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Table of Contents

Chapter One
Politics of the Court and Bush
Springs of Political Authority 1
The Kinga in their Region 7
Circulation 9

Chapter Two
Domain and Realm
The Way Things Worked 14
The Domain as a Chiefdom 18
(a) Allegiance and Munificence 20
(b) The Princely Office 23
(c) Centring the Polity 29
Problems of Scale 32
Competition and Systematic Change 37
Court & Bush: The Kinga Shift Dimension 44
Antipolitanism 51

Chapter Three
Roots of Kinga Law and Right
Rule of Right, Rule of Law 54
Law & Social Structure in the Northern Realm 60
Lords & Landlords 68
The Logic & Spirit of the Law 72
Division in the Western Realm 77
Magoma 80
Rival Princes 83
Dynastic Claims 85

Chapter Four
Concepts of Sanga Power
Kinga-Nyakyusa Expansion 92
History vs. Genealogy 95
Political Vitality 99
Conditions of Manipulative Power 102
Political Logic: Kinga / Mahanzi Differences 105
Social Control 107
The Ruling Establishments 110
Reassessing Domain & Realm 111

Chapter Five
War Patterns: Politics & Ethics
War as Structure 115
War in the Social Memory 118
Territories 124
Profits of War 129
Faces of War 133
Heroics 135
Kyelelo of the West 139
Later Adventures of Kyelelo 145
Sham, Bluff, and Sacrament 149

Chapter Six
Prince and Priest
Bush Doctor—Court Priest 154
Autochthonous Lore—Immigrant Authority 161
Localism and Ambience 163
Gardens, Boundaries, and Antidotes 167

Chapter Seven
The Paranoid Prince
Managing Social Danger 189
An Exiled God 198
The Would-be-gods 210

Source notes ‡ 216

References 229



Springs of Political Authority

Kinga built the kind of polity which can be called a ‘protostate’. They
institutionalized political authority without really abandoning the struc-
tural particularism of the simpler stateless society they would have known
in the past. They place that past time some twelve royal generations
before their short colonial age began. The kind of political growth they
enjoyed is known world-wide among advanced agricultural peoples. Until
modern times, it must have happened whenever a well-ordered system of
local anarchy began to move toward trans-local politics. A people in the
slow transition of a ‘protostate process’ doesn’t hold onto Gemeinschaft
intact, but the political machinery of trans-local authority alters the
terms of old social contracts. Kinga, under their Sanga chiefs, developed a
culturally dual world drawing from two distinguishable repositories of
social thought. It is appropriate to contrast the two as the ‘court’ and
‘bush’ versions of Kinga culture. Since Kinga chiefship gradually came to be
backed by ceremonial religion and a standing priesthood, and since there
were two tiers of chieftainship but no hierarchy, every local ruler headed an
autonomous polity. The situation justifies calling every local ruler with his
own court a ‘lord’, and calling a lord who takes tribute from his neighbours a
‘prince’. It is a system without room for a ‘king’ because it boasts no central
direction. At first colonial contact there were four princely realms estab-
lished, which I’ll call Central, North, West, and East. The West in particular,
and the East less certainly, were beginning to break up or realign under new
schemes of princely leadership. But since the German contact ended
autonomy, there remained as the nineteenth century closed only four
princely realms. ‡‡ [see source notes]
What makes the Kinga case especially worth reporting is not the
wealth of detail available but the special insight afforded by the social
memory of Kinga elders, which I began to collect shortly before Tanganyikan
independence in 1961. This is a case of protostates developing in a segmen-
tary pattern—each of the four realms comprised a plurality of lordly
domains—without lineages as building blocks. The key to understanding
lineage organization is that it provides a segmentary structure into which

each component household fits in its one-and-only place. Achieving the
same result in an amity-based society, where men form their alliances
without reckoning on kinship, entails a ‘politics of amity’ which mainline
anthropology hasn’t a model for. In this book I don’t offer such a model but
concern myself with the empirical stuff on which it might be based. The
well-known ‘segmentary lineage’ model accounts for the way new house-
holds are given each its one-only spot in a comprehensive topological model
of political space in what then amounts to a trans-local community. A
‘segmentary amity’ model (if that is what we need) should do the same. In
Twin Shadows I compared Kinga in a set series of reference frames with
other peoples described for the Sowetan (for ‘southwestern Tanganyika’)
region. In Four Realms my focus is still comparative but restricted to
political process. I use the Nyakyusa studies of Godfrey and Monica Wilson
again, and again make their Nyakyusa a foil for my efforts to understand
the Kinga. I further pursue my theme of the ‘antipolitan ethic’—the moral
position common to the men of both Kinga and Nyakyusa protostates—
which allows that a man’s gift of loyalty to a ruler is retractable for cause.
An earlier, ancestral community, such as would have been in
place in the region early in the seventeenth century, would have
continued to develop for some generations less politically and cultur-
ally than demographically. As late as 1800, if I could have observed it,
I expect uKinga would have passed muster as an acephalous micro-
culture (in French and more intuitively, a peuplade ), an autonomous folk
community with a distinctive culture of its own. Each local settle-
ment within the larger community, however, would have had its peculi-
arities, reflecting its own autonomy and self-sufficiency in everyday
affairs. The presence of political authority would be more noticeable in
some than other local communities, but a segmentary order would be
developing—most local settlement areas would be articulated with a
central settlement where moots would be held.

In 1900, in addition to its handful of protostates, the broad

region of Southwestern Tanzania still offered a variety of ‘prepo-
litical’ cultural-and-linguistic communities. Best known is the Pangwa.
There, command over another’s action was not vested in office but in
a particular role-relationship such as a kin tie (parent-child) or a
contract (husband-wife). The dominant figure in a local settlement
was, or was taken for, the eldest elder. Granting that even a young
man under the rules of such political particularism, finding himself the
eldest male of his household group, might owe obedience to no one, for
the most part ethnographers have found that the path from child-
hood dependency to marriage is short in acephalous societies, and
well policed by neighbours. Authority may stop at the limits of the
family group, but no one is really expected to pursue his or her career

from any vantage point outside of family membership. By the time
they must deal with each other as adults of the same sex, parent and
child in daily interaction generally make do with the softer sanctions
of reciprocity, and authority comes to be scarcely detectable. Father
and son, elder and younger brother may have to settle their disputes
as strangers do, depending on special institutions of peer-dealt
justice. But the essential feature of acephalous social structure is
that the socializing groups are domestic units or compounds recog-
nizing mutual dependence and agreed to hanging onto it in face of

Where close-kin groups are robust enough to handle disputes

over land, property, and marriage rights, a society without any formal
superstructure may achieve a considerable size and density. Some-
times, as probably was the case with Pangwa, the ‘eldest elder’ pops
up when a local spokesperson is needed. But pop-up leadership with
continued success on the score of growth and demographic density
leads either to division (the ‘hiving off’ and migration of lineage or clan
segments) or politicization. In the long run for kinship societies there
must always be a rather nervous blend of the fight-or-flight alterna-
tives. This leads eventually to the co-optation of the kinship order to
oligarchic political management on behalf of a trans-local community.
So, at least, goes one scenario most of us credit.

But the major transition is so gradual, through the elaboration

of existing institutions for managing conflict; through slow change or
episodic explosions of warlike activity; through plague and pestilence
and setbacks of every sort, that the brightest observer who had lived
through most of it would still be hard put to say how such things
happen. For Kinga, most of the tales are about warfare, about the
relative poverty of their ancestors, about witches, and about myth-
ical men of magical powers. Among Western scholars ancient Jewry is
justly famed for hanging onto its historical narratives; but the
accounts at least from Moses onward are of a literate people. The
past an ethnographer can get—all I might have got with twice the
time and diligence in the field—can’t come close to ‘history’. What I
can do is reconstruct precolonial realities from the information of
elders who knew them in their youths.

It is an unlikely scenario for a proto-state to suppress any of

the institutions of social control to which it is heir from prepolitical
times. Politicians find it more prudent to develop existing custom and
turn it to new uses. So dispute settlement moves from self-help
actions by kin groups to mediation by court authority but does so by
insensible steps. To illustrate, a hut-burning occurred in the Western

realm during my fieldwork. It was an act of self-help by an injured
party from a neighbouring political domain, and was considered to
settle accounts. The matter was never brought to court, having been
resolved within the rules of the game in the ‘bush culture’: the local
ruler at the time had more to lose by getting the incident into the
colonial record books than by letting it pass unsanctioned. But the
occurrence itself discloses the rather special pattern of history
which marks Sowetan history. It is easiest to understand when it is
considered as a temporal series of structural overlays. Rather than
the new way of doing things replacing the old, you get an accumulation
of law. An injured party can revert to an older scheme when the
current institutions of government are inefficient or inaccessible. In
this case, too, we have the evidence that the overlay pattern is as old
as the institution of the royal courts among Kinga. The direct
approach to redressing a tort—self-help, the transactional sanc-
tion—had to be one of the earliest ruling court’s targets in its take-
over of the jural system. That it nonetheless persevered perhaps
twelve generations later should not surprise.

Traditional institutions for conflict resolution used by the

Kinga and their regional neighbours were moots, courts, and ordeals.
After sixty years of colonial rule, the jural proceedings I observed
among the Nyiha (far neighbours of the Kinga, with a still strongly
particularistic bush culture) preserved the atmosphere of the moot,
where Bena, Hehe, and Kinga magistrates ran their courts in an
authoritarian fashion superficially closer to that of a colonial magis-
trate’s hearing. But the history of these three peoples shows that
the German and British models came on scene too late to be decisive.
The difference in style between moot and court was a tangible sign of
a difference, deeply rooted in precolonial times, between the region’s
two sorts of political community.‡

Kinga in colonial times (as always before) would not have seen
their courts exercising authority in a style calculated to erode the
substance of justice rendered. In their hearings the final decisions
were backed by the authority of high office, but always rendered in a
manner dramatizing a consensus of peers, so capturing its legiti-
macy. To be “tried in open court” describes the Kinga court case
exactly: the facts being quickly established, most of the talk you will
hear is from the public, assigning judgement. When the tide of opinion
falls back, the judgement is ready in the hands of the ruler. In this way,
the kind of authority a traditional chiefly figure could exercise was
set apart as an extraordinary instrument, different in kind to the
ordinary authority exercised within a household. It was a power, like

witchcraft, to which ordinary men don’t aspire. In the case of the
Kinga ‘high prince’ unkuludeva , the dangerous nature of this power was
dramatized in special ways, including the sequestering of the ruler’s
person. At a hearing in a princely court the ruler’s presence was felt
not seen; the court’s decision remained tentative until the lay magis-
trate had amply reported it to the prince, and returned to the court
to render it final. Procedures in lesser courts were not so elaborate
but evoked the same principles.

It has sometimes been thought that the simplest human socie-

ties were in one way or another controlled by tradition. But unless
you like to think of culture as brainwash, this position requires you to
supply some explicit social mechanisms. Gerontocracy might be such
a mechanism, but societies which grant to elders as a class some
authority over younger adults as a class, are rare. Age and gender, like
the specifics of parentage, are quite often a basis for rank conces-
sion, but rank superiority is not to be confused with authority as
such. For the most part, everyday authority in a micro-cultural
setting is exercised within particularistic networks. There age or
male gender not infrequently imparts a defined authority over in-
group juniors or women, generally reflecting the norms of domestic
organization and the marriage system. Hence when anthropologists
describe ‘ordered anarchy’ or label a society ‘acephalous’ they are
noting not that authority has no existence there but that it has
innumerable centres and forms, and can only be exercised at short
range. The garden of government needs not planting so much as
weeding in such circumstance.

Some societies achieve a remarkable degree of social coherence

through ritual rather than political means. But Kinga ceremonialism
was developed in a manner meant to strengthen the position of a
political ruling group, not to put the people directly in contact with
supernaturals. An individual in desperate straits must seek to
private practitioners for a cure. If that led eventually to open
confrontation and an accusation of witchcraft, the court came to
provide the necessary forum and means of settlement, but the court
culture could offer no solace or teaching. It developed rather in the
direction of building up an effective political régime, to which ritual
and ceremony would be largely ancillary. The major institution of a
Kinga court village was its barracks, a kind of college for bachelor men
in their prime.

The emergence of genuinely political institutions is (in the view I

have to present) the emergence of universalistic authority, first in
very limited roles but finally in a systematic fashion providing, in prin-

ciple, impartial coverage. In a fully centralized system, as Thomas
Hobbes was so careful to note, the political problem is only negative—
how to keep the top offices (or power élites) in check. Looking back
from this end of our millennium to seventeenth-century England I see
at once that the governments Hobbes could have had in view were—
and I look away from the matter of scale—a good deal closer in style
to the Kinga than to ours. The crisis of that century had to do with
the balance of power in a monarchy formed from hitherto autonomous
regional kingdoms. Kinga in the nineteenth century were engaged in
testing the potential of a centralizing ‘kingship’ and of limiting
regional autonomy, all on a smaller scale. The three centuries and
more since Leviathan have given us plenty of practical experience with
the problem of authority and power, but for most of us only a dimin-
ished sense of its transparency. Still, since the great source of
complication in our own world has been the growth of bureaucratic
government and industry, we can set much of our experience aside.

First this plain definition: a polity may be called a state so far

as a system of universalistic authority has been put in place, scan-
ning all acts affecting the public interest. In a protostate this kind of
authority has more limited scope. A by-product of the emergence of a
state is some rule of territorial jurisdiction; but the essence of this
rule connects it not with boundary maintenance, which is only instru-
mental, but with the universalization of authority. The same may be
said about the legitimate access by authority to the means of coer-
cion: since nothing less would be enough to establish a generalized
system of authority, a ‘monopoly of force’ may be a necessary but
need not be a defining condition of the state. How else do you get the
kind of authority which in ordinary English we call political?

One of the problems facing the world’s first politician was that
of holding people. When a moment’s dissatisfaction is enough to
prompt a man to pull up stakes and go off on his own or join another
group, authority has no firm dimension in time. Even the tightest
agnatic kinship systems do allow exit, but they so limit its marginal
value (to a discontented or frustrated man of the lineage) that the
rate of exodus is small. Universalization of authority is by definition
not complete until belonging is forever, but practical political systems
do not try to reach so far into the regions of the soul. It is enough
that the thought of exit be unattractive to anyone with a stake in
the system. In great urban societies personal mobility may even be
protected by the laws of the state, but in the politics of particu-
larism freedom has a different meaning.

Consider the example of a ship’s captain and crew under the

traditional laws of the sea. While the captain’s broad authority
remains tied to the time-scheme of a voyage, the crew’s obligations
are contractual. If the captain’s sovereignty is universalistic in
quality, it is not so in quantity, being limited in time. But let the ship
be outlawed and the terms of the contract change. If the captain’s
authority is to survive at all, it must become genuinely political. The
pirate ship is a mock state. Let a man jump ship, he loses his stake.
But on the mountain slopes of Kingaland, freedom to walk out has
never been so tightly foreclosed. With half a day’s walk from the court
centre you are in the bush and have the freedom of an acephalous
culture. The social contract between yeoman and lord is limited by

Reconstructive anthropology has to rely on analytical models,

and the fashion in modeling seems fated always to change. That much
given, there is a strong argument for using models based on the
regional culture of the people under study. The region I’ve chosen is
the Sowetan version of Eastern Bantu civilization. The setting is a
migratory settlement area several thousands of kilometers from
north to south, and varying hundreds of kilometers from west to
east. The known time depth is in excess of two millennia. The entire
civilization is a single linguistic province, with islands of ‘older’
language groups scattered through it, which show that the Bantu
expansion was everywhere overlaid on an earlier, sparsely settled civi-
lization. The possession of the arts of iron forging, and the agricul-
tural tools so made possible, must have been the main factor in
putting the Bantu in position to expand by colonization and assimila-
tion, not the warlike conquest which eradicates the indigenous
community. The survival of a (somatically) San population in Kingaland
at least into my field period is a living remnant of the gradual settle-
ment process which brought Bantu-speakers from lower parts of the
Southern Highlands into the mountain slope region of the Livingstone

Reconstructive anthropology has to be conceived in a broadly

historical methodological frame. We have to read an ethnography of
Kinga political and military institutions in the particular context of
the larger regional culture in which Kinga partook.

The Kinga in their Region

The political culture in focus is that of a highland people of less
than a hundred thousand, settled in a temperate part of South-
western Tanzania. The region as a whole is one of some contrasts but

of uniformly agricultural settlement. I have elsewhere shown that a
comparative ethnography of the Kinga and their neighbours can
justify our grouping them conceptually as a single regional culture. If
it was partly for convenience it was mainly to distinguish the cultural
from the less well-defined geographic region that I have collapsed a
longer phrase, giving me a ‘Sowetan region’ and a ‘Sowetan political
archipelago’ within it, comprising Hehe, Bena, Kinga, and two
Nyakyusa-speaking protostate systems. The Kinga rank, among the
dozen or more Sowetan peoples who were generally recognized by
colonial powers, middling as to population but fairly high with respect
to security, general prosperity, and political development. Each of the
four Kinga realms was governed by a prince of royal blood, and the
princes though styling themselves as perpetual brothers persist-
ently fought. Each realm was composite, consisting of the capital
domain which was the seat of the prince ( unkuludeva ) and lesser
domains whose rulers are lords ( untwa , pl. avatwa ). These last gener-
ally shared nominal kinship with the royal houses but exercised a local
sovereignty which stopped the princely authority at their borders in
every connection except those of ritual recognition and its material
expression in tribute.

The Kinga may be thought particularly prone to politicization for

the reason that they emphasized lineage solidarity hardly at all, but a
good deal of this is product not cause of their political development.
Nothing suggests land or water shortage spurred development, but
their active smithies must be considered. It is easier to argue their
development was in reflex to that of trading partners to the east
and west—which is to say, to deflect the question. Kinga were part of
the rise of an extended political archipelago running in a crescent
through the whole region. From linguistic evidence it appears the orig-
inal centres of protostate development were well apart, with bush
cultures always between. The most economical explanation would be
local political entrepreneurship building centres of strength and
stability in a region knowing increasing turbulence as pass-through
country. This would have been a gradually expanding response to
migratory drift through centuries of Eastern Bantu expansion.

Kinga seem always to have organized their community life in

small hamlets where the norm was free association or amity loosely
based on (fictions of) kinship. The nearest picture we have to early
Kinga conditions is Fr. Stirnimann’s ethnographies on the Pangwa,
southern neighbours to the Kinga East realm. By the nineteenth
century, marriage was usually virilocal but, wherever court culture
ruled, was undertaken a decade or two later in life than nature allows,

so that in the formative period of adulthood men lived and slept with
men, women with women, in the kind of association which is grounded
in propinquity and mutual choice not the ascriptive ties of birth.
Everyone had fast friends and a wide personal circle among his or her
gender peers. This protracted bachelorhood for both genders neatly
served the needs of the royal Sanga courts, and can hardly be
explained in any less political way.

Political authority for the Kinga in traditional times was almost

unopposed by the claims of any private, agnatic or cognatic power
system. They practised a mountain slope agriculture which tended to
concentrate population in separated, if usually open, valley sites with
a good deal of barren country between, always interspersed with
grasslands suitable for goats and sheep. As a setting for achieving
the good life through hoe-culture, and for the cultivation of political
gardens on the side, uKinga was not a bad place.

Should we consider that Kinga, with their court/bush
dichotomy, had evolved a stratified society? This is a key question
concerning the degree of complexity their political economy had
attained, and the answer seems to press accepted theories about
the origin of states. But it is an awkward matter to settle in plain
terms. What is the most elementary form of class stratification?
There are semantic difficulties—a distinction worked out for occupa-
tionally variegated societies may be useless in the Tanganyika high-
lands. Even holding scale and technology constant, systems of
stratification differ a lot from one culture to another. The same
terminology which yields a lucid analysis of one case may only confuse
the next. Efforts to extend the concept of caste to the New World
and pre-colonial Africa offer a case in point. The simplest of human
societies is not without a vertical status dimension, and this will
naturally grow as structural complexity is added, locking in local pecu-

For describing the Kinga I am particularly wary of the ordinarily

static connotations of ‘stratification’ and ‘social class’, since the
Kinga system of social differentiation seems to have functioned more
as a spur to circulation (mobility) than as an impediment to it. It is
proper enough to inquire whether the Sanga groups in each realm
constituted a ruling class or aristocracy. But the most telling ques-
tion is how far the Sanga reputation was a function of the system of

circulation which the princely courts were able to sponsor.

One point which can be set right at the start is that the Sanga
were only in the very loosest sense a ‘ruling clan’ or even a ‘ruling
class’. Strictly, the Kinga had no clans at all, since there were no
unilineal descent groups which regulated marriage. Local Sanga ruling
lines considered themselves exogamous, but in practice extended
their exogamic regulation no farther than was dictated by common
Kinga incest rules. Political marriages between Sanga courts were
sometimes undertaken, and may well have been common. Even the hint
of preferred endogamy which the known cases offer turns the mind
from ‘clan’ to ‘class’ in any event. The ethnography of the Kinga, like
that of the culturally related Nyakyusa, suggests the use in English
of labels such as ‘ruling group’ or ‘nobility’ or ‘aristocracy of birth’; but
any such labels (including ‘kingship’) should be taken with salt. ‡

The Sanga royals were not the only élite group in Kinga society.
Their importance would be obvious to any observer, though. Kinga are
known by an own (given or chosen) name and a surname which is ordi-
narily a patronymic. In most parts of the land in 1960 eight or ten
surnames would have included almost all the residents, but only the
Sanga were an important grouping in all parts. They were generally the
largest, comprising in all a third of the Kinga people. At one place
young men even talked of abandoning use of the name because they
felt it said nothing about their kinship connections. It is widely
admitted that the Sangas are so many not through natural increase
alone but through a kind of fosterage or identity-patronage which
suited the political strategies of the Sanga courts in traditional

There are said to be four kinds of Sanga to which a person of

that surname might trace ancestry:

Royals are members of princely households and former members

of reigning households.

Royal kinsmen are more numerous, comprising all Sanga who can
claim genealogical ties to a living ruler. In 1900 they must have been a
more visible social class than they were in 1960: I had difficulty
judging from reports because disinterested informants were hard to
find, and whatever special prerogatives royal kinsmen may have
enjoyed seem to have been subtle.

Merit Sanga were commoners [Sw: raia — K: avavanda] who as

courtiers had rendered meritorious service to a prince or princeling.
The standard or at least the ideal procedure was for the ruler to

reward such a man by bestowing on him a royal princess and along
with her the right to bear and pass on the Sanga surname.

Slave Sanga were the offspring of a ruler by hostage women who

were not taken as regular wives but obliged to produce and nurse to
weaning a child of the court before being returned (if they would) to
their people.
From this is it clear that the Sanga name as such bore no
certain implication of rank. It did carry an association with court
culture and the princely system of rule wherever men loyal to the
court circulated out to the peripheries, as they normally must at
marriage. On the frontier, the Sanga were more nearly political
missionaries than settlers by force of arms; but they had the arms
of the court and the bearing of soldiers to make their message
convincing. They were organizers, comprising as such a loose frater-
nity of political entrepreneurs. We might also think of them as war

The open, peer-competitive basis of masculine association had

to be deeply engrained in a male psyche after a long decade of growing
up in the bush, and boys born at court weren’t set apart from this
experience. It would have been anomalous if the same pattern of
association had not continued among men in barracks. The overall
congruence of domestic and political arrangements was hardly acci-
dental, the peculiar organization of the court village owing only its
barest essentials to what might be called the standard political
system of the larger region. While birthright was a key to succession
in princely office, otherwise a man’s standing at court was a reflec-
tion of his demonstrated capacities in fighting, hunting, and play. The
stakes for the ambitious were personal recognition and even formal
rank, but not elevation into a social orbit apart. Segregation was
present in two conditions: the prince and his wives (with their
infants) were wholly secluded in their private lives, and there was a
special men’s barrack house ikivaga (pl. isivaga ) for the court commu-
nity—for bachelor males of the royal or priestly households. The
reason for segregating royal women was the sanctity of the princely
sex life, which embodied the community’s hopes of fertility. The
reason for segregating royal males was nothing of that kind but
reflected the logic of the court village as a local settlement which, like
any other, required a house where boys and bachelor men would live
apart from their sisters. The other isivaga at the court were for
commoners drawn from the countryside and had the age-structure of
an adult barracks not a communal dormitory.

Circulation began for men with a young commoner presenting

himself at court to demonstrate that he could be worth his keep. This
he would usually hope to do by participating in cattle raids or equiva-
lent exploits and excelling in the “schools” of war—or he might have a
vocation as a minstrel, an alternative path to honour. The height of
success for a warrior at court was to be taken into the royal guard
avanyigoha ; but the guard was not separately quartered, nor was a
royal Sanga in any way preferred to a commoner, as each man’s true
prowess was a matter of public knowledge. I was told that a royal
Sanga who proved a coward would be left in war to guarding women. A
commoner of the same cast would simply not have or seek to gain
entrée at court.

When a man’s soldiering days were done he could expect to begin

life anew as a farmer. The prince should reward him with a wife
according to his due, and he would move out with friends to a place
found suitable. There they could usually expect without any special
show of force to be accommodated by neighbours. That was the logic
inherent in the relations between court and bush cultures. Where
there was doubt, there were ways of pushing the Sanga identity and
reputation to legitimate what almost always must have been an
intrusion from a position of power. The law of the bush gave a broad
kind of ownership in land to the first settler, whereas the law of the
court territorialized land. The spreading of the Sanga rule and the
Kinga identity in this way must therefore have been experienced
locally as a kind of micro-Anschluss. We can know from a few cases in
the Western realm (still not consolidated at Contact) that the local
bush leader was likely to be chased out initially, then called back as
priest/rainmaker to give final confirmation to the new Sanga estab-
lishment, in cases where it had flourished so well as to have the
makings of a minor court in its own right. The cycle of movement was
complete when, a generation after the initial Anschluss young men
from the new settlement began seeking back to the major court as
the place to test ambition and make sensible contact with a wider

At the heart of the Sanga system of circulation was an institu-

tion which made use of fosterage (in the broadest sense and in
various forms) and ceremonial symbolism to support an expansionist
military establishment within a framework roughly corresponding to
Aidan Southall’s ideal type of the ‘segmentary state’ or protostate.
The overall frame, considered as context for decision and action, will
be discussed in later chapters. The questions which should concern us
first focus on scale and proportion in the social system of a single
realm. This is the territory within which armed fighting was admitted

to be illegitimate, and there was normally a peaceful deployment of
personnel. It was the realm which comprised the setting within which
an efficient political economy might evolve.

What can we actually know about a system of rule which crum-

bled away in the first decade of the German presence and about which
we have next to no useful records? My main sources of information
are three: I talked at length in the field with old men who had been
part of the precolonial court system. The oral history I recorded,
along with some personal war stories, was made up mainly of tales
which incidentally illuminated the institutional framework of the
courts. Partly from discussion but largely also from observation in
the field I acquired a sense for Kinga political thought. Unexpectedly,
the last of these sources—observation of the way things were done
under a colonial and post-colonial government—proved most valuable.
One pertinent analogy would be the jig-saw puzzle: pieces don’t easily
assemble themselves without a sense for ‘the picture’. The methodo-
logical position I am taking can be understood as a Gestalt-theoret-
ical approach to history: the whole is, for intelligibility, prior to the
parts. To my mind it is the only premise which legitimates interpretive
reconstruction of worlds we have lost. That means putting all the
bits we do know in a context which illuminates them. I don’t know of
any scientific blueprint for the enterprise. ‡‡

Since it isn’t consistent with this position to burden a reader

with evidential details without first sketching in the bigger picture,
the following chapter is devoted to a veridical model of a Kinga realm.
That is a generalizing model warranted to be consistent with the
facts so far as known. The result should be suitable for reference
wherever a functional (how-the-system-worked) perspective is
needed. A veridical model is true only to the extent that its author
knowingly hides or misrepresents nothing. It is an honest construc-
tion here intended, like a quick sketch-map, for someone new to a
territory and wanting a sense of proportion. Quantitatively, how
important were the offspring of captives? of non-Sanga from periph-
eral settlements coming into the barracks life? How authoritarian
was the atmosphere in the barracks? Where I can’t now get solid
answers for detailed historic reconstruction, with care I can at least
rule out the worst distortions a hasty or myopic judgement might
impose. If vagueness can’t be avoided when you have to bridge infor-
mation gaps, half the cure may be organizing the main known facts at
the outset, put just in the light of common sense. That is what I have
in mind.


Domain and Realm

The Way Things Worked

Kinga ideas about political space were those of the Eastern
Bantu, with a few adaptive elaborations of their own. Since those
ideas are not transparent, and since Kinga political life takes its
whole pattern from them, I start with this. Because a household can’t
exist without fixed tillage rights, land in effect is held by households.
From earliest times, in any settled neighbourhood a newcomer or a
young person attaining maturity had to be granted those rights. In
traditional law, the grantor would have been the head of the original
household settled in those parts; and in traditional history every
named settlement developed from such a first settler. Precedence
was the basis of deference. But as settlement progressed with the
continued southward spread of Eastern Bantu Iron Age farmers into
the region, boundary problems brought the Kinga to move from
depending entirely on private or ‘network’ arrangements to developing
a public sphere. This entailed recognition of a central meeting place
where moots could be held and binding decisions made through agree-
ment by all parties.

As with any crescive institution, the moot would have grown

from informal to increasingly formal procedures; and with it the need
for assigning someone to bear the responsibility of public office. The
original political system was accordingly that of a pedestrian commu-
nity whose household heads could all be assembled at call. This works
out (by the usual rule of thumb in this mountain slope ecozone) to a
typical maximum of about a thousand households, seldom more.
These are the Kinga domains. There is no special word for them in the
Kinga language—there are only a few in each realm , and everyone
knows their names. Accordingly, Kinga lack any special word for the
realm . The names of the four realms are in each case (as with us for
ancient Rome) the place-name of its leading domain. Another histori-
cal analogue which may come to the Western mind is city-state

Greece, imagined in a formative stage. Up to a point, such models may
be apt, if one will grope backward (say) from the Mycenaean ascend-
ancy, imagining the polis of pre-urban, proto-state times in the
Aegean world. Have in mind that even a thousand years later Aristo-
tle would see agriculture as the occupation of our kind.

My plan is to offer a sketch of the Kinga system first, leaned of

ethnographic detail, because that seems to me the shortest way to
lay down my analytical cards. This puts the interpretive purpose, por-
trayal rather than piecemeal description, up front. There is a special
problem with the staging of this case. Kinga political culture, in har-
mony with the domestic system, is on the improbable side. It is not
that there are massive internal contradictions. Everything dovetails
nicely. I can think of no other society, unless it would be the Todas of
Tamil Nadu, whose every institution is so irrevocably a part of one
unique whole. But I’ve found that ready-made distinctions fail to sort
out the Kinga puzzle. In both the public and domestic spheres, Kinga
culture does include the standard round of Eastern Bantu institu-
tions, but none of the actors wear their usual countenance, and
things don’t work the same way. Perhaps Kinga have had more to do
with the invention of their culture than their less isolated neighbours
have with theirs. The present chapter aims to help a reader judge with
open mind. Both in its court and its bush version, the folk culture was
fully adapted to the Sanga political system, and the adaptation
deeply affected domestic life. The psychosocial orientations of men
and women contrast with those of their linguistic cousins in the

Readers of Twin Shadows, which deals with these contrasts, will

have some understanding. For others the sketch I present in these
early pages may serve to introduce a story with an interesting plot.

Historically, the Sanga system can be seen as an overlay on the

proto-Kinga bush culture which had taken root during the Early Iron
Age. Kinga occupy the heart of the Livingstone mountains, and iron
tool production enhanced their economy from the start. By the end
of the nineteenth century, Kinga had formed their special type of dual
society—they had two systems going in symbiotic union. Court and
Bush were connected through the circulation of men and women, as a
feature of their life-cycles, between central and peripheral institu-
tional settings. We can have no statistics, but the traffic between
these two spheres and styles of life was enough, with the help of cer-
tain Sanga outreach tactics (a tax and a ritually elaborated agro-
nomic calendar), to legitimate Sanga rule in all but the scattered
hamlets of a frontier nature never quite pulled into the new order. Out

there a more pristine version of the Kinga bush culture prevailed, and
militarism had no standing. What became uKinga under colonial rule
comprised an unusual variety of microclimates and ecologies, all
imposed by a broken terrain. In more accessible parts the Sanga
system had a profound effect on the bush culture but without quite
annulling the autonomous nature of the two lifestyles, court and
bush. Politically, the Sanga courts were buffered by their marginally
settled frontiers but poised to protect the hamlets from which the
court recruited its age-class of warriors.

It is inherent in the logic of any sort of evolution, social or bio-

logical, that it happens in a competitive context. Human institutions
evolve in autonomous communities competing for a purchase on earth
with other polities similarly organized. At whatever demographic
scale you examine the Sowetan area, social space is allocated in blocs
to social groups of a particular order. Ethnic groups, subregional seg-
ments, local polities, hamlets, households—this is a list which would
fit uKinga into the regional plan. Competition in human society means
rivalry governed by rules. Where the rules are clear and cogent, the
rivalry can be accommodated without violence. Sanga militarism is
best seen as effective in sanctioning internal rules at the level of
local domains, and usually successful in keeping the peace within a
realm. A plurality of realms was wanted, though, to make the system
work. There was enough ‘controlled violence’ in the warring of realms
to keep the militarism of the Sanga courts at a level sufficient to
sanction their internal peace. This, as I see it, is the basic plan for the
way the Sanga political system worked.

I propose we look at Kinga political institutions, in particular the

Sanga courts, in this light. The evolution of effective institutions is
sharpened where competition is military. My guess is that Sanga
institutions evolved rather quickly with a rise of the insecurity quo-
tient in the Livingstone Mountains during the transition of Eastern
Bantu civilization from a pre-political Iron Age to Medieval conditions.
This (probably) means the seventeenth century or somewhat earlier
for Southwestern Tanzania. The Mountain Slopes ecozone of Kinga-
land would have been heavily wooded in many or most parts during the
early period of change, and served as a refuge for small parties of
immigrants moving away from more troubled areas located mainly to
the northeast. As a rate of settler immigration accelerated so would
the insecurity quotient, and that would have been how and when the
stage was set for the evolution of an effective political system. The
Sanga lord could offer the protection of a standing military force in
return for tribute and military service. As we shall see, the process of

change continued in living memory: the same institutions, beginning
to form centuries ago, were still on the make. Warfare between the
realms and within two of them could still go out of control.

My approach to the political economy of Kinga communities in

the pre-Contact period will be to focus first on practical, functional
arrangements, leaving more speculative questions about style and
motive—the expressive culture—for later discussion. This is not
because style is something extra but because description of a rich
compound has to begin with a recognizable ingredient. One point
about Kinga style does belong here, though: their emphasis on hero-
ics. Without it the system would not have worked. The way Kinga
played upon their heroic themes was distinctly their own and not to
be explained on simply circumstantial grounds. But the heroic fancy
brought with it acceptance of the principle of personal leadership,
which was able to override if not replace an underlying, contrary back-
ground ethos. For this ethos the available labels are such as ‘ordered
anarchy’ and ‘egalitarianism’; but as pointers they are not really apt,
and the matter needs thought.

When German missionaries were first exploring Kingaland in

June 1894 they easily found a ‘chief’ [Häuptling] in a given area and
sent messages ahead to him announcing or arranging the terms of a
visit. Apart from sensing the mutual suspicion and hostility prevailing
in certain cases, the Germans were unable readily to learn what rela-
tions Kinga chiefdoms enjoyed with one another. Initially, they were all
taken to be independent entities which, if practically not all of equal
strength, were jurally and histrionically on a par. In this the Germans
were not far wrong: their ‘chiefdoms’ were the ‘domains’ of my refer-
ence model not the ‘realms’, and whatever (had they been asked) the
priests or princes of the time might have claimed about the integrity
of realms, the only visible and psychologically substantive polis of
Kinga life was the one the Germans intuitively identified. On the
ground, the Kinga constitution would have looked only too familiar:
each major ‘village’ had its own chief. The rest of the superstructure
was real enough but perhaps more symbolic than mundane. Penetrat-
ing at first only the Western realm and arriving at a time when it was
torn by internal war, the missionaries climbing up from Nyakyusa
lands predictably found a continuation of the pattern they knew
there. No local leader commanding an armed force would have referred
them onward to a superior. If they did perceive ritual curbs on local
sovereignty these would easily have been credited to priestcraft—
that is, to ‘superstition’ rather than intelligible politics. ‡

The polity the Germans identified on the ground was a defended

territory with a capital village and a ruler who could claim a monopoly
of legitimate force in that territory and was recognized by its people
as competent to receive and negotiate with an emissary from abroad.
Although there was a concentration of daytime population at the
capital, and at least one court village in the Eastern realm seems to
have been well enough palisaded and otherwise hastily fortified to
offer substantial numbers a temporary refuge in case of attack, the
military aspect of settlements was generally not obtrusive. People
mostly lived then in small clusters among their fields, as the bulk of
them still did two or three generations later. The palisades I know
from oral history were royal enclosures meant to protect the ritual
privacy of the prince’s sexual life, not the public safety. Domestic
compounds were in precolonial times stoutly fenced against vermin
but hardly against enemy attack—war, pursued Kinga-style, was not
such. Still, the domain was the solidary entity to which a Kinga must
belong in the event of war, and particularly in case of fighting within
the realm itself, which arose from time to time despite nominal claims
of unity. Jurally, the realm was closer to an alliance than a corporate
entity, but psychologically when a realm was strongly ruled the tilt
may have been the other way. Bachelor men were held to a court by its
attractions not by roots in the soil, and the liveliest courts had the
most to offer in spoils and high times. Kinga youth in 1960 knew the
war games of yore as their supreme sport.

The Domain as a Chiefdom

All the Kinga in 1894 (first colonial contact) can be visualized as
comprising a set of ritually and socially linked but politically independ-
ent chiefdoms , using that term in the generic sense which Elman Serv-
ice gave to it. I offer my reasons later for talking of princes (with their
realms) and lords (with their domains) rather than chiefs and head-
men; but starting with the central idea in Service’s model will help to
disclose important features of the Kinga system. He refers to a type
of society characterized by a redistribution process centring in and
conferring power on the chiefly office. The counters moved in the
process are foodstuffs, goods the chief is free either to store (as by
putting a gift-calf into his herd) or immediately redistribute to ordi-
nary people (as he would naturally do with brewed beer). Ideally, all the
alliances between domains were directly in accordance with avowed
ritual links, and in theory the rituals would be held to commemorate
ties of perpetual kinship laid down ‘in the beginning’ by a founding gen-
eration of Sanga rulers. This myth-model is far from sufficient to

have predicted the Kinga court, which embodied the rule of law and all
the features of a ceremonial centre; but we are looking at redistribu-
tional aspects of the Kinga system first.<<[lit]

What a chief does in redistribution is what the modern state

claims to do with taxes—turn what was private property into a public
good, and this without violating either the public trust placed in high
office or the principle of law by which rights in property are guaran-
teed. The chief has an interest in developing and maintaining a system
of redistribution because the process builds and reinforces political
solidarity. By solidarity I don’t here mean a condition of the senti-
ments but one of structure—the readiness to act in concert, accord-
ing to established rules of order, in undertakings understood to serve
group survival. In chiefdoms, the ruler’s ability to initiate such under-
takings is crucial, and that explains his interest in solidarity. Redis-
tribution works symbolic transformations on three levels:

(a) On the surface there is a dramatization of popular allegiance to the

chiefly office and of chiefly munificence. Feasting on spoils makes members
of the public accomplice to the chief in plundering a private person’s wealth,
transforming a paltry act of extortion into a show of lordly generosity. In
the Kinga case there was a scalar relationship between eating an animal
taken in tax (a less-than-grand occasion) and eating one taken in a raid
beyond the boundaries of the realm.

(b) At a slightly more reflexive level there is a transformation of the

person of the chief, whose identification with a transcendent office is
complete. Charisma is added. This occurs because the chief has shown
himself a master of prestations to whom one may look for more in future,
only provided one keeps faith.

(c) At a more fully reflexive level there is a transformation of the political

structure of the community. It becomes radically centred through the
expectation that the chiefly office can be a source of beneficent authority.

This model of redistribution assumes the natural (pre-political)

condition of a human community is molecular and that organization at
the molar level is best understood when set out in molecular terms.
Presumably the Kinga people, Sanga rulers and commoners, co-oper-
ated in developing the institutions of the royal courts under the spur
of fear. It would have been socialized fear, consensually confirmed and
fashioned into a political instrument by men claiming the talent to
control. Fear of war was absolved by the show of arms at court, and
fear of invisible predators was absolved by the show of mystical
powers and controls there. Fear is no universally dominant social
motive and would not have been the only one a lord or priest found
useful, nor am I prepared to assert that chiefdoms by their nature

only arise from fear of war and witchcraft. But I do find reason to
assert that these are old and characteristic motives throughout
Eastern Bantu civilization and underlie the social contracts of many
peoples other than the Kinga. I turn now to examine the way the three
kinds of transformation proposed in the model were exhibited in prac-

(a) Allegiance and Munificence

The major tax which a Sanga ruler laid on his people was a mar-
riage tax, called (in ikiKinga, the Kinga tongue) imongo, meaning other-
wise ‘he-goat’. The amount actually exacted in the usual case by the
close of the nineteenth century was a hoe, a bullock or cow, and a
goat. The cow was “for the prince,” the goat “for the father of the
bride,” and the hoe “for the petty local ruler untsagila ” who was cred-
ited with bringing the tax in. An approximate calculation suggests
that, assuming a thousand married householders in a domain, you
could anticipate something more than a marriage a week; just several
hundred households would then provide one a month; and it is there-
fore reasonable to accept my informants’ assertions that this was
the sole tax ordinarily levied by a prince or lord of a domain. For goods
passing from lord to prince, though they might have included some of
these taxed goods, we may reserve the name of tribute. Presumably,
Kinga tradition is sound in holding that the name imongo reflects an
original state of relative poverty when the tax was no more than a

Consider first the significance of the hoe. As it was carried back

to the same hamlet whence it had been brought as tribute, one might
think the political transformation worked by the prince was trivial.
But the travels of the hoe made a point of order obvious. If the petty
ruler had failed to initiate the payment it would have been exacted by
force, and the delinquent untsagila sanctioned accordingly. It is the
prince’s authority which has exacted the movement of the hoe from a
bride’s father to a local officer of the crown. There is implicit in the
hoe transaction the use of political power to oblige what is nonethe-
less publicly dramatized as a voluntary act of allegiance to an overlord.
This is the very essence of what moderns call “politics” and it is an
invention: it had not existed before. The actor constrained to play
untsagila might be the politically senior person of a small lineage set-
tlement anywhere in the prince’s domain. So by the very act of bearing
tax-goods to court, a private citizen is made a petty official and a
bush lineage becomes an outpost of the court. In the lord’s book, this

man or his ancestor was ‘sent out to rule’ that bit of the bush world.

Over time, completed incidences of the same transaction define

a ruler’s domain; and this means that boundary men, in a position to
play one ruler off against another, must be courted. The rhetoric of
action here says the hoe belongs to the lord as his due but he rewards
loyalty with munificence. It is no less true being made the lesson of a
set drama: the lesson will be reinforced on other occasions by gifts of
impulse as well. The hoe which was part of a tax on a private citizen
became tribute from a petty official, and then in being returned to him
became largesse from the hands of the ruler—a staple feature in a
developed system of patronage. The goat was slaughtered at court
for the bride’s father and his party, people from the households of his
hamlet. Since we know they were obliged to bring beer we know local
women and maidens were part of the procession; it was their chance
to sample the life of the court. We also know, from the presence of
beer, that the style is celebratory. As a portion of the goat was to be
carried home, the episode for the bride’s group followed the pattern
of sharing a sacrificial animal which was the typical feast of solidarity
in the bush cultures. Each hamlet would comprise an ikikolo (a local ‘lin-
eage’ group, in fiction and sometimes in fact) and for the bride’s
father to have slaughtered a beast without sharing it would have
been to breach a grass-roots law of solidarity still universal for Kinga
in 1960. ‡‡

The political transformation worked directly through the goat

amounts to (i) making it a matter of law that the bride’s father
should host a goat-kill for his local group or amity-based ‘lineage’,
rather than leaving this to local norms and inclinations; and (ii) chang-
ing the venue of the feast to the court centre, where the visitors
appeared as honoured guests sharing with their hosts. But the he-
goat imongo is part of the tributary procession to the prince; and the
part it plays in the dramatic symbolism of the institution named for
it is like that of the untsagila ’s hoe. If the goat were not brought in
with a show of voluntarism, and hence as tribute, it would be taken
more obviously by force—seen then as tax—and consumed by the
prince’s strongmen alone. Tax is dressed as tribute, and this is ren-
dered back as prestation.

The cow was the most impressive of the marriage goods offered
to a prince. Cattle didn’t thrive in Kinga country, evidently for a vari-
ety of reasons including specific poverties of the soil. Still a prince
must have an impressive herd, and this was kept in circulation even
though he ordinarily received no bridewealth for his own daughters,
who were not for courting but were given away in return for stalwart

service. In substitute, he took cattle from the bridewealths of his
subjects, wherever they were sufficiently prosperous to own what
were, by bush-Kinga standards, luxury animals. Where possible the
cow taken would be a productive female and would not be sacrificed
but exchanged by the prince for a bullock from his herd, reckoned suit-
able for slaughter. Cow’s milk was no part of an ordinary daily diet.

The manner of the kill for a bullock at a princely court was orgi-
astic. The animal, being led to a great height above the dance ground,
would be run down the hill in a state of frenzy by the young braves
avanyakivaga armed as for war. The game was to slaughter the beast
on the hoof, each rival group making as if to carve out its share of the
meat (one of the four quarters or the head and neck) without actually
stopping the creature’s career until it had been driven in. It is said
men could be killed or maimed in the fracas without bringing it to a
halt. All the action only added to the spectacle, and the expendability
of men emphasized the extent to which, as the prince’s followers,
they had become kinless. There could be no litigation or rancour over
such deaths. The prince played a political game with his cattle, in
which the imongo cow was one link. Cows kept in the royal herd were
actively productive. Male calves were often awarded to servicemen
settled in the periphery, in return for continued attendance at court,
and would be reared to full size by them. When the prince required a
bullock for slaughter the farmed-out animal would be called in and
replaced with a female from the royal herd—an animal some of whose
offspring would eventually return, in completion of the cycle, as
This game was facilitated by the ecology and pattern of settle-
ment. The uneven fertility of the country made it likely the central
power would arise in the richest section of a territory, allowing a con-
centration of cattle there though elsewhere their viability was mar-
ginal. The more settled quality of the central section also reduced
vulnerability to predators, furred and clawed or otherwise. The
slaughter of a bullock was obligatory as part of the ceremonial recep-
tion of imongo. The main beneficiaries were the residents of the court
village, particularly guardsmen, and guests—the rumour of a feast
would bring former avanyakivaga in predictable numbers from their
scattered hamlets. The redistributive aspect of this ritual transac-
tion was powerful. The spectacle of an orgiastic killing, the festival
atmosphere, and the open hospitality of the feasting and dancing
which followed, were bound to swell the prince’s reputation for munifi-
cence. They served to balance but would never disarm his quotidian
image as a harsh authoritarian. In Kinga country sound travels won-

derfully, and the sound of dancing works like a magnet on the mind
even at a great distance down the long valleys. Analytically, the redis-
tributive trick is again accomplished, and directed not to a private
party but the public at large, dramatizing the pull of the court.

(b) The Princely Office

The power of a prince was built on a politics of open hospitality
and oblique social control. Baldly stated, the court laid a tax on mar-
riage and claimed a monopoly of both arms and protective ritual.
Ideas about fertility lay back of both tax and rite. At the deepest
ethical level Kinga had not abandoned the moral strategies of the
bush with its values of self-reliance and the inalienable self-responsi-
bility entailed. Princely power had to evolve from the culture of the
bush. There had surely been no revolution and no foreign conquest.

The prince took imongo on his own schedule, not immediately on

the passage of bridewealth from the groom’s family to the bride’s.
The court’s men were sent round with some regularity to all the ham-
lets and so knew where to send for the royal portion of a recent
bridewealth, or go after it at need. The prince or his aides would sense
when the time was right for a feast but the prospect poor for staging
a successful raid. There were seasons and even periods of years when
a Prince would be at peace with his neighbours; and night raids over
the escarpment, to prey on rich Nyakyusa or Sangu herds, wanted a
cautious eye to the massive retaliation they could provoke. Or the
time would come (more often, I suppose, than informants cared to
recall) when a raiding party, mounted with enthusiasm, had only been
caught out and miserably failed. Then something was needed to pick
up the young men’s morale. The running of a bullock, the feasting on
braised meat and beer, and the long night’s dancing could be just

The bride’s father at the close of the nineteenth century could

expect a bridewealth of three hoes, one cow or bullock, and three
goats. After meeting obligations to the prince, the bride’s maternal
kin, and his neighbours the man would be left with a goat and a hoe.
Are we to think this would compensate him for the permanent aliena-
tion of a daughter’s agricultural product? Assume the economic
rationale was the guiding one in the marriage transaction and the
bride’s father an entrepreneur out to profit from it: we should expect
a sense of exploitation and resentment. The system would be trans-
parently unfair. The British thought it was and abolished imongo . But

what may be quite properly assumed for some Eastern Bantu cul-
tures, the corporateness of small agnatic lineages, doesn’t apply to
the Kinga. Marriages were not generally arranged, and the idea of
compensation was not applied to the loss of the product a man may
have enjoyed as a free contribution from his daughter. Kinga institu-
tions, and not least the autonomy fostered in women by their life in
the isaka (here, the bachelor women’s hostel which was a prominent
feature especially of the court villages), severely qualified the validity
of any claims men might lay to possessing an effective lineage organi-
sation. When Kinga say “the original Kinga bridewealth” was just two
hoes they are, elliptically, betraying recognition of the economic
growth fostered by the princely courts and tacitly accepting the
rationale of a tax to support them. I found no evidence that lineage
power ever had been sufficient to have established and sanctioned a
bridewealth conceived as capital-goods exchange. We may know little
about the way ‘capitalistic’ bridewealth systems evolve, but the
vested interests which keep them in being are surely corporate, and
for Kinga tradition the only such corporate groups were not lineages
but the political establishments found at courts.

As an institution imongo reflects the status of the women for

whom bridewealths were gathered and transferred. Since lineage
unity was problematic, sharing something out with kinsmen could (as
at a funeral) help to sanction languishing ties. There was no capital
transfer in the Kinga institution—no wealth in cattle which a man
might use in turn to get himself or his son a new wife. In precolonial
times a commoner woman decided whom she would marry and when. A
bridewealth inflation during the British period does suggest a growing
sense then of male ‘ownership’ of rights in women after the pattern
of the wider region, but the courts and their communalism were then
in stark decline. Imongo had been outlawed (as no tax might compete
with the British) and bridewealth had lost its overtly political func-
tion. The royal courts had been active ceremonial centres. The ener-
gizing of the redistribution system came from war and belief in the
invincible powers of medicines kept in the sacred groves. As these
sources of energy declined the big isivaga barracks were deserted, no
longer being sought to by youths, and maidens in like fashion took to
living in smaller houses under the nominal protection of family. The
society decentralized and family became more important in the
organization of ordinary daily activities. In the absence of strong tra-
ditions of paternal authority, banking transactions (amassing the
wherewithal to make a bridewealth on the one hand, dispersing it in
obligatory gifts and in return for debts on the other) became a basis
for the lineal and generational solidarity of males.

There was a notable ambiguity in 1960 in Kinga use of the word
isaka , which in some parts of the land had been retained for the pri-
vate girls’ houses and elsewhere had come to be used for a public
hostel of more general description. The ambiguity reflects change but
also disparity in the influence which the old court culture had
attained in different areas. With the decline of courtly influences,
bush culture predictably revived. With the pax britannica the politics
of bridewealth took on a new importance in bringing currency into
Kinga country from abroad. Accepting the need for bridewealth funds,
expatriate workers dedicated themselves to saving for their mar-
riage or, after the fact, paying it off. In this way the business of
making marriages continued to mobilize resources and to do so in a
manner significant at least for Kinga political identity and morale. At
the level of deep structure political balance was still nourished by the
economics of marriage.

Marriage for Kinga had special meanings associated with their

open sexual orientations and with dominance relations between the
sexes. It is plain that a political dimension always adds to the mean-
ing of marriage, but in this case we aren’t dealing with alliances
between powerful descent groups. Kinga political institutions in their
turn borrowed meaning from the seriousness with which marriage was
regarded by men. The virtual taxing-away of bridewealths under the
old court culture meant not only that the bride’s father was the less
inclined to press her to marry but that the groom, whose payment
would have so largely disappeared in the form of tribute, could hardly
put a counter-claim upon his affines in case of trouble in the marriage.
Further, the groom was expected in any event to earn and supply his
own bridewealth. In this way the usual East African pattern, by which
bridewealths seal alliances, gave way to a ‘nuclear’ marriage for which
the couple were largely responsible to one another. In view of the late
age at which court culture prescribed an end to bachelor living—about
the middle of the third decade for women and the actual onset of
middle life for men—this Kinga wrinkle should not surprise. ‡‡

Granted that marriage was not conceived as an exchange

between lineages or extended families, is it that women were the
pawns in some other sort of game? If so it must have been a political
one, dealing in symbolic transformations not economic equivalence.
Apart from the feasibility of the marriage taxes as a revenue base,
what sort of thinking could have given rise to their appearance and
public acceptance? Obliquely, the court would have known well enough
that delayed marriage was an unmixed blessing at least with respect
to the supply of military manpower and its logistic support: bachelor

men were free of home chores, women were the food producers, and
bachelor women produced a surplus from the soil. It would be foolish
to argue that the court establishments deliberately promoted homo-
sexuality, female diligence, and extended bachelorhood as a solution
to recruitment and logistic problems. We are not dealing with the kind
of society which subjects major features of the life-cycle and gender
career to diktat. But we are dealing with a rather special kind of soci-
ety nonetheless: one in which the political establishment co-opts
youth, fostering an extended bachelorhood in the court villages, and
even directing a neo-local settlement pattern. Even the pattern of
peer-socialization, rearing children from weaning apart from the
parental domicile, so distinctive of Kinga culture at the courts and in
the bush, is hard to conceive as a feature of pre-chiefly times. In all
this, if women be pawns they are no more so than children and men.

In claiming the better part of a maiden’s bridewealth, the prince

obliquely claimed the role of sponsor in every marriage. At court he
was regularly such a sponsor, since he could and (we are told) regu-
larly did bestow on loyal followers commoner maidens who were no
daughters of his own. On the symbolic plane, the prince was always
‘hot’ with heterosexual contact and was denied the more relaxing kind
of relations men have with men. While it is far-fetched to argue that
the rural groom, having in effect paid a bridewealth to the prince,
found himself in ‘alliance’ with the royal household, he did fall into a
position like that of the court serviceman for whom the prince had
unilaterally arranged a match. Implicitly the marriage tax made the
court, as holder of the cow of marriage, a silent partner and guaran-
tor to the contract and so to all affinal ties in the domain. Divorce,
though it seems not to have been explicitly disallowed, was as unchar-
acteristic as jealousy over women. Is it foolish to argue that the
strength of the political establishment is visible in the stable quality
of marriages made between partners whose childhood and early adult
sexual orientations would seemingly have worked against it?

We do have to account for the fact that non-royal Kinga mar-

riages, though arranged by courtship not by parent or prince, normally
were as dispassionately maintained as those initiated by the court.
Perhaps we should reason that the ‘bridewealth tax’ was, in effect, a
way of putting the court’s sanction on all marriages. But whatever
the importance of court sanctions in traditional times, the locus of
marriage politics in the British period came to lie in the kinship and
friendship networks through which the relatively massive bride-
wealths were raised, and within which debts must be honoured. Young
men came to be bound by long-term obligations to friends and older

men of their own or affinal families, in a pattern of mutual dependence
and concern which stabilized social relations under what might other-
wise have been anomic conditions of change and absenteeism. The new
institution developed out of the old through a series of historical
transformations in which the social interest in marriages was not
lost, but the locus of concern transferred from court to people in
consonance with the decentralising trends of the first half of the
twentieth century. The failure of British-sponsored court authority,
in spite of repeated efforts, to control the rise of bridewealths
bespeaks the change which had taken place and points the contrast
to earlier political conditions. Because of the size of the transac-
tions by the end of the 1950s, when there was not a single private
Landrover in Kingaland albeit men were paying for their brides the
price of a usable vehicle, the debt-network entailed in a marriage
would ordinarily go well beyond the limits of the individual ‘lineage’
settlement ilitsumbe. Indebtedness was beginning to knit together all
the households of one domain through a web of bilateral, oral con-
tracts. By contrast, when the princely courts were intact the unity
of a domain was vested in a common allegiance and conscious depend-
ency, of which the later British-sponsored law-courts were real but
faint reminders.

In the old culture the strategy for ruling a domain would have
been to diminish the self-sufficiency of outlying settlements enough
to create a measure of reliance on the centre, compatible with the
prince’s need for a monopoly of force. This wanted a superstructure
which would catch the imagination of the people at the same time
that it functioned in satisfactory style on the practical plane. All the
prestige and spectacle of the ceremonial centre, and all the impact of
the ritual controls and medicines thought to be concentrated there,
would never convince a farmer whose fear of hunger had outrun his
faith in the system. Fear sets a man’s thoughts running in the witch-
craft mode. All criticism of authority then becomes deeply implicit,
the explicit accusations being nebulous at least until vindicated by
divination, which for Kinga would (or should) always be done at court.
But witchcraft suspicions are so far synergic with discontent as to
be distinctly political in their implications.

Even in the field of arms, the extent of the prince’s power to

control events in peripheral places—in particular to protect subjects
from enemy raids—must have varied with many unpredictable condi-
tions. The raiding game depended on institutionalized terrorism in
which one’s own and the enemy’s success were functions of surprise.
To be able in spite of this to count on allegiance the prince could

hardly do without that non-situational, internalized political faith-in-
other, charisma, which we usually if not very cleverly consider to be a
function of inherent personal qualities. It seems instead to be a char-
acter projected through collective behaviour upon the person of a
leader (and willingly, of course, reflected back) in order to resolve per-
sonal insecurities arising among ordinary people. The fit of the public
image to proven personal qualities is usually rather loose. But by
denying disconfirmations and shamelessly exaggerating the leader’s
capacities (and always in a manner which clearly lays out for him the
image he must maintain) the fullest responsibility for the future is
thrust upon him and his office, while the commoner and his powers of
dissent are correspondingly debased. In this way a kind of atonement
is achieved, as fear of one’s peers is allayed while faith in a collective
future is confirmed.

Charisma is generally built up by the attribution of positive

qualities of luck, destiny, or grace to a person with the implication of
invincible, very general powers. What Weber described as the routini-
zation of charisma is for the most part the devolution of focus from
person to office—not, of course, to a disembodied office but to the
person of almost any legitimate incumbent. Some of the sacralizing
procedures associated with ‘divine kingship’ (à la Monica Wilson)
accomplished this for rulers of the best-established realms; others
must rely upon a more dramatic sort of political theatre. But ‘cha-
risma’ in a face-to-face community is not, in any event, what Weber
could have had in mind. The greater Eastern Bantu civilization has had
its prophets and its conquerors on the grand scale, such as Shaka
the Zulu or Mkwawa the Hehe—both leaders (like Napoleon I) of newly
reforged, polyglot nations. But when the tyrant’s alternative of revo-
lutionary militarism, or dramatization of his person in acts of whimsi-
cal cruelty and the like, is not available, the leader may have to be
curtained away from face-to-face contact with ordinary people. This
was the Kinga and, with a difference, the Nyakyusa style. ‡‡

A number of East African societies required, as the Nyakyusa

did in the case of the living Lwembe whom they shared with the Kinga,
that a divine king be strangled as soon as hope was gone of hiding his
ill-health. Whether or not such executions normally had to be carried
out in fact, the belief that they must would serve the public pur-
pose—the ways of apotheosis are many. Kinga seem to have circum-
vented this charismatic source of embarrassment in respect of the
princes of their four realms and the petty lords ranged out around
them. Kinga priests managed their myths as astutely as politicians
anywhere, even employing a few of the special tactics we associate

with modern press agentry. They kept the high prince secluded in a
hive of vitality which spoke for his own, a stockade full of vigorous
women and their infants, with whom he had unceasing business, grati-
fying and begetting. In several domains I was told that a Kinga lord
could choose to retire on account of age and live on privately. In the
case of genuine impotence I suppose he would be obliged to, though no
Kinga priest would tell me so. The principle on which all were agreed
was that the fertility and munificence of the prince were two aspects
of a single quality which every incumbent of the highest office must

The vitality of the princely household was manifest in a feast.

Whether the meat had been exacted from a bush bridewealth or from
the lush-seeming herds of neighbours conceived as enemy, the beer
and staple foods came principally from royal gardens tilled by avehe
and ing’engele , the wives and daughters of the prince. But a feast was
most wanted when malaise was on the land and the drift of things
must be turned. This made imongo a peculiarly useful device, allowing
the court to operate with a reserve of wealth. The Kinga royal surplus
was banked in the bush where cattle could be safely dispersed but,
lying to the credit of the royal office, ever available on call. While the
prince in person would perhaps play no visible role in the arrangement
of a feast, inasmuch as all was done in his name the attribution of
charisma to unkuludeva , prince and princeship, was predictable.

