THE usual unwritten law of primitive peoples is, in theory at least, "a life for a life," the clan of the murdered man being entitled to kill the murderer, if they can get hold of him; if not, one of his family, or, at any rate, a member of the same clan. No difference was originally made between intentional and accidental killing, though this distinction came to be recognized later. In time the principle of ransom came into force-the weregild of our Saxon ancestors. The Yaos would express it thus in a case where the relations had failed to kill the murderer out of hand and had captured a relative of his: "You have slain our brother; we have caught yours; and we will send him after our brother-or keep him as a slave-unless you pay a ransom." This last alternative has tended more and more to become the usual practice in Africa.
But a difficulty arose when a man killed one of his own relations. In that case who could demand compensation? for the slayer and the slain were of the same clan. And the general belief about this shows that such a thing is regarded with horror and as almost unthinkable. Such a man would be seized by a kind of madness-the Anyanja call it chirope, and say, " The blood of his companion enters his heart; it makes him just like a drunk man." Or, as the Yaos say, " He will become emaciated, lose his eyesight, and ultimately die a miserable death." Though the owner of a slave in theory had the power of life and death, he was afraid of chirope if he killed him. He could escape only by being 'doctored ' with a certain charm, which, one may suppose, would not be too easily procured.
A man who had killed another in battle also had to be 'doctored,' for fear that he should be haunted by the ghost
[1. Scott, Dictionary, p. 96.
2. Duff Macdonald, Africana, vol. i, p. 168.]
of the slain-no doubt because, from the nature of the case, the dead man's kin could not follow the usual procedure. With the Zulus  the 'doctoring' (ukuqunga) was a long and complicated process, involving various tabus: an essential point was that the warrior must cut open the corpse of his foe before it began to swell. This precaution (the neglect of which rendered him liable to be possessed by the avenging ghost-a form of insanity known as iqungo) has, not unnaturally, been misunderstood and given rise to reports of "atrocities," "mutilation of the dead," and so on, as happened in the Zulu War of 1879.
There is a well-known story, current, probably, among all the South African Bantu, in which the secret murder of a brother is brought to light and avenged. It is usually called "Masilo and Masilonyane," though the Zulu variant has a different name. In some versions the guilty brother is killed when detected, but in what would appear to be the oldest and most authentic he is driven from the clan and becomes an outcast. Perhaps we find the beginning of a change from the older view in one case, where he is said to have been killed, not by a member of the family, but by a servant (mohlanka) of Masilonyane's-presumably not a member of the clan.
In the most usual form of the story  the two brothers, Masilo and Masilonyane, went hunting together and happened upon a ruined village. The younger, Masilonyane, went straight on through the ruins with his dogs, while his brother turned aside and skirted round them. In the middle of the ruins Masilonyane found a number of large earthen pots turned upside down. He tried to turn up one of the largest, but it resisted all his efforts. After he had tried in vain several times he called to his brother for help, but
[1. Colenso, Zulu-English Dictionary, p. 513.
2. I have here, more or less, combined two versions: one by S. H. Edwards, in the South African Folk-Lore Journal, vol. i, p. 139, and the other by Jacottet, in his Treasury of Ba-Suto Lore, p. 56.]
Masilo refused, saying, "Pass on. Why do you trouble about pots?" Masilonyane persevered, however, and at length succeeded in heaving up the pot, and in doing so uncovered a little old woman who was grinding red ochre between two stones. Masilonyane, startled at this apparition, was about to turn the pot over her again, but she remonstrated: "My grandchild, do you turn me up and then turn me upside down again?" She then requested him to carry her on his back. Before he had time to refuse she jumped up and clung to him, so that he could not get rid of her. He called Masilo, but Masilo only jeered and refused to help him. He had to walk on with his burden, till, at last, seeing a herd of springbok, he thought he had found a way of escape, and said, "Grandmother, get down, that I may go and kill one of these long-legged animals, so that I may carry you easily in its skin." She consented, and sat down on the ground, while Masilonyane called his dogs and made off at full speed after the game. But as soon as he was out of her sight he turned aside and hid in the hole of an ant-bear. The old woman, however, was not to be defeated. After waiting for a time and finding that he did not come back she got up and tracked him by his footprints, till she came to his hiding place. He had to come out and take her up again, and so he plodded on for another weary mile or two, till the sight of some hartebeests gave him another excuse for putting her down. Once more he hid, and once more she tracked him; but this time he set his dogs on her, and they killed her. He told the dogs to eat her, all but her great toe, which they did. He then took an axe and chopped at the toe, when out came many cattle, and, last of all, a beautiful cow, spotted like a guinea-fowl.
