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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 Interlacustrine Bantu mind-mapping diagram

Part Ten
Spread of Pastoralism to the Bantu
— 45 —
Interlacustrine Bantu

A great ring of lakes—Tanganyika, Kivu, Edward, Albert, Kioga, and Victoria—nearly surrounds an important group of peoples known collectively as the Interlacustrine Bantu. They have thrice played a crucial role in the culture history of the Bantu as a whole. fn assessing their influence, however, we must divide them into three clusters, since the regions which these occupy, though sharing today one fairly homogeneous culture, have differed substantially from one another at various times in the past.

Tutsi Dancers in Ruanda-Urundi.
Tutsi Dancers in Ruanda-Urundi. (Courtesy of United Nations.)

Ruanda Cluster

For the sake of brevity we shall call the first of these regions Ruanda, although it also incl udes Urundi and portions of adjacent Tanganyika, Uganda, and the Belgian Congo. Its component tribes are listed below.

  1. Bashi (Banyabungu, Wanyabungu), with the kindred Fulero (Bafulero, Wafulcro) and Havu (Bahavu). This large nation inhabits the Belgian Congo immediately west of Ruanda-Urundi.
  2. Chiga (Bachiga, Bakyiga, Batciga, Ciga, Kiga). This tribe, number ing in excess of 100,000, lives north of Ruanda near Lake Edward.
  3. Ha (Abaha, Waha), with the Jiji (Wajiji) and Vinza (Vinsa). This group, numbering about 180,000, lives northeast of Lake Tanganyika.
  4. Hunde (Bahunde), with the Nyanga (Banianga, Wanyanga). This large group lives north of the Bashi in the Belgian Congo.
  5. Konjo (Bakondjo, Banande, Wakondjo, Wanande). This tribe, with a culture transitional toward that of the Equatorial Bantu, lives west of Lake Edward and has a population of about 70,000.
  6. Nkole (Banyankole). This tribe, numbering abour 260,000, inhabits the extreme southwestern part of Uganda.
  7. Ruanda (Barwaruanda, Rwanda), with the Horohoro (Yahorohoro, Wampororo). This nation, inhabiting Ruanda proper, numbers about 2,150,000.
  8. Rundi (Barundi, Varundi). These people, the inhabitants of Urundi, number nearly 2 million.

Uganda Cluster

The second region embraces most of the southern half of Uganda and includes the tribes enumerated below.

  1. Ganda (Baganda, Vaganda). This nation numbers approximately a million.
  2. Haya (Basiba, Heia, Kiziba, Vahaya, Wassiba, Ziba). These people, numbering about 300,000, live on Lake Victoria in the extreme northwest of Tanganyika.
  3. Kerewe (Bakerewe, Wakerewe). This tribe, numbering about 40.000, occupies the island of Ukerewe in Lake Victoria and an adjacent promontory of the mainland.
  4. Nyoro (Bakitara, Banyoro, Kirara). This tribt, with a population of about 110,000, lives to the cast of Lake Albert.
  5. Soga (Basoga), with the Gwere, Kene (Bakene), and Nyuli. This group, numbering about 500,000, live in Uganda north of Lake Victoria.
  6. Toro (Batoro), with the Tuku. This nation, numbering about 150,000, lives sourh of Lake Albert adjacent to the Ganda and Nyoro.
  7. Zinza (Basindja, Sinja, Wassindja), with the Banyaisanga. This large group lives southwest of Lake Victoria in northwestern Tanganyika.

East Nyanza Cluster

The third region, known as East Nyanza, lies immediately east and northeast of Lake Victoria in Tanganyika, Western Kenya, and a small adjacent section of Uganda. Its component tribes are listed below.