Domestic life for the Kinga before Contact combined most of

the insecurities of premedical culture and of pioneering as a way of
life. Because the loyalties of sons were channeled first not toward
family but peers, a man’s domestic establishment was not a solidary
group into which he could easily withdraw from the men’s house and
political life. The precolonial political system reflected these realities,
as the later system would reflect altered circumstance. The cha-
risma of the prince in the old culture matched the stakes for which
the royal game was played, which then were hardly less than life and

(c) Centring the Polity

An archetypal redistribution system would lay down that all of
a particular sort of staple belonged to the chief and must be brought
to him; but that he in turn must feast the people on it without stint-
ing, or see them shift their loyalties to a more generous man. The ele-
ments of the social contract are there. Power, privilege, and authority
are vested in a single office—the people have conceded rank. But the

concession is conditional and it is made only in the context of chiefly
competition for popular following. (I do suppose the Enlightenment
philosophers were right in assuming that freedom is the pre-social or
‘default’ condition of a human community—about which more later.)
Intermittently citizens will doubtless arise and demand their due.
When they are gathered in numbers, as they must often be if author-
ity is to be confirmed in a face-to-face polity, discontent can easily
explode. That does not have to happen, only to prove itself possible,
for the people to sense their overwhelming power. In precolonial East
Africa all free adult males were offensively (and equally) armed, and
numbers were strength.

The theme of a gathering in strength at a Sanga court centre

was either war or feasting, or it might be a dramatic fusion of both,
the war-games occasion. What mattered politically was that the
whole occasion be impressively managed, since that is what authority
is about, and authority—a contrary force to freedom—is what differ-
entiated the in chiefly politics of the court from that of the bush
hamlet. A special facet of the Eastern Bantu court, the prevalence of
intoxicants, can only augment the probability that unpopular rule will
explode. Not only is the feast a condition of forming and maintaining
popular loyalties, it is a test and dramatic proof of them. It may be
only through conceiving the feast as political drama, through which
tension is discharged and faith in the institutions of governance
renewed, that we can catch the court atmosphere.

Taken as a loose bundle of facts, the whole chiefly construction

falls in as a muddle of inscrutable custom. For the participants,
feasts work an elementary transformation. Where men felt hungry
they are sated. Where they were discontent they are at peace. Where
they felt ill-assorted there is atonement. A hundred anxieties are
assuaged. The close relationship of theatre and politics in ancient
Athens is widely appreciated in a civilization which sometimes traces
its roots to Greece. The role of dancing at the Kinga capitals was the
same and had its theatrical features. The transformation worked by
a euphoric experience en masse was probably not quite what Emile
Durkheim envisaged in Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse . Indi-
viduality would not have been lost unless for the most youthful—it
was evoked and dramatized by a kind of star system in which paint
and costuming served to amplify the impression of personal style and
flair in the dance. But as men and women of the bush found their ways
home from a celebration at court there could have been no doubt for
them as to where the vital centre of their common life was to be
found. The princely feast was an inversion of the young people’s drum-

ming dance out in the otherwise deep quiet of the bush, which seems
to call one away from the ordinary centres of existence to a perch
above them, a temporary but total autonomy. At the capital one
learned to accept, on converted terms, collective dependency. ‡‡

A redistribution system gives importance to material things

but works through personal experience and the communication of per-
sonal knowledge—exchanges which entail and in some measure depend
on objects of economic value but which necessarily go beyond the eco-
nomic and imbue them with values of another order. Picture a proces-
sion of men and women, driving animals and carrying their gift-hoes
and beer to the capital for what is a special kind of marriage feast,
and match that against a picture of the same persons returning,
whether by night or the following day, with full minds and bodies. Now
they are not in procession, having nothing to show. Fascination with
surfaces has passed for the time. Spectacle has been taken in and
fills each person’s inner vision. What constituted a domain in the
Kinga political system was this experience of a ceremonial centre as
an alternate locus of being, a dilation at once of primary group and
political identity.

A necessary part of the procedure was the predictable co-oper-

ation of the hamlet’s headman, owing to his personal expectation of
reward. If he was not actually a man ( untsagila ) sent out from the
domain court, he would have been co-opted to the role—as receiver of
bridewealth he would accordingly partake as a patron of the marriage
in the same way as the prince, albeit rus in urbe . At the same time, by
coming forward with this share of the bridewealth as tribute, this
headman identifies himself as client to the lord of domain: he medi-
ates. Like the lord, he had an interest in seeing the maidens of his
settlement safely wed; like the father of the bride, he only surrenders
to superior strength goods generated by private effort and a private
transaction. As participant in the tributary procession he walks with
resentment contained, conformity signaled in externals. But the
scope of the domain nonetheless was crucially defined by the pres-
ence of the taxpayer himself in the procession, and his full participa-
tion in the festivities his ‘tribute’ made possible.

It was only at the main court centres I would be told at length

about the further passage of imongo from the lord of a lesser domain
to the prince of the realm. It would typically have been a grudging
prestation, only rendered when the putative balance of debt and
credit seemed to demand it—when princely emissaries could make a
sufficient pressure felt. This further dispatch of imongo was the main
act which constituted the ties of fealty binding the realm together

as a polity without internal war. The lesser prince would send not bring
the tribute. This personal abstention marked the boundary of a self-
contained domain, and at the beginning of schism must often have
constituted the manifesto of an untsagila (lieutenant) putting up a
new barracks and proclaiming himself untwa (lord) of a petty domain.
The dramatic significance of personal subjection was crucial—the
true polis was the domain, the realm was a confederation and far less

Problems of Scale
How grand an establishment could a Kinga prince afford to
maintain? It would be easier to include scale in our model if we had—
what we do not—an accurate set of estimates from German times.
Direct statements of recall or hearsay from 1960 could occasionally
be checked against conditions as I could reconstruct them on site;
but figures remain in the air. In our favour is the evident fact that
most Kinga local populations by 1960 had recovered to precolonial
levels but probably not gone beyond them. This speaks to the ques-
tion of overall population size for what became the British jurisdic-
tion named Ukinga—say, fifty to sixty thousand souls. Still we are in
the unfortunate situation of having to reach quantitative conclu-
sions from qualitative analysis.

What I propose to do is to use probabilistic analysis to work

through the problems for one domain (Maliwa in the Central realm) of
moderate size which remained comparatively ‘hidden’ from direct
interventions during the colonial period—no roads, no missions. This
will provide a base for assigning rough dimensions to a veridical model
of the Kinga domain and realm. I assume the domains were usually not
far from the mean size I posit, and from the record we know how few
or many were linked together by lordly loyalty to the prince of each

The chosen example, Maliwa, is a self-contained and prosperous

domain of the lesser order. The lord ruler of Maliwa sent on imongo to
Ukwama. I was instructed that the ordinary muster would be a hun-
dred or as many as two hundred fighting men. Since I was never in
position to verify those figures in any way, I can only say they are
easy enough to believe. The muster is to be taken from a total popula-
tion of around a thousand and would comprise all the fighting men of
such a domain. How many can we realistically suppose might have been
barracked at court as a standing force? The decisive considerations

in the end must have been logistic.

In seasons of heavy clearing and turning the soil all the men
then as in 1960 were turned out to work in the fields—fighting forces
would have been dispersed then simultaneously in all domains of the
four realms of Kingaland and bordering areas of the highlands. But for
much of the year the economic contribution of the bachelor Kinga
male was, apart from occasional engagements with construction or
crafts projects, restricted to clearing land, hunting (for meat and for
the long- or short-term protection of fields and livestock), raiding,
and repelling or discouraging raids on local herds and flocks. Most of
these activities allowed a man wide license as to schedule, ambience,
and degree of commitment. My reconstruction has to be based on the
fragmentary information questioning could evoke. The main con-
straint on residence for an unmarried man was access to cooked
staple foods—adult men didn’t prepare their own meals.

The Maliwa lord’s women, wives and bachelor daughters, had to

put up the food taken at barracks. But armed men, like boys, could
expect to take food occasionally from many kitchen fires and regu-
larly from those of close cognatic kin—a set of married women who
would ordinarily be dispersed over several settlements within the
(largely endogamous) domain. In turn, any man with a local food con-
nection might share food with his traveling companions, subject to
the general norms of kinship and friendship. In this way, the dangers
of an unchecked foraging license were avoided, at the same time that
the court’s men had access to living off the land.

This arrangement facilitated the irregular eating habits of men,

who would be content with a single full meal daily, picking up additional
tidbits here and there, and generally obtaining a substantial part of
their nourishment around the beerpot. This was a mobile, even rest-
less population when one contemplates the demographic importance
of bachelor males: in all but the least-politicized peripheries they
would have outnumbered the married men and would have affected
their style as well. Young men, generally bent on adventure, were as
likely to be away from court at nightfall as to be present, except on
official occasions. To ask how many were barracked at Maliwa court is
therefore not to ask how many had their living there at the lord’s bid-
ding. To that narrower question my answer would have to be nearer a
score than a hundred. In effect, only an inner guard of chosen stal-
warts would have been continually quartered and fed at the crown’s

Others living at court were at home there as offspring of the

prince or his predecessors, or offspring of the priestly families, and
would be fed from family fields they helped to till. Altogether, the
answer to the question of minimal scale for one of these royal courts
has to be given in terms of a core, a casual complement, and a full
muster. Although the prince of a realm or lord of any domain would be
impressively polygynous by Kinga standards, the lord at Maliwa would
unlikely have more than ten living wives, including those inherited. The
prince of a realm might well have the double or more. There would have
been two or three men versed in priestcraft at Maliwa, each with sev-
eral wives; and at a higher court the numbers would increase propor-
tionally. There would always be a few private households at any court,
and various clusters with their plantings nearby.

Witchcraft was often rumoured as between ruler and rival, and

the admonitory founding myth of the Lwembe cult tells of an (ill-
starred) effort to banish this troublemaker-god, but overt and suc-
cessional struggles for power were effectively finessed through the
authority of the priesthood. The dying out of local royalties seems
never to have occurred—the typical problem was rather dispersing
the offspring of a fertile ruler, and this was normally managed by the
mechanism of ‘sending out’ parties of (born or honorary) Sanga to
settle and rule new outposts in the bush. Succession to office was
always taken in hand by the priestly clique, whose major problem was
to suppress the mobilization of factions. How far they might have to
go may be seen from the case of Kipole in earliest German times. She
was a strong-willed princess made Paramount ( unkuludeva at Ukwama)
to serve as regent while a younger brother grew up. If she could have
better borne the reproductive burdens of the office, it seems she
might well have stayed on.

As it might have been seen by the hawk’s eye at Contact, the

royal village at Maliwa probably comprised about thirty marital
households: the royals, the priests, and a few others. Two or three
small hamlets lay close by, allowing daily intercourse. From these
households and from the farther hamlets of the domain the lord’s
court would have had half a hundred fighting men present to the
trumpet’s call at any emergency—the core. There would have been
several score more of casuals irregularly quartered in the royal
ikivaga ; and married men formerly resident at court would often be in
attendance for the moots, the beer, and the accomplishment of odd
errands. The courts were, as they continued to be in 1960, centres of
news, litigation, and negotiation as well as of conviviality. About
scale, and in particular about military manpower, the result of this
veridical review for Maliwa generally confirms the judgements of my

informants for other domains as well.

The capital of a realm was unquestionably larger but still must

recruit men mainly from within its proper domain—the difference was
one of prosperity, of degree not kind. The flow of imongo from lesser
lords could never have made up more than a fraction of the capital’s
requirements, and in spite of marginally better locations the logistic
problem at Ukwama (Central) or Uhugilo (Northern realm) would have
been quite like Maliwa’s. There were four isivaga at Uhugilo, one for
royals and offspring of court officials, three public. Raids and border
wars were waged on a more regular basis, and men roamed farther
afield—as far as uSangu for cattle, regularly into the Western realm
for cattle and women. This called for a greater standing force,
entailed a more extensive use of casuals when things were stirring,
and justified a more elaborate ceremonial life. The highest estimates
of their total muster I had from elders of Uhugilo were at 500 or so,
and a conservative judgement was 300 at the war-games celebra-
tion. There must have been many occasions on which several hundred
men would be sleeping at court; but I believe if we doubled all the esti-
mates (for core, casuals, and full muster) from Maliwa we could not be
seriously underestimating the scale of Uhugilo’s court at its height.

If my numbers are ‘qualitatively’ derived they suggest at least

an order of magnitude against which further qualitative information
can be scaled. We are talking about domains of only 1000 to perhaps
1500 households, even in the case of the four capital settlements,
finding a centre in a modest, partly-stockaded village housing seldom
more than ten percent of the population and strongly biased toward
bachelor males between the ages of fifteen and forty. The bachelor
women of such a village would all have been under the age of twenty-
eight or thirty. They lived apart from men in dormitories ( isaka ) of
their own where they regulated their own lives, always busy with food
production and preparation, and enjoying special respect. Every war-
like capital would include a few hostage women whose offspring were
to stay on when their mothers were returned under treaty. These
children and those of the priests and royals lived in the style of sib-
lings or cousins in small, casually recruited groupings, again living each
group to itself. While there is a parallel—in the disjunction of genera-
tions—to the age-village pattern of the Nyakyusa described by
Monica Wilson, in uKinga there is not the same concentration of peo-
ple, the bachelor men have their freedom under direct political not
jealous paternal authority, and the vesting of property in lineages is
no feature of the social organization. ‡‡

Kinga and Nyakyusa had in common the concentration of bach-

elor men under chiefly rule, their numbers augmented by the system-
atic postponement of marriage. The key in the case of the Nyakyusa
was privileged polygyny, based on the reservation of cattle and brides
to politically privileged elders—men who had officially ‘come out’ as
members of a mature age-village. Nyakyusa fields were tilled and
Nyakyusa cattle were kept mainly by the owner’s sons and their
peers, while women’s productivity from an early age was domestic. By
contrast, the economic engine in the Kinga case was the segregation
of young women and the intensification of their agricultural produc-
tivity. At the larger court villages the concentration of labour in the
princely harem alone was formidable. When to their productivity is
added the youthful energy of their daughters, who would begin pro-
ducing a surplus of food easily a decade before their marriage, and the
work of widows and wives of collateral royal or priestly lines, the
assembled workforce represented an economic resource of remarka-
ble potential. May we assume 150 women in good health? Further
assume that each produces only enough food for an average family,
including one adult male, and the produce of their fields ought to suf-
fice for keeping 300 men the year round, as the number of dependent
children in such a community was always artificially low by (cross-cul-
turally) ordinary ‘family’ standards. Nyakyusaland has been described
in telling detail as a political community organised for the benefit of
“men and elders,” and yet also as a community of peers focused in an
ethic of “good company”. Ironically, it is this society, which gives
women the easier economic lot, which appears to give them the less
satisfactory sense for themselves and their modality of being. Kinga,
partly by way of the balance effected through circulation, but partic-
ularly through the immunities associated with a genuine bachelor
status for both sexes, created a social system in which the industry
of women, and the high morale and moral autonomy which made it pos-
sible, were as prominent in their own way as the political and jural pre-
eminence of men. ‡‡

For Kinga, domesticity in the usual sense was allocated to the

bush, where for Nyakyusa it was associated with centres of wealth
and power. For Kinga, bachelorhood was an elevated condition of life,
associated with the “good company” of peer life for both sexes, and
with the highlife of the courts which celebrated the values of war,
where for Nyakyusa to be unwed was to belong to the junior, sexually
and economically dispossessed sector. Young men, they said, were
more aggressive in war because they had no satisfaction from women.
It was a system masking deep psychological exploitation, but was
probably much more rapidly expansive than the Kinga although inter-
nally less poised. There was a fundamental dualism in both cultures,

associated with the modalities of family and peer values. But where
Nyakyusa might be torn between the obligations imposed by kinship
and community—the classic instance being the funeral dance where
youths of rival villages might so easily clash—peer and family life had
different locales for the Kinga. Men learned to shift between them, if
not quite without hurt, usually without violence. While the overall
scale of Nyakyusa political society, taking in all the dialect communi-
ties north of the River Songwe who shared the diagnostic ‘age-village’
system, by Contact was two or three times that of the Kinga com-
munity, the tradition need not be rejected that, with respect to
development of a ‘chiefdom’ configuration, historical priority belonged
to the highland people. Mature Kinga men were not hell-bent, as
Nyakyusa were, upon the accumulation of herd-animals, wives, and
offspring; though they assiduously cultivated the arts of war, the
expansion of their four realms by dint of those arts may indeed have
been a gradual, even a comparatively peaceful process. ‡

Competition and Systematic Change

The stirrings of war spread throughout southwestern Tanzania
during the latter half of the nineteenth century, bringing destruction
on a new, barbaric scale. In this section I endeavour to take account of
events as they impinged on structure in what I take to be the histori-
cal and proto-historical period we have to deal with. For the Kinga, and
for the two main Rift Valley peoples below them to the west, the long-
term state-building effect of invasion may have been paradoxically
constructive. The Ngonde of northern Maliwa and the Nyakyusa north
of the great lake comprise a single language group with important
institutions in common. The threats they had to counter came origi-
nally from the south. Militant ‘Ngoni’ bands, originally displaced by
expanding European settlers far to the south, were swarming north-
ward, living off the land. At first, their ‘Zulu’ fighting style was invinci-
ble; their routine during their first-contact period was to decimate
men, incorporate women and children as captives and cohorts, live on
their stores, and move off with them in search of more. A parallel
threat was coming from the expansion of Arab slave raiders and trad-
ers on Lake Malawi.

The Ngonde pulled together under direct assault and developed

a centralizing constitutional authority. The Nyakyusa, protected in
some measure by geographic barriers, were less directly exposed to
external attack and remained fragmented in scores of independent
chiefdoms, corresponding for the most part to Kinga domains, sans

the higher-level realm organization. But the intensive emphasis on
internal amity which was characteristic of Nyakyusa at European
Contact (and is matched only by the theatrical bellicosity of their
intergroup rivalries) suggests a level of politicization which may not
have been much older than the warlike pressures stimulated first by
the Ngoni trespasses of 1840 and after. Charsley summarizes the
developing military capability of the Nyakyusa in the half century
before German missionizing began, holding that a few princes became
strong enough to beat off invaders without depending on broad alli-
ances. Since a prince to command a large force must (given the
Nyakyusa political cycle) always personally consolidate his realm by
dint of arms, we may suppose that impressive power-building did
occur within several Nyakyusa realms during the period in question.
But it seems not to have extended to them all. ‡

What by comparison is distinctive of the Kinga is that hierar-

chization was virtually complete at Contact: there were no loose
domains or single-village realms in the Kinga scheme. In their official
view of themselves, all the locally organized polities (domains) were
incorporated in pluralistically organized polities (realms) of a higher
political order. The Kinga system seems never to have involved the
effective banishment (or hiving-off) of a ‘younger-brother’ chief as did
the Nyakyusa. The central political/religious myth of the Kinga can be
read as an explicitly moral tale about the folly of such acts. Sanga
braves who were sent out to the bush to rule were not banished as
rivals to, but nominated as representatives of, the chiefdom they had

Shouldn’t we suppose that the central political myths which a

people celebrates will be a key to understanding the ritual re-enact-
ment of the relevant mythical events? Then it is interesting that
Kinga and Nyakyusa share—concelebrate—their central myth, which
is the Lwembe tale, but live by rather different readings of it.

Of the two protostates I see the Nyakyusa as the livelier, the

Sanga the stabler. The fact that Kinga concepts of political order
focused in what we can call (after Southall) a ‘segmentary state
model’, and that this model posits an abstract unity, does suggest a
more stable political system than the Nyakyusa, which favoured a
political hiving-off—a systematic break-up of each chiefly domain at
each generational succession. But how long the two systems had
endured or would have continued remains a matter for speculation. By
all accounts, the Nyakyusa culture was robust and expansive in the
late pre-Contact decades. Possibly in 1890, could I have observed it
then, the Kinga protostate would have seemed more shadowy than it

does now in the rather proud retrospect I got in the 1960s. ‡

The key to segmentary unity was the myth of a Sanga royalty,

which kept the princes few by linking their offices through (fictionally)
full sibling bonds. This meant the status of unkuludeva was won and
held on sufferance of one’s ‘brother’ princes. In this the Kinga con-
trasts with the corresponding but logically less tight myth of an
hereditary Nyakyusa aristocracy, whose progenerators are said to
have migrated from Kingaland some centuries ago. In both formulae
the claim (or allegation) of alien origin establishes a special social
category for the rulers and imbues it with an ambivalent reputation.
Priests not chiefs are the masters of the occult—of protective and
divinatory rites. Chiefs not priests enjoy the gift of inherent power of
the very sort we know as witchcraft. But if it seems to follow that
the royals as a class are not one with their commoner friends, it
would be hard to prove by those who never succeed to office. Those
who do gain office must prove themselves by standards which as
clearly set them apart from their fellow royals as from commoners. In
drawing no class or caste lines from their myths the two social sys-
tems are alike. But the Nyakyusa coded into their celebrated “coming
out” ritual for each new generation the idea of an indefinitely prolifer-
ating, bellicose aristocracy of militant leaders. For Kinga, the two his-
torical figures of their own who came up to such standards appear as
heroes, to be sure, but heroes of a sort men fear as much as they
admire. The main mystique of political power for the Sanga rulers was
supplied by the paraphernalia of the princely court, seen as ceremo-
nial centre. To put the difference succinctly, conflict among neigh-
bouring groups was attributed by Nyakyusa to the open and valorous
rivalry of their rulers, by Kinga to the hidden and blameworthy enmity
of princely siblings. There is no evidence that political conflict at the
practical level was less intense among Kinga than Nyakyusa, or
enlisted baser passions—only that it had a more shadowy ontological
standing as a free-framed or extra-processual phenomenon.

There is no rule which says how far behavioural realities will

eventually bow to their framing myths; but equally there is no rule
which says when and how the myths will be revised to fit prevalent
practice. Christians are famous for proliferating their frames and
deploring their praxis; democracies for praising their frames and sub-
verting their meaning. Within what appears to be a uniform framing
structure, even in the microcultures, the internal variety of conform-
ing patterns is probably always far greater than an observer is apt to
report. I must be silent, accordingly, on the matter of personal diver-
sity among the Nyakyusa; I can only refer a reader to the four rich vol-

umes of Monica Wilson and state the impression I have from her, that
a very considerable conformity of philosophy and conduct was
imposed by age-village peers on their members; that women and
young men felt subtly but implacably tyrannized by their (especially
male) elders; and that I could never have described a code of ‘Kinga
values’ with as little hesitation as she describes the Nyakyusa code
under her five headings: good company, dignity, display, decency, wis-
dom. None of these headings seemed to hit the mark for any Kinga
community I knew, though individuals might score high on such counts.
Kinga, in any event, don’t just tolerate eccentricity and refrain from
personal criticism but attach importance to a person’s right to
choose a less-used path, to keeping one’s own counsel. ‡‡

Though Kinga, like Nyakyusa, are raised less by their parents

than their peers, the Kinga choose their own friends individually and
move in wider circles. No one in East Africa, I think, can be less vulner-
able to tyranny than Kinga boys; no girls learn more self-reliance than
Kinga girls. There is much to be said, and I have said a good deal in Twin
Shadows , about the kind of society all this makes for. What is relevant
here is that it makes for a community open to constructive political
change. It is a great set of small sets which, usually in undramatic
ways, tend to reinvent themselves with the passing of generations.

I take a few simple examples: Each Kinga realm and domain

seems to have kept its own version of Kinga history. The four external
wars the historians of Maliwa report are the accidentally disastrous
British invasion of 1914, the morally indignant German savagery of
1905, and engagements with “Arabs” and Ngoni raiders earlier. At
Maliwa local boundary medicines are credited with keeping all four
intrusions at bay. In other Kinga domains the Hehe-Bena ( Avajinga)
appear in place of Arabs, and engagements with the Rift Valley Sangu
are added in the West. In every case the object of an African invader
would have been the capture of women, children, and/or cattle. By
contrast, internal wars threatened only passing damage and would
have mobilised more dimensioned energies. Accordingly, Maliwa
seemed an especially comfortable, even sleepy place in 1960, as one
came to it from the capital village of Ukwama, which I personally found
more creepy than sleepy. Only the Western realm during my time was
developing weekly markets in native crafts and foodstuffs, and
exporting agricultural produce. The Northern realm, on the other
hand, seems never again to have thrived as it did under the Germans;
under the British it languished, exporting most of its men to planta-
tion labour, welcoming an imported commodity economy, and leaving
its Kinga past behind.

The earliest and even the latest British district records paint
all the Kinga as I have painted Maliwa: an isolated and conservative
people. As a Briton’s-eye view, that is not wrong. You have only to dis-
count entirely the migrancy rate of the men and the wide perspective
they brought back of the Tanganyikan people as such, and to ignore
evidence of Kinga political competence. In pre-Contact times Kinga
were insulated by their geography and the adequacy of their defenses
from the worst ravages of alien war parties but were certainly in
touch with events beyond their borders. They were themselves an
expansive and militaristic people. Sanga were spreading their rule
southward, eastward, and westward; they were chronically skirmish-
ing with the Sangu and even hired Sangu mercenaries for an inter-
necine Sanga war. Kinga raiders often by-passed or raided with
relative impunity the less-organised and less-militaristic Wanji set-
tlements to the north, which must have closely resembled the bush
communities from which the Sanga segmentary state had grown. On
the northeastern marches a number of Mawemba settlements were
pleased to shift allegiance from the dominating Kinga to the Bena,
when an opportunity appeared under the British. Some others (I
often heard) played chameleon right through the colonial era, paying
tax at neither court. These independent mountain people and the Kisi
of the Nyasa/Malawi lakeshore were ethnic groups who remained
intact under Kinga hegemony; but two or three peoples before them
must have been assimilated, coming to know themselves within a few
generations only as Kinga. As much is suggested by the pattern of
Kinga dialects, and by some diversity of local traditions about origins.
In this way, the internal Kinga mosaic was a microcosm of the whole
Southwest region of Tanganyika, a world with great scope for and
acceptance of individual differences—and alive, as it seems always to
have been, with debate about its future.

How recent a date might we plausibly put upon the origin of the
Sanga political system we have discussed? While Sanga genealogists
projected it back to the beginnings of Kinga time, some fourteen
dynastic generations, a skeptical argument may be mounted. The
segmentary order of the four realms proved its flexibility in the colo-
nial years, surviving some quantum dislocations. There is no reason to
suppose it was not just as flexible in precolonial times. Evidently, it
would have evolved on top of a less comprehensive system, incorpo-
rating in a new superstructure the main lines of political architecture
already evolved on a lesser scale. Thus each realm at the end com-
prised a plurality of domains, one of them serving as the capital on
the familiar African pattern of primus inter pares . At a more inclusive
level, the protostate ordered its several realms in the same way. We

can’t reject the possibility that it is the domain not the realm which
is as old as Kinga political identity. In times of unopposed expansion
into uncleared woodlands it is easy to imagine that the face-to-face
polity represented the summit, that taxes and tribute were truly
nominal, and the way open for a burgeoning settlement on the fringes
of one domain to set itself up as another simply by withholding its
participation in bonding (rank conceding) rituals.

From what could still be seen in 1960, and from scattered tes-
timony, I judge it was always a Royal Sanga and ‘court culture’ custom
to establish one’s domestic privacy and public standing with a stout
bamboo enclosure. Considered as a practical matter it helped to keep
goats and people (inside) apart from vermin; considered as a gesture,
though even toughened old bamboo is not the stuff of a stockade, it
said something like, “Every Sanga a potential ruler!” Another thing it
certainly said was, “Every ruler a polygynist!” It is possible we may one
day learn from archaeology that, as distinct from fences for the four-
legged, stockades and the level of militarization they represent were
unknown even in the capital domains before the period of Ngoni intru-
sions in the 1840s. Then, as the Germans appear to have judged,
these stockades would have represented a sort of fort, symbolic if
not altogether practical, as well as a seraglio. By the time the Ngoni
scavenger bands were affecting the Kinga, the Sangu had already
been mobilized as a powerful counter-force and Bena-Hehe communi-
ties were subject to mounting pressure from rising Ngoni kingdoms in
Songea and western Njombe. In Kinga social memory their encounters
with the Ngoni were stand-offs, the Ngoni were at least once granted
passage but no plunder. Such memories operate so as to legitimate
Sanga rulership. Perhaps this would have been the case in earlier
times as well, at the first dawning of the idea of a highland-wide polit-
ical order. It is a poor propagandist who can’t eventually turn an
embarrassment into a credit. ‡

However the time scheme might have been (and I must bow to
some future scholar on that), the Sanga régime would have been the
product of systematic change generated by the competitive organi-
zation of the Southwestern region as a whole, and its several ecologi-
cally zoned sectors in particular. Sanga militarism revolved around
warlike competition not unsystematic or inadvertent conflict, and
around what we might call the routinization of heroics. Should we add
‘predatory expansion’? Better ‘assimilative expansion’, as the
essence of the Sanga innovation was to expand the sphere of a court
by recruiting men from the bush, socializing them to the ways of that
court, and “sending them out to rule” the bush again. Sanga expansion

was more extractive and reconstructive than predatory. Evidently
the analytical conception of social competition or rivalry has its pri-
mary reference to a segmentary system, whether we focus on a pair
of siblings, a peer-group of Kinga goat-herds or gregarious maidens, a
hamlet, a domain, a realm, or the Kinga protostate in its fullest devel-
opment. Relations between Kinga and neighbouring peoples over whom
they exercised no control were only ‘segmentary’ in a crude way. Thus
Kinga shared a series of holy places with Nyakyusa peoples and at
least one with Bena: there were mechanisms for stabilizing relations
at an ideal level even while random, directly destabilizing interaction
continued to characterize actual border areas. ‡‡

In effect, as one moves outward from the local domain, the ‘nat-
ural’ face-to-face polity of the region, to look at its putative subjec-
tive notions about more and more distant neighbours, one moves
from structure to no-structure, segmentary order to predatory
order, closed competition to Darwinian, a framed and seemingly pre-
dictable to an unframed and seemingly accidental—presocial—basis
of order. But the subjective transition is never realized: the nearest
neighbours often have tempestuous relations, the farthest enemies
still are conceived in a higher-order frame as neighbours with admira-
ble human qualities. The substance of social structure is found in pre-
cisely such ideas and feelings as these about political and cultural
kinship, common interest and common standards, adding up to relat-
edness. The Kinga people, like peoples everywhere, had humane as well
as occasionally barbarous relations with neighbour peoples of their
region. To assume they did not or that they did not knowingly emulate
their neighbours in any traits they found to covet or admire, is to
assume the cultural isolation of an African ‘tribe’ in face of massive
contrary evidence.

The name I would give my chosen paradigm for the study of

social and political evolution is regional pattern-rivalry. There may or
may not be a region in the world which has seen the evolution of
state-like institutions without war, without notable technological
development, or without a priesthood—the paradigm leaves such
questions open. If the Kinga were notable in the region for their milita-
rism, their smithing, and their purposeful priesthood these may quite
as well be counted symptoms as engines of their general social devel-
opment. What is asserted in my focus on regional, contextual factors
is that the competition of essentially autonomous polities within a
common cultural frame is structurally generative. With the right mix
of colour-differences in the local cultures the effect can be pro-
nounced. Intergroup relations which can support mutual perspicuity

and stylistic emulation can produce a regional condition of pattern
rivalry selecting for system, organizational efficiency, and morale-
maintenance. Whatever in a particular case contributes to these
ends—from the plainly material to the plainly ideal innovation—will
eventually become a general property of the regional culture if it is an
exportable trait, or an ingrained element in the system of one
enlarged local culture if it is not. The end result of a fairly competitive
regional process should be the evolution of political communities of
increasingly complex organization and augmented scale. They will bear
strong family resemblances but without losing each its ingrained indi-
viduality. It is a project of my ethnography to show that the case of
the Kinga and their broader region comfortably lends itself to this

Court & Bush: The Kinga Shift Dimension

The dual nature of Kinga society in traditional times would not
have been obvious to a short-term visitor. There would not have been
two distinctive dialects, though diglossia must have been in evidence
wherever court-experienced men were returning to bush residence.
There is a ‘shift dimension’ running between court and bush communi-
ties which is basic for understanding Kinga political culture. Role
shifts are part of every human social system and comprise unknown
territory to those sciences, such as the current version of sociobiol-
ogy, which can’t deal with subjectivity as an object. The notion of a
dual society usually comes up in reference to ethnic stratification.
But it seems to me worth arguing for special attention to the case
where a normal life-cycle carries individuals through both parts of a
dual society. If anything can, I think this would deepen the average

Roles run deep in the human psyche. The main obstacle to gain-
ing general acceptance of that, and turning well-planned study to the
matter of role strain and its opposite, role fulfilment, has been that
individual psychology takes roles for granted as a quasi-environmen-
tal issue, and naturalistic observation is usually focused on structur-
ally situated action, not the actors themselves. The penetration of
human experience in every cultural context by social roles, the ineluc-
table sociality of the self, and the idiosyncratic rationalization of
motive through ‘badly’ or ‘oddly’ coded early and continued socializa-
tion are three compatible conceptual approaches to inner human
experience. Taken together, I believe they form the coherent basis of a
distinctive science of the structure of human experience.

But the premises of that science would have to be informed by
the idea of culture. That is the notion that human social systems
comprise a unique domain of study, owing to the irreducible singular-
ity of events we call actions. As for the duality built into the tradi-
tional Kinga culture, what is important is to see that for Kinga the
life-cycle for either gender normally entailed a prolongation of youth-
ful experience—informed by homophilia—well into adulthood, followed
by rustication to a more settled life informed by domestic duties and
more selective attachments. This meant for the bachelor maiden a
profound shift in moral strategy. Her move was from a focus on rec-
ognition within a broad-based peer network, combined with junior
status in cooperative work for her mother’s kitchen, to birthing and
rearing young in an independent domestic setting. Kinga women still in
1960 were full-time, enthusiastic gardeners, and combined that work
with maintaining fast friendships with age-peers by setting up their
fields in friendship clusters. For the bachelor male the shift came per-
haps a decade later in life, and entailed retirement from the barracks
experience at court to life in a small hamlet, shared with a fast set of
friends, and oriented to the role of elder. Life in the bush was a cleaner
break from the bachelor world for women, who were fully busied with
nursing and supporting a family. For men the shift was not a full break
from the court life. As jurors, they were now able to gain respect in an
unathletic fashion from their elder peers. They visited about, seeing
friends from their youth. They took part in the same turf-turning
teams they had joined as boys. They could take pride in their house-
building, craft work, and firm connections outside the home hamlet.
All of a woman’s time might be scheduled by her productive duties.
Men had more time free for a special diversion, cross-talk over beer.

I have suggested that motives come to be idiosyncratically

motivated in adulthood, owing to ‘odd coding’ of individual experience
during the long period of primary and secondary socialization. My
premise is that people do most of their most characteristic learning
by incorporating private experience privately into their moral strate-
gies, which are of necessity deeply egoistic. This helps explain what
role motivation does not, individuality, and exposes the fundamental
lemma of our human sociality: that we must act on social motives,
but the way to them can be intensely private. Because there are only
vanishing rewards for us outside the moral order of community, we
must act on rationalized motives, the public face of which anthropol-
ogy commonly calls ‘values’. Values are hardly more than putative
except as they are regularly validated in action; action is no more
than tentative except as it is validated in comprehension at the level
of motive; and motive is no more than rationalization until it has been

owned to by the self. Though there are inter-psychic moments in all of
this, the main transformations are in-psychic and intensely private.
They occur as the unseen context of action, occupying nanoseconds
of consciousness (so ‘unconscious’ or ‘subconscious’ in still-current
academic discourse) but accumulating over the years as ineradicable
and idiosyncratic complexity—what in a technical language now begin-
ning to seem too simple we still allude to as ‘personality’.

It is worth insisting that diglossia is not the only manifesta-

tion of the subtle kind of role-shift found everywhere when individuals
are pulled between conflicting situational norms. From the way Kinga
handled their dual society there is a lesson for us if we would under-
stand the importance of role shifts in social structure. In dealing with
exotic societies ethnology has had to cope with the penetration of
local experience by (to an outside observer, exotic) social roles. The
shorthand notion we have usually adopted is ‘culture’: a word which
says, in effect, “Here in this community, and only here, will you see it
done in just this way.” But the result of this usage can be mistaken
dogma, holding that ‘culture’ penetrates and impresses its forms
upon everything human, with the implication that an ethnographer
having won the ‘key’ to an exotic culture (by a process analogous to
learning the language through participation in the language commu-
nity) ought to be able to explain all that happens there. Social anthro-
pologists have resisted, emphasizing rather ‘role’ than ‘culture’, but
have not really escaped the deterministic assumptions of would-be
holders of an interpretive ‘key’.

Perhaps no one really thinks that knowing the role expectations

imposed upon a ten-year-old girl in uKinga can substitute for having
been one, but what is the implication for a monograph on an exotic
people (about whom the reader can have no better source of informa-
tion) reporting about girlhood nothing more than the pertinent role-
expectations, seen through an adult’s eyes? My favourite ten-year-
old was a fiery teller of folktales, a tomboy goat-herd, and the prom-
ise of a magnetic adulthood able to improve anyone’s day with the
wave of a hand. This goes well beyond role-expectations. The individu-
als who didn’t go beyond role-expectations were those I hadn’t got to

It is no great exaggeration to hold that the accepted model of

social structure has prompted observers to bracket away the individ-
ual mind, treating experience as subjective ergo ineffable, while trust-
ing actual observation only where it seems to confirm actors’
preconceptions about their roles. Buried under the methodological
arguments for such a procedure is the mischievous premise that an

informant’s discussion of role-expectations can replace an informed
observer’s account of the way the informant and colleagues actually
live. That is like saying all moms are alike in a traditional society. But if
neither ‘culture’ nor ‘social structure’ alone offers the right prompts
it is perhaps because they need to be brought into the perspective of
a social psychology which relates self to both deep motivation and

When a range of personal styles has presented itself to the

observer of what conventional wisdom takes to be a simple society, it
has been relatively easy to explain away the lack of uniformity. One
blames anomaly: depending on preconceptions, anything from ‘deviant
personalities’ to ‘oscillating equilibrium’. It would be better to assume
that role-pluralism affects every normal human community in sub-
stantial ways, being the symptom of a fairly irreducible measure of
existential freedom—or at the very least of a structurally necessary
concession to privacy. The true anomaly, after all, is the humanoid
spectacle Aldous Huxley gave us in Brave New World . Just as Kinga find
it possible to lead ambisexual lives without a sense of contradiction,
achieving satisfactory but qualitatively distinct adjustments with
partners of either sex, they found it possible to move easily in 1960
between home and the migrant labour site well outside their own cul-
tural boundaries. In 1860 the equivalent if somewhat less radical
move was that between court and bush. At either date Kinga would
have found it easy enough to shift ‘cultures’ as well, becoming Bena,
Hehe, Sangu, or Nyakyusa as circumstance favoured the switch. It is
the fact that Kinga like this kind of flexibility, not (what is common)
just that they are capable of it, which distinguishes their culture.
These are live-in roles, not put-on.

A standard anthropological model of social structure begins

with the social role, taken as a given, then builds roles into dyadic and
network relationships or ‘role systems’, which in turn compose them-
selves as the parts of a comprehensive social system or structure.
This is an admirable scheme when your intention is to describe a com-
munity in its aspect as a functional design for living, but in that case
all social action seems to spring from predefined frames. Looked at in
that context, roles have little depth, though they may be precisely
and subtly defined. The alternative position in sociology, associated
with the idea of symbolic interaction, begins not with frozen roles but
with social situations perceived as problematic. Individuals enter in
varying psychosomatic states, favouring distinct motivations on the
level of sentience. Participants in a decisive scene enter each with a
unique perspective deriving from overall role differences and dis-

tances, experience (confirming or disconfirming) of comparable situa-
tions, and distinct socialization histories (personalities). The
definition of the situation which prevails is generally one which will
sustain consensual action, though that is hardly guaranteed. Social
situations are resolved only through interaction, which must be dealt
with analytically as a stochastic process. The outcome of symbolic
interaction is at best a matter for intuitive or wishful speculation as
it plays within the definitional frames of the separate actors as each
sets about exploiting a fresh situation. ‡‡

What this says is that roles, conceived as components of the

social structure, exercise only indirect constraint on the patterns of
social action comprising the actual and observable community life.
But at the same time roles, when they are conceived as the ongoing
social performances of individuals encountering one another repeat-
edly in problematic situations, provide all of the subjective continuity
of personal experience in what would otherwise be a sheerly episodic
existence. Without that kind of continuity, moral depth is unthinka-
ble. A community of psychopaths? It is a role-expectation that a
Kinga woman will go to work in the fields—her own or her friends’—at
sun-up the year around. What happens there constitutes a very large
portion of a woman’s life. She “is herself” or “is her own woman", as we
may say, all the while she is working. She is living the story of her life,
taking the ‘role’ of tiller-of-fields into herself and transforming it
there into something of her own. People are normally engrossed in
their roles because they are engrossed in their lives, and alienation
(the separation of the two) is minimal. It is a role expectation that a
Kinga woman will have so many friends that she will seldom be alone in
her work—when she is not participating in a formal work party she will
have made an informal arrangement. But the shifts of moral tactic
which a man or woman must make every time partners change, or
simply in the move from one sort of task to another in the same field,
imbue every day with a different quality. They are small, almost unob-
servable shifts within the self. For Kinga women they were (not
always but) generally less problematic than for Kinga men, who
roamed farther afield and usually fancied they had more enemies. But
the ability to remain one’s self while shifting among quite different
social contacts is, after all, a human universal.

Another exception to be taken from the ‘frozen role’ model of

social structure is one which builds on the notion of socialization. To
put the case simply, children learn to be of their sex by experiencing
life within a sex role, to be of their age by experiencing the trials of
successive age roles, and to deal differentially with others by endur-

ing an unremitting, emotionally intense participation with family, kin,
and community in increasingly adult role capacities. Socialization in
this light is seen to be a process which does not terminate with child-
hood but continues (for the adult, only more reflexively) to social
death, always occurring within the context of structured roles and
role-sets. It is true enough that the special demands of a role can
strain the personal resources of an individual who somehow does not
nicely ‘fit in’ to the (frozen) script supplied. I tried without much suc-
cess to explain to some Kinga men why it is that in Ulaya (Euro-kind’s
world) a ‘latent homosexual’ may be ‘trapped’ by marriage. But the
obverse of role strain is role exploitation. You do not have to be a (lit-
eral or figurative) slave driver to enjoy the power your community
accords you over your immediate inferiors. You cannot possibly enjoy
the prestige of being a brilliant mathematician, the lush income of a
popular media performer, or the private satisfaction of having helped
someone worth helping without first cultivating the role-relation-
ships through which such rewards are attained. In this connection a
‘role’ may be as big as a career, engendering a level and quality of aspi-
ration unimaginable outside the world of possibilities this role has
created. Court culture opened up for Kinga men, particularly, a poten-
tial for self-realization such as we usually do not associate with
small-scaled traditional societies.

When a young man felt himself called from the bush to a Sanga
court he went seeking adventure or, as our tales have it, seeking his
fortune, and he would have had his head full of the court lore which
herd boys endlessly spun. When, as much as two decades later, the
same man left the court for marriage and the civilian calling of a bush
settler, he would be seeking his fortune again albeit with a different
sort of lore in his head. From that time forward he would be able to
shift between the two adult careers the Sanga régime fostered for
men, whenever the season of war or other circumstance demanded it.
Bush and court in this manner defined a major shift dimension of
Kinga culture, prominently affecting men and, in part through them,
the fortunes of women. Without role pluralism the whole pattern of
delayed marriage, bachelorhood, and erotic inversion for either sex
would have been finally unworkable.

A shift dimension of this kind is like a class or ethnic division in

one respect, as it defines separate cultural worlds. Unlike those divi-
sions, the shift dimension as a product of circulation discriminates
social roles not groups or monolithic subcultures. The ordinary life-
cycle weaves the two principles together without blurring the dis-
tinct complexes of situational value and motivational lore belonging

to them. These are, roughly drawn:


Connubium: other-sex ties, privileged and lasting, carry a burden of recip-

rocal obligation. A sexual division of labour controls economic co-operation
so that few tasks are not regularly assigned to one person or the other.
Fertility is an object of the connubial alliance, if not a major concern of the

Self-reliance: a voluntaristic ethic controlled residence and peer co-oper-

ation. Use of authority was kept minimal: among males by the boy avoiding
his father, among females by the girl adopting a “junior peer” stance toward
her mother.

Property: the basis of personal security lies in the right to till good
fields, in stores of produce, and the health of family members. Goats are,
but houses are not, counted as wealth.


Gender segregation: same-sex ties are non-exclusive, cordial to intimacy,

free of obligation, and situational. An age-ranked peer structure controls
economic and military co-operation, much being done in small groups.
Fertility is the concern of the prince or lord and his wives, who are segre-
gated away.

Regimentation: an ethic of compulsion controls residence and peer asso-

ciation. The use of authority is routine, the opportunity for unfettered self-
expression being concentrated in festive occasions in the public arena
under royal sponsorship.

Conviviality: the basis of personal security was comradeship, success in

peer rivalries, and recognition by spokesmen for the court establishment.

How general are the phenomena outlined here? So far as court

and bush are simple analogues to town and country we ought to sup-
pose that every East African people must have known such differ-
ences, and some degree of circulation between the two spheres. But a
shift dimension need not be based on court and bush. The Nyakyusa,
close cousins to the Kinga in so many respects, lived compactly in
highly politicized, if not courtly, villages. Their major shift dimension
was that between kinship and friendship as modalities of association.
At the one pole was a closed system, ascriptive and authoritarian. At
the other, membership was open, and the ruling principles were volun-
tarism and equality. Men easily and women not-so-easily made the
shift time and again in their daily lives. It may be that the Kinga are
rather distinctive in the extent of cultural differentiation, consist-

ent with a high rate of circulation and an easy shifting of roles, which
they made between court and bush.

It was a feature of the court/bush division in Kingaland that the
court took over political work which in another version of Eastern
Bantu civilization might have been assumed by kin groups, while these
hardly developed beyond the level of family. While polygyny was no
royal prerogative, big compounds were a sign of special political
status or ambition. If there were localized patrilineages worth men-
tion they were minimal or, where local descent groups had flourished
in the bush in the past, atrophied. The lack of overriding kin ties to any
particular place made it easy for a man who was restive under local
authority to leave his jurisdiction in favour of another; and since the
same freedom of movement, favoured by the voluntaristic basis of
association under bush values, applied to jurisdictions at any level of
inclusiveness, the net result was a degree of political emancipation
which might seem to fly in the face of the regimentation and (nomi-
nally) unchecked tyranny which was characteristic of the higher court

Emancipation of this ambivalent sort is based on backlash,

which already presupposes a fairly tight exercise of authority. The
phenomenon is not general to the microcultures of the world but is
characteristic of those, common in Africa and elsewhere, which com-
bine a system of authority with an ethic of independence. It is more
frequently found among pastoral nomads than farmers, but a slash-
and-burn system also favours freedom of movement. ‘Antipolitanism’
seems a proper name for the philosophy in question—it is a popular
political ethic which allows the disgruntled man to ‘vote with his feet’
by crossing over to a neighbouring polity. The test for antipolitanism
would be the (non-)feasibility of exile, and in fact I know of nowhere in
the Sowetan region where exile would work as a sanction. It worked
for the classically ‘politan’ Greeks because each city-state consid-
ered its neighbours (to which a person might be exiled) inferior, and
accordingly refused ordinary privileges to any ‘inferior’ strangers who
might take refuge within its own walls. Siberian exile worked in Russia
and the Soviet Union for analogous reasons. The Nyakyusa case is
particularly interesting. Men are often ‘exiled’ from the tight circle of
their age-village on grounds of witchcraft. But it is hard to account
for this as an act of sanctioning, as the man accused is so alienated
by the treachery of friends that no one could keep him from leaving;

and because sanctions must reward or punish real behaviour, not
imaginary. The founding myth of the Lwembe cult, the court religion of
the Kinga, revolves about a banishment of this kind, but banishment
of a magically dangerous royal, a younger brother with extraordinary
gifts. The lesson is about the control of social danger and the nature
of Sanga power, not citizenship: by the act of banishing his brother,
the High Prince at Ukwama has irreversibly alienated a godling and
lost crucial protective powers of the Sanga throne. In the myth as in
reality, royal power is invincible to challenge from below but is also
immutably local and mystically indivisible. It is in this way that the
Lwembe religion of the Sanga court sets its mandate against the
popular. When you turn back with this to the Nyakyusa ‘witch’ banish-
ment, the meaning I find is that the community may change its mind
and want their fellow back on side. ‡‡

Under low pressure, antipolitanism produces the famous

‘ordered anarchy’ of the stateless society. Large populations may
maintain their hold on a territory in this manner, where regular expan-
sion in space is the standard answer to demographic pressure. The
pastoral Nuer of the Sudan are a celebrated type case, managing
their expansion through ad hoc military alliances. That a horticultural
people may exhibit an essentially similar political arrangement is
shown by the case of the matrilineal Yao of southern Tanzania,
Mozambique, and Malawi. Their use of a single language over a large
contiguous territory bespeaks recent expansion. Their pattern and
that of the pastoral peoples to the north suggest the kind of politi-
cal system which may have ruled almost universally during the long
centuries of migratory drift which saw the major expansions of
Bantu-speaking peoples in the millennium before written records
begin for Eastern and Southeastern Africa. The antipolitan system is
better regarded as an extreme adaptation to political localism than
as anarchy, since authority is not rejected in principle but limited in
practice by an ethic of dissent and the right of exit. ‡

Population pressures build in a region during those periods of

human history when a fresh economic adaptation has, by reason of
its success, reached the limits to which it can expand without involu-
tionary change. Then the effect of the antipolitan ethic is no longer
to support the free propagation of small local communities but to
further the elaboration of such phenomena as balanced segmentation
and regional pattern rivalry. There is at least a broad, paradigmatic
sanction in the study of organic evolution for holding that the sim-
plest spatial structuring of human social life is granular, followed by a
coalescing of institutional matter into increasingly large, complex life

forms, among which sophisticated patterns of opposition, symbiosis,
and alliance may develop.

An antipolitan society might stand comparison to a micro-

scopic world of pseudo-organisms (the domains) actually comprising
colonies of autonomous, unicellular creatures (the householders) free
to move among the several collective hosts. Kinga young men were not
expected to build near their fathers, though the youngest son might
choose to move back there on his father’s death, perhaps with the
thought of staying by a widowed mother. But even this could be a rule
honoured mainly in the breach, since a widow young enough might
choose to remarry (‘leviratically’ or otherwise), and a woman without
strong ties where she married might opt to return to her earlier
home. While women’s individual movements were thus few and, before
the colonial pax, dictated by the marriage system, men were peripa-
tetic from boyhood. Their sexual mores were such that a young man
spending a few nights in a strange community would likely make a firm
friend or two before he left. Thus older men would know and be known
in many parts of the country their wives had never seen and, having
settled in a new place, could safely send for their wives to join them

In the broadest sense, choices of residence were for the man

political, though they would often be couched in terms simply of find-
ing better neighbours or, what comes to much the same thing, escap-
ing from troubles of a mystical kind. Bad luck with crops or illness was
always perceived as such trouble. The predominance of voluntarism in
the pattern of association meant that when good relations broke
down between neighbours only a jurally recognized local (rather than
kin-group) authority could usefully intervene; and when one of the
neighbours in the contest actually stood in that position of local
authority and was entrenched there, the other’s leverage would be
the threat of leaving. We might speak of a kind of ‘backlash democ-
racy’ here, no doubt a step away from the open system of political
localism natural to the bush culture, and a step perhaps toward the
limited tyranny of the Sanga court, but a ‘democratically’ limited step
so long as the populist, antipolitan ethic remained viable.


Roots of Kinga Law and Right

Rule of Right, Rule of Law

It is when a community recognizes that any escalating dispute
over rights must be subject to procedural intervention, undertaken in
the public interest, that we begin to have law. The rights and wrongs
of actions in dispute need not be explicitly codified so long as proce-
dures for settlement are laid down. In non-literate societies like Kinga
(ca.1900) the existence of rules and sanctions for bringing a case
under adjudication and securing the efficacy of judgements betokens
the presence of law. Neither Germans nor British felt a need to
transplant a court system to the region. There was no need for wres-
tling down an entrenched system of lineage rivalry, as there was
among the Arusha in the Northern highlands. While Kinga hardly were
without inter-sectional hostilities, war was not their way of settling
a trouble case, as it might be among stateless peoples like the Lug-
bara of Uganda. As it was not deemed necessary for the operation of
Kinga courts that native law be given explicit verbal formulation,
scholarly efforts at codification were only unofficial (and, in the Kinga
case, inconclusive) under both colonial regimes. In practice, judgement
follows precedent at a given court, and precolonial procedures fol-
lowed established scenarios rather than codes, so that adjective and
substantive law were about equally ‘primitive’ as Western jurispru-
dence might have apprehended them. The error an observer of East-
ern Bantu cultures ought to avoid is to suppose that the test of
strength of their legal structures should be the formal replicability or
completeness of their substantive codes.

So it was that Kinga law remained in 1960 an indigenous

phenomenon. The main changes colonialism had wrought were the
suppression of witchcraft actions, the removal of (rare) high crimes

from Kinga jurisdiction, and the introduction of monetary fines.
While British officials considered the introduction of court clerks
and books a major contribution, the records mainly served the
European’s need for documentation. The local courts felt no need to
refer to case records for precedents, particularly since the
necessary abbreviation of such records, and the taxonomic reifica-
tion of ‘precedents’ they induce, made them obviously inferior to the
elders’ collective memory. The courts could easily handle even the
problems of establishing and retiring money debts without writing.
Kinga law in 1960 was old and well entrenched and directly useful for
inquiries into the spirit of Kinga culture in past times. For clarity, I
may indicate the approximate date (1860, 1900, 1960) to which
ethnographic statements refer, but radical change of the sort which
must alter the spirit of the laws really begins only after 1960 with
national independence and the end of indirect rule. ‡

It is arguable that all laws deal with limiting cases, ideal types
to which a court will expect actual offenses or claims to have no
better than a loose fit. But ‘primitive law’ is less binding on a court
than written or recited codes which sanctify detail at the expense
of the spirit of fair play. Kinga substantive law is (ca.1960) treated
by the courts as formulating only what everyone knows about rights
and wrongs; and with one exception the court does not assume an
ordinary person would transgress the law in ignorance or carelessly.
Kinga law informs a world set apart only from women, children, and
rustics who do not make a habit of attending court. The men who do
attend are pulled there not pushed, as the court is a school which
deals with the stuff of life in a way which deeply preoccupies the
moral sense. Motive and circumstance are much inquired into, and
the popular sense of right is confirmed in the rulings.

The exception to the premise of lawful intent is adultery, and

applies peculiarly in the not-quite-Kinga communities of Magoma.
There the offense has become so frequent that the courts may even
decline to investigate particularities in the usual way before
assigning a standard fine. Although we have no record of the way
adultery was handled by Magoma folk before (in the British period)
they were brought under Kinga jurisdiction, they do not share the
Kinga distaste for permissive premarital heterosexuality and hardly
can be expected to adopt a matching attitude of moral indignation
toward adultery. They suffer, in short, under an alien (Kinga, not their
own) law in this case. It is a situation which can beget chicanery, and
Kinga magistrates thought most of the cases in Magoma were
played out in the mood of farce, barely concealed. Older, married men
who were remaining at home had no ready source of cash other than
the adultery payments their wives could collect for them, by

waylaying youths who had just returned with their pockets full from
migrant labour abroad. The logic is not unlike that of the Kinga father
who demands five times the new legal limit in bridewealth.

But if this is the mood of the court in Magoma, where is

Magoma law? However we may answer that question, the Magoma
exception does serve to emphasize how much of the 19th century
lingers in Kinga law (ca.1960). The British introduction of fixed cash
fines and fixed rates of compensation for specified offenses and
wrongs brought a gesellschaftlich strain into Kinga justice. The appre-
ciative snickers of men, old and young, attending the Magoma court
reflect an older concern for persons and the ever-interesting
nuances of their involvements, which the procrustean stereotypes
of Western law seem to render irrelevant. In general, it is the drama-
turgical values which arise as by-products of settling trouble cases,
which attract men to the local moot or to hearings at the British-
built court, and lend vitality to Kinga justice.

So far as Kinga law does remain un-procrustean or vernacular

in spirit, rules operate as touchstones for the court not as literal
imperatives. In Gemeinschaft there are few ‘suspects’ and little
need for an adversarial system to pry beneath hard surfaces of
sanctimony and untruth. The circumstances of an action are
generally easy to establish and they point, as they come out in
detail, to the private but hardly unknowable motives of the actors.
Setting aside cases of witchcraft, which by African definition must
entail duplicity, the court doesn’t often find itself confronting denial
of responsibility for an act, only denial of its reprehensibility. Kinga
elders don’t usually feel the law itself can illuminate degrees of
blame and exoneration, trusting rather the collective wisdom of the
court, which remains a popular institution.

Hoebel in his early textbook summarizes cases of Australian

adultery wherein “aggressive” repetition of the offense was wanted
before the legally prescribed penalty of death would be invoked. This
is one way in which an apparently rigid, unsophisticated system of
law may be given flexibility. Ordinary offenders receive, as it were,
suspended sentence. Old men in Lupalilo (new seat of the Northern
realm) recalled a man who in precolonial times had become a
“notorious thief” before being punished. But generally the Kinga,
being litigious and hardly ever insensitive to opinion, achieve flexibility
in a different way. This is illustrated by the law which gives a son
demand-rights to a proportional share of his father’s home fields.
The law stops there. Informants don’t follow up with elaborations,
qualifications, or the citation of precedent. The best legal minds deal
on the conceptual level only with the ideal-typical case: every man is

to be furnished with ample fields of several types close by his
dwelling-place; his own claims to the land will be unambiguous; his
several sons and daughters will be amicable, loyal, and undeniably his
own. In such ideal circumstances any reasonable man will give
adequate land to his son as soon as the young man is of age, in order
to keep him at home, where he will naturally want to be. Presumably,
every community knows of one or two fathers and sons who seem to
conform to this type. But it won’t be they who test the law. ‡‡

A case which does get to court must have a difficult twist to

begin with. For that matter, Kinga procedural law ordains that family
quarrels devolve to the domestic courtyard, away from the authori-
tative atmosphere of the civil court, there to be settled by arbitra-
tion: where passions are highest, the intent of the court is not to
pry into them but to smooth a new surface over what will always be a
thorny relationship. Here the elders’ role is a patronizing one,
allowing the quest for equity to melt before the superior imperative
of evincing family solidarity. If a son’s demand-right must be put in
abeyance to still a father’s sense of grievance the effort of the
court would be to prevail on the son to be satisfied with substitute
fields. In theory, the law holds that an only son could at any time
return from migrant labour, marry, and claim half his father’s home
fields. In practice the court would normally support a much smaller
claim, honouring usage, which expects a son to hustle new fields not
force his father’s hand. The law therefore stabilizes usage through
court practice, though literally applied the law would be radically
disruptive. What happens is that, the solution according to usage in
any case being more reasonable than the law, the parties acquire a
sense of moral virtue and even wisdom from their encounter. Father
and son are each made out by the court to have epitomized Reason
in the compromise they have chosen.

The most thorough study of an Eastern Bantu system of law

comparable to the Kinga is Gluckman’s work on the Barotse of
Zambia. The Barotse court normally investigates a case in light of a
principled query, What would the Reasonable Man have done in the
situation? This is not an idea caught from British jurisprudence but a
genuine case of convergence, as Gluckman is at pains to show . To
the extent a litigant has behaved reasonably for a person of his
status, he must be exonerated of fault. This is not a Platonic
conception in any sense. Gluckman describes a conscious process of
framing the construct: “the assemblage of norms, with defined
leeways, into ‘the reasonable man’.” The principle is useless in
assessing laws: a man might have good reason in his circumstance
for contravening the law, but this can’t be turned around to impugn
the reasonableness of the law itself. At any rate, where cases turn

on the adjustment of contradictory claims not the legal classifica-
tion of acts this embarrassment doesn’t arise, and the touchstone
of the Reasonable Man has broad scope. To this extent, because
African courts are normally seeking “compromises” not “decisions”,
the impression is justified (which a reading of Gluckman gives) of
courts less rule-bound than our own and more concerned with equity
than upholding the law against popular doubts about its dignity. ‡‡

Barotse, like the Kinga, can also strike us as quite unreason-

able in their handling of witchcraft accusation, since a witch by
definition stands outside the world of the Reasonable Man and his
talent for compromise. Kinga (ca.1900) want to handle under the
rules of adjective law what we would perceive as a substantive
matter. Where our question would be whether an accused is guilty on
ordinary evidence of wrongdoing, they refer only to the outcome of a
narrowly formal procedure, the ordeal, for securing definitive

Gluckman’s portrait of Barotse law is based in fieldwork done

in the 1940s and refers to that and a subsequent period. In the late
1950s there was a considerable incursion of witchcraft cases into
the Barotse courts, and a breakdown of the system of justice which
had been encouraged under Indirect Rule. This cultivated system is
the one Gluckman has so well documented. The anomalous events
are recorded by Reynolds, and treated by him and even more specifi-
cally by Gluckman as phenomena of critical stress owing to social
change. But the roots of Barotse witchcraft fears are admittedly
very old, and conditions of stress in precolonial times could rarely
have been less severe than they were in the 1950s. Gluckman made
it clear that the suppression of official recognition and procedure
against witches had little effect on popular thought. Accordingly, it
seems fair to generalize (to Barotse culture as such) the insights
Reynolds offers with his documentation of cases. If one were to
attempt a reconstruction of Barotse law as it operated before the
British, rules for handling witchcraft offenses ought to be included,
so that the whole structure of law might be seen in its then-
functioning balance. As well as may be, this is what I should like to do
for the Kinga, though hard evidence for the old dispensation is bound
to be scanty. ‡

There is a calculated risk in making law, rather than the system

of social control as such, the object of investigation. The most
obvious bias this can introduce is a predisposition to miscompre-
hend Kinga thought and practice in relation to witchcraft, because
of dissonance with our sense for proper law-ways. A further risk is
that where we ought to be finding the conceptual basis of Kinga

social structures we will be satisfied with rules: that is, formula-
tions which, though practical products of key Kinga ideas, do not
directly communicate them. But in my view the great risk is simply
that the system of social control will be reduced to a skeleton of
laws and customs, its logical and psychological bases being ignored.
Two standing rules can be contradictory in the logical sense of
implying contradictory instructions to an actor in a special situa-
tion. A man cannot always “obey the Prince” and yet “never desert a
brother.” But logic also applies in the movement between rules and
practices. The rule that a nubile maiden may be “reserved” by the fiat
of the Prince implies the practice of withholding public sanction for
private engagements to marry, such as any maid the Prince might
choose would likely have entered already. The practice of secrecy in
courtship is in this way logically implied but never explicit in several
rules and standard practices affecting the status of youth; and
this logical nexus comprises courtship, regarded as a jurally relevant
system or ‘structure’. By focusing on rules apart from praxis we
distort the cognitive map we would approximate. It is in sociology as
in physiology: a better understanding of skeletal structure begins
with recognition that the functional logic explaining the form of any
bone can be grasped only by an observer imaginatively able to supply
the flesh.

