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Alice Werner, “Liongo Fumo” in Myths and Legends of the Bantu, London: George G.Harrap & Co., Ltd., 1933, 145–154.
Liongo Fumo (accessed: July 28, 2021).
Crossover (children and young adults)
Cover from The Archaeological Survey of India, Central Archaeological Library, New Delhi, Book Number: 1187.
Author of the Entry:
Chester Mbangchia, University of Yaoundé 1, email@example.com
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Daniel A. Nkemleke, University of Yaoundé 1, firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Deacy, University of Roehampton, email@example.com
Marta Pszczolińska, University of Warsaw, firstname.lastname@example.org
, 1859 - 1935
Alice Werner (June 26th, 1859 – June 9th, 1935), born in the Imperial Free City of Trieste on the Austrian Littoral, was a German linguist, writer, minor poet and teacher. She was one of the pioneers of African Studies in the twentieth century. She studied at Newnham College at Cambridge University. Her visits to Nyasaland and Natal reinforced her scholarly interests in Africa. In 1917, when the School of Oriental Studies (later SOAS University of London) opened its doors to students, she began teaching Swahili and Bantu continuing this work until her retirement, as professor emerita, in 1930. Two years earlier, she obtained there her PhD in Literature. She also taught at Oxford and Cambridge. She was awarded the Silver Medal by the African Society in 1931. Her poem Bannerman of the Dandenong. An Australian Ballad made her popular in New Zealand, Australia and other parts of the world. However, her major achievement remains her book Myths and Legends of the Bantu (1933). It presents the beliefs of the Bantu, their origins, their gods and their myths. Werner's earlier important publications include: Introductory Sketch of the Bantu Language (1919), The Mythology of All Races, vol. VII.: Armenian, by M.H. Ananikian, African, by Alice Werner (1925). She died in London at the age of 75.
austlit.edu.au (accessed: July 28, 2021).
digital.soas.ac.uk (accessed: July 28, 2021).
Bio prepared by Divine Che Neba, University of Yaoundé 1, email@example.com
The myth of Liongo Fumo* is about a Swahili poet, warrior, and hero who braved diverse barriers till his death. He was a tall and brave man whose younger brother, Shah Daudi Mringwari, the Sultan of Pate, hated him. Their polygamous father, Shaka Mashah, favoured the latter because the former’s mother was more miserable. However, Liongo’s extraordinary stature, fighting and poetic skills gained the attention of many. His brother’s jealousy leads him to plot to get rid of him, fearing that he would usurp his unlawful throne. To complete his machinations, Mringwari arranged a marriage between his elder brother and an attractive Galla woman. All this to make his brother remain in the Galla county away from Pate, his hometown. When Liongo married and settled in Galla, Mringwari offered rewards to Waanye and Wadahalo men to cut off his head. Unluckily for them, Liongo confronted them and escaped to Pate, where Mringwari further sent men to imprison him. Although they succeeded in capturing him with chains, he composed songs sent to his mother, pleading she organises a feast where the song would be chanted. During the feast, the loudness and sweetness of the sounds distracted the guards, and he escaped by cutting his chains off. Mringwari now plotted to kill him through his brother’s son, whom he had had with the attractive Galla woman. Mringwari promised to reward the boy with the royal treatment and the promise of a marriage if he would find out his father’s weakness, seeing as different warriors had used tools that could not kill him. The boy, cunningly, went to his father to enquire about his weakness. Although Liongo knew the boy's wicked intentions, he revealed that he could be killed with a secret weapon, a copper nail stubbed exactly into the navel. The boy returned and informed Mringwari, who gave him a tool with which to slay his father. Finding his father asleep, the boy daggered him and escaped. Liongo struggled with the wounds to the village gate, where he knelt with his bow and arrows. People feared going close to him for three days, thinking he was not dead, until his mother spoke to him. However, she discovered he was dead, and was quickly buried where his grave is still visible today. The son who had murdered his father prided himself in front of the Mringwari. The villagers and his mother considered him a traitor; they seized and killed him, but no one mourned.
* Although this myth was collected many years ago, it is still being told to children and young adults in traditional African communities. And like all other oral narratives, several versions of the same story may be available in different places.
This myth depicts the African belief and worship in particular locations, precisely where certain heroes were buried or performed mighty and remarkable deeds. Hence, the places are made special to honour the heroes. Further, the myth’s presentation of a charmed life protected against every weapon of destruction but vulnerable in one flaw aligns with the familiar Greek myth of Achilles. Liongo Fumo accurately represents admirable traits like heroism, bravery, courage, humility, justice and the offering of oneself as the ultimate sacrifice for society. Liongo Fumo’s epic quality and his journey from Shaka to Pate city in two days, his use of poetic skills to escape jail, the presence of an evil and betraying protagonist, parallel adventurous and brave journeys and lifestyles of other heroes. The myth, thus, describes heroism, bravery, and the display of wit and strength, relevant qualities for young adults since they need such qualities to be the leaders of tomorrow.
“A Swahili History of Pate”, African Affairs 54 (1915): 148–160, doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.afraf.a099367 (accessed: July 28, 2021).
Hägg, Robin, Ancient Greek hero cult. Proceedings of the Fifth International Seminar on Ancient Greek Cult, Stockholm: Svenska institutet i Athen, 1999.
Kingsley, Charles, The Heroes: Or, Greek Fairy Tales for My Children, Macmillan and Company, 1888.
Nagy, Gregory, The ancient Greek Hero in 24 hours, Harvard University Press, 2013.
Steere, Edward, “Story of Liongo” in Swahili Tales. As Told by Natives of Zanzibar. With an English Translation, London: Bell & Daldy, 1870, 439–453 (accessed: July 28, 2021).
Alice Werner mentions bishop Steer as her source of the tale. She writes: Bishop Steere wrote, in 1869, that “the story of Liongo is the nearest approach to a bit of real history I was able to meet with. It is said that a sister of Liongo came to Zanzibar, and that her descendants are still living there” (p.145).
see: Steere, Edward, Swahili Tales. As Told by Natives of Zanzibar. With an English Translation, London: Bell & Daldy, 1870.
The countries on these maps represent the Bantu in the low-lying hills and coastal plains, part of the Sub-Saharan ethnic group of the Banu, Swahili cluster, who speak Swahili. They are predominantly Muslim traders who deal with salt, fish rhinoceros hides and ivory but also raise livestock. Their traditional setup is matrilineal, as their children belong to the women’s clan and the line of descent is traced through females. They are generally polygamous and in families, the birth of girl children is welcomed with much joy. To them the rustling of a leaf indicates the passing of spirits; the eclipse of the moon shows a celestial war; poison or witchcraft is the cause of most cruel deaths and their honoured spirit, kolelo, resides in caves and they perform ceremonies to purify their land after every harvest.
Chami, Felix A., "The first millennium AD on the East Coast: A new look at the cultural sequence and interactions", Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 29.1 (1994): 227–237.