Front Cover
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Part I. Relation of the Bantu to...
 Africa and the Africans
 Part II. A study of Bantu life...
 Spirits of things
 Spirits of people
 Tribal law and politics
 Woman and marriage
 Training of Bantu youths
 Part III. The Europeanization of...
 Discovery of the Bantu
 The white man's burden and how...
 Some problems of government in...
 Native labour
 The colour bar
 The task of the church

Title: Race problems in the new Africa
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00024756/00001
 Material Information
Title: Race problems in the new Africa A study of the relation of Bantu and Britons in those parts of Bantu Africa which are under British control
Series Title: Race problems in the new Africa
Physical Description: 296 p. : 1 illus., 2 fold. maps. ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Willoughby, William Charles, 1857-1938
Publisher: Clarendon Press
Place of Publication: Oxford
Publication Date: 1923
Subject: Bantu-speaking peoples   ( lcsh )
Blacks -- South Africa   ( lcsh )
Race relations -- Africa   ( lcsh )
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00024756
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: ltuf - AFA4963
oclc - 00817395
alephbibnum - 001023187
lccn - 24007129

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Title Page
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
    Table of Contents
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
    Part I. Relation of the Bantu to other African races
        Page 13
    Africa and the Africans
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
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        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
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        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
    Part II. A study of Bantu life and thought
        Page 45
    Spirits of things
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
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        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
    Spirits of people
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
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        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
    Tribal law and politics
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
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        Page 91
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        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
    Woman and marriage
        Page 102
        Page 103
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
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        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
    Training of Bantu youths
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
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        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
    Part III. The Europeanization of Bantu Africa
        Page 139
    Discovery of the Bantu
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 145
        Page 146
        Page 147
        Page 148
        Page 149
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
        Page 154
        Page 155
        Page 156
    The white man's burden and how he got it
        Page 157
        Page 158
        Page 159
        Page 160
        Page 161
        Page 162
        Page 163
        Page 164
        Page 165
        Page 166
        Page 167
        Page 168
        Page 169
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    Some problems of government in Bantu areas
        Page 171
        Page 172
        Page 173
        Page 174
        Page 175
        Page 176
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        Page 186
        Page 187
    Native labour
        Page 188
        Page 189
        Page 190
        Page 191
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        Page 220
        Page 221
    The colour bar
        Page 222
        Page 223
        Page 224
        Page 225
        Page 226
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    The task of the church
        Page 250
        Page 251
        Page 252
        Page 253
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Full Text



Oxford University Press
London Edinburgh Glasgow Copenhagen
New York Toronto Melbourne Cape Town
Bombay Calcutta Madras Shanghai
Humphrey Milford Publisher to the UNIVERSITY




F.R.A.I., F.R.G.S.
Professor of Missions in Africa in the Kennedy School of Missions,
Hartford, Conn., U.S.A. ; lately Principal of the L.M.S. Native
Institution, Tiger Kloof, South Africa





1? 0

Printed in England



S. J. W. CLARK, EsQ.

of London and Chester, merchant, philanthropist,
traveller, missionary, and Christian; who has given
himself freely to the promotion of comity and business-
like efficiency in Christian Missions; to whose un-
wearied patience and generosity the art of Survey in
Missions owes more than can yet be told; and who
blithely bore the cost and hardship of tramping
through South and Central Africa in quest, not of
trade, sport, or adventure, but of first-hand informa-
tion concerning some of the Problems discussed in
this book.


IN the new mandatory system that the League of Nations is
applying to Africa, tutelage, trusteeship, and the just treatment
of the native inhabitants are dominant ideas. But if the tutor
does not understand his pupil or the trustee his ward, he will
fail to be just, however honourable his intentions. And govern-
ment is no longer the privilege of a few: it is now everybody's
Stars which were outshone and unnoticed on clear nights
catch the eye when they shine through a rift in dark clouds. In
the gloom of the Great War it came to us almost as a new
revelation that mistaken leadership must be paid for in the blood
and tears of its followers, and that mistaken loyalty thereto may
mean widespread disaster for others. And also the magnificent
response of the British Dominions and Dependencies to the call
of need convinced us that spiritual oneness counts for more
than legislative shackles, and that the security of the Empire
consists in the mutual sylipathy and faith of its varied com-
munities. Much of the old apathy to the wider affairs of the
world has disappeared. Labour organizations that were devised
for the purpose of humanizing toil have come to the conclusion
that it is perilous to stand aloof from the larger problems of
statesmanship ; and Churches insist with growing emphasis that
the spirit of Christianity must pervade world-politics. Men are
out for a justice that is touched with a warmth of generosity.
But justice depends upon intelligence as well as intention.
If men can secure such an understanding of world-movements
as will enable them to form just judgements concerning duty,
nothing but good can come of the new determination to control
these movements; but consecrated ignorance and blundering
zeal are more potent for mischief than is selfish apathy.

With all the goodwill in the world, however, it is not easy
for Britons to understand the alien life of those parts of Africa
for which they have made themselves responsible. Intercom-
munication is constant, rapid, and easy. That marvellous net-
work of electric nerves that covers the earth keeps every part
in touch with every other. News passes freely. It was never
so easy to discover what happened yesterday in the extremities
of the Empire; but it is no easier than it used to be to look
beneath the strange ways of a strange people and discover that
unseen element that matters most-the spirit with which their
institutions are inspired, the ideals that will determine their
action in days that have not yet dawned. Any hasty traveller
may motor through the forest and see much that is of interest;
but the inner life of the forest reveals itself to those who linger
lovingly amidst its shadows. This is still more true of the life
of an alien race. But something more than long residence in
Africa is needed to enable one to speak with authority on African
life. Men do not become geologists by merely living among
rocks; and inability to interpret rocks means inability to see
what is most significant in their structure and relations.
The problems created by the European invasion of Africa are
numerous and complex, and there is no formula that will solve
them all; but an accurate knowledge of tribal life is essential to
the solution of most of them. Even the sweet reasonableness
of a Christian gentleman is insufficient to enable one to look out
on life through eyes which are as foreign as those of the Bantu;
and yet it is only as we take their view-point that we can get
them to take ours. Until we see what Bantu life really is, we
cannot know how greatly it needs the aid that can be given by
the best elements in British civilization and Christianity, still
less can we discover how to render such service. The straight
clean life of a good man is of value to any Bantu tribe in which
he happens to dwell; but earnest and good men have also
wrought mischief through failing to understand the life of the
people around them.

Tribes that have been shut off from the rest of humanity for
about 2,ooo years provide interesting material for the psycho-
logist, the theologian, and the study of comparative jurispru-
dence; but the primary purpose of this book is to give busy
men an interpretative glimpse of the inner life of people who
have come under British control, and to consider questions of
race-contact in the light of that vision. The writer's aim is not
to produce a book of travel, with all its charm of personal
adventure, danger, disappointment, and triumph; nor to give
vivid pictures of African life by employing general effects,
vigorous touches, and masses of form and colour; nor to show
the results of missionary activity, either by means of those
interesting little stories of individual converts which prove so
little, or of that broader survey of the influence of Christianity
upon the life of whole communities which means so much.
Excellent literature of all these varieties is already available.
But there are few books that help the students to explore the
soul of the Bantu people. And yet thousands of clear-headed
and unprejudiced men, who are not moved by mere emotion,
want to see things as they are, and to see the real inwardness of
the foreign life that Britain has to handle, in order that they may
form sound judgements and shape their course accordingly.
The writer's hope is that he may be permitted to show such men
some of the salient facts of Bantu life.
Much of the material in these pages, being the result of
prolonged residence and research among Bantu tribes, is here
published for the first time; and the remainder can be gathered
only by wading through a redundance of unavailing literature.
In the study of Bantu institutions, as in that of chemistry or
biology, no text-book can ever take the place of the laboratory ;
but those who, like the writer, have had to struggle slowly
through difficulties and blunders to a passable understanding of
Bantu life know how the difficulties might have been lessened
and the blunders avoided if some such exposition as this had
been placed in their hands when they were new to Africa. If

young men preparing for an African career as traders, miners,
planters, doctors, missionaries, or Government officials find
guidance in these pages as they thread their way through un-
familiar scenes, the author will be amply rewarded for his toil.
The book is of necessity brief, or it would fail of its purpose.
And the danger of brevity is seeming dogmatism. But the writer
has tried (he hopes, successfully) to avoid the dogmatic spirit
and to discuss the problems without bias or passion.



Contains only one chapter, which gives a popular account of the various races
which inhabit Africa, showing their distribution over the continent, and
their relation to one another. The aim of this part of the book is to show the
Bantu in their racial and geographical setting.

Main geographical features of Africa Rainfall and vegetation Distribu-
tion of population Semites Hamites Negroes Primitive man in
Africa An extinct civilization Bushmen Hottentots Bantu -
Sudanese hybrids.


Contains five chapters concerning those phases of Bantu life which matter
most to one who would get at the real inwardness of these people: the
magic that sways their thought, the ancestor-worship that appeals to what
is most devout in them, the ancestral laws and institutions that provide
a framework for their social relationships, the place of woman in their tribal
and social system, and the Bantu method of educating youths of both sexes.
These chapters enable us to see the drift of Bantu life, and make it possible
for us to inquire how Britain may best secure the' just treatment of the native
inhabitants of those Bantu territories which she has undertaken to govern.
In this part of the book, no notice is taken of modifications introduced
into Bantu life by European influence. It attempts to picture Bantu life as
it was, and often is, apart from European influence.

Assumptions of Bantu thought Taboo Breach of taboo involves super-
natural penalty Purification from breach of taboo Taboos are not mere
social regulations Magic Character of medicine-men Herbalists -
Diviners Magicians Rain-makers No worship of the spirits of things -
Contrast between magic and worship Witches European attitude
towards these beliefs.

Bantu conception of life after death Cult of ancestral spirits Ancestral
spirits communicate with men by (a) Dreams, (b) Calamity, (c) Trance,
(d) Reincarnation, (e) Possession', (f) Prophets' Ancestral spirits and
family life Ancestral spirits and tribal life Worshippers communicate
with spirits by (a) Sacrifice, (b) Offerings, (c) Praise and prayer Drama
and music in worship The Supreme Being Translation of the term
' God Influence of Bantu religion upon character Perils of ancestor-
worship Points of contact with Christianity.

Bantu political institutions The family Patriarchal power Checks on
patriarchal power Patriarchal responsibility Clan Tribe Land -
Duties of a tribesman Public business and Bantu law Judicial Assembly
- Civil Assembly Armed Assembly Military organization The chief
- Lordship and servitude Legislation Politics rooted in religion -
Bantu ethics.

Various forms of marriage Bantu terms of relationship Primitive
meaning of marriage Matrilineal theory of marriage Marriage by
capture Marriage of dominion- Bride-price What the bride-price
buys Substitute-wife Substitute-husband, or law of the levirate -
Polygamy Wives or concubines ? Relation of bride-price to dowry -
Effect of these customs on women.

Bantu homes First years of childhood Bantu education -Training of
girls Training of boys Picking up knowledge Education by playful
imitation Dancing and singing Purposive education Boys' Initiation
Ceremonies of the First Degree : (a) Days of preparation, (b) Puberty camp,
(c) Circumcision and white clay, (d) Hardening the boys, (e) Instruction,
(f) Taboos imposed, (g) Return home and regimentation for service, (A) A
night of vigil -Initiation into the Second Degree: the sacred pole -
Variations in Puberty Rites Girls' Puberty Rites: (a) Camps and vestments,
(b) Images of the gods, (c) Masquerade of the gods, (d) Instruction, (e) Return
to the community: a night of vigil Variations in Girls' Puberty Rites -
Motive of these rites Puberty Rites associated with religion.


Contains six chapters, all of which deal with the Europeanization of Bantu
Africa. These chapters assume a knowledge of the subjects discussed in
Part II. After showing how the White man came into Bantu Africa, an
attempt is made to discuss the main problems which arise from the contact
of the Black and White races and to discover how Britain ought to deal
with these more primitive people.

Ancient African civilization Early African exploration Christian
Churches in Africa The coming of Islam Africa and Mediaeval Europe,
especially Portugal Africa in the seventeenth century: Dutch, British,
and French European and American slave-trade Interior Africa still
unknown- Era of African romance and exploration Advent of the

HE GOT IT Page 157
The coming of Europeans Founding the Boer republics Lure of
wealth Scramble for Africa Trade and the flag Can it be justified ? -
The ownership of land How the Bantu got the country Mischief wrought
by European adventurers- Inevitability of annexation- Chartered com-
panies and Government British ideals- Mandatories of the League of

Two methods of governing Bantu-Bantu parodies of Britons -Parodies
of British institutions -Education of the Bantu Education as an instru-
ment for producing group-solidarity Distinction between education and
learning Aim of Native education Spectre of Black supremacy -
Diffusion of knowledge Native Liquor Question Native Land Question.

White brain and Black brawn Superficial judgements-Meaning of in-
dustry Native as a servant- Native servant and his family- Native
servants and their European employers Two separate Native Labour
Problems Imported labour Forced labour Forced labour as an
ancient tribal custom Why settlers clamour for compulsory labour laws -
Indirect method of forcing Natives to serve Whites : (a) Seizing Native lands,
(b) Increasing Native taxes Inequality of Native response to European
influence- Four classes of European employers: (i) Residents in tribal
areas, (2) Isolated settlers, (3) Dwellers in European towns, (a) Improved
dwellings in town locations, (b) Moral and intellectual uplift in locations,
(4) Mines, (a) Recruiting agents, (b) Open and closed compounds, (c) Cost
and efficiency of Native mine-labour, (d) Labour-touts and their ways,
(a) Should Government recruit labour for the mines ? How to increase
the supply of labour The larger problem of making the Africans industrious
- Conclusions.

Attempts to Europeanize the world British and Dutch attitude towards
colour Causes of group-aversion- Inaccuracy of the terms 'race' and 'race-
prejudice' Colour a symbol of different social ideals Group-sympathy and
group-antipathy Bantu characteristics which offend the Briton British
characteristics which offend the Bantu Question of social equality -

Question of political equality-Brotherhood and its implications-Ethiopian-
ism is political and religious Why the Blacks blame the Whites for all their
troubles African Nationalists Rise of Ethiopianism Ethiopianism in
harmony with Bantu character and tradition Ethiopianism facilitated by
our denominational cleavage Ethiopianism a mark of racial adolescence -
Ethiopianism a reaction' against Negrophobia Democracy and race-hatred
both spread from great labour centres Segregation Mixed marriages.

The unfolding of a child's mind and soul Similar unfolding in child-races -
The Bantu are responsive to the unseen They need the soul of Western
civilization as well as its body Is Western civilization purely material ? -
Can the civilization of Europe be transplanted in Africa ? Europeanization
of Africa inevitable Spread of Arabic civilization in Africa Islam -
Contrast between Muslims and Christians Some traders and officials of
a fine type The business of the Church What it means to evangelize
Africa-The conversion of a heathen Some essential qualifications for
missionary work Kind of men needed for missionary work Need for
vocational training of missionaries The only way to evangelize Africa -
The pioneer missionary- Training the local Church in (i) Self-propaga-
tion, (2) Self-support, (3) Self-government Church discipline The lure
of an easier path Adolescence of the Church Training Native leaders
- Sectarianism Freedom and unity of the Early Church Synthesis
of local loyalties The vice of intolerance- The coming comradeship
- Plan of campaign wanted Creed and polity of the Bantu Church.

INDEX Page 295


The Map of the Races of Africa is based on that in Meinhof's Introduction
to the Study of African Languages by the kind permission of Messrs.
J. M. Dent & Sons.






i. Main geographical features. Africa, the most tropical of all
continents, is roughly pear-shaped, extending for thirty-five
degrees on either side of the Equator, with an east-and-west
length in its northern bulge that is equal to the east-and-west
length of Europe. It is about three times the size of Europe.
Its interior consists of two tablelands-if any surface so uneven
can be called tableland. The north-western, which is much the
larger, runs from the Abyssinian Mountains to the Atlantic
coastland, at an elevation of, say, 1,3oo ft.; falls gradually
northwards to the Sahara (which averages some 6oo ft.); and
rises on the south and east to join the south-eastern plateau at
an altitude of, roughly, 3,000 ft. The south-eastern plateau
runs from the Abyssinian Mountains to the Great Karoo in Cape
Province, and extends at its widest part almost from Loanda,
on the Atlantic, to Cape Delgado, on the Indian Ocean. Its
margin on all sides except the north is a range of mountains-
sometimes two ranges-parallel with the coast. It attains its
greatest elevation on the east, where, even on the Equator,
volcanic mountains rising considerably higher than Mont Blanc
are clad with eternal snow; where, also, the second largest
lake in the world, the Victoria Nyanza, gives birth to the second
longest river, the Nile. All the rivers have to break through
the mountain edge of the plateau, and then descend to the
coastlands in waterfalls and rapids that forbid navigation from
the sea for any great distance.
All around Africa there is a strip of lowland, generally narrow,
but wider at the mouths of great rivers, and widest on the
Mediterranean east of the Atlas Mountains. Except where it is
a continuation of the Sahara or the Kalahari deserts, this strip
is everywhere fertile; within the tropics it is exceedingly fertile,
but also very hot and unhealthy. The coast-line of Africa is
peculiarly unbroken, and there are few harbours.
ii. Rainfall and vegetation. The rainfall and vegetation are as
regular as the coast. The rains of South Africa (except the Cape

coast district) come from the Indian Ocean with the monsoon,
and the quantity decreases with distance from the east coast.
As South Africa is not very tropical, the vegetation is, therefore,
from east to west in the order of Savannah, Scrub, Desert.
Central Africa gets its rain from the Atlantic, and the vegetation
from west to east is in the order of Tropical Forest, Savannah,
Steppes. North Africa receives its rain from the Atlantic, which
sweeps a half-circle around its western bulge. The Atlas Moun-
tains tap the rain winds, bringing the driest point a little nearer
the north coast than the south. The order of vegetation from
south to north in the bulge is, therefore, Tropical Forest, Savannah,
Scrub, Desert, Scrub, Savannah. Egypt and Nubia are practi-
cally rainless lands.
iii. Distribution of population. As a rule the density of the
population varies with the density of the rainfall, probably
because rainfall determines fertility and the people depend oh
agriculture. But the races are distributed on a somewhat
different plan. If a line be drawn from Cape Verde to the junction
of the Nile and Sobat, thence up the Nile to its source in the
Victoria Nyanza, and on to the mouth of the Tana River, which
is about zoo miles north of Mombasa, it would be the southern
boundary of the territory occupied by Semitic and Hamitic
people. South of this line, there is a great Black belt from the
Atlantic to the Nile, with a medley of Negro tribes and an
inextricable confusion of hundreds of uncouth languages, in
many of which monosyllables prevail and tones are of very great
importance. These tribes vary from the shapely, self-respecting
people of the uplands, with much Semitic and Hamitic blood
in their veins, to the deteriorated but purely Negro people of
the malarious swamps on the Gulf of Guinea. The southern
boundary of the Negro belt is approximately a line drawn
eastwards from the Cameroon Mountains on the Atlantic to
Zongo, which is below the northern bend of the Ubangi River,
and thence by the south of Lake Albert to join the southern
boundary of the Hamitic people. The term 'Negro' is often
used of all very dark-skinned people; but it is better to reserve
the term for such people as those who inhabit this belt.
All tribes south of this line, except a few Hottentots and
Bushmen to be mentioned later, are Bantu.