Psychologically, Kinga law like the Barotse exhibits the hard-

edged boundary between Reason and Unreason, which evidently was
a condition of the sweet sanity we sense in their courts of law. It
was a boundary across which no logical nexus could lie. To put the
matter in an (Aristotelian) ethical frame, Reason was the ‘virtue’
between unacceptable extremes of Unreason: on the one hand Folly,
on the other Witchcraft. When from within the Sanga schema
trouble seemed to arise from Unreason, jural procedures were
deemed inappropriate. A fool might be subject to mock-trial, of
course; but an accused witch could only be exonerated by ordeal.

The pillars of Sanga power were three: militarism, law, and the
occult. The court culture—the Sanga establishment—had to be seen
to own authority in each of these fields. This wanted effectively
managed spectacle in each field. As for the command of armed force,
the big show was the annual war games. Control of pestilence and
invisible enemies required the court to be seen as the single agency
of communication with supernatural powers; this was achieved
through ceremony—an elaborate calendrical schedule and various
spectacular forms of divination and ordeal. But the everyday source
of legitimacy for the Sanga ruler was his court of law, where his
authority was demonstrated in the settlement of internal disputes
of the kind that can generate conflict between households or

hamlets. To see how this self-legitimating secular authority would
have been developed in pre-Contact times (say, 1860) I gathered
what details I could of the political history of the Northern realm,
where the Sanga system had been well established before 1900, and
the Western realm, where expansion remained in progress. ‡

Law & Social Structure in the Northern Realm

Mwalukisa’s realm, the North, was called Lupalilo in 1960

although it had been centred at Uhugilo and consequently bore that
name in 1900. The move was forced in colonial times and caused a
break in tradition which left Lupalilo a more secular place. In British
times it was denied a law court of its own, its business being
allocated to Ukwama as seat of the Paramount chief. Most
accounts of earlier times grant Uhugilo status as the second realm,
next in historical precedence and rank to Ukwama. These were the
two realms whose borders were well established when the Germans
put a more or less peaceful end to Kinga history. The prince I had
discussions with was a retired, pensionless subchief, Wikemana
Mwalukisa (or Mwalukisa II). Our talks were illuminated by the
presence of Mwanadyo, the man who had always been at Wikemana’s
right hand, his umpapwa, executive officer. The succession as I
recorded it for 1960 has two stages:

The first stage begins—as nearly as one can estimate—at about the
end of the seventeenth century and comprises a lineage resident at
Uhugilo, a place the Germans found inaccessible. After the Pax it was
accordingly removed to Lupalilo, near the German Boma. This line brings us
to the later decades of the nineteenth century. The names are:







The second stage begins with the recognition of a satellite domain

within the Northern realm. It occurs during the last reign or reigns in the list
above. This stage in effect means the elevation of Uhugilo to what I have
called ‘realm’ status. During the first stage Nyaluvondu’s line would have
come to claim ‘younger brother’ status to the Mwemutsi line of rulers at
Ukwama, but had no satellite domain of their own, claiming ‘younger brother’

status and plying them with tribute [imongo]. This changes when Ilevelo’s
ruler, Mpetsi, assumes that role. The two heirs to Kyavadala are:


Wikemana [Mwalukisa II]

The elder was ruler at the arrival of the Germans. He died late in their
short period of rule. Wikemana succeeded and remained ruler through most
of the longer British period; he was retired at last for incompetence, and a
lineage stranger installed in the office shortly before Independence in
December 1961. The more recent line, at Ilevelo, continued in office until
national independence [December 1961]. The names are:

Mpetsi (pre-contact)

Ndwanga (German times)

Kibudile (British times)

William (to Independence)

There is only a little to be learned from such lists. The inter-

esting details, the politics of each succession, are quickly lost in
time if they fail to enter into legend, and the present incumbent is
bound to believe that each of his predecessors was the eldest son of
the chief wife of his predecessor on the list. It is generally known
that Wikemana in fact was not, but replaced a brief-lived incompe-
tent who was, and whose name would never have been included on
such a list. The law of succession is like others, serving more often as
a touchstone than as a restrictive rule. This fact of irregularity does
mean, however, that a prince-list is likely to name only men whose
reigns endured for a generation; and I take that to mean we may
assign something like 30 years to a named reign. Seven ascending
generations yield a respectable time depth from the Kinga point of
view, but equal barely half the list which is offered at Ukwama, the
Central realm. The slight logical paradox, considering that all the
princely positions are supposed to be sibling offices, turned out to
bother his informants even less than it bothered the ethnographer.

Wikemana had the kind of strength his survival bespeaks,

though his qualities as ruler were not often praised. In 1955, after
his retirement, he was at about the age of 75 still officially listed as
having eight living wives and ten children too young to pay taxes. But
eight years later his one remaining wife was said to be failing. When I
first came upon him I beheld a Gandhian figure, practically naked,
bearing a huge tree trunk on his head like a woman—he was reduced
to fetching his own firewood. My impulse was to suppose the

community in effect had stripped him down to this. Mwanadyo, his
age mate, had always been better loved though he was a strong and
decisive man. His bearing in 1960 bespoke the glories of their
common past as Wikemana’s recorded the cares. Mwanadyo was
(had been) a commoner whose stature, judgement, and fighting
ability had won him a key position by the time German administrative
authority began to be felt. Wikemana had only come to power in the
ill-defined years after 1914, when Mwalukisa (I) had disappeared
following savage treatment by the British military. But Wikemana,
for all his heavy reliance on Mwanadyo, had ruled the realm for
something like four decades. I had expected to find him living and
comporting himself a bit more like a prince.

That he did not seemed to be no sort of issue with him. He was

self-reliant and intent on remaining so. If he had experienced bitter-
ness over his personal and social decline he had outlived it. Perhaps
he was, simply as an old man in Kinga society, past demanding more
than life itself. When he died he would be buried in the royal ground,
set apart—on the ritual plane his standing was unimpaired. For men
of his generation, this was a more tangible fact than what an
outsider could only see as poverty.

In 1900 the standing of a prince had been exalted. Kinga often

refer to princes of old by the Swahili sultani, and the connotations
(setting aside silks, pillows, and jewels) are not wholly out of place.
The stockade of the prince was a village in its own right, more
imposing than any village in 1960, sequestering the prince with his
women. The domestic life of the ruler comprised a privileged
industry, hidden from the curious as something fraught with power
and informed with danger, devoted to improving the fertility of the
realm. The law required commoners of either sex to vacate the path
precipitously for any of the royal women as they passed to and from
their fields. A man bearing gifts to the prince and wanting to air a
grievance must deal through intermediaries. Even for important
persons of the realm there were elaborate routines of symbolic self-
diminishment required in an audience with the prince himself. As in
European royal courts these included physical self-abasement and
the use of flattering terms of address (to be uttered in a womanish
falsetto). When the prince chose to travel outside the stockade he
could move only in the midst of a guard bristling with arms. Other
Eastern Bantu societies whose rulers two generations ago were
comparably exalted have not been content to lapse into the egali-
tarian lifestyle of the Kinga, but continue to set up little princelings
in their teachers, magistrates, appointed chiefs, even their
successful merchants. It is arguable that the demythologization of
Mwalukisa calls for special explanation.

Can the same law of deference to power be in one society an
expression of character values, in another independent of them? Can
the same values support sultanism in one century and democracy in
the next? What is certain about Wikemana Mwalukisa is that what
dignity he possessed was not Gandhian: Kinga men don’t conscien-
tiously humble or exalt themselves on a spiritual plane. Old men don’t
espouse a life of renunciation, embracing poverty to school
themselves in virtue. The rules men live by are less introspective yet
at the same time less explicit in their meaning as a system of life. In
religion, and so largely in politics, Kinga are opportunists.

Though Lupalilo/Uhugilo, as the realm most exposed to secular

acculturation, had demythologized and democratized more
completely by 1960 than the others, I believe it is the proper realm
for a first consideration of what were in 1900 the popular bases of
princely authority. I am dependent for intuitions of the old culture on
what I knew of the old surviving in the new. For that the North has an
advantage. As to the other realms, continuity was forfeit in the
East by reason of the Maji-maji disaster there; in the West the
Lutheran church was able to work a veritable transformation, super-
posing a new basis of order; and in the Central realm, though
tradition may have died hardest there, there were factions (Old
Guardists vs. Christians, secular progressives vs. know-nothings)
and a crisis of legitimacy in 1960. By comparison, Mwalukisa’s in
1900 was representative of a Kinga realm in the steady state, and
that condition had endured. Domain and realm will be portrayed here
in that light.

Kinga themselves emphasize the law of imongo tribute, not the

procedural law of appeal, as definitive of relations among the several
domains of a realm. Generally a ruler at any level had an interest in
settling a case at home, and not merely because appeals meant local
chickens lost to the communal pot. In the old Kinga constitution
each ruler has primary jurisdiction in the same sense over issues at
law arising among his subjects. To remove a case from the hamlet
ilitsumbe where the litigants are at home is to remove it from the
judgement of men who know character and circumstance, and who
expect to live with any sequel the case may have, to a court which
must deal with it in more abstracted terms. When a litigant will not
accept the urging of elders gathered by the untsagila, this ruler must
take it that his own influence has been set at naught. Referring the
case to a higher court is in effect calling an end to the path of
patience and sending the litigants to a court whose decision will be
binding and enforceable. For litigants immediately subject to the
untwa ruler of a domain, the court of first instance already has the

power and habit of enforcing its decisions and is unlikely to allow an
appeal: the political styles of court and bush are not the same.

Here is Mwanadyo, already something of a power at the court

of Uhugilo in earliest German times:

Ikilunga kyale kyavatwa. The country belonged to the rulers. There was no
litigation in the old days as we know it today, for the ruler made the
decisions and all must respect them.

For a generation or two prior to the colonial reorganization of

the courts and procedural law about in the early 1930s, there may
have been (on my evidence) no cases of genuine appeal from domain
to realm, untwa to unkuludeva, in the North. This is because civil
relations were less centralized than ritual relations in the Kinga
state, and because the North comprised just two domains, a
difficult arrangement to stabilize. The civil duty of an untwa was to
aggrandize his domain, strengthening the polity of his people. With
respect to things civil, Ilevelo had chronically been in a state of
limited hostilities with Uhugilo, the Mpetsi line challenging the claim
of the Kyavadala (Mwalukisa) line to legitimate seniority. It was the
job of the priests, arranging the payment of imongo, to settle such a
dispute when the civil struggle proved inconclusive. Then, as there
must arise from time to time private disputes within a realm
wanting litigation not feud, but crossing the boundaries of domains,
men would follow imongo to the central court of the realm as proper
venue. That, on the other hand, could not happen as between
separate realms or when, as here, a domain was engaged in a hostile
attempt to force new terms on the alliance comprising a realm.

Assuming that Gluckman’s sketch of the thoroughgoing

appellate system of the Barotse does refer backward to pre-
contact times, the political integration of the Kinga seems on this
evidence only rudimentary by comparison. But the law of imongo did
establish the unambiguous claim of one domain to being the centre
of a realm, and we may therefore regard that law as the key consti-
tutional provision bringing the realm into being. As Ihanga priests
brought a hoe, a cow, and beer once a year (in December) to Ukwama
in the Central realm, when civil disputing was in abeyance in the
North, the priests of Ilevelo would have brought tribute to Uhugilo.
The amount of this wealth was trivial, just as the standard
bridewealth was at that time, but the constitutional implication of
executing such a transfer payment was evidently not. ‡

“Realm” and “domain” must always be taken as my terms, not

translations. Kinga orientate themselves particularistically in

political space. But they distinguish (ca.1900) “those who eat
imongo” from those who do not; and among those who receive it they
know well who passes a portion along to a ruler to whom he thus
concedes rank. To be exact, the critical distinction is not who eats
but who legitimately hosts the feast of imongo. Bearers of tribute
always share in the eating. Though “imongo” means he-goat, and in
this context marriage-goat, the law of imongo appears to have
evolved beyond its origins, so that for Uhugilo in 1900 the standard
transfer of a cow, a goat, and a hoe (or an equivalent value in another
form) probably was common. The law was that the recipient of
bridewealth owed imongo to his ruler—the ikikolo family of the bride
was laid under obligation, and the court might call in the debt at its
convenience. In effect, this meant the communalization of the insti-
tution of marriage, since the feasting of a marriage did not just
aggrandize the bride’s house but the court claiming jurisdiction over
it as well. Evidently the standard tax upon a bridewealth was a single
goat, but in the best court circles the bridewealth and tax would
have been appropriately swollen. Some informants recall both sets
of parents, bride’s and groom’s, accompanying the payment.
Mwanadyo claimed that out of a good bridewealth even the bride’s
mother’s father would be feasted by his son-in-law with two goats.
In the ideal type of the “court Sanga” marriage a procession would
have moved to the court as to that father-in-law, and the two sorts
of obligation, to affines and to prince, would be one. Then the volunta-
rism of kinship norms would, to make the ideal case, supplant the
coercion of political authority.

Imongo cannot be dismissed as a tax upon the bush

bridewealth, although it must from time to time have been no more
than that. In the long run we have to deal with escalating lordly
demands which would have been effectively passed on by the bride’s
guardian to the groom’s, inflating bridewealths and even vesting (as
it must sometimes have been) the interest of a father in his
daughter’s continued bachelorhood. What was special about imongo
was the ceremonial bond it made between court and bush, capital
village and outlying settlement—and, on the more explicitly political
level, between capital and satellite domains within a realm.

Wolff (1906) defines ikilunga as “Erde, Land, Welt.” The word is

as broad as Swahili nchi; in English “country” is a reasonable transla-
tion. Rank-distinctions Kinga make among their countries don’t refer
to the land or its people but to the powers attributed to a ruler; and
I soon found that the short way to clarify the claims of any country
was to ask about imongo. A ruler who claimed to have eaten it was
claiming rank, in my scheme, as “lord of a domain.” If he further

received imongo from another lord he was also “prince of a realm.” The
following lays out the relation between Kinga usage and mine:

Territory Political Status Example

Ikilunga IV Avatwa Ukinga
[Segmentary State] [Ruling Class] [Kingaland]

Ikilunga III Unkuludeva Uhugilo

[Realm] [Prince] [ A Court Village]

Ikilunga II Untwa Ilevelo

[Domain] [Lord] [Satellite Court]

Ikilunga/ Ilitsumbe Untsagila Kijigijigi

[Locality] [Local Headman] [Bush Hamlet]

Kinga make a somewhat less ambiguous distinction of ranks

when speaking Swahili than they do in kiKinga, and I have used that
pattern of non-overlapping ranks: Two kiKinga words which had no
Swahili equivalent are avaludeva, royalty, and avanyivaha, great
Kinga Swahili English

Avatwa Watawala Sitting Rulers

Unkuludeva Sultani Monarch

Untwa Jumbe Headman

Untsagila Kapitao Spokesman

Two kiKinga words which had no Swahili equivalent are avakuludeva, the
class of royals, and avanyivaha, non-royal courtiers.

One reason for the blurring of rank distinctions in kiKinga is

that custom encouraged flattery in addressing a ruler, so that folk
within his own country might take to awarding him a title he dare not
boast across the realm. Another reason is that, since Kinga authori-
ties (1900) functioned (or were conceived to function albeit through
proxies) as rulers of their own localities first, a prince was seen as a
lord, or a lord as a local ruler, with added reputation and powers. But
the essential reason is that the Kinga constitution was a frame for
ambition. When a powerful lord perceived weakness in his prince he
perceived an opportunity to withhold tribute. Rank concessions were
grudgingly and pragmatically given. The instability of the system at
the narrative level is amply illustrated in all four realms in the genera-
tion before 1900, and generally in the politics of the colonial period

as well, though the ideal model of domain and realm holds constant in
the Kinga if not in the British mind for the whole time before Indepen-

The rhetoric of rank and birthright served to stabilize the

Sanga system as an ideal structure even while sheltering the flexi-
bility of practical arrangements for the exercise of power.
Mwanadyo, as Wikemana’s executive officer umpapwa, “spoke with
the voice of the prince” but had no country at all in his own right. He
was acknowledged to be, as no untsagila who brought him imongo
would have been, of commoner lineage. It was known he had come into
the court to seek his fortune from a border settlement one may
pass through on the way to Ukwama. Being a ruler begins with
“owning the country” to which others seek for settlement; and
Mwanadyo as recruit was client not patron. In the British period
Mwanadyo did eventually sue for a wage as jumbe headman at
Lupalilo. As he was generally acknowledged to have been functioning
in that office since the days of Mwalukisa I, the request was
approved, and this is the way (1932) the constitution at Lupalilo
was definitively anglicized. Not only was an acknowledged commoner
for the first time brought among the ruling class, but an hierarchic
principle was implemented whereby Wikemana Mwalukisa ceased to
be lord of his own domain and ruler of his own locality. By 1936
Mwanadyo had under him a local ruler of Sanga lineage to handle
village affairs. The law of imongo banned by the British and function-
less since the decay of the war pattern, had by that measure
ceased to give structure to the Kinga polity. But for Kinga purposes
Mwanadyo continued to function as umpapwa, doing the work.
Mwalukisa, the office of prince, had been transferred to the colonial
theatre and rendered powerless at home. Still, as events in the
other realms will show, that constitutional change might have
remained an empty form. Power for the Kinga is vested not in the
office but in the person who carries it. Wikemana, as Kinga knew and
the British learned, hadn’t got the right stuff.

While informants spoke of imongo as wealth “passed along” by

lord to prince, they denied any fixed percentage was due—these
were tributary prestations not taxes. A prince was due imongo for
the lord’s own daughters, and as emissaries of the prince had entrée
to the lord’s domain on ritual business of every sort, the higher
court was well informed. One version of the old law is that the
“younger brother” (the lord) always could visit the elder (the prince),
as indeed in theory he might some day inherit office and country in
the manner of domestic rules of inheritance, while the reverse
pattern was on the same ground disallowed. But in fact such a
visiting pattern probably always remained theoretical. Relations

were generally stiff. When the Germans called all the ‘chiefs of the
Kinga’ together, they were meeting in person for the first time.
Transfers of imongo from domain to realm (1900) were, I presume,
typically solicited in an active manner by the courtier-priests from
the capital and would have been sent on in company with emissaries
of the same fraternity from the lord’s court. The law of imongo could
be no stronger than the power of lord and prince to enforce it, but
where that power was intact the law was no mere theory.

The law making one ruler client to another was enforced by

war—there were no constituted courts with jurisdiction. Local rulers
were uniquely identified with the people of their countries and, vis-à-
vis others, the local interest. A recalcitrant untsagila must be intimi-
dated or purged, since he was not contesting the law but his lord’s
authority, and if he proved strong enough he would succeed. The
same held for relations between lord and prince. To withhold imongo
with impunity was to deny the concession of rank, and successfully
to deny it for today was to wipe it out of history as well.

Lords & Landlords

A principle involved here is that Olympian politics can

transcend the limitations of law without eroding its force at the
grass roots. Kinga rulers were there for life: they should fear only
poison on the one hand and defection on the other—poison from
within the trusted circle of avanyivaha, defection from the ranks.
Their reputation as magically empowered persons set them apart in
the way the old Greek gods were set apart: they were models to be
feared not imitated by the hoi polloi. In this world the rhetoric of war
justifies what the rhetoric of right cannot. Law is only one of several
touchstones which can legitimate action. The moral dualism
affecting the privileges of high office can be an open matter in a
segmentary order where alliance and power are the true dimensions
of politics, not jurisdiction and authority. Since this is something we
are familiar with in the segmentary orders of industrial society—
political parties, churches, labour unions—and take for granted
there, we have no call to classify such politics as “tribal”; but the
manipulability of institutions is surely enhanced by the special
qualities of an oral tradition. Ndwanga, Wikemana’s “younger
brother” at Ilevelo, made a bid for the position of subchief (one of
two positions for all of uKinga) when the British around 1928 were
implementing their system of indirect rule; and extended hearings
were wanted to establish Wikemana’s as the better claim. As
leaders the “younger brother” was the stronger, though the “elder”

at the time enjoyed the favour of Suluvali Mwemutsi, the newly
named Paramount. Confusions in Wikemana’s succession would have
contributed to Ndwanga’s sense of opportunity, but he had been
contesting Mwalukisa’s leadership in the North since before
Contact. According to Ilevelo informants, though (understandably)
not according to the Lupalilo elders in 1960, Ndwanga had been
withholding imongo and styled himself unkuludeva.

If Wikemana had been set down earlier by the British as incom-

petent to rule the Northern realm, even as late as 1928, Kinga might
have told the British that Ilevelo was capital of the realm.
Something of the sort did happen in roughly parallel cases elsewhere
in uKinga. In that case, the turnabout from German times need never
have appeared on the surface of the royal genealogies and histories
of rule as they were crystallized in 1960. The Germans had dealt
more directly and pragmatically with Kinga political leaders, taking
little account of claims to precedence among the various local
headmen. In Kinga logic, if Ndwanga is admitted as “younger brother”
to Wikemana and he to Mwemutsi of Ukwama, Ndwanga himself
qualifies as “younger brother” to the higher prince. Ergo he was “sent
out to rule” from the Central realm, etc.—the substitution is readily
accomplished. Ilevelo would have become the name of the realm as
this anthropologist would have recorded it, and Uhugilo that of a
lesser domain, habitat of a minor house with the name/title of
Mwalukisa. Precisely because the Kinga didn’t legally sanction
hierarchy, leaving it a child of custom, but patterned the relations of
autonomous local rulers (of whatever self-asserted rank) on the
model of perpetual kinship, readjustment of rank could occur
overnight, almost imperceptibly. The analogue in the contemporary
West would be to international, interdenominational, or intercorpo-
rate relations: rank-concession is on a bilateral or transactional
basis, yet the system is conceived by all players to operate as an
organic whole.

The stability of Kinga polities which the royal genealogies

boast is real enough at the schematic level of social reality, but the
cautious mind will assume that on the tactical level opportunism
rules. The scope of discretion left to manipulative tactics and rulings
in the game of power raises a special question as to the way law
does sanction a system of power, where law is conceived as the rules
of that game. I believe the question is illuminated by asking how far
the law of imongo can have been understood and accepted by the
common man as a logical transform of laws with which he was
familiar in the bush culture, where law was focused in kinship claim
and obligation. Legitimacy and historical depth in such a case can be
mutually reinforcing.

While in the structural schema of the Kinga world every ruler
was unkilunga landlord in his own locality, many a Kinga landlord had no
status as ruler. In 1960 there arose some agitation against the
laws of land tenure because changes in the national economic
system were tilting the logic of Kinga law, giving unfair advantage, as
the dissenters viewed it, to private landlords. Men might enjoy
rights to farmland well beyond what, after allowing for bachelor
offspring and plural wives, a single domestic establishment could till.
Normally a private person would have obtained these rights by a
combination of inheritance (from father, brother, or father’s
brother) and his own work of clearing new bush and forest. But in
1960 a handful of entrepreneurs had moved into the Kinga-Magoma
borderland, claiming large parcels of hitherto marginal land, for a new
kind of farming. They were growing pyrethrum (daisies) as a cash
crop, using the hired labour of their neighbours and neighbours’ wives.
Dissenters felt the workers had as much right to the land as the
unkilunga in such a case, and should be encouraged to grow their own
pyrethrum. This was eventually the direction the community took,
tilting the logic of the law back to favour a communal over a capital-
istic pattern of tenure. But the case serves to illustrate the role a
land law may play in setting the stage for a superstructure with a
particular cast.

In 1900 a man could have been unkilunga landlord on a very small

scale with almost no implications for politics. Anyone who disposed
of a suitable spare field might agree to let it out for a year or two to
an acquaintance, who would bring him a pot of good beer brewed from
the produce. But a man who found himself with plenty of land might
in this way become chronic host for the redistribution of beer and so
must, even in spite of himself, become a man of importance. Land
ownership in a subsistence economy might allow for exploitation, as
cattle ownership so often does, by withholding from a whole age-
class the privilege of marriage and the independence it brings. But
Kinga were not strongly polygynous. Their late marriages were
unforced. What the ownership of land conferred can be summed up
simply as importance.

The law required a tenant to bring the beer, and the landlord
was to claim the land back if this payment was not rendered when
due. A tenant who had tilled a field for three years, rendering
payment, was deemed to have served notice of claim. If at that point
the landlord failed to repossess the field, whether for his own or a
third person’s use, his claim to the land and to any further payment
in produce from the field was allowed to have lapsed. An erstwhile
tenant in this way often got clear tenure either with consent or by
default. As an economic arrangement during the later colonial period,

when many landlords might be a decade or more away at migrant
labour, the law of forfeit or default simplified what otherwise could
have been a hopeless tangle whenever a native returned requiring
land to till, or the heirs of a long-absent landowner came to claim
shares. While the law would have functioned in the same way in the
19th century whenever a man went missing, its main economic signif-
icance was as a system for the voluntary transfer of holdings
outside the network of kinship. Within the closed circle of the
localized ikikolo lineage group, land was easily transferred and formal
payments, constituting the acknowledgement of a contract, were
not required. But outside that circle, since transfer by sale wasn’t
countenanced, the law of lease-and-forfeit took its place. An
outsider had to serve a trial period of three years on good behaviour
before being accepted as a tenured neighbour: the logic of such a law
is not purely economic.

In schema the Kinga system of land tenure can be called

communal in the sense that land not belonging to anyone’s tillage
belongs or reverts to the ruler, who allocates it at need to members
of the community in accordance with established rights. But the
rules, being those of a swidden system, allow a private person to
hold his claim on a field though he has temporarily dropped it from his
tillage; and in respect of such a field he performs a political function
in allocating values. This is a fair statement since payment of a pot
of beer is virtually nominal and since the same payment is expected
by a ruler, who is deemed to be landlord in view of his descent from
the original clearer of the land. The law of forfeit, as I have called it, is
also a law of citizenship.

Conditions for settling new land in 1860 were in most parts

not such as to encourage pioneering by self-reliant individuals but
favoured the building outward of a polity-of-alliance. By this I mean
that at a minimum each new settlement once established had to
define its political status through contracting alliance with a
stronger neighbour. As the fortunes of the several settlements in a
given valley fluctuated so would the pattern of alliances, although
the tendency would be to conceive an alliance in the manifestly
stable terms of perpetual kinship, traced to an original hiving off
when the “younger brother” was “sent out to rule.” So the alliance
between Ilevelo and Uhugilo was expressed in genealogical terms and
at a time-depth beyond contradiction by living memory. Mpetsi, or
as some say, Sinalevi, is given as the founder-settler of Ilevelo, a
younger brother to Kyavadala, who sent him out to rule.

Here is the implied scenario: Mpetsi, being ambitious and

finding favour at court, was given a mandate to clear new land at the

place which came to be Ilevelo. By his own effort and leadership he
won good land from the forest and established himself as unkilunga
landlord. His people prospered and grew strong. Everything went for
him, in short, as the Sanga mythos would have it go. But if we are to
find a version of this scenario which fits our observer standards of
credibility, I think we must conceive the affair as competitive and
transactional, not authoritative. Ilevelo was the only settlement in
the North, aside from Uhugilo itself, which had attained the standing
of a domain as defined by the assertion of a right to “eat imongo.”
Other settlements near Uhugilo but toward the south and east
were (more or less peaceably) orientated to Ukwama. The Northern
realm was bordered by the exposed highlands of the Elton plateau,
permitting only a thin series of settlements along the northeastern
slopes of the high-mountain ridge separating the realms of North
and West. Nothing in nature imposed a centring of the narrow realm
in the one of its lordly courts or the other, since neither had special
access to a rich hinterland. The man or men tradition calls Mpetsi,
founder of the ruling house at Ilevelo, would have been one of several
at the time, perhaps for a long century before Mpetsi’s final achieve-
ment, all of them establishing client or satellite settlements to
Uhugilo. Mpetsi would simply have been the one who succeeded in
attracting the best following and managing the most renowned
system of ceremonial patronage. He would have become by stages a
petty ruler untsagila and at last commander of a substantial raiding
and fighting force maintained in chiefly style by the redistribution of
meat and beer, of which a steady portion derived from imongo
tribute. Our working model for the emergence of a domain is thus
centred in the transformation of landlord unkilunga by degrees into
untsagila ruler and so, possibly in just a further generation or two,
into untwa lord of a domain, eater of imongo.

The Logic & Spirit of the Law

Is the law of imongo, tributary marriage dues, a transform of

the law of land tenure and lease? The point is not hard to argue,
though I think that may be to put too narrow a face on the problem.
Whenever an untsagila was inclined to solemnize the dependency tie
of his people to the lord of the domain—when women were unsure
about their crops, animals or children were perishing, or otherwise
there was unrest—he could tether a goat and prepare the beer for a
journey to the lord’s court. This routine passing of the buck was
particularly valued in the matter of weather control within the
domain, since lesser rulers normally would have no rain shrines, while
a lord’s court must. Rain might be delayed in its onset or might be

too persistent when crops were maturing. Priests who could read
and interact with the mischievous rainstones kept in a sacred grove
could intervene in a style beyond the competence of a peripheral
ruler. The motivation of this rendering of tribute to an acknowledged
ceremonial centre must be read on two levels. Below the surface
there is a shifting of responsibility by the lesser ruler to the lord, an
unburdening and deflection of antagonism arising from the fears and
frustrations of ordinary people. The solidarity of the close local
group was favoured. But on the surface antagonism is taken to be
flowing the other way. The troubles of the country are caused by the
displeasure of higher powers, requiring propitiation.

The idiom of placation through prestation is in its most general

sense present in all the acts we have been considering, as in
ancestor propitiation. The main prestations are beer and meat,
speaking the language of the belly. Of the two ceremonial staples,
beer is the more egalitarian. It is prepared and transported by
women, and the men’s pot is shared around among all present
equally. A cock, goat, sheep, or bullock is a more ingratiatory presta-
tion. Coming from the masculine domain, it is a concession of rank,
man to man, by giver to receiver. But it is also a claim to rank by the
giver, since the number of animals, their size and quality, are crucial
variables. The honoured lord in turn admits his powers of mystical
intervention by receiving the gift, and accepts the responsibilities of
rank by turning back designated portions of a sacrificed animal to
the suitor. What seemed to colonial administrators a mere system
of taxation, rivalling their own, on examination reads otherwise.

Elders of Lupalilo sketched the schematic structure of the

Northern realm in this account of imongo:

Under Mwalukisa there was only Ndwanga and no others of his rank. The
tribute he brought to Mwalukisa was by way of respect, for he would say to
himself a man must respect his older brother. On receiving a man with his
imongo, Ndwanga would from time to time say, “Let us go on to Mwalukisa.”
In late times the amount of imongo for a man well off would be a cow, a hoe,
and a pot of beer, though three goats would substitute for the cow at need.
The two guardians linked by the marriage go together to the lord Ndwanga,
who sends an important courtier along with them to Mwalukisa. The prince
slaughters the bullock, giving one leg and part of the lung to the father of
the bride and dismissing the father of the groom. But the bride’s father
signals to the other to wait, for he will divide his own share with the other
before they go their separate ways. The courtier who took the party on
from Ilevelo will also get his share, perhaps a leg or lung, which he returns to
Ndwanga. Otherwise the bullock may be split lengthwise in half, the one part
to stay here, the other to return to Ndwanga and his people, in particular of
course to the two older men who have been linked by the marriage.

Rules governing the sharing of goods and pooling of labour are
basic to the structure of the local community ilitsumbe, which will be
schematically conceived in kinship terms as a localized lineage group
ikikolo or may comprise several such groups conjoined and recognizing
one untsagila captain. It is a generally acknowledged rule of ilitsumbe
citizenship that a man should never sacrifice a goat without freely
sharing the meat among all men present. Throughout the region and
from time immemorial the killing of a goat has been associated with
sacrifice to one’s ancestors, and the rule of sharing associated with
neighborhood is thus a transform of the rule of sharing with kin.
While kinship for Kinga is reckoned bilaterally, it is men who sacrifice
and always the core of their beneficiary group is an ascending series
of ancestors comprising a putative patriline. But there are no
occasions on which a visible patriline assembles as an exclusive
group. Sacrifice is to placate an ancestral hierarchy. Every sacrifice
is commended ultimately to the universal ancestor Unguluve (though
that name has now been borrowed for the Christians’ god). So far as
I know the Kinga pattern for sacrifice at any level is that the ritual
act should be removed from the public eye. What a man does to
placate an ancestor is not to officiate at a ceremony but to take
himself away into the edge of a wood, sometimes at an ancestral
grave site where he himself is stranger, in order to dedicate a
minimal, prescribed portion of meat to the dead man and invite him
to participate, in this rather private way, in the feast of the living.
The ethic of publicity and non-exclusion applies to the feast itself.

Semani insisted that if he wanted to kill a goat, even if he found

himself among strangers in a place he had first seen two hours since,
he was obliged to share the meat just as though he were among
close kin or neighbours. In rendering imongo the goat’s owner accom-
panies the animal to court, attends the feast there as special
guest, and bears a share home for those who stayed back. The same
scenario is followed when a diviner prescribes expiation: tethering a
goat, the man goes off with it to find distant kin, shares the
sacrifice with them, and returns at length with a portion for those
who stayed behind. Every sacrifice establishes a communion. But no
religious ritual is connected with the sharing of imongo at court.
When I asked Suluvali Mwemutsi, still the paramount chief in 1962,
about this he said a man might do as he liked about slipping off to
the woods for communion with an ancestor, but “we have got imongo
and that is our only concern.” The prince, after all, in the secular rite
is not in the role which compares with the suppliant in the religious
version—the prince’s counterpart is the ancestor with the power to
heal and restore. He could hardly turn around and “sacrifice” the
goat he has just received; yet he can claim full credit for the feast,
which conforms to the pattern of chiefly redistribution as does, in

spirit, the feast of sacrifice as well. In all this the moral-political
ethic of magnanimity may be seen to be doing double service.

Another familiar rule of bush culture relates to the way a man

might inaugurate ties of clientage to the ikikolo ‘extended family’ of
his wife. To begin with there is marked constraint. The new son-in-law
has no freedom at his wife’s place. He finds he is held suspect and
treated coldly. This is only ended when he tethers a goat (or in the
best of times a bullock) and delivers it in festive spirit to the
community from which he has taken a working member. Hencefor-
ward all who partook of that feast are expected to remember the
man “who brought us the goat” and treat him as a welcome kinsman.
Now as a matter of course he will be offered food at every kitchen
and reminded of his property rights should he elect uxorilocal
residence. By 1960 this rule had been made redundant by the new
pattern of setting substantial bridewealths. But in 1900 the law
was that a girl had married a man the moment she permitted him full
sexual intercourse: there and then she must “follow him home.” For
that earlier Kinga society the rule of the marriage animal looks like a
post-hoc bridewealth law. As with imongo the actual marriage
imposes a tension only to be relieved by that peculiar sort of feast
at which the chief guest supplies the meat.

I realized after some months in the field, dealing with inconsis-

tent testimony even from the most thoughtful informants, that
the whole truth about either imongo or the bridewealths upon which
they were logically based was not to be discovered. The “original”
Kinga bridewealth of just two hoes, which the historian Tunginiye was
ready to vouch for, I allocate to bush culture norms. The inflation of
bridewealths in this century kept pace with the decay of the custom
of imongo or “taxing bridewealths,” as colonial administrators under-
stood it. The Germans very soon put an official (if not very effective)
end to imongo, seeing it as a tax competing with their own, though
complaints against a headman for soliciting tribute are to be found
in the British records as late as 1928. Long before that the new
economic activities generated by colonialism, all of which for Kinga
took some form of migrant labour, had supplanted the war pattern
and the ikivaga barracks life; and the general effect on society had
been to decentralize and shift the public focus from political to
economic concerns. Imongo gave way to private bridewealths. ‡

I have no doubt imongo was a kind of tax; it clearly functioned to

keep the government in business, as taxes are supposed to do. It
also can be seen as a kind of ‘protection racket’, wherein a compara-
tively small number of aggressive patrons claim payment for
protecting a larger number of peaceful clients from the aggressive

demands of other patrons. But human institutions are universally
overdetermined, taking meaning from all the sources of authority in
our lives; and the facet of imongo I find most enlightening was its
ability to use the available ritual symbolism of the regional culture to
create a secular affirmation of the primacy of politics over kinship.

The law is a society’s schematic model of itself written in the

command mode. Law defines those rights and obligations which are
effectively sanctionable. The Sanga system of internal revenue was,
like systems everywhere, one which put the legitimacy of the govern-
ment on the line every time a collection was made. This would have
been particularly clear all around when a court was on the make,
trying to extend its revenue base into peripheral settlements or
escalate its rate of assessment. But the successful collection of
taxes, even against open resistance, is not just a function of legiti-
macy but an engine of it. The inner logic of imongo was compounded of
three basic themes: war, hospitality, and fertility. Sanga revenuers
were small war-parties which would walk about the countryside
trouble-shooting, accepting hospitality, hearing grievances, and
assessing the revenue potential of each ilitsumbe community. These
parties from the court expressed authority, but it was the act of
driving one’s animals to court for the bilateral but hardly symmet-
rical drama of the imongo feast which at once imparted and legiti-
mated a structural sense of belonging to a court-centred domain.
As to the theme of fertility, “marriage tribute” seems to have been a
strictly Kinga, strictly Sanga idea.

Heterosexual themes in every society, I suppose, have deeply

ambivalent semantic reverberations; but few societies can be so
frankly ambisexual as the Kinga. For Kinga, the work of a prince was
maintaining the fertility of his many wives, as the work of marriage
for ordinary men was first and foremost satisfaction of a woman’s
urgent needs on the plane of sex and reproduction. All the urgency
attached to reproduction was referred by Kinga men to the woman’s
sphere, and her desperate need in the prime of her life to have a
nursling with her. The inner structure of a Kinga marriage is notable,
and possibly unique within the broad East African region, for its non-
possessive ethos, which is visible in the self-reliance of women and
the detachment characteristic of filial relations from the age of
weaning. Kinga men do not often withdraw so fully into their nuclear
or compound families as do Nyakyusa (say) or Hehe. Imongo was a
revenue system which seized upon the openness, stability, and
dutiful ethos of Kinga marriage, and its rationale in fertility rather
than possessive eroticism, to claim in effect that the Sanga courts
maintained the fertility of women as well as that of their fields.

Division in the Western Realm

The final moves in the building of the West realm took place
under the British—one might better say, under the noses of the
British—and offers a tale of Sanga politics at its best, though
without the old heroics. The context of ethnic diversity facing the
Kyelelo throne was perhaps no greater than had faced other would-
be Sanga princes before him; but the trail was still fresh enough in
1960 to promise me some insight into the way political entrepre-
neurship actually worked. I begin not with the drama itself but the

The exercise and legitimation of power always has a cultural

context, and an important dimension of it will be the measure of
spontaneous order the culture provides as a background to political
(manipulative) action. Spontaneous order is what Malinowski
wanted to comprehend under the master concept of “reciprocity”
and Adam Smith under his Unseen Hand. I find the philosophical case
is weak for resting any sort of order in human affairs on nature. But
as with the proverbial iceberg, the main source of order must all the
same be inherent and free of any sort of conscious unilateral control.
The most common generic name for it is structure. There is a healthy
array of theories about structure and how it should be studied but
little sure consensus. Probably the worst mischief has been done by
those who have held you must ignore ‘culture’ to perceive ‘structure’.
That position, at least, can be set aside here. What matters is to
see how the rules which an ethnographer may find implicit in the
spontaneous structure of a traditional society may be transformed
into laws by way of a developed capability of political intervention—
that is, vested authority. ‡

A culture which produces intense ambivalence and stressful

interaction in both public and private domains besets its politicians
with a background noise over which they must use strong voices to
be heard. It may help to think of this as the ‘neurotic load’ the
cultural community has to carry (by analogy to the biologist’s
‘genetic load’). Other cultures simply produce more governable
populations. Political philosophers are right, I suppose, when they
hold the ideal polity would want the least manipulation; and it must
be true that in the total absence of spontaneous order political
society is quite unthinkable. But it will always be important to ask
about the ‘noise’ or disharmony level of the culture we have to deal
with. The success stories of the Sanga élites in what became their
protostate begins with their finding a fairly harmonious people in a

relatively spacious and well-protected place. Were the founders, as
the myth says, outsiders? All through the iron age in this region a
certain fraction of any community would have been newcomers. The
‘Sanga system’ comes into being when Kinga begin to find that they
live under a ‘rule of law’ which transcends and can pre-empt social
control by private enterprise—self-help operating under the (far
slacker) ‘rule of custom’. The development and spread of the Sanga
system must have been multi-centred from the very start, and
synonymous with the growth of the court culture.

The process by which force, persuasion, and more spontaneous

forms of political evolution might be combined in the consolidation of
a realm is particularly clear in the West, where the Kinga were in
contact with another people, the Mahanzi, enough like themselves to
make mutual appreciation and moral reciprocity likely, but different
enough and sufficiently coherent to remain a distinctive cultural
group. By the start of the German period the Mahanzi, without ever
having been conquered, had been drawn deeply into the Kinga
protostate. Still at Contact there were within what was to be
confirmed as the Western realm of the Sanga system four politically
distinct and potentially opposable populations, the Mahanzi, the
Magoma, the Kinga of Prince Vululile, and the Kinga of Prince Kyelelo.
The two Sanga princes were rivals for a single throne. It was a
situation which could not have arisen in law.

While there could be a rough equation drawn between Mahanzi

and Bush Kinga, the Mahanzi showed less disunity than most of the
border peoples which the Sanga came to dominate. Their self-
conception in 1960 was that of a Kinga community predating the
Sanga protostate. Mahanzi building techniques were substantial in
1900, their villages compact and well situated. Their mortuary
routines were certainly distinct from their neighbours’ and a focus
of distinctive religious beliefs. Their local rulers were in position to
exercise an effective authority, in every way comparable to that of a
Sanga of untwa standing. What was missing was the high court
culture of ceremony and militarism.

It is part of the final Sanga myth that the whole Kinga people
had been politically unified before European times. As seen by their
neighbours to the west (Nyakyusa-speakers of the Rift valley in
Tanzania and Malawi) the Mahanzi are in fact the quintessential
‘Kinga’ people. They owned a particularly fertile country. In 1900 they
comprised a compact community, and to judge from German obser-
vations (or alternatively from backward extrapolation of the settle-
ment pattern recorded in British times) they were as densely
settled on the land as the neighboring (non-Mahanzi) Kinga. While I

suppose there could have been no such fertile lands left in the hands
of pacifists so late as 1860 (whereas a century earlier that could
have been the predominant temper of these peoples) the Mahanzi
may well claim that war has always been forced upon them. In the
history of the Eastern realm they are known as the bloodiest merce-
naries of the Germans in the Maji-Maji episode. They scourged the
land of males and carried off women who didn’t manage to flee. They
were redoubtable warriors. Ironically, since it was the Bulongwa
missionaries who had made close contact with Mahanzi from the
beginning, Christianity must be said to have prepared their solidarity
with the Germans and, in consequence, participation in the ferocious
campaign of ‘pacification’ which the panicked Germans unleashed in
1905. From the lucid eye-witness accounts I had in 1960, there can
be no doubt the Mahanzi took to butchering Kinga of the East with a
vengeance. But many of the women carried away preferred, when
recovery came, to stay with their captors; and that must also be a
measure of Mahanzi character at the time. During the final third of
the nineteenth century they had been subject to intermittent
warfare under Sanga leadership, fighting off Kyelelo, the celebrated
tyrant-prince of the Western realm. They seem to have consolidated
as a polity under this régime, adopting important elements of Kinga
court culture. Nonetheless the Mahanzi form of speech remains
distinctive, and the difference of style as one moves into their
settlements from the Kinga is unmistakable. This is in face of the
prevailing amity, with intermarriage, which has prevailed now for
several generations between the two peoples, and their interpene-
tration as agriculturists.

The position of the Mahanzi as a distinctive ethnic group in the

Western realm contrasts in its history and quality to that of the
Magoma, whose language is (I was told) kiMahanzi with kiNyakyusa
admixtures (and/or kiSangu? kiWanji?—I used only Swahili there). The
ethnographic error in ignoring the Magoma has been discussed. It
was firmly established in German times and perpetuated by British
administrators as a matter of convenience. British were determined
‘lumpers’ where small peoples were concerned, and content to know
that kiMahanzi, kiMagoma, and kiKinga tongues were mutually intelli-
gible for the purpose of the baraza court of law. But there was a real
basis from the beginning for European attitudes in the mutual
stances of the Kinga and Magoma themselves. Kinga never had
conceptualized the country of their western neighbours as uvuMa-
goma, a distinctive Magoma polity. Whatever unity was achieved
there dates from British times. In 1900 Kinga regarded the Magoma
as a handful of transhumant (seasonally shifting) bush communities
recently joined by some refugees (the Fungo) from recent lowland
wars. As for the Magoma themselves, they found it convenient to

avoid political contact with the Europeans until the British got
around to them in 1926.


Magoma people before Contact were content with a “bush”

strategy of survival through volatility. Much of their country
through much of the year is quite hidden by clouds (as one would say
if one were approaching from below the escarpment) or by fog thick
enough to stop most curious visitors. As a boundary people the
Magoma shared in 1900 an adjustment still noticeable in 1960
among some Mawemba settlements and a few Mahanzi-Kisi pockets
hidden away in the dramatic landscape of the escarpment. Magoma
had adapted to horticultural transhumance, spending half the year
cultivating just such hidden pockets of fertile soil and favorable
climate in the limbo-land between lake plain and highland. On the
evidence, until 1900 the Magoma seem to have comprised less a
nation than a refugee population collected in marginal, broken
country. They were comparatively safe from the great movements
of warring peoples stirred up by the slave- and ivory trades, and at
least initially from the probings of European settlers, entrepre-
neurs, missionaries, and official colonial agencies. Architects of the
Sanga expansion could accordingly afford to ignore the Magoma as a
nation, just as the Mawemba had been ignored in the northeastern
borderlands. These were ethnic communities apt to be recruited
piecemeal to court culture. There was no nation here either able to
make war as equals or waiting to be conquered. But the special
position of the Mahanzi stands out in contradistinction.

In one section of Magomaland a ruling élite, the Fungo, can claim

to have established themselves in a manner parallel to the Sanga
elsewhere. The Fungo comprised in 1900 a recent immigrant or
refugee population, a remnant group from the Sangu tyrant
Merere’s defeat by Hehe. They seem to have arrived without women
and very likely without even cattle. They were able nonetheless to
establish themselves before 1900, and are said (by Kinga) to have
been incorporated into the imongo network of the Sanga. To judge by
later performance, they counted among them political entrepre-
neurs of talent. But they hadn’t had time to set up a Magoma
establishment with a local legitimacy like that of the Sanga in Kinga
or even in Mahanzi country.

An instance of the political worldview which simply overlooks

the existence of Magoma stands in my record of the first interview I
was able to conduct directly (in Swahili, November 1961). Lusayano

Nsulwa of Bulongwa was a respected Kinga elder who had grown up
there under the earliest German mission influence. I asked what had
been the main divisions of the Kinga people in precolonial times. He
named the waMahanzi, waWanji, waKwama, and waSokile. I recall that
what struck me most at the time was his designation of the Kinga
people proper (to use my labels) as waKwama, people of Ukwama. I
recognized the sobriquet of the Kisi (waSokile) from preparatory
reading as based on their habitual kiNyakyusa greeting. I was hazy
enough then about history to miss seeing how inappropriate it would
have been in 1900 to have designated the Wanji people as a division
of the Kinga, but I was interested to hear the Mahanzi called such.
German references had not made clear how independent the
“Mahasi” would turn out to be. I failed entirely to register the
omission from Lusayano’s list of the Magoma. I had encountered no
reference to them as a people—“Magoma” appeared in documents
only as a place name. Nyakyusa simply call them Kinga, and are apt to
attribute their qualities to all Kinga, in a manner which tended to
confuse early ethnographic records. At the time I was talking with
Lusayano the scene I had to gaze upon from his well-kept dooryard
was, if I had known it, the country of Magoma, lying at an easy half-
day’s distance across the Rumakali river. I was looking across
country constantly traversed both by Kinga and Magoma in 1960.

Why would a responsible informant cut the Magoma out of his

world while including others evidently less important? I never got
back to Lusayano on that point. Even if I had done I doubt he would
have admitted to having validated the Magoma claim to a special,
non-Kinga identity. The Kisi are both less numerous than the
Magoma and less Kinga, yet Lusayano counted them in. I think the
right answer will focus on the Kinga social worldview. In 1900 Kinga
were best prepared to recognize (to use my labels) not “ethnic
groups” but “nations”—that is, tangibly political entities attached
to a territory by a traditional presence. The Kisi, being pacific, had no
chiefly organization but nonetheless proclaimed a special identity in
their occupational specialization and reliance on trading relations (in
pottery and fish) with their various neighbours. But Magoma had
featured only as a marginal geographic group, half of them
immigrants from Usangu, in Lusayano’s boyhood, and his attitude
toward them had not been changed by the new ‘nationalism’ of their
ex-lowland leaders. Unlike the Magoma, the Mahanzi people had
under Sanga leadership come to constitute a compact territorial
force. It is true enough that a more politically oriented informant
than Lusayano could have found reason to suppress information
tending to support the Magoma claim, particularly active in the
months prior to national Independence, to their own court jurisdic-
tion. But Lusayano was not canny in that particular way. What he

would have had in mind was that they never had had a court of their
own; that is, there never had been a body of Magoma law. It is a
question, of course, of the respect due to a court as against the
denizens of the bush.

Prudence would have set my fieldwork in the Livingstone

mountains at least a decade earlier. It is owing only to the ‘colonial
deep-freeze’ that other issues of ethnic identity and freedom of
affiliation did not boil up before 1960 around the margins of Sanga
court dominance. Earlier fieldwork would have allowed a peripatetic
ethnographer the chance to see the Sanga regime from the
sidelines. As it happened, I was lucky to have got an authentic view
from the centre. And as it happened, doing that was higher among
my priorities than gathering information on the transition which
began with Independence. Kinga social memory has been subject to
changing forces since the colonial interlude ended, but I expect the
different regions still see their histories as ‘Kinga history’ yet see it
differently. Since one of my tasks is drawing boundaries on a cultural
map, I have to decide whose categories to put on record. The
Magoma through their local ruler Isaac Mwezi did make their voice
heard. But Kinga, contrary to the received stereotype of a self-
contained and ethnocentric microculture, are always aware of
others on a continuous scale of linguistic and cultural distance. No
one is more admired among them than a polyglot. Kinga do not think
of their neighbours primarily in terms of tribal (or equivalent)
categories. In the stories I would hear of migrant labour at Mufindi or
Kilosa the ‘tribal’ affiliations of the principals was never a feature.
What we may think of as language barriers within the region most
Kinga men perceived as clines. Within Southwestern Tanzania a
migrant could acquire facility in a new place without exchanging his
linguistic templates. He had only to extend his own language piece-
meal, a process simpler by an order of magnitude than learning
Swahili or, especially, English. Kinga moving about in their own
country or the broader region generally try (1960) to take on local
coloration wherever they stay. They disappear quickly as strangers
and take pride in this rather than sporting a tribal identity, Kinga or

The Magoma persons with whom Lusayano would have had to

deal in daily intercourse spoke a dialect somewhat farther than
kiMahanzi from his own, but this would never have occupied the
foreground of his attention when dealing with them. That he did
award the Mahanzi a distinct identity was probably less a measure
of the cultural distance he felt in relating to them than of his
respect for a political/military tradition. In the regional culture as it
had evolved by 1900, the essential feature of the politically

developed community was a secular court prepared to supplant self-
help in the settlement of civil disputes. Without it, power could only
remain dispersed, authority situational and impermanent. By
pressing for such a court under the British, the Magoma were
aspiring to parity with neighbour peoples.

Rival Princes

German missionaries climbed the escarpment from Nyakyusa-

land into the Western realm to find it bitterly divided. The trouble
seemed to be a quarrel between brothers—Kyelelo, the acknowl-
edged senior, and Vululile, who controlled the area they had chosen
for their mission, Bulongwa. The earliest general account which the
visitors were able to compose merits quoting at length for what it
reveals about Kinga political thought at the time. The passage is
taken from the diary of a reconnoitring trip taken eastward from
Bulongwa through the three as-yet unknown Kinga realms. The
observations are those of missionaries Wolff and Schumann.

It is positive that the first chief who came here had four sons, the first
Unkwama or Muibuka, the second Umhugilo, the third Unlupila, the fourth
Ulubumbu. After the first the region about his capital is called Ubukwama,
that of the second Ubuhugilo, of the third Lupila, that of the fourth
Ulubumbu. For a long time these names were carried on, until the most
recent Ulubumbu, who had two sons (Kielela and Bululile), let the region be
divided. So now there are five great, genuine chiefs Muibuka, Umhugilo,
Unlupila, Kielela, Bululile. In quite recent times Untandala and Maliba have
been added, both sons of Muibuka in secondary or tertiary line, that is of a
lesser wife. Both got chiefly capitals and people in Muibuka’s region with
orders to stand behind Muibuka with their people in time of war. Over the
years both took themselves free, as the Muibuka concerned was a weakling.
Both are now their own bosses, especially Untandala, who calls his region
Tandala, in less degree Maliba (BMB 1897:200).

The favoured Kinga device (what Malinowski liked to call a Just

So story) of the younger brother (son) “sent out to rule” is intact
even in face of the bold evidence of realpolitik: power here as
elsewhere in the world is actually won by dint of arms, not awarded
as a gift by the magnanimous elder-brother figure to which Kinga
thinking so readily turns. The contradiction would not have bothered
the Kinga who were the source of this little history, though they
certainly knew at the narrative level that domains like Tandala and
Maliwa, or Vululile’s half-Mahanzi community were born of war not any
sort of inheritance. The more general lesson a properly curious
European might have drawn even as early as this would have

concerned the lack of fit between Kinga cognitive schematics and
actual political practice.

About Tandala we have little detail, since the German military

administration quickly repolarized power in Kingaland about its
garrison station at Mwakete, close by. But the story of the division
of the Western realm, here given such a sanitary dressing, was not
to stay hidden. The matter comes up persistently in German and
British records, and tales about Kyelelo the Cruel were as vivid in
1960 as they might have been in 1900. I think Wolff and Schumann
were able to see the secessions in the Central realm for what they
were, though the rulers at Tandala and Maliwa of course never began
with “a people” already aligned under Sanga authority. It is harder to
see the Western realm’s division as the maturation of a process of
segmentary secession. Untandala could, so the record shows, win a
skirmish with Ukwama, hold back imongo for a while, and then resume
it at his own discretion, expressing a great degree of autonomy and
a more sublimated kind of clientship but no radical shift of orienta-
tion to power. Vululile had been cast for a more difficult role. He falls
somewhere between an adopted champion and a colonizing patron
for the Mahanzi. But it may be best to begin with an official version
of the facts.

Following is the account set down in the Tukuyu District Book

by a British administrator after a safari in the Livingstone
mountains probably in the early 1920s. I preserve his spellings of
names, trusting they may be recognizable; but since the cast of
characters at this point begins to grow long, I give numerical refer-
ences to the genealogies which will be found at this chapter’s end, a
few pages on.

It was reported that Mwakalukwa (1) was originally a capitao of Chilero

(2), but on the arrival of the Germans he was appointed to be a headman; on
this point careful enquiries were made, and it was eventually ascertained
practically the whole of the history concerning these two headmen, and the
way in which Mwakalukwa (1) came to be a chief.

The grandfather of the present Chilero (2) was one of the big Ukinga
chiefs, and he had three sons Ndungiri (3), Burubili (4), and another.

Ndungiri (3), the father of the present Chilero (2), killed his father and
took the chieftainship; Burubili (4) the father of Mwakarukwa (1) had lived
for a long time in the village of Mbemba, and was friendly with the Amahanzi
Tribe, and, on hearing that his father had been killed by his elder brother,
immediately declared war on him.

Burubili (4) is looked on with great respect by all the Wakinga and appar-
ently was beloved by a large number of the people of his father, as, on his

declaration of war against his brother, a number of people came over into
the Amahanzi country and joined him.

Burubili was assisted by the Amahanzi chiefs, Mbemba (5), Mwandilawa

(6), Mwenetera (7), and Maramila (8); and eventually Ndungiri (3) was driven
out of a large part of his country back to the hills which lie between
Mwakete and Bulongwa, his kraals being burnt and cattle taken; it is note-
worthy that the historians say that the huts of the people were not burnt,
but that the conquerors confined themselves merely to burning and
damaging the personal property of Ndungiri alone.

The country that was taken was handed over to Burubili (4) who became
the chief; peace was made, and the two brothers became friendly again and
had the usual feast. After several years Chilero (3) again became restive
and made more trouble by killing the eldest son of Burubili (4); and again
there was war between the two chiefs; Burubili was again assisted by the
Amahanzi, and again defeated Ndungiri (3).

When the Germans arrived in Ukinga...Chilero (3) demanded that

Mwakalukwa’s (1) country be handed over to him but he was refused in this...

[Njombe District Book I]

A reader must supply logical corrections. Underlying refer-

ences are often to a lineal office rather than a particular incumbent,
and a man of earlier generation is often referred to by the name of a
successor. I have nonetheless indexed references in the text
according to prima facie meaning.

Dynastic Claims

The political genealogies which follow should be treated as

Kinga-schematic not ethno-historical, as each is my armchair
synthesis of varying versions collected in the field. I shall be at some
pains later to indicate how little they are to be trusted as histories,
because I want to dwell on the difference between public law and
public morality, political constitution and political practice. The
formal implication of a political genealogy is that actual blood ties
(let us say descent through eldest son of a chief wife) account for
successions to office over the generations. Every Sanga ruler lays
claim through his genealogy to a ruling privilege which, being grounded
in nature, social thought cannot gainsay.

Where two or more lineal offices are linked in common descent,

the claim is extended to set up a natural relationship between two
polities. The kinship metaphor nicely qualifies their mutual autonomy.

The fiction is rather like the ‘gold standard’ for inspiring confidence in
international finance, in that the trick works not because it really
takes people in but because the conventional wisdom shows a
terrible void where suitable alternatives would have to be. I try to
give an acceptably Kinga version of the ruling lines in the Western
realm, leaving some questions about hard historical fact to later
annotation. The result of adopting the perspective of oral history
will be to move from a distant past of remarkably uneventful succes-
sions to a recent period of dynastic turmoil. Presumably, more light
on the darker past would match it better to the times we know.

Details 1-3 (ending this chapter) present kinglists for the main
ruling houses. I went into the field with armchair skepticism about
such lists and emerged confirmed in it. Informants with a little
encouragement may stretch a short list of ancestors to match the
(stretched) lists of neighbour houses, but all the same the field-
worker has to pull out as many names as will come. A still more indus-
trious anthropologist could presumably have made all the lists come
out with an equal number of generations. In some cases there were
historians present to correct or otherwise steer an incumbent, but
generally I got the genealogy he in the presence of his elders saw fit
to volunteer. These are, as it were, practical genealogies and by that
token they are genuine.

Every Kinga feels he or she ought to be able to name the three

men comprising the ascending patriline defining a boundary for
exogamy, and few commoners can add more names: by their
standards even the shortest of these ruling lines is impressive.
Where I was aware of irregularities needing to be hidden it was never
very hard to dig out facts, or at least rival versions of events, but I
have no way of knowing how many skeletons were left in the closet.
Once or twice I may have elicited more or less genealogical pride than
I ought, and I have probably not seen all the systematic sources of
distortion. These lists are not pretended history but tools of inquiry
into political conditions in precontact times, and it is as such they
are serviceable. The names on each list referring to post-Contact
incumbents will indicate the distance being bridged by oral history in
each case, with the attendant dangers. A short list prior to the Pax
suggests a short history of effective ‘chiefly’ rule in that domain,
and a more recently awakened interest in lordly bearings.
Documentary sources have understandably been of little use in
confirming the oral history of the Kyelelo-Vululile wars, which I had
from Kinga informants in 1960. Non-partisan historians would have
been scarce in 1900. The series of battles appears to have been
spread over twenty years or more, with both sides claiming victories

and Kyelelo (Untowanilo the Cruel) exhibiting prodigious energy in the
building of a following. However infrequently he may have received
imongo [marriage tax] from a Mahanzi (or Vululile’s Kinga)—and it is
unlikely he ever did—Kyelelo continued throughout to claim it as his
right. Vululile struck the German missionaries as the “superior chief”
owning the most fertile and densely populated part of Ukinga, having
five “subordinate chiefs” (three Mahanzi houses, Mwenentela [7] from
Magoma, and Mwakagile the Sanga). To the Germans and British, suc-
cessive representatives of the Kyelelo line claimed to have conquered
all the Mahanzi and Magoma long before Contact, and hence to be the
rightful rulers of a united Western realm. But I suppose an even more
preposterous claim was accepted somewhere else in East Africa by
the Europeans of that day.

