Allodynes and Allodynamics
in Lamba Imaginative Tradition

Luchyele Chipimpi Earth Sun Moon
Stars Rain Lightning Theistic
Person Ichiyawafu Umupashi
A chief’s spirit Umupashi’s help Akapeshi Firstfruits Reincarnation
Imipishi Ifiwanda
evil work

Typically of many peoples’ story-telling traditions, the Lamba tales selectively represented on this website display only very fragmentary (and sometimes even downright misleading) information about the commonly recognized ‘allodynes’ in the wider Lamba imaginative culture. To give you some sense of the wider ‘allodynamics’ present in that culture synchronously with the folktales, the following paragraphs are extracts from the Baptist missionary Clement Doke’s own summary paraphrases of them. Note that, as with many folk-tale collectors, Doke was not so careful to obtain actual native texts of allodynamic myths as of folktales...


If one asks a Lamba to speak of the beginnings of Lamba history, he invariably goes back to the coming of Luchyele. The Lambas believe that Lesa visited the earth in the beginning under the name of Luchyele. Luchyele is said to have come from the east, ‘arranging’ the whole country, rivers, hills, anthills, trees, and grass. He came with numbers of people, planting the tribes and communities in their respective places, and passed on to the westward. Curious markings on the sandstone in the Itabwa plain, not far from Chiwala’s village and Ndola township, are pointed out as being the footprints of Luchyele and his people as they passed. It is said that the stones then were soft like mud, but that as soon as Luchyele had passed the mud hardened, and the marks have thus been preserved ever since.


In those early days the people had no chief, and they were but few in number. But when they began to increase there came a superior man from the west country whose name was Chipimpi. He was accompanied by his sister Kawunda Shimanjemanje, who is credited with having obtained seeds by stratagem. There were no seeds or cultivated vegetables in her country, and so she journeyed with her son to the Lualaba river in the Luba country, and was well received by the chief there. The Luba people cultivated their gardens, and Kawunda used to go and do her share of the work. She let her hair grow very long, and after a while worked it up like a great pot hollowed inside, with a small opening on top. As she went out to plant the seeds in the chief’s garden she would take seeds of every type, maize, sorghum, millet, pumpkin, etc., and throw them into her hollow headgear, until it was quite full. Her son did the same, and used to beg seeds to roast or fry, and store these in his headgear. They then returned to their own country.

So Chipimpi, with his sister and their households, came to the Lamba country, far superior in their knowledge of foodstuffs. The people of the country had no proper food; they ate what leaves and roots they could find in the bush.

Chipimpi and his sister prepared gardens and sowed the seeds they had brought. This so astonished the people that when the crops were reaped word went round, “There is food at the royal village! Let us go and receive from the chief!” The possession of food had become the sign of chieftainship. Thereafter Chipimpi became known throughout the country as chief of the Lambas. He was also credited with introducing the fire-sticks.

Now Chipimpi had a son, whose name was Kawunda. One day, when Chipimpi’s people were building a grain-store, every one was called upon to assist in the plastering. When the plastering was done inshima (porridge) was prepared by the chief for his people to eat. He also brought a goat (imbushi), so that his son and nephew might wash themselves in its blood. His nephew washed off the mud in the goat’s blood, but Chipimpi’s son, Kawunda, refused to follow his example. He had set his heart on washing in the blood of a man, having been urged to do this by his mother. So Chipimpi gave him a slave, saying, “ Here is a slave, he will help you with your work.” Kawunda picked up his hoe, slew the slave, and bathed in his blood. Then he said, “Now we are awenamishishi [hair clan people], for we have killed a man with the hair on his head! But as for you [indicating his father and his cousin], you are awenambushi [goat clan people], for you bathed in the blood of a goat.” And Kawunda slew Chipimpi and became chief.

Then Kawunda gave orders that the body of his father should be taken up and buried. After the burial the villagers returned home, and were amazed to find Chipimpi sitting outside his house. Kawunda then said, “Burn this chief!” Again, when they believed that they had successfully burned the body, on returning to the village they found the skull resting there. Kawunda then ordered the skull to be placed in a shrine and thus preserved. And the skull remained where it was put; so the people said, “This is what Chipimpi himself wants: he does not want to be buried, and he does not want to be burnt; he just wants to stay in a shrine.”

Some while after this Kawunda began to ill-treat the younger relatives of Chipimpi who belonged to the goat clan, and their anger was roused. “It is ours,” they said, “which is the chief’s clan! Why should we be treated thus? Let us now kill ourselves! Let us see what will remain! Kawunda himself can remain and the kingdom be his!”

