THE DIVINITY OF LUO ANCESTRAL NAMING
Updated: Mar 24
THE DIVINITY OF LUO ANCESTRAL NAMING
The absence of male circumcision in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Congo is not the only evidence that Luos were there and at least still influence life there. In fact, Luos first arrived in the Congo Basin in 2 AD whereas the Bantus from West Africa arrived in 11 AD. And there are other evidences that out of the 500 tribes in the Congo Basin, there is a big chunk of former River Nile migrants who have outlived domination.
The evidence of such existence is not only in rituals. We have other very non Bantu relics that tends to point that not all the 500tribes that make up the Congo Basin is Bantu. And most of those remaining as Bantu have been influenced by the early inhabitants.
The appearance of some words have for a long time baffled anthropologists and linguists. The word rumba or Zumba when broken down are very revealing. Loosely Zumba is broken into 2 words House and God or house of God. Yet not in many older Bantu dialects does mba mean anything near divinity. Yet in dholuo of Kenya and Tanzania for example mbi means spirits even today. Like a contestant losing a game might claim that ogoya gi mbi to mean he took away my spirits. So that mbi is spiritual. So what translates to a house of God in Zumba word would mean a house of divine spirits in dholuo.
Another strange case that has baffled anthropologists is the appearance of a leopard in President Mobutu’s coat of arms. Mobutu even wore a hat made of Leopards skin. However, the Bantus of the Congo basin do not hold the leopard in reverence and that is why after the departure of Mobutu DRC Congo reverted to Simba, the Lion. Why did Mobutu adopt the leopard then? For a start Mobutu is of Equatorial Guinea extraction. But most revealing is the way Luos hold a leopard in reverence.
A Leopard is not only considered an animal with ferocity but also an animal of elegance that can easily sulk and leave its prey if you touch it the wrong way or it falls in an obtuse angle. Phrases such as yuoro law kuach, opodho I yiw kwach, kwach ok go ngero, kwach nyawang’e tindo are common and have deeper meanings much more than the literal meaning. Leopards don’t scavenge. And the Congo Basin must surely have more Leopards than the savannah of East Africa. So the reverence of the Leopard did not come from West Africa but from the river Nile.
Naming and rituals.
The most bewildering resemblance I found in the Congo basin comes in the form of worship. In some tribes in the Congo Basin, names of a person is believed to precede the persons own existence in this world.
In reviewing a tragic story, I ran into a story that I have summarised below that brings out the Lakeside peoples worship and rituals very close to the bas Congo of the Congo Basin. This story is about a musician who was playing the lead guitar for Tabu ley of Congolese rumba band in the 1960s and early 1970s. The story of the lead guitarist, how he lived and died could be fore told in his names. And in his part of Congo those names at birth come to the fore at burial. The way the naming is spiritual very similar to Luo ancestral naming.
Around 1973, lead guitarist Pierre Attel Mbumba, vocalist Paul Pépé Ndombe Opetum, guitarist Michelino Mavatiku and bassist Deyesse Empompo broke company from Tabu Ley to form another band Afrizam orchestra (African Zaire Music). A statement by Attel is that a “business man” had targeted and bribed him with a cheque for $10,000 to leave Tabu ley Rochereau's rumba band. Attel then roped in his closest friends especially Paul Ndombe Opetum who they walked together like a shadow. Then something happened and Mavatiku reversed this decision and bolted to come back and take the vacant place vacated by Attel alongside Tabu Ley. Still everything was okay for Attel as he had a band, $10,000 and celebrity wife who was a practising journalist.
The reasons for their separation are not clear but Pauline left the Mbumba family plot in ward 7 in Ndjili where she lived with Attel. One day and much later Attel went to his ex's house to attempt a reconciliation. He was probably trying to pick up the pieces of broken love. The topic of their discussion was their relationship. And he hoped to convince Pauline to reverse her decision and return to the marital home. He probably already had dark ideas about what already appeared to be a consummate divorce. And maybe he had prepared his plan in advance in case the attempt at reconciliation failed.
The confrontation ended in a deadlock. The case was not resolved, so Attel returned empty-handed without having the desired reconciliation. The failure of the talks and Pauline's intransigence could have had triggered something. Desperate and already clouded by dark ideas, he would have crossed the red line when he left his ex's home and took the poison. Then as if nothing had happened, he took the wheel of his car to go home. But along the way, the effects of this toxic drink began to take effect. The extremely talented guitarist lost consciousness and control of the steering wheel. The vehicle swerved off the road and hit a tree trunk. Attel was rushed urgently to the hospital in Kinshasa first, then to Bas-Congo, where he was saved in emergency but with irreversible consequences. Attel Mbumba's life was saved because he apparently diluted his deadly potion in milk that weakened its toxicity. Otherwise he would not have survived this acid self-poisoning? That would simply be a miracle.