In 1960 Vululile partisans convincingly denied that successful

version of history, assuring me that Kyelelo (Ntowanilo) for his double
parricide had been cut right out of the central rituals at Ukwama. But
if that ever happened he had seen himself or his heir restored to
favour by 1900, very likely through a show of power and personal
prowess. His son, to whom he handed power before his death, was
always a favourite at the German District Office at Mwakete Boma.
As for Vululile, before his death in 1909 he had fumbled his relations
with Mwakete (presumably not without a little deft assistance from
Kyelelo), and the Vululile successor Mwakalukwa was reduced to the
rank of local ruler [ Stationschronik pg.7]. Under indirect rule, effec-
tively from 1926-8 when the Kinga Native Courts were set up, Kyelelo
(Ndunginiye) regained the realm and began to exercise a degree of
centralised control which had never before been enjoyed over so
extended a region. He had his father’s charisma but combined it with
diplomacy and a silver tongue.

The early missionaries estimated the population of Vululile’s

country, with Kyelelo’s, at something over 5,000 persons. According
to a census of March 1928, there were resident in the same region
3,252 persons, of whom 1,463 were children, 1,025 women, and 764
men. In the following year Subchief Kyelelo reported 290 births and
168 deaths, of which 94 were deaths of infants. In short, the popula-
tion was growing. Adjusting the 1928 figures for temporary migration
of men (it is realistic to assume a rough parity as between the sexes,
and exclusively male migration) the total comes to about 3,500 per-
sons. They were divided about equally among seven local rulers, of
whom Kyelelo himself was one. Whatever else should be said of the
legendary warrior Kyelelo (Untowanilo the Fierce) he could not have
been easily intimidated. Simply within the realm he had determined to

claim for his own he would have been outnumbered about six to one if
he’d ever found all his enemies aligned against him in the field. It is
owing to the atomistic quality of political life prior to the Sanga pro-
tostate mobilization that such massive confrontations could not
have happened. Whatever population catastrophe is attributed to
colonial disruptions in the generation before 1928 (whooping cough,
measles, and a European war were brought to Ukinga) we are dealing
with small, face-to-face polities. The typical local ruler would have had
to deal with perhaps 200 arms-bearing men of all ages. I believe the
numbers before Contact, though they probably were somewhat
higher, were of the same order of magnitude.

What is obvious is that the Western realm—though by 1960

well established and apparently ‘ancient’—was in fact first formed
after the coming of a pax germanica . But the forces which finally did
succeed in forming a realm in the West were the same which had been
in process throughout the Sanga expansion: forces of entrepreneurial
power politics flying the Sanga banner.

Detail 1: Sanga ruling lines of the Western realm to about 1960

Southern Domain Central Domain Western Domain

Lingundya Luwumbu Bulongwa
“Mwakalukwa” “Kyelelo” “Mwakagile”
(1926 Title) (1926 Title) (1926 Title)
Ukiganga (b.
Umbunganya (b.
Ungavila (Luwumbu)
Ukinoto Kiponzuvutwa
Unkingilo Uvusuka
Mwangawa Umwikusi Usakalang’i
........... Pax begins ......... Untowanilo (The ........... Pax begins.........
(4) Vululile (d.1909) Mwakagile (I)
........... Pax begins ........
(1) Mwakalukwa
(3) Ndunginiye Mwakagile (II)*
Mesiye (2) Ukingatavwo Sunguluma

* At Kilolelo’s death, his ‘younger brother’ Salile was made regent until
the heir, Mesiye, reached his majority. The choice of Salile was made after
much discussion and his subscription to a ‘contract’ to withdraw at the
appointed time. Mwakagile (II) was a regent not even closely enough related
to his predecessor to be called his ‘younger brother’—but nonetheless able
to assume and retain the succession. Kyelelo the Cruel is by some infor-
mants placed one generation earlier than in this ‘official’ version of the line.
The informant in each case is the last ruler on the list. These offices were
notretained bytheindependentgovernmentofTanganyika,later Tanzania.

Detail 2: Mahanzi ruling lines (Western realm) to 1960

Kavale Ulumba Utengule

“Kyando”* “Kyando”* “Luvanda”

(Founder of the line) (Founder of the line) (Founder of the line)

“Malambila”* “Mwandilawa” “Mbemba”

(1926 title) (1926 title) (1926 title)

Ungatisanyi (b.
Kapola Umwenekivu
Gutsungwa Umbatsi
...........Pax begins.......... ..........Pax begins..........
...........Pax begins..........
(8) Malambila Selemba
(5) Mbemba (I)(d.
Mwapongela (6) Mwandilawa 1904)
Legezamwendo (d. Mwimbilile Mbemba (II)
Luka Jila

* The Eastern and Central domains trace back to a common founder,

Kyando, but gave me no details of the subsequent division of their two lines.
Mahanzi rulers gave less attention to lineage history than Sanga, and
evinced less interest in or deference to their office holders. Missionary
Hübner (BMB 1900: 25)has a somewhat different account of the situation
he found on arrival. His three chiefs before the Pax (in the order as above)
called themselves Mwakasula, Mwandilaba, and Mwifikilo. Only the first of
these presents a problem. It is likely enough Mwakasula was short lived and
forgotten, or a regent.

Detail 3: Magoma ruling line to 1960

Central Domain Northern Domain

Lumage Misiwa

“Fungo” **

“Mwenentela” “Mwakalila”

(1926 title) (1926 title)

Mwakadege (b. Lumage) **

Njalayivava **

Ukyeve Kiwolile

........ Pax begins....... .........Pax begins........

(7) Mwenentela Mwakalila

Mwasonya Mwakipesile

Mukoli Mwalawil

Mwezi **

Isaac* Isaac*

* Isaac Mwezi, a person of charismatic stamp, lost the Central domain

in a tangle with the British administration, then became a peripatetic ‘all-
Magoma’ leader with a series of minor posts, including headship of a new
domain he was able to set up out of the Central about 1935. He regained
favour with the British by revealing a unique touch as tax collector in an
area bedeviled by a series of ‘incompetent’ (i.e. ethnocentric) short-run or
probationary rulers. It was largely through Isaac’s initiatives that Magoma
(after several reorganizations) had achieved an effective local government
by 1960.

** Nominally, the earlier incumbent continues. Probably his place has in

fact been passed on to an heir who, in local custom, can choose to reign
under the same name/title.


Concepts of Sanga Power

Kinga-Nyakyusa Expansion
It is within the Western realm we can best investigate the prob-
abilistic history of the Kinga state: the processes, including war, by
which Sanga rule and its extension were established. We are looking
for the rules of the board on which the game had to be played, not
particular outcomes. That other (the “outcomes”) strategy will be
familiar to some readers from Monica Wilson’s impressive collation of
certain Nyakyusa chiefly lineages. Her chart of “chiefs of Lwembe’s
line” places 181 names on an integral generational grid which charters
29 chiefdoms. It is as though Nyakyusa polities were generated in
real time and space in the way a genealogical tree grows downward by
ruled lines, from the single mythical ancestor at the top to the full
proliferation of the twentieth generation, packed like piano keys
across the bottom. That is certainly not the way proto-state poli-
tics worked. Nyakyusa traditions hold that their aristocratic polit-
ical system was an extension of the Kinga; it is likely the two systems
did develop in parallel, and it is certain they bear strong family resem-
blances. But the mechanisms of expansion were distinct. ‡‡

For convenience in sorting a lot of names a genealogical tree, however

artificial, has no substitute; but the danger is that the chart may become
an end in itself. We need to see it as an artifact of the reconstructive mind.
Charsley usefully contrasts Merensky’s 1894 genealogies with Wilson’s
made in the 1930s, and the Rungwe District Book records the expert
Masukulu Nsamba’s charting of some of the same material at an inter-
vening date. R. de Z. Hall’s record of 1938 (Mbeya Provincial Book) appears
also to be intermediate, suggesting that Wilson’s adjustments in 1955
may have been rather substantial. Comparing these progressive versions
one is witness to the cooking up of data or, as it might be construed, the
making of a myth. I conclude that the introduction of written records by

missionaries, administrators, and sociologists bolstered a spontaneous
liking for systematization among certain Nyakyusa elders, who co-
operated in the final editions of these charters of ancient unity. ‡

In fact, Wilson’s chart of the twenty-five Kukwe chiefdoms was

based on data two local enthusiasts had compiled out of their own
interest and turned over to her—her part being to reconcile disagree-
ments. But the chart I need for my work with Kinga history is of another
kind. At the end of a considerable survey of European observation and
analysis of Nyakyusa custom I remain unsure of my answer to the most
practical of questions: how far a ‘superior’ chief or prince actually could
expect to control the decisions of ‘subordinate’ rulers within his sphere of
influence, and how such arrangements were sanctioned. The Germans
observed political hierarchies among the Nyakyusa and at least the
Western Kinga, though among both peoples they further noted a
pronounced and countervailing local autonomy. What we lack in either case
is an emic picture—how political dependency played in the everyday imagi-
nation. We’d have needed a contemporary observer with that special
interest. Only one point seems quite clear: genealogical links and orders of
precedence did not comprise systems of sanction but were systems of
notation, vehicles of discrimination. Concentration upon our charts as
though they were more would probably only get in the way of under-

“It is clear,” writes Gulliver, “that, immediately before the colonial era,
the Nyakyusa were not arranged in a number of determinate petty chief-
doms, as later evidence has had it. The indigenous political system was
more fluid than that.” One of the major puzzles about the local organiza-
tion of plains-dwelling Nyakyusa at contact was the clustering of villages
rather tightly together, though in scattered places, leaving wide
stretches of fertile but uninhabited or minimally exploited land between.
This is a puzzle if you assume the radical thrust of each princedom was
toward independence—unqualified autonomy. On that assumption you
would expect each prince to distance himself as well as might be from each
of his neighbours, so that the good land would be evenly (if, at the time, still
thinly) settled. But the assumption is wrong, and the principles of
cohesion, responsiveness, and flexibility inhering among princedoms only
begin to emerge when the extraneous hypothesis is abandoned. To say it
briefly, it seems to me that the principle of “good company” adumbrated by
Monica Wilson is matched for Nyakyusa by a strongly countervailing
principle. It should be called something like “passionate rivalry” not, as
Wilson dubs it, passive “admiration of truculence.” Such a passion requires
the proximity of stranger-familiars, that is, persons outside the scope of

the neighbour-love ethic, yet within the scope of acquaintanceship and
network connection which makes personal rivalry possible. ‡

Wilson discusses Nyakyusa violence under the general rubric of self-

display as a culturally patterned value; but I don’t think that would have
been good enough in 1890. MacKenzie offers graphic descriptions of the
wildness and frequency of Nyakyusa drum dances. They are “indulged in
with great zest, and, as the night advances, with complete abandon, moral
and physical.” Evidently Nyakyusa dancing possessed a “pagan” authen-
ticity which impressed the German missionaries, as well as the British,
against their scruples. Fülleborn judged the dances wholesome “in spite of
their gestural allusions to sex.” The violence of the dance at funerals was
proverbial and intensely attractive to young men. MacKenzie writes
further, it “is not seldom an unrestrained orgy of emotion lets loose. If
spear and shield are carried, fighting may take place, ending in wounds and
death, especially at the burial of a chief, who should not go to his
ancestors unattended.” There is surely no profit in setting aside such
valuable notes on Nyakyusa character as we work toward a model of
political expansion below the escarpment. Human societies everywhere
thrive on ‘contradictions’ between their values and the equally character-
istic histrionics which proceed from more spontaneous urgings. What we
need to see is how Nyakyusa go about discovering what makes life worth
living, how their pursuit of it would have contributed to the vitality of their
political system, and how all this compares with and illuminates the
situation of the Kinga. Take it for granted that both peoples, since they
both built well, would have been doing justice to ‘rational self interest’ in the
way they served universal human ends—the goals of ecological, economic,
and organizational adjustment. And take it for granted, of course, that
the deeper human sources of vitality in each case would have been unique. ‡

In their different ways both Kinga and Nyakyusa societies were

expansive and were growing through the export of politics as well as people.
Difficult though it may be to find a model which will disclose the inner
genius of either society, I am inclined in both cases to begin with an appreci-
ation of the way ritually amplified personal power can serve to lend vitality
and coherence to fluid political systems. We have in the ‘predatory expan-
sion’ of Sahlins a disclosure model of the working of a strongly segmentary,
acephalic, warlike society. Fashioned to suit a couple of extreme examples,
its fit to the Nyakyusa or Kinga cases is not good enough to throw much
light. Our two peoples both abridge local autonomies, allowing for shifting
alliances and lines of cleavage, and both make important structural use of
friendship as a counteragent to kinship solidarity. At what constitutes an
opposite extreme to ‘predatory expansion’ we have Southall’s model of
Alur expansion through what we might call ‘friendly takeovers’. Here a polit-

ically advanced community expands by incorporating acephalous neigh-
bours. It is a process of colonization by impressing the rustics with your
superior management skills. But both Kinga and Nyakyusa depended more
on political theatre than on either the pragmatic appeal the Alur had
working for them or the land-grabbing and cattle predation Sahlins was
concerned with. ‡‡

We have a puzzle in a paradox: Because Kinga-Nyakyusa society is

less atomistic than either of the extreme cases we have considered, it
depends more on individuals and their energies—the phenomenon which (on
the confused political scene of the industrial world) we tend to understand
as leadership. Yet what especially seems to distinguish Kinga political
culture is the retreat of the prince from public life, in seeming contradic-
tion of Sanga expansive claims. What is a “big man” who hides behind a
stockade, who evacuates it (bush-culture fashion) at news of an
approaching missionary (BMB 1898:119), or (alternatively) offers through
intermediaries his very territory in return for powerful patronage (BMB
1897:198)? In transmuted form these traits are shared by Nyakyusa-
Ngonde culture. Why, in a region so far south of the classic examples in
eastern Africa, do we have the appearance of that peculiar phenomenon we
have come to call ‘divine kingship’? To the extent that we are dealing with an
institution the two peoples hold in common, a solution to the puzzle for
either culture might prove transferable. There are some clues to be found
by looking at the way power was won in Kingaland. ‡

History vs. Genealogy

Something of the colour missing in the kinglists can be grasped from
a look at events behind one particular succession. Consider the ruling line in
Bulongwa (kuVulongwa—the capital was about a kilometer south of the
mission site so named), the house lately called after Mwakagile Sanga. As
an exogamous ruling lineage, conceived as a branch of royalty, the family is
locally known as Sanga Mwihomeke, Pierced Sanga, though I was unable to
get details of the event so commemorated.

Sunguluma, the incumbent in 1960, admits that Kiponzuvutwa “was

only of unyakivaga guardsman rank when he left Ihanga,” which is regarded as
the parent domain. That means he would have had no special hereditary
claim to rule—he was not a favoured son of Umbunganya, as the political
genealogy seems to imply. “When he arrived there were Kyando and others
[= other Mahanzi lines] here but they had no political system. They lived like
goats.” Kiponzuvutwa “taught them how to be subject to him” and they,
the Mahanzi natives, “had no power to resist him.” They “learned from

Kiponzuvutwa the advantage of organizing against one’s enemies.” On his
arrival practically the whole of what he was to make his domain was
woodland, not yet cleared. Maize, beans, and finger millet were the crops, all
planted according to tradition in imigunda swidden gardens cleared on a
steep slope. The new Sanga rulers from Ihanga took over control of the
wooded land, “letting it be known that all others should get permission to
build and clear the land.” The Sangas organized the clearing of larger areas,
grouping many imigunda gardens together so that they could efficiently be
fenced and defended from wild pigs. “Before Kiponzuvutwa settled here the
folk of Ihanga feared the witches and spirits of this country; but after he
led the way they followed in great numbers.”

Sunguluma’s history seemed to me sober and straight, once the

mythical primitivity of the aboriginal Mahanzi had been bracketed away.
Different versions of the ruling line emerged from questioning. Sunguluma
himself reduced his recital to a father Mwakagile, grandfather Uvusuka
who didn’t see the Germans, and the founder Ikidagile, alias Kiponzuvutwa,
who had left Ihanga. Padili Kyelelo also accorded the line only four signifi-
cant tenants, giving Usakalang’i as actual father to Sunguluma, becoming
Mwalukisa (II) on assuming office. Sunguluma later added that Mwilola,
elder brother to Mwakagile, had actually been the ruler when the Germans
came; and so on. I never aspired to setting down a “true” genealogy or
record of office. On a very simple level there is confusion like that Charsley
confronted in his effort to sort out the Nyakyusa princely genealogies in
the light of historical references to actual nineteenth-century rulers. He
seems to discover a major source of uncertainty about generational
succession in “a title effectively outliving the generation of its origin,” and
holds this to be “a basic feature of the indigenous princely system.” While it
may be basic it is obviously not a feature consistently applied. A prince’s
name must be regarded as a title if it is only imposed or adopted on his
assumption of office; but we generally lack any information as to the
names of personages appearing in the ruling genealogies, as they had been
in private life. We only know, for Nyakyusa and Kinga alike, that from time to
time a successor chooses to make the name of his predecessor into his
personal title. ‡‡

The Nyakyusa evidence does permit a canny guess. It looks unlikely

that the ritual preservation and passing on of body-part essences to a
successor ‘chief’ (i.e., the ‘divine king’ procedures) were used in any but the
quite special cases of true succession to office. One of these is the ‘living
Lwembe’ succession at Lubaga. But there are supposed to have been
others. The Coming Out procedure normally allowed an old chief to retire
from the political arena without a successor. This is Charsley’s main
critique of the Wilsons’ monographs, and his reason for using ‘prince’ in

place of their ‘chief’. But when a chief actually dies in office in his prime, he
should be succeeded by a brother or son, because the chiefdom itself is not
ready for a Coming Out. The ‘divine king’ rituals would then be available for
passing on the name and chiefly identity to a lineal successor. The choice
would be made and implemented by a local congress of priests—acknowl-
edged elders of the chiefdom which originally sponsored the now-deceased
chief at his Coming Out.

The sole Kinga case for which the specific motivation of the choice to
continue a name was made clear to me was that of Kyelelo—the name
belonged to an alien hero, was originally awarded to the incumbent at
Ihanga as an honour, and was claimed by successors in the same spirit.
That is to say, successors are claiming to wear the mantle of the founder;
or, put otherwise, they identify their office with a princely tradition having
a specific charter in heroic legends about past holders of the name. In
Kinga law as in English common law a person has the right to be known by
whatever name he or she may choose, and new names are often taken to
mark a personal transition.

Without knowing more than we generally can about long-past Kinga

political events, we can’t explain the life of a title at one particular place or
the apparent absence of such continuing title at another. An economical
formula would put all in the language of glory. At least in the twentieth
century it has been, on the whole, the more conspicuous rulers who have
lodged their claims to the grace of tradition by adopting lineage titles. But
glory is an elusive commodity, whether in retrospect or prospect. Expedi-
ence may be a better explanation when a community is not ready for the
ruler’s death, and a successor ought to be seated expeditiously: let him
then just take over the established name. It is clear enough that, once the
colonial era began, the main consideration in holding onto a name would
have been to keep the Serikali Government out of local business, while
keeping the tiny wage of service coming from a source which knew the
names but hardly the faces or even the putative ages of its agents in a
system of thoroughly indirect rule. ‡‡

Another source of confusion in the telescoping of generations is

common in folk retrospection. This is quite likely wherever a title has
outlived the generation of its origin. The German Stationschronik from
Bulongwa shows that Mwakagile died of consumption in 1901, and that the
succession was irregular. Without that specific information, and despite
inconsistencies in the oral history I collected, I might have had to accept
Mwakagile as the personal name of a long-lived ruler surviving from German
times to Sunguluma’s succession in 1931. It is even likely that Sunguluma
himself accepted that conflation, since he could have been no more than an
infant when the first Mwakagile (or was it his elder brother Mwilola?) died.

From their earliest contacts the Berlin missionaries, carrying a Nyakyusa
orientation over to the Kinga, vacillated between “Mwenentela” and “the
Mwenentela,” “Muibuka” and “the Muibuka”—it is hard to know how far they
may have helped to foster a liking for titles, or how far they and the
“Langenburgers” [= the German military presence], with whom they were
often if never willingly identified, constituted a meaningful audience at the
successions of, for instance, Mwakagile II or Mbemba II. (“The old Mbemba
died 1904. Into his place stepped a kinsman, the now-living chief
Mbemba”—Stationschronik: selected dates.)

Quite apart from the indirect influence of regional norms on Kinga

political practice, which must have been real over the long term from (at
latest) the mid-nineteenth century, it is characteristic that Kinga
retailing family traditions will telescope their forebears under the name of
a recently dead personage, personally remembered. Historic encounters
are attributed to father or grandfather as if his name were a title and one
could regard successive incumbents as incarnations of one individual. But
when this tale-teller’s rubric is the operative mechanism the “title” shifts
along with the generation of the teller, being typically the own-name of his
grandfather. For maintaining an oral tradition this strikes me as efficient
enough—the past is kept vividly near at hand. But where systematization
is wanted fixed local titles can be useful, and there was probably some
resort to them before Contact.

The manifest time-depth of the Kyelelo title (per 1960) may be

properly represented in the four generations Padili gave me from Untowa-
nilo the Fierce. That would put the legendary hero’s wild exploits to the
period of invasive turbulence in the mid-1900s. But we should reserve the
possibility that some telescoping of names has occurred even there. In the
case of Umwemutsi we know this was the title (“Mwemusi”) by which the
British administrators knew the man whom they decided to designate
Paramount Chief. The title has generally not been confused with the
individual names of successive incumbents of the office, and doesn’t
appear as the name of the line’s founder in any recorded genealogies. The
title attributed to the line by early missionaries was Unkwama or Muibuka,
and each of these was used as if it might refer to the founder or could be
the personal name of the incumbent. Yet these are not names appearing on
any documented kinglists! Linguistically, since there is no way in which the
Kinga or Swahili languages will distinguish “Umwemutsi” from “the
Umwemutsi,” the problem of titles presents itself more explicitly to the
European systematizer than to the indigenous one. In sum, there are
separate principles enough, cultural and historical, which have operated
upon the self-designations of Kinga ruling lineages and their personnel,

that no genealogy, however carefully corrected, can serve to document the
real political history of a single domain.

Political Vitality
Political technique may have been less important than political
vitality in the Kinga-Nyakyusa expansion. Though the dynamic was lodged in
a system of rule, the princes were recruiting people to it rather than
imposing it forcibly as the modern administrator has done under systems
of direct rule, or as the Romans and so many others largely did. Even in
1960 I found, as I moved from one domain or realm to another, variety in
the nomenclature of offices and public buildings. This was a reflection of
the local roots of Kinga political culture, just as a rigidly consistent
system of titles would have reflected an opposite bias toward central
direction. The genealogical frame by which Kinga princes modeled the ideal
ties of the peripheral realms to the centre was a charter not for power but
for loose alliance. By contrast, the intense hostility between the Kinga
followers of Vululile and those of Kyelelo was a source of personal power for
both of those princes, generating new structures in the Western realm.
When we later on get into some details of that civil struggle, as preserved
in popular imagination, we shall see how far hero myths could legitimate a
new kind of authority contrary to (yet hardly diminishing) a prevailing egali-
tarian ethic.

But the manifestation of segmentary opposition within a realm

ought not to be taken as a key to relations among the realms. The model of
self-escalating segmentary opposition which we know from a few
stateless societies has no real carry-over to chiefly polities. ‡‡

Princes in both countries drew power from their rivalries, but in

neither case was the rivalry powerful enough to generate (as among neigh-
bouring Hehe and Sangu peoples) struggle for dominance over a politically
consolidated universe. There is massive evidence in early German reports
for the prevalence of alliance in the Nyakyusa war pattern, but the alliances
we know of were situationally contracted without abridging the weaker
ruler’s autonomy. In Kingaland the same principle meant that within his
realm, vis-à-vis the lords of other domains than his own, a prince ranked
only as primus inter pares. The peculiar role-differentiation as between
prince (chief) and village headman (great commoner) among the Nyakyusa
has been sketched by Godfrey Wilson and reviewed by Charsley (1969).
Kinga militancy was normally concentrated at the level of the domain,
where it was centred in the capital village with its barracks isivaga. When
realm fought realm the contest was in effect between the warriors (aided

by priests) of two court villages. The opposing forces were then drawn
from two princely domains, they were not armies drawn from all the
domains within each realm. What the princely court could do, though, was
draw its youthful recruits directly from any of those satellite domains. Its
power to draw them was in good part a function of heightened political
theatre at the great capitals. Young men were always prepared to trade
on a new friendship to visit across any political boundary. That was the
nature of the boundaries—for men bent on trade or visiting they were
open—and the footloose nature of youths, with few commitments binding
them to place, and always prepared to charm a charming stranger. ‡‡

The priority given to autonomy for the domain even within the
alliance I have called a ‘realm’ contributes to an understanding also of the
chronic rivalry in the Northern realm between Ilevelo and Uhugilo. When
regarded as a kind of segmentary opposition, the rivalry does illuminate
the internal mobilization of each domain; but this ought not to be
dismissed as an intermediate level of segmentation which would automat-
ically be submerged in any cross-border conflict between a Northern party
and (say) a Western. The Kinga constitution is not a simple permutation
either of the stateless Nuer (who are said to escalate their warfare in
that fashion) or of the Alur, whom Southall put forward as a type case for
his model of the segmentary state. The Kinga/Alur contrast is particularly
instructive as to the place of political technique in the process of
expansion or, as befits the Alur, domination. ‡‡

Southall describes the Alur as “introducing chiefless peoples to a

superior political order” and finds that “serious warfare mobilized forces
representing at least the majority of groups in a chiefdom.” If the same
phrases were applied without qualification to the Sanga transformation of
Kingaland (granted that chiefless peoples are those who, in Sunguluma’s
phrase, “live like goats”) they would mislead on two counts: (i) as noted, the
vitality of Sanga politics was more significant than its techniques, which
were embedded in and communicated through the court culture; and (ii) the
active mobilization of a realm as such, and especially of several realms in
concert, is not recorded and must have been extraordinary. Political
relations within a Kinga domain were domestic; between domains relations
were external, carrying no strands of authority or material patronage. In
the North the pre-eminent claims of Uhugilo were strictly expressed in
certain ritual and ceremonial observances. Whatever the actual number (a
score or more?) of imongo goats which passed during a year from Ilevelo to
Uhugilo as tribute, this was to be reckoned as wealth of the court not of
the people. The prince at Uhugilo could not collect imongo directly from
Ilevelo subjects, and no more could he command their military services,
whether directly or through their ruler. If he had recruits in his barracks

from the other domain, they were his own to feed and command. If common
political cause were to be made between one domain and another it would
be within the boundaries of a realm (so much being assured by the regular
observance of rite and ceremony) but it would also represent the free
decisions of the two rulers to combine toward some particular end.

The passage of imongo from Ilevelo to Uhugilo, or Maliwa to Ukwama,

bespoke not a social contract—there was no feudal bond or notice of
subservience—but a ritual condition. The message of the goats sent over
to the Prince was parallel to that accompanying the hoes sent, in the major
Kinga religious ceremony, to the ancestral god Lwembe in Nyakyusaland: in
effect, “One who claims powers of mystical intervention, in receiving these
gifts, is made beholden to the giver.” In this way imongo along with various
more strictly ritual procedures within the realm amounted to a statement
of community, a recognition that politically autonomous domains were
nonetheless subject to forces beyond their control and that in respect of
them the several populations of a given realm shared a common fate.

It may be deemed there was an exception to the rule in the relations

of Vululile to the Mahanzi rulers, avowedly his loyal allies in the civil war he
waged against Kyelelo; but I think consideration of the evidence will leave
the rule intact. Vululile fled to Mbemba’s village, the Southern Mahanzi
domain, at the start of his insurrection. He stayed for some years without
acquiring any local command or tenure for his Kinga followers there. To build
a power base he had to establish control of a suitable territory still thinly
settled and attract a sufficient Kinga following to clear and possess it.
The place chosen was Lingundya, which Vululile made the fifth or Southern
Sanga domain. The Mahanzi, according to their traditions, accepted
Vululile’s leadership in the first war against Kyelelo and pushed their
common foe across the Lumakali river, confining him to a fraction of the
realm he later claimed. In effect, he was beaten back to the domain of
Ihanga. Only later did he move his capital westward into some unsettled
country at Luwumbu, ostensibly in token of an ancient mandate from
Ukwama to “go out and rule the West.” In choosing to support Vululile at
Lingundya his three Mahanzi allies were putting a buffer between
themselves and Kyelelo the Fierce, a move dictated by ordinary self-
interest. They were also creating, as some of them must have hoped, a
realm ritually on a par with all the Sanga realms, in which they would have
the full standing of autonomous domains.

Such information as we have suggests that the settlement of

Lingundya followed the pattern of Sanga expansion elsewhere, perhaps
accelerated only by a rush of followers to the winner of an unusually
decisive victory. Had Vululile established himself with a fifth realm, and the
Europeans not intervened, would the Mahanzi rulers eventually have turned

up under the Sanga name? At least one seems already to have taken on
something of the Sanga style by building up a priestly establishment; but
other ruling houses would perhaps have had to settle in the end for priestly
status for themselves, ceding secular power to a Sanga claiming royal
descent, coming to them from Lingundya. The Sanga strategy of expansion
was first to push into a new territory, then take it over. It is hard to reject
any of the possibilities I have raised—any of them might play some part in a
Sanga take-over.

It is not even certain that Kyelelo, though assuredly a colourful

tyrant and indomitable fighter, was more truculent than Sanga princes in
the older realms had been before him. The pioneering phase of a new realm
begets militancy. Ihanga, the ancestral place for the West, is a pleasantly
enclosed and verdant land only a few kilometres across a hilly belt from
Ukwama itself. Before the expansion attributed to Kyelelo, Ihanga would
have been a comparatively quiet “vassal” or “satellite” domain of Ukwama’s
realm, low-lying and locked away. Luwumbu by contrast lies higher in rugged
landscape, looking westward up a narrow but gentle valley toward Bulongwa
and Magoma country. An ambitious ruler would know the direction his
expansion must take.

Conditions of Manipulative Power

I have found it easy to fall in with the tradition that the West was
the last of the realms to be formed. My only doubt would concern the East,
whose history was lost in the Maji Maji massacre of its men, but which in
the accounts I had appears to have been expanding at the time of first
Contact. In the West, we are evidently the beneficiaries of dramatic
elements in Kyelelo’s career—we are comparatively well informed. The
particulars of the story by which war and the threat of war was stirred up
among the “chiefless peoples” and led them to accept the need for chiefs
must have been unique in each case, but some measure of warfare would
have been a constant ingredient of the process by which the Sangas
spread their court culture. His erstwhile Mahanzi hosts were soon
rendering tribute to Vululile at Lingundya: a credit, I think, to the strength
of his Sanga political ideas and energy, exhibited as much in his consolida-
tion of the peace as in his feats at war.

The most general analytical frame with which I have wanted to

explore (now taking Southall’s phrase) “the processes and types of
domination” in Kingaland is that which distinguishes spontaneous and
manipulative order. Here they are represented by constitutional law,
properly understood, and personal power. By its nature human spontaneity

isn’t absolute but relative to some fixed structure of expectations. What
could be more spontaneous than jazz? But an indispensable basis of the
most inspired jazz performance is, beyond conventions of phrasing and
form, a tune simple enough to be held in one ear while the other is used to
think. In human relations spontaneous order is relative to a frame of law
and the ‘logic of actions’ it creates, the if-then nexus of reciprocity which
ties an act to its predictable consequences within an institutionally given
context. Order of this kind underlies most of what we deem to be everyday
interaction in human communities; it is order which results from the
predictable operation of the law and its logic upon the action of any
ordinary person intelligently aware of the rules. A familiar example of
spontaneous order is the marriage system of a society like the Nyakyusa
or Kinga. Innumerable spontaneous decisions by individuals, subject to the
rules of exogamy and contract, result in the orderly circulation of women
without violence, the formation of a systematic web of affinal ties among
communities, and the unambiguous allocation of responsibility for children.

Manipulative order is achieved, to use Bohannan’s nice phrases, by

extra-processual or extra-constitutional events. These are not events
proper to the system of ordinary social control by which rules are defended
against their ‘offenders’; manipulative order ignores or dispenses with
rules, going around or beyond as necessary. An obvious example is the
social system created around a charismatic leader. It will be recalled that
Max Weber considered that charisma’s normal cycle ended in successful
routinization, that is, the reduction of leader-follower relations to rules
and roles. Bohannan’s example is a type of anti-witchcraft and anti-power
movement which from time to time has arisen, always with a somewhat
new face, among the inveterately anti-authoritarian Tiv of Nigeria; which
breaks down established systems of personal power; and which then itself
dissolves, leaving the constitution of the society intact. The trouble I have
with this is that the Tiv constitution seems to me intact after such a
purging movement only in the barest schematic sense. For practical
purposes the office holders appointed or anointed by the British will have
been swept away, and the Tiv polity will have reverted schematically to its
ideal pre-British condition. But as the situation is not pre-British, the
post-purge polity will have to reinvent itself in some way that practical
people will accept.

Bohannan’s extra-processual movements have, like charismatic

secular leadership in some presentations, architectonic significance in
relation to the established or traditional social structure—tending to
bring the law more directly into harmony with character values. What
then? Suicide cults manage to do this very nicely but they are not in the
usual sense practical. What has to happen in Tiv communities after the

ravages of an anti-power movement is the reassertion of spontaneous
order under refreshed anti-authoritarian norms. But in practical terms
this only means general acceptance of a ‘kinder, gentler’ system of
authority run by a new set of faces. We can assume that each time a
purging movement passes through, it will leave something more of the new
authority structures behind. That is, the progress of the political entre-
preneurs will be steady in the long run but fluctuating in the short. Thus
Monica Wilson on zig-zag change among the Nyakyusa: she asks us to see
“a pattern of waves advancing and retreating in a tide that is flowing in one
direction.” What this comes to is that Tiv struggle with the problems of
structural change through something we could call ‘anti-manipulation
movements’ which are in themselves hugely manipulative but mask their
authoritarian character by resort to the histrionics of mysticism. The
need for such movements arises when the times are out of joint owing to
unprogrammatic change. My point in introducing the example of the
chiefless Tiv is to afford a clue to the success of the Sanga leader in his
claim to charisma and his offer of a tangible programme. ‡

What we have to consider in the case of the segmentary expansion

of a chiefly people into chiefless lands is the bringing of a new law through a
sort of extra-processual activity combining various power attributes (not
excluding either charisma or witchcraft, which is a kind of crooked
charisma) employed in the interest not of restoration but change. That is,
from the viewpoint of the chiefless community the result of the Sanga
intervention is certainly not a restoration of the status quo ante; although
from the viewpoint of the Sanga courtier “sent out to rule” the change he
would bring about in a frontier village is a replication or ‘restoration’ of the
social system he has known at court. The Kyelelo of Kinga masculine
memory in 1960 was called the Fierce and the Cruel with ungrudging
admiration. These epithets speak to qualities of the soul, not ‘Kinga
values’. Whether the heroic figure of ‘Kyelelo’ thus remembered was in fact
one man or two, father and son, was irrelevant to the matter of his
memory in myth. The message is that each of the Kinga realms had been
put together by dint of arms; that the qualities crucial to those times
were the qualities figured in the Kyelelo mythology; and that once the kind
of unity had been achieved which meant an end to active campaigning, the
situation would nonetheless always be volatile. The new realm would still
require at its centre a Kyelelo figure, a Prince unkuludeva larger than life. The
capital would have to retain its militant character. It could never do for the
untsagila, sent out to rule a border domain, to ‘go native’. He should be
sending his best youths to the court to learn the skills of war and the
manners of the courtier. The court of the realm’s capital, as distinct from
the lesser court of a peripheral domain, must become a ceremonial centre
conspicuous for its feasting and for its patent on mystical remedies for

the many recurring afflictions which beset the community at large. It could
never do for the prince himself to fraternize with his men; he must be seen
to embody the transcendent powers of his court to maintain the fertility,
prosperity, and secure well-being of a people.

The distinctive character of the Western realm, which may in part

account for its being the last to be incorporated into the Sanga polity,
derived from the relative parity (in political terms and in respect to popula-
tion density and agricultural intensity) between Sanga and the Mahanzi
communities they would take into their sphere. But the greater ambience
and energy of the Sanga may be read from a careful comparison. The same
comparison will help to show why, by reason of the ‘logic of actions’
embedded in Sanga court culture, the domain had pre-eminent significance
in the Kinga version of the segmentary state. Stated generally, my thesis
is that spontaneous order is a crescive phenomenon which can be diffused
but not imposed, and personal power against a predominant background of
spontaneous disorder is impossible. The reason Nuer groups, ordinarily at
war with one another, can unite against a common enemy is firmly
connected with the absence of personal authority among them as a basis
of political unity. In any segmentary society whose politics is based on
personal power, only one level of structure can enjoy it. In the Kinga context
personal power can’t be achieved over two domains otherwise opposed and
at liberty to fight. The failure of German and British administrators to
comprehend that neither Vululile nor Kyelelo was or could have been in the
European sense the ruler of the West sprang from their unfamiliarity with
segmentary structures. When the logic of Sanga politics is well under-
stood it makes clear why there must have been princes as well as lords; but
also why, the better established the realm of a prince might be, the less
personal power he could be expected to wield—why, in short, the High
Prince at Ukwama must have been a recluse, and the true ruler at Uhugilo a

Political Logic: Kinga / Mahanzi Differences

The solid family resemblance between Mahanzi and Kinga schemes of
life allows me to represent Mahanzi as a version of Kinga culture
suggesting what the Sanga court system would have evolved from. The two
languages are mutually understandable by virtue of similar syntactic
structure and a generous overlap of vocabulary (unfortunately not yet
measured). The phonetic differences are such that hardly a phrase can be
uttered, however, without deliberately choosing the one language or the
other. Though I had been working on, if not through, kiKinga for about a year
when I first tried to converse in kiMahanzi I found I understood the new

language better, from the first, than the one I had been straining for so
long to hear. In spite of some disparagement on the point from linguists I
believe the reason was not in my having had prior experience with Mahanzi-
like aural discriminations but an inherent difference between the two
languages, a difference which in some measure bespeaks the separate
characters of the two cultures. In relative terms kiKinga is esoteric while
kiMahanzi is exoteric: the Mahanzi do not require in their manner of speech
so long and fine a tuning of the stranger’s ear as do the Kinga. On the other
hand, the Kinga are content that a stranger hardly ever learns their
speech—Kinga will readily acquire the other’s. It would be hard to miss the
special fit of this formula to Kinga sexual self-awareness. They are the
adaptable ones where others can’t be expected easily to acquire Kinga
sensibilities. Another true picture the language paradigm affords is that
of a highland society ‘farthest in’ and ‘least accessible’ in the regional
context of Southwestern Tanganyika, whose people have always been more
likely to visit others than they to visit Kingaland.

The Mahanzi are on several counts less closed socially than the
Kinga. Mahanzi traditions freely recount a long-continued practice of
emigration westward, but without any implication of historic destiny. The
famous emigrants of the Kinga are gods like Lwembe and Kyala who have
not lost their Kinga identities but return by underground travel or
uncannily on the wind to trouble the land and its people. Kinga project upon
them the ambivalence of an intensified ethnic self-awareness, a Kinga
mystique. I think this contrast has a good deal to say about the transfor-
mation the Sanga had worked on the Kinga communities of the Central,
Northern, and (presumably) Eastern realms before the German contact.

From the Mahanzi I learned that Kyungu, the divine king of Ngonde,
emigrated from Mbemba’s village, now called Utengule. But unlike Lwembe
whose leaving Ukwama was under duress and eternally resented, Kyungu
though an equally powerful figure was not assumed to be resentful or,
indeed, otherwise mystically or emotionally tied to or mindful of Mahanzi-
land. The attitude is simply secular. “He is a great chief in Karonga. He is
well educated, he has askaris and cars.” His supernatural powers having
evidently never been the subject of belief, the exoteric qualities of fame
and fortune were enough to remark. The Mahanzi ruler at home was likewise
never made the object of cult, though his rank was recognized in special
burial customs. A Mahanzi untwa is honoured in death by the slaughter of a
black sheep whose skin is spread over the corpse (already wrapped in its
containing mat) at burial. Continuity of the ruling line is symbolized in the
refusal of elders to mention the death directly until there is a successor.
They say, “Tufumbilwe, untwa asikuli — We are in bad straits, the ruler is
nowhere to be found.” When the successor is installed he must sit along

with his priest on just such another black sheepskin spread over a rolled-up
mat. His throne is not the tyrant’s symbol, the leopardskin of the Kinga
prince, but a sober reminder that the greatest of men is mortal.

A Mahanzi untwa ruler was honoured with house burial, as were his
wife and son, but the interment itself was a rather simple procedure
carried out on the first night after the death. The emphasis of the funeral
was on festivities, that is, on renewal and not on the mystical dangers of
the passing of a cult figure, as at Kyelelo’s court. From the accounts on
which I must rely it appears that the most impressive feature of a ruling-
family member’s mortuary ceremonies, comparing them to those accorded
a commoner, was the conspicuous consumption entailed in closing up a
house to make it a memorial over the grave. Commoners were buried in their
courtyards. Since identical honours were accorded a ruler, his wife, or his
minor son, they must be read as betokening the rank not the sanctity of
the Mahanzi untwa. This contrasts directly with Sanga customs at the
ritual level of the princely office where even burial is effectively refused on
account of dangers lodging in the royal corpse. At lesser levels Sanga
rulers and their close kin are interred in a ground of their own—the
important statement is only that theirs is a race apart. But Sanga royal-
court rituals of burial say that the death and bodily corruption of a prince
puts all his land in jeopardy not because of his public attributes but by
reason of unseen qualities of the person, generating forces which only the
priest-adept can control.

Sanga customs are discussed in detail in the next chapters.

Social Control
In another respect the Mahanzi had an open society as compared to
the Kinga, and that is in their system of social control. While it is hard to
prove on summonable evidence, the Mahanzi seem to have had a far less
developed jural system than the Kinga. This is consonant with the
relatively undeveloped character of the Mahanzi ruler’s authority. Mahanzi
were given to handling ordinary trouble cases by way of self-help vengeance
raids, placing responsibility at the level of local kith/kin groups not politi-
cally integral domains. For example, a Mahanzi man whose wife eloped with
a visitor from some distance away could lead a private raid on the herds of
an intervening group: they must compensate themselves by action against
the original culprit. All this would involve three avatwa rulers, three
separate domains, but without their authoritative intervention at any
point. The contrast to Kinga country, where the court intended to maintain

a monopoly of force, suggests the real political achievement of the

Mahanzi rulers do have traditions of yearly war games but

emphasize that blood was never shed. There never were standing forces at
the ruler’s court—his ikivaga was, in the strict sense, for visitors.
Missionary Nauhaus (BMB 1897:197f.) was once overtaken by darkness
and, being put up in such a hut, was rewarded by the company of a herd of
goats with their young keepers. In the morning it was explained that the
ruler had not wished the visitor to be uneasy and, seeing the guest’s own
retinue desert him at bedtime, had sent in local support. This
“countryman’s hospitality” may be compared with the firm exclusion of
missionaries in the same period by Kinga rulers in the Central and Eastern
realms. Where the Mahanzi made the rationalist’s assumption that they
could know the stranger’s mind, the Kinga were rather inclined to fear the
intentions and powers such a mind could harbour, trying either to keep the
uncanny stranger at a distance or, failing that, to fix him in ties of
patronage. In this light it is notable that Missionary Hübner’s great
success in establishing local Lutheran congregations was, apart from the
Mahanzi areas, only with the Kinga of Mwakagile, whose people were not
well integrated into Kyelelo’s sphere—the extent of the Christian region in
1914 was impressive, but it stopped short of Kyelelo’s own domain.
Missionary Wolff’s assiduous efforts in the more stabilized Northern
realm had come practically to nought. An important part of the difference
can be attributed to the Mahanzi being comparatively open-minded, the
Kinga comparatively closed and even doctrinaire. Once converted, Sanga
Christians of Bulongwa had their great success as evangelists among the
Mahanzi, continuing an old pattern of exporting new and prestigious ideas.

By Contact the Mahanzi had been affected for some time by the
Sanga presence. Their own close alliance with Mwangawa and his heir
Vululile led to intermittent attacks on their country and the need to
match the ferocity of Kyelelo (Untowanilo) with a show of solidarity and
perseverance. Hence Mahanzi memories of pre-German times may be
supposed to bear a bias toward picturing their rules on the Kinga (authori-
tarian) model. The difference nonetheless is tangible. A Kinga ruler dealing
with a witch and finding him to be dangerous would order the execution like
a good ‘African despot’. The imperious utterance, Kantagi kuluganda!, orders
a form of execution treating the offender as untouchable dirt—the witch
is strangled at the middle of a long rope and cast off a cliff to rot on the
rocks below. When a Mahanzi ruler, often by means of the same dog poison
oracle the Sanga used, discovered a dangerous witch there seems to have
been no need for the ruler to demonstrate supereminent personal powers.
Mbemba’s successor claimed only, “I’d give them leave to kill him.” Mbemba

was not a raider of the cattle of strangers but called his men together
only in the name and occasion of defense. This was “the Mahanzi way.”

Lumenyano of Bulongwa said that Kyelelo’s authority was often

exercised arbitrarily. At random he might confiscate a cow for a feast,
then compensate the owner by going next door for a maiden whom he would
present as the price. “If the father objected he would be killed.” This general
account of Sanga high-handedness is corroborated elsewhere though it
belongs most particularly to Kyelelo’s fame. He played a fast reputational
game. Lumenyano, not of the ruling line, beheld the game as an outsider
must with that respect one develops for a kind of strength one does not
covet. Padili Kyelelo and his elders discussed princely authority in another
light. They portrayed the same measures of power-assertion in terms of
majesty and the prince’s pressing need to provide magnanimously for his
fighting men, whose countervailing power always expressed itself in
resentment of illiberality. Since a Mahanzi ruler must personally lead his
men in battle if he would have their support at all, and since his strategy
for war was purely defensive, he had not to maintain the same ‘chiefly’
standing in ordinary times. That is to say in English idiom, where the Kinga
lord “embodied” his domain the Mahanzi ruler only “headed” his, and where
the integration of a Sanga’s people was “political” that of a Mahanzi’s was
only “social.” A Mahanzi untwa did eat imongo—at least in the final phase
before Contact that appears to have been so for all of them. But if the
Mahanzi law of imongo was formally modeled on the Kinga its meaning at
the schematic level was not the same. There was no gap between court and
bush cultures, no recruitment of youth to the ikivaga barracks life by an
ambitious lord, no expansive movement or quest for the signs of translocal

Where the powerful Sanga lord held his war games in an aggressive
spirit, pitting squads of fifty men against one another in a massive demon-
stration announced by the sounding of war-trumpets, the games at
Mbemba’s in Mahanziland were done with ankle-bells on. They presented a
spectacle of mock ferocity. “Untwa adindilwe,” the elders would announce to
call the people: “The ruler is entertaining.” The time should be one for
youths to show their skills and study the fighting styles of older men,
always vying to please the ruler, obliging him to serve more food and beer.
The festivities should last until dawn, and the crowds then disperse. If the
Sanga encampment evolved from such an institution, the process entailed
the appearance of militarism as a distinct phenomenon contrasting in
mood and style to the evening’s dancing, as well as by enlargement in time
and scale.

The Ruling Establishments
Judged by degree of role-differentiation, the Mahanzi was no more
than an embryonic version of the Kinga superstructure as that was to be
found in the Northern or Central realms. It is true the contrast with either
Mwakagile’s at Bulongwa, with whom all Mahanzi seem to have been on easy
terms, or with such as Lupila’s in the East, would not have been fully so
clear. Mahanzi tradition has it that Mwakagile “begged” territory from
them and continued to be dependent on their medicines for smallpox. The
Mahanzi ruler Malambila had two priests, Tamapa who kept the rainshrine
and Mwadepela who prepared the medicines (a potion and a topical salve)
for pox. The term ruler/rulers for the Mahanzi was untwa/avatwa as for the
Kinga, but applied without differentiation to all the men of the ruling family,
that is, men removed from the incumbent ruler by four steps or less of
consanguineal kinship. In effect, this is to make a distinction between high-
born and commoner but to make it in a way which hardly could have yielded a
sharp line, and to distinguish no special secular positions at court. In fact,
usage here reflects the true absence of a court establishment. As the
priests were all likely to live spatially apart from the ruler, in the manner of
private consultants, and the exaggerated polygyny of the Sanga ruler was
absent, a Mahanzi capital was more hamlet than village.

Mahanzi informants said that Selemba (but they really were

referring to his father Umbatsi) had been granted superior standing
among the three rulers before German times, relating this to the
prolonged period of war with Kyelelo. I would also relate it to the fact that
Vululile had managed to install a Kinga witchfinder, Kyalawe Ngulwa, at
Umbatsi’s court. Kyalawe’s son Jobo, a Christian, told me the Germans had
detained his father and questioned him. He readily confessed to having
killed people: “Yes, I killed witches but always by authority of our old
Government.” In accordance with then-prevailing German notions of right,
he was released. Still his unprotected status as outsider in the Mahanzi
community is apparent in this. The more closed and solidary ruling estab-
lishments of the Kinga capitals, though surely responsible for far more
witch-killing, were fully legitimate in the eyes of their people and escaped
being troubled by grievances brought to the German authorities.

Vululile bestowed on the Mahanzi ruler Umbatsi the Kinga insignia of

power, ilikule and ingalape, ulwanzisi and ikinyawangula: drum and trumpet,
otterskin crown and throne stool. “Mbemba” and “Malambila” were not
given these insignia of rank but were reduced each (in the reckoning at
least of Umbatsi’s supporters) to the standing of untwa unya’nekelo ruler of
the propitiatory rite. However, Malambila’s heirs assert he wore otterskin
necklace and crown, Umbatsi’s that he wore the induma leopardskin cape of

the prince; and both Malambila’s heirs and Mbemba’s report they sent
imongo to Vululile directly, not to the Mahanzi Umbatsi. Such realm
structure as there was could not have been clearly delineated, I think,
whether before or after Contact. Tradition in such matters only too quickly
accommodates to any changes which are plainly accepted by the people;
and this would account for differential social memories in the separate
domains, since tradition also can go underground.

Selemba/Mwandilawa of the Mahanzi Central domain is said to have

been recommended by Mwemutsi as deserving a separate court of law
when these were being set up by the British in the late 1920s. Supposing
that for whatever reasons of administrative convenience this idea had not
been rejected, I have no doubt tradition in 1960 would have had less to say
about Mahanzi-Kinga political integration in precontact times. But
however the evidence be read it does not justify the view that Mahanzi
communities were fully linked into the Sanga political system and rapidly
becoming Kinga at the cultural-linguistic level. We may judge the process
was well begun though, and progressing. By 1960 the Mahanzi communities
settled in Kinga domains had gone over to speaking kiKinga at home. This
could have happened in a single generation, considering that boys and girls
would have lived always apart from their parents, and supposing that the
youth houses would have been ethnically integrated from the start. But
the time scale we ought to assign must be an open one: how long were any
of the Kinga realms in forming? How deep were the pertinent cultural
differences between the two peoples? Mahanzi elders averred they would
have accepted a retiring ruler’s choice of a successor even if they thought
him unpopular; but the reason they gave was not that the ruler’s choice
was law but that it couldn’t matter a great deal who was chosen—the
elders would reform his character in any event. They felt they were dealing
with a low-pressured polity. I never sensed that was the case with the

Reassessing Domain & Realm

Whereas the domain was a corporate entity the realm had a
composite nature. While we can’t be sure how often over the generations
the several domains of any realm may have found themselves united in
warfare we do know that no kind of military command was claimed by a
prince over men of other domains than his own. Vululile (Mwangawa) and the
three Mahanzi rulers seem to have held a united front for something like a
generation against the attacks of Kyelelo; but Mwakagile, nominally
subject to Kyelelo in that he sent him imongo, was never embroiled in these

conflicts. Men fought for the ruler who could feed them, and in the Kinga
system that meant the military unit was the domain.

A prince, having to feast a standing establishment and from time to

time a massive military encampment, had no more than modest assis-
tance from the imongo tribute sent on by the lesser rulers of his realm—
the economic substance of his own domain was always crucial. It is the
ceremonial redistribution of consumable goods which marks the ‘chiefdom’
in standard political theory. Service ties redistribution to specialization in
production; but in the Kinga context specialized craftsmanship was linked
more clearly to apolitical trade. In a discussion otherwise echoing Service,
Fried identifies redistribution as a form of pooling which creates a charac-
teristically political triangular relationship between a community (“the
village or even larger organizational unit”), its productive capital, and “the
consumable yield of that capital.” Precisely this triangular relationship
accounts for the leverage of the political office which mediates among the
three elements. The Sanga ruler was in position as unkilunga owner of the
soil to allocate land; as eater of imongo and beneficiary of any successful
raids launched from his ikivaga he intervened regularly in the transfer and
disposal of stock. The political uses and rationale for the conversion of
great quantities of grain to beer in East African societies are well under-
stood, and though neither meat nor beer were in any sense reserved for
politically sponsored gatherings by the Kinga, these goods were always
more liberally dispensed there than privately—granted that where beer or
meat are being served a “private” gathering is a bit of a misnomer. ‡

Finally, by assuming some responsibility for the orderly settlement

of new territories and their continued affiliation with the court centre, the
Kinga rulers materially affected the idea of the community, its claims on
individuals, and its boundaries. But the same political triangle was not
much developed among the Mahanzi, particularly not in their Eastern and
Southern domains, where they were less affected by Sanga court culture.
On the other hand, though it was the ranking prince unkuludeva who most
freely manipulated community, capital, and produce to political ends, his
powers over the factors of production were practically limited to his own
domain. That is why we find him consolidating his princely realm through the
implementation of extra-economic strategies. For Kyelelo (about 1860)
the requisite strategy was war. For the more established princes a variety
of ritual devices came to have more significance.

The important difference between Mahanzi and Kinga polities can be

expressed in terms of the amount and quality of power each type-system
would have generated. While I have had to deal perforce with social
structure not social organization (in the sense of Raymond Firth), since I
can deal with cases only in legendary form, I think we must recognize that

there are not structures of power, only structures for power, which is an
attribute of persons and personal groups. Firth defines social organization
in contradistinction to structure in order to draw attention to individual
and social planning, to the prevalence of case-by-case resolution of
conflicts of interest in human society, and to the everyday possibility of
loosening constraints, felt to be excessive, inherent in the law. A well-
structured game, despite the clarity of its rules, requires intense concen-
tration by the dedicated player, never reducing to repetitive routine; yet
that routine to which only a truly dull game can deteriorate is the model
for many accounts of custom. It is true of all departments of life, but
particularly of politics, that a routine style of play has never allowed
anyone to dominate a game. ‡‡

Kinga culture comprised, perhaps more than most microcultures do,

a shifting congeries of games, energetically played. In the Kinga courts the
games were played for power, that is for the experience of winning in a
competitive game whose framework of rules is designed to rank players in
proportion to success, strengthening always the position from which a
winner will continue to play. The essence of the political game for Sanga
rulers was strategy, with success being measured by the size and temper
of your following. For Mahanzi, politics was settling disputes within a fixed
community. This is of course to say that the Kinga court, in contrast to
the Mahanzi or (putatively) the bush-Kinga community in which the political
logic of the Sangas originally took root, introduced a liberating opportunity
structure to a traditional social order. Ndwanga of Ilevelo nourished
ambitions for the standing of his domain in the realm, taking any opportu-
nity to enhance his own rank and the depth of his practical command.
Mwalukisa, retaining by ritual participation in the larger Kinga polity his
secure position as the “first younger brother” to Mwemutsi of Ukwama,
could afford to delegate the political game of housekeeping in his domain to
a commoner whose position was achieved and maintained through personal
ability and effort. Vululile could attract ambitious Mahanzi youths to his
court, offering an alternative to premature domesticity.

In Kinga historical theory, which is to say in the model of national

origins propounded at Ukwama court, the first Sangas came directly to
Ukwama from Nyumbanitu (54 kilometres as the crow flies) and moved
always westward as their rule extended. They had been preceded in this
movement by the Mahanzi, then by a group of more loosely allied descent
groups, none of them yet pressing upon the others by strength of arms.
The country was heavily wooded and sparsely settled when the last
immigrants arrived; only as this ceased to be so did the Sanga war pattern
emerge. This native theory does not account for Sanga expansion
eastward, establishing hegemony over Mawemba or proto-Pangwa commu-

nities. Yet we know from German maps and records of the British adminis-
tration’s efforts to establish proper “tribal” boundaries that Kinga had
crossed the river Mgiwe to the southeast and settled 36 kilometres from
Ukwama in an enclave in what has since been called uPangwa; and we know
from Kinga oral history, though the facts are submerged in German official
documentation, that Lupila (as the real centre of vitality in the Eastern
realm) was an aggressively expanding domain at Contact.

We lack the details of persons and places which an interested ethno-

historian might have gathered in German times—the anthropologist
wanting to discover patterns is not embarrassed by a surfeit of data. The
picture of the Northern and Western realms is less obscure than the rest,
in good part because these realms enjoyed less troubled times in the
colonial period, and because missionaries provide us with some documenta-
tion. In any event, our sense for the political pattern would not be rendered
simpler by our knowing more. What we do know of the four realms suggests
that the same ideas and values would generally inform the social and
political activities of Kinga whether they were expanding westward with
their storied destiny or against it. The avatwa of the Eastern realm did
bury their rulers to face the setting of the sun, symbolizing in this just
what the rulers of the other realms did: not that they followed the sun
earthward in death but that in life they were destined never long to stand
still. ‘Migratory drift’ may properly describe their ancient habits of
movement from an observer’s (etic) point of view, but this was ‘drift’ with a
purpose. An old man’s burial elsewhere in the region might tell the young to
stay, cleave to their kin, and honour their special place on earth. Kinga took
other advice: they could seek their fortunes where they would.


War Patterns: Politics & Ethics

War as Structure
It is conceivable the Sanga polity in Kinga country was formed
under essentially peaceful conditions, the war pattern having been
added at a later stage. More likely, war and politics evolved together
interactively, and that will be the assumption I lean toward here.
Owing to the ravages of the Ngoni and the depredations of foreign
traders in ivory and slaves, activities which intensified about 1840,
the nineteenth century saw a revolution in the scale of warfare in
Southwestern Tanzania. If we thought the Ngoni from the south or
slavers from the coast had brought war to an erstwhile peaceful
people, we might want to assume the Sanga system of rule was full-
blown by 1840, having been set up in an administrative spirit with
taxation, redistribution, and dispute settlement as its work, with
little concern for organized aggression apart from sporadic feuding.
We could then suppose a war pattern had been added without greatly
altering the system in a structural sense. But that would be taking
an unrealistic view of the region’s history on at least three counts:

(1) Early Iron Age conditions, which seem to have permitted

easy migrant drift—cumulative, small-scale population movements in
a colonizing spirit—had started winding down some four centuries
earlier. The many open populations of the Eastern Bantu expansion
were beginning to firm up ethnic boundaries, and the rise of the Sanga
system in the Livingstone Mountains was paralleled elsewhere in the
region. The general effect was the rise of a “political archipelago”
dispersed across the region in areas where intensified agriculture and
population density prompted institutional growth. I have treated this
subject at length elsewhere. ‡

(2) Constitutional patterns in the region allow for strong rulers

but subject them to ritually entrenched restraints. The courts settle

disputes; the strength and legitimacy of the ruler is the guarantee of
his court’s jurisdiction, and his endorsement is required for the use of
force in applying the court’s decision; but the ruler does not embody
the law as reported for some other Bantu regions. Priestly ordeals
settle the guilt or innocence of an alleged worker in evil; but the
standing of the priest, and the power of the court to enforce findings
of the ordeal, depend on the legitimacy of princely power. In short, the
general pattern is not that of a militaristic regime. The exceptions
(Sangu, Hehe) date from after 1840—they were military dictator-
ships but fell back toward the regional pattern once their wars of
expansion were ended.

(3) The particulars of Sanga oral history which I collected

contradict the notion that war came to Kinga communities in
response to foreign predation. Kinga country was invaded by Ngoni
and Hehe hordes; but the wars which remained central to Kinga
thinking were domestic—wars of rivalry between the four princely
realms. A near-ceremonial pattern of war was structural to the
Sanga system of rule.

The domestic aspect of princely rivalry can best be appreciated

by considering the implications of the internal constitution of a
realm. It was an association of sovereign domains. Within it, the
centrality of one (the princely) domain had to be maintained by
political theatre: the prince and his court had to exert a magnetic
influence (first) on the lords of lesser domains associated with his,
and (second) on the marginally committed bush communities of his
own domain, on which the standing of his court ultimately depended.
This paradox is essential to any understanding of the nature of these
proto-states: war, or the appearance of warlike might, was a crucial
tool of a politics which could not resort to naked force in establishing
its own internal rule. Comparison with another proto-state region
may be helpful:
Alur political structure...did not favour the use of force in purpose-
ful political expansion, yet it evidently provided a more widely based
and satisfactory security than the surrounding tribes were able to
achieve within their own systems. ‡

That is, the peacemaking element in the process of domination

consisted in the derandomizing of violence—control in that sense—
not necessarily in its decrease.

