Zande - Sociopolitical Organization

Political Organization. In precolonial times, the vast Zande homeland consisted of a number of tribal kingdoms, separated from each other by wide fringes of unpopulated bush. Among Zande speakers, most of these kingdoms, the number and sizes of which varied over time, were ruled by members of the Vungara dynasty, except for the westernmost kingdom, Rafai. In Rafai the ruler was, like those of the similarly organized Nzakara kingdoms, a member of the Bandia dynasty, which was recognized by the Vungara as its equal. These kingdoms, born of conquest, were sustained by more or less continual warfare.

Each kingdom was divided into provinces, which were administered mainly by the king's younger agnates, although in some eastern Vungara kingdoms Bandia governors were also at times appointed. In each kingdom, the central province was under the monarch's personal rule. Governors, although bound to pay tribute and assist the king in war, had considerable autonomy and ruled over deputies of their own. In each kingdom and each province, the ruler's court was centrally situated, and roads radiated out from it to the courts or homesteads of subordinates.

Under colonial rule, and even where the British preference for "indirect rule" held sway, this political system inevitably decayed. Western-style education produced new leaders; in Sudan, in 1954, an educated commoner defeated the son of the ruling prince in a local election. In the Central African Republic, mayors and village chiefs are still often of Vungara or Bandia descent, but national-level officials, usually non-Zande, are appointed from the capital.

Social Organization. The homestead remains the common unit for most day-to-day activities, although men congregate in larger numbers for activities such as hunting. In colonial times, closed associations, open to both sexes, were important for the collective performance of magical rites. These associations, probably of non-Zande origin, remain popular in present-day Zaire. They have been described as quite elaborately organized, but individual associations seem to have been short-lived. Kings and princes, as well as both colonial and postcolonial governments, have generally regarded them with disfavor.

Social Control. Day-to-day behavior is largely governed by the universal belief that most misfortunes are caused by witchcraft and that a witch will only attack those against whom he has a grudge. In precolonial days, serious accusations (e.g., of adultery or of murder by witchcraft) were brought to a ruler's court and resolved by oracle consultations in the ruler's presence. For adultery with a nonroyal wife, fines were exacted; witchcraft resulting in death was generally settled by magical vengeance. The adulterous lover of a royal wife, or a persistently murderous witch, might be put to death. Nowadays serious accusations (e.g., of witchcraft in connection with deaths by drowning or other accidents) can be handled by consulting a Nagidi prophetess and may, if her verdict is confirmed by local-government courts, result in prison sentences.

Conflict. Within the Vungara dynasty, conflict normally resulted in war, especially over succession to a recently dead king, but also in cases of rebellion against a reigning one. Changes in the number and size of kingdoms ensued. Among commoners, conflict, when not resolved amicably, was usually carried on by magical means directed against a suspected witch by the opposing party.

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