So they all arose and went to the lake of the Mofya clan [now called ‘Lake of the Goat Clan People,’ it is a beautiful rectangular lake situated about fifty miles west of Kashitu railway station. The length is about 400 feet, the width 300 feet, and the depth has recently been sounded at 350 feet. Apart from the legend given here, the lake is shrouded in mystery and pregnant with native superstition]. There they sat down and began to extract oil from castor-oil beans, and to collect it into calabashes, bowls, and baskets. They then took all their goods and chattels, fowls, dogs, etc., and, tying themselves together with one long rope, threw themselves into the lake. A member of the leopard clan was the last on the line, and at the last moment he seized a knife, severed the rope in front of his wife, and cast her onto the bank. The woman screamed hysterically (so goes the native legend), but her husband took her away to the village, and she became the mother of all the present awenambushi. Thus did the human-hair clan wrest the chieftainship from the goat clan. But Chipimpi’s head was not quite so easily disposed of. The children of Chipimpi beat out new bark-cloth to wrap around the head, to preserve it in its shrine, but in the morning they found the cloth split. And one said, “Father’s calico is already perished! Let us go and beat another piece, that Father may stay in it!” And this they did; and even in the present day it is said that they still continue to beat out cloth for Chipimpi’s head.

The shrine with Chipimpi’s head is said to be near Kashise’s village in the Congo, near the source of the Kafulafuta river. The Lambas reverence the head very greatly, and look upon it as an oracle of the tribe. If some evil is committed the head is said to become annoyed, leave its shrine, and go bounding away into the bush! The regular keeper of the shrine, umwinamulenda, then follows it out into the bush and calls for it, whereupon it appears seated on a stump. On being assured that the evil will be dealt with, and on being presented with gifts, the head consents to return to its shrine.

The Earth

The earth they call pano posonde, “here outside,” for they say “We are people of God who have come here outside just to sun ourselves; we shall return yonder to our home!” Where ubo kwesu (our home yonder) is they are very vague; it is evidently not within the earth, but somewhere beyond the heavens.

They believe that the earth is flat, and that the dome of the sky comes down and meets the earth at its confines. At the ends of the earth the clouds come downward (sesemuka) to touch the earth; and the dwarf dwellers at “land’s end,” called utulyamakumbi (little cloud-eaters), cut off slices of the clouds, take them to their home, cook them, and eat them as their staple food. The Lambas say that these little people swarm out, men and women, with their baskets and knives, take the cloud slices to their villages, and cook them “as we do mushrooms.” There is another version of this, which says that the clouds swing backward and forward at “land’s end,” and that slices are cut off against the sharp edge of the earth, collected by the little folk, dried in the sun like cassava, pounded in their mortars, and made into porridge.

The realm of Lesa is evidently above the dome of heaven, which is conceived as something solid.

The Sun

The sun (akasuwa) travels across the dome of heaven until it reaches “land’s end,” and then it secretly travels back at night, very high up, behind a bank of clouds. The sun is a huge globe. On it are awantu (people), of a different creation from humans, who have daily duties. During its night journey, when it has cooled off, they polish it to make it shine brightly, and then they light the fires, so that great heat is given out. It begins to cool down as it gets to the west. There is another army of workers, who drag and push the sun on its daily journey; and yet another, who take it back at night. When the sun begins to rise the Lambas say, “The fire has only just been lighted.” In the same way, when it sinks red in the west they say, “It is because the fire is beginning to go out.” In winter-time (pamwela) the people on the sun do not make the fires up so strongly, “lest we should burn up the crops of our friends down below,” and they sprinkle water on to it to damp down the fires; the steam given off is seen in the overcast days. In summer-time they pour on no water, for they want to dry up the earth’s ifisompe, tracts of long, tall grass.

Regarding eclipses of the sun, the Lambas merely say, “They have covered the sun over,” referring to the awantu on the sun. The insasamyenje, or rays of the sun, often seen as he sinks in the west, are called by the Lambas imimpe, being likened to the branching tunnels made by the imfumbe mice.

The Moon

The moon (umwenshi) does its work by night. It too has awantu, workers, who wash it clean. Every day they wash and rub it over. It is very big, “too big to be picked up! It also returns to its starting-point every day, and in its journey at times it barely misses the sun. By some it is called awepwa (nephew, sister’s son) of King Sun. The sun is therefore wamwinshyo, maternal uncle to the moon.

The Lambas have a saying—they call it ichityoneko lukoso, ‘merely a myth’—that the sun and the moon are striving over the kingdom. The moon hurls his darts at the sun, and they are seen sticking into him; then the sun retaliates and throws mud at the moon, the dark patches being clearly visible on him.

The Lambas have the following folk-tale of the sun and the moon. While at a meal the two had an argument. Said the sun, “When I, sun, come out, all in the country, people and birds, begin to walk about.” Said the moon, “When I too come out, all the people walk about.” So the moon first appeared, and the people came out and said, “Let us go to work.” But when they reached their gardens they could not see how to work. When, however, the sun came out they all greeted him, saying, “The sun is the Great One,” for the forest was white and the grass was visible. Then did the moon agree to be the nephew of the sun.

When the moon is only half-full the Lambas say it is hidden in its house and is peeping out, only the amasengo (horns) appearing. Of the new moon they say, “Today [our] legs are weakened, the moon is settling down.” At new moon the position of the moon is watched. If it is standing upright, its horns pointing westward, they say, “Our fellows out west are unlucky; they are going to perish.” If its two horns point eastward they say the same of their fellows out east. But if the moon lies evenly upon its back they look upon it as a good sign, and say, “The moon is standing well!”