Likewise the Sanga introduced war and the rule of law in place of
a pattern of self-help. Since this older pattern survived (quite unoffi-
cially) in some bush-culture areas to the time of my fieldwork, I was

actually able to observe the process of change and form an idea of
how slowly it must have been working over the generations and
centuries which Sanga oral history pretends to cover. The paradox I
observed was a bush culture basing solidarity at least as much on
amity as kinship, yet given to a system of justice based on the idea of
those infrangible group ties which only a rigid kinship society can
boast. When you burn a man’s hut because his brother stole your wife
you may have sanctioned him effectively; but when the culprit was
only his tentative friend ? For Kinga, at least, the great social trans-
formation which we usually see as the move from kinship to political
community was a move toward voluntarism and the liberation of indi-
viduality which that implies. As said, the change was gradual and
never complete.

I see no argument here for an ‘evolutionary’ approach (in the

popular sense) to the modulation of violence in Kingaland. Nothing
prevents our supposing the Sanga reforms might have increased the
frequency and intensity of armed combat. Kyelelo apparently did just
that in the Western realm in quasi-historic times. Demographic
increase must have played an historic role, as always, but we can’t
control the detailed facts. What is surely the case is that the Sanga
chiefs were doing in their own way what many other chiefs were doing
in their own ways at about the same time, up and down the long
spread of Eastern Bantu civilization. The political archipelago I have
mentioned had that vast an extent—it comprised islands of chiefly
organization scattered over stretches of bush settlement, less elab-
orately organized, from the Interlacustrine states to the Southern

In all of this the importance of war was such that we have no

fair view of Kinga court culture until we can examine it in its aspect as
an institution for the controlled deployment of armed force. The
difference between random violence and a war pattern is not just
predictability but meaning. Self-help typically begets meaningless
violence, men dying or suffering ruin for no good reason, particularly
where kinship solidarity is more apparent than real. Purposeless (and
by that token, dysfunctional) violence is, as every sociologist knows,
the stuff of anomie. Dramatic values are lost. Social contracts lose
scope and binding power. A theatrically enhanced war pattern
absorbs all of this into a universal drama of sacrifice and vindication
which assigns to even small acts and events an unambiguous public
meaning, clothing what might otherwise be haphazard victimization
with an air of nobility.

What is the most likely circumstance for promoting the

evolution of an elaborate political/ritual superstructure? Probably
that which finds everyone in agreement that disagreement is the
problem. A general escalation of violence and personal insecurity may
eventually breed such agreement among the most egalitarian of
peoples. As for the association of war and politics in an Eastern
Bantu context, I suppose the only real questions are how early? and
how much?

Kinga themselves have no hope of knowing through tradition

even the little an archaeologist may some day demonstrate on that
score. But by examining the Kinga war pattern in some detail,
exploring what we do know, we can improve our position for specu-
lating about a past which will soon be slipping completely from our
grasp. Careful speculation, in our circumstance, being the best we can
do for science, the key principle has to be respect for the dangers of
interpretation. The facts we have to deal with are not elemental, are
seldom objectively falsifiable, and can be genuinely illusory. The
general view we take will impress itself on all the particulars. Though
that is the best reason for treating the Kinga view of their own past
with caution, it is a good reason for beginning a study with a critique
of their view. If we conceive that war is a feature of Kinga social
structure as it was played out in the court culture, the feelings and
ideas about war which Kinga still agreed on in 1960 are clues to the
way it would have worked in practice.

War in the Social Memory

The social memory of a closed society tends to form a hard
surface, shell-like and seamless, so that on quick inspection it
appears to be complete, though it be in fact completely superficial
history. What is underneath is not so much hidden as disregarded,
being by comparison disorderly and implausible, fragmentary, yet
everywhere having the ring of truth. Whoever would convert this oral
history from its ‘storage’ form to a written account begins perforce
with the shell, the coherent construct from which all informants take
orientation, exploring only as data allow the piecemeal additions and
revisions which also come, with coaxing, into an observer’s net.

A number of ancient and august citizens of the Northern realm

talked to me about war. Fighting but not feuding, they said, could take
place between men of the same domain. When a man was killed his kin
ought to mount a raid on the settlement of those who were reported
to be responsible, trying to kill in vengeance or at least to come away

with stock in compensation. So the ethic and practice of self-help
were still in place to the end. But my informants went on to say that
within a domain there was a strong sense that warring was only killing
one’s own folk, a resort of fools. Therefore quarrels, even murderous
fights, were quickly referred to the ruler’s court for judgement.
Someone in the aggrieved party would tether a goat and bring the
matter to authority for settlement. The goat secured the interven-
tion of the ruler, since he could not make a feast of it until he had
found a satisfactory resolution of the trouble case. No one could
produce a recital of cases from so long ago, but once the ruler had
accepted jurisdiction his prestige was staked on making peace, and I
was assured he “could not fail” to do so.

Yet of course the untwa could fail. As lord of a local domain his
authority was not deniable in the settlements close to his court. But
since for power he must rely on his own persona and the style and
energy of his court, his hold on the imagination of the many more
remote hamlets and isolated homesteads could waver and break
under the impact of events. The politics of passion is a theatre of its
own. Under the stress of mortal danger or fired up in anger, a man
defines his own turf and needs no distant politician to tell him who
are his friends and who his enemies. So trouble which begins at home
within the untwa ’s domain can quickly involve strangers to his jurisdic-
tion. What happens then is what we call self-help, a category of
events which lie only just below the surface of Kinga social history.
Anecdote (which is the native equivalent of the foreign observer’s
‘extended case history’) is social memory in a different mode, ignoring
the norms and revealing the normal.

The untwa could afford to leave passion to run its course. Self-
help across a jurisdictional border could only strengthen the vigorous
rivalry among neighbouring domains in a realm and so strengthen the
untwa ’s legitimacy. He need assume no responsibility—except as it
suited his purpose—for aggression at this level. As with us, the scope
of Kinga politics was the scope of the pragmatic mind. Lacking
priestly sanction, the dynamics of a self-help affray were not licit,
not a part of the court life and history but in that view a lingering
phenomenon of the old bush culture, peculiar to the ill-defined border-
lands which characterized the Kinga and many comparable segmen-
tary polities.

It would have been in such communities that a show of force in

the collection of imongo was most needed, since the (antipolitan)
ethic of independence could not but flourish there. But where has a
tax not produced a grudge against the takers? The meaning of an

outward act of surrender is clear enough but often leaves a residue of
inner doubt. Men who held themselves apart from the political
theatre of the court, whatever their private reasons, would know
themselves as the clients of warlords not the subjects of a great
princely house—the social contract of the Sanga revolution had not
been sold to all the natives. The Sanga dispensation was defined in
inter-personal not intra-territorial terms. Territorial standing can be
made an unambiguous criterion for political identity. Personal follow-
ings, being only as constant as the human heart, are contingent and
generate a different kind of politics.

The most troublesome (an ‘extra-processual’) kind of warring

would pit domain against domain within a single realm. Since it was
conceived by my informants as civil war—something having no place in
the Sanga scheme of things—they had no cases to offer. Logically, if a
prince could not prevent civil strife from escalating to a warlike level,
his rule over one of the two domains was necessarily forfeit and the
‘civil’ nature of the conflict would have to fall away. How many times in
a distant past the Kinga ‘four realms’ had been five or six or three we
can hardly hope to know, though the history of the Western realm in
the nineteenth century and the Eastern in the early twentieth, after
their devastation by the Germans, suggests that Sanga politics
never failed for lack of flexibility.

An important guerrilla activity was raiding a far target outside

the realm. Raids of this kind could be private—prepared in secret by
bachelor youths bent on adventure and a chance for glory. The court,
though surely aware of any such undertaking, would hold back its
official blessings. Well-wishers could only wait the few days out in
suspense to hear the outcome. In the event of debacle a prince’s
hands were clean; but if cattle were won and no men lost, the sound of
a victory horn approaching from the hills would signal preparation of a
royal welcome and feast. Cattle surviving that feast would be turned
into the lord’s herd—the raiders themselves, being propertyless
youths attendant at his court, could only stand to gain from this.

I believe this account offers a valid measure of the extent to

which political order had supplanted the kinship principle in a well-
developed Kinga realm. These ‘unofficial’ raids reflect a degree of
peer-group organization among bachelor men you would more likely
expect of age-grade organization than of agnatic lineages. The fact
that small private byres were not always practical in a mountain-
slope environment hostile to dairying can help to explain the growth
of armed courts and the movement of young men to them. But the
softening of an agnatic kinship ideology in favour of peer amity can

hardly be explained as a simple reflex of such independently-driven
structural change. The new moral strategies which loosened the
kinship bonds on youth were driving forces in themselves, making
available a bachelor labour force to sustain and protect the central
court as a thriving public institution. To be sure, the court was best
able to protect big animals and had a ready use for them. It can also
be seen as a ‘greedy institution’ in the sense of Lewis Coser, requiring
the undivided commitment of its labour force. Or it can be seen in
broader, ideal-typical terms as a Bantu version of the ceremonial
centre which has been a feature of pre-urban civilizations in many
parts of the world. But the Sanga mix had a formula of its own with
ingredients ranging from ritual formalism to entrenched autocracy,
peer solidarity, and youthful spontaneity. ‡‡

The model Kinga war pattern evoked when you stirred the social
memory in the early 1960s was not the raid (unscheduled or official)
but the steady war of rivalry between princely realms. This was
supposed to have originated not in any private encounters or griev-
ances but in deliberately provocative cattle raids by one court upon
another. The very fact that a choice for war could be reserved in this
way as a court prerogative says in itself that kinship loyalties at the
high-court level of the Sanga dispensation were weak. Under the
norms of bush culture the unit of retaliation was only the neighbour-
hood, ikikolo —the literal meaning of the word is local lineage. Self help
(or private enterprise) was the normal form for raiding in bush-
culture relations with stranger peoples like the Wanji, north of the
Elton Plateau, with whom intermarriage was rare and peace treaties
were never attempted. Kinga-Wanji relations were not political (prior
to colonial times) but ethnic; and that meant that as the Sanga
progressively asserted control the intent of a raid still could not be
provocation as such, only the loot and glory to be won from an
anonymous other. But within what was becoming the Kinga proto-
state, though it remained a loose political entity, that anonymity was
dispelled by the metaphor of fraternity among Sanga princes. It was
a metaphor which had become a mechanism for recruiting men to war
as well as for establishing the historical depth and grandeur of the
high courts. A man has a privileged relationship to his brother,
whether or not the peace is being kept between them.

Elders of the Northern realm said:

The chief’s first call would be to a council of war. Then he would tell
them, “When I call for the second time you are to come prepared for
war with Kyelelo, for I hear there are cattle there.”

Spies would be sent out to locate the cattle in Kyelelo’s
country—or it might be in the Central realm, in one of the three
domains with direct approach from Uhugilo: Kila or Tandala, Maliwa,
Igolwa. But when neighbour domains were raided in that spirit, once
the peace was broken a cycle of warfare was knowingly begun, which
only the oblique diplomacy of priests (with their professional talent
for manipulating the meanings in events) could eventually bring to an
end. This kind of guerrilla activity was by no means the spontaneous
thing a group of youths would spring.

Logistically, raiding was the more difficult the more distant the
target, especially as darkness was required to cover the whole opera-
tion. If cattle could not be rustled well away by stealth, the owners
might quickly form a superior party to run down the burdened thieves.
The style of a Kinga cattle raid would hardly have satisfied a Turkana
tribesman or, indeed, the very Nyakyusa or Sangu herdsmen whom
Kinga youths considered their most eligible victims. As lowlanders,
these peoples had larger herds and faced greater difficulty in retali-
ating. Ironically, though such a target might be thought formidable,
the unheroic style of a Kinga raid may sometimes have accounted for
its success. It is harder to raise a posse to chase down a sneakthief
than to hammer a brazen enemy. No doubt, raiders everywhere are
drawn by dreams of glory, and a raiding pattern does not persist
where these values can’t be realized when needed in actual combat.
The intrepid persona of youth was much made of in Kinga warfare but
didn’t preside. Heroics were something the Kinga put on well enough,
but the dominant theme in night-raider accounts I had was not
bravado but ritual precaution. The outcome of a raid could seem to
depend on the performance of medicines not men. Kinga heroics will
deserve their chapter but in another context.

Setting aside the raiding on neighbour realms, intended to spur

or heat up princely rivalries and augment the call for showdown
battles between drawn armies, most official raids would have been
made on the ethnic strangers most conveniently located. For North-
erners it was Wanji cattle, often herded in the grasslands separating
the two countries, which were most often the target of official raids.
Spies were sent out first, armed with magical medicines and power-
binding equipment. They would be only a few men. For reconnoitring on
the open plateau they carried fronds to camouflage themselves and
avoid giving alarm. If caught in the open you must stand stock still on
one leg, so that in your fronds you will be taken for a tree. Having seen
the arrangements and assessed the defensive strengths of the
herdsmen, noting how long it might take them to summon reinforce-

ments, with the coming of darkness the spies must actually approach
the byre and take footprints of the lead cow, secreting them in a
special calabash. A pole from the byre gate must also be carried away.
At home the bark of the pole would be stripped and mixed with
contents of the calabash. Then the raiding party, thought strong
enough to succeed, would start out by daylight, lying quietly on the
way the first night while scouts went ahead again.

The actual raid was mounted the following night. The lead cow
whose footprint had been ritually bound would be enchanted by the
calabash, and the other animals should readily follow. Behind the herd,
specialists would busy themselves with medicine horns of the type
that spread protective vapours. When pursuers reached a place
treated in this way their feet must grow heavy. They might well give
up the chase. But on their side as well there could be powerful
medicines used. The raiders’ own footprints might have been found
and bound up in the calabash of a Wanji specialist—Kinga would know
this when their own legs grew unaccountably weary. Generally the
raiders would not hope to escape without giving battle, but would try
only to harass and delay the pursuers, allowing the lure-calabash to
lead the herd into safe country.

It can be seen that the style of fighting on an ‘official’ cattle

raid was not that of a razzia. One did not set upon the herders in
their huts or otherwise try to overwhelm them. Kinga did not pride-
fully identify themselves with a massed force, whether in the manner
of the Ngoni band or of the Hehe armies, but looked cautiously for the
chance to show individual boldness. It was enough that a few men on a
raid distinguish themselves. The avanyivaha great commoners of the
court who, as magical specialists, were directing the course of the
raid would observe and report to the prince. A youth who entered
combat for the first time became unyangoha a man of war; a warrior
who proved dauntless, vanquishing the foe on each encounter, was
known as untenzi a proven fighting man.

Heroes of a successful raid, being those survivors who had truly

distinguished themselves, should be awarded each a bullock for his
own byre, but the lord or prince would take the fertile cows into his
greater herd, which seems to have had a significance for the country’s
fertility like (if less explicit than) that of the royal harem. When at a
later date the lord required a bullock for sacrifice he could call in one
of the captured animals, replacing it with a female from which he had
already got young.

In this way, though a ruler would not farm out the royal animals

chiefly to decentralize his herd—they were few enough that they were
best protected at the heart of the realm—he could still combine
feeding the court with building his own and the smaller herds of his
most stalwart cohorts. As cattle failed to breed well in most parts,
capital stock had to be maintained by persistent and reasonably
successful raiding. Next to this, if the Northern realm may be taken
as a model for the Sanga political system more generally, border wars
over territory were less important. Even where elders did discuss
wars of that kind with me (the wars with Kyelelo) they emphasized
the business of raiding for cattle and women.

What was the value of territory in a circulatory political system
which depended on the magnetism of its courts and failed to ascribe
corporateness to its kin and local groups? That wars might be fought
over territory at all—and the saga of Kyelelo the Cruel in the Western
realm is evidence enough that they might—suggests an element of
territoriality affecting if not determining the character of the war
pattern. But this case at its core is that of a prince understandably
bent on extending his realm over independent domains on its margin.
That is, the central issue is the extension of the Sanga hegemony and
with it the Kinga political identity over a small neighbouring ethnic
group, the Mahanzi. This ought not to be confused with a war between
two parties over the rights to settlement and exploitation of some
given territory. It is the entanglement of Kyelelo with rivals for a
stolen throne which gives his saga its special twist. Setting that
case aside, I believe all the evidence is consistent with the idea of a
segmentary protostate comprised essentially of groups not lands.
But this is not to say territory never featured among the spoils of

When the Northern and Western realms fought over the

marginal highlands lying between them there was no thought that
occupants of any land won or lost would be transferred to the jurisdic-
tion of the victor. Kinga everywhere live in hamlets not on plots or
farms; land ownership is vested in a political community not a lineage
or ‘clan’; men and women always work an assortment of fields widely
scattered among the several arable zones of a domain; women char-
acteristically retain the right to work a field in the home domain even
after marrying outside it. No one occupies a borderland grazing area.
It is perfectly conceivable that some particularly favoured and fertile
spot in a settled area might have been quarreled over by a people of

un-Kinga culture; but in fact the territory Kinga (in their own way) did
fight over had little or no economic value to them.

As with all borderlands in a society whose political centres

naturally sprang up in the most favoured parts, fought-over land
would likely be marginal to begin with, and the insecurities of warfare
could only reduce its attractions for any purpose but seasonal
grazing. But a number of special considerations apply to the matter
of men’s coveting land, and some of them must have been important in
inspiring Sanga leaders engaged in extending and consolidating their
local hegemonies. By 1960 the progressive clearing of forest land for
farming had produced a shortage of firewood in the most settled
areas, though not universally. Clearing was men’s work, and the
investment of labour in it gave new land special value to the entrepre-
neur who had cleared it, even beyond the extra fertility of its first
years of use. But if clearing so viewed was private enterprise, in the
Sanga dispensation it was no less political; if the first ‘pioneer’ in a
new forest area was not sent there from a Sanga court, the next
party to show up would be. Without its avatsagila , trusted men of the
court ‘sent out’ to settle and govern its frontiers, the Sanga system
of rule could not have achieved the stability it did. Before the advent
of colonialism and its roads, which tended to attract and stabilize
settlement, movement toward various natural resources (fuel, water,
better soils, ores and charcoal, building materials, and above all new
land) meant that a court had to service and keep watch on a mobile as
well as an expanding population.

More than one Kinga ‘pioneer’ must have felt the irony of a
political system (not in this respect a ‘modern’ invention) which
depends on individualism for the forces of growth, then follows it up
with the burdens of taxation and control. The ordinary advantage of a
marginal location, compensating the relative poverty that may go
with it, is a measure of immunity from the demands of a central
government. The Sanga lord can’t exact imongo where there is no
visible wealth, or expect military service from a man who dare not
desert his family to attend court. All considered, some men raised in
the bush culture would have found it congenial to accept the court’s
patronage at the greatest practical distance. And since that in itself
could only help to keep the system growing, a prince would have found
this arrangement congenial as well. Some principles apply the world

Still, from the court’s practical point of view any territorial

extension was motivated by princely rivalry and ambition, and found
its meaning in the joys of conspicuous prowess. It was the extent of

country settled by a lord’s known followers which marked his putative
borders, not any lines conceived to be inscribed (map-fashion) on the
land itself, whether by medicine horns or otherwise. The uncertainty
attaching to the boundary man did not usually pertain to the
question which side he would fight on if obliged but whether and in
what circumstances he might be made to feel obliged at all. A man
with little invested in his situation can only be pressed so far before
he vacates it for another. Short of that, hill people can (as the
Mawemba were still doing in 1960) keep a weather eye out for the
revenuer and rarely be found at home. In the norms of bush culture
men, women, and children are together in the fields during the day,
leaving their settlements empty. In barren country the predators are
few and herdboys always in position to give the alarm. Staying free of
political entanglements is rule one.

The closest ties of authority were those between a ruler and

the avanyakivaga fighting men quartered at his court. They were the
bachelors who remained at court through their young manhood and
were not free to marry at will but were usually described as being
awarded wives by the ruler and then ‘sent out’ to settle away from
the court. It was primarily on these settlers, not the marginal house-
holders lacking court connections, that the ruler must rely for
personal loyalty. The war pattern represents the maintenance of
these ties of loyalty beyond the ikivaga bachelor house at court. The
raiding pattern, for which men were not called from the margins, was
probably a more efficient (and generally sufficient) technique for
supplying the royal barbecue. But war was needed as a matter of
Sanga statecraft to maintain the integrity of an extended, expansive
domain. The strong ties to any peripheral settlement thus depended
on embedding the Sanga identity in the avanyakivaga during their
bachelor years at court. Trusted men sent out at marriage would
have adopted the Sanga name and would take up land not within their
original communities but in new and sparsely-settled (yet not ecolog-
ically marginal) sections. It is hard to imagine that the scattered
bush Kinga whom a capable Sanga settler encountered would have
been converted without active and prolonged encouragement to the
new political religion and its distant ceremonial complex. But by the
ethnographic timeline set by my eldest informants the slow process
of forest clearance, using native iron tools, and political consolidation
was well advanced, particularly in the Central and Northern realms.

A particular motive for war was the prestige value attached to

the capture of women. They were styled as servants to a man’s wife,
functioning roughly as short-term concubines. Under the raiding

pattern there was no effort made to take other human captives
unless the specific (and official but top-secret) purpose of the raid
was acquiring not booty but a single human ritual victim. But under
the war pattern as such, in the rivalry between realms, women were
often taken. Custom had it that a captive woman should conceive and
bear a child, rearing it through infancy and leaving it then as ransom
when, eventually, arrangements were made for her to return home.
Mwanadyo said:
Captive women were divided out among their captors, but the
Prince kept one or two to be his concubines and the servants of his
chief wife. By such a captive woman the Prince might beget two chil-
dren before peace was made at last with Kyelelo. The Prince then would
either return the woman or marry her by paying the husband
bridewealth. This man would come after her once the peace was made.
If the Prince wanted to keep her he must pay five hoes and three or
four goats—perhaps two goats with another owing if animals were
scarce. This was a full bridewealth then [1890]. But if the woman pre-
ferred her original husband he should have her back, only the children
born here must stay. Some captive women might please no one. They
would be given out to commoners to work for their wives as servants.
When the husband came seeking such a woman he would be told where
to find her: “No one would have her, she has only eaten our food.” And
the man would pay a spent hoe and get her back.

Missionary Hübner retailed the custom of keeping war-captives

from the viewpoint of a victim whose experience he felt able to inter-
pret. A reader today may find his account affected by some un-Kinga
family values:
These old people, the parents of our Elisabeth Kabayale [a con-
vert], in their lifetime have had to endure hard times enough. As a
young wife the mother was captured by enemies, together with her
son of about four years. Once the warriors were returned home the
captured women were obliged, among other tasks, to gather firewood;
however, to hinder flight on these outings the women’s children were
kept in camp. But the love of this woman for husband and homeland
was greater than that for her child; she fled and fortunately reached
home. She bore her husband three more children, two daughters and a
son... [ BMB 1900:26].

Though the Kinga did not marry the people they fought as a
matter of preference, the war pattern did create ties across lines of
enmity, stabilizing them. I know of only one case of decimating war
within Kingaland, the scarcely-documented Mahanzi rape of the

Eastern realm under German instigation during their Maji Maji
reprisals. The two native communities in that case had no common
border and no seam of kinship.

The regular pattern of ethnically internal warfare, Sanga camp

against Sanga neighbour, contradicts the usual assumptions coded
into the word internecine —that civil war is the most vicious. This was
collectivized quarreling not kin to the heedlessly destructive inter-
ethnic warfare of which we have a first-hand account from Elton
(1879). His encounter was in Sanguland, which he approached by
descending to the rift valley from the Wanji highland. The attackers
were the same Hehe force which on some earlier occasions had in
similar fashion invaded the Kinga domains bordering on Bena country.
These foreign wars, though seemingly brought about in each case by
chance intrusions of marauding bands not in the modern sense full-
scale invasions, are significant for a comprehension of Kinga history.
They give us a measure of the amount and quality of the external
pressures which would have helped fuel the Sanga political machine.
My informants in 1960 attributed wider and crueler killing to the
Hehe than to the Ngoni, who nonetheless had had an intense psycho-
logical impact as genuine invaders in search of land as well as loot.

There were several encounters with the Hehe or Hehe-Bena

hordes Avajinga. On one the Kinga tell of taking to a mountain top and
driving the invaders back by causing avalanches, while in another they
recall only defeat, unspeakable cruelties, and rape. Men were left “as if
standing” impaled on sharpened stumps. Women and children were
carried away, some to return only decades later, in German times,
with scant memory of the homeland and its tongue. Four Ngoni incur-
sions were recalled, three in which Kinga communities were raided for
women, children, and cattle. Historical sources place the first of
these incursions about 1845, fully a generation before the Hehe
threat appeared. Eventually the passive tolerance of Kinga was
secured by an Ngoni group for mounting a raid on Nyakyusaland from
the southeast, running through Kinga hill country rimming Lake
Malawi. The final contact Kinga recount is of their own victory over an
invasive Ngoni settlement. The enemy were entrenched with women
and children at Umpombwe, east of the Lumbila river and a few kilom-
eters upland from the shore. The band in question had been unable to
establish itself in the richer country of uNyakyusa. The community
was routed and fled southward under a bow-and-arrow attack led by a
commoner hero from the Central realm. His novel choice of a weapon
usually reserved for hunting is said to have caught the Ngoni by
surprise and demoralized them. From the quickly abandoned gardens

Kinga say they acquired the sweet potato [Sw: viazi vitamu ; K:
ama javo ]. The hero untenzi of this exploit was enthusiastically
rewarded with a princess in marriage for his daughty deed; but it is
given as a private undertaking not a ritually sanctioned act of war
properly creditable to the court of Ukwama’s High Prince. In social
memory this hero was popularly renowned as much for his potato as
for prowess. ‡]

Altogether, the external threat seems to have come late in the

evolution of Sanga systems of rule, and never to have become its
central preoccupation. We may even want to conclude that the Sanga
were not set up to fend against invasion and were fortunate in never
having broken the independent spirit of their people. Their relative
immunity owed a good deal to geography: the very broken nature of
the high mountain country and the natural dispersal of settlements
and herds there. With the availability of forest cover, most Kinga
communities were a good deal easier to disperse than conquer. I take
it this sort of ethnographic situation favours the growth of political
power through influence, and perhaps through bullying, but not that
amalgamation through massive defeat and coercion which after 1850
gave the Sangu their dictatorial hegemony in Uwanji or the Hehe
theirs in Ubena.

Profits of War
All considered (I propose) the Kinga for all their relative poverty
were not the natural victims but, in their hilly-flank setting, the
natural raiders of the Sowetan region. This looks to be the frame we
should adopt for thinking out their history until about the middle of
the nineteenth century, when the region as a whole was being milita-
rized. The opportunity for Kinga to raid their neighbours with impunity
in the earlier period would have been a function of their own elusive-
ness but afterward of their defensive strength and warlike reputa-
tion. The strategy which evolved was a form of armed theft, the
maximum use of stealth backed by a readiness to mount a daunting
rear-guard action. This was the pattern still living (not merely lodged
in the social memories of old men) in 1960. How much should we
presume to read from it?

As their own and the neighbouring populations grew (let us say,

by the end of the eighteenth century) the occasions of predation
would multiply and the defense of mere volatility would increasingly
fail. A stronger armed presence would be wanted on any major raid,

calling for direct court sponsorship, tactical planning, and the intro-
duction of elaborate ritual precautions to discipline the actual opera-
tion. It follows that in a general way the raiding pattern can account
for the rise of Sanga power and its militaristic ethos. But right along
with this rise the importance of the war pattern would have grown;
for it was a segmentary political order, organized by war, which had
evolved by the time we begin to have genuine historical knowledge.

What material things Sanga lords found to fight over among

themselves must have been only the wealth common to their country;
and this means that in the long view the prizes of war were economi-
cally less important than the booty of a successful raid. Cattle were
psychologically important as a quite special form of wealth, but we
have no way of knowing how many actually changed hands through
acts of violence. It would ordinarily be a good deal easier to take
cattle where they prospered and were plentiful (from the Sangu,
Nyakyusa, or Bena) than it could have been to count on getting them
through war, in which stealth played no part at all. War was noisily
prepared, fought only in broad daylight, and subject to enough red
tape in the form of ritual precautions to argue clearly against our
assuming the aim could be deep penetration into enemy country. Yet
without it the hope of finding cattle would have been slim.

Goats would have been easier to find, though not necessarily to

take; they were not, in any event, fit prizes of war. A goat was the
proper object of a raid by a band of boys of an age to herd not go to
war. Land for tilling could rarely have inspired war in the formative
periods of a Sanga polity since slash-and-burn strategies don’t
foster the possessive sense for land which intensive farming gener-
ates. The staple crops were grown in scattered swiddens. Men did the
clearing, men and women together turned the soil, women cultivated
and did most of the harvesting. At any given time, several fields would
be lying fallow for each field under cultivation. Even in 1960 there
simply were no domains (no ‘local courts’) in Kingaland without access
to swiddens enough, whether by clearing forest or retaking fallow,
without resort to poaching on some other domain. It would not have
been until the nineteenth century (or call it the ‘classic period’?) that
the pattern of local loyalties would have come together in something
like the political plat the European administrators would subse-
quently freeze. Demography was prior to geography in the ordering of
the Sanga world, and leadership was a personal enterprise. Any death
in high office, if not universally expected, had to create a political
vacuum. How far would a successor be able, once chosen and properly
consecrated by the resident priestly contingent, to take over and

retain the core of a strong man’s able-bodied following? It would
always depend on subtle matters of character and social alignment,
subject to the press of chance events and, as often as not, the
mischief of political rivals either at home or in a neighbouring camp,
who might draw men away.

A little rumination suggests that the telling profits of war were

not material gains but the other kind—the kind so hard to pin down
that we are inclined just to call them non-material. Emile Durkheim
found much to say about ‘social solidarity’; in the ethological frame
we have more lately found ‘male bonding’; social psychology over the
century past has moved through a series of analytical models from
‘in-groups’ to ‘ego-involvement’ and all those rewards which have been
found to be implicit in the dynamics of ‘identity’; over the same period
depth psychologists have launched half a hundred schools of thought
on the matter of human motivation; and anthropologists have had
almost as much to say under the general rubric of ‘culture and
personality’—I shall not try to recapitulate so much wisdom. Perhaps
before a captive woman is taken in she might be thought a ‘material’
thing for the Prince to distribute as he will; but surely her value to
members of the court and community accrues over an extended
sequel and has a thousand ramifications only some of which are
‘material’ rewards. The greatest prizes in life are often hardly
material in any sense: where is the limit to what a political community
may do in the name of so intangible a good as its ‘security’? For Kinga
I have tended to emphasize princely rivalry as an organizing principle. I
can’t imagine a segmentary social order from the oldest and simplest
to the latest and most complex which was not at once stabilized and
invigorated by some such games operating within appropriate insti-
tutional forms. In any serious game, what are the rewards of

And then there is failure, which in games of rivalry may be softer

than success but which also, unlike success, can be forever. A polity
grows through its inner turbulence, and political authority develops
through the effort of men to contain that growth. The Kinga proto-
state as it began to take its classic form would have come to be more
permanent than any of its parts. Between domains within a realm
there would have been war whenever the order of dominance, as crys-
tallized in the customary passage of imongo and other rank conces-
sions, was challenged. This allows that the whole purpose of war could
be to achieve a psychologically clear victory in the field, to be followed
either by restoration of the old order or accommodation to the new.
The scripted model of a Sanga realm was momentarily set at nought

by any such serious falling-out. We know of a few battles within the
Central and Eastern realms; we know that even when a prince was
clearly defeated within his own realm there was no simple reversal of
rank order. The challenger could aspire to full independence and might
even eventually achieve some measure of priestly confirmation of his
claim to princely rank; he might take on the trappings of royalty and
set up client domains to pass on imongo . But this is the work of a
strenuous lifetime not a single victory in battle. Inside the limits of
population, space, and time which comprised Kinga ethnicity in 1900,
the actual formation of new realms by fission of this kind could not
have been achieved more than three times.

It was a function of priestly activities to give structure to war

and regulate its rhythms, reinforcing the separation of domains and
realms by powerful markers, yet at the same time iterating their
overarching mystical unity. This is a notable facet of war which I must
set aside for want of a sufficient focus on the priesthood here. But
whatever the importance of ritual as a mechanism of definition, power
feeds on practicalities. Kinga priests were respected rather than
powerful men, and I think we should understand it as a practical
circumstance that Sanga power could build itself around war only by
limiting its destructive potential. This was done by transforming
armed combat in a manner reminiscent of the fencing duel, boxing
match, or bullfight in European traditions, moving in the direction of
orderly control, subjecting spontaneity to rules of the kind which
justify use of the ‘game’ metaphor. Shall we simply conclude that the
‘real gains of war’ were organization and the substantial goods, moral
and material, to which organization was the key? I am mindful of the
danger in taking war for a demiurge in history, but (Aristotle and
others to the contrary) men do not naturally organize their affairs in
a manner we should call political. If the primate which succeeded
Neanderthal deserves a latin tag it might be H. recusans , the natural
condition of a human community being general dissidence only sporad-
ically relieved by dangerous personal liaisons. We peek at our peril, to
be sure, under the mantle of culture, and so can know little enough
about our natures—I only want to point up the strong probability
that the evolution of a Sanga protostate in the three centuries after
1600 didn’t happen without the tireless input of intelligent political
effort at a level well above the human condition as furnished by
nature. ‡

The forested parklands of 1600 have been denuded in the

interim with the use of home-made iron tools; the gardens and plan-
tations which have replaced the trees present an impressive sight.

Though the land itself is not favoured by reason of its altitude, the
expansion of Kinga population and settlement appears to have kept
pace with that of the Nyakyusa-Ngonde peoples and the Hehe, though
on a proportionally smaller scale. Regional conditions fairly inde-
pendent of zonal ecological variations seem to have favoured the rise
of politically complex communities; but regional conditions did not
oblige the Kinga to surpass the Mahanzi, the Wanji, or the Pangwa; nor
were Kinga mere recipients by diffusion of political institutions
evolved elsewhere.

Faces of War
Kinga doubtless did their raiding in their own way, and the
degree to which the court-sponsored raids were encumbered with
ritual may set them apart, but it is the war pattern I find distinctive.
Is “Apollonian war” an oxymoron? At any rate, it points to the Sanga
emphasis on social forms meant to contain the passions. That is, in
its ideal form the Kinga war pattern did not make violence a licensed
end in itself. War games focused on martial arts, and the rules of the
game even laid a ban on public recognition of accidental wounds or
death. Yet in practice war within a realm must have been bloody
enough; it was often socially disruptive. Since political ambition
seems always to have been the open motive of such wars, they would
have strained the system’s legitimacy. According to what Malinowski
would call ‘native theory’ an internal war was never actually initiated
from below but always provoked from there. War then took the form
of a disciplinary or pre-emptive strike by the prince, putting down a
presumptuous lord for arrogating to himself some special trappings
of rank. Gauntlets were thrown down and taken up. Upset victories
are of course not countenanced as such in native theory. They do crop
up anecdotally. Every domain was a would-be realm.

On any of its levels the war pattern would have shown alternate
faces from time to time, according as the perspective shifts from
winners to losers, or from the offensive to the defensive side. War
could energize segmentary expansion, though ‘predatory expansion’ in
the sense of Sahlins’s ideal type does not apply. The other face of war
was defensive. For the lord there was the problem of being seen to be
the protector of his people: keeping the boundaries in an unbureau-
cratic world. For subjects there was a bigger and stronger alternative
to neighbourhood self-help. I find no reason to suppose the two faces
of war, offense and defense, were philosophically more distinct in the
Kinga mind than they have generally been for modern military élites.

The reasoning which led to elaborate ritual precautions on a cattle
raid was followed also in full-scale war, encumbering it with a wealth of
medicinal procedures and caveats. The fact that a small raiding
company could easily have dispensed with its priestly component,
while the much greater forces drawn up for war itself could not do so
without undermining the Sanga system, is worth pondering. It
accords with the interpretation that raids, like war-games, were
schools. I have found it characteristic of the Sanga mind to put the
art of war ahead of sheer warmaking power. By this I don’t mean to
suggest that armies like that of Shaka Zulu were not skilled; but
what distinguished them was their commitment to a fierce kind of
total war then quite new in all of Bantu history. Sanga rulers met this
new spirit of war a generation later with the Ngoni intrusions but (like
the Nyakyusa) weren’t affected by it in the way the Sangu and Hehe
were. It is first with the German suppression of the Maji Maji uprising
that war of this kind came to Kingaland. The Sanga courts were tuned
to an older, medieval Bantu model.

The Sanga treatment of women taken in external (inter-realm)

war parallels that of cattle taken in an external (inter-tribal) raid in
that the specific prize in each case is the reproductive capacity of a
female. Once the captured cow had produced a calf the prince had had
his due and the cow could be let out to the man who had taken her—
her owner, as it were, in common law. Once a captured woman had
produced viable offspring she was likewise returnable. The conversion
of a captive concubine to a wife was only possible through payment of
bridewealth, and that only after the period of indenture had been
played out. At that point, in good Kinga fashion, the woman was free
agent and any arrangement would be voluntary, acceptable to the
woman as to the men, a contract sealed by the transfer of wealth.
The manifest function of woman-taking was the depletion of the
enemy (rival) community and the corresponding repletion of one’s
own. (Some informants thought a woman would often have produced
two children to weaning, a matter of some eight years or more, before
she would have been given the chance of repatriation.) But as
opposing sides in this kind of warfare were about equal in strength
and organization, such calculations must have been mutual and, on
the demographic balance sheet, mutually canceling. Warfare informed
by rivalry tends to find its balance if only because that is so explicit in
the concerns of all the participants.

It is true that an able and willing Kinga woman is economically

productive well beyond what she and her child consume; and it is true
that even the female children of captive women would, owing to the

Kinga child-rearing pattern, owe unflinching loyalty to their adoptive
communities; but all this does not mean that border warfare could
have been a materially profitable enterprise. Rates of reproduction
were not enhanced, nor one lord’s population in the long run swollen at
the expense of another’s. War was an integral facet of Kinga court
culture and not in some simple way reducible to un-peculiar human

The Kinga war pattern would appear less peculiar among East
African examples were it not for the elaborate war games held at a
Sanga court. These were most developed at the four princely centres
but would be held by ambitious local rulers on an appropriate scale. A
lesser training game found everywhere in Ukinga was the stick fight
for youths, often staged by their elders. Two sides would be drawn up,
each fighter getting himself a handful of cudgels, which he would let
fly close to ground level. Legs might be broken and boys possibly killed,
but the game was generally deemed salutary—it was certainly salta-
tory. The stick fight was good training for dodging spears but hardly
could have been for hurling them, since the cudgel was much lighter
and was flung gyring. No shields were used, and each boy fended for
himself, finding his own style for fighting. Training with spears and
shields began with own-made weaponry among the herding bands. A
lad could expect his first experience with combat defending his little
herd from the ambitions of neighbour bands. Skills and armament
would naturally escalate, if he survived, with bodily growth until as an
aspiring young man he put in his appearance at court. But the transi-
tion was probably gradual for most recruits, since the smallest local
settlements would have had some political presence: chicken, goat,
and cattle politics graded into one another in practice if not in the
ideal model of the social memory.

The following description of the war games is for Uhugilo, the

Northern realm, late in the precontact period. The informants were
Prince Mwalukisa (II) and certain of his elders. I hold myself narrowly
to their (Lupalilo, 1962) telling.

After taking office Mwalukisa (I) never took part personally in war or in
the war games held at his capital. Makolovolelo was his unyakivaga general
officer, a man of Mahenge (a commoner) lineage. Umumikilo, his lieutenant,
was a Sanga but not of royal birth. They were appointed by Mwalukisa on
the strength of their recognized standing among their fellows, having
proved themselves in the games and in war itself. The avanyigoha royal

guards appointed by the prince were about twenty; among all the men
barracked at the court it was they who enjoyed special rank and trust.
Some were avapapwa men of royal lineage, but the proportion of royals to
commoners was not ascribed but determined strictly by individual
prowess. These guards could expect to be continuously feasted, always
having more than enough meat, beer, and other foods. Some were married
men who during periods of peace lived with their wives near their fields at a
distance from court; but they were always quickly summoned by the
sounding of the war-horn ingalape. [This was a ten-foot pipe of reedy wood
whose tones traveled out to the borders of a domain.]

Far more numerous than the guards, and generally less well entrenched
at court, were the ordinary barracksmen avanyakivag. The rule was that all
male offspring of the royal lineage were members of the prince’s ikivaga, but
commoners to gain tenure there must prove themselves of value. Lacking
special talents, a youth must prove himself valiant by a challenge at arms.
He would be matched against an experienced fighter and must acquit
himself well. The opportunity for such a challenge was afforded by the
schools or games of war which the court held from time to time as public
means and the public mood dictated. Even in times of peace this would
mean once a year, either during the rains of in the dry season, when men
could be spared from the fields. A school lasted four or five days, with
continuous feasting. An experienced barracksman might challenge a
guardsman to a duel with amagoha spears, ihula sword, and ingwembe shield.
The first wound ended the trial; even if it were mortal there could be no jural
consequence. A challenger who triumphed was much loved by the prince,
becoming himself a guardsman for life, but if he failed he was disgraced.

The common trial of prowess was the contest of teams or crowds

isipuga lined up in opposing ranks across a great field. The teams were fifty
men against fifty, chosen by the prince so as to mix them well by their
origins, cutting lineage and locality so that brother was pitted against
brother, father against son. Even fratricide or patricide in the war games
could have no social consequence, for ordinary law did not apply. The trial
must end in victory for one team or the other, awarded for inflicting the
first wound. There were teams enough, with feasting and dancing between,
to fill the days of the festival, as the assembly of men would reach from
two to five hundred all told. The combat itself began with much feinting and
taunting, until spears began to fly. The man who drew missiles and dodged
them boldly was much honoured while the shirker was quickly noticed and
classed as such—undwatsi coward. He would be relegated henceforth to
guarding the women who were the bearers of supplies and spare arms in

Avapapwa barracksmen of the royal lineage were allowed to remain at

court (having no other home) even though they were not temperamentally
fit for front-line fighting; and an ordinary barracksman who once had earned
a place could lose nerve or strength, becoming in this way a supernumerary
of the court. A man who had joined the barracks life in his youth might find
himself after a decade or more unfit to marry and establish himself neolo-

cally: he too could become an aging hanger-on. It was the hero untenzi who
married first and moved on to the pioneer’s life, while the coward undwatsi
held back in courting as in war. The two men lived and ate together in the
ikivaga as equals, but no one had secrets there.

Ilelo twibiha kugelana iligoha! “Today we are going to try each other in war!”
By that announcement all men of fighting quality in the domain were
summoned to court. There were no prohibitions of sexual congress, no food
taboos or restraints on drinking—men were expected to act in high spirits
the whole time. Along all the paths to the capital, parties of maidens and
women from the farms would be bringing in supplies. They would stay until
their pots were empty. It was a time of general festivity for which beer and
food must not fail, and in which the broad community participated.

As for war itself there were occasions on which it offered more

spectacle and less bloodshed than the games or schools. These were
the occasions on which the two sides were arrayed opposite one
another, and it was settled that victory should be decided by a duel
of heroes. The name Kyelelo is said to have been brought to the Kinga
by a Sangu mercenary, a famous fighter of the day whom Mwemutsi
had brought in to lead his forces against an obstreperous challenger
from the West. Here is the history as it was given me by Kyelelo IV
(Padili) in June 1963.

The first war of Ntowanilo the Cruel was undertaken against Mwemutsi
of Ukwama. Ntowanilo wanted to conquer the capital, displace the prince,
and rule there himself. Though he failed he continued to make trouble for
Mwemutsi, who called upon the Avahumbi (Sangu) for support. They
responded in good number under a hero named Kyelelo. Then Mwemutsi sent
a challenge umpavo to Ntowanilo, who presented himself with a full fighting
force at Ukwama. When the two armies were drawn up, Mwemutsi
challenged, “If you are man enough, attack!” But Ntowanilo held out for a
duel of the heroes, pitting himself against the Sangu Kyelelo. The two
fought fiercely, hurling each a fistful of spears at close range, but neither
had been able to wound the other. Each parried one spear with his shield and
evaded the rest. Then Mwemutsi stopped the fight, declaring the decision
was to be made by measuring the rents in the two shields. They found that
the Sangu was hit fairly in the centre of the shield, Ntowanilo only glanced
high and right, by the shoulder. The Sangu embraced Ntowanilo and
presented him with his own name Kyelelo, which he did in respect for
prowess, taking the name Ntowanilo in return. But the Kinga prince Kyelelo,
as he now was to call himself, returned to his home at Ihanga. Though he had
won a personal victory he had failed in his political aim. His failure to fight a
war when challenged signified his submission to Mwemutsi, and henceforth
Kyelelo turned his attention to expanding westward.

While there are many uncertainties in the subsequent story of

this Kyelelo and his successor, their popular notoriety has assured
the preservation of certain details of the Kinga war pattern which

otherwise would have been lost. They are details which offer insight
into the precolonial world of southwestern Tanganyika, but for
assessing their significance the general historical context wants to
be furnished, and I therefore propose to give it in as tidy a fashion as
information permits. I shall also take note of uncertainties, though I
do suppose the general proportions of the model I have developed are
correct and deserve to be given as history not hypothesis. Some of
the uncertainties derive from the two Kyelelos having been conflated
in the popular mind by 1960, and the several famous exploits of
“Kyelelo” attributed variously to father and to son. This kind of mix-up
yields to detailed comparisons of information from different inform-
ants, and in this I have had to rely on my own judgement. I doubt we
shall ever be clear how the two predatory princes (Kyelelos I & II)
differed in character and military qualities, or know under what condi-
tions the succession took place. It is clear, though, that they share
the credit for putting together an integral Western realm under the
Sanga name, as eventually sanctioned by the German administration
at century’s end. As for the gap between Sanga theory and the telling
of this history at the level of local events, I think we should accept
the view of elders I consulted that these events constituted a resto-
ration of Sanga unity—that is, a reintegration of the kiKinga-speaking
settlements in the West—which had broken down in the original
furore around the Napoleonic aspirations of Kyelelo I Ntowanilo. At
the same time I find it unlikely that the pre-existing unity had ever
amounted to anything as systematic as the Sanga model calls for.
There was a loose and fluid alignment of independent Sanga settle-
ments conceptually polarized by the Sanga myth of a settling-and-
ruling élite. From time to time the domain-and-realm structure was
confirmed by public acts of rank-concession within a realm—the
rendering of nominal imongo tribute by lord to prince, as at Ihanga or
Ukwama. But between the realms the only vessel of structure was
the verbal formula maintained (and updated at need) by a ubiquitous
priesthood: the supposed order of seniority among the four siblings
imagined to have founded four separate realms at the beginning of
Sanga time.

Measured by his impress on the Kinga mind, Kyelelo I Ntowanilo

was a phenomenal figure; and we have already seen that in the genesis
of the phenomenon there was a direct intrusion of Sowetan regional
into local history: you do not import a mercenary hero from a neigh-
bouring people unless your war pattern is the regional one. The Kinga
polity after about 1840 must have been increasingly responsive to
the changing temper of the regional culture which, caught up in the
continental turbulence of mid-century, was rapidly losing its isolation

from world events. At least three Sowetan peoples responded by
moving, each in its own way, to central direction. Godfrey Wilson
(1939) concluded that Ngonde centralized around a single ceremonial
court in response to the ivory trade on Lake Malawi. Redmayne (1964;
1968) shows that both the Sangu and Hehe military states were
formed Zulu-fashion: a single local chief rises to an external challenge
and wages a successful war of amalgamation on his neighbours,
creating a novel and formidable offensive force. Kyelelo would have
been such a conquering hero if the Sanga polity had been open to
amalgamation. A closer look at this, the only Kinga hero-figure of
genuinely historic times will illuminate both the way the Sanga
system expanded and the stubborn strength of its segmentary form.

If a centralized state is a product of political evolution from the

relatively atomistic structure which characterized at least the
Sangu and Hehe subregions in 1800, a segmentary state is the
product of political involution —I follow here the discussion by Geertz
of Goldenweiser’s concept—from comparable conditions. Without
denying that there may have been a period of fluidity in political iden-
tities throughout the region during the (putative) major transition in
agricultural technics reflected in the shift from ‘original’ to ‘classic’
food crops, I think the Sanga polity had left that period far behind. My
contention is that centralization was inconsistent with the logic of
the Kinga war pattern, which was concerned with heroics not
conquest, and which required segmentary opposition within a cultur-
ally integral community. That is, Kinga had taken an historical path
which insulated them from the conquest-state scenario; they had
made a transition from the condition of a plurality of local polities
each constituting its own ethnic identity to that of a protostate
within which an array of local polities share a common ethnic identity.
Segmentary opposition is the formula by which such a protostate
can be organized and maintained. ‡‡

Kyelelo of the West

The manifestly expansive wars of Kyelelo against a Kinga-
Mahanzi alliance, far from being an exception to the stability of the
Sanga pattern, bear out my contention about it. What made these
fights so fierce and memorable was their character in the Kinga mind
as jurisdictional rivalries between princely siblings. The central
concern was dominance and privilege not territory. The prize was
always a (nominal) transfer of imongo between courts, an act of rank
concession, not the (far more substantial) bounty of a right to

collect imongo at the grass roots in an expanded domain. But on this
point the evidence wants a close review.

The earliest recorded account of the patricide by which Kyelelo I

Ntowanilo seized power is that of Missionary Hübner, published in

17th January (1899). That Bulongwa stands on a place where earlier

Chief Mwakagile’s people have lived, I already reported once earlier.
Collapsed earth dwellings, thorn fences gone wild, and turned-up garden
beds, which naturally are overgrown with grass, are witness still today to
this fact. But until now I had been able to learn scarcely any details of the
earlier course of events in Kingaland. Today two Kinga Christians talked to
men on the subject, and as it is not without interest, I am recording the
story in my daybook. Kielela’s father (Ntowanilo) was in earlier years the
high chief of the whole country. A younger brother named Mwangaba
[Mwangawa] was the father of our present regional chief Bululile [Vululile].
The country lived in peace except when the sole enemy of Kingaland, the
Gwangwala [Ngoni] destroyed it through the raids they periodically
undertook. Yet the rugged, wooded mountains generally offered salvation
for people and cattle before this fearful enemy, only the houses were a prey
to the flames. Then all at once through the now still living, then still young
Kielela, discord came into the land. In order to seize power he had his genet-
ically own father murdered. Mwangaba, father of Bululile and brother of the
murdered man, punished Kielela for his outrageous deed by taking from him
a whole section of his country. Peace seemed to be restored and Mwangaba
was high chief. But one day Kielela had his uncle Mwangaba called to him; the
man, suspecting no evil, went thither but was straight away taken prisoner
and killed. When the news of the imprisonment of Mwagaba became known
among his subjects they sent ten cattle as ransom; this was indeed
accepted but without leading to the release of the hostage. [BMB 1900:

The historical transition implicit in this tale is from the war

pattern of the bush culture (a harmless people flees to the forest,
abandoning its villages to fire) to that of court culture (power and its
legitimation are the precipitates of princely exploits). In another
aspect the transition is from peace in spite of external pressure to
war in spite of that pressure’s absence. To say that peace was made
and Mwangawa was high chief was, of course, to say that Kyelelo was
sending rather than requiring tribute. The universe of discussion
throughout the missionary’s account is the Western realm not
Kingaland as a whole.

The interim peace is explained by the fact that Ntowanilo would

have had little claim to rank. Since Kyelelo IV Padili’s account [June
1963] of the double patricide treats it as a direct sequel to the
ambivalent performance of the naming duel at Ukwama, it is clear we

should picture the Ntowanilo of the duel not as a prince or even a lord
but (at best) an unkinga heir-apparent of Ihanga. He would have been
the war-leader for a secluded ruler:

When he turned away from Ukwama, Kyelelo I seized the power of Ihanga
through the murder of his own father Umwikusi [otherwise Ndutukutuku],
the fifth lineal ruler of that place, fourth since its founding by Ukiganga, a
Sanga sent from Ukwama to rule there. The full brother (one mother) of
Umwikusi, whose name was Mwangawa, regarded himself as the rightful
claimant to power but fled westward before Ntowanilo’s determined insur-
rection. Later Mwangawa was murdered in the same (treacherous) manner
as his brother. But followers of Mwangawa rallied to his son Vululile rather
than accept Kyelelo. Vululile was beaten back in subsequent wars by Kyelelo,
who was able to extend his realm to include Luwumbu domain. It was there
he established a new capital and continued to fight Vululile and his Mahanzi
allies. [Field summary of responses to group interview, 6/93]

Did annexing the new capital constitute a territorial expansion

of Ihanga? In the de facto sense it must have done, as it entailed
pushing into relatively unclaimed lands; but Kyelelo seems never to
have seized land directly from his enemies. The problem then remains
whether that was the aim of his incessant war-making, only frus-
trated by the superior numbers of the five domains allied against him,
or whether the logic of the conflict dictated other goals. Luwumbu in
early German times was a populous domain, though as a natural
setting for agriculture the hinterland to this new capital must have
been overstrained. Kyelelo I Ntowanilo had made war from camps by
Luwumbu, at least according to popular memory, but must have
continued to enjoy most of his logistic support from the people and
fields of Ihanga. In German times Luwumbu at first appears (from any
surface signs) to be a separate domain under “Kyelelo’s son”—the
good missionaries always refer to Ndunginye thus patronymically—
while the aging but still vigorous and peripatetic father reigns at
Ihanga. This place is pleasant, relatively open, and fertile. To the end
of colonial times it remained isolated from the new wisdom and a
repository of the old. Remarkably, Ihanga never became a jumbeate in
its own right, even though (as Tunginiye [March 1963] could positively
assert) Kyelelo I Ntowanilo had never actually ceased to dwell at
Ihanga, only “sending out” his son to colonize Upangulwa-Luwumbu
across the river Lumbila. Kyelelo the Cruel died early in the new
century, receiving military honours from the Germans, and his
successor was invested at Luwumbu, taking the name Kyelelo but
remaining at his own court, Luwumbu. That neither the Germans or
British left records of any pressures from Ihanga for separate recog-
nition positively indicates that the people of Ihanga-Luwumbu, in

spite of the six or seven kilometers between, and despite the
anomalous duality of their leadership during the early period of
contact, remained in their own view a single if twin-centred commu-
nity. Ndunginye must therefore be regarded as [ unkinga ] heir-
apparent to the domain of Ihanga-Luwumbu, as he first appears in
missionary records. This in turn positively implies that no conquered
community formed the core of Ndunginye’s following at the place
Luwumbu. In short, further investigations do not confirm Kyelelo IV
Padili’s foreshortened tradition of a “move to the west” by the
original prince of his name.

Tunginiye [June 1963] judged that the only territorial changes

effected by Kyelelo, father and son together, had been the annexation
of six mountain hamlets which had been living anarchically. Such a
change bespeaks only the consolidation of a domain in accordance
with the Sanga pattern; and this would presumably have come about
in pace with a general population expansion. The ultimate reason for
moving the princeship westward may have had more to do with the
success of the Bulongwa mission in attracting new settlers—or with
maintaining access to that other new centre of vital energy in the
changing Kinga world, the military post at Mwakete [founded 1902]—
than with precolonial Kinga politics. It is not irrelevant that the
division of function between priest and prince had been carried
unusually far by Kyelelo I, who remained an active warrior instead of
withdrawing to his harem in the manner preferred by priestly
advisors. The geographic separation of spheres was consistent also
with the new kind of secular emphasis Kyelelo II Ndunginye adopted
under the German régime: the mediating role of the chief in a dual
society. ‡

Mwangawa, though he is pictured by Kyelelo’s heir as “fleeing”

Ihanga on learning of his brother’s murder, appears on other evidence
to have had an established court from which he rendered imongo
transfers to the ruler of Ihanga, acknowledging him as “elder brother.”
Since, when he was murdered, the act was universally called a patri-
cide, we may conclude that Ntowanilo—to have settled with him in the
intervening period—must have reversed the tribute, calling Mwangawa
by the one appropriate term, “father.” But quite apart from Kyelelo’s
uncomfortably slumbering ambitions, there would have been
anomalies after the first patricide. In the nature of Kinga politics,
succession was a time of danger and structural instability which a
court might survive happily (that is, without losing much of the old
leader’s following) only by a lucky combination of personal and ritual
forces. The unkinga should already have proved himself in war—Kyelelo

had done so when he first came to power, but Vululile had not. In
Kyelelo’s case, having seized a crown by foul play, there would have
been a stigma to outlive before he could lead men with confidence into
a major conflict. But the priestly powers of his avanyivaha viziers were
there to be used, and informants all supposed that his ritual installa-
tion would have been properly executed at Ihanga. Since no one had
defeated him he retained the sacred things of princely rank—
supposing, that is, that they had indeed belonged to the throne of
the “father” he first murdered. It is not really unlikely that his
challenge of Mwemutsi and the honour he won in the duel from which
he took his name first opened the way for a ruler at Ihanga to claim
brotherhood with the high prince at Ukwama and call himself unku-
ludeva .
But whatever the historicity of their claims, Kyelelo’s priestly
viziers would have remained more powerful by public reckoning than
Mwangawa’s until their medicines had been mutually tested in battle.
The elders of Ihanga [May 1963] stated that whereas rulers at
Ihanga had propitiated ancestors at Ukingilo nearby, Mwangawa had
made sacrifice at Pivutsavanu, west across the Lukameli river and, in
fact, beyond Vululile’s eventual capital at Lingundya. The significance
of this, given the symbolic importance to Sangas of a westward
movement in history, is that Mwangawa could not himself have been
born at Ihanga. He could claim no more than lineage brotherhood with
its ruler. But at the same time Mwangawa was by common consent
“older brother” not “father” to the Bulongwa ruler. The last was
Usakalang’i of the Mwakagile line. The mandate of that line was traced
to Ihanga directly, not to Pivutsavanu or Lingundya. That is, though
imongo, in following the fortunes of war and military repute, did (in
passing from “younger” to “elder”) centre the Western realm for some
time in Mwangawa’s court, there were latent structures in the realm
which still favoured re-establishing Ihanga’s ruling house. This would
account for the bitterness of the contest, after Mwangawa’s murder,
between the two camps, Lingundya and Luwumbu, facing each other
across the Lukameli valley. The prize, as we shall see, was the assign-
ment of imongo from Mahanzi rulers, who had now been firmly drawn
into the Sanga sphere.

Lingundya was a new capital, and its establishment followed the

retreat of Vululile with a following from his father’s abandoned court,
to Mahanzi protection. I think the reason for this retreat is not far to
seek, though some details are obscure. Vululile was nominally, at least
in popular retrospect, unkinga heir-apparent at Mwangawa’s court but
still unmarried. He was quick to take a Mahanzi wife and otherwise

show himself ready for leadership but evidently found he’d need more
of the Midas touch to rally his predecessor’s following. Sanga leader-
ship depended on a bountiful reputation.

Some Mahanzi informants (at the place of Kilanzi/Utengule

where Vululile stayed, married, and saw the birth of his son Mwaka-
lukwa) thought Mwangawa had himself been in retreat and had been
lured back to an abandoned capital by Kyelelo’s promises of peace.
However that may have been (and it is not admitted by Mwangawa’s
heirs) it is certain that Kyelelo I retired to Ihanga after Mwangawa’s
death, having sown confusion but owning no loyalty in his enemy’s
camp. Though the manner of Mwangawa’s death would have brought
scorn on Ntowanilo—now a double patricide—the fact of the death
would have itself deflated the standing of Mwangawa’s court, even if
it was quite intact at the time, to the point of throwing the men into
disarray. This is partly because of the importance attributed to
priestly medicines, whose popular ratings could soar with success
but would plummet with failure.

Here is Tunginiye’s description [June 1963] of the second patri-


When Mwangawa heard his “older brother” had been killed by his son at
Ukwama (sic), he sent word that Kyelelo was not to cross the river Lukameli
into Mwangawa’s domain on pain of death. But Kyelelo had ambition to rule
that whole country. He sent two cows and pombe native beer by his
avanyivaha priestly elders to Mwangawa. The prestation was “to make
peace and calm his sorrow, for Kyelelo knows he has done a wrong.”
Mwangawa at length accepted the gifts and granted permission for Kyelelo
to come to him, for the priests from Ihanga made representations that
their lord “wanted to meet face to face and contract peace.” As it turned
out, Kyelelo was only plotting with his avanyivaha to feign sorrow ukulila ikililo
in order to accept the embrace of his “father’s younger brother” after the
Kinga fashion. “I shall lock him in my arms. You are to charge in, sweeping his
feet from under him. As soon as my arm is free I shall bring down my battle-
axe upon him.” It happened just so. Everyone who saw the deed took flight.
Kyelelo himself seized the moment to flee, returning to Ihanga to prepare
for war.

Some informants insist that Kyelelo’s avanyivaha , though they

would not warn the intended victim, washed their hands of the killing
itself. However that may have been, the success of the venture
proved Mwangawa’s medicines worthless, confirmed the terrible
personal strength of Ntowanilo, and perversely enhanced his claim to
a high personal destiny.

Vululile’s heir at Lingundya in 1960 was Mesiya. He described

Mwangawa as a man “much loved throughout his country,” and so well
established as to provoke Kyelelo’s envy. In Mesiya’s retrospect,
Vululile had fought Kyelelo to a standstill, the Mahanzi joining in as
natural allies because Malambila of Kavale, a Mahanzi, had long been
Mwangawa’s untsagila. That is, a good portion of the Mahanzi folk
already fell within Mwangawa’s domain. Mwangawa’s personal
charisma, Mesiya assured me, commanded tribute from countries
Ihanga had never claimed: “He received imongo from all the Mahanzi,
from Mwakagile (Bulongwa) and from Ukyeve (“Mwenentela” in German
times) in Magoma.

