Photo above: Leading dancers of the Mizyuka semi-secret female association, among the Bwari fishermen of Bubwari Peninsula, territoire Fizi  (Photo Biebuyck, 1950).

Field Notes (1950)

BAZYOBA (Bakyoba), riverains of Lake Tanganyika in Uvira and Fizi territories.

The basic unity of several ethnic groups in the Kivu area, or at least of their ruling or predominant groups, is repeatedly stated in the genealogical recitations that I witnessed and that were attended by hundreds of elder spokesmen.

The origins are placed in the Lwindi/Itombwe area with a certain Kabuka (‘Abu’a) of the Batumba clan (a clan still represented among the Bembe, Vira, Zyoba, Lega, Fulero and still the ruling dynasty among the Nyindu). Kabuka had four wives:

  • The first gave birth to Mukinji (M’minje) who is said to be the arch-father of all populations in the Uvira region and Mutalwa, who was the great chief of Lwindi.
  • By his second wife he begot Ngweshe, who became chief of the Bashi, and of Musinga, first chief of the Banyarwanda!!!
  • By his third wife, Kabuka, begot Namubeza, first chief of the Balega and Musambya, chief at Mtambala (Ubembe), and Basibagera, who never became a chief, and Kasumba. chief of the hunters (Balumbu, Basi’asumba) who are identified with the Pygmies (Batwa or Bambote).
  • By his fourth wife Kabuka got Kirunga, chief of the Bafulero and Ngabwe, chief of the Balunga (Bazyoba) in the mountains.

Mukinje is said to be the father of several Bembe “chiefs” ( Mukuku, Lusamba, Mambo and Bazyoba “chiefs” (Suimma, and Munene, and Benge of the Bavira and Kisale of the Bembe).

This is obviously a simplified and politically motivated history which contains of course several core elements, although the question of chiefs among the Bembe and Lega, outside the Basim’minje among the Bembe, the Bainyindu and the Basimwenda among the Lega is complex.

The Bavira would have been the first to settle in the area of the Lake coming from Lwindi around the Ulindi river in the mountainous hinterland.

This seems to have been a peaceful expansion; Kirunga, son of Kiringishe the chief in Lwindi arrived on a hunting party in the land of Uvira which was uninhabited. He asked investiture of his father, received the royal insignia including the karinga drum. He was accompanied by seven clans, the heads of which were Mugaza, Mufumu, Nabaganda, Muhinga, Nabuhalu, Nalukanga and Mukono.

The Bagaza, called after their head Mugaza, were the first to settle as the first Bazyoba clan. Kirunga himself and his subordinates settled in the village of Rumonge at the foot of mount Munanira which remained a sacred mountain for all Bavira. The subsequent process, difficult to follow, is one of increase of population, splitting and merging of groups, occupation of new lands.

It is customary to say in the Uvira area “Bandu boshe bafummire Lwindi”, all people come from Lwindi. But repeatedly some Bazyoba told me that their origins were located near the Elila river, not far away from Ulindi (Lwindi) but more to the south.

It is clear that part of the Bazyoba clans came in a second wave with the Babembe, but initially the Bembe remained in the mountainous hinterland. In 1880 when the first catholic missionaries settled in Mulueba the entire coastal area was peopled by tribes whose language they called Kizyoba-Kisanze. The Zoba established among the Vira have always been dependent on the Vira chief, but in Bembeland the memory of petty chiefs among the Zoba remains vivid, such as Kiri, Suima, Lubungu, Kangeta, Makobola, Lueba, Mulambo.

After the establishment of the Bavira, the Bakamba clans arrived, later called Bafulero; they met at the Kiliba river in combat, after which the Bafulero were established north of the Bavira and somewhat in Bavira country itself.They had their own paramount who did not depend on the Bavira paramount. The Barundi arrived later under chief Ngabwe of the Bazige clan coming from Burundi. They asked the Bavira for lands and obtained them between the Kiliba and Kawezi rivers in exchange for ivory.

The Banyarwanda also appeared before European penetration. They left the country under Bugumba to get rid of the extravagances of King Kahindiro. They obtained from the Bafulero the lands of Mulenge, Upper Sanghe. At the death of their second chief Kaila they dispersed all over the country to settle in the most inaccessible areas.

The first “Arabs” arrived in the country under the Vira chief Lenge II, they had been across the Lake in Udjidji for a long time before that. They arrived in small sail boats and settled in the neighborhood of the Bavira from where they organized their raids. Soon the Vira allied themselves with the Arabs to raid cattle from the Rundi. This caused a very strong dispersion of Vira who soon found members of their group in Bujumbura, Kitega, Udjidji etc. The tribal confusions that originated during this period can be assessed from the kind of personnel that worked at the first Mission station of Mulueba; they included representatives from Maniema, Uvira, Burundi, Rwanda, Ubembe, Kasanze, Unbwari, Marungu.

At first, only some Europeans appeared sporadically. The missionaries had to withdraw to Kibanga, which they left because of sleeping disease. Then they withdrew to the region of Baudouinville. Only in 1933 did they set up a new mission in Buvira and in 1947 in Baraka (Bubembe). The “Mission Libre Suédoise” in Uvira was organized in 1921. In Braka there was the “Unevangelized Africa Mission”.

