SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Palmeirim, Manuela (1994) Of alien kings and ancestral chiefs : An essay on the ideology of kingship among the Aruwund. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

PDF - Submitted Version
Download (15MB) | Preview


This thesis is organized as a set of essays which tackle various theoretical issues pertaining to an understanding of the ideology of kingship among the Aruwund (Lunda of the Mwant Yaav) of southern Zaire. Following an introductory text which supplies the historical background, the thesis begins with the description and analysis of the Ruwund myth of foundation of the state. The myth is here seen as a "constellation of myths", a set of minor narratives relating to high office which constitute, define and permanently re-create the "main myth". It is this fluidity of oral tradition that is examined by demonstrating how episodes and minor title histories are evoked or omitted by narrators who display different emphases of the myth and attempt to manipulate a repertoire to their better advantage (ch. I). Through reconstructing this process, and the "contradictory versions" which it originates, we are drawn into the academic debate that has long opposed structuralists to ethnohistorians in the analysis of oral traditions (ch. I/II). Chapter II reviews the concept of the "culture hero" as used in the literature on the recurrent central African image of the alien hunter, founder of a new civilization. It suggests that the Ruwund myth of the origin of kingship should be understood as a tale of social renewal rather than that of the introduction of a foreign civilization in the midst of a more rudimentary order. This being so, the foundation of the state is a process generating from within in which the role of the autochthonous order as bearer of "culture" should be considered attentively. In the three chapters that follow I discuss the system of "perpetual kinship" (as defined by I. Gunnison in 1956), issues on hierarchy, and the symbolic use of space. All three chapters can be seen to reveal mechanisms of establishing, creating and encoding symbolic relationships relating to the Ruwund ideology of kingship. In the first of these chapters (ch. III) it is argued that perpetual kinship ties among Ruwund dignitaries, notwithstanding the use of a kinship idiom, are above all metaphors for symbolic relationships. The following chapter analyses the salutation system and the use of insignia of power among court officials and questions L. Dumont's assertion that hierarchy constitutes the "ideology" in traditional societies. Finally, chapter V looks at royal and minor courts as "constructed spaces" within which relations between dignitaries are both shaped and acted out through relative positionings. The last two chapters are concerned with royal ritual. It is intended to contribute to Africanist literature a detailed ethnographic account of the Ruwund royal installation ritual (ch. VI). The following chapter claims that its understanding can only be attained by examining a wider structure of rituals and with reference, in particular, to non-royal symbolism and ceremonies.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:08

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item