The Language-Families of Africa


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She called a meeting of all the warriors of Marangu and spoke to them on the assembly ground: "I am thinking of all the evil wrought in Ndalio’s time. I want to take steps that no new misfortune shall come out of it, that it shall not happen again and become even worse."

The men replied with approval, "We beg you, tell us everything that is in your head."

Msanya said: "What I have in mind is this. First, I decide that the kiljasiga (cursing) custom must disappear, for it brings destruction to countries. If there had been no kiljasiga Ndalio would not have sent for the girls and told them, ’Curse Masaki,’ and Masaki could not have said to his girls, ’Curse Ndalio.’ It was the kiljasiga that brought the great misfortunes on Marangu and Kilema that Masaki died with his son and Ndalio died with his son. Did not the girls cry: "May Ndalio die, die with his children?’ And everything has happened as it was spoken. Therefore I order that kiljasiga be abolished, for it has caused evil deeds in the countries. That is my command. I give it" (522–523).

There are other varieties of cursing, including the most picturesque and elaborate form called "swinging the curse pot" (described in the chapter on government), which has been socialized to a degree; that is, it is permitted by the chief only in certain cases, as when a man refuses to conform to a decision of the elders and deliver perhaps a cow which has been in dispute. But in such cases the swinger of the pot must specifically except from the consequences of his extensive cursings the sib members of the man cursed, and also such of his daughters as are married and reside in other sibs, and his wife, if she leaves him and returns to her sib; that is, precautions are taken not to exterminate sib blood extensively.

Cursing is a specialized behavior trait in other populations than the Chagga but in this case its popularity seems to be a reflection of the peculiar interest of this group in life continuity. In a number of the passages cited it will be noticed that the extermination of blood as well as individual life is emphasized in the curses. Characteristic of this is the dying curse attributed to chief Rongoma, who was cursed by a woman he had caused to be strangled. He sacrificed a son to avoid the curse, but died on the same day, and his last words cursed continuity through women and cattle: "After my death may the girls have no hips and may the fat buttocks of cattle disappear from the world" (514).


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Chicago: "The Language-Families of Africa," The Language-Families of Africa in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed July 19, 2019,

MLA: . "The Language-Families of Africa." The Language-Families of Africa, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 19 Jul. 2019.

Harvard: , 'The Language-Families of Africa' in The Language-Families of Africa. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 19 July 2019, from