby came first.”

Ndidega ~ I’m surprised. “The child came prematurely.”

Syaka ~ Doubt. “The mother had no confidence the child would live.”

Kitavungwa ~ Without being taught. “The mother hadn’t received the

traditional schooling for women.”

Situlwa ~ Homeless. “The mother had a deformity and must live like a

Mwampaja ~ Bamboo sort. “At the time of delivery the mother was
gazing up at a stand of bamboo.”

Kivulilo ~ Calumny. “Someone had carried tales about the mother.”

Pavusule ~ Resentment. “The mother felt disliked in the community

where the child was born.”

Salangwa ~ Ignore. “The mother was in need of help but no one would offer

The interpretive glosses given are the suppositions of neigh-

bours, who must simply guess: the name constitutes no sort of boast
or invective, the namer receives the name as inspiration at the time of
delivery and doesn’t therefore consciously intend it as a message
from herself to others. Through the years until the child chooses a
name of its own, its birth-name will memorialize for the mother a
moment of truth. For others it will simply be a name, a tentative
means of reference, later to be associated with a particular short
period of years in the life of the community and the individual who bore
it. Psychologically, the act of bestowing a name here is not an ‘oppor-
tunistic’ but a ‘propriate’ act in the sense of Gordon Allport (1955).
The mother of Salangwa or Heg’a is not to be read as trying to affect
her environment but as formulating experience. While Christians by
1960 were given to letting both parents (and perhaps other kin as
well) join in selecting a name—the fashion then was for Biblical or
secular European names—the pagan mother still sought for a name
ordained in the event of birth itself.

Mother and child were traditionally shaven clean before being

settled in the ikyale. The mother’s clothing was completely renewed. I
have no special information on meanings assigned to these ritual
observances or why, according to some informants, a pregnant woman
was not supposed to take hot food. Intercourse was forbidden in the
later months of pregnancy “lest the babe be born blind.” There was

also a belief that the re-occurrence of twins could be forestalled by
limiting intercourse. But most of the mystically sanctioned precau-
tions affecting pregnancy and delivery can be read as generic precau-
tions not just particularistic messages. The common feature of these
prohibitions is awareness of the vulnerable new life in the womb—they
say that pregnancy is charged with danger, and that socially-given
knowledge about these dangers is required to bring it successfully to
term. Natural danger lends depth to these precautions as sacra-
ments, and they in turn bosom the event in culture.

The sacralization of human reproduction is an affair of women,

having as one of its points the distancing of men in time and space
from the events of childbirth. An easily anticipated consequence of
these solemnities is to lend sanction to the rule against intercourse
during the long period of lactation which ensues, in accordance with
women’s doctrines. There is a consignment of the child to the woman’s
sphere so long as it remains an infant. This is modified only in the case
of a male child, by the ceremonial contract implied in the “showing of
the arrow,” which provides that when infancy is finished this child will
revert to the sphere of men. It is the conceptual separation of these
two spheres which is expressed in the special terms (such as ilisipo
[bowl-calabash] or uluketo ulwa kukyale [razor]) for items used in
women’s lustrations, and the absolute removal of such things from
the dwellings of men.

Motives in early life—childhood

What is the baby’s own early experience? For the first year or
more it meets the world while perched incuriously on its mother’s
back. In 1960 women wore cloths above the waist, conforming to
westernized norms of modesty, but these left the shoulders and
upper back free, giving a baby ample skin contact. In early days the
soft goatskin carry-sling was always used, and no clothing otherwise
was thought to be needed above the broad belt umwepinyo. This was
worn by a woman from the time of bearing a child to the time she was
prepared to conceive another, to signify her special status.

While some informants (in the Central realm) held a woman would
wear the belt “from five to seven years,” I have taken this as an upper
limit, true for last-children who, being left to wean themselves, may
continue to nurse so long they will vividly recall it in later life—or those
frequent cases where the father is absent. Monica Wilson (1950:115)
gives four or five years as the normal spacing of births in traditional

Nyakyusa society, and I would make the same or a higher call for the
Kinga. The reserved status in which a woman was placed by the belt
umwepinyo was precisely defined by the greeting, elaborately deferen-
tial but (as there was no reciprocal part for the man) particularly
distance-making, she must give to a man she might meet on the path.
The baby’s tenure was thus secured for three or four years at least—
a long babyhood by cross-cultural standards, as the one appointed
companion of its mother.

Part of the rationale for spacing births was, as with the

Nyakyusa, so that a child could be carried by its mother until it was
ready to flee on its own legs from enemy attack. But there is no
necessary logic here—another people might have opted for more
births not less to hedge against war. I think these customs reflect a
Kinga woman’s own deep preferences: to secure the greatest reward
from the nursling by prolonging the mothering relationship to its
naturally ordained limit, to the exclusion of cross-gender genital
erotism. It is the turning of the mother fully toward the child, more
than any particulars of the way children are handled, that I regard as
the real moral basis of the baby’s manifest security. How else explain
the fact that babies retain their quiescent manner through all the
careless treatment they will receive from the tiny surrogate mothers
who so often after the first year or two will have short-term charge
of them? Kinga mothers do not seem to use much facework with their
infants, at least in public. The communication of love is on the level of
need. When a woman feels her child ready for independence she brings
their mutually possessive affair to an end.

Kinga babies are placid. A baby in the third year, when his mother
has gone to the fields without him, may take to bellowing in the evening
for her return, joining in choir with the kid she has locked in the house
to wean it from its nanny-goat, and both are likely to bellow until their
respective mothers return. They know what they want, and their little
nursemaids are only respecting their judgement by letting them be.
Such events are generally handled in good humour and without anxious
concern—a lusty bellowing betokens good lungs. As a rule, Kinga babies
are easy to have around, being rather passive observers of life and
stolidly engaged in the private business of alimentary getting and
spending. Granting that any effort to judge how hypoactive they are
would be impressionistic, I think they should be placed well toward
that end of a cross-cultural spectrum—I find it hard to imagine there
is a society anywhere whose normal babies would make Kinga babies
seem active by contrast.

A child is toilet-trained before weaning, but children of either
sex may not be dry at night when they first move to sleep in a chil-
dren’s house. I take this to indicate a regressive phase for the child,
but in this I may be reading irrelevant values into Kinga experience. The
major explanation may simply be that a mother, having trained herself
to avoid soiling, and letting an older baby sleep apart from her as often
as it will, can afford to ignore enuresis, while in the closer contact of
the children’s house it is an immediate cause for action. Their cure is
as follows:

The child should be brought to a safari line of brown ants, should

squat there and pee on them. As the ants all at once begin to bite, the
child will stop urinating and must run home without ever looking back,
until the place where the ants were has disappeared. Now when the
sleeping child wants to pee in the night the same ants will bite and the
child will awake and run outside to urinate.

Be it noted that both genders squat to urinate. Kinga men find

standing urination a brazen and repugnant act.

Normal toilet training is gradual, and women teach that it should

be gentle: it is to be accomplished by talking, shaming, and showing.
Since a young mother normally spends her day close to women of the
community she has plenty of advice. Early along she will pay a formal
visit of a few days to her mother or to the person taking her mother’s
place, and more instruction will be forthcoming. Since the baby is in
constant contact, she learns to anticipate its business. Owing to the
intrusive character of my presence, except in the two households
where I was able to become a fixture, my own observations weren’t
often of spontaneous behaviour, but a number of young informants
assured me that when alone a mother will carry on chatting with her
baby and reasoning with it.

Janeth Luvanda’s informants told her that a mother ought to

have her child clean before it is walking (but walking is not encouraged
early) since this is more efficient. As the child becomes mobile there
will be a further stage of training it not to soil the hut or embarrass
traffic. In 1960 a mother would generally dig a special little hole to be
the child’s latrine and see that it was used, taking a switch to the
buttocks when wanting to concentrate the mind. The switching was
always to be done on the very spot of a delict—it was aimed not at the
soul but the act. Since none of this control is scheduled until the
child’s third year, toilet training can’t be called hurried or strict. It is
combined, after the early cleanliness training of the immobile child,
with a gradually-tightening practical obedience training, which Kinga

conceive to be the major task in the schooling of a baby for its inde-
pendence at the time of weaning.

While traditionally the father of an infant took to the ikivaga for

sleeping until obedience training was finished, as in 1960 he took to
migrant labour, his pre-eminent duty remained the protection and
care of family. In the old circumstances he would supply game, as he
saw fit, to supplement the vegetable diet his wife could supply; he
would take responsibility for construction of houses, bins, and fences
as well as for the acquisition of needed trade goods (salt, tools, and
utensils); and he would help manfully in the breaking of ground for new
plantations when the season for collective work came around. As soon
as the baby was weaned, or at least sleeping away, the norm was to
resume nightly cohabitation with his wife until, with another
pregnancy advanced, he was expected to return to the ikivaga. Hence
for the unweaned child the father could be for some months or years
a constant presence and was always about in the background, but
wasn’t a partner in the mother’s close supervision, even in the case of
a boy.

A boy will always be left behind as soon as the mother feels he

will tolerate it, when she has distant fields to till and there are older
children around home to cope. There is no rule against leaving a girl, but
often a tiny girl will be included in the gardening party because it is
assumed by everyone that she wants to learn. Mothers and their
children are allowed to differ considerably in the attitudes they take
to weaning, obedience, and independence training—so one child may be
weaned in a week from the day the mother decides on it, and another
may go on for years without finally ceasing to nurse. Sometimes the
women will make a point of testing a child by giving it errands—if the
task is done without accident (fetching water in a bowl, or getting a
hot ear of maize from the hearth) the child is ready for weaning. In the
old culture there was no counting of years and months (not for
ignorance of numbers) but a developmental approach to domestic
time. A child who can be left for a few days with family and sleeps the
night without crying may still be nursed on the mother’s return but is
thought to be ready for an end to babyhood. Yet the boundaries aren’t
usually sharp nor the transitions painful—many children who are
already living apart from their parents still come to nurse. One boy, a
last-born, recalled bringing water with him to wash off the pepper with
which his mother was half-heartedly trying to discourage him.

About favouritism I found out only that elders ascribe it to the

child’s manners, while young people tend to think parents can have
individual preferences for one sex or for children at a particular age.

Because of the separation of children from the nuclear family before
the birth of a sibling, because children are never told that the reason
for separation is the mother’s expectancy, and because children will
usually be looking in a non-possessive context to their peers for
emotional support, sibling rivalry is absent. None of my questions
about favouritism elicited echoes of that peculiar affliction as it is
found among families elsewhere. With the progress of their world in
directions the Kinga don’t control, I suppose rivalry will soon enough
make its appearance; but the solidarity of siblings, especially of the
same sex, is a cornerstone of the traditional culture.

Gender in childhood: separate worlds

At least in some areas, and perhaps in all the “pure Kinga”
communities, as Tunginiye would designate the old court centres,
there has recently been a custom of putting little boys and girls (up
to seven or eight years) together in a common dormitory. Tunginiye,
playing the historian, opined that under the old culture the elders
would have called it immoral because they would have made no age
distinctions where the danger of copulation was present. There were
no participants in this conversation older than Tunginiye, who was
born in 1900 and could claim to have been a recipient but not a master
of the older teachings. Quite apart from the possibility of an early
pregnancy, he insisted mingling of the sexes on a single mat was felt
to be inherently dangerous. He was vague about what the danger
would be.

When two young men in their twenties quizzed him out,

Tunginiye’s explanations sounded lame. His culture didn’t supply him
with an authoritative voice, the equivalent of our ‘scientific
psychology’, to affirm that early sexual orientations persist. He was
forced into assertions which made him seem to be on the side of blind
custom. The younger men were skeptical because in 1960 there were
communities here and there where older boys or girls weren’t prepared
to take small children in, and it was found convenient to put the whole
neighbourhood gang of wee folk together in a single house. Everyone
found it natural. Boys slept on one mat and girls on another. They had
their social life in common and looked after one another. I was living at
the time in a courtyard so arranged.

Even those communities would always apply a rule of segrega-

tion eventually, breaking up any mixed groups of children well before
puberty. But usually the children would segregate themselves before

they turned eight or nine. A Mahanzi youth explained, “Cat and mouse
can’t live together.” It is a maturing sense of a social difference—cats
in Kingaland are ferile—to which he was referring. What he had in mind
was not Tunginiye’s moralism but the rightness of separate worlds.

This distinction can be made clearer by considering the parallel

case of the Nyakyusa. Tradition has it the Nyakyusa political-ritual
élite came down from Kingaland many generations ago. Linguistically
they belong with the people they have ‘colonized’ there in the Great
Rift Valley, but when their culture is seen from the perspective of
moral strategy their Kinga affinities stand out. Monica Wilson
explains the segregation of boys (and formerly girls) in places of their
own, which Nyakyusa imposed at the prepubertal stage, under the
heading of “decency” and the felt danger of mingling the generations.
Nyakyusa have no sympathy for the Kinga pattern of delaying
marriage for girls, and don’t consider erotic heterosexual contact
inherently dangerous at any age. They do outlaw penetration before a
girl’s marriage, expecting her to take responsibility. The ambiguous
situation which in their communities provokes concern for “decency”
and generates the usual rhetoric of blind custom arises from the fact
that a young man’s father will be taking wives from among the girls
actually junior to his son and entirely eligible (before their marriage) to
the son as lovers. To define these girls as belonging to the father’s
‘generation’ the Nyakyusa must go so far as to remove the sons to a
village of their own: girls who marry there will be theirs, girls who marry
into the father’s village will be taboo. Reciprocally, for the son’s wife
his father will be taboo, the object of scrupulous avoidance which
assures while he lives they’ll live in separate worlds.<<[lit]

For Nyakyusa the rightness of the separation of the ‘genera-

tions’ is not morally problematic: what requires so much special
machinery and moral concern is the problem of fixing the identity of
particular individuals with the one ‘generation’ or the other. For boys,
there is the age-village. For a girl married into the age-village of her
male peers, there is the special burden of avoiding her father-in-law.
This entails annihilating her old identification with those of her own-
sex peers who (from her point of view) by marrying one of his peers
have crossed the generational line with impunity. In the old Kinga
culture females had immunity from warlike violence, and it is probably
that immunity which would have made gender-ambiguity attractive to
some males just starting out on the stormy path to “wildness.”
Raising the genders together after infancy might not so much inflame
as endanger the boys’ masculinity. This may have been the inner
hazard Tunginiye could sense but was lacking in the lexicon of younger

men. With the colonial pax masculinity became less stressful, and
that prod to moralistic fancy would have receded. By about the mid-
1920s obligatory participation in war or raiding had disappeared. Two-
legged cats and mice, in the absence of identity problems, aren’t
sexually jealous of each other.

As to the segregation of boys and girls in 1960, both groups

perceived this as a positive measure depriving neither group of any
privilege—quite the opposite. To understand this, in spite of the good
relations of mixed groups in the common dormitories, we have to
consider how the underlying, unproblematic moral axioms are laid
down. We are examining the ontogeny of gender strategies.

The pertinent age for this sort of moral concept formation

would probably be between four and about eight or ten. Kinga call
these children ikihinza and ikidimi, wee maid and wee lad, classing them
as too young for regular labour. In 1960 at Malanduku in the Eastern
realm it had become the custom for such children to lie in the kitchen.
The neighbourhood group might lie in turn at different houses, for the
structures were spacious and of a new style: two rooms with the one
an inner bedroom leading off the kitchen, which had the only outside
entry. The kitchen served as the public room while the parents’
bedroom was private. A couple with a rather young baby could trust it
for a trial to overnight with the children, and still keep supervision. It
had seemed practical as an arrangement, when a group of men with
young families had built the new Christian village, but there had been
some complications. Boys over six (or thereabouts) were going to
great lengths to “get out of the kitchen,” which they found demeaning.
Even some boys younger than that were putting on superior airs,
having got places with independent older brothers or cousins. Hence
the kitchen groups were composed of more, and older, girls than boys,
as girls had no objection to staying longer.

What the un-progressive little boys sensed, and resisted, was

an inexorable trend to domestication. The kitchen was, both tradi-
tionally and practically, woman’s realm, the place of the grindstone
and the big cooking pot on its three black stones—anathema to all the
values properly espoused by boys. Still, the new domestication
seemed already to have got under their skin, for one little group of
emancipated lads only about seven years old had seen fit during my
stay to express their independence in a most uncharacteristic
fashion—by crashing on a group of older girls nearby, for all the world
in the manner of the eligible bachelors who might occasionally be seen
slipping in to pay court. When the big fellows did show up they’d send
the little ones packing, of course, but the whole affair gave rise (apart

from amusement) to diffuse feelings that the pattern of life was
breaking down, not necessarily for the better.

No one was prepared to say where it all would lead. Why did these
older girls laugh and fail to expel the pretentious little boys? Young
men were saying the girls would have eventually, because they’d have
seen that their mutual confidences iviswalitumbu were threatened.
Ironically, the term girls were most apt to use then in Malanduku was
the Swahili siri yetu [our secrets], an expression with a lighter, often
teasing connotation. An arrangement which had maintained itself for
generations, probably for centuries, was beginning to lose its self-
correcting character. The reason was not that Malanduku’s ‘system’
was cracking—the new pattern had no less system to it than the old.
The reason for the surface changes was a shifting moral perspective
within the whole community, brought in with the founding of a new
village on new, Christian ideals of co-operation, new ideas about
housing, and a commitment to prosperity through modernization. The
children were beginning to respond.

What the old arrangement did was to put the whole experience
of youth into one of two gender worlds, each with its proper character
values and sanctions. The two worlds were articulated to one another
by personal ties, first of kinship then courtship, but the intimacy and
constancy of such ties was curtailed. Own-sex ties were always more
strongly reinforced. Rigid segregatory taboos weren’t needed,
because the structure was secure. In this respect one might compare
a Kinga marriage to the sort of arranged marriage between important
families which we have known in the West, or an African marriage
arranged by lineage authorities: the press upon the partners is less
than that of the ‘romantic’ marriage, because less depends on their
personal commitments. It is true that Kinga marriages are quite
often ‘romantic’ and founded on intense personal expectations. But
peer groups, wherever solidary network ties are established, here
take the place of families or lineages. Becoming an aspect of the
community’s structure, marriage in the traditional culture has not
been a violation but a subtle reinforcement of the separateness of
men’s and women’s worlds.

Malanduku’s new institutions press against the limits of almost

every functional equation which characterized the old set of institu-
tions. Thus:

TRADITION: Because boys and girls grow up and live in separate worlds
they can eventually combine in marriages which don’t threaten to become
closed units, structurally adrift (i.e., free to form socially inopportune or

irregular alliances or factions). DEPARTURE: Growing up in less separate
worlds, dyadic withdrawal of a married couple becomes more likely, and
structural drift becomes a threat. Whole communities convert to denomi-
national Christianity, neighbourhood work groups assume added impor-

TRADITION: Drawn into the ceremonial and political life of the courts,
men have allowed their nominal lineage ideology to lie fallow, while they even-
tually settle in virilocal, neolocal neighbourhood groupings based on some
kinship and a lot of comradeship. DEPARTURE: Embarrassed by the devitali-
zation of the court centres, and lacking the wherewithal of a lineage-
centred organization, men turn to the adventures and delights of migrancy,
finding a surrogate “barracks” life on the sisal and tea estates.

TRADITION: With dependence on lineage solidarity in abeyance, religious

practices associated with it are of minor importance, overshadowed by the
emphasis on communal rites and ceremony. DEPARTURE: With the decay of
the communal religion and new emphasis on domesticity, religious sanc-
tioning of peer-group identification (Christian young men’s and women’s
sodalities) has attained major importance.

TRADITION: The glamour of the court centres extended to the bachelor

life which they sponsored, so that self-realization through the production
of offspring was de-emphasized for both men and women, and both were
content with long postponements of marriage. DEPARTURE: The prestige of
migrant labour and the imported goods associated with it pertain unevenly
to the sexes, leaving young women relatively isolated. They begin to seek
earlier marriages and usually succeed in spite of highly inflated
bridewealths. Men begin to marry well before their ‘bachelor phase’ (now as
migrant labourers) is finished—a development made possible through the
emergence of ‘banking networks’ at home allowing bridewealths to be paid in
full in advance with borrowed funds.

TRADITION: With serious interest in the opposite sex being considered a

prerogative of royalty and the middle-aged, the need for segregating wee
children by sex is perceived with some urgency as a tutelary measure.
DEPARTURE: With a serious interest in the opposite sex becoming the major
motivating factor tying the migrant labourer to home and kin, the demand
for segregation in early childhood comes to be regarded as moralistic and

Departure from tradition is ‘resisted’ not by the system it

would amend (whose only power is that of ‘least resistance’) but by
friction entailed in establishing a new one. Egoistic ideas and motives
form essential links between need and resolution in public affairs. This
is where friction is generated by novelty—the heat of public thought,
of raising custom to the level of consciousness, exposes cultural
roots meant to be hidden. Uncertainty compounds the risk of misun-

derstandings and produces specious certainty on every hand. But
times do heat up, and when they do changes may come thick and fast.

Comprehension of our own institutions depends on a struc-

turing of values at a deep level of mind which is in the fullest sense
both public and collective. Individual heads have difficulty dealing with
these values rationally, as though they must derive from conviction
not compliance. But here we are concerned with propositions one
comes to accept through engaging in public discussion not private
calculation. As people do everywhere, Kinga engage regularly, though
generally in episodic and refractive not gossipy fashion, in discussions
of the right and wrong of their neighbours’ actions. The formal court
procedures are only the most elaborate realization of this scene.

Kinga elders are not usually trivial conversationalists—even

around the beerpot they seem not to gossip much or judge on superfi-
cials. As with people everywhere, the judgements they will as public-
minded persons accept are of course not the values which prompt
them as private actors. Recognizing that, we ought to discount
writers who, ignoring this basic separation of public and private minds,
demand that human institutions be psychologically transparent—
governed by the (conscious) individual self-interests of the players
strutting the parts. Institutions are created and maintained by public
thought. Individual informants can’t trace the roots of that thinking
in their private minds because the roots aren’t there. Social thought
follows turns at deep levels in the history of the group not the life-
experience of individual members. That public thought is given voice by
individuals, and not always in crowd situations, can put us off track.
There was possibly not another person in the world better qualified
than Tunginiye to speak for the values behind Kinga institutions. Yet
to do so he had to search outside of himself. The psychology of the
individual is not to be confused with the psychology of social (institu-
tional) roles, which ground in games no more aware of persons than
langue is aware of parole.

The difficulty Tunginiye experienced, for all his wisdom in the

ways of his people, in stating why wee boys and girls ought to be kept
in separate houses was a reflection of the peculiarity of public
thought that its roots are always obscure. I knew he was embar-
rassed that he could so easily be backed into a rhetorical corner,
pretending that people in the old days were so ignorant as to fear a
couple of six-year-olds could establish a pregnancy. There was no need
to argue with him that they wouldn’t, privately, be so ignorant. Collec-
tive thought, proceeding in its own way, imposes many such apparent
absurdities on us. Kinga moral thought is no sharper than ours when it

comes to justifying custom—public values. It is the other kind of moral
thought, the kind used in the private pursuit of the good, which expe-
rience can sometimes sharpen.

Tunginiye was right in asserting that in the old (court) culture

the smallest boys and girls lived apart because any other arrange-
ment would have been found morally inappropriate. A girl until she was
about ten would gradually be acquiring the skills and habits of work
wanted in adulthood, and after that age when called upon to do so she
could carry a woman’s full load around the house, if not yet in the
garden. But at first her jobs would be compatible with a leisurely day
of games with her friends. At five her heaviest work would be caring for
younger children. Then she would be set to grinding the grain or maize
for the firm cereal dish which, taken with a vegetable or occasionally a
meat dip, forms the staple meal; she would be fetching water and
tending the fire; and she would soon be helping with the cooking itself.
Of these jobs only one is monotonous: the grinding, done with mano
[inyevetelo] and metate [ulwala] in the age-old way, regularly means
more than an hour’s patient labour (only relieved by having company)
and is something a boy would go to any length to avoid. Girls differ:
grinding meal is consistent with carrying on a conversation or
following adult talk in the kitchen, and a person always takes pride in
fulfilling her part in production. Many days are spent mainly at play,
and a girl with the usual social skills is unlucky who has to work long all
by herself.

By ten a girl will know a good deal about gardening and preparing
food, though she will probably not yet have gardens of her own. She’ll
work beside her mother, using a spent hoe especially hafted to match
her strength. She’ll also know the work of the wooden mortar and
pestle, though at ten she will still be too small to be effective in
pounding grain. Kikinga distinguishes by prefix the modest mortar and
pestle for indoor work, ikitule and ikitwangilo, from those devoted to
the heavier tasks, ilitule and untwangilo. Both require real exertion,
though, and lend themselves to rhythmical work—what we usually call
exercise. No doubt a Freudian interpretation can be put upon the work
to further explain why it is exhilarating to young men as well as to
maidens, but the matter becomes simpler when you begin to perceive
the elements of dance in this work. Watch two pretty maidens alter-
nately pounding the same mash to a song and you will want to join
them. The transition for a girl from wee person to a magnetic force in
the community is a gradual one but is complete well before she will be
considered nubile. Menarche is unlikely to come before she is fifteen.
By thirteen if not earlier she will have shifted loyalties to her best

friends in the isaka: her rewards will come from them; she will be indus-
trious, emotionally dependent on none but these friends, habitually

There were few communities in 1960 where a boy wouldn’t have

had charge of the goats at an early age, driving them out in the
morning, keeping some sort of watch through the day, and driving
them back at evening. But herding was more dangerous long ago when
there were more leopards and human raiders enough in most parts of
the land to require the protection of grown youths going armed. In
some parts few men found it worth while to keep any animals at all, and
boys “had no work” or “their work was only war” in the no-man’s-land
between one recognized settlement and another. Boys were invet-
erate setters of snares for bird and hare, and would always be ready
to rob a stranger’s snare when they could, adding fuel to the fire of
chronic feud. A boy should dress his own wounds by bathing in a running
stream and applying medicinal leaves. Boys didn’t grow up in ignorance
even though they must absorb all their culture from tutors within
what Malinowski used to call “the republic of youth.”

There were gentler arts: swimming, panpipes and flutes, and the
interminable games of skill. Some boys became expert with the bow
and arrow. At important centres field combats for teams of boys
were formally organized. The arms were throwing-sticks and shields,
and the typical casualty was a broken shin. As nothing but the football
games at the middle schools recalled the raw side of the old public life
in 1960, I have no field notes on open aggression among boys; but I’ve
no reason to think it wasn’t done in full fury. Tales of fierce corporal
punishment in early Lutheran schools, at which the Germans appar-
ently required attendance (on pain of stiff confiscations of food from
the boy’s father) confirm a picture of ungovernability which a half-
century later was much softened. Wildness doesn’t develop as far as
it might, when a boy is regularly required to start school at ten, or
even eight, and has to become a disciplined ‘townsman’ to survive.
While I can’t know how far a softening of masculinity had changed the
scene by 1960, the reminiscence of old men suggested it was a
matter of degree not kind. Wildness there was in 1960, and even
cattle raiding had not quite disappeared.<<[lit]

Boys get food in two ways which are legitimate, and in various
other ways. The wife of any man the boy calls umamavangu [my older
brother] is subject to joking, badgering, and licensed greed. But the
wife of udada [father, father’s brother] must be “feared”—treated
with a show of respect. She is udyuva [mother]. To her own boys she
must give food without their begging, and they’ll carry it off to share

with their friends. Other women called by the same term will be
relatives on the mother’s side (women of her patrilineage) and of her
genealogical generation. They, and women classed with father’s sister
[usongi] or mother’s brother’s wife [udyadya], may withhold food if
they choose. Then the boys “can only sit and talk, then after a while go
on.” They know this food is theirs by a limited demand-right not
inherent privilege.

As to food from nobody’s kitchen, boys insist there are no rules

about when to be hungry, no regular mealtime, no regular place to eat,
no right number of meals, no proper diet. Any creature caught in a
snare is immediately roasted, anything good that can be gleaned from
an old garden is soon put away. A gang so lucky as to catch a goat in a
sneak raid over the mountain would make short shrift of the evidence
as soon as it could be roasted without smoke giving the hideout away.
So boys knew a method for barbecuing even a goat in a closed pit, a
smokeless roaster they could leave to cook overnight, returning to dig
it up when all was safe on the morrow. Grain was safe enough from
boys, except that finger millet can be taken raw at need; but maize and
vine fruit weren’t, nor any other food that didn’t want milling—sugar
cane was a favourite. Living wild didn’t mean eating food raw but
roasting it on an open fire far from the cooking pots of women. The
best little prizes (a chicken, a guinea pig) for young raiders were
perforce grown only within a home enclosure, so the staging of a
successful raid offered fine adventure. Boys were marauders like the
pigs, hares, and cats; wherever they didn’t explicitly belong the
community would see them as pests. On the other hand, boys were
dependent on largesse for the evening meal—they weren’t ‘ferile
humans’ but made the best of scouts against surprise invasion. The
graduate of this school on the hilly marches was perfectly trained for
their defense.

The ikivaga [boys’ and men’s house] was also a school. Tunginiye
explained how it would be in a settlement affecting the “pure Kinga”
court culture:

Here food was brought by the women, and small boys were taught, “This
is where you are well fed, what will you get by going back to your mother?” In
the company of the ikivaga the wee boy soon learned to despise the baby
who followed after his mother. A child as young as three could be brought
[by his mother] to the ikivaga. He’d be beaten only when he tried to cling to
his mother—so the weaning might be done by older boys and the men, not
the mother herself. The same never happened to a girl—she was to follow
her mother in everything. Boys were taught, “Here is your warmth, here is
your fire, nowhere else.” They were under orders to fetch firewood and bring

it here, never to another hearth. Young boys lay at one end of the floor and
youths and men at the other, for this was the house to which a married man
must seek when tabooed from sleeping with his wife. This was the society
of men.

Men & maidens: courting

Old men in 1960 would claim that as youths they had been
victims of a primitive world in which “there was no money and it was
hard to marry.” As a rationalization of late marriage, this pat formula
may be as old as the custom itself. The same informants will in
another moment explain that any young man could apprentice himself
to a smith for a few months and get hoes enough to marry with. We
have again a formula of collective not individual intelligence, an unex-
aminable premise.

Did young men in the old culture not go courting as they do

today? The great difference today is that young women have no
communal isaka but live in twos and threes, usually with a wee sister or
two, in miniature houses of their own, located close by one set of
parents, who will claim to be keeping them safe from rowdy visitors. In
the old culture boys were always outnumbered on their night visits,
and the rowdies, if they weren’t quickly cowed, were quickly ejected.
Perhaps we should speak of precourtship, since the scope for passion
by all accounts was modest. The mating instinct was kept at a
simmer. The press of sexual frustration was lacking on both sides. An
elaborate fiction was erected of the need for secrecy and the
righteous antipathy of fathers toward lovers; but that was mainly a
smoke-screen adding another rationale (to the claim of “poverty”) for
procrastination. For men, marriage would bring the end of male
wildness. For women it would mean an end to the extended youthful
narcissism of the isaka. But where for a man one may speak of falling
or even retreating into marriage, a woman had children to think of and

The age difference for couples in the old culture of 1860 must
have been a decade or a little more. This figure is typical for strongly
polygynous societies. But Kinga say many men never married, while
there is no hint that women who were physically capable might fail to
do so, and it was the rare commoner who aspired to taking many wives.
We are left then with the picture of a class society, albeit an open one,
since a man with several healthy young wives will be rich, a man with no
wife poor, and the mass of the population neither rich nor poor. It is
likely that any vigorous, mature man recognized as a Sanga could be

moved to set himself up as a man of importance by taking several
wives and beginning to keep a courtyard furnished with beer. He would
have to establish himself at a distance from a recognized court; and
he might well seek or accept the designation as untsagila [lieutenant]
to the ruler of that court, lest he be seen as rival. It was in this way
the class system was open, though the fiction was maintained of
inherited aristocratic privilege.

In some communities I heard it voiced as a norm that a polygy-

nist, having picked up his first wife from the isaka, should take any
subsequent wives by inheritance or find them widowed. But if that was
the norm for some communities it was not the norm for all, and was
nowhere scrupulously honoured. Since the age difference for young
couples was under five years by 1960 there was little scope for
polygyny and the only sign of a class structure was the presence in
some centres of a vigorous “royal Sanga” tradition of rule by an
authoritarian, strongly polygynous claimant to hereditary right. But
such local rulers were by then few. Whereas Nyakyusa in the 1930s
complained that the Europeans had broadened the gap between chiefs
and their people, the effect of the (inattentive) British period in
Kingaland was to thin down the overclass, leaving only those repre-
sentatives whose positions had official backing and a salary.<<[lit]

After 1900 a vigorous commoner could no longer break into what

had become a closed, established circle of rule. Other, more diffuse
avenues to distinction were opened, and the wealth wives could
produce gradually ceased to be the kind of wealth that mattered. But
one principle remained constant for the century after 1860: like the
prince himself other men of importance were marked by more vigorous
heterosexuality than most, and a man pondering his moral options
could plausibly associate heterosexuality with mastery.

Kinga had the tradition of plighting troths, contracting engage-

ments under four eyes and relying upon the other to keep the bargain
without much personal contact to reinforce the tie. A small sign might
be given the girl, usually something to be worn about the neck and of no
intrinsic value. (A safety pin would do well, being useful for digging out
the potentially crippling Caribbean chigger from one’s feet.) The long
era of migrant labour provided plenty of evidence for the durability of
such un-reinforced contracts. Positive cases abounded, in any event,
wherever I might ask, though I had no way of checking on the (mani-
festly less memorable) negative instances. In 1960 courtship was
generally practised in a more pragmatic spirit than the idealized
retrospect of my older informants had suggested, but there have

been essential continuities. Tunginiye’s account makes this clear,
while accounting for major changes:<<[lit]

Ingumbwe the girls’ pit-house was for use during the cold months only,
May to August. Other houses weren’t plastered as now, and were cold.
Youths talked of the ingumbwe as delectably warm. The number of girls in a
single house would probably seldom have been over a half-dozen. The floors
would be spread with grasses for lying. A fire was put down in a corner
where the feet of the sleepers were going to be, the grasses being pushed
aside around it. The fire would be small and covered with a greengrass lid to
make lots of smoke “for warmth.” In the evening the fire was removed and
the floor prepared.

In warmer months the isaka was not a pit-house but above ground. Small
girls slept there along with the older ones but were bedded apart. Like the
boys on their side, girls left off sleeping with their parents at an early age,
as soon as they were able to respond to ridicule and the invitation of older
chums. The isaka was a place of stories and songs, riddles and games, the
young ones learning from the elder in the early evenings before sleep.
Suitors only entered after that. The theory was that the young girls slept
right through the courting without learning much about it.

Ukulavila to go courting was not something a boy would undertake alone.

There was no difficulty in forming a party. Boys would talk of the cozy little
house the girls of a certain district had made, and arrange a group visit
there, each boy choosing a particular partner in advance. Entry had to be
made in darkness and with great secrecy. The little ones would be asleep
after nine or ten in the evening. One well-understood bit of sign language
was: the suitor extends his hand to the girl where she is lying, and if she
takes it she will let him slip in beside her. Courting was done in the tiniest
whispers and couldn’t go as far as copulation. Fathers were supposed to be
cruelly disposed to suitors, listening at a girl’s house and, if they found lads
there of whom they couldn’t approve, routing them out and sending them
packing. If a girl didn’t want to receive a particular suitor she need only
threaten to call her father and the boy would leave. It was felt right that
fathers should guard their daughters in this way, and the isaka was never
far from the dwellings of married men, though the custom of building them
on the same courtyard is new.

The distance of courting was settled by two limits. It wasn’t feasible to

court in one’s own home hamlet, where a lot of the girls would be too closely
related, and on the other hand it was dangerous to go where one was hardly
known. To go as a stranger to some place was to court death, as the people
would think witchcraft must be your motive: how should they take you for
an honest man? But there were two institutions which broadened a suitor’s
scope. The first was the girls’ puberty ceremonies, which would be widely
advertized and which legitimated travel in daylight by young men, even
across princedom borders. The second was the institution of friendship

among young men—you could visit your friend and court along with him in his
bailiwick. In this manner marriages could be made across princedom borders.

All the great changes which have taken place revolve around bridewealth.
A girl’s father always had the right to dispose. Even after an elopement
that is where the groom’s father must go to set things right. But the
oldest bridewealth in Ukinga was two hoe blades, and they were easy
enough to come by, as the Kinga have always produced a surplus. After the
Germans came, Kinga started trading hoe blades for Sangu cattle. We know
the Germans in 1900 rated Kinga country poor in livestock because they
levied their first tax not in stock but hoe blades. Once trading conditions
were stabilized a man could go with five hoe blades and come back with ten
head of cattle, some of them advanced on a delivery of more blades next

The prices then were:

1 hoe blade = 1 steer or bull
2 hoe blades = 1 cow

But the pursuit of money and the mixing of money with marriage began
in 1927-9 when men first started going abroad as migrant labourers and
returning with money they couldn’t use in Ukinga. So they turned to buying
cattle from Usangu, though before that cattle had been very scarce. Now it
became understood that cattle could reproduce themselves nicely and
make a man wealthy. Then the fathers of maidens began to see the suitors’
great wealth and to covet it. [I 32ab]

A key element in courtship which Tunginiye doesn’t discuss here

is the sense that a father-in-law gains ‘parental’ (proprietary) powers
over a man. In 1960 this was expressed as fear of the old man’s medi-
cines. It inspired a suitor to accept inflated bridewealth demands, on
pain of having to abandon marriage plans entirely. But the fear of
medicines is older than migrant labour and inflation. Since a young man
can’t afford to have bad relations with the girl’s father, it was argued,
he must accept the asking-price of peace. If the two men have unequal
power as persons, it is not the elder who must fear the younger’s ill-
will but vice versa. From the groom’s viewpoint, marriage is to be
approached as a contract between two men, himself and one whom he
must “fear.” So a condition which facilitated the rapid rise in
bridewealths after 1930 had in a less explicit fashion sanctioned diffi-
dence toward marriage, on the part of the freedom-loving bachelor
male, before that.

Psychologically, we seem to be dealing with an unresolved

father-son ambivalence (displaced on a new father-figure) and hence a
condition which won’t long outlast youth. But in the old days the edge
of personal ambition had probably been dulled for a typical man before

his first marriage was established, and that would have been a factor
favouring monogamy. The parallel factor in 1960 was the debt a young
married man would have contracted to his own father and kin in order
to marry. The debt would have to be repaid from earnings at subse-
quent wage work. Though a young man through this arrangement would
be coming to terms with his father’s generation at an earlier age, the
new dispensation granted psychological emancipation with the one
hand while imposing economic bondage with the other.

The shadow of the girl’s father affects courtship in another way,

for people would say of a man whose daughter had borne a child at
home (supposing there were an actual case), “Our friend has got his
daughter pregnant,” as if to put the shame of incest on him. That is
why there was a special urgency falling on the girl who did allow inter-
course to flee to the man that very night. Suddenly, entrenched
deference to the father required a reversal of feminine strategies.
The groom’s father would go around in the morning to say, “You’ve no
need to be looking for your daughter, as she is safe at my place.” Then
they would arrange the exchanges by which a contract of marriage
was formally enacted. In return for the small traditional bridewealth
there used to be two- or three-day feasts laid on with major prepara-

The ideal is that the bride be bestowed as a maiden by her

parents, who deliver her at a time they may set, along with beasts,
beer, and prepared food for feasting at the man’s place. She enters
his house, which he ought to have built anew for the occasion, and is to
remain there throughout the celebration assuming a particularly
submissive demeanour. Guests enter to greet her. At night the
husband enters but goes out freely to feast and return at intervals.
His family provide only a small portion of the comestibles, but the
bride’s relatives come in force, collectively preparing and bringing food
and beer. The bride’s seclusion represents the beginning of her
avoidance relationship to her parents-in-law. I believe it also serves to
define the nature of the contract of marriage as one between the
groom (with his family) and her father (with his kin): it is not a
contract the girl is competent to undertake herself, and as she
passes out of her own family’s direct control her agnates emphasize
their right to represent her interests.

Ideally the agreement between the two sets of parents should

be such that, whenever the girl’s parents come to visit, the two older
couples will share beds in the one house, man and man, woman and
woman. So structural reciprocity should translate into sentimental
attachment. Sleeping with others that way expresses the unguarded

trust reserved for those of the inner domain of moral relationships
which in other societies may be strictly associated with the nuclear
family. Where marriage was expected to come up to this norm, it was
an extension of peer-intimacy values across the new affinal link, and
even though the ideal was perhaps always livelier in myth than actu-
ality, the effect was to set the marriage in a personal as well as a legal
context dwarfing the spontaneous feelings and interests of the

The style of courtship

That the courting stage in the normal life-cycle could be so long
without eroding commitment to its values seems remarkable. The two
genders separately and together had to keep the delicate balance. It
required separation of the spheres of youth and mature adulthood
while prolonging the former into the third and fourth decades of life.
Since courtship begins with moonlight dancing some years before the
more clandestine love-making of the isaka visits, it isn’t easy to say
when first awakening occurs. Informants report no sense of
“discovery” of the other sex before the age when physical intimacies
are exchanged in visits to the isaka. The pleasures found there are
experienced as profoundly new, quite in the style of much younger
lovers in some other cultures. In the latter years of childhood boys on
their side and girls on their own would be getting up dances on any
warm evening and might be joined by a group of the other sex and
appropriate age. Gradually with advancing adolescence these dances
would come to be tinged with a subtle delight, as the teasing relation-
ship between boys and girls began to have erotic reference.

These little dances are spontaneous. In their duration and

frequency they represent the excess energy of youth. The fire, the
bells or the drumming, the company, and the singing must always have
made the children safe from predators, though they would choose a
place away from any houses, and though the night would never have
been safe for one child alone. The main season for dance was from
February through August, bridging the cold, dry months but including
also many warm nights on the margins of the rainy season, when the
night skies could be called brighter than the day. It is in the dance that
the independent ‘republic of youth’ is most apparent.

Here are some songs which Aleksi Sanga was able to help me
catch and get written down as we sat one evening in May the better
part of a kilometer down the valley from a spot where a band of young

men [avasala] had been joined by a band of maidens [avahînza] for a
party [ulwimbo] of song and dance. The acoustics of such valleys on a
quiet evening are without parallel, and the singers were growing bold,
knowing that their barbs would be felt by particular individuals where
they lay in their huts. Much passed us by. Of the texts we could
salvage, our probabilistic explanations are proferred, though none of
them could have been quite on the mark, since Aleksi had no inside
information from that community.

A single song is a single dance, lasting a quarter of an hour or

more. All songs belong to the dance-form kivilila, which is done with
ankle bells and the two genders in parallel lines dancing toward one
another and away with only eyes meeting. The lead singer in each case
was a young man, who would have been a host of the party. “Kivilila”
means “falala” and constitutes the main body of any song, amply
interspersed between the lyrics I cite. With the interludes between
dances, this little collection represents several hours’ entertain-
ment. The event of course continued deep into the night. Aleksi and I,
being over thirty, turned in before the party ended. Events of this
order would still have stirred repressive action by Christian parents in
some parts of the land, but they were beginning to regain the standing
of an honoured institution under the independent government of

The orthography and translations of the songs which follow are

mine. Aleksi was not literate but had the gift I left behind with
childhood—he could catch, retain, and repeat a verse readily even from
a single hearing.

Ndilond’ udada nivoneka
ndilond’ imbudila
valye n’ avanonu
Ndilond’ udada ndapwale

I look for Father, he doesn’t appear—

Ah me, what now?
I look for a sacrificial beast—
They’ve already eaten, the fine folk.
I look for Father, if he be here.

(This is a tease: everyone will know who the finger is pointed at. The
lad is alleged to live by begging things from his rich father.)

Ndavulonda avavonu kuNzombe
Lutaga ukalonde avanonu

So you are looking for the fine folk of Njombe-town?

Go right on looking for these fine folk!

(A lad or a maiden has shown signs of preferring the fleshpots of

the town to the company of good friends here in the valley.)

Ndawit’ ulinonu nd’ ulinonu dyuve
avadala vaswile
unne nandinogwa
uve vindala nd’ ulindala dyuve

You talk of your being so fine—how are you so fine, eh?

Women who have been widowed—
For myself I don’t like them.
You woman, how much woman are you, eh?
(A mime: some young man has been backward about accepting his
brother’s widow.)

Wimile wilola ndandilivago
ndili ’nswambe vani
ndili ’nswambe milongoti
unda veve walye n’ udada

You stand there staring as if I were yours—

Whose child am I?
I am the child of Milongoti—
Well, and you, have you eaten your father?

(There is rumour of love between a boy and girl who are too closely

Umuvile unekelitse
ndigonile kitadinda
ndikidwadila ndikidwadila

You have seduced me and brought me to ruin—

I lay without locking my door
and I was afraid, I was afraid.

(Another mime: the tone is that of mock tragedy.)

Nda vidyuva nda vidyuva
uvi kunyima nadyimboga
vatye iposolo dyidumulinye

How now mother, how now mother!

You who deny me even relish—
They’ve been saying the spade has cut down the middle.

(A girl whom the lad calls “mother” [udyuva] has been stingy with
food, and he pretends to believe the ties of kinship have been ritually

Wiluta ’kusimila
ikyuma kwabenki nakwukile
mutungetsimya n’ umwalivo
ahi-i n’ umwalivo

You are going to elope with a young fellow?

Money-in-the-bank isn’t there at all!
You’ve ransomed your daughter,
Aye, your daughter!

(A girl is running away with a lover who deceives her—he is penniless.

Her father will have to wait to claim bridewealth when her own
daughter is married.)

Vavwene ndyivukiye
avene vikwuv’ undalavango
na dyune ndiluta ndikakuve vivi vanyina
umwana vantumbu lya dadadye

People saw me take my leave—

those people are seducing my wife!
And I am off to seduce his mother,
that child of his father’s vagina!

(The jealous husband syndrome is mocked. Since the father’s vagina

is in his backside, the verse is ambiguous as to what sort of seduction
is planned in revenge.)

Most of the youths and maidens I knew in 1960 (in the Western
subchiefdom) would have said they belonged to a “club” or “society”
through which they organized the social life of courtship. Boys
admitted that the girls were better organized than they, and it
seemed to me the boys’ clubs were little more than a half-hearted
effort to match the girls’. In the days of the larger isaka each slumber
group would have made up a big enough unit for the activities of the
“clubs” as they were in 1960—collective work, outings, and gatherings
for fun. But there seems also in the old culture to have been a lot of
visiting about, and the idea of a “club” may not be recent. The word
umbeta, which Nehemiah rendered as chama in Swahili (‘club’ in English),
has its most concrete reference to a small-animal path, always
conceived as one part of a branching network, like the paths leading to
dens (a word English uses for club-house) or the separate doors in a
hamlet. The related ikibeto means gateway [Sw: mlango], an expression
used to pick out a particular household among several comprising a
community. The underlying metaphor is spatial: residential groupings
in this society are social groupings, and the reverse should be virtually
true. In most or all of the Christian areas in 1960 girls in the adoles-
cent years were much given to forming clubs. They were alliances of
several isaka in a neighbourhood, for recreational purposes. Clubs
would arrange visits on which they would compete, each side trying to
top the other in riddling, tale-telling, and song. It was characteristic
of girls but not of boys that the contest hinged upon wit rather than
mere physical energy. The side which lost was the one which ran out of

Herdboys in 1960, apart from school-organized sports, had a
hockey game they played with a ball of hardwood root, burnt round,
and special sticks. One club would challenge another to inganyo
[hockey], and the game seems only to have ended when an excess of
injuries on one side gave uncheckable power to the other and forced
the weaker team to withdraw. Again I’m not sure how old the custom
was, but note that the masculine wildness of the play contrasts char-
acteristically with the civility of games emanating either from the
mission-based schools or the community’s ‘gregarious maidens’.
Advancing adolescence is, from the boys’ point of view, a process of
attrition starting from an original, uncompromisingly masculine
stance. What gradually wears it away is contact with the gentler sex.

Ndikukongwe [I’ve called you to a gathering] is the way a girl asks

her friend to any sort of party, and the gathering itself is termed
ilikongo. Twigona twikina [we slumber and frolic] applies to a house
party, and as elsewhere in the world it is a lively affair with a good deal
more frolic than slumber. Indoors or out a party means keeping a good
fire going, and for the younger hostess seeing to that takes the place
of preparing any food or drink for entertainment. The evening is always
impromptu but never formless or at a loss for life—not the equivalent
of our evening at the pub but of a select party. From the age of ten or
younger a girl will be an eager participant in the telling of stories and
riddles, which she may bring in from evenings away, lying with her
grandmother in another community, perhaps with cousins seldom
seen. Maidens will be called to special parties once or twice a month
throughout the year, and more often (as the parties will be larger)
when the weather permits an ulwimbo [outdoor dance]. When there are
girls alone they will run out of fun and firewood after a few hours. Then
they’ll lie close for warmth until morning, when they may set off to
work together in one of their own fields.

