A Ntcheu Tax Collector’s Account of Life In Ngoni Areas of Ntcheu, Dedza and Ntchisi in 1890s

The Central Angoniland District of the British Central Africa Protectorate
Author(s): Robert Codrington,May, 1898

THE CENTRAL ANGONILAND DISTRICT OF THE BRITISH CENTRAL AFRICA PROTECTORATE. By ROBERT CODRINGTON, Collector of Central Angoniland, B.C. Africa Protectorate. THE Central Angoniland District of the British Central Africa Protectorate * comprises an area of about 6500 square miles, and is bounded on the east by Lake Nyasa; on the south by the Portuguese territory north of the Zambezi; on the west by the country of the Angoni-Zulu people, owing allegiance to Mpeseni and falling under the influence of the British South Africa Company; on the north by a line forming an ethnographical boundary with the Marimbe district of the Protectorate. The boundaries to the south and west are determined by the watershed of Lake Nyasa, all of which falls within the Protectorate. The part of the coast of Lake Nyasa which forms the eastern boundary of Central Angoniland is well provided with roadsteads, of which Domira bay is the safest and most convenient; very serviceable.

THE anchorages are also found at Kajulu, Rifu, Leopard bay, Maganga’s, and Kachinda-Moto’s. Except at Rifu, where there are three isolated hills, the lake-shore presents a low sandy beach bordering a fertile and somewhat marshy plain, sloping gently for from 15 to 20 miles to the foothills of the Kirk range, where the land rises abruptly from 1600 feet to a plateau averaging 4000 feet above the level of the sea, studded with granite peaks rising to 6000 and 7000 feet. The higher part of the plateau, which lies to the south and south-west, is a rolling fertile plain, somewhat deforested by the requirements of a dense population; the lower part, which lies to the north, is almost entirely deforested, of a less fertile character, and much more uneven. To the west the plateau runs down to the sources of the Bua river, becoming less rugged and more fertile. Belts of valuable timber exist, especially in the foothills of the Kirk range. The country is drained by several rivers of con- siderable volume, several of which, converging at various points, subse- quently, under the name of Lintipi, flow into Lake Nyasa. This river if only navigable for canoes for about 15 miles from its mouth when swollen with the rains. There is no monotony in the landscape, which, indeed, presents many picturesque features. The austerity of the granite peaks of the plateau is pleasingly relieved by green-edged mountain rivulets, and native huts perched wherever foothold can be found.

From the Kirk range is displayed a magnificent panorama of Lake Nyasa, and from the lake-shore the wall of mountains, often cloud-capped, rears itself on the one hand, whilst the broad expanse of the lake stretches to the islands and headlands on the other. Big game is abundant in the less populous parts, and many elephants are killed every year towards the Bua river. The kudu, water-buck, and impala are commonly met with, and more rarely the buffalo, eland, and sable antelope. Lions and leopards are very numerous and cause considerable loss of life, as do the crocodiles and hippopotami in the rivers and lake.

Large herds of cattle, sheep, and goats are owned by the Angoni, and are noticeably free from disease, although the herds on the plateau undoubtedly thrive better than those of the lowlands. Horses have not yet been introduced, but it is probable that they would do well if carefully brought up through the Shire valley. I have noticed tsetse fly in only one narrow forest belt between Lake Nyasa and Chewere’s country. The principal agricultural produce of the country consists of maize, sorghum, casava, rice, millet, sweet potatoes, varieties of beans and peas, cotton, oil-seeds, and tobacco. Alluvial gold has been reported to exist at the sources of the Bua river, and a gold-bearing quartz in the Lintipi valley. Lead and graphite have been found; iron is generally abundant.

Good roads have been constructed connecting the residences of the various Europeans with one another and with the port of entry on Lake Nyasa. Some of the native chiefs are making and repairing roads through their territories in order to facilitate communication with the Administration stations, to which they are accustomed to come for redress of grievances and to pay visits of ceremony. The value of roads for the convenience of both European and native travel, and for the quick movement of troops should occasion arise, can hardly be over- estimated. The African Transcontinental Telegraph Company’s line is in course of erection, and will shortly serve for direct communication with the Government headquarfers at Zomba.

