Alison Place on Ceremonies

From: ian (i.) gorlick (
Date: Mon 06 Feb 1995 - 21:19:00 EET

Alison Place here:

        I've just been reading a book on the Bantu peoples of Africa, in which the author, a witchdoctor, describes a number of powerful ceremonies and beliefs that might be useful to members of the digest, so I thought that I'd pass them on. The book is 'My People', by Credo Mutwa, who claims to be a descendant on his mother's side from Dingana, Shaka Zulu's brother.

        The most fascinating is the Great Ceremony of Peace, meant to reconcile two warring tribes for a thousand years. On the only occasion that he mentions it, it was done because the gods had sent an unmistakable sign that they'd better make up. (They were making up so that they could go kill a third tribe, but this is by the way.) Bowls are carved from sacred woods, one for each hundred warriors. These must be beautifully decorated. A Peace Stone is brought to a large central area. The Peace Stone must be a rectangle large enough for two people to stand upon, with a hollow in its centre. It has the vow of peace inscribed upon it.

        The two groups of warriors face each other on each side of the Peace Stone, each holding a green branch instead of a spear, and none wearing any war regalia. From one side, a warleader stands forward, holding a spear in his hands. His counterpart on the other side also steps forward, holding nothing. The spear is held out over the stone, haft first. The opposing general takes it, and breaks it over his knee, and throws the two halves on the ground. Each man declares that there is now no haze of war to hide their clear sight of each other as brothers (the speeches are flowery and very descriptive).

        Then each tenth man in the armies is given a small knife, with which all the men cut their hands between the thumb and forefinger of the left hand. Drops of blood from each man are put into the nearest Bowl of Peace. Fifty men from each side both contribute to each Bowl. The blood is mixed with an herb that stops it clotting, and then all the blood is poured into the hollow of the Peace Stone. The men then line up, and file past the Peace Stone. Each dips his forefinger into the blood, and then tastes it, swearing as he does so, "I am one with my brothers and they are one with me. Whoever attacks the Mambo now attacks the Nguni. Where there was war, there is now peace, and where there was disunity there is now unity."

        Two women then approach the Stone, each carrying a pot of water. A young girl brings a water dipping gourd. First one and then the other dips this into her pot, drinks, and then passes it to her counterpart. Then they wash each other's hands, and leap upon the stone to embrace each other. The Dance of Life (their creation story) is then performed, and a great feast held.

        Finally, and most solemnly, the Master of Ceremonies brings the second round of dancing to a close, and everyone stands in utter silence. Two brave, handsome and strong warriors, one from each side, must volunteer to sit upon the holy Stone, which now lies in a deep pit. Each, on being accepted, attires himself in his war gear, and climbs down into the pit and sits on the stone. They join hands, and as they do this, the Avengers (morality police of the tribes) bury them alive as rapidly as possible. This is the final binding, and after this is completed the tribes are admonished to go home and never to break this truce or the gods will punish them.

        Nothing else described came close to this in ritual magnitude, but there were other beliefs that seemed adaptable. One concerned the importance of cows. Because cows are symbolic of fertility and life, they may not be used to pay for anything inanimate. However, if you want to pay four oxen for something, but only have three, a cow may be given as part of the price if and only if a heifer from that cow is returned when she has one.

        In a war ceremony, bulls are led into the kraal, and the army must kill them with their bare hands. They are then cut into little bits, and a bitter juice poured over the scraps. Each man must then pick up a piece, and chew it. This nasty taste puts the warriors into the right ugly frame of mind to go kill people. They then file past a witchdoctor, who pops a pill into their mouths that will give them berserk abilities. Lastly, The chief stands in the center of the warriors, and flings a spear into the air. All the men must stand stockstill until it lands. By this time, they are in a temper to kill anything, and away they go. I figure this one for an Uroxi special.

        Another ritual was used in feuds. The Bantu keep feuds alive forever and a day, and their tribal recordskeepers make sure that no-one ever forgets. Only a formal ceremony of peace can ever dissolve one of the obligation to carry on a feud, and they're damned uncommon. Back in the days of the slavers in the Congo, figurines were carved for each man, woman and child taken. In every generation since, the children were sworn to vengeance, and a small chip was taken from the statuette, and given to the child to swallow to seal the oath. Mutwa claims that when these statuettes started coming on the market as curios, he knew that vengeance was nigh, as the families were letting the statuettes go because they no longer needed them.

        Some of their measures were interesting. It was found that a bull's hide could be cut into a continuous strip. This could be used as a measure, and one could say that the distance between a hilltop and a stream was 25 bulls, for instance.

        In a census-taking method small beads of ostrich egg were kept on strings by the Royal Wives. Wooden beads denoted warriors, for whom another tally was kept. Increases and decreases were forwarded from each household through the indunas to these women. When the whole tribe migrated (on a command from the gods), each person who crossed a river would put a stone on a cairn on the other side, and the indunas would tally this against the Royal Wives' numbers.

        There is plenty of other good stuff, such as the sacredness of various animals, and why they are. If it was necessary to kill a very sacred animal, the hunters were ritually purified by fasting and by putting new strings on their bows and heads on their spears. During the hunt, the oldest woman in the village mush sit still in her hut, face to the wall, in a position of mourning for the soul of the beast and in humble apology to the gods. Interestingly, leopards and cheetahs are honoured, but lions are evil. If you had to carve a lion, you pissed on it afterwards to destroy the evil taint. Such images were sometimes used to protect those inside. Evil approaching the village would join with the statue outside, and never enter the village.

        I'd be delighted to hear comments, especially which peoples in Glorantha might use these rituals. Any ideas on modifications? Anyone interested in any more nuggets? I am sure that the souls of the two sacrificed warriors would be prime defenders of the peace of the two tribes. Anyone wishing to break the peace would probably have to disinter them and the Peace Stone first. I look forward to your reactions. Alison

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