|In this essay I have attempted an analysis of certain aspects of the system of social
among Africans in the towns of Northern Rhodesia. Urban studies have been part of the
tradition of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute from the days of its inception, so that this paper is
a contribution to a general development stemming from the late Godfrey Wilson and from Max
Gluckman and at present being carried further by Arnold Epstein.
|In 1950 I was appointed Senior Sociologist on the staff of the Rhodes-Livingstone|
|Institute. With one other sociologist I was to make a study of the African population
Copperbelt and decided to break the assignment into three parts according to the different types
of field work needed. The first was to be a sociographic survey which would provide some of
the quantitative data needed as a basis to the other sociological studies. The second was to be a
study of family economics and nutrition. The third part was to be a study of the social structure
of the African population. I decided that the study of family economics could best be made by a
woman sociologist and subsequently Miss Elsey Richardson conducted this part of the study.
I started the sociographic survey in 1951, intending to move over to the study of social
structure when the sociographic surveys were completed. Before this stage could be reached,
however, I was appointed Director of the Institute and had reluctantly to forgo the study of the
social structure. Instead Dr. Epstein who had been appointed research lawyer was able to take
up some of the points and they are developed in his forthcoming book Politics in an Urban
African Community. Recently he has been able to return as Senior Sociologist to complete the
scheme which I embarked upon in 1951.
|The basic material used in this essay was collected while the sociographic survey was|
|in progress. The first version of this paper was prepared in July, 1951, and was
read only by a
few personal friends in Luanshya. Subsequently in January, 1953, I read a version to a
conference of research officers of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute. Later in that year I read
another version to a seminar at the University of Manchester where I was Simon Research
Fellow. Since then I have been able to add the sections dealing with tribal social distance and
tribal joking relationships. It is only now that I have relinquished the Directorship of the
Institute that I have been able to return to the paper and prepare it for publication.
|I am indebted to my colleagues in the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute and the Department|
|of Social Anthropology of the University of Manchester who have criticized various
of this paper. I am particularly indebted to the African Research Assistants of the Rhodes-
Livingstone Institute with whom I discussed many parts of this paper
and who supplied me with much valuable information. I would like to thank Professor Max
Gluckman and Dr. J. A. Barnes for their comments on an early version of this paper, and Mr.
Max Marwick for permission to quote information on joking relationships from his
unpublished thesis on the Chewa.
|I am grateful to Professor N. H MacKenzie who has read the manuscript and suggested|
|some improvements; to Miss M. Leask and Miss J. Dent who between them have typed
manuscript several times; and lastly to my wife who has consistently worked with me on this
|THE KALELA DANCE|
|Kalela is the name of a popular 'tribal' dance on the Copperbelt of
Northern Rhodesia. Certain
puzzling features attracted my attention to it when I was engaged in field work and I have used
it as a vehicle for general enquiry into tribalism and some other features of social relationships
among Africans in the towns of Northern Rhodesia.
|In presenting the material and its analysis I have tried to follow the method used by|
|Gluckman in his Analysis of a Social Situation in Modern Zululand.1
Gluckman starts his
paper with a description of the ceremony whereby a new bridge in Zululand was opened by the
Chief Native Commissioner. He isolates the important elements in the ceremony and then
traces each of these elements back into the larger society, to demonstrate their significance in
the ceremony he has described. By following out the leads in the ceremony Gluckman is led to
a historical and sociological analysis of the total structure of modern Zululand.
|In this essay I try to employ the same general techniques. I start with a description of|
|the kalela dance and then relate the dominant features of the dance to the
system of relationships
among Africans on the Copperbelt. In order to do this I must take into account, to some extent,
the general system of Black-White relationships in Northern Rhodesia. By working outwards
from a specific social situation on the Copperbelt the whole social fabric of the Territory is
therefore taken in. It is only when this process has been followed to a conclusion that we can
return to the dance and fully appreciate its significance.
|Tribal dancing has become a feature of urban life throughout Southern Africa. On the|
|Witwatersrand the massed military dancing of the Nguni peoples has become a spectacle
tourists to see during visits to Johannesburg. This type of dancing has also become an
organized type of recreation in which teams of dancers compete weekly.2 On the Copperbelt,
no less, 'tribal' dancing is a feature of African life. Unlike the magnificent plumed, rhythmic,
military dancing of the Nguni peoples, however, tribal dancing on the Copperbelt is somewhat
unobtrusive and, by comparison with dances in the south, almost prosaic. Nevertheless, each
African township, location
1 Gluckman, M., 1940
2 Jokl, E., 1949, pp.412ff. A prize is given to the team that wins the tribal dancing competition in Salisbury each
year. In 1954 it was won by a Shngaan team. Report of the Director of Native Administration of Salisbury for the Year
ending June, 1955, para. 273. p. 54.
or compound has its pitches where dancing teams from different tribes perform every Sunday
afternoon and on public holidays.
|The Ngonde, the people from the Kasai, the Nsenga, the Cewa, the Ngoni, and many|
|other tribes have their own distinctive dances. But the most popular dance of all
is the Kalela,3
which is danced all over the Copperbelt by people from the Northern Province of Northern
Rhodesia. During 1951 I was able to watch several kalela dances performed by a Bisa team in
the Luanshya Management Board Location. I was also able to assembly a certain amount of
information on the social background of the dancers.4 The description of the dancers,
therefore, is based on this team.
|The team was made up of nineteen young men. The costume for the rank-and-file|
|dancers was well-pressed grey slacks, neat singlets, and well-polished shoes. Some
white handkerchiefs in their right hands. Their hair was carefully combed with a well defined
parting. In short, they were young men dressed smartly in the European style. The team
danced to the accompaniment of drumming on three large drums, which were made out of
forty-four gallon oil drums covered with cow-hide. Two drummers beat the drums with banana
shaped sticks about two feet long. The sound of the drumming could be heard for miles around
- at the dancing arena it was deafening. The drums were hung on a pole in the centre of a
fenced enclosure in the location and the dancers circulated round them in single file. The dance
was made up of short shuffling steps accompanied by a slight inward swaying of the body.