It -will: be seen, then, that while the African varieties of man-
kind are more numerous and diverse than the European they
fall naturally into a few more or less definite groups. Where one
group has been long in contact with another, however, there has
been much intermingling of races, with consequent confusion
of physical type, culture, and speech-which, it is hardly neces-
sary to say, is most conspicuous on the borderdlines between
iv. Semites. Let us glance at the main groups.
The Semites need not detain us long: they are better known
to most readers than any other African group of tribes, and of
less importance to our present discussion. But it must be
remembered that the Arabs have been profoundly influencing
Africa for 2,ooo years and more; that after their conquest of
North Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries of our era, they
infused much of their blood and religion into the Hamitic tribes ;
and that for some centuries they have been penetrating the
Negro and Bantu groups.
v. Hamites. There is much, especially in language, to indicate
that the Hamites are an ancient blend of Semites and some
darker race. The ancestors of the ancient Egyptians, who
occupied the Nile Valley long before the Pyramids were built,
are believed to be of this race. But the race would never have
been called Hamite' had the name not come into vogue in the
days of antiquated Old Testament exegesis. The typical
Hamite of to-day may be described as a tall man, with broad
shoulders, long and sinewy limbs, fine ankles and wrists, reddish-
brown skin, elongated head, frizzy hair, oval face, steel-grey
eyes, prominent straight nose, finely chiselled nostrils, rather
thin lips, and without projecting jaws or any tendency to
corpulency. Just the sort of figure that might have posed, in
suitable costume, for the ancient statues of Egypt. But the
Hamite people have mingled much with others in the long
centuries of their history, and departures from this type are very
frequent. Of the two divisions of this race, usually called
Western and Eastern, the Berbers and Gallas, respectively, are
the purest examples, and the Western division is superior to the
Eastern. The Somalis and Abyssinians also are of this race,
but with a larger admixture of Arab blood. The Niamniams and

Fulbe (or Fulah) are a departure of another kind-Hamites
modified with Negro blood. Bejas, Copts, Masai, Wahuma,
Watusi, and many other tribes are Hamites with some modifica-
tion or other. Many of them are great traders, with markets in
every town, and all of them are fond of pastoral pursuits. The
Watusi have lived for many generations among the agricultural
Bantu of East Central Africa; but they still cling to their
ancient avocation and look upon agriculture as derogatory.
Another characteristic of this race is its strong love of personal
freedom; but there is the same tendency to split into small
communities that we shall find later among the Bantu.
vi. Negroes. The typical Negro may be described as an
agriculturist of good stature and burly build, with long fore-
arms, short legs, small calves, projecting heels, black skin, black
woolly hair, long head, bulging brow that retreats upward,
broad nose, flat nostrils, everted and projecting lips and pro-
jecting jaws. He is often referred to as the real African; but
in view of the fact that he is found in the Malay Archipelago,
New Guinea, the Philippines, and Fiji, as well as in Arabia and
Tropical Africa, it seems more likely that the race originated in
Asia. And yet the race must have lived in Africa for thousands
of years; for there was a Negro element in the population of
ancient Egypt, and the Negro is depicted on the walls of ancient
Egyptian buildings. The present distribution of races suggests
that the Negro stream of migration came into Africa from the
east and spread along the fringe of the Sahara to Senegambia,
extending at times apparently from the Sahara to the Congo.
This race is now almost confined to the country between the
Senegal and the Niger, and even into this area there has been an
extensive intrusion of the Berber strain. In other parts of the
Black Belt it has been modified by other stocks; but typical
Negroes occur, as individuals, almost everywhere in Africa.
Since the days of the slave-trade it has been common to make
the Negro the scapegoat for the worst barbarities of Africa. The
practice of cannibalism and human sacrifice that is found in
various parts of the continent, and even the belief and ritual of
witchcraft that are found everywhere, are readily attributed to
Negro blood and influence; and it has been dogmatically
asserted that the Negro is incapable of being raised even to the
2569 B

level of Arab civilization. This is a mistaken prejudice, due,
probably, to the assumption that the degraded people of the
swampy coastlands of the Gulf of Guinea are typical Negroes;
to what is known of such gorgeous and gory kingdoms as
Dahomey and Ashanti; and still more to the willingness of
humanity to believe what is to the discredit of those who have
been first wronged, then despised, and at last hated. There are
not a few full-blooded Negroes who have shown ability to rise
in the scale of European civilization and even of scholarship,
though it can hardly be doubted that an infiltration of Hamitic
or Semitic blood tends to produce a finer type.
vii. Primitive man in Africa. Before speaking of the Bantu
tribes it will be well to complete our compendium of the earlier
inhabitants of the country. In the strict sense of the term, there
are no 'primitive people' anywhere in the world-not even in
Australia, that home of archaic forms of animal life. Always
and everywhere there has been some response, even though
feeble, to the play of the divine spirit upon the human: every
race has moved in some direction, though not always in that of
progress. But though no primitive race remains in Africa, that
continent appears to have been once peopled with palaeolithic
men, and later with those who used more highly finished stone
implements. The bulk of the continent still hides its buried
treasures; but from Egypt to the Cape, where excavation has
been at all extensive, or where suitable localities have been
examined by palaeontologists, both palaeolithic and neolithic
implements have been discovered and often in abundance.
Some old river terraces, like those below the Zambesi Falls,
for instance, are rich in these curious specimens of ancient human
skill. We have but touched the fringe of probable discoveries,
but as evidence accumulates from parts of Africa that are far
asunder, it becomes increasingly clear that a great part of the
continent, if not the whole, was peopled in very early ages. It is
noteworthy, however, that no copper or bronze implements have
yet been discovered. Africa probably passed directly from the
age of stone to that of iron.
Along the south coast of South Africa, there are scores of
old kitchen-middens or mounds of shells, ashes, charcoal, and
bones of animals. In these refuse-heaps are found bone awls,

and fragments of coarse unglazed pottery, some of which are
probably of Bushman origin, while others are of a different make.
Bushman legends refer to a people who occupied the country
before the Bushmen came, and Hottentots have traditions that
their ancestors found the country inhabited by Bushmen and
another race, which frequented the sea-shore and lived on
viii. An extinct civilization. There are indications, also, that
a race of very much higher culture once occupied a considerable
area south of the Zambesi. The last thing that a traveller in
Bantu Africa expects to find is a stone building. The remarkable
civilization that arose in Egypt thousands of years ago, and left
stone structures which are still the wonder of the world, did
nothing to modify the domestic architecture of Africa. While
sparing no toil of brain or muscle to build magnificent tombs
and temples that should defy the centuries, the common people
of Egypt lived in mud hovels as they do now, and their rulers
in palaces of the same perishable material. In Algiers and
Morocco also, where Egyptian influence is more apparent than
anywhere else, the finest stone buildings are of a sepulchral
nature; and throughout North Africa, where the influence of
Europe has been felt for thousands of years and that of Arabia
for many centuries, most people live in temporary shanties,
though stone dwellings are often found in the cities. South of
the Sahara, stone buildings are rare, except as mosques and
palaces; and they are not found at all south of the Soudan
except in Abyssinia. From something like ten degrees north
of the Equator right away to the Cape, there is no tribe anywhere
outside Abyssinia that builds with anything but flimsy material,
notwithstanding the fact that many of them have seen Portu-
guese houses for centuries. Nor is the reason far to seek. To the
African, a house is not a place to live in: it is a store-room,
a dormitory, and a shelter from inclement weather. He lives,
and cooks, and works, and gossips in the open. When vermin
become too numerous in the hut, or if a death occurs in it, it is
deserted and a new one built. Then too there is a nomadic
strain in the blood of the African, so that it is no uncommon thing
for a whole community to migrate to a new site within the tribal
domain. These and many other considerations disincline the


tribesmen to build houses or villages that cannot readily be
scrapped and replaced. They build with poles, mud, reed, grass,
palm-leaves, and the like; and even the discovery of a tribe
that used sun-dried bricks before European influence touched
them would be a noteworthy event.
It is, therefore, astonishing to find scattered over Mashonaland,
Matabeleland, and adjacent districts, hundreds of ruined stone
buildings that are not suggestive of either Egyptian or European
inspiration. Of these, the most noteworthy are what are called
the Acropolis and Temple at Zimbabwe, seventeen miles south
of Victoria, in Southern Mashonaland. The Acropolis is a kopje,
some 2oo ft. in height, rising in places to 300 ft., which is strewn
with huge granite boulders. On three sides granite cliffs make
it inaccessible, and the fourth side has been made impregnable
with great walls of granite masonry. There were but two
approaches to the city. The one that is least dilapidated leads
from a fortified gateway in the lower rampart up a steep ascent
of which the last 50 ft. is through a natural fissure, only shoulder-
wide, with go ft. of sheer rock-face on the one hand and 50 ft.
on the other; and on the very edge of the cliff, the approach
is defended with a wall, 30 ft. high, 15 ft. thick at the base, and
originally 130 ft. long. After passing through this, one comes
to another great curved wall, 130 ft. long, 25 ft. high, 20 ft. thick
at the base, and from io to 14 ft. thick at the top, surmounted
with conical towers and slate monoliths. The city is a labyrinth
of narrow passages, covered ways, parapets, traverses, buttresses,
terraces, balconies, recesses, and great walled enclosures which
it would take a military engineer to describe. Before gunpowder
was known, a small force of determined men could have held
the place against a hundred times their number.
South of the Acropolis and crowning a slight rise in the adjacent
valley, there stands an elliptical building that measures some
8oo ft. in circumference. Its walls, which are fairly intact, are
still over 30 ft. high in places, and vary in thickness from 15 ft.
at the base to Io ft. at the summit. It is certain that the building
was never intended to have a roof, and probable that it was a
great open-air temple. At what appears to be the sacred end
of the enclosure, a cone of solid masonry rises to a height of
30 ft., as if it were the phallic symbol of ancient nature-worship-


pers. At this end of the building, the outer wall is decorated
on the outside with two courses of chevron pattern in relief,
near the summit, and surmounted with slate monoliths and
the remains of cone-shaped towers. The decoration runs from,
approximately, north-east to south-east; but it is doubtful
whether there was any intention of orientation.
In the valley between the Temple and the Acropolis stand the
ruins of many other dwellings like those in the city on the hill,
indicating that there was once a considerable population within
the outer ramparts.
All the original walls, both on the hill and in the valley, are
built of flat slabs of granite, a few inches thick and 2 or 3 ft.
long. The stones on both faces of the wall have been roughly
hammer-dressed and laid in courses without mortar; but even
in the best work, such as the Great Cone and the Great Parallel
Passage, false courses occur, and there is no attempt at course-
work in the filling of the walls. The builders never used through-
bond or batten gauge, and avoided the rectangle in design.
The exploration of these buildings, which is very far from com-
plete, has brought to light something like a thousand ounces of
gold, in bangles, beads, beaten plates of uniform size, tacks,
cakes, &c., a soapstone ingot mould for gold, clay crucibles
containing gold in flux, half a score of carved soapstone pillars,
each having a bird of prey perched upon the summit and a
crocodile climbing towards it, smaller replicas of the same bird,
carved soapstone bowls, a couple of hundred stone phalli (the
male emblem of fertility), and a soapstone cylinder, which some
archaeologists take to be the conventional form of the female
emblem of fertility. These were all found on the original floor
of the buildings beneath layers of debris which had accumulated
during centuries of Bantu occupation, and which contained relics
of a much more modern description. Nearly all the symbols of
nature-worship were found in the Great Elliptical Temple, as
it is usually called, and in what are thought to be two smaller
temples in the Acropolis.
Who were these ancient builders ? That is one of the mysteries
of Africa. They must have had an abundance of slave-labour.
And yet they and their slaves have vanished, leaving no con-
clusive evidence of who they were, when they lived, or why they

disappeared, and apparently without affecting the civilization
of any part of Africa. That they had enemies is shown by the
elaborate preparations for the defence of their cities; and the
fact that solid gold ornaments and symbols of worship were
found scattered over the floors of their buildings suggests either
that their flight was precipitate, or that they were annihilated
before they could escape, and that their foes did not know the
value of gold or care for the symbols that they had treasured.
Makalanga tribes had been in possession of this region and its
coastlands for some three centuries before the Portuguese found
the descendants of 'Moors' who, having settled in these parts
long before, had married Makalanga women. These half-breeds
were Mohammedans; grew bananas, lemons, and garden plants ;
and sent merchants inland to trade with the Makalanga for gold
and ivory. Though these people were much more civilized than
the Makalanga, their wattle-and-daub dwellings were but little
superior. The Portuguese found also 'Moors' from Southern
Arabia, who monopolized the sea-borne trade of these ports.
Some 'Moors' told the Portuguese of the great 'Empire of
Monomotapa' in the interior, and of immense buildings, which
they described as then ancient ruins. The Portuguese connected
the ruins with the Empire, which they described in their usual
grandiloquent phrases, but there can be no doubt that the
'Empire of Monomotapa' was a Makalanga chieftaincy, and
that the ruins were there before the Empire' began. Sir Harry
Johnston derives the word Monomotapa from Makalanga words
which mean Lord of the Mines'; but the term Moii a matlapa
means 'Lord of the Rocks' in Secwana, and Makalanga people
who are familiar with both languages have told me that its
meaning is the same in their mother tongue. Makalanga chiefs
occupied these ruins for many generations, and, with that genius
for imitation that is so characteristic of Bantu tribes, they used
the old materials to repair breaches and build other walls that
were more in harmony with their ideas; but their crude work,
which still remains, falls far short of the original. It is possible
that the generation which occupied these old buildings when the
Makalanga swarmed into the country from the north fell in
conflict with the invaders; but I know of no echo of such
happenings in Makalanga tradition. At the time of the Matabele

Rebellion there was talk of a tradition that the great buildings
were erected by White people, whose slaves rose against them
and murdered them all in a single night; and it was said that
the Matabele had intended to repeat the experiment. But
whether it was really an old tradition or the modern invention
of some Native genius who wished to weld the Matabele together
for a sudden onslaught on the Whites, I have never been able
to discover.
In the countries dotted with these ruins there are hundreds
of old gold mines-shafts sunk to a depth of 150 ft., though
usually much shallower, and levels run out along the reef. Heaps
of uncrushed quartz, sometimes burnt, and stone mortars for
crushing it, are often found at the pit-heads. Whether these
mines were worked by the builders of the ruins is a moot point.
There are indications that they were. The Makalanga who
subsequently occupied the ruins were great workers in metal,
who dug and smelted their own iron; but though individuals
among them occasionally won a little gold from these shafts,
there is no evidence that they ever made any extensive use of
the ancient mines.
Two theories of the origin of these ruins have been presented.
Some writers contend that they were built by people from over-
seas, whose line of approach was along the Sabi River and its
tributaries; and Sabeans, Phoenicians, and Solomon's Red Sea
fleet have all been impressed into the service of this theory. The
only indigenous population south of the Zambesi at such an
early period appears to have been Bushmen. Did the fleet bring
the thousands of slaves required for such extensive works ?
Were fresh slaves brought generation after generation while the
work was in progress ? Or were women imported, too, and the
slaves bred locally ? And what happened to all these people
after their work was finished? It would be remarkable, also,
if Solomon's people, or Hiram's, or even the Sabeans, had erected
such buildings and yet left no clear indication of race, whether
in inscriptions (which are plentiful even in Southern Arabia),
or in symbols, or in peculiarity of design. In the main, of course,
it is a question of archaeology, of which I am not qualified to
speak; but the buildings do not appear to be more than about
I,ooo years old. Professor Randall MacIver was probably right

in demolishing the theory of a very ancient date; but when he
asks us to believe that the buildings are of Bantu workmanship,
he puts too great a strain upon our imagination.
No Bantu stone buildings have been reported north of the
Zambesi, and practically no others south. On many hill-tops in
Bechuanaland, from the area of the ruins as far south as Ditha-
kong,1 I have seen lines of roughly piled stones, which seem to be
the remains of walls that once surrounded villages and sections
of villages, and were sometimes evidently arranged on a defensive
plan. These walls are thought to have been built by the first
Bantu tribes that swarmed across the Zambesi in their south-
ward migration, and the Lighoya or Bataung are specially
mentioned in connexion with them. Though the workmanship
is crude in comparison with Zimbabwe, and though there is no
indication that stone was used for the building of dwellings
except as a foundation for the platform on which the hut stood,
yet even crude stone walls are a great departure from age-long
Bantu practice. What was it that inspired the first Bantu tribes
that passed south of the Zambesi to build stone-walls of any
kind? Was it not that during their stay in Matabeleland and
Mashonaland they saw stone buildings for the first time in their
history, and probably sojourned in them ? The Bantu are weak
in initiative but strong in imitation. Those of us who care
much for the uplift of these tribes are not slow to accept evidence
of their ability; but we are unable to believe that they could
plan such buildings as those of Great Zimbabwe, persist in the
completion of such extensive plans, or even look forward to such
a lengthened stay on one site as would make such a huge task
worth while. Whatever their date, these buildings testify to the
long sojourn in this country of another race, which had com-
pletely disappeared before Europeans came.
ix. Bushmen. Of extant races the Bushmen have probably been
longest in Africa. Not only is it recorded that pygmies from the
land of Punt danced before Pharaoh, but there are grounds for
the belief that the Nile Valley was occupied by a dwarfish race-
probably of the Bushman type, before the Caucasian people
settled in it. But Bushman is a new name for the race. It was
SDithakof, or Lattakoo, as it used to be called, is about 30 miles north-east
of Kuruman. The name means 'At the stone walls'.

the Dutch who first called them Bosjesman (a name which they
had previously given to the orang-outang in Sumatra); the
Hottentots call them San; the Bantu call them Barwa, Batwa,
or Abatwa. Bushmen of the Okavango River call themselves
Kung, and those of the Orange River call themselves Khuai (the
initial 'k' in each word being combined with a cerebral click).
But Khuai is merely the Bushman word for man'.
Two or three varieties of these strange people are found south
of the Zambesi, those of the south being shorter than those of
the Northern Protectorate, and if the Central African pygmies
are of the same race, which is doubtful, they are at least different
varieties. The Bushman is about five feet high, men and women
being of the same stature. What colour he would be if he were
cleaned, it is hard to say; but in his normal condition he is of a
dirty yellow colour that sometimes approaches to copper and has
always a faint undertone of red. He is of slim but sinewy build,
with lean limbs, pendulous paunch, and proportionately small
hands and feet. His skull is small and low in the crown; but
its ratio of breadth to length is somewhat greater than that of
other African races, and is not far removed from that of Euro-
peans. The slope of his face, too, is much the same as ours.
He has a broad forehead, somewhat prominent cheek-bones, eyes
placed almost horizontally but slightly on the oblique, lobeless
ears, very flat nose turned up a little at the tip, wide mouth,
projecting jaws, and lips moderately everted. He lacks the
characteristic Negro odour, but has other marked peculiarities.
His lower jaw is very small, and the upper and lower teeth meet.
His skin has a dry, wrinkled appearance, sometimes falling in
folds over the abdomen and the larger joints, which is said to
be due to the fact that there is very little fat under the skin.
But on the calves and buttocks there is an astonishing growth
of fatty tissue, especially in the women; and this gives the little
people a grotesque contour that can hardly be mistaken even
in the distance. The rusty brown woolly hair of the Bushman
(which becomes grey in age) seems to be arranged in tiny tufts
with bald spaces between-very much as the grass grows in his
native wilderness. This appearance is accounted for by the fact
that the hairs are short in men and women alike, and, being
oval or kidney-shaped on transverse section, curl very tightly

and cling to one another in little tangled knots that are never
As hair is one of the most useful characteristics in classifying
mankind according to their physical types, it should be mentioned
that Negroes and Bantu, as well as Bushmen, have this variety
of hair. With many Negroes and Bantu, however, the hair
grows longer than the Bushman's and, being slightly rounder,
forms somewhat larger curls, so that the head appears completely
covered, especially when the hair is regularly combed; but the
'peppercorn growth ', as it is called, is generally visible on the
temples of the adult, and on the heads of children and those old
people who keep their hair closely cropped. The hair of the
Hamites is much rounder on transverse section, as well as much
longer and thicker, and is therefore frizzy-hence the 'fuzzy-
wuzzies' with which Kipling and the illustrated papers have
made us familiar. In proportion as Hamite blood predominates
over Negro blood in the races of mixed origin, the peppercorn
growth' tends to disappear.
South of the Zambesi, there are, in addition to the true Bush-
men, scattered groups of Masarwa, the progeny of Bushman
mothers and Bantu fathers, and Katia (very degraded, but now
almost extinct) who are said by some to be a distinct variety
of somewhat taller Bushmen, and regarded by others, probably
more correctly, as descendants of Bushman fathers and captured
Bantu women. The Dutch call them Vaalpens ('brown bellies ').
The Bushman is a nomad of the wilderness, with hardly any
social organization, industries, dwellings or clothes, and only
very primitive weapons. He plants no gardens and keeps no
domestic animals, except an occasional dog. In inclement
weather he takes shelter in a cave, or underneath an overhanging
rock, or even in a hole that an ant-bear has made. Failing
anything better, he bends over a few shrubs and ties them to-
gether; piles a little grass on top; and bestows himself and his
belongings in this abode. He can curl up his lithe limbs and
flexible back in a small hole with as much ease as his dog. Water
is very precious in the wilderness where he dwells, but he trans-
ports it in the shells of ostrich eggs, and sometimes hoards it by
burying these shells in the ground. Instead of kindling fire by
rubbing a stick along a groove, he has an improved and more

expeditious method of twirling a pointed stick rapidly in a notch
cut in a bit of wood. He has improved, also, upon the very
ancient method of cooking with hot stones, having discovered
how to make rude unglazed cooking-pots by moulding ant-heap
clay inside a woven rush basket and firing the two together; and
nowadays he tips his little reed arrow with iron instead of the
bone that his father used. Having no use for anything that he
and his women-folk cannot carry, his property consists of little
more than bow, quiver, arrows that are tipped with bone or
iron and poisoned, knobkerrie, sandals of hide, a skin or two,
nowadays often a kaross of sewn skins, a knife of iron, and a
digging stick weighted with a perforated stone. All these things
are of crude workmanship.
The little man is a fleet-footed and very cunning hunter, with
a keen eye and an instinct for finding his way. As a tracker,
and in practical knowledge of woodcraft, he is unsurpassed. His
tiny little bow (my specimen measures 2 ft. 8 in., and the arrows
barely 2 ft.) has but a short range of action; but with the aid
of feathers, grasses, leaves, a touch of white clay, and great skill
in imitating the gait and cries of wild things, he conceals himself
in very short cover, and patiently worms his way so near to his
quarry that he can get his little poisoned arrow home to its mark.
Then he drops instantly, lest he should scare the wounded
creature into a madcap gallop and have to seek the meat miles
away. The animal, startled with the sting of the arrow, sees no
foe and runs only a short distance. Then the hunter retreats
unseen; gathers his family together; takes up the spoor of
the wounded beast, when the poison has had time to do its
work; and camps alongside his prey till not a scrap of carrion
remains. He is clever, too, in setting snares and digging pitfalls;
and if there is nothing bigger or better, he is not averse to a meal
on snakes, mice, insects, roots, or berries. But he is not a cannibal.
He is a past-master in the art of enduring hunger and thirst;
though if hunger be prolonged there is a great shrinkage in his fat
buttocks and calves.
He is a shy, improvident, merry soul, with more intelligence
than many people think; and, in his way, he is a musician and
an artist. He makes a rudimentary fiddle out of a gourd and
a couple of bits of twisted sinew, and enjoys the music and the

dance. He loves to adorn the rocks of his favourite lurking-
places with pictures of animals and hunting-scenes, in pigments
of white, black, red, and yellow that preserve the freshness of
their colours for centuries. I have seen these colours still fresh
and bright, though grey-headed patriarchs told me they had
known them from childhood, and though the camp-fires that
vandals had lit underneath them had caused flakes of granite
to fly from the painted surface. The little artist was evidently
not much interested in humanity; for his sketch of a person is
of the type that very small boys draw on their first slates. But
he knew the animals, and evidently loved to have them before
In the neighbourhood of the Vaal River and in the country
between that and Mafeking, I have seen similar pictures incised
in rocks, as if the rock had been sharply struck with a diamond
or quartz crystal so as to show an incised dot for every blow.
All the paintings that I have seen have been on the faces
of overhanging rocks or of entrances to caves; but all the
incised figures that I know are on loose boulders of no great size,
lying quite in the open. It has been suggested that the engrav-
ings are the handiwork of a different but related race; but they
are inspired by the same motive as the paintings, and show the
same exaggeration of peculiarities and the same life and move-
ment in the figures.
Of the Bushman's mentality and spirituality too little is known.
Missions to the Bushmen are impossible; because the people
are found only in very small and widely scattered groups, which
are always on the move; and the inner life of a foreign people
can be mastered only by prolonged residence in their midst.
Dr. Bleek, the most famous African philologist of his day, who
was at work on the Bushman language when he died in 1875,
discovered that Bushmen have an elaborate mythology some-
what similar to that of the Australian aborigines. That they
have some sort of a religion is indicated by their practices.
Their burial custom is to lay the corpse on its side, facing the
east, in a cavity scooped out of the western wall of the grave,
and to pile a cairn of stones upon the mound. For some obscure
reason, they amputate the terminal joint of the little finger of
the left hand; but they do not practise circumcision.

