webAfriqa / Library / Anthropology

webAfriqa Custom Search Engine

George Peter Murdock
1897 — 1985

Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

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

Previous Home Next

Explore also (a) the SemanticAfrica Peoples Vocabulary
(b) the Equatorial Bantu mind-mapping diagram

Part Eight
Expansion of the Bantu
— 36 —
Equatorial Bantu

In a broad band across the tropical-forest zone of the Congo Basin, within 5°N and 5°S of the equator, live a block of Bantu peoples with remarkably homogeneous cultures, whom we shall call the Equatorial Bantu (see Map 14) . They have wrested their present territory from the indigenous Pygmies, remnants of whom survive among the Bira, Budu, Dzem, Fang, Kalai, Kota, Sanga, and doubtless other tribes. That these remnants are notably fewer than among the northwestern Bantu and the Mongo peoples, who adjoin the province on the west and the south, respectively, may well bear some relationship to the notorious addiction of the Equatorial Bantu to the practice of cannibalism.
The culture of these Bantu tribes shows striking resemblances to that of the Eastern Nigritic peoples to the north. This need not entirely reflect recent diffusion. If, as seems likely, the bulk of the Equatorial Bantu came from highland Cameroon and if the Eastern Nigritic peoples, as we have surmised (Chapter 29), originated in adjacent Adamawa, the ancestors of the two groups have been neighbors for thousands of years, thereby explaining at least some of the similarities between them. In both instances, of course, the penetration of the tropical forest followed, and was made possible by, the acquisition of the Malaysian food plants. The Bantu occupation of the province must have occurred at a relatively early date—certainly prior to the expansion of the Mangbetu cluster of the Central Sudanic peoples, since, as we have seen (Chapter 28), the Mangbetu subjugated some of the Bantu tribes whom they found in possession of the country when they arrived. It was almost certainly the vanguard of the Equatorial Bantu who emerged from the tropical forest into Uganda, encountering there the Cushites, whom they were ultimately to absorb but not until they had borrowed from them the elements of East African agriculture.
The postulated derivation of the Equatorial Bantu from upland Cameroon rests in part on the near universality of patrilineal descent among them. The original Bantu appear to have been matrilineal and avunculocal, but the Cameroon Highlanders, as we have noted (Chapter 30), seem early to have achieved the transition to the patrilineate. On the other hand, certain features of Equatorial Bantu culture, partic ularly the prevailing house type and settlement pattern, point definitely to an origin on the Guinea coast. These suggest an intrusion of peoples from the coastal region akin to the Northwestern Bantu. Numerous authorities, indeed, have noted ling uistic and other resemblances between the latter and tribes like the Dzem, Kaka, and Sanga who became separated from them by the late southward expansion of the Fang. Such groups presumably have made the shjft from matrilineal to patrilineal descent since their arrival at their present location in consequence of pressures exerted by their neighbors.
The lack of notable cultural differences among the Equatorial Bantu makes it unnecessary to divide their numerous component tribes into clusters.