Periodically the leader of the band punctuated the drumming with sharp blasts on a football
whistle, after which the dancers turned in unison towards the drums. During part of the dance
the drums were silent while the dancers sang a song.
|THE DANCING TEAMS|
|Each dancing team is organized in the same way. The composition of the one with|
|which we are familiar is as follows. At the head is a 'king', elected by members
of the dancing
team to be the general
3 There are many dances very similar to kalela, but known by different names. The mbeni dance, which waswidespread
in Central Africa before the 1939-45 War, and from which, my informants told me, kalela developed, was almost
identical. A dance known as mganda in the Eastern Province of Northern Rhodesia is the same. A dance among the
Lakeside Tonga called malipenga has many similar characteristics. Mr. C. M. N. White tells me that a similar dance
among the Luvale, Luchazi and Chokwe is known as nyakasanga, though he points out that their neighbours the
Western Lunda call their dance halela. In a recent tribal dancing competition held in Mufulira and reported in the
Mufulira Star, vol. 4 No. 6 (June 1956), the Kalela Smart and the Karonga Boma teams placed second and third were
kalela - type dancers. Brelsford, W. V., 1948, does not mention kalela.
|2 I am indebted to Mr. Sykes Ndilila, then Research Assistant of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, who collected the|
|personal information on the dancers and who recorded words of the song.|
|3 Officials with 'European' titles also feature in urban dancing groups in West Africa.See Banton, M. 1953a; 10953b.|
organizer and administrator of the team. He is also their treasurer : the team members pay
their subscriptions to him when they go to another Copperbelt town to compete with other
kalela dancers, or whenever they hold a feast. When I have watched the dance he has been
dressed in marked contrast to the dancers : he wore a dark suit, collar and tie, hat, and a pair of
white-rimmed sun glasses. He interrupted the dance after it had been going for some time to
shake hands, with each of the dancers in much the same way that a celebrity meets the teams at
a soccer match.
|The leader of the dance was Luke Mulumba who succeeded his brother to this position|
|in 1948. The dance leader actually leads the dancing while the 'king' takes no active
part in it.
It is the dance leader who invents the steps and composes the words of the song, which is so
important in the dance. A 'doctor' dressed in a white operating gown with a red cross in front
was also present. His duties were to encourage the dancers. A 'nursing sister' the only woman
in the group, was dressed in white, and went around with a mirror and a handkerchief to allow
each dancer to inspect himself to see whether he was neat and tidy. She also wiped the sweat
from the faces of the dancers as they went on dancing. She is the sister of Luke and is married
to the 'king'. The rest of the team is made up of dancers and drummers.
|The following table sets out some of the social characteristics of the team :|
|Leader||Bisa||Matipa||1928||R.C||St. IVS||Office Boy|
|Dancer||Bisa||Matipa||1929||R.C||St. IS||Bar Boy|
|Dancer||Bisa||Matipa||1932||R.C||St. IIID||Garden Boy|
|W.T. = Watchtower ; Lit = Literate, i.e : no formal education but can||read and write ; D =|
|Divorced ; G = Married but wife still in rural||area.|
This team is obviously composed of men largely from the Bisa Chief Matipa's chiefdom. Luke
Mulumba, the leader, who in fact dominates the team, is Matipa's sister's son and it is clear
that he has attracted around him a number of his mother's brother's subjects. His songs praise
Chief Matipa and therefore, indirectly, himself.
|But there are also five men from a neighbouring Bisa chiefdom under Chief Chiewa.5|
|These five men are easily accepted into the team because, as we will soon see, in
on the Copperbelt, Luke Mulumba's team is representative of all Bisa.
|The Ng'umbo under Chief Mwewa and the Aushi from Chief Milambo's area also had|
|kalela teams, and there was a composite Bisa kalela team drawn
from all chiefdoms
recognizing the paramountcy of Chief Kopa. Mulumba's team was formed with the object of
praising Chief Matipa and broke away from the other Bisa team in order to do this. Yet, in
public, they formally express the unity of all Bisa against other tribes as in the opening chant of
their song when they chant :
|Dancers :||'Cilubi. Square island surrounded by water.|
|Dancers :||'Provincial Commissioner Kopa.'|
|In this way they evoke the symbol of paramount chief in order to express their unity|
|against all other tribes, at the same time expressing Chief Kopa's prestige in peculiarly
terms. It is quite possible, therefore, for the Bisa other than those of Chief Matipa to participate
in this dance. They ignore their internal differences in the face of the multi-tribe situation in an
|Apart from the common tribal origin of the team, there are other significant regularities.|
|No one in the dancing team is over the age of thirty. Most are under the age of twenty-five.
true that men on the Copperbelt tend to be selected from the younger age-groups but
Mulumba's team is younger than the normal population on the Copperbelt.6 The 'King' on the
other hand is forty-one years old.
|Another striking regularity is that all the dancers live in the single quarters. Three of the|
|dancers are married but their wives are in the rural areas. All the rest are either
divorced. The 'King', however, is married and his wife, who is Luke Mulumba's sister, is the
'sister' in the team.
|The fact that all the Christian dancers are Roman Catholics is not in itself significant|
|since the Catholic mission is the only one operating in Matipa's area. But it is
note here that again the 'King', in contrast to the dancers, is a Watchtower adherent.
