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Boas, Franz. Race, Language and Culture – T59


The Concept of Soul Among the Vandau 1

The following is a description of the concepts relating to the soul
among the Vandau of Portuguese Southeast Africa, as developed in
conversations with K'amba Simango, a young Mundau who was studying
in New York in 1919. He seemed to be well informed in regard to
the customs and beliefs of his people. He speaks both Chindau and

“Life” is called vʏomi 2 (Zulu ubutʻoŋgo). The Zulu word is also
used in Chindau in the form vutʻoŋgo. The prefix shows that it is an
abstract term. Living man has a body (muvili pl. mivili) and a bvuli
(pl. mabvuli; Zulu isitʻu˙ndzi). The bvuli is alive and indestructible.
It is not indissolubly connected with the body. The shadow or reflection
of an object is also called bvuli. The bvuli is an essential part of existence
only in man. In dreams the bvuli appears or leaves the body, and
both bvuli and body have “life” (vʏomi). The bvuli is never sick. When
a person dies the body is without “life” which stays with the bvuli, that
is, the bvuli remains alive while the body is dead.

After the death of a person the bvuli becomes a mulu˙ŋgu (pl. valu˙ŋgu),
synonym mudjimu (pl. vadjimu). The latter term may be derived
from the stem djima (kʼudjima to extinguish). The corresponding
Zulu terms are itʻoŋgo (pl. amatʻo˙ŋgo), used also in Chindau in
the form tʻo˙ŋgo (pl. matʻo˙ŋgo); synonym izitʼutʼa (pl. izitʼutʼa), used
in Chindau in the form tšitʼutʼa (pl. zitʼutʼa). This term may be derived
from Zulu ukʼutʼutʼa to wander about. The mulu˙ŋgu has the form and
608character of the deceased. The term bvuli is also used for the mulu˙ŋgu,
meaning that he is the shadowy, unsubstantial image of the dead one.
With this meaning the mulu˙ŋgu is also called moya, wind, air, and
mpʻepʼo wind, because, like the air, it cannot be touched and held. The
mulu˙ŋgu does not stay with the body but follows the family. The
mulu˙ŋgu retains the name of the deceased. He is immortal and cannot
be reborn. Every family venerates its own valu˙ŋgu.

When all the relatives of malu˙ŋgu are dead and his memory is forgotten,
or when he goes to a strange tribe in which he has neither relatives
nor friends, he wanders about and becomes a tšilo˙mbo (pl.
zilo˙mbo) or a dzokʼa (kʼudzokʼa to rattle in the throat), because a person
possessed for the first time by a dzokʼa produces a rattling noise in
the throat. A synonym for dzokʼa is zintʻikʼi (pl. mantʻikʼi, usually
meaning “ceremonial song”; compare kʼuntʻikʼinya to throttle). The
Zulu call the tšilo˙mbo idlozi (pl. amadlozi) used in Chindau in the
form dlozi. The Zulu call the dzokʼa muŋgo˙ma. Since all of these belong
to persons who have been forgotten they have no known personal
names, but they reveal their names when they come into personal contact
with the living. The tšilo˙mbo is similar to the dzokʼa, but weaker.
A tšilo˙mbo who brings misfortune is also called kʻombo, i.e. bent, because
he bends the straight road of life. The tšilo˙mbo accompanies
and directs the beze (pl. madjibeze), the experienced naŋga and the
expert dotʼa. These three are medical practitioners who by the use of
herbs and by means of prophetic bones (ze˙mbe) advise and cure the

