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5— Tribalism in the Political History of Malawi1
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Chiefly Powers and Social Control

From the turn of the century onwards, Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, as the new British colonies came to be known, were linked to the emergent capitalist


economy of southern Africa and were especially oriented towards the gold mines of the Witwatersrand.[41] The transformation of the rural areas of Central Africa into satellites of South Africa was gradual, but it was real, eradicating distances and dissolving territorial boundaries. The solvent in this process was money. The British administration imposed an annual hut tax both to finance its operations and to press Africans into wage labour. The missionaries who operated the local school system required the payment of substantial school fees, and local people were ardent for education. Bridewealth, which eventually came to be payable in either money or cattle, constituted a third use for money. Finally, people needed money for their discretionary wants, such as clothing, salt, tools and similar items.

Because there was no way of earning money locally—no markets, no industries, no farms, no plantations—the men had no option but to walk to regional labour markets to earn, as migrant workers, the money they required. Initially, in the years before World War I, people worked out strategies to sustain village life. Certain men would go to the labour markets of the south to earn enough money for several of their fellows to survive upon, for example, and those left at home would attend to village agricultural requirements, going for their share of migrant labour later, when their fellows returned.[42]

Between 1912 and 1923, however, a succession of blows were dealt to such attempts to come to terms creatively with the necessity of labour migrancy. An outbreak of bovine pleuro-pneumonia in 1912 ended the trade in cattle which had become important in supplementing earnings from labour migrancy.[43] During World War I men were drafted to serve as porters in the British army for periods of up to three years and the resulting shortage of male labour adversely affected food production in the village gardens. The army also commandeered large amounts of food and many cattle from the people, and great burdens were placed upon the women remaining in the villages as they tried to produce enough food for their families and themselves. The war was followed by the great worldwide Spanish influenza pandemic of 1919 which killed thousands of Tumbuka and Ngoni. This in turn was followed by a heavy round of inflation, an outbreak of Bubonic plague, a doubling of the tax rate in 1920, and a severe famine in 1923.[44]

The impact of all these events resulted in an abrupt emigration of the male population from northern Nyasaland, with as many as 70 per cent of the men absent from home at any one time. This absence placed great strains upon village life in general and upon relations between men and women in particular. A crisis within the family resulted, with women whose husbands were absent bearing children conceived in adultery or deciding to seek divorce so as to remarry.[45] As a consequence, men sought to assert control over women through recourse to institutions of African 'customary' law. They undertook this strategy at an opportune moment.

During the 1920s, the British were especially eager to implement a system of formal Indirect Rule. Chiefs and headmen in all districts of Nyasaland already played a considerable part in the collection of taxes and in general administration: in 1912, the passage of the District Administration (Native) Ordinance (DANO) had provided for the appointment of Principal Headmen and subordinate village headmen to whom would be delegated minor responsibilities for the general conduct and welfare of village life and for keeping the district officer informed of births, deaths, crimes, disputes and disturbances, and immigration. The village headmen had the additional important duty of 'allocating village gardens and pasturage' under the officer's direction.[46]

In 1924 an amended version of DANO that strengthened the African role in controlling village society was passed. Principal Headmen and section councillors


were to administer 'sections' made up of 'village areas'. The delegated powers were substantial, with Principal Headmen in particular gaining power. They could hear cases referred to them by the village headmen and could charge a fee; they could officiate at weddings and grant or refuse divorces; they were responsible for tax collection which conferred advantages in the control of labour; they issued beer licences which brought a major industry engaged in by women under their jurisdiction; they controlled afforestation, which involved house building and much local industry; and they acquired for the first time clearly defined powers over village headmen, with profound consequences for the allocation of land. In 1929 a further amendment established courts at which the Principal Headmen could hear civil cases. All these provisions were consolidated and a system of Indirect Rule was formally established in 1933 with the promulgation of the Native Authorities and the Native Courts Ordinances.[47]

From the British point of view the advantages of Indirect Rule in cutting costs, saving work and dividing the Africans into competing communities were obvious. But there were advantages for certain Africans as well, and not only the chiefs, the 'Native Authorities', who were to assume the new powers. One group who benefited were migrant labourers. The British used local chiefs and headmen as adjudicators in marital disputes, and consequently 'traditional' chiefs came to be central in the concerns and calculations of ordinary men who were eager to preserve their interests at home while working outside Nyasaland.[48] In the context of the new political economy of migrant labour, then, chiefs had an enlarged role to play and men were willing—even eager—to accept chiefly authority and the historical mythology that legitimized it. Another group who could benefit were educated Africans, for they could count on being advisers of the chiefs. Given the powers ceded, however, the question of who actually secured the post of Native Authority was crucial, and, in the case of the Tumbuka, Edward Manda's intervention proved decisive.

Chilongozi Gondwe, Chief Chikulamayembe, had been in poor health for several years, allowing Manda's own influence to increase. In 1931 the old chief died. Although many elders initially supported the claims of Gogoti Gondwe, his appropriate successor in terms of 'custom', Manda persuaded them to accept John Gondwe, the son of the deceased chief and the Mission's candidate.[49] He had been educated at the Mission and, being only 26 years old in 1931, he fulfilled Manda's requirements for a young, pliable, educated chief.[50] A Tumbuka elder of the time, while acknowledging the appointment's irregularity, explained that when 'appointing John we knew that John had education, knew white men and modern affairs. It was because of this that we appointed John.'[51] Confirming the strong linkage between education and growing ethnic consciousness, the new chief introduced compulsory education for all children in his chiefdom, the first (and, to our knowledge, the only) Nyasaland chief to do so. Within six years, a district officer could comment that 'compulsory education in Chikulayembe's country has ceased to be an experiment and is becoming an accomplished fact'.[52]

Functioning both as a theocratic éminence grise and as a progressive, Manda enthusiastically manipulated the Past to bolster the public image of his chosen instrument, the Chikulamayembeship.[53] In 1932, he proposed that the new chief should rule over all 'Utumbuka', 'the Land of the Tumbuka'. Although this included territory never under past Chikulamayembes, Cullen Young's work was cited to justify the claim.[54] In the following year the Chikulamayembe and his supporters 'invaded' the neighbouring Mwafulilwa area to 'annex' it, earning an official reprimand.[55] Soon afterwards, the chief, aided by Manda, attempted covertly to establish a Tumbuka chiefdom in the heart of Ngoni country, near


Hora Mountain, where Tumbuka rebels had fought the Ngoni in 1879, seeking, as the District Commissioner explained, 'to make this a centre from which Tumbuka influence would spread and eliminate Angoni rule'.[56] The Tumbuka would then be able to live 'without the stigma of subservience to Angoni rule'.[57] These efforts failed, but they revived bitter anti-Ngoni feelings, especially amongst the partisans of Tumbuka lineages whose authority the Ngoni invasion of the mid-nineteenth century had extinguished.[58]

By the early 1930s, then, largely because of the Mission's educational work and Tumbuka men's willingness to accept increased chiefly authority, Tumbuka ethnic consciousness had become a reality, focusing attitudes, instilling pride, and helping to shape actions. The census of 1931 noted that there was a marked decline in the number of people identifying themselves as 'Ngoni', caused by

the tribal consciousness in the peoples amongst whom they live. In the days of their greatest power, it was politic and long afterwards fashionable . . . to claim membership in the all-powerful Ngoni tribe. . . . The indigenous tribes are no longer afraid or ashamed to call themselves by the proper names.[59]

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