5. There is also a man who calls himself 'Ngoni' inthe team. He is the son of a Yao man born in Fort Jameson and is the
'best friend' of Luke - apparently he is in the team as by special favour.
|6 There was one dancer of the nineteen who was thirty years of age but in the general population in Luanshya, 47.5 per|
|cent. of adult males were aged thirty years and over. See Mitchell, J. C., Table I, p.4.|
More interesting is the fact that not one of the dancers is employed in a 'white collar' or lower
professional post, a fact which will become significant in the light of the discussion later.
|A casual stroll through the Management Board Location on, a Sunday afternoon is|
|enough to demonstrate the overwhelming popularity of kalela over all
other tribal dances with
the African spectators. While there may be a handful of people watching other dances, the
kalela arena is thronged with spectators who obviously are enjoying themselves. There are
several reasons for this popularity. The drumming is spectacular and the dancers are well
dressed, but I think by far the main attraction lies in the songs of the team. It is significant,
perhaps, that these songs are sung in the form of Bemba which is widely spoken on the
Copperbelt. Since the dancers use the lingua franca of the town, the spectators understand
their songs more easily than those possibly sung by some other tribal groups in a language
intelligible to only a few outsiders.
|A second reason for the popularity of the songs lies in their content. The verses are|
|witty and topical.|
|I have recorded fourteen of the stanzas of the song that Luke Mulumba sang in 1951. It|
|is clear that new stanzas are continually being added and old ones dropped. But an
the fourteen stanzas provides an incisive comment on the way of life of the Copperbelt
Africans. It is difficult to convey the content of these verses exactly. They are sung in Memba
but it is the Bemba of the Copperbelt: it abounds with anglicisms, words from 'kitchen kaffir'
(Pidgin Zulu), and references to the urban situation in one way or another. All this gives songs
a sophisticated flavour that is lost in translation.
|At least six of the stanzas of the song are self-praises of the kalela dancers. But these|
|praise-songs are set in an urban environment.|
|For example, one stanza runs :
'The Watchtower7 were trying cunningly to convert me on Saturday
That I should go to their meeting place at two o'clock on Sunday.
We also have gospels - the drums,
We who dances kalela.
God hates nobody;
To heaven we shall climb,
We shall go and live at Lucifer's place,
In his stockade.8
We shall go with our drums.
Even in Heaven you will hear them roaring.'
|7 Adherents of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society represented
19.6 per cent. of adult men and women in the
Luanshya Management Board Location in 1950. It was the largest single Christian sect.
|8 He uses the Bemba word cipango which refers to the stockade around a chief's village.|
|Another stanza runs:
' You women who are at the dancing pitch,
You should go before it is too late.
You should go and eat beforehand
And you should tell those who have remained at home
That they should also come after they have eaten.
Those who want to launder let them launder,9
Those who want to iron let them iron,10
Those who want to bathe let them bathe,
Those who want to dress up let them dress up-
Because of the dance of this day.
Copperbelt ! The drum.
The whistle-boy is there,11
The line-boy is there,11
|The spectators are coming from Lambaland and other remote||places.12|
|Why are you beating the drum?
At two o'clock it begins,
The song is finished, mothers, go away.
Today someone is going to be beaten with a stick
But don't you blame us and say :
"I die because of you kalela dancers."'13
Some of the verses refer to typically urban situations. In one, the smart modern miss,
|who uses powder and paint, is lampooned. In another the mercenary interest of parents
marriage payments is deprecated. The dancers sing :
|'Mulumba should have a job at the abattoir,
So that he may steal the heads of slaughtered cattle,
So that the woman who loves the heads of slaughtered cattle
May give him her daughter.
It is nice to work in a butchery.
You may be given a beautiful girl to marry
Because of the love of meat.
There are some who sell their daughters-
What beautiful girls they marry to useless men14;
They are in a difficult position.15
He will give them a cow's head.
The daughter is just in orison.16
|9 He uses the anglicism kuwasha = to wash (clothes).
10 He uses the verb kuchisa which is derived from Zulu through kitchen kaffir. This section in the stanza refers to the
considerable attention of the dancers to their personal appearance.
11 These are references to soccer, a very popular game with Africans on the Copperbelt.
|12 The Copperbelt is adjacent to the Lamba tribal areas
13. This reference is repeated in another stanza. He implies that because women like to watch kalela dancers they neglect
their husbands and suffer the consequences.
14He uses the term kobe here, which I undrstand is an animal. I cannot identify it.
15 He uses the term ufwafwa = slavery.
16 He uses the term chankwakwa, the origin of which is not clear. It may be derived from military slang 'jankers'.
|The one that is suitable for Mulumba
To take her to the city 17 of Matipa
To be the Sister in the dance of the rattles.'18
But most of the stanzas of the song deal specifically with the ethnic diversity of the
|urban population. These stanzas refer either the good qualities of the Matipa Bisa.
One of the
|'You mothers who speak Tonga,
You who speak Soli, mothers,
Teach me Lenje.19
How shall I go and sing ?
This song I am going to dance in the Lenje country,
I do not know how I am going to speak Lenje.
Soli I do not know,
Tonga I do not know,
Lozi I do not know.
Mbwela is difficult,
Kaonde is difficult,
All these places I have mentioned, mothers,
Are where I am going to dance kalela;
Then the dancer will return20 to Lamba country.