This incident, monstrous as it appears to us-especially as there has been no hint that the old woman was of unusual size; indeed, she was not too big to be carried on Masilonyane's back-is not uncommon in Bantu folklore, and in some cases seems to link on to the legend of the Swallowing Monster. Now Masilo, who had shirked all the unpleasant part of the day's adventures, came running up and demanded a share of the cattle. Masilonyane, not unnaturally, refused, and they went on together.
After a while Masilonyane said he was very thirsty, and his brother said he knew of a water-hole not far off. They went there, and found that it was covered with a large, flat stone. They levered up the stone with their spears, and Masilonyane held it while Masilo stooped to drink. When he, in his turn, stooped to reach the water Masilo dropped the stone on him and crushed him to death. Then he collected the cattle and started to drive them home. Suddenly he saw a small bird perching on the horn of the speckled cow; it sang:
"Chwidi! Chwidi! Masilo has killed Masilonyane, because of his speckled cow!"
(People say it was Masilonyane's heart which was changed into a bird.) Masilo threw a stone at the bird, and seemed to have killed it, but it came to life again, and before he had gone very far he saw it sitting on the cow's horn, and killed it once more, as he thought.
When he reached his home all the people crowded together and greeted him. "Dumela! Chief's son! Dumela! Chief's son! Where is Masilonyane?" He answered, "I don't know; we parted at the water-hole, and I have not seen him since." They went to look at the cattle, and exclaimed in admiration, "What a beautiful cow! just look at her markings!"
While they were standing there the little bird flew up with a great whirring of wings and perched on the horn of the speckled cow and sang:
Chwidi! Chwidi! Masilo has killed Masilonyane, all for his speckled cow!"
Masilo threw a stone at the bird, but missed it, and the men said, "just leave that bird alone and let us hear." The bird sang the same words over and over again, and the people heard them clearly. They said, "So that is what you have done! You have killed your younger brother." And Masilo had nothing to say. So they drove him out of the village.
A different version from North Transvaal makes the cattle come out of a hollow tree, and says nothing about the old woman. It also prefixes to the story some incidents not found elsewhere, which show Masilonyane in a less favourable light than that in which we have so far regarded him. At any rate, he does something, by his arrogance, to provoke his elder brother's enmity. Their father had entrusted them with the means of buying a beast or two to start a herd-the recognized manner of providing for sons. Masilonyane (here called Mashilwane), by clever trading and repeated strokes of good luck, soon became richer than his brother, and so provoked Masilo's envy. Mashilwane did nothing to conciliate him; on the contrary, he kept on boasting of his prosperity, and even, when his wife died, said, "I am Mashilwane, whom death cannot touch!"
Another point of difference in this version is that it is one of Mashilwane's dogs who reveals the murder and leads the clansmen to the place where the body is hidden. In the other there is no question of the body; indeed, in one form of the story the murdered man comes to life again, the bird suddenly taking his shape. On the whole the North Transvaal version seems later and more consciously elaborated perhaps in response to questions from European auditors.
A hunter's dogs figure in a story from Angola, where an elder brother kills a younger, being envious of his success. He gives part of the body to the two dogs, but they refuse to eat it; instead they lift up their voices and denounce him. He kills and buries them; they come to life, follow him home, and report the whole affair in the village. The story ends: "They wailed the mourning"; nothing is said about the fate of the murderer. A brother killing a brother is something quite outside the common course of law.
