Old Mpseni seems to have been a rather fiery personage, for he ruled his people with an ft iron " hand. An Angoni tells me he remembers often seeing adulterers killed, and this was done by either dashing out their brains with knob-kerries or, more usually, taking them to a big tree and binding them to it with bark-string, placed round the neck and round the trunk. This quickly killed by strangulation, and then the bodies were thrown to the hyaenas. At that time the indunas had great power, as " they had the ear," so to speak, of Mpseni, as the ordinary people were afraid to go near him. Some of these indunas are still alive, and they always struck me as cunning old men, and they were, probably, the most expert liars in existence in getting up false cases against people who were in their way.
In a thunderstorm, when the lightning is bad, the Angoni object to having black dogs, sheep, goats, or pigs in their huts, as they believe their presence will cause the lightning to strike the huts. Further, they keep the fire low, and they believe that should a black sheep look up to the roof the lightning will immediately strike the hut and kill the occupants.
The eldest son of old Mpseni (I write " old" Mpseni because the present chief of the Angoni here is young Mpseni, son of Singo, who was the eldest son of Mpseni), by name Singo, was killed when the whites occupied this country. He was sentenced to death, and a native tells me the soldiers fired twice at him, and hit him, but he did not die, so a white man took a big knife and cut his throat. This I do not believe, but it is what the natives believe, and, once they get anything into their heads, it is difficult to get it out, as they have that dull, stubborn nature which it is difficult to enlighten.
The death of Chibisa, son of Patamoyo, a son of Mpseni, seems to have been simply a murder. One day some Achewa police were out raiding, when they heard the cries of a child in some reeds, and they called out, when Chibisa who was herding some goats, and had taken his young brother with him, came out of the reeds holding the child. The murderous Achewa then told Chibisi, who was only a youth about fifteen years of age, that they intended to kill him, so he asked permission to place the child to one side in a safe place. He then walked back, and the scoundrels shot and killed him. This murder greatly impressed the Angoni and they still talk of Chibisa, who was said to be a good-looking, kind-hearted youth. Singo they considered a grand fellow and he seems to have been the beau-ideal of a Zulu warrior, for he was tall and good-looking and in their various fighting and raids he was always the " bravest of the brave."
Some tribes, including the Angoni, have a peculiar idea with regard to having a case heard by their chief. If the chief refuses to listen, considering that the case is small and petty, the man will go out and kill an innocent person, whereby attention is drawn to the previous case. An occurrence lately took place in this country when a man, who was refused a hearing in the first instance by his native headman, took a spear and went out and killed a young woman he met in her maize garden. The European magistrate heard of it and he was caught, tried, and hanged. So much for native reasoning !
Natives often make friends with another person, forming a kind of blood brothership, or blood sistership, and then they are always presenting each other with presents, which it is considered courtesy to return.
Natives can be very kind-hearted and generous at times, especially to those of the same tribe and family, and if a person is sick, a man will take quite a lot of trouble in getting the sufferer medicine from the bush; or if he expresses a wish for meat it will be got.
There are many quaint ideas with reference to planting the crops; for instance, they do not plant ground-nuts without scattering some reddish looking powder made from the roots of a plant, named " kula," over them. If this is not done and a woman who is unwell with her usual sexual complaint visits the patch of ground-nuts, they affirm that they will not be fruitful. If, after visiting such a patch, the woman then goes to a plot of pumpkins, they will also be rendered unfertile.
Again, among the Achewa tribe, if a woman in pregnancy should go into the growing maize fields, this will cause the maize to wither, and they often do not wash until the crops are gathered. The Achewa when the crops are growing lead celibate lives; but when they are safely gathered and stored in the big bins, they resume their married state.
Black races of mankind are wonderfully tenacious of all wounds, and little children will often get severe cuts and burns, which through bad and dirty treatment may gradually develop into large ulcers, which may trouble them for the remainder of their lives. The usual treatment for a bad cut or burn is to plaster it with cow dung, or put certain leaves and herbs on it, which instead of curing makes the wound worse.
Their commonest cure for sickness is to bleed a person, using a piece of cow, or antelope horn, as a cup. The small hole is sucked after placing the larger aperture on a small incision made.
They do not care to ask medicine or treatment from a white man unless they know him well, and then only if they know he has cured someone else of some injury or malady. Being suspicious, and full of superstitions, they are always ready to put down any natural event to some occult influence.
It is, therefore, a mistake for a white man to give medicine to a man he has had a disagreement with in the past. He may be close to death's door with some malignant complaint, and the best Harley-street doctor would be unable to save his life ; so if, out of the kindness of his heart, a white man gave the sufferer a grain of opium to soothe his pain, and he died, as die he must, the relatives would all say that the white man had killed him. For this reason one has often to see men in agony and, because of the senseless beliefs of the people, be unable to alleviate pain.