At Chief Nkana'a place I shall dance,
At Chief Ndubeni's place I shall dance,
At Chief Mushili's place I shall dance,
At Chief Katala's place I shall dance,
At Chief Chiwala's place I shall dance.21
I will then go and say goodbye to Chief Katanga,
Who is my father-in-law
And the one whose daughter I married.22
When I finish that work, mothers,
I shall never stay in Lambaland,
But I shall hasten23 to my motherland of Chief Matipa.'
Another stanza deals with the Lamba preoccupation with adultery cases :
'Mothers, I have been to many courts,
To listen to the cases they settle:
They settle divorce cases,
They talk about witchcraft cases,
They talk about thefts,
|17 He uses the anglicism 'shite' = city.
18 Sister in the sense of a nursing sister. See notes on the organization of the dance.
19 These three languages belong to the same linguistic group.
20 He uses the anglicism lifeshi = reverse.
21 Nkana, Ndubeni, Mushili, Katala, are all local Lamba Chiefs. Chiwala, whose area is on the perimeter of Ndola,
strictly speaking, is not Lamba but of Yao extraction. His subjects, however, are mainly Lamba and many Copperbelt
Africans look upon Chiwala as a Lamba Chief.
22 I do not understand this reference.
23 He uses the anglicism sipili = speed.
|They talk about tax defaulting,
And refusing to do tribute labour.
But the things I saw at Mushili's court,24
These things I wondered at.
From nine o'clock in the morning,
To four o'clock in the afternoon,
The cases were only adultery.
Then I asked the court messenger :
"Do you have any different matters to settle ?"
The court messenger said : "No25
There are no other matters,
It is just like this in Lambaland-
There are no assault cases,
There are no theft cases:
These are the cases in the courts of Lambaland."'
A significant comment appears in another stanza where Mulumba is boasting of his
|linguistic abilities. He sings :|
|'I sing in Henga, I sing in Luba,
I sing in Zulu and Sotho.
I take Nyamwanga and Soli and put them together.
I stopped the Lwena language for it is very common,
The Nyakyusa and Kasai and Mbwel languages
Are the remaining languages.'
The tribes from the Angola border of Northern Rhodesia, including the Lwena, are
|those who, more than others, accept employment as night soil removers. For this reason
are greatly despised by other tribes on the Copperbelt. This mention of the Lwena language
refers to this common stereotype of the Lwena and Luvale peoples.26
|There are thus certain clear characteristics of the songs of the kalela dancers. First,|
|there is the element of self praise. The dancers are all young single men who have
given a good
deal of attention to their appearance. Their songs are directed particularly towards the women
and the dancers are not reticent in drawing the attention of the women to their own desirability.
|A second feature of the songs is the clear recognition of the ethnic diversity of urban|
|populations. This takes two forms. The first is that the dancers emphasize the beauties
own land or origin and extol their own virtues. The second form is the obverse of this, in that
the distinctiveness of other languages and customs are emphasized and lampooned.
|There are thus several features of kalela which could well be the starting point of a|
|sociological analysis ; but the most significant feature, from my point of view,
is that kalela is
essentially a tribal dance. Kalela and its songs emphasize the unity of Bisa against all
24 He uses an anglicism koti = courts. Mushili is a Lamba Chief near Luanshya
25 The reply of the court messenger is sung in the Lamba language, which is similar enough to Bemba to be understood
by most Africans on the Copperbelt.
26 See below, p.27
other tribes on the Copperbelt. We might well expect, in a tribal dance of this sort, that
some tribal insignia might be worn. It is not difficult to see that in a phalanx of Zulu warriors
magnificently adorned in traditional costume, and brandishing their assegais and shields, there
is a manifest and indeed an aggressive, demonstration of tribal unity. But the kalela dancers
are attired in thesmartest of European wear and there is no way of telling a Bemba or Aushi
kalela team from a Bisa one. The smartness of the kalela dancers is a recurring theme and is
given great emphasis.27 Nor do the songs recount the exploits of a Bisa culture hero. Apart
from vague references to Matipa's beautiful land, there is no mention of planting crops and of
reaping them, of building huts, of fishing and hunting and other rural activities we might
associate with a tribal Arcadia. Instead, the songs concern familiar Copperbelt characters, and
the scenes are set in sections of the locations. The language of the song is Copperbelt Bemba,
and English and kitchen-kaffir words and phrases abound. The songs are composed in towns
for the amusement of people in towns, and they deal with events and commonplaces with
which these people are familiar.
|In other words, we are presented with an apparent paradox. The dance is clearly a|
|tribal dance in which tribal differences are emphasized but the language and the
idiom of the
songs and the dress of the dancers are drawn from an urban existence which tends to submerge
|I believe that this apparent paradox can be resolved if we examine the dance and its|
|origin in its social setting.|
|THE ORIGIN OF THE DANCE|
|My informants said that the dance called kalela was formerly known as mbeni. They|
|said the kalela was started by a man called Kalulu around the year 1930 on
Chisi Island in Lake
Bangwelu. The inhabitants of this island are of the Ng'umbo tribe. In 1939 Kalulu joined the
Northern Rhodesian Regiment and had permission to carry his drums so that he could, when
the occasion permitted, continue with his dances. He formed a group of dancers with himself
as leader. A man called Million acted as the leader of the dances at Chisi when Kalulu was in
the army. Kalulu was discharged from the army in 1946 and renamed the dance luwelela.28 We
have no information on who introduced it to the Copperbelt29 but, since there was an increased
movement of population to the Copperbelt after the 1939-45 War, it is
27 See for example the report of a kalela dance competition in The African Roan Antelope, II (Dec., 1953), p. 6, where
the fine clothes of the dancers are specifically commented on
28 Presumably from the Bemba verb ukuwela = to hoot or scoff : Bemba
English Dictionary. White Fathers (Chilubula,1947.)29
almost certain to have been brought there by some members of the Ng'umbo tribe from Chishi
Island. As far as I can gather, it came first to the Roan Antelope Copper Mine in 1945, whence
it spread to the rest of the Copperbelt, and to the Luanshya Management Board Location in
particular, in 1948. Here it was called kalela - dance of pride.
