Aesthetics and Politics of Violence in Central Africa Author(s): Wyatt MacGaffey Source: Journal of African Cultural Studies, Vol
. 13, No. 1, In Honour of Professor Terence Ranger (Jun., 2000), pp. 63-75 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1771856 . Accessed: 25/01/2011 15:33
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to feel that I understoodit. with little success. In a paper called 'From humanism to the science of man: colonialism in Africa and the understandingof alien societies' (1976). The imaginative representation of occult violence in these objects and in the insignia of chiefship has earned many of them a place in the world's art museums. Ranger has always insisted that African thought must be taken seriously. Haverford. a political theory. In recent years. Volume13. pp. and compared as such with Western theories concerning the social ordering of violence. One strategy might be to recalibratemy sense of 'murder. It is also necessary to qualify an English-speaker's normal sense of 'witchcraft. June 2000.as far as imprisonment. He told his story optimistically. in Congo/Zaire as in many other African countries. such as elders. I found their response to this and many similar incidents puzzling. are usually attributed by BaKongo to 'witchcraft. 63-75
Aestheticsand politics of violence in CentralAfrica
(HaverfordCollege. I could tell. 1469-9346 online/00/010063-13
? 2000 Journal of African Cultural Studies
.he has repeatedly shown that conceptual boundaries between the religious
ISSN 1369-6815 print. to them. Number1. perhapsmy mental adjustmentshould go so far as to reclassify kindoki from the domain of belief and irrationality('religion') and begin to thinkof it as a theory of power.' In the nineteenth century. and have been tryingever since. 'murder' is thus life's normal accompaniment. it has however become regrettablyconventional to call the Other. it can in fact be regarded as a theory of political life.' kindoki. If that is so. in which the exoticism of the results seemed to confirmthe pretensionsof the discipline.Pennsylvania)
ABSTRACT The BaKongo and other Central African peoples understand the place of violence in their lives in ways that resist translation into English because they seem to be both 'real' and 'imaginary.' given that most deaths and indeed most misfortunes. is a power that almost anyone may have and which is necessary to society's leaders and defenders. even after (perhapsespecially after) it has been invidiously glossed by such terms as 'witchcraft'. The local courthad imposed the maximumsentence in its power. imagined violence was represented in the rituals of chiefs and in the complex forms of minkisi. this kind of killing was almost banal. fabricated objects which could be invoked to inflict retribution on others. including illness.Journal of African CulturalStudies.looking forward to a humane comparative science which would not objectify those whom. vividly imagined violence has been central to the popular understanding of national politics.' since kindoki. 30 days The village was shocked but not deeply disturbedby the incident. in the intervening decades. Professor Ranger traced a history of social scientific misrepresentationsof Africa.in particular.
A man I saw sitting in a village jail in Lower Congo in 1966 had been convicted of murderingsix people by witchcraft and sending their souls to Kinshasa in aeroplanes made of leaves. though mysterious and dangerous. diviners and magicians.
and so they became famous. but they included impressive anthropomorphicstatues stuck full of nails. CentralAfrica. of a figure thatwas not only 'religious'but perhapsan object ratherthana humanbeing. shoulders. The principal classes of
minkisi were those that healed and those. adulterers. Gru6nais 1995. One is like chiefs throughout told.' The traditionssay. it would seem. Ciekawy and Geschiere 1998. and minkisi were (and are) objects. The nails were of 1 Whatfollows is basedon an examination all the texts in K.that hunteddown and punishedwitches. the Kongo chief was 'a leopard'and a killer. Sometimes the pose of the figure. empowered by animating medicines. and chiefs could be appealed to in terms usually addressedto nkondi.Thetopicof thispaper examined greater MacGaffey
.. both invested killers and nkondi were suppressed. Chiefs themselves were primarilycharacterizedby their exceptional violence. MacGaffey2000). 'The chiefs killed many of those they governed. we relieve the incident of at least some of its burden of idiosyncratic irrationality.contrastingwith the implied violence of the nails and other hardwaredriven into chest. who often relied on them to help maintain public order.'traditional')and the political (rational. kindoki is the power to cause harm for the personal and thereforeantisocial benefit of the witch. The figuresrepresentneitheran avenging spiritforce nor its victim (the witch or thief which it was commandedto find and punish). Laman'scorpusof 1915 and of that in (written KiKongo nativespeakers) dealwiththerituals chiefship of nkondi.l Nkondi took various forms. others display a curious serenity. the insignia of the chief correspondingto the 'medicines' of the nkisi. in so doing. which together constitute what Schatzberg has called a moral matrix of legitimate governance (Schatzberg 1993).materialsubstance. the inventoryof politically relevantpowers. Let us rescue the unfortunateprisoner from his jail and resituate him in a broader context.The rituals. The chiefs themselves could be called nkisi. many of them now well known as masterpieces of African art. thieves. is clearly aggressive. belly. Schatzberg1997. But those who defend society from witchcraft must themselves dispose of similar powers. ngyadulu for chiefs and mpandulu for minkisi. Political responsibilities were therefore in the hands. before opening a discussion of the place of violence in modem Africanpolitical thought. usually but not always men. Meyer 1995.64
(irrational. with upraised knife and thrusting jaw. but their functionscould be closely similarto those of chiefs. and pl. also kindoki. called 'blood nkisi' or nkondi (sing.Minkisi of the nkondi class were sometimes carried in litters as though they were chiefs. by of fromwhich nameandthenumber theCahier textsgivetheauthor's of Citations the KiKongo can the about corpus be foundin and list A thetextis taken.but the relationshipbetween the two. 'modem') must be transcended. characteristiconly of 'traditional'ruralpopulationscircumscribedby ethnic boundaries. From the earliest recorded times. were similar in form and purpose.takingany of many differentforms from an anthropomorphic figure to a cloth bundle.E. complete of theauthors information is at (2000). lengthin MacGaffey (1991). Chiefs were human beings.This Africanconcepts of power are still dismissed as dichotomyhas by no means disappeared. An nkisi is a container.' Under Belgian rule. other wrongdoers. 'if the candidatecould not kill his nephew with the sword of power we would know that he was not fit to be chief. Comaroffand Comaroff 1997. In its unmarked sense.
