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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 Eastern Nigritic Peoples mind-mapping diagram

Part Seven
Cultural Impact of Indonesia
— 29 —
Eastern Nigritic Peoples

South and west of the Central Sudanic tribes lies a broad band of Negro peoples speaking languages of the Eastern subfamily of the Nigritic stock. Bordered by the Bantu on the south, they extend westward to the Plateau Nigerian province, to which, in fact, we have already assigned some of their linguistic kinsmen (see Chapter 13). Paucity of ethnographic information makes it difficult to fix with certainty the border line between the tribes with Plateau Nigerian cultures and those affiliating more closely with the Eastern Nigritic province proper. Unquestionably there exists a zone of transition. In general, we have assigned groups to the Plateau Nigerian province where the sources specifically attest traits characteristic of that culture, such as traces of matrilineal descent and the patterned elopement of married women; tribes not so characterized are treated in the present chapter.
The southern half of the Eastern Nigritic province falls within the zone of tropical rainforest, whereas the northern half lies in savanna territory (see Map 4), a fact of the utmost importance in understanding the cultures of the region and in reconstructing their history. It is also imperative to distinguish a small cluster of tribes in Adamawa, in the extreme northwest, from the main body, which lies astride the boundary of savanna and rainforest. This is done in the following tribal classification.

Azande Boy Spinning Cotton
Azande Boy Spinning Cotton.
(Courtesy of the American Museum of Notural History.)

Adamawa Cluster

The tribe of this cluster have in all probability occupied roughly their pre ent territory since the earliest development of agriculture in the western Sudan. Their recorded history, however, does not begin until a century and a half ago, when a Fulani chieftain, Modibo Adama, with assistance from Osman dan Fodio, embarked in 1809 on a career of conquest in the Adamawa region. He first shattered the western tribes, seizing much of their land and separating the Fali and Kotopo from their Eastern kinsmen. He then moved south against the Mbum and Wute, conquering both, expropriating large tracts for his pastoral followers, and isolating the Kepere from the main body of Mbum. Peace came only with the establishment of German rule around 1900.

  1. Dama, with the Kali and Mono.
  2. Dari, with the Lame.
  3. Duro (Dui, Durru). They number about 14,000.
  4. Fali (Falli), including the Bori, Kangu (Kangou), Peske, and Tingelin (Tinguelin). They number about 20,000.
  5. Kepere (Byrre, Kper, Pere, Ripere) . They are a branch of the Mbum, from whom they were separated by the invading Fulani.
  6. Kotopo (Kotofo), with the Kutin (Koutinn).
  7. Laka (Lakka, Tolakka), with the Dek.
  8. Masa (Sana, Banana, Massa), with the Budugum, Gisci, Kim, Kossob, Marba, and Mussoi (Musei). They number at least 50,000.
  9. Mbere (Mberre), with the kindred Kare (Kaya, Tali).
  10. Mbum (Bum).
  11. Mundang (Moundan), with the Kiziere, Mangbei, and Yasing (Imbara, Jassing, Zazing). They number about 25,000.
  12. Namshi (Namchi, Namdji), with the kindred Doado, Kolbila, Pape, Sari, Sewe, and Woko (Boko, Voko) . They number about 20,000.

Equatorial Cluster

More than half of the area occupied by the tribes of this cluster lies in the zone of tropical rainforest originally inhabited by Pygmy hunters and gatherers, remnants of whom still survive throughout most of the region. Occupation by the Eastern Nigritic peoples must, therefore, have occurred relatively recently, probably within the last 2,000 years. The section of savanna country which they also occupy forms a narrow strip between the rainforest to the south and the territory inhabited by the Central Sudanic tribes of the Sara cluster on the north. This suggests that an eastward expansion by the Eastern Nigritic peoples along a former border between the Pygmies and the Central Sudanic peoples displaced these groups respectively to the right and left. Projection backward of the eastern movement historically attested for the Azande in recent centuries would lead to the same conclusion.