The Dutch Reformed Church of the Cape Colony have three mission stations in the district, with a staff of about ten Europeans. Their schools are everywhere well attended, but the instruction of natives in industrial work is not, unfortunately, a feature of their teaching. As yet the cultivation of coffee successfully carried on in the Shire highlands has only reached the experimental stage in the country under review, but there is no reason to doubt that the foothills of the Kirk range are suitable for planting, whilst the advantage of cheap and abundant local labour will probably outweigh the disadvantage of more expensive carriage to the coast. No systematic observations of climatic conditions have as yet been recorded, but I hope on my return to make arrangements for regular and accurate observations. On the plateau the months of June and July are unpleasantly cold, and those of January and February un- pleasantly damp. During the remainder of the year the climate may be truthfully described as delightful. The few Europeans resident in the district, all of whom are engaged in missionary work and remain for the most part at their stations in the high country, have enjoyed as much immunity from African fever as -can be expected in any part of the Protectorate. One death, however, from blackwater fever occurring after fourteen months’ continuous residence on the plateau, seems to point out that exemption from this, the only desperately dangerous type of the disease, is not to be reckoned on even at an altitude of 5000 feet. It Is not improbable that European settlers will be found, at a later date, willing to take up land for agricultural purposes on the healthier parts of the plateau, although the present difficulties and expenses of reaching the country, together with the absence of any available market for their produce, must, apart from the question of health, preclude any development in this direction for many years.

The native population of the district numbers approximately 250,000, of whom 20,000 are of the Yao race, and the remainder Angoni and Manyanja. The Angoni * are descendants of a Zulu tribe which migrated from Zululand and crossed the Zambezi about the year 1825, the majority of whom formed a Zulu kingdom south-east of Lake Tanganyika. Some of their number remained, as far as can be gathered, in the high country to the south of Mount Dedza, constituting a tribe ruled by a chief bearing the name of Chikusi. Some years later the Tanganyika country was abandoned, the several powerful chiefs composing the Angoni nation migrating to the high country west of Lake Nyasa, of which they forcibly possessed themselves and formed the separate kingdoms of Mombrera, Chewere, and Mpeseni. A tribe now inhabiting the country to the east of the Livingstone range, and known as Magwangwara, was also formed about this time.

There are to-day three independent tribes of Angoni inhabiting the country of which I am writing, governed by chiefs bearing the names of Chewere, Msekandiwana, and Kachinda-Moto, the territories owing allegiance to each of whom I have depicted on the accompanying map.

From Some of the Earliest Pictures Of The Ngoni

Angoni man and child. Copied form a postcard by A.J. Storey

To the first generation of Angoni born of the women of the conquered country, the language, dress, and customs of their Zulu progenitors have been handed down in a slightly modified form, although their language of everyday intercourse is purely that of their mothers. This class, which now forms the aristocracy of a nation which has embraced a great part of the original natives of the country, is being perpetuated almost entirely among themselves.

Their dress is composed .of a sporran of cat-tails, which is considered to meet the requirements * Angoni, Abangoni of decency; whilst for purposes of warmth and display, a large sheet of cotton cloth, either of native or European manufacture, is thrown over the left shoulder, falling in folds around the body and leaving the right arm and shoulder exposed. When engaged in war and war-like cere- monials, kilts of cat-tails and skins are worn around the waist and sometimes over the left shoulder, together with a head-dress of raven’s and cock’s feathers. Their weapons are stabbing assegais, the shafts ornamented with the skin of a long-haired goat, and clubs or knobkerries. A shield of antelope or cowhide, exactly similar to that of the Zulu and Matabele, is also carried.