and treaty-breakers 'hunter'). BaKongo have relied on both chiefs and minkisi (sing. although a growing literaturechallenges this assumption by showing the role of such concepts in today's nationalpolitics (Lan 1985. Both chiefs and minkisi were invested with exceptional powers by the fact of having successfully undergone a ritual that tramsformed their ordinary. nkisi) to seek out and punish witches.This paperdraws upon indigenous texts that describe chiefship and nkondi in the nineteenth century.even the neck and face.
destructive tropical storms. punishing any of them until restitution had been made. This description accurately reflects conditions prevailing in most of Kongo during the period of the slave trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Where no chief had arisen to control a given area. including painful or debilitating illnesses. Mwene Mutinu (Kavuna58). strike them down again. if we carryon like this what will happento us when we travel to other regions?Ah.Infect all the childrenwith coughs and colds. People will say. treaties between clans. presumably they expressed not only the violence of storms and birds of prey but the anger and grief of clients who felt themselves to be under attack: Have you not heard. It is difficult to exaggerate the violence of the images comprised in invocations to nkondi. give them all headaches. But within the clan you may not invoke Nkondi (Kwamba 139).' to the need to put an end to the primordial war of all against all: The people were numerousin the country. Afflict them with boils. he tells the ghost [that animates the nkisi ] about those who are pleased to carry troubles to that house. Mwene Mutinu.Violence in CentralAfrica
intended both to annoy the nkisi. Traders depended on cultic associations and treaties to guarantee them safe passage and a kindly reception. but now it is over' (Kwamba 149). blood will gush from his nose. it is not good to imprisonsomeone with no fault to his charge. the violence represented here is imaginary. The afflicted. and he will die of this affliction. it was used very generally to control relations between localized clans. destroy. because of conflicts in the night. To me. do you not see the village? Slash and sweep. that we should look for the culprit and punish him only.
arousing it to action. banganga] of Nkondi to have him drive iron into his nkisi. he will see in his dreamhis house on fire and himself trappedin a palmwinetapper's climbing loop. Nkondi's function was political. with sores that never heal. were commonly sanctioned by
. Lord Mutinu. spread skin diseases throughoutthe village. Enfeeble them until they seek out the diviner who will identify you. A legend traces the origin of Nkondi za Mafula. Their denial is. nkondi held his whole group responsible. Spread confusion and misery among them.' Not long afterwardshe will feel a burdenon his back. Thus they made it known that this was a strong clan. and people fighting. when large tracts between settlements were unpopulated and unregulated. There will be a raging storm. often it was considered advisable to carry protective minkisi and to perform special rituals before and after an expedition. which would then have to be appeased.. 'Nkondi Mukwangacame to take him. although it corresponds to the kind of afflictions to which Kongo villagers were in truth vulnerable a century ago. twist their arms and legs. When he has driven in spikes on account of the bad dreams the sick person is having. either witches or the clients of some nkisi. and anyone who went to a village where he had no affines nor members of his own clan would be attackedand put in stocks until ransom was paid.thereforeit would be a good thing to set up Nkondi in the midst of the clans. But the elders said.. and the attacks of dangerous animals. 'nkondi of the entrances to the village. If the witch does not desist from his hostility towards others at night. that something has gone missing here? it is a difficult matter. forbidding war and permitting marriage. surely I will die in the same fashion. Whenever they seem to get better. Therefore Mutinu.pl.That will make him think the dreams have come to set him on fire.we have asked everybody in the village. lick your mother! Strike. was called upon to inflict. Even if the offender against which it was directed was an individual. that they did not do it. and to represent the pains that it
People seek out the nganga [operator. however. his mouth will be dry: 'Nkondi Mukwangahas pursued me here. a pain in the blood. believed that their sufferings were induced by the real though hidden actions of relatives and neighbours.
