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 Northeast Coastal Bantu mind-mapping diagram

Part Eight
Expansion of the Bantu
— 39 —
Northeast Coastal Bantu

When the Central Bantu penetrated northern Mozambique, they presumably exterminated the indigenous Bushmen, since no traces of the latter survive today. Fanning out as the neared the coast, one branch turned north into Tanganyika, and another turned south. The southern branch, which has left evidences of its occupation of Southern Rhodesia in the seventh century at Zimbabwe, will receive consideration in Chapter 49. For the present we shall follow only the northern branch.

Giriyama Girls in ceremonial attire
Giriyama Girls in Ceremonial Attire
(Courtesy of British Information Services.)

In Tanganyika the Bantu likewise found Bushmanoid hunters in possession of most of the country. We have already encountered their remnants in the Khoisan-speaking Kindiga and Sandawe (Chapter 10). Conceivably the Bantu might have entered Tanganyika by way of Uganda rather than from the south, but the widespread survival of matrilineal forms of social organization in the area strongly suggests that the first immigrants were Central Bantu rather than the patrilineal Interlacustrine Bantu. In the interior, the subsequent adoption of cattle markedly altered the culture, as will be indicated in Chapter 46. Consequently we shall consider here only the Bantu who followed the coast of the Indian Ocean to the northeast.
When the invaders reached the coastal region opposite Zanzibar, they encountered for the first time a people utterly different from the Bushmanoid hunters whom they had thus far been displacing. These were the descendants of the ancient Azanians (see Chapter 26), to whom we shall return in a moment. From such archeological evidence as we possess, it appears that the Megalithic Cushites, who presumably constituted the principal element of the Azanian population, occupied only the trading ports along the coast and restricted mountainous sections of the interior that had sufficient rainfall to support their intensive irrigated agriculture. We may hazard the conjecture that the Bantu, now habituated to adapting to one new environment after another, were less selective and that they infiltrated and preempted the less desirable land along the river valleys and in the hinterland. Whatever their mode of occupying the country, they certainly established themselves solidly, for they constitute the overwhelmingly preponderant element in the population today.
The newcomers pressed steadily forward into Kenya and thence into Somalia, where the valley of the Shebelle River represents the limit of their intensive penetration. In Kenya and Somalia they found the Azanians confined to a few coastal trading settlements. The hinterland contained only Bushmanoid hunters, even in favored sections such as the valleys of the Tana, Juba, and Shebelle Rivers. The Bantu populated the latter, driving the indigenes back into the arid steppe and savanna country, where agriculture was impossible. Here a few remnants, like the Boni and Sanye tribes, still survive.
Ultimately, as we shall see in Chapters 41 and 42, the pastoral Galla and Somali descended from the Ethiopian plateau with their herds, depriving the indigenous hunters of their remaining land and subjugating the Bantu tillers. Some of the latter escaped southwestward into coastal Kenya, where their descendants today combine pastoral practices learned from the Cushites with their own ancient agricultural economy. Others remained in Somalia as agricultural serfs of the Galla and Somali. A few of these groups, notably the Bosha and Shebelle tribes, succeeded in retaining their Bantu speech until very recent times.
In all probability it was during the period from A.D. 575 to 879, when the Persians held a dominant position in the trade with the East via the Sabaean Lane, that the Bantu arrived on the Azanian coast. Here dwelt an exceedingly mixed population, probably basically Megalithic Cushitic but certainly with strong Persian, Yemenite Arab, and Malay ingredients. To this potpourri the Negroid Bantu now added a new element, which gradually became increasingly prominent, as we know from the fact that the Malagasy who migrated from this region to settle Madagascar carried in their blood a strong Negroid component. This mixed population, when it acquired elements of Islamic culture from the Arabs and absorbed new acculturated and detribalized Bantu groups along the coast and in the offiying islands, evolved into the Swahili people of today.
After the Persians lost control of the trade with the East in 879, the Arabs, by now converted to Islam, rapidly expanded their mercantile interests in East Africa. They founded strong trading posts at Mogadisho and Brava in southern Somalia around 908, gradually adding others in coastal Kenya, Tanganyika, and Mozambigue until they had acquired a complete monopoly of all commerce along the East African coast, broken only with the arrival of the Portuguese on Zanzibar in 1503. A number of these settlements developed into strong states and enjoyed marked economic prosperity. Kilwa on the Tanganyika coast, for example, which was founded in 975, hold the distinction of ueing the only African state south of the Mediterranean coast to strike its own independent coinage during the medieval period. From the maritime ports, Arab and Swahili merchants penetrated into the interior as far as the present Belgian Congo, trading for ivory, gold, and slaves, and introducing rice and other crops as well as novel merchandise.
The foregoing historical discussion provides an explanation of the three distinct clusters into which it seems advisable to divide the Northeast Coastal Bantu.