These were not wholly vain boasts. After all, the German
missionaries had found his successor in office the “superior chief” of
all the western domains but Kyelelo’s. But Mesiya exaggerates Mwan-
gawa’s position, underrating the personal achievements of Vululile
and the unifying mechanisms of war where men can be aroused by
outrage and inspired by a common fear. At the village Pivutsavanu/
Witsavanu in Mesiya’s domain, the site of Mwangawa’s old capital, I
consulted the ranking priest, a Mahanzi by lineage, and the local
elders. Mwangawa, they said, had cordial but co-equal relations with
the other avatwa local lords: the three Mahanzi, the other Sanga at
Bulongwa, and the Magoma. “He did not rule over them.” Later, Vululile
came to do so in the final period of Kinga history before the pax
germanica . “Because they feared to be killed at the hands of Ntow-
anilo, they freely joined together to support Vululile as protector of
the country.” No unification of these people on such a scale had been
known before.

Later Adventures of Kyelelo

I suppose a people disposed to understand its history in
personalistic terms will be disposed to experience current events
with the same unconscious bias. If it was not in objective fact “Mwak-
agile and Mwangawa” who departed in the same generation from
Ihanga—before Kyelelo’s time—it would have been lineal predecessors
of those two Sanga lords. If they were not each given sections in
which to build in peace by cordial Mahanzi rulers, the relations
between immigrant Kinga and resident Mahanzi communities soon
enough did come to be conceived in terms of the separate personal
dominions of rulers who were able to divide land and jurisdiction by
agreement. There is some admission by Mahanzi that Mwangawa orig-
inally came on in force, but the element of voluntarism is stronger in
every version of the history I collected from either cultural group. The

Mahanzi univocally deny that either Kyelelo (Ihanga) or Mwangawa
(Pivutsavanu) had authority beyond their own domains until the unifi-
cation under Vululile; and there is no convincing evidence that this
unification was solid before Kyelelo (Ihanga-Luwumbu) succeeded in
turning seniority claims (as “elder brother” to Vululile) into a
command rank under the Germans and a jurisdictional fact under the
British. A truer picture of the colonizing of the domain the historic
Mwangawa would rule seems to linger in the tradition within his own
domain that the whole Kyando line of rainmakers fled before the
original “Mwangawa” into uSafwa in the Poroto mountains. Their flight
was followed by drought in the country, particularly in Ng’ondong’i
where the immigrants had settled. At length a Mwangawa sent his
priest-elders to Usafwa, where travelers had reported flourishing
crops, to persuade the Mahanzi rainmakers to relent and return.
Mwangawa allowed them henceforth to carry on their sacrifice as of
old, respecting their religion and granting them a section (Unkumbulu/
Unyampeke) which has since been an integral but clearly Mahanzi part
of this Sanga domain. The story constitutes a charter for the contin-
uation of a Mahanzi culture and identity within and effectually
subject to the Kinga.

Mwangawa’s priestly heritors nonetheless picture him as

“opening this country” and as having recruited many Mahanzi to his
following. The ambiguity of his own identity as a leader emerges from
the tradition of his burial on a hill “more or less Sanga” in the border-
land of his domain toward Ihanga. The priests who buried him were his
own countrymen: though the place of his death was his own capital
they did not find it proper he should be buried there “in Mahanzi terri-
tory.” According to local tradition these priests were afterwards
targets of unceasing night raids by Kyelelo. He did eventually succeed
in killing one of them, Kyakunzi, at his residence Ludihani deep in Vulu-
lile’s territory, on the Bulongwa march. It was some years later, on
just such a night raid into Mahanzi country, that Kyelelo I Ntowanilo
had his most famous escape from death. It is said he had determined
to kill all the Mahanzi heroes, and on this occasion he brought war to
Kilanzi, the southern domain of the Mahanzi, by-passing Vululile. Since
his prize was to be the imongo transfer-tribute which Kilanzi was
sending to Vululile, this sneak attack on the tributary himself was an
obvious piece of indirection, but no one seems to have expected less
of Kyelelo. He met the Kilanzi hero and, failing to score a wound with all
his spears, flung down his shield to grip his sword ihula two-handed. He
rushed the enemy fiercely and left him dead but had exposed his flank
to a Mahanzi spearman. This was no formal duel on the Sanga model
but a quite irregular encounter by night. Both sides fled in disarray,

and Kyelelo managed to break off the spear in his side at its shank. He
then hid in a millet bin. There he was found in the morning by a woman
who proved willing to assist him. She gathered men who would bear
him to Ihanga. Safely arrived, Kyelelo toasted them with beer, sending
them home as his “brothers” with two cows. It was Vululile rather who
had a claim to fraternity there: this was the community which had
sheltered him for three years while he established his leadership, and
his chief wife was from there. But social memory carried no hint of
moral indignation at what an observer might take for treachery. The
tyrant’s rescuers are assumed to have acted as free persons should
according to their own best information on the man and the matter.
As for Kyelelo’s wound, he soon had a strong sapling tied like a great
bow to the ground, put a taut rope to the barbed spearhead, and
ordered six men to hold him down while a seventh cut the tie of the
sapling. So he lived up to the reputation for personal heroism which
had moved Kilanzi’s men to bear him home.

Mahanzi informants tell that Kyelelo’s men were badly beaten;

but the death of a local hero and the survival of the notorious prince,
albeit by the mercy of his enemies, left the Kyelelo myth intact. His
heirs even claim that, though Vululile continued to take imongo from
Kilanzi, he had to appease Kyelelo when he recuperated (from what
was by all accounts a long convalescence) by sending on a fraction of
the Kilanzi tribute. The claim is not confirmed elsewhere. Kyelelo’s
final war was in an early stage when the Germans’ arrival intervened.
He had determined to make use of Sangu mercenaries. These are iden-
tified as Gogo warriors who had joined Merere, the Sangu sultan, in
his warring with the Hehe avaJinga. They carried Arab knives, long and
sharp, a number of which were taken as trophies when this invitational
invasion was beaten off. Kyelelo’s final move was an effort to import
muskets from the Sangu. He had not accumulated a sufficient
arsenal when European conquest put a stop to the trade. The
tradition of his erstwhile enemies is that he paid off the Sangu
mercenaries in women, some of them his legitimate daughters
ing’engele and some captives. Raiding sorties from Luwumbu were a
regular feature of the early dry season during these years. The
earliest missionaries to climb the escarpment from Nyakyusaland
found the alarm had gone before them—they were supposed to be a
party of Sangu raiders approaching. Their way was bristling with
armed bands ( BMB 1895:471). The introduction of guns to Kinga
warfare would have been a powerful event to add to Kyelelo’s reputa-
tional legend. It was an escalation for which Vululile could not have
been prepared but hardly one which would have disconfirmed his
opinion of this old enemy.

Why was Kyelelo, found wounded and disarmed in an enemy’s
millet bin, allowed to survive? Tunginiye denied that there had been
laws or rules of warfare which could have protected him. Instead the
reason must be that a commoner would not have dared kill a prince
sultani , enemy or not, unless in the heat of battle. Other well-
informed elders thought Kyelelo must after all have taken grain from
the bin and stolen away under his own power. “If they had seen him
they would have killed him.” I can’t reject either view out of hand. What
we do know is that the social memory after 65 years of colonial peace
and war liked the tale as told here.

Where war takes its style from the surprise raid mounted by a
small band of adventurers, and where armies may be drawn up in full
regalia to witness the duel of just two heroes, the deep rationale of
the martial exercise revolves in good medieval fashion around notions
of manly valour. We must try to judge how far the great fear of
Kyelelo’s threatened conquest was an artifact of political theatre
and, at a deeper level, a sign of the kind of public unease which, in his
generation, had been inspired by confrontations with truly unknow-
able enemies from outside. Kinga knew a great deal about the world
beyond their mountains. Their contacts with Rift Valley Nyakyusa,
Safwa, and Sangu were particularly intense, being always balanced
between raiding and trading in iron wares, both activities requiring a
keen awareness of the others’ customs, their leaders, and their
seasonal movements.

But Kinga were not in important spheres of life actually

borrowers. They set their own style. To evaluate Kyelelo, the rule-
breaker, we should be aware how agonistic the Sanga war pattern
remained to the end, though the contest was between rival lords and
factions not artificial teams of fifty. War was an exercise of youths
and heroes. It was seasonal, and the growth of population, which we
have noticed, during the whole period of escalating warfare indicates
it was not decimating in its net consequence. I don’t suggest war did
not affect ordinary lives harshly but I do mean it did not infect them.
A parallel might be industrial carnage in any modernizing society. It
may be salutary to notice that Kyelelo was not found in a millet bin by
his enemies but by common people subject to them. Political enmity
was a phenomenon of the court not the bush.

Sham, Bluff, and Sacrament
The hierarchic order which Vululile introduced, particularly in his
relations with Mahanzi rulers, seems to have had no profound effect
at the grass roots, if the matter can be judged from later events and
folk memory. By this I mean that, though Vululile recognized the
standard three ranks of the Sanga system and published them
among the Mahanzi on a note of fear and necessity, lordly rank-
concession had no more power in the West than in the North, Centre,
or East to quell popular claims to independence. Among the Mahanzi
the ruler of lowest rank was untwa unya’nekelo master of the sacrifice.
The rank corresponds to the (quite differently conceived) Sanga
untsagila who, being of the line “sent out to rule” from the capital, was
thought to owe his old host the duties of a junior. Since the Mahanzi
local ruler was patently not “sent out” from an alien immigrant’s
capital, Vululile’s term for him associates him with local non-military
court responsibilities. But one Mahanzi ruler, Selemba of the Mwandi-
lawa line at Ulumba (the central domain), was elevated above the
others. His insignia, presented by Vululile, proclaim the military
competence of his court. He received ilikule and ingalape , master drum
and trumpet; ulwanzisi otterskin crown, and ikinya’lwangula royal stool.
He bore a large imatsi spiral shell ornament at his breast and donned
the iduma leopardskin on occasion. “ Vatetsage untwa : The people
always called him lord.” Nonetheless when I inquired about war games I
found they had acquired little of the Sanga style. The drum ilikule was
used to assemble the warriors yearly “to prepare for possible war. The
Lord wants to know who has died and who remains—how many are his
avanyigoha warriors.” The gathering served as a display of martial
conformation without martial energy. As to actual armed contests
there were none, for “they feared some would be killed, and they could
not afford the loss.” The Mahanzi were, in short, sham Sanga; and the
symbolism of rank was lost on anyone outside the circle of the ruling
élite. Kyelelo with his incessant threats and intermittent raids,
stealing cattle and even goats, taking women and children captive,
and his reputation of having vowed to kill every hero the Mahanzi
might put up against him had made it possible for Vululile to organize
Mahanzi and Magoma alike on a military model. But the structure of
the polity remained segmentary not hierarchic.

Vululile’s relations with his avatwa vassal lords are reflected in

his ability to bestow rank and honour upon them in return for fast
alliance. Since he sent witch-finder priests to live with each of them—
with the Mahanzi Selemba and the two Magoma rulers—he controlled
(so to say) their secret service and was well informed. Kyalawe,

Selemba’s unyivaha witch-finder, can be seen from his own admission
to German authorities, to have exercised the full powers of a witch-
ridder. He was of Ngulwa lineage, which was still in my time repre-
sented in strength only in Vululile’s domain Lingundya. But the
process of imposing a Sanga political system here in the West had
not had the time to ‘take’ as it had done in the other realms, before
the German period. Vululile himself was certainly styled unkuludeva
prince, and there is general agreement except among informants from
what was Kyelelo’s camp that Vululile in the precontact period had
established ritual links directly with Ukwama—links from which
Kyelelo was cut out. That is, Vululile might in a pinch have made good a
claim at that time to being the only prince unkuludeva and the legiti-
mate ruler in the Western realm. It was not in fact until preparations
were under way for the 1926 constitution that Kyelelo’s claim to
seniority was examined and validated at a general conclave of local
rulers. The strength of this claim at that time lay in the admission
that all Sanga rulers in the West had their origins at Ihanga: it must
follow that the ruling house there was the senior one. Old enmities
and the alliance of Mahanzi with dissident Kinga, which had been
based on those enmities, had come to have little meaning on either
side. Mahanzi elders even at Mwangawa’s old capital told me [June
1963] that there would have been no disputes over jurisdictions in
the West during British times, had colonial officials been prepared to
grant two courts (and the nominal salaries of two rulers): one court
should have been for the Mahanzi-Magoma peoples (“We are like one
kin”) and one for Kyelelo and his Sangas. They seemed to have no
doubt that in those days the supplementary court would have been
awarded to Mwandilawa in the Mahanzi domain which Vululile had
raised above the others. “Even the Paramount Mwemutsi knew
Mwandilawa, though he would not have recognized a Magoma ruler.”
And that is to say that the Sanga-Mahanzi alliance, having fallen
apart at the top, had ceased to have meaning by 1960 if not by 1925.
An older ethnic cleavage had asserted itself instead.

One particular history, when examined, reveals in a nice way the

salient character of the Sangas: their solidarity above and beyond
their bitter rivalries. This is the case of Lugendile and his heirs. I give
the tradition as I had it from one of them, Lukasi Petro, son of
Missionary Hübner’s rock, Petele Ngasika.

Lugendile was tight-fisted and that is why he failed to get the rule. He
was elder brother to Kyelelo and due the office but was cheated of it, being
outsmarted by Kyelelo. All this happened when the time was drawing near
for certain solemnities. There came a stranger from the bush country while

Lugendile was withdrawn with the avanyivaha councilors of the place and
certain emissaries from the neighbour realms. These emissaries were the
chief priests of Mwemutsi at Ukwama, of Mwalukisa at Uhugilo, and of
Ndwanga at Ilevelo. [At the time Ndwanga called himself unkuludeva and
rejected the claims of Mwalukisa to imongo—they were at war.] The
stranger, a fellow from Mwalukisa’s country, was denied hospitality. Three
times he cried his greeting at the doorway, Mapembero!, and three times he
was sent away. But he had heard the talk of the avanyivaha within: at the
first cock’s crow before dawn they would beat the sacred drum ilikule and
blow the sacred trumpet ingalape pronouncing Lugendile untwa ruler of an
autonomous domain. The stranger left and, walking on about a mile, found a
gathering of men eating and drinking at a private house. This was the place
of Kyelelo, who straight away welcomed the stranger to take food and
drink. Now Kyelelo, hearing the stranger’s tale, was full of resentment that
he had not been informed of his brother’s impending elevation—he, Kyelelo,
had been barred from being a member of the inner circle and was left to
entertain himself and his friends apart. So he gathered together these
friends and together they raided the ritual centre at midnight, well before
cock-crow. They beat the drum and blew great blasts upon the horns.
Lugendile heard the sound and cried, “Vanyengile, ndilinyengwa! They have
cheated, I am deceived!” This is the tale of how his lineage became Sanga
Nyengwa, the Cheated, while Kyelelo’s line is Sanga Mbetsiwa, the Denied,
referring to the tight-fistedness of Lugendile. [May 1963]

The Kyelelo of this tale is Ndunginye, Kyelelo II as he became

much later, at his father’s death. Because a man may “enter the
country of his father” though a father may not inherit his son’s,
Kyelelo I at Ihanga could make his son an autonomous ruler at
Luwumbu without begetting an irreversible segmentation of Ihanga-
Luwumbu. Thus the occasion is not a succession but the inauguration
of a new court at Luwumbu. The events prove that the prince at
Ihanga, though the mightiest of tyrants in Kinga memory, had to put
this affair in the hands of his avanyivaha priest-elders; and that they
in turn would not try to legitimate the installation without
competent witnesses from abroad. It is elementary that once the
sacred instruments, drum and trumpet, have uttered the act no
mortal move could reverse it. The events also show, of course, that
Kyelelo II Ndunginye came to office in almost as enterprising a manner
as his father had done. But the sequel is particularly instructive.
Lugendile moved on to Bulongwa, where he died without acquiring
office. Then in German times (1901) the Bulongwa local ruler died
without leaving a competent heir; and the elders chose the son of
Lugendile as the rightful successor. Ngasika, soon to take the name
Petele, declined. He was already taken with Christianity. But his
election bespeaks the existence of an inter-jurisdictional Sanga élite
whose ambience was not restricted by even the most embattled

To illustrate the way the Sanga successions worked, let us
imagine that Ngasika/Petele had not chosen the mission and,
surviving to 1926, had then laid claim through his lineage to seniority
among the rulers in the West. Succeeding in this, he would have
become known in accordance with Kinga usage as Kyelelo III, bumping
the man of junior lineage, a son of Kyelelo II, who actually did take that
title. In each of the princely realms we seem to have an unbroken
hereditary line of rulers bearing always only the one name, identified
with the office itself. The impression of continuity is, of course,

Kinga do not distinguish their lordly incumbents by their ordinal

rank in time—a tale about Kyelelo is not normally told in such a way as
to identify him by the name he bore in youth or his place in the succes-
sion of incumbents. Over time, all tales about princely deeds in the
past begin to accumulate to a syncretic ‘Kyelelo, Prince of the West’
or the like, though it was not too late in 1960 to do some useful
sleuthing. Had I not done some, I might well have left Bulongwa in 1963
believing, as I had been led to believe, that the capital of the Western
realm had always been just there where the mission, market, court of
record, and population centre were found, the place to which the one
approach road led. In fact, only Ukwama was a capital village in 1900;
the other three capitals had been displaced as new settlement
patterns developed. From all that I did learn I infer that the realms
which matured earlier than Kyelelo’s West did so more quietly—that
the violent history of this latest addition to the Sanga system
reflected the turbulence of the Sowetan region as a whole in the
critical years. But I don’t doubt that, had I been able to stay at work
for only a few more months I would have had a richer and better
history to write. For one thing, I’d have got a better sense for just
how cruelly warlike the original Kyelelo had been; and what, in spite of
his fearful reputation for truculence, accounted for the strength of
his following among an altogether amiable people.

It is arguable (to pursue this speculative thinking further) that

as an articulate person with an ability to command—as shown in his
mission career—but no special instinct for combat, Petele Ngasika
ought to be considered a neo-classical type among Kinga leaders,
harking back to earlier decades of the nineteenth century, before the
press of an accelerating war pattern had made itself felt. When
Missionary Hübner discovered that his station was built on the ruins
of a burnt village he well understood why the village had not been
rebuilt on the same site, though the people had survived well enough
simply by taking flight. The site of his station is pleasant, high, and

open to easy approach from two directions. The old site of the village
evidently had been chosen without any compulsion to think first and
foremost of defense.

Moreover the Kinga have built, as we were soon enough to experience,

mainly on sites difficult to approach, as they live in constant fear of attack
from their neighbours. From their villages located on high mountain tops
they are able to command an excellent view of their country, and any suspi-
cious phenomena are communicated from hill to hill—a kind of telephone, and
the Kinga are master shouters. Everywhere we were obliged to announce
ourselves through a shouter if we did not want to find empty villages. [BMB

But it is only the earliest travelers who report heavily concen-

trated villages and defensive stockades, and these only in special
areas—notably in the Kinga parts of the Western realm and in the
East, the two countries where Sanga rule was most actively
expanding. Of the Mahanzi scene Merensky writes on the basis of
early reports from Missionary Nauhaus, who climbed up from Lake
Malawi through the settlements least accessible to Kyelelo:

For the most part the people live in scattered and isolated huts. A
larger settlement was reached, however, whose farmsteads lay in the
midst of green fields planted in peas. [BMB 1896:222]

This was the pattern quickly reasserted also in the embattled

sections of Kingaland once peace had been imposed. It was, after all,
the fear of aggression not aggression itself which struck the
Berliners as the key to Kinga character and policy.


Prince and Priest

Bush Doctor—Court Priest

In 1960 there were a number of medicine men practising in
Kingaland, each on his own account, and German records suggest it
was ever so. The priesthood never quite had a monopoly on the
magico- chemical arts. Some medicines, intended for curing, are not
considered dangerous. From one doctor I obtained a potion for the
cure of convulsions. It was his one specialty and was credited with
several cures but contained (on laboratory analysis) “no alkaloids.” In
every community the Rural Medical Assistant or mission nurse would
be aware of competition from local men of knowledge, some few well
established in the profession. None could be called ‘full-time’ doctors,
though. Their medicines were less often potions than pastes adminis-
tered by rubbing into superficial incisions. The official doctrine at the
treatment centre in Lupila was that the two kinds of medicine could
well coexist but should not be compounded in one patient at one time.
Otherwise no sense of risk attached to the use of Kinga curative
medicines, although there is no comprehensive categorical distinction
between curing and the harmful or exploitative transformations for
which medicines may be used. The reason for this is possibly that the
medicines in themselves are thought not dangerous unless in the
hands of personal or political enemies. That is, the person and his or
her malevolent intent would be the true source of danger.

The one shamanistic personage I encountered in person was

Pakipande, famous in the Central and Eastern realms. ‘Shaman’ is not
the usual word employed by Africanists, but it suggests the extent
to which Pakipande relied on personal qualities and reputation in
addition to medicines. If he ever dealt in curing as such, that was not
the basis of his local fame. He was a master of pyromancy, putting on
a spectacular show of lie-detection. Doctor, plaintiff, and suspects

sit about an open fire, which is described as flaring up in the manner of
fireworks, but managed so that the fire itself seems to single out a
culprit. Persons of his stature would have been more common in the
precontact culture, if only because men of all types then had to find
their careers at home.‡‡

Missionary Wolff describes another technique of divination

using fire, which he gives an inquisitorial character. As the procedure
borders on public torture, it must have been practised by doctor-
priests acting under sanction. I give the passage in extenso because,
for all the puzzles it leaves us, it remains the best description we
have of early practices in the Northern realm.

23 June [1899]. Today I learned that the Kinga also have a kind of ordeal
by fire. For example, should the victim of a theft report the robbery to a
witchdoctor, of which there are plenty to be found, the victim must bring to
the spot those persons he suspects. The sorcerer takes a calabash cut off
at the neck, anoints it with sorcery-medicines, puts some fire in it, and
then rubs the vessel back and forth on the subject’s body, the opening
turned against it. If the vessel sucks itself fast, searing the subject’s hide,
he is convicted of the theft. The sorcerer says isoe [iswe] or yesoe [jiswe]
“He has died” (that is, the dog). This kind of judgement comes from the
custom by which very poisonous medicines, which also in other ways are
employed as vouchers for guilt or innocence, in recent times have been
administered to dogs—as earlier happened with human beings. If such a
substituted dog should die, the thief or the like is unmasked. If he throws up
the medicine that is called ivexile [ivekile] or jidexile [jidekile]—[the man] has
withstood or (the dog) has vomited—and the subject is free of guilt.

It is first of all the victim of the theft who must stand this ordeal by
fire, for the thief may be in his own kin group—if so he is burnt himself, and
the case is settled. But once he is proved innocent the suspects are taken
in turn. He who is burnt is the thief: the calabash can only by force be
removed from the subject’s body. The thief must pay. The procedure is
called ukupokola [ukupukula= to divine].

In like manner lagula, as it is known in Kondeland [uNyakyusa] and also

here, is practised. Here a wooden cup, opening downwards, is rubbed back
and forth on the ground...

Some sorcerers operate with a kind of die. Three iron nails with heads
graduated in mass are put into a narrow bamboo cup. Should the one for
whom the dice are consulted be guilty, the nails unite; should he be guiltless,
each nail stands alone. Should a thief caught in this way still protest his
innocence, they will pierce one of his ears and put, or if necessary force, one
of the nails through it. When it goes easily through the subject is innocent,
but failing that the nail may remain with its head stuck in the ear so that
nothing will dislodge it.

Oftentimes one and the same person will try all four types [of divination
by going round to] various sorcerers and will, though innocent, be declared
guilty by all four, especially if the complainant has paid the sorcerer a nanny
goat or the like a short while in advance. Then the doctor may be reviled as
the kind who will seize the wealth of people for nothing and worse than
nothing; but the next time they will none the less be sought out. Only a few
persons desiccate themselves fully from the chicanery, which is only too
conspicuous. ‡

The facts must stand as Wolff has given them, as I was not able
to observe divination in the field. I find it reasonable to assume there
would have been a manifestly random mechanism employed in each
case. The nail would be chosen by a random throw, and the autonomy
of the rubbing oracle would be dramatically shown. This allows partici-
pant and observer to impute something like divine intervention or
communication; and it is this invisible backdrop to the visibly
arbitrary action which Wolff has not seen fit to credit. But I am
inclined to take seriously the implication of this account that
thievery tended to be handled in a local and voluntaristic fashion, at
least in the neighbourhood of Wolff’s Tandala station, which occupied
a borderland position with respect to the Northern and Central
capitals. As one moved closer to the centres of political power the
bush culture with its anarchic ethos would have given way before the
Sanga court’s interest in all transactions of a jural nature, and the
fees which might be attached thereto.

I am nevertheless disinclined to accept the missionary’s view

that the diviners he describes deserve to go down as unscrupulous
exploiters of a gullible Kinga countryman. A diviner’s clientèle would
have been chosen from the full range of intellectual powers and
sophistication represented in the Kinga people. In 1960 the diviner
Pakipande was assured of respect wherever he went. He was no
carnival trickster but a centre of expectation in any group. He hardly
lacked the qualities of discretion and dignity. By all accounts in the
actual practice of his profession he carried himself with incontrovert-
ible authority.

In compliance with his responsibilities as clerk of the Ukwama

court in 1937-38, Tunginiye undertook to scrutinize the conduct of a
local witchfinder, a woman who sold a sweet, curative medicine to
anyone she identified as a witch. Unfortunately the medicine was
credited with killing one woman and producing a miscarriage in
another. The diviner Hikadiseku had a Pangwa assistant, Boimanda
son of Mjoukalala. He took a half shilling for the medicine, which was
his own preparation, sharing the returns with Hikadiseku. When she
was questioned by Tunginiye she said, “I create rain and rid the land of

witchcraft.” She called on Lwembe and the entire Mwemutsi line by
name, calling them gods who lived in her body. She said they gave
orders for everything she did. “Their shadows [ imyitsitsi gyavene ] have
built in me.” She divined by possession: first going into trembling, then
falling down in trance, kicking the fire about as she thrashed
(upsetting the onlookers) while speaking in tongues. Then she would
achieve calm, sit up with gravity, and receive—now as embodying the
whole princely line—honorific greetings from the assembly. The client
would have explained his grievance earlier; now she communicated the
gods’ answer. They were always of one mind. Hikadiseku divined by
night or day and took clients from beyond uKinga’s borders, in
constant procession. Should an accused witch deny guilt, the whole
household was threatened with death. But Tunginiye found she had
the Paramount’s support. “Hikadiseku would name her fee: your basin,
your sheep, your cow—bring it! and she became very rich.” But when
she had meat she would slaughter by night and in secret send a
portion to the Paramount. “He received this as tribute. He had found
by independent investigation that her claims were sound. His
ancestors had chosen to build in her body.”

I know of no other case in which so much power and legitimacy

has been claimed by a self-sponsored diviner. In the 1930s the
princely establishments at the court villages were greatly diminished
by loss of their rationale in warfare. The royal isivaga [barracks] were
fewer, smaller, and uncrowded—a function of the disappearance of
imongo and the necessity all men faced of seeking to migrant labour,
to earn the head tax which must be paid in East African currency. But
the priestly establishment was more nearly intact. Its toleration of
Hikadiseku seems to me a valid echo from precontact times. The style
of the court villages had never been set by a closed, self-recruiting
élite. In the isivaga the sons of the royal line avapapwa, despite the
great size of a princely harem, were overshadowed by commoner
recruits. In the same fashion, the priesthood was open to individual
talent, whether by apprenticeship or co-optation. Still, so great a
claim to power as Hikadiseku’s, a claim to be sole channel of communi-
cation with the reigning ancestors of the domain, could hardly have
been lodged or accepted in precontact times. The exaggeration of the
claim I take to have been a phenomenon of the disorganization of

The case of Mwakanema, culminating at about the same time at

the capital of Ukwama, illustrates the way sorcery can be credited
with a part in political breakdown, complementary to the part it was
conceived to have played earlier in building up Sanga power.

Mwakanema was younger brother to Mlambikyuma, the Paramount
chief originally confirmed by the British. Mlambikyuma had been the
boy called Dembademba for whom a regent was ruling in early contact
times. Divination concerning deaths in the royal household gradually
revealed that Mlambikyuma was under powerful attack by
Mwakanema, who was out to destroy his house and take over the
Paramountcy. The sorcerers employed in the attack were the most
renowned in neighbouring uPangwa; defenders were the avanyivaha of
the Ukwama court. The battle is said to have been drawn out over a
long part of Mlambikyuma’s reign, with death after death in either
house blamed upon the other. At last Mwakanema was defeated,
being left altogether alone. None of his wives or their children
survived. His medicines were seen to have met a superior power, which
turned their withering potency back upon him. Though he himself
survived both Mlambikyuma and that chief’s successor-son Suluvali,
Mwakanema in later life had no expectation of power. In late mid-
century Kinga culture I found him a withdrawn and bitter old man,
representing defeated principles of conservatism and, as he came to
be seen by the independent Tanzanian government, superstition. The
long internecine struggle had seen the debilitation of orthodoxy at
Ukwama, not its confirmation in the nominal victory of an incumbent
Paramount. Unlike a factional schism in which the people must partic-
ipate and political loyalties at least are sharpened, this was a falling
out without popular drama, an acting-out, even as the people mainly
saw it, of decadent values.

The powers Kinga attributed to doctors like Pakipande,

Hikadiseku, or the Pangwa sorcerers alleged to have been enlisted by
Mwakanema were of the same order as those attributed to the
priesthood. But because power was in the one case vested, in the
other not, its circumstance and scope were different. A self-spon-
soring diviner who once had begun to attract a significant clientèle
must be ready to make peace with vested power. In the precontact
culture this would have entailed a visit not from a clerk of the court
but the avanyivaha themselves, accompanied by a band of armed
guards. The only issue could be a tightening of ties to the centre.
Powers attributed to a person (not an office) and going beyond what
can be won through lore and medicines may be deemed transcendent
in the Kinga world. Such were the powers of Lwembe and also of
Hikadiseku. There are no medicines which will cause the gods to build in
your body. The powers of the priesthood, on the other hand, must be
conferrable. In this sense the relation between the doctor and the
priest is that between charisma and its routinization, even though
certain priests have always been personally ‘feared’. In unsettled

times prophecy is decentralized, and established power decides
either to crush it or co-opt. On the whole, the strategy of the Sanga
courts seems to have been co-optation. In this way, all the conferr-
able arts, however occult, known anywhere in the realm would eventu-
ally find their way to court to strengthen its establishment, while
the non-conferrable arts as well would be subject to the court’s
review and its expectations of tribute.

We can’t know how many men of mystical power at a given court

would have been recruited on a charismatic basis, and how many were
local apprentice-heirs to the established avanyivaha . My incomplete
information confirms, so far as it goes, the pattern one might expect:
Sanga rulers in the manifestly newer (Eastern and Western) realms
enjoyed less-established priesthoods than those of the older
(Central and Northern) realms. But the fact that priests in any realm
might live at a distance from the court village, never comprising
either a community to themselves or an adjunct to the royal resi-
dence, expresses their independence of secular power as well as the
autonomous character of their recruitment procedures.

Although Kinga lore abounds in references to witchcraft rival-

ries, I got little specific information about times, names, and places.
In an important sense witchcraft can always be the creature of
politics, insofar as we are dealing with personal powers known but
rejected by a political system strong enough to have co-opted it. In
Kinga bush culture or, as one might say, in the politically disaffiliated
view, witchcraft is only the dangerous aspect of a superlative human
power. Who would not like to enjoy the scope of the untwa [lord]] or
unkuludeva [prince] who has but to point a finger—a sight no man
wants to see—for some troubled wretch to wither and die? Or who
would not like to fly as a fireball cycling through the air, master of the
night? Who has not played at possessing the diviner’s rod which flies
up of its own force to strike the guilty and drive him off like a jackal?
Kinga were from childhood witness to the impotence of their kind in
face of disease and accident, pestilence and deceit. Magical power
was the universal antidote. Being private it must be two-valued—one
man’s helpmate is another’s peril. What if Mwakanema had
triumphed? He would have been Paramount, with all the legitimacy
that implies. The moral of the witchcraft tales is not immanent
justice. As we view electricity the Kinga view magic, uvuhavi . No one
supposes those who benefit from power are ipso facto good or that
lightning only strikes the wicked. But when a political system co-opts
certain men of power it necessarily disestablishes others who had
opposed them. Or to put the matter in another frame, as political

power centres emerge, tending to claim authority in all spheres of life,
private power is forced underground.

It is a complication of all this but hardly a contradiction that

uvuhavi remained attractive, being seen in the perspective of bush
culture, in 1960. The baraza , the native court in the colonial scheme,
was an assembly for judging civil disputes and offenses, a court
whose British-style, categorical condemnation of witchcraft belief
merely discountenanced it, offering no antidote. In 1860 the court
perspective was firmly expressed in its powers of summary execu-
tion. How many avahavi [witches] once found out were actually put to
death we are not to know. How many were found, under what condi-
tions, and of these how many would have been subjectively guilty
remains just as obscure. What is clear is that witch-finding was an
instrument of Sanga expansion and must have recreated over the
centuries the profile of the witch it would find.

A ‘doctor’ in the sense I use the term is first a finder and

publisher of hidden truths, only derivatively a curer. ‘Witch-doctor’ or
‘finder’ applies then to one of the roles a Kinga priest [ unyivaha ] would
be called on to play. The unteketsi or celebrant roles may have been
delegated in some cases to other individuals. But regardless of what
informal division of specialties there may have been within the college
of priests, since the strength and structure of the establishment
always varied over time and with local conditions, the avanyivaha
constituted a close-knit profession on a culture-wide basis. ‘Priest’
has seemed appropriate on that account, in that individual identities
were subordinate to a system of roles or offices; and if ‘priest’ also
implies the possession of public sanctioning authority the term is the
more appropriate. The fact that the sacra to which Kinga priests had
exclusive access were in many cases conceived as medicines—
dangerous but manipulable substances—may be said to qualify the
Kinga religion as to its historical and ethnographic place. It is a
religion which exhibits its kinship to sorcery. It is not therefore the
less a religion, serving to define matters of ultimate concern. In the
best translation I can offer, unyivaha means powerful one, officer.
Sacredness is not implied. The priests were part of the court, sitting
with others in the judgement of cases brought to it, differing from
them in the ground of their claims to élite condition but sharing with
them a generalized responsibility for the functioning of the court and
the morale of the realm.

Autochthonous Lore—Immigrant Authority
The non-Sanga origins and identities of priestly lines all over
Kingaland gave them a charter as watchdogs for what I have called
the bush culture with its distinctly egalitarian values. This is to say
that dualism at the level of culture was mirrored in a role-opposition
at the level of power. In general, the result was that consensual
decisions of the court represented a synthesis, the product of a
frozen dialectic. Sanga principles called for an unmitigated pursuit of
gain through cattle piracy; but the scruples of the priests produced a
considerably mitigated final pattern. Sanga principles would have
taken the young men out of farming; but priestly coordination of
planting for each of the main traditional crops meant that all the men
could be returned to the fields for the predictable season of intensive
labour without jeopardizing the defense of the realm. Sanga values
would have maximized tribute and feasting; but priestly concern with
scarcity and the popular disaffection it could produce demanded
moderation. Sanga values tended to legitimate arbitrary rule, but the
same priestly concerns acted again for moderation.

While I don’t mean to suggest daily life at the court nicely artic-
ulated itself as a clear-cut structural opposition, I think such
ordering of thought and event had categorical importance warranting
consideration. In the ordinary affairs of a community a Kinga priest
had to look to his own rights and immunities on the same basis as a
warrior of the royal line or a man from the bush. The main line of segre-
gation at the capital was that which set aside the prince, his harem,
and his marriageable daughters. This was a line all commoners must
recognize; and though a similar boundary was not to be found between
commoner and umpapwa [warrior of the royal lineage], the privileged
familiarity of a man who called a queen ‘mother’ and a princess ‘sister’
set him apart. In this sense the underlying structure of court life was
class—dominance and counterdominance. The role of the priest was
to represent people to prince, not vice versa . Thus:

The Classes as Culture Frames

court custom...........bush custom
manly vitality..........fertility of the fields
pragmatism..........religious scruple

Such an alignment of cultural features helps to make clear why
Kinga mythology attributes the civilizing mission, the introduction of
fire, to autochthonous commoners not to the immigrant rulers.
Kilimba, the founding prince at Ukwama, ate raw meat until he was
taught by a traveller from Mavindi (southeastward, now in uPangwa)
the art of making fire with log and drill [ ikivanyina n’ululindi ] and again
the art of burying brands in their ashes to keep overnight. In the
myth, the symbol of Kilimba’s special power is the bow and arrow, said
to have amazed natives of these hills. For hunting the small game
which then abounded there, arrows were far better suited than the
spear. The bow is also a formidable weapon of war, when used with
great skill. In the Kinga division of labour, fire is used by men for
clearing forest land or reclearing fields which, under the prevailing
swidden system, have reverted to bush. But the cooking fire is (by
half-strict custom) in the domain of married women. There is an oppo-
sition here between ‘manly’ and domestic arts which illuminates one
of the creative tensions at the heart of Kinga culture in the nine-
teenth century. The prince or lord alone among men was bound wholly
to the heterosexual life; the priest with other officers of the court
mediated between the prince, withdrawn in his harem compound, and
ordinary men.

But throughout the domain the strongest representatives of

the ordinary man were householders who, having completed their
bachelor service at court, had married (perhaps a princess, awarded
for merit) and been rusticated to a greatly changed style of life,
focally heterosexual and domestic. It is true that Kinga legend
describes this rustication in martial terms—a favoured warrior is
sent out to rule a new country, a new seat is established to the
greater glory of the realm. Hence there is a sense in which a marriage
should be understood as an elevation to nobility. A commoner
receiving a princess in marriage becomes a Sanga, moving thereby
from the status of subject to that of a petty ruler even while moving
from the sexual condition of bachelor to that of married householder.
Still in a broader view the move remains one of rustication.

The court with its manly arts was undoubtedly the centre of a
Kinga realm. High deeds were those of war, of dispute settlement, of
ritual action. The hinterland was given to agriculture and domesticity.
In the myth, Kilimba’s wives are away, as he is, when the traveller with
the art of firemaking chances by, so it is a daughter of the prince who
is taught the art and in turn teaches the Sanga men. In gratitude to
the traveller who has so sweetened his meat, and in altogether
fitting return, Kilimba gives him the girl in marriage. This may stand as

the primordial act from which the Kinga polity has been derived. We
have a social contract by which the manly arts of the immigrant
warrior-hunter and the domestic values of the autochthonous farmer
are joined to form an expansive new society.

In his study of the Shambaa kingship Steven Feierman finds

that the king must be a ‘lion’ free to destroy the wealth of the coun-
tryside, or he will not be reckoned strong enough to guarantee its
fertility. In Kinga myth the lion-king (Lwembe) was expelled from the
land at the start of the social contract. Like the Shambaa founder-
hero Mbegha, Kilimba brings the strength of wildness to the order of
domesticity; but for Kinga culture it is domesticity which predomi-
nates in the final synthesis.<<[lit]

The priest installs and instructs the prince. Sanga legitimacy

may be said to hinge on these functions, a presupposition being the
absolute immunity of the avanyivaha from arbitrary action by the
prince. Masonzo of Igumbilo domain (Eastern realm, 1963) explained:

The priests [avanyivaha] of this domain are of two lineages, unrelated.

But that is not to say there are only two priests. The calling is hereditary,
but two of my sons may decide to follow me. There have always been two or
three priests or more attached to the court here. The untwa [lord] has no
power to select these men, to limit their numbers, or dismiss them. If he
should interfere, the avanyivaha would react as one man: they have the
power to seize a bad chief and judge him, though they have no power to kill

Whenever Kinga priests talk of this right and duty to instruct a

ruler they envision a fundamentally reasonable client who will be
prepared to accept their counsel in good faith—one who could not
conceivably reject the premise of moral authority upon which the
priests as a group have acted. They argue always that the people will
leave if mistreated, never that the people will rebel. The ruler, though
he is headstrong, will respond to the persuasion of practicality and
common sense, respecting the traditional wisdom of men who are
constitutionally his elders.

Localism and Ambience

It seems plain to me that the foundation of the priesthood
among the Kinga was the social fact that they could control the rain.
Next to this, witch-finding looks like psychological fireworks, and the
Lwembe cult was no stronger than its pageantry. While a 'priest' is
correctly to be seen as a 'doctor' transgarbed, there is more to the

difference than shallow public acceptance. As 'doctor' a practitioner
of magical rites is inevitably embroiled in interpersonal relations
which will tend to generate private claims upon him, and require him to
provide himself with private immunities. But rain or the want of it
affects all farmers equally, and a 'doctor' who has once been credited
with the power to control the rain—to endanger or to benefit the
whole community as one—has by that fact been elevated to a status
above the private. As broker for mankind vis-à-vis the source of all
mortal danger, this is a doctor cast as the sublime prevaricator: if he
won't send rain he can't pretend he can't. He deserves to be called a

Tunginiye was able to draw out Mwemutsi (XII) Suluvali on the

subject of the rain shrine uluvya , producing the following document,
which I give in fair translation:

The uluvya is a chest-high Kisi-made pot, comparable to a huge beerpot,

and in it there are four small calabashes. One is for Unkuludeva Mwemutsi
[Central realm], one for Untwa Mwalukisa [Northern realm], one for Untwa
Kyelelo [Western realm], and one for Jumbe [Headman] Kiswaga [of Igolwa,
old capital of the Eastern realm]. The uluvya was originally provided by a
certain man of uKisi named Mwakadili, living in the village Lumbila. The uluvya
[is the vessel in which] they mix medicines and the blood of a black sheep.
The meat is for the officiants, of whom there are four, to consume, and they
must finish it completely. Outsiders are strictly forbidden to eat the meat.
Inside those calabashes there are special pebbles which were put there by
that man of uKisi in ancient times. They were originally collected from the
sea. Should there be one calabash which has disappeared, then the officiant
priests will have word brought to the ruler (Mwemutsi) to this effect. ‘One
of the rain-things has escaped, it is gone from the uluvya.’ Of course the
ruler will tell them, ‘Ye must continue to search it out until ye have got it
back.’ Only a short while later they will bring news to the effect, ‘Lo, the rain-
thing has returned of its own accord and has been found in the uluvya.’ Then
the ruler will offer beer, cooked meal, and meat, so that all feast well and are

The initiation of the rain sacrifice is as follows:

The chief wife of the ruler [unkuludeva] will stir up a small amount of
eleusine (finger millet) beer, mixing in with it some well-pressed-out castor
beans in her own calabash. At length she will tell the unkuludeva that the
beer is ready, and the ruler will call together the same officiants, saying,
‘The time is come for ye to make the rain sacrifice.’ Then the officiants will
take the special beer from the royal wife, putting a tiny bit in each of the
four calabashes inside the uluvya. Next they will sift out about the amount
of one cooking bowl from the ruler's sacred finger millet, putting it on a
special shard. Then they will remove the four calabashes and pour from
them over the millet grains which are lying on the shard, taking them out to

the place of the eleusine garden known as ilyagano lya’nkuludeva to be planted
in the special mound prepared there. The season is November, and that very
day the rains will pour down. Upon this the ruler will tell the officiants, ‘Now
ye must see to it the people all begin to plant their own finger millet.’ ‡‡

Tunginiye felt Mwemutsi had spoken freely, telling what he knew

on the subject, and I think we can accept that the ruler would ordi-
narily know little more that his own side of such transactional
formulae. In any event, Mwemutsi's account is characteristically dry
and cursory. From the point of view of the agricultural community the
whole significance of the rain shrine was practical, and there was a
clear understanding that weather control depended on crucial acts of
cooperation between the royal household and the priests of the
realm. Evidently, prohibitions on planting before the signal was given
from the capital were taken seriously at least by farmers near the
court village. The supposed penalties for a breech included an
automatic failure of your crop.

But the information I was given by actual officiants in the rain

sacrifice tended to emphasize not the political-agricultural functions
of the cult but what we may call the implicit theology of it. It is
difficult for me to assess (since the cult was languishing by 1960)
how far I had been able to penetrate secrets simply by inquiring into
them. But Syenemwaka's enthusiasm for his subject was unmistak-
able and derived from a professional involvement, not the sort of
personal mystique Pakipande, as a self-sponsoring diviner, had had to
cultivate. Syenemwaka was officiant of the (minor) rain shrine in
Lupila domain, Eastern realm:

The rain shrine is only found when you have come to the innermost part
of the sacred wood, a place dangerous to everyone, even to me. Every week
without fail an officiant must enter to inspect the shrine, seeing that all
goes well. On these occasions he performs no sacrifice, but each month
when the moon has waned away there will be a celebration with beer, a
gathering for sacrifice.

If we failed to sacrifice the weather would go awry. When the rain has
been too abundant this is what we do: There are two pots, one of great size
and one smaller. In them are kept the ing'ala—round, black pebbles which
generate their own moisture. One is male, the other female. In the dry
season they are gestating, in the rainy season lo! there are four. The two
have reproduced their kind. To control excessive rain the officiant removes
(say) two of the four stones from the greater of the pots, putting them in
the smaller. They must be carefully covered, for they want to run away,
having wills of their own.

When the rainstones run away, as soon as this is discovered, all the
officiants will be called to search and recover them. For this you need a black
sheepskin bag. As you find the stones you stow them safely away. Only the
children run away, the parents have not got the same wilfulness. When
there is thunder and lightning over the country you know the parents are
beating the children, and you may expect the children soon to run away

These pebbles are simply called isula [meaning rain or rain-thing]. The
officiants may fail to find the children and must consult a diviner to learn
how they are to be recovered. If the children were truly lost the rain would
inundate the land, and it would split apart. This is the reason for the
upheaval only this year in the Western realm [a landslide which took a
number of lives], and for many such an event which is remembered in this

The true reason for keeping the shrine under such close watch is that we
must know, when the rains have begun, how many children have been born to
the parents in the greater of the pots. Perhaps there are five—too many,
the number must be cut down. You place the surplus children in another pot,
which you must keep covered with a black sheepskin. In fact, there may be
many such smaller pots to accommodate all the surplus children. The
parents came from uKisi many generations ago and they are the self-same
stones. You cannot go and get more if they should be lost. But the children
are trying to return to uKisi. That is why they are forever running away.

Now when that happens, when the children really disappear from the
sacred wood, all the officiants must take a beer basket filled with millet (or
bamboo or eleusine) drink to uKisi. The great rainmakers of that country are
called the avasusi (singular unsusi = stirrer of water). They must concele-
brate with the party from this domain of Lupila in doing sacrifice down by
the lakeshore. In ancient times it is true the avasusi journeyed up to our
country as well, but since the British years this has not happened.

At Igolwa, old capital of the Eastern realm, tradition holds that

Ngotwilwe, founder-lord of Lupila domain, departed from the capital
some few generations ago, accompanied by three or four avanyivaha
[ritual specialists]. At Igolwa though not at Lupila the specialists in
1960 were all of one commoner lineage, Tave. Their information was
that Syenemwaka always had been the understudy of one Sanavule,
who had died recently and remained unsucceeded. The office was in
process of eroding away. While Sanavule lived he was yearly called to
sacrifice at Igolwa shrine. This means that his office was recognized
as filial to the priesthood of the old realm's capital, in spite of a
general reluctance on the part of Lupila domain to recognize the junior
standing implied. The priests at Igolwa said, 'His sacrifice at Lupila is
the small one, the great one is here.' (It is also true that initially they
wanted me to believe that no rain shrine at all was to be found at

Lupila.) But the yearly sacrifice to which they refer is one which
required Sanavule's attendance. He brought prestations, including a
special hoe, to the Igolwa shrine. Following Sanavule on that journey
would, I believe, take us onto the second level of priestly activity
associated with the sacred groves, which are found in each domain
but are tied like the ruling houses by a network of filial obligation.

At the primary level of ritual organization each shrine is autono-

mous. It is the agency of first resort when there is trouble—most
often, concern about the crops—in the country. The metaphorical
drama of the rainstones connects each domain separately to an
external centre or mystical authority in (for the Eastern realm) uKisi.
The language of the rainstones is clearest when we have in mind the
condition of the mountain farmer at the height of the rains. Every
stream has become a torrent. The rivers are impassable, rushing
headlong down to uKisi. In simple fact, every domain is isolated from
its neighbour by this rush of water, by the difficulty and discomfort
of travel, and by the necessity of devoting one’s self to one’s cultiva-
tions in a time of riotous growth. The undisciplined fertility of the
shiny black pebbles in their great round pots is an adequate objective
correlative for the face of nature in this season. The elemental forces
which have been unleashed have as their backdrop the inscrutable
laws of nature, which we conceive in terms of gravity, convection
currents, or the molecular nature of water and air, but which the
Kinga refer not to natural but supernatural agents. The priests, in
their mediating role, confirm the reality of an ordinary man’s removal
from the true sources of power over nature, but do so without
presenting the case as hopeless. Within the sacred grove itself, the
relation between the priest and the errant rainstones comes to
model man’s struggle to survive, to exploit the great energies of
nature, armed only with human knowledge and with the recognition of
a power greater than man’s own.

But the rain shrine, contained in its Kisi-made pots, comprises

only a part of what is housed in the sacred ark [ inyumba imbalatse ] in
the grove kept by the priests. The other sacra are such as to bind a
domain into the Sanga political system, sustaining the translocal
identity of being Kinga.

Gardens, Boundaries, and Antidotes

What it means to be Kinga derives essentially from the
political-ritual transformation of bush culture. In its more secular

aspects, I have identified this shift with the institution of the Sanga
court. The less-secular aspect of the same historical transformation
stands out when the Kinga is contrasted with its neighbouring
cultures to the south and north. Setting aside late-precontact
incursions of (respectively) warlike Ngoni and lowland Sangu detach-
ments, the Pangwa and Wanji represent the least-politicized cultures
of the region which ethnography records. (The culture of the
Mawemba is still and seems likely to remain undescribed.)

Pangwa religion is discussed in exemplary detail by Hans Stirni-

mann in a work ostensibly devoted to the traditional economic life,
and this description is generously complemented and amplified in his
later work on social organization and ritual. The Pangwa share much
the same, rather broad-vistaed, mountain environment as the Kinga
of the Eastern realm, with whom their boundary remained even in
1960 a particularly open one, reflecting the persisting atomism, or
localism of Pangwa social organization. Here (in my translation) is Fr.
Stirnimann’s introduction to the role of the medicine specialist:
In itself ukuvanga [the medicinal art] is a neutral power, which in any
instance according to the wish of the mkanga [doctor], with the help of
visible instruments (medicines), can be made effective toward good or
evil ends. People are convinced that, for example, one set of medicine
men use healing remedies to help the sick, while another set can use
‘medicines’ to cause hailstorms and cloudbursts wherever they wish.
Rainmakers are in the position with their ‘medicines’ to give the soil
fertility, the land rain. Since harmful magic is not restricted in its
scope to one particular lutanana [local descent group] but can propa-
gate infertility and starvation without heed to boundaries, [this
magic] is for the most part employed by ill-disposed foreigners, occa-
sionally also on orders of an embittered kinsman.‡

This passage refers not to a barely remembered but a living

world. To be sure, the traditional culture of the Pangwa was in process
of supersession in the period (1964-1970) of the fieldwork; and the
new generation of Pangwa farmers was not the source of Fr. Stirni-
mann’s patiently-gathered ethnography. But it is a reflection of the
shallow quality of the political process sponsored in uPangwa
throughout the colonial period that the most elemental concerns of
the peoples, their health and well-being, remained untransformed. The
colonial polity in uKinga was no less shallow, but the starting points
for the two societies at the turn of the century were distinctly
different. In uKinga the circulation of persons by the court made the
importance of descent-group organization slighter. Emphasis on
land-clearing expansion within the boundaries of a domain, bearing

with it the promise that a ruler would always provide fields for his
followers, reduced individual land disputes to an innocuous level and
made territoriality among the quasi-descent groups [ isikolo ] a politi-
cally manageable problem. But a condition of this secular transforma-
tion was a corresponding shift of responsibility in religion from ikikolo
[lineage] to ikilunga [domain and realm]. The improbability of achieving
clean separation between the political and religious levels of collective
concern, which is to be felt even in the least-sacerdotal industrial
societies, is overwhelming in such microcultures as the Kinga or
Pangwa. ‘Ultimate concern’ as a theological concept is sometimes
taken to mean ‘concern for matters transcending the present and
practical’; but if a religion is not concerned with health, religious
concern with life and death is by so much diminished. A religion not
concerned with material security is by so much the less relevant to
the handling of human anxiety. A religion without Angst is one without
its antidote. Obversely, a political system which in the Pangwa or
Kinga contexts commanded only loyalties independent of the
religious would not enjoy much sway. ‡‡

Available sources on the Wanji are not adequate for making a

comparison of their religion with the Pangwa. But a certain light was
thrown on Wanji cultural organization when colonial authorities in the
1950s found that socially disruptive, ‘primitive’ practices persisted.
By 1960 a number of Wanji men and women had been rusticated to a
neighbouring tribal area nearer the Njombe District boma for implica-
tion in a cult (of long standing) which was alleged to prepare garden
medicines laced by soft parts of the human body, collected from
unwilling donors. A segment of the Wanji population had been terror-
ized, according to official information at the boma, by a recrudescent
sodality of homicidal witches, the dreaded wanyambuda. For us the
interest in the affair is that the cultists clearly were not and never
had been politically connected. They were neither established nor
disestablished, sheltered by the secular powers nor condemned. A
cult which was believed to be victimizing the few to benefit the many,
but which itself comprised a non-élite secret society of only a few
members, if it had been found in a properly Kinga domain, would have
signaled a complete breakdown of the Sanga court culture there. Real
or imaginary, we are dealing here with a ‘bush’ institution in such a
case. What had led to the official rustication of the suspected
wanyambuda from uWanji was a series of earnest complaints to the
boma by kinsmen of recent victims. So far as the boma knew, the Wanji
were subject to the Kinga Paramount and shared an identical political
structure. The subtleties of local political difference, the distinction
of a court from a bush culture, had not entered the ken of the colonial

powers. The boma , in short, never supposed that local headmen or
chiefs would have any effective way of coping with such a cult. Yet the
traditional religious practice of the Sanga courts entailed human
sacrifice in behalf of garden medicines, for which the victims were
taken by stealth and violence. The Germans had easily suppressed
this practice through the established (and quickly co-opted) system
of political authority they had found in being. It was a system to
which the doctor-priests were explicitly accountable. It is this nexus
which Wanji and Pangwa specifically lacked.

Both the Wanji belief in the efficacy of living human victims and
the Pangwa belief in maleficence behind bad weather are significant
elements of traditional Kinga religion. There is an as-yet obscured
regional culture pattern of which these are only two particular
facets. But in Kinga society the regional pattern is transformed
through its incorporation into something like a ‘state religion’—having
in mind that the state in question is radically segmentary in form,
and that the phrase should not be made to borrow inappropriate
meaning from the grander contexts in which it has more often been
used. Certain peculiarities of the established religion of the Kinga
emerge from a consideration of the way priests adapted the
medicines of the bush culture for implementing purposes of the
court. I shall discuss this under three headings: gardens, boundaries,
and antidotes.

GARDENS. Fertility rites entailed medicines prepared at the

rain-shrine uluvya and were associated with the crops Kinga consider
to be their oldest. But at the hierachically basic level of Kinga
religious organization, garden ritual was performed without the
uluvya , which we must therefore associate with court culture as such.
While this association does not necessarily imply that rainstones
ing’ala and their special shrines are a late feature of Kinga culture, we
can assume they represent a specialized ritual invention which was
not part of the bush culture but developed and propagated by a
Sanga-established priesthood. It is appropriate to consider first
certain garden rituals as they were described for me at Maliwa, a
Central Realm domain dependent on Ukwama for the benefits of a
rainshrine but governing its own agricultural cycle.

At Maliwa court the avanyivaha are of a nameless lineage whose

members, if required to give a descent group, will call themselves
Sanga. They have always lived right at the court, constituting a
tightly-knit group under the direction of a senior member known
simply as unyivaha . Whereas the untwa [lord] normally remained in his
stockaded compound the unyivaha walked the country representing

the lord’s wishes to the people. The unyivaha was also directly in
command of the avanyakivaga barracksmen. Thus in his compact
domain there was no division of function between secular and religious
commoner-officers. On one level, the priests were the sole mediators
between prince and people. On another level, the priesthood consti-
tuted the executive. If this overstates the case for the importance
of the avanyivaha , it would be in respect to the administration of the
law. The untwa in such a domain was in person court-convener for
hearing civil disputes or sanctioning misdemeanours. But his task
was to preside not decide. Procedure was governed by the assembled
elders, among whom certain priests would be prominent spokesmen.
In the trial of a witch, priests would manage the ordeal and, in the
event, execute the lord’s sentence. A ruler might (but need not) be
strong-willed and directive. The part of the priest must be to comple-
ment the ruler’s personality. But the responsibilities of the
avanyivaha remained very general. the title of unteketsi [officiant at
sacrifice] was thus an understatement of the priest’s role— unyivaha
[big man] was just.

A well-featured grainfield at the court was set aside each year

for the tributary crop of bulrush millet uvupemba which Maliwa would
send to Mwemutsi at Ukwama. The field was called ilyagano lya’nguluve
[field of the primal ancestor] or otherwise ilyagano lya’Mwemutsi the
field consecrated to Mwemutsi. The planting and harvesting of this
field were ritually safeguarded pilot operations, upon whose
successful realization uvupemba gardens throughout the domain
might be planted/harvested with confidence. By 1960 the ritual and
collective discipline associated with this royal garden had been
reduced almost to gesture: in the ‘very, very early morning’ a small
group comprising the oldest men and women of the community would
go out to the royal field and formally go through the motions of
clearing, preparing, and planting a single mound (a very small fraction)
of the millet garden. Then the group would offer beer, and when that
was consumed the unyivaha would announce to the community that
uvupemba was ‘released’ [ ukutavula ] for planting. The royal field by
1960 was actually being tilled by ungovi [collective labour] along with
ordinary fields. What had once been god’s little acre had become the
private care of the surviving unyivaha . Formerly, the ritual and its
safeguards had been considered crucial to the welfare of the domain
and were undertaken with high seriousness. The traditional signifi-
cance of the single mound (which used to be cleared, tilled, and
planted secretly by night) was that the sown seed must actually
sprout before the crop could be released to the people. That is, before
any ordinary uvupemba garden could grow, a manifestly miraculous or

spontaneous growth of uvupemba must be discovered in the sacred
field—a sign. The secret participants were first the avanyivaha them-
selves, to clear; then a few of the oldest women of the court, to sow
and cultivate. When the first sprouts were confirmed the ingalape
[trumpet] of the court was sounded from the hills, calling all the
avapapwa [agnates of the ruling house]—in Maliwa they were settled
at a distance—to bring in a work force to clear and plant the
remaining mounds of the royal garden. All this took place in the
season for starting uvupemba , which is January, in the thick of the

The season for harvesting this crop comes in Maliwa at the

height of the cold-dry season, in August. First the avanyivaha will
harvest the initiatory mound, taking the millet for seed, which will be
kept safe from vermin in a crock in the sacred wood, to be sown
January next. Then the citizens who have tilled the royal garden will
harvest it and carry the grain in isitovu [small measuring baskets
woven of grass] and isidoto [plaited baskets of bushel size] to the
prince at Ukwama. The party will number some fifty men, women, and
maidens—a basket is carried in balance on the head, and this is an art
no man has mastered. The distance is a little over ten kilometres by a
reasonable path. But the procession is not undertaken in the usual
exuberant spirit, as the burdens must never be set down, and
greetings along the way are disallowed. At the prince’s court the
party is rewarded by the gift of a bullock for slaughter and beer
enough for a feast—gifts which are taken back to Maliwa for cele-
brating there. The beast is slaughtered at the house of the unyivaha
charged with keeping the sacred field, and it is he not the untwa who is
the host at the ensuing feast. Throughout the times of clearing,
planting, cultivating, and harvesting the sacred uvupemba the untwa
stays secluded, getting news of the work but shunning any part in it.
The fertility of soil and of a man’s loins do correspond but only as
values which, though equivalent, bear opposite signs. ‡‡

Although I have styled the first sprouting of the secretly-

planted uvupemba of the initiatory hillock as manifestly ‘miraculous’,
Kinga generally attribute the wonder to medicines. This is not to say
they perceive the secret performances of their priests as mechanical
magic, for medicines are not classed as merely inert devices of man.
Medicines are entities of opaque nature, operating in a field imper-
fectly known. Mwambokela, in his account of garden rituals at
Selemba’s capital, the court centre for the Mahanzi domains,
described how the sacred seed eleusine is mixed with medicines from
the uluvya and with beer at the planting:

We say we shall try it to see if all is well. This is the reason for
planting secretly by night. It is later the permission will be given every-
one to start. Anyone who plants before the ritual sowing has suc-
ceeded will get no crop at all. Of course there can be no feasting, as
only we priests [ avateketsi ] are in the know. Between the secret plant-
ing and the appearance of the grain we make only secret sacrifices in
the sacred wood. Each year we have had to prepare new medicine for
the rainshrine, the seed is mixed in and poured out for planting, but
until we see it sprout we dare give no sign to the others. These others
will be saying, ‘Why does the priest not burn the ilyagano ? Why does he
delay so? The rain will come and spoil the fields before they are burnt!’
On his business a priest at this time talks to no one. It is taboo to
greet him on the path. We must complete our reading of the signs and
know that all is well.