in an exploded or deconstructedform combined with Christianelements. The nailing procedure. 'to nail a curse. thusdealtwithin a simple.Theyset himdownon the wrapped him laidhimouton it.which swept Kongo villages between 1947 and the early 1950s.decisionsenforced. provoke. marked withredandwhiteclayand they Thenthe creature. called 'the cross of Jesus. togetherwith sporadicmovementsintendedto rid communitiesof its banefuleffects.without the use of a centralimage. The rituals for investing chiefs differed from district to district in Kongo.nay. coloured in red. from whom the candidate acquiredpower by contact:
When someone had acceptedthe office.' also described any of several standardized ways by which an individualcould appealfor help by insultingor provoking a chief. 'the spotted one. Among the BaYanzi. Usually a hunt or mock battle followed the investiture. thatthe power to kill had been induced. Popularanxieties concerning witchcraftcontinued.66 Wyatt MacGaffey Nkondi. but by everywherethe chief was transformed them into a 'leopard' and a killer. it was all dumped in a cross-shapedtrench in front of the door of the church. each of the villagers in turnhammereda nail while swearing. who along with otherpeoples transitional
. repression. inexpensive of nativechiefsat all.in the absence fetishes. which has the same function as medicines from nkondi applied to the body to establish a connection between the nkisi and the oathtaker(Janzenand MacGaffey 1974: 83). the name Munkukusa refers to this rubbing.the frightful sangthis song. When the ancestors of all the clans were representedby quantities of dirt. Munkukusa. Whilehe lay on thenyombo. The leopard. One of these. It began with the burial of the chief's predecessor. 'Whoeveris to be invested brandishesthe sword of power and having brandishedit he kills a nephew and licks blood from the sword' (Lunungu 159). 'He has seenthe leopard. of wood.but might submit to other tests of extraordinarycapacities (Laman 1957: 140). of for of largenumber caseswhich. the recapitulated essential elements of nkondi rituals. too. if I have eaten my elders.the chief would seize the plaintiff and only release him after the offending party had paid a large sum amounting to a fine (this mode of arbitrationis known throughoutCentral Africa).' also means 'to arouse. private.intertribal feudsaresettledby the samemeans. Grave dirt was broughtat night from the cemetery to the village church to be placed on the high table. the parties to the agreementinvited the nkisi to attack anyone who broke it.besides meaning 'to nail. then let my sign be death!' Immediatelyafterwardshe smeared mud from the cross of Jesus on his face.' the One.' In retaliation. Spotted took him backsto his house(Matunta Children himandcarried on their 313). Nkondi. Laman says that many of those appointed as ntinu refused to commit the requiredmurder. The investituresequence exemplified the same principlesas did the compositionof an nkisi. the verb koma. demonstratingby its success that the investiture had worked. could be 'aroused' by insults referring for example to the genitals of the nkisi's mother-in-law or suggesting that it was the not laughing-stockof the neighbourhood. the Childrentook him and put him in the house with
bundleof the corpseand the corpseof the deadchief. an nkisi at all but merely a piece of wood. 'If I am a witch. east of the BaKongo.wouldbe matter governmental to are nevercoming the manner. A disturbances.' Into a second cross.komanloko. Accordingto an English trader(Phillips 1887: 161): Thesefetishes of or the playa mostimportant in regulating conduct individuals families part . cognizance [theEuropean government's appointed] Though minkisi continued in covert use. spectacular nkondi with public regulatory functions had more or less disappeared by 1920 under the combined influence of governmentand Christianmissions.' was the mummy of his predecessor.
sakumunwa .all who saw him would feel fear and respect. a rite analogous to that of leaving an nkisi in the cemetery. or anyone who has committed a crime such as murderor disregarding chief's law (Lutete232).
. as it may be . Investiture included the composition of an nkisi nsi. which were expected to combine aesthetic merit with messages of violence. that the chief's reign might be blessed. or the candidate emerged alive and mysteriously marked with red and white spots. the principalputs his hand uppermost. nor step on her mat [both actions implying sexual intercourse]. Ma Nsundi. tied up. so that the power is 'raised. 'The man who carved the chief's staff and made it frightful received a slave as payment' (Lutete 236). the candidate also received: A cap with leopard claws. This knife could not be taken outside except on the day of execution (Babutidi 13).' Then other chiefs stick their fingers in the hole. the necklace and the bracelets. leopard's claws and teeth.The sword (mbele ya makenda)was made with an ivory handle. the approval of the dead was assured.If they had a tooth of a lion also.If people did not closely follow the commandsof Ntinu Ma Nsundi they were made prisoner. When he put on the cap. well carved in the form of a woman.holds the sword of power which is to be put in the ground. they would attachthatto the necklace (Kunzi 123). The reason he wore ivory braceletsand leopard's claws and a necklace of leopard's teeth is this: that he might be respected as those animals are. used to make official announcements. a double bell. believed to incarnate his predecessor.the others after him. He would be seen as frighteninglike the leopard and the elephant.not those that come from Europe. the whole thing sewn over with leopard claws. who oppressedthem greatly. like the medicines of an nkisi. it was very sharp. In a hole in the earth were placed items which. the candidate might be obliged to seek the approval of the dead by spending the night in a cave. indicating ancestral acceptance of his candidacy.He also put two copper braceletson his arms. When they hold the sword that is to be put in the ground. one who did not have 100 cloths with which to redeem himself would be executed by the royal sword. but in this country they cut pieces of ivory and make bracelets of them. Examples include a kinkanda monkey.Violence in CentralAfrica