Boys left to their own devices enjoy a good kidnap more than
riddles. The technique is to infiltrate another neighbourhood, set upon
a rival group, and try to carry off its leader, who will then be held until
(say, the next night) he can be rescued by his mates. The stealing of
choice bits of food wherever they can be scrounged is a continual
source of delight. In the old days a specialty of almost every young
boys’ gang was roast meat got from the glade where an old man had
been spied setting up an offering to his ancestors. By 1960 parents
were sanctioning dances for young adolescents in some communities
by preparing beer and food, encouraging each boy to invite a girl in
urbane fashion, but I didn’t get the chance to see how this experiment
worked out. In the traditional kivilila dance, where boys line up opposite

to girls, sometimes a boy will put his hands on the shoulders of a girl
he chooses [K: ukwavala] and dance so for a time, though the girl will
not often reciprocate. Here in metaphor is the bridge a man must
undertake to create. Boys say that two of their own kind can “know
each other” but can’t “love each other” [Sw: juana~pendana—K:
manyana~ ganana]. They mean that attachments among boys are
fleeting and sentiments mixed, but the attachment of boy and girl
should be everlasting and the sentiments pure. They sense that girls,
mysteriously, can truly love each other [ukuganana], and sometimes a
boy finds this uncanny. Here is Nehemiah, aged sixteen:

Girls talk in conundrums not just now and then but all the time in their
conversations with boys and other girls, talking about what they are doing,
who their friends are seeing, and the like. A girl will always use a false name
when she is telling gossip, and when she says the most harmless thing
someone who is in the know will understand the double meaning.

Girls must have their own love affairs, just as boys do. I’ve talked with
lots of boys about this: we think they do. A girl herself will say, “Oh yes, we
think of everything but of course we don’t do anything but think.” They hide
behind their riddle-talk. But if you notice, their riddling tales about two girls
can be just like their tales of a boy and girl. Their false names never tell you
the sex of a person, you just have to figure it out. It’s their way of teaching
about sex: an older girl who has experience will help a younger girl in this way.
It is teaching the arts of love.

Ti is a girl who is shameless but popular. You’d scarcely believe what she
can say. She’s clever at joking with words. More than anyone she’ll tell
revealing things about other girls in her riddle talk. And yet when she starts
in this way the other girls won’t reject her but follow along and agree. That
is what makes girls different. How can they have any heart, following as
they do where any girl leads, not disagreeing, not becoming secretly angry
as any boy will do?

Boys never know the affairs of others well, they don’t know how a friend
secretly feels, as girls seem to know. A boy may know that his friend has
stolen a girl—he must be very angry, but you won’t know that he is or even
that he knows. [I 12g]

Collective play is a feature of adult life as well as youth. The

ungovi [work party], the ulwimbo ukunem’ikivilila or ulwimbo ukunem’
inengela dances with bells on or with drums on the belt—distinct forms
each with its own type of songs—are, at least in the life-history of the
individual, outgrowths of the ilikongo gatherings. How far in the history
of Kinga culture itself the ceremonial centre and its dancing inspired
the dancing of childhood or how far it was the other way can’t be
known, but the children of 1960 were doing their own thing not

imitating elders. The festival mood in Kinga life is the mainstay of
optimism, openness, and mutual trust without narrow self-cloistering
and dependency.

There is plenty of cause for dejection and misery in the young

life as well as the old, and boys’ games, for their roughness, must have
had some wretched aftermaths for individuals. But the civil theme of
the feminine ethos was a counterpart to the masculine war theme,
and helped to keep the wild ways of men in the old culture within
bounds. Masculine themes in Kinga moral culture tend to be centrif-
ugal, spurring the hunt, the cattle raid, aggression, and war. Feminine
themes are centripetal, relying on the flight of the imagination, on wit
and gentle humour. But though in childhood the cultures of the two
genders are separate, they come to be woven together delicately in
the prolonged phase of courtship.

The weaning of a male from his mother is often uncompromising

as a beginning to childhood, and a taste for violence wouldn’t be an
unlikely result according to the little we know about human nature. The
dance, especially as it begins to be oriented to courtship, is a civilizing
institution in part because it can play on regressive needs of the male
and resolve them. Before the missions, the kivilila was an ideal vehicle
for displaying the matured female breast, as girls repeatedly danced
up to the men and withdrew. Men would outdo the maidens by
fastening monkeytails to their shoulders and doing their hair in
dancing ringlets—thematically, a nice combination of nature and
culture, the wild and the tame. How long would it take a redlocked
youth to realize what the inventers of this dance had to know, that
woman was the source as well as the target of his artifice? The soul of
the dance resides in its art not its erotic meaning, which has to be
muted. The sexes in the Kinga dance always remain two solidary
groups. How else could the dancers properly mime their differences?

For what it was worth, I suggested to missionaries in the

Eastern realm they should end their ban on dancing, considering what
Christian young people were otherwise left to do with their time. The
missions had no immediate answer, but shortly after that the new
government, in the interest of Africanness, began to encourage dance
and related native arts. The meaning of the dance in later life no doubt
has roots in the experience of youth, as other forms of celebration do,
so that dance in a real sense revives an older person, recalling some of
the ease with which young people throw off their cares in merry-

I obtained one autobiographical tale of courting which offers
significant detail. The setting is the Eastern realm in 1962. Bw. Koro’s
tale makes clear the fun a new watch can be, as well as the special part
peer friendships may play in matchmaking. The fine literary style is the
teller’s own, though the English is mine.

A test of friendship

It was Monday evening when Bw. Koro had made a date with a young
woman of Oka hamlet. “This is the day we shall be coming, so don’t fail to
inform your companion that two young men will call, by name Bw. Koro and
Bw. Maji.”

The time came ripe and the gentlemen were dressed in their best, having
put on fresh trousers, shirts, and long-sleeved sweaters each one of them.
Unfortunately until they were across the river they had forgotten to look
at the time to find out exactly when they had left. Having watches, they
reckoned (as it was six minutes to nine at the moment) they must have left
home in Maku village at just ten-minutes-to. They forced their pace, hoping
to find both young women at home and not to be late for their conversation.

Along the way the two young men talked of various things. Bw. Maji put a
question to his ‘older brother’ Koro: “I wonder how long it takes from Maku
to Igumbilo village?” Bw. Koro answered it was a trip of an hour and a half.
Then Maji asked his ‘brother’, “Which do you think is farther, Igumbilo or
Oka?” Bw. Koro had to guess the distances might be about the same. Now
they continued their journey until they came to the river Idete, when Maji
remarked, “Truly I’m amazed to hear that a car has passed this way going to
Oka and back.” But Bw. Koro cut his friend short, “You think you are the only
one who is amazed! Don’t you know everyone in the Eastern realm is amazed
by this. O-o-o. E-e-e!” They continued talking in this manner until they

When they got to the young women’s hut Bw. Koro tried knocking at the
door but he wasn’t heard. Bw. Maji said the reason is they’re lying in the
inner room, so we must knock on the wall corresponding to the place they’ll
be sleeping. But his ‘older brother’ wasn’t prepared to listen to that
proposal. Going over to the kitchen he saw a fire with a pot simmering on it,
then he came back. Knocking again on the door he got no response, so he
tried the door and by good luck it opened, and the two young men were able
to enter.

Hearing people talking in the house, the young woman who owned it
awoke rather frightened, saying, “Who is it? Why don’t I understand?”
Hearing this, the young men flashed their torches on the wall and laughed.
Right away she recognized them.

But when they saw she was alone, her friend not there, they weren’t
sure what to say. She went out to the kitchen shelter, where she served

food and brought it to the guests. When they uncovered their bowls they
found she had filled them up with pure beans. So they gave thanks [in
Muslim fashion], “Praise the Lord, God is not altogether against us!” At this
joke they had a good laugh and continued the meal. But since their aim in
coming there hadn’t been eating—seeing that they’d finished a good meal
before leaving—they soon told their sister thanks, we are well satisfied. The
girl herself had little to say, so she excused herself and returned the food
that was left to the kitchen.

At that point they got round to asking her where her companion could
be. She answered, “Honestly, I did send word but I don’t know what
happened, perhaps she is away.” Seeing that the odd person would have no
one to sleep with, they went to have a look at the other girl’s house, to find
out what was up. Having made the journey they found the girl’s door
standing open. Flashing their torches inside they found only an empty bed,
her brother’s jacket, and some old blankets. Going outside they frightened
a goat, which ran for cover under the eaves. They returned downcast, with
only the aim of bidding farewell to the girl they’d seen. Bw. Koro said to his
‘brother’, “We should just go home, since you, my friend, are without a girl to
lie with you.” But hearing this speech, Bw. Maji answered his friend, “It
doesn’t matter. Considering that you, my friend, are the one most involved,
we shall arrange for me to sleep by myself. I shall just brave it out in a manly

Accordingly they knocked on the door and it was opened. Hearing that
they hadn’t found her friend, the girl made a bed for the two men. But when
they explained the arrangement they had in mind, she accepted the altera-
tion of her plan. So Maji went to bed all by himself, the little sisters slept on
the floor, and Bw. Koro and the young woman shared a small bed. This way
these two companions were able to rest and enjoy themselves, though only
to the great sorrow of Bw. Maji, as they disturbed him deeply even though
they never came over where he was lying.

When it was twenty-minutes-past five in the morning they left the girl,
saying, “If there is another time you must both try to be home, for it isn’t
right for one of us to find bliss while the other has nothing.”

When they got home it was ten-past-six, so they reckoned that from
Oka to Maku is a journey of one hour and ten minutes [sic], from which they
were able to conclude that Igumbilo [a major village] is clearly farther away
than Oka from their village of Maku.


Age & wisdom

Dominance & seniority

Superordination takes many forms, and the categories we
choose for sorting them out in another culture can reflect our own too
well. For Kinga circumstances, terms like class, rank, or aristocracy
could prove misleading. This is not because no one concedes another
person superior standing in respect of some qualities these terms
suggest, but because the resulting social forms in Kinga culture are
not class, rank, or aristocracy. Looking at patterns of interaction in
dyadic relations, most of what I have to report from Kingaland can
best be referred to one or the other of two ideal types, dominance and
seniority. These are not terms suggested by matching Kinga concepts
but are chosen to fit the semantic map Kinga build up from experience.

They draw a major distinction between those whom you obey

because of fear uludwado and those you accede to because of caring
uvugane. Though deep emotion may be involved in certain relationships,
the distinction doesn’t depend on it. When a young man says he fears
his father he may be referring explicitly to the practice of certain
obligatory avoidances, as of the father’s sitting place. The “fear” is a
feeling-tone adopted and acted on by the two as a basis for their rela-
tionship, just as “caring” may be an attitude one strikes rather than a
personal motive. Dominance and seniority are of that sort, types of
role-relationship first and types of personal experience only second-
arily. But the archetypal relationship of dominance is that of father
and son, which begins early in a context of unqualified inequality. It
would be unrealistic to suppose ‘role fear’ is not confirmed by
matching personal emotions by most Kinga sons, despite the
distance they usually manage to keep from their fathers. To some
degree, later relationships of dominance will presumably have an irra-
tional colouring because of this. Specifically, I’d expect the preferred

way of handling resentment of dominance would be avoiding confron-
tation. This accords well with the antipolitan ethos I have earlier
noted [pg.82] as a prime characteristic of the political system, and
with the reputation Kinga had with plantation managers in colonial
times as “good [= accommodating] workers.”

The archetypal relationship of seniority is that of older and

younger brother. Entrance to the underside of this relationship is
early, and in a few years the same child may begin taking the senior
role, toting around a new sibling or cousin. While it is not every boy who
has an older or younger brother, none quite escape the sibling type of
relationship. In the little tale of courtship told by ‘Bw. Koro’ he calls his
friend Maji “younger brother”: apart from the mutual loyalty implied,
there is the asymmetry which precludes rivalry. Early Kinga experi-
ence is saturated with close and continuous peer contacts in which
the elder child has responsibility for the younger, while the father and
(for boys) even the mother remain relatively distant. In Kinga theory
the tie between adjacent brothers should be unsullied by conflict. But
since emotional purity may be hard to maintain in an actually close and
prolonged relationship, I suppose theory is best realized where the age
gap and residence pattern guarantee a fair aesthetic distance.

Kinga men avoid close relationships of outright dominance. Such

would be patron-client ties, master-servant contracts, or caste rela-

The avoidance of dominance begins with early independence

after weaning, when the child ceases to be a member of the parents’
household. While it may seem to us this is banishment imposed by the
parents, Kinga would be astonished to hear of a child who, having so
gained freedom, was prepared to surrender it. The hypoactive
character expected of infants helps to insulate mother and child from
the mutual fear or resentment which begets dominance behaviour, and
this would mean that infantile dependency should be relatively uncom-
plicated. As the child becomes active on its own behalf, most
contacts are with older children, mainly of the same sex, and the great
preoccupation of early years is light-hearted play. The tutelary
contact of older and younger child, on the whole so effortlessly
assumed, comes to be the pattern for many future relationships. My
use of seniority here is meant to suggest an amicable mutual involve-
ment, not just an age or status difference. The pattern entails a prior
inter pares relationship with a moderate slope, never a vertical struc-

An ‘involvement’ is a personal relationship which takes on a life
independent of the social prescriptions governing it. Involvements are
‘irrational’ when seen in a motivational frame, and may create,
override, or intensify socially sanctioned ties. In either dominance or
seniority we can expect ‘involvement within the tie’—the rewards of
power and frustrations of impotence give (perhaps unconscious)
affective content to a tie, roughly in proportion to the amount and
quality of the contact. But the intensity and all-importance of
seniority contacts during childhood make the Kinga case special, if we
are looking for the way early socialization can affect the quality of a
social system. It is true a father-son tie must be established on the
moral basis of fear uludwado, and the acceptance of dominance has its
political uses. But equally the patterned bond between full brothers
has to override self-serving motivations.<<[lit]

If spontaneity is the stuff of friendship, keeping the bond calls

for discipline. Boys are well aware of the transient quality of their peer
bonds generally, but in spite of this a boy has a better chance to learn
about caring uvugane from senior peers than from women. Kinga
political society makes extensive use of the seniority principle, which
is ready when a man reaches his majority. But the principle isn’t one of
the visible features of the culture. A warning element equivalent to
fear [uludwado] for the dominance relationship is lacking. Most of a
boy’s intercourse with peers is tit-for-tat stuff, hard to stabilize,
confirming his sense for the difficulty boys will have in raising friend-
ship to the level of caring love [ukuganana]. But when the principle of
seniority is added the transformation does become a possibility.

Dominance among men is reserved for relationships which aren’t

close. On the plane of politics, the traditional ruler was remote from
his people. In 1960 Sangilino of the Eastern realm was the one local
ruler cast in the traditional mold. To young progressives he was a
reactionary, but to older men the style was talamu [severe—Sw. kali]
and well understood. Sangilino wouldn’t preside personally over
dispute-settlement cases but allowed a session to proceed in the
form of a moot which he would oversee from time to time but not
conduct. When the judgment was ripe he would pronounce it. This
technique represented in abbreviated form the traditional practice of
a prince, who presided at court only through intermediaries. Sangilino
allowed settlement to be reached under the format of seniority—in
the moot it is the most respected opinions not legalistic arguments
which carry—while himself remaining aloof from the familiarity which
the seniority pattern entails. He was a personage whom no one would
have mistaken for an ordinary citizen, though he sported no special

regalia, only a regal bearing. Unlike some other local rulers of the same
official standing, Sangilino wasn’t visibly rich, had no commercial inter-
ests, and wasn’t extravagantly polygynous. He had built up no impres-
sive domestic establishment, only an unassailable position of social
dominance. I found in him the moral values which supported the
prince’s high position in the old culture, and a measure of the political
decline in other realms. Local rulers there may have matched Sangilino
in authority but not in majesty. They failed to inspire the fear which, in
his presence, even an obtuse anthropologist had to know.

A father’s dominance owes little to majesty. Except for the new,

familistic Christians, Kinga fathers aren’t much preoccupied with the
parental role, taking no pains to impress their sons as heroic figures.
But mutual ‘fear’ is quickly established, as the boy soon learns to
avoid a father vested with the right to send him on errands or hold him
responsible (whether as negligent goatherd or rascally gang member)
for depredations on property. A boy of seven or eight will fight away
from his father, throwing stones to keep him at a distance and running
away to oppose his will or escape punishment; and a father seems
quick to anger in his relationship with a boy of that age. After a few
such incidents a boy will tend to keep a good deal more distance than
avoidance rules require. Comparing young to older male informants, I
found that fathers expressed less involvement than sons, and
concluded that the main source of distrust in this relationship is the
“wild” ethos of boyhood, which inevitably throws the male child into
conflict with authority—of which one’s own father is the natural
standard-bearer. Fathers, though they handle boys roughly, seem to
expect less in reality than they claim from them. One of the most
dominating men I knew, a keeper of shops, cattle, and wives, when
confronted with evidence that his newest wife had been seduced by an
unmarried son dismissed the whole affair with ridicule: Fancy getting
such ideas about your “mother”! Here was a Kinga elder cut from
Nyakyusa cloth.

Since it is the counsel of peers to fear (avoid confrontation

with) one’s father, boys continue to do so at least until they rejoin
adult society as avalume young bachelors. There follows a period during
which “fear” takes the form of mutual caution, the father trying to
dominate by moral suasion and perhaps by angry words but without
provoking an open break. The father may say his piece and have done,
the son accede well enough to avoid provocation. In developmental
terms this is a period, lasting into the young man’s twenties, of
shaking off the constraints acquired through conflicts in late
childhood and adolescence. This last was that extended period when a

boy is called undimi, which signifies he is past the herdboy stage, and
known to value nothing so much as his freedom from everyone but
peers. Most often in 1960 these would be his school years. The young
bachelor undume (pl. avalume) discovers other values, calling for fresh
moral strategies.

I think dominance has less affective meaning for women than

men, because women as such seldom try to control one another
through fear. The little girl is never encouraged to wildness which
would provoke a mother’s anger. At five a daughter has returned in a
way a son never does. By middle childhood a daughter relates to her
mother in much the same way she does to her eldest sister, helping
first the one and then the other in her work.

Man-woman relationships can exhibit dominance. My first

impression, formed from sitting in the baraza [Sw: official court of
law], was that women in 1960 enjoyed all the disprivileges of a
separate caste: even a young man could expect an honest hearing
before an older woman could, as though not age but sex must confer
wisdom. But later on as I listened and watched, sometimes knowing
who was speaking and why, I found my “caste” model dissolving in
favour of a sphere boundary. The sphere of men centres in the court—
in 1960 in the baraza, in 1860 in the ceremonial centre with its equally
formal procedures. Men are no more jealous of their prerogatives than
women of their own sphere, centred in the reproductive process. Men
freely express distance and domination of women as a class at the
baraza, but this can’t be counted as a personal relationship of domina-
tion between an individual man and woman, or even as lending categor-
ical sanction to dyadic domination between intimates. Men control
one sphere, women the other: the public life of each gender centres in
its own sphere, and entrée into the other’s is not freely given.

There is a custom which tests the rule and speaks to the

question of male domination. Women may give an important role to a
male kinsman in a girl’s puberty ordeal. If the women of the school find
a girl reported as disobedient or irresponsible it is her older brother
(or other suitable kinsman) they ask to thrash her naked before the
crowd gathered for her homecoming. Young men were so prone to
mentioning this scenario (though none I found had actually seen it
enacted) I sensed that it stirred their inner feelings as much as it
must have stirred a maiden’s. Presumably, the problem for boys is not
just one of sexuality but of family privilege as well—a sister must
appear as mother’s pet in the regressive dreams of boys who are not
taking well to the wild life. But Janeth Luvanda’s informants painted
the custom almost as a routine item of their agenda: the thrashing

should be followed by a gift to restore good relations. Whether or not
the custom is often honoured in practice, it is a distance-making rite.
How is it that the women themselves, who are fit to teach and
admonish, are not fit to punish?

The thrashing advertises the asymmetry of the relations

between the genders, since everyone knows the reciprocal—a girl
thrashing her naked brother—is unthinkable. The rite is asymmetrical
on another count as well, since gift-giving only compounds the superi-
ority the boy has claimed by thrashing the girl. It isn’t unreasonable to
expect that the seniority pattern, in spite of some formal
constraints between brother and sister, ought to govern their rela-
tions; but in this rite the girl is denied the equivalent worth which
everyone knows as a necessary condition of mutual caring ukuganana.
Part of the seeming preoccupation of youths with the rite would be
owing to the denial of mutuality it proclaims in a society where
brother and sister have otherwise a fairly easy relationship. But for
both participants the heterosexual polarization effected must be
noteworthy, and its incestuous colour as a privileged confrontation
may deepen the sense of family relatedness which (in comparative
ethnographic perspective) might have languished in the absence of
early sibling cohabitation. The event can hardly stand as an advertise-
ment of male dominance in marriage, since it is the ostensibly asexual
nature of his tie which accounts for the selection of a brother. Just as
formal chastisement means that spontaneous conflict is not
germane, the formal bestowal of a gift carries the meaning that free,
informal reciprocity is in abeyance. So the rite restates the associa-
tion of dominance with distance not intimacy.

Use of a male as the punishing figure in a central institution of

the women’s sphere is interesting, and the choice of older brother not
father has its own rationale. As to the first, by using a male the
women avoid violating the amicable seniority pattern by which they
customarily teach and manage juniors. The bizarre razzing and
pinching of the girl which occurs during lessons might seem a violation
in itself but is licensed by the inversion of ordinary rules at the school,
while the thrashing is done by family and refers to everyday morality.
Might the women have chosen a father-figure instead of a (categor-
ical) brother? By choosing a young man who, while acting as their
junior, can only be perceived as the girl’s senior, the women avoid either
violating or magnifying a dominance relationship of man over woman.
Perhaps the categorical implication would be that, if women outside
their own or the male prestige spheres do subordinate themselves to

men, the world should know they freely choose to do so: the show of
humility is controlled from within and is not the mask of fear.

My own sex and the company it put me in during fieldwork may
seem to show through when I take the tie between brothers as
archetype for the seniority pattern, passing by the tie between
sisters. I can’t say one of these sibling ties is more intense or conflict-
free than the other. But it is true that brothers normally are free to
stay together after marriage, while sisters are more often and more
profoundly separated. Whatever the intensity of personal feeling
which may be fostered within the ties, the structural uses of brother
love are the more prominent.

All relationships of superordination work transformations in the

persons involved, if there is affective involvement, and the fraternal
tie is an infrangible one with roots in early childhood. It will take its
most explicit form as a feature of very early experience when there is
not a great gap in age between adjacent brothers, so that an own
brother is the child’s first little nurse. But this one is in harmony with
many similar ties formed within the ikivaga (or among girls of different
ages within the isaka) with cousins and friends. The main transforma-
tion worked on the young participants should be readiness to form
such close relationships with others, for this is not allowed to be a
possessive or exclusive tie threatened by rival involvements.

As both genders learn openness to personal alliances, there is

continuity here with adult Kinga character and the ease with which
stable neighbourly relationships are formed. Kinga think of their
smallest communities as tiny descent groups isikolo, though generally
admitting their fictive character—friendship is simply assimilated to
kinship. Except for twins, which violate the principle, all kin ties among
Kinga entail seniority, which is derived from generation and the birth-
order of siblings or marriage-order of co-wives through which families
are related. It remains true that in the republic of youth two peers
who legitimately might call themselves udada [father] and
unswambango [my son] don’t do so in fact, through not wanting to
burden their relationship with the avoidances entailed; but the same
kin ties must have explicit recognition after marriage. In the field I
formed the impression that the stablest friendships are most often
those in which a clear seniority pattern prevails.

In another context, the young wife who must make a start in a
new community will probably find her husband’s “family” a loose and
insubstantial organization. Compared with neighbouring peoples (in
particular, Nyakyusa and Hehe with their big domestic establish-
ments) Kinga commoners live as individualists. Joining a hamlet of a
few scattered households a bride will be lucky to have the ability to
accede in amicable subordination to women already established there.
In the last chapter we glimpsed, in the woman who called her child
Pavusule [Resentment], the possibility of failed adjustment.

The seniority pattern plays a role in sexual pathfinding. By

steps, an older brother can help extend a boy’s original homophilic
orientation by exposing him to other charms. A little boy of ten may
be taken along for fun by his brother on a night visit. He will find himself
teased and adored by the girls, who make a point of exhibiting them-
selves and referring to things which mystify him. When the two
brothers return home before dawn the little boy will have begun to
acquire a sense for the way a night may be passed in play by men and
women taking delight in one another, though it will be a decade before
he knows the delight at first hand. An oldest son is his brothers’
keeper in matters sexual as the father can’t be. A firstborn has the
responsibility of seeing all his younger brothers married before he
thinks to take a second wife himself; or if he fails to marry at all he
must pass on the privilege to his next brother. The closeness of the
tie appears again in widow inheritance. A woman is free to choose
among her late husband’s full brothers or pass them over (without
rancour) for a half-brother, same father. She must often look less to
the virtues of the man than to those of a prospective co-wife. But if
she goes outside the sibling set, even to the late husband’s father’s
brother’s son, there will be bridewealth to pay the brothers, as with
any stranger.

The frame of mutual responsibility and dependence between

brothers comes to be felt the more strongly as the two leave
childhood behind. A boy in the ikivaga would not be sleeping with his
older brother, once the latter’s childhood was over, until the boy
himself passed puberty. When there is talk of a young boy “dreaming
the dream” two men will have him sleep between them and examine his
loincloth for emission in the morning. The men, who will be elders of the
ikivaga, adopt the attitude of seniority not dominance. If the test is
positive the boy can’t return to the children’s mat for fear of polluting
prepubescent boys. It is then the two brothers may be reunited, often
sleeping together in the Kinga manner. When the senior marries, the
intimacy is interrupted but not cut off. The young man and his

brother’s bride call each other undambango, a special term which
carries a privileged joking relationship. He can teasingly call her undal-
avango [wife of mine], though the understanding is that sexual
contact is illicit, or must be mediated by the husband. Supposing that
on a visit the bachelor brother shares the couple’s bed, it is said the
husband ought to lie between the other two.

I could be impertinent enough sometimes to ask how this worked

out, but I could only expect to hear from a manifestly delighted young
man that “nothing happened.” However, I’m not quite at a loss to figure
out how “nothing” could be so uplifting. Something that must have
happened was that the young man’s erotic orientation to persons of
his own and the other sex were experienced as naturally compatible.
There is a like lesson learnt in the isaka when two girls have a boy lie
between them, and demand he show them equal attention. The point
for the boy is only that the odd girl mustn’t be left out, female soli-
darity being what it is; for the girls the meaning is that a boy coming
between them shouldn’t displace but enhance their own secure rela-

There is a sharp difference between the quality of tutelage

between brothers and that of the women’s bush school. If both be
taken as examples of the Kinga seniority pattern, hasn’t the concept
been made too loose to hold meaning? The distinction of seniority
from dominance has been offered to mark the extensive use Kinga
make of communicative personal influence in the introjection of estab-
lished values. A society which depended wholly on social control
through dominance, deriving the force of any teaching relationship
from fear (in approximately the sense of the Kinga uludwado), must
create an extraordinarily tense, hostile milieu. But most Kinga
teaching derives its influence from the sense of a positive bond: in
their subjective experience the senior person is moved to share hard-
won wisdom and the junior to heed. It is a form of social control
compatible with a good measure of personal freedom, since a relation-
ship based in seniority easily adjusts itself to the level of mutual
involvement spontaneously felt by the participants. The relevance of
spontaneity even to an institution as heavily sanctioned as the school
is illustrated by a comparison of male and female initiations.

In some communities as late as the 1930s boys were given a

school [uluvungu] specifically called amavalatso, and Tunginiye believed
that the custom used to be universal, before (in legendary time, I
think) boys learned to run away and “remain ignorant of adult knowl-
edge.” Once a boy had been brought into the school he seemed to lose
his power to fight back. He’d be stripped of his minimal garment and

made to sit on the ground in a row of his peers—three or four of them
of pubescent age, whom the men would have caught and brought in.
They must sit motionless, arms between straightened legs, facing
each a staff, driven in the ground, which was to be used for beatings.
It is here a boy found past sins visited upon him. A teacher might seize
a boy, turn him over, and cane his buttocks without meeting any

Semani, who had been through the school on the receiving end,
professed to find the sudden impotence of the boys uncanny. The rite
is supposed to confer manly wisdom and does include teachings—skill
with bow and arrow in war, geographic knowledge like the names of all
the rivers, the grave danger to the whole land which would befall in the
event men failed to defend their rulers in battle. But the chief motive
force of this school is evidently fear, and the symbolic transformation
to manhood is effected by an ordeal which doesn’t amount to co-
opting the boy into manly society. The telling symbol is the crowing of
a cock supposed to be young enough never to have crowed before. The
boy must hold it where his privates are. Since the cock-potency
belongs to nature not culture, manhood is confirmed by this rite but
can’t be said to be conferred by it—there is no way a cockerel could
feel sacred to a Kinga boy.

There was no physical transformation or new garb to signal

transition from one age class to another. On the whole, I’m not
surprised the institution had atrophied by 1960. As an initiation it
failed to induce the boys into any tangible fraternity. The men were
attempting a school like the women’s but were ineffective because
their approach had to be through domination. In the end they turned
the boys off not on—the secrets weren’t kept and the new boys knew
enough to run away. The custom wouldn’t thrive because on the level
of spontaneous feeling it was off the mark. If men had been willing to
go so far as circumcision the case would have been quite otherwise.
That they were not willing to go so far says much about fathers and
sons, elders and youth. Lurking behind is the special difficulty a
circumcised male would have in achieving anal intromission.

The ordeal a girl must go through is far more severe without

engendering alienation, and this can be because the girls, like their
teachers, take the schools more seriously. I conceptualize the differ-
ence in terms of the distinction dominance~seniority. I’ve already
presented a text based on direct information from a woman of the
Central realm born early enough to have passed through schools unaf-
fected by Christian influence. Three schools are pictured prior to a
girl’s marriage, the last an optional reprise of the private teaching

(the second school), arranged by the girl’s mother. In the circum-
stances of the interview there could have been no mention of the
custom of female circumcision (specifically, the labiotomy), which men
aren’t supposed to know anything about. I think it probable that the
second school, which is given each girl individually and is sponsored by
her own mother, is the crucial initiatory rite in all the Kinga realms. At
the first school, communally sponsored and focussed entirely on
menstruation, the own mother isn’t present. That she is a principal at
the more serious circumcision school may be reckoned evidence of the
intention of the women not to estrange the girl through fear—not to
use dominance to establish the emotional pitch of the episode. The girl
by this time is physically the equal of her mother and a regular
companion, not alienated and dominated as her brother would still be
by their father.

Janeth Luvanda’s informants, whom she didn’t interview

privately, would have known her as an uncircumcised Christian. They
passed on no useful information about the business of the second
school. Tunginiye, out of his own abiding interest in the old culture,
determined to ask for honest information from women he knew would
confide in him because of his status as elder and historian. It is the
report of his investigations which provides my general map, valid at
least for the Western and Northern realms, and the sole description
of circumcision I can give.

Here is the account I owe to Janeth Luvanda of the ilimali school

she monitored for me in 1963. Four girls from different hamlets had
reached menarche in recent weeks. The youngest was fifteen, the
others a year or two older, and all were pagans [Sw: wataifa, K: avanya-
panzi]. The text is my account in English written after interviewing Ms.
Luvanda in Swahili.

The word ilimali means what pertains to menstruation. The

menstrual hut itself is ilimali, and there is one for each isaka but it
isn’t so substantially built because men don’t put up the frame. The
ilimali hut is made of grass and light bamboo. Girls wouldn’t share one
their mother used, and by the old rules a girl wouldn’t lie inside the
isaka at all during her period. All this is in accordance with the ilimali
There were six teachers avagogolo avakivungo [K: elders of the initi-
ation] and many other women who danced in a circle around the girls,
drank, and sang the songs but didn’t teach directly. The maidens had
to sit naked beside each other with their hands on their knees, but
there were no stakes planted between their legs. The teaching didn’t
touch pregnancy but stressed the taboos connected with menstru-
ation. A girl is enjoined from soiling good clothing or her father’s

house or cooking utensils. To have sexual relations with a male is to
be ruined, whether or not pregnancy follows. Any girl so ruined must
without a moment’s delay follow the man whom she has allowed to
enter her body.
The words used are: ukunangika [to be ruined], ukugenda sivi [to go
wrong], ukugonana [to lie and copulate], ukusunana [to have irregular
sexual intercourse].
The girls weren’t bathed but made wild-looking. They had to lie
back completely with their legs spread so that a teacher could take
their privates and examine [as if to determine the condition of the
hymen, though Kinga has no word for maidenhead as a body-part, and
Janeth doesn’t comprehend the Swahili kizinda in that context].
Everyone is merry with beer except the girls who have no way to
express their feelings. While the people are jovial the event is
At the close of the teaching some elders began searching
furiously about the ground just outside the dance circle, crawling
about and pawing at the grass. They would keep pulling up turf until
they finally discovered a tiny calabash which one elder uprooted by
taking its carrying lash in her teeth. Then the special fluid in it was
used to cleanse the hands of the teachers, who had pinched and
plucked at the girl’s pubes to emphasize their lessons about purity.
Later, after the start of the parade from this place back to settled
places, something else [which Janeth didn’t see] was discovered
buried some fifteen yards along the path. [JL 1]
The following document is the only one on this subject I have in
my Kinga language transcriptions. The informant is an elderly woman
of the Eastern realm but the wording of the kiKinga original is Soda’s
reconstruction written down after his interview. The brief text
describes the bathing of the girl and gives a refrain which is sung.

An institution of the pagans according to their traditions:

When a young girl matures then and there they will call together
the whole kin-group ikikolo to come for the girl’s initiation. They go
with her up on the hillside where they strip off all her clothing.
Thereupon they begin to move with her to a river valley where there is
a little pool to be found. Perhaps they will be running her hard, or
beating or pinching at her. When they’ve reached the pool there and
then they plunge her into the water. When they’ve finished the
bathing they go back home with her. They begin their teachings of
initiation keeping right on until they are finished.
For the Christians when a young girl matures they only call
together a few of the folk, the parish elders. Then and there they
begin to instruct the girl at home. They stay only a little while, then
they depart each to her own work. They do this expressly because
pagan instruction takes a day-long session.

For the pagans when they initiate a girl they approach singing
from the place where they were, testifying, “Lo, lo, we make a vagina
tempting. Let all who are related flee! Lo, lo, while ye have delayed
unmentionable beings have been feasting (on it). [Hugu, hugu, tudunza
unkundu. Avanyavuku vakimilage! Hugu, hugu, mukelitse galiye agange.]
[GSN 3]
The song makes clear that the reference is to the circumcision
school ikitule. The officiants are not themselves but ‘unmentionable’
spirit beings. The mystical devouring of the girl’s vulva/vagina would
cryptically refer to the removal of her labia minora by the operator’s
knife, which is conceived to render the vagina more suitable
(“tempting” is another licit translation) for intercourse. The purpose
of this school is not to repeat the teachings of the earlier ilimali but
to prepare for and orientate the girl toward heterosexual relations.

For all its ellipses, the text is interesting. What shall we make of
the use in this women’s song of the men’s term unkundu for vagina?
This is the term women privately use in the sense of its Swahili
cognate mkundu [anus], when referring to the anatomy of either sex.
The male informants I consulted were unaware of an ambiguity of
usage as between male and female speech, by which these important
terms were switched, a woman using untsogolo for her vagina while a
man would use it for her anus, and related peoples like the Bena used
it for cock (Sw: jogoo is cognate). An implication of the song is that
women are quite conscious of the ambiguity and see its relation to the
sexual inversion of men, as though a vagina would have to be so
misnamed to be attractive to men. As for the initiate herself, she will
immediately perceive from their oblique diction that the women have
chosen the men—the lot of them—to taunt.

The shame-related kin told to scatter are all males, including

specifically brother, father, father’s brother, father’s sister’s
husband, mother’s brother, and father’s father. The reason they must
leave is because the girl’s mother is among the singers, and these men
shouldn’t hear such a shocking song from her lips. The opposite
category, those who can participate, are avatani [relatives in the
licensed (joking) category]. When the older brother is called upon to
testify that the girl has been well behaved or to thrash her, since he is
shame-related, the merriment otherwise prevailing must be
suspended. But though the girl in the centre of the dancing crowd is
shamingly dishevelled and manifestly much abused, the spirit of this
abuse belongs (as joking relationships always obliquely do) to intimacy
and caring, not to distance and fear.

This is confirmed by Tunginiye’s account of the circumcision
itself and the teachings about sex relations with men which are the
proper concern of the third school, for which I found only the generic
name uluvungu in use.

Ikitule is the small wooden mortar kept and used in the kitchen.
Women explain that the vagina is the man’s ikitule and must be
prepared for him. The school named ikitule occurs some time after
the ilimali school (some say about a year). It entails excision of the
labia minora, but girls aren’t allowed to talk about it lest the younger
ones be afraid—in fact, girls always come in ignorance of what is
going to happen. They learn in the school that some girls after
bearing a baby would have greatly enlarged labia minora which would
“cut” the sides of a man’s penis, preventing successful intercourse.
Though some girls have larger and some smaller labia, all are circum-
cised. Immediately afterward medicine is applied, and in two or three
days the girl has recovered. At the school she is told, “Now you can
receive a man.”
The knife is an extremely sharp razor made by the smiths. The
women explain there is no danger that the knife would be allowed to
cut the clitoris [uludong’o] as that is a necessary part of the
passage for water. The knife has no work but to remove the labia
(which are only referred to by the metaphorical ikitule).
At the third school uluvungu, which is also a big one, there will be
teaching about marriage, about the very slow opening of the vagina
by gradual steps of penetration. It should take about four safaris
before the man comes to penetrate all the way. In this teaching
there is no talk of bloodshed, only of the constriction of the vagina
and how the penis should be put in with care to pass this constric-
In these later schools a lot of the teaching is about the lubri-
cating fluids of men and women. A girl learns how they should be used
to ease the gradual forcing of a passage into the vagina. The
lubricant of the man is uluti, which comes before the heavy seed
imbedyu. The lubricant is essential to good sex practice, which entails
slow entry. Uluti has the penetrating power, not imbedyu which is only
the seed. The lubricant goes in first and prepares the pregnancy. A
woman will feel uluti like hot water and must learn to sense this.
There will be a tremor which both man and woman feel. It is a sign for
a woman who doesn’t want a pregnancy to interrupt the coitus. The
man should go outside and wipe himself off. When they resume the
man will be able to pull out again and grasp himself before ejaculation,
casting even the heavy seed outside. When a woman desires the
pregnancy she must see that there is plenty of uluti from the man by
copulating slowly, for it is a powerful medicine. But the great impor-
tance of uluti is in preventing early pregnancy for a nursing mother.
Even the first month after parturition she could get pregnant if she
practises coitus without interrupting the act. But if she has allowed

no uluti to penetrate first, then even if the heavy seed imbedyu
enters it will all come out when she goes to urinate.
These are the words they use: ukugeta ikitule cutting away the
labia minora; ukuvunga ikitule making a mortar (of the vagina). A
mother wants the operation for the sake of her daughter, who
otherwise won’t have a good sex life and conceive children of her own.
[III 25]
I’ve gone into details of women’s teaching because of the impor-
tance of understanding the ‘relationships of production’ where the
work is teaching. Cultural values are deeply learned dispositions to
perceive and re-create social situations on familiar patterns. Usually
the relevant learning occurs in direct relationships, working a trans-
formation of consciousness (but often what an outsider would call a
change of heart rather than a change of mind) in the more vulnerable
person. If the relationship of learning is fundamentally humane, the
resulting values will be. If not, not. As long as Kinga act out of humane
wisdom toward their juniors, whatever the institutional business
about which the contacts are organized—be it work, the implementa-
tion of justice, ritual action, a school, or recreation—I expect the
typical result of their socialization to be a humane person. Turning
that around, it seems reasonable to judge the bush school by its
results. As civil, and at the same time autonomous, as young women
generally are throughout Kinga society, it is hard to suppose they’ve
been handled cruelly by their elders. No doubt, much of what I saw in
1960 was the product of Christian churches rather than pagan
schools; but it is mainly Kinga, and especially Kinga women, who must
be credited with the humane character of the churches there. Will
anyone argue that Christianity is everywhere unambiguously humane?
I have not had that impression of them on the continents I have
visited. In any event, the Kinga church councils have taken over local
tradition in their careful, hands-on teaching of maidens but not boys
about sex.

The conclusion one might reach about men, by the same path of
reasoning followed above, isn’t quite so clear. Violence is not so rare as
to astonish anyone. Though in most communities a cheerful modera-
tion prevails, I could report scenes enough I found Dionysian as against
the Apollonian norm I’d come to expect—to use Ruth Benedict’s once-
familiar diction. But Kinga men generally admire and respect the
women of their country, and their reason is, in effect, the same one I’d
give: Kinga women are unusually sane, reliable, and industrious
persons. They are ‘well brought up’ by the standards of any society
which honours those qualities; and as this is the case in a society
which doesn’t accord the usual role to mothering in early childhood, I’ve

thought it a point worth dwelling on. In circumcision, under the pagan
culture, a woman had what a Freudian would recognize as her vaginal
teeth removed. Though Christians have dropped that symbolism,
some churches adopted a regular vaginal inspection (on the Nyakyusa
pattern) as a sort of substitute. Psychologically, the point of the
exercise is to imbue a woman’s heterosexual needs with the kind of
control consistent with a cordial spirit, responsive to ‘feminine’ sanc-
tions. Womanhood in this aligns itself against the sort of sex-antag-
onism to which, as a reading of Philip Slater (1968) on the ancient
Greek family suggests, any society honouring inversion must be prone.
I didn’t sense any danger, in 1960, that the point of the schools was
going to be lost just because some of the older mechanisms were
being abandoned. Women were still putting their heads together and
were inclined to take the side of the angels. When the structural fabric
of a society is left intact, Wertrationalität continues to govern its
main institutions, and the means traditionally chosen for maintaining
them are open to substitution. If that weren’t the case cultures would
indeed be things of shreds and patches.<<[lit]

Sharing a common fate

The two ways Kinga have of conceding vertical distance in
personal relationships act as separate matrices of character. A close
look at the political and religious institutions of the old culture would
show that both patterns had their uses in the Kinga superstructure.
But daily life for most ordinary households was played out in the
context of primary group relations—the infrastructure. The
paramount problem was not the articulation of institutional roles but
community. While we have considered dyadic and spontaneous rela-
tionships, major economic tasks required co-operation by larger
groups operating under more compulsion. Kinga were not in position to
make use of the nuclear or extended family in organizing production in
the way most tribal and peasant societies do, but an equivalent form
of gentle compulsion is present in a Kinga neighbourhood.

By the word ikikolo Kinga refer to the social integrity of a neigh-

bourly group as kin-based. The word is cast in a noun-class which gives
it unambiguously concrete reference. The same word has an abstract
version ulukolo (cognate with Swahili ukoo, the commonest word for
kin-group or kinship) which is used interchangeably for friendship or
kinship. An ikikolo is a community based on intimate, willing co-opera-
tion. Kinga also name and conceptualize every community as a place as
well as a collection of people. Here the word is ilitsumbe, which may be

rendered as “hamlet.” The noun-class of ilitsumbe indicates that a
hamlet is conceived as one of a class of matching or mutually equiva-
lent objects. These semantic observations do not take us far, but
some effort seems wanted to reconstruct the notions implicit in the
vocabulary for groups and places of settlement.

A general principle emerged for me from a growing familiarity

with the Eastern realm, where only a few communities were re-estab-
lished as such after the devastation of 1905. In that year the
Germans’ right to rule was challenged and, through mercenaries and
the usual exploitation of tribal antagonisms, mightily re-asserted. I
couldn’t identify 1960 place-names with those on German maps: the
task was difficult enough anywhere in Kingaland, but particularly
defeating in the East. Kinga settlements are as perishable as the
collection of people ikikolo and buildings ilitsumbe that comprise them.
Even where the same ikikolo moves to a new location they ordinarily
won’t take their hamlet name with them. More often than not some
social reorganization is entailed in any move. Kinga men reckon that
the life of a house is about twenty years, and when you build again you
are likely to want a new site. It was a fact of life still in 1960 that the
refuse of ordinary living was bio-reducible matter, so settlements
weren’t obviously driven to move by nest-foulings. Still, people die.
Survivors fail to recruit a new generation. Life-situations change with
maturity and aging.<<[lit]

The ecology of the soil and its fruitfulness in high hilly regions of
the tropics is a study in itself. As everywhere, the success of a human
population is likely in the longer run to be its undoing. Since a woman’s
gardens are not clustered about her house, she is bound by them only
loosely to place. But firewood may have to be fetched at ever-
increasing distances from her hearth, and this will be a real consider-
ation as she ages. The conditions of viability for a settlement may be
altered through the accumulated consequences of events which, indi-
vidually, pose no critical threat. In the sixty years of colonialism about
half even of the court villages, obvious centres of the population in
1900, had either disappeared or waned almost away. The rate of
decay for less important settlements must have been, discounting
the stabilizing effect of modern roads, chapels, and a few government
installations, much higher.

Place names have an historical specificity of which any adult will

be aware; and devastated places soon cease to have a name. The
country an old man sees as he looks out upon the valley below his
courtyard is a map of time and human history which no stranger or
child will ever see. One way of referring to a hamlet is to use the plural

isidyumba [buildings], which doesn’t beg the question of the social
integrity of the settlement. In a place where I’d see one settlement
isidyumba scattered over a hillside, a familiar of the place might point
out two hamlets amatsumbe. Where I saw two he might see one: a
hamlet ilitsumbe has its integrity at the social level of reality. Fresh
breakdowns and new beginnings in the network of social relations
which determines a landscape in Kingaland would continue, I thought
when I left in 1963, to separate the old from the young when those
who were young in my time there would have grown to be the

What in 1960 must strike a traveller who walks through the

Livingstone mountains by such routes as will allow him to compare
Kinga settlements with those of their neighbours is the absence of
‘villages’. The Wanji, Mawemba, Magoma, and Mahanzi tend, each after
their own fashion, to live in settlements which evoke that English label.
They are relatively compact, clearly bounded, and planfully oriented to
public space. It is true enough that in 1960 there were some substan-
tial (and to all appearances permanent) settlements in Kingaland, but
on close inspection they didn’t correspond to the ideal-typical village,
using the three criteria just given. These non-villages were in each
case grown up around a mission, school, baraza court, or other
exogenous institution. The settlements were anything but compact
and clearly bounded. The only public spaces were those specifically
attached to the intrusive institution: dispensary, court, school,
chapel, roadway. A market or a dance would be held in an open place at
a distance from any settlement. None of the public spaces served to
integrate communal activities apart from the special purposes to
which a particular institution was devoted. It wouldn’t have been
possible in the case of any of these settlements to make an appoint-
ment to meet your friend at the village—you’d have to specify the
house. Even at Maliwa, which was one of several lesser court centres,
unaffected by government roads and modernization, where the tradi-
tional ikivaga men’s house survived, you would find that building
deserted during the day. There is no centre where village people
congregate to work or display themselves. The congregations are
always eccentric: private funerals, private beer parties, work parties
in the fields, country markets at some confluence of paths between

The basis of Kinga co-operation is more personal, being network-

initiated, than communal. Stable groupings are on a smaller scale, and
common tasks require a greater scope for voluntarism, than is implied
in the ideal-typical village. The ceremonial centres of the old culture by

all reports were no more compact, bounded, or centred than the same
or replacement settlements were in 1960. Even the stockade of the
prince was in the strict sense eccentrically placed, meant to be
private and not to define a public space. Though this place, the court,
was the centre of a realm, in itself it had no centre. The dance-ground
would be well enough defined but away from dwellings, and these would
be eccentrically grouped, usually hidden away, at various angles off
the main path. Camouflage? I doubt that could have been a major
consideration. In the East, where the German missionaries came upon
a Kinga realm in an unsettled condition of chronic warfare, there were
temporary, ‘fortified’ villages into which the population could be
crowded in disorderly fashion—that was the practical response to
military threat, here as elsewhere in the Sowetan region, not
dispersal. Kinga are not anti-communal but can, I suppose, be called
un-communal, ready to opt out of any association which rankles,
avoiding a pattern of life which entails involuntary intimacies.