It is not entirely the same with a wife, who, by the nature of the case, must belong to a different clan; the duty of
[1. Hoffmann, Zeitschrift für Kolonialsprachen, vol. vi, No. 5.
2. Chatelain, Folk-tales of Angola, p. 127.]
exacting retribution naturally falls on her relations once the crime is made known.
So it was with Nyengebule. He had two wives, who, one day, went out together to collect firewood in the forest. The younger found a bees' nest in a hollow tree, and called her companion to help her take out the honeycomb. When they had done so they sat down and ate it, the younger thoughtlessly finishing her share, while the elder kept putting some aside, which she wrapped up in leaves to take home for her husband. Arriving at the kraal, each went to her own hut. The elder, on entering, found her husband seated there, and gave him the honeycomb. Nyengebule thanked her for the attention, and ate the honey, thinking all the time that Nqandamate, the younger wife, who was his favourite, would also have brought him some, especially as he was just then staying in her hut. When he had finished eating he hastened thither and sat down, expecting that she would presently produce the titbit. But he waited in vain, and at last, becoming impatient, he asked, "Where is the honey?" She said, "I have not brought any." Thereupon he lost his temper and struck her with his stick, again and again. The little bunch of feathers which she was wearing on her head (as a sign that she was training for initiation as a doctor) fell to the ground; he struck once more in his rage; she fell, and he found that she was dead. He made haste to bury her, and then-he is shown as thoroughly selfish and callous throughout-he gathered up his sticks and set out for her parents' kraal, to report the death (which he would represent as an accident) and demand his lobolo-cattle  back. But the little plume which had fallen from her head when he struck her turned into a bird and flew after him.
When he had gone some distance he noticed a bird sitting on a bush by the wayside, and heard it singing these words:
[1. South African Folk-Lore Journal, July 1879.
2 A man who loses his wife before she has had any children is entitled to get back the cattle he paid on his marriage-unless her parents can give him another daughter instead of her.]
"I am the little plume of the diligent wood-gatherer,
The wife of Nyengebule.
I am the one who was killed by the house-owner, wantonly!
He asking me for morsels of honeycomb."
It kept up with him, flying alongside the path, till at last he threw a stick at it. It paid no attention, but kept on as before, so he hit it with his knobkerrie, killed it, threw it away, and walked on.
But after a while it came back again and repeated its song. Blind with rage, he again threw a stick at it, killed it, stopped to bury it, and went on his way.
As he was still going on it came up again and sang:
"I am the little plume of the diligent wood-gatherer . . ."
At that he became quite desperate, and said, "What shall I do with this bird, which keeps on tormenting me about a matter I don't want to hear about? I will kill it now, once for all, and put it into my bag to take with me." Once more he threw his stick at the little bird and killed it, picked it up, and put it into his inxowa-the bag, made from the skin of some small animal, which natives carry about with them to supply the place of a pocket. He tied the bag up tightly with a thong of hide, and thought he had now completely disposed of his enemy.
So he went on till he came to the kraal of his wife's relations, where he found a dance going on. He became so excited that he forgot the business about which he had come, and hurried in to join in the fun. He had just greeted his sisters-in-law when one of them asked him for snuff. He told her-being in a hurry to begin dancing and entirely forgetful of what the bag contained-to untie the inxowa, which he had laid aside. She did so, and out flew the bird dri-i-i! It flew up to the gate-post, and, perching there, began to- sing:
Ndi 'salana sika' Tezateza
Ndingobulewe 'Mnimindhlu ngamabom,
Ebendibuza amanqatanqata obusi."
He heard it, and, seeing that every one else had also heard it, started to run away. Some of the men jumped up and seized hold of him, saying, "What are you running away for?" He answered-his guilty conscience giving him away against his will-"Me! I was only coming to the dance. I don't know what that bird is talking about."
It began again, and its song rang out clearly over the heads of the men who were holding him:
"Ndi 'salana sika' Tezateza. . ."
They listened, the meaning of the song began to dawn on them, and they grew suspicious. They asked him, "What is this bird saying?" He said, "I don't know."
They killed him.