of the region share the same ritual values. which by their ramification suggested the ever-expanding power and perdurability of chiefship. The bracelets were on his arms from the wrist to the elbow. or there may be two principals. a plant. suggested by their names or association the attributes of the chief's power. the candidate could not be invested until an actual leopard. if the nkisi were still there in the morning. The king appointedone man to execute prisoners. and on his arms ivory bracelets. The clan which ruled over all the clans that came from Ntandu was Ma Nsundi. and togetherthey brandishit. and those who held it afterhim and held it in the hole have the power to bury alive prisoners. In some parts of Kongo. showing her hairstyle and her breasts. Whoever is the one being invested. a medication of the domain (nsi). for strength. had been killed. lusakusaku. The hole signifies two things: the chief who stood the sword in the hole has the power of execution. mungodila.that is. ngolo. In the following account from Mayombe the arbitrary exactions of the chief are as evident as the fact that theatrically enacted violence celebrates his greatness and helps to keep the people terrified. He had a rule that no one might step over the legs of the wife of the king. the The insignia prepared for the chief included some of the finest products of Kongo art. both arms were full of bracelets.' Then they thrustit into the hole so that 'the power stands forth.The first chief is the principal to hold the sword. creepers. known for its resistance to death. a necklace of leopard'steeth to go on his neck. At his own death the chief's nails would be cut and his teeth broken to render him less dangerous in his leopard phase (De Plaen 1974).or two of them.
eh. pigs. 'E wewe!' The of Childrenand Grandchildren Ma Nsundi took up the head and soaked it in water until it rottedand the skin and the flesh fell away.2 When he raised it to strike. It was 70 cm. chickens and quantities of palm wine. to decapitate. When the recalcitrant saw the kipaba he would immediately agree to pay his fine because the sword stuck in the public place of trial (mbazi a nkanu) signified that the chief had 'arisen.3 These payments
amounted to physical announcements of the kind of powers over production that the
invested chief was supposed to wield.68
The missionaryethnographer Bittremieuxsaw such a sword in Mayombe. Thentheysang. ngongi bells and wooden mpwanda they sang. let it cut!' Uttering this threat.' Moreover. On the appointed all the peopleof the regioncameto watch. of which one was damaged and two had been taken by Europeans. 'Eh. Most of our
authors emphasize the cost of titles. Once invested.he would order a sword from the smith (ngangula). Kinkela wrote. he sang. probablyin L. two male and two female. and in coastal regions (Ngoyo) in particularit might be made of wood. If a man was sentenced by others but did not submit. ducks. because it was 'a rule of the title. The public applauded. no one could object. no telling what the cost' (Kinkela 94. those 'of the night' were handed over by occult means (kindoki). in that form it was a sign ratherthan a weapon (but there is no record of a MuKongo ever fighting with a sword!).
The 'sword of power' (mbeele a lulendo) was also called kipaba. 'I have heard that one candidate was charged 30 slaves. 'I will cut. 190).' The meaning of the kipaba is that anyone who rejected the decision of the chief would be arrested until his people ransomed him (Babutidi 18). Besides the animals consumed at the feast. the chief could help himself to anything he fancied. exactly as an nkisi derivedforce from a victim imprisonedin it. 2 Kenda. including any woman.' that is. The 'flawless' ivory carving showed a woman with her long hair dressed down her back and her handscrossed behind her. long. Invested chiefs were buried in the royal cemetery. either through special rules obtaining at that time or simply because social standards demanded the expenditure of huge amounts of imported gunpowder and cloth. Makenda. then they hung the skull on one of the poles of the king's compoundso that passing strangersmight see it and know that this was the residence
of a great kingwhoexecuted people. minor chiefs at its edge. also goats. Lutete gives few figures. danced with his sword in his hand. Makenda.
Chiefly titles were both a rewardfor wealth and a means to increase it. When the chief Makonde Mambutuwas to be enthroned. would stick his sword in the ground to open the trial. but Kinkela wrote that the investors would receive 'shackles of the day and of the night. he furiously attacked the prisoner. meaning that the corresponding number of individuals would be seen to die some time later.it had been one of four. the man appointed to this work. 3 The night people became a source of occult power for those who received them.Fromall directions day. the 1930s. ndungudrums. severing his head. ten slaves of each kind. and handledwith reverence. his death would be an occasion for further levies. in Mayombe an important constituent of the investiture fee consisted of slaves.
The kipaba was used as follows. when he came. Doutreloux was told that these slaves were young women (Doutreloux 1967: 169-70). they on brought palmwinefor the king. Doutreloux 1967: 169-70. of a woman caughtin adultery(Bittremieux1940: 119-20). executespeople!'While who
drums. and a witch accumulatedwitchcraftpowers
(makundu). kept in a raffia bundle along with other insignia of the chiefship. the referenceof the image is to the execution.