|Since the kalela dance had its origin in the mbeni, we need to go back to the origins of|
|mbeni to trace its roots. Unfortunately, there appear to be few records of the mbeni
available. During my fieldwork in Nyasaland30 I was able to watch one mbeni dance at a boys'
initiation ceremony. The performers were a group of somewhat dirty and unkempt youths who
listlessly circulated round the dancing arena following a large home-made bass drum. One of
my older informants told me that this performance bore little resemblance to the beni dances
that were performed in Zomba in the early twenties. He told me that the word beni, as the
dance is called in Nyasaland, is in fact a corruption of the English word 'band'. This seems a
reasonable explanation of the origin of the word in the light of the description of the dance
itself, for, as we shall see, an essential feature of the dance was a mock military band.31 My
informant said : "This was a clean dance because everyone wore good clothes. People who
came dirty were not allowed to dance. Whenever they were called they brought their drums
with them and they wore garments like the King. When they reached the courtyard, where the
dance was to take place, they appeared splendid. All the women were very clean. They danced
slowly and gently, the women on one side and the men on the other ; at daybreak they looked
as clean as if they had not been dancing at all."
|The central figure at these dances, apparently, was a person called 'The Governor'. He|
|usually stood in the centre of the courtyard resplendently attired, decorated with
medals.The rest of the dancers circled slowly round him led by a drummer who beat out a
rhythm on an imitation brass drum. Behind him were ranged the rest of the dancers in mock
military rank. First there was a major-general, followed by a lieutenant-general 32, a colonel, a
lieutenant-colonel, a captain, lieutenants, non commissioned officers and, finally the privates.
There was also an adjutant. The dancers wore appropriate
30 As Assistant Anthropologist of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute among the Yao in Liwonde and Fort Johnston
31 My informant pointed out that the drums were 'European drums', i.e. they were double-sided drums imitating the
military bass drum. This, of course, is in contrast with the traditional drum made from a hallowed tree-trunk and covered
at one end with skin. This explanation of the word beni and many of the details described by my informant are
confirmed in a note on the dance prepared by the Chief Commissioner of Police, Zomba, Nyasaland, in 1921. See file
N3/23/2 in the Central African Archives, Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia.
32 This is how the informant gave it to me. He seemed unaware of the inversion of rank here.
badges of rank fashioned out of lead. Those who had fictitious commissioned rank wore
helmets and had whistles on lanyards, and some wore Sam Browne belts33.
|Relationships within the dancing groups were regulated by the fictitious military rank.|
|Difficulties were ironed out by the man who was the immediate superior in rank to
disputants and, if no settlement could be reached, referred up the line of authority until the
'Governor' himself dealt with the case.
|Goodall's evidence to the Russell Commission supports the view that the mbeni dance|
|arose shortly after the 1914-18 War34. Goodall mentions
the existence of the dance in Dar-es-
Salaam in 1919. It became the object of official interest during the 1935 riots, though it is
difficult to determine what part the mbeni dancing group played in them, if indeed they played
any part at all. It is clear that Government officials suspected that the mbeni dancers were
implicated and it seems that, in the absence of any fixed organization through which African
leaders could convey information to the people, the strike leaders may have asked the leaders of
the mbeni dancers to act as their mouthpieces.35
|The significant point that arises from the evidence laid before the Commission, was that|
|the dance in the form that we know it was active on the Copperbelt in 1935. To what
mbeni fell under a cloud following the suspicion it had aroused during that year I cannot tell,
but it seems to have disappeared on the Copperbelt 36 until it was revived in the form of kalela.
|PRESTIGE AND THE 'EUROPEAN WAY OF LIFE'|
|Whatever form modern mbeni dances may take37 it is abundantly clear that these early|
|dances were a sort of pantomime of the social structure of the local European community.
Yao informant was describing mbeni in Zomba during the twenties, when Zomba was largely a
garrison town. The Governor and the militia presented to
33 My informany wryly commented that some had been prosecuted for the theft of Sam Browne belts.
34 Evidence taken by the Commission appointed to Enquire into Disturbances in the Copperbelt, 1935 (Russell
Commission). Northern Rhodesia Government Printer (Lusaka, 1935), p. 77. In his note dated 27 July 1921 the Chief
Commissioner of Police in Nyasaland recorded that these dances had flourished in German East Africa before the 1914-
18 Wars and that the office bearers had carried German titles such as 'Kaiser, Kaiserin, Hauptmann', etc. File N3/23/2 in
Central African Archives. Jone's description of the Mganda dance tallies exactly with the mbeni dance. He says it was
frankly in burlesque of a military parade which originated in East Africa during the 1914-18 War and was introduced to
Northern Rhodesia by the Lakeside Tonga. Jones, A. M., 1945, pp. 180-8.
35 The Russell Commission found that some of the leaders of the Mbeni Society were concerned in hte disturbances
but that, as a body, the Society was not subservice, Russell Commission Report, p.49.