  1. Gisu (Bageshu, Bagish, Geshu, Gishu, Masaba, Sokwia). This small tribe occupies the western slopes of Mount Elgon in Uganda.
  2. Gusii (Gizii, Kisii, Kosova), with the Kulya (Bakulia, Bulia, Kuria, Tende), Simbiti (Simberi), and Suba (Soba, Wassuba). This group, numbering abour 250,000, lives southeast of the Nilotic Luo in Kenya and Tanganyika.
  3. Kara (Wakarra). This tribe, numbering about 20,000, inhabits the island of Ukara in Lake Victoria.
  4. Shashi (Washashi), embracing the Ikuzu, Ikoma, Jita (Wajita), Kwaya, Nguruini (Ngoroine, Wangoroine), Ruri (Waruri), and Zanaki tribes east of Lake Victoria. They number at least 20,000.
  5. Sonjo. This tribe, numbering abour 4,500, occupies an enclave among the Masai east of the Shashi.
  6. Wanga (Bahanga, Hanga, Wawanga), with the kindred Hayo (Khavi, Khayo, Xayo), Logo'i (Lokoli, Maragole, Walako), Marach (Mrashi), Nyole, Samia, Tadjoni (Tasoni), Vugusu (Kirosh), and other tribes of the group commonly known collectively as the Bantu Kavirondo. They number well over 300,000.