.Theylaidthe prisoner his [orher]backandpeggedhis armsandlegs to the ground. in the sacred forest.Originally. plus ritual fees and food for feasts.large mbuma trumpets sounded. they would appeal to Mambutu who.
except that the same text that speaks of slaves handed over 'by day' mentions a like number'by night.' by occult means. in the 1880s. he buried a man alive and then entered the market' (Kimbembe 80).
. were only 'contingently' (accidentellement)attachedto his person (Doutreloux 1967: 199). It is probablyirrelevantto try to distinguishbetween 'criminal' and noncriminalvictims. But the same rituals describe the chief's violence as 'imaginary. Often enough. a community that felt it needed a chief for the mystical benefits that were mediated by the office had to capture some unwilling individual who would be no more than a living nkisi embodying in mythologized form the contradictionsof Kongo society. and some of them requiredhim to performpublic acts of exceptional violence: to kill his nephew. and a soapstone figure shows a chief driving a knife into the ear of a man upon whom he is sitting. He maynotcarry sleep in the villageof another that palmwine. his munkwisain his teeth. He maynotopenthe lukobe. on another occasion.he must cut it with a knife. the leopard). realized in the chief. They initiated wealthy men into what was effectively a title association whose membersreinforcedtheir oligarchiccontrol over populationsof slaves or potential slaves. It is a commonplaceof the texts that chiefs 'oppress and kill and make war upon other clans. The length and cost of the funeralvariedaccordingly.including some which emphasizedthat though the chief was a leopardhe was also not a leopard. In 1929. a tree stood outside the compound of the king of Boma. and who profitedfrom the initiationfees requiredof new members.His function as a sort of animatenkisi-object is striking. Some traditionsrequiredthat the chief be castrated or impotent.Violence in CentralAfrica
commonershad their own cemetery.Ivory carvings from Mayombe show the chief. is for his slavesand theChildren do. though one who. hung with the skulls of his enemies. to sponsordramaticpublic executions. enthronedupon the body of a slave. and suggest that chiefship was a depersonalized power whose principles. He may not scratchwith his
nailson theground thesamereason. chief. local chiefs consecrated a trade pact by executing a slave whose body hung from a tree until it disintegrated. who achieved renown by fighting wars. had broken market rules might be executed in similar fashion. In the vicinity of Mukimbungu. enslaving the weak. publicly executing wrongdoers.for to do so is to summon Lordof the the
a Country(Mfumu nsi.lest in a littlewhiletheleopard attack livestock the (Matunta 314). to hand over ten or more slaves to the investors.' How much of this violence was partof the history of the times ratherthanof the essence of chiefship?What is the relationbetween model and 'fact'? The rituals of chiefly investiture were undeniably anchored in local politics and economics.' a form of witchcraft. up. The victims did not have to be criminals. It is tempting. to suppose that the images of death in the rituals expressed the actual violence of nineteenthcentury chiefs. and sacrificing others in political rituals.as leopards He maynoteatstanding andhe maynot do. How much of this violence in fact occurred?Why is it specified in some rituals but not all? All of it seems quite likely. for will livestock thevillage. were subject to a number of restrictions. The rituals of investiture identify the chief with the leopard. theboxof medicines is keptinsidehis to that house. both establishedthe chief s power. bound and gagged. like the nganga and associates of any major nkisi. he and his followers. therefore. an official executioner admitted having killed six slaves at the funeral of the reigning chief's predecessor (Swartenbroeckx 1966: 171). and the bodies of people of no importancemight be thrownaside. in the vicinity of Kisantu (eastern Kongo).or should not be so to excess: The chief may not tearat meatwith his nails.usually.In 1816. and so on. 'When a chief [with the title] Kayi Ngoma first began to rule and took charge of his market.He must in leopards attack noteat meatthatis still bloody.
