Livingstone left Loanda on September 20, 1854, and went by sea to the mouth of the Bengo River that would take him inland into Africa again. He went inland by way of the river for 100 miles and then started traveling the same route back for several hundred more miles. He found that it was too hard to take any other route, but made short deviations into villages, some of which had been abandoned. He found primitive iron works and sugar refineries which had been abandoned, no doubt on account of wars. There was proof that they had been very profitable before chaos had struck.
One of the most interesting people whose land bordered the Bengo were the people of the Angola tribe, which at that time possessed a higher culture than most of the tribes that he had come in contact with. They had convents and forts, as well as manufacturing industries. Their chief recreations were marriages and funerals.
When a young woman was about to be married, she was placed in a hut alone and anointed with various unguents, or soothing ointments, and many incantations were employed in order to secure good fortune and faithfulness. Here, as in almost every tribe, the height of good fortune was to bear sons. They would often leave a husband altogether if they only had daughters. In their dances, when any one would want to deride another, as they sang the accompanying line of introduction to a song they would say “So and so has no children, and never will get any.” Often the other would feel the insult so keenly that they would rush away and commit suicide.
After some days of being in the hut, the young bride-elect would be taken to another hut and adorned with all the riches clothing and ornaments that the relatives either had already or could borrow. The bride-elect would then be placed in a public situation, saluted as a lady, and would be given presents by everyone that would be placed around her.
After this she is taken to the residence of her husband, where she has a hut for herself, and becomes one of several wives, for polygamy is general. Dancing, feasting, and drinking on such occasions would be prolonged for several days. In case of separation, the woman returns to her father’s family, and the husband receives back what he gave for her. In nearly all cases a man gave a high price for a bride. It could be as much as $300 that was given to the parents.
In the case of a death the body is kept several days, and there is a huge wake, as we would call it, of both male and female with the beating of drums, dances, and all kept up with one continuous long feast. The feast was entirely according to the means of the relatives of the deceased. The great ambition of many of the Angola tribe was to give their friends or relatives an expensive funeral.
Often when a person was asked to sell a pig, the person would reply that he was keeping it in case a relative or friend died. The pig would usually be slaughtered on the last day of the ceremonies and its head would be thrown into the nearest stream or river. If one of the natives appeared intoxicated and another criticized him, he would just justify it and say that he was upset because of the death. The expenses of many funerals were so heavy that often it took years to pay off the debts from them.
In the Angola country there is found a certain type of insect that inhabits the fig trees there. Seven or eight of these insects cluster around a spot and send forth a constant stream of a clear fluid which, if dropping to the ground, forms a little puddle below. The natives would place a vessel under them to catch the liquid and use it to quench their thirst. Livingstone never really understood how this feat was accomplished, even after making it the source of many experiments.
At Tola Mungonga, which was about 400 miles east of Loanda, Livingstone came across a peculiar red ant that infested that part of the country. He accidentally stepped in one of their nests and in an instant they were all over him and attacking various parts of his body. He found their bites to be like sparks of fire, and the only means of ridding himself of them was by hurriedly removing his clothing and picking them off one by one. He found that they not only bit, but twisted themselves around after their mandibles were inserted, to produce much more pain than just a single bite would produce. These ants are very useful in the country for consuming dead animal matter and the natives found that when they killed an ox they had to purposely build fires all around it to keep the ants from coming in to devour the fresh meat. They traveled in great numbers so they were not afraid to attack even a large animal. Smaller animals were easy for them to overtake and kill, but they could even kill a python if he was in a lazy state after he had just fed on a large animal.
In the Cassanga country, the people were extremely superstitious and prayed to a god whom they called Barimo. They believed that the spirits of the dead, instead of taking up their abode in remote regions, remained always with the tribe and spent their time in vexing, or bring trouble or aggravation, to the living. A person accused of witchcraft must consent to undergo the ordeal of drinking a tea made from an infusion of a poisonous tree; if the first dose nauseates and causes the stomach to reject it, the accused must drink again, so that death is certain.
The same superstitious ideas were prevalent throughout the whole country north of the Zambesi. In sickness, sacrifices of fowls and goats were made to appease the spirits. It was imagined that they wished to take the living away from earth and all its enjoyments. When one man kills another a sacrifice is made, as if to lay the spirit of the victim. There was a sect reported to exist that killed men in order to take their hearts and offer them to the Barimo.
The chieftainship was elected from certain families. Among the Bangalas in Cassanga country the chief is chosen from three families in rotation. A chief’s brother would inherit in preference to his son. The sons of a sister belonged to her brother and he would often sell his nephews to pay off his debts. It was by this means more than anything else that the slave market was supplied. They had a different way of looking at family bonds than we do, and they were very prejudiced in favor of these practices which were very deeply rooted in their minds.
Even those that lived in Loanda, which was one of the more civilized cities, would steal away from there in order to perform the heathenish rites without having any trouble from the authorities. There religion seemed to be one of dread. They must have lived in fear all the time thinking that their god’s chief responsibility was to make them miserable. They bought and used numbers of charms to avert the evils with which they felt they had to live with all the time.