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Tonga Religious Life in the Twentieth Century

Elizabeth Colson

Publication Year: 2007

The religious life of the Tonga-speaking peoples of southern Zambia is examined over the last century, in the sense of how they have thought about the nature of their world, the meaning of their own lives, and the sources of good and evil in which their cosmology and society have been transformed. The twelve chapters cover Time, Space and Language; Basic Themes, Tonga Religious Vocabulary and its Referents; the Vocabulary of Shrines and Substance; Homestead and Bush; Ritual Communities and Actors; Rituals of the Life Course; Death and its Rituals; Evil and Witchcraft; and Christianity and Tonga Experience. The author has drawn on dairies by research assistants, and field notes and research of fellow anthropologists, but above all from her own interaction with Tonga people since 1946. The older people gave first hand memories of Ndebele and Lozi raids, David Linvingstone encamped near their villages in 1856 and 1862, the arrival of colonial administrators, traders, missionaries and European and Indian settlers, and in some cases, the end of colonial rule. Their experience and that of their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren provides the basis for understanding Tonga religious experience. Elizabeth Colson is an American anthropologist who is widely published on the Tonga. Her research interests have particularly concentrated on the Gwembe Valley.

Published by: African Books Collective

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-xii

My involvement in Tonga life stems from 1946 when I arrived in what was then Northern Rhodesia as a new research officer of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute assigned to work among the Plateau Tonga. By then they had been influenced by Christian missionaries for half a century. However, appeals for rain continued to be made at...

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CHAPTER I. Time, Space and Language

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pp. 1-17

This book deals with the religious life of Tonga-speaking peoples of southern Zambia through time. Time is the dimension that allows us to see process, and by process I do not mean a unidirectional trend. The Oxford Dictionary definition of process is that of “a state of going on or being carried on” and it is this state “of going on” with which I...

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CHAPTER II. Basic Themes

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pp. 19-33

Tonga religious life, as first described to me, was very similar to that reported for other speakers of Niger-Congo languages, of which the Bantu languages form one branch. Iliffe’s (1979:26-32) generalized sketch of religious life in Tanzania as of about 1900 could serve as a generalized account of Tonga religious life of about...

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CHAPTER III. Tonga Religious Vocabulary and its Referents

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pp. 35-61

Language affects the way people think and talk of spiritual forces. Ci-Tonga, like other Bantu languages, lacks gender. Its speakers, therefore, are not forced to impute gender to spirit or any other category of being, which may make personification less likely. This has not...

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CHAPTER IV. The Vocabulary of Shrines and Substance

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pp. 63-88

The Tonga, like most of the other peoples of Southern Africa (Zahan 1979:19-20), did not build temples, their Shona-speaking neighbours being the rare exception (Mbiti 1970:95). Zahan suggested a number of possible reasons for their absence, including both a climate...

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CHAPTER V. Homestead and Bush

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pp. 89-108

Although the Tonga once depended upon the bush for much food and many essential materials, as many Gwembe Tonga still do, it is the homestead that is associated with the known and the human. This is true despite the fact that rural houses are used principally for sleeping and...

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CHAPTER VI. Ritual Communities and Actors

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pp. 109-139

Religious activity in the past, for the most part, took place in the presence of others and derived some of its meaning from the kind of community assembled for the occasion and the persons who officiated. The Tonga would find Durkheim’s thesis of the relationship between...

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CHAPTER VII. Rituals of the Life Course

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pp. 141-169

Many of the spiritual forces dealt with by the Tonga emerge from the human condition through the transformation of death: mizimo, zelo or zilube, most if not all basangu, and perhaps some masabe. Only Leza has never experienced death, the end towards which all human life...

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CHAPTER VIII. Death and its Rituals

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pp. 171-200

Funeral rituals once encoded much of Tonga thought about the human condition (Moonga et al. 1996). They probably still do for many. The basic theme is a summing up of human life, and the variations from one area to another do not obscure this fundamental message. The...

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CHAPTER IX. Evil and Witchcraft

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pp. 201-232

Until Christianity introduced the idea of Satan and demons, permanently at war with goodness, evil (bubi) was a human attribute and it worked through human perversion of natural forces or control of ghosts and other creatures brought into being through the use of...

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CHAPTER X. Christianity and Tonga Experience

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pp. 233-265

Once, as pointed out much earlier in this book, people were not concerned about what others believed: the important thing was what they did. In the last several decades of the twentieth century, more and more stress, especially among young people, began to be placed upon...


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pp. 267-280


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pp. 281-303

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9789982240598
Print-ISBN-13: 9789982240451

Page Count: 316
Publication Year: 2007