  1. Amba (Awamba, Baamba, Bahamba, Bamba, Bwamba, Wawamba), embracing the Bulibuli, Bwezi (Babwizi), and Vonoma. They number about 60,000.
  2. Babwa (Ababua, Baboa, Bobwa), with the Babeo (Bangelima, Mongelima), Bakango, Bangba, and Boyeu.
  3. Bangi (Abango, Babangi, Bayanzi, Bobangi, Bubangi), with the Furu (Apfourou, Bafourou), Loi (Ballohi, Baloi, Balui), Ngiri (Bangili, Bangiri, Bonguili), and numerous lesser tribes. The Bangi proper number about 60,000, the Ngiri about 65,000.
  4. Bati (Saari, Babati, Bobate, Mobati, Mombati), with the Benge (Amubenge, Bange, Mobanghi, Mubenge).
  5. Binza (Babinja, Babinza, labinja, Vinza, Wavinza).
  6. Bira (Babeyru, Babila, Babira, Baburu, Bagbira, Bavira, Wabira, Wavira), with the Pere (Babili, Bapere, Bapiti, Peri). They number about 45,000. The Forest Bira and Plains Bira differ appreciably in culture.
  7. Bomitaba, with the Bodongo, Boka (Bokaka), and Bonga.
  8. Budja (Boudja, Mbudja), with the Bale (Mabale, Mbali, Mobali), Bango (Babangi, Bobango, Mobango), and Maginza.
  9. Budu (Babudu, Banabuddu, Mabodo, Mabudu, Wabuddu).
  10. Dzem (Diezem, Djem, Ndzem, Njiem, Nyem), with the Badjue, Coma (Gouma), Kwele (Bakuele, Bakwili), Ndsime (Nedjimi, Mendsime), and Nzimu (Dsimu, Dzimou, dsimu, Zinm). They number about 30,000.
  11. Fang (Fan, Fanwe, Mfang, Mpangwe, Pahouin, Pangwe), with the Bane (Bene), Bulu (Boulou), Eton (Etun, Toni), Mvae (Mwai, Mwei), Mvele (Mwelle), Ntum (Ntumu), Tsinga (Batchenge, Betsinga), Yaunde (Jaunde, Yadunde, Yaounde), and numerous lesser subuibes. They number in excess of 700,000.
  12. Kaka, with the Bakum (Biakumbo, Bjakum), Besimbo, and Pol. They number about 50,000.
  13. Kalai (Akalai, Akelle, Bakalai, Bakale, Bakelle, Bangomo, Bangone, Bembance, Ingouesse, Kele, Mboue), with the Bangwe, Basissiou (Mochebo), and Ongomo. Their population was estimated at 25,000 in 1906.
  14. Kota (Bakota, Bandjambi, Ikota, Kura, Okota), with the Chamai (Bouchamai), Hungwe (Mahoungoue, Ongwe), Kiba (Bokiba), Ibamba (Ambamba, Babamba, Bambamba, Obamba, Ombamba), Mbao (Bambao, Mbaon), Ndasa (Bandassa, Mindassa, Umdasa), Ndomo (Bandomo, Ndumu), Ngie (Banghie, Banguie), Pu (Bapou, Bapu), and Wumbu (Bahoumbou, Bavoumbo, Bawumbu, Vumbo, Wuumbu).
  15. Kumu (Babumbu, Bakoumou, Bakumbu, Bakumu, Komo, Vuakumu, Wakumu). They number about 21,000.
  16. Lengola (Balengora, Walengola).
  17. Lika (Balika, Malika, Walika).
  18. Lokele (Likile, Lukclle, Lukemu), with the Turumbu (Torumbo). They number about 30,000.
  19. Maka, with the Bikay, Bikele, and So. They number about 55,000.
  20. Mbesa (Bombesa, Mombesa), with the neighboring Ngombe (Gombe).
  21. Mituku, with the Baleka and Balulu.
  22. Ndaka (Bandaka, Wandaka), with the Bali (Babale, Babango, Mabali, Mbale, Mubali, Wabali, Yambuya).
  23. Ndoko (Ooko).
  24. Ngala (Bamangala, Bangala, Mangala, Mongalla, Ngola, Wangala), with the Boloki (Baloki, Boluki), Lobala (Lubala), Ngombe (Combe), and numerous other uibes. Their population was estimated at 110,000 in 1907.
  25. Nyari (Babvanuma, Bandjali, Banyari).
  26. Pande, with the Gundi (Bagunda, Goundi, Tgundi).
  27. Poto (Bapoto, Foro, Mafoto, Upoto), with the Mondonga.
  28. Rega (Balegga, Barega, Bulega, Kalega, Lega, Ouregga, Valcga, Vuacegga, Walega, Warega), with the Bembe (Balembe, Vabembe, Wabembe).
  29. Sanga (Bassanga, Bosanga, Masanga, Misanga), embracing the Besom (Binjombo, Dscherma, jasua, Minjombo), Bidjuk, Bumali (Bomali, Boumaoali), Bomam (Bomome, Mpomama), Bombo (Bumbon, Bungbon), Esel (Esse, Lissel), Konambembe (Kunabembe), Lino, Mbimu, Ngwili (Bangili, Bounguili, Bungwili), and Pomo (Bongondjo). They number about 20,000.
  30. Soko (Basoko, Bazoko).
  31. Songola (Basongola, Goa, Usongora, Watchongoa), with the Enya (Baenya, Ouenya, Vouaghenia, Waenya, Wagenia, Wenja), Gengele (Bagengele), and Kwange (Bakwange).
  32. Topoke (Eso, Geso, Tofoke, Tovoke).