The language of the Bushman is largely monosyllabic, and
probably akin to the Sudanic family. It has nothing to do with
Bantu tongues, and its relationship to Hottentot is very remote.
It is said to contain no numerals beyond '3'. Being full of
strong aspirates, gutturals, and clicks, it sounds very harsh to
European ears. These strange clicks are suction-sounds of six
or seven varieties, very like those with which our country people
drive horses, call fowls, feed pigs, and utter notes of commisera-
tion; but European tongues cannot easily combine such sounds
with consonants as components of words. Clicks are .said to
occur in the languages of one or two small groups in East Africa;
but in spite of the enormous amount of work done, we are still
only at the beginning of African language-study. The judge-
ment of the future probably will be that clicks are found only
in the tongues of Bushmen and of people who have borrowed
them from Bushmen.
When Europeans came upon the scene, the Bushmen were
scattered over most of the country south of the Zambesi; and
there is little doubt that they once extended throughout tropical
East Africa, if not farther west, and were driven into the more
inaccessible parts by the arrival of the pastoralist tribes. Some
of the earlier tribes that streamed south of the Zambesi found it
prudent not to quarrel with the Bushmen, but others captured
Bushman women and added them to their harems. The Bush-
man's idea of property is restricted to that which can be carried;
and he made as free with the flocks and herds of the pastoralists
as the latter did with the game in his old haunts. Bantu,
Hottentots, Boers, and Britons hunted him as vermin. When
he could, he took revenge by letting fly his little venomous
arrows upon his hunters, without giving them a glimpse of their
foe; but thousands of Bushmen were shot at sight, and the
remainder driven into the fastnesses of the mountains and
deserts. The race is now largely confined to the lower half of the
Orange River, the Kalahari Desert, Lake Ngami, and the
Okavango River. It is apparently doomed to speedy extinction,
but much of its blood has passed into other South African races.
x. Hottentots. For a couple of centuries after Vasco da Gama
discovered the Cape, the whole country from Walfisch Bay on
the west coast to the Kei River on the south coast was occupied

solely by Bushmen and Hottentots. 'Hottentot', like 'Bush-
man ', is the White man's name of contempt for the race; but
there appears to be some doubt as to its origin and significance.
Some writers allege that it is a modification of a Dutch word
that means 'stupid'; others, that the name was given because
the language of these strange people seemed to the Dutch to be
a mere gibberish of hot' and tot'; a very old writer 1 says
that the name was given them because they stammered; and
T. Hahn, who was born and bred among them, his father being
their missionary, says that Huttentut' is the Low German word
for quack'. All agree that it was a term of contempt, and the
probability is that it had reference to the peculiarity of their
language; but it is questionable whether they were not called
Hottentot by the Portuguese before the Dutch came. They
have names of their own for the several tribes into which the
race is divided: the Gonaquas in the eastern part of Cape
Colony, the Attaquas and Outeniquas in the south, the Namaquas
in the north-west, and the Korannas in the north. But it is
doubtful whether they ever thought it necessary to have a name
for the race till the White man sought it at their lips, and then
they called themselves Khoikhoin, which in their language means
' people, par excellence '. Of the tribes mentioned, the Namaqua
is the purest, the Koranna well-nigh extinct, and all are now
much modified by contact with Europeans. The Griqua, who
gave their name first to Griqualand West and then to Griqualand
East, were, it is thought, the progeny of Dutch fathers and
Hottentot slave-mothers; but during the last century the blood
of many Europeans and some Asiatics was infused into this race,
and they are now commonly called 'Cape Boys'. Whether or
not it is correct to regard the Hottentot as their basic stock,
they are increasing rapidly in numbers and civilization, and
would be a valuable element in South African life if they could
be protected from their great enemy-liquor.
There is much in the Hottentot that reminds us of the Bush-
man, and much more of another stamp. In stature he exceeds
the Bushman by some five or six inches; his skin is darker,
varying from brownish-yellow to a dingy brown; his back is
distinctly hollow, but the tendency to grow adipose tissue on the
1 Dapper, whose travels were published in 167o.

buttocks is not so pronounced. His woolly hair is of the same
peppercorn growth, but black instead of brown; and he has
prominent cheek-bones, broad and flat nose, somewhat oblique
brown eyes with yellowish corneas which are set in deep sockets
far apart, and a pointed chin which gives his face a curious
triangular appearance. His everted lips and the slope of his face
are Negro rather than Caucasian. His hands are fairly small,
though not quite so small, proportionately, as those of the
Bushman. All this suggests that there are Bushmen and
Hamites if not Negroes among his forbears-a theory with
which his mental and social make-up is in accord. But the
blend must be very ancient, or the type could not be so persistent.
In character, the Hottentot may be described as mild, amiable,
sociable, improvident, indolent, unstable, and very dirty. He
used to abandon sick and aged kindred without scruple; but
he was never a cannibal.
His other vices were the smoking of dacha (wild hemp), and,
when there was wild honey to be had, the excessive drinking
of honey beer-a liquor to which he imparted a very vicious
'kick' (to use an Americanism), by means of certain roots with
which he was familiar.
Like the Hamites, the Hottentots are essentially herdsmen,
shepherds, and nomadic hunters, and are averse to the cultiva-
tion of the soil. They brought with them into South Africa the
same sort of gaunt, bony, long-legged, and long-horned cattle
that the Galla possess-a breed which is not indigenous to
Africa; and the herding of these beasts is their most honourable
employment. Women are forbidden in Bantu tribes to have
anything to do with cattle; but Hottentot women, like Hamites
again, consider it to be their daily duty to milk the cows.
Hottentots were very clever at training cattle, not only to carry
burdens, but to respond to calls and signals as readily as dogs,
and even, so some say, to attack the enemy in war. They had
great herds of these cattle, and very large flocks of that breed
of long-eared, fat-tailed, hairy sheep that is found throughout
Bantu Africa. When Captain Lancaster 1 put into Table Bay
on his second voyage, with his crews suffering terribly from
1 Capt. James Lancaster brought the first English ships into Table Bay
on Ist August 1591, and called again with five ships on 6th September 160o.

scurvy, he had little trouble in buying 42 oxen and 1,ooo sheep
from the Hottentots of that district for pieces of hoop-iron.
The Hottentots lived in small villages of portable dome-
shaped huts, with wicker frames and mat roofs. Their more
warlike tribes placed these huts in a circle around the cattle-pen,
as the Bantu do, but others placed them in the centre of the
cattle-pen for protection. The Hottentots that Vasco da Gama
met at St. Helena Bay (zoo miles north of Cape Town), on
7th November 1497, were armed with weapons of wood, hardened
by fire and pointed with the horns of animals. But long before
that date they knew how to make iron heads for their spears
and arrows; how to shape ornaments out of the solid masses
of copper that they picked up here and there; and how to
mould ant-heap clay into pots by the freehand process. They
were too indolent, however, to do much that could be avoided,
and found it less toilsome to tip their weapons with horn and
bone, store their water in ostrich egg-shells and the horns of
cattle, and cook their meat over open fires. Even upon the
skins of sheep and wild animals with which they clad themselves
they bestowed but little care.
The Hottentot language is a puzzle for philologists. It has
borrowed from Bushman many words and the four clicks that
are most easily pronounced. Bleek says that three-fourths of
the syllabic elements in the Hottentot language begin with
clicks. But it has little affinity with Bushman, being much more
highly developed, and resembling Aryan rather than Bantu
tongues. Take, for instance, the word already mentioned as an
example of their method of expressing number and gender:
Khoi, 'person'; khoib, 'man'; khois, 'woman'; khoin,
' people' ; khoigu, men'; khoitu, women '. As long ago as
185o Bleek formed the opinion that Hottentot is related to
Coptic, Berber, and Galla; and the best authorities of to-day
regard it as a Hamitic tongue that has been much influenced
by Bushman.
It is thought that the Hottentots are the descendants of a
horde of Hamites who went south, long after the Bushmen had
gone in that direction, but long before the Bantu migration
began; that they were driven farther and farther to the south
as the Bantu tribes pressed behind them ; and that they married

so many Bushman women in the many centuries of their migra-
tion that their physique, habits, and speech all became modified
thereby. When Europeans came upon the scene, Hottentots
and Bushmen were constantly at war with one another, and yet
Hottentot tribes often had families of Bushmen attached to
xi. Bantu. The race with which this book is concerned is the
Bantu, the youngest and toughest race in Africa. But if 'race '
be taken to denote a definite physical type, rather than a particu-
lar social heredity, the term is as inapplicable to the Bantu as
to the Aryan. They are a fairly distinctive group of some fifty
millions of people who speak what was once one tongue and are
dominated, in the main, by the same idea of the world, but who
vary considerably in build and features.
Now it must not be supposed that every one of these millions
can understand the speech of all the others-far from it I It is
hard to say when a dialect ceases to be a dialect and becomes a
separate language; but, of the 226 Bantu languages of which
Sir Harry Johnston has given us samples in his last and greatest
book,1 some are no farther apart than the dialects of Dorsetshire
and Yorkshire, while others are beyond the limits of mutual
intelligibility. And yet when one comes to study either the
structure of these languages or their vocabularies, it is easy to
see that they are all one. In the seventeenth century, when
some Portuguese from the west coast found they could under-
stand Natives on the east coast, it was probably due to a recent
migration of tribes from west to east; but it set people thinking.
In 1808 Lichtenstein, a celebrated German naturalist, after
comparing what was then known of a few languages spoken
south of the Congo and at Mombasa, came to the conclusion that
they were all closely related. Dr. Bleek, the father of Bantu
philology, published the first part of his Comparative Grammar
of South African Languages in 1862, and the second part in 1869;
but as early as 1856 he had come to the conclusion that all the
tribes south of the Zambesi (except Hottentots and Bushmen)
belonged to one linguistic family, which had other branches
north of that river. Since then missionaries and others have
1 A Comparative Study of the Bantu and Semi-Bantu Languages, by Sir
Harry Johnston. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1919.
2569 C


done an enormous amount of valuable work in African languages,
and it has become possible to draw in detail the boundary for
Bantu-speaking people that has been indicated on a former page A
and even to mark out the few enclaves within this region that
are occupied by tribes of other origin.
This is hardly the place for a disquisition on Bantu grammar;
but a brief paragraph may be interesting and instructive. Like
most languages in the world, those of the Bantu are genderless;
and one of their outstanding characteristics is the use of pro-
nominal prefixes and consequent euphonic alliterations. Nouns
are divided into classes, and each class has its own prefix, though
the exact form of the prefix varies according to the dialectic
peculiarity of the tribe. The singular prefix for personal nouns
is always something like omo-, umu-, mo-, or m- ; and the plural
prefix for the same word is always something like ova-, aba-, ba-,
va-, or wa-. Take the word 'Bantu' as an example. It is
really a coined word. Each separate tribe had a name for
itself, and sometimes there was a group-name for a group of
tribes; but the people knew no name for their race. They had
never needed such a name. But when it was discovered that
this great group of tribes is really one linguistic family, Dr. Bleek
suggested that it should be called Bantu ', and the name was
so appropriate that it has held the field ever since. This word
is made up of their prefix ba-, which gives it a personal and
plural meaning, and a stem -ntu, which occurs in very many,
if not all, of these languages; and there are few natives who
would not jump at once to the conclusion that Bantu means
'people ', even though they had never heard the word in just
that form before. If the singular particle for personal nouns be
prefixed to this stem, we get such forms as umuntu, omondu,
mtu, or motho; or with the plural, abantu, ovandu, watu, or
batho-words that look very different on paper, but are really
small variations that owe their unlikeness mainly to little tricks
of teeth, tongue, and lips, sometimes to nothing more than
lip-laziness. There are many other prefixes. There is, for
example, a prefix which is always something like ki-, chi-, tshi-,
or se- and which imparts an adjectival force to the stem. One
often finds this particle prefixed to the stem of the tribal name
SSee p. 15.

to denote the language or the customs of the tribe. Since there
is a widespread notion that the language of an unsophisticated
people is always deficient in abstract nouns, it may not be amiss
to mention that the prefix bo- gives an abstract meaning to any
stem that is capable of carrying such an idea. For instance,
with tribes that use the above forms motho and batho (' person'
and 'people') botho denotes the essential quality of humanity.
The rioun is the governing word in a Bantu sentence, and each
verb and adjective in the sentence must begin with a corre-
sponding prefix; hence that alliterative quality in Bantu
speech which a foreigner readily notices. The liquid and some-
what musical tone of these tongues is largely due to the fact
that each syllable consists of one consonant followed by one
vowel,1 the vowels being of substantially the same value as in
Italian. The verb is flexible and copious, and capable of express-
ing very fine shades of meaning with great precision. And the
grammatical principles are founded on systematic and philo-
sophic considerations.
When-these tribes were discovered, one or two of them had
a few pictorial and symbolic signs which they occasionally used
in sending messages, and many were familiar with the notched
tally-stick; 2 but they knew nothing of writing. A few Swahili
1 There are cases in which a vowel is elided, as often, for example, before
an initial or final nasal.
Their decimal system of notation bears a striking resemblance to the
Roman numerals, especially if the older form IIII be used instead of IV,
as it still is on clocks. The system is based upon the fingers, and the hands
r m M V v Y1 1 SM is x

Left Hand Riht Hand
are freely used at the same time as the tongue. The speaker, holding his
hand with the palm towards the auditor, lifts the little finger of his left hand
as he says one '; that finger and the next for two ', and so on. The four
fingers standing together with the thumb folded down means four'; but
if the thumb be extended to form a V with these fingers, it means 'five'.
' Six' is made by placing the thumb of the right hand alongside the five'.
' Eight' is expressed by folding down the third and fourth fingers of the
right hand, and 'nine' by folding down the little finger only. And the names


boys on the east coast had been taught by Arabs to write their
vernacular in Arabic characters; but nearly all Bantu tongues
were first reduced to writing by missionaries, who usually began
their production of vernacular literature with a Primer, and
followed speedily with a Gospel or the Psalms. The value of
services which missionaries have thus rendered to the science
of linguistics can hardly be over-estimated.
Though each tribe cherishes traditions of its separation from
a more ancient community and of the quarter from which it
set forth for its present home, there is no tradition of the origin
of the race. Sir Harry Johnston's theory, however, is pro-
bably not far from fact. He thinks the race originated about
two thousand years ago on the watershed of the Nile, Shari,
and Congo, from a fusion of Negroes and Hamites of the Galla
It is not difficult to imagine the process by which this race
peopled the southern third of the continent from that centre.
The country has been subject to periods of famine; the race
possesses amazing fertility, doubling its numbers under favour-
able circumstances about every thirty years; their social
heredity includes an innate tendency to cleavage and the
setting up of independent communities; and, like all races,
they now and then produce a genius who can only express
himself in terms with which he is familiar--generally in terms
of conquest and pitiless subjugation. All these causes have
combined to break up strong centres and reorganize the frag-
ments around new leaders of ability in new localities. We shall
see later that the tendency to cleavage is largely due to the
jealousy that has free play in the polygamous families of the
chiefs; but whatever its cause, the fact remains that every
century or less, especially after famine, defeat, or whatever
causes discontent, a swarm emerges from each large community,
like angry bees from a hive, and clusters around its leader in
unoccupied territory.
Of the disturbing effect of an occasional genius, there was a
for the numerals correspond. This system enables them to count to high
numbers ; but it is too cumbersome for arithmetic and is relinquished in all
vernacular schools. Fancy having to say tens-which-fold-down-two-with-
ten-which-folds-down-one instead of eighty-nine' I

significant example at the beginning of the last century. Chaka
was a man of pre-eminent ability and ambition, which expressed
itself in the only way that seemed to him worth while-ruthless
warfare. The result was almost incredible. Through terror of
his impis ', one panic-stricken tribe threw itself against another
in its effort to escape; and within a couple of decades a million
people perished ; the life of every tribe within hundreds of miles
was profoundly disturbed; and people born in Zululand were
spreading terror beyond Lake Nyasa. It was probably some
similar occurrence that sent the Jagas on the west coast and the
Bazomba on the east coast ravaging and slaying in the six-
teenth and seventeenth centuries; but of that we can only
guess, as the Portuguese were not given to the philosophic study
of the underlying motives of current history, and Andrew Battell,
the fisherman of Leigh in Essex,1 who was with the Jagas for
twenty-one months, was hardly the man for such research.
Nothing is more fatal to the welfare of a country than genius
allowed to run wild and able to command the blind loyalty of
hordes of determined men. That has been the story of Bantu
Africa from the beginning.
This life of turmoil has had a marked effect upon Bantu
physique, language, and social institutions. It has prevented
that development of arts and crafts which is found wherever
people maintain a settled life for long periods in the same
locality. It has resulted in a commingling of Bantu tribes whose
ancestors left the original home by various routes at widely-
separated periods and whose customs and speech had been
subsequently modified by centuries of dissimilar environment.
And it has brought some Bantu tribes into contact with non-
Bantu people of divers kinds. The Xosa, Tembu, and Hlubi
tribes, for example, are sister-tribes that invaded South Africa
from the west coast in the seventeenth century. The two former
became involved in victorious warfare with Hottentots, whose
women they captured and absorbed. The consequence is that
many members of these two tribes are now of a lighter skin-
colour and somewhat more Hottentot features, and both tribes
have adopted three clicks (chiefly in words connected with
1 See the story in Purchas His Pilgrimes, published in London in 1617 and
1625 and reprinted by the Hakluyt Society, London, in 9goI.

women's work) and many loan-words from the Hottentot lan-
guage. The first Bechuana tribes to cross the Zambesi frater-
nized with Bushmen and married Bushman women, while later
tribes of the same stock fought with Bushmen and captured
Bushman women; and the result is an unmistakable touch of
Bushman in the skin-colour and physique of the Bechuana-
especially of the earlier tribes, though, strange to say, it seems
to have had little if any influence on the language. Western
Bantu tribes have taken Negro women, with consequent absorp-
tion of Negro peculiarities. Where Eastern Bantu tribes march
with Hamites, there is less intermingling of blood, except in the
families of the chiefs, as Bantu commoners are seldom able to
procure Hamitic women. Tribes long resident at the African
ports are tinged with overseas characteristics, especially on the
east coast, where colonies of Arabs and Bombay Indians have
long been resident.
A description of the physical characteristics of a race can
never be more than approximately correct; for every known
race is a synthesis of many varieties, and its physical features
may change in a century or two under the influence of altitude,
humidity, avocation, nourishment, education, political freedom,
and the many other factors that constitute environment. As
a generalization of the Bantu physical type, one can only say
that they show every variety between Hamite and Negro; that
in tribes long resident in the east, Hamite predominates, even
to the extent of steel-grey eyes and Egyptian-like faces among
the aristocrats, while the Negro strain is more pronounced in
tribes that have lived for many centuries in the west; and that
Bushman and Hottentot features occur in tribes that came much
into contact with either of these races in the south. Even this
vague statement must be taken as nothing more than a rough
indication of the truth.
The Negro component of this mixed race gives bulk and
weight to the figure, and the Hamitic confers greater ability.
Among South African tribes it is noticeable that those that
SIt is thought that there were no Bantu tribes south of the Zambesi and
Kunene rivers till about a thousand years ago, and that up to that date the
whole of that country was in possession of Hottentots and Bushmen, with
the possible exception of the builders of the ancient ruins, of whose identity
nothing is yet known.

