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At the Back of the Black Man's Mind, by Richard Edward Dennett, [1906], at




Discovery of the Kongo. -Subsequent History.-The Bavili. -Phonetics.- King of Luango.


WE owe the discovery of the Kongo[2] to the enterprise of Prince Henry the Navigator, fourth son of John I., King of Portugal, and grandson of Edward HL, King of England.

Diego Cão, by royal edict dated 14th April, 1484, was commissioned to extend the explorations on the coast of Africa, and he discovered the Kongo River in 1484. The native name for this river is Zaili, Zairi, or Zaidi, and it was so called as being the way of the spirit, or personality of love and knowledge. The name, of course, was given to it long before it was discovered by Diego Cão, and as part of the Fiote religious system, as we shall learn later on. It must not be supposed that the river was called by this name because the missionaries of old came that way and taught the natives certain trades. The spirits of all rivers in this part of Africa are supposed to teach the Fiote some lesson.

[1. By permission of the African Society.

2. The proper spelling is Kongo; and this will be adhered to, save in such expressions as Congo Free State, &c., which are fixed by usage.]

The first expedition arrived at San Salvador in 1491. One hundred years later we have a list of the provinces of the King of Kongo's immediate kingdom, given to us by Pisafetta on the authority of the hermit, Duarte Lopez.

The first mention of Luango is of a comparately late date, i.e., 1663, when Christianity was first brought there by Father Ungaro. The stay of this missionary was quite a short one.

Father Jerome Merolla da Sorrento, 1682, says that he never heard there was any Christian Prince in the kingdom of Angoyo (Kabinda), that country having been always inhabited by a people extremely given to sorcery and magic. But Barbot, who must have touched at Luango about the year 1700, says English was spoken in Kabinda at that time and that the blacks were all Christians.

When the history of Luango and Kakongo by the Abbé Proyart (Paris, 1776), is brought up to date, much use should be made of the old trade books with their accounts of the sale of slaves and trade with the captains of sailing vessels who were in the habit of giving the princes credit and making remarks in these books. Father T. Derouet has collected a great number of facts in this way, and I hope may soon follow up the work of his famous predecessor, thus filling up the interval between the time of the "tree climbing" missionary age and the present-shall we say-intellectual one?

Then the old books of copies of correspondence of the firms of the British African Merchants, Taylor and Laughland, and those of Messrs. Hatton and Cookson, would throw light on the following period, when merchants had settled establishments.

But while missionaries and explorers have come and gone, it is an interesting fact that the only constant associates of the inhabitants of the country during the last century were the traders, so that when Mr. Stanley and M. de Brazza rediscovered and brought these parts once more within history, they found the traders long established.

The history of European political influence on the Kongo does not go back half a century. The most important dates are the following.

In 1873 the German West African Expedition settled in Chinchonso, a place in the county of Samanu, in the kingdom of Luango.

In spite of the work of Du Chaillu, Bruce Walker, the Marquis de Compiegne, and Monsieur Marche, the Ogowe River remained unknown until in 1874, when M. de Brazza began his interesting labour in that part of Africa.

1875.-In 1875 De Brazza expressed his anxiety to open up the Ogowe.

1877.-In 1877 Stanley arrived in Boma.

1878.-The Comité d'Etudes du Haut Congo was formed in Brussels.

1879-1882-De Brazza's voyage to the Kongo viá the Ogowe to Brazzaville was carried out, and treaties were made with the chiefs of Alima and Ntamo. In 1882 De Brazza declared the only practical route between the coast and Brazzaville to be viá the Kuilu River.

1882, November 30th.-The famous Makoko treaty was ratified by the French Parliament.

1883, January 10th.-De Brazza was appointed Commissionnaire du Gouvernement de la République Française in West Africa.

1883.-Return of missionaries to Luango.

1884, April 23rd.-Colonel Strauch, on behalf of the African International Association, gave France the famous "droit du préférence" on the Congo State.

1885, February 5th.-France, by a treaty with the African International Association (nascent Congo State), gave up its pretensions to the left bank of the Lower Kongo, and obtained the cession of the territories Niari Kuilu. February 14th.Portugal, with the mediation of France, concluded a treaty with the African International Association.

1885, February 26th.-Berlin Act was signed by which the district of "Congo Français" was acknowledged as French.

Since which time this part of Luango under French rule, and no longer managed by its native rulers, has passed through a somewhat troublous time.

The Bavili, or inhabitants of Luango, occupy the coast of Africa between the Mayumba river north and that of the Chiluango river south, that is the land about latitude 5°11'30". So far as we know these people have not been subject to any great raids, like those of the Bayaka, or the people of the Congo south of that river. This may be owing to the protection given to them by the belt of forest that divides their country on the east from the country of the Bakunia and Bayaka. There are traditions of wars between the Bavili and Bacoxi, the people of Kakongo, when, the), say, the Bavili went in such crowds to Kakongo as to have dried up its rivers in the crossing.

It is only by their Bakici baci (dealt with in Chapter XI.) that traces can be found of the provinces having once been under one King, but the King of Kongo is still looked upon as their spiritual head in a far-off kind of way, and their system of government is the same. Even when the first missionaries made their appearance in Africa, both Kakongo and Luango acted as if they were independent kingdoms.