With this brief statement the story closes, leaving to the imagination the clamour that arose, the cries of the mother and sisters, the brothers rushing for their kerries, the doomed man's frantic struggles.... Bambulala, "They killed him."
Father Torrend says:
Tales of this kind, showing that every crime finds an unexpected revealer, appointed by a superior power, are very common in the whole of the Zambezi region. In this particular tale [which will be given presently] the revealer is a child . . . in others it is a little dog, but in tales far more numerous it is a little bird which no killing can prevent from rising from the dead and singing of the criminal deed until punishment is meted out to the guilty person."
One such story was collected by Mrs Dewar  among the Winamwanga, to the north of Lake Nyasa, on the farthest edge of the "Zambezi region," since their country is near the sources of the Chambezi. As set down by her it is very short, but it may be worth while to reproduce it here, as it gives the notes of the bird's song.
Once upon a time there was a man and his younger brother. The younger brother was chief [It is not explained how this happened, but no doubt he was the son of the ' Great Wife,' and as such his father's heir.] One day when he climbed a mpangwa
[1. Bantu Folklore, p. 17.
2 Chinamwanga Stories, p. 29.
3 But the story is not confined to that region, its underlying motive being practically universal.]
tree [which bears an edible fruit, much liked] his elder brother killed him. Afterwards he came to life again as a little bird and sang:
["Nzye! [a mere exclamation] He has killed me because of the mpangwa fruit,
The mpangwa by the roadside.
Doesn't it help us in time of need?"]
That is all, but the rest is not difficult to guess. The bird's song seems somewhat obscure, but probably means that the young man was gathering the fruit to eat in a time of scarcity. This is a detail stressed in the next story, though the other incidents are quite different.
Once upon a time there was a married couple who had two children. Not long after the birth of the second the wife said she wanted to go and see her mother. The husband agreed, and they set out. It happened to be a time of famine, and they had little or nothing to eat, so when they came to a wild fig-tree by the wayside the man climbed it and began to shake down the fruit. The wife and the elder child picked up the figs and ate them as fast as they fell. Presently there fell, among the rest, a particularly large and fine one. The husband called out: "My wife, do not eat that fig! If you do I will kill you."  The wife, not without spirit, answered, "Hunger has no law. And, really, would you kill me, your wife, for a fig? I am eating it; let us see whether you dare kill me!"
She ate the fig, and her husband came down from the tree and picked up his spear.
[1. Torrend, Bantu Folklore, p. 9.
2. It is edible, but somewhat insipid, and not considered worth eating when anything better is to be had.
3. The selfish and greedy husband and father is frequently held up to reprobation in folk-tales. Refusal to share food with others is looked on as something worse than mere lack of manners-it is "simply not done."]
"My fig! Where has it gone?" he said, pointing the weapon at her.
She answered, "I have eaten it."
He said not another word, but stabbed her. As she fell forward on her knees the baby she was carrying on her back stared at him over her shoulder. He took no notice, only saying, "My children, let us go now, as I have killed your mother."
The elder boy picked up his little brother and put him on his back. The baby, Katubi, looked behind him at the dead woman and began to cry. His brother sang:
How can I silence Katubi?
Oh, my dear Katubi!
How can I silence Katubi ?
The father asked him what he was saying, but he said, I am not speaking; it is only baby crying." The father said, "Let us go on. You shall eat when you get there." They went on and on, and at last the baby himself began to sing:
My brother has become my mother!"
That is, he is carrying him on his back, as his mother had been doing.
The father heard it, and, thinking it was the elder boy who sang, said, "What are you talking about, you little wretch? I am going to kill you. What, are you going to tell tales when, we get to your grandmother's?" The child, terrified, said, "No! I won't say anything!"
Still they went on, and the baby kept looking behind him, and after a while began again:
[1. The baby's name is significant; it means "Expose the truth "-literally, Make the thing white." These songs, of which each line is usually repeated at least twice, are an essential feature in the story. The words are always known to some, at any rate, of the audience, who sing them in chorus every time they occur. Bishop Steere says (Swahili Tales, p. vii): "It is a constant characteristic of popular native tales to have a sort of burden, which all join in singing. Frequently the skeleton of the story seems to be contained in these snatches of singing, which the story-teller connects by an extemporized account of the intervening history."
