Some Aspects of the Awemba Religion and Superstitious Observances

J. H. West Sheane
1906 The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland  
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more » ... and subsequiently Mr. Govan Robertson published his C(hi Wemba Handbook in 1904. Up to the present date, however, no special article has been devoted to the Awemba religion, as exemplified in the superstitions and ceremonies, which surround the principal events of the native life from the cradle to the grave. The whole subject is very complex and difficult to investigate, since the old men who practised the ritual and observances under Kitimlkului, and the dreaded Mwamba, are very loth to disclose their rites, fearing the vengeance of the spirits for divulging mysteries, to them most sacred. The younger generation, freed from the reign of terror wielded by the royal house and the priesthood, have gladly abandoned and forgotten the humani sacrifices and other sinister cults imposed upon them by their chiefs. Hence the present paper cani only pretend to deal with certain phases and aspects of the Awemba religion, since the esoteric rites, such as those said to have existed at Mwaruli, have never been divulged. Indeed the " survivals" to be found in the ordinary events of native life are becoming fainter and fainter every day, and withouit the help of Father Guilleine of the French Mission at Kilubula, and conversations with Kanyanta, the son of the late King Mwamba, even the followilng paper could not have been written. As with all Bantu faiths, so with the Awemba religion, ancestor worship is the mainspring of their theogony. However, they acknowledge a Supreme Being Leza,' who is above the tutelary spirits of the land (the Milungu and the Mipashi). He is the Judge of the dead, and condemns thieves, adulterers and I Derivations.-1. Le, to nourish-teste, Dr. Scott's Mang'anja Dictionary, p. 278. 2. Ez, to know-but we had better follow Torrend (Comp. Grammar, ? 365-6), who assigns no definite root. This content downloaded from 185.2.32.141 on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 14:42:38 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions J. H. WEST SHEANE.-Some Aspects of the Awemba Religion. murderers to the state of Vibanda, or Viwa (evil spirits), exalting the good to the rank of mipashi, or benevolent spirits. There is no special worship of Leza, for he is to be approached only by appeasing the inferior spirits, who act as intercessors. But in blessing, the parent beseeches Leza to protect his child, at the same time anointing the forehead of the infant with a drop of spittle (chipalamate) to show (they say) that the wish comes from his inmost feelings. Again, in cursing, the inijured man prays that Leza will send a lion to devour the evildoer. Leza is not anthropomorphic, like the Greek Zeus: though the chiefs are called Wana Leza, the Children of God; this is merely a compliment (cp. Torrend, Comp. Grammar, App. I (v).) NOTE.-This must not be confounded, as in Dupont's Grammar, with the expression Kana Besa, referring to an old time chief. THE MILUNGU. After Leza come the Milungu, or local guardian spirits. Torrend says that the word is foreign, and derives it from the Phenician Molocha (Torrend, Comrn. Grammar, ? 339), but Dr. Scott, Mang'anja Dictiontary sub. verb, says the root is to be found in KICzungusa, to perplex, cp. mzungu. It imeans the " Gods." But the Awemba do not clearly identify their milungu with the spirits of their ancestors, which they term mipashi. From the fact that the milungu are mainly entreated to send rain, and to fertilise the crops, that they reside in the hills, mountains and rivers, and not like the mipashi (ancestor spirits) in thickets near a village, it miaht be argued that they are primeval nature spirits, worshipped by the aborigines before the advent of the Awemba. Thus Mwamba used to sacrifice to Milungu, who were certainly not the spirits of his ancestors, sending oxen to appease deities as far afield as Musonde, a" mulunqu " living on the Kalungwisi, and as alien as the milungu of the Wabisa. THE MULENGA.
doi:10.2307/1193252 fatcat:ehy3qohtwngddkzelbzolnskle