Pygmoid hunters and gatherers with cultures of the Sangoan complex originally inhabited most of the Interlacustrine province. Modest remnants still survive among some tribes of the Ruanda cluster, but they have disappeared completely in Uganda and East Nyanza. This we can reasonably ascribe to the Cushitic immigrants from southern Ethiopia whose presence in the area in the first millennium B.C. has been revealed by archeological research (see Chapter 25). Different groups of these Caucasoid invaders seem to have occupied East Nyanza and Uganda. The present Kara tribe of the former cluster reflect an earlier Megalithic Cushitic population in their hig hly intensive agriculture, with permanent cultivation made possible by crop rotation and the use of animal manure conserved through stall feeding. In Uganda, on the other hand, massive prehistoric earthworks attest the former presence of Western Cushites, a conclusion confirmed, as we shall shortly see, by the extraordinarily detailed resemblances between the political institutions of Uganda and those of the idamo province of southwestern Ethiopia. The survival of Pygmies in Ruanda would suggest that neither group of immigrant Cushites occupied this region, doubtless because its geography did not suit their agricultural techniques.
Centuries later, but still before the time of Christ, the Cushites of Uganda, as we have seen (Chapter 28), acquired the Malaysian food plants from the coastal Azanians and transmitted them westward to the Central Sudanic peoples. They thus acted as mediators in the maj or historical process which would shortly eventuate in the explosive expansion of the Bantu into the tropical rainforest. As noted in Chapter 28, it was probably the Equatorial Bantu who first emerged from the forest, entering Uganda from the west or southwest and there meeting the agricultural Cushites. This encounter, too, was fraught with far-reaching consequences, for from the Cushites the Bantu borrowed the East African cereals, especially durra and eleusine, which, when spread around the periphery of the Congo Basin, enabled them successfully to penetrate in all directions the adjacent vegetation zones of savanna and dry forest. Thus indirectly, on two different occasions, the Cushites of Uganda mediated the expansion of the Bantu.
The newcomers could occupy the Ruanda region without serious opposition, entering there into their usual symbiotic relationship with the indigenous Pygmies. In East Nyanza they had no more difficulty in displacing or absorbing the Megalithic Cushites than their cousins, the Northeast Coastal Bantu, encountered nearer the coast. In Uganda, however, the presumably strong Cushitic states must have presented a more serious problem. They ultimately, of course, succeeded in infiltrating these as well, and in absorbing their Caucasoid inhabitants, since the present population speaks only Bantu languages. We already know (see Chapter 38) that complex despotic states occur among all the Bantu peoples around the periphery of the rainforest, and we may reasonably conclude that the conquest of Uganda was achieved, so to speak, by meeting fire with fire, i.e., by adopting the political system of the Cushites and using it to subdue them.
Around the close of the first millennium, as we have seen (Chapter 43), the Nilotes, acquiring the milking complex and thus the capacity for living an independent pastoral mode of life, expanded southward until they encountered the Interlacustrine Bantu. Checked by the political strength of the latter, they turned southeastward into Western Kenva and northern Tanganyika. Here they not only dispossessed and absorbed the Megalithic Cushites but also displaced some of the Bantu in East Nyanza, as is evidenced by the occupation of the northeastern shore of Lake Yictoria by the Luo and by the survival of the Sonjo deep in the heart of Masai territory.
The Nilotes also infiltrated the Bantu tribes of the Uganda cluster, where rulers and chiefs welcomed them as herders for their new-found wealth in cattle and permitted them to graze their livesrock in sections unsuited to agriculture. Their descendants, known as the Hima (Bahima, Huma), constitute a modest fraction of the population today and still live a largely pastoral life, although they have long since exchanged their original Nilotic speech for Bantu. Because of their usefulness to the ruling class they enjoy a respected status, but the assumption that the political systems of Uganda are conquest states founded through the subjugation of agricultural Bantu by invading pastoral nomads lacks any real basis in fact.
On the other hand, something very much like this may well have happened in the Ruanda region. Here most of the societies today reveal a sharp stratification into endogamous castes with a ruling aristocracy of herders called Tutsi (Batusi, Watutsi), a subject agricultural peasantry called Hutu (Bahutu, Wakhutu), and often also a depressed caste of Pygmy hunters called Twa (Batwa). Physically the Hutu are clearly Bantu, whereas the Tussi exhibit unmistakably the tall stature, slender bodies, and other characteristic traits of the Nilotic subrace (see Chapter 2).
In consequence of their interpenetration by the Hima and Tutsi Nilotes the Interlacustrine Bantu early became thoroughly habituated to the herding and milking of cattle, and they transmitted these skills southward to the Bantu provinces, to be considered in subsequent chapters, whose inhabitants are sometimes known collectively as the Cattle Bantu. Since pastoralism has transformed the lives of many of these peoples, the inhabitants of Uganda have played for the third time a major mediating role in the historical development of the Bantu peoples. To be sure, the Bantu of the Kenya highlands also acquired cattle at about the same time, though from the Galla rather than from the Nilotes. Nevertheless it was not they but the lnterlacustrine peoples who served as the crucial intermediaries.