The Stars

The stars are the favourite attendants (awapanga) of the moon, who is their chief. All are round, and the twinkling of some is due to the making of fires on them. They all have awantu on them to make up the fires. In a fanciful way some Lambas speak of the starry sky as God’s village, with the fires showing in the doorways, Venus being the hut of the principal wife. But others say this is but fancy, and it is not generally believed in. The Milky Way is looked upon as merely a sign of approaching dawn, for then it is at its brightest. Iwuushyanama (the rouser of the buck) is the first star to appear at early dawn, a sign to the animals to go and graze. It is followed by intanda (Venus), the real herald of dawn.


Above the dome of the sky is a great lake of water, kept back by a bank or weir, ichipanda chyakwe Lesa. There are guardians of this lake, and it is their duty to guard the bank. It seems that Lesa does not desire to give much rain to the earth, for the Lambas say that sometimes he sends youngsters to guard the bank, who begin to play, and make holes through which the water pours down as rain. But when there is no rain they say that Lesa has now sent grown men to guard it, who respect the will of their master.


The Lambas always use the term Lesa in connexion with lightning. Lesa wapata, “God is scolding,” they say. The lightning is believed to be caused by the people guarding the weir. They swing round the imyele yakwe Lesa, the knives of God, and the flashes from these knives at times go very far. The Lambas say that the imyele do not fall themselves, but should they do so the country would be destroyed. When a flash appears there descends to the ground an animal like a goat, with beard and horns complete, but with feet and tail like a crocodile. It comes down on the end of a strong cobweb. Should the cobweb break, the animal, remaining, cries like a goat, and the people run together to kill and burn it. They fear that the animal might kill them, and those who destroy it must have protective medicine. Usually the web does not break, and the animal returns into the sky. People fear a tree struck by lightning, and will not use any such for firewood, for they think that ‘power’ has been left in it. Thunder, ubululuma, is said to be a noise made by the guardians of the weir shaking huge metal drums.

Theistic Belief

The Lambas believe that there is a “high god.” He is generally called Lesa, but there are various other names by which he is called. They give him the name Nyambi, used also by the Kaondes, and in oath-taking they use Mulungu and Shyakapanga. He is often designated as Lyulu, which means in the first place “the heaven.” This term is also used out of respect for prominent chiefs. Then there is the name Luchyele, in all probability connected with the verb ukuchya, to dawn. The derivation of Lesa is not known.

Lesa is believed to be the creator of all things, of the awantu who live in his realm, those working on the sun and the moon, those in charge of the abode of the dead, those guarding the animals under the name of wakaaluwe, and of the awantunshi, human beings, those on the earth, who are subject to imikoka, or clan distinctions. In addition to the material creation and that of the different types of awantu, he is said to have created the ifiwanda (demons) and the ifinkuwaila (goblins) which play so large a part in the people’s spiritistic beliefs. The creation of all things is attributed to Lesa. The Lambas say that he created the sun before he created the moon, and that the stars were created later still. Under the name of Luchyele, as we have noticed, he arranged the whole country, rivers in their places, mountains, anthills, grass, trees, and lakes. He came from the east, and went to the west, where he climbed up by a ladder into heaven. It is said that he left word with the communities of people whom he placed in the land that they were to remain and await his return, even if it were to be long delayed. He will come down again in the east, and then, as he passes, will take all the people with him.

It may be thought that this belief in the return of Luchyele is due to missionary influence, but when one takes into consideration the whole belief of the Lambas regarding ichiyawafu (the abode of the dead), the two conceptions are found to fit, and I cannot but feel that the natives are correct when they affirm that this is the belief which has been handed down to them from their fathers. They maintain that Luchyele will really come again, because he promised the people that he would send them the sun every day; he has done this, and so he will fulfil the other promise too. The dead, they say, are waiting in ichiyawafu for Lesa to take them out—otherwise of what value is ichiyawafu? Ichiyawafu is conceived as being within the earth, but the abode of Lesa is kwialu, in the heaven. When God descends to collect the people he will blot out all rivers and trees; the people he carries will have to be changed to conform to those who are in ichiyawafu, who have no sex or clan distinctions. The imipashi (spirits) who were originally left by Lesa to help and care for the people are earthly beings and cannot leave this abode; they, together with the ifiwanda and the ifinkuwaila, will be left behind when the people are taken.

Lesa is conceived as living in his great village, seated on a metal throne. The ‘village’ is so great that the ends of it cannot be seen. There are many awantu there, but no gardens. Lesa is said to sit alone on his throne; he has no wife. This is in contradiction to the common talk of the stars being lights in the houses of the wives of Lesa; serious Lamba thinkers say “that is only conjecture.” All the people in the village of Lesa eat food from the ilonga, or great eating-trough of the chief; and the food is so nice that if any drops on to the ground they pick it up and eat it, not minding the earth adhering to it!