All this in a ‘barracks culture’ may seem to strike a note of

paradox. It is a measure of the open quality of political relations in a
society wherein loyalties are always under review.

Kinga is not one of those cultures in which formal levels of inter-

action have been elaborated in compensation for a disability at the
informal level. It is true that the most characteristic of Kinga institu-
tions, the ungovi [work party], constitutes a formal framework for co-
operation: the participants are all there by invitation (except that
among young people the event may be somewhat more spontaneous)
and the temporal format is laid down by local custom. But within the
institutional frame behaviour is expressive and communication candid.
If Kinga have trouble at the level of personal communication the
reason is not that the art of easy communication with one’s peers is
neglected: possibly the opposite could be argued, that the promis-
cuous association of youths, particularly males, carries too few safe-

I believe the stabilizing elements within a hamlet typically will be

a couple of established seniority ties, dyadic bonds between men and/
or women, which can’t in the long run constitute a sufficient deterrent
to factional splitting or more diffuse, self-alienating tendencies. The
relatively formal framework of the ungovi, resting on the sanctioned
reciprocity of network ties and never confined to folk from one small
hamlet, lifts a burden from the ikikolo or wider neighbourhood group,
mitigating its otherwise all-encompassing role as the social matrix of
day-to-day existence. I suppose the ikikolo has less inherent stability
for its emphasis on voluntary links—that the reason for the “eccen-

tricity” of Kinga settlement patterns (particularly in the old culture)
was the difficulty of basing a society decidedly on friendship rather
than the ascribed ties of kinship. Friendship, being freely contracted,
has to be freely terminable and will fade when it can’t be actively

Case One: Iligala hamlet

To demonstrate the ethnographic context of this analysis a
relatively un-villagized area of the Eastern realm seems appropriate.
It was a place away from road traffic in 1960 and relatively low in
percentage of Christian converts. The area was also not yet oriented
to cash crops, which make a bad match with the traditional co-
operative pattern of the ungovi.

A portrait of a typical hamlet would have to be a composite, as

any real example would be significantly unrepresentative in some
respects. Some hamlets were growing in 1960 because of a favoured
location, others dying away, drained by labour migration. One which
had been relatively stable since its founding about 1910 is Iligala
[Feather], a real place to which I’ve given a fictional name. It is one of
sixteen comparable named settlements amatsumbe which recognize
Igumbilo, a seventeenth such hamlet, as the centre of their locality—
the locality in customary fashion being called by the name of its
centre. Igumbilo locality is in turn one of twenty-eight comprising the
southern of the two domains which comprise the Eastern realm.

In 1960 about two out of three wives and almost all men in
Igumbilo locality were native to it, though the women were rarely from
the hamlet where they were married. The typical distance a woman
had travelled in marriage was about four kilometers, which meant that
most women were able to maintain several gardens in their natal
community as well as the new gardens in their husband’s hamlet. The
implication of this, since all heavy work is done by the ungovi work party
system, is that a network of co-operative reciprocity spread right
through the Igumbilo locality, involving every woman and most able-
bodied men. The ungovi is an inter-hamlet institution: when the
hostess lives at some distance it is often sufficient for one person to
respond on behalf of the invited ikikolo, to keep reciprocity with her.
Working together in the fields by fellow members of the same ikikolo
occurs by informal arrangement. But co-operation acquires ungovi
status as it crosses ikikolo boundaries and brings together groups of
persons not on everyday terms of familiarity.

Of the fourteen hamlets in Igumbilo for which I have reliable data,
only three in 1960 could claim to constitute unmixed descent groups.
One of them, having only a single surviving household, could hardly have
been mixed, and no hamlets with five households or more were “pure”
lineage groups even as judged only by descent name. As these are data
covering 80 households in all, I conclude the correspondence between
ikikolo, objectively given, and hamlet ilitsumbe is inexact.

Here is the record of Iligala hamlet as I was able to get it from the
oldest resident, an enthusiastic man who had spent most of his life
there, with only short tours of migrant labour to earn money for the
British taxes. I began by asking my informant (A) who had been his
mates in the ikivaga before about 1920 when he was married, and how
many households there had been during his early married life. He
shared the ikivaga with three older brothers [avamama], one of whom
had the same father. In giving the family composition I list progeny
alive about 1925, though only the youngest (supposing it was still an
infant) would actually be living in the same house with the parents.
By 1925 all four “brothers” were married and living at Iligala. They
were, in a manner of speaking, the first generation of sabras—
though none of them had been born just there, they’d passed their
youth together. None had a surviving father. The hamlet had been
founded by two men returning after flight southward from the Maji
Maji massacres, when this region like the rest of the realm was laid
waste and almost every family broken.

People of Iligala
The adults in 1925 lived in eight households:
⊗A’s older brother N & wife, 1 son, 3 daughters.
⊗ A’s older brother U & first wife, 1 son, 2 daughters.
⊗ U & second wife, 3 sons, 1 daughter.
⊗ A’s widowed mother.
⊗ A’s late father’s second wife, 2 daughters.
⊗A’s father’s older brother L, a bachelor.
⊗ A’s older brother M, 2 sons.
⊗ A & wife, 1 daughter, 1 son.

Where I have used “older brother” my informant used -mama-, the

Kinga term of which that is an approximate translation, but in genea-
logical terms only N was a sibling of A. U was a person with whom A had
no chartable connection. M was A’s father’s brother’s (?) son. The old
bachelor L of the sixth household was someone A’s father had
addressed as umamavango [my older brother], but with whom he had no

chartable connection. The agnatic core of Iligala hamlet reduces to
this, where only the solid black lines indicate genealogical kinship:

Iligala ‘descent lines’


By 1960 the same hamlet was comprised of five families:

⊗ A & wife.
⊗ N’s daughter & husband, 2 children.
⊗ U’s son (by first wife) with wife, 5 children.
⊗ U’s son (by second wife) with wife.
⊗ U’s bachelor daughter (by second wife) with friends.

Though only one close agnatic tie corroborates A’s claim that
Iligala is “one hamlet, one lineage,” everyone sees it that way. Like so
many of his compeers in all the realms, the little boy of the second
household has learnt to call the boys of the third “older brothers”
[avamama], without being able to explain how they are linked. The justi-
fication is putative links between their fathers, who have the same
descent name (one of seven found in Igumbilo region) but, having no
common grandfather, could allow their offspring to marry. In the Kinga
case, kinship terminology as such is not a good clue to the legal rela-
tionship between two individuals, only to their social ties.

Every young man I asked called a number of other young men

“older brother” in the Kinga sense, and got the reciprocal -nuna-, “little
brother,” without either of them knowing how they were related.
Usually the direction of seniority is passed down over generations,
though actual links need not be remembered; but where (as in Iligala)

an uxorilocal marriage brings in discontinuity I suppose the direction
of seniority may be decided as a matter of convenience. Kinga have no
word for “kinsman” which isn’t specific and no word for “brother” which
doesn’t indicate the direction of seniority. Cousin terminology isn’t
usable in any non-specific sense. The terms I have rendered “brother”
could thus be said to have double use, and when used in a context
beyond the cousin (the chartable) range might best be translated
simply “kinsman.” That would give us umamavango [my kinsman of
senior line] and ununavango [my kinsman of junior line]. But the young
men I asked about it felt the term had a single not a double use. The
implication is that every residential friendship is semantically associ-
ated with the heavily idealized relationship of actual brothers.

In the context of a single hamlet like Iligala the “brother” link

acts at need as a mechanism of lineage consolidation, such that the
sense of solidarity doesn’t diminish over the generations in propor-
tion as actual kinship does. In the region as a whole—for example in
Igumbilo, which is one courtship arena—the same terminological device
helps to broaden the ambience of a boy beyond his immediate gang of
peers. The seniority principle here has only casual meaning but helps to
promote co-operation among otherwise wild and we-centred gangs.
The whole pattern is consistent with the Kinga ethic of voluntarism,
which prevails in the recruitment of households to a neighbourhood,
even to the extent that only one son is expected to settle at his
native place—and that only after his mother is widowed.

I find it hard to imagine a Kinga hamlet trying to enforce or cope

with stricter agnatic rules. While I couldn’t secure reliable data for
precolonial communities, there is a fair measure of continuity between
the pattern of migration to labour in 1960 and the old cultural
pattern of seeking while young to the barracks life at court. Within the
social space of the barracks at court or the workers’ quarters at a
tea or sisal estate, Kinga men lived with a small circle of friends.
Nothing I know should prevent our extrapolating indefinitely backward
a pattern in which men found it easy to leave their native hamlets,
returning at will or settling new areas. In that kind of movement
kinship would provide a frame of reference but not the definitive
values. Men were slow to marry and settle down, valuing the comrade-
ship of the bachelor life; but when they did marry they didn’t flock to
‘villages’ as one might expect barracks-accommodated men to do, but
sought the good life in the smaller circle of a hamlet. In Igumbilo the
largest of these comprised thirteen elementary families in 1960.
Iligala was typical of the smaller sort.

Careers: the context of moral effort
If Kinga sometimes manifest ‘achievement motivation’ that is
part of a more general pattern antedating the money economy and
the challenge of meritocratic ethics which belong to the context of
Tanzania today. In the strictest sense, social mobility was part of the
fabric of life in the old culture, depending on young men seeking to the
high life of the princely centres and later expanding the Sanga
influence on the frontiers. And the minstrel who would so delight the
prince or a rich man as to be rewarded at the close of the dance with
a beautiful maiden in marriage? That is the Cinderella-tale which no
man fails to repeat when talking of the old days. There were prin-
cesses aplenty at the courts then, and all of them were to be awarded
in marriage to deserving men of the isivaga barracks houses. But I think
it would be a distortion of Kinga history to suppose that young men
sought to the ceremonial centres out of fairy-tale ‘ambition.’

There are careers wherever people tend to see the world as a

stage upon which ideal ends may be realized through moral effort. The
perception of the world in terms of fate, in the sense of the Greek
moira, is an opposite. The career ethic applies to retrospect as well as
prospect: if your father died when he was rich he must have been
poisoned out of envy, because it is human intention which gives shape
and meaning to life, not incomprehensible fate.

The gods whom ordinary (pagan) Kinga propitiate are ancestors,

preferentially close and personally remembered individuals, who
continue after death to will and act as they did in life. Even Lwembe,
who might be styled a ‘political’ god, is conceived as the wild younger
brother of the high prince. In the myth, Lwembe was mistreated in life
through envy of his powers, and continues to smart. Kinga believe that
the mind of a living person has powers like that of a god, whose resent-
ment can visit terrible dangers upon you. Envy and hate aren’t
impotent phantasms resting in the cellars of the mind but must
express themselves in real aggression, albeit obliquely. Men, like gods,
can cause mysterious illness and death.

The dark side of the career ethic is the failure of hopes and
projection of blame on the embittered motives of others. This kind of
projection often ‘works’: it can clear away a person’s own bitterness
even while defining reversal as undeserved failure. Kinga men, espe-
cially, allow themselves a measure of volatility which often risks being
heedlessness, as another person must see it. Like the semi-nomadic
Semai whom Robert Dentan (1968) describes, the Kinga often resolve
unanalysed personal conflicts or flee from misfortune by pulling up

stakes, starting anew elsewhere. For cultivators this is not always
easy to manage, and I think older people of either sex have always been
fairly well rooted. But in the three decades prior to 1960 labour
migrancy and the cash it made available lessened younger men’s
dependence on good relations at home, and made moving house in
Ukinga relatively easier. The options women had of leasing gardens
where they lacked owner-access also freed them of extreme depend-
ence on the affinal community they usually would have joined at
marriage, making some moves possible which a different system of
land rights would have foreclosed. Kinga habitually see themselves as
open to the kinds of choice a career ethic calls for, and the possibility
of living in peace and harmony with their neighbours.

I prefer speaking of a prevailing cheerfulness to calling the Kinga,

as a number of outsiders have done, a “happy people.” Cheerfulness is
a matter of demeanour, a surface phenomenon. For the individual
growing up and forming her or his mind in Kinga society the career ethic
is environmental, part of the psychological climate. It is, empirically, a
technical apparatus one acquires for coping with the world, putting a
face on one’s experience, accepting or manipulating blame, renewing
one’s own and others’ good spirits. The ethnographic material I have
which bears on this is from 1960 not 1860, and much is from parts
where Christianity had been established for a decade or more. When
due subtraction has been made for Christian influence there is an
ample remainder which is local and ‘traditional’, but it is harder to know
what to subtract for time itself—and even if one knew that, there are
practical difficulties in assembling enough evidence to make so general
a point. An ethic is not a hard-edged object which either is or isn’t to
be found in any particular bag of evidence. Survey methods and statis-
tical inference from the data so gathered—admittedly not my cup of
tea—can’t nail down the variables which bear on character values.

I can present some case material, an album of records from the

field to lend colour. I’ll touch on what I think a reader might give weight
to in a case. Some further materials of the kind, including autobio-
graphical fragments, in the next chapter will amplify what is given
here. The sampling I offer now groups conveniently under three
headings, corresponding to three questions:

(a) How do Kinga cope with adversity? (Testaments of two widows.)

(b) How do Kinga sanction reciprocity? (Participants’ accounts of
work parties and the modern distribution of bridewealths.)
(c) How do Kinga delimit the boundaries of the inner domain and the
intensity of its claims? (Funerals, other life-crises, and thoughts they

Cases: How do people cope with adversity?
{1} The widow Anyitse
My husband when he died left me six children. Of these children
three have died and three remain alive. All these children have moved
away from here so I live all alone. The reasons for moving away are
that my daughters married and my son moved south to Upangwa
after seeing that in this country he was always ailing. There in
Upangwa he was put in the R. C. hospital at Madunda, and when he
recovered he had no desire to return to Ukinga as he was attracted
to the life there in Upangwa. There he got permission to build from
the local people, and even was given fields which he is cultivating.
For a long time he continued living there in Upangwa, until at last
he came back here leaving his wife behind. Here he didn’t stay long but
journeyed to Iringa town. There he was seeing a Kinga girl, they
became lovers, and in the end he returned with her to her family and
paid the bridewealth. He just paid it and went on back with her to
Iringa town.
His wife who was left in Upangwa got seriously ill. The news came
to me and I made the journey with my kinswoman. When we found her
she was able to walk and we brought her back here with us and kept
her that year until she was better. The reason my son moved to
Iringa is that he grew to hate it in Upangwa because his children
there [two girls] were only dying. Now he has still another wife in
Iringa town and a son living by each of his wives there.
For a while after my husband and my co-wife died it was her son
who stayed here to look after the cattle and goats, but then he
moved farther east to get them better grazing. He’s calling me to
come and live by him but I don’t want to, I prefer to stay right here
where my husband built for me. The food I live on is all my own produce,
my wealth, but for clothes and some other things for the house I
have help from my children.

{2} The widow Amalile

From the time my husband died I’ve been taking care of myself. We
had six children who died but three more survive. My son who lives in
Dar-es-Salaam sends me help from time to time, but I live in a self-
reliant way. My daughter is married away, and my last-born is a boy in
school. He can depend on his brother for the school fees and he is
working hard. I’d never ask him to come back to live here. I say to him,
Obey whatever you are told by the teachers, my son, and apply
yourself to everything you do. This is the way a boy will have a good
life later on.
For myself my life is good and I’m always in good health. I have only
one problem, my arm. I fell down when it was slippery some years ago,
and my arm doesn’t function at all for working. So the hard work that
needs two arms I can’t manage by myself but I can depend on my

neighbours. I live here with this big feeling for my children though they
are away from me, all the time I hope they will prosper.

Cases: How do the people sanction reciprocity?

{3} A young man’s account of work parties [imigovi]
In almost every section of the Eastern realm the people are
accustomed to attending work parties starting just after midday,
in the sixth or seventh hour, and beginning the work in the eighth or
ninth. Folk from all the hamlets sort themselves out in groups of two
up to ten persons, going different ways.
The reason for some of the men being late is that they’ve
stopped where bamboo cider is being tapped. They drink and get
talking there until the sun is too high before they remember they
should be getting on to their work party. But there are other
reasons for being late. Everyone has to see to his own jobs at home
in the mornings before the work party, and there can be all sorts of
problems that come up.
At the work party everyone leaves off at eventide. Then they
return to visiting the tapping-places. Every family taps cider at no
less than sixteen, twenty, or even a hundred clumps, each with three
to twenty bamboos growing. This cider is so popular that when
people have it to drink they’ll work much harder. On a day when
there’s nothing to drink the work party won’t get going, it will just fall
apart because people won’t go out to break the ground without cider
in the wet season or beer in the dry. Even if the work is a long way off
the women will carry great pots of cider or beer on their heads for
miles over hill and dale, as without it the work of the fields won’t be
done. Even where there are just two people in the party you’ll see
they’ve brought a big calabash. Also cider is like food, whenever you
visit strangers you’ll be welcomed with cider and have good cheer.
Cider is mainly tapped by women, only a little by men.
One day I arrived at a work party given by a girl Ti only to find that
the people participating were a mixture of old and young, so I asked
them why they had mixed up the age groups. They replied this was to
teach the young people how to farm well so they would reach perfec-
tion in the work. After completing the course the young people would
be prepared to take care of themselves later on. Then the elders
continued on the reasons for this custom of operation. The intention
is to impel the work forward. One person alone can’t manage work so
satisfying as that ten can do together, so the group is better moti-
vated. Now, if one person skips work he must be quizzed out as to
what kept him from doing his share. If he skipped deliberately, then
though the next day was his turn to get his field tilled they’ll just
accept some other invitation, putting off his turn. But if he skipped
for a bona fide reason then they’ll accept tilling his field in his regular

The rules of these co-operatives are as follows: You mustn’t be
too slow. By the tenth hour [4 p.m.] you’re supposed to have finished
one square measure [Sw: mraba]. If the work goes well they might do
three or four such squares by eventide, though when it is tough work
the most expected is three. The only thing the host must keep in
supply is bamboo cider—the folk must be able to take off and drink
whenever they are thirsty, there must be enough. They should be able
to keep right on drinking through the night until dawn if they don’t
tire of drinking before that. Even long after they are drunk they can
demand more cider.

{4} Bridewealth: Lukasi Petro, elder of the Western realm

Anyone whose daughter is getting married will know the fortune
she brings in must find many ways out again. For example, one partic-
ular portion goes to the mother’s brother, another to the father’s
sister of the bride, and however many brothers she has each must
have his share—and a portion must be shared among her sisters
already married.
Here is the way the bridewealth will be distributed:
Initially there is a goat isule sent to the girl’s mother’s brother in
token that, “My daughter is being married, whom your sister bore,
named Fulani [So-and-so].” Along with the goat I must send a
hundred shillings.
The bridewealth must be paid over as demanded by the girl’s
father, and after some time her family will have prepared millet flour
in large quantities, up to three tins [of the four-gallon size] or more.
Now this flour is called indodolo [?]. Folk of the lineage are called
together to drink the beer of indodolo as token that the child is
already married, only waiting to go to her husband. This day of the
assembly of kinsmen is the time for slaughtering a cow from the
bridewealth, so each person can get a portion befitting his or her
lineage standing. That same day the bride’s father’s sister gets
thirty shillings and one goat.
If the father has a son already married the custom is for the
elders to discuss the portion he should have of his sister’s
bridewealth. The amount depends on the wealth exchanged. If it was
small his share isn’t much but from a big bridewealth he will do well.
Untwatsi gets just a hundred shillings. The word refers to a friend of
the bridegroom who married to the same neighbourhood or espe-
cially who married a girl of the same family. Such friends enjoy a
joking relationship and are everywhere recognized as avatwatsi
partners [Sw: watani]. Let’s say this friend had led the way to this
house by marrying the first daughter, so when his friend in turn
comes to marry the second daughter the one who led the way gets a
hundred shillings from his father-in-law. On this same day the bride’s
mother’s brother gets a hundred fifty or two hundred shillings plus a
cow plus three goats. His share totals up to perhaps four hundred

shillings, remembering that the first day he got a hundred shillings
and a goat.
If the old man has daughters already married, on this day each will
receive one goat. What is left over belongs to the bride’s father, if he
is alive, as his private treasure. About the mother’s brother of the
bride, if when her father married her mother he paid the full
bridewealth then this uncle has no right to a big share, he’ll be given
something out of respect. But on the other hand if the father didn’t
finish paying his bridewealth for the mother, her brother collects full
measure now. The sum which goes to the bride’s father’s sister is
because she is of that same family, the bride could be like her own
child if you reckon by descent lines. For if this woman were to send
her daughter off in marriage somewhere, in case the woman hadn’t
been properly married when the daughter was born then the
bridewealth would go to her brother.
True enough every man who marries off his daughter gets a
bridewealth of quite a lot, but it will be divided among many kinsmen
according as they’ve co-operated over the years in everyday
matters. There are a few just the same who might appropriate the
bridewealth without sharing it out, for there can be a man who never
got his share from his kinsmen when their daughters married, so now
he refuses in his turn. In such a case the two groups separate or
they get to despising one another, refusing to recognize their
kinship. That is when the use of black medicines might begin. They’ll be
grieving that once they had community but one saw fit when he
married off his daughter to cut himself off from us, his kinsmen and

Cases: How do people count kith and kin?

{5} Soda goes to a funeral
On Wednesday we went to the funeral at the home of Bw. Si to
bury his mother’s younger sister. A lot of people were already
gathered there, almost the whole of Malanduku village.
I noticed that each person came with a pot of beer on her head or
some kind of food or firewood. Those who arrived first were helping to
receive the late-comers. This is the way it continued without a let-
up, more people coming and others making place for them and their
things. Each person as he arrives, after being received, goes up by
himself to the bereaved Bw. Si to offer condolence, or he may stop
first to greet others who are there, then going up to the bereaved in
his turn to say, “I’m sorry for the distress which has gripped you,”
and the other replies, “Thank you, but this is the path we all must
Every member of the kin-group [whether on the side of the dead
or the bereaved] will start wailing when he or she arrives, and
kinsmen already there will renew their wailing each time, being

inspired to new anguish by their comrade’s wailing. Everyone will
spend the night right there, men and women. As soon as it is about
the tenth hour each of the women will depart to tap more cider and
cook food so that when they return in the evening they can bring
food and drink. There is raw food brought in as well, which is cooked on
the spot. The men stay right through to evening. If they are Chris-
tians they sing songs of great joy to banish the sorrow of the
bereaved. And this action of sleeping the night there at the place of
the bereaved is called ukumwitsiga undyitu.
Everyone who attends a funeral will be welcomed and given a share
of food and drink. The rule for sleeping is that the men lie in one place
in their own groups without women, and the women do the same in
another place. The length of time they spend there at the place of
bereavement is two full days and nights. On the third day the guests
disperse leaving the host with his family.

{6} Soda recalls a village elder

Bw. Ke came of the lineage of Ndelwa and was a son of Kindumile
the founder. Bw. Ke died in the year 1959, four years ago, while on a
journey to Njombe town to hear the trial of his son Nu [who was
subject to high-handed repression at the hands of the colonial
regime]. As to the cause of death, he died of anguish for his son at
the moment he was crossing a river, though it was a small one.
This elder had been of service to the people of Malanduku village in
many matters. He was an expert in manufacturing long hoe-handles
and fixing the iron tails of the hoe-blade and anchoring them well in
the shaft. He could manage the heavy-bladed bill-hook with the same
efficiency. This skill of his was a great boon to the people of
Malanduku, something they really depended on—anyone whose
implement had broken would bring it to the craftsman Bw. Ke. Later
there came to be some lesser craftsmen, but only three. People from
other places used to come here with their implements for repair. The
new craftsmen can do a lot of this work. One of them might even be
able to make a new implement as the old man used to do.
For this elder Ke, on the day when people heard he had died,
everyone there was wailing with a loud voice, saying, “Who will make
our baskets? Who will fashion the hafts for our hoes and bill-hooks?”
The people were wailing bitterly in sorrow for the old man.
Every time a boundary-dispute came up it was this elder who was
the guardian of every section of Malanduku village lands. He knew
every farming area, and he was the only one who did. Again and again
there were quarrels over fields, but this man was always ready to
arbitrate. He knew the field boundaries of all the sections of
Malanduku and the neighbour area as well. Every time people fell to
quarreling in the fields this fellow was called to settle the argu-
ments. The man was well beloved by the people on account of the
many favours he did them. The day he died people were saying so

many things, “Who will settle the boundaries of my field now?” or,
“Who is going to make baskets, hoes, or bill-hooks and hafts?” It was
a remarkable day of mourning.
The man had a younger brother named Li who inherited many tools
but not the skill of Bw. Ke. Still he knew the boundaries quite well. In
the year 1962 there arose a serious difficulty over fields, as certain
folk of Tu village to the south came up here to appropriate a big
section of fields. Their spokesman was Bw. Mu and he came up
against our Li and was questioned straight away about how he was
going to claim the fields were his. Bw. Mu insisted on saying it was his
property so Bw. Li took the case to the headman. The judgement was
given that Bw. Mu had failed to produce compelling evidence and so
lost his case, while our Bw. Li as spokesman for the people of
Malanduku explained the truth of the matter and called witnesses
so it came out that this area was indeed the property of Malanduku
villagers. To this day Bw. Mu has made himself scarce and the
property remains ours.

{7} Exaggerated report

News reached Lana village that Bw. Biga had departed this world,
for he’d met his death by falling from his bicycle while he was riding
away from a drinking club. He fell, the brake-piece of the bicycle
pierced his neck, and he was a dead man there and then. So Thursday
the people came together for a funeral but before long some people
arrived from Kilosa town saying please quiet down you shouldn’t be
wailing as Bw. Biga is there in Kilosa not yet dead at all. But the
confidence of the people was little. They weren’t sure what to believe.
Then the people all got together and hustled up cider and food there
at the place. Drums appeared and the men started playing them
furiously, so the crowd gave itself to spirited dancing. They made a
point of nominating someone to go to Kilosa town the next day to
find out the truth of the matter.

{8} A clerk explains his case

You see I’m a stranger here from Upangwa to the south. It’s five
or six years I’ve been here now as karani [Sw: clerk] of the court. I
married a Kinga girl from Tuke village in the western hills. We were
divorced and now she’s dead, she died at Tuke with her people. Two
boys she bore me, one just a few months after our divorce. The older
boy I’ve sent to my family in Upangwa, but the baby who is under two
they are trying to keep from me. I went to attend the funeral, you
see, but I never came all the way to Tuke, I had to turn back hearing
how the keening was becoming too loud as I approached. They could
see me on the path and they were threatening, the words they were
crying were evil words. I won’t go back. I’m a Christian. I hold the
woman died by God’s will, they want to blame some human being. So
they accuse me, it is an accusation of witchcraft. How do I know

what they would do to me if I walked into their village? How do I know
they wouldn’t hack me to death with their machetes? Already before
she died the court approved the divorce and ordered her older
brother to repay a part of the bridewealth. I shall have it and have my
child as well, for they wouldn’t care for him properly there. But my
way is to go through the court.

{9} Obedi helps me understand a funeral we attended

We arrived fairly early, Obedi and I, at the funeral gathering at
Kugwe hamlet for a child who died last night and was buried early this
morning in the nearby woods without ceremony. Obedi says the only
formalities held at interment are for heads of household who are to
be buried in a special part of the wood in proximity to father and
grandfather. These spirits must be propitiated and begged to
accept their kinsman. There is a special wood for the ruling lineages
here in the Eastern realm.
I notice that it is the men in this culture who bring handicrafts
with them. Some are weaving the walls of storage bins isibana,
winnowing trays inyalo, or other items of basketry. Some are working
on tobacco pipes or skin bags. It is the women who are busy with the
funeral itself. Each new neighbour or kinswoman is welcomed with
keening in a special manner. Close kinswomen are gathered inside the
house, others close by it. Obedi says young unmarried persons are
expected to call but not to stay, and the women have only their
smallest infants with them. As a woman enters the others remain
on the ground, each in turn clasping her on their lap. She goes round
the group, her back turned to the bereaved mother, going through
the full form of the women’s greeting each time. It isn’t quickly over.
Obedi explains the business of the men as taking the form of a
bush baraza, a traditional moot. The judge, the recognized or unrec-
ognized office holder of the area, sits among the elders. The accused
sits opposite among witnesses and audience members, while the
spokesman sits between, aligned with neither group. The ruler
initiates questioning in conversation with the elders, who in turn
prompt the spokesman. It is he who explains the nature of the
complaint to the accused and the audience. Now these people who
aren’t directly involved in the case themselves explain to the
accused in their own words. His answer at length will be addressed
to the spokesman, who alone may directly cross-examine him. Obedi
says this arrangement is to promote respect.
At this funeral in Kugwe hamlet the bush baraza or lineage court
is pretty well formed up by the time Bw. Piku arrived. It is evident the
elders have decided he is threatening lineage solidarity. As he takes
his place in a sudden hush, he must known, if he hasn’t got word
before, what is up. He wears an air of unconcern. The spokesman
moves out from the elders’ group. He consults some written notes.
He explains what the elders have been saying. Bw. Piku had come

yesterday afternoon to visit the sick child but hadn’t stayed. He
went on to drink beer while the little child worsened and died. There
must be compensation payment of ten shillings on the spot, or Bw.
Piku will find himself no kin of this group, who will look upon him as
their enemy.
Bw. Piku in his turn refuses to accept the force of anything which
has been said. He had no way of knowing the child was so ill.
So it goes on. The tempo is slow. The facts, arguments, accusa-
tions, and denials are repeated. The hearing lasts altogether about
two hours, the alignments holding roughly to the format as Obedi
has explained.
Obedi predicts the man will endure in his refusal to accept any
complicity in the child’s death. He won’t pay the fine of ten shillings
even though that is supposed to be justified as simple compensa-
tion to fellow kinsmen for their work in the grave-digging at which Bw.
Piku didn’t assist. So the spokesman will make a written note of the
matter to put in the bottom of his box at home, and they will wait.
When a child of Bw. Piku dies the relatives will stand off, refusing
to help. They will be firm. “You chose to be by yourself.” They will
require at least the sacrifice of a goat [at about thirty shillings] to
atone. Then the man will find himself unable to refuse. They would put
the same terms at his own death if that were the first to strike his
house, but the threat implied here is that one of his own children will
die soon. All of his kinsmen who are here—all who are close to this
branch—are agreed and would hold to the embargo. Only if he has
sufficient kin elsewhere will he be prepared in the end to cut kinship
with these men.
In the case of a child’s funeral the mourning is rather localized.
Obedi reports that only here in Kugwe hamlet area is all work in the
fields tabooed for these two or three days. The closest kin will keep
up the mourning at this house for six days, then it will be done. But
even tomorrow some young people will be going to fields farther
away. They aren’t accountable. Only an elder can be accused as Bw.
Piku has been, and only the elders may accuse. This is the way
sickness and death will turn the people to thinking about personal
loyalty and how you hold someone to it.

The pursuit of happiness

Concrete cases and ethnographic notes seldom answer general
questions about a people’s moral life. Our two widows each seem to
have more than the customary allotment of four children. For Anyitse
it is because her co-wife’s children became her own; for Amalile it is
because six she bore died so young as infants she determined to
persevere. Together they have borne thirteen children, mothering
fifteen, and lost all but six, yet they communicate good cheer in the

way they conduct their lives. They are representative but they aren’t
without peers who bear deeper moral scars. Our two accounts of
Kinga reciprocity are equally representative, emphasizing the positive
and relegating the negative to exceptions; yet it is the trouble in the
system that preoccupies a Kinga person often and deeply. For Lukasi,
for example, on the day we talked about bridewealth we had to skirt a
couple of issues I knew were deeply troubling him—we might epitomize
them as an un-neighbourly wife and a black-sheep son. He was
suffering as well from an economic setback, having given himself
through the whole rainy season to the hard work of prospecting for
minerals, with first a few signs of success but ultimately only loss.
Yet he continued to want to look mostly at the bright side of life.
Some clues to the inner dynamics of this optimism emerge from our
snapshots of responses to bereavement, where the will to think well
of others is balanced by a readiness to fix blame on someone who can
be judged an outsider to your grief. Even Soda’s eulogy for Bw. Ke, the
Peacemaker, had to be capped by a reference to hostile outsiders
trying to ‘muscle in’ from a distant part of the local network—they
must not be allowed to make good their claims to land reserved for one
of our own. It is in this way, the people heeding their feelings and
resorting to the moot, that a hamlet recognizes itself. Soda
discovers through reflections on Bw. Ke an inner region of fiduciary
relations defining the boundaries of his beloved village.

How do Kinga cope with adversity? There are bitter people among
them, but what predominates is an un-philosophical cheerfulness like
that of the two widows. Neither Anyanitse or Amalile presents her
own self-reliance in a self-glorifying light and neither feels betrayed by
a son who has moved away, though when one asks about their lives it
is these extensions of self through childbirth they want to talk about.
They aren’t possessive of others or covetous of special loyalties. The
contrast to the classic ‘Jewish Mother’ could hardly be more
complete. Possibly our own urban society, against which we are apt to
judge other peoples, is extreme in its patterning of longterm family
dependencies. As many cases show, Kinga often will go beyond what
they are obliged to do to help another person. Many individuals are
able to care, extending the boundaries of their inner domains to
include a marginal kinsman or a friend as if that person enjoyed the
immediate claims of family.

But the system of child-rearing introduces an element of

distance or strangeness even into that seemingly closest of all human
relationships, the tie between a child and its parent. It may be that in
the typical Kinga biography the early learning of social relativity and

self-reliance makes it easier in older age to accept adversity without
turning righteously upon others for succor, as the beloved child will
turn to its parent or, regressively, the bourgeois husband to a
mistress or a neighbour’s wife. The marital chastity of Kinga women, if
it isn’t absolute, is notable. In context, it bespeaks a healthy ego

How do Kinga sanction reciprocity? The institution of the inter-

neighbourhood work party is one mechanism that takes strain off the
kinship network. In the modern period the new institution of “banking”
bridewealths transforms kinship into a set of more explicit reciprocal
obligations than those sanctioned by the less tangible (and less
modern) sentiments we see operating at a funeral. Kinga can’t rely on
a very few, lifelong ties of intimacy as in an actuarially safer society a
person usually can. The death rate is against them.

As they have elected another system than corporate kinship to

supply their need for social stability in the local community, there is a
substantial element of choice in the way their social networks are
developed and maintained. But Kinga keep reminding themselves of
the need for help in breaking the turf of a new field. They think of the
ungovi collective as having power sui generis, so that even the most
reluctant person will turn to others out of economic need, joining a
circle of reciprocal aid in gardening; and this draws each person into a
formal network of obligations. The requisite sentiments are simply
defined—one must turn to with a good will for one can’t keep up the
pace without it, and by joining the others in drink and merriment one
must affirm one’s trust in them.

Kinga are specific about the dangers of drink. The interesting

thing about the ‘Kinga patent’ drinking technique (supposed to let a
man ward off the poisons his comrade may intend for him) is that it
takes two good friends to demonstrate it. Men know you can’t survive
long drinking with those you shouldn’t trust. They are wary of half-
hearted friends.

The ungovi as a formal, sentimentally straitened framework on

the neighbourhood level now has its counterpart in the bridewealth-
banking system affecting extended kinship links (Park 1994a).
Perhaps as the society becomes occupationally more specialized and
given to the use of money for market goods—areas in which the older
co-operative pattern can’t operate—a stricter rhetoric of kinship will
be pressed into use for sanctioning reciprocity. If the number and
quality of correlative changes which would be entailed are beyond
assessing, that is the way history works. Every Kinga usage finds

itself in a four-dimensional functional web by which it is joined to every
other, and change initiated by pressure at one point will be felt at
many. Chaos theory only spells out what good historians have always
known about the microcosms they study.

How do Kinga delimit the boundaries of the inner domain of the moral
life and determine the intensity of its claims? Let the ‘inner domain’ mean
that social circle wherein if you can’t be your self you have none. At
Malanduku village in 1960 girls in the courting stage were willing to
take strange youths into their houses at night—“only for talking, not
for play”—because these young people were pressing almost reck-
lessly to extend their circles of trust. Later on, making friends would
never again be so easy or proceed so naturally. That is why their elders
counseled caution, knowing that an inner circle is only too easily
stretched to breaking. At the same time the number of people who are
suddenly left alone by death, like the number of maids without swains,
is always many and reminds the more fortunate that the inner circle
can fall away. Christian communities in 1960 had remarkably active
young people’s associations, and parish organization was thriving at
remote places like Malanduku village though virtually unsupported by
outside funds or personnel. There is evidence that the claims of the
inner domain are strong: the marvellous romantic sense of the
courting youth says it clearly, the veiled or open suspicions of witch-
craft projected upon the ‘stranger within’ say it again with even
greater insistence.


Spontaneity and sanctions

Structure and spontaneity

A spontaneous person is not rigid, introverted, or dull. Kinga are
typically spontaneous. In the important idea of spontaneous order, in
the political philosophy of Michael Polanyi, the term is linked by deep
connotation to ‘freedom’. We are asked to conceive a kind of order
which results from participants sanctioning themselves in the
abeyance of supervisory authority. The metaphor lurking behind is
Adam Smith’s Unseen Hand. Suppose everyone adopted the same
rules of action, and suppose they were exceedingly wise rules,
everyone would benefit on an equal basis, and the system would take
care of itself. Intervention ex machina would not be required to
stabilize this imaginary Utopia. Politics would wither away. Justice
would be done and would be seen to be done on every hand. Etcetera.
But it’s tricky putting utopian models to use in the study of real com-
munities. What Polanyi had in mind was to show that ‘freedom’ is not
just a human ideal but a necessary element in the construction of a
viable social order.<<[lit]

The problem of the free society is finding ways to fend off ma-
nipulative controls without dissolving institutional frames in the
process. Animal freedom is not what is wanted. Considered as social
beings, animals are as true to their breed as they are in appearance.
They don’t need institutions. We do. Human institutions are never
perfect but normally do set up spheres of activity within which
everyone agrees to play by one set of rules. Since we don’t talk about
an ‘institution’ until the game has been played the same way for some
generations, it follows that institutions, however imperfect, are
always by pragmatic standards successful. When that ceases to be
the case the institution falls apart. It should be added that a ‘rule’ in

this context should be understood as a principle or ethic never limited
to its explicit expression in formal instructions.

Can it be useful to compare the whole of a human society to a

market? Peaceable markets need supervision, but where ‘free
markets’ are institutionalized the work of regulating production and
distribution (or so it is said) can efficiently be left to the partici-
pants. The supervisor restricts himself to safe-keeping the constitu-
tional rules which make the market viable and make it free. I take it the
principle does apply more widely than to economic behaviour. One could
argue that all ‘healthy’ institutions are examples. But the precise
sense in which participatory sanctioning promotes ‘freedom’ wants
sorting out.

I take the position that a prime ingredient of freedom is individ-

ual self-expression, and that by studying it we are studying freedom
in its most characteristic manifestation. In a social vacuum selves
can’t be expressed at all. Simply to exist they require communicative
ties to a known audience—they must have both social and cultural
context. Obviously, to have importance freedom has to be located
inside not outside history: the Fool’s freedom in Lear remains irrele-
vant until we begin to recognize he isn’t outside the plot but deeply of
it. Kinga wit has the charm of spontaneity but little authority until it
is seen to strike its mark. The very concept of individuality implies a
multitude of persons subject to a common structure and differenti-
ating themselves within it. Yet were individuality to become an end in
itself it would only lose depth and viability.

To get ‘structure’ in a new-baked social institution you would

need a blend of authority, aggressive self-interest, and tradition. It is
easy to see that each ingredient can be present in too great or too
small a measure, and so to argue that the best institutions are those
which show a balance, a triadic golden mean. I have elsewhere
discussed this triad under the rubric of sanctions and refer the inter-
ested reader to that work. In an interpretation of Kinga culture what
seems to me important is to recognize that a rather unique kind of
balance had been achieved, which allowed individuality to flourish and
which pretty well corresponds to the modern idea of a free socie-

The authority of local rulers, including the princes, in the old

culture was limited by the need of attracting a following—though Kinga
were settled farmers they had a tradition of mobility. On the other
hand, popular but ineffective authority figures were quickly weeded

out by the same mechanisms, since a following had to be kept well
supplied with meat and beer.

Peer society offered, especially to males, a school of hard

knocks which seems generally to have produced fairly strong egos, but
also to have confronted the exaggerated egoist with a kind of multi-
lateral reality check which the less open context of a nuclear family
often does not. There are quite enough selfish and there may be some
selfless Kinga of either sex. But if you sit very long in court you will find
that the over-assertive person, the bully, is not popular and tends to
be cut down while his natural victim gets support. Again, there is re-
markably little resort to factionalism in relation to bones of conten-
tion within a community. The opposite vice, monadic withdrawal, may
account for most Kinga suicides but is rarely found in chronic form as
a character type. It does appear from time to time as a projective
fantasy—the lone, lurking, envious (and most often male) witch.<<[lit]

Turning to the third facet of the triad, Kinga traditions could

scarcely be called rigid. The dialectical relation between court and
bush cultures offered individuals a broad front of choice with respect
to lifestyle. As for ritual sanctions, the tendency of Sanga politics
was to incorporate peripheral communities along with their own ritual
leaders, who would be co-opted into the broad confraternity of Kinga
priests, producing in effect a moving ritual syncretism in which no
community was without a voice.

The more a culture begets spontaneity the greater the impor-

tance of direct observation and a description of manners. Ethnogra-
phy which depends on informant statements about usage will at best
yield an accurate account of norms: it is like having a written script
which you know will be cast aside as soon as the action begins. Ethnog-
raphy which depends on projective tests and dreams suffers another
sort of shortcoming: if this thematic material is ‘repressed’ what
counterthemes are given preference to it, and what sort of balance is
realized in ordinary emotional interaction? An observer wants to
catch the logic in everyday manners and the everyday misbehaviours
which are their wrong side. The bachelor songs I cited in the last
chapter, when taken with the inventive reflexions of Kingaland’s first
and only ethno-journalist (“Bwana Soda”) which continue in coming
pages, give us a sampler’s taste of those manners and misbehaviours.
Cultures are reproduced from within, but not without first being criti-
cally observed from without. That Kinga do this well represents a
dimension of the culture whose reproduction depends absolutely on
the measure of expressive freedom enjoyed by Bw. Soda and his peers.

In this book I explore a criteriological approach, centring in the
idea of moral character. I assume that being of good character may
mean radically different things to individuals within the same
community anywhere. But I further assume that these meanings
aren’t freely assigned by the actors but evolve in and from the moral
life of that community, being uniquely and organically a part of it. I
don’t assume that the demands of the moral life anywhere are easily
met or even easily apprehended. I don’t assume that irrationality is
born of repression and a distortion of man’s nature. It seems to me a
better premise that deeply personal forms of irrationality are largely
synonymous with self-delusion and should be conceived as the normal
by-product of moral failure, a direct expression of the human condi-

Some degree of failure is predicable of any moral career—the

lives of the saints at least are full of it. A criteriological scheme of
analysis begins with recognition that a culture may set the criteria
for happiness (or call it moral self-realization, or simply the good life)
but offers little assistance to the individual in attaining or even
properly apprehending these ends. This is a point of view familiar to
theology. But when you substitute “Culture” for “God” you move to a
cybernetic version of history. The character of the culture today or
tomorrow depends on the characters of the individuals producing and
reproducing it. What they are busy with is the pursuit of moral strat-
egies they find reason to perceive as life-enhancing. But this is a
business like others—some will do it well, some will be lucky, some not.

The documents in the next chapter will help a reader to form a
direct sense for Kinga character values—a man or woman’s aims in
llife. The cases portray some of the vagaries of spontaneous behav-
iour. As with every human society, Kinga manners are sanctioned by
authority, by private persons within relationships of reciprocal self-
interest (which I call transactional sanctioning because reciprocity
doesn’t suggest acts like vengeance and forced restitution), and by
the diffuse concern of disinterested persons for the maintenance of
traditional moral standards. The diffuse type of sanction is properly
called, after Durkheim, mechanical in that the motives and even the in-
dividual identity of the sanctioner are all but irrelevant. Public
thought smothers private. I consider now the authoritative, transac-
tional, and mechanical means by which Kinga manners are given form.

It was a consequence of the official British policy of Indirect
Rule, as matters actually worked out for the Kinga, that up to the end
of the colonial period the face-to-face exercise of authority in their
communities remained in the hands of local men reckoned to have a
credible right to office. The main authority structures of which we’d
have to take account are: the traditional constitution and its succes-
sive revisions; the Territorial and ultimately the National govern-
ments with their local agencies (courts, medical stations, agricultural
officers); and the Lutheran and R.C. missions and churches. Setting
aside the war years early in this century, “raw” governmental
authority has seldom been used, though it has generally been assumed
to exist as a reserve power of the secular authorities. In the Kinga
polity for the most part, even a ruler with high-handed manners has
been bound to take a consultative route to any decisions of impor-

There is generally a conciliatory not a dictatorial approach to a

trouble case, when passions are not aflame and the matter is left to
the Kinga themselves. Efforts by ordinary persons to assert
authority are usually no more successful than those of the father who
has given up trying to cane a wild little boy of ten, because the boy has
got too quick and too tough. In a society where wildness is admired
violence will occur, and sometimes it takes the form of punishment.
But the rarest act among Kinga would be cold-hearted cruelty, nor are
efforts to dominate another by force usually crowned with any lasting
success. The most successful rulers seem to be those who can
maintain the impression of vast powers of coercion in reserve but
never need to test them.

There was a case in the Eastern realm of a youth in his twenties

presuming to act for his father, who was away at work. The lad was
found beating his mother for a transgression having to do with money.
He adopted the stance a man will take with a child, pinning it by the
upper arm and caning the lower body from behind. The mother was
outraged and pulled off all her clothing: “Very well, if you are my
husband that you thrash me, let us go in and copulate!” But the young
man only continued to thrash her in her nakedness until his anger
drained away, then she ran off. Most violence arises in confusion and
does little to settle it. Within the inner domain there is not a clear
sense for rank: women formally concede it to men but are used to
making their own decisions and can deeply resent interference by (as
it were) a visiting husband. Even the myth of the physical superiority
of the male, which Kinga migrants would have found entrenched in the
cities and on the plantations where they had to spend so many of

their best years, had a less secure footing at home, where a woman will
often strike back and but for having missed childhood training in the
fighting arts could easily prove the stronger.

The immediate context of daily life is relaxed and informal. With

some noticeable exceptions the rule is transactional sanctioning
among individuals and households. You are held to reciprocity by those
you are directly dealing with, and the ultimate sanctions are retribu-
tive. As we all know this pattern from peer-group experience at least,
the documents should speak clearly enough for themselves.

The most noticeable incidence of mechanical sanctioning in the

everyday life of the Kinga is their salutation complex, a set of rules
calling for elaborate greetings as between passers-by on the path,
and affecting particularly married women. These greetings use hardly
different verbal formulas to those of the warm, and elaborately pro-
longed, greetings of friends after an absence, but are not suffused
with the same unmistakable affect. Imagine a woman who has
harvested a head-load of wheat and is returning from the morning’s
labour by a path winding among the terrace-like gardens of her neigh-
bours. The moment she comes within hailing distance of a compeer at
work or on the path she will begin to greet her and won’t cease until
she has passed quite out of sight. Vagonile va vene -e -e -e -e -e! Women
of the Western realm repeat that vowel sound in a masterfully me-
chanical way. The other must join in answer so that the two are
sounding in chorus. Eye contact is hardly needed—it won’t matter
that the path is obscured by foliage, that the bearer can’t turn her
head, that the work in the field must continue without pause. One
greeting won’t be ended before another begins with a new crescendo,
then gradually dies away. A blind observer could follow a woman’s
progress from field to home and testify in court to every step of the
way and each encounter. More to the point, a woman is quite denied
the option of monadic withdrawal (or dyadic withdrawal, if one should
include her infant). The net effect of the greeting rules, whose
operation only falls most vigorously on married women and applies in
abbreviated form to all sorts of meetings, is to create the sense of a
pervasive, formal structure underlying all informal ties; and in this
formal structure all relationships are of equal value, regardless of the
actual emotional content of the informal tie concerned.