came from the west have more brawn and more bounce than
those that came from the centre or from the east of the conti-
nent-though one would hardly say that self-abasement is the
mark of any Bantu tribe. In eminent Bantu families one
occasionally notices individuals who bear a striking resemblance
to men of mark at home; and early explorers were struck with
the Egyptian-like features of the ruling families of the larger
tribes. Both facts are probably due to the larger proportion of
Hamitic blood in the ruling families; for the Egyptians were
Hamites, and Hamites are in the main Caucasians.
Though it is true that each race is a synthesis of many varieties
of humanity, and that its physical characteristics can be but
roughly described, it is also true that each race has a more or
less definite and peculiar outlook on life. It is this common
ideal that gives people a sense of kinship and marks them off
from every other race. What matters most is not the origin of
each thread in the mingled yarn, but the texture and pattern
that the fabric has taken in the loom of time. Much has been
written, for example, concerning the main features of British
culture and institutions; but the British are not even one in
language, to say nothing of origin or physical type. The French
also are a medley of many different strains. But British and
French have each succeeded in developing a distinctive type of
civilization, notwithstanding the fact that for ages each of them
has been subject not only to the influence of the other, but of
divers other nations. Bantu tribes have lacked the political
and geographical solidarity that both British and French have
long enjoyed; but, on the other hand, the dominant influence
in the social culture of all Bantu tribes is evidently of one origin,
and, except to the limited extent already indicated, these tribes
have been shut off for about two thousand years from all the
modifying influences of the wider world. The result is consider-
able variety in the details of tribal customs and institutions,
and yet fundamental agreement concerning the larger problems
of life.
It is this Bantu outlook on life that we propose to study in the
five following chapters.
Like all Africans, except Bushmen and other pygmies (if they
are other), the Bantu passed long ago from a primitive condition

of complete dependence upon nature, in which the daily need
of the family was supplied by the family effort of the day, into
an intelligent exploitation of natural resources by the agri-
cultural and pastoral labour of the community. They are all
hunters, breeders of fowls and small stock, and cultivators of
the soil. But where the country is congenial to cattle, men
leave the lands largely to their womenfolk and devote them-
selves to pastoral pursuits.
Nothing is more characteristic of pastoral Bantu tribes than
their love of those long-horned cattle that were the joy of the
Hamitic heart before the Bantu race was born.1 If you want
to see a look of rapture on Bantu faces, place them before a
herd of black-and-white cattle of a kind that they can appreciate.
The greatest Bantu chief prides himself upon his knowledge of
cattle and his ability to manage them; and men generous
beyond their neighbours are most reluctant to part with a fertile
cow, even in emergency. They have never felt the need of
separate terms to distinguish between the colour of the grass
and that of the sky, but the colours of their cattle are distin-
guished with the greatest terminological exactitude. With one
word, they can describe a beast which it would take a paragraph
and a diagram to describe in English.
The failure of waters on the upper veld often necessitates the
removal of a herd to another 'fountain' or stream, but the
Bantu have passed out of the nomadic stage of civilization into
that of permanent settlements. Their homes soon become
insanitary, however, and are often rendered ceremonially
unclean, and it is no great hardship to move to another locality.2
There is, moreover, an element of restlessness and desire for
change in Bantu character, and before the days of European
government, especially after the slave-trade made man-hunting
the most profitable pursuit in Africa, intertribal war often
desolated a whole country-side, and made every community
insecure. Few Bantu clans have been blessed with anything
like permanence of abode.
Though a high degree of industrial skill is not incompatible
with cannibalism, domestic slavery, or the rule of a despot who
I See pp. 17 and 31.
See pp. 119-21 for village architecture, also p. 19.

treats the lives of his subjects with great levity,1 it is found
only in centres of population that have continued for long
centuries, where secrets of manufacture have been passed on,
age after age, from father to son. Nevertheless, smiths were
found in all Bantu tribes--clever smiths in some of them,
especially in the centre of the continent-who dug ore from their
native hills, smelted it, and worked it into tools 2 and weapons.
Some tribes (those of Katanga, Angola, and the Limpopo Valley,
for instance) knew how to smelt and work copper into articles
of personal adornment long centuries before they saw a white
face. In a Barolong town on the Molopo River, Moffat saw a
Mohurutse from Kurreechane making a mixture of copper and
tin, which he drew into wire and wove into ornaments. I saw
Mirambo's people drawing wire in Unayamwezi in 1882, though
the art was then apparently dying. Some tribes used to weave
loin-cloths of wild cotton; some made garments of the inner
bark of the baobab or, better still, of the banyan; and others
were skilful furriers. Wood-carving was practised almost
everywhere, though often poorly done, stools, pillows (of the
Egyptian pattern), dishes, and various other vessels being
carved out of the solid and often decorated with figures of
animals and conventional ornaments. The potter's wheel was
unknown and pot-clay was of inferior quality; but pottery of
great utility and often of graceful design was everywhere pro-
duced. Basket-work, hat-weaving, and mat-weaving were
common accomplishments: some Central Bantu tribes wove
dishes and beer-pots of chaste patterns and of texture so fine
that they were watertight. All these industries may still be
found among the Bantu; but European goods find their way
cheaply and easily even into districts that Europeans have
never visited, and native craftsmanship is rapidly dying.

I It is hard to find better specimens of wood-carving in Bantu Africa than
those of the Barotse Valley; better iron-work than that of some Manyuema
tribes; better basket-work than that of Mirambo's Wanyamwezi; or a higher
degree of general civilization than that of Uganda. And, also, it is not the
most warlike tribes that have produced the finest weapons.
Bantu hoes were of the Egyptian pattern and suggest the origin of the
design for spades in playing-cards.
SMissionary Labours and Scenes in Southern Africa, by Robert Moffat.
London: John Snow, 1842, pp. 466-8.

In individual character the Bantu differ as widely as the
British. But, as a broad indication of proclivity, the following
is not far wrong. They are a peaceable people, though liable to
short outbursts of anger or grief. To those whom they trust,
they are kindly and willing to be helpful; but underneath a
somewhat stoical exterior they carry an emotional and impulsive
temperament, with more than a touch of vanity. They are not
insensible to argument; but it is easier to manage them with a
laugh and a joke than with stern logic. Any display of bad
temper calls out the worst that is in them, and when convinced
that a White man despises their race they are quite willing to be
thought fools if only it will add to his annoyance. Accustomed
to a world without clocks, where time is of little consequence,
and where they can do what they like when they like, the
regular and persistent methods of European industry soon
become irksome to them, and they must either go home and
rest awhile or seek a change of employment. They are often
accused of indolence; but, though love of work for work's sake
is confined in every race to the few elect souls that have tasted
the joy of creative art, and though the simple wants of the
Bantu are easily supplied, they spend much of their time in
what they consider useful employment. One would hardly call
them cleanly people; but water is scarce and they have great
love for their native soil. Their objectionable habit of smearing
their bodies with an evil-smelling mixture of grease and haema-
tite, ochre, or powdered redwood is, however, really hygienic,
and those of them who live near great rivers or on the sea-coast
are fond of bathing and swimming. Their remarkable weakness
in all that pertains to finance is probably due in part to lack
of forethought; in part to the fact that currency is a new idea
to most of the Bantu tribes; and in part to a streak of avarice
that runs through their nature. They have retentive memories,
a faculty for imitation, and a childlike facility for learning
foreign languages. Men who can speak two or three Bantu
tongues besides their own are common, and it is not uncommon
to find men who speak also Portuguese, Cape Dutch, or English,
or possibly two of these European tongues in addition to one
or two vernaculars. They are courageous and very loyal to
any authority that they recognize; and in patience of the

passive variety they excel. Their music is monotonous and
sad even in its joyousness, and their musical instruments are
primitive though varied.
xii. Sudanese hybrids. Perhaps it ought to be said, in con-
clusion, that in the Northern Sudan there are tribes which do
not speak Bantu languages but are a somewhat similar blend
of Negroes and Hamites (Tuaregs) or Semites (Arabs). That
the finest of these Sudanese hybrids are superior to the finest
Bantu is due to the larger proportion of Hamitic and Semitic
blood in their pedigree, and to the fact that the culture of the
Western Hamites is superior to that of the Eastern. But
environment counts for much in the development of a people;
and, while the Bantu have been isolated from more progressive
races till a very recent date, the Sudanese have had the benefit
of more than seven centuries of Mohammedan influence-an
influence which, though it falls far short of the Christian ideal,
is not only immensely superior to anything in heathen Africa,
but was able to contribute valuable elements to the culture and
scholarship of mediaeval Europe.




Anthropologists have recently been attacking religion by methods similar
to those employed by biologists against love. By an elaborate chain of
deduction which would make a theologian blush, they have decided com-
pletely to their own satisfaction that ancestor-worship and such rude begin-
nings explain all. ... To show that religion as we now understand it began
as something very different, is no more argument against the reality of
religion than the fact that the flower began as a root, the cousin of dirt and
worms, would be an argument against the reality of the flower ... If man
were once an ape, there is all the more likelihood that he will some day be an
angel.'-Le Gallienne's Religion of a Literary Man.
NEITHER Black men nor White men ever express the ideas
that matter most in argument. Such ideas appear so funda-
mental to a speaker that he credits his listener with taking them
for granted. In our own community this is no bar to mutual
understanding, for we all take much the same things for granted ;
but in a community very alien from our own we must discover
what is assumed before we can understand what is said and
done. It is probably impossible for a White man to 'think
black'; but success, if it comes at all, comes always along
a path that is strewn with the failures of those who tried and
partly succeeded. So we venture into the jungle.
i. Assumptions of Bantu thought. The Bantu conceive of
everything in the world-every animal, every tree, every hill,
every rock, everything animate or inanimate (as we should call
it)-as having a soul, a subtle unseen something within that makes
it what it is and enables it to do what it does. They conceive,
moreover, that the soul pervades not only the body, but its
clothes, its secretions, its shadow, its name, and everything with
which it comes into close contact. And, stranger still, they think
it possible for one soul to be more or less absorbed by another;
and that there are many clever people who have been initiated
into the secret of aiding or thwarting this absorption, whether
for weal or woe to others.1
1 This Bantu belief is sometimes referred to as a conviction that every
quality of people and things is 'catching' under certain circumstances, and
that the most desirable thing to know is how to 'catch' some qualities and
avoid others, and how to expose one's foes to the contagion that they wish

If we take this as the assumption that lies at the back of the
Black man's mind, taboos and magic are not so inexplicable
after all. Without this they look like Bedlam let loose. And the
puzzle of it is that the people who rely upon taboo and magic are
not at all the sort of people that one expects to find in Bedlam.
They are not all alike. In a Bantu community there is as much
difference between individuals as there is in a British com-
munity, but many of them are very capable people, and, like
everybody else, they all accept the explanation of their ex-
perience that seems to them to explain the most.
ii. Taboo. Look at their idea of taboo. I can only mention
a few samples out of thousands. Taboo is not a Bantu word;
it comes from the South Seas, I believe. The Bantu words for
the idea are varied, but may be translated as 'things to be
avoided'. Birth and death are simply crowded with taboos,
as we should expect the greatest mysteries of life to be. For
instance, a corpse is, of course, taboo : it must not be seen by
children, nor buried by any one who is not full-grown; and it
must not be carried through the door, but through a hole made
in the back wall of the hut. Some tribes burn the hut in which
death has occurred; some merely abandon it; some not only
remove it, but dig over the ground on which it stood, and forbid
children to play on that spot. At least, the hut is taboo and
requires elaborate purification before it can be used again. All
the personal possessions of the deceased are taboo. Some of them
can be purified by appropriate mixtures; but there are im-
purities that only fire can take away, and such things as axes
and spears are passed through the fire till the wood is burned.
Some tribes bury all the personal possessions that are not iron;
but according to many tribes the clothes must neither be buried
nor burned in the rainy season; and in tribes that make the
clothes of a dead man the perquisite of his maternal uncle, these
clothes must not be removed in the rainy season. Even the milk
in the calabashes and milk-sacks of the dead man must be poured
out; and it is taboo for his relatives (though not for others) to
use the milk of his herd till the sacrifice has been offered for the
repose of his soul. The grave is taboo; one must not stand or
sit on it, or remove anything placed there. Mourners are taboo ;
to. avoid. To the Bantu, however, it is more than a quality; it is a part of
the soul of the person or thing.


until they are purified they must not pass through a herd of
cattle, and near relatives must not associate with their neigh-
bours for a period. The taboo that rests upon widows and
widowers is very serious and remains for a long time.
Death is not regarded by the Bantu as a natural happening,
but as a supernatural visitation. And anything that has come
into contact with the supernatural is taboo. If a hut is struck
by lightning, no part of it may be touched till it has been
purified, and after that it can only be demolished and the
materials thrown outside the village. Tribes with which I lived
are very fond of flesh. They regard it as a beautiful valediction
to wish that the traveller may hap upon a dead eland or zebra
on the way; and if a beast dies of disease (even anthrax) they
eat it; but if it is killed by lightning, its flesh must not be eaten.
Perhaps it is for the same reason that the day after a hailstorm
or tempest with lightning must be kept as taboo-day. But
there are other taboo-days, or 'sabbaths'-days on which no
work must be done in the fields. It is hard to distinguish between
taboo and sacred in primitive thought. We sometimes say that
the number seven was a sacred number to the ancient Hebrews;
and seven is a taboo number to the Bantu. People haggling for
the biggest possible bride-price for their daughter would rather
take six head of stock than seven-though they would keep the
bargain open for weeks in the effort to get eight.
The supernatural and the unnatural are one in Bantu thought,
and everything abnormal and uncanny is taboo. Babies who
cut their upper teeth before the lower, or who are born feet first,
and twins (in most tribes) must not be permitted to live.
The Puberty Ceremonies, which we shall discuss later, are
guarded with many taboos. These taboos are largely sexual;
but the neophytes in the Boys' Camp must not sweep the floor,
or mix mud, or shape a mud-wall, or shave the head, or cook
porridge, or handle malted grain, or take up the ashes of a fire
in a potsherd. It is taboo for a woman-to enter the camp, or
even to see it or the neophytes in the distance-at least among
tribes that maintain these ceremonies in their ancient glory ; and
in the old days a woman who violated this taboo would un-
doubtedly have been killed. Even women who cook food at home
for the use of boys in the camp are placed under many taboos.

War is hedged around with many taboos. Men on the war-
path must not eat wild fruit or berries; must not pass over
a stick lying across the path; must not point the muzzle of a gun
or the blade of a spear in any direction but that in which they
are going; and must not eat food found in a captured village or
take any of its plunder till the capture is complete. And each
warrior who has slain a foe is under fearful taboos till the
ceremony for the purification of warriors has been performed.
iii. Breach of taboo involves supernatural penalty. Now the
penalty for breach of taboo, though often material, is always
supernatural. The Bantu idea is not that these things or deeds
are forbidden by the authority of the tribe; but that those who
violate taboo will be supernaturally punished. When I was
travelling in Polynesia and New Guinea I often saw signs placed
on trees, paths, gardens, &c., which made it taboo for any one-
but the owner to use them. Bantu magicians think they, too,
can place things under the protection of spirits; but that is not
what they mean by taboo. With them the thing or the deed
is taboo by reason of its very nature, not by reason of any
magical rites that have been performed over it; but, as in the
other case, the penalty comes from the spirit-world. If a
pregnant woman were to sow seed in a garden or walk over
cultivated land, the crops would not ripen. If a woman (from
the time she reaches puberty till she is past child-bearing) were
to pass through a flock of sheep or allow her shadow to fall upon
them, there would be serious mortality among the sheep. If
either wife or husband break the taboo of child-birth, their new
baby would either die or become a simpleton. If the clothes of
a dead man were burnt or removed in the rainy season it would
stop the rain or cause hailstorms. The result of taking seven
head of stock as a bride-price would be to curse the marriage.
If you ask the Bantu why they do not engage in field-work on
taboo-days, they tell you that they fear to offend the spirits.
I have already mentioned that the Bantu idea of the soul of
things underlies their notion of taboo. But another belief that
takes a prominent place in their thinking is that which peeps
out from the two old English sayings-' Talk of the devil and
you'll see his horns,' and 'Deeds speak louder than words'.
The Bantu never heard of the devil, and, therefore, do not use

our metaphor; but both these ideas are prominent in their
religious ceremonies and taboos; actions, they think, are
prayers to the spirits, and what one expresses in word or action
is likely to happen-whether one intends it or not. However
it may be with the ancestral spirits, the spirits of things seem
destitute of ability to read motive, but very sensitive to things
said and done--especially the latter.
For example: to point at a person is to curse him, apparently
because you are directing the attention of the spirit-world to
him. He will speedily remove himself from your baleful presence.
And if you point at the rain-clouds, you will drive them away,
and there will be drought. They are as sensitive to insult as
people are. In carrying forth a corpse from a hut, the bearer
who emerges first comes out backwards; and so does the man
who takes a flaming torch into a hut to purify mourners after
a burial. And thus to come out of a hut backwards is to dramatize
an event that may speedily happen. Such doings are therefore
taboo. For the same reason a flaming stick or wisp of grass
must not be taken into a hut; he who wishes to light a fire on
the indoor hearth should take a few live coals in a potsherd.
A hole must not be dug in a cattle-kraal for any purpose what-
ever; it would suggest a grave for the owner of the herd. It is
taboo to wear the cloak inside out (that is, with the fur on the
outside), or to eat with the left hand, or to wear one sandal only;
such doings are suggestive of the purification of widows and
widowers. The idea that underlies these taboos is that it is
very dangerous to suggest things to the spirits, or to direct their
attention to people.
iv. Purification from breach of taboo. In the ceremonies of
purification from breach of taboo, the prevailing principle seems
to be the introduction of some counteracting spirit, or influence
as we should call it. What the Bantu call 'medicine' is often
used in these ceremonies; that is, roots, bulbs, herbs, &c. But
to the Bantu mind all medicine, even European drugs, are occult
substances. He knows nothing of the chemical properties of
things; he fights charm with charm, spirit with spirit. Mention
has already been made of the flaming torch that is used in the
purification of mourners, and of impurities which nothing but
fire can take away. Now lightning is the fiercest of all fires;

and for the purification of mourners the magician takes a
splinter of a tree that has been struck by lightning, and, having
lit it at the courtyard fire, enters the hut of the deceased and
passes the flaming brand in a circle around the head of each of
the bereaved. If this were not done, darkness would fill their
eyes. The contents of the stomach of an ox that has been
sacrificed to ancestral spirits is not only a very sacred substance,
since it has been brought into contact with the gods, but it is
also one of the most potent items in the repertory of the magician
for removing the defilement of taboo. The totem is another.
Space forbids us to discuss the totem; but, briefly, it is generally
an animal which is thought to be of the blood of the tribe. It is
always taboo to the tribe, though not to their neighbours; but,
nevertheless, it is sometimes the only substance that is potent
enough to remove the impurity of taboo contact I One of the
oldest Bantu totems (there are hundreds of them) is the crocodile,
and crocodile's dung is a wonderful corrective of defilement to
people who would be unspeakably contaminated if they touched
it save in this ceremonial manner.
Here again we see the principle that the soul of a thing
pervades its secretions. It is not necessary to have the whole
body before you in order to act upon its spirit; any fragment
or secretion is enough for the man who knows how ; or anything
with which it has come intimately into contact, or even its
name. We shall see further illustrations of this principle as
we proceed.
v. Taboos are not mere social regulations. Many Europeans
think that some taboos are valuable regulations of etiquette,
hygiene, or even morality. It is taboo to enter a hut with your
sandals on. It is taboo for young people to eat brains, marrow,
tripe, chitterlings, kidney, or fat-delicacies reserved for the old
and toothless. A woman must not associate with her father-in-
law or her husband's male. relatives in the ascending line; in
some tribes she must not even pronounce any word that contains
their names. It is taboo for an incontinent or ceremonially
unclean person to enter a sick-room, and nurses must be very
carefully selected. Violations of this taboo involve restlessness
and relapse for the invalid. But though such taboos as those
mentioned are to us suggestive of social amenity, chastity,