  1. 13. Abarambo (Barambo), with the Amadi (Amago, Aogo, Madi, Madyo), Duga, and Pambia (Apambia). They number about 50,000.
  2. Azande (Asandeh, Niam-Niam, Sande, Zande), with the Bandya (Abandia). They number about 750,000.
  3. Babukur (Abuguru, Buguru), with the Huma. This was one of the groups subjugated by the Azande.
  4. Banda, with the Oakpwa, Langbwasse, and numerous other subtribes.
  5. Bangandu (Bangangru, Bumbe). This group, numbering fewer than 2,000, is detached offshoot of the Baya living in Bantu country.
  6. Banza (Mbanza). This tribe is a detached branch of the Banda.
  7. Banziri (Gbanziri), with the Buraka (Bouraka). A fishing tribe on the Ubangi River.
  8. Baya (Baja, Gbaya), with the detached Bogoto. They number in excess of 200,000.
  9. Bofi (Boffi). This tribe is considerably mixed with the Bantu Pande.
  10. Bondjo (Bandjo, Bongio, Bonjo, Mbondjo), with the Mondjembo.
  11. Bwaka (Bouaka, Gbwaka, Mbaka, Ngbwaka). They numbered 180,000 in 1940.
  12. Gobu, with the Togbo. They are a detached branch of the Banda.
  13. Idio (Adio, Makaraka). They are a detached offshoot of the Azande.
  14. Ikasa, with the Ikenga. These tribes are detached offshoots of the Baya in Bantu territory.
  15. Kare (Akale, Akari, Bakare). Originally a Bantu tribe, they have become strongly acculturated to the Azande.
  16. Mandja (Mangia). They were reponed in 1904 to number 24,000.
  17. Mundu (Mondu, Mountou). They number about 10,000 and are subject to the Azande.
  18. Ndogo (Ndouggo), with the Bai (Bare, Bari), Biri (Birri, Viri), Bdri (Gamba, Gumba, Mbegumba, Mvegumba), Golo, Sere (Abire, Basiri, Chere, Serre, Shaire, Sheri, Siri), and Tagbo. This group, numbering about 30,000, has been shattered and decimated by Azande incursions and Arab slave raids.
  19. Ngbandi (Angbandi, Gbandi, Mogwandi, Mongbwandi, Wangandi).
  20. Izakara (Nsakkara, Sakara).
  21. Wute (Babute, Bafute, Bute, Mfute). This tribe, numbering about 40,000, belongs to the Bantoid rather than the Eastern subfamily of the Nigritic stock.
  22. Yakoma, with the Dendi and Sango. This fishing group on the Ubangi River number about 25,000.
  23. Yangere (Jangere, Ngere, Yangeli). This tribe, numbering about 3,000, is a detached offshoot of the Banda.

The incidence and distribution of cultivated plants among the Eastern Nigritic peoples illuminate their culture history with exceptional clarity. They must have acquired Sudanic agriculture at a very early period, for the tribes of the Adamawa cluster still grow sorghum and millet as their staples and cultivate varying amounts of coleus, cotton, cow peas, earth peas, fonio, okra, oil palms (in the south only), roselle, sesame, watermelons, and yergan. In the Equatorial cluster, however, sorghum retains its status as a staple or co-staple only among the Banda, Mandja, Ndogo, and Wute tribes. Other Sudanic crops disappear entirely (like fonio), decline markedly in importance, or occur only sporadically, especially as one moves southward.

This happened, presumably, in consequence of the introduction of the Malaysian complex from the Central Sudanic peoples. Yams and taro appear even in the Adamawa cluser, and both crops, along with bananas, increase in importance toward the south in almost exact proportion to the decreasing significance of the, udanic cultigens. In addition, there are other contemporary introductions from the east, notably sugarcane, Ethiopian eleusine (the Abarambo and Azande staple), and from the Indian complex, cucumbers, gram beans, hemp, Jew's mallow, and pigeon peas. Very few of these, however, extend as far as the Adamawa cluster. The inference appears inescapable that the adoption of the Malaysian crops enabled the Eastern Nigritic peoples to penetrate the rainforest habitat of the Pygmies, which had previously been impossible owing to the unsuitability of the udanic cultigens to this environment. This expansion once begun, its momentum seemingly carried it eastward at the expense of the Central Sudanic peoples.
Although bananas, taro, and yams appear in all the tribes of the Equatorial cluster, and in most of them clearly outrank the Sudanic cereals, they no longer retain their former position. This they have yielded to cultigens of New World origin which have been introduced within the last four centuries. Maize, manioc, or both together rank as the staples today in the great majority of tribes; cucurbits, peanuts, and sweet potatoes follow not far behind; and numerous crops of lesser importance likewise appear—lima beans, papayas, peppers, pineapples, and tobacco. These have spread to the Adamawa cluster as well but have not attained a comparable position there. Since these American plants seem to have reached the Eastern Nigritic peoples by way of the Congo River and its Ubangi tributary, they acquired them in advance of their Central udanic neighbors, and this may have been the critical factor that enabled them to dominate the latter.
In earlier chapters we have frequently encountered crops of American origin playing a subordinate role to those of some other complex-Sudanic, Egyptian, Ethiopian, or Malaysian. Here for the first time we find them occupying the leading position, and it therefore seems appropriate to inject a discussion of them at this point.
All the culti vated plants of New World origin now found in Africa have arrived during the course of the last four and a half centuries, for, with the possible exception of the sweet potato, no convincing evidence has yet been adduced to suggest the introduction of any merican cultigen into Africa prior to the discovery of the New World. Even before Columbus had completed his voyages of discovery and exploration, the Portuguese and Spaniards began sending to frica for Negroes to assist them in exploiting the agricultural and other resources of the two American continents, and the slave trade, thus initiated, continued well into the nineteenth century.
The ships engaged in this human commerce were naturally provisioned on either side of the Atlantic by the foods there available, and any stores remaining were traded or even purposely planted on the opposite shore. Since the environmental conditions in tropical Africa and tropical America are nearly identical, the products from each continent became readily established on the other. Native African plants are common today in Brazil and the West Indies, and American plants early gained a foothold on the coasts of Africa. The tropical-forest cultigens from the New World quickly marched inland from their ports of entry in Africa and established themselves firmly over wide regions of the interior which resembled their native American habitat; thus by the time Europeans got around to exploring the interior of the continent they frequently found the New World plants already occupying a dominant position and the earlier varieties so submerged that identification was possible only by careful scrutiny of ethnographic crop lists and distributional evidence.
It is noteworthy that the American species that have become established in Africa do not include the sunflower (Heliambus annum) or any other species confined to the arid regions of the New World; nor do they include the potato (Solanum tuberosum) or any other species confi ned to the high Andes. All, without exception, had been established in lowland South America or the West Indies prior to their transplantation. The potato, to be sure, has reached frica today, but it apparently was nowhere introduced before the twentieth century. The component elements of the American complex, as introduced into Africa, are enumerated below.