Since the social science literature can be confusing on the way

tradition works, it may be worth asking how far its psychological
mechanisms are open to analysis. The first requisite is setting aside
the notion that tradition works through habit or consists in conform-
ity to rules. It is best to keep a sharp distinction between the inner

domain of social relations and the outer sphere of impersonal institu-
tionalization, as they are distinct contexts for sanctioning another
person’s actions. Transactionalism, so natural a mode of interaction
among intimates, in the outer sphere gives rise to ‘arena’ behaviour,
which (in the absence of effective authority) soon breaks down into
free-for-all. Mechanical sanctions, belonging by their nature to the
outer sphere (what Fortes calls a political-jural-ritual domain) are to
be seen invading the inner sphere under a multitude of forms, from
word taboos and contact avoidances to the sanctioning of a rigid rank
order. But the two spheres, though they interdigitate in various ways,
don’t merge into one.<<[lit]

Perhaps the best illustration of the co-existence of distinct

principles is the ‘quantum jump’ the boy makes in Semani’s reminis-
cence of puberty school: his sudden, subjectively inexplicable
impotence comes upon him like shock on a wounded animal. There is a
difference in kind between the power of an elder who is conceived as a
familiar and his power when he wears the mask of Society. Another
example: the power of the moot lies in its ability to transform
familiars into powers in this same sense. When passions are high there
may be heedless violence which third-parties deplore but dare not try
to control. But when the fire is out if lasting harm was done there is a
universal sense that the peace has been breached and wants cool-
headed reparation through formal procedures. It is the authorless
consensus of society, mechanical sanctioning, which convenes the
moot or finally the court of law.

It is because mechanical sanctioning functions through its cu-

mulative, background effect upon worldview that there is reason to
regard it as the primary form of social control, on which transactional
and authority systems depend for credibility. The matter can be seen
well where the particularisms of religion aren’t there to add their
special complexities—in connection with style, cleanliness, and propri-
ety. Like the Nyakyusa, if less devotedly, the Kinga feel the compul-
sions to personal cleanliness which are evidence of an underlying belief
in its rightness.

This theme in the Kinga worldview has a semantic structure

along these lines:
clean ~ filthy
tame ~ wild
careful ~ careless
responsible ~ irresponsible
civil ~ brutal

Personal lustrations constitute a way of aligning one’s self with
the angels against filth and useless violence. Every culture knows
themes of this general sort, though their emphases will always be
unique in some respects. But how else is a people civilized except
through the establishment of a world with a semantic structure of
this general kind?

Of course the complex of meanings which establishes responsi-

bility in any society is intricate not symmetric. A simple alignment of
symmetric distinctions such as I’ve offered might be compared to a
cross-section or scan of a three-dimensional structure. But the
ethical structure of any workable human world will build on recogniza-
bly universal premises. The phenomenologists in our time have shown
(what before them could only be stated as a philosophical position)
that exotic moral worlds become comprehensible once the particular-
ities of their collective representation in myth, dance, ritual, and
manner-codes are bracketed together as diverse forms with common
functions. In recent decades I’ve seen the emergence of uncleanliness
as a technique of revolt among bourgeois youths; in Kinga society the
wild and unkempt youth not yet brought into the ikivaga allowed the
men there to congratulate themselves on their difference. We’ve seen
that girls have a taming relationship to boys. The neatness of girls,
their pride in bright clothing, tightly disciplined hair, and glowing skin
are qualities not lost on a boy who has begun to ask himself why he’s
always been brushed off by girls. Courtship, though not so prolonged
today as formerly, remains a profoundly civilizing course.

These are all aspects of the sanctioning context the documents

themselves evoke, but lie by their nature in the background of action.
Properly understood, custom is an accepted frame for the realization
of genuine moral intention, and its scope for spontaneity is a function
of the particular culture and never an automatic null. Ethnographers
can’t avoid the duty of describing usage at the level of institutions
and rules. Description at this level of abstraction can be supplement-
ed by or even organized around more nearly concrete cases—we can, in
a selective way, describe social life at the level of action. But so far as
anthropological tradition is responsible for the view, commonly held,
that Custom is a less fallible, more powerful ‘King’ in exotic society
than in our own, I suggest we ourselves may be called upon to throw off
tradition. Kinga ways of sanctioning one another are not quite like the
ways of any other society, and it may be they allow greater scope to
individual expression than some neighbour societies, but they are not
unrepresentative of what Redfield (1956) called the social organiza-
tion of tradition. The difference between such societies and our own is

not in the force of mechanical sanctions but in the kind of superstruc-
ture which has been built on them.

It may seem logical to suppose that a community comprised of

good people would have to be a good community; but things can go
terribly wrong when people are acting from the best of motives. It is a
little closer to realism to argue that a good community ought to
produce good people; but unless that is simply taken as a tautology it
raises the question of freedom. How much dissent and non-conformi-
ty would the ‘good community’ allow? How much suicide? How many
tirades? How much fear and loathing? There may be a philosophical
road to an answer, but I’m quite sure it is too long for me to travel.
Perhaps a better way, in any event, is the empirical.

In what follows in this folio I present a few more cases for a

reader to ponder. They have to be taken against the general back-
ground of Kinga culture in its context of time, place, and conditions of
life. They are not descriptions of that culture but of spontaneous
human behaviour in the village ‘Bwana Soda’ knows and loves. In the
end, the ‘hard facts’ from which we know their culture are those we will
find in the villages and villagers it has produced. The catch to bear in
mind is that cultures are not hard facts.

Context of the documents

On individuality Kinga must speak for themselves. For that to
happen, I needed a villager to have talks with fellow villagers and tell me
what they had considered important to say about themselves or their
village. I found the right village and had the good fortune of finding a
certain young Bw. Soda there. A longer name by which he was known
was Asheri Geoffrey Ndelwa, and there were several other names he
favoured, but Soda seems to have suited him best that year. He was
still in his twenties and hadn’t tried himself as a writer before. But
after he’d been assisting me for some months I was called away for a
while in 1962. I knew he wrote a good round hand in Swahili and had
devised ways of spelling kiKinga in parallel to the Swahili he’d learned in
middle school. We decided that whilst I was away Soda would play an-
thropologist, going out every morning to interview people and writing
up what he heard. We talked about what he might do, whom he might
see, and how he might use everyday adventures as ‘stories’.

Soda took to the idea of making a journal, collecting autobio-

graphic fragments and writing a series of reports on episodes of
village life. He was understandably not as keen on interviewing but

made commendable efforts, sometimes with fine results. I offer se-
lections here, chosen to elicit a range of situations and attitudes
Soda and I thought representative of ordinary lives and everyday con-
tingencies. None of this material evokes a world innocent of colonial
contact: I must again trust the reader’s powers of subtraction.

Soda put in a month of journalistic endeavour in his home

territory while I was traveling elsewhere. He lived in a chapel hamlet we
call Malanduku and did his walkabout from there. From his notes I’ve
chosen episodes and portraits which test the ground of self-reliance
by individuals in many walks of life. There are some notable lapses from
‘custom’ as I’ve described it. We discover a hamlet which kept its name
when the people moved to a new location, we find the people having a
merry time on the first day of a funeral. We glimpse a boy who is
sleeping in his mother’s kitchen instead of a hut of his own or a
friend’s. A still-young man has made a home with his wife and finds it
right to help her look after the children—he regards his past bachelor
life as lonely but feels it strengthened his resolve to ‘make it on his
own’. We learn about the importance a new generation gives to school-
ing, and the key role a parent can play in this or in the anguish of a child.
We are shown how far Malanduku is a Christian village, a new style of
settlement, and how far its Christianity is home-grown.

Some of this only reflects the steady winds of change. But indi-
vidual judgement was no more important in 1960 for Kinga than it had
been a century before. Soda’s contributions help underline the recip-
rocal flow of information between personal experience and culture, the
intelligence of action and the intelligence of reflection. We get a few
privileged glimpses of the kind of private contingency likely to colour
moral decisions in everyday life.

Taken together, Soda’s documents comprise a portrait of the

small world he knew around 1960 in the Eastern realm. As for the mind
and person of my village journalist, he was comely and well-liked, a
model of the placid demeanour which Kinga of both sexes admire, and
quite a few achieve. Within, he was neither placid nor uncritical (as I
came to know) but he possessed such a talent for sympathy with
others that he seldom could have offended. His equipment was eight
years of schooling, a large notebook, and a pen. We agreed he would not
be pushing back into the past as I was forever doing, but report on the
world he knew best. He was free to do it in his own way. I’ve been
faithful if not literal in my English renderings of his Swahili. The same
can safely be said of his renderings to Swahili from kiKinga speech.

Women speak of themselves

I, Tusike
My father was named Kwisa and my mother Tulimi Sanga. My
brother who was first-born died. It was after his death I was born, in
1945 in the hamlet of Wale. Later on my little brother Eli was born, in
the year 1949.
My father had been away at work [at a plantation in Iringa
district] and on his return they secretly gave him poison to drink [K:
unkali], showing they were jealous of his wealth, for he had become
very rich. Now after Papa’s death, Mama too was seized by illness,
affecting her abdomen and her legs as well—it got worse, until she
was quite unable to walk.
There at Wale hamlet we had trouble such as we’d never known.
Mama was ill for a long time, until we had been starving so long we
were near death. [Soda: Their faces were like those of children
already dead.] There were kin of Papa’s lineage thereabouts. But they
were just refusing to take care of us, as if to say please just die and
disappear completely, all of you. [The late husband’s brother by a co-
wife lived there but had refused to take the widow by inheritance as
she was ill.] Mama-my-aunt, Papa’s sister, used to come each week
bringing food to us. At last Mama’s illness got so bad that we
children had grown so weak we were near death. Then my aunt was
moved to bitterness by our plight, she went to the headman
Sangilino to lodge a complaint. He was understanding because he
already knew of our trouble. So Mama [father’s sister] begged
permission to take us and the headman granted it, saying, “Go home
and nourish these children until with God’s grace they are full grown,
then the whole wealth shall be yours, for all here have refused to
acknowledge them as kin.” Mama [father’s sister] came to Wale with
my [adopted] brother Asheri [=Soda]. At that time Mama was in
such condition that she couldn’t walk, so my aunt took her like a child
upon her back all the way to Malanduku village. Mama-my-aunt was
very tired from carrying Mama all that way [six kilometers], but at
Matu hamlet [near Malanduku] another woman named Anili came out
to help and carried Mama to the place where we were to live. When at
last we all arrived at this place...we were to live in peace. Mama-my-
aunt took care of us in the best way you can imagine, until we were
good-looking people again. We were baptized...and our godparents
welcomed us and cared for us thereafter as if we were their very own
After two years Mama’s illness overwhelmed her and she died.
She was buried by my aunt’s husband and neighbours of Malanduku
village. Understand that from the time we left home at Wale until
that day there hadn’t been a soul come to see us, either from
Mama’s side or my late father’s. When the death came Mama-my-
aunt sent word to the headman, “The person I took under my care is

dead.” The headman sent the reply, “It is you who must bury the
person who has died, for you shall know that she has no kin, only you
[Name] and your husband [Name].” The body was interred, and even
then there was not a single kinsman of Papa or Mama who came to
the funeral, even though my mother still had family.
...Today I am a mature young person, and lo! the kinsmen of Papa
and Mama are all the while wishing they had taken us in, though at
the time my aunt adopted us those people supposed we wouldn’t
survive. They said we were as good as dead. To this day my little
brother Eli is at school, the fees paid by our older [foster] brother.
My work is farming and caring for Mama-my-aunt. Today we have
forgotten we had a mother of our own and we usually just say our
“Mama” is the one we are with.
Last year I cultivated two fields of wheat, one of millet, five
riverbank gardens [K: isilwa], two of maize and two fresh-crop
gardens [K:imigunda] [for pulses, greens, and root crops]. This year
I’m continuing with just the same pattern as last. Clothes, soap, and
all manner of small items are furnished by my older [foster]
You see, after my mother died I didn’t suffer intensely, I took it
lightly because even when she was alive we were always cared for by
my aunt, and we went everywhere with her. I got so used to her, when
Mama died it was as though everything went on as usual. As for my
little brother, he understood nothing and it is only these days he is
hearing from people that “once you had a mother of your own.”
[Tusike was recently offered clothes by her paternal kinsmen but
refused, saying, “You want me now that I’m ready to marry but you
deserted me as a child. Who are you to me?” Even the boy Eli was
offered clothes. He dropped them where he stood and walked away.
Tusike and her roommates have so many callers by night that
sometimes Soda is summoned to send them packing. Though the
foster father died when Tusike was still young, his brother helps to
look after the girls, who have built their house near his. At eighteen in
1963 she has scarcely entered the serious stage of courtship.]

Ame: My marriage
From the period of my childhood nothing will ever be known, as
there is no one left who could tell me about that. As to the time of
my youth, my maidenhood, I remained a long time without marrying,
compared to today. My little sister who came after me had long
passed the menarche and had grown to be an adult just like myself,
you couldn’t have said which of us was the older. In those days we had
the custom of sleeping in underground houses [K: ingumbwe]. Down in
these huts we would be a great group all sleeping together. Though it
is true we did continue that way for so long putting off marriage, our

oneness made it a joyful life, always being so close to each other in
the group.
Down in our underground huts young men were allowed to enter to
pay court to us. As soon as he was inside, the young man would
search out a girl who could like him, and he’d lie close beside her and
chat the whole time the other girls were sleeping. It’s a long time ago
now that I got my boyfriend and we became lovers in that manner.
The whole period of our youth we used to dance and dance. Whenever
there was a school for some girls, all of us would attend in a great
crowd. Once the festivities began no one could quit the company, we
danced on until everyone was so tired they must sleep.
The time for marrying came at last. First there were the prepara-
tions for marriage. In the old days there was no chance the groom
would present a great number of valuables [bridewealth], the way
folk are doing these days. To begin with we got only token presents.
As to how we became lovers, this young man had a sister, and it
was she who befriended me on behalf of her big brother, that I should
marry. After he had continued for a while sending little presents for
his little sister to give me, then he felt free to visit our hut and
become my lover. After the passage of time we were married. My
bridewealth was only three cows. Since then I’ve been living peacefully
with my husband [who works away] and three children [in school].

Singa: My maidenhood
In the time of my youth for years I was physically weak on account
of recurring fevers. But it was also a most hospitable, busy exist-
ence, for my father took in a great many young people, raising them
all until they were full grown living right there and ready to marry. My
father was a most generous man, and many people were cared for by
In those days I was very fond of banding together with comrades
to work in the fields. Festivities like the dance kivilila we used to hold
as often as we could, and in those times even after we’d retired to
bed we could keep up the partying all night long without tiring. Other
times there would be drumming, and that was a favourite as well. It
was a happy life—we had great fun in bed all the girls lying together.
These were the parties we called amakongo, which is just to say
calling a meeting for people to have a good time together.

Lulo: I escape with my life

Long ago in our land of Lupila there arose the danger of a rogue
leopard. The first we knew of the beast he was beginning to prey on
dogs, but then it was kids, and at length goats who were full grown.

Later still he began to take calves, until finally he was eating the
grown cattle. Then he took to eating human beings.
As was our custom, Kinga in those days as now tilled fields both
far and near. One day I made a safari with my comrades [women of
Malanduku village] to work fields in the vicinity of Uka, there a way to
the southeast. When we had done all we could we found there was
still a field left to till, so we decided to spend the night together
right in the fields, so that in the early morning we might just finish up
and be done.
A pleasant sleep had come upon us when I felt something rasping
my feet. I kicked out as hard as I could but the leopard seized my calf
in a ferocious bite, chewing and ripping the flesh, enough to make
himself a meal. The moment I raised the alarm my comrades came
awake and began to make a great din. We had to leave and spend the
rest of that night at Uka hamlet. In the morning I was carried home
to Malanduku village, for I hadn’t the strength now to walk.
On my arrival they began working on me with a bellows from a
forge such as they use to make a bushknife or a spear. This is the way
they managed to clean out all the leopard’s fur from the wound, by
blowing. They had no faith I’d recover, as the wound was so large, but
by the grace of God I did and I’ve led a peaceful life to this day. Since
my husband died I’m cared for by my children. I can keep a few fields
but mostly I’m cared for by the youngsters, and they keep me well.

Men speak of themselves

Doni’s career
My mother died eight years ago, and we were left, myself and four
siblings, to a hard life of getting our own meals. When my mother died
I had a grown sister, though, and she became like a mother to the
little ones left behind. God came to our aid and we managed to
scrape along until I [was able to work away, and after some years]
was ready to marry. At that time I returned to Kingaland to look for
a girl, and as it turned out I was lucky enough to find a maiden of Uka
hamlet... Our relationship went on for some time, more than a year.
This girlfriend suited me just beautifully, always making me welcome.
When I’d visit she would prepare delicious food and something to
drink. I was delighted with my fiancée. I used to make the journey by
night to visit my girl, always all by myself. Her place was a good
distance away, about six kilometers from Malanduku village.
At the time of marriage last year I got no help from anyone but
managed by my own efforts to pay a bridewealth of seven hundred
shillings, two cows, eleven goats, two blankets, and six cotton robes.
My father was around but he had no fortune, not a penny, and I had
to rely on my own abilities. The property I borrowed for the

bridewealth was only one of the cows and three of the goats, the
rest was my own. As I am without anyone who will step forward and
offer to pay it, I know the whole thing is up to me.
After going to register the bridewealth at Ukwama court I came
to realize that the only thing left was the wedding itself. I had to
think and think about it, then on the spot I decided to go and carry
off my sweetheart, doing without the formalities. When I got to her
place I had to put a lot of pressure on her but at last she accepted
me. We ran away together to my house that very evening and have
been living together in peace ever since.
I look on my life today as heaven compared to the life of my earlier
years when I was so alone. We get on well with my in-laws. ... We’re
self-reliant and look after the little ones. Though my mother died and
left them behind I can say I’ve taken good care of them. My father is
still around but he lacks personal ability, he is a man who will just live
any way he can.
The fields I’m tilling to feed these little ones are mainly borrowed
from others, only a few are from my father’s side. Even before I got
married I’d started making a big effort at gardening so as to have no
trouble getting food when I married. Going to claim my wife I could
bring her here and show her crops already standing in the fields.
As we began working together, hoeing gardens of our own, I used
to tell her, “Your companion is a person without near ones to rely
upon, a loner [Sw: mkiwa], one who has no mother to help us, so we
just have to help ourselves and depend on each other for getting all
these jobs done.” And this is what my good wife liked to hear me say.

Luno and the leopard

When I was born I was weaned while still a baby, and had difficul-
ties because of this. After weaning me my mother gave birth to
another baby so she couldn’t nurse us both. By good fortune my
mother’s sister came to take me and rear me at her village.
When I was eight, one day a leopard attacked the house. It
pounced on the roof and began tearing at it. Now my aunt [in the
inner room of the same house] heard and started raising the alarm,
but in those years people were too scared to come help, they just
began saying to their families, shut everything double tight as
there’s danger abroad—even though they well understood that their
friends were in peril.
While the leopard was tearing at the roof my cousin grabbed a
spear and began thrusting at the beast up there through the roof of
the hut. It jumped down outside the wall and began to dig its way
right through. But while this was happening my aunt had started
stoking up the fire with all her might. When the leopard got through
the wall, seeing the fire, it ran away and we were saved.

In the morning my aunt was so afraid I’d be devoured by that
leopard that she took me back home to my own parents, where I lived
after that. The times were hard. When I grew up to be a youth able to
be of some use, my father told me to come along with him, we had to
go after food [Sw: hemera] as there was famine in the land. The place
we went to buy food was Igominyi village [some forty kilometers
distant]. But when we got to Mgiwi river it was in flood. Papa said
he’d carry me on his back, for he was an expert swimmer and is to
this day. But I wouldn’t hear of it. I crawled over on a bridge made of a
single tree-trunk. By good fortune, God was with me and I made it
across while my father swam underneath. When we arrived [at
Igominyi] we had no money but Papa was an expert in patching basins.
Luckily we were able that way to buy maize and peas and we carried
the food back home successfully.

Yesa, herdboy
Where I’m supposed to come from is in the Mawemba country in
the hills to the east of Malanduku village. [This is a bush-culture
region outside Kingaland proper as defined by colonial-period bound-
aries.] My own clear memories begin when I was around six and had
the job of herding for my father, together with my older brother. He
was so much bigger he could take the herds far into the open
country. But there came a time when he began to extend his herding
even farther away, being gone several days, and he was caught by a
leopard and eaten together with his companion... When my father
saw all this he began to think I too would be taken by a leopard, as I
was only small. Though he kept trying to have me herd nearby, he saw
I was maltreated, being beaten by people whenever the animals would
get away and start feeding in their gardens. I’d run to chase the
animals out of there, up would come the owner of the field, and of
course he’d nab me and beat me. I remember one person who caught
me with a stick across the ear all the way to my nose. I was badly
hurt. Seeing that, at last Papa decided just to sell all the cows and
the goats, and I was sent off to work.

Dugu: an orphan’s schooldays

My life growing up wasn’t easy. After I started school my father
and mother both died leaving me all alone [as a young adolescent]. I
was shifted about after that, here and there. I might be at my
father’s sister’s or another time at my mother’s brother’s or my
mother’s sister’s. These two were against my continuing on at
school and were after me to quit. But I myself was very happy at
school and doing well. For that reason I took great care in maintaining
the stock my father left me—why, today people are even showing
envy of the animals, goats and cattle, I inherited. When I saw my

kinsmen were against my schooling I dug in hard. They refused me
food, trying to starve me into quitting school.
After completing the seventh [penultimate] year I could apply at
the court for remission of fees. This was a lot of trouble since the
court was seventy kilometers away and I could get no food at home.
But I had a friend who was kind to me, he gave me food early in the
morning as I started my journey. It was later things got really diffi-
cult. The day I left the court to get on my way home I was suffering
such hunger I didn’t know which way to turn. I kept on until I came to a
field where someone had planted beans, and I began plucking the
leaves and chewing them. I kept on until I came to a house and I
needed a place to sleep, but the owner raised the alarm and chased
me away...
After I was married and God blessed us with a little baby, my life
entered a new phase. People love me now because they see I have
steady work and no problems of any kind. Even those who used to be
so set against my schooling today are ashamed and like me a lot,
calling me their son, even though back then they despised me.

Zabroni reflects on a suicide

We were three of us born in my family, two boys and a girl. My
mother died leaving us children with our father, but he was mentally
and physically unable to work.
My older brother was called Tengeneza and he died a gruesome
death, hanging himself by a rope in the woods. This brother of mine
was a professional musician and for many years he used to stay
away at work, coming home from time to time. He was a mature
person whom you would have expected to be a married man already
with children.
One day this brother of mine was out walking. I don’t know how it
happened or what he could have been thinking but in the evening he
entered a woman’s hut where she was asleep. He just went on over to
where she was lying and was trying to have intercourse with her.
When the woman awoke and saw what was going on she sprang up
and raised the alarm. “Who are you that you dare intrude on me in my
house?” My brother had nothing to say. That same night he returned
home, opened his suitcase, took out his cleanest clothes and
dressed in them. Then he took a rope, walked about 400 meters
from his house to a clump of forest, climbed a tree, tied the rope and
made a noose. Then just like that he hanged himself and died. In the
morning a girl was passing by on her way to the fields with her
mother. She ran ahead to the trees to have a chance to defecate.
Suddenly she saw this man and ran back raising the alarm. That was
how they found him. The news was brought to the headman who ruled
they should bury him. It was soon done and that was the end of it.

A puzzle for Madeni’s son
My life during childhood was one of problems, as when I was born
my mother was having hard times. They even gave me a name
meaning “misery” —Kikwoma. Mama had just two children, one by her
first husband [Name]. When he died she married Madeni...who begot
me. After some years my father died a suicide, and the story about
his strangling himself was that my mother was supposed to have
taken an axe and the grindstone. But so far as is known she actually
took only the axe, not the stone.
Papa took her to court to accuse her, but Mama still admitted
only she had taken the axe, not the stone, and now Papa grew very
angry. But my older brother told him, “You, Father, if you suspect this
Mama, only go and search inside her house.” So my brother accompa-
nied Papa to search for the axe and stone, looking everywhere. They
found the axe which Mama had taken, and nothing more. My father
grew depressed. Before nightfall he was dead of strangling and was
lying in his grave.

Events in the village

Captain Nengo’s self-assertions

People say Captain Nengo eats badly because his three wives are
forever quarreling. They won’t attend each other’s imigovi work
parties. One wife will say he’s already eaten at the other’s—“You’ve
had your supper from your favourite wife, why don’t you go back to
her?” Other women of the village don’t make their quarrels public.
Captain Nengo has had a troubled career. He says he covets the
life of the youth who hasn’t married. He hasn’t a wife who really loves
him, though he has got children by them all. They resent him as he
never tills a field for them. Long ago he was a big man, an important
supervisor of workers [on a plantation in Iringa district]. When he
left that job he was a [lesser] headman. But he isn’t really headman
any more, he’s old and sitting idle. He wanders from house to house
and if he gets food from his wives it must be by chance. We’ve seen
them beat him and pour water over him while he does nothing but
sleep. He may be beaten until his body is weak and swollen, yet he
remains a gentle person.
Just the same he can also get furious and beat his wives hand-
somely. The other day he borrowed a cane from a neighbour to
threaten his wives but they saw him coming and put their heads
together. They took the cane and whipped him with it until he cried,
“I’ve made a mistake.” Only then would they let him go.
The houses where his wives are sleeping are their own—he didn’t
build them, they had to see to it themselves. So when a wife is

abusing him she’ll say, “Get out of my house, you never built it!” The
man’s life is wretched though he has no less than fourteen children.
The women must look after all their needs. His last wife died leaving
four to the care of her sister. But when the sister was going to move
to her husband [away at plantation work] she took off with these
four children and Captain Nengo had to take out after them. When he
caught up with them it was agreed they should return and be under
the care of his remaining wives.
Only two years ago another child tried to hang himself and had to
be saved by one of the wives. He was only six but he’d done something
wrong to his mother and she was abusing him severely. He was so
downcast he took a rope into the goat-shed, tied all the knots he
knew, and threw the rope over a pole. He pushed his head through one
end and his toe through the other, kicking down hard with his toe to
tighten the noose. Just in time he was saved by his mother’s co-wife,
who untangled him. All the while his own mother was there but
wouldn’t stop him. Even when she saw her companion releasing the
child she spoke against her, “Let him die if he wants to have his way.
It’s not my fault. I never put him up to this, but if that’s what he
thinks he has to do, well let him die.” Of course, the co-wife couldn’t
heed such words but took the child down and brought him into her
own house.
It may seem strange that such a little boy would do such a thing,
only six years old, but people speculate he must have been copying
his mother. She tried a little before that to hang herself and was
only saved by good fortune when her little daughter heard a strange
snorting sound from the mother’s hut. The girl screamed, “My
mother’s dying!” Right away people came out and cut the rope so the
woman recovered. All the time Captain Nengo was there and he said,
“Just leave her to die, she’s only drunk and wants to play with death.”
That’s why people suppose the little one was copying his mother
when he tried to hang himself.
Today there was a fight between Captain Nengo and Nanasi, the
old village pagans. The reason for the fight was that Captain Nengo
was demanding Nanasi should bring him “the old man’s chicken”
according to Kinga custom. After a man is released from regular
taxes because of old age, then each year he ought to send a goat, or
a chicken at least, to the headman. It’s true Nanasi pays no tax, and
that’s why he was asked to pay up a chicken. The party was on its
way from Ukwama to collect the taxes here. When he got wind of all
this Nanasi was enraged and he began to abuse Captain Nengo in a
loud voice, saying his belly was bloated, it was his mother’s belly, he
was a barbarian and a fool. Captain Nengo came right back, saying,
“Beware, you rogue, you’ve said too much now, you’re finished—just a
few days and you’ll be saying goodbye to this world!” Nanasi replied,
“If I die it’ll be by witchcraft you have from your mother, for sure!”
Bw. Fipo, the good Christian, tried to restrain Nanasi, but the
latter wouldn’t listen to counsel, and Fipo was powerless. Nanasi was

raising a din, threatening to pound that good man to a mash with his
fists. The whole thing was taken as high comedy by the folk gathering
here for the funeral of Yase’s mother, which began today. The village
was teeming with people, some crying, some trying to comfort the
bereaved, and others much amused.

Manly sport
Around two o’clock on Thursday afternoon Bw. Soda had been
working, doing his rounds of the village. When he came back from work
he went into his hut and there was served lunch. On finishing his meal
he heard the din of people and dogs on the chase. Behold, as it
turned out this was Bw. Lukasi and Bw. Yoel Ndelwa hunting a gazelle.
When he got outside to investigate the first thing Soda saw was
the big antelope itself with the dogs in chase. Searching with his
eyes to make sure there were people hunting as well, he discovered
the pack of runners following after. Bw. Soda Ndelwa at once ducked
back into his hut, grabbed his spear and his hunting club, and ran off
to join the hunt.
The gazelle was amazingly fleet. They chased him past the old
Kidingili [hamlet] site, where he switched back alongside the Kidingili
of today. The youth was quickly exhausted from running so hard, as it
had been a long while since he’d had the chance to get so much
exercise. There at Kidingili the animal tried to trick them, hiding itself
completely in the bush. But the hunters knew their work and scoured
the bush until the animal reappeared.
Now Bw. Soda happened to be standing in a secluded spot, and
the moment he saw the gazelle coming by the young man took after
it. All at once it turned, passing right by Bw. Soda’s position. With all
his might Bw. Soda struck the creature with his club. The gazelle
came close to falling but suddenly was up and running again. This
time Bw. Soda didn’t tire but chased after the gazelle with all his
force, piercing the creature’s flank. There and then the hunt was over.
The animal fell to the ground and expired.

Easter parade
It was Saturday evening when Joel, Johasi, and Lukasi with some
of the village boys and girls were dancing to drums, starting at about
eight o’clock. It is a time-honoured custom of the Kinga, whenever
there’s a holiday, such as a wedding feast, or at Christmas or Easter
for the case of the Christians, or if someone is bereaved and they
want to offer consolation. The people will start drum-dancing or
singing. Or for pagans they may start dancing with ankle bells.
The reason for this celebration was the resurrection of Bw.
Jesus. So they left their own village, which is known by the name of
Malanduku or Kilangali, and passed along eastward. Before departing

they warned the littlest children who wouldn’t be able to keep up,
“You mustn’t come, as you don’t want to get hurt and never get
home again!” Hearing this, the children turned back—all, at least, but
one. At a little distance behind there was one little boy named
Abraham who was following the dancers, under the spell of the drum.
But when they all got to the river his father caught sight of the little
boy and took him straight home to bed.
By that time the dancers had crossed the river and were nearing
the village of Unyengwa. There they passed on by and then twisted
back to the hamlet of Ikovo, where they just got dancing so hard it
was around four in the morning before they took their leave. Then
they danced on their way and descended to the hamlet of Ukange
where they kept it up until dawn. Then they got bamboo cider and
food, and indeed they drank and ate until they could take no more.
Now they bade farewell to their hosts in that village by dancing
there a short while longer, then they took leave to start the journey
home. Arriving there they discovered there were only a few minutes
to go before worship service would begin, so they quit the dancing
then and there, going to wash up and prepare for church.
Now it was the turn of the little children who had been left behind
the previous day. After church, they began their own dance, going
round and round the village, and they kept it up until ten at night.
Finally they entered the house of Grandmother Tumwumilile, where
they listened to the radio which the teacher Fula had left with her,
and then at last the children went to sleep, and the grown-ups who
had remained gave up as well and went home.

I found no reason to suppose Kinga ever had been slaves to
custom. It is hard to judge the rigidity or flexibility of a culture from
the ethnographic literature, but my impression is that Kinga, if they
vary from the median in this, are among the more flexible folk of
Eastern Bantu civilization. A small population by comparative stand-
ards, their language still varies so considerably from place to place
that local identities are never in doubt as between experienced male
speakers. The linguistic variety is paralleled by variations of custom of
which Kinga themselves are often not especially aware, making general
propositions difficult either for 1960 or for the pre-Contact culture.
At the same time, Kinga men were habitual roamers—the war pattern
hardly inhibited their travels—and loved to blend in wherever they
found themselves. Isn’t linguistic flexibility some sort of ‘solvent’ for
social rigidities? I think it often is.

A special kind of variability you discover by travelling about with

an interview book pertains to cognitive maps of custom. They may

vary surprisingly from one individual to another even in the same com-
munity, and especially with respect to domestic usages—what might
be called homely items. This follows from two features of the culture:
(a) that marriages are usually made at a distance—usually at the
fringe of the world a youth has been able to map for himself in his
growing up; and (b) that gossip, with the nosy, conformist mentality
which gives rise to it, is weakly developed. Kinga leave others to them-
selves not in everything but in many things. There is no runaway per-
missiveness—the system of sanctions is a success not a failure.
Eccentricity is noticed: the foibles of others are the mainstay of
Kinga lyric art. But when noticed it is as likely to be appreciated as dis-
approved. There is little sense that an odd person must be seen to be
corrigible. Very often, eccentricity is valued over conformity in this
moral universe.

The Kinga social system is comparatively low on predictability. I

don’t mean everyone is unreliable—the contrary is truer. I don’t mean
predatory leopards are not unusual hazards: leopards like eccentrici-
ties crop up so often in personal histories because they are not a
regular feature against which people are armoured. But this is not a
society which firmly fixes even the responsibility for an orphan or a
widow. Between ideal norms and actual practice the gap can be a
painful one, waiting to be bridged by someone of good will. When a man
prefers drunkenness to duty or independence to social responsibility,
there is little more tangible than a private conscience to dissuade him.
The caring for tiny children by their older siblings is given special prom-
inence by the standard domestic arrangement, especially where
Christian influence is slight; and this means varied patterns of early
learning, sometimes giving rise later to deep personality differences.
We needn’t wait for a suicide rate to be published, to decide that the
level of personal insecurity among Kinga must be called high; but at the
same time we can perceive that it’s not so high as to have bred high
rates of anxiety displacement and a prevalence of rigid personal
security systems.

Spontaneity is encouraged by a reliance on friendship, romantic

attachments, and free reciprocity in the arrangement of productive
work. Spontaneity and insecurity don’t always go together, but for
the most part in Kinga communities they do. For those who are able to
keep their psychological buoyancy there is a lot of personal freedom.
But since this includes the freedom to ignore diffuse sanctions by
adopting the non-conformist pose, it includes the freedom to be unco-
operative and unsympathetic. Some persons will be put at the
receiving end of that kind of freedom in early or otherwise impression-

able years. If they survive, the vulnerability they felt is likely to stay
with them. Even trusting in the generosity of others, if too often dis-
confirmed, can become a lost art.


Intimacy and autonomy

Character & history

When Ruth Benedict (in Patterns of Culture, 1934) introduced
anthropologists to Nietsche’s speculations on the attractions of
moderation and excess, she took the interpretation of cultures out of
psychology and showed that it belonged to the comparative method,
as that was coming to be understood in sociology and anthropology.
The object of the method now was not to align cultures like animal
species in order of complexity (and presumed evolutionary sequence)
but to understand the fine differences between cultures at roughly
the same level of complexity. Instead of starting with one culture and
a set of general principles (what we might call the ‘autopsy model’) we
were to start with several, and use our general principles to account
for the outstanding differences. Studies of native North America had
reached a stage in the 1930s which made it possible to do something
like a field study ‘from the armchair’, and some strongly interpretive
work had already been done in Melanesia. Benedict chose three
cultures she felt she could portray from the literature. Each seemed
to exhibit a distinct and homogeneous culture, a distinct ‘configura-
tion of culture’. She road hard on this idea of a special ‘pattern’ or
‘cultural emphasis’ and used it as a sort of magnifying glass. Reader’s
seemed to be drawn close enough to an exotic scene to comprehend its
most unusual features without a sense of strangeness.

The book was a succès fou and dismissed as such by the

academy, though the method might have been refined and reapplied
systematically if its scientific value had been recognized, hidden
though it was beneath an artful and even poetic, literary surface.
Benedict didn’t dwell long on her methodological foundations.
Metaphor was her forte. Her message was of its time, an argument
for cultural relativism on humanistic grounds. Something her magnify-

ing glass did not do was to bring a reader toward an understanding of
the way cultures come to differ. Here are her words on that:
The cultural pattern of any civilization makes use of a certain segment
of the great arc of potential human purposes and motivation…The great
arc along which all the possible human behaviours are distributed is far too
immense and too full of contradictions for any one culture to utilize…Selec-
tion is the first requirement. Without selection no culture could even
achieve intelligibility… (Benedict 1934: Ch. 7 [1959: 207])
Is it likely that collectivities anywhere choose their values? Mod-
eration and excess, reason and passion—her themes—are universally
familiar states of the human psyche, and correlatives. To have excess
one must have boundaries to cross; to know the need for boundaries
is to know the attractions of excess. Choosing moderation is putting
up walls against one’s self. Choosing excess is riding through walls.
People everywhere do both of these things in pursuit of their moral
strategies. But it makes little sense in reference to human history to
use the metaphor of (personal) choice. Cybernetic processes are
formally stochastic—if you want to predict an outcome you have to
know everything the Omniscient knows, and logic prevents the Omnis-
cient from making either a prediction or a choice. As stage-setting for
a dramatic plea for sensitivity to other cultures, no matter how small
or how hard-featured, this 1934 diction of Benedict is not perfidious
anthropology, but as history it is bunk.

I’ve gone into this because the comparative method seems to

me the best way to approach interpretation of a culture, and because
I think the reason for this is that cultures do not simply happen but do
have explicable histories which do rest on choice.

What people do, I’ve argued, is to ‘pursue happiness’ on their own

accounts. They develop moral strategies in their daily efforts to cope
with contingency. The result of this over the generations is social
change but not change anyone has ‘chosen’ from a great spectrum of
‘human possibilities’. I’ve touched ground a few times in recent
chapters with individuals caught in moments of reflection on their own
moral careers, and perhaps admiring or scoffing judgementally at a
neighbour’s. Nowhere have we encountered a person choosing the
‘values’ which will prevail in public thought. What they do is quite
private. All the residents of Malanduku village are in a situation of
‘presocial competition’: that is, an existential not a role-motivated
rivalry. Moral strategies are invented, not in any deep sense borrowed:
the conscious imitator and his or her role model are not on the same
track. Most of the moral choices most of us will remember making
were probably bad ones, but none of them have had consequences

which were not submerged by a sea of other mortals’ choices. In the
final section of this book I try to show that ‘close comparison within a
region’ can be used to explore the way moral choice does affect
culture history. In concluding this section I want to show that it
offers an escape from the fixedly nomothetic methodology of the ex-
perimental sciences in explaining human behaviour.

Moderation and excess are the Nietschean themes developed by

Ruth Benedict. She may not have convinced us they are labels we can
properly apply to real, whole cultures, but she did convince me they are
ideas which can sensitize me to the phenomenon of style as a feature
of culture. You can’t discuss the moral context of personal choice
anywhere without premises about the range of possible human
cultures, and Nietsche’s lead in this is better than most. One way or
another, all human cultures probably do honour, as Greek culture did,
to both Apollo and Dionysus, allowing each god to preside over its own
end of a moral battlefield. What Patterns of Culture did show was that
moral ideas about excess and moderation, as elaborated in each
human culture, may determine the tilt of the field on which our never-
ending struggles are waged. Here moderation is for the weak, admira-
tion reserved for the strong—elsewhere excess is weakness, modera-
tion strength. Perhaps some culture somewhere even has something
to teach us about keeping the battle on a level plane. But most mortal
men and women share the condition of the Kinga, who have to frame
their moral strategies against broken country.

When I asked Soda to portray for me some of the most

respected men of his community he didn’t choose men who had
exercised significant authority. All the men he described were church
elders. Their virtues were perfectly Apollonian, even truly Aristotelian.
Moderation for Aristotle was always to be seen as the golden ground
of virtue between too much and too little of a good thing: between
cowardice and foolhardiness, thoughtlessness and Angst. Such a man
in Malanduku village would be a moderate drinker, sociable and not ar-
gumentative when passing the bowl around. He would be steady in his
work but not a plodder, finding regular work away but returning each
year with necessaries (cloth, sugar, tea), gifts, and money. He’d see
that his wife and daughter had solid houses placed attractively on a
well-graded clearing. He’d not neglect clothes and school-fees for an
able son. In turn, his son would show enough respect to keep their re-
lationship on an even keel, while wife and daughter would keep up a
cheerful spirit of work in the fields and the kitchen. In Soda’s inter-
views there was never a boast to record. There is no emphasis on pres-

tigeful accomplishment of office, popularity, or magnificence. The ‘big
man’ syndrome is lacking.

I got less unequivocally Apollonian snapshots from another

young informant, with experience closer to the centres of power and
population: Nima had a Dionysian taste for escapades (including a
near-fatal fascination for cattle raids) and admired moderation less.
His character values at sixteen were tuned to untamed youth, and
even in his immoderate disparagement of elders it was always excess,
whether of drinking, obesity, or boastfulness, which was his target.

Obedi was the third young bachelor among my friends. His more
mature criticism was oblique, bubbling out of his satirical caricatures.
It was sharp enough not to cause offense. Obedi was ten years out of
middle school and had got himself a profession. He seemed to have a
political future as well. Not a fox, perhaps, but a polished pragmatist.
These three youths I can only describe as having different ‘personali-
ties’. They perceive their world differently, as if from different
perches on the great tree of human knowledge Benedict seems to
have had in mind. It seems to me that ‘personality’ ought to be kept,
as a label, for distinguishing the differences among individuals within
any given culture. Differences among cultures have many dimensions,
and here we are concerned with only one, which is usually labeled

In this broken and hilly country, how stable are character values
over the generations? The grandparents of my young informants lived
in armed camps and kept their independence from larger neighbour
peoples by a combined reputation for witchcraft and fierce dedication
to combat. Only one place, the old capital of Ukwama (Central realm),
seemed to be in tune with this reputation in 1960. Ukwama had pretty
well kept Christianity at bay. I met there what seemed to me manifest
excess—hard drinking, abusive language, threats and perceptions of
witchcraft. Nowhere else had I found women sexually bold. Perhaps a
good European would have concluded that here was the very ‘pagan
Kinga culture’ from which Christianity and enlightened colonialism had
converted all but this stubborn core. I didn’t and don’t draw that con-
clusion, but I did at once begin to question my assumptions about the
Kinga ethos. Were these people of the kind who grant a longterm
advantage to the Apollonians among them? Could they not, in circum-
stances I had yet to observe, abruptly tilt the field the other way? The
original German perceptions don’t bear that out, nor does the style
Kinga have given their Christian communities suggest it. How much
faith must I put in my personal perceptions of Ukwama? Tunginiye,
dancing at 60 like an elf not a demon, had once dwelt in Ukwama and,

returning there, sensed little of the shift of ethos which affected me.
He had old friends to rely on. And isn’t friendship essentially Apolloni-

I expect the moral landscape of Kingaland, like the physical, has

always been hilly. The historical problem in getting back to a ‘tradition-
al Kinga lifestyle’ is to state in probabilistic terms what the main
impact of the colonial period must have been on Kinga manners and
character values. The evidence of early observers is only too quickly
given. But we do know something at a general level about the way the
Germans and British were perceived (and how they perceived them-
selves and their commission), and which of their intentions actually
made themselves felt. The grand centre of the Sanga political culture
would have to be the place to look for ‘impact’.

Ukwama and the other major courts may always have been
Dionysian radiators in an otherwise Apollonian space. Human sacrifice,
cruel forms of animal immolation, a torture-ordeal, and summary
execution for witchcraft are all reported from the court centres. The
courts were institutionally dedicated to war and rapine. If rivalry for
office, distinction, and power had any real existence it must have been
at the courts. What more need be said? I found in 1960 that several
young, educated officials from other Kinga communities, stationed on
assignment as strangers in Ukwama, experienced hostility and stress
there which they couldn’t handle. The sort of discontinuity they
reported amounted to an assault upon their personal moral perspec-
tives. The effect in two quite different cases was to produce a severe,
self-defeating reaction and end the man’s administrative career. This
can be weighed against Tunginiye’s own success in an administrative
position there, and my own sense that most of the Dionysian vibra-
tions I received came from a few strongly hostile individuals. Even if,
apart from a couple of stumbles, I’d done little to put their backs up, I
was Mzungu—alien white—and these were the men whose scope would
have been grander by far if we Wazungu had stayed home in Ulaya, the
European world. Ukwama was the place to expect sour grapes.

I don’t think the Kinga courts in the old culture were continually
bathed in Apollonian sunshine. But their obvious attractions to youth
had to be consistent with amity and order in the barracks life, and
with a style of wit and performing art which, making light of man’s
most serious concerns, didn’t hesitate to puncture egos. The longest
period of license, a month’s revelry, occurred at the death of a prince:
when you consider the amount of work required to supply men with
beer and victuals for a month away from the fields, and the debt of
work which must subsequently be paid off, it is hard to doubt the ra-

tionality of the basic productive organization presided over by a
prince and his court. What is doubly obvious is that the burden of
rational moderation fell disproportionately on the heads of women.

Kinga were consistently described in the early Berlin Mission

reports as shy [G: schüchtern], friendly, and trusting. “The time of
turning the soil in this land is—disregarding the beer drinking—a most
merry one. Everywhere you hear raised in song the voices of Kinga
tilling slope and ravine.” So wrote Missionary Hübner in his second year
at Bulongwa. Later on he was assured (for what that is worth) that,
before the eruption of warfare under Kyelelo the Fierce, most probably
in the 1870s, “the country lived in peace, except when the sole enemy
of Kingaland, the Ngoni, destroyed it through the raids they periodi-
cally undertook”. <<[lit]

Except in the Western realm during Kyelelo’s territorial cam-

paigns, war seems to have evolved among the Kinga toward ceremonial
forms which gave the fighter prominence but effectively contained
the warlike ethos. Heroism as a character value had its situs in the
bachelor-male role, building on the wild period of childhood and youth.
But the taming of manners at the central and subsidiary courts
seems to have proceeded steadily through the third decade of life, as
it later came to do at migrant labour centres. The life of the ikivaga
was by all accounts orderly not rowdy. Men recalling their own
formative years always stressed the disciplinary effect of the
presence of elders at the other end of the hut. Kinga jural processes
were as adequate then as later for dealing with torts as between
persons within the court’s own community.

Witchcraft? In the telling of a case the emphasis is always on

the veiled threat, corroborated by witnesses: that, with the subse-
quent appearance of illness or misfortune, constitutes the evidence
for malicious intent. This means the court’s ability to find and punish
witches, if it could be a deterrent to talking violence, could have a
generally taming effect on manly quarrels. The importance of this
point is not to press a claim that ‘witchcraft had a positive function’
but to make clear how far witchcraft, like warfare, could be a staple of
the culture without suffusing the whole with a Dionysian quality. In the
hands of Apollonian courtiers would an Apollonian ‘offender’ never
come to the ordeal? We don’t have the cases to answer on evidence. I
would not want to hazard even a well-hedged guess on the basis of any
theoretical construct of ‘Kinga core personality’ or the like. For my
part, I think the whole gamut of ‘human possibilities’ is always acces-
sible wherever a bunch of us may be gathered.

What tempers nature in any historical case is not so much the
culture of rules—the regular routines which do make life a bit predict-
able—as the private commitment of individuals to pursuing their own
most-valued ends within the context of a culture of public thought—
values. Character values, since they are pervasive, are prior to rules in
respect of any particular institution, though they are derivative of
rules when you take the round of institutions comprising the culture.
This position lacks the charming simplicity of C. R. Hallpike’s:
Values must be taken as ‘given’, in the sense that one cannot go behind
them and ask, for example, why the Konso should place such emphasis on
peace, or virility. The Konso just do, and there is no more to be said
I suppose that if the author had been willing to say more he might
have argued that history has given the Konso their value system, and
history is thoroughly accidental. But if this is not historicism raised
to the point of annihilating the possibility of a social science, then it
is only a dodge which shouldn’t be taken seriously. I think the stability
of character values owes much to the fact that no single new institu-
tion can seriously challenge them. I go farther: I think if we couldn’t
assume such stability we’d have no use for the concept of culture. If
we can’t hope to state in principle the conditions under which
character values will change in a predictable manner, a science of
culture isn’t possible.

Did the pax germanica come to the Kinga as the lifting of a mantle
of repression? A reasonable argument to that effect could be
mounted in the case of the Hehe, who had made many slaves through
capture and seem to have been developing an hierarchic social system.
An argument could be made in the case of the Ndendeuli, dispersed and
subjugated by Ngoni invaders, though it took the Ndendeuli several
decades to convince colonial authorities they deserved rulers of their
own ethnic kind. But in Kingaland the kind of slavery and the kind of
subjugation exercised by the Sanga were fairly popular.

