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Bongo (Tribe)

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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BONGO (DoR or Deran), a tribe of Nilotic negroes, probably related to the Zandeh tribes of the Welle district, inhabiting the south-west portion of the Bahr-el-Ghazal province, AngloEgyptian Sudan. G. A. Schweinfurth, who lived two years among them, declares that before the advent of the slave-raiders, c. 1850, they numbered at least 300,000. Slave-raiders, and later the dervishes, greatly reduced their numbers, and it was not until the establishment of effective control by the Sudan government (1904-1906) that recuperation was possible. The Bongo formerly lived in countless little independent and peaceful communities, and under the Sudan government they again manage their own affairs. Their huts are well built, and sometimes 2 4 ft. high. The Bongo are a race of medium height, inclined to be thick-set, with a red-brown complexion - "like the soil upon which they reside" - and black hair. Schweinfurth declares their heads to be nearly round, no other African race, to his knowledge, possessing a higher cephalic index. The women incline to steatopygia in later life, and this deposit of fat, together with the tail of bast which they wore, gave them, as they walked, Schweinfurth says, the appearance of "dancing baboons." The Bongo men formerly wore only a loin-cloth, and many dozen iron rings on the arms (arranged to form a sort of armour), while the women had simply a girdle, to which was attached a tuft of grass. Both sexes now largely use cotton cloths as dresses. The tribal ornaments consist of nails or plugs which are passed through the lower lip. The women often wear a disk several inches in diameter in this fashion, together with a ring or a bit of straw in the upper lip, straws in the alae of the nostrils, and a ring in the septum. The Bongo, unlike other of the upper Nile Negroes, are not great cattle-breeders, but employ their time in agriculture. The crops mostly cultivated are sorghum, tobacco, sesame and durra. The Bongo eat the fruits, tubers and fungi in which the country is rich. They also eat almost every creature - bird, beast, insect and reptile, with the exception of the dog. They despise no flesh, fresh or putrid. They drive the vulture from carrion, and eat with relish the intestinal worms of the ox. Earth-eating, too, is common among them. They are particularly skilled in the smelting and working of iron. Iron forms the currency of the country, and is extensively employed for all kinds of useful and ornamental purposes. Bongo spears, knives, rings, and other articles are frequently fashioned with great artistic elaboration. They have a variety of musical instruments - drums, stringed instruments, and horns - in the practice of which they take great delight; and they indulge in a vocal recitative which seems intended to imitate a succession of natural sounds. Schweinfurth says that Bongo music is like the raging of the elements. Marriage is by purchase; and a man is allowed to acquire three wives, but not more. Tattooing is partially practised. As regards burial, the corpse is bound in a crouching position with the knees drawn up to the chin; men are placed in the grave with the face to the north, and women with the face to the south. The form of the grave is peculiar, consisting of a niche in a vertical shaft, recalling the mastaba graves of the ancient Egyptians. The tombs are frequently ornamented with rough wooden figures intended to represent the deceased. Of the immortality of the soul they have no defined notion; and their only approach to a knowledge of a beneficent deity consists in a vague idea of luck. They have, however, a most intense belief in a great variety of petty goblins and witches, which are essentially malignant. Arrows, spears and clubs form their weapons, the first two distinguished by a multiplicity of barbs. Euphorbia juice is used as a poison for the arrows. Shields are rare. Their language is musical, and abounds in the vowels o and a; its vocabulary of concrete terms is very rich, but the same word has often a great variety of meanings. The grammatical structure is simple. As a race the Bongo are gentle and industrious, and exhibit strong family affection.

See G. A. Schweinfurth, The Heart of Africa (London, 1873) W. Junker, Travels Africa (Eng. edit., London, 1890-1892).

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Bongo (Tribe)'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​b/bongo-tribe.html. 1910.
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