and sanitation, they are grounded in quite another conception
of life; a simpler and more primitive interpretation of life, in
which science, religion, and magic have not yet been differ-
entiated : a world that is all of a piece, and is spiritual through
and through. That which gives validity to every taboo is
. a potent spirit-influence, with which it is dangerous to tamper,
which may easily be brought into play by a careless word or
action, and which can be counteracted only by men whose
acquired or inherited lore enables them to select and oppose
other unseen influences of greater potency.
vi. Magic. Now this is the idea that runs through all Bantu
magic. And, with the Bantu, magic counts for much. The
magician is the high priest of a religion that deals with the
spirits of things. Mr. Ellenberger's History of the Basuto gives
a very excellent description of the magician or medicine-man.
'The ngaka '-that is the Basuto word for medicine-man-
combines the offices of diviner, rain-maker, priest, and physician.
The mysterious charms which he carries on his person place him
in communication with the dead, whom he has power to evoke.
He is the natural ally of the chief, whose arbitrary acts he con-
secrates; the preceptor of the young, who pass several months
under his care while being prepared for circumcision. His occult
science brings hope to the invalid who thinks himself the victim
of witchcraft; to the cultivator who fears drought, hail, and
the voracity of birds for his crops; to the herdsman who is in
despair at seeing the hyenas defy his stick and his dogs. Young
wives, to whom the sweets of maternity are denied, assemble,
fearful and panting, around the dwelling of the astute magician,
who pretends to nothing less than omnipotence.' And again: 'A
man could not sleep in his house for fear of magic, fire, or light-
ning, and therefore the ngaka must be called to doctor it. His
services were needed to ensure the fidelity of wives and husbands,
and also to assist illicit lovers in attaining their desire. Indeed,
it was not uncommon for a witch-doctor to sell medicine to a
husband and to a paramour at the same time in respect of the
favours of the same woman.... If a bird of ill omen perched on
a house, purification was necessary .... The witch-doctor would
guarantee a man against accident when hunting or travelling.
If a man had a case against his neighbour, the witch-doctor

would help him to win it by means of charms, medicine, or
inoculation. He could fertilize the earth by burning the reins
of an eland, the skin of a hedgehog, or the dung of a sheep.'
vii. Character of medicine-men. These quotations show very
concisely the far-reaching influence of the magician in Bantu
life. The description is true to the letter. And yet the witch-
doctor may very easily be overdone in European descriptions.
He is as low-principled as his neighbours, and much more
cunning; and his work is a frequent temptation to insincerity
and craftiness. But they are not all hypocrites: they believe
in their own charms, and have still greater faith in the malefi-
cence of unseen powers. They are seldom happy men; but
that may be partly due to their knowledge of what often happens
to witch-doctors who rouse the resentment of a great chief or
incur the enmity of powerful rivals. I cannot write these words
without thinking of one whose constant fear of occult influences
appealed to my sympathy; and of another who was all kindness,
unselfishness, and sympathy to me in weary days of fever, but
met the fate that so often befalls men of his craft. Therefore
I cannot agree that they are all scoundrels and hypocrites,
though I cannot dispute the fact that they often lend themselves
to iniquity.
viii. Herbalists. Mr. Ellenberger lumps all these varied
practitioners together under the term ngaka, according to the
custom of Basuto and Bechuana tribes. But some tribes have
separate titles for herbalists, experts in ancestor-worship,
diviners, exorcists, and magicians. And among the Bechuana
a practitioner wearing the general title usually specializes in one
or two branches of his profession. Occasionally one meets a man
(there are women doctors, but I never met one) who confines
himself to herbalism, and has no faith in divination or magic.
But it is doubtful whether -the medical, magical, and priestly
functions can be separated in any way that is satisfactory to the
Western mind. Even when the herbalist does not practise
divination or magic, he takes the spirits of his ancestors into all
his affairs, as his neighbours do, and trusts them to guide him
to appropriate remedies. Some of them tell me that their
remedies are often revealed to them in dreams. One explained
to me that when in doubt as to the remedy for a patient, he

went into the forest, and having prayed to the spirit of his
father (from whom he learnt his craft), turned round and walked
forward till he saw a root, which was always the right remedy.
This is hardly in accord with our ideas of herbalism I But there
are remedies for simple ailments, mostly emetics and purgatives,
the secret of which is passed down from father to son, which
often relieve suffering. I shrink from holding the balance
between the good they do and the evil that comes of their
bungling; but till the suffering people can be provided with
men of more rational training, I would do nothing to hinder the
native herbalist in his practice. If he does nothing more, he
stimulates the faith of those who trust him, and that is all that
is needed by fifty per cent. of those who think they are invalids.
ix. Diviners. Of the expert in ancestor-worship, we shall have
occasion to speak in the next chapter. But the diviner may be
more fitly considered here. He is connected with ancestor-
worship, but not in the same way. His business is to discover
which ancestral spirit must be propitiated, and how it can best
be done.; but he is in demand for many other purposes. If Saul
the son of Kish had been of the Bantu tribes, he would inevitably
have resorted to the diviner as soon as he realized that he had
lost the spoor of the stray asses. The apparatus varies con-
siderably in different tribes. In Central Africa a cone of flour
is placed overnight at the head of the sleeping-mat; or some-
times a pot of beer is used. In the Shir6 highlands, Mr. Rowley 1
witnessed a remarkable case of divination, in which two sticks,
of about four feet in length and the thickness of a broom-handle,
were supposed to be so filled with spirit-power that the men who
held them were whirled away by them to the hut of the guilty.
I have a divining apparatus which was made for me in Unya-
mwezi, and which consists of two sticks connected with a kind
of lazy-tongs device. The expert who made it told me that
the lazy-tongs is a mere mechanical contrivance, and that the
spirit-power resides in the two terminal sticks. South of the
Zambesi, little tablets and knuckle-bones (astragalus) are more
common. Of the three sets in my possession, each one contains
a King, Queen, Jack, and Jill, all distinguished by conventional
I The Universities' Mission to Central Africa, by the Rev. H. Rowley.
London: Sanders, Otley & Co., 1866. pp. 258-60.

signs; and one set has in addition knuckle-bones of the duyker,
steenbok, and ant-pig. But whatever the form of the apparatus,
it is a mere mechanical device (like the planchette of spiritualists
nearer home) for discovering the will of the spirits. One would
much like to know what spirits-whether the spirits of things
or the spirits of people, but the evidence is conflicting. The
spirits of things figure prominently in the ritual of ancestor-
worship; and it is clear that the spirits of ancestors can be
influenced by the spirits of things-probably much in the same
way as before they passed through the gateway of the grave.
In making the only divining apparatus that I ever saw made,
a sacrifice to ancestral spirits was essential, and the expert drew
my attention to the careful way in which he cut the throat of
the victim in the shape of a cross-a sign that figures frequently
in Bantu magic. And I note that divining-tablets are often
made of the bones, &c., of animals associated with the totem
or with graves. The method of divining varies with the form
of apparatus used. With the bones, the operator reads the
result of a random throw (the client often throws the bones for
himself) according to intricate but definite rules; and the result
seems as reliable, though not nearly as simple, as tossing a penny,
or opening the Bible at random and immediately placing one's
finger on a text.
x. Magicians. The manufacture of charms is a regular line
of business with the magician. There are charms for everything
-charms to secure health, love, fertility of gardens or herds;
charms to do the very reverse for your rivals and foes; charms
to beget children and charms to prevent pregnancy. And they
take a variety of forms : powders to be licked or placed under
the skin; fantastic bits of root, horns, shells, skins of reptiles,
images, magical signs; charms to be worn round the neck, tied
to guns, hung from trees, planted in the paths, or scattered about
an enemy's village. One is struck by the fantastic shape of most
charms, but the bit of gnarled root or twisted horn is not the
real charm; it is but the tabernacle in which the magician's
art has induced a spirit-power to dwell.
Spells are always used in the making of charms, and spells
are always intoned. Take a spell for securing the death of your
foe. You watch the hated man till he leaves a distinct footprint

in the dust of the road. Then you carefully scrape off the dusty
surface of the footprint, and take it to the magician. He moulds
it into a rough image of the victim and calls it by the victim's
name. Then he puts it through the pantomime of being killed
by the image of a lion, or crushed by the image of a wagon, or
he mixes with the dust certain blossoms, light as thistle-down,
which are blown aimlessly about the veld to a great distance;
and he intones an appropriate spell as he performs the panto-
mime. The fate of the victim is sealed. The lion will get him,
or the wagon will crush him, or in the last case he will wander
aimlessly about the veld and be lost. This is an example of the
belief that the soul of a person so pervades his footprints that
it can be affected by a spell recited over the dust. But for many
purposes the name of the victim is enough; only it must be the
real name, which is one of the things that Bantu do not like to
reveal to strangers. They have other names for public use.
Witches are supposed to have the power of bringing a corpse
out of the grave by the compelling might of the name of the
person who is buried.
Magical signs are not so easy of explanation. Those who use
them know only that they were taught that certain conventional
marks are necessary in some forms of magic. Of these symbols
the cross is by far the most potent. It takes the form of the sign
of addition, but magicians always call it 'The Cross'. If it is to
be hung up, the horizontal line is made of some red powder and
fat, and the perpendicular line of black. But often the sign is
all of one colour, and for some purposes it is made with a knife
on the skin of the abdomen or chest. In some parts red and
black bands are placed alternately around the door-post of a
hut, sometimes, as a protection from unfriendly witchcraft. Of
course the mixture for all these signs must be made of the right
stuff; and that is the magician's secret. When a feast is cooked
on a great occasion, magical signs are placed on the cooking
pots as protection from unfriendly witchcraft. For instance, the
magician dips his finger and thumb in a paste made of crocodile's
dung and other ingredients, and applies them to the outer surface
of the pots so as to leave little white, roundish spots.
In the founding of a new township, protective magic has a
prominent part to play. The ceremonies are elaborate; but

the first thing is the making of a great cross by dragging branches,
cut with magical ceremonies, across the site of the township,
from west to east and from south to north. The result is said
to be that any unfriendly magician who attempts to cast a spell
upon that town will become 'cross-hearted', that is, so be-
wildered that he will not know who he is, or where he came from,
or what he wanted to do. It is a general principle of Bantu
magic that if a person tries to cast a spell over what has been
already protected by a stronger spell, his spell will rebound upon
xi. Rain-makers. The rain-making of which travellers speak
is one of the highest reaches of magic; but it is not rain-making.
It is really a prayer to the spirits of the dynasty, as becomes very
evident when, the minor rites having failed, the major rites are
observed at the grave of an old chief. But, though the minor
rites are performed most years in some districts, the major rites
are rare. To a European, the minor rites are not at all suggestive
of prayer. A cloud of black smoke rises at intervals, day after
day, from within the sacred circle that is carefully screened from
all but the chief and his expert assistant; and the ingredients
from which the smoke is produced are gruesome: untimely
births, twins that were not permitted to live, drippings of blood
from men and women who were lacerated for certain sexual
offences, and a variety of animal and vegetable substances that
the experts keep secret. It would never occur to a European
that the rain-pot is a censer and the black smoke incense; and
yet that is what the experts claim. 'Weaving rain' is their
name for this ritual; but they confess freely that it is only their
method of giving efficacy to their prayer to the spirits. It
is another instance of influencing the spirits of people by means
of the spirits of things-perhaps it would be fair to say, of
compelling the spirits of people by means of the spirits of things;
for the magical element is to the fore, and magic aims at control.
Its advocates admit that it sometimes fails; but they contend
that failure is due to some flaw in the performance of the rite, or
some unusually heinous offence in the tribe that has hardened
the hearts of the dynastic spirits-the only mediators that are
sufficiently exalted to intercede with the Great Spirit in such an
important matter as rain.

xii. No worship of the spirits of things. So far we have seen
nothing that can properly be termed worship of the spirits of
things; and, indeed, there is little of that among Bantu. Some-
times black pebbles from the river-bed are placed permanently
within a sacred circle in the village, and presented periodically
with libations of beer, offerings of meal, and the first buck killed
in the hunting season, while praise and prayer is intoned. But
each such pebble is called by the name of one of the founders of
the tribe, and what is actually worshipped is not the pebbles,
but the ancestral spirits which they symbolize. The stones are
but shrines, or altars of ancestor-worship.
Tribes belonging to what is called the Western Wave of Bantu
Migration are to be found as far inland as the Great Lakes; and
among them offerings, sacrifices, and prayers are sometimes made
to quaint little bundles that are often decorated with shells,
beads, feathers, and splashes of sacrificial blood. But these again
are in reality reliquaries, and the worship is given to the spirit
of the ancestral saint whose relics are enshrined in them, or
it may be to a whole line of ancestors whose fragments are all
mingled in one bundle. These are examples of the Bantu belief
that spirits can be influenced through any fragments of their
earthly tabernacles; but they have nothing to do with the
worship of the spirits of things. An axe-handle stuck into the
centre of a circle specially prepared for it, is often the centre of
family or clan worship; and occasionally, especially among the
Western Bantu, real images are used. I have never met a tribe
that uses images, except in the Puberty Rites; but the axe-
handle is admittedly a symbol of the ancestral spirits, and the
image is probably the same.
All over Africa, generally in lonely places, there are heaps
of loose stones and rubbish, which are treated with reverence.
Every passer-by adds a stone, stick, or a little dust to the heap,
and mutters a greeting or a prayer. These cairns mark the spot
where sudden death occurred, accidental or premeditated, and
often cover the remains. This worship, also, is associated with
the spirits of people.
For a similar reason, caves, hills, rivers, trees, and groves are
often associated with worship. Some tribes still bury their
chiefs in caves, and others, in rivers, while a grove or the shade

of a big tree is suitable for any grave. Tribes which remain long
in the same district bury chief after chief in some great hill, which
comes to be sacred to them, and is ultimately regarded as the
abode of the gods, even by later invaders or still later con-
querors of the invaders. Such gods are always rain-gods, as
Bantu dynastic spirits always are; and even when legend has
forgotten their earthly career, they still retain their personal
names. The Bantu do not worship the spirits of caves, hills,
rivers, &c., but ancestral spirits that are associated with them.
Some of these hill-gods and cave-gods have become so famous
that it must have taken many centuries to produce them; and
some of them have become so confounded with the Great
Unknown and Unworshipped that the cult of them has been
transformed into what amounts to crude worship of the Supreme
People who attribute a soul to everything are sure to think
of the heavenly bodies as persons; but, in spite of a few ambigu-
ous customs, I know no evidence that the Bantu worship sky,
,sun, moon, stars, clouds, or lightning-though the practices of
the lightning-doctor sometimes suggest propitiation.
xiii. Magic and Worship the contrast. A large question
opens here. What is the distinction between magic and worship,
or between spell and prayer ? Briefly put, magic and spell mean
coercion: while worship and prayer mean communion. The
Bantu, regarding the spirits of things as mischievous, if not
unfriendly, seek occult control over these spirits, so as to ward
off harm from themselves or inflict it upon their foes. The
potency of the spell lies in the exact use of certain words (which
may be meaningless to him who utters them), correct intonation,
and the use of a compelling name and of substances that are
thought to add efficacy to the ritual. There is no appeal to the
pity, sympathy, or mercy of the spirit.
Now the spirits of people are sometimes unfriendly, too,
especially those who have been offended. The mere anger of
one's brother is thought likely to produce illness in one's
family, quite apart from the brother's intentions; and if it does,
nothing helps the invalid till the brother takes the anger away.
Much more, then, is the wrath of a departed spirit to be dreaded.
The spirits of one's own kith and kin, however, are friendly, and

may be relied upon to help, so long as they are not offended.
They are sometimes exacting and have to be expostulated with,
but in the main they are a help and comfort. What the ancestor-
worshipper seeks, therefore, is communion with the ancestral
spirits, and, if necessary, the restoration of right relations. True,
the worship of ancestors is often marred with magic rites and
notions (even Christian prayers sometimes carry that taint);
but its dominating note is communion, conciliation, persuasion.
Therefore it is prayer. Now, in the relation of the Bantu with
the spirits of things there is nothing of this : they aim at the
absolute control or prohibition of such spirits, often by oppos-
ing the activity of one spirit to that of another.
Reference has already been made to the power of mimetic
action. Another and somewhat similar principle of Bantu magic
is that like produces like, though sometimes the very opposite
seems to prevail, that like cures like, just as in the old wives'
remedies of Britain cochineal and saffron-water are used to
throw out eruptions, and nettle-tea as a cure for nettle-rash.
Both principles are exemplified in the elaborate ritual that
prepares warriors for the war-path. Parts of the spring-hare,
ant-pig, and hyena are used in this ritual, and an expert explained
to me without being asked that these animals are not seen during
the day, and that that is a quality which the regiments desire.
On the other hand, he told me also that certain vital organs
taken immediately from a brave foe who has been slain in battle
are used in the war charms, not that the warriors may get these
qualities, but that the enemy may lose the strength of their
loins and legs. He who eats the heart of a leopard becomes
fierce and relentless. There is a beetle in Bechuanaland which
will survive for a month after it is suspended on a thread, and
mothers who have lost their children in infancy suspend one or
two of these beetles from the new baby's neck, or tie them on to
its hair. In order to gain a spiritual quality, it is thought
enough to bring the body that possesses it, or the organ in which
it is thought to dwell, into intimate association with one's own
xiv. Witches. All Bantu tribes believe in witchcraft and fear
it. Many Europeans try to distinguish between the witch and
the witch-doctor, medicine-man, magician, or whatever you call

him, by saying that the former is anti-social, while the latter uses
his power for social ends. That is not true. Vengeful, jealous,
envious, ambitious people often employ the magician for very
anti-social purposes; and everybody in the tribe knows it. Yet
he is a respected member of a lucrative profession, while the
witch is thrown over a precipice or burnt to death. It seems
to me that the distinction between them is that the magician
has been professionally trained to control spirits by orthodox
methods, while the witch is a quack who has secured power in
illicit and heterodox ways.
What influence have these magical notions upon the life of
the people ? Much, and terrible! No greater tyranny ever
cursed a community than belief in magic. No one knows what
uncanny result may follow an accidental word or deed, or what
fearful spell a resentful or amatory neighbour may be weaving.
Wherever magic holds sway, human life is treated with great
levity, and suspicion finds a hotbed in which it can grow into
monstrous shapes. Would you be happy, trustful, kindly,
magnanimous, even in your own family circle, if you lived in
constant dread that one of them in an hour of anger might hand
you over to spirits that know no mercy, or that another, fearful
of your displeasure or jealous of your love, might sprinkle your
food with such vile human secretions as would absolutely
subordinate your will to that of the charmer ? The astonishing
thing is, not that they are frequently cruel to one another,
especially in hours of panic, but that they so often show love,
trust, and kindliness. It is fortunate for humanity that the
heart of man is often bigger and truer than his creed. Neverthe-
less, here is a slavery of the mind which is much more terrible
in its consequences than any slavery of the body ever was, and
which appeals more strongly to the chivalrous succour of the
free. But he who would knock off these shackles of the
mind needs sanity, patience, and grace, more than courage
and zeal.
xv. European attitude toward these beliefs. The European who
is scornful of African belief in the spirits of things and its conse-
quent magic, is hardly likely to do much good in Africa. It is
a childish notion; but one does not scoff at childish notions in
children, and the Bantu are a child-race. One talks to children

in child-words, ahd drives the point home with a childish meta-
phor, touched all the time, of course, with pity; but pity never
lives in the same street as contempt. Children are often disdain-
ful of children; but the man who is a man never fails to remember
the time when he himself was just there. Lordly people who show
their vulgarity in haughty criticism of the disgusting 'super-
stition' of Africa must be very ignorant of their own ancestry,
and not well acquainted with their poor relations. How long
is it since it was the common belief of Britain that sickness was
caused by evil spirits, and could be charmed away ? The
microscope has made some of these little devils visible and
shown us how they give up the ghost when properly treated;
therefore most of us have ceased to propitiate and begun to
handle them more effectually. But it does not take a profound
study of contemporary thought to convince one that in city and
hamlet alike there are not a few Britishers who still resort to the
charmer, the diviner, the vendor of lucky stones, and the like,
in spite of modern science and all the centuries of Christianity
which preceded its birth.
Personally, I find it easier to be patient with an African who
goes to the diviner when in trouble, than with those disdainful
people who dilate so readily upon his pitiable 'superstition',
without taking the trouble to understand either it or the word
with which they label it. 'Superstition' is an undefinable term
of contempt for the ritual of a more primitive religion than our
own; and contempt is a blind alley that leads nowhere. One
cannot spread the Christian religion by becoming a Pharisee;
but he who has caught its spirit treats the religion of another
as he would like another to treat the religion that is most sacred
to him-which, though not above investigation and criticism, is
always to be approached with respect.
What we have to do for these people is not to run over the
surface of their lives with a lawn-mower, as some one has put it,
but get down below the weeds and have the roots out-which is
much less like holiday work and much slower. But he who uses
the spud needs knowledge, patience, and care, or he may spoil
the lawn. In eradicating these weeds of magic, teachers of
modern science, even in its elementary forms, may render
immeasurable service to Africa and to humanity; only they must

study these phenomena with the same sympathy that they take
to the study of birds, flowers, and rocks. It is an acknowledged
principle in modern pedagogy that only teachers of a high type
can succeed with the deficients and the kindergarten. No
country needs primary school teachers more than Africa does;
but the teachers must be men and women who have a special
vocation for the work and have learnt the most approved method
of carrying it out, and whose lives are steadied and inspired by
love of humanity and the practice of religion.


