The Bayeke Culture

The late Mwami Antoine Munongo Luhinda Shalo wrote this text. His contribution to the history and culture of the Yeke is notable. The Mwami engaged in the Herculean task, which in his eyes, was of a supreme importance. Today, more than ever, we benefit from this labor of love, especially in this age, where multimedia and western cultures are dominating to the detriment of our cultures. Our gratitude towards the Mwami Luhinda is immeasurable.

We, the entire Yeke family, have the honor to introduce you to our culture, our traditional songs, which, most of the time, narrate our history and significant events. These songs stir up different emotions, such as joy, sadness, anger, and hope. Since music is the universal language, it is the most fitting channel to unpretentiously teach others about who we are. At the same time, it allows us to conserve our history, as we pass it down to our children.

Dear readers, here is the culture of the Bayeke.

Great warriors, great tradesmen and fearless travelers, all qualities we did not inherit from them, as their descendants. The ancient Bayeke are also great singers. Our fathers, instead of expressing in words the different feelings of the soul, or the various life circumstances, often preferred to sing them. It is mostly at times of religious gatherings, or other occasions, as the one which took place on the 15th of August 1948 in Bunkeya, when singers gathering at the Royal Palace, employed their songs to praise their Mwami, to give him good advice, and ask him for favors. It is during such moments that they alerted him of the dangers that were threatening the land, so that he could take the appropriate measures to prevent these ills from affecting the people. They utilized songs to teach the youth about the respect that is due to the Mwami, the notables, and the traditional customs.

This way of expressing their thoughts through songs pleased the Mwami, and still pleases his successors and all the Bayeke. To encourage singing artists, Msiri would indulge them with prizes. Here is an example: Upon his victorious return from campaigns in Kayumba and the Lupundu, Msiri set up a camp behind the Nkulu hill before making his triumphant entry into Bunkeya. However, the population, displeased with some of the skirmishes which had taken place during the long absence of the King, went to him to ask, through a singer, for his speedy return in Bunkeya, in order to reestablish order. This artist performed the following song:

Mwenda, Kotoka Mwami (1)
N’oyo ali mulanda
Kwabele Kuitandula
Mu esha shalo, Kotoka,
Bwana Saidi, ai we!
Lugambo, lugambo gambo ku numa
N’ezyo nkungwe mu mbavu:
Shabele shishiko mu Bunkeya, ai we

Mwenda, return, dear King,
For even the one who was a nobody
is now rising
in the country. Return,
Master Saidi, ai we!
Only rumors during your absence
Only tears among us:
So much killing in Bunkeya, ai we!

Leaving Bunkeya around the age of twelve and since then living away from the Muyeke center, I was enthralled by anything European. I had, like today’s many youths, neglected to study the history of my country. If now I am captivated with that history, along with the songs and our music, it is because of my parents, and notably my paternal uncle Mwenda Kitanika, who by giving me a copy of Mukanda Bantu’s memoirs, rekindled that love. That is why it was so important to translate these songs in French, a beautiful and fine language, yet difficult, especially to a foreigner. The way we express ourselves, we African people, often differs from the Europeans’ because of the geographical differences, as well as a dissimilar way of thinking. Furthermore, among the Bayeke poems that exist, some came from the Usumbwa, our old country, and others were composed here in Katanga or Rhodesia. The former celebrate great events from the land of our ancestors, some of which are about the invasion of the Bangoni, and the liberation led by Mirambo and Shyunzi. These poems and songs still remain a mystery for us the Bayeke. Also during their performances, the older people forget to explain their meanings to us. Among the poems and songs from Katanga, which are easier to understand, some harbor memories of the Usumbwa, making references to the people and objects from there. Also, in order to translate the mysterious character of our songs, and to give them meaning to the French reader, I had to sit for days on end at the feet of the elders to implore some explanations. These benevolent teachers tried to enlighten me on this subject. They succeeded, to some extent, considering the fact that their memories were fading. It is with this background that I translate these songs literary. I have tried to make them understandable. If I have failed, may the reader forgive me.

To those who know the Kiyeke better than I, it is fair to say that the language has undergone different influences from the country in which the Bayeke have settled. Other influences came from the many dialects spoken in the Unyamwezi, following the Wasumbwa as they traveled. Furthermore, the Bayeke, many of whom born from native women, are no longer, and have not been for half a century, in contact with their brothers from the Usumbwa. That is why they often use words with a different meaning, from that used over there. Regularly, they use expressions from native languages. Nevertheless, I have to say in their defense, that after comparing their spoken language, and that found in written books I obtained in the Usumbwa, that our Fathers still speak our language, the Kiyeke.

As is aforementioned, these songs encompass events from the Usumbwa, part of the Unyamwezi, and the Yeke kingdom here in Katanga. Because of their inclusiveness, I have called these songs: Historical songs of the Bayeke.

I close by extending my gratitude to the Yeke teachers for the benevolence they exhibited, along with the few Europeans, who encouraged me to conserve our poetry and indigenous music from vanishing. I am grateful to Joseph Kiwele, who transcribed these songs.

Antoine Munongo