The chief. The activity of the witch (ndoki) is to he 'eat people' (dia bantu). a medium of negotiation. the idiom of power. Identificationof authoritywith violence did not mean that in fact the chiefs always ruled by force. We are left. The concept of power is more complex than that. since the distinctions between real and imaginary.some chiefs were apparentlydespots. by its ambiguity. A traditional comment on the violence of CentralAfrican kings is that anthropological like the incest sometimes requiredof the ruler. however.an orderedsociety is one in which 'eating. The Childrenkept the leopardskinitself: banganga to cure him by reconsecrating If the Children sufferan injustice the handsof the chief or the clanof theirFathers.visible only in dreams or to diviners. are productsnot so much of the data themselves as of my readingof them. one who could not kill as expected lacked what it takes to be chief.actual bones found aroundsomeone's house may be adduced in evidence against him. If showus theplaceof yourinvestiture. In effect.the leprosy. status with respect to normal society. the harnessed bush-buck. This expression is not a metaphor. not a symbolic change of status. the more makundu accumulates.however. but others were no more thanpuppets. Whentheyputit of somewhere order control chiefship theirFathers. too. but does not do good. Fathers in to the of the wouldhaveto pay themthefineof a pig.These ambiguities. he cannot be given chiefship' (Mvubu 343). is supposed to 'eat' in the visible sense that he is expected to consume conspicuously. and that the cost of this benefit is a certainamountof occult 'eating' of nocturnalvictims handedover by the chief to those from whom he obtains his power or with whom he is obliged to bargainfor the good of his people. who have four eyes. at and aresador angry account suchan attempt theirFathers. speakas follows:'Are on of by they we notyourChildren? we arenotyourChildren.but only if he looks after people well and provides for strangers. which in former times could be revealed by means of the poison ordeal.' others can only have been 'imaginary'. The BaKongo indeed think that killing indicates powers that ordinarypeople do not have. or the striped mbende field-rat. is also.70
Additionalrules show the extent to which the chief was a creatureof his clan's relatives The power of the nkisi to cure leprosy by marriage. that he should also cause his followers to eat well. It is true that the meal is supposed to take place in an otherworld.fortheyknewthatthechiefship in theskin(Lunungu was 171). called kundu.symbolizes the king's exceptional killing. therefore.its Children and Grandchildren.' both literal and metaphorical (but for whom is it a metaphor?) is properly distributed. He would contract the provided disease if he returnedto the investituresite on his own. or if he ate the meat of goat. and one who could even kill a relative demonstratedthat he would govern impartially. the obligatory horrendousdeed is thought of as a real test. nkasa.' From northernMayombe we learn that a chief may be invested when it is seen that his deeds are remarkable. the restrictions could be no more than devices for controlling the chief and extracting wealth from his lineage. The English sailor Andrew Battell reportedin the seventeenthcentury. providing sanctions against chiefs as well as in
.'Though he looks like a chief. and would have to pay the him. In Kongo thinking.' If the chiefshouldarguewithhis Children wouldcontract he Untilhe paida fine. but it is none the less real. Kindoki.personand object are ones thatI feel I have to make. the more victims one eats. for they doe very hardly and seldome condemne any man to death. 'In Cases Criminall they proceed but slenderly. them with interesting means of disciplining the chief. insoluble on the evidence available: some of the powers of a given chief were no doubt 'real. with a double ambiguity. The witchcraftpower (kindoki) that leaders and wealthy people must have takes the form of a sort of gland in the belly. Children the chief wouldhidethe skinin the placewheretheykeptit.
their own wars. the warwas over. and came to recognize that the official programto root out 'superstition'and createa fully 'rational'political system made no sense (Fields 1982). violence can be highly efficacious' (ibid: 11). that is.District Officers were forced to rely on them as an alternativeto less subtle forms of violence. The incumbent. whether 'real. thus a sign of the presence of political competition (Riches 1986: 9).and to its dramatization chiefly myth in and ritual.clearly. andtwothousand.Thoseresponsible causingthedeaths paid'thousands' clothbundles theequivalent) slaves. was the person most suitable at the time.was defined by its violence and also by its guaranteeof continuity in the face of dangers naturaland social. even when the violence is instrumentally real. and in any case it was limited by a specific sense of its meaning as an indication or test of magical potency. The essential personnel in the act of violence are the performer. saying. the specific content. The two functions of violence correspondto the actual use of violence. The propertiesof violence. is culturally embedded. 'real' effects. particular.4 The office. the audience whose judgment is sought with regard to the legitimacy of the event. it conforms to a local tradition.' as by sorcery. since for the BaKongo the realityof 'imaginary'kindoki explains all exceptional. we may tentatively resolve the apparentcontradictionbetween the celebratedviolence of Kongo chiefs and the apparent fact that at least some of them were mere figureheads. or 'imaginary. Violence.the victim and 'the witness. and to a considerable extent also of practical violence.Where 'witchcraftpractices' were part of the moral fabric of the community.but neitherdoes the one follow from the other. Moreover.whoencountered similar problem respect thekings of Dahomey. returned the village. David Riches remarks that the act of violence is always one of contested legitimacy. 'make it highly appropriateboth for practical (instrumental)and for symbolic (expressive) purposes: as a means of transformingthe social environment(instrumentalpurpose) and dramatizingthe importanceof key social ideas (expressive purpose). is both highly visible and highly comprehensible. by the classic device of distinguishing between the king and the kingship. its performancerequireslittle more than the resourcesof the humanbody. 'suitability' being defined by his abilities in relationto the currentpolitical situation. Though it is impossible to estimate how much violence occurredin Kongo duringthe nineteenth century (before Europeans penetrated the interior).' as in stabbing. ended afterthe firstcasualties: As soon as one or two peoplehaddied. The point was made some time ago by Karen Fields with respect to British rule in what is now Zambia.they wouldhaltandsoundthe ngongi so thatthe to chiefs could negotiate.if two mendied. uniquely among social acts.' that is. with that between 'imaginary' and 'real' powers. or were esteemed for the mild virtues of wisdom and hospitality. The aesthetic aspect is an importantelement of performances of violence before an audience.theypaidtwopeople or and (mafunda.Violence in CentralAfrica
support of them. BaKongo were appalled to hear of the continuing slaughterin Europe. In the absence of the necessary historical data. theirwarsfew died(Mato280). During the first World War. chiefssounded the ngongiat all the and for entrances. however. the two are not independent. being essentially divinatoryordealsor trialsby combat. however.'Putup yourweapons!'Everyone Whentheywerereadytheybeatthegreatnkokodrum. certainly of ritual violence.This distinctionwould not coincide. it was probably not extensive. In Introducing a collection of papers on violence.