Cattle mar well have spread to some of the East African Bantu in advance of the adoption of milking, as has often happened elsewhere in Africa. The fact that the Kara stall-feed their cattle to conserve manure suggests, indeed, that this almost certainly occurred in East Nyanza. In our subsequent discussion, however, we shall assume that cattle and milking diffused together, which seems somewhat more probable for at least the Southern Bantu.
Most authorities in the past have classed the Interlacustrine tribes as “Hamitized Bantu” having derived their cattle complex from the Cushites of Ethiopia and the Horn. They were clearly mistaken. If the reader will compare the pastoral practices of the Bantu described in this and subsequent chapters with those of the Galla (Chapter 42) and the Nilotes (Chapter 43), he can readily confirm for himself the specific affiliation of Bantu pastoralism with that of the Luo cluster of Nilotes and its divergence in important respects from the cattle culture of all Cushites and Cushitized peoples. The Interlacustrine Bantu did, of course, become strongly “Hamitized” at a much earlier date through their contacts with the Sidamo immigrants into Uganda, but the results of this ancient cultural interchange do not include the acquisition of the cattle complex.
Animal husbandry approaches agriculture in economic importance throughout the province except among the marginal Konjo and Sonjo, and wherever Hima or Tutsi are present they subsist almost exclusively on the products of their herds. In addition to cattle, the Interlacustrine Bantu keep goats, sheep, dogs, chickens, and bees. They use milk and make butter, and the drinking of fresh blood is reported for the Chiga, Haya, Nkole, and Rundi. The African cereals—sorghum, millet, and eleusine—play the leading role in the agriculture of most East Nyanza groups and of the Bashi, Chiga, Ha, Nyoro, Ruanda, and Toro tribes in the two western clusters. Bananas, however, rank as the staple crop among the Gisu and the great majority of the Ruanda and Uganda tribes. Among auxiliary food plants the most important are Malaysian yams, the Indian legumes, and maize, manioc, peanuts, and sweet potatoes from the American complex. Only the East Nyanza peoples practice irrigation and other intensive techniques of cultivation, reflecting therein their Megalithic Cushite antecedents, and the Kara rival the Chaga of highland Kenya as the foremost agriculturists of Bantu Africa.
The Interlacusrrine peoples depend very little on hunting or gathering, but many of them fish extensively, and commerce is moderately well developed. The prevailing pattern in the division of labor by sex assigns land clearance, hunting, fishing, herding, and milking to the men, buttermaking and the bulk of the field labor to the women. Men, however, assume an equal share in cultivation among the Bashi, Hunde, Kara, Ruanda, and Shashi ; and in several East Nyanza tribes women participate in the tending and milking of livestock. This last again reflects the influence of the Megalithic Cushites, whereas everywhere else in the province it is the Central Sudanic pattern of separating women from cattle that prevails.
Marriage universally entails a substantial bride-price in livestock. The Bashi, Kara, and Ruanda permit unions between cross-cousins, the Rundi prefer them, and the Chiga favor them in the case of a mother's brother's daughter only, but most groups forbid marriage with any first cousin. Local exogamy tends to prevail nearly everywhere, even in the absence of clans. The Kara, Rundi, and Wanga practice only limited polygyny, but other groups observe no comparable restraint. No society favors sororal polygyny, though the Chiga, Ganda, Haya, Nyoro, and Ruanda permit it. The first wife regularly enjoys a preferred status, but each co-wife has a hut of her own and the husband visits each in rotation. Residence follows the patrilocal rule, with only occasional individual exceptions. Among the Chiga, married sons live with their father until his death, but extended forms of family organization occur nowhere else.
Descent, inheritance, and succession conform to the patrilineal mode, with no obvious matrilineal survivals. In general, a segmentary lineage organization prevails. Exogamy applies to all members of one's own patrisib, and the Ganda, Gisu, Gusii, Haya, Nyoro, and Wanga extend it to one's mother's patrilineal kinsmen as well. The local community tends to assume the form of a patrician in Ruanda and East Nyanza, but the Uganda tribes lack clans, though certain indications point to their former existence. Cousin terminology follows the Hawaiian pattern among the Gisu, Kerewe, and Nkole, the Omaha pattern among the Haya, Nyoro, and Soga, and the Iroquois pattern among the Ganda, Wanga, and most tribes of the Ruanda cluster. On the whole, the forms of social organization diverge markedly from those of the Central Bantu and peoples derived from them and show an unmistakable basic resemblance to those prevailing among the Equatorial Bantu (see Chapter 36). This confirms our surmise that the Interlacustrine Bantu derive historically from the latter.
No Inrerlacustrine tribe, on the other hand, retains any trace of the settlement pattern or house type characteristic of the tropical forest. Only the Hunde and the East Nyanza peoples live, or formerly lived, in compact villages, all other groups having adopted the pattern of dispersed family homesteads. As in other regions of former Megalithic Cushite occupation, the Sudanic cone-cylinder type of dwelling predominates in East Nyanza. The Kara and all tribes of the Ruanda and Uganda clusters, however, exhibit a distinctive house type peculiar to the province, namely, a dwelling of beehive shape, without walls, thatched from the point of the roof to the ground. Fundamentally, this probably derives from the Sudanic dwelling by an elaboration of the covering cone and the elimination of the supporting cylinder.
