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Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort, by Richard Edward Dennett, [1898], at


It has struck me, as it must have struck all residents in Africa, that the force of reason and logic, as illustrated in his many palavers, plays no mean part in the life of the Fjort.

A discussion takes place between two natives which leads to a quarrel. Each party relates his side of the question to some friend, these friends enter into the discussion, but fail to settle the question in dispute. A bet is then made between the two in the following way: one offers the other a corner of his cloth (a dress), and the other taking his knife cuts it off. Or a stick is broken into two parts, each keeping his part until the palaver is settled. The dispute is then referred to a prince, in whose presence it is "talked out." This prince decides the matter, and is paid for his trouble. This the Fjort calls "Ku funda nKana, that is to plead and circumstantiate a cause.

Palavers of the above kind of course are easily settled, but the more serious questions, such as those of shedding blood and intertribal dispute, are far more imposing and formal. It matters not whether the tribes have had recourse to arms in their endeavours to settle the palaver; no question is considered finally settled until it has been properly and judicially talked out. In wars of this kind the stronger may gain the day, but the weaker, if not entirely annihilated, will bide his time, and bring the palaver up again on some future and more favourable occasion, and probably be successful in getting right given to him after all. The palaver settled, the fine inflicted paid, the whole question is closed for ever.[1]

The princes before whom the palaver is to be talked are generally seated near the trunk of some wide-spreading, shade-giving tree. The audience sit opposite to them-the defendant and plaintiff and their followers on either side, the space left being thus formed with a hollow square.

If the palaver is one of great importance, and the parties opposed to each other are wealthy, they will employ their pleaders or Nzonzi (who know how to speak). The plaintiff states his case. The defendant states his. The simple bearing of the supposed facts of the case may take days, for each has to trace back the palaver to its origin. "If you want to catch a rat, says the Fjort, "go to its hole." Then the Nzonzi of the plaintiff argues the case, showing that under each bead his party is in the right, illustrating his speech by well-known comparisons, proverbs, truisms, and songs. The Nzonzi of the defendant) on the other hand, takes up each heading and argues against it. The followers on each side emphasize each

[1. This is common to all the West African tribes I know, and not confined to the Fjort. M. H. K.]

conclusion drawn by the Nzonzi by repeating his last sentence, by clapping their bands, or by joining in the chorus of the song, that the Nzonzi has sung to illustrate his case. If this song is a stirring one and does not tell much either way, princes and audience as well as both sides join in it until by it terrific grunt the presiding prince silences the court.

This kind of thing goes on for many days, perhaps, until the two have as it were talked themselves dry, then, after leaving the court to drink water (as they say), the princes, having decided upon the guilt of the litigant, return. The presiding prince then, going through the counts once more, gives his judgment. Song after song is sung, hands are clapped, and telling words are repeated, until as the prince nears the end of his discourse the whole court is led by pure reason to admit the justice of his words and judgment.

Then a great uproar ensues, the last song is sung with terrible enthusiasm, men jump up and twist themselves about, dancing and waving their spears and guns above their heads. The condemned is fined and given so many days to pay, or if the punishment be death, he is immediately tied up and either killed or ransomed according to his position. If the dispute has been between two tribes, after the fine has been paid an agreement is made between the two parties, and a slave killed, to seal the compact.

Next: The Story Of A Partnership.