One ethnic group, the Wanji, was made subject to Kinga adminis-
tration by the British (for administrative convenience) and chronically
objected to that; but they’d earlier been freed from another (Sangu)
hegemony by the Germans, and been thankful. Another ethnic group,
the Magoma, were neither clearly inside or outside the Sanga frontier
at Contact, being vulnerable by reason of their small population to
Sangu raids and beginning to need a protective alliance with their de-
veloping Sanga neighbours. Throughout the colonial period the
Magoma waged an only half-successful war of words in favour of full
administrative independence from the Kinga, who were not at a loss

for words in reply. A third ethnic group, the Mahanzi, had become
deeply committed to protective alliance with one Sanga prince
against another, and took the transition to colonialism with equanim-
ity as relief from the threat of war, about which they had no romantic
illusions. A small people on the shores of Lake Malawi, the Kisi, having
(presumably) lost their own language and any traditions of political
self-rule, continued after the pax to accept a division between Kinga
and Nyakyusa overlords without recorded protest—they were a
people preferring to mind their own business, the manufacture and
sale of pottery. Finally, the Mawemba communities on the Sangas’
eastern frontier, owing no one allegiance, managed to get themselves
switched from Kinga to Bena administration during British times; but
their grievance was only logistical. On the whole, traditional Sanga
rulers remained popular with the Kinga and acceptable to their
European overlords. Kinga rulers made an easy transition to indirect
rule and, after the Maji Maji and the 1914 wars, seldom required disci-
pline except for inaction—collecting too little tax.

Does the very success of the Sanga regime argue for its ration-
ality? It may be rash to make the idea of reason carry such a burden.
Compare the Aztecs of Mexico. Their success tells us they were well
organized, not that they were given to moderation. But the Kinga
under their Sanga rulers did expand and prosper on the basis of their
own agricultural product, for whatever meat the raids brought in very
likely did no more than compensate for the loss of a well-fed man or
two on the caper. Their success implies a steady and varied round of
activities, economic, domestic, and political, which served to promote
prosperity; and the same argument suggests that the political
religion of the Sangas was astutely designed as well (Park 1966).
Though comparing Kinga and Aztec is an ethnographic absurdity, soci-
ologically the comparison is apt enough: the difference which immedi-
ately appears is in the economy of slaughter on the side of the Kinga,
who sacrificed only the rare lad, kin to no one at court but caught in
the “wild,” and seem to have arranged their battles to get the most
heroism at the least expense of blood. Both cultures feature spec-
tacular theocratic tendencies, a predatory politics, and the collective
organization of labour—but each of these institutions is approached
in a characteristic manner. If Aztec culture defines a ‘Dionysian’ skew,
the right word for Kinga public thought may after all be ‘Apollonian’.
One way to put it would be that the difference between the two
‘cultures of rules’ is less significant than the difference between the
‘expressive cultures’ or ‘styles’ of the two peoples.

Character and psyche
Character is the self seen in a mirror of public morality. The
psyche is the self-perceiving self, monitor of character. Both terms
are wanted for a sensitive analysis of moral strategies in the context
of an unfamiliar culture, if only to insure us against the illusion that an
unreflective, ‘traditional’ mind reigns everywhere except in our own
armchairs. Moral strategies as creatures of the psyche are as private
as moralities are public. In the end, it is by pursuing a successful moral
strategy that ego keeps strength, and without ego strength, of
course, no one copes.

No doubt, the microcultures tend to generate crowd behaviour

in contexts which an outsider will perceive as custom-bound. Such
public demonstrations have an obvious appeal to the film-maker, and
someone who knew nothing of (say) the Masai but from the films made
of them might have to be excused for ignoring the ethnographer’s in-
terpretive comment and perceiving only ‘mindless tradition’. But the
mob at a Masai marriage is no more representative of that culture
than the mob at a football match is a microcosm of Britain. We have
to deal here with collective dynamics not mentality as such. Masai or
Kinga traditions and beliefs are instruments of the Masai or Kinga
mind, but the reverse is not the case.

It is when Tengeneza backs out of his misadventure in a strange

woman’s hut that he reveals his character. He’s not such a brash
fellow as he may have seemed, nor such a blasé cosmopolitan. Probably
he’s misread ordinary friendliness on the part of a Kinga woman for the
kind of boldness the same behaviour would have betokened in Dar es
Salaam. But when he broods and hangs himself we are granted a
glimpse, beyond character, of his psyche. We have found him deeply
touched by shame. In his donning his best clothes for the event we
have a measure of his psychic vulnerability and of the way exotic (Eu-
ropean) clothes may have been his armour. Of the woman who inad-
vertently brought about his downfall we know only that she has faith
in her neighbours and their faith in her—the ambiguities of the
situation don’t have to frighten her. So far as we can know, her
character was redeemed in the incident and her psyche unthreatened.

Kinga are probably more inclined to let others be themselves

than is the human norm. Their monadism is not extreme, but a Kinga
philosopher would never have reasoned his way to the categorical im-
perative of Kant—for all their legal and political sophistication, Kinga
are insufficiently communal. For all the seemingly easy intimacy of
their sleeping patterns, they resist real incorporation into groups.

The communication of this character value begins almost with the
baby’s first breath. A woman may be in no haste to put a child on its
own, though her enjoyment of the baby can be seen to diminish as its
own independence grows. Fathers generally are concerned, if they are
not away from home, to have the small child weaned and out of the
house. Men who have taken up the new Christian style of domesticity
report they’re bothered by children not yet ready to fetch and carry,
preferring migrant labour to sharing house with a small child. It is as if
men were saying women alone could love a baby, though under the
bluster I suppose there is resentment of that all-excluding love which
besets a Kinga wife with each new infant.

In spite of that love, women refrain from ego-incorporative

behaviour toward its impressionable little object. The constant mode
of contact is the carry position, the child’s belly high on the mother’s
back, skin to skin, pressed close by the carry cloth or skin. As the baby
gets its strength it looks at the world over its mother’s shoulder.
While she is working in the fields, it is laid on its back in the carry-cloth,
under her eyes. A baby isn’t normally carried in nursing position even
briefly, as the mother is accustomed to having full freedom of
movement, even for hard work, with the child on her back. She doesn’t
regularly become a passively sympathetic nurse while giving suck but
generally keeps busy with cooking, conversation, and the like. The
amount of expressive eye contact must be drastically reduced over
that common in communities with contrasting customs. Both the ex-
citements and the insecurities associated with face-to-face tech-
niques of child-care are minimized. The child is less subject, for being
kept on the back so much, to the changing moods of its mother,
whether of love, distraction, or annoyance. The mutual magnification
of mood, so typical of the post-bourgeois dispensation in the urban
West, is mooted in this parent-child relationship.

Without subscribing to one of the whole-cloth dogmas of child

development, we have no secure way of knowing what happens in the
child’s mind during the first year or two of its life; but it should be clear
the relationship of mother and child has been firmly established on the
mother’s part long before (in the fourth or fifth year) she weans this
child and completes the turn toward another. Kinga women minimized
precisely those contacts which my wife, who had four children with her
in the field, most valued and sought to maximize in the baby period. A
doting Kinga mother does not explore her child’s abilities and create
situations evoking idiosyncratic behaviour, pushing the child to assert
and differentiate itself as an individual up to some point of risk, then
pulling it back. Conditional love is no part of her child-rearing tech-

nique. A child’s character is not her responsibility. Once a girl is
weaned she is morally on her own until she is ready for the companion-
ate, sibling-like bond with her mother, in which moral tuition remains
remarkably inexplicit. Once a boy is weaned, the extent of moral
contact between the two will be up to him as much as to her. Even a
motherless boy, once living and eating with his peers, is not dependent
on adoption. Since a woman’s children won’t live with her they won’t be
caught in the kind of emotional lock we call dependency, and if they
have a warm relationship it won’t be possessive. Pursuing a posses-
sive strategy gets the baby nowhere. For a woman to shift from the
favoured pattern of dyadic withdrawal (mother and infant as an item
to themselves) to an ego-incorporative involvement with it would turn
both of them toward a style of domesticity which would find no
resonance in the old culture, though it might eventually do in Christian
Malanduku village.

Can a woman nurse a child well into its fourth year without culti-
vating emotional dependency? The Kinga evidence suggests she can.
Well before the child’s third year it is usually ‘daytime weaned’ to the
care of older children and has ceased to expect nursing until its
mother returns from the fields toward evening. Its final year or two of
infancy is therefore one of overlap with the pattern of child life:
playing with peers during the day, regressing to infantile ways in the
evening. Gradually the mother’s own pattern of moral self-sufficiency,
and perhaps her concomitant avoidance of deep commitment to
others, is established as the underlying moral strategy of her
children. It will serve them well as they establish their characters with

The picture I’ve been giving of the visible psyche of the very young
child is quite compatible with standard theories that try to account
for the private world of the young as a thing engendered by the private
world of the parent(s) through directly causal events which are part
of the parenting pattern. I am more inclined to take the evidence of
language: it is something acquired from the child’s immediate environ-
ment; the elements do derive from the examples of others in that en-
vironment; and a very strong tendency is evident in the child toward
systematization. The difference in what we might call the acquisition
of a ‘private culture’ is that the environmental clues are far less
precise, may be contradictory when more than one parenter is
entailed, and include only clumsy sanctions on the way the child’s
psyche is systematizing. Siblings often mature with virtually identical
linguistic palettes, and but seldom with nicely cloned psyches. Just as

through language new expertise or new persuasions may be acquired in
sequels to childhood, so it is with private worlds.

The basic pattern of social control in the isaka or ikivaga, the

sleeping houses of women or men, is not repressive or ego-incorpora-
tive—there is little effort to control through the direct imposition of
personal will. There is a general expectation of sensitivity to rules.
Boys aren’t shamed, charmed, or henpecked into keeping tidy. If they
offend too often they are subjected to a hearing, over which an elder
is invited to preside, and in which an offending boy must show cause
why he shouldn’t be expelled from the group. Important in the sociali-
zation of girls are their games, which have a plural structure, excluding
diametric oppositions. The object, as in dance or story-telling, is to
perform well and win approval not from a lofty reference figure but
from one’s peers. The plural structure of peer life is not always in the
foreground. The emotional life history of a typical young person of
either gender must consist in a series of dyadic involvements each in
its time all-important. Still peer networks are, in their special way,
always finite, unbounded universes: a person knows there are other
others. If things go well for you in such a context you should be able to
keep a fair income of loving approval without mortgaging your psyche.

But we’ve seen that the little republics of boys and girls aren’t
self-sustaining and may not be the kind of groups which come to an in-
dividual’s aid when family fails. Probably the psyches which take the
most stress in childhood belong to such individuals as Dugu, Doni, or
Yesa, who on a parent’s death find no equivalent sponsorship.
Probably the least stress falls on those who have the security of sup-
portive parents and, especially, competent older siblings of the same
sex. Probably also there is little direct correlation between psychic
stress in childhood or adolescence and achievement in the realm of
character, since the Kinga emphasis on self-reliance seems, on the
whole, to be successful. So Dugu, as he feels, turned stress into
challenge and achievement. Doni is proud to be mkiwa, friendless, but
he means only to boast he has had no family to help him. To be without
peer friendship would be quite another thing. So Doni tells us that the
amity in close family ties is of a special and irreplaceable kind. Yesa (in
a fuller account than I have reproduced) reflects on the bewilderment
of boyhood dreams and the loss of a herdsman’s freedoms in the bush
culture with only moderate regret: he was able to fulfil himself as a
wage worker and return as a person worthy of respect. Our handful of
examples proves nothing (nor could) but serves like a handful of
snapshots to put a discussion of character on the fittingly broken
ground of the Kinga world.

The prevailing pattern of courtship is informed by the same
character values. Romantic attachments should be delicious not an-
guished. There is little indulgence in passionate love or dyadic with-
drawal—the best courting is done in company with your friend. The
long engagements and an unhurried attitude toward marriage reflect
the prevalence of self-sufficiency. The gradual dropping of the
marriage age in the British years, muted as it was by the inflation of
bridewealths, reflected a new level of commitment on the part of
young men and women to the values of domesticity, garnished by
market goods and opportunities for salaried employment at home;
but Doni’s honeymoon ideals of simple dyadic self-sufficiency will give
way to the building out of new peer networks through the ungovi, and a
more traditional pattern of life. Kinga young men and women are more
than idly attracted to one another at the phase of serious courtship,
feeling the need of love-objects and responding exuberantly to being
made such an object by another. One’s own-sex peers, with whom one
shares comfort by night and phatic communion by day, are on the
whole not (in a more than physical sense) lovers and evoke little pos-
sessiveness, while the impetus to courtship probably derives from a
need for permanence as well as for the substance of the householder.
Time and aging gradually affect the resonance of a world to a psyche’s
inner promptings.

But these new projects aren’t goals toward which one must
hurry. Courtship normally continues much longer, and on a rather more
hit-or-miss basis, before engagement is sealed than our autobiogra-
phers were inclined to remember. Kinga lads move very gently toward
a lover’s consummation. Pretty soon after marriage they begin to
think about getting away to find work again. Close cohabitation proves
unexpectedly stressful, though they are inclined (as most of us are)
to look away from that in giving an account of themselves. Both
partners have been accustomed to the luxury of plural relationships
and the easy possibility of turning to other others.

Kinga practise polygyny but not often with marked success,

local rulers excepted. There are few ‘domestic empires’ other than
those established by men in high office. Private polygynists aren’t
usually able to stabilize their positions well, though all are not so be-
leaguered as (ex-)Captain Nengo. Monogamous or add-on leviratic
marriages, on the other hand, are generally stable contracts between
two self-contained individuals. When violence occurs both the
contract and the self-containment, the character ideal, have been
forgotten. Both will be resumed on the restoration of tranquility. A
final abandonment of cohabitation at and after menopause, still tra-

ditional in many if not all Kinga communities in 1960, is not a
breakdown of marriage but the passing on to a post-marital
standing—and an expression of the meaning of a Kinga marriage as a
tie without ego-incorporation or endlessly deepening interpersonal

An older man finds the company of the ikivaga most suitable, for
it is there his conversation lies. His business with his wife, except for
the meals she sends him and his occasional errands on her behalf, is
finished. There was the engaging old man in Malanduku village had built
his thus-estranged wife an admirable house in a pleasant hamlet a
kilometer away from his own haunts. It was certainly a good man’s
project, a kindness. But we hardly need ask why she wouldn’t move
there, leaving her gender friends. The self-explanaatory reason she
could give her husband was simple, though oddly unforeseen: it was her
major duty as a woman to feed him—she had no young children for
whom to cook or to send on errands. Had she moved, either she must
carry his food a kilometer down hill, up dale every evening. Or she must
leave it to him to come begging—not a tidy arrangement. So the new
house remained empty, yet I saw no hint of bitterness between the
two. The two genders are two solitudes, and when the mutual
curiosity of courtship years is past, everyone accepts that.

The observable psyche

Consider how easily Kinga slip, within a single social relationship,
from one role or modality of being to another. There is the quantum
jump of the “wild” lad, once caught and presented to the puberty
school: and how many times in an ordinary day is the mocking lad
suddenly taken by “fear” as he comes under an authority he can’t
dodge? When Kinga girls have a party ilikongo the evening flies by in a
flurry of fun and fantasy unrelated to their workaday worlds and quite
unlikely to suggest, to a casual observer, the life-long pattern of ded-
ication to work which will be the issue of these light-hearted years.

Kapisi was fond of litigation and often exacted payment that

way from a person who on one or another ground was contesting a
debt. Kapisi was a formidable adversary and usually won his case if
only through persistence and self-conviction. But he told me he
always made it a rule to return a portion of the amount won, in the
name of friendship. This was a gift signalizing the dropping of an eristic
stance and its accompanying passions. ‘He’d never had a man refuse.’
I don’t know much about the way spouses recompose their relation-

ship after a fight, but whatever the steps the surface is not left
scarred: reconciliation not estrangement is the normal result. The lad,
the maiden, and the old polygynist have in common the ability to take
a role quite seriously, yet slip away from full identity with it. The lad
does it puckishly, the maidens do it festively, the litigious old man
pragmatically. They are displaying three versions of a common quality.

Are Kinga aggressive? Assuming three stages in the early life

cycle—childhood, youth, adulthood—for the two sexes there are six
roles, and in 1960 only one called for openly aggressive activity.
Youths took delight in violent games pitting group against group. Solo
acts of open aggression were rare, though I had reports of individuals
fond of devising petty tyrannies or showing off a chauvinistic
dominance over younger boys. In the boarding schools especially I
expected to find (and subsequently noted) devious techniques of psy-
chological exploitation and a hundred other little expressions of deep,
personal aggressiveness such as one knows from other communities;
and this particularly because some teachers in the region (but neither
Kinga or Nyakyusa) were brutally authoritarian, abreacting their own
past resentments instead of adapting to local role patterns. Petty
jealousies and rivalries among the boys were endemic, but the level of
hostility was low and morale high. I played football (soccer) with the
boys at middle school in Tandala: high spirits, no sign of the usual half-
hidden, grudging rivalries among team-mates.

Kinga aggressiveness therefore seems to centre in youth-role

motivation and, in the old culture, the warrior role. Personal motives
must support the aggressive behaviour called for in these roles; but
we know enough to guess there could have been a hundred personal
motives for wanting to shine in battle. We don’t have to assume an ‘ag-
gressive personality’ to account for the behaviour. Recruitment to
the ikivaga was voluntary, and other avenues to distinction than war
were kept open. The quietest Kinga youth does know how to be brashly
aggressive, since that is one of the main personae supplied with so-
cialization into the role. But Kinga aren’t typically quick to perceive
ambiguous situations in a frame of hostility. In sum, personal aggres-
sion may enhance but doesn’t overflow the motivation belonging to
the role.

In marriage when there is violence it is sure to have come in the

first instance from the male. Maidens know how to compete to have
their way without showing aggression—that is one of the arts in the
motivational package for maidenhood. But when man and woman
confront each other later in life, frustration is more likely to evoke
direct action from the man, displacement behaviour from the woman.

Still, we’ve seen that occasionally women do borrow tricks from their
husband’s repertoire and turn them back on him.

Do Kinga boys distrust their fathers? They generally know they

may catch a beating if they aren’t wary, but isn’t the distrust prior to
the cause for wariness? Motives of distrust and fear have evolved as
aspects of the intractability or the freedom of youth, as this is seen
from the role-position of father or son. Countless autobiographies of
young married men begin with a verbal repudiation of these motives of
youth, “when I lived in the bush and had no regard for my future.” The
patness of the transition suggests there is not usually a deep-psy-
chological lock upon this filial distrust—it belongs more to role than to

Role motivation can overrule though it normally won’t fully mask

the promptings of sentience. The Kinga boy who has no fear of a stick
fight hasn’t lost his sentient self-interest but has seen it overruled
by egoistic motives of proving valorous and role motives of supporting
his side in a game. I can still hear Bruno Bettelheim saying self-
disregard amounts to self-hate and must be mothered by guilt—which
must of course have been acquired in infancy. But girls in this culture
really do share the infancy of boys and show no equivalent symptom.
Women differ from men in important dimensions of their characteris-
tic behaviour. Women don’t let go their aggressions in violent play,
they aren’t moved to escape authority, they are assiduous and
tireless workers, their wit strikes its target without a barb, they
aren’t especially fond of display, and they are submissive in situations
where men would not be.

If you have an unshakeable faith in the tyranny of the first five

years and know what “must have happened” in the private world of the
child to account for symptoms you find in adulthood, you’ll probably
manage to find those must-have-beens in the way the baby was
handled. You could even convince yourself somehow that the first five
or six years for a girl are utterly different to those of a boy. But
lacking your convictions and your ironclad theory of personality devel-
opment, I found no such early differences.

For those of us with shaken faith in prefabricated ‘personalities’

it seems more sensible to look at the way adults are swept this way
and that by fashion and fad, or transformed by the quantum shift
from one job or status to another, and ask how deeply role motivation
may penetrate and affect Psyche’s realm. For me, the Kinga boy’s
appetite for dangerous excitement is a corollary of his having
embraced the values of wildness which inform the herdboy’s role: a

deep transformation takes place, and pain-with-glory looks good to
him. Even what happens on the sentient level in a stick fight will be
massively affected by his state of arousal as he approaches it, so
that wounds (which a few years ago or hence might break his mettle)
in the heat of this fray have no effect.

The idea of a ‘core personality’ gets around some of the embar-

rassments of the anthropologist who would like to deal with psycho-
logical problems without cutting them off from the sociological realm.
The notion is that a non-observable ‘core personality’ is acquired early
in life and heavily overlaid by later experience, so that what is observed
in the adult reveals only obscurely the ‘real psyche’ within. Core per-
sonality is generally closer to the surface in childhood than later on, if
only because the child’s role is simply set up with respect to respon-
sibility. Smart parents know they can tell what their baby is thinking.
It hasn’t learned to internalize discursive thought—whatever goes on
will show on the surface. In childhood this isn’t so. Shame, mortifica-
tion, and chagrin have made their appearance. An ego has begun to
function, setting up simple strategies for defense and mastery. A
child’s ego wants the same privacy that an adult’s does, and only fails
in this through inexperience in the art of camouflage. The overlay of
role motivation is relatively transparent. What alters with maturity
is not so much the private structure an ego has built up, the core per-
sonality, as its relation to the surface of behaviour open to others’
observation. Taking on mature status in society entails a process of
complication in your make-up as a social actor, and this is primarily as-
sociated with the adoption of responsible reciprocal ties within a con-
tractual network. Normally this process is pushed by self-
consciousness of sexual needs, of the kind which arise with secondary
sexual characteristics and a full-sized body.

In the Kinga case, especially in the old culture, we can recognize

two distinct stages of social maturation, the one at adolescence and
the second at marriage. The intervening decade or two is spent in the
ikivaga or the isaka with own-sex peers in a sort of continuation of
childhood and anticipation of adulthood—the bachelor house is a half-
way station where a person may spend half a life. Peter Pan has legit-
imate sex relations and adult conviviality without having quite to grow

Phenomenologically, adulthood is a social fact. It isn’t just that

autonomy colours all our role-relationships or that the shaping and
shading of our network ties come to be more fully our own doing, it is
that we become competent to deal with the world and pursue our
moral strategies through such ties, through cultivated role-relation-

ships. Adults bear the public responsibility for their private lives: for
the quality of life especially in the inner domain which children feel they
have no responsibility for and no power to change. A major transfor-
mation takes place in the psyche. Consider the two failed suicides, of
Captain Nengo’s wife and her son: no one found it strange that an
adult’s character failures would weigh so heavily, yet no one believed a
child’s could. The game of character which children play ‘for fun’ is
played by adults for keeps.

Because building and keeping your character as an adult is so

serious a concern, personae become tactical tools. A brave face to
adversity has become in itself a significant source of ego support to
the widow Anyanitse, who prefers clinging to the shreds of a life she
made for herself to joining a step-son (inherited as a lad from her co-
wife) in a strange setting: she will keep her self-sufficiency to the end.

The deepening and diversifying of role motives in adulthood is its

great source of complication. Kinga boys and girls at five or six begin
to adapt to the separate companies they are keeping. This adapta-
tion means the acquisition of new likes and dislikes, new criteria for
judging self and other’s character, new definitions of priorities for
effort, and a new sense for private and public styles of expression,
verbal and non-verbal. As in all societies there are distinct style
changes with transition from one age status to the next, but for
Kinga maidens the changes at adolescence are exceedingly gradual as
compared to other Bantu societies with female initiation ceremonies,
and as compared to the later changes which will occur with marriage.

The shift from the socially open, cheerful-playful style of the

maiden uminza to the closed, sometimes even saturnine style of the
married woman undala doesn’t happen overnight, though it is hastened
by mechanical (ritual) restrictions falling on the woman with her first
pregnancy. The transformation isn’t superficial. At the sentient level
there has been a loss of youth’s easy well-being. The daily hard work
continues, now with less and less-familiar company to lighten the
burden. There has been the intense experience of withdrawal from the
good company of the isaka. There is a quite new sexual adjustment.
Ironically, marriage may bring a woman her first experience of solitude.
In polygynous households this readjustment may be softened, in that
a new wife may live for some time (until she has her own baby) with an
“older sister” who married there from the same isaka. Otherwise there
are visits home, and at gatherings (such as funerals or occasional
dances) women sleep in company. But the status of undala is a recruit-
ment role into which all maidens can expect to be inducted. We’ve only
to ask what choice of outward careers a woman has, to appreciate

how external the sanctioning of her character is. A woman has no
choice but to accept the package of marriage with its demands and
aspirations, its world of chance rewards and failures, intact.<<[lit]

The shift for males from undimi [bush youth, herd or scout] to
undume [established bachelor] traditionally occurred long before the
lad had begun to think of marriage. In 1900 it would have been associ-
ated with the move from bush to court and the barracks life, with its
greater visibility and discipline. Court youths affected the red-clay
ringlets of the dandy, taking pride in their appearance and talents.
They began to view fighting in terms of form and skill not only victory,
sublimating the capriciousness of youth to become the effective
cattle-raiders around whose well-lucked exploits the great victory
celebrations of the court would be centred. The new style demanded
good manners, cleanliness, and a pleasing demeanour: the “shy,
friendly, trusting” Kinga of the earliest German reports.

Since observable character values are motivational phenomena

they evolve and take form through the full life cycle. They are
creatures of the reflexive character of human experience, which in-
creasingly with a person’s age is experience of a world preconceived in
moral expectation and bound to confirm it. The process should be seen
in a society like the Kinga as a double series of transformations,
careers of the two genders culminating in two adult adjustments,
each with its own constellation of values, its own rationale.

For maidens there is courtship in which they play host and their
norms prevail. Rowdy youths in 1960 must be expelled by a girl’s
father or elder brother, but in the old culture the isaka itself was often
so augustly established as to have the necessary authority. Duty for
the maiden is focused on her garden work, invested with a sense of fun
and accomplishment which is rather generous—she produces far more
than her own keep and in fact works for the young men of the
community who are her “sons.” This is to say, if you look at the psyche/
character dimension of her motivation, she gains moral stature by her
accomplishment. If you look at the ego/role dimension, it is that she
finds herself attracted to the unselfish persona she sees modeled in
other maidens of the isaka. Because she can only embrace the role of
maiden along with most of its rationale of character values, she’ll be
sensitive to her mother’s approval and take cheer from the good
humour of her peers.

So if overruling values don’t intervene—sentience in the case of

Singa’s chronic illness or loss of support as with Soda’s foster-sister
Tusike—the prevailing mood and style of life in the isaka will be made

her own. Is this the course she would rationally plot for herself in life,
if somehow her ego were untrammeled by introjected values? When
we’re committed to living with the friends we already have, they
control so massive a share of the rewards and punishments in our
world that we’d have to be mad to go altogether against them. But
this rational aspect of moral strategy is normally only a default
condition to which we fall back in moments of confusion or self-doubt.
Ordinarily we are engrossed, as in a magnificent fiction, in the drama
of our roles.

An observer knows at once that Kinga maidens enjoy most of

their work because that is what they communicate in the style and
energy they give to it. There must be moments of fatigue and discour-
agement; these are evidently discounted in respect of the fun of
turning the soil with friends, singing the songs of the field, and getting
merry on a little beer. Ordinarily the companions of a grown girl are her
peers, but the companion of a wee girl in the garden is her mother, and
the pattern for their role relationship is reciprocity within a seniority
tie. This creates a moral bridge between the married woman and the
prepubescent girl which by-passes the plural and erotically charged
motive pattern of the isaka.

During these early years a girl’s role model is a more self-reliant

person than she will herself want to be for many years after she quits
gardening with her mother. Let us assume the older woman is for her
own part as concerned to earn and keep her daughter’s respect as the
latter is to win maternal approval. If Kinga women weren’t given to
such concern could they succeed so well? In her second decade of life
a girl will become economically self-sufficient (and more). Her inner life
will be overwhelmingly peer-oriented. But the role she’ll take on as a
married woman reverts to the single-mindedness she learned as a
‘wee adult’ not yet touched by the loving attraction of peers and their
wider social world. In all this there is a considerable economy in the
provision of motivational values. The bridge between mother and
young daughter is possible because their worlds are radically
congruent for a time, and the fondness of women for going out to the
gardens in company continues the ethos of the isaka, now conjoined
with the self-reliant character first practised in childhood.

The principle of economy also appears in the case of Kinga male

roles. For youths, courtship is a domesticating process which they
allow to extend over a period of years and from which they generally
manage to escape without building up intolerable emotional tensions.
Although suicide isn’t rare among youths, I have no cases clearly asso-
ciated with romantic disappointment. That wasn’t the problem of

Zabroni’s brother, Tengeneza—ironically, the Swahili name he’d chosen
for himself means ‘fix, put right’. Young men commonly court in
company and rely on one another’s support in sanctioning the choice
of a partner and interpreting ambiguous events or love messages. In
good measure the style of a (domesticated) bachelor male is
patterned on the style of a bachelor woman, who made the adjust-
ment earlier in life. Admiration for women helps to draw youths away
from the bush and bush values long before they are ready to marry.
Settled communal living with full membership status in the ikivaga
begins almost a decade after the corresponding transition for girls,
for whom it comes with the springtime of sex. Until pubescence at
about twelve, a girl though a junior member of the isaka remains more
strongly attached to family than peers, being too sleepy to stay
awake at night for activities in which she is accorded no part. Then
there is erotic arousal in relations with peers and she becomes a
senior isaka member, beginning a self-contained life with friends there
which will only slowly open into courtship toward the end of the second
decade or, as with Ame, even much later.

Boys make two more severe transitions, one attending sexual,

the other social maturity. At about twelve, on experiencing nocturnal
emission, a boy is taken from the children’s mat “not to pollute them.”
Now he sleeps with older boys, whom semen won’t pollute, while his life
by day continues in the bush with goats and youngsters. He is still
reckoned socially immature, undimi. The next transition won’t begin for
another half decade at least, and will take as long again to complete.
On the score of style and motivation it is the more profound mutation.

In the old court culture the model transition to adulthood began

with the arrival of a youth at the princely village prepared to test his
valour against that of a proven warrior. In a duel with spears there is
ample scope for displaying either bravery or cowardice. Though the
lore of these duels is calculated to turn away all but the foolhardy,
bloodshed was evidently less important than show. In spear-throwing,
when you have only one opponent to watch you won’t be caught
unaware. Any wound would stop the fight—mock-fighting was the
common device of training at the court. At lesser courts proving your
mettle was less explicitly through the trial at arms, membership of
the ikivaga was more open, and the transition to undume status rather
a matter of style and inner conversion (as everywhere in 1960) than
concrete achievement. By 1960 the second transition was often a
prelude to marriage.

However the transition was made, for most Kinga men the
change of heart was assisted by a growing appreciation of women—

their style and the character values behind it. The final adjustment
must always have entailed a juggling of values, freedom and domestic-
ity, goats and girls. The wild period of youth is an explicit rebellion
against the complex of values informing the established community,
but a period which implies its own eventual reversal. Perhaps
adulthood in any society must comprehend a certain polarity in moral
values, ensuring some flexibility. Opposite principles don’t always
emerge in contradiction but may be complementary. As Kinga women
cultivate both self-reliance and co-operation, Kinga men must adapt
to war and peace, the agonistic activities of the bush and the
comradely evenings of the ikivaga alternating. The principle of economy
applies: the wild stage isn’t wasted but prepares the man for military
and political obligations in adulthood, though without subjecting him
to discipline, which is only effectively provided in the final stage of so-
cialization to adult standing.

In Kinga society the important domestic establishments

weren’t (as in so many neighbouring societies) ubiquitous polygynous
compounds. The structuring of a child’s world wasn’t the monopoly of
a family system based on generational authority and the dependency
of women. The archetypal domestic establishment was the dormitory
group with its peer morale and discipline, the purest form of which was
the solidary group of young women in the isaka. For a girl it would
contain all her role models except her true mother or guardian. A boy’s
reference group was less well collected. It included older siblings who
had nursed him in later infancy, and a host of “mothers” to whom he
could turn for snacks. Altogether, it seems that the civility of Kinga
men owes much to that of their women.

A question of style
Most of the time most of us individually (and our communities
collectively) are dependent on role motivation for personal stability
and predictability. Certain forms of amnesia leave psyche and
character intact, blanking out the roles: ego strength is normal, it
seems, but finds itself in a vacuum. In the common language of today’s
urban-industrial societies my “identity” derives from my roles, my
“status” from my role set, the node I occupy in a structure of role-re-
lationships. Even if, in the conditions of the folk society, we can
assume a fair degree of stability in observable behaviour at the level
‘core personality’ refers to, the same inner motivational profile would
support a wide range of styles and role systems. This means that
‘character’ even in the simplest societies cannot supply a sufficiently

narrowed set of values to serve as a basis for structured social life.
An assembly of good fellows with no clues about roles and rules can’t
be expected to get much work done.

A the same I want to deny that everything we call ‘social struc-

ture’ is embedded in role-systems and rules. That is ‘sociologism’ and
locks out human creativity completely. Politically, it assumes there
are no psychological sources of either stability or instability in social
life. But if this brings us to an impasse I think it calls for second look
at Ruth Benedict’s Patterns. I’ve argued that the ‘vast spectrum of
human possibilities’ from which each culture was supposed to ‘choose’
its particular piece of the arc could not possibly be present to public
thought in any society, however sophisticated. But I would have to
admit that in an importance sense it is present to every individual who
partakes in what we call ‘human nature’. For Benedict’s poetic diction
let us substitute the simpler conception of cultural style. Styles are
engendered and maintained by the expressive interaction of individu-
als. So are ‘fashions’, I suppose, but styles are more substantial. They
endure. A style will be the mother of many fashions, and a ‘cultural
style’ will be the mother of many ‘individual styles’ over many genera-
tions. Style is a function of taste—psychological in its roots and not
predictable (or at least not explicable) on sociological data. Alfred
Kroeber wrote, “It might be said of style that it is the manner in which
creativity expresses itself; or, turning the phrase around, that crea-
tivity necessarily presupposes and produces a style.” Even in modern
America, where you might say that nothing takes root for long, you
can still get help in understanding American democracy by reading de
Tocqueville’s account of his walkabout in the 1830s. In the Sowetan
region each of the protostates has developed a style of its own, and I
find that an illuminating fact about the history and nature of cultures
and their regions.<<[lit]

What I want to argue now, to conclude this series of folios on

Kinga seen at close range, is that moral strategies comprise a
universal human preoccupation and are a constant source of culture
change—yet at the same time an indispensable source of social sta-
bility. Understanding style can help us to understand this apparent
paradox. In brief: the key insight of Patterns of Culture was that
cultural styles are rooted in the human psyche and so transcend the
boundaries between peoples which have been laid down by historical—
cultural—processes. Though Benedict didn’t show us more than two
‘styles’ (Nietsche’s Apollonian and Dionysian) she told us these were
mere examples. To accept that point I think we have to start with the
premise that there is no fixed number of ‘human styles’. There is no

numbering them because they do not naturally fall into types. There
are no ‘generic’ styles although many are surely distinctive. Even to
give a name to a style, we have to be wary of stereotypes: on closer
examination, Benedict’s two ‘Dionysian’ cultures may both have
chosen some sort of ‘excess’ but they haven’t much in common
because of it. The safest starting point may be to assume ‘one
culture, one style’ and proceed to compare several which are much
alike, learning about them from their differences.

In the remainder of this book I review the case of the Kinga to

explore this position. The next section of the book (Part Three)
returns to my ‘close comparison within the region’ to detail the homol-
ogies and differences of style introduced in Part One. But first, to
ground the idea of ‘style’ as it will be used here, I take a few pages to
reconsider the Kinga life-cycle. Specifically, the subject is the stabili-
zation of personal styles in Malanduku village. A bunch of personal
styles don’t add up to a cultural style any more than the raw ingredi-
ents of a great bread add up to a great taste. But we can learn
something about cultural styles and their stabilization by looking at

Kinga married men at the migrant labour sites had a different

character than at home with their wives and political responsibilities.
This was a familiar pattern on a worldwide basis in the colonial era,
because a plantation worker was handled rather as a military draftee
than as a competent citizen. Kinga at work were more boyish and
extraverted, more relaxed and direct, in the manner of bachelor
youths. Moral responsibility is complicating to one’s personal life and
it is minimized in the barracks life. The relapse into bachelorhood and
a peer-group ethos, which migrancy offered to Kinga men, seems to
have been welcome as respite from the burden of full citizenship, with
its diffuse responsibilities and undercurrents of hostility and suspi-
cion. But we see in Soda’s admiration for Bw. Ke that he, Soda, is
about to take the leap into marriage and his full majority. He is taking
motivational cues from a model of good citizenship.

Bw. Ke had become one of those indispensable elders whose

good repute is bound to live on after them. He’d have had to work his
way over many years into the character which commanded such
respect. If his ‘core personality’ was formed and stabilized by the time
he was completing his childhood, his adult character wasn’t implicit in
the personality of a lad just entering his “wild” stage. The character of
an impartial arbiter of land disputes couldn’t have been easy to
establish or maintain—probably Bw. Li, who has tried to step into the
vacant niche in the Malanduku community, will have a tough time main-

taining the new persona. Bw. Ke like Soda must have had high aspira-
tions in his youth and a controlled hunger for public approval. His
career was a dramatic success, as Soda judges; but as with any
drama, outcome depends on uncontrollable events. What else Bw. Ke
might have been—what he was to some other, closer observer than
Soda—we don’t know: witch? manipulator? poor provider? Beauty of
character is in the eye of the beholder. But what keeps the pursuit of
character lively, and the morale of a community high, is that beholders
do find beauty around them, confirming a private ideal and seeming to
move them from what they are toward what they would be.

When the lord of the bush, the tough survivor of the avadimi, the
tousled and unkempt herdboy of the hills, begins to hear talk of a
maiden’s breast as a pillow of bliss on which to rest a weary head he’s
begun a long surrender. It will lead at last to a sort of style conversion.
This is not just a matter of regressive mental mechanisms: with the
conversion he opens himself to the character values the maiden has
presented. By offering her breast and not her crotch she activates
his sense of need not his drive to mastery: she pulls the thorn from
the wild creature’s paw and becomes, in a moment controlled by
fantasy, his mistress. In the morning he may feel he has embarked on
a new career. Of course it won’t happen just from his falling for a girl.
He and his friends are coming of age. The next style in the cycle is no
longer off-putting to them. But each one will have to discover and
invent his own way forward, as a style is no mere badge or mantle.
Better see it as a radical shift of frame, not a disconfirmation of an
older self but a project aiming at confirmation of a new.

Say that a person moves through and beyond the accumulating

gamut of roles which go with citizenship. By admiring the outfitted
warrior who has sent him scurrying to the bush, by coveting the
powers of the captain who has judged him in the matter of the missing
goat, by catching a sense for the special style of the visiting minstrel,
a youth opens his mind to values they represent. The role model all at
once flowers. Call it an epiphany of style. It takes no more than a
moment of symbolic mastery which, instead of alienating the youth,
enlists him. There are, I suppose, a hundred moments of tentative con-
version between the successive roles of undimi and undume.

A style convert accepts a package of new values. His own,

inwardly debated moral strategies account for his embracing a new
role with more or less conviction. The role is packaged with a new set
of priorities by which he will find himself guiding decisions in future.
About the goodness of fit between his personality and the new role we
may be able to say very little before the event. It is in the private life

of the ego that a person becomes committed to a scheme of values he
will not be willing to set aside for new. This is the subject of much
learned science, and one into which we all have a certain insight. I would
stress only the relativity of commitment: not all converts will find a
role equally congenial. Some packages will be broken up and some roles
prove defeating.

But the more general experience is certainly role tension: that is,
the pulling of one role against another and ego’s realization of their in-
congruity. Sometimes the strategy adopted will be simply to split
between them, but that only rarely works out. I suppose role tension
accounts for much of the goodness of fit—such as it may be—between
psyches and chosen careers. Tension continues to be an experience of
life even in the most conventional settings. Isn’t the orgiastic mood of
the maiden’s initiators proof enough of the tensions, normally re-
pressed, in the woman’s role which they have undertaken to adver-

Once a youth had won his place at court he’d quickly take on a
court-centred view of the world, and in the measure he succeeded in
establishing his character there he’d be personally confirmed in this
worldview. We phrase it that he has acquired a new persona, or
committed himself to new values, or undergone personality change—
maybe just turned over a new leaf, depending on our impressions of the
case and the wisdom we accept about human nature. But if we follow
his later career as an outpost apostle of the court and its values we
see him thrust into a situation where he must either abandon the
style of the court or set himself up as a role model to the rustics
around him. We are dealing with a career strategy in which the aristo-
cratic model first exercises tension upon the person of the bush-bred
recruit—and later the adoptive aristocrat, now personally committed
to new character values and a courtly style, exercises a similar
tension on the styles and inner aspirations of others.

The life cycle does not turn of itself. Each style conversion
entailed has its own semantic engine in the growing person. Without
the continuous role tension this implies, Angst would be less. The
characteristic uncertainty of human social life, and the individuality
which is its expression, would fall away. Is it really credible that the
Sanga political movement would have brought less tension—less dis-
content, less violence, less fear of witches—than bush culture knew?
The protostate build-up must have brought in not just complexity but
intensity of social awareness: in a word, drama. Each person in his or
her own way has to convert the potentialities of a role into an ego-
supportive pattern of life, and as the scope of choice in a human career

increases, so do the tensions affecting the pursuit of private reward.
Role tension in this context is a basic mechanism for the stabilization
of personal motives even while, with the increasing sophistication of
adulthood, these are sinking deeper beneath the observable surface of

There were few cowards among Kinga men in the old culture
because a boy without a taste for boldness would have little chance of
surviving the years in the bush. He’d find few rewards, more likely dev-
astating punishment, in ordinary gang activities. If (say) boys up to
ten were exposed to intensive schooling in the tamer arts of kitchen
and garden, as their sisters are, the wilder life of the bush would be
harder to take. What may sometimes seem a relationship between an
immovable personality and an irresistible role is thus to be seen in
broader perspective as a more dynamic and dialectical tension. The
conversion experience of embracing a new role becomes with time, as
most conversions do, a hard job of work in accommodating the inner
self to new motives; and the job is the harder, the greater the moral
distance which has to be travelled in the process.

The fierceness many Kinga fathers show toward their sons in

adolescence seems to me to be owing to the difficulty men have in
whole-heartedly accepting their adult domestication. They can be
pulled off balance by an exhibition of the values of youth they have
struggled to surmount. Evidently there is more tension on men, more
crossing of purposes between personality and role in the transition
they must make, than in the reversion to the self-contained life which
a woman makes at marriage; and this helps to account for the
woman’s greater personal stability.

Stabilization of personal style takes place through the internal-

ization of character values in general and role motives in particular by
individuals as they undergo a lifelong socialization process which
seems to leave them more sensitive to social expectations, and ac-
cordingly more social in the expectations they have for themselves,
with each turn of the cycle. Perhaps the deepest mistake we ordinarily
make in assessing human careers is to assume it is personal motives
which provide the forward thrust in our lives. More often, they arm us
with a subtler balance of flair and circumspection. The aspirations of
the warrior, the gardener, the lover, the parent, and the power-holder
belong to the motives we take on with the patterned roles furnished
by a culture which would perish without the phenomenon we call drive.


A moral universe

Qualities of an extended youth

The Kinga world has fewer hard boundaries than most. Even with
respect to phases of the life cycle this was the case, as Kinga were un-
ceremonious about transitions when compared to other microcul-
tures. For males, once the babe born in the wildwood has been
accepted into society there will be no certain ritual demarcations of a
shift from one phase of life to the next, though the phases are well
enough known and labeled. There is no evidence that boys’ initiations
ever were widespread. While some informants in 1960 could describe
them, few reported having undergone the (somewhat contrived and
varied) ordeals they described. Kinga men in 1960 had been spending
most of their adult lives abroad and absorbing the lore of other folk.
They weren’t typically reliable on the matter of which bits of lore were
pure ‘Kinga’ and which the lore of neighbours.

For women the series of bush schools didn’t serve to mark off
youth from childhood or maturity from youth. Properly speaking,
these schools weren’t rites of passage. Even the vulvar labiotomy,
which I’d have expected to carry the burden of severance from things
past, seems to have been conceived as no more than a preparatory or
admonitory step, much as the Culwicks (1935:344-6) portray it for
the riverine Bena. A Kinga girl received this attention much later, in
respect to years and psychosexual development, than the Bena girl
did; and the Kinga maiden would continue her erotic life with peers as
before, clitoris intact, its crucial value confirmed by doctrine. In these
matters the sisterhood had the say and men stood firmly aside. The
sharpest turning-point in a maiden’s life would be that perfectly

secular event which rendered her vulnerable to pregnancy and forced
her to turn away forever from the isaka and its collective life. This first
full act of coitus would hardly have been undertaken blindly. When a
maiden gave herself to her chosen man she was not a child or adoles-
cent but socially as mature and experienced a person as her suitor.
Women, controlling the schools, determined the nubility of a maiden
and seem not normally to have hurried matters. Though a lordly local
ruler was entitled to assume the powers of matchmaker, there were
effective countervailing restraints on arbitrary acts, and the
autonomy of the women’s schools was safe from meddling. Besides, it
wasn’t in the interest of the prince to marry off either his men or his
maidens at an early age.<<[lit]

Was marriage sometimes involuntary even for the mature

bachelor woman? The bush culture tradition which allowed a man to
“sell” his daughter to a wealthy and perhaps influential man applied in
practice only to infant betrothals and was rarely put into practice:
apart from the uncertainties of survival, the tradition was alien to
court culture. The general spirit of voluntarism which informed Kinga
culture in 1960 wasn’t new, but of course it didn’t exclude all acts of
coercion, and it’s not unreasonable to assume there would have been
more such before the pax. But allowing for exceptional circumstance I
gathered most marriages would have been voluntary. The main
evidence is in the prevalence of constancy. Adultery and divorce were
rare, though legal bars to divorce were slight. Looking about the region
one might even argue that late marriage was a well justified rule if only
for blessing the union with relative permanence.

Under the free tradition the effective segregation of bachelor

men’s and women’s spheres was sufficient to make each a self-
contained emotional world to which the other stood more nearly as
fiction than reality. The typical courtship could hardly have amounted
to the achievement of real intimacy. That would be left to marriage
and perhaps even there achieved only with the slow passage of years.
When Kinga say peers can love each other in the sense of their word
ukumanyana but only man and woman can love each other ukuganana
[making love] they are making the claim that lust is for the other sex,
while mutual knowledge or understanding is for gender peers. This par-
titioning of the human heart is basic to their moral strategies, though
sometimes challenged in courtship by moments of true romance. The
Kinga cut is lethal to Love as we know it in the Western world, where
heterophiles won’t accept love as a part of peer friendship, and
homophiles evince no lust for persons of the wrong sex.

At first blush it is quaint to hear that a Kinga maiden should hold
to a plighted troth for seven years—it sounds for all the world like the
maiden in the English folksong, waiting for her sailor with a pure love
undiminished. But if we translate the dreamy idealization into real
terms we may see the absent lover as a tangible convenience for the
Kinga maiden (if not for the English?), serving to exalt the idea of
marriage while in fact allowing the girl to continue labouring at home,
bosomed by her peers. When marriage did come the change was more
profound for the woman, but she may also have been better prepared.
In that respect even the climacteric (though a ‘change of life’ in the
fullest sense for a woman) was a boundary softened by circumstance.

As to the men, a visitor from a male-circumcising society could

hardly escape feeling that Kinga institutions were remiss. Why is
there no solemn rite of passage designed to put the irresponsibilities
of boyhood and youth firmly into the past of a man who is preparing to
take on the moral burden of warrior and, eventually, householder? By
cutting a woman off, practically and symbolically, from her lesbian
communion at marriage, Kinga culture commits her to a fresh erotic
orientation now at least primarily focussed in the getting, bearing,
and nursing of infants. Probably most women do leave peer eroticism
behind, but probably the degree of comfort they achieve in their self-
transformations is keenly sensitive to personality and circumstance.
The fullness of the immersion in nursing and cultivation which is char-
acteristic of young married women suggests a successful transition
though not necessarily an easy one. The stable working partnerships
they usually form with associates in a new community struck me as
evidence of autonomy, as they seemed to avoid dependency on the one
hand and compulsive self-reliance on the other. Men aren’t asked to
leave peer eroticism behind and do not. Male responsibilities in the
heterosexual role are fabulously demanding but practically minimal
where the two enjoy normal fertility. A man is free to move out as soon
as a pregnancy is established and remain away until the child is old
enough to fetch and carry. Still, domesticity does suit some men.
Christian teachings about family solidarity haven’t met head-on oppo-
sition. But domesticity isn’t established as a value for youth of either

Perhaps the simplest formula for describing the Kinga life cycle
is just this: Each developmental plateau is granted maximal duration. The
security of infancy, prolonged as it usually is into the fourth year of
life, is cherished at a deep level of affective awareness. Some of the
feeling-tones of the infant’s forgotten fight against separation from
its mother are such as to be revived and relived in subsequent stages

of life. Technically the mother of a three-year-old is only part of its life
support system, since she so often leaves it in the care of its undelaji
[sibling nursemaid] while she goes off to the fields, but morally the
mother remains the source of life. The Freudians are probably right in
teaching that there is no more replete erotic relationship known to
the human condition than that of the pampered (or even the sorely
tried) infant who always eventually gets what it wants from its
mother. The Kinga case is special in that a woman’s libido is unambigu-
ously fastened on her nursing baby for three or four years, and this
within a system which effectively rules out not only the father but
siblings too as rivals for mother love. It doesn’t seem to me unreason-
able to expect such an infant to show a regressive potential later in
life, a clinging to the status quo for reassurance, especially in dyadic
relations of intimacy. But at least that potential is not magnified by
an interloping sibling.