Their system of warfare is a survival of the Zulu customs, but the reputation for courage which they have acquired is probably beyond their deserts, which may be accounted for by the fact of their hostilities having seldom met with any determined resistance on the part of the timid people whom they have subjugated. Personal ornaments are much affected: strips of hide with the long hair hanging down are fastened on the leg below the knee and round the upper arm; armlets of the horny substance of the elephant’s foot are worn, as are ivory bracelets by persons of distinction. Charms, sometimes in shells, or cases covered with beadwork, sometimes contained in the horns of a small antelope, are worn suspended from the neck or waist. Amongst the older people the Zulu head-ring of plaited hair and wax, in an exaggerated form, still survives, but is seldom seen in the younger generation. Holes are invariably bored through the lobes of the ears, and are often distended by blocks of polished wood or ivory.

Ordinarily of an upright and independent carriage, they assume, on salutation of a superior, an obsequious demeanour, gently clapping their hands and calling out the word ” Master,” or, where such exists, the name of the totem of the person addressed.

Their chief wealth consists of herds of cattle appertaining to the chieftainship, and of flocks of sheep and goats, the property of individuals. Their villages are large, and are composed entirely of circular wattle and daub houses, surrounded by compounds fenced in with reeds.

The chiefs are possessed of arbitrary power, but in practice the advice of a numerous body of councillors is invariably sought in all matters of importance. These councillors, or indunas, are in turn responsible to the chief for the conduct of affairs in the various districts in which they exercise authority. Their religious ideas take the form of worshipping the spirits of immediate ancestors, who require to be propitiated from time to time. The chief is, by virtue of his office, high priest, whilst a class of re- cognized medicine-men and witch-doctors are also possessed of degrees of priestly authority. The burial-place of the chief is beneath the dung of his principal cattle kraal, which is afterwards reduced in size, but continues to shelter a few head of his more valuable cattle. The pro- pitiation of his spirit takes place at a tree or rock at some secluded spot in the vicinity of his village, which is in some manner dedicated to or identified with him.

The history of the Yao * people in Central Africa has, until now, been the history of the slave-trade. From their country, lying between the East Coast of Africa and Lake Nyasa, and on and about the Lujenda and * Wa-Yao, Yawa, Ajawa they invaded and conquered the greater part of the Shire highlands, and although they in their turn were much harassed by Angoni and Magwangwara raids, they have, for the last forty years, occupied the country lying to the south and south-east of Lake Nyasa as far as the Blantyre and Mlanje provinces. They also obtained possession of much of the east coast of Nyasa, especially points advantageous for the working of the slave-dhows, which were built under the instruction of the Arabs, and in course of time villages were established on the west coast of the lake, whence the more enterprising penetrated some 30 miles into the interior.

The Arab slave-trader found in the Yao a willing and capable agent. Of splendid physique and ready intelligence, the Nyasaland Yaos were continually engaged with the Swahili-Arab coastmen in this traffic, until the decisive and final overthrow of both Yao and Arab power by the forces of the Protectorate, under Sir Harry Johnston’s Administration in 1896. The form of civilization presented by the Swahili-Arab slave-traders is much appreciated by the Yao, who has readily acquired Mohammedanism.

Although little understood and very imperfectly practised, the leading principles of the teaching of Mohammed serve to develop in his followers the virtues of sobriety, cleanliness, and self- respect. The perpetuation of this faith, which is, however, distinctly antagonistic to British influence and control, is a matter which receives considerable attention from the chiefs and headmen of the tribe. Schools for the instruction of their youth in reading and writing Swahili in Arabic characters are established in nearly every village, where also prayers are made at regular intervals during the day. Fasts and feasts are also observed. Consequently, the Nyasaland Yao is not at all inclined at present to embrace the teaching of the Christian missionary. Mohammedanism, however, although at present increasing, must eventually exercise less influence over the people as they come in closer contact with Europeans and have less intercourse with the Arab, whose mission on Lake Nyasa may be said to have terminated.