36 Brelsford,W.V., 1948, p.19.
37 Jones, for example, metions a somewhat colourless performance of a similar dance in the Fort Jameson rural area.
Jones, A M., 1945
the Africans a formal social structure, the striking feature of which was a rigidlyfixed
hierarchy and a set of distinctive uniforms which advertised the social position of each person.
The pantomime of the social structure in the mbeni therefore represented the social structure as
the Africans saw it. It should be appreciated that, in the twenties, Africans were not admitted
by the local European population in Zomba as equals and had no opportunity of appreciating
the social pattern in the local community except through military rank38, and through the clear
evidence of uniforms and public ceremonies39. The appeal of the mbeni dance, therefore,
seems to have been the vicarious participation of the Africans in social relationships from
which they were normally excluded. Striking evidence to show that this was not just a local
reaction comes from Goodall, who says that earlier mbeni dancers in Tanganyika actually
whitened their faces.40 This attempt to cross insurmountable barriers, as it were, in fantasy, is
a feature particularly of nativistic movements41 such as the cargo cult, but there is the distinct
difference in that there is no evidence that mbeni dancers ever believed that by reproducing the
external characteristics of the culture to which they aspired they would automatically achieve
their wishes. Their participation in the 'European' social structure was vicarious: the aspiration
was satisfied in fantasy only.
|It might be argued that the dance provided an excellent medium for the expression of|
|hostility towards a ruling group through satire and that, in fact, this was the main
it for the participants and spectators. I have no evidence that this was indeed so. My Yao
informant did not suggest it, and certainly in the kalela dance today there is no sign of any
satire of European behaviour42.
|All that is left of mbeni in the modern kalela dance is the wearing of European clothes|
|and a few type personalities, the 'King', the 'doctor' and the 'nursing sister'.
It could be
argued, perhaps, that since all Africans in Northern Rhodesia wear European clothes
nowadays, dancers could be expected to wear no other costume. But the salient
38 Africans were admitted into the army as privates and non-commissioned officers and, of course, understood the
military ranking system.
39 An amusing variation of this, reported to me by Mr. E Tikili, Senior Research Assistant on the staff of the Rhodes-
Livingtone Institute, is that the Lakeside Tonga, who have their own version of mbeni called malipenga. wear kilts
when dancing in Bulawayo. The first Europeans to live in the country of the |Lakeside Tonga were the Scots at
Livingstonia. Mr. J. van Velsen, Research Officer of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, who is currently doing field
work among the Lakeside Tonga, has described a malipenga dance that took place at Chinteche. Here there were no
kilts but Mr van Velsen describes the dance as resembling a 'gymkhana' in which the dominant feature is the smart
European dress of the participants.
40 Russell Commission Evidence, p. 77.
41 See Barber, B., 1946, pp. 663-9
42 It should be noted that under the Townships (Control of Natives) Regulations (cap.120 of the laws of Northern
Rhodesia), Section 7, no person may organize or take part in any dance which is 'calculated to hold up to ridicule
or to bring into contempt any person, religion or duly constituted authority '. I do not think the Kalela dancers are
aware of this regulation.
feature of both mbeni and kalela dances is the great emphasis that is placed on correct
clothing. To my Yao informant this was the outstanding feature of the dance. Describing the
Mganda dance Jones says : "...Then came the Officers dressed in European suitings, very
smart, and brandishing canes in a cavalier manner." It is highly significant that the Regimental
Mascot in the mganda dance was 'one of those bronzed heads used as an advertisement, I
believe, of Van Heusen collars, surmounted by an ordinary trilby hat.'.43 In kalela too there is
this strong emphasis on immaculate dress. The dancers refer to it in their song ; the 'nursing
sister' takes a mirror round the dancers so that they may check their appearance ; an African
correspondent, writing a report of a kalela dance for a local newspaper, makes a special point
of mentioning the fine clothing44.
|This emphasis on fine clothing is a general feature of the urban African population45.|
|Wilson expressed this thus : 'The Africans of Broken Hill are not a cattle people,
nor a goat
people, nor a fishing people, nor a tree cutting people, they are a dressed people.'46 Wilson
saw the root of this preoccupation with clothing in the fact that clothes are the one readily
available item of European Wealth which gives them an immediate appearance of civilized
status47. He discussed other possible indicators of civilized status - housing, tools, furniture,
food - but concludes that, for a variety of reasons, these were unimportant in comparison with
clothing in Broken Hill in 1939-40.48 He saw quite clearly that Africans cannot but wish to
gain the respect and to share the civilized status and the new wealth of the Europeans, whose
general social superiority is always before them.'49
|Wilson's comments, applicable to Broken Hill in 1939-40, are equally applicable to the|
|modern Copperbelt. The Europeans are in a position of social superiority and Africans
civilization which is the particular characteristic and perquisite of the socially
43 Jones, 1945, p.180
44 See footnote 1, p.9
45 A newspaper printed for the African staff of the Nkana Corporation reports a dressing competition, which was won
by a shop assistant. The runner up was a medical orderly. Lunlandanya, II, 1 (May, 1954), 3. Dressing competitions
were also held in towns in South Africa. Professor Gluckman tells me that he adjudicated at one of these competitions,
held at a competitve European - style dancing evening. in Petoria in 1937. Most of those attending were domestic
servants. When he selected the best-dressed man, another competitor protested that he had not examined underwear, and
he was asked to do this.