The plural nature of the peer group experience succeeds to the

dyadic structure of infancy, but the dyad does return in marriage.
Just possibly, the stability and exclusiveness of the nursing stage lie
behind the pattern of constancy in marriage, so little affected by
prolonged absence. The ideal of boyish affection in the lifelong attach-
ment of brothers is another dyad unaffected by distance—in no need
of constant active confirmation. In a more general way, the prolonged
nursing period seems to prefigure the long plateau of bachelorhood for
each sex. I suppose the erotic orientation of that period should be
rated genital manqué.

Kinga effectively succeed in slowing down the processes of aging

as such. Part of the formula is diet. Apart from specific deficiencies
(iodine in certain areas) Kinga agriculture is intensive and nourishing in
the variety of its produce. For women, what we might call a cult of
virginity (a topic of which men claim to know nothing) puts off
pregnancy for as much as a decade beyond East African norms. For
men, the rarity of the dissolute career and (in spite of the Nyakyusa
stereotype of Kinga as unkempt—aren’t way-weary travellers bound
to be?) reasonably high standards of grooming and hygiene must be
counted as extending at least the period of youthful appearance. But
how much of the reality of aging is in the mind and the reflective mind’s
eye? Can the will to prolong her childhood actually delay menarche in a
girl? Can a man’s decision to prolong his youth—to cling to the haunts
and the style proper to that stage as they are socially defined—
actually delay the tell-tale signs of aging, which an observer might
note? It may be worth pondering the Culwicks’ report that riverine
Bena girls will pass in a few months from girlhood to nubility, marriage,

and motherhood. Nothing of the sort is true for Kinga girls. Their
mature body shape and youthful strength generally come years
before menarche, and thoughts of marriage again much later. From
Monica Wilson’s frequent use of “puberty” as a synonym for first men-
struation, I infer that the same delay doesn’t characterize a
Nyakyusa girl’s development; and as it happens she, like the Bena girl,
looks forward with open enthusiasm to menarche and marriage as
virtually to a single event. Since menarche and marriage happen for
the Nyakyusa girl at the end of her fifteenth year after some five
years of preparatory sex experience with her fiancé, we may conclude
she moves directly, if gradually, from childhood to adulthood without
an intervening period of moral liberation corresponding to our term
“youth” [Sw: ujana]. From observation alone I’d have to say that, for
intensity of experience and a sense of charity toward the world, youth
is the peak period of a Kinga woman’s life cycle: can the bachelor
woman herself doubt it? I should think she was personally motivated
to prolong her peer life if only on that ground. What is certain is that
the equation, menarche = marriage which so colours woman’s life
elsewhere in the region is not in the Kinga maiden’s prospect as she
comes of age.<<[lit]

On detailed inquiry in the field I found I was consistently under-

estimating the ages of men and women in their twenties and thirties.
Since only a few had mirrors the skewing is hard to attribute to
artifice, except, perhaps, as peers may be mirrors. Maidens of any age
when relaxing from work in a group would engage in plaiting hair, a
service no one can easily supply herself. Young men had no comparable
grooming service to perform but might not be averse to plaiting a girl-
friend’s hair or taking over her knitting (a Scandinavian skill taught the
Lutheran girls and often picked up by the boys)—sweaters were
popular if rare. All the young men I knew past twenty or so had
favourite shirts which, even when a little tattered, they lovingly
washed and ironed. Vanity was expected, very social, and fun for both
men and women before they settled down to householding. Can we say
that such harmless vanity is likely to be intensified by a plural
audience structure, such as a peer group, and lessened as intimates
cease to be audience (or as one’s major audience ceases to comprise

The parallel between Kinga and Nyakyusa cultures is closer for

men than women, since Nyakyusa young men were traditionally dis-
couraged from early marriage “because a bachelor was thought to be
a fiercer warrior” and even in the 1930s weren’t marrying before they
were twenty-five or thirty. By the time of the Wilsons’ study the

warlike rationale of the age village for bachelor men was obsolete but
still talked-up. In spite of the pax, old men were taking more and
younger wives under the Germans and British than in the days when
youths were truly fierce. In perspective it seems to me that young
men acceded in the rampant polygyny of their fathers (70% of married
women in Selya had co-wives in 1934) because the system had made
young men easy to handle. Brothers, who might have had countervail-
ing power in combination, weren’t put together in the same age village.
The peer group ideology of the youths’ age village gave it a strong bias
toward self-sufficiency even in matters of sex. Clandestine adven-
tures were available in quantity with the ill-served young wives of
aging chiefs and headmen. More legitimately, sublimated energy could
be poured into dancing up a storm and talking up a raid on the cattle
of a neighbouring chiefdom. The sheer display of truculence at a
funeral or “war dance,” with the flaring up of private fights and
symbolic combat with invisible enemies seems in the 1930s to have
served some of the safety-valve functions formerly served by
external wars.<<[lit]

Through their bachelor twenties Nyakyusa young men continued

to work hard in their fathers’ gardens, taking pride in the work. Gener-
ally, their situation parallels that of the young men quartered in the
Sanga ruler’s barracks, who constituted their own age class there and
tested their mettle in cattle raiding. But Kinga men were far slower in
committing themselves to heterosexuality; they were less given to
adventures in adultery; and, for lack of intensive kinship loyalties,
knew nothing of the funeral dance and its truculent displays. Either of
these ‘friendship cultures’ (which depend on male bonding as a basic
social structure for men right through their prime, warrior years)
differs sharply from the case of the riverine Bena, whose initial
marriages were early and who were heterosexually attuned to the
point of extravagance. Chosen warriors of the Bena courts (royals
and commoner recruits) married on graduating to that status from
the barracks school, often as early as sixteen.<<[lit]

Given that Kinga make no more age distinctions than necessary,

and generally soften rather than sharpening status transitions,
perhaps the same could be predicated of the male-female boundary.
There must be few other societies where, on the semantic plane at
least, the possession of a vagina doesn’t set a girl apart from a boy.
The ambiguity of gender identities in the false-name games courting
maidens play, and their great success in catching the curiosity of
young men with feminine secrets, reveal a sort of desegregation at
the ideal level which softens the real boundary of the gender classes,

as laid down by anatomy. Do Kinga actually cross sex lines? Though I
never heard of a female priest, I did hear much of the woman diviner
Hikadiseku who made her name in the early British period. There was
Kipole, the reigning queen in the initial German period: though Kinga
men have treated her as anomalous and read her out of their political
history, she took power and wives.

There is perhaps only a single case in uKinga of a lesbian being

accused in court of wife-stealing, but little girls take easily to the
tomboy role, herding the goats when there’s no boy to do it. The royal
eunuch was never referred to as crippled male but as transvestite:
“He wears his cloth like a woman.” He appears in one of Monica Wilson’s
documents from the 1930s as “a man who, though not mad, dresses
as a woman” and has no sex life. Tunginiye, hesitating a little, intro-
duced him (presumably a successor to the individual the Wilsons met)
to me as a youth, though he was born early in the century and looked
middle-aged. Kinga pattern as clear a division of labour (occupation
cum preoccupation) by gender as their neighbours do, but with perhaps
less asymmetry. I think particularly of the work party [ungovi] in the
fields, where women test the mettle of the men and may outdo them.
It’s idle to talk here of chauvinism in the usual sense of the word. At an
ideal level the disjunction of the gender identities is less complete
than in neighbouring, hard-line heterosexual societies. <<[lit]

As with the conceptual categories of age and sex, so with space:

boundaries are known and unchallenged but permeable. Because place
names are as likely to refer to the community occupying a distinctive
spot as to the spot itself, the name may move with the people should
they plan to relocate jointly, as sometimes happens. A few place
names were marked I and II in 1960, representing recent, incomplete
moves—what in a truer lineage system might be called segmentation.
Place names have a relatively short lifespan. Only a few settlements
on the German maps are now (1960) readily identifiable. Except as
nature has predefined them, spatial boundaries are the dependent,
and actual political alignments are the independent variables in this

In mapping the realms and domains for the historical record I’ve
found it feasible to treat the interface of two realms as a ‘boundary’
in the territorial sense, but this imposes my own map-oriented
thinking on what Kinga see quite differently. Wherever nature hasn’t
interposed uninhabitable terrain the boundary fades out, and
wherever Sanga-style warriors weren’t opposed by an equivalent kind
the very concept of boundary fails to apply. In court (=centre) to bush
(=periphery) relations there are only degrees of hegemony and influ-

ence. A model made to fit the Kinga orientation to political space
would show court centres radiating their influence directly and
through satellite centres within an indefinite surround. Battles aren’t
very decisive about boundaries when the two sides always have widely
discrepant tales as to which side won. Tribute isn’t clearly decisive
about loyalties when a local ruler is free to send a few animals north in
June and a few more south in September—or delay sending any at all
in a test of relative strength. The freedom men had to relocate and
recombine constituted a real countervailing power, and since new
loyalties could shift the boundary of any weak ruler’s jurisdiction
without fighting, popular mobility left any boundary indefinite in time
if not in space.

A conclusion we should draw for a study of moral values is that

local variation was a ground rule not an anomaly. Kinga expected local
variation in dialect and usage, perceiving their society in pluralistic
terms but without projecting localistic norms of exclusion such as
would maintain the social mix in a steady state. Generally, Kinga are
aware of each settlement as historically in-process rather than as a
permanent landmark. In most smaller places, though the settlers
claim a common surname and regard themselves as a kin-group engaged
in a pursuit of the good life, that means when their outlook changes
structural ties will follow. Because each generation is a fresh sorting-
out of friends into groups of their own, not the continuation of a lineal
stem, small settlements aren’t expected to endure beyond the life
stories of their founders. Throughout the region abandoned habita-
tions revert forthwith to nameless bush. The Sanga courts, with their
structures of office and ritually ensured successions to power, stood
above the spatial structure generated by the bush culture and trans-
formed it by superimposing court values, fiscal, ceremonial, and
military. But here again the boundary one might expect, the clear line
of class or caste between the two spheres of value, is not to be found
in practice.

One reason George Foster (1965) became concerned to explore

the cognitive organization of traditional societies on a very general
scale was that he sensed a ‘closed system’ would always entail immis-
erization, and effective ways of ‘opening’ communities would relieve it.
As I reconstruct Kinga history, court culture came to the Livingstone
Mountains at about the time localism was closing in, losing some of its
important freedoms, for the bush communities which had gradually
settled the country on an open-frontier basis for as long as a millen-
nium. Court politics and ritual represented an escape, welcomed by
many, from growing limitations and new insecurities of bush life in the

final age of localism. In a somewhat analogous modern context, North
American sociologists have spoken of a “new frontier” for structural
rather than territorial expansion. Most Kinga continued for the most
part to live under the Sanga régime in small, scattered hamlets. Our
term family is reasonably descriptive for that hamlet life at least in
the busy agricultural season. But their moral order was polarized and
transformed by the courts.<<[lit]

A phenomenology of values?
In the next seven short chapters I try to clarify, through further
selective comparisons within the Sowetan region, what was distinc-
tive in Kinga moral strategies. The series of topics retrieves and
extends the seven dimensions or phases of culture discussed in Part
One, Chapters Two through Eight. In an empirical study of values you
don't begin by naming and defining but observing. The phenomena won't
be found in thin air but clinging to the ground of social forms. By
focusing on individual moral strategies I bring ‘values’ into range. What
moral states does a person of either gender admire and seek to
realize? Who and what will he or she pity, shun, deplore, avoid? To find
out, I look at a people’s institutions as a semiotic mazeway and ask
how individuals read and respond to the signs.

As in Part One, to explore the Kinga I explore their differences to

some close neighbours, against the larger congruences within the
region as a whole. The purpose is to identify traits which fall within the
broad cognitive field the Kinga share with the region, but which they
have not made their own.

Again as in Part One I choose to deal with just seven facets or

‘dimensions’ of the cultures, here as an alternative to approaching
‘values’ in the Aristotelian fashion of pulling abstract nouns from thin
air. Monica Wilson follows that older convention in her first book on
the Nyakyusa, picking out geniality, dignity, display, decency, and
wisdom as key values in the culture as she knew it in the thirties. I find
two troubles with this, a philosophical and a practical. The practical
one is that she finds herself eclectically picking up fragments of
evidence to confirm the presence of each ‘value’—you don't get a
sense of depth. So under ‘dignity’ you find (1950: 77-8) that some of
her women informants were disgusted by dirty cooking pots seen in
Poroto (a near-Kinga bush culture) but you don’t see this in relation to
the aristocratic pretensions of the Nyakyusa (court culture), nor is it
altogether clear why cleanliness is not as close to decency or display

as to dignity. In the end, after you have studied her oeuvre on the
culture, and especially the last book (1977), you are in an excellent
position to answer questions about Nyakyusa ‘values’—but not, I
think, to say how many there are.

This is the philosophical difficulty I have with the conventional

study of ‘values’—I don’t see that they can properly be treated as
numerable entities. I am reminded of old books in psychology which
pretended to list the ‘motives’ of human action or the ‘sentiments’
comprising our claims to a distinctive human nature. I looked in vain for
‘disgust’ on those lists or even ‘amusement’—the two reactions I was
experiencing. Taken as lists suggestive of the kind of thing you might
mean by ‘values’ or ‘motives’ or ‘sentiments’ such offerings could do a
service. But supposing a set of objects can be named and counted
implies the possibility of making a definitive list of the set. My phe-
nomenological approach is meant to finesse these problems and avoid

In the Sowetan region it was principally the Hehe, Bena, and

Nyakyusa peoples who represented with the Kinga a “political archipel-
ago”—a series of court-centred polities rising formally above the
expanse of bush settlements, many of them never separately named
by European mapmakers, filling in the settled remainder of the region.
Order in these localistic bush settlements was maintained for the
most part through transactional sanctioning; but their boundaries
were open enough that losers in a trouble episode, finding themselves
without sufficient support from kinsmen and neighbours, knew how to
push on and where to move. This pattern of migratory drift depended
on a person’s ability to activate a translocal network. That in turn pre-
supposed an idea of kinship opened up to the point of overlap with
friendship or even simple acquaintance. Corporate kin groups as such
would find no fit in the Sowetan bush culture. Further political devel-
opment was going to require the association of corporations with ter-
ritories, and each culture would have to find its own way of doing this.

The Kinga solution was the court centre, akin in many ways to
the ‘ceremonial centre’ as best known and understood in pre-
Columbian Middle America. We’ve seen that a Kinga court system had
to be mounted on top of its “antipolitan” foundation, setting up
boundaries and fixed territories within which the universalistic
sanctions of a political authority could be depended on to keep order.
A fairly simple premise underlies the treatment which follows: the
several “court” peoples have in common the task of managing a trans-
local politics on similar cultural bases. Their institutions in each case
display quite different architecture. A major variable reflecting and to

some degree accounting for the differences is the particular value
complex informing each of the political architectures of the region.

I enter this comparative discussion, admittedly, as a partisan. I

can sow some seeds for discussion, I think, for students of Hehe,
Bena, and Nyakyusa values, but as I know their cultures only slightly
from first-hand observation, I depend on what their several ethnogra-
phers have given us, supplemented by voluminous, low-density district
files and the like. My subject is the Kinga, and if my approach through
intra-regional comparison seems indirect, it springs from the method
to which I subscribe for refining the knowledge constructed on direct

The name I put on this method is “analytical phenomenology.” It

builds a methodical analysis on a pattern model of explanation (Kaplan
1964) and is my principal subject in The Flying Armchair (1990). The
premise here is that the phenomenologist’s eye is wanted in the study
of an institution to see it as it is, and that when that work is done the-
oretical understanding can begin. In the current state of our art I find
that theory offers real but fragmentary insight, and for balance I rely
accordingly on the kind of understandings my ‘comparative observa-
tion’ can educe.<<[lit]


Sowetan cultures: social ties

Whereas kinship and friendship are merged among Kinga,

Nyakyusa relegate them to separate spheres. In this Nyakyusa align
with Bena-Hehe, and Kinga with Ndendeuli, further neighbours of the
Pangwa people southeastward of Kingaland.

Ndendeuli, as the only cleanly stateless society in the region

which has been adequately described, will have to stand in here for all
the bush cultures in my comparisons. They were as independent as
Kinga of ascribed kinship priorities and loyalties, recognizing the
paramount need to build up friendly relations with neighbours through
willing co-operation, but imbued friendships with little conceptual
weight. All acts of co-operation were ascribed to kinship as to a
primum mobile. In this respect we should have to align them with Bena-
Hehe in distinction to both Kinga and Nyakyusa, who expect men to be
deeply motivated by obligations of amity arising from preferential as-
sociation. Underlying these semantic differences is the regional divide
in sexual orientation, grouping Kinga-Nyakyusa against the others.
Still, the typical Nendeuli householder will translocate more than once
during his career and, finding new ‘kinsmen’ everywhere, will have no
claims on them he does not earn by acts of friendship.<<[lit]

I take it we may speak of an original Sowetan regional culture, an-

tedating the rise of political statelets, from which many of the
common traits of the region derive—even elements of political style.
We should picture such a culture, not uniform but generally homogene-
ous, as fairly well distributed over the region, particularly in hilly parts,
and probably lacking unilineal ‘clan’ or ‘tribal’ organization except in a
nominal sense. We can guess that its kin reckoning system would have
been shallow and bilateral with a weak agnatic bias, that agriculture
and hence hamlet populations would have been shifting, and that
politics would have been egalitarian. We may call this hypothetical

construct Proto-Sowetan. It can serve as a heuristic device, if we
assume that the local cultures of 1900 or 1960 are variations on or
from a theme—that when we compare them we are comparing cultures
historically related, genetic cousins and not strangers.

Alternatively we might assume that the same result could have

come from mixing and cultural interchange among originally almost
unrelated groups. In that case ‘Proto-Sowetan’ is a misnomer but,
given that the timespan was long and regional evolution gradual, still
not very misleading. It becomes a common denominator rather than a
common ancestor, but has the same implications for family resem-
blance among the Sowetan peoples. As I currently understand the lin-
guistic and archaeological evidence, the most recent time to have
observed this hypothetical, comparatively uniform regional culture
would have been early centuries of the second millennium A. D., before
the rise of chiefly politics.<<[lit]

One feature of proto-Sowetan culture would have been a liberal

interpretation of the ties of kinship. Descent would not have been ex-
tensively bilateral but patrilineal—only weakly so. Land allocations
were to men, in the first place, and to women only privately through a
man as father or husband. Settlements would have been open, not
closed on a kinship basis. Such matters are as dependent on a
structure of sentiments as on formal rights and obligations.

What is implied in the merging of kinship and friendship? Where

kinship is erected into an autonomous principle, personal favouritism
can have no meaning against birthright. In the gothic novel, a rigid rule
of primogeniture may award property, office, or title to the ill-
favoured eldest son, thwarting his beautiful brother. Some African
societies have an almost obsessive concern with genealogical status.
In Nigeria the Tiv, though in fact they lived in mixed communities,
conceived them as agnatic settlements and expected even a slave to
act like a brother in his political loyalties. Yet you meet a contradic-
tion which pretty well proves the excessive demands of the rule if you
trace the slave back to source: a free Tiv for no fault of his own might
be sold into slavery by his lineage but must continue loyal, observing all
its taboos.<<[lit]

Kinship couldn’t have merged with friendship for Kinga or

Ndendeuli in the presence of a strict cult of descent. As with the Tiv,
Ndendeuli expect that any two members of the society, by searching
out links, could find a connection; but unlike the Tiv, Ndendeuli seldom
go to the trouble. The supposition that they ‘are kin’ is enough. Gulliver
shows that in any community men enlist co-operation through kin-

neighbours. In effect, the group which forms your work party will be
friends and friends-of-friends; but you will approach the task of
enlisting the group through those you can best count on—those who
consider themselves more closely related to you than to someone
else who is recruiting help the same day. The idiom of recruitment is
that of kinship, but the effective structure of local relations has to be
built up in terms of actual relationships of reciprocity in co-operative
work. A person’s moral reputation for reliability is crucial.<<[lit]

Tight kinship systems work against the loose ties to place a

wide-spreading swidden agriculture needs, especially where livestock
is a secondary concern. Family herds want a familistic ethos. But a
mature Ndendeuli man’s relation to his social structure is entrepre-
neurial. He lives with particular kin while it pays him to do so. As he is
in competition with others for command over the labour of his neigh-
bours, and eventually may find it a disadvantage to live near his own
brother (who will want to rely on the same ties as himself), he is bound
to think of moving away.<<[lit]

It is my sense of the proto-Sowetan culture that Ndendeuli

manners and Ndendeuli individualism would have fitted well. In
contrast, the far-distant Tiv prescribed a man’s dependency relations
within the lineage group, so that the structure of kinship was a re-
pressive one even after you’d been conceded the wherewithal to
marry. The wherewithal was in this case a ‘sister’ to give away in
return for your bride That measure of kin-collectivism would be
anomalous anywhere in the Sowetan region. Nendeuli, being in contact
with the Ngoni (who took such repressive structures for granted)
seized the opportunity of the colonial pax to flee into the bush rather
than accommodate to (felt) Ngoni chauvinism. What is involved in the
merging of kinship and friendship is not just a semantic shift but the
introjection of voluntarism into the essential structure of community

In a new community, the enterprising Ndendeuli householder

sets about building up a new network of kinsmen. Because of the flex-
ibility of his system he doesn’t have to build a private empire, like that
of the Nyakyusa man, through the multiplication of wives and affinal
connections: though most Ndendeuli are at least nominal Moslems,
polygyny is uncommon. You build your world out by making friends.
Kinga share with Ndendeuli, Pangwa, and Wanji a dependence on the co-
operative work party for heavy gardening tasks. It is a pattern we can
with some confidence call proto-Sowetan. The riverine Bena regularly
organize work parties but, to judge from the casual account of the
Culwicks, put less emphasis on them. Polygyny is popular with the

Bena and creates a notable dominance gradient as between rich men
and poor; the Culwicks suggest that most work parties are joined in a
mercenary spirit, for the beer offered by a rich man, while only the oc-
casional party is organized on the basis of mutuality. The popularity of
adulterous affairs also distinguishes the Bena case: how shall one
predicate a major institution on friendship among men who can’t trust
each other?<<[lit]

For Nyakyusa too the work party is a minor pattern, though

“fairly common” in northern communities, whose terrain is most like
the Kinga, and there organized on a pattern the Kinga would at once
recognize. In quite un-Kinga style, Nyakyusa mostly depend on the
labour of bachelor sons. However, they won’t work alone but bring
friends, the group of them being fed together, Kinga fashion. In major
gardening tasks the Nyakyusa father is expected to work with his
sons as part of the family team.

Though polygyny is strongly patterned and quite as conducive

to stratification among Nyakyusa as elsewhere, the dominance
gradient isn’t associated with class but generation, owing to the age
village system. Friendship and co-operativeness are obligatory within
the age village and patterned from its inception; but co-operation
across the generational boundary is sponsored by kinship, the father-
son bond, which Nyakyusa feature as though it were the first key to
organized life.

It is evidently where Sowetan societies have moved toward a

pattern of wealth accumulation and away from egalitarian norms that
work comes to be organized under private and even mercenary
auspices. But Nyakyusa are able to retain and even strengthen the
ethic of friendship through the pattern of segregation by age villages.
This community internally preserves egalitarian norms through what
Kinga regard as heavy-handed sanctions.

Around the world, the association of egalitarian norms with

organized distrust has perhaps been emphasized so often by ethnog-
raphers that the more obvious obverse implication—the sense in
which egalitarian norms depend on and preserve mutual confidence
within a community—is neglected. In a community where one man is
always host and others always guests, inequality has been accepted
and a fiduciary nexus is implicit in the role-structure. Egos are not at
risk in the collective allocation of task and privilege. On the other hand,
where ‘egalitarian distrust’ prevails in such a community (that is,
where rank differences aren’t conceded) there will be several ‘big men’
recognized, each with his following and each only as sure of his status

as he is sure of his follower-guests. Public expressions of distrust in
such situations are routine, representing the competitive demands
men can put on a plural leadership. Complaints are part of the system,
serving the underlying fiduciary structure without substantially
threatening it.

The classic study of such a system is Douglas Oliver’s A Solomon

Island Society (1955). Although one analyst (Fried 1967) treats this
as a “rank society” on a par with (for example) Polynesian Tikopia,
Oliver’s Siuai publics concede only situational ascendancy to a big
man, not rank—the bush is full of once-big men whose reputations are
scattered with the bones of their pig feasts.

Sowetan and more generally Bantu social norms don’t allow for
competing leadership positions within a single community, though
there is bound to be covert competition for position within the formal
structure of offices. The rise of a new position of leadership in the
Kinga system entailed the rise of a new jurisdiction: the contrast to
Oceania is complete. Among Ndendeuli or Kinga the concession of rank,
as granting the right to rule by fiat rather than persuasion, amounts
to a recognition of ethnic stratification. Implying not class but caste
differences, it is a countervailing thrust meant to protect the
political culture of the subject community. None of the Sowetan
peoples were internally organized as aristocracies, but Ndendeuli ac-
commodated to Ngoni hegemony this way, Safwa to Sangu, and Kinga
to the Europeans—in reaction to conquest, preferring political excom-
munication to loyalty.

We see best the position of the local ruler in the Kinga moot
(under the pax a semi-official court) where in the role of judge he sits
opposite the defendant but takes no part in the arguments. These
must be led by spokesmen from among the elders sitting on either
hand of the judge. For a ruler to enter the lists and argue would not
only lower him but would shatter the expectations associated with
his rank. This was badly understood by the British, who felt a salaried
ruler ought to be active in the court’s prosecution of a case. During my
fieldwork I came to realize only gradually that a chief or subchief whom
the District Officer had described in a monthly report as lazy and too
fond of drink was probably deserving of praise instead. He would have
been doing his best to preserve the authority of his role by staying
out of the political arena.

Ndendeuli, having won a degree of autonomy by siding with a

dissident candidate for salaried office in the 1950s, and having
persuaded him to forswear his Ngoni ethnicity, proceeded to ignore

him . At the local and face-to-face level in both of these societies men
insist on mutuality. Sangilino, the most impressive Kinga local ruler in
1960, had excellent relations with subjects, having no need to hide
behind his office as he strode about to hear news and settle doubts.
But he knew how to judge and could take on a majesty when aroused
which I can only compare to a meteorological phenomenon.<<[lit]

Politically, the Ndendeuli are better egalitarians than the Kinga.

To reject the notion of official authority, or at least subject it to
instant popular recall, is the essence of egalitarian policy. But
ethically I think the Kinga match the Ndendeuli: though ceremonial rank
was fully conceded to prince [unkuludeva] and lord [untwa] that was
done without generating a strong dominance gradient within the
court barracks [ikivaga] or hamlet settlement [ikikolo]. The non-segre-
gation of royals [avapapwa] and commoners in the life of the ikivaga,
and the rapid assimilation of the four kinds of Sanga to one wherever
they had moved off to settle a new hamlet, are expressions of Kinga
egalitarian values.

Another such expression, shared with Ndendeuli, is a distaste

for poly-gynous marriage. A major difference between the two peoples
is that Ndendeuli look to kinship as the guarantor of trust where Kinga
look to friendship directly. To use the metaphor of contract:
Ndendeuli use kinsmen as their brokers in contracting to keep friendly
relations within a larger neighbourhood circle; Kinga use friends as
their brokers in contracting to enjoy (often largely fictive) kinship
relations within a smaller residential circle. This relegation of kinship
to a derivative category in Kinga thought is possible because men in
the court culture invested the prime years of their lives in a modality
of being for which kinship as such had little significance.

Under the pax, and setting aside Kinga mission villages, a

surface observer might fail to see a difference worth noting between
Kinga and Ndendeuli settlement patterns. In both societies, many
hamlets would be sole households. But so far as these represented
able-bodied persons there’d be no implication of social isolation. These
householders would be as active as others in work party organization
and participation. Even disregarding sole households the modal
Ndendeuli hamlet has but two, and the median and mean but three
households in Gulliver’s sample. It’s hard to know how much we should
conclude from exact figures referring to the survivors of a century of
Ngoni, German, and British interference. Ndendeuli described them-
selves as reverting to tradition by 1954, but they could hardly have
been quite settled back in, on the ground, whatever they were in their
minds. I found Kinga conditions so varied from realm to realm, and

communities so differentially affected by schools, churches, roads,
taxes, and acculturation, that I soon abandoned efforts to get a quick
and representative sample of the settlement pattern. But in areas I
did sample (Eastern and Western realms, away from roadnets), the
hamlet size, excluding sole households, was larger: mode, median, and
mean indicate a hamlet of four or five households.

To judge from my few histories, Kinga hamlets are likely to be

settled for life by a group of male friends calling each other elder and
younger brothers. If a spirited new settlement were to attract and
absorb one or two nearby hamlets, the amalgamated settlement
might (in my sample) comprise as many as fourteen households
without in 1960 generating a need for formal political organization.
(But I take it that in traditional times such a hamlet would always
have had its captain [untsagila], acceptable to the ruler of the
domain.) Any hamlet of six households or more would have a men’s
house [ikivaga] to which boys from the larger neighbourhood would
seek, as well as older men not sleeping with their wives. But even the
largest hamlet would wane in size as its members matured and died.
Almost all the sole households in my samples represent survivors,
though by sampling less well-established districts I could have
expected to find more young homesteaders, not yet joined by friends.
My hamlet histories go back only to the early decades of this century.
I couldn’t reconstruct conditions of an earlier period: the ordinary
hamlet is the product of one generation, and I found no one prepared
to give a strictly genealogical account of the hamlet or village where
he had spent his boyhood. Everyone knew all the reciprocal terms used,
the nominal kinship, but family trees were not an interest.

Apart from the size of hamlets and their tendency to associate

(within a larger neighbourhood) through work party networks there is
the question of internal composition and structure. For Ndendeuli
Gulliver found the hamlet nexus was more often than not the filial and/
or sibling bond between male household heads. For Kinga these ties
within the hamlet are unusual. Granted that one son “should move
back” when a woman is widowed, he’d not be expected to do so while his
father lived or while commitments held him where he was. The (fiction-
al) kinship which unites a hamlet refers to a supposed common origin
not specifically to ascriptive claims of the sort which would be recog-
nized by a court in a debt case. As regards name and ‘clan’ identity, the
pure hamlets in my samples are rare, though many are comprised
mainly of men with a common surname and are generally thought of as
though they were actual minimal lineages of Kyawula, Ndelwa, or
Mahenge (to choose a few surnames less common than Sanga).

The Kinga incest rule taboos only heterosexual connection
between (bilateral) descendants of a common great-grandparent, but
it is understood by children of a given hamlet that they are one kin
ikikolo and, calling each other by sibling terms, can’t become hetero-
sexually involved. In several samples from the Eastern realm, my most
‘pagan’ samples, I have only a single case of marriage within the larger
named neighbourhood. The scope of such neighbourhoods is normally
about a score of hamlets, and these would comprise the home country
of the young men who had grown up there. They’d expect to make their
own settlements within this home country, bringing in wives from
outside. It is perhaps in this context we can best see how in ordinary
life Kinga men may be more secure in their wider network relations
than Ndendeuli (as matters were in the 1950s) and need less support
from their common agnatic/cognatic kinship ideology.

The net balance of friendship and kinship may be about the same
for Kinga and Nyakyusa, but for quite different reasons. Incest and
exogamic taboos coincide for each of the two peoples and are identi-
cal, but Nyakyusa stress inheritance of cattle and wives from brother
to brother, and covet wealth and wives so much that close agnatic
ties have great political importance. Nyakyusa rituals are designed to
exhibit orders of seniority and preference within lineages. No such
rituals could exist among Kinga, for no such lineage structures exist.
The structure of the Kinga householder’s world is epitomized in the
three shrine trees at which he will propitiate the shades: one for male
ancestors of his agnatic line, one for deceased women born to that
line, and one for children of either sex who have died away from it. The
children are asked to pass the supplicant’s greetings along to all the
shade-children in their respective peer groups.<<[lit]

Friendship is also politicized among Nyakyusa. A man who has

been remiss in his duty of ukwangala [seeing eye-to-eye, keeping good
company] soon hears his village brethren are talking of witchcraft. The
same suspicion haunts Kinga friendships but isn’t used as a political
instrument. I can only imagine an attempt to enforce hamlet solidari-
ty in that fashion would be disastrous. This is partly because a
(Nyakyusa) village is necessarily a more consciously political
community than a (Kinga) hamlet, where mutual decisions are usually
enough; and partly because Kinga have not made friendship into an
ideology as Nyakyusa have. Kinga do share an ideological antipathy to
witchcraft with others in the region and the Eastern Bantu peoples
generally; as the betrayers of trust, secret enemies are changeling
friends, and I suppose wherever friendship enjoys great honour it is
haunted also by distrust.

Setting kinship aside to favour amity as the foundation of social
ties among neighbours puts the whole arrangement on a basis of
short-term trust. Kinga and Ndendeuli handle this problem by letting
amity ties simulate kinship. They pretend they have lifelong trust, and
sometimes they do. The Nyakyusa use another strategy, laying heavy
sanctions on peer amity among the men of a village. So far as I know
they are the only Sowetan people who, in a region generally featuring
an antipolitan ethic, actually use a form of ostracism. Of course, the
procedure is (as elsewhere in the region) first to accuse a person not
of offending friendship but of planning or insinuating witchcraft. But in
this case the only resolution may be exile from the village. It should
not surprise us that issues of distrust should arise in a village built on
the premise of lifelong friendship among age-peers. It is not surprising
that Kinga men, as they grow into elderhood, find trust growiing
scarcer. If every human society must make some systematic use of
both kinship and friendship, each must find its own way of articulating
the two principles of binding association and learn to live with the con-


Sowetan cultures: aggression

Kinga were intrepid warriors, if given to display and bravado not

to wars of conquest. The redoubtable Rev. Mackenzie’s early account
of Nyakyusa warfare has been cited before (pp. 60-61) as the nearest
approximation we have to a European observer’s picture of the Kinga
in battle. Reading the institutional pattern not the ethos, war was
the raison d’être of the ‘political archipelago’—as central to political
life for Kinga as for the world-shaking Hehe. The difference was not
just a matter of scale, since Hehe beginnings were small.

About deep motives I grant that nothing may be proved by

behaviour in war, but for a phenomenology of aggression war is a prime
setting. Though the massacres of Sangu women and children which
Elton happened upon (1879: Ch. 5) reflect darkly on Hehe character as
warriors, corroborating Kinga oral history, in themselves such records
tell us little even about Hehe character at rest. War, unrestrained,
becomes a gigantic crime of passion. What are the conditions which
allow a warrior to recover from an episode of violence with his good
character intact—without endangering his relations with friends,
with a wife and children? When and how does the motivation of the
warrior role bleed into the person itself, infecting the moral career?
We want a measure of residual aggressiveness, the disposition to
attack in situations which—rationally assessed—don’t call for it. We
do have at least a tentative measurement of this kind for Hehe men
and women, though we have none for other Sowetan peoples.

Edgerton in 1962 found that Hehe were characterized by

impulsive aggressiveness, an intense sensitivity to insult, and anxiety
about losing self-control. A common explanation of suicide was, “He
lost his temper.” The contrast between this and Kinga manners in
1960 could hardly be more complete. Is it true to conditions before
the pax?<<[lit]

It is characteristic of Kinga that they should have told German
missionaries their people had left an earlier homeland (to the east)
under pressure from stronger tribes. Though some informants had
prouder explanations, this example of ethnic self-deprecation was
freely offered. Fülleborn reports (with all the quaint presumption of
his own ethnic group) about the Hehe:
The aristocratic, proud and self-assured demeanour of the Wahehe is
praised by all who come to know them. “He possesses more than the usual
black man’s intelligence, as is readily apparent from his impressive appear-
ance; he shows loyalty, gratefulness and attention to those who are physi-
cally and mentally superior to him; he has excellent powers of
discrimination,” so Adams characterizes the Hehe, “in praise of which he
cannot often enough repeat himself.” Bravery, tenacious endurance and the
loyalty of the self-sacrificing vassal are qualities these uncouth high-
landers have often enough demonstrated, as their history shows, so that
no honest opponent can deny them his esteem (1906: 202-3).

Some of the vacuous hyperbole is easily enough dismissed as

the due admiration of Europeans who, still smarting from their sharp
defeat at Hehe hands, have had to push themselves to prove their own
“physical and mental superiority.” The patronizing air was obligatory.
But what is left when we eliminate the noise is the description of a
character which won’t allow a man to set aside the burden of pride,
even momentarily. As for the Kinga in 1960 I saw traces of this trait
only in a half-dozen men, all among the avanyivaha.

Reichard, writing before the great mortification of German

national pride, the Hehe ambush of August 1891, was less inclined to
hyperbole. He cites Victor Giraud to the effect that Hehe at home
accept the rule of walking about unarmed “in order to prevent their
getting into broils by reason of their pronounced quarrelsomeness.”
Easy spontaneity and informality even in off-hours are denied: “Quiet,
formal, and dignified is the conduct of this people.” “Only in their
villages and in their cups are they rowdy.” “A warrior spirit prevails
among the Hehe, and discipline...”. Early references of this kind are

The depth of character the Europeans, yet to face the 1914 war,
so greatly admire is a quality purchased at a price. Reichard’s opening
gambit, after some desperate remarks on the terrain and climate, is
to call the Hehe as “harsh and disagreeable” in character as the land
they inhabited (Ibid.: 240). It’s a hard judgement and one some
Europeans of the time would have been quick to turn back on the
German. But I think we glimpse some ethical and psychological
realities behind, which illuminate Hehe history and are continuous with

those Edgerton by less informal (as less direct) means was able to
establish four generations later.

On the subject of character it’s vain to look for irreproachable

texts. Still, nothing in these Hehe texts would or could have found
analogue in anything the same generation of Europeans would write
about the Kinga. The first serious missionary visitor to Kingaland (the
Western realm) was Br. Schumann:
...We found everything in wild disarray. At length the shy folk were
prevailed upon to come out of their hiding places, and came to meet us,
armed to the teeth. We exchanged greetings and allowed them to lead us
into their village. Groups of beweaponed men are standing all about, but now
their own comrades are giving them the laugh. As now appears, they had
mistaken us for [raiding or invading] Sangu, Merere’s crowd (BMB 1895:

German military attitudes toward Nyakyusa and Kinga were

luckily so disrespectful that when a belated resistance was organized
in 1897 at Lubaga, the common shrine of the two peoples, German
forces contented themselves with a single pre-emptive attack. It was
however a brutal demonstration of the Maxim gun, which quickly put an
end to the mini-mobilization. What more they might have done were it
not for the missionaries’ countervailing pressures can’t be known; but
in the ensuing paper-quarrels neither sort of German is to be found
courting the image of a noble, proud, and self-assured savage.<<[lit]

German attitudes toward Kinga and Hehe aren’t simple reflec-

tions of the two peoples’ distinct military reputations, whether
among fellow Africans or Germans. This becomes clear when Nyakyusa
are included, since they were well known to their German visitors as
the victors in a showdown battle at Mwaya (1886) where they had
faced an “invincible” combination of Sangu and Ngoni forces.
Merensky, who had experienced Nyakyusa truculence toward inter-
fering missionaries at first hand in 1891-2 , nonetheless gives this
account of their character:
Even in connection with feuding and warfare the mild temper of the
people again makes itself felt. The open villages, too, lying well stretched
out, with their houses and stalls each to itself and distributed among the
banana groves, show that here calm and peace prevail. In what contrast do
these open, peaceful settlements stand to the fortified cave-dwellings and
stone strongholds of Mashonaland and the Transvaal, or to the tembe-
dwellings of [Hehe and] central German East Africa! Here among the
Nyakyusa, neighbour does not fear neighbour; even the small, scarcely-
bloody feuds are infrequent (Merensky 1894: 135-6).

The slaughter belt, as we should term it, extended from
Sanguland eastward and southward through Hehe-Benaland, into the
country south of the Bena which Ngoni had found ill-defended and
decided to make their own. The belt as a whole described a broad outer
crescent around the northern and eastern bounds of the Livingstone
mountains, always about fifty kilometers from the lakeshore. Within
the comparatively safe inner zone or crescent so formed the Kinga and
Nyakyusa-Ngonde proto-states stood above the rest. These were
various Nyakyusa-speaking groups, the Kisi, Mahanzi, Magoma,
Mawemba, and some Pangwa communities, all showing a more or less
open pattern of settlement which we may suppose predates the rise
of Ngoni-style raiding and the ivory-and-slave trade.

Four smaller peoples, belonging by temper to the inner crescent,

had been overrun by the time the pax was imposed, but retained their
cultural identities: at one end Wanji and Safwa overrun by the Sangu,
at the other Pangwa and Ndendeuli largely overrun by Ngoni. Some
Bena communities were wholly aligned with the Hehe, some converted
to Hehe-style political-military organization and scale but aligned
against the Hehe, and some left marginal to the Hehe war pattern, not
yet overrun but increasingly vulnerable. Along the interface of Kinga
and Bena polities were scattered communities of Mawemba who seem
to have survived mainly by fading into the landscape whenever History
came looking for them. In 1960 they maintained a characteristic pose:
they were “Bena” to Kinga inquiry and “Kinga” to Bena. European trav-
ellers, from Elton to Thompson and the Germans, never failed to
notice directly the shift in temper between the inner crescent and
what I’ve called the outer, slaughter belt—though their notice was
usually not phrased in such categorical terms as mine. To use a natu-
ralist’s analogy, we have browsers on the one hand and predators on
the other: the difference in human tempers is subtler but as directly

Sitting as retrospective observers of this Sowetan panorama,

can we explain the slaughter? It seemed obvious to early German
writers like Merensky and Reichard that the more exposed Sowetan
communities (Sangu, Hehe, Bena) had been pushed by roving Ngoni
raiders, who had earlier been caught in the massive explosion of
warfare in South Africa, representing a direct collision of native and
European interests. This billiard-ball or collision model provides at
least a sensible sociological framework within which one may seek
more definite explanations. Of great importance for Hehe—the
formation of the military protostate from a dozen-odd autonomous
peoples during the nineteenth century—was the infamous slave and

ivory trade whose routes were nearby, and about which each of those
peoples would have been richly informed. Monica Wilson (1958)
discusses the western segment of our region as a “corridor” for
north-south movements, as though there had been chronic movement
of that sort funneled up or down the Rift Valley by the presence of the
two great lakes, Malawi and Tanganyika. But the evidence could be
read in an almost opposite way. Migratory drift can easily account for
all the prehistoric human and bovine movement from Eastern to
Southern Bantu lands, and entails only an insensible social osmosis
quite unlike the militaristic movements we know from other Bantu and
Bantu-Sudanic regions in the nineteenth century. The “corridor”
before the rise of chiefly politics can even be conceived as a typical
backwater, a haven of marginal peoples doing things each in its own
way, out of the mainstream and purposely so: self-selected refu-

When the Sanga rulers of Kingaland confess they’ve fled from

stronger tribes to the east, they’re referring to a movement genera-
tions before 1840 and the Ngoni incidents. The so-called ntemi
pattern of chiefship, which all the Sowetan peoples we are discussing
share in some form, appears to have spread prior to the eighteenth
century from centres in northwestern Tanzania, and specifically in the
sequence Hehe—Bena—Kinga—Nyakyusa, making allowances for the
use of modern labels in each case.<<[lit]

The Sanga tradition of movement east-to-west is shared by

most commoner lines among the Kinga, and by Mahanzi. While it is hard
to establish the scale, there has evidently been a percolating
movement of settlers from Bena and Pangwa country into Kingaland
over the whole span of time we might call the Sanga dynasty; and it’s
likely they have all been refugees, at least as self-conceived, from a
system of greater stress to one promising less. In the very long run
(on a scale of four centuries or so) there probably was a selection for
tough-mindedness in the outer-crescent region, associated with the
rise of political units of larger scale and perhaps with a growing unpre-
dictability of political and particularly military circumstance.
Consider that (among the less-tough peoples) Nyiha, Nyakyusa, Kinga,
and some Pangwa all had multiple contacts with Ngoni raiders,
without escalating to the kind of slaughter for which Sangu and Hehe
became famous; and that Safwa, Wanji, and Pangwa when overrun by
empire-builders survived as reeds do in a storm.

One of the great safety-valves shared by all the inner-crescent

peoples discussed is political nomadism: the ability sponsored by an
antipolitan ethic to pick up and move away from a chief you don’t like

to one who will welcome new support. The surest way for a chief to find
ruin in such a system is to risk disaster in war. Understanding that, we
can understand how Nyakyusa and Kinga can be so warlike (seen in the
frame of institution and ideology) yet be so unaggressive ethically and
personally. Their rulers depend on the institution of war, but the
better established they become, the greater their interest in main-
taining limits on the scale of slaughter. The pattern becomes that of
Merensky’s “small, scarcely bloody feuds” though it may entail an
impressive display of fighting potential.

Within the inner crescent the Kinga are a special case, most like
the Nyakyusa. Where Nyakyusa have made explicit the class distinc-
tion between chiefly (royal) and commoner villages, and have brought
all settlement into the village pattern, Kinga stratification is implicit.
In part they have adopted a ‘closed’ pattern, since court culture
supplied the authority required to gather a domain together around a
fortifiable place; and this authority is the mainstay of a military
establishment which has maintained their independence while their
Wanji and Pangwa neighbours have been overrun. But in part the Kinga,
through their bush culture, have retained the older, open pattern of
peaceful settlement near wooded areas where, in case of trouble, men,
women, and children will scatter not gather for safety in the bush.
With the pax, Kinga didn’t abandon their court culture or the bush
pattern, but the two levels tended to integrate around new activities:
migrant labour and the spreading Christian worship, a tax-and-law
oriented administration, and the various enterprises which came to
be associated with gradual westernization.

A Sowetan people touched somewhat as the Kinga were by

affairs in the slaughter belt are the Nyiha (Nyika) in the northwestern
part of Wilson’s “corridor” on the Mbozi plateau. Their communities
aren’t easily distinguishable by language or culture from others, some
of which are known by the same ‘tribal’ name, farther north and farther
south; and the Safwa are also considered to be cousins. Nyiha commu-
nities seem to have been subject historically to the same kind of
pressure from Nyakyusa expansiveness that Mahanzi were from
Kinga, although Wilson’s contentions to this effect are evidently
unacceptable to the historian Marcia Wright. What expands in these
cases is not a nation but a lifestyle, first a system of political organ-
ization and orientation, then more gradually a language. The distinc-
tive priesthoods of the Kinga and Nyakyusa, their connection with
secular authority, and their maintenance of a schooling function
(Nyakyusa mainly through communal ritual, Kinga largely through
barracks discipline) are institutions of proselytizing expansion not

conquest. In any event, the unconverted Nyiha, with whom we are here
concerned, remain a disunited people with a pattern of local rulership
(headmanship) like that of the Pangwa or Wanji but unconquered. It’s
reasonable to think this may be owing to their being more aggressive

A reader of Mariam Slater’s “anthropological adventure” (1976)

won’t want to call the Nyiha unaggressive. Without claiming to have
found an escape from the subjectivity of judgements derived from
naturalistic observation, Slater notes (all within a very small sample)
authoritarian harassment of younger siblings, severe corporal punish-
ment by a father, wife-beatings galore, fistfights, free-for-alls among
women, aggressive machismo, dog-kicking and scalding, rampant indul-
gence in verbal obscenity, endemic “deep distrust,” and compounds
bristling with hostility, even to the visiting ghosts. Again we meet
impulsive aggression, with much concern about avoiding “the tempta-
tion to fight” and the transparent excuse of drunkenness for vindic-
tive violence.