The dress of the Yao consists entirely of cotton cloth tied round the waist and reaching almost to the ankles, with the exception of Moham- medans, who affect the costume of the Swahili. Their weapons are the muzzle-loading trade musket, and knives with ivory handles fashioned by themselves. Personal ornaments, with the exception of ivory or metal bracelets, are not much worn by the men, who, however, like to cover their heads and shoulders with gaily-coloured calico. The women make and wear a considerable quantity of beadwork, in girdles and combs; coils of heavy brass wire are often worn on the arm below the elbow, and sometimes heavy brass anklets. The hideous lip-ring is seen rarely, but the ivory or leaden nose-pin fixed through one ala of the nose is very common. The authority of the chief is seldom exercised without the approval of his advisers, and is generally respected. Flocks and herds are not extensively owned by the Yaos, who, however, cultivate, in addition to the crops common to all parts of the country, rice of excellent quality, introduced from the East. Since we have demonstrated our ability and determination to control them, the Yaos are rapidly asserting themselves as valuable material for soldiers, police, and artisans.

The Achewa people, including the Achipeta, Achikamtunda, and other divisions of the same race, are of the Wanyasa or Manyanja stock, and were the owners of the country before the advent of the Angoni, at which time large numbers of them were enslaved, and now form a portion of the Angoni nation. Those who escaped death or captivity at the hands of their enemies were forced to take refuge in the almost inaccessible strongholds of their mountains, where they were in some measure able to defend themselves, although their ungarnered crops were always at the mercy of their opponents. In consequence of this continual sense of insecurity, the majority of these people have never travelled more than a few miles from their strongholds, and are entirely ignorant of outside matters, and of the conditions which prevail under British protection. Their general character is marked by timidity, suspicion, and distrust, as yet little abated by the remarkable amelioration of their condition brought about by our repression of their Angoni and Yao enemies.

The Achipeta, who have still preserved their virtual independence of the Angoni, inhabit the plateau to the west, where they live strongly fortified, surrounding their villages by a series of ditches, mud walls, and palisades with entrances very few, low, and narrow, admitting only one man at a time in a stooping position. Consequently, when Angoni raiders, by force of numbers, have effected a breach in the stockades, the inhabitants, unable quickly to escape, fall a prey to their enemies. On these occasions, however, they offer so desperate a resistance, that the Angoni do not rashly engage them, preferring to harass them and capture their women and children. Their weapons are bows and arrows, the latter unfeathered, with iron or wooden points smeared with a virulent poison decocted from the strophanthus plant. They are apt in setting snares for their enemies, as by pitfalls, by fixing poisoned spikes in the paths, or by deserting an outlying village and leaving pots of poisoned beer. Their dress, which is scanty in both sexes, is composed of roughly dressed goatskins for the men, and native-woven cotton cloth for the women. They are an industrious agricultural people, and are skilled in the smelting and working of iron. They have suffered much at the hands of Yao and Angoni, and have furnished the majority of the slave-caravans passing over Nyasa to the ocean.

The government of the country under review is in the hands of the Collector of the district, who is immediately responsible for the conduct of affairs to her Majesty’s Commissioner and ConsuLGeneral for the British Central Africa Protectorate. Government stations have been established at convenient places, each of which has its complement of native police. Each of these stations is visited by the Collector from time to time, when the affairs appertaining to each division are discussed and disposed of. The immediate control of the people is left, for the most part, in the hands of the native chiefs, and great pains are taken to enforce obedience to the very simple and lenient laws of the Administration in a firm but reasonable manner.

Justice is administered by means of native courts, which are in serious cases presided over by the Collector of the district. In all minor cases the recognized native chief dispenses justice to his own people, who, however, thoroughly understand that they can appeal if aggrieved to the higher authority. The justice thus meted out is not found to err on the side of severity. Almost any offence can be settled by the payment of cattle, cloth, or grain; but the old system of en- slaving some or all of the defendant’s family to the complainant is, of course, disallowed. There are, no doubt, cases of injustice which do not come to our notice, but I consider such to be extremely rare- infinitely rarer than when the native chiefs administered justice un- checked, and rarer than they are when cases involving details of native life are decided by a European, necessarily imperfectly acquainted with the language and customs. A small native police force, composed of men recruited from the remoter parts of the Protectorate, is maitained to uphold the authority of the Government; but, except under extraordinary circumstances, they are not allowed to act on their own initiative.