In Lesa’s country there is no river, nor is there any grass in the courtyard, which is smooth and made of metal. There is no water, only honey. Only at night does Lesa leave his throne to enter his house. There is no sleep there; sleep will end when Lesa takes the people from the earth. The Lambas say, however, that there are both day and night.

The part played by Lesa in present matters is said to be as follows:

  1. He sits on his throne judging the affairs of the people in his country. He has councillors who assist him in these cases and watchmen who carry messages to his ifilolo (headmen).

  2. He appoints ifilolo to the work of guarding the weir and the rainfall. They have to flash the knives of God, and thus send lightning when the rain falls. He gives and withholds rain.

  3. He sends leprosy, Kafir pox, smallpox, and such epidemics as the influenza of 1918.

  4. When death occurs it is said, “It is God himself who has taken him.”

There is no worship of Lesa, no ukuwomba (gift to avert disaster) as to the awami (spirit mediums), no ukupupa (ceremonial offering) as to the imipashi (spirits of departed), and no ukupaapatila (prayer). People fear him too much, and consider him beyond their reach; they can but say, Lesa mutofweko, “O God, help us!” Only one prayer to God has been identified. A person may pray, “O God, give us rain, us, your people!” Otherwise they make offerings to the awami, for it is they who are able to speak to Lesa. They therefore say to them, “Pray for us to Lesa, O spirits of the chiefs, for we people are done for!” And the wamakamwami will give them assurance that the rain will fall.

It is said that God is angered when people sin deeply, when they commit adultery, steal, or murder, and that he punishes by sending leprosy and smallpox. But there is no way of approaching him for a cessation of these judgments; the people have just to bear them.

There are two folk-tales, to be found throughout Bantu Africa, which give the native conception of the origin of death and its certainty. They are connected with the conception of the “high god.” The following are the Lamba versions.

How Death Came into the World

Long ago the chief on earth used to travel from place to place, but eventually he desired to settle down; he therefore sent some of his people to God to fetch seeds, that he might sow them and have his own gardens. When his messengers reached God they were given some little bundles tied up, and instructed not to undo a certain one of the bundles, but to deliver them to their chief. “Of these bundles, don’t undo this one,” he said. The messengers had to sleep on the road, but their curiosity overcame them. One said, “Mates, let us see these parcels that the King has given us!,, And they began to undo them. When, however, they undid the forbidden package—the package of death—death spread abroad. In fear and trembling they went to their chief, and confessed to him that one of their number had opened the little package and let death escape. And the chief was angry, and said, “Catch him, and let us kill him.” And they killed him. And death entered the world.

The Story of the Chameleon and the Lizard

God sent the chameleon to the people with this message: “Tell the people that when they die they will return again.” The chameleon set off on his journey, stepping slowly and deliberately, kamu kamu kamu, rolling his eyes around at every step. After some days God sent the lizard with another message: “Tell the people that when they die they will die for ever!” It was not long before the lizard overtook and passed the chameleon, reached the people, and delivered his message. Sadly late, the first messenger arrived with his message of life, but the people would not believe him. They hated him for his delay, and, taking nicotine, made him eat it, and so killed him. And that is why the chameleon is to this day held in hatred.

The Spirits

To the Lamba the spirit world is one which has daily contact with almost every phase of his life. In order to understand his conception of this spiritual world it is necessary to ascertain his beliefs concerning what happens after death; and it is amazing to find how clear and concise these are.

One man briefly stated the commonly accepted belief to me as follows: “When a person dies his body is buried; he himself goes to ichiyawafu [the abode of the dead], and his umupashi [spirit] returns to the village to await reincarnation.” Thus, then, we find that the Lambas believe definitely that the living person is made up of body, person, and spirit. These three entities are naturally bound up together and interdependent in life, but are separated completely by death. Much in the burial rites can only be understood and explained by a study of Lamba belief in the origin or destiny of the person and the spirit, which, together with the body, constitute the living being. As was noticed when dealing with the burial rites, the body faces east, to facilitate the return of the spirit in reincarnation, and also so that it may look for the return of Luchyele. Death means the end of the body. But why is it that witches and wizards are invariably burnt? It is because fire, when medicinally treated by the umulaye (doctor), is the one thing that can destroy the spirit as well as the body. Nothing can destroy the ‘person.’

The Person

The body is the visible portion of the living being, but the ‘person himself,’ umuntu umwine, is only perceptible through his speaking, and that he has not left the body is indicated by his breathing. The Lambas use the term umweo, life, as synonymous with umuntu umwine, the ‘person himself,’ and when a person dies they commonly say, Umuntu waleko’mweo, “The person has let go his life.” The umweo is that which lives in the heart and causes it to beat. They say, Umweo eupema, “It is the life which beats.” It is further significant that umweo is practically synonymous with umutima, heart, a word derived from tima, which is equivalent to pema, to breathe.