The dzokʼa are unknown deceased persons who possess the nyamsolo
(fuller form nyamusolo; nya head) and with whose assistance they
take the scent (kʼufemba) of the mulu˙ŋgu who causes sickness. The
word nyamsolo (pl. madjinyamsolo), or in form of respect vanyamsolo
may be derived from solo head (?). After the dzokʼa has taken the scent
of the mulu˙ŋgu, he overpowers him, takes hold of him if he tries to
escape and forces him into the body of the nyamsolo. Then the mulu˙ŋgu
speaks through the mouth of the nyamsolo. The dzokʼa takes no part in
these proceedings. By means of a slight indisposition of a person, his departed
grandfather may wish to indicate his desire for attention. Then
the dzokʼa of the nyamsolo takes the scent of the mulu˙ŋgu who is forced
into the body of the nyamsolo. The mulu˙ŋgu states his name and
wishes. As soon as this is done the nyamsolo sneezes “wensya” and thus
removes the mulu˙ŋgu from his body. The mulu˙ŋgu of a relative does
609not cause serious sickness. When the mulu˙ŋgu of a person not a member
of his own family attacks a person he is taken seriously ill. Then the
mulu˙ŋgu is bribed by presents to desist. After the mulu˙ŋgu, through
the mouth of the nyamsolo, has expressed his willingness to accept the
presents, the nyamsolo sends out his attendants (muliša, pl. vališa) who
deposit the presents outside in the grass. Then the nyamsolo sneezes
wensya” and thus dismisses the mulu˙ŋgu. The mulu˙ŋgu who is sent
out against a person attacks only the body, not the bvuli. He tries to
throttle the patient, to break his neck or to kill him in some other way.
The nature of his attacks is shown by the symptoms of the sickness. Often
he tries to kill a person by the same sickness that killed him. A dzokʼa
belonging to a foreign tribe is designated by the word that belongs to the
language of that tribe. Thus a Zulu dzokʼa is called muŋgo˙ma. Others
are simply indicated by tribal names, as, for instance, lo˙zi, a dzokʼa of
the Vandau of Rhodesia.

Generally a dzokʼa is acquired unintentionally. A person who is walking
about may accidentally pass a dzokʼa who will accompany him. Then
the person feels ill. A ŋaŋga or nyamsolo is called who tries to drive
away the dzokʼa. If the person wishes to keep the dzokʼa he will stay
with him and after an initiation the person will be a nyamsolo.

Some nyamsolo have from ten to fifteen dzokʼa. At the initiation,
when the dzokʼa enters the person's body for the first time, he fills the
upper part of the body of the novice who breathes with rattling in the
throat. At later times, when the dzokʼa is asked to find the mulu˙ŋgu
causing sickness he does not cause any discomfort.

The bvuli of children, old people, and mentally affected are called
nšimu (sing, and pl.), synonym salavusa (pl. masalavusa) said to be
derived from kʼusala to stay, remain, and vušwa grass). They lie in the
grass and attach themselves to anyone who happens to pass by. Their
presence is indicated by a slight feeling of discomfort or by itching of the
body. Therefore, when a person has these feelings it is said, ndatšikʼa
, “I stepped on a salavusa.” When a few crumbs of food are
thrown to them they leave and repeat the same game with the next

Several kinds of mulu˙ŋgu have special names. A mupfukwa is the
mulu˙ŋgu of a person who has been murdered and who comes to take
revenge. (Kʼupfukʼa means “to emerge”, “to take revenge”.) Other
mulu˙ŋgu are instigated by witches, male or female (valo˙yi), to attack
610their enemies. The mupjukwa pursues his murderer at his own initiative.

Ba'ndu is a special term for a particularly merciless mulurx\gu.

The mpʻo˙ŋgo is the mulu˙ŋgu of a member of the chief's family,
particularly of a past generation, presumably of an individual who has
been forgotten. Some member of the chief's family, one who is observing
the prescribed customs meticulously, is liable to be attacked by him.
In this case he is also called mpʻo˙ŋgo because the mpʻo˙ŋgo speaks
through him. The mpʻo˙ŋgo does not cause sickness of individuals but
affects the welfare of the whole tribe.

My informant declares that the Vandau do not believe that dead
ancestors turn into snakes. The valu˙ŋgu keep snakes in the way we keep
dogs, and snakes are treated with respect because they are the property of
the valu˙ŋgu. Groves are not venerated, but since graves are placed in
groves they are feared and respected as property of the valu˙ŋgu.

Since “life” (vʏomi) is considered as an abstract power, man, according
to our informant, has only one soul which, according to its state and
actions, is designated by various names:

During life of the owner | bvuli (shadow, reflection)
After death, but while the owner is remembered | mulu˙ŋgu or mudjimu
On account of its unsubstantially | moya or mpʻepʼo (wind)
Souls of children, old or mentally unsound persons | nšimu or salavusa
After death, when forgotten | tšilo˙mbo (if weak) | dzokʼa (if strong)
The mulu˙ŋgu of a member of the chief's family | mpʻo˙ŋgo

1 Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, vol. 52, part 1(1920-21), pp. 1-5.

2 v, f bilabial
, , glottalized surds
, , strongly aspirated surds
ŋ middle palatal nasal
ʏ middle palatal fricative
ż labialized sonant z, like a whispered zü
š English sh
English ch
dj English j
l with strong vibration of sides of tongue
˙ long vowels
. separates vowels that do not form diphthongs
e, o always open