1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fang
FANG (Fan, Fanwe, Panwe, Pahouin, Paouen, Mpangwe), a powerful African people occupying the Gabun district north of the Ogowé river in French Congo. Their name means “men.” They call themselves Panwe, Fanwe and Fan with highly nasalized n. They are a finely-made race of chocolate colour; some few are very dark, but these are of slave origin. They have bright expressive oval faces with prominent cheek-bones. Many of them file their teeth to points. Their hair, which is woolly, is worn by the women long, reaching below the nape of the neck. The men wear it in a variety of shapes, often building it up over a wooden base. The growth of the hair appears abundant, but that on the face is usually removed. Little clothing is worn; the men wear a bark waist-cloth, the women a plantain girdle, sometimes with a bustle of dried grass. A chief wears a leopard’s skin round the shoulders. Both sexes tattoo and paint the body, and delight in ornaments of every kind. The men, whose sole occupations are fighting and hunting, all carry arms—muskets, spears for throwing and stabbing, and curious throwing-knives with blades broader than they are long. Instead of bows and arrows they use crossbows made of ebony, with which they hunt apes and birds. In battle the Fang used to carry elephant hide shields; these have apparently been discarded.
When first met by T. E. Bowdich (1815) the Paamways, as he calls the Fang, were an inland people inhabiting the hilly plateaus north of the Ogowé affluents. Now they have become the neighbours of the Mpongwe (q.v.) of Glass and Libreville on the Komo river, while south of the Gabun they have reached the sea at several points. Their original home is probably to be placed somewhere near the Congo. Their language, according to Sir R. Burton, is soft and sweet and a contrast to their harsh voices, and the vocabularies collected prove it to be of the Bantu-Negroid linguistic family. W. Winwood Reade (Sketch Book, i. p. 108) states that “it is like Mpongwe (a pure Bantu idiom) cut in half; for instance, njina (gorilla) in Mpongwe is nji in Fan.” The plural of the tribal name is formed in the usual Bantu way, Ba-Fang.
Morally the Fang are superior to the negro. Mary Kingsley writes: “The Fan is full of fire, temper, intelligence and go, very teachable, rather difficult to manage, quick to take offence, and utterly indifferent to human life.” This latter characteristic has made the Fang dreaded by all their neighbours. They are noted cannibals, and ferocious in nature. Prisoners are badly treated and are often allowed to starve. The Fang are always fighting, but the battles are not bloody. After the fall of two or three warriors the bodies are dragged off to be devoured, and their friends disperse. Burton says that their cannibalism is limited to the consumption of slain enemies; that the sick are not devoured; and that the dead are decently buried, except slaves, whose bodies are thrown into the forest. Mary Kingsley, on the other hand, believed their cannibalism was not limited. She writes: “The Fan is not a cannibal for sacrificial motives, like the negro. He will eat his next door neighbour’s relation and sell his own deceased to his next door neighbour in return, but he does not buy slaves and fatten them up for his table as some of the middle Congo tribes do. He has no slaves, no prisoners of war, no cemeteries, so you must draw your own conclusions.” Among certain tribes the aged alone are permitted to eat human flesh, which is taboo for all others. There is no doubt that the cannibalism of the Fang is diminishing before the advance of civilization. Apart from their ferocity, the Fang are an agreeable and industrious people. They are skilful workers in iron and have a curious coinage called bikĕi, little iron imitation axeheads tied up in bundles called ntet, ten to a bundle; these are used chiefly in the purchase of wives. They are energetic traders and are skilled in pottery and in gardening. Their religion appears to be a combination of primitive animism and ancestor worship, with a belief in sympathetic magic.
Bibliography.—Paul du Chaillu, Explorations in Equatorial Africa (1861); Sir R. Burton, “A Day with the Fans,” Transactions of Ethnological Society, new series, vols. 3-4; Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (1897); Oscar Lenz, Skizzen aus West Africa (1878); R. E. Dennett, Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort (1898); William Winwood Reade, The African Sketch Book (1873); and (chiefly) A. L. Bennett, “Ethnographical Notes on the Fang,” Journ. Anthr. Inst. N.S., ii. p. 66, and L. Martron in Anthropos, t. i. (1906), fasc. 4.