Zigula Cluster

This cluster embraces the peoples in the immediate hinterland of the Tanganyika coast w ho still retain reasonably intact their original tribal identities and who have not been markedly affected by contact with the pastoral Cushites.

  1. Bondei (Wabondei, Waschensi). This tribe appears to be an amalgam of Digo, Shambala, and Zigula elements.
  2. Kwere (Oukwere, Wakwere), with the Doe (Oudoe, Wadoe).
  3. Luguru (Waluguru), with the Kami (Wakami) and Khutu (Kuru, Wakhuru). The Khutu are largely detribalized today. The Luguru proper were reported in 1934 to number about 150,000.
  4. Nguru (Ngulu, Wangulu, Wanguru).
  5. Zigula (Ouazigoua, Wazegura, Zeguha, Zigua) , with the Ruvu (Rouvou, Ruwu).

Nika Cluster

This cluster includes the “Hamitized Bantu” tribes in the immediate hinterland of the Kenya coast, together with remnants of the former Bantu occupation of the major river va lleys of Somalia. The independent tribes of the cluster are known collectively as the ika (Wanika, Wanyika).

  1. Digo (Adigo, Wadigo). They number about 11 0,000 and are mainly Moslems.
  2. Duruma (Derouma, Waduruma). They number about 35,000.
  3. Giryama (Dziryama, Kiriama, WagiJiama), with the Chonyi (Dschogni), Jibana (Dzihana), Kambe (Wakambe), Kaura, Rabai (Warabai), and Ribe (Waribe). They number about 155,000.
  4. Gosha (Wagoseia, Wagosha), with the detached Gobawein. Remnants of the Bantu who formerly occupied the valley of the Juba River, they are now completely acculturated to the Sab tribe of Somali. They numbered about 30,000 in 1922.
  5. Pokomo (Wapokomo), with the kindred Elwana (Malakote), Korokoro, and Malachini. They occupy the valley of the Tana River, number about 20,000, and are subject to the Bararetta tribe of Galla.
  6. Shebelle, with the detached Dube, Eile, Shidle, and Tunni Torre. Remnants of the Bantu who formerly occupied the valley of the Shebelle River, they are now completely acculturated to the dominant Somali.

Swahili Cluster

The Swahili (Soahili, Suaheli, Wasuaheli) do not actually constitute a separate ethnic group but embrace the strongly Arabized and detribalized people along the coast and in the offlying islands who derive from many tribes and often incorporate significant elements of diverse alien stocks. They are Moslems and have a total population of approximately a million. Their Bantu language serves as the lingua franca over a large area in the interior as well as on the coast.

  1. Bajun (Badjouni, Bagiuni, Bajoni, Barjun, Bayoun, Gunya, Patschuni, Wagunya, Watikuu). They inhabit the coast and offlying islands in southern Somalia and adjacent Kenya and number about 2,000.
  2. Comorians, embracing the Ngazija and Nzwani. They inhabit the Comoro Islands and were reported in 1936 to number about 130,000.
  3. Hadimu (Wahadimu), with the Tumbatu (Warumbaru) . They inhabit the island of Zanzibar and the adjacent small island of Tumbaru and were reported in 1924 to number about 100,000.
  4. Pemba (Wapemba). They inhabit the island of Pemba and were reported in 1924 to number about 80,000.
  5. Segeju (Asegedzu, Mossegale, Wasegeju), with other Arabized and Islamized tribes along the coast of Kenya. They have a total population of about 75,000, of whom 25,000 are specifically Segeju.
  6. Zaramo (Dzalamo, Wasaramo), with the Ndengereko, Rufiji, and other Arabized and Islamized tribes along the coast of Tanganyika, in the hinterland of Dar es Salaam, and on the offiying island of Mafia.