Like waves on a crescent sea beach
When the moon is new and thin,
Into our souls great surgings come,
Welling and surging in;
Come from that mystic ocean
Whose rim no foot hath trod,
Some of us call it longing,
Others call it God.

i. Bantu conception of life after death. All Bantu believe in
survival after death; it is one of those fundamental ideas, like
the evidence of the senses, that no one among them stays to
examine. The scamp of the tribe may or may not be as attentive
to his religious duties as his most worthy neighbour, but he is
quite as sure of life beyond the grave. There is no evidence,
however, that the Bantu have considered the idea of immortality;
with them it is simply survival after death; they are content
to leave it there. Apparently they do not believe in the re-
surrection of the body, though some facts point that way; but
the connexion between the spirit and the corpse is so intimate
that all the marks and mutilations of the body are carried by
the spirit into the other world, and into any future reincarna-
tions in this world. On the other hand, it is held that the spirit
does not attain its maximum power for good till the body has
lain in the grave for a decade and wellnigh disappeared-
though it may make mischief from the moment of death and may
render assistance at any time after the sacrifice which sends it
home to the abode of the gods.
But where does the spirit live ? The grave is evidently the
portal of the spirit-world, and the great door of approach to
the spirit. Worshippers usually lay their offerings there. But
it is not the only door of approach. Hunters offer prayer, praise,
and the ancestral spirit's portion of the game under any big tree
in the hunting-veld. Some tribes believe that the spirit lingers
about the grave till the sacrifice is offered, a month (or a year, in

some tribes), after burial, for the repose of the departed, or, as
they express it, for sending the spirit home to the abode of
spirits. To relatives who ought to care for the burial-rites,
this is a period of danger. If the corpse lies unburied in the
wilderness, it is likely that illness will seize the negligent
relatives or an epidemic invade the village. When the body
cannot be found, some tribes offer a sacrifice and celebrate a
kind of proxy funeral. Everywhere there is an element of risk
till the spirit has been sent forward to its permanent abode.
I inquired of a tribe with which I was familiar why they had
offered a sacrifice for rain at the grave of a chief whom their
fathers had killed for his iniquities, while no similar ceremony
was performed at the grave of the 'King Arthur' of their
dynasty, which was less than thirty miles away. And I was told
that as the famous grave was in land that had been wrested
from them by another tribe, it may have been rifled of its
remains. From which I infer that even a century and a half after
burial there was thought to be intimate association between the
spirit and the mortal remains. The Bechuana say they bury the
head of a family just within the family cattle-pen so that he may
hear the tramp of his beloved cattle as they go out to graze in the
morning and return for safety at sunset; and lay the mother
under the threshing-floor so that she may hear the thud of the
flails as each new crop is threshed.
There is also some connexion between the spirit and the home.
Among the Bechuana, the woman's side of the conjugal hut
must be left after her death 'for the use of her spirit', while a
man's hut must be abandoned altogether or destroyed. Some
ceremonies for the purification of widows are connected with the
threshold and the eaves over the door. But since some tribes
still bury their dead just outside the threshold and some within
the hut that is to be abandoned, it is probable that these customs
are really connected with the grave.
Where then is the spirit-world of which the grave is the portal ?
The Bantu have found this world so big and so bothersome, and
so pleasant and so sociable, that they have no inclination to go
into this question. But they are a polite people, and if you insist
on a reply, they are more likely to be polite than truthful. They
would scorn to mislead you in the veld (except in the service of
2569 E

their tribe); but when you ask questions like this, why, you are
' only talking'. In a general way, as far as I can make out, they
think of it as 'down' rather than 'up '. The common opinion
is clearly shown in a sacrificial hymn that Mr. Junod, of the Swiss
Mission to the Thonga, was good enough to send me. The
sacrifice says : I have remained outside (on the earth). I am
wretched; but I received life from you who are in the earth,
down.' But there are some facts that seem to point the other
way. 'Remember us from the heights to which you are going,'
is a prayer that is known to Basuto and Bechuana. Miss
Werner 1 quotes a Yao legend according to which Mulungu (God)
went up on high and ordered that people should also come up
on high when they die. There is a curious likeness between the
Bechuana word for 'God' and their word for above. But,
possibly, these are all echoes of a time when hills were the
burial-places of the great.
It is not a satisfactory reply to the question, but the truest
thing that I can say is this: The spirit is believed to be where
its family is; but whether it lives in the ground in that neighbour-
hood, or comes there from the grave through which it passes to
the spirit-world, is far from clear. One thing, however, is clear :
distance does not hamper its movements as it did while the spirit
was in the flesh. Whether distance exists in the spirit-world is
a question which the Bantu have never asked.
But be the spirit-world where it may, it seems to be very much
like the world we know. Wherever the Bantu go, they find
people like themselves, organized in villages like their own, and
engaged in similar amusements and occupations. And they
naturally think of the spirit-world as being similar, though
glorified. The herd-boy herds his cattle; the women till the
gardens and pound the corn; the hunter chases the game; the
patriarch rejoices in his beautiful black-and-white cattle; and
the villagers gather in the evening for gossip, dance, and song.
In that world all the tribes are assembled, good people and bad
people, too; and all are free to go where they like. 'But,' said
the medicine-man in Unyamwezi who gave me the last sentence
nearly forty years ago, 'in my village, where good and bad live
SNatives of British Central Africa, by A. Werner. London: Archibald
Constable & Co., 1906, p. 74.

together and can mix as they please, you will generally find the
good in one group and the bad in another; they prefer it so.'
The difficulty of getting reliable information from the Bantu
about matters to which they have paid little attention is, how-
ever, great; and the inquirer has to be very careful not to put
leading questions.
When Chaka, the Zulu tyrant, was carving out his empire at
the beginning of last century he found it necessary to use the
religious beliefs of his people for his political purposes. He had
played such havoc with old customs and introduced so much
that was new that he thought it wise to secure the sanction of
the spirits of the old chiefs. And he did it with great astute-
ness. A lion carried off a prophet in the night, so it was said,
and left the poor man's friends disconsolate. Some months
later the prophet was sent back into the world of turmoil and
strife with a message from the old dynastic chiefs. What
interests us here, however, is not the message that he brought,
but the description of the world in which he professed to have
dwelt after the lion ate him. He pictured it as a fine country, and
mentioned a number of men, who had been killed in war or died
at home, whom he found there. 'They are much smaller than
we,' he said; 'they have plenty of cattle, but all very small.
The girls are handsome.' One smiles at the trick, but is grateful
for the Bantu picture of the spirit-world. It was essential to the
success of the trick that the picture should agree with the notions
of the people; and we may take it as reliable.
ii. Cult of ancestral spirits. In most parts of Bantu Africa the
villages are adorned with miniature spirit-huts, in which the
relatives place little offerings for the spirits. Miss Werner 1 says,
Whether or not they consciously think of their dead as little
shadowy figures, a few inches high (like the representation of the
soul as it issues from the body, on some Greek vases), such is
evidently the thought that suggested the erection of these
miniature dwellings.' The Zulus evidently had that idea, and
probably all Bantu tribes. It is a very ancient idea, and wide-
spread through the world. Who are the fairies, and piskies, and
little folks that haunt ancient burial-places in Ireland, Cornwall,
and Scotland? People-whose-grandfathers-knew-people-who-
1 Natives of British Central Africa, p. 49.

were relatives of people who frequented the same
tavern-as-people-who-had-seen-them describe them as about
a span high; but no pygmy race could have worn the bones
found in the old graves which these uncanny little people are
supposed to haunt.
But however diminutive the spirits of the Bantu under-world
may be in size, chiefs are still chiefs in that world, and have powers
of intercession with the Great Chief that no Bantu would
attribute to ordinary folk. The spirits of chiefs seem to have
enormous power apart from the Great Chief; but the most
important among them all cannot send rain-he can only
intercede with the Great Chief of the spirit-world when his
people cry for rain. Even so, the intercession of a notable is
thought to be of immense value. A Bantu chief is unlikely to
refuse a request that is urged by the high-born in his community;
and the Great Chief of the spirit-world is credited with similar
compliance. Spirits of common people can do much for their
family; but spirits of chiefs can render immeasurable aid to the
whole tribe.
And the spirits are still interested in the things that they
lived for while on earth. There is nothing so near to the hearts
of the pastoral tribes as their cattle; and the spirits of patriarchs,
Clan-heads, and chiefs still turn towards the herds they left behind
them. Few things move them to pity and hurry them to inter-
cession so much as the lowing of the thirsty beasts when the
drought is turning the fields into desert. And if the ancestral herd
is squandered, the spendthrift will have to reckon with the anger
of the ancestral spirits-probably long before he meets them in
the spirit-world-certainly then.
All Bantu tribes are interested in agriculture; but among the
pastoral tribes agriculture is left to women, and though women
after death are worshipped occasionally, they are thought to
take a back place in both worlds. And yet every chief in the
spirit-world is interested in the fertility of his tribal lands
whether his tribe be mainly pastoral or mainly agricultural;
and clan-heads and patriarchs maintain a concern for their
family holdings.
How much do these spirits know? Clear definitions are not
to be looked for in Africa. There is no hint anywhere that such

spirits are able to read the heart; but they know what their
people do and suffer. They do not bother about all the little
peccadilloes of their people-they never did; but they were and
are upholders of the ancient customs, and will soon show that
they know when a custom has been broken. Many things are
likely to be overlooked if not brought definitely to their notice;
but, upon the whole, their knowledge, like their power, has been
enhanced by death.
Death does not seem however to improve their character.
The spirits of mean, selfish, and unreliable men are mean, selfish,
and unreliable still. But when they lived as men in the village,
even these selfish people could be smoothed down by those who
knew which way the fur lay; and their spirits can be similarly
approached after death. Some spirits have to be rebuked for
favouritism towards the givers of greater offerings; and some
jealous souls are apt to block the path of one who seeks communion
with another spirit until they, also, have been propitiated.
iii. Ancestral spirits communicate with men by (a) Dreams.
There are various ways in which the spirits reveal their will to
men. Perhaps the commonest is through dreams. The ancient
Bantu custom is to eat little or nothing till sunset, and then to
take a huge meal, fortunately followed by dance and gossip for
a few hours before turning in for the night. It need hardly be
said therefore that they are dreamers. Exchanging dreams in
the morning is quite usual; and if the memory is pleasant enough
to retain, the narrator spits upon the floor, otherwise he produces
an artificial sneeze that it may be banished from his thoughts.
But there are dreams and dreams. If a dead relative or friend
figures in the dream, that dream is a message from the spirit-
world. Then a diviner is consulted and worship rendered to
some spirit.
(b) Calamity. One of the unpleasant ways in which spirits
impose their will upon worshippers is by calamity. And they
are often rebuked for it: Have we ever refused you a sacrifice
when you wanted one I Why do you come like this ? Tribal
disaster, drought, cattle-plague, locusts, personal illness, or any-
thing out of the usual run is attributed to the interposition of some
spirit who has been neglected or offended. Therefore the spirit
must be propitiated before hope can dawn upon the sufferer.

(c) Trance. An uncommon method of communication with
the spirit-world is by trance. All the cases of trance that I have
met with have been due to the delirium of disease; and most
of them have forboded death. I know one instance, however,
in which the patient was given up by his friends, and the grave
was being dug; but he regained consciousness and gave a
delightful account of the spirit-world, as a place in which every-
thing was neat and clean and beautiful, but said that he was told
by the spirits that they were not yet ready to have him. And he
(d) Reincarnation. Sometimes the spirits revisit their old
homes in the form of an animal. It would hardly be worthy of
a great chief to choose any animal except a lion, leopard, or snake.
Miss Werner1 says that among the Yao 'this does not happen so
often as among the Zulu, who quite expect their deceased
relatives to come back, like Cadmus and Harmonia, as bright
and aged Snakes ", and are very glad to see them when they do.
The Yao theory seems to be that none of the departed will do
this, unless they mean to be nasty.' The Zulus take such an
appearance as a kindly warning of approaching danger and a sign
that the spirit wants a sacrifice; and great care is taken that no
harm is done to such a snake. Among the Mashona the spirit
sometimes reincarnates itself in a bird. Leopards do much
damage among some West Coast tribes that refuse to kill these
reincarnated chiefs.
(e) Possession. There is one other way in which the spirits
communicate their will, and that is by possession '. Posses-
sion' is really insanity. Stark, staring madness is not common
among the Bantu; but when it occurs, the patient takes to the
hills or forest, shouting violently to imaginary beings, till death
brings release. Cases of mild insanity are more common. Now
the Bantu speak of the maniac and the daft as 'possessed',
and stand in awe of them; though when a person is raving mad
his utterances are not thought to be inspired. But just as one
patient in a British lunatic asylum will tell you in the broad
dialect of his country-side that he is King of England, and another,
that she has committed the 'unpardonable sin', so it is common
for crazy Bantu to assert that they are 'possessed' by the
1 Natives of British Central Africa, p. 64.

spirit of some famous old chief or medicine-man; for insanity
everywhere takes its form of expression from the thoughts and
habits of the patient's saner years. We smile at the claim of our
demented neighbours; but the Bantu submit more readily to
such claims than to the claims of sanity.
In one case in which I was interested, the 'possessing' spirit
demanded that all the guinea-fowls caught in the garden-traps
should be brought to him through the medium; and the medium
got so many guinea-fowls that she became the centre of a little
group of ardent followers who were possessed by quite another
spirit. Now if she had demanded those birds for her own use in
her saner days, she would have met with anything but ready
(f) Prophets. 'Prophets', as they are called nowadays
(though the modern name denotes a class of people which has
always been known to the Bantu), present an interesting problem
to students of psychology. Most prophets may be written off at
once as mentally afflicted. But there are others who claim to be
charged with a message from the spirit-world, though not from
any particular spirit, who authoritatively demand a return to
old loyalties as a remedy for the present evils of the tribe. They
indulge largely in apocalyptic visions, and predict material
disaster for the heedless, and material prosperity for those who
obey. Their message is destitute of anything that we should
call ethical, though much of it could be included in any just
definition of Bantu ethics. Their appearance always causes
excitement in a district, and sometimes disaster. Usually they
attribute their inspiration to a vision. They say that they
died, saw the vision, and were sent back to warn erring men.
We should describe their experience as delirium followed by a
comatose condition. They are not all hypocrites or insane,
though they are as cunning as their neighbours. Some of them
are neurotic people who have struggled with the problem of
their people's wrongs or misfortunes, till the burden has well-
nigh crushed them, and have then caught a glimpse of what
seemed a compelling vision of redemption for their tribe. Having
always lived in an atmosphere of the spirit-world and been
taught to look upon loyalty to old customs as the ideal life, their
message shapes itself naturally in these familiar thought-forms.

The only value that it has for us is that it voices and concentrates
a discontent that is dumb, but diffused through their community.
They are mentioned here because they are held-while their
popularity lasts-to be authoritative exponents of the will of
the ancestral spirits.
The Bantu do not regard the worship of ancestral spirits as a
daily task. Some people place a little offering for the spirit most
days, or even acknowledge their presence at every meal; but one
may spend years among the Bantu and yet never suspect that
they worship their ancestors at all. This is not because they
are ashamed of it, but because the practice takes unobtrusive
forms and is clad in garments which we do not associate with
iv. Ancestral spirits and family life. As ancestral spirits are
guardians of the family and tribe, they are naturally worshipped
on the great occasions of tribal and family life.
There is usually some rite for relating the new-born babe to
the ancestral spirits; sometimes it is sacrifice or prayer for a
blessing on the child; sometimes the relation of the babe to the
family is established by floating its navel-string on a pot of water
in the presence of the elders; sometimes there is a baptismal
rite, in which the child receives its name as water is blown over
it. This blowing water from the mouth is a very common
accompaniment of morning worship in many tribes.
Marriage, too, is an occasion for worship. Some regard the
sacrifice of an ox to the spirits as the essence of the ceremony;
some content themselves with placing sacrificial marks on the
pots in which the feast is cooked ; some offer (but do not sacrifice)
the bride-price to the spirits; while others regard a prayer
offered on the threshold of the new home as being the heart of
the whole ceremony.
When absent members of the family return from their wander-
ings, or those estranged bury their quarrel, the spirits are always
invoked. In the former case, lustration with 'holy water' is
frequently thought to be enough; but an elaborate anointing
with the contents of the stomach of a sacrificed beast is not
uncommon, and is always resorted to in cases of reconciliation;
it is the great ceremonial cleanser.
v. Ancestral spirits and tribal life. Some tribes who keep

their cattle at a distance for part of the year mark the return of
the herds to the homestead with a special act of worship.
Rain and the fertility of lands-and thereby the supply of food
-are always closely connected with the beneficence of the spirits,
just as with us there are many people who carefully say 'grace'
before partaking of a meal, but not before enjoying a walk, a
book, a picture, a song, or a joke. Europeans have often ridiculed
what they persist in calling 'African rain-making'. And Bantu
civilization is so primitive that it does not require much wit to
make fun of even their most sacred practices. But after allow-
ance is made for the crude ritual of immature people, there is
nothing more absurd in Bantu rain-ceremonies than in prayers
for rain, especially if such prayers are accompanied with oblation
and incense. Drought is often taken to indicate the presence of
an Achan in the camp, and everybody scrutinizes everybody
else so as to drag some hidden breach of custom into light; for
nothing incenses the ancestral spirits like a violation of the
customs they left for the tribe. The smoke that rises within the
thick fence of wait-a-bit thorns which is sacred to the chief and
his great medicine-man is, they say, only their way of accom-
panying their prayers with incense, though the ceremony is
shrouded in such secrecy that one cannot understand its full
The major rain-ceremonies, such as the sacrifice of an animal
at the grave of an old chief, are clearly a ritual of intercession,
designed to induce the spirits of the dynasty to pity their perish-
ing children. That is why the chief is the officiant, though he is
always assisted by his expert, the medicine-man. Where the
reigning chief is not the officiant in such a ceremony, it will be
found that he is not in the main line of succession, and that the
(perhaps unimportant) man who does preside is the rightful heir
to the chieftaincy, though either he or his ancestor parted through
choice or necessity with his secular powers.
In many tribes there is a New Year ritual which must be per-
formed before the new crops can be eaten; and in this ritual
the utmost stress is laid upon the proper precedence of families.
The only person whose priestly orders are valid enough for these
great ceremonies is the proper representative of the dynasty.
Clever and able men, especially if they are of royal birth, may

oust the rightful chief from his secular dignities, but nothing but
death can deprive him of his spiritual prerogatives-and death
does but give him his seat in the Valhalla of tribal deities.
There are many ceremonies connected with fertility that
space forbids us even to mention. The spirits of the family are
acknowledged by some tribes with a thank-offering of beer, and
then it is important that the eldest son of the family should drink
the first cup. He is the priest of ancestor-worship. The con-
secration of seed-corn takes many forms. In some tribes, women
of high birth plant a few grains of corn upon the grave of a chief,
and chant a hymn of praise and prayer to his spirit. In others,
the chief consecrates some seed-corn by bringing it into close
association with the relics of some ancestor who is now in the
spirit-world, and then places a little of this sacred corn in each
woman's seed-basket so that the consecrated seeds may hallow
the lot.
The hunting or the fishing season is often ushered in with an
act of worship, the first catches of the hunter or the fisherman
being offered to the spirits. It is curious, however, to note that
this worship is often rendered to the spirits of the old lords of
the land, rather than to the ancestors of its present possessors.
vi. Worshippers communicate with spirits by (a) Sacrifice.
Sacrifice is a common Bantu method of worship, but is reserved
for emergencies. Almost any domestic animal from a fowl to a
slave is considered suitable for sacrifice in some or other of the
Bantu tribes. Yet there is often a tradition in a tribe that certain
animals are unfit for the purpose. Some object to sheep, for
instance, because the sheep is dumb, they say, and the groans of
a stricken beast are indications that it is acceptable to the spirit.
In the pastoral tribes, the ox is regarded as the ideal animal for
sacrifice. But whatever animal is selected must be good of its
kind; and for some sacrifices it is necessary that it should be
black. Only certain parts of the sacrifice are abandoned to the
spirit; but these are given first, and the spirit is called by name
to come and eat with his children.
The Bantu appear to have no idea of transferring the sin of the
worshipper to the victim, or of substituting the death of the victim
for the merited death of the sinner. Their idea of sacrifice is rather
that of communion with the spirit. There has been a breach in

the normal relation of worshippers and spirits-due, of course,
to the wilful or the unconscious 'sin' of the worshippers; and
a special meal is prepared in which the best beast is killed that
the spirit and his worshipper may partake together. The blood
is usually poured upon the grave, and so are the contents of the
stomach and intestines, which are as sacred as the blood; but
the only significance of the shedding of the blood is that one must
kill before one can cook meat. Nor does the commercial element
seem to enter prominently into the transaction. Spirits depend
apparently upon the spiritual part of the sacrifice, and often
reveal to neglectful worshippers-generally in unpleasant ways
-their need of beef or beer. But the idea that is most prominent
in the Bantu mind is the restoration of normal relations of friend-
ship with the spirit, not the buying off of its wrath.
(b) Offerings. Offerings as well as sacrifices are often presented
to spirits, for the same purpose. Cattle are devoted to a spirit,
and must not be sold or worked; but none of them are sacrificed
unless the spirit indicates such desire through the diviner. Beer,
grain, milk, porridge, tobacco, beads, cloths, are all offered to
some spirits by some Bantu; but each tribe has its own idea of
what is proper in such matters. This is a method of reconcilia-
tion with which Bantu are familiar in ordinary life : you mollify
the person whom you have offended, with a gift or a feast.
(c) Praise and prayer. But praise and prayer are much more
frequent than sacrifice or offering. In reality, the Bantu do not
distinguish between prayer and praise. 'Praise-names' and
' praise-songs' are a great institution. Every important person
has his praise-names and praise-songs, and they are known to
his friends. The Bantu do not allow praise to lie idle till the
tombstone is ready. It is the key that unlocks the heart of a
giver. And anything that would have pleased the offended
elder when he was in the village is thought likely to please his
spirit. Few things jar upon inexperienced missionaries like the
constant repetition of praise-names for God in the prayers of
Christian converts; but it is no mere thoughtless habit: it
runs through the very fibre of Bantu thought. Bantu worshippers
approach the spirit in what is to them a perfectly natural manner.
They may expostulate with hiim, as already remarked, and ask
definitely that he will cease troubling the people; but more

frequently they recite his praise-names and then content them-
selves with mentioning what they need most, as if talking to
themselves. This is a subtle form of flattery : there is no need
to ask, it is enough to mention what is lacking. The Bantu are
the most accomplished flatterers and beggars in the world.
vii. Drama and music in worship. Prayer and praise are
usually sung or intoned. It seems almost an instinct of humanity
to intone appeals to the unseen. One often hears it in prayer-
meetings in the homeland where all the participants would be
shocked at an accusation of ritualism. But action is as natural
to a primitive people as speech. When the worshippers desire
to relieve their overcharged feelings they proceed instinctively
to dramatize their needs and wishes. In time of drought a man
will go to the grave of an ancestor, taking the milk-pail, the thong
with which he ties the cow's legs for milking, or some such imple-
ments, and holding them over the grave will beg the spirit to let
these things still be of use. The clapping of hands, the utterance
of that curious ululation that only Bantu women can properly
produce-both being methods of saluting royalty-and even
dancing, are intimately associated with praise. A very intelligent
tribesman goes so far as to state, in a letter to me, that songs of
war and other sad occasions are the only ones not sung with the
feet '.
One of the striking things about Bantu ancestor-worship is
that it emphatically demands faith for its effective operation.
That marks it off at once from Bantu magic. A sacrifice to an
offended spirit is one of the diviner's commonest prescriptions
for the recovery of the sick; but the sacrifice is valueless for
the purpose unless the patient makes it a definite act of his own
will. Even though the animal be taken from his herd and he be
correctly anointed with its fat and bile, it avails nothing for his
recovery unless it be done at his desire.
viii. The Supreme Being. Whether one affirms or denies that
the Bantu knew of God before Europeans found them depends
partly upon one's interpretation of certain words that are in
common use amongst them, and partly upon what one means by
'God'. If 'God' is intended to mean just what Jesus meant by
that term, then, of course, it must be said that neither the Bantu
nor any other non-Christian people know God. But, for my part,