. in the abstract. The 'West' or the 'modern' tends to be seen in the eyes of its native inhabitantsas quintessentially civilized in part because they represent it as a domain of reasonable to a with to 4 I owe thissuggestion EdnaBay. as in war and kidnapping.
In other societies.' provoked in this instance by the parents' quasi-legitimate dissatisfactionover the amountof marriagemoney they had received. are in the 1990s it became more difficult to sustain this comfortingimage. Barth although mentions the peculiar disparity in our culture between ethical principles supporting justice and security. think of themselves as constantlysubjectto violent attack.an evil in private hands. F. The occult power that makes such violence possible is kindoki. Discussing the Piaroa of Venezuela. not metaphorical. war is waged in other parts of the world. 'Oh. but it also implies a very particular view of humanlife and its availabilityas raw materialfor 'symbolism. from an observer's point of view. 'the right to kill is the defining characteristicof kingship' (Ben-Amos 1976: 246). at whatever level.The chief put his foot on the skull and drankthe victim's blood mixed with beer. were regularly anointed with the blood of sacrificial victims.a terrifyingand ever-presentreality which is nevertheless invisible . I once asked a man what had happenedto his first wife. Vansina 1991). including beautifully carved female figures.whereI have spentsome time.
. In Benin. but it is real.5 Given the wide distributionof the idea that 'the chief is a leopard. Violence is thus exceptional. very peaceful (Overing 1986). her parents ate her on our wedding night.in the minds of those who speak of it.deviant. was and is understoodin Centraland West Africa as necessary public violence (MacGaffey 1986. beneficial when exercised by the guardiansof public order. perversity.althoughPiaroalife is free of physical violence and. murderers sent away to jails.By 5 The BaKongo in contrast. with resignation. and 'the known existence of crime. The drum played of only at the funeralsand enthronements chiefs was covered with skin from the scarified torso of a woman sacrificed for the purpose. not anger.the fault of others.' The codifiers of our Theory of Man live on the polite side of this dichotomy. this privileged innocence is not possible.That the chief at his investiturekills his nephew may state by implication that he will rule impartially. BaKongo.' we can say that authorityitself. The Nyim of the Bushoong (Kuba) was believed able to transform himself into a leopard and among the BaTetela the assimilation of the lineage chief to the leopard was so strong that he abstained from havebeen notedin modern timesfor the absenceof violenceamongthem.' Among the easternLuba.complicate any attempt to interpretthe models and realities of chiefship in the nineteenthcentury.or that he has ceased to be an ordinaryhumanbeing defined by social bonds. violenceis neverfar below the surface.72
discourse from which violence is excluded. unless he could do this he was no true chief (Lucas 1966: 90). The ambiguities of the capacity for violence .'in jail or or the electric chair. The violence of chiefs is culturallymuch more complex than the familiarfunctionalistidea that a sovereign should monopolize the power of life and death. The royal regalia. Northern Ghana. too. which all elders have in some degree and which is also a necessary attribute of chiefs and banganga. while persons who pass across it are 'subject to elaboraterites of brutalization rehabilitation. or that he is obliged to defend the polity against invaders.' Such 'eating.' invisibly.although(in the twentieth century at least) they have had a reputationfor 'pacifism' and physical violence among them is mostly the work of the police. Overing reportsthat they believe that all deaths are murderseffected and also avenged by sorcery. guests at festivals were known individuallyas the agents of specific acts of violence (Barth 1975). he replied. and war.every new chief was anointedon his forehead with blood from a man sacrificedfor the purpose. The New Guinea village Barthis writing about is 'a world where attackerand victim were known to each other as social persons'. happens 'at night.