Cereal Grains


Tubers And Root Crops

Vine and Ground Fruits

Tree Fruits

Condiments and Indulgents

Domestic Animals

Although agriculture provides the primary basis of subsistence among most Eastern Nigritic tribes, it is surpassed by fishing and river trading among the Banziri, Yakoma, and some Bondjo and Ngbandi.The Adamawa peoples possess goats, sheep, dogs, chickens, and occasionally horses and bees. Except in the south, they also keep cattle and milk them, thus representing the limit of the early westward diffusion of the milking complex. In the Equatorial cluster, however, animal husbandry dwindles to insignificance. Cattle and horses disappear entirely, sheep occur only sporadically, and some tribes even lack goats. Nowhere does either hunting or gathering add substantially to the food supply, and trade is confined mainly to the larger rivers. The men normally hunt, fish, tend and milk livesrock, where these occur, and clear new land for tillage, leaving the tasks of gathering and agriculture to the women. In Adamawa, however, the women often participate in fishing and the men to a limited extent in cultivation.
Most tribes live in neighborhoods of dispersed homesteads or in clusters of isolated hamlets, but the Banziri, Baya, Bondjo. Bwaka, Mbum, Mundang, Ngbandi, Wute, Yakoma, and a few other people occupy compact villages. These usually consist of either a single row of dwellings along a riverbank or a double row facing a street. Round huts of Sudanic type, with conical thatched roofs and cylindrical wall of mud or wattle and daub, strongly preponderate, but a few tribes in the extreme south, i.e., the Bangandu, Bondjo, Bwaka, Ikasa, and Yangere, have adopted the Bantu rectangular house with mat or plank walls and a thatched gable roof.
The Adamawa and Equatorial tribes differ little in social organization. All require a substantial bride-price, usually paid in iron implement, but the Fali require premarital bride-service as well, and the Banda formerly preferred the exchange of sisters. Unions with a first cousin are forbidden, and most groups insist upon local exogamy. General polygyny prevails, with a separate dwelling for each wife and a special status for the first. The Banda prefer the sororal form, but the Baya and Wute forbid it. Residence follows the patrilocal rule, although the Ngbandi and Wure allow a man to reside with his maternal uncle in special circumstances. Extended forms of the family are reported only for the Laka, Masa, and Wute. Descent, inheritance, and succession adhere strictly to the patrilineal principle. Sibs are usually, and lineages invariably, exogamous. Except among the Azande, Fali, and Laka, patrilineal kin groups tend to be localized as clan-communities. The Azande have cousin terminology of the descriptive type, but the Banda and Igbandi appear to conform to the Omaha pattern.
Each village has a headman, and most tribes acknowledge no higher political authority. The Azande, Mbum, and Wute, however, are ruled by paramount c hiefs over subtribes or districts. Among the Wute, each of these maintains a court with specialized officials, a council of noble kinsmen, and a prestigeful Queen-Mother. Mbum chiefs posess the attributes of divine kings. They eat only in secret and are killed if they fail in their primary responsibility of maintaining the welfare of their people, e.g., if they permit a severe drought to occur. Among the Azande a ruling sib, the Avungara, has established a series of personal states based on military conquest and apparently modeled on those of the Central Sudanic Mangbetu. All groups keep slaves, whose status is usually hereditary but is not so among the Azande and Banda. Although the Adamawa tribes rarely practice either circumcision or cannibalism, the Equatorial peoples—with occasional exceptions, as among the Banziri and Ndogo—have adopted both customs.

Selected Bibliography