I have no doubt whatever that the Bantu have always known
of a Supreme Being. An adequate discussion of the many Bantu
words that missionaries have used as translations of 'God'
would take us too far afield; but let us look for a moment at
what I consider to be the best of these words.
ix. Translation of the term 'God '. The tribes with which I am
most familiar use the word modimo of any ancestral spirit to
whom they pray-just the very spirits of whom we have been
speaking. When they talk about seeing a 'ghost', they use
the same word with the prefix se. instead of mo-, so that it
becomes sedimo. And there are other changes for other purposes.
Now when the first missionaries to these people were looking for
a word with which they could translate God', they came to the
conclusion that, of all the words in the language, modimo was the
best. And they builded better than they knew. When you have
a noun, modimo, in a Bantu language, you expect to find a verb
go dima; but I never heard that verb used in ordinary con-
versation. When I have asked old people who are experts in
their own tongue-and there are many such-I have frequently
been assured that the word is known; and when I have asked
further what the verb means, I have always been told either
that it means 'to permeate, or pervade', or to be exceedingly
skilful'. A few people have told me that it carries both meanings.
Now, if we may judge the original meaning of modimo by
its present use, both these meanings of the verb become clear.
Modimo means that which pervades what you see and gives it
its ability-just that which makes all the difference between a
man and a corpse. Perhaps the best English translation of
modimo is 'spirit'. If you ask one of these people what modimo
he is speaking to in his prayer, he will tell you the name of some
one long dead. If you ask him who made the world, he will
reply modimo; and if you ask him the name of this modimo who
made the world, he will tell you that it is just the Great Modimo,
whose name they never heard. Now, since no missionary among
a heathen people can ever find a word that means just what he
means by 'God', and since every missionary is obliged to take
the nearest word that the people know and clean it up and fill it
out with a larger meaning, it seems to me that a word which
means 'spirit', and is used by the people themselves of the

Great Spirit, is a very good selection. But the people never
thought of praying to the Great Spirit direct. They have often
explained to me that etiquette demands that a man shall
approach a great chief, whom he does not know, through some
friend of his who lives in the great chief's town. And so they
pray to the spirits of their ancestors who have gone forward into
the town of the Great Chief of the spirit-world.
There are other words than modimo that have to be handled
by any student of this large and important question. But the
conclusion at which I have arrived is that the Bantu had from
the beginning of their racial history an idea of a Supreme Being,
who made the world, but has since had no direct dealings with
men; that they had no name for Him, and simply spoke of Him
as the Great Spirit, or the Chief of the spirit-world, or the Chief
Above, or something of that sort; that they never worshipped
Him; and that some tribes have come to confuse the Unnamed
and Unworshipped with certain famous, ancestral hill-gods,
which had been worshipped for so many centuries that they
had lost all trace of their earthly existence, so that these tribes
now worship the Supreme Being under names that originally
stood for ancestral spirits.
x. Influence of Bantu religion upon character. We can best
close this chapter, I think, as we closed the former, by noticing
the influence of this religion upon its worshippers, and inquiring
how far it has prepared them for Christianity or exposed them
to peculiar dangers.
Ancestor-worship is the source of Bantu ethics ; but we can con-
sider that more intelligently after we have looked into Bantu law.
The Bantu, like all other people, interpret the unseen world in
terms of their present experience. With them, the conventions
of society count for more than they do with us; and they use
the term 'well-bred' in much the same way as we do. Pro-
priety demands the observance of certain social forms in one's
dealings with others, and especially with people of importance.
The man who has wronged another and desires reconciliation
seeks the mediation of a friend who has influence with the
offended, and probably sends some little present to assuage the
wrath which he has roused. The mediator bulks large in Bantu
social life. Ask a man his name, even, and he turns to a com-

panion with a look or a phrase that craves his intercession, and
the friend will give you the information that you seek. He who
is under accusation at the Judicial Assembly is free to speak in
his own defence, and not slow to- use his freedom; but he relies
upon the advocacy of his friends and elders and seeks and
follows their advice. Bantu chiefs, with rare exceptions, are
approachable by the humblest members of their tribe, and even
by strangers, without pompous ceremony; but the suppliant
at their court must observe the formalities of polite society, and
it is of first importance to have a suitable mediator with the
chief. The ideal mediator is one who is in the inner circle of the
chief's friends-the 'branches of the chief', as the Bechuana
say; and happy is the suppliant whose patriarch or clan-head
is among the 'companions of the king'. There are many little
services which those of this favoured band can render without
bothering the chief, whose mind they know; and when it comes
to something beyond their power, they can put that to the chief
with a soft tongue and receive his instructions.
Now the ancestral spirits of Bantu worship are regarded, not
as independent deities, but as mediators at the court of an
Unapproachable Chief. Bantu worship is Bantu social intercourse
carried over into the spirit-world. The solidarity of family or
clan is not broken by death. An elder in the spirit-world ought
to receive the homage that was his due when he wore the gar-
ments of flesh; and the ancestral spirits are, therefore, entitled
to be worshipped on their own account. And yet they are not
thought of as independent deities, but as mediators whom it
would never do to neglect or offend. They are, to use a phrase
with which we are more familiar, the patron saints of the Bantu.
That the Bantu should find their saints in the progenitors of
their tribes seems to me quite natural, and not altogether
lacking in beauty when looked at with human sympathy.
After all, the great facts of the world are the great persons of the
world, and the light that we have upon the divine has come to
us through them. Have the Bantu not been feeling after this
truth? And is it not worth while to take them the truth that
they dimly perceive ? It ought not to be hard for people accus-
tomed to such thoughts to appreciate the teaching of the
Christian religion.


xi. Perils of ancestor-worship. Of the perils of ancestor-
worship, apart from its ethics, the following are the most im-
portant. Though the ancestors are in theory only mediators,
yet, in practice, they become barriers between the soul and God,
so that few of their worshippers ever think of God when approach-
ing them. The ideal of the ancestor-worshipper is in the past,
instead of in front, as every traveller's horizon should be. The
petty, parochial distinctions of tribalism cut deep into the soul
of the ancestor-worshipper, compelling his benevolence and
brotherliness to flow in very narrow channels. When I have my
special saints and you have yours, we are not likely to feel that
kinship that comes to worshippers of a common Father. While
men hold that every touch of malarial fever, typhoid, or other
calamity, is a chastisement from the spirit-world for their dis-
loyalty to immemorial custom, they are unlikely to study
mosquitoes, attend to drainage, or learn useful lessons in the
costly school of experience, though they have to pay its fees in
xii. Points of contact with Christianity. There is also much in
Bantu religion which looks like groping after great truths, rather
than finding them. Their consecration of the army before battle
is a very barbarous affair; but it seems like a confession that
victory depends upon being right with the unseen as well as upon
big battalions. Their harvest and ploughing rites seem to indicate
that something more than skill and industry is needed for growing
a crop, and that man's labour comes better when the man is in
harmony with the unseen world. Their marriage ceremony,
their rite for relating the babe to the ancestral spirits, their New
Year ceremony, are all suggestions that the great events of life-
life's new beginnings-ought to be consecrated by an unseen
presence. Whether they clearly see these truths is very doubtful;
but experience teaches me that in the light of Christian doctrine
they speedily make them out.
When all is said, life is more than drama and biology. Take a
compassionate view of the Bantu man, and you can hardly avoid
the following conclusions: He is no exception to the rule that
the deepest thing in the soul of man is an instinct for God. He is
not satisfied with himself; and his craving for help, sympathy,
and guidance is greater than the human community around him

, o 8o

can supply. He has a sense of mystery; he feels that in some
way he is related to the unseen and dependent upon it. Some-
times he feels that he is in touch with it, and then he is conscious
of hope and vigour. At other times he feels that he is out of
harmony with it, and that the break must be due to himself-
something that he has done or left undone. But even then he
feels that the unseen powers are as reasonable and kindly at
heart as he himself is-that the divine are still human, and that
if he shows his penitence in an appropriate manner, the old
relation may be restored. He throws himself upon the care of
his ancestral spirits in his emergencies, confident, if he has com-
plied with their demands, that his times are in their hands. He
feels that they have a right to his allegiance; and that his
gratitude is due to them for .whatever help they give. And
there is something in his experience that makes him think it
possible to discover the will of the unseen. Another side of his
experience touches his fellows more closely. He cannot imagine
that death is the extinction of life, or that those to whom he
owes so much cease to care for him after they have entered the
spirit-world. He has a feeling that they are near him still; and
his faith is strong in the love and care of an unseen friend. His
experience of other men is that some of them sometimes are
endowed with such unusual knowledge or power that he is unable
to attribute it to an earthly source; that they are charged with
power from the unseen. Or, to put this last differently, his
experience has led him to believe in the possibility of the human
being impregnated with the divine. He has tried to express
his experience in ceremonies and statements closely akin to
those that men at a similar stage of civilization have used for the
same purpose all the world over; but he has given to all these
expressions a tone as distinctly African as that of his own speech.
No one who knows him will ever argue that the African does not
need redemption. But a man with such an experience is worth
redeeming, and capable of being redeemed.


A fire, a mist, and a planet,
A crystal and a cell,
A jellyfish and a saurian,
And a cave where the cave-men dwell.
Then a sense of law and beauty
And a face turned from the clod,
Some call it Evolution,
Others call it God.

i. Bantu political institutions. In studying Bantu institutions
it is necessary at the outset to eliminate our idea of the indivi-
dual. With us the individual is the unit of society. During
his minority he is not an individual in the eye of the law, though
even then he is cared for by an ever-growing body of legislation
that tends to remove him more and more from the tyranny and
caprice of parents. But from the time he attains his majority,
he stands in his own shoes, being bound only by the contracts
into which he freely enters. What is more, the world is before
him, and if he have ability and enterprise, he may make of him-
self what he will. Our Western society regards it as more of a
disgrace than an honour for a man to remain in the station in
which he was born-unless he was born very near the top I But
such doctrines are alien to Bantu life. With them, a man's
social and political status is irrevocably fixed by what we some-
times call the accident of birth. I never heard such a phrase as
that from Bantu lips. On the contrary, there are indications
that they regard each child as a direct gift from the spirit-world,
and probably a reincarnation of one of the old family spirits.
I am not prepared to assert that that is their belief: we are still
slowly feeling our way into the Bantu mind; but there are a few
customs that appear unintelligible without this assumption. Be
that as it may, birth fixes for life (if not for ever) the social status
of each individual. Where Bantu society is much disintegrated,
it is possible for a slave to usurp the position of chief by intrigue
or military adventure; but this is an anomaly, and we are dis-
cussing regular Bantu life. It has always been possible for an
individual to break away from his family; but if he does, he

goes forth stripped of his possessions, and is regarded as what our
forefathers used to call 'a masterless man'. The choice before
such a man is, either to remain an outlaw, or to put himself
under another master, which, with rare exceptions, means lower
status. What I mean by status is that a man's rights and duties
are born with him, being conditioned by his precedence in the
family and the precedence of his family in the tribe. Nothing is
farther from Bantu thought than the doctrine that all men are
endowed by nature with fundamental equality and an inalienable
right to liberty (whatever the definition of the terms). That
doctrine is arch heresy to the Bantu and subversive of good
morals. They cannot admit for a moment that any man but a
chief is born free, and they cannot conceive how any two men
can be born equal. Everything in their political system is built
on status ; and status is a matter of birth.
ii. The family. Well, all this means, in brief, that the indi-
vidual does not exist in Bantu society. I shall often have to use
the word--one must use English in speaking to English people-
but I shall use it in a biological sense, and nothing more. The
unit of Bantu society is the family.
But what is the Bantu family ?
There are three forms of marriage1 among Bantu.
The first prevails in tribes where it is customary for the man to
live at the home of his wife and beget children for her family.2 He
remains an outsider, and his children pass into the clan of their
mother. In these tribes the mother counts for much in the relation-
ship and inheritance of her children, and the father hardly counts
at all. The property and control of the group pass to the children
of its women, and the children of its men live with their mothers
in other groups. This is a very old form of marriage that is found
all over the world. It is often spoken of as matriarchal; but,

I A fuller discussion of Bantu marriage will be found in Chapter V. We are
here treating only of the constitution of the family that is the unit of
Bantu society.
Polygamy is recognized in all Bantu tribes, and was the rule rather than
the exception. In matrilineal tribes men distribute their time between the
villages of their various wives; and in patrilineal tribes the establishments
of a man's wives are grouped together. Sn either the matrilineal or the patri-
lineal a man may have slave-wives as well as wives of higher status; and in
all cases slave-wives live in the man's family village.

since in Bantu tribes the head of the family is not its mother but
her brother (if her mother's brothers be dead), and the headship
of clan and tribe passes in a similar manner, it is evident that
'matriarchal' is not a correct term to use. 'Matrilineal' is better;
for status and all its accessories pass to the sons of a line of
mothers. One can easily see that men would not always be
content with a system by which their natural children are
strangers in their group, and their dignities and property are
inherited by the children of their sisters. And though this form
of marriage seems at one time to have prevailed in all Bantu
tribes, it has disappeared entirely from very many, leaving only
its trace in customs and terms of relationship; it remains only
in the family of the chief in some other tribes; and it is breaking
down everywhere.
In these and all other Bantu tribes there is another form of
marriage, marriage by capture. Forms usually remain for some
time after the spirit has left them, and the form of this marriage
is often found, more or less idealized, in communities which have
attained a somewhat higher conception of life. In Africa it
existed in its crude condition. After a successful foray, it was
usual for a Bantu chief to distribute some of the captured
women and children, as well as other booty, among his warriors.
The warrior sometimes kept the woman for himself, and some-
times handed her over to a neighbour in exchange for something
that he preferred. The captured woman was really a slave, and
both she and her children were under the dominion of the man.
From her point of view, it was a disaster, though she was not the
kind of person that allowed such a disaster to take all the joy
out of life. From the man's point of view, such marriage gave
him a standing in his own household which he could not obtain
under matrilineal marriage. But such marriages were looked
upon as less respectable than what one may call marriages of
the standard pattern, though they were nowhere despised.
The suppression of intertribal warfare by European Govern-
ments has made marriage by capture impracticable since
about the beginning of the present century; but slave-marriage,
which is practically th'e same thing, still obtains in many Bantu
The third standard pattern of marriage that has come to take

the place of the matrilineal in most Bantu tribes may be called
marriage of dominion. That is to say, the woman passes by
agreement from the dominion of her father or patriarch to that
of her husband or his patriarch, and her children with her.
A bride-price is handed over to the bride's paternal group, and
as long as that bride-price is retained by them the woman is under
the power of the man's group, and her children with her. Under
the matrilineal system, the son succeeds to the status of his
mother and the property attached thereto. Under the system
of marriage by capture, the woman does not count at all, and
the children are in the power of the father, to be provided for or
neglected as he chooses. Under the marriage of dominion, the
son succeeds to the status and property of his father, and belongs
to the father's group.
What we have to notice here is that in all these forms of family
life the family is constituted on patriarchal lines. In the
matrilineal tribes the son (generally the eldest son) of the late
chief's eldest sister succeeds to the chieftainship and its emolu-
ments. And similarly with the headship of families of lower
status. With the exception of hordes like the Jagas,1 however,
no tribes ever relied solely upon marriage by capture, and
probably no families; and captured women were taken into the
household as inferior wives, their children inheriting nothing but
what their father publicly handed over to them during his life-
time. In tribes that rely upon marriage of dominion the son
(generally the eldest son) succeeds his father in the chieftainship
and all the property attached to it; and the headship of families
of lower status passes in a similar manner. So that in all families
patriarchal rule prevails, the main difference being that in the
one case the patriarch holds his position by mother-right, and in
the other by father-right.
'Family' suggests blood-relationship to most of us; but if
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Jagas ravaged the country
that is now called Angola. Of their origin nothing definite is known, though
there have been many guesses ; but they were not so much a tribe as a mis-
cellaneous horde of ruthless cannibals, who lived by plunder, and when they
had devastated one district moved into another. Battell, who lived with
them for twenty-one months, says that they killed all infants that were born
in their camp and recruited their numbers by absorbing the youths of both
sexes who were captured in their raids.

you look up the history of the word, you will find that it originally
signified the servile property, the thralls of the master. That is
what it still means for the Bantu. I have already stated that
headship of the family comes by natural descent, through
father in some systems and through mother in others, and that
many of its members are of the blood of the patriarch; but the
bond of union is not blood, but power. Besides the children of
daughters of the family by outside men in matrilineal tribes, or
children of the sons of the family by outside women in patrilineal
tribes, there are members of the family who cannot claim the least
drop of its blood in their veins. And there is no pretence of con-
sanguinity. In British families, happily, it is safe to assume that
a woman's child is of her husband's blood, for our women have
a high ideal of marital fidelity, and our men are quick to disown
the paternity of another man's child; but among Bantu it is all
different. There, children are an asset and glory, not a liability
and restraint, and they are readily adopted. Where marriage
of dominion prevails, a man claims the children that his wife
bears years after she has left him-if the bride-price has not been
repaid. Children of other stocks, obtained in this and other ways,
become real members of the family: Often enough a patriarch
pays the bride-price of a stranger's marriage, knowing that by
that very action the stranger and his children pass as completely
into his family as if they had its blood in their veins.
To put the matter briefly and without regard to occasional
minor modifications:
In patrilineal tribes, the daughters leave home on marriage
and bear children for the families of their husbands, while the
sons bring outside women into the family to bear children for it.
In some tribes, therefore, the patriarchal family consists of all
male descendants in the male line from the patriarch's father; 1
such of the patriarch's father's female descendants in the male
line as are unmarried 2 and their sons and unmarried 2 daughters
(if any); the sons and unmarried daughters of all women
1 In some tribes this man's children by one or two of the senior of his
secondary wives become separate families upon his death.
If any woman married out of this family has been divorced by repayment
of bride-price in full, she and her children pass back into its power; but
a husband usually prefers to retain the children rather than reclaim the full

whose bride-price has come from the patriarchal herds, no matter
what men have begotten these children; and all people of both
sexes, together with their descendants, who have passed to the
patriarch by inheritance, purchase, or capture, and' have not
subsequently been disposed of by gift, sale, or bride-price.
In matrilineal tribes, on the other hand, the daughters remain
at home on marriage and bear children for their own family by
husbands from outside; but though sons build houses in the
family villages of their wives, they do not become members of
such families. In these tribes, therefore, the patriarchal family
consists of all the children of the patriarch's mother; all their
descendants of both sexes in the female line; all male or female
slaves which have come into this family by purchase or capture;
and all the children of such slave-women, whether begotten by
members of this family or by outsiders.
Now though the matrilineal family is very differently consti-
tuted from the patrilineal, both are alike patriarchal; and the
cement of the family in both cases is not blood, but the power of
the patriarch-a power which passes from patriarch to patriarch,
whether the inheritor be son of deceased, or son of his mother,1
or son of his mother's eldest daughter.1 It is important to
remember this.
iii. Patriarchal power. When we consider the nature of
patriarchal power, our first impression is one of utter astonish-
ment at the scope of its apparent despotism. As against the
individual, the patriarch has the sole right to gardens and grazing
lands; controls the activities and earnings of the members of
the family ; claims to dispose of the persons of sons and daughters
in marriage, without regard to their wishes; can deprive
them of their share of the family possessions and proclaim them
outlaws; and in some districts is able to pawn members of the
family or sell them into slavery. Ostensibly, he holds the power
of life and death over the members of the family, at least till
they have passed through puberty ceremonies into the larger
community. He permits no members of the family to be silent
concerning anything that has come to their knowledge, and in
matters of conscience and religion he is pontifical. In a word,
1 have hesitated to use the terms brother and sister', because such
words suggest to us common fatherhood as well as common motherhood.

