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George Peter Murdock
1897 — 1985

Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

New York. McGraw-Hill. 1959. 456 p.


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Explore also (a) the SemanticAfrica Peoples Vocabulary
(b) the Southern Cushites mind-mapping diagram

Part Six
Southward Expansion of the Cushites
— 24 —
Southern Cushites

Throughout the Upper Paleolithic and Jesolithic periods, as noted in Chapters 9 and 10, a population of Bushmanoid hunters and gatherers occupied all of East Africa from western Ethiopia and the Eastern Horn south to the Cape of Good H ope. They possessed cultures of the type known to archeologists as tillbay and, in the main at least, spoke languages of the Khoisan stock. Though egroid peoples inhabit nearly all of this region today, not a single trace of this race appears archeologically anywhere in the area until well after the time of Christ, and this noteworthy absence is abundantly confirmed by other forms of evidence.
The Bushmanoid hunters did not, however, enjoy exclusive possession of this vast territory throughout the period in question. Archeology attests the presence of a second race in a small part of the area. Rather surprisingly, these people were not Negroid but Caucasoid, and they came from the north, not from the west. Even if there were no other evidence, this fact would suggest that they were Cushites, akin to the inhabitants of the Ethiopian plateau.
The first trace of a Caucasoid occupation dates from the Upper Paleolithic period and is confined to an extremely restricted region- the lakestudded rift valley which extends from Lake Rudolf on the border of Ethiopia southward across Kenya into adjacent Tanganyika in the vicinity of Lakes atron, Manyara, and Eyasi. The newcomers brought with them a new culture, known as Kenya Capsian from its clear affinity with the Capsian cultures of prehistoric 1orth Africa, which were likewise borne by peoples of Caucasoid race. They subsisted exclusively by hunting and gathering, like their Bushmanoid predece ors and neighbors, but their implements consisted mainly of stone blades as contrasted with the flakes characteristic of the Stillbay cultures. They possessed the bow and arrow and in time came to use microliths and make pottery. At some time around 3000 B.C. the descendants of these immigrants developed derivatives of Kenya Capsian known as the Stone Bowl cultures, e.g., Hyrax Hill and Gumban, which were characterized by pestles and bowls of stone.
At some time before 1000 B.C., new waves of Caucasoid peoples began to fan out from southern Ethiopia, occupying a very much wider expanse of territory and bringing with them a full Neolithic culture with agriculture and domestic animals. We shall deal with them in the next chapter, presenting evidence linking them culturally and linguistically with the present inhabitants of southern Ethiopia.
There remains for consideration here, however, a small but interesting cluster of tribes in northern Tanganyika speaking languages of the Southern branch of the Cushitic subfamily. It is tempting to regard them as the living descendants of the prehistoric Kenya Capsian and Stone Bowl peoples, even though they are in large degree racially mixed with and culturally assimilated to their present Negro neighbors. Two kinds of evidence lend a measure of support to this hypothesis. In the first place, three of the four surviving groups of Southern Cushites live in, or immediately adjacent to, the rift valley in northern Tanganyika, i.e., at precisely the probable southern limit of the narrow former range of Kenya Capsian, in a region, moreover, which is a geographical cul-de-sac for other remnant peoples, like the Khoisan-speaking Kindiga. In the second place, no speakers of Southern Cushitic languages survive in Ethiopia or anywhere else—a fact that suggests a long period of isolation and linguistic differentiation. Moreover, such evidence as we possess indicates that the Neolithic Cushitic immigrants spoke Eastern or Western rather than Southern Cushitic languages. More than 400 miles now separate the tribes of this cluster from other speakers of Cushitic languages. The component groups may be identified as follows.

  1. Burungi (Mbulunge), with the kindred Alawa (Uassi, Wasi). They number about 20,000.
  2. Goroa (Fiome, Gurumo). They number about 18,000.
  3. Iraqw (Erokh, Iraku, Mbulu). They number approximately 100,000.
  4. Mbugu (Wambugu). A remnant group, numbering about 10,000, located considerably to the east of the other three and now largely assimilated to the Pare tribe of Bantu.

All the modern Southern Cushites practice cereal agriculture, with sorghum, millet, maize, and eleusine as the staple crops. They also raise beans, peanuts, and a few sweet potatoes. Animal husbandry generally ranks almost on a par with agriculture and surpasses it among the Mbugu. Numerous cattle, sheep, goats, and donkeys are kept. Milk is drunk, and apparently blood as well, and animal manure is used to fertilize the fields. Men tend and milk the livestock and do most, but not all, of the agricultural work.
All groups live in neighborhoods of dispersed homesteads rather than in compact villages. The typical dwelling is of the type called tembe in Tanganyika. Long and rectangular in shape, it has a nearly flat roof covered with earth and in some tribes, notably the Goroa, is semisubterranean. The lraqw, however, in their area of original settlement, build round hou e with walls of wattle and daub, conical roofs thatched with reeds, and a second story for sleeping quarters. This particular area, which the writer is fortunate to have visited, makes an indelible impression upon the European because of its sharp contrast to the settlement patterns of most African tribes. One sees no brush, no fallow or unoccupied land. The rolling countryside presents a vista of alternating cultivated fields, neat strips of green pasture, homesteads, and well-tended plots of woodland— the whole strongly reminiscent of prosperous peasant sections in certain parts of Europe.
The Southern Cushites keep no slaves and recognize no class distinctions. They practice both circumcision and clitoridectomy but apparently lack an organization into age-grades. They are governed by councils of elders with a presiding head but have no political integration transcending the level of the local community.
Marriage involves a substantial bride-price in livestock. Limited polygyny prevails, with the first wife enjoying a superior status. Levirate unions are permitted with a younger brother of the deceased husband, but any children born are ascribed to the latter rather than to the new spouse. A homestead comprises a single nuclear or polygynous family, never an extended family. Descent, inheritance, and succession follow the patrilineal principle, and residence is patrilocal. There are numerous patrisibs, which reveal some tendency toward localization as clan-communities. The lraqw also possess unnamed matrilineages of little importance and follow the Crow pattern of designating cousins. Since these matrilineal features occur among the adjacent Bantu tribes, they are more reasonably attributable to intermarriage and cultural borrowing than to survival from an earlier matrilineal social system.

Selected Bibliography