In the case of Maliwa the consecrated millet was uvupemba for

the good and practical reason that uvuletsi [eleusine], which all agree
was the original millet of the Kinga people, did not thrive near the
Maliwa court. The other domains of the Central realm, and those
beyond it for which I have information, focus on the ritual cultivation
of eleusine. This exception in the case of Maliwa, together with the
rather variant local customs connected with other crops (roots and
pulses), bespeak both the prevailing localism in Kinga culture and its
tolerance of diversity. Kinga show a sensible resistance to closure in
religious matters. I reckon this as a feature of the philosophical foun-
dation of the Kinga priesthood and its special achievement in building,
on the basis of avowed localism and in face of inveterate enmities, a
cosmopolitan pattern of ritual exchange and cooperation.

The Sanga royal courts were linked by what might be called an

appellate system of sacrifice. Elders at Lupalilo (Northern realm) had
the rule that if local efforts to bring rain were not successful after
three days, a messenger would go to Ukwama (Central realm). There a
day would be planned for a sacrifice which priests from each of the
four realms must attend. Ilevelo, considered as a lesser domain of the
Northern realm and lacking an uluvya [rainshrine], was in a position
relative to Lupalilo (or the former capital Uhugilo) paralleling that of
Maliwa in relation to Ukwama. The belief was that the proper ritual
planting of uvuletsi in the consecrated garden would be sufficient, if
all was well, to bring the rains on at the right time—once the gardens
had been made ready. But where is a community with a persisting
consensus on the weather? There was always ground for anxiety. An
appeal to higher ritual centres was seldom made without the
manifest rationale of settling unrest. Eleusine marks what is func-

tionally the new year, the start of the rains in November, before which
the fields have been cleared, the organic material piled up for drying,
and the fields finally fired. Ritual concern for uvuletsi stands for a
diffuse anxiety about the renewal in nature on which the human
community absolutely depends. Any dramatically convincing proce-
dures for dealing with such public anxiety, provided they filled in the
needed length of time, would have served a clear purpose.

It could be quite wrong to suppose that Kinga thought ritual

was needed to bring the change of seasons. The annual cycle was
conceived to be as natural as the diurnal or the mensual. But the
rains are never quite the same from one year to the next, Kinga kept
no exact calendar, and no agricultural year will ever be without its
tribulations. Disasters were long remembered. A wise man may take a
confident or a pessimistic posture at the new year, but only a fool can
be secure. Garden ritual here is legitimating that confident posture
which tends to smooth a way forward even when crops clearly are in
danger and more is to fear than fear itself. The priest, once he has
claimed special knowledge, knows his vulnerability and the need for
visible ritual.

Semani, an ebullient man with enthusiasm for everything quin-

tessentially Kinga, and an inexhaustible source of magic lore, insisted
on the efficacy of initiatory garden rites. The most ancient Kinga
rootcrop ing’ing’i , which the Germans called ‘original Kinga potatoes’, is
set in long mounds running down a gentle slope, prepared in the dry
season and fired in September. (It looks like an icicle radish and can be
digested raw, but tastes bland.) In the Northern realm such a garden
is the joint enterprise of a local group and comprises a mound or row
for each household participating. Each in turn, following the lead of
the untwa , will sponsor an ungovi [work bee], offering a pot of eleusine
beer. “Even though it is the dry season,” Semani announced, “when the
fire has got to the bottom end of the ruler’s mound, that very day it
will rain. Absolutely.” Semani’s praise of magic reflected as much his
natural salesmanship as his credulity. He was one who preferred to
deal in absolutes where others might hedge. Kinga ritual did not any
more than ours sink or swim on the basis of instant results. Each
level of ritual was thought to be effective in itself, yet known to be
less sure, in face of difficulties, than the next level of appeal.

As root crops are not harvested all at once but kept in their
mounds until needed, there is no celebration or discipline at harvest.
Only in the case of millet is the ruler’s party required to lead each
operation in the cycle—clearing, firing, planting, weeding, harvesting.
At harvest a small calabash of the consecrated grain must first be

taken, brewed, and offered to the forbears of the untwa . But the
general harvest does not wait upon this sacrifice, which is private and
represents the first direct participation of the untwa in the agricul-
tural cycle. The ‘release’ of eleusine for harvesting is accomplished by
the unyivaha . He takes a little pumpkin grown according to traditional
practice, in the same mound with the millet. He cooks this together
with a few ing’ing’i , chews the food and spits it ceremonially in all direc-
tions. The whole community should be assembled for this ceremony,
after which they disperse to their fields for the harvest.

Garden medicine is mixed with the seed in ritual planting, and

commonly consists in eleusine beer [ uvugimbi ] with specially added
ingredients. Privately, garden medicine may be employed in secret to
enrich one’s own crop at the expense of others’. This amounts to
uvuhavi [witchcraft], at least from the point of view of a self-
conceived victim. The fluid medicine amakwego is prepared in secret by
an individual who steals out well beforehand while the gardens are still
in a preparatory stage. He will plant a very small part of his own
garden, mixing his seed together with the medicine and bits of dirt
taken from the neighbouring gardens. Then he (or as it may well be,
she) proceeds ostensibly to till the garden and sow it in the usual
manner. The witchcraft is only to be known later on when it is seen
that among the several equally favoured fields only the one has flour-
ished. After allowing for the fact that the ungovi custom of collective
work on a mutual basis does much, when neighbours are on good
terms, to allay suspicion, a measure of the success of Sanga court
culture is the extent to which priestly garden ritual pre-empted and
supplanted such private efforts to manipulate chthonic forces. The
witchcraft idea belongs to a set of premises which predisposed Kinga
to view private success within the frame of ‘limited good’. Solid
standing as an agent of public trust—what we call ‘office’—alone
bestowed the power to transcend that zero-sum calculus. ‡

Some agricultural societies at a comparable stage of social

evolution develop a form of chiefdom far more tyrannical than Kinga
did, because all power comes to be centred in a single, awe-inspiring
office. The man who alone stands above the envy of his fellows is
transfigured by envy’s little brother, adoration. The standing of the
Kinga priests allowed them to cultivate the use of ritual and
medicine, even medicines entailing human sacrifice, without becoming
hated or adored. Their power to check and balance the princeship was
expressed each time the prince must turn to them on account of
their medicines. The priests must grow the prince’s millet, which in
turn (transformed as beer) is the universal ingredient of all garden

medicine. The prince himself cannot thus beget food and has for
himself no access to medicines. There is no need to invoke economic
determinism to make the point that rain and garden ritual were the
foundation of priestly power. The people’s own livelihood was under-
stood to hinge on the success of a priest in bringing seed to life each
year, and he was not begrudged the powers and immunities which
enabled him to do it. On the other hand, the priest’s own dependence
on medicines for power was well understood; and it was known that
the medicines were too dangerous for a priest to keep on his person
or hide in his hut. Apart from his office and access to the sacred ark,
he was not fearsome.

BOUNDARIES . Medicine is used in three ways in connection with

boundaries: in magical crop-theft, in fortifying a frontier, and in
strengthening warriors to break through such a fortified boundary.
The medicinal preparation amakwego which is used to increase the
yield of your seed at the expense of your neighbours’ is only discov-
ered by its effect. Though the plant sources are not generally known
they are believed to be fairly common. The art is said to be taught to
a child by its mother, with the result that its geographic distribution
is unpredictable. In fact, I found no one willing to cite any local case. I
take it that the real amakwego, if it could be found, would be under-
stood by its owners to be a family charm, a sort of gardener’s
talisman. There are thus two myths, for insiders and outsiders.
Regarded as an outsider myth, the belief in amakwego can be said to
reinforce two motivational patterns: (a) When Kinga are exceptionally
successful in gardening, compared to many neighbours, they will
sense their own vulnerability. Perhaps they will evince especially
friendly feelings toward their neighbours and be careful not to flaunt
their wealth. (b) Though the sense of private property in one’s fields
may be residual when the land is lying fallow, it will become intense and
even jealous when one is deep in the labour and expectation of

I know of no use of protective medicines by private persons to

bound their own fields against natural hazards or amakwego . Stirni-
mann in his thorough study of garden rituals and medicines reports
none from uPangwa. The main expression which throws light on the
actor’s view in this is the verb ukudinda [Pangwa: uxudinda ], which is
used of protection by medicines and rites. The word means to close,
lock, or seal shut. Its converse ukudindula means to open or unlock. The
simplest object would be a box or a house—something with a readily
defensible interior. By extension the word refers to a social circle, a
community. Medicines are known to protect house and family, byre

and herd, country and polity. In all of uKinga I only once saw a field
fenced (against goats), and I think it is generally regarded as imprac-
ticable. A field’s boundaries are ruled, hardly ever naturally given.
There is no bounding substance as there normally is (a stream, a cliff,
a ridge) for a country [ ikilunga ], and the contents of a field, the
objects of value there to be protected, are removable and soon
enough in the normal course of events taken away. ‡

Apart from these cognitive premises there is a complex

strategic calculus. To demand private protection would be to admit
political failure, as if to cry aloud, “Ye/we are all witches here!” The
dependence of Kinga and Pangwa farmers on collective measures of
crop protection, worked on politically bounded territories (isilunga ;
Pangwa inana— sing. lutanana ) not private holdings, seems to be
fundamental. If there was justification, as some still concede, for
Malinowski in treating Trobriand garden ritual entirely under the
rubric of magic, it is because the unit of protection was the private
garden. In the Pangwa case, gardens are protected by medicines which
seal the collective lutanana boundaries against hunger, pestilence, and
disease. While persons not of the proprietary lineage may not take
the principal roles in these extensive rites, they are manifest partici-
pants and beneficiaries. This means that the rites only provide
protection against outsiders, and outsiders not in the restricted
sense of lineage strangers but in the territorial sense of persons not
enclosed by the protective boundaries of the polity as and when
ritually drawn. Here, in a form which would have warmed the heart of
Professor Lowie, who found it lurking in unexpected places, is the
territorial tie at the heart of the political. But since boundary rites
and medicines must treat the polity as integral they do not protect a
person from near neighbours—from witchcraft [ uvuhavi in both
languages] or the antisocial use of medicines [Pangwa: uvukanga ].
These are threats internal to the polity. ‡‡

The management and control of dissension is the generic

project of politics. But when a grievance system encodes transgres-
sions in mystical terms, trouble cannot be brought to the surface
without breaking the communion from which religious ritual takes its
strength. The inner circle to which, when that break takes place, a
person must fall back for support may be little more than a fragmen-
tary kin group whose boundaries are ill-defined. The Nyakyusa hold
that “quarreling weakens medicines of all sorts and renders them
ineffective.” In consequence, to restore the supposed source of their
collective security, they must be prepared to banish an individual
offender, whatever ties of kinship and amity need be broken to do it.

Their political struggle is to maintain amity in the village and
chiefdom. Quarreling is distinguished from warring by just those
boundaries. The use of medicines in quarreling leaves the parties
stripped of the protective clothing the priests’ medicines weave. The
Kinga case is in some measure parallel: a condition of grace is achieved
for everyone or for no one. But the differences among these three
neighbouring societies are also deep. ‡‡

This may be the proper place to draw a lesson from a fact we

have learnt from the case of Mwakanema of Ukwama, that in a power
struggle having resort to uvuhavi a Kinga royal who is conceived to
have lost all his offspring and all his wives, until he is left standing
alone, can be seen by his neighbours under the sharp light of poetic
justice. Not many Kinga men have or aspire to have compound families.
A man who deliberately sets out to build one for himself will be seen
as expanding his social presence and probably as gaining political
weight and aspiration in the process. It will not be surprising to see
him coming into conflict with established power. But in the traditional
culture of the Nyakyusa, domestic expansion is the normative moral
strategy for every successful man in his later life: polygyny is the
rule, and lends a man both wealth and power. Africa offers many
examples of this dispensation, but also many of the quite different
pattern which Stirnimann describes for the Pangwa. The ‘local
descent group’ [ lutanana ] there is described as a veritable Gemein-
schaft in which “political relations quite broadly coincided with kinship
relations.” The Mwakanema tale fits neither of these neighbour
cultures of the Kinga. Pangwa are seen to have a system which offers
only the possibility of schism, the hiving off of a minor kinship
segment, as a solution to internal strife. Nyakyusa, like the ancient
Greeks, offer only banishment to the man who will set himself against
the general will. If Kinga once were bound (as Pangwa are in the picture
they gave Stirnimann of their tradition) to a comparatively rigid
descent-group structure, the measure of internal mobility intro-
duced by the Sanga transformation must be judged to have made a
striking difference. From a sheerly theoretical point of view it is
worth exploring. Nyakyusa and Kinga polities are alike in building their
expansion only secondarily on predation beyond their outermost
boundaries, primarily on warlike segmentary opposition within those
‘tribal’ boundaries. Pangwa, true to the more pacifist norms of the
region’s bush culture, suppose that survival depends on keeping within
the boundaries meant to protect one’s own kind. ‡‡

While we can’t be sure that Kinga bush culture had developed as

full a system of local-territorial protection as Stirnimann reports

from uPangwa, it is not unlikely. No human community is actually as
inflexible as its own tradition paints it—Kinga could still see them-
selves as a kinship society in 1960. A seminal feature of the Sanga
court culture was the achievement of balance between prince and
priest, such that each might embody a separate principle. The Pangwa
mkoyo is lineage headman, active as a work leader and (presumably) in
the past as warrior, while at the same time he is the highest
authority on religious matters:

They see no contradiction, either, if the mkoyo of the lutanana, who is

always the main officiant in the making of sacrifice, performs the duties of
head medicine-man for the precincts of the lutanana and plays a leading role
in the rituals of protection. In both functions he is serving the whole
lutanana, both are to be traced back to the Founder, and on these functions
depend the social rank, the prestige of the “great elder”. ‡

It is a consequence of the combination of this universalism

(with reference to internal relations of the descent group) and the
particularism of descent itself that the one political boundary in
uPangwa is that of the localized and so-called agnatic group:

Mkoyo Ndumilila of Lihanjo vehemently repudiated the request that he

make a common sacrifice for rain with the neighbouring lutanana Macheke:
“How could I, the mkoyo of Mvanga group, sacrifice to the fathers of the
Macheke? They know nothing of me. I am not their child! You can recite
prayers at sacrifice only to your own ancestors.” The idea of a universal
power of the mahoxa [ancestors], which could extend beyond the precincts
of the lutanana, is wholly foreign to Pangwa religion. ‡

Pangwa share with Kinga the ingimo (Pangwa: ing’imo, a plural

form) medicine of defiance. The mixture is kept in an iron rod whose
length is from a man’s elbow to his opposite palm, arms outstretched,
and into the top of which has been fashioned a small medicine horn.
The peculiarity of the instrument is that the celebrant can blow
medicine from it while it is firmly thrust into the ground at a
boundary. Though Kinga use the ingimo in war, they compare it to a
woman’s walking stick not a spear. The horn is blown in the manner of a
panpipe, producing a sensible vapour. Pangwa conceive the rod to have
quite general protective powers because the medicine [ilihomelo ] will
spread darkness in the way of an approaching storm, a swarm of
locusts, epidemic illness, or a human enemy. ‡

Kinga, though they favoured the view that major tribulations

were sent by Lwembe and required propitiatory action, also had faith
in the use of magical weaponry against any sort of threat from
without. Their ingimo, however, was pre-eminently the one set aside
for war, ingimo ija’ligoha . Tunginiye made careful inquiries at Ukwama,

finding that this rod with its medicines was kept in a proper storage
vessel in the sacred grove, under the keeping of a specially-recruited
warrior-priest. This man must have proven himself first in war as
untenzi [hero] and only then might be selected by the avanyivaha to be
apprenticed in the new calling. The major rule was avoiding contact
with the ingimo while in a sexually soiled condition. For the Kinga this
meant the prince, whose destiny was never to escape that condition,
must have nothing to do with the very medicine horn by which, as all
were convinced, his hold on power was maintained. It is thus the power
balance was struck.

In war between realms one ingimo inevitably must be pitched

against another, the relative virtues of their compound medicines
being measured by the result. “We have advanced our ingimo to the
farther stream!”—such would be the claims. Yet the warrior-priest
who carried the medicine is pictured as keeping well to the rear of the
fighters, one hand ever covering the medicine for fear of mischief. In a
well-prepared war defensive boundaries will have been drawn during
the night by priests on either side. Kyelelo (I) Ntowanilo is said to
have suffered his one ignominious defeat (and a grueling night in a
Mahanzi woman’s millet bin) because he neglected to prepare his
ritual defenses. He was overconfident. But at the battle of Iboma
everyone saw how one ingimo can overpower another. Iboma was a
sparsely settled area of Mahanzi farmers into which Kyelelo (II)
Ndunginiye (or as some say, his father) moved to establish a
stockaded village. He was attacked by Vululile, who saw his own
medicines overpowered and was driven back. Vululile’s warrior-priest
Kyakunzi himself unwittingly crossed Kyelelo’s magical boundary and
was killed. The reason for the priest’s confusion was possibly that he
failed to define the territory he was entering as enemy-held,
regarding it as traditional Mahanzi country in which Kyelelo’s
medicines could have no power. The general verdict after the fact was
that he had miscalculated. Kyelelo had proved his strength. Vululile
did not challenge him there again, though Mahanzi even in 1960 could
still talk of their ‘captive’ compatriots at Iboma.

The importance of the ingimo transcends that of the virtue

medicines ingimo [plural form] used to prepare warriors for battle.
These medicines were dispensed from an elephant tusk before a party
was to set out from the court, the concentrate being infused in beer.
This custom was not diagnostically Sanga. Mahanzi war medicines
were also kept in an ivory horn which they called ingimo and which did
not have a Kinga origin. But the same medicines (occasionally with
new-found additives) were employed by Kinga priests to achieve the

clear definition of jurisdictional boundaries. Ritual sanctions here
extend beyond the scope of the jural. The case of Iboma illustrates
the operative principle. If the claims of the two sides are found to
overlap, only the outcome of battle can be decisive. So war has
become a superlative act of divination. Ordinarily the strategy of
each side was to advance its claims only with great caution. The
result of this was that warfare could be pursued within a sparsely
settled noman’s land, rarely spilling over the inner lines of defense
drawn by the priests. These lines, if long established, would be marked
by tall stones placed at each turning point to commemorate an
occasion on which the priests of both sides had assembled to settle
a boundary under dispute. Each realm and domain remained, in keeping
with the general pattern of the segmentary state, open or ill-defined
as to boundary in any direction in which a chronic war policy was not
maintained. This provided avenues of peaceful expansion through
gradually more intensive settlement, backed by demonstrable power.
Another source of flexibility was the expectation that when a reigning
prince died his successor might choose to repudiate old agreements.
It was the calling of the priest to make boundaries and perhaps by
protecting the new prince tame him. But the priest’s calling was not
to make the peace. He was only the broker, though not without influ-

ANTIDOTES. Poison [ unkali ] and antidote [ ikivyuka ] feature in

private and in public life. In the traditional culture the favoured expla-
nation for internal pain (of the sort I would ascribe to gastric
disorder) was intentional poisoning. The experience of pain, evoking
this diagnosis, was the more probable with advancing age and among
men, who consume far more beer than women and are less regular in
working it off. From the surface facts it seems that Kinga culture
exhibits the same radical irony so noticeable in the social use of
alcohol the world around, the manifest vehicle of good fellowship
becoming the great source of dissension, magnified hostility, and
Angst. What is characteristically Kinga, though, is that conflict
should not explode but implode. Fantasies of victimization, attrib-
uting secret power to others, are preferred to fantasies of self-
importance. The dramatic meaning laid on Kinga princeship is not
wholly heroic. The prince is also victim. The medicines prepared for him
by the priests feed both personae.

The ordinary Kinga word for medicine [ untuguva ] may apply to

healing or to otherwise active substances. It is untuguva you want to
regain your potency or trap the affections of a maiden who will not
notice you. The same category applies to those grotesque mail-order

wares from Johannesburg which are powerful enough to cause a man
to conceive a passion for his own mother or sister, or which may be
used to hang-up an adulterer like a dog so that the husband must be
called to release him. It was a particular untuguva which enabled
certain avahavi [wizards] in the past to appear in two distant places
on the same day. Untuguva translates the Swahili dawa .

The word ikingila is reserved for medicines of royal power, isingila

sya’vutwa . Their purpose is fortifying and preventive. They are not
cures, and the prince is not perceived as a healer—his person is
dangerous. He is regarded as the natural object of hostility, if only
because other men of power envy his wealth; and at the same time his
well-being is thought to be essential to that of his people. In partic-
ular his continued sexual potency and the fertility of his wives are
concerns of the people. His domestic life is a microcosm of the
realm’s. At Ukwama it is said that the medicines [isingila ] used to be
mixed in the skullcap of the Founder, Kilimba. I got two recipes and
offer a composite, which I assume to have at least suggestive

one small, jet black pebble [ ikisi ]
one matching pure white pebble [ulutondwe “star”]
a bit of crocodile skin, dried
one leopard testicle, dried
a quantity of leopard brain, dried
a quantity of python faeces, dried
other ingredients unspecified

The fact that I could be told these ingredients reflects the

priest’s understanding that none of the medicines is truly potent in
itself. The power is emergent. The effective operation was the mixing,
or compounding, about which I know little. All the component
medicines were ground to powder and made into a paste which was
compressed in a bamboo mortar with the oil of black castor beans,
the preparation being kept in a small calabash [ ikidili ] in the sacred
wood. Of the ritual associated I know nothing. Since the operation
was the collective responsibility of the avanyivaha of the pertinent
domain or realm, and supposing they would be glad of any such means
for solemnizing their estate, I assume it was dramatically performed
and followed a suitably esoteric script.

The category isingila is extended to the medicines of a different
sort kept in a horn or tusk [ ulusuga ] beside the calabash. These are
medicines of power not protective antidotes, and are meant to
energize the prince. The power they generate is that of fearsomeness
not fertility, yet I was assured the medicines of the ingimo ija’ligoha
[iron horn of war] were quite distinct. The isingila sya’vutwa are
brought to the prince first at his inauguration. The priest says,
“ Let’untuguva ugulimungata ndusuga lwa’tsungwa n’ugulimungata munkidili.
Munywese . [(My helper,) fetch the medicine kept in the antelope horn
from the special crock, and the medicine kept in the calabash. (My
prince,) you are to drink.]” Thereafter whenever the prince feels indis-
posed, or when he dreams of being bewitched, he will call for the same
medicines. Even in the best of times the priests will bring them twice
a month to maintain, especially, the prince’s immunity from the witch-
craft of his brothers, who are known to covet his power. Alye isingila
syoloso— they repeat the formula: He has taken all the medicines. He
is secure. Actually keeping the prince fearsome seems (from this) to
have been a secondary concern.

The special protective medicines of the princeship are shared

with the umwehe umbaha [great wife] of the prince, for she has a
central role in the garden ritual. But the particular mix of the ulusuga
[for fearsomeness] seems not to have been shared either with her or
with the warriors. Still, many of the same ingredients were used in
preparing the warriors’ drinking horn. Even the python and leopard
medicines may not have been absolutely reserved for the isingila at all
the courts. The horn or tusk [ ingimo ], required to strengthen and
protect men in battle, was necessarily the possession of every untwa
[lord of a domain]. The horn would be in the keeping of priests not the
ruler himself, and the potion made from its medicine was to be drunk
by each of the assembled warriors on the morning of battle. The
medicine is classed as ikivyuka [antidote] because it is wanted not for
giving a man bravery, which is a moral quality he would not be without,
but to protect him from the medicines of the enemy, whose perni-
cious effect could be to blind him or steal or paralyse his native
courage—give him a dose of ersatz cowardice. Elders at Lupalilo said
only their “big twenty” chosen heroes were given the war potion.
Priests took beer into the ulusuva [small, leatherbound calabash]
consecrated to this purpose, mixing in a very small quantity of the
ingimo paste. In addition, the untenzi [hero] who wears the ulwanzisi
[otterskin crown] in battle will be fortified by the same medicine
rubbed into its inner surface.

Mwemutsi (XII) Suluali told Tunginiye about the specific effect

of leopard medicines. I translate Tunginiye’s Swahili original:

The leopard is sacred because when it is killed the ritual specialists of

the court must flay it with care, the skin being used to enthrone the ruler
on the day of his inauguration. Further the brain matter must be removed
from the cranium, for it is to be mixed with various royal medicines which are
for the ruler’s exclusive consumption. Should it happen one day that
someone provokes the ruler to anger he will roar savagely. That is when
people say, “Ilelo unkuludeva amapigi gapikitwike, inogwa ukubuda umunu.” The
meaning is, “Today the prince’s fearsomeness has been aroused, he wants
someone to kill.”

This legitimation of the leopard’s powers in the person of the

Sanga prince has to be understood in light of a bush culture belief in
were-leopards, witches able to assume the form of a leopard and prey
upon their victims directly, and wizards able to attract rogue males
to a victim’s homestead by insinuating there some medicines made
from the glands of a leopard female. Beliefs of this kind are general to
the regional culture and help to explain the jealousy with which Kinga
princes insisted on their monopoly right to leopards killed within the
realm. It was pre-eminently this monopoly which gave the Sanga
régime its regal trappings, and in turn on the level of public symbolism
served to distinguish court from bush politics. Without its special
medicines of power, it was said, the court’s authority would be lost,
and society would revert to the relative anarchy prevailing at the
margins of the Kinga world

Mwanadyo, umpapwa [royal spokesman] of the Northern realm,

considered that the most important medicine of the priests was
ikivyuka [an antidote to divisiveness]. Success in war, he argued, was a
function of the solidarity of one’s own people. Yet internal division
always threatened. It was the major task of the avanyivaha of Uhugilo
to travel the realm making peace within the isikolo [kin settlement
groups]. The quarrels they must resolve were those among intimates,
not to be expressed legitimately in outright fighting. The medicine,
infused in a special calabash of beer, was taken by the priest into his
mouth, then spat upon any who had been party to a quarrel. The whole
calabash must be drained, and even the ruler, lord or prince, who had
been embroiled in a dispute must submit. The rite was conducted in
public even when it was the prince himself who had fought with a wife.
It appears in this account that priests possessed a specific cure for
ing’ani [dissension], though I can’t be certain when they would have
turned away from this ‘psychiatric’ approach and more aggressively
blamed internal strife on witchcraft or the malevolent use of
medicine. Can an antidote [ ikivyuka ] be required to counter a danger

inherent in human nature itself? I think it more likely this rite was
conceived as a cleansing and protecting act, perhaps even a sort of
absolution. But I was not skilful enough with either Swahili or ikiKinga
to engage Mwanadyo and his elders on the point, and Tunginiye (who
was so quick to draw the right Swahili expressions from me) was not
at hand.

Similar questions about the nature of medicines and antidotes

emerge from the use of medicines against disease, where the disease
principle is directly addressed by the priest, quite in the manner a
daimon [ unguluve ] may be addressed. Sunguluma, who was in 1960 the
long established untwa of Bulongwa domain in the Western realm, said
it was the business of the priests to visit any settlement troubled
by deaths or disease and cleanse both place and people by cooking up
a special medicine. The cooking pot was a large one, so big one arm
would not span it, and was set up at the crossing of two paths
outside the affected community. Each resident must bring seed, and
this was cast into the boiling mix. When it was ready all must drink of
it. A priest would take a leafy branch to sprinkle them as well. House-
holders would bring little calabashes to carry broth home to the chil-
dren’s houses. The officiant poured the same medicine out along the
paths away from the settlement, commanding that the troublesome
disease take itself elsewhere. “Go to uPangwa!” or “Go to uWanji!”

In this Sunguluma pictured the priests as mere servants of the

community, obedient to its untwa . He was disinclined to attribute
them special powers apart from their medicines and formulae. But
this is neither the common view nor the priest’s own. The medicines
correspond to valuable knowledge, and priestly utterances carry
authority. We must put Sunguluma down as beholden to the new,
secular dispensation under which he held power, and no longer to a set
of pagan priests. I see no reason to suppose that in olden days they
were mere midwives to the action of their medicines. Still I am left
with a question: Were Kinga medicines enlisted to combat anti-life
forces of the same order (i.e., natural compounds) or was the disease
principle thought to have inherent intelligence—malevolence? The logic
of the rituals, so far as I have grasped their meaning, is consistent
with the view that diseases are, like locusts, animate but limited
beings. Gods, having special knowledge, can manipulate them to men’s
harm, and men should try to protect themselves in like manner, by
godlike means.

Stirnimann’s Mapanga informants (who regard themselves of

Tweve lineage, which is important in the Eastern Kinga realm as well as
in uPangwa) show that medicines, though contributing to the show of

authority with which a priest can address disease, do not themselves
attack it. They are used to repair a circle of defense behind which the
subject community is to find shelter. As Sunguluma’s officiants bade
the troubling disease go to uPangwa, their Mapanga cousins bid
theirs go to uKinga. That is, the disease like a visible cloud of locusts
could be fought off by sealing one’s boundaries against it. This makes
it clear how a single ritual, albeit employing many and compound medi-
cines, can protect a community against pestilence, plague (or disease
of any sort), and human enemies as well. In the rite of ‘sealing the
country’ [Pangwa: xudinda umlima ] there is indeed use of the medicine
ukwavusiki which casts a veil of darkness before an enemy’s eyes “so
that he must turn back.” But this need not imply an anthropomorphic
(over, say, an acridomorp h ic) notion of the enemy. In the rite, ukwa-
vusiki is used untactically, without the pretense of an active threat.
This medicine like the others repairs and strengthens a boundary. The
aim is intactness, defense not counter-attack.

Monica Wilson writes of Nyakyusa political-ritual ideas:

The shades, medicines, and witchcraft are distinguished and are

thought to operate independently, but they are all manifestations of a
mystical power which is logically one, though none of our informants saw it
as that. ‡

That is, the web of religious thought has no obvious seams. I

believe the logical connection between medicine and witchcraft or
ghosthood is less than identity, all the same, whether in Nyakyusa or
Kinga culture. I find no evidence that protective medicine can be
simply used to neutralize the working of an opponent’s destructive
medicine. Ghosts manipulate the world in a manner men (even when
armed with sophisticated medicines) cannot. Medicine among the
Nyakyusa as among the Kinga can be used to confer immunity on a
man. We see this particularly in the protective medicines (K: isingila ;
Nyakyusa: ifingila ) of the rulers. The same medicines confer special
transitive powers as well. Throughout Southwestern Tanganyika
medicines, local or imported, are employed in divining, exacting venge-
ance, releasing fertility, and enhancing the chance of success in a
variety of private undertakings. In Nyakyusa thought there is identity
between the medicines of chiefly power and witchcraft, as the case of
Mwaipopo and Mandala shows. But the effect of the medicine is to
give the possessor new powers, not to effect tangible changes in his
relations with others. For his acts of will it is he and not the medicine
which is accountable. While Kinga like Nyakyusa surely “regard
medicines as an ultimate source of power” able to help a man accom-
plish anything other men have done, the important consequence of

this belief is its effect on the supposed distribution of power among
men, and the moves by which a balance may be changed. Medicines are
manipulable. Power achieved by their means is never more secure than
conspiracies through which the secret lore of making it was acquired.
Bought medicines, disingenuously used, are known to turn back on the
buyer. In a radical sense power of this sort is political. ‡

There is not a great distance between the principle that power

is known by its visible fruits and the principle that might makes right,
but they are nonetheless obverse principles. Visiting Kinga priests
told Kasitile, the Nyakyusa ritual specialist, that he was ailing
because “they had not given him medicine,” and that in turn was on
account of a moral fault. This calculus makes power a volatile product
because the significance of any move depends on its reception by
others, which in turn will sensitively reflect a community’s actual
political structure. Mwaipopo was able to make a scapegoat of
Mandala because he could pretend the commoner, having arrogated
chiefly medicines to private use, was an actual threat to constituted
authority. Kyelelo (I) Ndunginiye was able to inaugurate himself in
place of his elder brother Lugendile (referred to earlier) because the
medicines of power were left unguarded, and the fait accompli was
accepted because the brother, being thought ungenerous, was unpop-
ular. If medicines could confer a fabulous power limited only by their
inherent nature, duels of witches would not be restricted to the
throwing of fireballs, fleetingly witnessed by night. Medicine men
would be rich and powerful, having no need of stealth. If antidotes
acted ‘chemically’ on the magical poison itself, the witch would not
have to be found out, made to confess and neutralize the magic, or be
killed. Ancestors would not have to be implored to guard boundaries
already sealed by ritually buried powders and fabulous ointments. It
is because medicines do not transcend society as they may be seen
to transcend nature that they can at once be “an ultimate source of
power” and a force for order. ‡

Stirnimann presents the symbolism of Pangwa medicines and

ritual as a subsurface system of meanings: rain, fertility, the male
and female sex organs, and sexual congress are each represented by
any of the things or acts on a substantial list. The five lists Stirni-
mann gives are his own, corroborated by his analysis of contexts of
use. Monica Wilson found that the meaning of Nyakyusa ritual
symbolism was mainly explicit. In 1935 the whole catalogue of tradi-
tional rituals survived and “formed a coherent system” in which older
participants were “conscious, in greater or lesser degree, of the
symbolism implicit in the actions they performed.” Concerning

medicines and their meaning the anthropologist was able to conclude
that, apart from certain quite practical pharmaceutical items, “the
imagination of doctors works within the general symbolic system.” If
we allow Pangwa and Nyakyusa to represent the ends of a scale, Kinga
culture falls fairly between. ‡

Pangwa ritual specialists are home grown, schooled only by

apprenticeship. Beyond the lutanana community of some few hundred
souls there is no ritual cooperation and no likelihood of developing an
exoteric symbolism. Nyakyusa ritual, on the other hand, has evolved in
a society which is a model of multiplex social structure. Although
kinship is not a basis of settlement, rituals of kinship constitute a
major emphasis. Although the political units are forever splitting and
moving, communal rituals are equally important. Ritual serves the
recruitment and intensification of loyalties, but to do so ritual
requires a style of high communicability. The Kinga priest enjoyed an
ambience others of his domain, even the ruler, did not. The schooling of
a priest, through ritual cooperation within the domain and realm, and
through the common participation of priests in the cult of Lwembe
imposing a sojourn in Nyakyusaland, tended to generate a common
but esoteric language of ritual and medicine. For Kinga culture,
loyalties were not split between locality and kingroup. A ceremonial
centre pattern based on chiefly redistribution of meat and beer, on
massed war games, dance, and war itself, provided a sufficient
project to give order to this court life, and exoteric ritual was not
required. What was required was that the priesthood, having to
function as a kind of proto-bureaucracy, be known for its substantial
monopoly on medicines of special power. This the Kinga priests were
able to assure for themselves. ‡

If there is any one explanation for the success of the Sanga

courts in combining so much voluntarism with so much central direc-
tion, it would be the effective way the priests went about their
business. It is their rhetoric which builds the ritual drama, assigns
particular values to the great variety of medicines and gear which are
counters in the Kinga security game, and so lays down the symbolic
infrastructure on which the collective life of the community, a life of
events, will take its ephemeral forms.


The Paranoid Prince

Managing Social Danger

The management of a prince began with his inauguration to
office. However successful the avanyivaha may have been with their
coaching of his predecessor, they were starting over again with a new
champion in hand. The narratives of the two Kyelelos and Vululile
during the formative history of the Western realm show us princes
who personally dominated their domains, commanding the direct,
personal loyalty of substantial military followings, and running free of
whatever cautionary warnings their avanyivaha might have had in mind
for them. If you were to compare the Kinga polity, as represented by
Kyelelo’s precontact Western realm, to the ideal type of ‘African
despotism’ put forward by G. P. Murdock in his Africa , you would find
the Kinga conforming on at least a dozen of Murdock’s eighteen diag-
nostic criteria. Yet the stabilized Sanga realm as we find it in Ukwama
or Uhugilo, Central and Northern realms, was deeply un-despotic. All
the earmarks Murdock lists—the absolutism, the regalia and
protocol, the ritual isolation of the ruler, the court functionaries, the
royal women—are there on the surface to be observed, but the deeper
quality of the political life has been tempered by the countervailing
position of the avanyivaha , and by the persistence among the people
of all the traits Murdock has earlier listed as earmarks of a quite
different style, the “primitive democracy” he finds typical of African
bush cultures. Armchair taxonomic ventures seldom appeal to
anthropologists whose work has taken them close to the complexi-
ties of life in any particular ethnographic region, but this is a problem
inherent in the project of the social sciences. It is worth asking how
the ‘taming of the African despot’ was managed in the Sanga case, if
only because its untamed version is so much more prominent in the
annals of pre- and now post-colonial history. It is a matter of hard
and soft, direct and indirect politics. ‡‡

The power of a prince, taking that word in its sociological sense,
was in good part a function of his personality and stage of life. The
ministrations of the avanyivaha [the professional group at a court,
which I usually tag as ‘priests’] created a path of least resistance, a
sanctioned role, which in the long run incumbents must have seen fit
to follow. A prince was continuously plied with beer by day and women
by night. He was not encouraged to hold public court in person but to
deal with the realm’s affairs remotely, from within his stockade,
through functionaries. Unless he was personally attracted to the
public life he would come to be seldom seen by the people, a mythical
as much as an actual presence, becoming in his later years a true
recluse. Custom has it that on the occasion of his actual death the
people would be called to the capital for an extraordinary month of
feasting and dance. No one, they say, need call attention to the
prince’s absence—let the myth live on. Even Kyelelo (I) Ntowanilo
seems to have become something of a figurehead in his later years.
But though the institution patterned and invited a certain
demeanour no one was in position to command it. The man who was
expected to succeed to a princely throne [ ikinya’lwangula ] was known
as unkinga ; but the title was bestowed on a nominal heir only as it was
earned. He must prove himself untenzi a leader in war, a man favoured
(to use an un-Kinga phrasing) by the gods. An eldest son unable to
shine above his brothers knew his risk, and the actual inauguration
was therefore a personal triumph, as the case of Lugendile “the
cheated” and Kyelelo (II) Ndunginiye makes plain. The transformation
of such a man into royal recluse could never have been immediate. The
history of any reign would have depended much upon persons at court
but also upon the relative importance of human and natural threats
to well-being, and on the security of the court’s leadership position
as pre-eminent among the domains of the realm. Thus Ukwama, in the
history we have, appears more secure in the Central realm than
Uhugilo in the Northern; the power struggle in the Western realm was
cut short by the Germans’ arrival, and the history of the Eastern
realm was all but obliterated by their askaris during the Maji Maji
suppression in 1905.

The fearsomeness of a prince might be fashioned into an

effective instrument of authority, attractive to men, as it was in
1960 by Sangilino of Lupila domain in the East. Or the same quality
differently framed in public perceptions of a prince, might prove
unpredictable, divisive, even politically counter-productive as
happened during the foreshortened reign of Mwalukisa (II) Wikemana
in the North. In the West, the two Kyelelos had before contact
attracted to their domains a greater share of the broad realm’s

population than ecology would have allotted them. They were fear-
somely attractive both to their people and to the German adminis-
tration. Kyelelo (IV) Padili, whom I knew, had been deemed
exceptionally able in his youth and in the early years of office, but had
(as both British and Independent régimes perceived him) tended
gradually to withdraw, spending more time with a few close
supporters, travelling less, preoccupied with beer and the other
furnishings of high office. But he was still young when the office was
revoked by the Independent government, and the personal change
proved reversible. He came back very much on personal merits,
showing himself to be bright, communicative, and a rather less
devious politician than his erstwhile advisers.

The role to which a prince without great personal strength

would accede in the traditional culture can properly be described as
paranoid. The fortnightly administration of antidotes was premised
on an unrelenting danger of witchcraft and poison attacks. As the
avanyivaha viewed the matter, the good prince could trust no one
outside the inner circle of the court. Even family and favourites must
be suspect. Kipole, who succeeded Mwemutsi (X) Nyanzululu as regent
at Ukwama (Central realm), had been his favourite daughter, yet it
was generally theorized she had laced his beer with poison, being set
on by an embittered mother, the chief wife, who had got the unkali
[poison] at the court of her own father Kyelelo, prince and perpetual
‘brother’ of Mwemutsi, at Ihanga (Western realm). Nyanzululu died
without warning illness while his heir was still a boy, shortly after the
first contacts with Berlin missionaries. Matching the prince’s private
fears was the public fear of his person, serving to isolate him from
ordinary social contacts. Court etiquette defined the prince and his
household, particularly his wives, as dangerous to the common folk by
reason of inherent qualities, magnified by the medicines called isingila .
The qualitative gulf between royals and commoners was projected
mainly as rank distance, easily stabilized by institutional norms; but
for the prince personally there was the fearsomeness [ amapigi ] to
maintain, and the need to keep up a mystique of sexual fertility as
well—matters less easily routinized. A sexually active, perfectly
potent man who has a few unhealthy or infertile wives, or who loses
small children to epidemic disease, has begun to lose the mantle of
sexual adequacy. The linking of rank and fearsomeness to fertility
made the royal privilege a troublesome burden.

Tunginiye learned that priests could supply no medicine for

infertility or impotence. In this the prince was like another man. The
reputed restorative for declining fertility in a male is called untuguva

ugwa’nyengela [medicine of the rebrewing], a metaphorical reference to
the custom of rebrewing beer by adding new hot water to release
fresh strength from the solids at the bottom of a crock. The prince
must send to a private herbalist for such a cure, of which the ingredi-
ents remain trade secrets unknown to the priests. A prince whose
fertility failed in fact would face the probability that the avanyivaha
would conspire to send a younger brother in secret into the royal
harem. In view of that, I think the loss of fertility must have seemed
more than ordinarily threatening to a prince, as his brother would be
the man before all others with whom he had avoided intimate contact
since taking office. A prince dare never share a meal with a brother for
fear of predictable malice.

The prince’s plight stands out sharply when seen in its cultural
context. Unguvu, a commoner, acquired a young wife. He was rich, and
the girl’s father had initiated the match with an eye to a fair
bridewealth. A few weeks after moving to her new community the girl
composed a song which she began to sing in the fields with her new
women friends, “You look upon a married woman, but she might as well
still be living with her father!” Unguvu was moved to approach his son
Kivuke to take the girl in secret to prevent her running off. Otherwise
he would have had to send her to a stranger, admitting his failure, so
as to recoup the bridewealth. Kivuke sired three children for Unguvu,
then inherited the woman and sired three of his own. It is said Unguvu
would not have chosen a son, had he only a younger brother (by his own
mother), for brothers are close. People even expect they may quietly
share a wife. It is only a prince who must fear his own. Like his
unalloyed heterosexuality, gnawing distrust of his own brother marks
the powerful throne with paradox.

Once it is established that a ruler’s sexual powers are wasted

the priests will begin to talk of succession. “The royal house must
continue to grow.” But the prince need not die. At least in theory, as
given to me and to Tunginiye, an aged ruler might retire to a shadowy
existence with the eldest of his wives. It is clear that the elder
Kyelelo (I) passed over the sword to his son, retiring from rule of the
realm in this manner. The prince at Ukwama was primus inter pares only,
not a divine king and not therefore by law put to death when failing.
There is no relevant case of senility among the recent reigns at
Ukwama or Uhugilo, Central and Northern realms. Those royal wives
not past child-rearing may not follow a retiring unkuludeva , though
some might choose to go to his brothers—we see him here retiring to
what we might call ‘civilian’ status.

The heir, unkinga , long since turned out of the royal enclosure as

a potential rival, on his accession becomes its owner and takes over
the royal herds. He will invite the royal women (excepting any who
trace descent cognatically, as his mother’s sister would, from one of
his own great grandfathers) to style themselves as wife to him
instead of mother. As with a commoner’s widows, a wife who finds no
one suitable ‘within the house’ is free to go outside, a suitable
bridewealth being payable to the young heir. He will shortly be taking
more wives of his own, among them the chief wife [ umwehe umbaha ]
who is to bear him his own eventual successor. But until his accession
to rule, probably in what we call middle age, the unkinga lives with many
companions in the royal ikivaga . His fall from bachelorhood is precipi-

Kinga men generally consider there can be no compromise with a

woman’s sexual needs. When a child has been weaned, the mother’s
need for erotic consummation is aroused like that of a new wife.
Forgetting the troubles of pregnancy and the pain of parturition, she
wants intercourse and pregnancy as one end. This private intensity
will not lapse until her fertility is gone, and her claims on a man with it.
The intensity of a woman’s need is reinforced, if not instigated, by her
doctrine that the probability of impregnation is a function of the
cumulative frequency of intercourse had before a night’s sleep. The
same belief fires her sense of moral indignation toward a husband
unable to perform to the standard implied. Older men may find
keeping a young wife a fair challenge, but when they can no longer
meet it they must expect, with or without regret, the cohabitation
will end. An older man whose spouse has reached the age of infertility
is often content to have an honourable end to their sexual relations.
The duty of mutual service otherwise is retained, though the under-
lying self-reliance of men and women in the traditional culture is
expressed in the custom of domestic separation. If a prince were an
ordinary man, his retirement in advanced age to an inconspicuous life,
ending all erotic ties to women, would be in no way remarkable.

A sufficient reason is usually given why the classic ‘divine king’

of an African state is not allowed to step down when declining bodily
vigour renders him unfit. He comprises a natural symbol of national
well-being. A closer look at the relation between Mwemutsi and
Lwembe, the mortal unkuludeva and the immortal daimon who inhabits
one mortal priest-king’s body after another, can help to discover
some of the meanings which are packed into the classic institution.
From the Kinga viewpoint, the Lwembe site or sacred grove at Lubaga
in Nyakyusaland is an external shrine, but the incumbent Lwembe, heir
to the perpetual office there, is a Nyakyusa priest. The daimon who

has elected to enter his body is/was a Kinga royal whose powers were
greater than those of the court priests [ avanyivaha ] at Ukwama
where he was born, and who proved to be unmanageable—indeed,
immortal. The main spectacle of the Sanga court’s religion commemo-
rates his banishment and is required to placate his anger; it entails
obeisance done him by the heir of the first ruling Sanga prince, his
elder brother, who banished him. There is a clear message implied,
that the mortal prince acknowledges an eternal debt of guilt, that
the plagues and pestilence Lwembe annually visits upon his people are
justified, and that the powers of a Sanga prince are less than

It would have been excellent to have found a recent case of a

retired and rusticated unkuludeva , especially a case from Ukwama, a
reliable account of whose burial rites could be put on record. This is
because the Kinga-Nyakyusa evidence puts a special twist on our
interpretation of the nature of godhead in a whole series of African
states and protostates. Is there a simple answer to the question,
why if a Lwembe must be put to death when he weakens, a Mwemutsi
must not?

The essence of the Kinga polity lies in its balance between

despotic rule and free tradition, the standoff between the embodied
power of a prince and the power-knowledge possessed by the priest.
Lwembe is of course an invention of the Kinga, and specifically of the
avanyivaha , the priestly mind. He is separately an invention of the
Nyakyusa, who have a distinct institutional niche for him. If the
mythical Lwembe had not been driven out of uKinga, he would surely
have become the greatest of princes there, at whatever capital, and
continued to rule through repeated reincarnations. He would have
been intractable to the ‘soft’ techniques of the Kinga priesthood, and
their balanced polity would have been impossible. So the myth of
Lwembe itself is a coded constitutional law for the Sanga polity: in
the tale and its ritual remembrance the limits of princely power are
irrevocably laid down.

The dramatic values which delineate Lwembe’s character as a

player on the political stage have to be seen cross-culturally. The
southern wing of the broadly Nyakyusa-speaking culture area lies in
Malawi, where a relatively well-integrated protostate, uNgonde, took
shape during the nineteenth century. The Kyungu of the Ngonde
people is most easily described as an example of the divine king. He
fits the ideal type better than Lwembe, since his court was the
centre of secular as well as mystical power for a pyramidally
organized segmentary protostate of a more or less ‘classic’ African

kind. Compared to the Ngonde, Nyakyusa communities in the Tangan-
yika Corridor region are better seen as a shifting congeries of
chiefdoms each with bilateral relations of alliance or opposition with
some neighbours, but lacking overall constitutional structure. ‡‡

My reading of the evidence is that the Nyakyusa political

system was ‘domain’ centred and lacked any level of organization
comparable to the Kinga ‘realm’. The system was expansive by nature,
since it provided for the ‘hiving off’ with each generation of a well-
ordered group of military colonizers—young families with cattle,
arms, and implements—from each of an expanding core of established
domains. Being better organized than the bush-culture folk they were
colonizing, they were in position to absorb them through intermar-
riage and informal alliance. The established core had been strong
enough, up to the pax germanica , to minimize predatory incursions by
their several strong neighbours to the north. They were protected by
natural barriers from other directions. It is easy enough to project a
gradual evolution in uNyakyusa toward greater consolidation and a
more integral constitution in an imaginary future—a twentieth
century which had left them to their own devices—but I would expect
the result to have borne only a family resemblance to either the
Kyungu’s protostate in uNgonde or Mwemutsi’s in uKinga. As we find
the Nyakyusa in the ethnographies recorded during early generations
after contact, the strain toward unity is pegged to the frail Lwembe
figure in his sacred grove at Lubaga. At first sight, this makes the
case for one Nyakyusa ‘people’ (as distinct from a congeries of
peoples) look pretty weak.

It would be hard to make the case at all for calling Lwembe a ‘king
of the Nyakyusa’. In the usage of Jacques Maquet a ‘chief’ is a
monarch who rules directly, a ‘king’ governs a more complex polity
requiring the delegation to officials (G. P. Murdock’s ‘ministers’) of a
power which nevertheless derives from and can revert to the
monarch. It is not certain that even the Kyungu’s condition ever met
these criteria. Mwemutsi’s satellite domains clearly would have
reverted always to local autonomy. We can’t even talk about Lwembe
as secular ruler even of a local community at Lubaga. Still I think that
the ideal type of the ‘divine king’ can be helpfully applied. ‡‡

It is reasonable to assume that divine kingship constitutes a

strategic response to the difficulty for a pre-bureaucratic society of
delegating authority without decentralizing power. Under that
heuristic assumption the Lwembe in Nyakyusa society falls close to
one logical extreme of the ideal model of ‘divine kingship’ seen as a
political system. There is a maximum delegation of authority to the

‘chiefs’ (M. Wilson) or ‘princes’ (Charsley), so that powers remaining
to the ‘king’ are only the mystical. But the work of a religious agency
is to ward off, rid out, or bear and contain social danger, mystically
conceived. This is the part of the Kinga and Nyakyusa priests who
periodically attend the shrine of Lwembe at Lubaga. But the
deathless Lwembe himself is not, like the taboo-ridden priest who is
his medium, religion’s man. The scene at the Lubaga shrine which Kinga
priests describe is one of fury. The mortal Lwembe has a daimon on his
back. He becomes an embodiment of the mystical danger against
which the community’s religion is pitted. The esoteric drama played
out at Lubaga, has the combined priests of two peoples struggling to
control the daimon. Exoterically the danger is known when plagues
and pestilence, drought and disease affect the region on an epidemic
scale. It is also known when rumour spreads that the mortal Lwembe
is showing new signs of his mortality.

When the priests assemble to manage the difficult task of re-

establishing the daimon in a new mortal body, their first task is to
strip the living body of the old Lwembe of hair and nails, all the parts
which grow from him like plants from the soil. Then all the body holes
must be plugged. The body is sealed with what it contains. The anus is
as important to stop as the seven holes of the head. This Lwembe is
officially held to have passed over already to the world of the dead, so
soon as illness is noted. “I have eaten food in the land of the shades.”
First he wills his growing excrescences to the people he is bound to
leave, then his body is sealed, he is smothered, and he is gone.
Installing the new Lwembe in a manner to assure his containing the
daimon is a separate operation, concerning which Monica Wilson has a
number of suggestions, though details of the rite itself are not on
record. We may understand the murder of the living Lwembe as a
continuation of the priests’ ministrations throughout his tenure in
office. They have caged him, scolded him, placated him always knowing
that the daimon must be contained at any cost. At Lwembe’s
displeasure he has released a storm, a flood, a withering of crops or
drying up of cattle, the sudden deaths of children. Undisciplined, the
mortal Lwembe can bring inadvertent catastrophe. Simply by contin-
uing to bathe in the river, as he has done all his life, a newly installed
priest-Lwembe would expose the land to inundation. He is often
lectured by the priests who minister to him. Their role is tutelary, like
the role of Kinga priests toward their prince. The man must be
patiently fashioned to the ideal, mythically real type. The difference
is that where the Sanga prince embodies the fertility of land and
people, the living Lwembe embodies godhead. ‡

It may seem paradoxical that the men of religion show so little
fear and awe in dealing with godhead. But the first principle in under-
standing animistic religions is the premise of egoism: the gods
(spirits, daimons, nats) are neither noble nor otherwise ethically
superior beings. They are seen as ex-humans always armed with a
robust, egoistic self-concern. They are troublesome because (being
invisible and voiceless, yet needing the care and attention of the living
folk they remain among) they are only too easily neglected in favour of
the visible and vocal neighbour whose needs are immediate. Like living
folk, the spirits use black magic to get their way or get revenge. Their
‘other world’ is not a radical transformation of the one mortals know.
The job of a doctor or priest of religion is to protect a set of mortal
clients from the great variety of perils these non-mortal and invisible
beings are able to visit upon them. The living Lwembe remains the
priests’ man in the same degree that a Kinga prince ought to be. But
the living heir to Lwembe’s godhead is unable to contain it without
great effort and skill, exercising his fullest human powers. He must
‘contain’ in the specific sense of localizing divine anger, so that the
priests can cope with it. The priest Lwembe must sleep every night
alone at Lubaga. But without the help of an elaborate and systematic
ritual drama the living, mortal Lwembe cannot ‘contain’ (in the other
sense, of ‘controlling’) the daimonic anger of a banished and cheated

When the Kinga prince dies, far from sealing the body up to
secure the inner identity, priests see to it that the flesh has swollen
and burst before they publicly discover the death and simultaneously
inaugurate a successor to office. The body cannot be buried but
remains deep in the sacred grove lifted above ground on a closed
platform protected from scavengers. It is the stench of this rotting
body which, filling the grove and reaching the capital village, signals
the passing on of the princely powers to an heir. The capital meanwhile
will have been transformed into a fairgrounds, for the folk will have
been called together without explanation for a month of feasting and
games. While in the case of Lwembe at Lubaga everyone who might be
called to succeed to the office is known to fear it and loathe the day
of the incumbent’s death, with the Kinga throne it is quite
otherwise—the incumbent goes daily in fear of rivals who would take
his place. The Lwembe, in his fearsomeness, is left to a remote
existence in life. He needs no stockade to keep improper visitors
away, as reputation is enough. The Kinga prince, though he shares
that fearsomeness, is yet the central figure of magnanimity in a
redistributive system dealing in food and drink, manly honour, recogni-
tion, and women. He must close himself away in life for fear of the

brotherly envy his privilege inspires, though his death will mean
rotting away in the open air, far away from the living men and women
gathered to drink and feast from his store in their ceremonially
perverse way of doing him honour.

The newly chosen Lwembe has to be trapped and forcibly

submitted to the rite of transformation which makes him a belea-
guered king. But once installed and schooled to the role he is
conceived to accept death freely, as only a further step in the meta-
morphosis he has already endured. The Kinga prince covets office, yet
once installed and schooled he comes to live in fear of death. Even
supposing that individual men rarely lived up to all the requirements
of the two roles, I think their logical opposition on the level of cultural
prescription is not overdrawn here. And when the contrast is properly
understood we ought to know the meaning of the Sanga prince’s
patterned paranoia.

An Exiled God
Tunginiye recorded the Lwembe myth in Swahili on the basis of
recitations (in ikiKinga) at Ukwama in the 1930s. Though his original
was lost, I found a Swahili typescript secreted (?) behind a radiator
at the ex-British Boma and confirmed it with the author. I present my

In the ruling house Mwikolongu sired a child by his second wife, and the
child’s name was Lwembe. As a boy he tended his father’s herds along with
comrades. Now here is what he could do: He took two twigs and two pots,
putting the twigs on the ground and covering each with a pot. Then he called
his companions to gather round and behold a wonder. As soon as his friends
came up they saw the pots were beginning slowly to rise, the twigs going
through a transformation until one turned into a lion and the other a
leopard. Then the lads set up a clamour, saying we are your friends but we
are afraid of these monsters we see. Then Lwembe slapped the creatures
down, and they turned back into pots and twigs as before. When his
companions got home they told the father our dear Lwembe has been doing
things out there which have got us frightened. He takes little twigs and
turns them into a lion and a leopard and then back again to what they were.

Thereupon the father said it is time I settled two wives on him, then I
shall have him move off to a far country lest he take the throne away from
my eldest. So he bestowed two maidens upon the lad and showed him to a
place called Upinga, but Lwembe kept right on working his wonders,
surpassing all his comrades among the children of the ruler. Wanting to find
out the truth of these matters, the father ordered two of his children,
Lwembe and a companion, to fetch two goats from the high grasslands

where they were being herded, bringing them right to the father. But the
comrade left by himself while Lwembe only stayed behind where he was. The
companion returned with one of the goats and brought it to his father, who
challenged Lwembe, “How is it you stayed behind here without fetching the
goat I asked for?” There and then Lwembe produced the goat before his
father’s eyes and the elders, saying, “Isn’t this the goat I was sent after?”
Then the father and the elders were dumbfounded, seeing, “In truth this
child has surpassed us all! How could it happen that, though he stayed just
here without any chance to go out to the grasslands, yet this goat—how
has it appeared right here before our eyes?” Therefore the father and the
elders were agreed they must hold council on the matter of sending
Lwembe into exile.

Fearing, “He is a great god who will destroy us all,” they could not find
agreement on a way to kill him by themselves. But they used another
stratagem, sending word to their ally Prince Mwalukisa, whom they bade
waylay the lad as he came passing through—kill him along with his wives and
children. So the father and the elders approached Lwembe, saying, “You are
to move out of here and go to the far country of uNyakyusa to rule there.
Later on we shall follow after, bringing what equipment we can get together.
Lwembe agreed to move out through the country of Uhugilo/Lupalilo
[Mwalukisa’s]. So when Prince Mwalukisa saw Lwembe passing by, he set out
to kill him. Lwembe, when he saw Prince Mwalukisa laying an ambush for him
on the path, took out the same little twigs and threw them down. One
turned into a leopard and led the way in front. The wives and children were in
between, while Lwembe himself rode behind astride a lion, and a swarm of
bees hovered in the air above their heads. Lwembe was holding a lyre, which
he played as they went along. Then Prince Mwalukisa and his party were
beaten. They couldn’t kill the man but returned home trembling with fear.
Prince Mwalukisa sent the news to his father [sic] that Lwembe had
defeated him and was a great god.

As for Lwembe, he continued on his way. He entered Nyakyusa country

and built a place there which he called unyaLwembe, and which is there to
this day. The place is located in the country of Prince Mwaipopo [at] Lupata
[Lubaga*] where the headman is Mwakisisya. This Lwembe is worshiped by
the house of the great prince of the Kinga, and all the members of his
lineage, holding that he is the greatest of gods, send their sacrificial
offerings to him even today. When a prince of this line dies, people say he is
going to be transformed into a great god, which is why within this house
those who are under the princes keep up their sacrifice and divinatory rites
more regularly than other folk.

* ‘Lupata’ would be the unknown typist’s error.

Tunginiye’s telling of the myth does not tie Lwembe’s powers so

closely to agriculture as do some other versions. Monica Wilson had
an account from the Kinga priest Kikungubeja [Kikunguvija] of the
Western realm [Bulongwa]. Here Lwembe makes live cattle from little
clay models he has fashioned, and transforms a handful of dirt into

beans or millet grain. In this and another version also collected in the
1930s Lwembe has herds and two companions as well as his wives and
wild animals. He enjoyed the protection of isingila immunity medicines
and could turn into a stone when attacked. In dry weather he would
simply strike the earth to produce a spring. At Lubaga, Nyakyusa
priests added an account which provides a charter for the regular
propitiation of Lwembe by Kinga priests bearing gifts. When Lwembe
was first driven from the mountains, the crops immediately began to
wither. When the priests at length found him at Lubaga, he promised
to restore their gardens but called for a quid pro quo . They were to
bring him his promised ‘equipment’ which had been left behind, with
beer and twenty iron hoes to boot. The Wilsons’ most consistent
informant on ritual, Kasitile, cites Lwembe’s message to Mwemutsi: “I
want my hoes, especially my great, eyed hoe ilikumbulu ilya maso. ” ‡

The manner of the Kinga priests’ propitiation of Lwembe is that

of rendering imongo [tribute] not ikitekelo [an oblation]. The ruler of a
tributary domain who withheld imongo tribute from the realm’s prince
could expect to reap his anger; and so it is with the Kinga people and
the erstwhile annual procession in tribute to Lwembe. Mwemutsi (XII)
Suluvali, reflecting on the lapse of the ritual expedition (attempted,
he thought, only once since the early 1940s), without abandoning
Kinga syntax adapted two Swahili expressions with a primary
reference to money debts: “ Tuli n’ideni tudajiva! ” [“We have such a debt
owing!”] It was said with a great burden of feeling, unusual for Suluvali.
He conceived of Lwembe as a jealous power. ‡

The procession of priests to placate Lwembe used to take place

yearly, or so it is claimed, unless the times were particularly good.
There was no calendrical scheduling, as the undertaking would be
styled as a response to the building up of popular concern, first
expressed through lesser ritual channels. Considering the kind of
preparations called for, and the problems of coordination, it is plain
that the time elapsed between start and finish must always have
been several months. Each cycle required in particular the manufac-
ture of a new hoe for consecration, under solemnly safeguarded
conditions. This was a ‘doubled’ as well as a bored or eyed hoe,
specially requisitioned by the priests at Ukwama in the name of the
high prince. The yearly rites taken as a whole entailed the three
stages of preparation, procession, and propitiation, but of these only
the second might be of fixed duration, replicating (according to
Mwemutsi to me in 1963) the four days of Lwembe’s original journey
into exile. But even here the timing is uncertain. Elders in the
Northern realm thought the four days in uKinga would be followed by

four like stops in uNyakyusa, and in the West I was told of divinations
which might require backtracking and other delays. This would have
been enough to put a crimp in the ‘military season’ in some cases. I
concluded the procession itself would often have taken place in July,
but that divination (with changes in the weather and the political
situation) would often enough have prescribed procrastination for as
much as another year.