The Gusii and possibly some of their neighbors practice clitoridectomy, and, except for the Nyanga subtribe of the Hunde, circumcision is also confined to a few groups in East yanza. The Nyoro and Wanga have adopted the old Nilotic pattern of extracting the lower incisor teeth as an initiatory rite. Age-grades, always diagnostic of ancient Megalithic Cushite influence in this part of Africa, occur only among the Gusii, Shashi, Sonja, and Wanga of East Nyanza. Most of these tribes vest political authority at the local level in a set of age-grade elders. Throughout the rest of the province, however, a hereditary headman typically administers the affairs of the village or neighborhood, often with the assistance of a council of elders.
Political integration does not transcend the level of the local community among the Chiga and Konjo in the extreme west or, with insignificant exceptions, in the East Nyanza cluster. Ruanda and Uganda, however, are characterized by the extraordinary prevalence of despotic states. These embrace the entire society among the Ganda, Kerewe, Nkole, Nyoro, Ruanda, Ruandi, Toro, and Zinza; attain only a slightly lesser magnitude among the Bashi, Haya, and Hunde; and occur on a somewhat smaller scale among the Ha and Soga. A complex social stratification into hereditary classes of royalty, nobility, commoners, and slaves or into endogamous ethnic castes prevails among precisely the same societies, and is lacking elsewhere. The Interlacustrine states conform to a single pattern. They are, to be sure, typical African despotisms, but, beyond this, their forms exhibit such numerous and specific resemblances to the political institutions of the Cushites of the Sidamo province (see Chapter 23) that there is little doubt of their historical connection. A brief description of the traditional political system of the Ganda should make this clear.
At the head of the Ganda state stands an absolute king (Kabaka), who is also the high priest and the supreme judge of the land. He enjoys great respect, since the power of the state is believed to be embodied in his person. No one may observe him eat, and he can be approached only with servile prostration. He lives in a magnificent residence on a hilltop in the capital, surrounded by guards, retainers, slaves, personal officials, and a harem of wives. The insignia of his office include drums, a spear-scepter, and a throne. A sacred fire is maintained at the palace; it is generated when the king assumes office, carried along when he travels, and extinguished when he dies.
The realm is divided for administrative purposes into ten provinces, each with a governor, and these are subdivided into districts, each with an appointive chief. These territorial officials organize corvées for labor on public works and collect and transmit taxes in livestock, cowries, hoes, and barkcloth. The king reserves half of these revenues for himself and allocates the remainder for the support of his ministers and the administrative bureaucracy. The governors and district chiefs maintain residences not only in their own jurisdictions but also at the capital, where they form a great council which meets frequently with the king. An appointive vizier, or prime minister, the Katikiro, heads the administrative hierarchy, and the king keeps informed of its operations through a corps of secret police.
A second important minister, the Kimbugwe, has charge of the royal fetishes, including the monarch's umbilical cord, or so-called “twin.” The territorial officials often exercise specialized functions at court. One governor, the Kago, presides over the council and supervises the royal household. A second, the Mugema, serves as custodian of the royal tombs and is the only minister whose office is hereditary and does not terminate with the death of the king. A third, the Kasuju, has charge of the princes and princesses of royal blood. One district chief, the Gabunga, does double duty as admiral of the canoe fleet.
Among the wives of the ruler, the one chosen for him by his father assumes the position of Queen-Consort. She takes precedence over the rest of the harem and has charge of the king's amulets and other very personal possessions. She is, however, outranked by the Queen-Sister, a half sister of the monarch who shares his royal status, and by the Queen-Mother, his own mother or, after her death, a substitute selected from the royal lineage. The two latter women maintain separate residences, are endowed with independent estates, and are forbidden to marry or bear children.
When the king dies, the fact is kept concealed while the Kasuju summons the royal princes and consults on the succession with the Katikiro and Kimbugwe, who form with him an electoral college. Their choice is confined to the sons of the deceased ruler and is sometimes settled by force of arms. In any event an anarchic interregnum supervenes until the new ruler assumes office. The body of the deceased king is mummified, human sacrifices are offered, and the new Queen-Mother, as soon as she takes office, has most of the rejected princes put to death.
The Ganda state is organized for war, with the Nyoro in particular as its hereditary enemies. Periodic censuses keep account of potential manpower and provide a basis for conscription. A network of roads, connecting each district capital with that of its province and each of the latter with the capital of the state, facilitates rapid mobilization of the armed forces. Finally, a special drum language, with hundreds of distinctive beats or rhythms representing as many specific meanings, makes possible almost instantaneous communication throughout the kingdom.

Selected Bibliography