This incident upset the Congolese musical world because in living memory no artist had so far made an attempt on his own life. Unlike Tabu Ley, who composed Mwana ya Vangu when a colleague Guvano had health problems, Attel was not entitled to this privilege or honour, even from his best friend and colleague in the band Paul Ndombe Opetum, who was his confidant, accomplice and everyday friend. On leaving the hospital, he was physically debilitated and lost some motor ability with his hand and could no longer play the guitar. He did not recover and abandoned the music that had given him fame, star status and a certain material ease in life.
Partly healed and saved, Attel Mbumba had nothing more to do with Kinshasa, the capital. He went into "exile" in Matadi, far from the turbulence of the capital that had become the symbol of his disappointment, disillusionment and illusions. In the serenity of Matadi the port city, he will become an electrician after perfecting the electrician skills. He used to be the handyman of yesteryear who on several occasions helped Afrisa band in concerts when it happened that some equipment no longer worked properly. What a decline that the human being can experience in his existence! Was his aborted suicide a sign of bravery, a sign of love, a gesture of despair or a real act of cowardice. To make a long story short missing "Pauline affair" with its fallout had put an end to Attel Mbumba's dazzling artistic career.
Secluded at home in Ndjili rural area in the new family plot on Zongo Street in ward 3, the guitar player who starred in Olympia and the instrumentals by Tabu ley hid himself far from the public and walled in a thick silence, Pierre Attel Mbumba Kiankondo fell into oblivion until his disappearance around 1999-2000.
Ritual of Luo Suicide
The Luo traditional ritual of mourning a person who has committed suicide in Luo custom is that you cane the person before mourning of wailing. That in Luo belief in life, suicide is such an abomination. In fact, in Luo such a person is not named. We see that practice here among the Kikongo that Attel Mbumba friends shunned him after that suicide attempt. Not even his confidant and closest friend, Paul Pepe Ndombe Opetum approached him. This is very close to how Luos deal with the self-harm to take away life because it is not your life but the life of the ancestor you are named after that you have attempted to take away. It is another proof of existence of the spiritual influence of Nile people in the west of Nam Lolwe.
In star bizz, Pierre Attel Mbumba had dropped one of his names. In full his names are Pierre Attel Mbumba Kiankondo. Pierre and Attel are names you go and pick or the priest pick for you. They are not like Luo names. Even Luo nick names have more spiritual influence in a Luo life than these state of the art and off the shelf pick-up names.
Mbumba which Attel's ancestral name means “cat” in Kikongo. The nearest relative to a leopard here. Clean, manicured, can walk stealthily. Does not scavenge like a dog. Chooses prey carefully. And indeed Attel Mbumba life was catlike. He chose Pauline carefully and when Pauline spurned him he refused to move on and scavenge. He even refused to villify Pauline in public but rather disappear in wilderness like a cat going to hide their defacation.
If you listen to his way of plucking the solo guitar, it is so neat as if they are not supposed to overlap. The work he did in the instrumentals works by Tabu ley and the record at Paris Olympia hall bears witness to his style of play. His choice of electrician, a profession that needs care is such other symbolism in his name.
The biggest is the ‘hunter in the dark’ of the cat family. Like a leopard his work as a musician took him to working in the dark. And after music, his new vocation of electrician also means someone who is keen to work in the dark or brighten peoples lives alone.
Kiankondo his last name which means ‘missing’ has always had a special meaning and are given in relation to a specific situation. This second name alone could sum up the history of his eventful existence. What did Attel really miss in life? Was it Luck, happiness love? But now we know that he surely missed Pauline. So it can be implied that the name Kiankondo was a predestine name that the day he will miss what he really desired he will implode. And implode he did. Because it was a suicidal imploding at the peak of his prime life.
But wait a minute. His middle name is Mbumba (not Mbura) which means a cat in Kikongo all the same. And what do cats love the most? Milk. And milk does save Pierre Attel Mbumba Kiankondo after his near death encounter with poison and road accident? Milk just like a cat.
Luo ancestral naming
For those adherents, the Luo ancestral names do still have a role. The character people adopted from whom they are named after. My father Samuel is still being named up to now (2013). And Samuel was an unbeaten wrestler. Synonymous with this if that God forbid we have only had 2 fatalities for someone they started naming in 1965 and has countless of children named after him.
Luo ancestral naming is still divine. It is spiritual and can foretell a person. Luos believe that if you named a child after a generous man, then the child will be generous. And if you named a child after a great person then the child will be great. And if you named your child after a person whose cultural spirits have no powers of your clan then the child is spiritless. How this happens is a matter of faith and maybe explains why the missionaries also named after saints.
I am not saying Luos should go back to ancestral names. It is a matter of choice. All I am saying is that the faith based naming in the Bas Congo is similar to Luo faith based naming and can impact on the life of a child the way Perre Attel Mbumba Kiankondo's life was preceded by his ancestral names. It is a matter of faith not reputation.
Ohh, I forgot to finish the story of what happened to Pierre Attel Mbumba Kiankondo. Actually no living soul seems to know the end of the story. Why? Sometime between 1999 and 2000, Kiankondo (missing) went missing!
(Excerpts from Samuel Malonga; Mbumba, by Mbumba Attel and Afrizam. These are not North American anthropologists).
READ ALSO: Mind your language.. how ancient is dholuo.