Photo above: Portrait of Makumika, the traditional Vira chief (swami) who was locally exiled by the Belgian authorities in Uvira “territoire” (Photo Biebuyck, 1950) – see photos for his full portrait, wearing the ishungwe, the traditional sign of his supreme authority. See DB bibliography: “The Shungwe Diadem” (1980).
Field Notes (1952) in Rugongo village
In the presence of chief Makumika and the royal initiators (Nakabaka, etc.)
At that time, the Vira were organized as a small chiefdom ranging from Kavimvira in the territoire of Uvira to Makobola in the territoire of Fizi, and along lake Tanganyika and in the mountain chain west of the lake.
The Vira constitute a small chefferie that extends along Lake Tanganyika between Makobola and Kavimvira villages and in the mountainous hinterland. Their neighbors are Bembe, Fulero, Rundi and there are Banyarwanda immigrant groups with cattle (from Rwanda) in the highland areas. They are agriculturalist and fishermen on the lake, and have cattle in the highlands.
According to their tradition, nine clans migrated from Lwindi (in Mwenga territory). The Banyalenge clan traditionally produced the Mwami; the heads of the eight other clans are Bazyoga; they select the chief, enthrone him and are important ritual and socio-political figures.
The eight clans are represented by Muhinga (guardian of ancestors, of the chief’s cemetery); he enthrones the chief, Mufumu (health of chief; divination on his behalf), Nabaganda (guards the insignia of the chief: kilandwe spear, kahamba knife, mugushu billhook, sungwe crown made of shell and eagle claws, forked staff placed in front of chief; kesho pipe).
Nakabaka, Naziba, Nalukanga Nakasinga (cares for shungwe and for kasinga spirit in mountains; annually, he goes with a black goat and with Muhinga to kasinga and gets some honey there. On their return, the chief eats honey to absorb kasinga, and Nabuhalu (Nabuholo), guards the war drum; the other dignitaries are helpers of Muhinga and Nabaganda.
Other groups in Viraland without special functions are Bahala, Baheta, Batala, Bagazya, Babumba, Balambo, Babondo, Bahamba.
The villages comprise an heterogeneous clan population. The extended patrilineal family (bunda lyetu) is a key group and their heads “freely select residence with this or that one of Bazyoga and Banyambala.”
After a one year interregnum, following the death of the Mwami, the Bazyoga present the name of the new Mwami; they symbolically catch the new Mwami, there is mock fighting and then they carry him to Rugongo where the kimiko (initiation place and initiation house) are located; they stay there for one year. involved with teachings and medicines. Normally the successor is a Bweza.
Bweza is the son of Nyangoma; she is the daughter of the ruling mwami (so the function is not hereditary. Bragard (1937) notes in his manuscript that three persons rule as a triad: Mwami, political; Muhinga, religiously; (b)weza is chef de guerre. The Nyangoma is a woman selected on the side of the Mwami’s maternal uncles the people of Nabaganda). At coming out before travels throughout the land with the Bazyoga, the Mwami receives the names Lenge Muruta Kanyange Kirunga (peace in land; become strong/ take care of the land; be ‘white’ like this bird (pique-boeuf); bind/hold your people together).
A Mwami must not die a natural death, if this happens the entire land might “die”. The chief is strangulated when “moribund”. The corpse is then smoked on a “claie” in the chief’s cemetery for a period of two months, while it is guarded by the college of initiators. A larva taken from the corpse by Muginga is nourished with honey; it is supposed to transform into a leopard. The body is left there. Every year Muhinga visits the place ringing the bell/beating the gong. Spirits arrive there as leopards.
Stools (bifumi or ndebe) are reserved for the chief and two dignitaries; Nakasiba is seated on the right of him and Nabuhalu on his left. Drums are very important.. Six to ten drums are associated with the Mwami: kalinga is the most important drum; it is beaten by Ndamusa, a man selected in the group of Nabaganda at the enthronement rites.
Byaliho are counsellors, they generally are the Bazyoga who got land after the chief is fully installed and settled on it, each one of them leaving a kinsman for the continuing functions of Bazyoga. The children of a Mwami are Mutwale and generally they are not Byaliho.
The Bazyoga and their ancestors left with Mwami from Lwindi!!!
There are chefs de groupe and village headmen; e.g. Makobola, Bahalu clan, is said to be one of the chefs-de-groupe
Note That the small group of Banalenge are found in several villages (Kabimba, Kalungwe, Kasenga etc.) that are identified as Bazyoba.
The matters of kihugo (= eser; the land; the country) settled by Mwami, Byaliho and Banyambale
The ancestral cult is practiced in small shrines erected near the houses, in which hey place two quartz stones adorned with red lines (red obtained from red stone). Among the other cults:
- Nyabingi cult, consulted for sickness, trade of cattle etc. trips. Nabingi manifests himself through the mouth of a woman; during the procedures she shakes a calabash rattle (containing seeds and medicines) and holds a small bamboo.
- Mungandjagulu . spirit of Lake Tanganyika who favors fishing; communicates through a mufumu; offerings are taken to shores of Lake and then trasports in dugout to some area in the Lake.
- Mutambala makes children sick; offerings
- Shalamba: spirit of Lwenge. In Kashekebwe there is a tall stone rubbed with white clay and planted in the ground, surrounded by luhero Annual ceremonies supervised by Muhinga.
Notes on Vira by Moeller 1936 p. 136-137
Of Banialenge stock, originate in Manyema, where lived in Kulionga area (Lega); following internal fighting moved under chief Kirunga to their present habitat about three centuries ago; the lake was then close to the mountains;
Settle in unoccupied area between Haute Sanga and Shanza river (in Bubembe) following wars in Ulindi region Bangobango and Hamba (take name Bafulero) arrive; push Vira back, leave to Rundi plain between the Kiliba river and Lake.