At death the ‘person himself,’ freed from the body, umuwili, and also unlinked from the spirit, umupashi, goes away to the west, to ichiyawafu. This term means “the place where go the dead,” being derived from the words ya, go, and awafu, dead people. The person, then, according to the Lamba conception, is rigorously differentiated from the spirit. No spirit, they say, ever reaches ichiyawafu. The charm of ichiyawafu to the Lamba is that it is the place of rest.

An old Lamba may sometimes be heard to say, “Let me die soon that I may rest with my companions;” and on hearing that some one has died he will say, “To-day our friend has gone to take his rest.” This thought is carried so far that in the past many have been known to commit suicide in order to reach this abode of rest more quickly.

Ichiyawafu, according to Lamba conception, is described as a large country, situated somewhere in the west—some say underground—ruled over by a king who is not and never has been a human being. This king must not be confused with the deity, Lesa; he is set over the realm of the departed by Lesa. He is assisted by numbers of officers, ifilolo, whose duty it is to introduce to him the visitors as they come, and to assign to them their various places in the midst of their relatives.

It is only the persons of departed human beings which go to ichiyawafu; no dogs or other animals are to be found there. It is only the human being which has a ‘soul,’ or person.

Ichiyawafu is the great place of levelling. The dead of all tribes and nations go there, and live in perfect harmony. There is but one language, which each person acquires immediately he is greeted by the king. In ichiyawafu there is no distinction of social status; no distinction is made between the persons of chiefs, commoners, or slaves. Even the persons of witches and wizards go to ichiyawafu, for their witcheries have been left behind them. Entrance to ichiyawafu is not in any way dependent upon moral excellence, for any such attributes or lack of them are connected with the body and the spirit, and do not, according to Lamba ideas, affect the person himself. Ichiyawafu knows no clan distinction. As we shall see later, the clan is inseparably connected with the spirit, but has no connexion with the person. Sex is another distinction foreign to the self, and thus unknown in ichiyawafu. Sex is but a bodily distinction in Lamba belief, foreign to both spirit and person. The distinction of age is similarly unknown in the spiritual realm.

The Lamba crudely expresses these various beliefs. Says he, “At death the person is immediately transported to ichiyawafu, where he takes on another body, different from that which was laid in the grave, for that was dissolved, but one in which the ichiwa [face or features] is the same, one which is recognizable and has a voice which is recognizable. This new body is material, but there is no possibility of disease or death coming to it, for is it not in order to rest that these bodies are given? All there are males; there is no female. When a woman dies she leaves her womanhood in the grave, and appears as a man in his prime. If a baby dies, when he goes over there he appears as a grown person, and can talk. A madman, when he dies, appears in ichiyawafu sane; and a very old man will appear there as one at the height of his manhood.”

The Lambas have very hazy ideas as to what ichiyawafu is like, but they say that there are no houses, no trees, no grass, no dust, but everywhere it is clean and beautiful. There is no need to arrange a sleeping mat; all may lie comfortably on the soft ground. It is not thought that they sleep, but they rest and rest, and hold pleasant conversation one with the other. This period of rest in ichiyawafu is not to go on for ever; Lesa is to come and take out these departed when he comes again to gather the people.

Umupashi - the Spirit

The spirit, umupashi, as we have noticed, does not go to ichiyawafu. At death, when the body is buried, the spirit returns to the village to wait. It seems that the spirit haunts the body until the burial has been completed, and then hovers around the village where its previous activities have been centred, awaiting the opportunity for reincarnation. Meanwhile, it needs certain attention, and looks for the ifiwaya, or drinking-gourds of beer and gruel, and for the imilenda, or spirit huts, in which to dwell. If these necessaries are not provided, and the spirit is left uncared-for and uncomfortable, its state will be reflected in sickness coming upon awene wamupashi, the ‘owner’ of the spirit, or upon some member of his family. The doctor will have to be called in, and his diagnosis will be, “It is your spirit which is causing this.”

The Owner of the Spirit

The ‘owner’ of the spirit is some relative of the deceased, a child, maybe, or a younger brother, but of necessity not husband or wife. If the deceased were a male, the owner of the spirit, responsible for its welfare, would be decided in order of preference as follows: (1) his younger brother, (2) his son or his daughter, and (3) his sister’s child. The owner of the spirit is then said to inherit the spirit of his elder brother or of his father; and a daughter may even inherit the spirit of her father. If the deceased were a female, the inheritance of the spirit would be decided in the following order of preference: (1) her younger sister, (2) her daughter, and (3) her granddaughter. Thus it is seen that no male can inherit the spirit of a female.


When some time has passed after the death of a man, his mother will say to his younger brother, “Do you, his younger brother, build the imilenda for your elder brother; it is you who have inherited his spirit. Inherit, then, his name, and build for him the imilenda.” The young man will then adopt his elder brother’s name. This, however, does not mean that he has become possessed by the spirit of his brother; he is but the guardian, and that spirit is still at large, awaiting an opportunity of reincarnation.

