Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/710

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.



adopted in all kinds of causes, both civil and criminal. As the case proceeds before the council, the accused at intervals demands the mwai, and this demand his friends, if they believe him innocent, persistently press. The accuser resists the demand as unnecessary, knowing that should the culprit, even if caught red-handed, recover, he will be placed in a difficult position. He will in that case have no claim to compensation for an injury, and may in turn be successfully sued for willfully seeking to destroy another man's reputation. The belief in the absolute certainty of trial by mwai is universal, and the beginning and end of reasoning is thus: "If he is guilty, he dies; if he does not die, should the stolen property be found on his person, he is not guilty; another put it there, or he was bewitched."

The life of an African properly begins at puberty. Then he is no longer a child, and discards both the work and amusements of boyhood. There is no great difference between the customs in central Africa and those in the south as regards infancy and childhood.[1] The seclusion of the mother, purification by the magician, sacrifice to ancestral spirits, wearing of charms to ward off evil and to promote growth and strength, are all customs with which we are familiar among the better known tribes bordering on the Cape Colony. In the lake region the rites of initiation into manhood do differ considerably, but as this is a subject which has not been very fully investigated, what follows is in a measure tentative. The rite of circumcision is general, and, though many observers trace this to Arab influence, there seems no sufficient warrant for the assumption. Few, if any, Arab habits have been universally adopted, and why this one rather than others? At circumcision it is customary to isolate the neophytes and treat them generally as is done by Zulus and Kaffirs, the close of the ceremonies being marked by dancing, feasting, and riot. The young men have arms put into their hands and are harangued by the elders, bards, and magicians. They are now men and men's work is to be theirs. Herding, hoeing, reaping, and all domestic duties in which they assisted their mothers, they have no longer any concern with. War, hunting, and hearing causes must now occupy their thoughts, for they are to take the place of the fathers, and on them will depend the defense of the tribe and the maintaining of its honor. They must defend their chief, avenge his wrongs, wage war at his word, and obey his commands if that should imply death; "a man can die but once," with which philosophy they are launched into the new life of full manhood.

  1. The Yao, Makololo, Makuas, Machingas, Angoni, and many other tribes observe substantially the same customs at birth and during childhood.