At the festival in which the chief became a leopard. the king assures the well-being of his people by taking their sins upon himself. and De Heusch can only explain his identification with the leopard by drawing upon psychoanalysis. like most Kongo chiefs. which he believes generate a theory of the nature of 'primitivereligion. person.where the chief is a 'lion.the circulationof goods.but is 'tied to concrete embodiments. The Tetela lineage head. ratherthan to abstractstructures such as offices.' but appearto be lacking in the west. conqueror kill by witchcraft'(Bayart 1993: 269). 'corruption'and violence. organizations. He ranges widely in search of illustrative examples. It is a premiseof 'the politics of the belly' that people admired for their success achieve it by eating the substanceof others.Violencein CentralAfrica
eating its flesh. however.his wives as well as the members of his lineage were also allowed to wear the leopardskin (De Heusch 1954: 98). In Bantu languages generally. Examples of this complex are said to exist in eastern Africa. Rene Girardhas included African examples of violence related to royalty in his Violence and the Sacred (Girard 1977).and territories'(Fabian 1990: 24). The relation of violence to other values is quite complex. would be criminal.or imposing order. when he deliberately entrapped four well-known politicians into a plot against him and then publicly executed them. The Kanongesha of the Ndembu. Among the Shona in Zimbabwe. in lesser men. to wear the leopardskin. the spirits of dead chiefs are conquerors. 'to eat' is often used to denote access to power. linked to the circulation of women as wives and mothers. everybody knew that the easy-going politics and musical-chairsgovemrnmental changes thathad prevailedin what was then the Democratic
. attack. warriors.' David Lan notes that although. Such a lineage chief was said 'to destroy men as the leoparddestroys goats.Presidentsand politicians are expected to demonstratea capacity for larceny.' Necessary elements of this theory include the sacrificeof a surrogate victim. 'it is through their violence that the fertility of the earth is made availableto theirdescendants'(Lan 1985: 152). Discussing the role of the Tetela lineage head.' Power is understoodas a personalproperty. using means which. once in his lifetime. The elephant is a chief among animals because it eats more than others. for example. in fact the candidatechief must be generous with his gifts if he is to be allowed. by their very nature. and material symbols. nor is royal incest practiced. The metaphorof eating dominatesthe political cultureof sub-Saharan Africa in the late twentiethcentury. At every political level. 'eating' is polysemous: it means not only to feed oneself.blood is not pouredupon him.and killers. He was a sorcererwho could cause barrennessin both land and people should he touch his bracelet to the ground(Turner1957: 318-21). for example. 'between Egypt and Swaziland. In none of the rituals of Kongo chiefship. not at all easy in an economy of poverty. After that. for 'the leoparddoes not eat the leopard' (De Heusch 1985: 98). 'These are images which depict access to power as ingestion/incorporation ratherthan occupying a position or territory.' The Kanongeshaof the Ndembu in modem Zambiasat on lion and leopardskins and wore a braceletmade of human genitalia which was soaked in sacrificial blood at each installation. De Heusch notes that although the ritual characterizeschiefship as violent. and an oedipal association in royal rituals between the king's obligatory incest and his symbolic death. expresses the perpetuationof life itself. can the chief be regarded as a scapegoat. exploit. as well as princely largesse towards their followers. President Mobutu Sese Seko appealed to traditional values in 1965.' but also 'to accumulate.but the linguistic association between 'wealth' and 'eating' is centuriesold. achieved his position by obligatory generosity. wracked by 'structuraladjustment. According to Girard. was a ritual figure unable to control his nominal subordinates.
and When the oppositionpartiesdenounced'the harmfulinfluenceof the marabouts other destructivepracticesthatgovern us' they were not employing metaphor. but the tradition itself is pervasive.' There is no reason to thinkthatMobutuhad any trueunderstanding of the chiefly tradition. USA. widely circulatedin the press as well as by word of mouth. In the face of world-wide protests.. Social scientific recognition of this complex has been inhibited by the conventional treatment of 'religion' and 'politics' as separate substances. In 1980. can WYATT MACGAFFEY be contactedat 908 CherokeeRd. that among ordinarypeople therewas a somewhathigherrate of violent crime in the northeastthanin the southwest of the country. magistratesas particularly now recorded only in legends about great chiefs of the past and in the vitrines of art for museumsaroundthe world. KY40204. Faced with the incredulity of strangers. though he did not hesitate to order executions.74 Wyatt MacGaffey Republic of Congo were no more.it may be that imaginedviolence. was not high. my neighboursin 1965 were stunned:aesthetically imagined violence is easier to live with than the real thing. 1995: 166). and by the of only 'anthropologization' indigenous belief. in orderto pay for the expensive new airportin Kisangani. The violence of chiefs. Louisville. popular opinion explained the arrival of Ba'hai missionaries in northeasternZaire by the 'fact' that.'but always the result of some kind of sorcery. the death of prominentpoliticians in Zaire was never 'natural. did not rule primarilyby violence.. Oppositionto Mobutuin the 1990s includedstories.edu. substituted the real thing. Mobutuarguedat the time thathe was expected to conduct himself with the decisive violence characteristic of 'a Bantuchief. however.the Presidenthad had to admit a new groupof tradersin souls whose nocturnalactivities would bring in foreign exchange.educated Africans. It was believed thathe was obliged to hand over the souls of citizens to pay for these secrets. and the incidence of violence in Zaire. as witches do and chiefs did. email: wmacgaff@ haverford. before the collapse of his regime in the bloody events of 1996-97. do not hesitate to invoke 'African realities not to apparent the Cartesianrationalityof the North' (Gru6naiset al. Even Mobutu. after living in Kisangani and studying court records there. the execution did not earn the Presidentwidespreadadmiration.must be a contained violence. In popularopinion.' certainlynot aboutthe distribution of violence in it. occult. The BaKongo of the southwest were described to me by preoccupiedwith witchcraft. On the other hand.'ruralpopulationscircumscribedby ethnic boundaries(Geschiere 1997). to earn public approval. It is my impression. One should not recklessly generalizeabout 'Africa. treatingit as though it were characteristic of 'traditional. which accused him of strengtheninghis person and his regime by witchcraftand by occult techniquesobtainedfrom all over the world.
. The liberal ethnocentrism of foreign commentators also inclines them to pass by in silence beliefs which they cannot personally endorse. The chief as killer in defence of the public good readily slips into the mode of the chief as sorcererand cannibal.
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