Pende - Religion

The Pende refer to God by three names: Nzambi, Kalunga, and Mawese. "Nzambi" is probably the most recent. "Kalunga" is also the name of the abode of the dead, but western Pende say, "Our dead have left for Mawese; it is he who showed our ancestors the customs and the hamba [the object or rite bequeathed by the ancestors through which one enters into communication with the guardian spirits and renders them favorable], which they have transmitted to us."

God made everything. To the Pende, he is the great chief, but a faraway chief. The ancestors who are their immediate masters, implicated in all acts of life, for everything belongs to them. One does not share a kola nut or a calabash of palm wine without reserving a small part for them, either thrown or poured on the ground while saying, "This is for you."

The Pende individual believes that by mastering genetic power, which enables him to conquer time and death, he can also master his environment. In the person of the chief, this environment stretches to the stars. It is the universe conceived, it is true, as a living whole. The chief is a cosmocrator, but a cosmocrator who may initially be humiliated. The chief is chosen from the district lineage, a fearsome choice. The man thus designated often refuses and flees. He is seized and severely beaten, so severely that, if the chief designated is aged or is judged to be too feeble to undergo such treatment without endangering his life, a brother who is younger or more robust is chosen to undergo it in his place. The western Pende used to hasten the end of a moribund chief by wringing his neck, but such practices were prohibited by the colonial authorities. One aspect remains mysterious: the chief may not go near the masks that are considered to be a manifestation of circumcision. He, like the women and children, may see them only from afar. The Pende say that "the chief is like a woman" or that "he has become a woman by the investiture." Nevertheless, the dance area is situated near the chiefs hut—but it remains empty, and the door has to stay open lest the women be threatened with sterility. This prohibition appears to betray an antagonism between a chiefs power and the rite of circumcision. The first embodies fecundity, parental values, and diachronic bonds. The second is the expression of a solidarity that is synchronous with age classes. Modesty, with which the Pende child was impregnated in the family surroundings, is attacked during the circumcision rites by repeated allusions to the sexual organs of the father and mother of each candidate, allusions judged to be intolerable in everyday life. The Christian missionaries decreed that the Pende could not subject their children to such rites, and, given that most Pende had become Christian, circumcision ceremonies have not been held in the region since well before the mid-twentieth century.

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