After some days, further delay the heir, impyani, will have beer brewed, and summon his friends. Before the beer is touched there is the work of building the umulenda. A space is cleared in the garden-clearing, a little distance from the hut which the deceased had occupied, and one hut is built. All the men gathered to the beer-drink assist in the building, bringing the sticks, grass, and bark rope. The umulenda is a very small hut, made of sticks and grass in the same way as is an inkunka, the temporary lean-to erected on a new village site. At times the umulenda is as much as 4 feet 6 inches in height. A small platform of sticks is constructed within before the hut is finished. This platform consists of four forked sticks planted in the floor, two transverse sticks joining the pairs of forks, and a number of sticks laid across the transverse sticks. This platform is erected to support the calabashes of beer; they are not placed on the ground for fear of the termites. Finally a small grass door is made to fit the doorway.

Spirit of a Chief

For the spirit of a paramount chief, after the funeral ceremonies have been completed, an umulenda is also constructed. The chief himself goes to ichiyawafu, and his spirit returns to his home village to await reincarnation, though some say that the wamakambe, maneless lions, are reincarnations of departed ancestral chiefs. This is especially believed if the lions are met with at the burial-ground of the chief. This belief is extended to an ordinary lion if it is met when it is devouring a kill. Hunters will try to drive the lion off, and will flatter it by calling it by the names of various chiefs, begging it to give its people some meat. The chief’s successor, he who has ‘eaten’ his name, becomes the owner of that spirit. He it is who brews the beer, summons the people, and builds the umulenda, in the same way as has been described already in the case of a commoner.

When an ordinary umulenda rots, the owner will take out the calabashes and place them under the eaves of the veranda of his house. He may later on build another umulenda and restore the calabashes to it, but often this is left until sickness comes to a member of his family. The doctor, when called in to diagnose, will say, “Build the spirit hut, for the spirit is angry at having to sleep outside!” The imilenda are kept shut, except when the owner wishes to see whether the termites have been at work. Anyone else would fear death should he meddle with an umulenda.

Help of the Umupashi

It is believed that the spirit will help the owner in various ways if honoured and housed comfortably. When a man is going on a journey he will take some meal and go and throw it into the calabashes in the umulenda, and say, “I am starting on a journey, and have come to bid you good-bye.” This is done that the spirit might go before him and assist him on the way. Again, when a dead antelope is found the fortunate man will say, “My spirit has given it to me;” and there is a common saying used to a person of sharp tongue: “You speak like a spirit that does not give meat.”


There is quite a different type of spirit hut, erected only in honour of chiefs and renowned village headmen. This is the akapeshi, erected for the purposes of bringing rain. When the rain holds off and the prospects of a harvest are endangered, Kawalu, the guardian of the chief’s weapons, will call a young ‘doctor of axe-handles,’ i.e., one who divines to detect the interference of the spirits, but has not yet learnt to probe the world of demons or to exorcise ifiwanda. He will say to the doctor, “Divine for us, that we may see what is holding back the rain.” And the doctor’s verdict will be, “It is the chief who is angry, because you have not built the utumimba.” Utumimba is but another name for utupeshi, the small spirit huts of the crossroads.

When Kawalu is alone again he will go to his chief, and tell him that the (dead) chief is angry, because they have not built him any utumimba. Then early the next morning men will carry meal and go and erect two utumimba, sometimes even four, at the crossing of the ways where the undertakers had rested and set down the bier when on the way to bury the remains of the chief. Men usually go in pairs to build these miniature huts at all the places where the corpse had rested. When the huts are completed, meal is placed in lines on the ground before the utupeshi, and the men rub some of it on their faces. If one of the men, while on this work of building the utupeshi, finds something to eat —honey or meat--he does not keept it for himself, but takes it to the doctor-of-axe-handles, saying, “This is what the chief has given us.” All then partake of it, and say, “The chief has prepared us a meal today.”

If it rains on the day on which they build the utupeshi no one will go to work in the gardens; all will stay at home in order to honour the chief for having given them rain on that day. Afterward passers-by will place small offerings of meal, honey, meat, etc., in the doorway of an akapeshi, saying, “They belong to the chief.” This is to prevent the chief from getting angry. Utupeshi are similarly erected in many villages at the cross-roads in honour of the spirits of the chiefs of those villages. All this is called ‘begging rain from the chief, and is considered a surety of abundant rains.


The utupeshi (spirit huts) also play their part in the recognition of the first fruits. Before the people partake of the new season’s food, tiny pumpkins, cucumbers, and maize are carried by the village headman to an akapeshi in the pathway. Little furrows are made in the doorway, and the offerings are placed therein, with these words: “Here is food, which we have brought that you may taste the firstfruits, for we too desire to eat.” These offerings, which are by no means “of the best of the flock,” are left there to rot or dry up. In the same way, when the amasaka corn ripens the headman of each village goes through a similar act, and thus all members of the village are free to partake of the new corn.

The utupeshi are not revered as highly as are the imilenda. They do not house the departed spirit, and when grass fires destroy them nothing is thought of it. The akapeshi is temporary in its use, while the umulenda serves its purpose as long as the spirit is awaiting reincarnation.