I want to be sure to provide enough evidence to counter a

colonial myth about Kinga religion, which suggested there were hints
of monotheism. The roots of ancestor religion, at least in the
cultures I know something of, are not to be sought in theological
thought, since ancestors are propitiated not worshiped. Kinga
religion comprises no sort of theism. Their spirits or gods have no
plans for mankind, no control over human destiny, only personal needs
and a measure of ordinary wizardry by which they can oblige their
living descendents or wards to supply these needs. Yet the Kinga
have a political religion. Its burden in praxis is political unification. It
seems to have tasted enough like a monotheism to have encouraged
early missionaries to look for the Kinga word for God by asking, in
effect, for the name of their most-hallowed tribal ancestor. At sacri-
fice, Nguluwe is the Adam or unknown ancestor at list’s end.

We see a transitional kind of belief system in Homer: a man or

woman might by chance have the love of a god but hardly a generous
one, as mortals were only pawns in the sport of these Olympians. The
Homeric epics are not adorned with rites supposed to ingratiate a
man with a god. These gods didn’t share themselves in that way but
were strictly self concerned. This is the heritage of animism, a
worldview which once seems to have been universally human and allows
that the gods are not morally superior beings, only difficult ones
armed with dangerous if limited powers. I suppose the Aztecs discov-
ered the greatest of these gods, requiring to be fed the most sacred
of all foods lest they should stop the heavens from their steady
movement. A pure ancestor religion, on the other hand, is a particular-
istic system in which the spirits only bother their descendents. Kinga
society lacks the overwhelming emphasis on ancestor spirits which
some readers might expect of an African people. The royal Sanga
ancestors have taken centre stage and give us a modestly developed
political religion. Ancestor propitiation remains to the commoner but
is private, scarcely serving as a basis for the social organization of kin
communities in the manner reported for so many other Eastern
Bantu peoples. The Lwembe cult, though universalistic in conception,
is modestly so. Neither Lwembe nor Nguluwe have the ineffable

qualities wanted of a god who made the world go around. At least for
Kinga, any talk by whatever name of an ‘otiose god’ who fashioned this
world can only refer to creation lore, not to the object of religious
practice. Lwembe’s creative powers made live animals from clay which
was certainly there before he was born. ‡‡

Pursuing the Lwembe narrative in more detail will bring us closer

to the way Kinga did their religion. Lwembe, of course, was not alone.

My spokesmen among the avanyivaha made it clear that the

procedural reason for turning to Lwembe would always have been lack
of success in ritual operations at the local level, where the propitia-
tory (or otherwise manipulatory) effort must begin. An accumulation
of local failures throughout the several realms would eventually move
the avanyivaha at Ukwama to initiate the manufacture of a fresh
double hoe at Ihela. Their priestly counterparts at Uhugilo [Northern
realm] would in like manner see to the making of a single bored hoe for
their own sacred grove, replacing the one they would send on to
Ukwama. I inferred from what oral evidence I could gather that the
third or Eastern realm before the Maji Maji catastrophe would have
done the same. I have no idea how the Kyelelo-Vululile standoff in the
Western realm was handled before the pax , except that there would
have been a good deal of divination required to legitimate whatever
decisions were made on any particular occasion. Throughout the four
realms, the priests would be calling for the presentation of tributary
hoes (of the secular trade variety) from each local ruler [ untsagila ] of
standing. Formally, the trade hoes were to serve as prestations to
Lwembe. In practice this seems to have meant the hoes were traded
to Nyakyusa priests at fair barter value. In the absence of reliable
estimates of the number of trade hoes a procession would carry, I
can’t say how far they merely served as a convenient way of provi-
sioning the Kinga party in its sojourn out of the country, but there is
evidence the party could expect to bring cattle back to the court
villages in the mountains. Informants said the ordinary hoes were
distributed fairly among the several Nyakyusa lineages descended
from Lwembe, and bullocks slaughtered in return.

In principle, only a procession having its origin at Ukwama,

claimed as his place of birth, could be said to re-enact the myth of
Lwembe’s own departure, and so to represent the Kinga people as
such. The procession in fact always began with a feast on the spot
which is supposed to have been Lwembe’s site at Ukwama. The ‘cow of
the way’ was supplied by the prince and cannily eaten at home, not
squandered on folk of another domain. But beyond firmly tying the
ritual to the myth there seems to have been no intention of dramati-

cally recreating the spectacle of the god’s going into exile. The
priests blew the kudu horn trumpet [ ingalape ] and beat the war-drum
[ ilikule ] as they left, but neither seems to have been conceptualized
as the voice of lion, leopard, or Lwembe. The focus of attention was on
performing appropriate ceremonial acts at each place along the route
where, as it was agreed, Lwembe himself had stopped, leaving a
noumenal influence—some fraction of his mystical identity.

At least three overnight stops would be made before the

descent to Nyakyusaland, providing a basis for ritual and moral
communion with local elders of the Northern and Western realms, and
of course a good deal of bickering. Direct participants in the proces-
sion from the start were about a dozen persons, including two or
more priests from each of the four domains, a porter, and an errand
boy. (There was no talk in this connection of a boy being taken for
human sacrifice. Narratives on that score were never placed in a
datable historical context. But as a banner-myth the scenario was
real enough.) These pilgrims seem to have been joined on each leg of
the journey by a changing company of local avanyivaha or lesser
specialists in ritual, and below the escarpment by Nyakyusa priests.
The procession’s baggage, beyond its burden of sacred and unconse-
crated hoes, was light: I was told only of a small bag of the flour made
from roast dry peas for offering, and of some ritual-ceremonial para-
phernalia. The way had been well prepared in advance by peripatetic
priests from Lingundya and Bulongwa in the Western realm, and the
party could rely absolutely on local hospitality.

The special genius of the Lwembe cult was its universalistic

orientation to social dangers arising from nature, and its strength
was in good measure a function of the gradual and ad hoc style of its
preparation. The overriding concern of one year was not necessarily
that of the next, and each concern had its appropriate season. The
mechanisms of the Lwembe cult were adapted either to waiting out
minor contingencies in favour of a major one, or to absorbing and
accumulating a variety of special petitions in periods of comparative
well being. For purposes of the cult, hoes can be said to have been
‘banked’ in the sacred groves of each realm, ready to move at need.
The system was that each implement should move one step at a time,
remaining for a year (or until the next safari to Lubaga), when it would
be replaced and move onward through the channels of a ritual network
which modeled the ideal constitution of a Sanga segmentary state.
The cosmological premise seems to have been that the hoes func-
tioned as ‘gates’ between this world and that of the dead—gates
which ought to be in place at each of the groves where men must deal

with gods. Gods in this region travel through the air or the earth from
one sacred grove to another. The bored or ‘eyed’ hoe was special to
the Lwembe cult but reflects the more general regional cosmology in
that the sacred groves served to localize ritual danger and enable the
doctor-priests to control it. The cognoscenti would know from a
special stirring of leaves in the grove that a supernatural visitor had
arrived, and would know how to divine its nature. Lwembe, the original,
had descended into an underground aquifer at the end of his mortal
life, and tended to travel as pythons are thought to do through the
earth. The ‘gates’ presumably contained him when he visited local
sacred groves, so that his demands could be dealt with, and eventu-
ally all of these powerful emblems took their place around the Lwembe
site at Lubaga, where some were photographed in German times. ‡‡

While the Lwembe cult was, taken in context, universalistic and

even evangelical, matching the generalized mandate of the unyivaha ,
one particular pestilence descends on Kinga fields so swiftly as to
want a more responsive mechanism than the Lwembe pilgrimage. This
long-cycled threat is the never-predictable swarming of the locust
ilikevale . Kinga doctrine ascribes this pestilence to Usweve, whose
shrine is in uSafwa, north of Nyakyusa country. Doctrine links him by
simple mythic narrative to Lwembe. Thus elders of the Northern realm
called Usweve a younger brother to Lwembe, even having him
accompany Lwembe into exile. These two brothers each with one wife
all mounted the lion and travelled together. Usweve is said to have
moved on north from Lubaga to settle and ‘rule’ elsewhere. Propitia-
tory gifts to Usweve include a bored hoe and a bored knife of the sort
used (when without the ‘eye’) for harvesting eleusine in the Safwa
manner. Delegations were sent to Usweve only in times of grave
danger, but elders recalled years when the tributary hoes were
equally divided between Lwembe and this brother, the division being
made at Uhugilo [Northern realm] where the path to Usweve takes off
toward the high Elton plateau.

The fact that the Usweve cult is grafted so easily onto the
Lwembe narrative can hardly surprise us, given the political impor-
tance of Ukwama and its development as a ceremonial centre. Here is
a ‘younger brother’ who gets on as he ought with his elder, comple-
menting the main cult without competing with it. Usweve, in fact,
would offer a quick safety valve should locusts descend just when the
rather more predictable anger of Lwembe has been publicly assuaged.
The shrine of Kyala in uKisi (on the near lake shore south of
uNyakyusa) is similarly assimilated to the Lwembe myth in the
testimony Monica Wilson took from Kinga priests in the 1930s, and

there are scattered if vague indications in my notes suggesting
Lwembe might have had quite a series of ‘brothers’ with fabulous
powers, all of whom were better known in the past. If the Sanga
dispensation had collapsed before the pax it is likely enough the
pluralistic particularism of a surviving bush culture would have
resurged. Something a few shades closer to monotheism was more
useful to the priests in their management business.

I should note that the movement westward of the consecrated

double hoe [ ilikumbulu ilinya’vumongolo, hoe of the gateway] follows the
historical movement of the Kinga-Sanga people. Sanga trace their
origins to the southern highland regions now occupied by Bena and
Hehe peoples. Kinga communities generally accept that their
forebears were immigrants following the same routes as the later-
come Sanga. There is thus a general belief that the movement of the
Sanga (Kinga) is always toward the west. Sanga royals cite this
principle when explaining why they are buried lying on the right arm, so
as to face westward. They know that more commonly in Eastern
Bantu civilization the dead are buried facing the graves of their
forebears—which in this case would be eastward. “The bulk of the
Nyakyusa say that they came from the east, eight or ten generations
ago, down the Livingstone Mountains into their present country; and
it is to the east that they face in death”—Monica Wilson. Tunginiye
was confident that, in addition to the Nyakyusa, all the highland
peoples except the Kinga were buried facing eastward. As I gathered
no detailed information on burial position among the various divisions
of the Kinga, I can only assume that most variations would have
shown up in the marginal, bush culture communities. ‡

It is not irrelevant that Lwembe’s magical escape was

westward, or that the principal customers of the Kinga smiths were
there in the Rift Valley. The hoe was the obvious choice for Kinga when
looking for a prestation embodying more grace than a goat in cattle

The very widespread regional traditions of migratory origin

most likely do go right back to the long centuries of Bantu expansion
in the first millennium of the present era, when pre-Bantu settlers
and nomadic groups were replaced or absorbed. The myth-like reach of
oral history in this case was driven home to me when I was introduced
to a married couple—“pure Kinga”—who seemed to have been
displaced from the Kalahari. They were, on the score of physical
traits, perfect San (Bushmen) but their speech was a perfect and
clickless ikiKinga. Many more Kinga showed a ‘Hamitic’ facial cast.
Unguluwe, the region’s Adam figure, was said to have been light in skin

colour. No one supposed these remnant somatic features, special to
their mountain slopes, had been brought in by migrants. Many well-
established Kinga surnames trace back explicitly to place-names on
the map, several days’ journey eastward. The immigrant ancestry of
the Sanga and a number of other Kinga groupings is not denied.

The holiest of hoes, embodying the inner mystique of the

Lwembe cult, was smithed of native iron at Ihela (hamlet Lupumbwe) in
the eastern marches of the domain of Maliwa, which comprises the
eastern section of Ukwama, the Central realm. Fabrication was
initiated and supervised by the avanyivaha [priests] at the capital
village. The responsible smith was considered an officer of that
princely court, and would apprentice a son to that position. During
the forging, they and any helpers were under strict taboos, holding
themselves away from women. The finished object was transported in
the manner of a cadaver, with which any contact is polluting. The
danger of the thing is contagious. Wrapped in a black sheepskin, the
double hoe was suspended for transportation from a fore-and-aft
carrying pole [ ilyenekilunga ] ‘master of the country’. The party of
avanyivaha court ritual specialists skirted the country of Maliwa,
staying to the mountains because their burden was particularly
dangerous to gardens, whose fertility it could destroy as if by
burning. The purpose of this preliminary procession is only to bring the
finished hoe to Ukwama, where it should rest, safe in the sacred wood,
until replaced by a fresh hoe in another year. So far as I know, this
means that only the Ukwama and Lubaga groves sported these doubly
powerful ‘gates’, and I suppose they constituted a sort of ritually
effected ‘hotline’ between the Lwembe and Mwemutsi groves. A great
amount of procedural lore, which would have clarified the conception
and use of these shrines, perished with the old-guard avanyivaha , the
last of whom would have been there for me, had I been able to do my
work a few years earlier.

On its first day the procession from the smithy at Ihela made
about twelve kilometers, stopping at Masasatu, west of Maliwa
court, until the following day. All tilling of the soil in Maliwa domain
was halted for the whole period of about a month set aside for the
making and transportation of the consecrated hoe; tilling was
resumed only when it had been got safely away. Maliwa had no sacred
wood capable of containing the dangers which the priests attributed
to their artefact. Its name [ ilinya’vumongolo ], meaning hoe of the
(royal) gateway, made no reference to the visible gate of the prince’s
stockade. A nearer analogue would be a Christian’s ‘gates of hell’. In
its black sheepskin the mysterious object was borne into the grove by

priests who would reveal little to others about it or about other
sacra in their care. Later the hoe (or the older one which had been
doing guard duty at Ukwama’s grove?) would be moved on westward,
following the trail of Lwembe. As said, I found no evidence the great
procession otherwise mimed his myth. The burden was not spectacle
but mystery.

It is a measure of the hoe’s special qualities that while the Ihela

craftsmen were busy with its fabrication they must be segregated in
a wood which hid their smithy from view, and that their wives must
put on all the appearances of widowhood. All the paths to and from
the community were sealed. Even in its incipient stages the hoe was
conceived to threaten the fertility of women and gardens. I believe
the connection of this danger to Lwembe derives from the Kinga belief
in him as the creator-source (and hence master) of all fertility.
“ Ikitupa syoni . He gives us all the foods.” The sense of ‘public’ danger
here has to be read as a vehicle of that demiurgic universalism which
distinguishes this cult from the particularism of ‘private’ ancestor

The Lwembe-Mwemutsi relationship is carefully structured.

Mwemutsi (XII) Suluvali said he would have to take a quick look,
dreaded and done from a safe distance, at the sacred hoe in order to
validate the proceedings. The priests would very briefly uncover it for
him only, outside the grove. The ‘hoe of the gateway’ would have been
particularly dangerous to a Mwemutsi because the ‘eyes’ categori-
cally inverted the symbolic sense in which one might behold this
primary instrument of the soil’s magical fertility; and also because
Lwembe was held to be, instrumentally, creator-source of the ruling
office. There is paradox in this, since Mwikolongu—son and heir to the
Founder and first to bear the high princely title of Mwemutsi—was
the father not the elder brother of Lwembe, and the one to banish him
to prevent his succession by virtue of an extraordinary magical power.
Yet when a priest propitiates Lwembe he prays for forbearance in
terms which imply the divinity’s virtual omnipotence:
...that the rule of the princes [ uvutwa ] shall not fail.
...that the rain [ isula ] shall not fail.
...that the foods [ isinu ] shall not fail.

A Kinga son’s rigid avoidance taboos on indirect bodily contact

with his father appear in this tale of fathers and sons. In Tunginye’s
telling, the father projects distrust upon the prescriptively close
brotherly bond between the nominal heir, Mwikolongu, and the younger
Lwembe. Kinga are acutely aware of the exceptional character of their

sexual preference, symbolized in the love between brothers. That
Mwikolongu becomes the first Mwemutsi defines his station as

The great procedural reason for safeguarding the hoe made at

Ihela was that its peculiar form should be kept a secret known only to
the narrow circle of men directly concerned with its making and
management. Though this sacred ‘hoe of the gateway’ was physically
no more than a compounding of two of the simpler ‘eyed’ hoes, about
which there was common talk if not direct knowledge among Kinga, in
the compounding the symbolism of the ‘eyes’ had been unmistakably

Why would a sacred object, hoe or knife, be marked by the

possession of a single eye? Freudians understand the cyclopean eye
as unambiguously phallic, but this identification is not compelling. I am
rather inclined to compare these consecrated utensils to the holed
pot so often included with burial goods: we have an ‘eye’ to be sure but
one associated with the dangerous communion between the living and
their dead. Monica Wilson associates this ‘eye’ with “other rain-
making instruments.” As a sign of taboo-danger the eye is of so
nearly universal distribution, we should perhaps not expect to find a
more specific meaning here. But in the case of a pot, the hole
negates—subverts—its practical function. In the case of the hoe
which guards a sacred grove, I find the meaning cognate: the holed
implement signals the threshold of a sacred place where visible and
invisible, practical and sacred worlds are not kept apart. ‡‡

In the compounded version of the consecrated hoe I suppose

the two ‘eyes’ would be called by any clear-eyed Freudian a sexual
orifice, the tangs phallic. The long tang of each one passes through
the ‘eye’ of the other, so that the two pieces, though separately
forged, are locked together as a single object. Symbolism apart, a
single ‘eyed’ hoe is not quite so useless for practical purposes as an
‘eyed’ pot, but this does not apply when there are two, locked in such
intimate embrace. Ludwig Weichert’s photograph, which I reproduce in
digital form in the Source Notes, makes clear how the single and
compound hoes were actually used in the ritual drama at Lubaga. The
single stood in a path to warn away intruders from the sanctuary, the
long straight tail thrust firmly into the soil (Fig. 2). The interpene-
trating tails of the compound hoe were used to weld the blades
together, still letting the finished artefact ‘gate’ the shrine effec-
tively. A magical object which faces both ways must warn the dead
against walking the earth, just as it warns unprepared mortals away
from sacred portal connecting two worlds. But to see that, we may

have to move our minds into a community whose whole existence is
made possible by the ten-pound blade of an iron hoe.

The peculiar ensemble bears analogy to the arm’s length hug of

greeting which among Kinga marks the reunion of two men or two
women after a separation. The greeting at first puzzled me. It
seemed unduly prolonged and ceremonious to mark what in many
cases would have been no more than a short time apart. As I came to
understand the Kinga life cycle better, I saw that the carefree
manners of youth would disappear with marriage and procreative
householding. Old friendships, once but no longer intimate, needed
reinforcement to dispel thoughts of disaffection and betrayal. The
two stand stiff-armed, gazes meeting, endlessly repeating a simple
litany of friendly greeting. A person does not share such old friend-
ships with someone of opposite sex—the stiffness of this embrace
speaks to a recognition of distance but also to mutual belonging.
When it comes to reading the symbolism of ilikumbulu ilinya’vumongolo
‘the hoe of the royal gateway’ it would be difficult to argue the case
for heterosexual embrace, as the component parts are identical and
unambiguously male. But a case can be made for brotherly embrace. A
reasonable reading of the oddity is that it models that idealized
fraternal love which was betrayed in illo tempore, in the birth of the
Sanga dynasty, with the banishment of Lwembe. The singular trials of
a people are so made consequent to a Founder’s difficult personal
destiny. I find this the stuff of which political religions are made.

The narrative of Lwembe’s exile takes on meaning in relation to

the condemnation of the unkinga [heir to the throne]—once seated at
Ukwama—to an exclusively heterosexual life. This high Sanga prince
must be withdrawn now from all the peer relationships which have
been the pleasure and sport of his bachelor life. In the cause of
fertility for his land and people, sterile sex relations have had to be
excluded. It is Lwembe not Mwemutsi who embodies the sexual
ambiguity of Kinga manhood. Lwembe’s fertility requires no women,
yet he can take wives and found his own ruling dynasty in exile without
ever abandoning the magic of his youth. Lwembe figures the relative
freedom enjoyed by a younger brother with whom the prince,
separated from the easy delights of bachelor camaraderie by the
burden of rule, aspires to reconciliation. Lwembe in exile figures in
myth the paranoid fix of the prince, who must accept alienation from
his own as a condition of survival laid upon him by high office.

The fertility of the Kinga people is, in practical terms, a function

of the commitment of men after marriage to the sterner demands of
heterosexual bonds. This is the commitment modeled in the prince-

hero’s career. But the prince’s fear of poison incorporates a deeper
fear of the potential poisoners, the brothers who are his erstwhile
comrades, and so models the universal plight which a male must face
as he leaves the bachelor life of the court. The exile of Lwembe is
relived in the career of the ordinary man ‘sent out’ from the life of the
court to marriage and homesteading. Particularly is this the case for
the royals, avapapwa [‘those whom one has borne on one’s back’]. As
younger brothers of the heir [ unkinga ] they have never known any life
but that of the court. The transition from that existence to the more
self-reliant life of the bush and marriage ideally can be bridged by a
fostering elder brother who has gone before, and with whom one
makes one’s peace—in whom one may place one’s trust, in the manner
of a gift. It takes only a small stretch of the scientific imagination to
regard wonder-working as the quintessential fantasy of the sexually
autonomous young male. Lwembe’s magical offspring, begotten on
dust in a womb of clay, would have permitted an everlasting world of
men without women. This is the magic of omnipotent egoism. The
unusual prolongation of this stage of life among the barrackroom
bachelors avanyakivaga of the Sanga courts was a distinctive feature
of their culture and was not without its peculiar strains. We can’t be
surprised to find them figured in its myths.

The Would-be-gods
The informing theme Monica Wilson found in the rites at Lubaga,
which she got to know almost at first hand though always from the
viewpoint of the Nyakyusa officiant, was moral unity. Dissension
would spoil the rites. Only when they commanded the fullest partici-
pation of religious and secular powers across the land could offic-
iants count on the effectiveness of their efforts. The same theme is
not as clear in my Kinga materials. Though dissension is clearly an
issue for Kinga priests, unatoned conflicts at home will not disqualify
an offering properly made. The issue of dissension is ritualistically
conceived in both cultures, but there is an added moralistic tone
taken by Nyakyusa. They say the people have insulted Lwembe by
failing to propitiate him, so provoking his anger. Kasitile felt his ill
health could be owing to quarrels with other priests, not by way of
their resentment but Lwembe’s. The Kinga priest recorded by Godfrey
Wilson, who was a direct observer, interpreted the matter otherwise.
Interrupting an argument about a Nyakyusa priest who had refused
to participate on account of a fancied slight, the Kinga officiant said,

“Ignore him if he refuses to come. If it were us we should leave him
and celebrate without him, but you Nyakyusa are all witches, and you
fear to ignore a man who refuses to come to a ritual, saying that he
will bewitch you. You are cowards, you are!”. ‡

What is missing in the Kinga worldview is the Nyakyusa value

emphasis which Monica Wilson portrays in Good Company. We might
describe this as a universalistic application of the ideals of neigh-
bourliness, such that everyone with whom a man has civil dealings
must either be brought within his circle of trust or be labeled enemy.
To speak badly of witchcraft was to inject realism (in the speaker’s
view) but also to betray a boorishness only hill people would display (in
the audience view). Monica Wilson cites Kasitile’s understanding that
the Kinga princes had been taught by Lwembe (acting as usual
through seemingly arbitrary transformations in nature) to seek
atonement before making their offerings. But as ethnographer for
the Kinga I perceive this as a projection of Kasitile’s own worldview. In
fact, the extent of the division within the Western realm of uKinga,
the one with which Nyakyusa did have some acquaintance, seems not
to have been comprehended by its lowland neighbours. Among Kinga
informants of the several realms and domains I found consistent bias
toward local self-importance in the social memory of their common
ritual. This bias puts one in mind of the parable of four blind men
describing an elephant after each examining quite different body
parts. It is not surprising that Nyakyusa priests think of Mwaka-
lukwa’s domain (Lingundya, inherited from Vululile, Kyelelo’s foe in the
Western realm) as central to the Lwembe cult, as this is the Sanga
domain with best access to Selya, scene of the Wilsons’ study. The
Lingundya priest Unsanyilwa regularly prepared the way in advance for
the main procession from Ukwama. But Kinga from other realms would
not have given Unsanyilwa the rank he was able to claim from the
Nyakyusa. ‡

For Kinga the all-important principle of amity is not reinforced

by ‘the breath of men’, the legitimate anti-witchcraft power to which
the Nyakyusa attach so much importance. This power is always
generated by an integral polity and may be deployed by its consti-
tuted head to cause illness in a wrongdoer. Where Nyakyusa boys are
serious agriculturists Kinga boys are hunter-herdsmen ‘whose work is
to be hardy’. Where Nyakyusa boys live in assigned age-villages, which
tend to separate brothers in favour of unrelated peers, Kinga boys
live in smaller groups wherein the bond of full brotherhood can be a
central feature and archetypal ideal. Kinga conceive of fraternity and
friendship in dyadic terms and look for friends outside their domestic

group of peers. A father hardly features in a boy’s socialization. A
Kinga youth would often find himself free to shift about from one
boys’ house to another, for he lived within a voluntaristic network
formed by kinship, acquaintance, and attraction until he was ready
for the adult life of the ikivaga (barracks) at court. The Nyakyusa lad,
though sometimes recruited to his village on a less-than-prescriptive
basis, was always obliged to develop his lifelong loyalties there. This
was a permanent political community. The greater voluntarism of
Kinga life reflects an impermanence of associations and absence of
the village as such, in both early and later decades of a man’s life,
away from the ceremonial centres. The central rite of Kinga religion is
organized not as a sanctioning of unity by authority but as a transac-
tional response to the several and possibly conflicting demands of
many constituent groups.

I don’t suggest that the orderly assembly of hoes from domain

and realm did not symbolize the unity of a Kinga people, nor that the
inclusion of Mahanzi (though not Magoma) as full participants in this
tributary rite was not of critical significance in pegging the limits of
the Sanga polity. But the shape and tendency of the polity was
differently seen from each vantage point. Elders of the Eastern and
Western realms left the Northern quite out of their accounts to me.
There can be no reconciling the itineraries for the same procession
given me in the North and the West. Altogether there is far more
agreement about the route followed in Nyakyusaland than about the
touchier issue of the proper route to be taken through the highland
realms. On what I took to be my crucial question, how many bored hoes
would be carried in the procession, I got no satisfactory answer. In
the North it was two, in the East one. At Ihanga [Western realm] I
was told three hoes always were made at Ihela, including one for the
Eastern and one for the Western prince (i.e., Kyelelo), all ordered
through Ululemile, the chief priest of Mwemutsi. My reason for posing
the question was an earlier description of the shrine ‘kwaLuaga’
[Lubaga] where Lwembe was supposed to dwell, which gave it four
gateways. This was given me by Mwambokela, an elder of the central
Mahanzi domain, who said there were two huts (or a double hut) each
with two entrances. It looked likely that one hoe would be sent from
each of the four Kinga realms, to stand in one of those gateways.
Mwambokela demurred, the gateways were taken in turn over a four-
year cycle, and the hoes of however long ago were not removed but
stood in the paths to mark the threshold of sacred danger. But
neither Mwambokela nor any other informant of mine could boast of
making the pilgrimage in person. Like me, but with an advantage in
authenticity, they were drawing on indirect knowledge.

Mwambokela did say, now using Swahili, that the three Sanga
rulers of the West and his own Mahanzi untwa were of mlango mmoja—
one door, one path, one kin. This could not have been meant in a
strictly genealogical sense but clearly was meant to explain how one
hoe in this rite could serve all those four domains. The same would
apply to contending rulers within each of the other realms. Because
each community was thought to enter into this ritual drama in
response to needs of its own, not simply on call from the priests of
Ukwama, the nominal solidarity of each realm came predictably to
expression. But how much real political unity would be claimed, how
convincingly, on any particular occasion of the rite would have been a
function of the pattern of amity actually prevailing then. The typical
cycles of inter-realm warfare were such that a few years of peace
would alternate with a few of chronic hostility. In a year of natural
crisis sufficient to displace thoughts of military sport, there would
have been peacemaking, but whatever the scheme for matching ‘gate-
posts’ with ‘gates’ at Lubaga, I expect the cause of all-Kinga unity
would usually have been served in piecemeal fashion. Peace within a
‘village’ is one thing. Within a domain, realm, or proto-state it is quite
another. Collective rites always do express an ideal unity of purpose.
Ukwama religion made use of the leverage fickle nature supplies, the
threat of wholesale misfortune, to launch concerted action. However
much bickering was required along the way, a quantum of lasting moral
solidarity would presumably emerge, as it often does from bargaining.

If a Nyakyusa village took its strength from lifelong loyalties

among male peers, this was in competition with another set of
lifelong loyalties focused in the dispersed agnatic kin groups control-
ling heritable wealth. The moral career of a Kinga male had to be
worked out in a quite different structural context. The Kinga village
was not an association of male peers destined to form domestic
groups pitched to the maximizing of cattle herds and wives. In uKinga
the villages were the political centres of domains comprising many
scattered hamlets. The ruling village gave authority to an executive
coalition of secular and hieratic officers while depending for produc-
tive power on the extended bachelorhood of its men and the unusually
prolonged maidenhood of its young women. The exaggerated polygyny
of the prince, who needed some thirty wives, corresponded to his
need of an agricultural workforce—women—to maintain the pros-
perity of a village peopled largely by men living in barracks, whose
contribution to work in the fields would have been energetic and
important but restricted to those shorter periods of the year when
major planting was in preparation. The prolonged maidenhood of the
royal ing’engele [princesses] corresponded to the same need for a

balanced labour force in a culture especially reliant on the steady
work of women in the growing, reaping, and preparation of foodstuffs.
By keeping his mature daughters unmarried at court, the prince could
afford to keep their prospective husbands there as well, while by
reserving to himself the privilege of bestowing these young women (or
some of their friends) upon his warriors in reward for service, the
prince had direct population control. This was sufficient to obviate
the need for fissive mechanisms like those (the Coming Out) for which
the Nyakyusa age village is justly famed among anthropologists. The
equation of procreational and agricultural fertility was more tightly
represented in the Kinga case, as Nyakyusa youths did herding,
fighting, and gardening in their bachelor stage of life.

It is arguable that, whereas the Nyakyusa enjoyed a problematic

social organization and a reasonably even life-cycle, the Kinga were in
the reverse situation. Political problems in the court villages were
reasonably well under control, but ties of the court to the larger
domain and realm depended on the strength of men’s continuing
loyalty to an institution served in early adulthood but largely irrele-
vant to the daily concerns of the rusticated householder. Economi-
cally, when you married and moved out you turned from being a net
receiver of benefits from the prince to being a net supplier. This could
only have strained loyalties, and it was partly through religious
doctrine that they must have been reinforced. This was the doctrine
of the priests that they could control hunger, disease, and fertility
through ritual operations geogonically centred at the court. That is, a
condition of the continued existence of the small hamlets and
scattered households, with their mundane daily concerns, was
supposed to be the maintenance of a high courtly culture and ritual
under the purview of the prince and his avanyivaha . Doctrine was
directly taught, as in any other culture, but there was no formal
school. Like the smiths, the avanyivaha took on apprentices on a
selective basis, so that doctrine remained esoteric and uncodified.
The standing of the court depended on political theatre: the military
complex, the civil courts, feasting and dancing, and solemn ceremony,
either calendrical or (like most of those we have been reviewing)
circumstantially contingent. How far the exoteric symbolism, the
spectacle, of the solemn procession to Lubaga instructed the general
populace I can’t estimate from what could be learned after 1960.
What is certain is that it lent dramatic values to the Lwembe
narrative and made it an Everyman’s myth.

Were the priests playing god to the prince’s Caesar? We have to

balance the priestly and the politic in the worldly ways of the

avanyivaha . They comprised in their ranks the whole intellectual élite
of the court: doctor, ritualist, magistrate, manager. The same man
might bear the tokens of secular, ceremonial, and divinatory powers.
Individuals were respected for their authority and knowledge, not as
specialists but as avanyivaha , great men of the court. They seem
always to have worked as a group not as contending individuals. Their
thinking is definitively masculine—extra-domestic, as Lwembe’s was
not. If by ‘playing god’ we mean holding the high ground against all
comers, even up to Caesar himself, that does seem to have been the
notion they had formed of their calling. We may trace it back to the
reclusive rainmaker but should add-in the equally reclusive smith who
deals as deftly with magical fire, and the husbandman of the bush
culture, concerned as much about justice as substance in the fabric
of community life.


Source notes ‡
These annotations have two purposes. One is to clue documentary
sources to the text of the book. This will serve an occasional student
wanting to explore petty points. The other purpose of the notes is to
enlarge on my analytical strategies where they build on an older literature
and on work Africanists may not be familiar with—or where I think my
African cases have special significance for general knowledge. During the
several decades after mid-century last, the mood of discovery was still
peaking in anthropology. Most of us were, to cite one disapproving
colleague, “still struggling with ideas.” His thing, of course, was science.
Mine is, too, but with a difference. My social anthropology is scientific prin-
cipally in its insistence on developing its theoretical frames to fit a reality
directly observed. In its peak time, that meant direct observation of
extraordinary cultural communities. This is no longer happening. Cultural
differences are on the one hand melting away and on the other reinventing
themselves so quickly that the culture observed yesterday will not be
there tomorrow. These notes annotate my sources and draw attention to
areas of a vibrant and relevant literature which, though belonging now to a
past time, can’t safely be left on the shelf. The process of distilling the
ideas of twentieth-century social anthropology has barely begun. I have
meant my work on the Kinga and their neighbours to contribute to a scien-
tific syncretism within social anthropology. I have been steadily “struggling
with ideas” since leaving the field, and have left a paper trail through the
decades to which I make occasional reference. It is a fugitive literature, yet
all of a piece. My theoretical course has been guided consistently by the
need to interpret observations made in uKinga while 1900 was still alive in
memory. If I knew one thing quite clearly when the fieldwork was done, it was
that the Kinga puzzle was deeper than my ken. The writing would not be a
task to have quickly done. My appreciation for ethnographic realities has
matured with wide reading, largely of titles since published, and of relevant
archival sources. This is the second of three volumes now completed, all of
them comparative, dealing with the Kinga in their regional culture. The first
is Twin Shadows, dealing with Kinga moral strategies. The third and final is A
Politics of Fear, a Religion of Blame.

Chapter One

p 1 For a broad historical perspective on Southwestern Tanzania see

the articles by Park & Nurse in SUGIA 1988 pp. 7-204. For the extent of
Kinga participation in a regional culture see Twin Shadows. I argue there that
regional cultures should not be regarded as relics of earlier genetic relation-
ships among the peoples but as actively maintained social constructions.
Are the Nuer Dinka? Are the Ngonde Nyakyusa? the Bena Hehe? the
Magoma Kinga? The questions dissolve when we see that both (arbitrarily)
named groups in each pair belong to a more inclusive culture still harder to
describe than any of its components. The grandest culture we have to deal

with here is Bantu civilization, the smallest a hamlet or domestic group. The
quite grand and the very small are perhaps the hardest of all to describe.
Anthropologists tend to find their ‘cultures’ at mid-range.

p 4 For Bena, see Marc Swartz (1964). For Hehe there is a magisterial
source in Nigmann (1908).

p 10 The peculiar conditions which can be held to favour the formation

of ‘endogamous clans’ are not found in the Eastern Bantu civilization. A
‘clan’ is a trans-local political unit which regulates membership through
marriage and descent rules, most simply through exogamy and the unilin-
eality which exogamy helps to define. The so-called ‘dispersed clan’ is
something else and decidedly deserves another name. Quite simply, for
Kinga and some of their neighbours the identity tag which sorts you with a
particular subgroup of your people has social not directly political signifi-
cance. The best term for this is ‘surname’. Kinga share several surnames
with Pangwa and other political neighbours. That kinship is a political
construct is sometimes obscured by our preconceptions.

p 13 Formerly, anthropologists wrote about ‘primitive states’. They

were accustomed to the adjective and seemingly unconcerned about its
implications. Their meaning is best understood as part of the series ‘primi-
tive to ancient to medieval to modern’, once accepted as the history of
humankind in a nutshell. The world has grown less simple as we have
watched since then. The only anthropologists studying ‘primitives’ today
are paleo-archeologists looking at extinct forms of early hominids. I offer
the term ‘protostate’ as the label for small, independent societies which
have developed the use of authoritative sanctions on a trans-local basis.
Aidan Southall’s model, the ‘segmentary state’, was first proposed in Alur
Society (1954) and later generalized (1988). My term is not linked to a
structural model but to the existence of translocal sanctioning. The Kinga
and Konde examples discussed in this monograph would have to be
portrayed by separate ‘models’. They are assuredly ‘segmentary’ as in a
very general way all human societies tend to be, but they are not ‘states’
unless you want that word to signify a society without fast territorial
borders and the governmental machinery wanted to manage them. Borders
in the best of states may seem porous. But in protostates the principle of
territorial citizenship is unknown. Nyakyusa chiefdoms before colonial times
were virtually nomadic. Kinga rulers fought for followings not for territory.
Much scholarly misunderstanding has followed from the assumption that
their political thinking was ‘state-like’.

Chapter Two

p 17 The first-contact account is found in BMB: 295.

p 18-19 The source for chiefdoms as an ideal type, centered around

‘redistribution’ of goods is Service (1971).

p 21 Ritual sharing in the sacrificial offering, when seen as gestural

rhetoric, says the local hamlet is a kin group. Though friendship decides
where a man will build and stay, the prevailing fiction of agnatic kinship

among males serves to stabilize a hamlet. But when amity fails, a man may
decide to build elsewhere. It is in fact the women, agnatically unrelated, who
always sleep at home, and it is when they develop a sense of solidarity that
a hamlet comes to thrive.

p 24 I have discussed the Kinga bridewealth elsewhere (1964, 1994b).

In traditional times it was nominal, while in British times it grew phenome-
nally. In each case it was well suited to its times.

p 28 For the classic idea of charisma see Max Weber (1947: Part III
Sections ii, iv, v). Weber’s explanatory genius regularly drew on his three
‘grounds for action’: rational motivation is matched to legal authority,
tradition sponsors a sort of prudential deference to established authority,
while affect arising as devotion to individual leaders allows them charis-
matic authority. For my part, I see tradition as role-motivation, rationality
as a quality of role systems, and charisma as an occasional feature of
political theatre. The Kinga hero, Kyelelo the Cruel, was certainly ‘charis-
matic’ in the sense of drawing young men to his ranks while he was a fighter,
and stands comparison to Mkwawa of the Hehe, on a reduced scale. But
with age he passed leadership in war to his son and ruled, now as unkuludeva
or Prince, through his avanyivaha, elders of the court at Ihanga.

Monica Wilson argued (1959b) the case for ‘divine kingship’ among the
Nyakyusa. The term is a relic of past times in anthropology. It was intro-
duced a century ago to account for the ritual killing of a ‘king’ on his losing
bodily strength. It was supposed he must keep his health or the kingdom
would go sick with him. Nyakyusa have such notions. They are discussed in
later chapters. A quick source for Shaka is an encyclopedia, and major
studies will be found in scholarly libraries. Mkwawa is less famous. An
available source by a field anthropologist is Alison Redmayne, ‘Mkwawa and
the Hehe wars’ (1968).

p 30-1 ‘Solidarity’ lurks behind much Durkheim said in his Elementary

Forms. He describes society itself as ‘a synthesis of human conscious-
nesses’ (1947: 431) which he attributes to the enthusiasm encountered in
‘the school of collective life’—what boils down to religion. It is not ‘individu-
ality’ to which Durkheim gives too slight attention but competition—
cherished rivalries celebrated in dance.

p 35 The age-village is described by Godfrey Wilson (1951: 269ff) and

Monica Wilson (1951). There is no equivalent for girls. Boys are recruited to
a peer village before puberty with the expectation of staying with the same
age-mates through life, wherever the village may choose to move. The village
is not a place but a primary group, comparable to a family or brotherhood. In
like manner a village or a chiefdom is not a place. This has hardly failed to
confuse Europeans since German times.

p 35-6 Reconstruction of precolonial conditions is difficult, but a

concise review can help at this point. A longterm (30-year) political cycle is
posited for Nyakyusa ‘chiefdoms’. Charsley (1969: 94-8) would have us
rethink the version Monica Wilson recorded (1950) but disputes her inter-
pretation not her facts. My position is distinct but again deals with inter-
preting facts already in hand. In the final act of the cycle a chiefly union
might comprise (say) eight villages of senior men, each of them with several

wives and offspring, plus a dozen and more boys’ and bachelor men’s age-
villages off-sprung from the eight. Two of the eight senior villages, one on
each ‘side’ of the community, are alternate residences of the ‘chief’. A new
cycle begins when seniority is passed on to the new generation of men, with
a mandate addressed to certain picked leaders, each with other peer
villages in train, to amass cattle and wives. This gives rise to an entrepre-
neurial period of political realignment and redistribution of wealth, partly by
inheritance, partly by competitive raiding, and partly by the politics of
clientship, resulting in a settling down after thirty years into a mature
chiefdom rather like the original. There is again one chief sitting on two
‘sides’. Demographic expansion, if any, is not expressed in a change in the
structural plan of the new union, though small independent ‘chiefly’ groups
may have formed wherever they have found space—perhaps eventually to
grow. There is no need to regard the successor union as ‘the same chiefly
union’ since after thirty years neither the people nor the places will be the
same. But the politics of chiefly titles is another study.

p 36-7 I have discussed Kinga acquaintance with war, and the indirec-
tion lent to it by ritual interventions, in ‘Peace and power’ (1994a).

p 37-8 For Charsley on Nyakyusa militarization: (1969: 94-8).

p 38 For the Lwembe myth and ceremonial see Monica Wilson 1959b
and Park 1966; also ‘An exiled god’ in chapter seven below. For an historian’s
reconstruction of Nyakyusa beliefs about and political uses of their
Lwembe cult (envisioned as one of several within the ‘heroic tradition’ of the
region) see Marcia Wright 1972.

p 38-9 The sources for Southall’s ideal type are found in his monograph
on the Alur (1954) and in a later explanatory revision placing the type in
broader historical context (1988). For the Nyakyusa form of ‘hiving off’
(the Coming Out) see Monica Wilson (1951: 22-30).

p 39-40 The major sources on Nyakyusa (and to a fair extent the

‘Konde’ culture area they share with the Ngonde of Malawi) are Monica
Wilson (1951, 1957, 1959a, 1977). The last is an adumbration of case
evidence and reassessment of earlier interpretive judgements.

p 42 A brief account of the militarizing period in the southern highlands

after 1840 will be found in Oliver (1963: 209-10).

p 42-43 The original model of ‘predatory expansion’ supposed a tight

kinship system behind the segmentary structure. See Sahlins (1961). But
an equation of war with lineage patriotism is misfit to the Sowetan region.
For example, Mkwawa ruled by breaking down ‘tribal’ loyalties in favour of a
Hehe nation.

p 48 I wrote a book (1974) on the theme that the rules of the game
called ‘social structure’ hardly hint at the excruciations and high drama of
play which draw us in.

p 56 ‘Cult’ is probably the right word for the relationship the Sanga
system cultivated with the external Lwembe shrine. The procession of
Kinga priests to the shrine (as done in traditional times) clearly drama-

tized the natural clientage of their people to an exiled divinity. But
Lwembe’s status among Nyakyusa is not one of a patron saint and his
congregation. The shrine there is one resource among many to which people
may turn when they find themselves made powerless by events. Such terri-
torial shrines appeal most strongly to publics at a remove beyond the
horizon of familiarity. But when parties are seen to ‘shop about for a cure’ I
think ‘cult’ is always the wrong word, even if it is the readiest to hand.

For the Yao: Clyde Mitchell (1951 & 1956) provides a thorough study and

p 57 For a clear, distinctly abstract model of social structure as

‘frozen frames’ look first to S. F. Nadel’s Theory (1957). I proposed a less
abstract view, more consistent with an interpretive and motivational
approach to action, in Idea (1974). The approaches are complementary and

p 51-2 For the Kinga version of the Lwembe myth see Park (1966) and
the indexed passages in the current volume, in particular Tunginiye’s
account in Chapter Seven, pp. 234-6.

p 52 Understanding the ‘antipolitan ethic’ gives you a basis for under-

standing the difference between political and bureaucratic (administra-
tive) systems of order. The social contract of loyalty implicit in accepting
another person’s authority is in the one case retractable for cause, in the
other without alternative. In the modern democracy, party switching illus-
trates the antipolitan approach, rigid party loyalty the other. Politics can’t
deal with pure eclecticism. The antipolitan ethic reduces it to manageable
proportions. If you have sometimes noticed it is the illusion of democracy
which makes democracy work, you know where the Kinga householder
stands relative to his prince.

Chapter Three

p 55 Marc Swartz (1964) has discussed continuities in the Bena

system of law from pre- to late-colonial times, the Culwicks (1935) saw no
bar to discussing the full range of Bena law in a roughly pre-colonial ethno-
graphic present, and Nigmann’s early and careful study of Hehe legal tradi-
tions (1908: chapter 3) manifestly refers to the same regional culture.
Kinga, Bena, and Hehe are three versions of what is fundamentally the same
body of law. On linguistic and other para-historical evidence I find it probable
the groundwork was laid down in the later centuries of the Early Iron Age,
and that structural differentiation among these three Southern Highlands
peoples largely developed in medieval times—from about the sixteenth
century a.d. See Park (1988) and Nurse (1988). For an overview of Iron Age
cultures of the Eastern Bantu civilization I have depended largely on Phil-
lipson (1985) and his sources.

p 56-7 Hoebel (1954) makes a clear distinction between ‘demand-right’

and ‘privilege-right’. The application is to torts. As this might apply to
Kinga, the difference had better be seen as one of degree: Kinga were

jealous of privileges a ruler might claim. They mocked self-important men
taking others to court on small matters.

p 57-8 Gluckman’s two monographs on Barotse jurisprudence model an

approach applicable (though seldom to this date applied) to many systems
of justice working without written codes of law. The problem before the
court is not so often establishing who did what as whether, in the given
circumstance, a reasonable person would have done the same. Criminal
proceedings in a face-to-face society are sui generis. See Gluckman
(1967:389) and (1972:20f.)

On ‘compromise vs. decision’ compare Bohannan (1965).

p 58 Reynolds (1963) focused on factual reportage based on court

records and impounded items associate with witchcraft. He deals tangen-
tially with court procedure. On Gluckman’s response see his (1967:423ff. &

p 59-60 On ‘calendrical schedules’ see Park (1966)

p 61 The matter of generation spans has been much discussed. No rule

of thumb has been shown to be transferable from one case to another.
Fortunately, historical linguistics and archaeology are combining now to give
us an alternative basis for approximating time depth for Eastern Bantu
peoples. I have discussed the prehistory of the Sowetan region elsewhere
(1988). For present purposes it is enough to say that ‘king lists’ here refer
to a medieval period with roots in the later Iron Age, always bearing in mind
that the Sowetan political archipelago would have arisen from a series of
separate beginnings and irregularly.

p 64 For appellate systems as indices of unity: (Gluckman 1967:13).

p 75 I have discussed the structural significance of the bridewealth

change elsewhere (Park 1994b; for an earlier and different analysis see Park

p 77 My views on the importance of sanctioning systems and the tran-

sition from transactional systems to authority were worked out in The Idea
of Social Structure (Park 1974, especially pp. 313-336).

p 86 In theory, every Kinga youth should be able to name all eight great-
grand-parents and all their descendants, in order to avoid an illicit
marriage; but I never found anyone who could. Lore shows a preference for
the patriline, though exogamy is bilaterally defined in law.

It is wise to warn a reader that the jurisdictions under the British

dispensation, which are the basis for my ‘kinglists’, were derived from but
not regularly faithful to the supposed pre-German mapping of political
domains. The domain presiding as the capital village of a realm will always be
styled ‘oldest’ for sound political reasons, and rival domains may each style
the other ‘recent’.

Chapter Four

p 92 We have no sure ground in this region for estimating population

expansion during any ethnohistoric period. The concept of ‘expansion’ in my
accounts is always political expansion. For Nyakyusa ‘kinglists’ see Monica
Wilson (1959:3,27).

p 92-3 For Charsley’s critique see (1969: 20-1, 38-9).

p 93-4 Gulliver’s comments are found in his Introduction to Charsley

(1969: ix).

p 94 See M. Wilson (1951: 80), MacKenzie (1925:159-162; Fülleborn

(1906: 339).

p 94-5 A chiefdom may ‘export people’ without overall demographic

expansion, as out-marriages always entail such export. In political
expansion the main propellant was normally (armed) colonization, associ-
ated rather with cattle raiding than conquest or displacement. Where
cattle are important, the powerful keep themselves wealthy and, through
use of bridewealths, keep trading out cattle in return for brides. In this way
they expand demographically. It is this growth through asymmetric
exchange which is particularly characteristic of uNyakyusa and sets it
boldly apart from uKinga. For the ideal type case of ‘predatory expansion’
see Sahlins (1961).

p 95 For arguments supporting the application of ‘divine kingship’ to the

Kinga-Nyakyusa cult of Lwembe, see Monica Wilson 1959b.

p 96 For Charsley on a “princely system” see (1969:22). Monica Wilson

could offer no evidence on frequency of use for the ‘divine king’ procedure,
but left the implication that special renown was entailed. There are alto-
gether too many short-lived chiefdoms generated by the Coming Out
ceremony, to suggest otherwise. The thirty-year cycle for that ceremony
virtually entails the use of succession in case of premature death of a highly
successful chief. Charsley’s challenge to Monica Wilson is much discussed in
Politics of Fear.

p 97 German records suggest this kind of covert succession in several

cases. See examples in the following paragraph. The same subterfuge was
regular practice in British times at least for the lesser ‘headman’ positions.
The incumbent ruler in Maliwa during my visit was a good generation or more
too young to have been in office since the officially recorded date of his
accession. But I’m unsure what this implies about pre-contact practice.

p 99 The self-escalation model was primarily derived from a study of

the warlike Nuer, Nilotic cattle herdsmen. Whenever there is internal
dissension, the face-off escalates according to the structural proximity of
the disputants. It may be homestead vs. homestead or village vs. village, all
the way up to segments at a ‘tribal’ level. The Nuer offer an example of
rigorously systematic transactional sanctioning. The ethnographer calls it
“ordered anarchy”—Evans-Pritchard (1940: 296). In my terms, authorita-

tive sanctioning is restricted to the established ‘true’ or ‘free’ Nuer home-
steader, who may have a not-quite-true-Nuer homesteader allied and
subject to him. The wobble factor here is obviously cattle, as a man who, in
the warlike rivalry of Nuer with Dinka, loses his cattle can only survive by
conceding rank in order to join forces with a cattle-rich compound. Refer to:
(Park 1974a) (Southall 1976).

p 99-100 Godfrey Wilson (1951:280-8) is reviewed by Charsley (1969).

For Southall on the Alur see his (1954:146). I come to grips with the
Nyakyusa statuses of ‘chief’ and ‘headman’ or ‘great commoner’ in Politics of
Fear. The most important point to have in mind is that commoner village
rulers who survive to elderhood function as priests and may (or may not) in
traditional times have deferred in some matters to the ‘chiefly’ or heredi-
tary priests, who are fewer.

p 100 All-realm escalation could have happened but didn’t in response

to the Avajinga [Hehe] rape-invasion about 1875; evidently there was not
sufficient forewarning to prepare a collective response. The Eastern realm,
according to its traditions, successfully repelled the second incursion but
did so through a less than complete muster. In ordinary feuding of Sanga
with Sanga, it seems allies would abstain.

p 103-4 On charisma and the ‘revitalization movement’ see Wallace

(1956). On zigzag change see Monica Wilson (1977: 28-9).

p 104-5 For ‘extra-processual’ events see P. Bohannan (1958). For Tiv

sociology see Laura and Paul Bohannan (1953) and Laura Bohannan (1958).

p 112 For redistributive systems see Service (1971:134). For Fried’s

triangle: (1967:117f.).

p 112-13 On ‘social structure not social organization’ see Firth

(1963:36). Social organization translates as a phrase referring to social
structure ‘on the ground’ or ‘as embedded in situated action’. Firth used it
to escape the snares of abstraction typical of ethnographic discourse at
the time. My position (1974ab) has been that motivation is normally
embedded in the social role which affords a person status in any social situ-
ation, but may also be reactive (sentient motivation) or personal (as in
social involvements which may engender ‘extra-processual events’ and, in
Goffman’s sense, a shift of frame). On frame analysis see Goffman (1974)
and Park (1990a).

Chapter Five

p 115 For my scheme for naming and dating prehistoric periods in this
region—since I am not convinced one label fits all Eastern-Southern Bantu
areas—see Park (1988).

p 116 Alur citation: Southall (1954: 7)

p 120-121 Coser’s model was meant to fit industrial society but applies
only better to a small scale community with, as here, overpowering political

institutions. It would apply also to cattle-centred communities whose
social institutions are severely skewed by the effort to maximize the
herds. In the Nyakyusa case, as also in the Kinga case in late British times,
the greedy institution is the bridewealth. But the obverse of the same coin
is ‘cultural emphasis’, a value-positive term.

p 128-9 For the date 1845 I follow Oliver & Mathew (1963).

p 132 As to the limiting of war’s destructive potential, I have elsewhere

(Park 1994a) discussed the way war games and ritual intervention in the
procedures followed in war had a limiting function. John Nef (1950) offers a
balanced discussion of the ‘economic functions’ of war in an historian’s

p 139 On earlier uses of ‘involution’ in ethnographic analysis see Geertz

(1963: 80-2). Whereas he views involution as a dead-end process, I am only
suggesting that it generates a safe ‘plateau’ on which the Sanga system
could perpetuate itself while keeping aloof from the nineteenth century’s
‘winds of change’. Kyelelo did not, as Mkwawa did for the Hehe or Shaka for
the Zulu, amalgamate the Kinga. Had he done so, with the segmentary
system of ‘frozen warfare’ gone, the distinctive character of the Sanga
dispensation would have been swept away. Now where is the ‘dead end’ in

p 142 For the chief’s position in colonial times see Lloyd Fallers (1955).
For the idea of a ‘dual society’ and its application to colonialism see Boeke
(1953, 1955).

Chapter Six

p 154-5 Unfortunately, our unanticipated meeting was sterile.

Pakipande struck me at once as manipulative and seemed to present an
unsympathetic persona, masking intensity. In short, I scored badly with
him. I later learned as much about Pakipande as I could from others but
never managed to meet him again in person. Given his calling, I expect he
learned what he wanted about me, as well. An outsider’s curiosity couldn’t
have pleased him, I think. If my impression of his conservatism was correct,
he would have been avoiding ‘European’ colonial officials. So I dare discuss
him by reputation only.

p 155-56 Citation of Missionary Wolff: BMB (1900: 33-34).

p 163 For the ‘lion king’ see Feierman (1974:59).

p 164-5 The missionaries would have the sacred plantation a ‘garden of

God’—an overstatement stemming from their wanting to express a
concept missing in Kinga language and thought.

p 168 Stirnimann (1976: 111-12). Hans Stirnimann’s two volumes (1976,

1979) are extensively used and reviewed in A Politics of Fear, a Religion of
Blame, the third monograph in the present series. All translations, as usual,
are mine.

p 169 If this discussion seems to finesse the problem of theodicy in
animisms, it is because the problem does not exist where the only gods are
known to be, as in ancestor cults they once were in life, ultimately governed
by existential concerns of their own.

p 172 This observation, of the perverse quality of the ruler’s sacred

powers, I take as a clue to the ‘paranoid’ quality of princely importance: the
more successful the prince, the more dangerous is his person, the more
necessary his isolation from other men, and the greater his distrust of
them. During my fieldwork the Mwemutsi still had a eunuch in attendance. A
prince’s brother, always the kinsman a Kinga youth must be able to trust
implicitly, was a prince’s most feared enemy.

p 175 For envy and the doctrine of limited good see Foster (1965,

p 176-7 Source for Stirnimann on medicines is (1976: 110-28]).

p 177 But Malinowski (1935: v.1—particularly chs. 2,4,7) is dealing with

an involuted ceremonialism. Every possible niche for ceremony is filled. Only
bits of ‘magic’ are done privately or simply without spectacle. By Mali-
nowski’s definition of magic (as transformative acts filling-in where
practical knowledge fails) all ritual is included. Magical acts in my book are
religious gestures.

In his Origin of the State (1927: 51-73) Lowie argued that the shift from
‘blood ties’ to ‘territorial ties’ would always have been gradual.

p 177-8 Monica Wilson’s meaning is that quarreling is dangerous in

neutralizing protective medicines (1959: 146-7).

p 178 Stirnimann is cited from (1979: 149). His ‘local descent group’ is
an emic not an etic phenomenon.

p 179 The two citations on this page are from Stirnimann (1976: 115 &
181). On the place of medicines in Pangwa defensive magic (1976: 180-81).

p 186 Monica Wilson (1959: 61).

p 187 For Mandala’s banishment see Monica Wilson (1959:59-60). For

types of medicines see (1959: 142). For the chiding of a Nyakyusa priest by
his Kinga counterpart see Monica Wilson (1959: 124).

p 187-88 Stirnimann elaborates on his list of five natural symbols:

(1976: 224-5, 153). On the explicitness of Nyakyusa symbolism: Monica
Wilson (1959: 211).

p 221-2 For the full cycle of kinship rituals among Nyakyusa see Monica
Wilson’s volume on it: (1957).

Chapter Seven

p 189 For Murdock’s discussion of “primitive democracy”, and that on

“African despotism” see his Africa (1959: 33, 37-9). Such ideal types—if
seldom canonical—work as touchstones. These two focus attention on an
arbitrary scale from ‘sheer democracy’ to ‘sheer despotism’. A student of
the Kinga would quickly learn from this touchstone how many qualitative
considerations go into judging the slant of the dominance curve in a
comparatively uncomplicated social system. Another heuristic exercise:
compare Kinga and Nyakyusa. Each case has to be seen through the lens of
the other.

p 194-5 Ethnographically, the Corridor can be defined as ‘the Nyakyusa

and neighbours’. But Monica Wilson (1958) saw it as a migratory funnel for
people and ideas obliged to pass between the two lakes (Tanganyika and
Malawi). Though the great Eastern Bantu expansion constituted a gradual
flow from north to south, salient linguistic and political traits of the
Corridor peoples would have come on historical currents from every direc-

p 195 For Maquet’s political model: (1971: 90). Here is another ‘ideal’
pairing of opposites which, as touchstone, can help lend definition to a
range of African ethnographies.

p 196 Many details were recorded by Godfrey and Monica Wilson in the
1930s. See M. Wilson (1959a: 22, 25 & 1959b).

p 199 The identity of Mwakisisya with chief Mwakilima ruling at Lubaga

in the 1930s is made in Monica Wilson’s chart, Chiefs of Lwembe’s Line, and
her Map II: (1959a: 3, 87).]

p 199-200 Monica Wilson describes the Lubaga scene and the myth of
Lwembe’ sacred hoes through Nyakyusa eyes (1959a: 8-10).

p 200 For tribute vs. oblation see Park (1966).

p 201-2 Inga Clendinnen (1991: 236-9) sensitively discusses the

problem of godhead in Mexica (Aztec) thought. Viewing the New Fire
Ceremony would the ordinary observer see a god saving the world from
chaos, or a priest successfully charming an invisible being to so act? Kinga
priests had it both ways at Lubaga, though the layman might see only the
priests’ success: Lwembe’s godhead remained in hiding from lay eyes. I have
elsewhere discussed the attainment of apotheosis by priests as a feature
of ceremonial religion (Park 1990a: 267-70). How close does the possessed
Lwembe in the sanctuary at Lubaga come to this standard?

p 203-4 Ludwig Weichert’s photograph of eyed hoes standing erect at

one of the four Lubaga ‘gates’ is appended to these Notes. The ‘doubled’ hoe
is best described as two ‘eyed hoes’ locked in sterile coition. The scene as a
whole evokes the Kinga-Konde view of a sanctum sanctorum which only
initiates dare visit. See Weichert (1928: 128-9).

p 205 Citations are from Monica Wilson (1959a: 7ff. & 1957: 16).

p 208 Another symbol, associated with the accession of a new
Lwembe, is the ‘headpad’ (a small wreath) brought by the Kinga, on which the
selected priest must sit. Instantly on so sitting, he is invested with the
spirit and godhead of Lwembe. He is born anew. Here a single ‘eye’ communi-
cates the genius of a god to man. Just such head rings serve as symbols of
taboo-protection of a plantation. The ring may suggest the walk-around of
a priest with leafy medicines, which traditionally secures a field (Monica
Wilson 1959a: 22, 146; Stirnimann 1976: 140ff.).

p 211 Citation from Monica Wilson (1959a: 390). For the priesthood of
Lwembe and for Unsanyilwa (a.k.a. Unsanyigwa) see Monica Wilson (1959:
24-5 & 33). For Nyakyusa anti-witchcraft instruments and for the separa-
tion of brothers see her Good Company (1951: 91 & 21).

Figures 1 and 2 here.
1 = Digital version of Weichert’s photo 1928
2 = Digital enhancement of the compounded hoe



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Selected Boma Files
a) Njombe safari reports 1954-5 & half-yearlly reporta 1928-9
b) Njombe monthly & quarterly reports 1926-31
c) Njombe tour reports 1926-1930
d) Rungwe tribal notes 1926-1931
e) Iringa Provincial Commissioner’s circular letters 1926-31
f) General Land Report, Njombe District 1939
g) Fragebogen: Wabena Law & Custom. [Redmayne 1983 has source data]
h) Njombe District annual reports (1926-1936)
1) Njombe District laws concerning native courts (1931-1954)