Some contrary impressions are reported by Beverly Gartrell

[Brock]: Nyiha have “strong, intense, highly varied personalities” but
show “warmth, hospitality, and generosity” and are characterized by
“cheerfulness, vitality, and in certain situations, openness to other
Nyiha.” We seem to have a coin with two sides. Gartrell goes so far as
to repudiate Slater, finding a “major contradiction in our sense of the
Nyiha as human beings.” The contrast between the two impressions is
greater than one should normally expect as between ‘double blind’ field
observations, partly because personal conviction and circumstance
have a bearing on the perception of social behaviour—and happen to
have been divergent here. But most of the discrepancy is owing to the
fact that the two experiences were focussed in a ‘single culture’ but
not a single body of data. I don’t mean to blame sampling error in the
usual sense of the phrase. Some crucial psychological variables aren’t
direct functions of culture. In particular I want to refer here to a
dimension of social life we betoken with terms like morale and (for
negative values) anomy or social disorganization. People of some
cultures are predominantly cheerful and of other cultures dour. We
can accept that kind of formulation if we do not read it as asserting
that ‘their cultures made them so’. <<[lit]

If you ask if a community can maintain its morale by clinging to

its traditions you are putting culture in a more transparent mode.
And when you ask if a community subject to radically changing circum-
stance is best served by conservatism you will quickly see that cate-
gorical answers are out of place in such discussion. Morale is a

function of the way experience combines in action with culturally-given
values. Culture can furnish the values but not the action. Disorganiza-
tion such as Slater convincingly describes isn’t a facet of a value
system but a pathological condition of it. An anthropologist inquiring
about that system from reasonably cheerful informants will learn
little about acts of desperation and bad faith. Conversely, inquiries in
communities where ‘things have fallen apart’ won’t elicit convincing
pictures of truth, beauty, and goodness. But if this point be granted,
what of aggressiveness?

I think the culture-comparative psychologist has to deny that

aggressiveness is either a transcultural (biosocial) function or a
culturally patterned personality trait. Though these are the two
rubrics under which some of my most respected contemporaries see
fit to discuss the subject, I find their premisses mistaken. Aggres-
siveness is partly a function of adaptive intelligence. Other things
being equal you find it where it pays off, and in some communities that
is a chronic condition. There you may be foolish to meet others’
aggressiveness with none of your own. But it’s also true that in some
cultures aggressive behaviour is systematically sanctioned—perhaps
rewarded as desirable in a broad range of situations or, in the same
situations in a different culture, penalized as improper. Even where
socially internal aggression is granted moral sanction and socially
encouraged, its consequences are psychologically dense: there’s not
only a victim for every successful act of aggression, there’s likely a
mortal enemy. The effect on cultural values of persistent, largely
frustrated aggressiveness is likely to be corrosive. I find all of this
virtually visible in the Nyiha case as in Kingaland.

Historically the Nyiha were raided by Ngoni, Sangu, and Bemba

each on several memorable occasions; and Nyiha only occasionally
emerged victorious. Brock (1966) finds the evidence favours a socio-
logical explanation: individually, Nyiha were fierce fighters, but large-
scale organization, discipline, and co-ordination were lacking. The war
pattern wasn’t well developed, alliances were ad-hoc and brittle. That
they fared reasonably well withal seems to me to reflect a regnant
temper less gentle, psychologically better suited to warlike encoun-
ters, than the Kinga. I see this only derivatively as a function of
culture. The important variables are not Nyiha and Kinga character
values but the situational adequacy of Nyiha and Kinga modes of
social and political organization.

Most of the Kinga I knew in 1960 were the heritors of half a

century of reasonably high morale. By all accounts, the same was the
case in 1890. In 1960 the major conditioning institutions were

Christian churches, missions, and schools; and migrant labour. In 1890
the corresponding institutions would have been the schools of martial
arts and the ceremonialism of court culture. Material well-being
(according to prevailing standards) was a positive facet of Kinga life
at both times. Does this account for the morale? The active and
prolonged realization of moral and material values on a collective scale
is virtually synonymous with high morale. But food and possessions,
like moral values, are the objects of action. The subjects are persons.
Where Gartrell writes that Nyiha showed “in certain situations,
openness to other Nyiha” I should have to write that Kinga showed, in
a wide range of situations, true regard for other Kinga. Where Slater
found it morally shattering to live among the Nyiha I found, on more
occasions among Kinga than I could count, deep comfort and reassur-
ance as to the dignity of man. Where Slater fled from the field for
sanity’s sake I dreamt for years of getting back. Yet there was
Ukwama, among Kinga communities the most ‘conservative’ I knew (in
the same sense that Slater’s chosen field location was a ‘conserva-
tive’ group), where I wasn’t comfortable and probably never could have

Ukwama contradicted my expectations, conditioned as I was by

a teaching which fastened on the harmful effects of acculturation
(especially in the hands of missionaries!) and honoured the pristine.
But having come to this place late in my second year, after estab-
lishing a standard of expectation, I put down Ukwama as a case of low
morale and social disorganization. That wasn’t subjectively a
judgement of the armchair but what I perceived there. To bring the
camera a little closer, here are a couple of paragraphs from field notes
of my initial meeting in the royal enclosure at Ukwama, by appoint-
ment, with the Paramount Chief, last of the High Princely line, Unku-
ludeva Suluali Mwemutsi:
His characteristic pose when seated is that of a cringing man. He sits
side-on to his guests, dressed in only a cloth, elbows on knees and head
resting in or on his hands. The large, once-handsome face turns upward
occasionally to regard the other, but only in gestures of seeking, not in a
steady gaze. The face itself is deeply engraved with doubt: the most dissi-
pated face, beyond a doubt, in all of Ukinga. The head moves automatically
forward, the great back and shoulders hunched, as soon as he sits or as
soon as he has delivered himself of some defiant words...
His son by Wife Three was present, very drunk, and very apt at crafty,
deep, hostile “looks” in various directions. He did some drunken managing of
the brief interview, initially fairly successful. Two folding chairs were
produced from a locked house, thick with dust. Mwemutsi sat on a beer
case, old and battered. The son...tried after a bit to kick out some male
hangers-on who had sat near, as though he should prepare a private

setting. They refused, and he backed down. Then the father became for a
moment big. He swore at the onlookers over his shoulder: “You Wakinga are
the spoilers around here. Beer is ruinous. You are all drunk and ruinous.” The
main onlooker was a drunken youth. He stayed put. The son dragged him a
few feet by his trousers. They exchanged insults. At length the local peace
officer was called and successfully ordered the young man and some of the
wives away.
Later the son had a fight with the chief wife, who had borne only girls. He
was instigator, reminding her of her failing just to hurt her. She had fixed us
some rather fine potatoes with onion relish, and had become involved in
some pushing with other women when the son intervened. The two now set
to hitting each other with open hand. They were pulled apart, and the officer
called for a rope to tie up the son—at which the latter became docile and
returned to a chair, fondling his own small and scabied son just as he had
been doing from time to time before. He showed a powerful sweetness in his
handling of the boy, as though it had been his son who had been hit by the
‘mother’. The officer also called for a rope to tie up the woman, the chief
wife of the Paramount. He ordered her down on her knees. She refused. At
last they left off without further violence, but throughout there had been a
great mixing and yelling of men and women taking sides. [IV 47]

I knew the community had been a great centre, the Alpha of its
world, in 1890. Probably the burden of stress created by the Sanga
system tended to focus there then, but certainly morale was high, at
the other pole of a long oscillation from the court village I saw. Super-
ficially the community made peace with the pax but at an ethical level
it didn’t. I found the conservative core of the community living out a
senescence of noisy, messy, drunken desperation. It isn’t that I’m so
naive I’d try to give such a characterization absolute credit, and it is
true I was able to pursue sober historical inquiries with some of the
elders, including even a few with evil reputations. But as a relativistic
statement about the moral difference between this and other Kinga
communities I knew, there’s nothing misleading in what I’ve said. Kinga
culture was fully recognizable in this version. Had it been the only
version I’d a chance to see I’d have been in the same fix, I suppose, that
Slater was. In this chapter I explore implications for the study of
cultures in a regional context, and for comprehending the limits of
culture as explanation.

It isn’t only the German anthropologists who, studying the

‘slaughter belt’ cultures after the pax, have been inclined to look away
from fully attested atrocities and the obvious consequences for
character of a demographic system based on the rape of ‘enemy’
women and children and their incorporation as working members of the
society. The history of this outer crescent has been written until now
as though the half-century of upheavals prior to the pax were only inci-

dental aberrations in the unbroken sagas of a fixed number of ethnic
communities each with a separate tradition of its own. Yet a cool look
at the evidence suggests that today’s labels (Sangu, Hehe, Bena)
refer to what likely would have been about fifty fairly autonomous
political communities in 1840. The violence entailed in these amalga-
mations has not been dealt with adequately by historians, though the
needed evidence is or has been available enough in our time. The
political reasons for this hardly need to be elaborated. What is
important is to recognize that rose-coloured glasses are as inappro-
priate for the scholar of African as of any other histories, and accord-
ingly set about making sense of the actual record. There is an interplay
between traumatic events and character values. No human
community anywhere is, by virtue of an observer’s or its own rose-
coloured values, immune from brutalization. To think otherwise about
culture is just thinking badly.

Relativism, in short, is no license for averting one’s eyes from

gore. If anthropologists from time to time allow themselves to
approve of what they see in the field can they refuse when the
occasion prompts them to disapprove?

The question isn’t simply rhetorical. In an infamous book on the

Ik of Uganda, Colin Turnbull (1973) portrayed a people who, in the final
throes of starvation, seemed to be lacking in the elements of human
fellow-feeling. Turnbull suggested they be disbanded, fostered out as
individuals to other cultures, and (in short) brainwashed of Ik values.
The same anthropologist had earlier immortalized the Mbuti pygmies
in works which eloquently called for their protection. If he’d stand by
his judgement in the one case (and receive no condemnations from
fellow scientists) why not in the other? The root of the confusion here
is the premise of cultural determinism. As a remodeler of human
nature, culture is not all-powerful. The suggestion that Ik culture was
reduced to the travesty being acted out, zombie-fashion, by a few
survivors in the disaster-year of Turnbull’s visit is not implicit in the
facts he selects and so graphically gives us, but is imposed. Perhaps
this is a reflex of the observer’s private malaise as much as of his
cognitive premisses. But there is a fundamental error in his concept
of culture: for any culture to exist it must have been viable over a very
long run against all odds. It is not a culture which turns on itself,
though any human community in crisis can do so.

Not I nor even Mariam Slater had as much call as observers to

have summoned up ‘deep defense’ as Turnbull had: was it in order not
to blame the people themselves for their moral bankruptcy that he
chose to blame an abstraction called Ik culture? If he’d had the good

fortune to find another branch of the Ik who hadn’t been pushed to the
wall and were enjoying high morale, I think it likely he’d have seen the Ik
he has given to us as only what I saw at Ukwama, a version of the viable
culture with some crucial signs changed. That a healthy version of Ik
culture does exist in spite of the troubles in their region has been
confirmed by later fieldwork (Heine 1985).

A culture comprises an extraordinarily varied array of ’weak

forces’ always present to a people and always drifting them in charac-
teristic directions. But action responds to stronger forces, which we
most often deal with under the heading of motivation. For the Ik there
was not simply dire hunger: there was on every hand the example of
wretched death and survival by cruelty. There was demoralization.

Once we grant that cultures run deep in mind and long in time the
problems of relativism begin to shrink. It is not acceptable to call the
culture responsible for cruelty, bigotry, and callousness. All these, and
charity as well, are realized in action. Culture gives action some of its
colour but not its impassioned substance. Whatever the majority of
any particular generation are doing, there are ethical resources in
every culture which will sanction an alternative. A culture is not all the
behaviour which frequently recurs in a community, but the shared
ideas, sentiments, and imagery which lie behind the social interaction
accepted as normative there. Suicide, meanness, and masturbation
recur in Kinga communities in response to knowable circumstance, but
can’t be described as Kinga institutions. I suppose every culture has
its underground, a place of fearful fantasy which prefigures what may
happen when things really begin to go wrong.

Ukwama allowed me a glimpse of that underground in Kinga life.

Monica Wilson did the same for the Nyakyusa ethic of “good company”
when she dealt with cases of witchcraft and “the breath of men”
(1951, 1957, 1977). In the institution of witchcraft, Nyiha, Nyakyusa,
and Kinga have a convenient way of routinizing indirect aggression.
But the institution doesn’t create the ugly passions. I suppose what
does is an accumulation of bad faith, and you may search long and hard
before you hear of a culture which can prevent that.

Does Hehe culture carry a heavy neurotic load from the decades
of looting and slaughter before Mkwawa’s final defeat by the
Germans? The hypothesis seems to me probable enough to justify
special study. The laid-back Bena described by the Culwicks (1935)
had their part in that turbulent history, but it was not the demiurgic
part the Hehe played. Bena never set out to make themselves rich in
cattle by devastating their neighbours, and local leaders among the

Bena seem to have been content with a segmentary structure of
power—like the Kinga, Bena without asking received at European
hands a nominal political unity none of their leaders had dreamt of
before the pax. There is at least some reason to think Bena communi-
ties and their neighbours to the north, who were to be welded
together militarily as Hehe, were starting from about the same
cultural baseline in 1840. If so, the differences in character values and
style which ethnographers found between the two ethnic groups a
century later may be largely traceable to differently coloured experi-
ence with war in what I have called the slaughter belt in the half-
century 1840-1890. But it is also more than likely that there were as
many local cultural styles as there were local peoples in what we have
come to call Bena and Hehe territory. As a refugee goup, the Riverine
Bena on which I must depend as my example are not necessarily repre-
sentative for other Bena chiefdoms in the 1930s. Bena never were
united under a strongman as Hehe were during two crucial periods of
their history after 1840.

Hehe were longer, more deeply, and more politically involved than
any Bena communities were. Fear and aggression can generate a play
of human passions on the grandest scale. Much may come together in
war, but much will fall apart. If we are looking for a likely engine of
culture change we may not need to look farther. For the men who
became Hehe warriors, there were decades of forced dislocation and
amalgamation with strangers. For their captive women the same
stresses could only have been worse. Far too many local and personal
continuities must have failed in a lifetime of yearly calls to war, in the
collective pursuit of territorial dominance and personal wealth, to
have allowed a simple synthesis of the local cultures which had to be
absorbed. At the level of language and ethnic identity the amalgama-
tion was complete in half a century. At the level of cognition where
character values are sorted out, I suppose completion—the achieve-
ment of a deep and abiding basis for self confidence—would be out of
the question. This is achieved, I think, by an inner process of invention
which is focused on finding successful moral strategies, and an
outward process of communicating expressive styles which allow a
person to feel at home with neighbours. The two processes neces-
sarily work together: you don’t pursue happiness with much success
where you are contiinually misunderstood in your most spontaneous


Sowetan cultures: arts

Do the Sowetan cultures have a style in common? Some anthro-

pologists would suppose if not there could be little substance to the
idea of a Sowetan regional culture. How do we decide such matters?
Even observers who would have nothing to do with style as an analyt-
ical category will admit they recognize profound variations in what
others might call ’style’ as between major ethnographic regions. In
spite of historical divisions the Sowetan cultures have had a common
history, do share specific linguistic and structural features peculiarly
associated with the region, and have for centuries had intercourse in
form of trade, migration, and ritual co-operation. But how far would
that imply commonality with respect to cultural style? That they
have some elements of style in common, I shall take as manifest. But
to perceive those elements clearly, I judge I would have to compare the
Sowetan region with another in (preferably) Eastern/Southern Bantu
civilization. My focus will be on the easier, complementary question:
What we should make of the differences of style to be found within the
Sowetan region.

It is a premise that style-formation occurs through face work

among the individuals of a stable interactive community. It would then
be a corollary that commonality of style sufficient to produce an easy
spontaneity in the ordinary round of everyday life would occur at the
level of the pedestrian community. This would correspond reasonably
well, in the Kinga context, to the largely endogamous realm. Over time,
the Sanga system was tending to produce a homogeneous Kinga
style, as such. But stylistically the Western realm was still in 1960
more ‘Nyakyusa-like’ (for instance) than the other three realms.

The most nearly objective evidence for a study of styles within

the broader region is in expressive forms of art, and it may be that
collected materials from about the end of the free traditional era

eventually will provide interested scholars with a sufficient base—but
there isn’t one now. This is a region in which traditional arts quickly
declined under European rule (Park 1974b), and the descriptions I’m
aware of from early German years are insufficient for any but an
impressionistic survey. For example, it’s not clear that any firm
stylistic distinctions in graphic or plastic art can be predicated of
peoples in the region on the basis of published materials. With respect
to the ‘applied’ art of ironworking the problem is simply that the Kinga
stand so nearly aloneùand I know of no complete collections.

There is one art form on which the documentary evidence is rela-

tively complete. That is dance, as it was under free tradition. Only
scattered descriptions are to be found, and while they may yet be
supplemented by careful studies (with more equipment than a
notebook) of dance styles as they have been continued by recent
generations, dance as a spectacular art form lent itself better than
some others to pen-and-paper methods of reporting. We know
something about Hehe and Nyakyusa dancing early in the century, and
the riverine Bena are described, with notes on recent changes, as they
danced between the world wars. A question to which I think we can fix
some answers is how far the style of dancing lends itself in each case
to individualistic personal display, as this may be distinguished from
mass effects.

For information on Kinga dancing I’m dependent on retrospective

interviews and my participation in dances at about the time of
national independence. What we know for certain about 1900 is that
there was official lionizing of the talented minstrel-dancer. His display
wasn’t just narcissistic but was projected for impact on a mass
audience. Dance was a distinctly participatory phenomenon, however,
with no class of the population left out as mere spectators: the
audience was internal to the dance, as individuals alternately partici-
pated as featured performers and as chorus. Kinga style (assuming
continuity on that level over the long generation to 1960) may best be
judged by comparison to Hehe and Bena on the one hand and Nyakyusa
on the other.

My main source for Hehe dancing is from Friedrich Fülleborn’s

volume (1906) for Deutsch Ost Afrika, a series publication of research
reports. In Fülleborn’s time Mkwawa, the Hehe tyrant, was dead, but
the Sangu Merere, who had co-operated with the Germans, was still a
power. Some of Fülleborn’s sources for Hehe and Sangu dance are
first-contact descriptions.<<[lit]

Before departure for the field, war games were held by the Hehe, Sangu,
and Bena. The practice was to storm away at each other, either in long
ranks or in columns with war-cries ringing out, brandishing spears or
perhaps also beating a rhythm with the ramrod on a muzzle-loader. Liebert
tells of such “single, pair, and group battles and dances as would have done
any ballet company proud,” which he saw on a visit to Kiwanga. At these war
games the preference is for dressing up in the finest and most colourful
cloths available; it makes a rather unwarlike impression, in any event
according to our notions, that this includes a predilection for putting up
Also in peaceful circumstances the Hehe and Sangu, like all the neigh-
bouring peoples, are great friends of the dance.
As to the dance of the Hehe I cite from my diary the following sketch: “In
honour of Sultan Kiwanga, their new chief, the subjugated Hehe today
arranged a festive dance. The men and women danced separately, although
to be sure now and again a woman did join in the men’s dance; naturally with
the obligatory infant on her back, to whom however the trampling and
clamour seemed to warrant only indifference.”
The men stepped into the dance, one tight behind the other, forming a
circle, and continued circling slowly, everyone stamping his feet with all his
strength, a few making wild springs in the air, and the whole company
singing a monotonous he, he, he, he; now and then one man would run to the
centre and sing a few words directed to Sultan Kiwanga. The whole made a
quite wild and uncivilized impression and was hidden in a thick cloud of dust.
Much more conventional was the women’s dance, in which incidentally no
men took part. The women arrived in a close crowd singing, and marched out
to dance clapping hands, splitting then into independent groups. The ring
dance resembles the men’s in that, tight behind one another, the women
slowly move round in a circle with a tripping step, but the chaotic leapings in
air are missing, and the stamping as well. The whole choir also sang, with co-
ordinated handclapping, monotonous songs with various rhythms. The
subject-matter of the songs throughout consisted of ‘Bwana Sakrani’
(Commander Prince), of Kiwanga, and of the subjugation of the Hehe: ‘People
have come from far away to conquer our country’ or: ‘We’d like to show him
off (Kiwanga), so where is he?’ and others of that sort. The text was first
improvised by a song-leader stepping into the centre of the ring and then
repeated by the chorus. Also now and then one woman or another would run
into the centre, only soon to step back into the ring without having done
anything special; so there gradually came to be more women inside the ring,
a place the wives of Kiwanga were also fond of taking, if they were partici-
pating in the dance, something the Sultan evidently encouraged. Now and
again the ring would stop, everyone turning toward the centre and, so to
speak, dancing ‘in place’, accompanying their song with rhythmic body move-
Apart from these simple turns there were some rather more compli-
cated: for example, dancing in two concentric circles around the song-
leader or the ring wheeling into a spiral as in a ‘Polonaise’.

Musical instruments were missing, perhaps because in wartime there
would be none at hand.
Adams describes the dances of Sangu women and lads in quite similar
terms. The wives of Sultan Merere, who performed a dance in our honour on
another occasion in their best finery, were each carrying a staff in the hand:
these women, incidentally, evidenced an endurance in dancing which, if
possible, is even greater than that of any European woman fond of the
It is true that at these dances the only musical instruments employed
are drums, although the Hehe (like the Bena and Sangu) also possess
guitar-like stringed instruments and flutes, for they are as fond of music
as any Africans.
Glauning informs us of the wholly characteristic fact that Mkwawa
himself when he became a fugitive took a musical instrument with him, and
Arning and Adams mention professional folk- and court singers, on festive
occasions by the evening fire praising the high deeds of ancestors. I myself
saw a blind minstrel at the court of Merere. (Fülleborn 1906: 234-5)

MacKenzie was able to write of the Nyakyusa-Ngonde people

(whom he calls Konde) with the advantage of a lifetime’s residence;
but the reader soon discovers also a disadvantage, as he must deal
largely with reminiscences, and they tend to be tinged with an old
man’s moralisms rather than by the spirit of scientific discovery
which had activated Fülleborn, and very likely MacKenzie himself, a
generation earlier.
Dancing is the principal relaxation of the Konde, if the violent exercise
which it sometimes involves may be called relaxation. It is indulged in with
great zest, and, as the night advances, with complete abandon, moral and
physical. There is not much that can be called religious dancing: a children’s
rain dance, a pestilence dance, and the wild leaping and shouting, with horn
and drum, which young and old engage in at times of eclipse or earthquake.
But anything may be made the occasion of an impromptu dance...
The ordinary dance usually takes place at night. The dancers are
summoned by the sound of the drum, which is an invitation to all who care
to join. The general characteristics of all dances are movements and
posturings of the body, usually two or more dancers, sometimes only one,
advancing to the centre, making a few posturings or leaps, and retiring to
give place to others, while the drums sound continuously, and the shouts of
the dancers increase in vigour as the movement reaches its climax, until
the noise becomes terrific and indescribable. (MacKenzie 1925: 159-60)

For Nyakyusa as for Kinga dancing is pre-eminently a celebration

of youth. The point is sheer fun when children gather to a drum
because moonlight and balmy weather conspire, but for Nyakyusa the
point becomes the generation of erotic-aggressive energy when there
is an occasion, such as a funeral, for the gathering of young men and

Sometimes on the first day, and usually on the last two or three days of
a burial, there is dancing as well as wailing. Dancing begins late in the
morning to the accompaniment of three or four drums, in the swept
courtyard of the dead man’s homestead; gradually it attracts more and
more dancers, more and more of the attention of the onlookers, until the
wailing is confined to the chief women mourners inside the hut, and the
dance is the most conspicuous part of the proceedings. It is led by young
men dressed in a special costume of ankle-bells and cloth skirts and, tradi-
tionally, bedaubed with red and white clay. All hold spears and leap wildly
about, stamping down the soft earth of the grave as they dance. There is
little common movement, each dances alone as if fighting a single combat.
Among the men some of the women move about, singly or in twos and
threes, calling the war-cry and swinging their hips in a kind of rhythmical
walk. Under a tropical sun in a damp heat, with the thermometer often over
90o F. in the shade, they dance for hours. In the dust and noise and excite-
ment there are no very apparent signs of grief; and yet if you ask the
onlookers what it is all about they reply: ‘They are mourning the dead.’
(Monica Wilson 1957: 23-4)

Such dances were always occasions of license for Nyakyusa, as

if a man or woman filled with the righteous emotions of bereavement
should be exempt from ordinary scruples. If a man didn’t become
violent he became lusty, though there was a traditional distinction
between war dancing [ukukina] and dancing for sexual display [ukumoga]
(Ibid.: 27). The parallel Kinga distinction is between war dancing
[ukukima] and display before a potential benefactor [ukukumbela].
(Kinga also apply their verb ukukina [finding amusement with others]
to the dance, but it has a broad meaning.) A Kinga youth might dance
for the prince in the hope of receiving the pair of hoes wanted for a
traditional bridewealth, instead of dancing directly for the maiden of
his fancy—Kinga style is more given to indirection than the Nyakyusa.

The dancing which the Culwicks describe for the riverine Bena
could be said to combine the form of the Hehe dance with the spirit of
the Kinga or Nyakyusa. As to form, all the ‘tribal’ or ‘public’ dances
described for the Bena are ring dances, and all but one—a grossly
farcical display—of those usually performed in connection with girls’
initiations. The exception follows the dominant Kinga pattern of
blocking men and women opposite each other on the dance ground; but
in their dances the Bena don’t seek to compress the participants into
a massed, circling train or linked ring—Hehe style—from which the indi-
vidual only leaps or licks out momentarily to express emotion. Bena
dancing is more conservative of form than Nyakyusa, comparing to
Kinga in giving the planning and leading of the occasion to a few
dancers and musicians, who will bring drums, bells, and rasps, and wear
fancy head-dresses and colobus armlets to shake. For Bena as for

Kinga, individuals of either sex display their dancing by taking the
centre-ground for a short while, then retiring in favour of others.
Nyakyusa, at least on the more serious occasions, seem for the most
part to abandon form in favour of the expression of feeling, so that a
dance becomes a crowd of soloists.<<[lit]

Where Hehe do honour to their chief through the discipline of

their dancing, in keeping with their authoritarian political style, Bena
are to be seen on a parallel occasion (though three decades later)
throwing discipline to the winds. The Culwicks witnessed the inaugural
dance for Towegale in 1932. Heroes, one at a time, took the centre-
ground to mime their exploits in war, lunging on the spectators in a
fury and “as often as not at Towegale himself,” who was prepared with
a young bodyguard. This was not a true ritual of rebellion against
chiefly authority, but it could be called an acting out of rebellion
against society itself and all its codes—a celebration of the magnifi-
cence of the individual. At a later point, Towegale along with a dozen
others formed an inner circle within the main ring, while a star soloist
was performing wildly at the centre and leading them in a fresh song.

Fülleborn at the beginning of my long citation (above) seems to

allude to a sort of Hehe “ballet” (Liebert reporting in an 1898 retro-
spect) which features individual prowess; but the ethnographic
reference is misleading, because of the nominal union of Bena-Hehe
peoples at the time. Liebert was a general whose report refers to the
lowland Bena of chief Kiwanga’s own capital, hence to Bena war dancing
well before pacification, whereas Fülleborn’s diary refers to Hehe
dancing at their own capital when they’d been subjugated and Kiwanga
the Bena, as a staunch ally of the Germans, installed as their chief.
Fülleborn’s references to Kiwanga’s wives in his account of the
women’s dancing also must be referred to Bena rather than Hehe
cultural style, even though the place is Heheland. Fülleborn elsewhere
(1906: 215) cites Liebert to the effect that Kiwanga personally joined
the war dances (done in honour of the Germans), and cites Elton to
the same effect in the case of Merere, the Sangu tyrant.<<[lit]

The seeming contradiction in Fülleborn between the ‘ballet’ style

on the one hand and the monotonous chanting of the chorus ("he, he,
he”) appears to be explained by a cultural difference persisting within
the Bena-Hehe polity. Better materials on Sangu/Safwa/Nyiha
dancing in free traditional times would help to define the gradients
within Sowetan regional culture as a whole; trusting my own brief
observations in the field, I’d expect that ring dancing predominates
for Nyiha and Safwa, with the latter more given to formalism: that is,
to the visual incorporation of individuals into a societal entity. Mariam

Slater describes late-colonial pagan Nyiha informal dancing when beer
|Sw: pombe| is flowing:
The pombe is an arena not only for drink but for dance. The styles are
curious in that they created, it seemed to me, a self-centered together-
ness. Like the pombe itself, the dance expressed the sociability of a rela-
tively antisocial group. Not all dance styles occur at every pombe.
Sometimes only soloists perform. Occasionally, single dancers just
gravitate to the same spot and form little circles or a moving line. But it is
loosely co-ordinated. There are no virtuosos, although a few men took great
leaps for my camera. (Slater 1976: 93)

Safwa in the same year were paying a good deal more attention
to regalia and made a clear separation between soloist-pro-tem and
chorus, though the funeral dancing I saw was less formally articulated
as a ring dance than that Alan Harwood pictures (1970: Pl. IIA).

It strikes me as sound on theoretical grounds to associate

Terpsichorean formalism with authoritarian ways and repressive
collectivism among Hehe, and to regard Nyakyusa exuberance and
impetuosity as an opposite pole within the region. Whatever the inner
preferences of an individual man or woman might be, Hehe had to be
accommodated to a chronic war system which incorporated slaves
into an hierarchic society with a martial ethos, standing armies, and
big-compound polygyny. The Bena version of the same regional culture
differed in fostering greater individualism and integration of the
sexes in a less-hierarchic context. Bena~Hehe differences in expres-
sive culture illuminate their unstable alliance in late pre-Contact
decades. The diffidence with which Bena leaders sometimes joined
with Hehe is likely to have been prompted as much by distaste for the
dictatorial political style of an expanding military chiefdom as by
suspicion of Hehe strategic intentions as an ally. I have elsewhere
argued we shouldn’t assume Bena culture or personality would have
barred their men from full participation with Hehe in rampant
slaughter on the battlefield.<<[lit]

Kinga dance forms tended to celebrate a mutual relationship

between the sexes while resisting the seamless circle of the ring
dance but holding to an open policy toward solo display and friendly
pairings as described for the Bena. The extreme of closure is a ring
dance, such as I witnessed among the Nyiha of Mbozi, which has partic-
ipants only circulating the drums one way in single file, each facing the
back of the dancer ahead. No ‘stage’ in the centre, no stars of the
dance, no face work, no audience, no song or chant, only the monoto-
nous drums. It was as though spontaneity among them was too
dangerous a mood to celebrate. I wouldn’t expect to see that among

Bena; in a Kinga community it is unthinkable. Nyakyusa, giving leash to
formal anarchy to express intense emotional involvement on the part
of individuals, represent a further step away from patterns of
hierarchy and conformism.

When all the styles we’ve seen are arrayed, the Nyakyusa offer
the only unambiguously ‘Dionysian’ display; but these are the
moments in that society when what is normally underground comes to
the surface. It is a ‘world turned upside down’ just as war itself always
tries to be. Nyakyusa ‘ceremonial anarchy’ ought to be understood in
the context of the mutual sanctioning of collectivist values so char-
acteristic of the age village, and the liberation from those sanctions
which will be experienced when strange youths find themselves
gathered on high occasion in a village of their fathers’ generation. But
further: how could a dance master in this society express, formally and
in an integrative spirit, the relation between kinship and residential

The two methods of accounting for loyalties, kinship and friend-

ship, are fundamentally at odds among Nyakyusa though they aren’t
for Kinga. Kinga present the profile of the kinship society wherein
politics has come to the forefront. Though the spoken motto is,
Kinship sponsors propinquity, the unspoken motto is rather, Propin-
quity’s the better part of kinship. The riverine Bena, where the claims of
clanship were pushed aside in historical times by the integrative
‘schools’ maintained at the royal village, signalize in their partially-
emancipating dance forms the transition which is required.

Some Kinga princes, namely the two warring heroes of the

Western realm who led their own men in war, no doubt participated in
communal dance in the fashion of the Bena Towegale or his ancestor
Kiwanga, as Fülleborn describes him. The established princes of the
Central and Northern Kinga realms would consider joining-in no more
than Mkwawa would have, though the Kinga throne conferred on its
holder little of the massive power over life and death which the Hehe
sultan took as a birthright. The Sangu tyrant Merere kept by all
accounts an extraverted character, and he joined in dancing though
his power was nominally the rival of Mkwawa’s. In this Kinga and Hehe
cultures appear to be in sympathy, while the others represent better
the regional norm.

Are the two principles, divine kingship and monarchic charisma,

which are so utterly different in sociological meaning, only tangent
here by chance, or are they after all sympathetic phenomena? For the
Kinga prince, it is as if the mystical dangers associated with the

throne were as dangerous to the ruler as to his subjects. The role of
the Kinga prince in relation to dance and the other arts under free
tradition was that of patron. The vigour, energy, and creativity of his
people reflected the rightness of his rule, the efficacy of his medi-
cines, and the virility of his person. For while these virtues on the
practical level could be tested only on the field of battle, in the
fertility of the gardens, and in the prosperity of the ikivaga, these
were all places which, like the dance, the ritually withdrawn prince
could not enter.

On the symbolic plane I take it that dancing at the Sanga courts

was a celebration of the well-being of the realm and so of the virtues
of the prince. The greatest of Kinga dances were held at the prince’s
death, which must be kept an open secret, and were continued
unabated until a new prince was proclaimed. Dance kept the virtues of
the prince alive until the old body, never allowed to be buried, had lain
hidden in its bier in the sacred wood for a month, and rotted high
enough for all to sense without an official announcement being made of
the death—when a living prince could be consecrated to office by act
of the people’s priesthood.


Sowetan cultures: libido

There is an interesting psychological mechanism which tends to

reinforce a ‘Freudian’ view of others’ sexuality. To see it, you have to
have grasped the teachings, in the culture you are observing, which
serve to identify a normal motivational pattern in matters sexual. It
is probably possible to construct for any society a scale of sexual
orientations from most to least respected. The reaction of the Kinga
court in ridiculing bestiality quite clearly puts that orientation ‘down’;
and at the other end of a scale the association of princely secular
standing with assiduous heterosexuality has the effect of setting
that ‘above’ the ordinary sex life. Ridiculing masturbation or promis-
cuity, like associating abstention with solemn ritual acts, effectively
puts a tag of respect on continence. In general, respect is withheld or
accorded to a pattern of sexuality in proportion to its inherent diffi-
culty. Low forms of sexuality are those one falls into all too easily out
of moral weakness, high forms are those requiring moral strength.
Between the high and the low is the apparently ‘normal’ sexual path,
taken for granted and morally unremarkable. The ‘interesting mecha-
nism’ I have in mind comes into play when self-conceived ‘normals’ in
social intercourse come across a shocking example.

A good part of being normal is resisting, as if by instinct, what

others regard as morally base forms of self-indulgence. Perhaps the
clearest example of this ‘as if’ scenario is the act of disgust a parent
will put on in hopes of discouraging an infant from mucking about with
its feces. Laughter and disgust might be called ‘spontaneous sanc-
tions’ on others’ behaviour: on loose talk and gesture, on acts uninten-
tionally revealing someone’s hidden motives, or on breaches of trust.
In this way whatever is taken as base is taken to be inherently so, and
by reflex as well this aversive reaction affirms the ‘instinctive’
character of what has been taken as normal. In sensitive matters

such as sexual style, another person’s unfamiliar behaviour is easily
perceived as ‘unnatural’—that is, the other is taken not as different
by choice but deviant by nature.

This is the ‘Freudian’ epiphany: the good doctor taught us it was

right to see not errant intention (a common-sense interpretation)
but errant nature in out-of-the-way sex. If you ignore the provocative
claim that children acquire their sexual natures a year or two after
acquiring their genes, it is as though sado-masochism wasn’t an
esoteric sport but a mutation. So the Sanga prince in his intrepid
heterosexuality occupies an order of being above that of ordinary
men, and a Kinga man looking for a city prostitute who will tolerate his
form of backward sex will think her a witch if she initiates another kind.
Yet to the disinterested observer the relevant behaviours are
governed by role motives, only indirectly conditioned by personality

But how safe is the ‘normal’ path in the best of times? It is in the
nature of human sexuality to overflow channels. If the ‘normal path’ is
to be securely entrenched, the motivation it prescribes must have
psychic verisimilitude. Sometimes this is achieved in tortuous ways.
The normal behaviour for each gender must make a near approach to
the dynamics of personal motivation characteristic for the culture.
But where heterosexuality is prescribed without mutuality between
the sexes, an elaborate gender symbolism will be contrived to prevent
psychic crossover. The prescribed role-motives are ‘naturalized’—
rooted in the mystical/mythical natures of man and woman. To be
found ‘womanish’ is anathema for the normal man, ‘mannish’ preten-
sions are discredited in woman.

It’s easiest to see the warping of reality in a relatively trans-

parent role motive like patriotism: we find it larded with regressive
nurturant symbolism. A less transparent case is the symbolism
entailed in structuring domestic groups. But it is easy enough, at
least, to see why Kinga are not enthusiastic propitiators of ances-
tors, in spite of believing the ancestors demand it. We can expect
ancestral religions to flourish where the exercise of domestic
authority by elders is valued, since the formula for these religions is
transforming personal trouble into a rite of family solidarity under the
presiding elder. The symbolism recognizes the righteous claims of the
ancestor upon living descendants; the sacrificial offering is a mime of
the care-and-you-shall-be-cared-for variety. Logically, authority
rests on ego’s willingness to waive his or her own interests in favour
of the group’s. The mime of ancestor propitiation turns the ethic of
surrender around, naturalizing sacrifice as self-interest.

By the same token, we could expect that where an exploitative
sexual style is prescribed for men it will be larded with fears about
unclean women and impotence, sacralization of mothers and sisters
to set them apart from the target population of women, and father-
in-law avoidance to do the same for a son’s wives. The most successful
polygynists of the Sowetan region, the Nyakyusa, exemplify this
pattern of ‘naturalizing’ a skewed system of marital privilege.

If we take the simple matter of tolerance as a dimension on

which to sort out the Sowetan cultures we find, as we move from art
to sex, that the ethnographic polarity shifts. In our consideration of
art styles the poles were Hehe and Nyakyusa. When we look at libidinal
latitude as a variable the poles are Hehe and Kinga. A signal difference
between Kinga and Nyakyusa is in the degree of mutuality encouraged
between men and women. The two societies are most alike in their
patterning of friendship among male peers. The Nyakyusa celebration
of peer friendships among girls is abortive, at least as matters have
been in recent times. Through the age village system this people has
found a way to combine a peer ethic with rampant polygyny, something
usually reserved for localized-lineage societies. One of the prices
Nyakyusa had to pay was practically abandoning mutuality between
the sexes. Though woman has a sheltered place in the economic life,
there was “a premise of inequality between men and women ... the
maturity of women was never recognized.”<<[lit]

A key provision in the Nyakyusa division of labour has been the

insistence that males carry the major burdens of gardening: when this
rule is combined with a system of land tenure which will keep the up-
coming generation of males landless until their elders are prepared to
retire in their favour, and with a system of bridewealth in cattle which
effectively denies the young man legal access to women, the resulting
constitution allocates an extraordinary power to fathers over sons.
Boys tend the cattle which their fathers are accumulating for yet
another wife; young men till the fields which their mothers’ young co-
wives will plant and harvest. The sex life of an ordinary young man is
entirely illicit: homosexuality and a certain amount of sexual
communism in the age villages, stolen affairs with the frustrated
wives of defaulting polygynists, even studding in secret for their own
less able fathers. Nyakyusa elders subscribe to the belief that young
men lose their fighting temper through sexual connections, and
Freudians might agree that the truculence of young men (which used
to be expressed in a genuine taste for blood) can be related to a
restless sex life.

All these points, expressed through case analysis and stated
more diplomatically than I have done, constitute the thematic
material of the book (1977) in which Monica Wilson argues that
Nyakyusa society has always been run for the benefit of men and
elders: that is, at extraordinary social cost to women and young
people. One may speculate that the increase in polygyny (and the
disappearance of nubile maidens) in Nyakyusaland under the pax
reflects the diminished social and self importance of young men
without arms: that it’s been easier for the old men to keep them on
deferred sexual expectation as well as to lock up their (potential)
lusty girl friends in marriage. Native informants, ignoring the logical
circularity, blame the ‘undersupply’ of women on an ‘oversupply’ of
cattle chasing them. I expect the main part of what we see has a
socio-economic explanation—class dynamics. In an age of affluence,
the common man aspires to what had been the rich man’s prerogative:
every polygynist now must be a rampant one. But through the same
colonial period, subject to much the same external influence, the Kinga
remained modally monogamous, confirmed in their ambisexuality and
the pleasures of an extended youth for both genders.

A comparison of Kinga and Nyakyusa sexual orientations tends

to underscore the importance of father-son relations. Sociologically,
the main reason is that father-son ties are easily exploited as links in
an authority system. Analytically they are like the ties of polygynous
marriage, tending to be one-many in logical structure and so to pit the
many (co-wives or sons) against one another in competition for
favours. But whereas an old man is likely to find his reputation for
potency threatened by ‘too many wives’ he is not vulnerable in the
same way from having ‘too many sons’. For Nyakyusa, domestic
authority is developed on a virtually political scale by exploiting both
marital and paternal dominance. But for Kinga (once the son is grown)
both these ties tend to be characterized by mutuality, though the
public or collective status of men and women could hardly be called

In both societies under the pax, sons were expected to bank with
their fathers a major part of all earnings at migrant labour. But in the
Nyakyusa case the money was directly appropriated and regularly
used to get the old man (only rarely the son) a new wife (Monica Wilson
1977: 87). A Nyakyusa son would typically have to wait for inheritance
(after the death of the father and father’s last full brother) to get
value back for his labour. Even then he would have the share due him as
one of many sons, in a particular standing among brothers and half-
brothers, with no relation to individual input.<<[lit]

In Kingaland the money remained the son’s own and inheritance a
minor concern. The influx of money from abroad led to a gradual but
implacable inflation of bridewealths. Though the money now passed
from one old man to another, as in Nyakyusaland, it was the son who
acquired the wife. A son, having borrowed at least as much again as
he’d banked by the time of his marriage, would continue working for
years to pay off debts and purchase the furnishings of the good life
before settling down. Through those years the hard work of his wife in
the fields redounded to his and her benefit. I found no sense among
Kinga young men that this routine was imposed on them by their
elders as a class. Granted there were some young Turks in 1960
prepared to rebel against the inflation of bridewealths, they only
blamed the girl’s fathers for private greed—they didn’t think of
blaming a whole generation. In our discussions I had no sense of deeply
ambivalent father-son relations behind the rebellion. (It soon fizzled.)

Nyakyusa boys don’t go through the same kind of open and

cathartic rebellion against their fathers in a “wild” period of boyhood
that Kinga experience, and can’t be declared so free of Oedipal involve-
ment. Even their emancipation from the parental domicile is, by Kinga
standards, belated. Unbroken allegiance to paternal authority,
entailing identification with the father’s rampantly heterosexual
persona, can account for the headstrong way a Nyakyusa youth turns
from the early, undramatic peer eroticism of his age village, letting
himself be drawn into a restless heterosexual life bursting with
erotic-aggressive energies. By contrast the character kept by a Kinga
youth is cool and Apollonian. He finds working in distant places with
friends made there a sophisticating, character building experience
quite on a par with marriage. But it’s palpably not to be presumed that
an adamantly heterosexual youth would be so content in his sexually
most active years with such an arrangement. The heterosexual role-
model for a Kinga youth is not a father known at close quarters but a
prince hardly known at all. It’s also the case that settled Nyakyusa
men, in all the reports which have characterized them, have never been
attributed hyper-aggressive personalities: I infer the phenomenon is

The Culwicks give us a graphic portrait of the riverine Bena as

enthusiastic philanderers, copiously heterosexual in their orientation
and hardly troubled by the sundry related anxieties Western
observers are prone to expect. The ethnographers lack Malinowski’s
flare, but one senses they’ve read and were reminded of his descrip-
tions of Trobriand manners and mores (1929). The evidence is firm
that, on the psychological plane at least, the Bena~Hehe political

merger was far from producing an integral, common culture. Here is
Edgerton writing of the Hehe:
...Not that they are to be confused with the Puritans; but, compared to
the other tribes of this study, they are notable in their emphasis upon the
control of sexual desire, and upon sexual sin and concealment. Both sexes
repeatedly said that men and women must learn to control their desires
for sexual intercourse, yet both sexes admitted to having strong desires...
Proper Hehe conceal their sexual enjoyment; it is not something to be
reveled in, as members of other tribes often do (Edgerton 1971: 112-3).

Euphoric eroticism (“reveling”) does imply promiscuity, since it

is only in the casual relationship that serious personal concerns can
be banished from the scene of heightened emotion. If the anthro-
pology of sex offers any clear lessons, here is one. The epicurean and
stoical utopias are incompatible. If the riverine Bena enjoy an emanci-
pated sex life, and the Hehe endure a disciplined one, the Kinga should
be said to strike a sort of Greek balance: eroticism is the last
adjective I’d apply and repression the next-last.

Kinga attitudes toward sexuality are illuminated in their own

response to the Magoma, who share their highland country, set apart
only by a marginally fordable river and the mists which normally
enshroud Magomaland throughout the wet season. An experienced
informant who served for some years as magistrate both for Magoma
and for Kinga trouble cases (under the Native Authority which
assigned Magoma to the Western subchiefdom of the Kinga) was
scathing in his judgement. This was not out of any personal puritanism
but did express a distaste for alien and, as he thought, dishonourable
We say the country is going rotten these days. Our fathers would never
have believed the extent of thieving and running out on debts. But that is
not their problem in Magoma, no! There they bring but two kinds of case,
divorce and adultery, divorce and adultery. Men there are doing a regular
business in adultery now. You see the money passing back and forth before
your eyes between husband and wife. What does that mean if it’s not
conspiracy? He’s put her up to it in the first place, they’ve had it all
arranged ahead of time to trap the poor fellow who’s come home with his
money from work for a little visit. Over the space of a few months they’ll be
netting a thousand shillings or more from the business. Why should they
work when others will do it for them? I know Magoma men who are bitter,
they fear even to marry a Magoma woman. And that is in spite of the
reasonable bridewealth [cattle worth less than a thousand shillings,
perhaps a fifth of the Kinga bridewealth]. Fancy putting your wife up to such
filthy business!<<[lit]

Magoma courtship also earned this informant’s scorn, not

because of the unsegregated dormitories as such: “Magoma and

Ukinga are distinct. Magoma has always had its own law, completely
its own, and it is as valid today as it ever was.” The scorn was for what
he considered an abuse of the system, the introduction of pre-adoles-
cent girls to coital relations. He averred the practice was against
Magoma’s own customary norms and that there had been genuine
efforts at reform, “but they have always failed. That is Magoma!” We
are left to imagine what the intrepidly heterosexual Magoma think of
Kinga morals—I gathered no testimony on that score.

Kinga young men were more inclined to dwell on the physical

virtues of Magoma girls than their morals. When you asked why they
seemed so slow to cross the river in courtship, you’d usually get a
horror story, versions of which I got from older informants as well. It
was a standard tale and may tell us less about Magoma than Kinga
erotic patterns. A young man is seduced by a charming Magoma wench
and, after consummation, falls asleep. He awakes terrified to find she
is taking his seed again, now orally. Our hero strikes the witch down
and flees naked across the river to safety: what could have been
meant but witchery?

How could two cultures persist side by side without mutual

disapproval on such fundamental matters of outlook? Yet Magoma
and Mahanzi sexual styles are essentially alike, contrasting to the
Kinga, and there are Kinga-Mahanzi communities where youth of the
two traditions have shared the same life—where indeed the tradi-
tions are no longer separate, since intermarriage began several gener-
ations ago. Probably the best schematic model for appreciating the
close ethnographic context of Kinga ambisexuality would be one which
first laid down an approximation of old-time bush-Kinga sexual style
by looking at recent Wanji and Mahanzi patterns. Then the ambisexual
stance of the Kinga as we know it derives from the overlay of new role
motives associated with the Sanga court culture. This is the style
which accords equal if separate honour to own-sex and cross-sex love
relations between individuals: that is, the -manyana [knowing love] of
peers and the -ganana [longing love] of courtship. In the Wanji and
Mahanzi cases, own-sex relations are less fully developed. The
sleeping accommodations for children are segregated by sex from late
childhood and there is a long “adolescence” during which the two peer
cultures are separate; but the separation is amply compromised
through regular visiting by boys in the girls’ chambers. Marriage
normally comes (1960) for both sexes in the third decade, earlier or
later as circumstance may dictate.

Any ethnography of the varying sexual styles in the Wanji-Kinga-

Mahanzi-Magoma highlands may give the misleading impression of

neat boundaries and, within them, uniform practice. But there are
(1960) and long have been “mixed” communities on each of the
supposed boundaries, and no one has ever thought them abomina-
tions. Uniformity is not a salient characteristic of any of these (arbi-
trarily) named cultures. But with those reservations I’ll try to give a
picture as explicit as my information allows. Starting from Nyakyus-
aland one may follow a roughly spatial gradient eastward through
Magoma and Mahanzi to Kinga, already discussed. (But since Wanji
social life has been systematically studied, if not yet published, by the
anthropologist William Garland, I forgo presenting the cursory infor-
mation I have.)