"What a lot of vultures
Over the fig-tree at Moya's!
What a lot of vultures!"
And he cried again. The father asked, "What are you crying for?" and the boy said that he was not crying; he was only trying to quiet the baby. The man, looking back, saw a number of vultures hovering over the place he had left, and as he did so he heard the song again:
"What a lot of vultures!"
The boy, when asked once more why the baby was crying, answered, "He is crying for Mother!" And the father said, Nonsense! Let us get on. You're going to see your grandmother!"
The same incident was repeated, till the father, in a rage, turned back and began beating both the children. The boy asked, "Are you going to kill me, as you killed Mother?"
The furious man shouted, "I do mean to kill you!" How ever, he held his hand for the moment, and the boy slipped past him and went on in front, and presently the baby's voice was heard again:
"What a lot of vultures!"
They reached the village at last, and the man exchanged greetings with his mother-in-law. He seems to have failed to satisfy her when she inquired after his wife, for, on the first opportunity, she questioned the little boy: "Now where has your mother been left?" The child shook his head, and did not speak for a while. Then he said, "Do you expect to see Mother? She has been killed by Father-all for the sake of a wild fruit!"
At the same moment the baby began to sing:
"What a lot of vultures!"
The grandmother must have been convinced by this portent, for she questioned the boy no further, but only said, Stop, Baby! We are just going to kill your father also!" She set some men to dig a deep, narrow hole inside the hut, while she prepared the porridge. When the hole was ready she had a mat spread over it, and then brought in the porridge and sent the boy to call his father to supper. The guilty man came in, saw the mat spread in what appeared to be the best place, and immediately sat down on it. The grandmother had large pots of boiling water ready, and as soon as he had fallen into the hole they poured it over him and killed him.
The significance of this story is emphasized by the fact that "the revealer is a little being which might have been thought to have no notion of right or wrong." This is still more strongly brought out-in a somewhat crude fashion in Father Torrend's alternative version, where it is actually the unborn child which makes its way into the world to proclaim the father's guilt.
The same people, the Bwine-Mukuni, have another tale, which we need not reproduce in full, where a young chief, killed by his covetous companions, "was changed into a little bird with pretty colours," which, though not merely killed but burnt to ashes, revives and flies to the house of the dead man's sister. Its song has a certain beauty.
A irire ntingini!
A irire ntingini!
Karaterententa koni kakaswa.
Kwironga kwironga ryabo A irire ntingini!
[1. This mode of execution seems in the folk-tales to be considered appropriate for aggravated cases of murder, like the above, or as an effectual means of putting an end to extra-human pests, like the imbulu of the Zulu story referred to in a previous chapter. In another version, also given by Father Torrend, the man is speared by his wife's brothers.]
[Let the big drum roll! (CHORUS: Let the big drum roll!)
It flaps the wings, the little bird that has come out from the deep river,
From the great river of God. Let the big drum roll!]
There are six stanzas. In the fourth Nemba, the chief's sister, is called on to begin threading beads for the mourners towear. The last verse is as follows:
Let the big drum roll! Let the big drum roll!
The land Where-I-wash-the-wrongs,
It is far from this place to which you have brought me,
Me who have no feet. Let the big drum roll!
This is explained by Torrend as referring to Bantu notions of a future life, and his note may fitly close this chapter.
The souls, though "having no feet," are supposed to go to a deep river of God, far away, not a simple mulonga "river," but a rironga, "big, deep river," where God washes the wrongs clean and where birds with beaks all white-that is, innocent souls-cry vengeance against the spilling of blood.
[1. I have nowhere else seen any reference to this notion. In whatever form the dead are supposed to appear they are normally assumed to have their full complement of limbs. Is there a belief that some kinds of birds are without feet, as was formerly said about the bird of Paradise ? The "birds with white beaks" are mentioned in the third verse of the song.
2 Bantu Folklore, p. 25.]