The Lambas state that more than one spirit may be housed in one umulenda, provided that the spirits are all of one clan. The denoting of the clan is one of the most important functions of the umupashi. The Lambas say, “The great thing with the spirits is the clan.” In this the spirit is most unlike the person.

The spirit can only be reincarnated in a member of the same clan as the deceased; and when a baby is born it is usually the duty of the maternal grandmother to decide upon the child’s name, which is that of the deceased whose spirit is believed to have entered the babe. If the name decided upon by the grandmother is not the correct one, the displeasure of the spirit is shown in the child’s falling sick. Then follows the necessity of a doctor to divine, in order to ascertain what spirit it is that is reborn. All this goes to show that in addition to the reincarnation of the spirit, there is also the power of the spirit to hold himself aloof and show displeasure. It seems that it is not the entire spirit which is reincarnated at a birth, but a kind of afflatus from it. This view is borne out by the fact that the spirit of one ancestor may be born into more than one babe at the same time. This is further confirmed by the fact that the spirit is still honoured and propitiated after a child bearing the same name has been born. The child in whom the spirit of a chief is reborn is accorded a certain amount of respect, and may, on attaining manhood, eventually be chosen to the chieftainship.


The Lambas’ belief in the spiritual world goes very much deeper than an acceptance of the existence and potency of the umupashi, the spirit of the departed. They have a firm belief in the existence of apparitions and ghostly forms and visions, which they designate generally by the terms imipishi, imichishi, or wamukupe. These terms, which are synonymous, signify something evasive, which one has seen indistinctly, but which disappears entirely when one would investigate it closely. This general term of imipishi is of very wide significance, and is applied in the following instances:

  1. When one gets a glimpse of people at a distance, but on arrival at the spot finds no trace of them, not even a footprint, and they are believed to have been ghosts, the spirits of the departed.

  2. When one sights animals at a distance, but finds no trace whatever of their having been there, it is said that they belonged to the guardian spirit of the herds.

  3. The same term is applied to the ghostly visions seen by a person when ‘sickening’ for spirit-possession. The sick person who is about to become a mowa is said to see visions of people travelling in the sky. The wise will say to such a person, “No, they are not people, they are ghosts you have seen!” These are said to be the spirits of the long-departed dead.

  4. The mirage is put into the same category, and is believed to represent a river, swamp forest, lake, or pool belonging to the long-departed dead.

  5. Mysterious evening heat is also termed imipishi. Natives say that sometimes when travelling at night they come upon a spot where there is heat as from a fire. One will call out, “What heat there is here!” His companion will quickly reprove him for speaking like that, and say, “Let us go. It is the fire of the dead. Let them warm themselves at it!”

  6. The ifinkuwaila, goblins, and the ifiwanda, demons, are also included under the general term of imipishi, because of their invisibility.

The Lambas are diffident about talking of imipishi. Should some women, coming back from foraging in the bush, say, “We saw some people coming toward us, but when they were quite near we did not see where they went to,” one of the villagers will reply with the proverb, “One does not mention ghosts in the village.”

Ifiwanda - Demons

The ifiwanda are not to be confused in any way with the imipishi, spirits of the departed. They constitute a separate creation. The term ‘demon’ is not an adequate translation of the term, for the ichiwanda [singular of ifiwanda] is able to act beneficially toward human beings at times. Nevertheless, the role of the ichiwanda in causing madness seems parallel to our conception of demon-possession.

The ifiwanda are said to wander about in the forest, and old men are said to have seen them as ghosts moving at a distance. They are believed to have long red hair, which stands straight up on their heads, and their eyes are continually turned upward. They are otherwise like awantu, black people. They do not clothe themselves at all.

These beings favour the darkness, and for that reason, among others, the Lambas dread darkness. They say, “Youngster, one doesn’t sit in a dark zareba,” lest a demon coming in to get out of the rain should find one there. They also say, “Stir up the fire [and brighten the hut], lest we should have demons to share the porridge with us in eating, and it should come to an end quickly!”

Evil Work of Ifiwanda

Ifiwanda are said to kill people by beating them. A person on reaching his village may say, “Something struck me while I was in the bush, and I did not see what it was that hit me.” The village elders will say, “It was the ifiwanda which struck you.” The Lambas say that if an ichiwanda desires to attack a man he comes to him invisibly. The man feels a blow, say, on his eye, and searches round to see whence it has come. He finds nothing. On his return to the village the umulaye, doctor, is summoned, and he brings leaves efficacious against demons. Burning some of the leaves, he smokes the patient. From others of the leaves he prepares medicine for the patient to drink; others again are soaked in water in a bowl of bark. This receptacle is called isambwe, and from it the patient is bathed, that the demon may leave his body. The bark bowl is then covered up, and the patient recovers.

It is said that others, when struck by ifiwanda, are spoken to. They hear the voice only, and do not see anything. The demons say, “Don’t say anything at the village! If you say anything, your blood be on your own head. You will die!” The frightened man keeps the matter to himself and says nothing. His life is saved, and he does not fall sick.