A hut-tax of three shillings a year is levied in the more settled parts of the district, but until the country is more developed it is difficult for the natives to earn the money required of them, and equally difficult for the Administration to dispose of any large quantity of native produce received instead. At present a very small percentage of houses are required to pay taxes, which are generally arranged for by the younger men going to work in the Shire highlands. The villagers along the lake-shore are enabled to pay theirs by supplying grain to the military garrison at Fort Maguire. Taxation, even when rigidly enforced, cannot be said to be oppressive, and is in every case a lesser burden than that imposed on the people by their chiefs before the administration of the country was established. The receipts issued on payment of taxes are much appreciated, and their meaning thoroughly understood; but it would be going too far to say that the native pays his tax willingly to assist in maintaining a Government under which he enjoys peace and security, for the simple reason that he does not estimate these blessings at their proper value.

On the other hand, the fair dealing which the natives have experienced at the hands of Government officials and missionaries has aroused a certain sense of satisfaction in spite of our, to them, inexplicable abhorrence of slavery and unnecessary bloodshed. The improvement in the condition of the people during the last two years has been very marked. The downfall of Tambala, a turbulent Yao chief, early in 1896 was immediately followed by the submission of all neighbouring Yaos; later the breaking of Chikusi’s power furnished a salutary lesson to the Angoni. Since then peace, formerly continually disturbed by intertribal raids, has been firmly established, with the result that, as confidence in the security of life and property has increased, an impetus has been given to agriculture and other thrifty occupations, and the Achewa are descending from their barren hills and are spreading out and taking up unoccupied land, instead of herding together for mutual protection.

Prevented under our pro- tection from preying upon one another, and shielded from the tyranny of their own chiefs, the people yet require defence against their own blind superstitions, which have in the past wrought perhaps more real misery amongst them than the slave-trade. It is satisfactory to know that, although dying hard, the inhuman branches of the art of witch- craft are not so extensively practised as formerly. The ordeal by poison,* which formerly claimed hundreds of victims every year, especially among the Angoni, is now rarely practised; but is not likely to become extinct for at least another generation. It is an oracle which settles very definitely any vexed question, not only of the guilt or innocence of an accused person, but of the expediency of any course of action, in which latter case an animal, generally a dog, is now selected for the experiment. The efficiency of the ordeal is thoroughly believed in by every native, and in the extreme willingness with which accused persons submit themselves to it lies the chief difficulty in suppressing it. The future of the native races herein alluded to is distinctly hopeful.

The British Government, having assumed protection, has assumed at the same time obligations which can only be discharged by the most care- ful and judicious action on the part of the officials entrusted with administrative authority. It lies with us, in the first place, to foster the spirit of industry and thrift of which the natives have, under great disadvantages, undoubtedly shown some indications. The requirements of native life, which are imperfectly provided from his own resources, are practically confined to cloth, beads, and brass wire, considerable quantities of which were formerly obtained by the slave traffic and by a limited sale of ivory and native produce. DRESS OF ANGONI WARRIOR: 1. SPORAN; 2. HEAD-DRESS; 3. BROW-BAND; 4. KILT. The first of these sources of supply being now exhausted, the constant and increasing demand for labour in the Shire highlands has been in some measure satisfied, and it is certain that, as native ideas expand and wants increase, the supply of labour from Angoniland will grow larger every year, to the mutual benefit of the white man and the black. At the same time the interests of the native will require consideration. The treatment which he has received hitherto at the hands of his employers leaves little to be desired, and it should not be difficult.

*mwavi. A decoction prepared from the bark of a tree (Erythrophloeum Guineense, Johnston), which when drunk acts, so the natives believe, as a fatal poison or simply as an emetic according to the guilt or innocence of the accused.

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