patriarchal power wears the semblance of sheer tyranny over
the individual. But in practice it is held in check by many
iv. Cheeks on patriarchal power. Perhaps the most important
of these is human affection. One hardly looks for love in such
a scheme; but, as the sunshine beautifies the rubbish-heap as
well as the flowers, love touches the most sordid life with heavenly
colour. The student who omits this figure from his calculation
need never hope to find the true solution of the problem. To
us, it seems that the appropriation of an adult's earnings by his
elders deprives him of any chance of making his way in the world.
But the adult of tribalism sees little necessity for making his
way in the world. To be so engrossed with the scramble for
wealth that he has no time to live and laugh is to him a mark
of barbarism; while it is rudimentary politeness to share what
he has with his own. Thousands of White men can remember,
when they were big boys at home, the joy with which they took
all their earnings home to their mother; and to these African
'boys', as the patriarch calls them, it is not only a primary
obligation of kinship to take one's earnings to the patriarch, but
an act of pride and loyalty.
There are other influences. To the Bantu, greatness is the
cream of life; and not only is the patriarch great in proportion
to the size of his family, as well as the distinction of his ancestry,
but his greatness is reflected on every member of his family.
Acts of injustice or even undue severity tend to lessen his follow-
ing, and when there is no panic or passion all the interests of the
family plead for mildness of regime. Besides, appeal to the clan
or the tribe is possible; and Bantu are very sensitive to public
opinion, dreading the contempt of their neighbours almost more
than anything else.
The machinery through which these influences play upon the
little community is that of the family council. The patriarch
decides nothing of importance till it has been discussed-
generally at inordinate length-by the members of his family,
so that he may be sure of the support of family opinion. He
decides; but his decision is theirs. Here, in the midst of what
looked like arrant despotism, are the rudiments of trial by jury.
Even if corporal punishment has to be administered to some

youthful delinquent, his father will hand him over to the family
that they may correct their child'.
v. Patriarchal responsibility. Besides, the duty and responsi-
bility of the patriarch is as great as his power; and this, too, is
a family affair. Within the family there is a large measure of
communistic ownership and joint control, and a proportionately
heavy collective responsibility, which amounts to a, kind of
perpetual and universal suretyship and guarantee against
pauperism and vagrancy. If an individual has committed
a fault against another community, the whole family is at fault
and must suffer. If a fine is imposed, the family is liable for its
collection, even though the offender has nothing of his own to
collect. Within its own circle, the family knows nothing of
wages and needs no law of master and servant. Each individual
has his own patch of land (to use, not to sell), and grazes what
stock he has at the family cattle-post, maintaining thereby his
own granary and milk-sack. But if misfortune should overtake
him, he can rely upon the help of his family. There is no problem
of pauperism, though in times of famine those of higher status
are less likely to die of hunger than those of lower grade.
One other feature of the patriarchal organization deserves
notice : It is rooted in religion. The patriarch is but the earthly
vicar of those who held office before him and are still watching
from the spirit-world to see that their will is being done.
Europeans who go to Africa are usually too intent upon their
own business to make a real study of the life of the people; but
when they come suddenly upon some obtrusive feature of this
family organization, they are wont to condemn it as abnormal
and monstrous. Much may justly be said in disapprobation;
but this form of society is so like what we see when a corner of
the veil that hides the distant past of our own race is momen-
tarily lifted, that we are unjust and unwise if we call it either
abnormal or monstrous. On the contrary, it is so natural or
instinctive that all the progressive families of mankind have
passed through it in their onward march towards the goal of
civilization-a goal that still seems very far off, even for the
most advanced.
vi. Clan. Such is the family. What is the cla ? Suppose,
for a moment, that such a family as we have described has settled

in some isolated position, where it is cut off from its affiliations
and is free to live its own life. That is a condition which seldom,
if ever, occurs in actual life, but a diagram is as good as a photo-
graph when one wants to understand a situation. Let us suppose,
further, that this patriarchal family is organized on patrilineal
lines. (The variation of inheritance in a matrilineal tribe will
not affect the main lines of our diagram.) During the patriarch's
lifetime, he has probably placed the eldest son of each of two
secondary wives that rank next the mother of the heir in a lordly
position, publicly endowing them with cattle and serfs. While
he is still living, they are as dependent as ever upon him; but
when his heir succeeds to power, they become semi-indepen-
dent, each as head of a family consisting of his own younger
brothers and serfs. Each of these sons is now a small patriarch
of his own family, but recognizes the heir's superior rank, his
needfulness for the validity of sacerdotal functions,1 and his
authority in matters which concern the whole community or
disputes between any two of its families. Now you have a
miniature clan of three patriarchal families. And in the whole
clan there are not two people of equal status, and not one that
could not easily take his proper place in a line of strict precedence.
vii. Tribe. If this process of growth and division is maintained
long enough and the group is able to hold its desirable land, it
attracts to itself patriarchal families and clans from other tribes
that have been broken up by disaster, internal jealousy, or war;
and the larger community becomes a tribe, of which the heir
of the original patriarch is paramount chief.
Such a society does not necessarily live together in one town.
Oftener than not it is scattered over its domain in patriarchal
hamlets which are grouped in clan-districts, each hamlet and
district being jealous of its ancient liberties, though compliant
with what it takes to be the just orders of the paramount chief.
The largest Bantu towns are those of the Bechuana tribes.
Khama's town (Serowe), for instance, has within a mile of the
chief's official residence a population of 26,000, according to
census and tax returns; but a still larger number of the chief's
people are scattered far and wide in hamlets and villages.
Before the arrival of European Governments few tribes
SSee pp. 57, 73, and 97-8.

hesitated to attack an adjacent and weaker tribe upon slight
provocation. There was always loot for the victors, and the
excitement of a raid was a welcome break in the monotony of
life, especially for the young men. All over Bantu Africa, and
apparently from time immemorial, war has been the hammer that
has broken up feeble communities and welded the parts together
in new combinations. But usually the old principles prevail
in the newer society, with a lower status for the unfortunate.
Every century or so, however, Bantu tribalism has produced
a military genius, who has devastated large areas, and substi-
tuted a despotism for the old institutions. Of these despotisms,
a few have lasted for centuries, but the greater number have
fallen into the hands of decadent descendants of the conqueror,
and dissolved again into rural communities of the primitive
type, except, perhaps, for a few permanent political scars. To
trace all the modifications of political pattern that have thus
arisen would require a very large book; we must content
ourselves with a glance at some distinctive features of the
general scheme. These are most easily studied in one of the
large towns. For each town is a conglomeration of rural com-
munities, all continuing their old form of local self-government,
but, through proximity, co-operating more completely and
frequently in tribal affairs.
viii. Land. Look first at the land, which is fundamental to
the existence of the tribe. The tribe claims the land; but the
only title it can show is-
The good old rule, the simple plan
That he should take who has the power
And he should keep who can.
Every tribe in Africa took its tribal domain from some other
that was less able to hold it. Every tribesman, therefore, had
to be a warrior, ready to defend the possessions of his tribe to
the last, or he and his neighbours would go down in the general
welter. But since peace and contentment are essential within
the tribe, it was impossible to apply such a rule to individuals
and families. The theory is that no individual or family can
own any fraction of the tribal land, but that all have an equal
right to use what they need of it. And there is a law of
distribution. Land is divided into township, arable lands, and

pasture. In principle, the chief allots each clan its building-
site in the town, and its arable and pasture lands in the country.
But in practice, each clan's building-site is related to the chief's
residence, both in distance and direction, by those rigid laws of
precedence that run through all Bantu life, and its arable lands
lie beyond the confines of the town at a corresponding distance
and in the same direction. What the chief actually does, how-
ever, is to point out the outer boundary of the clan that comes
one step nearer to him in that direction. Areas of no-man's-land
that are unfit for building or cultivation are allowed to lie vacant.
When the clan-head sees his building-site, or the cultivable area
that he may occupy, he distributes his patriarchal groups over
it according to the same rigid laws of precedence. The patriarch
does the same with the households of which his family is com-
posed, till every individual has a building-site and sufficient
arable land for his own use.
The situation of grazing lands depends upon the location of
permanent waters; but they lie in the same direction, though
often at a great distance from the town. They are not sub-
divided to the same extent as arable lands.
. It is considered an act of oppression to deprive a family of
land that it has brought into cultivation, as long as the family
continues to use it; but the family has no right to sell or lease
its land. Rent is unknown: all rights to land are rights of
citizenship. Europeans, who are unable to think of land apart
from rent or purchase, sometimes declare that the tribesman
pays for his land by the service he renders the chief or community.
This is a misleading statement. It may be permissible to say
that he pays for all his privileges as a tribesman by discharging
all his duties as a tribesman; but there is no relation between
any one privilege and any one duty.
The use of the term 'pay' is due to our commercialized
thinking. The Bantu would never use that term in such a
connexion. Even the idea of wages has hardly risen above the
mental horizon of the Bantu, except where foreign influence
has been felt, though it is interesting to note that the idea was
dawning before Europeans came. Agriculture is woman's work
in the pastoral tribes, and each wife is supposed to cultivate
her own allotment, often helped, nevertheless, by her husband

and any slaves or serfs that the family possesses. But it is
common for a husband to aid his wife by giving her a few goats
for the ploughing, and the wife announces that on a certain day
she will slaughter certain animals for the entertainment of those
who help her. They regard their labour as neighbourly assis-
tance, and she regards the meat distributed as hospitality to her
helpers. But the number of people who may share a goat under
such circumstances has become conventional in many districts;
so that the meat approximates closely to wages.
This method of dealing with land is almost exactly that which
was once in vogue among our ancestors. The Bantu have taken
what has proved in other countries to be the first step in indi-
vidual ownership of land, by dividing the arable land into
individual holdings. But it took our ancestors many generations
to pass from this method to that which we have come to consider
natural, and it will probably be a slower process with the Bantu,
unless it is hastened by foreign influence.
ix. Duties of a tribesman. The duties of a tribesman are those
which he owes to his patriarch, his clan-head, and his chief.
Apart from membership in a regiment, the chief demands little
from him. He must put in one day's work at the beginning of
every ploughing season in the chief's official lands, which
theoretically provide the chief with a sort of hospitality fund.
He must contribute a little grain to the tithes which are sent to
the chief after harvest for use as a thank-offering to the ancestral
spirits. He must render the chief a portion of the game he kills.
But the taxation of tribesmen is not oppressive, unless they
happen to be members of clans that were subjugated in the
conquest of the domain and forcibly embedded in the tribe.
Every tribesman must muster with his regiment when it is
ordered on active service, or to work on roads, drifts, public
fences, or buildings, or to weed the chief's lands. His clan-head
requires more labour on the official lands of the clan, and may,
at the chief's request, detail clansmen to act as messengers to
other tribes, or to dress and sew pelts for the chief's use. No
payment is made for any of these services. But it is noteworthy
that the chief has no right to give such orders to any but his own
clansmen, and can only secure such service from other clansmen
in his tribe by making a personal request of their clan-head. We

have already referred to the extensive duties that a tribesman
owes to his patriarch.1
x. Public business and Bantu law. The public business of the
tribe is transacted in Tribal Assemblies, of which there are
several varieties. All but one of these Assemblies are held in the
forum or central Place of Assembly-an enclosed courtyard,
adjacent to the chief's premises, where the heads of the com-
munity and such others as care to join them gather around the
chief morning and evening to hear and tell the latest news.
xi. Judicial Assembly. Nearly all disputes and offences are
dealt with in local assemblies of clan or family; but if there is
a case to be tried in the tribal court, a Yudicial Assembly is
convened, generally for sunrise on the following morning. It
meets in the forum, and all adults, even visitors from a distance,
are free to attend; but in most tribes it is not usual for women
to come unless they are specially called. The chief presides,
supported by his younger brothers and the heads of the principal
clans; and the people, including litigants and witnesses, group
themselves in a semicircle before the notables. The chief sits
on his stool, which remains always in the forum, and which no
one would dream of occupying in his absence. His younger
brothers and the heads of the leading clans usually have stools
of their own, left in the forum or brought there for the occasion;
but the people squat on the ground. The complainant speaks
first, presenting his case in full, and the defendant replies. Both
are assisted by their own clan-heads and patriarchs; but any
one, even a visitor, is free to state anything that he knows or has
heard about the case, to examine or cross-examine those who
are concerned in the matter, or to express an opinion re-
garding it. All speakers stand while speaking, and address
their remarks to the tribe rather than to the chief; but they
speak from the place where they happen to have been sitting.
There are no formalities, fees, or oaths. Every man is his
own lawyer and his own policeman, but every man has his
family and clan behind him. Each party must bring its own
witnesses. The heads of the community listen patiently and
often silently to all that is said, allowing each speaker to tell his
own story in his own way, and then question the speakers,
1 See p. 87.

sometimes with great acumen, not necessarily rising for the
purpose. When the hearing has continued long enough, the
chief calls upon the Assembly to pass judgement. Those who
wish to speak do so, and the others signify approval or dis-
approval, or remain silent, as they please. A few of the leading
men are sure to speak. And ultimately the chief pronounces
judgement, generally in the words of some previous speaker who
has evidently carried the consent of the Assembly. No vote
is taken. The case is finally disposed of.
There is no clear distinction between what we should call
criminal and civil cases, and fines of cattle are the usual punish-
ment, though flogging is not uncommon and outlawry is
sometimes decreed. If outlawry be the sentence, the culprit is
generally given till sunset in order that he may make his escape.
If it be flogging, it is usually given forthwith by the crowd that
are in the Assembly. If it be fine, the person entitled to com-
pensation must levy the distraint, usually approaching the
property through the head of the offender's clan or family and
supported by a party from his own clan. If he meets with
resistance, he retires and appeals to the paramount chief for
succour ; and the chief sends a representative, with some symbol
of authority, who is entitled to seize something additional for
his trouble and something also for the chief. If the chief's
representative is resisted- But no one in his senses would
court ruin, and he who so far forgot himself would find that his
family and clan were still mindful of their interests.
The procedure of such a Judicial Assembly may be crude;
but where native witnesses are concerned, an Assembly of that
kind, with a capable and just chief at its head, can get at the
facts much more easily than a full array of learned lawyers who
are bound by rules of court and laws of evidence. Any attempt
to hurry a native witness, or to induce him to discard irrelevant
matter, or to flurry him with questions while he is in the midst
of his story, is fatal to the discovery of facts. I have often been
astonished at the way in which a clever chief, who seemed half-
inattentive to the evidence, has got at the truth by means of half
a dozen clever questions after the witness has ended his narrative.
1 Outlawry and capital punishment are not permitted to tribes under
British control.

But not all chiefs are capable, and, worse still, not all chiefs
are just. It is very difficult to grow decent men out of children
who are surrounded from infancy with flunkeys and sycophants
to whom the whim of the young divinity is the highest law.
Cupidity is prominent in Bantu character, and venality is
common everywhere, but especially among chiefs.
xii. Civil Assembly. Another form of assembly is called the
Civil Assembly. Its decisions, like those of the Judicial Assembly,
have the force of law, as the Bantu understand law; but no
definite case is of necessity laid before it, and its discussions need
not end in decisions. Something has gone wrong in the com-
munity; perhaps the rains are scanty, and it is necessary to
discover whether any one has hardened the ancestral spirits
against the tribe by killing a python or using sleighs when the
corn is hearing; perhaps there is a feeling that undesirable
practices are growing common, or that certain roads ought to
be closed because of cattle-disease beyond the border, or that
the trader is charging too much or paying too little. In all such
cases the Civil Assembly discusses the matter and decides
whether it should move the chief to take action. All tribesmen
are expected to attend these Assemblies, but there is seldom any
On very important occasions, such as when war is imminent,
or some of the major ceremonies of the tribe have to be observed,
a Convention is called. One such convention, called the Con-
vention of the Spears, is usually held when the water of lustration
is prepared for fertilizing the lands. This is a sort of 'holy
water', of magic virtue, with which the spears are sprinkled, so
that they may be cleansed from all contamination and made
successful in the chase.
xiii. Armed Assembly. The Armed Assembly is the most
important of all. All tribesmen must attend this Assembly,
armed as for war, and absentees are liable to be roughly handled.
It meets at some appointed place well away from the town;
and its convocation indicates that 'weighty words' will be
spoken. The fact that it was at an Assembly of this kind in
1825 that the Bakwena tribe executed a chief for despotic
practices reminds us of the ancient Comitia Centuriata of the
Romans, which was a somewhat similar gathering of the state

embodied as for war, and had power to inflict capital punishment
even upon persons who were otherwise sacrosanct. It is usual
for a chief to convene one such Assembly every year, and after
it is constituted to announce that there is no business and that
the regiments are to spend the day or more in regimental hunting,
the tactics of which are similar to those of war. The Armed
Assembly is a great safety-valve, which allows sections of the
community that have generated much wrath against the chief
or some other high-born person to blow off in violent language,
and thus avert an explosion that might wreck the tribe. At
all these Assemblies the prerogative of freedom of speech is very
jealously guarded; but at the Armed Assembly men can
declaim against their lords and masters with a freedom that is
not permissible elsewhere.
xiv. Military organization. As there is little distinction
between the military and civil organization of the tribe, some-
thing should be said here concerning the constitution of regiments.
Upon return from the Boys' Puberty Camp, all the initiates of
that batch are constituted a new regiment. That means that
there is a new regiment about every five years; that all its
members are practically of the same age; and that every
tribesman goes through life regimented with his contemporaries.
Regiments are organized on the same lines as the civil com-
munity: each clan has a company in each regiment, and the
highest born in each company is its officer, and is responsible
for its strength and behaviour at every regimental muster.
The commander of the regiment is the highest-born member of
it, always a son or nephew of the paramount chief.
xv. The chief. The paramount chief is head of every depart-
ment of the tribe's activity-war, justice, land, public works,
religion, and everything else. He is careful to act only through
regimental officers and clan-heads, because these dignitaries are
as quick as he is to resent a slight. The most conspicuous trait
of Bantu character is reverence for blue blood, and for the laws
of which the blue-blooded are the only legitimate custodians.
Not content with the doctrine of the divine right of kings, the
Bantu believe intensely in the divinity of chiefs. Even when
a royal weakling is robbed of his civil and military headship
by an enterprising younger brother, his sacerdotal functions
2569 G

remain untouched as long as he lives, and then pass to his heirs
after him. Ceremonies connected with the worship of the spirits
of the dynasty would be invalid unless he presided. Thus it is
not uncommon to find in a tribe a clan which has lost its wealth,
power, and vigour, and yet takes precedence of the chief in the
greater tribal ceremonies of religion. But blue blood runs in the
veins of the clan-heads also, and within the clan there is as
much loyalty to them as to the chief-sometimes more. The
clash of the power of kindred with that of the state, which did
so much to shape our Anglo-Saxon polity, is, therefore, con-
stantly at work in Bantu tribes. The trend of events appears
to be away from patriarchal control, and towards control by the
chief,, or, in other words, the paramount chief tends to become
more and more a little absolute monarch. But the movement
is very slow.
xvi. Lordship and servitude. The most potent influence in
this direction is what is known by the Bantu as 'servitude', a
custom which is much the same as that of ancient British and
Irish laws and of the feudal period. By handing over stock to
a family willing to receive it, the lord places that family in
permanent servitude to himself and his heirs. Only destitute
people, or those who are not strong enough to resist the demand
of the chief, would consent to receive such stock; but owing to
the disintegration of tribes through war and the internal jealousy
which is inseparable from polygamy, there are many people of
broken fortunes who are ready to put themselves beyond the
reach of destitution by thus coming under the protection of a
strong chief, receiving land in his domain and cattle with which
to cultivate it, and obtaining an honourable standing in the tribe.
In return for these advantages they have to herd these cattle
for the lord and cultivate the lord's lands with them. Clan-
heads sometimes place people in servitude by this means, but it
is only the chief who is in a position to do it on any large scale.
This practice tends to bring more and more of the waste land of
the tribe under the immediate control of the chief; to increase
the wealth of the chief; to provide him with a strong body of
vassals whose support makes him less dependent upon the good-
will of the clan-heads of the tribe; to create a new order of
nobility that is dependent solely upon intimate association with

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