The Sudanic complex plays but a minor role in the agricultural economy. Only the Amba, Babwa, and Plains Rira in the extreme northeast cultivate either sorghum or millet, and a compilation of twenty-five lists of food plants reveals the isolated occurrence of oil palms, okra, sesame, and yergan. On the other hand, the Malaysian complex, which made possible the Bantu occupation of the province, still holds a very strong position. Yams are mentioned in ten lists, taro in a like number. Bananas, included in all lists, attain the status of the prime staple in fourteen and of a co-staple in seven others. All other crops reported belong to the American complex, introduced very much later. Manioc is a staple or co-staple in nine societies and maize in four societies; sweet potatoes and peanuts are next in importance, with haricot beans, malanga, peppers, sguash, and tobacco occurring only sporadically.
Fishing and boat trade rival agriculture, or even take precedence, in the economies of most tribes living along the larger rivers—the Bangi, Ngala, Poto, Soko, ongola, and some groups of the Babwa, Budja, Lengola, and Lokele. Hunting often assumes considerable subsidiary importance but tends to be reserved to the Pygmies where they are present. Gathering is so inconseguential that few sources even mention it. Most tribes engage to a considerable extent in intergroup trade and use various forms of iron or copper money. 1arkets, however, are specifically reported only for the Bira, Fang, Mbesa, Poto, and Rega.
The Plains Bira, who adjoin the pastoral Hima, stand alone in the area in keeping a few cattle, in milking cows and goats, and in making butter. Most tribes possess onJy goats, dogs, and chickens, though ten groups are reported to keep sheep as well. Human flesh replaces animal meat, for the sources specifically report the eating of slain and captive enemies in all the tribes of the province—except the Bomitaba, Kaka, Ndaka, Ndoko, and Poto—for whom we possess more than fragmentary information. Men hunt, but women commonly do some or most of the fishing, except in the societies that depend for their subsistence primarily upon this activity. Men clear the land, but leave all other agricultural work to the women.
The Equatorial Bantu reside in compact settlements consisting of two rows of rectangular houses along either side of a village street or, in riverain tribes, of a single row along the shore. The dwellings have walls of bark, leaves, bamboo, or planks and gable roofs thatched with leaves, and are sometimes grouped in guadrangular compounds. The Amba, Babwa, and Iyari, however, have adopted the Sudanic cone-cylinder hut from the adjacent Eastern Nigritic peoples, and the Plains Bira live in neighborhoods of dispersed homesteads of beehive dwellings like the lnterlacustrine Bantu to the east. Except in the northeast, most villages have at least one men's house, located in the middle of the street or at one end, and in some cases there is one at each end. Each settlement normally has a headman with limited authority and often, in addition, a council composed of the older men or of family or lineage heads. Only the Lengola, Mituku, Rega, ongola, Topoke, and northern Babwa recognize paramount chiefs over groups of settlements, and none has an elaborate political structure. The Equatorial Bantu observe no significant caste or class distinctions except for slavery, and the Amba, Bira, Fang, Kumu, and Rega do not even keep slaves. The sources contain only sporadic references to age-grades and secret societies. Circumcision, though not practiced by the Plains Bira, is otherwise nearly universal. Females, however, are not subjected to genital mutilations.
The Amba, Fang, and Ndaka often arrange marriages by exchanging sisters, and the Bomitaba and Poto occasionally do likewise, but a substantial bride-price constitutes the prevailing mode of obtaining a wife. Nearly all groups forbid unions with any first cousin and insist upon local exogamy. Polygyny, which is universal, can occur in the sororal as well as the nonsororal form among at least the Amba, Babwa, Poco, and Songola. Most groups, if not all, favor secondary marriages with a deceased wife's sister and the widow of a father or brother. The household unit tends to be an independent polygynous family in the east, a large extended family in the center and west.
Social organization is exceedingly uniform in the area, a single type characterizing nearly the entire province. Descent, inheritance, and succession follow the patrilineal principle, and residence is pauiloca1 from the first. Exogamous patrisibs are divided into lineages, without exhibiting a truly segmentary suucture, and are localized as clan-communities or occasionally as clan-barrios. The men of a settlement thus form an integrated kin group as opposed to their wives, who are assembled from a number of other communities. The sources report cousin terminology of the Hawaiian type for the Poto, Songola, and Topoke, but the Amba follow the Omaha and the Rega the Iroguois pattern.
Only for the Ndoko does the evidence reveal any substantial deviation from the structural type described above. This tribe definitely adheres to the avunculocal rule of residence and to the matrilineal rule in descent, inheritance, and succession, thus conforming precisely to the ancestral Bantu pattern. Since avunculocal residence also occurs as an alternative in a few other tribes, e.g., the Amba and Babwa, we may reasonably assume that at least some of the immigrants into the province still adhered to the ancestral structure at the time of their arrival.

Selected Bibliography