The essence of court life for the courtiers, in the cattle keeping traditions of most African Kingdoms

In the cattle keeping traditions of most African Kingdoms, the essence of court life for the courtiers, was usually for the King, who was almost the only one who owned large herds of cattle- the most valued asset and symbol of Kingdom wealth at the time- to allot some to his courtiers for their keeping while they and their families got really portly on the milk.

They were, however, not permitted to kill the King’s cows for beef; that was the King’s prerogative- and only the King would extend that privilege. They could, however, and were permitted, to draw blood by a slight incision of the jugular of the cow, and drink it raw or cooked. That compensated for the deficiency of other vital nutrients in cow milk.

The King’s courtiers (entourage) lived better and were relatively wealthier than the average King’s subjects (citizens) – the majority hoi polloi.

Overtime, some of the roly-poly overfed courtiers would not only grow so arrogant and so out of touch with the common person’s daily reality of the scarcity of milk, but also grew a blinkered attitude so much so that they forgot that the cows belong to the King; not them. They were merely the King’s cattle herders.

Because the King knew that the essence of his own Kingship, life and survival, depended so much on his courtiers and their loyalty; allotting them cattle (letting them in on Kingdom wealth) was his way of buying their loyalty. Call it corruption, if it resonates!

But I will say that, the King was incentivising his courtiers to commit loyalty to him; to protect his Kingship. Court loyalty from the courtiers was an important element of King life to the King. It was a vital lease on His Royal Highness’ own survival and security at the court.

Every King dreads discontent in the court among the courtiers because it can, and quite easily and fast, lead to discord in the court which can break into scuffles to settle scores and release some pent-up frustrations. And nothing can disintegrate a Kingdom as fast as a sudden flare-up in the King’s court among the King’s courtiers. In the event that happens, the Kingship is effectively rendered untenable and the King is like a rabbit paralysed in the middle of the road by the headlights of an oncoming car.

The majority hoi polloi have a predictable tendency, almost conditioned by the environment, to look up to and therefore behave and act according to the behaviour and actions of the King’s courtiers. Nowhere is the phrase “monkeys see, monkeys do” is more apropos than in the relationship between the King’s courtiers and the King’s subjects – the majority hoi polloi.

It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is! Clap, clap!

With that on the King’s mind, the King was always observant of the behaviour and attitude of his courtiers. The King also employed some clever and effective tactics (tricks), setting up and playing each courtier against the other; to create and foster mistrust among the courtiers. Because of this consciously created mistrust among the courtiers by the King, as a control mechanism, courtiers informed on each other, to the great benefit and protection of the King and his Kingship. This was the King’s way of controlling the individual behaviour and actions of his courtiers; by seeding suspicion among the courtiers

They each, individually, worked to endear themselves to the King, to prove their total loyalty and therefore win the King’s trust. It worked for a few courtiers, but it also exposed their vulnerability and lack of integrity to the King. The King would know their perfidious character. It didn’t work for many courtiers, the King, feeling peeved, would let loose- like attack dogs- the few whose own demonstrated and proven vulnerability and lack of integrity, upon those who failed to win the King’s trust and expose their own vulnerability and lack of integrity.

Those who had the King’s trust, although not guaranteed, played small gods, worked to unleash pain and suffering upon those courtiers who had failed to kiss the King’s feet the right way and possibly the right side, at the right time because the King’s mood was capricious. The King’s own impulsive nature (and mood), and the perfidious character of his few temporarily trusted courtiers made a potent combination for causing pain and suffering in the Kingdom.

But the King, always aware of his own dependence on his courtiers, also applied the carrot and stick approach, using the allotted herd. If the courtiers’ behaviour and actions were tolerable to the King, the courtiers would keep the herd until they transgressed the King – did something intolerable to the King, and the herd would, with immediate effect, be removed, the courtier banished from the court.

The King, through (using) other courtiers, would go after the banished courtier and his entire relations, and made sure he condemned the courtier and his family [in]to crippling poverty; to serve a lesson and send a strong message to the court.

The courtiers’ own children would grow into court life and experience, they would be prepared for the next generation of court life – at the expense of the majority hoi polloi. The majority hoi polloi would be guaranteed (to remain in) their hoi polloi status, as their natural designation. There was very little, if any at all, social mobility in the King’s Kingdom. This was by intention and social design to control admission and access to the King’s court and protect its ‘sacredness’.

However, no King’s courtier would be allowed to leave the court because (on the basis that) they knew a lot about the King and the court, that would compromise the King and his Kingship. Even the courtiers banished from the court would be sent to a specially designated place and kept under the court’s and King’s close surveillance. In essence, life in the King’s court was prison life; based on the principle: once in, in for life!

Modern African courts have not changed much in their fundamental purpose and functions except, of course, wealth symbols and value have changed profoundly. But the behaviour is pretty much the same with minor modifications here and there.

Modern African courts have courtiers, although they may not necessarily have Kings, they have a figure comparable- in function and behaviour- to Kings, to whom courtier loyalty and commitment is due and who has the powers to make or break courtiers and the majority hoi polio with impunity as past traditional Kings did.