All the ortheast Coastal Bantu subsist primarily by agriculture, which they usually conduct by brand-tillage, although the Pokomo and some Giryama practice irrigation. They cultivate the African cereals—eleusine, millet, and especially sorghum—to a considerable extent, as well as small quantities of such Sudanic crops as cow peas, okra, and sesame. The insular Swahili possess the entire roster of Malaysian and Indian plants, but only rice is extensively grown on the mainland. The American complex, however, strongly predominates today, with maize or manioc as the usuaJ staples, foJlowed by peanuts and sweet potatoes as well as smaller quantities of cucurbits, legumes, and fruit trees. Their only close rivals are bananas among the Comorians, rice among the Hadimu, Pemba, and Pokomo, and sorghum among the Bajun, Duruma, Kwere, and Zigula.
Animal husbandry assumes considerable auxiliary importance in the Nika and Swahili clusters. These groups keep cattle, goats, sheep, and often donkeys and bees, as well as dogs, cats, and poultry, and they use milk and make butter. The Bondei, Kwere, Luguru, Zaramo, and Zigula of coastal Tanganyika, on the other hand, keep either extremely few cattle or none at all, affiliating in this respect with the Central Bantu to the south.
Though hunting and gathering are rarely significant, fishing holds a prominent place in the economics of the Nika and insular Swahili peoples. Most of the coastal and island groups engage very extensively in trade and maintain regular markets. In the division of labor by sex, the men generally do the hunting, fishing, herding, milking, and tradin, but leave most of the cultivation to the women. On the other hand, women fish among the Zigula, gather shellfish among the Hadimu, and participate in milking among the Bajun and Giryama, whereas men assume an equal or sometimes even preponderant share of the agricultural tasks among the Bajun, Bondei, Hadimu, and Nguru.
Marriage invariably involve a substantial bride-price. All groups allow polygyny in the nonsororal form, but it occurs relatively infrequently among the Bondei, Duruma, Giryama, Luguru, and Pokomo and practically never among the Bajun. Polygynous wives always occupy separate dwellings, and the first married enjoys a superior status. The Bajun permit marriage with any first cousin, the Digo and Luguru with a crosscousin only, and most other tribes with none. With the possible exception of the Luguru, all the peoples of the province adhere to the patrilocal rule of residence, but the Bajun, Luguru, Nguru, and Zigula require an initial year or so of matrilocal residence. The household unit consists of an independent nuclear or polygynous family among all Swahili groups and the coastal tribes of the Zigula cluster, but patrilocal extended families prevail among the Duruma and Giryama.
Despite the universal patrilocality, descent is only infrequently patrilineal. Exogamous matrilineal sibs still survive, or have only recently disappeared, among all the tribes of the Zigula cluster and even among the adjacent Swahilized Zaramo. Moreover, the southern tribes of the Nika cluster—the Digo, the Duruma, and the Rabai subtribe of the Giryama—along with their exogamous parrisibs still retain functional matrilineages and are thus characterized by double descent. In at least some of the tribes of this cluster patrilineages are localized as clans. Kinship terminology in the province follows a variety of patterns—Crow among the Luguru, Iroquois among the Kwere and apparently also the Digo and Giryama, descriptive among the Bajun, and Hawaiian among the Hadimu, Pokomo, and Zigula. Wherever matrilineal descent su rvives, even among the Digo and Duruma, inheritance also follows the matrilineal rule.
Most of the tribes of the Nika and Swahili clusters occupy compact villages, formerly often palisaded, but the Zaramo live in neighborhoods of dispersed homesteads, and the prevailing settlement pattern among the Bondei, Kwere, Luguru, and formerly the Zigula consists of a cluster of separated hamlets. The original house type of the province—a rectangular dwelling with a thatched gable roof—has been superseded by the udanic cone-cylinder hut among most Kwere, Luguru, Zaramo, and Zigula and by a hemispherical structure of pole covered with grass among the Pokomo.
Normally each settlement has a headman, a council of elders, or both, and most tribes of the Zigula cluster have achieved no higher form of political integration. The Swahili tribes, except for the Bajun and Segeju, have states of Arabic type with sultans. The Nika peoples and the Segeju, however, borrowed cycling age-grade from the adjacent Galla and also the type of political organization which we have termed the Gada republic (see Chapter 6), and the Digo, Duruma, and Giryama still retain both. The Giryama, who may senre as an example, have a complex system with age-grades of two distinct types:

  1. rika grades, each consisting of thirteen annual age-sets of boys injtiated by circumcision during a given year
  2. kambi grades, in which promotion depend upon the payment of substantial fees rather than the passage of time. In the rika system, advancement to the next higher grade comes automatically, though with appropriate ceremonial, every thirteenth year.

All political offices, on the tribal as well as the district and local levels, are filled by men who belong to both the third or ruling rika grade and to the ninth kambi grade. A triumvirate of three such men administers the affairs of the tribe for thirteen years, after which they become rika elders and are succeeded in office by three other men of the same kambi grade but of the next rika grade.

Selected Bibliography