The evil work of ifiwanda is revealed in several ways. When a man suffers from a great persistent ulcer which will not heal, it is sometimes said that an ichiwanda has brought the ulcer and is dwelling in it. This is quite a different matter from ulcers caused by witchcraft. Similarly, leprosy is often attributed to the action of ifiwanda. But by far the most baneful thing attributed to the ifiwanda is demon-possession, shown in madness. An ishilu, a madman, is called a ‘person possessed by an ichiwanda.’ There is also in Lamba belief a demon of lesser powers, called umusako, which may possess a person and cause morbid dumbness and mild idiocy. They say of an idiot, “He has demons.”


The Lamba account of demon-possession is as follows: A man is sick; maybe it is an ulcer from which he is suffering. The various medicines applied have had no effect whatever; the man gets worse, and begins to speak incoherently. Some of the onlookers will say, “This person is already out of his mind; this is the work of ifiwanda.” Then one day he begins to rage, and rushes out of the hut. The people say, “Catch him, he has gone mad; these are demons which have taken possession of the man.” When ifiwanda thus take possession of a man they are said to ‘eat’ him or to ‘kill’ him, though the result is madness, not death.

Exorcism of a Demon

The awalaye (diviners) are credited at times with being able to exorcise demons from madmen. This is the Lamba account: When a man becomes mad the villagers hasten to fetch the doctor, who diagnoses the case as one of demon-possession. The mother and father of the afflicted man then desire the doctor to procure medicine for him. The doctor brings the necessary medicine, which is mixed with water in a calabash cup. A small circular hut without any opening is erected around the madman. Some one, holding the cup of medicated water, then climbs to the top of the hut, immediately above the place where the madman is seated, and pours the water down upon him. Thereupon the madman shouts out, “Oh, ye slaves, how it is raining today?” But the people give him no reply. In the evening they take him out, and he says, “Did you not see how it rained in my house?” Thereupon the doctor spits upon his back other medicine which he has been holding in his mouth, and goes on to deceive him by saying, “Wash your face—the rain has-made you very wet.” After this the patient is given gruel mixed with portions of a python. After drinking this concoction he vomits violently. Then succeeds a period of deep depression, during which he does not speak at all. He is restored to the village life, and in place of his madness a quietness comes over him. He will once more take his part in the work of the village, but will very seldom be heard to speak.

Attendant Ifiwanda

According to Lamba belief, every one has his attendant ichiwanda, who looks after his interests, and is able to bring punishment upon anyone wronging his ward; This punishment is effected by sending sickness to the evildoer or some member of his family, or by exposing him to the wisdom of the umulaye, who is thus able to ‘smell him out’ as a wizard. The ichiwanda can further assist his ward by arranging for imbiko, omens of evil, to appear in his way, and so warn the man against going to his death or into disaster. This beneficent action of the guardian ichiwanda is also seen in the driving force behind the imposition of the death-dues which must be paid by a widow or a widower. When a person dies it is said that his ichiwanda returns to the forest, whence he has come, to resume his wanderings; no longer does the ichiwanda have any association with the umupashi (spirit) of his ward. When that umupashi is reincarnated, it is another ichiwanda that comes to act as guardian over the child. If, however, there is a widow or widower left on the death of the ward, the ichiwanda delays his return to the forest, and remains to see that the rights of the deceased are observed, that the death-dues are paid, and that the redemption of the relict is completed.

If a woman dies, her attendant ichiwanda watches the husband to see what he does. Should he marry before the death-due is paid, the demon may cause his new wife to become ill. When the umulaye is called in he will tell the man that it is his own fault for not having redeemed himself, and that the ichiwanda of his late wife is bringing this trouble upon him. The man will humble himself, make a present of beads to the sick person, and beseech the demon, saying, “I repent, O demon! Let me first seek for the goods to restore whence I have come!” This is called “ drinking bitter fruit.” The demon will hear his prayer, and the woman will recover. When the man has carried out his promise the demon will leave him. Death is believed to be the lot of anyone who is persistent in ignoring the claim of the ichiwanda for the payment of the necessary death-dues.

Ifiwanda are believed to protect their wards from wild beasts. If a person meets a lion out in the veld, and the lion merely stands and looks at him, despite the fact that he is quite close to it, he will say on his return to the village, “My ichiwanda saved me today; otherwise I should have been eaten by a lion!”

Ifiwanda are even said to take the part of imfwiti, witches or wizards. It is maintained that during the poison ordeal at a witch-trial, when the umwafi poison is being administered to a fowl, the guardian demon of the witch will at times sit in the mouth of the fowl, and take the poison himself, so that the fowl escapes death, the witch consequently being exonerated.

But the guardian ifiwanda do not always remain faithful to their wards. If the demon no longer wants a man whom it has been guarding, it will prompt him to commit some foolish action, and then will not save him when he gets into danger. It may lead him to enter a brake after a wounded buffalo or leopard, or make him trust himself on a rotten branch.


Return to African List

More about Allodynes

Return to Main Index of Tales