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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/695

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THE BANZIRIS OF THE CONGO BASIN.

THE BANZIRIS OF THE CONGO BASIN.[1]
By M. F. J. CLOZEL.

THE territory of the Banziris extends along the northern shore of the upper Oubanghi between the rivers Ombela and Kouaugo, Africa. They have also a few villages on the southern shore that belong to the Congo Free State. The whole number of Banziris on the north shore may be about four thousand; we lack data for estimating the number of those on the south shore. The tribe is not, therefore, numerically very considerable, and their territorial extension is still less than might be supposed from the number of the population. In fact, they occupy only the edges of the shore. Their cultivated lands are of small extent, and the water is their real element. They deserve attention in the first place as navigators—carriers in a part of the river where steamers penetrate only with great difficulty or do not penetrate at all. They have transported one after another the various French expeditions to the country, they help keep up intercourse between the European advanced posts, and they are a chief resource of the commercial houses in the region. When they are not employed by Europeans they carry on commercial ventures on their own account on the upper Oubanghi and its affluents, or, rather, they undertake long fishing trips to secure a provision of smoked fish for their families. The fishery is furthermore an affair of so much importance to them as to determine real migrations. In the dry season, when the low water uncovers the sand bars of the river, three quarters of the population—men, women, and children—abandon their villages on the land and establish themselves in the middle of the river, where they can fish more conveniently. The provisional establishments set up here do not cost the Banziris much time or material. Their round huts are made of mats of plaited straw, held by a few stakes, and covered by a pointed, thatched roof. The houses in the shore villages, a little larger and more solid, are round like the others and indifferently kept. The real dwellings of the Banziris are their pirogues, and these are their refuges when their neighbors of the tribes to the north press down upon them too closely. These pirogues, hollowed from the trunk of a tree, are usually from thirty to


  1. Much of the information in this paper was obtained through Bonga, a ten-year-old son of chief Bembe, and very intelligent for his age. The father was one of the most influential men of his tribe, and the first who on the embassy of MM. Crampel and Ponet came to them and accepted the French protectorate. Bonga, after two years' residence with the French, learned to speak the language well, and did excellent and conscientious service as an interpreter.