46 Wilson, G., 1942, p.18. He found that 64.4 Per cent. of cash expenditure of Africans, on items other that food, in
the Broken Hill Mine compound in 1939-40 was spent on clothing (from Table XVII). In a sample in Mufulira and
Chingola in 1953 the percentange was 40.6 - see Nyirenda, A.A., 1956, Table I
47 Wilson, G., 1942, p.15.
48 Gussman, B., 1952, p. 57, in describing Bulawayo in 1950, makes a similar point. He points out that there are
few other possibilities available to Africans to invest surplus funds.
49 Wilson, 1942, p. 15. Many years earlier Hunter made essentially the same point about Africans in East London in
South Africa. She wrote : 'In towns it is smart to be as Europeanized as possible .... Status depends largely upon wealth
and education and these entail Europeanization'. Hunter, M., 1936, p. 437.
superior group.50 The civilized way of life thus provides a scale along which the prestige of
Africans in urban areas ( and to an increasing extent rural areas ) may be measured. At the top
of the scale are the lower professional and white-collar workers and successful traders, who
are meticulously dressed, have European furniture in their houses, speak English to one
another, read the local newspapers printed for the European public, eat European type foods,
prefer Western to traditional music, choose bottled beer in preference to traditionally brewed
beer. At the bottom of the scale are the unskilled labourers of all types, whose standards of
living differ but little from that of rural villagers, who have no furniture, eat traditional foods,
know no English, and are uneducated. Between the two are ranged the lower white-collar
workers, supervisors and skilled manual workers , all varying considerably in the degree to
which they can achieve what they believe to be 'a civilized way of life'.
|A study of occupational ranking confirms this view of prestige in the urban African|
|community.51 Respondents were asked to rank thirty-one
occupations on a five point prestige
scale. Subsequently, when these ratings were converted into a simple ranking, the professional
workers were placed first, followed by the white-collar workers, then the skilled workers and
supervisors and, finally, the unskilled workers.52 Response to an open ended question made it
quite clear that occupations which were normally those of the Europeans, but which some
Africans followed, were accorded high prestige and that, in general, those occupations which
required the highest educational qualifications were ranked the highest. This held true even for
a group of students who were training to be artisans.
|The African use of the European way-of-life as a standard against which they can|
|measure prestige may thus be seen as a type of reference group behaviour.53
dancers displayed a very direct type of reference group behaviour. They copied the most
obvious and visible symbols of prestige. The connection between mbeni and kalela is
preserved in the common use of clothing as one such symbol. The kalela dancers no longer use
the military uniform, but the smart clothes of the European business or professional men :
Africans have come generally to accept the standards of these men as those to which they
aspire. The direct and obvious symbols have given way to the less tangible but non-the-less
real idea of the civilized way of life. The mechanism is the same but the symbols today are
|It is significant that not one of the kalela dancers holds a professional or 'white-collar'|
|post. Three are tailors : the rest are unskilled
50 Africans express their aspirations in just these terms. One of the main attractions of the town is that it provides an
opportunity for Africans to 'aquire civilization' (ukukwala shifilaiseshoni). Little makes the same point about the
Mende of Sierra Leone. See Little, K., 1948 ; 1955.
51 Conducted on 653 scholars, students and student teachers in Lusaka by A. L. Epstein and myself. It will be published
in full in due course.
52 A table setting out these results is reproduced in Appendix I.
53 Merton, R., and Lazarsfeld, P. F., 1950 ; also Mitchell, J. Clyde, 1955.
labourers of various types. For a team of dancers who are in occupations at the lower end of
the prestige scale, the wearing of smart European-style clothes is particularly important. Those
who by virtue of their position in the community can command little prestige in everyday life,
on Sundays don the symbols and outward marks of rank and display these in front of the
admiring spectators at the dance arena. The European way-of-life has now become so much a
part and parcel of life in the urban areas that the Europeans themselves have faded from the
foreground. Kalela dancers do not seek vicarious participation in European society but
vicarious participation in the upper levels of African society, from which, by their lack of
qualification, they are excluded. The prestige system in urban areas thus uses 'civilization' or
'the European way-of-life' as a standard or scale of prestige. To command respect in such a
system the African needs to be educated ; to occupy a post which accords high prestige ; and to
draw a salary large enough to enable him to purchase the clothing and other symbols of
prestige. The urban African population is stratified in terms of this scale.
|It is sometimes assumed that as the African population becomes stratified, the bonds|
|within each stratum will cut across ethnic differences and eventually overcome them.
example, McCall writes : 'Class formation tolls the knell of tribalism in the urban environment
. The marks of class are independent of the marks of tribal membership ; classes comprise
people of various tribes.'54 This formulation as it stands is too general to be accepted without
reservations. Our interest in 'class' lies in the way in which it affects social interaction and we
need to be able to specify the situations in which it does this. It appears that 'class' may affect
social interaction in two ways. Firstly, it may operate as a prestige category so that a person
may behave differently to those whom he believes to be either above or below his 'class', that
is his position in the prestige scale. Secondly it may form the basis upon which corporate
groups are recruited. Several sociologists recently have shown that we need to distinguish
between 'class' as a category of individuals who merely fall at the same general position on a
prestige continuum, and a 'class' as a group of persons predominantly from the same position
on a prestige continuum who act corporately in political situations55.
|In so far as 'class' as a social category is concerned, certainly some manual workers|
|have expressed hostility towards non-manual workers, but I would hesitate to adduce
that clerks and professional workers constitute a class opposed to manual workers. The clerks,
mine policemen and other Africans in close contact with European officials are in a peculiar
position : they represent the Africans to the
54 McCall, D. F., 1955, p.158.
55 The distinction was clearly made by Cox, O. C., 1945. See also Barnes, J. A., 1954b ; Lenski, G. E., 1952 ;
Goldschmidt, W., 1953 ; Plautz, H. W., 1953. Little, K., 1955, has faced the same problem in his discussion of the
situation in Sierra Leone.