The BAVILI are part of the FJORT, FIOTI, or FIOTE tribe, which in its turn is a section of the great BANTU race. Although FJORT is the name by which these people of Kongo are undoubtedly known to-day, Consul Roger Casement informs me that that is not the name by which they are called by the people of other tribes in the interior, and the distinguished African trader, Mr. C. Sanders, tells me that the older Portuguese traders informed him some twenty years ago that the word FJORT or FIOTI was simply a corruption of the Portuguese word FILHOTE meaning, as nearly as I can translate the word' in English, "young rascal," that is to say the termination OTE gives the word FILHO or son a disparaging sense. If Mr. Sanders is correct then Monseigneur A. H. Carrie's FIOTE is the nearest approach to FILHOTE, the O in the Portuguese alphabet having much the same sound given to it by Mr. Bentley in his KONGO alphabet, i.e., as the O in the French word corps. If on the other hand the word is a KONGO one (and undoubtedly it is used for the English word "little "), then it might be derived from the words FIA or VIA, to plant, and UTA, to bear, meaning the propagator in opposition to VIANGA, the creator.

In the following pages, to enable the reader to catch the native sounds as nearly as possible the writer will use the vowels as in the Italian, and the consonants as in English, with two exceptions, -AW, i.e. for the O sound, as in "corps," and X for the sound TCHI, or Monseigneur Carrie's K. This X or TCHI sound must not be confused with the SH or X sound of Mr. Bentley. For instance, Mr. Bentley spells ZINA, a name, XINA, but XINA or TCHINA in the BAVILI dialect has the signification of law, a thing forbidden, totem, abomination, while XINA the verb, is to dance. The prefix KI in the Kongo, finds its counterpart in XI (TCHI) in the XIVILI, and this I presume is why Monseigneur Carrie has manufactured the sign K. We have this TCHI sound very nearly in the English word "church" (XURX) which the Scotch call KIRK, and there being no EKS sound in the XIVILI, and a sign being wanted for the TCHI sound, I think I am right in using the letter X for it rather than the new sign K.

With these brief introductory remarks we may pass to matters more closely akin to the subject of the book-the kingly office in Luango.

Battell visited Luango in about the year 1603, and for the short time that he was in the province, gathered much information about the King and native customs which stands good even to this day. Among other interesting facts he mentions the -name of the last King, ie., "Gembe" (now written NJIMBI).

MANILUEMBA, the present Maluango elect, about whom we shall have much to say, took the place of MANIPRATI, who was deposed by the people for having killed his own daughter for refusing to cohabit with him. Maniprati had succeeded Mani MAKIWSO, who was the Maluango elect, and Nganga NVUMBA, when the French first took possession of the country in 1883. The title NGANGA NVUMBA is a priestly one, given to the Maluango elect upon his accession, and one that he retains until the coronation ceremony completes the burial rites of the NTAWTELA or deceased MALUANGO, when he becomes the crowned MALUANGO.

NIANIPRATI was the last crowned Maluango, and the ZINGANGA NVUMBA preceding him were MANI MAKAWSO MASONGA, MANIMAKAWSO MANAWMBO, MANIMAKAWSO MATUKILA of KONDI, and MAN'ANAWMBO, none of whom were crowned. MANI YAMBI became MALUANGO, as did his predecessors, MANIPUATI Of XIBANGA and Maluango TATI of KONDI, who they say succeeded Maluango NJIMBI.

Maluango PRATI is said to have died some fifty-five years ago, so that if this list of rulers be complete, eight of them filled in the time intervening between 1603 and, say, 1860, giving them each an average reign of thirty-two years, and this appears to the writer too great an average, though some native princes reign for a very long time. He is inclined to think that either the list is incomplete or that the NJIMBI referred to by the natives is not the same as the one mentioned by Battell.

The French took Luango in 1883, in MANIMAKAWSO'S time, but they naturally enough, not knowing much of the history of the country, never considered it well to crown him officially. Had they done so and aided him to assert his kingly authority over his provinces and vassals the French to-day would have been in possession of a well-ordered province. As it happened, at the Berlin Conference, 1884, Maluango's rights were ignored, and part of his kingdom added to Portugal, just as part of Kakongo's province was given to the Congo Free State. Then the Government seemed too busy in developing its Upper Ubanghi and Sangha provinces in the direction of the Nile and Lake Chad to devote any serious attention to this part of their rich colony, so that Luango and the Lower Kongo provinces of their enormous possessions have been neglected. After some time they caused MANILUEMBA to be elected, and appeared anxious to administer the country through native channels. In the meantime, however, they had created a class of natives who might be termed "atheist," or who at any rate were "unfaithed," and they, and the general state of anarchy in which the country finds itself, will certainly make the task of the Government no easy one.

Early in 1898, the Administrator summoned Mamboma and the other princes of Luango to the residence, and informed them that it was their desire that a Maluango should be crowned, and the native régime, under the Government's protection, be restored. The choice of the people fell upon Maniluemba, nephew of Maluango Prati; and- Mamboma and the princes went to him to ask him if he would accept the throne. Hearing of this, I determined, in the interest of Folklore, to go and interview the king-elect.

Next: Chapter 2. Election of a King in the Kongo