Selya is the dialect-community of Nyakyusa with which Magoma

(and Mahanzi or Kinga) have the readiest contact. Nsyani, who was
himself well along in marriage when the Germans arrived there, said
the norm before the pax wasn’t child betrothal (that was a minor
pattern) but marrying “grown girls.” He gives the name isaka to a house
built by the men of a village for their daughters, with the suggestion
that it was the competition for girls and bridewealths after the pax
which led men to abandon the isaka with its freedoms in favour of
tighter control. In the cases of puberty seclusion witnessed by the
Wilsons in the 1930s the place was the girl’s own mother’s hut, since
no special isaka was to be found, but the floor of the hut was specially
strewn with leaves and prepared for an invasion by the girl, her peers
in the village, and their boyfriends, all in traditional fashion. Nsyani
adds, “We slept with our sisters in isaka when we were grown up,” a
phrase which doesn’t imply incest but does indicate the communal (as
distinct from strict kinship) basis for the festivity. For Nyakyusa this
merry invasion was supposed to continue for three months or so,
culminating in the marriage. The period of seclusion with friends was a
period of ‘ritual license’ as well as straight ritual activity.<<[lit]

Magoma in 1960 reported a tradition, still lively, not very far

removed from that, only less prolonged or ritually developed. Magoma
villages had each an isaka, where younger and older girls slept together
and the older girls received regular visits from suitors. The puberty
seclusion party was held not there but in the mother’s house. From
the moment she discovered the blood of menarche a girl was expected
to sit weeping until her “mothers” came to take charge. Her seclusion
hut was strewn with leaves, and it was there she received puberty
instruction: only an hour’s lesson in the dangers connected with
menstruation and the rules for avoiding them. Then the hut was given
over to a party exclusively for the unmarried girls of the neighbour-
hood and bachelor young men of their circle. Of their frolics I know only

that they should be lively and would last about a week; they weren’t
expected to culminate in marriage, differing in this from Nyakyusa
custom at least in the 1930s. In respect of the treatment of
menstruation and various other details of the handling of youth, it
wouldn’t be misleading to call the Magoma a “bush culture” to the
chiefly “court culture” of Selya, though I know too little of their
common history (and particularly of the difference made by the
coming of Fungo military rulers to Magoma from Sanguland, in the
nineteenth century) to do more than suggest this as a line of study.
Magoma, as seasonal transhumants up and down the escarpment, had
always been in contact with the Nyakyusa, while contacts with the
Kinga had been tentative before the Europeans came.

Magoma elders avowed their women were cursed with “thin

blood”: an affliction which translates roughly as nymphomania. There
was no assumption that Magoma males were, in equivalent culture-
comparative terms, oversexed. Their lively interest in girls, from an
early age, was thought natural enough. But it was believed Kinga girls
were more self-controlled and could for that reason afford to marry
late without producing “nameless children” at home. The father of a
Magoma girl would begin to worry if she were still unwed about four
years after menarche, which I take to mean when she was approaching
twenty. By that time her “blood would be getting very, very thin.”
Magoma men weren’t traditionally expected to marry until thirty or
older: my Kinga companion on this trip was 34 and rated still too
young by yesteryears’ standards. This set of rules implies a predilec-
tion for polygyny and comparison with the Nyakyusa. But Magoma,
reversing the pattern we saw for Nyakyusa, witnessed under the pax
a recession in the relative value of bridewealths in spite of having got
more cattle, a considerable drop in the marriage age for men but not
for women, and a de-emphasis of polygyny, all without benefit of
clergy. Magoma, like Kinga, seem to have been prepared to annihilate
the very class and sexual status differences which still in the 1950s
were the mainsprings of Nyakyusa organization.

The Mahanzi child, like the Magoma or Kinga, begins peer life in
the fourth year, “because we don’t want one kid around while we’re
begetting another.” The little one will join other children of the neigh-
bourhood, of both sexes, who will be keeping their own house jointly;
but the eldest of these children will be only eight or nine, since at that
age they will be getting sophisticated about sex. “Cat and mouse can’t
live together” was the Mahanzi saying. Usually a children’s house will
have half a dozen residents. Should there get to be many more than
that there may be quarreling. Then someone will offer them another

house, so the group may split in favour of compatibility. A boy’s next
residence will be the ikivaga belonging (usually) to the petty ruler of
the hamlet. There the young boys always have a mat to themselves,
collectively, as Berlin Missionary Nauhaus learned on his first visit:
As I lay down to sleep, eight adolescent youths disposed themselves at
the other end of the hut to take their night’s rest, whilst between them
and me were standing half a dozen goats. You can imagine what a lovely
smell this dispensed all night. I didn’t want to estrange the folk, else they
would most assuredly have had to seek out other quarters for themselves
and their goats. Next morning one of my bearers expressed his surprise
that they hadn’t left the hut all to me. The answer was, “We saw that all
your fellows had left the place, so we thought, well, we can’t leave the
master all alone” (BMB 1897: 197-8).

In all this, except in some linguistic differences, the Magoma and

Mahanzi cultures are to be distinguished only by the political central-
ization of Magoma under the Fungo ruler Mwenentela, who alone kept
a men’s house. This place injengelo could sleep sixty, men and boys
sharing opposite ends, and was a centre for the preparation and
distribution of medicines. These were the Fungo specialty, including
specifics for use in war and against disease. Mwenentela was a
doctor-chief, who sat on his stool in the injengelo dispensing home-
made medicine for pox and justice for men and women equally. Consid-
ered in regional context, the Fungo establishment was built on its own
lines; but the late age of marriage fashionable for men suggests he
kept, in effect, a bachelor army at his capital in good Sanga fashion;
and this is indeed the boast of his descendants. The isivaga in outlying
hamlets were in this case put up by the boys themselves and in that
respect reminiscent of Nyakyusa. That is, these houses were less well
integrated into the adult village than the Mahanzi or court-Kinga

The difference in sexual style between Magoma and Mahanzi is

to be seen in the isaka. The girls’ house in the Magoma case has become
an open house where older girls receive boys and younger girls are
ideally recruited to the game only as they become “big enough” (they
can expect several years between getting an adult body and
menarche). Boys old enough to take an interest in girls maintain citi-
zenship in the boys’ house but leave it after nightfall for the isaka of a
neighbouring community, returning in early dawn. Although this is
sometimes described as a recent trend, my oldest informants among
the Magoma had known it themselves and didn’t hesitate discussing
it openly with young men still courting in this manner. It was a pattern
alien to Mahanzi informants, who evinced a Nyakusa-style concern
with the technical chastity of maidens and expected older girls to

manage the isaka with a disciplinary hand. Girls’ houses in Mahanzi
tradition were communal not private, though small and sometimes
shared even with wee girls “who wanted to leave their mothers” but
had neither a mixed children’s house nor a grandmother nearby. The
house would be built by the “fathers” of its occupants and roofed and
daubed by the “mothers,” who thus retained a proprietary interest.
Boys who visited must do so on the girls’ terms and often were sent
packing for sauciness: “Go lie with your mother!”

More like the Magoma girls’ house was the Mahanzi ingumbwe
[pit-house]. This structure is often mentioned in ethnographic
notices as a ‘Kinga specialty’, but I believe it was most popular in the
Mahanzi-influenced Western realm. (This was the house discouraged
as primitive by the Germans.) It was a roomy underground dutch oven
which made an ideal retreat for a frosty night, and here underage
children were not allowed (it was “bad for their health” ) but serious
courtship might be. Still, technical chastity remained the rule.
Regularly before menarche and monthly after each menstruation a
Mahanzi girl must submit to “inspection” by her “mothers” in a sort of
running initiation school which could earn her a most unceremonious
set of welts about the crotch. The ladies would pinch to draw blood if
they found a girl had let a boy go too far: “Stop this! Never again! Do
you want to have a child at your father’s house?” They’d force a
confession from her and a compact to mend her ways. But the
affective colouring of the “school” seems to have been positive in spite
of the occasional pinch. A girl’s “mothers” knew her heart and could
help arrange marriage with her true love, ideally only a year or so after
menarche. These notes comprise the elders’ (1960) retrospect on
tradition, though by that year Kinga~Mahanzi differences were disap-

The custom of child betrothal [K: ukulila], though eccentric, was

known throughout the highlands, and the different attitudes of
informants toward it seemed to me to bespeak their different ethnic
traditions. Magoma and Mahanzi said a spur was the immediate reali-
zation of half the bridewealth by the father of a girl; Magoma and
bush-Kinga regarded personal alliance as a major motive on the part of
both men; and Mahanzi had also a special explanation, that some men
would be so unattractive to girls that they were spurned by every one
in spite of becoming rich. These were the men who could be entrapped
by the canny father of a wee girl who didn’t know her own mind. After
eating half the bridewealth this kind of father would never be content:
“I want some fish—go get it!” “I’ll have your cow to eat!” The ugly fellow
is plagued and made sport of in this way but has his will when the girl

reaches menarche and must be delivered, most often by force and over
the outraged resistance of her mother. Tales of child betrothal have a
place in highland folklore like that of the bogeyman in ours. The custom
seems nonetheless to have been protected by contract law, though
only in the face of moral feelings which practically limited it to deals
between two particularly insensitive men.

Of the three highland cultures here considered, Magoma,

Mahanzi, and Kinga, the one which encouraged both sexes to marry in
early adulthood was Mahanzi. The association there with a hetero-
sexual norm, predominant monogamy, relative pacifism, and mutuality
in political matters is hard to miss. As a cultural tradition in its own
right, bush Kinga remains a phantom, having to be distilled out of the
testimony of older men and women who generally assume the univer-
sality of their own early experience. The most direct additional
evidence I thought I might be able to gather would have been the
testimony of Mawemba and bush (unpoliticized) Bena informants. But
the Mawemba, who had succeeded in avoiding even the German
missionaries, had no difficulty with me. Mysteriously, a village perched
for all to see on a wide-open hilltop, in a season of short grass, would
turn out to be devoid of life when I came to call. Perhaps I should have
scoured the earth for the region’s last examples of the famous pit-
houses. The other notion also came to naught: if a bush Bena tradition
did survive the Ngoni-Hehe turmoils, it also survived my inquiries.

As judged by language and the history of contacts, the two

other populations close enough to bush Kinga for my purpose were the
Wanji and Pangwa. It seemed the presence of a likely trait in both
these cultures would be prima facie confirmation of its presence in
bush Kinga culture, which falls (not intrusively) between the others
spatially. The Wanji I can’t deal with in satisfactory detail. Pater Hans
Stirnimann found the Pangwa lineage-organized and polygynous. The
difference here from the Kinga is certainly one of degree, but evidently
not one of kind. Exogamous rules are modest as with Kinga, and
localized descent groups (unless in the storied past) are not strictly
agnatic. In common with the Kinga, Pangwa equip their communities
with separate men’s and women’s houses, so the sexes receive essen-
tially separate socialization. A child was traditionally weaned about
six (!) and sent, according to gender, to the ishyengo [men’s and boys’
house] or inanda [maidens’ house] belonging to the localized lineage.

“Of homosexual relations among youths of the ishyengo, as

reported of the neighbouring Kinga and Nyakyusa, there is nothing to
be learnt in Upangwa. Such a state of affairs would be adjudged as
witchcraft and punished severely.” We are further told that marriages

were arranged between virgin youths and maidens as soon as they
were thought ready. About the difficulties such a system would
generate (preventing a following pregnancy for the six years of
nursing, patterning polygyny and early marriage of men, and controlling
arousal among boys sleeping together for warmth) there is unfortu-
nately nothing to be learnt in the good Father’s book. There seems to
be an element of realism missing, though we may take it that certain
Pangwa like to picture their past in terms their ethnographer would
approve. If the bush Kinga of long ago did impose such a régime upon
themselves they must have welcomed the Sanga reforms with open
arms. From my own cross-border information I’d not expected to hear
of doctrinaire heterosexualism among any immediate neighbours of
the Kinga, even the nearer Bena communities. I should none the less
expect the Kinga of court tradition to remain a unique case for their
idealization of Platonic love (sex not left out) between men.<<[lit]

On the question of the role of libido in relation to moral

strategy, considered on the Kinga evidence, it is hard to find for the
Freudians. Sexuality is a veritable fountain of sentient motivation for
Kinga as for us all. But here is a force which appears to accommodate
so easily to circumstance—to ego’s social situation and its role
requirements—that little can be said for this libido as a driver of
psyches. Narcissism (ego-libido) is balanced by object-libido, inversion
by extraversion of sexual orientation. For both genders peer love is
ultimately non-possessive. For women the bond with an infant is
treasured on a par with any, yet the child set free of the breast is set
emotionally free. It seems to me the key to understanding the Kinga
libido is to start with the premise that it answers flexibly to what
Freud would have called the ‘interests of the ego’. These he vaguely
associated with an instinct of self-preservation or life-force. This
was of course a resort to axioms by way of explanation. I prefer a
model of the ego not as driven by instinct (whether sexual or
otherwise practical) but responsive to sentience on the one hand and
role expectation on the other. The Kinga career centres in a never-
ending preoccupation with personal goals meant to enhance life with
others—what we once were content to call the pursuit of happiness.
Sex is no less important in that pursuit because Kinga, enjoying more
permissive circumstances, can afford to be a bit more laid-back about
love than the Hehe or the people of Ulaya who so inspired Dr. Freud.


Sowetan cultures: status

Privilege and its rules

A Western traveler passing among peoples of the Sowetan
region before German law was established might have found ‘slaves’ in
almost any community, if that term refers broadly to a class of adults
with deeply impaired civil rights. In almost every case such a person
would have been born ‘free’ and made ‘slave’ through capture in war.
The status of the ‘slave’ was a function of local war patterns. Only
where war is a major institution can we expect slavery to be such; yet
the one institution doesn’t necessarily beget the other. Three border
peoples in the Sowetan region clearly had institutionalized adult male
slavery as a sequel to capture in warfare: the Ngoni, the Hehe, and the
Ngonde. (About the Sangu in this respect I have no information.) Of
these three only the Ngonde seem to have waged wars whose sole and
explicit purpose was marketing captives; and that practice was
scarcely begun when in 1875 a European presence was established and
began to combat it.

Though Hehe warriors kept (or turned over to their chiefs in

tribute) many captives, these ‘slaves’ were rarely grown men. Under
Mkwawa in the 1880s, Hehe must have enjoyed substantial trading
contacts, following the earlier Sangu pattern, with caravans dealing in
guns and slaves; but Mkwawa was best known for his constant harass-
ment of the Arab caravans, not trade with them . Hehe did establish
an hereditary class of kept royal slaves, the Wafugua, as an unclean
caste, assigned to peculiar duties at the capital. But for the most
part the aim of Hehe in war was to capture, along with the cattle which
were their great prize, women and children to swell their own ranks as
an expanding nation. One does not hear that Hehe refrained from
massacring men in the field in consideration of the price they might
bring in trade.<<[lit]

This particular predatory pattern stands in contrast to the
pattern of Bemba and Yao to the south of the Sowetan region or the
Nyamwezi to the north, whose wars had become instruments of the
coastal slave trade. The Sowetan pattern seems to be an adaptation
of the scenario introduced to the region by Ngoni hordes in the 1840s.
Whatever political consolidation may have been achieved before that
time among proto-Hehe peoples, the idea of expanding a tribe through
capture was new. At the time of the pax the Ngoni had only latterly
found a country and settled down to being overlords, keeping as
subject peoples the remnants of defeated enemies, including notably
the population now known as Ndendeuli. Since the Tanzanian people
called Ngoni today belong linguistically to the Sowetan region, the
conversion of ‘slave’ to Ngoni ‘citizenship’ clearly went quickly while
the horde was on the move. The status of subject peoples in a settled
Ngoni polity is distinct, paralleled in the region only by the Wanji and
Safwa subjects of the Sangu.<<[lit]

With minor exceptions, the peoples incorporated into a Hehe

state during the two later generations of the nineteenth century
continued to identify with it under German and British rule. Probably
most Wanji or Safwa men who actually fought for the Sangu leader
Merere stayed with him, also, as full citizens, as his was a thriving
community in the initial German years.

Though Sowetan peoples were touched into radical transforma-

tion by multiple, direct and indirect contacts with the great forces of
change coursing through southern and eastern Africa in the early-
middle decades of the nineteenth century, the resulting transforma-
tions in the heart of the region were generally constructive. There was
destruction enough: by the Ngoni themselves and by the Sangu and
Hehe tyrants who were able to organize their own booty-driven hordes
in a period of predatory empire building. But in other parts the estab-
lished ethnic boundaries held, under the rule of complex politico-ritual
systems which had been evolving throughout the medieval period. The
Ngonde shifted toward a more centralized authority. Nyakyusa, Kinga,
and Riverine Bena, taken in that order, show a progressive concern
with external threat, and a corresponding tightening of internal
authority. Looking strictly at internal structure, the political bases of
the tyrants themselves, the successive Mereres and Munyigumba/
Mkwawa in Heheland, must have been well and diligently built.

As to commerce in slaves and ivory, which was still accelerating

in the mid-nineteenth century and encroaching both from the south
and the north, except for Ngonde the Sowetan peoples had not before
Contact emerged from an initial period of reaction to the new forces.

An escalating pattern of intra-regional warfare was aimed at aggres-
sive political expansion and consolidation. Only on the western
marches were there polities quite settled back down to the sedentary
acquisition of wealth: the Ngonde to the south and Fipa to the north.
Except (perhaps) for the Kyungu of uNgonde, Sowetan ‘sultans’ even
to Merere and Mkwawa were set apart rather by protocols of
deference than by a sumptuous lifestyle. In the absence of structural
economic differentiation, class is a useful concept here here only in its
generic sense. So Ndendeuli or Pangwa, qua subject peoples of the
Ngoni in Tanganyika, may be seen as a subject (but not servile) ‘class’.

Setting aside reactions to change, what evidence do we have of

an ethical set in the traditional cultures either favouring or discred-
iting egalitarian ideas? Some evidence is to be found in looking at the
men and women farthest down.<<[lit]

Monica Wilson found that the institution of slavery which was a

feature of the Ngonde constitution had no counterpart among
Nyakyusa; and since the essential ethnographic differences between
the two peoples lay in the realm of constitutional law, her distinction
is telling. She argues that a Nyakyusa woman did not become a slave
in being transferred against her will to a new husband in settlement of
a debt between lineages. The case she does admit is the Ngonde one:
captives, who may have been taken either in war or in a confiscatory
raid upon a “traitor’s” compound. Here is Godfrey Wilson’s account:
Not only girls but boys also were sometimes kept as slaves. One of our
informants made it clear, however, that it was always possible for a rich
family to redeem them later, both boys and girls, by giving one or two
beasts in exchange for each...
Few of these early slaves appear to have been sold outside Ngonde...nor
was there any impassable barrier between slave and free. All our informants
maintain that slaves were treated rather as younger sons and daughters
than as chattels, with the one exception that they could be sold to another
man. A woman slave married by a free man herself at once became free, and
the children of two married slaves were free also (1939: 49).

I find it too subtle to hold that a woman is free who is trans-

ferred in lieu of a cow, while a woman transferred in return for a cow is
a slave. But the mischief is in our language. We have only the category
slave for reference and we tie it to a pure type of economic transac-
tion. Godfrey Wilson was able to glean only vague information through
the mists of time from the period before the infamous Arab traders
intruded into the Ngonde region and imposed a Mediterranean institu-
tion upon it. But it is doubtful that the “sale” of a captive in tradi-
tional Ngonde society was ever an essentially economic transaction.

The best regional analogue may be the exchange entailed in a marriage:
under the form of exchange, two men are affirming an alliance. As to
‘slavery’ itself what distinguishes the Ngonde situation from the
Nyakyusa is the suspension of kinship ties and rights in the former
case; but Godfrey Wilson shows us that they could be reasserted,
where the conflict was internal to the Ngonde polity, if the affected
lineage had survived. This kind of slavery bears a family resemblance to
the institution of hostage-taking, meant to force payment of an
outstanding debt.

All the same, Monica Wilson was right to assert the free
condition of Nyakyusa women even while documenting the abridgment
of their rights on account of gender. The crucial distinction is the one
Sir Henry Maine called a shift from status to contract in the evolution
of law. Where the main guarantor of your civil rights is an organized
lineage, a rupture of kinship ties, whether by war or natural accident,
may reveal you as a creature of the ‘contracts’ or special, reciprocal
arrangements you can make on an individual basis. For a woman, the
main opportunity in Sowetan culture was marriage; for a child, filiation
by adoption; for a man, if the institution was known, service. Each
arrangement is asymmetrical—the castaway is in no position to
demand a full return on service—and results in a standing relationship
of inequality. In some cultural contexts the ‘contractual’ status will
be temporary; but it may also become institutionalized. The ‘contract’
then becomes a relationship of dominance and submission.

Though evidence doesn’t permit proving the case, it does permit

arguing that the origin of adult male slavery in Ngonde, and hence the
institution of service, may well have been those wars with the Bemba
(intruding from the west) which antedated the coming of slave and
ivory traders to Ngonde in 1875. Before that, owing to earlier,
massive contacts with those same traders, slaves had become
common and notoriously cheap among the Bemba, who were rapidly
adopting predation as a way of life. Hence it is likely even the “tradi-
tional institution” of slavery Godfrey Wilson describes for Ngonde
owed more to overseas markets and Arab entrepreneurship than to a
more spontaneous kind of change within Sowetan regional

What of Bena and Hehe slaves? Again we face the difficulty of

glimpsing a ‘traditional’ pattern belonging to the period before Ngoni
intrusions had started the chain reaction in Sangu-Hehe-Bena
communities which elevated chiefs into tyrants. The pattern of
slavery late in the nineteenth century was a function of the pattern
of war itself. Slavery had come as a by-product of war, and was

certainly augmented by the role motives of the seasoned warrior, who
expected such benefit from his female slaves that he was inspired to
battle in the hope of winning more. What is clear is that none of these
peoples had developed the institution of slavery to the point where
they could have handled a strong infusion of adult male captives: the
pattern was extreme cruelty in the field and in sacking settlements,
extending murder even to immature males. Logically we must ask if
women, had they not been a politically castrated class throughout the
region, would have fared any better than their men in defeat.
Supposing that as furious a war pattern might have developed over
the rape of cattle and corn, captured women being thought more
trouble than their worth, I take it they’d have been slaughtered like
men. What is certain is this: whenever Sowetan men escalated
warfare to slaughter, women had no rational choice but to behave as
non-combatants, and by so doing dramatically to confirm their relega-
tion to ‘inferior’ status in the regional scheme of things. The rather
high status of Kinga women must owe much to their location well away
from the region’s outer-crescent ‘slaughter belt’.

The status of the matured-in-captivity male slave is particu-

larly interesting as an indication of the ethical bias in these cultures
toward egalitarian norms. Our best description is in Rev. Priebusch’s
answers to the Fragebogen. He was the respondent to the official
questionnaire on behalf of the Bena community. Here are the main
points treated in items 27-30:
Slavery persists though only with individual headmen of the tribe, slaves
being considered members of the family. A semi-slavery of this kind is often
found. For the most part one buys the slave while it is still a child; when
grown up a slave is treated like any other member of the family. Nothing is
known about the origin of slavery. Many individuals are enslaved as
prisoners of war; compelled by famine, some people have to sell their
relatives to save them from starvation.
A mature slave can find opportunities to acquire property, for example
through military expeditions in which he shares the spoils, or by working dili-
gently. Slaves are married among themselves by the owner and receive their
own homesteads. What they possess belongs to them for life, but property
reverts to the master at death...[and] the children belong to him.
Through the death of his master an adult slave may be freed... If the
slave is a child at the time he...will be awarded to an heir. Slaves can also be
redeemed by relatives...
The children of slaves also become slaves. However it is not unusual for
the son of a slave-owner to marry the daughter of a slave, and their child
will be free. Likewise the son of a slave may marry a daughter of the master.
In so doing the slave becomes free. [Fragebogen]<<[lit]

In discussing legal privilege in the same document (Item 71),
Priebusch holds that slaves are equally entitled with others to enter
an action, the same being true for women. Though “one cannot speak
of a nobility,” there are persons distinguished in war or otherwise who
are called Avatambule, a word meaning “privileged persons.” They are
honoured as individuals, but their families have no share in this. Even
rulers (other than the paramount chief) may be taken to law by their
subjects, such cases being heard by the Paramount.

We know less of Hehe law as it illuminates the problems of

freedom and civil rights (or equality) within a militaristic society, but
except for special customs associated directly with the tyrant’s
court what we do know is not inconsistent with the Bena pattern
Priebusch describes. Kinga and Nyakyusa reliance on peer socialization
seem practically inconsistent with the institution of slavery, espe-
cially for males; and if we knew more of the Ngonde case we might
assess what kind of resolution was found there. Both Kinga and
Nyakyusa war patterns focussed on cattle and the occasional
capture of women; but in both cases the woman’s status was irregular
until she was either returned or properly married into the captor
community. We have seen that, if in a less pronounced way, Bena
ethics also were averse to regularizing disprivilege. So slavery within
any line would have tended to die out, and the institution probably was
maintained mostly through its new recruits—women and children
freshly captured in war.

Setting aside now the old German questionnaire and its

premises, I expect the main issue in connection with slavery should be
the way slaves were treated—and why—not simply the sense and
extent to which the institution existed. For Kinga we have shown that
captured women were held until they had born and weaned a child; and
that these “slave” children (if the term may be so stretched) grew up
as adopted members of the Sanga descent group of that locality—
that is, virtually as royals. Their special status was known well enough
to other royals; but to non-Sanga the distinction, if known at all,
would not have been important. The Sanga melting pot operated so as
to expand the personnel and influence of royal descent groups
wherever they were. Royal policies of expansion created a ‘frontier’
and the motivation toward achievement which a frontier can
generate. Compared to the Hehe, Nyakyusa, or especially Ngonde, the
Kinga status system was open.

If we now look at the status systems of the Sowetan region

with an eye to this quality of openness or closure, the main division
seems to lie between the inner and outer crescents, as those desig-

nations have been outlined earlier. The Bena and Hehe are classified by
Murdock (1981) as possessed of hereditary slavery and a “dual” class
system—that is, an hereditary aristocracy which is significantly priv-
ileged as over against a larger commonalty. Had data been available on
Sangu they would probably have fallen with Bena and Hehe on both
scores. Safwa, Nyakyusa, and Ngonde are classed as possessed of
institutionalized, non-hereditary slavery, but only the Ngonde among
these three is regarded as having an aristocracy with hereditary priv-
ilege. With the Nyakyusa, whose aristocratic statuses are only weakly
hereditary, Kinga, Wanji, and Pangwa would be classed on Murdock’s
criteria as lacking stratification. In general, the ethos of the outer
crescent favours stronger status distinctions, whether in relation to
caste or class, while that of the inner crescent favours weaker or at
least impermanent distinctions.<<[lit]

Population size (of the integral polity as inferred from

permanent alignments in war) correlates nicely with the strength of
status distinctions. But calling the outer-crescent peoples ‘strati-
fied’ and the inner ‘egalitarian’ is like reducing the rainbow to black and

Strong distinctions and rigid tabus may sometimes be function-

ally related traits. In broad ethnographic perspective Sowetan
cultures don’t have rigid tabus, unless Nyakyusa avoidances would
qualify. But rites of passage may have a similar function to tabu, in
sanctioning status distinctions.

In the Sowetan region the Hehe practise clitoridectomy, while

Pangwa, Bena, and Kinga practise a far less severe mutilation. These
three regard their operation as a preparatory aid to good sex
relations with men, and Kinga profess dismay when told of the Hehe
operation, for they take it to be a sexual crippling of women. One of the
major meanings of ‘puberty’ rites the world over is confirmation in an
adult gender status; the peculiar aptness of circumcision for males or
labiotomy for females lies in the implication that adulthood is an
identity conferable only by organized society, not a condition which an
individual achieves naturally or might unilaterally lay claim to. <<[lit]

Since adulthood requires an artificial transformation of one’s

visible nature, yet one which in itself is fearsome, the advent of
puberty throws the growing child into a new sort of dependency on the
adult community, boys upon men and girls upon women. The absence or
weak development of male puberty rites in the Sowetan cultures is
presumably a reflection of the nature of the male identity in each of
the component cultures: the need for sanctions on ‘male solidarity’

may be weak precisely because it is achieved by other means. The
concomitant importance of female puberty rites has obverse signifi-
cance: the need for sanctioning female solidarity is perceived to be
greater. The background facts are the dispersal of women in marriage,
on the one hand, and politicized community among men, on the other.
Here, ritual sanctions (the case of the women) may be seen as an
oblique equivalent to the direct political sanction of mutual loyalty
(the case of the men). Yet turning to the outer crescent, what are we
to think of a female sodality which insists on cutting off a young
person’s erectile organ as a condition to her assumption of adult
sexual privilege? Considered as a message from Hehe women to their
juniors concerning the condition of their kind, the rite seems cruel
however honest.

To understand status you have to be clear what conditions

determine where a particular status will be a confinement and where a
liberation. When Maine described early Rome as a status society he
had in mind the submergence of an individual (in respect to legal
rights) in the group which could be said to sponsor him vis-à-vis
political society: the classic model is that of the clan- or lineage
society. But the peculiar situation that Maine had to consider was
one of a hybrid kind of polity, in which numerous small kinship units,
internally immune to legal intervention, comprised a series of gemein-
schaftlich, infra-political communities joined together by law through
their heads in a polity governed by gesellschaftlich norms. Were individ-
uals confined or liberated by membership of a Roman family?

Sowetan segmentary polities could be hasty amalgams like that

of the Hehe or Sangu, pyramidal alliances like that of the Riverine Bena
(centralized by their ‘royal school’ and by the non-segmentary
loyalties of its graduates the Wenyekongo) or properly segmentary
proto-states like that of the Kinga or early Ngonde. Nyakyusa, Safwa,
Wanji, and Pangwa were further variants upon the segmentary theme.
In each case the political scaffolding represented a superstructure
consistent with the continued autonomy of local, face-to-face
polities internally stabilized by consensualism. It was that basic
stability which made possible the adventure in higher levels of political

Turning now to truly local-level politics—in Kinga terms, the local

domain of around a thousand marital households—how did consensu-
alism work?

We know that where the people (the effective cultural group)

was not threatened from without, the local domains (political

segments of the group) would be fighting among themselves. One
source of stability was accordingly the solidarity of necessity. But
the major source was the liberating status of manhood in each of
these societies, which brought it about that the local community
constituted a league of free citizens. The distinction we make
between volunteers and draftees, or patriots and mercenaries,
suggests something of what I mean concerning the status of the
competent male adult among the Kinga, Bena, or Nyakyusa (and, to
the best of my knowledge, among the other peoples of the region as
well). The Ndendeuli under Ngoni hegemony lost their sense of enjoying
the fullest dignity of manhood, and would not be content until they
had won back independence under the British. What unimpaired adult
status meant for males in the traditional cultures of the Sowetan
region becomes clear when you ask what men lost who were captured
and sold off as slaves. Something else appears, I believe, when you ask
how much women stood to lose in the same circumstance.<<[lit]

Monica Wilson reports the remark of an educated Nyakyusa

man, probably in the 1930s, to the effect, “We Africans have become
the women of the Europeans.” What would it have meant to a
Nyakyusa man actually to wake up possessed only of a female body
and status? He would have lost a bundle of privileges, large and small,
comprising the very elements of his freedom. Personal freedom is not
a natural or absolute condition. It doesn’t consist only in the absence
of constraint but entails an indefinitely branching set of privileges
linked to your social identity or status. If men and women did not
compare their respective privileges I suppose they might report equal
portions of freedom, however discrepant their social endowments in
point of fact. Traditional societies are often supposed to approach
this condition: socially engineered distinctions between the sexes are
‘naturalized’ and never questioned. This is Maine’s ‘status society’.

We are familiar with the similar sanctions of caste distinction

(drawn on racial lines) which have prevailed until recently in the West.
It seems to me folly to argue custom blinds us to the privileges we
enjoy any more than it does to those we envy in others: the level of our
accommodation to such social realities is not the unconscious mind
but that of the culturally sanctioned premise, which provides an
axiomatic basis for social action. It is probably no distortion to say we
all have deep in our minds the native sense for ‘natural rights’ which we
evinced as children among peers. In the most conventional societies,
men and women, élite folk and commoners do consciously indulge in
comparisons. That each person is normally locked into the system

which affords him his peculiar status, with all the advantages and
disadvantages entailed, is not evidence of blindness. If there is a child
at the back of my mind there is a rational skeptic guarding the front.
The governing questions are: What do I gain by staying? What if I exit?

What we know from ethnographic cases is that feelings always

underlie and harden structural lines. Generally in stratified societies
a difference is enjoyed within the superior status group and resented
within the other, though the feelings are not the kind an observer is
bound to perceive. A status system is not just a collection of techni-
cally related statuses—man, woman, child—warrior, priest, minstrel—
but a complex moral balance which allocates greater ego-strength to
some at the expense of others, in accordance with socially-defined

The usual lines of distinction are such as seniority, sex, local

privilege, esoteric knowledge, and property. I think no actual status
system is quite one-sided in respect of any social relationship. Even
slavery when it approaches that limit ceases to be social. On the way
to the gas chamber the guards were not cracking jokes about Jews or
even secretly admiring their bodies or noticing bravery. Dominance,
where it is humane, has rewards brutality banishes. There can be
enrichment in a dependent relationship, even in the peculiar sort of
spiritual parasytism charisma can foster. Unequal matings can be
barren but don’t have to be. Human status systems are built on
realities of this general order. Sociality is not a function of status
equivalence, and dominance is not the only string on which to play the
tune of difference.

Some of the most stimulating status systems create little

overall inequality, though in any major relationship the allocation of
some privileges will be skewed. A Kinga woman enjoys a closer relation-
ship to her daughter than a Kinga man to his son. Young men enjoy
security in relation to a brother, where the tie is patterned as
unequal, which is missing in their relations with peer-competitors.
Kinga men enjoy snubbing women in the arena of the law-court, and
women men in respect of certain bodies of ritual and gardening lore.
The rhetorical trade-offs are many and multiplex even in the simplest
status systems.

I have argued that the Kinga system works better, over the long
cycle of a full life, for most women than for most men, since it is
typically women who achieve the greater self-sufficiency: at the level
of ego they are ultimately the stronger sex. But it is equally true that
men are the artists, though the same difference is not apparent

among children. Men remain the adventurers, the dreamers, the
lawyers of court and beer pot during the better years of their lives.
They enjoy a less dutiful, less confined, more liberated lifestyle for as
long as their egos stay strong. How shall I then say that men are the
dominant sex in Kinga society, or yet say they are not? The equation
is too simple to fit the facts. If for any of the Sowetan cultures one
gender is to be called dominant it is doubtless the male—at least as
concerns structural surfaces. But when that has been granted, there
is not an end of the matter. Rainbows are not scalar.

The three Sowetan cultures for which our ethnographic informa-

tion permits a comparative discussion of status are the Nyakyusa,
the Kinga, and the Riverine Bena; and to these I would add, so far as
data permit, the Hehe. The two problems which seem to me to merit
special attention are those of the status relations of men and
women, and of aristocrat and commoner. They run in parallel.

Men and women

The problem of the genders can be framed as a series of
questions about dominance: how it is engineered and maintained, what
the compensations are. But it may be simpler to ask directly how far
the rewards of male dominance (male liberation) are bought at the
cost of victimizing women. The implication is hard to miss, when
Sowetan cultures are compared to some of the matrilineal peoples in
regions to the south, that women are ill protected by an ordering of
marriage and residence on the premise (which Nyakyusa make explicit)
that “kinship is cattle.” That makes women pawns in a system of
exchange responding to the interests of men, or at least to group
interests controlled by men. In different ways the Hehe and Nyakyusa
(of the four peoples we are considering) emphasize the exchange value
of women. They also attach to the status of woman, particularly
through the generative years, more confining ties of protocol than the
Bena or, especially, the Kinga.

The four cultures may be compared under four headings: their

handling of sex and sex relations in the narrow sense; the apparatus
of formal constraints affecting relations between the sexes; the
meaning of adultery; and woman’s access to property.

Gender and its rules
There is no mortification of the male sex organs in the Sowetan
region. A minor exception may be the Pangwa, who perform a token
sort of nicking on the genitals of all children in the spirit of health care.
Females are most severely mutilated by Hehe, least by Nyakyusa.
Where Hehe excise the clitoris to ensure fertility, Bena and Kinga
excise the labia minora to prepare a girl for better copulation. While
there is a common premise that nature is not enough, the ends to
which culture must intervene are put differently. Hehe and Bena tradi-
tionally patterned early marriage for girls. Rev. Priebusch in the Frage-
bogen (Item 14) gives the age for Bena girls as 10 to 12 “that is, while
still children and even younger.”

Nigmann gives the same information for the Hehe, adding that
the seduction of little girls, being no offense, is frequently resorted to
as a refuge from the difficulties adultery might bring. In both cases
the girl’s initiation ought to anticipate puberty, and Brown & Hutt
believed a girl must be initiated to be eligible for seduction—but as
they also believed Hehe women excised a girl’s hymen and, after
showing it to her, buried it under a fruit-bearing tree, we are perhaps
permitted to doubt their information on female matters. Bena women
throw a girl’s labia into the river, evidently as items without value). The
attention of Nyakyusa elders to an immature girl’s equipment is only
conservative and status-conscious: the hymen should remain intact
until marriage in order to guarantee the girl’s prestige and standing,
and make good the full bridewealth. But the cult of virginity in this
case is no cult of chastity, since a virgin can have a busy-enough sex

Is age-discrepancy in marriage a hindrance to mutually pleasant

relations? To judge from the woman’s choice of partners in free love
relations, a rough parity in age is generally preferred. Bena custom is
most lenient in this respect, for if girls marry before puberty boys
marry at its onset there. Polygyny seems not to have exploded among
the Nyakyusa until after European contact was made, since until that
time the young man was content with bachelorhood (supposing it to
enhance his valour in war), and most older men were prepared to allow
their daughters a leisurely adolescence in the isaka girls’ houses. A
mercenary competition for wealth in wives and cattle began with
colonial times. For Hehe a similar explosion seems to have occurred
generations earlier. Nigmann found an inflated form of polygyny in
which men were given wholly to war and its spoils while women (of
whom a great number must have originated as captives) did all the

productive work. Women welcomed their man’s return from a campaign
with new wives to share the work, presumably at the bottom of the
domestic hierarchy. By the 1930s, though Hehe values were still
organized around polygyny, practice had succumbed to the realities of
the pax: roughly one taxpayer in four was a bachelor still looking for
cattle; as many, for the most part falling in the final phases of the
normal life cycle, had set up polygynous households; while nearly half
were living in forced monogamy, though girls were still fully married
before menarche.<<[lit]

Against all these cases, the Kinga pattern (as it had become
late in the pax) of courtship in one’s early or mid twenties seems
strangely ‘Western’, though it was hardly that in origin; and the
tradition of court culture—extended stages of male- and female soli-
darity before the consideration of marriage—sets that case apart.
Though the discrepancy in age may have been a decade or more in the
typical Sanga-sponsored marriage, the partners were of an age to
consider themselves peers in worldly experience and competence.

Formal constraints
Affinal avoidances bear directly on relations between the sexes,
since the burden of the taboo, falling on one sex, marks it. For
Nyakyusa it is the young woman, for Bena the young man who will
practise avoidance toward the parent-in-law of opposite sex. But the
constraint, which is life-long for Nyakyusa, is usually soon terminated
by a Bena mother-in-law with an hospitable invitation and a food
exchange. For Hehe, parents-in-law on both sides are categorically
worthy of “ceremonious respect” for the life of a marriage. For Kinga,
this symmetrical rule is reduced to the expectation of mutually
respectful behaviour.<<[lit]

A Hehe marriage is formally supported by the settlement of any

outstanding disputes between the families party to it, first at the
betrothal and later at the wedding itself, and by the formal adjudica-
tion of petty grievances by family councils. Among Kinga, a woman’s
brothers may usually be counted upon to intervene (as friends to the
marriage) where she is blamed for a lapse of duty, but there is no
formal frame to guide them. The same absence of firm etiquette
seems to pertain for the Bena. The key to Kinga informality is a
reliance on individual conscience: women are hard-working persons
rather than dutiful wives, their lives seem most often to be guided by
an ego-ideal of emotional self-containment. This is part of what is
expressed in their exaggerated claims upon a husband’s sexual
services during the (short and widely-spaced) periods when inter-

course is wanted for achieving a new pregnancy, and with the utmost
directness in the long years between, when women seem to require no
services more personal than economic help.

The same key scarcely applies to the Bena case, where both
sexes manifestly need a running series of fresh intrigues to keep up
spirits, and otherwise have their eyes and ears cocked sideways for
tokens of prestige and bits of gossip. Bena marriages are notably
brittle, Kinga the opposite; but the two cultures have in common the
expectation that a couple will decide such matters for itself, without
reliance on the intervention of kin groups. So, for example, a Kinga man
may let the case of a runaway wife go unsettled for years before insti-
tuting court action to have the bridewealth returned; and it is his
responsibility as the old husband to get it from the new—the kin
groups as such take no formal action, as no corporate group stands to
gain or lose. In spite of the high bridewealths of the post-1945 period,
and the involvement of kin groups in getting and receiving them,
marriage remained a contract between individuals.

For Nyakyusa girls marriage begins with license. The twelve

weeks traditionally spent in the isaka by a bride-to-be after menarche
are a time of lazy, erotic play in the company of peers still awaiting
puberty, and of casual boy friends. But with marriage formal
constraints and duties descend with a vengeance. Compared to a
Kinga woman the Nyakyusa does less hard work but enjoys less
autonomy. Even in the case of commoners, the junior wife has to
observe an elaborate routine of respect vis-à-vis the senior—the
conspiratorial and “more or less communistic” ways of Bena co-wives
will not work here, although the etiquette of deference in this case is
said to confer no authority.<<[lit]

It was otherwise in a Nyakyusa woman’s relationship to her

Nyakyusa women were expected to observe a pattern of deference,
obedience, and service much like that of a son to his father, but continued
through life, and transferred from father to husband... A wife was always
expected to stoop to greet her husband; she never ate with him, and they
never openly enjoyed each other’s company (Monica Wilson 1977: 135-6).

The meaning of adultery

Although Monica Wilson reports a case of fatal wife-beating for
refusal to allow intercourse (during lactation), and the beating of
wives for seemingly small offenses runs like a leitmotif through the
cases she cites, adultery in the colonial period came to be “taken for

granted,” often led to divorce, but might easily be settled by the
payment of a cow. The chief sanction upon the woman was mechanical:
the mystical fear of harming her child would lead her to confess
adultery whenever she considered that her husband was not the
father of a child about to be delivered.

The difference of attitude between Bena and Nyakyusa is

instructive, for the actual rates of adulterous union may have been
quite comparable as between the two societies, which share the
custom of extracting confessions from women in childbed. Both
cultures were studied by husband-wife teams and have been reported
with sensitivity to the woman’s point of view. The Culwicks seem to
have found no Bena deploring the high rate of adultery there: for both
sexes, “variety and the pleasures of eating stolen fruit are the spice
of life.” As to the extracted confessions there is more than a hint
these are meant for the delectation of women attending a birth, not
for the husband’s ears and the institution of legal remedies, as among

The Nyakyusa may be the only people in the world who positively
prescribe intercourse (without penetration) for prepubescent girls,
all the while making a fetish of female virginity. A girl’s virginity at
marriage evidently is to be taken as a sign of the father’s punishing
authority (see especially Nsyani’s testimony in Monica Wilson 1977:
116). A similarly narrow distinction seems to be made in the case of
adultery. You preserve the formalities of obedience and submission to
your current husband while secretly acting out a fantasy of more egal-
itarian and voluntaristic union with a man you accept as lover—only at
best to go to him eventually as a wife wearing only the old mantle of
submission. The adulterous union, like the prepubescent one, is stolen
from reality.

Except for the Hehe, I know of no legal recognition of the act of

rape in the Sowetan region. Fülleborn quotes Adams to the effect
that adultery with rape was punished by Mkwawa with the execution
of the man, or else settled by a duel, while a woman guilty of willing
adultery was herself executed or cruelly whipped. We are unfortu-
nately not in position to ask how a half-willing woman was punished;
but it seems it would have been harshly done and in keeping with the
unwritten Hehe law of tension-maintenance in sexual matters. Kinga
seldom countenance violence in connection with adultery. Considering
the chronic absence of the Kinga husband, whether traditionally or
under the pax, adultery was infrequent and usually understood to
have involved high passion not mere lust.<<[lit]

Where a Nyakyusa wife’s adultery may be read as a protest
against neglect, Kinga women claim the right to legitimate adulterous
union when their husbands fail them in the marriage bed; yet the Kinga
woman generally seeks recognition in her world through her own
achievements as a gardener and reproducer, not by identity with her
husband, and in this way she enjoys an autonomy which puts her above
such chronic attitudes of protest.

Of the four Sowetan cultures we are considering, Kinga stands

apart for the chastity of its women. Brown & Hutt write that “a large
majority of Hehe women commit adultery” and blame the dissatisfac-
tions of women in polygynous households. Logically, the same position
might be taken toward Bena and Nyakyusa rates of adultery, as in all
three cultures there seems to be no lack of willing men, wherever a
woman is moved by the sense of frustration and neglect to seek a
lover. But in fact Bena women prefer polygyny for the prestige,
companionship, and mutual help it offers. Where Hehe marriage is “a
difficult relationship” imbued with a sense of unfulfilled obligation and
frequently giving rise to litigation, Bena seem to think of marriage
mainly as the routine side of the great game of sex, which otherwise
ought to be “a good sport, a constant adventure, [entailing] no devas-
tating moral conflicts.”<<[lit]

Referring to the same period in the evolution of the Native

Authorities under British rule, Monica Wilson writes of courts “choked
with cases” of which “four out of five were concerned with marriage,
divorce, inheritance, and claims for children or for cattle arising from
marriage.” A chief’s comment was, “All cases are about women.” The
ethical formula which runs through Nyakyusa testimony on domestic
life is “that it was cattle that bound a marriage: ‘with us love is small’”
(Ibid.: 166); but this seems to have suited the male view (and satisfied
the male viewer) better than the female.

The cases cited suggest Nyakyusa women are found in adultery

not out of anger and frustration with their husbands so much as in
pursuit of a kind of sexual love which their culture seems to hold out in
promise, but which marriage in fact withholds. In traditional times an
adulterous woman could have her crotch branded or ears cut off—
facts which suggest the problem is as old as it is deep in this pleasant
land. Fülleborn, who is my authority here, writes: “None the less such
gruesome punishments are obviously quite rare exceptions, given the
mild and harmless character of the people.” <<[lit]

Women in each of the four cultures are allocated land sufficient
to their agricultural needs, and generally allowed to dispose of its
product as their own. Rarely do women come to own cattle or (unless
in childhood) have responsibility for their care. Rarely does the
question of home ownership arise: in the context of Sowetan culture
it is not an issue. The question of ownership of tools and furnishings
may arise, but seldom as an important focus of conflicting interests.
Clothes and luxury items have become important since traditional
times, and attitudes toward them have been formed by the national
culture not the separate traditions. But given that clothing in a tradi-
tional community may be exiguous, chattels are few, land is allocated
according to need, and housing is universally provided by the husband
and maintained by a woman’s own efforts, what is the relevance of
property to questions of sex and status?

The clearest answer is found in the “cattle society”—where

cattle are synonymous with wealth, and this wealth is the monopoly of
men. Nyakyusa illustrate this well—Monica Wilson knew of only one
case in which a woman had inherited cattle (“because no man in the
lineage remained alive”). But Hehe women freely owned cattle. In a
sample survey Brown & Hutt found nearly half the women interviewed
were cattle owners (against some 80% of men). Men were always the
actual guardians, but a woman could choose to entrust either her
husband or a brother with her cattle. For the riverine Bena cattle are
replaced by canoes, which require co-operative labour and are months
in the making, last a generation if well made and cared for, and serve
particularly men’s tasks<<[lit].

The other form of wealth is in crops, principally rice, the surplus

of which is traded by men down river. In Bena law a man owns the crops
his wife has sown and reaped: he has cleared the land and been respon-
sible for protecting the gardens from harm, but she has invested more
labour in them. Hence in Bena ethics a woman has a strong vested
interest in “her” crops, and a man who ignores it cannot expect a
tranquil marriage. A polygynist trading the surplus (above consump-
tion needs) of his wives’ grain must bring a proporti