Europeans and the Europeans to the Africans.56 Frequently those Africans who are not in
contact with the Europeans tend to see the clerks, mine police and similar African officials as
aligned with the Europeans against them. During the disturbances on the Copperbelt in 1935,
we learn, the mine policemen, tribal elders and some of the clerks took refuge with the
European officials in the compound offices. In his evidence to the Russell Commission one of
the African witnesses said : "The people were angry with the mine police because they said
they were not in sympathy with them and they did not do anything when they asked for more
pay. Not only that but what the mine police should have done when they were fighting, they
said, was not to side with the Europeans and the askari - they should have been with the
people."57 Therefore when an underground drilling machine operator said in his evidence to
the Russell Commission that 'The clerks have got much power, and the Compound Manager
listens to anything they say ', I feel that he was expressing his hostility not to the class of
clerks who occupy a position of relatively high prestige, but rather to the clerks who were one
of his main points of contact with the mine management. In other words what on the surface
may appear to be opposition between 'classes' in the prestige system may in fact be aspects of
the general opposition between Whites and Blacks.
|The issue is complicated by the fact that the evidence from Northern Rhodesian towns|
|suggests that frequently tribal and class categories coincide. For example,
McCulloch writes :
'There were marked indications that the most skilled and better paid jobs were being done by
members of specific tribes or groups of tribes. There was a tendency, in other words, for
economic class to correspond with tribal group.'58 Unique circumstances no doubt have led to
this correspondence. The marked predominance until recently of Africans from Barotseland
and Nyasaland among the clerks in Northern Rhodesia must be related to the fact that
missionaries started working in these areas earlier than in others. But whatever the causes are,
when it comes to a sociological analysis the empirical fact is that there is a tendency towards a
coincidence of prestige and tribal categories. Throughout the evidence taken by the Russell
Commission for example, there are references to the hostility existing between the Mbema and
the 'Nyasa' people. But because of the predominance of the 'Nyasa' in clerical and supervisory
posts we cannot assert that this hostility is rooted in either 'class' or 'tribal' differences.
56 I have suggested the term 'intercalary' to describe those positions occupied by persons who link two opposed parts
in an authoritarian system. See 'The Conflict of Roles in Intercalary Statuses', paper read to the English Rhodes-
Livingstone Instiute Research Conference. Gluckman, M., 1949, drew attention to the conflict of roles of a person
occupying an intercalary status in his comments on the position of the modern village headman. Epstein, A. L., 1956,
has analysed the significance of intercalary positions in the system of political relationships in the towns.
57 Russell Commission Evidence, p.879.
58 McCulloch, M., 1956, p.67.
|There have been several corporate groups which have recruited their members from|
|Africans at particular levels in the prestige system. Some of these groups
like the kalela team
recruit both on a tribal and a class basis : its members are all Bisa in lower ranking positions. It
is possible, although I have no evidence to assert it, that certain religious cults draw their
members from all tribes in only the lower reaches of the prestige system.
|The fact that members of certain corporate groups such as the kalela team are recruited|
|from particular levels of the prestige system is interesting and we try to understand
why this is
so. But the position in the prestige system is not the specific raison d'etre for these groups :
they exist to serve other interests. As far as I am aware Africans in the lower reaches of the
rank system have never organized themselves in opposition to those at the top. Occasionally
however some groups have risen with the object of furthering their own interests vis-a-vis the
Europeans. Examples are the early 'welfare' societies which drew their members from the
'intelligentsia'59 regardless of their tribal origin. These societies, although composed mainly of
Africans at the upper levels of the prestige system, were formed to improve the conditions of
all Africans living in towns regardless of either their tribal or 'class' affiliations. It was
inevitable that they should take up a political point of view. In due course they amalgamated to
form the African National Congress which draws its members from all levels and all tribes.
|The essential fact is that the Africans as a whole represent one major political class and|
|the Europeans another. In this situation the 'white-collar' workers will become the
political leaders because they can speak English and can present their grievances and make their
demands known in terms easily intelligible to Europeans. But the 'white-collar' class here
represent the Africans as a whole and are not a political class opposed to the manual-
workers.60 Miss McCulloch points out that in Livingstone 'there is a struggle for leadership in
the town between the elite among the Lozi and a number of "foreigners" who are selected
individuals in terms of wealth, education and occupation.'61 Proportionately there were more
skilled workers among the 'foreigners'62 than among the Lozi, but there were also far fewer
unskilled manual workers among both Lozi and 'foreigners' than among all other ethnic
groups.63 In other words the struggle for political power was going on not between skilled
and unskilled workers or manual and non manual workers, but rather between broad ethnic
groups within the same general socio-economic stratum.
59 Coulter, G. C., 1933, p.86.
60 This point was also made in effect by Hunter about Africans in a South African town. She wrote : 'The cleavage
between Bantu and European increases Bantu (and European) solidarity, and overshadows economic differences within
the Bantu community itself.' Hunter, M., 1936, p. 465.
61 McCulloch, M., 1956, p. 50.
62 Mainly from the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Northern Rhodesia.
63 McCulloch, M., 1958, Table 23.
|It appears, therefore, that the Africans on the Copperbelt as a political class are not yet|
|divided by either tribal or socio-economic class affiliations. Everyday social
among Africans on the Copperbelt, however, are affected by both tribal and socio-economic
class affiliations, and the evidence I have suggests that at present tribal affiliations are by far the
|Go to the CSAC Pages||Go to the ERA Pages|