On Feb 14th 1897, the “Batetela” launched a large attack against the eastern Congo, some coming from the West descended the Fizi hills and mountains to Uvira; they were commanded by Tiangufu and terrorized the populations that fled into the mountains. The first Belgian troops were defeated, but at a second battle the Batetela were overpowered and dispersed.

At the time of my research besides the missions, the administrations, Greek, Hindou and Arab shop-keepers, there were such organizations as Otraco and Cotonco. Bwari fishermen, travelling from the Bubwari peninsula in their dhows (sailing boats called dyahazi) regularly traded fish to the Kavimvira market. There were also numerous contacts across the Lake with Burundi and Tanzania, where numerous Bembe and Zoba villages are settled along the Lake shores.

From Uvira to Baraka, Zoba villages were settled along the Lake amidst and among Vira and Bembe. Villages situated on the Vira side such as Kalungwe, Kabimba, Kigongo and Kamba are essentially Zoba, but one finds some Bembe in them; a village like Kamba is divided into two halves, one Zoba and one Bembe. In the mountainous hinterland of Uvira there are also three Zoba villages (Kifuto, Kitala and Munyebungu). Villages on the Bembe side that are essentially thought of as Zoba are Suima and Kiri on Lake Tanganyika.

Material Culture

The original house (mushonge) of the Zoba was circular and made of straw or clay. During my research, they were mostly building the rectangular mud house (as prescribed by the administration). The wooden substructures of these houses were made by women, the roofs were covered by men and the walls filled with clay by women. Kitchens (kitekera) were often built separately from the house and parallel to it. Most houses had a kitala, a construction for storing cotton or drying wood.

Among the tools made by local blacksmiths the most important are: fumo, spear; fuka, hoe; makali, knife for cutting small branches and grasses; musholo, iron bar for digging manioc; mugushu, billhook; mbazo, adz; shenio, ax.

Most pots were traded from the Bembe; apart from the all-purpose vessel (nyungu) they included: kabindi. a big jar for water or beer; karabo also for water or beer. Calabashes for drinking water and beer; the water-pipe (kazoo).

There was a great variety of baskets; some were made by Fulero, others by Bembe, still others by Vira or Rundi, few by the Zoba themselves.

The manioc through and pounder come from the Bembe; the kifumbi stool also originated with the Bembe.

Staple foods included manioc, corn, and the small kafumba (ndagaa sardine-like fish from Lake Tanganyika). Banana beer was made by men.

They had few beaded ornaments, but had numerous different types of hairstyles: limboto, zebwima and kitapa for girls; kahala, lumba and shule for boys.

Following are some of their musical instruments: membranophone drums; munona and likimbi sanzas; zeze zither; kangungu and kashamba musical bows; kabunzekere, calabash rattle with grains; luhegere, dog bell; milonge, pieces of bamboo for percussion for the Nabingi cult.; kibuga, horn of cow; yunga, small metal bell.

Snares and traps: kirabo for hunting big game (buffalo,leopard, antelope, boar), kakongolo and mwesho for trapping birds, makila, hunting nets, buhya, pirtfall, kasholeko, big game.

Games: kyanga, men, a kind of mankala game board played by 2, 3, 4 men with 64 sholo grains. Children played ball (mupila) and trundled the hoop (goroli).

Major crops: manioc, corn, peanuts; banana trees ; beans, three kinds of peas. Some white millet and sugar cane. Cotton planting was obligatory for all adults since 1934. There were regular markets, e.g. in Kavimvira and Kamba, where Banyarwanda, Bembe, Bwari, Vira traded goods, cattle, goats, fish, milk, beans, millet, maize.

Fishing in the Lake with canoes (beat), torches (biomle)  and large nets (kazango) by men, mostly nocturnal (the Lake was calmer at night). They also fished with traps and lines, mostly by boys and young men, in the Kibanga bay and Kilombwe swamps. Fishing spear (malobo) was known; nets (mutaho) and (kifungatumbo).

Dug-out canoes made by Bembe; note that the builders of canoes were called Bagoma; work was done in the forest by a mugoma and about six young men who received food for their work; the making lasted about 9 days. A large number of woods were appropriate to carve the canoes; the canoes are pulled down the mountains with ropes and lianas to the Lake. Three sizes of canoes: bwato bunini, small; bwato bwa nzanga, middle size, bwato buhamu, large.

The bimole bundles that hang burning over the canoes to attract the fish at night were bought from Rundi and Fulero; often exchanged for dried kalumba fishes. Paddles, kibando and bamboo pole (mukingi).

The Zoba made a large number of different nets, some of which took many months to finish.

Certain kinds of fish were not eaten, because they had certain physical features, or were said to be poisonous. There were numerous behavioral taboos linked with fishing (sexual abstinence, e.g. a man should not have intercourse when the moon was kituto, above the Lake or kabali, above the mountains; he would have to wait until it was malenga, above the heads. Bad luck in fishing was said to be due to anger of the spirits or ancestors, to sorcery, to curses against the canoes or the nets.

The sovereign of the Lake was called Mugazalugulu; he was the son of Kahungula and Nakulumbata; his wife, Kyataanda, had many children: Mlubire, Mufumbe, Mutundumulo, Mungeta, Kangula, Muhofu, Kwibe, Mutambala, Nguli, Wapemba. Offerings to them in fish etc were mostly made during the night. His cult was particularly cared for by a female mufumu, ritual expert; but when the entire community was affected, it was the lineage head who became officiant on a shrine built near the Lake.